PART 3: 8 Days in a Camper. The Chronicles of Ole Bessie, the Final Chapter

Note: This is the Final Chapter of The Great Abernathy Vacation of 2018.  I would recommend reading Part 1 and Part 2 first to better understand our mindset heading in to the final two days.  I welcome your comments below at the conclusion of this. It is one of the few things that have kept me from losing it throughout the the process of getting our life back in order.

So.  Lets take a moment to recap. The following notable events have occured thus far on this trip:

Augusta Leaves her clothes behind and resorts to wearing Alex’s rather vulgar shirt into Wal-Mart  to shop for new clothes 

Denied Eggs at McDonalds because "somebody in a bad mood"

Within the first 10 minutes of arrival on vacation, our Camper Slideout Breaks in Savannah 

Truck gets trapped in a Downtown Savannah Parking Garage. Roof scraped like hell. Twice. 

Truck makes it safely deep into the Smoky Mountains. (See the cool nerdy video we made on air pressure from the bottom of Gatlinburg to the top of Newfound Gap)

Captain Augusta narrowly survives like... 200 boulders in lazy river inner tube

Alex Loses his iPhone. Snapchat. His life. His means of communication.

Sewage spill bubbles outside the ground just outside our Campsite window

Hundreds of worms are murdered on the ends of our hooks with not a single fish to justify it

Not. One. Fish. Well. Except for the cheatin kind

Robert gets trapped in the rapids. Augusta smiles. 

The Camper's power dies. No one smiles. 

Captain Augusta keeps us all alive down the Nantahala with her powerful commands. I smile. 

Friday, July 27th Part A. The LONG Journey Out.

With a good night's sleep, we awakened and began to pack. Breakfast was...

Wait. (record scratch....)

Lets go back in time to three days before we left to go out of town.  I had a feeling that this journey might be a little tough on my old truck. It was one of those intuition kind of things. I knew the what the journey would look like. (See the Map Below) By looking at the map you can see the points on our trip was going to be a bit of a haul.  Especially at the extreme frequent changes in elevation. I pulled that F250 of mine into a dealership in Cullman the week before we left and was ready to trade her in for a newer, more reliable vehicle. The young guy took one look at Ole Bessie and said "We wont trade for 2009 F250 6.4 Liter Trucks".  At first, I thought he was kidding. Nope. He was serious. So check this out.... I drove a perfectly functioning F250 to a reputable dealership, right? How bad must a vehicle's reputation be when a dealership will refuse to trade for a functioning running truck? Right there in that parking lot, he told me pretty much, to take my pretty little red truck and go drive away. Im not kidding.  I tucked my tail between my legs and drove away. 

For those of you who dont know, (this included me up until that moment), from 2008-2010, Ford Motor Company made one hell of an embarassing engine on their F250 6.4 Liter engines. This diesel engine was plagued with one mishap after another and apparently the cost of repairing them are outrageous and there aren't many dealers who want to pay the cost of having it repaired as soon as it leaves the lot.  When I bought Ole Bessie, I had never owned a diesel. I was just happy that I was getting something strong enough to haul a large pull behind camper, and was getting it at a good deal....I only had 88,000 miles and it was less that $30,000. And by a diesel truck's standard, those were low miles and a great price. I had no idea what I was getting into.  I bought it from Contemporary Automotive in Tuscaloosa.  My advice to anyone thinking of going there in the future, STAY AWAY. 

(Back to July 27th)

By this time, my poor truck now had a series of issues:  A mailbox shaped dent on the rear fender, a parking lot beam shaped imprint and scratches all across the roof of the cab, A dome light that stays on for extended periods of time due to a door sensor malfunction, a tire pressure sensor malfunction, a left rear blinker/light that doesnt work and a sleeping storm of issues brewing underneath the hood.  I had heard the distant thunder from this storm in recent trips in the past from time to time. I had lost a little power before, but had it checked out and it was, according to Ford at the time, a simple computer issue. (Or so I thought)

After we began preparations to leave that morning, we had a long discussion about how to get out of the Smoky Mountains and to Desoto State park. I wasnt comfortable being so far away, having already spent a small fortune on the camper and endless amounts of fishing supplies with the thoughts of Ole Bessie possibly dying on us in places you can hear banjos playing out your window.  

