Sunday, January 25, 2015

California Uber Alles

I was still digesting the greasy lunch I insisted upon having, when we crossed the state line. There were large mountain peaks all around us that I had to try to ignore as I maneuvered our truck and trailer down a winding mountain pass. I drove past a sign that said '8% Grade' as my engine screamed at me for using the low gears to slow us down. As I rounded a steep curve, the first exit came into view. Exit #792. I couldn't ever remember seeing an exit number that high before. I considered the geography for a minute and realized that was probably the largest exit number in the country. It was also a symbol for us. We were going to be here for a while. Welcome to California. 

It's been about four months since that moment. We are near exit #15 now, just east of San Diego, in a town called Jamul. The area is really nice and the weather is fantastic. 70-80 degrees every day and not a single cloud in the sky. The park we are staying at is part of the Thousand Trails network and it leaves something to be desired. Not because the park itself is in bad shape. I mean, it could use some fresh paint and landscaping but it has great amenities like 4 swimming pools, 2 hot tubs, a bike trail, a restaurant and they even have an RC track that we have been driving Noah's RC on. But, we have had some incidents occur since we have been here that showcase the type of people that use this park. Like the guy who was in the site next to us who got drunk, got in his car and started racing around the park with techno music playing on full blast (the crappy trance kind, not the good Detroit kind). Eventually, the CHP showed up and arrested him. Thousand trails revoked his membership so now he is homeless. Well, technically he was already homeless because his previous residence was a tent. Anyhow, this dude was just an extreme example of the kind of seedy folks that live in this park. In addition to this, we are just 12 miles from the border so the Border Patrol has their hands full in the fields all around us. 

Despite all of this, we have really made the best of our situation. We found a park nearby in Rancho San Diego that the boys like to ride their bikes and scooters at. It's close to the grocery store and frozen yogurt place so we like to make an afternoon out of it. 

We took a field trip to the world famous San Diego Zoo. The boys each chose an animal the day before and did reports on them with their mom. At the zoo, they presented their reports to me and taught me all about the animals. Noah did a report on Rhinos and Sammy did one on Penguins. They really did a great job and showed a genuine understanding of their animals. I have to give some credit to Jessica on this too. Like always, she did an amazing job of engaging the boys in this activity. 

In between visits to the park and the zoo we have been using up our bonus visits at Legoland. We found that if you go on a Friday afternoon, everything is open but you have the park basically to yourself. 

If you read my last blog entry, you might be looking for an update on our recent RV problems. I have gotten a lot of professional opinions and I have educated myself on these types of problems and it has helped me to decide on a course of action. It looks like it is all going to come together in Phoenix. We will be getting the roof replaced and all of our slide-out issues will be resolved. Now, the nature of our issue is such that they might uncover other problems while taking everything apart so we are prepared to roll with the punches. We will just have to cross our fingers and hope for the best. While our rig is in the shop we plan to bum around the area with our backpacking gear. If it seems we are going to be without our RV for an extended period, we may look into a long term vacation rental or a last-minute Mexican cruise ($100 a person for 4 nights. You just have to be flexible). 

As we spend our final few days in California, we can't help but look back at all the memories we have made. We lived off the grid in a Redwood forest and hiked the steep, rocky trails of Yosemite. We ate Chinese food in San Francisco and Korean food in Los Angeles. We made new friends in Pismo and became members of the California State Parks family. We rode bikes on the Pacific Coast Highway and walked down Cannery Row. From the wildlife and pine trees in the High Sierras to the crashing waves and beaches of the coast, from the jagged peaks of lassen to the sunny deserts of Joshua Tree, the Golden State is one hell of an awesome place. I look forward to the day we meet again, California. 

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Si Problemo

Okay, I am going to be totally honest. Life on the road has been easy. Aside from a traffic jam here and there and a few broken dishes, we have had an uneventful trip as far as trouble goes. We have been really fortunate and I am grateful for that. Then this week happened. 

On Sunday we were packing up our trailer, getting ready to leave Los Angeles and head to San Diego. I have this routine of draining, flushing and sanitizing the black tank (the crapper) that other RVers might call anal retentive (pun intended). It's not worth going into detail but just understand, it's time consuming and uses a lot of water. I was just starting this departure day ritual when I realized the sewer hole was underneath the slide-out, the part on the trailer that pushes out of the side wall and gives us a more 'open' floor plan. I wanted to have easier access to do my crapper duties, so I asked Jessica to bring the slide in. She pressed the button that controls the slide-out and it moved a few inches, then stopped. 

"It stopped." She said, apparently unaware that I have eyes that are able to detect motion. 

We have operated this slide-out hundreds of times without even the slightest issue. You hold a button that activates an electric motor. That motor is attached to chains which are attached to cables. These cables run through a system of pulleys that operate the in-and-out movement of the room and hold it in place. 

So, knowing that this was a simple machine, I proposed a simple solution. 

"Okay, press the button and I will push from outside." I instructed. 

She held the button down and I leaned on it. We went back and forth a few times trying to work it, but it just kept hanging up on the same spot, the top right corner. 

