Category Archives: Trailer

Party in the Park

The wind diminished over the weekend here at Mission Bay. The mountains east of San Diego and areas of the north county still had high winds though. The north county fire – called the Lilac fire –  near Bonsall destroyed homes and swept through the San Luis Downs horse-training facility killing at least 35 thoroughbred horses. The wind drove the fire westward causing more evacuations around Oceanside. The fire is 75% contained now and the evacuation order has been lifted.

Someone at the RV park stores their kayaks under a canopy on the beach at De Anza Cove. They have the kayaks locked with a cable to secure them. The canopy didn’t fare too well with the high winds though.

Canopies don’t hold up to Santa Ana winds

I was at a gas station on Morena Boulevard Friday when I heard the unmistakable sound of a radical V8 engine. An old school ’55 Chevy pulled up to the pumps. It was a bit ratty looking, but I knew it had a hot motor. It was old school down to the straight front axle, Halibrand magnesium wheels and cheater slicks. I shot a photo of it.

’55 Chevy Bel Air

The owner of the car saw me taking the picture and asked me if I wanted a look under the hood. Of course I did. It had a supercharged small block with dual Carter carburetors and fender well headers.

Small block Chevy

There wasn’t anything ratty about the engine. Then he opened the driver’s door so I could take a look inside. It was upholstered in diamond stitched naugahyde including the headliner and had a roll bar. You wouldn’t guess that by looking at the paint job!

Diamond stitched naugahyde

Headliner and roll bar

The guy told me he had owned the car for about 30 years. He said he also had a ’32 Ford Coupe and a ’39 Willys. He said they were set up similar to the ’55 Chevy – no fancy paint but killer drive trains and nice interiors.

On Friday night Sini joined Donna and I to listen to live music at Fast Times Bar and Grill up the hill on Clairemont Drive. John January is the brother of my friend, Joe. John is a very talented guitarist and was performing with his girlfriend, Linda Berry. John is an inductee of the San Diego Blues Hall of Fame. They were performing as a duet – they also front a complete band sometimes. John has the skills to fill out the sound with his sense of timing, bass lines, chord inversions and riffs. It was almost hard to believe that just two people and one guitar could sound that good.

John January and Linda Berry

By the way – the name of the bar was taken from the title of the 1982 movie Fast Times at Ridgemont High starring Jennifer Jason Leigh and Sean Penn. The screenplay was written by Cameron Crowe after he supposedly spent a semester posing as a student at Clairemont High School – my alma mater – to develop the characters.

On Saturday, I took the Traeger wood pellet fired smoker grill out of the trailer. I was about to drag it through the lot to our site when our neighbor called out to me. Larry is from Louisiana and his rig is in the site behind us. He was at the overflow lot retrieving something from his van. He said, “How about we put that grill in the van and drive to your site?” Good idea! Thanks, Larry!

I needed the Traeger to smoke a couple of racks of baby back ribs I bought at Costco on Friday. The ribs weren’t the pre-packaged Swift Premium they sell – they were cut right there at the Morena store. The butchers there did a really nice job trimming the ribs. I prepped the ribs with dry rub and cooked them Memphis-style.

We had a potluck dinner planned for Saturday night at Sini’s site. Donna planned to grill chicken drumsticks and make a beer and bourbon cheese fondue. To marinate the chicken drumsticks she needed liquid smoke. I told her I saw liquid smoke at Siesel’s meat market. I rode the Spyder over to Siesel’s to get it. I looked through the aisle where I thought I saw it before, but couldn’t find it. A woman asked me if I needed help. I told her what I was looking for and she said, “It’s right here…oh, I guess we’re out of it.” Then she called out to one of the butchers behind the meat counter and asked if they had any liquid smoke. He said he had a gallon of hickory liquid smoke. I said I only needed a couple of ounces. He disappeared for a couple of minutes, then returned and gave me a small plastic container with about half a cup of liquid smoke and said “You’re all set.” Nice!

Everyone gathered at Sini’s place around 5pm. We had an extra picnic table the park provided plus a couple of folding tables for the food buffet. Five couples from inside the RV park were there plus a few of our friends that live in the area. Gary Stemple and Mona Sojot came along with Mona’s friend, Berdine.

Potluck food and drink time

Everyone enjoyed the food and drink and we talked the night away. Before I knew it, it was 10pm.

We only have 10 more days here at Mission Bay RV Resort before we leave San Diego. The time has flown by. The weather forecast for the next 10 days looks good – daily highs in the 70s with no rain. We’ll be heading east to Arizona to spend the rest of winter in a warm climate.

 

 

If I Had a Hammer

A woman driving a fairly new Dodge Ram 3500 dually pick up pulled into Mission Bay RV Resort with an Airstream travel trailer a couple of days ago. She drove slowly past our site. Her trailer was about 25 feet long. It didn’t take long for me to realize she was new to this and didn’t understand how to maneuver a trailer while reversing.

If you’ve never backed a trailer into a space, it would be a good idea to practice first. The best way I can think of is to find a large parking lot with an empty area. You can back the trailer into a marked parking stall and practice putting it between the lines without fear of hitting something. Here are a few tips before I get back to the woman’s story.

First, go slowly. When I worked as a deputy with the sheriff’s office I attended the emergency vehicle operators course (EVOC). The EVOC instructors had a mantra – always travel in reverse as if you’re about to hit something. What they meant was, if you have the mindset that you may back into something, you’ll always be vigilant and probably won’t hit anything. When you are backing a trailer, you have to be mindful of two vehicles – the trailer and the tow vehicle. If you’re cutting the wheel sharply to position the trailer, the front of the tow vehicle will swing to the side.

When you are backing up a trailer, think about the direction that the bottom of your steering wheel is moving. When you turn the steering wheel to crank the front wheels to the left, the bottom of the steering wheel moves to the right – towards the passenger side. This is the direction the back of the trailer will go.

Once the trailer starts to turn behind the tow vehicle, it will continue to turn in that direction until you correct it. For example, if we turned the front tires to the left as in the example above, the bottom of the steering wheel moved to the right and the rear of the trailer starts turning to the right. If we keep moving backwards the front of the trailer will continue to pivot around the hitch ball and the trailer will turn at an increasingly sharp angle. This will happen even if we straighten the front wheels. To stop the turn of the trailer and get the vehicle and trailer back in line, we need to turn the wheel in the opposite direction and move back slowly until the tow vehicle and trailer align, then straighten the wheels.

