Sunday, June 21, 2009

BLOG TWELVE -- AND THE FINAL ONE FOR NOW

Shadow Hill Rv Resort

Joshua Tree National Monument







Fellow Earthlings Wildlife Center

















Pam Bennett Wallberg, founder of Fellow Earthlings Wildlife Center






Is this a happy dog or what?









Flowering Saguaro Cactus





















BLOG TWELVE
I'm having trouble putting the photos in the text, so I'll leave them at the top of this blog.



Ripley on the Trail


June 20, 2009

There’s another long delay since Blog Eleven, but I will catch up now.


Goober
One of the interesting characters at Quail Ridge is a man who takes his overweight bulldog Goober for a ride in his golf cart twice a day. Goober seems to enjoy watching the world go by, but it seems to me that it would do him some good to get out and do some walking for a change!


Sprinkle of Rain
It’s a real event when there is any sign of moisture in southern Arizona and on May 19 we did actually get a few drops. And on May 21 it rained all day. I’m told that later on in July and August the monsoons come and it pours down, but I’ll be gone by then.


My New Camera
I had mentioned in Blog Eleven how I had damaged my digital camera, and the quandary I was in as to whether or not to spend the money to buy another one or do without. I do enjoy taking photos and sharing them on my blog, etc. so I decided to bite the bullet and get a new one. I did my research, comparing prices at Best Buy, local camera stores, etc. and then searching online. I finally settled on buying online a refurbished Fujifilm S1000 camera with 10 megapixels and 12 optics with image stabilization and other bells and whistles from Tri-State Camera located in Brooklyn, New York. It certainly was an improvement over the old one that I had damaged, but it turned out to be defective. Not every frame shot properly. I contacted Tri-State by email and tried to phone them, but there was a long waiting period on the phone, but I eventually got through to a live human. I explained the situation, and he assured me there was no problem. Just ship the defective one back, and they would replace it. I told him that I wanted the camera mailed to my home address in Canada, and repeated that request in the letter accompanying the package. However, the shipping confirmation email stated that it had been shipped to Arizona. I emailed them and received no response and eventually got through to another live human on the phone, told him the problem explaining that their shipper could not read. I was informed that I would have to pay the shipping costs to Canada, after they got the package back from Arizona. After some argument, he offered to split the shipping cost. Not entirely satisfactory, and I was very tempted just to tell them to forget it and refund my credit card. But I am now awaiting the shipment – and hope that this camera is not defective!!

On to California – But Not Without Incident
After having spent a pleasant six weeks at Quail Ridge RV Resort, I got on my way to California by way of Ajo which is located in an old copper mining town. The next morning I continued north to meet up with Highway 10 and shortly after leaving Tucson, the motorhome sputtered and died on the side of the road – and naturally this happened on the Memorial Day Long Weekend! And to add to my woes, I was almost out of minutes on my cell phone. It seems to be my lot to have a disaster happen on long weekends! I did try to contact two different RV mobile repair places, but both were shut down of course. After sitting for awhile, the motorhome started and I managed to get a little further down the road into the parking lot of the Family Dollar Store in a little town called Three Points where I was able to add more minutes to my cell phone.
By sheer chance I asked the cashier if she knew if there was a mechanic nearby and she responded that her boyfriend Jim was a mechanic. Chris called him and he quickly arrived, agreed with me that it was a dirty fuel filter, cleaned it for me, and drove me to a nearby Ace Hardware to buy a new one, which he installed. Just in case, he gave me his cell number and it’s a good thing he did because I only got a few miles down the road when it died again. He suggested that both fuel pumps needed replacing. We managed to get the motorhome back to the Family Dollar parking lot, where Jim began draining and dismantling the gas tank (one of the fuel pumps is located INSIDE the tank!!) Meanwhile, I took the Chevy off the tow dolly so that I could drive the 30 miles back to Tucson to Checkers Auto to buy the two fuel pumps needed. To make a long story short, I had to return to Tucson three times before we had the two right parts. Jim was simply wonderful and worked on the motorhome until 9:30 p.m. But it was dark by then, and Chris, his girlfriend and who is also the assistant manager of the Family Dollar, allowed me to stay in the parking lot overnight. Jim had also changed the oil in my generator and charged my auxiliary battery which was flat. I was visited by Border Patrol during the night, as they are on the lookout for suspicious vehicles carrying illegals.
Early the next morning I had to call Jim back because there was gas leaking from the re-installed tank. He tightened the clamp and he followed me to the Ace Hardware store to get a new clamp and hose. After all this and having paid Jim $265 for his labour and another $100 for parts, I had one more obstacle and had to call Jim yet again because I couldn’t fill the tank without it back splashing. He fixed this problem and I was finally underway, crossing my fingers that this would be the last of the problems.

