One of the most important considerations when setting up an RV is how level the parking area is. We can take measures to prop up one side of our trailer or the other, but front to back is a different story.
Most RV refrigerators don’t work properly if the rig is more than 3 degrees unlevel. How do we know that? We had to look it up when we found ourselves 3 degrees off level while parked at our daughter Megan’s house in Tennessee.
When we arrived at our destination near Peoria, Illinois, to catch up with an old classmate of mine I hadn’t seen since high school, we kept that fact in the back of our minds. Wendy and her husband, Ted, invited us to moochdock on their property after reading about moochdocking on our blog. Wendy had warned me the property was sloped, but she sounded confident we’d be able to get mostly level.
After an hour of maneuvering in and out of different areas on the property, we finally settled on the most level spot: smack dab in the middle of their 80-yard-long driveway.
Knowing we’d need space to jockey into position, Ted and Wendy had moved their vehicles to the grass toward the front of the property before we arrived. But I’m pretty sure they had planned to move the cars closer to their house after we got settled. Because our home took up a chunk of their driveway, that was out. They were super gracious, though, to allow us to take over their driveway for a week.
How We Get Level
Once we get our rig pretty level side to side using our LevelMatePRO* device, we detach it from the truck, extend the middle and rear stabilizers and put pads under them, push a button, and watch the magic happen as the trailer levels itself using its Lippert Components automatic leveling system.
First, Tagalong levels front to back and then side to side. If the automatic leveler is unable to get level front to back, it flashes a red light and stops the whole procedure. And we’re stuck.
The problem? We can’t be more than 10 inches lower in the front than we are in the back before starting this process or the rig can’t level itself. With a nearly 42-foot-long coach, that’s not always attainable, which was the case at Ted and Wendy’s (and at Megan’s earlier in the year).
In this case, however, our LevelMatePRO confirmed our rig was pretty level front to back. (Tagalong tends to raise the front a little above level.) But, because the coach didn’t consider itself level, the middle stabilizers didn’t descend to the ground to stabilize the rig side to side.
When we experienced a similar situation at Megan’s, but on a larger and scarier scale, we purchased some Camco Stack Jacks* to prop under the rig to add some stability. Those came in handy in this situation. We also secured our tripod stabilizer in place to add more contact points with the ground for even better support. And, we always use X-Chocks* between the two tires for an added layer of stabilization.
After overcoming the leveling challenges, we set up our home for the week and caught up with Wendy and Ted. They taught us a new card game: a variation of golf. Instead of playing with nine cards per player where you try to get the lowest score, we played with four cards — for 18 rounds: the front nine and the back nine. It’s a much faster-moving game that quickly became part of our nightly routine while there.
Friends in Low Places
Ted and Wendy live on a beautiful piece of property in a farm country hollow. Because it’s a hollow, it’s not subject to severe storms such as tornadoes, but neither does it have superb internet or cellphone access. Knowing Wendy successfully worked from home, I hadn’t thought to ask about that before our arrival.
People in the area rely on DSL for their internet. DSL uses phone land lines to carry data, so it’s always on. Unfortunately, speeds can fluctuate, making it a less than ideal option for remote work. The connection made for decent internet most of the time, but it didn’t work so well for my Zoom meetings. (Ted and Wendy have issues with it on occasion, too.)
We attached our 25-foot cellphone booster antenna to the side of Tagalong, which helped some, but not a lot. After facing torturously slow speeds for a couple of days, I packed up my laptop and went to a local library to get through my workday. It’s nice to have options, and we’ve learned to roll with the punches and be flexible as a result of our RV lifestyle.
It’s All About People
Our leveling and internet troubles have all been worth it to get to see friends and family across the country we haven’t seen in months or years — friends like Ted and Wendy.
After leaving their place, we met some more wonderful people as part of Boondockers Welcome who quickly became friends. We spent a night at their expansive farm on the border of Illinois and Wisconsin.
Upon our arrival, seven Great Pyrenees dogs greeted us, along with their owner. Also known as livestock guard dogs (LGDs), the pack we saw only represented half of the LGDs on the property whose job is to protect the cattle and sheep from coyotes, wolves, and mountain lions.
