I finished work Wednesday night, got in the van and changed out of my uniform and drove past my home (and Rusty) and took the long lonely road to the mainland. It was a lovely evening but I made sure to keep the engine revs below 2,000 as we cruised at 60 miles per hour. Channel Five bridge:
I got gas at the end of the highway just before the 18 mile stretch putting 22.5 gallons into a 24 gallon tank with a range showing 375 miles on the Promaster's dashboard. My plan was to drive non stop to the rest area at the Sunshine Skyway Bridge on Tampa Bay. My estimated time of arrival was around 1:30 in the morning. Alligator Alley (I-75) Naples:
After my motorcycle accident when I was three months in the hospital I had to make check up trips to the surgeon's office in Miami. One thing that did freak me out two years ago was how a three hour trip to Miami exhausted me. We went from the University of Miami hospital to a hotel and I went from wheel chair to bed and passed out. I wondered if I would ever get my stamina back? South Rest Area, Sunshine Skyway, 1:30 am. Dinner Stop.
I guess by now it's safe to say I did. Eight hours driving after a twelve hour work day and I was still wide awake and able to heat up a Lean Cuisine in the microwave without falling face first into the plate of tortilla fish. I opened the small slider windows in the back which allowed a lovely cool breeze to blow, and stretched out in bed in the North Rest Area at the bridge. It's a banal highway rest area but noted in reviews for its scenic properties. I certainly observed the beauty in the morning reflected in the windows of the minivan parked next to me:
I was alone in the van, no need to walk a dog or step aside for my wife so I made tea, ate the egg salad and sausage breakfast Layne had prepared for me. Then I washed my dishes and myself, the sink water drains to a tank in order that we may leave no trace of our passing. I took a second cup of tea and sat outside watching a rather shapely dog walker herd her three animals across the grass. I missed Rusty but I enjoyed being contemplative and not active. Sunshine Skyway North Rest Area 8:00am Thursday:
My destination was Jerry Ulm, the self proclaimed Number One Ram Dealer in the United States on North Dale Mabry, Tampa, Florida. My van was squeaking after our Miami trip last weekend and I wanted the noise diagnosed, not on Facebook by shade tree critics but by an expert. I got what I asked for. I called to book a service on Monday and they took me in Thursday morning promptly. Manny took the van and directed me to the waiting area, a coffee shop with socially distanced seating.
There was a time in my callow youth when a new engine noise, the sound of a jet engine spooling up when revving above 2,000 rpm would have made me cover my ears and press on. However decades of experience and an allergy to roadside break downs convinced me this needed seeing to. The Ram dealer in Key West "doesn't do Promasters" I was told and what might at first seem like a set back actually turned into a giant blessing. Things happen for a reason....actually they don't but you do need to have the capacity to see lemonade when handed a lemon. A small part of the vast air conditioned work area at the Ulm dealership:
While I sat and read a history of Central Asia (a future destination I hope) Manny and the mechanic pored over the engine which was actually displaying what I had hoped was a delusion. They heard the noise too, making it very real, and thought it was an idler pulley but as they lacked the exact right replacement they sent for one across town. I had a Cobb salad for lunch at the café and very good it was too:
I found these pictures to explain to home base what was wrong, a suspected broken idler which keeps tension on the belt that operates the generator and starter motor broadly speaking. Manny made it clear that it was not supposed to seize after 17,500 miles and this was a warranty job, possibly completed by dinner time. Whew!
Well, it turned out I wasn't so lucky. The good news after they installed a replacement was that the noise went away for a couple of seconds but because Jerry Ulm hires conscientious people they double checked and the noise came back! This was not a warranty repair and I was looking at about $1200 to fix things. The second alternator installed to give extra battery charge to the RV battery bank (600 amp hours of Lithium) in the back of the van was dying noisily. I asked them to order the part from Nations in Cape Girardeau Missouri. The All American family business declined to overnight the replacement alternator and could not promise it would arrive by Tuesday...I wish the problem had been the idler but my Ram Promaster is solid and intact.
I was prepared to take a hotel room for the night so it was with some sadness I arranged a rental car at the Enterprise desk inside the dealership (!) and took my few belongings out of my retirement home. I felt truly weird shutting down the power and opening the fridge door before walking away from GANNET 2. See you in a week I hope:
They gave me a Chrysler minivan to keep for a week. The rental car market has been ravaged by the pandemic I was told and Enterprise can't do one way rentals anymore as they don't have enough vehicles in their fleets to send them away. I called around and the best quote I got for a one day one way rental to Key West was $375. The van for a week at $450 seemed like a deal! I hope to drive back next week and pick up GANNET2 all ready to go again. That's the plan. The return trip Alligator Alley 3:00pm Thursday:
My wife is having shoulder surgery in Tampa and we have to be in town for her pre-op meeting with the medical staff and the Florida Orthopedic Center not far from the Ulm dealership. All this trouble with the van set her nerves jangling as we planned to take her home comfortably in bed after the operation. Van Life as basic life support ambulance...Four Lane Highway 27 and Krome Avenue to Homestead avoiding the Miami Freeway mess:
In the end I got home around 9:30 Thursday evening in time to give some reassurance that all would be well and to reassure Rusty that I hadn't abandoned him forever. The Eighteen Mile Stretch, Sunset Thrsday:
The next task will be to get the van back running properly and I have every confidence Jerry Ulm will get it done. The technician did not seem at all put out by the camper conversion and I was much reassured. I'm glad to know there is a strong dealer I can count on as we gear up for departure. I want to think I can rely on them for pre-departure checks and after the party checks on the van when we get back to Florida after Alaska. This small problem has been very useful and instructive. Overseas Highway in the gloaming:
I hope Nations will honor their pledge to build the best and strongest alternators by recognizing that 17,500 miles of service deserves warranty protection. We shall see but my wife the former lawyer isn't convinced and is planning her small claims strategy. That might keep her busy in retirement as she recovers from the surgery. I will be working overtime for a few months more to pay for this small setback... A mobile retirement might require quite a few mechanical repairs I'm thinking so this is just good practice to be patient and deal with what needs to be dealt with. May the power of Social Security and the Key West retirement system never grow less. A journey with monthly income will be a novelty for both of us. I hope not all of it gets spent like this!