Sunday, February 21, 2010

NECCESSITY: The Mother of Invention

As we sit, parked in our daughter's driveway, awaiting the arrival of our first grandkid, several things become apparent about urban camping. First, 15 amp electric power doesn't run much. We have to be very aware of what we have running before turning on any other appliances. We found out the hard way that the circuit we are plugged into is also shared by our daughter's bedroom and if the breaker trips in the middle of the night their alarm clocks don't go off in the morning. Ooops!

The second problem is what to do with full waste water tanks. It is a big hassle to get the trailer ready for the road and drive 15 miles to the nearest dump station and back again ever two weeks so I was really looking for a simpler option.

Ideally one would just tap into the houses sewer system through the clean-out plug but it hasn't been opened in decades and the previous owners built a wall that partially encloses the drain making it almost impossible to get a wrench on the plug. I've got some ideas on how to go about getting the plug out but for now I needed a sure way to get my tanks emptied.

I searched on the internet and found "blue buddies". The name belongs to one manufacturer but is used generically to describe any small tank with wheels, a handle and sewer hose connection. They are called "blue buddies" because the originals are made out of blue plastic. They are made to be either pulled by hand or the handle is designed so that it can be hooked over a hitch ball and then pulled to the dump station. The problem with this is that the wheels are cheap plastic ones like on a kiddie car and the handle just loops over the hitch ball. I have to go 15 miles on the freeway to the nearest dump station plus the largest "blue buddy", at 45 gallons, is over $250.

Since I already have a Flomax mascerator pump that liquifies everything so it can be pumped through a regular garden hose I decided I could put a tank in the back of the truck. Tanks of any kind are still not particulary cheap so I ended up with a used white plastic barrel I got for $20. I built a cradle out of a 3 ft by 3 ft piece of 3/4" plywood I had laying around with 4 plastic wheel chocks screwed to it and two ratcheting tie-down straps to hold the barrel in place. I used two more tie-down straps to secure the whole thing in the back of the truck.

The barrel has two 2" bungs in the top. One is standard pipe thread and I bought the necessary PVC fittings at the local big box store to fit on a 2" PVC ball valve and reduce to 10 ft of 1 1/2" spa/pool hose. The barrel was placed in the cradle so this would be on the bottom.

The top bung was coarse thread but had been pre-cast with an option to use a 3/4" fitting. I just had to remove the molded in plug. I used a pipe thread to female hose adapter and added one of those in-line garden hose shut-offs.

Just above and to the left of the top bung I drilled a 3/16" hole to let the air out when pumping liquids in and used a 1/4" sheet metal screw to plug it when not in use.

The Flomax mascerator pump is designed to twist on to the rv's sewer outlet and has an outlet to attach a garden hose. The garden hose connects to the top fitting on the barrel, open the shut-off valve, make sure the 2" ball valve is closed and take the screw out of the air bleed hole and we're ready to try it out.

After the fact, it all worked as planned. The waste water tank pumped into the barrel in about five minutes with no problems and emptied in less than 3 minutes at the dump station at the I-5 rest stop. It took about 10 minutes to rinse out the barrel because they have some funky fitting on the ends of the hose at the dump station. I have a new gizmo to try next time called a "water thief". It's kind of like a piece of hose about 4" long with a male garden hose fitting on one end and the other fits over any kind of outlet with or without threads and has a hose clamp to keep the connection tight. That will free up my hands to tilt the barrel around while the water is running to rinse it out.

Not including the mascerator pump I have less than $100 invested. One advantage of the "blue buddy" is that it doesn't take up as much room to stow it if you are taking it with you.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Home Sweet Home

Well, we made it.  Completed our first 4 months on the road.  A few lessons learned - primarily the awning and the wind.  A few unpleasant surprises - the electrical problems and the stuck open slide, but all in all, I think we did okay.

Our daughter did not deliver before we arrived home, so we are happy about that.  We are parked in her driveway.  We've got water and electricity, and a place to drain the gray water.  It's the black water that will be interesting.  We do have a macerater pump and have pumped directly into the toliet before, but it really smells up the house.  It was one thing in the late summer when we could open the winds to air things out, but it won't be an option for now.  Kim has purchased some big plastic barrels, which will fit in the back of the truck.  It will work a bit like a "blue buddy" as I understand it.  You pump the black water tank into the barrel, and then take the barrel the dump station.  That way you don't have to move the 5th wheel.

