I always expected to write this post. However, I thought I would have a lot more material to work with. I mean, we bought an RV sight unseen having never spent a night in one. We were completely clueless as to what we were doing and we kindof tossed every egg we had in a basket and chucked the basket off the side of a high rise. Granted, there was a plastic grocery bag attached to the basket, but, it wasn’t much… There were bound to be some hiccups. And rest assured, there were. I guess I just assumed there would be a lot more to tell you about by now.

But… let’s not get too proud of ourselves. We’ve still done plenty of dumb shit. And I am nothing if not honest, so here, before all of you lovely people, I confess said dumb shit for your scrutiny and ridicule.

Blunder – Transporting Our Bikes

Many fulltime RVers carry bikes with them and there are several ways to do it. What appealed to us was attaching them to the ladder on the back of our motorhome using a special rack. This would keep the bikes out of the way most of the time, but still allow us to access them relatively easily. We’d seen other RVers with this set up and noticed that many of them placed the rack attachment very high up on the ladder. We assumed they did this to deter theft. We, however, didn’t want to invest in expensive bikes because we knew they would be out in the elements and we weren’t even sure how much we would use them. So, we bought cheap bikes at Walmart that would serve their purpose, but which wouldn’t be a huge loss if they got swiped. In fact, it seemed like a good lesson for some future thief… “Sure, by all means…risk arrest by stealing our bikes. They’re worth about twelve bucks. Idiot.”

Given all of this, and the fact that taking the bikes down from a low point was a lot easier than taking them down from a high point (especially because ‘cheap Walmart bikes’ weigh about 800 pounds), Kevin set the bike rack low on the RV ladder.

Bicycle hanging from ladder attached to motorhome

Bicycle attached to RV ladder and tow car

Can you guess the problem with this? (Keep in mind that there are usually two bikes on the rack)…

A couple weeks after we got the bikes, we noticed that the front of the Xterra had some dents on it. The Xterra is routinely beaten up: rocks are kicked up by the RV and hit the front of the car and, just in general, we are not real easy on the car. (In other words, I don’t so much “slow down” for speed bumps, as much as I use them to practice my Smokey and the Bandit launch.)

But these dents were significant and noticeable.

Dent on front, right side of Nissan Xterra
See the large dent over the turn signal, behind the headlight?

Any guesses?

It turns out that when you’re towing a car behind an RV, and you make a turn, there’s a point where the RV and the car get very close (because: geometry). And if you have bikes hanging off the back of the RV, and those bikes have wide handlebars, and the bikes are set low enough to be in range of the car, the handlebars come in contact with the car.

Crunch.

Turns out there’s another reason RVers place their bikes high up on the ladder….

Whoops.

Point goes to… Kevin! Because he’s an engineer and presumably understands geometry, while no one expects much from Laura on that front….

Fail – Laura’s Asinine Decision

Way back before we started traveling, I wrote a blog post about the things we were looking forward to. One of those things was attending various festivals and events that happen around the country. At the time, we envisioned ourselves stopping in various places along our route to attend local festivals, concerts, and, perhaps, a rocket launch or two. However, one thing we’ve learned over the past fifteen months is that that’s a lot easier said than done. In reality, the only major event we made it to in our first year on the road was the Kentucky Derby.

The 2017 Kentucky Derby

The truth is, it’s incredibly hard to plan for these things. Why? Because we’re trying to plan for so many other things. For example, we try to limit our mileage on any given trip and we try to spend at least a week in each location. Additionally, we try to see various points of interest along our route. And, perhaps most importantly, we’re always trying to chase comfortable weather. So, let’s say we’re in Maine in June and we find out there’s a great event in Fort Lauderdale in July. We have to decide whether we’re willing to give up 70 degree summer weather in Maine to quickly drive hundreds of miles right into Florida’s 100 degree sauna, while skipping all the good stuff between Maine and Florida… By the time we get to Fort Lauderdale, we’re probably gonna be burned out, grumpy, and it’s gonna be really, really hot. And after we’re done with the event, we have to decide whether we should drive all the way back to Maine at the end of July or just stay put in the south. The answer, at least for us, is usually pretty easy: Just skip the event.

And that mental process is what was at work when I made the executive decision to break my husband’s already broken heart into teeny tiny pieces by making plans to go to Canada rather than to the “path of totality” during the total solar eclipse.

