“When are you guys leaving AZ?” has been the resounding question from those close to us. It seems that we should have left on our big journey many moons ago. But this happened. After many months without the truck or RV, we got it back, started renovations and Shenanigans, aka our truck, broke down. Again. It had to be towed to a place that the engine warranty place approved of. That mechanic said it was head gasket issues, the place in Tucson that did the work said NO WAY and had it towed to Tucson. Another week and a half went by before we got the truck back with a diagnosis that carbon buildup had been knocked loose and caused issues. Sounded questionable, but the truck was happily running again so we went with it. Sand, sand, sand, paint, paint, paint went the RV renovations. Finally, we were done for the most part. However, after spending 5 figures on the engine replacement we had nothing left for big items we planned on purchasing; no couch, no rug, no bedroom paint, no new mattress. But the bulk of living space renovation was complete, we were moved in and ready for our maiden voyage. It turned out to be a nerve-racking one.
We had a free 2 week stay at an RV park in Las Vegas so we decided to head there. Jeff’s parents were meeting us there for a week. We left Mesa on Thursday morning. The 1st few hours of the journey were uneventful with the exception of noticing a lack of power when climbing up hills. We hadn’t even hit mountain grades yet. But the wheels kept turning and we kept going. We had plans to stay at Burro Creek Campground for the night. It was our halfway point. About 20 minutes from the campground our engine light came on and check coolant light came on. NOOOOOO! We pulled over. The kids, by that time, were squawking to get out. We were all hungry, snacks were gone, the cat had peed on herself and in the carrier. We let the truck cool down, Jeff opened the cap to check the fluid and it erupted like a volcano. Great…there went our fluid! He added more to the reservoir, I tried not to freak out, we crossed our fingers and continued to the campground. We had some difficulty getting backed into our spot. He had to circle around twice, I had to move rocks. Tension was high. But we got into our spot, took a look around and breathed a sigh of relief. We were surrounded by beauty and ecstatic for our 1st adventure. Whatever tomorrow would bring, it was a new day and all we could do was enjoy the rest of our evening.
We awoke refreshed and hopeful. The kids did some digging in the dirt: one of their favorite pastimes. We filled every bottle, Camelbak bladder, and jug that we had in case we needed the water and then headed up the steep hill out of the canyon. Not far north of the canyon along US93 is the small town of Wikieup where we stopped for gas. After that, our day went south. We were only 25ish miles from the I40 interchange when we started having issues. For the next hour we drove, stopped, waited, drove. The light would come on, we would slow down, the light would go off, we would stop anyways, add fluid, drive and the light would come on again. Repeat. We depleted all of our water. Every last drop. There were no signs of a coolant leak. It had to be burning off. Finally, about 10 miles south of I40, we decided to call it quits and call a tow truck. This was now 2 in the afternoon. Of course the kids were cranky, the cat had soiled herself again and our nerves were shot. We had just a few months ago spent every drop of our money on this damned truck and here we were stranded. I felt like I was drowning. After 45 minutes the tow company came and knowing what our issues were told us that he would tow the RV with his truck and our truck would drive perfectly to their shop in Kingman. No need to tow the truck. He was right. We got up to 75mph, A/C blasting and the truck had no issues: no lights, no faults. WTF?!
You see, we have an F350 6.0 diesel and apparently certain years of this engine are notorious for problems when the engine is loaded, as in towing. There are weaknesses in the bolts and such and when we were towing it started to boil the coolant and blow the gaskets. Once the load was no longer applied, all was good. There is a process called Bulletproofing that can be done to the engine that corrects all the weaknesses of the stock engine. So when our engine was originally worked on, when that mechanic was told numerous times that we were towing a 5th wheel with it, he should have said “hey, you need to bulletproof this”. But he didn’t. And we didn’t know. And instead we had a stock engine put in, he took our money and we had countless issues, breakdowns, rental cars, gas between Tucson and Mesa, etc. Such a nightmare. So Jeff called the engine warranty place and they say they won’t replace the engine until they send an inspector out. He won’t be there til Monday. It was still only Friday. Now we had to decide what to do. Jeff’s parents were flying into Vegas the next morning and we were 2 hours away. It also happened to be Lilly’s birthday the next day.
A: hook up the RV at the mechanic shop and camp out until the truck was done. But we would be 2 hours away from where his parents were visiting and have to commute every day with a rental car.
