"Live a good life, and in the end, it's not the years in the life, it's the life in the years."

First time ‘in charge’ of RV trip

By on January 25, 2021 in Travel with 1 Comment
Author June McCann, left, and her friend Twilene in Boise. They could smile now…

You would expect some lessons were to be learned on extended trailer trip

By June McCann

I have been a camper all of my adult life; in tents, tent trailers, pickup campers, trailers, fifth wheels and motorhomes. 

However, I have never been the “in charge” person. That changed in the summer of 2020 when I bought a 16-foot vacation trailer. 

I had looked for a small vacation trailer two years ago but didn’t find what I wanted in the price range I wanted to spend. Then, in 2020 as I was having to deal with COVID-19, I began to rethink owning a small trailer. 

My daughter and grandsons live in Salt Lake City, Utah and my son lives in the Vancouver, Washington area. 

I was not willing to fly to Utah and with two little dogs, Suki and Lilly, and I didn’t want to drive and stay at motels either. So, it made sense to me to look into buying a small vacation trailer. 

In June I began a search in newspapers and online ads to see if I could find what I wanted. I wanted it to be no longer than 20 feet but I was flexible about what else it featured. A walk-around bed would be nice but seldom had I seen a short trailer with one. 

After about three weeks, I was getting discouraged. What I saw was either new for more money than I wanted to spend or several states away. 

Then one afternoon, I called All Seasons RV to see if they offered used trailers. 

The salesman said that they did offer some used trailers, as they received trade-ins, but that the smaller trailers were hard to find. 

I already knew that but at the end of our conversation, he took my name and number and said that if anything came up, he would call me. We concluded our conversation at about 3:15. 

Then at 4:45 he called me with the news that a lady he had sold a 16-foot Coleman trailer to a few years ago had just called to say that she wanted to trade it in for a motorhome. I couldn’t believe it. 

Lesson learned: Shop local. 

So, my friend, Linda, and I went to see the trailer when it came into the dealer the next week. 

It was four years old but looked new in every way. And it had a walk around bed. It felt like that trailer was meant to be mine and I bought it. 

I had some concerns about my Chevrolet Colorado being able to pull it but I thought it would be easier finding a different vehicle than it was to find a small trailer I liked. 

Over the next several weeks a lot of things happened. Although I had planned to use my Colorado, it proved to be too small to pull the trailer without overheating. So, the search started for another vehicle. 

My son helped me look and found an ideal vehicle for me in Seattle. 

After a day or so of negotiations, I bought it and days later the dealer came to get my beloved Subaru and brought me a Toyota Sequoia. Wow, was it big! 

Then more time was spent to get a hitch on the Toyota, get the brakes on the trailer wired, get new batteries for the trailer and some other odds and ends. 

I took the trailer and Toyota to the Big Lots parking lot and practiced backing up until I could put the trailer where I wanted it… well almost. 

And I made plans to leave Wenatchee on Sunday, Sept. 20, and travel to Boise to see a friend then on to Utah to see my family. 

I’d meet two lady friends at Cape Disappointment and I’d come back through Vancouver to visit my son and daughter-in-law, then head for home. 

On Saturday, Sept. 19, with the trailer packed with essentials, I was ready to hook it up to the Toyota. 

A Sequoia and Coleman trailer: a road-worthy match-up.

Like a lot of trailer owners, I had used a cinder block under the jack when I unhooked the trailer. Now, I couldn’t get the tongue of the trailer jacked up high enough to get the cinder block out. 

To get help with the jack, I called my friend, Jill, and she and her husband brought a floor jack the next morning. 

We got the trailer tongue off the cinder block and hooked up to the Toyota. Now I should be ready to go, leaving as I originally planned on that Sunday. 

Lesson learned: Don’t use the cinder block with my Toyota. 

My plan was to drive to Pendleton to spend the night at a KOA campground. Everything I was going to need for the next three weeks was in the trailer. I’d stop to visit an old friend in Boise, then go on to Salt Lake City. 

