The Long Way to Kerrville, TX (January 1 – 18, 2023)

Although we were going to spend the first four months of 2023 in Texas, we first needed to return to Tennessee to visit our RV dealer in Knoxville and our property in Jasper Highlands.

We awoke early on New Year’s Day and prepared for our 267-mile drive to the Birmingham South RV Park.  Our departure seemed to be going smoothly at first, but things went south in a hurry.  When Phil stopped at the traffic light before getting onto I-10, he picked up the scent of burning rubber, but hoped it was from the truck in front of him.  When he exited I-10 four miles down the road and hit his brakes, the truck pulled sharply to the right.  This time, the smell was more pronounced.  At a traffic light a few miles down the road, passengers in car next to him pointed to his front tires.  He pulled over on the shoulder and got out to inspect.  He discovered that there was a tremendous amount of smoke pouring out of both sides of the hood.  Jan pulled up behind him and we spent the next hour trying to decide what to do.  It was obvious that we couldn’t risk continuing to drive to Birmingham. 

We had spent over $2,000 ten days earlier on major routine maintenance on the truck, including replacing the front brake pads and having the front wheels aligned.  Other than driving the truck back to the campground, we hadn’t driven it since the maintenance was done.  Unfortunately, since it was a Sunday, the dealer was closed.  Also, since New Year’s Day fell on a Sunday this year, they would also be closed on Monday.

While we waited for the tires to cool back down, we tried to find a nearby campground where we could stay for three nights while we got the truck serviced.  When we found one with an available site, the question became how to get there.  Although we do have towing coverage with CoachNet, it would have involved finding two tow trucks on a holiday; one to take the truck to the dealer and one to take the fifth wheel to the campground.  By this time, the smoke had dissipated and we decided to try backtracking 25 miles, of our original 40 miles, to the new campground.  Phil drove very slowly and tried to time the traffic lights to limit the usage of his brakes.  We even stopped at Buccee’s half-way to our destination to allow the brakes to cool.  It was stressful but we managed to make it.

We booked a site at West Wales RV Park & Light Railway for three nights, with an option to extend, if necessary.  Although the online reviews had been marginal, our site was long enough and extremely wide.  Our site was next to the train station for the light rail, but we never heard it running.  West Wales operates two train ride attractions, each of a different size – narrow gauge (2’ between the tracks) and grand scale (7.5” between tracks).  Both are reportedly big enough for even a grown-up to ride.  They decorate the facility for seasonal events.  We got to see the decorations for the Artic Express, with over a million lights twinkling in the trees and over the exhibits.

After killing time on the Monday holiday, we got up early on Tuesday morning and got the truck to the Dodge dealer when they opened at 7:30 am.  Unfortunately, they didn’t even get to look at the truck by closing time that afternoon.  Phil got a call from the service advisor on Wednesday morning and learned that the calipers and brake hoses needed to be replaced, as well as having the brake fluid flushed, at a cost of $900.  Phil tried to argue that the damage was related to the brake work done on Dec. 21st, but got nowhere with that.  The service advisor said they needed to order the brake hoses but expected them to arrive by early afternoon, with the service completed by day-end.  However, the hoses didn’t arrive until 4 pm on Wednesday and the service work didn’t begin until Thursday morning. 

Since we had needed to be at our RV dealer in Knoxville for a Wednesday morning service appointment, each delay required rearranging our travel plans.  We finally decided to reschedule the Knoxville appointment to the following week and go to Chattanooga first. This resulted in re-routing our travel to Texas.

The service work was completed by noon on Thursday and we were able to be on the road by 2 pm.  We drove 246 miles to the Birmingham South RV Park, where we overnighted.  By the time we arrived at 6:30 pm, it was quite dark.  It had been many years since we’d had to set up in the dark, but we managed to get it done without incident.

On Friday morning, we drove 170 miles to Rossville, GA, where we began a five-day stay at Holiday Travel RV Park of Chattanooga.  We were glad to be off the road for a little while. On Saturday, after getting an oil change for the Mazda, we visited our lot in Jasper Highlands.  It was only 43 degrees and had been raining for most of the drive.  Fortunately, it stopped raining when we arrived, so we were able inspect the property.  It looked quite barren with all the leaves off the trees and the overcast skies didn’t help.  We could see the markers for the septic system that had been placed by the TN Department of Environment & Conservation.

