The Universe has got me......
Saturday morning (18th August) I left Gatlinberg. I had spent 3 amazing days in the Great Smokey Mountain National Park. Time had arrived for me to head out onto the Blue Ridge Parkway and head north east toward my next major stop - the Shenandoah National Park.
Who would have thought that so early into my maiden road trip I would come to understand that the Universe has got me? How a set of decisions the day before made it possible for me to get to safety and call for help. I am not a religious person as most know, but I do believe that there is a greater energy/power than just us (call it what you want, I call it the Universe) and that everything happens by design. There is a Universal design to every action, there is a cause and effect to every motion and there are energies that are at play that create the pathways of life. Well, that's my view in any case. I got to experience the power of just this at the start of my 5000 odd mile road trip!
Ron (my son-in-law, Adam's dad) had taken me on a mini-road trip around the park just the day before. As we drove the Tail of the Dragon, I had shared with him my concern about the height of three tunnels at the start of the Blue Ridge Parkway and that they may not be high enough for BlueBerry to pass through. Ron decided to ride the initial stretch of the BRP (Blue Ridge Parkway) to check. We were in the area at the end of our day and it was a short detour back to Gatlinberg. But even more importantly, he decided to drive all the way to Waterrock Knob Visitor Centre and lookout. I didn't know it then, but doing this drive would be invaluable to me the following day and would position me to make the right decisions when I most needed to.
I left Gatlinberg at around 08h30 and stopped at a Service Station to check my tire pressure. I mention this because not even the mechanic at the Service Station picked up a potential problem with my tires - and he helped me pump them up! It is very different putting air in tires on a coach as opposed to a car and this young man was very helpful in showing me how to use the air station for trucks/RVs.
The drive up to New Found Gap was uneventful. I stopped there to take a photo (for my Instagram posts) but the mist/fog denied me any view. I headed on down the mountain taking the drive slowly, all the while getting used to BlueBerry and her weight. She is a very heavy lady with a full water tank on board too. It was toward the bottom of the mountain pass that I first felt a difference with the brakes. I thought that they were probably just a bit hot as I was pretty much riding them on the downhill. I knew I needed to work out how to do downhills in an automatic. I would have geared down in a manual (stick shift) vehicle but BlueBerry was automatic and I wasn't sure how I was going to do this. Not too phased, I continued my journey.
I turned onto the Blue Ridge Parkway and was probably half hour into the climb up the side of the ridge, when it felt as if the brakes had engaged and were stuck (almost like driving with your hand break/emergency brake on). I stopped as soon as I could and could immediately smell the brakes - there was a problem and they were really hot. This was NOT good! Taking a cautious approach, I decided to wait a while and let the brakes cool down. At this point I had no signal to call for help and knew that I was going to either have to turn back (which was downhill) or carry on till I could find signal. I remembered the drive from the day before and knew that there was a peak some miles ahead where there was signal (I had in fact WhatsApp'd a photo from there the day before). I also knew that it was uphill to that point. I started out again and while the brakes had eased off, there was still a problem, the brakes still felt like they were engaged. I continued up the ridge, driving as best I could. I needed to get to the lookout where there was signal.
As I reached the top of the ridge, I realised that the lookout was a short distance from the peak. I was scared, it was downhill to the lookout point. At this point I instinctively engaged the brake pedal only to find that I had almost no brakes. I pumped them but and now there was NO brakes. My heart was in my throat, I had to think quickly! BlueBerry was picking up speed.
At this point I decided to gear down to 1st gear (not caring what it would do to the transmission) and started engaging the emergency brake/hand brake (which is a pedal). Thankfully this worked and I crawled into Plott Balsam Gap overlook safely. I was shaking, if ever I needed a cigarette it was then! I had given up the habit in December 2017 and this was the first time I really wished that I had a packet of ciggies with me. I would have smoked a couple at that point.
I made sure that BlueBerry was properly engaged and engine turned off. I was at a beautiful lookout, the views were amazing, but I was some 5000 ft (1500 m) up on a mountain ridge with only downhill for some distance ahead. I grabbed my cell phone, I had signal! It was now just after 11h00.
Google maps presented me with the closest Service Station : PK's Garage. Eureka! They were open. In fact they closed at noon. I called. Jackie took my call and sprang into action immediately - she arranged for a tow and confirmed that Paul (the mechanic) could see to the car that afternoon. I was so grateful for this help! All I had to do was sit and wait.
Chris from Anytime Towing and Recovery came to tow me and arrived just after 13h00. When he had loaded BlueBerry up onto his van, he turned and said to me, "you are one very brave lady". Thinking he was referring to me travelling on my own, I responded happily "It's great to travel on your own". "No" he said, "your tires have dry rot and lady I don't know how far you have come but you could have had a really nasty blow out! I wouldn't drive a mile further on these". I have got to be totally honest - in this moment I felt my heart beating in my ears, my throat dried up and I took a moment to digest this. That fear I was trying to abate after the brake issue, rose up in my throat and I gasped! "What do you mean?" I asked him. Chris showed me. It when the tires are so old they begin to crack. Fine hairline cracks, hardly noticeable. The treads were still fantastic on these tires, but every tire was riddled with dry rot.
Like I said, I am not a religious person, but I believe that my brakes failed on an uphill (yes on an uphill) to stop me from driving any further on tires that could have blown at anytime. I am not a prophet of doom nor am I a negative person, but imagine my brakes failing on a downhill and having a blowout at the same time? Or any one of the two happening on the downhill stretch where you are some 5000 feet (1 500 odd metres) up on a mountain ridge!!! The reality of the situation I had avoided hit me and literally took my breath away. That taste of fear sat with me for many hours after that. Thankfully I could sit quietly on the ride down and give thanks for my safety.
Chris offloaded BlueBerry and I at PK's Garage and we were delivered into the capable hands of Paul and Jackie. Again the Universe demonstrated its awesomeness...and how it ensured my safety. Paul, as it so happened, is an expert in old vehicles! He in fact restored old cars. Can you absolutely believe that? I was so grateful for them both.
Once Paul had assessed the vehicle, we knew that I was going to be here until Monday. Parts were ordered including a new set of tires. Most of the parts would arrive the following day (yes a Sunday, I know) but unfortunately the tires could only be delivered on Monday morning. Paul was amazing, giving up his Sunday to sort out BlueBerry's brakes. Having the knowledge of the older vehicles ensured that the right parts were ordered and that the whole problem was resolved. What was even more amazing was that the tires were still the original tires! Michelin All Terrains. The spare had never been used. No wonder they had dry rot!
And so it was that I came to spend my first two nights in BlueBerry at the back of PK's Garage in Maggie Valley. I was shored up to electricity and got to experience the comfort of the coach first hand.
Not what I had in mind, but then I was safe and comfortable albeit it squatting so to speak.
The Universe had me!
Thank you Chris, Paul and Jackie - I am forever grateful!