Here's an excerpt from an e-mail to our daughter at the end of the first day on the road:
"I woke up grumpy this morning at 5 am. But she got over it and was human by 9.
On the road by 5:48
We drove west from Alvin on highway 6 until it hit hwy 288 and took that through to downtown and ran into hwy 59. An hour later would have been stupendous, but it was okay when we did it even with the fog. Traffic stopped a few times near the beltway, but mostly kept moving. I like the route we took this a.m. better than the route we took to Cleveland last week. Once the beltway construction is complete in the NE sector then may consider going that way, especially later in the day, but I still won't like pulling the trailer through the toll booths. I just couldn't get enthusiastic about both toll booths and construction.
Had planned to head west at Livingston, but mom pointed out a better road across north of there. Managed to call in time to intersect SOWER friends coming down to be GLs at Trinity Pines project and they waited for us in Crockett. The road from Livingston would have been more sure of intersecting them, but it is a much poorer road. We called when we were an hour east from Crockett and they were twenty minutes north of Crockett so they had time to circle town and find a spot on the loop road around town for both of us to pull over with us behind them and enough room for us to do a u-turn to head north while they went south at the end of the visit.
They had planned on stopping for breakfast so had time to finish that while waiting and we sat in their rig and visited for close to an hour. We have worked with them at three projects and met them socially before that. This is their first project this winter. They just came down from Wisconsin a few weeks ago. They have been rebuilding his daughter's house after a fire last fall.
We got to Tyler a little after noon and there was no room in the RV park of choice so we decided to carry on to Gladewater and if there was no room in the park there to just go to visit our friends arriving at ALERT to be GLs there and then carry on north.
There was room in the park so we set up, checked e-mails and printed DQ coupons (2 for 1 Blizzard) phoned our friends and said to meet us at the DQ. Then when we figured out that the DQ was no longer in Gladewater and how much further the White Oaks location was we phoned back and agreed to meet at the Sonic in Gladewater and then we could go next door or somewhere else to visit.
We fueled up while waiting for them to show and then when they did show we parked at the Chicken Delight next to the Sonic (Sonic has no seating, but it was easy to remember and easy to find). It was 2:30 when we ordered and we visited for over an hour and then they headed back to ALERT and we went to the DQ in White Oaks and then came home to decide how long we were staying. It looks like we will stay here tonight and tomorrow night and head north on Saturday morning. Not quite so early a start as today is planned.
At 6:30 we went for a walk around the pond and the park. 69 degrees F. out. Going to miss that. It will be close to freezing where we plan to stay in Peculiar, Missouri the first night after here. It will get colder after that. Much colder.
Tonight I will make use of the high speed connection to do some web page updates and tomorrow separate my clothes out that I will need in SK. Mom did hers in Alvin while I was doing stuff outside on the rig and changing oil on the truck. Saturday a.m. will winterize the water system and drain the waste tanks just before leaving. I drained the FW tank today."
Start phoning the farmer who plows our property. No answer!
Day Two - March 4th
Mostly a down day in RV Park in Gladewater, Texas: update web pages; do laundry; winterize water system; defrost fridge and put in slides for an early start and before rain starts.
Day Three - March 5th
Supposed to be a day we waited out the extremely cold weather predicted early in the week in North Dakota.
Change of plans. New plan - go like stink to avoid predicted blizzard sweeping across Nebraska and Mid West. Try to get north of it before it passes and deal with cold however necessary - more sleeping bags, cab to hotel, or just take rig to hotel.
Start driving in rain at 5:45 but then it clears. We make it across Oklahoma and across most of Missouri (over a 1,000 km. total for the day's drive). We had planned to stop at Peculiar, MO but it was still early and the roads were good so we carried on north of Kansas City to spend the night in the parking lot of Squaw Creek "travel center". Survive cigarette smoke cloud in restaurant long enough for a chocolate sundae each and then off to bed under several layers and furnace set to 55 degrees F.
