Although we had owned a popup trailer and a hybrid travel trailer (hard-sided with fold-out, canvas-covered beds) in the past, living full time in our fifth wheel presented new challenges.
For one thing, the fifth wheel is the longest rig we’ve ever towed, stretching about 42 feet. It’s also the tallest — just 3 inches shy of the height of a standard semi-truck. Our size on the road certainly played a part in some of our scariest moments in our first five months on the road. Here, we count down the top five:
5. Windy Night in Oklahoma
After four calm, relaxing days at a friend’s farm near Oklahoma City, the wind picked up. Having lived through some incredibly windy days in South Dakota just fine, we didn’t think a whole lot of it. But the theme song from the “Oklahoma” musical kept playing through my head: “Where the wind comes sweepin’ down the plain.”
Settled in for the night, we were shaken awake at 1 a.m. by the howling wind moving the trailer. I knew I wouldn’t be able to sleep with that sound playing right outside my bedroom, so I got up to explore how the rest of the trailer was faring. It seemed quieter in the living room, so I thought maybe I’d just go down there and sleep on the couch.
I also checked the weather app on my phone, which predicted the wind would increase in intensity over the next hour. We weren’t afraid the trailer would blow over, but we decided it would be best to pull in all four slides to get through the night. So, that’s exactly what we did.
We had to move some things to make room for the slides to come into the trailer, but then we were able to get back to sleep. Although the wind kept howling, we didn’t hear or feel it.
4. Cattle Guard Collision
We expected to make mistakes as we started our new life on the road. After all, as Albert Einstein said, “Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new.”
Despite that, we didn’t expect to make a huge error on our very first stop. As we pulled off the main road onto a forest road north of Flagstaff, Arizona, we had to cross a cattle guard. Unlike most cattle guards that have outer supports angled away from the road, this one had 90-degree supports.
We didn’t take the turn wide enough to clear those supports. As a result, the side of the trailer hit the cattle guard while I watched in my rearview mirror. I jumped out to survey the damage and try to determine the best way to get us out of the jam. We had two choices: go forward or reverse. Bob thought we had the best chance if we moved backward and tried to take the turn wider.
He proceeded to do that while I stayed outside watching and listening to the sound of aluminum grating against steel — and pulling my hair out. This was our house, everything we owned. I didn’t want it destroyed on our very first stop, not that I wanted it destroyed at all. I screamed and kicked rocks, but there was really nothing I could do. The damage had been done.
Once clear of the cattle guard, Bob got out to assess the damage. It appeared to be cosmetic only. Thankfully, his assessment turned out to be right. Everything was still functional.
3. Bob’s Head Injury
You never want something bad to happen to your loved ones. That’s doubly true when there are only two of you, and you rely on each other for your livelihood.
While in Georgia, Bob somehow managed to scrape his head while crossing under the bedroom of the fifth wheel. He hit the corner of the hard steel that holds the fifth wheel kingpin that connects to the hitch in the bed of our truck. I hadn’t seen that much blood from a single wound before.
Lots of thoughts funnel through your mind at a time of unknowns like that — at least they do mine. I didn’t know if the hospital would need to keep him (although I didn’t think so), how sore he’d be, if he’d be on pain meds, etc.
Although we had intended to leave for our next destination the following day, I quickly made backup plans in my head. I could drive if needed, or we could stay longer and make up the time somewhere else along the way.
Thankfully, Bob only needed three staples and a tetanus shot, and we left the hospital emergency room less than an hour after arriving there, with a prescription for an antibiotic but no pains meds other than Tylenol. We left Georgia the next day, as planned.
2. A Steep Grade in NV with No Guardrail
Early in our summer adventure, we took Highway 140 from Medford, Oregon, to a rest area near Winnemucca, Nevada. We enjoyed the quiet, largely uninhabited, two-lane road that led us through beautiful scenery. And then we didn’t.
We could see for miles and, in the distance, the road clearly made a sharp turn and dramatic climb. We chuckled as we anticipated approaching the ascent, clueless about what awaited us. As we followed the road into the turn, the 3-mile climb began. Gulliver’s mpg gauge dropped to 2 — and so did the guardrail. There wasn’t one. One wrong move, and we could fall off the cliff. Talk about scary — and I was driving!
In no hurry, we took our time on this treacherous road and breathed a sigh of relief once we made it to the top. “Slow and steady wins the race.”
1. Narrow Switchback Road in TN
The Oregon road definitely had us shaking in our boots, but we found a different road even scarier. Traveling from Virginia to visit some friends just south of the Tennessee border in Georgia, our Co-Pilot app routed us through a narrow, curvy road (Route 30). Because we had grown to trust our Co-Pilot app, we followed its guidance.
Had we taken the time to look at the route the app suggested, we definitely would have found an alternative.
