A Traveler and his Cat exploring America.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Retreated Home

Here it is one week later and I find ourselves just two hours from home instead of two thousand miles from home. I took note of diesel fuel prices in Rio Vista on Thursday before our next camp. It was $4.59. The next morning Friday, as we left Brannon Island State Park (don't go there), they had raised the price by 30 cents per gallon overnight! just because the weekend is here. It's a conspiracy I tell you!
I had the transmission fluid checked when the repair was being done as I knew the transmission was working hard climbing those long grades in the Trinity mountains, what with being underpowered with no turbocharger. The fluid was brown instead of red, as I suspected. It had got hot. This will have to be taken care of and is something the owner cannot do himself. It's been engineered this way by Mercedes. Hell, I cannot even check the level as there is no dipstick. "A trained Sprinter service technician must perform this service." $300! Yikes! More conspiracy.
So we came on home and will rebuild our travel purse for a later date and more adventures.
But as to not leave you without something interesting to ponder, consider the cunning and resourcfulness of the Common Crow. I packaged up a half-eaten chicken carcass in it's
plastic container, then placed the entire package in a plastic grocery bag, tying it off at the top. I tossed it in the dumpster at camp in the afternoon and before night I noticed the crows were having dinner. They had opened everything and eventually carted off bones and all.

Thursday, May 15, 2008


We left the coast and started inland on Hwy 299 through the Trinity Mountain Range towards Redding. This 142 miles held promise for many camping opportunities. Soon on I detected something not right with the engine. On a long pull it would falter very slightly as if starving for fuel, the resume on. I turned back towards Eureka not knowing what to do but it seemed to have cleared itself out and was running fine, so I turned back again towards the east. However it started up again but got no worse and didn’t take away from performance so I ignored it. Then I discovered the Forest Service campgrounds were close – too early in the season. Finally at Burnt Ranch a campground was open and there we stayed.
The next morning I took off on a unmaintained trail down to the river but realized half way only Mountain Goats cold navigate this so turned back towards camp. Eager to find a wide-open place to camp along the river we moved out without any breakfast. Yesterday’s engine problem was still with us only to manifest itself into a much more serious condition. It would just slightly hesitate on climbs then continue right along although with power really dropping off. This was the worse place to be, in the Trinity Mountain Range with all it’s ups and downs and 100 miles from any place of note. For the first time I was grateful for road construction where they stopped you and you had to wait for a pilot truck. I was able to place myself at the end of the line then once through the construction, knew I had no one behind me for miles until the next group caught up.
Turning back towards Eureka was not an option. I had passes to climb that way plus all those on 101 south towards home. Redding and the flat Central valley was our only salvation. We had two big passes to clear today and was very concerned, or at least I was. Sinbad was oblivious to the situation. The first one at 2500’ I started up, fell down to 30 mph or less and did a quick U-turn back down to the bottom. I figured this was it; stuck in Johnson City, population 300. I turned off the engine, got out to pee, started up the engine and went for it again. This time the turbo kicked in and I was up to a respectable speed before it shut off. We made it to the top not without an engine light coming on. It was the engine control unit. The manual stated to bleed the fuel system (easy to do) and with four or five starts, it should clear up. If not, take to your nearest Sprinter Dealer. It didn’t clear. I figured a faulty electronic device not sending a message to the turbo to kick in. So from now on when things got steep, I shut the engine off then started it up again and hit it. This worked to some degree. Now just if we could only make it to Redding. This required a final 3500’ pass. We we’re pulling a grade with the usual problems and then rounded a turn and saw the sign, Buckhorn Pass. “This is it Sinbad! We made it!” I didn’t realize this was it and it wasn’t as bad as the other pass, meaning not as long a pull.
Through Redding and onto I-5. I found if we got up to speed, the cruise control could hold it steady and a few hills did slow us down to 45 where I flicked on the flashers for safety. We miraculously made it to Chico where I parked at my daughter’s at 3:30. reflecting back on what we had accomplished on limited power I was very grateful.
There were two places I could go for repairs, Roseville and Folsom about 150 more miles on limited power. Although I-5 would be a farther route, it proved least nerve wracking. The cruise control could keep us going at 60 with the strong tailwinds and second lane for cars to pass.
We arrived at the dealership at 12:30. I explained the symptoms and my thoughts to the problem with the service manager, a nice guy. He got a flashlight and checked the turbo resonator before anything else and said “There’s your problem”. I was flabbergasted! I could see it separated at the seam. The failure is this plastic hollow canister; a component, nothing electronic. This is a common weak point with these engines of ’06 vintage. I knew of this and went to change it early on in ownership to the improved version (Q-5) only to discover the previous owner had already done this. Q-5’s never fail as does the Q-3’s and 4’s. However, here this one did. The discussion group I monitor for these Mercedes Dodge Sprinters have only heard of one Q-5 failure. Why me? I never looked at it having placed a false sense of knowledge in knowing this part was fine. Had I looked, I could have repaired it with some JB Weld way back there in Johnson City and avoided two days of drama driving! GRRRR!!!
There is an aftermarket version of this device made out of a solid billet of aluminum, nothing more than a tube (I knew of these), not plastic with a seam. It’s not a factory made item but surprisingly the dealer had them. I could have another Q-5 put in under warranty (free) or select the aluminum one (not under warranty - pay) and never worry about this happening again. He said all the UPS and FED-EX Sprinters go with it for they cannot afford breakdowns alongside the road. Since I was already planning to spend bucks ($$$) on some electronic gadget I said do it. $232 later I was out of there at 3pm and he gave me a Q-5 anyway on the side (under warranty), which I could sell or give to some unlucky View/Navion owner, broke down along the side of the road, who didn’t know any better and thus be a hero.
We blew on down to the Delta area and found a nice peaceful campground all to ourselves for the night.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

