Tag Archives: Pilot Flying J

20150416-20 (R-M) MO, IL, IN

2015/04/16 (R) Carthage, MO to Edwardsville, IL

[Note:  There are no photos for these posts.]

I was awakened from a light sleep this morning by a change in the sound of our auxiliary air compressor and the pneumatic systems on the bus.  A valve that whines in a certain way as the system fills with air changed its tune and the compressor ran longer than it normally does and did not shut off.  I got up, turned it off, turned it back on and it finally completed its cycle and shut off automatically.  At that point I was up and wide awake so I got dressed.  Linda was awake by that point too so I suggested that we just get an early start on today’s journey, and that is what we did.  We pulled out of our site at the Coachlight RV Park at 7:30 AM and a few minutes later we were headed south on I-49.  Less than a mile later we looped around the cloverleaf interchange onto I-44 headed east.

The sky was overcast and we ran in and out of fog and mist as we traveled up and down the rolling hills of southwest Missouri with spring in full bloom.  The temperature was cool and the conditions made for easier driving than having a bright morning sun in my eyes.  Traffic was light to moderate for the first 2/3rds of the trip, albeit heavier passing through Springfield and Rolla.  About 200 miles into our trip we stopped at the Flying J at exit 226.  I-44 was now six lanes and we were at the fringe of heavier urban traffic and encountered a center lane closure on a bridge which brought traffic to a halt.  We patiently worked our way through that and a little farther along exited I-44 onto I-270 which became I-255 and took us across the mighty Mississippi River into Illinois, most of the St. Louis, Missouri metropolitan area to our north.

Once we crossed the river and traveled a few miles traffic thinned out but we bumped our way along as the road surface on this stretch of I-255 was very rough.  We exited I-255 onto I-55N/I-70E and then stayed with I-55 when it split from I-70.  It was a good thing, too, as I-70E was backed up all the way to the split with traffic stopped and a sign announcing long delays and advising motorists to seek an alternate route.  A few more miles and we were at our exit for IL-143, crossed over the highway, did a 180 onto the service road, and drove the last mile to the entrance to the Red BaRn RendezVous RV Park just east of Edwardsville, Illinois.

The entrance to the RV Park was a bit narrow but wide enough that I was able to swing in off the service road.  The interior gravel roads were also narrow, and I had to snake past the office, but they turned out to be just wide enough to accommodate an RV our size.  The office was closed but there was a note on the door with our name and site number.  The site had trees on either side that did not appear to be trimmed up high enough but it turned out that they were.

While not a destination park Red BaRn RendezVous is a nice little place in a location convenient to Edwardsville and Glen Carbon, Illinois, where Linda’s sister lives, and the Interstate highways that will get us to my sister’s house in 30 to 40 minutes.  The office building has men’s and women’s restrooms with showers and a small but well equipped laundry.  We had no commitments to visit anyone today and were in early enough that Linda gathered up the laundry and we carried it over to the laundry room.

Linda had some fresh blueberries that needed to be used so she made vegan blueberry pancakes for dinner.  We do not have these very often but they are a real treat when we do.  We were both tired and had headaches, unusual for me but not for Linda, and decided to drive into Edwardsville and find the Walmart.  We wanted to buy a present for Lilly and it gave us a reason/place to stretch our legs.  Back at the rig we located the OTA TV towers, oriented our front OTA TV antenna, and watched episodes of The Big Bang Theory while diddling on our iPads and computers.  I hate to lose a block of potentially useful time but I was not up to working on photos and blog posts and diddling was the best I could manage.

The only “issue” we had with the bus today involved the behavior of the air system.  There are three air pressure gauges in the cockpit—primary and secondary on the dashboard, and auxiliary to the side—corresponding to the three “systems” that operate the chassis (brakes and suspension), and accessories (belt tensioners, radiator shutters, air horns, step slides, and house components).  The air from the main engine air compressor goes through a dryer that removes moisture and then goes to the primary, secondary, and auxiliary tanks.  It sounds simple but it is a bit more complicated than that.  I returned an earlier phone call from Butch and discussed this with him.

As best I understand it (and care to take time to explain it here) a valve, or set of valves, regulates where the compressed air goes and the top priority is the brakes.  The primary tank/system supplies air to the rear brakes and the secondary tank/system provides air to the front brakes (or vice versa).  Until the air requirements of the brake systems are satisfied air does not flow to the suspension or accessories.  Once all of the systems are pressurized they are isolated from one another so that a failure of any component will not affect the other systems.  It is a clever, fault-tolerant design that works well and has stood the test of time.  The components are used on 18-wheelers, fire trucks, and all manner of heavy highway equipment, including commercial buses in passenger service.

