Let the Good Times Roll…

Our three week cruise in the Canadian Gulf Islands couldn’t have been better from a weather perspective. Lots of sunshine and very little rain make for a happy crew. We buddy boated with friends during most of the cruise and that was a blast too.

Our plans to head to Desolation Sound in BC were derailed when we finally got word that our new (to us) 2013 Entegra Aspire 42 DEQ coach was finally going to close. This deal had been 2 months in the waiting due to some issues on the sellers end and had been a source of frustration to us since June. That said, waiting wasn’t the big issue, it was the lack of communication from the dealer who had the coach on consignment. We held off leaving on the boat but finally decided that Fed-ex could get us documents somehow and maybe if we just took off it would finally happen.

Well damned if it didn’t!!! We finally got word the deal was ready to move forward just a day or two before we were going to make the crossing into the hinterlands of Desolation Sound. After some debate about how and where we could get the documents delivered (NO DOCUSIGN = LAME) we decided that returning to the US, signing the closing docs and taking possession of the coach was going to make us feel more settled. Plus, we were REALLY excited to get behind the wheel of our new rolling home, get her to Anacortes and start moving in.

We enjoyed visiting some anchorages that we hadn’t been to in years, some old favorites and some new places on the way back to the US. Pirates Cove is now on the list of favorites after a long hiatus.

I love the treasure chest…I think my glasses were a great addition!

A new favorite just over the Canadian border…Beaumont Marine Park. Great hiking, crabbing and fishing plus a mooring buoy field and amazing sunsets!!!

A deserted beach just waiting to be explored.
Exploring in the whaler…so much fun!!!

Another favorite we enjoyed was Sidney …great walking, shopping and restaurants. We had a great dinner at Sabhai Thai and a delicious lunch at Fish on Fifth. A day trip to Sidney Spit was very much enjoyed by Bentley who loves to frolick and play on the beach!!!

We ended the three week cruise with another night on a mooring buoy in Fossil Bay at Sucia Island. Crabbing was very good there so we came back to Anacortes with a full bucket of delicious crustaceans. I think they enjoyed the cruise back too!

Back on land, we quickly got possession of the coach which was in Poulsbo WA, got it settled into the storage lot in Anacortes and started moving all our stuff back in. We had boxed up and stored everything in the old coach so we could take it to consignment (not at the same dealer for sure). Holy Crapola, it sure is harder to move back in than it was to move out. I kept wondering out loud how we got all that stuff on the Cheetah. The new coach is five feet longer which in theory means there should be more storage …right? Not sure about that yet as it is all different storage inside and its like a puzzle figuring out where everything should go.

Yike…what a disaster!!!
So none of this was ours…it was all in the storage bays! 2 trips to the dumpsters, three trips to goodwill and a few things sold to make room for our stuff!

So you might be wondering why we “suddenly” decided to get a new coach…what was wrong with the other one and why this coach in particular. So honestly, there isn’t one thing that is wrong with the Cheetah…she has been a great starter coach for us. Our 2 month 101 road trip, in which we had a ball exploring the California, Oregon and Washington coast, re-enforced to us that we really love this lifestyle and hope to keep on exploring the US via coach and boat for many more years to come.
So that said, we just decided an upgrade to our home was in order.

So…TADA…behold the new Road House!!! Isn’t she pretty…

After spending three winters in the Cheetah Safari, we knew exactly the upgrades we wanted so that helped us narrow our choice to three models of coaches. The layouts were all similar but after driving the Entegra we were hooked. Entegra builds all of its coaches on a Spartan Chassis which is a totally different design than the Cheetah. Founded in 1975, Spartan has been a leading innovator in the industry. They engineer and build their chassis to feel like a luxury vehicle. Their innovations include the independent front suspension and the rear tag axle. These two features alone contribute so much to the ride and handling of the coach. Without them, you would experience harsher bumps, louder vibrations and significant drifting on the road. The rear tag axle was a huge selling point on a coach this size. What is a tag axle you might be wondering? A tag axle is a third axle located behind the rear drive axle of a motor home. It is a non-drive axle with one or two tires on each side. The main purpose of a tag axle is to increase the support of the chassis at the rear of the vehicle, allowing for greater carrying capacity and shock resistance. Since there is less overhang behind the rear axle, it makes for a more stable ride and an easier drive. Additionally, the tag helps stabilize the coach in strong cross winds plus when a huge tractor trailer rig passes us we do not even feel the effects of it.

We love the interior design of the Entegra which is significantly more spacious than the Cheetah as it has four slide outs and taller ceilings. The main living space has a L shaped couch we can both lay on, a gas fireplace and a stressless reclining chair which I have a feeling we will both be battling for.

