27 May 2011

Were we supposed to tell someone where we were walking and when we'd be back?

A drive back into another part of the mountain range had us spending the night surrounded by an unexpected amount of the strange white stuff, during which we debated at length whether our food could remain in Gil's pantry or should be stored in the bear proof safes provided. I will admit, I was wrong and Brad right, the food was just fine in Gil. We tried, unsuccessfully to light our first camp fire, but altitude, a lack of paper and damp wood soon put this idea to rest. After a night of believing every sound to be a bear attempting to break in and steal my white cheddar popcorn, we headed to the General Grant Tree (an even bigger giant Sequoia). Our guide to the area, suggested several other walks in the vicinity and after checking out the General, we headed off on what we thought was one of these. The trail we took had no one else on it, which was not surprising as the guide described it as “lightly travelled” after some interesting scenery and a group of deer, we came to an intersection and elected to the take the route to
General's Highway rather than Corrals. For close to an hour we pushed on, figuring out where the trail went under the snow by searching for small green or red metal markers nailed to trees (not all that helpful when Brad is colour blind, and I'm short-sighted), and in their absence, fallen trees which had been cut through. The snow continued to get deeper, and the marks distinguishing the trail harder to locate. The bear tracks on and near the trail should have convinced us to turn around, but the thought that surely we must nearly be there and a desire not to see the scenery we had already, led us to push on, besides, the bear tracks didn't seem to be recent. After nearly an hour of this, the snow became just too deep, our feet a little too cold and wet, and the end maybe not so close, we Hansel & Gretel-ed it with our foot prints back to Gil. At one point Brad sank waist deep into the snow (a tunnel had melted out alongside a fallen tree) after an impressive return to the top of snow, we found the possibility he could have landed on a bear greatly amusing.

Turns out, North Trail is not the same thing as North Grove Loop, and is most likely a horse trail not yet open for the season.

The following day, after a trip down into the foothills via another extremely skinny, windy road, made scarier by the fact that the outer lane was being repaired after collapse (Gil only just made it), we decided we were ready to take this walking business seriously, with a 6km uphill hike from our camp ground to Marble Falls. After following a clear path for several hundred metres, we suddenly found ourselves climbing a very steep hill, grasping at roots and rocks, with Brad vocalising bitterly what our park entrance fee was for if not clearly marked trails and a few signs. Fortunately, the prior days experience, together with the lack of evidence of other hikers having taken the trail (we'd seen multiple groups set off earlier), led us to return not long into our climb and once back on the definite path we spotted a not very obvious sign the to correct direction. The trail travelled through several different types of terrain as we gained roughly 400 metres in elevation and was littered with an assortment of lizards and hopefully harmless snakes and, given the much lower elevation, was snow free and rather sunny (Brad will now take more bottles of water for himself on such hikes, rather than drinking from questionable water sources). The falls were well worth the 12km round trip, which the following day reminded us that yes, we do have leg muscles, with a huge amount of water quite literally thundering down, amplified by melting snow.

We still haven't seen a single bear!

26 May 2011

What's this white stuff doing here?

Our first journey into the Sierra Nevada, saw us come across snow for the first time this trip. Um, Summer starts next week, so what is all this cold, white stuff lying about? After nearly a month of laziness, we decided to ease ourselves back into exercise slowly with our first true wilderness experience, the Trail of One Hundred Giants, a short walk through a grove of giant Sequoia trees. More impressive than the size of the trees themselves (don't get me, wrong, their size was impressive) was the smell, compounded by the crispness of the air. As Brad put it “I feel healthier just from the smell”. The lasting impression the smell will leave is impossible to describe, trust me, I've just spent half an hour trying to find the words, and can't. Think Christmas multiplied by 50, but this is in no way does it justice.

We backed this wholesome experience up by sleeping in a Walmart car park after deciding there'd be a better camp ground than the one near the trees on the way back down this particular slope. There wasn't, in fact we didn't see another camp ground all the way down – we did nearly see my lunch again however, due to the insanity of the road. It's a weird, weird feeling showering in the middle of car park.

Erm, where's that water coming from?

Sometime last week, a particularly rainy morning had us wake up for a mad leak check. We found one above our bed … where we’d left the air ventilation flap open a little too far and a small amount of rain was splashing in. Two more similar leaks were also found, coming in via the kitchen and bathroom roof vents (we no longer leave them quite so open at night). Apparently leaks are quite common in an RV of Gil’s age, so we are quite pleased with this fact. In response to popular demand, here are some photos of Gil (the guy we bought him from, not ours) we’ll provide some of our own as time goes on, and yes that is a cassette player you can see in the dash.

The rain also had us decide to stay an extra day in the location we were in … and for Brad to decide it was time to further acquaint himself with Gil’s plumbing via sanitisation of our fresh water supply. Sanitisation involves something to do with clearing water that has been left in the tank and gone stale. Things were going well, Brad was popping in and out, water was running and various taps opened and closed, I was stuffing about with the nice motley green cotton I planned to make a throw for the couch out of (motley green cotton has now been returned – it was actually camoflague!). When a squeal from Brad revealed that blue water was flowing across the floor, originating from somewhere in the vicinity of the toilet, upon opening the toilet lid, Brad found it was approaching full with the same blue water and frantically tried to flush in the hope of draining it. Alas this led to the water level rising rapidly, not diminishing. Brad learnt two things at this time:
1. The bathroom sink drains to the black water (toilet) tank, as opposed to the grey water tank.
2. When the black water tank is full, it comes back to haunt you.
Before anyone worries about unsanitary conditions, we were not using the black water tank at this time, hence why we were only dealing with blue water. All water was quickly dried thanks the multiple rolls of paper towel Brad convinced me we should buy – I no longer argue about how many rolls he thinks we need to purchase. The ban on things other than wees in Gil remains in place indefinitely.

