Category Archives: Technology

Mishaps and Miscommunication

I haven’t posted for a few days as I haven’t had much to say. Sunday was a cloudy day with periods of rain. My middle daughter, Jamie, along with her significant other, Francisco and family hit the road. They planned to go back to Texas via California so they could visit Francisco’s cousin along the way. It was great having some time together and hanging with her family.

Monday was another gloomy day. There was a thick, low overcast ceiling. Although some sunlight penetrated the cloud cover, it was diffuse light and the clouds were so thick you really couldn’t pinpoint the position of the sun. A light mist fell most of the day punctuated by occasional large rain drops.

In the evening, we went over to my ex-wife’s house for dinner. LuAnn grilled fish burgers and also had hot dogs for the kids. We had a send-off for my youngest daughter, Shauna, as she had a red-eye flight back to Washington D.C.

Tuesday’s weather was more of the same. The daily high temperature only hit 64 degrees – a few degrees cooler than the previous days. With the damp mist it feels colder than recorded. My oldest daughter, Alana, had to report back to work after having six days off. She was back to 12-hour shifts in the emergency room at Providence Hospital in Everett.

I spent most of my time indoors reading books. I don’t get on very well with the sunless, wet weather. Donna managed to get in a couple of bike rides when the rain stopped for a couple of hours.

Donna had another laptop mishap Sunday night when her wine glass toppled right into the keyboard of her laptop. It was up and running at the time but shut itself down. We let it sit and dry out for a couple of days but couldn’t get it to work. It sounded like the hard drive was spinning and we could see the power indicator light up, but the screen remained dark. On Tuesday afternoon when we had a break in the rain – it was still misty out – we rode the Spyder to a computer repair place in Marysville. The guy there was able to get the laptop to boot up using a remote keyboard and monitor.

We took this as a good sign. He said oftentimes when liquid is spilled into the keyboard it remains there as the bottom of the keyboard has a plastic liner. If that was the case, he could replace the keyboard and check everything out and she would be back in business. We crossed out fingers and left the laptop with him for an assessment.

Wednesday morning the cloud cover persisted. The computer repair guy called with bad news. Liquid had damaged the motherboard and fried a cable for the display. It wouldn’t be cost effective to repair the laptop.

Meanwhile I was having a couple of customer service challenges. I needed to replace the jack on our cargo trailer. If you’ve been reading my posts you might remember how I mis-judged the severity of a dip at the Elks lodge driveway in Palmdale and damaged our jack when it dragged on the pavement.

I called the TrailersPlus outfit in Marysville Tuesday to see if they had a replacement jack. When I asked the person on the phone for the parts department, I was put on hold for a minute. When they came back on the line they said there was no answer in Marysville as everyone was tied up with customers. They took my number and said someone would call me back shortly. I realized I wasn’t talking to someone in Marysville, I was talking to the TrailersPlus call center, wherever that may be.

A few hours later, I hadn’t received a call back so I phoned again. This time I was told the Marysville store is extremely busy and they’re operating on reduced hours. Really? When the store is extremely busy you shorten the hours of operation? He said it was necessary so they could handle paperwork and not be serving customers all the time. Wow! What kind of business model is that?

After lunch on Wednesday, I borrowed our granddaughter Lainey’s car. I had to pick up Donna’s laptop and I also wanted to see if I could find a jack for the trailer. I stopped at an RV and trailer supply store nearby in Arlington. They had jacks but not the one I needed. I was told they would have it on Thursday if I wanted to come back. The price was $61.

After I picked up Donna’s laptop, I stopped at TrailersPlus since I was nearby. I went in the front entrance and found an empty lobby area. I looked around and found a couple of empty offices. I walked through a door into the shop area. Outside the shop, I saw a couple of guys shooting the breeze and smoking. They asked me if I needed something. I told them what I was looking for and one of the guys said he would get someone to help me.

A couple of minutes later, he came back with another guy that motioned for me to follow him. We went back into the front lobby area. I told him what I was looking for. He hit a few keys on a computer and told me he had the jack and it was $29. Deal. I bought the jack and a new sand pad – the old pad was bent when the jack dragged. While he was entering the sale, I heard the phone ringing on three occasions. It was ignored by everyone. A few employees walked in and out of the lobby area but as far as I could tell no one was doing anything useful. This store is definitely in need of competent management.

Damaged jack on top, new replacement below

When I came home, I was able to change out the jack in short order. I was a little leery of the threads tapped into the frame for the jack mount. The mounting bolts took a mighty whack when the jack was pulled across the pavement. I used thread locking compound and was careful not to over tighten the jack mounts.

Job done!

The other customer service story was totally unexpected. On Monday, I ordered a new set of tires for Donna’s bike with my Amazon Prime account. At checkout, before I proceeded to finalize the order, I confirmed the shipping info. It said “Delivery Guaranteed Friday June 23.” I placed the order.

I received an e-mail Wednesday from Amazon telling me the order had shipped and it had tracking information. When I tracked it, the arrival date was Monday, June 26th! We are booked at the Pine Near RV Park in Winthrop on Monday. I called Amazon customer service. The representative I talked to definitely wasn’t a native English speaker. I was pretty sure I was talking to someone in India and his accent was so heavy, I had to ask him to repeat his question a few times. He couldn’t get the address I gave him or the order number right – he kept transposing the numbers and I had to repeat the info several times. It made me think of the times I was in Germany and tried to communicate with my rudimentary language skills – I think the phrase I most often used was “nochmal langsam bitte” or “repeat slowly please.”

After we got through my account information – which took about 15 minutes – I explained the problem with the order and the delivery guarantee. He put me on hold a couple of times saying  “Please on hold” and returning with the phrase “Thank you for on hold.” He said I would receive the items on Monday. I explained again how that wouldn’t work for me and they had guaranteed Friday delivery. He said it was “in shipment” and nothing could be done. I hung up frustrated.

To Amazon’s credit, I later received and e-mail giving me return options. I think I’ll wait until Friday to see if the items miraculously deliver before I choose a return and refund option.

On Wednesday afternoon, the skies cleared and we had bright sunshine. Donna rode south on the Centennial Trail and got 26 miles in. The forecast calls for much warmer temperatures with highs in the 80s by the weekend. This is more like the weather we’re used too – just in time for us to prepare to leave.

