Adventures in Yellowstone: Spring 2021

swalker

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In this thread, I will hope to convey some of the adventures we had in preparing for and taking our spring trip to Yellowstone. I cannot begin to convey just how difficult this trip was. In a post on the PALS rollcall thread I posted a bit about our trip. In this thread, I hope to flesh out some of the challenges we faced and overcame.

The title of this thread is misleading! The adventure started well before our departure. I cannot believe that with all the challenges we faced that we actually embarked on the trip. In fact, several days into the trip my wife and I discussed what we would have done if we knew about the challenges a week earlier. We both emphatically agreed that we would NOT have embarked upon the trip. I am so glad that we did not know of the challenges, as the trip was magnificent! And, of course, the ensuing weeks presented even more challenges!

So, in this thread I plan to place a series of posts discussing the challenges that were presented and what we did to overcome them (or to simply endure them). I will undoubtedly omit many details! But, I hope to convey that with perseverance, amazing things are possible.

For me, the chief takeaway is that progression is real. For me, progression has been slow. In another month, I will celebrate 7 years since diagnosis. Yet slow progression does not equal no progression. On this trip, I was slapped in the face by the reality that progression has occurred. Of note, my ability to type has degraded. I will attempt to fix the many typos that I make, but please have patience for the inevitable mistakes I will make. I use a keyboard that has very light touch keys, but even with that, many key presses do not result in characters being generated!

Key factors are that I now MUST use NIV when sleeping. It is not an option. We prepared for this and had numerous backup strategies in place to ensure that the NIV would be available, even if power failed. Also, for the last 20 months I have slept in a hospital bed. This would be the first time that I would be sleeping in a regular bed. That was quite the challenge!

For the 3 weeks we spent in Yellowstone, we had no outside source of power. We relied on generators to provide the power to recharge my medical equipment batteries.

Despite the significant challenges that we faced, the trip was awesome. My personality has always been to embrace challenges and find ways to overcome them. That attribute was key to enjoying this trip! While I like challenges, I sure would have enjoyed having fewer of them on this trip!

A brief summary is:

1. Just under 2 years ago we bought a 38 foot diesel pusher motorhome to make such trips possible. We had migrated from a tent to a trailer. When it was no longer was practical to use the trailer we bought the motorhome. I can still make it up the 6 steps into the motorhome, but it is certainly a challenge!
2. We spent 3 weeks in Yellowstone National Park, a park we know well. We stayed at the Madison campground in an ADA campsite we have used for the last 5 years. We know many of the campground staff personally and have become good friend with quite a few. They were incredibly helpful! I really can't emphasize that enough.
3. After our stint in Yellowstone, we spent a week in the Grand Teton National Park.
4. We then returned home to Vail, Colorado and sorted out the carnage from the trip. We have not yet completed that task, but ,more on that later!

We saw amazing sights and encountered amazing people (as always).

Stay tuned for further posts about this trip!

Steve
 

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Steve, so glad you were able to do this trip! I always look forward to your posts about your adventures. Yellowstone was the last place we were able to travel together.

V
 

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I am in awe, Steve, that you two even attempted this trip. A week or so, sure, but a month? That’s unbelievable.

I know from owning our coach that luxury tag axle motor homes are really not outfitted for extended dry camping. Just having to pull out of your spot every few days to dump the gray tank and refill the water is a chore. I’m just amazed at your strength of will and “can do” attitude.

Looking forward to the full story. Kevin
 

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I am not really sure of the best way to tell this story. My plan is to pick various topics and write a post about each. I will start that way, but may change course as I go through the story.

I will start with the Magic Mobility X4 wheelchair incident, which I have written about before. As we were preparing for the trip, we needed to check the air in the four pneumatic tires on that wheelchair. When I turned it on to move it so we could access all four wheels, nothing happened!

Further investigation revealed that the battery had somehow completely drained. That wheelchair has lithium batteries (LiFePO4) and draining those below a certain voltage is very damaging to them. I spent the next 2 weeks taking the chair apart, investigating the situation, figuring out how to recover the battery cells, putting everything back together, and then going on some test rides.

This was a huge amount of work, but had to be done before we left on our trip. There was a bit of a feeling of victory when I completed the first 20 miles of riding on a single charge in that chair!

