the (often) meandering travels of a student anthropologist
As I approach Cumberland Gap in Tennessee, there are a few hiccups as I reach the entrance to the national park. Juno hesitates, stutters and coughs. Grrr-the spark plug wire must have loosened again.
I spend an hour at the visitor's center and wish I wasn't pressing on. But, I am starting this first adventure across country almost a month and half later than planned. I want to reach Denver in time to take advantage of some cheaper nightly rates at a nearby county park before the season ends. From experience I know Denver is a miserable place for RV'ing–high rates across the board, shabby private parks, and no opportunity for boondocking.
I push on to Lexington, Kentucky with no further issues (I'm decreasing in elevation), except I do find that I need to simultaneously use my left foot keep the brake pedal depressed and the right to keep the accelerator depressed slightly as I hit road construction and traffic. Juno feels like she wants to die if idling too long.
Although I have always enjoyed driving in the past, I've decided to limit my driving to 4-5 hours per day. Juno's cab isn't air-conditioned or well-heated, she's loud and drafty, and there's just enough play in the steering wheel to make keeping it between the lines tiring. The idling issue adds a another level of stress. I assume the carburetor is being finicky. I've been warned that altitude affects them.
I'm blacktopping it tonight–at a Walmart on the east side that has good reviews on the RV Parky app.
I consider contacting a member of Boondockers Welcome, a membership site where other RVers offer overnight stays on their property to other RVers, but I'm anxious and stressed. Trying to find a driveway in the city limits doesn't appeal to me. Or, for that matter, pasting on a smile. I'm tired, feeling increasingly stressed, and questioning my sanity with each passing mile.
My first night at a Walmart and I don't choose my spot well. I am under a light and at the far end where it's permissible for rigs to park, but, as it turns out, I'm also next to a bus stop. Cars, buses and people come and go late into the night. I don't feel unsafe–just nervous and ill at ease. The cat has cried much of the day in her carrier, and the dog can't seem to settle down. Mom and I have a quick video chat. I think how nice it would be if I were in my own bed. Safe. I feel guilty that I've taken my furkids from their routine. This is an adventure, yes, but not sure I'm having fun...instead I'm terribly homesick and wonder what in the world I am doing. A thin thread of obstinance is the only the thing keeping me from turning around.
I forget to check the spark plug wires when I gas up the next morning.
My destination today is a Love's Travel Center in Baden, Illinois, and, for most of the drive, mechanically at least, things go well. Shillelagh, the kitty, however, is beside herself. For the first two hours her complaints get louder and louder. She yowls, twists, turns, hisses and thumps in her carrier. The pheromone spray and rescue remedy aren't working. By the time I stop for gas I recognize I'm so distracted and upset I'm going to have that accident I'm trying to protect her from. Finally, I give in, and let her out, but seat-belted to her harness. Within minutes she escapes it and soon finds a spot up in the loft I discover later, behind the pillows. Despite my regret, I breathe a sigh of relief to be able to focus fully on driving again.
Any peace, however, is short-lived. Within an hour of my destination Juno starts bucking again, and chugging on the rises. I mentally chastise myself for not checking the wires, and I also wonder if at the last stop I tightened the gas cap too much. One of my forum members has suggested that the new gas caps (with the click locks), work to a disadvantage on these older rigs, creating a vacuum when tightened.
Perversely, I push on and, as it worsens, I literally limp off the exit into New Baden holding my breath. I can't get her above five miles per hour from the stoplights and she threatens to stall at each.
It doesn't seem obvious where the RVs can park so I pull around back to the truck lanes. It's not really good form to park in the truck overnight parking spots. These folks don't have a choice where they can sleep, and as an RV, especially being only 21 feet, I do. They have a schedule to keep, and I don't. However, I am gratified to see the mechanic shop and I'm at the end of my emotional rope (and that obstinate thread). I find a lane and pull well up to the front nose to nose with the trucks beside me so I can be seen...these trucks back in, and I don't want to be a squashed bug on their back end when one swings in after dark and doesn't see me. See my RV Parky review here.
