A Whirlwind for Wheels

And now, a break from our regularly scheduled programming. Our original plan has us crawling up the east coast staying in some nice beach towns, eventually landing in Virginia for some time with friends and family. However, trouble with our camper has caused us to detour a bit. A separate post on what we had done and why is coming, but we had to detour to Elkhart, Indiana for an appointment with MorRyde to get the work done. We had a week to get there from Orlando and I had to work a full week along the way. So we head north. But first we checked the tires. You may remember from our last episode that, leaving the Thousand Trails in Orlando for Disney I noticed a tire was a bit low. Well, leaving Disney we discovered the tire to be completely flat. This may have been a bad idea, but since it seemed to be a slow leak, I figured it was just a valve stem or something and just filled the tire back up and decided to keep an eye on it, watching the TPMS (Tire Pressure Management System) as we drove.

The first day of driving, a Monday, took us to the KOA in Forsyth, Georgia. It was convenient and just off the highway, but not much to speak of otherwise. The playground was run down, most of the residents seemed permanent, the sites were not level, the roads falling apart, etc. But it was convenient for an overnight stay. We considered boondocking in a Walmart parking lot but the ratings on AllStays.com for local Walmarts were not looking good from a safety standpoint, so we sprung for the KOA. The one plus? They also double as a pizza delivery place, delivering right to your site via golf cart and the pizza was pretty good! The tire mostly held pressure all day, losing about 5-10 lbs.

Tuesday morning I checked the tire again to find it was a bit lower, so I topped it off and we hit the road again, making our way through Atlanta (again!) and into the mountains arriving at the Diamond Caverns Thousand Trails in Park City, KY. We stayed here for four nights while I worked Wed-Sat. It is the smallest Thousand Trails we've stayed in yet, but we were pleasantly surprised. The staff were great, the sites were nice if a bit unlevel and the grounds were well kept. The mini-golf was falling apart and the pool wasn't open for the season yet, but they did have a nice lounge with lots of kids activities and toys, so Crayton did OK. We booked this place thinking it was just a Thousand Trails (i.e. free) and conveniently along our path to Northern Indiana. The word 'caverns' in the name should have been my clue, but it turns out this park is right in the middle of Kentucky cave country and just a few miles from the famous Mammoth Caves National Park.

We thought we were spoiled to all caves after seeing the amazing Carlsbad Caverns, but figured we'd check this out since we were already there. As it turns out, though, the guided tours require reservations and we didn't have a lot of flexibility in our schedule since I was working the entire time we were here. We decided to go on Saturday afternoon after I was done working and just play it by ear. Turns out that was a bad idea. All the tours we would have liked (i.e. not that many stair steps for Crayton) were full. Our only option was the self-guided tour. It was a total letdown as it only take you in the main natural entrance. You get to see an old guano mine and some featureless cave and that's about it. The entrance to the cave was the prettiest park by far and it, therefore, the only picture we have of the cave.

Natural Entrance to Mammoth Cave

After visiting the cave, we drove over to Dinosaur World. It seemed like a tacky roadside attraction with homemade statues of dinosaurs and in that regard it did not disappoint. It was still pretty cool. To their credit, with the exception of the one by the interstate, all of the statues were as accurate as was known at the time they were made and they had a great fossil 'dig' activity for the kids.

Hey Look, a Dinosaur!

All week as I was working, I'd see folks walk by our camper, slow down, point at our wheels and shake their heads. Yes people, I know our tire is completely flat!! This time I intended to do something about, it, but didn't have time to actually put on the spare until Sunday morning just before we left. So I woke up early and started replacing the tire only to find that either the guy who replaced our brakes or the guy who replaced our leaf springs managed to cross thread two of the lug nuts. My the time I managed to get the wheel off, the threads were so trashed there was no way I was getting the spare on. Crud. We're stuck. So... I called Coach-Net again! Explaining what's going on, I had to convince them that I needed more than just a regular tire change, that the threads were stripped and we'd need new bolts. It seemed to take a while for them to get the message, but eventually they got it and said a tech was on his way and would be there between 11 and 12. That would only put us behind schedule a few hours and would work. But noon came and went with no tech. By 1pm I was making calls again only to finally get a text from the tech asking for pictures of the bolts or their specifications. I knew the thread count and diameter, but didn't know the exact length, so I send some photos and measured the exposed portion. He texted back that he thought he had the right ones and was on his way and would be there in 45 minutes. 90 minutes later (3pm) he arrives and assesses the situation. I explain that we only have to make it about 340 miles and the wheels and brakes are going to be replaced so the quickest way to get us safely back on the road is fine by us. He thinks a while and says that since it's only the last 1/4"-1/2" of thread that is trashed that he can just grind off the bad part and use slightly smaller lug nuts to secure the wheels for the 340 miles we have to go. 15 minutes later we have the spare on and we're off. In hindsight, I had a hack-saw and some smaller lug nuts and I could have done the job myself, but it hadn't occurred to me that that was an option. I guess that's why he's the professional.

