Diesel fried chicken

The long days of driving are already taking a toll on us. It’s not fun spending all day in the car, and as Emma grows into a teenager she is finding the car rides less agreeable. When she was younger we could drop her in the backseat with a few books and not hear a peep for hours. Now she has a Nintendo DS, several books, a bag of snacks, an iPod, and a slew of other distractions, and she’s bored.

I am thinking that we should make some effort to avoid having to do this rush-rush drive next year, by leaving earlier. It won’t be easy because of our schedules, but the alternative is slow torture by concrete Interstate.

Perhaps because of our lack of motivation to do the same thing today that we did yesterday,we got a late start this morning. I woke up at 4:00 for some reason, did a little bit of work on the computer, then went back to bed. We slept until nearly 9, and with a little puttering around and a walk around the campground loops, we managed to not depart Lake Bob Sandlin until noon. This meant a shorter drive day, which was fine with me.

The drive was just as tedious as the other days, with the same sorts of distractions, namely bad signage. There is a serious problem in America with basic punctuation, but anyone who frequents an Internet forum already knows that. I can’t even count the number of signs we’ve seen with superfluous apostrophes (“HOT DOG’S “) over the years, so I have stopped paying attention to those. But today we spotted a few cases where a little extra punctuation probably would have helped:

(at a truck stop) DIESEL FRIED CHICKEN
Mmmm-mmm good!

And in Pleasantville AR: ROMANS USED TIRES
Now, we have serious doubts about that. I’ve seen Ben Hur and I’m pretty sure the Romans used wooden wheels.

Eleanor also reflected on the sign we saw yesterday (“Hell is hot”), noting in the 88-degree temperatures of the morning, “at least it’s not humid!” The thermometer says it’s 10-15 degrees cooler than it was in west Texas, but it certainly feels worse. We have left the desert far behind and I miss it.

The highlight of the drive today was on I-40 somewhere east of Little Rock, where we encountered a 12 mile “construction zone” in which exactly 0.3 miles were actually under active construction. Traffic was weird; stopped dead for 10-15 minutes, then roaring ahead at highway speeds. We went through this for nearly an hour and then finally traffic broke free for a few miles.

But we weren’t out of it. I was about a tenth of a mile behind the next car, fortunately, because traffic suddenly came to a screeching halt just over the crest of a small bridge. I had to lock ‘em up, all four trailer tires smoking. With no breakdown lane at that point andthe left lane blocked off by large orange traffic barrels, my avoidance options were poor. For a few seconds it looked like we were going to plow into the back of the stopped Toyota Highlander in front of us.

At the last second I swerved between the orange barrels like a slalom course, as a gambit to buy a little more stopping room. That bought us a few feet only, because just ahead the construction crew had left a few Jersey barriers. But we stopped in time and all was well.

I was impressed that the Airstream handled so well. We’ve spent years tweaking it for just such a circumstance, with disc brakes, the Hensley hitch, and the Michelin tires, but still you never know until the pressure is on. It was nice to feel the rig perform exactly as it should have. It stopped quickly, there was no “Hensley bump” or push from the trailer (which is typically caused by having the brake controller set too low), and at no point did I lose control of the vehicle. It steered right where I wanted even under severe circumstances. So the incident turned out to be nothing but a little smoke.

This whole incident was a little ironic since you know I was bloviating a couple of weeks ago about the importance of having your weight distribution correct because “someday it will matter.” For us, “someday” turned out to be today. Of course, it’s really about more than just the weight. Brakes, tires, hitch, and tow vehicle all enter into the equation. For example, I am certain that without disc brakes on the Airstream and an excellent brake actuator we would have had a front-end collision today.

I stopped at the next exit and checked all the tires carefully, but there was no sign of damage. For the next 25 miles I was a little jumpy about the cars that cut in front of us (a frequent occurrence along I-40) and any hint of vibration from the tires. Even though I can’t see anything wrong with the tires, there may be hidden damage so I’ll be watching them carefully as we continue down the road.

We finally bailed out around 6:30 in Forrest City, AR at a little 18-site campground. Full hookups for $20, and it’s actually a decent spot for an overnight. It looks like we’ll get into Tennessee tomorrow and hit the Smokies sometime Tuesday. One last big push tomorrow and that should be the end of the big mileage days.

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Editor & Publisher of Airstream Life magazine