2019-11-23 - 2019-11-26: Recovery

Posted 2019-11-26; may be updated

Coming home reminded us of the state that we left the place in. All possible time was spent loading the bus and preparing it for departure, and little was left for cleaning up the house and otherwise making sure that we had a pleasant arrival home -- only essentials were addressed in that dept. So, we came home and added piles on top of piles. Not ideal, but getting the bus cleaned out and put away before the rain hit was the top priority; once everything's in the house we can conveniently deal with it.

After getting the bus unloaded, it got a bath. Not detailed (Charles: Hey, nobody scrubbed the roof!) but the kids got most of the dirt off, and Michele got it tucked away in the shop. Working through the unpacking continued throughout the day(s).

With half the family sick w/ colds, and knowing that showing up at church was going to cause a bunch of hugging and other germ-transferring activities to occur, we decided to stay home and sleep in. During a late breakfast, we started seeing sewage backing up in all the tubs. Nasty! And here we thought that once we arrived home and weren't living on the bus, we wouldn't be using the Porta Potti any more.... Long story short: 24 hours later, with 3 trips to Home Depot to buy/rent equipment, and many hours' unpleasant work, Charles and Alexander finally got the system clear.

Charles speculates that there were clumps of solid waste left in one or more pipes that sat for 3 months and hardened; after we came back and used them again, the mass broke loose and moved downstream until it hit the wye outside the house, which may have already been partly clogged with other things from before we returned home (we found what appeared to be compacted diaper wipes), and lodged with other stuff piling up behind until the entire thing was clogged. We worked it from a cleanout adapter close to the house and got part of it, then had to get a bigger machine and move downstream 100', working the rest of it from a point closer to the septic tank. Well, now you have the straight poop.

Laundry, cleaning, and returning items to storage continued for the next few days. Alexander and Charles spent time on the bus finishing and improving temporary mounts and connections that were made on the trip. Alexander was involved in many household projects too, as he worked to leave things as "user friendly" as possible in the next two weeks before leaving for two years.

2019-11-21 & 2019-11-22 Thu & Fri: Shhh!

Posted 2019-11-22

Don't tell anyone, but we're home! We'd originally planned to visit San Diego today, but a 3-day rain storm threatened to make it a miserable tour and brought flash flood warnings over the region, so we decided not to battle that. The weather report for home showed that it's dry but the rain is descending the day that we were planning to return. Combined with a serious lack of love for the California desert and the fact that we were pretty much worn out and ready to be done (and weren't looking forward to returning late on a Saturday night, with little chance to rest before church the next day) and the decision to return home early was made. By skipping our last AirBnB (a one-night stay, booked after a cancellation when there didn't seem to be any other option) we would save over $300, so...

We got a fair night's sleep (Michele was up late cleaning & packing the bus, since she didn't really get a chance to either of the previous two days), arose at 6:30, and were on the road a little after 8:00, stopping only for fuel and a couple of restroom breaks. Most of the kids slept, Matthew & Alexander taking shifts in the copilot chair. We got home at 5:00 (under 21 hours) after the boys got out of the bus and held a large fallen tree branch (that our tenants didnt warn us about) out of the way so we could get down the driveway. Fortunately, the family staying in our "mother in-law" space left town Thursday, so our early arrival didn't disturb them. The house was cold (47 deg.), stinky (dry plumbing traps plus...oops, someone didn't empty the diaper bucket like they were supposed to!), and cluttered (Oh yeah, I do remember thinking when we left that the return wasn't going to be pleasant...) so we got things turned on and then got to work unloading the bus.

As this is written, we've been working about 3 hours, and most of the stuff is out of the bus but not necessarily dealt with. Vehicles are being started for the first time in 3 months, and many other things are happening. The youngest kids are sleeping, but everyone else is working hard. Now it's time to prepare for Alexander's mission departure in 3 weeks!

2019-11-20 Wed: Party On

Posted 2019-11-20

Wayne and David came over to take some of the kids back to David's place to swim (and eat ice cream) some more. Bev came over and worked on re-hemming some of Alexander's suit pants, which had become too short since she hemmed them for him after we got them in Idaho! We couldn't believe he'd grown that much in 2 months. Hope the trend doesn't continue; he's leaving on his mission in less than a month, and at that point he's on his own for getting seam work done.

About 4 the rest of us went and picked up everyone from David's place, and went to a Chinese Buffet; Wayne and Bev had decided that they wanted to continue the celebration and treat the entire clan to dinner (Our family? There goes their retirement savings!) before everyone parted ways. Everyone ate their fill and had a good time.

