Several people have asked: What it’s like to drive this 35-foot long fifth wheel trailer? Reflecting upon my first driving experience, I’ve detected at least 7 specific emotional “stages”, described below.
Stage 1 – Exhaustion: It took a Herculean effort to get through our last week in the house. The “perfect storm” of new RV, packing for the trip, preparing for house-sitters, and dealing with 170 boxes from our China shipment proved to be overwhelming. There was a lot of unpacking/repacking, along with numerous trips from basement to attic and house to RV. On our last night, Jen was up until 3:30PM with the final push. Needless to say, we were both pretty foggy… not ideal such a momentous launch.
Stage 2 – Trepidation: The moment of loading into the truck was exciting, but also filled with many questions: Have we done enough practice driving? Will we be able to avoid low overpasses? Will our tires hold up under all of the gear we loaded in? Will our fuel be sufficient to get us from one diesel station to the next? Will we get stuck in a bad situation, like trying to do a K-turn in front of a long string of angry commuters? All of these questions were swirling around in my mind as I smiled boldly for the family selfie on the front lawn. Were we really this insane?
Stage 3 – Fear: Not a minute into our drive on the highway with the big rig, and a huge piece of scrap metal (looked like aluminum siding) appeared in the middle of the road. With no way to swerve out of the way, I knuckled down and drove straight over it. The moment of relief that followed, however, was short-lived, as my next glance at the dashboard was one of sheer terror: Trailer Disconnected. What?? Disconnected!!
Thinking it through, I realized that the metal must have dislodged the cable that sends power to the trailer (it’s near impossible for the trailer to accidentally unhitch). Still in crisis mode and without trailer lights or power brakes, I scanned the road frantically for a place to pull over. Unfortunately, we were in the middle of Hartford, which had few good options (remember that K-turn question?). Knuckling down again, we crawled our way through the city, across the Connecticut River, and into East Hartford, where I knew there’d be plenty of space to maneuver at the exit for Cabelas and the UCONN football stadium. Upon inspection, our suspicion about the dislodged cable was true, and we seemed to have made it through the ordeal just shaken, but unscathed. Without another thought, we plugged our trailer back in and resumed our course. Crisis averted.
Stage 4 – Uncertainty: Our first destination was the Travel America truckstop near Willington, CT. I wanted to weigh our rig on a CAT truck scale to see if we were within the limits of our towing capacity. Our combined vehicle weight turned out to be 20,000 lbs, which prompted me to start second guessing our earlier calculations (and the 16K hitch). After a few calls to Ford’s customer service line, we determined that all the numbers – axel ratios, towing capacity, trailer loads – were within limits. Re-assured once again, we were soon back on the road.
Stage 5 – Acceptance: Routes 84 (CT) and 90 (MA) had a good bit of traffic, so although I was feeling better about our weights, I also had to pay close attention to the road. In many ways it felt like being a new driver again, slowing down for every bump and hyperaware of each sway. I cursed all of those RV salesmen who told me that hauling a fifth-wheel was so easy that I might even “forget that I was pulling anything”. Ha, what a load of bull. Still, the more I inched along in what was now becoming rush hour traffic, the more settled I felt behind the wheel. I was making my way around the greater Boston area, and I hadn’t wrecked it yet.
Stage 6 – Excitement: It wasn’t until we made it through Massachusetts that I actually started to enjoy the ride. At the NH border, the song “Happy” came on the radio and we all started butt-dancing and singing along. The traffic had thinned out, the roads widened and improved, and we were zipping right along. For the first time that day, I appreciated the gorgeous New England scenery of bright blues, deep greens, and late-summer sun. A few other good highway tunes came on – Going Mobile by the Who and Roadhouse Blues by the Doors – which added to the thrill. We were finally making it happen.
Stage 7 – Relief: Rolling into that KOA Campground, I could feel my back muscles relax. It had been just a 4 hour drive, but it felt like full day’s journey. While the campground (just across the border in Maine) was little more than a stopover, it felt nice to be nestled amongst the tall pines and listen to the sounds of nature. Evening gave us time to test more of the systems and appreciate those creature comforts that we’ve hauled all this way (OK, I admit it. This really is glamping, not camping). Comforted by my home on wheels, I fell quickly to sleep. It was a successful first day of towing… a success that I hope to repeat many times over this year.