Roadtrips: Are they worth the effort?

Posted by admin-robotlord on July 26, 2016

A couple of months ago, the executive team decided that instead of everyone flying to the San Diego competition this year, we would try out having four or five members drive down to San Diego with the robot. We were convinced this would make the traveling costs cheaper for the club since the shipping costs are kind of pricey and because the club pays for all of the flights there and back. Also, road trips are amazingly fun and it would bring some of the members of the team closer together throughout the trip. Let's see how this goes, shall we?

Day 1:

It's Friday and there is excitement with a hint of anxiety in the air. Michael grabbed the rented van from the University around noon today and dropped it off at ETLC to pack everything. While Michael, Jon, and Jesse all packed up the van Parsa and I were stuck at work waiting for 5:00 to roll around. Once the clock at work hit 5:00, I immediately got out of there ready to leave. Our plan was to leave Edmonton around 6:00 so we could make it to Lethbridge before nightfall. But nothing ever happens how you plan it. The guys ended up picking me up just after 6:30pm and we were on our way! Michael let me drive the van from Edmonton to Lethbridge and I honestly do not know if that was a good idea or not, but I guess we will see. An hour and a half later, we stopped at Peter's Drive-In in Red Deer for dinner and met up with my mother! She dropped off some road trip snacks, we ate some delicious burgers, milkshakes, and fries, and then we were back on the road.

The drive to Lethbridge was a pretty nice drive and by midnight, we were in Lethbridge and five minutes away from the hotel. Once in Lethbridge, I glanced at the GPS for a millisecond, and in the darkness of the night a couple of unbearably bright flashes came from behind us. Now I am no expert at photo radar, but I am guessing that those flashes were not some tourists taking photos at midnight. It turns out that in that millisecond of time, the speed limit changed from 70 km/hour to 50 km/hour. I haven't driven on many road trips, but I would say having little hiccups on the way makes the road trip more fun. Finally, we arrived at the Superlodge motel, crashed in our beds, and fell asleep.



Day 2:

Six hours of sleep is not ideal, but it will have to do. The alarm went off and we lugged ourselves out of our comfy beds and got ready for the day to come. The luxury continental breakfast they provided ended up being waffles and cereal. Okay, I can deal with that. We then packed up the van again and head south towards the border. Once we were on the road again, I passed out and did not wake up until we hit the border. Today the border actually was not that busy. Upon our arrival, there were two lanes to choose from: cargo and normal. Michael chose the normal lane where there were only a few people ahead of us. 'This will be a breeze' I thought as we headed towards the window. We were asked to park and enter the building to our left. Once inside, the officer took a look at all of our passports and asked us to sit down. Okay, maybe this won't be such a breeze? A few minutes later, Parsa got called up to the desk. He ended up having to pay a $6.00 fee for crossing the border since he is not a Canadian citizen.

Michael was told to walk over to the customs office in the other building to give the paperwork to them and get it checked, so he left while Parsa got questioned. A half an hour later, we were all sitting in the customs office awaiting our turn in the line. A few moments passed and we were called up by a customs officer. "Do you want to hear the good news first or bad news first?" He asked. Quickly getting anxious I replied, "Good news please". He said, "It looks like everything is good with the shipping number, and everything is good with the entry number, however the shipping number is not lining up with the entry number. You have to contact your broker to connect those." We realized we were not given the emergency broker contact information. Panicking, we called all of our emergency contacts for customs, attempting to get in contact with the broker to fix our issue. With low hopes after four emails and many phone calls later, we figured out the university emergency contacts were not reachable on a Saturday, so we would have been stuck at the border until Monday if we could not get in contact with the broker. After a lot of mixed emotions from the team, Jon and Parsa went to go talk to the customs officer again. He ended up using a broker he had contact with to find the issue and connect the two numbers. Hallelujah! The officer said that as a thank you we had to let the American teams beat us at the RoboSub competition this year. Pfft, yeah right. Bring it on America.


After two hours at the border and a lot of thank you's, we were officially in Montana and on our way to Provo, Utah. Driving through Salt Lake City, continuous fireworks were being shot up into the air everywhere. Google told us it was a celebration for Pioneer day in Utah. It was pretty cool seeing the Americans celebrate a holiday that we originally did not know existed. 10:00 pm rolled by as we strolled into the Sleep Inn hotel in Provo.

One more day down, one more day to go until we get to San Diego.


Day 3:

Michael and Jon were the first to get up and went for an early morning jog around the exciting city of Provo. An hour and a half later, everyone else started to rise and get ready for the day. We packed up the van, I got in the driver's seat, turned the key, and... nothing happened. No engine revving, no sounds, nothing. Weird. The immediate thought was that the battery was dead so we found a random guy in the parking lot and asked for a boost. He agreed and brought his car around to the front of our car. The black wire to the negative side of the battery, the red one to the positive, and... nothing. No engine revving, no sounds, still nothing. Even weirder. We didn't want to tow the van since it was a Sunday and we would have to wait for repairs on Monday, so googling Provo's 24 hour roadside assistance seemed like the best option.

We ended up calling AM/PM Towing and they gave us a name and a number to call for roadside assistance. His name was Gary and he told us he would be there at noon. It was 11:00 at this point so we thought we would investigate the van while we waited for Gary. After an hour of investigating, Jon found out that the starter in the engine was not connected because there was an issue with the grounding wire. The clock struck 12:00 and Gary the God arrived to save the day! We recapped what we figured out and Gary did something with the grounding wire... and the van started! Thank God! Gary told us to just drive and keep the van running until we get to San Diego because once we turn it off it won't turn back on. So we left it running, packed everything again, and went to change the gear into drive! But we realized that the vehicle ended up stalling and we couldn't get the engine started again. With dampened spirits, we called the Chrysler dealership to come and tow the van because we had free warranty on the vehicle since it was so new.

IMG_20160724_131638All unpacked and waiting for the tow truck.





Figuring we could rent another vehicle, we hopped onto google again and found one vehicle rental place that closed at 2:00 since it was Sunday. It's currently 1:00 at this point. Jon quickly hails a cab, and him and Michael go on their way to rent another vehicle. 45 minutes later, the tow truck shows up to take the van away and Jon and Michael show up in a blazing red F150 truck. The vehicle rental shop was out of vans, so it was either a mustang or a truck. I think the mustang was a clear choice if we didn't have five people and a robot to bring. So we packed up the truck, and was finally on our way at 2:30.

The five hour delay kind of changed our plans to get to San Diego early and wander around, so we arrived at 1:00 in the morning and crashed in bed, awaiting what comes tomorrow. After two and a half days, we are finally in San Diego.





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