Grinding off the bad threads

We were finally on the road about 3:30PM, about the time we hoped to be arriving in Elkhart. We ran up the highway making only one quick stop and arrived just before 10PM. Well after dark... and if you've been reading along, you know I hate driving or setting up in the dark. With our appointment at MorRyde at 8AM and not having the energy to set up in a campground for just a few hours, we did our first blacktop boondocking at the Walmart in Elkhart. That was kind of an odd experience. There were maybe half a dozen other campers in the quiet corner of the parking lot. A couple had their slides out and looks like there were camping, not just staying the night. Sadly there was a shopping cart full of what was clearly residential (i.e. camper) garbage out there, too. As I was walking in to the store I decided that if the garbage was still there when I got back I'd take care of it since I don't want other campers giving us a bad name. However, when I got back from talking with the manager to make sure it was OK to stay there, an employee was just finishing up cleaning it up. I felt bad. It's folks abusing this privilege like that, that are going to ruin it for everyone. Staying in a Walmart parking lot like this isn't glamorous, but it sure is convenient when you just need somewhere safe to park for the night.

Morning came and we made it over to MorRyde. It turns out that arriving 'when they open' at 8AM wasn't what was expected. They had intended for us to be there the night before and we going to start work even earlier, around 6AM. We apologized for being late, pointing at our hack-job of a spare tire install and turned our rig over to the experts. We had an appointment to take a tour of our RV manufacturer's plant and after securing a hotel room for the night, we drove over. Just as we got there and I'm re-reading our confirmation email, I see the fine print requiring close-toed shoes and I look at our feet and see all three of us are wearing sandals. I called to cancel and reschedule for Tuesday and we went back to the hotel after stopping by the camper to check on Truman and see how the work was coming along. Back at the hotel we swam in the pool, binge-watched HGTV and went out to Red Robin for dinner. A nice treat after an exhausting couple of days. Camping used to be a vacation for us, but now Crayton was loving being in a hotel room! and though jumping on the beds was the most fun thing ever. Pam was looking forward to having a hot bath, but we found our room only had a shower stall!

Tuesday morning we went back to check on the camper and Truman to find that since they got a late start, they didn't think they'd be able to finish that day as they had intended, but they'd know for sure by later in the afternoon. We then went on our rescheduled tour. It was pretty cool to see how our unit was made. I made a point of politely explaining why we were there (i.e. to have the crap wheels, brakes and suspension replaced with something that would last) and they quietly acknowledged that it had been a problem before moving on with the tour. Crayton really seemed to enjoy the tour having never seen a real factory before. Getting back to the shop we found that our camper would not be done that day and would be finished up Wednesday morning instead. We'd rather they take their time and do it right, so we didn't complain and headed back to the same hotel. This time we sprang for a Jacuzzi suite so Pam could get her bath. The night was filled with Jacuzzi baths, pizza delivery and more HGTV.

We went back to pick up the camper on Wednesday morning. After inspecting the work, getting the low-down on required maintenance (much less than before), going over the manuals, and paying the (massive) bill, we were back on the road. We only went a couple of hours that morning, making it to Fort Wayne Indiana and the city-run 'Johnny Appleseed RV Park' so I could finish out an abbreviated work week. Considering it was right in the middle of the city, it was a really nice, small, quiet park right next to the river. The host was friendly and helped us find a spot that would fit our rig as many of the spots were on the smaller side. We wound up having a few sites to choose from, though, and it was a nice spot to stay for a few days. We didn't see or do much in Fort Wayne other than to run some errands, work and relax. This sign by the river was a little disconcerting... especially given the people I saw fishing there (and keeping their catch)

Say what?!

Saturday morning we were off again, this time heading for Gauley Bridge, WV along the New River for the weekend. We pulled into the very small park with a difficult entrance (sharp turn, road signs and narrow), stopped and got out to register. The owner explained that they'd had some flooding and the sites themselves were on grass that was now too soft for us to park on. Fortunately they weren't busy and had room for us to park parallel to the road on the back edge, blocking about four sites, but on relatively solid gravel. She even offered a discount for our trouble. The park was lovely, backed on one side by the highway and towering valley cliff walls and on the other by the New River and on the opposite shore railroad tracks and the cliffs of the other side of the valley.

Riverfront at the New River Campground

On Sunday we got out to explore a bit. First off was a stop at Cathedral Falls right up the road from our campsite. The famous New River Gorge Bridge was not too far away so we drove down there and hiked around a bit. The gorge itself was spectacular and the bridge an amazing feat of engineering. We drove the truck down the winding road to the bottom of the gorge, across the old bridge and up the other side to get a better look at the river, the whitewater rafters and a different perspective on the bridge. Despite getting rained on it was a nice day.

Cathedral Falls

The New River Gorge Bridge

The New River Gorge Bridge from the bottom

back at camp, we played by the river for a bit. Crayton thought it would be fun to build a scale model of the playground. He's a great idea-man, but lacking in execution, so I wound up doing most of the work. Behold, playground, in miniature.

Playground in miniature

It was time for one last big day of driving to finish off our epic detour. Monday morning we hit the road again and drove through the WV and VA mountains before hitting the coastal plain. The drive was beautiful. I really do love this part of the country. These overgrown hills they call mountains make for great scenery and remind me of family vacations in Shenandoah as a kid. Late in the afternoon we made it to the Williamsburg Thousand Trails in Williamsburg, VA our home for the next 13 days.

Epic Detour stats:

Duration: 14 days

Miles driven: 1864 (on 5 days of driving)

States visited: 8

Places Stayed: 6

Wheels/Brakes/Suspension replaced: ALL OF IT!

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We went from 3700 square feet in the suburbs to 370 on wheels. We work and travel fulltime with our son and kitty.


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