As I tried to pull the trailer into the driveway, it pulled so hard that it was holding back the Toyota. I realized that the brakes on the trailer were locked, a safety feature in case the hitch comes off while traveling. 

So, for the next three hours, I tried to figure out exactly what was wrong. The trailer brakes were controlled by a computer program that was set using an app on my iPhone. 

I adjusted the brakes from my phone but it didn’t make any difference. 

When I couldn’t get the trailer brakes to release, I concluded that I was not leaving on Sunday but had to wait for help from All Seasons RV on Monday. 

The dogs and I slept in the trailer that night in front of my home because it was easier than taking all that I needed back into the house and bring it out again whenever I was able to leave. 

Monday morning, I ended up going to All Seasons RV to ask what could be wrong. An initial phone call went to an answering service and I thought the in-person contact would prove timelier. 

Mike at All Seasons RV showed me that a small plunger on the emergency braking system for the trailer had been dislocated and it needed to be put back. 

Oops! The mailbox casualty that brought on a ride in the back of a police car.

I came home and scooted under the hitch and pushed on the little plunger. In an awkward position where I could only use my left hand to push on the plunger, I was not strong enough to push it in all the way. 

I called All Seasons RV and asked if there was someone who did house calls. I live only two miles from them and thought that might be possible. But Mike said they didn’t have anyone who could do that. 

I decided I was going to drive slowly and stop along the way to cool the brakes but that I was going to have them help me push that plunger in. 

It took me 35 minutes to get to All Seasons RV, having to stop a lot to cool the brakes. When I got there, it was easy for one of the men to re-establish the connection of the trailer emergency brake. 

Now I was ready to leave! 

I returned home, got Suki and Lilly and set my GPS for Pendleton. I decided the GPS lady needed a name and soon “Gladys,” Suki, Lilly and I were on our way. 

We got to Pendleton before dark and backed into our campsite. (Well actually the manager offered to back in my trailer and I took him up on his offer. No sense in turning down good help.) 

The next morning with my destination being Boise, I pulled out of my campsite about 8:30. 

As I passed another camper, the man waved his arms in the air, signaling me to stop. I slowed and checked my rear-view mirror and could see that I had left my step down on the trailer. (This is something a lot of campers have done.) 

I pulled over, walked around the back end and told him that I saw that the step was down. He said that wasn’t what he was waving about but that I had a flat tire on my trailer. 

Thinking out loud I said, “What do I do now?” 

Quickly the camper suggested that I see if the manager of the campground had a compressor to blow up the tire so I could go to Les Schwab for help. The manager did have one and blew up the tire.

 I quickly left the campground and traveled to the next exit to Pendleton’s Les Schwab tire shop. 

Lesson learned: Look to the campground manager for help. 

As the young man was putting a new tire on the trailer, I asked him to check the other one and make sure the spare had the right amount of air in it. As he examined the other tire, he assured me that the tread was good and it should be all right. 

I left there relieved that this flat had happened when I was close to a tire shop. I was off to Boise. 

About an hour out of Pendleton, near Meacham, the tire that the young man had said looked good, blew. I heard a loud sound coming from the right side and I pulled over onto the gravel shoulder. 

As I walked around the passenger side to see the tire, I could see that it was unbelievably shredded. 

I got back in the Toyota and searched for my Good Sam Roadside Assistance information. 

I had brought some binoculars and checked the exit several yards in front of me. It was exit 138. I found the Good Sam number and called for help. 

Lesson learned: Take binoculars. 

I quickly told the guy on the phone that I was on highway 82, about 60 miles south of Pendleton, Oregon near exit 138 and that I had a blow out on my vacation trailer. 

He said he was having trouble finding where I was on the map on his computer. I told him I was on the highway between Pendleton and Baker City. 

Then he found where I was but the highway number was 84, not 82. 

Lesson learned: Watch the highway signs as you are traveling. (It was 82 in Washington but changed at the state border.) Also, watch for mileposts and keep track of where you are. 

Over the next several minutes, he asked me questions to help him understand what kind of help I needed. 

