Thursday, December 29, 2016

"The beatings will cease, when morale improves!!"

I know it has been a while since we have updated you on our adventures on the Trail of Life, but the "trail" has been pretty rough lately (even worse than southern Maine) and we just haven't had the time.  

The theme of this past summer was one of FRAGOs and disappointments.  The military works on operations orders or OPORDs and whenever a change is made to an operation order it is called a fragmentary order or FRAGO.  Well this summer were somewhere around FRAGO 135 or so, nothing went initially as planned, but we improvised, adapted and overcame the best we could.  When formulating plans one always has a PACE plan, Primary Alternate Contingency Emergency and we went through all of those as well.  Army training in planning has definitely come in handy.  In addition to constant changes in plans we experienced one disappointment after another when it came to dealing with individuals who are supposedly subject matter experts in their trade.  We repeatedly had to deal with individuals who had no pride in their work and just wanted to do the bare minimum required to get by.  This attitude and piss poor work ethic do not set well with me at all; too many years as a paratrooper always striving to be better than the rest I guess.  But in spite of all of the disappointing people we met this summer, we also met some truly amazing, helpful and supportive people as well; and we would never had made it through the summer without these amazing souls!!!
  
Friday 27 May 2016 was Mom's last day at work as a 3rd grade teacher at Murray Elementary School, Ft. Stewart, GA.  As planned we packed up our house on wheels and headed to Ft. Benning, GA Saturday morning.  I have an Army buddy, SFC Christopher Willoughby, who was killed in Iraq in 2003 and is buried in Parkhill Cemetery, Columbus/Ft. Benning, GA.  While at Holbrook Campground, Ft. Stewart, GA we purchased and installed a weight distribution hitch and sway bar on my Nissan pick-up truck.  The new hitch definitely improved the handling of my trailer, but there was still a lot of bouncing and some swaying on our way to Ft. Benning Campground.  We arrived at Ft. Benning Campground Saturday late afternoon and got ourselves unpacked and settled in for the weekend.  Sunday 29 May 2016 we spent the day relaxing.  On Monday, Memorial Day we packed up the trailer and made our way to Parkhill Cemetary, where we experienced our first disappointment.  Columbus, GA is the home of Ft. Benning, where Infantry basic training and Airborne school are both located.  Of all military towns I never thought I would experience such disappointment in Columbus, GA.  We arrived at Parkhill Cemetery on Memorial Day to find not one, not one flag placed on any of the veteran's grave sites.  My buddy is buried in the section called Veteran's Garden and yet not a single flag on a single veteran's grave.  To top it all off there is a really nice memorial on the top of the Veteran's Garden hilltop, which includes three flagpoles and not a single one of them had a US flag on them.  I was beyond mad, I was livid.  So mom and I headed to Walmart and bought 50 4x6in US flags for $25 and placed them on 50 of the veteran's graves.  This only took care of about 1/4 of all of the veteran gravesites, but it was all Mom and I could afford.  While we were placing flags a couple approached us and asked if we were cemetery employees.  We explained that we were not, that I was a combat veteran who was distraught by the lack of flags and were doing a small part to ensure theses veterans received their due remembrance.  The couple thanked us for what we were doing and said that the cemetery was under new management for the last two years and since the new company took over, they stopped putting out flags on Memorial Day.  I stopped by the office on our way on up the road, but the manager was not in, so I took his card and contacted the CVMA chapter in Columbus to follow up and see what we can do to ensure that in the future flags will be placed on every veteran's grave on Memorial Day.  Disappointment #1 management at Parkhill Cemetery.




