The kids named our Ram 3500 Shelley (from the self-driving Audi TTS in Nova’s Making Stuff/Safer hosted by David Pogue), and our Excel Winslow Fifth Wheel Dusty (from Disney’s Planes). So far Shelley has towed Dusty from Holland, Michigan to the Florida Keys, around 1,500 miles. Along the way we made stops of various lengths in:
1. Ann Arbor, Michigan
2. Cleveland, Ohio
3. Morgantown, West Virginia
4. Inwood, West Virginia
5. Winston-Salem, North Carolina
6. Gastonia, North Carolina
7. Sesquicentennial State Park, South Carolina
8. Santee State Park, South Carolina
9. Osceola National Forest, Florida
10. Sebastian Inlet State Park, Florida
We have had some adventures of course; some not so pleasant at the time but none we can’t chuckle about now. Here are some highlights:
– Our friends tasked us right away with parking our newly acquired rig right in front of their house in residential Ann Arbor. The reasoning: school buses drive our street, why not you? Well for one, school buses are not 13 ½ feet tall! We were very nervous. This was our first in-town experience. Anyway, they tasked us and we obliged. It was no real problem, and they got free tree pruning as a bonus.
– Driving through Toledo with our miles-to-empty showing 45, no worries. Then we hit some head winds and the range starts dropping like a rock, down to 17 and we are still on the Interstate. Approaching the Toledo Skyway Bridge, wind picks up even more and range, well there is no range; Shelley says out of fuel! We are still running though and able to get off the Interstate. Lucky for us a BP with diesel is just ahead and I manage to pull up to the pump, but on the wrong side! We are toast (our rig is almost 50 feet long). Natasha points out a large parking lot behind the station, we pull in, unhook and leave our fifth wheel trailer there, then causally drive the truck into the station on the correct side of the pump and fill up. Note to self: don’t mess with fuel as though you are driving a Prius!
– As if we had not just had enough drama in Toledo we decide to stop and show my brother Brooks our rig in downtown Cleveland – Brooks works for the Lake Erie Science Center. Not to be deterred we pull right up in front of the double-parking in a half dozen cars. Brooks and a few co-workers get a quick tour before a security guard decides enough is enough. Getting out of Cleveland is just as interesting as we drive down busy 9th Street: buses, cars and pedestrians everywhere.
– Our first back-up experience occurred at Natasha’s Mom’s house in Inwood, West Virginia. Her driveway is plenty big, wide and long, but it is off a busy two-lane road, and backing in and up a slight hill is the only option. We arrive in Inwood, Natasha jumps out, stops traffic, then I am on the spot. My first effort was a failure; I started too far right and ran out of room for the truck to maneuver. So I straightened out, got left this time, and pushed it right in. We have backed it into half a dozen sites now and feeling fairly confident.
– Arriving in Gastonia, North Carolina, from Tanglewood Campground near Winston-Salem, we stop at a grocery store to get some provisions. We are actually parked (if you can call it that) in a gas station, adjacent to the grocery store, on a slight slant. Natasha gets out of the truck and comes right back with bad news that we have a lot of water leaking out the rear. Natasha goes inside the trailer and lo and behold the kitchen sink faucet is running and sending water directly onto our wood floor then streaming to the rear and out; soaking our carpet and God knows what else along the way! This is our first true disaster, made us both sick. It was a comedy of errors that led to this:
1. We left water in our fresh water tank for no good reason.
2. I thought I’d turned off the water pump but did not (even though Natasha asked me and checked it off our pre-travel list).
3. Our faucet (located in the kitchen island) while in transit slowly turned itself on by gravity and vibration.
4. The faucet head swiveled from the sink to directly over the wood floor.
We were devastated. Lucky for us our next stop was with good friends in Gastonia and they had a carpet cleaner! We spent several hours removing as much water from the carpet as possible and drying everything out. Over the course of several days we managed to dry the carpet and there was no permanent damage, we are very fortunate.
– Heading to Santee State Park in South Carolina we miss the campground entrance (my fault) and start searching for a place to turn around. I make an attempt at a nearby restaurant but no go; tree limbs are too low (well really we are too tall). Natasha then finds a road that will basically take us around the block for another try at the campground entrance. The road turns out to be a dirt road, but it has been raining so really now a mud road. So there we are, driving everything we own down a slippery mud road that is getting more narrow and rutted by the moment. Needless to say, cooler heads are not prevailing. I go for the four-wheel drive, because we are barely moving, but it does not seem to help at all (That is because I unknowingly tried putting the truck in low four-wheel-drive, which won’t work without a stop and shift to neutral. So what I am thinking at the time: “we have the crappiest four-wheel-drive in the world!”). Somehow we make it back to blacktop and are saved. Once in our campground spot we spend an hour spraying the mud away.
Since these mishaps we have been doing better, maybe we are learning. Our current spot in the Florida Keys was as difficult a place as can be to get into. It is a pull-through, which usually means you pull in, unhook and pull the truck forward and away, no backing necessary. But this was a unique RV site and situation, and though we had to pull in there was no out, no room to extract the truck. So we stacked wood blocks under our hydraulic jacks enabling us to lift the fifth wheel so the king-pin (the part of the trailer that connects to the truck hitch) could clear the sides of the truck bed, then we went back and forth diagonally until the truck could be pulled away to the side. Even the park rangers were impressed with our maneuvering.