Tag Archives: motorhome

Diane’s Diner

We eat most of our meals at Diane’s Diner, the exclusive restaurant in the Dream Machine.  Diane’s serves a variety of locally-inspired and classic dishes at very reasonable prices.  The chef works with limited kitchen facilities and creates everything without recipes.

Diane cooking in the small galley kitchen of our motorhome with roasted green chilies on the counter

Behind the scenes at Diane’s Diner

STARTERS

Guacamole

Fresh avocado, tomato, onion, garlic, lime, and cilantro served with organic blue corn chips.

Tuna Salad

A fresh blend of romaine lettuce, green onions, grape tomatoes, avocado, olives, and tuna dressed with olive oil, lemon, and red wine vinegar.

Caesar Salad

Romaine lettuce, shredded parmesan, and a classic dressing of olive oil, fresh lemon juice, Worcestershire sauce, minced garlic, ground anchovies, and spices.

Tostadas

Small crispy tortillas baked with fresh tomatoes, green onions, cheddar cheese, and Queso Fresco, served with chipotle salsa.

 

ENTREES

Chicken Spezzatino

An Italian stew of boneless chicken thighs, kidney beans, tomatoes and other vegetables.

Spaghetti Koroluk

Creamy bolognaise sauce over spaghetti noodles.

Strip Loin

Grilled strip loin streak served with crispy rosemary potatoes.

Turkey

Roast turkey breast with pan-fried potatoes, gravy and cranberry sauce.

Patrick seated at the table with a roast turkey dinner on the plate in front of him and a glass of wine

Turkey Dinner on my Birthday

New Mexican Rice & Beans

Sautéed chicken with fried rice, black beans, corn, and jalapeno.

Tacos

Ground beef, lettuce, onions, tomatoes, salsa, and fresh guacamole on small, warm corn tortillas.

Burritos

Ground beef, re-fried beans, tomatoes, green onions, salsa, lettuce, and shredded cheddar wrapped in a grilled flour tortilla.

Tex Mex Skillet

Sliced grilled pork and red potatoes fried with a tangy bar-b-que sauce.

Green Chilli Burger

A beef burger smothered with roasted green chilies sautéed with onions and garlic on a toasted bun.

Toasted bun with a hamburger piled higher with strips of green chili on a wite dinner plate

Green Chili Burger

Chicken Enchiladas

Strips of chicken sautéed with tomato, green chilies, black olives, onion, jalapeno, garlic, cilantro, chili powder, oregano, salt, and pepper, wrapped in flour tortillas, covered in enchilada sauce and baked with cheddar cheese.  Served with rice, salsa, fresh guacamole, and sour cream.

 

LUNCH

Tamales

Masa filled with potato and green chili wrapped in a corn husk.

Grilled Ham & Cheese

Sliced ham and cheese with a hint of mustard on bread grilled until brown.

Turkey Quesadilla

Roast turkey, cheese, and fresh tomato layered between grilled flour tortillas.

Greek Salad

Chopped cucumber, green pepper, roma tomato, black olives, and feta cheese in a light dressing

Picante Cristo

Ham, pepper jack cheese, and red onion sandwich dipped in an egg and milk mixture and fried to a golden brown.

 

BREAKFAST

Banana Oatmeal Muffins

Healthier muffins containing oatmeal, ripe bananas, fat free vanilla yoghurt, and cinnamon.

Pancakes

Klondike cakes with mixed fruit and syrup.

Diane seated at a picnic table with pancakes and gruit ready to eat with a lake in the background

Pancakes with a view

Oatmeal

Hot oatmeal with a mix of fresh cut bananas, apples, oranges, and strawberries.

Crepes

Thin crepes with melted butter and sugar or mixed fruit.

Omelette

Onion, tomato, greed pepper, and cheddar omelette with roast potatoes, buttered toast, and jam.

Breakfast Burrito

Scrambled eggs with red onion, sweet orange pepper, grape tomatoes, cheddar cheese and Queso Fresco topped with chipotle salsa and wrapped in a grilled flour tortilla.

Banana Double Chocolate Chip Muffins

Sweet muffins made with ripe bananas, dark chili chocolate, and Ghirardelli chocolate chips.  Equally good for dessert!

And the Winner Is…

I am very pleased to announce the winner of our Help Name our RV Contest. I would like to thank everyone who participated in this, the first ever DreamBigLiveBodly.com contest. Many creative suggestions were submitted, and picking a winner wasn’t easy, but…

The winner is Janice Ebenstiner, whose single entry was selected by an international panel of judges (Diane and me). Her single entry was our favourite.

Henceforth, the name of our motorhome will be… The Dream Machine.

