I thought I went a long time between postings between my last and next to last offerings. Well, the time that has elapsed since my last posting is an embarrassment. If you have been checking the Blog regularly, I apologize for the wasted effort. If you have waited for a prompt that there is more to read, I really am still alive.
When I last left you, Connie and I were getting settled into the new motorhome and finding where to put everything. We had not yet made any big trips, but were planning a trip to Silver River State Park near Ocala. Florida.
Well, a lot has gone on since then.
I will start with some of the technical stuff. We spent most of July stowing, using and restowing our stuff until we had most of it where logic demanded it be kept. Some items moved several times before a real home was found. For instance, we put way too many dishes in the kitchen. After all, there are usually only the two of us. So, we don’t need six cappuccino mugs on a tree taking up space on our very limited kitchen counter. Nor do we need more than about four wine glasses at our immediate disposal. However, we do plan to have visitors and maybe even the rare overnight guest. Therefore, we need extra dishes and other things to be readily available. So, we now have a storage box in the basement with additional kitchen items. Over time we may decide that we still have much more than we need and put some of what is down there in storage ashore somewhere.
After we thought we had pretty well gotten things where we wanted them we set off on a mission to get the rig weighed. My intention was to weigh each axle individually, both together and then each wheel position on one side. Unfortunately, I could not find a set of scales that afforded the opportunity to weigh only one wheel position per axle. All the scales I looked at were constructed such that you could not get a wheel off the scale to the left or right without hitting some obstruction or another. For those who do not understand my desire to determine each wheel position’s weight, I will explain. The primary cause of early tire failure in motorhomes and other large weight carrying vehicles is overloading of the tires. Motorhome manufacturers don’t help a great deal by their design of the motorhomes. For instance, there are several models on the market that have huge volumes of storage space, but due to all the bells and whistles that the builder put on the chassis there is very little weight capacity left for the consumer to use to put food, clothing and stuff into the motorhome. We shopped carefully to make sure we bought a rig that had the weight capacity we feel we need to support the lifestyle we want. Of course, until you get all your stuff in the motorhome you don’t know for sure that what you thought you needed was enough or not. In our case, we calculated pretty well. When weighed, the overall weight came in well below the maximum allowed by the chassis design and of equal importance our forward and aft distribution was right on target. So, even though I do not know the exact weight at each wheel position, I am pretty confident that I have not overloaded any single wheel. I base that on the excess capacity that remained following lead-out and my knowledge of how the permanent weight is distributed. Nearly everything that is real heavy and is either permanent or goes down and up uniformly is located on or astride the centerline. I am talking about the engine, transmission, fuel tank, LP gas tank, diesel generator and freshwater tank. Most of the rest of the basement storage consists of an area that is H shaped. I tried to distribute the weight equally across the two I portions of the H and put the really heavy stuff in the cross bar or on the centerline. If I was off by even a couple of hundred pounds, my reserve capacity was sufficient to ensure that I likely did not overload any one wheel position.
So, just what was I able to get into the basement? Of great importance to me is all of our golf stuff. Of importance to both of us is reserve storage for beer and soda so we don’t have to shop so often given the small capacity of the refrigerator. We also carry most of our important and not so important files with us so we won’t find ourselves in need of something when we are about as far from where they would have been stored as possible. We also have some other season clothing down there. Not much, because we don’t intend to spend much time needing other season clothing. We even have a television with DVD/VCR and a radio down there so that we can enjoy the outdoors and watch TV at the same time. We have operationally tested this feature a couple of times and it works just fine. The only drawback to date is that the weather in SE Georgia and anywhere in Florida we have been has been too hot and too humid to enjoy the outdoors too much. However, it is nice to be able to watch the news while cooking on the grill and sipping a cold beer. I have found that food is cooked better and I keep abreast of what is going on in the world.
Getting the coach weighed and learning where we stand took a huge load of my mind. I had moved so much stuff into the rig that I was starting to worry that I had really overloaded it. Perhaps I got confused by how much I moved things around, or maybe I am just a poor judge of weight. At any rate getting it right the first time was really sweet.
During this same period, Connie and I went back and forth between Kings Bay and Trish’s Florida house trying to sort through all the stuff we had had shipped there. Some we sent there with the intent to disposal, some was to go into the new coach, and some was to stay there at Trish’s house to be traded into and out of the coach depending on our next destination. My goal was, and remains, to minimize the burden to Trish and her house. We need to be independent. As it is working out, there remain some other season clothes and various travel, nature and bird guides for other parts of the country and world at Trish’s. Nearly everything else is in some sort of glide path to disposal of some sort or another. So, we guessed pretty well when we split our shipment. At least we think we did.
