Rolling Again in the DC Area

Summer Summary
After five months in a seasonal spot in Michigan filled with healthcare appointments, small-town parades, kayaking on the lake, summer jobs for the kids, campfires with the neighbors and getting-ready-for-the-road projects we are finally mobile again.

We enjoyed our time in Fremont, MI. The magic combination of location, cost, and community worked well enough for us that there is a reasonably good chance we’ll go back again next summer. That decision will largely be determined by what our kids need at that point - mainly the boy who will have turned 18 by then.  Being able to get a job to save money for college without the overhead of needing a car to get to said job would be pretty cool for him.  Both he and Miranda have expressed a desire to return to Fremont next year and although it would break our “don’t repeat an experience” rule we are OK with that.

Getting on the road again after being summer seasonals felt much like launching from our sticks-and-bricks home the first time. We were exhausted after truck and trailer prep work (doing projects not easily done in most campgrounds like repainting the fifth wheel hitch, etc), purging items into storage and Goodwill, cleaning, and last-minute ‘while we still have an address’ purchases.

Hotel Camping
Our immediate first destination was a work-related conference in the Washington, DC area where I had a one-day class to teach. We boondocked two nights on the way (thank you Cabellas and Cracker Barrel) then stayed in county park in Maryland where we could plug in and get everything charged again.  With campground fees creeping higher all the time the idea of investing in a solar setup starts to look more attractive, but on this end of the country it’s tougher to find boondocking spots that are anything more than just a place to grab a few crappy hours of sleep.

The conference was in Alexandria, VA and the closest decent campground was ~15 miles away. Knowing the DC area traffic can be a pain we elected to rent a hotel room closer to the conference and parked the RV at the outer edge of their lot. The kids enjoyed sleeping in the hotel room while MsBoyink and I slept in our own bed in the trailer and just used the room for showers.

As luck would have it a bike route connected that hotel with the conference venue 2.5 miles away so I bought a headlamp and taillight and became a bike commuter for a couple of days. MsBoyink even joined me for one of those days - offering me the rare treat of a morning bike ride with my wife.

My class went well and the conference was enjoyable - offering the usual good times of reconnecting with my peers that I normally only see on Twitter but also some softer presentation topics that resonated well.

Flat Tire
After the conference we hitched up to make the 15 mile jump to a campground. After driving through a construction zone and rolling up to a light we all heard the sound of compressed air letting go. A quick check in the mirror confirmed our suspicions - we had our 2nd-ever flat tire while traveling.

I limped us over to the side of the road, we put out the kids’ soccer cones to block the lane and set to seeing what we could do. In short order I realized that the wheel design on this new trailer didn’t allow the use of the lug wrench I had used for changing tires on the old trailer. I tried the trailer’s landing leg wrench and started bending it before the lugs would come loose. Going through all my tools I had nothing that would work.

I had to give up and have MsBoyink call in the roadside assistance calvary. The experience there wasn’t great as the insurance company tried and failed to locate us using her cellphone location. They didn’t recognize the highway name that we provided them. I wanted to send them a pin dropped onto a Google map but they couldn’t receive an email (?). Finally reading the location of the pin to them was the magic combination - but somehow that information got lost before getting to the actual service provider as we had to describe our location all over again.

We had been on the side of the road for well over an hour before a black Suburban with no markings pulled up. I was on the defensive immediately wondering what this was going to be about.  A middle-aged white guy in dress clothes got out and offered to help out. He had a project boat and most of the tools for working on it were in the back of his truck. He introduced himself as Brian Smith and went way, way out of his way to try and get us back on the road. We broke a tool given to him by his grandfather and he refused when I tried to replace it from my own toolset. Ultimately he and I were able to loosen 5 of the 6 lugnuts on the wheel but a boogered-up chrome lugnut cover stymied us long enough that the tire service guy finally pulled up (about 25 minutes later than the time we were told). Brian left us in the hands of the tire guy but said he’d be back this way in a little while and if we were still there would check in with us again.

When the tire guy got out I was convinced I had found Tim Conway and he was still doing his “old man” routine.  He was driving a little Ford Ranger and not the big dually with service bed or stake-sides I was expecting. He had a bit of a shuffle getting out and didn’t immediately introduce himself or ask what the situation was.

