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Today we launch officially on our 60 day Road School journey. The Dinosaur Valley and College Station were good test runs for preparing us for this day. Lessons learned from the two trial runs were priceless for venturing out on the road in a trailer older than me. Here are a few, some are vintage trailer specific:
- Arrival and departure checklist. If anything the departure checklists is the most critical.
- Have tools and supplies on hand. My twenty year old cordless dill battery almost cost us another day in College Station.
- Airstream Specific: Have rivets and a rivet gun on hand with sealant. A few popped out on our second trip and trying to fix these in a remote state park would be tough to do not to mention possible further damage that could occur from a delayed repair.
- Know how to seal leaks. Every trailer I’ve ever been in has leaked. Having the right materials and tools on hand to fix can quickly keep a minor problem from becoming a major problem.
- Be ready for bad days and lengthy delays. The five hours and multiple problems encountered trying to leave College Station will probably not be our last trial. For me, being mentally prepared for them goes a long way to not getting worked up about them.
There are many more lessons learned ahead. Hopefully most are about lessons in appreciating the amazing gift my family has to travel freely around a nation without fear of police bribes, civil unrest, war, regulatory restrictions, or many other trials that would befall a person trying to see their country in many parts of the world.
This is the nicest state park I’ve seen. Brand new shower facilities complete with wand and waterfall shower heads. All roads and sites are paved with full hookups. The best part is no cell phone coverage!
I rolled into Moab with medium expectations. All prior reports were amazingly glowing and it seemed a bit overrated. The park we were staying at was at the edge of the small town of 7-8k and traveling through I was a bit shocked by the number of large hotels, ATVs and four wheel drive rental shops, restaurants, and tour operators. It seemed all there was to Moab was tourism from the storefronts. It turns out my expectations were not high enough.
Arch’s National Park was a 2 minute drive from our campground so we made a quick trip the afternoon arriving. The late afternoon drive up the cliff side was stunning. Since arriving in Utah the skies have been nothing short of spectacular with crisp blues and no clouds. We ventured out to the mid-point of the park to scout the next day’s plan with the help of the REI National Park’s app, which is amazing with several kid friendly hike recommendations.
The next day we got an early start and made our way directly to the double Arches/windows hike, the top rated not the REI app. It was the kids favorite and still the highlight of the trip so far by all. At 20 degrees it was definitely crisp and cool. No wind made it almost pleasant. There were maybe 12 other people there at 9:30, a rarity from what I’ve read about this hike.
Ever since Palo Duro Rance has preferred hike’s with movements because he is a “gymnastic climbing Ninja”, or at least this is his career goal upon which each day’s training activities are the primary focus. I’ve come to learn this means hikes steep enough to use the hands but not too steep to have to rely on foot or hand holds. Malosi has followed suite and now all hike participation is predicated that they involve climbing with “movements”. The Double Arches didn’t disappoint. They both scurried up to the top below the cathedral spans with a majestic portal between. Looking up through the golden brown ribs through to the azure blue sky was as close to natural spiritual moment between here and the grave that I’ve experienced this far. The weight of man’s insignificant footprint in the vapor trail of existence we currently amble through with naive hubris was heavy on me at the moment; a trend that would continue through the surreal landscape of Utah.
I didn’t think living in a 31’x8’ 46 year old aluminum tube would be hassle free. However, I wasn’t expecting to have to quite dive into southern engineering mode so sudden either.
After sleeping on the warped door problem, Rance and I decided to tackle getting it shaped back to at least a waterproof state. The top and bottom were about 2” out of place. After a few Google searches and inventory of tools on hand, I rigged up a tow strap to the door corners routed through the side handle. I positioned a rubber mallet to provide tension in the middle. The first attempt didn’t quite bend it enough. I found bending it just a bit more than the shape I needed while under tension would allow the aluminum to flex back to the desired position after removing the straps. The final result was a tighter fit at the top and bottom. The only problem was the half a dozen rivets that popped out and the door wouldn’t latch. The rivets could wait until we got back to Paul Mayeux’s shop, A&P Vintage Trailer Works, and a bungee would take care of holding the door in place.
The next day we slept in and enjoyed a leisurely morning slowly packing things up so we could make a final stop at The Dixie Chicken for lunch. Thankfully, The Chicken is a constant mile marker of consistency in a town that changes daily. Who would have thought there would ever be so many low-rise buildings on University Drive! After a quick race down bottle cap alley, still amazed this is around given the value of that real estate, we headed back to pull out. That is when the fun started back up.
After unhooking everything and making the final drop on the trailer hitch ball, I discovered the passenger’s side sway bar clip was bent and canted at a 45 degree angle. As this is one of the most integral components of the Reese weight distribution and sway control kit I was a bit concerned. Thus started the five hour journey to find a solution on a Sunday afternoon when all nearby hitch stores were closed, which surprisingly there were several nearby.
The first stop was Napa where Colton helped me out big time. He took the time to heat up the bent bracket with a blow torch to attempt to hammer it back in shape. Due to the thickness of the metal this didn’t really work and since the setting bolt was stripped even if we did get back in shape, there would be no way to secure it to the trailer frame. I settled on a back up plan of drilling a hole in the trailer frame and bolting it. Come to find out, that is what Reese called for in the original installation instructions to begin with.
