Running from a Hurricane, Driving Fail & GPS Fail

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For the most part, our travel days tend to go pretty smoothly, but last Thursday (October 1) was one of those days that ended up being both a comedy of errors and an adventure in itself ! While we managed to keep a good sense of humor with everything turning out OK in the end, it wasn’t without a few close calls, stressful moments and a couple of hours of wasted time. And yes, even though it’s a tad embarrassing, we thought we’d share the chain of events so you can get a laugh out of it too and learn from our mistakes!

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Avoiding the Hurricane

We’d been enjoying our fabulous, wooded campsite in Rochester, MA (Cape Cod area) for just five days when we heard the news that Hurricane Joaquin had been upgraded to a Category 4 storm with the potential to hit the USA East Coast and the New England area where we were parked. When your home is on wheels, you’re naturally more exposed than those living in a stick and brick house, so on Wednesday evening we decided to pack up and head to upstate New York on Thursday (two days ahead of schedule) just to be safe. We’re glad we did – even though the hurricane ended up moving out to sea, it just wasn’t worth taking the risk of staying put. That’s one of the things we love about our mobile lifestyle – the freedom and flexibility to follow good weather and avoid bad weather conditions, as and when we choose.

Driving Fail – breaking one of our cardinal rules!

We opted for taking the slightly longer route south so we could drive through Rhode Island and Connecticut on our way and add them to our state sticker map on the side of our coach. We left around 1pm and got a head start on the weather coming into the Boston area, avoiding rain for most of the drive. All was going pretty smoothly until we decided to pull over for a short break in Connecticut. We exited the interstate and looked for a safe place to park the coach for half an hour or so.

It was at this point that Marc broke one of his cardinal rules.

Never enter the driveway of a parking lot without first being able quickly assess and know your route and exit point.

We pulled into the driveway of a Marriott hotel before realizing there was no place to turn the coach around. Bummer! We parked down the side of the hotel, blocking a few parked cars, while assessing our plan of action. Because we are unable to back up the coach with the MINI behind us, the only way out was to unload the MINI from the tow dolly to turn the coach around. Marc sprung into action and quickly removed the straps and ratchets from the MINI wheels, backed the MINI off the dolly and parked it off to the side. Next, he unhooked the tow dolly and wheeled it over beside the MINI. Then, he did a tight 5 point turn to turn the coach around, hooked the dolly back up again and re-loaded the MINI – all in record time! Marc’s pretty experienced at loading the MINI onto the dolly these days, but I have to say I was impressed how fast he did ALL of this – in exactly 15 minutes! Phew!

Here’s our “Slice of RV Life” video about it (1 min 45 seconds) to show you what’s really involved!

We hit the road again and had a good laugh about it just being part of the adventure – after all, it’s the first time this has ever happened to us in 16 months of full-timing, so not too bad overall – and continued our drive to Thousand Trails Rondout Valley RV Resort and Campground in Accord, New York.

RV GPS Fail

Ever since we had a couple of hair-raising experiences driving the coach on some unfavorable roads in the summer of 2014, we’ve relied on our RV GPS to ensure we arrive safely at our destination. Randy, as we call our Rand McNally GPS, has been worth every cent of our $300 investment as we have our coach specifications pre-programmed with height, length, width etc. Using this data, the GPS is able to help us avoid narrow roads, low bridges and tunnels and any other roads generally not recommended for RVs of our size.

It was almost 5 miles south of our destination that we experienced our first ever RV GPS FAIL.

Fortunately, Marc doesn’t simply rely on the GPS for guidance – being an attentive driver, he also pays attention to the road signs. “Hmmm, there’s a sign there that says there’s a low bridge 3.5 miles ahead and our RV GPS says we need to turn left in 5 miles” Marc said with concern in his voice. We kept driving slowly until we came to a halt at a Stop Sign and another sign that said “2.5 miles Low Bridge Ahead 11 feet”. We considered turning left but saw another sign advising if we did that, we’d be dealing with a clearance of just 10′ 6″.

Meanwhile, our coach is 12’6″ tall and with our RV GPS telling us to “turn left in 4 miles” half a mile AFTER the low clearance bridge that lay just 2.5 miles ahead, we knew that was NOT going to end well.

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By this time, it was almost 8pm, dark, rainy and we were at a standstill in a 4-way intersection with our hazard lights on. Marc jumped out of the coach and began directing cars to go around us while we tried to come up with a solution. Fortunately, not being a major road there wasn’t too much traffic – a couple of cars stopped and asked if we needed help, one was a super friendly and helpful MINI driver who confirmed we should definitely NOT proceed ahead!

