Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Alaska RV Tour - Hyder, Alaska

We arrived in Hyder on 27th June and left on June 29th after staying at Camp Run-a-Muck RV park. I think this is the only RV park in Hyder, and it is managed by Suzi who is the wife of the town's Postmaster.  To give you an idea of what Hyder is like, consider these two slogans about the town:

Hyder Alaska: The Friendliest Ghost town in Alaska
Hyder Alaska: A town of about 100 happy people and a few old s___heads

Lynda and I both really liked it here. There's not much in Hyder but a few dirt side streets off a main dirt street, a couple hotels, a couple bars, a couple restaurants, an RV park... well, you get the idea.

When we rolled into Hyder on Sunday, we got settled and then walked down to the "Bus" restaurant.  Yep, the kitchen is in an old school bus.  It was cold and rainy and so we were relieved to learn there is an indoor eating area in an adjacent building. I ordered Alaska King Crab legs and Lynda ordered the Captain's Platter and then we went inside and sat down. Our beers were delivered about 5 minutes later and our food arrived an hour or so later.  That be slooow cookin' in the old bus.

But we really did not mind the wait. A man joined us at our table and regaled us with tales of his motorcycle travels through the Yukon and Alaska.  We had been noticing many, many motorcycles on the roads in British Columbia and on our way to Hyder.  Most of these bikes were loaded down with camping gear and all kinds of supplies.

Anyway, it was this guy who told us about the ferry that takes vehicles from Dawson City, Yukon Territory over to the Taylor Highway so you can head to Whitehorse without backtracking. According to him, this ferry gently crash-lands on the opposite shore and then they lay down planks over the mud and gravel so you can drive off.  Hmm... we're going to Dawson City so we'll find out if he was pulling our leg or not. But based on what I've seen so far, I suspect he was telling the truth.

By the way, it seems that Bears have right of way in Hyder. Unfortunately, we did not see this ourselves because we slept in a bit on Monday morning, but several in our group photographed a large black bear sitting on the porch of the Grandview Inn across the street from the campground. He was just hanging out (and the people were hanging in).

The next day, Monday, Roger loaded up the van and drove us through the Tongass National Forest up to Salmon Glacier.  On the way we saw a Black bear on road - he barely looked at us.  We also drove past some current and old mining operations. 

Salmon Glacier is beautiful!  We met Keith "Bear Man" Scott while we were there and learned about the multi-colored Rainbow Bear.  Click here to see more photos of Salmon Glacier.

On the way back to Hyder, we stopped at the Bear viewing stands that the National Forest Service set up to overlook Fish Creek. Unfortunately, the Salmon are not running yet and so there wasn't any feeding action to see.

About the same time we returned to Camp Run-A-Muck, Bob and Patsy and Weston rolled in with their now operable but wounded Fleetwood coach. Sure enough, the coach was hauled on a flat bed truck to a repair facility and when they rolled it off the truck, part of the front got caught and was torn off. Yikes!  Anyway, Bob did not seem too stressed - they were just glad to rejoin the group.

Monday evening, our group gathered at the Sealaska Inn for a baked Halibut dinner.  Meanwhile, Lynda and I had heard about the tradition of getting Hyderized and decided this was something we would do and we talked a couple friends from the group into it also.  Peer pressure knows no age.  Being Hyderized involves swallowing a generous shot of 150-proof Everclear. If you can keep it down for a reasonable amount of time, you're issued a certificate attesting to the fact that you have been successfully Hyderized.  Along with Neil Brown and John Kurz, we are now certified. Isn't that great?

After our Halibut dinner, which was very good, we went next door for some hand-dipped ice cream - yum! 

Click here for more photos of Hyder, Alaska. 

Next major stop is Skagway - stay tuned!

Alaska RV Tour - Hazelton to Hyder, Alaska

Twenty-two rigs rolled out of Hazelton, British Columbia on June 27th... and so we began our first caravan journey.  Most of us were anxious to become comfortable using the FM radios and to traveling in a caravan formation.  But, just as Spike had told us, it only took a few hours to appreciate the advantages of caravanning!

We left the 'Ksan Campground and made a quick jog to drive through the Kitseguecla Totem Village to see some more totems and an Anglican Church dating back to 1893. 

Just as we were leaving the village area and getting ready to get on the regular highway, one of our rigs (Bob and Patsy) reported a problem with their engine temperature.  Yikes - barely 30 minutes on the road and we had a issue.  Everyone felt bad for them - we all know what a hassle it can be to have trouble with your RV, much less in an area with a lack of facilities.  As it turned out, Bob and Patsy (and grandson Weston) had to have their rig towed. Hopefully they will catch up with us in Hyder....

The drive to Hyder was less than 200 miles and so our first day was a nice and easy introduction to traveling in a group.  As we drove along, Spike talked over the FM radio about the area's geology, people history, and animals.  He told us how to recognize bear scat (a useful talent, in Alaska), and introduced us to the roadside flowers and trees.

There is essentially only one way into and out of Hyder, Alaska: Highway 37, which is also known as the Stewart-Cassiar Highway. Bear Glacier lays about 30 miles from Hyder and can usually be seen from Highway 37, but the weather was rainy and overcast and we could not get a good view as we drove past.  We both commented that we would hopefully be able to get a good look at it when we came back that way out of Hyder in a couple days.

