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Tornado warning

We had two near-misses today.

We stopped at the Wal-Mart in Morehead City, NC, because our ferry reservation from Cedar Key to Ocracoke is for 2:00 pm on Monday.     Nothing to do for a few hours but hang out, which I was really looking forward to after driving about 280 miles from Santee SC today.

One thing I had wanted to do for a while was install the Doran 360RV tire pressure monitoring system we obtained last week in Florida.   Yes, after all those tire failures and flats, we are finally doing something about it.   While I can’t stop the nails and screws from puncturing our tires, at least I can know we’ve got one before a tire blows out.

The 360RV consists of four pressure sensors which screw onto the tire stems (with locking collars so they don’t come off), and a monitor for the truck.   John Irwin had emailed me a few days ago to say he, too, had gotten a Doran unit, and today he wrote that the installation was “absolutely child’s play.”   That was enough to encourage me to open the box and put the sensors on.

The first sensor I installed, on the left rear wheel, immediately caused the monitor to start beeping an alarm.   It showed 32 psi in the tire, which is painfully low.   I thought, “Darned thing … already giving me bad information,” and then I noticed the tire did look low.     So I checked it with my digital gauge.   Yep, 32 psi when it should have been at least 60 psi.

So I started my relationship with the Doran 360RV by owing it an apology.   It was right to be alarmed about the state of that tire.

“Bob,” a motorhome owner who was parked next to us, lent me his air compressor and a power connection to his generator. (I do have a 12v compressor but it is rather slow.)   I pumped all the tires up to exactly 65 psi, and then checked the suspicious one for what I knew had to be there.

And there it was: a screw, deeply embedded in the tread, right on the edge of the sidewall where it can’t be patched.   Another $150 tire gone.   That’s the fifth tire this year, and it’s only May.

So let me just get this off my chest now.   ALL YOU PEOPLE WITH SCREWS: PLEASE KEEP THEM OFF THE ROADS!

This was the first near-miss.   I say that because if I hadn’t been installing the Doran 360RV, I probably would not have noticed that tire until later, and it could have shredded on the road.   Did I need further evidence that we needed a tire pressure monitor?

A few minutes later, Eleanor came out to say there was a tornado warning for the area.   I watched the radar loop on TV and the weatherman was talking about three “hook echoes” in the radar.   Hook echoes are the signature of tornados.   Tornados make RVs and virtually everything else go flying.   Plus, the storms had the potential for 65 MPH winds and nickel-sized hail.   I wanted to drive away, but trapped between a line of heavy thunderstorms and the coast, we had no place to go.

So I came to the conclusion that we needed to evacuate the Airstream for the safety of the concrete block Wal-Mart.   We packed up the dinner we were about to eat, grabbed our rain jackets, and went inside. I also took the precaution of shutting off the propane at the tanks, in case the worst-case scenario happened.

Now, if I had thought about it some more, I would have taken a couple of other things, too.   Our walkie-talkies would have been handy if we were separated. Our cell phones worked but the cell phone tower was right next to the Airstream, so if one went, the other probably would too.   I also would have grabbed a flashlight, in case the power went out in the Wal-Mart.

This was our second near-miss.   For about 20 minutes, we had just rain and a spectacular lightning show.   Eleanor wandered into the store to ask about tires, and then suddenly, “it” hit.   The parking lot disappeared in black rain, the windows began to shake, and I heard a rumble like a freight train.   I remembered that people often describe the arrival of a tornado sounding like that.   I grabbed Emma by the jacket and we went to a spot I’d previously picked out inside the store, where two cinder-block walls formed an L and where there were tables to duck under.

I have to admit that it was terrifying for a minute or two. People were starting to panic, while others were obliviously trying to exit the store into the vortex.   We heard several loud bangs, and then the sliding doors in front of the store blew outward.   The managers secured the doors and locked them while we hung back in our safe spot wondering if it was time to duck under the table yet.