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So I called our campground and left a message on the after hours/emergency number, hoping they would call me back right away with some advice (they took almost an hour). Next, I reached out to our friends Erik and Kala, who we’d met at Moody Beach RV Campground in Wells, Maine a couple of weeks earlier – they were already at Rondout Valley in a 45′ motorhome that’s even taller than ours. Being from the area, Erik knew exactly where we were and texted us the link to an alternate route using Google Maps. Crisis averted! But, this also meant we had to turn around and head back to the Interstate 84 and take exit 19 instead (of exit 18). Although it was an additional 45 minute drive and diversion, it was our only safe option and we weren’t willing to take any other chances.

Marc unloaded the MINI yet again, this time right in the middle of the road/intersection. I jumped in to drive to MINI while Marc did a 3 point turn in the coach and we both made out way back to the Interstate. En route, we also got dinged with a second toll in the coach (we’d already paid one on the way in) and another in the MINI, but it wasn’t too bad – only about $6 – and definitely the least of our concerns!

Driving at night in the rain on a road you don’t know is not the most fun thing for either of us, especially when driving at the higher speeds of an Interstate. With the help of Google Maps and Erik’s new directions we arrived at Rondout Valley Campground 45 minutes later. As we pulled in, I looked down and saw the MINI fuel indicator was right on empty. I knew we were getting low on fuel the night before but in the stress of the situation, I’d completely forgotten to look at the gauge again as I was so focused on the road before me and getting safely to our destination! In the whole comedy of errors that afternoon and evening, I’m just glad I didn’t run out of gas and break down in the MINI on the side of the Interstate. On the bright side, Marc would have been right behind me in the coach.

Upon arrival, the Camp Host, Erik and Kala all came out to meet us and directed us to a good campsite on high ground to avoid potential water issues from the rising creek. It was a nice, large, level site so we got set up fairly quickly and were definitely glad to hang up the coach keys for the night.

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NOTE: Following up on our RV GPS Fail, we’ve been looking into this further and it seems most GPS’s experience these kinds of issues from time to time as it’s all based on data and largely, they share the same data source BUT we’re continuing to investigate alternative options to help prevent this kind of situation occuring in the future. We don’t want to be too quick to unfairly place all the blame on our Rand McNally GPS device, so we’ll get back to you and share our findings by updating this post and writing a new post about an improved solution.

Food Fail – breaking yet another cardinal rule!

By this stage, it was well after 9pm and we still hadn’t eaten dinner. Yep, we’d broken yet another one of our cardinal rules – always have a meal prepared ahead of time on driving days! It’s something I learned early on in our travels and every time I do it, I’m so glad I did. Every time I don’t I kick myself.

Even if you think you’ll have time to whip a quick meal up when you arrive, you just never know what delays you might face. That’s why I almost always have something ready to eat upon arrival at our destination – this time I didn’t. Nonetheless, I managed to throw a soup together in less than 15 minutes so it wasn’t too bad, but I was reminded to follow my own rule: ALWAYS keep at least one meal in the fridge or freezer pre-made and ready to eat on drive day.

Now, we’re safely settled into our campground in New York, we got well away from the Hurricane’s path, which fortunately didn’t end up reaching us at all – unlike the poor folks in South Carolina who got badly flooded! We’re looking forward to spending the next couple of weeks among the changing colors of the trees, and some different, less stressful kinds of adventures.

In summary, we’ll leave you with our reminder of the key lessons learned from our day of FAILS:

5 Lessons Learned

  1. If you know bad weather is on the way, especially dangerous conditions that may pose a risk, pack up and move to a safer location ahead of time (at least we got this part right)
  2. Don’t enter a driveway/parking lot without first knowing what your route and exit is going to be
  3. When trip planning, don’t rely entirely on your RV GPS – be sure to also double check directions with the campground to see if they have any specific instructions on suggested roads to take, roads to avoid (we’ll share some other solutions ASAP as we’re currently looking into them)
  4. Make sure you have enough gas in your tow vehicle to get you a reasonable distance just in case you need to drive it en route
  5. Always have dinner ready ahead of time on driving days – you just never know if you’re going to encounter an unexpected situation or delay

Stay safe everyone, enjoy the journey and remember, it’s ALL an adventure 🙂

Have you had any driving or GPS Fails? Tell us about them and share your tips in the comments below!

28 thoughts on “Running from a Hurricane, Driving Fail & GPS Fail”

  1. “Running from a hurricane”….Wow! We are RV newbies. Just bought a 37 foot 2013 Thor Challenger. We live in Charleston, SC and are going north for the summer. Going to spend a few days at Moody Beach in Wells Maine. Did you enjoy your stay there? Did you venture out into the Maine Ocean?
    Looking forward to reading about your escapades and maybe one day meeting up with you.