"Alright, okay" I said, "I will come inside and take a look."

I went inside and peered around the edge of the slide room. I saw a few cables and some pulleys. I had her press the button in and out for me. When the button was pressed, the cables and pulleys moved like a symphony. Everything moved at once in all different directions but it had a deliberate and effortless flow. More mesmerized than anything, I watched this mechanical ballet happen a few more times and pretended to understand what was happening. Sometimes I must do this to preserve my credibility as the 'fix-it' member of this gypsy clan. 

"Okay" I said, "I'm gonna go outside and drive my shoulder into it while you press the button."

Translation: Wall no move when push it. Mongo mad at wall! Mongo HURT wall. 

"I don't want to" She said, "We're gonna break it."

I reassured her that this was MY area of expertise and by arguing with me, she was only holding up the process. My frustration was growing and it wasn't my most glorious moment. Eventually, she agreed to help me. 

After some yelling back and forth and a bunch of shaking of the camper, our slide-out remained jammed and I was out of ideas (I decided against plan c which was get more people and push harder). 

This is a peculiar RV problem because a slide-out is technically a luxury. You don't NEED one. Normally, when a luxury item malfunctions you can just be like, "Oh well, shit happens. It was fun having a bidet." 

Every now and then, however, a luxury item malfunctions and it COMPLETELY ruins everything. And this was just the beginning. We called a mobile repair guy (Rick's Mobile Repair in Burbank, CA - Dude is an ace) and he got it unstuck for us so we could leave (2 days later). Turns out one of the cables was laying on top of another because the pulleys were out of alignment. 

What happened next was a series of phone calls, Internet searches and expensive service calls that resulted in us sitting in our camper in the mountains outside San Diego. Some of the moldings around the slide-out have been removed, exposing the mesmerizing cables, and we apparently have a much BIGGER underlying issue besides the malfunctioning slide. Evidently, I scraped a tree branch while driving last month and it caused some perforations in the roof which let water in and water, as most RVers know, is a campers WORST enemy. 

The slide-out is working, for now, but we have been told it needs to be taken out and that wall needs replacing. We have had lots of different opinions on the matter. Some say the water damage is the culprit. Others claim it's a design flaw, regardless of the water damage. Either way, our options seem to all be extreme. Since the slide-out issue has only been deferred to a later date, we are on the clock. It WILL fail again. So we NEED to take it in to have the wall replaced ASAP. A job of that magnitude can take a shop a month or more to complete and it MUST be done in a shop. That would mean we would have to take our home and put it in a shop and find a place to stay in the interim. 

The roof is actually an easy fix. Insurance covers it and we found a guy who comes and replaces your roof in ONE DAY. So, we have decided to proceed with that repair. Stop the bleeding and buy a little time. Once the roof is back to keeping moisture out, we just need to decide how we want to proceed with the wall replacement. One option is to chance it until the spring and then drive right up to the factory in Indiana. It will probably have to happen sooner than that so we may just fill the truck with camping supplies, drop the RV off at the shop, and live like a we are in a Jack Kerouac novel for a while. Whatever the course of action I am sure it will strengthen our family bonds and keep us sharp. Uncertainty can be difficult to deal with but it makes us stronger and reminds us to take nothing for granted. 

Friday, January 2, 2015

Christmas and New Years RV Style

The other night we went out for pizza at a fancy pizza joint in Palm Springs. I know, fancy pizza joint, sounds like a place where shitheads eat. That's mostly true and the pizza was just okay. But, a wise man once told me, "Pizza is like sex. When it's good, it's REALLY good. When it's bad, it's still pretty good."

So, despite the high prices and mostly mediocre food, it was still a solid meal. 

While we were waiting for our food an older woman approached us and complimented us on our parenting. She said it was a pleasure to watch us interact with our children and added that most parents just shove iPhones in front of their kids faces. Jessica blushed at this compliment and I was mostly flattered but I couldn't help but feel creeped out. How long had she been watching? It also occurred to me that if it had been a different night or some other restaurant, our kids could very well have had iPhones in their faces. Would she have had something to say about that? I'm glad she caught us being good parents, it helped me to stay upbeat when managing the kids during dinner, but I have a feeling she likes to judge naughty parents too. 
Our REALLY small slice of heaven. 

We are at the end of our two week stay in the Palm Spring area. We celebrated Christmas and New Years here and I gotta say, it was a breeze. When the holidays were approaching I had a few concerns in the back of my mind. Would we be homesick? (A little. It came and went) Would the kids be cool with a scaled down Christmas on an RV? (Yep. 100%.) What could we do to make it special? 

This last question is harder to answer. I don't know about anyone else but I think this is the main question I ask myself about the holidays. I feel this big responsibility to make the holidays memorable. It really gets into my head and I find myself doing impulsive things which is probably exactly what the retail stores want me to do. I try to fight it but it's ingrained in me. Some of my best memories from childhood are of Christmas time. I just want that for my kids I guess. Anyhow, I struggled with how to make Christmas special for a while until I finally decided to just let the holidays happen and go with the flow. 