Respite At Last
Thank goodness no more incidents happened on my way and I eventually made it to Indio, California where I stayed a total of five enjoyable nights at Shadow Hills RV Resort – a very beautiful campground complete with gated entrance, palm trees, saltwater pool, hot tub, pond with fountain and off-leash dog park. Ripley and I basked in the luxury, and enjoyed the pleasant hosts Bry and Salem, a young couple who are partners of the owners of the resort. The temperatures were reaching into three digits F., so the pool was very welcome.

Fellow Earthlings Wildlife Center
My primary reason for going to California was to visit the meerkat sanctuary known as Fellow Earthlings Wildlife Center, run by Pam Bennett Wallberg and located in Morongo Valley. Last year I had the opportunity to visit and made an appointment again for this year, for May 29. Pam has a policy of allowing only one group at a time, one in the morning and one in the afternoon, for two hours each on Friday, Saturday and Sunday only. I had a wonderful time sitting in the pen with the meerkats climbing on me as I fed them mealworms while chatting with Pam. We hit it off, chatting about all sorts of things, and my visit ended up being four hours instead of two. It was truly a highlight of my trip to be with the meerkats once again, and I hope to return again in the future. Because of the publicity generated by the TV show Meerkat Manor, the bookings are full a year in advance, and Pam has been visited by some of the narrators – Sean Astin, Whoopi Goldberg, Stockard Channing and other celebrities.

Joshua Tree National Monument
This national park is just a few miles away from Indio, so it was only natural to visit it while in the neighbourhood. Two deserts converge in this park – the Colorado Desert below 3,000’ where cacti abound, and the higher, moister and slightly cooler Mojave Desert where the famous Joshua tree predominates, along with interesting geologic rock formations. Wildlife abounds within the park’s 794,000 acres as well. Ripley and I visited an oasis of date palm trees, and walked a short way on the trail. But the heat was oppressive so we mostly just stayed in the air conditioned car, travelling along the roads through the park.

Homeward Bound – Sort Of
On June 1st we left the resort, getting as far as Parker, Arizona in the central western region where Phillippa overheated. We stopped to let the engine cool down and I noticed that the fridge was not operating on the propane setting. On checking I discovered that the auxiliary battery that powers the setting was dead. The woman at the local Chamber of Commerce gave me the name of a nearby garage where a new battery was installed, after an interminable wait while they located a marine battery and brought it back. Cost $212.

However, the fridge was still not functioning and I was worried that all my food would spoil. I got to Lake Havasu City where I located an RV repair place. Harley, the mechanic, determined that the problem was the control board in my fridge. This is the fridge that I bought only 1 1/2 years ago – but they didn’t have the correct part. Harley finally located one in Bullhead City, 50 miles away. It was getting late, so he and the manager allowed me to stay in their lot overnight, plugged into their power so that the fridge would operate. Harley also repaired the window screen that Ripley had damaged by putting her head through it when she saw another dog!
The next morning I headed to Bullhead City (which was out of my way home) stopping at the RV repair store that had the correct fridge part. Betty the receptionist was very sympathetic when I explained that my food was spoiling because of the fridge not operating and had a mechanic look at it right away. After a few phone calls, it was determined that the part and labour were covered under warranty, so thank goodness for small favours! BUT my “Check Engine” light came on, so Betty referred me to Advanced Auto in town where they checked the sensors and determined that it was the O2 sensor (something to do with the exhaust system) that was making the light come on and that I could ignore it as long as I checked my temperature and oil gauges frequently.

Okay, I’ll admit it. I cried.

Finally, finally, I started across Arizona, with the price ever increasing as I drove. In Sierra Vista I had paid $1.97/gallon. By the time I got to the Canadian border in Michigan, the price had risen to $2.95/gallon.
In the meantime, I stayed overnight at state rest areas and truck stops, hooking up to wi fi services at the latter, and enjoyed the cooler temperatures as I climbed in elevation to 7700 feet near Flagstaff. Every third or fourth day, I pulled into a campground in order to have a proper shower instead of a sponge bath. I continued on through New Mexico, the Texas Panhandle, through Oklahoma, Missouri, Illinois and Indiana. I counted a total of ten dead deer plus numerous dead raccoons and one coyote on the highway.

