When we pulled out of Bluewater Key Resort it was miserable weather. The clouds were dark and heavy, raining a constant drizzle. All we could see in the distance were more grey skies. One thing I was grateful for was that our windshield wipers worked. When Mike flew to Florida to pick up the Monaco and drive it back to Lake Conroe, he immediately discovered the windshield wipers did not work. Every time it rained he had to pull over and wait it out. This time at least we could keep moving forward in the wet stuff.
We had no reservations anywhere and no specific timeline, we just knew we were going to drive as far north as we could get in about four days. We wanted to get to the Northeastern United States while the weather was warm. We weren’t going to get to everything up in that area, but we figured we could do about 8 states in 5 months. We would want to be heading back south again by October. The only real plan we had was to drive about 200 miles (plus or minus), then take a break, then drive another 200 miles and find a rest stop to spend the overnight. We estimated we could get to somewhere in New York after about 4 days of this schedule without torturing ourselves too much.
On the first leg we made it through Miami, whew. I think I have failed to mention up to this point that I am a very nervous co-pilot. I’m a good navigator and I’m helpful with directions and stuff, but this bus is very gigantic and I’ve never really looked at driving from a Trucker’s perspective before. Mike doesn’t even hit the breaks to slow down; he just pushes some button on the left side by his arm rest. Please don’t misunderstand. Mike is a GREAT bus driver and he has nerves of steel, so nothing fazes him. It is not him that makes me scared; it is just being in this huge vessel looking down on all these tiny cars weaving in and out in front of us. When I’m really nervous I try to meditate about how the FAA trains Air Traffic Controllers with the same software that Race Car Drivers use to practice and enhance their skills. We are always fine with Mike in the Captain’s chair; it is just the other stupid fools on the road that we cannot control. I try extremely hard to avoid back seat driving (since I have no idea how or any inclination to drive this thing), but that doesn’t mean I don’t utter things like “slower”, “break lights ahead”, “what’s the speed limit”. I try to stay occupied with the iPad, looking at directions, or Facebook, but I get motion sickness so I can’t do that for very long spurts at a time.
We found a rest stop after about 3 hours just as the rain let up a bit. We parked on the edge so we could put out the two passenger side slides. I walked the dogs around, we ate lunch, watched television, took a nap. This was the stop where we noticed the windshield wiper in front of the passenger’s side was dangling down in front of the bus. Hmmm. Not good. At least it was not on the driver’s side, so we could keep moving in the rain. After we picked a truck stop where we could get fuel, and located a rest stop where we might spend the night, we got back on the road. That evening we made it to a rest area near San Augustine and slept in the parking lanes with all the other 18-wheelers. I had to crawl over Mike to get in and out of the bed because there was no room to expand any of the walls on this overnight. Our windshield was filthy with all the rain muck, so Mike was out on his ladder cleaning the windshield the next morning before we took off again. Turns out the wiper issue was just a loose bolt, so with clean windows and properly working rain equipment we finally left Florida.
The second day we drove through Georgia and South Carolina, sleeping just near the southern border of North Carolina. Most of the drive was through the Low Country and the view was so scenic. The Rest Area in North Carolina was actually a Welcome Center because of its proximity to the state line. This means it was much larger than a regular rest stop. It had a pond and small walking trail. It also meant that we could park in a remote corner and expand all four of our slides.
I woke up at 4 AM on the third leg of our trip because Mike was awake in the living room with all the lights on. I thought he might want to get an extra early start, so I got up to let him know I was willing to begin the day if he was anxious to get moving. He was reading a section of the owner’s manual – which I thought was curious – and told me to go back to bed, to which I happily complied. It wasn’t until we woke up again at a normal time, walked the dogs, and had coffee that Mike informed me we had an oil leak. He had noticed oil splatters on the back of the coach and on the front of the Honda. He was waiting until 8AM to find a Truck Stop along our morning route. The plan was to drive it to a shop, have them check out the leak, and then keep moving north.
The first couple of Truck Stops that we called could not accommodate us for various reasons. We were starting to get a bit nervous. Then we had a break through! We remembered that one of the top three things on our original list of criteria was a Cummins Engine, 500HP or more. We stopped googling Truck Stops and started googling Cummins Engine Repair. Presto! There was a Cummins Atlantic on I-95 about an hour north of us. We called and explained the problem, they asked us how quick we could get there, and we were on the road.
After we arrived to the shop they determined a seal needed to be replaced. We agreed to have the seals and filters replaced, along with an oil change. After our “order” was processed, we disconnected the car and headed into the nearest tiny town. We had some fried chicken and BBQ at a local Mom & Pop establishment, found a car wash and tried to get the grease off the front of the Honda, then found a park with a fence so the dogs could run around a bit. We had wasted as much time as we could stand so we drove back over to the Cummins shop to see if they might be working on the bus yet. Sure enough, it was in the bay.
We still had to wait, but at least we knew the mechanics were working on it. We didn’t really know what to do with ourselves, so we parked the car under a shady tree in the parking lot of the adjacent Pilot Truck Center and tried to veg- out while we waited. That was fine and comfortable until the grounds crew arrived to cut the grass. We drove back to the Cummins parking lot and tried to wait there, but the parking lot had no shade and it was hot. I went inside the Cummins place to find a Ladies Room and discovered they had 2 WAITING LOUNGES! One for truckers and one for RV’rs. We had no idea. I promptly asked if our dogs would be allowed in the lounge and the nice lady said no problem. What? We have been out sitting in our car when we could have been inside with bathrooms, couches, television, WiFi and A/C! The Cummins people got the work done just before they closed at 5pm, so we were back on the road without too much drama or chaos. That night we made it to a rest area just past the Virginia state line before we stopped around dark.
Day four. One more day of this was doable, but we had to find somewhere to park that night where we could stay a week or longer. It was time to chill for a bit. We did some research that morning with coffee and found a place in Gardiner, New York in the Hudson River Valley. They had open spots at Yogi Bear’s Lazy River RV Park so we booked a reservation and planned our route for the rest of the day. As we prepared to leave, I was washing my face and I kept thinking I sure was splashing a lot more water than usual on the floor. Upon closer inspection I figured out that all the water I was running down my sink was coming out the bottom of my cabinet. Oh joy… I couldn’t wait to tell Mike the news! We got the water sopped up with towels, he found the spot of the leak, and we decided to deal with it later. I would just use his sink until mine worked again. We pulled out and drove past the D.C. area, then north through Maryland and into Pennsylvania. We didn’t really have a long break this day; we just stopped to refuel and kept going.
You might be thinking of the geography of our route as I explain our travels. Yes, we were headed north, UP into the Mountains. If you remember earlier when I explained I was a nervous rider… up until this point of our trip we had only been in some rolling hills in Alabama. These were mountains with emergency runaway lanes for out of control truckers going too fast down a steep slope. Now I was starting to utter words like “downshift”, “don’t use the runaway lane”. Mike knows I’m scared, so he is pretty tolerant of me – but I’m sure it is very annoying to him. The good thing was that we tackled the mountain drive during the daylight and arrived to Yogi Bear’s before dusk. Our traditional first-night-in-camp martinis were particularly delicious on this evening.