Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Up in the air! An end of season farewell to the RV!

October saw a return to time spent in the RV – our company command center – as we pulled back onto Americas highways with an opportunity for yet another “bizcation.” The primary focus was business, as we were leveraging an opportunity to catch up with former colleagues as well as others providing insights into where technology was headed, particularly when it came to HPE. If you have a need to check into the business aspects of our trip then check out the posts to the NonStop community blog Real Time View of October 15, 2017, NonStop future – not all what it seems! Sometimes, you just have to get out and meet folks to better understand the reasons driving change and this trip proved no exception.

As it so happened, our trip took us to Albuquerque, New Mexico, at a time when the annual hot air balloon fiesta was well under way. Even though we missed some of the opening activities we were still able to take in a lot – very early in the morning, unfortunately. The one thing that escaped me as I became aware of this event is that hot air balloons work best when the surrounding air is very cold and so, waking in time for the 6:00am “balloon glow,” meant putting on almost all the clothes we had packed for the week!

Perhaps not something every reader is familiar with but the air currents above Albuquerque are rather unique. As the balloons begin their ascent above a large arena, they drift to the south where the pilots then up the heat to ascend to a higher level where the air currents reverse to take them back over the arena. This back and forth passage can be repeated several times with the more skillful pilots being able to descend back into the arena more or less on the spot where they first lifted off. Of course, there are many variances with these air currents and we often saw balloons sailing away to the horizon only to land in inhospitable terrain, but thanks to their chase crews, they always made it back to do it all over again the next day.

Part of the charm of this event comes from the sheer number of participants – at one point we were informed that there were upwards of 700 hot air balloons participating and it was hard to argue with this number the morning of the “mass ascension” which shouldn’t be confused with a religious ceremony. Rather, the balloons manifested themselves in every imaginable shape and as for the colors well, rainbows come to mind. As it so happened, we had parked our RV directly underneath the point where the balloons came to a stop more or less before they ascended to catch the counter-current so we were able to capture them motionless for several minutes making it easy to take pictures. 

Many of those around us at this campsite considered attending this event as taking an important step towards checking off all the items on their bucket list. Having not ever considered taking in this balloon fiesta we were taken completely by surprise. We even saw the famous Wells Fargo stagecoach float overhead one morning. And of course, the famous ReMax balloon was easy to spot for anyone familiar with their television advertisements. There seemed to be no limit to the number of companies that took advantage of this event to advertise their products and services only adding to the color that at times, completely covered the sky immediately above us. 

One morning, the ascension was devoted to all those balloons shaped like animals and there were even famous characters from the movies including Darth Vader and Yoda. And of course, the Armadillo gun fighter was hard to ignore! What did turn out to be good was that folks we wanted to meet and talk business with found every opportunity to drop what they had been doing to join us alongside the arena. As the activities came to a halt around 9:00am each morning there was still a lot of the day left to address business topics and for a couple of the folks, this continued through to when we shook martinis, something they had read so much about and wanted to see us shaking a couple for them, which we were only too happy to oblige. 

Leaving Albuquerque, and with the weather still very stable for this time of the year, we elected to spend the weekend driving back through Arizona and into Utah with a brief stopover in Zion National Park. Fortunately, this took us past Page and the eastern extremity of the Grand Canyon. Having elected to make this part of the journey a joint affair with our good friends, the Kennys. We have heard about Antelope Canyon, but  what was surprising to us was that we had passed the exit to this canyon many times without realizing just how dramatic a view of the canyon existed so close to a major highway. Having now seen it, we recommend the short walk down to the rim to anyone with plans to pass by Page.

Parking our RV in the spaces reserved for cars wasn’t so difficult when we arrived, but after spending an hour or so taking in the view, when it came time to leave well, that was an entirely different situation as we were essentially boxed in and had to be very precise with our movements extracting ourselves from the car park. But otherwise, this is a place everyone needs to visit – nothing had prepared us for how beautiful this arc of the river really is even as we had seen it many times depicted in photos hanging in galleries. While the early morning put much of the river in shadow it still gave us an opportunity to walk the rim of a pretty special place.

Leaving the park we headed into Zion where it wasn’t so much the sight of antelopes that caught our eye as it was the deer that fearlessly walked right up to our campsite. Even when a passing motorcyclist restarted his cruiser after snapping a few photos, the noise didn’t faze the deer one bit – he just kept on munching the greenery of a lawn adjacent to the very busy main street thoroughfare. Zion has always been a very special place for us as we find it one of the few parks where everything is in easy reach and while we have absolutely no interest in climbing to the top of its famous Angel’s Landing, we have walked a number of trails that originate in the valley.

This valley emanating from the Virgin River that begins at Zion’s popular Narrows Riverwalk, is alive with animals at this time of year and we saw many bush turkeys, hawks of every variety as well as the deer. Hanging from the sheer rock cliffs we even saw more adventurous climbers pulling up stakes to continue their climb having spent the night suspended high above the valley floor in makeshift cocoons wedged into the clefts of the cliff face. We have seen climbers before, but each time we encounter them we just scratch our heads and wonder. And each time we think about it we help ourselves to a stiff drink and raise a toast – not for us, but all the same, we tip our hats to brave enough to take on these particular challenges. 

