Cruise Control Killed My Transmission, or So You’re Thinking Of Towing
Last week Jeline Guiles talked about how to plan a climbing trip. For a weekend, it’s no big deal. Strap pads to the roof of your Honda Accord or throw ’em in the back of the Subaru…a cooler for perishables and beer…sleeping bag. But for something of greater magnitude, like a week-, month-, or year-long trip, you’re going to need a more sustainable way of hauling yourself and your stuff, without having to pitch a tent every night.
So maybe you want to do a long, misguided-adventure-filled deal like us, or maybe you want a lifestyle like couple named Ken and Jobi whom we met at the Red River Gorge. They work for a few months, then jump in their van and hit the road for the rest of the year.
Either way, you might be considering a trailer. If you are, let me give you a quick taste of a beginning trailer driver. If you’re considering an RV, please reconsider. Please.
How Big and What Kind?
What’s your tow vehicle? You can pull with anything…Civics and U-hauls, for example. But if you want something you can live in, you’ll likely need something bigger. SUVs and pickups are your go-tos. Pickups will allow you to go with a 5th-wheel, which is advantageous for larger trailers as they reduce the overall length and improve maneuverability. On the other hand, 5th-wheels disallow you to have a camper shell, and reduce your storage for trips to/from the crag or into town.
Check out tent-trailers. They are cheaper, lighter, and compact. The downside is that they are basically a fancy tent on wheels, meaning that you’ll be more comfortable than in a regular tent, but not by much. If it’s cold outside, it’ll be cold inside. The other downside is they provide zero security. You could break in with a nail file.
Another possibility is to look at pop-up trailers. These are sort of an intermediate step. The next is a travel trailer, and they vary in size and amenities immensely. Go to a dealership and just take a look at some of the 35-foot monstrosities, with TV’s and bunk beds and dishwashers, if you want to see how the other half lives.
Our Pilgrim was big enough for three to live in comfortably, enough storage for camera equipment and cranes, and with space for folks to crash with us. It had a big slide in the living room, meaning that the wall slid out about 4 feet when parked and gave us much more floor space. Slides are highly recommended!
Considering a Trailer? Consider This…
Driving a trailer is not very fun. Your acceleration sucks and braking ain’t much better (although you’ll likely have an electronic brake control for your trailer which makes things better). Still, you won’t be breaking any speed records, or speed limits for that matter.
It’s awesome to have your bed in tow, but this can also be a curse. You can’t just pull over and park anywhere. Walmart allows trucks and trailers to park and spend the night (we’ve done so too many times to count), and rest areas are kosher too. Boondocking? Be careful. Neighbors can get nosy. We never had a problem the few times we had to park on the side of the road in the suburbs, but you can’t help but feel like a giant sore thumb.
Driving on the freeway is a mixture of boredom and terror. You’ll feel yourself drifting to the left inexplicably, and right when you notice that a semi truck whizzes by your ear. This is because the air pressure next to a big truck is lower than that on the other side of your trailer, so unless you’re carefully watching your mirrors (which you must!), you’ll suddenly get sucked in. It’s scary. A strong crosswind will have the same, equally undesired effect.
Unlike normal long-haul driving, you can’t just set cruise control and forget about it. For one, you take up more space, and staying between lane lines is much harder. More importantly, setting cruise control is dangerous for your transmission. You might recall that we had to overhaul Bert’s. This, I later realized, is because I had cruise control set to 60. When the road goes slightly uphill, the truck is forced to upshift, and since cruise is set, it does so while revving. This is torture for a tranny. Instead, learn your car and its shifting habits, and when a hill comes, allow the vehicle to slow down a little. If you must upshift, like on a steeper hill, I suggest hitting the O/D OFF button to “manually” upshift with your foot off the accelerator.
Another downside fo a trailer is that you cannot just toot around town running errands. It’s like coming in from the mountains with your big REI 120 liter pack and trying to find a seat in a crowded movie theater. Backing up is quite a pain if you’re unaccustomed to the reverse steering one must employ. Getting gas is a chore, although you do feel in small ways like a kindred spirit with the truckers.
The trailer can end up being this cancerous thing which you wish you could just push into a lake…but when you pull into a rest stop at 1am, your glazed eyes barely able to focus on the dashboard, you thank the stars above and the fiery lake below that you have your very own bed to crawl into.
Feel free to ask anything, because it’s scary and we didn’t know what the hell we were getting ourselves into. If we don’t know the answer we know where to find it.