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Driving the Family across Country

I met my wife, Hil, at the airport when she returned from visiting her parents in New England for 8 days and we decided a month apart was simply too long. Our situation had changed slightly as well, making our decision that much harder. There was a rental on our St. Simons house right in the middle of the time I would be away. Hil would have to travel back and forth from St. Simons for doctors visits back to Atlanta to stay with friends while I was away and she would be without a car the entire time.

We drove down to St. Simons on the 20th of July to simultaneously load up all the sailboat gear we could carry, fit in the necessary Doc visits for our 21 month old daughter, Emma James, and my 6 month pregnant wife.

Initially, the plan was for me to drive the truck out to Tucson and take the custom made trailer that would haul our 34′ long by 14′ wide Gemini Catamaran to a small fishing town called Puerto Penasco which is 68 miles from the US border and leave it there.

We would then drive down to San Carlos another 5 hours south and I would prepare the 1993 Gemini 3400 sailboat we purchased end of June and then I would sail the boat 5 days up the coast to Puerto Penasco. We would pull out the boat on the custom trailer and have a Mexican transport company haul the wide load the 68 miles to the US border and then I would pick up the boat with my 1999 4×4 6.5l TD Suburban and drive it back to Georgia.

That WAS the plan. I’ve been facing a small problem. The cost to transport the boat those 68 miles in Mexico to the US border was going to cost me more than we budgeted for the ENTIRE 2000 mile trip across the country. Apparently while Mexico is a large landmass, it’s actually a small country. I was trying to save money on the hauling fee from San Carlos to Nogales, which is about 270 miles, by moving the boat up to Puerto Penasco and shave off about 200 miles of the trip. Unfortunately after several inquiries, it appears a truck would have to drive UP from San Carlos to Puerto Penasco, pick up the boat, drive to the border, then drive back to San Carlos. Hence they wanted to charge me more to get the truck to Puerto Penasco than the trip from San Carlos in the first place.

Currently, we are homeless. Not in the classic homeless sense, more like geographically uprooted.

The other factor that made us reconsider our options was the weather in Georgia in January. Hil is due with our second child November 18th. Currently, we are homeless. Not in the classic homeless sense, more like geographically uprooted.

We share ownership of the house on St. Simons Island, Georgia with my mother but with the current financial state of affairs, we really need to continue to rent it out for vacation rental as much as possible to cover the overhead costs.

We have the house booked from Janaury, 2010 through the first week of May. While this poses a logistical problem for us with a newborn it is really a blessing to have the house fully booked during a typically slow season. Frankly, the vacation rental is bringing in more money than I have made this year in total. The bonus for us- we get to use the home when it is not booked.

There is nothing worse than being wet and cold on a boat

Speaking from experience, there is nothing worse than being wet and cold on a boat. Especially with a newborn, I would have to install a heater on the new sailboat and we’d have to stay in a marina. Once we added up all the costs, we realized I’d be working the rest of the year JUST to cover these expenses. Why move the boat and go into debt doing it when we can move the people to the boat and spend the winter in the gorgeous Sea of Cortez?

That’s when we decided it was important for ‘She who must be obeyed’ (as my friend Tom says) to make the trek to Mexico and see for herself exactly what we’d be getting into by moving a newborn and a 2 year old onto a boat in a foreign country.

We expedited passports for Hilary and Emma James and had them sent to my fathers house in Tucson. We rescheduled Hil’s doc visit and prepared to drive the 2000 miles across I-10 to Tucson, Arizona.

As luck would have it, our 1999 Suburban diesel refused to start the day before we left for Tucson. As with all used cars, there’s a period where you’re trying to track down all the problems to make it a safe and reliable vehicle. I had new tires installed, new front end bushings installed, a tune up, oil change, all the filters changes, I replaced the fuel pump relay, AND replaced the starter on the car after we bought it early June. Now the starter solenoid was acting up and ‘sticking’ making it increasingly intermittent. I had been getting around the problem by shorting the starter, with sparks flying, but after getting stuck for a few hours I decided I needed to fix this before we started off on a 2000 mile trip across long expanses of uninhabited desert with temperatures soaring over 100 degrees during the day.

