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EDITOR’S NOTE: We have asked RVtravel.com readers to tell us how they are adapting to life these days. Here is Don and Sue’s story:
The Adventure from Hell
(Or: Don & Sue’s Excellent COVID Adventures)
We like to tell folks we’re “rainbirds.” We get away from the dark, wet Northwest winters in our Country Coach, heading to South Carolina and our younger daughter’s place for even-year Christmases or just SoCal and Arizona in odd-years, when we do Christmas with the eldest here in WA before heading south.
This year was going to be different. It was a Seattle Christmas, and we decided we’d wait ‘til the end of February to hit the road. We planned to go to Mississippi for an event with the youngest in March, then wander around the South visiting friends and relatives, doing Disney World, and riding the motorcycle in the Smoky Mountains before leaving the coach with the daughter for a flying side-trip to Brussels, Paris, and then Boston for our 55th High School Reunion in June. We would return to pick up the coach in SC at the end of June, then “do” the East Coast up to the Canadian Maritimes in July and August before heading home across the Midwest in September. It was going to be an epic great adventure!
Naturally, lots of very detailed planning went into all this. And what do they say about the “best-laid plans”? Yeah – they often go astray. But not often as far astray as THIS plan!
So we launched from home in Olalla (just north of Gig Harbor), WA, on February 28th. Rumors of the coming virus led us to pack Clorox wipes and a half-gallon jug of hand sanitizer, and order a box of hospital masks. But we weren’t worried. What could go wrong? (I can hear you all laughing now.) The first answer came in the form of a “check engine” light less than 50 miles from home! So Peterson Caterpillar in Longview became our first, unscheduled stop. And because we got there on a Friday, our repairs had to wait ‘til Monday. So we were three days behind schedule, before our first overnight stop!
The Cat shop sent us on our way Monday afternoon, and we accelerated our driving schedule to catch up those three days. We normally like to maintain a leisurely 200-300 mile/day pace with a day off every two to three driving days. That went in the hopper, since we were due in Mississippi on March 12th. So between March 2nd and the 9th we “raced” (by our standards) as far as West Texas.
At a rest area lunch that day I found that we were losing a substantial amount of bearing lube from the driver side front wheel. The nearest civilization was Sonora, TX, about 100 miles away, which happily had a LOVES truck stop. I pulled into the LOVES, and asked their repair shop if they would please change my leaking bearing seal. I was shocked to hear that LOVES will not work on RVs – corporate policy, apparently due to liability issues. By that time the lube was really flowing, so clearly I was going to have to find a shop in Sonora to get it fixed. Long story short, I found a willing mechanic at the FOURTH place I tried – which was fortunate as there are NO other truck shops in Sonora.
We boondocked in the truck shop lot with the wheel up on jack-stands, and I drove the toad 150 miles the next morning to the nearest parts place that had our seal. So much for our scheduled arrival in MS. We were forgiven for our tardiness, and managed to arrive at our week-long event on the 13th. Unfortunately, it had been cancelled on the 12th! But that was only the beginning of this tale of woe, as I’m sure you’ve guessed.
Our daughter and SIL came to MS and spent several nice days with us, during which we reviewed the bidding on the rest of the trip. Disney World had just shut down, the military campgrounds we had planned to spend many weeks in started refusing new campers, it became clear that visiting Europe was NOT going to be possible, and to put the final straw on the camel – the Canadian border closed down! Our entire 7-month plan was in the dumpster. So on March 19th, we started for home from the piney woods of south Mississippi.
Looking at the long-range weather for the possible routes home (wanting to avoid CA if possible) it looked like spring had arrived in the Rockies, with daily temps in the 50s and lows no worse than high 20s, so I picked the shortest and lowest altitude route – north up the Mississippi and then Missouri Rivers to South Dakota, then West on I-90. Not a great choice, as it turned out…
An uneventful week of driving and relaxing to sightsee and do laundry got us to I-90 pretty easily. When we got to Sturgis and the Black Hills we even took a couple of extra days to “do” Mt. Rushmore and Devil’s Tower (not open, of course, but easy to see all the same). But then it became evident that spring was still actually a LONG way off. We hunkered down for four nights in Buffalo, WY, while an Arctic blast blew through with snow and temps in the single digits for two nights running. We kept the rig really warm, running the floors at 85F, a small space heater, and the diesel Aqua-hot going as well. Unfortunately, when we finally left on a 15-degree morning, our water was frozen – and, of course, we didn’t know precisely WHAT had frozen up ‘til it thawed.
Compounding the fun – we got another “check engine” light heading for Bozeman that morning, which put us in a Cat Shop in Billings, MT – and again on a Friday afternoon! Naturally, we had to wait the weekend to get the repairs done on Monday, but at least that gave me time to replace the frozen water pump, which was the sole casualty of our Wyoming deep-freeze. I won’t go into my debate with the Cat shop to even DO our repair, as they were paranoid about the virus. My threat to camp out in their front lot convinced them to send a mech in, but only after we’d sanitized the rig to hospital standards, opened the bedroom floor and vacated the rig for them to do the repairs!
Monday afternoon – engine repair done, we’re on the road to our Bozeman RV Park, and this time I got not just the “check engine” but also “stop engine” and “high temp” alarms simultaneously – about a mile short of the pass east of Bozeman. I guessed I’d blown a coolant hose, but when I went back to look there was some evidence of a small leak, and the sight glass was empty, but the expected quantity of coolant all over the engine compartment and the toad just wasn’t there. So, crossing my fingers I poured in the one gallon of coolant I carry for topping off, then added four more gallons of water, and got over the pass and down into Bozeman before she once again started overheating. We limped into the campground, happy that it was just off the Interstate exit.
I got a mobile truck mech out to the rig the next morning, who found a very small leak in a ½” hose to the turbo. Guess we were lucky it wasn’t worse. So a new hose and several gallons of replacement coolant and we were back on the road the next day. THAT mechanic was totally unconcerned about COVID, so it was US sanitizing everything he’d touched after he left! By now, I’m really proud of my bedroom-disassembly routine. I can have the room stripped and engine hatch exposed in less than five minutes at this point!
I’d LOVE to tell you that we had no more issues between Bozeman and home. But going over the Continental Divide outside of Butte the transmission brain-farted, suddenly shifting from a slow-climbing 3rd up into 5th gear. I caught it quickly, manually shifting back down to 3rd, but the damn thing repeated that performance again going over Tiger Summit on Rt. 18 just short of home. So I guess I’m destined to see ANOTHER Cat shop before our next trip out… At least we’re FINALLY HOME!
I hope this little odyssey hasn’t convinced any of you to give up Country Coaching! It WAS a particularly ugly trip, but we can’t wait to get back on the road again. See you at a NWCC Rally sometime soon…
— Don & Sue Hutchins
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