Good Ole I-95

I’m at a Starbucks in Stafford, VA, about 30 miles south of Washington D.C.

It was cold in St Clair overnight, but nothing like it was in Saratoga. I left the furnace on super low and it only kicked on once, at 4AM. I was very comfortable and slept like the proverbial log.

When I got up at 7AM, the morning sun had already warmed the rig five degrees and was melting the rime of frost off my vehicles. I went for a walk and discovered I did not need my winter coat. The air was a little chilly, but the sun was very warm, promising a lovely day.

I took it easy pulling out of St Clair, gently easing up the big hill and navigating my way around the construction at the top. I drove steadily, but paused at each rest area. I breathed a sigh of relief when I hit Maryland since PA roads are just like Quebec roads: in crap condition and under construction. 🙂

With the Maryland state line came the crossing of the Mason-Dixon line just moments after. And, like magic, autumn fell back several weeks, with the trees having brightly coloured leaves again.

Lunch was had at the West Virginia welcome center and shortly thereafter, I exited the state safely and made it to Virginia! By this point, I had to drop a layer as the weather was positively balmy!

The last part of the day was difficult as I was on secondary roads and battling increasing traffic. It was really hard to manage the high speed limits, frequent traffic light, and idiots who would dart in front of my rig as I was trying to slow down, cutting my stopping distance to a barely sufficient length.

Stafford is a little farther north than I would have liked to be tonight, but my ETA onto I-95 was about 3:00, not leaving me much time to find an alternative overnighting spot if the first one didn’t pan out. I called the Walmart here and the ones in Fredericksburg and no one would give me the okay over the phone. They all said, “Pull in and come and ask in person.” So I decided to start with this one and then move on to the ones in Fredericksburg if I wasn’t given permission. Thankfully, I was.

It’ll be a short drive to my friend’s place tomorrow. I should arrive in early afternoon.

I am officially declaring that my batteries need a funeral service, hence why I am at a crazy overcrowded Starbucks desperately trying to get as much charge out of my computer and iPad as possible.

With everything off, I’m getting the same voltage across the board, about 13, at the batteries themselves, the big fuse and shunt, the inverter, the battery monitor, and the solar monitor. Inside, the voltage is a couple of points off in the battery bay, but still above 13.

As soon as I turn anything on, voltage drops to 10.5 volts. I can’t even turn on an inverter, not my new big 1,000W model, not my newer 300W one either. The fridge runs, but barely, occasionally giving me the ‘low voltage’ error message. My battery monitor agrees that my batteries are at a full charge, but that voltage is 10.5. I have a hard time believing the issue is my wiring as I am overgauged at every step of my electrical setup.

Moreover, I’ve been having to add water like crazy to my batteries the last few months. Yesterday, I thought that would help and when I added it, the water sizzled! I’ve never heard that before! I really do think that the last year or so of the rig being plugged in almost constantly boiled my batteries dry. Needless to say, my new bank is going to get a watering system!

Lack of computer charging power not withstanding, it’s been another great day on the road!

Petersburg VA to St Clair PA

Miranda was packed by 8:00 this morning. I handed the key to the lady in the office in case the mechanic was ready to work on her before I got back from returning the rental car. I got to Enterprise at about 8:20 at the same time as the guy who was going to drive me back to WS Campbell. Everything was fine with the rental and the insurance is picking up the full tab! I got back to the shop at 8:30 and Miranda was still outside. I took back the key and got her into the garage then went to the office to settle up the bill.

My adjuster at Aviva continues to impress me. She told me that the axle repairs alone would be $5,600. Um, no. That was for everything. The axle repairs came in at just under $3,000, so with the towing bill the invoice was $3202 and change, which was actually less than they would have thought because they didn’t need to replace all the parts they thought they needed to replace. I signed off on the repairs and faxed the invoice and credit card receipt to Aviva.

There was a truck blocking the pull-thru exit of the garage, so I had to back out. I always take it as a compliment when I am left to my own devices to do such manoeuvring. 🙂 It was an easy out, though, as I had a big empty space to back into and get pointed in the correct direction.

