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.
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.