Saturday, November 27, 2010

Annual Pre-thanksgiving campout

Bothe Napa State Park is just outside of the town of St. Helena, in the Napa valley. It is known for the old Christian Brothers Castle that is now the California Culinary Academy.

Beautiful place, changing leaves, and full of the kind of scenery that gets turned into postcards.

The Camper family does a couple of yearly campouts, this has become one of them.

I missed last years campout, but made this one. Pics ahead. Short summary here: lots of rain. Some thunder and lightning. Warm fire helped, but the winner was the return of the deep fried turkey. Much thanks to the duo of mandolin players.

There are more pictures here.

We like to laugh a little at ourselves at these campouts. It's cold, it's wet, it is not hospitable to most campers. We have our little portable homes, our turtle shells. And thanks to John, we have a big tent to keep our food dry, our fire warm, and our alcohol unwatered.

The constant snare-drum rattle of the rain on the fiberglass roof is a mild annoyance. The gusty wind makes it hard to sleep, and here in the back of the bus, I am warm, dry and content. It's a moment of victory against the elements that promise to make my drive home slow, full of traffic, and a mild fight against the cross winds on the golden gate bridge.

For now, I have a full belly, and happy amount of beer keeping me warm, and several friends nearby.

Monday, November 1, 2010

The Return. 1.5 days. 2.5 Failures

It's Saturday, October 9, 6:30 PM and I'm heading out the door. The car has been loaded up, tuned, valves adjusted, oil changed, brakes checked, and I have to do 1200 miles in two days. Tonight's plan is to head to Highway 80 and go as far as I can before I have to pull over.

Juliette is with me. She just finished a five day rotation at the clinic, and now needs to head to San Francisco for a three day externship, so she is coming along with me on the drive.

North on 287, we hit Laramie about an hour into the drive. We made it to Rock springs around 11:30, check in at the easiest to get to hotel, sleep and are out the door the next morning around 6:00am. We averaged about 70 MPH, which is better than expected.

Quick calculation time. Rock Spring to San Francisco 925 Miles. At 65 MPH that's 14 hours, putting us in at 8:00. Assume an extra couple of hours for gas and food, and we might be home at a reasonable hour.

Evanston. They closed the Starbucks.

Utah. We blow through the canyon outside of Park City, descend into Salt Lake and we don't stop until we pass the Salt Flats. This guy passes me and we share a moment.

We refill in Wendover and start across Nevada.

It's a little more boring out there. I start tweeting where I am since we have nothing else better to do.

And the inevitable road gremlin attacks:
Then the generator light goes on. I pull over and look at the engine(while noticing the feint smell of smoke). It's not a broken fan belt, I wish it were.

It is clear that the generator brushes have ground down, and I am no longer charging the battery. For some reason I ignore that smoke smell, and write it off to "something else". We make it to Reno and fill up once more. Once I hit the sierras, the sun has gone down, and I have to turn on the lights. I know that they are going to fade out once the battery dies, but right now, I'm aiming at getting as close to home as I can.

I'm also calling a friend to see if he has spare brushes. He does, he is in Sacramento, and if I can make it there, I'll be fine. My wife is pretty tense about this, but does a good job of keeping it to herself.

The lights completely die just outside of Sacramento. I drive for about two miles with no headlights on the freeway, everyone is flashing their highlights, and I'm realizing that this is both dangerous and stupid. I pull off the freeway and ask my friend to guide me to his house with his car lighting the way.

We make it to his driveway, and I start removing the generator brushes. I drop the screw. I try to keep my cursing down to a minimum. My friend loans me his car. We drive to San Francisco with the intention of returning the next morning.

I head back the next morning, finish installing the brushes. The generator light is still on. It's not the brushes.

Kombi house is less than a mile away, I drive the car there and have them install a new generator and voltage regulator. Little did I know that I've had a 38 Amp voltage regulator on a 30 amp generator for the past 12 years. Honestly, how often do you look at that thing and read the numbers on it. I can't remember who installed it, I can't remember when I replaced it. Regardless. It's dead, so is the generator. They get replaced. While it's there, the window regulator dies. The internal gears are stripped, I need to find a replacement. Kombi house has one, they give it to me and I replace it the next weekend.

So I'm driving in back home, and the generator starts making a noise. The bushing in the generator is bad. I now have generator grease all over my pristine engine. Sigh.

I drive back the next day, they replace it, but now the fan is rubbing. I hear it every time I start the engine, it makes that high pitched whirr sound that is similar to a loose fan belt on a water cooled engine. I have no time to return to Sacramento, so I adjust and tweak the generator positioning until I get it as close to correct as I can. For the record, it left Kombi house fine, and somehow started rubbing after I drove it for about 40 miles.

I'll fix it properly once I have more time.

Up next: post failure analysis and update.

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