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Author Topic: 2016 Cross Country Journey  (Read 1099 times)

John Stephens

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  • Vacations begin when you leave the driveway
2016 Cross Country Journey
« on: June 30, 2016, 01:26:37 PM »
Here is a blog type post regarding our second lengthy trip in our 2005 Adventurer. Last year, we did a 2-Ĺ week trip to the Midwest and Smoky Mountains, our first since buying the coach in 1/15, and found several things needed changing or repairing. Afterward, we had the coach converted from 30 amp to 50 amp electrical service so we wouldnít have to worry about turning off the a/c whenever we wanted to use the microwave. We also had the furnace completely removed and serviced since there was a wasp nest in the fan and a mouse nest in the heat exchanger that smelled a bit ripe when started in the mountains around Asheville. A complete tuneup with new plugs, wires, fuel filter, air filter and fuel injection service was performed the week before taking the coach on the road May 10th because the coach had 28,000 miles on it when we started and I knew it would need its 30K maintenance. The roof was resealed, the a/c was checked and ductwork that had come apart was completely resealed, and the coach was, to our knowledge, road ready.

This post will include problems we encountered along the way; things that will probably make the seasoned traveler chuckle at a rookieís mistake or lack of knowledge. But these are things I want to pass on to other newbies regardless of how embarrassing they may be. If I can give the seasoned reader a laugh, that will be fine. But if I can give the readers that are new to RVíing information that will save them from making the same mistakes, or make their first trip better, then I have accomplished what I wanted to do. Most important to myself is feedback from the readers to let me know what I could have done differently to make the vacation better.

The itinerary of this trip is to leave Cape Coral, Florida on May 10th, drive six days to Tucson, AZ as our first destination but not finding a place to set up camp with hookups until we reach Gold Canyon, AZ, then drive to Ft. Mohave, AZ, Las Vegas, NV, then turn around and head back to the Midwest, stopping in Hot Springs, AR, St. Louis, MO, Palestine, IL, Mammoth Cave, KY and then head home. While in St. Louis, we will make a side trip in our car that will be towed for the first time to SW Missouri to pick up a new addition to the family. We lost our beloved Collie two months ago and have the chance to get a nine week old pup from his same line while in Missouri.

Our trip last year was coach only, renting a car in St. Louis where the most driving was to be done. This year, we purchased an Acme Tow Dolly so we could tow my 2007 Hyundai Azera. It has 93,000 miles on it and is in excellent shape, but I know I am possibly sacrificing its front end depending on how many rocks are thrown its direction. Two days before leaving, we did a test run of hooking the car up and driving it around the block a few times to stretch out the new tire straps. It also gave me a reasonable indication of what to expect regarding starting and stopping speeds and distances, at least at 25 mph residential speeds. The highway would have to wait. I noticed a problem that would get worse on the trip when I realized that the air dam underneath the front of the car wanted to catch on the tire stop at the front of the tow dolly.

On the 10th, we got up early since we couldnít sleep anyway and began the final packing. We already had pretty much everything in the coach other than refrigerated items. We werenít sure what to do about turning on the refrigerator and leave it running for 24 hours to cool off enough for frozen items to be kept in the freezer. We have a four door Norcold, original to the coach, that served us very well last year and gave us no indication there might be a problem this year. Our concern was that our driveway is at a fairly extreme slope and the ownerís manual states that you should have the coach level to within 3 degrees side to side and 6 degrees front to rear in order to avoid a possible vapor lock in the cooling tubes that could potentially damage the refrigerator. In the past whenever we have taken the coach out on the road, I would simply drive out to the storage area where we keep the coach and turn on the fridge a day before we were ready. Then, the next morning, turn it off while being loaded in the driveway, and then turn it back on when we hit the road. This year, we took the coach out of storage two weeks early so we could get the necessary work done and didnít want to drive it back to storage for only a couple of days, so we parked it in the driveway. I determined the slope of the driveway and set several blocks of wood under the front leveling jacks to get the slope to less than six degrees from front to back and then turned on the fridge.

We wanted to leave by 8AM since we plotted out ~400 mile distances every day. Last year, we followed the advice of the Forum contributors and calculated 300 miles a day for our daily trips. But after getting new plush Flexsteel seats, we realized that we could go a lot farther before getting tired and thought this time, we would try 400 miles a day. The unknown factor would be the toad and how much it would slow us down. I had my worries about the long distance every day.

