Friday, December 8, 2023


RV Life in a Coronavirus World: “The Adventure From Hell”

CAVEAT: Comments, posts and/or tips in our newsletters are those of the authors and may not reflect the views of or its staff.

EDITOR’S NOTE: We have asked readers to tell us how they are adapting to life these days. Here is Don and Sue’s story: 

The Adventure from Hell
(Or: Don & Sue’s Excellent COVID Adventures)

We like to tell folks we’re “rainbirds.” We get away from the dark, wet Northwest winters in our Country Coach, heading to South Carolina and our younger daughter’s place for even-year Christmases or just SoCal and Arizona in odd-years, when we do Christmas with the eldest here in WA before heading south.

This year was going to be different. It was a Seattle Christmas, and we decided we’d wait ‘til the end of February to hit the road. We planned to go to Mississippi for an event with the youngest in March, then wander around the South visiting friends and relatives, doing Disney World, and riding the motorcycle in the Smoky Mountains before leaving the coach with the daughter for a flying side-trip to Brussels, Paris, and then Boston for our 55th High School Reunion in June. We would return to pick up the coach in SC at the end of June, then “do” the East Coast up to the Canadian Maritimes in July and August before heading home across the Midwest in September. It was going to be an epic great adventure!

Naturally, lots of very detailed planning went into all this. And what do they say about the “best-laid plans”? Yeah – they often go astray. But not often as far astray as THIS plan!

So we launched from home in Olalla (just north of Gig Harbor), WA, on February 28th. Rumors of the coming virus led us to pack Clorox wipes and a half-gallon jug of hand sanitizer, and order a box of hospital masks. But we weren’t worried. What could go wrong? (I can hear you all laughing now.) The first answer came in the form of a “check engine” light less than 50 miles from home! So Peterson Caterpillar in Longview became our first, unscheduled stop. And because we got there on a Friday, our repairs had to wait ‘til Monday. So we were three days behind schedule, before our first overnight stop!

The Cat shop sent us on our way Monday afternoon, and we accelerated our driving schedule to catch up those three days. We normally like to maintain a leisurely 200-300 mile/day pace with a day off every two to three driving days. That went in the hopper, since we were due in Mississippi on March 12th. So between March 2nd and the 9th we “raced” (by our standards) as far as West Texas.

At a rest area lunch that day I found that we were losing a substantial amount of bearing lube from the driver side front wheel. The nearest civilization was Sonora, TX, about 100 miles away, which happily had a LOVES truck stop. I pulled into the LOVES, and asked their repair shop if they would please change my leaking bearing seal. I was shocked to hear that LOVES will not work on RVs – corporate policy, apparently due to liability issues. By that time the lube was really flowing, so clearly I was going to have to find a shop in Sonora to get it fixed. Long story short, I found a willing mechanic at the FOURTH place I tried – which was fortunate as there are NO other truck shops in Sonora.

We boondocked in the truck shop lot with the wheel up on jack-stands, and I drove the toad 150 miles the next morning to the nearest parts place that had our seal. So much for our scheduled arrival in MS. We were forgiven for our tardiness, and managed to arrive at our week-long event on the 13th. Unfortunately, it had been cancelled on the 12th! But that was only the beginning of this tale of woe, as I’m sure you’ve guessed.

Our daughter and SIL came to MS and spent several nice days with us, during which we reviewed the bidding on the rest of the trip. Disney World had just shut down, the military campgrounds we had planned to spend many weeks in started refusing new campers, it became clear that visiting Europe was NOT going to be possible, and to put the final straw on the camel – the Canadian border closed down! Our entire 7-month plan was in the dumpster. So on March 19th, we started for home from the piney woods of south Mississippi.

Looking at the long-range weather for the possible routes home (wanting to avoid CA if possible) it looked like spring had arrived in the Rockies, with daily temps in the 50s and lows no worse than high 20s, so I picked the shortest and lowest altitude route – north up the Mississippi and then Missouri Rivers to South Dakota, then West on I-90. Not a great choice, as it turned out…

An uneventful week of driving and relaxing to sightsee and do laundry got us to I-90 pretty easily. When we got to Sturgis and the Black Hills we even took a couple of extra days to “do” Mt. Rushmore and Devil’s Tower (not open, of course, but easy to see all the same). But then it became evident that spring was still actually a LONG way off. We hunkered down for four nights in Buffalo, WY, while an Arctic blast blew through with snow and temps in the single digits for two nights running. We kept the rig really warm, running the floors at 85F, a small space heater, and the diesel Aqua-hot going as well. Unfortunately, when we finally left on a 15-degree morning, our water was frozen – and, of course, we didn’t know precisely WHAT had frozen up ‘til it thawed.

