Fall Foliage, Day 2 - DeGray Lake and Hot Springs, Arkansas
Today there was only one minor emergency, which was a major improvement from yesterday! As I was making gluten-free banana muffins/chilling in the hammock, Christian was unhooking the car from the tow dolly in preparation for our trip to Walmart for replacement fuses.
However, since we didn’t disconnect the battery yesterday while towing, the car was dead D: We were about to start trying to find a jump when Christian remembered that there were cables that came with our solar panels with alligator clips on the end! He hooked it up and successfully charged the battery enough to start the car.
Good news: it was an easy fix, and we know we can recover from a dead battery pretty easily in the future. Bad news: that wasn’t the minor emergency.
How we broke our car with an Acme Tow Dolly
Note: next several sections written by Christian
We’d pulled into our RV spot slightly cockeyed, so when trying to remove the tire straps from the Honda’s tires, we found a) the tire strap buckles were bent and really hard to unhook, and b) one of them was completely jammed into a tire and impossible to remove unless you could physically dead lift a car.
Easy fix, right? Just drive the car slightly forward so the wheel is off of the hook - only the left wheel is already at the front of the dolly, so pulling forward isn’t going to happen.
But wait! We can just detach the dolly, swivel it around so it’s square with the car, then pull the car forward (now that both wheels have space in front of them), then detach the last wheel strap, then hook in the ramps and drive off.
So after detaching the bike rack (it gets in the way of detaching the tow dolly) and the dolly, we dead lifted the front of the dolly so it was square with the car (a feat that looks Herculean but isn’t actually that heavy). Phew, alright, time to inch slightly forward and take off the wheel strap.
Inching slightly forward slammed the front of the dolly into the ground, which made a scary sound but didn’t damage anything. Prying off the bent wheel hook was difficult but worked just fine. Now time to attach the wheel ramps and slowly back up.
But oh my god this was a terrible idea. Never, ever, ever try to back a car off a tow dolly when the front of the dolly isn’t attached to anything. Because it’s a gigantic lever, backing up shifts all the weight to the back, which shoots up the front tow hitch, which also shoots up the giant metal ledge at the front of the dolly (right underneath the fleshy underside of your car). In the course of backing up about six inches we’d almost completely detached… something that was on the bottom of the car.
A few minutes of trying to work out how physics works and struggling to re-mount the front of the dolly back on the RV and we realized we could immobilize the dolly laterally with our wheel chocks and vertically by wrapping chains around the RV tow ball and the dolly’s hitch. Slowly backing up here was scary, and lots more scraping, but we got it off.
Assessing the damage
The Honda was now on the ground and running with a semi-full battery, but the undercarriage was dragging along… something, and now the check engine light was on. Further examination showed that the something was some kind of plastic cover? No telling what damage the tow dolly could have done, though, and now we’re stranded in a national park with a car that probably has a broken radiator and will explode at any moment, and an RV that’s a fuse short (because we haven’t made our Walmart run yet).
Plans for breaking in the kayak were scrapped in favor of finding [the closest certified Honda dealership]((http://www.hondaofhotsprings.com/) - just over half an hour away in Hot Springs.
But will we even survive a half hour drive? Christian crawled his arm under the Honda and smacked a network of duct tape to keep the plastic thing from scraping 20 miles of road, we loaded up the portable air compressor and duct tape for the inevitable road emergencies, and packed two bags of activities for what was sure to be an all-day ordeal at the dealership (if we could even make it that far), and set off.
The Disastrous Half Hour Trip to Hot Springs
Creeping forward in the Honda with the windows rolled down to listen for the duct tape to give way, we made a brisk stop to check into the state park and pay for the spot we’d slept in the night before. We’d considered leaving the car running outside to ensure the battery didn’t die on us, but the battery indicator showed it was almost fully charged already.
Creeping turned to trotting turned to rolling along as nothing particularly eventful happened driving out of the state park. We relaxed a little and soaked in the gorgeous scenery that had been inked out the night before.
Then suddenly, the engine light went off. Huh. About half way through we forgot the car was in any trouble, resumed full speed, and even stopped to grab a watermelon and a carton of eggs at a roadside farmer’s market.
And then, completely uneventfully, we were pulling into the dealership with our duct-tape-enhanced ride.
We explained the trouble, let them know the engine light had been on but had turned off on the drive over, and asked if they could change the front two tires while they were looking at it. “No problem,” we heard, and were escorted to a lovely waiting area with free wifi and a live show of a young salesman trying to push a new 2016 Accord on an old lady.
Bracing ourselves for what was sure to be totaling damage, we used the free wifi to get some work done while the car got some work done. After about two hours, the Accord still hadn’t been sold (but not for lack of trying - the kid even brought out the manager to give her an extra special discount), and our car was fixed!
Apparently no actual damage was done, and the plasticy bit was just a splash guard that is entirely non-essential! (Why was it even on in the first place?) They didn’t have a replacement (which was the entire reason we’d gone to a dealership instead of a mom and pop mechanic), but did replace and align the tires for us.
Fantastic news, then, on the car being in tip top shape. They didn’t even charge us for taking off the splash guard or investigating the engine (and we got a free car wash!). On inspecting the bill, however, Christian was horrified to see that the cost of getting two tires replaced and aligned at the dealership was four hundred and forty five dollars - something that could have been done at a Discount Tire for less than half the price. Haggling could and should have been done, but we were eager to go exploring, guilty for not negotiating a price beforehand, and thankful it wasn’t ten times more for repairing more serious damage and that we now had a working car with brand new tires. Lesson learned (never buy tires from a dealership? always set a price beforehand? always haggle? never detach a tow dolly while the car is attached?), and we headed off to actually start our day.
Our less stressful Hot Springs adventure
We stopped at a fabric store to get some project materials, then drove into Hot Springs proper to get some fried food at Mr. Whisker’s - crawfish po-boy for me and a sampler basket (catfish, oyster, shrimp) for Christian.
On our way to fill up water bottles, we saw Cafe 1217, a restaurant Christian remembered visiting with his family, so we stopped in for some dessert/apple ginger lemonade. I loved the typographic/vegetal art they had in the dining room!
We filled our water bottles from a public fountain, rubbing elbows with some locals.
Then we took the driving shortcut up to a scenic overlook, where a friendly lady took pity on our selfie-stick-less selves and snapped some shots before we just chilled under some pines.
Our Walmart trip on the way back to the lake expanded from fuses/muffin liners to fuses/muffin liners/plain tshirts for Christian/marshmallows/etc. etc. etc., but the length of our stop perfectly timed our drive home with the sunset.
We had a little more work time when we got back before turning in - Christian’s attempting to sleep in the hammock outside tonight, so look forward to the update tomorrow, which may very well be the first day of our adventure in which nothing terrible happens :)