From Columbus, GA we headed NNE to Fayetteville, NC to park Mom's ca at our friends' Kay and Mike's house, while we head on northward to hike for the summer.  I had noticed that the tires on my trailer seemed to be squatting a bit, but I had been told by a tire guy that those were the tires I needed and since he was the tire expert I didn't question his choice.  We parked our trailer in Kay and Mike's front yard for a couple of days while we went through our storage unit and pulled out some items I wanted to take to Illinois to put in permanent storage in my Grandmother's attic.  While parked in Kay's front yard her neighbor, Brian, came over and stated he was concerned about the condition/squatting of the tires on my trailer.  He showed me on his dump truck how tires are made with different sidewall thicknesses or plies, depending on the weight the of the load the tires are carrying.  At the time I did not know the exact weight of my trailer, but I knew it was around 6000lbs and had always stated I expected it to weigh about 6000 lbs when it was all finished (we have since had it accurately weighted and with full fuel and water tanks it weighs in at 5740 lbs.)  He suggested I needed to get new tires which had thicker ply sidewalls.  Kay was nice enough to let me put the cats in her spare bedroom and we took the trailer over to Camping World Hope Mills, NC to get new tires.  Why did I take it to Camping World because they are the camper trailer experts right...not necessarily, now I know.  Turns out Camping World sub-contracts their tire work out to a local tire dealer, Black's Tire.  I made it very clear that the rims on my trailer were the original rims and that the 205 tires that were on it had the proper clearance between the inner wheel well and the tire, but I was not sure if any other sized tire would fit properly.  Turns out my trailer needs 10-ply tires which for 15 inch rims are not available in the 205 size.  Therefore, Black's Tire put 225/75R15 tires on my trailer.  Before pulling away from Camping World I asked three times if the 225s fit properly in my wheel wells and if there was enough clearance.  I was assured that they had checked and yes I was good to go.  Well, guess what, there wasn't and on Sunday 5 June, 40 miles north of Fayetteville, NC we had a blow-out.  






We immediately called Camping World and they agreed to immediately refund the entire cost of the three tires and installation.  Disappointments #2 and #3, Camping World and Black's Tire.  Two guys, who spoke Spanish and hardly any English, stopped to help us change our spare.  Turns out our spare tire did not fit on my hub, the center hole was 1/4in too small, no I had not checked to make sure that it fit on before hitting the road, I just took someone else's word for it.  Anyway, the two guys took mom to a tire shop nearby and had the spare tire taken off of the too small rim and put on the other rim.  We then called roadside assistance because we couldn't drive on the 225s nor the 205s, so we needed to get towed to an RV park for the night and get new tires the next day.  Since it was Sunday the only tire selling business open was a Walmart.  The towing guy stopped there to see if they had different tires or rims, but they did not so the towing guy took us to a nearby RV park where we settled in for the night and searched for places to look for new tires and rims in the morning. 








 Monday we ended up at Colfax Trailer & Repair, 217 Little Santee Rd, Colfax, NC 27235, Phone: (336) 993-851 and finally found some competent trailer people who were able to get us rolling down the road safely.  It turned out my original trailer wheels had an offset, or the center plate was slightly off-set from center which resulted in the tire sitting closer to the inner wheel-well.  The new wheels Colfax Trailer recommended had a zero off-set, so the center plate was centered and would move the tire out from the wheel-well.  The additional clearance of the new wheels allowed for a proper fit of the 10-ply 225/75R15 tires, which my trailer requires for its weight.  But the three new rims and tires weren't free, they were a very unexpected $450 chunk out of our budget, but we had to have safe tires to move on up the road.  With the new wheels and tires installed we headed on north towards Illinois.

We looked at the map and noticed that we would be passing near Damascus, VA on our way to Illinois.  We had not been able to stop in and visit with our amazing friend Woodchuck, owner of Woodchuck hostel in Damascus, and an AT hiker friend, Walk In Trees, happend to be in Damascus for a few days, so we decided to stop over in Damascus for the night to visit our trail friends.  All was well until we hit Fancy Gap and then it all went to pieces, literally.  My A/C had been acting up in Fayetteville so we had it looked at and were told I needed a new fan clutch.  I decided to not use the A/C and get to Illinois so my cousin could help me replace my fan clutch.  This decision turned out to be a huge mistake with pretty drastic consequences.  I know from my time in the Army that it is the little things that will kill you and cause you the most problems, but do to lack of knowledge as to what exactly the fan clutch does and the systems it affects and being so focused on getting on up north, I chose not to replace it in Fayetteville, very bad decision.

Fancy Gap is a steep climb and even though my trailer was under the max weight limit of my Nissan Frontier, with the broken fan clutch, the climb was too much and the truck overheated.  I did not know it at the time, but the fan clutch no working was cause all of the mechanical systems in my truck to overheat.  We pulled over with steam pouring out from under the hood.  A State Highway Patrol Officer stopped and called a DOT roadside assistance truck to stop and give us water to refill the radiator.  






