Breakdowns, Tornadoes, Shootings…now what?

Well, it’s been real…real hard traveling lately. We were so looking forward to getting back on the road. “It’ll be nice to get away, to have a break.” After three months of being home ( i.e. three months of Winter), we were ready to fire up the truck, hook up the RV, and get back to the travel life we love. As always, we’ve had some surprises along the way.

We started this leg of our journey by going to South Carolina. We wanted to scratch Congaree National Park off our a National Parks scratch off poster.

We love the National Park Service and we’re on a quest to see all the National Parks in America. The best time to visit Congaree is after the Winter flooding and before the Summer mosquitos. We had a great time there and enjoyed seeing an alligator. Stay tuned for more in-depth blog posts about this beautiful park and the other great places we visited and in the meantime, check out our YouTube channel Underanelmtree.

The next spot on our road trip was New Orleans, LA. We spent the week fishing, crabbing, and eating exorbitant amounts of spicy seafood.

Then, we were Texas bound! We all love Texas and were super excited about going back. We have some funny traditions when we’re in Texas. We love Buc-ees, flea markets, and Texas Goodwills. We had a great time at the San Antonio Riverwalk and the Alamo But, alas the next drive day came and it was time to leave. The GPS pointed us North toward Arkansas.

About two hours into our trip, we made a pit stop at a rest area for a bathroom break. Jason did the usual “walk-around” the rig. This means that one of us literally walks around the unit looking for any issues or problems. We’ve caught a lot of potential problems this way. We do it before we haul and usually whenever we stop for gas or a potty break. This is where Jason saw the problem- a broken leaf-spring.

If you’ve been following our journey, you know that we had this very same problem right before we came home for the holidays. On our last road trip, we were stranded in Stone Mountain, Georgia for what seemed like an eternity. The four of us were living in a hotel room while we tried to source the part we needed to fix the RV. We were unable to put out our slides or move the RV because it would have caused the suspension to come through the floor. It was awful and very expensive. Repairs, parts, hotel, and food expenses added up very quickly and it was a very stressful situation. My kids were worried we wouldn’t make it home for Christmas. I was worried about how to pay for Christmas presents because we had all of these unexpected bills coming our way. My husband was stressed to the max. He was trying to work. He had started a new remote job and didn’t want to take time off already. His boss was very understanding and supportive. But, Jason would try to work on the RV super early in the morning, on his lunch breaks, and after work to reduce the amount of time it would affect his job. We were partially blocking a main road in the RV park and the manager kept threatening to tow us away. This would have caused irreversible damage to our rig. To add insult to injury, it poured rain daily and was very cold. Laying in freezing puddles on the asphalt under an RV isn’t anybody’s idea of a good time and Jason’s attitude reflected that.

No one in the area had the part that we needed in stock. I was calling our Good Sam roadside assistance line, Lippert (the manufacturer of the parts), the management at the campground in Stone Mountain, our insurance agent, and the hotel front desk multiple times a day. I was also calling every RV dealership, trailer dealer, mobile mechanic, and repair shop in the greater Atlanta area and in neighboring states to try to find someone who had this obscure part in stock. Taking pictures, filling out forms, and just generally pulling my hair out-I was arguing with my husband and refereeing my kids arguments. We were living on Ramen, microwave dinners, and takeout. It was a nightmare.

Fast-forward to Christmas. We finally made it home and all was right with the world. Everything was put back together. Everyone was home safe and sound. We put the RV in storage and closed on a new house. I picked up some part-time work and we saved money to be able to travel again.

And, that brings us to Texas. Another broken leaf spring. %@#!$*!

I know how hard these things are to locate. So, I called and canceled our next reservation. We would not be going anywhere with our rig for a while. Then, my attention turned to finding us a place to stay. Luckily, it wasn’t quite as bad this time. We were able to extend the slide-outs to gather up clothes and food. But, we weren’t going to get permission to camp at the rest area. We also wouldn’t have power, water, or sewage there. I got online and started looking for an Airbnb. I learned my lesson the last time. Hotels are great for short stays while you are on vacation. But, this was not to be a vacation and this was likely not going to be a short stay. I found an inexpensive apartment about 30 minutes away. It wasn’t going to be ready for a few hours. So, we stopped for some BBQ and starting making calls.

The Airbnb ended up being pretty bad. I hadn’t done a lot of research because I was just trying to get something booked quickly. The neighborhood was sketchy. Our mechanic told Jason, “You need to get your wife and kids out of here. There’s a lot of shootings around here.” I wondered if he was exaggerating. So, I Googled it. Turns out, a woman was murdered on the same block last Spring. The beds were literally held up with cardboard. The furniture was falling apart. The ceiling fan was coming loose from the ceiling.

