Monthly Archives: June 2018

A Thousand People in the Street

I hit a milestone this week – I’ve written more than 1,000 posts on this blog. Today’s post will be number 1,003. Little Deer Isle, where we’re currently based, is in a region of Maine known as Downeast. This name originated long ago – when ships sailed to Maine from the south they were sailing downwind and eastward. Sailors called this course Downeast.

Downeast Maine has numerous islands – some large, others small and uninhabited. It also has an extreme tidal swing. The difference between low tide and high tide is usually nine or 10 feet of water. I took the photo below in the morning at high tide in front of Roger’ and Georgia’s place on Little Deer Isle.

High tide

The next photo was shot from the same spot about six hours later at low tide.

Low tide

That’s a pretty big change. In Maine, the shoreline between the high and low tide levels are considered public land. Waterfront landowners cannot legally keep you out as long as you stay below the high tide mark.

The other thing that shifts drastically around here is the weather – more about that later. Yesterday, we borrowed Roger’s car and headed out to Mt. Desert Island (MDI). Due to all of the inlets, coves and whatnot, the route was circuitous. We first headed northeast through Blue Hill and Surry to Ellsworth. The traffic steadily built up as neared Ellsworth. From Ellsworth, we followed a caravan of cars south down route 3 to MDI and on to Bar Harbor.

Along the way, we passed several cafes and I was getting hungry. Donna and I decided we would wait until we reached the town of Bar Harbor to eat since we planned to take a walk through town anyway. It was sunny with mostly clear skies – a bit of haze over the ocean.

Traffic was a bumper-to-bumper in Bar Harbor.  Parking near the waterfront was impossible. The streets and sidewalks were filled with people – thousands of people. I found a place to park uptown a bit. We sat in the car for a few minutes watching people walking shoulder-to-shoulder on the sidewalk. We thought out loud, “What are we doing here? Why would we want to join that throng of people?”

It turned out that the cruise ship Norwegian Gem from the Norwegian Cruise Line was in the harbor. This ship is 965 feet long and has the capacity to carry 2,394 passengers along with 1,070 crew. That explained the thousands of people on the streets. It didn’t explain the number of cars filling all of the available parking though.

We decided to get out of town, but as we did, I missed the turn to route 233. I wanted to cut across 233 to Acadia National Park then on to Southwest Harbor. Our friends, Clarke and Elaine are work camping there. I say our friends, but I’ve actually only met them in person once – a few years ago in northern California. But I feel like I know them because I’ve been following Clarke’s blog for nearly six years.

We found ourselves on route 3 heading to the south east side of MDI. I was really wanting to stop for lunch and we finally made a stop at Northeast Harbor. Parking was easy and it was fairly quiet there. We had lunch at a cafe called Colonel’s. I had to have a lobster roll – it’s a Maine thing and I’ve never had one. It’s a toasted hot dog roll filled with chunks of lobster meat and mayonnaise. Good eats – but a lobster roll with fries set me back $19.

Donna and I talked about what to do for the rest of the afternoon. To get to Southwest Harbor from where we were would entail a drive north the length of Somes Sound, then back south on the west side of the sound. I knew Clarke and Elaine were off from their duties at Smuggler’s Den Campground on Tuesday and Wednesday and I figured they were probably out and about on such a fine day. As much as I would have liked to meet up with them, I really hadn’t made any arrangement to do so.

We decided to head back into Acadia National Park and go up Cadillac Mountain. First we made a stop near Thunder Hole where the ocean waves erupt like a geyser through a blowhole. I took about 20 steps from the car when I felt like lightning had struck my lower back and went to my right hip. I nearly fell over. Somehow I’d pinched a nerve and could barely walk back to the car. We didn’t make it to Thunder Hole but later we were told we didn’t miss much. With the calm seas, it wasn’t spouting much.

We continued on to Cadillac Mountain.The peak at Cadillac Mountain is 1,530 feet above sea level. It’s the highest point in Hancock County and offers spectacular views. I walked around the top of the mountain gingerly. The pain in my back and hip was sporadic. Nearly paralyzing with one step, then easily bearable a few steps later.

View of islands and ocean south of Cadillac Mountain

More islands and ocean to the south east

View of Bar Harbor to the northeast of Cadillac Mountain. The Cruise ship Norwegian Gem is in the harbor, center right

We made the 50-mile drive back and stopped first at Blue Hill to gas up the car, then at Strong Brewery for a cold one. It was a warm day – in the upper 70s all afternoon.

We had dinner with Georgia back on Little Deer Isle – she made a chicken dish and Donna made pecan rice – we bought that at Konriko in Louisiana. The temperature dropped quickly before sunset. I took it easy and had a cigar while I watched the sun go down. Donna and Georgia hung out inside chatting.

Rain moved in during the night. It’s been raining off and on all morning with some heavy squalls. This is forecast to continue all day and into the night. I don’t think the thermometer will reach 60 today. They say we’ll have sunny skies again tomorrow afternoon and a high in the upper 70s – I hope they’re right.


Buck’s Harbor and Castine

I smoked babyback ribs on Sunday and Roger’s neighbor Russ and his son Zack joined the four of us for dinner. Over dinner, Russ invited Donna and I to go out on his boat for a tour out to Buck’s Harbor on Monday. We enthusiastically accepted the invitation.

The weather here can be fickle. It rained Sunday night and we woke up to a cold, cloudy morning with a few rain drops and sustained 20mph winds with higher gusts. It felt like a wintry day in San Diego with a high temperature of about 60 degrees. The wind whipped the water and it was very choppy. This ruled out the boat tour for the day. Instead we had a low-key day hanging out – I mostly read my Kindle. Roger had to fly out of Portland early Tuesday morning to handle some business back in Albuquerque and he left around midnight to make the drive to the Portland airport. He drove his pickup truck and left us the keys to his Subaru Forrester – thanks, Roger! Georgia stayed here in their house, but she said she would not be going anywhere.

Sunset Monday evening

The sun sets slowly this far north. I can sit and watch the sky slowly turn to different shades of pastel colors for about an hour.

We had blue skies and warmer weather on Tuesday. Around 10:30am, Russ stopped by and asked if we were up for the boat ride. He had his little Boston Whaler docked at the float on the end of his pier. The little Whaler is a flat bottom 13-foot boat with a 40hp outboard motor. He has a larger Boston Whaler, a 21-foot V-hull, but he hasn’t put it in the water yet this year.

We cruised to the northwest end of Eggemoggin Reach to Buck’s Harbor. Buck’s Harbor is a protected cove off of Penobscot Bay. A heart shaped island called Harbor Island is at the mouth of the cove, making this harbor a great shelter from stormy weather.

Entering Buck’s Harbor – Harbor Island on the left, Buck’s Harbor Marina on the right

Anchorage in Buck’s Harbor – lobsterman’s tiny shed on a float in the harbor

We docked the boat at the yacht club and went ashore. We walked up to the Buck’s Harbor Market where Russ bought a sandwich while Donna and I looked around.

Russ and Donna at Buck’s Harbor Market

There are binoculars mounted on a metal post in front of the yacht club. I scanned the bay and watched the sailboats while Russ had his sandwich on the porch and Donna kept him company.

