You could just feel it. As soon as we crossed over the border from Oregon into California…the people were nuts man. Oregon had that laid-back vibe. Drivers were pretty courteous. Didn’t seem like they were in any real hurry. I liked that. Not here. No way. The change was just that sudden too. One minute we’re cruising along all easy breezy, next minute cars are screaming past us. And these weren’t straight, flat highways. This area was fairly mountainous, with some steep grades and switch-backs. Nothing super crazy, but I would have taken my time in a car. We were in the Beast, so we weren’t going anywhere fast. Eventually it was down to one lane. Thankfully there were plenty of pull-out spaces where I could allow the line of disgruntled Californians behind us to pass.
We wound our way up and down and around the Redwood Highway, and eventually through Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park. This was our first glimpse at the giant Redwoods, and I couldn’t have been more excited. Ever since I was a kid I wanted to see these trees in person. They were spectacular. And so alien. They look like they belong on another planet. Like Endor.
**Fun fact: the Endor scenes from Star Wars: Return of the Jedi were shot in various Redwood Forests around Northern California.**
The size of some of the trees around the highway made the Beast look small. It’s a crazy, surreal sight. Eventually the 199 led to the 101 and we made our way through Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park to a tiny town called Klamath, where we stayed a few nights. From that base we journeyed back to Jedediah and hiked a bit, and drove the tow car on smaller, less traveled roads through the forest.
It’s difficult to capture the true enormity of these trees. This last picture is fallen bark. Not branches… bark. It could have easily crushed a person. You could build a house from this stuff.
After Klamath we continued south on the 101 on our way to an RV Park just outside Cloverdale. Along the way we parked the Beast on the side of the highway at a large turnout that could have fit half a dozen big rigs. We wanted to take our time and take the tow car along the famed “Avenue of the Giants”, a roadway that winds through Humboldt Redwoods State Park. I had read somewhere that it wasn’t a good idea to take big rigs through this stretch of highway, so we opted to leave the Beast while we did some more tree gazing. The roadway was pretty neat, and there were some great stopping points, but after visiting Jedediah we weren’t overly impressed. The Avenue was a much more highly traveled roadway, and the trees were not any bigger per se. We just preferred the more rustic and secluded feel to Jedediah. And it turns out we could have easily driven the Beast along that highway. It’s a bit narrow in places, but would have been no problem.
After a couple hours of sight-seeing we started back for the rig. I’m always a little nervous just leaving it parked in open spaces like that. There’s always the chance someone could break in and totally loot the thing. Or steal it all together. After all, ALL of our stuff is in there. Thankfully it was just as we left it. We all climbed aboard and prepped for departure. I raised the electric windshield shades, which cover the entire surface of the windshield, then drew back the curtain at the left of the drivers side. As I did, at least 5 or so flies were in between the curtain and the window. I made quick work of them with my hat, but couldn’t figure out for the life of me how they got in. All the windows had been closed. Strange. But whatever. On to the Russian River RV Park.
The Park itself was pretty nice. Electric and water hookups, but not one for sewer, which meant we had to drive the rig to the park’s dump station whenever we needed to empty. No biggie. It takes about 3 days of regular use to fill the black and gray tanks, so it’s not an everyday dumping situation. Our plan was to stay there for a few nights and dump on our way out. I had to catch a flight out of Oakland in a couple days, so we planned on parking the Beast somewhere near the ocean in San Francisco so Aimee and the boys would have a nice view while I was gone for 2 days. Unfortunately the park was in kind of a Sprint dead zone, much like the rest of the entire U.S., so we had spotty cell service and no data. We’d have to rely on our Verizon Jetpack for work connectivity. The boys would just have to suffer. The guest lodge did have internet, but it was too slow for their gaming. Wasn’t a whole lot better for emails either.
By the time we got to the park my fly friends had regrouped. I began finding more and more of them, this time buzzing around in our shower. But how? Again, no visible entry point. And there was always more than one…usually 2 or 3 at a time. Like tiny crap-eating scouts being released to test The Beast’s defenses. Was there a full battalion hidden somewhere ready to strike? They rarely escaped the enclosed shower, opting instead to continually bounce off the skylight like tiny pieces of hail from hell until I could smash them with my hat, rolled up brochures, paper towels, shoes, or whatever else was in reach. Each day I would awake to more scouts in the shower, now 4 to 5 at a time, and a couple times per day. This problem wasn’t going away. The Beast was officially infested. Time to go on the offensive.
I removed the trim piece around the skylight, and then the interior plastic lining, leaving only the hard exterior plastic attached to the roof. From this standpoint I could see the wood studs in the ceiling, but no noticeable sign of flies. There were thin gaps here and there between the studs and the skylight, but no access to the outside. I double-checked from the roof for any signs, but nothing. They had to be inside the ceiling somewhere. The thought of a bazillion little fly larvae squirming around my ceiling was about enough to put me over the edge. I got out the insect poison, carried over from the ant infestation we had when we first picked up the rig, and sprayed down every inch of the exposed studs and inside the small gaps. Sure enough, as soon as I finished spraying a couple flies came wiggling out of the cracks. They seemed pissed too, frantically bouncing off the skylight until I finished them off. I would come back every couple hours to spray again, and each time there would be a few dead flies on the shower floor, and maybe one or two half dead flies flopping around. The site of their agony gave me pleasure. This routine continued for about a week.
