Sep 5 2012

Day 1243: UN-Self-Reliance 101

by andrew

Apparently, we need more stretching / training in this area. And/or Father just wants us to spend longer in Kentucky than the quick overnight we had originally planned. And/or maybe these are just mandatory practice runs – like fire drills – of trailer evac with our grab-and-go gear. It’s so funny how the mission (in this case getting to Pennsylvania) can be so quickly reduced (or complicated) into other really important side-quests.

So here we were yesterday, broken down yet again (over something that is probably very trivial as I explain below) at mile marker 83 along I-64 in Indiana:


Again, YHWH had prepared everything ahead of time and we were miraculously provided for and well taken care of, despite the “inconveniences” and emotional battles to guard our peace and trust. In fact, we are feeling extremely blessed right now, even if our truck and trailer are still 70 miles away in another state at the moment with an uncertain resurrection timeline. Our dear friends who also have 7 children (and hence a 12 passenger van) came out and picked us up an hour and 20 minutes away from their home south of Louisville, KY. Even though our roadside assistance wasn’t able to find a provider to come tow us (it was the middle of nowhere) I found a shop – Small Brothers Truck and Auto – 10 miles away in Leavenworth, IN that was able to come out and pick up the trailer and the truck (what would we do without internet and maps on our phones?).

Wesley (the shop owner) was amazing. He came out at the end of a hectic day with one of his guys and pulled our trailer back to the shop while the other drove the flatbed with our suburban on it. He was also gracious enough to let us plug in at the shop to keep our fridge running so that we didn’t have to worry about that (at least for a couple days). Near the end of our trip back to the shop we instantly connected spiritually when I said, “really appreciate everything – you’re a life saver,” and he humbly responded, “well I don’t know about all that,” so I probed further by saying, “well, I believe everything happens for a purpose,” and he responded with something close to: “absolutely, the Good Lord has His reasons for everything.” In the exact same way that all these events are challenging us to maintain peace in the middle of turmoil, it sounds like he’s going through the exact same challenges with his shop business. Please remember Wesley in your prayers as well – that YHWH will give him strength to guard his peace and find favor with and bless him!

So, how did we go from the top of the world with 4 new tires and a fresh alignment (the previous evening and morning adventures) cruising toward our destination with reasonable hope to still see our friends near Louisville and Cincinnati AND still make a Friday landfall in PA; to winding up once again completely dependent on our Creator’s provision and the generous assistance of others? Well, as I try to reconstruct a fraction of the purposes together in my mind so that it makes some kind of coherent picture I’ve stumbled across a few connections whose strands are worth following – at least with some speculative deduction.

But first a quick digression on the new tires adventure. Feeling like I still had plenty of time on our front passenger side tire, although it was wearing badly from being out of alignment for a while now without any rotations, I thought it would suck worse than the expense of new tires to have a blowout and be stranded again or worse. So, we pulled into a Wal-Mart a couple of evenings ago in time to get a new set of 4 right there (the rear ones were close to done anyways too, at least as far as tread goes). I was planning to just put it on our emergency credit card and sort it out with everything else later, but the over-aggressive fraud monitoring blocked the transaction and I would have been totally stuck if it hadn’t been for the generous gifts from some of our friends sitting in our paypal account that I was able to access with our paypal credit/debit card. That’s how the tires got taken care of. Then of course I wanted to get an alignment done right away so as not to chew up the new tires prematurely and found a place across the street that got me in nice and early and on the road in good time yesterday. Back to the reconstruction:

Perhaps part of the purpose for the original breakdown in Seibert, CO was to set the timing for the second breakdown. In my humble opinion, it should have waited another 70 miles, but that certainly would not have been as interesting. Following the trail of fallen dominoes backwards: the new injection pump installed in Colorado came with the PMD (pump mounted driver – basically an electronic circuit box) mounted directly on the pump itself which sits on top of the engine in probably the hottest place possible. This is an idiotic design and one of the reasons the duramax 6.5L earned a questionable reputation. What happens is that the normal heat from engine operation under loads like towing through mountains – even with all gauges in safe ranges, which I am anal about – fries the electronics which control fuel injection and without fuel the truck dies and of course steering and breaks die with it. Super dangerous, and when I felt it starting to die, I slowed way down and prayed for a safe place to pull over because I didn’t see anywhere immediately available. It lasted long enough to cool down a bit, and then I lost brakes and steering at a place that worked out be be safe enough to stop.

