Sep 30, 2011

Sep 30 - Portland Area

It's been days since my last post and it's time to update the journal. We're still here in the Portland/Vancouver area visiting family and will be for about another week. Our main focus has been the two hombres (aka the Grandsons) but we're also trying to fit in some visits with friends from the old days. While here we get to attend birthday bashes and other extended-family events and get-togethers.

Then there are the occasional local explorations like the one last weekend where Grandson Ryan and I made an assault on Beacon Rock about a half hour up the Columbia River Gorge. This over 800 foot tall monolith is the hardened lava plug of an ancient volcanic vent... the rest of it eroded away long ago. Named Beacon Rock by the Lewis and Clark Corps of Discovery, it's a landmark of note that's hard for me to ignore. And by the way, both the 6 and 60 year old explorers completed the climb with energy to spare.

The weather is changing too, from the normal quiet dry and sunny period typical of August and September in the Northwest to a wetter colder pattern that portends the winter ahead. There are still some really nice days ahead yet this fall but the inevitable change has clearly begun. One need look no further than the parade of RVs leaving the RV park and nosing south as evidence.

We're still unsure of our path once we fall in line... just haven't taken the time to think much about that yet.

After a successful climb.

Better not mess with this gang!

Sep 23, 2011

Brief Kid-Watch Update

We've been on the job now for over a week... full time too. These two little guys both wear us down and lift us up... at the same time. How is that possible?  It's exhausting work but there's no where we'd rather be or anything we'd rather be doing.

Haven't had much "online" time, or time to write... opting instead for time with these two.

We think they're worth it.

Sep 15, 2011

New Specs for the Bus-House

"I Can See Clearly Now"

Here's the scoop on our windshield. I had previously written about my crack problem and some valiant attempts to extend the windshield's life after it finally succumbed to a fifth rock impact during it's short life. But all my efforts subsequently failed. It was over. Time to throw in the towel. So officially... for the books, our average windshield life is 37,000 miles and just shy of 5 years. We saw a lot of the country through that glass during its time.

But you know how averages can leave one with an altered understanding of reality. And as we once again head down the road, in just a few weeks, I'll be extra vigilant and not a little fearful lest a rock-spewing gravel truck merges ahead of us... dramatically and quickly lowering that average. Oh no... say it ain't so Joe!

Out with the old...
 With replacement inevitable, I called our insurance agent... who had me call the insurance company's claims office... who had me call the nationwide glass people they deal with... who collected the vital information and found an installer who would be doing the job. I was surprised to learn that the installer can and does change out big single pane motorhome windshields in the field. Imagine that? I'd always heard that it was necessary to drive the motorhome in to a shop, hours away, where a team of people with a fork truck were needed to do the work. Once again, listening to all the "experts", I was misinformed. (I really should do a separate post on this subject -- RV "experts" we've known.  But it'll wait for another day.)

...and in with the new.
 Sure enough, this afternoon, as arranged, a small box truck shows up with three eager installers and a big hunk of glass that was destined to be our new windshield. It's not necessary to describe, blow by blow, the full process. But after just an hour and a half, they were leaving and the bus-house had new specs.

How much does this 5 foot tall by 8-1/2 foot wide curved sheet of glass weigh? No specific weight was listed, but two of us picked up and carried the old one back to the truck without too much effort -- so, I'd estimate it weights somewhere around 100 to 150 pounds... less than I thought it would.

And "they" said it couldn't be done!
 What did it cost? It didn't cost us anything thanks to glass breakage insurance and a declining deductable that had driven our portion to zero after four claimless years. But the quote to do the job was $2700 complete... about $2100 for the glass and $600 for installation. Now I'll wait and see what happens to my premium next year.

Sep 10, 2011

Roll On, Columbia...

Well, we're here. Firmly "rv-parked" in Portland, just west of the airport on the north side of town... not far from the mighty Columbia River, and a little-longer-than-expected drive to our daughter, son-in-law, and grandkid's home, optimistically a little less than a half hour away.

We got in just after noon yesterday, Friday, after an incredibly scenic drive down the Columbia Gorge. We've done this drive dozens of times during our years living in the Northwest and it still seem fresh and new and full of new discoveries today. Due to high-pressure, heat (mid 90's for a few days), and some wild fires up in the mountains, visibility was a little restricted and the haze made photography less than ideal. But it's just spectacular regardless.