View of Buck’s Harbor from the yacht club

Russ steered the boat past the west side of Harbor Island into bigger water. It wasn’t as smooth of a ride as we had in the reach and harbor.

Another float with lobster pots stored in the harbor

We headed out to look for seals. We found them on Thrumcap Ledge – a small rocky island. The seals here are wary of humans and become skittish if you approach too closely. We kept our distance but a few of them dove into the water as we went by.

It’s hard to see, but there are seals on the rocks

From there, we came back toward the west end of Little Deer Island and cruised past the lighthouse on Pumpkin Island. This lighthouse is no longer used for navigation and is a privately owned home now.

Pumpkin Island lighthouse from the west

Lighthouse from the back side

We made our way back through the reach on the northside of Little Deer Isle. There are some beautiful waterfront properties along the way.

Waterfront home on LDI

Our coach is nestled in some trees facing the reach.

Can you spot our coach in the lower center? Our trailer is between the coach and house,

It was fun boat tour – thanks, Russ!

We had a quick lunch, then Donna and I headed out in Roger’s car. We drove to the town of Castine. It’s about 10 miles from where we are as the crow flies, but around here none of the roads will take you straight to your destination. The jagged coastline means most roads arc in loops around inlets. Our route took us north and west to Penobscot, then we headed south to Castine – about 25 miles and a 40-minute drive.

Castine, Maine is one of the oldest communities in North America – continuously occupied since the early 1600s. It was a settlement of France, Holland and England. It’s now the home of the Maine Maritime Academy, established in 1941. The Maine Maritime Academy is a public college of engineering and one of six maritime training colleges in the USA – around 900 students are enrolled.

We walked through the waterfront and around the old downtown district. A sailing ship came into the dock while we were there. It was the Guildive – a 56-foot vintage wooden yacht that’s now an excursion boat that takes up to six passengers out for two-hour cruises .


We drove to the southwest point of Castine where the Dyce Head Lighthouse is located. This is an active navigation point that was built in 1828. The town of Castine owns the property, but they rent the home out at the lighthouse. We aren’t sure if the tenants are lighthouse groundskeepers or not, but it is a private residence.

Dyce Head lighthouse

Last evening, we joined Georgia on the patio for hors d’oeuvres and a drink. I grilled green chile turkey burgers that Donna made up for our dinner and we all had a small bowl of fish chowder we picked up on our outing. It was a pleasant way to end a great day.

Today we expect the temperature to reach the low 70s. We plan to drive over to Bar Harbor on Mount Desert Island – the locals pronounce it dessert like a post meal goody, not desert like it’s spelled. Although Bar Harbor is about 20 miles due east of us as the crow flies, we’re not crows and will have to follow another looping route to get there – about 48 miles and over an hour’s drive. The forecast calls for a 100% chance of rain tomorrow, so we haven’t made any further plans.

The Real Maine Thing

We enjoyed our week at Donna’s parents’ place in Bennington, Vermont. I was able to complete a couple of projects while we were there and also enjoy time with family. We pulled out on Thursday around 10am. We went east across the state on route 9 through Brattleboro into New Hampshire. Route 9 took us through Keene and on to Concord where we picked up US202/4. The terrain was hilly with short, steep climbs and descents.

When we crossed the southern tier of New York, it was rural with small towns – some of them thriving on tourism, especially in the Finger Lakes wine country while other small towns showed economic struggle. In between was mostly farm land. Vermont and New Hampshire were more of the same but instead of farm land, the small towns are separated by heavily forested hills. It was mostly pleasant scenery to drive through. We paid one toll in New Hampshire – I think it was three dollars. On the toll roads, the rest areas are plazas with a food court, fuel stations and some shopping. We stopped for a late lunch at a plaza before we left New Hampshire – it also had a large discount liquor store.

We entered Maine at Kittery, east of Portsmouth and made our way up I-95 to Scarborough. This was another toll road and I paid $10.50 on this leg. We stopped at Cabela’s in Scarborough. I was dismayed to see signs warning that local ordinance prohibits overnight parking. We pulled to the end of the lot and parked near a Dutch Star motorhome that had the bedroom slide out.
Their door was open so I walked over to say hello and see what the deal was. The couple in the coach told me they were full-timers and had been on the road for five years – just like us. They were originally from Scarborough and returned every year. They said the city tries to make noise about overnight parking, but Cabela’s didn’t care and they had never been hassled in this parking lot.

We set up for the night. Donna had been in touch with our friend Kris Downey who was in the area visiting kids and they got together to walk a portion of the Eastern Trail. Then Donna and I walked over to Famous Dave’s for a cold one and then across the parking lot to a Thai restaurant where we got takeout. By the time we returned to the coach there were five other RVs in the lot.

We used the Cabela’s dump station before we hit the road Friday morning. There was a sign advising a $5 dump fee would be charged in the future, but for now it was free. We drove up I-295 and stopped for fuel in Gardiner. We paid another toll of $4, bringing our total toll-road fee to $17.50. Near Augusta, we left the Interstate and followed Route 3 to Belfast. The road was freshly paved and very smooth. Past Bucksport, we turned on route 175 and found the road surface to be terrible. It was bumpy and had potholes. It was slow going.

Our destination was Roger Eaton’s property on Little Deer Isle. We met Roger in Albuquerque – he owns a summer residence on the island right on the waterfront. Donna was texting back and forth with Roger while I drove. He mentioned something about crossing the bridge over Eggemoggin Reach to the island being a bit of a challenge.

Suspension bridge to Little Deer Isle

It was a steep climb up the narrow lane on the bridge, but it wasn’t too bad. The next challenge was entering the private road to Roger’s place. It had brick monuments at the sides of the entry, trees and low branches.

Narrow entry to Roger’s place

We made it in without scraping anything other than a few small tree branches. Getting the coach positioned on his property was much harder than I anticipated. I ended up
dropping the trailer in a temporary location, then struggled to get the coach in place between two stumps on the left and bushes and trees on the right. Once we had it in place, we found the 30-amp pedestal didn’t work. Roger called his cousin’s son and he came out with another guy and rewired the pedestal in a matter of minutes. We were in business! I repositioned the trailer with Roger’s pickup truck.

After settling in, we joined Roger and his wife Georgia along with their neighbor, Russ and his friend Darelynne for happy hour on the porch. We weren’t expecting dinner, but Georgia had prepared a chicken with mashed potatoes and gravy, stuffing, roasted carrots and cornbread!

View of bridge from Russ’ pier

Roger’s sailboat

Our windshield view of Eggemoggin Reach

Sunset over Penobscot Bay

On Saturday morning, we joined Roger and Georgia for a drive up to Blue Hill for the farmers’ market. Donna bought a few things while I enjoyed the bluegrass band. They did an excellent
rendition of the Byrds’ Mr. Spaceman.

Farmers’ market band

Later Donna and I rode the Spyder over the causeway to the next island – Deer Isle. Of course Deer Isle is larger area-wise than Little Deer Isle. We rode down to Stonington on the southern tip of the island. Stonington is the largest lobster port in Maine. The town only has about 1,100 residents, but more lobsters are landed there than anywhere else in Maine.

Lots of fishing boats and lobstermen in Stonington

On Saturday evening, we were in for a treat. Roger bought four lobsters that were about a pound and a half each. He boiled the lobsters over a wood fire in the yard while
Georgia prepared baby red potatoes and corn on the cob. It was a feast fit for a king!

