Friday, November 5, 2021

The RV Downside - Service

When we are on the road it's a fun time and having a camper van is great. The downside is the maintenance issues between those fun trips. The industry can't keep up with demand and the dealers are overloaded. After our summer trip, I had a list of 7 warranty items I wanted to have repaired. Most were fairly minor, but the Pioneer radio was defective from day one. I called the dealer and the first appointment was over a month away. I was offered October 7th, and I took it. They told me 10AM on the phone, then a 9AM time in the email. I battled traffic and arrived at the earlier time and waited in the waiting room. 

Of the 7 items on the list, they addressed 3 that day (back door adjusted, MaxAir fan sticky opening fixed, and small floor hatch gasket re-attached). They attempted a fix on another, but that was a total fail. The slider that connects the beds together doesn't seem to have a latching mechanism, and it would slide out while driving - often with our dog on it. They attached a latch under the frame - they screwed it into the bed base and into the metal frame (I had to clean up all the metal shavings left on the floor). At first glance, it appeared to be a good solution. After I was back home, I lifted the bed frame to access the storage underneath. They failed to account for the fact that the frame is hinged. The latch ripped apart and out shot the spring. Now I have holes in the van where the faulty solution used to sit. I am using a Velcro strap to hold the frame in place while driving. 

The latch ripped open after I lifted the bed to access the storage underneath.

They confirmed the radio was faulty and said they would order a replacement. While I was there I asked to set up a date for my return trip for the ordered parts as you can never reach them by phone or their web form. We agreed on Nov 3rd at 10AM. A week later I hadn't seen any confirmation and called. They didn't log it and told me it would now be December. I reminded the tech that he told me Nov 3rd. He knew he didn't log it, so he said to come on Nov 3rd at 11AM, and they would fit me in. The day before the appointment, the confirmation email came and said 10AM.

I made the 40-mile drive up and arrive before 10AM. Two of the 3 parts had arrived, but he told me one of them was the wrong part. The main issue that needed to be repaired was the demon possessed radio, and the replacement had arrived. From the day we picked up the van, the in-dash radio (Pioneer DMH-1500NEX) would randomly change functions and lock in on a screen and not allow you to change anything. Pressing any physical button or screen button resulted in random changes. If I removed the 12V power supply for several minutes and rebooted everything, I could get it to work perfectly for about 5 minutes before it reverted to possessed mode. The new radio had arrived, and they were to replace that. Despite my appointment being for 10AM, they didn't start on it until mid-afternoon - while I sat in the waiting room.

Side story: While I was in the waiting room another couple came in and in a few minutes someone came to get them for their new trailer walk through. They returned in about 15 minutes - turns out the dealership had prepped the wrong trailer. They had taken off work and driven 50 miles to pick up their new trailer, but now it wouldn't be ready until the next week. They had a bad experience at this same dealership in another town and came to this location instead - and had a bad experience again. My experience with bad service is not isolated, but almost appears to be the norm now.

Late afternoon, the service tech asked me if the backup camera worked on the other one. I confirmed that it was one of the few things that did work. He said they didn't think it would work with the radio (the same exact Pioneer 1500 model that it did work on before) but would check. They finally figured it out and pulled it around for me just after 5PM. I got in, and the radio was working with a functioning touchscreen. The backup camera was working, but . . . the interface to the vehicle was not. The steering wheel controls didn't work and none of the vehicle screens (tire pressure, clock, etc.) were accessible. The service manager said it was late and could I come back at 8AM the next day, and they would pull me right into the bay.

I pulled in before 8AM the next morning (Thu, Nov 4) and went back to my new home - the waiting room. I walked out to check at 10AM, and they hadn't even started on the radio. Ironically, the other part he thought was a wrong part, was actually an improved part, so they had fixed the broken plastic handle on the Lagun table with the new metal one. One small win. 