The solution to this whole bad engineering induced mess is remarkably easy – replace the PMD with an FSD (Fuel Solenoid Driver) relocated outside the center of the heat and attach it to an adequate heatsink. In fact, this was our exact configuration before the original pump died. Even so, the original pump had nearly 225,000 miles on it which is pretty good (a typical lifespan for those pumps under normal average-to-heavy conditions is 100,000 miles). However, when the first shop put in the new pump, they left our pump-protecting FSD disconnected and just wired in the attached PMD in it’s factory failure prone location for warranty reasons. The new pump supposedly has a 3 year / 36,000 mile warranty. Of course the ironic thing is that because of the design it failed in under 1000 miles of conservative towing.

The maddening thing is that I have the solution sitting right there under my hood – the FSD which should still be OK, since the first shop tested with another FSD connected to the bad pump to eliminate my FSD as the cause of the original issue. To add additional frustration: the wiring connections and the pump itself are buried under the turbo plenum and the intake manifold, on top of which I don’t know for sure whether or not the FSD harness to connect it is still down there since they just used the standard PMD. Well, sitting there on the side of I-64 I got about half-way into the project of pulling it all apart to look for the harness – battery cables disconnected, connectors detached from the turbo plenum, plenum off, upper coolant hose off and a couple liters of coolant dropped, and a couple bolts out of the intake manifold before I came to the following conclusions: 1) there was the possibility that the harness I needed for the FSD wasn’t even still down there ; 2) even if I was successful reconnecting the FSD it wasn’t a 100% fix (although very likely) and regardless would mean sending my family on ahead with our friends and sacrificing that time with them together plus pushing past dark on the side of the interstate with the re-assembly effort.

Matching that against my experience with the time I spent on the failed attempt to fix the last problem with the crankshaft sensor replacement, and admitting to myself that although I could definitely tackle this in my own garage without a deadline, I am not yet the kind of ninja mechanic that could pull it off within the constraints of that scenario, I resigned to get everything put back together, try to start it again, and if that didn’t get us anywhere, call in the support. As you know, the support became the solution. And I’m confident that the priority time staying together with my family and our friends was the right decision whatever the dollar costs end up being.

It’s fascinating to me… basically 3 years of problem-free towing for 50,000 miles and it seems like everything decides to go all at once – of course at the most inopportune time 🙂 Is there a message there? Or are we simply hitting the attrition caps on some of our equipment at the same time? Or is Father weaving a grander story through it all? Definitely that with probably substantial portions of the other reasons mixed in as well.

So, our current condition: massively grateful that we’re with our dear friends who have graciously opened their home wide to us. The kids have a whole new set of buddies, and aside from some enthusiastic (i.e. loud) play going on, they are otherwise the very absolute opposite of bored and I might not even see much of them while we’re here, which is perfect for catching up with Matt and Sara and making progress on some work. To a small family unit, 13 children in 1 house for more than an hour or two at a time might sound like insanity, never mind consecutive sleepovers. But all things considered the chaos is actually quite minimal. In fact, it is extremely peaceful here. And consistent with the entire moral to this part of our story unfolding: True Peace does not depend on external circumstances but internal, unshakable trust in our Deliverer and Redeemer – Yahushua the Son of God. Only He can provide the Peace that surpasses all understanding.

Aug 31 2012

Day 1238: Technically, Officially Stranded (but it’s OK)

by andrew

Sitting here sipping a beer and thinking how funny it is that I used to day dream about one potential outcome of our throw everything to the road (and YHWH’s loving care) life on the edge, traveling with minimal resources… and I used to wonder if we’d ever break down in a tiny little community that Father had a purpose for us invading, with no money to fix the truck and get stuck indefinitely. Well, things aren’t quite that desperate, but it’s kind of starting to take on some of that flavor. And although I’m confident our stay here will be temporary (well, at least exactly as long as YHWH desires), it certainly is starting to stretch on longer than I had hoped.

