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Archive for April, 2015

On Monday, we got up early and drove the 20 miles from Holbrook to Petrified Forest, getting there ten minutes before the gate opened. We wanted access to the vista overlooks in the morning. The light on the red desert vistas was harsher than we expected, so I didn’t photograph too much. There were some nice wildflowers, however. It is spring at Petrified.

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We stopped at Pueblo Puerco and discovered some nice petroglyphs. One of a bird eating a frog is mistaken by some as a stork delivering a baby. (Just a little culture confusion there.)

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We stopped at the Teepees several times in the park. The direction driven and the time of day can make them look very different each time. I love all the colors in the mud hills.

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Blue Mesa was a surprise too. Although we had driven the loop the day before, the vista points were totally entrancing. I hadn’t been at all enthusiastic on Sunday, taking a few perfunctory images. We didn’t take the Blue Mesa hike again, but got some nice shots from an overlook into the canyon.

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The next day, once more we drove the 20 miles to Petrified. These daily jaunts were getting tiring. In addition to the 40 miles from and to Holbrook, the drive through the Park is 30 miles. Seventy miles doesn’t sound like that much, but it is wearing with all the stops we make. We had noticed a bare-bones RV camp run by the gifts shop just beyond the south end of the park. We decided to move there for our final night in the area. After moving, we headed into the park once more. This time the light on the vistas was really nice, with clouds creating mobile shadows on the landscape.

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On Tuesday morning, we crawled out of bed early and drove about 5 miles to the southern Visitor Center where the trail for Long Logs and Agate House depart. Petrified logs were strewn around the landscape and some of them were very nice indeed. But it was the wildflowers that really enhanced the logs. Plus, we were about the only people on the trail for the first hour.

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Agate House is, surprise, constructed of petrified wood. For some reason, the Anasazi used whatever was around to build their houses. The National Park Service has done quite a bit of reconstruction. I’ll have to find my images from 20 years ago and see what Agate House looked like then. It is difficult to photograph but fun to look at, like a much better version of the bottle houses in a few ghost towns. We thought we would spend about an hour on the two miles of trail, but we returned to the car more than 2 hours later.

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We took off from Ridgecrest and did a long drive to Needles. There were wind advisories over several Western states but we didn’t have a bad time. One scary thing we saw shortly before we got to Needles was a semi lying twisted on its side on the West-bound side of I-40. There were Highway Patrol and ambulances at the scene. I don’t know if the accident was due to wind but it looked bad.

We stopped at a KOA and I checked out the “large library” as quoted by the person who checked us in. Echhhh…the library was 3/4ths romances, a few German books and an uninspiring remainder. I left my Atlantic Magazine to improve it’s quality. Once we turned off the lights, we listened to the wind get stronger and stronger. It sounded like we were camped right next to turbulent ocean surf.

The next morning the wind was still strong and the campground quail sounded querulous as they fought the wind. We decided to stay off I-40 for a day. Instead, we had a nice mushroom-tomato-cheese omelet for breakfast and later visited Oatman, an old mining town on old Route 66. The high points were all of the blooming bushes festooned with Easter/Christmas decorations by the side of the road and the donkeys in town.

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As for the town itself, the tiny main street was crammed with people and cars and donkeys. The weathered buildings were authentic but selling the usual junk. We didn’t wander around there, just ate our sandwiches and drove home.

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Thursday was a long driving day. We were headed for Homolovi State Park Campground. I set it up on the Garmin and when we finally reached the turnoff from I-40, we sailed up a small road. After about 4 miles, the Garmin didn’t seem to know where it was going; we were on the west side of the park when we should have been on the east side. Dave made a very precarious u-turn on the narrow road and we headed back to I-40. Via maps and a few other guides, we took the next turnoff and found a quiet campground surrounded by plains. We obtained a campsite and relaxed a little.

