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HURRICANE IRMA — DAMAGED US ALL

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The most serious hurricane damage, was not physical…

Hurricane Irma caused millions of dollars worth of damage, as she roared savagely through our state. Very few manmade structures were not impacted in some negative way. Giant trees, that had stood for centuries, were torn from the ground and left toppled to the ground, gasping for breath. Countless species of wildlife were thrown into survival mode and our utility infrastructure was devastated as well. Tons of raw sewage flushed from septic tanks and sewers and the storm drains were no match for the rapidly rising water. Major escape routes were left at a standstill and gasoline, ice and drinking water became more valuable that gold. Millions of frightened eyes were glued to television screens and ears strained to hear the latest report on the radio. Text messages were flashing “Red Alert’s” and weather radio alarms were screaming with every passing moment… Cell phone signals from the spotty system were deluged with called from worried relatives up north, trying to verify the safety of their loved ones…

The more people we love, the more opportunities to worry.

Our decision to “RUN” north, ahead of the storm, was not an easy choice.

We were relying on meteorological reports and our memories of losing our in home in 2005 to hurricane Charlie. We had no desire to be here for a replay… In the horror that was Charlie, we remained in our home terrified as the roof was torn off and our neighborhood — leveled. I will never forget the fear I felt for Lucy, Aimee and baby Alexis, as we sat in our Suburban, closed up in our dark garage, listening to the terrible shrieks of the wind and sound of falling trees and pouring rain… We decided back then that we would not voluntarily “Go through another one”.

South bound and down, loaded up and truckin’,
We’re gonna do what they say can’t be done.
We’ve got a long way to go and a short time to get there.
I’m south bound, just watch ol’ “Bandit” run.

We left for home on Thursday, September 14th, nervous about the conditions we might encounter…

We were anxious  to survey the damage at our waterfront beach house and start the process of recovery. One big question was – “Will we have electricity at our home?” (more on that later) Our first day was marred by a vehicle breakdown, shortly after we hit the road. We were making good time, on excellent roads, with almost no traffic. I scan my mirrors frequently – learned in my pilot days – to stay aware of any eminent threat. My heart sank as I checked the rearview mirror and saw an enormous cloud of SMOKE. There was no one behind us… the smoke was coming from Voyageur. “Holy Shit!”  I yelled. I knew it was catastrophic. Lucy exclaimed “Are we on fire?” her thoughts were for the safety of “Ava” our African gray parrot and “Amelia”, our daughters beta fish. Lucy knew our cage bound bird and bowl bound fish had no chance of escape without our assistance.

“Are we on fire?”… exclaimed a terrified Lucy…

I immediately slowed and turned into the first cross road. It was “Sloan Road”. A quick survey revealed there was NO fire. The smoke was from automatic transmission fluid that escaped from the disconnected transmission cooling line. The fluid that sprayed onto the hot exhaust pipe and a huge cloud of smoke ensued. First fear alleviated – we were not “On fire”. My heart sank for two reasons, 1. We were dead in the water, until the loose hose was reattached and new ATF added and 2. The hose had come off once before and I had not done my due diligence by adding a better hose bibb. No time for self abuse now, how am I going to get this van back in running condition, in the middle of nowhere? It was all my fault.

“Howdy. Do you happen to have any automatic transmission fluid I could buy?”

As luck (or GOD) would have it, James Head was mowing his lawn just a few hundred feet away. He asked me what I needed and I, very embarrassedly, explained my plight. He said he “had no fluid” and immediately offered to drive me to a “nearby” auto parts store. (It was twenty four miles round-trip) While I explained the reason for our southbound travel, our conversation turned to our religious beliefs and how his two adult sons had recently “accepted Christ”. James too was a believer. I was touched by the story the kind stranger told of his walk with the Lord and what it meant to him to see both of his sons “Saved”. The NAPA store – he was a frequent customer – had everything I needed to replace the lost fluid. I even had the presence of mind to buy a special funnel to prevent a spill, as I added the fluid. When we returned to Lucy, Ava and Amelia, James slid under the van with me to survey the problem. As it turned out, James was a retired corporate mechanic with forty-four years of experience keeping vehicles rolling. In addition, both of his sons were circle-track racers who campaigned very well built and maintained dirt track cars. His huge barn was a complete mechanic/machine shop.

“This is the wrong hose fitting.” James explained…

I told James the truth. I knew the fitting was bad and had decided to just make do, instead of replacing the fitting with a proper one. He accepted my confession without judgement and started to consider alternatives to fix the problem. I already felt bad enough and was glad he didn’t pour on “burning coals”. James did not have the “right” fitting in his shop, so he decided to alter my existing hose bibb, to eliminate any more problems in the future. He took the fitting to his shop, made the necessary alteration and returned shortly with the modified hose bibb, two new hose clamps and a roll of teflon tape.