First order of business was to fill the diesel tank. After filling the side of a paper grocery store bag with cipherin' and stickin' my finger in the air for an estimate of wind speed and direction, I took a chance that we could make Portland with the fuel we had on board. Of course, all that figurin' was based on the promise from Newmar and Spartan that the tank actually holds 100 gallons and that all but a few gallons can be pumped into the engine and are actually usable. We normally look for fuel when we start burning into the last half of the tank, but the promise of saving a few bucks (and the challenge of the whole endeavor too) pushed me to roll the dice.

I won't drag this storyline out any further as it's really anticlimactic. We made it, of course, and still had something like 15 gallons on board when we reached the crazy-busy Loves Truckstop in Troutdale, OR. With a full tank (3.929/gallon), we're ready to sit for a month and enjoy family.

The kids? They've grown so! In some ways it seemed like we've only been gone a month or two. In other ways it was like we hadn't been here for 2 years. Reality is somewhere in the middle, but getting reacquainted and hugging and talking and hugging some more makes "today" the only really important time.

We all went out for pizza last night and had a grand time.


I've got some catching up and filling in to do, once again, with the Journal. I'm working on a couple posts about our drive over Lolo Pass to Orofino, and the trek into Eastern Washington and along the Wallula Gap.  Photos will be included for no extra charge. Just gotta find the time...

Sep 7, 2011

Lolo Pass Road

The day after Labor Day, Tuesday the 6th, we broke camp at Square Dance Center near Lolo, MT., and pointed the bus-house nose on a westerly and uphill course following US-12 toward the Idaho border. This is precisely the path taken by Lewis and Clark back in 1805, and a route we'd taken a few years ago -- albeit in the opposite direction. It's one of our favorite scenic drives so it's no wonder neither of us spent much time considering alternate routes over the mountains. This is the one we'll do now, again, and, hopefully, many more times in the future.

The skies were clear but visibility was hampered by smoke from a number of fires in the surrounding hills. Persistent high pressure and low winds prevent the yuck from moving much so the day wasn't a good one for photos. Dar managed but the results certainly weren't great.

I don't want to duplicate what I wrote after our previous trip through here (May 2008) so I'll just say we, once again, thoroughly enjoyed the day, stopping often at pull-outs and rest areas... even pulling out the chairs once for a longer break. I mean... we were clearly in no rush to be anywhere. Linear exploring at it's best.

We eventually made it to Orofino where we set up camp for a couple nights at Clearwater Crossing RV Park. Just luv "rushing" across the countryside like this!

Since my words are in short supply today, I'll pop in an extra photo or two. And more photos from our day can be seen in our online photo collection.

Sep 6, 2011


The topic of RV fires has been on my mind the past few months. You may remember that we have good friends who lost their motorhome to fire last September.  This past June popular online bloggers Ed and Marilyn had a fire that totaled their 5th wheel as they were toting it through Missouri. Last winter, a number of RVers reported that someone's RV burned to the ground out in the desert around Quartzsite. And in the past few days, near Yosemite National Park, a motorhome caught fire, set the surrounding hillside on fire, and blackened thousands of acres.

A couple years ago we drove through a campground, just checking it out, and found a completely burnt out chassis of a 5th wheel, surrounded by yellow police tape, sitting on a campsite while neighboring campers carried on normally... a strange and eerie sight to say the least. We never heard more about that one.

While the chance of having a fire in any RV is probably small, it's certainly statistically greater than a fire in a fixed house. And fire is a much bigger concern with RVs due to their light construction, flammable and toxic materials, mobility (running gear, engine, fuels), and the dreaded propane refrigerator. Due to their relatively small size, once a fire gets going the entire unit can be involved quickly. If you're inside your RV when a fire starts there should be but one reaction... get out. Fighting the fire, I'm told, should be a distant secondary effort.

But some things bothered me as I pondered this subject. Probably half the time we spend inside our rig we're in bed (comon... get your mind back on the subject...). And if a fire happens while we're in bed (say, the refrigerator malfunctions in the middle of the night... like our friends in Rockport) what do we do?  Since the bedroom and the bus-house door are on opposite ends of our 40' rig, the likelihood is that the fire will be blocking our normal exit path. Hmmm.

