with Lorelle and Brent VanFossen

Running Out of Rubbers – Greensboro, North Carolina to Tulsa, Oklahoma

Oh, my, well, we made it to Oklahoma. I don’t know how, and maybe I shouldn’t question it. We made it and that is all that matters. By the skin of our teeth, or should I say by the skin of our rubbers.

Not that kind of rubber! Just wait. I’ll explain it all, if I can remember it all. It is kind of like giving birth – the reward is so great you quickly forget the horrible pain.

We planned to leave Greensboro September 16 or 17th. If you remember your weather history, Hurricane Floyd hit North Carolina September 15, a Wednesday from hell.

Early Wednesday morning, the hurricane was coming right at us. Brent and I looked out at the layers of rain outside and debated. It was the last day at our respective jobs, and going-away festivities were planned. At 6:45 AM I turned to Brent. "Okay, do we work our butts off to save our trailer and material things, and get out of Greensboro now, or do we go and say goodbye to our friends?" He answered, "Friends." Out the door we rushed.

I taught three water aerobic classes and headed out with most of my students to a big fanfare luncheon at the local Olive Garden. Brent’s fellow employees hosted him at a luncheon at a Chinese restaurant. The luncheon for me was filled with great fun and lots of sadness. The friends I’ve made in Greensboro will stay with me forever. Just thinking of them fills me with wonder and laughter. The things they had to publicly say about me, and each other, on that sad day of goodbye, well, I feel very honored. It seems I brought something special into their lives. They certainly affected my life. My hope is that they will all carry on the tradition and spread that “something special” around to others.

While we celebrated and cried, the rain kept coming down. I took my friend, Ivory, home and helped her clear the decks in preparation for the hurricane, then raced home to clean up my own place. What should have been a 15 to 20 minute drive took over an hour and a half. The roads were flooded and cars blocked the roads as people tried to get home ahead of the storm. I found out later it was raining over one inch per hour. I was out in it many of those inches.

We had started dismantling our garden and bird feeders, but they still lay outside, waiting to become missiles in the potential high winds. Counting on Brent’s imminent arrival, I put on a rain coat and went out into the fray. With water coursing down, drenching me within seconds, I gathered up the garden stuff and tried to put away anything that could fly around doing damage. I quickly became, even in my raincoat, a moving puddle. At one point I was squatting down and I felt my wet pants slide across my legs with a wet, sticky feeling. I didn’t think much of it until later. After a while I felt a cold draft and wet going down my legs. I felt around and realized that my pants were so soaked, during all the bending and squatting they couldn’t withstand the tension. They had ripped all the way down the back and through the crotch. UGH! Well, nothing to do about it now, and I might have well been naked as wet as I was, so I ignored the pants and worked for another couple hours before I realized Brent still wasn’t home. I called work but there was no answer. I found out later that he had been caught in the same traffic and flooding I had experienced earlier.

Most of the cleanup was done by the time he got home, and he quickly helped me finish, with him joining the ranks of the soaked rather quickly. The roads all around the campground were flooded, mud sliding down any slanted surface.

We wanted to get out of Greensboro before the storm, since hurricanes and tornados ADORE trailers, but we were in it now and there was no way we were going to load up and haul this thing through the mud and muck. Especially since we were going to have to go uphill to get out and that uphill was now a waterfall of mud and brown water. So we decided to ride out the storm in Greensboro, watching the news every minute we would to see if the winds were going to get worse and we’d have to bolt for the restrooms atop the hill or the main office far down below us.

It rained the next day, finally clearing on Friday. The heavy winds never showed up, but still we couldn’t get out. The clay and gravel campground roads had turned to a combination mush and slick sliding ick. During the weekend, Ivory and her husband, Harrell, came over to help pack up the trailer for a couple of hours, helping us a LOT. I hadn’t realized how much we had become entrenched in our site. Not only outside but inside. While Harrell hauled junk out from under the trailer, tossed there in our rush to get them out of the wind, Ivory and I pulled books by the ton out from around the bed area, putting them in boxes. It is amazing how much STUFF we had gathered together. Standing still can certainly make for big piles of things you didn’t realize you had accumulated. Ugh!

I had really thought that we were still “mobile”. It hadn’t occurred to me that we had become “unmobile” during our year and a half stay in Greensboro. For so long we had debated over everything that came into the trailer, considering its weight and the space it would occupy. Standing still, we had left those thoughts behind, stuffing things in every corner. We were all ready to pack up and escape the hurricane, but little did we realize that we were days from actually being ready to move anything. So much for portability.

