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¯\_(ツ)_/¯
¯\_(ツ)_/¯ SuperDork
5/21/17 7:41 a.m.

Background

Sara and I met over a half assembled formula car. We got engaged after utterly destroying an RX7 to barely complete a stage rally over a thousand miles from home. Our wedding featured two race cars, one of which broke as we drove away from the ceremony.

Needless to say, our honeymoon was not your typical all-inclusive beach relaxation session- we wanted an adventure, and on top of that we wanted to bring the whole crew, meaning two dogs and a cat were going to come with. So, against the advice of many and every shred of common sense we collectively possess, we bought this Fleetwood Southwind, a bunch of maps of the southwestern United States, and put in for two weeks off from our jobs.

Make no mistake though, when we "planned" our trip I mean we planned to take a trip- not that we planned out any real details, or where we would be each day, or how much distance we could cover, or what terrain would be reasonable to traverse in an old crappy craigslist RV. We planned to wing it. So we fixed the thing up to the best of our abilities, loaded it with supplies, put our NX250 on the back, and set off at the end of April for our adventure with our two dogs and cat- for reference, Kila is the yellow one, Ridley is the red one, and Squirrel is the gray one:

I'll be updating this as I write it, so time between posts may be kind of long. I'm not sure I can do the experience justice but I'll try!

EastCoastMojo
EastCoastMojo Mod Squad
5/21/17 7:51 a.m.

I am hooked already! Subscribed

Ransom
Ransom PowerDork
5/21/17 8:24 a.m.

Congratulations! And this is fantastic. I can't say it shakes our plan to go to Hawaii for a week and a half, but I salute your intrepitude! Also your ability to get a cat into a harness.

Slippery
Slippery SuperDork
5/21/17 8:33 a.m.

In!!!

¯\_(ツ)_/¯
¯\_(ツ)_/¯ SuperDork
5/21/17 8:35 a.m.

Day 1

Ignore the time estimates on the maps, they tend to be wrong when you can only do 55mph!

We were going to wake up around 5am and set off shortly after, but the universe had other plans- some time around 3:30am, we were woken up by thunder crashing and the sound of heavy raindrops hitting our house sideways. Given that we were awake already, we decided to get a head start- so in a torrential downpour, with lightning flashes illuminating the RV, we loaded everyone up and set off into the night:

A big motorhome is not the most pleasant thing to drive in the best of conditions, so you can imagine that rain, strong crosswinds, and the headlights of other vehicles make for a pretty harsh start to a trip, especially when you were antsy enough to sleep badly the night before. However, despite being somewhat taxing to drive, the Fleetwood handled the beginning of the trip well- it was running smoothly, had enough power to maintain 55 on the hills of I-81, and was successfully keeping the rain out while not leaking or burning any of its' own fluids. It also returned nearly 8mpg while doing it, which is pretty terrible but better than we had anticipated.

Somewhere in Virginia, after a few hundred miles of stormy driving, the rain and wind were finally letting up, and with just a light drizzle on the windshield the driving experience was considerably more pleasant- at least until the gauges became haunted. Suddenly, the speedometer stopped working, the oil pressure and temperature gauges pegged, and the fuel gauge bounced erratically. We pulled into a gas station, and the engine died when I put it in park. Wonderful

A quick walk around the thing indicated no obvious damage, but our LED lightbar had a faint glow to it despite being switched off. Thinking that it had become waterlogged and shorted somehow, I unplugged it, hopped back in, and turned the key; and to everyone's surprise, it fired up and the gauges resumed their normal function as if nothing had happened. We continued south through Virginia, at one point seeing (and failing to photograph) a bald eagle and achieving an incredible 9mpg in the flatter parts of the state. The animals were doing well and the drivetrain at least seemed to be just fine after our little hiccup.

Each time we stopped for fuel, we would check on the interior systems of the RV, and things on that end didn't seem as good- our fresh water pump and fridge had stopped working, and most of the interior lights were inoperable as well. I checked the house batteries with a multimeter and found that they were both completely flat, not even a fraction of a volt to be found- but since the engine was working just fine, we soldiered on with the goal of making it to the Smokey Mountains in Tennessee for a hike.

When we got off the highway to drive to our hiking spot, however, all was clearly not well- the steering developed a nasty pull to the right, and we could smell brakes. We pulled into a Lowes parking lot and set about finding the problem.

The right front wheel was incredibly hot, so obviously we should start there. Jacking it up, it was impossible to spin by hand, so something was seized; I had been through the entire front end and replaced most of the brake parts a few weeks ago, so we could probably rule out nearly every brake component except for one- the rubber line. I had heard of lines acting as a check valve and keeping brakes from releasing, but never seen it in person until this moment- given that cracking the bleeder and scalding myself with hot fluid allowed the wheel to turn, I determined that that was the problem. So, Sara sort of got her hike, it just happened to be to the nearest parts store for a new brake line:

While she was off doing that, I set about finding our electrical issue and located the problem in short order: the main battery mount had broken off, guillotining its' way through the house battery cable and shorting it to ground. The haunted gauges issue had been the current from the house batteries backfeeding into the rest of the RV! I contemplated how close we may have been to a massive electrical fire as I repaired the cable with electrical tape and made a new battery mount out of a piece of wood and a ratchet strap. Look for the burn mark on this old, rusty battery tray- that's where it cut into the cable:

Before Sara and Ridley got back with our new part, a couple of local guys showed up and started asking me about what the issue with the RV was. These dudes could not have fit the mold of "car guy from Tennessee" more perfectly, with amusing accents and lots of stories of their own giant broken vehicles- they both thought I was insane, and that the brake line couldn't be the problem. They also offered to buy the RV on the spot, and I told them $2k if I couldn't fix it, $5k if I could. I probably should have just sold it to them...