When the system is working correctly this is what I normally see when driving.  When the systems are fully pressurized the primary, secondary, and auxiliary air pressure gauges all read ~130 PSI.  The primary and secondary gauges will stay at that pressure unless/until I apply the brakes.  The auxiliary gauge, however, will drop over time due to small leaks somewhere that I have not been able to isolate.  Once the pressure in any of the systems drops to about 90 PSI, which is almost always the auxiliary system, the main engine air compressor kicks in and brings the pressure in all of the systems back up to ~130 PSI.

What I saw for most of the drive today was different, and that is always a cause for concern and makes driving less enjoyable.  All three gauges were showing a loss of pressure and the pressure in all three systems was the same.  The compressor was still working and would kick in at ~90 PSI and bring all three back up to ~130 PSI, so that was good, but the behavior suggested that one or more isolation valves had “stuck” in a position that kept all three systems tied together, which was not good.  Because of the larger volume of air being lost through the leak(s) in the auxiliary system it took a lot longer for the pressure to bleed down and it took longer for the compressor to bring it back up.

About four hours into our six hour trip we stopped for fuel at the Flying J Truck Stop at exit 226.  When we resumed our travel I noticed that one of the gauges (primary or secondary, not sure which) was holding its pressure while the other one continued to drop along with the auxiliary gauge.  An hour after that I noticed that both the primary and secondary gauges were holding pressure while the auxiliary gauge was cycling, and this behavior continued for the rest of the trip.  Thus it appeared that whatever caused the abnormal behavior had self-corrected.  My suspicion is that a stuck valve had gotten unstuck.  Once we were parked and set up the auxiliary air compressor cycled on and off properly, confirming that the isolation valve(s) was(were) once again working correctly.

2015/04/17 (F) My Side

We were up between 7:00 and 7:30 AM, not because we had to be but because we were rested and awake.  We had a quiet, relaxed morning enjoying our coffee and granola and using our iPads to check on the world (L) and work on yesterday’s blog post (me).  We configured the bus to ensure the cats’ comfort while we were away and left at 10:30 AM to drive to my sister’s house in Bridgeton, Missouri.  We stopped for fuel just short of her house and finally arrived around 11:30 AM.

We were greeted by Patty and Maggie, her one remaining dog.  We visited for an hour and then went to a Panera (St. Louis Bread Company) not far from her house for lunch.  We returned to her house to continue our visit and await the arrival of Ryan, Amanda, and Lilly, who showed up a little after 3 PM.  They would have come earlier but Ryan had a routine work-related physical on which his continued employment depended.  To everyone’s relief he passed so everyone was relaxed.  Lilly was initially surprised to see us but immediately gave us a big smile and went to Linda’s outstretched arms.  Lilly is 27 months old and is a cheerful, happy child who interacts easily with whomever is around.

Ryan and Amanda were hungry so at 4:30 PM we headed to El Maguey Mexican Restaurant for dinner.  We had taco salads with beans instead of animal protein and everyone seemed to like their food.  It is Amanda and Ryan’s favorite Mexican restaurant.  Amanda and Ryan headed home with Lilly and we drove back to Patty’s house to wrap up our visit while we waited for rush hour traffic to subside.

Brendan called and Linda got to “chat” with Madeline and then each of us took turns talking to him.  He had received his offer letter from Eastern Michigan University and acknowledged it, so he will start his tenure track assistant professorship in the art history department in September.  The discussions about initial course assignments, however, have already started.  He also mentioned that Shawna’s application for tenure at the University of Michigan Ann Arbor is looking very positive.  Both of those pieces of information were very good news for us.

We took our leave at 7:30 PM and got back to our coach just before darkness settled in.  Having spent a long day enjoying the company of family we settled in to watch a few shows on the local PBS station’s Create sub-channel before turning in for the night.

2015/04/18 (S) LF-M-LH Day 1

Yesterday Linda (LF) talked to Marilyn (M) briefly as we (B & LF) were driving back to the rig from Patty’s house and they (LF & M) agreed that we (LF & B) would arrive at Linda H’s (LH) house around 11 AM tomorrow, which is now today.  (Hopefully the LF and LH designations will help keep straight which Linda I am referring to.  Most of the rest of this post is about today not yesterday.)

We were up this morning at 7 AM and had our usual coffee and granola.  It’s a good thing we will be getting home soon because we only have one day’s supply left of LF’s homemade granola.  It is so good that we have stopped buying commercial granolas because they do not have any taste by comparison.

