Escapade – Here we come!

Friday, June 17:  We arrived at the Wilson County Fairgrounds/Expo Center in Lebanon, TN around 11 this morning.  This will be our home for the next nine nights while attending the Escapee RV Club’s 61st Annual Escapade. We registered for this event back in January and can’t believe we’re finally here.  We couldn’t believe our great luck when we landed a campsite with 50-amp power!!!  According to Kevin, the volunteer who parked us, there were only 8 other sites with 50-amp service in the fairgrounds.  I guess arriving a few days early has its advantages; not only are we are parked next to a lovely shade tree but we don’t have any neighbors on our right side.  We picked up our Welcome Package which includes our name badges, fairground map, Program Guide and Escapade t-shirts. The event doesn’t start until Sunday, so we’ll do some exploring tomorrow.

Thursday, June 16:  Sadie and I took a coffee stroll around the campground a little after 6:00 this morning, while it was still relatively cool (83).  By 6:30, I had my clippers and other grooming tools set up on the picnic table and started clipping off Sadie’s curls.  As always, Sadie was a good sport, and as always, I got carried away.  I goofed up her beard (I had to cut out some clumps/mats). Fester says she looks like a dandelion? I think she looks like a toughie – like an apricot Tramp from Disney’s “Lady and the Tramp.”

Sadie alerted when a gentleman and his two darling dogs approached our site and started a conversation with Fester.  We learned that he, his wife and the pups – Archie (apricot) and Shelby (white) both supposedly Miniature Doodles (more like toy) are from Indio, California, which is about 23 miles east of Palm Springs.  We passed thru Indio last year, returning to our coach from an off-road trip in Joshua Tree National Forest.

We spent a couple of hours in the pool before taking off for our approximate 2.5-hour River Styx Tour of Mammoth Cave.  Considering it reached 100 degrees today, we were excited to be touring a cave that stays a constant 54 degrees. But, we were glad we brought fleece jackets because it was chilly. The 2.5-mile River Styx Tour focuses on the unique geologic and natural history of Mammoth and includes a brief side trip to the underground water level.  Our tour guide Chris was interesting and informative, and spread some “cave” humor while providing an in-depth look at the millions of years of formation of Mammoth Cave. Did I mention there were 600 steps to climb or descend?

After the cave tour, we returned home to get Sadie and went to check out the Wigwam Village (motel) we had passed several times.  Fester has food memories of pestering his parents to stay in a teepee during a childhood family vacation.  While taking some pictures, we were fortunate to meet the new owner, who gave us a quick history of the village and explained the extensive renovations being done to bring the village back to its 1930’s splendor and authenticity.  Built in 1937, Historic Wigwam Village No. 2 is one of only three surviving Wigwam Villages of the seven built around the country before 1950 and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Wednesday, June 15:  Today we’re celebrating our 31st Wedding Anniversary!  We left FMCA Campground in Cincinnati and are headed to Cave Country RV Park in Cave City, Kentucky for a two-night stay.  Fortunately, the campground has 50-amp service and a POOL since it will be hot, hot, hot! 

As I mentioned earlier, Fester went shopping for fans to help cool us off.  Unfortunately, the majority of campsites at Escapades are only 30-amp service (vs. 50-amp) which means we will be limited to just one air conditioner.  And, with temps in the high 90’s and low 100’s, that air conditioner may not keep up.  Which is why I’ve made reservations for Sadie to attend Doggy Day Care while we’re at Escapades.  We worry that the coach will get too hot, or we experience a brown-out from all the rigs sucking up the electricity.  This will certainly be a new experience for us. 

After getting settled in, we donned our swimsuits and almost ran to the pool. The hot sun has been heating up the water for days, so instead of being cold when we waded into the pool, it was refreshing and we were able to relax and float around for hours. It was too hot to cook out, so instead we went to a local restaurant in Horse Cave. You know you’re in a small town restaurant when the video screen loops highlights of community and church functions, as well as obituaries… for real.

Jungle Jim’s Adventure

Tuesday, June 14:  You know a store is big (in this case huge), when it comes with its own Store Map, as well as a separate guide to their International Market section which features more than 180,ooo products from 75 countries.  Needless to say, Jungle Jim’s is not just a market, but a destination!

