Friday, July 1, 2011

Intro - Three Month Wrap Up...

This first post is a long one as we recap the last three months since we retired and hit the road.  Grab a sample of your favorite beverage, sit back, and ride along as we recount or adventure.

Robin and Kevin retired on March 31,2011. Robin was a Registered Nurse and Kevin worked in the IT world for the Texas Attorney General in Austin, Texas. After two rewarding careers we were ready to hit the road as full-time RVers. We had been living in our 1999 Dolphin motorhome since 2007 in anticipation of our escape from the 9-5 world.

We spent the six weeks following our workaday departure wrapping up projects on the motorhome and spending time with our friends. Leaving our friends in Austin proved harder than we had anticipated. We know we will return.

Those weeks were a flurry of selling things on Craigslist and to friends. We also donated a bunch of stuff to a local church for their annual rummage sale.

Our motorhome is a Dolphin model built by National RV. The dolphin theme was prevalant throughout: blue decals of dolphins, water and sky on the outside. Blue carpet, walls and window treatments. We felt like were were living in a kiddie pool. We spent the time prior to retirement completely remodeling the interior. No more blue. Now we have comfortable earth tones throughout.

The dolphin decals on the outside had to go. We spent many hours with a heat gun and decal removers getting them off. When we finished the result of 12 years of weather exposure were heavily oxidized walls with ghost images were the decals had been.

We investigated a paint job but every quote started at $10k and just went up. That was clearly out of the question.

Kevin found an auto detailing forum on the internet where he learned a bit about polishing vehicles. If we were to polish it we would save a BUNCH of money, so we ordered the equipment. What an ordeal that turned out to be.

We spent the last three weeks polishing with a coarse polish, wipe off, repeat with a less agressive polish, wipe off, polish with a final polish and wipe off.

THEN we waxed the entire coach. We covered every inch of body four times. The results surpassed our expectations. Observers have asked if we have a fresh paint job. We just smile and say "Nah, we just polished the heck out of it!"

May 13 arrived.  We were ready to head toward Hot Springs, AR for a few days with Robin's family. All seemed great - until the engine devoured its serpentine belt in Rockdale, TX, not even 100 miles from Austin.

Here is a post Kevin put out on the Escapees RV forum describing our first few days:

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What an introduction to full timing on the road. We have been living in our '99 Dolphin the past 3 1/2 years in anticipation of retirement and full time traveling. Well, we are retired and traveling.... Kind of....
We left Austin, TX last Friday. We made it 80 miles to Rockdale, TX before the serpentine belt went out. This is a recurring problem but I thought I had it fixed last time it happened.

Nope.

After many attempts to find a replacement belt I finally got to Carquest Auto Parts in Rockdale where I met Doug Wilde. He was great. He helped get me a replacement belt and suggested the tensioner may be bad.
I took the new belt and tensioner back to the MH for a looksee.

I determined the problem was that when I had Fleet Maintenance in Austin replace the alternator a couple years ago they put on one with a pulley that was too narrow - Hence it was chewing off the edges of the belts. We have taken the MH out on the road just a couple times in the past few years and each time it gnarled a belt. Now after two very expensive belts and help from Doug, we got the correct 8 rib belt and a new alternator with an 8 groove pulley (Fleet Maintenancce had installed an alternator with a 6 rib pulley) all was in order. (Anybody want a great deal on a nearly new alternator with a 6 rib pulley?)

The great thing about Doug at Carquest was that I got back to the store after the discovery of the incorrect alternator exactly at 5:30. They close at 5:30. Rats - but no problem for Doug - he told me that he would stay at the store until midnight if necessary to get us on the road. Incredible small town hospitality. Remember Doug at Carquest in Rockdale, TX if you need anything.

Saturday night found us at the Clear Springs COE park at Wright Patman Lake in Texarkana, TX. It is beautiful. Our fist time at a COE and we will certainly be looking for more. The park was terrific. Our spot overlooked the lake. Saturday night with a near full moon, our propane campfire, fresh hot lattes. Doesn't get much better than that.

Sunday - on toward Hot Springs, AR for a small family get together. More problems.

15 miles west of Malvern, AR on I-30 we lost the bearings on the passenger side tag. (the tag axle is a third axle behind the drive wheels.  It just carries weight)

That started an 8 hour stint on the side of I-30 with about two feet of clearance to the right of the white line and 70+ mph traffic zooming by. Kind of scary.

An Arkansas State Trooper, Zach Owens, stopped and made sure all was safe and discussed options and gave phone numbers of emergency assistance if needed. He was with us for about an hour. What a great guy. Ladies - if you need help from the state police in Malvern, AR, hope that Zach responds. Terrific guy and he could be a poster model for State Police ads. Robin was impressed. It was pretty warm standing in the sun but he refused my offer of an ice cold beer.