In the kitchen, upgrades include a full size residential refrigerator and more counter space thanks to the pull out cabinet that makes the counter L shaped. There are so many accent lights inside the coach and I am still finding new ones.

Time to start personalizing our new home …adding some splashes of color!

In the back of the coach is the bathroom with two sinks and a bedroom with a king bed – YAY. No step up to the bed, which I grew to dislike very much. Since the bed sits lower, there is less storage underneath it – which is a bummer for sure. This coach also has a compact stacked washer and dryer as opposed to our all in one Splendide unit that we installed on the Cheetah. I liked the all in one just fine and the extra storage in the Cheetah where the dryer is now on the Aspire will be sorely missed.

Other upgrades – hydronic heated floors, a heat pump with three rooftop units for cooling and heating, side radiator, on demand hot water heater, loads of electronic upgrades, outdoor TV, heated storage bays underneath the coach with heavy duty pull out trays… the list goes on and on.

Like the Cheetah, we opted to purchase another gently used coach with very low miles. The prior owners bought it new, had all the bells and whistles added and sadly, due to health issues didn’t really get to enjoy it much. The interior still had original tags on some of the furniture, stickers on the fireplace and shades. In the kitchen, it was obvious that the convection microwave oven had never been used nor had the propane cooktop. Buying a good used coach means someone else takes the big hit on the depreciation and hopefully has worked out all the new coach glitches.

That said, we fully expect to have a few things to repair and know that we will need to replace the tires within a year. Low miles on RV tires doesn’t mean anything. With RV’s, it’s the age of the tires as large RV tires age out due to UV. The average life of a RV tire is five to seven years. If you drive a car every day, you’ll probably wear out the tread in less than five. RVs spend most of their time sitting still. So your tires will probably need to be replaced before the tread wears out. Maybe it’s cracks from the sun or maybe it’s sitting too long with too little air in them. When your RV tires hit five year in age, it’s time to think about replacing them. It’s even more important with the kind of weight and load that an RV puts on them. The Entegra is a big girl, weighing in at a whopping 46,600 lbs so she needs the best tires you can get to keep her safely rolling down the road. We anticipated spending a bloody fortune on new tires so that was factored in when we negotiated the price of the coach.

Despite the hassles with the dealership, we are thrilled with our new home and can’t wait to get on the road again. The sun is calling to us and like birds we will be starting our annual southern migration in early October. Most likely we will make a stopover in Portland Oregon to see friends and if the weather holds, we may hop over to Eastern Oregon and then drive down the Sierra Nevada/California route to Palm Springs. As a tribute to recently passed Ric Ocasek, we will be rocking out to the Cars …“Let the Good Times Roll” as we glide down the highways and byways in the new Road House.

Shore Leave in Ladysmith BC

Part of the fun of boating is exploring new places and visiting marinas that allow us to get off the boat and see some sights. Bonus points if there is a nice restaurant or pub nearby. Ladysmith met all the criteria so we were excited to check out the area.

The cruise over from Princess Cove was short and uneventful…nothing wrong with that. I had called ahead and made reservations at the Ladysmith Maritime Community Dock a few days prior so we were expected.

The Ladysmith Maritime Society which runs the marina is a 280-member non-profit charitable organization that has been in continuous operation since 1985. It’s really unusual to find a non-profit community marina and so well run to boot. The facilities are clean, up to date and beautiful with the hanging flower baskets on all the pier posts. The Oyster Café is housed in the community building that has a great room, laundry and shower facilities. Very charming and a easy walk to town where the 49th Parallel Grocery Store serves boaters and non-boaters.

Ladysmith has gained a widespread reputation as a picturesque, seaside community with small town charm located at the 49th Parallel. It definitely lived up to its reputation and we thoroughly enjoyed the bakery, butcher shop and the great grocery store in addition to all the cute shops on the main drag.

Ladysmith’s past is rooted in logging and fishing are is so many of the coastal town on Vancouver Island. The Ladysmith Maritime Society supports two neat little museums dedicated to the working boat heritage.

The other draw to Ladysmith is the close prolixity to the little art community of Chemainus. Luckily for us, the BC Transit System has a bus from Ladysmith to Chemainus for a mere $5 CAD round trip.

Chemainus’ claim to fame are the numerous and beautiful outdoor murals that you’ll find all over town! Look for the ‘footprints’ on the sidewalks that guide you to them … although they’re easy to spot without following them. Even the local Subway shop has a mural! This small community also has a thriving theatre culture. The Chemainus Theatre has a great line up of plays every year that people travel from all over the west coast to attend.

