Top 10 RV Misadventures of 2018

On this site we have posted the highlights of our RV travel. But of course along with all of the adventures to see people and places there comes the inevitable misadventures, those things we hope to NOT repeat in 2019 and beyond. Some of these are natural parts of RV travel, or life in general, while others definitely fall into the category of “newbie mistakes” in one form or another.

So without further ado, here are the top 10 quotes we hope to NOT hear in 2019, counted down in David Letterman fashion.

Number 10 — “Did you see that? A fencepost ran out and hit my RV!”

From front to back, our rig is just over 60′ long, with bicycles mounted to the front of a 23′ long truck, followed by a long RV with a 6′ deck on the back holding a Can Am. Driving it down the road is daunting, particularly in the beginning, and negotiating the tight corners of an RV park can be especially scary. So it should come as no surprise that almost every “big rig” RV eventually has the scars that come from contact with tree branches, fence posts or other obstacles.

My big mistake happened on DAY ONE of our RV adventure. We missed the turnoff to our very first RV park out of Spokane, in the Cascade mountains. We had to find a place to turn the RV around and approach the part from a different direction. The owner of the park, in an attempt to be friendly, opened a back gate for us to enter. Flustered and a little unfamiliar with the turning radius of our rig, I rushed the process, failing to notice a very large 6″ round steel fencepost that came up about 6′ high. I turned too quickly and too sharply, and the picture below is the result.

The good news is that the accident did not affect the structural integrity of the RV and was a fantastic lesson. Since then I have been much more cautious. Apart from effectively pruning a small branch in Jellystone Park near Dallas, the rest of our trip has been accident-free.

9. “Uh oh. I didn’t turn on the oven light. You didn’t turn on the oven. Who did?”

Our RV has a dishwasher (which is awesome, by the way) where an oven usually sits. To compensate, we have a combination microwave convection oven. It is an incredible invention which allows us to have a normal microwave AND a normal, albeit small, oven in a single appliance. Located over the stove, it also incorporates a light and vent fan.

The appliance is awesome EXCEPT that it has a mind of its own. For some unknown reason, the key pad will frequently lock up, rendering the entire unit unusable until I run outside and reset the circuit breaker. This is particularly annoying when we are in the middle of baking something.

Beyond this, the fan and light sometimes turn themselves on, in the middle of the day or night. This would coincide with a lockup session as well.

The problem is electronic, and the RV technician was unable to diagnose it. So our only option was to either live with it (which feels a little like a Twilight Zone episode), or spend time and money to have it replaced, which we chose to do. It took a whole day of running all over Austin for the right one, because of size and delivery date limitations. And the actual installation is supposed to happen tomorrow. But those are stories for another day.

8. “Wait. We are under a TORNADO warning?”

Ellen specifically requested that we lay out our trip to avoid tornadoes as much as possible. This is not the season (winter) and Austin is not the location where tornadoes normally occur. But last night, the day after Christmas, we had a WILD storm, complete with torrential rain, wind, hail, lightning, and about an 8-hour tornado watch. We were up until midnight, monitoring the NOAA app until the storm passed. We were very glad to have a very heavy and weathertight coach.

We have had two other episodes of high wind, once in North Dakota (seemed fitting) and once in Nebraska. As a precaution, we brought in the slides, but otherwise we have had no outstanding issues.

7. “Um. You can’t put that bike on that trailer.”

What do you do when you buy a fairly expensive trailer (from one place), three wheeled motorcycle (from another), and ramps (from a third vendor), only to discover, standing in the motorcycle dealer parking lot, that they don’t work together?

Turns out the ramp length accounted for the clearance on the bike, but not when there was a rider on it. This meant that the front end hit the ramp before the front wheels AND the bike high centered as the front wheels made it onto the trailer.

Fortunately, the dealer folks were creative people, and came up with a combination solution that involved some short 2×8 boards on 2 of the ramps, and some 3/4″ rubber mats on the bed of the trailer and the center ramp.

We did a short, time-lapse video that shows how we now load the Can Am onto the trailer. When I can figure out how to post video, you will see it here.

