Tag Archives: car trouble

DAY 94 12/17/2012 Texas Tour de Quebecois

In our long road West, we just had to visit Jean-Philippe in College Station, Texas.  Since he moved from Baltimore, we have missed him and his wife Anne.  They are temporarily apart by career investigation needs. Anne is now teaching in Sackville, New Brunswick. J-P is finishing projects here in Texas and abroad in Chile.

In them we found an intellectual curiosity that piques our own.  An ability to work hard, like it, and still have joy to throw into life after work.  In them we find laughter and a hope that earth is a pretty good place to live.  We looked so forward to visiting J-P that we drove hard from New Orleans.  Our one Walmart stop in Lake Charles led to being surprised by the Toys-For-Tots inspiration (see previous post), then back on the road!

The rural roads and dreaded Interstate in these big Southern states have 70 and 75 mph speed limits!  We just Tramp along at 55-60 and let our bright LED tail and marker lights, reflectors and red triangle warn everyone to pass at will.  They do.


J-P, center, the laser physicist in his instrumentation lab with, from right, Travis – mechanical engineer, David, and two undergrad students. Real-life Big Bang Theory!?

College Station, of course, is the town around Texas A & M.  A multi-specialty University with everything you’d expect supporting and surrounding it.  J-P is a gracious host and guide.  He claims we hosted him with more cooking and feeding.  I’m not so sure, but we do like bringing our own kitchen and bedroom.


We were treated to several Texas treats.  Mostly we learned Texas has a lot to offer!  It is a more beautiful and varied place than we could have imagined.  There is a lot here and the people couldn’t have been warmer or more friendly.  We ate a fresh grilled Texas steak, oh yeah, delicious!  Sampled fried pickles at a bar and grill named Crickets.  We ate Tex-Mex at Los Cucos and enjoyed really their scrumptious enchiladas, relenos, and then the next night we also ate at a great Texas BBQ, J Cody’s.  There may have been an excess of mounted deer on the walls, but the friendliness was real and the food as moist as a treasured family cookout.  Jane and I especially liked those fried pickles at Cricket’s, now slices instead of spears.


Jean-Philippe brought us mountain biking too.  First we went to Waco, where any of my own preconceived ideas disappeared at a delightful riverside park, Cameron Trails.  A slow level river ride was a nice warmup that led to a mix of old and new trails with names like Hale-Bop, Cedars, Slinky,  and Highlands.  There were trees and hills!  Lots of trees, cedars, pines and a generously thick thicket.  There were smooth buff twisty single tracks.  Lacing them with roots and rocks added the treat we bikers love.  Jane enjoyed the bulk of our ride before insisting I take off with J-P.

He’s  been club riding regularly, racing a bit and is as slim, svelt and fast as ever.  He complimented me in saying no matter what we do, we are always the same speed.  I can’t say I’ve been training, but I also won’t pretend the voyage life isn’t a great diet of play, light good food and Very Regular activity.  We chased each other gleefully up and down for an extra hour and a half!  Aerobic exercise just isn’t work when the trail beckons and a friend is in reach.  Nice to know I still have that “old-guy-strength”.

A rare day of rain led us to rest, go see The Hobbit at a local theater and plan the Tramper updates.  Saturday I bought new tires for the trailer.  Without getting too technical, I wanted a bigger margin of safety.  In Maine, the trailer weighed in at 3460 lbs.  The original tires I selected during rebuilding are “C” rated for ~1800 lbs. each.  They also only held 50psi and seemed to be wearing badly at the inside edge (as seen in the Greensboro, NC posts).  I found wider, slightly bigger tires that are “E” rated for ~2800 lbs each and can be run up to 80 psi.  This should be MUCH better!100_7441

I had also noted that even though the 4Runner brakes were new when we left Baltimore, the truck now pulled slightly Left under hard braking.  A cursory look showed no particular problems.  Closer inspection did reveal an anti-squeal shim that had slipped and seemed a little off.  I knew doing nothing would change nothing.  I also couldn’t be sure whether a new pair of brake pads ($30) may or may not solve anything.  The hydraulics seemed OK, no leaks and no obvious signs of a stuck caliper.  (I had cleaned ’em and bled ’em in Baltimore, evacuating and flushing  ALL old brake fluid with over a quart of fresh Castrol high boiling point fluid).