Our hosts invited us to join them for dinner in the small town. Over spaghetti and wings, we chatted about their farm, their Boondockers Welcome experiences, and our lifestyle. They plan to sell the farm and become full-time RVers.
A short drive the next day afforded us a super relaxing morning. We sipped coffee outside while reading and taking in the views around us, feeling extremely blessed at the experiences we get to enjoy and thankful for the best travel day ever.
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It should have been an easy brake job. Bob had all the parts to replace the trailer brakes and the mechanical know-how to get the job done. The problem was trying to lift all of Tagalong’s 17,000 pounds to get the tires off.
Bob had successfully jacked up the trailer before to grease the axles. We had hooked it up to Gulliver for better stability and carefully raised Tagalong’s back end. Bob had also succeeded in lifting Tagalong when we needed to change a flat tire.
When Bob attempted to lift Tagalong this time, however, I received a text message while working across the street at my cousin’s house: “I broke the trailer. Come see.”
Thoughts flooded my mind as I made the short trek across the street. “Oh no! That’s our home!” “At least we’re with family and have time before we plan to journey on.” “That’s more good fodder for the blog.”
Jacking the Trailer: Take 2
The pressure of Tagalong’s weight against the jack ended up breaking the welding joint of a metal beam spanning the trailer’s underside. Fortunately for us, the farm mechanics were having a slow day, and one of them had time to re-weld the joint on our trailer.
After that, Bob tried a different method for his second attempt at raising the trailer. To make up for the gap between the jack and Tagalong’s main structural I-beam, he used an 8-inch section of a 6x6 beam. As the beam took on Tagalong’s heavy weight, it couldn’t stand up under the pressure and split in two pieces, rapidly dropping the trailer back down. Thankfully, Bob stayed safe during that ordeal.
The difference between this time and the previous successes of lifting the trailer had to do with the ground. Here, we started from an uneven rather than level surface. Plus, it had rained recently, which only complicated matters by making the ground softer than normal.
We decided not to attempt the brakes a third time but to get professional help. Because Bob had planned to do the work, we had all of the parts. That meant we’d only have to pay for labor. A local place about 10 minutes away offered the service we needed but had a reputation for not getting to jobs quickly. We wanted to be homeless for as little time as possible.
Dropping off your home is an eerie and humbling feeling. And this time, we left Gulliver too. We reminded the shop techs they had everything we owned, and then we watched one of them drive our earthly belongings away, leaving us with the clothes on our backs and a few things we had taken to my cousin’s house.
It brought me back to the age of 10, when I stood with my family as we watched the mobile home we had lived in for a year drive down the street and out of our lives. We had rebounded from that short time of homelessness just fine, so I had hope Bob and I would rebound from this one too.
A Blessing in Disguise
One day at the shop stretched into two. Bob got a call notifying him that our trailer would definitely be ready for pickup by the end of that second day. But a subsequent call informed us of a new discovery. The shop successfully changed the brakes and the wheel bearings, but the trailer brakes still weren’t grabbing. A larger problem loomed, but the techs wouldn’t be able to troubleshoot it until the following day.
This explained the problem we first noticed when leaving our daughter Megan’s in Tennessee. The electric trailer brakes didn’t grab like they should — a huge safety issue. We were able to increase the grabbing power of the brakes and stop when needed, but this new discovery confirmed the brakes themselves weren’t at fault. Rather, the issue lay with the wiring or a connection.
Had Bob succeeded in changing the trailer brakes, we would have presumed the trailer was good to go. We wouldn’t have attempted to use the brakes until hooking up the trailer to Gulliver and leaving for our next destination. So, it turned out to be a blessing in disguise that we ran into so many issues with trying to change the brakes.
The techs replaced a small section of faulty wiring and, after three days, we got our home back. This whole experience left us with immense gratitude — for our safety, our home, Ethan who welded the beam back together, my cousin Debbie's hospitality in our time of homelessness, and the professionals who discovered, troubleshot, and repaired the source of the problem. God is good.
We never thought we’d get stuck … especially in a state campground. But, after trying to maneuver into our Traverse City, Michigan, campsite from a very narrow road, we decided to attempt a different approach.