When Sara appeared with the brake line, I immediately set about replacing it with the RV still on the ground- surprisingly easy as long as you turn the wheel far enough to gain access, although brake fluid is gross and hot brake fluid is even worse. We then bled the brakes, verified that they worked as they should, I cleaned up in the Lowes bathroom, and we took off.

It was getting dark, so we made a beeline for our stop for the night, the Walmart in Knoxville. When we got there, we sat in awe for a moment because this was the biggest Walmart we'd ever seen- it was approximately the size of the town I grew up in. The house batteries were still dead despite our charging system's best efforts, so I bought replacements and installed them- suddenly, everything but the fridge was back to working! I celebrated this victory by taking a shower in the E36 M3ty little locker that passes for an RV bathroom, and Sara used the Walmart's bathroom instead. I think she may have had the better washup experience, honestly.

We closed the blinds and settled in for a night in the Knoxville Walmart's parking lot.

Dusterbd13
Dusterbd13 UltimaDork
5/21/17 8:54 a.m.

Already fun!

Also, your rv experience so far mirrors all of mine.

¯\_(ツ)_/¯
¯\_(ツ)_/¯ SuperDork
5/21/17 9:00 a.m.

Day 2

Around 2am, the generator started. As I woke up, I wondered what I was about to face- more electrical shorts? Some kids berkeleying with our RV? An autostart system I didn't know about? None of these were things I was interested in dealing with, but as I stumbled to the front of the cabin, I realized it was none of them- Squirrel was frozen in place, looking extremely startled, and standing on the generator start button! I picked him up, turned off the generator, blocked the button with a water bottle, and we had a good laugh before going back to sleep. I wouldn't have thought the cat was heavy enough to even push that button, not to mention the odds of him finding it in the first place...

We woke up again around 5:30am- we both get up very early for work so our body clocks typically wake us up just before sunrise. The plan for this day was to make it as far on I-40W as possible, but shortly after setting off the weather yet again decided it had other plans for us; specifically, to push us right off the side of the road. As we drove through Tennessee and into Arkansas, the crosswinds were strong enough to require a quarter turn of the steering wheel to stay in our lane, and we could hear the body of the Fleetwood flexing as it was shoved side to side. Blown over signs littered the highway:

As we got further into Arkansas, the wind got stronger and stronger and then became accompanied by rain; looking at the weather radar, Sara saw that things were about to get a LOT worse, so we pulled off at a truck stop to wait out the storm. Before the big red blob on the radar hit us, I tried to identify what was keeping the fridge from running, and found a number of cooked wires behind it which were probably a result of our battery guillotine incident from the day before. Once the rain and wind really picked up, we hunkered down in the RV and each ran to the truck stop through the storm to take a real shower- they rented them out, unlimited time for just a few bucks, so we figured it was worth it while we were waiting.

We were both back in the RV when the storm reached critical mass- wind was rocking the thing all over the place, we were hearing some interesting noises from the awning area as it was shredded by the high speed gusts, and dark spots were beginning to appear as water entered the ceiling and walls. The roof hadn't leaked prior to this, and we had put in effort to keep it that way, but it seemed that this storm was just too much. Wonderful.

Once the big red blob on the weather radar had passed, we could drive again without fear of being blown off the road, so we took off with the goal of making it to the Arkansas-Oklahoma border before shutting down for the night. So with crosswinds still attempting to create surprise lane changes, we pressed on, at one point even getting a hair over 10mpg when the winds were primarily pushing us. As the sun set, the winds picked up again, making our last 20 miles or so a white knuckled ride in the dark with nearly-randomized steering disturbances. We found another Walmart in Alma Arkansas, set up in the corner of the lot, and tried to get some rest despite the howling wind and occasional downpour loudly pounding on the roof.

Huckleberry
Huckleberry MegaDork
5/21/17 9:03 a.m.

I love this. I took my family on a 7 day camping trip in a rental RV once. It did not go well at all but my kids still have fond memories of crying with worry while I tried to remove the broken side canopy that was acting like a sail, standing on the roof, parked halfway in the right lane of NY 86 in the middle of the night while big rigs went by at 80mph. Good times.

Atleast I have the perspective to empathize with your as yet to be disclosed reasons for the foreshadowing in the last post ("I should have just sold it to them" dum-dum-duum).

¯\_(ツ)_/¯
¯\_(ツ)_/¯ SuperDork
5/21/17 9:31 a.m.

Day 3

A quick inspection first thing in the morning revealed what we had suspected the day before- the wind had done a real number on the roof, and water was making its' way in all over the place. There wasn't much we could do about it other than head to a drier part of the country, so that's exactly what we did. We rolled out of the parking lot bright and early, getting some coffee at a nearby gas station before yet again attacking I-40W.

Oklahoma tried to kill us roughly the same way Arkansas had, with nasty unpredictable winds shoving us hard almost constantly. Somewhere near Oklahoma City, the engine started to develop a slight misfire on hills, and a quick inspection revealed that the spark plug wires at the front of the left bank were being cooked by an exhaust leak at the manifold. I bought some high temperature plug wires at a local O'Reilly's, as well as some DEI heat shielding which was cheaper than the actual spark plug insulators but I was assured would work just fine when I described our issue. I didn't install any of it since the thing still ran pretty well and the engine was still hot from driving.