Home cooked lobstah – the real Maine thing

I paired the lobstah with barrel-aged old ale I bought a few months ago in Tombstone

While we were in Blue Hill yesterday, I bought two racks of babyback ribs. I prepared them this morning and I plan to smoke them Memphis-style this afternoon on the Traeger wood pellet-fired grill.

Please excuse any formatting errors in this post. Our Internet connectivity is spotty and I’ve been working for a couple of hours to put this post up. I also had to reduce the photo quality to a smaller file size.

All Work, No Play

We’ve been enjoying our stay with Donna’s parents near Old Bennington, Vermont. That’s not to say we haven’t had to handle a few projects – I’ll get to that in a moment. We’re parked on their property with a view of Mount Anthony from our door step.

View of Mount Anthony from our door step on the Connor’s property

Before we came here, I needed to replace our bank of four 6-volt house batteries. I ordered four Lifeline AGM batteries on Tuesday, June 5th, in Watkins Glen. I was told by the seller, Powerstride Sales, that I would have the batteries by the end of the week. Well, that didn’t happen and we had to change the shipping address to Donna’s parents’ house. I was told they would arrive there by Thursday, the 14th. At that time, I was in Binghamton fixing the overheating issue, so it didn’t really matter when they didn’t show up. I tracked them and they were in the Estes Distribution Center in nearby Glenmont, NY just outside of Albany. I figured they would be out for delivery on Friday.

When I arrived Friday night, they hadn’t showed up. On Saturday, I received an e-mail from Estes telling me that since the shipment was going to a residential address, they needed to set an appointment time to be sure I was there to receive it. It went on to say they would contact me in one or two business days to set the appointment! They were closed on the weekend, so I couldn’t do anything until Monday.

I rode the Spyder to Bennington Saturday and bought a brisket at Price Chopper. This grocery store had butchers in the meat department. I asked the butcher if he had a brisket flat that was about five pounds. He said he thought so and went into the back. A few minutes later, he came out and put a hunk of flat (HOF) on the scale – 4.97 lbs! How’s that for close to five pounds!

I set up the Traeger wood pellet fired smoker grill next to the garage. On Sunday morning at 5:30am, I had the HOF on the grill smoking. I smoked it for two hours before I raised the temperature setting to 200 degrees for the next four hours. I spritzed it with a spray bottle filled with a can of beer, two ounces of apple cider vinegar and two tablespoons of Worcestershire sauce every hour. When the internal temperature of the HOF held at 160 degrees, I wrapped it in foil and put it back on the grill.

A couple of hours later, it was at an internal temperature of 198 degrees so I took it off the grill. I left it tightly wrapped in the foil, wrapped two towels around it and stuffed it into the microwave oven. Keeping it insulated in a tightly confined space held the heat and the meat continued to cook as it slowly cooled. A few hours later it was ready to serve. It came out tender. I think it could have been juicier, but it was good.

Donna’s sister Linda and her husband Tommy came over. The six of us plus Tommy and Linda’s grandson Michael dined al fresco. It was great way to celebrate Father’s Day.

I know it looks like a charred piece of meat, but it’s tender smoked brisket hunk of flat

On Monday morning, I called Estes Freight. They had the batteries in Glenmont. I arranged to pick up the batteries there at 12:30pm. Tommy offered to drive me there in his truck to retrieve them. The woman I talked to said they would be ready at the loading dock.

When we arrived, I checked in at the dispatch desk. The guy told me it would take a few minutes and he told me where they would load the shipment. Tommy and I waited outside by the loading ramp. And waited. About 20 minutes later, a guy came out and said they had to move a trailer that the batteries were in, then he could bring them out on a forklift, but it would take a few more minutes before he could do that. Meanwhile Tommy and I watched the way they moved trailers around the distribution center with a specially equipped truck.

The truck was designed to quickly connect and disconnect from the trailers. It had a rear entry that allowed the driver to step out on the rear deck to connect the air lines. The coupler plate was hydraulically actuated so he could raise the front of the trailer, bringing the front jacks off the ground. Once he moved the trailer to the dock or wherever, he lowered the coupler plate until the trailer rested on the jacks and quickly disconnected and drove away to the next move.

Our wait of a few minutes turned into nearly 40 minutes, but the guy finally came out with 300 pounds of batteries on the forklift and gently lowered the skid into the back of Tommy’s truck and we were on our way.

I got started on the battery change around 2:30pm. First I had to pull the old wet cell lead-acid batteries. These are heavy.

Old battery bank – the house batteries are the ones with the black tops – the blue batteries are the chassis batteries for starting the motor

The new batteries weighed 66 pounds each. I took them off the shipping skid one at a time and then removed them from the shipping box and put them straight into the battery bay. Luckily, the new Lifeline batteries came with handles secured to the battery top with rope. This helped, but getting them into the bay involved bending over and extending my arms with the 66-pound load. Whew!

Lifeline AGM battery with lifting handles

The new batteries are AGM technology – advanced Absorbed Glass Mat. They don’t require any maintenance – no more adding distilled water and no more cleaning with baking soda as the acid accumulates on the batteries.

I also had ordered new 1/0 wire gauge foot-long cables with 5/16″ ring connectors to link the batteries. The bank is made up by wiring two batteries in series. This makes them into a 12-volt battery – it sums the voltage while the amp-hour rating remains at 220. With two sets of batteries wired in series, they are then joined in a parallel circuit. This keeps the voltage at 12-volts but it sums the amp-hour rating. Now I had a 12-volt battery bank with 440 amp-hours.

New battery bank

I was feverishly working to beat a thunderstorm that was coming. Once I had everything wired together, I double checked the connections. Then I went to start the generator to charge the batteries. No go. The generator wouldn’t crank and the start button LED began flashing. It would flash three times, then pause and flash three times again. Code three. There are three basic or first level codes. One flash means overheat. Two flashes means low oil pressure. Three flashes for all other faults – not much to go on there. By momentarily pressing the stop button, you can read the advanced or second level code. Now it flashed four times, paused and flashed six times. Code 46. This means low voltage at the generator.

I went back to the battery bank and started checking my connections again. By then the storm hit, but I was determined to solve the problem and got soaked over the next hour. Eventually I found that two ring connectors on the 2/0 gauge positive leads to the inverter and generator were corroded and had excessive voltage drop – I didn’t replace these longer cables when I changed the batteries. I figured removing the connectors from the old battery and installing them on the new had disturbed the internal bond between the cable and connector. I needed to cut the cable which is made of hundreds if not thousands of strands of copper covered with a heavy plastic insulator. Once I cut the cable back, I would expose clean copper and I could crimp a new ring connector on. The problem was, I didn’t have anything to cleanly cut the cable or crimp such a heavy connector. Now we were in worse shape than before – I couldn’t even run the generator!

2/0 ring connector – a quarter is in the photo for size comparison

On Tuesday morning, I went to Tractor Supply and bought an 18-inch bolt cutter, perfect for cutting the heavy cables. The bolt cutter also had a dimpled stop behind the pivot that I could use to crimp the ring connector. The heavy copper ring connectors were really stiff and hard to crimp. Once I had that done on the cables in question, the generator fired up and the Xantrex Freedom 458 inverter began charging the battery bank. I had to change the three-stage charging profile to match the AGM batteries. The Xantrex has four charging programs – one for standard wet cell batteries, two for gel type batteries and the fourth was for AGM. There are small differences in each charging profile that optimize the charge.

