Landlubbers for a while

Life as a land cruiser is much like life as an ocean cruiser.  Ocean cruising means: Repairing your boat in exotic locations”.  As we’ve found out, land cruising in a 40+ year old motorhome means exactly the same thing.  We’ve logged over 3000 miles in 3 weeks through the Rocky Mountains here in the US.  Along the way, we decided that “hippiecamper” is uncouth and we’ve renamed her CapriseCaprise will be our home for the next 6-7 months while Capri tends herself in the marina in Port Angeles. 

There is one major difference between Caprise and Capri though.  We aren’t out in the middle of the ocean where we are left to our own wits to survive if anything happens.  Caprise can’t sink.  But here in the Rockies, there are truly many areas where there are no people, no phones, no internet and difficult as it may seem to believe for those who have not driven here – no mobile phone service.  If anything happens – we have to repair it ourselves (again).

Are we having fun yet?

Damned right we’re having fun!

First a bit about our trip back to the US.  After 9 months in Denmark and after getting vaccinated, we flew to the Dominican Republic (DR) and stayed there for 15 days (outside of Schengen).  Once we were out of Schengen for 15 days, we could enter the US.  So, we enjoyed the tropics and the beach and the sun.  Not the worst place to spend 15 days.  Carsten has written a blog about our stay there.

Of course, the best laid plans of mice and men oft go awry…..  And this time they went awry.  The flight to Newark for DR was supposed to leave at 6 am, which, of course, means that we had to get up at an ungodly of the night to get to the airport at least 2 hours before it would leave.  We went to bed at 8 pm and at midnight, I got up to pee.  I checked my phone to see how many more hours we could sleep and found a text message – you flight has been canceled.  Immediately, another text arrives saying they have booked us on the next flight out – leaving at 12:30 pm.  Will we make our connection to Seattle?  We’ve planned for a 6 hour layover in Newark, just in case there are issues at immigration, but now it will be tight. 

Just to further heighten the tension, the 12:30 flight from Santiago is delayed 2 hours.  We land at Newark just about at the same time as the flight to Seattle takes off.  United has to pay for a hotel, dinner and breakfast.  United served us nothing on the flight from DR to Newark (a bottle of water and a bag of pretzels.)  When we got to the hotel, the restaurant was closed.  There was a sports bar within walking distance and we went there for dinner.  This is the first time I have been frisked by the bouncer for weapons before being allowed to enter.  The bar is for younger people, the music is so loud that we are unable to have a conversation – but the burger was OK.

Traversing the 300km distance from Seattle to Port Angeles is a major undertaking.  There is no plane or train.  The bus requires 3 changes along the way and takes many, many hours.  We had ordered a limo, but while we are in the air from Newark, the limo company sends a text saying there are no limos available – not their fault that we are a day delayed.

Here we are, finally in Seattle, tired and hungry (United again only served a bag of pretzels and a bottle of water) and no way to get to Port Angeles.  We checked the car rental companies but none of them would rent a car one-way to Port Angeles.  Nothing for it, we rented a car and the next day would have to return it to the airport.  Fortunately, we have a wonderful neighbor at the marina who lent us his car so Carsten drove the rental and I followed in Jim’s car.  Total mileage over two days – 600 miles.

It was wonderful to be back aboard – we’ve missed her and our sailing life. One thing we both agree on completely – we aren’t ready to give up our wandering life and settle down in an apartment.  Capri is filthy from being left alone for 9 months, but a lot of elbow grease cured that.  The “boatswabbie” (me) grabbed a bucket and a brush and 5 hours later, she shone like a new boat.  Carsten, in the meantime, checked all the equipment on board to ensure everything was still in working order.

Is our autocamper ready?  When we left 9 months ago, we left her at the autocamper repair shop and they were supposed to repair a number of things.  Carsten has been keeping in touch with them and send a mail a couple of weeks ago, letting them know when we would arrive.  He even called them the day before telling them we were coming to pick up Caprise. We had asked them to replace the refrigerator, repair the heater and sundry other things and finally check everything else and fix it if they found anything.  They claim that everything is ready and relieve us of $4000.  We check everything we can when Carsten suddenly says, “What was supposed to be in this big hole?  The heater?”  Apparently, the heater was standing on a shelf – they had taken it out, fixed it, but forgotten to remount it.  We go for a long walk while the mechanic mounts it and checks that it works. 