When we crossed into Texas, we were pleasantly surprised to find that it didn't seem quite as hell-bent on murdering us as the last two states had. The winds subsided, the sky was blue, and things were going smoothly once again. We pulled off of I-40 for our first real destination, Cadillac Ranch:

Sara tagged the roof of one of the cars with perfectly centered text while I berkeleyed up and got mine a bit lopsided:

I love this place, the cars are so cool and everyone is always nice, patiently waiting and not painting over eachother's tags unless absolutely necessary. We helped others take pictures, someone took a photo of us, and we handed off our can of red paint to someone who was coming in empty handed- nobody should have to come to Cadillac Ranch without getting to paint something!

We stopped at the gas station down the street for some fuel and sandwiches, and took off perpendicular to I-40 on some proper Texas backroads. Suddenly, the trip had really started, and we couldn't give less of a crap about what had happened to the RV, its' roof, the fridge, or much of anything really- we were out there, we had made it! The two lane road eventually became four as we entered New Mexico, and the GPS's ETA confused us tremendously as we crossed into our second time zone of the trip alongside this massive train:

As the sun began setting, we arrived at our destination for the night: Haystack Mountain, a camping/OHV area about 20 miles outside of Roswell. It cost $5 (honor system, just fill out the card and drop it in the box):

We set up camp on the side of a cliff, took the dogs for a short walk, took a picture of the sunset, and ran some new wires for the fridge but stopped before connecting them, not wanting to have to wonder about the integrity of them over night.

With the place all to ourselves, we made a few jokes about the potential for alien abduction and went to bed, for the first time able to hear nothing but the sounds of the desert at night.

Run_Away
Run_Away HalfDork
5/21/17 10:25 a.m.

YESS!

I'm glad this forum doesn't​ limit the amount of +1 votes you can give to one user.

¯\_(ツ)_/¯
¯\_(ツ)_/¯ SuperDork
5/21/17 10:32 a.m.

Day 4

Having had our first night of somewhat restful sleep, we cracked open the blinds to be greeted by this:

We made breakfast with some probably-still-good eggs and cheese from our nonfunctional fridge, discovered that I had forgotten the coffee, and went for a lovely hike on the still completely unoccupied ORV trails:

None of the animals, or us for that matter, has spent any significant time in an environment like this, so we had to be careful- the dogs in particular don't know what a cactus is and need to be kept from running headlong into one, especially Ridley since she kept trying to chase the huge rabbits that were nearly as big as her.

Some cows greeted us at the edge of the property:

Going for a hike also gave us the opportunity to see our campsite from below the cliff, things were one parking brake failure away from getting very interesting:

I attempted to fix the spark plug wires by sliding our new heat shielding over them, and we hit the road for Roswell. We pulled off after about 5 miles to replace the offending plug wires entirely, since my fix hadn't helped one bit... and somehow, neither did replacing them! I was stumped, but it still ran and we had places to be so we kept rolling.

The next stop was Roswell for the International UFO Museum. The main thing that we learned there is that people working for free on the internet will put in WAY more effort to concoct hoaxes than a museum with paid entry will. The people watching in the museum itself provides a better argument for extraterrestrial life than the exhibits do, but it was still fun. Kila was utterly unimpressed:

When I make fun of the people in there, don't think for one second that I'm excluding us either. "Greetings, we have cat, humans like cat. Perfectly normal humans bring cat to museum."

Then we set off yet again- our pace for this trip was supposed to be set day by day, based on how we felt, but as it turns out we always felt like hauling ass. We work best when we're sailing down an empty road, with a steering wheel in my hands and a map in Sara's, so that's what we did. On the road to Carlsbad, however, the misfire got even worse so we pulled into a library parking lot across from a NAPA and I bought spark plugs, thinking that they might be the issue. After replacing the plugs in a hot engine bay in the 95 degree heat, I utterly ruined the library's bathroom by cleaning up in it and we set off again... with the misfire still somehow berkeleying present and unchanged!

As we got to a more major highway, I had one more idea and pulled off the road again to try it- I simply slid the heat shielding off the wires. It fixed the problem completely! As we continued down the road, Sara checked a section of it with the multimeter and confirmed that it's extremely conductive and I'm an idiot. The wires had been arcing to the stupid heat shielding since that morning.

We eventually arrived at Carlsbad Caverns, getting to which is no small feat for a bigass motorhome since it requires driving up an Acropolis Rally looking road on the side of a mountain:

The 454 got hot but dutifully chugged its' way up in second gear. We put the animals in the onsite kennel (they're not allowed in the caverns) and took off to walk down into the giant cave network. Technically, we were slightly late and the trail had closed, but the park ranger said it looked like we could walk fast and let us go anyway:

We didn't see any bats since they hadn't migrated north from Mexico yet, but walking down from a hot, sunny New Mexico mountain top into a 60 degree cave is something to experience:

It was absolutely amazing, we have tons of pictures but there's no way I can convey the size of this underground network and the feeling of being in it. You'll just have to go yourself! We took the elevator 750ft back to the surface, had some pulled pork sandwiches from the cafeteria which were the embodiment of looks terrible but tastes great, and got some coffee since I had forgotten ours about 2000 miles ago. We also got some cherry cider, which we have never seen anywhere else and which is apparently a local thing. It was awful, and I still have a bottle which somehow made it all the way home with us.

We picked up our pets from the kennel and hit the road again, with the goal of making it through El Paso and back into New Mexico before stopping. To get to El Paso, we drove through west Texas, which consists of heat, a mountain pass, and roughly 130 miles of absolutely nothing- no exits, stops, fuel, food, life, nothing.

The pass through the Guadalupe mountains was tough, and not because of the climbs: the RV would happily downshift to second and make its' way up whatever we threw at it; the downhills, however, were terrifying. There's not a lot of engine braking in something this big, and despite being mostly new parts with fresh fluid the brakes on this thing were not built for this sort of stuff, so we were constantly trying to get slowed down just enough to make it around the turns without cooking them. Once things flattened out, it was more relaxing, but our confidence in the Fleetwood was definitely shaken- if this is how it felt on the wussy 6% grades of Texas, what the hell was going to happen to us in Utah on the big 10% monster downhills?

