health care, road trips, tech talk, occasional rant

August 2012

This year’s Escape Reno Heat adventure is kind of disjointed so far.  I had these items on the agenda:

  1. get my 30,000 mile van service
  2. visit Martha
  3. vacate in somewhere cool (as in not hot)
  4. drop by Van Specialties for some minor repairs(*)

So far I’ve done 1 and 2, uttterly FAILED on 3, and 4 has been upgraded to major rather than minor, sigh…


I have a Tuesday AM appointment at Mercedes of Rocklin for my service.  Already it sounds expensive – you don’t go to Ford of Reno, you go to Reno Ford.  I leave home this afternoon with the idea of sleeping overnight at the dealer and thus being first in line for service on Tuesday.  I did this, and it worked, but it was not excellent.  It’s brutally hot in Rocklin (>100, still in the 80’s at 11PM) so I had every possible window open, and it turns out the overnight cleaning crew is a noisy bunch.  I slept poorly on my sweat-soaked pillow.


Boy, this Mercedes dealership is a fancy place!  Fanciest bathroom ever!  Somehow they projected CNN onto the mirror over the sinks, which weren’t really sinks at all, but slabs of rock you washed your hands over and the water disappeared down the back?!?  I’m sure this supposed to make me feel deluxe, but all it did was give me an even worse feeling of dread about my bill.  There’s a very nice waiting area with wifi, coffee and pastries.  But somebody’s got to pay for all that, and they made sure I did my part. 30,000 mile service was $719. including $175 off from a coupon I got in the mail, so it was actually $880-ish.  Whew!

Anyway, here I am poorer but with a ready-to-roll Mercedes van and excited to resume the rest of my life at noon-ish Tuesday. I plan to be at Harbin Hot Springs on Thursday night, so what to do for tonight?  On the map it looks pretty simple to drive up to the campgrounds along the North Yuba River west of Downieville, so I do that.  It was a longer and more tiring drive than I thought it would be, but totally worth it.

As always, taking the same ole route is soooo boring.  So I tried a smaller road from Colfax to Grass Valley. I can report that it offers poor bang for the buck – very winding and tiring and not especially scenic for all that, but I did get the campground area at 5-ish.  The first three campgrounds were completely filled, but I lucked out and found a real nice spot at the fourth, Rocky Rest CG (a coupla hundred yards east of the much bigger Indian Valley CG).  This turns out to be The Spot!  Unlike Indian Valley, the river forms a deep pool here, and there is a footbridge across to make it easy to get to the rocky beach on the other side.  I’m not feelin it tonight, but I will definitively suck if I leave here tomorrow without jumping in.


My pleasant site was starting to heat up, so I decamped and headed towards Downieville, where I had a entirely adequate breakfast at the Coyote Cafe a coupla miles west of town.  Having scoped out my campground last night, I had a plan! I went right back to Rocky Rest and parked in the day use area, walked across the footbridge and spend the next 3-4 hours hanging out at the river, swimming and floating and snorkeling and reading a little and trying to not get too much sun – good for me!

Eventually I start the slog to Williams.  Pleasant mountain country roads to Rte 20 to Yuba City, a wifi stop at the Marysville McDonalds, through Colusa to a very pleasant sunset drive through the Colusa Wildlife Refuge.  The idea was not only to enjoy the sunset and what little wildlife is hanging around in late summer but to delay getting to the Granzellas parking lot until the sun is down.


I’ve done pretty much exactly this same pre-Harbin routine 3-4 times before:   Hang out in the sports bar that evening, sleep semi-poorly while trying to digest beer and bar food taken directly before bed (kids don’t try this at home), awake the morning and walk over to the deli to have coffee and pastry, order a sando to go for Harbin and do my wifi chores. Sad note:  I noticed later the screen in my little sliding door vent window was torn.  Looks like somebody tried to break into the van (hopefully while I was in the bar, not while I was sleeping in it!)  ick!

Anyway, do my morning thing, then observe the speed limit carefully through CHP-infested Rte 20 to Harbin Hot Springs.  When I got to the pools I realized I can’t handle the really hot pool because of the horrible sunburn I got tubing last week, but I enjoyed the lap pool and profiling on the deck with the rest of the cool people, and as always had a great time at the dance!