Step two in this process is to flush something else through the tanks to clean the sensors as currently the convenient panel below the microwave claims they are nearly always full, something that is causing a significant amount of paranoia, despite knowing it to be untrue … watch this space for more near misses.

I’ve managed to keep out of the plumbing business thus far, apart from providing wifely moral support and the odd foot to hold a hose. Given I’m cooking dinner for us every night (yes, Penny, Andrea, Garv I can actually cook something other than salad for one) I think we may be able to keep things this way.


Several days later, we were using a shared “dump station” (see photo of Brad and his paraphernalia), when a man who I'll call Poop Cowboy rocked up. As we waited for our tanks to drain, he pulled on his several sizes too small black gloves, and admired how Gil’s bumper doubles as a storage place for the fancy brown and orange tube – his ridiculously huge trailer thing apparently had no such space – and made some idle chit chat about where we were heading next and getting some bigger gloves, I imagine conversation akin to this also takes place at men’s urinals, (but what am I imagining those for?). As Brad was packing away the paraphernalia Poop Cowboy finished his draining and started the rinse, the point when he suggested we might want to “watch out” as he let his sewer hose flick about like an angry snake, splashing Gil – and quite likely Brad. Note to self: buy Brad a haz-mat suit for wearing at shared dumping stations.

19 May 2011

... and on the fourteenth day, we met Gilbert

After many promises that we'd 'start our blog tomorrow' we finally have.

The first two weeks of our trip consisted largely of driving, or should I say, Brad driving and I, looking around for a bit, having a nap, waking up for a snack, looking around for a bit, napping, waking up for a snack, repeat (Brad's description, not mine, but who am I to argue). From LA we crossed Nevada, New Mexico and into Texas in roughly 10 days, flew to San Francisco from Dallas, then drove back to LA. See maps, courtesy of Brad. We saw very little of the states we crossed but will likely be back later in our trip. There was time however for a brief stop in Vegas and Brad to convince me going on a roller coaster in one of the casinos in Vegas would be fun. I disagree, from now on I'll happily stand by, holding his wallet and phone. Highlight of this portion:
  • Brad sharing his love of Haliburton Gummi Bears, before realising he meant Haribo
  • White cheddar flavour popcorn, so far the bag count is 3 (I think)
  • Very slow traffic on a highway dotted with police cars every few miles, then we over took a prison bus
  • Realising the weird smell every so often was likely squished skunk
  • Road signs advising us we were in the vicinity of a correctional facility, with another separate sign underneath asking us not to pick up hitchhikers
  • Walking into a roadside fast food outlet in Texas to face a row of elderly men all complete with flannel shirts and cowboy hats
  • A Mother's Day picnic in the Dallas Arboretum (sadly minus our mums, they would have both love the gardens)
  • The only waiter in a place where we had breakfast leaving for five minutes to get a copy of New Mexico's answer to the Trading Post for us
  • Realising we no longer know what day of the week it was

On the fourteenth day, very near to a place called Corona (beer anyone?) we finally found a home for our trip. Gilbert is a 1998 22ft Gulfstream Conquest. Apparently Gil sleeps six. We found out after spending the first night sleeping on the table, which with the chairs on either side apparently converts into a double bed, the six people they were talking about were very, very small, and probably about 6 years old. Apparently the couch also converts into a double bed, we haven't tried it, it's the same size as the table (anyone planning on joining us for part of the trip, the invitation still stands, you can have either of these beds). The cab over bed, where we always intended on sleeping, is far roomier, about double bed width ... and 8 feet long. Did you know sheets don't come that long?

Since taking possession of Gil, we've spent a decent amount of time cleaning and setting ourselves up and a disproportionate amount of time in Walmart. However I am pleased to say, the interior is now disinfected and cosy (Brad says I'm nesting), and everything should have a home after another trip to Walmart. Brad's now familiarising himself with Gil's exterior, plumbing system (all extremely manly business, involving grey water, black water, a brown and orange fancy pipe and a pair of purple gloves with drip stop cuffs) and how to drive a boat.

On Monday (I think), it seemed we were finally on our way, heading for our first trip, a loop in around the
Sierra Nevada. Before hitting the road we got our tyres checked (Brad had attempted to do it, however some rather tricky hubcaps made testing the pressure of our inner rear tyres a challenge). Unfortunately, we weren't to know that the inner rear tyres were older and a different PSI to the others, and neither did the guy who helpfully inflated all 6 to the same PSI. Somewhere on our drive through an extremely windy, cold desert, on Highway 395, not far from Cuddeback Road (wherever that is) one of said tyres delaminated. A call out service comes with our insurance, as it does with our AAA membership (which unfortunately doesn't actually kick in until Friday), but we had very intermittent phone reception. Eventually help arrived, and on a dirt road with littered with ants and short gun shells (see photo) we discovered the spare we carry is for the front tyres, or has no purpose in life. It is however possible to limp along, very slowly on three rear tyres, which we did, stopping every so often to make sure the solo tyre wasn't over heating (on one such occasion, a well meaning police man stopped to check on us, hand on gun the entire time). And after a stop to acquire two new tyres, we finally headed into the mountains at dusk.