I’ve always been the type of person that if you tell me I can’t do something, I will likely do it. I was told by a college professor I would never get hired (in radio) because my voice was too high. I got hired right out of school. A manager once told me I would never be News Director because most News Directors are men. What happened? I became a News Director and later Program Director at various radio stations.
When we were looking for our RV, an RV salesman told me to “leave the driving to the hubby” when I asked about towing a 5th wheel. I have been driving since I was 16 years old. I’ve driven in major cities like Toronto and Boston. I’ve driven a manual transmission car on the other side of the road in Ireland and Scotland. I never felt that I would not be able to drive while towing a 5th wheel. As we made our way from PEI to Tofino I did the majority of towing the RV (which we didn’t buy from “that” salesman”).
I wouldn’t’ recommend to anyone that you just jump behind the wheel of a pick-up truck and begin towing a 5th wheel without doing some research first. You need to learn about how the weight behind you will impede you from stopping quickly. You need to learn about the electric brakes and test them out in a parking lot. Read the owners manual for your truck, study gears and find out if your vehicle has a tow haul button. By learning how to use your gears, you will save your brakes and avoid any issues of burning up your brakes if you are driving in a mountainous area. There are stories every year in British Columbia, Alberta, and in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia of drivers getting to the bottom of a mountain and not having any brakes left.
A piece of advice my dad gave me when I was learning to drive a car always came to mind – “If you are going slow, whether you are driving or learning to park, you can’t do as much damage.” I drove slow across Canada. We were not in a hurry and if you are towing a 5th wheel, you should never be in a hurry.
Towing Isn’t Just A Man’s Job
Many women have said to me “I could never drive towing something that big behind me.” I always respond with, “Of Course you can.” If you can drive a pick-up truck, you can drive towing a 5th wheel behind you. It requires practice, patience, and confidence. The confidence part of it takes time. The more experience you have towing a 5th wheel, the easier it gets. You already know how to drive, now you are just driving while towing something large behind you. It seems crazy to me that towing a 5th wheel is “supposed” to be the man’s job. I enjoyed towing the 5th wheel and Adam is an expert navigator, so it worked out well. Ladies, you can totally drive while towing a 5th wheel.
Learning from Various Incidents
Keeping calm while towing will save you. We had a couple of incidents while towing the 5th wheel. These four incidents were in some cases scary and we learned what we and the truck were capable of as a result of the incidents.
The Bus That Stopped on the Highway
Outside of Quebec City, while on our way to Montreal, we had a small incident that taught me an important lesson. Traffic was heavy in this area so I was alert to everything happening around us. I was watching a car in front of us after they had just merged in front of us and they tapped their brakes. We were going about 90 km/h. They tapped their brakes again. I started to slow. Suddenly, I could see that they were stopping as a bus in front of them was completely stopped half on the highway, half on the shoulder. I immediately hit the brakes hard and looked in my mirror to see if I could get in the other lane. I could not move over so my only alternative was to stop and hopefully not hit the vehicles in front of me.
“I may not be able to stop,” I told Adam. I knew if we hit another car it wouldn’t be hard, but it would do damage and result in days lost for repairs and other headaches. I managed to stop. But just barely. Lesson learned.
I knew from my studying that I should leave 400-500 feet in front of us when towing on highways. However, in this case, I had only left about 200-300 feet because the vehicle had merged in front of me, and I didn’t have time to back off my speed. You need a lot more space to stop with an RV. When you hit the brakes you still have a lot of weight based momentum pushing you forward. This is why it takes longer to come to a full stop.
Vertigo in the Mountains
I often get sinus/ear infections. I broke my nose when I was in my early 20s, and ever since then, I get sinus issues about twice a year. At one point on our trip, we were towing through Northern Ontario and going up a mountain. My ear had felt odd that day and as we went up the mountain, my ear popped from the pressure. We were going around 40-50km/h.
Suddenly, I felt like the truck was falling over. “Adam something is wrong,” I said. “I feel like I’m going to fall over.” There was nowhere to pull over and I was having some sort of vertigo feeling while driving. I had to try and focus while feeling like I was going to faint.
I opened my window and Adam opened his. Adam scooted over in his seat and was ready to take the wheel. I was staying on the road but I was ready to pass out. I was deep breathing and as we got to the top of the mountain, it suddenly stopped. My vertigo somehow had passed. It was like nothing had happened and we continued on without that happening again.
Keeping calm is what saved us here. Adam was ready to grab the wheel if I had passed out. Luckily nothing happened.
Hooking Up the 5th Wheel in Snow
This story isn’t so much about safety, as it is about realizing your truck is powerful and how to use it when you must.
