Countdown Week 5-  July 25 Week and the North Dakota Dry Run

July 27 

Today was the day that the towing system was installed so that we can pull our Honda Odyssey van behind the RV.  This includes a tow bar and a supplemental braking system that applies the van brakes when the RV air brakes are applied.   

The installation is an all day process, at a location far enough away that we planned for me to just stay with the vehicles and bring things to do.  As I drove Harvey up to the Camping World in Rogers this morning, I was thinking to myself how I was going to make a special point, during this time of leave, to not let things bother me, and go with whatever happens.  Ironically, this was to be tested right away this day… 

Late afternoon everything was finally installed and Dick, the top-notch mechanic who did the installation oriented me in the procedures to hook up the mechanical, electrical, and air systems.  Everything was a go so I got out the procedure from Honda to ready the van to be pulled.   

Not all cars can be towed four wheels down, but the Odyssey can be towed if you follow a special procedure before towing that I got from Honda.  The key to the procedure is that you must put the vehicle in neutral for towing only after you have run through all of the gears and go into neutral from Drive and run the engine for a few minutes.  (I am assuming that this sets up the right flow path for the transmission fluid to keep it cool during towing.)  The ominous warning in the instructions is that if you put it into neutral from Reverse and tow for any distance, it will cause serious transmission damage. 

I followed my procedure, but as I tried to go from D into the lower gears of the automatic transmission, I couldn’t move the shifter any further down into 3, 2, and 1 to come back to neutral from there as directed.  With Honda’s warning resounding in my head, I wondered how I could have already ruined the transmission before I had towed the van a foot!  The warning also said that if you ever had any issue getting the transmission to switch gears, that it must be brought to a dealer on a flat bed truck to avoid even more serious damage. 

As I sat in an empty parking lot that evening, waiting for the tardy towing service to arrive, I reviewed the day in light of my grand plan to not let things get me uptight during this adventure…   

-On the drive up, I had noticed that the GPS system wouldn’t boot up. 

-During the day, I had tried in vain to get an internet connection with the newly installed satellite system.

-Now thousands of dollars of transmission work were staring me in the face

-We were planning to head out for our final dry run to North Dakota the next day and I had to call Brenda and tell her to abort preparations. 

…It was the true test to just pray for patience and not lose it. 

To stop a long story from getting any longer, when I got the vehicle to Honda the second shift maintenance supervisor started entering the work order.  He said that he had never seen something like this before where the transmission works in Drive but won’t switch to other gears. 

We went out to the van together.  He put it into Drive and then pushed forward on the shifter before easily shifting into 3, 2, and 1.  Since I bought the van in 1999, I had never had to use lower gears, and hadn’t learned there is a stop to protect from accidentally switching to lower gears while driving.  The embarrassment was easily overshadowed with relief that nothing was actually wrong. 

Yet that night, I figured out the GPS problem, and got an internet connection with the satellite system.  Tomorrow’s trip was back on and I think I passed the test! 

July 28 

Today we started our dry run trip to North Dakota.  We planned this as a final opportunity to test all of our equipment before we head out for good.  Also, if we don’t get back to that area, we can still say North Dakota is checked off the list…

Towing our van adds a completely new element to driving a 39 foot RV.  You really have to think ahead wherever you go because you can’t back up the RV with the van in tow as it will easily jackknife and damage the towbar.  It doesn’t take too long to disconnect the van, but it is still inconvenient.  Making turns is also more challenging.  Thankfully, Harvey has a video monitor that helps you see what’s going on behind you.   

We didn’t head out until afternoon as we only had five or six hours of driving to get to our Jamestown, North Dakota campground.  We took our first “state line” picture as a family at sunset as we entered the Fargo area… forty-eight to go.  Traveling together as a family in the motorhome is a blast! 

I didn’t realize that there is a lot of marshland in North Dakota.  This was not a good thing for our last hour of travel was during late dusk, in late July.  The RV has a huge front windshield that turned out be a killing field for thousands of bugs!  The kids were grossed out and kept asking me to wash the windshield.  I knew that doing so would be a mistake, but finally relented a few miles from our destination.  The resulting smeared mess required a special stop at the next exit for a huge cleanup job! 

July 29 

We planned to spend just a few hours in Jamestown and then head on to the Devil’s Lake area.  Since we pulled into the campground after dark, it was a pleasant surprise to see that we were partially surrounded by golden wheat fields.  The expanse was definitely how I picture the plains states and a great photo op. 

