About that night we slept on the interstate…

We had our real and true first breakdown on November 24. You may have seen our posts on Instagram, so here’s the rest of the story. We are fine, but it was quite a doozy of an adventure.

Brake lights and hazard lights on a dark night.

We were leaving an adorable RV park where we befriended chickens, and 5 miles down the road, we’d just merged onto I-95 when the driver and passenger of a pickup truck were honking at us and shouting something about a wheel. We immediately pulled over, jump out, and see one of the rig’s driver’s side wheels smoking and too hot to touch.

Whoever those good Samaritans were, we thank you for alerting us. We are certain that they saved us from a real catastrophe, and that we were only another 50′ or 100′ away from the wheel falling off the rig, and who knows how close we were to the whole rig catching fire. Because of them, and because of David’s quick response in the driver’s seat, we pulled off the road before anything worse happened.

an RV on the side of the highway, with a person mostly underneath the RV and only their back showing.
Checking out the damage.

We were so quick to pull over that our tire pressure monitoring system (TST 507) never alarmed!

We have Escapees roadside assistance, so we called them. We might have a certified RV tech in the family, but we aren’t set up for this kind of work on the side of the highway! This was our first time calling Escapees roadside assistance, and there was some confusion so here’s what we learned, in case you’re ever in need of their services:

  • You have the option to request towing or a mobile technician.
  • You have to specify which one you want.
  • Roadside assistance will pay for the service fee (the cost to dispatch a tech to your location), but you’re responsible for all labor and parts.
  • Their automated system to get to a live operator is a hot mess.
  • Good luck getting anyone to come out on a Sunday.

The operators we spoke with were concerned, courteous, and helpful, but they aren’t magicians. We waited for several hours before anyone showed up, and they weren’t able to do anything except get the tire off and tell us that yep, we blew a bearing, and they didn’t have the parts to fix it. They also weren’t set up to tow (on a lowboy) a 38′ travel trailer, but they could get parts the next day (Monday). They recommended the only person around capable of hauling our rig on a lowboy, but the person they recommended didn’t think there’d be enough clearance between us and the underpass a quarter mile up the road. (They were probably right.) All we could do is wait for parts.

A busted wheel hub.

a bearing that got so hot, it melted and welded itself to its neighboring bits.

After yet another call to roadside assistance, when they apologized profusely for having zero luck finding someone to tow us from their list of tow companies, we asked for a technician (again) to see about getting parts for the next day. We were connected with Williams Tire and Trailer Repair, a 24-hour-a-day service that said they thought they had the parts we needed (on a Sunday!), if we could wait a couple more hours.

To add insult to injury, we’d parked over the largest network of fire ant hills we’d ever seen. During all of this back-and-forth on the phone, we were climbing under the rig to scope out the damage, plus in and out of the rig for bathroom breaks and fetching tools. I’m still not sure how it happened, but after kneeling (not sitting!) on the ground, I wound up with an unknown number of ants IN MY PANTS and up my shirt, biting the hell out of by back and backside. So here’s a thing I never thought I’d do: strip naked on the side of the interstate, so David could get all the fire ants off me and I could change my clothes. At least I could do it from the relative privacy of the side of the RV. But talk about a bad day! Since I’m allergic to everything under the sun, I didn’t want to find out what’d happen if I were bit by dozens of fire ants, so I took some Benadryl and fought off an antihistamine haze for the rest of the evening.

By the time Williams Tire and Trailer Repair arrived, it was after dark and the temps were dropping into the low 50’s. They got right to work, but they didn’t have the right parts. They hoped they could cobble something together to help us limp back to the RV park, but they had a 5-lug bandaid and we have a 6-lug wheel. They promised to pick up parts first thing in the morning, and felt terrible about leaving us on the highway, but there was nothing more any of us could do except wait until the shops opened on Monday.

the side of an RV with the wheel off and a man underneath the RV working on it.

We searched for hotels in the area, but didn’t feel great about leaving our home on the side of the interstate, and also didn’t have any luck finding a hotel that would take 4 cats. (Not to mention having to pick up disposable boxes and litter at whatever shop might still be open, and the stress on the cats from sleeping in a strange place.)

So… we prepared for our first night of boondocking.

We aren’t set up with solar (it’s on our wish list!), and our only battery is the single lead acid battery that came with the rig. This will run our lights, radio, bathroom fan, slides, and leveling system. It’ll technically run our furnace, but the blower would drain the battery very quickly, so we opted to go without heat for the night.