While at Jasper Gates outside of Jasper National Park in Alberta, we got an unexpected snowfall. Our 5th wheel was parked on a large incline and we had to hook up the truck to leave. We do not have a 4-wheel drive with our truck, unfortunately. There was enough snow that it was slippery to back up and hook up the 5th wheel. Every time I backed up, I would skid one way or just spin the wheels in one place.
I used a metal kitchen spatula as a miniature shovel to scrape the snow of off the gravel to give me more traction. Using the newly exposed gravel and our powerful truck, I backed it up the incline while giving it a lot of acceleration. As I backed up much quicker than I normally would the hitch was not aligned properly and I hit the hitch. BANG! We laughed. Sometimes all you can do is laugh. Nothing was damaged, thankfully. I pulled forward just a little bit and got it on the second try.
I then had to get us out of the park. Luckily, the staff at Jasper Gates had plowed and our truck was strong enough to get us out of there.
The Coquihalla Pass
As we were getting closer to British Columbia, we started hearing people talk about the Coquihalla Pass. People would talk about it like it was some sort of mythological beast. Having never driven into British Columbia we had no idea what to expect.
This was the most mountainous part we experienced while towing the 5th wheel. The nerve-wracking part was not going up the mountain. It was coming down the mountain at 70-80km/h while cars flew by at 120km/h (the speed limit). Every 30–45 seconds I was pushing down on the brakes in a short hard way to keep us from picking up too much speed. You are thoroughly dependent on your truck’s engine at this point. Brakes are secondary.
This was something we learned throughout the drive. When towing down large hills downshift your gears to either 3, 2, or 1 and allow the engine to brake for you. Otherwise, you’ll be using you actual brakes causing them to rapidly wear down. It could also cause complete brake failure which you never want when towing down a long steep strip of road. When you’re driving roads like this you’ll often see runaway roads which are usually for transport trucks who lose their brakes while towing down these steep roads. That’s a scary situation we hope to never encounter.
While towing down the Coquihalla I had to keep my confidence up and keep calm. As we had already travelled 9000+ km on this trip I was mostly confident. As we coasted down the pass we played Matt Mays “ Indio” very loud. The tunes along with the stunning scenery made for a memorable part of the drive that I am proud of. If I could drive the Coquihalla Pass, I’m certain I can now drive anywhere (within reason) in Canada.
Other Things You Should Know Before Towing a 5th Wheel
Here is a list of other things you should either read about, consider or study before you tow a 5th wheel.
1. Driving when it is windy is awful. The wind is way worse than rain. The wind pushes you all over the road and uses up a lot more fuel. It’s not fun. A lot of drivers say when it is windy they don’t’ even bother to drive. When we first read that we thought they were being a bit dramatic, but now we know – wind blows.
2. Getting a tire pressure monitoring system is a wise investment. Yes – they are pricey. Ours was almost $400 but it’s 100% worth it. The tire pressure monitoring system helps you monitor the tire pressure of your tires while driving. There’s a small wireless device that displays the tire pressure of the tires and it will let you know if you’re in danger of blowing a tire. This can save your life. It can also save you from expensive repairs if the blowout does major damage – which is somewhat common. Don’t think twice. Just buy one.
3. If you are travelling as a couple, you both should inspect the RV before every trip and at gas station stops. We had a routine with checklists during our morning hookup. Before we left we always double checked that everything was setup correctly for safe travel. Having two people doing this almost ensures you won’t have issues.
4. If you drive, you get to choose the music. So yeah, we listened to a lot of Beyonce while driving across Canada.
5. Before backing into a site, get out and look where you’re backing up into. It gives you a much better idea of what angle to take. You can also move anything that may get in your way. I would do this even if Adam was outside ready to guide me into the parking spot.
6. Buy walkie talkies. A lot of people will use hand signals or just yell directions to one another when maneuvering an RV. Don’t do this. Make it easier on yourself and get walkie talkies. We got ours at a pawn shop for $15 and they were helpful to get clear instructions on backing into campsites. One day we used them to get out of a tight gas station. It beats having to yell over a loud diesel engine. Walkie talkies are also great to have for communicating while around the campground.
7.Plan your route. Planning your route in advance can save a lot of potential headaches. When planning a route there are a few things you want to keep in mind such as:
- what kind of road will you be travelling on and whether your comfortable travelling on that type of road
- are there any low clearance bridges?
- use get-there-dry to check to see what the expected weather will be throughout the day
- where are the gas stations along the way and do they have diesel available?
- traffic and/or construction. Google maps now includes these details in their maps but you can also use other online programs
8. Try to drive only 5-6 hours a day. Anything more than 5-6 hours and you will likely be exhausted. There were some days where we drove 8-9 hours and it was tiring. If you’re using Google Maps or something similar to plan your route, tack on an extra 20% to the overall driving time from what it tells you.
My final thought about driving a 5th wheel, if I can do it, you can do it too. Go slow, concentrate, and don’t forget to enjoy your surroundings.