After a suitably relaxing start to our day I continued plugging away at editing blog posts and selecting/processing photographs to go with them.  I dealt with some e-mails and then we gathered up our stuff and headed to (LH’s) and Marilyn’s house in Glen Carbon, Illinois.  Glen Carbon and Edwardsville flow together to form a contiguous urban area but they are distinct municipalities with Glen Carbon being to the south of Edwardsville.

We are camped just to the east edge of Edwardsville on the edge of a corn field.  The RV park is conveniently located to I-55 and just 10 minutes from LH and M’s house so we were there by 11:15 AM.  LH and M had purchased various fresh ingredients for a salad and after sitting and visiting for a while Marilyn assembled the salad.  There was something going on at the house across the street that resulted in the wife calling the police and three cars/officers being dispatched to the scene.  LH said the husband was himself involved in law enforcement so that added a certain tension to the whole situation as he almost certainly had firearms in the house.

We spent the rest of the afternoon chatting until Marilyn had to leave for a gala fundraiser for a school that her Congregation supports.  We decided to continue visiting with LH and stay for dinner.  LH had a bag of shredded vegan mozzarella “cheese” so we ordered a mushroom and onion no-cheese pizza from Imo’s and she ordered a medium supreme.  I drove into town and picked up the pizzas.  When I got back we added the vegan cheese to ours and heated it in the oven long enough to melt it.  It was very good.

In recent times Imo’s was our favorite pizza (after the demise of the Luigi’s restaurants in the St. Louis area many years ago) but the last time we tried one without cheese it was not very satisfying.  The crust is thin and crisps nicely, the way we like it, and the sauce is slightly sweet and used sparingly, the way we like it, but their normal cheese, a mozzarella and provolone mix, is (apparently) what pulls together the pie’s uniquely fabulous taste.  While the vegan mozzarella was not an exact replacement it made for a very tasty meal, bringing both taste and texture to the pizza.

We needed to do some grocery shopping so we took our leave at 7:30 PM and drove to the Dierbergs supermarket in Edwardsville.  There are three grocery stores at the intersection of IL-159 and Governors Parkway, but Dierbergs was the most likely to have what we were looking for.  Our shopping done we headed east on Governors’ Parkway almost to I-55 and took the service road back to our RV park.  We gave our cats the attention they were seeking while Linda (LF) settled in with her e-book and I worked on the blog post for our two-day visit to Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument.  I also proofread the final draft of the March 2015 issue of Bus Conversion Magazine and sent back my corrections.  I uploaded the blog post and then went to bed to work on the posts for yesterday and today.

2015/04/19 (N) LF-M-LH Day 2

Linda (LF) was up at 6:30 AM, earlier than usual, and I got up at 6:50 AM.  Before I had a chance to start making our morning coffee she pulled up the weather and showed me the radar.  Rain had been forecast to start just after midnight, and continue all day today and into tomorrow, but it appeared that it had not rained last night.  The radar, however, indicated that the rain was on our southern doorstep.  I needed to dump our holding tanks and refill our fresh water tank, so I took care of that while Linda made the coffee and updated her cost-of-camping spreadsheet.

The dump and fill process took me about an hour but we now have enough waste tank capacity and fresh water onboard to get us home with room to spare.  Based on Linda’s data our average nightly cost to “camp” this winter has been about $8.75.  Not bad.  Our average daily cost for our winter in Florida was over $20 which we felt was a very reasonable cost for wintering there.  We drove more miles this winter compared to last, almost double in fact, so we spent the money we saved on camping buying diesel fuel.  Fortunately diesel fuel prices in the central and western states where much lower than the prices in the southeast last year.  They were, in fact, the lowest prices we have seen in years so that was a nice break.

I updated my water usage spreadsheet while Linda got caught up on our personal accounting and bills.  Cell phones and cellular data, in conjunction with the Internet and electronic banking, have fundamentally transformed the full-time and extended-time RVing experience in ways that no one could have imagined 15 years ago.  I had an e-mail from Dropbox that Kate had joined a folder I had shared with her so I sent her a short e-mail updating her on our travel plans.  I also had an e-mail with the final draft of the print version of the March 2015 issue of BCM and verified that the corrections I uploaded last night had been made to my article.  I consolidated my blog posts for March 22 and 23 and finished editing them.  I had just started looking at the unprocessed photos for those posts when it was time to pack up and head to Marilyn and Linda’s (LH) house for the day.

