Jul 212010

As I wrote in yesterday’s blog, I was a bit apprehensive about tackling the steep downgrades along Interstate 70 as we headed toward Denver. The exhaust brake on our Winnebago diesel pusher just doesn’t have the same effect as the Jake brake did on our MCI bus conversion.

Dennis Hill from the RV Driving School e-mailed me to say “Keep the RPM’s high, no matter what gear you are in. The exhaust brake works best at high RPM’s. Shift down often – the transmission won’t let you go into too low of a gear.  Apply the brakes very firmly and slow down at least 5 MPH when you use them.”

I followed Dennis’ advice, and we had no trouble at all. The mistake I was making in the past was expecting the exhaust brake to give me good braking power at about 1500 to 1600 RPMs. By downshifting and keeping the RPMs up to about 2200 – 2300, I saw a tremendous difference in efficiency. Thanks, Dennis! Even an old dog can learn a new trick now and then!

We pulled out of River Dance RV Resort in Gypsum, Colorado a little after 9 a.m. and headed east, passing lots more beautiful Rocky Mountain scenery all the way.

Interstate 70 downhill eastbound 3

Interstate 70 downhill 6

How would you like to have this for a view every day?

Vail mountainside

Vail mountainside 3

By the time we reached the summit of Vail Pass, at over 10,600 feet, our Cummins turbo diesel was working hard, and about all I could get out of it was 40 miles per hour.

Vail Pass Summit sign

Then we began the downhill run.

Interstate 70 downhill

Some sections weren’t too bad, but others really made the exhaust brake work.

Interstate 70 downhill 7

Interstate 70 downhill 2

All too soon we were climbing up again, to Eisenhower Tunnel, at 11,158 feet high. The tunnel was long, but well lit and easy driving.

Eisenhower Tunnel

We passed more great scenery, including these old mining buildings.

Mining buildings

The worst of the downhill run was between Eisenhower Tunnel and Denver, and the closer we got to the big city, the steeper the downgrades got. They have lots of signs warning truckers not to get careless.

Truck brakes warning sign

Truck low gear sign

Truck dont be fooled sign

truck winding grade sign

truck not down yet

We even passed through another tunnel somewhere along the way!


There are not a lot of places to get diesel along Interstate 70 in Colorado, especially when you are driving a 40 foot motorhome, towing an extended length cargo van. By the time we got to Downieville, at Exit 234, we were getting really low, and when I saw a small truck stop on the north side of the highway, I stopped and filled the tank.

We passed Lookout Mountain and Buffalo Bill’s grave, which we covered in one of our earliest issues of the Gypsy Journal, and soon we were hitting a lot of traffic as we entered the Denver metropolitan area. We got onto Interstate 76 and scooted around the northeast side of the city, and soon came out into agricultural fields.

Eastern Colorado plains 3

It is amazing, that coming into Denver from the west, we were crawling down steep mountain grades, and less than 30 miles east of the city, we were out on the open plains, with few trees, and mostly flat terrain.

Interstate 76 had some rough patches, but we rolled along, making good time, and eventually crossed into Nebraska, where the highway ended at Interstate 80. Another 75 miles or so east brought us to North Platte, where we pulled into the Flying J about 5:30 local time.

We topped off our tank, had a less then mediocre meal at the restaurant, and  parked for the night. We covered 391 miles, and we still have about 560 miles to go, to get to Forest City, Iowa. We’ll make that easily by sometime Thursday, so we can get our name on the list for a service spot at the Winnebago factory. It’s worth pushing to get there, and then be able to get our work done, before we continue on to Michigan for Terry’s annual medical appointments.

Thought For The Day – Give a person a fish and you feed them for a day. Teach a person to use the Internet, and they’ll forward junk e-mail to you forever.

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Nick Russell

World-Famous, New York Times Best Selling Author, and All-Around Nice Guy!

  9 Responses to “A Long Downhill Ride”

  1. Ah, the Wisdom of Professor Dennis Hill! What a guy!

  2. Nick,

    We recently did 12 miles of 8% grades in Wyoming that were filled with switchbacks and more twists than a belly dancer’s routine. It is not for the faint-of-heart. Well, maybe the belly dancer would be.

    Glad you made it okay.

  3. Travel safe Nick,,I still read you every morning… I used to live in Denver and skied Vail as often as I could. Enjoyed the powder shiing of the back bowls… Thanks for the memories…..

  4. The worst downgrades I ever drove were on Highway 99 near Lilloet, in Western Canada…38′ diesel pusher towing a Jeep Cherokee and up to 15% downgrades. The exhaust brake worked great…we stayed in 1st gear all the way down.

  5. Awesome pictures again today. Miss Terry has quite the knack taking pictures while you’re on the road.

    If when you get to Forest City and can’t snag one of the free spots at Winnebago awaiting your turn, there is a nice city park we stayed in ’05- Pammell RV Park (50 amps, back-in, sewer dump on the way out if I recall) which was $15/nite then.

    L & L

  6. Great pictures as always, my mom use to call this area God’s Country. The worst grade we ever drove was a 19% in Branson Missouri, we had just a chug from our Winnebago with tow car. When we reached the RV park they told us a different route so we could avoid it when we left, the grade then was only 12%. Hope to see you Thursday when you arrive at Forest City. Pammel Park has 41 sites and they are in good condition. It is still $15 and the have 50 amp electric.

  7. Pammel Park has a whole row of free dump stations with potable water at each. You still might have to wait in line for all the people arriving for the WIT GNR who want to go in ready for a week of only electrical hookups.

    For me the hardest part of Forest City is that the Winnebago service department starts work at 7:00 AM! And they want you at their door then! They have a nice customer lounge but it doesn’t include cots for napping. Lucky you can nap in your van. 🙂

  8. That really is a cool piece of road. The last time we did it, it was snowing up at the tunnel and all the way down to Golden. We intended to unhook the toad and drive separately, but waited too long and couldn’t find a place to get off the road. Fun stuff!
    Odie doesn’t like snow. Runs in the family.

  9. Boy, did this bring back memories. It was early May when we were at Vail pass and I have pictures of it snowing so hard we could barely see the oncoming traffic. By the time we got through the Einsenhower tunnel it was getting foggy so we didn’t see any of those scary signs for the truckers. Fog didn’t lift until we were east of Denver.
    Next time we will take boring Interstate 80.
    Nick, you came close to the best chicken-fried steak we have had in years. It’s called the Pepper Pod in northeast Colorado.

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