After repeated calls to Coach-Net explaining that the rig could not be towed conventionally because the tag was out, they finally were going to send a service truck to repair it on the side of the road. The only caveat was that CN's policy is one response per incident. If the repair truck could not effect the repair we would be on our own. I asked to have the repair truck guy call before coming out the 125 miles from his shop to our location. Now understand: we were only 50 miles from Little Rock, why they were going to dispatch a repair truck 125 miles away is beyone me...

Anyway, the repair guy calls and we talk about the issue. He says "Heck no, I cannot replace a bearing on the side of the road. I will come chain up the axle and drive the rig 125 miles to my shop and fix it tomorrow."

Huh??? I think we'll pass on that opportunity. But the light went on. I drove our car to the nearest Walmart and got my own chains and chained up the axle. If he can do it, I can. And chained it up I did.

By then it was dark and we needed to merge into the 70+ mph traffic with a limping coach. Not safe.
Zach had given me the direct phone to the State Police Company K office. I called and asked if we could have an escort for safety. 30 minutes later Hot Springs County Deputy Phillip Calhoun arrived on the scene. Another of the finest we have encountered. He escorted us for 15 miles with lights flashing until we reached Walmart in Malvern. Thanks a lot Phillip!!!!

After our safe arrival we talked RVing and local information regarding Arkansas for bit before Phillip went on his way.

We asked the manager at Walmart if we could stay the night. No problem - Thanks WM!!

The next morning I called Connie at Dexter axles. We have a Mor/Ryde suspension with a Dexter axle on the tags. Connie was the epitome of customer service and a wealth of information on the axles. She gave me the exact numbers for the bearings, seals and races. I was armed with all the info I needed to effect a repair.

Monday arrives and we began searching for parts. Let me add here that the rest of the family had arrived last night and were partying without us - Rats!!

Our search took us to the local NAPA store in Malvern. They had the inner bearing but not the outer - Rats again!!

We went on up to Hot Springs and made contact with the family and continued our search for bearings. No luck. These must be very unusual common bearings. Finally, a call to the NAPA distributor in Little Rock yielded results. We zoomed over and bought two sets of everything - just in case I goober up something as I attempt a repair job I have observed but never done.

Did I mention that my knee has been acting up lately? It is quite painful to kneel. Hmmm... Kneeling hurts - I have to kneel to clean and replace bearings - I'll be kneeling in order to mount the huge and heavy spindle and tire. Perhaps it would be a good idea to have the repairs done by someone else, maybe even by someone who knows what he is doing.

BTW - This is the second night and were still at Walmart. I almost started standing at the door welcoming folks. I emailed our friends and told them to send care packages to our new address of Walmart, Malvern, Arkansas.

As the evening rolled on I began looking for mechanics in Malvern. I found a site for "RJC & Sons - Mobile Mechanics" at 501-732-9632. Looks like a possibility.

Tuesday morning at 7:30 I called. I left a message which was returned within 10 minutes. We discussed the situation and Rich assured me he could handle it. He arrived some time later. Clean, organized, articulate and quick. He taught me how to do the repair should I ever need to do it (hopefully not!) and his rates were better than any garage I have dealt with for cars or MH in the past few years. He didn't even charge extra for my help!

His work was so good Robin and I decided to stick around Hot Springs after the family leaves and have a couple more items worked on.

We drove on up to Hot Springs. The bearings were barely warm. Rich did a great job.

Everyone is happy and we are safely ensconced with our family at Bartee Meadow in Hot Springs. All is well. I cannot say enough about Rich. If you ever find yourself in need of mechanical assistance within a 50 mile radius of Malvern, Arkansas, give Rich a call at 501-732-9632.
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That got us through the family visit and on the road again. We decided to have the mobile mechanic, Rich, do a brake job on the coach so we opted to stay in Hot Springs a few days.

Here is a second post to the Escapees forum:

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Holy Crap!! I promise I have NOT been watching too many episodes of COPS!

It's a quarter to 3:00am as I write this. I am waiting for the police to return to our site at Gulpha Gorge Campground in Hot Springs, AR after taking a man into custody who had woken us at 1:00am pounding on our door and pleading for help because someone was trying to kill him.

Trust me, I wish I was making this up. Heck, maybe I could make a nickel with it.

He scared the crap out of us.

He said he had picked up a hitchhiker earlier in the day. They were in his tent smoking and drinking beer when the HH told him to have his last cigarette because he was going to kill him. He HH told the young man he was going to be the HH's 15th victim. The man said the HH was momentarily distracted and he made his escape.

Believe me, I was not concerned with him leaving a present on our chair. He was scared poopless. I ain't having much of an urge to go right now either.

He said he had approached a tent seeking help and was run off. We just watched some people in a nearby tent furiously pack up and leave. I'm having similar thoughts.

I immediately called 911. The police promptly arrived and took him. Holy Moly - add this to my earlier post. Are we getting an introduction to being on the road or what??

We've had more contact with Law Enforcement in the past week than both of us combined in the past 30 years. I'm glad I have hundreds of previous posts here so I have some credibility. If I didn't, you'd think I was some kind of crackpot writing this stuff. Sheesh!!
What's next?????
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After those episodes, we wondered what else could happen....