The weather was overcast and gloomy and the rains eventually came, a perfect day to stay inside and eat, talk, and play games.  Marilyn has been making a real attempt at moving to a vegan diet so she prepared tomato soup and black bean burgers for lunch.  We then put the leaf in the dining room table and got out the Mexican Train dominoes game.  We brought hummus and Linda (LH) had made vegan guacamole so we enjoyed those with a few Fritos corn chips.  We also had fresh grapes and toasted almonds to munch on and a couple of bowls of popcorn.  We played 16 rounds of Mexican Train starting with the double 15 tile in the center and ending with the double “zero” (blank) in the center.  It was evening by the time we finished and everyone enjoyed having a whole day to hang out with family and friends with nothing more important to do than play a game.

We left just before 8 PM and drove through Edwardsville to get back to the RV Park rather than get on the Interstates.  There was very little on TV that interested us and we ended up watching an episode of The Man from U.N.C.L.E.  It was a very popular show in its day but is now very dated to the point of being almost silly.

Linda (LF) read and I selected/processed photos for my blog post about our visits to Ajo, Arizona on March 22nd and 23rd.  I got the post and photos uploaded and then went to bed.

2015/04/20 (M) Edwardsville, IL to Twelve Mile, IN

Linda was up a little before 7 AM and I was up a little after.  Today was a travel day, so we did not make coffee or have breakfast.  We were not hungry anyway having had our fill of food, both good and junk, yesterday.  We each had a cup of tea while we got our day started.

We started getting ready to leave around 9 AM and finally pulled out of the Red BaRn RendezVous RV Park at 9:50 AM.  We had about 330 miles to travel to get from Edwardsville, Illinois to Twelve Mile, Indiana.  Since the RV park is just off of I-55 we took I-55 north to I-72 near Springfield, followed that east to I-57 and then took that north to US-24.  We followed US-24 east and moved from Central Daylight Time to Eastern Daylight Time sometime after we crossed into Indiana.  US-24 joined up with US-35 to bypass Logansport, Indiana to its south and then split off to continue east towards Peru.  We picked up US-31 just before Peru and took that north to IN-16 where we headed back west about five miles to Twelve Mile.  It was 5 PM (EDT) when we arrived at Butch and Fonda Williams’ place.  The bus ran well except for a couple of tattletale lights that started blinking briefly towards the end of the trip.  The previous problem with the chassis air systems did not reoccur.

I checked the manual after we got parked and one of the lights was for a chassis battery voltage Hi/Low condition and the other was for the upper and lower 12 V strands of the chassis battery being out-of-balance.  Both conditions, if true, might implicate the Vanner battery equalizer but the first diagnostic step will be to check the circuit breakers.  The next step will be to check all of the battery connections, including the Vanner.  One of the things on my To-Do list is to swap the upper and lower batteries as the “24V” gauge on the dashboard usually reads 29 V and the “12V” gauge usually reads 14 V or slightly less if I have the headlights turned on.

Butch and Fonda had to take his parents to medical appointments in Lafayette, Indiana today and got home just before we arrived.  We did not realize they were there but that was OK; they knew we were coming and we have a nice level spot to park on concrete with a “50 A” electrical connection when we are here.  (It’s a 240 VAC connection with a 50 A RV outlet but we can only draw about 30 amps on each leg.)  Even though we left home on November 30, 2014 Twelve Mile feels like the place where our trip to the southwest U.S. began as we left from here in a caravan with Butch and Fonda on December 3rd.

We were settled in our spot and had our WiFiRanger connected to their Wi-Fi access point when Butch and Fonda either realized we were there, or that we were not going to knock on their door, and came over and knocked on ours instead.  They came in our bus and we talked for over an hour at which point Butch needed to deal with a Facebook group admin issue.  After they returned to the house Linda started preparing our dinner while I checked e-mail and then continued working on this blog post.

Linda sautéed onions, mushrooms, and garlic in a little olive oil and added torn spinach at the end.  She cooked two baking potatoes in the microwave oven and served them with the sautéed vegetables as a topping along with some almond milk jalapeño pepper jack vegan cheese.  A simple but satisfying dish on a cool, clammy evening.  We also had some black grapes with the meal which were tasty and refreshing.  We made two large cups of hot tea and took them to the house where we visited with Butch and Fonda some more.  By 10 PM we were too tired to be good company so we returned to our coach and went to bed.


2014/04/13 (N) To The Panhandle

I was up early today anticipating getting on the road again.  We had a little juice and took our vitamins, but did not have coffee or breakfast.  I generally do not eat or drink much in the morning on travel days.  The bus was mostly ready to go except for last minute details and around 8 AM we shifted into departure mode.  I opened the passenger-side engine bay door, opened the air supply valve to the engine accessories, unlatched the rear engine cover and raised it, and connected the coach chassis batteries.  Since the engine ran a bit warm on the drive from Williston to Hudson I wanted to visually verify that that radiator fan was spinning.

