I obtained some “free” airplane tickets to Pasco Washington using miles, and we flew up the night before our purchase appointment at Smiley RV in Milton-Freewater Oregon.
We picked up a rental car and spent a nice night at the Clover Island Inn on an island on the Columbia River. We got up and made the one hour drive to the dealer the next morning.
We arrived at the Smiley RV with feelings of eager anticipation and potential dread at the same time. However, our fears were unwarranted. The Chinook was in good shape and the dealer had done a good job preparing the unit for sale. They replaced the kitchen faucet, and installed brand new house batteries. Our technician Kirk gave us a pretty good tour, and gave us some tips about operating the various appliances and utilities. After an hour or so of instruction and completing the paperwork, we were ready to travel.
It was with some nervousness that I took to the road in the Chinook, with my wife following in the rental car, headed back to Pasco to turn in the rental. The GPS was quite confused in that rural location, and led through a winding back-road route, which eventually got us to Pasco. The good news was that I had a chance to get some driving experience on rural roads with little traffic. The Chinook is basically a small truck, so driving it is similar to driving a U-Haul type vehicle. It’s not too difficult, but visibility is much more limited than when driving a car. Mirror adjustment is critical, but that is something we learned later. For this trip every turn and lane change was a bit of an adventure. The Chinook is very powerful, given it’s big V-10 engine, but it still takes some effort to get going and to stop, so you need to give yourself as much room as possible to avoid any white-knuckle experiences.
We stopped at a gas station in Pasco to fill up the rental car and top off the Chinook. Our first gas stop! I was a little apprehensive about pulling the “truck” into a gas station, but it turns out to be no big deal. The shorter turning radius of the Concourse is a big benefit for maneuverability, so that driving is more car-like. It is easy however to forget the rear overhang which is still easy to bottom out on driveway entrances or other, even minor, gullies. The trick, we learned a very hard way (to be discussed in a future blog) is to approach any dip at a 45 degree angle, rather than 90 degrees. This allows the Chinook to straddle the dip one wheel at a time, and there is no dramatic down and up to snag the trailing rear end.
We stopped at a Walmart to buy some pillows (we had packed sleeping bags for the return trip). Another quick driving lesson: Don’t try any fast moves in and out of the parking lot (or any other turns for that matter). With every hard turn, everything on the shelves and counters in the back would get a jolt, creating a pretty scary bunch of rattles. Patience is the key, and wait for an opening where you can get out with slow acceleration (which is all the Chinook is capable of when starting to move.) We learned later that our suspension was not up to snuff (bad shocks), so driveways and bumps were much more dramatic than they are now with everything repaired. At any rate, we took care of our domestic needs and returned to the highway.
We drove down the Columbia River using Interstates 82 and 84 towards Portland. It was a pretty drive, but there was a terrific crosswind, which made the drive a little more noisy and bumpy than normal. This part of the Columbia Basin is close to a Windsurfing mecca, which was explained by the strong steady wind. Rather than head all the way to Portland and the coast, we turned off on Highway 97 to the south, through central Oregon. This became a typical scenario for us, to avoid the Interstates and travel on secondary highways, which generally are more scenic with less traffic. The powerful Chinook engine allows us to keep up with almost all traffic in most conditions, or we can drive at a more leisurely pace, when the road is clear.
We had planned to stop near Bend, OR for the night, but we got off to a little bit of a late start, so we stopped for dinner in Madras, a few miles north. We found a Black Bear Diner on the highway through Madras, and parked in a residential parking lot next to the diner. What a great restaurant! After this first experience, we have sought out Black Bear Diners in may locations on our trips. Wherever we are in the west and looking for a good breakfast or dinner spot, we open Google maps and say “Go To Black Bear Diner” and the search list will identify the nearest location, if any.
We finished dinner about 530pm and it was starting to get dark, since it was mid-November. We got in the camper, looked at the time, and thought, “Why don’t we just stay here for the night?” So we did. Our first night in the Chinook turned out to be our first night of “stealth camping”. We put down the shades and left all the lights off. We went to bed at 630pm, because we didn’t want anyone to know we were there!
I was concerned about the sleeping conditions, since I had foregone the dinette floor plan which allowed the dining benches to combine with the jack-knife sofa to make a king sized bed. I was hoping the jack-knife was big enough for the two of us to be comfortable, and thankfully, for us it was great. I was so happy with the decision, since the club chairs were more comfortable than benches, and the coach was much more roomy, especially at night with the bed opened. In fact, the bed was surprisingly comfortable, and we went to sleep even at that early hour without incident.
All in all, it was a great day. We loved the Chinook, and all of our purchasing fears were assuaged. The engine was solid, the coach was very comfortable, and even as rookies, we had managed several hundred miles of progress without any problems.