    Reply
  2. Hello,
    Definitely a stressful day, but if you wrote about it only five days later, you bounced back quickly. Congratulations. As for GPS failures, we have had too many to count in 18 months with our “Randy”. You are lucky if this is your first. It has taken us over a mountain (18% grade) on a road rated for 10k weight with grass growing in the pavement cracks, under too many low bridges to count, across bridges with weight limits signficantly under our rig’s weight, and led us down deadend roads. The worst part is Rand McNally never gives you any feedback when you report these problems.

    Safe travels,
    Bob

    Reply
    • Hi Bob, Oh Boy those GPS failures you experienced were BAD. Ours have not been as bad, maybe we haven’t traveled as many miles as you! Rand McNally definitely makes it hard to report issues and I do doubt if they even action many of them. I have heard most of the GPS systems are pretty similar. There sure is a market for accurate GPS data! Just wish I knew who provided it! Safe travels to you too!

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  3. Julie and Marc, love your stuff. We had a GPS pita trip in Virginia Beach, where it took us around in circles back and forth on the same highway trying to get to a campground. Sometimes you just have to use common sense.
    You’ve provided good tips. Used your advice to contact Chad about a TT resale, then we upgraded it. Spending this week in a Getaway cabin, and saw your rig in the park.

    Reply
    • Oh great! Glad Chad was able to help you 🙂 He’s a good guy. Those GPS units are great most of the time, but really when they screw up they do it royally! LOL Still for the most part, we are happy. Common sense always prevails in the end!

      Reply
  4. It was my first visit to your blog today.. very nice to have found it.

    My GPS horror story was in West Virginia this year. While looking for a turn-around.. the GPS directed me to a street that connected to a main road. It was actually a paper street that lead to a dead end. My travel trailer has no backup lights and I wound up having to back up the narrow street about 1000′ in the dark.

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  5. Enjoyed the blog post. We’ve been traveling for 7 years now and have encountered each of the situations in the post at least once. The GPS fails occur more often than I would like. Our encounter with a low RR overpass in Virginia did not turn out as well as yours. The GPS didn’t warn us of an 11’4″ overpass for our 11’6″ Winnebago Brave. When we got to the overpass there was no alternative but to try to squeeze through. It didn’t end well for the rear AC unit. Letting some air out of the tires, as my wife suggested might have given us the extra clearance we needed. Live and learn.

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    • oh no! What a bummer. We had another GPS fail the other week in NJ, but no damage done fortunately…I am looking into a low clearance app to warn us of lower bridges that has more in the database than GPS units. Once I know how they performs, I will write about it in a post. Live and learn indeed! 🙂

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  6. We have been off the grid with our travel trailer for a bit and just now are catching up with your adventures. All of the cardinal rules you mentioned are ours as well. Sometimes we don’t pay attention as we should either. But we are definitely learning. I am glad your latest adventure ended well.

    We barely outran the hurricane. We were heading south along the Carolina coast when my husband, the weather nut, suddenly decided we had best be in a bit of a rush to get into Florida. I never pay attention to the weather other than sticking my arm out of the door to see if it is raining! So here we are 2 weeks earlier than we planned but safe and dry. As dry as an Arizonan can get in Florida anyway.

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    • Oh wow, sounds like it was a close call! Glad you made it to Florida safely. Marc is very good about paying attention to the weather too… I am like you… stick my arm out the window for a forecast! haha Enjoy!

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  7. I would say you have done well if that is the first time this happened to you!! We have too many stories to count, but our finest hour was blocking off a two lane highway that headed up a mountain as we tried to turn around because it was snowing on top of the mountain! Oh the horror!

    Thanks for sharing your stories! Love reading about your adventures 🙂
    StudioJema

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  8. I really enjoy your blog posts and youtube videos. When you air your mistakes, rest assured that the rest of us RVers have made some of those same errors.

    We have had to unhitch a number of times. I always do my best to look before turning. But sometimes what looks like a turn around area turns out to be a dead end. Last year, on the last day of our return home from winter snowbirding, I had to unhitch twice in the same day.

    Another time several years ago I was stuck making a failed too tight turn onto a road at about ten o’clock at night. I was blocking two roads until I got unhitched. Thankfully only a few cars were held up.

    My blog is sadly out of date. However, I’ll resume posting when we start our journey south (after Thanksgiving).

    Safe journeys,

    Ron Johnson

    Reply
    • Thanks for sharing Ron! I think those situations happen more often when we are tired, stressed, hungry etc… on this occasion we were feeling all of those! And at ten o’clock at night I imagine you were too. Glad your situation got resolved without too much issue. At least it gives us all a few good stories to share. Safe travels to you too!

