Minnesota Travel Adventures

In the last couple of days, I’ve padded 400 miles of towing to my list of life experiences.  The first 200 went quite smoothly, and without issue.  The last 200 were… educational.

I went out to visit family in Breckenridge, MN this week.  I had planned on doing some aforementioned work on the trailer, but due to MN weather conditions, that just wasn’t possible.  I was able to get my trucked worked on though, and it now has new upper control arms, upper ball joints, sway bar link kits, rear rotors, and rear pads.  It also had the rear caliper pins lubricated and the parking brake / e-brake system that had locked up has been removed due to poor design.

On the trip out to Breck (aka, Breckenridge, MN), I had a slight headwind of less than 10mph.  The trailer towed well, and I noticed that on the larger interstate highways the passing of semi’s was less of an issue than on state freeways where lanes seem narrower.  It was pretty easy going overall on the first leg of the journey.

When I arrived, I found a layer of solid ice on everything, and we weren’t able to park the trailer anywhere near the property and instead it was stored at a local welding shop about a mile away.  This prevented us from working on the trailer, but at least we didn’t get a $200 fine from the city for parking it on the street.  Different cities all have different rules and regulations.

To determine which day I should head back, I had two choices.  Either Thursday with a 20mph tailwind or Friday with a 13mph headwind.  I figured the tailwind would work out nicely as it should just help push me home.  I was completely wrong about that.

There’s two main roads I used to get home.  “210” is a state freeway that is basically a straight east/west road.  “94” or Interstate 94 is a mostly east/west highway that cuts through Minnesota.

The winds were coming from the north west.  That meant that while traveling on 210, I had an angular wind coming at me from behind.  Combine that with patches of ice on the road, and it gets real interesting when the direction the truck is pointed in is not the same direction as where it is actually traveling, and you’re going about 50mph.  Sustaining 55mph was completely unfeasible, so I quickly reduced speed to something less.  I honestly can’t remember exactly what I settled on for that patch, but between the wind and ice, there a few times where I wasn’t sure I was going to come out of that road unscathed.

When I got on 94, I figured things would get easier since it is a more heavily traveled road and the interstates are generally well kept.  For the first hour or so, I did not find any of those assumptions to be true.  There are inclines, perhaps they could be called tiny hills on that route, and some of them had some ice on them.  Once again, combine ice (complete lack of traction) with wind and unpredictable momentum vectors result.  Of course, when those things happen, I’m thankful I have lots of MN driving experience and that I don’t have any heart conditions or complications.  I ended up using 4-wheel drive, going about 40mph on 94 for a good while until conditions got better.  It was an experience.

Eventually road conditions improved and I was able to set the cruise at 50mph and put the truck back in regular 2-wheel drive mode.  Anything higher than that speed though did not feel stable with the unpredictable gusts of wind.  When I eventually got off the interstate and on to the side roads, I still found my speed was noticeably limited.  On one road in particular that runs straight north/south, I was being significantly blown about while traveling at 35mph.

This experience taught me a few things:

  1. My trailer is a sail (as expected).
  2. The weight distribution / sway bar kit is now the highest item on the to-be-installed list.
  3. I will no longer travel while winds are above 20mph with the current hardware configuration.
  4. I will continue saving for a heavier-duty truck.

I am very glad to have had the repair work done before I did this return trip home.  The new front-end pieces helped with the steering consistency, and the removal of the stuck parking brake helped the truck glide more easily.

The WD/SBK (weight distribution / sway bar kit) should help with a couple items, but of course it’ll just help but not eliminate them.  The weight distribution will help put some of the weight on the front axle of the truck instead of entirely being on the rear.  This will help the truck “guide” the trailer instead of having the situation I have now where the “tail is wagging the dog”.  The sway bar kit will also help the trailer be less affected by wind in general and therefore not push the nose of the truck to the left or right as it wanders about.

Tonight, I’m taking the night off.  There’s been enough excitement and adrenaline for today.  Tomorrow I’ll start work on figuring out the WD/SBK custom installation as well as the categorized and prioritized checklist of items to be loaded into the trailer.  The planned departure date is Sunday, January 1st, 2017.

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