And we’ve come full circle!

July 18, 2020, Trip: COVID 19 Times
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Racing across the USA

July 18th, 2020

Saturday morning, the day after we picked up Tigger from the port in Houston, we spent some time getting a few more things ready and we were on the road by 9:30.  The plan was to make it about 500 km / 300mi to a state park for the night – just to get far away from Houston and its COVID!  We got to Mineral Well Spring State park around 3, got the last open spot as long as we stayed for only one night.  Despite trying to plug in for power, we kept tripping the breaker!

After several tries we gave up and decided to leave hoping to get our money back (no point paying for power if we weren’t going to get any!) and stay at a cheap hotel as it was way too hot to sleep in Tigger without AC.  Luckily, they gave us our $38 back and we drove another 162 km / 100 mi and spent the night at an Econo Lodge in Wichita Falls.  (We have a routine we implement when staying in a hotel:  spray down/wipe down everything before bringing our stuff in and avoid the public parts of the hotel.  It’s even better when the room has its own access so you don’t have to walk down a hallway.)

We now feel safer being outside of Texas’ COVID hotspot: Harris County, but are still diligently wearing masks etc.  As mentioned in last post, the governor has mandated masks and most shops/businesses require them but it’s not followed very well at all. The people of Texas are horrible at complying and we really do not comprehend the mentality.

Sunday, we began the trek further north hoping to make it to Amarillo to get whatever the electrical issue is looked at (Doug found a 24/7 electrician online) and the tranny looked at.  Turned out the electrician wasn’t available until maybe late afternoon and being Sunday, no tranny place was open so we pushed on.  After stopping for gas just a bit further north in Dumas, Doug noticed the steering was super loose; we pulled into a parking lot beside an AutoZone and Doug took a look underneath.  He could see an oil leak and thought maybe we had a tie rod issue.  Again begin Sunday, no mechanic shops were open so we checked online at Craigslist but found nothing.  Doug went into the AutoZone store to see if they knew of a mobile mechanic.  They did and within ten minutes, Cesar arrived and diagnosed a few things after taking a spin in the truck.  First off, we had NO oil!  WTH?  We’d just had an oil change two days ago!  Luckily we had enough spare oil and that problem was fixed. We will definitely be reaching out to Jiffy Lube about this. (Update:  Doug received an email survey on their service and we replied honestly – after speaking with the manager on a follow up call, Doug received another call and was told we’d get a full refund.)

The other issues were serious, but the shop where Cesar worked was only about a half mile away; Doug drove Cesar’s truck and followed him and Fran in our truck to the work shop.  He allowed us to plug in (it worked fine so not sure what the issue was at the state park but we’ll have to try a few more places before we know for sure we have or don’t have a problem) and said we could stay the night parked in back.  He looked at the truck more closely, figured out what parts were going to be needed to fix:

  • For both sides we needed: wheel bearings, brake rotors and pads, and upper control arms
  • And on the left side only: CV joint and caliper.

All this stuff was not cheap (just under $900) but we were thankful it hadn’t been needed before leaving Brazil because even if they could find the right parts, they would have been costly and if they couldn’t it would have meant shipping them in and waiting and hoping to get them.  We have friends in Brazil who are still awaiting a second package (because first never arrived) they shipped via DHL. 

Cesar took Doug back to the AutoZone with him to get the parts.  Fran stayed behind to get some organization done.

We walked to grab some lunch at a nearby ice cream parlour that also serves burgers.  We returned to the shop and spent the afternoon putting things away, emptying suitcases and generally turning Tigger back into our “home”.

It’s still quite hot up here in northern Texas so we’re so glad the power worked and we could run the AC all night.  Although it did cool down some in the evening because a storm was blowing in; there was plenty of thunder and lightning and it rain a few times which would have meant no open windows or vents.

Monday morning around 7, employees began to arrive and work on Tigger began by 8.  While waiting we ran a few errands and did some things online.