But wanting to leave at 8 means we left at 9:30. I wanted to hit the interstate by then, but missed it by 45 minutes after stopping at the local Loveís to get weighed at the CAT scales and then adjusting the tire pressures. Last year, we ran at 105 in the front tires and 95 in the rears because that is what the placard on the door says the max pressure should be. I downloaded and printed off a tire pressure chart to tell me how much I actually needed according to weight and was shocked to find that since both my front and rear axle weights were well below their respective limits, I really needed 80 lbs in the front tires and 85 in the rear. I read on the forum that having the proper pressures would provide better handling on the road and better control when being passed by a big rig, and I now must state that information is correct. Dropping 25 lbs in the front tires makes me wonder what kind of effect it might have on gas mileage, but the handling is now excellent. It took me over a half hour to let the air out of the tires and reset the baseline pressures on the TPMS system I had purchased and was using for the first time.

We officially hit the road at 10:30. The first day of the trip, we would drive to Midway, just west of Tallahassee on I-10 and dry camp at a Flying J. The only way we could afford a five week long trip was to cut corners whenever possible and we decided to dry camp as much as possible when not at one of our destinations. I began the driving very cautiously, keeping my speed at 60 mph to try to get a reading on mileage with the toad and trying to make sure I kept it on the road between the lines. Driving through the flat land of Florida with the cruise control on gave me a mileage of around 7.2, about .8 mpg less than last year. Given the complete tuneup, I wasnít sure just how much the toad was really costing yet.

Near the end of the day, I began getting erratic readings from the TPMS, telling me that both of my tow dolly tires were blowing out or having rapid air loss. When we pulled over for the night, I took readings with my gauge and found no issue, so in the morning, I called Minder Research and explained the problem. They first told me to change the batteries in the sending units, but when that didnít work, they asked me if the tires had anything weird about them, such as having balancing beads. I told them that yes, the dolly tires had balancing beads and they explained to me that beads will lodge themselves in the tire valve stems and make the sending unit think there is less pressure, giving a completely inaccurate reading. So both sending units came off and stored. I considered that to be a waste of money until two others began giving inaccurate readings on their own and had to be replaced with the extras.

We had learned that I-75 north of Tampa was under construction and sometimes down to two lanes with both directions sharing the same stretch of road. I remembered from last year just how bad sections of that road was and didnít want to take a chance traveling it while towing for the first time. So we bought a Sun Pass transponder and decided to take the I-275 bypass around Tampa, meaning we would take the Skyway Bridge and then take a toll road from Tampa to around Brooksville, FL before connecting up with U.S. 98 and taking it all the way to I-10 before Tallahassee. This made the first dayís trip quite uneventful and easy since I had to get used to towing a car.

The Flying J in Midway was quiet but not very level,so the refrigerator had to be turned off until the next morning. The Dennyís inside was okay but nothing special. The RV parking at this FJ is on the other side of the building from the truck parking, so there isnít a lot of truck and road noise to wake you up as there is at some locations. They have an RV island to make it easy to get fuel, water, and dump your tank if needed.

The second day took us to Baton Rouge and to a Cracker Barrel that had good food and a very accommodating manager. Their RV spaces werenít long enough for our rig. When planning out this trip, I checked each spot we would be staying in with Google Earthís street view and birdís eye view to attempt to determine if the parking would be adequate. Sometimes, without having an RV in the picture, there was no way to make an accurate determination. This was one of those times. I parked with the front end of the coach jutting out about five feet in front of the space and the toad sticking out three feet in the rear. I asked the manager if that would be a problem and she said we were fine. It was a quiet location and we got a good nightís sleep.

The condition of I-10 through Louisiana was the worst of any long stretch of road I have ever encountered in the Interstate Highway System. For 30 miles, the concrete slabs had raised up on their edges creating a steady thump, thump, thump. I have encountered this in the past but not to this extent. The highway could not be safely driven at speeds above 50 mph and driving a large coach with a toad, I didnít feel safe going faster than 40 mph. It was shaking everything in the coach loose. There were some stretches where I slowed down to 25 mph, daring any cop to give me a ticket for going too slow.

While it took us a day and a half to get out of Florida, our second day saw us crossing four states - Florida, Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana. Our third day took us into Texas. It was getting warm enough to turn on the generator and a/c to keep our heavily coated 13 yr old Sheltie from overheating. It was then that we noticed the a/c would not run while we were on the road. The generator was just fine and the a/c would run while we were sitting still, but the 20 amp breaker on the genset kept tripping when we began moving. We stopped at a Buc-eeís in Baytown, TX to check out the problem, but couldnít find what was wrong.

