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Road Trip! (Friday July 25, part 1)


The alarm woke us up at 6AM, and we were dressed and out the door by 6:15AM.  My t-shirt was mostly dry, enough so I could wear it without being uncomfortable.  Neither of us had slept well, but H applied her "show must go on" instincts and got herself moving.  However, there was no convenient coffee for her (hotel coffee is "muddy water," remember?) so I'd be the one driving until we passed a Starbucks.

H went to the hotel desk to pay for the room; it cost less than the price of the gas for the trip (and would have even at pre-Iraq-surge prices, for a wonder). As she did that, something struck me: I never checked the tires on the trailer.

That aging "craptastic" trailer had been sitting in an open field for three months.  There was no reason to expect that the tires would still be inflated. I inspected them, and they looked fine.  Still, the whole idea made me nervous.  I had already made enough mistakes to show that I out of my depth.  I would be happier when that trailer was off my car.

That led to another thought: The car stereo went out when I connected the trailer's wiring to my car's wiring harness.  The trailer's lights weren't working anyway, so why not disconnect the harness?  Maybe the stereo would start working again.

No such luck.

By now you've figured out what happened to my stereo.  Give me a chance.  I'll get to it.

H came back.  I started up the car, backed it up, and discovered jack-knifing.

This concept is trivial to anyone who's towed anything, but in case you are as ignorant as I was: When I pulled the trailer forward it went forward; when I braked (gradually) the trailer stopped; when I turned right or left, the trailer moved with me.

But when I backed up, even with the wheels straight, the trailer would veer off to the left or right.  Back up enough and the trailer would be at right-angles to the car.  I knew that if I continued to back up beyond that, something nasty would probably happen.

We were fortunate that the hotel parking was so empty.  I was able to make a big, wide U-turn to get the car out.  We got back on the highway again.

Our Mapquest route took us back into I-95 up to the I-495 loop around Washington DC again.  This time, instead of going all the way around the city, we'd go about 1/3rd of the way around and get off on I-270, then onto route 15, heading across Maryland to Pennsylvania.

It was while we were on I-495 that H said that she had to go the bathroom again.  Fortunately, since she didn't start off the day with Starbucks coffee, there was no sense of painful urgency about it.

While on this stretch of the trip, H made a discovery: "Look, that guy is turning right."  I looked and saw a motorcyclist with his left arm raised up.  Since H hadn't known the hand signals before, she'd never known what it meant when cyclists did that.  Now she did.

I felt a completely unwarranted and undeserved sense of pride.  I had taught H something!  I really was a teacher.

Yeah, right.

We were on the road for about 2 hours before we stopped.  It was on route 15, in the midst of open, flat country; there was no problem seeing the service station on the side of the road.  There was an RV dealership next door, and it was going to open in ten minutes; we still had some vague dream that H could get a Coleman trailer key there.

The service station had a 7-11.  There was no hope of Starbucks coffee, of course, but H found a substitute; I think it was some kind of coffee-flavored milk or something.  She felt she could drive.  She got behind the wheel.

Then H discovered jack-knifing.

That's not fair.  Actually, she was the one who told me about it in the first place, back in the hotel parking lot.  But she wasn't any more experienced at backing up a trailer than I was.  We didn't think about this when we pulled into the station, but the design of the station was such that we couldn't pull away from the pump by driving forward; we had to drive backward to get back to the road.

I got out of the car and started directing her as she was backing up.  H was not in a good mood; the caffeine had not yet been absorbed by her system yet.  She started cursing as she wrestled with the wheel.  Her window was open so she could listen to my directions.  Everyone in the area could hear her.

There were a bunch of motorcyclists at the station, who'd stopped there for some gas and their morning coffee.  Such was H's artistry that she attracted their attention.  

She also attracted the attention of the driver of a pick-up truck, who was getting fuel at the same gas-pump island at which we were.  He asked, "Can I offer you some advice?"  "Sure," I said.  I knew how ignorant I was of trailers and towing.  I don't think H appreciated my enthusiastic agreement.  

He told her, "Put your hand on the bottom of the steering wheel.  As you're backing up, turn it in the direction you want to go."  It seemed like sensible advice to me, but H didn't really want to hear it.  She continues to curse at the trailer as it refused to turn in the right direction.

Finally the truck-driver asked, "Do you want me to just back it up for you?" Again, I agreed.  With reasonable grace, H consented and let him do it.

It was just as well.  Almost as soon as he got behind the wheel of my car and started backing up, a few other pick-up trucks and motorcycles arrived to block the way.  He smoothly negotiated around them while driving backwards, and had my  car facing the way out.  If H had still been behind the wheel, I don't know what we would have done.

I thanked the man.  I don't imagine that he's reading this, but if he is: thanks again.

Though the RV dealership was now open, H decided not to risk any further delays.  We continued to the site of the Pennsylvania Renaissance Faire.

Next: Road Trip! (Friday July 25, part 2)

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