Christmas Dinner with Friends

With Christmas falling on Sunday this year, most of the weekend’s NFL action was played on Saturday. It was was a relatively cold day here in San Diego – the high temperature on Saturday was only 59 degrees. It was windy with rain showers – a good day to be indoors and watch football.

The first game was set to kick off at 10am. I tuned in the satellite around 9:30am and had a problem. The Dish Network satellite signal was lost or interrupted every 10 seconds or so – I couldn’t stay locked on a channel. This puzzled me as the satellite was fine the last time I used it.

I thought about what had changed since Thursday night. I remembered seeing a rig with an exposed Dish satellite on the roof in the RV park and was surprised to see how high it was aimed in the sky. I assumed the satellites were lower in the southern sky, but at this latitude the dish points up at a high angle. Our actual antenna dish is hidden under a plastic dome so I don’t see where it’s pointed. I knew the Dish Network satellites here are at an azimuth of 158 and 171 degrees – almost due south.

Then I thought about the weather. On Thursday it was cloudy and raining – so no change there. But Saturday we had wind – a 20-25mph wind with gusts to 40mph. The tree at the front of our site was whipping around. I thought maybe a tree branch was blowing across the line of sight to the satellite. I hadn’t thought of this before because I didn’t think the line of sight was a high as it is.

I pulled the jacks up, fed about three feet of our power cable and water hose out then fired up the engine. I moved the coach forward about two feet to see if this would take the tree branches out of the path to the satellite. Bingo! Now I had great reception on all HD channels.

So, I was a couch potato all day Saturday. I watched football and read a book inbetween games.

Christmas morning we opened presents. The weather was much nicer – clear blue skies and the wind had abated. It was still cool out, but felt much warmer in sun. Donna went out for a long training run – she has less than two weeks until her 15k race. She ran a loop around east Mission Bay taking the path to Sea World then crossing the Ingraham Street bridges before coming back along Crown Point and over Rose Creek. It was a nine-mile loop and I was able to track her progress via the Garmin connect app that was synched with her Garmin GPS watch.

Later we joined Kris and Tom Downey and their daughter Meg in their Tiffin Allegro Bus. Tom mixed up Bloody Mary’s and we watched the Pittsburgh Steelers vs Baltimore Ravens game. It was an entertaining game. Tom had cooked prime rib on his Traeger grill and it was cooked to perfection. Donna made a side dish of maple-chile roasted Brussel sprouts with butternut squash and Kris had a side of mashed red potatoes with sweet potato.

Christmas dinner plate

I managed to snap a photo of the dinner plate but was so engrossed in the football games and conversation with Tom I neglected to take any other photos. We also had a mid-western dessert dish called seafoam salad – it was very good. It’s a tangy lime jello mixed with whipped cream over canned pears.

Tom and I sipped Woodford Reserve bourbon after dinner. It was an enjoyable evening.

Today we expect a few high, thin clouds but no rain. So far we’ve had more than two inches of rain here in December – much more than the average of 1.53 inches. I don’t have any plans for the day – we’ll see what pans out.

I Am Just a Cowboy

Saturday was another warm day. The temperature reached the low 80s. Donna went out for a run before it got too warm. I puttered around. We planned on going to Donna’s sister’s house for a Halloween party in the evening. This has been an annual event for us over the last four years.

We were going to do western themed cowboy-cowgirl outfits since we both had the boots and would only need a couple of accessories. Donna changed her mind and made a creative outfit. She used cotton balls to create clouds on a blue shirt. She had a water bottle that sprayed a fine mist. When she was asked what her outfit was, she said, “I’m your up-to-the-minute weather forecast – partly cloudy with 100% chance of showers.” Then she would spray her water bottle. Fun.

I went ahead with the cowboy look. I rode the Spyder over to the Boot Barn in Kearny Mesa. I bought a Roper cowboy shirt with mother-of-pearl snaps and a bolo tie. I have a Stetson cowboy hat and I wore cowboy boots. Unfortunately I don’t have any photos from the party.

We decided to take a Lyft ride to Point Loma for the party at Sheila’s house. When I tried to schedule the pick-up, there was something wrong with the Lyft app on my phone. It located our pick-up point and I input the destination. When I tapped the “Request Lyft” button, it said “Busy” and went back to the previous screen. I tried it a couple of times with the same result. It never showed a car or driver or the wait time.

Donna opened the app on her phone and it worked fine. It showed a driver available with an ETA of four minutes. The driver picked us up and we were on our way. About half way to Sheila’s house, my phone rang. It was a Lyft driver telling me he was looking for us. I told him my app malfunctioned and didn’t confirm him coming, so we took another ride. A few minutes later, I received a text from Lyft saying they charged my credit card five dollars for a no show. How about that – a no show message as I was riding in a Lyft car. I sent an explanation to their customer service – we’ll see how that works out.

Sheila’s Halloween party is two parties at once. There are a number school kids – friends of her 12-year-old son Connor making up half of the party. Then there are the adults – parents of the kids and friends that make up the other half. We had an enjoyable evening with good food, drinks and lots of interesting conversations.

A little past 9pm, I tried to schedule another Lyft ride. My app had the same result – it said “Busy” next to the pick-up address and never showed a car or driver in the area. This time I waited to see what would happen.

After touching the "Schedule" button it shows "Busy"

After touching the “Request Lyft” button it shows “Busy”

After several minutes, my phone rang. It was a Lyft driver telling me he was in front of the house to pick us up. I had to break Donna away from a conversation she was having. We left in such a hurry we forgot to bring home leftover food and a package of pulled pork that one of the guests had smoked and given to us.

Sunday morning we woke up to a passing rain shower. It passed, leaving a thin overcast sky behind. Things quickly dried. Donna went out for a run – she ran along the Bayshore Walk path around Crown Point. Her plan was to pick up a City DecoBike near the Catamaran Hotel at the end of her run and ride the bike back to the RV park. There’s a City Bike station right in front of the RV park. She didn’t find the station she expected to find near the Catamaran. She had to walk past Mission Boulevard where she eventually found a bike station at Mission Beach.

Meanwhile I was absorbed in NFL games. The Chargers won a thriller in overtime. They came back from a second-half 17-point deficit to win 33-30 over the Falcons in Atlanta.