With the truck cooled down and radiator filled we were able to make it up to the top of Fancy Gap.  We saw an exit and decided to get off and find a place to stop for the night and continue on to Damascus in the morning.  After exiting we saw a sign for Fancy Gap KOA...whoohoo, just what we needed, or so we thought.  The main office was closed when we arrived so we stopped at the self registration kiosk and signed up for the least expensive site still available for the evening and headed to our spot.  On the KOA map the site looks nice and flat with a a nice loop drive, however in real life there was a very steep, at least 7% grade, uphill to get up in order to get to our spot.  My truck and clutch said no way and I could not make it up the hill, so then I tried to back it down the hill and turn around so we could get to a vacant more expensive pull-thru site near the entrance.  I did great with the backing up part, however, it was the turn around part that would be my demise.  I ended up getting the truck and trailer stuck in some freshly laid, unpacked gravel and burned out the clutch.  

This is when we called roadside assistance the first time.  Roadside Assistance #1 showed up and using a winch pulled the truck and trailer up into a flat area that is intended for tent camping.  While we were no longer stuck in the rocks there was no way I could get the trailer and truck turned around and headed back downhill to the entrance.  Roadside Assistance #1 said he was only dispatched to winch us out so he there was nothing else he could do and left.

And so we call roadside assistance again and Roadside Assistance #2 is dispatched.  He shows up with a 4-wheel drive heavy duty dually pick-up truck.  Roadside Assistance #2 ends up getting the trailer stuck in the mud and gravel.  Mom and I had to give him a push to get him out and on his way home for the night.  So at 0300 hrs we declared defeat, crawled into the trailer and went to sleep until the office opened at 0800.





At 0800 hrs Mom and I were at the campground office and the wife/owner was not the least bit concerned if we were ok, but was quite upset that we had put ruts in her rocks.  We called roadside assistance for the third time explaining that we needed for the trailer to unstuck, we figured we would get the trailer unstuck and then mess with calling roadside assistance to get the truck towed.


Roadside Assistance #3 showed up and renewed out faith in vehicle recovery specialists.  #3 without hesitation or difficulty got the trailer unstuck and then called his supervisor and received authorization to load up my truck as well and off to Damascus we were headed.  Turns out #3 was a former Airborne Ranger, so what more would one expect, RLTW!!  I had asked the KOA owner for a rake to smooth out the ruts in the rocks, but she said not to worry.  I ended up using our rake and smoothed out the rocks, so when we left it didn't look like we had ever been stuck in there.  We had called ahead and explained out predicament to Woodchuck and he said we were more than welcome to park at his hostel for however long we needed.  We made it to Damascus and got the trailer parked and truck unloaded.













The next morning we had the Nissan towed to Marion, VA where it ended up at J&K Transmission.  J&K said the clutch was burned out and would need to be completely replaced, this would end up costing us $1100.  Mom and I decided that the Nissan just wasnt going to be able to handle the weight of the motorcycle and trailer so we should look for a used 4x4 V8 truck to replace the Nissan.  Over the next 3 days we used my motorcycle to travel to all of the nearby dealerships and ended up buying a used Chevrolet Silverado LT 4x4 pick-up truck.
New Pick-up truck


While at Woodchuck's I noticed the front corners of my trailer had come apart as a result of all the tugging and pulling to get it unstuck at the KOA.  I had not previously found any rot in the front area, so I had not opened up the front section.  Turns out both front corners were rotten half way up, so I set about tearing out and replacing the rot.  I also went ahead and ripped out the old "shower" and toilet and replaced it with 3/4in plywood so the bathroom floor is nice and flat now.










While hiking the AT Mom and I regularly performed Work for Stay at various hostels and inns along the way.  So while at Woodchuck's we gladly lent Woodchuck a hand with mom helping with breakfast and me helping with evening clean-up.  Woodchuck insisted we didn't owe him a thing for letting up stay and plug in at his hostel, but we were more than happy to do what we could to repay his kindness.  We stayed at Woodchuck's until Tues 21 June, at which time we decided to head on up to Illinois drop off some of my keepsakes in my aunt and grandmother's attic and attend the Combat Veterans Motorcycle Association Nationals in Milwaukee, WI.  The Nissan repairs were not yet complete so we left the Nissan at J&K, loaded up the trailer and headed north.  The Silverado towed my trailer without any problems and we made it to Illinois Tuesday evening.