So there I was with a possible way to improve it without going overboard.  The new brake pads were higher quality, better fit, and infused with ceramic.  I figured the odds trying something were better than the odds of doing nothing and just wondering what was wrong.  Then the guys I met at Napa were super nice too.  Apos is a Geology major and suggested lots of cool stops on our way West in addition to helping out with car parts.

I cleaned things up, popped in new pads and Voila!  It works, No More Pulling!  Sure is nice to pay for parts only.  I solved the problem for about $30 total.  Then on Tuesday morning, I paid someone else do our oil change.  I didn’t want to buy a big drain pan and deal with recycling the oil and cleaning out a pan…just pay the guys at Shell to take care of that.  They too became enthralled with our journey and added a few good suggestions.  Mostly each to a man wished us safe travels!  “Safe travels” spoken like they meant it; it rings so deep when I hear that.

Lastly, Jean-Philippe followed us down near Brastop to a small private mountain bike park called Rocky Hill Ranch.  They host 24 hour races and run the admission fees by honor system, keeping maps available at the “restrooms”.  We had yet another good shared ride, starting with scrambling up Fat Chuck’s Demise (rumored to have brought on an early end to its namesake).  The only bad aspect of this particular start is right off the lot, it is climbing.  Clawing up and around a handful of twisty roots,  laced heavily with egg and potato-sized rocks is a tough way to start.  Mountain bikers sometimes call these loose nodes “baby-doll-heads”.  Altogether they are much easier to roll over on downhills.

When J-P and I added our boy-time ride to use up the last of the light we headed deeper into the forest, finding a great piney narrow sinuous place of middle-ring/middle gear aerobic glee.  We traded leads again and again as we rode hard and steady.  Sometimes I miss racing.   But really, I miss riding hard and steady with such a good host and great friend.  Besides, our non-race rides now often last 5 or 6 hours and we snack and laugh much more than racers ever do!


J-P gets ready to ride at Rocky Hill Ranch.


Fun trail at Rocky Hill.


– David

DAY 87 12/10/2012 The Travails of the day…

Leaving the free refuge of the Pensecola Walmart parking lot, we set out to try the Tramper at something new.  Riding a ferry in the Gulf from Fort Morgan to Fort Gaines below Mobile Alabama seemed like a fun coastal adventure.  A last-minute phone call nodded a no-go.  They weren’t accepting any trailers or RV’s today.  Drat!  Rolling along after packing up makes us think of “second-breakfast” sometimes, so when we saw the Coffee Cup Diner despite not having made it out of Pensacola yet, we parked out back. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI motioned to Jane as we cross the parking lot that we may be meeting our waitresses out back here while they seemed to be taking their smoke breaks.

Inside we found just our kind of place.  A broiling flame raged at the stove where the short-order cooks blazed through their lists of orders.  A simple menu praised the grits and on the wall was a sign: No Grits No Glory.  Jane went into the restroom to wash up, and as I sat down a new experience unfolded.  All around me smart phones started screeching and beeping.  They blasted a Tornado Warning!  Of course we don’t have a smart phone so there I was peeking over people’s shoulders, gleaning what I could and waiting for Jane.  One phone owner bragged about his last tornado while I tried to sort out my own reactions.

I still have more Tramper destinations.  There are still places to go, things to do.  Maybe the tramper attracted this thing as trailers so often do?  I have walked along the actual path of tornado destruction before and seen news descriptions.  Knowledge sometimes tells you exactly what to do; other times it tells you there’s nothing you can do.

By now Jane is out at our table.  We debate briefly whether to drive and hope we pick exactly the right time and direction, or stay put.  We stay and order coffee, grits and a biscuit.  There is a Bruce Cockburn song we love that goes: “If this were the last night of the world, what would I do that was different unless it were champagne with you?”  Today it was grits and good coffee; the waitress got a pretty good tip too!

