All started well. We left the house around 8 a.m. Unfortunately there was already a line for oil changes at Walmart. That was alright as we needed to do a little shopping anyway. The one problem was the dogs. What do we do with Jack and Jinjer while we shop was an issue. Sharon volunteered to hang outside with them in a grassy area next to the parking lot. Nora and I went in on a mission to quickly grab what I needed and then Sharon and I would switch off so she could grab groceries for the road.
It wasn’t 2 minutes after getting inside Walmart that I heard a big roll of thunder, followed by the sound of a deluge falling on the metal roof of Walmart. Uh-oh. I was afraid to even go outside and look to see how Sharon was doing. By the time I made it back to the door to go outside the rain stopped. I went out to find Sharon sitting under a tree with the dogs, nice and dry. Whew. That would have been a very bad start. I then switched off and now I sat under the tree and they went back into Walmart.
Just as I sat down they began driving the van out of the building. “That was quick” I thought to myself. The mechanic came over to me and told me they could not change the oil because my oil pressure gauge was not working. Keeping my anger calm, I showed him where the aftermarket oil pressure gauge was, and that it was working just fine. He took the van back around and back in line. At the end! I went over to him and before I could say a word he told me that he was going to get me into the other bay as soon as he cleared out some things. I went back to my spot under the tree. And it was then I noticed the very dark sky looming overhead. It came up quick. Started as a light rain turning to torrential rain in a matter of seconds. The kind of rain that only happens near the tropics.
The tree served as a shelter for about a minute. Then I was getting wet, very wet. The only shelter I saw were the un-attached trailers and I headed for them. I had to squat under them without sitting because below, the rain was running down into the slanted loading dock like a river. I looked over to Walmart and saw Sharon and Nora standing there. I could read Sharon’s lips as she mouthed “Sorry.” The rain stopped as suddenly as it came. In a little bit the Ark was finished. I could grab dry clothes and change, and all would be good.
But in our world, things never go perfect. I did get to change, but I was also informed my battery was shot. The it is holding some charge but could lose that ability soon. I did not like the sound of that as visions of us stuck on the side of the road danced in my head. What could we do? Luckily my battery was under a year old AND I purchased it from Walmart. Too bad it was not that simple. The manager was a hard-ass, ex-military type and busted my balls for a bit because he said the battery was underpowered for my vehicle and that is why it died. Essentially accusing me of being at fault because I must have bought it and self-installed it because they would never have made that kind of mistake. Good thing I keep good records in the Ark. I produced a receipt that showed I not only bought the battery at Walmart, but that they installed it at THAT Walmart. While he was there! I didnt want to anger him so I let it slide and just got a new, correct-size, battery installed by them.
We were now ready to be on our way. But of course it was now lunchtime so we only got 30 minutes under our belt before needing to stop to eat. I made sure I fueled up to avoid any more stops in the near future. Or so I planned.
The day was getting hot now that the rain clouds gave way to sun and it dawned on me the other thing I forgot to do. Charge my A/C with freon. Thankfully I had bought the freon at Walmart and merely needed to stop at a rest area and put it in. Yet another stop within 60 miles from home! This was all for naught, as when we got going and I went to turn on the A/C, the blower motor would not function. So down came the windows. We would just have to go retro. It was par for the course.
All was going well until we reached the hills in Alabama and I noticed the teperature gauge creeping a little high, and then higher, and higher. Reaching the red. I pulled over to avoid overheating and possibly damaging the engine. We were getting nowhere fast and my patience was running low with the heat bearing down on me. I remained poised. I waited until the engine cooled down enough to remove the radiator cap. The radiator was very low. Walmart was supposed to check all fluids…guess they missed the coolant. I always carry plenty of coolant, plus we have a 20 gallon fresh water tank on the Ark, so it was not an issue. Back on the road.
Not but an hour later did it start to overheat yet again. This time I was worried. There was little I could do easily to fix it. So I pulled over again and let it cool as I searched for a nearby auto shop to get a coolant flush. I was sure that was the issue as the coolant was a mucky-looking brown sludge. We were fortunate to be only a few miles from one and I called them to find out that they could do it right away if I got there quickly.