Undoubtedly, we would have been stuck somewhere along the trip on the side of the road if I hadn’t fixed the problem.

The starter fiasco took me 3 hours to remove,exchange under warranty, install, realize they gave me the wrong starter, remove, get a refund because they didn’t have the right starter in stock, walk across to another parts store and haggle with them to price match the correct starter and then FINALLY install that starter.

I’m glad I did replace the starter (again). The starter came off in 2 pieces! The bell housing was split and the solenoid was cracked. Undoubtedly, we would have been stuck somewhere along the trip on the side of the road if I hadn’t fixed the problem.

I came back to the house and Hil was frantically cleaning in preparation for the new tenants coming that day at 3pm. I quickly loaded the truck with a wide assortment of remodeling tools, mechanic tools, sailing gear, and a minimum of personal clothes and we hit the road right at 3pm.

We filled up with diesel, ate for the first time that day at a truck stop, and finally got on the road around 4pm.

Traveling during the day with a 2 year old in a car seat is like trying to sing show tunes while simultaneously diffusing a bomb that is counting down to zero only to reset and start over again

We decided to drive through the night since Emma James would be asleep and we could make some miles uninterrupted. Much like sailing offshore through the night, we started taking shifts every few hours after midnight.

From our personal experience we’ve found there’s a diminishing return from staying up all night. We would start with 3 hour shifts each then 2 hour shifts, and finally eke out 1 hour shifts trying to keep your eyes open. By that time the sun would be up and with the help of a little caffeine the day could start all over again.

We traveled from Georgia, through Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana overnight. Now we had the long and hot 881 miles of Texas to make it through during the day.

Traveling during the day with a 2 year old in a car seat is like trying to sing show tunes while simultaneously diffusing a bomb that is counting down to zero only to reset and start over again. Almost every two hours we would stop and let the kiddo run around, change her diaper, give her a snack and a drink. After a long hug, we strapped her back into the torturous restraining device and head back on the road. Highlights of the day were breakfast and dinner where we stopped for an hour or more before resuming the endless trek across Texas.

The second night is tougher. We just didn’t have the stamina. Instead of 3 hour shifts, we were lucky to get an hour and half in between rests. By the time we hit El Paso, Texas we were only five hours away and we struggled onward.

…if the problem got worse we could be stuck on the side of the road in some pretty desolate country during the middle of the night possibly without a cell signal.

I noticed outside San Antonio that we were puddling water under the engine. Normally you get some amount of water from the AC condensation but this was right under the radiator. Ughhh.

I checked it out and it was not steaming, it was not high pressure, and in fact it wasn’t even hot. That reduced the possibility of a radiator leak, a hose leak, or the thermostat going bad. It was late in the evening by that time and I knew if I tried to fix the problem we’d be stuck there for at least a day but on the other hand if the problem got worse we could be stuck on the side of the road in some pretty desolate country during the middle of the night possibly without a cell signal.

With less than 8 hours to go, we decided to press on keeping a close eye on the water temperature and I would check it at fill ups and rest stops.

At 4:30am we arrive after traveling a little over 2000 miles in 40 hours across country.

It wasn’t a bad drive. The second night was tough. Two days is probably the break point for us. More than that and we’d have to stay in a hotel to recuperate. We both like driving at night and with kids it’s ideal to have a little peace and quiet and make some serious miles.

We’re here in Tucson waiting on passports before we head south as a family unit. I’m glad Hil wanted to join me on this trip. We work as a team and part of my focus and strength comes from her. Even after a few weeks apart I feel a little lost and unfocused like I’m just going through the motions. If the coming weeks are anything like the rest of this year, there will be plenty of surprises ahead as we travel to Mexico to look for our new home.

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1 comment to Driving the Family across Country

  • mk

    What a Trip!!! Thank God you made it safely. Have been wondering about you three. Hope all goes well. Love ya’, mk