This time we did try to ascend to Hidden Valley which we thought we had read was labelled as being of “moderate” level of difficulty. It was only when nearing the top that we discovered it was not moderate but rather, labelled “strenuous.” Of course, our good friends Brian and Jan Kenny did continue to the top and then, without giving it any additional thought, rerouted and took in the loop to Observation Point overlooking Angel’s Landing only to recount how tough the combination of these trails proved to be. But no, not for the Buckle-Holen family, which had returned to the Zion lodge to enjoy a glass of wine with their hamburgers in the second floor restaurant. Sometimes, it is better to ere on the side of caution even if it means missing out on catching sight of landscapes unseen by almost everyone else. On the other hand, we have also come to realize that, in the words of Dirty Harry, we just “have to know our limitations!” 

Returning home was so much easier on us this time as we didn’t have to empty out the RV and walk into an unfinished home. After spending almost two months setting up our new home, it was beginning to take on a familiarity that made it easier for us to relax. Margo has done a simply fantastic job of bringing together the colors and the décor that make the place really something special and yes, by all accounts, completely unexpected for the homes already built. The builder’s wife has stopped by now more than once to complement us on what we have done with the place, even suggesting that they may want to photo the finished spaces as few others have quite had the imagination that Margo has demonstrated. I would like to think I did have a hand in it all but in reality it was only minor when compared to what Margo sought to accomplish.

Returning home was so much easier on us this time as we didn’t have to empty out the RV and walk into an unfinished home. After spending almost two months setting up our new home, it was beginning to take on a familiarity that made it easier for us to relax. Margo has done a simply fantastic job of bringing together the colors and the décor that make the place really something special and yes, by all accounts, completely unexpected for the homes already built. The builder’s wife has stopped by now more than once to complement us on what we have done with the place, even suggesting that they may want to photo the finished spaces as few others have quite had the imagination that Margo has demonstrated. I would like to think I did have a hand in it all but in reality it was only minor when compared to what Margo sought to accomplish. 

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Heightened expectations and the stories that will be told ...

We are now hard at it, packing the RV; clothes are hanging and shoes stored away and shortly, we head off for our last shopping spree to fill in the pantry with the many items we simply forgot about in our previous trips to the shops. It’s not a big list but we will be heading back down to Boulder as it seems Ft Collins is a hard place to shop for prime beef – only choice. Even at Whole Foods. Surprising but prime makes a big difference even when grilling outside on a Coleman gas BBQ. NO worries though, we will get it all done and come mid-morning, Sunday, we hit the highway for one last trip before the RV season concludes.

Once again, it’s going to be mostly business as we will catch up with clients and prospects. There is always too opportunity to pick up new material for future blogs and taking a picture or two helps with setting the stage for story lines to follow. It’s been amazing these past couple of years just how many story lines we have come up with while staring out the windscreen looking at blacktop disappearing into the horizon. This summer though hasn’t been good to us with more than our fair share of mishaps taking place. But we only just read that it is these mishaps that work their way into our conversation and writings as we tend to forget about those trips that are incident free. “Nothing to report,” isn’t the fodder of interesting anecdotes!

The RV isn’t running at 100% as there are still a number of maintenance items to take care of on our return and already we have it scheduled to be turned in for the end of season (and winterizing) service once we have unloaded and packed away everything we are working so hard to put into the RV right now. The really nice thing about having a home that motors down the highway is that you don’t really have to be all that concerned with what you have packed. If you aren’t sure about that additional coat or jacket then, no worries; pack them both! And even better, a residence where you can simply walk out the back door and into the RV!

Business has continued to grow and a year has now passed since we decided to launch a monthly digital magazine for the HPE NonStop community. There are other publications out there – hardcopy and electronic – but there was a need for something with a lot less advertising and with much more story telling. Starting from humble beginnings but with the good help from our friends in Scotland at TCM, ever so gradually the number of articles has climbed to where the upcoming issue, what we are calling our first anniversary issue, will most likely contain a record number of articles and commentaries. We are even adding columnists as well as attracting attention (and contributions) from HPE.

Our new home continues to come together and this past week, it was all happening. Friday saw electricians, plumbers, dry-wallers and even quartz suppliers all stop by. Our punch list shrank considerably so much so that we felt quite at home entertaining neighbors in our dining room – a first for us! And yes, we pulled a few good wines from the cellar which went a long way to putting the troubles with the RV well to the back of our minds. Didn’t think about them once or about the upcoming trip for that matter! Or even getting the magazine published; it was good to be able to sit back and enjoy conversations late into the night. But we all took a look at the latest picture to arrive – when hung it will join the other two in the staircase leading to the unfinished basement!

Our thoughts this week have seen us both thinking about Australia and Poland. Not sure what triggered such thoughts but somehow, that magic number, 50, entered our conversations. 1968 was a big and important year for both of us as in March 1968 Margo was in Warsaw as students massed to show support for their colleagues in Prague. Yes, it was that historic time of the Prague Spring and we know that there will be major celebrations under way in both cities. As for me, I finished high school but unfortunately, I wasn’t allowed to participate in the last week’s shenanigans. 

The headmaster called my parents the week before and asked that I be kept at home as the school was nervous about exactly what stunts I might pull; who me? To think I was oh so close to buying a motorcycle even then – I had already bought and hid away the denim jacket. So, even as everyone else was enjoying muck-up day / week, I was at home given one extra week of prep time for finals. Looking back at that week, it actually did help me a lot as I was able to make the grade for University; shame my career counselor steered me down the wrong path but that’s a story for another time. And I still have to wonder, as much as I was a budding car enthusiast who even  went so far as to apply for a role inside the design department of GM, if my career counselor would have thought we would have as nice a group of cars, plus the motorcycle but minus the Jeep SRT8, in our garage!

