A TRIP TO REMEMBER - A TRIP I'LL NEVER (EVER) FORGET
By Sean Michael Lee
Posted December 12th 2007
Towards the end of November, a few of us here at the office had been arranging and planning the schedule for the 2008 Winter Snowkite Tour in the North-West domain of the United States, and even up into Canada. Jacob Buzianis was the man in charge, and would thus be the leader and driver of the Best RV through various states providing demos of our new gear, and assisting in sponsoring kiting contests throughout the winter season.
With Jake being so busy organizing and planning the months ahead, and with commencing the demos that had been starting at the beginning of December, Best needed a hand in getting the RV up to Montana in time for the first event of the year. I quickly volunteered, wanting to be the guy to explore the countryside in the coolest looking Bus on the road, and finally having the chance to snowkite for the first time as well. I offered my assistance in driving the RV, and it was accepted kindly.
I had driven the RV numerous times before, whether it was to the keys, to Clearwater and back, or even in Texas at the Velocity Games (sorry, Wind and Water Open – pssshhhhhhh). I was certain I was comfortable enough to take this on a 2800 mile journey across the country, CERTAIN that there was nothing that could stand in my way. I grew up in Canada, come on! Snowy roads don't scare me! Mountains? Please sister. I grew up in those too. This trip was in the bag. All it would take was careful planning, a navigation system, a perfect driving companion, and some will power to drive the distance.
Over Thanksgiving Weekend, I called a good friend of mine in Fort Lauderdale, Graham Goodwin. Graham is quite possibly the easiest-going buddy I have. He's a killer kiter/kite instructor, and I knew he as well had never done his kiting deed on the snow. A perfect match! Graham accepted in a heart-beat, thinking that the days ahead of us were going to be filled with adventure, stories, and some sweet, sweet snow. Well, he was right.
Here we go...
Monday, December 3rd, 2007
I woke up early, started working from home, and then went to the office to bang out what I could before the RV was ready to get going. We had it up in West Palm Beach having some maintenance work done to make sure it was ready for the road. Getting a little tired of waiting around to get going an attempt to at least get out of Florida by day's end, I was persistent in calling the shop. Finally, I had the bus back by 5:20pm. Graham and I were stoked! We were completely ready to go. By 6pm, we were on the road, and willing to drive as long as it took to get out of Florida.
By 2am, we had done it. We were out of Florida. We had made it about 45 miles into Georgia, and were completely ready to call it a night and get ready for the next long day we had ahead of us. Seeing as how we were in Georgia (yes, one state above the "sunshine state"), we didn't really think it would be necessary to run the propane heater or the generator while we slept since we knew we'd really be needing the propane for the nights ahead up north. Big mistake. It got down to 28 degrees, and we nearly froze our asses off. That being said, we got about 3 hours of rest before we couldn't take it anymore. Besides, we wanted to get this state out of the way so we could feel like we were actually gaining ground. We started up the generator and the heaters while we woke up a bit...
Tuesday, December 4th
As I said, we froze. We woke up to only attempt to get warm before continuing on to Atlanta and beyond. The air outside was still quite cold, and we started to realize that those little heaters in the bus couldn't battle too well against the massive drafts that come through each and every window when you reach speeds of 55mph or higher. That had bad news written all of it for where we were going. I guess we just did what we could to keep warm.
Graham and I were getting pretty hungry by the time we were nearing Atlanta, so we decided to ring a buddy of his to stop and grab lunch at a really classy restaurant... Little did we know that lunch-hour traffic in that city is absurd and I would have to test my driving skills of a 40 foot bus.
Before hitting that city, luckily we had stopped to get gas and clean off the last of the bugs before entering the desolate bug lands to the north.
Check out our restaurant. I am filled with class.
We continued on, taking random naps and heading towards Tennessee. We finally were starting to feel like we were getting somewhere.
We found a rest stop about 30 minutes later, and while freezing on my route to the loo, I turned back only to see Graham chilling outside the bus getting a fresh breath of 35 degree air. He's quite the tough Floridian/South African.
We finished our 3 minute stop (yes, I am that quick) and left to find only another "Welcome to Tennessee" sign ... what the hell? Guess we had forged back and forth between a couple states over only a half an hour ...
We moved steadily through Tennessee, eventually coming into Nashville, only to see a supreme-looking sky surrounding the skyline of the city. It's days like this I wish I had a better camera to capture what the eye could see.