My head pounded as Bob’s white-knuckled hands gripped the steering wheel turning us this way and that. Low-hanging branches didn’t seem to be an issue — the app got that part right. But, the tight two-lane road lacked a shoulder on either side. We couldn’t pull over if we had to. And the length of our rig made some of the turns impossible without going into the oncoming lane.
Thankfully, we didn’t encounter much traffic that day and made it through the scary episode. We agreed we’d rather go an hour out of our way than to travel down that road again. It took us a good full day to recover from the stress of that journey.
“The best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry,” penned Scottish poet Robert Burns. That saying applies well to full-time RVing, where plans change constantly.
We had planned to spend a few nights near Amarillo, Texas, at a city park that offers free water and electricity, followed by a week in New Mexico with Boondockers Welcome, before returning to the White Mountains of Arizona and then the Valley of the Sun for the winter months.
Instead, we covered about 670 miles in 13.5 hours between Oklahoma City and Gallup, New Mexico, making our first stay in a Walmart parking lot, where the store’s outdoor radio played all night long. The next day, after another five hours and 265 miles, we arrived in the Phoenix area to help Bob’s mom after she fell and broke her hip. She had a partial hip replacement and is on the road to recovery, enduring physical therapy.
We didn’t know it at the time, but the warmer temperatures we experienced in Oklahoma were a harbinger of what was to come. We traded the plains for the Valley and its 90+-degree weather. And that’s only one of the many transitions in our lives right now.
Gulliver ate a lot of bugs and gathered substantial dust on the journey. So, he got a much-needed bath and a respite from towing, even though he’s built for towing. Driving around without the trailer attached makes for a bumpier ride because of his tight suspension.
Bob’s head is now staple-free after 10 days. We had ordered a surgical staple remover from Amazon, and I pulled out the surgical fasteners all by myself while Bob held up a phone to record the experience. The right tool does a great job.
We’re adjusting to being static and not moving every week. It’s a transition as we’ve grown to love that lifestyle. During this downtime, we’ll do some repairs on the trailer — fix some drawer rails and door trim — inventory our belongings, and get rid of things we haven’t used and don’t need. We’ll also take advantage of the opportunity to do some deep cleaning.
The Immovable Tagalong
This immobile adjustment also gives us the opportunity to spend more time at the Commemorative Air Force Airbase Arizona, where we’ve volunteered for about five years. Bob helps with maintenance on the WWII aircraft, and I help coordinate rides on them. He’s excited to be one of the retired Monday, Wednesday, Friday mechanics.
Although we’ve exchanged small towns for city life again, we’re enjoying seeing mountains and reconnecting with family and friends in the area. And, we’re hopeful another transition will be to a full-time job for me before too long.
It’s a bittersweet time of change and reflection. We’re thankful we got to catch up with family and friends across the country, some of which we hadn’t seen in many years. We like the RV lifestyle and are already making plans for our next big adventure.
We didn’t expect to see fall foliage after leaving Massachusetts, but we’ve been following it (or it’s been following us) ever since. We’ve been relishing the reds, yellows, oranges, and purples of the changing seasons.
Between Pennsylvania and Tennessee/Georgia, our “rolling stone” spent a week in College Park, Maryland, at a campground close to Washington, D.C. We had planned that stop early in the summer so that we could attend the Arsenal of Democracy flyover to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the end of WWII.
The event was to feature 60 or so WWII airplanes, including the CAF Airbase Arizona B-17 “Sentimental Journey,” flying over the Washington Mall. Unfortunately, weather scrubbed the flyover two days in a row, so it never happened.
We enjoyed our time in the area nonetheless, catching up with some friends near Annapolis and some friends from the Virginia Beach area who stayed at the campground a few nights. We visited George Washington’s Mount Vernon, the Washington Mall, Washington Monument, World War II Memorial, Lincoln Memorial, Vietnam Veterans Memorial, Korean War Veterans Memorial, and Marine Memorial.
Between Maryland and Tennessee/Georgia, we spent a night at a rest area in Virginia to cut down on our long journey and to be able to put Virginia on our map.
While in Tennessee/Georgia, before Bob’s head incident, we toured Dollywood with our daughter, Megan, and her fiancee, Sydney, and rode most of the rides. We also ventured to an area between Chattanooga and Nashville, where we hiked to some beautiful waterfalls. And, we sampled some Southern BBQ and enjoyed seeing and playing with the dog we had shipped to Megan in March.
All the sightseeing we’ve done may give you the impression we’re on vacation. We’re really not. I’ve still been doing contract and freelance work and applying for jobs. And Bob’s been actively involved in helping facilitate Project Management Professional classes on Saturdays. Thankfully, neither of us had a lot of work while in the Tennessee/Georgia area or we wouldn’t have been able to spend as much time with Megan.
