Monday, May 24, 2010

First Trip

One in the books. Whew!

I'll just say up front that the driving-to-vacationing ratio was a little off on this one. We left home at about 6pm to get from the Bay Area down to our camp site in Big Bear. 9 hours of driving under the wheels and we pulled into site #17 at Pine Knot at 3am. It turns out that the camp ground was about a block away from the finishing straight for the Big Bear stage of the Tour of California. Ha! Happy coincidence.

As planned, we were up at the crack-of-way-too-early-for-a-vacation the next morning to go meet some friends and stake out a spot on the final climb where we could get a good view of the bike race. Leveled out, awning cranked, coffee and pancakes wrangled and we were kings of the mountain on the side of Hwy 18. Everything was working flawlessly except the coach battery had discharged completely on the road down (must not be getting a charge back there) so we were constantly getting an undervolt alarm from the propane sensor. Just enough charge to run the water pump now and again, thank goodness :).

We waited for the road to close, and as I was off doing something in the back of the rig, one of the kids shouted "hey Dad, there goes another Sunrader." So what are the odds that it would be parked in Pine Knot #16 when we got back later that evening? (Thanks for coming by to say 'Hi!' Henry... great to meet you!). After another night in the campground and a breakfast at iHOP (they put the calories on the menu now. WOW, you could fuel a small city on a stack of chocolate chip pancakes) we headed down to LA to watch the ToC time trial. Thank goodness we can fit into a standard parking place, because it was a zoo down at the Staples Center.

I love watching the Time Trial... such a brutal effort. All mind versus pain for 45 minutes on a machine that is pretty unforgiving. The dragster of bikes. Great for straight lines and getting power to the ground, but handling, notsomuch. The wind was gusting enough at times that it would just whack riders sideways when it hit those rear disc wheels, especially as they passed by an intersection and a space between the skyscrapers.

Dinner (after proper, indoor-plumbing-based-showers) was at the lovely La Bruschetta on Westwood Blvd. Terrific food, wonderful staff and a great time with friends.

Sunday morning we were off again, having boondocked in our friends' driveway for the night. Up to Kanan road and Mulholland drive to watch the final circuit race of the 2010 ToC. We found a perfect spot, just beyond the KOM and unfolded the chairs beneath some truly spectacular blue Southern California skies.
So if you've ever wondered how close you can get to the action in pro bike racing, this picture about sums it up. I was using an 18-70mm lens, crouching on the side of the road and the guys came by within 6-8 inches. Amazing. The final stage was a 4 lap circuit, so we got to see plenty of racing, including some amazing attacks. Now these guys go uphill as fast as normal people go downhill, but when they attack it is almost unbelievable. On the final lap, Chris Horner (center) of team Radio Shack, along with a rider from the Garmin team, took it up another big notch and just departed from the front of the main group. It looked effortless and just really, really fast. Unlike ToCs past where the final day was more of a parade lap for the winner, there was some real jockeying for position in this one which made it more fun to watch. George Hincapie in the red white and blue of the U.S. Pro road champion made it a race to the end, coming in 2nd for the day.
But ultimately, this blog is supposed to be about the Sunrader. Hmmm... a quick review, perhaps. Certainly not a flawless trip by any stretch of the imagination. Interstate 5 is a terrific way to get down California in a luxury car above the speed limit. But it is so trashed by semi-tractors that pushing the rig to 75 with the occasional mighty pothole just isn't a whole lot of fun. Next time, 101 is the choice along with a more leisurely travel schedule.

The Grapevine was a nice adventure. We kept 45-50 all the way up, which is pretty impressive given 100k miles on an engine that at best is 130hp, all loaded up with the camper and 5 of us. And we did keep a pretty easy 70mph on the flats -- with 13mpg. All the appliances worked perfectly. I'm most impressed with the propane option on the fridge. Easy to light, and uses hardly any LPG at all to keep things ice cold. Love that. Oh, and roadside pancakes also rule.

The trip back up 101 was much nicer. The road is generally smoother, lacking as it does the caravans of tractor trailers. However, it was as windy as I've ever experienced. We had gusts of easily 40 mph coming across the road, sometimes shifting directions very quickly. That beats caffeine for keeping you alert. But the rig holds the road just fine, and the steering is light enough so things stayed reasonably relaxed. It seems to me that by avoiding the Grapevine and having a smoother surface the difference in distance/time is about a wash. It was certainly a less wearing journey on the way back.

And how amazing to run into ANOTHER Toyota Motorhome owner in Buellton, CA while stopping for some dinner. I was just checking the oil and a fella walks up to me to make sure everything is okay. Turns out he has an Odyssey of his own but loves the 'leak-free' idea of the Sunrader (I set him straight about my front windows, but he assured me I had nothing to complain about).

All in all a great trip. A few too many rattles, a few to much banging and washboarding (new shocks may get to the top of the list soon) but lots of fun.

Lots more pictures that I'll have to get up in an album soon.

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