Wednesday, May 15, 2013
A journey of a thousand miles ...
Posted by Sean
... begins with a surprise at the truck rental office. It has been a long couple of days, and I still haven't come up for air. I wouldn't really have time to post here right now, either, if not for the fact that I am on the side of I-95 waiting for a tire service truck, and dispatch tells me it will be 90 minutes.
We'll get to that story in just a moment. But first, let's catch up from where we left off Sunday. I am pleased to report (well, as pleased as can be expected) that I did, in fact, make it to Fort Lauderdale on the flight that landed there at 10pm. My friend Steve, who also has a Neoplan Spaceliner (recently featured on the Travel Channel), picked me up at the airport and I spent the night at their house, which was very generous of them especially considering how late it was.
Steve and I were out the door by 7:30 yesterday, stopping for coffee and then heading up to the Budget truck rental on Powerline Road, nearly to Pompano Beach. I was a bit early, but they fixed that by having only a single agent at the counter, so I had a ten minute wait while she handled the customer ahead of me. Then we spent another five minutes or so writing the contact and taking my money before going out to inspect the truck.
That's when the trouble started. I am a veteran of Budget truck rentals, as we use quite a number of them on disaster relief operations, and so I expected that all the trucks would have a hitch ball or at least a hole for one. Apparently, the ten footers do not, which makes sense, because they can't really tow something as large and heavy as the average car, which is what people renting moving trucks want to tow. I don't see ten footers often; in the Red Cross we use mostly 16' and 24' models.
When I said I needed the hitch ball, they told me I would need at least a 16' truck. When I made the reservation, I could have had a 16' truck for the same price at the ten footer, but I thought I'd save a little fuel and make it easier to drive by getting the smaller truck. My mistake. At this point though, they did not have any 16 footers available for one-way rental. In an instant, my plans to get an early start on the road were shattered.
Steve went to his office for a while, leaving me at Budget to sort things out. I called Louise and asked her to research some other local places to see what other options I might have. Ultimately I found a one-way pickup truck available at Enterprise Commercial Truck, which would be more convenient, cheaper, and use less fuel. Of course, they were on the other end of town. Steve came back for me, arriving just as Budget told me they had found a 16' truck at another location. I told them I'd get back to them and we headed to Enterprise.
I had the pickup truck by 10:30, only two hours behind my original schedule, but now we had to hustle back up to near where Budget was to pick up a 12R22.5 tire that Steve offered to sell me, before heading back to near where Enterprise was to pick up the tender and various parts for it. By the time we had the boat hitched up and ready to roll, it was close to noon, a very late start to the day, indeed.
In addition to actually saving some money, the other redeeming facet of having switched teams over to Enterprise is that I was able go faster in the pickup truck than I could in a box van. In part that's because the vans have governors, and in part it's because they burn lots more fuel at higher speeds, but the biggest reason is that I could see the boat in my mirror the whole time, whereas I would be blind in any kind of box van. Not knowing what's happening with the trailer would have me running at lower speeds as well as making more frequent stops to check on things.
So after the first hour or so keeping well under the speed limit and checking tire and hub temperatures, straps, and hitch frequently, I got comfortable with the rig and came up closer to the speed limit. That burned more fuel but bought back some of my lost time, and I made it to Richmond Hill just at sunset. There I met up with the lovely Laura Lee, the feminine half of the couple who owned Vector (then called Steel Magnolia) before us.
We met at their storage locker, where her husband John had pre-staged some boat items for me, knowing he would be out of town when I passed through. John very generously gave us a storm anchor and rode (still brand new in the box), a spare power cord, and some miscellaneous lines that he had left over from Steel Magnolia. Not much use for those on his airplane, which is what he bought after he sold the boat (and you can read his very well-written adventures thereon here). Still it was a very nice gesture on his part to just give those to us, and I owe them a very nice dinner with some very nice wine, a debt which I am hoping they will collect in person.
It only took a few minutes to load those things into the back of the truck; Enterprise very sensibly equips all their pickups with heavy-duty bedliners. But now it was dark, and in my rush to get on the road, I had not connected any lights on the trailer. I did, however, have the foresight to stop and buy some quick-connects, pliers, and a roll of wire for just that purpose, nevertheless hoping (perhaps nonsensically) that I might make it all the way to Hilton Head in the daylight.
Of course, I neglected to buy wire cutters or strippers or even any kind of knife -- I am seldom without my Leatherman, and I simply spaced. The Leatherman had to be left behind aboard Vector, as I did not want to check any luggage on my flight. I managed to get the whole mess over to a gas station so I had some overhead light by which to work, but their convenience store had none of those items, either, so there I was, connecting trailer wiring using a nail clipper, or as Spock might say, stone knives and bear skins. BTW, one of the things we teach our technology volunteers is to always have a pair of nail clippers in their carry-on, as it can be used in a pinch to cut the zip ties off the Pelican cases that contain, among other things, the wire cutters.