We didn’t just work while staying at the RV park on Kings Bay. I was able to play golf at least one day per week most weeks. Connie got back into aerobics at the base fitness center. In fact, she even talked me into going to a stretching class which I have really enjoyed. We both went to an “abs” class that I really think would be good for me. However, when we went I was having great difficulty with my back and the class aggravated the problem some. When I get completely over this current back issue I would like to take that class more regularly. We have spent time getting reacquainted with some old friends and really just enjoying life. So, busy as we were, we continued to enjoy the retired lifestyle.
Our first “trip” in the new motorhome was to Silver River State Park. We left Kings Bay on Saturday, August 19. We had what we thought was an uneventful drive down to the Ocala area. Well, not quite uneventful. When we were about halfway there we had to stop at a train crossing. After being at the crossing for several minutes and not knowing how much longer the train would be crossing, I decided to shutdown the motorhome. Contrary to what some will tell you, our Cummins engine is not designed to idle hours on end like you see truckers doing at truck stops and rest areas. The owner’s manual recommends shutting down if you anticipate being stopped longer than three minutes. So, I shifted into neutral (no park position on our transmission) and set the parking brake just like you are supposed to. When I took my foot off the brake pedal I immediately got an alarm. The alarm was that I was that I had the parking brake set with the transmission in a drive gear. I verified that the transmission was in neutral and even reversed the entire procedure and started over. Same alarm. While I was trying to decide my next move the crossing opened. That made the decision easy. Take the brake off and put it back in drive and get on down the road.
Next stop was the park entrance. After determining that we were there to check in, the ranger asked me to pull through the gate and park along the side and come on back in to complete the registration process. I did as he asked; only I sent Connie in to register while I unhitched the car. Once she had registered she got into the car to lead me to our site. One problem, the motorhome would not start. It took me only a few minutes to figure out that the computer thought the transmission was not in neutral and since you can only start the engine with the transmission in neutral, it was not going to start. Well, let me tell you, the next 18 hours were not what you would want to call fun. I will spare you all the details, but I called (not necessarily in this order) the dealer, the chassis builder, the engine company, the transmission company and all the local reps for all those companies all with no real luck. I talked to some nice people, but I could get no help. Our chassis warranty carries with it an emergency towing policy. However, that policy specifically states that if the problem is determined to be a transmission problem we get charged for the tow. Not wanting to pay for a tow and really not wanting to tow such a new rig, I stopped short of calling for one. Besides that place that we would be towed to told me that it could be a few days before they had a chance to look at the problem. Finally, Connie got to talking to one of the camp hosts. He had heard of our situation and was sympathetic. He also used to work on Allison Transmissions. He came over and explained to me that there is an electrical connector on the side of the transmission that can at times get wet inside. He suggested that I take it apart and blow any moisture from it and then reconnect it. Before I get to the punch line, let me tell you that I looked at every fuse and every fuse box that had any fuses in it that had anything at all to do with the transmission. I had also touched and smelled every wire going into and out of those fuse boxes looking for some sort of electrical problem. For whatever reason, I never even thought to look at the transmission itself. Well, when I crawled under the coach to start my search I got a major surprise. As I sort of shimmied my way under the coach I closed my eyes so as not to knock any dirt into them. Once safely underneath I opened my eyes and I was looking right at both halves of the connector my new friend had told me to check. Yep, both halves dangling straight down and not communicating with one another at all. I simply plugged the two halves into one another and then crawled back out and returned to the cockpit and listened to the sweet sound of a Cummins 300 roar to life on the first turn of the starter motor. I was at once both pleased as punch and embarrassed that I had not found the problem on my own. Of all the various help lines that I had conversed with that day and the evening before, I called only one back to tell him he could quit looking for his wayward technician as I had solved the problem. None of the others called me on Monday morning to see if I was still stranded. There were a number of lessons learned here. Probably the most important was to time our breakdowns so they occur during normal working hours for the companies who are supposed to support you when you have such an event.
In the end, it really was more a learning experience than a problem. Our physical location at the time of the breakdown lessened the severity of the situation. The rangers at the park allowed us to run out our slide, fill our water tank and run our generator as needed to make our stay outside the actual campground as enjoyable as possible.
Now, for the rest of the adventure of Silver River State Park.