We liked The Dream Machine the most because:
• it makes reference to ‘dream’, incorporating a key element of my philosophy, the blog name, etc.
• ‘dream’ conjures up romantic images of all the dreams we can fulfill while traveling in our motorhome
• ‘dream’ also suggests that we’re living our dreams
• ‘machine’ helps others know that we’re talking about a piece of equipment (namely our RV)
• it rhymes
• it’s easy to remember, and most importantly
• it just feels right

At first I thought Janice might be making a retro reference to the van from Scooby Doo, but theirs was called The Mystery Machine (admittedly a better name if one is solving crimes, but not as good in our case). Nor is this the name of the van from Josie and the Pussycats, which was nameless as far as my crack research team (me) can determine.

As the contest winner, Janice will receive:
1) The pride of knowing that she is among the most creative and ingenious of this blog’s readers
2) The self-satisfaction of seeing the name that she proposed used regularly in this blog and our vernacular
3) Our heart-felt gratitude
4) The option of a guest blogging spot on DreamBigLiveBodly.com
5) A framed photograph of The Dream Machine taken during its naming ceremony

Patrick and Diane standing in front of the Dream Machine holding a bottle of sparking wine

The Naming Ceremony

Patrick and Diane standing in front of the Dream Machine holding glasses of sparking wine and signs that say 'Dream' and 'Machine'

Formal attire for the ceremony (I put on fresh shorts)

Thank-you again to Janice and to everyone who participated!

Another Crash

I drove the S&M Motel through the narrow, often challenging streets of Europe for 9 months without a single traffic incident, so perhaps I was overdue.  In Alamogordo, New Mexico,  after spending the morning at the New Mexico Museum of Space History, it was my time.

Here is the statement I gave to the insurance company. Items [in square brackets] are comments that I added later.

I was driving our motorhome in the right hand lane.  I approached the intersection with my right turn signal on, and came to a complete stop at the stop sign.  There were three traffic lanes in my direction of travel, two lanes that went straight through and to the left of them, one left hand turn lane.  I was in the rightmost of these three lanes.  To the right of my vehicle was only a paved shoulder.   There were no other traffic lanes to my right.

A view down the street showing a car approaching in the rightmost lane and the paved shoulder beside the curb

A car approaching the intersection in the right lane beside the paved shoulder

When safe to do so, I proceeded to turn right and heard a noise to the rear of my vehicle.  I looked back in my right side mirror and saw a red car behind me.

A car turning right at an intersection

A car turning right where I did

I parked my motorhome as soon as it was safe to do so and the red car [a Volkswagen Jetta] stopped behind me.  There was damage to the right side of my motorhome towards the rear.  The single occupant of the red car [a young male] and I exchanged driving license and insurance information.  He said to me, “I thought you were going straight”.

A red Volkswagen Jetta with  with body damage to the front left corner and the legs of the other driver

The other guy and his damaged car

Two police officers soon arrived, after which I did not speak to the other driver.  The police officer asked me what had happened and I explained.  He told me that there had been two other witnesses to the accident, the occupants of an ambulance that had been traveling in the same direction as I had been, and that was behind both my vehicle and the red car at the time of the accident.

The front left corner of the red car with damage and a police car in the background

Damage to the red car with the police in attendance

He told me they said that the red car was being driven aggressively [actually he told me that the red car had cut them off], and that the red car had tried to drive [squeeze] through on the paved shoulder to the right of my vehicle, between my motorhome and the curb.   This is consistent with what the driver of the red car said to me. He thought that I was going straight (despite the fact my right turn signal was on), and tried to drive up the paved shoulder to pass me on the right and make his own right turn.  The police officer told me that the witnesses confirmed that my right turn signal was on.  The police officer told me that the other driver was at fault and that he had given the other driver a citation. [The police officer also told me that the other driver had signed the citation, which means that unless he fought it in court, he would be found guilty]

Yes, I know that the last part of my statement contained a lot of hearsay, but I thought it couldn’t hurt.  The accident report will be available soon (the Alamogordo Department of Public Safety puts them up for sale on a web site – can you believe that?).  I’m hoping that it is clear and accurate.  This is important because my ICBC insurance adjuster told me that the other driver is claiming that I hit him!

As for our motorhome, there is damage down the right side from about the mid-point back.

A view along the right side of our motorhome showing damage with a fender on the ground

Damage down the right, rear side of our motorhome

Our right rear fender was torn off, the fiberglass is scraped, and the outside compartment doors, hinges, and latches are damaged.  Hopefully there are no structural issues.