We put on over 5 miles trekking around town checking out the murals and shops. Thankfully, there was a great taphouse on our route so starvation and thirst was not an issue!

For all you non-boaters, Chemainus and Ladysmith are on Vancouver Island in the Cowichan Valley which is just north of Victoria. You can easily ferry to Victoria in your car or RV and explore all the natural beauty on Vancouver Island. The ferry system will also take you to some of the Gulf Islands which are well worth exploring.

Mining, fishing and forestry were the original industries that gave work to a diverse collection of people from all over the world including Chinese, Japanese, East Indians, Scots, and Germans. Some came to find their fortunes in the mines and when that didn’t work out they stayed to work in the forestry and fishing industry.

Billy Thomas is a great example of the local heritage. He was the first male child of European ancestry born in the Chemainus Valley, and lived here for all of his 102 years.

Of course, the Cowichan Valley has been the home of the original first nations peoples and their ancestors for countless generations and their history and lives became intertwined with all the various settlers and laborers.

So glad we finally made it to this part of Vancouver Island. Shore leave was throughly enjoyed by all including Bentley. He had fun swimming and playing stick on the beach which are his absolute favorite things to do.

Cloverdale – “Don’t Despair You’re Almost There”…

We almost skipped the wine country in the Sonoma area because we have been there so many times. I know… sacrilegious right??? I came to my senses after further reflection and a glass of wine of course. Hwy 101 would take us right through the Russian River, Anderson Valley and Dry Creek area so we finally decided that a four day stop over would be just perfect. I also hemmed and hawed because the RV Parks in this area are not great nor plentiful. After a lot of research, I reluctantly booked a site at the Cloverdale KOA. The reviews were okay but the road getting there was going to be interesting in our big ass coach. Four miles of narrow but well paved roads that were windy and steep according to what I had read. After the 16% grade at Laguna Seca, I figured it would be a piece of cake. Easy for me to say since I wasn’t going to be driving!!

The one piece of Hwy 101 that we both agreed to divert around was in SFO…as much as I loved the idea of cruising over the Golden Gate Bridge in the Road House, Wally was adamant that he didn’t want to drive through all the traffic in SFO. We took the Richmond route around the bay which is really scenic as well. The traffic was still heavy but it wasn’t bad at all.

Heading into Richmond…

Definitely not as exciting as the Golden Gate Bridge but very pretty.

Soon we were toodling along through the vineyards and reminiscing about the areas we had visited before as we passed through Santa Rosa, Windsor, Healdsburg and on up the valley. The temperatures were also climbing, down right hot compared to the coastal area we had just left behind.

The four mile adventure up the windy, steep but well paved road was a bit of a white knuckler, especially for me as I was sitting on the side of the road that dropped off, had no shoulder and no guard rail. Little did I know that there was more of this to come on our Hwy 101 road trip. Wally is a great driver so of course we arrived no worse for wear.

Yes, this sign was actually on the last sharp turn on the steep windy road to the KOA. Sorry its blurry, but that’s how I felt too!!!

The Cloverdale KOA was a welcome oasis …beautiful grounds albeit “rustic” but not as rustic as the Laguna Seca Campground. A large rolling property on the hillside with a pond, cabins, pool and great walking trail for Bentley. We really enjoyed the birds, wildlife and roaring camp fires at night. It was remarkably warm during our stay in this area which seemed odd for this time of year in Northern California but hey, we weren’t complaining.

Now these are some seriously “rustic” pinball machines. The game room at the Cloverdale KOA was filled with these relics. The weird one below is a very, very old PAC-MAN game which didn’t work very well. DANG!!!
Totally worth the crazy drive up the hill…such a beautiful setting.

There are no shortage of things to do in this area and our next three days were filled with winery visits, exploring Healdsburg (which we have always loved) and a day drive to the Anderson Valley area.

Great outdoor living space at this hotel in Healdsburg.

Healdsburg is a dynamic small town in the middle of the Sonoma Valley wine area. Very picturesque with an old town square, great restaurants and shops. It has a fun vibe and we really enjoyed sitting outside for lunch at Willi’s and visiting the Rock Pile Winery tasting room.

All this in one alley off the main street …what more do ya need!

We also visited a long time favorite – Ridge Winery. This winery has some serious viniculture history and produces amazing wines. Their Monte Bello Cabernet was among California’s finest wines of the early winemaking era in the 60’s. We particularly love their Zinfandels and in the day, when we had a 500 bottle wine cellar, there were verticals of Ridge wines in there. Their first zinfandel was made in 1964, from a small nineteenth-century vineyard nearby and in 1966, the first Geyserville zinfandel was produced.