Before we leave WS Campbell, here’s the view I had from my desk the last two weeks:

It’s 5KM to the I-95/South Crater Road junction and there is a Shell just before the turnoff. It would have been a bit tight with the toad, but it was easy access with just Miranda. I had a quarter tank of gas and I was staring at the cheapest fuel prices on this trip ($3.49/gallon), so I had the pump pre-authorized for $125 and that filled the tank to the brim.

Now, I’m going to give more detail about my route than I usually do because there has been some discussion about it in the comments.

Just a few miles north of where I got on I-95, at 9:20, I took I-295 to by-pass Richmond and got back on I-95 north of the city. I grinned as I passed Ashland, awed that the last time I took this route, I drove straight from there to Gatineau in a day!

Traffic got thicker and thicker the further north I drove. I was happy to exit to route 17N just past Fredericksburg. I knew that the next bit wasn’t going to be easy as I would have to drive through a shopping district with lots of traffic lights, but it was better than going through DC. I followed the signs for route 17N to I-66 west.

My GPS continues to make me wonder who programs routes for it. I was heading for a destination just off of I-81 and right up to the I-81/I-66 junction, it was adamant that I drive through downtown Washington to get there! Whomever comes up with a GPS that automatically routes around cities is going to get my business for life.

I’d been too nervous to have breakfast before leaving (but not so nervous that I didn’t take the time to have coffee!) and the knots in my stomach had gotten pretty tight along route 17. But I began to feel better when I hit I-66 and I planned a lunch stop just before I-81, where there is a Walmart and a bunch of restaurants, so it was pretty convenient in an RV. I think it would a been a bit tougher of a parking lot with the toad, but with Miranda alone it was fine. I went to Applebee’s, of course. 🙂

It was almost 1:30 when I was done with lunch and I had three more hours of driving to do. I was getting tired and starting to jump every time a vehicle passed me, causing Miranda to shift in the lane. Had I left a couple of hours later, I would have stopped for the night in Chambersburg, but that option was a Cracker Barrel and 3:00 was way too early to stop there. I decided that I could handle another couple of hours and made a point to stop at the two rest areas I passed.

The day’s calamity struck at the first one: I could not get my key into the lock for the house door! So I need to troubleshoot the deadbolt when I get to MTL. *sighs with tongue firmly in cheek* It is a huge hassle to get into the house from the cab. I can get the door unlocked from inside, but cannot relock it from outside.

It was going on 5:00 when I got to the exit for St. Clair. The Walmart is about 6 miles from I-81, further than I usually like to go from my route, but I was hoping to get a few things that were on my shopping list for this trip and which I held off getting until I knew how things would end up with the insurance claims.

The last bit of the driving day was brutal as the 6 miles turned out to be straight down a twisty 6% grade. I was really glad to find a scenic Walmart that was happy to have me overnight.

Today’s drive took me from Virginia, back to West Virginia, up through Maryland:

and into Pennsylvania:

At Walmart, I picked up a frozen pizza for dinner and a bunch of bags of shredded cheese in anticipation of returning to a country where cheese is a luxury (snark, snark). I also got a slow cooker! I’ve been wanting one for ages and did some online shopping looking at reviews for little ones. The Rival brand didn’t look like much on the shelf, but I’d read reviews that said they make decent appliances. So when I found a four-quart model for less than $10, I snapped it up! Right next to it was an adorable six-cup rice cooker for $13. My beloved rice cooker is much too big for my needs and sticks badly. I can store both my new appliances in the space the old rice cooker took.

The next part of the day wasn’t much fun and I was pretty cranky by the end of it. I had a bag of used cat litter by the front door waiting for me to find a garbage can and a certain black cat decided to do her claws on it! I spent what felt like ages sweeping the mess and then disinfecting the floor. But my day wasn’t over.

I’m out of propane on the on board tank and haven’t had any luck finding some today. My fridge and freezer are full, so I had to haul the auxiliary tank outside, find my pigtail, and get everything hooked up so I can keep the fridge on tonight. Someone needs to create a propane fill directory! The two places I found today only deal in bottles; they don’t fill truck/RV tanks.

For tomorrow, I’m listening to everyone who told me to avoid the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre uphill climb at all cost. So I’m taking I-80 to I-87 and am going to research the toll to see if I need to have cash (I’m completely out but there’s an ATM in the Walmart). The only remotely decent place to overnight between here and my mother’s is the casino in Saratoga Springs. From there, it’ll be about three hours, plus the border crossing, to arrive for lunchtimeish on Thursday.