Last time we were in Cincinnati we visited Jungle Jim’s twice, so we knew what to expect.  We started off full steam ahead, but slowed down considerably an hour later, when we just made it out of the International Market.  We spent another hour shopping the “regular” grocery isles as well as their Natural Foods, Olive Bar, Cheese Shop, Beer Cave, Deli and Cookware areas.  We even dared to buy a Chocolate Sea Salt “Cricket Bar” from the Bug Candy display.  This bar was manufactured by “Gym-N-Eat Crickets” in Iowa and is considered an alternative and sustainable protein source.  Of course, I’ll let you know the verdict once we sample the bar. 

It was already in the mid-80’s by the time we got back to Zephyr.  Because our RV refrigerator isn’t efficient in such high temperatures Fester wanted to add a few cooling fans to the system, in anticipation of the 90- and 100-degree temperatures we will experience in the next few weeks.  Fortunately, he had a little shade and a “mister” fan which provides evaporative cooling while working on his fan contraption.   

We’ve noticed a really nice older rig in the campground that was worthy of a few photos – I just love the whimsical cube theme. The coach’s license plate says “ITSHOME” and the license plate on their toad (RV slang for a towed vehicle) is “GUESTRM.” I think we would enjoy meeting that couple.

An addendum to last night’s post… As luck would have it, Fester did get to meet them. Fester had made a run to Home Depot to pick-up a few battery-operated fans.  I wondered why he had been gone so long and was starting to worry (as usual, he didn’t bring his phone).  Turns out he was parked just down the road from Zephyr, chatting with the ITSHOME couple. The couple, Tom & Marion, have lived aboard their Foretravel RV for 18 years – and, they were definitely worth meeting.  Tom, also a mechanical engineer, shared a lot of valuable, hard-earned information on “everything RV,” which explains why Fester was late returning from his Hope Depot excursion. I had no idea he spent almost an hour chatting with Tom and Marion and would have noticed his Jeep if I ventured out for a Sadie walk. I eventually met Tom and Marion as we were hooking up the Jeep Wednesday morning, getting ready to pull out of FMCA.

On the road again!

Tuesday, June 14: Yesterday morning we began a three-week summer RV adventure which will take us from home to Cincinnati, OH, to Mammoth Cave National Park in Kentucky, to Nashville, TN where we will attend the Escapee RV Club’s 61st Annual Escapade at the Wilson County Fairgrounds/Expo Center in Lebanon (about 30 miles West of Nashville). After the Escapade, which takes place June 19 – 24, we’ll make our way to Ashville, NC, to visit with Fester’s dad. We’re fortunate that Fester’s brother, Jim, and wife, Cookie will be passing through Ashville during our visit.

We plan to arrive at the Fairgrounds early (June 17) so we can explore the area and get the “lay of the land.” We’re staying two extra nights as we’re registered for two special Escapade motor coach tours, called HOPs which stands for Head Out Programs. On June 24 we’re on the Best of Nashville HOP and on June 25 we’re taking the Nashville Civil War HOP. We’ve never attended a HOP, so these will be an interesting way to explore Nashville with new RV friends.

After a late start (due to my never-ending procrastination) and five hours on the road, we’ve settled into a two-night stay at the Family Motor Coach Association’s (FMCA) campground in Newtown, Ohio, which is just outside of Cincinnati. We’re familiar with this members-only campground because we stayed here last October on our way to the Xscapers Convergence in Lake Havasu, Arizona. As FMCA members, we can stay free for two nights every month.

We arrived at FMCA’s campground around 4pm and set up camp in 94 degree heat (with humidity to match). After getting Zephyr set to cool down, we took the Jeep and Sadie to a familiar spot just a few miles down the road – the Fifty West Brewing Company and Beer Garden.

Being an early Monday afternoon, we had the place pretty much to ourselves, except for some die-hard pickleball players. I was able to enjoy their ice-cold craft American Lager in the shady Beer Garden, while Fester had their specially crafted blackberry soda (Sadie had water). Before sitting down, we took Sadie for a quick walk on the Little Miami Scenic Trail which has direct access to Fifty West and the the Little Miami River. As we enjoyed our “linner” (similar to brunch, but lunch and dinner) we watched and felt a storm brewing. The brewery/restaurant/outdoor center is pretty cool. During our visit last October, it was packed with families and drinkers alike. Aside from abutting the Little Miami Scenic Train, Fifty West also offers customers the opportunity to play pickleball, volleyball and cornhole. While we didn’t check it out, there’s supposed to be a futsal court too. For those like me who have no idea what I’m talking about, a “Futsal is an association football-based game played on a hard court smaller than a football pitch, and mainly indoors. and other games.”