I was worried about Bob and his wife, parked out there by our Airstream, but in the midst of this, I saw Bob fire up his motorhome and drive over to Lowes. He parked under their pick-up area’s awning, safe from hail and mostly in the lee of the wind.

When it was over, I surveyed the parking lot.   A lot of carts got loose and damaged cars, but the worst happened to a different motorhome parked about 300 yards from   our Airstream.   It was blown over, and slid down a shallow embankment to come to rest in the Lowes parking lot.   When I got there the police were already on the scene and the occupants had exited by breaking through the windshield.

I’m pretty sure they got hit by at least a strong downburst, if not a bit of tornadic activity.   The motorhome was facing into the prevailing wind, whereas the Airstream got it directly broadside.   The Airstream survived just fine (as far as I can tell in the dark), but the motorhome took it hard.   Was it the aerodynamic advantage of the Airstream, or just luck?

Tomorrow we will recover from all of this. I’ll go shopping for a tire and install it on the trailer, and inspect the Airstream for damage on the windward side.   With luck it will be a bright sunny day and this little nightmare will be behind us.   But two near-misses in one day … it makes me think.

Healthy inspirations


Our Airstream parked next to Wendy & Bill’s, in their driveway.

Tonight I’m going to stay brief because a better blog is coming to you from Emma. She dictated a blog to Wendimere and it appears on her “Health Chic” blog site.

haines-city-salad.jpgEleanor has been making interesting meals today. She created a really fabulous salad with very complex tastes in it with one of her homemade dressings, for lunch. She told me, “I like cooking around Wendy because she doesn’t think what I’m making is weird.” That really means she’s mixing flavors non-traditionally and that usually means something great is coming.

Emma’s blog entry describes her contribution to lunch as well (also inspired by Wendy), a drink she called “Spear-Refresh.” It’s really delicious. That’s a glass of it in the photo at right. I’ve been drinking it with every meal since yesterday.

Wendy has also had Emma helping with the plants in the garden, painting rain barrels, and playing Scrabble. Having Emma in the Health Chic world has been a great example of “stealth schooling,” which is when Emma learns all kinds of things but doesn’t realize she’s in school.

This evening we got a surprise call from Brett, who was unexpectedly in Orlando for business. So we invited him over for dinner and an evening Scrabble championship: boys versus girls. The guys won, mostly because we managed to use all 7 tiles to spell “DETOURED” and got 50 bonus points.

One maintenance note: the 30-amp power cord supplied with all late-model Airstreams tends to pull loose of its “strain relief” at the male end of the cord. This exposes the insulated wires and will eventually lead to the failure of the electrical connection. The manufacturer of that cord — whoever it is — needs to beef up the way the plug end is attached to the main cable. I’ve seen many of them falling apart, mine included.

So on his way over here, I asked Brett to stop at Camping World and buy a Power Grip replacement plug. He installed it for me in about five minutes, using just a wire stripper and screwdriver. It’s an easy fix and the replacement plug connection is much sturdier than the one it replaces.

Manatee Springs State Park, Chiefland FL

We had a sense that it was a shame to leave St Andrews after only three nights. As Susan said, “I feel like I could spend two weeks here.” It really deserves its reputation as a great place. We’d just barely scratched the surface with the boating and bicycling, and a few hours on the beach, although I wonder if we’d have liked it half as much during Spring Break season.

Getting out of the park we encountered a “dump station delay,” which happens once in a while. Most of the time a stop at the dump station is a brief event, but at popular campgrounds you can get stuck in a line. This time the line was two Class A motorhomes ahead of us. They take longer at the station because of their much larger tanks, but in this case the first guy in line was one of those extremely meticulous types who takes 15-20 minutes to do the job.

After an extraordinary procedure which I won’t go into, he loaded his sewer hose into a plastic basket and proceeded to wash the outside of the hose. I’ve never seen that one before. I have to admit that the hose looked like new, but I’m not sure why that is important. Then the next Class A rolled up and a guy got out at such a slow speed that he should be careful not to get run over by a glacier. We decided we didn’t need to dump that badly, and headed out.