As we looked at the map, I began to realize we were in for one hell of a journey out of the Smokies and an back up to Lookout Mountain.  I dont know what the hell I was thinking in planning our exit, but the options were limited. Click here to see the potential problems that existed on this course. There were some unavoidable facts. 

1.  We would have to dive deep into the narrow Nantahala Gorge and back out with an overloaded camper.

2. We would have to drive straight through the most narrow passage in Tennessee---The Ocoee River.

3. We would have to make treacherous climb up Lookout Mountain.

These 3 unavoidable points in our journey had me nervous. So the night before, we had actually talked about just driving back home and skipping DeSoto altogether. This single moment in history proved to be one of the more regrettable, poor decisions we ever made on this trip.  We opted to press forward and make the trip to DeSoto anyway. 

Now, Captain Augusta may be a great legendary white water captain, but she doesnt necessarily wag her tail with her head out the window when there is a camper behind or in any sort of potential sticky situation. This path we chose had every single possible element of impending doom.  And she was busy running a checklist through her head. 

Overloaded camper. Check.

The Ocoee road from hell. Check.

The Lookout Mountain Climb. Check.

Nervous Driver. Check.

Sad, broken Truck, check.

My Co-Pilot chose the back seat and Blake rode up front. And here. We. Go. 

10:15 am. The road winds up and down. Around Bends. Up the Mountain. Down into the Nanatahala Gorge. Dodging speeding 18 wheelers and shuttle buses full of rafters.  Bessie struggles. Augusta closes her eyes. I just keep pressing forward. GPS takes us off road onto an unknown alley. Then back on to the highway. Down the mountain. Into Murphy, NC and Andrews NC (which by the way is absolutely the most beautiful valley in Tennessee.).

As we finally descended out of the Nantahala National Forest and made our way toward the Ocoee, I prepped myself for what was coming. If you have ever rafted the Ocoee, you know that the steep cut throughs are literally inches away from the side of the road heading west on Hwy 64. Its close. So close that 18 wheelers and campers regularly scrub the brush around the sharp turns.  We stopped for a few minutes and watched the various rafting companies take their customers down the slope and into the waters and run through "Grumpy" which is the 1st major rapid on this section of the Ocoee.  Ive rafted the Ocoee many times and each time, I have fallen out. The "Grumpy Rapid" itself had claimed me twice and I swore that I would never do it again.  Wide-eyed Captain Augusta was feeling soo much better that I had not chosen this river rather than the Nantahala that we had survived the day before. 

11:45 am After the brief stop, we pressed forward and HOLY SWEET FREAKING MOTHER OF BATMAN, this was a tight squeeze. The rafting companies don't care about on coming traffic, the 18 wheelers dont care. They are used to the squeeze, but I was not. Blake is in the front grinding his teeth, Alex and Ethan are looking out the window at the rapids and Augusta...OMG, she is desperately trying to do anything she could to either put herself asleep or look down a phone that had no reception. This was tight. We made though. Stopped for lunch on the side of the road near the lake, and prepared for the next big obstacle.

Lookout Mountain.

There are only a few good paths up Lookout Mountain for a big ass overloaded 11,000 pound camper. After much consideration the previous evening, we opted to go through Chattanooga to Fort Payne and up hwy 35 to Desoto State park. Its not as steep as coming in the backside from Gaylesville and its a bit easier than the Valleyhead route or Trenton, GA. The last thing I wanted to do was to take a route that where we had no knowledge of its length or pitch. Well. Guess what---as our luck would have it, the GPS sent us an alert that traffic was shut down in Chattanooga and rerouted us through an unknown path toward Lookout Mountain. After miles of rounding turns, changing highways and heading up and down hills that none of us knew, we finally round a corner and I see the hill up ahead. 

2:01 pm I discover that the GPS has rerouted me up through the Lookout Mountain Scenic Highway.  