We made it through the long empty stretch of desert into El Paso as the sun was going down, and driving along the highway we could see into Mexico in places. Turning our attention from the border back to the road, this was approaching fast:

The Franklin mountains, here to make our lives difficult once more! Yet again, down to second and up we go:

This time, things didn't go quite the same, as about halfway up the temperature gauge started climbing. With no room to get the big beast out of the road, I kept the throttle down- thinking it's not that hot, and it's an iron block with iron heads so I'm comfortable up to maybe 250 on the gauge. When we crested the top of the pass, it became clear that our problem wasn't with the engine- I lifted off the throttle, and rather than an upshift to third gear, the engine dropped back to idle. That temperature rise had been the trans cooler dumping all of its' heat into the coolant as the transmission expired.

So, newly devoid of engine braking, we had a scary as all hell downhill run with only the service brakes to slow us, which meant we were literally passing traffic in order to avoid overheating them. At the bottom, we pulled into a truck stop and shut down so that I could assess the situation.

The trans fluid was burnt and low, so I added some. Engine temperature had returned to normal, and we were 20 miles from an RV park in Las Cruces, so we decided to push for it- except now, the engine wouldn't start. Suspecting an overheated starter, I crawled under and whacked it with a hammer while Sara turned the key, and with the fourth whack it cranked and fired up! We wasted no time, and berkeleyed off into the night, limited to 40mph on the highway in what was left of second gear. The flashers died after about one minute, so I drove with the turn signal on instead so that we had some form of hazard light for the traffic barreling down on us at double our speed. After what felt like forever, we pulled into a little RV park at the edge of Las Cruces and I paid our $20 so that we could park our broken garbage.

¯\_(ツ)_/¯
¯\_(ツ)_/¯ SuperDork
5/21/17 11:14 a.m.

Day 5

We didn't sleep at all. The entire night was spent IDing the transmission (I originally believed it was a 700R4, it turned out to be a 4L80E), determining that it had already been replaced once already, finding out where the mechanics, trans shops, junkyards, and craigslist sellers of used transmissions were, and looking up rental rates. When the sun finally came up again, I immediately set out on foot to talk to mechanics while Sara called around to rental companies.

Everyone in town was booked solid, and having a shop do the work was out of our price range. Nobody wanted to lend me a transmission jack or let me use their lift. Things were not looking great, but at a small shop near the RV park I met the world's coolest mechanic, who gave me a ride back over to the RV to take a look at it. One sniff of the trans fluid and he said "nope, that's cooked," and poking around under the thing he and I agreed that it wouldn't be an easy job. At that point, he made us an offer:
"I can store this for you, for free, if you can get it to my house 20 miles from here. Then I can find you a buyer, or you can sell it remotely, or whatever. For now we'd just store it so you can get on with things."

Sara and I looked around at our animals, who had picked up on our feelings and now seemed scared and uncomfortable in the RV. We thought back on the last few days, considered the likelihood of making it the rest of the way with just another used transmission, looked at the storm damage, and perhaps most importantly the time it would take to swap it here, in the gravel of an RV park in Las Cruces. We thought about how rare this opportunity to safely park it with someone who seemed trustworthy would be. And we said berkeley it.

Mad Max didn't waste his time trying to get his Falcon back. Furiosa didn't go down with the War Rig. We had E36 M3 to do, and there was no good reason the RV should be more important than that, so we took his address and set about finding a new form of transportation.

We discovered that, if you want to drive a vehicle one way to Philadelphia from Las Cruces, most people don't want to rent it to you- much less when you plan to take a 3500 mile route to get there. Any rental company that charged mileage was out, and the ones who didn't for the most part had an over $1000 surcharge for taking the vehicle one way. There was nobody who would even rent us a pickup truck or cargo van for the trip, which we would need since we had a motorcycle and an entire RV full of crap.

This left us one option: Penske. They rent moving trucks with unlimited mileage, no one way surcharge, and very few questions asked- so we got a quote for a 14ft box truck, grabbed both dogs and the cat, and set off on a 4 mile hike across Las Cruces in the hot sun with our pets.

Everyone in Las Cruces has a giant scary dog, so our walk was less than relaxing. When we arrived at the Penske place, we were sweaty, the dogs were tired, and the cat was sleeping because I carry him in a backpack like he's some sort of bullE36 M3 royalty. They didn't have our 14ft truck, the person on the phone had been wrong! What they did have, was a 26ft truck, which initially we had written off as too big... but then we did the math. It rents for roughly the same price. It's diesel, and gets better fuel economy than the smaller gas trucks. The cab is bigger. Most importantly, we're Dakar fans, so when we look at it, we see this:

Alright then, give us the big one! When they pull it around, the lady says "We filled it to the brim with gas just now!" and I almost believe her- it's knocking a lot, even for a commercial diesel, but it's a hell of a lot better than our other option so we load everybody into the cab and take off. We drive to the RV park, where I hop out, Sara slides into the driver's seat, and I run to the RV, which miraculously starts, and pull it out of its' spot minutes after what was supposed to be the check out time. And we drive, yet again, 20 miles on the highway at 40mph, the RV's transmission getting more slippy by the mile. At least it was light out this time.