There are two ways to get from Panama City to Tampa. You can head north to I-10 and drive through Tallahassee, or you can take the scenic (and shorter distance) route of Rt 98 following Florida’s Big Bend. We opted for the scenic route and got rewarded by nice views, a bit of construction delay, and better fuel economy. The latter was important since fuel in that area is currently running $3.69 per gallon.

We’re going to have to think carefully about our routing going forward. Highways with high speed limits (as in the western states) are bad for our fuel economy. We do better taking the slow roads, even with the occasional stop sign and traffic light. Anything over 65 MPH dings our fuel bill pretty badly.

The only time we were in Manatee Springs State Park (29 °29’19.55″N     82 °58’34.98″W) was two years ago when Eleanor was having a massive migraine. We stopped for a few hours in the afternoon to let her sleep, but didn’t camp there. Eleanor doesn’t remember the visit, so I wanted to give us all a chance to recapture the place in a healthy moment, and for me, replace that grim memory with some nice ones.

The park features a first-magnitude freshwater spring that runs into the Suwannee River. In the colder months, manatees swim upstream to this spring and others like it in Florida to escape the cold seawater, and so you can easily spot them here. April, however, is the end of the manatee season and during this visit we didn’t see any.

Instead, the water was alive with mullet, placidly floating in the crystal-clear water and facing upstream like a football team awaiting the kickoff. The mullet jump out of the water at random and clear often clear it by a foot or two, which is fun to watch. Sturgeon are also found here, but not during our visit, and deer were as plentiful as squirrels.


This morning we dragged Emma out of bed (an hour earlier than she was ready for, because we crossed into Eastern Time yesterday), and Adam, Emma, and I all climbed into the 72 degree water at the headwaters of the spring for a morning snorkel. I can recommend this practice. There’s nothing like a swim in the morning to start off a great day. Of course, a wetsuit makes the water a lot more pleasant.

Perhaps having a serene feeling helped me deal with what came next. Just a few miles from the campground, our brake controller stopped working. I touched the brakes and that reassuring tug from the trailer wasn’t there. Then I stepped harder on the brakes and felt the trailer pushing against us as we drifted to a stop at the red light.

Those of you who have followed this blog can probably appreciate my feeling when I realized, in traffic, that we had once again lost our brakes. This time it was not on a downhill ramp in the rain, but the feeling of “omygodherewegoagain” certainly was overwhelming all the same. I flashed back to the last time, in Oregon, when the brake actuator suddenly died, and how we ended up waiting for days for a replacement unit to be shipped in, and then dealt with brake bleeding aggravation for days afterward.

We radioed Adam and Susan, who were behind us, and pulled over in the next available dirt lot for an inspection. I checked all the obvious culprits: trailer umbilical connection, corrosion on the contacts, fluid level on the actuator, wire connections to the actuator, fuses, but everything was fine. So I called up Actibrake’s tech support and asked for help, fearing the worst. Being Friday, I could just see us parked at the nearest campground for the next four days awaiting a replacement unit again.

Fortunately, Mike Adamietz of Active Technologies was a real pro, and very calm. (I was trying not to get really upset, but I’m sure some of my stress leaked through the phone.) He ran through the troubleshooting checklist, but I had checked everything on it already, except the last item. The unit was making a light “thump” sound every few seconds for a minute or two after we stopped. Mike recognized this as a possible low-voltage condition and asked me to check the trailer ground wire.

I had never looked at our ground wire, even though it is located out in the open in front of the trailer. This is the ground for everything in the trailer’s 12v system. Since the other 12-volt appliances in the trailer worked fine, I had not considered it, but it turns out that the actuator pulls a hefty 15-20 amps, and so a corroded ground can affect it before anything else appears awry.

Sure enough, simply by removing the ground wire, brushing it briefly with copper wool, and replacing it, the problem was solved. I can’t begin to describe my relief. I was also grateful to have a pair of supportive friends behind us (along with the ever-supportive family), and glad that Mike was right there to help us over the phone. So with that, we proceeded down the road to Tampa, with that reassuring disc braking feeling once again.