After a few hours, the batteries were good to go. We had good 12-volt power and the inverter was providing steady 120-volt AC power. I felt pretty good about it.

Later that evening, Donna and I were sitting the living room talking when we heard a whoosh and what sounded to me like ice cubes hitting the floor. It was water gushing from the fresh water supply to the toilet! I jumped up and shut down the water pump as Donna threw towels on the floor and began sopping the water up.

I found the water supply cut-off valve had failed. It’s a plastic 90-degree elbow with a quarter turn valve in it. The plastic separated at the valve and it blew apart! Well, now we had electricity but no water. I had a stiff drink and went to bed.

This morning, I rode the Spyder to Home Depot in Bennington and searched their PEX plumbing hardware. I couldn’t find the replacement shut-off valve, but I found a brass 90-degree elbow with 1/2″ PEX fittings on both ends. This would do. It was an easy fix and all is good now. PEX is really easy to work with.

We met up with Donna’s parents, Duke and Lorraine, and Tommy and Linda at TJ’s Fish Fry for lunch. We sat together and enjoyed the meal. Tomorrow we’ll pull out and continue our trek to Maine. I think we’ll make it to Cabela’s in Scarborough, Maine and spend the night there.

I’ll close this post with a picture of the front of the Father’s Day card from my mother-in-law, Lorraine.


Roadside Assistance

I closed my last post saying we were waiting for Coach-Net Roadside Assistance to send a tow truck Wednesday morning. They were on top of it – they called me to first say they had found a qualified shop for the repair. Later they called and told me a tow truck was dispatched and should arrive in about 90 minutes. Actually two trucks were coming – one for the coach and one for the trailer.

The tow truck driver phoned and said he was delayed slightly and would be about 30 minutes late. They showed up and set to work. First I had to unhook the trailer, then I needed to get the coach turned around. The road had curves coming from both directions, so they stationed their trucks with emergency lights flashing in the road, blocking traffic from either direction while I turned us around.

The tow truck for the coach was a big heavy-duty Peterbilt. Once they had the front wheels secured in the cradles and lifted to the coach, they had to get underneath to disconnect the drive shaft. You can’t tow with the rear wheels down with the shaft connected. If you do, the transmission output shaft will spin but it won’t be lubricated because the pump works off of the input shaft which only turns when the engine is running.

On the tow truck – the guys are disconnecting the drive shaft

It was a long, slow ride to Binghamton. We retraced our route for several miles, then got on I-81. Traveling on highway 206, we came down some of the grades we climbed the day before. I rode with the driver in the big tow truck while Donna rode in the pickup truck towing our trailer.  Ozark the cat stayed in the coach in her crate. Later, I told Donna she was lucky to ride in the comfort of the pickup truck. The Peterbilt tow truck rode rough and the big Caterpillar engine was so noisy, it was hard to carry on any conversation. The jake brake on that thing rattled my eardrums.

The nice thing about roadside assistance is they find the provider and pay for the tow. This was a very expensive tow since we were so far out in the countryside. I won’t complain about paying the annual Coach-Net membership fee – they covered the bill to the tune of $1900. It was $1300 for the coach and $600 for the trailer!

Coach-Net determines who the nearest qualified shop is and that’s where they take you. If you want to go somewhere else, get your wallet out. They took us to Stadium International in Binghamton. I went inside and met Dave, our service guy. It didn’t go too well. Right off the bat, he said he couldn’t look at our coach until Friday, possibly Thursday. He advised me to rent a car and find a hotel. Not what I wanted to hear. The bad thing about roadside assistance is they choose the nearest qualified shop!

After a while I talked to another guy, Richard. He runs the night shift – they’re open until midnight. He agreed to order the hydraulic oil filters – I asked if they could change those first as it may solve the problem and it’s not a difficult or time-consuming task.

Donna found us a room at the Red Roof Inn. One of the go-fers from the shop drove her there with Ozark the cat and all of the stuff we thought we would need for the next few days. I followed on the Spyder. At the hotel, we met an interesting bunch of guys that had been staying there Monday through Friday for the last five years! They’re part of a construction crew working on the interstate bridge project and have a couple more years to go before completion.

The shop got the filters and they set about changing them Thursday morning. The mechanic was unfamiliar with the system and I had to tell him where the filters are located – they’re in the bottom of the fluid reservoir.

After filter change, I was out of luck. The fan still didn’t operate correctly. The service guy, Dave, said they could diagnose further, but he wouldn’t be able to get to it until next Tuesday! I explained to him that if we needed parts, such as a hydraulic motor for the fan, they were difficult to find. I found a place in England called White House Products, LTD that had seven units in stock. For a fee, they could have them here in three business days. That meant that if we had to wait until Tuesday to see if that’s what I needed, it would be a full week before we had our hands on the part. He said I could take it up with Jim. I asked who Jim was and he said he was the manager.

I had a short meeting with Jim. He was non-committal, but said he would see what he could work out. I left before noon. Later I rode the Spyder back to the shop – I had forgotten my blood pressure meds. Jim told me they found the problem. He said the thermostat for the fan located in the radiator was bad and he didn’t think he could find one. I knew what he was talking about – I told him it was called a wax valve and I thought I might be able to find one online.

The wax valve in this system controls the fan speed without the use of electronic controls. It’s strictly a mechanical system and usually very reliable. The hydraulic fluid flows through an orifice in the wax valve. There’s a tapered rod with a piston on the end inside the valve – shaped somewhat like a nail with a thick head. The piston resides in a cylinder filled with wax in a closed chamber. A spring on the opposite side forces the piston against the wax. In this position, the orifice is open and fluid bypasses the fan motor through the wax valve.

When the wax  valve is heated by the coolant, the wax begins to melt and expand. It pushes the piston forcing the tapered needle into the orifice.   As the orifice becomes restricted, it bypasses less and more fluid flows through the fan motor and it speeds up. When the orifice is completely closed, the fan is running at high speed.

Around 2005 or 2006, most motorhome manufacturers went away from this simple and usually reliable system and went to an electrical/mechanical valve with an electronic controller. These have proven to be troublesome.

Back to my story. I searched online and found the wax valve was back ordered at White House Products, LTD. They had 55 units coming, but couldn’t say for sure when they would have them. I contacted another place in Oregon called Source Engineering. They sell a kit for Monaco  coaches to retrofit the newer electronic system back to the wax valve system when it inevitably fails. He had kits and told me he could probably supply a valve in a week or two. His recommendation was to disconnect the hydraulic lines from the valve and cap them, stopping all bypass flow and the fan would run on high speed continuously.

I knew this would work, but I wondered if we would run too cool on level roads when the load wasn’t very high. Of course the coolant thermostat wouldn’t open until the coolant hit 180 degrees, so theoretically we should run at least 180 degrees which is acceptable.

I relayed this information to Jim at Stadium International. He agreed that capping the lines would work. He said that was how they determined for sure the wax valve was bad – they capped the lines temporarily and the fan ran at high speed. He used brass fittings for this and said if he was going to send me down the road with a makeshift repair, he had to find stainless steel fittings because he didn’t think the brass would hold up. I asked him to go ahead and he said he would have it done by noon.

