If there’s one lesson I’ve learned after almost two years of traveling in an RV, it’s shit happens.
Before I started this journey, the thought of shit happening was paralyzing and filled me with dread. What if I broke down on the side of the road? What if I had to be towed? What if I was stranded in the middle of nowhere?
All three of those questions have now been answered! And here I am, alive and well to tell you all about it. If you are in the planning stages of spending most if not all your time in an RV, stop your fretting. It is all doable.
Good insurance is a must – that’s a given. But this isn’t an article about insurance. It’s about the local guys – the mobile RV repair techs and tow truck drivers and welders who come out, repair your problem, and get you going again. God bless ’em.
HIT THE ROAD – JACK! Labor: $110
Preparing to depart St. Augustine, I started Nellie’s engine and turned on the control panel to raise the stabilizing jacks. Suddenly, the coach was lurching like an impatient thoroughbred at the starting gate, and an awful metal scraping noise was coming from below my seat. Only three of the jacks retracted, leaving the one on the front driver’s side to bear the weight and angle of the rig. Needless to say, the jack bent and would not retract; alarms began going off in the coach.
You’re not going anywhere when a jack is stuck in the down position. Of course, this happened just as I was preparing to leave. My reservation at the park had expired, and if I was still there after 11:00 a.m. checkout, I would have to pay for another day. And, my traveling companion had left already in her coach, and we had reservations elsewhere starting that day.
I googled RV mobile technicians in the St. Augustine area. One guy had moved away. Another was out of business. The RV dealership only a mile away could come tomorrow. Then I lucked upon Lee Vaillancourt, who was reluctant at first due to a busy schedule, but came out within the hour. Lee couldn’t repair the problem, but what he could do was jack up the rig high enough to remove the jack and get me on my way. Since that time in December I have not had the use of the stabilizing jacks. I plan to get them repaired at the Newmar factory in Indiana in May, but for now when Boss Tweed jumps off the bed in the back I feel it in the front!
WHAT A RELIEF! Labor: $107
Days later, preparing to leave Cocoa Beach for The Keys, I flushed the toilet and heard a popping sound. The foot pedal flopped down, flaccid and inoperable. It wouldn’t flush. Given my medical condition, I was relieved that it was only a small amount of wee. (Practicing that thankfulness thang as much as I can!)
There would be no Camping World in the Keys, so I stopped at the one in Cocoa Beach to inquire about a new pedal. The parts clerk replied, “The pedal is $75. It will take two days to get here. If you want us to install it, that will cost $100 in labor. Or, you could buy brand-new toilet for $150!”
I loathe our throwaway culture. But, I didn’t have two days to spare, and spending more to repair the toilet than to get a new one didn’t make sense. There was one rub: Camping World had no time to install the toilet until the next day. I had camping reservations in Marathon in the middle of the Keys starting that day, and my traveling companion was already on her way there.
While they loaded the new toilet in the toad, I googled RV mobile technicians in Marathon. I phoned Bill Werlh, who informed me to my delight that he lived at the Jolly Roger RV park, where I was headed. I spent that day driving six hours from Cocoa Beach to Marathon without a toilet, which made life difficult for a Crohn’s sufferer like me, but the next day Bill showed up with cookies, R & R’ed the toilet, and charged me 100 bucks to do it. I wish I could share his website or phone number with you, but I really have no idea how I found him. Talk about fortuitous!
BURNIN’ RUBBER. Labor: $97 (Reimbursed)
I began to think my trip through Florida was cursed; just outside Dade City, I looked in my side mirrors and saw smoke. It’s a good thing I saw the smoke, as I had not felt or heard anything else. Thinking the engine might be on fire, I pulled over as quickly as I could, grabbed the fire extinguisher, and ran like a crazy woman to the back of the rig. The “smoke” was burning rubber, and the rear passenger tire was blown.
I called AAA RV and unhooked the toad. In about 25 minutes the tow truck driver arrived, and I followed him in the rig to Tires Plus in Brooksville for the repair.
I grabbed some lunch at the KFC next door while I waited, and phoned the Honda dealership in Austin where all the toad tires were replaced two months before. I sent them a few photos and the invoice, and they reimbursed me. From start to finish, the whole event took an hour and a half. I arrived for dinner at my friends’ place in High Springs about an hour later than expected. No big.
PROPANE SCHMOPANE! Labor: $150
Setting up camp in Eunice, Louisiana during Mardi Gras season, I opened the main driver’s side slide, hearing an awful metal clanking sound. I thought the slide hit a power pole, but in fact one of the metal rods under the slide had broken From the fascia. I looked at my traveling companion and said, “I think I need a welder.” The following morning, Gabe at RV Rebuild Specialist came out to take a look, confirming, “You need a welder. I’ll get you one. There’s a bunch of guys at the RV camp next door who work on the oil rigs who are waiting to go out again. Hang tight.”
In a half hour, at 9:30 a.m., there was a knock at the door. Standing before me was a tall man in his 40’s who didn’t say much, who was drinking a beer for breakfast. To his right stood a much shorter and skinnier man, in his 60’s, wearing a sideways painter’s hat, jeans and a T-shirt. He was dirty all over. When he spoke he sounded as if he had undergone a tracheotomy, but his doctor was all out of voice boxes. Before this encounter I would not have believed that speaking with both a gravelly voice and at a whisper was possible.
“I’m Uncle Bud,” he said faintly but jovially, as his body shook with a slight tremor. “We heard you needed some weldin’.”
I showed them to the loose pole, and Uncle Bud said it was fixable. I asked him, “Does it concern you at all that the propane tank is right here?” gesturing to the 50-gallon tank behind the basement door immediately under the slide. He croaked, “Uncle Bud ain’t worried about no propane! Just grab your puppies and take them for a walk for a little while.” I nodded gravely, throwing Boss Tweed in the car and moving it away from the rig for good measure.
Uncle Bud laid a beautiful bead not only on the broken pole, but on the other one just like it on the opposite side, even though it didn’t need fixing – yet. He charged me $150 cash, smiling as he shared that this job would keep him and his large, silent friend in beer through Mardi Gras.
Then there was that time in Kentucky. You probably recall when Nellie got stuck in the mud at a winery and had to be pulled out by a winch on a semi truck. Good times, good times. But, maybe instead of saying “shit happens,” I should say “stuff happens.” Here’s the thing: On a two-week vacation, a mishap like that can cause a huge amount of stress due to limited time. With the gift of adulterated time and a flexible schedule, these events become just part of the experience – not good or bad. Besides, everything I own is with me. While I wait, I kick back on the sofa, make a little lunch, or watch some HBO. There’s no need – or use – to get wracked up about it.