We were making fabulous time. In fact, every time we phoned our Texas kin with our progress, they were all amazed at where we were. It looked like were were going to arrive in 31 hours. In all the years of shuttling back and forth between El Paso and Pennsylvania, nobody had ever made the trip that fast before. Nobody.
This, of course, was before mechanical problems were factored into the equation.
Before anything went awry, however, there was one upsetting incident. Scott was at the wheel for his second turn at driving, and we needed to find an RV site to dump our waste tanks. We found a dump site (on a two-lane highway) just before reaching Dallas, and Scott put on the right turn signal and slowed the RV to make the turn. As he was beginning to make the wide right turn off the highway, a pickup truck came flying past us on the right berm, very narrowly missing a collision. Scott was so shaken that he relinquished the wheel and wasn't interested in driving again for some time.
Okay, mechanical problems. Around noon, a few hours after Scott's near miss, while Andy was driving, the RV shuddered and there was a loud noise. Andy called back for us to check if anything had blown off the roof, unlikely though that was, since nothing was packed up there. Brian looked out the back window and reported that he thought we had blown a tire, since there were parts of a tire still bouncing down the road. Andy stopped and checked, and we had indeed lost a tire - the steel belted tread had completely torn away from one of the rear tires. This was worrisome but not crippling, since there is a double set of rear tires on the RV. He emptied our fresh water tank to decrease the weight on the rear tires, and we eventually located a tire place up ahead with ONE of the right size tire left in stock. To avoid a hefty roadside service fee, we decided to limp along the remaining ten miles to the repair shop.
In the southwest, they have this neat phenomenon called farm & market roads. These are essentially two-lane highways that run parallel to the interstates, although the speed limit is lower and they are interrupted with stop signs. However, we were thankful for this particular farm road (FM 349, in this case), since it allowed us to travel alongside I-20 in the proper direction while maintaining a slower speed.
We didn't make it all ten miles. With two miles to go and Andy at the wheel, we all heard a loud "PSSSSSHHHHH" and felt the left side of the RV sag. Oh, snap. The other tire couldn't stand up the pressure all alone. He pulled the RV off the farm road and we called the tire place to tell him we weren't going to make it. (Mike's Tire Service, Ranger, Texas. Hell of a guy). Anyway he sent his brother out, who put the new tire on the busted tire rim, and fixed the tire that went "PSSSHHH" - it turned out that the only thing wrong was that the air valve had blown out, so he replaced the valve and reinflated the tire. Then we followed him back to Ranger to settle the bill.
The interchange at Ranger is fairly limited - a truck stop, Dairy Queen, the tire place, and a garage that specializes in big rigs. We paid the bill at the tire place, then went over to the truck stop to fill up with gas. That was when Andy noticed that the gas he was pumping was just running out onto the ground. Oh, snap.
Back over at the garage, we learned that when the first tire had given out, the "steel" in those steel-belted radials had split into razor-sharp edges which totally shredded our gray water tank (from the sinks and shower), and sliced through the fill tube that goes from the gas cap down to the gas tank. Thank God it wasn't our fuel line or our gas tank, but we were unable to fill up with gas! It was decided that the kids and I would hang out at the Dairy Queen while Andy waited at the garage for the work to be done.
Five Hours And Eight Very Antsy Kids Later . . .
The travel time record went right out the window. The garage wasn't able to replace the waste tank, but they did find a piece of tubing that was rated for fuel, which did the trick. We gassed up and Andy napped as I took the wheel for an uneventful 3.5 hour stretch.
The next fuel stop was at Big Spring, Texas, around 8:30 p.m. The first pump didn't seem to work very well - the fuel seemed to be only trickling out. So we drove around to another pump, but again, it wasn't working. It wasn't until the third try that Andy realized that the problem was with the RV, not the pumps. It was also about that time that the credit card company was alerted to suspicious activity and unbeknownst to us, deactivated the card we'd designated for the trip. We didn't find out that the card had been suspended until days later, which is another story entirely.
There was another garage at this travel stop, but they were only insured to work on tractor-trailers so they couldn't help us. Andy determined on his own that the replacement tubing had somehow collapsed at the mouth of the gas tank. Thankfully, while waiting the five hours at the last garage, he'd had the bright idea to contact our insurance company to see if the incidental damage might be covered, and they told him to keep the damaged fill tube. So on his own, he replaced the fix job with the damaged tube, freshly repaired with that handyman's standby, duct tape. He had a screwdriver just barely long enough to reach, and he had to lay on the gas-covered ground in the rain to do it. When he was done, he was completely grimy and reeked of gasoline, but we were able to fill up, and after the best ten-dollar shower he ever had in his life, we were back in business. I drove till we needed fuel again, at the Plateau Truck Stop in Van Horn, TX, about two hours from our final destination, and here Scott took the wheel to take us the rest of the way.
My Texas kin had been in close contact me all this time, and even though it was nearing midnight, they were all still awake waiting for us to arrive. They urged me to let them know when I got to a certain point so they could drive out to guide us the rest of the way. At first I resisted - that's what a GPS is for, isn't it? - but they were so adamant that after reflecting on it, it started to freak me out. What if they knew something that I didn't? After all, we were less than two miles from the Mexican border in some places. We saw border patrol trucks and even a border patrol helicopter, closely scouring the highway and desert with a spotlight. I started thinking about how defenseless we all were - a young boy driving on a deserted highway after midnight, the entire family sleeping in the back, no gun to speak of. What if there were gangs or robbers? I had myself so worked up, worrying about the possibilities, that I was having an anxiety attack and could barely hold back the tears.
It never occurred to me that they wanted to come out to guide us in because they were so excited to see us.
Needless to say, we made it to our destination without a robbery, hijackiing, drive-by shooting or attack by bandits. They met us about fifteen minutes out, and we pulled into their driveway around 1:30 a.m.
Still no pictures of this eventful day, because the active camera was stolen and the other one still wasn't working.
Total trip mileage: 2081.4 miles
Time elapsed: 37 hours