I didn’t, but completing a tow course changed all that…
Words Morgan Lane Images Sam Rees Jones
Since my induction into the caravan world last September, I have received a crash course in all things caravan related. I can list manufacturers, explain the basics behind couplings, hitches and electronic brakes. I have learnt about grey water and dump points, weight distribution and the best way to pack a rig. However, there was still one thing I was well out of my league with: Towing.
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As a 24-year-old-woman, born and bred in the bush, I spent my upbringing in the back of my old man’s 4WD, sharing a tent with my family before declaring I was an independent teenager and buying a swag and a Toyota Surf all of my very own. In the years since then, my Surf was traded for a WRX, my single swag upgraded to a double – only to be brought out on special occasions – and the closest I had been to a caravan was our family’s camper-trailer.
Contrary to how all that may read, I come from a 4WD industry background and have pulled my fair share of camper-trailers for reviews and articles, however, caravans were uncharted waters. So, when my production coordinator, Sam, told me we were enrolled in a caravan towing course, I won’t lie, I was a little uneasy. “I’m 24 years old, I can’t tow a caravan!” played as a broken chorus in my head for a solid half hour after I was told the news and then, I asked myself, “why the hell can’t I?”.
Bright and early on Monday morning I drove myself to the International Equestrian Centre in western Sydney to tee up with Getabout Training Services for what was sure to be a very interesting day doing one of their Tow-Ed courses. Swapping my Subaru for a Ford Ranger I apprehensively eyed off the course in front of me, with its complex cone construction. Had you asked me a year ago if I found cones in any way intimidating I would have laughed it off. Suddenly, with a rather large caravan to slide between those orange bits of plastic, I was almost convinced the cones were made of concrete and I am fairly certain one of them had teeth.
Our instructor for the day, Graham, started out by giving us the A to B of hitching and unhitching the van, things to look out for and all the relevant safety checks. Come time to take the wheel and I wasn’t feeling so confident. ‘Reverse the caravan in a straight line’ was the instruction. A simple task until the big white box behind my truck developed a mind of its own and tried to turn my cone tunnel into a game of pinball. Right when I was getting ready to Gordon Ramsay my way out of the driver’s seat, Graham put his hand on my window and calmly walked me down the track, teaching me how to use my mirrors to get the van where I needed it to be.
After a couple of practice runs I could crawl my way in reverse without the need for a landing signal officer and Graham helped us tag marker points on the van before letting us loose in the practice area. Suddenly it all made sense, I felt like I could do no wrong, this towing business was a walk in the park and I was a goddess of the towing world … until I had to reverse into a parking spot!
Turn left to go right, full lock the opposite direction and it will straighten out – what was this madness? I felt I would have better luck reading the Encyclopaedia Britannica in French. However, moving past my first and second failed attempts I realised I had got my markers confused and upon giving it a fresh go realised I could in fact reverse the caravan into a parking space, quite well too I might add, for a rookie.
The rest of the day passed in a breeze of reversing and manoeuvring; getting it right and, more often than not, getting it wrong. We went backwards, forwards, hard lock left, STOP, hard lock right and somehow when you didn’t think too hard about the logic behind it the whole thing began to make sense. Am I a towing aficionado? Not even close. Could I safely and confidently manoeuvre a caravan without risk of injury or destruction to cone, car and other people? Most certainly.
While a towing course may not be top of every traveller’s to-do list, having stood on both sides of the fence I can certainly say that the benefits speak for themselves. Whether you are fresh in the caravan scene or a seasoned pro, learning the ins and outs from the best in the business is well worth its salt and something every tow-er should seriously consider participating in. Better yet, you get a pretty nifty certificate at the end to attest to your newly honed skills – that one’s going straight to the pool room!