Bob pulled into the empty site across from us and tried to back Tagalong in from there. As he did, Gulliver’s dually tires dug into the soil until they were spinning but not moving the truck. We excavated some of the soft sand, put wood planks in front of the tires, and tried again. They still didn’t grab.
Desperate, we replaced the planks with firewood we had brought with us from our previous stop to build a platform in front of the tires. Still no traction. We were so stuck that we needed help to get out.
Campers tend to be friendly, helpful people, and the campers in Traverse City didn’t disappoint. Bob found a guy with a Ford truck who was more than willing to try to pull our Dodge Ram and trailer out of the sand. We only needed a tow strap.
Another camper on a bicycle stopped — mostly because we were blocking the road, but also because he wanted to watch. He said he had a tow strap and zipped off to get it. After he returned, the guys hooked the strap between the front of Gulliver and the back of the first guy’s truck. That did the trick and pulled our truck up out of the soft sand. Whew!
We attempted once again to back into our campsite. And, once again, we got stuck in the same soft sand. By now, a third good Samaritan, Ernie, had joined the party and offered to pull us out with his GMC 4x4, wanting to show up the Ford — and eager to keep the cyclist from going to get his Toyota.
The GMC, like the Ford, succeeded. But we still couldn’t get into our site without our tires digging into the sand.
A New Tactic
Ernie recommended we unhitch the trailer and reposition the truck to where it would be out of the sand before reconnecting. That would mean we’d have to connect to the trailer from a side angle rather than directly in front of it, something we’d never attempted. But Ernie, who had a fifth wheel about the same size as ours, had done it before. What did we have to lose?
We unhitched, leaving our trailer sticking out in the road, and Bob moved Gulliver. To prevent another tailgate mishap with the trailer in tow, we removed the tailgate. Reconnecting the truck to the trailer at an angle worked and enabled Bob to pull Tagalong forward — away from the super soft sand — and get enough running room to back into our campsite. What a relief!
I would have been happy just to leave the trailer right there and set up camp. But, to prevent getting stuck again when leaving, we realized we needed to finagle Tagalong for an easy getaway. So, Bob moved the truck forward and backward time after time after time to get our very long trailer situated just right to give us the best chance at success.
More than two hours after arriving at the campground, we finally parked in our campsite and unhitched from the truck for the week.
4 Lessons Learned
After our frustrations died down and we were able to evaluate the situation, we realized four valuable takeaways:
1. Always carry a tow strap.
When we purchased Gulliver, we purposely got him without four-wheel drive, thinking it unnecessary and not wanting to spend the gas mileage for a nice-to-have. We didn’t regret that decision until this day. Similarly, we didn’t think we had any use for a tow strap.
We’ve since ordered a heavy-duty tow strap and will pick it up at our next location. If we ever find ourselves in a similar situation to this one — and we hope we never do — we’ll be better prepared.
2. Check the soil before parking.
We had no idea the ground we were attempting to drive on would completely give way, but we could tell by looking it was soft. Next time, we’ll get out and assess the terrain closely before attempting to pull our 17,000-pound trailer onto it.
3. Think outside the box.
Sometimes, to find the best solution to a problem, you have to look at the situation from a different angle. Taking the advice and experience of our friendly camping neighbor, Ernie, we learned to look at our fifth wheel kingpin and hitch at a different angle — and realized we don’t always have to square the truck to the trailer to connect it. After all, the kingpin is round.
4. Don’t be afraid to look like a fool.
No one wants to be the campground entertainment, those campers everyone stops what they’re doing to watch. But that’s what we were that day. One couple even got their lawn chairs out to enjoy the festivities.
We looked like newbies rather than full-time RVers who’ve been on the road for more than a year. Our pride got in the way, resulting in embarrassment. And that only added to our frustration throughout the parking ordeal.
We all have hard days we can learn from. Perhaps our experience will help someone else in the future.
When leaving on an RV journey, it’s vital to know the condition of your rig. If anything’s in need of repair before you depart, it will more than likely be in need of greater repair if not addressed before hitting the road. This is a lesson we learned early on, and it has certainly helped us keep tabs on our rig and fix issues before they ballooned.
The TV antenna on our roof is an excellent example. Unfortunately, when we left Louisiana in haste to stay ahead of unpleasant weather, we failed to notice our leaning antenna. We did observe that the antenna direction controller inside the trailer didn’t stop like it should have, but we didn’t look further into it. From outside, we could see that the antenna faced the proper direction, so we considered it good to go.
