I just saw a sign saying, “5% grade ahead”, with that picture of a truck sitting at a 45-degree angle pointing down. I thought that the descent started in Laramie? Crap! I am not ready!!! Within seconds, I go from 45 to 46, to 47 to 48 to 49 to 50mph. The truck is in tow/haul mode, but the engine is not holding back all of this weight. I am tapping my brakes. (Don’t burn up your brakes.) I am working the break controller. Work, work, working it… 51, 52, 53, 54mph. Things are not going well. I am gripping the steering wheel and tapping the brakes. Working the brake controller faster. It is screaming… 55, 56, 57, 58, 59, 60! My mind is racing with all of the available options, but my speed keeps increasing. None of the options are good, all that I can see is more mountain! I realize, that I am going to die! 60mph may not seem fast to most, but when you are careening down a mountain gaining speed at about 1mph/second with a massive curve ahead, this is a life or death situation. Especially when you are pulling a 38’ 5th wheel behind you.
This was my first big mountain and no matter who I asked beforehand, they all just said, “Don’t burn up your brakes.” They didn’t tell me HOW! Obviously, I lived to tell about it. I have even successfully crossed hundreds of mountains since then. I wanted to tell you what I learned, in hopes that you are not in the same dangerous situation.
- Know The Mountains – I like the Mountain Directory app. It’s not fancy, but it provides the locations and descriptions of over 700 mountain passes and steep grades in 22 states.
- Be Patient – Accept that you’re going to be driving slowly and don’t worry about other drivers. They can go around you if they don’t like it. Once you crest the mountain, you will only be going faster. Keep your climbing speed low (even as low as 30mph).
- Use Tow Haul Mode – Put your truck or RV in Tow/Haul mode before you even start going up the mountain. This uses different gear shifting to keep the engine in a more optimal range (I now leave my RV in Tow Haul Mode almost all the time). This allows you to use more engine braking and gives you room to increase your speed safely. If you start driving down the hill at a high speed and try to come down to a lower speed, you will be in the same predicament I was.
- Downshifting – If the RV doesn’t automatically downshift itself when going downhill, firmly press the brake to force the transmission to downshift. This will get the engine to do a lot of of the braking for you. When braking, press the pedal for just 15-20 seconds each time and allow time in between so you don’t destroy your brakes. If you’re white knuckling it, you’re probably not being safe!
- Enjoy The Drive – There’s nothing more amazing than the views from the top of a mountain. Take your time, relax, enjoy the drive and the beautiful scenery around you!
I learned that mountains are nothing to be afraid of – even in a gas Truck or RV. As long as you follow these 5 Simple Tips, you’ll be able reach your destination safely!