If you have never seen a Buc-eeís, drive to Texas and find one. These are car stops, not truck stops. They do not cater to RVís like Flying J, but they are big enough to get your fuel without a problem when youíre towing and canít back up. We stopped at one of the small ones that had only 50 pumps. Some have as many as 260. The store is not your typical convenience store usually found when getting fuel. These stores are the size of a department store. If you canít find something to eat that you like, youíre sick, because they have the largest selection of food and snacks I have ever seen. I mean, Las Vegas buffets are smaller than this. I guess itís true - everything in Texas is bigger.

When we got to Houston, my GPS told me to go straight through town rather than going on one of the bypasses. Iím not sure if that was the right thing to do. We hit town around 2PM and assumed we would miss the bulk of rush hour but instead ran into some of the worst city traffic Iíve seen in years. Stop and go, lucky to get up to 20 mph for a 200 foot stretch, and then stop again. For 2-Ĺ hours. No a/c in the coach and now the cab air wants to quit as a protection mechanism to save the engine. We rolled the windows open and watched the temperature gauge on the dash climb from 93 to 112. It was probably about 95 outside, but the reading was showing the heat coming off the road. Fortunately, the engine never overheated and after nearly three hours, we finally were able to achieve a steady 50 mph, allowing us to turn the a/c back on in the cab area. Judy had held our Sheltie, all 37 lbs. of him, in her lap so he could get air from the open window most of that three hours.

Driving I-10 cross country many times, I knew it would take about 13-16 hours to cross the big state. That meant three days by coach. We stopped before San Antonio on the third day and was unable to find a place to dry camp because the Flying J I had planned on was too small for us, so we grabbed a spot at River Bend RV, a very nice place that allowed us to arrive late and leave early so we never saw anyone who worked there. The lady who took our reservation over the phone was nice enough to call us around an hour before closing the office to see where we were and ensure we would be coming in that night. Excellent customer service. No cable or wifi worth mentioning, but a level, gravel site and a quiet setting.

Day four was the long day that had us traveling across the heart of Texas and encountering our first hills to climb. Once again, the Flying J we had planned on staying at didnít have spaces long enough for us, so we found a spot at Balmorrhea State Park. It seems as though Texas is difficult on RVíers. There are few Flying Jís, overnight camping is prohibited in most of the rest areas, and it can be difficult finding a decent campground in some parts of the state. This state park had water and electric with a dump station. Level asphalt sites with plenty of room to spread out. Their claim to fame is a 175 acre swimming pool, but it was closed for cleaning while we were there. Instead, we had to be happy with sagebrush and jackrabbits.

The fifth day was going to get us out of Texas, finally. In less than 30 minutes from starting the day, we had a group of young feral pigs run across the road in front of us. Three of them made it but the fourth got hit by the back tires of the coach and I watched the pig go flying in my rear view mirror. It wasnít until our next stop to take a break and check the straps on the toad tires  that I found out I still had some of the pig, blood and hair, on the tow dolly and the side of my car. It had to be cleaned off as quickly as possible, but that didnít happen until the sixth day. We stayed at a Flying J in Lordsburg, NM that night, knowing the next day would finally get us off the road and hooked up for three days.

When we started the next day, I checked out the closest truck washes and found one at the 340 mile marker in Wilcox, Arizona that was willing to pressure wash the dolly and car for $15. I asked how much to wash the entire coach since it was filthy, and was told $40. $55 for the whole rig sounded too good to be true. It was. I watched one of the workers spray his pressure sprayer directly into the refrigerator vent and remembered too late what members of the forum had mentioned about that possibly damaging the fridge. After hitting the road, my wife told me upon grabbing a soda that the fridge was dead. Great! Itís Sunday and we have plans to meet  Judyís daughter in Tucson for lunch. I drove to the meeting and called my mechanic back in Florida to see if there was anything I could do to fix it. No, it needs to be diagnosed and serviced by a qualified mechanic. Good thing we took a large cooler as a backup, just in case. We put everything from the freezer in the cooler with a couple of bags of ice and kept the doors of the refrigerator closed as much as possible for the rest of the day.