Damage to the compartments on the right side of our motorhome

Damage to the compartments on the right side of our motorhome

Damage to the compartments on the right side of our motorhome

Because our motorhome is still driveable and because RV collision repairs are notorious for taking a long time, we’ve decided to wait and have the damage repaired when we get home.  In the meantime, we hope that the police report jogs the other driver’s memory about what really happened.

Camping for Free in Europe

It is definitely possible to camp for free Europe across Europe.  Free camping, dry camping, wild camping and boondocking (all of which have slightly different meanings) are terms used to describe camping somewhere other than a paid campground.  In most countries in Europe you can camp for free with a motorhome anywhere it is legal to park overnight.  Free camping is usually not allowed (or is much harder to do) if you are sleeping in a tent or a trailer (known in Europe as a caravan).

We choose to free camp because it allows us to stay in unique places where we couldn’t stay otherwise (e.g. in the wilderness, at the beach, close to cities or attractions, or at any desirable stopping point along our journey). In some cases there is no campground available or conveniently located, or they’re not open (which is often the case when traveling out of season).  We also choose to free camp to reduce costs.  Campgrounds in Europe typically charge $20 – $45 a night for two people.  On an extended journey, these costs really add up, so we try to spend multiple nights free camping for every night we spend in a campground.

In some places, free camping is illegal or discouraged.  It may be against the national law (like in Greece where this rule is commonly ignored), local bylaws, or the sensibilities of the local residents or police.  There may be signs restricting overnight parking or specifically RV parking.  There are often height barriers on parking lots to prevent RVs (and particularly gypsy caravans) from entering a parking area, in which case we are forced to take our free camping and our business elsewhere.

There are several common ways to free camp in Europe.

Aires

Aires de Service (service areas) are places designated for the parking and servicing of RVs.  They are very common in France and are available to a lesser extent in several other European countries (e.g. Germany, Spain, Italy, Portugal)  Aires provide free or very cheap RV parking and often services like drinking water, grey and black water and garbage disposal, but rarely electricity.  No trailers or tents are allowed.  Items should not be set up outside one’s RV (e.g. no awnings, folding tables, chairs, or clothes lines.)  Aires are usually provided by cities, towns, or businesses to encourage visitors and patronage.  Provided a parking place for RVs also discourages visitors from parking overnight on the streets, and concentrates them in a particular area.

Sign saying 'Aire de Stationnement Reservee Aux Camping-Cars'  showing a picture of a car being towed awa

‘Parking Area Reserved for Motorhomes’

Aires are usually basic affairs — parking lots, paved or unsurfaced, with a service point where clean and dirty water can be on and off loaded.  The service points are often custom-built, just a fresh water tap and access to the sewer.  Sometimes the service points are commercially produced versions, which use money or tokens to gain access to the services.  Most Aires are unmanned and the service points are sometimes in disrepair, which is made worse if some people dump their waste anyhow.

A white metal box with buttons and hookups for water

A Nice Service Point

Aires rarely have the charm or the privacy of a national or state park campground.  European commercial campgrounds almost never provide privacy anyhow, so they aren’t much different in that regard.  Aires provide hassle-free parking that is often close to cities, attractions, or beaches, and a place to service one’s RV.

A white sign with blue border showing a black motorhome dumping water below

RV Service Point Sign

There are web sites and books that identify and describe the thousands of Aires available in Europe.  As a traveler, it’s useful to have all the information you can get when trying to find a place to stay.

Urban Camping

The main advantage of staying in an urban setting is proximity to attractions, restaurants, and nightlife.  It’s nice to be able to walk to the city center.  It’s great to be able to enjoy a night on the town without worrying about driving or transport back to a campground.

When staying somewhere other than an official overnight camping place, it is important to choose wisely.  In the city, it’s important to blend in, typically some place where other vehicles are parked like a truck stop, commercial parking lot, residential neighbourhood, etc.  Ideally it will be a place with good lighting and people nearby (for safety reasons) but no noisy or nosy neighbours, loud traffic or pedestrians, nor trucks running their refrigeration units all night.  In some countries like Germany, Austria, and France it is safe to sleep at the roadside rest stops, but in other countries like Spain and Portugal this is ill advised as robberies sometimes occur.

OUr white RV parked beside a canal with cars in front and back

Parking by the canal in Gouda (yes, where the cheese comes from) in Amsterdam

If you choose your parking place wisely, remain in the vehicle, and don’t disturb anyone, only rarely will you be chased away.  This has never happened to us.  I’m sure it will be very disconcerting when we eventually get a knock on the door in the middle of the night.  If this happens, it will hopefully be the police knocking.  Being forced to move along could be a real problem if we’ve had a drink, and are therefore not in a position to safely drive away.

