Monday, October 25, 2021


Shovel your way out of trouble

By Greg Illes

Sure, the best way to get unstuck: “Don’t get stuck in the first place.” Ah, but despite the most honorable of intentions, sometimes that dang gas pedal just won’t make us go forward any more. We’re stuck.

It’s almost always a case of having traveled into soft terrain. Mud, loose dirt, or sand have swallowed up the tires — more throttle just means more stuck. Tow trucks are hideously expensive and many of them won’t venture onto dirt roads anyway. The seemingly desperate situation doesn’t have to be so. A simple shovel can usually extract your rig from its predicament.

If you don’t yet carry a shovel, by all means head to your local hardware store. A full-size, short-handled, round-point shovel is the overall best tool and it stores much more easily than the long-handled version. For a smaller rig, even a folding shovel (from camping or surplus shops) will still do the job.

Inspect how you got stuck and what the shortest path is to freedom. Often, the best option is likely to be backing up the way you came. Don’t automatically think that you have to keep going forward. Every time that I have driven my 15,000-pound class-A into harm’s way, it was always best to back up out of trouble.

Dig a trench behind each dug-in tire. The idea is to get the mud, sand or dirt out of the way of the tire so it can roll easily. You must do this for every tire, down to tread level. This might mean digging six trenches nearly a foot deep and it can take a while (but not as long as waiting for a tow truck). Dig those trenches back at least six to eight feet.

Be sure your front tires are straight and aligned with their trenches — otherwise they’ll just act as anchors. Start the engine, shift to reverse, RELEASE the parking brake (!), and gently apply some throttle. Do not allow the tires to spin.

Your rig will begin to move along the trenches. As it begins to move, you can give it a little more throttle, and the momentum will take you back to good earth. If it starts to get stuck again at the end of the trench, don’t panic and slam the gas. Just get out and extend the trenches some more.

When you are free again, clean off that shovel and stow it away for your next “adventure.”

Greg Illes is a retired systems engineer who loves thinking up RV upgrades and modifications. When he’s not working on his motorhome, he’s traveling in it. You can follow his blog at


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