Frigid Water and Sunshine Sandwich

There is a children’s book by Remy Charlip called “Fortunately”. It starts out:

Fortunately, Ned was invited to a surprise party.
Unfortunately, the party was a thousand miles away.
Fortunately, a friend loaned Ned an airplane.
Unfortunately, the motor exploded.
Fortunately, there was a parachute in the airplane.
Unfortunately, there was a hole in the parachute…

So, our week has kind of been like that.

Fortunately

On Monday, October 12, we woke up bright and early at our parking spot outside the Newell Factory for a 6:30 am appointment.

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After the beast was brought into the bay, it only took them 50 minutes to get most of the work done, then another few hours for the only guy who knows how to restring the old style motorized window blind to get it completed. By 12:30 pm, they were done and ready for us to leave.

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Then we loaded in our fresh groceries and headed down the road to Oklahoma City for our first routine inspection of the 515 hp Detroit Diesel Series 60 engine. We want them to fix a few things as well: it takes a long time to finally turn over from a cold start and there is some stray exhaust leaking out by the muffler. We just want to be safe on the road.

Unfortunately

And then it got interesting.

Fortunately, the engine repair shop was on our way out west. Unfortunately, they don’t take appointments.

Fortunately, when we arrived on Wednesday morning, they said we could stay on their front parking pad until they could get us in. Unfortunately, it might be two days from now.

Fortunately, a few hours later, they came and said, Hey we have a spot for you inside! Unfortunately, you cannot stay in the RV, so you have 10 minutes to gather your stuff and find a motel.

Fortunately, we have no place to be. Unfortunately, the coach will take a long time to fix.  The engine shop didn’t call Newell Factory until Friday to find out how to get into the engine from the hatch in the floor of the rear bathroom. So, 3 days wasted. Then no parts available until next week. Worst case scenario, lots of time and money to fix the injectors and manifold. Some dollar figure between Ouch and Zoooiiiiiiinnnggggg.

Fortunately, we found a lovely, inexpensive little motel with a pool, microwave, fridge and free full breakfast. Unfortunately, all the non-smoking rooms in the city were completely booked for a national horse show, no matter what the Hotels.com online reservation showed me.

Fortunately, the kind desk clerk worked some magic and gave us a non-smoking lovely patio room facing the pool, which was still open in October! Unfortunately, the water was FRIGID.

Fortunately, the sun was blazing hot.

So the combination of icy cold on the bottom of my wonderful floaty thingy with roasting sun on top, idling around the pool (with no one else crazy enough to swim in an outdoor pool in Oklahoma City in October), soothed by the drifting current and bright blue sky – it was a bliss, contentment and zen sandwich.

For the foreseeable future, we are living in a Howard Johnson motel in OKC. We went to an RV show yesterday and there is a professional rodeo finals event tonight in Duncan. I haven’t been to a rodeo in decades- really looking forward to it.

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So, Yeehaw, Oklahoma- looks like we’re staying a while.

Wendy

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That Doesn’t Sound Good….

We rolled out of bed to a sunny, beautiful day after an overnight at a truck stop in Tulsa, OK. It’s my turn to drive and I’m going through my pre-flight checklist (as any good pilot would do). Everything checks out so I release brake and start rolling forward between semi trucks to the sound of grinding and screeching and not much forward movement.

“Woah!” We both said in unison, “That doesn’t sound good!”

How suddenly our world can go from trouble-free fun to …. the other thing. We had just left the Newell Coach factory the day before. What bad timing!!

So what was that sound? Maybe it will go away if we pretend it didn’t happen and try again. So I push the accelerator and again we get an agonizing noise. Nuts!

So what could it be? Well, remember last night when we rolled in here and Wendy had a difficult time getting the parking brake to engage? (The parking brake on this beast is a rectangular yellow knob which you pull to engage. When engaged, it releases all the air from the disk brakes and their springs put the jaws of life clamps on the brakes).

So maybe we have a locked brake? Wendy goes out to investigate and hears a constant hissing sound by the main/tag tires. Hmmm. Maybe we have an air leak. But I’m checking the gauges and am showing full pressure on all the air systems. (We sound pretty sophisticated at this point, right? Well, just wait.)

