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Lessons Learned

These lessons learned were done personally; some were learned by other folks who passed on the wisdom to us. Most of these were those “Ah Ha” moments that we remember oh so well.

Awnings

I love our awnings. They give us shade and privacy, and occasionally grief. Automatic wind sensors that are supposed to retract your awning when the wind reaches about twenty five miles per hour do not always work.

It doesn’t matter how many straps and hold downs you have, wind can destroy an untended awning very quickly.

The lessons learned here is to never, never leave your campsite without securing your large, expensive awning.

Always remember to check that the awnings are secure either when closed or open.

When leaving a campground in Oregon, our small awning over the left side of the rig was left out. The site was a little tight and the trees were close to the right side of the rig. So after putting the umbilical’s away, John pulls out and I’m following in the car. I notice that the awning is out and I’m honking and yelling about the awning and people are pointing to it, but John just keeps rolling along. Fortunately he had to pull over to hook up the car and we were able to store it properly.

 We once saw a big rig pull out of a campground and the large, expensive, automatic awning on the passenger side was open. As he turned the corner it hit a light pole and the whole awning was ripped off of the RV. The sound was awful and, of course, everyone was looking. The expense of repair was in the thousands. Several lessons learned. Do the walk around before traveling and double check just to be sure everything is put away and stored. This includes the crank-up TV antenna, as well.

Cellular Phone Service

We have had a Verizon cell phone long before we started RVing. We were lucky because Verizon has had service almost everywhere we have been across the country. The other major cellular providers don’t seem to have as good nationwide service. There are gaps, however, especially in sparsely populated areas in the west. We have to put up a podcast file every week, and we need reliable phone service for our Verizon air card. We once drove around Yellowstone National Park trying to get at least 2 bars of signal on our cell phone so we could upload our Podcast. Our solution was to add a Wilson wireless amplifier to boost weak signals. It works quite well, but among the lessons learned are that you can’t amplify no signal at all. You may have to drive to a town to get phone service. Lessons learned: do not trust the coverage map for your phone service and have a backup plan.

Entry Steps

I don’t seem to have trouble going out of the rig - it’s the coming in. Twice now I have fallen into the rig, mainly because I have had too much stuff in my hands. The first time I really cut up my hand as I fell and hit the metal steps. The second time, I was on the last step and was wearing sandals, and the sandal caught on the step, and down I went, groceries and all. What a mess and not a pretty sight. Remember to have a light load into the rig. Lessons learned: don’t take more than you can handle into the rig. Actually, always take a little less than you think you can handle.

Evacuation Plan

We have never had to evacuate because of a weather event or other natural disaster. Many RVers have, however. As I write this, fires are sweeping through Utah and are causing numerous evacuations. Severe weather seems to be the biggest problem we will normally face. We have gone through several hail storms in South Dakota where we moved to a bath house to avoid broken glass from the large hail stones. There are several lessons learned from severe weather. First, have a weather radio and have it on standby at all times. Find out what county you are in when you arrive at a campground. Program it and surrounding counties into a radio equipped with Specific Area Message Encoding. When threatening weather is approaching, go to a bathhouse or club house of block construction. Have a “Go” box with insurance information for your rig and car as well as a supply of required medications and a cell phone. Take the GO box with you. Find these substantial buildings as soon as you arrive at a campground, and plan how you will get to them. Do not stay in your rig during severe wind events. Straight line winds can tip even the heaviest motor home.

Fueling

After having to wash diesel fuel off my hands several times, I learned to have a pair of gloves specifically for fueling in an easy to reach place.

Although many commercial truck stops have RV islands, I don’t use them anymore. They tend to be a tight fit and the pumps seem to run much slower than at the truck pumps. We have also had to wait while other less considerate RVers sit at the pump while they have lunch.

Lessons Learned About Holding Tanks

Oh, where do I start? When you buy a used rig, be very careful the first time you dump. Start with grey water for a short time to check for leaks around the valves. If there are some, don’t try to pull the black valve unless you are ready to clean up the mess that will form in the bottom of your service bay.