Day Four - March 6
Just about die doing circle checks next morning in the 30 degree F. temperature plus strong wind. Make loud whining noises in truck until fingers thaw and stop hurting. Cannot imagine what real winter is going to feel like. The mind is a friend. It blots out bad memories. Reality will come way too soon, however.
We start seeing snow in the ditches, but ponds are mostly open water. The roads are mostly clear the rest of the way through Missouri and most of the way through Iowa and pretty good through most of South Dakota.
There starts to be serious snow on the ground and no more open water. Everything is frozen.
We stop at the Flying J truck stop in Sioux Falls despite the pickup truck parked in a manner to make the swing into the RV pump lanes a bit of a challenge. After fueling up we park on the other side of the parking lot while we buy lunch to-go. While we are eating lunch we get the Canadian cell phone out of the rig so it can be charging. The trip back into the rig breaks our routine, but an observant RV'er fueling up waved us down before we drove too far with the stairs still down.
As we got into North Dakota the roads became a bit worse. Mostly clear, but with icy patches just north of the overpasses. Figured this out as we started going sideways coming out from under an overpass. Corrected in time, unlike the pickup truck sitting in the ditch backwards well off the highway. Subsequent overpasses are approached with heightened alertness, both hands firmly gripping the steering wheel and careful attention to accelerator pressure.
Coming through Fargo we miss the exit for the Flying J until it is too late to make the exit safely. Might have tried it on dry pavement, but the ramp was snow covered and icy. Made the decision not to try. Reviewing later think it was the better choice. Unfortunately there were no other exits for fuel that looked like we would have a reasonable time returning to the freeway so we carried on north looking at the fuel gauge and the map. A few miles short of the convergence of a reasonable exit for re-fueling with an unreasonable amount of remaining fuel we had an experience that eclipsed visions of running out of diesel.
As we came out from under an overpass and were rounding a long, slow bend the flashing lights of emergency vehicles suddenly appeared in the dimming haze. We stopped as quickly as we could which was quick enough, but the ABS brake system got a workout. As did our heart rates and neck muscles as we checked mirrors for much faster traffic coming from the rear, and the police cars and tow trucks in front of us dealing with half a dozen cars and trucks that had managed to slide off the highway and were in various stages of being dragged back onto it.
We stopped for fuel at the next exit, Hillsboro, and then I checked under the hood and crawled under the truck to see if there were any blown brake lines or empty brake fluid reservoir to account for the brake and ABS warning lights that had taken up permanent residence on the dashboard display. Nope. No brake fluid missing or spraying. Brakes feel okay. Pedal pressure normal. No obvious ABS action, either, however. Brakes will work, but more like they did on trucks twenty years ago. Avoiding skids will be just like the bad old days. We check the highway reports which gave us no confidence since they are not accurate about the road we just traveled, but we carry on nevertheless.
Finally get tired of the continuous heightened awareness and after we dodge the next contingent of police cars and tow trucks pulling cars out of the interstate ditches and since it was getting dark we stopped for the night at a truck stop in Grand Forks. Predicted to be - 10 degrees F. which is 3 degrees C. colder than anything we have ever experienced in the rig in the past. We stall as long as possible in the restaurant updating web pages and eating but the inevitable has come.
We advise the gentle reader that "If the travel-log stops here permanently perhaps we froze. Or perhaps we got up and got on the road and the roads were as bad as the last part of today and we didn't recover from the spin-out like we did a couple of times today." and "The rig is standing up well except for the landing gear foot that rotated out and fell off today. The truck checks out okay underneath and feels like it is braking okay, but the dash lights say half the brakes stopped working after the last panic stop when the ABS system was working fulltime."
Update - we didn't freeze all the way to death and made it home okay and the ABS will cost only $1,000 to fix but thought maybe if you read the above you might be wondering if we froze.