Today we have overcast skies this morning – it’s supposed to clear up by the afternoon and reach a high temperature in the low 70s. Sounds good to me.

Three Summits to the Coast

After a quiet night in the desert, we pulled out of Ogilby Road around 9:30am. Interstate 8 has a huge construction project that spans miles and miles of road – nearly from the Arizona border to the Holtville exit – about 50 miles of freeway. I was amazed to find us on a temporary asphalt road running parallel to the interstate for several miles. It boggles my mind to think of how much it must have cost to pave this temporary road.

The traffic was fairly light and we made good time despite the construction. West of El Centro we crossed a desert basin with a sign post stating we were at sea level. There was a huge array of solar panels on both sides of the road. Then we started a gradual climb for a few miles before we began climbing in earnest. The next sign I saw said we were 1,000 feet above sea level, then 2,000 feet. The climb from 2,000 to 3,000 was short and steep. We crossed the Tecate Divide at 4,140 feet above sea level then dropped into a valley before we climbed again to the Crestwood Summit – the highest point on I-8 at 4,181 feet above sea level.

We dropped into another valley and made a familiar stop at the Buckman Springs rest area. I parked our rig in the truck parking and Donna made salads with roasted chicken. We sat at a picnic table in the rest area and enjoyed our lunch outdoors. The temperature at this elevation was a pleasant 70 degrees.

Dining al fresco at Buckman Springs

Dining al fresco at Buckman Springs

After we hit the road again we immediately ran into a Border Patrol check point. The Border Patrol agent waved us through – no questions asked. I believe they already know who they want to question and search – they probably know which vehicles came across the border or had their trip originate near the Mexico border.

We climbed once again out of the valley to the third summit on our route – Laguna Summit at 4,055 feet above sea level. From there we began a 13-mile descent with some steep downgrades. It’s mostly downhill all the way to the city of Lakeside, east of El Cajon, California. I had to get back into the city driving mode and be on the defensive. I choose the lane I want to be in well before I need to be there.

We pulled into Mission Bay RV Resort just before 1pm. We were checked in quickly and dropped the trailer in the storage lot across from the security shack. Thomas, the security supervisor, welcomed us and told us where to put the trailer. Maneuvering the trailer into place was a study in patience, but we got it done without any issues. We haven’t been charged for trailer storage since those Dirty, Rotten Thieves stole our trailer here in 2013.

Backing the coach into site 120 was another test of patience as I had to maneuver past parked cars and trees. I was feeling good about being back in San Diego. If any city is a homecoming for me, San Diego is it. Then I met our new neighbor.

I had positioned the coach in our site when the guy in site 119 on the driver’s side of our coach came out. He told me I was too far to the left and my slide out would encroach on his space. What? At Mission Bay RV Resort they have lines painted on the paved sites. There are two parallel lines about three feet apart bordering each side of the site. On the driver’s side, the sewer hook up is in between these lines. My understanding has always been that the three-foot zone between the lines on the driver’s side of the coach is a buffer zone for hook ups and slide outs.

Lines for a buffer zone with sewer hook up

Lines for a buffer zone with sewer hook up

This guy told me he’s been coming here for 10 years and I was encroaching on his “patio space.” I looked at the rig on the right side of us, site 121. He was parked with his slide out in this buffer zone. I pointed it out to him – in fact just about every site was parked like this. Rather than fight with the guy, I moved our coach over about a foot. Later I asked Thomas what the site boundary rules were. He told me I was right – my wheels shouldn’t be over the line but the slide out could extend over the closest line. The second line defines the boundary for the next site.

Then it got worse. My Dish satellite receiver couldn’t acquire a signal due to trees. We’re going to be here for two months! No TV for two months was not acceptable. Before setting up I went to the office to see if we could move to another site – one that would solve the satellite issue and get me away from the jerk in 119. There wasn’t anything available unless I wanted to switch sites every week or two. Oh, no!

Then the woman in the office said, “Why don’t you hook up to the park cable TV?” I told her my TV was on an HDMI cable, I didn’t have a coaxial cable set up. She said she would lend me a converter box with an HDMI port. I brought the box back to the site and it worked! I don’t get all of the channels I have with satellite, but at least I can watch the football games.

Home for the next two months

Home for the next two months

We’re required to leave the park for 24 hours after two months, then we can check in again. We plan to stay for a total of three months here. We haven’t decided where we’ll spend our 24-hour exile, but we have plenty of time to get to that.

The five-day forecast looks great – some clouds with daily highs in the low 70s. It’s great to be back.

My Boot Obsession

On Thursday morning, Donna went out for a run while I wrote my blog post. We thought about taking a ride up to Sandia Crest – either up the backside road on the Spyder or taking the tram to the top. In the end, we decided we should head over to Enchanted Trails RV Park on the west side of the valley sooner rather than later. The forecast was hot – high temperature over 80 degrees and a chance of thundershowers in the afternoon.

Albuquerque and the wide Rio Grande Valley from the west

Albuquerque and the wide Rio Grande Valley from the west

Enchanted Trails RV Park is on a mesa west of of the Rio Grande Valley adjacent to I-40 next to Camping World. It’s a little way out of town, but not so far to be a great inconvenience. The weekly rate was favorable and they had a long, spacious pull-through site for us, although it only had a 30 amp service.

The sites are a little different – the pull-throughs are arranged so each site enters from opposite directions and the hook-ups are aligned between every other site. We had an issue with two neighbors who couldn’t figure out the electrical panel and shut off our power when they were hooking up or disconnecting. The sites are roomy though.

We had thunder showers Thursday evening. On Friday, Donna went out for a bike ride in the late morning. By the time she was heading back, the wind had increased considerably. Wind can make bicycling difficult – or easy if it’s a tailwind!

Cinder cone volcano at Donna's turn-around on her bike ride

Cinder cone volcano at Donna’s turn-around on her bike ride

The gusty winds were a precursor to another thunderstorm. The wind had the coach rocking. So much for our plan to grill a pork tenderloin Donna had marinating. We looked for pizza delivery, but there wasn’t anything available in our location and I wasn’t about to go out on the Spyder for take-out. Donna ended up pulling homemade marinara out of the freezer and we had it over spaghetti with spinach and feta chicken sausage. Nice!

