We are excited to announce Sarah Kuiken has agreed to write a series of guest blogs on solo travel to share the funny and different challenges had when you RV on your own.
Written by Sarah Kuiken
Disclaimer from the author: This is not a how-to guide for fixing leaks, or anything else for that matter. I want to make that clear right away. If anything, it’s a cautionary tale of how what should have taken me about 2 minutes to fix took most of a day instead.
Meet the AGA Moment
Every RVer, full-time or otherwise, knows the moment that I like to call the “Ain’t Goin’ Anywhere” moment (AGA for short). One minute you’re enjoying your morning coffee and thinking that it’s the perfect day to finally get that kayak out on the water. After all, days like this are what you bought it for, right? The next minute, something in, on or near your RV catches your eye that represents a big problem in need of urgent fixing.
That’s the AGA moment. Because, friend, you Ain’t Goin’ Anywhere until you get that broken thing fixed/tire changed/leak patched.
AGA is the moment when your day changes from being all planned out to going straight to hell.
Next thing you know, you’re at Lowe’s for the third time in the space of two hours, because on your first trip you forgot things, and there were other things you didn’t know you needed yet. On the second trip you bought the wrong size of other things, or didn’t have the parts you thought you did. The whole project takes you 20 times longer than it would take anyone else to complete.
Suddenly it’s 7 p.m., the sun is setting, and your day on the water is a forgotten dream. That kayak will have to sit it out for one more day.
Being a solo traveler tends to magnify AGA moments quite a bit, because there’s no one else to run to the hardware store while you prep the work surface or verify what you’ve got “in stock” in your passthrough. There’s no one to hand you things while you’re in a tight space, or use a hose to spray things down outside while you stay inside and look for leaks.
Don’t get me wrong. I love being a solo traveler 99% of the time. But man, sometimes would it be easier to have another person around.
You can probably see where this is going.
One recent sunny Saturday morning, I was thinking, “It’s been a while since Orion and I took a nice long hike together. The weather tomorrow is supposed to be terrible and rife with tornadoes; today’s the perfect day to go enjoy the sunshine!” Fast-forward two seconds, after I’ve spied the water pooled in the corner next to my slideout, and cut to me not-so-silently cursing – Ain’t Goin’ Anywhere.
I should probably mention before I go any further that I have little to no experience with fixing things. I have a tool kit, of which I probably know how to use about 30% of the items. My dad tried to teach my sister and I some useful around-the-house skills when we were little, but we were having none of it. I was too busy reading, writing, and singing to care much for that sort of thing. (Kids – you aren’t reading this, but I’ll say it anyway – Let your parents teach you how to do things. And if they don’t offer, ask.)
I can use screwdrivers and hang a picture with a hammer and nail. (This last is completely useless in an RV.) I can unclog a drain, reluctantly. And that’s about the extent of my DIY skillset. I’m not even terribly confident using a drill, unless you count using it to raise and lower my stabilizers.
So, I’m a solo traveler, I have no repair skills to speak of, and now I’ve got a leak.
I knew that the first thing to do was to determine where the water was coming from. Judging by the way the water was pooled, it looked to be coming from underneath the living room slide. Thankfully, my trailer has no carpet, so I didn’t have to worry about any fabric getting moldy. But when I followed the line of water back from the center of the trailer toward the front, I found lots of wetness.
Wet floor. Wet bathroom cabinet. Wet area under the sink. (Those of you who are natural fix-its, or who just have more common sense than I do, can probably see where that’s going.)
We’d had heavy rain for a couple of days before I saw the water, so I figured I’d either failed to notice it during the rain, or the leak had been slow and it had therefore taken the water a while to find its way from the roof, down the slide, and into my living room.
Step one was to climb up on the roof to see if there were any obvious leak points.
As someone who’s afraid of heights, I’ll say that owning an RV has more or less cured me of my fear of climbing ladders and walking on roofs. In the year that I’ve been a full-timer, I’ve done this countless times now. So, I got up on the roof, not without getting my hand covered in some fresh bird poop that was on the ladder. I enjoyed the view up there. More bird poop? Check.
Much to the amusement of my neighbors who were sitting outside, I then crawled around on my hands and knees like a detective looking for clues. I was just missing the deerstalker cap and magnifying glass. I couldn’t see any potential leak points on the roof itself. There aren’t any holes in that section of roof, and the trailer is only about a year old, so the roof is still in great shape. No soft spots, either.
I then looked at the slide itself. In the picture below, you can see the long rubber bar that runs parallel to the roofline above the slide. (This picture was taken while standing on the roof, so it shows the slide from above.) The rubber looked to be sealed at the edges, but cracked all the way along its top.
The slide seal mostly looked good, and I’d cleaned and conditioned it just a couple of months prior, but there was a section of the seal that had gotten bent inward and no longer sat flush with the slide wall.
It was a place to start. I called my dad to verify the parts I’d need to pick up at the hardware store. I get tripped up by things like: what’s the difference between caulk and sealant? When do you use one versus the other? And, how do you secure a tarp over the top of a slideout such that it won’t blow away during a severe thunderstorm?
Another aspect of AGA moments is that they often happen at a very inconvenient time, weather-wise. In my case, severe thunderstorms and potential tornadoes were in the forecast for the next day, so whatever was leaking, I needed to find it fast. And it was looking like I’d need a tarp to bridge the gap, just in case.
Here’s the list of parts I ended up deciding on:
- Mold spray. I bought two of these: one was a cleaner, and the other more of a prevention spray. I come from a very dry climate where mold isn’t really a thing, and the fact that I found some under the bathroom sink really gave me the heebie jeebies.