Looking back at pictures from right before we left, however, the issue was apparent. And it likely wouldn’t have been the big problem it became the following morning had we addressed it right then.
Thankfully, we spotted it before we completely lost the antenna off our roof. If that had happened, it would have left a gaping hole for rain to get into and cause all kinds of damage.
Electric Cord Cover
We don’t only walk around the trailer before setting out on a trip, but we also check things every time we stop at a gas station or rest area, just as truckers do. At one fuel stop, we discovered our electric cord cover had completely blown off our rig somewhere between upper-state New York and Massachusetts. We ensured the security of our electric cord, which was all we could do, and continued on our way. We ordered a replacement cover delivered to our next destination.
Our walkarounds have also led to the discovery of protruding and missing screws on the skirting around the trailer. Sometimes, retightening is enough to keep the screws in place. Other times, that fix is a short-term solution that has to be reinforced with tape. When tape fails, we have to completely replace screws with nuts and bolts to keep the screws from drilling their way out.
Why do screws protrude? Every time we drive the trailer anywhere, it experiences an earthquake that shakes and rattles everything in and attached to it. The vibrations of tires hitting the road — especially bumpy roads — is enough to slowly push screws out of their tightened positions.
Brake Cable Connector
Another walkaround saved us from losing our emergency brake cable on the trailer. One end of the cable is secured to the underside of the trailer overhanging the truck. The other end attaches around the fifth-wheel hitch in the bed of the truck so that if the trailer becomes disconnected, the trailer brakes will be applied.
Once again, protruding screws allowed excess movement of the brake cable connector attachment on the trailer. We spotted the issue and were able to fix it with larger screws.
Tonneau Cover Clips
When not towing, we cover the bed of our truck with a Tonneau cover. When we are towing, the cover folds four times to expose the hitch in the truck bed. The cover came with straps to secure it open, but they were made with subpar quality. In other words, they really didn’t hold the cover in place to keep it from flipping closed.
We replaced the original straps with some Velcro straps that wrapped around U brackets, but the new straps gave out during travel. When stopped at a Cabela’s parking lot for an overnight stay, we headed into the store on a mission to find a replacement for the Velcro straps.
We rigged a solution with straps that attach to a locking carabiner clip, and we added some pyramid-shape hardware to the truck cover to secure the clips in place. We haven’t had any trouble since.
As you can imagine, a walkround won’t reveal troublesome noises on a rig. Having bought new shoes for Tagalong in Tennessee, we were fortunate to be backing up the trailer in a Walmart parking lot before heading north to our next destination. I say fortunate because if we hadn’t been backing up, I wouldn’t have been outside the truck to help Bob and heard an awful grinding noise on our rig, indicating something clearly wasn’t right.
Bob thought maybe the brakes were at fault. We switched places so he could hear the noise. Megan helped us pinpoint its side of origin, and we quickly homed in on the problem: Part of our trailer skirting was rubbing against the new front, driver-side tire.
“Did Discount Tire do something wrong when installing the new tires?” we wondered. Perhaps the tech had jacked up the rig in the wrong place. Whatever the cause, we clearly had an issue that needed addressing before our 600-mile journey.
Upon closer examination, we learned some screws were missing to attach the skirting to the trailer frame. We always travel with lots of tools, so Bob quickly remedied the situation, securing the piece to the frame and away from the tire so we could get on our way.
We thanked God for watching out for us. If we hadn’t been trying to back up in a parking lot, we wouldn’t have discovered the issue until much more damage had been done to our new tires.
Pre-travel walkarounds have saved us from many incidents that could have inflicted serious damage to our rig, our truck, and even ourselves. The importance of that practice cannot be understated.
It’s typical when you start anything new to make some mistakes as you get the hang of it. Although we had been camping with our family for years with a pop-up trailer and then a travel trailer, we still had a lot to learn about camping with a fifth wheel and a dually truck. Here are some of the biggest mistakes we’ve made thus far.
You may have seen those truck tailgates that dip down in the center to allow a fifth wheel hitch to slide right over without contact. We don’t have one of those. We stuck with a traditional tailgate to keep anything in our truck bed secure under our Tonneau cover.