I need to mention Ozark the cat. She’s been shedding fur for the last couple of months. Donna was vacuuming the coach with the central vac system and saw Ozark sitting on a dining room chair. She thought she could put the upholstery attachment on the vac and see if Ozark would like to be cleaned. Amazingly, Ozark let her vacuum her coat – I’m sure a lot of loose hair came off.

Okay Ozark, here comes the vacuum

Okay Ozark, here comes the vacuum

She's Okay with it

She’s okay with it

Now I’ll have to reveal my obsessive personality. I get into various things – hobbies and such – and take a deep dive. I could go on for thousands of words to talk about different things or activities that grabbed me and how I followed them.

Readers may recall the cowboy boots Donna bought me in Cheyenne. She’d wanted me to have a pair of cowboy boots for some time – she likes the look of them with jeans and really wanted me to have a pair. She made it Christmas in August and bought me a pair of Ariat Heritage Roughstock boots.

The Ariats Donna bought for me

The Ariats Donna bought for me

To tell the truth, I wasn’t that keen on cowboy boots. I imagined them to be uncomfortable and something I would seldom wear. It didn’t seem like a good bargain for the price.

What I found was, I love wearing them. They are so comfortable and caress my feet. They make me taller, which is a plus and I feel like like they improve my posture as I tend to stand straighter and walk taller in them.

Of course, this led me to an online odyssey to learn more about western boots. The more I discovered, the more I wanted to try other boots. I found many sites with collectors that have dozens of boots. I began to understand why – I wanted more styles and types. I’ve been through these obsessions before – watches come to mind. I collected mechanical self-winding wrist watches and railroad pocket watches before. Then it was guitars – I think I had seven guitars and five guitar tube amplifiers before we hit the road.

After learning what I could online about western boots, I needed another pair. I learned that the Ariat boots I selected and Donna bought for me are one of the most popular brands currently available. The brand was started by two women in 1992. They had a vision of combining athletic shoe technology into western boot designs.

They have several patents and use the latest design techniques, machinery and materials – such as shanks made from composite materials in a “Y” shape. Soles are often made with high grip rubber compounds. Most of their boots, including the pair I have, are made with a stacked upper design.

After learning this, I became interested in more traditional designs. I learned about custom made, bespoke boots. These are mostly out of my reach as it doesn’t fit the budget. I also found many manufacturers that employ traditional hand made techniques. Hand made is a difficult to define concept with boots – machines are always employed and necessary. Even the highest level of custom boot making uses sewing machines.

One of the best boot makers in the world is Lisa Sorrell – she makes two or three pairs of boots per month and does all of the work herself. Of course these boots capture my imagination, but they won’t encase my feet.

I decided to buy myself an early birthday present – it’s two weeks away. I ordered a pair of Lucchese (lou-Kay-zee) smooth ostrich skin boots. Lucchese has been making boots in Texas since 1883. They follow traditional methods. The only computer-controlled automated step in their process is the cosmetic stitching on the boot shaft – the part that rises over the calf. Stitching the shaft to the inner liner is done by hand as is all of the rest of the stitching. This means it’s hand-guided sewing machine work.

The shank is steel and it’s fastened between the outsole and the insole in the traditional method with lemonwood pegs. Lemonwood swells with moisture at approximately the same rate as leather – using these pegs for tacks to fasten the sole means the leather will not swell around the tack and allow water ingress.

Ostrich skin is arguably the ideal hide for western boots – only kangaroo comes close for durability. Ostrich leather has a very high tensile strength while being amazingly supple. Different cuts of the hide have different properties  and costs. Full-quill comes from the back and has a goose-bump appearance from the large feather follicles and a fairly even distribution of bumps. Half-quill comes from the belly and neck area and are less pronounced and uniform. Smooth-quill comes from the sides and have smaller follicles and a more random pattern. The price varies respectively with full-quill being the most expensive.

The thing is, regardless of appearance, ostrich leather has the same physical properties. Its strength and suppleness make it extremely comfortable and durable.

My boots arrived in Albuquerque last evening from Zappos. They were delivered to Donna’s friend, Hazel Thornton. Hazel wasn’t home, but her neighbor held the package for me and I retrieved it Saturday morning. The boots are fantastic. The turquoise calf-skin shafts are a bit flash, but I wear my jeans over the shafts leaving a more understated look. I think it’ll be a few years or more before I can say if traditional hand made methods and materials or modern machinery and man-made materials are superior.

Lucchese smooth-quill uppers with calf-skin shafts

Lucchese smooth-quill uppers with calf-skin shafts

After I picked up the boots, Donna and I rode the Spyder to the Los Duranes Community Center. They had pickleball from 10am to noon and it was free! Pickleball is always a good time.

Since the storm came through on Friday, the temperatures have dropped. Saturday’s high was only 71 degrees and we can expect mid-70s for the next few days. Overnight lows are in the 50s. Very comfortable. No rain is expected today but I’ll be my usual Sunday couch potato.

I recorded the Moto GP race from Aragon, Spain to watch this morning and then it’ll be NFL action for the remainder of the day. Donna will go to a birthday party at Aaron and Lisa Ivener’s house up in Rio Rancho – it’s their young son’s birthday. Aaron is one of my crew mates on the Heart’s A’Fire hot air balloon.

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Be Careful – Shift Happens

We pulled out of our roadside boondocking spot at Georgetown Summit around 10:30am Thursday morning. Our route took us down US30 to the Wyoming border. As we continued on US30, we crossed a few summits over 6,000 feet above sea level and one summit near Diamondville over 7,000 feet above sea level. It wasn’t too bad though, we weren’t much below 6,000 feet at any time.

We made our way to I-80 east and about 25 miles later, stopped for lunch at Little America. I remember stopping here twice traveling cross-country with my parents in the ’60s. The food wasn’t anything to rave about but the break was needed and they have ample parking.

Around 30 miles later, I-80 took us past the town of Green River. I could hear John Fogerty and Creedence Clearwater Revival singing in my head;

Well, take me back down where cool water flows, yeah.
Let me remember the things I don’t know,
Stopping at the log where catfish bite,
Walking along the river road at night,
Barefoot girls dancing in the moonlight.
I can hear the bullfrog calling me.
Wonder if my rope’s still hanging to the tree.
Love to kick my feet ‘way down the shallow water.
Shoefly, dragonfly, get back t’your mother.
Pick up a flat rock, skip it across Green River.
Welllllll!