From there, we passed through the remainder of Tennessee, and then through Kentucky. After a quick recharge at McDonalds, we were set to push into Illinois, and then on into Missouri, where we stayed for the second night, just passed St. Louis. Not a bad second day at all.
Wednesday, December 5th, 2007
Day 3 started off by us waking up (warm this time) and walking out of the bus only to find that the temp was about 20 degrees. Ummm, yeah, I am Canadian, as I mentioned earlier, and I couldn't handle it. I was out there for about 6 seconds before I nearly had a breakdown inside my body. Graham was smart enough to stay inside and take down his leftovers from IHOP the day before. Lucky Him. I didn't take mine cause I forgot we had a fridge on board.
We trucked along (bussed along) through Kansas City and then started the trip North.... Ohhhh, the trip North.
We passed through a tip of Kansas, a bit of Nebraska, and a solid amount of Iowa until we finally came to Sioux City, and then entered South Dakota right afterwards. Finally, we were making some serious ground. At this rate, we were going to be in Montana by Thursday night, and snowkiting by Friday morning. Life couldn't be better, the roads couldn't be easier to drive, and the weather couldn't be more glorious. By driving so many hours, we were now able to miss each snow storm that was destined to hit areas of South Dakota, Wyoming, and Montana. Life IS GOOD.
I think I spoke too soon. Shortly after entering South Dakota, we came to the border of Sioux Falls, the largest city in the state. We were nearing our next turn onto I90 to head west, and then... we started to lose air pressure in the bakes, and started to smell smoke. We quickly pulled over at the next exit only to find smoke barreling out of the rear passenger side wheel-well. What was going on?? "it's gotta be the brakes man! I can't believe this!"
We called up a towing company to see if they knew of a place they could tow it to for us that would still be open and able to give us an estimate within that night of what we were looking at. ACE Towing came to our rescue, and quickly. Dale (who we gave a couple RV T's to for his help) immediately climbed under our truck to find out that there was frozen moisture built up in the brake lines since our Dryer had been bypassed at some point before. WHAT????? Who would bypass that?
Turns out in Florida, and other warm states, you don't need that bad boy. It's made to eliminate any moisture in the lines to prevent exactly what was happening to us at that time. Woops. Who knew? Dale unlocked the brakes for us, and then escorted us to the repair shop, where the brakes locked up again within 30 feet of arriving there. "No big deal" says Dale, "You're here."
The guys from the repair shop were kind enough to give us a ride to our Day's Inn near the airport in Sioux Falls, where we were convinced our stay would be warmer than the RV. By this time, it was 10 degrees.
So ... two travelers who've been freezing outside for an hour or two ... What did we do? The same thing anyone in our shoes would have done ... we went next door to the Red Eye Bar and ate dinner, drank some beer, and played some pool. Did I mention, we cursed a few times about how we were losing such valuable time on the road. Either way, it was a deserved, but unfortunate rest for us.
Thursday December 6th, 2007
Within 12 hours, I had spoken to the truck-repair company again and found out we would be back on the road by 2pm, and things were looking good! We would still make it to Montana before Friday night, and we'd be there for the whole weekend.
Did I mention it was freezing outside when we picked up the truck? IT WAS FREEZING OUTSIDE.
Life is good! We're on the road again... nothing but 550 miles til our next turn (says our trusty navigation unit) and more motivation to drive through the night than you can imagine. If we drove straight through, we'd be there by 5am.
About 100 miles down the road, Graham and I started to smell something.
"Dude, do you smell that???" - Sean
"No dude, don't even joke about something like that right now." - Graham
"I'm not kidding man, I smell it again, faintly." - Sean
How impressed were we? See below.
Damn! – We pulled over at a truck stop and called the shop where we had just had it repaired ... "Oh, that's normal with new brake shoes. They'll rub a bit, and you'll probably smell it a little. Just let them cool down if that makes you feel better, and if you want, there's a town about 40 miles down the road. If you're concerned about it, you can stop there, but that guy won't be open til the morning. It is normal though, so you shouldn't be alarmed."
Well, Graham and I sat for a bit, let our baby cool off, and then got right back on the road. The bus was running like a CHAMPION.
