It is said, “What doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger”. Whatever “it” is also beats you down to a sad state of your former self before you decide to rise out of the muck to become stronger. When you decide to travel full time, you expect things to go wrong over time; over time being the key phrase in that sentence. The occasional leak from a window or even the roof, the busted plumbing line, clogged drainage, and perhaps a flat tire would be some of the happenstance that might occur while touring the country. We launched on our journey May 31st, 2015 from Valdosta, GA. Over the next two weeks, yes, only two weeks, we experienced so many setbacks and bad events that it tested our resolve and made us question if this was really the right thing for us.
It all started the morning we left. As I was hooking Toady to the car dolly, I apparently laid down in a small pile of fire ants about five of whom decided to taste my arm for breakfast. As far as omens go, this was not a positive one for me. If that was the worst thing that was going to happen though, I would have taken it. As it turns out, it was only the beginning. Traveling down the road for only the second time, we were still a little on the paranoid side about sounds and watching for any signs of trouble. Our oldest daughter was following us so we at least had a backup in case something fell off that we didn’t notice. Typically, while towing the car dolly, Christi and I can each see a fender out the side view mirrors. Suddenly, I caught a flash of red in the mirror and then a head light and then a little of the front grill. Something was wrong and it was definitely time to slow down and make my way over to the shoulder. We get stopped and I go to check out why Toad is trying to pass us only to find he is still tightly attached to the dolly. The problem was the tow hitch had come away from the back of Floki and was dragging behind us held on only by the two safety chains. Thankfully, the safety chains did their job and we did not lose our car and dolly down the road. The hitch locking pin, which is supposed to hold the tow hitch in place, broke off allowing the hitch to fall out of the tow bar on the RV. *PHEW* narrowly avoid a major disaster but now we have to go find a place nearby to buy a new tow locking pin. Wal-Mart to the rescue! After the purchase, we make our way back to the stranded Floki and get the pin reinstalled and everything looks good to go. Fate, as it seems, would not take long to throw another twist into our plans.
Originally, we had planned to meet my brother and his family for lunch before heading up to a place to stay over before finally heading to the mountains for a few days. Now, we rejoin our heroes as they leave the side of the highway to continue on their journey. We pull back on the road and something immediately feels wrong with the ride. At first, we thought it may be the rumble strips as we crossed over to the highway, but that would have been too easy. Thankfully, there was a rest area right around the next bend that we were able to pull into and get stopped. As we were slowly creeping to the rest area, I can see the wheel of the tow dolly wobbling like there is no tomorrow; awesome. Again, we get stopped and we get out to see what the heck it could be this time. Somehow, still not quite sure how, all of the lug nuts have become loose and have shaken off to the point of sheering off several completely. I am guessing that one or two became loose and the shaking made the rest fall off. So, we are now stuck in a rest area with a busted wheel on our tow dolly and faced with only a few options. One option is to figure out what happened, figure out how to fix it, and figure out how to get back on the road. Second option is to abandon the dolly, drive separately and get immediately back on the road. Third option is to sit there and hate life, cry a little, and give up. Let’s start from third and work back to first. We did not just plan for more than a year to just sit in a rest area and cry it out before giving up so option three is not available. The whole point of full time RV living was to be a family and spend the time and adventure together on the road; plus, we just spent $600 on the tow dolly so option two is not available. Since we have even started dreaming about this lifestyle, we have always said, “We will figure it out; we are figure-er-outers”. Option one was the only real path for us.
