Just Another Bump in the Road

After the conclusion of the beet harvest, I stick around Leistikow Campground in Grafton, ND for a couple more days to catch up on household chores, buy food and service Bertha. By Tuesday the 17th I’m ready to get back on the road!

Park River at my campground in Grafton, ND

Oct 17, Tuesday

It feels like a night-driving kind of day. I’m not sure why, 99% of the time that I’m towing it’s in daylight – just makes everything easier when you’re in an unfamiliar area with a trailer – but today I feel like waiting and leaving in the evening.

So I do.

I hitch up Cas after an early dinner, and pull out of the campground as the sun stands balanced on the horizon. The sky is clear and the wind is calm, good driving conditions. By the time I get on highway 81 heading south out of town, it’s already getting dark. Full beet piles stand illuminated at regular intervals along 81 and later along I29 – it looks like the rest of the sites in the area have finished as well.

The drive is unremarkable, until I’m about fifteen minutes outside of Fargo. Traffic is light on a week day this late at night, but a few semis are on the road. One flashes his brights as he comes up behind me, then honks his horn as he passes.

If you’ve never had this happen to you before, this is a pretty universal signal that something is wrong. My stomach drops. Bertha is running well and nothing seems amiss from my end, but you can’t see everything from the driver’s seat. I’m getting ready to pull over when red and blue lights come on behind me.

Here we go.

When the cop comes up to my window, I ask him what’s wrong and he informs me that my trailer brake and running lights are out. Yep, that’d be a problem.

While he’s checking my license, registration, and insurance, I ponder on what the issue could be. I checked the lights before I left as usual and they were working, so something happened between then and now. My turn signals/emergency lights and electric brakes are still working, so my first thought goes to my 7-pin connector. I’m not positive, but I seem to recall the brake and running lights are controlled by one pin, and I noticed recently that one of the pins on my connector had some buildup on it.

Another pic from Grafton after the beet harvest let out

It takes the cop a long time to run my information. As the wait drags on, Bertha gets my attention with a sonorous ‘ding!’.

A light has come on on the control panel. A light that has only come on one other time during my time driving her. A light I fear.

The ‘check gauges’ light. The last time this light came on, I’d blown a headgasket up in Leadville, Colorado, and it ended up being a 2 week delay and several-thousand dollar repair.

Sure enough, my engine is overheating.

My first though is “this isn’t fair”. After all, I went ahead and had both headgaskets worked on when the first one failed to avoid a repeat performance. But immediately after thinking that I realize this can’t be the same problem. The engine was running at normal temperature the whole time I was driving, and only started creeping up as I was idling waiting for the police officer to run my info.

I immediately turn off Bertha, then start pondering this new problem. I just had Bertha serviced at a shop in town the day before, and haven’t done any driving of note since then, so my first thought is that it has something to do with that.

In the meantime, the police officer is back with a ticket for $20 for unsafe driving. I tell him I’ll stop in Fargo for the night (which I was planning to do anyway) and get the lights fixed as soon as I can, and he tells me to keep my emergency lights on tonight until then so that people can see the trailer.

I don’t tell him about my new engine problem. Given the behavior, I’m betting on it just being a problem while idling, and until I can test this theory, there’s no point calling anyone for help.

I turn Bertha back on, and the engine is back at a normal temp. I slowly pull back onto I29, my emergency lights flashing merrily. What a night.

My eyes stay fixed to the engine temp gauge like a hawk, but the needle remains where it normally is while driving. Less than fifteen minutes later, I’m parked at a Flying J just off of the interstate on the south end of town. I leave Bertha idling for a bit, and sure enough, the engine starts to overheat again.

One last pic from Grafton, most of the trees were leafless by the time I left

Okay, troubleshooting time! Not how I anticipated my first night back on the road, but you never get to choose these things. If you haven’t seen it, I wrote an article a while back about what to do when your rig breaks down after the headgasket fiasco, I’m almost a pro at this after this many years of full-timing. Don’t get me wrong, having plans go awry is never fun, but the good news is the more you deal with issues like this, the easier it gets. I put my game face on.