The lunch with Judyís daughter took place at an Olive Garden in the center of town. I was assured we would have plenty of space to park since it was a Sunday. Wrong. I had to park in the OG parking lot sideways, taking up eight parking places. We got there before they opened so there was plenty of extra spaces, but when we were ready to leave, I found myself blocked in with cars parked directly in front of me and one empty space in back of me. The Acme tow dolly I purchased has surge disc brakes. That means it cannot be backed up without the brakes activating and locking up. It has a lockout key, but I couldnít get it into place. I remembered one person on the forum saying that if you were very careful and slow, you could back the thing up about two feet, so I tried. It worked. I found out subsequently that you can back up if the coach and tow dolly are perfectly aligned and if you take it very slow, but if the dolly is at an angle to the coach, the brakes will lock up immediately. But in this instance, two feet was all I needed and I wiggled out of the crowded parking lot. I developed a healthy respect for driving a large coach with toad in city traffic and from then on, avoided doing so whenever possible.

I called two mobile mechanics in Tucson to see if I could get the fridge serviced, but one didnít answer and the other said they would rather not because it was Sunday. So we still didnít have a refrigerator. 

We drove to Gold Canyon to stay at and check out an RV home community, the first of two. Superstition Views, according to the sales agent, is where you donít buy a home, you buy a lifestyle. Thatís code for purchasing a mobile home and paying lot rent for the rest of your life that goes up $24 per year, starting at $538 per month. I. Donít. Think. So. I donít care if you have bocce ball courts or pickle ball courts or sewing classes. Not for me. We stayed for three days and nights for free simply for taking a tour, so it wasnít a waste by any means, and the community is very nicely laid out if this is the kind of home you are looking for. And, we found a mechanic in the next town, Apache Junction, who not only reset the fridge, but also knew it needed a recall kit and found out it had been wired wrong, probably at the factory. He also found a plumbing leak I couldnít find before leaving on the trip and repaired it. Hitting that pig wound up being a good thing after all. If you are ever in Apache Junction, AZ and need service, check out Apache Junction RV Service and Supply, a family owned business that is supposedly one of the largest wholesale distributors of Norcold in the country. Very friendly and extremely knowledgable with an eye out for making new customers and not just taking their money. This guy worked on the coach for 2-Ĺ hours and only charged me $125 including parts.

For anyone interested, we had no desire to buy in Superstition Views for several reasons. Yes, there is a lot to do in that community and if youíre looking for friends, youíll make them easily there. But the homes are manufactured housing; essentially mobile homes with some stucco thrown on to change the appearance. The fact remains that they are brought in on axles that must be removed before the home is set in place. It is really nothing more than a fancy mobile home park. You are not allowed to fence in your lot, something that completely killed any chance for us since we have dogs. The average size of your lot is 52X58, barely enough room for the home and buildout and nothing more, but the prices are the same as if you were owning your own lot. Compared to the homes in the next community we visited, this was a non-starter.

From Gold Canyon, we drove to the west side of the state where the three states, California, Arizona and Nevada meet. Close to the Colorado River is a growing community called Ft. Mohave, AZ, a supersuburb of Bullhead City, directly across the river from Laughlin, NV. Ft. Mohave is actually about 12 miles south of Bullhead City and just about equidistant to Needles, CA. Arizona RV Homes is building a small community there of houses with RV garages on lots that you own that are all at least 9500 sq. ft. These are sticks and stones houses, built from the ground up and the construction appears to be very good. We planned to stay there for two nights, giving us enough time to decide if we wanted to buy. It didnít take us that long.

On our second day there, while picking out colors and styles of the home we wanted custom built, the sales agent walked in and asked, ďDidnít you tell me you were driving to Vegas tomorrow?Ē I told him yes, that was our plan, and he strongly suggested that we leave then, on the spot, instead of waiting to the next day because a severe storm warning had been posted for the desert with 60 mph sustained winds predicted. He told us we might not make it if we waited. So we packed up, unhooked, said our goodbyes and began driving to Vegas a day early. I called the campground where we had reservations and asked if we could arrive a day early. No problem. I assured the sales agent at Arizona RV Homes that he had made a sale.

We arrived in Las Vegas a day early, but that wasnít going to be an issue since we had a lot of people to see and things to do and places to eat. We changed our reservation from one week to eight days and simply paid the extra day. Duck Creek RV Resort is what I would call a good city RV park. It is all asphalt, so there is no place to really set up camp where it wonít burn your feet and the Sheltie didnít want to walk too far when it was his time to do his thing. He was hitting the street, doing his thing, and turning right back around and wanting to get off the hot pavement. Aside from that, this park was nice with plenty of space at least for the pull through sites since they basically consisted of two back in sites put together. The staff was friendly and accommodating, and the weekly price of $213 couldnít be beat. The park is located far enough south on Boulder Highway to avoid the street walkers and homeless, but is still only three miles away from Samís Town and about eight miles from the Strip. They have a nice pool and spa, and several dog parks scattered around the area. If I drive to Vegas again, Iíll stay there again.