The Fifty West Brewery & Beer Garden is on US 50W, hence its name. Some Wikipedia trivia about U.S. Route 50 or U.S. Highway 50… Paraphrased, “US 50 is a major east–west route of the U.S. Highway system, stretching 3,073 miles (from Maryland Route 528 to Interstate 80 in West Sacramento, California.

US 50 was created in 1926 as part of the original U.S. Highway system and passes through a total of 12 states including Maryland (as well as the District of Columbia), Virginia, West Virginia, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Missouri, Kansas, Colorado, Utah, Nevada and California.” We may have to add Route 50 to our bucket list, along with Route 66.

We decided to return to our campground because the sky was darkening, thunder grumbled and the wind was starting to pickup. We heard the awnings flapping and Fester made a made dash to pull them in, before they broke. Sure enough, shortly after getting back to Zephyr, the storm let loose and poor Sadie shook from the loud commotion. Sadie is not a fan of thunder, fireworks or gunshots. Fortunately, with the heavy rain came cooler temperatures (72). Yes!!!

Thanks to the lower temps and good air conditioning, we had a good night’s sleep. It is amazing how quickly the three of us adapted to life on the coach. After coffee, Fester and Sadie took a nap and I practiced yoga. It’s 74 out right now, and the expected high is 97 – yikes! Fortunately, it will be mostly cloudy – but 97? That is crazy – we’re not sure if we want to leave Sadie alone in the coach during the heat of the day, in case something happens to the air conditioner.

After Sadie’s nap, we took a walk on the Lake Barber Walking Path while I finished my coffee and Sadie did her business. The trail is right behind our campsite and I was able to enjoy views of Lake Barber (before it gets too hot).

We’re planning to hit Jungle Jim’s this morning for a much-needed grocery run. Due to my procrastination, we have no quick breakfast grub like cereal or yogurt. Jungle Jim’s is an experience unto itself – which I’ll share later.

Home Sweet Home

Monday, April 4:  Be it ever so humble, there really is no place like home. It is hard to believe that our time on the road has come to an end. We spent our last night on the road at Little Beaver State Park in Beaver, West Virginia, and arrived home last Wednesday evening (March 30). 

During the final leg of our journey, we reminisced about the places we’ve been and the people we’ve met along the way. What an adventure!  Looking through our photos, I realize that there are some really great stories that I didn’t include in the blog.  I hope to write about them as I take the time to catalog and organize our photos. For now, today’s brief blog will simply wrap up our journey with final stats. I hope you’ll check in periodically to check on new posts.  Thanks for sharing our journey.     

  • Nights: 153
  • Months: 5 (November, December, January, February & March)
  • Miles:  7,885
  • Time Zones: 4 (Eastern, Central, Mountain, Pacific & Eastern Daylight Savings)
  • States:  11 (Ohio, Missouri, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, California, Alabama, South Carolina, North Carolina and West Virginia) Note:  We do not count states that we pass thru or overnight stays

Greetings from Asheville, North Carolina! We’ll be here for a week, visiting Mark’s dad, Ken. Mark’s brothers and their lovely wives will join us on Friday and we’re looking forward to spending time with everyone over the weekend.

Zephyr has been running great and we’re confident that mechanical issues are behind us (fingers crossed). Of course the ridiculous fuel prices have put a damper on our travels, and it seems like we made a timely decision when we started to head towards home.

Unless something really exciting happens, this will be my last blog for this trip. Once we’re back home, I’ll do a final update that captures some memorable moments and photos that didn’t get posted along the way. Thanks for tuning in. Ciao!

Making our way home

Sunday, February 27:  We made it to Fort Stockton, Texas, after Fester put in 9 hours of driving.  We broke our rule of NOT arriving at a campground in the dark. Let’s just say we are still talking, and leave it at that. 