OUr motorhome parked by the river in front of Rila Monastery

Camping in front of Rila Monastery, Bulgaria

In urban camping situations, especially in places where it is questionable to stay, we try to arrive at or after dark so as not to draw attention to ourselves.  We don’t exit the vehicle and camp in stealth mode with shades drawn and no external lights.  Cocooned in the S&M Motel, we can enjoy a lovely evening, with a fine meal, a good book, or a movie on the laptop.  In the morning the pressure is usually off as there are no issues with parking during the day.  In some iffy situations it is best to depart early in the morning.  Sometimes we’ll drive a short distance enjoying our coffee and tea before stopping somewhere nice for breakfast.

Wild Camping

Camping in the countryside or wilderness settings is a great way to get close to nature.  It allows us to stay close to parks, mountains, beaches or other places of natural beauty and outdoor recreation.

In addition to campgrounds and aires, it is sometimes possible to stay on private land (e.g. farms, wineries, churches, monasteries, restaurant parking lots, etc.)  In these cases permission should be obtained from the owner, which is sometimes difficult to do if they are not to be found or you don’t share a common language.

Our RV in a parking lot with snow and ski slopes in the background

Parking at a ski resort in Andorra

But wild camping is best done on public land away from civilization, in a quiet, remote place.  Ideally this is near a lake, river, ocean, mountains, or other beautiful vista.  There is nothing like free camping with the windows open, to wake with the sun rising over a beautiful landscape.  We experienced this on a beach near Tarifa in Southern Spain, overlooking the Strait of Gibraltar.  By day we walked the long sandy beaches of the Mediterranean and at night we enjoyed the lights of Tangier across the water in Morocco (Africa).  We also stayed at the beach in several villages on the Peloponnese peninsula in Greece.

Our RV with awning extended with dinner table and chairs set outside

Staying at the beach in Kala Nero, Greece

Our RV in a line with others in a sand parking lot on the beach

Camping ON the beach in Kastro, Greece

The biggest challenge with wild camp sites is how to find them.  If you’re staying closer to civilization, it is necessary to find an out-of-the-way place, preferably a spot on a quiet side road or dead-end street that is obscured from view.  In these conditions, you should try to keep a low profile by following the guidelines for urban camping above.  You should not stay on private land without permission or you risk facing the wrath of the owner.

Our RV in a parking lot overlooking the Tuscan countryside

Camping with an amazing Tuscan view in Cortona, Italy

Sometimes we learn of wild camping locations from other people.  They share this information in person or on the Internet.  A more challenging way to find pristine wild camping spots it to scout them out oneself.  A good approach is to seek out a body of water using maps or the GPS, then follow along it checking the side roads until you find a nice place.  This is a skill that our friends Sue and Martin have mastered, and that we are still developing.

Our white RV parked beside a Swiss lake

Staying beside the lake near Bonigen, Switzerland

We did a lot more free camping in Phase 2 of our European adventure.  The combination of more experience and warmer weather allowed us to stay in some amazing places and to lower our costs.  And when we do get that knock on the door in the middle of the night, there will probably be a blog story in it.

Diane at sunset with a long sandy beach and buildings below ni the distance

View from our campsite on a cliff in Nazare (Sitia), France

Note — this is one of a continuing series of Friday posts about memorable events from recent travels that didn’t quite get finished while we were on the road.

Reminder – Help Name our RV Contest closes in just 3 days!

Thank-you to all of you who have contributed suggestions in our Help Name our RV Contest. Only 3 days remain to get your entries in, as the contest closes on Sunday, March 24th at 11 PM PST.

Please click this link for contest details. The suggestions that have been made so far are visible in the comments at the end of the post linked above, and may get your creative juices flowing. Among the good suggestions made so far, there seem to be a few themes emerging – dreams, our names, travel, and Germany. Can you come up with something new?

The winner, which could be you, will have the satisfaction of having the name they suggest used in perpetuity on this blog, and will be awarded a top-secret, fabulous prize. Have fun!

Help Name our RV Contest

We need your help!  We’ve been traveling in our motorhome for almost 2 months but it doesn’t have a name yet.  I read somewhere that it’s best not to force a name on one’s vehicle, far better to let it come naturally.  Perhaps we can help that process along a bit.

Readers of the blog already know lots about our motorhome and our plans (please see the archives in January and February), but here is some information.  Our motorhome is a Solera manufactured in America by Forest River.  The chassis is a Mercedes-Benz Sprinter made in Germany.  Our names are Patrick and Diane and, to the best of our knowledge, we were made in Canada.

The Prize – In addition to the glory of winning and our perpetual gratitude, the winner will receive a prize.

Contest Period – This contest will close on Sunday, March 24th at 11 PM PST.