I described where we were at with the remaining lugnut and he said something like “oh..that will be a job”. I was thinking that, for a tire guy, this couldn’t be an unusual thing but decided to just let him go at it.

In the past when I had tire issues on an RV they brought out a floor jack and air tools. This guy came out with a 4-way wrench and a stool. He wasn’t the most efficient of workers and had a penchant for gesturing at the passing traffic that he felt was too close. But as we worked together to get the trailer situated he got a bit more interactive.

He managed to get the recalcitrant lugnut off and the tire swapped out with our spare. We got road-worthy again but he insisted on following us to a safer spot where he could ensure the pressure was OK. In the end we stood in the road a few minutes while he talked about friends he had back in West Michigan and did a small sales pitch for his Amsoil products.

All in all a simple tire change set us back 3 hours and the frustration of being on someone else’s timeline.

Yesterday I inspected the tire to make sure we hadn’t just lost the bead for some reason like low pressure. No luck - we had driven over something that put a 1” slit in the tire at the outer edge of the tread. I found a local supplier that had the right size in stock. While the tire was getting changed out I found an industrial supplier and purchased a new 4-way wrench to replace the bent landing leg wrench and to actually be able to remove my own lugnuts. I also bought a new 8-ton bottle jack as the cheapie Chinese one I had showed signs of a hydraulic leak. Then I drove to 3 different auto parts suppliers sourcing true chromed lugnuts to replace the stock nuts with the cheap chrome covers on them because as the CarQuest counter guy said “once those covers come off nothing fits”.

Back at the campsite I used the new wrench and jack to swap the new tire back on in place of the spare and got us all reset again, and hope that when the next flat comes we won’t have to take 3 hours to deal with it.

Cracker Barrel on the way to DC

Cracker Barrel on the way to DC

Our hotel-camping setup

Our hotel-camping setup

Flat Tire heading out of DC

Flat Tire heading out of DC

7 Comments Rolling Again in the DC Area

  1. Picture of Phil L. Phil L. October 10, 2014

    Welcome to the DC area!

    Out of curiosity (I live between DC and Baltimore): What Maryland county park did you stay in? Did it meet your expectations?

    I don’t comment often - but regularly check in on your adventures!


  2. Picture of Boyink Boyink October 10, 2014

    It was Little Bennet Regional Park. It was quiet and dark and nice enough for an overnight stay. I wouldn’t do more than a few days there as there wasn’t a ton to do.

  3. Picture of Derek Weiss Derek Weiss October 11, 2014

    Last year, when we were fifth wheel newbies, we had three flats in two days on the trailer.  Two of those flats were within 10 miles of eachother. (Good looking tires do not equal healthy tires, because they were old). 

    This year, we bought a bigger fifth wheel, and driving home I got a flat within 15 miles.  Learning from last year, I just bought five new tires immediately.  Not worth the hassle driving on suspect tires.

  4. Picture of Boyink Boyink October 11, 2014

    Hey Derek -

    We did the same thing with our last trailer - once one tire went I replaced them all. The sidewall blew while the tread looked good.

  5. Picture of David Thomas David Thomas January 14, 2015

    We have always enjoyed going to DC. There is a lot to do there and great options for getting around that don’t involve me actually driving.  We also moved to a toy hauler this year. This has made our boon docking experiences easier and more enjoyable, not only because we now have power whenever we want, but because of the large fresh water and waste tanks. This time coming cross country we got caught in one of the blizzards and even in a campground could not hook up external lines. No problem now, as we can run from our internal tanks until we get someplace warmer. I know yours is new (congrats!), but maybe something to think about as they get more livable.

  6. Picture of Boyink Boyink January 15, 2015

    Yeah - not planning to shop again any time soon..;) We’ve had this one a year and are planning to increase our boondocking time by the other available method - reducing usage in the RV by reducing the # of bodies it houses. Our oldest turned 18 and is looking to head out on his own…;)

  7. Picture of David Thomas David Thomas January 18, 2015

    I don’t blame you for not shopping. For folks like us, it really is like moving from one house to another. We are at least five years from your method of increasing boondocking, but it will be interesting when it happens. Good luck, and I hope he does well!

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