Go West, Young Man and Woman
We may not be all that young anymore but, after leaving Tennessee/Georgia, we headed west and spent two nights in Arkansas as part of the Boondockers Welcome program. We met some fellow travelers at our stop who were also en route from Tennessee to Arizona and exchanged stories. We took a much-needed day of rest the second day there, not even leaving the trailer.
From Arkansas, we moved on to Oklahoma where warmer temperatures greeted us, a bit of a shock to our systems after experiencing fall weather all of September. We took advantage of the warmth and relaxed pace to clean all the bugs off Tagalong. We also participated in the Friday night ritual of BBQ and catfish at a local restaurant.
We’re moochdocking at a friend’s house on a quiet country road. Our windows overlook barns and pastures where horses feed. Occasionally, we hear the bray of a donkey. We find the laid-back farm culture very refreshing after the last few busy weeks we’ve had.
Bob’s head is healing nicely, and we’re feeling extremely blessed with our lifestyle and the friends and family we’ve seen and stayed with along the way. We appreciate being able to travel and still be home every night. Life is good.
We spent a week in McCaysville, Georgia, moochdocking at our friends’ house so we could visit our daughter, Megan, in Cleveland, Tennessee. Although McCaysville is an hour away from Megan’s place, we enjoyed getting to know Greg and Sharon Rothe (friends from the Commemorative Air Force) better and spending time with Megan and her fiancee, Sydney, every day.
A day before we were scheduled to depart the Rothes’, Megan ventured out to their place to visit us and see the trailer, since she had never seen it before. She got the grand tour and seemed pretty impressed. Since Bob and I planned to leave the Rothes’ the next day, Bob went outside to get some things ready, leaving Megan and me in the trailer.
Not two minutes later, I heard his standard call for me, “Lana Gates!” So I went outside to see what he wanted — only to find him lying on the ground holding his left hand on top of his head. He calmly said, “If I pull my hand away, there’s likely to be a lot of blood.” I dashed back inside to grab a roll of paper towels and returned to Bob.
As soon as he pulled his hand away from his head, blood dripped to the ground. Red covered his left hand. If we had had a volleyball, he could have made “Wilson II” (think “Castaway”). Megan and I had no doubt Bob needed stitches. I snapped a picture of the top of his head so he could see the gash he had inflicted.
Seemingly cognizant, Bob didn’t know what he had hit, just that it had knocked him to the ground but not unconscious. He slowly got up while holding paper towels to his head, and I mopped up the bloody puddle left behind on the ground.
In the house, I helped Bob clean himself up in the bathroom while Megan found the location of the nearest medical center, a hospital about 15 minutes away.
In Search of Medical Attention
The three of us loaded into Megan’s car and headed to the hospital. After checking in at the front desk, a nurse called Bob to a triage room. Megan accompanied him while I stayed behind to finish filling out papers. That done, Megan and I traded places. I walked in to find a nurse cleaning Bob’s head while another nurse asked questions and entered information into a computer.
Both nurses disappeared, and a doctor came in. He said they’d need to fix Bob’s head with staples. A nurse brought in a stapler. The doctor put three staples in the top of Bob’s head. I expected to hear the normal paper-stapling sound but didn’t, thankfully.
After the doctor left, one of the nurses reappeared. I questioned whether three staples was enough to hold Bob’s gash together. She assured me they would hold the skin intact and help the wound heal from the inside out.
After receiving discharge instructions and an antibiotic prescription, we were sent on our way — in and out of the hospital in less than an hour. It can be nice to be in a small town.
Dream Come True and Lessons Learned
Since we needed to get Bob started on the antibiotic right away, we had to find a nearby pharmacy. Earlier in the week, we had passed a little store called McCaysville Drug & Gun. You guessed it, that’s where we went. And Bob got to look at guns while waiting to get his prescription filled. It doesn’t get much better than that.
Now that you know Bob’s OK, you’re probably wondering what caused his laceration. Well, he had ducked under the bedroom of the trailer, the part that hangs over the truck during travel. Normally, we have a tripod under there to support the kingpin — the part that connects inside the bed of the truck. This time, we didn’t.
As Bob ducked — he didn’t duck quite low enough — he managed to hit the hard metal part of the trailer that holds the kingpin. But, he hit it just right so that he scraped the top of his head on a protruding corner, which is why he ended up with a 90-degree cut and will have staples for 10 days.
Lessons learned: 1) Bob shouldn’t duck under that part of the trailer, even if he thinks he can make it; 2) We should attach the kingpin stabilizer every time as a safety measure for inside and outside the trailer.
We’re thankful Bob’s OK. The whole situation could have been much worse. He could have knocked himself out and lay on the ground bleeding for a while before we found him. God was watching out for us. Bob will be getting lots of rest over the next week.
This is the travel blog of Bob and Lana Gates and our truck, Gulliver, and fifth wheel, Tagalong. We live on the road full time, enjoying all the adventures that come our way.