What happens when you put your swim shirt over a jet in the pool

2019-11-19 Tue: Pool party

Posted 2019-11-20

This morning, the kids played at a park down the street. David (Michele's brother) & family flew in, and at Bev's suggestion we decided to have a mass birthday party for the 5 people who have had birthdays on the trip. Michele made a salad, cake & cookies, while the older Cookes bought pizzas and ice cream, and reserved a kitchen at the RV park where they're staying. They're about 1/2 hour west of us, and David & Jessica are staying at a resort about 15mi from there, so we all met and had our first ever pool party for birthdays. Between courses the kids swam in various pools: the outdoor pool & hot tub by the kitchen, and an indoor pool across the park. It wasn't real fun walking back and forth to that in the dark and rain, but the kids had fun swimming! (Our house also has a small pool, but it's cold (it has a solar cover but the owner didn't put it on) and with the swimming thus far, we probably won't use it.)

2019-11-18 Mon: California Beeline

Posted 2019-11-20

We left at 8:30 and headed straight out I-40. Charles was really disappointed that we spent 3 days in Flagstaff and were so close to the Bagdad/Prescott area from his early childhood and he he didn't get to visit it, but c'est la vie! Knowing that Michele would want to shorten today's trip (at least the AZ portion) as much as possible, he had also explored renting a car Saturday and taking a road trip himself instead of sitting around the house, but none of the kids were excited about spending 6 or 7 hours in a car (William would've, but he went to bed early Friday night so couldn't be asked) and he would've still had to have Michele get up early to drive him to the car rental place and pick him up later, and it was a tough sell.

Without any other stops besides letting Matthew out to grab a rock just over the Nevada state line (we've been collecting rocks from each state, and went out of our way to touch Nevada), we were well ahead of when we could check into our house, so it was a pretty easy decision to detour and visit Joshua Tree National Park. Driving up the mountain to the first little visitor center and hanging out there was enough for everyone, so we turned around without actually seeing any joshua trees in the park, and resumed out journey. After a Walmart trip, we arrived at our home in La Quinta near Palm Springs a little after 4PM. We killed a lot of time with discussions and a bit of research, but still got to bed earlier than we have in a a while.

As with Phoenix, the kids marveled at the large washes, not to mention all the dips (crude gutters) at so many intersections. Like railroad tracks, it's frustrating when there's no reliable way to gauge how bad the bump from a dip is going to be (esp. if there are no vehicles in front of you to watch) so you either stay perfectly vigilant and waste a lot of time and fuel being extremely careful at each intersection that looks the least bit suspicious, or you bottom out the suspension and knock stuff over in the bus when you hit a spot that was worse than you thought.

2019-11-17 Sun: Walking to church

Posted 2019-11-20

Our house is less than 1/2 a mile from the nearest meetinghouse, so we walked to church. We chose the latest ward (started at noon) so we had a relaxed morning and nearly 60 degree sunny weather in which to enjoy the stroll. In the afternoon we returned to attend a broadcast and a social afterward. Michele had made a big batch of cookies, so we brought those to contribute, since we knew we were adding significantly to their attendance. We visited while we helped take down audio/video equipment and clean up the eating area. After saying good-bye to all of our new friends, we headed home. Halfway there, William realized that he'd taken off his suit coat and left it in the building. He ran back, but it was dark and closed. Oops! Someone will get a suit coat. At least we won't need it again on the trip; we'll be home next Sunday.

2019-11-16 Sat: Touring Flagstaff

Posted 2019-11-20

Today was a pretty relaxed day, with a visit to Walnut Canyon in the morning / early afternoon (Daddy stayed home to nurse his cold and try to do some work). The kids enjoyed the scenery and the ruins, and the chance to get out and play. Shana enjoyed picking cactus spines out of herself. In the evening, Charles took 3 of the kids to Lowell Observatory (of course they had to go at the busiest time of the week...) where they paid a lot of money and got to peek at/through some of the telescopes and exhibits.

