Submitted by a reader named James
While driving my newly purchased motorhome from Washington state, where I had purchased it, I had an unforgettable experience.
I was making the journey home to Santa Barbara, California, solo, and it was the second night of the trip. The previous night had been spent uneventfully in a Walmart parking lot. On this second evening, I drove until I couldn’t stand it any longer and was falling asleep. No Walmart around this time. Nor anything else for that matter. I decided it was time to experiment with the “just find a place by the side of the road and pull over” theory of camping. I was in a desolate area of northern Nevada on a desperately quiet highway. Shouldn’t be a problem. Hmmmm…
WHERE TO PARK FOR THE NIGHT
The camper was just reaching the top of a pass. As it crested the hill there was a wide area to pull over. Someone had. In fact, two truckers and a FedEx van were parked and apparently getting some zzzz’s. Why not sleep here? If it’s good enough for them … you know. I eased the motorhome off the highway and joined the back end of the sleeping convoy just behind the FedEx truck, and went to bed in the upper bunk of the RV.
I was just a tad nervous. The place I had chosen was not a campground with docile, fun-loving neighbors about. Nor was it a well-lit Walmart parking lot. It was a pullout on a dark highway with some strangers I had never laid eyes, on sleeping (supposedly) a few yards away. Now, I am a male, 6’1″, 200 pounds, and don’t often feel intimidated in unfamiliar surroundings, but as I fell asleep there was this slight tingle of fear gnawing at the back of my mind. Kind of like a caution light going on. Seemed reasonable to have that feeling though. After all, stuff does happen sometimes. I double-checked that all was okay, put the feeling aside, and dropped off to sleep.
Sometime in the middle of the night I was awoken by a noise. As my mind struggled to consciousness, it identified the sound of an 18-wheeler flying by at high speed. The RV was shaking from the wind it created.
The truck passed. It was then that I knew something was seriously wrong. Wait! The truck was long gone but the camper was still shaking. “Oh, God! My RV is moving! It wasn’t a truck that woke me up after all. My RV has popped out of gear somehow and is rolling down the mountain!”
I flew out of the bunk, landing squarely in the middle of the narrow aisle of the camper. I said a prayer of thanks for the opening between the camper and the cab of the truck. Scrambling forward into the driver’s seat, job #1 was to get my foot on the brake. I slammed the pedal down hard. Nothing changed. I was still hearing the sound of movement and the RV was still shaking and bumping. What was wrong? Why aren’t the brakes working? “Oh, wait,” I thought. “They’re power brakes and there is no vacuum in the system because the engine is not running.”
IT WAS PITCH DARK OUTSIDE. As I scrambled for the keys to turn on the ignition, to build up the vacuum, to get the brakes to work, to stop the RV … I noticed that all I could see outside was the white line of the highway a few yards to the left. The lines were moving forward. This was confirmation that I was moving backwards.
It did not occur to me at the time how strange it was that the RV could have been rolling back for a while now, not being steered in any particular direction, yet I was still parallel with the highway. In any case, I found the keys where I had consciously placed them before retiring – on the driver’s side floor. The place where I put them in case there was an emergency and a quick exit was required. I tried to jam them in the ignition. Of course, I dropped them. Aargh. I had to get the camper started! There couldn’t be more than a few seconds before my new RV was bound to crash into, well … something.
Another thing that hadn’t occurred to me is how silly the idea of needing to turn the ignition on to get the brakes to work was. Sure, power brakes are darned inefficient when the engine if off, but hey, they do still work. I’m a big guy, I had about a pound of adrenaline running through me, I should have been able to bring the vehicle to a stop. But, my course of action seemed reasonable at the moment, so I continued to grapple with the keys.
Yet another thing that hadn’t occurred to me was to turn on the headlights. Too preoccupied with getting the brakes to work. The keys finally turned in the ignition and the engine came to life. I had been pressing on the brake pedal the entire time, and really went to work on it now. No change!? I was still bumping around in the cab and the lines on the highway were still flying by.
My mind shifted into a paranoiac rage. The RV hadn’t merely slipped out of gear. That’s impossible. Plus, the parking brake had been set. Someone has sabotaged the vehicle! Someone got into my RV while I was asleep, released the brake, put the tranny into neutral and cut the brake lines. Ahhrgh!
By now, the entire event was maybe a minute old. I finally had the presence of mind to turn on the headlights. As they came on I was looking through the windshield, and there in front of me was the Fed-Ex van sitting right where it had been when I retired. I was still at the top of the pass. I was still on the side of the road. The camper had not moved one inch. I opened the door and examined the lines on the highway. They were pleasantly static. The camper wasn’t shaking any more. So … it had just been a truck that woke me up.
I had just had a waking dream. Make that a nightmare. Turning on the headlights had snapped me out of it. When I stopped shaking, I crawled back to bed. Phew!