RV travel can be fun, but there are perils. Had I known back then what I know about the availability of RV roadside assistance and how the coverage options could have been employed, my family’s North Dakota vacation results could have been much different.
National Motor Club Roadside Assistance offers two levels of coverage that include towing, fuel delivery, tire change, battery boost/jump start . . . and more. Their Premier Plan adds Global Assist, personal accident coverage, ID theft, and retail/services discounts.
It was about 1989, I was a young man who still believed in dreams and adventure. It was with that insightful confidence that my wife and I discussed an August vacation in North Dakota. Like any fledgling couple with small children, money was a driving force in our decision.
We had done our share of “tenting.” While fun, I was drawing close to my 40th birthday, and was no longer inclined to sleep on the ground. (I had developed an aversion to mildewed tents.) Unfortunately a survey of the motels and cabins in our target vacation area showed they were too expensive for our pocketbook. It appeared like our vacation might be delayed due to lack of funds. That’s why we were so excited when a 24-foot RV became available for rent (with an option to buy!).
The RV promised cheap sleeping accommodations, a full kitchen to store and prepare meals in – all packaged with a panoramic view from an air-conditioned, mobile living room. In short, it was the answer to our dreams.
We immediately started planning our grand road trip beginning in Grand Forks, ND with a leisurely ride down I-29 to Fargo, followed by a quick trip on Highway 94 to visit our family in Valley City. It would be nothing but four-lane Interstate highways, the finest concrete available, and the perfect surface for a 7-foot wide, 8-foot high, tin rectangular box to ride in while floating across the expansive prairie. We projected a three-hour drive to our first goal, an easy shakedown leg to make sure everything was working well.
We envisioned picking up my parents for a drive down the Sheyenne River Valley through Kathryn, ND past Fort Ransom State Park. I pictured my father sitting on the couch watching the scenery through the RV’s picture window and reminiscing about all the wildlife and fauna of his youth in that area. My children would stare out the window hoping to glimpse a fox or a white-tailed deer. After a quick lunch cooked over an open campfire, we would return my parents to Valley City and spend the first night out parked near their house — affording us a quick getaway the next morning.
Reality Raises Its Head
We would start the day with bacon and eggs, cooked while we drove the long leg of our trip from Valley City to Medora, MN home of the Rough Riders and Teddy Roosevelt. We would “bully” are way through the Badlands and carry a “big stick” as we walked on the buffalo pastures surrounded by the scoria streaked bluffs and hillsides. We would finish the night listening to coyotes call to their mates and looking at the endless Dakota night sky. We would spend two days in the park and then reverse our course to return home refreshed for another year of work.
The night before our trip began; we picked up the recreational vehicle. It was bigger than I envisioned, but it looked sturdy and substantial. The dealer took me through the vehicle and pointed out the main features, including a log chain, a complete toolset, and a RV repair guide. He showed be the big V-8 engine and directed me to the oil dipstick and instructed me on how to check the oil and where to add some as needed at every gas fill. He took special pride in showing me the new water hose, installed during the vehicles last trip. The old one blew out and flushed the all the coolant into a ditch in South Dakota allowing the former renter to install all new coolant.
Continuing the tour, the dealer showed where the waste hoses were stored and informed us where the best places to empty the “Blue water.” Lastly he pointed out the two spares hung on the back, and said not to worry as the tires on the vehicle only had 40,000 miles on them and they were rated for 60,000.
I thanked him for the instructional tour and he replied, “No problem, by the way. I’ve filled up the 40-gallon gas tank before you got here. There was only a quarter tank of gas in it, so I topped it off.”
“Good to know” I said, wondering why the RV would need such a big tank?
“You also might want to know that I bought a few quarts of oil and a gallon of anti-freeze for you to have along, just in case”
I nodded as he stepped out of the door and wishing us a good night and a pleasant trip.
I went home to pack — then rest for the trip of my life.
Add Heat and Stir until Bubbling
I woke the next morning to bright sunshine. We had decided not to get up early because we were only going a short distance and there was no sense in rushing. By eleven o’clock the temperature had crept up to 90-degrees Fahrenheit and the radio announcer was predicting a “scorcher”. By the time we were finished packing and loading it was 95 and I was glad to turn on the air conditioning in the van. Our family settled in and headed for the highway.