We eventually got to the mechanic's place, parked the RV as he instructed, and unloaded it into the box truck:

Everything fit with room to spare, so we lined the walls with our stuff for easy access. As far as I can tell, the only thing we forgot in the RV was our National Parks pass. We said our goodbyes to the Fleetwood, loaded everybody into the cab, and set off for more adventure:

After the excitement of the last 24 hours, the animals didn't seem to mind the forced-cuddle situation that the bench seat presented:

So we drove all day, through a whole lot more nothing, with the box truck running better every minute:

We passed the Very Large Array, not stopping because we were tired and hungry and both know that momentum is an asset in that situation:

We drove through the mountains, loving our newfound power- the big diesel and understressed commercial grade brakes were a fantastic upgrade over what we had been living with. We drove through Pietown and didn't stop for pie, eventually getting a motel in Springerville Arizona since we hadn't had any time to buy a tent. We got dinner at the Safire Restaurant and Lounge, where the waitress almost certainly thought we were on something since we had been awake for about 40 hours, hadn't eaten all day, and kept trying to figure out what time it was since we had changed time zones both entering and leaving Texas, and then again since Arizona doesn't observe daylight savings time. We went back to the motel and collapsed into much needed sleep.

Catatafish
Catatafish Reader
5/21/17 11:17 a.m.

Loving the story. Also my dad want to buy a fleetwind and its not looking promising from this account.

¯\_(ツ)_/¯
¯\_(ツ)_/¯ SuperDork
5/21/17 1:43 p.m.

Day 6

I woke up on day 6 feeling absolutely miserable about the RV- I felt like by leaving it, I had failed the forum members who were rooting for us and trying to help. I knew that I could have fixed it, and that made me really feel like I had run from a chance to do something that my friends from both the real world and the internet wanted to see. Sara agreed that we could have fixed it, but reminded me that we didn't set out just to see how far we could push an old RV- we set out to have an adventure, and in that respect we were nailing it. We packed up and headed out after some lousy hotel breakfast waffles.

Our first stop for the day was Petrified Forest National Park. At the gate, we told the ranger that our park pass was in our broken RV back in Las Cruces, and he told us that he didn't think anyone would make up that story just to get in and let us through for free. We took a hike through the rocks and fossils, with petrified wood laying everywhere, and got our fill of this new otherworldly environment:

And yes, Squirrel came too:

Then we drove through the rest of the park, stopping at the entrance gas station where the road joins up with I-40 again. If you followed my Route 66 Maverick trip from a couple years ago, you'll recognize this as where that car overheated:

Luckily the box truck only needed some diesel before we got underway. What followed was a boring drive up I-40W into Flagstaff, where we passed many RVs and found a Walmart to buy a tent at. Armed with the approximate measurements of the box truck and our memory foam RV mattress, I left Sara with the animals and went in to find a tent- and as luck would have it, there was one option, in yellow to match the truck, with the perfect footprint! So I bought it, walked back out to the truck, and we assembled it and crammed the mattress inside:

We even managed to fit a pair of dog beds in with the mattress, along with a cat box at the foot of the bed. The tent cleared the door at the back of the truck by about a foot, and had just enough space to walk around it. Perfect!

We drove into Flagstaff a bit and got some dinner at Satchmo's, a cajun/BBQ place which was absolutely incredible- I feel it's worth mentioning at this point that during the box truck portion of the trip we selected restaurants based solely on whether or not they were nearby and dog friendly, and still managed to eat some of the best food of our lives. Satchmo's was no exception, and they even upgraded us to the larger version of the meal we'd ordered for free.

Full of delicious food, we drove north through the Kaibab National Forest to find our campsite for the night- a free camping area off of a fire road just south of the Grand Canyon. When we arrived, we noted that fire road was an apt description- it was clear that controlled burns had taken place there recently, and in places the ground was actually still smoldering. Had we still been in an RV with potentially leaky propane tanks I might have been worried about it, but in the box truck we simply enjoyed the aroma and took the animals for a brief hike before turning in for the night by rolling the door up and hopping into our new tent- the skylights were even at the perfect angle to see the night sky through the door while laying down, and the mattress was just as comfortable on the floor of the box truck as it had been in the RV.

¯\_(ツ)_/¯
¯\_(ツ)_/¯ SuperDork
5/21/17 2:17 p.m.

Day 7

It was cold when we woke up, but we had an incredibly restful night of sleep. In the RV, every little sound throughout the night would have me wondering if something new was broken or acting up- in the truck, not so much. Everyone happily jumped out of bed except squirrel:

We drove north a bit to reach the Grand Canyon. At this park, they weren't going to let us in for free just because we had a dumb reason to be driving a box truck, so we bought another park pass- if I'm going to give any part of the government more money, it might as well be the National Park Service. We drove in, parked, and went for a hike with our whole crew:

Ridley very badly wanted to play with one of these lizards, which we saw tons of, but they were far too fast for her:

After everybody was good and tired from our hike, we drove over to the campground area of the park and used the showers. On her way back from the showers, Sara found an elk drinking from a small puddle of water under a faucet- so naturally, she turned the faucet back on, the elk had more water, and they became best friends:

We took off again, aiming for Utah. To get to Utah from the Grand Canyon, we drove through an area called Vermillion Cliffs, which is beautiful and full of steep grades and sharp dropoffs. Suddenly, I didn't feel so bad about the RV- one downhill corner here would have cooked the brakes, a series of them might have killed us. It was a long drive, but an immensely enjoyable one, even in a Penske box truck.

Eventually we arrived in Fredonia, and filled up at a gas station which capitalized on the nearby Utah border by selling guns and beer:

Sara and Ridley had some fun with a nearby display:

Just up the road,we stopped at Juniper Ridge Restaurant and Saloon for the best burgers we've ever had in our lives. We sat out back overlooking their awesome stage with its' glorious natural backdrop as we ate our meal, had a nice conversation with the owner, and discovered that our waiter (who was also the bartender) was from St. Louis just like Sara. If for some reason you find yourself in Fredonia, eat there, you won't be disappointed:

Then, we took a few more absurdly scenic roads up to our campsite, a free spot in Kanab Utah:

After setting up shop, I put on some flip flops and promptly stepped on a cactus:

Everyone else seemed to have a good time though:

It was warm but comfortable, so for the second night in a row we slept with the back door of the truck fully open.

oldrotarydriver
oldrotarydriver New Reader
5/21/17 2:20 p.m.

