June 28, 2016
It's 08h00 PDT. I logged 10-1/2 hours in the rack. I went to bed at 21h30 and perused my travel books, having no other source of engagement. I do everything digitally: listen, communicate, read, take courses, play Sudoku, shop, research. I'm an NPR junkie, and a morning without Renee, Steve and David is tough...and quiet. How will I frame my day without learning another interesting yet useless piece of information with which I can torture my friends?
Gunner just escaped from the tent. I can't say I blame him.
I mentioned last night that I'm low on fresh water. Sunday afternoon I was listening to Guy Raz's "Ted Radio Hour," and Reshma Saujani was discussing how boys are raised to be brave and girls are raised to be perfect. Bingo, sister! While I am my parents' only child, and I am mostly my father's only son, so much so that my male roommate in business school once remarked to me, "Dude, you're like a guy with tits!" Yes, I'm wired more like a guy, and friends and former colleagues would say that not only am I brave, I'm fierce. (Actually, my friends really say that I have a big pair.)
So, what does this have to do with being low on fresh water? Bear with me. My bravery and fierceness have two roots: one is loyalty and the other is a sense of right and wrong. When they are combined, i.e. someone wants to hurt a friend or steal from my employer, primal wires connect in my brain and I become unstoppable: I will NOT die and I will NOT lose. But, when it’s only me involved, I'm plagued by the fear of failure. The question of "Can I do it?" irrationally shifts to "Can I do it perfectly?" because if it's not perfect then its failure, right? Wrong! While I said that I will NOT die and I will NOT lose fighting for those to whom I'm loyal, I did not say that I won't get injured or that I won't lose a battle in the war. So, if I don't have to be perfect for others, then why do I have to be perfect for me?
When I chose to spend two nights in Cougar Rock, I knew that water was available at the campsite so I left Gig Harbor with a third of a tank of fresh water - approximately 14 gallons. A gallon of water weighs eight pounds. BOB can hold 43 gallons of fresh water plus 56 gallons of waste water which equates to about 800 pounds. Unloaded, BOB weighs around ten thousand pounds, so driving him with loaded tanks has a significant effect on the tires, the suspension, and the mileage. In Gig Harbor, I had a full hook-up at my site: fresh water in and waste water out as needed. There are two types of waste water: grey, which comes from the sinks and shower; and, black, which comes from the toilet. Each has its own tank, but both are eliminated through the same hook-up - a flexible hose connected to BOB at one end and the "dump" at the other. During the hour-long check-out when I bought BOB, I was instructed to wait until the black tank was at least two-thirds full before emptying it (otherwise the solids may remain behind - yummy), then dump the grey tank to allow the "cleaner" water to rinse the hose. At Gig Harbor, the black tank read only one-third full, so I dumped the grey and departed.
BOB has a diesel-and-DEF-guzzling Mercedes 3.0L V6 24-valve turbo engine, and his Coachmen Prism 2250LE cabin sits on a Mercedes 3500 Sprinter chassis. I was told that I'll get 20 mpg, but I wasn't told when. Right now, I'm getting 10-12 mpg, varying with speed, elevation changes, and wind. BOB was assembled near Elkhart, Indiana, the capitol city of RV manufacture. The RV industry was devastated as a result of the housing bubble burst in 2008, but a stronger economy (not that it feels that way) and lower gas prices have fueled a recovery. The pride of American workmanship apparently didn't return to Elkhart, however, if BOB is any indication. The kitchen sink plumbing wasn't installed correctly, a wall panel is broken because a screw was over-torqued, the shower leaks, and the pilot light on the water heater stopped working after 10 days.
My father discovered the leak in the kitchen sink when we stopped for lunch on our first day across country: the paper towels were damp. When we got to Port Clinton, OH that evening, I removed everything from beneath the sink. There was one screw-like-thing-a-ma-jig on the downspout which I manually tightened, but to no avail. The plumbing leaves the downspout at a 90 degree angle through a hole cut in the side panel which separates the sink from the stove. I could see that it was cut incorrectly therefore causing the downspout to torque. The panel needed to be re-cut. In my wine-fueled rage at the shoddy workmanship, I announced to my father that I would drive BOB to the Coachmen headquarters the next day and make them fix it - the bastards! In the morning, I realized that going to the HQ would most likely result in a substantial waste of time, so I began calling dealerships en route to Utica, IL, our next destination. Of the two I reached, one was booked through August and the other through November. Perhaps Elkhart is the Detroit of the Eighties.