I'm excited to stay put for a bit.  I've got my books and 'stuff' out - like my Lakshmi and Ganesha statues, my crystals and stuffed animals.  I've got lots of people I'd like to see during my stay in the area, and of course, I'll be busy with Grandma Duty.

I'm a big believer in taking a Play Day each week, and I hope to do some touristy stuff in my home town.  A bit of a stay-cation and I will post from time to time for those of you that haven't been to the Seattle area so you can see what there is to do around here.

Our general plans are to take off sometime in September 2010, and head east to Montana, and then south through Utah and Northern Arizona, eventually winding up in Yuma and maybe Palm Springs.  Stay tuned for our further adventures!

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Another lesson in RVing.

As part of my research prior to our buying our NuWa (which, by the way, is pronounced 'new way') HitchHiker II LS 5th wheel trailer I read several forums, including one ( devoted to NuWas, so I was somewhat prepared when our largest slide-out decided not to slide out. The slide rides on two toothed tracks and has two toothed wheels (gears) that ride in the tracks. The two gears are connected by a shaft so the slide goes in and out evenly because the hydraulic ram that provides the force to move it is mounted, not in the middle but, one end so that when the hydraulic ram pushes out or pulls in the one gear nearest the ram starts to turn and the shaft to the other gear makes the other gear turn and thus the other end of the slide also goes out: that is until one of the bolts that holds the shaft to the gears breaks. Then only the end of the slide-out where the hydraulic ram is attached trys to go out.

This happened to us in Yuma, AZ. Betsy and I managed to get the slide out by letting the hydraulic ram push is out a few inches and then we'd brace ourselves against the kitchen counter and push. To get it back in required a come-along and three men pushing. We had an appointment at CJ's RV Repair and 2 hours and $90 later we had the broken bolts replaced. The mechanic said he had just done the same repair the day before on another rv.

All in all not so bad as far as catastrophes go.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Back in Washington

We took Highway 126 from Florence, Oregon, over to I-5 at Eugene.  This is a 45 mile stretch of road that is absolutely lovely.  We hooked up with I-5, and decided to try the I-205 route around Portland.  OMG - I can't believe I've never taken this road before.  If you are driving north or south on I-5, and don't need to stop in Portland, this loop around the city is a must!

We pulled into Brookhollow RV Park - another gem - in a lovely setting with large paved, and level pull through sites.

We hadn't unhooked the truck from the rig since we left Jamul.  Today was the day because we wanted to look around the area.  My grandparent's home was here and this is where my dad grew up and attended high school.  Things have definitely changed since I was last here in the 1960s.

Fortuna and Florence

We spent the first night on our journey up 101 in Fortuna, California at the Riverwalk RV Park.  This is a nice little park and we'd stay there again.  I know I took pictures of this park as well, but they are not on the camera.  Maybe I am my mother's daughter.....My mother travelled through Europe taking pictures with her finger over the camera lens.  I think maybe I was pushing the power button, turning the camera on and off.  Yes, I am a blonde.

The next night, we stayed in Florence, Oregon at the Hecata Beach RV Park.  I have always said Heck-ah-ta, but the gal at the park pronounced it Ha-zee-ta.  I had to look it up.  The area is named after a Basque explorer who was sent to investigate the area.  His name was Bruno de Heceta y Dudagoitia.  His name was pronounced Ha-zee-ta, although the Heck-ah-ta pronunciation is also accepted.

This is another nice little park.  Spaces are large, and easily accomodated our 33' rig with 3 slides.  There were hedges and trees between each space.  It was very quiet and we would definitely stay there again.  It is a few blocks walk to the beach.

Our site

An empty site next to us.

I slept 9 hours and woke up to lovely blue skies!  Next stop - Kelso, WA.

