Florida 2015: Leg 4 – Cape Canaveral (Sort Of)

8-9 February: Theoretically, there are four kinds of breakdowns one can experience on the road (excluding mental breakdowns, which is pretty much my normal state of affairs):

  1. Environmental (floods, storms, plagues),
  2. Human (accidents, illnesses),
  3. Pet (same categories, but more heartrending), and
  4. Mechanical (ranging from routine maintenance to disabling failures)

Although we certainly wouldn’t plan to learn how to deal with such things by deliberately precipitating a breakdown of some sort, we fully expect that learning how to deal with these is an inevitable part of life on the road. So, with that as background, good news: we’re fully immersed in two of the four breakdown categories! Oh frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!

Pet breakdown: Sally, our little (8 pound) miniature dachshund (AKA Wunderhund), has come down with some awful digestive thing. We called the vet in Atlanta, who thought it might be stress-related, so we put her on incredibly teeny doses of Immodium and hoped for the best. Not to happen. So, on Tuesday, 10 February, it was off to the local vet in Palm Bay (more on why we’re in Palm Bay below). This vet concluded it’s likely a bacterial onslaught in her GI tract, so she’s on broad spectrum antibiotics, special easy-to-digest food, and probiotics. And we took a $600 whack in the process. The good news, though, is that after a day or two, the antibiotics and other measures seemed to have worked and she’s almost back to her normal (albeit pesky) self.

Mechanical breakdown: On the first day of the trip, I noticed a couple drops of pink fluid on the pad at the Georgia Coastal RV Resort. At Anastasia State Park, nothing, although it was a sand pad so it may not have been visible anyway. At Disney, a few more drops. I checked the fluid level (engine running) and it appeared full. En route to Cocoa, Florida, though, we smelled a terrible burning odor, pulled over at a toll booth, and I could see transmission fluid on the exhaust pipe shield. Again, I checked the level and it was down to about 60%. We made the call to limp on to the next stop (Sonrise Palms Christian RV Park) and call for roadside assistance there.

Good Sam dispatched a truck repair truck (in case problem were just a loose line or some such thing fixable on the spot), but nope: a blown transmission seal, causing a leak that the mechanic described as “substantial.” Ugh. So, because the chassis is still under the original warranty, we called Ford. First bit of good news: Ford has great customer service, handling all of the details of finding a dealer that could both handle motorhome repairs and transmission work, arranging for the tow truck, and checking with us periodically to be sure everything was proceeding according to plan. I guess that’s not surprising since Ford was the only auto company that could actually manage to run its business without a federal bailout (see $20.2-Billion-Taxpayer-Fleecing), but a pleasant experience nonetheless.

So, Sunday night, knowing we’d have to have ACE towed the next day, we headed off to Kennedy Space Center to watch the launch of the SpaceX rocket carrying the Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR). I had managed to secure tickets to watch the launch from the LC-39 gantry, which is 3.4 miles away (the closest viewing point because, in the event of a worst-case explosion at ignition, the blast radius would be roughly 3 miles) (hmmm).

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At the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex

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But then, with roughly 2-1/2 minutes to go, the launch was scrubbed. Something about “down range tracking.” G-r-r-r-r. So, back to the disabled RV we go, ready to deal with that issue the next day.

And the next day, the tow truck showed up…

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…and towed it to Palm Bay Ford, where we had the great and wondrous opportunity to spend a few days here, holed up in the Holiday Inn Express, waiting for repairs to be concluded, which we understand include not only a new transmission seal (actually, it turned out to be a cracked pump assembly), but a new torque converter, thankfully all under warranty. Well, almost all under warranty. Weird thing: the way motorhomes are built is that the manufacturer buys a bare chassis from, in this case, Ford and then drops the coach down on top of it. Works great, except, as luck would have it, part of the coach blocked access to the bolt on the member supporting the transmission–no removee bolt, no removee tranny. To the credit of Palm Bay Ford, they were able to figure out a workaround, but since it didn’t involve the drive train per se, I’d have to pay a couple hours labor to get it done. Deal.