The temperature gradually got lower and lower, and Ripley picked up some ticks which she brought into the motorhome with her. Fortunately I found them and got rid of them before they could burrow into either her skin or mine! So I stopped and got some flea and tick medication to apply on her skin. That, coupled with the black flies and mosquitoes certainly indicated that we weren’t in Arizona anymore!

More Trouble
You probably remember that I was towing my Chevy on a dolly behind the motorhome. When I stopped to fill up the gas tank in Fishers, Indiana I got too close to the post that protects the gas pump and managed to rip the wheel off the tow dolly and bend the frame as I was leaving. I stood there stunned by what had happened. Luckily for me Police Officer Josh Ahnert saw the accident and came over to help me, offering to guide me to a nearby church yard to park overnight. He kept his flashers on as I limped over there, then looked up the names of several repair shops in the neighbourhood on his inboard computer, gave me his card in case I needed him. He couldn’t have been more caring, and his demeanor helped me considerably.

The next morning, I met some of the church staff and explained what had happened, and they were very sympathetic. Janice, the receptionist helped me to call several businesses in town, including the local U-Haul store (they wanted $634 to rent a tow dolly) as well as several repair stores (they couldn’t help me). Sue Griffith sat and prayed with me, Mary Kay offered her help, as did Mark the custodian and Milt. I used the church’s wi fi to look up used tow dollies for sale on the internet, but couldn’t find anything reasonable in the neighbourhood. Finally I located a used one in a nearby town at a trailer dealership. The cost - $800!! I had no choice but to drive the motorhome over and buy it and then make my way back to the church parking lot to put the car on the new dolly. But what to do with the old one? I couldn’t just abandon it in the church parking lot. Milt came to the rescue and got one of his friends to take it off my hands.

My stress level by now was through the stratosphere, and I was very grateful for all the support from the staff at the Fishers United Methodist Church. I cried.

With an empty wallet and a feeling of despair, I continued on north in Indiana, up through Michigan, finally making the Canadian border on June 10th, three days later than planned because of the various breakdowns. Strangely enough, it was the American border people who pulled me over and inspected both the motorhome and the Chevy. The Canadian Customs officer checked my passport and waved me through without incident.

Canada Once Again
We crossed the border at Port Huron, entering Sarnia, Ontario where gas was listed at 97 cents/litre. I’m bad at metric conversion, but I believe that was more expensive than the gas in the U.S. As of June 20th, the price per litre has risen to $1.03.

I got as far as the Flying J Truck Stop in London Ontario on June 10th, staying there to contact people via email. These truck stops are quite convenient because there is a restaurant, store, booths to plug into wi fi, showers as well as gas and propane – and they allow RV’s as well as the big trucks to park overnight.

But I continued on to Maple, Ontario where I parked the RV overnight in the community centre parking lot behind my friend Donna’s apartment building. I had a nice visit and BB Q chicken dinner with her, and left the next morning to continue on the journey up Highway 400 to Parry Sound.

My Summer Home
Michelle and Don Berry own the KOA Kampground in Parry Sound located in the cottage country of Ontario, and they have offered me a position working 20 hours per week, in the office in exchange for my site. It is a wonderful opportunity to enjoy the relaxed atmosphere and to take in the breathtaking scenery of the forests and lakes of northern Ontario.

Woofstock
Woofstock is an annual celebration of dogs held in downtown Toronto. On June 15 Ripley and I attended and participated in a walkathon to raise funds for the Jack Russell Terrier Rescue Organization. I received pledges of $190. It was a little overwhelming for Ripley as she is not used to wall to wall people and dogs, but we did have a good time.

Final Words
All in all, Ripley and I travelled a total of 4,500 miles from Ontario down to Arizona, then on to California and back to Ontario and Parry Sound, and I don’t believe that I would risk taking Phillippa on a long trip again. I think she will remain in a campground in Ontario from now on, and I will find an alternative means of transportation and accommodation in the southwest next time. But I do expect to remain in Ontario for this coming winter, out of necessity. All these mechanical breakdowns, etc. have put a huge dent in my credit card and it will be necessary to go back to work for awhile.














I will be remaining here until mid-August when I will head further south and east to Chalk Lake to housesit for the same two couples I housesat for last year. I will be there until the early part of September. After that, who knows? The advantage of being retired is that life is an open road and anything can happen.

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