2019-11-15 Fri: The Grand Canyon

Posted 2019-11-17

Cookes came over and we all boarded the bus to the Grand Canyon. Once there, we found the bus parking and went to the visitor center. We found that most of the places didn't have bus parking, so while the rest of us were watching a film on the park, Michele was in the bus trying to pack everything for the day in such a way that we could all carry it while walking or riding the shuttle buses. Once we were finally ready to go (it took a long time for all the kids to complete their personal preparations) we walked 3-4 miles, stopping at viewpoints along the way. Miriana:

As we walked along the path and saw each viewpoint, we saw that each viewpoint provided a totally different picture. Each picture was majestic! Glorious! Spectacular! Breath-taking! Terrifying! (every edge is terrifying with a three-year old with no depth perception) Before seeing the Grand Canyon, I vaguely pictured it as having completely straight sides that came down in a perfect V with the Colorado river at the bottom. Not so. In fact, the rim and the walls were so irregular, and there were so many plateaus, and so many ledges, that when I looked forward, I saw a sea of plateaus, and when I looked down, I saw tiny patches of blue here and there at the bottom of the nearest plateau.

We rejoiced that we never lost Grandpa today, but we did lose William for 20 minutes, requiring a full halt while runners went forward and back to locate him (hoping that he hadn't gone somewhere he shouldn't and been swallowed by the canyon) with his rather unrepentant return resulting in his being limited to a position between his parents in the procession for the rest of the day.

We rode the shuttles, and experienced the range of drivers, from the fun-loving kid-engaging guy that worked to enrich our tour to the really cranky one that just wanted her shift to be over. It already being late afternoon, we didn't stop much but enjoyed the views from the bus. We did disembark at the far west point on the route and hiked around a bit. It was pretty dark by the time we got back to the visitor center, and it was closed, causing the family to look for alternate restrooms while Charles took a very cranky baby back to the bus. We had an uneventful drive home, with the kids watching several American Ride episodes to pass the time.

2019-11-14 Thu: Change of Plans

Posted 2019-11-17

Our original route called for us to stay with friends in Nevada, but they're selling their house (partly because they don't really want to live right by the pot farm that's moving in next door) and are living in Kalama! They graciously arranged with neighbors to let us camp out there, and also offered to let us use their house after a sale fell through, but honestly the Nevada desert lost a whole lot of appeal without those great people there! With the uncertainty of amenities and Charles's need to work, we decided to find another AirBnB, We found a good place in Flagstaff, AZ, which is closer to the Grand Canyon than Phoenix, from which we'd originally planned to make a day trip, so we shortened our Phoenix stay a day and moved our base.

We slept in a bit, and after Charles brought the bus back from where it was parked we started preparing it for departure. With Flagstaff less than 3 hours away (or a bit more, with the bus having to climb back up to 8,000'), we weren't in a terrible hurry to rise or to leave. The kids, however, were still in much less of a hurry than appropriate, and Michele finally told them they had half an hour to get their area of the bus clean or they weren't going to the Grand Canyon. They're mighty good workers when motivated! Darlene loves to cook and we love to eat, so she whipped up a little more food before we took off shortly before 2:00. We only made a brief stop to drop off a prescription once we got to Flagstaff, and landed at our house about 5:00. We were a little concerned about a new city ordinance forbidding overnight street parking after November 1st (in case there's snow to be plowed), but hoped that since it was bone dry and warm they'd leave us alone (judging from the street, several other people shared our hope), and if not then perhaps the fine was less than it cost to park for the day in D.C.!

This house aligned pretty well with our expectations (notice that the longer we're on the trip, the less remarkable each house seems), and we settled in for a few days. While we were unloading the bus and making dinner preparations, Cookes dropped in (they went all the way to CA but came back here and got an AirBnB for a couple of nights so they could join us on tomorrow's adventure), so the process was delayed a bit while they visited. The weather was mild (not bad for Flagstaff in November!), so the kids ate dinner outside. We ended up staying up pretty late working, but got to bed as early as we could, knowing that we had a full day tomorrow.

You know you've been traveling too long when you're in your temporary home and...

  • Joseph walks in from the bus with his bag of clothes and asks "Where's my couch?" (Miriana: "Awwww, we should give him a real bed for once!")
  • Michele glances at a stack of boxes sitting in the kitchen and thinks "Oh no, those aren't strapped in -- they're going to fall over when we go around a corner!"

2019-11-13 Wed: Phoenix

Posted 2019-11-14

A good night's sleep with no agenda for the next day...perfect! After a good breakfast and lazy morning, the family went on a swim adventure. The HOA owns a couple of pools. The first was a heated pool that the kids spent a lot of time in. Then they went to another location where there's a cold pool and a hot tub, and enjoyed going between the two. One of our friends' sons made the day even more special by treating everyone to pizza! Charles' cold again got the best of him, so he spent the day sleeping it off, and Alexander spent the day working inside the bus. In the evening, some of the family attended Bible study (fairly similar to the Lutheran mid-week service we attended in in S. Dakota) and socialized afterward, while the others stayed home and cleaned up from dinner and otherwise caught up.