Finally the ground dried enough for us to leave without risking our lives and home. An hour before we left we planted ferns over Toshi’s grave out in the woods behind the campground. It’s very tough leaving him behind. We stood there, the ground still moist under our feet from the storm, and tried to imagine what this place would look like if we could ever come back. It is a backwoods to a home about a half-mile away, backing up against the highway. Greensboro would have to move out this way and I’m sure in a few years this campground, if it survives, will be surrounded by strip malls and apartment buildings. Would we be able to find this spot even if we wanted to?

Would we want to? Part of living on the road is letting go. Letting go of the stuff, of family and friends, leaving things behind and learning a new respect for the things you bring with you, physically and psychologically. Toshi will be with us forever, there is no doubt. The unconditional love, the joy, the laughter, the sense of security in warm snuggles and friendship, his warm smell and soft meows, all the aspects he brought to our life, they will be remembered and treasured. We will try to forget about the horror of his death and honor his life. I don’t know if I have ever had a better friend that Toshi, with me through all the hard times and good times, ever loving and sensitive. I stood there in the forest, the sounds of birds and traffic all around USA, and held the hand of my next bestest friend, my husband, and we just let the tears flow in silence, remembering our buddy.

Toshi looks at Brent through the screen door, photo by Lorelle VanFossenClimbing in the trailer one last time before we moved it, I smoothed my hand over the long scratched up and torn screen door, patched with silver duct tape. His passion for exploring outside was one of the things we loved about him and had in common. It was also his undoing, but then again, it could be ours. You are not safe indoors where more people are injured than anywhere else, but you are also not safe when you walk out the door. Everyday is a risk in some way, and we all take chances. I took a chance deciding to let Toshi stay outside that morning instead of putting him back in the trailer, as I did every time. We both took a risk and we both lost. This is life.

As we struggled to get the trailer out of the muck, I was struck by the consistency of our life on the road. We left home on Friday the 13th, 1996, spending our first two exciting nights on the road stuck in the parking lot of the Camping World store in Tacoma, Washington, a little over an hour from "home".

What an onimous feeling to think that our leaving Greensboro was more of the same VanFossen fun and games. Did we set some kind of a cosmic precedence? It is humbling, as well as damn frustrating, to realize that the universe just seems to encourage our life of chaos. Every step along the way, I dream of easy, relaxed, and comfortable efforts, easing our way along life’s path. But here we are, leaving on another Friday, with our start just as hellish as it was three long years ago. When will we ever learn…and how will we ever learn to do this "right". Or maybe we are doing it right and the rest of the world is just living a boring life. I don’t know, but I’m darn tired of it.

We got as far as the WalMart five miles away and spent three hours getting parts and fixing things. Finding the right light bulb for a tail light on the trailer took forever, and then something else, and something else, and of course a last trip to Sam’s Club for a few more things….we finally left Greensboro at about 8:30 PM. We only drove for an hour or two before we pulled into a truck stop to sleep.

We were traveling differently than we had before. Usually it was the three of us in the truck and the trailer behind USA, now it was only the two of us, and we weren’t together. Brent drove the truck and trailer alone while I drove behind in my little $300 Toyota. We bought walkie talkies to stay in touch, and for the most part they worked fine, but I missed the comfort of us being together in the truck. I guess it was easier on me to not have to deal with the absence of Toshi in the front seat between USA, or on my lap as I was accustomed to, but Brent admitted later he really had a hard time being in the truck without our baby there.

The next day we had gone only a little way when I spotted one of the trailer tires looking low. I called Brent on the walkie-talkie and we pulled off the road. Brent put air in it and checked the others. Another was low. We filled them up really well before leaving Greensboro, but remember they had been "unused" for well over a year. Not much later they started popping.

Where were we? Oh, tires popping. That’s an understatement.

I’ll try to “Reader’s Digest” some of this story. It makes me laugh, cry, and get hysterical, so I’ll save you from suffering along with me. Like I said, it was like giving birth. I want to quickly turn the pain into a memory.

In the past, we’ve been prepared for everything. Extra tires, food, batteries, everything and anything, we’ve been ready. This time I was all ready for moving to Israel, but not moving the trailer. After all, moving the trailer to Oklahoma meant ONLY traveling about 1200 miles, a small lap in our normal cross country jaunts. Right. So much for short-sighted thinking.