Strange – they’ve had 9 months to do all this, but RV repair places are much like boatyards.  They generally don’t care if they fix things correctly –the customer drives off and they never see him again.  Just like a boatyard – you to look over their shoulder to ensure they do it right.

The engine mechanic was supposed to check everything mechanical, getting Caprise ready for a road trip of 5000+ miles, but we as will ascertain, in the next few weeks, he also didn’t do his job correctly. 

Capri is ready to tend herself, Caprise is ready to hit the road when once again health issues rear their ugly heads. I woke in the middle of the night with terrible chest pains, angina pains.  They last for several minutes and while painful, I don’t have breathing problems.  I didn’t wake Carsten, but the next morning I told him and also told him I had had a similar incident about a year and half ago.  The first time I didn’t think it might be serious and let it go.

This time the pain was much, much stronger and the episode lasted longer.  It might have been a mild heart attack and neither Carsten nor I are happy with the situation.  Once again, we trudge up to the hospital, this time to have me checked out for potential heart problems.

Blood test and an EKG show that I haven’t had a heart attack, fortunately.  But the doctors want perform an ultrasound scanning on my heart and also a nuclear stress EKG to ensure there isn’t a blood clot on the way.  Both tests are negative, meaning we can get on with our travels, albeit 2 weeks delayed.

August 21 rolls around, we button up Capri and start our engine. 

We’ve decided to drive throughout the Rocky Mountains, filled, as they are, with indescribable landscapes (or so Carsten keeps telling me).  We will camp mainly in National Parks and Forests and have purchased a Senior Pass (Carsten, old as he is, is entitled to a 50% discount).  The pass costs only $20 and we’ve earned that back already the first night we use it.

One small problem is that in order to buy such a pass, you need to be a US citizen.  Fortunately, Carsten speaks English like an American and has taken a Washington State driving test and has a Washington State driver’s license (he had to do this to get cheaper insurance for Caprise).  His accent free English and his driver’s license means no one questions his citizenship and he is issued a pass. 

We’ve heard that the National Parks campgrounds are filled to capacity and while Carsten has tried mightily, he strikes out on reserving a site.  We leave anyway as many have told us that Walmart allows you to stay overnight in their parking lot.

Our first destination is Yellowstone, the first National Park in the US.  We are three weeks delayed in starting out and we have to be in Denver on September 7 so Carsten can fly to New Jersey to attend his 50th high school reunion.

We hurry on our way towards Yellowstone.  We take the interstates instead of the scenic byways since we are running late and drive 4-500 miles each of the first 2 days.  We planned on “camping” in a Walmart parking lot but the first night we were greeted by a sign “No overnight Camping”.  One of the employees tells us that because of Covid, the Walmarts in Washington state do not allow overnight camping – but the ones in Idaho (just 12 miles down the road) do.  Sure enough, when we cross the border into Idaho and pull into a Walmart, we can see almost 20 other motorhomes that are “camped” there.

The drive through Idaho and Montana on the interstates impresses us with the scenic beauty, but it is stressful.  The panoramas are magnificent and truly indescribable.  Each “Aha” is followed by another “Aha” as we blast around the curves of the mountains.  Blast is perhaps too energetic of a word for Caprise.  She does have a 440 cubic inch V-8 but we really don’t like driving more than 55 mph.  She feels the winds too much.  We are passed not only by passenger cars but also the big trucks, pick-ups hauling huge camping trailers and the really big (50 foot) motorhomes hauling a passenger car behind them.  They are all going 70+ mph – we don’t understand how they dare.

Caprise decides to start having problems (did anyone say; repairing your motorhome in exotic locations?).  Just before the turnoff onto the small road leading to Yellowstone, she stalls while we are running at 55 mph.  Into the side of the road, where she starts up immediately and runs like a top.

Hmmmm.

We have bought AAA, so we can get a tow if necessary, but there seems to be no real problem.  Perhaps there was some dirt in the gasoline?  Next day, it happens again.  Have we bought a motorhome with incurable problems?  The mechanic in Port Angeles told us the engine was in really good shape.

