The Nightmare RV Trip -- Christmas 2006

This has been an unbelievably BAD trip.

Peter, the kids, the dog, and I planned to leave after Peter finished work on Tuesday 12/19.  I figured we could at least get out of Colorado before shutting down for the night, and that would keep us ahead of the big snowstorm due the next morning.  So we got past Denver and were heading east on I-70 when things got weird.  The road didn't seem bad, just wet, but I kept passing wrecks -- flipped cars and tractor-trailers on their sides, broken open -- so I figured I'd just pull off and sleep a little earlier than planned, and in the morning the roads should be fine.  WRONG!  Wednesday morning 12/20, the rain that stopped me had turned to 8" of snow over an inch or so of ice, and we were in little Bethune, Colorado, with no grocery store or gas station, much less an RV park with hookups.  We decided we really needed to risk travelling on snowy roads to get to a source of supplies.  I carefully pulled the RV towards the narrow school driveway exit -- and straight into a ditch.  We finally found a tow company to pull us out, and a couple of hours later, we were carefully inching our way towards the closed interstate.  (The tow driver had told us we could take it as far as Burlington, 7 miles away.)  Plows had left a wall of snow at the turn onto the "on" ramp which we of course got stuck in, but I was able to rock us free and (again) inched our way down an elevated "on" ramp, covered with snow over ice, with steep drops on either side.  We were all praying and really overworked our guardian angels on that trip.  On the interstate, I was able to get up to a lightning-fast 10 mph or so, and we all sighed with relief when we arrived at Burlington.  The roads were somewhat snowy but plows and traffic had them fairly driveable.  We stocked up on water and food at Safeway, filled up with diesel, and parked behind the Conoco station Wednesday afternoon.  (It had been too cold at home to fill the fresh-water tank on the RV; when the blizzard gave us temps in the single-digits, I was glad we hadn't.)  Then we watched the snow fall ... and watched the snow fall ... and watched the snow fall.  We were all bored to tears.  I'd hoped it would end in time for them to open the interstate on Thursday afternoon 12/21 so we could get beyond the snow zone before dark, but it was about 11PM on Thursday night before a state trooper knocked on our motorhome door to tell us I-70 was open again.  I love my motorhome, but driving it on slippery surfaces in the dark is just suicidal, so we all went back to sleep.

Friday morning 12/22, I figured the sun and the trucks would have the interstate in decent condition, so we stocked up on water and food again, and hit the road.  But I had been over-optomistic about the condition of the interstate, so we crawled along in the right snowy-icy lane while a lot of idiots flew along in the left snowy-icy lane.  We all cheered when we finally got out of Colorado, and about 60 miles into Kansas, the roads were almost clear.  100 miles further, there was hardly any snow even in the fields.  We just kept going, trying to make up for lost time.  (One scheduled part of the trip, Peter's visit to a school friend in San Antonio, had already been scrapped.) 

We stopped for a few hours' sleep in Texas and got to my dad's house in Dallas Saturday mid-morning 12/23, as we had planned.  We had a quickie visit and hit the road again -- to be stopped dead by a nonfunctioning transmission in south Dallas.  Let me tell you, trying to find a place to have a 32' motorhome towed to on a Saturday afternoon the day before Christmas Eve was one of the worst parts of the nightmare.  We finally had it towed to the street in front of my dad's house, which he was less than thrilled about, and I left a sign in the window that it would be moved Tuesday.  Meanwhile, Peter's brother Steve was desperately trying to get us down to Houston for the planned Steiger family Christmas.  He found a rental agency at Love Field that still had cars left and Nell drove us over to rent a car.  It was after 2AM on Christmas Eve when we got to Steve & Sharon's in Houston, where we found beds waiting and all fell into them.

Christmas Eve, we all showered, washed clothes, and visited.  Peter's mother Jean was delighted to see her grandbabies and had a good long visit.  We added a few presents to the pile under the tree and I coaxed Steve to let us bring Candy, our dog, into the house if I kept her on a leash.  While she is a bully to other dogs, Steve and Sharon only had cats, which Candy's border-collie herding instinct thinks are something she should herd and protect.  She quivered with delight whenever she saw a cat.  Something to herd!  The cats were less than thrilled but just sauntered away.  Christmas, we ate, opened presents, visited, and left late to drive back to Dallas.  Got there middle-of-the-night again and fell into our beds in the RV.

Tuesday 12/26, back to the nightmare.  Had to phone numerous places to find someone who could work on the transmission of a 32' motor home, then had it towed there, then found a cheaper rental car, then found a relatively inexpensive hotel.  We all collapsed into bed that night exhausted.  Wednesday 12/27 and Thursday 12/28 we mostly just waited again, this time for the RV to be fixed.  Thursday I suddenly noticed there was a sharp edge in the back of my mouth.  It turned out my right upper wisdom tooth had shattered!  Fortunately, my dad had a good dentist, who we had also seen when we lived there.  I telephoned and begged him to work me in, which he kindly did.  So Thursday night I was quite sore from having that tooth pulled.  I was hoping we'd be able to sleep in the RV Thursday night, but it was almost noon on Friday 12/29 before we picked it up.  While we were transferring our stuff back into it, we realized it wasn't staying put in "Park," but we were so desperate to get back home we didn't take it back to the transmission place. 

