30 September, 2015


We've been driving around the Olympic Peninsula in Washington State, climbing mountains, looking at the stunning scenery, walking through rainforests, and Mark notices that the coolant level is low. So we buy some distilled water and top it up. We drive another day or two with no evidence of leaks, Mark checks it again, and it's low again. Uh oh. If it's not leaking from the radiator, a hose, or anyplace we can see it, there are only a few other places it could be going and all of them are bad.

We call Julie's son, Dan, who's a mechanic with loads of experience & certifications, and who also just happens to live in Redding, CA, about 500 miles south of us. After discussing the symptoms with him he says "Sure sounds like a head gasket." Dang. So we decide to go visit him sooner than we'd planned, aborting our plans to head farther north to visit friends and family in the San Juan Islands and Vancouver Island. We stop in Eugene, OR and spend 2 days with Julie's niece, Sabrina and her family, then hightail it down to Redding.

Dan tests the radiator for exhaust gasses in the coolant system and sure enough, there's exhaust in a place where it doesn't belong - proof of a leaking head gasket.  So now we need to pull the head and put in a new gasket.

Of course, in the way these things often do, things escalate. Without going into the technical details, suffice it to say that broken castings, sheared off bolts, and various other issues slow our progress.

The following Saturday we spend all day getting the engine put back together. We start it, it fires right up and starts making a bad noise from behind the timing chain cover.

We all sit and look at the engine, nobody says anything, nobody has to. We then drag back into the house, wrack our brains trying to remember if we forgot this or didn't tighten that correctly and finally decide we're just going to have to go back in there and see if we can find the problem.

So Sunday morning we pull the oil pan (so we don't have to pull the head) and remove the timing chain cover from the front of the engine again. Everything is where it belongs and all the bolts are tight. There's a spot of silicone sealant inside the oil pump where it doesn't belong and one of the timing chain guides could stand a bit of adjustment, but we don't see any real problems. We clean things up, put it all back together, start it up, and thankfully, the noise is gone.  The engine is purring and we're happy campers once again.

Luckily it's only lunch time, so not wanting to entirely ruin Dan's weekend we head to the lake with his boat, girlfriend and 2 kids to spend the afternoon in the water, just the thing in this 105 degree F weather. 

Last time we went to the lake a surfboard blew loose on the boat and hit Julie just above the eye, giving her a big cut in the shape of her sunglasses frame. We took her to an urgent care center where she got 7 stitches. Since then, she and Dan have repaired the board securing system so it won't happen again. This trip, the old rope swing we find breaks and one of the kids goes flying, luckily into the water. No trips to urgent care this time, thank goodness.

Mark & Dan having some down time watching a 3D movie.

We decide to give Dan a break and head up to Whiskeytown Lake National Recreation Area for a few days. The engine gets a bit warmer than we'd like on the way up the mountain, but we're already at the top, so we continue on to the campground.

A deer helps Mark get his drawers sorted out

Dan, who expresses concern about the engine heat, seems to be sincere in telling us he likes us being around because he comes up after work for a visit and dinner 2 of the 3 nights we're up there. He even brings up a new fan clutch for Mark to install.

We have been with Dan for almost a month already! We had a wonderful time catching up on too much time apart, and, thankfully, it wasn't ALL spent working on the RV.

A flock of wild turkeys cruises the neighborhood almost daily.

We head off for a week for a "shakedown cruise" to visit friends in the San Francisco area. We stop in Ferndale to walk around and look at the Victorian buildings and discover a lovely cemetery.

When we return to the camper, there's a puddle of coolant on the pavement. Dang. Turns out the bracket on the side of the radiator has broken loose, allowing the radiator to flop around and puncture itself. So it's off to the first auto parts store we see – Autozone. They actually have a radiator in stock and let us change it in their parking lot. Great store and a great bunch of people working there – thanks, guys. Three hours later we're back on the road.

Fort Ross a Russian settlement built in 1812

Scenic Route 1 

We continue on to see our 3 sets of friends in the San Francisco Bay area. Have a great visit with all, who we have not seen for ages. It is great to catch up with everyone and all their news. After a week we head back to Dan's to pick up more parts and make some tweaks to the engine. Dan has been the perfect host, he's saved us so much money and time all we've had to do was keep him supplied with cold beer. We have all enjoyed each others company.

With all these new parts it looks like our overheating days are finally behind us! The engine has been tuned up, adjusted, inspected, and tested, and is purring. Lots of small, pesky camper jobs have been taken care of, not the least of which are two leaks, one by the bed and one on the passenger side floor. We're actually looking forward to a rainy day so we can see how well we've done.

 6 weeks later it's finally time to say goodbye to Dan and head back out to our land cruising. We take one last hike together, this time up to Brandy Creek Falls before saying "Adios until spring".