2019-11-12 Tue: Petrified

Posted 2019-11-12

Our house wasn't anything special, but it was satisfactory. It's a good example of what our Penn. host termed "HGTV compliant", like so many of the places we've stayed; they spent money on all the trendy upgrades (wood flouring, tile bathrooms, electronic high-efficiency washer/dryer) so it looks good at first glance, but the workmanship underneath is poor (floors that don't seal, have big gaps around the edges and will quickly get water damage; shower w/ floor sloping the wrong direction so it pools instead of draining; dryer that "vents" into a coffee can to try to catch lint and water, stressing the dryer and making it take 2 hours to dry a load). We were able to open the gate and park the bus on the driveway, leaving it sticking out into the street a little less than it would were it parallel parked there.

We slept in until 5:00 and left before 6:00. No problem w/ rush hour, since we stayed away from the city. Traffic was a little heavy in places and there was a little construction, but it was a whole lot better than our Dallas departure, and the weather was better. Rather than take the fastest possible southern route to Phoenix, we instead went out I-40, turned south at Holbrook, and drove through the White Mountains to Globe (Charles's old stomping grounds) and then to Phoenix.

In western Texas we finally saw what we hadn't found in Georgia or Alabama: a cotton field out in the middle of nowhere with a side road where we could stop and let the kids see what cotton on the plant was like, without bothering anyone. We headed out on a dirt county farm road, and because the weather was still kind of nasty, Shana plucked a piece of plant and brought it back to the bus so it could be passed around. We were going to just drive "around the block", but the bad road started getting worse, so we turned around at our earliest opportunity and returned to the highway the way we came.

We spent quite a bit of time at the Petrified Forest, spending time in both visitor centers and driving through the park. Being the "off" season and fairly early in the morning, there was little other traffic, so we were able to sow down and stop in the middle of the road many places without actually having to pull into a parking lot. Other places we got out and hiked. While the "painted desert" wasn't quite as spectacular as some expected, we enjoyed some pretty impressive vistas, and the kids liked exploring the petrified wood trails.

The trip down hwy 77 through Snowflake was a bit uglier than Charles expected based on vague memories of what the area was supposed to be like (and reports from a friend who moved there and rave about how pretty it was), yet the Mormon pioneer influence on the area was obvious by the neat green cultivated towns in the middle of the desert., and once we gained a little more elevation and reached Show Low, the expected natural conifers appeared and it looked a little nicer all around.

In Globe, we visited a couple of Charles' old schools; his Parochial school having been sold and become a charter school, and an elementary school now being a school-themed hotel (they even left chalk boards in the rooms for guest comments). We drove out a canyon where he once lived, and he intended to loop back around another canyon that was a prettier drive, but the road at the end where it connected proved to be, well, not bus-friendly. It went from bad to worse, having been washed out over the years and not repaired; it would've taken a dirt bike to navigate one section where most of the road was missing and a culvert was mostly exposed. We ended up having to back up a little ways and make a roughly 6-point turn (while the cattle on the road roaming around the bus watched with interest) before turning around and going back the way we came. He was disappointed not to be have time to see a couple more areas, but it was already getting dark.

As we left town on U.S. 66 the sun had set over the mountains. By the time we climbed over the mountain range (averaging significantly below the speed limit) and looked out from the western slope, it was even darker as the sun had by that time sunk well below the horizon. It was a dark drive through Phoenix, but we still had to fight some residual rush-hour before we finally arrived at our friends' house at about 8:00. Their HOA won't tolerate our vehicle being parked there, so we had to unload everything that we thought we'd need for our stay into their house, then drove the bus a few miles away to one of their friends who had space at their house to park it. We visited and worked and settled into the rooms they'd graciously vacated for us.

2019-11-11 Mon: Crossing Texas

Posted 2019-11-11

We left a bit after 5:00, hoping to avoid rush hour traffic. Mission mostly accomplished. It was still a brutal drive for the first few hours. Phase 1 was the crazy traffic at that hour, zipping down bumpy curvy narrow lanes with a concrete barrier 2' away on one side and a semi 2' away on the other. After we got far enough away from Dallas, phase 2 offered a respite, with new pavement and plenty of room to move. Then phase 3 hit: an arctic storm w/ rain and 30-60mph winds that required constant attention.

