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!  

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