- Clear exterior sealant. This stuff smelled so strongly that it made me dizzy even using it outdoors, and it adheres to just about every surface known to man. I take that to mean it’s good stuff. Also, in case you were curious, it seems that the main difference between caulk and sealant is flexibility. Caulk doesn’t flex as well as sealant does, so sealant was a better choice to use on rubber. (I’m sure I’ll get e-mail if this is wrong!)
- Tube gun for the sealant
- Heavy duty 12×16 tarp to cover my slideout
- 150 feet of rope to tie down said tarp
- Adjustable straps to anchor the rope to stakes in the ground
I then climbed back up on the roof and cleaned the rubber bar, a corner of the slide frame that wasn’t sealed, and the entire rubber slide seal, to remove any dirt and debris. Even though my whole trailer had gotten a good scrubdown just a couple of months before, there was a lot of this. Camping is dirty business, friends! Climbing up my ladder with a bucket of soapy water over my arm kind of made me feel awesome. Like if Spiderman were thirty-something girl, and kind of a neat freak.
Next came the part where I inhaled the fumes from the sealant for a pretty solid chunk of time while I sealed the top of the rubber bar and the corner of the slide that wasn’t sealed as well as the rest. I also conditioned the rubber slide seal again for good measure.
By the way, this makes it seem like I climbed up on the roof a few times because I always had what I needed in the place where I needed it. If you’ve ever done projects with a friend or a spouse who is able to hand things to you when you need them …. Enjoy that luxury! I climbed up and down that ladder more times than I care to admit. My neighbors probably thought I just really enjoyed climbing up there.
Does RVing solo mean that you have no help?
Now’s a good time to mention that for the most part, RVers just about everywhere are incredibly kind and helpful. Too helpful, sometimes. (More about this in a future post.) I should also mention that despite the social distancing we were all practicing, I was only a Facebook message away from an amazing group of RVers who would have come by to help me at any point – and in fact, had already offered to do so.
Here’s why I did all of this alone anyway.
The odds are that at some point, I’m going to be boondocking in the middle of nowhere with no one to help me, and an AGA moment will rear its ugly head. So, what better time to practice resourcefulness than when I have the safety net of other people to assist if I get myself into a mess?
That’s why, after the sealant had dried for a few hours, I decided to test the waterproofness of my work by myself. Cue the kind of music you’d hear while watching sped-up film of Charlie Chaplin preparing the house for a fancy dinner guest or something.
This would have been much easier with one person outside with a hose, and another person inside checking for leaks. Instead, it was just me and some strategically placed paper towels. I wedged some at intervals underneath the slide (carefully, so they wouldn’t tear and catch in the mechanism) and along the wall. I figured any moisture on those bad boys would tell me if, and where, any leaks were still occurring.
I got up on the roof with a hose and sprayed down all my “fine” handiwork. (Sorry, Grand Design! It looked really great up here before my first attempt at using sealant.)
I climbed back down and inspected all of the paper towels inside. Bone dry. I felt pretty darn pleased with myself. I wouldn’t even need that tarp. (In fact, I’d decided not to use it anyway, as I seriously doubted my tarp tiedown skills would be able to withstand much wind at all, much less severe thunderstorm windspeeds.)
Now, I thought, I could get down to the business of cleaning up that mold. I’d already dried all of the water that I could get to, and now I could spend some quality time scrubbing down the mold and spraying mold prevention spray all over the place.
Except, when I went to clean under the bathroom sink, there was another puddle there. That’s when I realized what everyone else probably would have figured out a while back. The slideout hadn’t been leaking at all; the sink had.
It was back to the drawing board.
Luckily – and embarrassingly – for me, the leak under the sink turned out to be very easy to diagnose and fix. I used my handy dandy paper towels to determine how high up the wetness went up the pipe. Originally I’d seen water dripping from the U-bend in the bend that drains the sink, but in fact, it was the hot water line that was wet. I used this same roll of paper towels as a cushion for my shoulders so I could lie back underneath the sink and check the tightness of the fitting with just my hands.
Sure enough, the plastic piece that attaches the hot water hose to the faucet was loose. All I needed to do was to hand tighten it, and the leak was fixed. I wrapped a paper towel around that hose just to check my work. Days later, it’s still dry.
In the end, I fixed the leak! And some nonexistent issues, too.
What’s the moral of this story? Be a better diagnostician? Never get up on the roof unless you have to? Paper towels are a girl’s best friend?
Honestly, I think for me, it’s this: don’t call a mobile tech or take your RV in for service until you’ve exhausted your own DIY options. Someday I’ll tell you all about the time I paid $150 for a mobile tech to come out and install a $10 screen over my furnace vent …. But not today.
As I know this post makes painfully clear, I’m still learning about how to be any level of “handy” around the RV. But, a year ago, I probably wouldn’t have been confident enough to tackle something like finding and patching a leak myself.
That’s one of my favorite things about the RV lifestyle. Yes, there will always be those inevitable AGA moments, but often they show us that we’re capable of more than we think we are.
I can only hope that I continue to learn how to use those tools in my toolbox. That way, if I do end up boondocking in the middle of nowhere and encounter an issue, I’ll be able to misdiagnose it, fix something that isn’t wrong, realize later I’d been working on the wrong thing, and then fix the actual issue.
All on my own.
Sarah is currently hunkered down in central Tennessee and planning to travel as soon as COVID-19 allows. To get in touch, email firstname.lastname@example.org, find her on social media at @flourishwriting, or visit www.flourishwriting.com. Feel free to leave comments here as well.