How to Enter – Leave a comment on this blog posting.  Up to five entries can be submitted by each person.  The contest is open to everyone.

How to Win — A single winner will be chosen by the judge.  The judge’s decision is final and I am the judge.  The winner will be the person who proposes the name that best fits our motorhome and us.  Preference will be given to creative and fun names.

Details — The winner will be announced on the blog and notified privately by email.  The winner will have 7 days to respond with contact information or will forfeit the prize in which case the prize will be awarded to the runner-up.  The prize will be shipped anywhere in Canada or the continental United States.  If the winner lives elsewhere, alternate arrangements can be discussed.

Have Fun!

Quartzsite

Quartzsite is a sleepy little town of about 3,000 residents during the scorching Arizona summer, but in the months of January and February it swells to over 1 Million people, almost all of them living in RVs.  Most of these people boondock in the desert, staying on Bureau of Land Management (BLM) lands surrounding the town.

Many white RVs coating the horizon

RVs scattered across the desert

Quartzsite sits on the western side of the La Posa Plain along Tyson Wash.  It’s small, dusty, and poor, with a median family income around $26,000.  On the surface it might appear that there’s not much to see or do, but there are lots of activities that cater to RVers.

Diane standing in front of post office bside a post office box wearing purple fleece with sign behind

Diane in front of the Quartzsite Post Office

Many people enjoy hiking, biking, or riding quads in the desert.  There are also an innumerable number of gem shops, selling rocks, gemstones, and jewellery to rock hounds, collectors, and visitors.  But the main attractions to this tiny town are The Quartzsite Shows.

Quartzsite hosts a steady stream of trade shows during the winter months, primarily in January and February.  The largest of which is the Annual Sports, Vacation, and RV Show, a 9 day RV extravaganza held in the massive show tent just south of town.

Large white tent with multi-coloured flags on top and parked crs in the foreground

Quartzsite Show Tent

There are also gem & mineral, craft, classic car, and several other swap meet type shows, each of which attracts hundred of exhibitors and thousands of attendees.

Aerial photo of large white tent surrounds by motorhomes and other vehicles

Quartzsite RV Show from above

We arrived just in time for the last day of the RV show, something we’d planned to do in order to complete the outfitting of our motorhome.  We bought an aluminum folding table, some nice reclining lounges, and a lot of microfiber (a soft, quick-drying fabric that’s great in RVs for washing and drying just about everything).

Free camping is allowed in the Dome Rock Mountains, which overlook the town from the west.  There are no designated campsites, and you’re allowed to stay for up to 14 days.  We stayed here for three nights.

Patrick seated in front of motorhome in reclining lawn chair with martini in hand

Martinis in the desert!

On our first night at Dome Rock we met Bob and Beth, a nice couple who have been full-time Rving for almost 20 years.  Although they own a couple of ‘stick houses’ and tried to live in one recently, they couldn’t give up their life on the road.  They invited us to visit them at their ‘home park’ in New Mexico.  They also invited us to join the Escapees RV Club, a club that focuses on full-time Rvers, something that we’ll be doing for most of this year.  We joined the next day at the RV show.

A unique  economy has developed in Quartzsite to service the needs of all those seasonal RVers.  Very little is permanent and many things are mobile.  For example, trucks travel around to deliver fresh water and propane and to collect sewage, grey water, and garbage from RVs parked in the desert.  Many businesses selling RV services locate temporarily in the town during the winter months, when the RV business is slow in their cold home towns.  We had some work done on our RV by one such business, Erik’s RV Performance Center located in Sequim, Washington, but currently operating in Quartzsite.

We found that our Solera swayed uncomfortably on uneven ground at slow speeds.  Within a few days of buying it, we turned in to an upward-sloping driveway that had a speed bump at the top of it.  We crossed the bump on the diagonal.  Even (perhaps especially) at a crawl, the resulting sway managed to pop open our microwave door and send the glass turntable flying to smash on the floor.  We also noticed the sway when driving over potholes, when being passed by large trucks, and on cambered freeway ramps. We found this a bit disconcerting and so after some internet research, we decided to upgrade the suspension with Roadmaster RSS Anti-Sway Bars.  Roadmaster had a booth at the Quartzsite show, and recommended Erik’s to install their products.

A bent metal bar lying on the ground in front of our RV

One of our new sway bars

We had the rear factory sway bar replaced with an upgraded, thicker one, and we added an additional, forward-facing sway bar (also at the rear).

Our Solera on an outdoor lift with a technician working benearth

A flying Solera

The new sway bars reduce the initial sway and quickly dampen any subsequent rocking.  Unfortunately they also make noise, an issue that we’re still dealing with.