After a few more unsuccessful searches at nearby stores for the actual clip replacement part I decided to use what I had and try and bolt it to the frame. My 20 year hold DeWalt cordless drill barely made it through and died at the very last moment when I penetrated both sides of the frame. Another lessons learned from our two initial trips is to always have a good cordless drill with a spare battery. After driving the bolt through the frame it was about 1/4” too short to get the lock washer and nut on.
By this time I was exhausted and the family tired of hanging out in the now vacant parking lot. I was tempted to just leave without he sway assembly hooked up but decided to try and find a bolt that would fit. So we made one last run to Napa where Colton helped me out finding the right sized bolt. I think he could tell I was desperate to get on the road so he gave it to me for free. The bolt fit and everything snug up well. I hooked up the assembly and got ready to pull out when low and behold the truck bed cover was loose. So that turned into another 30 minute project of off-loading all the gear in the truck bed and re-assembling the bed cover. If tempted to buy the Lund trifold cover (https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B01DNSVU1I/ref=ppx_yo_dt_b_search_asin_title?ie=UTF8&psc=1), don’t do it. The clips are plastic and come loose if tightened down too hard. After five hours of delays we were finally back on the road!
Our 10:00am departure time was thwarted. First, a couple of first class Texas 40 degree temperature swing changing thunderstorm lines blew threw North Texas. The rain fall was probably the most Abby has seen in two decades. With 20 windows and an assortment of other penetrations, she was bound to leak after her makeover. Thankfully we only had four minor leaks.
We dried her out and departed around 11:00. I created a checklist before the Dinosaur Valley trip to endure none of the 20 or so steps required to roll out or roll in were overlooked. One of the most critical steps is locking the door. This is because for some strange reason Airstream designers placed the hinge side of the door such that it opens against the direction of travel. This ingenious feature allows the flexible aluminum door to violently burst open and flail around like a wounded duck whilst barreling down the road at 65 mph if not locked down.
At about the hour two mark of our second trip on the way to College Station, TX we stopped in Abbott to make quick sandwiches for lunch, a great benefit of toting a full kitchen around! Unfortunately the outer door was wide open and contorted out of shape. Thankfully the screen door stayed shut so nothing flew out.
Strangely, the dead bolt pin was still in the locked position so the door must have flexed such that it popped open over a bump or high wind. Thankfully it still closed. I secured its with a rope and we finished headed back southward.
On the way we hit terrible traffic outside a Waco reminding me how much I loathe interstate 35. In Riesel we came upon a terrible traffic accident involving the injury and fatality of a local police officer and Sheriff. I wonder if the door incident hadn’t occurred how close we would have been to the incident, if not impacted by it. After about another hour delay we were moving with again.
We made it to Aggieland two hours behind schedule and rolled into the Texas A&M Equine Complex RV Park. Uncle Ronnie graciously allowed us to use his spot to tailgate for the A&M vs. Alabama game. After setting up we enjoyed a wonderful evening with the Gidley family at Longhorn Steakhouse where I gobbled up a Chicken fried steak the size of a west Texas county. Back at the RV Park, we got to meet friendly Aggies and enjoyed the comradirie of former student gatherings. Overall, despite the mishaps it was a great 2nd trip and needed return to Aggieland!!
We went for a hike at Dinosaur Valley through a dry creek bed. As Malosi and Rance talk constantly I thought it would be good to document just a sampling of some of their conversation topics. It was difficult to track all of them:
- How long one can hold their pee
- Trail vs mountain bikes
- Sibling birth order privileges
- Fairness of life
- Why God made mosquitos
Pulling out of my in-law’s house in a fully restored 1973 Airstream Sovereign Land Yacht was gloriously nerve racking. The value of our rig from stem to stern was about what we owe on our first house. Not to mention I have no recent experience with bumper pull trailering, especially a 7,100 lbs 31’ beast.
Sorry, not a beast. The formal name for our trailer is “Abigail the Sovereign”, or Abby. Personification of vehicles has been somewhat of a family tradition and distinctly an American cultural oddity, at least from my observations of living overseas the past 11 years. Growing up most all our vehicles had names. There was “Martha” the 1985 Suburban, “Blue” the 1984 Dodge Lancer, “The Missile”, a 1968 Ford F100 long bed truck, my first vehicle, “Puddle Jumper”, a 2003 Toyota single cab Tacoma, and a handful assortment of other vehicle personalities.
Abby was found in the spring of this year hunkered down in open shed in Briscoe County Texas. Her last registration was 1997 and from all observations she hadn’t traveled since. Her hibernation amongst the West Texas rattlesnakes, dust storms, unrelenting heat, and rogue tumbleweeds treated her well. Typical problems with shuttered Airstreams of rotted floors, leaky windows, and stained aluminum shell, among many others, were amazingly missing. Her interior was largely intact with no crazy backyard amateur modifications. About the only sign of mistreatment was a bullet wound in her belly pan.