My diagnosis and efforts to swap the crankshaft position sensor this morning (though the procedure itself was a success) turned out to be quite ineffective. But like every good story, the replacement sensor itself – as the next piece in my attempt to solve the puzzle – led to the next piece of the plot. It turns out that the parts place I bought it from – 10 miles back west along I-70 in Flagler, CO – also has a full-blown shop and a couple diesel mechanics. They also have their own wrecker, and Shane came out to pick up our truck. I turned it on for him and let him see what it was doing. He just shook his head and smiled. I could tell he shared my appreciation for the magnitude of the puzzle. Here it is getting loaded up:

So, I guess at this point our plans are on hold and we’re having Sabbath here. We always say that our Father’s plans are far better than ours, and I guess we’re getting to walk that out in this tangible way. With labor day approaching I’m hoping they figure it out quickly and that it’s something simple / easy and they can get it done before the holiday. But no guarantees. And it would be really nice if they could even tackle the leak in the steering system (hopefully it’s not the gearbox) as well as the alignment + 4 tires that we’ve been overdue procrastinating on with such limited resources available. Shane was looking at our front passenger tire (you can kind of see it in the pic) and thinking it’s a blowout waiting to happen. I’m pretty sure it would get us at least to PA, but maybe better safe than sorry.

I feel completely tacky doing this, but I’m just going to throw myself out there and slap a donation button on this post. If you know me at all you know how self-reliant I like to be and how hard it is for me to ask anyone for help. I’d much rather be on the giving end than the receiving end, and so maybe Father is also using this situation to kill more of my pride. Oh yay 🙂 I still want to figure out a way to ask without asking 🙂 but I will say it this way: if our heavenly Father puts it on your heart, any tiny amount towards our truck repair fund would be a massive blessing. We still have other repairs sitting on our credit card from before. But please do not feel obligated in any respect. Father will provide, and your prayers are even more valuable.

Even in the midst of all this I’ve been realizing how much we have to be thankful for. We have electric and A/C keeping the inside of the trailer about 79 F (26 C) while it reads 102 F (39 C) outside – YIKES! So – shelter: check. We have water. We have food. We have internet so I can post this and work and stay connected to find out about things like crazy Hurricane Isaac hitting seven years to the exact day that Katrina struck (if that isn’t a wake up call I don’t know what is, but how many will notice?). There’s a playground close by. Jim (the Shady Grove Campground owner) has been super helpful: he gave me a ride to Flagler this morning to pick up the sensor, provided a tour of the town, said he’d just open up a tab and we could settle before leaving when the time comes, and told me to ask if we needed anything). And the kids finished school today in really good moods. Even though it’s hard work, homeschooling our children is a bigger blessing than we normally pay attention to.

For example: I was talking with Shane and Jim after Shane had the truck all loaded up on the wrecker. They were briefly comparing notes about changes that have been happening in the school system here. I’m not sure if this is Colorado-wide or maybe even the whole country, but among other things the government has capped calorie consumption for children at school and it is a fixed number for all kids regardless of build, metabolism, athletics, etc. This is enforced primarily through the lunch portions, which are now very small. Shane and Jim said their kids always come home really hungry. Of course, some parents don’t do enough to manage healthy amounts of the right kind of calories for their kids. But government stepping in and regulating it is an entirely different thing. And the more sinister aspects of this that come immediately to mind:

  • How closely is this related to the current food shortages and famine in this country (which you probably won’t hear about on mainstream news nor get an impression of by walking into a grocery store)?
  • What are the impacts of caloric shortages on a child’s learning capacity? This will
  • What about other implications like a child’s energy level, vulnerability to suggestion, etc. when they aren’t getting enough / proper nutrition throughout the day?

There’s probably more thoughts that should be probed there, but this is really just another area where we see the erosion of all things as we used to know them. I shudder to consider what my children’s generation is facing, but I also get excited to think about and anticipate what their Creator will do in their days!

Well, here’s to the adventure! Looking forward to continuing the exploration of WHY we are here and posting updates about what we discover as well as (hopefully shortly) recording our epic departure.

May 10 2009

Day 25-29: Over the Appalachians

by andrew

We are surviving our first bout of hard-core travel and campgrounding, but it hasn’t been without … um … “events” shall we say? I think I have previously lamented the fact that there are not enough nanoseconds in the day to do these tales justice with the flowing, detailed narrative they deserve. But let me recap the last few days of adventure in bullet form lest current events overtake the record and press it with their own need to be captured.