Thursday 23 June, me, my mom and my grandmother headed north to Milwaukee for the CVMA Nationals.  We were able to get an RV site at the Milwaukee State Fair RV park just 2 miles down the road from the host hotel.  We all had a great time in Milwaukee.  I had a great time partying with my CVMA brothers and sisters but spent some great time with my mom and grandmother as well.  One afternoon I took grandma on a ride to lunch at the Haufbrau House German restaurant where we had amazing German food and beer and then we enjoyed a great boat ride on the Milwaukee river and Lake Michigan.  Milwaukee was a great time. 

























On Sunday 26 June we packed up in Milwaukee and headed on south back to my grandmother's in Illinois.  Our plan now was for mom to get up Monday morning and get a pre-op exam at a local walk-in clinic for her upcoming cornea transplant surgery and then mom and I would had on to Vermont where we were going to meet up with our hiking friend, Kay, to hike the north half of the Long Trail so that she could finish the trail.  Well, it was a great plan that failed in so many ways, resulting in more FRAGOs.  None of the local walk-in clinics would give mom her needed exam, so we ended up driving 2 hours to Cape Girardeau, Missouri to a clinic that would.  So all day Monday was spent getting mom's exam done, no biggie we would head to Vermont on Tuesday, except my new/used Silverado pick-up truck decided to start belching out large clouds of white smoke anytime you started it up.  So again, FRAGO, change of plan.

Tuesday morning, 28 June I took my Silverado into Miles Chevrolet in nearby Decatur, IL.  I have never in my life been treated so terribly or had a dealership try so hard to get me to go away.  Finally, however, I was able to convince them to look at my truck to see what was wrong.  A few hours later they called saying I needed a whole new engine as I had a blown head gasket.  Bottom Line Up Front (BLUF), Miles was trying to screw me over and I did not have a blown head gasket.  Wednesday morning I had my Silverado towed from Miles Chevrolet in Decatur to Baum Chevrolet in Clinton, IL.

Baum Chevrolet and Lynn in the service department were amazing.  They determined that my engine had a fuel consumption issued that had been identified by GM, for which new re-engineered parts had been issued to correct the problem.  However, since the problem was not a safety issue and the parts which needed replacing are considered expendable, neither GM nor my limited warranty would cover the repairs.  It ended up costing $991 to get the Silverado fixed.  Having to pay $450 for new trailer rims and tires, $1100 for a new Nissan clutch had wiped out anything extra we had saved, leaving us without any money to pay for the Chevy repairs.  I ended up requesting and receiving a benevolent fund contribution from the CVMA to pay for the Silverado repairs, had it not been for the money from the CVMA I don't know what I would have done, I am eternally grateful.

While in Illinois we did get to spend some time with family and celebrate my Grandma Farnham's 88th Birthday





My 5th Grade teacher, Mrs. McDonald stopped by one afternoon and I got to give her a tour of my home on wheels.



The truck repairs took until 9 July, at which time we packed up the trailer and finally headed northeast to Vermont on Sunday 10 July.  We got to Marilyn's(Kay's mother) house in Colchester, VT on 11 July and got on trail on the Long Trail on 13 July.  

Kay, Hendo and Hendo's Mom heading north on the Long Trail.


Kay enjoying an afternoon break at a great overlook on the Long Trail.




Hendo wading through the Mud of Vermont!! 

 Kay enjoying the mud and views.

 A beaver's unfinished work...but strangely on the top of a mountain.

 Hendo's Mom wading through the Vermont Mud

 Hendo stopping to enjoy the view


Hendo's Mom and Hendo enjoying a hike together again

After 3 days of hiking, Kay injured her knee so we got off trail to rest and recuperate at her mom's house.  FRAGO!!!  We ended up spending 4 days at Marilyn's (Kay's mother) house and enjoyed some of the local sites.  One evening we went to a local blueberry farm where a local bagpipe group performed and we picked blueberries....a great night!!!


