Monday, November 29, 2010

The Motorhome trip from HELL, Albeit a Minor Hell..

The motorhome from hell looked nice...
And when we left, it was running nice. Yeah. right.
Last winter I offered to drive my pal Owen out to DC when he wanted to move there.
He's damn sexy and damn smart, two good attributes in a road trip partner.
So I decided to to the first road trip with my newly rebuilt motorhome with him, with Kori meeting me for the ride home. A vacation!
Owen and I pulled out of Madison the weekend before the fourth of july around noon, after loading almost all he owned into the motorhome. The tiny little motor in it, tired from hauling around a ton of useless crap built into it by the morons in Indiana took a long time to get rolling. He didn't have all that much stuff, but a dozen boxes of ancient greek language textbooks gets heavy.
The day was grey, muggy and we hit the interstate headed for DC at a steady 54 mph, not being in a hurry. Not that you can be in something as boxy as our little Toyota truck based SeaBreeze.
The first problem popped up somewhere near the Illinois border. I don't care much for Illinois, it's flat, boring and mostly in my way just about any time I want to go somewhere.
We had filled the RV up here in Madison, but wanting to take a break for nature and to avoid the Cook County gas tax, we decided to gas up before we hit the mess that is Chicago. For reasons that escape me, they put a 13 gallon tank in a vehicle that gets 14 mpg on a good day, making the gas gauge drop like a rock.
So, we hop out, hit the pump with a cash card and start pumping. The first gallon went quickly. Then, click, pump,click, pump, what the hell? Why is it only taking four cents at a time?
So, out comes the cell phone, we call Kori. She checks the Toyota motorhome forum, and it's revealed that the filler lines can and do often get gas in them. So, we climb under the rolling disaster in the works and shake the fuel filler line until the gas breather line clears.
Weird, I think, but at least this sucker's running well on it's first trip.
Ha! Yeah, right.
We drove on through the July afternoon, cruising through the bypass around the Windy City on a quiet Sunday. It cooled down as the sun set, and we drove across the flat lands of Indiana.
I hate Indiana. It's more boring than Kansas and Southern Illinois combined, and filled with giant people driving listing Chrysler minivans that sag and smoke as much as they do. The waysides are afterthoughts filled with junk food, and everywhere you turn there's a bible slammer or a hardcore Christian bumper sticker or a church van full of people I suspect would have had me stoned a few centuries ago. Or if I lived in your average hardcore Muslim nation.
We stopped for the night at one of those so called Oasis, parked the four wheeled albatross in between a few huge semi trucks and slept for a few hours. We were still shaking the fuel hose every 15o miles or so to fill up again.
Around 10 am in central Pennsylvania the trouble really started to hit. Going up long, sloping hills on the turnpike we started losing power, which in a tired little motorhome really sucks.
We were running on 3 cylinders, barely keeping up with the slowest traffic, the heavily laden semis.
Soon, the most we could manage was about 43 mph, and we were almost in Baltimore traffic, driving on the shoulder most of the time with the flashers on. People on the east coast are nuts, and a good many of them are either suicidal or simply dumber than a box of broken hammers.
It was also getting very, very hot, and without air conditioning, miserable and nerve wracking. We made it down to the Cockeysville exit, limped off and got as far as Amy's joint.
But we still had to get Owen and all of his stuff down to DC, to an indoor storage unit. And I hate to think of how we'd have unloaded in downtown DC, since we could not drive that RV into the building.
We dropped Owen off at the metro station, and an hour or so later he was with his sweetie. It took two trains for him to get there, but driving would have taken almost as long.
The next day Amy and I loaded up Owen's stuff, cruised down to the storage unit and unloaded, said goodbye and hit a great Mexican restaurant, then cruised home.
It was 101 degrees that week in the DC/Baltimore area. It sucked. We got a shadetree mechanic pal of Amy's to fix the albatross, it was a fuel injector, we tied up the fuel line and things seemed to be running great, although at that point the starter started to go south, and about every third time you started up the motor you had to hit it with a tire iron. But that was ok, we were still shaking the gas line half the time and were already under the beast.