The Redwoods

We got off to a late start yet again. This seems to be a reoccurring theme at the beginning of each trip. I wanted to pick up my new glasses at Costco which didn’t open till 10. I planned to go south from there, then over to I-5 and begin heading north. The more I thought about this that morning the less appealing interstate traffic became, so after picking up my glasses we turned around and retraced our tracks north on 101.
The plan for this trip was to venture into eastern Oregon and Washington with the only real point of interest as a must see was the John Day Fossil Beds in Oregon. While driving along I began losing motivation for the trip in part due to the high cost of fuel and still operating on a limited budget. We made it as far as Richardson Grove along the Eel River for the first night. I found the Redwood setting very peaceful, relaxing and realized that all I am looking for is right here. There was no need to log in long high mileage days. I rationalized the money saved on fuel, could be put towards campground fees, which I normally avoid. Sinbad and I held a meeting that evening and we cemented a new plan. I’ve been following online the exploits of a 70 year old man boondocking around in Mexico. George averages 50 miles a day travelling leaving most of his time to explore and enjoy wherever he is camped. I tried this out at the end of our last trip and discovered how pleasant it was. So it appears we will stay in northern California for the entire time and I am perfectly happy with that. Sinbad is too.
I went for an hour hike early in the morning, then moved the rig down by the river in a sunny spot I found while hiking. I simply enjoyed watching the river flow by, walking and sitting by the riverbank. We lounged around Richardson Grove until 2 o’clock that day. We then moved on up the road taking the Avenue of the Giants scenic route and pulled into the first campground we came to, Hidden Springs. As was Richardson Grove there are very few campers out this early in the season and this is good.
The next morning after my hike, I walked across the road to meet Fred & Ruth from Riverside. They had a small camper van on the same chassis/engine assembly, as is the View. I’ve seen these before on the road and was curious as to the gas mileage they get in comparison. Fred was equally happy to make my acquaintance, as they had been interested in Views also. They had a Rialta van a few years earlier but lost it due to a fire. Fred said he got about 20 mpg on the average with this new van so this is only a couple miles better than the View. He invited me in for a tour and I was afraid I might like what I saw, wishing perhaps something on this order may have been more practical. Once inside though I instantly knew otherwise. I felt I was in a coffin equipped with a small refrigerator and stove. My head almost touched the ceiling and I do not know how they can call the two bench seats twin beds. They asked me to sit and visit but being hot and sweaty from my hike I said I couldn’t. Ruth sensed I was about to leave so she quickly asked if I was familiar with “Born Again”. I thought to myself “No, she’s not going there is she? Maybe ‘Born Again’ is a brand of RV.” I was wrong and she launched onto a full-blown born again Christian spiel. That I needed to repent for my sins (I don’t know if there’s enough time left in my life for me to account for all my sins). That I needed to make sure there will be a spot reserved for me (yes, she used the word ‘reserved’, which caused me to liken heaven as a campground) in God’s Kingdom. Caught completely by surprise I stood there with the proverbial deer in the headlights look. I soon regained my senses and I assured her that I had already experienced the ‘born again’ feeling when I retired four years ago. “I’m a new man!” I wished them a happy trip and returned to camp with the words of “our savior Lord Jesus Christ” following me across the road. Back in side the sanctuary of the View, I was thankful for everything it was.
This sinner and his cat continued on their journey reaching Patrick’s Point State Park later in the afternoon. After a cup of tea and with binoculars in hand, I walked through the campground underbrush following the barking sounds of Sea Lions below the cliff. Finally, I located a clear spot where I was able to see the ocean. Within minutes, I spotted a whale surfacing, blowing spray then diving deep with his tail fully extended out of the water. Wow! I couldn’t ask for anything more. I walked back to camp with the biggest smile on my face having been able to see a whale. Tomorrow I look forward to hiking the trails in the park, trails that we did as a family over 25 years ago.