Going on our trip without this chair would have been seriously limiting. It would have prevented me from getting to several key destinations I was looking forward to seeing. On the trip, we took that chair to the Grand Prismatic Spring Overlook, from the Fountain Flats trailhead. That was a ride of about 10 miles and was magnificent. We also did the ride to Lone Star Geyser and then onto the Shoshone Lake trail toward Shoshone Lake. We also did the Old Bunson Road (all dirt), the Lakeshore Trail in the Tetons, as well as the trail to Heron Pond. All of these trails were very demanding and even the 4 wheel drive X4 wheelchair was really pushed to its limits.

I am so glad I was able to get that wheelchair working for the trip. We took it along with the Permobil F5 wheelchair. It is a tight fit, but both of those will fit into our wheelchair van.

Steve
 

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A repair shop had inadvertently connected a black water hose to our fresh water system or our motorhome. That meant it was essential that we sanitize the fresh water system before our trip. This is easy, but is a bit time consuming. This involves filling the fresh water tank (over 100 gallons) with a chlorine/water mix, driving around for a bit, and then letting it sit for at least 24 hours before draining it.

We filled the fresh water tank with the sanitizing solution and drove it back to where we store it, 90 miles west of where we live. That was on the Monday before our trip. We returned to the motorhome two days later on Wednesday, just 4 days before we were scheduled to leave for Yellowstone.

We needed to drain the fresh water tank, which we normally do by opening a set of drain valves and letting the water run onto the ground. But, we were at the storage lot, which does not allow any fluids of any kind to be drained on their premises. So, we decided to run the faucets at the 3 sinks and flush the toilet a bunch of times, which should have drained the freshwater tank, putting the contents into the gray and black water tanks.

As we were wrapping up this process, my wife noticed the carpet was wet. We would eventually discover this was caused by the kitchen sink drain pipe being disconnected! At the time, all we knew was that we had a flood inside the motorhome!

While much of the water did in fact make it into the gray water tank, an awful lot wound up elsewhere! The carpet was soaked. We also flooded two storage bays, the bay holding the big diesel generator, and the bay with most of the fuses and circuit breakers for the motorhome's electrical systems. What a disaster.

By the time my wife had things a bit under control, it was much later than we had expected. Our next step was to drive about a mile from the storage lot to a rest area that had a dump station. There, we planned to dump the black and gray water tanks and then drive home to park it in front of our house so we could load it for the trip. Unfortunately, by the time we arrived at the rest area, they had closed the dump station for the evening.

We decided to park the motorhome back at the storage lot and deal with this the next day. Unfortunately, when we arrived at the storage lot we discovered our code would not open the security gate. It turns out that after the break ins that occurred in June of 2020, the storage lot owners decided to disable the gate after 6:00 PM. We had no choice but to drive home.

I remembered that on the 90 mile drive home there is another rest area with a dump station, so we were able to stop there and dump. We were also able to park there and allow my wife more time to clean up the mess we had made!

We got home at 11:00PM, and I was very tired. Yet, I knew that I had a lot of work to do over the next several days to prepare for the trip.

At this point, we did not know why the motorhome had flooded. We just knew it was soaking wet inside!.

I will continue this part of the story in the next post.

Steve
 

beauty4everyone

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Hi Steve🙋‍♀️, a road trip? What a wonderful idea! For a true adventurer🚐, even a challenging beginning will not stop✋them. With eager anticipation:), I will “join you on the trip” as an “arm chair 🪑traveler”, when read about the 🌅lovely things you saw and encountered. I am looking forward to the next installment. B:cool:
 

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Damn...that’s the only adjective I can think of right now, Steve. I think I’ll read your next post with one eye closed, like I watch horror movies. K
 

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I have my google-map up ready to follow along! Looking forward to the adventure. Being retired, we did a lot of traveling, US & International, before ALS stopped us.
 

swalker

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Beauty4everyone, I love the way you put symbols in your post! I am glad you are following along.

Tillie, soap opera or horror show, take your pick! Either way, it is self-induced and all in the name of trying to experience the wonder of Yellowstone and the Tetons. I did moan about it a few times, but really, it was just a matter of accepting that a problem cropped up and trying to figure out how to deal with it given my limitations. Needless to say, none of this would have been possible without my wife! She was pretty incredible.

Kevin, you are a wise man to watch this with one eye closed. I hate to be a spoiler, but it does get worse! You can probably appreciate it more than most because of your experience owning a large diesel pusher motorhome.