Almost Heaven

Almost heaven, West Virginia
Blue Ridge Mountains
Shenandoah River –
Life is old there
Older than the trees
Younger than the mountains
Growin’ like a breeze
Country Roads, take me home

I was very excited yesterday morning as I hit the road knowing that I would be at my friend’s within the day. It has been four years and one month since we last saw each other. I have traveled more than 27,000km since I last saw her. I couldn’t imagine anything sweeter after such a long journey than to fall into the arms of my oldest and dearest friend. A few more days now…

Because I had some mountain driving ahead of me, I planned yesterday that it would be a short driving day and that I would not be arriving at my friend’s. I took my time getting on the road and had a long break at the rest area after Charleston. This was my first time ever seeing a restaurant (snack bar) at a rest area!

I was purposely setting myself up to make arrival at her place too late to be feasible so that I wouldn’t rush through the day, get distracted, and get into an accident. Now that you know my mindset yesterday, it becomes even more evident why I don’t blame myself for the toad’s demise.

The section of I-64 between Charleston and Beckley is the West Virginia Turnpike, a toll road. I had reviewed the list of tolls ahead of time and felt that the information was very clear. I was a motorhome towing the equivalent of a trailer so I would have to pay $3.25 twice. I made sure to get a bunch of singles and quarters when I bought some things at Walmart the night before so I would have exact change. The first toll booth guide was visibly surprised that I had my exact fare in hand!

approaching the second toll booth

So that was yesterday. The accident happened just after the second toll booth.

This morning, I set off in good spirits. Miranda was purring and nothing felt amiss. I have done a lot of mileage in my rig and know how she behaves. She never hinted at been hurt today. Oh, sweet Miranda, aren’t you supposed to tell me you’re hurtin’ before you keen?

I hadn’t been on the road long today when I got a hint that the big challenge of the day, the 7% 5-mile long descent, was upon me:

Almost there:

At the summit:

Here we go! *gulp*

Motorhome goes into D2 and we start the hill at 40MPH.

What is it about those Blue Ridge Mountains?

Halfway there!

Recommended truck speed is 45MPH. The engine would start strain at that speed, so that’s when I’d hit the brakes, about four times total over the five miles.


Have I mentioned in this post how much I love the Blue Ridge Mountains?

It was coming on lunchtime when I hit Lewisburg, so I did something I just about never do when towing the car, I made an unplanned exit from the highway for something other than fuel. In plain English, that means I saw a sign for Applebee’s and I heeded its call. 😀 I barely eaten anything the day before and had very little for breakfast, so that was just what I needed to get those gastric juices flowing again. I headed in the general direction of the Applebee’s and noticed a Walmart, so I decided to park there since the Applebee’s would be nearby. It turned out to be right next door. I ordered a pasta and salad lunch deal but only had room for the salad (and a one-bite brownie with ice cream), so I got a to-go box for the pasta. $11 for lunch and dinner, not a bad deal, huh? I ended up having the pasta while waiting for the tow truck. But I digress again.

I made it to Virginia!!!

The Virginia Welcome Centre is not RV friendly as there is only car-sized parking and no pull-thrus. I couldn’t have done this with the toad attached!

I had to back out of that parking stall!

Nice-looking welcome centre:

I stocked up on a ton of tourist information material.

Then I drove through some more beautiful scenery marred only by a dirty windshield:

Approaching Richmond, I was due for a break, so I turned off the interstate to go to a ‘tourist information centre’ that I never succeeded in finding. That put me on a lovely rural route that paralleled I-64 for about five miles before merging back onto it.

A wave of emotion hit when I reached the I-64/I-95 junction and hit familiar territory. I’d only been that way once before, but there were a few familiar landmarks; a building, the city names on the exits, the stench of tobacco at the Philip Morris plant.

The last bit of my journey was on back roads and I looked forward to pulling over just shy of my destination for a bite to eat and to text my friend to let her know I was incoming. Well, we all know what happened there.

I Think I’m Officially Cursed

I am sitting at a repair shop in Petersburg, VA, where I had to get towed only 45 miles from my destination. I am now 60 miles from my destination. Without any warning whatsoever on that final stretch, the needle on my odometer went crazy and I had no control over the rig except to pull over, put her in neutral, and turn off the engine. Everything seemed fine from the cab and walking around outside, but there was a strong burnt smell inside the study.