 Kay's Mom, Marilyn picking blue berries

 Hendo picking blueberries

Hendo's Mom

Unfortunately, Kay's knee was more severely injured than she had first thought, after several days of rest she was not able to get back on trail, therefore, mom decided to reschedule her eye surgery for the end of August and we headed on up to Maine and New Hampshire to do some hiking.

When we were thru-hiking the AT, during the winter portion when I was snowshoeing, mom was slack-packing me each day.  She would drop me off in the morning, drive around to the pick-up point, snowshoe in and meet me if she could park, and then snowshoe back out to the car.  So during the sections from Caratunk, ME to Little Bigelow, ME and Glenclif, NH to Killington, VT mom did not technically hike every inch of the trail.  Therefore, mom wanted to go back and fully hike these two portions of the trail.

We started up near Caratunk, ME where Mom had started slack packing me, and I began slack packing mom.  Here are the pics Mom took while hiking from just south of the Kennebeck River to Little Bigelow, ME.





















While parked at Little Bigelow we provided trail magic for AT hikers passing through, we provided fresh fruit, a trash bag to drop trash and water to water-up.  One evening a huge rain storm was moving in and we were able to give AT thru-hiker, Polar Bear a warm and dry place to sleep for the night.

Polar Bear head on north after a dry nights sleep in our trailer and a hot breakfast.

Two additional thru-hikers we met one morning and invited into out trailer for hot coffee and cinnamon rolls.


After Mom finished her Maine section we headed over to the east coast of Maine to visit a fellow Army combat veteran and trail angel, Deanna, who lives in Friendship, ME and have another problem surface and another FRAGO issued.

When we arrived at Deanna's for some reason I felt a need to crawl under the trailer and check the tires and axle.  It was a good thing I did, because somewhere along the way we had hit a bump or pothole and my old axle with shot leaf springs came up and dented the wheel well, pushing the inner wall of the wheel well in, which resulted in it rubbing on the inner wall of the tire.  Luckily it had not worn the tire enough to cause it to blow out.  I contacted my CVMA brothers in the area and they gladly came over and helped e change the tire and find a local trailer company that could replace my axle.  I ended up getting a Dexter straight Torflex axle, installed at On The Road trailer repair in Warren, ME.  While they did a good job on installing the new axle, we did have some issue with them installing the new spare tire and their final bill.  But I held my ground they ended up agreeing to the price they had initially quoted me for the repairs.  

Looking out from Deanna's front porch, what a great view of the inlet that runs next to her house, this is low tide, Frienship, ME.


The fisherman's storage shed/workshop next door to Deanna's house, Friendship, ME.


We took advantage of our time on the east coast of Maine and spent a day visiting Acadia National Park.  Even though we went on a Wednesday it was packed and we weren't able to get out of the truck and really enjoy much of the park, but we did enjoy the sites.

Hendo's Mom and Hendo at Acadia National Park







A cool suspension bridge we crossed on our way back to Friendship, ME from Acadia National Park.


During our two week stay in Frienship, ME at Deanna's I was able to meet and hang out with my CVMA brothers and enjoy a day spent on a fundraising ride.  The ride ended at a local VFW with quad-amputee and combat veteran Travis Mills speaking to us all.  It was a pleasure to meet such an amazing fellow combat veteran, Travis Mills. 



With a new axle on the trailer, having some time left until we had to be in Atlanta, GA for mom's eye surgery we decided to head over to New Hampshire so mom could work on hiking the section she had slack packed me through during the winter from Glenclif, NH to Killington, VT.  Mom ended up getting from Glenclif, NH to the south side of Mt Cube, when we needed to head south to Atlanta, GA.  Here are the pics of Mom hiking in New Hampshire.



























With our summer of hiking and trailer repairs complete we headed to Atlanta, GA, as Mom had cornea transplant surgery scheduled for 24 August.  We parked the trailer and stayed with my Army buddy Beth and her partner Debbie NE of Atlanta in Comer, GA.  Mom's surgery, done by Dr Alan Kozarsky of Eye Consultants of Atlanta, went great and we spent the next week at Beth and Debbie's while mom re-cooperated.  