Quartzsite is a mecca for RVers, a pilgrimage site where the desert blooms with fiberglass coaches each winter.  It’s a unique place where you can be among others with the penchant (some say affliction) to live the mobile, warm-weather lifestyle.

Layed Up In Lynnwood

Because our license plate and taillights were blocked by our new bike cover, we decided it wasn’t safe to proceed.  Before we had even made it to Seattle, we were at a standstill.

Rear of motorhome with covered bikes, and not taile lights or license plate visible
Not a light in sight

I spent the morning developing a solution to add some additional rear tail and signal lights and to move the license plate (and its light).  Unfortunately, regulations vary across the United States about the minimum and maximum heights of both brake lights and license plates and also the colour of signal lights (red or orange?)  After some online research and trips to Walmart and O’Reilley’s auto parts, I came up with a design that should work, without requiring any permanent alternations to the motorhome and using only the tools that I had on hand.

By the end of the day, I had acquired all the necessary parts and roughed up a wiring diagram. Still in the Walmart parking lot where we’d slept the previous night, I laboured into the very cold evening until I had a working prototype.

Patrick working on project at rear of motorhome in Walmart parking lot

It’s still winter in Lynnwood!

Patrick standing in front of bikes on rear of motorhome

At least it wasn’t raining!

When it got too cold, we walked back to the same pub where we’d eaten the night before, this time enjoying an inexpensive prime rib and helping a team of young guys win the trivia competition (“We’ll take the Food Network for 400 Alex”).

I spent most of the next day completing the build and installing everything.  It was cold but sunny, and not the ‘liquid sunshine’ that the Pacific Northwest normally receives at this time of year.

Patrick kneeling at rear of motorhome working on lights and wiring

Still at it the next day

I was feeling pretty pleased with myself, as prior to this, my collective experience as an electrician included:

  • the science kit that my parents gave me in Grade 4, which I tried to wire into a household electrical socket and almost killed myself
  • changing light bulbs when Diane couldn’t reach them

The rear of motorhome with 2 new tail lights, the license plate and its light relocated to the ladder

The completed project -2 new tailights, license plate and its light relocated to ladder

The parts included a 7 pin to 4 pin trailer wiring adapter, 2 LED rear lights, a license plate holder, automotive wire, a variety of connectors, wiring shrink wrap, kitchen drawer liner, some non-skid carpet tape, a lot of zap straps (known as ‘wire ties’ in the U.S.), and of course, duct tape.  Canadians can’t build anything without duct tape.  Total Cost $160.

Close up of new tail light on rear bubmper on right rear corner of motorhome

Look close to see the white drawer liner covering the wires

And so, almost 3 days into our trip, we set off again, passing through Seattle just in time to enjoy the evening rush hour.  At least we were moving again!

Preparation and Liftoff

We spent the first 2 weeks of January getting ready to depart.  Actually, we scrambled to complete what we needed to while making time to spend with family and friends.  Why is it that regardless of the amount of time we have to prepare for a journey, the last few weeks are always crazy?  Why do we always leave exhausted?

We outfitted our motorhome with the essentials, working off an inventory of the S&M Motel that we compiled before leaving Europe.  Diane bought those items that she could from charity stores (pots, utensils, cups, etc.)  We retrieved what we could from our storage locker, but were restricted to items in the first 10 feet due an impenetrable maze of interlocking furniture and persistent wet weather.  We frequented dollar stores to find storage containers, wine glasses, and other odds and ends.  We bought one set of sheets and a comforter from our niece Dara’s shop.

We loaded our motorhome in the driveway of Diane’s brother Wayne’s house, where we had stayed during our intermission back in Canada (in the house, not in the driveway).

RV that appears to be deep in the snow

Snowed in!

White RV in a driveway with snow on the ground

It’s not as deep as it looks!

Basically, we tried to get the essentials before leaving home, but left the non-critical and more expensive items to acquire in the United States along the way, hopefully at a lower cost.

We had planned to leave on January 14th, but stayed an extra day to support a friend.  We had our last early morning coffee with our sister-in-law Tania, and began our final packing and preparations.  We wanted to get on the road as early as possible, but as usual, things were taking longer than planned.  We switched from careful packing to a stuff-and-go strategy.  I really didn’t want to still be there when Tania got home from work!  We finally got going around 2:30 PM and went first to our storage locker to drop some things off, then to our house to pick up some mail, and finally to a bike store in Langley to buy a cover for the bikes on our rear bike rack.  It turned out that in order to install the cover we had to remove both the bikes and the rack.  And so it was that I found myself kneeling in a parking lot at 5 PM in the dark under a light drizzle, wondering if we’d ever get on the road.