Next , buy the sewer hose with the thickest side-walls you can find. Pinhole leaks tend to become larger as more “stuff” flows down the line. Also stay far away from any sewer hose with a weed-eater. It just isn’t pretty when you don’t realize how many little slices you just took into that thick walled hose.

The first accessory you should buy and place immediately after the valve assembly is a short, clear plastic section so you can see just what is flowing out of those tanks. You’ll be really glad you did.

Have plenty of disposable rubber gloves as they tend to rip easily. You might even spring for a pair of heavy duty neoprene gloves. Just wash them thoroughly after you use them. For that matter, wash everything in your service bay remotely connected to dumping holding tanks at least every time you use it. This isn’t funny; you can contract some very nasty infections from cross-contamination with fecal matter. Also, don’t store your drinking water hose or water pressure regulator in the same compartment as your sewer hoses and accessories.

Get plastic caps for each end of every length of sewer hose you carry and use them. Even clean sewer hoses smell like, well, you know.

If your campground sewer connection is not the screw-in type, make sure you have adequate weight on the end of the hose that goes into the ground. If you don’t, you may do everything right, and as soon as you pull that black tank valve, the business end of the hose will jump out of that hole like a cowboy being bucked off a horse. It’s hard to describe how fast a flood of nasty, smelly, brown sludge will spread all over the ground before you can close the valve. Let me tell you, at that time, feeling helpless is the least of your problems. I filled two old sweat socks with gravel and tied them together. They do the trick, but I still keep a close eye on the ground fitting.

Here’s a classic among lessons learned the hard way by someone else. When flushing your black tank with an installed tank flushing system, pay close attention to how long you leave the water turned on with the black valve closed. If you manage to fill the black tank and the toilet seal holds, the only outlet for all that pressurized sludge is up the vent pipe to the roof. I just don’t even want to think about cleaning that mess up.

Disconnecting Fresh Water

You are all set to pack up and leave the campground and now it’s time to disconnect and stow the fresh water hose. Not so fast young grasshopper. When you turn off the park fresh water supply either by a pump handle or a rotating spigot, there is still pressure in the RV water system. If it is a really hot day, you might enjoy a short, intense shower, but usually you want to stay dry and go drive your rig. I put a “Y” connector at the output side of the water pressure regulator to attach a water hose for washing or other use while in camp. Get out of the way and open the valve on the unused side and pressure will be relieved out of that port. Yes, this has happened to me, twice. It’s really hard to laugh at yourself when you are soaking wet and mad to boot and you write about lessons learned.

Once you roll all the water out of the hose and roll it up, connect the ends together to keep it clean. Next lesson learned is to remember to unscrew the water pressure regulator. It is quite expensive to ship these around the country. Be sure and store it with the hose in a compartment without sewer hoses.

Hooking up Your Toad

Lessons learned here are: practice, practice, practice. There are a number of steps that must be performed to successfully hook up a towed car to a motor home. Almost without fail, you, the new RVer will have to do this in front of an audience at the check-in. There will also likely be someone behind you waiting to check in. They will be staring at you, too. Our recommendation is to find a church parking lot or an unoccupied large store lot and practice the unhooking and the hooking up. Do it enough times so you both can work together and get it done right every time. Avoid the embarrassing fumbling in front of the appreciative audience.

This lesson also applies to hooking up your rig once you have parked in your campsite. Practice enough so you know where everything is located, and develop a checklist for hooking up.

Whether unhooking or hooking up your toad, or setting up your campsite, there will often be well-meaning folks who either want to talk or to “help.” Do not let this happen. You will become distracted and forget an important step in the process. Try to be tactful and explain you have a system and you will talk to them after you are finished. Imagine you are almost done hooking up and are about to put the weight on the end of your sewer hose when the next door neighbor comes over to talk. I don’t have to tell you again the possible consequence of not having weight on the park connection.

