Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Crisis #7-Truck Stop Livin

[I realize the term "crisis" suggests a grave situation of danger or despair, and certainly I continue to use the term loosely.  But in the moment, each of these felt like another crisis.  So just bear with it for now.]

       Leaving the RV repair shop at 3pm would leave me just under 24 hours before I had to be at work.  Ideally I'd get some decent sleep at some point between now and then.  We estimated 12 hours driving time to make it back.  With us driving a bit more cautiously than usual, and with the boys needing their typical stops along the way, that's closer to 16 hours in all.  With our freshly greased wheels riding on brand new tires, and our Hensley hitch locking that trailer down tight, the drive home was... rather uneventful.  No trailer sway or wobble.  No close calls or scary moments.  We drove slow, generally around 60 mph, which was just fine since the I-80 speed limit is between 55 and 65 until Iowa.  And we monitored the fuel calculator on our trip computer mounted overhead.  It... was... dismal.  We'd be lucky to eek out 10mpg, which is far less than I was hoping for, especially since we saw upwards of 18 driving the same route without the trailer in tow when we picked the truck up.  What happened to all that diesel mpg nonsense I'd been reading about?  Of course, this was driving at 60mph with overdrive turned off.  I still wasn't sure about the damage that might occur to the transmission if overdrive engaged.  After some quick research from the typical towing and Excursion diesel forums, we decided overdrive shouldn't be a problem.  Instantly the rpm's fell by 500, and the roar of the engine at 60mph simmered down to more of a guttural growl.
       It wasn't until the concrete compartmented highway of central Iowa that we started experiencing some concern in our towing.  It seemed the seams in the road  created the perfect up-down motion between our truck and trailer axles to cause us to rock back and forth with such force that we slowed to 45mph before pulling over completely.  It was after midnight at this point, but we weren't quite to our desired stopping point - a truck stop just outside of Des Moines.  Everything looked to be in good order - the shear bolts where the hitch is bolted to the trailer A-frame were still intact.  That was a good sign, especially since they were expertly torqued to 45 lb-ft, without the use of a torque wrench.  I just estimated based on how much force I remember I'd have to use to lift a 45lb weight in the gym.  I'm remembering back many years to get this "feeling", of course, as the gym and I aren't really familiar with each other anymore.  Then I mentally extrapolated this data to apply it to an 8 inch wrench.  Divide by 66% (or is it multiply)... carry the two, and - yeah that seems pretty tight.  Maybe too tight?  I don’t' know.  Boy I wish I had a torque wrench right now.  Meh, what's the worst that could happen?  It's only on the bolts that attach the hitch to the trailer.

       Let's get back on track here.  Despite the fact that we were now riding a bucking bronco down the highway, we pressed on to Des Moines arriving at the truck stop sometime well after midnight.  We saddled up near the entrance, the only RV amidst a sea of big rigs just across the curb.  It wasn't quiet, but it felt safe enough, and it was free, after all.  But with temperatures still around 80, we needed A/C, not to mention power to open our slideout and get access to the boys' room.  Meanwhile I was fumbling about with our brand new generators.  I've never used a generator before, just like I had never towed anything before.  Now here it was, 1am after being on the road in some capacity for 18 hours.  And I'm lugging two generators to the pumps for a gallon of gas in each, then hustling them back to the trailer.  I feel like I'm in the Strongest Man Competition, with a 50 pound generator in each hand as I stumble across the parking to get things set up, get the trailer cooled off, and get Mama and I some sleep.  Fortunately there are intensely bright street lights all around us so reading the manual this late is an easy task.  In no time I have the generators cranking, the slide out partially open, and the A/C cranked up.  The boys transition from their slumber in the truck to the trailer without even a whimper.  Mama and I are settling in for the night as I realize I have $2,000 in generators sitting out in the open-basically in a gas station parking lot.  Sure I'm only 5 ft away, tucked inside the front of the trailer, but considering how deep I'll be sleeping I'm quite sure someone could walk away with those and I wouldn't notice for quite some time.  So I head back outside and try to lock these precious little givers of cold air to the trailer.  I have a short length of chain.  It is enough to chain the two generators together, but not  long enough to reach the trailer A-frame as well.  After a short bout of frustration I give the appearance that they are locked up well, with the chain and locks strewn about, but really not locked up at all.  Finally... sleep!

