Saturday, July 14, 2007

Smokin' into Tahoe

We're in Stateline, Nevada, at the Horizon Casino Resort (map). This is, as far as we can tell, the only casino in town that allows RVs to overnight in the parking lot (security will issue a pass for up to four nights). We're packed in just like at a truck stop, but happy to have the spot -- the whole lake is jam-packed for a beautiful summer weekend.

Yesterday we decided to stay on the cool side, and made a right onto California 70 at Hallelujah Junction. A short while later we made the left onto 49, which segues into 89 just before entering the Tahoe National Forest, where we stopped at the first campground, Cottonwood (map). The place was empty, with only three other sites occupied, and a Forest Service crew was clearing fuels from the area, taking a break from working fires. Apparently, they had just reopened this spot after a fire-danger closure.

It was cool, dark, and quiet, really quite a lovely stop. Of course, well into the trees, we had no satellite coverage.

Today we continued south on 89 into Truckee, then down North Shore Road into Kings Beach. That's when it hit us that the lake was in full swing. In spite of press reports that Tahoe is having to work to attract crowds after the fires, we saw no evidence of any slow down. "No Vacancy" signs were the rule, and the streets were packed. We continued all around the east side of the lake in basically a giant conga line, and every turnout and parking spot was jammed with cars. The weather here today was gorgeous, and people came out in droves to enjoy it.

Unfortunately, Odyssey struggled with the trip today. I've been noticing more and more smoke, and the coach has been feeling sluggish. Way back in Harrisburg I pulled the air filter out for inspection, even though my restriction gauge has been reading a dead zero. Frankly, I've been worrying that our air intakes had perhaps come loose again, since I haven't seen a restriction reading since installing the K&N-type filter 25,000 miles ago, but there was plenty of evidence that the filter had been doing its job -- I shook quite a bit of caked dirt from it before reinstalling it.

Since then, we've been monitoring fuel rate, turbo boost, and engine load for signs of problems, with no concrete results, other than a general sense of being sluggish, and more and more black smoke on acceleration (and more gray smoke at other times, especially when starting cold).

The problem has come to a head on the last few grades coming up to 7,000 feet. Not only is the smoke problem absolutely horrific, but power is way down -- starting from a stop on the upgrade is a major challenge. Moreover, the heat loads are way up, and we had to pull into turnouts to cool down as often as every half mile on the 8% grades. This is definitely out-of-character for our drive train.

The last time this happened, it was the end-game set of symptoms of the engine being completely dirted-out, and I now have a growing sense of foreboding about this. However, back then, these symptoms were also accompanied by copious amounts of oil blowing out the airbox drains, and we've seen none of that this time. (Of course, we found out during the rebuild that the drains were stuck open, and we've replaced them, so maybe we've got oil in the airbox anyway.)

I've got my fingers crossed that the whole current mess is just a badly plugged air filter, which would mean the fancy restriction gauge isn't working worth a damn (and yes, I do test it by sucking on the little tube periodically, which works fine). It's possible that the gauge is not the proper calibration for our filtration system. In any case, I'm going to look for a replacement filter element, throw it on, and see if that helps. I'm just going to spring the $80 for a paper one -- I don't want to mess with cleaning and re-oiling the "permanent" cotton gauze one until I understand more about the current problem.

If changing the air filter doesn't ameliorate these symptoms, I will need to turn to the collective wisdom of the bus conversion community on their various bulletin boards for some suggestions. And I will be pulling an oil sample for analysis, even though it's only been a thousand miles or so since the last change. I've asked each of the last three shops that changed the oil to pull samples for analysis, and each one forgot to do so before the oil went into the collection bins -- one of the things that has been contributing to my anxiety on the matter.

Suffice it to say that, after the exhausting climb (pardon the pun) into the Lake Tahoe basin, we were happy to be off the road and in quarters for the night, even if we are cheek-by-jowl with neighbors on both sides. We lucked out by getting a spot where our satellite dish can just shoot the bird in between hotel towers, and we were even treated to a rock concert emanating from an open-air stage at Harvey's next door. We also wandered across the street to the Montbleu (which was Ceasar's Tahoe until last year sometime) for a nice dinner at their steak house, Ciera.

Tomorrow we will head to the Lake Tahoe KOA just a few miles from here, where we will rendezvous with our nieces for a week of "camping" (we'll be in Odyssey, of course, and they'll be in a cabin with their mom).

Photo by Patricia Gimeno


  1. Hi. Sometimes the black smoke and sluggish feel can come from a slightly dragging brake. Just feel the wheels for a hot one.
    Have a good one!!!!



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