Betty, glad you are following along! I will try to be a bit better at telling you the various places we went on the trip. To start with, we live in Vail, Colorado. We store the motorhome in Rifle, Colorado. The closest place we can get the motorhome serviced is in Grand Junction, Colorado. Looking at the distances between these places on a map is eye watering!

In my story, the rest area were we filled up the fresh water tank with sanitizing solution was in Fruita, Colorado (10 miles west of Grand Junction). The rest area that had the closed dump station was in Rifle, Colorado. The rest area where we were able to successfully dump the black and gray tanks was in Edwards, Colorado.

Steve
 

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Looking forward (I think) for your next installment to hit the news stands, Steve!

Knowing coaches like I do and some of the issues we dealt with over our years of travel, I’ll toss out some guesses as to what else you might have had to overcome (assuming you got the sink drain pipe connected and fixed that problem):
*since you haven’t driven the coach in a long time, debris from the fuel tank clogged the fuel filter(s), causing the coach to sputter and hesitate until you replaced it;
* the house batteries drained much faster than anticipated (phantom draws are a major culprit), so you had to run the generator much more than you would have liked;
* the generator stopped working because the transfer switch that flips between shore power and generator power went bad;
* with the inclement weather at first, another leak developed, this time around the slides (older slide toppers often rip, which lets the rainwater sit on top of the slide and seep through the rubber seals);
* one or both of your slides went on the fritz, and you couldn’t retract and/or extend them;
* the Norcold (or Dometic) propane/electric refrigerator stopped cooling because your propane burner nozzle got clogged. Worse case is you got the dreaded error message and it shut down the fridge altogether (unless perfectly level, the Norcold was notorious for cooling issues);
* either the black or gray tanks didn’t drain properly.
* since you had to drive over to the dump station every few days because the gray water tank fills up very quickly, you accidentally hit something getting back in the campsite; or

* everything worked perfectly, but you had issues with your personal equipment.

Do tell...I hope none of those problems arose. The good news is whatever happened you two overcame them, had some wonderful times, and made it back home to tell the tale! Kevin
 

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And I didn’t even mention the Aqua Hot...
 

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To continue the story...

After arriving home with the motorhome late on Wednesday, I slept in on Thursday. When I got up, I knew I needed to investigate why the motorhome had flooded when we ran water into the kitchen sink. I went out to investigate and discovered that the sink's drain pipe was disconnected.

This is a bit more complicated than it sounds, because the kitchen is in a slide out. That means the kitchen plumbing needs to be able to accommodate the slide going in and out. The initial plumbing from the bottom of the kitchen sink is ABS (black plastic pipes). After making a several 90 degree bends, this plumbing connects to a somewhat flexible PVC pipe (white). All of the joints to that point are made using cement. Note that joining ABS pipe to PVC pipe requires a special kind of cement called "transition" cement. The manufacturer did not use transition cement (as confirmed by many others who had this problem) and it is the joint from the PVC to ABS pipes that failed.

All we needed to do was clean things up and reassemble things using the proper cement. Of course, I thought it would be a good idea to reinforce things, so after some careful measurement, I had my wife stop by Home Depot and buy a flexible coupling whose specs matched my measurements. Unfortunately, there was absolutely no way that either my wife or I could reassemble the plumbing. Bummer. Also, we wound up with the wrong kind of cement!

I decided we could live without using the kitchen sink if we absolutely had to, but we thought life would be so much easier if we had a working kitchen sink.

It turns out another issue we had is that the heating system in our house had failed the previous week. We had a mechanical/plumber out to repair it, but it still had an issue. I remembered that we was going to be here he next day, Friday! And, I was really hoping he could fix the house's heating system, because we could not leave on the trip with the failure it had.

So, on Friday, when the mechanical/plumbing guy stopped by, he not only fixed the issue with the house heater, he also fixed the drain pipe in the motorhome. He did not have transition cement and neither did we (we had bought the wrong kind)! But, we did have the flexible coupling to reinforce things and I decided we would just go with regular cement and that. And, he did not want any money for doing any of that! Of course we paid him anyway.

So, we had a working kitchen sink. One issue down, but several more still to work our way through.

I will write more later.

Steve
 

swalker

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In this episode, I will tell you about the issues we had with our generator.

Kevin, you get half a point for generator issues. You missed getting full credit because it was not the transfer switch that failed:).

The Wednesday before we left, while we were working on the motorhome in its storage location in Rifle, Colorado, I checked the hours on the generator. I was expecting that we had over 100 hours until the generator needed to be serviced. I was very surprised to find out that we were actually a few hours past the scheduled service time.