The squeaky wheel in every company for which I have worked is each employee's personal computer. The minute a PC stops working, the employee cannot work and therefore calls the IT department. The IT department has vast duties beyond individual PC repair and maintenance, so dropping scheduled events for any individual PC crisis wreaks havoc on the department's overall operations. I came to understand this from Mike, one of the smartest people I met in the apparel industry, who was the CIO at the company for which we both worked. In general, the apparel industry is largely staffed by good-looking women, and the IT department by straight men. Guess who got their PCs fixed at the peril of the IT department until Mike laid down the law?
Taking a page from the hot apparel-buyer's playbook, I showed up at one of the dealerships which was too busy to help me. I explained the problem to the woman at the desk who informed me that warranty work requires pre-authorization and that that takes two to three days. I said I understood, but I'd pay cash and it was 15 minutes of work if my diagnosis was correct. She said she'd have to ask her boss. He came out we had the same conversation. He grumbled about the scheduled work he had in house, how those repairs were more serious, the time interruption, etc. I said I understood. He cut the panel to relieve the torque on the downspout. The leak stopped. It took less than 15 minutes. "What do I owe you?" I asked. "Nothing," he said wiping his brow. "How about a beer?" I countered, trying not to breathe in his aroma. "I can't, and besides I'd need a funnel for it," he anteed, laughing for the first time.
I left Gig Harbor for Federal Way to have the pilot light fixed. It turned out that the motherboard was shot. I wasn't surprised. My condo in Providence had a combination water heater-boiler. I must have spent $1,000 having everything replaced on it before I spent $2,000 to have the motherboard replaced. When in doubt, do a brain transplant: it's more expensive up front, but less so in the end. I'll submit the $270 bill to Coachmen for warranty reimbursement when I return to civilization. The guy who replace the board had been doing RV repairs for a while. He gave me some advice regarding likely sources of wear and failure, then he added, "Coachmen uses pretty cheap materials and labor to make their RVs affordable." That's just what I wanted to hear.
The process of diagnosing and replacing the motherboard gave me time to do other things, like plan my route and make reservations. I am all about planning and executing, considering the consequences of my actions, etc., purchasing BOB notwithstanding. I had made advanced RV site reservations for every night of our trek across the country. I also made reservations for RV sites for the last two weeks in July when Kim and Kate will join me in Montana. However, I didn't have any plans for the three weeks between the end of my cross-country trip and meeting them.
Before departing from the East Coast, I Googled "bad roads for RVs." That led to buying an app and an atlas for truckers. BOB is nearly 12 feet high, so height restrictions apply. At 12,000 pounds loaded, road grades are threats to the engine and brakes. The app warns, "You can go down a mountain a thousand times too slowly, but only once too fast." Harry Chapin's "30,000 Pounds of Bananas" comes to mind, too. Gulp! All of a sudden, I couldn't go there, wherever it was: I was paralyzed by fear, yet limiting myself to the Eisenhower Interstate Highway System would be boring.
Bodie's ADHD medicine is already wearing off. The father is yelling at him because they only have 30 minutes to decamp and he needs Bodie to FOCUS!
By the time Dad and I had driven 2,000 miles to Greybull, MT, my confidence in handling BOB had increased substantially. I had endured 16-18mph cross winds in Nebraska as well as the gradual climb to 6,000 feet in Cheyenne. The passes between Cheyenne and Greybull proved to me that BOB had a good engine and transmission such that he didn't runaway on the downgrades. I called my former boss and asked him if he thought BOB and I could handle Dead Indian Pass and a portion of the Beartooth Scenic Byway so we could drive through the Silver Gate of Yellowstone en route to Pray, MT. He said yes on both accounts.
After we left Cody, I turned off Google Maps on my iPhone to preserve the data burn. I assumed there would be a sign noting WY-296, the Chief Joseph Scenic Byway. We were about 30 miles passed it before my father remarked about our location after consulting the atlas. Continuing north to I-90 would have saved time, but we had all day and an extra 60 miles on top of a relatively short 220 mile day was nothing. We turned around. BOB handled Dead Indian Pass at over 8,000 feet like a champ. And, northeastern Yellowstone provided the bison, pronghorns, black bear and elk as a reward. By the time we arrived in Pray, I had the confidence to read the road grade warnings as just cautionary.
The Loud Family just left. I'm starting the generator.
The apps I use to find RV sites list their amenities. When I saw that Cougar Rock had water I assumed I could connect my hose somewhere. I caught this rookie mistake during the replacement of the hot water heater's motherboard (no hook-ups means no water for the tank, just drinking water). The repair process had used a fair amount of water during the post-replacement test phase. In addition, the black tank was now reading two-thirds full. Fear set in: what if I run out of fresh water or can't flush the toilet? I should have reviewed both apps, but instead I began searching for a site en route to Rainier where I could fill up my fresh tank and dump my black (in spite of the grey being empty). One site said no to both and another said I could dump for $10, but not fill up on fresh water. Then, I stopped and thought about my situation: I have two gallons of drinking water in my cargo hold for emergency purposes. I have an empty gallon jug which I can fill repeatedly from a water fountain to heat water (on the stove) for dishes and a shower. The campsite has toilets, God forbid I have to use them. It's Okay: I can go to Cougar Rock in an imperfect state and it is not a failure. I have a funnel I can use to pour the heated water back into the empty gallon jug. Last night, I showered and washed my hair (all two inches of it) in a gallon of water. It was one of the best, albeit a little too hot, showers I have ever had.