A glance at a bank time and temperature sign showed that the outside heat had officially gone over 100 as we pulled out onto the highway. But with the air conditioning blowing, the inside of the cabin was a cool 70 degrees as we cruised down the highway at 65 mph. Our family burst into song as we did our very best imitation of the Von Trapp family and sang our “Do Re Mi’s”
Fifteen minutes into the trip, the engine began to buck and stutter. We lost power and slowed to a crawl. I pulled off to the siding and opened the hood and saw a chuck of ice surrounding the air conditioner compressor. The system had frozen. I was a little concerned but was relieved to know that the frozen system was causing the engine to lose power. By turning off the air, we regained power and were off and running again.
In less than four choruses of “99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall” the interior temperature of the RV rose to 100. The joy on the face of my wife and children turned into a dripping puddle of despair. They pleaded to have the air conditioning turned on. My wife screamed “How did I know the engine would stop if I ran the air? Who appointed you the Lord of the Van?”
My wife screamed “How did I know the engine would stop if I ran the air? Who appointed you the Lord of the Van?”
The conditions turned even uglier when I opened all the vents to let the air flow through our six-tire solar oven. Of course, the air outside was still over 100, so in effect, with the addition of forced heated air, we had converted our RV into a convection oven and were cooking our brains out.
We had gone less than sixty miles and it appeared someone was going to die.
My wife screamed at me that “This can’t go on.”
Luckily we came to a highway rest area and we were able to go into the bathrooms to cool down. After an hour we dragged our children, screaming back into the RV. No one was happy to start the oven again! I took a quick look at the gauges and noticed that the gas gauge was at three-quarters full. I was shocked! I said to my wife, “Honey, did the dealer mention anything about fuel consumption?”
She said. “Yeah, he said something about 6-8 mpg. Does that seem right?”
Our trip to Medora would be at least 800 miles round-trip. At six MPG that would be about 130 gallons of gas. Since we had budgeted $250 for the vacation, this was going to cut the trip close. First way to cut the bleeding was to reduce speed to save fuel. That meant 55 mph maximum speed. Secondly, even though the air conditioning was now working again, using it cost too much gas — it was going to be a long hot road trip.
Windows open, creeping along we made it into Valley City and my parent’s air-conditioned home. The trip down the Sheyenne River Valley was shelved. The new plan involved resting till the sun went down and traveling during the cool of the night. So at 1:00 a.m. we restarted our journey at the relatively cool temperature of 75 degrees. After five hours of travel, we made our destination and rolled into the campground.
Blend in a Cup of Noise
We were backing into out parking spot when we learned our first lesson about native wildlife in the area. We dropped into a badger hole, hanging up the RV’s rear end and causing the muffler to fall off. Apparently the abrupt drop was just enough to cause the rusted out exhaust system to fail. Our RV took on the characteristic sound of a beached John Deere tractor, letting all in the campground know that we had arrived.
The hammering of the unrestricted engine exhaust drew the attention of a sleeping four-wheel drive club, who were camping just down the draw. They left their bunks and offered (for $50) to hook up their truck and drag us out. Thirty minutes later we were parked in out camping location where I was able to make some emergency repairs.
While I did have a full toolset, I did not have a muffler and tailpipe, but luckily there was a coil of bailing wire and I was able to tie the rusted exhaust pieces to the chassis frame, so, while still sounding like top fuel racer, at least it did not drag exhaust parts on the ground.
In actuality the vacation in Medora and the night spent at the outdoor musical turned out to be pretty enjoyable and well worth the pain to get there. We left after a few days and made it back to Grand Forks with no more incidents and rumbled our way into town.
A Better Recipe
Had I known then what a difference the addition of RV Roadside Assistance would have made, the story could have had a completely different ending.
RV Insurance could have provided my family the chance of an uninterrupted vacation with professional towing to a repair facility and could have even paid for some of the labor when caused by one of the following:
- Mechanical Breakdown
- Tire repair
- Loss of water, oil or other fluids
Depending on your coverage options, you might incur no out-of-pocket costs.
Liability and collision coverage might also be available from various markets.
RV Insurance is very affordable and can provide you protection in the United States or Canada.
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