Saturday, January 16, 2010

Travel Notes: Houston for Christmas

After our Nashville Thanksgiving trip we were feeling more confident about RVing in the coach and we immediately started looking forward to our next RV adventure.

We already had plans to travel to the Houston area to spend the holidays with family and friends and, after looking at airfares and the price of gasoline, we were able to justify driving the RV instead of flying. It didn’t take much to convince me to make the trip in the Trek – I was quickly getting addicted to the fun of RV travel!

So we made arrangements to leave Sydney and the cats in Tennessee and got an OK from Consuelo’s sisters to bring Barley with us. We also needed to figure out what to do with the RV once we arrived - we could not park the RV in front of anyone’s house. Luckily, Consuelo’s older sister and her husband live on a private air strip in Baytown and they offered to make arrangements with the owner for us to park the coach in the Flight Base Operations area. As is typical of most Texans, the owner was very generous and accommodating and so that is exactly what we did.

As part of our trip planning, we decided to test the waters of Boondocking by overnighting at Wal-Mart stores along our route. We plan on doing a fair amount of Boondocking during Our Great RV Escape and so this was an opportunity to test it out. I have to admit that I quite enjoyed our Wal-Mart stays. It was very convenient having the store right there and being able to run in and pick up something for dinner.  The biggest challenge to spending the night in a Wal-Mart parking lot turned out to be taking care of Barley’s needs - there are very few grassy areas for a dog to do his business and get some exercise.

The Houston trip also gave us an opportunity to practice conservative consumption of our fresh water and finding places to dump our tanks. The RV fresh water tank holds 80 gallons and so with brief showers, cautious dish-washing and frugal toilet flushing, we were able to make the water supply last the three days it took us to drive to Houston. In fact, our water supply could have stretched at least one more day. As for dumping the tanks, we easily found Flying J truck stops with dump stations.

We were very excited when we left for Houston the Friday before Christmas. All was well as we pulled out, although we were in a cold and miserable pouring rain. Consuelo had checked the air pressure in all the tires, as well as the oil and power steering fluid levels. Even so, after a little more than an hour on the road, the Service Engine Soon light on the dash came on... and we also had developed a steady drip of water from the overhead light fixture in the cab area. We pulled off at a rest area so we could look up the dash light in the owner’s manual. We learned that this light indicates an emissions problem or that something in the electrical system is damp. So we tightened down the gas cap and debated if we should drive on or turn around for home. We decided to press on, thinking that surely something was damp, considering the heavy rains we were driving through, and that must be what’s causing the light to come on. We got back on the road and made it to Tuscaloosa, Alabama before we pulled off for our first overnight at a Wal-Mart.  Once set up in the Wal-Mart parking lot, we removed the lens from the dripping light fixture, dried the light as best we could, and left it apart to dry overnight.

Although we were hoping the Service Engine Soon light would be off after sitting overnight, it was still on the next morning when we set off for day 2 of our trip. Then I had a thought that perhaps if one or the other of the dipsticks wasn’t seated properly, it might also trigger the light. So we got off at the next rest area and reseated the dipsticks, and that did the trick! It was while we were at this rest area that we saw something pretty cool… A fairly large truck hauling a big horse trailer pulled in behind us. The driver unloaded three or four of his horses and, keeping them on their halter leads, he jogged up and down the grass at the side of the parking area to stretch their legs. Barley was astounded—he had never before seen such big creatures!

The rest of the drive to Houston was uneventful. We spent the second night at a Wal-Mart in Crowley, Louisiana. I particularly enjoyed the drive on I-10 over and through the bayous of Louisiana – this is such a different landscape from anything in my experience.

After we arrived in Baytown at the Flight Base Operations where we would be keeping the RV for the duration of our stay, Consuelo climbed up on the roof with a silicone caulk gun and put a bead around the FM antenna mount, where she suspected the water was coming in that dripped through the light fixture. We have not had a leak since so I guess that did it!

We had a wonderful time over Christmas with family and friends... there is no better place to be at Christmas than with extended family! As always when visiting Houston, the week went by very quickly and then it was time to head home.

Well, the trip back to Tennessee proved to be quite challenging. On the morning of our departure, Consuelo checked the air pressure in all the tires but she couldn’t get any reading on the rear right inside tire. Not sure if the valve extender was just flaky or if there really was an issue with the air pressure, we set off anyway but with a level of anxiety. Our plan was to pull off at the first Truck stop we came across and check the tire out with another pressure gauge. About 50 miles later, we pulled off at a Petro truck stop with a Bridgestone Tire Service Center. 

Sure enough, the Bridgestone service technician confirmed that the tire was completely flat! They charged us a flat price of $45 to remove, inspect and repair - the culprit was a loose valve stem. This episode made us quite nervous because Consuelo had not felt any difference in the way the coach handled with a flat on the inside rear. And we had no way of knowing how long we had been driving on only one tire on that side, which is not a good thing at all. Anyway, we made it without further incident to our overnight stop that night.

The next morning, quite paranoid now, we again checked the tire pressure on all the tires before setting off once more. A few hours later, we stopped at a rest area for lunch. Feeling a little silly, but doing it anyway, Consuelo once again checked the tire pressure. And this is when she discovered there was no pressure in the rear inside left tire – unbelievable! Using our handy Garmin truckers’ GPS, we looked up Tire Repair and found A1 Tire Service in Laurel, Mississippi.

We had to backtrack on the Interstate about 25 miles and it was pouring down with rain when we arrived at the tire repair shop. It turned out that the tire wall was blown out. We already knew from the imprint on the rear tires that they were 5 years old. But we had been unable to tell how old the front tires were because someone had mounted them with the dates on the inside. So the tire technician crawled under the RV to look – the front tires were 8 years old! Well, considering we had two flats in a 24 hour period and were getting ready for a 15,000 mile RV trip, it did not take much discussion to decide to replace all 6 tires.  We resumed our journey home about an hour and half later with shiny new tires all around. 

The Houston trip taught us about roof leaks, Service Engine Soon lights, and the importance of checking tire pressure. A BIG take away is that you need to pay attention to how old your tires are - just because they look good, doesn’t mean they are good.  Once we got back, we did some reseach and learned that the common wisdom is to replace Class A coach tires every 5 years no matter how few miles are on them or how good the thread looks.  Now we know!


Carol said...

I am new to your Blog and can't begin to tell you how much I am enjoying it. Thanks

Consuelo Heath said...

Welcome Carol... and thank you for the kind words. We're having fun with this Blog and the Great Escape hasn't even officially kicked off!

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