Tow­ing a boat

Boating - - MOTORHEAD -

never stopped me from ex­plor­ing new wa­ters that lie a hun­dred, or even a thou­sand, miles away. Ad­ven­ture is what drives me, and I’ve learned with proper plan­ning the road time can be plea­sur­able and add to the re­ward­ing on-wa­ter mem­o­ries.

This proved true when I made my way from Win­ter Park, Flor­ida, to the Ranger Boats Fac­tory in Flip­pin, Arkansas, to pick up my new boat, a 2510 Bay Ranger, a few months ago. It had a num­ber of cus­tom fea­tures,

in­clud­ing a paint color and elec­tron­ics that weren’t com­mon to the dealer net­work, so pur­chas­ing fac­tory-di­rect was the ticket.

The stage was set for 1,050 miles of bor­ing in­ter­state high­way, ac­cord­ing to Google Maps. The pro­posed route would take me through At­lanta (with a col­lapsed in­ter­state bridge), Chat­tanooga, Nash­ville (with hor­ren­dous con­struc­tion), Clarksville and Pa­d­u­cah un­til I en­tered the wind­ing roads of Arkansas’ north­ern Ozarks. I’d al­ready heard from fam­ily about most of this route: Noth­ing but trou­ble, and Google was di­rect­ing me right into its ugly maw. Still, I set out ready to con­quer the road.

MAP­PING A QUEST FOR AD­VEN­TURE

I clicked the mouse and dragged the route off I-75 to I-10 West. Google didn’t like it and in­formed me it would be slower. I ig­nored Google, then grabbed an­other stretch of blue high­lighted high­way and dragged it onto U.S. 231 to Dothan, Alabama. Google grudg­ingly ac­cepted the change but still sug­gested I reroute to I-high­ways ASAP. Satel­lite view showed me that much of the Google-disapproved route through Dothan and Mont­gomery to Birm­ing­ham was di­vided high­way with some­what lim­ited ac­cess. I held to the al­ter­nate route.

IT WORKED OUT HOW?

The stop­light in­ter­sec­tions were not over­bur­den­some, and the traf­fic-light tim­ing proved mostly gen­er­ous. By the time I got to Birm­ing­ham, I-22 gave me a straight shot to Mem­phis via Tu­pelo. The smooth rib­bon of in­ter­state tempted me to power on, even though there were good rea­sons to tarry.

I’m glad I sec­ond-guessed Google’s 46-mile sav­ings. It wasn’t in the in­ter­est of my ad­ven­ture. The Gone with the

Wind tour of At­lanta would wait for an­other trip.

CON­STRUC­TION AND TRAF­FIC CON­TROL

Iron­i­cally, I over­ruled Google us­ing an­other of its tools. Live Traf­fic dis­plays snarls on a map in an an­gry red. But not so many peo­ple know that you can ac­ti­vate Typ­i­cal Traf­fic, a pre­dic­tive app that dis­plays rou­tine traf­fic snags and what times they typ­i­cally oc­cur. I screamed “Coun­try road!” when my es­ti­mated ETA at Nash­ville and At­lanta dis­played bright-red grid­lock. I stuck to travers­ing the mid­dle of the South­ern U.S. on sec­ondary high­ways.

There is noth­ing worse than nav­i­gat­ing mazes of nar­row, un­even lanes lined in bar­ri­cades, cones and bar­rels set to clip the trailer fend­ers — or worse. So I con­sulted the Fed­eral High­way Depart­ment of Trans­porta­tion web­site too. It linked to state high­way de­part­ments, which high­lighted road clo­sures and con­struc­tion zones and also gave an­other view of typ­i­cal traf­fic pat­terns and speeds (fhwa.dot.gov/ traf­ficinfo/tn.htm).

IT WORKED HOW?

Traf­fic and con­struc­tion on both legs of my tow­ing trip were so light, I can’t point to a time when I couldn’t just power on.

COMPRESSING THE MILES

I was a lap­top-wield­ing couch potato for most of this plan­ning process, but then I broke out the iPhone, tapped on Trip Ad­vi­sor and clicked on “Things to Do” in towns and cities along my route. Ju­di­cious stops add safety and lo­cal color to a long trip. Drop­ping pins on Google Maps proved a good re­minder.

Dothan had the Ge­orge Wash­ing­ton Carver In­ter­pre­tive Mu­seum, even though Carver was a for­mer slave

I’m glad I sec­ond-guessed Google’s 46-mile sav­ings. It wasn’t in the in­ter­est of my ad­ven­ture.

from Mis­souri who even­tu­ally moved to the Tuskegee In­sti­tute about 75 miles east of Dothan. He was a botanist and sci­en­tist and widely ad­mired in his day as the in­ven­tor of things made from peanuts, in­clud­ing fuel, food and plas­tic. While some towns cel­e­brate their his­to­ries with lo­cally spon­sored, dec­o­rated stat­ues — cows in Chicago, pigs in Lex­ing­ton, North Carolina, and al­li­ga­tors in Fort Laud­erdale, Flor­ida — Dothan boasted a vi­brantly dec­o­rated pa­rade of Planters peanuts. I skipped that selfie.

