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What I learned on my RV trip from hell, and why it was still fun

Nov. 21, 2020
8 min read
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Over the course of 96 hours last week, my new RV sprung a roof leak, my son fell off a campground playground breaking his arm and my brand new 2020 Ram 1500 truck was hit while it was parked in my campsite. By the time I got home, my opinion of the trip was "I can't wait to go camping again". What exactly happened and what did I learn from my chaotic week? Let's dive in.

Relishing the cautionary tales of being an RV newbie

Since the beginning of May, I've been head down and in the weeds with studying everything I can about recreational vehicles and towing. Regardless of what I've studied and prepared for, a continuous voice from the larger RV community has always cautioned that there will be hurdles and setbacks.

RVs are complicated machines that equate to houses on wheels. They contain almost every system a typical home does, and it moves at 60 mph+ down the road. Things are bound to go wrong despite your best efforts and just such an occasion happened to me on Day One of our trip.

I took my 4 and 6-year old by myself from our home in Georgia to the Tennessee mountains of Pigeon Forge to give mom a couple of days by herself to relax and regroup from homeschooling and being around the kids 24/7 since March.

My thought was I could work while the kids played at the different amenities the campground I had booked offered. Day One was filled with on and off again downpours from a cold front moving through the mountains which made my first trek into the hills towing a bit nerve-wracking. We did however catch some amazing scenery and a few play pitstops once in the Great Smokey Mountains.

Photo by Richard Kerr/The Points Guy

We made it to the campground (The Ridge in Pigeon Forge is fantastic) and set up just as another wave of rain came through. After putting the kids to bed and decompressing from the drive a bit, I turned the light off in my bed in the front room of my camper and closed my eyes. Within 10 seconds, I started to catch drops of water squarely on my cheek.

Photo by Richard Kerr/The Points Guy

A flip of the lights and some curse words later, a steady drip had begun to run down the curved nose cap of my room at the front of the trailer. I had a leak. With most of the water running down the front wall, a bucket wouldn't do me any good and there wasn't really anywhere to move a queen mattress to inside my trailer. I fired off an e-mail to customer service for the trailer, put down a few towels, and thought, "They were right. The RV community is always right."

Photo by Richard Kerr/The Points Guy

An inspection of my roof the following morning showed clear cracks in the sealant at the front of the trailer where the nose cap meets the roof. As happens with new RVs and old RVs alike, you always need to inspect your roof to look for cracks. Not all sealant is created equal and sometimes you catch bad luck and life happens. I sent the video to Keystone who quickly replied that a mobile RV repair technician would be out to patch the leak until I returned home to my dealer to have the rework covered under the three-year structural warranty the company offers.

My thanks to Keystone, who has a call center and email response team dedicated solely to customer service, for their quick help. Remember: my story is not unlike thousands in the RV world. I failed to inspect my roof before the trip. Lesson learned.

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The fireman pole leap

Two days after my water moment, we had moved to another campground for the weekend and had just started to have fun on Friday afternoon with work complete and plenty of things to explore in Pigeon Forge. As I was chatting to another dad with a daughter the same age as mine at the campground playground, I saw my son leap for the fireman pole, grab it for about five milliseconds, let go (for reasons known only to him) and fall straight to the ground.

Photo by Richard Kerr/The Points Guy

When he popped up, from 20 yards away both the dad I was chatting to and I could see his arm was unquestionably broken. I scooped him up and while the dad I was chatting to, an ex-EMT, examined my son I googled urgent cares and ERs in the area.

I called the closest one who said they could see my 6-year-old and, with the help of the EMT, got my son and daughter buckled in the truck for the short drive. It was also at this time I called mom who was happily at home five hours away enjoying her quiet time. She immediately began to head up towards us.

I carried my son inside to the urgent care I had spoken with on the phone who promptly said I needed to take him somewhere else to be seen. Back to the truck we went, danced the terrible dance of getting his arm through the car seat strap once again, and headed for the new place.

Photo by Richard Kerr/The Points Guy

A few hours later he was in a plaster soft cast and calming down for the evening. We set him up in his RV bed with a nice prop to keep his arm elevated and he and his sister were asleep about 30 minutes before my wife arrived. Relieved he was ok and that my backup was now with us, I settled in for the rest of the weekend. Less than 24 hours later, the police would be at my campsite.

Photo by Richard Kerr/The Points Guy

My Tom Hanks 'Castaway' moment

After a Saturday of reassuring my son he would be ok and us getting outside a bit to enjoy the day, we put my kids to sleep and I stepped out the front door of my RV to sit by the fire. As soon as I opened the door, I noticed a pickup truck backing their RV into the campsite across from ours, except that he was incredibly close to my truck. Before I could take another step or yell a word, I saw the gentleman back his pickup truck right into the back of mine.

It was at this time, with the weight of the last few days' events and seeing my truck get hit, that I re-enacted Tom Hanks' character in Castaway when he is at the point of pure frustration and exasperation:

Without further going into the details of the accident, I was most frustrated at the time that I knew I had to waste to get my truck fixed and deal with insurance.

Photo by Richard Kerr/The Points Guy.

I let my wife talk to the driver, who was apologetic, and the police that came to file a report so there would be no question of fault when it came to insurance. There was nothing left to do except drink a few beers and contemplate where I had gone so wrong.

I'm ready to go again

2020 has been a lot for all of us and each in our way. By the time we got home Monday, I realized the trip was still fun. We got outdoors, had our own bubble to live in at campsites in the gorgeous Smokey Mountains, and we spent quality time together that did not revolve around technology or busy schedules.

I still got work done, my kids hiked along rivers and learned how the rivers make valleys and we discussed what a coax cable is and how it makes a TV work. Did I lose my mind a few times? Sure, but I wouldn’t trade the memories for anything.

What did I learn? RVs, new and old, are going to have problems. I'll continue to remain diligent in my learning about them and I will inspect my roof before every trip. Kids are going to get hurt and sometimes you just can't escape bad luck. Moving forward, before going to a new camp location I'll do my research on the closest urgent care that can see kids. As far as my truck getting hit, I'll park as far into my camping site as I can and hope lightning doesn't strike twice.

Photo by Richard Kerr/The Points Guy

This is already a great family story and one we'll tell for years. I encourage us all to make the best of this year, be safe and when life gives you lemons, make some lemonade. I can't wait until we head out again.

Featured image by Photo by Richard Kerr/The Points Guy