First, the little tiny Toyota was filled to the BRIM with STUFF. Satellite dish, books, you name it, it was crammed into every little bit including the trunk. We did manage to leave the passenger seat free for Brent to sit in if needed, but that is ALL the free space. The bikes were hooked onto the back of the car, overwhelming the small car. Shoot, the two bikes were almost the same size as the car.

Second, let us not forget that the trailer had been sitting in the same spot for a long time. Due to Brent’s long work hours, and me taking a job, too, we didn’t maintain the trailer to our normal high caliber…okay, we didn’t even maintain it to our lowest standards. The wheels needed to be “rotated” (spun to a new spot) every three months or less, electrical connections checked, roof swept and cleaned, and all the other myriad items on the check-off maintenance list. Since we were just going to put it in storage, we kinda didn’t prepare for much pre-maintenance, other than the basics.

The first night we stopped, we had trouble getting the slide-out (the expandable living room) out. This is one of those “I told you so” problems. I’ve been asking Brent to check our 12 volt batteries (we have two big marine batteries) every couple months. I assumed, since he didn’t say anything otherwise, that he had been doing it. Yes, it’s a pain to check the batteries. The cabinet is very small and the batteries are very heavy and hard to access. Well, he hadn’t checked them in well over a year. They were totally dry and took numerous bottles of water to fill up. It didn’t help.

So off to Sam’s Club to buy new marine batteries. When we took the old ones out, Brent found out that they were 36 month batteries and we had gotten 38 months out of them. Not bad. When we called his parents to check-in, his father reassured Brent that if he had taken better care of them they probably would have only lasted 36 months, so consider his lack of care actually earning him a couple of extra months. REALLY?

It added several enjoyable hours to our trip, and another lovely night parked outside WalMart. The next afternoon, not far into Tennessee, cruising at a good clip on the highway, I finally had given up telling Brent my worries about one of the trailer tires via the walkie talkies. Watching it wobble, I wasn’t too surprised when a burst of white smoke and an explosion came from the driver’s side of the trailer. I grabbed the walkie talkie and told Brent to pull over.

Brent fixes one of our many shredded tires on the road. Photo by Lorelle VanFossenWe spent three hours by the side of the highway changing the tire. It would have been fast and easy to just replace the popped one with the spare, but when the front most tire exploded, it holed the second tire. Our second spare was on the roof without a rim, so we plugged three holes in the second tire before we gave up. We filled it, drove for an hour, pulled over and filled it again, drove for another hour or less, pulled over and filled it again, and again and again until we found a place to park the trailer near a truck stop late that night.

One of the many ruined tires we've had on the road. Photo by Lorelle VanFossenA sign along the highway told us this particular truck stop featured a tire repair facility declaring “we can handle anything”. Late that evening, I drove up in the Toyota to see if they had the special RV tires we need. The two guys sitting on the floor in the “hanger door” smoking and drinking told me they don’t do small tires. I went back to tell Brent, who insisted that their sign said they could handle our trailer, and he went over and got the same answer: “We don’t do small tires.” Fine. Okay. Got it now. We just never thought of our trailer tires as “small” since they are bigger than normal car tires, but truthfully not as big as our own truck tires.

The next morning we headed out again, doing the stopping and filling act, to find a WalMart. We played the tire switching game, taking the ruined tire off the rim and replacing it with one of our rim-less spares. We then switched that with the leaking tire so that it could get patched. After they found the fifth hole, we told them to stop counting, throw the tire away and we put on our last rim-less tire on that rim. Oh, boy. Following the bouncing tires and watch the cash register cah-ching!

As if the tire thing wasn’t enough, going through Little Rock, Arkansas, Brent was ahead of me with the map. Through the walkie talkies, he instructed me to switch into the right lane at the last minute. Rush hour traffic was so thick, I didn’t have time and space to make the exit. I told him I’d catch up with him after turning around at the next exit. “Look for a good place to stop and I’d be there in a few minutes.” Right.