Further Update - I mentioned to a friend that "we lost a foot off the fifth wheel" and he said he had visions of us not making it through an intersection in time. What happened is less dramatic. A number of years ago I added an intervening device between the bottom of the landing gear leg and foot. It is a leveler that allows you to compensate for differences in ground level from one side of the trailer front to the other. Being anal thorough I added one to each side. Not being thorough enough I have not periodicqally checked to ensure that the threads at the end of the adjustment bolt have remained sufficiently distressed to prevent the foot unwinding and falling out. I am grateful it didn't take out a tire or two. Haven't had the courage to check to see if maybe it bounced and imbedded itself in a holding tankor somewhere equally dire.
Day Five - March 7
Wake up a little before 1 a.m. Juanita is up, awakened by the warning light and message on the inverter control panel "Battery temperature warning 12 degrees". Furnace is still running without reaching set-point. We are warm enough under the blankets and sleeping bags, but by morning the batteries will be dead and frozen and probably permanently damaged. The trailer is unplugged from the truck to prevent the truck batteries discharging. There is the option of starting the engine and plugging the trailer into the truck to keep the batteries charged, and I would do that if I was exhausted, but I'm wide awake (now) and that solution seems somehow obscene environmentally when we could be driving and using the fuel to get closer to home.
We start the truck and plug in the trailer and turn down the furnace until it quits and then turn it off. We play leap frog with one of us staying with the running truck (as if any low life is going to be hanging around to opportunistically steal the truck, but Mexican border area habits die hard) and the other going inside to use the truck stop bathroom and get coffee. Then we are on the road to Manitoba border. Well, almost. I pull out, swinging as wide as possible to not sideswipe the empty fifth wheel we parked next to (at least I assume it was empty. The stairs are up. the furnace isn't running. But, on the other hand if it wasn't empty nobody would know for weeks when the temperatures got above freezing. Which reminds me of the RV widower who said he remarried because he had visions of dying in a Flying J parking lot and nobody noticing until the smell became obvious. But I digress. Back to the wide swing).
I swung wide and avoided the neighbouring fifth wheel trailer and then cut short of hitting the car across from us. Things were going well until I discovered the parking lot curbed divider under the snow by driving up onto it. I managed to realize what was happening and back up without sliding into the car (very close) or back into the other fifth wheel (lots of room) and cut it hard enough that the trailer wheels and axles didn't have to experience the strain of running over the landscaping. Grazed a curb once in Dallas. Didn't like the resulting aneurism on the tire or the cost of new tires.
The temperature was still dropping and the turbo would occassionally find some alarming harmonic pitch but once I decided it wasn't a wheel bearing seizing we got used to the whine. Around three thirty we crossed the border and paid our tithe on our purchases and proceeded to a pre-dawn Winnipeg. It was the least traffic we have ever seen on that portion of our trip. I suppose 4:30 is the best time to start going around Winnipeg. We got to the Flying J on the west side, fought with the pin pad on the fuel pump and eventually pre-paid for the fuel purchase inside. Then we parked the rig, started the furnace to compete with the minus 24 degrees Celsius outside temperatures and went inside the Flying J to Denny's for as leisurely a breakfast as we could draw out.
Went to pay for our meal and found that Master Card had freaked at three attempts to authorize the fuel purchase while fighting the pin pad and put my card on hold. After a phone call it worked again.
At six thirty we were back in the rig which hadn't warmed a bit. I said I would try for an hour and if sleep hadn't arrived we'd get back on the road. At 7:30 I was relatively warm except for my feet, but wide awake. Back on the road. Turn down the thermostat to 40 degrees F. Furnace doesn't stop running. Eventually just go and shut off the propane at the tank and shut the furnace off when the fan stops on fuel failure. Back on the road listening to CBC and the announcers repeat every few minutes how cold it is. Department of the obvious. Sunny, though, and the roads were mostly clear and no wind until we are closer to Regina and thus no blowing snow until then.
Drive along trying to raise the farmer to plow our property. Not much luck and make alternate arrangement with skid steer operator. Make appointment with Chrysler for Wednesday for truck brake problem. Phone friends in Saskatoon and daughter in Regina.
