Mama Said There'd Be Days Like This

Mama Said There’d Be Days Like This

Well that escalated quickly.

The day started out promisingly. We had planned to pull out of Toccoa Falls College RV Park at around noon, and we were ready to go shortly after 10:30. That’s pretty darn good for us.

We loaded up and headed to Walmart (there is large gas station adjacent to the WM parking lot) where we planned to check tire pressure, add air to the truck and trailer tires as needed, buy lunch, call the RV park to make sure we could get into one of their “walk-in” sites, and then hit the road. The first three went flawlessly.

Then things went sideways.

Getting Squirrely

First, the RV park we planned on going too, Lake Powhatan, was full, and they already had two other folks boondocking (camping in an RV without any hookups) while waiting for an RV site to open up. So I called our backup option and confirmed they had space for us.

Ok. One hiccup. Handled. No biggie. Moving on.

I had just finished adding air to all of the truck and trailer tires, burning through $4 in quarters in the process, jumped into the truck, and was seconds from putting it in gear when our Ford Excursion with the famed 7.3L Powerstroke engine stalled.

Our truck has never stalled.

We’ve had her for about 18 month, put close to 30,000 miles on her, and she’s never so much as hiccuped.

She started right back up, so I chalked it up to…”heck, I don’t know.”

I was planning on ignoring one minor indiscretion, until she stalled again, and again, and again, and again…and then the “Service Engine Soon” light lit up. Well shoot.

Oh no! | Photo by Meagan Penland

The Ex would drive, but anytime she stopped I had very little time to get my foot on the accelerator, or she’d stall. So we limped back to the RV park, stalled several times but finally made it, dropped the trailer and the family off at the site we had pulled out of an hour earlier, and I headed to a local service center.

Toccoa is a small place. I think there are about 10,000 residents in the town. I went to one of the most popular and most respected repair shops in town (Stan’s Service Center). They were booked up for 2 or 3 days, and they didn’t particularly want to mess with a diesel. Stan, of Stan’s Service Center, referred me to a guy who works on diesels out of his backyard. He agreed to look at it…at 8 AM the following morning.

It was 1 PM at this point and I was still harboring delusions of getting to Asheville. So I headed to Autozone to see if they could help me decode the reason behind the check engine light coming on.

The code that the truck spit out indicated the camshaft position sensor needed replacing. At first, my Autozone friend John unintentionally intimidated me a bit by talking about how it was a part that inserted into the motor. I can handle some stuff, but a part associated with a diesel engine is intimidating. So I mentioned that I thought I’d head to the Ford dealership to see if they could take care of it and he replied “Sure, they’ll do it, and charge you a lot to put it on.”

Not Quitting Yet

I thanked John for his help and headed out to my truck, but the thought of paying too much was working on me, and I decided to check YouTube before heading to the dealership.

I found this video at YouTube for a truck with the same engine:

That looks so easy. I can do that. 10 minutes tops right?

I went back into Autozone and bought the part. I called my wife to tell her to plan on pulling out within the hour, and headed back to the RV park, near-stalling the whole way.

Fixing the Truck
Fixing the Truck | Photo Credit: Meagan Penland

Once back at the RV park, head-down in the engine compartment, it became apparent very quickly that YouTube had lied. I spent the first fifteen minutes NOT finding the location of the CPS on my truck. I watched another video, and another, and another, and nothing. So I took out one of the batteries, I took loose the coolant reservoir to clear up some space. No dice. The video made this look so easy! Where is the freaking CPS!

Finally, I laid on my back, in the gravel, and slid under the truck. Could that be it? Maybe, but there are all sorts of belts and tubes and whatnot between me and it.

You get the picture.

90 minutes after I started, I finished the 10 minute job. It’s now after 2 PM, but we’re getting out of here.

I Can’t Wait to Get On the Road Again.

Fifteen minutes later we had pulled out of the TFC RV Park for the second time, at a respectable 2:30. It’s all downhill from here.

10 minutes down the road the bottom fell out of the clouds. Now we’re slow-poking through a torrential downpour at 20 in a 55.

After about 20 minutes the rain cleared up, and we were able to pick up speed and were making decent time.

Can I Catch a Break?

A few minutes after the rain had stopped a van pulled up beside our truck, got our attention, and motioned towards the back of our RV. Figuring something must be up I pulled onto the shoulder. Somewhere along the way the bikes had fallen off of our bike rack, but the straps were still holding onto them, and we were dragging them along behind us.

Time to Learn to Ride
Training No More | Photo by Meagan Penland

Finally though, we actually got lucky.

There were four bikes on the rack and only one hit the road. The other three just sort of sat on top of the fourth. So only one bike had sustained any damage. The bike that was on the bottom had training wheels, and the only part that had hit the road was one of the training wheels. The straps that were supposed to hold the bikes onto the rack had managed to hold all four bikes together, while only the one training wheel dragged along the road. Heck, Hudson needed to learn to ride without training wheels anyway.

When I got back into the truck Meagan said something like “If one more thing goes wrong I’m going take it as a sign that we aren’t supposed to be traveling today.” I was with her. Thankfully it didn’t come to that.

We Made It!

Set Up in Asheville
We Made It!

We drove through scattered thunderstorms the rest of the way, but had no more troubles. We made it to Wilson’s Riverfront RV Park in Asheville at around 5:15 PM, and backed into a great site less than 50 feet from the French Broad River.

So what’s my takeaway from yesterday?

First, leave plenty of margin for error on travel days.

We had a two hour drive to make, yet we got up and were ready to pull out by 10:30 AM. If we hadn’t done that, if we’d lolly-gagged and not rolled out until noon or later, we never would have had time to deal with the broken truck and still make it to Asheville.

Second, always give DIY a chance.

If you can figure out what’s wrong with your vehicle, check YouTube before taking your truck to a shop. If we’d taken our truck to a shop we’d have paid more, and been stranded in Toccoa at least one extra day. At the same time, I do feel a little bad for repair shops these days. YouTube has to have siphoned off a noticeable chunk of their business.

Third, sometimes travel days don’t go smoothly. Expect things to go sideways from time to time.

We’ve heard about folks having all sorts of issues on travel days. Thankfully, until yesterday, we really hadn’t had any. Be prepared for some opposition on travel days. There are a lot of things that can go wrong.

Fourth, relax. You’re a fulltimer. If you’re free to go, you’re also free to stay.

We were able to pull it together and make it to our destination. However, it occurred to me that if we had been stranded it really would have been fine. That’s the beauty of this lifestyle. The freedom to travel at will means we also have the freedom to be stranded without stressing about it. The freedom to go, means we have the freedom to stay.


  1. So glad you were able to handle everything so we’ll I’m sure that our God was with you all the entire adventure. Your attitude is wonderful. God bless you and make you a blessing. Love you all.

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