The very first time we took our fifth wheel out for a test run, we got set up and disconnected from the truck just fine. But, we kept the truck bed underneath the hitch while Bob worked on the electrical connection. With his job complete, he closed the tailgate and went to drive the truck away from the trailer.
BAM! The whole trailer shook. I emerged from inside it to see what had happened … and discovered our dented tailgate. Closing the tailgate before driving away from the trailer put the tailgate in the direct line of the kingpin. A crash was inevitable — and expensive to fix.
We ordered a new tailgate from Amazon, painted to match the color of our truck. The first one we received arrived dented. So, we ordered another one. As you can imagine, our Amazon driver wasn’t too happy with us. The second one arrived intact, and Bob replaced it on Gulliver. Now we always follow a checklist when hooking up to and unhooking from Tagalong.
Although the control panel in our trailer shows gauges for two gray tanks, we thought one valve controlled emptying both of them. And every time we opened the cap to drain our sewer, meaning both black and gray tanks, we’d get some leakage.
We had a mobile RV repair tech come out to our rig for an evaluation, and he suggested we get a see-through attachment with a built-in valve that we could connect to our sewer pipe to help us see if leakage continued. We tried that for about a week and, sure enough, leakage continued.
So, we had the mobile RV tech come back out to replace the leaky gray valve. He and a partner showed up and completed the job and gave us the $350 bill. Before they left, he informed us we have two gray tanks and showed us the location of the valve for the second one.
Most likely, we threw $350 down the toilet (pun intended) because the second gray valve had been open the whole time. And that was the real cause of the leakage.
While en route to a beautiful campground on the Mississippi River on the Minnesota/Wisconsin line, we encountered quite a few low-hanging branches. Bob did a great job slowing down and maneuvering to one side of the road or the other to avoid as many of them as possible, and we successfully made it to our campsite.
Upon examination of the roof after arrival, Bob noticed a ruffle in the rubber membrane of our roof covering. Upon closer examination, he discovered our TV antenna had been pulled up from the roof, a screw in the corner protruding. And this snag on the TV antenna had pulled the rubber membrane partially out from under the nose cap of the trailer.
When we had packed up at our previous site to head to this one, I checked the TV antenna from inside but, unfortunately, didn’t turn it all the way to the proper direction so that it wouldn’t catch on tree branches. The way it was positioned left it prime for snagging any low-hanging branches we encountered.
With rain in the forecast, we had to scramble to fix the issue to avoid leakage inside the trailer. So, we bought some specialized roofing tape and self-leveling roofing sealant, and Bob pulled the membrane back into place as best as possible and resealed the popped-up screw on the antenna enclosure. This turned out to be a cheaper fix, and we’ve had no trouble since.
Now, we always make sure we follow our checklist, and I double-check that the antenna is facing the right direction for travel before we go anywhere.
If you’d like to learn about more of our mistakes, you might enjoy:
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You know you have a good thing going when you’re away from your RV for two weeks and miss being home. That’s a nice surprise of our new lifestyle. Dorothy said it best in “The Wizard of Oz”: “There’s no place like home.” In addition to that revelation, here are the top surprises from our first six months of RV living:
1. 400 square feet is more than enough space.
The living area of our fifth wheel doesn’t sound like much, but it’s just enough for the two of us. We have everything we need: a living room, kitchen and table, bedroom, bathroom, and a dedicated office — even enough space to entertain. It’s easy to take care of and keep clean, and it feels homey. We really enjoy it.
2. We have more than we need or use.
When you set out on a major adventure, you likely have an idea of what equipment you’ll need. We did. And it’s always better to be over-prepared than under-prepared, right?
But thinking about inventorying the things in our trailer we haven’t touched since we left the Phoenix area in May sounds like work. We have more unnecessary things than I’d like to tally. There are the fishing poles, DVDs, certain clothes, some dishes, and plenty more. And we didn’t even fill up all the space our rig has to offer.
3. Solid friendships traverse time and distance.
It truly is a small world — and country. Traveling across it and reconnecting with friends and family we hadn’t seen in months and years reminded us of the depth of those relationships. The time apart didn’t matter. We made new connections and rekindled longtime friendships, picking right up where we left off.