Little did we know that the next exit off the highway was MILES down the road. I traveled for 15 minutes before I got to the next exit. With him headed west and I going south, with the skyscrapers of the city between USA, we were soon out of range with the walkie-talkies. I wish we had cell phones, but they are still so expensive. I know someday they will be found in every purse and back pocket, but right now, I’m driving all over crazy twisting neighborhood streets trying to find the right exit to the west and back to my husband, completely lost and map-less. I finally found the right exit and headed back north and found the turn off to head west, following the path of my husband and home, hopefully. I drove across the Mississippi River until I hit a HUGE multiple truck stop exit. I called on the walkie-talkies until I was hoarse driving all over the place looking for the truck and trailer. It’s not something you can easily miss, but as a little car among acres of trucks two to four times the size of the truck and trailer, I felt like I either was or was looking for the proverbial needle in a haystack. I finally drove back across the Mississippi and took the first exit off the highway, thinking maybe he turned off there. Other than the disgusting cussing and swearing you hear on CB Radios nowadays, I heard not one peep from my sweet man.

Heading back across the river I stopped again at the huge truck stops. I debated what to do and finally called Brent’s family. They hadn’t heard from him. I told them that I would wait for another 30 minutes and then I would just head west and hope I caught up with him. They thought that was a good idea. I put the walkie talkie on the seat next to me, the volume cranked on high, and waited. Thirty minutes passed, then forty, and I realized I had read the same paragraph in a book six times. So I started driving towards Tulsa. I had money and credit cards so I could stop at motels to sleep, even though my toothbrush and entire life was in my home moving somewhere along the highway without me. I was planning what I would have to buy at WalMart in order to survive hopping motels when I heard Brent’s call on the CB. He had stopped at the first rest stop and had been standing there for two hours watching every battered Toyota weighted down with too much stuff that passed by. Somehow I had missed him among the trucks. We were so relieved to find each other. Brent especially since he had to go to the bathroom and had been holding it, terrified that he would miss me and I wouldn’t see the trailer.

We drove on a few more miles and then spent the night again in a rest stop, exhausted from the hunt for each other rather than the miles traveled. Lying in my own bed, I told Brent that I was worried we would never get to Tulsa. After all, we only had a short time to get there, pack up the trailer for storage, pack up our suitcases for Israel, and catch a plane. Brent told me to watch what I say as “you know that what you say comes true!” I should have listened to him. I hate it when he’s right.

The next day, we blew another tire, on the other side of the trailer. Luckily, it didn’t take out the second tire. Now we were down to NOTHING for spares. We managed to pull off the highway after this tire blew, leaving more tire tread along the highway (we did our share of tire littering – sorry), into the parking lot of a small hardware store. We took up the whole parking lot. Brent changed the tire and I suffered the smoking salespersons in the hardware store to call a local Goodyear tire store. They had no new tires in our model (they are on order and should be here within the next three weeks – oh, goody!) but they had two used tires in excellent shape. I told them they were sold. We moved the trailer to a nearby WalMart (thank goodness for them!) and took the Toyota to find the tires.

Following the directions given, we ended up driving through a neighborhood from hell. Huge speed limit signs on main roads listed ONLY 25 mph under huge threatening signs. We drove for miles at this speed, up and down hills, through neighborhoods, behind long lines of cars fighting to stay below 30 mph, 25 being just to hard to do down a very steep hill. After asking for directions several times, we finally found the Goodyear place and got the tires. We switched rims again and stuffed the two tires into the already loaded up back seat of my car. The smell of hot rubber tires is now my idea of a good time.

Back through the neighborhood-from-hell to WalMart, we unloaded the tires and Brent went to work. I was rearranging the backseat of the Toyota when I heard Brent yelling and laughing. I around back out of the car to find him coming at me with a tire iron, waving it right at me in a threatening manner. Terrified and startled, thinking he had finally lost it and this was the end for me, I put up my hands. He stopped, stunned, then looked at the tire iron and started laughing again. “I broke it!”

Just when you think nothing else can go wrong, with all the flat tires and other problems we were having, Brent did the nearly impossible and put a huge “rip” into the heavy duty steel tire iron. Guess we’ve just changed too many tires over the past few years! Wore it out! Luckily, again we were at WalMart. I can’t tell you how many times WalMart has saved USA, from parking to fixing and repairing. We have certainly more than paid them for the few times we’ve parked in their parking lots. Still, you would think you could imagine what the clerks were thinking about us walking into the store with a tire iron in our hands, but we attracted not a glance. I guess people walking around with a broken tire iron is typical behavior in Arkansas.

What was supposed to be a two to three day trip across the country to Oklahoma ended up beginning four days late due to Hurricane Floyd, and lasting five days instead of three. That made our time in Oklahoma much shorter, killing our leisurely visit with family, still have time to get the trailer ready for storage, pack and get our butts to Israel. UGH.

Tulsa, Oklahoma

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