We stop at Broadview for fuel and meet Becky on a side street in Regina (I think I dropped the cell phone in that first snow bank) and then agree to move to Husky truck stop where parking is better. We leave the rig and Becky gives us a ride to an RV dealer where I buy a new landing gear foot. Then after a bit of a visit with her and Ezekial we are back on the road to Saskatoon.
At the weigh station just north of Regina there were two houses in transport lumbering onto the highway. As they got up to speed I got past the first one when it briefly moved over enough. The front one never moved over until we all were doing 110 km/hour! I had visions of traveling all the way to Saskatoon that way. Way too fast to pass. Way too fast for the road conditions and way too fast to stop, especially on winter roads w/o ABS brakes working. Finally got ahead of the front one on the hill coming out of Lumsden after a terrifying ride into the valley trying to slow enough for the grade and not get run over by the back house or get too far behind the front house to catch up and pass it. Then another 20 kilometers of driving fast to stay ahead of both of them until we could pull off when the road was wide enough at Chamberlain.
We got to the Flying J in Saskatoon and proceeded to pull into the first RV island lane only to realize both pumps were red flagged. After some amateurish backing up trying to avoid the snow bank "snow clearing" had created in the approach lane and the concrete pylons near the pumps we managed to get into the second lane but angled too far away from the pump. Did a loop of the parking lot and just cleared the pylons with the snowbank in the way. Fought with pin pad very briefly and went inside to pre-pay. Dug for cell phone to phone friends in Saskatoon. No phone! Filled up with fuel. Searched for cell phone around, under and between truck and station. Parked rig. Froze while fighting to get frozen pay phone to work. Why would you put a phone where it would get that cold? Called cell phone. It went straight to voice mail and I left a message where to mail phone to me. Phoned friends. They came and we ate dinner and visited at Denny's and then went over to their house for a movie and to sleep the night, leaving our rig to fend for itself.
Day Eight - March 8
After a visit and breakfast and a trip to WalMart for a new cell phone and a trip to Costco we got on the road about noon.
We stopped in North Battleford to visit Canadian Tire and I laid in their parking lot and removed the remains of the leveling foot and installed the new old-style foot and we carried on. We stopped just outside of North B. to close the basement door I had left hanging open. Shows what a break in routine does. I had removed the key without locking it because "I might need a pair of pliers" to install the foot I was needing. Need to brush up on my poka yoke (Japanese for "prevent mistakes") skills.
Got to our property about four pm discovered it well plowed and puttered around leveling the rig, removing the hitch from the truck and choosing stuff to take with us while we stayed at Debbie's in town for the rest of the week and then Becky's in Regina for the next month or so.
Just under 4,000 kilometers from Alvin to our property! Should have flown and gone back for the rig when the weather wsa better. Remind me of that next year.
Day Nine - March 9
Take truck to dealer's shop. They estimate cost of repairs at "$1,000". Promise "parts will be here on Friday."
Buy cord for block heater and battery blankets.
Day Ten - March 10
Go out to property to drop off stuff we don't need for Regina and to pick up the stuff we I forgot. Examine rig closer. Looks like we will need to do some fibreglas repairs of the rear end surround. Stress cracks around tail-lights that showed up three years ago have gotten worse. Not a big cost, but will be several days fiddly work to remove and repair and get re-painted before reinstalling.
Friday (Day Eleven)
Take truck to dealer - "need one more part... another $700" Book for March 25th, the next time we plan to be in Meadow Lake.
And that is the end of our adventure traveling North to Canada in the Spring of 2011.
Notice transmission fluid on snow. Tighten a hose clamp and check transmission fluid level. None in town. No ATF +4 in town on a Sunday. Take to Chrysler dealer on Monday. Gives priority and replaces one hose and does temporary repair on braided section of steel-braid-steel hose assembly and orders new one for "next time in shop". Then back on the road arriving in Regina later than planned, but arriving, nevertheless.
Off to orientation and safety training the next day.