After consulting the mighty internet, I figure out which pin controls the brake and running lights on a 7-pin connector, and sure enough it’s the one with the blue residue on it. I grab some rubbing alcohol and a small brush and scrub at the pin vigorously, then plug the trailer back in, the lights are working! But I jostle the connector around and they flicker on and off. So at least I know where the issue is, and can find a RV supply store to get a new 7-pin connector. It won’t be too pricey to fix.

The internet also tells me that when an engine overheats at idle, it’s usually a fan, fan belt, or coolant issue. I open the hood of the truck and immediately spot a dipstick sitting on top of the fan compartment. Hmmm, that’s mighty suspicious. I look through my truck’s owners manual and guess what – it’s the coolant dipstick. The fan and fan belt I notice are running normally.

I check the coolant with the dipstick and guess what – it’s a little low. The cap was on the reservoir and I see no fluids collecting under Bertha, so I hypothesize that the service tech did not put enough in. How the heck does that happen? I can only conclude that they got distracted, left the dipstick out, closed the hood, and never got back to it. I carry spare antifreeze with me in the truck, so my cost to fix the problem is $3 for a funnel to pour it in. I end up calling the shop the next morning, but I won’t get into that. The problem is indeed fixed.

Oct 18, Wednesday

Bertha is idling normally, there’s still no leaking fluid under the engine, all is well. I’ve called a RV shop in Sioux Falls that carries the 7-pin connector and can install it for me today, so I have a destination set. On the way, I stop in Madison, SD – my place of domicile – to pick up my mail in person from My Dakota Address, my mail forwarding company. Terri’s been handling my mail since I hit the road in 2012 and I’ve been very happy with the service.

Madison, SD, my place of domicile. Still leaves here.

Schaap’s RV Traveland is staffed by good people. I appreciate that they don’t make me unhitch to fix the connector, the service is timely, and unlike the shop in Grafton that shall go unnamed, they treat their customers right. I say the last because after leaving with my shiny new 7-pin connector just before they close for the evening, I discover that under very specific conditions, the trailer will come unplugged from the truck due to what they did with the cord – which is almost as big a problem as not having brake and running lights.

So I leave a message, and spend the night at a Cracker Barrel in Sioux Falls while I wait to go back in in the morning so they can fix this new problem. This was the night I wrote my last blog post about flexibility.

Oct 19 and 20, Thursday and Friday

Right away in the morning, the service manager at Schaap’s personally looks over Cas and Bertha with me, and with some messing around, we ensure that Cas won’t be coming unplugged while I’m driving, problem solved!

Some followers might wonder at my urge to drive after dark Tuesday night when I rarely ever do, given what happened. Did my intuition lead me astray, or would things have been even worse if I’d had those same problems during the day? There’s no way to know for sure, and I’m not the kind of person to overthink it. It happened the way it happened, and in the grand scheme of things this is just one more little bump in the road – a pretty minor footnote in the saga that is life.

Now, where were we? Oh yes, traveling.

Using my two favorite resources for finding free camping, freecampsites.net and campendium.com, I locate a city park in the small town of Vermillion, SD, right near the border with Nebraska that offers free camping with electric for up to two nights. Hard to pass up a deal like that!

Long-time readers know this isn’t the first time I’ve found free camping with electric in a small town, it pays to get away from the interstate sometimes. And this little park is pretty cute. Bonus, it’s close to Walmart for groceries and has water spigots and a dump station on-site. I spend most of Friday hanging around camp writing and editing videos, it’s great to have a day to decompress after the truck and trailer issues, and by Saturday I’m feeling refreshed and ready to go! Next stop: a state park in the middle of Nebraska. (Yes, I have a specific reason for heading this direction, and will probably get to that next post!)

Lions Park in Vermillion, SD

Companion video: Troubleshooting the truck and trailer issues at Flying J on Tuesday night.

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At IO I teach people how to ditch the status quo and travel full-time before retirement, and share stories of my adventures (and misadventures) to inspire future nomads and armchair travelers alike. Included at no additional charge: seizing your dreams, living boldly, and making a difference.


