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Sisterhood of the travel trailer

How to back up a travel trailer and other lessons learned in a Texas state park

Pam LeBlanc
Marilyn Harlow and Pam LeBlanc take a selfie after Pam backed up a trailer at Village Creek State Park. [Pam LeBlanc for Statesman]

I did it.

Yesterday, I backed my Woolly Bear trailer down a long, narrow driveway and set up camp entirely on my own.

A friend had alerted me through social media that I might bump into a woman named Marilyn Harlow of Oregon, who is traveling the country with a similar rig, when I got to Village Creek State Park near Beaumont.

I spotted her as soon as I arrived.

“It’s my sister,” she hollered, even though we’d never met and she had no idea I was coming. She explained, as she busily uncoupled her trailer from her truck, that all outdoors-loving women were bound by Mother Nature.

I told her I didn’t know what the hell I was doing when it came to backing up a trailer and asked her to please not laugh as I tried. My first night out, I explained, a guy in the neighboring slot took the wheel and did it for me. I was new at this.

Instead of laughing, Marilyn, who just turned 70 years old this week, offered me some solid advice about backing up a rig, then left me alone to try it myself.

It took 17 tries, but I did it. I backed that sucker in just perfectly, deployed the trailer-top tent and crossed my arms with satisfaction. Then Marilyn trotted across the street with a stool and helped me put on the rain fly, because the skies were turning dark and rain was coming. (It’s a good thing she did; it poured.)

Texas marks state 12 of 48 for Harlow, who hit the road in October 2017 after selling her condo in Oregon.

“I had a beautiful condo and lived in a wonderful neighborhood but couldn’t afford to do anything but pay for that condominium and live that day-to-day existence,” she said. “Which wasn’t bad, but I love to travel.”

She bought a Teardrop trailer and a rooftop tent and calls the setup her two-bedroom apartment — she sleeps up top if it’s nice, but if it’s really cold she can bed down in the enclosed Teardrop.

“I simplified my life,” she said. It feels good when everything is bought and paid for, she said.

She was on her way to the local library but promised to chat more when she returned. After I went for a hike around the piney park — part of the facilities are still closed due to storm damage two years ago but should reopen this summer — I dropped by to say hi. She pulled up a chair for me, and we talked about women and camping.

 “I like being outside. I like eating outside, being, breathing, walking outdoors,” she said. “It’s especially nice when the sun shines.”

Sometimes, though, women get the idea that they can’t do it by themselves. That’s wrong.

“My message is that, women, do not be afraid to be alone in the world. There’s nothing that I’ve feared out here, and especially in campgrounds. I’ve never felt so safe in my life,” she said.

She doesn’t make reservations as she goes; she wants flexibility. She gets advice about where to stay from people she meets along the way.

Her next stop is Louisiana. After that, she says, she’s turning left at Mississippi and heading north toward Wisconsin.

Early on in her adventure, people helped her when she needed it, and she did.

“I had a lot of different angels along the way,” she says. “There’s many things I didn’t understand about leverage and leveling. They were there for me and showed me. I’ve learned over time that I can do it. It’s learning that and getting past it, both mentally and physically. The confidence comes in doing it.”

Yesterday, she was here for me.

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