If we don’t apply a correction, the trailer will turn at such an acute angle that it’s possible for the front corner of the trailer to make contact with the rear corner of the tow vehicle – this is called jack knifing. A jack knifed trailer is not a good thing – damage occurs to both vehicles.

Be patient. Sometimes it might take a few attempts to get things lined up the way you want them. So be it. Don’t get flustered or concerned that others may think you are inept – everyone had to learn at some point – and some circumstances make it difficult to position the trailer the way you want it. Practicing in an empty lot will help you understand the dynamics and you’ll be able to back your trailer into a space with confidence.

The woman with the Airstream drove past our site. Several minutes later she stopped in front of us again, facing the opposite direction. She had her window down and a man was standing next to her truck talking to her. Donna noticed damage on the right front of her trailer which looked new otherwise. After a few minutes, she starting backing into her site across from us and down a couple of spaces. The man was directing her, but I could see he wasn’t giving her very good instructions. She was all over the place. I was hesitant at first, but then I couldn’t stand by and watch any longer.

I went out to her truck and asked the man to watch the rear so she wouldn’t hit the picnic table. Then I started telling her which way to turn her wheels. Once we had the Airstream in her site, I had her pull forward then back in slowly so we could get it lined up straight. She got out of her truck and said she wished she would’ve stopped and asked for help before trying to back in. What I didn’t know was she first attempted to enter her site from the east before she pulled down to the end of the row and turned around. She jack knifed the trailer and damaged her Airstream and new Dodge dually. This was her second time out – someone helped her get into a site at Campland before she came here.

I came back to our coach and set about doing what I was doing before she came along. About half an hour later, I was getting ready to go to the store. Donna told me the woman hadn’t disconnected her trailer from the truck and seemed to be having a problem. I saw another neighbor go over there with a large hammer. This didn’t look good to me.

I walked over and asked what was up. The guy with the hammer was beating on the release lever for the coupler lock on the trailer tongue. I asked him to stop before he did any more damage so we could figure out what was hanging it up. First of all, I could see she had put the trailer jack down and the tongue of the trailer was actually lifting the rear of her truck. This put a lot of pressure on the coupler lock. While I was explaining how this works to her, the other guy knocked the retaining pin out of the lock lever, removed the lever and started pounding on the linkage.

Example of a trailer tongue with coupler lock lever

I stopped him and explained that beating the linkage down will damage it, the lever lifts the linkage so he was doing the opposite of what needed to be done. With the trailer jack lowered, I was able to grab the linkage with pliers and pull it up, releasing the coupler lock. We put the lever back on. The woman insisted something was wrong with the coupler lock. I explained again how it operates and showed her how to release it. I released it several times, demonstrating that it worked fine.

I wanted to take photos to illustrate what I’m talking about, but it didn’t seem appropriate at the time. I hope this post makes sense to those reading it. The lessons learned are – practice with your trailer – ask for assistance – and beware of a neighbor offering help with a hammer.

We’ve had very warm weather – temperatures have reached the mid 90s. The Santa Ana winds have stayed well north of us though, it’s been fairly calm here in San Diego. The hot spell will continue tomorrow before we cool down to the low 80s by the weekend. Good times in San Diego.

Edit to post – I added a photo of the jack knife damaged Airstream.

Jack knife damage

Fast Track Check-in

We went inside the Golden Acorn Casino for breakfast Thursday morning after a quiet night in their lot. The breakfast plates were very good – Donna had an omelette with Monterrey jack cheese, bacon, avocado and pico de gallo while I went for the eggs Benedict. The coffee was tasty and we had a leisurely start to the day. We were only traveling about 70 miles to get to Mission Bay, so there was no need to head out early.

I had completed a new check-in procedure for Mission Bay RV Resort they call fast track. Mission Bay RV Resort e-mailed me the check-in documents a few days ago. I printed them and signed where necessary, then scanned and e-mailed them back.

I fired up the Cummins ISL diesel engine around 11am and set it to high idle speed (~950rpm) while I did my usual walkaround checking basement doors, slides, tires, etc.  I wanted to allow the engine to warm up gently before we pulled out. When we accelerated onto I-8, I knew we would be immediately climbing up the grade to Crestwood Summit. I don’t like to put a high load on an engine before it’s up to operating temperature. Over Crestwood Summit we dropped down to Buckman Springs then climbed another grade to Laguna Summit. From there, it was mostly downhill and I toggled the Jake brake between the low and high settings to keep our speed in check.

While I was driving, my cell phone rang and Donna answered it. Mission Bay RV Resort was calling to confirm our arrival and payment method. They instructed us to proceed to the security hut at the entrance, receive our paperwork there and go directly to our site, bypassing the office. We stopped at the security hut and then went to the overflow lot to drop the trailer around 12:30pm. Then we were free to pull into site 112 without the usual wait at the office for the official check-in time of 2pm.

It felt good to get situated in our site knowing we would be here for the next two months. The last time we were on full hooks-ups was in Santa Fe, New Mexico, a full month ago. We can relax our diligence over water usage, battery power levels and holding tanks. Donna is happy to be able to do laundry again though she has a lot of catching up to do!

Mission Bay site 112

I like this site – we only have a neighbor on one side. The passenger side has an open area next to the bathroom/shower building giving us plenty of room. It also has good satellite TV reception – some sites here have trees interfering with the reception. I had one concern though – the paperwork the security guy gave us only showed us here for one month. I unloaded the Spyder from the trailer and rode over to the office.

At the counter, Nancy recognized me. I reminded her of our conversation last April when I made the reservation. At that time, she worked to move a few reservations around so we could have site 112 for two months. She looked at her computer and confirmed we are booked in this site until December 20th. I’ll have to pay for the second month on November 19th – they only charged us for the first month at this point.

The rates here have gone up over the last couple of years.  If I remember correctly, we paid $875/month when we first came here in 2013. This was the winter “off season” rate. That worked out to about $28/day. Now we’re paying $1,085/month to stay here – about $35/day. The off season is from September 15th to May 14th and the regular daily rate is $70.

