Lessons Learned

In my professional life as a Project Manager we were all required to do a Lessons Learned review after each project, and file it with the Project Management Office. I always suspected that these studies were rarely if ever consulted by anyone, but there is merit in just doing it because at least the people involved in writing it up learned something. So from our first major RV trip what conclusions can we derive? Here are a few things:

Speed Kills

This is something that Mark Leach from Keep Your Daydream (a YouTube channel on RVing) emphasizes, and it is true. When you are in a hurry you make mistakes. You should always plan to take your time and be patient. For example, our little problem on arriving in Topock, Arizona when I ran over a small tree and a utility box came at the end of the day after driving from Flagstaff. We just wanted to get some propane and get settled. And as I was turning the corner people were waving and pointing telling me what I should be doing. What I should have done is covered by the acronym GOAL = Get Out And Look. That mantra is now a part of our routine. When we we need to back into a tricky spot, Cheryl will tell me “Get out and look” and I take that as a royal command and get out. It is never wrong to take moment, stop, get out of the truck, and see what is going on. Mirrors can only do so much, and I don’t have the experience with them anyway to just rely on mirrors, I need to get out and see everything in perspective.

On this particular day, of course, after the accident with the tree and the utility box, we got our propane, went back to the campground, and proceeded to dump raw sewage on the ground while emptying our tanks. Again, being in too much of a hurry contributed. We just had a stressful experience, it was the end of a long day, and we just wanted to get settled and relax. But by not taking a few more moments to be careful and pay attention, we created another stressful problem in that we had to clean up our mess before we could relax. It illustrates the old saying “The hurrier I go, the behinder I get.”

Drive Less, Camp More

Another lesson we learned is that we should do less driving. We put ourselves in a less than ideal situation because we had to do 5 straight days of driving to get to our reservation in Topock, Arizona on time. That wasn’t the original plan, of course. We were going to leave sooner, but my medical issues caused a delay. And we had planned to spend a few days in Albuquerque and Flagstaff on our way out to Nevada, and now with a later departure we made them one-night stops as well. In the case of Flagstaff that might have been just as well, as it was cold and snowing there and we left Michigan to get away from all of that. But it still was stressful having to do all of that driving. On the way home we again had 5 straight days of driving, and it was just grinding out the miles. On this end, we were done with our trip and looking forward to getting home again, but we still would have benefited from a more leisurely pace with a few days of relaxation thrown in. I think in the future we should look at no more than 2-3 consecutive days of driving before a rest stop of a day or two. It is also worth pointing out that day we hit the tree and utility pole and then dumped raw sewage came at the end of 5 straight days of driving. I don’t see these as unrelated. We may end up spending a day sitting in the RV at an RV Park just resting, but that is OK.

Drive Less Each Day

Another related lesson is that the driving each day was too much. I started out with the idea of 300 miles per day, but in practice I was letting it get to 340 or 350 on some days. And that was a mistake. Towing a big RV is not like driving a car. I can easily drive 400 or 500 miles a day in my car, and in fact we do that each year when we visit family in New England. But towing the RV requires more care and attention. Turning corners you have to be careful, and you have to even more careful changing lanes because you have so much behind you. Together our truck and RV when hitched up are about 45 feet in length, and you have to able to account for that when judging whether it is safe to change lanes. And being up high in the cab of the truck changes the way you see adjoining lanes. I remember one time when I was about to change lanes and Cheryl yelled at me to stop because there was a car there which I had missed. There may have been a mirror that would have shown me that, but if so, I missed it. So in practice 5 hours towing the RV is as tiring as 7-8 hours driving my car. When we plan next winter’s trip (and we have started on that already), we will turn the setting in RV Trip Wizard from 300 miles to 250 miles, and be a little more strict about not going over.

One reason to keep the total miles down is that you should (if you are smart) drive slower when towing. One of the most common problems RVers run into when towing is a tire blowout. There is an expert, Roger Marble, that I follow closely. He has a blog where he discusses tire safety. Here is an excerpt from his blog that gives his qualifications:

I am retired and have 40 years experience working for a major manufacturer developing tires for applications in North, Central and South America. During my career I worked on many kinds of tires — heavy truck, passenger, light truck and Indy-car types. I hold two design patents. I developed failed tire inspection procedures and taught classed to more than 300 engineers and technicians in the tire and car industry as well as to engineers of the US Department of Transportation.


So you can see that he has the qualifications. What I have learned is that RV tires age out long before they wear out. This means that the tires become unsafe over time and need to be replaced even if they seem to have a lot of tread left. The danger is a blowout at highway speeds, and that comes from several causes:

  • Excessive age causing tire breakdown
  • Overloaded tires carrying more weight than they are designed for
  • Tires inflated to the wrong pressure
  • Tires driven too fast

If you want to know more, I would suggest checking out his blog and you will get plenty. But for this article, the point is that I drive no more 60 mph when towing, even on Interstate Highways where the speed limit may be 75 or 80. I get over to the far right lane, and stay there. Anyone who is in a hurry is free to pass me. And when we are towing Cheryl and I frequently say to each other “We aren’t in a hurry”. Tire blowouts can cause accidents, and even in the best case are likely to cause significant damage to your rig before leaving you on the side of the road waiting for roadside assistance.

You Don’t Need To Do Everything

I know we aren’t the first people to make this mistake, but earlier on our trip we were looking for things to do each day. Our trip was all about going places we had never been and seeing things we had never seen. And while that is all well and good, we are also senior citizens (i.e. old farts), and need to rest up as well. I notice that as we got closer to the end of the trip we bacame more willing to just say “Forget it, we’re taking the day off.” We did a lot, it was a fantastic trip all told, but it would have been a fantastic trip if we had cut out a few things. It’s a big world, and we’ll never see all of it anyway, so relax and enjoy the journey. Along with that is the idea that a shorter trip is fine. I think we started out with a plan for a 4 month trip. When we got delayed, it became a three-and-a-half month trip. But as we were driving home we concluded a three month trip would have been fine. We’ll probably shoot for that for next year.

You Still Need Entertainment

One of the best decisions we made is buying a Sirius/XM receiver for the truck. We never had to fiddle with the radio trying to find a station we liked, and as we drove we never had to worry about losing reception. We also brought along books and DVDs. I actually got through the massive Mark Lewisshon book on The Beatles (Tune In), along with some other books on my list. And I brought along some Doctor Who to watch on a portable hard drive. And we developed the very nice habit of watching TV programs from our DVDs that we brought while we were having dinner each night. We got through several collection of Nero Wolfe, all of Picard season one, and parts of the originl Star Trek and the Jeremy Brett Sherlock Holmes. I plan to get some more DVD sets before we set out for the next trip. Also, I brought along a computer that I used for playing games, something I enjoy doing. I didn’t spend a lot of time on gaming, but it was a nice break when I did.


Here is a map of our trip:

Map of our trip stops
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