The ground wire is such an easy maintenance item and so important that Eleanor and I shot an instructional video on it, and posted it on the Airstream Life media community. You can see it here.


deming-nm-akela-flats.jpgWe made it to Balmorhea State Park in west Texas, and that’s the good news. It’s 80 degrees here at 7:30 pm Central Time, and the trailer is rocking in the extraordinary strong winds.

We combated occasional dust storms from Las Cruces to here. At times, the dust threatened to become a hazard to visibility, but mostly it was just enough to cause us to keep the truck air on “recirculate” and the air conditioning running. However, I’ll be checking the engine’s air filter at the next opportunity.

van-horn-bad-tire-spot.jpgThe real story of the day is not the fiercely blowing dust and flying tumbleweeds we saw, but what I hope to be the final chapter in the ongoing tire saga. I had been watching one of our tires carefully the past couple of trips, thinking that perhaps I was seeing yet another broken belt or separating tread, but not quite sure. The tell-tale sign is a slight bulging, or a roundness to the surface of the tread’s cross-section where it should be flat.

Today at a fuel stop in Van Horn TX I noticed the tire had suddenly gained a distinct bulging spot near the edge, and the tread in that spot was wearing extremely rapidly — noticeably more than it was just a few hours earlier. There was no mistaking it. The tire was a goner.

van-horn-tire-shop.jpgAt 4:30 in the afternoon in a small town in west Texas, I did not have high hopes for a quick resolution, but we were lucky this time. Two miles away was a one-man tire shop, and the amiable owner not only had the proper tire in stock, but he had it at a good price and was able to mount it up in about 15 minutes. He was extremely polite, gave me no argument when I said I wanted to re-install the wheel myself (my usual practice), and charged just $5 for his service.

At this point I had replaced three of the four tires on the Airstream in the past month. So I took a careful look at the remaining tire, and guess what? Yep, a two-foot section of tread was bulging slightly. 3/4 of the tire was properly flat across the surface, and 1/4 was rounded like a turtle shell. So our record was perfect — all four tires. Three belt or tread separations, and one irreparable flat.

van-horn-bad-tire-2.jpgSince the price, service, and availability were all ideal, and since we were at the start of a 2,000 mile journey, including several hundred miles of desert running at 70 MPH through lonely parts of Texas, I decided to just get it over with and replace that last tire too.

So why have all these tires been failing? Well, I have been researching that a lot over the past few weeks. Without getting into a lot of detail, I have narrowed the suspects down to one. There’s only one thing that makes trailer tires fail that has happened to all four tires. Last summer our axles were badly out of alignment (as much as 7/8″ of an inch on some measurements). We had this corrected in September at the Airstream factory, but the damage was already done to the tires. It was only a matter of time before they started to show how traumatized they were by being dragged down the road at incorrect angles.

The evidence was on all four tires: “feathered” tread wear. The tread should wear perfectly flat and evenly, but running a hand over these tires last fall felt like a stroking a cheese grater. At the time I didn’t realize what this meant, but in the few months since the effect has been clear enough. The first tread failure happened before the alignment but I didn’t replace it until October when something was obviously wrong. The second tread failure showed up last month, and the third one showed up today.

If my theory is correct, we should experience nice even tire wear on these new tires, and NO more belt/tread failures, since the axles are aligned properly now. I’ll be watching. Incidentally, at this point we have two Power Kings, one Goodyear Marathon, and one Green Ball Trailermaster. Given that the belt failures have happened to three different brands of tires that were on the trailer, I can’t rest the blame on any particular manufacturer. My suspicion is that any trailer tire would have suffered serious damage under the condition of mis-aligned axles.

The last alignment cost over $200 but I am thinking it may become an annual or bi-annual part of our regular maintenance program. It’s certainly cheaper than replacing tires before their time …

Now, you may have noticed that despite several tire failures, we have never had a blowout (knock on wood).   I don’t think this is a coincidence.   Blowouts are often the result of poor maintenance.   Run your tires with less air than they need, fail to check them carefully and regularly, and you will have a blowout sooner or later.   When a tire blows, it will often take expensive chunks of your trailer with it.

