Carrboro-Chapel Hill, NC
The brakes were cool and ready to rumble. We drove 4-5h and arrived in Carrboro, NC. Carrboro is a small town next to the small town of Chapel Hill and there is not much to say about it. It has a nice street market with picknick tables and our new friend and host Alex lives there. Chapel Hill is more famous mainly because of the big UNC (University of North Carolina) which has about 30k students enrolled.
Our host Alex is another Allan’s-friend and treated us great. We could park Stan the Van at his house and crash his couch. He lives with a roomie that has a very lovely dog, Pepper, which would wake us up in the morning by licking our faces and sneaking on the couch between us.
Alex and Yue spent time with us showed us around. Yue is a very good friend of Alex and a great guy. Among other, the took us to eat at Al’s Burger Shack (best hamburger in the US?) and to drink at the Vecino Brewery. Yue is one of the most knowledgeable people we’ve met during the trip and every other Wednesday hosts a trivia night at Vecino. Luckily, he was not hosting when we were there and he played for our team (team name: Sexual Tyrannosaurus). We ended up winning 2 out of 5 rounds of trivia, and also won the overall contest. This translated to 3 rounds of free beer =). We wrapped up that night with food-truck pastor tacos. Thank you, Yue!
Another day Alex also showed us the UNC campus and Chapel Hill. Thanks, Alex!
On the Road to NYC: Broken Van #3
Our time in Carrboro was up. We actually extended it one day because of scheduling problems in NYC and that is why we could do the trivia night. It was Thursday the 26th of July and took the road to NYC. Olga had the great idea of taking a more scenic route than the Interstate system and avoid the traffic of Washington DC. This led us through the Chesapeake Bay and the Delmarva peninsula. But I am getting ahead of myself.
Just after leaving Carborro, probably a couple of miles after Durham on the I-85, Stan the Van had other plans and stalled on me again (he’s nicer to Olga). This time was different though. We had already noticed that every other bridge that was more uneven than usual, we would lose power shortly after passing over. This was very similar to that, but the power never came back. We were on the Interstate shoulder and it was very hot and loud, Valentino was also too hot to be touched. We started doing the regular troubleshooting tests:
- Battery: “Olga, crank the engine!”—I check that belt and engine rotate and say—”All good!”
- Ignition Coil: I remove the air intake pipes to be able to reach the input plug of the distributor. I Remove it and place it close to the plug seat to see if it sparks when starting the engine. I shout “Olga, crank the engine shortly!” and I electrocute myself because I was not careful enough to not touch the chassis while holding the cable. Olga sees me shaking, kills the switch and asks me if everything is alright. I answer—”BBrrrr, the ignition, brrrr, coil is working brrrr”.
- The fuel pump: I get close to the gas tanks—”Olga, turn the switch without starting the engine!”—and listen if there is a short bssshhh sound like something pumping. “Olga, turn the switch again!”, “and again”, “and again”. “Dammit!”—I could not hear a thing because of the loud highway.
- Visual inspection: I crawl underneath Valentino and start looking around. The fuel pump calls my attention because it has one of two cables hanging next to it. I check it closely and it is the positive terminal. I plug it back into place but it is so loose that it would disconnect with the next vibration. I tighten the female terminal with pliers, crawl out, and shout—”Olga, crank the engine!”. Valentino goes “BRRRRMMMM!!!!!”; hurrayyy!
In the midst of the emotion, Olga kills the engine again, and I start to reassemble the air intake pipes that we removed before, but not without dropping the little screwdriver socket deep into the engine :S. Upsi!—emotion gone. After some quick thinking, we duct-taped a magnet to the tip of a stick and Olga, with her Inspector Gadget skills managed to recuperate the missing socket. And this was how we managed our first ever on-the-road repair without needing a mechanic =). We also figured that the loose pump terminal was the reason we were losing power when the van would shake.
Chesapeake Bay and Delmarva Peninsula
For the uneducated, no disrespect meant to anybody, Delmarva means DELaware, MARyland, and VirviniA. It is the peninsula east of the Chesapeake Bay and comprises the aforementioned states. The peninsula is reached from the south through the Chesapeake Bay Bridge–Tunnel. Which is an awesome 23 mile long bridge AND tunnel; kind of like a gigantic mythological Chinese sea serpent going in and out.