During the peak season – May 15th to September 14th – the regular daily rate is $90 and monthly rates aren’t offered. We find San Diego to be a great place to spend some of the winter months and are happy to pay the monthly rate which includes utilities. The park itself isn’t anything great. It’s basically a large paved lot with hook-ups. No amenities, but it’s secure, fairly quiet and the location can’t be beat. That’s what this park is all about – location.

On the way back from the office, I saw Thomas and we chatted. Thomas was the security supervisor when we first started coming here. Last spring, he changed positions and was working on special projects to upgrade the park. Now he’s the operations manager – the head honcho here. He’ll have plenty of projects as the De Anza Cove and Rose Creek areas of Mission Bay Park will be completely redesigned over the next few years.

The weather is cool and breezy today – the forecast calls for a high of 74 with partly cloudy skies and a slight chance of rain. The weekend will warm up with beach weather in the forecast for the coming week. Life is good!

A Can of Worms

I mentioned in an earlier post an engine problem we began to experience in Colorado. We had an intermittent loss of boost pressure causing a reduction of power. When this happened, it set a fault code in the Engine Control Module (ECM) and the engine maintenance light in the instrument panel illuminated. I interrogated the ECM with our ScanGauge D and found a Diagnostic Trouble Code (DTC) telling me that the intake manifold pressure wasn’t at the expected level. Due to the intermittent nature of the issue, I assumed it was a poor electrical connection or a problem with the pressure sensor.

While we were in Abiquiu, New Mexico I investigated the problem and found a crack in the exhaust manifold. This can cause a boost pressure problem. Our Cummins ISL diesel engine is turbocharged. A turbocharger is a device with two chambers in a steel housing – one chamber is fitted to the exhaust system while the other chamber is connected to the engine intake system. Each chamber has a wheel – think of it as a windmill although its shape is more complex than that.

The exhaust side is called the turbine. Hot exhaust is expelled from the combustion chamber and flows through the exhaust manifold and the turbine side of the turbocharger. This spins the turbine wheel. This wheel is mounted to a shaft that passes through the housing and is connected to the wheel on the intake side. This is the compressor wheel. The spinning turbine wheel turns the compressor wheel and the energy transferred compresses the air flowing into the engine through the intake system.

In order to burn fuel in an internal combustion engine, you need fuel and enough oxygen to combine with the fuel. The more oxygen you can pack into the combustion chamber, the more fuel you can efficiently burn and the more power you can extract from the fuel. The compressor side of the turbocharger packs more air into the engine. But there’s a catch. Compressing the air heats it and the turbocharger housing is also very hot. Hotter air is less dense than cooler air, thus negating some of the advantage of pressurizing the intake system. To counter this, most turbochargers use a type of radiator in the intake system – the hot pressurized air is directed through a cooler to reduce the air temperature and increase air density. These coolers are usually an air-to-air radiator called an intercooler or Charge Air Cooler (CAC).

The exhaust leak in our manifold was allowing the hot exhaust gasses to escape before they entered the turbine of the turbocharger. This imparted less energy to the turbine wheel and it couldn’t spin the compressor wheel at the proper speed.

Cracked exhaust manifold

I knew this had to be repaired immediately. In our case, immediately meant when we arrived in Albuquerque. Northern New Mexico is fairly remote and there wasn’t a shop closer than Albuquerque that I trusted. I was still bothered by the intermittent nature of the problem. The exhaust leak was a constant mechanical defect so why was I losing boost intermittently?

We left Los Suenos de Santa Fe RV Park around 11am on Wednesday and stopped for lunch across the street. Then we took US 14 south through the small towns of Madrid, Golden and Antonito avoiding I-25. It was a scenic and leisurely drive – there’s very little traffic and I could cruise without pushing the engine too hard.

We arrived at Rocky Mountain Cummins around 1:30pm and I checked in with their service department. I had an appointment for 7am Thursday morning. We talked about the repair and the time frame. Completing the exhaust manifold replacement in one day was doubtful. They told me I could park the coach and trailer on the street in front and hook up to their 50-amp electrical pedestal.

Donna packed a bag – she would spend the night in a nearby hotel with Ozark the cat. We walked with her suitcase, laptop bag and a couple of plastic bags with cat supplies to the Comfort Inn on 4th Avenue a few blocks away. We walked past a small park with many homeless people sleeping in the shade. We must have looked like upscale vagabonds carrying our stuff past the park. Ozark wasn’t comfortable in the hotel room – she spent most of the time hiding under the bed – she’s so accustomed to her home in the coach.

I stayed overnight in the coach – it wasn’t the best neighborhood and I didn’t want to leave the coach unattended. The Rocky Mountain Cummins shop is fully fenced in with standard chain-link and barbed wire fencing backed up with a 7,000-volt electric fence. On Thursday morning, I dropped the trailer in their fenced lot and checked in for my appointment at 7am – the coach and trailer would be secure in their fenced lot from that point. That’s when things started on a downhill spin.

They weren’t very organized at the service counter. I had talked to the woman there, Barbara, twice in the last week to make sure they had parts and were ready to do the work. She acted like she didn’t know who I was or why I was there. She wrote up the work order and I sat in the waiting area to see how things would progress. At 9am, our coach was still sitting where I parked it.

The service manager, Alvaro, was in a meeting. I asked for him and he left his meeting to talk to me. I explained the situation beginning with the appointment I made a week ago and the estimate they e-mailed me at that time. I also explained the need to get the work done so we weren’t stuck in a hotel. He apologized for the issue and told me the guy that scheduled the work and made the estimate was out of the office. He put someone on the job and work commenced.

I hung around until noon, then went to the hotel to take Donna out to lunch. Wouldn’t you know it, while I was at lunch, Barbara phoned and said Alvaro wanted to show me some issues they found with the engine. I went back to the shop. It was bad news. The charge air cooler had a leak. They pressurized the CAC and showed me where it was leaking. The CAC would have to be removed to see if the leak was repairable. Hopefully a radiator shop can repair it. If it needs to be replaced, it’s not a common part and might be difficult to find. Motorhomes use CACs designed to fit their layout, unlike a heavy duty truck that would use a common part.

The CAC is sandwiched between the coolant radiator and air conditioning condenser. It’s a big job to remove it. They also found oil in the turbocharger and thought it was damaged. I wasn’t convinced it needed replacement. Turbocharger oil seals aren’t like the rubber seals on a crankshaft for example. The shaft is sealed with steel rings, like a piston ring. Seal failure on a turbo is usually the result of a lubrication system problem – I didn’t have an issue there.