And, due to the time it took to work all of this out, the Key West leg of the trip turned out to be impossible. Oh well … there’s always next year.

10-12 February: And while all of this is going on, I learned there’s actually a fifth kind of breakdown. Call it a “planning breakdown.” I thought I had been able to delegate a business trip to Washington to another attorney, but for a variety of reasons that delegation broke down. So, in the middle of this circumnavigation of Florida, which had already gotten scrambled due to the pet and mechanical breakdowns, I find the trip now has to be further scrambled to allow me to jump on a plane, fly to DC, spend the night there, attend a meeting, and then fly back.

So I spent several hours cancelling one set of reservations and making another set that would put me close enough to an airport to enable the trip, which was difficult to do, not surprisingly given that we’re trying to find open places in Florida during the peak of snowbird season. So, the Naples and Cedar Key legs of the trip got cancelled, and replaced with Bradenton, with a flight to and from DC out of Tampa.

But here’s the deal: for some reason I’ll have to work out someday, none of this feels bad. Maybe it’s because I’m getting mellow in my old age (not likely), or maybe it’s because, with nowhere to be at any particular time, any breakdown in the process ultimately doesn’t matter. Either way, the trip will resume when it does, and we’ll go wherever we go, and we’re fine with all of that, whatever it is.

I’ve heard several people who take their yachts cruising around the country say something like, “If you can’t deal with bad weather, breakdowns, unpredictability, and an endless list of things to tend to, don’t even think about a cruising lifestyle.” I guess the same is true for “land yachts.”

So, here’s the bottom line on the costs of our unexpected breakdowns:
Pet: $686.83 (vet fees, lab tests, medicine, and special food)
Mechanical:  $1327, consisting of repairs ($239.63), hotel ($837.20) (not entirely accurate since we saved on some campground fees, but less cancellation costs), and meals (about $250) (again, not really accurate since we would have eaten anyway)
Planning: $148, consisting of cancellation fee for already made reservations ($98) and a purchase of a shirt and tie for the trip ($50)

Now … on to Lake Okeechobee!

13 February: But … not to be. We got as far as the Flying J in Ft. Pierce, ready to gas up and head down to Lake Okeechobee, and the transmission was kaput. Again. So, once again we called Ford roadside assistance, and once again had ACE towed to Palm Bay Ford.

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Mark, the transmission guy, put ACE up on the lift and concluded that he’s got to pull the transmission. He was quite candid that he doesn’t know what the problem is. He road tested the motorhome after the original repair and it was fine … dry as a bone. He can’t tell why it would spring another leak without pulling the transmission again and finding the problem.

Everyone at Palm Bay Ford is appropriately apologetic. Well, mostly. Steve, the service rep, has a tendency to make off-hand remarks that are more aggravating than helpful, but that’s probably just the way some people react to a difficult situation.

But, apologetic or not, there’s nothing we can do to get ACE back on the road until next week. And now there’s little point in pushing on. We’d miss the trip to the Everglades, which is the only worthwhile element of the original plan remaining, and there’s little point in heading to Bradenton so Wendy can sit in the motorhome for two days while I fly to DC, and then return to her only to make a long two-day drive back to where we started.

So, the best thing now is to quit while we’re ahead. It’s a bit of a hassle to drive back to Atlanta now, but not much. We are, after all, the kind of folks for whom the prospect of a 500-mile road trip sounds like fun!

I’m pretty disappointed, but not devastated. We had a great trip (for as far as we got), and having to terminate a trip early is hardly the worst thing on earth. And, besides a great week in Disney World, and besides being way warmer than our brethren in Atlanta, we did accomplish our original purpose: learning the important lessons of life on the road. To which we can add two more:

Lesson 5: To paraphrase the cruising adage, life on the road means that one just can’t get flustered by bad weather, breakdowns, delays, and an endless list of things to tend to.

Lesson 6: It’s better to disengage than to push a bad position.

So, we’re headed back to Atlanta, leaving ACE here, and we’ll figure out how to get down here in two or three weeks to pick it up and get it home. The important thing, though, is that we’re headed back to Atlanta happy.