Awesome trip so far, and that's one mellow cat!

Newberry, MI.? That takes me back, six years near Gwinn, MI at K.I. Siberia, er, Sawyer AFB.

¯\_(ツ)_/¯
¯\_(ツ)_/¯ SuperDork
5/21/17 2:54 p.m.

Day 8

Everyone slept well again- we laughed about how we could really get used to this box truck thing:

We drove a short distance to Zion National Park, where we found out that the Penske was just under the height limit for entry- they actually had to make the tunnel to get in one-way only as we drove through it, since we had to drive up the middle in order to clear the arched ceiling. The road into Zion is very twisty, but after Vermillion Cliffs the day before I had enough practice that I felt like we were driving this:

We then parked and went for a hike- Zion in the spring is really incredible to see, with the cacti in bloom and perfect weather.

There were some cool camping rigs there too:

Then it was back into the truck, another run of the crazy road, and a couple hours' drive to Bryce Canyon National Park. You can't hike anywhere in Bryce with dogs, so we made do with driving through and stopping at the scenic view points:

The trip into Bryce is mostly a climb, and at the top we found some very cool RVs cooling down after pulling themselves to such an altitude:

This Mercedes was wearing Netherlands plates:

Then it was back out of Bryce to go find another place to hike. As we drove we realized that it wasn't just the national parks- all of Utah is incredible. The whole place looks like somebody got hold of a random topography generator and just mashed the button like they were playing hungry hungry hippos. That same glorious topography would have made this impossible in the RV, and with every steep grade I felt better and better about our decision to rent the Penske.

When we arrived at our hiking spot, we quickly realized we couldn't take the trail we'd intended- it went from the top of a ridge down the side, and it was so incredibly windy that we could barely stand up on the incline. So, we hiked along the top of the ridge, with the wind whipping the trees at the edge into a frenzy but somehow leaving a quiet pocket in the middle. It felt like some sort of dream sequence- strange plants, impossible weather, and this eerie calm just where we were walking.

Driving down from the ridge, we yet again looked for a place to eat, and settled on Hell's Backbone Grill. We were seated outside, and the only other people at the table informed us that this place we had found by accident is considered one of the best restaurants in Utah, with people regularly driving from out of state just to eat there. The prices were set accordingly, but they weren't kidding, the food was really top notch. Our waitress, upon seeing our cat backpack, told us that she lived in a van with her cat and dog as well- we had tons of questions for eachother, but she had lots of other tables to take care of so we didn't get to learn much more of her story.

Then we left to go find our campsite, a free spot not too far away, and the road climbed, and climbed, and... wait, should we check the altitude? 10000ft?!

An quick weather/altitude check revealed that we couldn't camp there unless we wanted to endure temperatures well below freezing, but we lost cell service shortly thereafter. So,with no service or GPS, we drove on until the road began descending, eventually by sheer luck finding a campsite closer to 6000ft which would be survivable, and happily paying the $15 to stay there. We got ourselves set up, and camped with the door mostly closed in order to keep some heat in.

Toyman01
Toyman01 MegaDork
5/21/17 3:12 p.m.

This is spectacular! The thread title and first paragraph was the perfect intro to what is a outstanding adventure.

Sorry for the RV troubles, but big kudos for not letting it slow you down or dampen your spirits.

The next adventure can be go get the RV.

¯\_(ツ)_/¯
¯\_(ツ)_/¯ SuperDork
5/21/17 3:29 p.m.

Day 9

We were a little slower than usual getting up, since we didn't want to wake the other campers by firing up a clattery-ass diesel first thing in the morning, so we had some time to talk to the owner of this rig:

The owner of that Airstream sold his company and decided to take a year off to travel and relax- 6 years ago. He didn't seem to have any intention of stopping, and it was really cool to meet someone so successful who had opted out of the rat race and just decided to enjoy himself- it seems that too many people achieve some success and get stuck in an endless loop of acquisition, always chasing more money or a bigger house. This guy had won the game.

We left the campground and headed for the highway, through more of Utah's otherworldly landscape. I'm honestly not sure what pictures are what at this point, I kind of just go "looks awesome? Probably Utah"

We eventually found I-70 and started heading due east for the first time in over a week, getting off when we found the exit for Moab. We saw lots of cool trail rigs headed to and from the rock crawler's holy land, failed to photograph any of them, and turned in to the Arches National Park entrance.

Arches is cool, with a crazy twisting road similar to the one in Zion, but much like Bryce there isn't much you can do with dogs there so we mostly drove through it. It sure was pretty though:

At one point Sara ran off to take some pictures while I stayed behind to man the truck, and I was reminded of something that had come up previously (but I don't think I've mentioned yet) by the crowd forming around me: Germans berkeleying love a box truck with a tent in it. I don't know why, other than that they are a practical people and the simplicity appeals to them, but everywhere we went the moment I opened the back we'd have German tourists clustered around us asking questions.

