Monday, February 5, 2007

Goodbye, Mexico

We made it out of the forest yesterday without getting stuck, but not without incident. The giant puddle that we powered through on our way in inflicted some casualties -- as it turns out, in both directions.

Whenever we get ready to pull up stakes and leave a spot, even if it was just overnight in a parking lot, I start up the engine, turn on the exterior lights and flashers, and do a walk-around inspection. I'm looking for unsecured items or doors, tire tread or sidewall damage, leaking fluids, inoperative lights, and that sort of thing.

As I did my walk-around yesterday, I noticed both headlamps were out. Oddly, selecting high beams caused both to come on briefly and quickly flicker out. I guessed it had something to do with crossing the puddle on the way in, but we were anxious to make it back out in the warmth of mid-day, and give ourselves plenty of daylight if we had a problem, so we just made a note of the headlight problem, turned them off, and proceeded to leave.

When we arrived back at the puddle, I selected my path though, brought Odyssey all the way up on the air bags, and got ready to hustle through again. Louise got out to double-check the puddle depth, spot for me, and, given how things went the first time, video the experience for posterity. The spotting part turned out to be necessary: she had to motion to some oncoming traffic to stop well short of the puddle, so I would have room to clear on the other side.

I got my running start and plowed through again, and all seemed fine as I stopped alongside an appreciative audience. When Louise caught up to me, though, she had bad news: as I powered out and away from her, she noticed we had pretzeled the tail pipe. She clambered aboard and we drove a short way down the road to a spot wide enough to stop comfortably for an inspection.

Sure enough, Odyssey's lower angle-of-departure compared to her angle-of-approach, combined with the different geometry of the wash's banks, meant that the rear had slammed down onto the bank harder in this direction. I can't tell if we just hit the sand, or if there was an inopportune rock at that spot in the puddle, but the last foot of the weird, rectangular exhaust pipe was folded back on itself (for reasons unclear to me, the last foot has always been physically separate from the rest of the system) and hanging down below the bumper by one forlorn screw. Worse, the other two feet of heavy-gauge duct was crushed, and I could not spread it open with my crow bar.

There looked to be enough pathways through the flattened mess for some exhaust to escape, so we felt we could continue on with a keen eye on the engine gauges, and an easy foot on the throttle. Removing the loosely hanging section was a different problem: with the metal folded on itself, there was no access to the remaining screw. We ended up cutting through it with our two foot bolt cutters.

We made it the rest of the way down the washboard road without further mishap, having more thoroughly secured everything than we had on the ride out. Back on the freeway heading towards Tucson, though, we kept hearing a rattle or flapping noise, and, after pulling over twice, I noticed that one of the plastic trim pieces that constitute Odyssey's front lower bodywork was loose. It's been held on, on one side, by only one bolt for some time now, and either the puddle or the washboard caused the riv-nut holding the bolt in to come out completely. I secured the loose side with gaffer's tape, and we proceeded to Beaudry RV in Tucson, in whose large RV park we hoped to lay up for a day or two to lick our wounds.

It turns out the the enormous Tucson Gem Show was still in progress, and Beaudry RV Resort, huge as it is, was full. We pulled out our guides and set our sites on the Desert Diamond Casino across town (map), where we ended up spending a very pleasant and quiet night, and had a nice dinner in their restaurant. On the way to the casino we encountered a Home Depot, and spent an hour or so in their parking lot repairing the loose front bodywork, with ready access to a source of parts.

Yesterday Beaudry had told us there would be space today, so we came back here mid-day. We splurged and are in one of the high-zoot jacuzzi sites, with a nice patio, private hot tub, and hedges on either side to separate the neighbors (map).

This afternoon we disassembled enough of the front to get to the headlamps, noticing in the process that one of the polycarbonate rock guards had snapped in two, sacrificing itself to save the headlamp lens. We have spare guards, but we were able to re-fit this one, which should give us a bit more service from it.

Once we got the bulbs, or what was left of them, out of the headlamp assemblies, the cause of the problem was clear: the headlamps were on when we drove through the puddle (we always turn them on when driving), and enough cold water must have splashed back into the lamp assemblies to contact the hot quartz envelopes, causing them to shatter. The low-beam filaments then burned out immediately, and the high-beam ones days later, when I flipped them on after I noticed the low-beams were out. Lesson learned: turn off the headlights and let them cool before fording streams.

Fortunately, I carry spare headlamp bulbs, and we used up both of them today. I will have to order fresh ones to replace the spares; they are 24-volt items and not available in retail stores.

As long as we had the headlamps off, I took the opportunity to replace the 12-volt bulbs in the fog lamp housings (part of the OEM headlamp assemblies) with 24-volt ones, a project that has been languishing in the "to do" box for quite some time, as just getting into the headlamp assembly is a fairly major project (much more so than it should be). These bulbs are more expensive and harder to find than the common 12-volt models, but they have slightly higher wattage, and, more importantly, we have only limited 12-volt circuit breaker capacity in the front wiring box, and moving these to the 24-volt side gives us back some capacity for other 12-volt loads.

I also spent a good deal of time tracing wires, looking for spares to fix our intermittent throttle-position problem, and for the wiring error that has our vehicle speed sensor disabled.

Tomorrow we will call around to see if we can find a welding/sheet metal shop to make us a new exhaust duct and splice it to the muffler, and continue the great wire hunt. I've also found a local source for a drain valve to replace the oil pan plug on the generator -- it's due for an oil change, and I want to get something in place to cut down on the messiness of this operation in the future.

When we first headed toward Tucson over a week ago, we had hoped we would be here a few days and then move on, heading back down to Mexico for a week or so before we had to be in Death Valley. The extra time we spent at Williams, combined with longer visits with our friends here, had pretty much squeezed that down to a slim hope of a quick jaunt back across the border for a few days. With these latest setbacks, Mexico is off the boards, which frees us up to take our time, and spend a few extra days taking care of some of these long-delayed projects.

Speaking of saying goodbye to Mexico, while we were out working on Odyssey, a couple rigs pulled in with Fantasy Tours caravan stickers, so we surmised one of their caravans crossed the border south of here today or maybe yesterday. One of the rigs was missing the entire front left corner from the floor level down to the ground. Everything was gone -- headlight, turn signal, bumper, and whatever compartment was below the driver's feet. I figured him to be having a worse week than we were.

We have at least one more night here at Beaudry, and from there we will play it by ear.

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