Further inspection revealed the source of the oil was the accessory air compressor on the engine. The compressor draws fresh air from the filtered intake air upstream from the turbocharger. The compressor was leaking and some oil was entering the intake system from it. The compressor would have to be replaced.

This was quickly turning into a can of worms. An expensive can of worms. I gathered a few things and spent the night at the hotel with Donna. On Friday, we checked out at noon and moved to the Hotel Elegante on Menaul – a better neighborhood. They had a special rate for Cummins employees and customers. Donna called Uber to transport herself and Ozark while I drove the Spyder. Ozark isn’t sure what to make of our new digs and mode of travel.

After checking in, we went back to the shop to get more clothes and necessities. We will be out of the coach for an undetermined amount of time at this point. While we were at the shop, I looked things over and had another nasty find.

This is where the coolant radiator and CAC normally reside at the left rear of the coach

AC condenser, CAC and coolant radiator behind the CAC

The coolant radiator had corrosion on about a quarter of the fins and the core was about to rust through. It needs to be re-cored. This is the part of the radiator closest to the rear wheels – it can’t be seen without crawling into the engine compartment from underneath and removing the fan shroud. Send more money!

Lower right corner of radiator core corroded

I’m hoping there aren’t any more bad surprises. As my friend and fellow motorhome owner, John Hinton, reminded me – I should be thankful to be getting the repairs made here in Albuquerque rather than being stuck on the side of the highway in some remote area.

Meanwhile, Donna and I are making the best of it, staying at a hotel and taking advantage of the amenities. We’ve also found a few breweries in the area – Rio Bravo, Marble and Tractor. They have great brews that are only found here in New Mexico.

I found a sign on 4th Avenue near downtown – Donna will set me free! I wish she could bail our coach out of the shop.

Better call Donna!

I’ll update our situation when I know more on Monday.

Trouble Comes in Threes

I mentioned the spacious grass area in our site at Lazy Acres RV in Center Point, Iowa. Our’s wasn’t the only one – almost all of them had plenty of room.

Lazy Acres site 42

While were at Lazy Acres, they had an issue with their water supply. On Sunday, the water pressure would drop and we only had a trickle. Donna heard the owner say he was having trouble with the pump on the well.

The water issue continued on Monday – in fact, the water was completely shut off for a while. We had used just over half of our onboard fresh water tank – I hadn’t refilled it yet. There was probably close to 50 gallons in the tank leaving us with about 40 usable gallons. The fresh water tank is a rectangular tank that’s flat and long and only four or five inches tall. The water pick-up is in the left rear corner. When the water level drops below the pick-up, it can’t deliver anymore water.

We were faced with this situation a few years ago and needed water when none was available to us. I manipulated the leveling jacks to intentionally have the driver’s side and rear of the coach low. This pooled the remaining water in the tank in the left rear corner and we got through another day before filling up the tank again.

I had intended to fill the tank at Lazy Acres but on Tuesday morning, I saw the owner going from site to site with a five-gallon bucket. He would run water at the spigot into the bucket and then dump it out. He did this several times at each site. When he reached our site, I went outside to see what was up.

He told me they had to replace the well pump. This was not so easy as the pump was at the bottom of the well casing 180 feet below ground. A well company had to pull casing tube and insert a new one with the pump attached. This left a lot of detritus in the water supply. I saw what was in the bucket and it wasn’t pretty. I decided to wait until we reached Amana to refill our tank.

We were checking out that morning – they have a relatively late checkout time of 1pm. We planned to travel about 40 miles to Amana, Iowa so we had a leisurely morning preparing to leave. I never like to push our checkout time to the last minute – you never know what might come up.

I went through my pre-flight checks and the last two items are to retract the jacks and disconnect the power cord. When I came back in to coach to fire it up, I saw the right rear “jack down” indicator was lit. This is not good. I went outside and took a look.

We have an HWH leveling system. Our jacks extend hydraulically and retract under spring pressure. Two powerful springs bring the jack back up forcing the hydraulic fluid through the solenoids and back to the reservoir. The springs are attached to the foot or pad at the bottom of the hydraulic ram. The foot had slipped off of the ram and hung uselessly by the springs. This happened to us once before in Hamburg, Pennsylvania a couple of years ago. At that time, our roadside assistance, Coach-Net sent a mobile tech out. Two strapping young guys attached it with pry bars and put it back in place.

I called Coach-Net a little before 11am. I went through the usual runaround – first you talk to someone who fills in the blanks on their computer, then they tell you a technician will call back. This took about 10 minutes plus five minutes of hold time. Then I got a call back 20 minutes later. After going over the problem again, he said he would find someone to help me out and call back. He called back half an hour later. He said he might be able to get someone out by the end of the following day, if not it would be three weeks! Unacceptable.

I started looking up mobile RV services and made a few calls. Two of them had to see if they could juggle their schedule and come out that afternoon – they would call me back. I went up to office to notify them of the problem. I talked to the owner who seemed to be mechanically competent and knew what I was talking about. He said, “How about we go down to the shop and grab a couple of pry bars and see what we can do?” I told him that sounded good with one caveat – we do it with pry bars only, no one sticks their hands anywhere near those powerful springs.

To give an idea of how powerful the springs are, the first thing we had to do was push the ram back up to force the hydraulic fluid through the solenoid. He applied pressure to the ram and I actuated the solenoid so fluid could flow. More than five minutes later, he had it halfway up, but I could see he was fading. I took the lever and heaved against it. Another five minutes and it was up. The springs usually retracted the jack against this resistance in a matter of a few minutes.

Next we levered the foot down trying to center it below the ram. This is easier said than done. After a few failed attempts, we decided the plan was for me to lever the foot down, then he would use his bar to tap it in place under the ram. Success! It was 12:45pm and time to hit the road.

Right rear jack intact again

We arrived at Amana Colonies RV Park around 2:00 pm. This is a fairly large park at 76 acres. They advertise 75-foot long sites. The problem for us is, they put the power pedestal at the far rear of the site so it could be shared with another site behind. We didn’t have a good option for dropping the trailer – our power cord and sewer hose would have to extend all the way back past our trailer. They offered us a solution – for $10/day additional they would give us the two back to back sites essentially making it a 150-foot pull-through. We went for it.