Jane texted Debbie who used an iPad in Baltimore to check weather.  The warning was being lifted.  We heard the next day several unconfirmed twisters had touched down from Birmingham to Pensacola.  We didn’t see any.

The road later offered its own surprises.  Heavy traffic near Mobile and an accident in the light misty rain at a highway split.  The kind where our crawling column of traffic arrived just before the ambulance, only one cop had pulled up and the poor harried car was facing the wrong way showing its defaced, unrecognizable grill-less front end.  Boy do we count our blessings and lack of rush.

Later we rolled into a drenching, driving rain in Alabama.  The crowned road wasn’t enough to shed the torrent and I found myself glad to be rolling slowly with good tires all around and separate brakes on the trailer.

No more than half an hour later we coasted into a small town, Robertsdale, where we took note of the usual strip of stores, Advance Auto, Dollar General, Nail, and pawn shops.  By the second light I smelled transmission fluid.  Five seconds later Jane asks, “whats that smell?”OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Then the smoke!  Trying to block panic, I methodically look around for the right place to touch down.  I feel like a bush pilot, surveying the busy lots around where I would be in someone’s way or they in mine.  I pick a church on the right just in time to notice the transmission is shifting “differently“.  Shut it down, open the hood and EVERYTHING is soaked with boiling hot, red transmission fluid.  I can’t see a thing, can’t touch a thing, and can’t tell where all that red is coming from.  But there’s a steamy puddle growing on the ground already…

Yup, hood up as the universal sign “don’t tow me” and I advise Jane we will be entertaining ourselves for an hour while this thing cools.  I went and bought 4 quarts of Dexron, a roll of paper towels, box of rubber gloves, a bag of kitty litter and investigated the worst case price of a new radiator.  ~$240, and available within a few hours, I explain to Jane and the clerk that I probably won’t need it; it’s probably a transmission line going to the cooler up in the grill.   We also went to CVS for a little light shopping while the car continued to cool.

Of all the >100 mile off the beaten path places, all the night hours of driving, the rainy portions, and even the traffic jam this morning…our little 4Runner picked a town with 3 auto parts stores and “no grocer” to break down in.  Well, I have a paper suit just in case of these sorts of things.  (known as a bunny suit in the hospital world)



Where is my super-suit?  Jane “what”?  Where-Is-My-Super-Suit?  (You’d have to have watched The Incredibles recently to get that reference).  So, I donned the paper suit, used half a roll of paper towels to dry everything, cleaned the front tires and found the culprit.  Whether I failed to tie the hoses down as well as I thought or the mechanic in New York accidentally knocked things loose doesn’t matter.


The transmission line had risen above a critical height and been rubbed through by the fan.  Half an hour later and we were rolling safely again.  We determined to make it ALL THE WAY TO NEW ORLEANS.  Arriving the back way to St Bernard State Park at about 7:30 was of no concern to the ranger and we settled in for a quiet night in the Tramper.

– David



DAY 61 – 11/14/2012 – Greensboro, NC

While visiting our friends Bob and Joann and Claire and Sage in Greensboro, NC, David kept himself busy. The trailer needed the tires rotated. The tread has worn very thin already, but only on one side so flipping them on the rims will wear the opposite side of the tread. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI guess what we have is a max-loaded (3,400 lbs out of a 3,500 lb maximum weight) trailer causing the premature wear, but if anyone can make that kind of situation work for the next 4-10 months, it would be David. Buying another vehicle or redoing the trailer are not options that we can pursue right now, so, on we go!

Also on the to-do list for my busy husband was helping to repair the roof of our friends’ backyard shed. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI should explain this frenzy of activity a little. David needs and wants to be busy, always. Leisure, for him, is not lounging or resting or reading but “getting things done”.  I always say that David has two speeds. Speed 1 = BUSY. Speed 2 = ASLEEP!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOn Tuesday, we rose early (OK, I rose early. David springs out of bed each morning at 5:30, excited about what the new day will bring! I’m a grumpy, lumpy mess until I get caffeine circulating) and helped out at the weekly breakfast at a Greensboro church for the homeless and hungry.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Our Carolina friends are so cool, so together. They are the kind of folks that inspire me to be a better person; to learn more and to do more. However, intellectual conversations can be followed at any time by goofy, joyful, hippy fun.