Day 25 (Wed, 5/6/09):

  • Intended day of departure from PA… slow going with all the final preparations even though we had done most of it the day before…
  • 3:00pm, still planning to leave and make some progress, final checks on the truck… needed oil change badly… likely not going to get on the road after all…
  • 3:30pm, Jaiden (age 2) falls in the creek and gashes the back of his head open, Reayah (age 5) was right with him when it happened, watching him like we’d asked her too; she got Bennah (age 7) right away because he was close by; Bennah pulls Jaiden out of the creek and stays with him (he’s soaked head to toe, his head is bleeding, and he’s screaming from the shock; knowing Bennah is with him, then Reayah runs to the the trailer (just a few hundred feet away) to get us; I run down there, scoop up my little brave soaking wet explorer and hustle him back to the trailer; Renee cleans him up, and we get ice on his head; he shows initial symptoms of a mild concussion; we pray for him, battle our fear, and the symptoms clear… at that point we were obviously not going anywhere that day… wanted to watch him closely and make sure he would be alright.
  • Jaiden was quiet for a bit but was his old giggly self before too long and the delay worked out to let us go visit some other dear friends about an hour away who we hadn’t seen in a long time.

Day 26 (Thurs, 5/7/09):

  • On the way to get some errands done in the morning (one of which was getting the oil changed) I got stuck behind some SLOW traffic with no passing lane. There were alternate routes I could have taken into town, but I was keenly aware of YHWH saying that the situation was an example to me: He is slowing us down, every part of our lives… our previous life was lived in such servitude to schedules and TIME… always trying to get things done in a rush or having to be somewhere quickly… we are learning to slow down and become more aware of the NOW.
  • Of course, that approach leads to things like 2pm departures. But we were finally on our way.
  • And our first real mountain driving across I-80… what another example of slowing down… pulling 17,000 lbs total up some climbs brought us down to 30 mph in a couple spots to keep all the gauges in the mostly happy zones. Average maybe 45-50 mph. 60 mph on the downhill. Slowing down like that was HARD (for me because I much prefer the speed limit +5 rule of thumb). But I learned how to ride my gears on the auto tranny based on the precise position of the pedal and the current RPMs, speed, and incline of the road.
  • How do I know we were pulling 17,000 lbs? Because we finally found a scale that worked. For $5 I found out that:
    • my front axle was carrying 3140 lbs (GAWR 4250)
    • my rear axle was carrying 5380 lbs (GAWR 6000)
    • my trailer axles were carrying 8760 lbs (GAWR > 8800)
  • What a relief – we were under ALL our limits, which up until then was actually quite doubtful. We are pulling more than the overall recommended weight for the stock make / model / year, but we’re not driving a stock vehicle… and we can always sacrifice speed to make sure we don’t overwork the engine.
  • We rolled into a Wal-mart in Ohio at 10:30pm only to discover we had NO power from the trailer battery. I knew I needed to replace it, but it had never been totally drained before. This meant no tongue jack (to relieve some weight off the truck for the night and stabilize a bit) and no slide-out (which means the kids room is barely accessible and the bathroom is inaccessible – except to Jaiden and Zach who can squeeze through). Then, after getting the kids to bed doubled up on the pull-out couch and fold-down dinette, some initial checks on the wiring suggested that the trailer outlet on the truck wasn’t wired right and maybe hadn’t been charging the trailer battery during travel. It was a project for the morning, but it was going to mean a LATE departure.

Day 27 (Fri, 5/8/09):

  • Renee entertained the kids in Wal-Mart the next morning while I discovered that positive cable connector had completely snapped off the terminal (hence, no juice). Battery also needed replacement. Not satisfied that the trailer plug on the bumper was resolved, but it could wait; new battery and cable rewired, we pulled out around 1:30pm, gassed up and hit the interstate once more.
  • We entered Sabbath with an Indiana sunset and a spectacular visual reminder of what we love so much about traveling.
  • For whatever reason, I was determined to get to Chicago that night, and be done with it. But wondering if we shouldn’t heed the lessons of slowing down I tried to stop at a Flying J around 10:oopm but it seemed to be rigged only for trucks (or cars) but there didn’t seem to be anywhere for RVs to park… which was very strange… but we pressed on…
  • YIKES. 90/94 W through Chicago at 10:30pm on a Friday night… talk about some serious prayerful towing driving… that is an experience I’d rather not have to repeat… ever…
  • 11:01pm pull into Wal-mart on the other side of Chicago and join the ranks of a couple trucks and a couple motorhomes.
  • Stabilized on the tongue jack but still not using the slide-out after confirming that the new battery did not charge during the day of travel.
  • Settled in for a crazy night of some of the most insane wind we’ve half-slept through ever. The Windy City’s way of greeting us I suppose. The trailer rocked and shook like a dingy tossed around at sea, and that next morning Wal-Mart’s array of plants outside the Garden Center in the parking lot had suffered the damages of a tornado through a trailer park on a botanical scale.