  1. David Greybeard on October 28, 2017 at 7:47 pm

    Good job keeping your cool and handling your mechanical troubles safely and calmly. I wouldn’t be too hard on the person who last added coolant to your system. It can sometimes be really hard to get trapped air out of an engine that’s been drained. It can take a long time to work its way out under certain circumstances. If you have not used the truck’s heater much since the repair, the heater core could have been full of trapped air. When you started using it on cold mornings in ND, the trapped air moved into the rest of the system. I would continue checking the level regularly, just in case. (I would blame them for not telling you this when they did the work.)

  2. Becky on October 27, 2017 at 8:31 pm

    This was the third time I stopped in person for my mail actually, I’m so glad there’s easy parking for RVs near there!

  3. Swankie Wheels on October 25, 2017 at 2:08 pm

    Glad you stopped to see Terri. I have been very happy with My Dakota Address as well. And glad you are safe. What a wonderful little park you found.
    Swankie Wheels recently posted..The Awakening of Swankie (being all I can be… to me)My Profile

  4. TDT Fan on October 25, 2017 at 1:51 pm

    Love the photos with the leaves turning as you make your stops. That maple tree turned flaming red in Madison SD was a natural beauty. You really use the photography to add value to your blog. Enjoying following your travels and adventures.

    • Becky on October 27, 2017 at 8:30 pm

      Thanks TDT.

  5. Darren on October 25, 2017 at 7:58 am

    I have learned even with extreme planning and foresight,,, some things will always happen. I’m glad that your problems were small and not expensive. My wife and I just went to Dallas Texas to pickup our brand new 37 foot travel trailer. I planned for every contingency I could possible imagine and researched online for any possible problem. I planned a night stay close to where we purchased camper so if any problems occurred we could go back to dealer and guess what,,,,, we had one. We had an extreme rain storm that night and we developed a leak inside the camper on a slideout. I contacted our salesman in the morning (he gave me his personal cell) and he told us to get back over for repair. Within a hour at dealer we where heading out with our new rig. I have always believed the old motto, hope for the best, prepare for the worst! I’m happy you had small problems and are ready for your next adventure! Can’t wait to hear where your heading, safe journey and clear roads!

    • Becky on October 27, 2017 at 8:30 pm

      I’m a prepare-er too Darren and definitely sympathize with this. And yes, you quickly learn as an RVer that there is simply no way to prepare for every possibility. And those who’re flexible enough to cope keep RVing and those who aren’t get off the road.

      Hope your new rig is treating you well (and leak free), congrats!

  6. Steve on October 24, 2017 at 6:55 pm

    When you are in Quartzsite the Good Tools vendor sells dental tools that work very well to clean up connectors. That is what I use. I also use contact cleaner for maintaining a clean connection. Hope this helps!

    • Becky on October 24, 2017 at 9:25 pm

      Thanks for sharing Steve!

  7. Linda Sand on October 24, 2017 at 3:20 pm

    We got stopped once for a burnt out taillight. In Minnesota, al least at that time, they give you a fix-it ticket. If you get the work done in a timely manner and have a cop sign that you fixed it you don’t have to pay a fine. For you it might have been more of a hassle to find a cop to sign the ticket than to pay it.

    • Becky on October 24, 2017 at 9:25 pm

      Sounds like a good system Linda.

      • Jimmy on October 27, 2017 at 1:49 am

        They have fix it tickets in California. I think most states have them.

        So i got one a couple months ago fro one headlight out (yeah, I know, i shoulda taken care of it……even bought the lamp…., but waited a couple weeks and got popped.)

        Years ago I got one and it was FREE, beg, to end.

        Now? The “fix-it” part is still FREE (as Linda described above) ……….but there’s a $25 “processing charge”.

        “Free” sure isn’t what it used to be……..LOL

        • Becky on October 27, 2017 at 8:27 pm

          Maybe my $20 was “free” too, haha.

  8. Rhonda on October 24, 2017 at 11:33 am

    “I put my game face on.” Go get ’em, cowgirl! I appreciate your positive outlook (can’t believe the policeman wrote you a ticket!) and your “lets-get-this-done” outlook. You are a brave woman and intrepid traveler…love hearing about your adventures. Oh, and I liked your You Tube vid coinciding with this post…it was both informative and helpful. Thanks!