Our destination was Rock Springs, Wyoming – more accurately the Sweetwater Events Complex, home of the Sweetwater County Fair and many other events. They have more than 1,200 RV sites with full hook-ups. As Escapees members, we could get a site for $21/night. We want to spend a few days in the area and attend the Blues and Brews festival today.

We found the complex without any trouble, but the check-in was a little different. We followed signs to the caretaker’s house. I knocked on the door and a woman invited me in. I told her we would like to stay for four nights. She asked if I was paying with a credit card. I said yes – she told me I would have to go to the office building then and gave me directions. I’m glad we didn’t arrive on a weekend – the office is only open Mon-Fri 8am to 5pm.

At the office, I paid for four nights and asked if there were any pull-through sites. The woman said no. Then she looked out the window at the size of our rig. She got a map of the RV sites out and told me what I should do. She said to park adjacent to two sites on the end of the row, with our rig on the side of the interior road. She said that we should be able to reach the hook-ups and have plenty of room for our length.

I could hardly believe they would allow this, but the place is fairly empty and it looked like a good plan. The regular sites are all back-in and laid out strangely. The sites are fenced off with wooden rail fencing on three sides. The hook-ups are in the rear, behind the fence and are shared with the site behind.

Fenced back-in site

Fenced back-in site

Confusing looking rows of sites - they look like pens

Confusing looking rows of sites – they look like pens

I studied her map carefully to be sure I understood what she was telling me to do. I pulled into the area she indicated and stayed close to the fence to keep us from blocking the road.

We're on the side of an interior road adjacent to two sites

We’re on the side of an interior road adjacent to two sites

It was a fairly long run to the water and sewer hook-ups, but I managed. The living room slide came within an inch of the fence. Shortly after I got us hooked up, a thunder shower hit us accompanied by gusty winds. I had to pull the living room slide in to keep the slide topper from flapping itself to death.

Long run for water and sewer

Long run for water and sewer

One of the things we always have to be careful of after a day on the road is opening cabinets. Like the airlines always say, cargo may have shifted in the overhead bin. Donna had her laptop on the floor in front of her seat as she was using it as we traveled down the road. When she opened the overhead cabinet in front of her seat a remote for the satellite receiver fell out. It landed with a bang on her laptop about six feet below the cabinet.

The impact was too much apparently. No visible damage, but her laptop wouldn’t boot up. It went to a blue screen with an Aptio set up utility. The utility wouldn’t work – it just went in circles back to itself. She texted our friend and computer guru, Joel Myaer. He said he thought the hard drive was toast. I called my friend, another computer guru and former colleague, Bob Clogg. He had me try a few things, then suggested I buy a special cable and remove Donna’s hard drive. I could use the special cable to connect it as an external hard drive on my laptop and maybe retrieve her data.

On Friday morning, we went to a computer shop called Sweetwater Technology Services – there’s no Best Buy in Rock Springs – in fact the nearest Best Buy is in Salt Lake City! I found  a device to hook up her hard drive. We also shopped for a new laptop at a few stores but didn’t find anything she wanted.

After removing her hard drive and connecting it to my laptop, I couldn’t retrieve anything. The hard drive was recognized by my OS, but it couldn’t read any files. I took her hard drive back to Sweetwater Technology Services and asked them if they could retrieve the files. The minimum charge to hook up and diagnose was $41. I left the hard drive with them.

Later they called Donna. No dice. The hard drive is toast. If she really wanted the data, they could send it out to a specialist, but she would be looking at $1,200+ to get it. Donna used to use Carbonite for back up, but we don’t do that anymore since our data usage is limited and backing up to a remote site means double dipping on data. She’s sorry now that she didn’t do more frequent backups to her external hard drive. From now on, we’ll do that.

Donna ordered a new laptop on Amazon and we should have it Monday. That means we’ll extend our stay for another night here.

The weather on Friday was much nicer. Not much wind, clear skies and a high temperature of 79 degrees. Donna went for a short run and did a workout in a grassy area nearby. She said she could feel the effects of the elevation – we’re nearly 6,800 feet above sea level.

 

*Just so you know, if you follow one of my links to Amazon and decide to make a purchase, you pay the same price as usual and  I’ll earn a few pennies for the referral. It’ll go into the beer fund. Thanks!

Alki Beach Day

The good folks at Samsung updated my smartphone software on Tuesday. The improved software version they pushed onto my phone can’t be accessed with my PC. When I connect my phone to my PC via a USB cable, the phone is recognized but no folders are available. So, I can’t access my picture files until I figure out what happened.

Tuesday was another wet day with periods of drizzle broken up with dry spells throughout the day. I got busy checking out the 50 amp line from the garage. There is a NEMA 10-30 outlet on the wall in the garage. The landlord said he used this connection to power a welder. An RV needs a TT-30 connection and isn’t compatible with the 10-30 outlet. A cable comes out of the box behind this outlet with a NEMA  14-50 outlet on the end. This matches the 50 amp cable found on most motorhomes. However, it didn’t work.

When I checked the 50 amp outlet with my Progressive Industries Electrical Management System (EMS) box, it wouldn’t power up. When I checked the individual blades in the connector, I found 120 volts on one leg only between the blade and ground lug. The other hot blade wasn’t hot and the neutral blade was an open circuit.

The 30 amp outlet was connected to a double pole 20 amp circuit breaker in the service box. I opened the breaker and then took the cover off the 30 amp outlet. I saw it was wired normally, but the 50 amp extension coming out of the back of the 30 amp box was incorrectly wired. After thinking about it for a few minutes and talking to my daughter Alana about the situation, I decided to eliminate the 30 amp outlet and rewire the 50 amp extension.

I went to the hardware store and bought a 50 amp double pole circuit breaker. I disconnected the wiring to the 30 amp outlet and replaced the double pole 20 amp breaker in the box with the 50 amp breaker. Then I fed the end of the romex cable with the 50 amp outlet on the end into the service box and wired it to the breaker and connected the neutral and ground wire to the bus bar.

I tested the outlet and it worked. Everything checked out and it powered up my EMS without any errors showing. Voila! We have power for the coach!  I ran the extension out of the garage and connected our 50 amp cable to it. I wrapped the connector plug with Press ‘n’ Seal plastic wrap to keep the rain out and we’re in business.