With the dark gray bike cover on, we found that our license plate and tail lights were completely hidden.  We couldn’t do anything about this safety hazard (and guaranteed ticket generator) at the time, but apparently we thought that yelling at each other in the parking lot might help.  We did drive to The Unique World of Princess Auto to buy a reflective safety triangle, similar to what was on the back of the S&M Motel, then I went back in to the store to buy some duct tape to attach it.  I mistakenly bought camouflage duct tape, and the irony of attaching a high-visibility reflector with camouflage tape was not lost on me.

At 7 PM we crossed the border into the United States.  I thought there was a good chance we’d be stopped there because our license plate and tail lights weren’t visible.  Fortunately the cameras at the border that read license plates are at the front.  We crossed successfully, and drove south on I-5 for a couple of hours, stopping at the Walmart in Lynnwood where I’d stayed a couple of weeks earlier.  It was late, and our RV was still winterized, so we went out for dinner to the 13th Avenue Pub & Eatery for our first greasy, delicious American meal (Philly cheese steaks and beer!)

There and back again — Retrieving our motorhome

picked up our motorhome from the dealer in Des Moines, Iowa on December 28th.  I drove out into the night and a snow storm.

The roads were slick with uneven layers of ice still clinging to them from an earlier blizzard.  I sat idling in the parking lot while I figured out the controls, including the in-dash GPS.  I eased on to the freeway and headed west towards Omaha, Nebraska.  The steering was pulling to the left and I thought I might have a problem, but I kept going because the dealer was closed anyhow, and I later learned that it was just the wind steadily pushing on the broad side of the motorhome.  I stopped for fast food, then drove for a few hours before pulling in to a Walmart just off the freeway after 10 PM.

I headed in to the store to buy some road trip essentials – some jugs of drinking water, a tea kettle, a dozen diet coke, a variety pack of potato chips, chili chocolate, some $10 vinyl floor mats, and a plastic bin to hold my snowy boots.  It was cold out, 10 or 20 degrees below freezing, but I stayed warm in the arctic sleeping bag that I’d borrowed from my friend Lee.

A warm thick red sleeping bag on our RV bed

A sleeping bag for a North American winter

RV in a frosty parking lot with Walmart behind

My first night’s accomodation

The next morning I woke up early and the sun was shining.  I purchased fuel, mistakenly buying more expensive biodiesel which should be OK for our new engine (I hope?).  Although it was cold, the weather and the roads were clear, so I prepared to ‘make time while the sun shines’.  I drove 15 hours the first day, stopping only for fast food, fuel, and toilet breaks.

RV Front at sunrise in frosty, icy parking lot

I drove west through America’s heartland on Interstate 90 through Iowa, South Dakota, Wyoming, Montana, Idaho, and Washington.  I passed a lot of famous attractions – The Black Hills, Mount Rushmore, Sturgis (home of the massive annual Harley Davidson gathering), The National Museum of Wood Carving, The South Dakota Hall of Fame (OK, perhaps some of them aren’t so famous).  I went right by The Bridges of Madison County (made famous by the Clint Eastwood film of the same name), The ‘World’s Only’ Corn Palace (do we really need more than one?), 1880 Town, Wall Drug, and the Ranch Store (‘where you can feed the prairie dogs for free!’).  I also skipped the Car Museum (which has one of probably many General Lee’s from the Dukes of Hazard), Wonderful Cave (‘the largest in the mid-west’), and The Prairie Homestead (that can’t be very exciting, can it?)  I also missed the Badlands, Devil’s Tower (from Close Encounters of the 3rd Kind), Grand Teton, Yellowstone National Park, and the Rocky Mountains.  I’ll have to slow down next time.

Looking out the RV window onto a flat, snowy road

The view from my window

What I found interesting was that many of these attractions are advertised on billboards for 100 or more miles in advance.  I couldn’t believe that I was still seeing more signs for something hours after they began.  By the time I got there, I’m thinking, ‘maybe I should check this out? I can’t believe that someone went to so much effort.  Perhaps it’s good?’  But I suppose that’s the intention.

Motorhome beside road with flat, snowy prairie int he background

Miles of flat snowy prairie

The engine light came on at sunset of the first full day of driving, which had me worried.  It turns out that the engine light comes on when the fuel level drops to the point that one begins using the reserve tank.  Soon afterwards, the fuel warning light comes on.  Why wouldn’t it be the other way around?

I passed many helpful signs like, “Help manage our wildlife, wear fur”.  Also, ‘God Loves You’, followed soon afterwards by, ‘The Wages of Sin is Death’.  I guess that’s the carrot and stick approach.   I saw one that said, ‘Jesus is Lord in this Valley’, and I thought, ‘why limit yourself geographically?’  Did the probably well-intentioned author mean to limit God’s jurisdiction?

