I’ve always been a go-with-the-flow kind of woman. I don’t sweat the small stuff. In fact, some of my best and most memorable experiences have come when my best laid plans went haywire.
I’m not quite sure where that free-spirited woman went when I had RV troubles AGAIN recently, but somewhere around day seven of being stuck in a mechanic’s garage in middle-of-nowhere California, my “go with the flow”, happy, carefree sunny disposition leaked right out of me, like the fluid from my busted transmission.
Here’s the story (Part I):
I left Oregon, where I’d enjoyed a relatively peaceful and pleasant summer, to go back to the San Francisco Bay Area to sell my car. It was the one possession I hadn’t sold. I held onto it as a safety net – a back-up plan – just in case my new life didn’t turn out. By the end of summer, I knew it was time to let it go.
It was a chore I wasn’t looking forward to. My plan was to sell it fast and get the heck out. I had no desire to spend more time than necessary in an expensive RV/Trailer park or stealth camping in the overpopulated, traffic congested, retail flooded Bay Area city.
It was another rainy day when I left Sisters, Oregon and a storm was threatening the Pacific Northwest. As I approached California, under dark and foreboding skies, I felt lucky; it seemed I’d missed the worst of the storm! “How lucky am I?” I thought!
My first stop was the Modoc National Forest off highway 97, northeast of Weed, California. It was about 3pm and I was ready to call it a day and search for a spot to camp. I reveled in the dichotomous landscape: high desert terrain and lava strewn fields on the western side of highway 97 and lush forest thick with Ponderosa Pines on the eastern side. I was in awe of nature’s contrast, and excitedly explored forest roads to find my little piece of it to call home for the night. I eventually found a wonderful spot to camp nestled among the conifers, but didn’t have a cell signal. I enjoy being unplugged occasionally; work can wait!
Late the next morning, I decided to set out in search of a new place to camp, with a cell signal – and I wanted a cappuccino! It was a cool and gloomy morning. Dark gray clouds and moisture hung heavy in the air; rain threatened but so far no more than a few drops had seeped from the heavy clouds. So, I headed to a café in Weed, scouting for a new place to camp along the way.
Little did I know I’d be driving into the eye of the storm! Holy cow! I’d driven in high winds before, in the central valley of California, but that was nothing compared to what I drove through on the way into Weed. The ten mile stretch of highway 97 outside of Weed is posted with bright orange wind socks and signs warning of gusty winds. With the storm blowing in, it was insane! Within a few miles, I was driving in heavy pelting rain and RV-rocking gusts. They blew me to the left, then to the right and then came up under me like Capone and I were going to be blown to Oz.
At times the invisible wall of wind raged at me like a locomotive, pushing so hard against my RV that even with the gas pedal all the way to the floor I was barely moving forward. I struggled to keep it on the road, cranking my steering wheel to the right and then to the left. Above me, things were whipping and snapping and cracking as the fury of wind swarmed my RV. I was afraid my air conditioner would get ripped off and leave a gaping hole in my roof. What the hell is flopping around up there? Should I keep going? Turn around? Pull over?
Pulling over didn’t make sense, I just wanted to get the hell out of it, not sit in it. I’ll admit I was freaked out. I was afraid the walls of my RV would go flying off and all my worldly possessions would scatter about the road and the desert. As I pressed on, I thought about how exposed and vulnerable I am in my RV-home. You just don’t worry about these things living in a sticks and bricks house (at least, not in California!).
I motored on, swinging, swaying and jerking all the way. Just get to town. I can do this. It will be ok. My hands gripped the wheel as if stuck with superglue. Just get to town. I thought if I could make it to town everything would be ok, that the storm would magically disappear amid stores and shops and cafes that smelled of espresso and scones. As if society, would magically make the bad weather more cordial and polite.
After a terrifying 30-minute roller coaster ride I finally made it to town. I parked on the main street near the café, got out and was instantly pelted with beating rain and wind so strong I was walking sideways. Ok, this is serious. But. Must. Get. Coffee.
With almond milk cappuccino in hand, I slant-walked back to my RV. The short walk drenched everything that my rain jacket didn’t cover. I climbed in, cranked the heat and sat in the driver’s seat, listening to the howling winds and rain beat up my poor old RV. The storm was getting worse, there was no way I was driving back to camp. I needed to find a place off the main street to park and ride it out.
Two blocks away I found a gravel parking lot, but it was posted with big bold signs, “Souvenir Shop Customers only. All others will be towed away!” So, I drove past it and down a side street. As I turned into a residential neighborhood, a gust of wind swirled around me knocking the rig sideways. CRASH!! CRACK! RIP! BOOM! What the —-??? Uh-oh, that was me!