B: stay at this parent’s rental or find a hotel. Neither of which allow animals. We have 2.
C: tow the RV 2 hours to Vegas where we have an RV park spot already reserved, his parents will be there and I had plans to see my friend Cynthia as well.
After a lot of discussing and tears and deep breathing, we opted for C. It was now 5pm. It would cost us $400 to be towed. Fantastic! There goes some more of our renovation money.
We had to wait for the tow truck, hook the RV up to it, load the kid’s car seats into the cramped space and then drive to Vegas. By the time we got to the RV park it was around 930pm. This place had the RVs packed in like sardines and barely any space to park vehicles. Jeff had to knock on a few doors to ask them to move their trucks. We then had a small crowd. What a sight to see a 33ft 5th wheel trailer backed into a spot by a flat bed trailer tow truck! I don’t know how he did it. I couldn’t watch. I was seriously doing some meditative breathing and trying not to pass out from shock/fear/anxiety. What a weenie.
The next week was fairly smooth sailing. We found out that the engine warranty place was going to pay to Bulletproof the engine for us because otherwise if they did a stock engine again they’d have to keep replacing it. They were under the impression the mechanic in Tucson had already done it. This relieved some stress because we thought we were going to have to shell out another 4+ grand. We, however, ended up spending some money on fixing a couple other issues though. So, in the end we spent more unexpected money which dug even deeper into the funds for renovations. We also had a couple snafus in our RV electrical system for battery charging but think we got them all worked out. We hope.
We had a wonderful visit with the parents. Lilly celebrated her 5th bday. We did a lot of sight seeing on the strip, ventured to Red Rocks, the Hoover Dam, aquarium, went to a show, ate delicious food, Grandma & Grandpa got the girls hooked on buffets and we enjoyed their company. The girls earned a Junior Adventurer badge at Red Rock Canyon, which happens to have an amazing interactive outdoor visitor center. We also had the chance to visit with a couple of our friends. Once his parents were gone we were without a car for a few days and opted to do some work around the RV. The RV park’s pool was broken and there were no nearby parks so the place quickly became boring. We ate many of our meals outside, which the kids loved. They became my little helpers and quickly took to their new jobs of helping me dry dishes and set the table. They spent the week making crafts and using their imagination. We opted to forego installing a television in the RV for a while. It was amazing how they didn’t even notice. Jeff was able to install our new battery bank which in conjunction with our onboard generator will be useful in reaching our goal to wildcamp most of the time. We want to install solar, but unfortunately now, it’s not going to happen for a while.
We rented a car our last couple days in Vegas. We needed to check out of the park on a Friday. On Thursday the truck was done. As we started the 2 hour drive to pick it up, we were informed by the mechanic that the warranty place wouldn’t pay via credit card because they didn’t want to pay fees and instead were sending a check. A check would mean we would have to wait even longer. It would mean we needed to check out of an Rv park and pull our trailer, WITHOUT A TRUCK! Blood pressure started rising, nausea started, deep breathing began. We could not believe this was happening. Can we get a break?! After numerous phone calls and call drops and callbacks they agreed to pay via credit card so we could get the truck and be done. After 4 hours in the car we had the truck back and rested for our departure the next morning.
We left Vegas and within 15miles the engine light came on. Again. So we had to detour our plans of where we were heading and went back to Kingman, to the mechanic shop to have them hook up the computer to see what the issue was. It turned out to be ok but rattled us for sure.
Due to the detour, we had to change plans at the last minute and decided to go south along the Colorado River. It rained a lot. The GPS stopped working. We had zero cell coverage. But we managed to find a sweet spot at River Island State Park on the Arizona side of the river, just past Lake Havasu City. It was so peaceful and beautiful and right on the banks of the river, nestled along a cove. It was exactly what we needed after being packed in like sardines for 2 weeks. The kids enjoyed “performing” at the little stage at the park. We ventured down the road to Buckskin Mountain State Park where the girls earned AZ Junior Ranger badges.
A couple days later we left for the last leg of our journey back to Mesa. And honestly, those few hours felt like they took forever.
I can’t say that I wouldn’t have changed this 1st trip of ours. I definitely would’ve opted for less stress. But we persevered and managed to have fun and find light through the dark times. This whole experience was never meant to be easy. But sometimes the unknown requires an iron gut. I’ll work on that.