Monday, September 28, 2009

Motor Home Adventures Or How To Ruin A Perfectly Good Drive

The maiden voyage began, Baker City to a point about 60 miles north of Vancouver, WA for my brother-in-law’s birthday. A surprise birthday party was the object. We rolled out with me, wife, and Gus the Pyrenees as the crew. Up on the freeway I was a bit disturbed by the handling which seemed sloppy and not what I remembered, I shrugged that off. At nearly half way my wife mentioned a desire to go to a place in WA called Trout Lake past White Salmon, WA and to watch for signs for that and the bridge across the Columbia River. I’ve never been there or anywhere near there so that’s just what I did and the signs were to the Hood River Bridge, a steel grid roadway bridge. As we rolled into the toll booth I was disconcerted by the booth’s narrowness and looking out at the bridge it seemed pretty narrow also. Boy was it narrow. I put the coach body on the center line and my passenger side mirror showed less than a foot of clearance between the body and the guardrail. Really close for something the size of what I was driving, really, really close. Too close as I discovered a third of the way from the far end as apparently the center line moved a bit toward my side of the bridge and my passenger mirror found something on the side that gave less than it did. Result was the sudden and noisy removal of said power heated mirror and my utter blindness on the entire right side of a very large vehicle. Large is not an exaggeration and neither is blind, I look directly at the drivers of semi-tractor trailers and the roof of a full sized pick up is lower than the passenger window. A special mounted specialty mirror was now at the bottom of the Columbia River, an expensive and not to be found in short term item gone. Unhappy is an inadequate description of my mood.

Trout Lake it turned out is about 30 miles of heavy grade and sharp curves away from the Columbia and completely changed from my wife’s previous experience. I was clueless and map-less and still pretty … um … displeased with the river crossing and my utter blindness on the right side and narrow shoulderless roadway. My wife was pretty tired of my negative attitude and as lost as I was in a very dark town in a very large and blinded vehicle. I mentioned the bus like wrap around cab windshield without mentioning that the seats are almost in front of the front tires which creates strange riding sensations – you have to be there – and she can’t tolerate it so she was over thirty feet back in the bedroom. There was some … unpleasantness. The result was leaving Trout Lake and heading for Vancouver and not back across that bridge and not on a bet getting on a freeway. WA 14 runs along the Columbia, sort of, in a winding grading sort of way. Dinner was from a Subway in a little town, surprisingly open at 10 PM. Tempers were still a bit short of good. The night was spent at a Rest Area outside Vancouver on I-5 which was extremely nerve wracking with no mirror.

The morning revealed the reason for the poor handling, the passenger outside dual was now flat. The new $400 passenger dual had not a lick of air in it. Pretty nice to be on I-5 blind and with a load bearing tire quite incapable of bearing any load and heavy traffic. Fortunately anywhere of town size would likely have the tire store responsible for my tire and I found one with no more than two very close calls with drivers rushing up on my right before I could get into a newly formed right lane – the lane a blind on the right vehicle absolutely must be in. The malfunction turned out to be a valve stem, fixed for free and eating up only a couple hours. A NAPA store was almost directly across the street.

I had no hope a direct replacement for the missing mirror would be in stock and I was quite correct. Worse yet, was that I was also correct in my assumption that available mirrors wouldn’t be suitable. The mirror was a very stout housing hung from a single upper mount, no hoop or other brackets. No such thing. Directions to RV stores were available so off on a mirror hunt. The RV store was sympathetic and mirror-less but had phone numbers for big dealers in the area. Phone calls elicited sympathy and nothing else. It seems leaving a mirror on a large river bottom isn’t an anticipated result of owning a motor coach. (a convenience store on the other side of that bridge had assured me that it is a common occurrence in response to my … whining) Some more thinking and desperation convinced me that a possible way to use a NAPA mirror might exist, so back to the NAPA (now 30 miles or so later of driving in unfamiliar country and one sided blindness later). Some monkey business involving disassembly of the mirror and replacing parts with parts entirely unintended for such a thing resulted in a mirror I could actually hang from the mount and a mirror that would flap in the breeze at any speed above a crawl. Duct tape is wonderful stuff resulting in a wrap around the bottom of the mirror and a slather across the windshield to keep it from blowing back, a funny and slapdash looking cure, but one that worked.

On to the birthday party? Nope, my wife needed for us (me) to find a park where she could use the coach shower. This involve diving off the somewhat back highway road to the party location onto a much more back highway road and two passes at parks to find one that the land whale could actually get into with only two turn and back ups. The shower worked like a champ, sufficient hot water and comfort in usage. Now to use the wall mounted hair dryer after firing up the generator. Nope. No 110V electricity inside, odd. Check all the breakers, all on. Hmmm. Why would this thing have a 30Amp plug-in from the generator in the power hook up section? Plug the outboard coach 110V cord into it and magically have the generator provide power to the inside, how about that. A working dryer and plug for curlers and I’m somewhat redeemed from lowlife.

Oddly enough, with a working mirror and tires doing their job and a not quite pissed-off wife my attitude is improving. The land whale is eating up the narrow twisty roads and I can see what’s going on over on the passenger side and directions to the party locale work out just fine. The driveway proves that yes, I can fit the thing down a narrow and long and tree and bush shrouded lane without leaving parts in my wake. The brother-in-law is gratifyingly surprised and pleased to see us – and amazed that the land yacht made down the country lane he lives at the bottom of. Gus, my wife, and the coach are great hits and I manage to cope well with being in the mix with a lot of people a couple of whom I know. Disasters avoided, difficulties dealt with, what looked to be a catastrophic maiden drive ending successfully – well, I could have missed it all and maybe been happier (I do have to order a very expensive mirror and deal with broken wiring) but the drive didn’t end ruined just a good sized piece of it.

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