Before I hooked up our fresh water supply, I opened up the sediment filter canister assuming it needed replacement after the well problems at Lazy Acres. I’ve never seen such crud in the sediment filter – it looked like sludge. Before I installed the new filter element, I rinsed the canister thoroughly. The bottom of the canister looked like it was full of the dregs from an espresso machine.

Old filter element on the left – new polypropylene filter on the right

Donna wanted to take a bike ride and see the area. After getting her bike out, I was feeling punky and laid back on the sofa. I didn’t rise for about 90 minutes and realized then that I was starting to feel really bad. My head was pounding, my sinuses we plugged and my right eyeball had a stabbing pain. My joints ached all over. I was lethargic. Strike three – water, jack and now I’m ill.

After her ride, Donna prepared leftover chicken stuffed with feta and spinach. I could hardly eat. This is only the second time I’ve been ill during our four years on the road. I chalk it up to a healthy environment with plenty of sunshine and fresh air. Being in a crowded office all day or flying around the country exposes you to who knows what.

Last night was rough. I went to bed at 8:15pm. I slept for four and half hours then woke up with a fever. I was alternating burning up or freezing cold. I had a time of it getting back to sleep. Sometime later, maybe 4am, my fever broke. I’m feeling better this morning but will avoid any strenuous activity today.

We plan to get out and see the sights today. The forecast calls for a high of 86 degrees. Tomorrow should be upper 70s with an 80% chance of rain. On Friday, we’ll hit the road again for parts currently unknown – it’s supposed to be cooler on Friday.

Back to South Dakota

We pulled out of the Broadus, Montana city park around 10am Sunday. Our route had us continue down US212 where we traversed the northeast corner of Wyoming before we reached South Dakota. We saw several antelope in the fields along the roadside this time – I expected to see them the day before but didn’t.

We drove through the town of Belle Fourche, South Dakota which has the distinction of being near the designated geographic center of the United States of America. This designation was  bestowed by the US Coast and Geodetic Survey in 1959 – after Alaska and Hawaii were admitted to the union. The geographic center of the 48 contiguous states is Lebanon, Kansas.

We drove through town on US 85 next to a truck pulling a fifth-wheel trailer which had a cargo trailer attached to it – you don’t see that very often! We turned southeast at SD34 while the trailer pulling a trailer went straight down US85. We hit I-90 at Whitewood west of Sturgis. A little while later, the trailer pulling a trailer passed us at about 70mph. He must have taken US85 due south and got on I-90 west of Spearfish. Ours was definitely the shorter, faster route.

We pulled into the Elks Lodge in Rapid City around 1:30pm. I parked in the front lot while we figured out how to set up. This is a very nice lodge – one of the largest and cleanest lodges we’ve visited. This is the first lodge we’ve been to where the bar is open to the public. This is due to the golf course on the lodge property which is also open to the public. The RV lot is for Elks members only.

We dropped the trailer in the main parking lot and backed the coach into site four. We have 50amp electric service and fresh water, no sewer hook up. We paid for four nights and shouldn’t have any worries about sewer. The 50 amp electric service was needed – we had to run the generator on the road to power the front roof air conditioner. Once hooked up, we ran both roof A/Cs – it was 100 degrees outside! The average high temperature in July for Rapid City is 85 degrees – we were in for a few days with highs above average.

We had a problem with one of the basement compartment doors over the last couple of days on the road. The door popped open a few times. I adjusted the plate the latch attaches to, but it still wasn’t very secure. On Monday, I found an Ace Hardware store and bought a flat brass bar one-inch wide. I had them cut a three-inch section. I glued this flat bar to the latch plate effectively extending the height of the plate. The door latches securely now and shouldn’t be a problem down the road. While I was out, I picked up a few groceries.

Meanwhile, Donna was out for a bike ride in the 90 degree heat. She planned a route looking at a map and headed out for a 24-mile ride. Little did she know her route included some steep climbs! She got through it though.

I went online Monday and found the local Department of Public Safety (DPS) licensing office. I found out they take appointments for driver’s license exams and renewals. Donna lost her driver’s license back in November in San Diego – she figures it must have slipped out of the slot in her purse when she pulled her cell phone out. I scheduled an appointment at the DPS office a few miles from the lodge for 10am Tuesday morning. They advise arriving 10 minutes prior to the appointment time.

We walked into the DPS office 12 minutes before 10am. They had a sign telling us to take a number after we completed the application paperwork. Donna had already completed the application so she took a number. Then I saw another sign telling us to notify a clerk if we had an appointment. Donna told a woman at the counter she had an appointment and gave her name. She was told that she would be next in line.

We sat down to wait and within two minutes Donna’s name was called. The woman at the counter entered Donna’s application in her computer terminal, took her photograph and printed her new driver’s license in less than ten minutes! I’ve never experienced such efficiency at a government agency.

We were back on the Spyder and on the road a couple of minutes past 10am. We headed up US16 and turned off at 16A. We were headed to Mount Rushmore. We visited the monument in 2013 when we first hit the road as full-timers (post).

Once we got through the tourist town of Keystone, we hit a traffic jam trying to enter the monument. There was a crew painting new road lettering and arrows and they had a lane closed. This confused the traffic as it was forced to converge into two lanes from three – the two lanes that are for entry to the monument. Through traffic had to go around the crew, then get out of the entry lane at the entrance and get back on the highway. We baked in the sun for 20 minutes trying to enter.

When we were here before, we paid the $10 fee to park and were planning to show our National Parks pass inside but there was no entrance fee. This time I showed my National Parks pass and was told the pass doesn’t do anything for me at the monument – everyone has to pay for a parking permit to enter the monument. So I paid $10 again. We walked through the monument viewing area. We both thought the famous sculptures looked like they had been cleaned since our last visit.

Donna in front of the state flags display

At the viewing pavillion

We didn’t stay long. We went back to Keystone for lunch at Peggy’s Cafe. We were disappointed in the food quality – not on our recommended list. I wanted to take the scenic drive down Needles Highway again but realized that would mean we had to fight our way through the traffic jam at the monument again.

I decided to ride the Spyder down 16A to SD87 and we could come up the Needles Highway from the bottom. This route took us through Custer State Park. At the park entrance there was a sign advising a fee for a park pass to use any of the parks facilities – through traffic on the highway didn’t need a pass. So I carried on without stopping.