What 2018 holds for us is still under discussion but marrying work with time outside the country will be the gating factor but already, we are leaning towards spending the winter of 2018 / 2019 in Australia rather than heading south to warmer parts of the U.S. For several years we had been planning on setting up the RV on the outskirts of Las Vegas, Nevada, but somehow we just don’t share the enthusiasm we once had. And our prayers and thoughts are with all those families so tragically impacted by the latest insanity. We know no country is safe and there is no place out of reach for those among us bent on unleashing mayhem but spending a leisurely three months on the east coast of Australia may be about as relaxing a place you can find these days.

Our last two trips back to Sydney have been very emotional times for Margo and me. It was almost ten years ago that I received the news that my father had passed away. It came at a time when the company I was working for, GoldenGate, was bought my Oracle and I was ever so politely informed I would not be a party to the new adventure. Looking back at this blog I only just realized that no posts were published for either October or November and I suspect that it was the strain of the occasion that really distracted me from my blogging. The week spent in Sydney in 2009 was just dreadful for both of us and really, one we want to forget. However, it was just one year later that we returned to Sydney and were joined by our good friends, the Kennys.  And even as there were moments when Margo and I reflected on just how upsetting the previous trip had been, 2010 was completely different.

As for Warsaw in 2018, we may be able to write more about that shortly but suffice to say, making the trip to Warsaw is being worked on even as I write this post. Former business colleague, Mike Bennett has just spent a weekend and posted a lot of photos on Facebook and that really sealed the deal for Margo. March is perhaps not the best of times to be heading into central Europe weather-wise but then again, the mood will probably be so similar to what was experienced fifty years ago that I am sure Margo will have a tough time holding back the tears. Even if the celebrations are all in Polish as I no doubt expect that they will be, I am going to be in attendance at everything Margo chooses to attend.

The picture above is of the entrance to the Gdansk shipyards where history begun to unravel for those who so oppressed the Polish people but unfortunately I doubt if we will be able to make it back to Gdansk this time even though, in summer, it is a beautiful place to visit.

Back to packing up the RV and thinking of the stories we may be able to tell in a week’s time. The drive will not be too onerous as we will be overnighting in the college town of Las Vegas, New Mexico before setting up camp in Albuquerque where there is a lot of interest in the big hot-air balloon festival. We have plans on camping nearby to take-in as much of the festivities as time allows. We then plan, weather permitting (and yes, the forecast for Monday night calls for snow here along the Colorado front ranges), on taking a different route back to Windsor – via Page, Arizona, and then through Zion’s National Park in Utah before turning east along Interstate 70. Again our plans for the return trip could all fall apart pretty quickly if the snow begins to pile up in the Rockies so fingers crossed.

On the other hand, it is all part of a very familiar routine. Margo and I just love the change of seasons here in Colorful Colorado. There’s nothing quite like it and we only just managed to squeeze in a quick trip up into the front ranges to see the aspens changing color but once again, they didn’t disappoint and we were able to see the splendor of a giant patchwork quilts as aspens and firs gave us a checkerboard display of greens and yellows. Wonderful and even as the tourist traffic begins to seriously thin-out – yes, it’s now an easy drive to Estes Park with amply parking available everywhere you look and a far cry from the crowded streets of only a few weeks ago.

Well, the excitement about has further heightened in the time I have spent typing this post. Here in Windsor the day has warmed rather nicely and thoughts of cold and snow have been pushed to one side. I may even wash the RV, top to bottom; the last big wash it had was in the days before we started our summer adventure back in late May so yes, it’s long overdue. And yet, I will approach that task rather casually, taking it pretty easy as the late afternoon begins to set in. Tomorrow? Looking forward to as brilliant a dawn as we have been experiencing of late! It will be a big day and I am now looking forward to pulling out of the driveway for the first time since taking up residence in our new home and how I feel about that you will just have to wait for another post.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

A return to normal – the end of the move is in sight!

A sense of normality is finally descending on the Holen-Buckle household. Boxes have been unpacked and cut down to a size where they can be carted off to the recycling center. Packing paper has been stuffed into bags so that our trash collectors will recycle for us and yes, all the miscellaneous stuff that you see finding its way to the floor is all compressed into the available trash can. Yes, the air is finally loosing that dusty appearance that becomes visible whenever sunlight streams across the room. Little particles just floating with no further role to play in the big move!

The three car garage with room for a motorcycle now has two cars parked in the slots allocated to them. The third is still a bit of a mess as the last remnants of the move are still visible but with just a couple more days of dedicated organizing, the final slot for the third car will be ready, We will be left with one vehicle parked on the driveway but with the construction going on all around us, we don’t think anyone is going to complain to the home owners’ association, but we will be cautiously watching what develops – every other house has at least one truck or SUV out on a driveway. 

Furniture continues to arrive. Today was a day we had been looking forward to for some time as our dining room sideboard arrived which led to Margo’s latest flurry of activity involving yet more boxes being unpacked. Now the crockery she treasures so much has a home and later tonight I expect to be able to walk into the dining room to see her treasures visible behind the glass doors of the sideboard. One thing always leads to another and so we have ordered the final two pieces we wanted for the dining room and hopefully they will arrive early next month.