Hyder's Canadian sister town is Stewart, British Columbia which is literally a stone's throw and one border guard away from Hyder.  We crossed the US border between Stewart and Hyder and we found ourselves back in the US.

To see photos of our drive from Hazelton to Hyder, click here.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Alaska RV Tour – Hazelton, British Columbia

We arrived in Hazelton on Tuesday, June 22nd a couple days ahead of the RV Caravan's meet date. Herb and Donna Neubaum, the Tailgunners, were already there and so we got our FM two-way radio, our soon-to-be-infamous yellow vests, and some reference materials.  As folks rolled into the campground over the next two days, the group grew until everyone was there. It was fun to meet our fellow travelers - we would be spending a lot of time together over the next five weeks and we were all interested in getting to know each other. As it turned out, our Trek was in the campsite between the Blands and the Abercrombies.

The 'Ksan Campground is very nice; it lays against the gorgeous backdrop of the Hazelton mountains and the Skeena River provides a border along one edge. The only fly in the ointment is that there are no laundry facilities on the property, although the web site says differently. John and Fran Kurz offered to take us into New Hazelton to do laundry, which was very nice of them, but neither Lynda or I wanted to spend our afternoon at a laundrymat. And so we hand-washed some items and put out a clothes line next to the RV. Of course, once we hung those clothes out, the weather became cool and drizzly.  Who says we can't control the weather?

This was also about the time we met Roger, the caravan's RV technician. Roger went around and inspected each RV and asked questions to learn if the vehicle had any issues or problems he should know about. He also put protective material in front of the grills and applied stickers to the RV windshields and back ends, so we could easily identify each other once we were on the road.

Spike came over and introduced himself and we talked a little about the work I had done on his web site. He was very appreciative and it was nice to finally meet him. Later that day, I helped Linda Bland get on Spike's network for internet connectivity... our group was already coming together very well!

Thursday evening marked the official beginning of our Alaskan RV Discovery Tour: Spike gatherered everyone up so he could officially introduce himself and his crew: Roger, Teresa, Herb and Donna.  We then went around the group so we could introduce ourselves.  This was the first of three nights of orientation briefings.  Spike was very organized and thorough, but not at all boring. In fact, he was able to deliver a lot of information with good humor that got our attention!

By Friday, Lynda and I were a little restless and decided to ride the scooter back towards New Hazelton so I could take photos of the Hagwilget Suspension Bridge. When we drove over it in the Trek on our way in, I could not look around much - I had to keep the bus on the road!  This is a cool bridge... some would say it's scary but I don't think so.  Even Lynda walked out at least part way onto it, and the view from the bridge is great! 

We also rode over to Old Hazelton to do a little grocery shopping and look around town a bit.  Roger or Spike (can't remember which) told us that this village is set aside for First Nation people - a person cannot live here unless he is a member of the Gitanmaax Band, or married to a member.

After Friday evening's briefings, Herb and Donna, along with their 10-year old granddaughter Sophie, hosted a "biscuit on a stick" gathering at their campsite.  This was a good opportunity for the group to get to know each other a little more.  We were all quite entertained by varous people's effort to successfully cook a biscuit on a stick over the campfire, and by Sophie and Spike's dancing. 

This area around Hazelton is quite well known for totem poles, some of which are well over 100 years old. On Saturday morning, Spike took us out to the Kispiox Totum Village and gave us an overview of the symbology of totems, their construction, and their proper disposal. We returned to the campground for lunch and then walked over to the 'Ksan Historic Native Village for a tour.  On the way over there, we walked along the river where Spike pointed out some huge Cottonwood trees, Fireweed, and other flora he said would become very familiar to us as we continued the tour.

Spike wrapped up his briefings and orientation on Saturday evening and then we enjoyed dinner together. Spike grilled salmon with a brown sugar rub, and we all brought a side dish or dessert - the food was plentiful and very good!

Sunday morning finally rolled around and off we went to Hyder, Alaska - stay tuned for more about that!

Click here for photos of our time in Hazelton.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Lone Butte to Hazelton, British Columbia

By this time we were ready to leave Loon Bay Resort on Sunday, it occurred to us that we needed to stock up on some dog food for Barley and Sydney. We feed the dogs Nutro, which is not commonly stocked in supermarkets. So I went online and found that Nutro is sold by a retail company called Total Pet, and I also discovered there is a Total Pet store in Williams Lake which is on our way to Prince George.  Perfect!

So off we went to Williams Lake. We drove along a little country road called Horse Lake Road and it was a nice drive. We saw some Black Tail deer, which are all over the place in British Columbia day and night, drove past some little communities and small farms and ended up in Williams Lake.
We found Total Pet without much trouble and crammed the Trek into a very small parking lot.  To leave, I had to back the RV out onto the road by a blind curve.  Lynda offered to go out into the road and stop traffic so I could get out but I just put on my hazard flashers and backed out.  I've grown a little cocky with driving that Trek!