Our time in Vegas, even with an extra day, still wasnít long enough and we were sad to say goodbye to our friends and family. Judyís oldest daughter and four children live there and we hadnít seen them for seven years. We caught all our old favorite restaurants and a few news ones, deciding to eat out most meals since setting up the grill didnít seem like a productive idea. There probably wasnít anything wrong, but I had one of those feelings that canít be explained that it wouldnít be a good idea leaving anything outside the coach while we were not there. Call it one of the differences between a city RV park and one in the country. There were too many year round residents in this park, rather than true RVíers and I didnít get a good comfort level feeling from them. I lived in that town for 13 years and know the general mentality of its residents, and there are many people who will take anything they see that isnít nailed down.
John
Cape Coral, Fl.
2005 Winnebago Adventurer 38J
Acme EZ Tow Dolly and 2007 Azera

John Stephens

  • ---
  • Posts: 397
  • Vacations begin when you leave the driveway
Re: 2016 Cross Country Journey
« Reply #1 on: June 30, 2016, 01:27:43 PM »
So after eight days, we again hit the road. The rest off the road was good for me. By the time we had driven six days straight and camped in Gold Canyon, I was a wreck and needed time off the road. But this time, I knew we would drive to Holbrook and stop for the night at a KOA and then dry camp for the next two nights. We would stop in Hot Springs for two nights, giving me another break from the road.

We wanted to stop by the crater and Winslow and even thought about seeing the Grand Canyon again, but decided those were all destinations we could visit after making our move to Arizona. So we stuck to the original plan and drove to Holbrook. On the way while getting off the road for gas and a break, we were informed by a friendly trucker sitting next to us at a stop light waiting to turn left onto the interstate that we were ready to lose one of our wheel straps on the tow dolly. After I made my left turn onto the entrance ramp, I immediately pulled off on the shoulder and sure enough, the right tire strap was completely off the tire, hanging on only by the strap in the wench. The clasps of the hooks had failed early on with the springs breaking or dislodging. This, coupled with the fact that when we pulled the car onto the dolly, we didnít get it perfectly aligned with the wenches and the straps were not in the exact center of the tires, allowed the strap to simply slide off the side of the tire. The hooks came loose and dragged on the ground for who knows how long. Thanks to that trucker that was nice enough to let us know. This was the first of two serious incidents regarding the wheel straps.

We arrived in Holbrook and was immediately disappointed with the accommodations. This was the only KOA we stayed in during the entire trip because their value wasnít as good as other parks. And, we are Good Sam Club members and have their discount card, not the one from KOA. But after paying $30 a night in Vegas for full hookups on a large site, we were given a site so close to the neighbors, it was impossible to set out anything, even a chair, and the site had water and electric only. No sewer, no cable, no wifi. Now, so I wonít be corrected by someone who has stayed there before, there IS cable; it just doesnít work. The cat 5 connection on the electrical box is for show only. When I asked the guy behind the counter about it, he said it was time they took down the advertisement for cable.

Judy and I both considered this KOA to be the worst RV park we stayed in the entire trip. The only good thing I can say about it is the site was level, especially for a dirt site. The sites were so close together, we werenít sure if we would have enough room to drive out the next morning, but taking it very slow, we made it.

I intentionally planned the next day to be a short drive to Albuquerque so we could explore the Petrified Forest and Painted Desert. This is absolutely gorgeous scenery that shouldnít be missed if youíre in the area. We were able to purchase our senior lifetime National Park pass when we entered the park for $10 and used it twice on this trip.

The trip to Albuquerque was thankfully uneventful, as well as the next dayís trip to Sayre, OK. We stayed in Flying Jís both nights with mixed results concerning quiet and ability to sleep. But what do you want for free? We were simply happy to be able to pull over and sleep for a few hours.

We traveled on I-40 from Kingman, AZ all the way to Ft. Smith, AR and found a variety of road conditions. I believe Texas and Oklahoma have the best conditions of any states we traveled through, both on I-40 and I-10. Louisiana had the worst conditions with Tennessee a close second. But in Ft. Smith, we finally got off the interstate system on our way to Hot Springs. Interestingly, the condition of the roads in the state system in Arkansas were just as good or better as those in the Interstate system.

