Monday, February 07, 2005

A Spectacular Failure

by AJ/Skald

Engine parts were scattered around the cockpit-- on chairs, the dashboard, the floor, and the table of the RV. I tiptoed to avoid the mess and leaned over to look at the engine. Todd was banging on a wrench- trying to loosen a bolt. "Do you know how to put this back together?", I asked.

"Sure, its easy", he said. I scrunched my nose and brow but said nothing. But I thought to myself, "There's no way in hell this thing will ever run".

Everyday Todd and Lewis worked on the RV-- an old hunk from the 70s that Lewis' family had sold to them for a rockbottom price (eager to get rid of the thing). One day Todd finished the engine. "Time for a test drive", he said. I jumped in and joined him in the cockpit. The engine sputtered and then roared-- it gave a loud "clank" as he put it into drive-- and then we hunkered forward. I felt like a 10 year old with his first bike. We shot each other a thumbs up as the brown monster rolled down the driveway. Todd turned right out of the drive and then right again onto Augusta Road.

"It seems to be doing great", I said, but a shuddering vibration shook the vehicle and drowned out my words. "Hmmmm", Todd glanced at the dashboard guages. I sniffed and caught the smell of smoke. Todd did too. The temperature guage shot towards the red zone. "Fuck", we said in unison.

Todd managed to get her back to the driveway. He cursed and kicked-- then set back to work on the engine. We broke the bad news to Lewis in the evening. So it went for the entire summer. Trial after trial and always failure.

Finally, Lewis and Todd gave up. They took the beast to an RV mechanic and paid for an engine overhaul. Three weeks and $600 dollars later the RV returned to the drive with a humming engine. We celebrated and mapped our grandiose plans.

Todd and Lewis had a big dream. They wanted to drive the RV from South Carolina, across the United States, and then down to South America. In the beginning they planned to live off of savings. When those ran out the plan was to make a living by selling their stained glass art. They set up a mobile workshop in the back.

I was living in my Toyota van already. They urged me to follow along with them-- a rolling caravan of neo-nomads. I was non-commital and secretly had my doubts about the RV-- but I admired their vision and audacity.

In August, they named the RV "Champagne" and decided to test a maiden voyage. We entered a disc golf tournament in Athens, GA (1.5 hours away). Todd, Lewis, and Kristin set off in the RV while I followed in the van with Athena (my dog). All of us were giddy. Champagne pulled smoothly out of the driveway, cruised down Augusta Road, and slipped onto I-85.

We sped through South Carolina and crossed the GA border-- me following the RV about 4 car lengths behind. We called each other on our cell phones-- kids playing walkie-talkie.

But 20 minutes past the border, Champagne slowed. "What's going on?", I said to Athena. The speedometer dropped to 40 mph and suddenly thick black smoke belched from the RV's exhaust. The vehicle careened to the right, onto the shoulder of the road-- and sputtered to a stop. I pulled behind them and ran to see what was happening. Todd and Lewis were inside, desperately trying to restart the engine. Kristin was shaking her head.

For the next hour they examined the motor, looked under the vehicle, turned the key, cursed, and kicked the tires... until they grew despondent and gave up. "What do you want to do?", I asked. "Fuck it. Lets leave it here and go to the tournament. We'll get it on the way back."

And so they grabbed their discs and clothes and we piled into my van and headed for Athens. The tournament was fantastic fun (on the best course we've ever seen).. but the RVs fate weighed on Todd and Lewis.

On the way back they checked the monster and tried again to start her but it was no use. Eventually they had her towed back to the mechanic. He worked on the RV for another few weeks.

Champagne did run eventually. She made it to Gainesville, GA-- Todd and Lewis lived in it for a time. In the winter they headed down to Florida. But mechanical problems continued to mount-- rapidly draining their savings.

Finally, they gave up for good. Lewis drove the beast back to his parents house. Todd got a job in Florida. I stayed in Gainesville and continued my van living experiment.

The RV was, in the end, a glorious failure. But for a time it inspired us all. We've all since moved on to other adventures. Todd, Kristin, and I moved to Thailand. Lewis moved to San Francisco.

But we are all still determined to get to South America-- one day.

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