The prevailing direction of the wind -- coming from the front and right -- was such that (1) it constantly tried to blow the vehicle over to the left; (2) it caught the front of the drivers door (damaged in an accident before we bought the bus) and tried to rip it open, making a very loud noise and bringing a frigid breeze into the cab; and (3) hindered our progress. Charles "had the hammer down" most of the first 6 hours, and the bus often struggled to reach 60mph on the 75mph highway. At one point we turned North and made a brief jog just to hit Oklahoma; when we retraced our route across the Red River the tail wind made a huge and refreshing difference for the 8 miles before we resumed our trek west. We were anxious to get west as fast as possible as the temperature dropped into the 20's; since the majority of the precipitation from the front sweeping down out of Canada and blanketing the midwest in snow was still north and east of us but continuing to move in. By the time we were a ways into New Mexico, it was cold and windy but much more pleasant than before.

Matthew asked "Why is it that we only get to our houses before dark after our longest drives?" Indeed, when we're serious about driving, it goes quickly! We arrived at our house this afternoon at 3:30 (after a timezone change). Conversely, when we think we have a short drive and aren't in a hurry, we tend to oversleep (ha!), over-schedule other activities, and under-estimate the time for shopping stops, etc., and and up later than forecast. Nearly 2.5 months on the road and we're still learning and refining.

Our house is in a "bedroom community" of Albuquerque, and there's nothing of interest nearby. After dinner, the kids took a walk around the neighborhood for some exercise. We're only here one night, so it was nice to get in early and have a chance to catch up a little and go to bed at a reasonable hour -- all, that is, except for Michele, who stayed up late waiting on the !@#$%^& "high efficiency" washer & dryer to run a few loads of laundry, since we won't be able to do any for the next few days.

2019-11-10 Sun: Copes

Posted 2019-11-10

Our main reason for stopping in the Dallas area was to visit some friends who moved from Kalama a while back. Unfortunately, they moved since we booked our house, so we weren't as close as we might have been -- we had a 45 minute drive to their town and church. The good news is that their ward doesn't meet until noon, so we were able to sleep in and have a relaxed morning. Traffic was pretty crazy heading north for a Sunday morning, but we made it okay. After church, we went over to their house, fixed lunch (it was great to eat something besides "bus food"!), and spent the afternoon visiting. It was great to see them again. Returned home in the evening, and began preparations for an early departure.

2019-11-09 Sat: Pioneer Day

Posted 2019-11-10

What's that? Pioneer Day's isn't in November? Well, it sure is in Humble, TX! Today was Harris County Precinct 4's 33rd annual Pioneer Day held at the Jesse H. Jones Park & Nature Center's Redbud Hill Homestead. It's not a long drive from Houston to Dallas, and we couldn't possibly get to a place before dark, so we found some good time to kill during the day. We met a couple of the Balls there, and hung out with the kids, enjoying the many activities there and having a picnic lunch. Once the battle reenactment was ready to start, we cleared the war zone and spent a while over at the playground near where the bus was parked (which was a good 1/4 mile from where everything else was happening; they made us park way out there) and let the kids play some more before we finally accepted what we couldn't put off any longer, and bade farewell to the Balls and to Houston.

Houston (at least the suburbs we were in) is a lot different from what we pictured. Say "Texas" and endless desert comes to mind -- and I'm sure we'll see plenty of that on our way to New Mexico. Charles has experienced Houston itself twice on business trips -- downtown, in August. On this trip, though, we saw a lot that wasn't too different from home. The temperature was nice this week, there was a lot of beautiful greenery (and it was natural, not planted) and it changed our minds a little about the state. We recalled when our friends first moved down there, we thought that a girl who grew up in a forest in the NW was out of her mind to move to a place like TX. Now our feelings are softened a bit. Aside from the heat in the summer (i.e. Mar-Oct) it's a pretty livable place! And like a lot of places in the Bible Belt, the people down here are nice. There were no "scary" people hanging out at the part, we've seen a lot of great families, we found that the people are generally polite, full of faith, and great to be around, even fairly close to a big city.

