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Broken Down on the Road: My RV, Olga, Gets Sick

| Updated Jun 15, 2015

It’s 1:30 PM and I just settled into a lovely campground until I continue on tomorrow. I have the back doors open, looking out to a bear box, a bit of waterfall, and am listening to the rushing river. I’m at 7,000 feet just between Beartooth Pass and Yellowstone.

But let me start from the beginning.

My first Western Tanager!
My first Western Tanager!

After having the shop check all  of Olga's (my Roadtrek RS Adventurous, whose name means Old Ladies Get Around) engine fluids and balance her tires, I left Kansas City on May 30 and drove to Manhattan, Kansas, where I picked up some T-shirts I had made for some of my Roadtreking pals. First, I was headed to Colorado to visit my friends, Jim and Dawn, for two nights. I was due in Montana 10 days later, to teach a photo workshop in north Yellowstone country.

After I got the shirts, the engine coolant indicator lamp came on. So I pulled into a Napa and topped up the fluid. No problem, the light went out and I was on my way. I spent the night in Limon, Colorado, and next morning, started up the mountain, just past Manitou Springs. OOPS! Not only did the indicator lamp come back on, but so did the evil red danger thermometer!

Now, I’m not a car gal. I didn’t know that I should never have to top off coolant and that I probably had a leak. The hose is under pressure and when I started up the mountain, with my air-conditioning on, it was just too much for Olga. Kablooey.

I immediately pulled over to an emergency spot and put my hood up. My AT&T phone didn’t work on that three-mile stretch, so I got my IPad, which is Verizon (for this very reason- I usually get one or the other), and texted Dawn and Jim. I was only about seven miles from their home. HELP!

Jim and Dawn's place on the mountain top

While I waited for Jim, a (very handsome) state trooper pulled up and called a tow service for me. This was a good thing, as it was Sunday and NOTHING was open! A tow guy had to come in on his day off. Jim showed up and kept me company on the side of the busy highway.

An hour and a half later, tow truck. YAY! He lifted Olga's front end, disconnected her drive train and off we went, back down all the way to Colorado Springs to a Firestone shop. Easy 20-minute fix for a hose, right?

Not so. As the tow driver pulled up the curb into the mall parking lot, he bottomed out poor Olga and tore a hole in her oil pan. Oil everywhere. Poor tow guy was almost in tears.

Houston, we have a problem.

Firestone can’t fix this so tow guy says he’ll drop it at the Mercedes dealer and we can go in tomorrow, Monday, when they open and the tow company will pay for everything.


I get all my stuff out of the van, dog food and such, and Jim takes me up to his place, which is lovely. Dawn, Jim and I enjoy a great evening. Next morning, we are up early and Jim drives us back to Colorado Springs to the Mercedes dealer. I walk in and ask the service guy what the status is on my van.

He says, “What van? We have no such vehicle here.”

Delicious breakfast burritos
Delicious breakfast burritos

In that moment, I know my rig had been chopped and shopped and I’d be haggling with the police, insurance and car rental agency. Olga and I will never travel together again.

After a couple of calls, Mr. Nice Service Guy said my rig was still at the tow company lot, because this Mercedes dealer didn’t service Sprinter vans. That would be up in Denver.  I wish tow guy had called to let me know, but okay, it wasn’t stolen. Whew.

Well, the long and the short of it, tow company had a small service area with lifts and pretty decent mechanics. They ordered a new oil pan and had it shipped to Denver (why not to Colorado Springs is a mystery) and they fixed the whole kit and caboodle after about four days of waiting for parts to arrive and glue to set._MG_7490

In the meantime, Jim and Dawn were exceedingly gracious hosts and I had a wonderful time. They took me all over the area, we had a great hike and I got to photograph the cute foxes that appear on their patio every day. A fabulous visit, even if it was a bit longer than we’d planned.

So from now on, my plan is to break down near friends, not too far from services and in gorgeous country.

Jim tried to get rid of me by taking me on my first hike of the trip at 11,ooo feet!  But the view was so great, I forgave him!
Jim tried to get rid of me by taking me on my first hike of the trip at 11,ooo feet! But the view was so great, I forgave him!
Jim and Ruka at Lake George
Jim and Ruka at Lake George

When I do these trips, I have to expect the unexpected, and roll with it. It’s all part of the adventure. And sometimes, the bad isn’t so bad after all!

More later. Now it’s time to grab the bear spray and check out the falls.

Mike Wendland

Published on 2015-06-15

Mike Wendland is a multiple Emmy-award-winning Journalist, Podcaster, YouTuber, and Blogger, who has traveled with his wife, Jennifer, all over North America in an RV, sharing adventures and reviewing RV, Camping, Outdoor, Travel and Tech Gear for the past 12 years. They are leading industry experts in RV living and have written 18 travel books.

4 Responses to “Broken Down on the Road: My RV, Olga, Gets Sick”

June 22, 2015at8:33 am, Walt Huemmer said:

What was the final story on the coolant? Was it just the hose?

Good luck

June 17, 2015at6:18 pm, Peter said:

The way you handled such a stressful situation is amazing; you’re an example to the rest of us!
And what about the coolant issue? Was that just a simple leak or worse?

June 15, 2015at2:41 pm, ErikBoles said:

I live in Colorado Springs and know the owners of Randy’s towing personally. Bummed you had a bad experience with them but they really are very gracious people and always want the best for everyone. Glad you got “stuck” here longer than you planned, it is am amazingly beautiful place. Safe Travels Laura.

June 15, 2015at10:07 am, Roger Bohnke said:

What a wonderful, refreshing attitude you have about all this Laura! I’m not sure I would’ve handled it so well especially when the oil pan incident happened. Looking forward to getting our Roadtrek though and developing/refining some of that “roll with it” attitude you’re so good at.

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