Escape Window: Well, first off, we've got that escape window back there in the bedroom... the one that says "Emergency Exit"... the one the RV dealer told us never to open because "it'll never seal properly again". When we took delivery of the bus-house, the safety director rejected that advice and we did open it a couple time to see how it worked (and, by the way, it sealed back up just fine). But we've never practiced actually exiting through that opening... and I see a number of things that could cause problems. First off... it's high off the ground... ours is 7 feet and the bedroom exit from many 5th wheels is higher yet. Do you have a fear of heights?  Do you dive out head first? Turn around and back through it feet first? Isn't the hinged window going to be in the way, banging the back of your head, as you wriggle your way out? Do each of you fend for yourself, or do you somehow help each other out? Will you be able to solve these problems quickly in a panic situation? Unless you've practiced, you really don't know.

Last week, at Escapade, I attended the fire safety workshop presented by Mac McCoy... the RV Fire Guy. According to Mac, you've got maybe 20 seconds to get out of a burning RV before smoke, fumes, or flames will incapacitate you and you'll likely die. He's a strong proponent of actually practicing going through the escape window... so you'll know how it's done and what works best for you. Unfortunately, going through that window does require some bending, twisting, and other contortions of one's body, and that means a lot of  people we see along the RVing path will not be capable, for one reason or another, of using this means of escape.

So, besides a fire drill to practice going out the escape window, what else can we do?

Smoke Alarms:  Our 40 foot motorhome came with one smoke detector/alarm. It's located way up front near the door. It might wake us up... but it might not. So, in order to have some redundancy and to possibly buy a few more seconds of time in a real fire, I bought another, the best one I could find, and installed in on the ceiling of the bedroom. I check both of them for function every couple weeks.

Fire Extinguishers: The most common fire extinguishers out there are dry chemical types. The BC-type are usually filled with sodium bicarbonate, common baking soda, which works well but is messy (powder everywhere!). The ABC-type are filled with mono-ammonium phosphate... which is not only messy but the residue becomes highly corrosive and toxic when the chemical comes into contact with heat... fire. Users are cautioned to not use ABC-type units near electronics or other sensitive equipment nor should they be used around people (!!). Less common in the USA but very popular in Europe and the rest of the world are foam-type extinguishers, which are non-toxic, very effective, and the use of which creates virtually no additional mess.

The bus-house came delivered with one dry chemical (BC-type) extinguisher... and it, like the smoke alarm, is mounted right next to the front door, at the extreme opposite end of the camper from where we sleep... (with the fire-bomb fridge right in the middle). If the main reason for an extinguisher is to get you a few more moments of time to get out, wouldn't it be handy to have one in the bedroom???  where you spend so much time? It might buy you a few seconds while your trying to figure out that dang escape window.

Of course, a fire extinguisher can come in handy if you're right there when a small fire starts... say, in a pan on the cooktop. We've had a cooktop fire, not in the bus-house but in our fixed no-wheels home back in Washington a few years ago, and the experience taught us two things: first, always have a cover for the pan (or wok in our case) within easy reach when cooking so you can smother any fire while its still manageable. Second, dry chemical fire extinguishers, when used, will probably put out a small fire, but will make a tremendous mess throughout the rest of the house. There will be dry chemical residue in every nook, cranny, and crack in the entire house.

Something else to consider from Ed and Marilyn's blog... they found they didn't have enough fire extinguisher capability. Ed almost had the fire out when their one fire extinguisher emptied and quit. If they had another, who knows, they may have been able to save the rig. As it was, all they could do was wait and watch it burn.

So, with all that information rolling around in my head, we ordered up some more fire extinguishers... five of em to be exact... four of the the foam type and an additional dry chemical BC-type.

 The new big foam extinguisher is now located where the original dry chemical unit was located by the front door. I moved the dry chemical extinguisher to the basement storage bay next to the front door... so it's accessible from the outside. That bay stays unlocked while we're traveling. The other matching dry chemical (BC-type) unit was mounted in the trunk of the car. Our intention is that the dry chemical units will be used only outside.

Three of the new extinguishers are the smaller disposable foam type. I have one mounted on a wall in the kitchen area (away from the cooktop) so it's easy to grab and use in seconds. The other two are back in the bedroom, one mounted on a wall near the escape window, visible and easily grabbed and used; and the other in a cabinet next to my side of the bed. I'm told that the foam-type extinguishers can be used to wet down oneself in order to buy a few extra seconds during an escape from a real fire... in the event you haven't already wet yourself enough.