4. Truckers are our friends.
Semi-trucks (tractor-trailers in the East, where Bob grew up) were one of the best sights for us to see on any road. If truckers who travel regularly drove the roads we were on, it gave us confidence we could make it on those same avenues — because our rig is only 3 inches shorter than a semi.
Seeing trucks at rest areas and travel stops gave us that same level of confidence for the same reason.
5. Rest areas are quieter at night than we thought.
At the onset of our RV journey, the thought of sleeping in our rig in the parking lot of a rest area didn’t sound very attractive. Vehicles going in and out of the stop every so often would surely keep us awake. And, knowing we’d have to park where truckers park because of the length of Gulliver pulling Tagalong just added to the certainty of the din.
While traveling across the country to stay ahead of some storms, however, we quickly learned otherwise. Wanting to cover a lot of ground in a few days’ time necessitated overnight stays close to the highway. As you probably guessed, rest areas made the perfect stops. And we slept just fine, unbothered by the drone of the diesel truck engines.
6. Even though our rig is made for full-time living, things break.
Not all RVs are created equal. Some are made to be taken out for a short weekend trip, or even for up to two weeks or a month at a time. Others are more robust, designed for full-time living. But no matter the durability behind the construction, all of them are susceptible to things breaking.
Someone summarized it well: Our home experiences a mini earthquake every time we take it on the road. Highways aren’t designed for transporting your home every day, or even occasionally. Just as things break in earthquakes, they break in our rig and require fixing.
Our downtime from traveling during these winter months gives us the perfect opportunity to address those issues (some have to be dealt with right away) — and dwindle down our belongings.
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.
On our Panama Canal cruise last year, we met a young, red-haired, blue-eyed, fair-skinned missionary gal in Guatemala who’s from Pennsylvania. She turned out to be the translator on our taxi ride throughout the port town of San Jose. Long story short, she took us by the mission she’s involved in there, and we’ve been supporting her and her fiance’s ministry ever since.
Knowing Savannah hailed from Pennsylvania and that we wanted to spend time there, we asked if she knew anyone who might be willing to host us for a week. Her grandparents were kind enough to volunteer, so we’ve been moochdocking at their place this week. It’s been a truly wonderful experience.
They’ve done a lot of traveling, appreciate history, and know the area very well. So, with their guidance and suggestions, we visited Gettysburg and overlooked the expansive battlefield, where history came to life. We rode an Amtrak train from Lancaster to Philadelphia and explored Independence Hall, the Liberty Bell, Reading Terminal Market, Love Park, and the Rocky statue.
We drove to Amish country in Lancaster for dinner one evening before heading to Sight & Sound Theatres for the phenomenal presentation of “Queen Esther.” The mind-blowing sets had me mouthing “Wow” throughout the show. The costumes and acting were just as spectacular.
If you’re ever in Lancaster, or Branson, Missouri, and have time to attend a show at Sight & Sound Theatres, we highly recommend it. The cost is well worth it.
Because we attended the 7 p.m. show of “Queen Esther,” we didn’t return to our trailer until about 10:30 that night … only to hear a steady, high-pitched noise. When you live in a fifth wheel, any unusual noise is not a good sign.
Before we set out on our epic adventure from Arizona, Bob had hooked up our rig to be able to “plug into itself.” That means through the use of an inverter, we can use our batteries to power our outlets in the rig. Our lights run directly off the batteries, but the TVs and power outlets don’t.
When we’re actually plugged into shore power, that charges our batteries. But, with Tagalong plugged into itself, it creates a loop with the batteries powering the inverter, and then the converter/charger, in turn, tries to charge the batteries. When doing this, the inverter screams a little, which is a bad thing. Turning off the circuit breaker for the charger/controller stops that feedback loop so that the trailer can successfully power the outlets.
We weren’t plugged into shore power at our moochdocking site, so we relied on our solar panels to charge our batteries. Cloudy weather prevented the solar panels from giving us a full charge, so Bob ran the generator for a number of hours to make up for the difference.
Shortly before we left for dinner and the show, he turned off the generator to let it cool. Then he stored it, plugged the trailer into itself, and we hit the road. But, we forgot to turn off the circuit breaker to stop the aforementioned feedback loop — thus, the high-pitched noise.