My sister, Emily, had known we had loose plans to buy an Airstream for a road trip in the fall. She randomly saw the for sale posting on a local buy and sell Facebook group. When she sent us a picture of the posting on March, 27, 2019 asking if we were interested we were living in Shanghai, China and on a family vacation to Siem Reap, Cambodia. We were coming up on the end of our two year tour that summer. However, as typical with my project based tours, I’m a Foreign Service Construction Engineer managing Department of State Construction projects, I had no onward assignment and no real firm dates for our upcoming home leave in the States, mandated by the congress between Foreign Service assignments. More importantly, I also had no clue what it would take to restore a 46 year old Airstream. It really made no rational sense to purchase Abby sight unseen while tramping around ancient Cambodian ruins 7,000 miles away. However, as with many burgeoning relationships and adventures, rationality often takes a back seat to the beauty of the unknown.
After talking it over with Kelly and discussing with Emily’s husband, Paul, a former RV salesman who in no uncertain terms told me I was a fool if I didn’t jump on this opportunity, we pulled the trigger and PayPal’d the money to Emily. Thus started the journey with Abby.
Today is day one on the road with Abby. We choose a quick one night trip to Dinosaur Valley State Park in Glen Rose, Texas as our soft opening test run. How we got from a field in West Texas to spot #24 over the last seven months is a story worth telling and a worthy launch pad to our Road School journey ahead.
Orders received yesterday. Road School 2019 begins October 5th!!
This northeastern outpost is quite a change from the bustling streets of Shanghai. Stark contrasts abound. For example, one mall is chalked full of top end fashion stores and bustling with people and the next door mall is dying a slow death with years of deferred maintenance and empty storefronts. The wealth is definitely evident strolling by the parking lot of Bentley’s parked outside the Grand Hyatt on a Saturday morning. Every other high rise is under construction or in a state of suspended construction. It is interesting to think what would happen in Shenyang if DPRK decided to join the global community and trade opened up.
Here are some interesting observations from my time in Shenyang.
My coworkers introduced me to duck blood soup….. after I had consumed half of it. Apparently it is a common practice to flavor dishes with cubes of gelatinized duck blood. I thought it was salty tofu!
This was a big disconnect walking past Versace, Rolex, D&G, Tiffany’s, in a high-end mall only to encounter a life size chessboard of Simpson characters! Doh! The fun continued outside with humanoid bottles of Duff Beer representing various emotional states or character flaws. My favorite was ‘Surly’. God Bless America.
I spotted cannibal Koye fish attacking one of their dead mates in a fancy hotel lobby. Who knew Koye fish were so mean?
Horse and buggy are still legitimate forms of transportation in Shenyang! At least you can hear him coming!!
I call this one, ‘Cage of Dogs on Moto’. Yummy!
My new favorite word is ‘Generato’ !!!
Onward and upward!
“Hey Froto, I got yo ring.”
And finally, Korean BBQ, yes and amen.
After one year, 39 rides, and 30,000 miles I’ve learned a little about traveling in China:
1. Communism is not your friend so don’t be surprised when it slaps you in the face.
2. Always listen to Jason Eady while boarding trains.
3. Savor and cherish random acts of kindness like a rare jewel.
4. Wear long sleeves or elbow pads on planes.
5. The taxi will show up 30 minutes early in Shanghai, right on time in Beijing, and who knows in Wuhan.
6. Invest in a washable and well fitting dust mask. It will be more handy than a pocket on a shirt, also quite useful.
7. Be ready to sweat no matter the season.
8. Chengdu street food is amazing.
9. Always request a window seat on trains.
10. Don’t eat anything on the plane, ever.
11. Learn to poop whilst squatting.
12. Download WeChat and didi apps.
13. Throw anything away with a power button when leaving the country.
14. Expect VPNs to not function.
15. Remember Google, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter are evil conspiracies trying to take over the world one ‘like’ at a time.
16. Don’t take it personal when elbow checked in lines and don’t worry about knocking over the grandma cutting you off with her bag.
17. Buy two pair of noise cancelling headphones.
18. Reflect on the valuable lessons you are learning on patience, endurance, and tongue holding.
19. Make faces at all the babies starting at you.
20. Have fun and always search for your sense of humor.
21. Stay home if you have blonde hair.
22. What would Jesus do?
23. Don’t carry large battery packs.
24. Always bring something without a battery to read.
25. Have plenty of money in WeChat.
26. The trains always leave on time and planes rarely do.
27. Marvel at the efficiency of just about everything.
28. Parking garage attendants take their jobs very seriously.
29. Always listen to Waylon Jennings while inside an airport.
30. Didi is from heaven.
31. All the Chinese airline apps are useless.
32. China Eastern kiosk only takes passport number. Use it.
33. There is a rule for everything and they are always changing.
34. Sanitize everything three times.
35. Airline loading and offloading is a contact sport. Be ready and take no prisoners.
36. Try to smile.
37. Don’t ever buy water from the stores. It is a third of the price at vending machines.
38. Remember that forty years ago everyone was wearing gray and riding a bicycle.