I’m amazed at how many trailer owners I have met who have blowout after blowout, but still run on old tires, fail to check tire pressure, don’t weigh their trailer, have never gotten an axle alignment, and never look at their tires.   Learn proper tire maintenance, and learn the signs of improper wear and you may avoid a dangerous blowout. Equally importantly, when you see the signs of a pending problem like we did today, replace the tires before they fail.   It’s just like replacing your brake pads before you can’t stop anymore.

balmorhea-snorkel1.jpgHaving bought two new tires, we proceeded to Balmorhea State Park for our overnight stop. We’ve been here before. It’s one of two nice places to stop on the way to Big Bend National Park from the west, the other being Davis Mountains State Park. We chose Balmorhea because we really wanted to go snorkeling and because we can get online with our Verizon card here, albeit slowly.

The water in the spring-fed pool here is always 72-76 degrees, ideal for the air temperatures of about 80-85 this evening. We watched the fat black catfish, turtles, ducks swimming underwater like penguins, and schools of innumerable two-inch fish that followed us around like a cloud of mosquitoes. It was a nice change from the day of dusty, windy driving and tire-changing. For the next few months, I hope I can focus on the fun stuff like that and have no more blog entries about tires…

Our coordinates tonight:   30 °56’39.53″N   103 °47’1.63″W

Tomorrow and the next day I may not be able to blog.   We’re going into Big Bend National Park and getting online there is a real challenge.   If so, I’ll backdate a few entries once we have connectivity again.

Yet another tire story

There is something about our trailer tires that seems to attract sharp metal objects. Over the past couple of years we have had four or five tires damaged by nails, screws, and other miscellany. Most of the time, the tires have been punctured near the sidewall, which is a “no patch zone” and so the tires have had to be replaced.

This seems to defy logic. We have four tires on the trailer and four on the truck, yet we’ve never had a flat on the truck. In fact, I’ve never had a flat on any vehicle I’ve driven since 1983. So why do the trailer tires seem to pick up damage so regularly? At $150 a pop, I’d like to know.


Tire damage — click for larger

The two pictures above show the souvenirs we picked up in Mexico yesterday. The big one at left is part of a deadbolt. It caused the loud hiss that alerted us to the problem, but when I inspected the tire today I found that a nail was already in the center of the tread (right photo). Who knows how long that had been in there? The nail was holding air quite nicely.

In a way we were lucky, because without some outward sign like a leak, I might never have spotted that nail until the problem became critical — meaning possibly the disintegration of the tire on the highway. This has made me slightly paranoid, so I’ll be inspecting the other three tires very carefully before we head out again. The parking lots and pulloffs everywhere we went this week were littered with debris, so much that I’ll be pleasantly surprised if the other tires are all undamaged.

We are all recovering from our trip in different ways. Eleanor has been busy gearing up for the next phase, I’ve been catching up (and trying to get ahead) on work, and Adam & Susan are decompressing back at their Airstream. We took a little time out in the afternoon to visit the Tucson Botanical Garden, but other than that it has been a day of just ordinary stuff, like getting the tire replaced.


Hummingbird and chuparosa at Tucson Botanical Garden

We have made some progress on the house. Handy Jerry came over today and hooked up our plumbing, so we now have working sinks in the bathrooms and kitchen, plus the Bosch “dischwascher”. He didn’t get to the stove or vent hood, but this leaves us very close to complete, and we have a reasonably useful house now — just in time to leave it behind.

One final note:   you’ll see that on the right sidebar of the blog I’ve put Google Adwords back in.   We had suspended them about a year ago, but with the expenses of traveling rising lately, I’m hoping they’ll generate a little revenue.   Daddy needs new tires!

Happy Birthday, Eleanor

For the past month I’ve been opening the windows in the house to let the afternoon air seep in and warm up the cold stone floors and adobe blocks of the house. In February and early March there are so few insects in the air that not having screens was never a problem. Once in a while a fly would buzz in, look around, and buzz out again.