We made a few phone calls before assessing that we were not going anywhere for the night. Rather than panic, we found a hotel close by that allowed pets and we checked in for the night to reset our minds, find out what we needed to fix the wheel an where to get the parts, and get a good night sleep to start fresh in the morning. The night falls on our heroes, but daybreak brings a new attitude and a better state of mind. Parts in hand and tools to fix it, I set off in Floki in hopes of getting the wheel changed out and the dolly hooked back up and ready to go by the time the girls meet me there after breakfast. As our luck would have it, the hub assembly I bought was the wrong one and too small. Also, there was no locking nut in the “full assembly kit” to hold the wheel hub n place even if it did fit. I make a quick call to Christi, who had the forethought to tell me to take the phone, “Just in case”, she is awesome like that, and we are back at the supply place to exchange the kit for the other one. One side note, for as crappy as our string of luck has been, there have been flashes of good mixed in which has made the bad events possible to navigate. One such good spot was the fact that when I originally went to buy the hub assembly, the guy said to leave the broken stuff and he would just throw it out at the store. Either through his forgetfulness or just laziness, the bag with all the old parts was still in the back with the old locking nut. *PHEW* the correct part and all needed parts and tools in hand, we drive back to the broken dolly and get to work. Amazingly, the hub fits and after some elbow grease, get the hub in place and locked and the wheel on and all lug nuts tight as can be before hooking everything back up and finally continuing down the road. Georgia had finally released us from its vice grips and allowed the Mooneys to venture outside of her boundaries.
Now, follow our heroes as they reach and begin to climb the treacherous Great Smoky Mountains to their final destination Fort Wilderness Campground. We own a 1988 well used RV. We were well aware that the power this 350 Econoline engine had was minimal at best and we were certainly worried that Floki would have issues when we got to the steeper inclines. As it turns out, we were correct. As the climb got steeper and steeper, Floki struggled more and more to get up the mountain pulling Toady behind us. So much so, that at one point, we were almost going backward. By the power of Picard, there was one single pull off area going up the mountain and it was in the right spot at the right time. We get off the road and decide to unhook Toady and Christi would drive the lead the rest of the way to the camp site. *Foreshadowing* the strain on the engine and cooling system was a lot.
Could it be? Could our heroes have actually made it to their destination without further issues or devastating events? Yes! The travel gods were smiling, or sleeping and not paying attention, and the Mooneys found their way in more or less one piece. After a rejuvenating experience in the mountains, it was time to get back to the perils of the road and see what fate had in store for us once again. If you were paying attention to the foreshadowing, you knew something was going to happen. To play it safe, we decided to drive separately down the mountain until we got out of the mountains and to more level ground. The way down was interesting, but passed without any issues. We pulled over to gas up and re-hook Toady to Floki and as we pulled up to the pump, the very distinctive flow of steam began to billow from the engine. No worries, Floki was probably just overheating a little so we let him cool down and I topped off the fluids to be sure. We gas up, reattach Toady to Floki, check the air pressure, and we are back on the road with high hopes. *insert sound of high hopes being crushed* Almost immediately after we start driving, I see smoke/steam coming from underneath the RV itself and the engine. We are in trouble and it is not good at this point. We get off at the next exit and limp to the gas station to stop. After emerging from a very real cloud of smoke and steam, we get out and just stare at Floki wondering if we can even continue or is this the end of the road; again. We were smoking so bad that a couple stopped and followed us to the gas station to make sure we were alright and not on fire. Let me say that again; NOT ON FIRE! Floki was not going anywhere, not now, not soon, and certainly not without help. Would he ride again? Not even our heroes knew that answer.
As the mid day sun burns down on our down trodden heroes, they cannot help but laugh because it is impossible to do anything else. Floki would have to be towed and taken to a repair place, that much was a fact and undeniable. Sadly, the only RV repair place was about 25 miles in the reverse direction; yes the direction we just left and back into the clutches of the dreaded Great Smoky Mountains. A good turn of events in the midst of the bad found us with road side assistance as a part of our insurance package, *PHEW*, also, we had just acquired a new smart type phone with a data plan that was very useful in tracking down information about what happened and where to take it to be fixed. Progressive, our insurance company of course, arranges the tow and initially informs us that we are only covered up to the first 15 miles of the tow. Still, small victory that we were able to get Floki towed in the first place. We were also informed that it would be at least two hours before the truck can get to us. That piece of information now puts us into a bind; the shop close about 4:30 or so and we are about 25 miles from the shop. We would be cutting it close if we had any shot of getting fixed and back on the road before dark. *tick* *tick* *tick* *tick* the time goes by and still no sign of the tow guy. It was becoming more and more clear that we would be stuck in another location we had no plans on seeing at all. Suddenly, on the horizon, there appears a tow truck; unfortunately, it has arrived with no chance of us being seen by a mechanic today.