So I call the factory and they ask a bunch of questions and get a specialist on the phone who asks a bunch of questions, which culminates in a suggestion that I look into the belly of the beast (behind and above the main and tag axles) to see if a brake line has come loose.

The ground at truck stops is filthy. The underbelly of Zane is nasty and it’s a really tight space, with 56,000 pounds of beast on top of you and only air bag suspension to protect you from getting squashed. I’m not enthused about getting in there to have a look-see. So the next question is: Do we call CoachNet (for emergency services) or do we see if the small mechanics shop at this truck stop can resolve our problem? We opt for the mechanics shop and meet Luis. (There are people in this world who love to solve problems of this nature and do it with a smile. And Luis is one of them.) He crawls under and around and in and out. I don’t know who cleans his uniform, but, wow!

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Luis hard at work– overshadowed by worried RV owners

Two hours later Luis has jacked up the coach, removed the tag wheel and …. “Ohhh, he says, “I see what the problem is!” I’m thinking, hmmm. What is it: An air leak? Is the brake caliper shot? Who has parts for these things? Luis says, “Let me show you. Do you see the skid marks on the bottom of your coach? You’re dragging bottom! You see this big mounded hump in the asphalt? You’re just in a low spot.”

I had mixed feelings about the diagnosis. On the one hand, Yay! A simple problem with a simple solution! On the other hand, Duh.

But as we looked around the truck parking lot, which is in really bad shape, there was a pot hole that could have swallowed a Smart car, and a trio of trucks hauling 70,000 pound rectangular metal structures: one had tried to get out of lot and his rig slipped its king pin, leaving the huge trailer dropped to the ground, with no jacks to get it back up. It took them as long to solve their problem as it did ours. When they finally got their rig back together, they gave me a thumbs up.

We’re learning all the time. So what do I take away from this? My world is filled with good people who are ready to help me. The Newell factory was right there on the line ready to help me troubleshoot. And there are people like Luis who are ready, willing and able to crawl around in the belly of the beast to discover and solve problems.

What was the bill for this adventure? Would you believe our 2-hours of Luis’s time and equipment cost us only $53?

So how did we solve the problem of bottoming out? Usually, when we arrive at a campsite (or truck stop) we push a little button and the suspension goes from travel mode through a processes of filling and removing air from the corners of the suspension to find level.

It’s pretty cool to hearing little hissing bursts and see the world sway as it finds level. This system also allows you to raise or lower the entire coach. So I simply manually raised the suspension and we s-l-o-w-l-y rolled on out, with the high air suspension alert pinging, found a flat spot a few feet down the road, then put it back into travel mode suspension. No muss, no fuss- just 2 hours of fun and games to start our day. And we got to meet Luis, a really awesome guy.

Clay

Maiden Voyage: North Georgia – NOLA – Gulf Shores – RTB

2004 Newell #671

Zane (Our 2004 Newell Coach)

The Plan

Our first great adventure with our 2004 Newell coach (Zane) was to be a trip from our home in the mountains of North Georgia to spend 4 days in New Orleans and 2 days at Gulf Shores State Park, then RTB (that’s military talk — Return to Base).  Start date Christmas Eve, December 24, 2014.  RTB January 3, 2015.

Given that this was our first trip together in our new coach, the first time Wendy would be driving with a toad (our Jeep Grand Cherokee attached at the tail), and the first time she had slept in it away from home (although we live in Zane full time) this was a big deal.  And so began the questions.

What if?

  • What if she breaks down? Well, we’ll unhitch the toad (Jeep) and Wendy will drive home while Clay sees to the repairs in Timbuktu.
  • What if we get off the freeway and find ourselves in a “too tight to turn” scenario? Well, we’ll unhitch the toad and back out, then re-hitch the toad.
  • What if we get mugged? Everyone I talked to about going to New Orleans looked at me with the bug eye and then proceeded to tell me of their experience of a mugging or smack down while in NOLA. Hmm. OK. We’ve been in some dicey places outside the U.S. and managed to use our heads to stay out of trouble. So we’ll just go with our eyes wide open, watch our backs, and avoid walking alone at night.