We had made reservations with J&J RV Park and Storage in Hot Springs, a bit apprehensively due to the name, but our concerns were quickly taken away. JJ is the owner and will go out of his way to make sure you are happy with your accommodations. He wants to know if there is anything wrong so he can fix it and he wants suggestions to make his resort better. Given his attitude, the seclusion of the property, the outstanding amenities and the overall feel of the park, Judy and I considered this to be the best park we stayed in for the entire trip. I donít know if we will ever be back in that area again, but if we are, we will not hesitate to stay at J&Jís again. 
And, as a bonus, this park had the strongest wifi signal I saw the entire trip. We were getting concerned with going through too much cell data the entire trip and the two nights we stayed here, we didnít have to worry.

If youíre going to visit Hot Springs, you have to do two things: you have to go up to the top of the observation tower and you have to go to the Buckstaff Bathhouse and get a mineral springs bath. Itís worth the price.

We didnít want to leave so soon, but had to stick to our schedule, so we said goodbye and hit the road for St. Louis. I knew this was going to be a long day and wanted to get an early start, but JJ had other plans, wanting to talk for nearly an hour before letting us leave since he has a brother-in-law that lives in the same city as we do. We were going to take US 67 from Little Rock to Poplar Bluff, MO but werenít sure what condition the road may be in, so at the last minute, we opted to take I-40 all the way to West Memphis and pick up I-55. It probably added another half hour or more to the trip. When we got to Sikeston, MO, we had to stop at Lambertís Cafe, home of the ďthrowed rolls.Ē Good country cooking, but this time, we were disappointed with the fried chicken legs.

We had traveled through states with high gas prices, such as Nevada at $2.39/gal. and other states, such as Alabama, that had low prices around $1.79. For the entire trip, we counted on seeing cheap gas in Missouri, especially the St. Louis area because it is always one of the cheapest spots in the country. But what we saw when we entered Missouri shocked us - prices in the $2.29 - 2.49 range. We got gas outside of St. Louis for $2.09 knowing the prices in the city were 30 cents higher. Prices had gradually but consistently climbed the entire time we were on the road.

We stayed at the 370 Lakeside RV Park in St. Peters, MO, a distant suburb of St. Louis in the next county. It was our second visit there and we will continue to return whenever in the area. They have your choice of gravel or concrete pads for the coach and then a concrete patio surrounded with plush grass. No need to walk the dog far as long as you have a poop bag handy. The park has a fishing lake that also takes canoes and paddleboat, a dog park with agility course, archery ranges and a variety of other outdoor activities. If you stay for a week, the seventh night is free. It is one of the nicest city parks I have seen in terms of RVíing.

While in St. Louis, we hit all our favorite restaurants and pizza places, saw old friends, went to the St. Louis Zoo, took in a Cardinalís baseball game and had a very nice and relaxing week. And then we drove to Windyville, MO, a tiny town northeast of Springfield, and picked up a nine week old Collie puppy that has kept up on our toes ever since.

Judy had bought a used travel crate the size a beagle would fit in before we left town for the new puppy. It turned out to be just the right size, both for the puppy and for being able to walk around it when the slides were pulled in during travel. We had thought ahead and brought with us all the articles we would need to take care of a new puppy including leashes, collars, food, etc. and even bought a dog pen from Camping World that got limited use since neither of our dogs wanted to be put in a pen. That will go down as a waste of money along with the satellite dish and receiver we bought last year that we never used. Only on three nights did we stop in an area that had no television reception over the air. Those were the nights we watched DVDís. The rest of the time, we had good reception, sometimes getting more stations than we do at home.

After St. Louis, we drove to Palestine, IL to visit Judyís mother and siblings that live in the area. Last year, we stayed nearly a week, so this time, it was only one night. The next morning, we again hit the road and drove to Cave City, KY, setting up camp for the last time on the trip. Cave City RV is a very nice campground with level sites and plenty of room to spread out. As soon as we got set up, we took the car and drove to Mammoth Cave, just in time for the last tour of the day. It was an interesting experience, not my first in a cave, but definitely the farthest down below the surface. I found out I was in better shape than I thought.

The next day, we began our trip home. It was planned out to take three days and I was thankful it wouldnít be as long as the trip out west. I knew I would feel better when I got home than I did when we got to our first stop in Arizona after six days.

The first day, we traveled from Cave City to McDonough, GA, just south of Atlanta. It was the worst drive of the entire trip. We encountered horrendous traffic throughout Atlanta, stop and go for mile after mile, and finally made it to the Cracker Barrel we planned to dry camp in. When we pulled in the parking lot, we realized their RV spots were much too short for us and we parked diagonally in two of their three spots, still hanging over the ends by five feet in both directions. I guess they simply didnít have the room for sufficient length parking spots, but 40 feet will only allow you to park a small coach with nothing behind it.