While I waited for the Pressure Pro TPMS to pick up the pressure readings from all of the tires I closed all of the ceiling vents and the side windows. The driver-side front/steer tire pressure was a little lower than I like, the drive and tag tire pressures were OK.  The passenger-side front/steer tire pressure was a little higher than I normally run, put not excessive and within the maximum cold pressure limits of the tire and wheel.  I wrote down the tire pressures for reference later.

L-to-R Nancy, Bill, and Linda at Suncoast Designers in Hudson, FL.

L-to-R Nancy, Bill, and Linda at Suncoast Designers in Hudson, FL.

While Linda secured the inside I shut off the AC power, disconnected the power cord, stowed it for travel, and closed up the utility bay.  Just before 8:30 AM I fired up the main engine, let the oil pressure build, and put it in high idle.  The radiator fan was spinning as it should and I closed the rear hatch and side door on the engine compartment.  Bill and Nancy were up and Bill guided me out of our parking spot while Linda kept an eye on the rear end of the bus.  I only had to back up once, and only a little bit, to complete the turn.  With the tag axle raised the turning radius of the coach is shortened enough to make a difference in slow, tight turns.

We need to find a large vacant parking lot, set up some cones, and practice maneuvering the bus in and out of tight spaces.  I have driven the coach enough that I generally have a good feel for how it handles but our visit to Suncoast Designers revealed that our individual and team skill sets were incomplete.  We do not have a good understanding of how to back it around into a narrow space starting from a perpendicular position.  In particular we do not have a good feel yet for where the front tires are as the nose swings.

The centerline through the front tires is behind the driver, five feet from the front bumper.  Bill had me pull much farther forward out of our site before turning the wheels hard left than seemed visually reasonable from the driver’s seat.  As the front end came around I completely lost sight of the curb that ran along the far side of the road as it disappeared under the front of the coach.  But Bill could see my tires and knew I was positioned correctly.  He said I could probably have pulled out of the site without backing up, but the passenger-side front tire would have barely missed the curb.  He had me turn the tires hard right and back up slightly, creating the additional space needed to complete the tight left turn out of the site and onto the road.


Nancy gave us a couple of business cards with their contact information and we said our farewells.  I pulled out of Suncoast Designers at 8:45 AM with Linda following in the car.  We got to the Tires Plus store just before 9 AM and got parked parallel to the end of the building.  We checked all of the tire pressures again using the TPMS and recorded them.  The pressure in all of the tires rose about 5 PSI in the eight mile drive.  The technician was ready to go and was very patient as I removed each pressure sensor, checked the tire pressure with my gauge  (that I have previously checked against a known good pressure standard), compared it to the two TPMS readings, determined how much additional pressure to have him add, checked it again, and put the pressure sensor back on.  We thanked him for the service (no charge) and gave him a tip.

The sensors will have to be removed once we get to our destination and the tires have a chance to cool off.  The baseline pressure is determined by the pressure in the tire when the sensor is installed and the warnings are triggered by deviations from the baseline.  The overnight low from Tuesday into Wednesday is forecast to be 38 degrees F, so that will be the time to check and reset.  The Pressure Pro was one of the early TPMS systems and this how it was designed.  Newer systems permit the baseline pressure to be programmed into the receiver by tire position.  Our sensors do not have user replaceable batteries and when they finally need to be replaced we will put that money towards a newer system.

Linda guided me as I backed the bus around behind the service bays.  We hooked the car up for towing and did our light check.  Our left turn signal on the car was not working, but everything else was OK.  One of the sockets in the wiring connector on the car was slightly corroded so I cleaned it using the awl in my Leatherman multi-tool.  That fixed the problem when we left Williston, but not this time.  I examined the connector on the bus, and found that part of one of the pins was missing.  This was almost certainly the left turn signal and there was nothing to be done about it at that moment.  This is a standard 6-pin round RV/trailer connector.  It was a cheap piece of junk the day it was made and did not improve with age.  I will be replacing both connectors and the cable with products from EZ Connector.  Weather sealed, gasketed, and magnetically retained with integrated self-closing covers; primo.

We pulled out onto US-19 northbound.  The road construction workers had the day off and traffic was light so we had an easy run up to Crystal River, picking up the US-98 designation near Homosassa.  Even with light traffic it took a while to get through Crystal River where the speed limit is often 30 – 35 MPH and there are frequent stop lights.  Once we cleared Crystal River we were able to travel 60 MPH, plus or minus, for most of the rest of the trip except through Chiefland.