Kitchen

I seem to have most of my lessons learned at the kitchen. I like to make a protein shake, and I have a little top heavy stick blender. So, thinking I could leave it in the container and go get some more ice... let’s just say the whole floor was mopped that day more than once, and the dog was full of energy. Lesson learned: never think you are smarter than the law of gravity

 I just love our smoke detector; it makes a wonderful noise, especially when I am cooking. They seem to place the smoke detector right above the stove, so any time I cook, that noisy thing goes off. Of course, I never remembered to unplug it when I cook, so every time I would cook something on the stove, the racket would start. John, the gadget man, comes in on his white horse to rescue me. He does research on the internet and finds a smoke detector that can be disabled by a push of the button for about 10 minutes. Lesson learned: there is always an answer to the problem - you just have to find it. It’s usually on the internet.

GPS Lies

We were on an interstate highway looking for fuel. My GPS and the Next Exit indicated a stop coming up and I saw the sign for it just ahead. Unfortunately, at the end of a pretty narrow road we ran into a barrier with “Closed” and “Out of Business” signs on it. The weeds in the road said the place had been out of business for quite some time. Well, we unhooked the car and I was able to make a fifteen point turn to go back the way we had come. Several lessons learned here, but the main one is to not get yourself in a place you can’t turn around.

We were camped in a Thousand Trails park in Hershey, PA, several years ago. We took a day trip in the car and it got dark and we weren’t sure how to get back. Never fear, Gertrude, our trusty GPS was there to take us home. We spent two hours driving down farm roads and country lanes and around detours with Gertrude squawking “Recalculating” constantly. To her credit, we did get back to the campground by the most convoluted route imaginable. It turns out that there were several other ways we could have gone that would have taken about forty five minutes. We only found this out the next day in the light and with several local folks telling us. The lessons learned here is that our GPS routed us by the most direct “as the crow flies” method and Gertrude is a dummy. The detours were an added special attraction. If you can set your GPS for shortest way, try that.

Parking Your Rig

There are many lessons learned here. Just as in hooking up your towed car, the lesson learned here is: practice, practice, practice. No matter whether you have a motor home or a trailer, you should practice backing into a campsite before you set out on your journey. The best way we have found is to find a large church parking lot or a closed WalMart or other large store with an empty lot. Buy some rubber traffic cones; you can use them later on to mark a campsite. Set up the cones to mark the boundaries of an imaginary campsite. Then practice backing into that without knocking over the cones. This is the time for you and your partner to set up the signals you will use later in a real campground. A lesson I learned from this was to stop and not move when you don’t understand a signal. Eventually your honey will come to the window to investigate why you aren’t moving. A Friday evening spectacle at many campgrounds is watching inexperienced folks try to park their rigs as the light is fading. The language can get a little rough, too. Another good lesson here is: if at all possible, plan to arrive at the campground at least two hours before sundown.

Propane Appliances

The lesson here is to leave repair or maintenance on any propane appliance or other part of the propane system to an experienced RV service technician. They have the equipment and know-how to detect pressure drops and leaks. Remember, many RV fires are caused by propane problems, especially in refrigerators. If you have a twelve volt and propane refrigerator, check to see if it is covered in the major recall by the major refrigerator manufacturers. Ours was in the group. I took the rig in to an authorized service center to have the “fix” installed. Five months later, the unit stopped working. It turned out we had a leak in the refrigerant piping that could easily have led to a fire if we didn’t have the fix in place. This was a huge lesson learned for us. Check the following sites for refrigerator recalls: http://www.norcoldrecall.com/ and http://www.dometic.com/enus/Americas/USA/RV-News/Dometic-Recall-Information/ .

Satellite TV

In our time on the road, we have used both Dish Network and Direct TV for our satellite TV service. The biggest difference I can see is that Dish will work in High Definition mode with dome antennas and Direct will not. Customer service for both can be wonderful one day and almost nonexistent the next. In any case, the main lesson learned here is that roof mounted antennas can easily be blocked by trees. It’s relatively simple to carry an independent portable dish you can set up on a tripod and place wherever you have a clear shot at the southern sky. High Definition antennas can be large and heavy. You will need a heavy duty tripod for them.