Monday, February 28:   As of today, we’ve been traveling for four months. Unfortunately, our recent bout of mechanical issues has put a bit of a damper on our attitudes and Fester is determined to put more Texas miles behind us today.  Once we get to Louisiana, we hope to slow down and enjoy our travels again. We are now in Central time zone, so we’re making adjustments to our internal clocks as we go. 

As (bad) luck would have it, while pulled over at a rest area, I noticed anti-freeze leaking from one of the below compartments. Upon inspection and some troubleshooting, Fester determined there was a leak in the diesel fired heater circuit.  Since the leak was significate, we checked the radiator level and added anti-freeze to top it off (the diesel engine and the hot water heating system share the same coolant). Thanks to our last radiator issue, we had a few gallons of anti-freeze with us – just in case.  Fester wasn’t able to make a repair without the necessary hose connections, we decided to back-track about 10 miles to a campground in Kerrville for the night.  When we arrive at our campsite at “By the River RV Park”, we disconnected the Jeep and checked out the diesel heater.  Rather than replacing the diesel heater at this time, Fester decided to re-route the hose and by-pass the heater altogether.  He’ll fix or buy a new diesel heater when we return home. After a trip to an auto parts store, we found the parts we needed and hurried back to the campground to make the repairs before dark.    

Tuesday, March 1: Tonight, we’re dry camping at a Walmart in Beaumont, Texas. 

Wednesday, March 2:  As we said goodbye to Texas this morning, we set our sights on New Orleans.  But, because of yesterday’s Mardi Gras celebrations, we couldn’t find a decent campground in the area.  Since we’ve been to New Orleans on another trip, so we didn’t mind skipping it, especially considering our travel blues.  We were making good time and decided our next stop would be Escapees Rainbow Plantation RV Park in Summerdale, Alabama.  Amazingly, we have been in four states today – Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. Pretty much an interstate blur.

Thursday, March 3 – Sunday, March 6:  Although we took a few day trips to explore the beaches of Gulf Shores and visit the charming nearby towns of Foley and Fairhope, we really enjoyed just hanging around the campground and meeting fellow RVers (and ,of course, their dogs). As a matter of fact, while on a morning walk with Sadie, we ran into a couple and their dog, Skipper, that we met way back in Branson, MO. They’ve been at this park since January and we compared notes of where we’ve been since we last met.

Monday, March 7:  Looks like we’ll spend the day driving across northern Florida, hoping to camp past Jacksonville. While at Rainbow Plantation, we spent time mapping out the next few weeks of travel which will focus on stops in Charleston, South Carolina, and Lumberton, Asheville and Gastonia in North Carolina. We’re looking forward to visiting my longtime friend, Renee, and her husband, Rudy in Charleston. Then we’ll spend some time with family in North Carolina.

Back on the road

Friday, February 18:  We were all set to leave Bill’s truck yard this morning, but decided to take a quick test run before hooking up the jeep.   We headed up Old Womans Spring Road and as we were moving along, Fester noticed white smoke coming from the tailpipe again.  He thought it was residual oil from the turbo issue and wasn’t too concerned.  However, when the smoke didn’t stop after a few more miles, Fester pulled over to check things out.  Another Good Samaritan was following behind and pulled over too, saying she noticed the smoke and was concerned. After checking the engine compartment, Fester assured her that we were okay and it was just oil burn-off.  We headed back to Bill’s and shortly after turning around, Fester said there was no more smoke.  Back at the shop, John checked the engine and confirmed that it was oil burn-off, which was to be expected. The back of Zephyr was covered in oil residue, so we grabbed a bucket, Dawn detergent and rags and spent the next 40 minutes or so cleaning off the oil.  Fortunately, Bill’s water hose reached and we were able to spray everything down and rinse off.  After hooking up the Jeep, we were on our way.

We were headed to Palm Springs/Joshua Tree KOA for the night, since it was close by and we considered it a “practice run” before setting off toward Phoenix and beyond.  We needed fuel, but wanted to wait until we reached Arizona so we wouldn’t have to pay the ridiculous California fuel prices.  It was wonderful being out of the truck yard.  We took advantage of the KOA’s pool and hot tub, which were fed by mineral wells/hot springs – lovely!