It was very cold and windy with lots of clouds and not much sun. But we had read about Little Painted Desert, a badlands 13 miles north of Homolovi, and how sunset was the best time of day to view it. We got up there around 5:30 and it was really nice but the light was dull. After about 15 minutes of scouting viewpoints along the rim, the sun came out and the landscape livened up. For the next 90 minutes or so we would park at a viewpoint, hop out of the car, photograph for a while, hop back in the car and run the heater for a while. It was freezing with the wind. Finally, the sun went behind a very large cloud, so we departed for a late dinner.

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After a very quiet night, we woke up much too early, sat around a while, then collected ourselves and set out to explore Homolovi. Next to the Little Colorado River, it is an area that has been inhabited by various peoples: Anasazi, Mormons, Hopi. The small Sunset Cemetery is Mormon. There are a couple of Pueblan ruins, nothing spectacular, but interesting to find in the middle of a large grassland area. And some nice petroglyphs are nearby.

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The afternoon was devoted to laundry and grocery shopping. And then, I had to find “The Corner” from the Eagle’s song “Take It Easy”: “Well, I’m standin’ on a corner in Winslow, Arizona….” The corner has been immortalized with a statue that looks like Jackson Browne and a red flat-bed Ford for the tourists while the song plays over and over in the street. I wouldn’t want to work in any of the nearby stores. But I guess it helps sell tourist junk.

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We took a walk to Homolovi 1 on Saturday morning. Not much in the way of ruins but lots of pottery shards. What visitors seem to do at this park is gather pottery shards and place them on large rocks. So they are all arranged, along with what we thought might be obsidian or agate points. We cut off the road to return to our campsite and found a dead jackrabbit about 20 feet away. It didn’t look mauled at all so we don’t know what killed it.

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We then did the long 30-mile drive to the Holbrook KOA off I-40, set up and took off for Petrified Forest National Park. The Garmin took us to the south end of the park, so we drove north. The neatest area is Blue Mesa. We took a hike into the canyon that Dave remembers having done before, but I don’t. It was great! We had good clouds and colored mud hills are exciting to photograph.

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Dave suggested a drive up the coast on Friday, so we loaded up the Rav4 and headed north. We stopped at the prime elephant seal haul out spot north of San Simeon. My gosh, there were tons (literally and figuratively) of the creatures sprawled on the beach. This is molting season, the pups are weaned and on their own. Now the skin comes off. It looks very uncomfortable for them.

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We drove further north to find a coastal view for lunch. The air was fresh and there were large carpets of lupine all over. When we got out to look, there were actually various types of wildflowers growing all over.

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We stopped at San Simeon, the town, and did a Hearst Ranch Winery tasting in the crowded cafe. Like the last time, the Chardonnay tasted good as well as a red blend called Randolph.

We took a final walk on Pismo Beach first thing Saturday morning. The tide had brought in a lot of sand dollars. Many of them have little pink barnacles attached to them, like a perky little hat. I picked up a dark one that had two barnacles attached, then turned it over because the bottom felt fuzzy. It was fuzzy, with a swirl of short cilia…..this sand dollar had legs! I put it down because it might still be alive. When we looked more closely, we noticed some sand dollars had created a little ridge of sand around them – they were on the move. That was so cool.

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We saw lots of birds again, including a flock of what Dave thought were plovers, the endangered birds for which entire beaches are closed during nesting season. They are fun to watch, standing at the edge of the riplets, then running like mad parallel to them.

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After that, we left Paradise to head for Bakersfield for a night. As we came over the top of the Los Padres hills, we saw a thick fog of smog. Yuck! However, in a perverse way, I like the absolute tidiness of the Desert Palms. It is almost antiseptic in its cleanliness. And it’s very attractive in the golden morning light.

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The next day, we established ourselves at Ricardo Campground in Red Rock Canyon State Park. This place features rock formations that look like really big tufa towers, Joshua Trees and many varieties of past-their-prime wildflowers. But it also shows off healthy Indigo that we haven’t seen in years. It was pretty hot when we arrived, so we lazed around and had our first Cuba Libres of the trip. For a change, it was a great star night. No moon for ages and only a pale glow from distant Ridgecrest. Dave went out and made some great images (see his blog), painting Joshua Trees with a flashlight with the stars in the background. I fiddled around but didn’t get anything decent. He can control his camera for timed exposures better than I can with my Rebel T2i. Oh well, can’t win them all.