We immediately turned off the circuit breaker upon entry to the trailer, which stopped the unpleasant noise. But then, Bob turned off the inverter, and we lost all power — and feared we fried our two $1,000 Lithium iron batteries. Because of the late hour and our location in a quiet neighborhood, we couldn’t really run the generator to get the power we needed for the night (our fridge had turned off too).
Had this happened to us while boondocking in the woods, we likely would have run the generator out of necessity. Since that wasn’t the case here, and we were parked in the yard of a home, we decided to plug into the house to try to get some charge on our drained batteries.
Picture us prowling around this sleepy neighborhood with flashlights trying to get this all set up. We looked like robbers.
We successfully plugged into the house with the hope that we’d get enough of a charge that we wouldn’t have to stay plugged in all night. That didn’t happen. So, Bob left a note on our hosts’ vehicle notifying them of what had happened and explaining that we’d unplug in the morning. Our hosts had no problem with the situation. Their kindness and graciousness was much appreciated.
The next day, we breathed a sigh of relief when we learned the batteries were fine. A sunny sky helped us get the full battery charge we needed. I finished my work week, and Bob caught up on some things. Then we ventured into a town an hour away to meet with two friends I hadn’t seen in 32 years.
I mentioned in an earlier blog that Bob and I met in California as part of the Continental Singers & Orchestra back in the ‘80s. In 1988, the year after we met, I went on another tour, this time with the Continental Orchestra & Singers, and I made these two friends then. They both live in Pennsylvania now, and we got reacquainted a few months ago thanks to a Zoom reunion.
Getting together in person with all of our spouses was icing on the cake. We had a wonderful time of fun and fellowship over a Mexican meal in a town equidistant from the three of us. As I shared that night, events like this are the highlights of Bob’s and my new lifestyle. We’ve been able to see and visit many people we hadn’t seen in numerous years, and it truly is a blessing.
We left South Dakota with plans to stay two nights at a Minnesota campground overlooking the Mississippi River on the Wisconsin border. After an uneventful trip, we exited the highway, followed a curvy dirt road to the campground, pulled into our very uneven spot, and set up camp.
Because the site was so uneven, we ended up using every single one of our leveling blocks to prop up the tires and stabilizing jacks on the passenger side of the trailer. Breathing a sigh of relief at having just the right amount of blocks, we tried to get into the trailer. I couldn’t even reach the door handle from the ground.
After extending the legs of our stairs as far as they’d go, they hovered above the terrain. If we had tried to climb the stairs in that situation, we could have broken them and/or caused more problems.
We searched the area for anything that could support the stairs and spotted three thin boards under the site’s picnic table. Unfortunately, those still left at least a 3-inch gap — and only helped one side of the stairs.
After more exploration, Bob found some leftover firewood at a vacated campsite. It was just enough. We stacked the small pieces of wood to create the base our stairs needed and made it into our coach to complete setup. Whew!
A Mistake and Low-Hanging Branches
The next morning, as Bob climbed the ladder at the end of our coach to attach our Wi-Fi antenna, he noticed something didn’t look right around one of the vents. Upon further examination, he discovered a major issue: A screw had pulled out about halfway from securing the TV antenna to the roof and, as a result, had pulled the rubber membrane — the main roofing material — out from under the nose cap.
With a storm in that afternoon’s forecast, Bob secured the roof with duct tape and the shiny type of duct tape that’s used on water heaters.
It seems I had failed to secure the TV antenna, which sits toward the front of the trailer, in the proper position for travel. Normally, the rounded portion faces front. This time, however, the rounded portion had faced the driver’s side, leaving the metallic parts of the antenna free to grab onto leaves of low-hanging branches we passed.
As we had entered the campground the day before, we encountered some branches that hung a bit low for our 13’ 3” rig. Tagalong made it through, and we didn’t think anything of it. Evidently, we should have.
4 States in 1 Day
Gulliver is not a storm chaser. No, he’s more of a storm evader — at least when he’s pulling Tagalong. After hemming and hawing about staying at the beautiful campground and risking roof leakage, we ceded to Gulliver's nature and quickly packed up the trailer, hooked up, and hit the road — and some more low branches in the process of leaving.