I suck.

I was just doing what I normally do: Looking at the map and asking “what makes sense?” We were scheduled to be in Bar Harbor in July, eastern Canada has fantastic summer weather, we were just 100 miles from the Canadian border… Why NOT spend the rest of the summer in beautiful Canada?

“Because your husband LOVES science and this is a once in a lifetime event and you live in a motorhome and you can drive anywhere, anytime and you should really just go park your house somewhere in the path of totality, you nimrod. That’s why.”

So yeah. We missed the total eclipse when we easily could have seen it.

Dixie was pretty happy with the partial eclipse, but she’s easier to please than Kevin….

Big. Fat. Fail.

Which I was reminded of all day long as our RV friends were posting descriptions of their indescribable, awe-inspiring, mind boggling, life changing, existence-defining, “you-had-to-see-it-to-believe-it…I-feel-sorry-for-anyone-who-missed-this….oh-my-God-Laura-you’re-such-an-idiot” eclipse experiences on Instagram.

I mean, it was a thing… look at this… all the cool kids hanging out together in beautiful Idaho having the time of their lives while we were on an overnight stop at some random campground in the middle of nowhere between New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. The campground was so utterly forgettable, I didn’t even take a picture of it. And I take a picture of everything. Seriously. Everything. Don’t believe me? Look at the pictures on my phone:

Some guy with a crazy looking car and a ginormous dog in Savannah:

Large dog sitting in passenger seat of 3 wheel car

An RV truck wash in Arkansas:

Truck in a Blue Beacon Truck Wash

A blueberry pie in Maine…

Blueberry Pie
Mmmmmmmm Pie.

An unreasonable supply of Ranch dressing at some grocery store in Texas…

Grocery store shelf full of Ranch dressing
Seriously, how much Ranch dressing does one town need?

A sign for a cafe in New Orleans whose name made me giggle….

The point is, I’m not kidding when I say I take a picture of everything… and yet, this campground sucked so much, I have no evidence we were actually there.

Soooo, yeah….

Ya know that feeling you get when someone’s staring at you, and you look up at them, and they quickly look away and act like they weren’t staring at you? Well, imagine that instead of them looking away, they just kept staring at you… a look of sheer disdain on their face… That was Kevin on August 21. The whole day. 18 straight hours of contemptuous staring. Don’t think for a second that kid can’t hold a grudge, because he totally can.

Point goes to…Laura. I got nothin. I plead guilty.

Boneheaded Screw-Up – The Time We Almost Lit Our Tires on Fire

This is the most destructive one and the one that still astounds us to this day. Ok, so in order to tow the Xterra behind the RV, we have a tow hitch – two bars in a V shape that attach the car to the RV, then a series of cables that act as insurance if the bars fail, and an electrical cable that turns the break lights on in the Xterra when we hit the brakes in the RV.  Additionally, there’s a secondary breaking system in the Xterra that manually engages the brake when a sensor believes the RV is braking.

When we got this whole system installed, the installer showed us how to set everything up and sent us on our way. We never had an issue… or so we thought.

We drove from Virginia to Massachusetts before heading south to Florida, west to Texas and then back up through Tennessee to Virginia again. In June of 2017, we made our way to a Tiffin repair facility in Connecticut with a punch list of items to be corrected under our warranty.

When the repairs were done, we connected the Xterra to the RV the same way we always do and drove out of the repair facility parking lot.

As we were driving down the street, we heard a sound we’d never heard before. It was kindof a high pitched whooshing sound. Kevin hit the brakes. We looked around, couldn’t figure it out, and kept going. We heard the sound again. Hit the brakes, looked around, and figured we needed to turn around to go back to the repair facility. Obviously they had messed with something that was now creating a problem.

As we continued down the road looking for a place to turn around, my cell phone rang. It was the repair facility.

“Hey, we just got a call from the neighboring business. They said an RV was driving down the road and there was smoke coming from the tires of the tow car. We think it’s you.”

My response: “I think it must be us too. We’ll check on it and figure out what’s going on”

Them: “Ok, call us back and let us know what’s happening.”

Thankfully, we found a big parking lot just up the road and pulled in.

