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March 16, 2015 | Repairs and mishaps

March 8 is a glorious day, and finally, the temperatures are registering plus rather than minus. Our Heidelberg office is still working to fix an appointment with Graham Packaging for early this week and on our radar, therefore, is the 300 km drive to York, Pennsylvania. It is Sunday, the roads are quiet and so we anticipate a relaxing ride. As ever, nothing seems to go quite according to plan. A quick glance at the fuel gauge tells us that we will soon be needing to fill up. Ours is a diesel vehicle and in this region of the US there aren’t too many places offering diesel, so we need to keep our eyes peeled for a suitable fuelling stop. The gauge is already hovering on empty, but no need yet for undue concern, as the red warning light has not yet come on.

We resolve to take the next opportunity to fill up. Not as easy as it sounds, and getting diesel could be a difficult task. Then we see a sign indicating there is fuel 24 miles down the road. We assume diesel will be available there. The engine starts to splutter ominously and we decide we had better leave the highway and see if we can find somewhere to fill up. The fuel gauge is practically on empty, so safety is the best policy. The next exit is for official vehicles only so we have to push on to the next one, but we don’t make it. Suddenly the engine cuts out, and all we can do is to freewheel to a halt on the hard shoulder. Deadly silence in the Editourmobil, as we try to come to terms with the unfolding drama: stuck on the hard shoulder, an empty tank, miles from anywhere. Tony breaks the silence: what do we do now? The first thing to do is to put up the warning triangle; at least this will help us get over the shock of our predicament. Tony delves into the satnav and mobile to locate the nearest petrol station where diesel is available.

We are in luck because 7kms away is a fuel station with diesel. All well and good, but the next step is rather more difficult; stuck on the highway, how do we get the fuel? The solution we come up with is for Tony to call a taxi to take him to the petrol station, fill a canister with diesel, and bring it back to the Editourmobil. Easier said than done. The first taxi company we call flatly refuses, but they do at least suggest a company we might contact. They agree to do the job, and after 45 endless, nerve-wracking minutes, Tony finally steps out of the cab brandishing a full canister of diesel. Great and unconfined is our joy so let’s get out of here! But we hadn’t reckoned on one of the peculiarities of the vehicle that the fuel tank is located behind the main body section and there is no way of pouring the fuel directly from the canister into the tank.

After some fiddling about, we had to sacrifice one of our sample bottles, which we then cut into a rough funnel shape to enable us transfer the fuel. Finally the diesel was in the tank, the engine sprang into life and we were able to leave our unofficial parking place on the highway. Moral of the story: "Never trust a fuel gauge". Nerves shattered, we needed a bit of re-fuelling ourselves before continuing the journey. Unfortunately we spent our last few dollars on the snack and we had no cash left to pay the highway toll. That would not have been a problem had we not been having difficulties with cash machines over the past few days. "Avoiding toll roads" on the drive would inevitably result in a delay of several hours. So off we went once more to try our luck at finding an ATM.

The first few attempts to obtain money were unsuccessful, but then Tony struck lucky and we were able to continue our journey with money in our pocket. Only later did I learn that my card had been disabled for security reasons. My bank was unaware that I was in the US, and they believed that attempts to withdraw money in various US cities were a clear sign of fraud by a third party. A quick call to my bank to explain the situation unlocked the card so we should have no further problems with the money supply for the rest of the trip.

All this had cost us valuable time and unfortunately we did not manage to fit in the appointment with Graham Packaging and so we began our drive south a little earlier than planned. Our next goal is Chapel Hill, North Carolina, and we can already look forward to temperatures hovering around 200C. On our way south we have to pass Baltimore and Washington. Despite the 6 lane one way highway, in the rush hour we are moving at barely more than walking pace, which is a real pain, and it takes us all of three hours to cover the 30 miles in the greater Washington area. Reaching Chapel Hill is completely out of the question today, so instead we look for somewhere to stay for the night.

We can hardly believe it but here we are a day later in North Carolina enjoying temperatures of 200C. As we are staying with friends in a student hostel, we have some time at our disposal to get busy on the Editourmobil. The living and sleeping area are given a thorough going over and some of the missing sponsor stickers are put in place. Filling the 700 litre drinking water tank using a garden hose takes more than an hour so we ask the local fire department if they could lend a hand. We duly put in our request and allayed the reservations expressed by the fire brigade, we then had all the fun of watching the high pressure hose fill the water tank in a mere 20 minutes.

Now that we had managed to fill the tank, we could get the water pump and heater going again. The first leak was easy to fix, because the water heater drain valve was still open. The waste water problem, however, was a very different kettle of fish, because the outlet pipe in the storage section was cracked and water was flowing on to the street. Finding a replacement for the broken hose turned out to be real challenge. Two approaches were unsuccessful and so we visited a car accessories shop and luckily we were able to find a rubber hose that fitted the joint on the Editourmobil. Finally the Editourmobil is with a designer who is fitting the missing sponsor stickers to the vehicle. To add the finishing touch to our labours, we obtain camping chairs and a couple of tables for the NPE before we pick up the vehicle.

We make time to take a picture of the rubber hose we have purchased, thus showing Heidelberg our solution to the problem, but we then forget to replace the rubber hose and set off on our way to pick up the Editourmobil. Only here do we notice that the rubber hose with connector is missing. The rubber hose we can get back again, but the fitting is also missing from the vehicle. We race back as quickly as we can and are amazed to find the complete part which had been tossed into a flower bed. We re-installed the part and the wastewater system is now sealed. The heater is still however acting up and being very temperamental. But we carry out some remote diagnostics with Heidelberg and the problem is solved. The weekend is upon us and we are all systems go for the penultimate stage of our tour taking us via Atlanta, Georgia to Orlando Florida for the NPE.