At the turn-off to Needles Highway we were stopped and an agent told us we had to purchase a pass to enter the highway, even if we didn’t plan to stop. I didn’t recall paying anything four years ago when we drove down the highway. I paid $10 for a pass.

Needles Highway is very scenic – and it’s slow. The road is narrow and full of twists and turns. There are six tunnels – some a as narrow as eight feet seven inches. I don’t know how the tour buses which are eight feet six inches wide manage to get through, but they do.

I didn’t stop to take photos at the Cathedral Spires which are granite columns – needle like – towering along a section of road. I thought we would come back down the highway and I would get pictures then. We went all the way to Sylvan Lake before stopping to stretch our legs.

Sylvan Lake

We were hot and the route was longer than I anticipated. We didn’t have enough fuel to back-track down the highway. We cooled off in the shade and Donna even put her feet in the lake.

Donna cooling off in Sylvan Lake

We exited the highway at the top end and rode back to Rapid City. We had put in about 110 miles and spent four hours on the Spyder. We had enough sightseeing for one day – we were getting saddle sore.

We ended the day with grilled green chile turkey burgers cooked on the Weber Q for dinner and some leftover red potato salad.

Green chile turkey burger

I opened an IPA called Total Domination from Ninkasi Brewing in Eugene, Oregon.

Ninkasi Total Domination

We’re thinking about going to a barbeque and rodeo later today – it depends on the weather. For the last three days, a thunder shower developed in the late afternoon. Usually it blows through quickly but we had a considerable amount of rain along with high winds, thunder and lightning last night.

Tomorrow we’ll head east and probably make an overnight stop near Chamberlain before we check in for a week in Sioux Falls.

The Rude Crew

Life on the road isn’t always fun and games and sightseeing. We had a couple of reminders of this while we were staying in Winthrop. For one thing, sometimes things quit working or need maintenance – just like in a sticks-and-bricks home.

While we were in Winthrop, our toilet starting acting up. We have a Thetford Aria II electrically operated toilet. I can’t find an actual technical description or schematic of the operating system, but looking at the parts list, here’s how I think it works.

When you push the flush button it sends a signal to the control module (CM). The CM activates a solenoid that opens and allows water to flow through an impeller inside a plastic housing. At the same time, water is added to the toilet bowl. The impeller spins and operates a mechanism that opens the blade valve in the bottom of the bowl. The bowl empties and the first solenoid closes while a second solenoid opens, reversing the flow through the impeller and closing the valve. More water is added to the bowl and the flushing sequence is finished.

Last week, the toilet would add water to the bowl when the flush button was pressed, but it wouldn’t always open the blade valve. It took several presses before the toilet would actually flush. I tried to look at it while it operated and see what was going on, but the back of the toilet where the operating mechanism is was too close to the bathroom wall for me to be able to see. I saw a couple of drops of water come from somewhere in the back when a flush was attempted. I felt around and thought the water was coming from the impeller housing. I tried tightening the bolts on the housing, but I couldn’t get a wrench on all of the bolts.

So, I had to remove the toilet and turn it sideways to see what was going on. Of course I had to disconnect the water supply to do that so I couldn’t flush and observe. I tightened the impeller housing bolts and while I was at it, I decided to tighten the seat and lid mounts. To do this I had to reach inside the back and feel for the little lever on the plastic mounting nuts. In the process of doing this I felt something strange – the open end of a plastic hose. I put my head down on the floor and peered upward with a flashlight and found a hose had come off a plastic barb. This was my water leak and maybe it was impeding flow through the impeller.

I reconnected the hose and put everything back together. The toilet flushed fine and no leak! Job done! I don’t know how the hose came off, but if we have trouble again I know where to look.

Over the long holiday weekend, the Pine Near RV Park was overflowing with people. There were tents pitched all around and even people camping in regular vehicles. It wasn’t too bad during the day as most people were out and about. The evenings got a little noisy.

We enjoyed dining outdoors at the picnic table and watching the antics of some of the kids. Donna made a jerk marinade for shrimp which I grilled for Sunday night’s dinner. She served it with an orzo, spinach, tomato and feta salad with basil vinaigrette.

Shrimp with orzo salad

Park overflowing – the Bounder and tents on the right turned out to be a problem.

Sunday night a group of people about 100 feet away from us got rowdy. This group appeared to be friends and extended family with three generations together. They were housed in a Fleetwood Bounder Classic motorhome – which we assumed belonged to the grandparents – tents and a rental cabin. They had a number of little kids and young adults.

After dark the little kids were inside and a group of about a dozen thirty-somethings sat outside around a table where they were drinking and playing some kind of game. They were hooting and hollering and one of them would break out with loud, shrill laughter. A little before 11pm Donna went over and politely asked them if the could keep it down. They seemed okay.

But it didn’t end. If anything they got louder. After 1am, I’d had enough. I went over and asked them to stop the noisy partying. They were obviously intoxicated and told me they were camping and having fun. I told them they weren’t out camping in a secluded area, they were sitting in the middle of a hundred people trying to sleep. They told me if I didn’t like it, I should leave! They kept at it until well after 2am. I’ve never encountered such a thoughtless and rude crew in an RV park before.

Monday morning while we were preparing to hit the road, Donna had a conversation with Anna, the owner of Pine Near RV Park. She told Anna we enjoyed our week in the park until Sunday night. She said it was the worst night she’d ever had in an RV park in our entire four years on the road.

Anna said we should have called her – she keeps her cell phone on her nightstand and comes out when there’s a complaint. She lives onsite and she usually sleeps with her window open. But she was up the night before dealing with a loud group on the other end of the park and slept right through the noise we were complaining about.

Rude crew Bounder

If you see the Bounder pictured above in the RV park, you might want to consider staying somewhere else. I had to remind myself that these were not RV people. They were “camping out” in tents and rental cabins. They were clueless about RV etiquette and obviously had no sense at all. Anna said she would deal with them and apologized for the unacceptable behavior.

We pulled out of Winthrop before 10am – both of us feeling the effects of a near sleepless night. We avoided the traffic on WA20 by taking the Twisp – Winthrop Eastside Road. Our route took us down WA153 along the Methow River to Pateros where the Methow reaches the Columbia River.