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  9. Those are excellent rules. I am getting better at looking ahead, a lot better. We have had to disconnect as well.

    Having dinner ready….I could do better…I only really think about it when it is hot.

    But I am really looking forward to your post on the GPS. That is kinda scary! But the confidence you have given me by saying, “you stopped, directed traffic, unhooked etc. was so good to hear.

    Thanks for a great post!

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    • Thanks Melinda! Yes twice in one afternoon, can you believe it!? But it is heartening to read everyone else’s stories and experiences too – it seems it’s a pretty common occurrence across the board, so we feel better 🙂 Will definitely share more about the RV GPS solution when I get to the bottom of it…. meanwhile, we experimented with a few of the settings to try and force it to choose a different route – changing the height didn’t make a difference but upping the RV weight from 22,000lb to 40,000lb did. I will continue the investigation and report back! Cheers 🙂

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  10. I had to smile at your story as it brought back memories of different trips we have taken. We have a 40′ class A and a Honda CRV toad, This summer on our trip we were in Gretna, NE and I was going to stop for diesel. The station was not set up well for bigger rigs so I decided to bypass and try to get out. I ended up in a McDonalds parking lot and getting real nervous but somehow by just inches I was able to make the curve of the lot and not have to unhitch. I am sure anyone watching was shaking their heads thinking this guy is an idiot for bringing that rig in here. Yes as you said don’t pull into anywhere without an exit strategy. A couple of summers ago our RVND7720 took us down a little back road and tried to have us go on a small river ferry. There have been a few times that you just have to scratch your head and wonder while using the GPS. But overall I love it and it gets us where we want to go. Oh I just had another laugh. In Wisconsin on our way to the campground my wife was driving. The campground was on a big lake but the GPS had her drive on these little farm roads and when it said we were at our destination we had nothing but corn fields on all sides and no lake to be found. We had such a laugh about that one. The CG ended up being about 15 miles away. Always a little stressful at the times in these problems but that is what smiles and memories are made of. Happy travels

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    • Oh boy those are good stories! Hilarious your RV GPS tried to take you on a ferry! You are so right, it makes for memorable experiences and a good laugh…. down the road even if not in the moment! We feel like that about our misadventures in Lake Havasu (video)… during the saga Marc wasn’t too happy having the video on him but I just kept saying Hon it will be good for the video, for people to see things don’t always go smoothly… and now that is one of our favorite videos and always makes us laugh. Happy travels to you too!

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  11. I appreciate this blog so much, because sometimes it’s embarrassing when we admit to our mistakes. We made a HUGE mistake just yesterday. We were leaving a state park, my husband pulled our Beetle up on the dolly and we proceeded to leave. He looked in the rear camera and saw smoke coming from the Beetle and said some choice words! He forgot to disengage the parking brake! Had to have the Beetle towed to Discount Tire for two new rear tires. A very expensive mistake that I’m sure won’t EVER be made again. Definitely a learning experience! He is very meticulous with hooking up, but just made a terrible mistake this time.

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    • Hi there Karen, yes we were questioning whether to share this post and video or not… then thought you know what, it’s good for people to see what can happen and what you can learn and avoid it in future (as much as possible anyway). Oh we have done that too with towing – left the parking brake on our MINI…but fortunately it wasn’t on all the way and it was only a very short distance so didn’t need to replace any tires or cause damage, just created some stink fumes from the burning brakes! Marc is meticulous too but we are all human and inevitably make mistakes, as long as no-one is hurt I guess that’s the main thing! Glad your Beetle is all better now, could have been much worse I guess. 🙂

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  12. Hey guys, thanks for sharing these lessons learned! We just bought our mini, a 2013 blue convertible and we visit the dealer next week to progress to the next step on our RV. Pretty excited about 2016 and our upcoming adventures on the road. Navigating heights and accessible roads are my biggest concern so this was very helpful. I have a question…I know you cannot back up with the mini in tow, but what about with just the tow dolly attached? Thanks so much. Safe travels! Henry & Caroline

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    • Oooh very exciting time for you indeed! In answer to your question, yes we can back up with our tow dolly (an Acme) as it doesn’t have a swivel deck so it behaves like a trailer, so we can back up as much as we want. Other dollies may not be the same. However, if you are looking to tow your MINI using a dolly, we recommend the Acme as being a good option because of it’s low load height. You may have already seen our article on this but just in case you haven’t you may find this helpful https://rvlove.com/2015/08/11/faq-pros-cons-tow-dolly-4-down Cheers!

      Reply
  13. Julie,
    Boy…when things go bad…they really go bad. At least you can look back on the problems and just shake your head…and smile. Hope your trip thru the NE U.S. is everything you hoped it would be.

    Reply

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