The Check Engine Light came on soon after we left Suncoast Designers and stayed on for quite a while.  It eventually went off and only occasionally came back on, especially under acceleration or climbing hills.  The engine coolant temperature gauge initially read below 195 degrees F, but morning temperatures were moderate.  The sun was behind us and the coach stayed comfortable without the OTR air-conditioner.  I don’t know how precise the engine temperature gauge is, but it does seem to be accurate.  (Precision is the extent to which it shows the true/correct temperature; accuracy is the degree to which it is consistent or repeatable in terms of its readings.)  The engine oil temperature came up to 186 degrees F on the gauge fairly quickly like it normally does.  The transmission temperature gauge eventually came up to the same temperature but took a lot longer, as it normally does, even with the use of the transmission retarder going through Crystal River and Chiefland.

The GPS wanted us to take I-75 and was very persistent in trying to get us to leave our chosen route.  It became humorous after awhile and we should have counted the number of times it said “recalculating.”  We obviously had the preferences set to “maximize freeways” or something like that.  It finally figured out what we were doing when we got to the US-19 US-98 split at Perry, Florida.  US-98 turns west to WSW and follows the Gulf coast where it becomes a designated scenic drive.  While probably beautiful, it would have been a longer route with lots of shore communities making it a long, slow drive.  US-19 turned NNW and ran up to I-10 east of Tallahassee, Florida, the state Capitol.

The terrain had been essentially flat up to Perry, but part way to I-10 we encountered a hill; up one side and down the other.  It just appeared out of nowhere as if someone had built it there just to get our attention.  But then there was another hill, and another one and …  we were north of “the bend” and officially entering the panhandle which, unbeknownst to us, was not flat like the parts of Florida where we had spent time this winter.

By the time we got to Perry the outside air temperature was in the low 80’s and the engine coolant temperature was indicating 195 or a hair under.  The engine and transmission temperature were staying in the 186 to 190 range.  The pyrometers came up to 700 – 900 degrees F on hills depending the grade and length.  The cruise control ran perfectly all day, as it always has, but the speedometer sat on zero and never budged (accurate, but not precise).

Once on I-10 west we made good time traveling due west across the panhandle.  The road was straight but had lots of ups and downs.  The highest point in Florida is in the northwestern panhandle near the Alabama border.  Just west of Tallahassee we stopped at a Flying J truck stop and travel center to top off our fuel tank.  We continued west on I-10 and crossed into the Central Time Zone before exiting at US-331 and heading south towards the Gulf of Mexico and the towns of Freeport and South Walton.  Fifteen miles from the Interstate we made our last few turns and arrived at Live Oak Landing RV park.  We had traveled 350 miles in 7.5 hours including the fuel stop, but still a little below our usual 50 MPH average.  We were tired when we arrived and Linda fixed a salad and pan grilled our last two tofu hot dogs.


2013_12_22 (N) A Rainy Night In Georgia

Not really; as it turned out the rain forecast for overnight never developed.  But around 5:30 AM we got a blast of colder air, probably the downdraft from a thunderstorm, which was the first sign of the approaching frontal boundary.  It started raining around 5:45 AM and rained heavily off and on from 6 AM on.  The Weather Channel radar showed an unpleasantly large band of heavy rain just to our west stretching from the Gulf of Mexico to our southwest northeastward up the western side of the Appalachian Mountains into the mid-Atlantic states and beyond.  The whole line was training from SW to NE while moving to the east, portending a long rain event in Cartersville, Georgia once it started.  The southern edge of a severe thunderstorm watch box was just to our north, but we only had a little lightening no thunder.  As route would take us south to southeast, there was a chance we could get ahead of the advancing storm line if got started early enough.

I had to unhook in the rain in order to get us on the road at 7 AM; not something I would normally choose to do, but it was OK.  There is often an upside to most situations, and in this case there were two.  One was that I finally got to use my new REI raincoat and rainpants, and I am happy to report that I finally have raingear that keeps the rain on the outside where it belongs.  It was also an opportunity to test whether the leaks in our roof had been found and sealed.  So far, so good.  Indeed, we ran in and out of rain for most of the drive today, heavy at times, and no leaks appeared.