But now the desert is warming and the flowers are blooming. Bees are examining the blue flowers on the rosemary bushes, and the occasional “mosquito eater” wanders in and stays out of confusion. Last night Eleanor trapped a beautiful Painted Lady butterfly who was stuck in a ceiling light, and released it after Emma identified it in her butterfly book.

Our days are now consistently in the 80s and the nights are in the mid-50s, so the house is at last a comfortable 71 degrees throughout. This means we can start to leave windows open at night, too, to moderate the thermal mass of the house and keep the house from getting too warm. I put in the window screens and thought, not for the first time, that it would be nice to stay just another few weeks to enjoy the very best of Tucson’s weather.

But that won’t happen. We are still committed to our departure on Sunday, because we’ve got far too many things to do this spring and many people we want to visit.

So this morning I pulled the Airstream out of the carport past our temporary tenants (the Gildarts) and across town to the local Airstream dealer. I left it there to have the heat pump fixed, and four hours later I got a call that it was done. The problem turned out to be a bad circuit board. Dometic is replacing the board under warranty, but we have to pay for the labor. That’s $200 to us.

In the big scheme of overall maintenance it’s not a big deal. It has to cost something to stay on the road, and our annual expense has been about $2000, counting all repairs and scheduled maintenance. So far this year we have spent about $350, which for three months is not bad at all, but it’s reflective of the fact that we haven’t traveled much.

Being separated from the Airstream, even for a day, has been tougher than we expected. We took out all the daily things we thought we’d need, but then all day we were looking for items that inevitably turned out to still be in the trailer: a notepad, a particular knife, and birthday candles. Friday morning I’ll go over and bring our first home back to our second home. It’s clear we can’t be separated from the Airstream for long.

The birthday candles were of course for Eleanor, whose birthday snuck up on us in the confusion of house projects, trying to get back on the road, and people coming and going. But it turned out for the best, since Adam and Susan arrived and with Bert and Janie it meant we had four of our best friends on hand for a party. It was just a wonderfully lucky coincidence.


Emma and I made a card using some of the techniques taught to Emma by our friend Lou in Ohio. It featured a palm tree and a “slider” of a monkey, swinging from limb to limb. Eleanor got two bouquets of flowers, a bunch of kettle corn (not from me, even though I love the stuff), and a white chocolate/raspberry birthday cake. Bert & Janie bought pizza for everyone and we just hung out in the dining room and told stories of past adventures and past lives.

It was a good birthday party on a wonderful desert day in Tucson, in the middle of a great week. We’ll look back on this day and remember it not for the money that the heat pump cost us, and not for the things in the house that still aren’t right, but for the people who made it a great day by traveling hundreds or thousands of miles just to share it with us.

Coming and going

We’re down to the home stretch. This Sunday, we leave, whether the house is done or not. Every day we tackle lists of things that both the house and the Airstream need, and we try not to think about how much more there is to do.

tucson-clean-blinds.jpgWe’ve made this harder for ourselves than it had to be, strictly speaking. We didn’t have to thoroughly remove everything from the Airstream, clean, sort, and then re-load, but we wanted to. We won’t have another chance to do this for at least six months. So Eleanor has been taking the time to clean those things that have been bugging her, like the aluminum kitchen blinds.

Those blinds sit right by the stove and they get dusty and greasy. It turns out that if you try to clean those blinds in place, they tend to get bent and creased. The better way to go is to take them out entirely and soak them in the tub, which is what Eleanor did, among many other tasks inside the Airstream.


I have mostly been doing stuff in the house. The big job was to finish sealing the slate floors in the dining room and living room. We used a matte sealant but when they are first done the effect is very glossy. It will eventually calm down, so I took a picture to remember how it looked.

I also took the little Honda out to have its windows tinted, in preparation for life in Arizona. Even though it will sit in the carport all summer, the tint is nice to have for Arizona’s intense spring and fall sunlight. We are already entering the warm season, with mid-80s every day.   Crickets have moved into the house and are chirping merrily away each evening. The first days in the 90s are only a couple of weeks away.