Yellowstone does have a gas station and they do have a mechanic.  He checks the gas filter and the fuel pump.  The gas filter has never been replaced and is filled with crud.  A 40-year-old motorhome that has only been driven 27,000 miles and been standing still needs to have the filter changed.  The mechanic in Port Angeles apparently didn’t do it, although he charged us for it.

Sigh.

So new filter and new fuel pump.  Hopefully, that will cure that issue.

We spent the first night in a National Forest just outside the Park and were able to get a spot inside the park for the next 5 nights.  For some reason, all the shower facilities in the National Parks are closed due to Covid – only the toilets are open.  Not a problem for us – we have both hot water and as shower on board Caprise

The next morning, I having a cup of tea outside, enjoying the wilderness when I notice a large lake forming under Carprise.  “Carsten we have a problem” (does this remind you of the immortal line in the movie – “Houston, we have a problem”?).  We have 2 tanks under the chassis, one is a black water tank (toilet) and the other is a gray water tank (shower, sinks etc.).  The gray water tank is leaking.  Carsten is pissed at himself for not bringing some fiberglass so he can repair it.  But necessity is mother of invention and Carsten digs around in his toolkit finally coming out with “Shoe Goo”, a tube of glue he bought to repair one of my hiking boots.  He crawls under the truck and curses while he squeezes the goo into the crack in the tank.  He gives it 3-4 extra layers and we can only hope it holds.  The next day as we try to dump (empty the tanks into a sewer) the valve for the gray water tank sticks.  One more job and Carsten gets to curse loudly again as the he tries to loosen the totally rusted solid bolts that hold everything together.  Now we just pray the black water tank valve doesn’t stick – we don’t have another spare.

One day in Yellowstone, we discover that the cover for the battery box has blown off.  It was cracked and apparently the wind caught it.  There is no place within several hundred miles where we can buy a new one – even if someone had one in stock (the motorhome is over 40 years old).  Carsten mounts some bungycords over the opening so the battery doesn’t fall out and we drive on while he tries to think of a more permanent solution.  On our way back to the campground, Carsten spots a piece of plastic (someone’s air conditioning cover) stops and announces that here is the perfect solution (allow me to have my doubts).  Back at the campground, Carsten goes to work and an hour later a new cover is mounted and the problem is solved (ok – when will I learn not to doubt my husband’s handyman abilities?).

The past couple of days I have noticed that our shag carpet – oh – I guess I’ve forgotten to introduce the reader to our authentic 70’s interior.  We don’t call it out-of-date – no, no, it is RETRO!  Floor walls and ceiling are covered with rust-colored shag carpet.  The cabinets are all brown with fake wood paneling, the furniture has textile upholstery in brown, orange and yellow.  Just to make it all more retro there is also some plastic fake “leather”.  Only a mother could love something this ugly.

The carpet in the kitchen has been wet.  Carsten dismantles virtually everything and finds a clamp on a hose that is loose, tightens it and now everything is dry again.  By the way, we have a luxury toilet – it is electric – on board the boat the toilet is manual.

At some of the campgrounds, we can get what is known as a full hook-up, meaning we can plug the camper into shore power, connect the toilet directly up to the sewer and connect city water directly into our water system on board – thereby bypassing our water tanks (meaning we don’t have to fill them since we are running on city water. 

What luxury.  That evening, after we have had our shower, we hear a loud BANG, suddenly there is water everywhere.  Apparently, the city water pressure is so high that one of the hoses inside the camper burst and we now have city water being pumped everywhere. 

Are we having fun yet?

Damned right we’re having fun!

Carsten runs outside, turns off the water and we can then get busy mopping up.  What to do about the burst hose?  We are miles from anywhere where we can buy new hose.  Carsten ponders the situation and finally announces he may have a solution (when will I learn not to doubt my handyman husband?).  He cuts a piece of hose from the hose we use to fill our water tanks, chops off some of the copper pipe under the sink and after a lot of cursing and swearing pulls his head back out from underneath the cabinets and announces that his solution works.

Enough of repairs – our next blog will be about the fantastic experiences we had in Yellowstone – bears, bison, moose and a landscape so unreal you will think you are on another world.

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