The Silver River has as its headwaters Crystal Springs. The water that flows from the springs is, as the name implies, crystal clear. Most of the river runs through the park, so the wildlife and the shores of the river are very well protected. Trish and Jay came down separately a day later than us. By the time they all got there we were in our assigned campsite and ready to play. Jay had kayaked a portion of the Suwannee River with his niece and some other people for the two preceding days. He came to the park with his niece and one other fellow who had been on the Suwannee with the group. Trish met them at the park. The four of them had rented a luxury cabin in the park. So, there place became the go to place for most meals and story telling. Jay and the gang arrived late in the afternoon, so we really didn’t do much besides eat dinner and tell stories about each others’ adventures. The next morning we took the kayaks and put into the river downstream of the park and paddled upstream to a great little picnic area which was only a few hundred yards from where we were camped. After lunch we paddled back down the river to where we had put in. The time spent on the river was fantastic. As I mentioned, the water is crystal clear. Remember we got on the river outside of the park. The first several hundred yards reminded me of paddling in a swamp. Looking into the water I could see nothing but my reflection. However, within just minutes we were upstream of the major contributors that brought sediment and who knows what else into the stream. Suddenly you could see fish in the water. A little further upstream you could see downed trees in the river. As we paddled further upstream we could see the different materials that make up the bottom of the river. It is hard to imagine just how clear the water really is along this short river. Then there was the wildlife. We saw most of the species of egrets and herons that live along the river. We even got to take an up close and personal look at a water moccasin. Jay saw it first. He wasn’t searching for a snake. He was instead being careful not to accidentally find one with his hand when he came face to face with the creature. I have never seen Jay move as fast as he did while paddling away form the tree he had intended to moor against. Each of us took turns at paddling over and taking a close look at this fine fellow while being careful to keep a respectful distance. The snake cooperated very nicely allowing each of the six of us to come alongside. No nature trip in Florida would be complete without an alligator sighting or two. We were not disappointed on this day. We got to see one or two who were at a safe distance. Jay’s niece would have been just as happy to have seen no alligators. As it was, the fifty or so yards we were from the few we did see were far too few to keep her happy. Now, I have to say, Jay’s niece does not scare easily. She just has this thing about alligators. She has no problem working with Pit Bulls, but show her a little gator and she gets anxious to move along.
All in all our day on the river was just great. For all the years I have been birding, I have never gotten as close to so many neat birds in the wild as we were able to get to many of those we saw that day. It was really a great day for the senses.
That day was made complete by one of Jay’s trademark fried turkeys. We spent the evening eating and laughing and telling stories. It was way too much fun. So much so, that I rested the next day in anticipation of the drive back to Kings Bay via the dealership in St. Augustine.
In retrospect, it was probably a good thing I rested. We drove on roads that were just wide enough to have two lanes. There was rarely even a stripe to indicate the edge of the road, much less a shoulder. Now remember, I am still well inside the first 300 miles on this new motorhome. Most of those miles were on interstate highways or very wide two and three lane secondary roads. To save a bunch of miles were driving on county roads that really tested my ability to keep the coach centered in the lane. I did pretty well except for one corner when I got the right side off the road and into a very soft shoulder while trying to make a turn to the left. For those of you old enough to remember, what followed was definitely an E ticket ride. Fortunately it lasted for only a few seconds before I was able to get all six wheels on hard pavement. I slowed down for several miles after that incident.
The reason we were going to the dealership was to get some warranty work done and to get the towed vehicle braking system installed. We planned two days to get everything done, so we got to spend two free nights in the dealership campground. When we left we were much lighter in the wallet as we had way too much time to spend in Camping World while waiting for the work to be completed.
Let me step back and explain something here. Buying a new motorhome is really very similar to buying a new fixed house. Once you own it and you move all your stuff into it, you learn that you need other things to make it comfortable. We bought a mile of reflective insulating material to put in the windows so we can stand to live in the coach during the summer months in the deep south. Even with two air conditioners running it is very hard to keep the heat out with all the glass this thing has. We also bought materials to keep the awning from ripping from its fixed position when the wind blows a bit over a breeze. That was a great investment. There were a million other things we had to have as well. But the major purchase was a satellite receiver so we can have reliable television regardless of where we camp. We were going to wait six months to a year before taking this big step, but several factors came into play forcing our hand. First was the huge sale that Camping World was having on a really good system. Second and third was the free money we had. The first of that being a $500 certificate from the dealership for buying a new motorhome and the second was a gift card given to us as a house warming gift from our good friends who I will not name here. With all those stars aligned, we saw ourselves ready to watch satellite TV much sooner than we had anticipated. So, we ordered the antenna and scheduled the installation for the next time we intended to get underway.