We woke up at 6am on the camper because Noah was yelling "Santa came!" It's really hard to fall back asleep when the kids are adorably excited about Christmas. So, we made coffee and Jessica started her ritual. In order to perform the Christmas ritual of present opening in the Yum house, no matter where you are spending Christmas, you MUST complete the following steps: 

1. Brew a large carafe of exceptionally strong coffee. 
2. Put on Christmas music. 
3. Put "A Christmas Story" on the TV. 
4. Slowly open 1 present at a time in the order she decides. After opening each present, suppress your excitement to move on to the next gift and pretend to be interested when she lists the benefits of the current gift to you. Nod and agree when she says things like, "Isn't it awesome?"
5. When all of your gifts are open, report back to the Christmas tree once every 30 minutes to watch her open another gift. She goes slow and savors every gift, milking the gift opening experience. 

We didn't have a room full of presents this year. Just a couple of gifts each. Sam got a couple of toys. Noah got an RC and a scooter. That was it. They spent the whole day playing with their toys and they were surprisingly respectful and kind to each other the whole day. I dare say they were eager to share toys with each other. We capped off the day with a homemade lasagna dinner and the movie Elf

The next day we drove two hours to Carlsbad to spend the day at Legoland. Please learn from our mistakes. DO NOT GO TO A THEME PARK THE DAY AFTER CHRISTMAS. It was extremely busy. When we got through the gate we lowered our expectations and agreed we would avoid long lines and just stroll the park. They were giving out free return passes as a gift anyhow so we figured we could come back when the other kids are back in school and have the rides to ourselves. So, the boys got on a couple rides, we took a strolling tour of all the Lego creations and we just took it easy. When night started to fall we let the boys spend some of the Christmas money they got from family back home and we headed to El Torito for dinner.

FUN FACT: El Torito is a chain of Mexican restaurants in California that KICKS ASS. Go there. Eat salsa. 
Lego RVs!

Because explaining Santa to your kids isn't confusing enough. 

Sam broke every rule. Noah is actually a decent driver.

On New Years Eve we had a small party inside the camper. We put on Ryan Seacrest to keep track of the time and when a song came on that the boys liked, they danced. We had pizza rolls, smoothies, sangria (for the adults) and White Castle burgers in our food spread. We capped off our munching with some ice cream and then we busted out the Legos. We spent a couple hours fully engaged in Lego building. It's funny because the kids have been obsessed with Legos for a couple years now but this was the first time we sat down and made a family night out of it. It's really a no-brainer and I am sure we will do it again soon. 
It's the small things 

In between holidays we did some outdoor stuff. We visited Joshua Tree National Park which is now officially one of my favorite places in America. The San Andreas fault runs through the middle of the park and separates the Colorado Desert from the Mojave Desert. The whole desert system is known as the Sonoran Desert and it's the most unusual and diverse ecosystem I have ever witnessed. The weather in the Palm Springs area is extremely odd. Hot during the day, cold at night, windy all the time and once you get above 2000 feet in elevation, all bets are off. I bring this up because Joshua Tree is a great representation of why the weather is so odd here. Half of the park is covered in sand, yuccas and tumbleweed. The other half is covered in Joshua trees, boulders and snow. I can't explain to you how bizarre it is to sit in the sunny desert and then drive 20 minutes and sit in the snowy mountains, so you'll have to come see it for yourself sometime. This national park really is a gem and it's worth spending a day (or more) exploring. 

Despite the sign, this area was full of trail cutters who were touching cacti. There is an ALARMING number of moronic tourists hanging out in our nations parks. 

The road through Joshua Tree. Pristine desert for as far as the eyes can see. 
There is a tram, in town, that takes you 8,500 feet up Mt San Jacintos (pronounced HA-SINTOES) and dumps you into an awesome state park. We had heard about it, didn't research it well, and headed there in our coats and city shoes. When we arrived at the top it was 20 degrees and there was 8" of snow. We didn't have the proper footwear to fully explore the park (we left in a hurry and when we got there we realized Sammy had put his crocs on) but, we are a hiking family, we weren't leaving the mountain without doing a hike. We trekked out to a cool vista point over the desert and then made our way to Peaks Restaurant to eat an alpine lunch. The attraction is super popular and the only way I would ever do it again is with backpacks and camping gear. They have 6 backcountry sites and 18,000 acres of designated wilderness that I would gladly spend a few days utilizing. 

views from the tram. Not pictured: the sketchy uneasy feeling of being suspended from a wire thousands of feet in the air on a rotating platform inside of  a free swinging tram car. 

Jessica and Sam. Sitting in the snow. Behind them...desert. 

Now that the holidays are over and things are starting to settle down I feel good about the choices we made. Maybe that woman at the pizzeria was right. Maybe, without realizing it, between the tantrums and fist fights, we are doing an okay job of mentoring these little guys. And, to answer the question: What could we do to make the holidays special?

I'm sure we will all have a special place in our hearts for our Christmas on the road.  

A Christmas Carol performed by the Yum fellas. 

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