Meanwhile, Donna’s sister had to go to Albany for a meeting on Thursday. She offered to drive down to Binghamton and take her to Bennington, Vermont to their parents’ house. We were thinking at that time that we were looking at a full week or more in the hotel room. I figured there was no need for us both to share that misery. But then, it looked like I could be on the road Friday afternoon. This left me with a logistical problem. I had more stuff in the hotel room than I could transport on the Spyder.

I talked to the hotel owner and settled on a late checkout time of 2pm. I figured I would take what I could on the Spyder and once the coach was ready, drive it back to the hotel to load Ozark the cat and her litter box along with my suitcase.

It turned out the coach wasn’t done at noon. They had trouble finding the fittings needed, but they had them around 12:30pm and were working on it. Dave helped me solve the hotel dilemma. He had their go-fer drive me to the hotel in their parts van and I loaded everything from the room right at 2pm and he drove me back.

They had finished the work by then. I had already loaded the Spyder in the trailer and transferred the stuff from the van. Dave told me I should take the coach for a test drive while he finished the paperwork. I knew it would be fine – the fan kicked in at high speed as soon as I started it up. I drove it and the coolant temperature hit 182 degrees and held. There were no leaks. I was good to go.

I headed out around 3pm. The traffic wasn’t bad but the road surface on I-88 in New York is atrocious. When I hit Albany, the traffic thickened. Going through Troy was bumper-to-bumper misery. The coolant temperature stayed cool the whole way. On a long grade near Central Bridge, it only went up to 184 degrees. It was a cool day, but I think even on a hot day, I won’t see over 190 degrees. As soon as I can, I’ll get a new wax valve and complete the repair myself.

I pulled into the yard at Donna’s parents house around 7pm. I was exhausted. Her parents, Duke and Lorraine, have three acres just outside of Old Bennington, Vermont. We’ll moochdock in their yard. I have to change out our house batteries here, but that’s a story for another time.



Good Times…Bad Times

Donna and I rode the Spyder into town on Monday. We parked by the Department of Public Safety across from Watkins Glen State Park. Everyone told us we had to hike the Gorge Trail there.

The Gorge at Watkins Glen State Park was created through erosion of the mostly soft shale stone. There are some areas of harder limestone and sandstone, but the geology is mostly shale. Glen Creek cut the shale and formed the 400-foot deep gorge. The gorge is narrow and the trail takes you along the creek. This is the famous Gorge Trail. We hiked it from bottom to top and back – the bottom entrance is right in the village while the top entrance is in a forested area. You can hike it either direction. There are more than 800 steps made up of stone stairways on the trail.

The trail crosses the creek at a few points

There are 19 waterfalls along the trail

The trail runs underneath and behind the cascading waterfall here

Abstract view looking up from behind the waterfall

Water seeps through the shale along the trail – here it made a cut in the wall of the gorge

Pools formed in areas of harder rock – also the vegetation varies from sun-loving plants on the north side and shade-loving plants along the south wall

Stone staircase

And more steps going up

A deep pool

We came back on another trail – the Indian Trail along the north rim. Then we crossed over to the south rim on a pedestrian suspension bridge and went down Couch’s Staircase to take us back to the lower entrance. Water seeps through the shale at many areas. The trail is wet with standing water along the way. Good shoes are a must and plan to get spray in a couple of places.

View of the entrance from the top of Couch’s Staircase

Me and Donna at the bottom of Couch’s Staircase

We had hiked for about an hour and a half. There are other trails and you can certainly walk a lot longer, but we had enough. I knew my legs would feel all of the stair climbing.

Donna took the kayak out for one more run before we started packing the trailer in the afternoon. On Sunday, she had made beans and greens with the beet greens she bought at the farmers’ market and crabcakes with the lump blue crab meat she bought in Abbeville, Louisiana. On Monday night, she served the leftover crabcakes on a toasted ciabatta roll with tartar sauce.

Beans and greens with crabcake

That was the good time. We pulled out of Watkins Glen around 10:45am Tuesday morning.

We weren’t in much of a hurry. We only planned to go as far as Cobleskill and spend the night at the Elks Lodge there. Coming out of Watkins Glen on highway 79, we immediately pulled up a long, steep grade to the village of Burdett. Our coolant temperature ran up to 200 degrees on the climb. It’s not unusual to see temperatures of 195-200 on a hard climb. What was unusual was how long it took to cool back to a more normal operating temperature.

Soon I found the temperature climbing alarmingly on some of the grades. The Finger Lakes region is very hilly. It got progressively worse as we went. FInally, on one grade, I had to pull onto the shoulder and stop to let the engine cool. I checked the coolant level and radiator but didn’t see anything out of sorts.

I began to think maybe we had a stuck thermostat that was restricting the flow of coolant. We limped our way up the grades moving slowly on the shoulder of the highway to avoid overheating.

We were in the rural southern tier of New York. I managed to find a truck repair shop off the beaten path. I was concerned about turning down the street the GPS showed as the location – it was a narrow farm road. I called the shop on the phone and they told me I was on the right street and I could get turned around at their place.

It turned out be a small shop where the proprietor mostly worked on farm equipment. After checking things over, he told me my radiator fan was the problem. After shutting the engine off, the fan didn’t run when I restarted the engine. He crawled underneath and gave the fan blades a push. The fan started running, but I was pretty sure it was running too slowly. He pinched off the bypass line to see if fluid was bypassing the motor – it wasn’t.

The fan is turned by a hydraulic motor. A hydraulic pump on the engine forces fluid through the turbine of the hydraulic motor, spinning the fan blades. He thought the problem was either the pump or the motor. I didn’t think it was the pump. The pump provides hydraulic pressure for three lines –  the fan motor, the power steering and the ABS brakes. I didn’t have any trouble with the steering or brakes, only the fan.

Each of the three systems supplied by the hydraulic pump have a filter in the line. It’s possible the filter for the fan motor line is plugged or I have a bad fan motor.

After he got the fan turning, he thought we’d be okay to go. But if I shut off the engine I would probably have to go underneath and prod the fan to get it going again. We got back on the road.

We went east on Highway 206 through the village of Greene, New York. Then we climbed again and immediately overheated. The fan was turning too slowly. I limped along on the narrow shoulder – it wasn’t wide enough for the coach and there wasn’t any place where we could safely stop. Eventually we saw a sign for a roadside parking area. It turned out to be on the north side of the highway and was little more than a long turnout. It was 4pm by then.

We decided to sit tight and spend the night. A county Sheriff’s Deputy stopped next to us after a while. Donna talked to him and he said it was fine for us to stay overnight. This morning, we weighed our options. I started the engine and checked the fan – no go. It wasn’t turning and I had no reason to believe it would be any better than yesterday. We decided it was too dangerous to carry on.

We’re now waiting for Coach-Net to arrange a tow of our rig and trailer to Binghamton where there’s a truck repair shop. Yesterday was the bad time.


