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amarie1

Crossing the rockies for the first time, advice?

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I'm planning on doing a "simple" direct drive from Chicago to Oakland, leaving in 10 days, down I-80. Mainly going to see my daughter who lives in Oakland. Just one or two-night stopovers on the way. On the way back I might sight see.

I'm driving solo, my first rig, my first major trip, a 2017 31' Thor FE gasser. Me and 2 doggos. Not towing anything.

My question: I have to pass over the Rockies, right? How white-knuckle of a drive is that? Any recommendations for routes?

thanks!

AM

amarie1
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     MARIE: The route from Chicago to Oakland over I-80 is virtually all straight and relatively flat crossing the Rockies. You should experience no "white knuckle" moments.  Where you will experience mountainous climbs is over the Sierra's, west of Reno, Nevada. The climb over Donner's Pass takes you through some of the most breathtaking forested mountains you will experience anywhere. Stop and enjoy Lake Tahoe, certainly one of God's most beautiful gifts. Going over the Sierra's,  gear down and maintain a speed where you can keep your foot off the brakes. Enjoy!

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1 minute ago, Orvil Hazelton said:

The climb over Donner's Pass takes you through some of the most breathtaking forested mountains you will experience anywhere.

And don't even think about the fate of the original Donner Party!  😄

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Standard truckers route. Max grade 6%, except once in a while maybe 7/8% for a short distance.  Not a winter drive. From October through April  is winter in the mountains. I80 was closed early June 2020 due to snow.

Figure 5days to drive without beating yourself to death.  You will find that driving ,8_9 hours a day is very rough on a body not used to that.  Good news is that when you get rid of the Denver bound drivers in western Nebraska you are on easy street until western Nevada. 

Enjoy 

Bill

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Truly the scenery is spectacular, but the grades and need for caution start in Cheyenne. The grade from Wyoming down to Salt Lake City is particularly winding and quite long, but truly spectacular. Also, one needs to be cautious crossing the plains, as the wind can come up and be quite challenging. Jay

Edited by Jaydrvr
Grammar

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Thanks everyone. I'm embarrassed to say that I've never understood when/how you use D2 D3 and so on, not in my cars let alone the RV. Is that what you mean by "gear down"? Would "D" be the highest gear, then D3 one below that, and D2 lower? (I don't have the shifter here in front of me lol so I'm trying to remember.) If you know of a video that explains this (esp for RVers) that'd be great.

AND/OR should I put it into tow/haul mode, even though I'm not towing anything? It's just a button that I press in at the end of the auto trans shifter. I've heard that's a good way to drive in hilly areas.

I'm planning on 7-10 days to make the trip, driving about 6 hours a day.I'm not sure how I handle making overnight reservations in advance if some days I'm able to do 8 hours and others only 3 or 4. But perhaps that's for another thread 😉

AM

Edited by amarie1

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It's an easy drive (if you can stand all the semis you'll encounter).  The first 'issue' will be Parley's Summit on I-80 east of Salt Lake City, UT at MP 140.  Westbound descent has brake check sign "3-6% grades next 10 miles; truck escape ramp left lane 3.5 mi.".  The first 6 mi. are steady 6% grade then 3 mi. of 6% after the escape ramp.

Get into lower gear before going down any 'hill' and you won't have to use your brakes as much.

In Nevada you'll have Emigrant Summit about 9 mi. west of Carlin at MP 271. Westbound is 3 mi. of 3-5% grade.

Then you'll have Donner Pass, CA; 27 mi. west of the Calif/Nevada state line.  Westbound: A sign stating "40 miles of downgrade"... yes, 40!! ... ending around Auburn, CA.  There are 33 truck advisory signs; 2 runaway truck ramps; the grade is 5%.  This is where you'll definitely need to be in low gear and pull over to cool your brakes and take a breather.

I got these stats from the 'Mountain Directory for Truckers & RVers' - highly recommend!!   Have a good visit!!!

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1 hour ago, amarie1 said:

I'm embarrassed to say that I've never understood when/how you use D2 D3 and so on, not in my cars let alone the RV. Is that what you mean by "gear down"? Would "D" be the highest gear, then D3 one below that, and D2 lower?

Having driven that route many times, let me say that Bill w/bus give you by far the best description. Since you have no mountain driving experience, you will get some practice as you go because the first grade that you will come to is Sherman Hill between Cheyenne and Laramie, WY. While it is a climb that you will notice some need for extra power/fuel, the uphill side going westbound is very gradual with no problem curves. At the top you will then start down and I strongly suggest you downshift before you start, since you lack experience and do not know the road. What you have is D that is drive where the transmission shifts up for you automatically, D2 which locks it into second gear and D1 that locks it into first gear and thus the slowest. Experienced mountain drivers do not downshift for this grade, but as it will be your first taste of mountain driving, I suggest that you do so. You can easily shift up if you wish but shifting down is more difficult when going down a grade. (That can be done by braking hard first to slow the RV, then move the shiftier) With that short experience behind you, relax and then move to what 2gypsies has posted. 

