After plodding through the mushy wet snow for a couple of days it was a welcome change to have the sun come out in Fort Collins and watch it all melt. The two pictures below were taken two days apart:
And that changed the mood of the entire rally. No longer was everyone hunkered down inside with the furnace blowing, peering out through fogged windows in the hope of seeing sunshine. Suddenly people were outside, walking around and talking to their fellow rally-goers. Emma and I went for rides, Eleanor and I went for walks. It all turned out very nicely.
Saturday night the weather was so fine that people were grilling outdoors and I offered test rides to anyone who wanted to try our electric kick scooter. About ten people hopped on and zipped away—and they all came back with a big smile. This guy even popped a wheelie.
Fort Collins was nearly our halfway point to Alumapalooza, which meant we still had 1,100 miles to go. After the rally there was no avoiding that we were going to make our 31st crossing of the American Great Plains, so we braced ourselves and began to log some miles.
To mix things up we always look for a new route. I think we’ve driven every possible major route through the center of the continent but there was a bit of northwestern Kansas we hadn’t seen before so we headed that way. It’s not much different from other parts of Kansas but at least it was new.
The nice thing about taking the quieter roads is that there’s more variety and occasionally an under-appreciated state park in which to spend the night. This time it was Prairie Dog State Park.
A single night in a state park isn’t enough time to get to know it, but clearly it’s a jewel judging by the number of locals who had staked out spots with their RVs and fishing boats. The park has a nice small lake stocked with fish. (There’s also lots of space for unicycle riders.)
Rains came in the evening, and despite my efforts to cover the delicate rear computer in the GL, a few drops of water got in again. I woke up at 3 a.m. to see the taillights glowing (a clear sign that the computer was freaking out). Computers and water don’t mix.
I dried it off and covered the computer better but the damage was done: multiple error messages in the console, and the brake controller was ON all the time. That’s because the computer was telling the brake controller that the brakes were applied when they weren’t. This meant the trailer couldn’t be towed. And of course the nearest Mercedes dealer was 3.5 hours away.
At noon we were still without functioning brakes and we had to leave the campsite, so I disconnected the 7-way cord to the trailer and towed gingerly to another part of the park without brakes or taillights. I pulled fuses in hopes of forcing a reset, to no avail. Finally, on the phone Colin Hyde came up with a temporary solution: cut the wire to the brake controller that receives the braking signal.
I did that and reconnected the 7-way cable. Now we had taillights and manually-operated brakes, so we could proceed. I just had to keep a hand on the manual brake lever and coordinate braking the trailer by hand with braking the car with my foot. It’s not as hard as you might think.
A few hours later I reconnected the cut wire and found the computer had returned to normal. We were back in good operating condition from that point onward. But I wonder how long the circuitry will continue to work, now that it has gotten wet twice. (I also rigged up an elaborate multi-layer water protection system, in the hopes of preventing a third dousing. I can’t stop the actual leak but I have fixed things so any water that gets in will be shunted far away from the computer.)
The rest of the drive was uneventful and uninteresting. Suffice to say we survived KS, MO, IL, and IN without extreme weather or dramatic failures and pulled into Jackson Center OH—center of the Airstream universe—by Wednesday evening. We’re set up at the Terra Port and getting ready for Alumapalooza 8.
I am eyeing a replacement vehicle. The GL’s recent crises involving the water leaks, along with numerous other age-related problems, are starting to drive my repair costs to an unacceptable level.
We’re at eight years and 134,000 miles with this tow vehicle, which is less than I had hoped for when I bought it, but still a respectable amount of use. The choice of what might replace the GL is difficult since our criteria are complex, but I hope to make a decision in the next few weeks: keep or replace, and replace with what? I’ll talk about that in more detail in another blog.