Grist Iron and Two Goats

On Friday afternoon, Donna and I rode the Spyder up highway 414 on the east side of Seneca Lake past several wineries. We stopped at Grist Iron Brewing for a cold one. This is a very nice brew pub in an awesome setting. They have a great view of the lake, large grounds and an inn with 14 rooms. Their brewmaster has to be one busy guy – they only have a 15-barrel system and half a dozen fermenters. Four of the fermenters are 30-barrel, so they can ferment double batches. Even a double batch only results in 50 kegs of beer or so. Their beer is sold at some of the restaurants and bars in the area, so that’s not a lot of volume to meet demand.

Restroom signage at Grist Iron Brewing

Their property is located on the east side of the highway but it still gives a nice view of the lake

Pond and lake view from Grist Iron Brewing

We chatted with one of the bartenders for a while, then we rode a few miles up the road to Two Goats Brewing. This brewery is on the west side of the highway. Their brew system is only half the size of Grist Iron – 7.5 barrels. Somehow they manage to keep six to eight different beer styles on tap. The view from the deck behind their small pub is grapevines and Seneca Lake.

View from the deck at Two Goats Brewing

Looking across the vineyards at the lake reminded me of terraced vineyards in the Cinque Terre region of Italy, overlooking the Ligurian Sea.

On the ride back to Watkins Glen, I pulled over and shot a photo of Hector Falls – it’s right next to the highway.

Hector Falls

We rode into town to the farmers’ market at Lafayette Park. It’s too early in the season though – there were only half a dozen booths there. Donna bought beet greens there – she’s planning to make beans and greens with crab cakes for dinner tonight.

On Saturday, the water looked calm, so Donna got the Sea Eagle kayak out of the trailer. She’s become proficient at setting it up and putting the cart together to get it to the water. She took it to the canal and paddled up the Barge Canal to Glen Creek. I stayed back at the coach and watched the qualifying for the Formula One Grand Prix of Canada.

For dinner, Donna rubbed skin-on bone-in chicken thighs with a mixture of olive oil and chopped garlic, rosemary, basil, and thyme and I grilled them in the evening. I have to say, they came out darn near perfect. The skin was crispy and the meat tender and moist at an internal temperature of 165 degrees – I used an instant read meat thermometer.

This morning Donna is out for a quick spin on her bike. Later, her old college roommate, Kathy Romans Shay, is coming down from Canandaiga with her daughters. They plan to go out for brunch at the Stonecat Cafe. I’ll be watching the Formula One race.

Sunset over the south end of Seneca Lake

We’ve had nice weather with the temperature reaching the mid- to upper 70s the past couple of days. When clouds block the sun, it sure feels cooler than that though. The forecast for the next couple of days calls for warm temperatures – near 80. We’ll pull out of Watkins Glen on Tuesday.


*Just so you know, if you follow one of my links to Amazon and decide to purchase anything, 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!

Historic Watkins Glen Raceway

Wednesday, our first full day in Watkins Glen, was a cold and dreary day. I didn’t do much besides read a book and research some supplies I’ll need next week for my battery project. The four Lifeline AGM batteries I ordered will be shipped to Donna’s parents’ house in Bennington, Vermont. I expect them to get there next Wednesday – we’ll be there by then. I’m also ordering some new cables and connectors.

It stopped raining in the afternoon, but remained cool. The high temperature for the day was 62, but with the wind and cloud cover, it felt colder. Trucks rumbled into the boat launch area all day. They were dumping soil and gravel and made a huge mound of dirt. In the late afternoon, Donna went for a hike on a portion of the Finger Lakes Trail that borders the Catharine Creek Marsh.

When she returned, she made a skillet meal. It was just the thing for a dreary day. Skillet recipes are usually fairly quick and easy – and don’t leave a lot of dirty dishes from preparation. It was a new recipe that she’s calling Quick Chicken Enchilada Skillet Casserole.

Skillet enchilada casserole

Dished out on a plate it was like a de-constructed enchilada.

Skillet chicken enchilada casserole plate

It was a hearty and nutritious meal. And it took less than 25 minutes to prepare and cook.

On Thursday morning, we were greeted with sunshine and the promise of a warmer day. Trucks continued to rumble past the campground, but I noticed now they were being filled with dirt from the huge mound near the boat launch. There was a large loader with a giant bucket filling truckload after truckload. I went over there and asked one of the drivers waiting in line to be filled what was up. They’re delivering the dirt to a construction site in town. The wet weather on Tuesday and Wednesday interrupted the delivery – one of the roads they have to traverse was too soft for the load. So, they dumped everything here and now they’re shuttling it to the construction site.

Donna went out for a ride on her knock-around bike. I call it a knock-around because it’s an inexpensive mountain bike hybrid that she bought from a guy at Viewpoint in Mesa, Arizona for $25. I lubed it and made a few adjustments after she bought it and it rides fine – but it’s much slower and heavier than her road bike or my Specialized mountain bike.

She rode out the Catharine Valley Trail and found She-Qua-Ga Falls in the neighboring village of Montour Falls.

She-Qua-Ga Falls

She rode about 13 miles – a fair ride considering the bike she was riding.

Later I rode the Spyder out to Watkins Glen International Raceway. At the main gate, they let me in on the condition that I limit myself to one grandstand area and not go near the pits or infield. There was a car club at the track – they rented the track for the week and were doing laps.

Members of this car club are definitely not from the hoi polloi – they have money to burn.

Ferrari on track

Ford GT40 and a Mercedes coupe

’67 Shelby GT Mustang

This track is in one of the most beautiful settings imaginable. And there is so much history here. The US Formula One Grand Prix started here in 1961 and ran every year until 1980. The Can-Am and Trans-Am series raced here. Jimmy Clark, Dan Gurney, Bruce McLaren, Graham Hill, Jackie Stewart, Peter Revson – all of the greats from that era raced here.

Sadly, Francoise Cevert lost his life when he crashed at turn four during the Grand Prix on October 6, 1973 – my birthday. I was a 17-year-old Formula One fan at the time. We didn’t have TV coverage of Formula One back then – I would get the coverage through articles in Road & Track magazine weeks after the race. The articles were usually written by Rob Walker, a former team owner or Innes Ireland, a former Formula One driver who won the first US Grand Prix in 1961.

View from the grandstand looking back toward the village

Last evening, Donna finally got her birthday dinner. Traditionally we go out to eat at the restaurant of her choice on her birthday. This year we had to put it off for two reasons – inclement weather and the fact that all of the nicer restaurants in Frankfort, Kentucky – where we were at the time – are closed on Sunday. Her birthday fell on a Sunday.

Donna chose the Veraisons Restaurant at the Glenora Winery for her birthday dinner. It’s about 10 miles from the park and we rode the Spyder up to check out the winery before dinner.

View of a gazebo and vines overlooking Seneca Lake at Glenora Winery

Looking northeast from the winery gift shop – that’s the restaurant on the right

They had a nicely restored 1955 Chevrolet flat-bed truck in the parking lot. I don’t know if they just display it or use it around the winery. It didn’t have license plates, so I doubt it ever sees the highway.

1955 Chevy flat-bed

We dined on the deck at the back of the restaurant and enjoyed the spectacular view. Donna discovered she actually likes New York State cabernet sauvignon! Donna had the pappardelle and I had a pork chop. The presentation of both dishes included an edible flower. By the way, we noticed that Glenora Winery uses an image of the She-Qua-Ga Falls on their label.