While checking the dolly straps, I noticed the right dolly tire looked pretty low. Checking the pressure with my gauge, it only had 10 lb psi. I hooked up one of my two air compressors, knowing this was going to take some time because they are both small 12v DC compressors. I got it up to 50 lb. psi and when I disconnected the air line, all the air began rushing back out of the tire because the valve stem core had broken. I pumped it back up and put on one of the TPMS sensors I wasnít using, knowing it would seal the leak. Judy said there was a Walmart nearby, so we could drive there the next morning and see if they could replace the stem core.

But walking around the Cracker Barrel, I realized that right next door was a Discount Tire store that opened at 8AM. So the next day, I walked over there and asked the manager if he could replace the valve stem core without having me unload the car from the dolly. He walked over and took a look at it and said he would be right back with a new stem core. He installed it and told me there was no charge. I asked him if I could get the tire filled in front of one of his bays and explained I couldnít back the rig up. We worked out how I would get in and out and I drove over. He filled the tire only to realize there was a leak from a nail. Another hour off the road and they plugged the tire and told us once again, no charge. Some of the friendliest people I met the entire trip.

We got a late start at 9:30 and planned on driving to another Cracker Barrel in Belle View, FL., figuring we would make it in about 4 or 5 PM. In central Georgia, south of Macon, we stopped for a break and found we had no energy management system and the a/c wouldnít start. Whatever had caused the problem with the a/c not running while on the road seemed to be getting worse. My guess was that either my mechanic mis-wired the distribution panel or transfer switch when he made the 30-50 amp conversion, or the rough road we encountered in Louisiana caused a wire to come loose. Or both.

We were now far enough south that we needed a/c to sleep. The pups needed it with their heavy coats. Since we had no EMS, we werenít sure if we would be able to use a/c with shore power or if the problem was limited to the use of the generator. I didnít want to take that chance by paying for a campsite and then finding out we still didnít have power, so we decided to try something neither of us wanted to do - drive straight through all the way home. I estimated that with a short dinner stop and a couple of rest breaks for the dogs, we could make it in before midnight. It would be a long day, and I really donít like driving the coach after dark, especially with a toad, but the alternative was to burn up in an non air conditioned coach and probably not get any sleep.

We made the trip and got home at 10PM. No problems, no issues, no speeding tickets. We were tired but had to unpack at least some of the coach since it had been our home for the last five weeks. We needed to take things into the house that would be needed that night. And we needed to unload the fridge so I could turn it off. I think we made it to bed that night around 2 AM.

The coach went to the shop with the mechanic who did the conversion. I let him know I wasnít happy with what happened after paying him $1,000 to make the conversion for the precise reason of being able to use the microwave without turning off the a/c. He thought he would have to redistribute the appliances but I told him I thought he wired the transfer switch incorrectly because we donít have a problem on shore power - only the genset. It turned out the wires from the genset were destroyed so neither of us were correct. His initial work was good and this was simply something that couldnít be foreseen. That stretch of I-10 cost me $1,100 - so far.

And wow! After driving that thing with a toad for the entire trip, it felt like I was hot rodding it when I drove it to the shop. The anchor was raised. I got the coach back a few days ago and got it ready for storage for another few months. Itíll take us a while to pay off the costs of this trip. Hopefully, the next time we take it out, we wonít have the associated expenses that we had this time. Between the two mechanics working on it before the trip and the electrical problem afterward, we spent $2,200 on the coach for this trip. I realize that there will always be something on a motor coach that needs fixing, but it is our hope that there wonít be anything major or costly that goes wrong for the next year or two.

Total length of trip = 6,100 miles. The coach now has 34,000 miles on it. The fuel cost for the trip was $128 more than I budgeted, something I was very pleased about since the cost of gas continued to rise the entire trip. I budgeted the average cost of gas would be $1.59/gal but it actually turned out to be more than $2.04/gal. What saved us was that we didnít use the generator as much as we anticipated because the weather was so nice. That negated the additional cost due to the price and the difference was really caused by additional usage of the car. Still, only being off by $128 on a $2,071 actual cost is pretty good.