By the way, that 40 lb bag of dog food cost over $70... we told the dogs to eat slowly.  British Columbia is beautiful and the people are very friendly and nice but it is expensive!  That same bag of Nutro costs us around $50 at home in Tennessee.  A couple days later on our way to Hazelton, we bought a 12 pack of Molson beer for $21.  Canucks pay dearly for their brew! 

But I digress.

We made it to Prince George and found the Hartway RV Park, where we had reservations for two night. The young man who checked us in was very nice and helpful. Some sites at this park are better than others. Our site was a little small with neighbors on both sides. One set of neighbors was a family of around 8 people who appeared to be living in a car, tent, and old truck camper. They came back to their site shortly after we got there, very nicely dressed for church and holding bibles and such.  We felt overcrowded and could not tether the dogs outside because there were so many people milling about. Thankfully, the family left the next morning.  We learned later that there was a Jehovah's Witness regional convention in Prince George that weekend - odds are these folks came to town to attend that convention.

After getting settled in at the Hartway RV Park, we walked the dogs to a nearby elementary school and let them run around in the enclosed tennis courts.  They really enjoyed that!  Then we took them back to the Trek and walked back to eat dinner at a Greek restaurant called Atlantis. The food was only average but it was a nice break for us to sit down in a restaurant and have a meal.

We spent the next day doing a whole lot of nothing because it was rainy and chilly. We used the time to watch a little TV and a couple movies, and to catch up on email, etc.

Click here for some photos of our drive to Prince George.

We left the RV park early the next morning... we had an appointment with a local Chevy dealer to change our oil, which I really wanted done before we began the Alaska portion of our trip. The oil change took less than an hour and we were on our way to Hazelton by 10 AM. 

We made a couple stops on the way to pick up some groceries and eat lunch. As we drove north toward Hazelton, towns and communities became smaller and fewer.  We are were heading to northwest British Columbia, gateway to Alaska.

We rolled into the 'Ksan Campground in Hazelton just before 5 PM. We were so excited to arrive - this is our last stop before we begin the Alaska trip!  It is here that members of the RV caravan group are gathering before we set off for Hyder, Alaska.

The campground, next to the 'Ksan Historic Village and Museum, is owned and managed by the native Gitsan people of the Gitanmaax Band. The campground lays in the shadow of the Hazelton mountains, next to the Skeena River. It is a lovely spot!

We'll stay here at 'Ksan for 5 nights to catch our breath, sightsee, attend some orientation meetings, and generally get ready for the big trip through Alaska and the Yukon.  Stay tuned!

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Merritt to Sheridan Lake, Lone Butte

We set off from the Merritt Wal-Mart early Friday morning, feeling pretty well-rested and eager to get to our next stop: Loon Bay Resort at Sheridan Lake, outside Lone Butte. 

I have so far really enjoyed driving in Canada.  In fact, I told Lynda that these last few days of driving around British Columbia have been the best since we left home in mid April. Although the roads are mostly single lane in each direction, they are in excellent shape, have wide shoulders, little if any wind, and the countryside is gorgeous! It really has been very relaxing.

We have also noticed that daylight appears around 4:15 AM and it does not get dark until past 10 PM.  As we drive further north, this window of daylight will get even longer.

Click here for photos of our drive from Merritt to Sheridan Lake, Lone Butte.

We found Loon Bay Resort without any trouble and got settled into our camp site.  We are less than 10 feet from the water and it could not be nicer. We've done nothing but relax, watch some movies and walk the dogs.  It's been great!  Click here to see some photos of the Loon Bay Resort area.

We also took the dogs swimming in the lake, right by our campsite.  As usual, Sydney loved it and Mr. Barley is becoming more and more comfortable in the water. 

I'm convinced Barley would go right in the water if I let him off his leash.  Too bad he is not trustworthy enough for that! That boy would probably take off and not come back until he was good and ready.

We leave tomorrow to continue our journey north. Next stop is Prince George. Stay tuned!

Friday, June 18, 2010

Ferry to Mainland British Columbia

Lynda and I enjoyed our brief stay in the Victoria area of Vancouver Island but we also wished we had time to see more of Vancouver Island.  As luck (?) would have it, we got our wish.

We had reservations to take Thursday's 1 PM ferry from Victoria-Swartz Bay to Tsawwassen and so we had plenty of time on Thursday morning to sleep in a bit and then get everything squared away to leave.  All was well until I hopped in the driver's seat just before 11 AM and turned the ignition key.  Guess what happened? 


The chassis battery was 80% discharged and did not have enough juice to start the engine. I quickly realized that this was entirely my fault: Not only had I left the backup camera turned on for 4 days, I had the GPS plugged in to the cigarette lighter, and also left the dashboard radio powered up to display the clock. Any one of these things by itself would probably not have drained the battery, but all three proved to be too much.  I guess that cold and cough made my head more foggy than I realized.

One of the maintenance men at the RV Park tried to give us a jump start but he could not get a good connection with his cables to the battery terminals and so I call BC's Triple A (BCAAA). I decided to give Coach-Net a break :-)

Within 15 minutes, a guy named Rob showed up but he could not get it going.  He kept asking if I had something powered up because he was getting a spark when he connected the jumper cables. I suspected he might be doing something wrong but the darn chassis battery is in a terrible location and its hard to reach or even see the terminals.  After about 30 minutes of fiddling around, Rob called his boss for help.  So Brian-the-boss shows up within 10 minutes and immediately realizes that Rob had his positive jumper cable on the negative terminal of my battery. 

