Stuck Without Brakes

Imagine this: You’re driving up a mountain on a gravel road. The scenery around you is stunning. You notice an ice cave on the side of a mountain across the valley and get out to take some photos. When you get back in the car you see a look on your partner’s face that concerns you. You watch him test out the brake pedal again and it doesn’t look right. “Are the brakes not working?” you ask quietly not wanting to hear the answer that you already know. Silence on his part, but the expression on his face makes you sink into the passenger seat. The brakes on your truck have just died and you’re stuck on a mountain.

That was us. Turned out one of our brake lines broke and all the brake fluid leaked out. We didn’t have any extra brake fluid with us and even if we did, it wouldn’t matter since it would just leak out after refilling the lines. We were halfway up a mountain and one side of the road dropped sharply. The gravel road is so narrow that there’s nowhere to turn around, so we kept driving upwards.

We got to the trailhead of Coal Lake, our destination for the day where we were going to hang out by the water. With the truck parked using the e-brake, we decided to at least still check out the lake. It’s a beautiful lake, secluded despite its 0.1 mile hike in. The lake was surrounded by evergreen trees and a large scree field that extended down to it – a typical Cascade Mountain lake. We relaxed by it for a bit before heading back out to tackle the problem of the day.

Here were the problems of the situation: the only place we can get cell service from where we are is over 25 miles away; we’re four miles up the gravel road from the main road (Mountain Loop Hwy) and another three miles from where the Toaster is parked; and while we have bikes with us, we have nothing that can haul Tybee who can’t hike the 4 miles down to even try to hitch a ride. We decided to try using the e-brakes to get down the mountain while in first gear, but within 50 feet of trying the tires skid and we realized the e-brakes wouldn’t be able to control the truck going down. After some brainstorming our plan was that Jerud would ride to the visitor center where the nearest phone was and try to get a tow truck up to us. I would wait at the truck, unless a car came up and then I would be able to hitch and get them to drop me and the dogs off at the RV.

Luckily two cars came up to the road right after Jerud started to ride down. The drivers of the other cars reminded us that we could use our four-wheel drive low to safely get back down the mountain. Being in four-wheel drive would significantly decrease the gearing of the truck, especially while in first gear, and on top of that our truck is a diesel, which means engine-braking is more effective. Jerud tested it out and it worked. So we loaded the dogs back in, told the strangers to keep an eye out for a truck careened down the side of the mountain on their way down, and headed out. It worked.

We were only comfortable enough to drive the three miles back to the RV without brakes rather than the 25 miles into town. The next day we rode our bikes to the visitor center, where there was a pay phone, to call a tow truck. But about 5 miles before we got there we saw a phone sign by the entrance of a campground. The campground was closed but the pay phone worked. It was a calling-card-operated one which could only call out, which worked out fine since we called Good Sam’s 1-800 number, for roadside assistance. After three hours on the phone and a 20 mile round trip bike ride, there were two tow trucks on their way to come get us.

Good Sam couldn’t find one tow truck that could take both our RV and truck. It was actually with a lot of effort that Good Sam could even find a tow truck company in the area that could tow a fifth wheel. But finally they found Dick’s Towing that had a fifth wheel attachment. We have a basic plan with Good Sam that gives us free towing to the closest repair shop. We explored our options of where we could have the truck and RV towed and wanted to have the option of having it towed further away. During that process we learned that if we wanted to upgrade our plan to the platinum level (that offers free towing up to 100 miles) it would take two days to take effect. Another problem we had was giving Good Sam the exact location of the truck and RV since we were in the woods. We tried to give them the GPS coordinates but the Good Sam representative wasn’t familiar with using it. What we ended doing was talking the dispatcher through our location while he used Google maps. The dispatcher was able to locate us on a map because we were on a forest service road right off a paved highway.

The biggest question for us now is do we replace our current truck or repair it? The truck currently has one faulty brake line, but we know the others need to be replaced. The radiator and the transmission also need to be replaced. Do we spend the money on fixing a 1991 truck or do we put that money towards a newer truck? We are leaning towards getting a newer truck. But finding our first truck was difficult so we’re worried how long it will take us to find a newer one with all the specific requirements we have. The headache doesn’t end there because after we get the truck we will have to move the WVO conversion tank and system from our current truck into the new truck. And since it won’t be the same year truck, we can’t just drop the WVO system right in. More work will have to be done so that it will fit and work in the new truck.

Keep your fingers crossed for us so that we can get back on the road sooner.

Update, 8/21: We decided that it's not worth putting more money into our truck and have been looking for a replacement truck. In addition to the brake issues, our transmission is now on its deathbed.


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