The home is also our office and we went to some lengths to assure ourselves the flow of the main floor would not be disrupted with an office in sight of the kitchen. We finished the office with French doors and when they are closed, we both are finding our office space more than accommodating of both of us as we continue to be engaged in projects for Pyalla Technologies – Margo, as managing editor of the new digital publication NonStop Insider, just finalized issue number 12 that wrapped up an interesting year in this respect. Putting out any form of media is never an easy undertaking but with help, she has managed twelve issues and is looking forward now to publishing an anniversary edition in four weeks’ time. If you are interested in seeing this publication, check out www.nonstopinsider.com

The office space was always a priority, as we wanted to be able to keep working during the transition and we are almost there – we picked up our new office chairs this week and that had been something we had looked forward to after having had to work from footstools ever since we moved in. And our backs? Ouch! But again, it all comes down to priorities and we wanted seats that would suit the rest of the main floor of the house as they will be visible from almost every vantage point. As for the picture of me hunched over my tablet, already this is an old picture as just after the photo was snapped, we arranged the office furniture yet again and now I am behind a better functioning L-shaped table grouping. 

At first we were very sad to see pretty much all the furniture we had acquired for our former home in Boulder included in the sale of the house. In reality, however, what worked well in our former home and was scaled to suit the room sizes just wouldn’t have worked in the new home. In a way, it’s been fun to essentially start over but it has been challenging all the same. We have gone for an open floor plan encompassing an eat-beside kitchen, a morning coffee settee with table and then a lounge area with a large sectional.

The big item for us was getting our pictures hung and we contracted with a small company specializing in such a task. Of our seventy plus paintings (at last count) that we kept, I think we have about thirty already hanging from the walls and it’s a bit like the old saying that you can’t go wrong with mixing different woods, then you really can’t go wrong with paintings no matter how big they may be. And we have some pretty sizeable pieces that we have found work perfectly for our new home. The art work has been grouped with our dining room having a distinctly Italian / Venetian theme going for it whereas the guest bedroom is all Sydney. The main area well, it’s all musical with instruments of all types featured in almost all the paintings.

As for our other home of the past three months, the company commend center, well we finally took delivery of it a short time ago and this weekend it will be heading for our new home for a thorough cleaning and a restock. I am still lobbying to take it to High Plains Raceway as part of a shakedown trial along with an opportunity of course to get back on track with the Corvette, but we will just have to see.

Here in Colorado the leaves have started to turn and the mountains are at their most beautiful and somehow we are going to have to work in a day’s outing just to take a look. Each fall we have spent a couple of days out at the Wine Country Inn in Palisades, just outside Grand Junction, and we may just have to find the time to keep that tradition intact. On the other hand both Margo and I need seat time in the Corvette and since moving into the home, she has as yet not enjoyed a single instance behind the wheel of the Z06.

It is very late in the season to be thinking about going onto the track but fall driving has always been a time we have thoroughly enjoyed. With temperatures backed way off their highs which around here have been in the high 90s, it is a lot more enjoyable and grilling a couple of stakes while enjoying a martini even as our companions are all working furiously on their cars well, there’s not much that can top the occasion. It’s hard to imagine that our Corvette is fifteen years young but it’s still extremely competitive and there are few who can argue that on club tracks, anything more than 400 horsepower (and 400 foot pounds of torque) is a waste in the hands of amateurs like Margo and me. It will do just fine!

As for just how much work was done on the RV this summer I am going to leave that until we have wrapped up the season and the RV has been winterized and parked in storage. However, we were very fortunate that insurance came to our rescue in one instance and then again, replacing all six tires was something we had been planning on doing but then again it has proved to be our costliest year ever. On the bright side, as Margo keeps reminding me, we have a new RV with everything that has been done to the chassis and drivetrain. In the six summers we have had the RV we have driven it some 60,000 miles and attended events on both coasts. Could we have stayed in the Ritz for about the same amount? Yes, we could have, but there’s something to be said about simply having your own home wherever your travels take you.

Our travels these past few months brought us into contact with the Kennys, our good friends in Simi Valley, California, and the family that so kindly opened their doors to us for the duration of our troubles with the RV. We have known the Kennys for a very long time now and have had the good fortune to join them on many vacations but clearly we haven’t been able to spend as much time together as either of us would like due to the distance between Colorado and California. Well, surprise? That is now all in the past – the Kenny family just bought a Cessna 180 and they flew it all the way from Mississippi back to California where it has a home on the grounds of Van Nuys general aviation airport. And with that we are anticipating seeing a lot more of them and our new home’s guest room is getting a lot of attention. 

Much as we like to write about the Kenny family it would still be remiss of me not to close with a couple of sentences about grandson, Colton Herta. Earlier in the year I wrote quite a lot about Colton who, as a rookie to the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires competition, tasted success very early in the program. After the first two weekends with two firsts and a second, he had jumped into the lead and attracted considerable press coverage in doing so. At the tender age of 16 he was pulling away from far more senior drivers and with a scholarship of $1million this was a very serious affair – the $1million guaranteeing the recipient a run in the senior league, the Indy Cars, for the Indy 500 (in May) as well as two other events.