OK, worst fears dealt with because we have a plan. So let’s do this thing. New Orleans French Quarter — Gulf Shores Alabama — RTB.

We left the mountains of North Georgia on Christmas Eve with Wendy at the helm. Her first time driving our 45′ 7″ behemoth with our Jeep attached to the tail. No problema. The RV driver training we got in November paid off in spades.

So what do you do when you’re not driving?

Co-Pilot

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The co-pilot’s job is to put their feet up on the dash and look calm.

Additional duties may include:

    • scouting ahead on Google Maps to see satellite views of the next stop (truck stop, rest area or RV resort) to strategize the approach plan. Driving something this big requires fairly detailed planning for turns.
    • answering navigational questions that may occur. Our Garmin GPS (for RV’s) gives us warning “dings” when there’s upcoming heavy traffic, a speed limit change, a curving road, etc., usually 1/2 mile before the event. So the usual pilot question is “What was that ding?”
    • starting and stopping the audio book (Audible.com, Overdrive.com) playing on Clay’s i-phone, which is connected to the whole house stereo. How much fun to hear a great story while you’re tooling down the road.  Overdrive is a digital download of books and audiobooks attached to your local library card downloaded to your phone. We like free.
    • wander around in the kitchen, bring up snacks, use the facilities, take a nap in bed. Goof off.

As you can imagine, the co-pilot job rocks!

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Captain Clay at the helm of the good ship Zane

Travel Attitude

Wendy and I made it a point to set very low expectations. We never got up until we wanted to on this trip (there were some epic sleep ins!). We planned it out so we drove only 4 hours a day, max. Some days we traveled only 1.5 hours. We changed drivers every 1 to 1.5 hours. We love this relaxed attitude. We typically had the wheels rolling between 10 and 2pm. And we typically parked for the day between 1 and 4pm.

Yes, there were some anxious moments. Even with the best laid plans, we missed our turns twice. Once with Clay at the helm and once with Wendy. The result? Some very tight turns with nary a foot to spare. The lesson? As we got more comfortable and confident, we got more relaxed with our planning. Not good!

New plan? Be vigilant about every detail of the satellite map when planning our entry and exit from stops (truck stops, rest areas, and RV resorts). Planning is not hard or unpleasant. It’s fun. The electronic tools we have for planning our trips are amazing. So don’t get lazy. Use them to their fullest.  AllStays is our favorite app for where we are now.

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French Quarter, New Orleans at Christmastime

Damage Assessment

How far did we go and what did it cost? 1240 miles in 26 hours of driving. We used 177 gallons of diesel at $2.71 for a total cost of $480 at 7.1 mpg. Hmm. We couldn’t have flown two people on that 3 legged trip as cheaply, either commercially or in my small plane. And if we had driven our car we would have had much higher expenses with hotels and meals. As I look at what we typically have done on a 10-day trip, this was by far the cheapest vacation we have had in a good long while.  (Of course, there’s the cost of the motorhome, but let’s pretend that budget-buster away for our little financial fantasy.)

 

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The condo might not be haunted, but the St. Louis 1 Cemetery is hauntingly beautiful

There’s just something amazing about sleeping in your own bed and eating out of your own fridge at all these places, whether you’re in the French Quarter of New Orleans or a rest area or a sandy campground on the Gulf. This bed of ours is by far the most comfortable bed of our lives. And waking up and opening the blinds to see a new view is amazing.

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Gulf Shores, Alabama

And driving in Zane is fun. Unlike all the new RVs we test-drove at dealerships which squeaked and groaned in their joints with every bend in the road, this 2004 Newell, which is built of aluminum around a massive steel chassis that looks like it belongs under a locomotive, this thing is quiet. The Series 60 Detroit Diesel is some 40 feet behind you in the back. You can hardly hear it humming away. And the view out the massive front windows is — shazaam!

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Bridge to Nowhere

So this first trip gets a big thumbs up.  And we love Zane.

What did we see and experience on our trip? That will need to wait for another post. Soon.

Clay

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RTB- Crossing Creeks RV Resort, Blairsville, Georgia