Heading Over to 101

When we found out we were heading home sooner than we had originally planned, the first reference I checked was the Farmers Almanac.  I wanted to know what the forecast was for snow in the Siskiyous.  We were in luck and it appeared we would be able to get by without having to worry about snow or incliment weather.  Okay, we'll go I-5 all the way.  But wait, you are apparently required to carry chains when going over the pass, not only for the truck, but also for the trailer.  Quick pricing looked like we would have to spend over $200 on chains that we probably wouldn't use.  There we were, caught in the Catch 22.  We had to have chains to take I-5, but if we needed chains, we wouldn't take that route.  So forget I-5, we are going up 101.  I've never been on that section of 101, and I was really looking forward to it, but I was also concerned about the road - I'd heard it was curvy and twisty.

Well, let me just say, as I repeated to Kim over and over and over - Oh My God - I am so glad we came this way.  Each part of the drive, from the short section of I-5, over Highway 12, and then a series of weird interchanges on a bunch of interstates (thank God for GPS), we finally were on Highway 101.  It was absolutely beautiful.  The wine country, rolling hills, and into the Redwoods.  Really, I can't wait to go back and spend some time just driving around this area.

Here are some pictures I snapped from the car on the drive. 

Too bad there were cars behind us on this section - I'd have just asked Kim to stop so I could get a good picture.  It was a nice long section of canopied redwoods.

Ah, the Pacific.  I did miss you!

We had just passed a herd of elk in a large field, and came upon this straggler, all by himself in someone's front yard.

By the way, both Kim and I had expected 2 lane, rough road.  We were pleasantly surprised to find 4 lanes of well paved road almost all the way.  I just loved this drive!

Next Stop, Manteca California

When we headed south, for me, the most boring part of the drive was coming down I-5 through the Imperial Valley.  This surprised me because years before when we had driven from Washington to Alabama, I had really enjoyed this section of I-5.  Perhaps it was the difference between driving down in June and driving down in November.  I talked Kim into taking Highway 99 all the way up to Manteca.  The drive was much more interesting as far as things to see and changing scenery.  The highway gets a 7 out of 10 rating.  Most of the road was good to really good 4 to 6 lane highway.  We did notice that often times the road wasn't as well maintained as it went through the various towns and cities.  Our guess is that those city budgets did not have extra funds for maintaining the highways.  It was pretty bumpy and hard on the bladder.  This was not the day to have 3 cups of coffee!

We had elected to stay in the Stockton area because Kim's brother had recently moved to the area for a new job.  We wanted to stop and see Tom and have dinner with him.

We used our RPI membership to stay at the Thousand Trails Turtle Beach reserve for $10 that night..  We got in just before sunset and only had time to do basic set up before Tom arrived.  This reserve is another nice setting.  Nice wide spaces - enough for the rig, the truck, a picnic table and a tent (if we had one).  I know we'll come back and spend more time here later in the year.   I only wish we'd had time to walk along the delta and explore a bit.   My only complaint would be the 2 mile road leading to the resort.  It is very narrow and I'd hate to meet another big rig coming the other direction.

I could have sworn I took pictures of our site, but I can't find them on the camera.  It was a long day, maybe I just thought I took pictures......

Pio Pico - Jamul, California

After a wonderful week in Yuma, we moved west to Jamul, California.  We took I-8 to Hwy 94.  This may be the time to mention that not only am I a 5 star resort camper, but I'm also a back road wimp.  While I-8 was a typical interstate through the desert, Hwy 94 wasn't really made for a truck towing a 5th wheel.  In fact, there was a sign that said vehicles over 40' were prohibited on that stretch of highway.  We were already committed to this route when we saw the sign, with no place to turn around, so we continued on.  The road was a little twisty for my tastes, and there were spots with drop off areas on the passenger side (my side) without guard rails.  There were tons of border patrol cars on the road - about every 4th or 5th car was border patrol.  Not sure if that was the norm for the area, or if there was something going on.  It was interesting, nonetheless.