Compounding the fun – we got another “check engine” light heading for Bozeman that morning, which put us in a Cat Shop in Billings, MT – and again on a Friday afternoon! Naturally, we had to wait the weekend to get the repairs done on Monday, but at least that gave me time to replace the frozen water pump, which was the sole casualty of our Wyoming deep-freeze. I won’t go into my debate with the Cat shop to even DO our repair, as they were paranoid about the virus. My threat to camp out in their front lot convinced them to send a mech in, but only after we’d sanitized the rig to hospital standards, opened the bedroom floor and vacated the rig for them to do the repairs!

Monday afternoon – engine repair done, we’re on the road to our Bozeman RV Park, and this time I got not just the “check engine” but also “stop engine” and “high temp” alarms simultaneously – about a mile short of the pass east of Bozeman. I guessed I’d blown a coolant hose, but when I went back to look there was some evidence of a small leak, and the sight glass was empty, but the expected quantity of coolant all over the engine compartment and the toad just wasn’t there. So, crossing my fingers I poured in the one gallon of coolant I carry for topping off, then added four more gallons of water, and got over the pass and down into Bozeman before she once again started overheating. We limped into the campground, happy that it was just off the Interstate exit.

I got a mobile truck mech out to the rig the next morning, who found a very small leak in a ½” hose to the turbo. Guess we were lucky it wasn’t worse. So a new hose and several gallons of replacement coolant and we were back on the road the next day. THAT mechanic was totally unconcerned about COVID, so it was US sanitizing everything he’d touched after he left! By now, I’m really proud of my bedroom-disassembly routine. I can have the room stripped and engine hatch exposed in less than five minutes at this point!

I’d LOVE to tell you that we had no more issues between Bozeman and home. But going over the Continental Divide outside of Butte the transmission brain-farted, suddenly shifting from a slow-climbing 3rd up into 5th gear. I caught it quickly, manually shifting back down to 3rd, but the damn thing repeated that performance again going over Tiger Summit on Rt. 18 just short of home. So I guess I’m destined to see ANOTHER Cat shop before our next trip out… At least we’re FINALLY HOME!

I hope this little odyssey hasn’t convinced any of you to give up Country Coaching! It WAS a particularly ugly trip, but we can’t wait to get back on the road again. See you at a NWCC Rally sometime soon…

Don & Sue Hutchins

Your essays wanted

Here is your assignment (should you choose to accept it): Write an essay no longer than 500 words on this subject: “How I have adapted to a life in self-isolation.” Tell us what you do with your time, how you keep active physically and/or mentally, how you communicate with friends and family and other ways you occupy your time. Have you taken up a new hobby? Started writing a novel? We can’t pay for these articles right now, but you could earn a place on our staff if you impress us with your creativity. Submit your article here. Please include a photo of yourself or of something that helps illustrate your essay. We’ll post many, if not most of these every day in our RV Daily Tips Newsletter. If you’re not subscribed, sign up here.

Emily Woodbury
Emily Woodbury
Emily Woodbury is the editor here at She was lucky enough to grow up alongside two traveling parents, one domestically by RV (yep, Chuck Woodbury) and the other for international adventures, and has been lucky to see a great deal of our world (and counting!). She lives near Seattle with her dog and chickens. When she's not cranking out 700+ newsletters for she's hiking, cooking or, well, probably traveling.



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Ronald Vanderhoof (@guest_74694)
3 years ago

Wow! What an event full trip. So sorry things did not pan out as you had planned. But hopefully there will be another time.
I like your comment about being “rainbirds.” We have some friends in Apache Junction who travel north every summer to get out of the Arizona summer heat. And they like to refer to themselves as “sun lizards.”

Patricia Jennette (@guest_74633)
3 years ago

Glad to hear you arrived back safely! Wow, what a fiasco! You’ll never forget THAT one!

Sharan Harrison (@guest_74618)
3 years ago

Holy Mackeral! What a trip! One for the books. You were probably glad to be quarantined at home for awhile!

James Teal (@guest_74610)
3 years ago

WOW ! Glad you all made it home.