James Head,  “Our Angel” didn’t have the right part – so he just modified my original one. Fantastic! “And the King will say, ‘I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!’ Matthew 25:40

In only a few more minutes, the modified hose fitting was installed and the appropriate amount of ATFC was added. We then proceeded to his outdoor shop sink, “Super Orange” hand-cleaner and dry shop towels to complete the “paperwork”. We both agreed we love the smell of the hand-cleaner because it always meant the “job was done”…

The entire experience was made much less horrifying, by this Godly man and his willingness to help a stranger…

Wrong again… the engine would not start… I knew “It was ALL my fault.”

A few months ago, the same situation had occurred. The engine would turn over just fine, but it would not start. I used my scanner to determine the problem was a faulty Camshaft Position Sensor. Full of confidence, I ordered a replacement part and planned to replace the CPS. As it turned out, on each subsequent attempt to drive the van before the new part arrived, it started and ran. No problem. Chalking it up to a one-time fluke  – I put the new part in my parts bin and didn’t bother installing it.

I had this part, safely stored in my shop, instead of doing the right-thing and installing it.

Our vehicle finally running again, we set our next destination into our GPS and drove off with happy hearts. We were on the way home. We had planned to drive to a campsite at “Yellow Jacket RV Park” but fatigue got the best of us and we settled for any-port-in-a-storm. We started scanning ahead for the first campground that was open. Lucky for us, it was “Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park”. A large part of the park was closed, due to hurricane damage, but they had a nice drive-through site available and we took it. In only a matter of minutes were plugged in, setup and headed for a hot shower. It had been a very long day (Not as long as the next one). The soothing hot water helped to relieve our stress and our feelings turned to hunger. The “SOS Cafe”, located right in the park, provided delicious food at reasonable prices and for those so inclined, it was “Karaoke Night”.

Delicious food, bottomless pitchers of Sweetea, friendly attentive waitstaff and very relaxing atmosphere. 

SOS, Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park, campground provided a safe retreat with electricity and hot showers. We were fortunate to find an open campsite. The majority of the campground, that was reopened following the storm, was almost full of hurricane refugees, like us.

We were up early next morning to continue our trip south. We decided to make another stop at the “SOS CAFE” before leaving the park. We both ate large, delicious breakfasts and left feeling ready for the day. We had reservations at our favorite campground, Silver Lake, in the Withalacoochee State Forest.  Lucy and I had reservations for three days at site-16 – our favorite. We were very excited about spending three days enjoying the cool waters of the lake and launching Camo-Tow for some sedate river cruising…

As it turned out – this was not to be. More vehicle problems took over…

Hungry again, we stopped at another favorite eatery, Riverside Cafe in Nobleton, Florida. From there it would only be a fifteen minute drive to our campsite. WRONG! When we finished our lunch and returned to our Roadtrek, it would not start. It just kept turning over, the battery was new, but the 5.9 V-8 wouldn’t fire up. Deja Vous………………

For over three hours the van sat in the hot sun defying every attempt to start it. We began calling AAA immediately and request a tow to Chillston’s Garage in Floral City, Florida. I forgot about the identical problem that had occurred months ago and sat baffled at the reluctance to start. Finally I hooked up my scanner again and got a fault code for Defective Camshaft Position Sensor. Crap. Again, it was ALL my fault. Remembering our 200 mile towing feature on our Premier RV AAA coverage, we spent hours on the phone trying to arrange a tow for our van and boat trailer. This was frustrating and pointless. While I was on hold with AAA, Lucy decided to go out and check on Ava and Amelia. I said “Why don’t you try it one more time.”…

VROOOOOOOOM! MIRACLE! She fired right up…

I was filled with mixed emotion. On the one hand, exuberant that our vehicle was running, on the other hand, disappointed that we would not be going to Silver Lake. We were afraid to shut it off again for fear it would not restart. With a full tank of gas onboard and ten spare gallons, in two gas cans, in the boat, we drove the entire 165 miles home without turning the van off. With every passing mile –  we suffered with the knowledge that it might stall again, leaving us stranded on a deserted country road, totally in the dark, miles from home. The tension was almost unbearable. Our conversation was limited by our unspoken fears and we drove on in relative silence.