Wednesday was a fine weather day. We had a few clouds, but it was mostly sunny with a high in the low 70s in the afternoon. Alana and Lainey had the day off from work so we headed out. We all piled into Alana’s car – Alana, Lainey, Gabi, Donna and I and drove down to Alki Beach in west Seattle. Alki Beach is a sandy beach on Puget Sound across from downtown Seattle (map).

Donna, Lainey, Alana and Gabi

Donna, Lainey, Alana and Gabi

There’s about a mile of public beach with a paved walk and bike path. Across the street from the beach area there are a number of restaurants. It was the middle of the week, but the beach was bustling with people sun bathing, playing in the sand and entering the water. There was a beach volleyball clinic in one area with coaches taking girls through volleyball drills. We walked for a while then went to a Mexican restaurant for a late lunch. The food at El Chupacabra was very good – I don’t remember finding much in the way of good Mexican cuisine when I lived here.

Donna and I at the point at Alki

Donna and I at the point at Alki

View of the waterfront and downtown Seattle from Alki

View of the waterfront and downtown Seattle from Alki

We had a good time exploring and watching the ferries and freighters on the sound. After we came home, I set up a table and chairs on the lawn and we had happy hour. Alana’s mother, LuAnn and her husband Jerry stopped by on their bicycles and joined us for a short while.

Donna and Alana shared a special brew from Deschutes - only available at the brewery

Donna and Alana shared a special brew from Deschutes – only available at the brewery

Around 6pm, I had a delivery from UPS. I ordered new front shocks for our coach and they arrived. When we were driving up here, the section of I-5 from Tacoma to Seattle rivals some of the worst road surfaces we’ve been on. It was just as bad as I-75 from Detroit to Toledo. Driving through this section of road, I realized our front shocks were worse for wear from all of the pounding they’ve taken.

When I bought our Koni shocks about two years ago, they were a huge improvement over the existing suspension. About five months after I bought them, Koni came out with a new shock made for the Alpine Coach Peak chassis and the Monaco Roadmaster RR4  chassis. The new design has a much larger bore and piston and works at a lower operating pressure. These new shocks should be more durable than the older design. I hope so. My front shocks only have about 15,000 miles on them and they are tired! That will be my project for today.

The high temperature for the day is supposed to be in the upper 60s with a chance of rain this afternoon. Hopefully I can complete my shock installation before it rains.

 

Update – I figured out the change Samsung made with the OS update and added photos.

 

Spyder Wire

It was chilly Saturday morning – 39 degrees. This is the coldest temperature we’ve seen in a long time. Donna found a free boot camp type workout group at a nearby school. She walked to the school while I wrote yesterday’s post. We had cloudy skies and rain showers off and on, broken up by brief periods of sunshine. We see fresh snow on all of the hilltops around us.

Snow on the hills

Snow on the hills

While Donna was at her workout, I watched the Moto GP qualifying for the race in Mugello, Italy. The Italians were cheering as their hero, Valentino Rossi, took pole position for today’s race.

After the qualifying, I walked over to the office to see if my package was delivered. They told me the mail had come, but all they got was junk mail, no packages. This wasn’t what I expected to hear. I e-mailed the shipper and he sent me the tracking number. The USPS tracking site showed the package delivered at 10am. I went back to the office and was told it wasn’t there and I should go to the post office down the street. It was a short walk.

I gave the tracking number to the clerk at the post office and told them the package wasn’t delivered as shown. They looked up the record and said their carrier scanned the package at 10am and left it in the mailbox. They tried to phone the mail carrier, but she was probably driving and didn’t answer. They took my cell number and said they would call me once they talked to her.

I walked back to the RV park office and told them what I was told at the post office. The guy in the office told me he walked out to the mailbox when the mail carrier arrived and she handed him their mail – it never went into the mailbox. He took his key and went out to the mailbox and opened it. The package was in there. Apparently after the mail carrier handed him the junk mail she realized there was another piece of mail. She put the package in the mailbox while he thought he already had all of the mail for the day.

By noon, the sun was shining and it was dry out. I’d had enough of sitting indoors and decided to work on the Spyder. The package I received was a set of custom made MSD 8.5mm Super Conductor spark plug wires for the Spyder along with two NGK iridium spark plugs. The original spark plug wires were causing an intermittent misfire on the front cylinder.

As soon as I had the tupperware removed from the Spyder, it began to rain. I covered the Spyder and went inside. Five minutes later the sun was shining again. The fickle weather continued as I worked – I would have 15 minutes of sunshine then a cloud would pass over dropping rain on everything for a few minutes before it cleared up again. I covered the Spyder and went inside five or six times while trying to do the work.

Spark plug wires – which are sometimes called high tension leads – are more complicated than you might think. Wire is wire, right? Well, not so in this case. Spark plug wires can carry more than 40,000 volts. This voltage is delivered to the spark plug every other revolution of the crankshaft in a four-stroke engine. The rise and drop of voltage can create electromagnetic interference (EMI) through induction or contact with the insulation of the wire.

The insulation on the Spyder’s original wire was breaking down. That’s why it would misfire – the voltage would leak past the insulation and arc to the engine case. Original equipment spark plug wires are usually a carbon conductor over a substrate of fiberglass or kevlar fibers wrapped in rubber insulation. This type of construction has high resistance and prevents EMI. It’s also cheap to manufacture. The down side is that the high resistance causes a voltage drop and can weaken the spark in the spark plug gap.

Low resistance gives a hotter spark but will create EMI. A solid copper core wire would give the hottest spark but the EMI that results would wreak havoc on electronic control modules and sensors. Modern engines have lots of electronic controls and need to be shielded. The answer is a spiral wound cable with a magnetic center core. This creates a choke that prevents the EMI, while high quality alloy in the spiral wound conductor provides lower resistance. Of course this type of ignition wire is much more costly to produce. The MSD 8.5mm wires I ordered are this type.

Spark plug wires with plastic heat shielding

Spark plug wires with plastic heat shielding

The spark plug wires on the Spyder run from an ignition coil for each cylinder to the spark plug at the cylinder head. Some modern engines do away with spark plug wires by mounting ignition coils directly on top of the spark plug. These systems have their faults, but you don’t have to worry about a length of high voltage wire.