The sight of Floki “on the hook” was a sad one as we rolled back to the mountains and to an unknown cost. Arriving at the RV repair place, I nervously walk into the office and wait to talk to one of the middle men inside. We are going to have to leave Floki here, go find yet another hotel, and wait for the inevitable call in the morning telling us what is wrong, and more painfully, what it will cost to fix. Quietly, we gather a few belongings and track down a hotel that will take us. A good night sleep and a fresh outlook are not going to fix things this time, but we are exhausted, frustrated, and ready for something good to happen. The next day would bring no relief to our pains. The phone rings and the hits keep on coming. The middle man tells us we need some hoses replaced, fluids topped off, and a new water pump, pause for the moment to sinking in, then comes the bad news. They do not have the parts in stock and have to order them; one place will cost us more and it will not be here until Wednesday or Thursday while the other place will be a little less and be there Monday or Tuesday; then comes the worse news. The repairs will cost us anywhere between $700 and $1000 in total, pause another moment to allow for more sinking in, wow. Our heroes now find themselves at the proverbial fork in the road. What choice do we really have but to have the repairs done and figure-er-outers a way to pay for it. Once again, plans we had to meet up with some friends are changed and a whole week of activities and visiting must be scrapped. With great doubt and uncertainty, we gather up everything we need and head to Christi’s mom’s house to wait out the storm, lick our wounds, and get ourselves right before tackling yet another problem. The Mooneys are a resilient bunch though and they absolutely refuse to quit on their dreams.
Fast forward about a week and we rejoin the fight with our heroes now armed with two brand new freshly minted “emergency” credit cards and a renewed sense of goodness that will carry them forward. In the midst of this fast forward, I will quickly fill you in that included with all this major “fun” several minor issues have plagued our travels. The turn signals and lights in general have decided to stop working, the front cab has developed a shaking while we drive; hopefully because of a balance issue but we will revisit that later, and we have fixed a few leaking pipes under the sink. It’s at this point when I begin thinking of a particular clip from the Ghostbusters movie that I feel fits our situation very well…
Now that we have all had a good laugh at our situation, let’s continue. During our down time, we laid out a new plan and travel, so when we pick up Floki, we know exactly what we are doing and where we are going. Since we are still in the mountains, we decide to drive separate for a while and clear or at least try to clear the heavy ups and downs the region presents. Good news, the mountains release us and we are allowed to head east and to the sanctuary of level land. A quick stop for gas and we reattach the family and it’s back on the road as a family. Cruising down the road, it occurs to me that every moment something bad does not happen the more relaxed I am feeling. *BAM* that was reality smacking me with a two by four or the sound of our front tire blowing out while doing 60 on the highway with a car in tow. Needless to say, the sound and subsequent actions after your first tire blow out sober you up real quick. The crazy thoughts we had about making it from point A to point B with no stops in between were quickly wiped away by shredded rubber and the sound of a metal rim grinding on the road. Slowly and gingerly we make our way to the shoulder with no further issues and put it in park and finally take a moment to breathe and get ready to put out yet another fire. We exit the RV and are greeted with a completely shredded front tire but still feel ok because, hey, it’s a tire; how hard can it be to change a flat, um yeah. Getting the lug nuts loose was no problem, getting the front raised enough to then take the tire off was no problem, however, raising the hub high enough to replace the flat with the spare; BIG problem. The measly regular jacks we have were no match for the hefty weight of Floki’s front end and no matter where we placed the jack; we just could not get it up off the ground high enough. For at least an hour, I did battle with the wheel hub only to finally wave the white flag and admit defeat. Throughout my trials with the wheel, would stop occasionally and laugh out loud. Passersby must have thought me quite mad; here is a man obviously struggling, but still maniacally laughing at a shredded tire, an RV with a blue cab, and a wheel hub that refuses to lift any higher than a few inches from the ground. It is again at this moment, after all the little and big problems have piled up and piled up and as the extra money we once had has been slowly but surely depleted, that I cannot help but think about another certain movie clip that once again fits our situation…
After a good chuckle, we now pick our heroes up on the phone with a nice gentleman with a tow truck, awesome. Smaller than the jack I am using but ten times more powerful, he places the little cylinder that could under the wheel well and, with a few simple pumps on the lever, Floki is raised from the ground and the spare is put on and tightened in place. This tow guy is so awesome; he even checks the other five tires and uses his portable air compressor to fill our spare to a usable pressure. After offering a small sacrifice to the tow guy gods, we are back on the road and, for the next several hours, Christi and I are at are highest paranoia levels as we are checking the mirrors and investigating every little sound. This is not how traveling should be; the journey should be half the fun of this lifestyle but instead, it has become the most stressful and hated part of our lives. Things have got to get better and soon.