Day of our departure rolls around and I fire up the Beast to leave. It’s just Christian and I, as Aimee and Aiden are in Cloverdale doing laundry. We planned to meet up outside Cloverdale, hook up the tow car, and continue on. Christian and I fired up the Beast and pulled out of our spot and could immediately tell something was off. That bouncey feeling was back. Not good. BUT, maybe it was just that same breaker for the air bag suspension that the Byerly RV techs had tripped over the summer. I knew where that was now so I could give it a try. But then “BEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEP”. The air pressure in my brakes dropped beneath 60 PSI, which triggers the safety alarm. No air = no air brakes. We sat in the Beast a minute or two and could hear the air building back up, and simultaneously escape. Even still, it hit 60 PSI and the alarm turned off. At this point I figured we weren’t going far, but at least we could limp over to the dump station and empty out before maybe limping back to our space to figure out next steps. Problem is, I had to catch a flight the next day. 2 hours away.
We pulled up to the dump station, which was occupied by another rig at the time. So we waited, and watched all the heads turn to stare at the Beast. The Beast knows I don’t like being the center of attention, but the Beast likes to make an entrance. Remember that hissing sound that’s been following us for several states? Well, it’s damn near deafening now. Like, “holy crap, what is that noise?” loud. Anyone standing even remotely near the Beast could hear it. They would look at the Beast, then look up at me in the driver’s seat with that “hey, are you aware that something is seriously wrong with your RV?” look. After a minute or two of that I decided to get out and take a look, more so to appease the onlookers than to seriously diagnose the problem, because we all knew I wasn’t going to find it. So I dutifully looked under each wheel well, and even opened up the front compartment where the generator is to see if I could spot the leak. But just like back in Portland, I had no idea what I was looking at. About that time another full-timer with the same concerned face as everyone else felt the need to come by and point out that it “doesn’t sound good.” Finally, somebody with some insight. To be fair, in our experience, the full time community has been incredibly friendly. Everyone smiles and waves, or has a nice word for you and offers up suggestions, advice, whatever. I’m just not the chatty-type to make small talk, and I generally keep to myself, but I think I’m getting better at this whole “human interaction” thing. So my new friend and I chatted a couple minutes, and we agreed the escaping air had to do with the air bag suspension and brakes (duh). He added, to my surprise, that had this occurred on the highway it’s likely the brakes would have locked up as a safety precaution to bring the rig to a halt. That was unnerving, considering I’d been driving with variations of that hissing noise for the last thousand or so miles. I couldn’t stop thinking about the rig locking up on us while we were driving somewhere in the mountains. That could have been disastrous. At the very least there would have been crap all over the driver’s seat.
Thankfully I have Good Sam’s Roadside Assistance, right? They were AMAZING when it came to the gas leak back in Idaho. Guess I figured since I couldn’t actually drive The Beast anywhere, this time they might actually do something for us. They ended up helping, kind of, but not without me screaming at someone first, hanging up on them, and them calling ME back. You see, they advertise “7 days a week, 24 hours a day”. I take that to mean…7 days a week, 24 hours a day. It was Sunday and they couldn’t find a mobile mechanic anywhere. That answer didn’t sit well with me, because, you know “7 days a week, 24 hours a day.” Sunday is, in fact, a day of the week, and it was around noon, smack dab in the middle of 24 hours. So they wanted to know, since I was in a safe spot, if they should continue searching or try again tomorrow. So I let them know my thoughts. All of them. In a decibel the entire RV park could hear. After a lot of back and forth, I finally received a call back from Good Sam that they located a mechanic and he would arrive in about an hour.
Mike from Mike’s Truck Repair was 5-ft. nothing and stocky, dressed in a faded blue jumpsuit. He crawled underneath the Beast and got to work, quickly locating the leaking air…a broken connection on the air line. After wrestling with the Beast for an hour or two, Mike emerged, defeated. Don’t feel bad, Mike. The Beast kicks everyone’s ass. Apparently the way The Beast is built, access to that air line is virtually impossible without removing a lot of other parts. He could fix it, but would have to return tomorrow with some additional parts and a taller, more slender person to reach the air line. He felt bad and said there was no charge for coming out today. Well now I feel bad. He’s a good dude, chatty, and just before leaving asks if I like country music as he scrolls through pictures on his iPhone. Uh, okay. Sure, I’ll bite. I say yes. He shows me a picture of him standing next to Clint Black, back stage at a concert. Turns out they go way back, and this pic is when he recently filled in for Clint’s injured drummer when they came out to California for a concert. So mechanic Mike from SoCal is mostly retired from fixing trucks and RV’s and just does it now to stay busy. He has filled in on drums for his good friend Clint, as well as for friends in a band called Journey. Never judge a person by their coveralls.
Seeing as how I’m not making that flight the next day, Aimee gives Southwest a call to see if they can do anything for a stranded wanderer. The lady is sympathetic and changes my flight for free, less than 24 hours in advance, with no fees or anything. Southwest rocks.
Drummer Mike returns in the morning with his slender apprentice, one with a better chance of reaching up into the bowels of the Beast. Together it takes them a couple hours, in light rain, but they manage to fix the leak. Mike writes me up an invoice for $326.00, and when I hand him the cash he hands me back $26.00 for paying him in cash. I was already shocked the total was so low, and now he offers up a discount? He hands me his card and tells me to call him anytime, anywhere on the road if I’m having problems and he’ll try to help me troubleshoot.
Between Mike and Southwest, my faith in humanity is properly restored… at least for the moment. I still don’t trust the Beast though. But I have to say, driving without that hissing noise sure makes me a little more comfortable behind the wheel.
We’ve actually met quite a few “Mikes” out here on the road…good, friendly people with fascinating stories. With time, and more human interaction, I hope to be a “Mike” one day. There’s certainly no shortage of stories with The Beast, and we’re creating more every day. Just need to work on my good and friendly parts.