Saturday, February 19:  When we were back in Arizona, we pulled into a truck stop to fuel up and Fester saw radiator fluid gushing out of the tank onto the ground.  We quickly moved from the fuel pumps to a parking place among the trucks while Fester tried to figure out the problem.  Apparently, when John put the coach back together after repairing the turbo, he may not have mounted the radiator tank securely.  The tank had dropped from its mount and in doing so, the radiator hose rubbed up against a moving belt and was sliced, almost in two.  We were fortunate that we were at a truck stop, with a parts store next door.  Unfortunately, the parts store was getting ready to close, adding to Fester’s anxiety.  We spent the next three hour or so at the truck stop while Fester jury-rigged a way to remount the radiator tank and clamp the hose.  After filling the radiator with about 7 gallons of antifreeze, we took off for Quartzsite – a familiar safe haven.  We ended up camping on Plomosa Road again. Very few campers here compared to mid-January.

Sunday, February 20Tuesday, February 22:  Quartzsite has little in the way of shopping, and the hardware & auto parts stores were closed on Sunday. After putting a parts list together, we drove the jeep to a Phoenix suburb to get the parts we needed for the repairs.

By early afternoon on Tuesday, Fester was able to make and install a bracket to hold the radiator in a secured position and reinforce the repaired hose. We topped off the radiator fluid too. We are good to go and will head out tomorrow morning. In the meantime, we took the jeep off-road for some fun.

Wednesday, February 23:  After stopping to fill our propane tank this morning, we were on the road by 8:15, heading east on I-10 towards Phoenix (and eventually, Benson, Arizona).  After about 45 minutes on the road, Fester noticed the amber Check Engine light came on.  The light was intermittent, so we continued on our way, keeping an eye on the gauges.  A red flashing error message showed up on the computer, which I wrote down. We stopped at the next Rest Area to check things out.  Everything in the engine compartment looked good so we started off again, heading into a steady rain.  Although it was nice to see the continuous rain, the temperature had dropped 10 degrees from 52 to 42 in just the last few hours. In addition to the Check Engine light, the coach wouldn’t accelerate above 55 mph. Rather than pushing on to Benson, we decided to stop at Pima County Fairgrounds in Tucson to investigate the engine issue, since we are familiar with the campground and the area.  We ended up parked in an area with mostly permanent and semi-permanent residents and our site was much smaller than we would have liked, especially since Fester needs to work on the coach.

Once again, Fester called John Krauss, our good friend and excellent Mechanic, to see if he could help troubleshoot our problem.  John threw out some ideas and later in the day, John called us back with his friend Kevin on the line.  Kevin, who is a diesel mechanic, suggested it might be an issue with the fuel sensor, but said it would be helpful to have the Cummins’ error code (vs. the computer’s error code).

Thursday, February 24:  Fester contacted the software company and was able to obtain the Cummins error code and after speaking to Kevin again, we had a fix in mind. It was cold and windy and we were both a bit discouraged and feeling blue because of the recent mechanical problems. 

Friday, February 25:  As Kevin suggested, Fester cleaned the fuel injection connections and we took Zephyr out for a test run.  Unfortunately, once on the freeway, we experienced the same error message and couldn’t accelerate past 55 mph.  Discouraged, we returned to our campsite to try another approach.  John had suggested we change out the fuel filters.  While changing the first filter, Fester noticed black “gunk” around the top, which we assumed was algae (not a good discovery). When tipped over and shaken, bits of black gunk dropped into the bucket.  The second filter was clean.  After both new filters were in place, we took a second test drive and didn’t get any error messages and acceleration was normal. These good signs seemed to indicate that there was a block in the fuel filter causing the problem.  Fester felt confident we were in good shape to continue our travels.

Saturday, February 26: Since we had pre-paid for the night, we decided to bop around town today and lucked out by finding a wonderful Italian restaurant, which helped put us in a good mood for moving on.

Sunday, February 27: After fueling up, we set off down I-10E toward El Paso, Texas (about 300 miles).  We decided to skip Benson and instead try to make up some distance and leave Arizona behind.  It’s now 2:30, and we’ve already passed Las Cruces, New Mexico and El Paso, so we’re making good time to wherever we’re going.    