The horrendous expensive sounding Crack came from the passenger side. I slowly inched into a curbside parking place and jumped out. As I rounded the front of my rig I immediately saw the source of all the commotion; my awning was partially unrolled, jutting out from the side of the RV. The vinyl awning hung there, suspended in mid-air, rain-soaked and flopping pathetically in the raging pacific Norwest storm of the year. The other end was completely unhinged and resting in the rushing water of the curbside gutter. Are you freaking kidding me?
Giant drops of rain barreled at me. The wind howled and slapped against me. No time to cry about it… better get to work!
As I stood in the rain, numb and dumb with frustration, staring at the mangled mess, I noticed the pull-down strap madly flapping in the wind. I had an idea! Yes! I grabbed the strap and hoisted the broken end of the heavy awning up toward the arm that had previously connected it to my RV. Yes, this will work! I wrapped the strap around the arm a few times and secured it with a knot. I stepped back to inspect my handy work; the awning hung across the side of my rig like a broken arm in a sling. That’ll work!
Feeling happy and proud that I’d (temporarily) solved my problem, I hopped back inside and drove back to the souvenir shop’s empty gravel parking lot. I dared the universe: Go ahead, tow me!
For two hours, my RV rocked and bounced in the gale-force winds. Powerful gusts pounded at the walls and rain banged on the roof, making it nearly impossible to concentrate on my work. Things cracked and whipped and snapped all around me: oh nooo what’s going to break next? I was completely stressed out and terrified that the flimsy walls of my mobile-home would disintegrate and blow away in the 50mph gusts.
Finally, after a couple hours, the winds decreased to maybe 25 or 30 mph and the rain, while still pouring, wasn’t coming down in sheets anymore. I was growing antsy; I couldn’t sit in the parking lot forever. I had to figure out what I was going to do with the crippled awning, I slipped into my rain coat and waterproof hiking boots and once again, ventured out into the storm for a closer look at the damage.
I hoisted myself up the slippery ladder and onto the roof to inspect the broken arm. Ever the optimist, I thought, “maybe I can reattach it!” Working quickly in the heavy rain and wind, it looked promising. All I had to do was hoist the awning onto the roof and drop it back into the slot at the top of the arm. Piece of cake!
I climbed back down, tied a rope (an extension cord. I couldn’t find my rope!) around the awning, flung the other end up on the roof, climbed back up and hoisted the heavy monstrosity onto the roof. But it wouldn’t go back in the slot, it was too bent. Ugh. Ok, now what?
Maybe I can secure it to the roof?!? I searched for something to tether it to that wouldn’t cause more damage. No luck.
I had no choice but to remove the whole awning by disassembling the side that was still connected. And of course, I hadn’t brought my tools with me; climb back down, gather my wrench and pliers from my pathetic tool set and climb back up the slippery wobbly ladder.
I was freezing cold and soaked to the bone. Gusts of wind swooped up and rocked the RV beneath me. With numb hands and the entire weight of the awning pressing against the in-tact arm, I wrenched at the nuts securing it to the roof. With a jolt and a pop and a snap the awning broke free, forcefully snapping back against my hand with an excruciatingly painful blow, and then crashing to the ground ten feet below. FUUUUCK! OW-OW, FUCKING OUCH!
I looked down at my hand expecting to see it dangling off my wrist. Or at the very least covered in blood. Surprisingly it was still intact, no blood and despite hurting like hell, everything seemed to move as it should- with great pain, but at least it moved. How am I going to climb down off the roof with a lame hand? Oh my god, could this day get any more fucked???
With my lame hand, I managed to get off the roof and inside my pain-in-the-ass home. I was drenched to the bone, my hand was throbbing, my awning – a deal breaker when I bought the RV – was toast. Overcome with frustration, worry and pain, I broke. As I pulled my two tiny ice cube trays from the freezer and rested my hand between them, the tears I’d been choking back broke free and streamed down my freezing, rain-soaked face.
Fear and worry overwhelmed me: What am I going to do? I’m stuck in this stupid storm. My hand is crushed. My awning is on the ground. The frame is dangling off the side of my RV. I can’t drive like this!
I gave myself some time to feel the pain; allowing the tears wash away the frustration. Then with my good hand, I wiped the tears and rain from my face, got out of my wet clothes and into warm dry ones and devised my plan. But I couldn’t do anything until I could use my hand again, so I sat for another hour icing it and listening to the storm carry on outside.
I ended up securing the flopping metal frame in place with plastic ties. Now what to do with the awning? I was tempted to leave it there, but in good consciousness, couldn’t just leave my garbage for someone else to deal with. So, when my hand was functioning again, I went back out in the rain and tried to shove my 20’ one-hundred-pound awning through my door – no go. It wouldn’t fit. Well, now I have no choice. I can’t take it with me. I dragged it into the trees and drove back to the safety of the forest, where I could try to put day’s troubles behind me.