Met up with Martha and the family at Brian’s boat at its anchorage off Rt 12.  The delta is  awesome.  We’re right next to the KOA, between Rio Vista and Lodi.  Pretty darned nice place!  We had a great time with a minimum of drama.  I’ve never experienced the delta from a boat, so I found the whole thing really cool.  I’m probably too lazy, and definitely too poor to have a boat, but enjoying one is mighty fine!  We all jumped in the water that first night, so I was able to say I’d swum (swam?) in three very different bodies of water in three days!  Since I’m not usually very aquatic, I was quite pleased with myself.

Then to San Rafael to hang out with the next two generations (Martha and Tyler) for a couple of days, where it seems like most of what I did was tag along to their various medical appointments, but it was great nonetheless.

(*) I should note that on those first few days of camping I found that my battery/solar panel system was not working well at all.  At first I thought that it was just the solar panels not charging, but then it turns out my batteries aren’t acting right either.  So, the plan has shifted – rather than taking a leisurely trip up the coast and dropping in on the van place for some small things, I am heading straight there (and by straight I mean taking three nights to get to Portland) so I can enjoy my leisurely tour of the Oregon coast with a fully functioning van.


Time to leave the very comfortable environs of San Rafael and execute the rest of my plan. Martha and I have so so sushi (nice alliteration, but probably not a great restaurant name :) in Novato, then about 3:30-ish we say our goodbyes and I head back into the overheated Central Valley. Traffic mega-sucked on 37, was medium sucky on 80 through Fairfield, was great on 505, then was again pretty sucky on I-5. Not because it was super busy, but because it’s only two lanes, so dorks that don’t maintain consistent speed can drive a cruise control lover like me flat screaming crazy by passing me then not maintaining their passing speed when their sorry ass is panted right in front of me (pet peeve, can you tell?.

Anyway … I stopped at Granzellas again ‘cuz I need a break and I need a sandwich for tonight.  I kind of wanted to just stay here – it’s comfortable and I know how it works, but there’s too much daylight left. 40 miles on I stopped to check out a Granzellas knockoff place – sort of an olive orchard super-store – in Corning that also allowed overnight parking, but it did not float my boat at all. Which was a wonderful thing, because in a mere 13 more miles I stumbled on one of my best discoveries in a while, Sycamore Grove Campground.

My camping app showed a lonely little National Forest icon right outside Red Bluff CA.  Occasionally it will have bad coordinates for places, so I kind of assumed it was a mistake, and didn’t even look up the place until today. It turned out to be real! Mendocino National Forest is a large tract of mostly useless sun-baked scrub oak and pine between I-5 and US 101. But they also administrate this little chunk of federal land on the Sacramento River next to an obsolete diversion dam. There’s a sad, dried up fish ladder, a big old shabby looking dam with the gates welded open, a boat launch, a lovely little bike path, a campground, and lots of sycamores offering delicious shade. Methinks an RV-friendly, cheap campground 4 miles from the interstate should be insanely busy, but it’s not.

I did an evening tour – down to the river, where a dad and two boys were fishing for salmon but failing to catch any, around the dead and dried up fish ladder area, to the boat launch, where some old-timers were gathered to enjoy the much cooler air right next to the river (or the boys getting off the boats, it wasn’t entirely clear which) … to the group campground and a piece of the 5 mile long info-trail that snakes all around here.  I kinda hope to come here on the way back when it’s maybe in the 90’s rather than the 100’s and bike that sucker.


Update! I did a little recon this AM and the full story is really interesting. Everyone agreed that the place is deserted because the the lake is gone. My campground hosts thought it was just general government cost-cutting that shut it down, but the dude at the little Visitors Center said it was the salmon! The fish ladder was a terrible fish ladder, and the number of successfully spawning salmon kept dropping catastrophically year after year, so eventually the feds decreed that the dam had to go to save salmon on the Sacramento River and that’s that! So right here there used to be a place called Lake Red Bluff, where they had some kind of boat races every summer, and which was an all-around boon to the local economy, and now it’s gone.  So, a mere two summers ago, these acres of empty parking lots were busy and full of campers and boat trailers enjoying Lake Red Bluff.  One more reason for the local Tea Partiers to hate their federal government!  I’m ambivalent – it would be cool for Lake Red Bluff to still exist, but I really dislike dams in general, and keeping salmon in the Sacramento seems important somehow.

