Reignited Memories

The human brain works in mysterious ways. Last week my grandson called to tell us that his motorhome trip to Zion Park was terminated by a tire blowout on I-57 not thirty miles from home. It happened on an outside lane during heavy traffic, and he had to pull onto the left side shoulder. The tire change would have to be done with his ass hanging out into the fast lane. He opted for safety and called for help. Traffic backed up and the Cops called the freeway emergency trucks to tow him off the road into an accident investigation area.

All week my mind has been sending me messages about roadside dilemmas that I experienced with the family campers. In 1980 we owned a 1978 GMC van with a 405 cu in engine that had horsepower to spare. We pulled a 18 foot long Skamper camping trailer which opened up to 26 feet. We named the trailer ‘G4″, the “G” stood for “Gypsy”, and the four meant it was the our fourth camper. There is a separate story attached to each of the G series outfits, and this one will concentrate on the biggest travel trip our family of five took. That year I had accumulated over eighty hours of uncompensated work time and asked my boss if I could add the time to my three week vacation, and miraculously he agreed.

Barb and I planned to explore the National Parks of the west. My part involved getting the van and the trailer ready. Caution urged me to re-lube the trailer hubs which I did, but this meant I had to remove the wheels first. My trailer manual told me to tighten the lug nuts on the wheels, and to retighten them after a thousand miles on the road. Barb’s part was to cook meals that we could freeze and keep frozen for at least three weeks. This took a big load off her having to cook in camp. We left on a Saturday morning and headed north on I-94.

We planned a route that would take us to Theodore Roosevelt, Grand Teton, Yellowstone, Glacier, Mount Rainier, Olympia, Lassen, Redwoods, Sequoia, Yosemite, and finally the Grand Canyon, an aggressive schedule for sure. In the beginning we dreamed of staying days at each park, but that changed quickly as we realized to make it we would have to drive 500 miles every single day. When we arrived at Mount Rainier I made a decision to camp more and drive less. One of the biggest impressions we came home with were the trees along the West coast. At Mount Rainier my son and I took an after supper hike up a trail that spiraled upward. What impressed me most was the physical size of the trees growing there. From the road, or from a distance the trees look small, but from the ground they look like they extend to heaven, and a girth of five feet at the base was a baby. When we finally arrived in Redwood territory, the trees on Mount Rainier were truly babies. The girth of the General Sherman tree is at least twenty five feet, and he is at least three hundred feet tall. I never saw any greenery on this redwood because it was so high up.

We left Mount Rainier and headed for Olympia NP, but it was one of the parks I opted to pass by in order to have more quality time. We moved down the Oregon coast and stopped at several beach camp grounds along the way. We even made an emergency visit to a dentist for Barb. In southern Oregon we crossed over the mountains toward Crater lake on Lassen NP. The passage was a twisty windy two lane mountain road. They posted a rule that if you were holding up more than two cars you were to pull over and allow them to pass. I spent a good part of the ride pulling over. We finally reached Interstate 5 at 4 p.m. and there was still another hundred miles to Crater Lake. I made another decision to pass this up in favor of moving on toward the Redwoods. We boogied south on the I-five. About a half hour into the ride, I felt the van suddenly jump-up and land hard. I looked into my rear view mirror and saw a rooster tail of sparks flying off the trailer. I slowed and pulled off to a stop. The Trailer was sitting very low on the passenger side. I looked around and could not tell immediately what had happened. Then I saw it, one of the wheels on the low side was gone. It dawned on me, I never re-tightened the lug nuts. The twisty curvy mountain road had worked the nuts loose on this one wheel and it finally came off the hub. The bump I felt was the free spinning tire hitting the trailer frame to get loose. I never found the wheel. There we were in the boondocks of Northern California with one trailer wheel and four lug nuts short. Thankfully, I had a spare wheel, and I stole one lug nut from each of the remaining wheels to get back on the road. Within minutes of rolling again I sensed a new problem, I smelled rubber burning. This time I crawled under the trailer to see what was happening. When the wheel lifted the trailer to escape it came down hard and the impact of the hub against the concrete road bent the axle. The tire was rubbing on the frame and melting. We limped into a small town, probably Redding, and found a camp ground. It was Friday evening by that time, and finding help to fix the axle was nonexistent until Monday. Luckily, I was able to find a shop that could do the job, but it would take two days. We left the trailer with the fixer and checked into a motel. We spent the time sight seeing the area.

Since this event came to mind, I have recalled three more break down stories on our vacation trips pulling a camper. It has been fifty to fifty-five years that this event was tucked into the folds of my brain, and it took Jerry’s unfortunate breakdown to trigger the memory.

We drove over eight thousand miles during our five week National Park Tour and arrived home physically tired but very refreshed with memories that have lasted a lifetime. I want to do it again, but this time without the trailer, and not constrained by a five week time limit.

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