        A high pitch tone pierces into my dream state.   Is it my alarm clock?  I don't even know where I am let alone why I'm hearing a dog whistle constantly blaring into my brain.  I'm warm.  Too warm for sleep.  Finally I come to my senses.  The A/C must have gone out, and that sound... that's the propane alarm.  It must have been going for a little while now.  I bounce out of bed and check my propane systems.  Fridge off.  Water heater off.  I go outside and tighten down the propane tanks.  Both have been closed all night.  The propane alarm continues.  For some idiotic reason it briefly crosses my mind that by lighting a match I could tell if there was actually a propane leak... and subsequently blow up my family and a huge fireball right here in the middle of Iowa.  I must be tired thinking such a stupid thing, but fortunately the thinking part of my brain quickly told me the only thing you NEVER do when there is a propane alarm is light a match.  That's it.  If you can learn that lesson without making the mistake first, you're doing ok in life.  Then I remembered how warm it was in the trailer.  The A/C wasn't running at all.  The circuit breakers for the generators tripped, and I had no power to the trailer.  No power = no A/c of course, but it also means my propane detector has insufficient power to function, thus the alarm.  Which subsequently tells me my deep cycle battery on the trailer is also dead, because it should power my propane alarm when not on shore/generator power.  There you have it.  We're safe.  The children won't suffocate from propane inhalation (is that possible?), and I probably could light a match if I wanted... but I still won't - don’t worry!    But now its pushing 80 degrees in the trailer and I still have an ear piercing alarm to figure out.  I press the "silence" button on the box - genious!  I climb back into bed and my brain shuts down near instantly.  The ear piercing tone returns.  I guess the silencer only works for what, 30 seconds?  Awake I go again, desperately trying to figure out how to silence this thing so my family can go on sleeping (no, the boys haven't even budged to this point).  If I want to live in an RV, these are the things I'm going to need to figure out.  And chores that randomly pop up at 3 in the morning I guess come with the territory.  I'm left with two options.  Get power to the RV or rip the propane detector off the wall (its hard wired to the trailer).  If it’s the A/C that tripped the generators, we'll have to do without.  After all, no A/C and no alarm is far better than no A/C with that alarm blaring, which is what we're faced with now.  I reconfigure my generators, turn off the A/C so it won't trip the generator breakers, and crank it all back up.  No piercing tone... just the hum of dozens of 18 wheeler generators chugging in the background.  It’s a beautiful sound.  I realize I am running a 2000 watt generator exclusively for the purpose of powering a 2 watt propane detector.  But more importantly, I'm running a generator to power my sleep for the next hours.  It’s a fine sleep all the way until the rising of the sun - 4 hours later.

       The beauty of the truck stop is not only the free overnight parking, but the reasonable breakfast selection in the morning.  After we scarf down some apples, donuts, coffee, breakfast sandwiches, biscuits and gravy, and even a beef burrito we hit the road.  It’s a familiar route from Des Moines to Omaha.  One we've done at least two dozen times before.  Before long we pull in to our RVs new home, the storage lot.  I spend 20 minutes trying to back into a space more than twice as wide as my trailer, but I chicken out every time I get close to the adjacent trailers and restart the process.  Eventually Mama comes out from the RV store/office and guides me in for a nearly perfect parking job.  Here our yet unnamed trailer will stay until she hits the road next year, assuming the role of "home" full-time.  As we gather into the Excursion we tell the boys to strap in so we can head home.  AJ exclaims that we already are home.  "I want to live in the trailer house" he manages to say.  We tell him for now we still live in the other home, and trailer life will have to wait.  He seems to understand, since he tells me he has "two homes now."  And that is where I'll leave this journey.