Thursday, June 16, 2011

South-East Tour Day 5 - Stranded in Natchez

Today began really well.  We all woke up and just hung out at our camp site.  The kids glued googly eyes on rocks and ate grits while Kim and I loaded up the Volkswagen.  I made a few rearrangements for where we put stuff so that the middle area wasn't so crowded with stuff.  I even brought out the hose and a rag and gave the van a wash, though I had no soap to really get the hard grime off that has been collected over the miles we've traveled so far.  I also charged up the battery because running the fan and the interior lights had eaten up some of it.
There was a minor problem.  My cell phone had gone belly up on me.  When I tried to turn it on it would go to the boot screen, go black and then cycle back to the boot screen, repeating this loop.  I tried leaving the battery out for an extended amount of time, and then repowering everything, but it did not good.  Even attempting a factory reset just put it back into the boot loop.  I finally had to face the fact that my phone was dead.  Fortunately Kim and I had planned for this possibility and had printed everything out, including directions to each place, and we even had maps of each place we are planning to visit.  I thought this was going to be the worst of my issues, but it turned out to only be a minor blip for the day.
A little after noon we headed up to the ranger station to check in, since we got in too late to check in the day before, and check out.  As we loaded back up in the van it wouldn't start.  I knew the battery was full, so I figured it had to be more starter troubles.  Ever since the starter that was in the van when I bought it went out, the thing has never started quite right, and I've been through a few of them.  This starter is only a couple of weeks old, but given that I had a good battery charged, and putting my keys in the start position wasn't doing anything, I was sure it was more starter issues.
Kim called AAA, got a wrecker issues, ordered someone from Enterprise to pick us to rent a car, and reserved a room at a local hotel.  While waiting on the wrecker and the guy from Enterprise, Kim helped me push the van up hill a little and as she pushed it back in we push-started it, confirming it was starter issues.
At Enterprise Kim took care of getting a car checked out while I called around Jackson, MS and Memphis, TN to try to find someone who could overnight a start, or seeing if someone locally could get it fixed.  The local mechanics where backed up for about a week, and nobody seemed to be able to get a start overnighted.  I finally got the Volkwagen dealership in Memphins, TN to say they could overnight a start, and later they found a shop in Memphis, TN that actually had the starter in stock and for a cheaper price than the dealer.  This was pretty fantastic for the dealership to hook me up with someone locally for cheaper.
With this Kim and I made plans that we would stay the night in the Natchez hotel, fill up the gas tank in the van, push start it the next morning and drive it and the rental to Memphis the next day to get the starter.
The people at Enterprise where really awesome in letting us stay in their building, with our kids who where playing and being really loud, while helping us look up phone numbers to places to call, and letting Kim use their phone while I use Kim's cell phone to make calls.  The girls where really awesome for entertaining each other and being in very high spirits while Kim and I where in a rather stressful situation.
This whole time through the planning at Enterprise I had to leave my van running because there was no good place to park there to give it a good push-start.  I didn't stop it until we arrived at the hotel, which did have a good place for me to park that is on a little bit of an incline that should help with the push-start.
Everyone was glad to have an evening in air conditioning, and to get a nice hot bath, and to watch some TV.  The hotel also had free dinner, a reasonably good chicken parmesan pasta.  After getting fully settled in to the hotel I walked up to the gas station next door and purchased a two-gallon gas container.  I walked back-and-forth filling up the container and then dumping it into the tank of the van, trying to get it filled up so we can make it to Memphis tomorrow without stopping.  I wasn't able to fill the tank all the way up before the station closed, but I will finish that tomorrow.
So this is the break-down I think everyone was sort of expecting.  The engine in the van is rather solid, and I had my mechanic do a lot of work on it before we left to make sure it was in top condition.  Given the number of starters I've gone through in the last year, I'm going to have to have my mechanic look into what is causing that when we get back to Tallahassee.
If everything goes well tomorrow, then when we will only have missed one night in Memphis, and the rest of the trip will be on track to go smoothly.  If not, we'll figure out what to do from there.
I think one thing this trip will have taught us about our family is that, as a group, we are not the campers my family was growing up.  Our future trips will have to include more hotel stays, though I don't believe that using the camper van is out.  The kids genuinely enjoy sleeping in the camper, and I think that as a whole it is a fun traveling vehicle.  It just needs to be reliable, and my family can only rough-it so much.  Perhaps during a time of year when the weather is more agreeable, especially the night temperatures, the family will be up for more extended periods of sleeping in the van.