Besides trying to stay ahead of freezing temperatures, another reason for leaving Michigan a day early was to stick with our plan to drive through/around the Atlanta, Georgia metro area on a Sunday.  The Cartersville KOA is about 50 miles north of Atlanta, so leaving at 7 AM allowed us to deal with Atlanta traffic between 8:00 AM and 8:30 AM on a Sunday morning.  We did not have the road to ourselves, and traffic was probably slower than normal due to the rain, but this proved to be a good call on our part.  We had been told that we could take the bus straight through downtown Atlanta on I-75, and our Rand McNally GPS routed us that way, but in the end we were persuaded to take the I-285 by-pass around Atlanta to the west by a sign that said “All trucks with more than 6 wheels use I-285 by-pass.”  I-285 W paralleled I-75 a few miles to the west and I-285 E returned us to I-75.  It did not add that many miles, and there were fewer entrance ramps with less traffic merging onto the highway than on I-75 through the city.

By the time we got south of Atlanta it was past sunrise.  The rain had let up and the sky was noticeably brighter.  We did not manage to outrun the storm front, but the rain became lighter and intermittent until we got into Florida when it finally ended.

We had also been advised to stop in Georgia just before the Florida state line and top off our fuel tank as the price of diesel fuel can be 20 to 25 cents per gallon higher in Florida.  We have a Pilot / Flying J discount card, so we tend to look for Pilot Travel Centers and Flying J Truck Stops first.  We checked their website the night before and found that they had a Pilot Travel Center at exit 11 and a Flying J Truck Stop at exit 2, both conveniently located to I-75.  We have also gotten comfortable with how to get in and out of these truck stops and use the truck pumps.  Even when they have “RV pumps” we never use them as access is often a problem and they usually have automotive size nozzles that take longer to fill the tank.  We ended up stopping at the Pilot Travel Center at exit 11 at 11:45 AM and were back on I-75 S by 12:10PM.  Upon crossing into Florida we did not see a significant difference in the price of diesel fuel, but perhaps the stations near the border try to keep their prices in line with the border stations in Georgia?

Yesterday was the first time I had driven any type of vehicle in Georgia and the first time we have had the motorhome in the state.  It was not the first time either of us had been here; Linda was in Savannah once with our daughter’s Girl Scout troop and I was in Atlanta many, many years ago on business.  Today was also the first time we have had the coach in Florida.  Again, it was not our first time in the state.  We had heard about the I-75 Florida Welcome Center, but having just stopped for fuel in Georgia we passed it by.  They allow you to stay for up to 24 hours to “rest”—no slideouts; no awnings; no bar-b-cue pits; no lawn chairs—but you can definitely spend the night if you need to and are able to boondock.

Our short-term site at Williston Crossings RV Resort.

Our short-term site at Williston Crossings RV Resort.

We pulled in to Williston Crossings RV Resort just after 2 PM.  They had opened a new entrance on SR-121 which caused us a moment of confusion when we saw the sign as the address we had put in the GPS required us to travel another mile through Williston to get to the entrance.  The entrance gate was closed, with no room to turn around, but there was an office building with an illuminated OPEN sign, so we turned it.  A woman came out to greet us and explained that this was a new entrance and we were welcome to use it.  She called for an escort and let us through the gate to wait for the golf cart to lead us to our site.  They assigned us a great full-hookup (50 amp electrical service, of course) pull-through site with lots of shade trees.  Most of the sites here are paved, and ours was close enough to level to make leveling the coach easy.  It is also a very long site and would easily accommodate a 45 foot motorhome with a 25 foot trailer behind it.

The daily welcome board (with our last name misspelled).

The daily welcome board (with our last name misspelled).

Once we were settled we walked up to the office to register and get our packet of materials.  There was a white board on the front porch of the office building with the names of all of the people arriving that day.  Ours was listed; a nice touch.  The resort is a “gated” community.  The gates are open during the day but closed at night, so our packet included the gate code.  Unlike most RV parks, the resort does not issue stickers or hangtags for the RVs, tow, or towed vehicles.  Beside the usual rules, emergency numbers, etc., our packet also included a newsletter and calendar of upcoming events.  The resort has an activity building with a workout room, a clubhouse, a pool and covered pavilion, and nice laundry and restrooms.  The office has a billiards table, library, reading area, a small kitchenette and dining area, a gift shop, and mailboxes.  (See photos at the end of this post.)  If we want to it appears there are plenty of things to do here.

Williston Crossings RV Resort was one of several places that had been recommended to us by fellow GLCC member Ed Roelle.  Ed and Janet have stayed there in the past and thought it was one of the best RV parks around with reasonable rates for a really nice park in Florida in the winter.  We had checked out the website, which always makes a place look good, and described the variety of amenities and activities.  We also checked the satellite imagery, so we knew that the park was large and had some nice tree cover.  But none of that research gave us a complete or accurate picture of what is here.  It is, quite frankly, nicer than we expected.