It was a confusing conversation as he thought I had a motorhome and wanted to know what size engine I had. 

When I corrected him by telling him it was a pull trailer, he thought it was a tent trailer. I corrected him again and there was confusion about something else. 

My patience was wearing thin as I tried to get him to understand what it was that I had. Ultimately, he understood and said that he would call someone to come change the tire. Soon, I knew that someone from the Les Schwab Tire Shop in Pendleton was on their way. 

The traffic on highway 84 sped by as I waited for the tire truck. I turned on my flashers to be seen, sitting on the side of the road. 

An hour later, the tire truck arrived. By then my battery was dead from using the flashers. 

The Les Schwab guy put on my spare tire and put a battery jumper on from his truck.

Lesson learned: When buying a used RV, replace the tires. The tires looked good on the outside but were rotten from the inside out. 

When I told the Les Schwab guy I’d be buying another tire when I got to Boise, he strongly encouraged me to get one before then. 

He said that LaGrande was just 20 miles up the road, and that I should stop there to get another tire. (I thought to myself, why had Good Sam sent a tire truck from Pendleton, an hour away when LaGrande was 20 minutes away?) 

Lesson learned: Look at the paper map so I know where I am before I talk to Good Sam. 

I had been talking to my friend in Boise, keeping her updated. I had planned to be there around 5 o’clock, now it would be more like 7. 

I continued on my way, making a few stops for the dogs and to stretch my legs and around 7 p.m. I entered my friend, Twilene’s, development. Soon Gladys told me I had reached my destination. 

I looked around for the red door and shutters she had told me about but couldn’t see her house. Also, the house numbers didn’t match what I was looking for. 

I had pulled into an intersection so I backed up and called her for more directions. 

I was off one street and soon I was parked in front of Twilene’s house. She had told me that there wouldn’t be a problem with the homeowners association to park there for the three days I was visiting. 

Soon we had enjoyed a nice salmon, salad and dessert dinner. (Oh, yes, and wine.) 

We reminisced about our younger days when we were Girl Scout leaders for our daughters. (Now they’re 56! Yikes!) We laughed, then talked some more. We went outside to her patio where the dogs could play in her fenced yard and talked and laughed some more. 

We stopped laughing when a flashlight appeared over the fence and a man’s voice said, “Ladies, this is the police. Could I see both of you out front please?” 

I knew it: the homeowners association did not like me parking on the street in front of Twilene’s house. Shoot! (Meanwhile, I learned later that she thought the neighbors behind her had filed a complaint that we were being too noisy. This was after she had put up with late night noise from their backyard several times.) 

We joined the police officers out front, two of them. One explained to me that they had a neighbor call to complain that I had backed over her mailbox. She wanted me to come over and talk to her. 

Remember when I said that I had to back up because I was in an intersection before I called Twilene again? Well I didn’t realize it but with one of the police officers holding the cover from my trailer taillight, I knew that what he was saying was true. 

I looked at my Toyota and Coleman sitting there in front of the house. I shook my head and said something about not taking them over to the lady’s house. 

Soon I was “invited” to get into the back seat of the police cruiser. Oh my, that back seat had no soft upholstery, it was hard molded fiberglass and in front up me was a metal screen.

The officers got in and took me to the lady’s house. 

Well, I not only knocked over her mailbox but there were two mailboxes on the stand. And the stand was laying on the ground pulled out of the bracket that had been set into the concrete. 

Lesson learned: Get out and make sure it is clear behind you before you back up in the dark. 

We exchanged phone numbers and I assured her I would call her the next day. The officers took me back to Twilene’s. 

We had been laughing before all this happened and now, we were laughing even harder. 

Can you imagine the headline, “Former Girl Scout leader involved in a hit and run with mailbox stand.” 

The next day we were assured by the homeowner’s association president that the stands were readily available at Lowe’s hardware. The entire development had these stands serving two homeowners each. 

We went to Lowe’s to buy a new stand but they didn’t have anything like these. We went to Home Depot and they had nothing similar either. 