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On Monday morning, we got up and out early, took a little stroll down Hagen Nature Trail and then drove a little on some of the OHV roads in the park. More wildflowers but nothing terribly interesting. So we sat around some more, waiting till later to drive into Ridgecrest.

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We got into Ridgecrest and Chuck, the Tire Man, started work right away. After rejecting the Empire Fairground Campground ($30 per night and depressing) we accepted Chuck’s invitation to hook up outside the Tire Man shop for the night. Domino’s delivered a good pizza to us and we drank one of our Paso Robles wines, a Turley Zin. The next morning Chuck brought us a couple of lattes as a morning greeting. He did one final little job and after thanking him for everything, we paid up and headed east. We got as far as Needles, our final California stop for a couple of months. It’s hot and windy here but the air conditioning is working great.

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It was an easy drive from Lake Nacimiento to Pismo Beach. And when we reached North Campground, we got our favorite spot. The place was relatively empty. We settled in and as I was talking to a friend, Dave came in and said that Paso Robles Ford hadn’t replaced the missing lug nut on the front tire, the one that Dave had asked them to replace about four times. Not dangerous – there are 7 other lug nuts, but another indication that somebody wasn’t paying attention. This has been a serious wake up call for us: you have to check everybody’s work. Dave sent them an email on Monday and has received no reply by Tuesday afternoon.

Other than that, it’s been quiet. The clouds were piling up when we woke up on Tuesday and it rained pretty good for a couple of hours. After lunch, it was clearing up when we went to do laundry and grocery shopping. Dave made an appointment with the Tire Guy in Ridgecrest (southwest of Death Valley) to put new extenders on the rear tires and he can’t take us till Tuesday, April 14, so we’ll have to figure out what to do during the next week. Our plans to visit wildflower sites are kaput; the wildflowers in the Southern California area are mostly finished. We’ll figure something out.

Wednesday was a nice day at Montana de Oro State Park. It’s just south of Morro Bay, nestled between the Pacific and some green mountain ranges. We decided to do an inland hike up the Islay Creek Road. The highlights were Islay Waterfall and an old barn. The real treat on the fairly flat hike was the wildflowers. There were lots of little poppies, Bindweed (I think), Indian Paintbrush, a few stalks of mustard and some other stuff we didn’t recognize. The waterfall was something heard but not seen. The tangle of greenery below was so thick we didn’t see any of the water we were hearing. We turned back after about 2 miles and never got to the barn. But it was a pleasant walk.

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We got back to the trailhead, ate lunch, drove the four or so miles to the end of the road, turned around and decided to walk up the South Dunes Trail a little. This path meanders along the foliage-covered sand dunes overlooking the ocean. So there were different flowers here: Sand Verbena, iceplants, fiddlenecks as well as lots of grasses. Beautiful! A day that was physically tiring, but left us in a peaceful mood.

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I had an article from the newspaper that talked about art-architecture built by students on the hills above Cal Poly. We found the area but there was no public parking anywhere around. Rather than try to get a parking permit, we headed home. But what a nice campus, surrounded by hills.

We felt lethargic on Thursday and the overcast sky gave us an excuse (like we need one) not to get out early. I’ve been rereading “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance” by Robert Pirsig and have reconfirmed that it is one of the greatest books I have ever read. A road trip, mental illness and philosophical musings: what’s not to like? One of these days, I’ll reread some Herman Hesse. I was also interested in an article in The Atlantic Magazine titled “What ISIS really wants”. Apparently, they’ve conquered enough land to establish a caliphate and that allows them to re-establish religious laws and actions like beheading and enslaving certain types of people. Reasoning with them is not going to work; they are a different type of religious fanatic. Religious fanaticism never seems to go away.

After all these heavy thoughts, we went for a long walk along the Pismo Beach. Birds included sandpipers, curlews (I think), scoters (I think), a cormorant and an egret. There were lots of people on the beach, many school-aged kids. I guess this is spring break for the younger set.