Connie and I have devoted a great deal of thought, consideration and time into making our new home as comfortable and home like as possible. Remember, this is not a weekend or even vacation home, this is our home. That said, we want to make sure that we build an environment that not only looks good, but is completely functional for what we like to do. For instance, modern motorhomes have very efficient insulating materials in the walls, ceilings and floors. However, with the small interior volume and relatively high window to wall ratio compared to a house, the interior can get very warm on a moderately warm day. Florida and Georgia in the summer provide very few moderately warm days. It has been really hot. So, to make our home more livable we had to do something about the windows. Fortunately there are several options available. The most efficient while still providing a way to look out involves having custom made sun screens and attachments made to put over the windows on the outside. These systems not only work well, they enhance the appearance and privacy of the coach. We will eventually get to that level. Trying to stay within our budget, we opted to install reflective insulating material on the interior surface of the windows. This material looks like silver bubble wrap. It has an incredible insulating effect, but it also blocks 100% of the view and light. I made the attachment points out of Velcro, so we can easily keep one side open while the sun is on the other side. To make the patio area a little more useful during these hot summer days, we bought a screen that attaches to the awning and is then anchored to the ground by bungee cords and stakes. This material has the same effect as the material that can be put on the outside of the windows. It is really amazing how much the temperature is knocked down by this simple method.
So, in addition to completing the job of aligning our lifestyle to be road friendly, we have been making the motorhome road and life friendly. It has been a great experience and we continue to enjoy the project as much as we intend to enjoy the product of our labors.
The plan following the August dental appointment was to go northwest to the mountains of Georgia to escape the heat. We had even looked at a few options of places to plug in our power cord. Then Connie said since we have to go south to get the satellite dish installed, why not continue in that direction to Patrick Air Force Base on the Space Coast of Florida. This suggestion made good sense to me. After all, fuel was still around $2.83 per gallon. So, why double back on our track to see something we can see later without adding 160 miles to the effort. So, following a very uneventful antenna installation and what must have been the least expensive stop to Camping World in our history, we set off for Patrick Air Force Base.
If you have been trying to apply a calendar to this novel, you may have been able to figure out that our planning included the possible collision with a tropical storm and a space shuttle launch date. Obviously these two events are mutually exclusive, so we had a chance for one but not both. We kept a close watch on the weather and were ready to alter our route if necessary. The shuttle launch should have preceded our arrival to the space coast, but first there was a lightning strike to the launch tower, then the storm delayed the launch to the week we would be here. Our appointment to install the satellite dish was on Wednesday, the scheduled day of the launch. Well, a technical issue caused a postponement which was all we needed to be here for the event. A second technical issue delayed the launch an additional day which gave us an opportunity to sort of scope out the best places to view the event from.
In the end, we were on the beach, optics and cameras at the ready and we did in fact get to see the space shuttle launch. Don’t scroll down looking for the pictures. I was absolutely glued to the spotting scope and my binoculars leaving my camera safely in my pocket. I watched the shuttle from the time I located it just above the pad until it was a disappearing day time star. It was absolutely incredible. Sorry I was unable to break my stare long enough to get a photo. We had set up at popular beach parking lot along with many other folks. Some seemed to be there to enjoy the waves and or sun, but most were there to observe the launch. We asked several people which pad we should try to focus on. As it turns out, many of the people there were first time watchers who shared our opinion that with the shape of the cape as it is we should look to the northeast. So, as we listened to the final seconds of the countdown on the car radio we scanned the four or five launch pads we could see through the haze but saw none of the pre-liftoff activity that you can see on TV. Finally one our fellow observers said, “Oh, there it is to the left!” I quickly swung to the left but stopped at the most left launch pad I had been able to identify during our wait. As it turns out, I was not nearly far enough left. By the time I finally got on target, the shuttle had cleared the tower and had already started to turn towards the north. So, I didn’t see it all, but it was none the less an amazing sight.
There will be another launch while we are down here. A military communications satellite is scheduled to go up the day before we leave. We may try to get a better location for that launch. Those little rockets really go up in a hurry. If you blink you miss it.
We will be here at Patrick for nearly two more weeks. During that time we intend to bird Merritt Island and several other areas on the Florida Birding Trail. Connie has found a mall that I am sure we will explore. We intend to play a little golf. I fully intend to be a little more regular in my posting to the Blog. Certainly, the pace of life has returned to pre-new-motorhome pace and that should afford me some time. One of the improvements we made to the coach was to install our personal computer in the living room. This additional hardware affords us the opportunity to have one of us (Connie) on e-mail, while I write my Blog articles. There remain a few logistical obstacles to overcome, but we are resolving them.