90,000 Miles to Me

20,363 Miles • Why Keep Weight as Low as Possible, OR How I Almost, but Didn’t, Tip the Van

Heading southbound on highway 97, just south of La Pine, Oregon, I only saw the turnout coming when I was almost there, and knew I would miss it, but not by much, so I could pull over and back into the turnout along the side of the highway. Which I did, safely, but in the rear view mirror it looked like I was at the turnout when it was in reality showing me a few feet beyond my wheels, and those few feet turned out to be an important few feet. Rather than backing up in a graceful turn onto the gravel turnout, I slid partway down the very loose gravel edge of the turnout and ended up at a very steep angle. 

Getting out to inspect my situation turned out to be a challenge, as the driver door is very heavy and I had to push it more up than out and then not get trapped under it as I slid/jumped out and it tried to fall back on me. But I was afraid to move my weight to the passenger side and get out there.

Well, the van was at a dangerous angle and I was very glad I had not gone out the other way. I climbed back in and tried to drive back and forth to get some grip under the tires, like in the snow, but that just dug me in deeper.  

Two people pulled over at this point and offered to help, including one with a pickup truck, but we all looked at it and agreed it would take a much heaver truck to pull me out of there. So I called AAA.

As I was waiting, a total of nine people stopped to help, including a couple in cars who wanted to check if I was all right or needed anything. Awww, the kindness of strangers. Thanks, everyone!

I had pulled over originally to have some lunch, and though I was hungry and doing nothing but waiting for the tow truck, I was hesitant to walk around in the back to get food. A short trial of this, even keeping my weight as far as possible on the upper end, caused the van to teeter slightly and I slowly and carefully moved back to the cab and sat leaning against the upper door. 

When the tow truck arrived, Trevor, witness to my embarrassment, was very kind and positioned his truck right in front of mine so he could pull it straight forward and onto the highway. He had to dig out the lower front tire with a shovel to reach the axel to hook his tow hook on it, but he got it secured.

I was a little anxious about releasing the parking brake and putting the van in neutral, but, frankly, the only direction it would be going on its own at that point would be to the side, not forward or back. 

He didn’t have to pull the van onto the truck bed, just chain it to the truck and carefully drive forward.

The van pulled easily at first, then started teetering and the driver side wheels started rising up in the air, so we stopped and I wrenched open the top door and stood in the doorway, leaning my weight and the door’s weight as far over as possible, while keeping the wheel pointed in the right direction as Trevor slowly pulled me forward.

Once we got both front wheels over the hump of the road’s edge, it was pretty easy, and as the van gained level footing I slid into the seat and could steer again to straighten out on the side of the highway. Trevor unhooked the van and I was good to go. 

Altogether, I was only on that bit of highway for about 45 minutes. I’ve waited longer for AAA to come unlock my car in a city, and here I was on a random stretch of highway, 15 minutes south of the nearest small town. I call that great service!

My takeaways from the experience:

  1. Make sure I know what I’m backing up onto before moving.
  2. Renew my AAA membership next month.
  3. There are helpful, selfless people in this world who are willing to offer assistance.
  4. Keep the van packed with the center of gravity as low as possible. 

By the way, this last one was not just a happy accident. I had thought long and hard about putting some shelves along the top edges of the van, as is so common in RVs and many van dwelling setups, and would be good use of storage space, but my high school physics classes kept nagging at me as well as a couple random comments from van dwellers on Reddit to keep the weight low. I kept picturing that if something were to happen, an accident, a rollover, whatever, that I would be in a much worse situation with weight high up.

So I very intentionally built the weight to be low and evenly distributed from left to right and front to back. That last part was because of some fishtailing vehicle videos I saw on YouTube. I didn’t want that to happen, either.

In the last year and a half, I have sometimes wondered if I was making a big deal out of nothing, but today it paid off. If I had had any more weight any higher up, the van would certainly have tipped. But it didn’t. And the only thing that even came out of place was a nectarine that bounced out of the fruit basket and rolled down the floor. 

So, it all worked out well in the end. And thank you to Trevor and all the people who stopped to check on me. 

A few miles down the road, I pulled over in a tiny town with level ground and finally had lunch. 

* * *

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