advice, COVID-19, full-time RVing, Travel, VanLife

Vanlife is Always Eventful

We have learned life on the road is always eventful and you have to expect the unexpected.  (For those who are visual here is our video for this blog.) We headed out of Newport, Oregon to go check out Mt. St. Helens National Volcanic Monument, Mt. Rainer National Park, Wenatchee National Forest, Sandpoint, Priest Lake, FlatHead-WhiteFish and Glacier National Park. First, we stopped by Harvest Host Blue Heron in Tillamook, Oregon on our way to Mt. St. Helens. As we arrived in Mt. St. Helens, we hit turbo fog and the reason we moved out of Washington to Central Oregon as the temperature drops from 75 to 60s and mist then rain hits us in early July.  We found a nice boondock spot about ¾ mile from Marble Mountain Snowpark and the June Lake trailhead.  We were hoping to hike up to June Lake and the rim of Mt. St. Helens but when we awoke to pouring down rain, fog and no view a few feet ahead of us, we decided it was time to head to Mt. Rainer and see if we can get above the rain clouds to some nicer weather.  As we were driving down and around Mt. St. Helens and up to Mt. Rainer we began hearing a loud knocking sound in our engine compartment.  Searching online what this could be we thought it is either the Mercedes Alternator or the Winnebago 2nd alternator that runs the house of our RV with the Volta Power System. Having zero reception, we kept one eye on our bars while we drove through Mt. Rainer National Park (still closed to camping as of July 1) to have enough bars to call Mercedes in Seattle. 

As you head to Mt. Rainer on Forest Service Road 2586 near the catch and release fishing sign and a bend in the river is a good possible boondock spot- there were no signs indicating no camping and a few fire rings. Another possible site is Northbound Forest Service Road 25 before MM 27 and near MM 24. 

The road to Mt. Rainer (FR25) is paved but is very rough.  There are many spots where the road is falling apart and disintegrating into the cliff.  It is very windy but quite beautiful.  Unfortunately, in the pouring rain and turbo fog we couldn’t see the views of the mountain or the overlooks.  As we reached higher and higher up the mountain pass the temperature dropped to the 30s with snow surround us.  We decided we’d rather not camp in the snow and went on to Issaquah to visit Greg’s brother’s family.  On our way, near the small town of Randle, WA we found a county rest area near a cute pound and wetlands area with a few Beaver lodges that allowed you to rest for 8 hours.  We took an 8-hour break here to have dinner, nap and rest before heading to Issaquah, WA.  We also had a few bars in this location to contact Mercedes Bellevue and get an appointment to find out what is wrong with our rig. Later when we got to Issaquah, we got a phone call from Bellevue apologizing for booking an appointment with us as they don’t work on Sprinter vans and we must go to Seattle Mercedes.  Thankfully, Seattle Mercedes could see us at 8am on Thursday, July 2. 

Greg got to Mercedes at 8am and found out several techs took personal days for the 4th of July holiday and they may not get to our rig!  (Never break down before 4th of July holiday!)  after several disgruntled phone conversations with the service manage finally, by end of the day, we find out that the engine and alternator in the Mercedes were good but It was the 2nd alternator that Winnebago and Volta put in that is dead.  Of course, its 5pm Thursday.  Winnebago is closed for the holiday, Volta is closed for the holiday and every Winnebago service center is booked solid so we have to stay in Issaquah until Monday as we need to be plugged into to shore power to be able to use our rig.  After spending all day Monday on the phone with Winnebago, Volta and contacting every Winnebago service center in the Washington area were all booked solid for the next 3 weeks, we get approval for Mercedes to put in the alternator and for it to be overnighted.  So on Wednesday, July 8th, Greg heads back to Mercedes Seattle to get the 2nd Alternator installed and hopefully all our issues go away. 

