Tuesday, November 28, 2023


Scary! Motorhome starts rolling down mountain as RVer sleeps

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…

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!

Chuck Woodbury
Chuck Woodburyhttps://rvtravel.com
I'm the founder and publisher of RVtravel.com. I've been a writer and publisher for most of my adult life, and spent a total of at least a half-dozen years of that time traveling the USA and Canada in a motorhome.



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Larry Lee (@guest_195204)
1 year ago

My first car was a 1950 Plymouth purchased in 1967. I put over 100,000 miles on it and always kept it in good running condition. Never-the-less, on multiple occasions I would have a dreadful nightmare of going backwards downhill and the brakes would fail. In my dream I had to steer by looking in the rear view mirror as I went faster and faster. I only stopped having that nightmare after I sold it in 2010, and I had the entire brake system rebuilt professionally before selling it!

cee (@guest_195007)
1 year ago

When you are creating a story you should do a little research. You wouldn’t be in NV if you are driving from WA to CA (unless you meant to go out of your way like I do). Please quit driving before you start falling asleep at the wheel… but this was all make believe so it added to your story. Just wasn’t a believable one.

Barnjai (@guest_194982)
1 year ago

What a well written story! It sure got my heart pumping.

Bob (@guest_194948)
1 year ago

Why was the RV door left unlocked? Especially since he was concerned about the safety of the area he was parked.

sdw (@guest_122274)
2 years ago

You apparently forgot you didn’t need the power brakes. That’s what the emergency brake is for. And if you’re in your van with the doors locked you can leave the keys in the ignition.

Jewel (@guest_194942)
1 year ago
Reply to  sdw

…but when you are not in the driver’s seat and someone with bad intentions peeks in to see keys, they could bust in and start up the engine and drive away. Who knows about criminals these days? People get killed over less.

Gordy B (@guest_122156)
2 years ago

Back in the 90’s I drove for a company that pushed hard on the return trip from the west coast to Michigan. Sometimes when very tired I would wake up in the bunk thinking the truck was going down the road (I was a solo driver}, the terrifying seconds it took to jump in the driver’s seat and apply the breaks and suddenly realize I wasn’t moving seemed to last a lifetime.

Mitzi Agnew Giles and Ed Giles (@guest_122041)
2 years ago

On the Blue Ridge Parkway in 2019 a tow truck driver disconnected my Lil Snoozy from my disabled van on a slope while I was inside getting my wallet. The pullover was a wide place on the mountain side of the parkway. Instead of being aimed down the road the trailer was rolling ACROSS the highway to a dropoff with no guard rails or wall. I couldn’t help but start screaming- the way out was on the back end of the trailer, the part that would go over the dropoff first, and I was at the other end of the cabin! Fortunately my dh was able to grab the tongue (and the tow driver did join him to help, I have to say- after causing the problem to begin with) and they were able to manhandle the trailer into a mud puddle between the parkway and the dropoff- sort of acted like a truck emergency stop ramp. It was nightmare inducing for more than a year.

jeff johnson (@guest_121980)
2 years ago

Ambien would do this to me!

Jim Webster (@guest_121977)
2 years ago


Steve Murray! (@guest_121968)
2 years ago

Those Crazy Edibles!.. Insane Dreams!

Sink Jaxon (@guest_121951)
2 years ago

HAHA! Great story, I had one like that in Nevada also. It was in a Las Vegas hotel room after I lost three grand on the crap tables!

alex (@guest_121949)
2 years ago

In the military during Vietnam, I was in a huge rush to drive my ’68 Olds Cutlass from Ft. Lewis, WA to Windsor, CT. Each minute of the leave before deployment was precious and not to be wasted. In one marathon session, I made it as far as Illinois and was totally wiped out. Getting into the back seat, I curled up and after less than a minute, fell asleep. Woke up terrified that I was about to crash into the back of a semi. Thinking I was stomping on the brake, my foot broke the door panel; I was smashing it with all my strength trying to stop. The nightmare induced adrenalin kept me alert the rest of the 12 hour drive home. The forever Life Lesson: Do not drive to the point of exhaustion; allow time to decompress before getting some shut eye. This will calm your hyper alert mind and promote restful sleep and avoid nightmares.

Ceil (@guest_121937)
2 years ago

You really got me. I was reading this out loud to my husband and I said halfway through “I’m getting sick but he’s got to be OK if he’s writing about it.” That was a crazy story. I don’t know how you got back to sleep after all of that pumping adrenaline.

Rolling Coal (@guest_121929)
2 years ago

Dream, nightmare or reality, I’m somewhat paranoid about parking brakes. I always place two wheel chocks on the front passenger side when we stop for the night no matter where we stay even though the spring brake is in a reasonably secure location under the dash. This way, I can go to sleep and dream about rainbows and Unicorns!

Bob p (@guest_194975)
1 year ago
Reply to  Rolling Coal

He didn’t apply the parking brake, just put it in park. On a mountain, depending on a small piece of metal to hold a heavy vehicle, great story with several stupid mistakes.

Martha Goudey (@guest_121927)
2 years ago

You had me, hook, line and sinker until I laughed out loud. I have driven from Washington Southern California many times. I didn’t get the Nevada route bit. Great story and I’m so glad it wasn’t real. What a nightmare!

Ken (@guest_121903)
2 years ago

I saw it coming, the nightmare. It was the nightmare of paying the Washington state sales tax and the Kalifornia vehicle licensing fees on top of the thought of having to drive the bumpity-bump Interstate 5.

Neal Davis (@guest_121902)
2 years ago

Wow! Glad it was only imagined and not real.

Gman (@guest_121888)
2 years ago

Sounds like a “Walter Mitty” story. Washington State to Santa Barbara, CA and the northern part of Nevada was the key. You actually would travel Interstate 5 South to 101 South to get home. No part of Nevada is involved, honk, honk, light just turned green, lol!

WEB (@guest_121884)
2 years ago

Personal weed is legal there, right??

David Telenko (@guest_121898)
2 years ago
Reply to  WEB

My vote +

Bob P (@guest_121875)
2 years ago

Gotta be careful what you’re eating before going to bed.

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