Kori took the Amtrak train out from Chicago, showed up a few days later. We had a fine time playing dirty hippie and other music with the east coast crowd, thankfully after the heat wave broke for a few days. We hit the Amish market, got some fine junk food, went to Andy Nelson's BBQ joint and greased up good, then rolled out of Cockeysville mid morning on a Sunday. It was gonna be a nice, slow drive home with a few side trips. To Gettysburg, maybe a few other spots. Turns out it was the busiest weekend in a long time at Gettysburg, jammed with people. Too crowded to stay, so we moved on.
Then things went pear shaped. Ugly, for a long time. The heat came back. It got muggier. The wind came up, a strong one out of the west, pushing the albatross around like a giant paper airplane in a cyclone.
We went up a large hill an hour or so outside Gettysburg. The albatross started to overheat. We pulled over, let it cool and thought, damn, that was barely a hill and we're empty.
So we got back on the interstate for a while. We stop for gas, while I'm inside paying I notice that the exhaust pipe had broken loose behind the muffler and was sticking out six feet past the rear bumper.
Ok, that sucks, where's the bungee cords? Strapped up to the back bumper, we pull out to keep cruising west. I'm thinking, geez, fuel line, starter, fuel injector, so far this trip is not Much Fun.
Then, in eastern Indiana, it started missing again. Ok, I think, I can keep it at 50 or so, I'll just keep going, since it's the 4th of July and I don't want to have to find a mechanic on a holiday.
We sputtered our way to a wayside around midnight somewhere an hour or two outside Indianapolis, tried to sleep in the heat. Woke up at sunrise, ate some lukewarm fruit and hit the road.
The wind was still blowing us all over the road, traffic on the holiday Sunday was terrible, but we made it around Indianapolis without a problem. About 3o miles outside of it, on the way up to Chicago, I turned the wheel over to Kori. She hates to drive, but I was wiped out. I got into the passenger seat and fell right asleep, hoping to get an hour or so in before taking the wheel again.
It was hard sleeping, the pavement was thumping like crazy, it was hot, windy and sponge bath wet. Then the thumping got really loud, and a giant whack noise like a huge rubber paddle slapping woke me up.
We had a blowout on the front driver side tire. All of the tread came off, trashing the mirror, the rocker panel, part of the front fender and it tore loose the driver's side of the bumper.
Meanwhile, traffic kept flying by us at 75 mph or more, and we had to change a flat in that mess.
We had the tools, but the moron who rotated our tires and test drove it before our trip not only missed the failing tire, he used an impact wrench set on full smoke. And we'd have pulled off the freeway at the exit just down the interstate, but there was a dead semi between us and it.
So Kori got out the jack, the breaker bar, and I waved traffic over when I could, and she had to jump up and down with all of her weight, muscles and at that point fear of death to break them loose. We got the spare on about a half hour later and got back on the road.
In the meantime, between the wind and the slowly dying motor, we'd gotten to the point where we could maybe, with luck, cruise at 43 mph. On the interstate with our flashers. Like the white trash we feared we looked like in our ancient rolling mess.
We hit backroads around the south side of Chicago, wanting to stay off the interstate there, and about 4 hours later, totally blown out, we pulled into the driveway. And it was still hot. And we were still stressed out from driving across three states with a sick vehicle.
Kori's been working on the pile of crap ever since, but until this week she seemed to be enjoying it, she's pulled the head off and replaced the head gasket, pulled it apart again to replace the timing chain, then had to pull it apart again because the timing chain cover cracked.

And it's still not running right. I suspect the #1 cylinder fuel injector has gone bad again.
Lesson the first: Motorhomes suck. Lesson two: Next time build a travel trailer from scratch, the way you want it.

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"Sometimes a scream is better than a thesis." Ralph Waldo Emerson