I drove another 15 hours the second day and came over Snowqualmie Pass late in the evening to arrive at Seattle.  I drove a little farther to get to the north of the city which would allow me to avoid most of the morning traffic.  I spent my 3rd night on the road in a Walmart parking lot in Lynnwood.  The weather was finally warming up, but still just above freezing.

A thick red sleepng bag laying on our RV bed

Another night at Walmart

Motorhome front under the street lights in a Walmart parking lot

On the morning of Day 3, I discovered that the kettle I had purchased at Walmart and had been using for the last 2 days still had what appeared to be the instructions inside, but it was hard to know for sure because it was just a soupy mess.  Surprisingly, it didn’t affect the taste of my tea.  I drove north to the Pacific Highway Truck Crossing at the Canadian border between Blaine, WA and Surrey, BC where the US Customs and Border Protection Office that handles vehicle exports is located.  I had submitted the required export paperwork to US Customs more than the 3 business days in advance that they require.  I waited while dogs searched the lobby and me until the agent returned to confirm that my motorhome hadn’t been stolen, stamped my paperwork, and sent me on my way.

One hundred meters later at the Canadian border crossing, I was instructed to park and take my paperwork inside.  They calculate and collect the Goods and Services Tax (5%), but they also wanted to charge me 6.1% duty, which came as a surprise.  I was under the impression that the Mercedes=Benz Sprinter chassis was manufactured in Germany but assembled in Charleston, South Carolina making it duty-free under the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).  However, the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) on our chassis starts with the letters ‘WD’ which means that it was made outside of North America (the ‘W’) in Germany (‘D’ is for Deutschland), and that is all the Canadian Customs and Border Protection agents consider.  I spent 3 hours at the border researching and calling people to try and prove otherwise, but I was mistaken.  It turns out that Sprinter cargo and passenger vans are assembled in the U.S., but Sprinter cab chassis, upon which our and all other Sprinter-based motorhomes are built, are shipped fully assembled from Germany.  So I paid the additional duty, watching some of my anticipated savings from buying in the U.S. disappear.  On the positive side, I did make it home in time to enjoy New Year’s Eve with Diane.

The other challenge with buying a motorhome based on the Mercedes-Benz Sprinter chassis in the U.S. is the warranty.  Although a motorhome built on a Sprinter cab chassis has a full warranty if purchased and registered in the U.S., this warranty becomes invalid when the vehicle is exported and registered in Canada.  On most Mercedes vehicles Mercedes-Benz Canada would then honour the remainder of the warranty, but only after charging thousands of dollars to convert the vehicle to their, not Transport Canada’s, standards.  This surtax allows them to maintain a significant price differential, charging thousands of dollars more for the same new vehicles in Canada.  Unfortunately, Mercedes-Benz Canada will not honour the warranty for the Sprinter cab chassis, supposedly due to the modifications made to convert it to a motorhome.  However, Mercedes-Benz U.S. does provide a warranty for the same converted vehicles, so this seems to be a convenient excuse to discourage Canadians from buying in the U.S.

Back in Canada, I took our Solera for the required federal inspection at a Canadian Tire store, and then got it registered and insured at an Insurance Corporation of BC (ICBC) agent.  Upon registering it in Canada, my Mercedes-Benz warranty disappeared.  Do I sound bitter about this?  I shouldn’t, because I knew about it in advance and chose to import a Sprinter-based motorhome anyhow, but apparently I still have some energy about it. If we had purchased a Ford, the other manufacturer of motorhome chassis in North America, I would still have a warranty and I would not have paid duty.  But I would also own a Ford.

It took me longer to drive home than the estimates provided by our GPS and Google Maps because the speed limit most of the way was 75 miles per hour (121 kph).  In the motorhome I drove 65 mph (105 kph) on the highway during daylight hours and 60 mph (96 kph) in the dark.  I averaged 12.8 miles per gallon (18.4 Litres per 100 km), but this will improve as the diesel engine breaks in and I slow down a bit.  Diesel fuel averaged $3.70 US per gallon, and an almost-empty tank cost about $75 to fill.  When I picked up our motorhome it already had 800 kilometers (500 miles) on it.  My trip was 3220 kilometers (2000 miles), bringing our total mileage to about 4000 kilometers (2500 miles).

In hindsight, I still think that we made the right decision to purchase our motorhome in the U.S. and import it ourselves.  Even with the unexpected costs, we still saved significantly.  However, we are now relying on the famous German engineering and quality, as these savings could disappear if we have any major problems with our Mercedes chassis.  We are placing our bet on the Germans,  Would you?