It has been sort of a tradition of ours to welcome in the New Year by camping with our great friends, the Bradys. Knowing that we will be hitting the road full time in 2019 and not 100 percent sure when we will return to the Florida area, we made reservations back in February at Alafia River State Park. Yup, 11 months early and we barely got sites. Welcome to camping in the winter in Florida.

Hiking up a hill! Alafia River State Park, 12/28/18

Alafia is a very nice place. Large and widely separated sites made for pleasant camping. Its specialty is mountain biking. In Florida. Where the highest elevation in the state is 345′. Fun fact: that’s the lowest highest elevation of the 50 states. The park is on the site of an old phosphate mine and it really did have a whole pile of biking trails, as well as many equestrian trails and a growing number of hiking ones. It’s strange to walk a ridge in Florida with steep drop-offs on each side, but there you go. I rode most of the green biking trails as well as a blue. A couple of highlights were:

  • Slamming on my brakes to avoid hitting a boulder. The boulder then got up and walked away. It was a gopher tortoise.
  • Discovering that the “water resistant” feature of my handlebar bag is only valid if it’s completely zipped closed. I rode off the side of a bridge into a stream. iPhone and $1800 camera both got wet. Fortunately, only my pride suffered any significant damage.
  • The blue trail was fun, with a bit of a pucker factor from my perspective, until I caught up with a family with small kids. Then it became a slow ride in the woods (no place to pass).

We had a great time and an enjoyable New Year’s Eve with our friends. We also accomplished some chores on board the rig, but the main task I had hoped to accomplish didn’t get done. I wanted to test our dry camping abilities by running on our batteries only in order to see how we do without electric hookups. We are almost a fully electric coach (we have a residential fridge) and I wanted to set up our generator to auto-start if the batteries run low. It was very hot, upper 80s, and we were very active so we decided to run the AC instead of testing batteries. Maybe next time.

Then we tried to leave.

When I drove the coach to the dump station, Patti followed me in the truck. She immediately pointed out to me that our rear was riding very low, with our rock guard actually dragging on the ground. It was obvious that our rear air bags were not filling. Crap. (Actually, to be honest, we used other words to describe our feelings. For the sake of any tender ears out there, I’ll stick with “crap”.) We’re still under warranty so I got on the phone with Freightliner. Let the games begin.

Rather than writing a couple of thousand words, I’ll just sum up the next 75 hours with some bullets:

  • Tuesday afternoon (New Years Day): the roadside tech showed up. He was about what you’d expect for a tech on New Years Day. He and the Freightliner tech on the phone from South Carolina gave an initial diagnosis of a bad air valve. We weren’t convinced, but whatever.
  • Waiting for help. Alafia River State Park, 1/2/19

    The park rangers set us up in a very nice, paved and secure location that I was able to limp into. And there we spent the night. Dry camping. Our batteries held up great, the auto-start function works fine, and we are confident we can go without hookups when necessary. Lesson learned. (Also, be careful what you wish for.)

  • Wednesday morning: the tow truck driver showed up. The driver of the BIG tow truck. He started looking things over and fairly quickly made the diagnosis that the valve was OK, we had two blown airbags and zero lift in our rear suspension. Can’t be towed (too low), can’t be put on a low boy (we’d be too high), needs to be fixed in place. Oh joy.
  • By this time we were out of clean clothes, out of food and had several obligations the next day at home. Freightliner was overnighting the parts to Tampa, so we made arrangements to meet them at the coach the next day and we headed for home. (Here is where I’d like to send a shout out to the rangers and staff at Alafia River State Park. They totally took care of a couple of travelers in need and couldn’t have been more helpful.)
  • Next day I drove back to Alafia. Freightliner told me the parts weren’t coming in that day. I drove home. Crap.
  • Friday they called us and said they had the parts in hand and two hours later we were there. The tech installed the new parts and, after we had it all aired up, took some measurements and discovered the root cause of our problem. The ride height was out of spec (by 600 percent!) and had stretched the bags until they separated. At least we know. He made the adjustment and away we went. We now have 2 new airbags, a noticeably more comfortable ride, and the knowledge that my headlights work (we got home after dark for the first time).

This all may sound like a huge pain in the butt, and it was, but it was also a great learning experience under the best of circumstances. The coach was in a safe place (instead of on the side of some interstate), it was all under warranty, we discovered we can easily dry camp and we had no critical appointments or obligations that were impacted. At the end of the day, it was all good.

And the margaritas after we got home were all the more enjoyable for the experience!

Watching Notre Dame lose. Sorry Mike. Alafia River State Park, 12/29/18

This guy admired himself in my truck’s chrome for several days. Alafia River State Park, 12/29/19

Enjoying our reward. Viera, FL, 1/4/19

Advertisements