Leaving Arches, we went to a nearby trailhead just past the infamous Poison Spider offroad trail to hike a bit. The trail was rocky, and actually had two ladders on it, one of which Sara carried Kila up while balancing with just her feet in front of a crowd of stunned onlookers. It was a fun hike, and the arch at the end was more impressive than anything we had seen in the park literally named after Arches:

Before hiking back out, we hung out in the shade for a while just to take it all in:

Then we drove into Moab proper- I feel it's worth mentioning that at this point everyone was very comfortable in box truck "transit mode" and Squirrel found himself a nice spot for when he wanted to get away from the dogs:

Moab is nuts, and while we fueled up in town we saw countless motorcycle, off road rigs, and street legal UTVs all running around. I want to come back and explore the ORV trails some day, but our NX250 doesn't even have a skid plate so it seemed like the wrong tool for the job. When the tank was full, we continued south to the Peace Tree Cafe in Monticello, which had been recommended by our Airstream friend that morning- and he wasn't wrong, it was really good and they allowed dogs.

Then we drove on, into Colorado, through mountains and more greenery than we'd seen in a week, to The Views campground. They charged us half price, and had the nicest bathrooms of any campground I've ever been to:

As their name would suggest, they delivered the views as well:

Ridley enjoyed the first solid, cactus free grass we had seen in a while:

We made good use of the showers and turned in for the night, door half open or so.

¯\_(ツ)_/¯
¯\_(ツ)_/¯ SuperDork
5/21/17 3:49 p.m.

Day 10

We'd gotten good rest, but for some reason this is the only day that the altitude messed with me- I felt a little bit loopy, but we left the nicest campground on earth bright and early to go see Mesa Verde National park. Yet again, not much hiking for dogs, but the road was fun and the views were good:

If anyone starts a spec series for commercial box trucks, let me know- I've got a lot of experience doing this now:

After Mesa Verde we wanted breakfast, so we drove to Kassidy's Kitchen in Durango, sat down outside, and had some breakfast burritos and pancakes. Kassidy himself came out to talk to us, and tell us about the best way from there to Pike's Peak- we took his advice and were treated to an enjoyable drive with jaw dropping views for the rest of the day:

It's worth noting that we wouldn't have gotten to look at any of this stuff in the RV, as we would have been too busy careening off a cliff with our brakes on fire. If you're traveling across Colorado in such a vehicle, don't take Wolf's Creek pass.

As we got closer to Colorado Springs, the weather turned foul, and Sara found that every campground was booked solid- so we stayed in a E36 M3ty Motel 6. It was a bit of a shock being around people again, many of whom appeared to be living in the motel while taking tremendous advantage of Colorado's lenient marijuana laws, but after the dogs calmed down and stopped barking at everything we ordered some crappy Chinese food and relaxed a bit:

As we shared some of the worst lo-mein ever, Sara and I were laughing: we had long ago decided that parts of this trip existed just to test our marriage, and now that the dying in the desert bits were over the new challenge was obviously to enjoy subpar food in a crap motel in a lousy part of town- and we passed with flying colors.

We checked the weather at Pike's Peak for the next day, which didn't look promising, and went to bed.

¯\_(ツ)_/¯
¯\_(ツ)_/¯ SuperDork
5/21/17 4:21 p.m.

Day 11

We woke up early to check the weather again- Pike's Peak still had snow, at least at the top, so Sara called them to check the status of the road. It was only open to mile 13 or so, and at the time they recommended that we take the box truck rather than the motorcycle for safety reasons. So we got the hell out of the Motel 6 and went to Pike's Peak.

At the gate to the Pike's Peak toll road, the ranger said "so you must be the people with the box truck and the motorcycle?" "What gave it away?" we laughed. They said I could probably take the bike if I knew what I was doing, and offered to watch our pets for us if we parked the box truck. So we parked it, wheeled the NX250 out, and got suited up:

The NX fired right up, we paid our fees, and we were off! The road was great, and dry, at least at the bottom. We weren't going very fast, but cars still pulled off regularly to let us by, and we climbed, first above the treeline, then above the clouds. The NX250 has 25hp at sea level, so by the time we reached mile 13 (where the road was supposedly closed) we were really wringing its' neck to keep moving, but the road wasn't closed so we continued on, with more and more snow appearing around us as we rose in altitude. Finally, I believe around mile 17, we encountered the real roadblock, which had obviously been placed there because visibility was all of 10 feet at that point:

We talked to a few people who wanted to know what the crazies on the bike were up to, as well as these complete lunatics who were being driven up so they could ski down:

On the way back down, we stopped at an overlook just above the clouds to take in the view:

Then we made our way back down to find our animals safe and sound with their new ranger friends, loaded up the bike, and went to find a hiking spot to make up for leaving the animals. We ended up at Garden of the Gods, a park full of big crazy rocks and smaller but equally crazy birds:

After our hike, we returned to the truck to find that I had locked the keys to the bicycle lock which we secured the back door with inside the box- so it was off to Walmart for bolt cutters and a padlock. Having handled that, we got the berkeley out of Colorado Springs and headed north to visit Sara's cousin in Castle Pines.

We arrived early, and decided to take another hike. There are a few trails on some preserved land just a few miles from where we planned to meet for dinner, so we hiked there:

Then we got dinner with Sara's cousin, who drives a car that GRMers may appreciate: a manual, turbo, awd, Volvo V50. After a nice meal, we hopped on I-70E again in the hopes of making it to a free campsite before dark.

But we didn't- it got dark, then began to rain. The Penske had many things going for it, but nearly bald tires, poorly aimed headlights, and wiper blades which had spent their entire life in New Mexico didn't make for great driving in those conditions. We pushed on, though, getting off the highway to try to find a free campsite listed as being accessed via gravel road.

The road, as it turned out, wasn't gravel- it was slick mud, and getting deeper by the minute thanks to the rain. But, we don't back down from this sort of challenge, so we kept going, Sara watching the GPS for our turn as I tried to keep the speed up enough to avoid getting stuck.

