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.
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.
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.
Turns out there’s another reason RVers place their bikes high up on the ladder….
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 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 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.
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:
An RV truck wash in Arkansas:
A blueberry pie in Maine…
An unreasonable supply of Ranch dressing at some grocery store in Texas…
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.
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.
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….