Well the year didn’t quite pan out the way I had initially imagined and it is so easy to say well, that’s racing. But at one point, as she watched Colton recovering from an on-track incident that left him at the back of the field. But ultimately, Colton recorded seven (out of sixteen) pole positions – way more than anyone else he faced all year and only one behind his dad, Bryan Herta, when Bryan won the Indy Lights equivalent program a decade or so ago. He also scored numerous fastest laps and when it came to running on the big oval at Indy, was the only Indy Lights driver to complete a lap over 200mph. Yes, what other seventeen year old can candidly chat about the time they lapped a major track at 200mph!

When it came to the last race of the year run this year at Watkins Glen, Colton landed the pole – yes, his seventh – but come race day it was pretty much all bets were off as the rain bucketed down. Only a few of the drivers had experienced such miserable conditions and as the NBC commentary team (oh yes, most of these races are now nationally televised) reported, “When all the drivers tell you that they love racing in the rain – they lie!” Not even the support of dad, Bryan, could really change the outcome of the race as going into this last race, all the series points leader had to do was record one lap and he would be declared the winner.

But in the rain, anything could happen – would the point’s leader crash out on the first corner? Could Colton pull away and score enough points to impact the outcome? Even through the lens of the television camera is was clear to everyone that conditions would favor those out front given so much spray being thrown up by the cars and while the first three laps were thrilling affairs with multiple lead swaps including a short period where Colton led the field, the race settled down to just three cars our front and the rest following. 

The race Colton was having was for outright third place in this race as well as outright third place in the series which would confirm his big win as “Rookie of the Year” that would more or less guarantee his return to Indy Lights next year for a more realistic tilt at the overall championship. Maybe he can get more poles than his father and maybe, just maybe, he can win the series as his father had done all those years ago. But it is racing after all and just a few laps shy of the end, a full course yellow backed all the cars up behind a pace car with the restart every driver’s chance to improve and the driver just behind Colton was his competitor for the Rookie of the Year prize. After a few heart-in-mouth moments, Colton pulled away and recorded third place overall, third place for the series and yes, Rookie of the Year. Congratulations to Colton, to his Mom and Dad and yes, to his grandparents as well. And thanks go to the Indy Lights web site as well as to Racer magazine for some of these photos - thank you!

Makes any plans Margo and I are making to run our Corvette at High Plains Raceway seem all rather trivial by comparison. And yet, for us with absolutely no plans whatsoever to move into any of the really competitive categories - a moot point. It’s solely a fun outing for us and a time when we can open up the big Z06 without worrying who is coming towards us or who may be checking our speed. No more random, “You a**hole – you could have killed us!” moments as has happened in the mountains on occasion but only when Margo is behind the wheel! Perhaps more importantly, a time away from the office and the desk and the keyboard with nothing else on our minds other than where is the brake point and oh, who moved the apex! Then again, it may all be put to one side as we opt for something a little more normal; quietly and sedately driving in the mountains and looking at the colors of fall. 

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Leaving it all behind until the next time …

Before it all becomes little more than a distant memory what was it really like to live as fulltime RVers? I only wish I knew, as the time we spent in our company command center was pretty much hit and miss, and included many repositioning drives. The picture above was taken our last evening as fulltime RVers when, a matter of twelve hours or so later, we drove up to our new home and office in Windsor, Colorado.

In one respect it was ten weeks more or less spent on the dark side, where almost everything went wrong. The force was definitely strong with us. Unfortunately, it wasn’t the good force we were hoping for. At the very beginning of our extended sojourn that much-feared Check Engine light first appeared, and it was pretty much all downhill from there. A torrid trip into darkness of all things that can go wrong with your RV on the road, out of which we have only just managed to emerge!

Looking at the odometer on the RV I was somewhat surprised to see that we covered 6,000 miles. Surprised, because to the casual observer (and reader of my Facebook entries) it would seem we were stuck in one Truck and RV center or another and when we weren’t we were waiting the arrival of a mobile mechanic. And I have to add, when thinking about doing something similar in your RV or camper, take lots of cash with you as those that provide roadside assistance oftentimes only take cash.

Over the course of the ten weeks we had to completely replace our Diesel Exhaust Fluid (DEF) dispensing system, including the wiring harness connections, the processor and yes, the pump itself. This was followed by a minor incident where our steps wouldn’t retract and we had to have a technician execute a temporary fix that included wiring the steps retracted. Permanently; for the remainder of the trip! And that was just the first couple of weeks. We did manage to take in a conference in Dallas, run parallel to the Mexican border with its growing array of fences, stop by Las Vegas for yet another conference and then ascend the various summits that lie between Vegas and Denver.

Following a rotation through various Colorado state parks we hit the highway once again for a quick business trip to Simi Valley to catch up with the leaders of a company in which we had invested. Perhaps we should have known better, as even with the DEF system fully repaired (but not the steps), we were more than a little anxious expecting to run into more problems. And as it turned out, for good reason too! Pulling into Vegas once again for a short stay and a good steak dinner at Mastro’s, all previous discomforts began looking like very minor annoyances.

Somehow along the way into Vegas we had picked up debris that then turned the RVs driveshaft into a giant weed-cutter that managed to destroy everything around it. Air hoses, hydraulic lines, AC and Heater plumbing and yes, even a tire about which we covered in previous posts. Suffice to say, three weeks in the Freightliner Truck and RV center in Oxnard, California, resulted in us returning to the road once again but only to drive it back to the same Freightliner Truck and RV center in Brighton, Colorado that the DEF system had been repaired only a few weeks earlier. We won’t get into the specifics of the costs at this point, but think of something close to 10% of the original purchase price spent on repairs. And yes, a complete set of new Michelin tires went on to the RV while we were in Oxnard. 