2:05 pm Ole Bessie is handling the first quarter of the climb like a champ. We are all nervous. Im beginning to think that young car salesperson was full of Crap.  Augusta has her eyes closed. But We are doing fine. Speed 40 mph. 

2:10 pm.  It happens. It finally happens. The little voice in the back of my head that was warning me all along of the truck dying, prophetically comes true. Power disappears one third of the way up with a HUGE Camper behind us. My foot to the floor. NOTHING. I toy around with the different gears trying to get something and manage to find a sweet spot to make her pull at about 10 mph. By this time you can see the deep valley below us already and from looking at the map we still have several miles to go.  

2:13 pm. Cars start lining up behind us. I have no low gear whatsoever. 10 mph still, but at least we are moving forward and not back down a mountain.  In spots, you can see how high up we are. There is an enormous change in elevation and you can see that the There is NOWHERE to turn around. There is nowhere to stop and assess things. And Just like that parking garage in Savannah, I am past the point of no return. We have no choice but to keep pushing Bessie to the limit. Augusta meanwhile is keeping her panicking to a minimum. Thankfully, because on the inside I was having a meltdown. I had not officially informed her the severity of what could be going on with the truck.  As we continue to move forward, we finally see light at the end of the tunnel and pull the truck over and turn it off.

We have no F%$*ing idea where we are.

Literally. No idea. I'm trying to assess how much more we might have to climb but none of us have any cell service.  The boys probably hate me at this point because I just dont have any answers anymore. We finally manage to get enough service to see that we needed to take HWY 157 toward DeSoto State Park, but there was going to be a unusual number of turns.  The Next 30 miles was the most nerve-racking 30 miles ever. We could manage to get up enough speed on flat and downhill sections and would use that momentum so that we could ultimately coast uphill when we needed it. Thoughts of this scene played in my head.

3:18 pm. We miraculously arrive at our Campsite at DeSoto State Park and begin the process of setting up the Camper. It was a nice spot. Its a shame Augusta and I didnt get to see it that much. We needed to get to the Ford Dealership down the mountain to Fort Payne to assess how much damage has been done to the engine before they closed. At this point spending ANY money was going to be a stretch.

4:45 pm. They take Ole Bessie back to the garage at the Landers McCarty Ford and come back with both good and bad news.

The Bad:  The notorious High Pressure Fuel Pump could be going bad. This would require an entire fuel system replacement. Total Cost $9100.00 to fix.

The Good: He said its possible that the stress of the lengthy climb caused the pressure to spike, killing the power.

The technician took her for a drive. Turbo worked fine. He handed me the keys and said that it might or might not do it again, but I might need to find another way to get the camper home. They felt a little sympathy. Didnt charge us a dime and we left. And we smiled. And we took a deep breath. And we laughed. And we were thankful Ole Bessie was ok. And I take the turn to go back up to Desoto State Park. And she does fine. And we smile. And we are happy its not going to cost us $9100. And life is good. And Ole Bessie starts to make the climb.

6:40 pm.  Bessie Says, "F*** You, Robert Abernathy" and completely dies.

Near the top of Hwy 35. In the turn. Where 18 wheelers are rounding the turn coming down the mountain. We are in the middle of the freaking road. Dead. Wont crank. Nothing. I manage to pop in in neutral and slowly back it down toward the ditch but its so steep, I cant go far. Im 3/4 into the highway. 

This situation is seriously dangerous. Augusta doesnt even have her phone. Alex is still hoarding it from destroying his own earlier in the week.  I was panicking so much, I googled "911" instead of calling it. Augusta is now in fever panic mode. So once a hundred times before on this trip, we reached out on that damn 1 800 Abernathy Emergency Hotline and got someone to rescue us. The Police arrive within minutes and see how serious the situation is and start to direct traffic and try to slow down vehicles making the dangerous turn at the top of Hwy 35. By this time we had gotten in touch with Augusta's Father, Van who was already on his way when we called and made it time to help direct traffic.  AAA dispached a wrecker and said they could have someone there within 20 minutes, but the police on the scene said to forget it, they needed someone right then. 