The turbo saga continues

Sunday, February 13:   We eventually escaped the truck yard and headed back to JTNP for a 4-wheel adventure. We took the Geology Tour Road to the 11.5-mile Berdoo Canyon Road, which was mostly downhill (some pretty darn steep).  At one point we came upon a warning sign, designed to create fear and uncertainty. Of course we ignored it and pushed on. Before we head off on any unknown 4-wheel road, we always make sure to have a full tank of gas, plenty of water and snacks, in case we get stranded. We took turns driving through the rocky desert landscape, which included a lot of very sandy roads that were tough to navigate. Fester took over when we reached a particularly difficult descent, lined with boulders and sharp rocks. Near the end of the canyon, we drove past the ruins of the Berdoo Camp, which was established in the 1930s by the builders of the California Aqueduct.  The trail came out at Dillon Road, towards Rt. 10. Sadly, it was obvious where JTNP land ended and BLM property began. We started passing homemade shooting ranges, strewn with trash, broken bottles, torn plastic bags, abandoned targets and empty shotgun shells. We saw mini-dumpsites with tires, junk and even furniture. Litter was scattered all along the roadside.  Seeing the total disregard for the land really pissed me off and makes me want to scream. As we headed toward home on Route 10, we passed several cities including Coachella, Indio, Palm Desert and Palm Springs. It is amazing how we went from desert to oasis, in just a matter of miles, with the mountains remaining constant.

Monday, February 14:  Maureen, a friend back home, suggested we visit Pioneertown while we’re here.  Her daughter lives in the area and shared the info. We passed the Pioneertown sign several times already, but decided to make it today’s destination.   According to the official website https://visitpioneertown.com, Pioneertown was established in 1946 by Dick Curtis and seventeen investors (many from the film industry) to create a “Living Breathing Movie Set.”. Within its’s 32,000 acres of desert and mountains, Pioneertown became an 1880’s themed town with fully functional businesses including a grocery store, motel, saloon, restaurant, newspaper and post office.  More than 5o films & serials were filmed in Pioneertown during the 194o’s and 195o’s. There have been over 2oo productions in town and all of the Gene Autry Flying A television productions through the 195o’s were shot here. Pioneertown is still a fully functioning production set where movies, independent films, music videos and commercials are filmed every month.  Although there were quite a few people touring Pioneertown, it really comes alive on the weekend, when most of the shops and restaurants/saloons are open for business and tourists come in droves. We did see a few privately-owned homes on the property and wonder how those folks put up with all the tourists tromping thru town.

Tuesday, February 15:  We woke to a chilly, windy morning and the wind continued to pick up throughout the day, with gusts up to 50mph!  Being in the high desert, we saw a lot of blowing dust all day long.  We’ve been at Bill’s Diesel for a week now, and today we’re supposed to find out the turbo status.  That said, we wanted to stick close to home in case we’re able to pick it up from San Bernardino today. Late morning, Bill told Fester that the turbo guy was able to rebuild the turbo, but still had a few things to work on, so we can’t pick it up today.

We had some projects lined up to keep us busy while we waited. Sadie and I walked our desert loop again. The turbo guy got back to Bill before day’s end and said we should be able to get it in the morning – to check back with him when they open at 9. We took a trip to Home Depot to pick up some screws for my window blinds project and came across a really wacky car decorated with all sorts of stuff including antlers, coins, bullets, crosses, matchbox cars…you name it.  I thought the “Art Car” was worthy of a few photos.  I imagine the owner would be an interesting character with a story or two to share.

Wednesday, February 16:  The temperatures dropped and the wind howled all night long, making for a bad night’s sleep.  And, to top it off, we accidently ran our batteries down to 2% because we forgot to switch the portable electric heater to the power cord Bill let us use. As the heater slowly drained the batteries, it eventually shut down. It was very, very cold inside the coach when we got up.  Fester turned the generator on so we could charge the batteries and turn on our heater system. Gentleman that he is, Fester insisted that I drink my coffee in bed while the place warmed up. I didn’t argue.

Bill said our turbo was ready for pick-up and he asked Fester if we would mind delivering a part to the same turbo shop.  Of course, we said yes, but had to wait about an hour or so for John, the mechanic, to remove the part. We didn’t get back to the coach until almost 4 and decided to stay home for the rest of the night. It was a big relief to have the turbo here.

