Day 7 – The Sad Day That Didn’t Happen.

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The day that didn’t happen.

You may have noticed a lack of posts the last few days… lets just say we had an another nasty incident about 24 hours after the rock shattered the passenger window. I think Mark and I are both a little embarrassed by it but at the same time thankful things didn’t go horribly worse…
The day started great, a stunning day, cool with no rain in the forecast. We drove around scenic Natchez taking some photos along the Mississippi River before deciding to hit the road around noon. We wanted to trace the river so we chose the Louisiana side and started our drive north. The road we chose was great but eventually we came to a stop when it turned to gravel. No biggie we thought so we kept going, taking some amazing photos of the cotton fields and the rest of the Mississippi, not really making the best time but who cares, it was the first day without rain in a days so we were enjoying it! Eventually we got back on a bigger highway, LA-65 to be exact. A two lane highway with the occasional semi-truck heading in the opposite direction but thankfully on this day not too crowded. Im not really sure what we were talking about or what was going on but without any warning BAMN and the bus started pulling severely to the left into oncoming traffic. I tried not to panic, turning the wheel to the right increasingly to keep control even though it was pulling significantly to the left-strange because the noise was coming from the rear. While giving some firm even pressure to the brakes I started to get her slowed down. Hard to describe everything that was going on, I saw something flash in the mirrors and then I realized what had happened, we lost a wheel! Yeah, a wheel. The drivers rear to be exact, it came completely off and we we’re now driving with the brake drum tearing into the pavement. After some of the longest seconds of my life we came to a stop on the shoulder wondering in disbelief how the hell this just happened. Mark was pissed, I don’t think I’ve ever seen him angry like that, I don’t know what I was confused I guess. I jumped out of the cockeyed bus and saw the brake drum dented and well scarred from scraping along the pavement at 55MPH. I know I said a few choice words but quickly pulled it together and tried to figure out what to do next. The tire was nowhere to be seen, so I think both of us just immediately started looking for it. The woods on both sides were swampy, dense and full of nasty creatures. I think the wheel is what I saw flash by in my mirror but I cant be sure so I kept looking. Determined to find it, I put on some jeans and my hiking boots and hit the wilderness looking without much luck. Mark looked for a while as well but then switched gears and started to work on getting the bus jacked up to see what exactly we had done. Thankfully most of the damage was to the brake drum but on closer inspection we saw the wheel had pushed out the big shiny beautiful side of the bus near the wheel-well as it banged around before freeing itself from the vehicle. Without the rear left wheel, the front right was actually off the ground which explained the loss of steering… Damn, youre kidding right??
While I was looking for the lost wheel, Mark started to jack up the bus using the stock VW jack that I insisted we bring along…yeah its great and nostalgic but it puts a ton of pressure against the side of the bus and of course it put a dent on the big side on top of all that. Mark swore again. I ended up flagging down a cop who had a scissor jack so we put the spare on with that and sent him on his way. Since we lost all the lugs when the wheel went flying off we had to take one from each of the remaining wheels to make a hasty repair. The cop was off duty on his way to a function so we let him go which ended up being a mistake. As soon as we moved 2 feet we heard a scraping grinding sound. CRAP! We drove at 5mph to a farm house looking for a jack but no one was there. We continued to limp along the shoulder for a while longer wondering how we were going to get 30 miles to the nearest town when some cool dude in a big ole pickup truck stopped. He said two weeks earlier he got a flat and some lady stopped so he was repaying karma. “Do you know where you are” he asked? “Yeah, middle of nowhere!” The dude had a good jack (and a cooler of beer which apparently everyone in Louisiana carries) so we proceeded to jack the bus back up. Not 5 minutes later, two other dudes pulled over. Ironically they were the other dude’s mechanics! So they took over which I have to say was a little nerve racking… they had an even better jack and assessed the situation. Then of course another cop stops by, just as Im walking around with the beer in my hand. Did he care? No, he was an ole timer, just wanting to chat and check out the bus. I think a few times we actually laughed at the whole situation before finally feeling decent enough to drive back to Natchez….slowly.
As far as we know the only real damage mechanically is a brake drum that is scarred and dented. We went all the way back to Natchez and found a mechanic there who took the big main wheel nut off so we could inspect and clean up the brake drum. It seems to be in ok shape but we’re getting a bit of pulsing in the brakes so we need to find a new one..which is not that easy I learned. After some interneting and phone calls I found one in a VW salvage yard about 400 miles away, cost to overnight it to me? $250, and that’s just shipping! Ironically he was heading to a VW show in Little Rock Saturday which was only 300 miles away- and on our way. So with that we got back on the road and are taking it easy until we get the new drum on.
So why did the wheel fly off? Dunno. Mark does most of the mechanical work and if there is one thing I know he’s thorough, if not meticulously anal. He double checked the lugs, probably triple checked. Maybe the only error was not double checking everything after we put the first 1000 miles on or so but hindsight is always 20-20. Mark said used some anti-seize on each lug initially, maybe that had something to do with it but we can’t be sure. I know as I write this at a campsite in the Arkansas forest he’s climbing under the bus double checking everything. I guess when you take every single nut and bolt off a vehicle and put it back together a mistake can happen but somewhere in my gut I just don’t think that’s the case, I know my buddy too well. In fact, the very FIRST trip the bus took when we finished was to Continental Imports in Gainesville to have things looked over on a lift by a professional mechanic and set the torque to the proper spec on a few bolts. I guess in the end its simply Shit Happens! The good news is we are heading to a VW show and should be camping with a bunch of fellow Volkswagen enthusiasts before tomorrows meet. Who know’s maybe we’ll have a trophy by the end of the day, Most Eventful Journey perhaps. :)
I must say this, the people in Louisiana, Mississippi and Arkansas are some of the most friendly I’ve ever met. Justin at our campsite last night just left us a cooler full of fish, pork and deer meat! Everyone seems like that. I guess if youre going to get stranded there are worse places in the world. Hopefully this is the last of our incidents!!