I have a pleasant, air conditioned breakfast in Red Bluff, then … back to the I-5 slog. I-5 turns out to be almost as unpleasant as I-80 even though it’s definitely much prettier.  On 80 it’s simply too many aggressive drivers and the sunset in your face.  Here the drama centers around steep hill climbs and not enough lanes.  It’s even hotter (101-106 most of the day) here. Anyway, a lot of too-hot driving including a 20 minute backup for an accident in the middle of Lake Shasta.  I took an afternoon wifi and A/C break in Mt Shasta, where my web research led me to tonight’s discovery, Jackson Wellspring.

This is another hippie-nudie hot springs place, and I found it to be pretty strange. I didn’t realize how much Harbin is infused with a kind of Esalan-style urbane politeness until I got here and experienced the lack of it. This is the hot springs for those dreadlocked kids at the coffee shop with the sociopathic stares, who aren’t from anywhere but are always heading somewhere, who talk only to their peeps and who’ve been hella baked for so long they don’t even remember what normal is.  I did my best to have good energy here, but was only sporadically successful.  I did not enjoy my camping experience or my camping neighbors even a little bit.

The pools were very nice – a large lap pool with warm-ish water and a large soaking pool at … I’d say 108-ish degrees.  There was also a pleasant pavilion next door with shade and wifi and electrical outlets.  So, while the ingredients are there for a good time, it did not happen for me.


Morning soak then off to breakfast at The Breadboard, a nice place on the north edge of Ashland, on a hill overlooking the wide valley, with I-5 in the distance.  I am here to tell you that Fedex ships a lot of stuff!  Every time I looked out the window, a double trailer Fedex semi was truckin past in one or the other direction.

My van place won’t be open till Tuesday.  I’m planning two nights at Edgefield, so I’ve got two days to get from here to Portland.  I’m in take it easy mode, which I’m good at!  After Roseburg I start looking for a place to camp tonight.  I had a couple of FAILS, but ended up at a very nice place.

FAIL 1:  Amacher County Park.  This looked good on my app, but was not good tonight.  It’s right on the North Umpqua River and was swarming with sketchy Oregon locals.  It’s basically right under a bridge overpass for the very busy Rte 99.  There was only one of the $15 tent sites left, and it was right next to the traffic, and next to a family of about 12 people.  It would be a cool place off-season, but that’s another day.

FAIL 2: Timber Valley Park.  This appealed because they list $5 boondocking sites (boondocking == just parking your RV somewhere for those not up on retiree lingo).  The place was a pretty extensive RV park, with some unused space along the creek at the edge of the property which they designated for boondocking.  I even found a spot and started to set up, but at 6pm it was too early to just plant myself in the heat with no amenities and just sit there, so I bailed.

FAIL 3: Rice Hill RV Park – another trailer park that wanted $17.50 to park in a spot with no comforts and no wifi.

SUCCESS!  Pass Creek County Park.  Here the tent camping is just a big field with a few picnic tables and trees and water spigots scattered about. There’s no assigned spots or specific parking areas, you just drive your car out into the grass and set yourself up wherever you want – awesomeness!  There was a crew of cross-country cyclists there, which confused me, because I couldn’t figure out where their cars were – duh.  Filling out the campground registration envelope without being able to specify a campsite number stressed me a little (kidding!), but overall I really liked it here.

The weather turned cooler today, thank goodness, so I spend a comfortable and pleasant evening in the middle of that field 60 yards from the freeway.


This park is on a strip of land between the north-south road (I-5) and the north-south railway which both ply the north-south Willamette Valley.  My neighbors discovered that the train path was lined with raspberry bushes which were pumping out tons of juicy perfect raspberries!

Drive onward, north to the Eugene area to look for breakfast.  The plan was to find a happening college place near the university, but instead I ended up in downtown Springfield and found a great place called the Pump House, which was way better than anything I saw when I cruised Eugene (thank you Yelp).