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Well, after a whole lot of phone calls made and received at the luxurious La Quinta, we moved to another, cheaper (but not cheap) motel in Atascadero. When we went to visit our sick rig in the Ford hospital, we were told that parts had to be sent up from LA and our LD would be probably released on Monday. Our Progressive Insurance company, under the terms of our contract, paid for what had to be a very expensive 8-mile tow but said that since we weren’t in an accident, we’d have to get damages paid by the company that did the work, Cordelia. The Ford representative got in touch with Cordelia and told us that Cordelia had agreed to pay for the damages. Hooray!

We retrieved more stuff from the LD and headed for the America’s Best Value Inn. As voiced in the film Babe, “It’ll do, Pig”. We got in around noon, still feeling like disoriented refugees. Dave wrote up a narrative to provide the facts to the Cordelia company. He mentioned that we were paying a lot for motels and food out while the damage was being repaired and that he expected them to reimburse us for some of these expenses. Lo and behold, about 30 minutes later, Cordelia called to say the rig would be fixed by Friday; they were going to obtain the necessary parts and drive them down to Paso Robles (about 220 miles).

We were going to take a drive, but ended up lying around all afternoon, both feeling tired. We decided to order a pizza delivery for dinner and I went to the nearest Von’s for a wine. The “local” wines included and Tobin James Ballistic Zin and oh, that wine went well with the pizza. We were content.

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Friday dawned and we were going to try for a normal day. We met Susan & Fred Miller for breakfast at Joe’s Other Café in Templeton. I raved about this place last year. It’s hash browns are great. But Susan (darn her!) told us that Joe’s had been voted as having the third best cinnamon roll in the area. I say “roll” and not “rolls” because the cinnamon roll is big enough to feed the county. The four of us shared one and it was the size of a large salad plate. This was before our breakfasts appeared; kind of like eating dessert first. We chit-chatted away in the busy restaurant and they headed home to meet a visiting friend.

Although we had been told that the wildflowers were done in the pastoral area east of Paso Robles, we drove out to Shell Creek Road anyway. It was a beautiful day and the drive felt good. The lack of spectacular flowers didn’t stop us – we took pictures of dead ones.

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Since we were so close to Tobin James Cellars, our favorite vino peddler, we went there and tasted some of their current vintages. Since we missed receiving their current shipment of 6 bottles by one day (Mom and Dad are babysitting it for us), we had to pick up a few bottles. Then we tried Penman Springs Vineyard and Turley Winery, both very nice. We had overripe bananas and peanuts for a late lunch in Turleys garden and discussed Zinfandels with a Ukranian couple. Dinner consisted of hamburgers and root beer at the A&W’s next to the motel. It was a pleasant day.

We bid farewell to motel life on Saturday, had an all-American breakfast at Denny’s and retrieved our baby. She looked good. We hooked up the Rav and drove off at high noon. We were going to spend a few days relaxing at Lake Nacimiento, in the hills above Paso Robles. The lake is 28% of normal but its blue and it looks good to us. It also looks good to a whole lot of people who are partying loudly.

Once we found our spot, I called Pinnacles on the outside chance that someone had found Dave’s prescription glasses. A surreal moment: someone had turned them into the office about an hour before I called. Is our luck turning? We were camped near the lake and so were many large parties of people with lots of kids. We thought the very loud music might continue after we went to bed on Saturday night, but our neighbors turned off the music at the dot of eleven, so we had no complaints.

On Easter Sunday, we packed up the Rav and were heading 75 miles north to Pinnacles by 10 a.m. The hills are tan and green and even Highway 101 is a pretty ride. Dave spotted a bald eagle while I was driving, which is cool. We reached Pinnacles at 11:30 and were surprised at how crowded it was. People couldn’t even park at the various trailheads – they had to take a shuttle bus. Dave retrieved his glasses. They had been found in the campground loop we were in so It’s possible that he might have put them on the roof of the Rav and they fell off when we drove off. But they weren’t scratched at all and he was happy to have them back.