Thursday, February 17:  Brrrr… it was a cold 35 degrees this morning; with a high of just 57 for the day. Interestingly, back home in Willoughby (yes, we do check) the temperature was 51 degrees this morning. It’s hard to believe it was colder here than in Ohio.

Last night was our 9th night in the truck yard, and while we’re trying to make the best of it, the experience is definitely getting old.  Fester’s waiting until 9 or so to approach Bill and John to see when they may start work on our coach.  The last few days have been very windy and chilly, which might slow down our progress since John will be working on our coach outside vs. the warmth/wind protection of a garage.  At least we have the turbo here so its just a matter of hurry up and wait.  Once we know when they plan to start work, we can make plans to do more sightseeing, etc. We’re talking about visiting JTNP again, but we’ll start at the Oasis Visitor Center and explore that part of the park.  There’s also another 4-wheel drive/high clearance road we haven’t been on yet, that we may check out.

John started work on the turbo around lunch time, and we decided to stick around. It seems Bill had John focus solely on our repairs so he made good progress. Late afternoon he was adding oil and attending to a few other important details. Fester thinks John may finish up today and we can be on our merry way tomorrow. Yes!

We’re starting to think about routes for our homeward journey. We thought about heading north toward Las Vegas then Albuquerque, but cold temperatures may cause us to backtrack south, heading for New Orleans. Although it’s only the middle of February, we need to be back the first week of April for Fester’s scheduled doctor appointment and lab work. Starting back now will allow us to take our time and enjoy a leisurely trip down the southern coast.

Joshua Tree National Park

Sunday, February 13: After enjoying breakfast leftovers, we’re setting off for our second visit to Joshua Tree National Park (JTNP), planning to travel the unpaved roads today for some fun adventures.

Saturday, February 12:  Fortunately, Bill showed us where the “secret” key was hidden so we can let ourselves in and out of the gate this weekend.  Not being locked in is definitely good.   On our way to JTNP, we stopped for breakfast at the Crossroads Café on Rt. 62 (a diner recommended by mechanic John). While talking over breakfast, we realized we forgot our National Parks pass, which saves us from paying the entry fee. Because we had to return home anyways, we stopped at a roadside Farmers’ Market and purchased local strawberries, blueberries, Brussel sprouts and snap peas.  We also stopped at a weekly “Swap Meet”, basically an outdoor flea market with regular vendors.

After dropping off our breakfast leftovers and market purchases, we set out again for JTNP, with our National Parks pass.  We spent several hours just driving around the park, getting to know our way around. There were many places along the road to park and take photos. Later, we took one of the unpaved roads and had fun exploring the park from a totally different perspective.  According to the park brochure, the 792,510 acres park (more than 80% of it managed as wilderness) is comprised of two deserts. The eastern half of the park, below 3,000 feet above sea level, lies within the Colorado Desert.  The western half of the park, above 3,000 feet above sea levels, lies with the Mojave Desert and is habitat to the “wild-armed” Joshua tree and Mojave yuccas.  The roads and trails lead through a jumble of stacked boulders, which began underground eons ago as a result of volcanic activity. It is amazing to drive between these two deserts and watch as the habitat gradually changes.  We spent a lot of time in the Mojave Desert during our PCT hike, and remember the drastic temperature changes as the day turned to night. We hope to get back to the park at night, as the dark skies make this a perfect place for star gazing.

Friday, February 11:  We didn’t make venture out much today, and spent the majority of our time on small, but necessary projects around the coach.

Disaster Strikes!

Tuesday, February 8: We left Jojoba Hills before 9 this morning, amidst sunny skies and warm temperatures. Our destination is Twentynine Palms and Joshua Tree National Forest, but as luck would have it, I’m updating the blog while we’re broken down on the side of the road, waiting for a tow truck.