6. “What do you mean ‘the engine is overheating and the brakes don’t work?'”

We knew that our 6.0 diesel engine was subject to having a blown head gasket, and somewhere in northern Arizona, this happened. The engine runs out of coolant and starts to overheat. Fortunately, we were able to add antifreeze daily and keep it running until we could make it to Austin and have the engine “bulletproofed.” It was expensive, as they have to lift the cab off the truck to get to the engine.

So far, everything on the bulletproofing looks good…except there appears to be an unintended consequence. We cannot prove this, but believe that in the process of removing and replacing the cab, the technicians damaged an important part — the brake line.

On Christmas Day, almost 2 weeks after we got the truck back, Ellen and I took the bikes to downtown Austin and rode the trail that runs along both sides of Lady Bird Lake, which parallels the business district. While negotiating the parking lot, I noticed, with great concern, that the brakes did not feel right. They were soft and did not stop quickly.

As we left the park, the dashboard suddenly lit up with “low brake fluid” warning message and the parking brake symbol came on and stayed on. I had virtually no brakes, as the peddle went all the way to the floor. This would raise alarm in any vehicle, but especially in a 5-ton truck! We cautiously made our way to a gas station and added enough fluid to get home, thankful we were not towing a trailer when this happened.

The following day, and several hundred dollars later, the problem is resolved. All is good but, um, let’s not do this again…

5. “See those bubbles? That is a hole in your tire.”

Going down the road, we have 14 tires on the ground: 6 on the truck, 6 on the trailer, 2 on the Idaho Tote. It is difficult to ensure that all 14 are aired up all the time, and the consequences of a blown tire or a flat can be significant.

For that reason, I purchased a tire pressure monitoring system (TPMS). This paid for itself when I discovered that one of the tires on my trailer consistently lost air. It turns out that it had a pinhole puncture in the sidewall and needed replacing. We were able to use the portable air compressor to keep it inflated, adding air daily until we could get it replaced. The shop took off the wheel, put the tire in a bin of water, and the bubbles showed exactly where the issue was. Danger avoided.

4. “Your motorcycle is about to fall off your trailer!” (yelled out the window of the car next to us at a stop light.)

Yep, she was right. The Can Am is held on the trailer with ratchet straps made by Can Am. And they will hold the bike in place on the trailer, at least until I decided to “improve” the trailer by adding metal strips to provide more options for stops and for attaching straps.

It was a good idea EXCEPT that the strips are slick. In transit, the bike tires slid off the strips and toward the back of the trailer. The straps would probably have been tight enough to keep the bike on the trailer, but we appreciated the heads up.

So now, in addition to adding a second set of ratchet straps, we position the bike off the ramps. Because the last thing I want to see in my rear view mirror is a motorcycle bouncing down the road behind me!

3. “Crud, Crap, and Corruption.”

The phrase above was as close as my Dad ever got to swearing. And it is exactly the phrase that I uttered about a week ago when I pulled the cable to empty the black (sewer) tank, like I have done fifty times before. Only this time, nothing happened.

We have heard the RV adage that says there are only 2 kinds of RVers: those that have a black tank story, and those that will. We are now in the former category.

I’m not sure of all the reasons, although I can say that I am much more diligent about my schedule for emptying and flushing tanks now.

I will spare you the ****y details. Suffice it to say that we tried every alternative, sought help, and were at our wit’s end. We prayed about it, and did not know what else to do. I was about to try a radical alternative when we heard a noise next door. We looked out our window to find our neighbor was having done exactly what we needed! A local repair guy, seeing a need, had come up with an ingenious method of using a small hose threaded into the sewer line to flush the system from the outside. He was literally an answer to prayer.

And hopefully, this will be our last black tank story for a while.

2. “Pffffzzzt.” (The sound of blowing out your entire electrical system.)

On Nov. 14, we were in Albuquerque NM, on a one night layover on the way to Texas. Wanting “just a little extra heat” we purchased a small $30 electric heater from Camping World. The idea was to use it instead of the larger heater in the bedroom, to take the chill off after a shower. Little did we know it would wind up being a$1000 heater!