("Lord", I asked, "please give me patience.")

Brian had little difficulty connecting his jumper cables and, within a few minutes, the Trek started up and was ready to go.  Yay!   I asked Brian how long I needed to drive the Trek to get the battery fully charged again and he said, "at least 3 hours."  

So, we drove that darn RV around the Southeast end of Vancouver Island for over 3 hours.  And that is how we got our wish to see more of the island.  You can view a few photos here.

Be careful what you wish for.

Obviously, we did not make the 1 PM ferry as originally planned, but we were able to get on the 5 PM ferry.
This ferry ride was different from the one we took from Port Angeles. The ferry that goes between Swartz Bay and Tsawwassen is a much bigger boat that the Coho and is run by BC Ferry Services. There are three vehicle decks, and they hauled at least 8 RVs, several tractor-trailer rigs, numerous other large vehicles and at least 200 or so passenger cars on our trip over. This ferry company does not allow dogs on any of the passenger decks and so Barley and Sydney made the crossing in the Trek.  This was probably just as well as the ferry was crowded.

The crossing from Victoria-Swartz Bay to Tsawwassen also took about 90 minutes, but the water was much smoother than the Strait of San Juan de Fuca and the ferry was moving faster than the Coho.  There was also more to look at as the ferry wound its way between the southern Gulf Islands of British Columbia.  We hoped to see one or more Orca whales, which are commonly found in this area, but settled for spotting a group of seals instead.  Photos of our ferry crossing are posted here.

We were both very nervous that when we got to Tsawwassen the Trek would not start up. I can only imagine how unpopular we would have been to have an inoperative 30 foot RV blocking who-knows-how-many vehicles from exiting the ferry.  Anyway, the Trek fired right up and away we went! 

We were now on the mainland of British Columbia. Despite arriving 4 hours later than intended, we decided to make our way to the town of Merritt as planned.  And so we did.  The light was fading as we drove but we could still see how pretty the area is as we made our way up and down mountainous roadways. Fortunately, the highways are very good and, although I was tired, I was happy to be on the move. 

We arrived in Merritt, a small city in the Nicola Valley, a little after 10 PM and found a gas station.  We filled the Trek up for the first time since landing on Canadian soil and discovered that gas costs over $4.00 a gallon.  Oh well, its not like we're going to turn back now! 

We spent the night at a Wal-Mart, excited to be on the mainland and looking forward to driving through the beautiful countryside the next day.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Victoria, Vancouver Island

Once we got off the Coho ferry and cleared customs, we drove through downtown Victoria to go to the Fort Victoria RV Park,  This was not a difficult drive at all - the park is only 5.6 miles (9 km) from downtown Victoria and the roads are well marked and easy to navigate. The RV park itself turned out to be a little less polished than I had envisioned and our site was somewhat cramped. I had to back the Trek in extra-carefully because there is a little building next to the site with wide roof eaves. Despite these shortcomings, the accommodations were fine and we would stay there again.

Unfortunately, by the time we arrived in Victoria I was fighting a cold and cough that was getting worse by the hour. Darn the bad luck! We got off to a slow start the next day due to me being under the weather. Late morning, we crated the dogs and walked about a mile to the bus stop, stopping at a local drugstore to pick up some medication for my cold and cough.

The $2.50 CA bus ride into Victoria was nice. I generally enjoy riding on buses; someone else is doing the driving so I can just look at the scenery, and buses provide great people-watching opportunity. The BC (British Columbia) Transit buses are very cool - some are double-deckers like this one, they are all wheel-chair accessible, and just about all of them have bike racks on the front.

We walked around Victoria, found a place to make copies of some paperwork for Lynda, and got a good meal at a Caribbean restaurant called The Reef. But by the time we finished our meal, I was feeling very sickly and so we headed back to the RV park.

We were only in Victoria for three full days and we spent the second one at home in the Trek while I slept and took medication. I felt very badly about wasting an entire day but Lynda, as always, was good natured about the situation. Our last full day in Victoria (Wednesday) was very busy - we essentially crammed three days of sightseeing into one. We got an early start, crating the dogs again and purchasing a BC Transit day pass ($7.80 CA each) at the RV Park office. Then we caught the bus into town again. Once in downtown Victoria, we went by the post office to put some documents in the mail and then headed to the Wax Museum area to get on a Gray Lines bus for the city tour. 

Victoria is the provincial capital of British Columbia and also a port city.  As such, downtown Victoria is what you would probably expect of many North American cities.  However, in addition to industry and commerce, city parks, churches, retail stores, banks, restaurants, art boutiques, and so forth, Victoria boasts a very charming harbor area.  This is where the tourists flock to enjoy attractions and sites such as the Parliament buildings, the Empress Hotel, the Wax Museum, Chinatown, and much more.  Not surprisingly, the flavor of Victoria is more European than an American city. For example, there are pubs rather than bars and it is common to see signage in both English and French.  The British influence is unmistakable and, for me, it was deja vu to see words such as "centre", "litre", "harbour" and "flavour" spelled the way I grew up with in Barbados.