RV Showers

Although our shower is small, it’s comfortable. However, one thing to remember is to either leave the gray tank open, or make sure there is enough room left in the tank for the shower. So I’m in the shower, enjoying the wonderful feel of getting clean, when I notice that the water is up around my ankles: I think, “Oh boy, the drain is plugged.” Well, in a very short amount of time, water was starting to over flow the shower stall and John is nowhere in sight or sound! I’m yelling his name - he is not answering me, I’m without clothes and water is going everywhere. Let’s just say that I spent the rest of the afternoon cleaning the bathroom and not talking to John until I calmed down (it really wasn’t his fault) and took another shower. Lesson learned: It is good to keep water in the grey tank to clean your sewer hose, but check the level in the grey tank (if the tank is closed) before taking a shower.

This might be a good place to talk about how much fun it is taking a shower in a campground with low water pressure. I do not like dancing around the shower head trying to get wet all over. One of the lessons learned here is to have enough water in your fresh water tank that you can use your water pump, if it has enough flow to be better than the wimpy pressure from the campground. We have found that the best solution is an Oxygenics Shower head. It mixes air with the water and seems to produce a strong spray even with low incoming pressure. It's a winner folks. Lessons learned are fun, aren't they?


Walmart Stops or Wallydocking

There will be occasions where you may stop for the night in a WalMart parking lot. The lesson here is to immediately go inside to get permission to park overnight from a manager. Unless local ordinances prevent it, the manager will likely agree and even direct you to an area of the lot where you should park. If you ignore this advice, do not be surprised to get a knock on your door at 2:00 AM and find the local constabulary directing you to leave immediately.

Among other lessons learned the hard way is to park with a clear lane to depart in the morning. You may be parked in what you think is a good spot and when you wake up, ten more rigs are parked all around you. Plan ahead.

This is a good place to talk about RVers’ etiquette in parking lots as developed by the Escapees RV Club, and now endorsed by most other RV groups.

Industry-Sanctioned Code of Conduct

(RVers’ Good Neighbor Policy)

1. Stay one night only!

2. Obtain permission from a qualified individual.

3. Obey posted regulations.

4. No awnings, chairs, or barbecue grills.

5. Do not use hydraulic jacks on soft surfaces (including asphalt).

6. Always leave an area cleaner than you found it.

7. Purchase gas, food, or supplies as a form of thank you, when feasible.

8. Be safe! Always be aware of your surroundings, and leave if you feel unsafe.

Water Leaks

If you detect water leaking into your rig, investigate immediately before the repair costs are out of sight. Water will run in the most direct path of gravity and this can be sideways. Our lesson learned was a leak in our slide-out roof that eventually caused the cabinets underneath to loosen and sag. If you can’t find the leak source, have it checked out by a qualified RV service technician as soon as possible.

Weight and Overloading

Your rig and tow vehicle or towed car should be weighed when you purchase it and periodically after that. Weighing should be done on each end of each axel. You will want to know if you are overweight front to back as well as side to side. Shift cargo around as much as possible to even the load. If you exceed the Gross Vehicle Weight (GVW), you are looking at tire failure, front end suspension damage (on motor homes) and frame damage (on towables). All of these can cost thousands of dollars to repair. Pay attention, because if your insurance company weighs the rig after a claim, they can, and probably will, deny a claim on an overweight rig. Once you know the weight, you can consult your tire manufacturer’s charts for correct tire pressure to support that weight. The lessons learned here is those manufacturer’s specifications are important. If you pay attention, you might save your life or at least a lot of money.

Windshield Wipers

I really don’t mind driving in the rain - I just slow down and take my time. It is important, however, to remove the windshield wiper covers before moving down the road and needing to turn them on. Traveling in the south, you can get some real frog stranglers of rain. So, here I am driving and enjoying the beautiful day and thinking nothing could go wrong. Don’t ever think those thoughts; it started to pour, and when I turned on the wipers, this big mess appeared on the windshield. With every swish more and more gunk was left on the window. Trying to pull over in traffic was a nightmare, but we managed, and poor John had to run out in the pouring rain to remove the covers. Let’s just say he was not happy... I thought he looked really cute all wet. Lesson learned: Double check to make sure everything is stowed for travel.


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