Once there they told me they could do the flush but that I needed a working thermostat. I couldn’t guarantee the one in there was working properly since we were having overheating issues. They did not have one there in stock which was a big hurdle I had to overcome. I did that by unhooking by bike and riding 4 miles through the hills of Tennessee on a very hot summer day. Keep in mind, the Ark has a built in generator and roof A/C so Sharon and crew were just fine.
While coming back from the parts store, I saw a guy headed for stopped traffic while looking down at his phone. I kept saying to myself, and may have even said it aloud a few times, “Look up. Look up. LOOK UP!” CRASH!! He did manage to look up, but only just so he could see the impact coming. He hit the brakes but only split second before ramming into the car in front of him, which rammed the one in front of it and so on. 5 cars in all were wrecked. I went to make sure he was all right as his air bag deflated. He looked good, just dazed. He climbed out of the car, cell phone still in hand. And looked at me. He then said, “My mom was just taken to the hospital a few minutes ago, and I was looking at my phone to get a status on her.” He seemed to dazed to be lying as he just hung his head. I asked if was okay, and he said he was. They other drivers were all okay as well it looked and I could hear sirens already in the distance. I just proceeded on my way back to the Ark thinking about how my day is not going nearly as bad as his. Just goes to show that everything is relative.
Getting back to the Ark. Instead of paying them to do an easy thermostat replacement I went ahead and did it in their parking lot. Took about 15 minutes and 3 gallons of sweat. The shop did a quick job of doing the coolant flush and we were, once again, on our way.
Originally we planned on getting to Chattanooga around dinner time, 7 p.m., to meet downtown to eat with my friend Kevin and his wife who live there. I was to call him when I was about 15 minutes outside of town and he would leave his house to meet us at a brewpub he wanted to introduce me to. Well he thought maybe he would leave earlier and get us a table so we would not have to wait. The timing was working perfectly as it looked like we would be swinging through Chattanooga at exactly 7 p.m. But that was 7 p.m. central time, he was on eastern time. We were off by an hour of each other. Kevin called me to inform me that he had gotten a table, only for us to realize our blunder. I was still an hour out.
I was exhausted, physically and mentally at this point and this was the crusher. I told him not to wait for us, that we were just going to stop at the next exit and eat. Disappointed not to get to see my friend and check out a new brewpub we pulled off the highway. We found a Ruby Tuesday to eat. I felt nauseous from the stress of the day and the fact we were not even halfway to Cincinnati yet. Not to mention the fact we were already bleeding money that was meant to be fun money when we got there. Dejected, I looked on my phone for a nearby campground to stay out for the night instead of pushing on. I wanted to be able to relax with a walk, watch some TV, get a good nights sleep, and regroup in the morning, as we had a fun day planned by stopping at the Lost Sea tomorrow.
After arriving at the campground, which luck would have it, was only 2 miles from Ruby Tuesday, Sharon suggested we just save money and time, and just push on to Cincinnati in the morning instead of stopping at the Lost Sea. I had a Clark Griswold moment where there was no way in hell was I not going to the Lost Sea. We planned on it, were looking forward to it, and by god we were going to see it and have a great time! It was my Wally World!! We were going to have a f*****g Lost Sea Adventure!!!! This thought brought a little bit of humor back to things. The mood lightened and we decided to go for a walk around the campground like we used to do as soon as we got to a new campground when we were traveling full time in the Cruisemaster.
The Puggles were excited with new smells and dragged us out of the Ark. It was gorgeous night. The stars were out and so were the lightning bugs. We believe it was the first time Nora ever saw them. She was fascinated. We chased after a few to catch them. It was so dark we could hardly manage to nab one. Because no sooner did they light up, that they disappeared into the darkness when there light went off. I told Nora they were very fragile and to be gentle. Which she was, and got to hold a few in her hands. While getting back to the Ark we saw the Super Moon rise up over the ridgeline in all its glory. It was huge, full and orange. We had forgot all about it. At that point we were relaxed and forgot all about the troubles we had, and were enjoying the moment. Once back at the Ark, we settled in, and went to sleep with the determination to carry on as planned to the Lost Sea the next day.
From the moment we woke up the next day everything went according to plan. We had a great Lost Sea Adventure (check out my Lost Sea Adventure review ››), and made it into Cincinnati without incindence, and right on time. Except we still had no A/C.