In Mont­gomery, I could gal­lop from a tour of Martin Luther King Jr.’s home

to the first Con­fed­er­ate White House, sam­pling a seg­ment of the con­flict­ing her­itage of the South in a sin­gle town.

IT WORKED OUT HOW?

I hit both towns af­ter nor­mal busi­ness hours, but when re­turn­ing to Flor­ida, Tu­pelo passed un­der my wheels dur­ing busi­ness hours and a break was needed.

Tu­pelo boasts the birth­place of Elvis Pres­ley, a mod­est bun­ga­low not much big­ger than most folks’ tool shed. A satel­lite Google Maps view showed me there was park­ing for the Ford and Ranger at the tourist at­trac­tion and enough room to turn around for an easy exit.

The mu­seum was oc­cu­pied with a pri­vate event, so I sat­is­fied my­self with tak­ing self­ies around the birth home and a replica of the car that car­ried

Elvis’ fam­ily to my fa­vorite stop on this jour­ney, Mem­phis, where the crown jewel of out­door plea­sure, the new

Bass Pro Shops Pyra­mid, rose from the sands of the Mis­sis­sippi River like the mon­u­ments at Giza.

OVERNIGHTING

A boat in mo­tion is safe from thieves, a

fact that leads to marathon road trips. I feel more con­fi­dent overnighting in the coun­try, and Trip Ad­vi­sor showed me many small-town ho­tels that of­fered rooms for $50, not the $100 to $150 rate of city mo­tels. Some were cheery and mod­ern. I de­bated stop­ping at the brightly lit, mod­ern-look­ing Econo Lodge south of Mont­gomery (ad­ver­tis­ing $50 a night on the lighted sign), but passed know­ing what a short night­time re­pose would be worth — zero. I poured more cof­fee and pow­ered on through Dothan. A rest area lured me off the road, and I went in to get some wa­ter.

An el­derly, and armed, se­cu­rity guard and an in­for­ma­tion clerk greeted me.

“If you feel like ly­ing down and nap­ping for a while, we’ll keep an eye on you,” the guard of­fered. “We’re not go­ing any­where tonight.”

Two hours of shut-eye later, I walked back in to thank them, re­filled my wa­ter and pulled away re­freshed.

KEEP THE BRAIN ALERT

I loaded up my phone with au­dio books, but my sur­prise mid­night com­pan­ion was Dan Car­lin’s Hard­core His­tory pod­cast. At first he sounded melo­dra­matic but soon slipped into an en­ter­tain­ing rhythm in episode 59, a six-hour, per­fectly riv­et­ing His­tory 201 on the ef­fect of the nu­clear bomb on world­wide diplo­macy.

Guten­berg Pro is a $3 app that gives ac­cess to clas­sic au­dio books, many of them dra­mat­i­cally read by celebri­ties. I chose a free ver­sion of Dark Con­ti­nent: Heart of Dark­ness by Joseph Con­rad.

FOOD AND DRINK

Stop­ping for gas ev­ery two hours is hell on the ETA, so I car­ried ap­ples, ba­nanas and some peanut-but­ter-cracker tideme-overs un­til I was up for a de­cent sit-down din­ing stop for re­fresh­ment and re­ju­ve­na­tion.

RIG­GING TO TOW

My Ranger Trail was all set for the road with wa­ter-re­sis­tant LED lights, safety ca­bles, stain­less-steel disc brakes on both axles, and a safety brake lan­yard, so there was lit­tle to do but dou­ble-check the tire pres­sure. At gas stops, I’d lightly touch the bear­ing hubs to make sure they weren’t hot from grease-seal fail­ure — an un­likely event on this shiny, new smooth-rolling trailer.

You’ll still want a tool kit for road haz­ards, and there’s a com­plete run­down on what to take for a long tow on page 34 (see “Road­side Trailer Re­pair Kit”).

You gain con­fi­dence in tow­ing with ex­pe­ri­ence. But what you know on your turf may not help you in new ter­ri­tory. That’s where proper plan­ning comes in, and it may just en­sure you never need that tool kit.

The dilemma that leads many to opt for a marathon drive is keep­ing the boat safe from the hands of thieves .

A CUS­TOM TRAILER rigged at the fac­tory to per­fectly fit your boat is a big ad­van­tage on the high­way. The Ranger Trail alu­minum trailer, boat and mo­tor have an ad­ver­tised curb weight of 6,800 pounds and rested in a per­fectly level at­ti­tude when hitched to the ball. We used Air­Lift Ride Con­trol air shocks on the rear axle to add more firm­ness and con­trol on the al­ready com­pe­tent Ford F-150 XLT.

It is un­likely you’ll find a road­way with too low a bridge, but don’t try to pull your boat through a drive-through burger stand. In­stead climb out and en­joy the lo­cal color.

This was a typ­i­cal work­ing-class home in Elvis’ day. Born in Tu­pelo, Mis­sis­sippi, Elvis’ fam­ily moved to Mem­phis for work not long af­ter his birth. The mu­seum was a great stop.

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