    • Becky on October 24, 2017 at 9:23 pm

      Thanks for following along Rhonda!

  9. Jodee Gravel on October 24, 2017 at 10:00 am

    Good thing you drove at night and discovered things were loose before they came out and caused more issues. $20 is a small fee to learn something important – in this case two things – without any major mishaps. Way to take it all in stride :-))

  10. Elisa on October 24, 2017 at 8:26 am

    You are an inspiration! So happy that the issue wasn’t too bad. I love the way you deductively figured out the issue and didn’t get upset. I’ll be hitting the road with my husband next year and your site has given us countless ideas and resources. Thanks so much for your well written and insightful writings.

    • Becky on October 24, 2017 at 9:22 pm

      You’re welcome Elisa!

  11. Ingrid on October 24, 2017 at 7:38 am

    Glad the issues weren’t too serious but I am surprised the cop gave you a ticket. Yep, I too love those free parks. What program are you using to edit your videos?
    Ingrid recently posted..Eggs Benedict for Sunday BrunchMy Profile

    • Becky on October 24, 2017 at 9:21 pm

      I’m guessing he hadn’t met his quota.

      Windows Movie Maker, which is no longer available sadly but there are other free programs out there.

  12. JimM on October 24, 2017 at 7:35 am

    Would like to propose you do a review of the shops that worked on your equipment at RVServiceReviews.com for your fellow travelers.
    JimM recently posted..Finally…a visit to Crater Lake…My Profile

    • Becky on October 24, 2017 at 9:20 pm

      Never heard of that site before Jim, I’ll look into it.

  13. Furry Gnome on October 24, 2017 at 7:33 am

    Your ‘don’t-get-upset’ attitude to the glitches of life is a good message. We moved into a new house last Wed., starting a new phase in our life, and there have been several bumps in the road. You’re a good example, and we’re taking it all in stride. Safe travelling.

    • Becky on October 24, 2017 at 9:19 pm

      Congrats Gnome!

  14. Pamelab on October 24, 2017 at 7:30 am

    Thanks, Becky –
    It’s a good reminder that “stuff” is going to happen, but it’s our reaction to it that counts.
    I added the Campendium app to my phone and made a note of freecampsites.net. Good resources to have on my phone.
    Happy travels.
    Pamela in Houston

    • Becky on October 24, 2017 at 9:19 pm

      Glad you found this helpful Pamela!

  15. Rob on October 24, 2017 at 7:23 am

    I’m glad things worked out, too bad about the ticket!
    I like to do my driving during the day so I can see the country, even the flat of the Dakotas. That first little hill I saw heading south brought a smile to my face!

    These days I’m traveling to see what’s there, if I need to get somewhere I’ll drive until I’m tired, stop, sleep & do it again.

    I’m looking forward to seeing what’s next!

    • Becky on October 24, 2017 at 7:58 pm

      Eh, $20 is $20 but thanks. 99% of the time I prefer driving in daylight too, it was just this one time, I don’t know why…

      • Jimmy on October 27, 2017 at 1:38 am

        Pfft…I’m shocked/saddened the copper didn’t just let you go with a warning. You complied w his request (keep flashers) on……and he could see there was an elect problem that you could not have been aware of. It’s not like you were deliberate.

        Lack of situational awareness on his part. What a dill-wad.

        “……Yes, Mrs. Lincoln….I am aware your husband has been shot and he is lying on his deathbed……but as your server, there’s this matter of drinks and the nacho-platter for two you ordered and it simply MUST be taken care of before you leave!……” LOL LOL LOL….=)

  16. Terri on October 24, 2017 at 6:21 am

    Like you, I have found that getting all freaked out about a problem is just a way to make it worse. Staying calm even when seeing the engine light heat up was impressive. I’m the type that doesn’t know much about cars, so I do tend to panic, but you handled it very well, and yes, you are a pro at this full-timing thing by now.