Danger Behind Us…. At first we were unaware of the danger that followed us…

We stopped for a bite to eat at a fast food joint and left the motor running. When we finished our meal, darkness had fallen and it was time to turn on the lights. I confidently pulled the headlight switch expecting two bright shafts of light from the two new headlights I had recently installed. WHAT? There was no comforting twin beams of light when I pulled the switch. Total darkness continued. DAMN DAMN DAMN! I realized at that moment, that I had never installed the brand new headlight switch that I bought when this intermittent problem had occurred in the past. We NEVER drive at night and I had forgotten all about the previous time I had to “wiggle the switch”. Wiggle it I did and we were finally greeted by the glowing HEADlights…

This new switch shouild have been installed months before our hurricane escape. I was just to lazy…

Our WAZE App set our course over miles of narrow, winding backroads through darkened farm fields…

We drove on nervous for an unexpected outage from the defective switch. We drove past several small homes, totally dark, with no illumination, due to the power outage. We were truly in the dark… Again it was ALL my fault. Worst thing of all, guess what was at home in my shop right next to my new CPS? Yes. You guessed it. A brand new headlight switch. I had not installed it because “We never drive at night.” and “Its a big job. I have to remove part of the dash.” Now I felt like an even bigger FOOL. Was this the worst that could happen? Oh no no no. Read on my friends…

Stopping for a roadside pee break, I noticed no taillights on the van, or boat trailer. SHIT!

Again, I lamented, in utter embarrassment. This was, ALLLLLLL my fault. What am I going to do? Still hours from home. Totally dark two-lane roads and nothing to warn approaching drivers of our presence, except for the small reflectors that would glow in the light of the overtaking headlights. I knew we would be driving more slowly than any overtaking vehicles and I was terrified at the thought of making the remaining night-drive home. There was nothing I could do. If we could even find a place to pull over on the narrow roads we had no idea if the van would start again in the morning. With no other choice, I taped a small flashlight to the rear of our van and drove on in the inky, all encompassing blackness. We drove on in silence each of us lost in our own private thoughts of guilt, worry and dread. Through it all, Lucy never showed a bit of anger at my stupidity. She was the perfect example of a loving Christian mate… Believe me – I was angry enough at myself to make up for her forgiveness…

How come no van or TRAILER lights? Again. ALL My fault.

These brand new LED TRAILER Lights, purchased for our Camo-Tow trailer did no good at all sitting on my shelf. Will I ever learn? Procrastination is a sin.

I bought these new lights for our trailer several months ago. Why didn’t I install them you ask? Well, I was concentrating on the restoration of my Land Rover “BELUGA BUILD” and we NEVER tow the trailer at night. I am such a dumb ass. Lucy was right.

So….. This week I will be busy; installing new Camshaft Position Sensor, Installing new headlight switch, Installing new trailer lights, welding up our broken spare tire mount and wearing a very embarrassed, red face, while gorging myself on HUMBLE PIE. Lucy, I am so very sorry…

We did make it home safely, arriving at 1:00am… No thanks to me.

Our pool cage screen was blown out and our AC did not turn on.

 

Tons of yard debris, lots of tree damage, but our electric power was on.

Our air conditioning man, Scott Baker, of SCOTT AIR, arrived bright and early, on our first morning home and restored our cooling. We spent our Homecoming Night (Thursday) in our nice cool Roadtrek. We both slept like babies, happy to be safely home, thankful for our minimal damage, and praying for others not so fortunate. I learned lots of lessons on this trip and reconfirmed one undeniable truth….

I have the best spouse in the world… Thank you Lord.

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“Out Nice Each Other”

2 Comments

I fell madly and completely in love with Lucy Francis, the first time I saw her. Turns out… it wasn’t even near “completely”. I have spent the last forty four years discovering new reasons to love her and enjoying and accepting the love she feels for me. Our philosophy is simple. We live each, day trying to “out nice each other”

Everyone enters into marriage with the belief that it really will be “till death us do part”. It is certain that we all believe the burning passion will not diminish due to; job demands, diaper changing, old age or changes in appearance. Wonderful it would be… if the dedication we all feel for our spouse’s was as strong as that portrayed in the well known movie, starring James Garner. “The Notebook”. For many love remains as strong and ardent as ever. For others- not so much. I wish to demonstrate, through my blog, that the most certain way to assure the success of the marital union, is to strive to achieve a well-balanced life for each partner.

My “Well Balanced Wheel” will only remain so if all five of the spokes are equal in importance and priority. Spiritual, Physical, Intellectual, Social and last but not least – Financial. Too much focus on any of these integral parts will cause the symbiosis to collapse….. I submit it may be time to “Rotate and Balance” your lives…

Lucy and I will be postings frequently about; our current life situation, recollections from our past and expectations for our future. Some posts will be informative, others purely recreational – we love to laugh at ourselves and encourage you to do the same. We have four daughters who have made the trip with us and added greatly to its enjoyment. In a few situations- its challenges. We expect them to be frequent “Stars” on Five Spoke Wheel.

We welcome questions and comments on anything that interests you. YES anything…

Cheers, David

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