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!