We visited Jamestown’s biggest attraction, the world’s largest Buffalo and the surrounding area devoted to buffalo.  I have always had a fascination with people’s desire to make huge plastic animals…  Minnesota is also notorious, with a huge plastic deer in Deerwood, and a big walleye at the southern banks of Mille Lacs.   

Besides, Bob the plastic Buffalo, there were real Buffalo as part of the attraction living in their typical habitat.  It was a large natural area for them to roam so you had to be patient to see them as they moved about.  We finally did get a glimpse of famous “White Cloud” an albino buffalo, an extremely rare occurrence.  Leah won the prize for spotting her.  We headed off to Devil’s Lake at lunchtime.  (A great thing about motorhoming- you can take care of food preparation and eating as you’re ticking off the miles!) 

Our drive led us through the Spirit Lake Nation Indian reservation.  North Dakota has many reservations, a lot of which are quite impoverished.  We look forward to learning more about the history of the native population in our travels.  We know that there were injustices and hope we can gain a balanced viewpoint of that part of US history. 

As we approached the Devil’s Lake area, we came to a fork in the road, each road leading around the huge Devil’s Lake area in the opposite direction.  By the time we stopped, to check maps, we were already headed one direction and going the other would mean unhooking the van.  Unfortunately, we chose the way with road construction with no way to turn around… 

Now we had been expecting road construction at various times during our adventure, but this one turned out to be our first off-road RV’ing experience.  The road was completely gone for about five miles.  A whole new road bed was being built so we literally drove in dirt, weaving in and out of the way of huge graders.  Traffic could flow only one direction at a time so we had to wait for a pilot car and then follow in a line as he led us on a slow, rutted, and dusty path through the mess.  We had to look at the whole situation with a sense of humor… a baptism of fire for our first real trip with all of our equipment 

After making it through the construction in one piece we got our first views of Devil’s Lake.  Apparently dam work in another part of the state disrupted the ground water flow and Devil’s Lake has grown by more than three times in recent years.   

It was a surreal sight.  The skeletons of dead trees are half submerged way out into the lake.  Roads disappear into the lake.  Whole farms are abandoned to the lake.  Some of the main roads have been built up over the years as the water rises so that you drive on a highway that is surrounded on both sides by water. 

It was now dinner time as we finally made it to the town of Devil’s Lake.  After picking up groceries we decided to get pizza.  Another objective of this trip is that when we do have to stop at a restaurant, we want to avoid chain restaurants to experience the local flavor.  We were excited to find a nice looking place called the Pizza Barn for our first experience.  (After ordering I asked the manager if this was the only one.  It turns out that there are over one hundred of these, a chain I had never heard of.  I tried!) 

We finally made it to our campground in a state park which is now basically an island in this huge lake.  It was a beautiful place which we explored on our bikes.  (Oh yes, that was another thing we learned with this trip.  We can pack all five of our bikes in the Odyssey so that they will be secure and out of the elements wherever we go!)  After a busy day, the quiet, well-kept park was a wonderful surprise. 

July 30 

Boy, the minivan seems small and easy to maneuver now! 

It was nice to take a day trip with the van and have Harvey set up and waiting upon our return.  We headed west and north from the Devil’s Lake area and passed through Rugby, North Dakota.  This is the geographic center of North America.  (This is where a cutout of North America would balance on the head of a pin.)  We’re going to have to search the internet as a family to see how that was calculated for math class. 

The next stop was the International Peace Garden.  I highly recommend this site.  It celebrates the longest non-fortified border between two friendly nations.  Besides the huge garden that symmetrically runs both sides of the US/Canada border, the area houses an international summer music school and sports camp.  There is also a display memorializing the 9/11 disaster.  It was sobering to actually see some wreckage from the Twin Towers for real.

There is also a peaceful chapel at one end of the garden with engravings of  inspirational sayings over the centuries.  Most of them were quite inspiring.  One presented a good learning opportunity for the kids.  In essence, it said, “Whatever you believe is okay, you can basically define your own truths.”  It was very typical of what I believe is a dangerous line of thinking in our society today that there are no absolute truths.  We discussed as a family that this relativism makes no sense since two people with opposing beliefs can’t both be right.  I pray that the kids learn to desire and discern truth in their lives.

It was surprising that the distance we had gone north and west in the time zone made a noticeable difference in the length of daylight hours.  After this last sunset of our “dry run” we topped off the day with a family campfire on a beautiful night.