At noon, Greg arrives at his brother’s house and it seems like our issue is fixed.  The Volta system is green, the engine knocking sound is gone.  So, we pack up and head to Wenatchee for some much-needed sun and warmth!  After a few hours of driving we notice our batteries are not charging, so I begin texting back and forth with the Volta technical support technician as they think Mercedes has damaged the system when installing the alternator.  We are now 200 miles away, we decide to boondock at Washington Fish and Wildlife Area Watt Canyon, (near Ellensburg, WA) which is a nice, picturesque spot and next to a pretty irrigation canal.  We parked in a fairly flat gravel parking lot and if we weren’t exhausted from all the vehicle issues, we would have mountain biked the area, there are miles of gravel roads to explore in the area.  In the morning, we were down to 70% and no charging of our batteries.  We then called around a dozen Winnebago service centers in Washington, Oregon and Idaho who are all booked out for the next 2-3 weeks and they couldn’t fit us in.  Finally, Volta Power Systems came through and found us a service center in Eugene, Oregon that could see us and are certified technicians of the Volta power System.  So as we were headed towards Idaho, we needed to do a course correction and began heading Southwest and 400 miles out of our way to get our rig fixed.  At least, Oregon Motorcoach Center owner Matt Carr was super empathetic, helpful and tells us as soon as we get here, he will help us out!  He took the time to talk to Volta technicians and Winnebago to ensure we are taken care of and that all the parts that could be needed were at his shop!  YEAH, someone good, we hoped!

We decide its time to use our Harvest Host membership and head to Zillah, WA to stay at Bonaire Winery on the way to Oregon. They are super friendly, beautifully landscaped property and yummy wines that are currently 50% off because of COVID19.  We enjoy a lovely bottle of chilled Rose Syrah paired with instant pot lentil soup at dinner.  The next morning, we awoke to our breakers beginning to trip as we try and use the microwave and stove for breakfast with our power down to 60%.  We decide its time to take the big push and drive over 250 miles from Yakima Valley to Eugene.  At 2:30pm, we arrive at Oregon Motocoach Center to Matt taking good care of us and getting us parked, plugged in, discuss the issues and offer us to use their barbecue gazebo area for the weekend and 730am Monday morning he would get our rig fixed.  After an hour being plugged into shorepower we are back to 100% and some relief flooded our bodies!  We grilled a couple of steaks and roasted vegetables on their grill and finally enjoy a couple beers, AC and some Jimmy Buffet Cheeseburger in Paradise!

When life gives you lemons you must make lemonade, so on Saturday morning we decided to head to our beach house in Newport to get a few errands completed and see the beautiful countryside and boondock in some pretty places on the Oregon Coast since were fully charged. We took the back-country roads from Eugene to Philomath that are so stunning and relaxing with very little to no traffic.  We highly recommend this route (follow Territorial Highway and Bellfountain Road).  After finishing our errands, we took a couple hours to relax at Seal Rock and watch the sunset and cook Instant Pot Split Pea Soup (I’ll have a blog soon on my favorite Instant Pot recipes).  After the beautiful sunset we took the back road Highway 34 towards Alsea Falls and boondock in the Siuslaw National Forest near the Old Strawberry Farm.  This part of the Alsea River is gorgeous and very green with a very rainy spring bringing lots of new growth.   In the morning, we headed back down 34 and backroads to Alsea Falls for a hike, mountain bike and check out the campground and BLM dispersed camping opportunities for the future as we headed back to Oregon Motorcoach Center.  Note there is no reception in this area. 

First thing Monday morning at 7:30am, they took out rig and started testing systems.  We found out that Mercedes Seattle installed the alternator wrong and it shorted out the 2nd alternator and shorted out the main Volta Power System brain and they would have known they did this, as the technician must have been electrocuted.  After hearing this, we thought great it is going to take at least another 2 days as another alternator would need to be shipped.  With COVID19, we were seated outside and it was about to hit 90 degrees, so we got a rental car and hotel for the night and more phone calls to Winnebago to ensure we get the parts we needed.   As we were trying to relax at the hotel, we got a phone call from Volta ensuring us that everything will be fixed and it was under warranty and we would not be charged. They promised they would make sure the system is working properly and fully tested before we left Oregon Motorcoach Center.  It was great to hear their attention to our situation and ensuring that our system will be 100% before we left.  Then Oregon Motorcoach Center called that they were done and that they had an alternator and a Volta System Brain in stock they used to fix our system.  Since it was already 3pm and we were already checked in to the hotel, we agreed to come first thing Tuesday morning to get a walk through and pick up our rig. 