The grade that starts at mile post 140 on I-80 is not only steeper but also somewhat more crooked. It is all 4 lane, divided highway and is not a really slow grade but it is steep enough and long enough that you do not want to use your brakes excessively so again, gear down before you start down. Like the previous one, you will have very little problem on the approach as it is quite gradual while the downhill side is the steeper part. The climb will not be a challenger but the run down will be. Also like the first one, the run down will be through a canyon and not along a steep cliff. 

None of the grades along this route are considered to be challenging mountain roads like you would deal with if you were touring the mountains, but they are serious grades and as with all steep grades, it is better to start slow and then if need be, up-shift. Donner Pass will be the most challenging part of the trip and you will climb more as you approach but again the downhill run will be far longer than the climb up. What you need to realize is that as you travel across western Nebraska and eastern Wyoming, you will climb from some 3000' in elevation at Sidney Ne. to 6000' in Cheyenne, 100 miles farther west. The pass between Cheyenne and Laramie is 8000' and drops to around 7000 between Laramie and mile post 140. The road then falls from 7,100' to 4,200' in about 8 miles, so take it easy and gear down. 

Once that is behind you it should give you enough practical experience to deal with Donner Pass. As you travel west you will slowly gain altitude again, then lose it before reaching Reno which is at 4,500' and the top of Donner Pass is just over 7,000', so the approach this time will be much more of a mountain driving experience. You will then loose some 1200' by the town of Truckee(5800') and then 56 miles later you will arrive at Auburn, CA which is at 1200'. By this time you will be an experienced driver of mountain driving on major highways. All of this route is interstate, 4 lane or more, divided highway so you do need to be careful and keep to a speed that you are comfortable with, but it is not overly difficult, as long as you take your time and stay calm. If things start to get to you, pull off of the road and take a break as this is scenic country so there is no rush. Just get well clear of the roadway when you stop and watch for scenic turn-outs and take time to stop at them. 

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If your chassis is a Ford you should have a 6 speed Torqshift automatic?  In my gas F-350 you can use Tow/Haul and also there is a "manual" mode that allows you to select speeds with a toggle switch on the shift lever.  You can manually select a speed and the trans holds that gear - it works quite well on downgrades - to hold at around 3500 - 4000 rpm without excessive riding the brakes. It's hard to explain all the options available in a forum post...

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If you do feel a need to brake going down a grade, push HARD for a short distance then let up. Do not push gently on the brake when going down a grade. That's how you burn up your brakes. Then you need the runaway ramp to stop you. Do NOT take a runaway ramp unless you truly need it. It's designed for a truck to sink into the loose gravel which then means needing to be towed out.

Linda

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5 hours ago, 2gypsies said:

The first 'issue' will be Parley's Summit on I-80 east of Salt Lake City, UT at MP 140.  Westbound descent has brake check sign "3-6% grades next 10 miles; truck escape ramp left lane 3.5 mi.".  The first 6 mi. are steady 6% grade then 3 mi. of 6% after the escape ramp.

 

Check out the westbound I-84 route from Echo... to US-89... to I-15 Southbound... on to I-80 westbound (West of SLC)   This avoids Parley's Summit.   I-84 tracks in a river valley (Weber river), has no significant grades, and is just a gradual drop in altitude going East-to-West.   I doubt you would even need to downshift going West.

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1 minute ago, amarie1 said:

I will check that out!

The down side of doing that is that it will take somewhat longer and will allow you to arrive at Donner Pass with significantly less practice. The crossing of Donner Pass and the mountains to it's west will be the most challenging part of the trip. There is no easy way to avoid that part. 

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9 hours ago, sandsys said:

If you do feel a need to brake going down a grade, push HARD for a short distance then let up. Do not push gently on the brake when going down a grade. That's how you burn up your brakes. 

Linda

Good advice !

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Thanks, all great information.

I did find a video that explained the downshifting and when/how to do it.  I cued it up to when the info starts, 6:35 in.

His tach is going up to 3800/4000 when he's descending in D2. That's okay? I have a Ford E450, 2017 (Thor FE29) Looking for a ford manual ... (bought this used a month ago) ...

 

AM

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The 2017 Ford has a very effective Tow/Haul mode on the transmission that will do a good job of controlling your speed on downhill grades.  It is selected with a button on the end of the shifter, and frankly you should use it the entire time you are driving, mountains or not.  To make it work well on a steep downgrade brake firmly to "engage" a lower gear.  Do this at the beginning of the downhill grade. If the speed starts to build press firmly once again to both slow the rig and (often) engage an even lower gear.  As stated above, don't ride the brakes.  If used correctly the tow/haul mode will minimize or even eliminate the need to use the service brakes on long, steep grades.  You shouldn't need to worry with manually selecting gears as the RV will handle this automatically. 