By this time, I was imploding and Augusta was exploding. The emotions from everything had finally made it to the surface and she had the most deserved, understandable breakdown one could have.  Her crying symbolized everything that had failed on this trip. It wasnt just that Bessie had died. It was that we knew that everything was about to get exponentially more complicated.

We had no transportation. We had a huge camper that had to leave the site in the morning somehow. We had quite a few supplies. There were 5 of us. We still had to get to Gadsden to get Augusta's car AND 3 dogs. Then figure out how to get everyone home.

Thankfully, there were several people who offered assistance. Karen and Toby Pendergrass were the first to be there and offer some assistance. They hung out with us for a while that evening at the campground and listened to all our woes.  Also about the time we were trying to map out a plan, Dana and Chris Snyder offered to come pick us and the camper up and get us back to Southside. That just seemed to make for a good plan because our car was just a few miles away from Chris and Dana's house. There were several people who offered to help.

It was refreshing to see how many people really didnt want us to die in the woods. 

So. With a temporary plan in place, we built a fire, threw the remaining food we had left on the grill and we sat outside the Camper. And drank adult beverages. And we laughed. And we cried.

Saturday, July 28th. Good Family. Good Friends.

You find out who your friends are when $*** happens. Ive learned that over the course of my life. Want to know who really cares? Get in a bind and see what happens next. Not that there werent friends that would have gladly helped if given the resources. But Karen and Toby were more than generous and offered their vehicle. Van was so helpful that evening as well.  My dad offered to get us home if we could get to Southside.  My brother  had been taking care of our dogs. But without hesitation, without the first question, Dana and Chris Snyder made sure we got our camper, our supplies and 5 worn down people back home. Chris showed up at the campground at around 9:00 am that Saturday morning.  Didnt ask for gas. Didnt ask for a thank you. Didnt care that we needed to park the camper at his house. Didnt care that we opened up a watermelon in his back seat and ate it. (not really) We hooked everything up to his truck and made the much awaited, financially depleted, long, worn out journey home.  Im sure Chris could sense how emotionally drained we were.

By this time, the Ford Dealership had given me confirmation that to replace the fuel system, it was going to cost me close to $10,000.  I dont have $10,000 laying around.  So this was not welcomed news.  Chris finally got us to Southside and we made it Dad's to retrieve Augusta's Car and then to Jon's to pick up our sweet dogs. Im not sure that we didnt miss them more than they missed us. We were so excited to see them again. Jon did an excellent job assuring us over the past week that they were in good hands. 

We were worn. Tired. Defeated. But happy to be in one piece. Bessie died in a place at least where friends and family were close enough to get us where we needed to be an for that I am thankful.  

Total $$ Tally:

RV Camper fix Expenses=$1000

Truck Expenses=$9200

Useless Fishing Supplies=$350

Trout Farm Fishing=$75


Alchohol= $ 200

Misc= $1500

Total= at least $14,000 that we dont have.

The Conclusion.

In terms of real disaster, this was nowhere near the scale of real life terrible things that take place. To put in perspective, all this happened while on a vacation. No one was hurt. We all were able to laugh at our own expense. And despite it all, we had a great time.

What Happened to the Camper? Its for sale. In perfect working condition. I have taken out your potential problems and paid for them all. $24,000 and its yours. 

What happened to Ole Bessie? Well as luck would have it, I was listening to one of those Kia commercials where you can bring your trade and they would give you more than your trade and all that stuff that you just never believe.  Well. I decided to take them up on the offer.  I called in a favor to good friend, and was able to work a deal that absorbed the cost of fixing my truck, the purchase of my truck and got into a brand new SUV for about the same cost as what I was currently paying for the Truck. 

Yes. I now have a brand new vehicle with a warranty. And I am happy. And I call haul everything I need except for that big ass camper. We have all looked back on the events of our week and laughed so much. Yes, there could be a movie made of it all. There was more than I could include for times sake, but all in all, we will never forget the great Vacation of 2018. I have no idea what we will be doing next year. If you are interested in tagging along, you'd best save a little money first though. And be prepared for a potential disaster. I think we are jinxed.

What could go wrong on a cruise? 

Whos in? ;)