Great family!

– Jane

Scout, the butter dog

Scout, the butter dog

DAY 55, 11/8/2012 Back on the ROAD!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe are back in our groove.  The truck runs well, better than before.  The oil is as clean as honey having been changed 4 times now since our August purchase.  First was at home upon my greeting it to our fleet.  Next, was “early” at about 800 miles in Maine as a rinse-out treat still being a new vehicle to me.  Then because the head gasket blew, #3 was in Rosendale, NY.  Finally I did one extra in Towson to rinse out any water or antifreeze contaminants following the NY repair.  Silly me, now it can be at each 3000miles; but I sure hope its all enough…

More importantly here we go!  We drove South.  Southwest really, right through Harpers Ferry and down parallel to Skyline Drive.

A fearsome shark(dinosaur?). Don't worry, he's behind a fence.

A fearsome shark(dinosaur?). Don’t worry, he’s behind a fence.

Near Front Royal we turn South, but first a trip to Dinosaur Land.


A gaping dinosaur convinces Jane to stop for a photo

We might have driven up and into that beautiful ridge had we not delayed so long in the New York Fall.  Leaves are more abundant here, yet still brown-grey is a dominant color.  We see temperatures in the 60’s in Central VA and North Carolina, so Jane will be buffeted by gentle weather soon.

We detoured to a very nice county park to mountain bike with an old friend at Preddy Creek, VA.  The trails were well sculpted, following terrain lines around and lulling our ride at near the same elevation in a gentle 3-4 mile loop.  It is a multi-use example of how trails can support differing users and remain sustainable while still being great fun.  The older original trails there are noticeably different, some slashed by 4 wheelers with no regard to drainage.  OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThese showed signs of erosion and will soon be addressed by the Mt bike volunteers.  OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAll cities and counties could take a lesson from here or Franklin Falls, NH where bikers see trail work as part of the investment in their sport and health.

The end of the day prompted our next question: Where should we camp?  we drove South until fatigue was overwhelmed by better sense.  Stop soon!  Drove into Misty Mountain Campground where after hours check-in could have put us next to several “Rock-Star buses” (Big RV’s) for $34 per night.  OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERANot this time.  We don’t need water, electric or anything other than sleep.  We floated down from Rockfish Gap toward Waynesboro and landed in an abandoned school parking lot.

The school is available for lease or sale if you have an interest in this area.  We slept great.  I loved the first two or three trains that blasted their presence in the mid-night chill.  Somehow the other four or five were less romantic.  I did sleep very well through 7:30 and suggested this WiFi breakfast at Big Apple Bagels.

Preddy Creek trails

Preddy Creek trails

Oddly lost was the Big Apple frosty sales pitch; our cashier was warmly Southern as he greeted and oriented us as first time guests.  Even giving us the complimentary mini muffins with a true listening smile.

Jane and I find ourselves right back in the groove wondering and asking locals; where should we go tomorrow?

– David




We "camp" at an abandoned school

We “camp” at an abandoned school

DAY 52 – 11/5/2012 All Ashore That’s Going Ashore!

Not every voyage goes smoothly. Well, actually, very few voyages go smoothly!  Our ‘difficulties’ have been very small and very easy to take. You don’t get to the Age of Wisdom without having weathered some problems along the way.

A bit of shameless self-promotion, recently added to the rear of the Tramper.

A bit of shameless self-promotion, recently added to the rear of the Tramper.

In perspective, this is nothing! “This” being some car trouble and then, being delayed in New York for two weeks.

The car trouble was detailed excellently by David in a previous post so I won’t make an attempt to describe it here. In brief, we blew a head gasket on the 4Runner and spent 2 weeks in Rosendale, NY waiting for the job to be finished. The shop we chose really did an excellent job. The truck runs much better and gets about 40% better gas mileage, too. So now we’ve gotten the inevitable (for such a long trip) mechanical failure out of the way, we should be good to go for, hopefully, the rest of the trip. Optimistic? Sure. But that’s how we roll!