To stretch our legs, we took a little walk along the Bench Trail, right outside the campground. We only met one other person out there; I guess it isn’t a real popular trail. But its flat and there are lots of grasses and wildflowers going. We turned back after a mile or so and ran into a turkey on our trail. The clouds had been gathering overhead and it began to sprinkle very lightly as we returned to the car. Before we left, we enjoyed It’s Its, a San Francisco invention of ice cream between two oatmeal cookies, then dipped in chocolate.

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We experienced a couple of showers on the way back to camp.

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We returned to Lake Nacimiento a different way and found some fields with beautiful oaks and lots of mustard on Jolon Road. The clouds were really scudding around when we got back but we didn’t get any rain.

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We’ve had a dramatic, traumatic month. It started with a cold for me. That only lasted a week, so pretty good. Then we decided to try to get a couple of estimates on excavating and creating a room in our basement. In the back of our garage there is a huge pile of cement with a few semi-level areas that we use for storage. It would make a good work space for Dave. So we got a couple of contractors out and started a refi process with Carol, Dave’s sister. Every time we refi the paperwork seems to double. Anyway, we had one estimate back before we left and the other one will come in sometime later. I guess we’ll make decisions when we come home in June.

Dave dropped off the Lazy Daze at a place in Cordelia (50 miles east of us) to replace the black tank, add a charging line to the Rav to keep the battery healthy, some vents, the shower skylight and various detectors. They had a heavy workload already, but Tim Pease (formerly of Lazy Daze, now service manager at Cordelia) said he could have it done by mid-March. So Dave brought it up to them at the end of January. When he called them in early March, they hadn’t done anything. They got to it the week before we left, and were still working on it when Dave arrived a week after promised to pick it up.

Dave wanted to drive the LD from Cordelia to Petaluma for its 65,000 servicing, where he’s gone since we bought it in 2005. The Ford dealer up there told him they don’t handle motorhomes anymore. (The next day we received a postcard from this company saying they missed us, when were we coming back?) So Dave was stuck trying to find a new place for service. Nobody in San Francisco handles motorhomes. So Dave drove the LD to his parents place in Millbrae and started calling around. He found a Ford dealer, drove the LD down there where the service manager told him that “No, we don’t handle motorhomes anymore.” They gave him another place to go that managed to do the indicated service without a problem.

There was another problem with the tow system. Our Rav4 battery was drained even after a very short tow (50 miles from Cordelia to Millbrae). This problem started on our prior trip. So with three days remaining before we left, we visited the place that installed the tow system. I drove the Rav separately so the battery wouldn’t die while being towed. The expert’s best guess was that the Rav battery was worn out although we have no problem with it except when it’s being towed. Before we left to buy a new battery at Sears, Dave noticed that the wheel cover near the black tank was detached from the tire. After taking off the tire to install the black tank, Cordelia neglected to replace the lug nut extenders and covers for the dualies. Dave credits The Tire Mans’ brass valve stems for keeping the wheel cover on. It’s a wonder he didn’t end up with an ulcer from this week.

In the meantime, I woke up Wednesday, put in my contacts, noting nothing unusual in the mirror. After breakfast, I went to brush my teeth and lo and behold, I had the first black eye of my life. I hadn’t bumped anything and nothing bumped me to my knowledge. So I added a doctor’s visit to my schedule. He asked if I had had a lot to drink the night before. No. He took a picture of it and sent me on my way.. Dave surmised that I might have rubbed my eye while I was asleep. Possible, I guess. Another health mystery.

Friday we brought the LD to our house to being loading it. It seems to take about 6 or 7 hours to move everything in there. After a final great home cooked dinner at friends Mary and Rick on Saturday night, we finished loading up the fridge and freezer on Sunday morning and departed. Or tried to. Not 5 minutes before we pulled out, a huge delivery truck taking up more than half our narrow little street pulled up in front of the house and stopped. We were stuck from going forward (after trying and failing to squeeze through), so had to back up the hill and go around the block. I feel like we’ve escaped. I am so glad to be on the road again.