"Dude, that guy must have been right" – Sean
Everything felt as good as could be. It was just new brakes rubbing a little, that's all. Turns out that the town that was supposed to be 40 miles down the road, was 10 or 15 max. We caught up to it, and then bus felt like it should... so we took the man's word for it and continued on.
The rest of what went down is quite historical for Best Kiteboarding.
Within 25 (or so) more miles, we were coming up to an exit called Vivian. We had no intention of stopping at all, but within just under a half-mile from the off-ramp, I FELT THE BRAKES LOCK UP. When I say they locked up, I don't mean the wheel was skidding..., that probably would have prevented what went down actually. We felt a serious lag in power, so we pulled off, just in time. Had we missed this exit, our story could have been A LOT more tragic.
"(Insert bad words here) Graham!!! Are you kidding me???"
There was a gas station/coffee shop at this exit, and that was ALL. By the time we got to the bottom of the off-ramp, we could smell it. Oh man, could we smell it. We pulled into the gas station, and smoke was starting to come inside the bus.
This gas station is also somewhat of a truck stop – it's flat as can be, and there's a massive gravel parking lot at the far end of it. That's where we were trying to make it. As we pulled through, we heard a loud BANG from the back of the bus, and the engine died.... RIGHT NEXT TO THE STATION'S FUEL RESERVES!!!!
A truck driver runs over to us. "GET THE HELL FORWARD, YOU'RE NEXT TO THE FUEL... AND YOU'RE ON FIRE!"
If any of you have ever felt that nauseous feeling when you know something bad is going to happen. That is precisely how I felt. I tried starting up the bus again, but it won't only turn, and not fire up. Finally, it starts. I floor it (with no brakes all of a sudden now) to get as far out into the gravel lot as I could.
BOOM! Pieces of flaming bus shoot out into the lot and the bus dies again. I thought for sure the whole bus was going to blow. It's dark at this time, and freezing cold.
Immediately, Graham's yelling "We're on fire man, we're on FIRE!" He grabs the fire extinguisher and runs outside. I start grabbing everything I can get my hands on – I am literally throwing stuff out of the bus... my luggage, Graham's luggage, my latop bag, Graham's computer bag, camera bag, etc.... actually, no etc... that was it, with the exception of my quilt that was sitting on the couch.
A call had already been put into 911 from a trucker sitting in the gravel lot. He came running over to me to make sure there was no one else on board and that the two of us were ok.
"This thing is going to burn to the ground my friend, there ain't no fire department or city within 25 miles of this place," he explains.
A small flame turns to a larger flame ...
Before all was said and done, the fuel line blew, the tires blew, the batteries exploded, the side was melted, BUT, thank God Graham and I were OK. Fire-fighters are brave souls, that's for sure.
After being put out, for the third or fourth time, this was the result.
We sat there for 3 hours before the police officer drove us to the Capital City of Pierre, SD where we stayed at a Best Western, and attempted to fly home over the next 3 days.
In the meantime of trying to battle catching a flight out of an airport with only 1 gate (yes, 1 gate, not just one terminal) where only prop planes fly in and out of, where a small dusting of snow can delay or cancel all 3 flights for the day, Graham and I decided to hoof it and discover a bit of Pierre.
Surely we found what would be in the summer, a Perfect Kiting Spot. The river that separates Pierre from Ft. Pierre was epic. Wide as can be, a small island in the middle, and a slow current with crystal clear water.
Ft. Pierre, oddly enough is in a different time zone – Mountain Time, while Pierre is in Central. Just a small tidbit of info for you who thought that was an interesting as I did.
So after 5 planes and flights getting home, cancelled flights, delayed flights, missed flights, getting pulled off of airplanes cause of incorrectly issued tickets, sleeping in airports, Graham and I finally made it back on Sunday ...
... and couldn't be happier to be home, even though someone at one of the airports my bag went through had stolen my sunglasses, leatherman, and other random items out of the top pocket of my luggage. I didn't even care. I just wanted to be home.
So, conclusively, this trip was a sad one. It was mentally and physically exhausting, but I can't say that I didn't gain anything from the experience. I my eyes, with the exception of our website and our team riders, we just lost the best marketing tool this company had, but thankfully riders all over the US and Canada, shops all though the country, and employees from all over the world were able to see, ride in, and look forward to the Best RV while she tracked her ground across the continent over the past couple years.
We'll forge on, and with Best, it only gets bigger and better.
- Sean Michael Lee