This is the spark plug wire that was arcing - shorting to ground and causing a misfire

This is the spark plug wire that was arcing – shorting to ground and causing a misfire

It took some time to get to the plug wires – I had to remove the tupperware and the airbox assembly first. My efforts were broken up by the showers passing through. It took about an hour to get the old wires off. The original wires were housed with a corrugated plastic cover to shield them from heat.

Old wire and new wire - heat shielding removed

Old wire and new wire – heat shielding removed

I removed the heat shielding from the old wires and put it on the new MSD wires. I measured the resistance of the wires – I expected the original carbon core wires to have 1,000 to 3,000 ohms of resistance. The wire to the front cylinder is longer than the one to the rear, so naturally it would have higher resistance. Remember, lower resistance is desirable as long as EMI can be controlled. The original front wire measured 6,000 ohms of resistance! This is not good. The shorter rear wire measured 3,700 ohms. By comparison the new MSD wire for the front cylinder measured 113 ohms. Huge difference!

With the old wires off, I replaced the original copper electrode spark plugs with NGK iridium electrode plugs. These plugs provide a fat, hot spark and will last at least twice as long as the originals.

Spark plugs

Spark plugs

I coated the threads on the spark plugs with a special heat transferring anti-seize compound. This will make them much easier to remove next time without risk of pulling the threads out of the aluminum cylinder heads. I also put a thin coating of dielectric grease in the plug connector on the end of the spark plug wires to seal them and make them easier to remove as well.

New wires with heavy duty insulators at the coil end

New wires with heavy duty insulators at the coil end

I test fired the engine – it started immediately and ran smoothly. So I buttoned everything back up and put all the body work back on and took a little test ride. The difference is unbelievable. The engine runs so much smoother. It has to be felt to be understood, I can’t put into words how big the difference in the character of the engine is. Who would’ve thought something as simple as plug wires could make this much difference? With better combustion, I’m guessing fuel economy will improve as well. Job done.

This morning, Donna and I went out for breakfast. We walked down the road to the Lumberjack Restaurant. It was a treat – I had eggs Benedict and Donna had a veggie omelet with a home-style biscuit.

We may have a few more showers this afternoon. I’ll begin prepping for travel. Tomorrow we’ll pull out of here and head to Corning, California – the olive capital.

Good Service Gone Bad

I need to catch up on our last week at Towerpoint RV Resort in Mesa, Arizona. I won’t go into a blow-by-blow account, but there are a few highlights.

First off, I mentioned that we had another Jetpack battery failure. This is the third time in less than three years that we had a lithium-ion battery pack fail. The battery packs go into an overheat protection mode that blows the pack apart and shuts the battery down. I think it’s a charging issue with our Jetpack. I purchased a digital lamp timer and set it to vary the time of the charge with discharge times. Somehow the programming of the timer was lost and unbeknownst to me it’s been charging the battery pack full-time. Lithium-ion batteries are at their best between 40% and 85% of full charge – this should result in long life.

I had a new battery delivered overnight. It’s a different brand, not the same Pantech that came with the Jetpack. This one is branded Beltron. Both brands come from China, so they may be the exact same thing with different labels for all I know.

Old battery self-destructed

Old battery self-destructed

New Beltron branded battery pack

New Beltron branded battery pack

I bought the new battery from Amazon for less than $18 including overnight shipping. I reprogrammed the timer to cycle between one hour on and one hour off. We’ll see how this works out. When we’re stationary for a week or more, I’ll order another battery for back-up.

I was a pickleball demon the last week in the park. My court time culminated with a round robin session at Sun Life RV Resort for 3.5 level players. I’m not sure how much pickleball action we’ll see in the coming weeks, so I wanted to get my quota. After the round robin on Wednesday, I cleaned the Traeger and loaded the trailer. I’m happy with the results – everything has a place and it all came together nicely.

We planned an early – for us – getaway on Thursday. We wanted to be on the road by 9am, 9:30 at the latest. The day didn’t start off well. I couldn’t log in to my blog. In fact, my web page wouldn’t open at all. When I tried to open Flyingthekoop, I got an error message telling me the page wasn’t available! I didn’t have time to investigate – I had to disconnect our coach, hook up the trailer and load the Can Am Spyder.

I wanted to push the trailer back on the concrete pad at our site, then angle it so I could back the coach up to it and hook up. This turned out to be easier said than done. A few weeks ago I saw an older man struggling to move his car dolly trailer into position in the site across from us. I went over to help and pulled it into place over his trailer hitch. I knew our 20-foot car hauler trailer would be harder to move than a car dolly, but I didn’t realize how hard.

First of all, pushing it back on the pad was a slightly uphill push. I had to enlist Donna’s aid to get it moving. Then, getting turned to the angle I needed was really tough. Our old trailer had a single axle and getting it to turn wasn’t too difficult. The new trailer has tandem axles. With one set of tires ahead of the other set, all four tires describe a different arc through a turn. This means the tires have to scrub as they fight each other to track the turn. It takes a lot of muscle to overcome the friction of the tires scrubbing and laying down rubber.

We eventually got the trailer in position with a lot of sweat. I hitched it to the coach and pulled into the street to load the Spyder. The Spyder rides pretty much alone in the back half of the trailer.

Spyder occupies the back half of the trailer

Spyder occupies the back half of the trailer

We wanted to get an early start due to an appointment I had at TrailersPlus. You might recall the issue I had when they installed a door handle on the side door. It wasn’t installed properly and I had holes in the door skin. I was told they would replace the door skin while I waited if I got there between 10 and 10:30am. It’s about a 45-mile drive and I wanted to allow an hour of drive time. We left the RV park around 9:40am.

The traffic wasn’t bad and I made good time arriving at TrailersPlus at 10:30am. But, we had a problem. There were two pickup trucks at the entry, blocked by a locked gate! When I talked to the manager, Troy, on Tuesday he told me they don’t officially open until 1:30pm, but he would book time to have his guy install the door skin in the morning. I thought that was great service.

Now I was stopped on the frontage road next to I-17 blocking the lane as I tried to figure out what was happening. A couple of cars got around me to access the freeway on ramp, but then a big tractor-trailer rig pulled up behind me. I had to move on, I couldn’t sit there and block the ramp.

