Grayson Highlands 2014–Day 1 (delayed, but safe arrival)

Every year we make the trek up to southwest Virginia to camp at Grayson Highlands State Park – partly to escape the summer heat of South Carolina, but also to enjoy the rural mountains of Virginia.

First we had to get there safely!

Seems like we need to stop at lots of rest areas on these trips…  first for breakfast after our “early” morning departure:


Bikes still secure on the roof.  This multiple bike syndrome is slowly getting out of hand…


The next few hours were uneventful, as we stopped for an early lunch before climbing I-77 @ Fancy Gap VA:


Next a quick fill-up at the Love’s at the bottom of the mountain and up we went.

Climbing hills pulling heavy is very similar to road bike climbs up in the mountains.  You look for road grades and wonder if this kind of work is sustainable (FYI Strava is a great tool for finding all the places you DON’T want to pull a trailer – just look for the climb segments!)  … here’s some shots of the (aftermarket) truck gauges as I climbed up I-77 at about 50-55mph.  (Ford F250 7.3L Diesel, chipped with a 40hp tow tune from Jody Tipton (DP-Tuner):

Scan Gauge II readings:


ISSPRO gauges on the A-pillar:


In case you’re wondering, our combined weight with the fifth wheel is about 17,500 lbs.  With the 40 hp tow tune our truck pulls this hill fairly easily in 3rd at 50-55mph, depending on ambient temps (EGTs become elevated by a multiple of the increase in ambient temperature and thus requires a speed reduction).  This combo will climb at 60+ in OD (4th) but the EGTs run too high … probably with a 4” exhaust it may be possible, but for the one time a year we climb this mountain the setup I’ve got seems sufficient.  Also it’s important to note that we’ve added a transmission cooler to the otherwise stock 4R100 tranny – without it, the transmission temperature would probably climb too high once we got into the slow climb up to GHSP.

Everything seemed in order as we crested the hill in VA and were on to the exit for US 58 West to Galax, Independence and finally Grayson Highlands State Park.  However, as we were on US 58 almost to Independence, I noticed a muted vibration coming from the back of the truck.  It seemed similar to what I’ve noticed in the past when a trailer tire was about to blow.  Pulling over, I pulled out the infrared thermometer I keep handy (very useful, just point and take a reading, no contact needed).  I checked all my tire temperatures and all were about 130deg F – normal.  No bulges in any tires.  But I did smell a slight hint of burning brakes … checked all the brake drums of the trailer – all OK.  All the rotors on the truck were reading okay as well, about 140deg – except one at which my thermometer kept reading “Hi.” Umm … hello?  Or was my battery dying?  Checked the tire, got a reading.  Checked the rotor … 400deg F!  Verified a few more times and confirmed.  The best I could tell I had a sticking brake caliper.  I knew I had a small warp in one of my rear rotors and I guess the vibration was from the sticking brake caliper keeping the pads closer to the rotor than normal, hitting the “bump” on each revolution.

Now what to do.  A number of thoughts and emotions go through your head – it’s almost 2pm, I don’t know what exactly is wrong with the truck, but we’re still mobile. Not sure how far we can go, but I’m not comfortable with the idea of an overheating brake with a good amount of ups and downs ahead of us.

We call Good Sam ERS.  To be honest, I’m about 50/50 if they are worth it.  We were on hold for about 20 minutes while the folks on the other side reacted to our call.  We had asked to be put in touch with local repair shops.  I was fairly confident I could get to Independence or backtrack to Galax, but I needed to find someone that would take us that day.  As busywife handled the phone call, I checked around some more, and found that the suspect rotor had cooled by half of it’s original temperature.

As we were still waiting on hold, I looked on Google Maps for a repair shop in Independence, VA and came up with Main Street Tire and Auto.  Long story short, I spoke to Jerry who told me to come on in – and they got right to work on our truck.  They diagnosed it as a sticking caliper, and recommended a full brake job + replacement calipers on the rear, both sides (calipers / rotors / pads and brake bleed).  I agreed and Jerry put two guys on the job, and we were rolling by 5:30pm.  Not only that – they charged me less than what I would have expected at a repair shop at home.

Many thanks to Jerry, Justin and the folks at Main Street Tire & Auto for getting us back on the road so quickly!


Shiny new brakes on the rear:


In defense of the Good Sam ERS folks, they were prepared to do what we needed, had we been in full breakdown mode – come get the trailer, take it and us to a nearby campground and also dispatch an additional tow truck to take our tow vehicle to a repair shop.  But since I wasn’t to the point of breakdown yet, I just needed indication on where to take my truck to be repaired.  Maybe my call didn’t fit the typical Good Sam ERS call script.  Regardless, I’m not about to cancel my membership.  Had we really been stuck it appeared they had a plan for us.

A little late, but miraculously we arrived the day we had planned and still during daylight.  A reminder of how little is under our control, but how our Lord has it all under control.



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