Dan & Barb Clark (@guest_74607)
3 years ago

Don &Sue …. you left out the best “juicy parts” that we were able to get as you traveled through the top of our state (Wyoming) but that is o.k.! You kept us entertained as we followed your perils! Our days of covid-19 were follow from your turn to come back home! Each day we would wait to see an e-mail or follow FB post or a phone visit!
You made many of our days as the”Adventures of Don&Sue” continued!
Good friends! Dan&Barb

Lisa Adcox (@guest_74606)
3 years ago

This has been some trying times for all is traveling or those of us who work the Campgrounds and see the stress on the faces of those stopping for the night.
Sounds like you took the delays and such in stride. Glad you are home safe.

Nels (@guest_74574)
3 years ago

Don and Sue, When you get to the Canadian Maritimes, be sure yo take a little extra tome to visit Newfoundland-Labrador. A ferry ride and the most beautiful scenery and friendliest spot in Eastern Canada. The most Easterly point of land in North America, 2 National Parks, several World Heritage sites. 2 weeks would be perfect but it can be done in a lot less time. To come this far East and not visit us would be an absolute shame. Be prepared to be left breathless. Our mountains aren’t as high as the Rockies but are much older. July month would be great, you could even see icebergs & whales. Be careful on our highways, the moose don’t care where you are going or where you are from , they think that they own the road. Stay safe.

Montgomery Bonner (@guest_74559)
3 years ago

Hmmm, guess our trip home had none of your problems. Our coach is new, but we still had the power reel for the AC cord and one window fail, among the 23 items for warranty repair. That trip is scheduled for 5-15 and arrive at factory on 5-31. Not too sure that will happen now, don’t even know where I’m staying along the way. Not going to worry about it now. Glad you made it.

Randy (@guest_74557)
3 years ago

I feel your pain. Not sure what year your CC is but I believe they went out of business around 08. We have a 2006 Monaco Signature not the last year they were made but close (I do not count the new versions of Monaco as the same) and it is a constant battle every time we go out. Last trip cost around 15k. Which by any standard is a lot of dinero. But what really was the pain was all that time spent in repair shop parking lots. Our last trip was not unlike your own and to be honest we are parking the MH and going with an Airstream pulled by my one ton dully. I want to visit the sights not the parking lots of the repair facilities across the US. Machines get old just like people and do not hold up near as well I think.

Alvin (@guest_74549)
3 years ago

WOW, glad you folks got through this.
I suspect it may have broke many of us in more ways than one.
For anyone thinking as Sue & Don did that they’d like to come up here to Canada, the Prime Minister yesterday announced that the border will be closed for all but essential business for another month.

Also in the province of Alberta where I’m based, the provincials have decided to lock down the campgrounds here for an indefinite period, which will settle matters for we who had plans for the May 24th (Queen Elizabeth’s Birthday) long weekend. This will be the first long weekend in May in over 50 years of RV’ing the lady and I will not be in a campground enjoying all that spring brings.

Thanks for a great story of survival folks. I wish you many more adventures – all of them clear sailing.

ps- price of gasoline in the town of Walsh, Alberta on the Sask/Alberta border – 34.9 / liter.
its been forty years since we’ve seen prices like that.

Ed Stephens (@guest_74548)
3 years ago

Sometimes the adventures never stop. I enjoyed reading your post and felt the pain from the very start. This has been quite a winter for this type of trip. We are also backed up on our plans but we did not even get to start our first retirement adventure before everything fell apart.
We are glad you got home in one piece and are now able to look back and get a good laugh at your own exploits. It sounds like a truly epic trip.
Thanks for sharing and may you be blessed on your next adventure with clear roads and no equipment failures. Keep the humor always and may the wind ever fill your sails.

Catherine (@guest_74543)
3 years ago

Don and Sue… was rough, but you have a story to tell for YEARS! They make the best kind of tale.

Shelley (@guest_74534)
3 years ago

My goodness! you really had your share! Thanks for sharing. I only hope we could handle all that you went through with the same level of calm. I can’t help but think I would’ve had a total meltdown! You sound like a great couple!

Hook-n-Haul (@guest_74532)
3 years ago

Well, at least you got to see some of the country. Sadly or fortunately, I don’t know which, we never even got to leave our wintering grounds. We have decided to stay in SC for the rest of the year. Maybe 2021 will be a better time.

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