Despite road construction, we were making good time and reminiscing (once again) about our PCT hike. We saw the snowcapped Sierra Nevada Mountains in the distance, and were chatting about Big Bear Lake and Palm Springs when our morning got exciting. Climbing a steep grade, Fester noticed the diesel was sluggish and having a tough time making it up the hill. His gauges didn’t display any issues, so we kept driving. Somewhere in between Morongo Valley and Yucca Valley on Twentynine Palms Highway, we started up a slight hill when Fester yelled to me “it looks like we’re on fire… grab the fire extinguisher.” The extinguisher was right next to my seat, so I had it and was pulling the pin as I raced down the passenger side of Zephyr. There was white smoke everywhere at the back of the coach, and I initially thought the Jeep was on fire because the brakes had locked up or something. But Fester came down the driver’s side of Zephyr and saw small flames and a lot of smoke coming from the exhaust pipe. He handed me the Jeep keys and told me to get it in gear and ready to back up while he unhooked it from the coach. Once the Jeep was backed safely away from the coach, I grabbed Sadie, along with Fester’s wallet, my purse and our phones and iPads and put everything in the Jeep. With sirens blaring and lights flashing, the fire/rescue trucks showed up in no time, thanks to a good Samaritan who pulled in behind us and made the call to 911.

Working with the folks who handle our Family Motor Coach Association’s Roadside Assistance Program, Fester was able to line up a towing service and a diesel mechanic. We were told to expect the tow truck in 60 to 90 minutes. Two hours later, we called FMCA again and explained no one showed up or called. They contacted another (local) tow company and said they’d be there in 30 minutes.

Thirty-minutes later, we were impressed as “Big Red” from Lefevres Towing approached us, and the driver expertly pulled in, turned around and backed up close to Zephyr. Once the driver, Casey, assessed the situation, he got down to the business of hooking Zephyr up to be towed. The process took about 45 minutes, and we felt very confident with Casey’s expertise and trusted he would tow our home on wheels safely. As we followed Casey to the repair shop, we saw that even with 15 speeds, Big Red struggled to pull our coach (weighing 33,ooo pounds) up two steep hills, including an 8% grade on Old Woman Springs Road.

Fortunately, Fester had called Bill’s Diesel Truck and Equipment Repair Services’ owner earlier to let him know we were running late. Bill left the truck yard gate open for us and Casey backed Zephyr into a designated space. Because it was already after hours, we told Bill we would return when they opened at 9am to figure things out. We ended up spending the night the Best Western in Yucca Valley.

Wednesday, February 9: We arrived at Bill’s truck yard around 8:30, and the gate was already open. Fester met John, the head mechanic, and they started discussing a game plan. We were told to just hang out until John had a chance to look at the turbo and access the damage. Sadie had a chance to meet Twiggy, the yard dog (I keep wanting to say junk yard, because it kind of looks that way with broken trucks and RVs all over). Little Twiggy is a scrapper and let’s you know she’s got her eye on you. We hope to eventually make friends with her, as we’ll be dry camping here while Bill works on Zephyr. It’s generous of him to let us stay, and we are happy since we’d probably be boondocking anyways.

Sadly, my first task was cleaning out the fridge and freezer. Because we were parked unevenly along side the road, we had to turn off the fridge/freezer because of the propane gas. When we arrived at the truckyard, we weren’t level, so we left if the propane off overnight, knowing everything would spoil. On the bright side, we had been “eating down” the contents of fridge and freezer so I could defrost it, so it wasn’t very full.

Sadie and I set out to explore the desert just down the road, being sure to observe any and all “No Trespassing” signs. It seems folks around here don’t want you on their land, even if that land is nothing but desert scrub. We found a nice loop path that allowed us to get some exercise and sunshine, while exploring the desert area which was scattered with Joshua Trees and Yucca plants.

Thursday: February 10: Did I mention that the truck yard gates get locked after 6pm. Until we manage to earn a key, we are destined to end our travels by 5:30 so we don’t get locked out. It is a strange feeling knowing you can’t leave.

To hurry things along with the repairs, we volunteered to take the turbo to their “turbo guy” who’s in San Bernardino, about 1.5 hours away. We dropped it off around 10:30 this morning and after a quick look, the turbo guy thought that something must have hit the air side of the turbo and damaged the fins, which induced a vibration and ultimately caused the exhaust side of the turbo to fail. The turbo guy said he would examine it further and let us know if he can do a rebuild. If so, we should be able to pick it up on Tuesday. At least we have some idea of how long we will be at Bill’s truck yard. We can plan some day trips and start working on our next destination. That was the highlight of our day. We spent the rest of it driving around town while Fester checked a few auto parts stores and Tractor Supply for some fittings. And, we did go grocery shopping to re-stock the fridge. Tomorrow we plan to visit Joshua Tree National Park.