We went home and shopped on the web but could find nothing with black wrought iron and tubing similar to the stand. (When I told my niece this story, she said maybe I would have to replace all of the developments stands. I’m sure glad she didn’t live there with an idea like that.) 

Finally, I had an idea. We ended up putting the mailbox stand and mailboxes into the back of Twilene’s car and taking it to an iron works business. 

After laughing at my story, the men there said they could repair it and get it installed that very day. 

I left to continue my trip to Salt Lake City. By mid afternoon, Twilene called to say that the mailbox stand was back and installed. 

I have been to Salt Lake many times and have camped there many times. Since my daughter lives right in the city and the campground is just down the street from the Temple, it is quite convenient. 

My plan was to stay for about five days. 

On the third day of driving to her house, I started to hear a squeaking noise that sounded like it was coming from my front wheels. It didn’t coincide with pressure on the brakes so I discounted that. 

As time went by, the sound got more prevalent. With about another 1,000 miles to go, I needed to find out what was wrong so I took it to a dealer and asked them to look at it. I expected to be there for at least three hours. 

And sure enough, I waited three hours or so before I got called up to the service counter. The technician said something about “you really had us going with that noise.” 

They had checked all four wheels and found nothing wrong. They had driven it before and after that work and couldn’t figure out what was causing the noise. 

Then one of the techs suggested removing the extended mirrors built to look down the side of the trailer to see if that helped. 

Sure enough, the wind was whistling through those mirrors and that made the sound. Thank goodness it was not more serious! 

Lesson learned: Remember that sound and if I hear it again, try adjusting the mirrors. 

After my stay with my daughter, my next destination was Cape Disappointment at the mouth of the Columbia River. I had three days to get there but instead of coming north from Salt Lake City, Twilene suggested I go another way to view different scenery. 

So, I left headed west toward Nevada planning to make it to Battle Mountain in northern Nevada. Battle Mountain is a town of about 3,600 people named for confrontations between Native Americans and settlers in the 1800s. 

Gladys did a good job of getting me to Battle Mountain. She had me take an exit and once off that exit, she said to turn left. I exited and there was a huge traffic jam. I am thinking that everybody in town must be here. 

I couldn’t turn left so I turned right, found a parking lot to turn around in and got into the traffic line. The campground must be somewhere ahead. 

The traffic moved so slowly, seemingly one car at a time was getting through whatever was holding up traffic. 

Probably 15 minutes later, I noticed a lighted road sign ahead stating that these people were in line for flu shots. 

Lesson learned: A town of 3,600 people would NEVER have a traffic jam like this caused by an accident but everyone shows up for a flu shot. 

Ultimately, I called the campground and the manager came out and led me through the traffic to his facility. It seems this had happened in years past as well. 

It got chilly this night because we were up in the mountains. But the next bright morning, we got back on the road headed to southern Oregon. 

The rest of the trip went well with no flats, no whistling mirrors, no police encounter, and no more flu shot lines at campgrounds. 

I met a friend in her motorhome at the Washington coast. 

She brought another friend and we spent three glorious October days there. We watched cranberry harvest in Long Beach, shopped in Seaside and had lunch at Norma’s restaurant. (I highly recommend eating here.) 

I left the beach and stopped to visit my son in the Vancouver area and drove home in the rain. I couldn’t believe all that had happened on my trip. 

But I learned a lot that will help my on future trips with Suki, Lilly and Gladys. And I have enough stories to last for years. 

June McCann is a North Dakota-born farmer’s daughter, mother and grandmother, who is retired and enjoys photography and gardening when not pursuing travel.

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  1. laverna armintrout says:

    dear june, what an experience and your ability to handle all the handicaps on your first trip. your humor would be a delightful can do book to read for first time travelers with new equipment.
    i hope you have many more trips to plan and share. thanks, laverna

    wow! lady you could write a book and it would be a best seller. we are in need of good humor at present and whats amazing is you seem capable to handle any situation and that says you have wonderful know how and the patience of a saint. gods blessing. continue having a wonderful time with friends and family.
    thanks for sharing, laverna

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