In addition to visiting the Outer Banks, both Ryan and I had wanted to visit North Carolina in order to see members of our extended families that reside in the Tarheel state. We each have cousins that live in Raleigh and Charlotte so we decided to make stops in each city to visit them.
Driving the bus in urban areas can be somewhat daunting depending on a region’s traffic. We’re pleased to say that the drive through Raleigh was easy-going and we were able to spend a peaceful evening driveway surfing at the home of Ryan’s cousin and her family. We also managed to fit in some visiting time with Ryan’s aunt over breakfast the next day. Everyone was excited to finally see the bus in person!
Next up, we headed to Charlotte to stay overnight with another of Ryan’s cousins who had just recently moved to the city. It was a delight to spend some time with her and her friends and we passed the evening by ordering take-out and playing Firefly themed Clue. (It was Inara in the Bridge with the six-shooter!)
Next-up we stopped in to visit with one of my cousins who lives just outside of Charlotte and picked her up for a weekend of camping at Badin Lake in the Uwharrie National Forest. The weekend was great: we managed to snag a prime campsite on the lake and had two days with beautiful fall weather to enjoy the hiking trails.
Having our first ever overnight guest on the bus was a lot of fun, but it did highlight that we were lacking in a few necessities for hosting. (Like having more than two chairs/ coffee mugs, our lack of outdoor lighting, etc.) We (okay, I) resolved to up our hosting-game for the next time we have a guest visit us by picking up some additional camp chairs and utensils.
Unfortunately, come Sunday, things took a turn for the worse.
Almost immediately upon pulling out of the campground we felt a jolt accompanied by a sharp, metallic grinding sound. Alarmed, we quickly pulled over and popped the hood. At first, we had nightmare visions of the transmission having gone out, before Ryan was able to locate the source of the grinding sound. The radiator fan had slipped downwards and the blades were scraping against the casing. Which then led us to question why the fan had slipped in the first place. As our resident shade-tree mechanic, Ryan began to inspect further, only to discover that the front engine mount had cracked, causing the front of the engine to drop about an inch lower than it should be. A serious problem, alright.
Being a Sunday, all of the towing companies and service stations in the area were unfortunately closed. We knew we couldn’t stay on the side of the road for long, and we were able to drive the bus (oh so very carefully at 2mph) back to the campground and park in a campsite. My cousin called her roommate and arranged for a ride home so that she wouldn’t miss work come Monday morning.
We then set about figuring out how to fix the problem. Our emergency roadside assistance plan turned out not to be helpful (we’ve since switched carriers), so we decided this would need to be DIY solution. Fortunately, there was an International Truck Dealership located in the neighboring town of Alblemarle and we were able to place an order for a new engine mount. That left the problem of getting to the dealership to pick up the part. As we were staying in the thick of the national forest with not too many other folks around, finding a ride seemed like a dicey proposition. Biking to Alblemarle would be a 38 mile round trip ride, the return trip needing to be done with a 12-ton jack and an iron engine mount in tow. So, left with not very appealing options, we got a bit more creative.
After checking Google maps, Ryan figured out that the swiftest route to town was directly as the crow flies – across the lake. Lucky for us, we had a boat! We ended up paddling 4 miles across the lake to the town of Badin where we locked up the kayak and walked the remaining 6 miles into Alblemarle to pick up a rental car. From there we were able to drive to the dealership to pick up our new engine mount and the other necessary supplies to perform the repair. But what about the kayak? Well, we couldn’t strap the kayak to the roof of the rental car without risking scratching the paint job, so I dropped Ryan off where we had left the kayak and he paddled back across the lake while I drove. Funny enough, we both arrived back to the bus at the same time.
All in all, our engine mount problem had us stranded for an extra week in North Carolina (we had to wait a few days for the part to be shipped to the dealership and our trek into town took the better part of another day). In all honesty, it could have been a lot worse. Our campsite along Badin Lake was beautiful and had hot showers and bathrooms. I could think of less appealing places to break down.
Engine mount repaired, we set our sights on Texas again. With election day looming for the 2016 presidential race, we knew we wanted to be back in our home state to do our civic duty and cast our ballots on November 8th. The time lost due to repairs in North Carolina meant that we would be heading out on the 4th of November, leaving us with just a few spare nights between North Carolina & Texas. We spent one of those nights visiting with Ryan’s aunt and uncle at their home in Birmingham, AL where they treated us to some delicious southern cooking and entertained us with stories of their own RVing adventures. They also suggested a stop-over point on our route back to Texas, Roosevelt State Park, that turned out to be super convenient and affordable.
We made it back to Texas on November 6th, leaving us enough time to vote and settle in for a long break from the road while we stayed with Ryan’s family for the holidays.
We also managed to squeeze in a week-long visit to our former hometown of Austin, Texas to visit friends. Catching up with folks that we care about was a ton of fun, and we also met a neat family of fellow skoolie-dwellers sharing the campground at McKinney Falls State Park. It was a nice to be back on familiar terrain for a bit, and Ryan and I spent some time eating at our favorite local places and revisiting our old haunts. Despite being on familiar streets, changes have clearly taken place in Austin during our absence, as was evident by the noticeable new additions to the skyline (“Wait, where did that building come from?!”). I was also sad to learn that a number of long-standing local businesses in Austin had since shut their doors due to rising rental costs in the area.
We hit the road again just in time for new year’s, and are finally heading west! We’ll be covering our 2017 travels on the blog, so be sure to subscribe for new post announcements.