I went back at 11AM and still nothing was happening on the radio. The service advisor told me they didn't have anyone available. I reminded them that it was supposed to be done yesterday, and they needed to get someone on it now. He went to talk to his manager. The manager and tech came to visit me about 30 minutes later and said they had someone on it now. Hours went by and at about 2PM (remember this was a radio swap out - Best Buy could have done the job in about 30 minutes) the service manager came out and said now the radio wasn't working at all. He asked if I could leave the vehicle as they would need to make some calls with Winnebago. Fortunately, they arranged for someone to drive me the 40 miles home - though I had to wait another hour for someone to be available to do that.

The next day (Fri, Nov 5) I heard nothing all day, so I emailed late afternoon. The service tech did respond, but said they were waiting for a call back from Winnebago. On Monday (Nov 8) I called Winnebago Customer Care to see if they could assist. I asked them to authorize a car stereo installation store to get my car stereo operating properly. They said to give the dealer a chance to make it right. Shortly after I hung up, the dealer sent an email that said they ordered a new unit, but they were back-ordered, and it would probably take 6-8 weeks to arrive. The hits just keep coming.

I emailed the dealer general manager and asked if they would be willing to sub out the work to a car audio place that does that full time, so we can get this resolved. He said he would get an update from his service manager. I heard nothing the rest of the day. 

On Monday (Nov 8) I got an email from the dealer that a radio had been ordered, but I needed to come pick up my van, since it would take a while to get the unit. Winnebago had mentioned that the radio supplier was RiverPark. I called them and a very nice and helpful tech support guy looked it up and said they had the radio in stock and could ship immediately. I emailed my dealer and asked if they could overnight a radio and fix it right away. They agreed on Tuesday and ordered it.

It arrived on Wednesday (Nov 10) and was installed and ready on Thursday (Nov 11). I asked them to please double check all the functions and I would pick up on Friday (Nov 12). When I picked it up, I clicked through all the functions I could think of, and it seemed to be working. They installed a new head unit and a new Maestro interface box. 

When I got home that evening I was finally digging into all the functions of the unit - I could set the clock, change the EQ, see the tire pressure, connect my phone, . . . things were looking up. Then I tried to connect to the mic for voice input. It acted like it wasn't hearing me. I held the small mic closer and still nothing. Then I noticed the plug end of the mic laying on the floor. It had not been reconnected to the radio. I decided I'll just take it to a local car audio shop and have them open it up for me so I can plug it in.  

I went to a local car audio shop on Nov 24, and he pulled it to get things working again. He had to fish the cable back up behind the radio, and asked if he could run the cable around and mount the mic up by the rearview mirror while I was there - no extra charge. Service at last! He did that, plugged it in the back, and reassembled everything. I tested the functions and all was working until . . . I plugged in my phone through the USB dash connection. Nothing. He pulled the radio and we began checking connections. When I plugged a USB directly into the unit, it worked with my phone. There is apparently a short in the USB A to mini USB cable that goes to a connector that drops down to the dash port. Something in there was shorted, as we got a brief connection at one point for a few seconds while wiggling wires. I bought a long USB A to C cable, plugged it into the back of the unit, fished it down to the passenger side floor, and wrapped it up in the cup holders. My USB phone connection now works. The dash connector is dead, but for the first time in over 4 months, all radio functions are finally working. The audio shop charged me $45 to pull the radio and connect it all back up. The dealer kindly reimbursed me for the charge.


Sunday, August 22, 2021

Trip End Summary

What did we learn from 5 weeks in our new Winnebago Travato 2022 KL camper van? I learned that I could probably live in a tiny home (or at least a much smaller home) without much problem. Two adults and a dog lived comfortably in 135 square feet for 34 nights. I'm now wondering why I need all the rest of that stuff sitting at home. There is a balance, of course. Some things are needed to maintain a house, that aren't needed on the road. There are also some things, such as musical instruments, that bring joy at home, but we chose not to bring on the trip. But overall, I could live happily in much less space. Elena is not as certain as I am.