BOB has taught me a few things about himself already, and I'm sure the lessons will continue. Mostly, I suspect BOB will teach me that I can be fierce for me alone. Currently, my fresh water tank is reading empty and my black water tank is only one-third full. However, BOB is not level: he lists to starboard, so my tank readings are affected by that. The good news is that I have more fresh water than the reading indicates, but the bad news is that I also have more black water. I'll have a beer and add that to the black water in an hour.
Why do parents take their babies camping? Is it so the rest of us can listen to them scream? If so, mission accomplished. Even while sucked into the mania of the Loud Family last night, I could hear a toddler screaming. Every high-school sex-Ed course should include an entire 45 minute class devoted to the uncontrollable, inconsolable screams of an otherwise well 18-month-old child. If that isn't enough for both the boys and girls to simultaneously use contraception, then they will grow up to run daycare centers. The screamer’s parents drove here from Portland in their birth-to-graveyard-infinitely-larger-carbon-footprint-self-righteous-fucking-Prius, proving to the world that their lives don't have to change after they've have a kid. Really? Just wait until the ADHD diagnosis.
I mentioned previously that the Mount Rainier NP literature said that I shouldn't hike alone. It adds the caveat "unless I tell a friend where I'm going and when I'll be back." Since I'm traveling alone and there is no cellular service here, I have no friends to tell, thus I have been relegated to walking campsite roads. I became antsy this afternoon and decided to take BOB for a ride to see more of Mount Rainier NP. Narada Falls isn't far, and at 168 feet, it should be quite dramatic to see. The weather today has been glorious. I'd tell you the temperature, but how would I know without an Internet connection? Yesterday, it was in the low eighties and a little humid, so based on that I'll conjecture that it was in the mid-seventies today and 10% less humid. I'll also conjecture that this type of weather happens at Mt. Rainier NP with the frequency of Haley's Comet.
The Road to Paradise, as it's called, was no paradise for BOB. Construction abounded, interrupted by gravel surfaces and precipices without guard rails - as if they'd keep BOB from plummeting had they been there! I was the lead vehicle at a construction delay which lasted 15 minutes. I used the time to take some pictures and bond with the traffic control woman who was as new to her job as I am to driving BOB. Via radio, at my bequest, she asked colleague if I could turn around at Narada Falls: the colleague replied yes, followed by maybe. I drove 13 miles which took 90 minutes. I couldn't see much of Narada Falls from its parking lot, but I was able to turn around there. Rainier is specular and worthy of further exploration, just not with me driving BOB…yet.
When I returned to Cougar Rock, I discovered there was both a dump station and a fresh water hook-up at the entrance to the campsite. In the future, I need to ask what might sound like obvious questions when making reservations for dry-camping, e.g what does “water” mean. And, I need to read the site map and facility information more carefully.
The Loud Family's site has been occupied by a man on a motorcycle who has a tent the dimensions of the plastic bag into which one slides a baguette. He is sitting at a picnic table with a woman he obviously knows who has a pick-up truck and a four-man tent (which is really only comfortable only for two). They have his and hers tent sites. I can hear and understand everything she says, but his voice is just a wah-wah, like the teacher in the "Peanuts" specials. Like their Loud Family predecessors, they are eating mac-n-cheese for dinner. Will s’mores follow?
I had intended to make Salmone al Farfalle tonight for dinner, mostly for the bragging rights for having said I'd done so at Mt. Rainier. Unfortunately, I was missing an ingredient, something I had misappropriated for a prior dish which had proved to be disappointing. I had a salad instead, rueing my choice of spring mix and how quickly it dissolves into a slimy brown liquid, courtesy of the red leaf lettuce. I did the dishes, and took my trash, wine and dogs for a post-prandial stroll. I dispensed with the trash and wine rather quickly, yet somehow retained the dogs. During our C Loop lap, I engaged some strangers in conversation. Unlike my father who will talk to anyone (whether or not the person speaks English), I never do that. What is BOB doing to me?
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Siobhan M. Knox
In May 2016, I bought a five ton, 25’ long Class C motorhome because I like to drive, I like to travel, and it’s more fun and less expensive than living in a hotel. No prior RV experience was required, and I had none: perfect. I’m writing a book about my adventures which will come to an end when I get a job. The dogs will be sad.