The way to see Alaska is in an RV. Everybody does it, and there are plenty of RV parks, of varying quality, facilities, and prices, but if the sampling of places where we stopped is any indication, all adequate.

The six of us rented a 31 foot Winnebago Chalet from Great Alaskan Holidays in Anchorage ( and set off. It was my first experience in or with an RV.

I believe living in a rolling home for two weeks with six other people offered some life lessons. Here they are:

1.  Keep a level head and be on the level. There is a bubble level near the sink in a Winnebago that indicates whether the RV is well, level. The bubble has to be within a black circle or pretty close to it or it will be necessary to put some blocks under the wheels on one side or the other. Why is being level important? If the vehicle is not level, and stays that way for more than 30 minutes, the refrigerator will get a vapor lock and won’t operate properly.  So, if you want cold and/or frozen food, you learn to read the level and put the blocks under the appropriate tires.

So, too, in relationships, it’s good to keep a level head, which is to say, keep our cool, instead of things heating up to the breaking point. We all have areas of our lives, as well, that could use a bit of modification to keep our work, our family life, our inner workings going smoothly. We don’t have a handy little device like a bubble level to tell us where those are, but perhaps we can learn to discern where the problems are as well as relying on others we trust to help us see where we need improvement.

2.  Pay attention to the status of resources. Most RV parks offer full and partial hook-ups. The former includes water, electricity, and sewage (for both “black” and “gray” [dishwashing] water) on your site. The latter may include water and electricity, but dumping is at a common site in the park. When you have either kind of hook-up, water usage or running the microwave or coffee maker can be pretty much as at home. But out on the road or “dry camping” (no hook up), electricity comes from a generator, the refrigerator runs off propane in the RV’s tank, and water is from a limited size reservoir, again carried on the RV. So, checking the panel for the status of the water tanks (you want the potable water full and the not potable empty) and the propane is as essential as keeping a watch on your gas gauge.

In life as well we need to pay attention to available resources. Are we trying to do something important when we’re tired or hungry or unfocused? Do we snap at others because we haven’t gotten enough sleep or haven’t managed our time very well, so we’re hurried and harried? Do we fritter away our money on $4 coffees and $10 burgers, drinks in a bar every evening or some new dust collector for our already full-to-overflowing homes? Do we run up huge charge card bills without monitoring spending, then owe so much we cannot even contemplate giving to a charity or saving?

If indeed we are getting low on resources, do we seek out those who could help us deal with stress and trouble or do we try to go it alone? What about prayer and spiritual disciplines? It’s good to have some way to build up our emotional reserves so that when we’re cut off from sustenance, we will still be able to function well and be there for others.

3.  Improvise/be flexible. By and large, the RV we rented was in great shape. But the cooktop on the gas stove insisted on rattling when we were at highway speeds. A couple of the gaskets that kept it silent had worn out. So, we stuffed a pot holder under one corner, and that helped. And then there was the question of what to do with the coffee maker to keep it from sliding around or where to hang rain jackets and towels to dry. We improvised again. Sometimes the coffee maker rode on the shower floor, sometimes under the sink in the dish drainer. And every available place to hang anything on, including the shower wand, got used as a hook. And how do you grill halibut without a fish basket for your propane grill? Spread some thick foil on the grid. No long sticks on which to roast marshmallows over a campfire for s’mores? No problem: microwave them. A gooey mess, but a treat.

Murphy’s Law being the universal principle it is, we can count on things not quite going according to plan in the Real World. So are we prepared for the unexpected or do we believe the success of our Plan A’s is guaranteed? Can we be creative and “think outside the box” or “move off the map,” as the cliches go or are we so stuck in our usual way of doing things that we are frozen in place if life throws us a curve? Improvisation and flexibility, the willingness and ability to try a fresh approach, are the marks both of the survivor and the entrepreneur, the person who’s growing and the institution that’s adapting to a changing market or constituency.

“RV” stands for “reliable values.”

© 2011 Tom Cheatham