The next day after the murderer incident, we were sitting outside watching TV when a stranger walked up. "Aw, jeez. What next?" we telegraphed to each other as he walked up.

He explained that he had been out hiking and gotten turned around on the mountain trails and was not sure where his car was. He asked if we could give him a ride to his car.  Hmmm.  First he does not know where he is and then he wants a ride to his car???  Fishy.  Come to find out, he just needed a lift to his car.

Kevin told him no, but he would call 911 and get him some assistance, to which he readily agreed.

Soooo -- "Hello, 911? This is Kevin Herber. I am he guy who called you this morning with the scared murder victim call...." How many people can say that the 911 dispatcher recognized them?

Anyway, 911 sent a deputy over to give the guy a ride to his car. While waiting we visited a bit. He was very nice and legitimately in need of assitance. We were glad we could help.

The following day we were returning a Red Box movie when a man approached us in the parking lot. He had a cell phone in his hand and was nicely groomed, not the typical image of a panhandler.  He said he was stranded and need some gas. He began to ask if he could borrow $5, then corrected himself and asked outright if we could give him $5.

Kevin immediately responded "No, but you can get some help by calling 911 or contacting the Red Cross or Salvation Army." He thanked us and walked to his car. Robin watched as he walked away.

We are used to panhandlers and usually turn them down. For some reason this guy struck us as truly ib need. We briefly talked and decided that we would help. Robin took $5 over to his car and gave it to him. He was on the phone and was very gracious when she gave him the money.

We are certainly encountering our share of those in need, as well as being on the needy side ourselves recently...

On down the road...

We wrapped up the brake job in Hot Springs and headed to Indiana to see our girls, grand kids and great grand son. We also had a surprise visit from Robin's parents while we were there.  Sort of a mini-reunion.  We really enjoy their company and cherish every chance we have to see them.

The coach ran fine. We ran fine too.

We had a splendid visit with the the three generations of kids over the past month. We have not been able to spend this much time with them in many years.

Muncie, Indiana has a wonderful hike-bike trail. It is a converted rail bed that runs approximately 80 miles from Marion to Richmond. We took advantage and put some miles on our bikes.

One day while riding we looked at each other as virtual light bulbs popped over our heads. We have dreamed of riding bicycles cross country for many years. We are retired and free. There is absolutely no reason to NOT pursue this dream.

In the weeks since, we have sold our old bikes and outfitted ourselves with Surly Long Haul Truckers, which are the standard of touring bikes. We are nothing if not spontaneous.

We have been having a ball riding. We do 25 to 35 miles per ride. Robin says her bike is the best fitting and comfortable bike she has ever ridden. She loves it. Kevin is glad it does not easily fit in the RV. He could get a little jealous.

While in Muncie, we had the motor home's transmission checked. It did not feel right and recently started slipping severely when backing up. Uh - Oh...

We were referred to a transmission specialist in Gas City, Indiana, which is about 20 miles northwest of Muncie. We drove up and met Dan and his wife Sharon. They are a great team. 

Dan spent about an hour test driving the motor home and analyzing the transmission with his nifty computer. His diagnosis was that it needed to be replaced. We did not question his determination one moment. We knew even more emphatically that he was a good guy when he said that unfortunately, he could not do the work because his shop was not equipped for a vehicle the size of our rig.  He recommended that we put in a Jasper transmission. He also recommended an RV dealership in Richmond to do the swap.

We did some research and decided that the Jasper was the way to go. Unfortunately, the RV dealership does not do that sort of repair, but they turned us to a local garage. "The Garage" turned out to be a great place and the price was way better than we had anticipated.

After the trans swap we had the front end inspected and aligned. We were glad to learn that the steering components are fine. They did do a bit of adjusting to the alignment. After all the work the rig is driving better than it ever has.

All of these expensive delays have been somewhat anticipated. We know this is an old rig and it will have issues once we begin moving. Fortunately, we had prepared for them. We have one more thing to be worked on before we leave Indiana. Once that is done, we will have gone through the entire drive train and improved it all.

This last thing is what finds us in Goshen, Indiana right now. We are having the rear axle inspected and brought up to snuff as well as a full brake replacement on that axle. The rear axle is a separate item that was added to the chassis by the original motor home manufacturer when they built the motor home. It did not come from the Ford factory with the original chassis. The manufacturer of the axle and suspension (Mor/Ryde) is located in Elkhart, Indiana the undisputed capital of RVs in the world. Elkhart is approximately 20 miles from Goshen. The "tag" axle will get the go over on Tuesday, July 5, 2011.

We have been in Goshen for a week now. We have been riding our bikes a lot and visiting with cyber-friends from RV blogs that Kevin follows. Lots of fun and good people.

That pretty well brings us up to date on our travels. In the future, we will strive to keep our blog current. Also, we will be concentrating on getting pictures. We have seen so much already that we regret not getting pictures.

Keep following us as we continue Chasin' Our Dreams!