One day we fired up the bus and finally headed off St. George Island. We hugged the coast for a while before pointing our nose north, toward our former hometown, Athens, GA.
It was a slow drive, the mushy brakes never far from my mind, which gave things an edge, made it far more interesting than it should have been. But, and I know this sounds crazy, I really don’t use the brakes much in the bus. Take your foot off the gas and 10,000 lbs (or so) will stop pretty damn quickly. That’s no excuse for letting the brakes get as bad as I did, but it might explain how I made it to Athens in one piece.
We stopped overnight at Reed Bingham State Park in south Georgia. It had been several months since we’d driven more than 100 miles in a day and we were out of practice, after driving for two hours, we needed a break.
After a little time on the playground, a good night’s rest in the forest, and a dump of the tanks, we managed to make it the rest of the way to Athens.
We had couple nights in town before I dropped the bus off at the mechanic’s, so I spent the first few days in town frantically trying to get a dozen or so bus projects done. I pulled several panels of wood in the front (the little scoop air vents leak and I’m pretty sure they’ll never stop so I cut new wood and sealed with fiberglass resin, if it’s not waterproof now, it never will be), completely gutted our step area (the porch I call it), ran some new wires for new electrical outlet, repainted the kids’ room in the back, and took care of at least a dozen other little “paper cut” annoyances that needed to be solved.
And then we dropped off the bus at the truck mechanic’s shop and became homeless for about three weeks. It was our longest stretch of homelessness to date, but at least we knew it was coming and we had friends and family to take us in.
We spent a week at my in-laws’, a week with our friends who run Eastern River Expeditions and have a house on the river, a few days in our trusty tent (the guest house, should you meet up with us on the road) and then back to the in-laws, back to our friends’ house, and so on.
Many thanks to everyone who put us up. Somewhere in there we managed to celebrated a birthday, have a mother’s day water balloon fight, and beat the unseasonably warm temps playing in sprinklers.
We also made sure to stick close to a river. We have two friends that live backed up to rivers and Watson Mill State Park has a river running through it as well so we had plenty of water to keep cool in. Lilah and I even managed to catch a small bass and a sunfish of some sort. Neither was any bigger than my hand, but they were the first we’ve managed to land since Texas.
The bus brakes ended up taking about three weeks. Not because they were that complicated, but because the mechanic is essentially the only truck mechanic around and he’s very, very busy. The brakes turned out to be less complicated, and less expensive than I thought they would be. In the end the main problem was that the rear self adjusting screws froze up. Or rather they got so gunked up they no longer worked. When this happened I’m not sure. I know the rear brakes were smoking coming down the pass into California, but that could have been due to the axle issues. It’s possible, likely even, that we’ve never had rear brakes. That meant the front brakes were the only thing stopping the bus for quite some time, which then wore down those shoes much faster than it should have.
Now that we have new shoes in the front and working adjusters in the back I have a full pedal of brakes and she stops like a nice lightweight sedan.
Three weeks of bouncing between houses and camping, with stuff here, stuff there, projects half finished in three locations, eventually it takes its toll. I can’t tell you what a relief it was to have the bus back, I don’t know about the kids, they seemed more or less fine, but I was approaching desperation by the end of those three weeks.
We got it back on a Monday and for about 48 hours all I did was eat, sleep and work on the bus. I re-installed all the panels, ran new wiring, fixed the dinnette seat cushion, and gave it a good tune up and an oil change. Just for good measure I got some new rear shocks installed on the Volvo and changed its oil too (many thanks to John and Mike for help with the shocks).
We had a perfect weather window lined up for a Monday departure, but then somehow I got talked into staying until Wednesday, which brought plenty of rain. It was, as Snoopy would say, a dark and stormy morning when we finally pulled out of Athens.
It was nice to see our friends and family and spend some quality time with everyone, but if anyone was wondering if we’d decide to move back, uh, yeah, that’d be a very emphatic no. We love the bus and we’re still looking forward to what’s around the next bend.