We got out and looked at the Xterra – and remembered that when we’d been in Kentucky, just two months before, we’d had to replace the front driver’s side tire as it was badly worn – which was odd because we’d replaced the tires on the Xterra before we started our trip. But, the car had been out of alignment for a bit so we assumed the cause of all the wear on the tire was towing it behind the RV while the wheels were out of alignment (stupid, expensive mistake). We got the car aligned in Kentucky, bought a new tire, and went on our way.

Nissan Xterra on car lift a Midas
The Xterra getting a little TLC in Lexington…. (also, further evidence that I take pictures of EVERY THING).

Now, just two months later, we were again looking at an issue with the Xterra’s tires.

We drove around the parking lot trying to diagnose the issue. The tire definitely looked off, but we couldn’t figure out why. Had we broken a tie rod? Were we seriously out of alignment again? Was the tire bad?

Just then, the owner of the RV repair facility drove up. His employee apparently told him about what happened and he came looking for us (really great service at Connecticut Motor Cars, by the way). He came over, talked to us, looked inside the Xterra, and started laughing.

He said “I know what the problem is. You don’t have your key in the ignition!”

I said “What are you talking about? You don’t need to have the key in the ignition.”

He said “If you’re towing a car 4 down, you definitely do because otherwise the steering wheel won’t turn freely as you’re driving down the road. The wheels on the tow car will lock and your tires will be stuck in whatever position they happen to be in when the steering wheel locks.”

I said “We’ve towed this car all over the U.S. and it’s never been an issue. Plus, no one ever told us that. ”

He said, “Well, I’m telling you. That’s the problem.”

Sure enough – he was right. All the times we’d arrived at a campground, the steering wheel in the Xterra was always locked. It never occurred to us that it shouldn’t be. The car was following the RV and the steering wheel locked. What’s the big deal? More importantly, if it was a big deal, how could we not have known by then?

What we later figured out was, usually, we hooked the car up to the RV on a straightaway. As the RV would start moving, the Xterra’s steering wheel would lock, and if we were just driving straight, there’s wasn’t much of an issue. This time, however, we’d hooked the car up to the RV in the parking lot of the repair facility and then immediately turned out of the driveway and onto the road. As we turned onto the street, the Xterra’s steering wheel locked, so as we straightened out the RV, the Xterra’s wheels remained locked at an angle – causing them to drag down the pavement in front of the repair facility’s neighbors. What we heard in the RV, and what they saw, were tires that couldn’t rotate correctly and were therefore heating up and smoking.

Now, in our defense, the guy who installed this whole system said nothing about putting our key in the ignition. And, the Xterra manual’s section on 4-down towing apparently refers to all of this, but no one ever reads the manual to a car, so come on. Not. Our. Fault.

Ok, it’s totally our fault.

It just makes sense that the wheels of the tow car shouldn’t be stuck in one position when towing. And we should have realized something was screwed up when we ended up with a bald tire in Kentucky.

Nowadays, we put the key in the ignition and the steering wheel moves freely as we tow, allowing the Xterra to go anywhere the RV pulls it with no chance of resistance.

In the end, our biggest screw up to date only cost us one tire… and our pride… as we know, without a doubt, the repair shop owner went back to the facility and told all of this employees about the dumbasses who just towed their car all over creation with a locked steering wheel. But… it could have been a lot worse. If not for him showing up when he did and instantly diagnosing the issue, we could have spent a lot more time and money trying to figure out the problem, and lord knows how many wrecked tires we would have had to replace on the Xterrra before someone enlightened us.

________________________________________________________________________

So there you have it… our 3 biggest RV fails so far (let’s be real: there will be more). Interestingly (to me at least), two of three have to do with towing a car. Perhaps it’s because we were so worried about properly handling the RV, that we didn’t really think through the towing stuff until we had a problem. Or perhaps, we’re just idiots. Who knows? Whatever the case may be, we are glad the damage from all of these screw ups wasn’t too bad…. and, on a positive note, I already know exactly where we will be on April 8, 2024: somewhere along the path of totality….

Until next time….

 

20 COMMENTS

  1. Lol! So clearly I can’t relate, since I’ve never lived in an RV, but I totally giggled at that sign and laughed out loud about the tires. You guys are doing awesome, screw ups and all! That’s how you learn and you are kind enough to pass that knowledge on to others. Super impressed with all you’ve done so far, it is much more complicated and hard work than just driving and parking! Happy travels!!