Cesar finished all the work by 1 pm ish and took it for a test drive; seemed good so Doug asked about the exhaust manifold leak only to be told it would be a huge job and asked if we were smelling exhaust in the truck: no; it must be a small hole so not to worry at this point.  Now we wanted help with the hangers on the exhaust and had to wait for the welder to get back from lunch.  We were all done by three and hit the road to get a few miles under our belt and hopefully make it out of Texas.

Unfortunately, about a half hour out of Dumas, we realized the alignment on the truck was off so that was added to our “to do list”.  Doug began calling around in cities we would be passing through without much luck.  But he did manage to make an appointment at a tranny shop to have that issue looked at in Pueblo, CO.   It is quite unfathomable how these places are booked out three weeks of this time of high unemployment.

We had a state park in New Mexico in mind for that night (hoping to test the power again) and luckily Doug decided to call while enroute to see if they had space and was told that all state parks were closed in New Mexico.  Okay, Plan B – we found a large rest area along the highway about half way between the border with Texas and the border with Colorado so we made that out camp spot.  We found a spot in the far corner and settled in about a half hour before a hail storm struck – it was a doozy.  We were glad we weren’t driving in it.

Turned out to be a pretty quiet night after that.

Next morning we made our way towards Colorado looking for alignment shops on our way to Pueblo.  Pueblo West Transmission took us right away and Doug and the owner took the truck for a test drive.  Naturally the problem wouldn’t repeat itself so after checking a few things and listening to Doug’s description of the problem, he suggested it could possibly be that that mass air flow sensor needs cleaning or the throttle control module might need replacing but since no codes are appearing, why replace it?  So we’ll get some cleaner later and leave it for now.

We asked him about alignment places and after trying the suggested place, we called a few more with no luck; all shops are super busy (why?) and have appointments booked as far as three weeks out.  We’ll try in the next city.

We continued towards Boulder stopping at Camping World in Golden for a few things which proved to be a bust.  Tonight we are staying with our overlanding friends, Barnaby & Tsugumi who after finishing their journey last July, settled in Boulder with their two kids. We arrived around 4pm, got settled in their driveway including plugging in with no issues

and enjoyed a pleasant physical distancing evening including a bbq dinner and a backyard Swedish game called “Kub”.

That night we were super tired but managed to catch a glimpse of the Neowise comet – this photo was taken by Barnaby with his phone!

They invited us to stay a second night so we could catch up on internet things, shower and do laundry (although we didn’t have much, this should hold us over until we get to Victoria).   The weather here in Boulder was quite warm but not hot and humid like Texas and it cooled off nicely at night so no need for AC.

So Wednesday, Fran did laundry and online stuff, Doug did a few things on the rig and we ordered pizza for everyone for dinner.  We took off early Thursday morning and drove into Wyoming almost to the Montana border – a pretty boring state to drive across with not much in the way of scenery; mostly dead grass and hardly a cow.

We did pass through “Jackalope City” aka Douglas WY.

Once again, here in WY COVID prevention is almost non existent – granted they have fewer cases than Texas but……

After another quiet rest stop camp in Sheridan, WY, on Friday we crossed into Montana (state number 5 in a week!) and stopped in Billings to do some shopping.  Montana has no sales tax so we wanted to stock up on things we’ll want/need in Canada.  The rig was pretty full when we were done – not many nooks and crannies left to put things!  We made our way westward to a free city campground (actually cost is a donation) where we found a spot away from others and enjoyed a chill afternoon reading.  The weather was sunny and pretty hot during the day but cooled off nicely at night which was great as there was no power offered here.

COVID prevention seems better here in Montana – more masks and signage.

We are both feeling a lot of joint pain again!  It had diminished but has come back – Doug’s especially has increased and he’s stopped using the knee strap (as he thought that might be what’s causing his foot to swell, and he’s not taking any meds).  Fran continues to take Tylenol and Voltaren as needed.

Saturday, we made our way to Bozeman where we stopped again for a few things, checked in with Serena to see if they need anything from the “city” (Big Sky is about an hour away) and we then made our way to the Ruby River Reservoir to camp for the night free.