Sunrise on Saturday morning in Rosendale. Shortly after, the sun disappeared for another day

Sunrise on Saturday morning in Rosendale. Shortly after, the sun disappeared for another day

Grey, grey weather, a hurricane and a bit of non-communication on the part of the shop were really only minor irritants. David dealt with my sinking into despair from time to time heroically, as usual. The people of Rosendale were truly lovely and we made a couple of new friends: Jay and his dog, Blue. As for the shop that repaired the 4Runner? Well, all was forgiven, in terms of leaving us on tender-hooks, the instant we got the car back!

We are “home” but not actually living in our house! We are living in the Tramper, parked in the driveway. That’s perfectly OK because the Tramper is so nice, so comfortable. And, I don’t have to move my massive box of toiletries from one place to another!

Our wonderful daughter, Olivia, is living in our house. (I’m so happy for her – she just got a really cool full-time job using her newly-minted Master’s degree! Proud!) Olivia has two roommates, so the house is full and it would be silly to sleep on the couch when we have a perfectly good bed in the driveway.

2 of my friends, Julia and Charlie

2 of my friends, Julia and Charlie

We are visiting with our beloved families and seeing a few of our neighbors and friends. I have had fun seeing my small friends who live nearby. In the neighborhood, I am “Miss Jane” and I have some boxes full of toys and books that I share with my little visitors. It makes me pretty popular with the kids but also I love to play with them. I have seen Austin and Katie and Julia and Charlie. They give me joy and joy is something that you can never get too much of!

Apropos of nothing, I include this shot of a recent meal, cooking on the Tramper stove. The pots on the front burner are part of a set given us by Alex and Daria. We use something of the set every day!

Apropos of nothing, I include this shot of a recent meal, cooking on the Tramper stove. The pots on the front burner are part of a set given us by Alex and Daria. We use something of the set every day!

In 30 more short hours, we’ll be back on the road again and headed to the balmy breezes and warm temperatures of the South. It will be good to soak up some pleasant weather before the ski season begins.

– Jane

As you can imagine, my mind raced to logistics.  All of my tools and resources were right there, 50′ up the driveway.  First I unloaded unused and redundant items.  2 pair of shorts is plenty.  2 pair of long pants is plenty.  It is with shirts that I still have 3 T-shirts, 4 long-sleeved and several hi-tech long undershirts.  Shhh, don’t tell Jane.  Then I made a pile of duplicate tools.  I even set out the Cabana, an open tent meant for beaches that I thought might have been nice in the desert.  The same desert where I’ve seen lizards and small animals leaning into an inch of shade to escape the mid-day sun.  Yes, on second thought, a Cabana wouldn’t really do much.  We’ll be re-purposing pieces of our treasured foil-bubble-foil at that point.

Other than dropping some weight, I changed the oil in the truck again.  Again because OIL is the lifeblood of a motor.  Clean oil under pressure actually prevents metal from touching metal.  The floating takes place in the “bearing clearance” usually only .002 of an inch.  To relate to that space, imagine the thickness of a piece of paper wrapped around a shaft.  However, dirty oil is liquid sandpaper.  Oil and grit can in other uses be called lapping paste and actually intentionally cut metal.  Motors don’t want that.  I changed it after only 300 miles, right after the mechanic changed it during the head gasket repair.  He did nothing wrong, but the whole disassembly process likely allowed antifreeze to leak through while waiting for the heads back from the machine shop.  Now I can put the truck back on a normal schedule.

Tomorrow I will try out a hitch purchased for our Subaru.  It is designed to transfer some of the trailer tongue weight to the front of the truck.  Perhaps we’ll like it, perhaps not.  All this truck talk may have some of you wondering, “did I buy the wrong truck?”  Maybe.  But really, we now have about 5 thousand in a 4WD SUV.  No car payments, cheap insurance, and maybe we’ll sell it when we get back?  Overall, it seems like part of the journey for me.  If we went to a car dealer, signed on the line, went to an RV dealer, signed on that line too, we might reach that point where we felt we “couldn’t afford” to do this thing.

We can’t afford not to do this thing!  Tonight I find myself excited to be on the way to the next destination…the trip itself.

– David