On The Road Again and Confessions of a Big RV Hauler
Our introduction to full time RV living has been amazing and adventurous in ways that we never anticipated despite the fact that most of our first year was spent in only three campsites. Gold beach, Oregon and Anacortes and Olympia Washington all became our home base for a time. We quickly discovered that monthly rates are more budget friendly and we were fortunate to have found three campgrounds that we felt “at home” in. Covid also was a factor that led to a less nomadic itinerary than we had originally anticipated. But more than any other factor my anxiety over driving our 60’ rig influenced us to limit our movement. The journey from Colorado to Oregon in the Summer of 2020 involved a couple of newbie mistakes that left scars on our fifth wheel “Tag-Along” and “Tilly” our 2016 F450 blew the pipes off the turbo going up Siskiyou Pass right at the Oregon border. The post traumatic triggers don’t end there. Once we had the turbo piping re-built in Grants Pass we learned first hand that Highway 199 to the coast is terrifying in a rig as large as ours and we will NEVER do that again.
This August as we prepared to begin our journey back to Colorado the anxiety returned but we convinced ourselves that we needed to embrace our massive rig size, face our fears and get moving. I personally just needed to “Man-Up”. After all, we didn’t sell the sticks and bricks to sit idle! The first leg of our trip would take us over the north cascade mountain range at Snoqualmie Pass, the highest and steepest pass we’d been on since our mishap on Siskiyou Pass a year earlier. I’d like to say that all of the preparation and positive mojo transpired into a flawless journey forward but as luck would have it we found ourselves once again on the uphill side of busy mountain pass just minutes out of Seattle wondering what caused the loud pop, the black smoke and the loss of power. This time there was very little room between the guard rail and the speeding traffic and it took a while to determine that our new steel pipes had not been installed properly a year earlier and that under load had blown off of the intercooler. I didn’t have the tools or the know-how to get it seated again and we wondered how we would get out of our situation.
Frantic calls for help resulted in a quick discussion from the only mobile diesel mechanic in the area who unfortunately was home with covid. Our best hope for help was to make it about 10 miles up the road to the closest truck stop and in order to get there I had to force the pipe back into place the best I could using the wrong tools and my bare hands. Several hours later we limped into a Travel America parking lot. My knuckles were bleeding and my arms had second degree burns all over them but the diesel mechanic shop was right there and surely they would be able to save the day. “We don’t work on Diesel’s” the man told me (meaning we don’t work on Pickups that pull RVs I suppose). “And even if we did, we couldn’t get you in for days” he said before sending me out the door. What were we to do?
In denial, I ducked back under the hood and once again tried in vain to get the pipe seated on the intercooler. The truck stop and the local RV parks were full for the upcoming labor day weekend and a casino parking lot where RV’s were allowed first-come first-serve was miles away. And to make matters worse it was late in the day and would soon be dark. We were in a bad situation and we both knew it.
What happened next was one of those fact stranger than fiction moments that will stick with us. Sometimes things go really wrong and sometimes they go really right but rarely do both happen simultaneously. As I was subjecting my tattered hands to the engine for the third time a friendly young man in an F350 pulled up next to me, rolled down his window, smiled and asked if I needed help. “Yes, I’m in dire need of a diesel mechanic” I told him and asked if he knew who we might call. “You’re talking to a diesel mechanic” he fired back, “care if I have a look?”. He diagnosed the problem and invited us to follow him one half mile to his shop. I’m pretty sure Tammy hugged him when he introduced himself as Conner and in disbelief I watched him remove the pipe to find that it needed trimming to properly fit. It turns out the shop that installed our new pipes at Grants Pass failed to get a good fit. He went in to his shop, trimmed it and came back before cleaning and re-installing it. Within 45 minutes from our point of despair we were on our way up the pass under load and highly confident that the pipes would never blow off again.
Pulling or pushing a large RV around the country is not for the faint of heart. Things will happen that we don’t expect and we will have times when we feel the bite of post traumatic stresses. Crossing paths that day with a kind 22 year old good samaritan with an old soul and a passion for diesel engines was more than good luck. In our estimation this was a case of divine intervention and it taught us that there is also such a thing as post traumatic hope.