Serena has a mountain bike race she’s participating in tomorrow morning and we’ll meet her at the finish line (Kurt will drive there too to meet her).   We had some of our Amazon shopping sent to her so tomorrow we’ll have a few things to open.  We had even more sent to a friend near Seattle as well so one person wouldn’t get it all.

Sunday morning we went to the finish line of Serena’s race, met up with Kurt and their dog, Heidi, where we saw Serena finish as the second female!

Kurt drove Serena back to his car and we made a small convoy of three vehicles to a small campground along the Madison River, known as a favourite spot for floating on.   Many spots were taken but we got a large one with little shade and no one around us.  We spent the afternoon chilling and catching up sitting on our lawn chairs in the shallow river.

We had a nice bbq dinner and all crashed rather early as Serena, especially, was super tired and the time zone change for us was rearing its head.

We awoke to another beautiful sunny cloudless day.  Doug had found a riverside campsite with a small beach at the other end of the road so we quickly moved over there for our second night.

After a yummy breakfast of homemade egg mcmuffins by Kurt, we drove up stream to a “put in” point called Black Rock and inflated their “ducky” and our boogie boards.  We got into the river and spent two hours floating back down to our campsite.  We were glad we went early as the sun was relentless.

We spent the rest of the day chatting, sitting in the river staying cool and had another bbq dinner.

Whoever had this spot before us, left a bunch of nicely cut wood and we enjoyed the campfire Doug made while enjoying some Fireball – a Calder tradition.

This was such a lovely time to spend with Serena and Kurt in their element.  We wore masks when we had to be close, sat apart and were careful sharing dishes etc. and had lots of hand sanitizer to keep things safe.

It was hard to say “hasta luego” on Tuesday morning but we went our separate ways.  We made it to Coeur d’Alene by late afternoon after one more shopping stop in Missoula.

As it was a long driving day and we needed showers, Doug booked us a points stay at a nice  hotel.  Despite Idaho’s surging numbers, almost no one in the hotel wore a mask, including the front desk staff.  When we got to our room, we wiped down every surface that we might touch and opted out of breakfast in the morning – the dining room was full!

We arrived in Washington State the  next morning and made a few petrol stops and noticed more COVID prevention here and lots in Seattle when we arrived there.

We arrived in Seattle by 3:30 and Doug reached out to our overlanding friends, Ernesto and Taisa, who’d invited us to join them for an outdoor dinner at a Cuban sandwich place.  As it was still early, we met Ernesto at his place of work, and then drove over to the sandwich place where Taisa joined us and we ate, walked and chatted for a couple of hours.

Afterward we made our way south to near Olympia and spent the night in the parking lot of  a Cabela’s that allows campers.  It was a pretty noisy night due to the proximity to the I5 on which traffic never seems to stop.

Thursday morning, our last day in the US – we drove to our storage unit, dropped off a few things, picked up a few more and made our way north once again through Seattle to the northern suburb of Everett where our friend, Alex, lives.  He was unfortunately, away but his wife, Kristi and their baby boy, Knox, were home and we picked up our Amazon packages before proceeding northward to the 49th parallel. After one more gas stop and a stop at Camping World to pick up an item we’d had put on hold for us, we arrived at the border.

There was only ONE booth open and we were the ONLY vehicle at the Pacific Highway crossing.  We were asked a few questions about where we from, what citizenship and did we have alcohol/tobacco/firearms and then asked about our quarantine plans.  As we had filed this info on line, he took the confirmation number and we were all good.   AND we told them we had 216 bottles of beer, one bottle of wine and about 4L of liquor but no one asked us to pay duty which we were prepared to do.  The whole procedure took about EIGHT minutes!

We were welcomed and given this instruction sheet: (quite different to the “recommendations” we received upon arriving into the USA)

And we drove directly to the ferry terminal to get to Victoria, naturally, without stopping, as instructed.

As many of you know, we began this journey on June 22, 2014 from VICTORIA, BC and although we didn’t quite finish, we have returned to the ‘start line’ just over six years later.  Where we go from here remains to be seen during these strange times.  Stay tuned and thanks for following us!

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