A note of caution: in the past we had purchased a couple of the First Alert Tundra disposable type fire extinguishers... the red aerosol can type you see at Walmart or your local hardware store. However, after one of the units aged out beyond it's expiration date, I thought I'd use it, for practice, before tossing it out. But when I did so, it failed to operate at all. The propellant inside the can was either never there or had escaped somehow during it's life. If we had needed that unit for a real fire, it would have cost us precious seconds while we figured out it wasn't going to work at all. Consumer Reports rated them unacceptable for this same reason.

We're not experts on these things, but we feel better knowing we have a few more tools at our disposal than we did before... and that we're mentally more prepared in the event of a real fire.

Sep 5, 2011

No-Labor Labor Day

We're camped at the Square Dance Center and Campground just a couple miles west of Lolo, MT. We stayed here back in May of 2008 during our eastward quest for the Lewis & Clark Corps of Discovery expedition. Despite the fact that neither Dar nor I are square dancers, they apparently feel we're OK people anyway and welcome us with open arms. It's one of the nicest campgrounds in the area and one we like because it's more like "camping" than "rv parking". We're "kicking back" and doing no labor whatsoever today... just reading, writing, playing with photos, or whatever else we feel like doing.

The campground is right on the banks of Lolo Creek, which flows down from Lolo Pass and the Bitterroot Mountains about 20 miles to the west. In 1804, the L&C boys established a camp they called Travelers Rest near here, and then followed Lolo Creek up and into the Bitterroots on their way west. I'd like to think they walked right through our campsite.

We're here for two nights, yielding to the Labor Day revelers and travelers who'll have to go back to work and school tomorrow. Once they're all safely back to their weekday lives on Tuesday, we'll break camp and head up US-12 and over Lolo Pass. That chunk of road, between here and Orofino, ID, is one of our favorites. It's only 150 miles but we'll probably take most of the day to let it entertain us.

The drive from Bozeman yesterday was also very entertaining. Heading west on I-90, as we neared Missoula, the mountains start to close in... pinching the road, railroad line, and the Clark Fork River together in a meandering twisting dance that was especially enjoyable on the bright blue almost wind-less day. The bus-house was humming smoothly... seemingly enjoying the drive as much as we were. We all agreed the Rocky Mountains are a spectacular and very attractive place.

Sep 3, 2011

Movin' On Down the Road

This will be another quick update, as we're getting ready to hit the road again in the morning.

Approaching storm at Escapade in Gillette
We left Gillette on Friday morning about 9am. With Bozeman MT in our sights, and since it was looking like a good driving day, I thought we'd be able to complete the 380 miles with plenty of reserve energy left to enjoy dinner with my brother... a denizen of the fine city of Bozeman. We made good time and the drive was quite agreeable until we turned due west near Billings... and ran smack dab into a 30 - 40 mph gusty headwind. I had drawn the straw to drive this leg and by the time we made Bozeman, some three hours later... well, lets just say it was time to relax.

Update on the windshield crack I attempted to stop the other day:  The cross-scoring of the crack with a glass cutter idea failed completely. As we drove against that strong headwind today we could see the crack growing as the big sheet of glass held back the almost 100 mph combined wind speed. At this point we're resigned to the inevitable new windshield and hope we can make it all the way to Portland, where we'll be parked for a month, before starting that project.

We've been at Sunrise Campground on the east side of Bozeman and had two very enjoyable dinners with my brother Bill. He's an Assistant Professor at Montana State and just kicked off the new semester a week ago... which means he's swamped. Despite it all, he made time for us both nights and we certainly appreciated his consideration and good conversation. We won't see him now until next summer back in Wisconsin. Thanks Bill... we thoroughly enjoyed our time together.

As I mentioned earlier, we're back on the road tomorrow, Sunday, and will probably alight somewhere near Missoula. Tune in tomorrow for another episode in the continuing adventures.

Beyond Branson; Pondering Future Travel

This past Tuesday, we moved from Branson to a very nice Corps of Engineer’s Park on Wappapello Lake.  We’re in the Redman Creek CG. This fac...