It was nice to get home, but I certainly could have gone longer. Elena said five weeks was about the right maximum. Bebop seemed ready to go again. As I was unloading items from the van this morning, she jumped into her seat and looked disappointed when we didn't drive away. She was a delight on the trip - perfectly well-adjusted to travel. Prioritizing experiences over stuff is very enjoyable and relaxing. Here was our route:

Road trip route (#'s are POI, not days)

Let's get to the data. Anyone who knows me will not be surprised by my data and analysis of our 5-week road trip.

Miles Driven: 5,336.6 miles (only about 200 on the interstates; about 100 on gravel and dirt roads)
Average miles/day: 152
Average miles/day minus four days and 1,200 round trip miles in and out of Texas: 133
States outside of Texas: (6) NM, CO, UT, WY, MT, ID 
Time Driving: 130 hours
Avg Speed: 41 mph
MPG: 16.2 (many mountains and hills)
Gas Used: 327.8 gallons
Gas Cost: $1,114.52 ($32/day)
Highest temperature: 99ºF in Vernal, UT
Lowest temperature: 36ºF in old Snowmass, CO, and Creede, CO

Best MPG was on the downhill coming home

Highest elevation driven: 11,530 feet (Slumgulllion Pass, CO). Times across the continental divide: 12

Continental Divide Crossings
  • Cuba, NM 6,900 (W)
  • Yellowstone NP 8,200 (E)
  • Glacier NP 7,400 (W)
  • Butte, MT 6,400 (E)
  • Henry Lake - Reynolds Pass 6,800 (W)
  • Henry Lake - Targhee Pass 7,100 (E)
  • Yellowstone 8,300 (W)
  • Yellowstone 8.300 (E)
  • Yellowstone 8.200 (W)
  • Sslumgullion Pass 11,530 (E)
  • Wolf Creek Pass 10,900 (W)
  • North of Abiquiu 7,700 (E)
Sleeping locations - cost avg ~$21/night
  • State Parks (10)
  • National Parks (7)
  • Private Campgrounds (6)
  • Boondocked in the forest - not in any parking lots (4)
  • Moochdocked in driveways of relatives and friends (6)
  • Hotel (had points for one free night) (1)

Food - Cooked most meals in the van. Stopped for groceries about 7 times. Ate out a few times with friends. Avg cost per day = to what we would have spent at home. We ate very well, but increased activity (hiking) helped me shed a few pounds on the trip.

  • Flat Tire: (1) fortunately, just the mountain bike on the bike rack, not the van. The 31-year-old weathered bike tire blew out while on the bike rack during our drive through Glacier NP.
  • Sewer hose popped out of the hole during one black water dump. Yuck.
  • Grey tank valve was still open once when we removed the cap. Oops.
  • Awning deployed in grocery parking lot when the switch was bumped putting away groceries. It hit a light fixture pole, but both survived.
  • An accident happened on a rural road just before we topped a hill. We were greeted with big guardrail pieces strewn across the narrow road (no shoulders). Hit one piece and missed two. No apparent damage.
The smoke and haze obscured some mountain views for much of the trip, but we had a few nice days, and we focused on wildlife, waterfalls, and up close things.
  • The petroglyphs and bighorn sheep in Nine Mile Canyon (blog link)
  • Mom and young moose and bear with two cubs in the same day at the Tetons NP (blog link)
  • Bison and scenery in Yellowstone, and the Beartooth Highway drive (blog link
  • The hike to No Name Lake in Glacier NP (blog link)
  • Sheep Creek Geological Loop (blog link)
  • The smoke clearing the day we arrived at the Maroon Bells (blog link)
  • A nice soak in a clothing optional hot spring (blog link)
  • Numerous bighorn sheep along the La Verde Vista trail along the Rio Grande (blog link)
  • And though I didn't write a blog about our hike at the Ghost Ranch near Abiquiu or our camp site at Abiquiu Lake, they resulted in a few of the best photos of the trip.
Coming into the Ghost Ranch

Hike into the box canyon at the Ghost Ranch

Overlooking Abiquiu Lake

- Paul

Thursday, August 19, 2021

From Transactions to Relationships: Living in a gratitude-based world

 "The essence of the gift [economy] is that it creates a set of relationships.... [It] opens the way to living in gratitude and amazement at the richness and generosity of the world. [It] asks us to bestow our own gifts in kind, to celebrate our kinship with the world....When all the world is a gift in motion, how wealthy we become." 