    • Yup! We have DEFINITELY learned some things along this trip, no question about that! And we are happy to share our fails if it helps some other folks avoid these issues… though really? Who else would be dumb enough to tow their car with their steering wheel locked? DUH!!

  2. Ha ha! Just had a good laugh with my first cup of coffee. You know Kevin will never get over missing this eclipse. It doesn’t matter that he will get to see another one. Finally something else replaces the traumatizing event of us taking him to a family reunion when he was 13!

    • You’re totally right. He’s never gonna let this go. And even worse, for the next 7 years, I have to worry that about whether it’s a sunny day on April 8, 2024. If it’s cloudy, I’m screwed!

  3. Hi Laura! I just love reading your posts and I can’t wait to be drafting my own!. We’ve had our Allegro Bus for 5 years, tow a Jeep 4 down, and we are hitting the road full time in Feb. My parents full timed, so we aren’t quite noobs to all this. We sold the house in May and have been ready to go since but our plan has always been to get close to finishing out the year to bank just a little more $$$. My biggest concerns, which you hit upon in your summary of your first year, are how to plan where to go and when, and the issue of a permanent address for mail and all vehicle registrations. Was wondering how you handle that and if the mail services are worth it. I’m working through all the mail services in FL, TX and SD and trying to decide. I was also wondering if you joined Escapees or Passport America and if you find that they are worth it? I can’t wait to hit the road – just 2 more months left in my litigation paralegal career and I’m not looking back. (PS: not to be too stalkerish – I follow you on FB and Insta too. I’ll be blogging and posting under Milesinthewind.)

    • Hi Carol, Thanks for reading (and stalking!!) Congratulations on going fulltime soon! I hope you all love it as much as we do.

      For us, Florida is the only good option for residency because we buy our own health insurance on the exchanges and Florida is the only one of these states where you can still get a nationwide PPO/EPO plan through Blue Cross Blue Shield. If you have health insurance covered some other way, Texas and South Dakota might be fine, but if you’re going to be buying your own coverage, I would caution you against domiciling anywhere other than Florida. Many fulltimers are currently switching their residency from those other states to FL because they can’t get nationwide health coverage from their South Dakota or Texas based health plans.
      As for the particular mail forwarding company we use, we are very happy with St. Brendan’s Isle, but we know other people who use Escapees who are just as happy (and going back to health insurance, costs for plans vary from county to county within Florida, so that may impact your decision (This article is a good place to start: http://wheelingit.us/2017/10/31/health-insurance-time-2018-considerations-for-pre-medicare-rvers/)

      With SBI, they filter out all our junk mail (which is awesome) and then let us know if we have regular mail. We can ask them to open and scan the contents and email it to us and/or forward it to wherever we are. All in all, they’ve been great and we haven’t had any problems. Their website has all the information you need to set up domicile in Florida and register to vote, etc. We followed their instructions and found the process to be pretty painless.

      I absolutely recommend a membership with Passport America. For $44 a year you get half price at lots of campgrounds around the country. In our experience, most of the member campgrounds are pretty basic. They are rarely places we want to set up and stay for weeks at a time, but they are good enough for an overnight or a couple nights along our route. You do need to read the fine print for each campground (available on PA’s website) because most restrict what days and months you can use the discount, but as a fulltimer, you will absolutely get your money back from the membership price.

      We are not members of Escapees, but I haven’t heard anything bad. We picked up roadside assistance for the motorhome through Good Sam, but we could just as easily have gotten mail service and roadside assistance through Escapees. And, honestly, if we had it to do again, we might go with Escapees because we could get all of these things done with one company, rather than having multiple memberships. But either way works.

      Anyway, hopefully this is helpful. If you have any other questions, feel free to reach out. You can always email us at [email protected] as well. I’ll be keeping an eye out for your blog!

  4. Sorry, can’t help it, I’m laughing out loud at your locked tire story! 🙂 But seriously, who reads instruction manuals? Not me! You’ve done well in your first year to emerge with minor battle scars. We’ve done way more dumbass stuff in our four-and-a-half years on the road, most of it our fault, and some that still makes me cringe to think about. You have plenty of time to catch up.

