“Be thankful for everything that happens in your life; it’s all an experience.” Roy T. Bennett
On a steamy summer morning in south Florida two months deep into hurricane season, we connected the RV to the brand new Demco Recon hitch installed in the bed of the brand new Ford F350 diesel truck for only the second time. Never having engaged with large machinery ever in my 58 years of life, I was conflicted between the feelings of numbing intimidation and blinding trust when connecting a 12,000 lb RV (our home) to a 8000-lb tow vehicle with a 200-lb hitch. My gosh, we are pulling our home with a truck! Horror stories of RV’s falling on the bed of a truck or worse ran through my head as I performed the “tug test”. We did it right, the heavy machinery worked and nothing broke! Or so we thought.
Minutes later, with reserved confidence we pulled our home out of Outdoor Resorts of Chokoloskee. I became shocked within a few feet past the entrance when the message “trailer brake error” appeared on the display in front of the steering wheel. This was new. Ever since purchasing it a month ago, I’ve been so intimated by the diesel truck that I did the opposite of sensible, I displayed avoidance behavior and spent as little time as possible reading the manual. So, I checked a few things, pushed a few buttons and then shut off the engine. Vivian was just as perplexed as she inspected the hitch, which looked fine. I turned the engine back on and hit the tow haul button. The error message was gone. Problem solved, right?
Wrong. Having only done this one time prior, how would I know that the rig was pulling a bit harder than usual? Fortunately for us, Everglades City’s main road has a passing lane, allowing a very nice local man to pull up to our RV and tell us that smoke was coming out behind our trailer’s wheels.
In horror, we stopped and got out of the truck, and immediately choked on the smell of burning rubber and metal. We both began frantically making phone calls; Vivian to her good friend Jimmy who knows heavy machinery like any self-respecting blue collar worker should, and me on the phone with roadside assistance. Could this really be happening, all that planning and preparation cut short within five miles from the start? All kinds of crazy thoughts went through our heads as our travel confidence quickly dropped.
But then, Vivian did the smartest thing anyone could do in this situation – she posted the following on the Grand Design RV Facebook forum (with no time for the details of punctuation), “On side of road trailer wiring fault brakes smoking. Who to call?” Within seconds, an RV forum angel responded, “Check your breakaway switch. Is it unplugged/come loose?”
KISS: Keep It Simple Stupid. We drove the first five miles of the trip with our trailer brakes fully engaged because, yes indeed, the breakaway cable came out of its box. This little plastic thing, when pulled out tells the trailer’s brakes to engage full force because it thinks the RV is no longer connected to the tow vehicle. This is simply to avoid a 12,000-lb rogue RV from sliding down the road. How it came undone is a mystery to us; but it seems easy enough to do since it’s just a plastic pin that attaches to a hole encased in a plastic box. Pin back in box, we slowly pulled away, now wondering if the brakes were damaged. We gained momentum and cruised down the road, successfully stopping where we needed to stop; brakes seemed OK. But then, what do we know? More on that later, much later (like 1500 miles later).
After several hours of white-knuckle driving, we thankfully arrived at the campground minutes after the storms we drove through passed over. Just in time for happy hour, a beautiful and steamy evening on Lake Rousseau awaited us. There we were, 300 miles from Chokoloskee. Everything we owned was with us. The contentment of familiarity mixed with the excitement of unfamiliarity would now be our way of life for the next few months. We toasted to arriving safely and being alive in a beautiful place, while recognizing our good fortune as never to be taken for granted from this day out.