Another reason the fuel cost was higher was because the gas mileage we got with the toad was considerably less than last yearís trip without it. But to be honest, it wasnít the weight of the toad that cost us more fuel as much as it was my lead foot. I was very cautious the first day we took off, not knowing what to expect from the toad. After driving with it for two or three days, I realized I was getting used to is and it wasnít as big a deal as I first thought, so I picked up my speed and began keeping the cruise control at 64-66 whenever I used it. While going through hills, the cruise had to come off to avoid the inevitable downshifting. When driving on my own, I would try to maintain a speed of around 64, but as the trip wore on, the speed continued to increase with my comfort level and by the end of the trip, I was driving between 65-68. Last year, it appeared that for every mph over 60 I drove, it cost me 1/10 mpg, so going 5 mph faster meant a .5 mpg reduction. My overall mileage for the entire trip was 6.5 mpg, about what I expected. That includes starts and stops, city traffic, terrible traffic going through Houston and Atlanta, and some pretty good mountain climbs that slowed me down to 35-40 mph. From watching my computer mileage while I drove, I would estimate my highway mileage was between 7.2-7.6, so it wasnít that much worse than last year without the toad.

We have decided that on our next trip, we will plan 350 miles per day. We think that will allow us more time to rest since on many days on the road, we didnít get settled until 7 or 8 PM. When we were making the several day runs across country without staying more than one night, I got pretty tired by the end of the run. I think that can be curtailed or eliminated completely if I give myself more rest each evening after coming off the road.

I canít speak for other TPMS systems, but Tire Minderís T M - 66 system gives me mixed feelings about using them. This system is difficult to set up or make changes to, but once you get it set up, itís easy to useÖ until something goes wrong with one of the sending units. Overall, we encountered problems with using them on tires that have balancing beads, two sending units were bad from the get go and have to be sent back to the company for replacement, and we went through I donít know how many batteries because the ones in the kit apparently were already too old and weak. It is imperative that you install a signal booster that is included in the kit, but that can be easier said than done when you try to figure out where and how to connect it. I fortunately have a 12v plug in the bedroom that isnít used, so I went to an electronics store in Las Vegas (it was my third attempt since Radio Shack and Best Buy donít carry what I was looking for) and bought a 12v cigarette lighter adapter that had screw on wire nuts so I didnít have to worry about soldering the wires. That worked as long as the green light the booster puts out when itís working didnít keep me awake at night.

As far as the Acme Tow Dolly is concerned, I also have mixed feelings. It is well built and sturdy, but there were issues with it that shouldnít have occurred. Iíll remain neutral about the balancing beads in the tires throwing off the TPMS system; itís a wash in my mind. But the strap hook failures were serious and could have caused irreparable damage to the car and possibly the coach. When I contacted Acme about this problem, they told me that although the straps were not a warrantied item, they would send me new ones. This time, they sent me the latest design that is fully adjustable from both side to side and front to back, so it may be an improvement over the first set. Another problem inherent to this kind of dolly, however, is the fact that with surge brakes, you cannot back up. This meant extra planning on getting in and out of parking lots, fuel stations, campgrounds, etc. - literally anywhere you were going to travel off the road had to scoped out before hand to ensure success. We found out that just because you pull into a truck stop doesnít mean youíre going to have room to maneuver. We almost got stuck in two Pilots and a couple of other truck stops because their gas pumps (weíre gas, not diesel) were located in a lot the size of a convenience store. Sometimes we had to wait for 15 minutes until someone in front of us parked in a regular parking spot would leave so we would have enough space in front of us to be able to make a turn and exit the lot. All of this because we couldnít back up. Another issue, not necessarily bad, was the fact that while going through the mountains, I had to continually check the brake fluid for the dolly because the master cylinder is so small, the least amount of brake pad used up during extended applications will cause the need to add more. Like I said, not a big deal, but another thing to think about.

If anyone has ideas to share, please do so. This is a learning experience for me, as it will stay such for the duration of my travels in this coach. Accordingly, I am always open to ideas, thoughts and suggestions on how to travel better and safer. Your comments are always welcome.
John
Cape Coral, Fl.
2005 Winnebago Adventurer 38J
Acme EZ Tow Dolly and 2007 Azera

Kato52

  • Posts: 1
Re: 2016 Cross Country Journey
« Reply #2 on: February 18, 2017, 11:49:25 AM »
I tried to go back through your blog to see your total travel time but couldn't find it.  How many days was your trip?

John Stephens

  • ---
  • Posts: 397
  • Vacations begin when you leave the driveway
Re: 2016 Cross Country Journey
« Reply #3 on: February 19, 2017, 11:05:56 PM »
We were on the road for a total of five weeks.
John
Cape Coral, Fl.
2005 Winnebago Adventurer 38J
Acme EZ Tow Dolly and 2007 Azera

 

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