Challenges along the way

For those who idolize the traveler,  I feel compelled to occasionally offer tidbits of reality.  It’s not all fun and freedom out here on the road.  Our past couple of days have been pleasant enough but certainly not free of worry.

We left the Buffalo area with a bit of a problem.  Emma’s ultra-fancy orthodontic appliance had come loose from her left molar.  On Friday we found a local orthodontist who gamely re-cemented the thing but warned that another tooth was causing interference, and the temporary repair might  not hold.  It didn’t.  Saturday it popped loose again while we were in Toronto.  It doesn’t cause any discomfort or trouble eating, but it needs to be fixed soon.

On Monday we were due to head south through the rolling hills of southwestern New York and western Pennsylvania to Penn Wood Airstream Park, which is one of the parks that advertises in Airstream Life magazine.  Our home-base orthodontist was out on Monday, so we set the problem of Emma’s appliance aside and started towing.

Arriving at Penn Wood, I remembered that the park and the surrounding area is a total no-Verizon zone.  Our Verizon Internet didn’t work either, even with the rooftop antenna, but fortunately the park has wifi.  Sometimes it’s nice to be isolated by a lack of communication, and sometimes it isn’t.  On this occasion it didn’t matter much since we were only there for an overnight.  We met up with Alex K and whipped up a big dinner in the Airstream.

There was one task I needed to complete in the morning: deposit a check.  Our checking account was nearly depleted and we were going to need cash soon.  This is where modern technology really helped me out.  I have an app (from USAA) on my iPhone that allows me to deposit checks simply by taking a picture of them with the phone.  I walked over the park office, where the wifi signal was strongest, and in less than a minute I had turned the paper check into money in the bank. Gotta love it.

Earlier I mentioned doing maintenance on the road.  We’re still finding things that need a little help after the summer of storage.  The bathroom was a bit funky so Eleanor did a thorough cleanup while we had the luxury of full hook up at Penn Wood.  In the process, she noticed that the sink drain was leaking.  It needed plumber’s putty, and I didn’t have any.  We asked Alex, who has every repair tool & supply known to man stored in his shed, and he came over immediately with a golf cart and a tool kit.  A few minutes later we were good to go.

Leaving the park on Tuesday morning, the first order of business was to get diesel.  I hadn’t noticed that we were at a quarter-tank when we arrived at Penn Wood.  We began hunting the moment we left, but unfortunately our route took us further into the boondocks of Pennsylvania, where gas stations are few, diesel stations are fewer, and ones that have both diesel and room to fit our 48-foot rig are rare indeed.  In retrospect I should have ignored the GPS and gone directly back to the Interstate where fuel would have been much easier to find.  It wasn’t long before I regretted heading into the rural country with insufficient fuel.

The problem was made much worse by the incredible rolling hills in that area.  We were crossing perpendicular to the ancient flow of glaciers, which meant that we were climbing and descending steep grades repeatedly.  Where we would have gotten 13 or 14 MPG, we were getting 10 on average, and the fuel gauge was dropping rapidly.  At one point the car’s computer was estimating about 30 miles to empty and the nearest major highway (where we would be likely to find fuel) was 18 miles away, but soon the computer gave up and simply defaulted to saying “RANGE” with an alarming picture of a fuel pump.  That’s its way of telling us that we’ve pushed the limit too far and we are now officially into the “reserve fuel” allowance.

This has happened once or twice before when we’ve failed to plan ahead, and it’s always unnerving.  (Read: on the way to Banff, in the Adirondacks)  We got to the point of looking for a place to ditch the Airstream but there were no available flat spaces.  Finally, with 8 miles left to go before the highway, we stumbled upon a miraculous fuel station in the middle of nowhere that had diesel and room for us to pull in.  Saved again!  The tank took 27.7 gallons, and the manufacturer’s stated capacity is 26.4 gallons, so we had consumed all of that and were well into the 3.4 gallon reserve.  I can’t really complain since we got 430 miles out of that tank (which included some non-towing time up to Toronto and back).  I had just gotten too comfortable with the enormous range of the GL320, and suffered the dread that results from complacency.  Like the license plate we saw (PB4UGO) you need to fill up before you tow.

We are now courtesy parked at Bobby & Danine’s house in Virginia.  Once again, Verizon doesn’t work at the house but I’ve got their wifi, their house phone if I need it and Skype.  The bigger challenge here is the sloping driveway.  Bobby lent us a bunch of wood and extra plastic blocks, and we’ve managed to get the trailer close to level.  (Still, it’s a big first step up to the entry door.)

So you can see that there are always challenges along the way.  Plans get changed for you, glitches happen, things break, and sometimes the trailer ain’t level.  The point is, it’s all small stuff, and you know what they say about that.  Don’t sweat it.  We’re still having a good time even if things don’t always turn out the way we expected.

Congrats to Airstreamers David & Ariadne on the birth of their new baby!