It was rough.

But, God bless Texas. It is a lot more RV-friendly than Georgia. We broke down on a Saturday. By Monday, the RV was fixed. This was a wonderful surprise. We left the Airbnb as soon as possible.

We drove another hour (on Jason’s lunch break) and stopped in Waco. The owner of the apartment messaged me to request a $20 fee because her cleaning service noticed a melted plastic spoon in the kitchen. She thought it was our responsibility to replace all the cooking utensils in her kitchen. We didn’t melt the spoon. But, we had loaded the dishwasher, stripped the beds, loaded the washing machine, sweeped, and purchased coffee to replace the complimentary coffee that we used. I explained that we hadn’t melted her precious plastic spoon, and we had in fact left things better than we found them. A petty and ridiculous argument ensued and was was spitting nails by the time I refused to respond to anymore of her messages.

It was time to relax and recharge. Let’s just put all these hiccups and inconveniences behind us. We’ll have a a family night and then we’ll all feel much better. We picked up groceries that night, propped our feet up, ate sushi, and enjoyed a cheesy 80’s movie before bed. It was really nice to just hang out together and veg out. Finally things were back to normal. We were cracking jokes and being silly. We went to bed exhausted but optimistic.

The following night, there was a tornado.

Yes…a tornado.

I was doing my online tutoring job with the weather on low volume in the background. We watched as the red zone on the weather map got closer and closer to our location. The sky turned black. A RV is definitely not a safe place to be in a tornado. So, I contacted the park owner. Thankfully, they had a storm shelter on site. I’m from the mountains. We don’t really have issues with tornadoes where we live. I’ve never been in a storm shelter. I was expecting the storm shelter to maybe be a small concrete building without windows. I pictured a a school gymnasium where people sat around playing cards and waiting out the storm together.

Well, that is not what we were dealing with.

This was a cellar door covering metal stairs that went underground. There were no lights. I’m not sure how large the room was because it was only lit by our cell phone screens. The rear of it was so dark, I don’t know how many people were in there with us. I heard a few voices. The owner of the park told us that her dad had built it about twenty years ago. It had only been used nine times. Locals were in there with us. We heard sirens overhead and hail started to pelt the ground. Our leader went over and shut the heavy metal doors. Locked inside, we waited. My daughter cried. I prayed. My husband talked about football with a guy sitting across from us. My son occupied himself with his Nintendo Switch (he had grabbed it when we left the RV). Guys are just wired different I guess. After some time, the doors were reopened to assess the situation again. It was much brighter and the hail had stopped. So, we ventured back to the RV.

Hail had busted through our plastic vent cover on our bedroom ceiling and rain was pouring onto my bed. We were using plastic containers, waterproof tape, garbage bags, towels…whatever we could find to redirect and contain the water. It was a mess. I stripped the bed of all the wet sheets and blankets and eventually the rain stopped. We set up a fan, space heater, and a dehumidifier in the tiny bedroom. I used a hair dryer on the mattress for quite a while.

photo by Matthew Waters the “Tornado Cowboy” taken 2 mi East of Waco, Texas.

Then, we smelled something burning.

We checked all the outlets. We checked appliances. We checked electronics. We couldn’t find anything. We unplugged everything and decided that maybe hail damaged the air conditioner on the roof. So, we turned off the air conditioners and warily went to bed.

The next morning, we realized the burning smell was a false alarm. You’ll never guess what it was… Here’s the video explaining what happened.

So, I guess I’m sharing all this because so many times we see Instagram feeds and social media where everything is beautiful and perfect. Houses are always clean. Children are always well behaved. Marriages are bliss at all times. Travel is magical. It’s a series of poolside drinks and awe-inspiring sunsets.

But, that’s not life. At least, it’s not my life. My life is messy. I make mistakes as a parent. I’m not always an ideal wife. We bicker and yell. We run out of clean towels. We face storms and breakdowns. We make stupid mistakes and don’t always learn from them.

But, you know what? We’re here together. We’re living out the life that we chose. We aren’t going through the motions on autopilot. We’re not just existing on a conveyor belt of life. We are living out our dreams. We are being intentional about what we want and we’re actually doing it. Is it pretty? Sometimes. Sometimes, it’s ugly. But, it’s worth it.

we’ve learned that we are a team. We operate as a unit. The unexpected will happen. But, when it does, we face it together. We’re learning about trust. We’re learning to trust God and each other. We’re also learning that there are great people out there that really look out for their fellow man. We want to be those people too. So, we’re trying to look for our opportunities to help out.

Don’t just daydream. Take steps toward living out the life you truly want.

It’s a beautiful ride.

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