I previously wrote about the naysayers, and people who are afraid of our lifestyle for us.
The story I'm about to tell you will help you to understand that bad things happen in every country, in every state. And no matter what you do you have to be careful. If you make a mistake it can be an expensive or a fatal mistake. No matter what country you're in, from, or belong to.
It was Thursday night.
Bad stories always start out either with it raining or it being dark out, while California wishes it were raining we only had one of the "bad omens" of the movies.
We were driving from LA to San Diego.
But let me back up to earlier.
We were stopping in LA to visit a friend, Jeff Pecaro. I have been friends with Jeff for a couple of years and we met randomly in Cape Town in 2014, and he lives in LA, so I HAD to stop and see him. Thing is, when you're just doing lunch in LA on your way to Mexico it's a little awkward to find street parking for a 37 foot motorhome...especially when you get in late.
After numerous phone calls, we finally found a place to park in Glendale (LA) Wednesday night. Turns out it was a pretty sweet setup as the parking lot attendants only charged us $10 the next day despite us taking up 7+ spots and they needed $5 per spot. I consider the conversation I had with them practice for Mexico and bartering for most everything. Glendale has a city ordinance that no "large" vehicle can park in Glendale for more than 4 hours. I know they mean semi-trucks as they were all parking on the shoulder of the highway as we were getting into town. It was pretty obvious to me that big rigs are not welcomed in the city.
And then the cops showed up.
Well at least we peeked out the windows and noticed there were four cruisers parked in the corner of the lot with a couple of the officers out of their cruisers talking with each other.
Lets just say we were prepared to move that night if a cop showed up at our door. Where were we going to move to? Who knows.
Fortunately they didn't knock and we were able to stay the night and have lunch with Jeff the next day, Thursday.
After lunch we had a parking ticket (seriously I paid for 90 minutes and at 104 minutes we left the restaurant to see the parking maid finishing the $65 ticket which he handed to me. ug.). Showed Jeff around Gracie and then headed out to San Diego.
The beginning of our mistake filled evening.
Becky and I have been to LA and San Diego many times. We're not strangers to the traffic and the crazy highways and the bottlenecks, etc. None of this surprised us. However, on the way into LA we were driving after dark... it was not planned but the chiropractor we found in Santa Clarita was a talker and our visit took almost two hours. So coming into LA we saw the outbound jammed traffic and we said to eachother, lets promise not to leave LA or come into San Diego during rush hours.... we figured we could do the opposite of the commuters, leave the city in the morning and arrive in the city in the afternoons/evenings.
However we know better than to show up at a campground after dark, it just complicates everything (kids hungry, tired, it's dark, hard to see, the office isn't open etc).
We were originally going to be spending time at a friends house, but they experienced a death in the family and we had a couple of doggie mistakes (sickness and poop) which meant we needed to do laundry ASAP. So we found a campground in SD and that was where we were headed.
We also had a vet appointment for the dogs for the paperwork necessary to cross the border That appointment was on Friday morning.
So we were pressured to leave, to get all the way to San Diego, and to drive at night.
Mistake #1 - Driving into the evening
Mistake #2 - Driving with the commuters, traffic was as bad as could be expected
Mistake #3 - being so destination focused (San Diego) versus finding a closer campground with full hookups. (I blamed it on the need to do laundry, but the campground we were headed to was not the only campground between LA and San Diego.
And then mistake number 4, the major mistake. Which would set in motion things none of us could have predicted and will change the future of this trip.
No they were not authentic, they were Chipolte. And no we didn't get E. Coli from them (like others did this week in Oregon).
Nope, it was the parking lot issue.
Where we stopped was not built for big rigs, and I had to pull a U-turn. Not easy to do with a 37 foot motorhome a tow dolly and a 16 foot minivan behind (we're about 55 feet long as is ALMOST the size of a Semi-truck)
So I had to back up in the middle of my turn.
This is a major no-no with a tow-dolly.
What I didn't know until owning one is the 'why'. Why you cannot back up with a tow dolly. The guy who sold it to me explained it was because the dolly was built to pull not to push, and you'll push the van right into the motorhome if you reverse it.
My basic understanding of physics and logic told me that wasn't going to happen.
What does happen is that the straps get loosened and you cannot direct the van.
I'm used to backing up trailers, or at least I'm not afraid of it, and I'm even okay with backing up trailers that have short tongues. However the tow dolly has two pivot points. The front wheels are on a pan that swivels to save wear and tear on the mini van's rear tires.
So when you back up a tow dolly it's like backing up a trailer with another trailer on the back of it, except the first trailer is only 4 feet long, so any slight movements will get it to turn the wrong way in an instant.
I have backed up the tow-dolly many times.
I live on the edge in all areas of my life, why not this one. Don't worry, we always re-check straps! I'm not THAT crazy!
Even as recent as Redding, California when we got into a "too tight" spot, I backed up a good 400 feet with the minivan and tow dolly. It took a lot of coordination with Becky and I on radios, but we did it.
And so when I only needed about 6-8 feet backwards, Becky didn't even get out, I just popped it in reverse knowing that we'd need to check the straps etc once we parked it... and I knew we were 40 feet from a parking spot, I just needed to complete this U-turn.
It was already dark.
We had already been caught in a lot of traffic.
We were in a shopping center, with VERY impatient Californian drivers...
and we didn't belong.
But I had no idea how this time backing up would change everything.
The dolly and the van had gone the wrong way and there was nothing I could do about it (I couldn't straighten it out...) so I just went another foot or two and then POP.
I broke something.
I knew it.