Perhaps the bright spot in all of this is that our very dear friends in Simi Valley, California, Brian and Jan Kenny, took it all in stride. No worries; the guest room is ours for as long as we needed it. But even so, I am not completely sure that when the offer was first extended any of us thought we would be housed at the Kennys for as long as we were – but again, we were so appreciative of the warm hospitality that they extended to us. We have been sworn to keep the exact address secret as by any standards their home is the epitome of all that is good with southern California. Warm weather and a swimming pool that beckons and yes, an outside kitchen capable of feeding the entire rugby team should it ever stop by!

Grilling turned out to be very popular and for many nights after sipping on a martini it was time to check out what was cooking. Brian is the grill-master, with enough experience to grill pretty much anything we could come up with. From country-style boneless pork ribs, slow-grilled and basted in BBQ sauce, to chicken to beef tri-tip steaks, I think we tasted it all. And it was good! On one occasion I was given the opportunity to grill and thoroughly enjoyed my time at the burners.  In between the grilling we managed to spend each Monday night at Mastro’s in Thousand Oaks which reminded us of the tradition formed all those years ago when we lived in Simi Valley. 

Unfortunately the business side of things didn’t go quite the way we expected. After several rounds of funding and tremendous energy expended by the founders, InkaBinka just ran out of funds. It wasn’t what we expected to hear on this trip but that is all “part and parcel” for any tech start-up. All that we can add is that Kevin and the family put as much energy into getting the company up and running as they could and even now, I have my fingers crossed that the technology and solution that they developed eventually finds a home somewhere – it was really a neat product and since returning to Colorado, we miss the ease with which it kept us informed about current affairs. 

Being stranded in Simi Valley wasn’t all that bad, as it gave us ample time to catch up and socialize with those we hadn’t seen for some time. Of course, this did include outings with the Kennys and who would have expected that sipping wine and throwing paint onto canvas could be fun, but it was. Painting flowers against a red sky with black earth beneath the stems? Who came up with that scenario but it resulted in four distinctly different interpretations even as there were a number of glasses of red wine involved!

Visiting old haunts, from our favorite breakfast place to the car wash that had so carefully looked after our track cars and with side trips up to Santa Barbara as well as to Solvang, well it all helped bring back a flood of memories. We even took time out to check the condos being built around the marina at Oxnard, but the news wasn’t good. When we first took notice of the marina developments back in the mid-2000s they were prices around $300K but now, even with a little more modernization being embraced, the new condos were being sold for $800K to $1million. Ouch …

As for our other friends each and every time we travel to Simi Valley we find time to spend with Adrianne Neri and her husband, Jerry. Adrianne and Margo formed a close friendship during the time Margo worked in Simi Valley and though the situation changed for both Margo and Adrianne, they remain good friends and continue to stay in touch. Shortly, they will be making the trip to Colorado and we are looking forward to entertaining them in our new home in Windsor.  As well as catching up with friends and former colleagues there has never a trip to southern California that didn’t include time spend carving the many canyons that separate the coastline from the interior valleys and we managed, once again,  to keep up with this tradition. 

Perhaps our favorite drive is along famous Mulholland Drive. Starting on the coast to the north of Malibu it winds its way down to Hollywood, crossing many of the more famous canyon roads as it straddles the ridge line along which many of Hollywood’s elite live. After crossing it a couple of times on our way to the beaches, we did drive up the Pacific Coast Highway (PCH) to where Mulholland Drive starts only to make it a short way into the canyon before being stopped by the Highway Patrol. They had closed the road temporarily to accommodate a film shoot that was taking place.

We had seen the film crew parked off the road a couple of miles back but after waiting fifteen minutes or so, the strangest looking MG came around a corner with camera crews leaning out of a trailing pickup shooting different angles. It is Malibu after all, and we are on one of the more famous entry points into Hollywood so we took it to heart. And we just sat back to watch it all unfold; no idea what the movie was all about, but then again, watching a little piece of Hollywood right in front of us was a pleasant break from all that had been happening to us over the previous days. 

The port of Oxnard provides surprises of another kind and if you are car people as we are, these proved quite a treat. We first encountered a car manufacturer’s test “mule” up on Mulholland Drive and followed it as it descended down Decker into Westlake. With Ohio plates and barely disguised light arrangements it was either a new Honda or possibly a new Acura SUV. For the whole time we were fulltime RVers, we had relied upon our Mini Cooper S Roadster and with the top retracted, it gave us ample opportunity to check out this mule and at one traffic light stop we pulled alongside to check it even more closely, but it was pretty unexciting.

A few days later as we headed out to Oxnard to check on the RV, we passed another test mule. This time it was clearly a new BMW, possibly an X3, as it didn’t look large enough to be the X5. Test mules are always heavily disguised and covered in a black and white wrap designed to lessen the opportunity to see what the real shape of the vehicle looks like but in the case of the BMW the exposed kidney shaped front grill was a big clue. Turns out that the company that applies the wraps to these test mules is located in Oxnard and as all vehicles that are to be introduced to Californian markets need to be tested in California there was no escaping their presence.