We have limited access inside the rig when the slides are in. We can get to the bathroom most of the bedroom, and the couch, but the kitchen area is buttoned up tight, with an island in the center and two opposing slides snug up against it. We used a stack of blocks under the jacks to at least get somewhat close to level, but between the fire ants, soft ground, and angle of the shoulder, it was no RV resort. We were able to put out the slide with the stove because it was on the passenger side of the rig, and that was plenty since we could access the stove, one fridge, and the sink.

a teapot on a propane stove.
Love this little Corningware teapot my mom gave me when I first moved out on my own. As long as we have propane, we can have a nice cuppa!
A cat balancing on a valence, looking at a blocked path upwards, near the ceiling.
Kepler enjoyed exploring the parts of the RV not normally seen with the slides out. To keep the cats from getting too curious about the slide mechanisms, we blocked the easy path with a big yoga bolster.

Survivorman Les Stroud always says going to bed with a full belly will keep you warmer at night, so I cobbled together a nice veggie stew on the stove, and warmed the cats’ food with some hot water. We made some chamomile tea before bed, and settled in to watch some TV on our phones. My dad got me a wireless Mophie charging pad for my birthday, and what a lifesaver it is! We actually had a pretty nice night hanging out in a much tinier space than we’re used to, knew we could call for emergency help if we needed it, and could entertain ourselves without running out of phone juice.

a bowl of stew.

Between passing trucks rocking the rig, the sound of those trucks, and the dropping temps, no one really slept well that night. The cats, with the exception of Tycho, aren’t generally super snuggly, but when the temp dropped to 40 overnight, we had everyone in bed with us. There was a period of about an hour where it was silent, and we all slept pretty well, but then Monday rush hour started, and we were up for good.

Williams Tire and Trailer Repair called us around 8:15am to tell us they had the parts and would be by soon to get us fixed up. We got excited, but sadly it was short-lived. They were given the wrong parts because our rig is so new, no one realized we had special bearings, and not the standard parts used by most RV’s and trailers with 4400lb axles. They were able to cobble together the parts to help us limp back to the RV park, however, so that’s what we did. They were going to work on getting the right parts, and we could enjoy electricity, the furnace, and hot water (and CHICKENS!) while we waited.

a bunch of chickens wandering around a chair and table outside.

Sleeping in the cold wasn’t good for our aching joints (little known fact: we both deal with autoimmune issues and some days we’re both equally miserable), and using the word “sleep” to describe what little rest we got was a bit of a stretch, so it was going to take a few days for us to recover anyway.

This unfortunately also meant our Thanksgiving week plans would be canceled. We’d planned to visit some friends in Charlotte whom we haven’t seen in over 10 years, and we’d been looking forward to the visit for months. We’re still really bummed about that.

Our outstanding techs were able to get the right parts and had us fixed up in less than an hour– overall this actually wasn’t a tough repair. The main problem was that we broke down on a Sunday, and our parts were harder to come by than anyone anticipated.

We’d also racked our brains to figure out why this happened in the first place. The bearing overheated so badly that it welded itself. This wouldn’t happen under normal wear and tear, and there’s no way we’d burn through a properly greased bearing with under 3000 miles on it. The techs checked the other 3 wheels with their grease gun, and put 16 pumps of grease in each wheel (routine maintenance rarely requires more than 2 pumps). A quick internet search revealed a recall due to missing bearing cups but our VIN wasn’t included in that recall… Still, we can’t help but wonder. There were several other recalls before and after our manufacture date for insufficiently greased bearings from the axle manufacturer (Dexter).

We reached out to Keystone to ask them to reimburse us for the repair because it made no sense to us to have such a catastrophic failure on such a new rig with so few miles on it. As of the date of this post, they haven’t said “yes we will reimburse you,” but they did ask us to fill out a W-9, so we’re thinking we might be reimbursed for the repairs?

Lessons learned:

  • Just because your rig is new, or it’s been at the dealer recently, it doesn’t mean you should assume your rig is too new or too recently serviced to have these kinds of problems.
  • Traveling on Sunday might mean less traffic, but it also means less parts and services when you break down. We’re going to avoid traveling on Sundays from now on.
  • We’re scrappy, and even when stuff breaks and we’re worried about the impact on our bank account, we can survive. On a cold night with nothing but a 12v battery and some propane to provide basic services, we ate like kings and made a good time of it.
  • Don’t expect random strangers to stop and help you. We spent 24 hours on the side of the interstate, and the only people who stopped were the two technicians dispatched through Escapees roadside assistance. We’re grateful we didn’t need to rely on the kindness of strangers, but when did we become so apathetic about our fellow travelers?

All things considered, things could’ve gone much worse. We could’ve needed a whole new axle if we hadn’t pulled over quick enough. Hell, we could’ve needed a whole new rig, if we hadn’t pulled over quick enough. If the wheel had fallen off, it could’ve caused an accident and someone could’ve been injured– or worse. I think we handled this as well as we could’ve, and we’re all fixed up now.

…And that’s the story about the night we slept on the side of the interstate.

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