We had made reservations at the Thousand Trails Pio Pico reserve, using our Resorts of Distinction membership.  I had made the reservations 90 days in advance, requesting a full hook up.  We arrived and were told that full hook ups were not available, and that we could camp in the north part of the park that had water and 30 amp electric.  Oh, and the water was not drinkable.  Oh, and by the way, there is no cell phone service nor Verizon air card service.  However, we could go choose our own spot, come back and let them know.  Every morning at 9am, we could report to the ranger station and see if there were any full hook up sites available.  I was not happy.  Okay, I can dry camp for a night or so, but any more than that, we would have to change campgrounds. 
We found a good sized back-in site so that we had a nice view out the back of our trailer.  It was a bit of a challenge as many of the sites had black garbage bags over the electric polls.  I was a little bit happier at this point, because scenery wise, this was a very lovely campground.

Our site at Pio Pico

Other campsites

The view out our back window

We decided we would spend the night and re-evaluate in the morning.  The next morning, we lost power briefly - sort of.  The UPS (unlimited power supply) alarm went off at 7:30am.  The power wasn't completely lost, but the voltage had dropped below 100.  We speculated that it was due to the rest of the park all waking up and turning on their electric heaters, hot water tanks, etc.  Because of the problem we had with the electric system in the rig while we were in Phoenix, and the cost to replace all our electronics, we do not like to take chances.  When we started running water to wash dishes and take showers, it was all milky - and not the air in the line kind of milky.  We made the decision to move on the next day, but for that day we had made arrangements to have lunch with my friend Leila in Carlsbad.  Lunch with her was the best part of that day.

In the meantime, once we got into cell phone range, I found a message from our daughter.  She is pregnant and due in March, but was having some serious contractions and there was concern she would deliver early.  So much for taking our time heading home.  We called and learned that the contractions had stopped, and the doctor felt the baby would not be coming now, but nothing was guaranteed.  We don't wait to miss the birth of our first grandchild, so we knew we'd be packing up and leaving the next morning.

We returned to the rig after spending the day in Carlsbad.  Double checked the amperage and it was still low, so we went to the Adult Lodge to use the park's wifi.  The Adult Lodge gets a 1 out of 5 stars in my book.  It needs updating and an interior designer.  We plotted a route home, deciding to come up I-5 to the Stockton area,  and then make the decision about whether to take I-5 or 101 up to Washington.  We wanted to avoid the Siskiyous if there was any chance of snow or ice.
The next morning, we packed up and headed out.  Next stop, Bakersfield, California.

San Diego to Bakersfield

We left Pio Pico, taking Otay Lakes Road into Chula Vista, California, where we picked up I-5 heading north.  Not much to say about this drive except that I hope to never do it again, towing a rig!

We had made reservations at Bear Mountain RV Resort in Bakersfield.  I had checked and found good reviews for the park.  We had stayed at Bakersfield RV Park on the way down, and enjoyed it.  However, it was off Highway 58, and a bit out of the way.  We wouldn't have a chance to enjoy its resort ammenities, so we decided to try another resort.  Bear Mountain gets a high rating from me, if you are looking for a park just off Highway 99, and need a place to sleep.  The park manager was very nice.  The park was plain, but very clean and well maintained.  And $25 per night was great for the budget. Nice big and spacious pull through sites.   It was quiet and an easy in & out.

Our site.

Dog run and view of other sites.

Office, restrooms and laundry.

Next stop, Manteca, California.

Cocopaugh RV Resort in Yuma, Arizona

We spent the week at Cocopaugh with our friends.  Here are some pictures of the resort.  I thought it was one of the prettier resorts in which we have stayed.

One of the nicest pool areas I've seen.

Shuffle Board Court

Grounds near the tennis court

Part of the 2.5 acre pet area. 

The only challenge we had in Yuma was that when we arrived, one of our slides wouldn't open.  Kim and I managed to push it out.  Kim did some research and visual inspection, and determined we had probably shirred one of the bolts in the hydaulic system that opens the slides.  At least I think that is what he said.  He is supposed to write up something for those of you that understand this kind of stuff.  I just know that we had to push it open ourselves, and then when it came time to pack up, some of the resorts escorts and maintenance crews helped get it back in.  We dropped it off at CJs RV repair, and 1.5 hours later, less $90, we were on the road to California.  Nothing but praise for CJs from me!

We had a great time in Yuma, much of it thanks to our friends The Luques.  Next year, we will come back and stay longer.