We have learned a great deal since we began our full time journey in our fifth wheel. We spent months researching, reading blogs, rv forums, reading books and even watching youtube videos. None of these can ever prepare you for the things that you think you are prepared for. You also can never say that “It will never happen to me”. When we began learning how to live in a camper, we were on a steep learning curve. We had never camped together before. We had never owned a camper. We did, however, have some experience with much smaller trailers, such as our boat trailer. It was pea sized compared to the 38′ fifth wheel we had purchased, but we were confident in our ability to be able to do this.
One of the things that we stumbled across on a regular basis in our research was to always have a check list. Always do things in the same order. He is responsible for the outside and she is responsible for the inside. Always remember to check each other. We did this pretty well, even without the use of a printed check list. But our story is typical and classic, whether newbies or not, if it can happen, it will happen.
We had been on the road just one season so far. We had just finished our first workamping experience in Pennsylvania and had traveled to a campground in Maryland that we were going to do a short stint with the following summer. We pulled in, excited to see everyone and squeezed into what would be our site. What happened next was a classic no-no but we didn’t realize it unit it was too late. Typically, when pulling into a campground, you will find lots of people come out and watch. Sometimes they come and chat with you as well. It is sort of like a welcoming committee. It makes you appreciate why campers are such a different breed from others. But this can become an extremely costly mistake, particularly if you don’t remember to tell them you will be able to chat once you are unhooked and set up.
Anyone with a fifth wheel will tell you that they have seen it before, they have done it or that they (lucky ducks) have never done it before. Once you start pulling a fifth wheel, you will notice the battle scars on the beds of trucks and no longer wonder how that happened. There are two classic scars: The dent on the rails or the “v” shape in the tailgate.
As we were unhooking, we had a bit of trouble getting the pin to release from the hitch. This is where our mistake comes in. We had been distracted chatting with everyone, that at some point, one of us put the tailgate back up. It doesn’t really make sense why we would, but it was obvious in just a few short seconds that we did. Once we were able to get the pin to release, I watched to make sure everything cleared and BAM, the pin hit the tailgate. Jim hit the brakes, flew open the door and said a few choice words. At this point, all of the spectators starting walking away; some giggling I am sure of it, others shaking their heads (obviously they have never done that before) and some just knew that the words that were about to be exchanged should be between this greenhorn couple! How the heck did the pin hit the tailgate when it was SUPPOSED to be open??
Looking back we know exactly what our mistake was and that was not paying attention. Nothing more, nothing less. We allowed ourselves to get distracted from the task at hand and we ended up with our first major Boo-boo. Fortunately, no one was hurt and the landing gear was down, so other than pulling the camper forward a few inches, there was no damage to the camper. However, the pin was dug into the tailgate and we couldn’t get the tailgate down. We had to raise the front of the camper in order to clear the tailgate.
It was early afternoon, so we made a quick call to the local dealer, drove in and the service guy just shook his head and laughed. He said they could fix it for sure and yes, they have seen it before. A few days later, we had a new tailgate and a paint job and all was well. Aside from a little jab at our pride, we have moved forward with the ability to tell a story when the environment is right!
Lesson learned, stay focused, get into site and then chat with the neighbors. Or better yet, have a checklist! It was our first battle wound but it will likely not be our last.