I went down the road and made a right turn at the next stoplight. I could see the map on the GPS and figured I would make a loop and park on a side street to see why the place was locked up. The next right turn wasn’t pretty. The road was fairly narrow with cars stopped at the light in the opposite lane. As I made the right turn, I had to go deep before I turned in to get our 65-foot length through the turn. I wasn’t going to make it. Lucky for me, the drivers were attentive – the first car pulled forward and moved over. The next two cars backed up giving me room to complete the turn.

Meanwhile Donna was on the phone with the TrailersPlus corporate office trying to find out what happened to our appointment. I parked on the street around the corner from TrailersPlus. I went to the gate – it was closed but not locked with a chain now. I could see people in the office so I opened the gate and walked in. It was 10:45am by now. I walked to the office and went in.

The guy at the counter asked me what I wanted. I told him I had an appointment and needed to get my coach off the street and into their lot. He acted like he didn’t know anything about an appointment but he agreed to open the gate and let me drive in.

After parking the coach and trailer in their lot, I went back to the office. Another guy at the counter asked me if I was dropping off the trailer! I told him I had an appointment and Troy said he would book the time to get the door skin replaced while I waited. Th guy was surly and said Troy would be in later. Then he said let’s go take a look. We walked to the coach and trailer and it seemed like he suddenly remembered why I was there. He told me to drop the trailer and he would get it into the service bay. I don’t know why I had to go through the hassle of dropping the trailer and then hooking up again. The service bay was easily big enough for me to pull through with the coach and he could have replaced the door skin with the trailer in the bay. But I didn’t argue. I dropped the trailer.

He pulled the trailer with a fork lift equipped with a ball. I got my torque wrench out of my tool box and proceeded to check the trailer lug nuts. Troy showed up while I was doing that. He said I should let his guy work and stay out of his way. I told him it would just be a minute, then I’ll stay out. But I watched the work from about 30 feet away. After the fiasco with the door handle and the guy hiding his shoddy work, I wanted to see how this went together.

Door skin rmoved

Door skin removed

The guy damaged a trim piece on the door and had to replace that as well. We were on our way again a little past noon.

Our destination for the day was the Thousand Trails Verde Valley RV Resort and Campground (map). When I pulled off Highway 260, our GPS said we had arrived. All I saw was a narrow winding road ahead and a group of RVs in a dirt lot to my left. I pulled into the lot – I didn’t want to go down a narrow road without knowing where it went or if I would be able to turn around.

I found the campground on the GPS map – it was at the end of the winding road. The dirt lot I pulled into wasn’t big enough to make a U-turn. I had to jockey back and forth to get turned around – good practice maneuvering the new trailer.

The ranger at the entrance had all of our paperwork. This is our first stay at a Thousand Trails park. Our membership entitles us to 30 free nights – well, it isn’t really free if you count the $545 membership fee – it works out to about $18/night for full hook-ups. Not bad. After our free 30 nights, we’ll pay $3/night. That’s a deal! The ranger told me he had four sites that would fit our rig and we could choose the site we wanted and let him know which one we took.

I couldn't get our full length into the frame at the park entrance

I couldn’t get our full length into the frame at the park entrance

We’re in a 90-foot pull through site, so we didn’t have to drop the trailer. Oh, and while we were on the road, Donna got on the phone with Bluehost – the web hosting service for this blog. They found a bug in a plug-in and deactivated it. Then we updated the plug-in, reactivated it, and that fixed the problem.

It was very quiet here last night. We’re at an elevation of a little over 3,000 feet above sea level. It’s a little cooler here than in Phoenix. We plan to explore the area over the next few days. This post is getting wordy, so I’ll post some of the meals Donna prepared last week in my next post.

 

*Just so you know, if you follow one of my links to Amazon and decide to make a purchase, you pay the same price as usual and  I’ll earn a few pennies for the referral. It’ll go into the beer fund. Thanks!

 

Jetpack Down

We suffered another Pantech battery failure in our Verizon Jetpack, so I’m on a very slow park wifi connection today. I’ll post a short update without pictures due to these circumstances.

On Monday afternoon, I had to go back to the dentist. I had some work done last Thursday and had a small problem with a filling. There was a sharp edge on the side of the tooth and my tongue wouldn’t leave it alone. You know how it is when something is off with your teeth – like when something is stuck between them. Your tongue always finds it. The dentist removed a couple thousandths of an inch of material and all was good. It took about five minutes.

That night, I went to the Mesa Buckhorn Elks Lodge at 6pm for the mandatory indoctrination. I learned a few things about the history of the Elks and also the many philanthropic services they provide. I had no idea they were involved in so many charitable causes. The 75-minute indoctrination became a bit tedious after a while – the husband and wife team that presented the material were good and provided a ton of information, but it was bit like watching a PBS fundraiser at times as they gave convincing arguments for the need to participate in various groups. I’m not one for joining groups. I’ll probably be what they call a BMO – bar member only.

Tonight I’ll return to the lodge at 6:30pm for the mandatory initiation. Maybe I’ll learn the secret handshake there. Seriously, this is where I’ll become an official member and receive my Elks membership card. This card will identify me as an Elks member at any lodge in the US. There are four of us joining tonight. I learned last night that all four of us are RVers and are interested in visiting Elks lodges with RV hook-ups. I’m sure it’ll come in handy down the road. The low rates for Elks members should offset the $71.50 annual dues.

I have a few things to get done before we pull out of Towerpoint RV Resort in Mesa, Arizona. We’ve been here for nearly 10 weeks and have enjoyed our stay. I think we’ll be back again next year. We’ll leave here on Thursday and head over to the Verde Valley Thousand Trails RV park. I’ve booked four nights there taking advantage of our new Thousand Trails membership – this will be a free stay.

Before we leave here, I’ll dump and flush our tanks, fill the fresh water tank and of course have the trailer packed. I added a few more D-rings and also a paper towel rack to the trailer. I think I have a place for everything and it should be easy to pack. After staying in one place for so long, I’m getting anxious to move on.

I’ve ordered another battery for the Jetpack with overnight delivery. With any luck, we’ll have it tomorrow so we’ll be back up and running at full speed. With the upcoming move, I probably won’t post for a couple of days.