We got to our house in Garland a little before 9, parked (no easy task parallel parking in a cul-de-sac w/ 5 cars in front of one neighbor's house [the same one playing slightly loud Mexican pop music half the night] and the other neighbor's car in front of our house) and got things unpacked for bedtime and church tomorrow, and had dinner. This home has electronic combination lock knobs on all of the bedrooms. Charles went to bed early with a sinus infection and feeling really tired. At one point Michele went into the bedroom, and when she left she closed the door behind her, locking it! When she went to go to bed later, she discovered that it was locked, and remembering that the host warned that the lock was broken (one of the buttons is hard to push) she figured that she was locked out (with both phones locked in the room and Matthew in bed too, she would've had to boot up her laptop and comb through the AirBnB info looking for the combo, anyway), she decided to not bother him and just crashed on the couch. It's a pretty nice house, clean and with plenty of room for everyone.

2019-11-08 Fri: Football

Posted 2019-11-08

Today after a good night's sleep (Michele: Speak for yourself! Charles: Hey, anything over 3 hours is a good night these days!) we wandered back over to the Balls' house for the afternoon. The men worked, the women visited as the could while life happened, and the kids who weren't at school played. The morning's downpour spent itself, opening up some possibilities for the evening. The kids made air-launch rockets out of paper, Kevin set up his air launcher, and we all went outside and enjoyed the action. After a fire was built, we enjoyed a pleasant if slightly hurried supper outdoors around it. Shana, Steven, Jonathan, and Kayliana went with them to experience a Texas high school football game (with a better stadium -- and more exuberant fans -- than most universities have). Their son plays in the band, so while they didn't stay for the entire game, they at least made sure and catch the halftime show. The rest of us stayed and cleaned up a little from dinner before returning home.

Cookes IM'd and let us know that they're just ahead of us in New Mexico. They scrapped their motorhome in Ohio, plan to stay in a park model while in CA, an are doing the AirBnB thing in the meantime.

This is, I believe the first time that a journal entry has been posted the same day! Also of note is that we looked back at our mileage log, and see that we've traveled just over 14,000 miles so far on this trip.

2019-11-07 Thu: Balls

Posted 2019-11-08

This house probably feels more like home than any other house we've been in. It's two stories, and certainly it's not the same, but there are similarities (like the two-chamber bathroom) and at least parts of it just feel fairly natural.

Today we went to visit some friends of ours who live nearby. The two moms grew up next door to each other, and it's always fun to get together again. The kids had great fun playing while the ladies visited. We returned home and had a quick dinner, then most of the family left again to attend a concern that one of their children were performing in, leaving Charles to attend to some issues at work. We returned home fairly early, and enjoyed a relaxed evening. Some of us later had a discussion on the similarities between the two families, from the careers of the men the girls chose to marry to the family bookshelves' contents to travel, comparing and contrasting, noting that though there were a lot of differences, they were more complimentary and enriching than conflicting, and many of the similarities were in more fundamental areas. They're a great family, and our children too would enjoy each other if we lived nearby.

Michele gave birth to something (William) that turned into that?

2019-11-06 Wed: Spring, TX

Posted 2019-11-08

It was nearly 11:00 when we left. We had a fairly short drive, but made it a couple of hours longer by going north to touch Arkansas. Few states have we had to make such an artificial detour to catch, but it's officially checked off! The drive was blessedly uneventful (no more bumps and clunks!) and we got in at 8:30, enjoyed some tasty burritos that Michele mixed up, and got a pretty good night's sleep!

It's only 100ft into the state, but we were there!

Rock, Paper, Scissors, Matthew's latest masterpiece, makes a profound statement.

He plans to sell it to a museum of modern art for $1M and use the proceeds to go to school. :-)

2019-11-05 Tue: Valdosta,GA to Jackson,MS

Posted 2019-11-08

Two places with single nights in homes a little over 100 years old. Similar styles, actually, with squarish features inside and super tall ceilings. We never expected to have such fun exploring old houses and trying to figure out their histories. We wouldn't want to own and live in one full-time, but they're great to visit for a night or two.

Having gotten in so late, only being there overnight, and knowing we had a pretty long drive ahead of us, we tried to leave pretty early. We needed some sleep, though, and then decided to go ahead and have breakfast before we left, and it was 10:15 before we left.

In Alabama, we stopped at Bucc-ee's, this amazing gas station that's huge (120 pumps), and rightfully advertises the cleanest restrooms around, with roughly 80 toilets. Charles insists that the men's room, with scores of sparkling urinals, is truly a sight to behold! And, of course, the rest of the convenience store is larger than some supermarkets. They also advertise their relatively high employee wages (to make you feel good and o attract prospects) , AND they still had the best price on diesel in the area -- almost too good to be true! Too bad there aren't more of them. They do love to advertise on billboards, though -- we saw a sign for one "187 miles ahead" on I-20 -- so that helps to find them.

