Welcome to RV Mishaps, a content series written by RVers about problems they’ve encountered on the road, how they solved them, and lessons learned. Have a mishap story of your own that you’d like to tell? Send us an email at email@example.com.
The RV lifestyle has given us the most incredible experiences, but any RVer will tell you that it isn’t a question of if something will go wrong along the way, but when. Over the past two years of living full-time in our fifth wheel, we’ve had our fair share of mishaps on the road, but this one takes the cake for most dramatic.
Our plan was to have a relaxing Memorial Day weekend boondocking in the wilderness and hiking in Grand Canyon National Park. It was one of our first boondocking attempts, but we were prepared. We scouted a great area in a national forest with our truck beforehand, ensuring we would have no issues navigating our fifth wheel to the site. We also stayed at a full-hookup campground the night before to top off our resources.
Unfortunately, the days before our arrival it rained and snowed. As we drove our fifth wheel down the forest road, we noticed that some of the sites we had considered were now visibly muddy, and we knew it would be unwise to attempt parking on soft ground. We finally came to a site that wasn’t too wet and we felt solid ground. It was perfectly accessible for our fifth wheel and surrounded by beautiful trees. We were a bit nervous but decided to pull in and set up camp.
We drove off the forest road and stopped a moment to put down leveling blocks, hoping they would provide extra solidity once the fifth wheel was parked. Unfortunately, that pause was our downfall. When we shifted the truck back into drive, we discovered that it had already sunk a few inches into the mud.
Briefly spinning tires isn’t unusual when towing off-road, so we shifted into four-wheel drive and tried again to no avail. Attempting to reverse out didn’t work either, and after a few efforts back and forth, the only outcome we’d achieved was literally digging ourselves deeper into a hole. Our tires were now five inches into the mud.
While a bit panicked, we were still confident we could navigate a way out. We wedged leveling blocks beneath the tires in hopes of getting traction and lined a plastic block path out of the muck. The mud jeered at our feeble attempts and the blocks sunk deeper into the ground.
Next, we searched YouTube for any video tutorials that might help our situation. Based on a video suggestion, we tried tying wooden planks to our tires with rope, in hopes of leveraging our way out of what was now a 10-inch hole. The wooden planks immediately snapped—along with our patience.
It was starting to get dark, and we’d been trying to free ourselves from the mud for more than an hour. Fortunately, we were stuck in a safe, quiet campsite, so we decided to make dinner, go to bed, and call for assistance in the morning. It was surprisingly similar to a normal night of RVing, except we were remarkably unlevel with our truck tires sunk almost a foot into the mud.
The next day we called our RV roadside assistance company, Good Sam. We were worried they would be unable to help since we were stuck off a remote forest road, and an hour and a half away from the nearest town. The customer representative said she would reach out to towing companies and get back to us. We hung up the phone with some hope, but knew it would be a challenge to find a company that could tow a three-quarter-ton pickup truck hitched to a 10,000-pound fifth wheel. Because the truck was sunk into the mud, it would be impossible to unhitch the trailer to make the job easier. Throughout the waiting period, the Good Sam representative checked in with periodic updates.
Mid-afternoon, Jesse arrived with a hefty tow truck. Whether he was being truthful or just sympathetic, he assured us that this kind of thing happens all the time.
It was not an easy tow. We had thought that once we got out of the muddy hole, we would be home free. Instead, our truck and trailer had to be dragged more than 50 feet out of the site. Jesse and his tow truck utilized trees and the cinch to pull the truck and trailer forward, inch by inch. His own truck nearly got stuck in the mud itself multiple times. The process took about 30 minutes, but eventually, we were safely back on solid ground.
The only real damage from the incident (aside from our pride) was to our tires—they had shredded some tread from spinning out, so we replaced them at a shop later that week. However, there was not a scratch on our truck or trailer, just mud.
And perhaps the best part of the story was the bill. Jesse said that the total would have been more than $1,200 due to the distance and difficulty of the scenario. But thanks to our roadside assistance plan, we didn’t have to pay for anything (except for Jesse’s tip, of course). The biggest takeaway from this experience is that a comprehensive RV roadside assistance plan is necessary for any RVer, regardless of how often you’re on the road. Regular roadside assistance offerings, like AAA, will not service RVs or trailers, so you should purchase a plan specific to your vehicle.
Looking back, if we had tried using our leveling blocks before we had spun so much into the mud, we might have avoided the tow. Wooden planks and leveling blocks can assist with both leveling and difficult terrain. We’re now especially careful driving off-pavement and on gravel, especially if it’s rainy, snowy, or in the springtime. We learned that just because the ground can support your car and cargo weight, that doesn’t mean it can support a large truck and RV.
We have since boondocked on all kinds of surfaces with great success. What sticks with us from this muddy incident is mainly how fortunate the outcome was, and the kindness of the people who helped us. We now refer to that day as “the time we had to get towed out of the Grand Canyon,” because if you have a misadventure, you might as well make it sound extra epic.