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

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!  

Thursday, July 13, 2017

A time for reflection as we look at the clouds!

For more than a month we have been the guests of the state of Colorado’s parks. Quite by accident we came across the program that provides access to members of the state park system to spend up to 14 nights in a park over any 45 day period and we have taken full advantage of the offering. One week at Boyd Lake then down to St Vrain for two weeks returning to Boyd Lake for one more week. While these facilities are close by to where we once lived in Boulder, we simply didn’t know of their existence. Yes, we have thoroughly enjoyed ourselves as both parks are very pretty or so says Margo.

We have experienced every type of weather condition with beautiful sunrises and evening sunsets even as we have hunkered down and endured some spectacular thunderstorms. One thing we can say with assurity is that no two days have been the same and it has been this variety, indeed oftentimes extremes, which have helped entertain us while we have been domicile in our RV. The company command center continues to serve dual purposes – it’s our daily office from which we are both working even as it is our temporary home.

Nature though can be temperamental at times! While the Colorado state parks are situated alongside lakes and ponds they are also in close proximity to dairy farms. Massive, industrial-scale, dairy farms and with just the right conditions the breezes bring with them reminders of why Margo and I never took to farming. Fragrances quite unfamiliar to us frequently waft into the RV and are almost impossible to mask. But ah, nature! What can you do but try to enjoy those bucolic moments when all is at peace and only the sound of birds and insects intrude on the solitude. 

But seriously, what is it really like living a fulltime RV lifestyle? What compromises are there and what compensates for any of those compromises? It is now our sixth summer of RVing and it continues to be an evolving process. For almost three years, we were still trying to come to terms with operating the RV and we did a lot of damage along the way. Trees were knocked aside as paint was scraped from the side of the RV. Fuses kept blowing for what seemed to be no reason at all.

The steps down to the pavement kept failing and yes, have failed once again on our most recent drive down to Texas and most irritating of all, the slideouts kept damaging wood trim within the RV. Driving as many miles we have driven to date the almost constant flexing of the coach along its length,  the subsequent torque experienced by the chassis has resulted in cabinets’ doors coming off their hinges, catching the slideouts as they are being extended and frequently tearing apart the wooden trim . Over the years, again, lots of damage to the interior has been sustained. While it’s all been repaired, it’s something we now have to constantly monitor each time we extend the slideouts.

Compromises though haven’t been all that intrusive upon our lifestyle. Yes, we have to pay a lot more attention to every action we take with the home but then again, it is a complex piece of machinery. However, as for what compensates for these compromises well it is all about freedom. Being free to pick up and go anywhere. Free to set up camp alongside a lake, a field or even a Wal-Mart parking lot. And yes, free to camp out with any assortment of professional big rig drivers on a gas station apron parking lot anywhere, USA. And yes, to be bathed in morning sunlight after setting up camp late at night always sees the smiles returning fast. 

Since the last post we have been residing along Colorado’s front ranges at sites stretching from Boulder County to Laramie County – that is to say, between Boulder and the Wyoming state line. Cheyenne is only 30 miles up the road whereas Denver has to be 100 miles away, or thereabouts. Our locations have been determined by their closeness to the city of Windsor where our new home is being constructed and it is reaching a point where we can finally see the finish line.  But we are also closing on two months of fulltime RVing and while this really isn’t quite the duration most fulltime RVers enjoy in their coaches it’s still a pretty good indication as to what could be expected if we ever elected to take time out for perhaps a year on the road.

As could be expected, we have had a lot of time to read the musings of those RVers where residing in an RV, on a permanent basis, has becomea way of life. We also took time to read a wonderful book by a long-haul trucker called The Long Haul – a trucker’s tales of life on the road. Author Finn Murphy manages to capture so much of what we observe when out on the road and while it’s not up to the standard of say, Racing in the Rain: My life as a Dog, it still would make a good read for anyone about to jump on a plane. The observations about all those idiots on the road that you encounter proved to be a source of mirth as it continues to worry us as just today, on our drive back to the RV, our local interstate was closed temporarily following a three car wreck that clearly should have been avoidable – the vehicles involved were travelling too close together and had few options when things went south!

Milestones come and go. It’s no surprise to find that we are getting older and routine task around the RV are taking much longer to accomplish and are no longer entirely error free. The RV is and remains a complex piece of machinery and with as many moving parts as it has, it continues to amaze me that when I turn the ignition key, the engine fires up, the brakes release and the mighty coach moves forward. Wow! Doing a final check just today, I found tire pressures were down on two tires, the DEF fluid wasn’t being absorbed at the rate I expected and yes, once again, we had no hot water! But then again, the road beckons and we are off once again …

We have also reached another somewhat more dubious milestone this month. We haven’t been on an airplane all year. Last year we had to take a couple of flights with one of them my solo flight to London but not this year. Zero flights. Now there would be those among our friends who might find this indeed surprising – Margo has flown more than a million miles with United in her own right even as I close in on three million miles with United. Throw in the two decades of constant travel between Australia, the US and Europe in the seventies and eighties before there were frequent flyer programs and I think I would be up around five million as I did 300,000+ miles in one year with QANTAS.

