RV Trip West Journal: Gremlins Threaten

white-barrel-winery-camping-spot.jpg

Asheville, North Carolina

Our trip west started by heading - north! Although we will soon head west, the first leg of our trip is to visit our daughter in Baltimore. We planned a couple of stops between Georgia and Maryland that would start the trip with something a little different from the typical campground. We recently joined Harvest Hosts, which is an organization of hundreds of farms, orchards, wineries, breweries, and other agri-tourism sites. The idea is to stay overnight at some of these venues to learn more about the location's products.

This long trip seemed like a good opportunity to break up the typical campground routine with some of these Harvest Host locations. And our first stop was Justus Orchards - a family owned apple orchard in North Carolina. It was the perfect kickoff for our trip.

justus-orchards-sign.jpg

We parked on a gravel lot overlooking the orchard. Hundreds (maybe thousands?) of dwarf apple trees in many varieties stretched out before us. In the distance hazy blue mountains created a lovely backdrop for the deep green trees. It was late afternoon when we arrived, and the orchard market was just closing for the day. They gave us a few suggestions for parking and let us know there would be fresh apple donuts, fritters, and fried apple pies ready in the morning. What a great way to end the day - anticipating breakfast!

The spot we found was level and though we didn't have electrical or water hookups, the air was cool enough to enjoy the night sounds - along with a couple of battery powered fans! It was so quiet and the chirping cadence of cicada had a sleep-inducing effect.

justus-orchards-trees.jpg

The next morning sun streamed through the RV skylight, The thought of fresh baked goods had us up and out early. We strolled around the small market and making notes of all the items we'd like to take home.

It wasn't long before hot coffee, fresh apple donuts, and fried pies were ready. We headed to the patio to enjoy our treasures. Sitting at the picnic table, sipping hot coffee and looking out over the orchard in the cool of the morning was a great way to start the day. It wasn't long before the quiet scene was interrupted by a backhoe and bulldozer. They plodded from the gravel driveway to a blank space between the orchard and the market building and began moving earth.

justus-orchards-mountain-view.jpg

The family-owned orchard is preparing for the upcoming apple season with some new facilities for their customers. It will be a kids play area, they told us. Peak apple season is around Labor Day, and the new equipment came in earlier than expected, so there was an urgency to the work. "We try to have something new each season to keep customers coming back."

I think their lovely location, their delicious "u-pick" fruit, mouthwatering fried apple pies, and apple cider slushies are enough to keep anyone coming back throughout the apple season and year after year! Though the apples weren't ready for picking when we visited, we did purchase some luscious fresh peaches, fruit jam, and hot pepper jelly. That will make this trip just a little sweeter and remind us to stop here on the way home - just in time for apple season!

As we fueled up, ready to hit the road, all the dash warning lights appeared. Oh no... we both thought - not the wheel sensors again! But no, there were was no hitch in the engine, nor was there any problems with the transmission (a telltale sign of the wheel sensor failure). Just lights.

We called around to find Mercedes dealerships in the area and stopped by to see if they could put a code reader on it and diagnose the issue. No, no one in the area worked on Mercedes sprinters. We tried a truck and van repair, but no, they didn't work on them either.

I tried my Carolina LTV buddies to see if they knew of a place to get help - they did not but offered to come get us and stay the night with them until we could figure it out. We appreciated their offer but since the RV seemed to be running fine, we decided to head towards Roanoke. On the way, we found a Camping World quite by chance - Tom Johnson's Camping World. We are not typically Camping World fans for repairs but we needed to find help. We knew immediately this was not the run of the mill Camping World, and it was apparent from our first encounter.

They were attentive and quite helpful. Although they did not work on Sprinters they could put a code reader on it to help diagnose a problem - and did so immediately without hesitation. We expected them to say they couldn't get to it until Monday, but no, they understood our plight and fit us right into their busy schedule.

We sat in the waiting room looking for Mercedes dealers along our route who might be able to help and found one in Roanoke, but they couldn't see us until Monday. Our choice was to return home or keep going, hoping to reach Roanoke without issue.

Half an hour later the technician gave us the report: The warning lights were still lit, but he couldn't determine any malfunction from the code reader. He recommended we take it to a Sprinter service center to get it checked out. They didn't charge us for the diagnostics and we appreciated their kindness even if they couldn’t fix the problem. Since Roanoke had the closest Sprinter service center, we set our course and hoped for the best.

white-barrel-winery-front.jpg

Roanoke, Virginia

We did reach Roanoke without any RV issues. No strange noises or weird problems - just those damn lights. Jim was obviously stressed the whole three hour drive. I anxiously searched the internet for clues but came up with nothing.

A quick search in our Harvest Host directory turned up White Barrel winery. This little gem is situated in beautiful farmland just outside Roanoke. When we finally arrived, we were delighted to find a level parking spot next to the winery. Along with our "campsite" fee our host included a wine tasting.

white-barrel-winery-sign.jpg

The place was already filling up with patrons as we found the manager and arranged our parking place for the night. Since they offered electrical and water hook ups we took advantage of that service - we will sleep with air conditioning tonight!

But first, we visited the tasting room and sampled some of the vineyards finest. Lovely reds and interesting whites - enough so that we bought two bottles to enjoy on our trip. The kitchen also offered wood fired pizza and it was delicious. Sitting in the comfortable tasting room in front of a huge stone fireplace, a musician entertaining us and good food and wine in hand - we raised a glass to this kind of camping!

white-barrel-winery-terrace.jpg

A really nice way to end a really stressful day. We relaxed and enjoyed the whole thing. I don't think wine and pizza ever tasted so good. We talked over the RV warning light issue and whether we should stay here until Monday to see the local Mercedes dealer or keep going in hopes of reaching Baltimore and the Sprinter service center there. Our courage fortified, we decided to keep traveling on to Baltimore.

We talked with our host about the vineyard and then strolled back to the RV, switched on the air conditioning, took showers, and dropped into bed. I am not sure if it was the wine or just fatigue, but sleep came quickly.

The morning gave us an opportunity to walk around and enjoy the beauty of the vineyard. The building was charming, dressed with a vine-covered trellis and lots of flowers spilling over the walkways. The covered patio on the side of the tasting room has a lovely view of the vineyards. It was a stop worth noting, since we will be making frequent trips to Baltimore over the next three years to visit our daughter.

After fueling up we headed into Roanoke and Black Dog Salvage. The subject of one of our favorite TV shows, “Salvage Dogs” the eclectic shop featured both antique salvage, unique furniture and art created by the talented staff/cast. It is a large warehouse, and outside there are lots of overflow garden ornaments, statues, and oddities. One was a larger than life-size statue of Chairman Mao! We strolled through the main floor and left with a couple of Tee-shirts and a bundle of inspiration for a new salvage-based coffee table. In all, this little relaxing detour just made us smile.

And I held on to that feeling. Today would be another four-hour drive, anxious over the RV's condition. We will arrive in Baltimore - hopefully, without issue. Our next two nights will be at a state park and the Mercedes Sprinter Service Center is just minutes away. We called and made an appointment for Monday morning. Now it was time to hit the road and hope the drive is uneventful.