Later, as I lay in bed looking at the cloudy sky through my back window with the emergency release handles, it hit me: I can get the awning through here!
The next morning, on my way to the Bay Area, I stopped at the gravel parking lot, hoisted the long, heavy awning to my back window and shoved it into my rig. It wasn’t easy; it was heavy! Once inside, it stretched from the back window, across my bed, through my kitchen and dining area, all the way to the driver’s seat. Oh, this is going to be fun. How the heck am I going to l live with this? I had to move it to one side to get in the fridge, to the other to get in the bathroom. I had to step over it to get to my kitchen and then again to get my seating area. I told myself all I had to do was make it to my home base in the Bay Area where there’s a Camping World. I’ll get it fixed tomorrow. I’ll just have to live with it for one night…
Or so I thought…My adventure wasn’t quite over yet. I didn’t make it to my destination in Vacaville, to my car or to Camping World.
Four hours after hoisting the broken piece of my RV inside, I was just sixty miles outside of Vacaville, cruising along I-5, excited about getting close to my home base and trying to decide where I’d spend the night when I looked out my rear window and saw nothing but white. Great, now what? Through my driver side mirror, I saw heavy white smoke billowing from underneath my rig. Oh my freaking god, are you kidding me right now???
I pulled over, jumped out, ran to the passenger side and squatted down too see my biggest fear realized; red fluid was spewing out into a huge puddle beneath my engine. I stood motionless, looking toward the sky, paralyzed with disbelief. Dear universe, why do you hate me?
Stay tuned for what happened next…
Hope your hand is ok. Lose your health and everything else is at risk.
Than you Eric. It felt a lot worse than it was.. It was sore for a few days but no damage. Thank you!
I hope you’re alright! Gone through my own challenges, as have most of us living the lifestyle. Great story telling about your real life story. Looking forward to what’s coming next.
Oh my! Maybe a cheap rain suit would be a good thing to carry? Keeps rain off. Keeps you warm. If you had to, it could be worn to stay clean if you needed to crawl under the RV. A “cheap tyvec painters one piece over-all” could work as well. A pair of cow hide work gloves would be a good thing as well. “Harbor Freight” may have what you could use. They also have “plastic ties” in all sizes and lengths too!
Jimmy, what a great idea! I will get one ASAP! Yes and should probably keep plenty of those plastic ties on hand to. Thank you very much – Carolyn
I hope you and your RV are doing okay now. Your story gives me a new appreciation for the experiences of the early European travelers. Hard to imagine being in that area during a storm like that, with only a pack mule and a few meager possessions!
Difficult yes, but with out so many mechanical things to bust and break, maybe it was a little easier! AND compared to the pioneers, I am a modern day whimp, used to my creature comforts! – Thanks for your comment! – Carolyn
Carolyn, I sure didn’t mean to belittle you at all, and I’m glad you didn’t take it that way. You stuck it out, invented a way to save your awning, and with that kind of spirit, you would have been a great pioneer. I just always bring myself back to center when I’ve been haulin’ down an interstate for hours and hours, thinking about what it would have been like without the high speed highway, air conditioning, and a variety of restaurants along the path! Same feeling when I’m in a supermarket. Amazing place, our modern USA, despite all its problems.
George, I didn’t feel belittled at all. I took just as you meant it and I appreciate your comments! Thank you!
It’s stories like this that cause a furrow in my brow when I contemplate my soon-to-be life. But then I see how you faced it head-on and handled it, even if you say you’re a “modern day wimp.” And you are a good story-teller. I’m on the edge of my seat to hear the rest.
I thank you for showing that it’s not all sunsets and campfires and I also thank you for showing that a woman on her own can handle the emergencies.
I’m glad your hand is okay and I’m looking forward to the rest of the story. Don’t keep us hanging too long!
Thank you very much for your very nice comment. Yes, stuff is going to happen and all we can do is plow through. You will do great out there! Thanks again for reading and for taking the time to comment- Carolyn
I have read so many stories about awnings and wind. I don’t have an awning on my van, decided against the cost of putting one on. Instead, I just got a market umbrella with a solid stand which is kept in the bathroom while traveling and outside either up or under the van when parked. It works perfectly and can be moved around to suit the sun. I am always around when it is up so no one can steal it and if they did, I could just buy another.
By the way, I am in awe of your bravery at hiking alone for such a long time on your own. I wish I was as brave as you. I only RV part-time but would like to be more adventurous about hiking on my own. I travel with my dog too and worry that something might happen to her on the trail.