Click here to see some photos of Victoria.

The Gray Lines' city tour costs around $30 and lasts 90 minutes. This tour takes eager tourists around the area to catch glimpses of major attractions such as Chinatown, the Inner Harbour, elite neighborhoods, and so on.  The Gray Lines city tour allows you hop off at any of the stops and then hop on a later bus to resume the tour.  We got off at a marina area to eat lunch and then the next bus almost left us... we had to run after it shouting, "Hey! Stop!"  Luckily some passengers heard us and got the driver to pull over.  He was supposed to have stopped at the marina for 10 minutes but instead just pulled through the area and kept going.  So, be aware that the success of the hop on/hop off approach depends on the driver and whether or not he is following protocol.  I recommend the Gray Lines city tour for seeing Victoria if your time is very limited. Otherwise, you'd be better off to either rent a car or ride BC Transit buses (with a day pass) and take your time exploring the city. 

After returning to the Wax Museum area, we took BC Transit buses out to Butchart Gardens. We had to make one transfer and the trip took around an hour. We arrived at the gardens around 3:30 PM and spent a couple hours there. Visiting Butchart Gardens was well worth the time and effort, and the rather hefty entrance fee of $30 each!  We would have lingered there much longer but were concerned about the dogs being in their crates for so long.  It's impossible to do the gardens justice, but here are some photos that may give you an idea of the beauty of Butchart Gardens. If you ever get the chance, you must go to see the gardens for yourself!

We rode a BC Transit bus from Butchart Gardens directly back to downtown Victoria and then took another bus to the RV park area.  By the time we got home, it was around 7 PM and the dogs had been in their crates for over 10 hours. They were just fine but were very, very, very happy to see us!

So our last full day in Victoria was a lot of fun and we managed to squeeze in quite a bit.  I'd like to come back to Vancouver Island some day... we barely scratched the surface of  Victoria, much less the rest of the Island!

Tomorrow we'll take a ferry over to Tsawwassen Bay on mainland British Columbia.  From there, we'll make our way north to Hazelton to meet up with the RV caravan group to go to the Yukon and Alaska.  Stay tuned!

Monday, June 14, 2010

Ferry to Victoria, Vancouver Island

After a peaceful stopover at the Salt Creek Recreation Area, on Sunday we loaded ourselves, the dogs and the Trek on to the Black Ball Coho ferry in Port Angeles and went over to Victoria on Vancouver Island. I had been nervous about making this ferry crossing with the Trek... how difficult or awkward would it be to load the motor home on to and then off of the ferry?

As it turned out, not difficult at all! The crossing was a piece of cake - the men directing vehicles onto the ferry definitely know what they're doing and have a proven approach.

Although we were the only RV on the ferry, there were a few other large vehicles along with around a hundred cars. By the way, this ferry crossing cost around $165, mostly due to the size of the Trek.

The Coho ferry allows dogs on the upper deck and so we took Barley and Sydney up top for the 90 minute crossing.

The dogs were pretty well behaved, although Sydney was certainly anxious and a little wound up. Lynda and I were surprised at how much roll we felt as we crossed the Strait of San Juan de Fuca and the dogs were both a little restless about the movement.  Click here to see a few photos of our ferry crossing.

Once we made landing at the terminal in Victoria, we drove off the ferry and cleared customs at a toll booth-like area. This went very well also; after we showed our passports and proof of rabies vaccinations for the dogs, assured the customs official that we were not carrying any firearms (a big no-no in Canada), and promised that we had only a modest quantity of alcohol on board, she waved us through and… there we were in downtown Victoria!

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Autopark Brake Not Working

Well, we thought the brake problem was all taken care with the work done in Petaluma, California.  As it turns out, we are now having trouble with the Autopark brake.  This is essentially the vehicle's parking brake which  is automatically engaged when the transmission is put into "Park".  It also serves as the emergency brake.  The trouble is that the brake is not reliably holding the vehicle - it sometimes slips, allowing the Trek to roll when we park on uneven ground.

Not good, but what are we going to do at this point?  We've had enough of sitting around while the Trek is being worked on, and we're due to take the ferry over to Victoria tomorrow. 

So we've decided to do nothing. We can use the leveler jacks and/or a piece of wood to chock the tires when we park.  While this is not ideal, we're comfortable that these methods will suffice for several weeks, until we return to the lower 48 and have time and opportunity to get the issue fixed.

I just hope we don't get in a situation where our brakes fail, because we don't have an emergency brake to fall back on. Keeping our fingers crossed!

Salt Creek Recreation Area on the Strait of Juan De Fuca

We arrived at the Salt Creek Recreation Area, which is just west of Port Angeles, on Friday.  After a pretty rough week, we were definitely ready to relax and this was just the place for it!  First of all, this campground is on Washington's Olympic Peninsula, which is a little slice of paradise in of itself.  Secondly, the Salt Creek itself is excellent - well maintained but still rustic, with well placed sites of various shapes and sizes.  Some sites are back in the woods in cosy, well-shaded spots. Others are out in the open, facing the open water of the Strait of San Juan De Fuca - this is the type of site we had and the view was awesome!