All this is to note that when it comes to compromises and compensating events, the tradeoffs made when flying almost always proved less than what could have been and perhaps should have been than advertised. Ah, but with a car in tow or as has been the case of late simply driven behind the RV,  we set the agenda, leave whenever it suits us, pick and choose our destination and yes, get to see some terrific vistas along the way.

 Yes, tomorrow we will be pulling up stakes once again tackling the mountainous drive from Colorado to California but way of Las Vegas. We will count the many vapor trails we see overhead and worry little that we may be missing out on a glass of wine in first class (do they even do that anymore?) – as for mileage, well then yes, we have now racked up more than 50,000 miles on the coach as we have crisscrossed America. And it is just the start of our sixth summer. 

What can we now say – yes “I’ve have seen fire and we have seen rain. We have seen sunny days that I thought would never end.” Thanks James Taylor – always loved this song.  To this Margo and I can add how we have seen mountains, lakes and wildlife of every kind from the smallest turtle crossing our path as it meandered from one pond to another. We have seen a magnificent red deer standing tall by another lake that was only yards away from a busy interstate. And we have seen coyotes and foxes and raccoons everywhere. As for birdlife, well too many to name but watching a pair of white pelicans gliding over a mirror like lake never ceased to fill us both with awe. So peaceful …

This is what we have been enjoying for much of our time RVing. We never planned on spending a period fulltime RVing at this stage of our lives but having access to the coach for this extended period of time has certainly proved to be a godsend for us both. We are still sorting out issues with the hot water system and more often than not, it has gone cold while Margo is in the shower. There is too an ongoing issue with the steps. But these will all be addressed the next time we put the RV in for service and will all be sorted out. Could we do this full time for real? Could this become our only residence? At this stage, probably not, as having a home to return to still has its merits.

What we can attest to is that being from different countries and having both made decisions to move to the U.S. as adults, we missed the many family vacations in the station wagon that so many of our age group were subjected to in the ‘50s and ‘60s so, much of this country is new to us. Somehow, this seems to be a reminder that you can catch up to missed opportunities and equally surprisingly, enjoy them! There are still many more miles to be traveled and many more campsites to set up as our new home will not be habitable much before mid-August so there will be a couple more photos to be posted and a couple more observations to be made, but for now, it’s back to our daily routines even as we cast an eye out towards the mountains and trust the weather will be kind as we cross the great divide one more time! 

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Road life – on and off, it all counts!

Wrapping up our fourth week of homelessness, or at least living without having a bricks and mortar home, all we can say at this point is that it has been an adventure, with perhaps just a tinge of regret. We sure do miss our former home, no doubt about it. And barely a day goes by without a reference or two to the only home Margo and I ever built together. On the other hand, these are such different times and each of us breathes a deep sigh of relief knowing full well that we had to end that chapter before we could begin another. Yes, it is pretty simplistic, but very real – we so much wanted to move on and try new things.

So, what has life been like working and living out of a coach? Have there been any dramatic changes to our lifestyle? When you read the commentaries of full-time RVers, and there are plenty of sites where you can find such stories, what you quickly realize is that these folks are passionate about the lives they now lead. It would be hard for many of them to come off the road even as it would be harder still to be confined to the walls of a permanent dwelling. Margo and I haven’t reached that stage yet, but after just a month living out of the coach, we can more readily identify with these full-time RVers even as we can see how seductive this lifestyle becomes.

We have covered almost 3,500 miles since we left our former home in Niwot. We have crossed numerous state lines and passed several checkpoints. In America there is always a need to pull you over for a chat whether it’s at agriculture and quarantine checkpoints, immigration checkpoints or even the state park ranger posts. Fortunately, we have had no need to pull over for failing to adhere to traffic regulations, although at times I wish we could have had the ability to pull over some of those we share the roads with – the amount of attention being paid to what’s happening around them seems to no longer be a priority for many drivers and we have seen some terrible efforts being made to simply keep a vehicle heading in a straight line.

We are now camped in the second Colorado state park St Vrain, having made a reservation months in advance to ensure we had a spot to park. At this time of the year all Colorado state parks are busy and you cannot simply show up at the gate and expect to find an open camp site. Previously we had been camped at Boyd Lake and when our two weeks are up at St Vrain we will be returning to Boyd Lake as you can only spend fourteen days at any one park over any forty five day period. It has been a big surprise for us to have “discovered” state parks so close to where we lived for nearly two decades that are as nice as these parks have turned out to be. St Vrain may be close to an interstate highway and Boyd may be a tad too close to a dairy farm, but all things considered, they have provided sanctuary at a time when we have no other place to go.

