Wednesday, April 6, 2005

We're back on-line after a frustrating couple of days on the "fringe."

We were last able to get on-line via our satellite dish in Morro Bay, at the laundromat. The dish locked on signal right away there, even though we were unable to sync up at the Morro Strand campground at all when we arrived, and only with great difficulty the following morning.

Yesterday we traveled south along the coast back to San Luis Obispo, where highway 1 cuts back inland until Goleta, south of Solvang. We would have then continued south on 1, except for the fact that we needed to stop at the NAPA auto and truck part store in Lompoc, which is between 1 and the coast.

The parts stop was necessitated by the fact that we needed a new air filter for the Detroit. I've been noticing some black smoke, and the engine has been feeling sluggish, so we pulled the filter in Morro Bay to have a look. Normally, I wouldn't go through the effort without having a replacement filter on hand, but I could not find anywhere the specifications or model number of the filter, in spite of spending quite some time poking around on-line and in my paper documents. So we had no choice but to yank it out to get a part number, or at least all the relevant dimensions. The part number, of course, was marked on the inside of the darned thing -- NAPA 2960. The closest NAPA, in San Luis Obispo, had none in stock, but showed one in stock in Lompoc on the computer.

Pulling the filter out confirmed that it was, indeed, pretty plugged up. Shaking the filter a few times caused large quantities of gray dust to emerge from the pleats. Much more disturbing, however, was the discovery that the main duct connecting the output of the filter housing to the engine air intake was askew, leaving a four-square-inch or so gap where unfiltered air was entering the intake from the engine bay environment. From the looks of the assembly, and the fact that the band clamp securing the rubber duct was tightened down more than it could have been had the duct been properly seated, I have to assume that this condition has existed since we left Infinity Coach in August. We've put close to 20,000 miles on the coach since then, so now I am concerned that the engine has ingested enough dust to cause excess ring and valve seat wear. Our last oil analysis came back with abnormal levels of wear metals, so this is not an entirely unfounded fear. I've put Infinity on notice about this, since they removed and replaced that duct during the conversion process, and all indications are that it was not properly seated and secured when it was reinstalled.

So there we were at Morro Strand, close to check-out time, with this unseated air duct to deal with. I may well have driven with it that way for 20,000 miles, but I was damned if I was going to drive it that way even one more mile. The problem facing us, and probably part of the reason it was on wrong to begin with, was that there was really no way to get one's hands around the duct (which resembles a pipe elbow, made of rubber and perhaps 8" in diameter) to move it into place over the lip on the filter housing. The "hush box" surrounding the generator and the associated air ducts are in the way. There is a small access just above the genny radiator box that allowed us to get a wrench in and loosen the band clamp, and also squirt some soap solution to help slide the rubber into place.

After scratching our heads a while and contemplating disassembling the generator box (probably a four-plus hour project, not to mention that we'd have to drill out perhaps 30 rivets that we could not then replace), I was finally able to coax the duct onto the lip by levering it from the inside, using a pry bar and a block of wood. It's not really where it should be, since I was only able to get maybe 1/8" of lap, but there is no longer a gap and I was able to secure it in that position with the band clamp. With any luck, it will hold that way until we return to Infinity in July, where I can have them remove part of the hush box ducting so we can do this right.

We arrived at the NAPA store in Lompoc right around 5pm, having spent a good couple hours in Morro Bay doing laundry (and tracking down the filter on the phone, with help from the internet). We picked up the filter and three gallons of 40-weight oil, which is hard to come by in retail stores, and continued south, thankful that we now have some extra daylight to work with.

That extra light came in handy, as the first park we had set our sights on, Gaviota State Park, was closed entirely, due to flooding. The next park south, Refugio Beach, was full, mostly owing to the fact that many of its sites were also closed due to flooding. We were almost out of daylight by the time we reached El Capitan State Park, just south of Refugio. Lots of low-hanging trees in this park, so we made our way through the site loops very slowly. Early in the process, we ran into the campground host, who, after catching sight of Odyssey, directed us to a set of wide-open, unobstructed, and completely unoccupied sites in what is normally designated a group camp area. It turned out to be a picture-perfect spot, in full view of the ocean, and with the closest other campers across a ravine. We had the whole group area to ourselves until we turned in for the night, though there was another rig across the parking lot when we awoke. We would not otherwise have felt at liberty to park in the group area, so we were fortunate to have encountered the host.

Even though we were in a wide-open camp site with no obstructions, our satellite system would not connect there. It was exhibiting the same symptoms that had plagued us in San Luis Obispo and in Morro Bay. After a frustrating hour of attempts, I finally called technical support, who are, ironically, located in San Luis Obispo. The first technician I spoke with was clueless, and sent me on a wild goose chase. My second call landed on someone who has been around a while, and he confirmed what I was beginning to suspect: nothing wrong with our equipment, we were just on the very fringe edge of the satellite footprint. Repeated attempts in clear skies might get us on, but most attempts would fail until we moved. He also gave me the unwelcome news that this situation would persist along our coastal route until at least the other side of Malibu. (He was right -- we tried at several stops today to get on-line without successs.)

This morning we installed our new air filter (the duct appears to be holding in place) and topped off our oil reservoir. We also availed ourselves of the nice dump station at El Capitan before heading south again on the Pacific Coast Highway, which we followed all the way through the LA metro area. The weather was perfect today and we had a beautiful drive, particularly as the highway followed the coast.

Tonight we are at the Newport Dunes RV Resort in Newport Beach (map). This type of campground is an uncharacteristic stop for us, so much so that I even got into a pissing match with someone about camping styles over on one of the bus conversion forums. However, we have friends in nearby Irvine with whom we will be visiting tomorrow, and backwoods-type camping accommodations are not to be found this close to the city. Even the Elks lodges in this immediate area were of no help. So we thought we'd treat ourselves to a "resort" camping experience, and see how the other half lives, so to speak. We even booked for two nights, so we can take advantage of the amenities, and have a more relaxed visit with our friends.

Frankly, I expected this resort to be chock full of high-end bus conversions (a la Marathon and the like), with immaculately kept grounds, blah, blah etc.. However, a brief stroll around the facility revealed only one other converted bus in residence -- a Prevost from the days when Beaver Coach still did conversions, showing its age. And while many of the rigs here are high-dollar factory built units, there is also a fair number of older and less expensive coaches, including some Class-C's and (gasp) a few travel trailers and fifth wheels. Also, the section of the park that appears to consist of owner-occupied live-ins is not in the prim and proper condition that the brochures (and the rules) would suggest.

Tomorrow we will have a look at the grounds and maybe sample some of the activities such as boat rentals. And I definitely want to try the pool, or at least the jacuzzi. Dinner with our friends is on tap for tomorrow evening.

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