Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Evacuation from Irma Part 2

We woke up about 6AM at the rest stop.  It wasn't daylight yet and I did not want to overstay our welcome.  I shut down the generator and I did a poor job of stowing away all of the loose stuff.  We got back on I-75 amid crashes and bangs of stuff falling over or shifting around in the camper.   I was still very tired and feeling bad.  I was also having trouble driving.  Not from falling asleep but just trying to steer the camper and keeping it straight on the road while things slid and banged around in the camper.

I asked Linda to find a campground nearby so we could stop.  I needed to rest and recover from the night before.  We stopped at Seminole Campground in Fort Meyers, Florida.  We arrived at 8am a full hour before opening time. In spite of this one of the employees saw us and let us check in early.  I was fully prepared to wait the hour I was exhausted.   We easily checked in, another employee guided me into the site.  He was careful of the nearby trees and to make sure I did not run over the sewer hookups.  We spent the day resting and shopping for supplies.  We stopped a a local grocery store and they were completely sold out of water.  The only bread left was potato bread.  Fortunately we like potato bread.  We spent the night and tried out the stove.  I reloaded the car since we used it to travel around Fort Meyers.  We didn't find a spare for the tow dolly.  Tractor Supply and WalMart were both sold out of the correct size.

I dumped the tanks the night before only to learn later that I did it wrong.  We got back on the road and continued north.  All along the way we would encounter slow downs where our speed dropped to the 10s and 20s.  We would speed up again for a time and then slow to a crawl.  I found a service station and the wait for a pump was only about 30 minutes.  There was other open pumps I just could not attempt to reach them while towing the car.  Still no bottled water in the stores.  I did find bottled water at the rest stop vending machines.  We finally reached I-10 east of Tallahassee late in the evening.  We spent the night at the Suwannee Campground and headed west in the morning.  The rest of our trip was uneventful except for a problem in an Alabama service station.  A guy parked his car at a pump blocking our access for 30 minutes.  We were blocking the driveway waiting for him on move.  Turns out he went in the store bought lunch and stayed in the store to eat it.  In spite of pages and employees searching for the guy he returned to his car totally oblivious to the problems he was causing.

We made it home late Friday night safe and sound and Hurricane Irma arrived in Florida on Sunday.

Monday, October 2, 2017

Evacuation from Irma

Hurricane Irma was bearing down on Florida.  We had just purchased the camper and decided that we should make every effort to leave Florida and return home.  Good thing we did.  We loaded our car onto the car dolly made sure it was all secure and left Key Largo.  We stopped at a local Walmart and got some parking instruction from the parking lot patrol.  Once settled we headed into the store only to find every open register with at least 20 people in line.  We decide to head out and shop for food when we were further north.

The tow dolly uses ratchet straps with handles that hold car on the dolly. These "handles" that have a center hub and a ratchet mechanism that pulls the straps tight.  They are easy to use and each time we stopped I checked the straps and found them to be a bit loose so I gave them a few clicks and on we went.  The problem with these "handles" is releasing them.  You have to open the handle completely flat and straight.  The strap is supposed to loosen.  In reality the things never work.  I have paid mega buck for the best straps with the best handles and none of them work once they have been used a few times.  The two dolly has two of these things permanently attached.

When we reached Homestead our GPS instructed us to get on the Florida turnpike and head north. The Governor of Florida had suspended all tolls on all Florida toll roads.  This was great news for us except there was an accident on the Florida turnpike and we spent quite a while in stop and go traffic. During this time we had a tire failure on the tow dolly.  I don't know how far we towed the car on the flat but by time we stopped the tire was ruined.  Luckily we had a spare.   Problems developed when I could not get the spare off of the dolly.  I was mounted with u-bolt and no lug nuts just two flat metal brackets threaded onto the u-bolt.   To remove the spare I had to unload the car.  The "handles" would not straighten to release.  There was no room under the over hang of the car.   With the handles centered on the tire there is just no room.   I was able to move the car a bit on the dolly and it loosened one strap on one side.  The other strap was not coming loose no matter what I did. 