There are a thousand lesser things on the list: adding fuel stabilizer to the car, removing things from the backyard that might make good snake homes, turning off the water heater, etc. It’s a lot like the pre-departure checklist we use for the Airstream, but everything is bigger and takes longer.

Today our second Airstream guests of the week arrived: Bert & Janie Gildart. They just came out of Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, and squeezed into the space formerly occupied by the Welshes last month. Bert & Janie have a Safari 28 with slide-out, but there’s no room for the slide right now. They’ll be here a few days, but mostly on their own as we continue to hustle around the house trying to get ready.


Bert backed the Airstream into the carport exactly in the right spot, on the first attempt.   I thought Bobby had done a good job but Bert made it look downright easy.

I had to get a picture of the two Airstreams right away, because Thursday morning ours is going over to the local Airstream dealer for service on that non-functional heat pump.   Once we are out of the way, Bert will be able to deploy their slide-out.   Then we’ll bring our trailer back on Friday night for the last two nights.

Susan and Adam called in from Texas and said they’ll be in town on Friday.   They are going to park their Airstream Class C down the road at a campground until it’s time to launch the caravan to Mexico on Sunday.

I haven’t decided if it will actually be a caravan.   Caravaning implies that we all leave together and travel together, like a trucker’s convoy.   I really prefer not to do that.

In the past, we’ve traveled very loosely with friends.   Our usual mode is to tell everyone where to end up, and let them all travel on their own schedule.   That way we are all able to be independent and nobody is chafing because somebody else slept in, or didn’t want to take a bathroom stop, etc.

Also, while we would all help each other whenever possible, I don’t want to be responsible for holding someone’s hand every step of the way — it doubles my responsibilities and makes a trip seem like work.   So I  tell everyone, “You’re on your own.   If you have a problem, give a call and we’ll try to help, but no promises.   Drive like you are traveling alone, because you probably will be.”   Fortunately, all of our friends are pretty independent and self-reliant, and they have no problem with this.   They are bright enough to prepare in advance (for example, getting good insurance with English-speaking telephone assistance) and they know how a smile and a few words of the native tongue can work miracles when there’s a problem.

Another reason I prefer not to caravan is that it is a nuisance to try to find a place to park three big Airstreams all at once, such as for lunch. One of us can pull over to check out that interesting-looking little taco stand, but with all three we’d probably have to pass it up.   In all sorts of situations (getting fuel, stopping for border inspection, checking out a scenic vista), it’s easier if we arrive separately rather than in a bunch.

One reason to keep the vehicles together might be that there are more unusual circumstances on the roads in Mexico.   For example, I have heard from other Mexican caravanners that the lead vehicle alerts the following ones by CB radio of speed bumps (topes, pronounced “tow-pays”) coming up.   But my feeling is that you shouldn’t drive hoping someone in front of you will tell you what to do.   Why, after 50,000 miles of towing, would I suddenly stop looking out for myself?   Keeping my eyes open and my head focused on the task has helped us avoid a lot of problems so far.

This brings up another frequently-asked question: Do we have a CB radio?   No, we don’t.   If we did more caravaning it would probably be indispensable, but with our type of travel I haven’t yet felt the need.   I know lots of people who do have CB radios and they love them for getting reports from truckers and others on the road, so I’m not saying they aren’t useful. But we have two cell phones, mobile Internet, a GPS with a multi-million point database, maps, and the ability to stop and ask questions when we need to. I haven’t felt the need for more.

We do carry walkie-talkies and have used them a few times, but mostly we use cell phones and the policy above.   On this trip I’ll be the only person with an operable (Mexican) cell phone, so with the limited communications and our unfamiliarity with the roads, we may choose to caravan tightly on certain stretches.   For those times we’ll assign a walkie-talkie to everyone, so they can communicate at close distances, and the rest of the time we’ll just say, “See you there.”

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