Look at those old vines…

The Dry Creek General Store is another one of our fav’s…established in 1881 this place is a destination lunch stop in the area. The deli has incredible sandwiches and picnic supplies, many folks pre-order box lunches to take to wine tasting but it is also a charming place to have lunch.

The Dry Creek General Store not only has great food…it has some cool history and fun shopping!

So many beautiful places in this area….YES, I am glad we stopped over here!!!
Picnicking in the Anderson Valley at Navarro Winery.

One of our all time favorite finds on this stopover was Penny Royal Farm. Sheep graze in the vineyards and this small Agri-Farm not only makes some excellent wines they specialize in goat/sheep cheese. The cheese and wine pair was amazing…a must do if you come to this area.

Yes …we bought cheese and wine.
The fennel dusted goat cheese and pinot noir pairing was da bomb!!
Another great wine stop near Healdsburg.

Tired of wine tasting..how about a game of bocce ball!!!
Or just enjoy a picnic and the serene setting.

There is truly no shortage of things to do in the Sonoma area and our four night stopover was filled with fun and sun. If you are thinking about a trip to this beautiful valley check out the Sonoma Valley website and IMHO stay the hell out of Napa…well, unless you enjoy pretentious and expensive, then I would say go for it!!!

So You Want To Be Balloon Pilot??

Every balloon pilot that I talked to at the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta (AIBF) was passionate about the sport – not a surprise right? But passion isn’t going to get you up in the air, flying a hot air balloon. The Federal Aviation Administration requires a pilot’s license, or airman’s certificate, just as you would need for an airplane or any other aircraft.

 

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Mister Z, aka Naughy Zebra is a 105,000 cubic foot special shape balloon piloted by Thom Wight.

 

That license is earned after taking hours of instruction with a balloon pilot instructor, passing an FAA written test, making a solo flight, and passing a flight test with an FAA examiner. Open your check book…plan on spending $2,500 – $5,000 on training to get your license.

That’s a small drop in the basket (hee-hee pun intended) because by now you are probably hooked so you will want a balloon of your own. Of course, you can buy a used one but plan to spend about $25K for a small balloon. Want one of those special shaped, custom-made babies…Now you are really going to spend some serious money, $60K or more.

 

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 Lady Jester was one of Wally’s favorite special shape balloons. She is piloted by Robert and Sally Lupon and is 77.000 cubic feet.

 

Because the FAA regulates hot air balloons, if you need to have it repaired, the repair has to be done on a FAA licensed repair machine and you will need to get the balloon inspected annually or after any repair.

I had an opportunity to spend some time with the pilot of The Spirit of 76, Captain Jason Gabriel of Aurora Colorado. Jason has been flying for a number of years and started as crew for other balloon pilots. He loves flying, so evident by his big, infectious grin. As a matter of fact, his entire family loves ballooning too and they all crew for him.

 

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USAF Captain and Balloon Pilot Jason Gabriel (sitting) and his family/crew.

 

Jason estimates that most balloons have about a 600 hour flytime lifespan. The material, which is often nylon is really thin. The inside of the balloon is coated with wax that helps keep the air in and protect the fabric from the heat that hot air generates when the balloon is inflated. UV breaks down the outside of the material so with the combination of UV and the heat on the inside, the seams eventually give way and the material becomes too thin to hold hot air.

Jason flies The Spirit of 76 about 50 hours a year and also told me it costs roughly $120 an hour to fly – inexpensive, compared to owning a plane or a helicopter is his theory. Jason is an Air Force Captain so clearly he loves being in the air and gets his other flying fixes at work. Thanks Jason for your service and for doing the special demonstration for our Monaco Club Group at AIBF!!!

 

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The Spirit of 76 was in the first AIBF in 1976. Jason is her third owner.

 

Some of the special shaped balloons that we saw at the AIBF are corporate owned or sponsored but most balloon pilots in general are hobbyists. Google research revealed that there are careers in hot air ballooning but it is really a niche career path. Still curious about hot air ballooning…here is another link you can follow to read more.

 

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Sonrise piloted by John Rodden of Oklahoma, landed right in front of our coach. That is Wally in the blue shirt helping him.

 

I don’t think either Wally nor I are jonesing to be a balloon pilot but Wally had a ball being an impromptu crew member for Sonrise. It was an exciting morning when she landed right in front of us. I have a great video (thanks Jim for editing) of Wally in action as Sonrise comes in for a landing.