My van place isn’t open til Tuesday, so my clever plan is to go to Edgefield on Saturday afternoon and not leave till pretty late Monday evening, since all I have to do that night is pull into Tualatin and go to sleep. I did this and it worked charmingly!   I am almost too good at relaxing here.  From 5-ish on Saturday till 9-ish on Monday, all I did was read and wifi and sit on various verandas and soak in the pools and plan my eating and drinking around the afternoon and late night happy hours.   I quite loved it and look forward to doing again when next I’m around here [which annoyingly turned out to be eight days from now, see next post].


The second really expensive day of this trip!  It turns out that the way I’ve been using my van amounts to cruel and unusual battery abuse. So now I must replace my very expensive AGM batteries after only three seasons of use.  As discussed in earlier posts, my van has three semi-complex systems, and now I’ve had a little bit of an issue with each:

  1. water – pump, reservoir, heater – and the complicated ritual of blowing it all dry with an air compressor before the first hard freeze destroys it all!.  First winter I did this poorly, so first summer I had to go to Oregon to get it fixed.
  2. propane for the stove/heat.  Later that first summer I noticed I was losing propane (and Laureen smelled gas!), so second summer I had to go to Oregon to get it fixed.
  3. the electrical system – batteries, the solar panel and the inverter, shore power, etc.  As noted above, this whole system seemed degraded on this trip, so here I am on my third van summer getting the third system fixed.

I happily took ownership of this thing without any particular understanding of any of these systems.  Each has malfunctioned enough to force me to understand them a little bit.   The electrical is by far the most complex, mostly because batteries turn out to be extremely difficult, finicky creatures.  Don’t charge ’em too fast, don’t charge ’em too slow, don’t over-charge ’em, don’t let ’em get under-charged.  Different kinds of batteries have totally different, maybe even opposite usage models.   Unlike my laptop battery, which I now know must be run down to zero then recharged for maximum longevity, these deep-charge batteries are pretty much the opposite.  They hate to be run down, and are happiest when they are topped off all the time.  Who knew!?!  Life in the electronic age is so complicated.

But all is fixed now, and I am again eager to start the rest of my camping life.  The  van shop does not make coffee, so job #1 here at 3:30pm is to hit up a coffee house.  The perfect little town of Sherwood had the perfect place in an old house right downtown.  I hung out an hour and soaked up caffeine and planned my beach days.  So, recalling from the first paragraph that the point of this trip was to visit the coast, I am finally getting around to doing that on my 17th day!

My camping app showed a little string of BLM campgrounds 40 miles from here, so off I went.  The road kept getting narrower and more winding, but still paved.  When I got there the first two were closed, and then the road itself was closed!  Ick!  In the middle of nowhere with a detour sign pointing up the hill.  A 22 mile detour where you can only go 25 mph when there’s not much daylight left is very annoying.  It was a very odd little road with some scenic moments, although I wasn’t in the mood to enjoy them.  It was only one lane wide, but in great condition.  This turns out to be a big OHV area, so little single-track paths would pop up and cross the road.  There were places where you could tell the OHV-ers had partied that I could’ve stopped for the night, but I am pretty lost by now and would rather not go to bed without figuring out where I am.  Oregon forests are generally so abused by logging operations that I cannot summon up my usual indignation about off-road vehicles.  Compared to logging trucks they’re not much to worry about.

Finally, I’m back to a road with a number on it that I can find on a map (and phone bars, so apps works!)  Rocky Bend Forest Service Campground is nearby.  I get there, and it is one creepy scene, somewhere between Grapes of Wrath and Deliverance.  The sign for the camp has been torn down and the place seems to have become a homeless shelter for creepy, hostile hill people.  A guy walks up and says he wants my van … I keep driving.  An obese lady with a baby on her lap surrounded by children give me a worn-out and not pleasant stare.  I am really ready to pack it in for the night, but I ain’t staying here!

To cut it short, I drive another 15 miles to Rt 101, head south a few miles to the town of Hebo, where my app says there’s a couple of Forest service CGs 4-5 miles inland so I try that and hope they aren’t creepy.  I get to Castle Rock a little after sunset. There’s a nice family picnic going on and there’s a quiet, pretty private place to park the van, so all is finally good for the evening.


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