We scanned for OTA TV channels and found quite a few, including the usual trio of PBS stations.  Score!  The local ABC affiliate was showing The Sound Of Music, so we watched that during the evening.

Billiards table and mailboxes.

Billiards table and mailboxes.

Office/library reading area.

Office/library reading area.

Billiards table and library.

Billiards table and library.

The office gift shop.

The office gift shop.

2013/12/21 (S) Winter Solstice

Often referred to as “the shortest day of the year” the winter solstice is the exact same length as every other day of the year.  What’s special about it is that in the northern hemisphere it is the day with the least time from sunrise to sunset and the most time from sunset to sunrise.  From here to the Summer Solstice the minutes of daylight increase slightly each day.

As glad as we are to be headed south, there are always reasons to stay home.  Family tops the list, especially birthdays and holidays, but we took care of that with the cooperation of our families.  We have our friends and clubs, of course, but another reason would be the Winter Solstice Special Release Party at Schramm’s Mead in Ferndale.  Since we could not be in two places at once, we will just have to hope that Ken still has some Winter Solstice left when we get back.  🙂  If not, perhaps Ken will have a Vernal Equinox Special Release or a Summer Solstice Special Release.  Any excuse to buy Ken’s mead.

What we did instead was pull out of the Oh! Kentucky RV Park/Campground at 8:20 AM and drove 0.3 miles to get back on southbound I-75.  It was dry but overcast as we started out, but we were in and out of rain for most of the drive.  The rain was generally light, but we did encounter heavier rates from time-to-time.  We did not experience much fog, but we did have some areas with ground clouds.  We made it past Knoxville, Tennessee without the problems we had back in October.  This was the farthest south we have been with the coach, and the first time I have driven I-75 south of Knoxville.  We made a brief stop for fuel at the Pilot Travel Center in McDonald, Tennessee and continued south on I-75 into Georgia.  This the first time I have driven anything in Georgia and the first time we have had the coach there.  Even with the rain it was a relatively easy and uneventful drive, except for the continued, almost random, on/off of the Check Engine Light.  The coach ran well with good power and all of the gauges indicated normal operation, so we just pressed on.  When we get settled in Arcadia for the rally I will pull out the ProLink and read the codes.  That should draw a crowd and might even make for an interesting round-table discussion.

At 1:30 PM we took exit 111 and headed west 0.3 miles to the entrance of the Cartersville/Cassville-White KOA, This was our first time staying overnight in the Georgia in the motorhome.  Linda had called ahead when we were near Knoxville, Tennessee, so we knew the office would be closed from 11 AM to 3 PM.  The office manager left a map of the campground for us in the night registration station with our spot marked on it and the route to take through the campground to get there.  She even put an orange traffic cone at the entrance to our site to mark it as reserved; very thoughtful.  The temperature was in the low 60s when we arrived and rose to 69 during the evening.  Rain was forecast for the later evening and thunderstorms for the overnight.  As we have done since before we left, we kept an eye on the weather.

This is the second KOA we have stayed at in the last three months.  We tend to think of them as overpriced with lots of amenities that appeal to families with kids, but that we don’t use.  Both parks, however, have been very good places for us to stay, with:  convenient access; good gravel interior roads with sufficient width and turning radius for our rig; mature trees trimmed up high enough to not scratch our motorhome; pull through sites with 50 amp full hookups; and clean bathrooms with good showers.  The one in Natural Bridge, Virginia was full of kids, but it was a weekend near Halloween and we had fun giving away candy to the trick-or-treaters.  The current location appears to be no more than 40% of capacity, with no evidence of kids; definitely off-peak season.

As an update to yesterday’s post, I discovered that I was pushing the wrong button and that both windshield washer pumps do, in fact, work.  Duh.  L  The good news was that both windshield washer pumps work!  J  When we got to our destination I switched the output hoses back to their correct pumps so everything should work the way it’s supposed to tomorrow; except perhaps for those clogged orifices on the lower wiper arms.  It’s always something, it seems, and any RVer who is honest about it will admit that.  But they will also tell you that it’s part of the experience/lifestyle, and you either learn to take it stride and deal with it or you end up doing something else.

As a final technical note, now that I have started valving off additional circuits on the auxiliary air system, the pressure seems to be holding much longer and thus the compressor runs much less often.  It is now at least a two hour cycle and may be holding longer than that.  The new auxiliary air distribution/control panel that I built last year and installed this past spring has made it possible to do this.