The rain became more intense on Saturday night, turning the already-wet campground into a swampy mess.  We were very glad not to be traveling that day.

On Tuesday, we went to the movies and saw an early release of A Man Called Otto, starring Tom Hanks.  The movie was quite good.  The combination of a good film and it being Discount Tuesday led to having the theater more crowded than we have seen in several years.

On Wednesday morning, we drove 100 miles to our RV dealer, RVs for Less, in Knoxville to have our furnace serviced.  Our CheapHeat furnace had stopped heating on electric in early November.  Our testing had indicated that the problem was with the thermocouple.  Since the weather in Gulf Shores stayed fairly warm in November and December, we were able to get by using the heat pumps when the lows stayed above 40 degrees, and the furnace on propane on colder nights.  When we have had service done at RVs for Less in the past, we have always spent at least one night parked on their lot.  When we arrived around noon on Wednesday, it was clear that there was no room for us to park this time.  While the service tech began working on our rig, we made a run to the post office and stopped for lunch.  Upon our return, we found that the work was done, and they were ready for us to leave.  While the bill was being finalized, Phil found us a campsite for the night.  We drove 97 miles to Monterey, TN, where we spent the night at Spacious Skies Belle Meade.  The campground was very nice, with very long and wide pull-through sites.

That evening, as we began to plan the balance of our drive to Kerrville, the weather forecast created a dilemma.  The forecast for Thursday called for severe weather, with heavy rain and high winds.  We considered staying another day in Monterey but abandoned that idea when we saw 1-2” of snow forecasted for Thursday night.  Since the storm wasn’t supposed to hit until mid-morning, we got up very early on Thursday morning and were on the road by 7:25 am.  After about 90 minutes of clear skies, we reached the storm front.  Although it rained much of the next two hours, the heavy downpours only lasted a few minutes at a time and the one hailstorm wasn’t too bad.  Our early departure brought us to the exit for our planned stop by 11:15 am.  Since the weather had been tolerable up to that point, we decided to continue on for another 130 miles, to Tom Sawyer’s RV Park in West Memphis, AR.  When we were within 60 miles of our destination, the skies grew very dark, and we encountered a very scary storm.  The rain was so heavy that traffic slowed to 40 mph and the hailstones hit so hard that we weren’t sure our windshields would survive.  Fortunately, we reached a rest area and were able to pull off and ride out the storm for 15 minutes.  We had rain for the remainder of our drive but, fortunately, it stopped as we neared the campground.  We were quite tired after driving 326 miles under difficult conditions.

We had stayed at Tom Sawyer’s RV Park in September, and, at that time, the Mississippi River was quite low.  This time, the river was much higher.  Although it wasn’t raining as we set up, it was cold and quite windy.  After being set up for 45 minutes and enjoying the heat from the furnace and fireplace, we lost power.  After several unsuccessful attempts to reset the circuit breaker, Phil notified the office, and they sent a mechanic.  When the mechanic was unable to fix the problem and we were getting cold, Phil decided to see if he could hook up our power cord to the pedestal for the site next door.  It worked and, fortunately, no one ever showed up for that site.

On Friday, January 13th, we drove 286 miles to Texarkana, TN, where we spent the night at Shady Pines RV Park.  We had stayed at this park many times.  On Saturday, we drove 200 miles to Corsicana, TX, where we stayed at American RV Park, another park where we had stayed several times before.

On Sunday, we drove 226 miles to San Antonio, where we spent three nights at the San Antonio / Alamo KOA Holiday.  Facing headwinds of 20-30 mph for most of the trip resulted in a rough ride and low fuel economy.  After covering over 1,200 miles in five straight days of driving, we were definitely ready for a few days of relaxation.

On Monday, we caught the bus across from the KOA and rode into downtown San Antonio.  We walked along the River Walk and had lunch at Casa Rio.  Despite it being a holiday (MLK Day), there were less people on the River Walk than we had ever seen before.  We enjoyed being back in warm weather, with the temperature in the mid-70s.

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