We took ourselves and the dogs on a walk around the area and went down to the tidepools, which involved some tricky scrambling over jumbles of wet rocks.  Lynda and I laughed that her physical therapists would be very impressed!  We found ourselves on Crescent Bay beach, which at low tide is a broad expanse of dark grey sand... close to a quarter mile wide in some areas. 

I took Sydney into the water and she had a great time rushing at the waves and splashing around with great vigor!  And then Barley went in with me but he was scared of the waves at first.  Once he realized they were not incarnations of pure evil, Barley began to enjoy himself - he was pretty entertaining, jumping around and being silly.

And so a good time was had by all four of us at the Salt Creek Recreation area.  Click here to see more photos.

We would love to stay longer but we have to catch the ferry tomorrow to go over to Victoria on Vancouver Island... but that will be another story.  Stay tuned!

Friday, June 11, 2010

Drive North to Washington’s Olympic Peninsula

We left Yuba City on Thursday and headed northward toward Port Angeles, Washington on the Olympic Peninsula. As we drove along, Lynda and I were falling in love with the Pacific Northwest. It is truly a beautiful part of the country.

It took us two days to get to the Port Angeles area. From Yuba City, we made it as far as Salem, Oregon. Shortly after we crossed the state line into Oregon, we drove through some rain - the first we've seen since we left Tennessess back in April. It was refreshing!  Oregon is very beautiful... mountains with snow still on top, lakes, rivers, streams, and rolling green farmland. Here are some photos from that leg of the journey.

We spent Thursday night at a Salem WalMart – the price is right and we could stock up on groceries and supplies. How sweet is that? 

We got an early start out of Salem on Friday morning. I wanted to get to the Salt Creek Recreation area outside Port Angeles as early in the day as possible, to help ensure we would get a camp site. Our route up to Port Angeles took us past numerous inlets from the Puget Sound. We saw Oyster beds and areas with millions shells along the beaches. If anything, the scenery was even more beautiful than the day before!  It was hard to capture the scope of the countryside but, nonetheless,here are some photos from Salem to Washington. 

We arrived at the Salt Creek Recreation area around 4:30 PM today, where we were greeted by this doe.

This is a great campground.  I’ll write more about it later - we’ll be here until Sunday and I already know we'll enjoy our stay.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

The End of the Brake Saga

So we headed to Stockton purely because a person that works at the Chevy dealership there said they could work on our ABS issue.  But, sure enough, when I called the Service Department Monday morning the service manager told me that he was sorry but they are not authorized to work on the P30 Workhorse Chassis. Fabulous!

So I got on the phone and went online and finally found a Chevy dealer in Petaluma who assured me they are authorized to work on Workhorse chassis.  So we headed to Petaluma. To make a long story fairly short, they began work Monday afternoon and also found issues with the Air Conditioning.  Once we had approval from the Good Sam Extended Service Plan claims department, they ordered the parts.  But, parts would not come in until Wednesday morning and so we were in Petaluma with a wounded RV for 2+ days.

We stayed at a bad RV park in Rohnert Park, a few miles from Petaluma. This place was fairly small and very crowded and a lot of people were actually living there in broken down, sad old RV trailers.  The cops showed up the second night and we scuttled back into our RV and locked the door.  Scary place and not at all recommended, unless you’re bored with life and want to inject some action.

But, we made the best of things anyway.  We rented a car and spent all day Tuesday driving along the Northern California coast – from Bodega Bay to Mendocino (the town featured in Murder She Wrote) on US 1 and then back along an inland route.  We even drove through a section of Redwoods forest.  It was as beautiful as I remembered from when I was stationed at Travis Air Force Base, which is located between San Francisco and Sacramento, back in the late 1980s. Northern California is truly a wonderful area!  The dogs came along for the drive and so then we had to spend an hour cleaning the car out so the rental company would not bust us for having pets on board.   It was worth it… they had fun also.  Check out some photos here.

We returned to the Chevy dealership on Wednesday to have the parts installed.  Along with Barley and Sydney, we were hanging out in their Service waiting room, prepared to spend the day reading and catching up on email, etc.  But it was not to be:  after sweet, people-loving Barley lunged at 4 or 5 other customers and the service manager, he (the service manager) very politely ejected us from the waiting room.  For those that have never been there, northern California in early June is cool and even chilly. There we were, sitting outside for hours on some old plastic chairs they rounded up for us - Lynda had on several layers of clothing and a coat and I was under a blanket.  And Barley was in deep doodoo - I was not happy with him at all.  Oh well, you think you got your dog figured out and then he surprises you.  I guess that dear dog is much more protective than I realized.

Anyway, the service guys finished up around 5 PM and the work totaled over $2200. Our share was $665… that extended service plan more than paid for itself! And so, a chunk of money and five days later the brake issue was finally fixed and our RV travels could resume. And not a moment too soon, as far as we were concerned.

We gleefully hit the road, so happy to be mobile again. After driving through miles and miles of pretty farm lands, we are now overnighting at a Walmart in Yuba City, California.

Tomorrow we head to Salem, Oregon.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Brakes? We Don’t Need No Stinking Brakes!

As you may have read, the brakes in the Trek failed just as we were leaving the park on day two of our visit to Yosemite. I pulled over, shut the engine off and waited a couple minutes. Then when I restarted the Trek, the brakes seemed to be working OK.