---Robin Wall Kimmerer, Braiding Sweetgrass

Final Days of the Trip

Today (8/19) is our last day of activities. The final two days will just be driving 618 miles over two days to return home.

We departed our lovely camp site at the Riana Campground at Abiquiu Lake this morning. On the repeated recommendation of my friend Beth Michalak, we stopped at Bode's General Store in Abiquiu for a breakfast burrito. Beth raved about them, and she was not wrong. My goodness, that was a tasty burrito.

Sunrise over Abiquiu Lake

Beth with a final text recommendation before we departed her house

We then went to the La Vista Verde trail, which runs along the Rio Grande. Several people had mentioned bighorn sheep sightings there. We hadn't even reached the trailhead parking lot when one, who seemed to be acting as the greeter, said hi from the side of the road.

Welcome to La Vista Verde. Parking is just ahead on the left.

Elena, there is a bighorn behind you

Majestic bighorn

Bighorn closeup
Along the 2.7 mile RT hike we saw a couple of other bighorn, including one sunning on a rock. The end of the trail presented a great view of the Rio Grande gorge. That's the same river that was so small and shallow when we stood in it next to our campsite near Creede a few nights ago. On the way back to the van, we saw a group of bighorn making their way along the black basalt rocks.

Bebop surveying the Rio Grande

Find the five bighorns
Elena wanted to visit Taos, so we drove in. She ambled about the square while Bebop and I walked in a park. After that we took the high road out of Taos and through the Sangre de Cristo mountains toward Las Vegas, NM. They have had copious amounts of rain this year and everything was green and lush. It was a very nice drive. 

Bridge over Rio Grande gorge on the way to Taos

We are at Storrie Lake State Park for the night. 

Good night from Storrie Lake, NM

- Paul

Monday, August 16, 2021

Bebop on Hiking and Big Floating Donuts

This is Bebop with an update. We are still on our extended adventure. We've been gone for over 4 weeks now. A few days ago, we stayed at a free campsite along the headwaters of the Rio Grande. The camper next door had two large dogs who would go nuts if I walked past their camper. They would run from the front to the back of the camper, barking loudly while their owner yelled "shut up" over and over again. My dad tried to steer me in other directions, but I liked to walk past that camper. I minded my manners and was on my best behavior. 

On Sunday (8/15) we returned to the little town of Creede and drove into the mountains in an old mining area. We were thinking about driving the 17-mile loop road, but it was unpaved and rocky. We've taken a lot of chances already on the trip, and we don't have a spare tire, so we decided to walk up the road a bit.

We climbed high and saw many old structures made of sticks. Mmmm . . . sticks. It was a good decision to walk as we saw a truck with a blown out tire. 

Look at all those sticks. I'm going to need some beavers to help.

Good decision not to drive this road - this car did not fare well

Later that day we drove to a house in Pagosa Springs. The people who own it live near us in Fairview, but bought this house recently. I chased one of their rabbits right into his hole. I also saw several deer and made them run just by looking at them.

Sunrise at our friend's house

On Sunday (8/16) we took a long drive out to a river that had a hiking trail next to it. The road was about 10 miles of dirt each way, and some sections were that bouncy type of road. I think it's called Washboard Crap, because that's what my parents would say when we drove over it. 

Dogs were allowed to hike, and we went almost 4 miles total. It was pretty, and I drank from the river in a few places. On our way back, there was some excitement. As we rounded a corner on the trail, something big and white came at us out of the bushes. I jumped to defend our family and found myself face to face with another dog running free-range. I got into my play posture, and we chased each other around a bit. His owners came out shortly after and laughed. It was fun. I forgot to sniff where he was from.