I had to cut the strap loose.  I knew I had two spare straps in the camper so I sacrificed the strap to get us back on the road.   Once the car was unloaded I quickly changed the tire and stowed all of my tools and other gear.  I reloaded the car and this time shifted the straps to the outside edge of the tire.  I was happy about this but I knew I would have room to straighten the handles for next time.  During this adventure I felt like I was on an episode of Roadkill.  Those two guys travel the country and always have strange break downs and problems that occur when you travel the highways on a shoestring and a prayer.

I really hate ratchet strap handles.  I have to find a replacement system. 

Two hours later we continued on the Florida turnpike and before leaving Miami we found a service station and waited another 2 hours in line to buy fuel.  Around 12:30 AM we stopped at a big rest area in Naples, Florida.  Parked between two semis we had no issues with running the generator.  We could still hear the diesels idling on each side of us so I was sure we weren't disturbing their sleep.  Once settled we tried to sleep for a few hours.  No one bothered us and I slept totally exhausted.

Next week:  Evacuation from Irma Part 2.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

We found it...

Months of searching paid off.  We found a 2004 Thor Windsport based on a Ford truck chassis with a V-10 gas engine.  The camper has a roll in shower and wide aisles for easy access.  Best of all it has a lift that stores under the camper, not in the camper.

The access door and Braun UVL lift can be seen in the photo.  It is a huge thing 8.5 feet wide and 36 feet long bumper to bumper.

We drove down to Key Largo Florida on Labor Day weekend to inspect and make the purchase.

A couple of notes here.  A busy holiday weekend in Florida, the last big holiday of summer.  On top of that Hurricane Irma is in the Atlantic and headed for the Florida Keys.

Linda and I visited the Kennedy Space Center while spending the night in Cocoa Beach.  Then we drove down to Key Largo on Labor Day to check out the camper.   I inspected everything.  It was exactly matching the photos and description provided by the owner.  Then the scary part.  I took the Behemoth out onto the public roads and drove it around.  I have driven large trucks, U-Haul trucks, vans and I have even driven an 18 wheeler once.  This thing is huge, it feels like I am driving an apartment building while sitting on the balcony.  I loved it. Once I got the hang of making turns and maneuvers I was set.

We made a deal and the owner threw in a tow-dolly that we planned to purchase.  During my inspection I found some damage on the rear bumper that was not mentioned in the ad.   I was going to overlook the damage because I was already happy about the price we agreed on.  I feel the owner did the right thing as we all should.  On Tuesday the day after labor day we signed the papers.   Linda and I are now the proud owners of a beautiful motor home we can both enjoy.

Next up:  Evacuation from Hurricane Irma

Sunday, September 17, 2017

The search is on

My wife Linda and I have long talked about getting a camper.  I enjoy getting away from home to new places.  Hanging out and relaxing.  My wife was an avid camper when she was younger and often camped out in a pickup truck with a cap on the bed.  Sleeping in sleeping bags on the ground, in a tent or in the back end of the truck.  When I was younger I camped out in tents and carried a ton of gear.  I also enjoyed hiking trails and many of my trips involved hiking trails.

Now we are both much older and my wife is disabled.  It doesn't slow her down much.  We have traveled a great deal since we were married.  We dislike staying in motels because they are so inconsistent.  What one motel advertises as an accessible room bears no resemblance to a room in another motel.  Even in the same chain there is no rhyme or reason.

We decided we need a camper.  It has to be accessible.  It needs to have a roll in or easy access shower.  It needs to have the proper bathroom equipment, accessible sink, toilet of the correct height, etc.  The bedroom should be accessible and my wife needs to ride in a comfortable seat and not sit in her power chair for the whole trip.

So the search began.  We found two websites that advertised campers for sale and especially we could search for accessible campers.   We had a set budget and a loose set of criteria for what we wanted.

Evacuation from Irma Part 2

We woke up about 6AM at the rest stop.  It wasn't daylight yet and I did not want to overstay our welcome.  I shut down the generator an...