It was only 120 miles from San Francisco to Pinnacles National Park. We haven’t been there in ages. We made reservations to get an electric hookup because it’s been so crazy hot everywhere in central and southern California. We pulled into our shady space, about three sites away from another Lazy Daze belonging to Ron and Jan Chisman. They came over and we figured out that we had met at the 2014 get-together at Quartzsite. Nice folks.

March 30

Monday we got up early, pulled it together and headed out on a 5.3-mile hike. We were on the trail by 8:30 and as we headed up to the Condor Gulch Trail, the weather was warming up quickly. Pinnacles is famous for harboring condors, huge scavengers with a 10-foot wingspan. Two hikers returning from their early hike said that a couple of condors flew over their heads about 15 minutes up the trail. No condors for us.

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Pinnacles National Park

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The west side of the Peaks was chapparal country, hilly and still green with some wildflowers, but drying out. As we climbed many steep narrow rock-hewn staircases on the High Peaks Trail, the views were spectacular. At various junctions, the signposts differed enough from the map to get us confused. (It doesn’t take much!) We actually were confusing one junction with a different one and the result was an extra 1.6 miles that was mostly uphill. It was very hot and there was little shade at 1:30. I wasn’t feeling all that great, but a juicy orange perked me up enough to get back to the car. Boy, did that shower feel good when we got back.

March 31

We were worn out from the long, hot hike and so took it easy on Tuesday. I made a nice bacon and egg breakfast and we hung out. It wasn’t quite so hot and a little breeze felt good. We headed out at 3 p.m. for a 2.2-mile hike through the Bear Gulch Caves, up to Bear Gulch Reservoir and back along the Rim Trail. It was shady and lovely, the drought not being visible yet in the canyon. Dave forgot to bring his glasses, but the sunglasses were okay. Only, when we got back to the motorhome, he couldn’t find his glasses. He searched and retraced a lot of steps – no glasses. Luckily, he brought a backup pair.

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April 1

We packed up and left Pinnacles on April Fool’s Day. The glasses had not turned up and I thought that was the bad news of the day. But no! We wanted to drive 120 miles to Pismo Beach to try to nab a campsite at the Pismo State Beach North Campground – a popular place that isn’t yet taking reservations. We cruised along 25 miles of very curvy road and then reached Highway 101. Great! We could speed up and hopefully get to Pismo around 11:30 and maybe find an available site.

Highway 101 always has occasional bad spots of roadway where the rig bounces along, rattling us and everything in it. That’s what we thought we were doing – going over a rough piece of road. In fact what was happening was our rear tire was blowing off lug nuts and coming loose. A gentleman (hero) in a truck behind us thought the tire looked funny, came up alongside to check it out, got behind us again and started flashing his lights. Dave took the next exit as did the white truck and when the three of us looked at the tire, we realized he may have saved our lives. There were two lug nuts out of seven left barely holding the tire on. (My heart starts pounding again as I write this.) Apparently, the Cordelia workers didn’t bother tightening the tire lug nuts and perhaps didn’t even put on the wheel cover lug nuts. Criminal negligence. We are really lucky not to have had a major accident.

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We have Progressive Insurance for the motorhome and they sent out someone to tow us. He took two lug nuts from a front tire, screwed them into the rear tire, giving it four lug nuts instead of seven, and lifted up the front end to tow on the poor dualies. It was 8 miles to the nearest Ford dealership. The tow lasted 7.99 miles, a block and a half from the dealership. The driver said he was afraid to go any farther because the tire was about to fall off. The four lug nuts had all broken.

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A second tow truck was called. While Dave and I sweltered in the sun, a huge truck arrived, big enough to lift the LD in the back and brought it the last block into the dealership. It was 5 p.m., nothing else was going to happen that night. So we gathered up a laundry bag and bin with clothes, books and electronics and headed to a La Quinta Hotel for the night. A big, expensive 2-room suite was fine with us. We dumped, I mean unpacked our laundry bag and got directions to the Downtown Brewery with a good happy hour. Two beer and two margaritas and two dinners later, we were feeling better. Back at the hotel, we zoned out, watched some stupid TV and decamped to a large, comfortable bed.

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