On Friday 2 Sept, Mom had another follow-up eye exam, was given the all clear until 15 Sept, so we headed north.  We stopped at a rest area to sleep overnight and Saturday 3 Sept arrived in Damascus, VA to pick-up my Nissan Frontier pick-up truck.  We had left the Nissan at our friend Woodchuck's hostel in Damascus, after I had burned out the clutch, had to have it repaired and we bought our new and bigger Chevy Silverado pick-up.

I had forgotten that the fan clutch on the Nissan needed to be replaced, but was quickly reminded when the Nissan started to overheat.  Luckily we were just 15 miles from Damascus in Abingdon, VA where we were able to find an auto parts store still open with the fan clutch in stock.  As several times before we found ourselves in the parking lot of Lowes making repairs.  It took me approximately 2 hrs, but I successfully replaced the fan clutch in my Nissan.  During this time not a single person stopped to ask if I needed or offered help, not until I was just finishing up.  A man and his wife stopped and asked if I needed any help.  I did have a question about refilling and bleeding the radiator with anti-freeze and this gentlemen was able to assist.  Turns out he was prior Army and a fellow paratrooper, no wonder he stopped, it's what we paratroopers do.

  





Old fan clutch


New Fan Clutch installed

 The red goateed gentlemen on the right is the paratrooper who stopped to help.

With the Nissan's fan clutch replaced we headed north to my Grandma Farnham's in Mt. Zion, IL.  We would stay there until we had to return to Atlanta for Mom's check-up later in the month.


We arrived in Illinois and I set about finding a new door for my trailer.  The door I had installed was a temporary replacement from the original, and it was falling apart and becoming harder to open and close and was shorter than the original, so we often bumped our heads.  I was able to find a "new" door on craigslist for $50.  The new door went in without any major issues and I am very pleased with it.


New door installed

We also got to visit with my Dad's sister Jeanne and her daughter Olya while at home in Illinois.  It is always great to see family.
Ilene, Aunt Jeanne, Mom, Cousin Olya


On 14 Sept we headed south for Atlanta, for Mom's check-up.  The plan was to go to Mom's check-up in Atlanta and then head to Fayetteville, NC where Mom would substitute teach at one of the Ft. Bragg elementary schools and I would return to school at Methodist University.  Mom's check-up went great, but she was notified the same day that because of mistakes made at the DODEA HR background check department, Mom's background check to substitute was not complete and she could not begin work yet.  We did not want to go to Fayetteville and have to pay for an RV site to stay at if Mom was not working, so I contacted my CVMA brother, Oz, in Charlotte, NC to see if we could park/stay at his house while we waited for Mom's background checks to be completed.  Oz said of course and we headed to Charlotte, NC.  Oz had been notified that he was being transferred to Virginia for his job, so he and his wife Michelle were busy prepping the house to sell and packing.  Mom and I gladly helped babysit their 8 month old son, clean and prep the house and pack boxes.  It just so happened an AT hiking friend of ours, Jason "Tumbles" Weister, was renting a room from Oz and Michelle, so it was cool to be able to also hang out with and catch up with Tumbles.  As with any type of home ownership, there is always work to be done on a home.  While at Oz and Michelle's I borrowed grinder and wire brush head and sanded off the trailer's frame and then spray painted it with undercoating.  It was quite the task, but I got it done and it looks great!!
 Ilene under the trailer sanding the metal frame


 More sanding

The frame all sanded and painted with black undercoat

Ilene at the end of the painting the frame


On Friday 7 October, Mom received word from her school at Ft. Bragg that she could start back to work substituting on Wed 12 October.  However, Hurricane Matthew was headed straight for Fayetteville/Ft. Bragg, so we asked Oz and Michelle if we could stay until Tuesday 11 Oct.  Oz and Michelle said of course so we spent the weekend hanging out and helping them get ready to sell the house and move.  On Tuesday 11 Oct we left Charlotte and arrived back home in Fayetteville, NC.

So we are settle back in the Fayetteville, NC area with Mom substituting at Shugart Elementary school on Ft. Bragg and I am finishing up my degree at Methodist University and driving for Uber.


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