Our life as fulltime RVers is now well and truly over. For the past week we have been heads down inside of cardboard boxes retrieving all of our goods and chattels that have been stored away for several months. On the one hand it has been fun retrieving what is a huge part of our lives, but all too soon we came to realize we simply have too much stuff! We thought we had been judicious in keeping what we were ultimately left with after generously donating to Goodwill as much as we could, but clearly, we hadn’t cut deep enough.

New home, new garages, some new clothes and accessories and yes, a whole new garden! It will take a while to fully sink in even as we begin to think about what the future may hold for us both, but for now, memories of those ten weeks of calamities on the road are already beginning to fade. Who knows – we may be coming to a town near you very soon and with that, I will return to our unpacking and to the many chores I now have to complete.

But ahhh – the call of the road! It’s heady and intoxicating stuff so there are many more stories to be written yet as we cover even more miles. 6,000 miles in ten weeks in a severely wounded RV? How did that happen? And more to the point, what more can possibly go wrong? We will just have to wait and see, but I am sure the next story will deliver something completely different. As for me, I am sure hoping that will be the case …

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Hot times in the south west; unexpected time spent sitting on the sidelines!

After spending weeks at multiple RV parks, including two very nice Colorado state parks, Boyd Lake and St Vrain, it was once again time to hit the highway. We had business that required us to spend a few days in southern California and we were really looking forward to seeing old friends and we knew there would be opportunities to see new sites. No two trips across the continental divide have ever been the same and no trip that takes us through Las Vegas has ever produced the same results. But how little did we know what would befall us this time.

We had been spending a lot of time checking progress on our new home that was still under construction. However, its completion was now well and truly in sight and just before we left Colorado, we did our first major walk-through where a punch list was produced and we knew it would keep the builders busy for a few more days. The transaction was to be completed while we were on the road and even as we had the financing all in place, the generation of the “certificate of occupancy” was still required and we were just a little anxious about this happening while we were out of town.

Leaving the Denver metropolis and heading up over the great divide on a Friday always means encountering heavy traffic. It wasn’t long before Interstate 70 out of Denver became a parking lot and it took several hours before we left the bulk of the traffic behind us. We were towing our trailer with the Mini roadster strapped down and we were really pleased to see that the recent work to repair the failed Diesel Exhaust Fluid (DEF) system seemed to be working as there was no further repetition of power loss climbing the summits that take you west to Utah.

In fact, it was something we celebrated with a couple of high-fives when it came time to check the level of DEF in the tank to find I needed to add a gallon or two which we hadn’t done previously following the failure of the system as we began the drive to Dallas / Ft Worth. Having systems behaving as they ought really lifted our spirits and we began to finally relax. Again, how little did we know about what was to happen next!

Our first night on the road was spent at a gas station. On the outskirts of the city of Green River, Utah, there is a very large facility with a lot of room to spread out and after setting up camp on the very edge of the gas station’s property, it wasn’t long before we had attracted other campers to where we had parked. In some ways, this is reassuring to see as it means we didn’t park in the wrong place. On the other hand, enjoying isolation has always been a preference for Margo and me. The upside to where we parked was that we were far removed from the really big rigs so there was considerably more peace and quiet than otherwise would be expected camping at a truck stop!

There are rituals to be observed, of course, and once we had dropped the legs that stabilize the RV’s home and fired up the generator that powers the AC units, it was time to settle back and enjoy an adult beverage as the light of the day began to give way to evening. There was plenty of room to extend the slide-outs which isn’t always the case at truck stops and Margo was able to pull together a pretty good diner for us both. 

Our next stop would be Las Vegas and even as the temperature at Green River hovered around 100 degrees Fahrenheit, we expected it to be a lot hotter in Las Vegas. Nevertheless, the AC units were doing their job and in no time at all the motor home cooled enough not only to enjoy diner but to actually do work – and it is now an office environment where I am very comfortable working. No issues at all and Margo has done a good job of ensuring we always have strong connectivity with the outside world.

There is always a sense of excitement when we embark on a road trip in the RV. This is now our sixth summer and since that first foray south to Texas only a month or so ago, we have racked up some 4,000 miles since we left our former home in Niwot at the end of May. Do we miss our former home? Sure do, but no longer to the point where we are questioning the decision. Chapters close and new chapters begin and for Margo and me, it’s all about freedom and having the ability to go anywhere we want with only a minimal amount of lead time. Our new home will be big enough to hold our clothes, our artwork and our wine, not to mention our CDs and DVDs (yes, we still prefer these older media types) but small enough to manage without a team of contractors and that perhaps is the biggest benefit of all. Yes, we will be free to see the rest of North America and indeed, the world!

Leaving our Green River “camp site” we then stopped for diesel at a Loves truck stop, a few miles outside Las Vegas, and we were looking forward to setting up camp at our regular RV stopping point – the OASIS RV Resort just south of the Las Vegas strip. More to the point, we were looking forward to being able to drive up to Mastros for a steak dinner – something we had been talking about even before we left our last Colorado campsite. We were last in Las Vegas for the HPE big-tent marketing event in June, but what a difference just a few weeks can make.  As we pulled into our RV site, the temperature even at that late afternoon hour was 113 degrees F.

After setting up camp in Las Vegas it was only as I went to the trailer to unload the Mini that I first sighted potential trouble. A few dark drops of fluid tailed away from the trailer back up the road we had used to approach the camp site. I touched one of the drops and it was wet – in this temperature? Ummm … so I went to look at the RV and my jaw simply dropped. A pool of gear oil about three feet across and as much as a foot and a half wide had formed directly under the engine. At first, the lightness of the fluid made me think it was hydraulic fluid but no, later I would find out it was almost 2 gallons(out of 3.7 gallons) of gear oil draining out of the differential.