That's me leading the way

Look, I'm an Instagram model

After the hike, we went to Pagosa Springs and mom floated in the river in a donut - I think they call them tubes here. It looked like the biggest donut I have ever seen. It was blue/green, so it must have been blueberry or mint flavored. I didn't bite it to check. Time to take my 4th nap of the day.

Mom in the floating donut


Saturday, August 14, 2021

Rocky Mountains (are) High

On Friday (8/13) we camped at a campground overlooking the very depleted Lake Fork reservoir (Blue Mesa Outpost). Saturday (8/14) we took a lightly trafficked road down toward the small town of Creede, CO. I think we drove our highest elevation so far at 11,530 feet across Slumgullion Pass. Then we crested another 11,000 foot pass. The scenery was amazing, as some rain late the day before had cleared the smoke from the skies. We drove across the continental divide a total of 8 times on this trip, as we end week number four.

Near the 11,530 foot Slumgullion Pass
Lake San Cristobal

We stopped at the
North Clear Creek Falls for a lunch break and short hike. Then, we dropped all the way to about 9,000 feet at our free forest service Rio Grande Campsite. There are just 7 sites along the headwaters of the Rio Grande, and there were still 4 available when we arrived on Saturday early afternoon. With our sliding door open, it’s about 50 feet to the river, where Elena immediately began to wade.

North Clear Creek Falls

Elena in the headwaters of the Rio Grande

After four weeks on the road, Elena was craving a little culture. She purchased tickets to an outdoor play in Creede, CO and we put on our best layers and went into town for the evening. We even ate out for the 2nd time in four weeks. The show was just cancelled due to nearby lighting. We really love having our house with us - it’s very convenient.
The play cancelling storm moving in
- Paul

Friday, August 13, 2021

Double Ducky Day

As we were passing through Glenwood Springs, we found ourselves with a free afternoon and Paul mentioned rafting -- my favorite thing to do in the world! Sure enough, a highly rated outfit had room on its early afternoon trip. Paul decided he would hang out with Bebop instead of coming along, so I was solo for this adventure. 

There was one complicating factor: mudslides. A year or two ago, there were massive wildfires in the area above Glenwood Springs, so when they got record rains this summer, the denuded mountainsides just flowed onto the highways, into the rivers, and all over. The interstate highway through Glenwood Canyon is closed, and Hanging Lake was badly damaged. For the rafting outfits, what this meant was that they couldn't drive upriver to do their usual half-day trip. Instead, they were offering a shorter trip through Class III-and-under rapids. The person who took my reservation said, "You could go on the raft, or you could take one of our inflatable kayaks" (aka "duckies"). I wasn't confident enough of my skills to go in a ducky, though. 

Then, as we were getting ready, my guide Thomas said, "Everyone else is going in the kayaks. The two of us can still take a raft, or there's a two-person inflatable kayak."

A double ducky? I had no idea they existed. All the extra fun of being lower in the water and more maneuverable, without the fear that I'd get caught in an eddy or dumped by a standing wave? Sign me up! 

Not me - but this is a double ducky. 
Photo (c) Whitewater Rafting LLC

Best. Day. Ever. 

The sections of rapids were just far enough apart that there was float-and-relax time but we never dried out or got hot. The rapids were splashy and fun. We even saw a bald eagle! 

I was also amused by a group of cows standing on the riverbanks. They were, of course, just chewing grass and watching the boats go by. I kept thinking of this Far Side cartoon: 

(c) Gary Larson,

What if they're really pirate cows, secretly plotting how to steal a raft? They could cool off in the river, charge other cows for raft trips ... man, they'd be the Jerseys from hell. 

All in all, a delightful day. No one tipped over, we all had a great time, and I give a big Bebop-two-paws-up to Whitewater Rafting, LLC, in Glenwood Springs.