Our heroes make it to their next location without further incident and a good night sleep, cup of coffee and a fantastic shower is all that is needed to bring the frame of mind back from the brink of defeat and headed in the right direction. Do not think that our plight is over though; we still have one more seven hour trip to make before we reach the end of our two week tale of horror and misfortune. The Mooneys recharge their batteries and head north on the final leg of what has become a very round-about route north to Pennsylvania. One long blast on the horn and we are underway. After a short ride, we pull in for some gas and while the kids and mommy go in for some food and drink, dad stays behind to pump the gas. Standing there, the pump is having trouble with keeping a flow of fuel going into the tank. As I am playing with the handle and trying to position it so it will stay engaged, I hear the little splashes of some kind of liquid hitting the ground under Floki. It appears the fuel that is being put in is not finding its way to the tank, but out a hole somewhere in the process. My first thought is that we have a busted fuel tank and looking at the underneath there is no way to get to the fuel tank without first taking off the black and gray water tanks. This is not looking good for our heroes once again. But wait, the flow of fuel has slowed and I can see better with my flashlight and it seems the fuel is leaking from a rubber connector hose which is still not accessible without taking off the black and gray water tanks; light, but ever so dim. The drama builds as the scene now finds Michael sitting on the ground stinking of gasoline and grease and once again dirty from having to dig around the RV. Christi and the girls emerge and she asks the question, “Do I want to know?” I reply, “no, no you don’t”. We both sit on the ground next to our busted up RV and suddenly I know what Admiral Adama must have felt like after a tough battle with the Cylons. Beaten, bruised, in bad need of repairs, but still floating through space and sustaining the life of her crew. Desperate, like the dying man on the battlefield asking for morphine to numb the pain, I turn to the one tool that just may get us back on the road and to our destination…
DUCT TAPE!!! The savior of people with broken stuff everywhere; duct tape is our Obi Wan Kenobi…it is our only hope. Christi leaps into action, well, slowly stands up and walks into the store to buy a roll. She returns and the duo begin tearing off strips of tape and very generously begin wrapping the torn hose. Piece after piece, agonizing inch by inch the black hose becomes duct tape gray and easily twice as thick as it used to be. Now the moment of truth, pumping fuel into the tank to see if the job is complete; SUCCESS!!!!! No leaking from the hose! The tank is filled and the Mooneys are back to the journey. A few hours later, our heroes arrive in Lancaster, PA and stop in their site with a great sigh of relief that this part of the journey is complete.
Two weeks had passed since we officially launched and just about every day was an adventure and an ordeal that we did not expect or even dream of happening. It tested our resolve, it tested our fortitude, it tested our belief in our dreams, but we never gave up and we put on our figure-er-outer hats and figured it out. We are brand new to this life right now, but we feel we can offer at least this small piece of advice to anyone who may be experiencing something similar or wondering how they would handle it if this was happening to them. Yes, get mad, get angry, get frustrated, even cry it out if you feel the need to but when all that is out, sit down and really look at the problem and think of all the possible solutions, even the ridiculous ones. There is an answer; you just have to look for it. If traveling full time is your dream, things are going to happen and sometimes, obviously, they happen in bunches. Do not give up so easily on your dreams; make them happen. Be and do what you want no matter what gets in your way and don’t forget to laugh, even in the face of the terrible misfortune you are experiencing. This is our life, these are our stories, and we will figure it out!