Lynn- yes, I think I will buy an umbrella, What a great idea! thank you.
One of the hardest parts about hiking for 26 days was missing Capone. He had to stay at puppy camp and I worried and missed him terrible. Ne’s 11 1/2 now and I haven’t done hardly any backpacking since i started RVing because he can’t go and I don’t want to leave him. It’s tough..
If you really want to try solo hiking, i suggest starting small – go out for one night – maybe just hike 5 miles in to somplace that’s pretty popular, that way you won’t feel completely alone, but you’ll get the alone experience.
Good luck and have fun! – Carolyn
I hate when shit breaks in a raging storm!! Lost an awning once off a 34′ TT to a rain storm powered by the Devil himself!! And the damn thing collapsed against the single entry door pushing a Honda scooter in front of it!! Thank goodness for emergency exit windows!! So many of us out here that have had similar events happen feel your pain, and have set in our rolling mansions and cried our eyes out…..you are NOT alone. Sometimes we feel like the world is out to get us don’t we?!!? Keep the faith, it will all work out for good in the end!! Meanwhile, get yourself to Ehrenberg/Quartzsite for a peaceful winter, beautiful here right now!
Love, love love your note. grinning ear to ear! Thank you. Hearing that grown-ass men would have/could have cried under the same circumstances just made me so happy (in a very odd kind of way!). I never do the whole martyr/victim thing, but this last month, I seriously thought i must have been some awful horrible person in a previous life and the universe was indeed punishing me!
I’ll be at Ehrenberg/Quartzite within a month! Looking forward to it!
Thanks again for your very empathetic comment! – Enyoy your peaceful fall weather – carolyn
Oh my Carolyn,
I would be crying too! Geez so many things holding you up. I sure hope things pan out for you and no more RV issues. Hang in there. Another great discription of your journey.
Cindy, Yeah, I’m due for some REALLy good luck! Thank you for your encouragement, I appreciate the comment very much! – Carolyn
It’s interesting to read, between the lines, how the confidence in your own abilities, is growing with your adventures. Thanks for sharing.
Ernie – Yes, perhaps it is! Thank you very much for that! – Carolyn
So sorry for all your troubles. What don’t kill you makes you stronger well screw that lol. Looking forward to what happens next. Stay safe. Love your storys.
Vickie – ha ha, yes, screw that lol. I don’t need to be any damn stronger!!! lol Thanks for your comment, made me smile! – Carolyn
Wow…. that was a rough patch!
You are pretty bad ass though!
Joe, LOL. Yes it was.. more to come! Thanks! – Carolyn
I really like your site and how you tell the complete story about what it’s like to live the mobile life, good and bad as well. I can relate to some of the things you have and are going through. I fulltimed in a 1992 Southwind 30 ft class a for 5 years and had my more than fair share of breakdowns and white knuckle times . It’s not all a bed of roses. And I am glad you are sharing the real truth of it to maybe save someone from just throwing away their present life of security and go out ill prepared and with a preconceived idea that everyday will be a Utopia. And i think you and I know that isn’t always the case. I wish all websites that are setup with the theme about living in a vehicle and the nomad style of life would present both sides of the coin to make people aware of not ONLY the nice side of it but as well as the struggles that you sometime encounter that are unique to it.
I loved being in that life and my heart is still out there on the road calling to me to come on back. At present I am in a situation that I won’t break away from because of my inner self telling me to stay put. But if I can overcome that and have the right set of circumstances and rig I think I would come out of this quicksand of life I am in and head out to never look back.
Again thank you for your honesty and sharing your adventures. You website is more interesting because you make it real with true experiences of this lifestyle.
wow ! so sorry- the next blog will be the tranny issue ? Im sure its a matter of time for everyone in an RV to go thru this kind of hell..What would have prevented your awning from being blown off ? Now, Im worried about mine too…maybe tie a strap around the whole thing ? put pop rivets on the siding to attach the arms ? Ive seen entire Rv’s blown on their sides because of winds.
I love the style of your writing..thanks Carolyn and Happy Trails !!!!
Connie – not sure if the tranny blog was next up on the list.. there may have been a few n between. Not sure anything could have prevented it from blowing off really. the Progressive insurance adjuster said it happens all the time!!! He also said most people don’t lug it around with them, they usually just leave them behind or they blow off on the freeway!
Thank you for your kind words. glad you enjoy reading!! – C
Because you were talking about the wind,and iknow you ve talked about getting solar power.Have you ever looked into wind power ? Hell you could make your own if you wanted.wind blowsday and night.just a thought,have fun and stay safe.
Scott – I just saw a man in a van with his own windmill!!! Not a bad idea.. may be the boondocker power of the future! – C
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