I walk Freyja and soon meet Ed, the head mechanic. He's happy to come out and check my spark plug wires. I'm happy to hear that an old Dodge is an engine he's tickled to take a look at. The bad news is I don't have a loose wire. He checks both the spark plugs and distributor cap wires.
It's the end of the day and he promises tomorrow he'll bring in a vacuum gauge and suggests, despite looking new, that we change out the fuel filter. After getting reassurances I am perfectly welcome to park where I am, I settle in.
I soon find that this is no mean feat.
Trucks flank me on either side with five foot clearances, and as they idle their engines/APUs/generators in order to power their refrigerated loads, cab air conditioners, and electronics, I realize sleep is going to be next to impossible. The rumble is well above the level of white noise. On the plus side, my top vents are open and I smell no exhaust. I check my CO2 detector to ensure it's working. And, then, I remember my ear plugs. I have long been fond of the wax kind, and as soon as I pop them in, I grin. "Truck stop? What truck stop?"
Unlike the night before, I sleep soundly. I am still weepy, however. I've just started this trip and mechanical unknowns that I spent so much time and money on to ensure wouldn't happen are cropping up.
The next morning, Ed stops by to let me know it will be end of the day before the fuel filter comes in - and he's ordered two. He'll replace one, and I'll have one for the road.
Part of me is disappointed, but part of me is glad to not have to move on. I feel welcomed and in good hands. There's a plan, I'm safe, and any resources I might I need are hand from food, to super glue, to showers
. Most of the trucks have left and I move down to the end space that faces a shorn corn field. I can open my door and put out my solar panel without it looking like I'm camping. I spend the day taking photos and catching up on classwork. A train often runs by on the nearby track.
After he finishes his shift, Ed comes over and starts out by testing the vacuum pressure on the carburetor - it's strong. No issues there. He goes on to replace the fuel filter and we can only hope this solves my problem. And, I have come to terms with the fact that the only way I will know is to head out tomorrow and drive. I head back over to the shop to pay for the parts and press some bills on him for spending his time (off the clock on a Friday night) helping me out. He doesn't want to take it, but I insist.
I spent some time in the travel center today and figured out where the RVs are supposed to park. Having seen some rigs parked on the frontage road when I got up this morning I move over to the front lot. I don't want to take up valuable truck parking.
A comment by one of the mechanics in the shop has also made me feel slightly uncomfortable. He mentions that the guys were taking bets on whether I, traveling as a single woman, had a gun in my rig. I smile and tell him my daddy taught me well. What bothers me is that my presence, which I assumed was fairly low-key, has been discussed. Moving up to the front by the travel center seems prudent. It's my first experience on the road pointing to the how unusual it is to find a woman traveling alone, at least in a rig, and in a truck stop.
On my way to front parking lot, noting it's quiet yet, with few trucks coming and going, I take a deep breath and use the opportunity to weigh myself on the CAT scales. I've never done this, only researched how other RVers have done it. The folks in the travel center have told me what they'll ask. If I don't understand the garble that comes out of the speaker, I'll at least know the procedure. And, they have been forewarned they have an anxious newbie on the scales. My biggest fear is that I won't be able to reach the button (since these things are made for truckers they are placed high above the window).
I'm relieved to find a "car height" button!
In five minutes I'm on, off, and getting my results - a yellow slip of paper that shows me I'm 80 lbs overweight on my front axle and 2000 lbs underweight on my rear. This doesn't let me know loads side to side, but it's a good start. Later that night on the Good Old RVs forum, I'm reassured that 80 lbs overweight on the front is not out of line.
It's noisier up by the Travel Center, but there are nice grassy areas to walk Freyja, and I'm feeling a little more optimistic. Perhaps the new filter will fix the stumbling issue, and I'm feeling a little more confident now that I've blacktopped for a few nights–and faced the challenge of the scales. You may laugh but I've been dreading the task for months. Plus it's gratifying to know my rig is well within her means. Rigs that run overweight are prone to blowouts–my biggest fear.
Tomorrow I plan to make Blue Springs, Missouri, where I'll stay at another Walmart.