We don't know how that happened. We know that we did not put those hours on the generator (I keep careful track of that sort of thing). There are only a few ways the hours could have been put on it, but since I don't want to make any accusations without evidence, I will simply say we had a problem we needed to deal with.

We were essentially out of time to get the service done before we left. I found that the oil filter was not available locally. Not wanting to be held up by the lack of an oil filter, I ordered one from Amazon and it was delivered Friday at 5:30 PM. We were planning to leave the following morning!

The generator was absolutely essential for the trip. We only needed to run it a few hours a day, but it is what charges the batteries for all my medical equipment (especially NIV) as well the "house" batteries that run things like the heater overnight.

With no recourse, I decided that I would try to do the oil change myself. I was doubtful I could do it, but I did not see a lot of options at that point. If I failed, I figured we would try to find a shop during our trip that could do the service. Of course, that would have to wait until we were a couple of days into our trip.

So, once the filter arrived Friday evening, I drove the motorhome 25 miles west to the rest area at Edwards Colorado, where there is a truck parking area that is level enough to do the work. Before leaving, I started the generator, as it needs to be warmed up to do the oil change.

It ran for about 20 seconds and stopped.

Puzzled, I pulled the motorhome out of the parking area in front of our house (which is on a bit of a slope) and drove half a block to a relatively flat area. I stopped in the middle of the road and started the generator again. Once more, it ran for about 20 seconds and stopped.

What to do? I decided to drive to the rest area where I could examine things a bit better and see what I could determine. On the way there, I tried to think of things that would cause this behavior. It seemed to be quitting when the transfer switch kicked in and provided power to the coach. That is the first real load the generator sees. I thought that perhaps it could be a clogged spark arrestor.

I had not planned to clean the spark arrestor, but it really should be done as part of the service. Fortunately, I had researched this earlier and knew how to do it and what tools would be needed.

So, after parking and levelling the motorhome at the rest area, I assembled the tools, got on the ground (not too hard, because gravity helps:)), and took a look at removing the spark arrestor. I had thought through very carefully how I would use the tools and how I would position my body so that I could have a chance at getting it out. It was very hard for me, but I did get it out. What I removed is actually a plug which, when removed, lets a lot of soot built up in the spark arrestor to fall out.

To completely clean the spark arrestor, the generator needs to be run under a heavy load for about 5 minutes without the plug in place. I started the generator and it kept running past 20 seconds. Great! I let it warm up a bit and then turned on both air conditioners to put a load on the generator. It worked great.

I was so pleased with myself for having diagnosed the issue and then being able to resolve it. That was me being a naive optimist! I am sure Kevin would have known better than to do that.

After the generator had run under load for 5 minutes, we shut it down and reinstalled the spark arrestor. Now, it was time to see if I could do the oil change.

Again, I had thoroughly rehearsed in my mind what tools I would use and how I would use my body to be able to get the oil drain plug out. It was harder than I anticipated, but I did get it out. Now it was time to remove the oil filter.

I assembled the tools to remove the oil filter and discovered that the oil filter on an 8000 watt diesel generator is bigger than on any of our cars! My oil filter wrench would not fit!

There was no way I was going to get the oil filter out without a tool. I just don't have much strength in my hands. So, for the first time in my life, I did an oil change without changing the filter. I felt that I had no choice.

After filling the generator up with oil and cleaning everything up, I ran the generator to make sure there were no leaks.

It ran for about 20 seconds and shut down. Boy, was I disappointed. I think only folks here can relate to just how impossible it was for me to have accomplished what I did. But still, the overall result was failure. I hate failing!

I initially thought that this was the straw that broke the camel's back and that we would need to at least postpone our trip, and perhaps cancel it outright.

As I dejectedly drove the motorhome back to our house, it dawned on me that we kept the two small gas generators when we sold our travel trailer. We could use those! We actually kept one in the motorhome as a backup in case the diesel generator failed. They would be a lot less convenient, but we could go to Yellowstone with a primary and a backup generator. They would not power everything, but they would power the essential things.

When we got home (late once more), my wife loaded the other gas generator into the motorhome and I felt like we would be OK. My wife has health issues of her own, and this was a significant undertaking!

We once again went to bed quite late, without having yet packed the motorhome for the month-long trip. We would deal with that in the morning.

Steve
 
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