Thursday, June 28, 2012

Why you never carry bicycles on a rack on the back of an RV

We rolled out of our daughter's drive way near North High Shoals, Georgia, at exactly 8:00 am, headed north. After five great relaxing days at our daughter's place, it was time to hit the road north and begin our three-month summer sojourn. We tanked up at a nearby gas station a few minutes later, and with our gray water and black water holding tanks at 2/3rd full, pulled happily into northbound traffic on U.S. 441. A beautiful, cool, late spring morning, showcasing the lush green, rolling countryside of northeastern Georgia.

We asked earlier at a campground near Bishop if we could use their dump facility as we needed to empty our black water tank after staying at our daughter's place for almost a week. Unfortunately, the answer was “sorry, no, we don't take outside sewage.” So, we became instant fans of a web site called, which lists dump stations for RVers who need to empty their bladders, so to speak. Some people will dump their gray water tank just about anywhere if no one is looking, but I have not met anyone who has admitted dumping their black water, or sewage, in the open. I would like to think none of our fellow RVers are that gross or callous. We picked the closest dump station some sixty or so miles away, up on Interstate 85 near Carnesville. No problem, we could make that easily.

Everything was great, we had a full tank of gas, the dogs had quieted down, and while doing a sedate 55 mph through the outskirts of Athens on a beautiful four-lane divided highway, the tire pressure warning light came on. I had checked the tire pressures the night before and everything then was perfect, but a warning light is not to be ignored especially when towing a 4000 pound trailer. So, at the first possible pull-off, I did a quick walk around the Toyota Sequoia, and the travel trailer as well, but everything appeared to be in order. No flat tires. Oh well, always something.

Back on the road again, this time with a little warning indicator stuck on in the back of my mind. We soon hit the Intestate at Commerce, just 18 miles or so down the road from the dump station we planned to use. A pleasant, uneventful trip up the old, dilapidated Interstate, being sucked along by the endless stream of huge eighteen wheelers passing me like I was standing still. I was doing a perfect 60 miles an hour, a balance between speed and economy, but they were passing me like spaceships heading for an intergalactic docking party. The camper rocked every time one went by, and I was thankful I had tightened down the anti-sway bar on my trailer hitch.

This from the second time the bicycle rack failed.
It was a brand new replacement for the first one that dumped my bicycles in the middle of I-85.
Thanks to a safety chain, they stayed attached to the back of the trailer!

We found exit 160 and headed toward the Pilot gas station, our designated dump-station. Pilot is a chain of fuel and rest stations that cater to the trucking industry found along many of the Interstates. They all have dump stations for RVers to use for a ten dollar fee. If you are a member of their no-charge travel club, the fee is $5.00. They recently merged with Flying-J, a favorite among RVers, and we soon found out why they are so popular. Huge, and absolutely spotless, the tank station/restaurant/trucker's lounge had two separate dump-stations along with the truckers section and the regular fuel islands.

The young woman behind the counter had that beautiful, melodic north-Georgia accent that turns sentences into lyrics, and after explaining the benefits of membership to the free Flying-J/Pilot club to me, swiped my credit it card, and for half price, I was entitled to the four-digit code that would unlock the cap to the sewer drain. Or maybe a car wash. No, no car wash. But using the dump station is the same format. You pull up with your RV dump valve aligned with their sewer head, key in the four digit code, and, viola, you have 30 seconds to open the sewer cap and connect your hose from your RV. Neat! Five minutes later we were on the road toward a family reunion in Pleasant Garden, North Carolina, with empty holding tanks. I was positive we would get better mileage with the reduced weight.

We hadn't been to the old family Stubblefield farm in six years, and it had been eight years since the last family reunion. We were looking forward to meeting old friends and meeting all the new grandchildren. We were laughing, talking about old times when a silver BMW pulled up along side and magically rolled down then the passenger window. He pointed toward the back of the camper and I knew we had trouble. I slowed, found a spot we could pull safely off the busy Interstate, and with baited breath (I finally get to use that idiom) pulled far enough away from the pavement to safely check the camper.

My bicycle was dangling off the back of the bike rack, the back wheel dragging on the pavement. My wife's bicycle had also jumped its mounting bracket, but hadn't come off the rack. I always use a safety chain on everything I attach or hook up to the camper, and the bicycle safety chain worked just as it should have when the retaining straps on the bicycle rack failed. As I worked on remounting my bicycle, I realized every passing truck shook the camper, and subsequently the bike rack. The bike rack would swing and wildly oscillate with every passing truck and I realized the standard mounting straps were naively inadequate. The rack was not designed for Interstate travel!

I checked my bike and found the damage wasn't too bad. A flat tire, the side wall was rubbed through, and one petal was pretty much scraped off. Not too bad, considering I could have dropped my bicycle in the middle of busy I-85 and caused who-knows-what kind of havoc. Hey, they could use that in one of those television commercials! We once dodged an electric, handicapped wheelchair that had fallen off a carrier rack in the middle of I-75 once. Damaged cars were all over the shoulder of the road. I learned my lesson from the debris strewn roadway, I was determined it wouldn't happen to me.

I used several heavy-duty nylon tie straps from my kayak tie-down kit to secure both my wife's bike and my now dinged up old clunker, to the the bike rack. After finally finding a gap in the incessant flow of mostly truck traffic, we strained to get back on the Interstate without causing a major pile-up.

A few miles up the road, after being passed by another 50 or 60 trucks, one of the huge monochromatic symbols of Interstate Commerce slowed as he pulled alongside, magically rolled down his passenger window, and I knew what he was going to do next. Yep, he pointed toward the rear of the camper. Damn. Here we go again.

This time nothing hit the road. My bike had been sucked completely off one side of the rack, but only one wheel had come loose and nothing actually hit the pavement. The straps were intact, just pulled completely over the safety stop! OK, time for serious precautions. I found a red, fabric cinch strap and tightened everything to the bumper of the the RV! No way was anything going to come loose this time, and we indeed made the remainder of the trip with out incident. Well, except for retribution from my mother.

We had made the trip in 1994 with my mother for the first Stubblefield family reunion, but I had caused a major family problem. My mom, who of course grew up in the area, wanted me to turn at an intersection she thought she recognized. I ignored her, following a map that turned out to be old and in error. My mom sat in the car and fumed while I went to a gas station and bought a new map of the area. She never let me forget it. She complained to relatives, and anyone else who would listen, about her son ignoring her when she gave directions. It was a major faux-pas on my part, and she never let me forget it. On this trip, I think she got even.

I have an old Garmin GPS, and the map is the one that came preloaded. I won't pay the fee to update the map as I feel it is exorbitant, especially after I have sent in corrections and updates. If I bother with a new one, it will have unlimited map updates. Maybe I'll just go with a smart phone so I won't have to worry about staying current.

Instead of following my instinct, I listened as Chatty Cathy took me up I-85 when I wanted to stay on I-85. Yes, she took me up I-85 Business instead of the actual Interstate, and I soon realized we weren't going to arrive at the family farm as soon as we had hoped.

After the mandatory cussing and griping about my crappy GPS, I resentfully followed her directions to get back on the main route, and as I slowed almost to a crawl while driving across an intersection in a residential part of High Point, I looked to the left and saw my aunt Irene Feeny's house. I haven't been there in over 50 years, but I recognized it immediately! It looked exactly like it did the last time I saw it! We stopped a few blocks later and checked our maps, but we were now on the shortest route to the farm! OK, Mom, I get the hint. You can stop laughing now.

Next: Our first stop headed north: the COE campground at Philpot Lake, Virginia

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