I was vaguely aware that hitching a trailer to the tow vehicle was more work than I wanted to do, but I really had no idea what I was getting into when I agreed to trade vanlife for a tongue-pull RV.
When we arrived at Rockhound State Park on Monday to take advantage of our New Mexico State Parks annual camping pass, The Man backed the travel trailer onto site 28 and unhooked it from the truck. I was inside cooking dinner while he went through the separation process, so I had no idea what was involved.
On Saturday the indicator told us our black and grey water tanks were ⅔ full (That happened fast! The Man and I told each other), so we figured we should do our first dump. The Man also wanted to take the trailer to a truck stop to have it weighed. Of course, the trailer had to be hitched to the truck before we could go.
I thought The Man would take care of the hitching. After all, he’d driven the truck towing the trailer, backed it on to the campsite, and uncoupled the trailer from the truck. I thought the trailer hitch was his domain. However, he opened the front door, stuck his head in, and requested my help.
What he wanted to do seemed impossible. He wanted to position our enormous pickup truck just so in order to line up the ball on the back with the hitch on the front of the trailer. How was that ever going to work? It doesn’t help that I’m terrible at backing up a vehicle and worse at directing someone else in backing. I never know which way the steering wheel should be turned or when to straighten the wheels. I hate it when someone asks me to guide them. When I am able to do my own backing, I’m acting more intuitively than consciously. How am I supposed to tell anyone else how to back up when I can’t even verbalize the process to myself?
The Man’s been driving about two decades longer than I have; he started in his teens, while I started in my 30s. He’s also had a lot more experience hitching trailers, hauling trailers, and guiding other drivers in backing into the spot where they need to be. Often, especially in high stress situations, The Man has difficulty putting his thoughts into words. During the hitching of the trailer, all of these factors came together to create a situation of comic proportions, only none of it was funny in the moment.
I’m going to back the truck up until the ball is under the hitch, he told me. Tell me when I’m all lined up, he said as he hopped into the truck.
Ok. It all looked lined up to me, so I told him to come on back. I didn’t tell him to stop until the ball was under the hitch. When he got out of the truck to assess the situation, he was not happy. He hadn’t expected me to have him come all the way back in one fell swoop.
I could have fucked up everything, he said, but I pointed out everything was ok because he’s stopped when I told him to.
He just shook his head at me.
While the ball was under the hitch, it was two inches too far to the right. The Man explained he was going to pull the truck forward and my job was to look at the ball on the back of the truck, then direct him in moving the truck an inch or two to the left until the ball and hitch lined up perfectly for connection.
I think I laughed. First of all, looking at the ball and hitch and determining if they were aligned seemed impossible to me. I’m the roommate who can’t tell if a picture is hanging crooked on the wall. If someone asks me if a picture is straight, all I can offer is a shrug. Who knows? Maybe? It looks ok to me. Sure, I could tell if backing up the truck would bring the ball into the general proximity of the hitch, but how would I know if the ball was directly under the hitch until the two objects were within inches of each other? The Man seemed to think I should be able to determine alignment from a distance.
Secondly, being able to give directions in how to move the giant truck two inches seemed preposterous. Is it even possible to get something so big to move only two inches? The Man seemed to think it was.
The situation we found ourselves in consisted of him barely turning the steering wheel, then backing up slowly while holding his door open and turning his upper body around to see where he was going while I made sure he didn’t crash the truck into the trailer. At one point he jumped from the truck and stomped to the back while lamenting, I have no help! I guess he meant my help was no help at all.
Again, all of this might have been funny had it been happening on television or the big screen. (I’ve always thought Janeane Garofalo should play me in the biopic about my life.) However, since we were actually experiencing the chaos, neither of us was laughing.
At one point I complained that in the 21st century there should be a device to tell us when the ball and hitch are perfectly aligned. I figured it would use lasers and a female voice (much like that of the Google Maps lady in my last phone) would instruct the driver one inch to the left or two inches to the right. This is technology I would pay for!
Apparently, some ball/hitch alignment technology does exist, although it’s not quite like I imagined. In the article “Trailer Hitch Alignment Products: Do They Really Work? Which Ones Are Best?” on the Do-It-Yourself RV website, author Artie Beaty describes and rates four hitch alignment products.
One (the Gooseneck Easy Coupler Hitch Hook-up Mirror) is (as the name suggests) a mirror for a fifth wheel trailer that “provides a clear line of sight straight down to your hitch.”
Two of the products (the Camco Magnetic Hitch Alignment Kit and the Never Miss Hitch System from Uncle Norm’s Marine Products) make use of poles or posts that attach to the trailer and tow vehicle and stand high enough for the driver to see. When the poles are aligned, the ball and hitch are aligned too.
The final product mentioned in the article is the Hopkins Smart Hitch Camera, and it’s a bit more like the technologically advanced system I’d imagined (although no voice guide is included). In this system, “a camera attached to your hitch gives you a live view in the driver’s seat [via a computer screen] to help guide your hitch in.” This system “has three different ‘SmartZones’ displayed on the screen to alert you to how far away things are.”
When I showed The Man the devices I found while researching this post, he wasn’t impressed. First he said he would make his own components to do the same job. Then he changed his mind and said he didn’t need any alignment product. He was confident all he needed was practice. I think we should make our lives easier if we can afford to, but he’s confident we can do it on our own.
I have no plans to ever hitch and haul that trailer on my own. If something happened to The Man tomorrow, I’d want to go back to vanlife. However, if I had to hitch the trailer by myself, I would certainly get myself some assistance via one of the pole products. I’d have a difficult enough time backing up the truck. So why not get some help with the alignment of the ball and hitch?
We finally did get the trailer hitched, thanks much more to The Man’s abilities than to my own. At one point the ball and hitch were about three feet apart, but he looked at them and said yes, they were lined up. When he backed the truck into position, sure enough the ball slid right under the hitch socket.
Once the ball and hitch were attached, we went through other steps: attaching the components of the sway control system, removing chocks from under wheels, disconnecting the water and electricity, and making sure all windows and vents were closed. The Man was beyond frustrated, and I was practically in tears. I wished we never had to hitch that damn trailer again.
I you have experience hitching a travel trailer, I’d love to know your tips and tricks. Please leave a comment!
I took the photo used in this post.