Also, your gasoline engine is will turn pretty high rpm's on these downhill grades, as that offers the most effective engine braking. So don't worry if you see 4000 or even 5000  on the tachometer.  The computers will not allow the engine to over-rev or damage itself.  

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Mark/Teri,

Okay thank you for that. Excellent info. So you're saying turn on Tow/Haul mode all the time? Even on the flat plains of nebraska and not towing anything? FWIW the seller told me he usually drove with it on "all the time". 

Is there a chance that this mode will slow me down too much on the ascent, like not let the engine get past 20 miles an hour or something? Or that's not how it works. 

I understand that at the peak, I should be going slow, like 40 mph. Then on the descent, the tow/haul mode will keep me there for the most part, while I occasionally brake firmly as you suggest. This "braking firmly" is telling Tow/Haul to go into D2 and D1? Or might I also need to manually shift to D2 and D1 even while tow/haul is on?

-AM

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13 hours ago, Jim & Alice said:

Check out the westbound I-84 route from Echo... to US-89... to I-15 Southbound... on to I-80 westbound (West of SLC)   This avoids Parley's Summit.   I-84 tracks in a river valley (Weber river), has no significant grades, and is just a gradual drop in altitude going East-to-West.   I doubt you would even need to downshift going West.

I'm confused by I-84.  She's not driving from the north. She's coming across on I-80.  Where is Echo?

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With a motorhome like you have, yes, I would leave it on all of the time.  We have an F-350 truck, and when we are not towing we don't use the tow/haul mode as we are relatively light at that point. But you are essentially towing all of the time, and the weight of your rig (with or without a toad) is quite high. So there is no reason not to use tow/haul mode. On flat ground feel free to try it on or off, but you'll likely not notice the difference.  However, even on flat ground the tow/haul mode will help decelerate the vehicle when you use the brakes, and I'll take all of the help I can get!!

It mainly does two things:  1. It changes the shift points on the transmission a little based on the fact that you are loaded up to a relatively high weight. You won't likely notice this.  2. It engages the engine braking aspect of things that I mentioned above, and helps control speeds especially on a steep down grade. This you most definitely will notice, and that is a good thing. 

It will only help you on an ascent as it will delay upshifts and keep the engine in a better rpm range as you climb.  It has no effect at all on maximum speed. 

It is a good idea the have your speed under control as you crest a hill, as you don't want to be trying to slow down a bunch as you head down. Braking firmly lets the trucks computers know that you want to slow down, and signals it to change gears as necessary.  If you don't brake it will assume that you are happy with the speed it is in.  I find a good, deliberate, firm application of the brakes will immediately cause a downshift and you'll feel it. If you are still too fast or gaining speed, do it again and it will likely downshift one more time. I've never found the need to manually shift, and recommend that you let the truck handle the shifting. 

One thing that I will note is that after a decent, the tow/haul mode will tend to "hang on" to the lower gear much longer than it needs to. Not a bad thing, but you'll wonder why it hasn't shifted back into a higher gear. It seems like it thinks there is another steep decent just ahead!  When back on flat ground, I often toggle the tow/haul button off/on to "reset" the system.

Edited by mptjelgin

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I also note that in the video you reference, he says to "take it out of overdrive, which is tow/haul mode on newer vehicles".  He is completely incorrect and please don't follow this advice. 

Tow/haul mode on the "newer vehicles" (since at least 2010 for Ford) is very different than overdrive, and includes the descent speed control feature that I've described above.  Taking it out of tow/haul mode disables that feature and leaves it all up to you.  Also, you have a  6-speed transmission in your 2017 RV.  You will very likely be able to descend grades in 5th, 4th or 3rd gear.  I wouldn't recommend jamming it manually into D2 or D1 as that is completely unnecessary.  Just let the truck do its thing. 

I imagine that this is all sounding very daunting, but the RV will handle things well.  Just remember to have your speed down at the top, keep it in Tow/Haul, and use firm brake applications to force downshifts and scrub off speed if you notice it increasing. You will be an old hand in no time!

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This information is PRICELESS. Mark and Teri, thank you so much! I'm feeling far less anxious now.

 

AM

Edited by amarie1

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(So, I'd see a "tow/haul" button even on a regular 450 pickup truck? I thought it was there specifically for towing a toad or trailer on the RV.)

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All Ford Superduty Trucks since 2010 (maybe a little earlier, but I had a 2010, and now a 2019) have Tow/Haul mode.  Many of us tow large trailers (mine is about 15,000 pounds) with our trucks so we appreciate the feature.

I know some folks who drive their unloaded trucks in tow/haul mode because they like the way it helps with braking, but I find the deceleration to be a bit abrupt when unloaded so I don't. But I use it 100% of the time when hooked up.  Wouldn't be without it!

 

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