Limped to Lakeland

Cracker Barrel in Panama City treated us well. Our next destination was the town of Perry. Birgit and Tom follow a YouTuber who recently bought land there, and they were curious what it was all about. It was right on the way, and there’s a Chateau Walmart there, so it was as good a waypoint as any. I hoped that yesterday’s misfire would go away or prove to be an intermittent problem as we continued our drive.

It didn’t. The problem was no worse than the previous day, but no better, either. It was still something I could generally drive around. Florida is flat, so I usually don’t need more than 1/4 throttle. We weren’t taking highways, and I could keep our speed low enough to keep the engine out of the misfire zone. People could always pass us, and did.

I continued to gather data about the problem as we drove. I was consistently getting a code P0303, indicating a misfire in cylinder #3 only. Today it was joined by a P0316, a misfire within the first 1,000 revolutions after starting. This tells me that the problem is consistent, and only affects cylinder #3. Chances are it’s a bad spark plug, or maybe a coil, as the Ford 5.4 uses separate coils connected to all eight spark plugs.

That doesn’t mean we didn’t have a beautiful scenic drive, though. That top photo was our lunch stop, a random pull-off as we drove right along the Gulf Coast. It sure beats Arizona wind or northern snow.

We made it to Perry, where I diverted toward an O’Reilly’s to buy a set of new spark plugs. The angle to get into the parking lot was too steep. I would’ve bottomed out the trailer. So I went down the road to Advance Auto Parts instead and bought a set of eight. I figured if I could swap just cylinder #3, it might fix it, and I could do the rest when I got to my family’s place in Lakeland. A friend recommended that I wait until the engine was stone cold before doing any work on it since these engines are known for having bad spark plug threads, so I decided to wait until the morning to work on it.

I regrouped with Birgit and Tom at Chateau Walmart for the night and had a mediocre dinner at the Sonic next door that was out of basically everything. So was Walmart, for that matter. I got one of the last remaining cases of seltzer in the entire store. While they had a space on the shelf for the correct size battery for my motorcycle, they had none.

That night, I went back to YouTube University, where I became a YouTube Certified Mechanic, to research what was involved in replacing spark plugs on my van. What I learned intimidated and scared me. Basically, the entire air intake and fuel rail system has to be removed to gain even a little bit of access, and even then it was extremely tight. This was not going to be a parking lot repair. I have to be ready so that if someone complains about me being there, I can pack up and leave fairly quickly. This job was too invasive for that to be possible.

I decided to set a direct non-highway course for Lakeland. I don’t want to let this problem go, but at least there, I’d be safe. Lister and I could move into the house, and the van could either get dismantled or sent to a shop where someone who knows what they’re doing can do it. Birgit and Tom would follow me all the way there, able to help if the problem got worse. Worst case, the closer I was to Lakeland if something more catastrophic was to happen, the shorter a tow I would need, and the more local help I’d have available.

Once again, my mechanical woes didn’t mean we couldn’t enjoy a scenic drive. We stopped for lunch at a public parking area in Crystal River. Birgit and I took a walk and found ourselves at Kings Bay Park, where we watched the birds and kayakers for a while. It would’ve been fun to rent a kayak myself and paddle around, but I had more important things to worry about.

The drive was slow and took all day, but we made it. I stashed my bike, trailer, and van in their respective places around the yard. My family invited Birgit and Tom to spend the night as well. They hadn’t been inclined to, since they were on a mission of their own to see their family, but after such a long drive they did stick around. They also drove me to a nearby store so I could buy a new battery for the V-Strom. That way, at least one of my vehicles would be fully operational. I also took the opportunity to rewire the power for my Apple CarPlay navigator while I was at it, to make sure what killed my previous battery would never happen again. On the plus side, the old battery was a good quality AGM and was nine years old. It had a good run.

Birgit and Tom were gone before I woke up the next morning. They were off to Titusville to meet some friends and watch a SpaceX launch. The launch got canceled, but they still had a good time with friends at the beach. We said our “see you down the road” (we don’t say “goodbye” in this life because somehow we always seem to meet again) the night before, and our convoy was officially at an end. It was great to travel with them (and Amy) again, and I felt much better knowing they had my back if my van trouble got worse before getting here. Leg 1 of the Big Loop is officially complete.

Yesterday was consumed by getting my “new” iPhone 13 Pro up and running. My 11 Pro has served me well, but the power port has developed a flaky connection over the past few months due to heavy use. Last week I accidentally crushed it in a cabinet door, cracking the screen. By Verizon’s standards, I was already overdue for an upgrade, so I’d ordered a replacement to be shipped to me in Lakeland. The 14 Pro costs a lot more and isn’t that much better than the 13 Pro, which will give me 5G service that the 11 Pro doesn’t have. While the 14’s ability to send an SOS by satellite could definitely be useful in this life, I could set up Starlink to do that if I find myself in that situation. I don’t ride my motorcycle off the beaten path far enough anymore for it to be useful there.

The process of transferring my data and service took all day. It kept stalling out and not working. After 10 or 20 unsuccessful attempts to transfer my phone number, it miraculously worked for no apparent reason. I don’t understand why it was such a pain, but whatever. It’s done, and it works.

So does my old phone, except of course it no longer has cellular service. It still works great as a camera, and that’s what I intend to use it for from now on. There have been many times when I’ve wanted to take a picture or video, but the phone has been locked into navigation mode and I couldn’t reach it in time. Now I’ll just leave the old phone ready to grab on a moment’s notice to snap a quick shot, then crop and edit it later to make it look pretty. Even better, I can bring it to one of those places that will replace a cracked screen, and leave it to get fixed without giving up my actual phone.

So what about the van? I’ve made two decisions. One is that I’m not going to try to fix it myself. While I’m no longer under time and space constraints to get it done, access is still a big issue, and I don’t want to take a chance at making the problem worse in my attempts to fumble through it on my own and save a few bucks. I’ll return the spark plugs I bought. I’m in a safe place. Lister and I can move into the guest room and I can leave the van at a shop for a day or three without inconveniencing my entire life.

The other decision is that I’m not going to get the van fixed until after the Forgotten Angels campout. That way, there is absolutely zero chance that a “one-day repair” can stretch to multiple days like last time, and leave me without a van to camp in at the event I drove all the way across the country to attend. Especially if this Florida mechanic gets the job.

The event site is exactly 17 miles from my aunt and uncle’s place. The van got me a few hundred miles with this problem, so it can get me there and back. Besides, people I know online will want to see Smokey Da Van, not “Smokey Da Help, I Need To Borrow A Tent Because Da Van Is In Da Shop.” I want to have it all there so people can see how I’ve lived full-time on the road for nearly two years, and counting.

But, I’m definitely getting the van fixed before continuing the Big Loop, or even potentially taking it anywhere else around Florida. I honestly don’t know precisely where I’m going from here, and that’s okay. When I start heading north depends on the weather along the way. I clearly remember running away from 40s and rain in New Hampshire in late April 2021, so I’m in absolutely no hurry to get there.

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