    So glad that Bertha didn’t disconnect, and that you were able to find a very reputable place to help you out with the 7-pin connector. So sorry about the careless folks in Grafton.

    Can’t wait to see why you are headed to Nebraska!!
    Terri recently posted..Low-Cost Animal Healthcare OptionsMy Profile

    • Becky on October 24, 2017 at 7:57 pm

      Yes Terri, this time it really went about as well as it could!

      As for Nebraska, that’s coming up on Thursday…

  17. Rodolfo Tenorio on October 24, 2017 at 5:46 am

    Your are a very resourceful person. Thank you for sharing. ……..

  18. Dawn King on October 24, 2017 at 3:44 am

    Glad it wasn’t worse. Thank goodness for the internet resourses!

  19. Sherry on October 24, 2017 at 3:43 am

    You’ve definitely become a pro at handling “issues “. Really glad to hear they were so relatively easily solved. Sorry about the ticket. I’ve been fulltiming over 7 years and have to say that I think shops that give poor service should be named lest someone else unsuspectingly uses them and has a problem. Careless us careless and dangerous in repair or service work. Give them a bad review by name pkease.

    • Becky on October 24, 2017 at 7:54 pm

      It’s the only shop in Grafton if that helps. 😉

  20. Marneen on October 24, 2017 at 1:46 am

    Another “stellar” blog post.
    You give me more inspiration each time.
    🙂 🙂 🙂

    • Becky on October 24, 2017 at 7:52 pm

      You’re welcome!

  21. Seana on October 23, 2017 at 10:36 pm

    I like that idea Ron! 🙂

    Mistakes happen, but I bet you won’t return to said shop….

    So I finally did it! Catching up on your blog only took me 7 months, haha, but it’s done! What a wonderful journey Becky! A novel in itself, I have the upmost respect for Interstellar Orchard and the woman behind it. It was like sitting on your shoulder for the last 5 years of your life, what an incredible ride. Cheers to you, thank you for the boundless inspiration and confidence you’ve lent me. My experience here is irreplaceable, and for as long as you’re posting, I will be reading. Happy Trails!

    • Becky on October 24, 2017 at 7:52 pm

      Wow, congrats on starting from the beginning Seana, that’s no small feat these days!

      I’m so glad you’ve found my journey inspiring and entertaining, hearing about how my writing helps others makes gives me the warm fuzzies inside, it’s one of my main motivations to keep going. 🙂

  22. Ron on October 23, 2017 at 10:03 pm

    A rather boring topic that you were able to make interesting and left me in suspense as to the outcome and what would happen next. I was interrupted half way through reading and couldn’t wait to get back and finish it. Your writing skills are getting good. Maybe a novel in your future. A suspense thriller involving a young full time solo traveler ???

    • Becky on October 24, 2017 at 7:49 pm

      Thanks Ron. I’ve thought about writing a novel, but I have so many ideas that I can’t choose between them. It’s on my dream list for someday.

  23. Den on October 23, 2017 at 10:02 pm

    Becky could you explain the issue with the 7 pin connection after they replaced it? Why would it become disconnected? What did they do to the cord?
    Your video on the original problem was very informative, thanks for posting it.
    Glad both problems where relatively easy fixes.

    • Becky on October 24, 2017 at 7:47 pm

      They made it a little bit shorter (to get fresh wire) and it was just short enough to cause a problem when I turned a sharp right when there was a dip in the road. The truck side of the receiver does not have a strong hinge anymore which didn’t help.

  24. Ray on October 23, 2017 at 9:18 pm

    These days you may as well double check any work that you have done before you pull out. I always check the oil level after service for one thing…..safe travels.

  25. Mr Wheat on October 23, 2017 at 9:00 pm

    Glad it wasn’t anything big. The tech forgetting the dipstick reminds me of my bike tech forgetting to secure by disc brake. Ive been using Google maps to screen for quality businesses lately. Its not perfect but I find it helps a bit.

    • Becky on October 24, 2017 at 7:44 pm

      I use Google Maps too, but this was the only pace in Grafton that had any reviews at all, small towns make it difficult sometimes.

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