I was surprised to find that the western part of Florida follows Alabama and joined the Central time zone instead of staying in Eastern. Crossing a time zone -- and not very far into it -- plus the recent switch from Daylight to Standard time, and it was suddenly dark a lot earlier than before -- more like back home! -- and night fell long before we reached the house at nearly 7PM.

As we were unloading the bus, pssssss! the back end dropped again. When it fell apart in Florida, a loose tubing clamp fell of the adjusting rod that was hanging down. Somehow, the shop neglected to put another clamp on there so it came loose again and shifted. Alexander put it back together (we still need to buy a clamp and put on it) and phoned them the next morning to (1.) inform them that they goofed and (2.) tell them what he did and ask if there was anything else he should do.

We had dinner, and Michele put some eggs on to boil so we could eat them on the bus tomorrow. She then got involved helping Matthew figure out something for college, when sudenly we heard "bang! bang!" coming from the kitchen. Yes, the water boiled out and we had pop eggs! That was a bit of a mess, and even after leaving the back door open and ventilating the house all night, it still smelled in the morning.

2019-11-04 Mon: The Shop

Posted 2019-11-07

Charles and Alexander left at 6:00 so the bus could limp to the shop. They sat and waited (giving Charles a lot of time to draft journal entries and work on other things) until the repair was done. Not knowing when the bus might be finished (or even being 100% confident that it wouldn't somehow stretch into days instead of hours), but needing to be out of the house by 11:00 (our host agreed to extend our 10:00 check-out), we packed everything possible the night before, and Michele prepared to spend hours in the vacant lot next door w/ the kids. In the meantime, they enjoyed the pool and awaited news. Unfortunately, the good news kept geting pushed out as more testing was done and more problems in the system were found. At 11:00 the cleaning crew came, and were kind enough to open the garage and let everyone sit out there (where it was hot, but offered shade and electrical outlets) while they cleaned. A bit before 3:00, Michele begged the cleaning lady to let them use the toilet, and in the middle of that parade, the property manage arrived and gently informed her that tonight's tenants were arriving early so she had to go. She and the kids accordingly picked up our belongings and spent the next hour in the vacant lot across the street. Charles & Alexander, likewise thrilled to be stuck in a small waiting room for 8 hours, but at least air-conditioned, waited and periodically exchanged info with the mechanics. They didn't go anywhere, afraid of being the cause (or at least the excuse) for a delay. Finally, it was proclaimed done and, $1,000 poorer, they left and rushed back home to rescue the stranded family members.

As soon as everyone and everything was tossed on the bus and we could close the door, we hit the road, letting Michele try to sort and repack so that goods were secure and you could get to the back of the bus, while Charles drove. We had to make the usual grocery/restroom stop (which really wants to take an hour even when we plan to keep it short) but we drove hard and made it to our next place by about 22:30.

2019-11-03 Sun: Skipping Church

Posted 2019-11-06

Charles and Alexander worked on the bus long after everyone else was asleep, not fixing the problem, but working towards a diagnosis and at least being comfortable that the vehicle could be driven if we were careful. He set the alarm for 7:30 to give Michele a chance to make a decision on whether or not to make the 6 mile trip to church. She wasn't as confident that it was okay as he was, and an hour spent dealing with two very nasty blowout diapers made it a bit late to try to attend anyway. We tried to keep things fairly reverent around the house in honor of the sabbath, and some of the kids watched a few church programs on the computer/TV, but Alexander spent the whole day under the bus while Charles tried to encourage and support.

The other thing going on was that the home air conditioner wasn't working. When we arrived, the thermostat was set to 76 and that was the current temperature, but it wouldn't really drop, and the next day it was hotter. When we came home late at night after touring the Keys, it was 79 in the house -- significantly warmer than outside -- so we opened all the doors and windows we could, ran the ceiling fans, and shut the A/C off. Charles observed a lack of airflow (like the fan was on low) and an iced line outside which also supported that (the compressor was working, but the coolness wasn't adequately transferring to the inside of the house). He passed that info to the homeowner, who sent a tech to us -- who replaced the array of very clogged intake filters throughout the house. Airflow doubled and while still weak, the air conditioner did very slowly cool the house overnight.