    • Oh, don’t worry. I’m sure we will! It’s scary when you realize all the things you don’t even know that you don’t know…. Ya know what I mean?? Anyway, as dumb as we feel, we really are thankful the damage wasn’t worse. In the end, we were very very fortunate. I’m sure I’ll have a “Second Edition” post next year with the update on our screw-ups. Something to look forward to!!

  5. I love reading your stories! The owner of Connecticut Motor Cars is pretty freaking awesome first to have called, and second to have driven down the road to find you guys! That is a reminder of the truly great people we encounter along the way. The owner of A1 RV Repair in Malabar, FL is cut from the same cloth. We’ll have to meet up on April 8, 2024 because we also missed it! Sean, the scientist in our family, was on a business trip in DC, while I was in Florida.

    • Yeah, we were completely amazed when he drove into the parking lot and we really could not have been more thankful. We would have been lost and probably out a lot more money had he not diagnosed the problem. Anyway, I completely agree. There are some really great people you meet along the way and I can’t tell you how many things we’ve learned from other Rvers that have made such a difference in our day to day existence. It’s pretty awesome.

      And yes – let’s just go ahead and pencil in an a get-together for 4/8/24. I’ll do my best to not screw it up this time!

  6. Ok, my mouth seriously fell open with the locked steering wheel story. That’s a hell of a thing and I’m seriously impressed that you never had “much” of an issue for an entire year that way!

    I do get the event planning thing though. We don’t usually plan around events and if we happen to be near one at the time, that works out great. But yeah, Mike is a huge science junky too so he planned around the eclipse a year in advance, so planning was a little easier to do then. Least tell Kevin that he only needs to wait 7 more years to see the next one!

    • It truly is incredible that we somehow managed to not do more damage. All told, we drove that way for about 8 months.. I guess we’re just lucky that usually we’re driving straight. 🙂 As for the planning stuff, please tell your science junky husband to let me know about any science junky awesomeness that you all are planning on going to, because chances are, my science junky husband will also want to go. I, apparently, need all the help I can get over here. 🙂

  7. Yikes. You were fortunate that the tires didn’t catch on fire. If you haven’t used tire-pressure and temperature monitoring system on both of you motorhome and your toad (while towing), I highly recommend it. Although most vehicles on the road now have some form of TPMS, it doesn’t work when it’s being towed.

    As for the bike mounting, I learned something new. If we ever buy bikes, I know where not to mount. So thank you!

    When we were watching the total eclipse in Oregon last August, the two minutes of the totality passed by surprisingly quickly…way faster than you think. So if you can, try to be closer to the center of the path to maximize the viewing time. It’s really an awesome experience to be shared with your loved ones.

    • For about $60, you can get a TPMS where the sensors screw onto the valve stems on your car. You’d then have to see if you can put the display unit in the back of your RV and pick up the signals coming from the car wheels.

    • Yes – to both of you… we did get a TPMS after all of this. It had been on our “to-do” list for a while, but this event provided some nice motivation to actually get it done. I will say however, the system we got that covers all 6 tires on the RV and all 4 tires on the tow car cost a couple hundred dollars. But it’s done a good job, giving us continuous readings of the pressure and temperature for each tire and giving an audible sound when any of them get out of whack. It’s definitely a big safety issue, so we didn’t want to mess around with it.

      With regard to the next solar eclipse, I promise we will be in whatever the BEST viewing location is. I am NOT messing this one up again!!

    • Hahahaha! This is AWESOME! And perfectly timed given my Smokey and the Bandit comment. If the driver was just spacing out, this certainly would have provided a nice wake up call… but man, I can’t even imagine what the floor of the RV must have looked like….. ketchup EVERYWHERE…. Love it!

  8. Oh my goodness, you should submit your stories to “Motorhome” magazine they always have an annual write up of blunders RVrs do! You will get an award, so hilarious I cant help laughing. Fortunately we have not experienced any of these.
    About the steering wheel, we have a routine when hooking up our Honda CRV. And yes the keys are in the ignition, gears in neutral and that is after preparing the transmission for towing. Steve is very strict on this that I go through the gears before leaving it in Neutral. And this process is in place after learning the hardway when our Honda died after towing for over four hours.

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