That cost me another dozen minutes or so, and it was well past 10pm when I rolled onto Hilton Head Island. My plan had been to drop the trailer at the bus and then head off in the rental truck to a nice dinner someplace on the island, but nearly everything closes by 10. Instead I pulled in to the Applebees, just a few minutes short of my destination, which serves dinner to 11. I wolfed down a salad and allowed myself a single draft beer. I also stopped at Walmart across the street and grabbed some coffee, milk, and a bottle of wine (you know, the essentials) as there was nothing of the sort left on the bus.
It was after 11 by the time I pulled in to the self-storage yard, and it took me another two hours to bring the bus out of hibernation enough to use all the facilities and get a good night's sleep. I left all the stuff in the back of the truck for this morning's project. In addition to the anchor and other boat items, you will recall that included a 12R22.5 tire, which Steve and I manhandled into the truck together, and now I had to move it onto the bus alone.
Fortunately I was able to drop it out of the truck onto its edge, and it was a pretty easy matter to then roll it into the scooter bay, so long as I did not drop it, which I did not. I got everything loaded aboard Odyssey and the boat hitched up, which required another trip to Walmart and the auto parts store for tools and supplies. I took all my tools onto Vector with us, so I don't even have a wrench on board the bus -- I had to buy a pair of locking pliers to tighten the hitch ball nut. I got the truck back to the local Enterprise (car, not truck, rental) before the 10:30 deadline and they gave me a ride the 3/4 of a mile back to the storage yard.
Now, the reason why I bought a tire from Steve and went through the hassle of loading onto the bus is that our right-hand tag tire was done, with no tread left and in jeopardy of the belts coming through. Long time readers will remember that we blew the other tag just a few months ago, on our way to Fort Lauderdale for Trawler Fest. I don't like to put expensive new rubber on the tags, as I have explained in the past, and used 12R22.5 tires are often hard to come by. So I bought this take-off from Steve planning to have it mounted up before heading north to Deltaville.
The only heavy-truck tire installer I could find anywhere along my route is in Florence, quite a bit north of here. (Lots of truck stops advertise heavy tire installation, too, but we know from experience they will not work on Odyssey). I dialed Snider Tire there into the GPS before I left Hilton Head, and I kept my speed down to under 60 (the limit here is 70), keeping an eye on the tire monitor the whole time. But poor condition coupled with sitting in the sun, unmoving, for two months took its toll, and the tire blew just ten minutes or so after I got on I-95.
Update: The tire guy showed up just as I finished the previous paragraph. That was the end of my free time yesterday, and I am finishing up this post this morning over coffee, parked at the Walmart in Dillon, South Carolina. It ended up being another very long day yesterday.
To finish the story, the tire guy was there for an hour and a half, so I ended up waylaid on the side of the road for three and a half hours, ironically just a mile and a half from a rest area. He was clearly not properly equipped for the job, with only one working jack (it takes at least two to change out a tag that has blown), and he ignored all my instructions on how to lift the bus. Eventually he got the tire changed, but then his jack was trapped. I ultimately had to rescue him with my own jack.
When all this was done, he told me I owed him $212 for "overage." So we spent another half hour there while I called Coach Net three times. Our towing service is supposed to cover 100% of roadside tire changes if you have a mounted spare, and so the only thing I should cover is the mount/dismount and disposal fee. That's irrespective of how far they have to travel or how much time it takes them to jack up the coach. Eventually they were able to straighten the billing out and it cost me $35 for the mount/dismount and another $10 for disposal. But what should have been a half-hour tire change took him an hour, and the billing snafu was the icing on the cake.
I broke down just ten miles or so from my planned lunch and fuel stop, but now it was almost five o'clock. Somehow in the confusion I bumped the GPS and it lost track of the fuel stop in Walterboro, and I was miles past it when I realized it. I ended up eating the rest of a bag of chips I had aboard for lunch while I was waiting for service. After consulting the all-knowing Internet, with Louise's help, we found cheap fuel right here in Dillon, at $3.599 per gallon, and I made it off the road and into the fuel station just before sunset -- once again the trailer lights are not connected.
It was past 8pm when I finally got parked. I walked over to a hole-in-the-wall Japanese joint for dinner, who unfortunately had no license to sell me an Asahi or Kirin with it. I had a glass of Malbec at home while I caught up on the day's email and then crashed hard, having been up since 6:30 for an emotionally draining day.
I had hoped to be well into North Carolina for my overnight stop; now I still have 325 miles to go, a good six hours or so. On top of that I need to dump the tanks. Before I left, I had researched four free dump stations along the route. I've already passed two of them -- dumping fell off the priority list after the 3.5-hour delay yesterday, as I absolutely needed fuel before stopping for the night. There are still two ahead of me, so I have a half-hour stop today as well. I hope to be back at the boatyard in Deltaville before sundown.