Back to the bus... It appeared that the part getting knocked loose in the back caused an air rush sufficient to activate an emergency shutoff valve to contain the leak and protect the rest of the system. Alexander was able to reset that valve. Unfortunately, in diagnosing the problem, he cut an air line, assuming that it would be easy to put back into the quick-connect port but not realizing that they had glued the tubing as well. He spent many hours spent trying to remove pieces of the old hose. He and Charles really wished for a butane/propane torch, or even a utility lighter, to heat/burn the tubing/adhesive enough to help clean it out. They used the gas grill on the back patio to light a wooden skewer from the kitchen which then lit a couple of large candles from the dining table that were carried outside and put under the bus (and then carried back through the house to the gril to relight after the wind blew them out) and used to re-light skewers, which could be inserted into the opening to heat the hose remnants. This process went several rounds, and lighter fluid helped a bit, but there was a real lack of oxygen where it was needed. There are no stores in walking distance, so without transportation we were limited to the tools on hand. Charles bummed a cigarette lighter from a neighbor, which helped, but though Alexander made some progress, it wasn't enough to be able to get the hose in far enough to hold, and he finally admitted defeat after dark. (Matthew was on the lawn nearby, admiring the line-up of Mercury, Venus, Saturn, and the Moon.) It was enough to let him hold the hose in place temporarily w/ zip ties to verify that the bags did take air -- the compressor just couldn't supply enough air to overcome the extreme leakage.

Fortunately, there's an International dealer/shop 14 miles away. While Michele was investigating AirBnB changes and planning what to do if we got stranded here for another day (or even past our check-out time -- someone else has the place booked Monday night so we can't stay), Charles called the emergency number for the truck service dept., got advise on the best way to handle the repair, and arranged to take the bus in at 7:00 when they open.

2019-11-02 Sat: The Cays

Posted 2019-11-06

Today was our longest drive yet -- and we ended up back where we started! We left at 6:30 (or tried to) and headed to the Everglades to catch a 10:30 tour. Charles was still sick and napped in the back while Michele tried to stay awake at the wheel. We thought we had plenty of time, but slower driving, stopping at the wrong place, and bathrooms combined to push the clock and we had to run to catch the tour before it started. It was hot in the sun as the ranger (a young girl who spends time at the park as an intern when she isn't working as a paid employee) led us around the boardwalk for an hour and a half, helping us see the gators and other wildlife. We hit the road again to see the Florida Keys, with Charles feeling well enough to drive the rest of the trip. We hadn't planned to go all the way to Key West, but we were close enough to it by the time we seriously considered turning around that he was inclined to go all the way, even if it meant a night drive back. (He also hoped for some great sunset views, which didn't quite materialize, at least not at times and places where we could stop to take pictures.) We circumnavigated the island, noting the most southern point in the continental U.S. [that's not on Naval property] as we passed the marker and the tour crowds hanging around it, and stopped at a beach-side park nearby so the kids could get out, use the restrooms, and play again before starting the 300 mile drive back. The drive both ways was slower than it should have been because traffic was heavy and often a single vehicle would drive 10-15 mph below the speed limit and hold up scores of vehicles in the single lane of travel, so everyone was capped by the slowest vehicle at any given time.

Near home, we saw a good price so stopped for fuel. At some point we hit a few hard bumps and they seemed too hard, then it got worse and the whole vehicle just seemed terribly harsh and rattly, like there was no suspension in the back. Not being the one driving, Michele had just thought Charles was driving too fast on a really bad road, but we finally realized that we had a real problem and pulled over. Sure enough, the suspension bags were completely deflated and the bus was sitting right on the bushings. Additionally, a long rod had come loose and was dragging on the ground. Alexander determined that a tubing clamp holding the rod in place had loosened, but he was able to put it back in place and though we couldn't get the suspension to take any air, the system wasn't leaking and we were able to slowly crawl the few miles home, wishing that the road surface was in better repair. We got home at 11:15, and it marked the first day in FL that the kids didn't go swimming.

2019-11-01 Fri: Bus to the Beach

Posted 2019-11-06

Charles's cold was worse again, and he went back to bed this morning and slept until 3:30 this afternoon. Miriana also stayed home, but Michele and the other kids spent the day at Fort Myers Beach on Estero Island. Due to a lack of parking on the island, they parked on the mainland and rode the bus. Often we see parking restrictions that are meant to handle the summer crowds but are applied year-round. The lots were mostly empty, and there was no need to disallow a 38' vehicle.