The drive out of Death Valley was supposed to be easy. I had made a plan ahead of time so there weren't any problems. The whole reason for the RV park was so we could hit the high elevation climb early and in low temps. With Shirley left unhooked we headed southwest into the hills. Starting at sea level Roo had to climb to 5,000 ft in order to escape the grip of Death Valley. She plunked along the fairly steady climb for 20 miles. Towards the end she was only doing 25mph in second gear. No big deal though, engine temps were under control and we've got nothing but time. We reached the summit and saw a place to pull over. Shirley gets hitched onto the back and we pull back out onto the road. Then just a 1/2 further I see the sign for the downhill portion. It's warning me that the next 7 miles is a 9% grade downhill. That's pretty damn steep. Katie asks if we should pull over and unhook Shirley. Brimming with confidence I say "Not a problem. The brakes on this RV are made for semis. Besides, the jeep brakes will be working too" (Shirley has a brake contraption that slows it down with the RV). I manually shift Roo down into the lowest gear I can and flip on the engine brake. Down the hill we go and the speed starts to gain quickly.
Stab brakes, release too let cool, repeat. Here's the problem. Typically on steep downhill grades you can still drive 50-60 mph. That helps cool the brakes and the wind resistance helps keep speed under control. This road is all switchbacks and we've got to keep it around 30 mph. Stab brakes, release too let cool, repeat. We're almost 4 miles into the downhill section. Stab brakes..... oh shit. OH SHIT! The brakes are soft. I can feel they are starting to fade. We have to pull over. We have to pull over now. Scanning the side of the road I found a spot that was good enough. I heave the brake pedal to the floor and swing into the gravel shoulder hoping it's hard packed enough to hold the weight. It doesn't matter. We don't have a choice. Roo slowly comes to a halt. I set the parking brake. OH SHIT. It won't hold. The RV is slowing moving forward. The wheel gets cranked to the right just enough to face uphill in the ditch. That made the RV stop moving and I make Katie hold the brake pedal as hard as she can.
I fling the door open and run outside. The brakes are smoking at all four corners. Not good. This is how RV's start on fire. Reaching inside the door I grab the fire extinguisher and run to each corner. No flames yet. I bolt into the ditch and pick up the biggest rocks I can to start chocking the wheels. After that it's back into the RV. I kick Katie out and take the parking brake off. Why off? Because the amount of heat will kill the brake pads if it stays engaged. We still have 3 miles to go. Roo doesn't move. Oh thank you baby Jesus.
We wait out the faded brakes for a half hour until they are cool enough the parking brake can go back on. Katie opts to stay behind and I climb into Shirley to scope out the rest of the road. We still have 3 miles of downhill to go and I want to see what's coming up. Luckily it turned out to be only 1 more mile of twists and turns, then 2 miles of 5% straightness. I get back and we head out. The only thing on my mind.... don't smoke the brakes and flip the RV at 70 mph off a cliff.
With fingers crossed we drop to the bottom of the hill without any more excitement. That was, without a doubt, the scariest thing that has ever happened to me while driving.
Time to keep moving. Luckily for us, life goes on. The town of Ballarat is only 30 miles down the road. A cool old ghost town with a couple people running the joint. That's plenty of time to let the brakes finish cooling off and to compose my frazzled nerves. This was on my list of things to see because of my addiction to TOP GEAR. This place was in one of their shows.
With Ballarat behind us we head for Ridgecrest. Wal-Mart fills the RV back up with supplies and we head off to our next parking destination. Spangler Hills OHV ground is 57,000 acres of public land. Here you can camp for 14 days at a time. Sounds like a good place to call home.
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I'm just a guy, with a wife, a dog, and three cats. Watch us travel the country.
Months of travel