Our first clue should have been that it set off the fire alarm when we first plugged it in. But we changed the setting, tried again, and…the world went to black.

I thought we had tripped a breaker. No, it turns out we fried our relay switch and our internal surge protector, which sacrificed itself to save the rest of the electronics in the rig.

With no heat (on a 21 degree night), no AC power, and no ability to run the generator (because of the fried relay), we were forced to shut off even the DC power to try to conserve batteries so that we could at least bring in slides and raise jacks the following day to get the rig to a shop. We had just enough battery power. The jacks kept shutting off with a “low battery” message. They would recover just enough to move a little further, and we made it into town where we found our RV repair “angel” Jeremy, who would get us on the road again, replacing the transfer switch and diagnosing everything.

My journal calls this the “RV night from hell.” Suffice it to say — NO MORE HEATERS

And Number 1 has to be “10 Percent Grade — Next 14 Miles.”

We try to be careful with what grades we climb, seeing that we are a combined 16 tons, counting truck and trailer.

Most grades are 4 to 6%, with occasional 7s, and the latter are usually in short sections. We encountered many 7s in the Cascades, and at some other places.

Coming in to Jackson Wyoming, we came up some good, but manageable, grades. Leaving, we intended to go the same route, which was a little longer but workable as we headed up to Yellowstone. But I chose a separate route around Jackson, trying to avoid taking the trailer through the narrow streets of this resort town.

In the process, our GPS guided us onto a section of road that we had not researched. Suddenly I came to a sign that said “Teton Pass, 10% Grade, Next 7 Miles.” It was 7 miles UP and another 7 miles DOWN.

There was no opportunity to pull over and none to turn around. My wife said that all the color drained from my face at that moment. We made it, but it as the most harrowing, white-knuckled driving of our entire adventure so far. Whenever we talk of misadventures on the trip, we just look at each other and say, “Teton Pass.”

Never again.

So there you have it: our saga of 2018 misadventures (plus others that didn’t make the cut). They say that everything in life is funny sooner or later, and fortunately I am able to laugh about almost all of these already.

Hopefully they also gave you a smile and I will be able to say the same thing about he top 10 list for 2019 as well. :}

5 thoughts on “Top 10 RV Misadventures of 2018”

  1. You have just given me 10 absolutely top notch, unquestionable, stellar reasons never, ever, not never to do what you did.
    Sounds like you handled it all with grace, reasonable good temper (UNC’s basketball coach’s favorite expletive is “dadgummit!”), & the Lord, no doubt shaking his head at your unbelievable predicaments, has you firmly in His loving hands. I hope your new year is considerably less eventful. ?

  2. Well we remember the far less harrowing experiences we had with a toy of a camper by comparison to yours. Takes quite an all around mechanic, etc., which you will be shortly.
    How frightening to get stuck somewhere, unable to turn around.
    We enjoyed the details of 2018, and look forward to the next installment.

  3. haven’t laughed so hard in a while!!!!!!

    ken, you have such a way with words and putting them down “on paper” that makes reading your blogs so enjoyable …. sorry to hear of some of these “top 10” but I’m certain you and Ellen are learning so much as a result …. and while I’m confident your ultimate trust/dependance is ON THE LORD, you are both going to find you’re trusting/depending on one another in a different way … does that make sense? If you’re Maverick, Ellen must be your Goose 🙂
    xxoo

  4. Ken,
    You truly have a way with words. When is your next book? Maybe about this adventure with someone being killed in a remote village by a runaway 3-wheel motorcycle.

    This post is very humorous and educational at the same time. I suggest you send it to the SpokesmanReview for their RV section. I think they would publish this letter and even follow your blog for further reports.

    Enjoy the trip my friend.

    John

  5. Great adventures – thanks! Martica says if it was going to be perfect the trip would be boring and not much of a story to tell . . . Keep having fun and we will have you in our prayers too. (I agree that 10% grade down hill would be a true white knuckle drive ).

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