Friday, January 10, 2014

Grateful Camping, Part One

Since Joy had the whole week off and Kathy had time available, we decided to combine a trip to Mom’s for Thanksgiving with camping. We knew it was going to be cold, as she lives 200 miles northwest of Houston.  We planned to leave on Tuesday since Joy had a doctor’s appointment on Monday, and spent Saturday and Sunday packing and planning so that we’d be ready to hit the road first thing Tuesday morning.

We knew we needed to check the tire pressures and put it off, of course, until the morning of our scheduled departure.  The first two tires we checked were 20-30 lbs low!  After spending what seemed like an eternity filling them with our little compressor, we noticed that one of the new valve stem extensions was not allowing air in or out of the tire.  It was simply dead.  Joy suggested we go to Discount Tire, which is just a block up the road, to have them check the rest of the pressures and maybe fix the broken extension.  6 1/2 hours and $1700 later the RV was ready to go!

When I arrived at the shop, they were busy and said it would be about 45 minutes to check the extension.  Knowing that all 6 tires had to be replaced before we hit the road, I asked them how long it would take to put 4 new tires on.  Miraculously, they said it would be about 45 minutes.  Ha ha.  They had what we needed in stock so I called Joy, received approval, and told them to rock on.  I decided to wait at the store hoping that my sad little face would make it a rush job.  After paying for the tires, the tech told me I’d made the right decision as the tires appeared to have many aging cracks near the center.   

After about an hour, I walked out into the frigid air to check on the tech’s progress.  They had the passenger side tires off so I walked around the RV to the driver’s side – just in time to see the tech preparing to take a full swing at the outside tire with a sledge hammer.  He stopped mid-swing when he saw me.  “Problem?” I asked.  He said that he was having a difficult time removing the tire as it was corroded to the hub.  He said it happens and that they would be able to remove it with a little work.  I’m betting he didn’t guess he’d still be fighting with it 3 hours later!
Pre Fight
Joy began searching the Internet for possible solutions and found several YouTube videos showing how difficult it could be to remove fused tires from hubs. One showed a guy on a tractor trying to pull the tire off using a tow strap and eventually getting the wheels apart with a 2 x 4 wedge.  Joy sent the link to me to share with the techs as encouragement and I did.  

I called Joy to come get me, as I was cold and hungry.  When I left, they were reporting that the outside and inside tires had actually rusted to each other and the fight was more than they had bargained for.  They were spraying WD40 on them, banging them with a sledgehammer, and chiseling them apart.  On all three notes – I had to leave.

Joy picked me up for lunch and afterwards I decided to go to Advance Auto Parts to pick up some rust dissolver, thinking it would be stronger than WD40.  I drove back to Discount Tire and, just as I walked around the RV I saw the embattled wheel on the ground and a smiling tech.  “We just got it off!” he shouted with glee.  “How?” I asked.  Looks like the tractor video story encouraged them, as the tech used his own vehicle and a tow strap to pull the tire off.  Thing is – he had to do it from the other side of an iron fence that separated two parking lots. He pulled with his car while another tire tech lay under the RV and beat the tire with a large sledgehammer. Success!   

To reward them for all of their hard work, we went ahead and bought two new front tires as well.  I returned the rust dissolver unopened and came home to wait for the RV to be done. By the time it was, it was cold, dark, and rainy with freezing rain between Houston and our destination, Dana Peak Park.  Much like I do with flying, we decided to postpone our departure date and leave early Wednesday morning.  We spent the evening snuggled up with the pups and watching a movie.  Overall, it was a day of patience and gratitude. 

A year ago, I would have been livid about the entire situation, cussing the tires, the techs, the RV and anyone else who crossed my path.  However, this time I was calm and patient, reminding myself of the many people who are homeless, jobless or without family (and some experiencing all three.)  Was I really going to allow myself to get upset about having to buy 6 tires for my RV?  Please – the entire situation was petty compared to what others go through on a daily basis.  Life remains good, my friends, even with a little rust, a little delay, and a little expense.

Trying A Longer Haul

Planning our Oklahoma trip was like a mock up of our travels yet to be determined but beginning in June 2014.  We planned where we’d stay, what we'd do and see, and left our plans open enough to do whatever we wanted to do.  Initially we planned to tow our motorcycle so we could ride through the beautiful Oklahoma mountains.  Yes, Oklahoma has mountains.  The Ouachita Mountains are in west central Arkansas and southeastern Oklahoma.  After much contemplation, we have decided not to tow the bike on our upcoming sabbatical, we decided not to tow the motorcycle after all and brought the bicycles instead.   

Our trip started by driving to the Tyler State Park.  We are HUGE Texas state park fans as most of them boast of wonderful hiking and biking trails.  It rained the day before we arrived so we didn’t bike through muddy trails (trail etiquette) but we did take the dogs for a nice walk along the lake and watched kayakers and swimmers work way too hard on the other side.  In the morning we took a short hike down what would have been a killer single track that was tough enough to walk let alone ride. 

Too bad we weren't on 2 wheels!
By noon we were on the road again.  When we arrived in Oklahoma we decided to drive through the beautiful Ouachita National Forest.  We checked out the campground facilities and almost stayed because it was so beautiful but decided to drive on to our reserved campground. 

Big Cedar RV Park and Cabins had new owners trying out new tools.  A friendly dog greeted us by staring us down as he walked over to the RV, lifting his leg, and christening one of our RV tires.  He was so cute we simply had to forgive him.  The place was pretty empty and we had our choice of sites.  The hot flat mowed fields allowed us to let Keila off leash with her new friend (aka leg lifter) and we enjoyed watching the two of them flirt.

We had total peace and quiet our entire stay. We played dominoes and Uno and went to bed early. One morning we rode our bicycles toward town but weren’t sure how far we’d get because it was so hot!  When we decided the seven miles to town was too far we attempted a dirt road that, according to the map, would take us down to the Kiamichi River.  We ended up turning back around because it was too muddy and we swore we heard banjos.

Thanks to the campground owners for lending us a cable so we even had TV and free Wi-Fi.  This campground has potential!  We wish the new owners luck and patience to keep it running while making improvements to attract more guests.   

Time to head back home to Texas and prepare for the new school year - Kathy working at University of Houston and Joy at Fort Bend ISD.

Sunset at Lake Livingston State Park
We decided to see what we could actually do in one day of driving.  So we drove straight south to Lake Livingston State Park: 322 miles.  Joy had hoped to visit with her previous boss and mentor who lives on the north side of the lake.  Although she hasn’t seen him for several years since he left the Texas Youth Commission, Joy continues to keep in contact with him.  During the drive, she gave him a call and discussed a possible visit.  We were invited over but since it was such a long drive and visiting him would have added another 40 plus miles we opted to go straight to the park.  In fact we even bought dinner instead of cooking that night.  We also decided no driving over 250 miles a day unless we have to.

Lake Livingston is beautiful as you can see.  We’ve camped there previously and even rented a bicycle built for two. I don't recommend that but you have to try it at least once in your lifetime.  We were glad to have our own bikes this time and loved riding around the park.  The sunset was gorgeous and we know why so many folks selected such a wonderful area to retire.

The final trek home was too quick!  Summer was officially over.  Back to work but with a whole new insight: eleven months and counting!

Two worn out pups!