We had planned to spend at least one night in Wisconsin, but storms were expected to blow through there that afternoon too. So, we hightailed it through three states all the way to my cousin’s fruit farm, Piedt’s Farm, in southwestern Michigan, where we could be close to Elkhart, Indiana (RV mecca) if we needed more repairs than we could do on our own.
After a two-hour round trip to Camping World the next day to get roofing supplies, we spent the following day hanging out on the roof in the hot sun trying to get all the wrinkles out of the rubber membrane. We taped it down with super sticky tape made especially for RVs and succeeded in fixing the roof.
Despite the trials, we’re still having fun, especially since the electric bikes we ordered arrived. We’re enjoying time on the farm, eating fresh produce, spending time with family, exploring my old stomping grounds, and traveling down memory lane. I was born in the area and spent my fifth-grade year here after moving out of state at the age of 4.
I never thought we’d be the kind of RVers who spend a night in a rest area or Cabela’s parking lot on their way to a destination. At the outset, we had planned to stay a week in each location we stopped. As is typical, however, those plans changed because our new lifestyle requires us to pay close attention to the weather.
After a relaxing, rejuvenating time with family in Eugene, Oregon, we picked up our rig in Medford, Oregon, the morning of June 3, happy to have our home back. Instead of embarking on our transatlantic cruise to London that day as originally scheduled, we departed on a cross-country trek to South Dakota.
Since I’m still not working full time (I have had interviews, and I’ve picked up some contract/freelance work in the interim), we decided to make the journey in five days. That would allow us ample time to recover at the end of each day to make the trip enjoyable.
Knowing where we planned to be which days, we checked the weather in those locations and learned about some developing thunderstorms. Not wanting to set up or even drive in inclimate weather if it could be avoided, we condensed our five-day journey into four days in an effort to beat the storms.
That resulted in some intense drive days — and saddle soreness — but we enjoyed seeing the varying country and wildlife in the states we crossed. Which states were they? Nevada, Utah, and Wyoming before arriving in South Dakota. We weren’t able to put Utah on our map as we only drove through it and didn’t spend a night there. (Sorry, Andy and Erin, but rest assured we’ll be back at some point.)
Along the way, we learned some more important RV lessons:
1. Everything Takes Longer Than We Think
Just because we’re full-time RVers doesn’t mean we get special treatment when our coach needs service or repairs. We have to wait in line behind the weekend warriors just like they have to wait behind us.
Although we had hoped to drop off our coach for only three days, the service center had it for eight. Similarly, just because we think our rig will be ready for pickup at a certain time doesn’t make it true. Even though we arrived at the service center at 9 a.m., we didn’t leave there until 11.
The same longer-than-we-think concept applies to packing up and getting on the road. It always takes us longer than we think it will. And, if we have to stop at a dumping station, we can plan on adding another hour to our trip.
2. Use Produce Before Dropping Off the Coach
Not expecting to lose our rig for as long as we did, we left everything in the fridge and freezer. Not only did our ice melt and meld together, but our produce also went bad, making for a messy, smelly reunion with the coach. We should have thrown out the ice and eaten the produce or taken it with us rather than leaving it.
3. Cleaning Is a Full-Time Job
Gulliver eats a lot of bugs while traveling for days. We need to clean his grill every 1,000 miles or so to keep him looking shiny. Our trailer also needs regular attention.
I had asked my fellow full-time RVer sister-in-law if she cleans her rig before or after moving. The answer was both.
We need to clean the coach before closing it up for a journey if we’ve been in a single location for more than a few days. But we also need to clean the trailer once we arrive at a destination if we were on the road for a while because dust enters from the slides and from the tires jostling things around on the highways.
4. 200-300 Miles Is Ideal for One Day
We arbitrarily chose a goal date of August 1 to arrive in Massachusetts. That meant ambitious journeys between locations spaced a week apart. Because we’ve learned lesson 1 above, we know those targeted destinations aren’t ideal and have made some changes to our schedule and itinerary as a result. (That’s also what’s resulted in our long-haul treks.)
In the future (at least after August 1), we plan to go a little slower and cover less ground in a single day — and not choose arbitrary dates to be in a certain location if we can help it. It’s more important to enjoy the journey.
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.