Day 28 (Sabbath, 5/9/09):

  • 9:00am on the way to our final intended resting spot for the area – Illinois Beach State Park – another hour north.
  • 10:00am pulled in, found a site, set-up, registered, Jonathan (my brother who lives in the Chicago area) arrived, and we thought to ourselves – smooth sailing from here!!!!
  • or not
  • Discovered that the fridge wasn’t on and wouldn’t turn on.
  • Zach (age 4) found a small bead the exact size of a 4-year-old ear canal and he had not been previously, properly trained about what things (i.e. everything) should NOT be inserted an inch or so into one’s ear.
  • Between Zach lying on his side on the couch, ear hanging over and down, Jonathan holding his head level, me underneath looking up from the floor with a headlamp shining like some sort of mechanic pulling his ear down and forward while squirting water into it with a syringe while Renee consulted her mom (a nurse) on the phone regarding the correct angle to pull a child’s ear when it has become the container for a foreign object… and MUCH prayer… we finally got the crazy thing out. I’m not kidding, initially you couldn’t even see the bead without pulling the ear back first and shining some light.
  • I finally found the access panel (on the OUTSIDE of the trailer) to check if the fridge was even plugged in… which it was not (shaken unplugged in our travels) and that was working again so we could finally explore the campground a bit.
  • Came back and headed to Jonathan’s (an hour a way) for an awesome home-cooked meal (thank you Jonathan!)
  • Back to the trailer after that only to discover NO power – AGAIN! Even though we were plugged into the campground 30 amp service. No matter what I did, every time I plugged in, I tripped the 30 amp GFCI breaker….

[historical background digression]: there is a story here. When we first got the trailer, I discovered that the ground pin on the main 30 amp shoreline cable was broken. Now I suspect that this was done by the previous owners intentionally after having some frustrating electrical issues with GFCI circuits at campgrounds, but at the time I was thinking… this is not right, it needs to be fixed. So, I cut off the old broken plug and wired in a spiffy new 3-prong 30 amp plug… and I immediately started tripping the breaker in the garage that I had previously been plugged into without any problems. Safety = Pain in the Bum. Just like in the programming world. (Security = Pain in the Bum). In fact, the overkill in both arenas of Safety and Security largely result from the moronic behavior of a few individuals who make life much more complicated for the rest of the human race. My solution a few months ago – plug into a different outlet in the garage that was not GFCI protected, and forget about the whole thing.

  • Ah… the GFCI incident came back to haunt me didn’t it, here months later, in the up-until-2-am-with-a-multimeter-and-internet-forums kind of way. Current theory: electrical systems in RVs can be a Pain in the Bum. Solution so that we could have heat, keep the battery charged, and I could go to bed: break the ground prong off of an extra 30 > 15 amp adapter and plug into the 15 amp service (also GFCI) for now. [THIS IS NOT SAFE. DON’T DO THIS. YOU’VE BEEN WARNED…. but if it comes down to survival… ;)]

Day 29 (Sun, 5/10/09):

  • Renee and the kids out for a walk while I narrowed down the electrical issue at least to a specific circuit in the trailer… the one that has most of the receptacles (outlets) and the converter (which converts the AC to DC for charging the battery and running the DC appliances). Now if I can just dig up a little more electrical know-how than I currently possess I might not have to pay someone to fix the whole mess for me. I get the feeling that it could get involved. Especially if most or all of the outlets on that circuit were wired with the ground and neutral bonded. Ugh.
  • Met Jonathan for a tasty lunch, because life must go on.
  • Got some grocery shopping done and other errands.
  • Including a couple outlet testers from Home Depot that ended up telling me nothing I didn’t already know (they say all the outlets check out just fine, so the mystery continues).
  • Took the kids to an amazing playground. There will be photos of it posted somewhere eventually.
  • Brought them home, fed them, got them to bed.
  • And here I am typing this.

Congratulations, you have passed the very useful course: Reading Andrew’s Long Winded Posts (Even When They’re Written in Bullet Format) 301.

For further entertainment:
Updated Trip data
Updated Map

I also have a bunch of photos queued for upload (and more that I have to sort and queue) but I have to wait for a decent hard connection to get the upload done.