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Day 6 – Disaster on the Mississippi

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Check out all the glass in the back seat! The violence of the widow exploding was pretty epic, just a wall of flying glass. What my face didnt take ended up in the back of the bus!
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Todays leg of the trip wasn’t so good as we had a pretty serious incident. Hugging the Misssissippi River on the Louisiana highway 15 a passing semi-truck kicked up a rock which scarily struck the front passenger window shattering it instantly in my face! I saw the truck, Mark prepared for it by moving the bus close to the shoulder but as it passed BAM a huge explosion sound and next thing I know glass was everywhere. I was stunned for a few moments not really sure how to react covered in glass. Mark E saw it all from the driver seat, said it was crazy just a wall of glass flying by! The safari windows we installed came from Europe and didn’t use laminated glass, instead it was tempered “safety glass.” Its safe because it doesn’t become shards but it doesn’t stop anything from penetrating the window either. Anyway, very close call, thankfully I just have a little cut over my eye.
With a huge storm just above us we had to quickly clean the debris from in the cabin hurry to the nearest town. We had driven 2 hours and hadn’t seen much of anything so we were rather lucky that Vidalia was just 10 miles up the road. There we met Steve at Auto Glass Services who amazingly had us back on the road in just 3 hours! He cut a couple pieces of flat laminated glass, using the intact driver side as a template. Neither Mark or I wanted to drive anymore with that tempered glass so we replaced both sides. Steve was quite a cool character. Super good dude, gave us a few beers to calm the nerves while we waited. Its hard to watch someone else work on the bus though Ill tell you that!
We decided we had traveled enough that day and found a hotel in Natchez just across the river. We saw the most wicked sunset overlooking the bridge then found some fantastic BBQ. After that we headed to a pub and met a fun couple from the UK also on an epic road trip. A good end to a crazy day!

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Day 5 – Avoiding Rain

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We left New Orleans a day late because of all the rain but it turned out to be a good thing. We went out again and saw a great blues band on Bourbon street. The dude busted into some Zeppelin and a tribute to Jimmy Page and Robert Plant which was awesome, then we headed back to The Dungeon for round two of metal. It was still raining when we woke up this morning so we got a crazy good sandwich, mine was off the chart amazing. Finally a little break in the rain so we took a chance and left New Orleans only to spend the day trying to avoid rain. We had to pull over and wait under a gas station at one point but we pushed on. Eventually we found a hotel in St. Francisville Louisiana where we are now. After all the heavy meals a salad really sounded good but unfortunately the only restaurant in the city thats open on Sundays didnt really have a good salad option…so I ordered fried chicken. Im really gonna need a diet after this!

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Day 3 – Rain in New Orleans

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Day 3 could have started a little better…  We left the campsite figuring it would be easy to get to New Orleans for a night of fun in the French Quarter.  We drove about 20 miles west along a thin strip of land where we knew we would be taking a ferry across Mobile Bay in south Alabama.  We get there and find out after a few minutes that the ferry had just broke down and we were out of luck.  The bigger bummer was not only did we have to backtrack due east but we had to drive completely around Mobile Bay which took hours.  Then, once we got back on track the rain started coming down.  At one point it was definitely a little scary as the rain was pouring, the wind was blowing us all over the road as Im trying to drive over this monster bridge.   It’s pretty rare im nervous driving but that was definitely a little white-knuckle.  While the bus is amazing in the dry with all the windows open and all, its pretty un-amazing in the rain.  Theres no windshield wipers so that’s the first problem.  It leaks all over the place which is a second problem annddd the windows steam up rather quickly, oh and it gets hot in there real quick!  Basically driving in the rain sucks!  We did make it to New Orleans aok though, found a hotel and partied it up on Bourbon Street.   Hoping to leave in the morning we were greeted to more rain and saw on the map that a storm the size of Texas is directly overhead.  Not wanted to drive the entire day in the rain we decided there were worse places to get stuck so we’re staying an extra day…hopefully tomorrow we make it to Baton Rouge. And as always the food in Nawlins is off the chart!

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Day 2, Ants in Alabama

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On day two we woke up to a hot sun and lots of skeeters outside the tents so we didn’t stay long.  We packed up the bus and headed for breakfast at a little restaurant near the entrance to the island.  We both ordered over-medium eggs, Marks came out perfect as usual, mine runny and clear as usual.  Mark laughed, I groaned.  With that yummy goodness in my gut we hit the road again.  I’m not really sure how we lost the time, but after driving all day we weren’t all that close to the campsite we were looking for.  It had rained a bit along the way, but nothing to crazy.   It was getting dark though and that is kinda bad.  The bus is awesome and all but having a 6volt system means the lights just aren’t as bright as they should be so it’s a little sketchy.  Eventually we made it across the state line to Alabama and found a campsite at Gulf Islands National Park.  I wasn’t quite St. George but pretty awesome anyway.  Skeeters were out again in full force and we had a few ants to deal with, looks like Mark took the worst of that!

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