Considering that the drive back to the RV park in Oakhurst is across very mountainous terrain, Lynda and I agreed that it was not worth the risk to try to drive the Trek back to the campground. So, I parked the RV just outside the Yosemite entrance on highway 120 and went back to talk to the rangers - I needed to borrow a phone because there was no Verizon cell coverage in that area. The rangers were extremely nice and gave me access to their cordless phone, which worked great as long as I did not move too far away from their station.

I won’t bore you or myself with detailing out the numerous phone calls between me and the Coach-Net customer service representative, a man who was obviously not hired for his technical or people skills. Let me just say that I had to stand around outside the ranger station at the entrance for almost two hours, waiting for Mr. Personality to call me several times to ask questions that were irrelevant to the situation. It took several phone calls before he finally called to say that a tow service was on its way to get us.

And so one of my nightmares was about to come true – the Trek would be hitched up to a truck, the front end would be hiked up in the air, and then the RV would be pulled along for miles to some auto shop.

As it turned out, the tow truck driver (Jason) was very nice and he pulled the Trek slowly and carefully for about 30 miles to the auto shop in Big Oak Flat. He told us that we made the right decision not to drive the Trek because the terrain around there is much too mountainous to drive an RV with faulty brakes. Some good news was that they would work on the Trek the next day, although it was a Saturday. Also, the auto shop owner was setting us up with electrical power and access to water so we could stay in the Trek overnight. This was really good… we thought we would have to pack a bag and go to a hotel.

So Jason hooked up the Trek while the dogs walked all over the dashboard; Barley even stretched out and laid down while looking at me through the windshield. Those naughty dogs know they are not allowed to do this but, as Lynda has often said, they are Opportunists!

In talking to Jason, we found out his boss, Mike had talked to the same Coach-Net customer service representative I had dealt with. Mike found him to be rude and thought he did not seem to know what he was doing. I will probably call Coach-Net this coming week and talk to a manager about the bad experience.  They are a good company and such poor quality of service is not up to Coach-Net’s normally high standards.

So we spent the night in the yard of an auto shop in the little town of Big Oak Flat. We ate at a restaurant just down the road, cleaned up the inside of the Trek and then went to sleep, really tired after a stressful afternoon.

The next day, the mechanic bled the brakes. There was a lot of air in the brakes lines which, according to Mike is caused by the brakes overheating. Unfortunately, Mike’s shop does not have diagnostic equipment that works with the Trek and they were unable to clear the ABS light on the dashboard. Mike explained to me about making use of the lowest gear in the Trek so I hardly need to apply the brakes on the steep downhills. We went for a test drive and the brakes worked fine. 

With Mike's warning that we must be sure to get the ABS light checked out as soon as possible, we headed back to Oakhurst to retrieve the scooter. This meant a long drive over very steep, mountainous roads, some stretches of which are very narrow with tight switchbacks. It was a nerve-racking drive because we are still not sure the brakes are reliable. I used low gear much of the time and kept my foot off the brake as much as I could. It took almost three hours to drive the 70 miles back to the RV park in Oakhurst.

We loaded up the scooter and then went online to find a place that could work on the Trek. We found a Chevy dealer not far from Stockton, California that works on big vehicles, such as the Trek. Stockton is 150 miles from Oakhurst but I told Lynda that most of this drive would be up the valley floor (flat land) and I felt comfortable about making the drive. So off we went.

We arrived at the military campground (Sharpe RV Park) at the San Joquin Defense Distribution Department in Stockton around 9 PM last night and spent today just hanging out and relaxing.

Hopefully, the Chevy service place can fix the ABS issue tomorrow and we can continue our travels to drive along the California and Oregon coasts on our way to Washington and British Columbia.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Yosemite National Park - Day Two

For day two of our visit to Yosemite, we left the scooter back at the RV park and made the drive in the Trek.  We went via Mariposa so we could drive through more of the beautiful Sierra Nevada mountainous countryside. 

Somewhere along the way, I noticed the ABS light was lit on the dashboard. I pulled over and checked the vehicle Owners Manual which essentially said that if the Brake warning light was not on, the brakes were OK but the Automatic Brake System was not working. The brakes were working as normal and Lynda and I decided to go ahead to Yosemite as planned.

This was a very pleasant drive. A few miles before the park entrance, highway 140 drew up alongside and then followed the Merced River. As we drove upstream, we could see that the river was roaring along fueled by millions of gallons of snow-melt from the mountain ranges and peaks. The noise of the rushing water was amazing.

By this time, the Trek was pretty low on gas and I knew that gas is not available in Yosemite Valley – I had read this the day before. So we decided to gas up in El Portal, just before entering the park at the Arch Rock entrance. That Shell station was price-gouging - charging $4.07/gallon of regular! I grudgingly put enough gas in the Trek to get us around for the day, but refused to fill it up. I even said something to the owner or manager or whoever he was, and the man just grinned. Folks, get your gas before El Portal - don’t give this guy your money!