The technician walked us through everything they did and what to look at if something goes wrong again.  We decided to head back to Alsea Falls Campground and stay there for three days and test the system.  After three days our system did not trip any breakers and was down to 25%, we then headed to Harvest Host Summerfield Winery on the edge of Springfield/Eugene area off Highway 58 for the night.  It charged back up to 90%, yeah so far so good!  The owner Cris is wonderful and she gave me a lovely wine tasting and we enjoyed a bottle of Pinot Blanc and a bottle of Pinot Noir to enjoy another day.  Cris was so friendly and she chilled the bottle of Pinot Blanc for us.  The next day, we headed down 58 which is a beautiful route with very little traffic, such an enjoyable drive.  We should have boondocked at Salt Creek Summit Snow Park but I used Google satellite view and saw RVs parked at Black Rock Pit so we decided to go there to get further Northeast.  I was totally wrong and there was no public entrance but a locked gate.  So we headed further North and boondocked for the night in the national forest near the Sunriver exit off I-97.  There must have been a last-minute cancellation and we were able to get one night at La Pine State Park which was great as there are lots of hiking, running and mountain biking trails to enjoy and the beautiful Deschutes River.  It was flowing pretty fast so I did not pull out the paddleboard.  The next day we headed to Cove Palisades State Park.  We were surprised to see there was availability in the Summer in Loops A, B and C.  Note: DO NOT STAY at Loops A, B or C (called Deschutes campground) there are no views, no hiking or biking trails and no shade- its super-hot and not very interesting!  You want to stay at loop E (crooked River Campground) It has trails, is closer to the Day Use area and a much nicer campground.  We typically never do full hookups but we were super happy that we did as the temperatures go to 98 and as it was the first time, we ran our AC all afternoon, evening and night! 

We were happy to head out at 5:30am the next morning and stopped at the Maupin City Park.  It is an amazing spot, great shade, full hookups and a dock to paddleboard or swim or put in your kayak or raft.  It is quite spendy at $48.00.  I enjoyed a paddle on the river and we relaxed with beers in the shade with our awning out.  While at Maupin we met the City Park Manager and her husband the Maupin City manager who are super friendly and wealth of information! If you want a guided trip down the Deschutes feel free to contact Forward Paddle which is managed by Greg’s cousin The next day we went for bike rides on the Deschutes BLM Access Road.  We then found in the next 6 miles 6 different primitive campgrounds that were only $8 during the week $12 on the weekends and 50% off for Access and Golden Passholders. Next time, when we don’t need AC all night we will definitely stay at one of those.  During the week, they all had available spots.  I would not recommend anything over 32 feet the spots are small. 

The next day we reached Bonair Winery again and could begin our track to Idaho and Montana.  Those stories to come in the next blog.  So here are your call to actions:

  1. If you hear an engine knocking sound go to Mercedes first and make sure nothing is wrong with your engine.
  2. If its your second alternator call Volta Power Systems first and have them help you find the right Winnebago Service Center that has a certified Volta technican
  3. Then call Winnebago customer care to get warranty to cover it and work with Volta and the service center to get all the necessary parts. 
  4. If you have to get a service center that doesn’t have a Volta certified technican make sure they call Volta technical support first before installing your alternator so they unhook power, turn of system and install it correctly!
  5. If you aren’t a Harvest Host member and want a 15% discount here is our link and here are the websites of Bonaire Winery and Summerfield Winery.
  6. Here are the websites for La Pine State Park and Maupin City Park.
  7. Here is the website for Forward Paddle if you want to do a guided trip on the Deschutes River
  8. Here is the link to the video for this trip.

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