From there we took US97 across the Columbia River to WA17 through Bridgeport onto WA174 past the Chief Joseph Dam and the Grand Coulee Dam and onto US2. This highway took us east and we stopped at a rest area east of Creston – one of the very few rest areas found on US2. We ate lunch at a picnic table at the rest area and met a guy touring on a motorcycle. He had ridden his Indian motorcycle from Allen Park, Michigan where he left a week before. He was headed for the coast.

When we got back on the road, I noticed something strange. My ScanGuage D was displaying erratic coolant temperature readings. As I accelerated out of the rest area, the reading shot up to 220 degrees – I doubted if this was a true reading as we had parked for at least 20 minutes I would have expected to see a temperature of around 170 degrees. An over-temp alarm sounded, then the temperature reading went down to 170. Then it jumped back up to 215, then 220 and an alarm sounded before it went back down to 180 and then it read normal temperatures between 180 and 190 for the rest of the way. I’ll have to inspect the wiring or maybe I have a sensor malfunctioning.

We made a stop for fuel after crossing into Idaho on I-90. While I was fueling up, Donna called the Coeur d’Alene Elks Lodge to see if they had an open site. They did. The camp host told her we should take exit 11 and come up Ramsey Road. The usual way is to take exit 12 and go up US95. He said US95 was a traffic snarl and coming in from Ramsey to the west was a better option. His route worked great. We dropped the trailer and backed into site 23.

Coeur d’Alene Elks site 23

Several rigs came in after us but there’s still a few open sites. In the evening, I saw on Facebook that my friend Gary Stemple is here. We plan to hook up this afternoon for a Fourth of July boat ride on the lake.

It was blissfully quiet all night and Donna and I woke up well-rested. She’s out on the bike trail taking a ride to Spokane and back this morning. Wherever you are, I hope you have safe and happy Independence Day!

Last Weekend on the West Side

Donna and Sini planned to go to a house concert on Saturday. House concerts are an interesting concept. The host opens their home for the performance and will usually offer local transportation and lodging for traveling musicians. People attending the concert bring food to share and, in this case, pay $20 each which goes to the performer. About 30 people attended the concert.

House concert

Charlie Imes performing

We used Alana’s car and drove down to Edmonds where we met Sini for lunch. We had lunch at Ono Authentic Hawaiian Poke. I had an episode that ruined lunch for me. I chronicled my battle with throat cancer in an earlier post and won’t rehash it here except to say I have permanent damage from radiation treatments. It left me with a chronically dry throat.

Sometimes when I swallow food, it becomes lodged in my esophagus. This was one of those times. I had a piece of fish caught in my throat. It was terrible. I excused myself and went outside the restaurant. It was painful and I knew there were only two possible outcomes – either the fish would continue to move down to my stomach or it would be expelled. After about 10 minutes of hiccuping, it moved on and I was able to finish my meal.

Donna’s plan was to go with Sini to the concert, then spend the night with Sini at her friend’s house. Sunday morning Sini was going to the Tulalip Casino with a friend at 11am and I met them there and then Donna and I made a stop at Best Buy where she bought a new laptop.

I wanted to watch the Moto GP race from Assen but my satellite reception failed in the night and the program didn’t record. Luckily there was an encore showing of the race at 1pm. I started packing the trailer, then took a break to watch a very interesting race. It was about 100 degrees in the trailer but I managed to get it 90% packed and figured I would finish up Monday morning when it would be cooler before we headed out.

We were invited to have dinner at LuAnn’s house at 6pm. LuAnn had spicy shrimp and crab legs as the main entree and a large selection of veggies from her garden to make salads.

Salad buffet spread

I brought along a bottle of IPA called Crikey from Reuben’s Brewery in the Ballard district of Seattle. I hadn’t tried this one before, but I liked the name. It wasn’t anything special, just a typical west coast IPA.

Crikey

We sat in the backyard until the mosquitos started biting – the sun doesn’t set until well after 9pm this far north at this time of year. Back at the coach, I watched the Formula One race from Azerbaijan which I had recorded during the afternoon.

Monday morning I finished packing the trailer and we headed out by 10am. It’s always a little sad to say goodbye, not knowing when we’ll be back to see my daughter and grandchildren again. We know we’ll be able to see Lainey when we return to San Diego in October – she’ll be there attending college at San Diego State University.

We went west on WA530 to the truck stop at Island Crossing. I wanted to top off the tank as I didn’t think we would have an opportunity to fill up until we were in the Spokane area. The fuel price was very reasonable at $2.49/gallon.

Then we drove east on WA 530 up to Darrington where WA530 hooks north to Rockport. At Rockport we hit WA20 – the North Cascades Highway. This highway snakes its way along the Skagit River up to Diablo and Ross Lakes. It’s one lane in each direction with lots of twists and turns and has become bumpy in many places. The North Cascades Highway closes in the winter – generally from mid-November to mid-May. They cannot keep the road clear of snow in the dead of winter. There are still some very big snowbanks along the road and lots of snow on the surrounding mountainsides.

Climbing up the west side of the Cascades, the terrain is rugged and heavily forested. Big, moss-covered fir trees dominate the terrain with blackberries and beds of ferns so thick you cannot see the ground on the forest floor. Once you cross over to the east side, the firs are replaced by pines and the forest opens up considerably.

We crossed Rainy Pass at an elevation of about 4,900 – we started out at 300 feet above sea level in Arlington. Then we dropped down a bit and climbed again over Washington Pass at 5.477 feet above sea level. At the summit, Donna noticed something in the driver’s side rearview mirror. She pointed it out to me and I saw we had a basement door open. I pulled over and found the rear compartment just ahead of the rear wheels had popped open. I keep my portable compressor and accessories in there. Everything looked to be intact – nothing spilled out onto the highway. I always check the doors and make sure they’re locked before we move. The latch was in the locked position, but something is worn and if I give the door a yank, it pops open. Hitting a bumpy section of road must have made it pop. It’s on my “to do” list now.

WA20 took us directly to Winthrop. There’s a four-way stop at Riverside Avenue which is the main drag through town. Going right keeps you on WA20. We wanted to go straight ahead up Bridge Street to Castle Avenue, but Bridge Street was closed for construction. We were directed to go left to the north side of town where we found the end of Castle Avenue and doubled back to the Pine Near RV Park.

