Harmony was idle for our first month or two, while I worked on restoring the woodwork, and power and media upgrades. I was also finishing up my last two months of my career. In January 2015, my career was finished, and our adventures with the Chinook could begin.
Since the RV experience was totally new to us, I was quite naïve when it came to figuring out how to get maintenance support. Something as routine as an oil change seemed to be a big challenge. Who could I find locally to maintain this “truck”, as opposed to our regular family vehicles. I assumed (most likely mistakenly) that our local Ford dealer was not equipped to handle a 10 foot tall vehicle.
To jump ahead in the story, I did (much later) choose a local Ford dealer for maintenance, but one that was about 45 minutes away in a ranching community, which I figured dealt with more trucks than our “city” dealer. I hate car maintenance, but my personal preference for a mechanic is the dealer. I know they are (probably) more expensive, but I feel like they have an obligation to fix any Ford problem, and have the factory to back them up if things are difficult.
Back in the past, however, I didn’t know who to turn to for maintenance. I also didn’t understand the complete separation of maintenance activities for the RV components and the Ford chassis maintenance. We joined the Good Sam club, and started getting Camping World brochures in the mail. I found a coupon for a free annual inspection of the RV equipment (propane system, furnace, hot water heater, filters, fluid levels, etc.) which I thought was a good way to do a baseline checkout. I thought this would also be a good place for our first oil change, so I made an appointment for both items, (with about a two week waiting time for an opening).
Beth signed up for a seminar in San Diego, which made a good destination for our first road trip, with plans to stop at Camping World on the way home for the inspection and oil change.
We made reservations at the San Mateo state campground near San Clemente, and headed off in the afternoon. It was after dark when we arrived, but we found our camp site after a few attempts, thinking it was on the beach side of the freeway instead of the mountain side.
We woke up to a beautiful ocean view, and spent a relaxing morning, before heading into the city for the seminar. I spent most of the day in the the Chinook with Troy (our mostly Cocker Spaniel travelling companion) in San Diego Animal Shelter parking lot, while Beth attend meetings in the shelter. Nothing special to report about that day, except I learned the priceless value of having our own bathroom on the road, so we always have a place to relieve ourselves, wherever we happen to be. This turns out to be one of the most important features of an RV, when it comes to personal comfort and convenience.
We found ourselves leaving later than expected in a dark, cold and stormy night (unusual in San Diego). We headed east on I-8, where I mistakenly thought there would be many camping opportunities. We were soon out of town, in the mountains in the rain and wind. I was afraid to leave the freeway on some small mountain drive looking for a campground, so we turned to our backup plan, a rest stop. We passed the signs saying there was a rest stop ahead, but missed the unmarked turn, and continued down the highway, where there was a distinct lack of civilization. By now, the rain had worsened and there was a lot of fog on the highway. It was getting late and scary. Finally, we pulled over at a truck stop in Jacumba, near the Mexican border. There were a few trucks parked in a giant lot, so we pulled into a level area across the street from the gas station and hunkered down for the night. We were now getting more appreciation for the Chinook flexibility and boondocking capability.
The next morning, sunshine prevailed, and we got a glimpse at the beautiful mountains we were passing in the dark. We continued down toward El Centro, down the spectacular grade from the coastal mountains to the desert. The landscape became boring after that, so we turned north toward Salton Sea and Palm Springs. We took a short nature walk at the “Sonny Bono” Salton Sea Wildlife Preserve, and headed back toward LA through Palm Springs. Once again, time started catching up to us. We stopped at the AAA office in Palm Springs to get some maps, which we had totally forgotten to bring with us (duh!). A Southern California camping map, showed us all of the available campsites for our journey home.
We came across a camping jewel on the map: Yucaipa Regional Park in (you guessed it) Yucaipa, about an hour drive from Palm Springs in Riverside County. Our GPS led us down a garden path, but we recovered and pulled into the park about 5 minutes before closing. It was practically deserted, so we found a large site with full hook-ups, and settled in for a luxurious night. The only other RV in sight was a Lazy Boy across the way, so it was a night for classic camping.
The next morning, we headed up toward Santa Clarita and our appointment at Camping World. What a terrible experience it turned out to be. We arrived in time for our appointment, and parked the Chinook in the waiting area, and we waited…and waited…and waited. After a couple of inquiries, the curt receptionist finally realized that they should have taken care of our trivial oil change and inspection in under four hours! We finally got in, but the entire day was wasted in the Camping World parking lot. The good news is that the inspection gave the RV a clean bill of health, and we started with a fresh load of oil, so I felt confident we were not abusing our new tiny home. I realize now that since we bought the RV from a dealer (in Oregon), they knew what they were doing, and had done a great job fixing up the RV (cleaning and minor repairs) before we picked it up.
We arrived back home in Santa Barbara none the worse for wear, and were starting to appreciate more fully what a gem we had found in Harmony.