We immediately called the Freightliner 24 X 7 Direct line and had a mobile repair team dispatched. After they pulled into the site a quick inspection brought with it very bad news. Somehow we have managed to pick up debris from the highway that had worked its way onto the drive shaft where it had turned itself into a sort of “weed-whacker” – those household tools we use to trim lawn edges and cut down weeds – slicing through every line and hose that was close by the spinning shaft.

The first and most obvious damage was done to the air hoses that provided air to the air suspension and working from about 5:30 pm on through to 1:00 am the next morning the crew that had arrived worked hard to repair the damage – replacing shredded air hoses to ensure that the motor home body could be lifted off the axle and wheel to the point where the RV would be drivable. In those early morning hours, the consensus was that the RV was indeed drivable and that we should take it to a Freightliner repair shop where the drive shaft could be dropped and the seals (into the differential) could be checked.  In an unrelated, or perhaps related, event, we found we had a rear tire that simply wouldn’t hold air and that too we worked with the folks at Goodyear to find a replacement but more of that a little later in the post.

Catastrophe! Not a whole lot more to say other than Margo and I felt completely shattered. And not just because we wouldn’t be able to dine at Mastros, but that we now faced a very uncertain couple of days. We waited the extra day to get the replacement tire which we paid dearly for both in financial terms as well as emotionally as we experienced first-hand what we could describe in no other way than having been fleeced by the mob! They brought the wrong size tire, claimed it was equivalent, mounted it poorly and then refused to rectify when clearly it was a much taller tire paired with an existing tire on the rear of the coach. 

The installer then blocked our coach until he was paid, wouldn’t contemplate returning the next day with the correct tire, and intimidated both of us to the point where we settled the bill only to find a day later that he changed the card amount by adding another $100+ after telling us that for each minute we argued, he would add another $25 to our bill. And we thought he was joking. When Margo appealed to Goodyear who had arranged the service for help, they disowned her and the transaction in a heartbeat – so much for your friendly roadside assistance! A tire that costs approximately $400 ended up costing us $900+ and we will simply have to throw it away at our first opportunity. 

Then again, when you consider the bigger picture, we had to complete our trip to southern California as in Oxnard there was a big Freightliner facility that we really needed and if we had tried crossing the desert with a failing tire and it suddenly blew – then the cost of a heavy duty tow truck would have been much higher. Oh well … life on the road, you ask? Pleasant one moment, even intoxicating in the beauty on hand! And then, you plumb the depths of despair. But we made the trip to southern California safely and the motor home is now in the shop. So, no real home to return to and no motor home as a backup; the best laid plans of mice and men!

Our good friends, the Kennys of Simi Valley, have opened their home to us for the duration. Our first night following our arrival was spent at Mastros in Thousand Oaks which went a long way to help restore some semblance of normality as we sipped on a martini before cutting into a ribeye steak. And that was just the beginning. That Wednesday they took us to an old world restaurant called The Tam O'Shanter before we went on up to the Greek amphitheater for a 2CELLOS concert. 

Any lingering thoughts about our current state of affairs was quickly put to one side as we enjoyed ourselves immensely – as for the 2CELLOS then what can I say. If you don’t know anything about them or heard any of their music, you have to check them out on YouTube and look for their interpretation of the AC/DC anthem, Thunderstruck. The next morning, jumping into our Mini, the dreaded Check Engine light came on – what more could possibly go wrong!

The weekend was fast approaching and we still didn’t have a clear picture of what had happened to our motor home but then we received an update. Apparently we picked up a fine wire that wrapped itself around the drive shaft – just as we had seen in Las Vegas. It wasn’t the hydraulic lines that were cut along with the air hoses but rather, lines to the chassis AC units. But far worse was the wire had chewed out the seal to the differential and the fluids we had seen were gear oil from the differential that in turn had been gradually chewed to bits. So, yes, a new differential had to be ordered out of the Freightliner depot in Memphis, Tennessee.

It may look completely innocent but a few wire strands are costing thousands of dollars in repair, but perhaps even worse, will delay our return to our new home in Windsor, Colorado, which we purchased and closed on just this past Friday, by more than a week – the ETA for the new transmission isn’t until next Friday. And yes, we have taken the opportunity to order up a new set of six Michelin tires to replace the six-year old set that is beginning to show its age. For the coming week, it will be a time where I will have lots of time to complete work assignments and for that I am grateful as my workload has now been increased and perhaps, it is all for the best but for now, it’s hard to see any silver linings whatsoever.

On the other hand we are in sunny southern California and Margo got to spend some time with her friend, Adrianne, we will have an opportunity to talk with her and her husband Jerri some more tonight. Always great to see them and we hope to see more of them later in the year in Colorado! The nearby beaches are beckoning and there truly isn’t anything quite like a California summer. This Saturday saw us having breakfast in Summerland, near to Santa Barbara, where time to walk the nearby beach couldn’t be ignored.

And ever so gradually, smiles are beginning to return to our faces but in all honesty, these have been a couple of days we sure would have liked not to have seen happen. On the other hand, it’s now behind us and receding further into our past with the passage of time and we are healthy and still very capable of enjoying the friendship and hospitality of our good friends. Many thanks, to Briand and Jan – we love you both!