We reached the Delmarva peninsula just in time for the sunset, but because of bad planning, we totally missed it. FAIL! We were on a tight schedule because of the time lost during the breakdown, so we drove all the way to the border between Virginia and Maryland. We were planning to spend the night on the Welcome Rest Stop of MD, but oh-oh! it closed at 9 pm and did not allow overnight parking. Thankfully, there was a big Royal Farms gas station and truck stop next to it where we sneaked Stan the Van between the big 18-wheelers. It was an experience to sleep among all those huge trailers with their generators turned on. It was like having the AC on all night, but with no cooling whatsoever.
We made it! From Virginia, through Maryland and New Jersey, we arrived in New York. The past days we weren’t lucky as the hosts we planned on in our itinerary were not in town the days we planned to visit them. So we decided to skip Washington DC and look up for some solution for New York. Our appeals on Facebook were not really successful but we found a great camping located near the JFK airport in Brooklyn. Camp Gateway Brooklyn became our spot for the next couple of nights. We really did not want to enter Manhattan with the van so this ended up to be a great solution. We drove through the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge straight to Brooklyn and made it almost without traffic to the campground.
We decided really late that we would stay at this campground so we could not reserve the spot for 2 nights. Nevertheless, we tried our luck went up to the reception and indeed all the spots for RV’s were taken but we got one for a tent (yes, we got a tent in the van). We considered pulling out the tent but very fast figured out that it was not necessary as we had a good parking spot and could spend the first night in the van in the parking lot. Ivan decided to go and check the tent spot that was assigned to us anyways. He walked a few steps into the forest while I stayed in the van, but after a few seconds, he started running back because he got literally attacked by mosquitos. YES!! New York City was where we faced the biggest amount of mosquitos during our whole trip. It did not matter how fast moved you would get at least 10 of them sucking up your blood within 1 sec. Unbelievable!
We were a bit worried about how would we get from the campground to the actual city. We were planning to take the bus and then the subway, but the lady at the reception told us that the easiest and cheapest was to take the ferry. Taking the boat was not only cheaper but also faster and a much nicer way to get to downtown. We could see a lot along the 45 min ride that took us straight to Wall Street. On the evening of our arrival, a storm caught us on the boat so we could not see much. By the time we arrived at Wall Street, the rain had almost stopped so we could walk around and stay almost dry.
The sister of our friend Elias from Linz, Noemi lives in NYC so we contacted her to meet. She invited us to the unique concert and private loft party of her friends in Noho. To get to the apartment we had to take an elevator that took us straight to the living room. Yes, the elevator doors literary open and you are in the flat. So each person that came had to be called up in the elevator. The loft slowly filled up with people among which most were artists, musicians, actors, dancers, moviemakers, directors. A great mix and lots of great personalities. We listen to their music and watched the video clips they produced. The musicians and artists that we met were: Tanja, Cherry, Marianna, What Would Tilda Swinton Do, Wool Sucker. What Would Tilda Swinton Do premiered their video clip that night :D. Besides listening to the music we also got to know behind the scene stories. We spend our 1st evening in NYC with a bunch of great people and artists listening to their music, watching video clips and exchanging. It could not have been better.
The next morning we took it easy, woke up and had a great breakfast at the beach. Oh yes! The campground was located on the beach so we reparked our van with a view of the shore, prepared our coffee, and enjoyed the morning.
Without a bigger rush, we took the Rockaway ferry to Wall Street and went for a walk to discover New York City. As it was Ivan’s 1st time in NYC we had to visit some of the iconic sites. We did not want to take the underground in order to be able to see the city so we decided to “walk around”. We ended up walking for the whole day through Manhattan all the way from Wall Street to Central Park zigzagging through the streets, avoiding tourists and visiting many places. We also had a really decent, huge Pho Bo soup in China Town that kept us full for the whole day.
By the time it got dark we reached Times Square, Ivan told me before that he does not know what it was so I had to take him there. Puff… That was a real experience. The street was packed with people, on top of that, right in front of the Disney store (the place where probably all the families go) part of the street was closed and separated by a barrier. Of course, we got stuck there trying to just get out of times square. After a while we just could not stand it anymore, we looked at each other and decided for the highly illegal move of jumping over the barrier and getting free! That was the best thing we could do.
We reached Central Park, tired from walking all day and took the subway back to the campground.
Next day we drove to South River, New Jersey to meet my (Olga’s) family. My grandfather’s sister family lives there so I could not miss the opportunity to meet them. I found my cousins on FB told them about the trip and that I would like to meet them. So, my cousin, Stacy contacted her parents and set up dinner for Sunday together.