Something was in the road ahead, but I couldn't tell what it was- as we got closer, it became apparent that it was a massive white cow, which stood motionless as I steered around it, but then it appeared my headlights were obstructed because I could no longer see the road... OH E36 M3, THAT'S NOT DARKNESS IT'S AN EVEN LARGER BLACK COW DIRECTLY IN FRONT OF US! Full ABS engagement, and the truck begins sliding as I narrowly avoid the black cow which is now bucking and running inches from the front bumper. Cows avoided, we continued on into the rain with the road becoming slicker and slicker, eventually missing our campsite and having to reverse, with the truck barely getting enough traction to move at all, back up to it.

We set up camp for the night and slept with the door mostly closed, hoping that the rain would stop early enough to let us escape our new muddy and cow-filled home.

¯\_(ツ)_/¯
¯\_(ツ)_/¯ SuperDork
5/21/17 4:42 p.m.

Day 12

We woke to find that our campsite was actually pretty nice, not that we had bothered to notice the night before:

I went out and inspected to road to see what our chances of getting out successfully would be- we had certainly done some damage the night before:

Figuring that our chances were probably about 50/50, we went for it, maintaining as much speed as we reasonably could in order to avoid getting stuck. At one point, we were climbing a hill with both back wheels spinning in the greasy mud, and I swear for 20 seconds nobody in the truck breathed for fear of upsetting whatever balance was allowing us to continue moving forward. The lousy white cow was now sitting on the side of the road, with his ninja friend nowhere to be found:

After an eternity of slipping and sliding, we made it back to pavement and stopped at a gas station to fill up.

Side question, what the berkeley is up with Colorado's gas station names? We went to a Turkey Hill which was called a Jug n' Loaf for some reason, and what would be Conoco's are instead all spectacularly inappropriate Kum n' Go's.

At the Jug n' Loaf I had to pinch a loaf, so I made a beeline for the bathroom, passing an obese family unloading themselves from a Prius on the way. Several of them were behind me as I got to the bathroom, and despite seeing me enter and the little indicator on the door flip to "occupied", one of them tested the integrity of the lock by shaking the door violently. From the other side of the door, I hear "looks lahk Denver Boy beat ya to it!" and some laughing. I felt like yelling "motherberkeleyer I just mudbogged a box truck through a cow slalom, I'm twice the redneck you'll ever be!" but instead I chuckled at being profiled as a city boy (I guess?) and took my sweet time before handing over the bathroom.

We hit the highway yet again, with the goal of making Kansas disappear as quickly as possible:

Because berkeley Kansas.

Nothing fun happened in Kansas, we got some OK fried chicken and a few gallons of diesel fuel, paid their dumb tolls since they don't acknowledge the existence of EZ Pass, and went right out the other side into Missouri, where we found another E36 M3ty motel to stay in for the night.

¯\_(ツ)_/¯
¯\_(ツ)_/¯ SuperDork
5/21/17 4:55 p.m.

Day 13

After having terrible breakfast while making fun of the motel (an America's Best Value Inn which was clearly an old Day's Inn with stickers over all of the logos) we drove into St. Louis and hiked some of the trails which Sara used to walk Kila on back when they both lived there. Then we visited the stables she used to work at, and went to get lunch with her mom, aunt, grandmother, and sister, where we first discovered that nobody knows how to react to a trip like this- they don't know whether they're supposed to say sorry or that it sounds great, or some combination of the two, but it was a good meal nonetheless.

Then we went and visited Sara's dad, who has some fascinating stories about living in Arizona- he spent 18 months living in a giant pit with a Native American tribe while he designed some buildings for them. The pit was so deep that the trailer he lived in had to be dropped in by helicopter- it sounds awesome, and I wish we had taken pictures of his photo albums so that I could share them here. He sent us on our way with a cooler full of food for the road.

Then, it was on to our friend Eric's house to meet up with some other people from Sara's former life in St. Louis. We got takeout from Dewey's Pizza, which is not only delicious but also allows you to place an order for "one large pizza, half Dr. Dre and half Socrates" which, as it turns out, is delicious. We told our story, hung out with old friends of Sara's and relatively new ones of mine, and eventually turned in for the night. The pups seemed very happy to be back in a place that had real furniture and let them stretch out:

Toyman01
Toyman01 MegaDork
5/21/17 5:03 p.m.

I'm going to go with, "Sounds great!"

I'm insanely jealous. I need to run outside and spend another couple of hours getting SanFord finished.

¯\_(ツ)_/¯
¯\_(ツ)_/¯ SuperDork
5/21/17 5:05 p.m.

Day 14

The drive home from St. Louis is a long one, but we had done it in one shot many times before so we planned to again. Eric and I were sitting drinking coffee as Sara was feeding the animals, when out of nowhere we heard a nasty cat shriek and Sara say "aw, berkeley!"

We have no idea why, but for some reason Squirrel lost his E36 M3 for a moment and bit Sara in the face. I ran to the truck for medical supplies (cat bites get infected easily) and we got her cleaned up; or, more accurately, she did the cleanup herself. Sara works at a vet and usually patches me up, not the other way around. Eric is a remarkably normal person considering that he's friends with people like us, so I think he was a little shocked that these box truck dwellers who entered his house suddenly had to clean up a minor flesh wound in his bathroom, but he's known Sara for years so it couldn't have seemed that crazy to him. We said our goodbyes, Sara took an ice pack, and we hit the road again for one last push:

Have I mentioned that the box truck has a 72mph speed limiter? That makes a trip like this VERY long. Our day was mostly uneventful, and the swelling from Sara's mauling by tiny cat was under control, but all told it was 17 hours of not very fun driving, and when we finally arrived home at 1AM, we basically flopped in through the door and collapsed.

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