But that was all I needed, so I pulled forward into our red-zone (fire lane) parking spot. Went and checked and what I had broke was the ratchet strap on the bikes. No big deal, the strap just holds on two of the tiny kids bikes that don't fit into a bike rack. So Becky and I made a plan, she'd fix the bike situation by throwing the tiny bikes into the minivan and securing things a bit with a few zip ties while I'd go get dinner.
When I came back I finished checking the straps and plugging in the wires for the tow lights. #done.
We ate a quick dinner and were back on the road.
Once I got out to the expressway traffic had cleared (it's better to eat dinner, wait for the traffic and then go again in our minds). I noticed something spraying out the rear of the motorhome, or our rig... I couldn't quite place it but if I stared into the side mirror when we hit a bump I could see something spray out into the lane next to us, but only when there was a car behind (thanks to their headlights).
While staring at that in my mirror I saw blue smoke coming out from under us, I started checking everything, temp, RPM, speed, smell, responsiveness, traffic around me everything looked fine.
And then I looked back in my mirror to see that things were ALL WRONG.
We pulled over.
We hadn't even gone two miles on the expressway.
We blew a tire on the tow dolly.
Well we knew we'd blow a tire at some point, it's more a fact of when not if when we're covering this many miles.
Fortunatly it was only the tow-dolly tire. While we don't have a spare we knew it would be cheaper to replace.
Becky and I had a mini conference to determine next steps and we decided to take the minivan off the dolly, drive the motorhome and minivan seperatly the 30 minutes to the campground and come back for the dolly in the morning.
When we got the minivan off the dolly we discovered the problem I hadn't noticed before.
That backup maneuver in the shopping parking lot was too tight and forced the wheel of the van into the fender of the dolly, bending a part of the dolly fender and pushing a bolt into the path of the dolly wheel.
Every bump we went over (which there are a ton of here in California, Michigan you have nothing to complain about, roads here are just as bad!). Every bump had brought the bolt into the path of the wheel of the dolly.
Finally the bolt punctured a hole in the wheel and the rubber went to shreds. I thought the rim looked bad but not terrible.
So we turned the dolly and pulled it off of the highway more. I locked the tongue closed so no one could haul it away. And planned to be back for it in the morning.
Mistake #4 - the backup maneuver
Mistake #5 - forgetting about the vet appointment in the morning.
Friday afternoon when I got to the location of where we left the dolly it wasn't there.
So I swing around, check my route and drive by again, nope, no dolly there.
I call the California Highway Patrol. Nope, they haven't towed anything meeting that description in the last 24 hours from that stretch of road.
Mistake #6 - leaving the tow dolly on the side of the road at all.
So here we are, enjoying beautiful 80 degree weather (while friends back in Michigan, Minnesota, and other parts of the north are posting snow pictures) and trying to figure out insurance and police reports. Since Michigan doesn't require the tow dolly to be plated or registered it's hard for the CHP to report a stolen "vehicle" and no one at Progressive knows what to do until Monday.
One thing we know for sure.
We're not buying another tow dolly.
Here's to finding a car hauler.
This way we can backup whenever we need to.
So to all the nay sayers, yes Mexico is a dangerous place, but so is California. And do not, absolutely do not say it's the Mexicans in California who stole it. That may or may not be true.
What is true? The people who stole it had to work hard to lift it into a pickup and have their work cut out for them with the lock.
But hey, they needed it more than we did!
Mistake #7 - stopping at the campground office after dark
Our welcome to the campground Thursday night wasn't a warm one. Since we came in late, Paul and I exited both vehicles at the empty office to check out the campground map and decide where to head to park Gracie for the night (making sure we weren't parking in a lot that was reserved by someone else). However, we were unaware that a car had pulled up behind us while we were looking at the map (the RV was idling right behind us). Both the driver and the passenger were suddenly up in our business angry at our blocking of the driveway. Becky had farther back to walk to the van and I found out later that they unleashed a bunch of unsavory language/names on her before we were able to get moved out of the way. Not really a great way to end your day, ya know! We agreed that at least if we get yelled at in Mexico, we might not know all of what they are saying and that would be just fine!
Hello, I’m sorry to hear about all that went wrong for you that day. That’s a bummer about the stolen tow dolly. We’ve been traveling around the U.S. since January and so far the only time anything stolen from us was in California. Must something about that state. The people weren’t very friendly there either like they have been in other states. Anyway, I hope things will go better for you as you continue your travels. Have fun in Mexico!
Thanks Heather! — Crazy how rude people here can be, but with 12% of the US population in California it’s not really surprising that there are “all kinds” of people here! We have a lot of friends in SoCal and none of them are rude, yet most the drivers we’ve met are otherwise :)
California, the original hippie state isn’t ready for us family hippies :D
How about going back to friendly old South Africa, which is spacious and SAFE?!!!
Ha! We love SA, and will return at some point, but man the safety needs to be fixed soon!
Sounds like life is an adventure everyday! So glad that you didn’t get sick by eating at Chipotles they have been having some major problems!!
Keep your chin up.
Man, I hated reading that. You led with the headline… and it was like I could hear that dreadful background music that kept warning more intensely all the way along duh-dunh DUNH… that “No! No! NO! Don’t go there! Don’t DO that!!!” and the protagonist just keeps on keeping on… AAAGH!
AND I was wondering why/how you got to California since I read your last post, even knowing you’ll be in Texas soon for visas, and then saw this was a year ago… Must have missed it then.
Thanks for sharing your adventures with us. Again again. <3
Thanks for writing the story with all your honesty and humor! I am sorry this happened and sorry it happened in California.
I was waiting for you telling that your laptops were stolen while eating or parking or fixing the bike rack… but tow dolly!!!!
Wish you safe travel and hope to see you soon!!