Belated happy birthday to Donna

The weather was great yesterday with a high of 77 degrees and a few clouds. Today is forecast to be a copy of yesterday’s weather. We plan to check out a local brewery or two then hit the farmers’ market right down the road from us at Lafayette Park.

Meanwhile the loader at the boat launch is still filling dump trucks – the dirt mound is much smaller after filling truckload after truckload all day yesterday. I think they’ll finish the job today. That was a lot of dirt!

Battery Bummer

We took our time preparing to leave Erie, Pennsylvania. At the Elks Lodge, we only had an electrical hook-up, so I didn’t have much to deal with – just stow the power cord and Progressive Industries Electrical Management System box. We pulled out around 10:30am for a short run to Salamanca where we planned to spend the night at the Seneca Allegany Resort and Casino.

It was a fairly easy and uneventful drive east on I-86. This stretch of Interstate isn’t heavily traveled and traffic was very light. It was windy, but we mostly had a tail wind, so it wasn’t too hard to manage. The name of the town we were going to made me think of Breaking Bad – wasn’t Salamanca the name of Tuco’s uncle who communicated with a bell in the series?

We crossed into New York where I-86 is referred to as the Southern Tier Expressway. The Seneca Allegany Casino is on the south side of the Interstate at exit 20 near the Allegheny River. Notice the difference in the spelling – the Seneca Tribe uses Allegany while the settlers spelled it Allegheny. New York State breaks convention with the numbering of the exits on the Interstates here. In most states – every one I can think of actually – the number for the exits corresponds with the nearest mile marker. Not in New York. The exits are in numerical order regardless of mileage between the exits. For example, exit 20 on I-86 in New York is 62 miles from the Pennsylvania border where the mile markers begin.

About halfway there, we crossed a bridge over Chatauqua Lake. This made me think of Robert Pirsig’s book Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. He used that word when he described his foray into the metaphysics of quality. Donna and I have both read this bizarre fictionalized autobiography written in 1974.

The road was being re-paved at the entrance to the casino. There were traffic cones and a detour sign with an arrow that seemed to be randomly pointing to the right shoulder. I stopped and tried to decipher where I was supposed to enter the casino – I was afraid of being directed to the parking garage which we wouldn’t be able to enter. I saw a way out if we needed it, so I proceeded. The tour bus behind us followed me. I was a little concerned about cutting across the freshly laid asphalt at the entrance, but a worker there waved me through when he saw me hesitate.

We found bus and RV parking at the far east end of the lot. There are long parking stalls marked there, well away from the casino. The pavement had a slope to it, but it wasn’t too bad. We put the slides out and settled in quickly.

We didn’t want to visit the casino – just wanted to break up the drive to Watkins Glen and average our overnight costs down by staying for free. But free parking isn’t really free. For us, there is always some generator run time to factor in. Our Onan 7.5kW generator burns about half a gallon of diesel fuel per hour, so it’s not too expensive. When boondocking I usually run it in the morning and in the evening to charge our battery bank – the rest of the time we run on the inverter for our electrical needs.

When I put the slides out, I had a low voltage warning. This was odd, because the batteries should have been charging the whole time we were driving. I cranked up the generator to charge the batteries.

The wind continued to blow all afternoon and we had gusts at times that would rock the coach. Donna made what she calls a pantry meal for dinner. She had prepped it before we left Erie. It was a salmon casserole she made with canned salmon, whole wheat penne and a cheese sauce. It wasn’t our favorite meal ever, but it was nutritious.

Salmon casserole on a paper plate

After dinner, I shut down the generator. It wasn’t long before I had low voltage again. The overhead lights would dim whenever an electrical consumer was turned on. I suspected a poor connection at the battery bank. I checked all of the connections and didn’t find a problem. I turned off the inverter and we only used the 12-volt lighting before we went to bed.

In the morning, I ran the generator again. I checked the charging voltage at the battery bank and looked everything over again without finding any issues. After breakfast, we prepared to leave. When I tried to bring the slides in, I had a low voltage error and the HWH hydraulic pump wouldn’t run. I took my Fluke multimeter out to the battery bank again and found it was only delivering 10.2  volts. Oh no! My batteries were toast.

I fired up the generator again and tried to bring the bedroom slide in. As soon as I hit the rocker switch to activate the pump, the generator shut down! I tried it a couple of times with the same result. I thought there might be a dead short at the hydraulic pump causing the issues. I checked everything over and didn’t find anything wrong with the HWH system. After checking everything over – again – I tried to operate the slide mechanism with the generator running. It immediately shut itself off. The generator was shutting down due to a fault it detected.

I was getting concerned. We can’t drive without pulling the slides in. I tried to think of what was causing the generator to detect a fatal fault in the system. I finally came to the conclusion that the fault is in the battery bank. One or more cells in our 6-volt batteries was faulty and I had no way of replacing them where we were.

Most coaches have a battery boost switch. This switch is usually a momentary rocker type switch that connects the chassis battery, which is used to start the engine with the house batteries that run the inverter, lights and other coach accessories. Momentarily connecting the two battery banks together is an emergency system to be able to start the engine if the chassis batteries are too weak.

I reasoned that this should work in the other direction as well. If I activated the battery boost switch when I ran the slide system, the chassis batteries would boost the house batteries. I gave that a try. It worked! I got the slides in without any problems. We were on our way.

Before we hit I-86, I made a fuel stop. Salamanca is on an Indian reservation. They have low prices on fuel – I topped up the tank at $3.01/gallon. I knew that down the road fuel was $3.58/gallon. I only took on 23 gallons, but hey, I saved about 12 bucks.

As we cruised down the Interstate, I thought about the battery issue. I won’t know for sure until I can disconnect the batteries and check the open circuit voltage of each one, but I think they are badly sulfated. I may have caused the problem. I used to run the generator for about three hours in the morning and again for three hours in the evening when we were boondocking. We’ve spent quite a lot of time boondocking this year and my thrifty ways may have caught me. I reduced my generator run time to one and half hours in the morning and evening.

I thought the Xantrex three-stage battery charger built into our inverter was fully charging the batteries in that amount of time. It would go through the bulk charging stage, then the acceptance charge and finally reach a float charge before I shut down the generator. In hindsight, I should have tested the batteries without any load to determine if they were being fully charged. Undercharging will damage the batteries over time – a hard lead sulfate coating forms on the plates and the batteries will lose efficiency and finally fail. I’ve always been diligent about the electrolyte levels, but I think I made a mistake by trying to save generator run time. The other possibility is a shorted cell or an internal mechanical problem like a broken cell connector.

The trip along the southern tier of western New York is very scenic. We drove through forests and crossed rivers along the way. I was absorbed in thinking abut the battery issue and didn’t realize how hilly the terrain was. I had the cruise control set at 61 mph and let it do its thing. Then I noticed the coolant temperature was over 190 degrees – we usually run in the low 180s unless we’re climbing a steep grade. Then I noticed we were cruising with 23-25 psi of boost pressure from the turbo. The engine was pulling hard! I switched the cruise control off and slowed to 55 mph. I realized we were climbing a long grade – not real steep, but with the cruise control set and the transmission in an overdrive gear – sixth gear – it was putting a load on the engine. At 55 mph in fifth gear, the coolant temperature dropped back into the low 180s.