This entrance to Yosemite is comprised of a single ranger station; apparently this is not a route taken by many people. The Arch Rock spans the narrow road shortly after this entrance station. Once past Arch Rock, the road narrows and we went down a steep incline for at least 3 or 4 miles. I was careful with the brakes and kept a careful watch for dashboard lights. Then we went up, and then we went down again. And so on.

We made it safe and sound to the Yosemite Valley area and drove the length of it enjoying the views. We wanted to park the Trek near the Visitors Center to eat lunch and walk around a bit but couldn’t find a parking spot for the RV. Although it was a weekday (Friday) and very early June, the Valley area was already crowded. So we headed back west on Northside Drive and found a place to pull over to make lunch. Afterward, we drove just a little further along and found a great spot to pull off. Barley made friends with a group of young Middle Eastern men who jostled each other to have their photo taken with him. Unfortunately, Sydney just growled at them and so they gave her a wide berth. Typical. We were able to walk the dogs on the boardwalk running across the meadow and enjoy excellent views of the Upper and Lower Yosemite Falls, and the overall splendor of Yosemite Valley.

Still within the park, we drove out of the Valley area and took Big Oak Flat road northward to visit Crane Flat. Again, the road was steep going up and steep going down… up and down, up and down… well, you get the idea. And it was very narrow – in fact, I was worried if it got any more narrow we’d have to turn around. But, we popped out safe and sound by the Hodgdon Meadow campground. We drove around the campground area just to check it out, and then when we were coming up a little hill to turn out of the park, the brakes stopped working.

That’s’ right, the brakes stopped working. And it could not have happened in a better spot. We had just spent over an hour driving up and down steep mountain roads with no shoulders or guard rails; if the brakes had quit then, I doubt I’d be writing this blog post.

Now how this brake situation panned out is another story but it just did not matter that much because (1) we did not run off the side of the mountain, and (2) we got to drive around Yosemite!  Check out some photos here.

The Gods were watching out for us today.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Yosemite National Park - Day One

Although Lynda’s trip from Knoxville to Fresno, California went very smoothly, it was a long day for her. I picked her up at the little Fresno airport and we headed to Oakhurst, California which is less than 20 miles from Yosemite’s South entrance (highway 40). We got settled in, consumed several adult beverages, and went to sleep excited to visit Yosemite in the morning.

The High Sierra RV Park we stayed at in Oakhurst was not so good. The sites are so close together that we could not put out the awning and our picnic table was literally on top of our neighbors sewer hookup. However, if staying in this campground is your only choice for visiting Yosemite, then go for it. Experiencing that wonderful park makes the campground issues of little consequence.

Our plan was to ride the scooter to the park’s South entrance, which is less than 20 miles from the campground, and then use the free shuttle buses. But, this was not to be and perhaps it worked out for the best anyway. We set off on the scooter but did not even get 3 miles when it started acting up. So we went back to the campground, unhooked everything and off we went in the Trek - getting a much later start than we intended. The upside of this proved to be that the dogs could come with us and we drove the Trek along as we wanted, instead of waiting on shuttles. The exception to this is that we had to take a shuttle to go to the Mariposa Grove because there is no parking for RVs in the grove area.

So we parked at the Wawona Information Center to catch a shuttle, leaving Barley and Sydney for well over two hours. By the way, they were very good – there were no chewed up cushions when we got back!

The Mariposa Grove is the park’s largest stand of giant sequoias, with about 500 large mature sequoias. An interesting factoid is that President Lincoln signed a congressional bill in 1864, designating Yosemite Valley and the Mariposa Grove as the first areas to be set aside solely for the enjoyment of visitors. We really enjoyed walking around the Grove to admire these beautiful trees. We could not explore all the trails because we didn’t want to leave the dogs alone too long, so we stayed in the lower grove area and visited the Fallen Monarch, the Bachelor and Three Graces, Old Grizzly (1800 years old), and the California Tunnel tree. Check out our photos of the Mariposa Grove.

Once back at the Trek, we set off for a drive up to Glacier Point. And what a drive that was! Up the mountain, down the mountain, all the while along windy, steep roads with tight switch-backs, and water from mountain snow run-off rushing across the road in certain areas. That’s right, snow. Lots of snow remained above 5000 feet, and it was an unexpected bonus for us to enjoy. On top of all that, there was road construction going on also. If the Trek was any bigger, I don’t know if I could have driven it up there.

Just before reaching Glacier Point, we found an overlook spot we could pull into. This gave us an East-to-West view of Half Dome, Bridalveil Falls, and more. Then we went on the end of the road: Glacier Point. Luckily, we found a spot to park in the Bus parking area (the Trek is a bus, you know) and then took the dogs and ourselves to go and enjoy the view.

Look at the photos and judge for yourself whether that crazy drive up to Glacier Point was worth it. We think it was!

After our trip up to Glacier Point and back, it was getting pretty late in the day. So we decided to return to the campground for dinner and to catch our breath. The Trek worked hard hauling us around Yosemite today, and we could smell the brakes when we got back to Oakhurst.

Tomorrow we’ll go again. This time, we’ll drive over to the little town of Mariposa and take the El Portal /Arch Rock entrance into the park. We plan to drive around Yosemite Valley area and perhaps leave the park via Highway 120 (Manteca) so we can travel along a different route and enjoy more of this beautiful area.

Yosemite is gorgeous!