Pine Near doesn’t have much in the way of amenities, but it has large pull-through grass sites and is located on a bluff overlooking downtown Winthrop. Winthrop has a population of about 400 people in town with about 2,000 permanent residents in the area. It’s a western themed tourist destination.

A few rain drops fell as I was setting up. The owner of the park, Anna, told me not to worry – it would pass quickly. She was right and the thermometer stayed at 89 degrees!

From Pine Near RV Park, I walked across Castle Avenue through the Shafer Museum – a collection of pioneer artifacts – and down a terraced boardwalk into town. Meanwhile Donna was working on an article – she has a few assignments to complete while we’re here.

Terraced boardwalk

As I walked through town, I found a new plaza called Confluence Park. It’s a small square with landscaping, paver stones and benches overlooking the confluence of the Chewuch and Methow Rivers.

View of the Chewuch joining the Methow River at Confluence Park

The park was dedicated last October – it wasn’t here when we stayed in Winthrop last summer. I made a stop for a cold one at Schoolhouse Brewery.

Pine Near RV Park – site 11

Last night I enjoyed an IPA from Elysian Brewery called Space Dust.

I had it with dinner in a pint glass Alana gave me as a Father’s Day present.

Around 9pm, I stepped outside and shot a photo of a pink sunset.

Pink sunset in Winthrop

This morning I walked down to the Rocking Horse Bakery across the street from the terraced boardwalk and picked up breakfast sandwiches for Donna and me. That’s one of the things we like about this RV park – everything is within walking distance, yet it’s still very quiet and has a country atmosphere.

Rocking Horse Bakery

We’re thinking about extending for an extra day here, but that will mean we have to move to another site. I don’t like making a move within a park – I have to secure everything just like I was going to head out on the road. We’ll see how it works out.

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.

The Land of Fruits and Nuts

It remained cloudy but the rain stopped falling Wednesday afternoon. Our friend and neighbor, Joe Milligan, lent me his golf cart so I could transport our grill, chairs and table down to the trailer which was parked near the clubhouse in the dry camping area. I straightened up the trailer and made it ready for travel. Meanwhile, Donna washed two loads of laundry in the Park of the Sierras laundry room.

They have a policy of no onboard laundry when you’re in the park. I’m told there is an issue with lint build-up in their septic system. I have a hard time believing this, but maybe their system is undersized for the number of hook-ups. I don’t know, but I’ve lived in three houses that were on septic systems and we did laundry daily. They have a separate waste water system for their laundry room and we abided by the rules.

For our final dinner in Coarsegold, Donna prepared fish with crispy tarragon bread crumbs, spinach and sweet onions with tilapia filets we had in the freezer.

I paired it with an IPA called Aurora Hoppyalis from Karl Strauss Brewery in San Diego.

As we prepared to leave Thursday morning, Ozark the cat did her disappearing act. She doesn’t like travel days and lately, when she knows we getting ready to hit the road, she hides. I don’t get too worried about it because pulling the bedroom slides in expands the space behind the slide if that’s where she’s hiding. If she’s behind the sofa, it moves with the slide so she’s okay there too. Once we stop and shut off the engine, she’ll come from her hiding place. She’s done this at fuel stops before and Donna puts her in her crate then. When we reach our destination, I won’t put the slides out until I know where Ozark the cat is. If she’s in the wrong place, she could be crushed by the movement of the powerful hydraulic slide.

We hooked up the trailer, loaded the Spyder and left around 10am. Our route took us back toward Fresno on CA41. About 14 miles down the road, we turned west on CA145 and followed it to Madera. This took us through large cattle ranches and pistachio groves. In Madera, we found CA99 and headed north through the San Joaquin Valley.

Most people think of California as the land of beaches and Hollywood or maybe the Sierra Nevada mountains and Lake Tahoe. But the central valley is mostly agricultural. It’s roughly centered in the state and lies slightly diagonal from north-northwest to south-southeast. The southern portion is called the San Joaquin Valley and the northern end is the Sacramento Valley.

This is mostly flat land in a valley that’s approximately 60 miles wide – bordered on the east by the Sierra Nevada foothills and on the west by the Coastal Range. The valley is about 450 miles long. It’s prime farming land and California is the main source in the USA for crops such as lettuce, grapes, tomatoes, sugar beets, peaches, asparagus, artichokes and avocado. California is nearly the exclusive source in the USA for almonds, apricots, walnuts, prunes, broccoli, pistachios, kiwifruit, dates, figs, olives and nectarines.

North of Madera, the pistachio groves gave way to almonds and walnuts. We stopped at a rest area near Turlock. Rest areas are few and far between on CA99 – this was the only one we saw between Fresno and Sacramento. The scarcity of rest areas made this one a popular stop.

Busy rest area near Turlock

Traffic was stop and go from Atwater to Stockton due to road work. Once we reached Sacramento, we followed the I-80 Business Loop across the American River to Exposition Boulevard. After one false turn, we found the Cal Expo RV Park at the end of Ethan Way.

This park is nothing fancy – it’s basically a gravel lot with hook-ups and not much in the way of amenities. We have a 50 amp full hook-up site that accommodates our length without dropping the trailer. The draw here is the location. We are a couple hundred yards away from the American River and the Jedediah Smith Memorial Trail runs right outside the park. This is a paved multi-use trail with no motorized traffic. At $40/night, it’s pricey for what it is, but we’ll spend four nights here giving Donna a chance to take some long bicycle rides in preparation for her ride across Iowa in late July and we’ll explore a bit. For comparison, in San Diego at Mission Bay, we paid a monthly rate of $925 – just under $30/day including utilities. In Coarsegold, our first week was $62 with a special discount for first-time visitors plus we paid $28 for electricity. After the first week, we paid a daily rate of $26 including electricity. Our total campground costs for May were $708 – just under $23/day.

Our site at Cal Expo

I lived a few miles from here when I was a kid – from second grade through fifth grade. Cal Expo is the site of the California State Fair and we always came here for the event. It might be fun to take a look at the old neighborhood.

Last night, Donna’s friend Lisa Montanaro drove down from Davis and they went out to dinner at Seasons 52. I stayed home and dialed in the satellite dish and had leftovers for dinner.

The weather forecast is calling for upper 80s and low 90s for the highs over the next five days with little chance of precipitation. The 50 amp service here will be useful – we’re sure to be running the air conditioners.