It was overcast and somewhat dreary all day. The wind kept up, but again was mostly a tail wind. Our GPS took us on a roundabout way to Watkins Glen. Our Rand McNally RV specific GPS has our vehicle weight programmed and won’t route us where we’re over the weight limit. Sure enough, as we rejoined a road that would have been a more direct route and looked back, we saw a sign that limited weight to 10 tons, probably due to old bridges over creeks.

We found the Clute Memorial Park and Campground in Watkins Glen. The campground is run by the village of Watkins Glen and sits right on the southern tip of Seneca Lake. We’re in the Finger Lakes Region of New York. Seneca Lake is about 40 miles long north to south and only about two miles wide. There are a series of lakes in the regions with similar aspect ratios – long north-south and narrow. Thus the reason for naming them “finger lakes.”

We checked in and were assign to site C23. This site is ideally situated for us – it faces a road in the campground extending from the entrance to the site. This made backing in and dropping the trailer a breeze.

Our site at Clute Memorial Park and Campground

It’s not the prettiest park – or the cheapest! – but the location is good for exploring the area. And it’s right on a canal that flows into the lake, so we can put the kayak in the water.

I went online and looked for replacement batteries. I could get flooded wet-cell batteries like the ones we have. These were installed when we bought the coach four and a half years ago. They’re relatively inexpensive – I could get four of them for about $700. I decided to step up and ordered Lifeline AGM batteries. These are truly maintenance-free and have higher capacity than our current batteries. They are well-constructed and are used in aircraft and marine installations. The downside is that they are heavy – at 66 pounds each, they weigh about twice as much as the wet cell batteries. Then there’s the cost – I paid $1300 for four of these. In the long run, I think I’ll be happier with them. They’ll be delivered here at the park and I’ll change out our battery bank.

Last night, Donna made a favorite meal – pork loin medallions with a lemon-dijon pan sauce. She served it with mashed sweet potato and roasted brussel sprouts.

Pork loin medallions

A light mist – not really rain – was falling before bedtime. We have more of the same this morning. I’d like to get out and explore, but the weather is forecast to improve in the coming days, so we may put off sightseeing for a day.

*Just so you know, if you follow one of my links to Amazon and decide to purchase anything, 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!


Erie Festivals

We found some fun things to do in Erie, Pennsylvania over the weekend. Donna started out Saturday by walking to the Goodwill store near the Elks Lodge and donated clothing and a few odds and ends we weren’t using. Then she went for a three mile run. I watched the Moto GP qualifying from Mugello, Italy. Then we headed out on the Spyder.

We went to Perry Square park for the Erie Wild Rib Cook-off and Music Festival – also known as the Erie Ribfest. Perry Square was a little smaller than we expected – it covers about a city block of land in an old part of town at State Street and 6th Street. The parking on the street there was all metered – a quarter gets you half an hour of parking time.

We wandered around, then ordered lunch. I bought pork ribs from a vendor called Pork Brothers BBQ. Their slogan is “Spiced and Smoked not Boiled and Soaked.” I got four bones and sides of baked beans and mac and cheese for $13. Donna went to another vendor for mac and cheese with brisket.

Barbeque vendors

While we dined at a picnic table, a band was onstage. They were playing some heavy metal headbanger stuff, so we weren’t real interested.

Local heavy metal

Later, a solo woman took the stage and played acoustic guitar and sang. We liked her music. We walked through the vendor stalls and Donna bought a couple of things before we headed out. On the way home, we made a pitstop at Lavery Brewing. Donna had a smoked black porter and I had an IPA. We both enjoyed our beers and then headed home.

On Saturday evening, Donna played Bingo at the lodge. She met a fun group of people and I joined them later for a cocktail on the patio. Their table won 3 out of 11 games. But no one won the big prize of $2,000. One of the guys we met – Tom – makes his own wine and dropped off a bottle the next day. Another guy – Dave – organizes running races in Erie and gave us some running swag.

On Sunday morning, I watched the Moto GP race from Italy. The we got on the Spyder again and headed downtown. Our destination was the Russian Orthodox Church of the Nativity on Front Street about four or five miles away. I thought it would be easy to find – all I had to do was turn north on German Street from 12th and hit Front Street. It turned out German Street was one-way southbound, so I took Holland instead. But Holland didn’t intersect with Front and we ended up down on the Bayfront Parkway. I knew this wasn’t the right way, then I saw the onion domes of the church up on the bluff overlooking the bay. We found it.

Domes on the church

The Troika Festival was happening there. It’s a Russian Festival featuring traditional Russian foods and entertainment. We found out the meaning of Troika – it’s the name of a carriage drawn by three horses abreast. It can also be a reference to group of three such as a small committee or ruling body.

They had a system where you bought tickets and then paid for food and drink with the tickets. This way, no money was changing hands at the food tables or bar. I really didn’t have a clue as to what traditional Russian food was all about, so we walked through the food tent and looked things over.

Donna and I opted for golubsty – this was minced pork, beef and rice wrapped in cabbage leaves, stewed in a mixture of sour cream and tomato sauce. They were very good.


We followed that with a dessert of Bird’s Milk custard. This was a white custard topped with a layer of milk chocolate.

The entertainment consisted of a emcee who was also a comedian and played guitar and accordion. He introduced Russian dancers and also a woman that played the balalaika. A balalaika is a traditional Russian stringed instrument with a triangular body. It has three strings that are plucked or strummed. It doesn’t have much sustain, so the strumming or plucking is usually done quickly.

Woman with a balalaika

The woman playing the balalaika was really talented. The first song we heard her play sounded much like Django Reinhardt gypsy jazz with lightning fast runs and licks. I loved it. The emcee called her the Jimi Hendrix of balalaika. Later she played a Russian classical piece that was very complicated.

They had a dance troupe in traditional costumes and also a couple that did some fancy choreographed ballroom dancing.

Dancers in traditional costumes

Ballroom dancers

We couldn’t leave the festival without a stop at the Siberian Express Ice Bar. They built a temporary bar that had three removable panels about four feet long and a foot and a half wide. They filled these panels with water and froze them, making an ice bar top. Periodically they would change out the panels with a newly frozen one. They drilled blind holes in the ice just the right diameter for shot glasses. They had a menu of vodka shot cocktails.

Siberian Express Ice Bar menu

Donna and I opted for the Ivan the Terrible – basically a very spicy Bloody Mary in a shot glass.

Our drinks in the ice bar

We rode back west on Bayfront Parkway and found the Millcreek Brewery on West Lake. We stopped in for a cold one. On Sundays they have all of the beers brewed in house for only $3.50/pint. Good deal. After we ordered a beer – a brown ale for Donna and an IPA for me – I checked the Radar Express app on my phone. Oh, no! A large storm front was off to the west and quickly advancing toward us. We finished our pints and came back to the lodge where I loaded the Spyder in the trailer.

We sat on the back patio of the lodge to stay dry while I had a cigar. We were joined by other Elks members and had lots of laughs and conversation. The storm passed quickly with the heavier rain and lightning off to the south of us.

Today we’ll pull out and head east. We’ll stop for the night and dry camp at the Seneca Allegany Resort and Casino in New York. From there we plan to go to Watkins Glen tomorrow. We’ll stay there for a week. The forecast looks favorable there – a couple of cool days in the mid-to-upper 60s followed by mid-70s.