That Friday 12/29 was the day of the SECOND big storm: snow and ice in Colorado/Kansas/New Mexico/Oklahoma, violent weather in Texas.  There was a tornado south of Fort Worth that caused one death, and driving a motor home through violent weather isn't any more fun than driving it on snow and ice.  So we changed our planned route home to take I-20 west to U.S. 84, which we planned to take to I-25.  We watched the Weather Channel radar at Dad's until it looked like there was a break in the violent weather, then scooted out of town.  The rain and wind did slow us down a bit, but we stopped for the night in a rest area on I-20 around Cisco TX.  I pulled up against the curb and turned the wheels sharply (remember Park isn't holding the RV in place) and collapsed.

Saturday 12/30 we got up and I sat in the driver's seat to get us going -- and couldn't get the RV started.  The key absolutely would NOT turn in the ignition!  Peter and I both tried repeatedly and desperately without success.  Time for another tow truck call.  I had a feeling that someone who knew what he was doing could get us up and running in seconds, which is what happened -- but it was about four hours before he got there.  More lost time.  We got to Lubbock, where we first ran into snow and I started worrying whether continuing on U.S. 84 would be the best decision.  We found a parking lot where we could pick up the Internet (thank goodness for laptops with WiFi capability) and I checked the weather radars.  I-27 looked reasonably clear, so we took that and were actually in south Amarillo before the roads got bad.  We gratefully stopped at a Wal-Mart for the night and watched the snow fall.

New Year's Eve became our most frustrating day.  The roads were pretty decent and we got onto I-40 westbound.  But once we crossed into New Mexico, we repeatedly got stuck in traffic jams that seemed to have no reason.  The first one, we managed to divert onto the feeder road, and a steady 20 MPH or so feels pretty good when you can see the freeway has become a parking lot.  But we got firmly stuck in subsequent traffic jams.  It seems that New Mexico was closing sections of interstate but just leaving the drivers sitting there with no place to go!  Very poor storm management.  We were stuck literally for hours.  When we did move, we passed many snowmen that drivers ahead of us had made.  I was hoping to make it to the U.S. 84 turnoff after Santa Rosa in time to drive through that pass in daylight, but it was dark before we even got to Tucumcari.  When I saw the lights of another traffic jam ahead, I hastily exited at Tucumcari and cautiously maneuvered among the big rigs (and a few smaller vehicles) lining the 2-lane road, looking for a place to park for the night.  One of the kids spotted an RV park, and we pulled in.  I decided it was worth $19 to have a safe, reserved place to park, plug in, and check the Internet.  None of us felt like celebrating the New Year; we went to bed early.

New Year's Day 2007, we refilled our water jugs and headed home.  I hesitantly started up U.S. 84, ready to turn back if the roads were too bad, but they were almost completely clear and we made it to I-25.  I still drove carefully but was able to maintain 65 mph most of the time.  We stopped in Fort Collins for dinner, where the streets were okay but the parking lots were awful.  As usual, I parked the RV braced against something solid, and when we were ready to go, a problem we had encountered occasionally became insoluble.  We'd been having intermittent trouble shifting gears, but this time I could get it into 2nd but not Drive no matter what I did!  So we drove home in second gear, and I just watched the RPMs to keep the engine from overworking.  We were too close to home to quit!  I pulled onto our street and drove the motor home into a snowbank (remember the "Park" problem and we didn't have chocks and I wasn't going to be able to get it out of 2nd gear anyway), turned off the engine, unloaded a few necessities, and collapsed again.  We had made it!

When it warmed up the next day, and the kids started bringing stuff in from the RV, I asked Daniel to see if the gearshift would go into Park.  He came back and said "easily."  So I was able to start the RV and drive it over to the lot where we store it, and that is where it has stayed.  Peter discussed the gearshift problem with some friends, who think it got iced up from the bad weather, and that makes sense to me.  Sure was frustrating, though!

As awful as the whole thing was, it sure could have been worse.  The RV was still driveable after being pulled out of the ditch.  We had food, water, facilities, and warm beds to sleep in.  The RV broke down in Dallas, not in some middle-of-nowhere place.  We were able to get a rental car and a place to stay when the RV was unavailable.  My tooth shattered in a town where I knew a good dentist.  Even wen we were stuck on the interstate, we had food, water, and a bathroom.  (I sent the kids to the cars around us to offer the use of our bathroom; one lady took us up on it.)  None of us got injured or sick (until we got home, as of today Peter and I are still coughing and sneezing), we were able to pay for the rentals and repairs we needed (now we just have to pay off the credit cards), and we were able to do most of what we had planned. 

But I don't know how long it will be before we venture on another trip!

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Copyright © 2007 by Sylvia Steiger
Last revised: 1/10/2007
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