One of our requirements to stay close to the front ranges and in close proximity to the grandkids, has been our desire to be near to where our new home is being constructed. If the home we had up until very recent times could be registered on a scale of any kind then our new home would need to be registered at the opposite end of that scale. It’s not just a case of less square footage or being a smaller lot but rather, a complete change in style. From the striking appearance of a Tuscany villa to a quaint Craftsman cottage, the extremes couldn’t be more pronounced. 

And yet, as have watched our new home develop, we have grown to like it a lot – it may be Craftsman on the outside but it is most definitely urban-modern on the inside with wide open spaces radiating from a combination kitchen / bar. The interior is shades of gray with white trim including use of white quartz. The hardware is all brushed nickel that has not been embellished. And there are trey ceilings with dropped crown moldings that all feature rope lights in major rooms, including the master bedroom, kitchen / bar and dining rooms.

However, it is the “new” view that we like the most. It’s new for us as we have not lived alongside a golf course before and being situated almost pin-high at the seventeenth green, where approach shots are taken from the other side of the fairway, we are out of range of even the most errant of golf shots. With ample ceiling to floor windows and doors, we have a great view and one that even in winter with snow on the ground should prove to be the equal of the mountain views we had in the past. Well, at least we hope so as we don’t have any mountain views at all, save for a small sliver of a view from the room we are calling the office. 

Move-in date is still in flux as anyone building a home can relate to – there will be a two week period following closing with the builder still needing a little extra time to finish a couple of items. However, early to mid-August seems to be a reasonably expectation for this all to take place which means we face another five or six weeks of camping. But the road hasn’t been kind to us nor have the days been easy. Within the first hour of leaving our former home, the dreaded “Check Engine” light came on so our second morning on the road was spent at a truck maintenance facility.

The cause of the problem was traced to the Diesel Exhaust Fluid (DEF) system – introduced in 2011 to help reduce pollutants pumped into the atmosphere by diesel engines – but as for the fix, they were unable to do much more than inspect and clean. So, for a month we drove with the check engine light on the whole time.

It wasn’t until we retraced our steps over the Rockies that we noticed two things – we hadn’t been using any of the DEF we had pumped into the tank even as we were way down on power climbing up to the summits. The engine wasn’t in “limp mode” but down on power all the same. Once we had returned to Colorado we booked the RV in for service with a shop that has looked after the chassis and engine since we purchased the RV – only to find that the problem had gone critical. The check engine light had been replaced with a new message; Stop Engine!

Three days later and having camped overnight on the parking lot at the shop, all has been repaired. A slow leak from the DEF tank had corroded the wiring harness, taken out a computer and destroyed a pump. Ouch! Basically, DEF is a highly corrosive acid but the leak was so small it hadn’t showed up previously in any diagnostics run against the powertrain. But all is good and the coach now pulls more strongly than I recall it ever did – it’s amazing what can be done when all it takes is money! As fortune would have it, the warranty on this part of the coach expired in January – missed by just “that much!”

While on the road, we have encountered just about every weather condition imaginable. We traversed flooded roads in Texas as torrential rains poured down on us. We have been the sole camper at a high dessert park where the temperatures passed 110 degrees, Fahrenheit. We have been hit with sever winds driving up Utah’s Interstate 15 and we have even encountered sleet up high on the Utah plateau. In June! However, we have to admit; we have never seen the countryside as green as it is in any previous journey through the southwest and the rivers are truly running at flood levels pretty much everywhere we turned. They are even above their banks here on the front ranges and the St Vrain River passing by us is no exception.

Perhaps the most dramatic of all weather changes happened only a few days ago when we were camped on the parking lot of the truck maintenance shop, which looked a tad like a gulag (see picture, right). As we retired for the night, what had been 90+ degrees all day had dropped suddenly to just 70+ degrees as a weather system moved through the area complete with thunder and lightning! That morning, we awoke to temperatures in the low 50s – a drop of 40 degrees in less than 24 hours. One unexpected consequence given that it is now summer, both Margo and I have succumbed to summer colds and while they aren’t serious, they are annoying and have just sapped the strength from us over the course of a couple of days.

With each passing day, the sense of adventure remains and the tinges of regret are lessening with time. We drove by our former home a few days ago and already it was clear that it was no longer our home and that we had moved on. We didn’t even stop to take a longer look at what had been our life for such a long period of time. Adventures will continue as business will take us back to Southern California in July and even as the word adventure can be so overused at times, there really isn’t any other way to describe the trip we began just a few short weeks ago. We aren’t fulltime RVers and we aren’t gypsies either, but life on and off the road? It’s all about the experience and the memories and for that, we have no regrets whatsoever!