It was not a good place to be stuck, on a very rural road with no shoulder. I knew I was done for so I looked up automotive services on the GPS and called the first place that had the word towing in the name. They couldn’t help me so they gave me the name of another company that also couldn’t help me but was able to give me the name of a third company that was able to help. It took about 45 minutes for him to arrive. Just before he did, I saw a police car stop behind Miranda. I hoped that he’d been sent by the towing company, but I decided to be careful and start off with, “I’m sorry. I know this is a bad spot.” I forget what he replied but his tone will remain seared in my memory. He was just so, so, so kind. He asked me if this was my first time away from Alberta traveling with the rig and I said that, no, I’ve been fulltiming for four years and traveling all over. He replied, “God bless you!” It was amazing to meet a law enforcement official who was so enthusiastic about my lifestyle choice. Thank you, officer.

But I digress.

The mechanic says that my rear axle is broken. He’s only done a cursory assessment, but this is going to be a huge job.

He advised me that since I drove almost 4,000km without incident and had this happen the day after I got rear ended that I talk to my insurance company before having him take anything apart. Because of the time zone difference, that might not happen till mid-day tomorrow and then it could be a few days to get an adjuster out here. Meanwhile, I can rent a car and go spend some time with my friend, but I won’t be able to breathe until I know if I am paying for this out of pocket or not.

If I have to pay, and the mechanic says that at first glance I’m looking at $2,000 to $3,000, then I’m at a loss. I’ve been through a lot in the last four years and I have always dealt with these matters myself, but now I have to admit that I am stuck. If you haven’t bought any of my e-books yet or have a friend who would be interested in one, I’d really appreciate some sales right now. There is also my Early Bird RV Show Seminar that is available to download at whatever price you feel is fair. This would mean so much to me. Right now, I can cover the repairs and get back to Canada, but my holidays with my friend would be shot. Having a little extra in the bank would mean that I could spent the next few days tooling around Virginia with her, providing you with exciting reading material (huh uh), instead of sitting in the rig and at her place utterly depressed.

The time zone difference is going to make tomorrow morning very trying as I might not be able to get hold of the motorhome adjuster until noon. The good news is that the car insurance company will be paying for a rental car for at least a few days. So I can leave Miranda parked here and take off in the rental car to visit my friend. We have tickets for an event Thursday night and it looks like that will still be able to happen. My current location is noisy, but the mechanic made sure I was level, and the work will be done right where I am, so there will be minimal bother to the cats. If I wasn’t waiting on the insurance, he would start first thing tomorrow and I’d be on my way Friday, but the whole insurance thing could make this drag on for a bit. I may have no choice but to pay out of pocket and hope that the insurance will reimburse me.

Now, I have otherwise had an amazing day of travel and I will be putting together a blog post with pictures of the good parts of yesterday and today.

Ready to Pull Out

It’s still much too earlier to get a hold of the insurance companies today and I was given the go ahead to leave Beckley, so I’m leaving. Web reviews for Glen’s Towing, who got my car off the turnpike, are very negative. All I can say is that they don’t seem very organized and their towing prices seem crazy, but they have absolutely no problem with my taking off without paying the towing bill and without having heard from my insurance company. I imagine that’s probably because they have some rights to my car now and could recoup that way, but I appreciate them not being hard asses about this. Paying that towing bill wouldn’t kill me, but since I won’t ultimately have to worry about it, why pay now only to get reimbursed later?

Jody reminded me to grab the license plate off the car so I don’t have to pay for a new one. I don’t know if my new toad will be plated in Alberta or not, but it’ll be nice to have that plate if I do reregister in Alberta.

My plate registrations are due this month. Guess I’m saving on the car, huh?

One thing I forgot to ask the adjuster is if I should be contacting BMO, which holds the loan on the car, regarding the crash. I imagine that any monies I get from the insurance would go to BMO first to clear the loan and I’d get whatever is left over, if anything. One thing that is in my favour is that the car is in great shape and has low mileage on the odometer, so there is a chance that it will get appraised on the higher end of the scale.

Well, I’m off to see if I’m right that traveling without a toad will be a lot less stressful