Friday, August 19, 2016

The Agony of Defeat --- a few bad days in a row, but a happy ending

The Ski Jumps at the Olympic Park in Calgary

Roger here....  RVing is a wonderful lifestyle for many reasons.  However, like all of life, there are sometimes frustrations along the way.  This has been a frustrating week, but it could have been much worse.

I am watching the Olympics while writing this post.  Do you remember the television opening of the Winter Olympic Games years ago --- the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat? The visual that accompanied those words showed a poor competitor on the ski jump fall and tumble (tumble is probably too mild a verb) down the rest of the course.  The Agony of Defeat seems to be an appropriate title for our last few days. 

Part of our trials and tribulations were my fault.  Part of them were just bad luck.  Through it all there were wonderful examples of people who helped us.  Let me start at the beginning.

Before leaving Banff National Park, we knew that a border crossing back into the United States was in the offing. During those last few days in Canada, we ate all of our fresh meat, veggies, and fruit because we knew that it might be confiscated.  We went to the IGA in Banff to stock up on frozen veggies and frozen (prepackaged) meals.  We had been told that our next destination would not have much food other than hot dogs (turned out not to be true).  Anyway, our freezer was full our fridge was virtually empty.  We also drank all of the remaining beer and wine so that we could say that we had no alcohol.

The plan was to drive from Banff to Cardston, Alberta (right on the border) so that I could organize all the required documents for re-entering the country the night before.  Those documents included receipts of all purchases that we were bringing back into the country.  

When I called the campground in Cardston, it was full except for an overflow area.  The overflow area was fine with us for just one night.  


The drive from Banff to Cardston was uneventful. It actually had some highlights.  The mountain views on the way to Calgary were beautiful.

Ho Hum, More Spectacular Mountain Views

Half-way to Calgary our motor home odometer passed 100,000 miles, a milestone.  I am not sure it was a good milestone, but it was a milestone, nonetheless.  I must say that we have had very few problems with our Newmar MountainAire during those miles.

We drove around a corner of Calgary before heading south.  I asked Dianne to keep an eye out for the Winter Olympics venue.  I really did not expect to see it from the road, but then...

... we drove right next to it!  I love the Olympics.  Seeing those ski jumps in the opening picture of this post was truly a thrill for me.  It would be the last good thing we encountered for a few days.  

When we reached the RV park in Cardston, we discovered that the overflow lot was not adjacent to the rest of the park.  It involved several turns on local streets.  We made a wrong turn, but found a place to turn around.  Since it was in a safe area, I did not unhook the Toyota.  I was more focused on the border crossing the next morning.  


We lingered at the campground for part of the morning because we did not want to arrive too early at the KOA on the east side of Glacier National Park.  As we pulled out of the overflow lot, making our way back to the main highway, our GPS ("Waldo") directed us to turn on a wrong street.  A wrong street that ended in a cul-de-sac --- a cul-de-sac that was too small for us to make a turn --- a cul-de-sac where one of the households was having a yard sale.

None of this was good, but it should have been easily corrected.  We disconnected the Toyota so that we could back the motor home down the street and reconnect it after both vehicles were facing the correct direction.  It would have worked except that the Toyota would not start.  The engine would not even turn over.  I suspect that forgetting to disconnect the umbilical cord between the motor home and the car (because I was obsessing over the border crossing) drained the battery.  Now what?

Dianne steered the Toyota in neutral while I pushed it out of the way down the street.  I did an 8 point turn (up two feet, back two feet, repeat) in the motor home with the assistance of  a lady who allowed me to use her driveway to be in a position to complete the turn.  I pulled the motor home up to the front of the Toyota (face to face) and retrieved the jumper cables.

The jump was unsuccessful.  Was this street now going to be our permanent residence?  Now what?

I decided to walk to the town (Saturday) to find a garage.  I then thought it would be better to walk back to the campground office and ask for advice regarding places for auto repair.  

The "open" sign at the office welcomed me at the campground.  A note on the door informed me that the office was really closed while the employee was cleaning restrooms.  I called into the restrooms.  No one was there.  Now what?

As I was walking out of the RV park on my way to town, I saw two couples sitting outside their site.  I asked them if they knew of any car repairs in Cardston that we could call.  They were not from Cardston, and did not know of any.  Then the two men (Tom and Bill) offered to drive to our car in their truck.  They were sure that they could jump the car with a loose battery in the back of the truck.

The jump did not work.  Now what?

They used baking soda and water to clean the terminals of the battery, applied grease and tried again.  The jump did not work.  Now what?

I backed the motor home out of the way so that they could attempt a jump using the truck battery.  The jump did not work.  Now what?

Tom attempted to call the three auto repair/supply businesses in Cardston.  They were all closed.  Now what?

We decided to reconnect the car to the motor home  so that we could at least get across the border to our next campground in Montana where I could call our roadside service insurer.  In order to do this the car needed to be turned around.  Tom, Bill and I pushed the car while Dianne steered it in neutral,  to the other side of the street.  

Tom and Bill, our good samaritans
Tom and Bill offered to help us reconnect the car to the motor home.  We assured them that we could handle that.  I offered to pay them with the Canadian money that we would need to exchange in Montana.  They flatly refused.  They said that it was their way of paying it forward.  What nice guys!  They truly went above and beyond and saved our butts.  We were so thankful.

As we were about to leave, the automatic steps would not fold up.  UGH!  This has happened now and then before, but it is usually easily resolved.  They did eventually work, but it took about 10 minutes.  I was beginning to think that I was being punished for some reason.  Dianne assured me that things would get better.  They did for a short time.


We could not believe how simple the border crossing was. 

 After hours of investigation before leaving Texas from websites on the internet and from neighbors who have frequently crossed the U.S. border from Canada, I fully expected an inspection of our auto and motor home documents, our pets' rabies documents signed by the veterinarian, and possibly our birth certificates.  I knew that some motorhomes are inspected with the removal of fruits (we had none), meats (we had none), vegetables (we had none), and even dog food that contained lamb (we had none).  

Here is what happened:

1.  I handed the agent our passports and driver's licenses.
2.  He asked where we were headed.  I responded that we were slowly working our way back to Texas.
3.  He asked where we stayed in Canada.  I told him.
4.  He asked if we were bringing back any purchases from Canada.  I handed him receipts totaling $111.  (I was ready to show him the purchases, exciting items like a towel and some trail maps.)
5.  He smiled and said, "Have a good day."

Wow.  No questions about all those things for which I had documentation.  No questions about food, alcohol, or pet vaccinations.  I was so relieved, but if we return to Canada again I will probably be just as driven to be prepared.  This was truly one of the few highlights of the week.

Another highlight was that our cell phones could be taken off of airplane mode and no longer merely serve as  paperweights.  Still no TV or reliable wifi, but phones!  Civilization, here we come!


Our Campsite --- with the Toyota firmly attached to the motor home
We booked a site at this particular park because it offered dog-walking on days that we might want to go hiking at Glacier National Park.  Since we intended to do a couple of hikes on the east side, it seemed like a good move.   BTW -- the park is extremely isolated.

When we registered, I explained our tow-car problem and asked if there was any nearby place to buy a car battery.  The nice lady at the desk told me that we would need to drive an hour to Browning (in the motor home).  UGH!

The park was nice.  There were wonderful views of the mountains in the national park visible from our windows.  

Now that we had electricity, I charged the battery with a battery charger.  It seemed to slowly  accept a charge.  Our next door neighbor from Indiana offered to switch my 6 amp charger to his 10 amp charger.  I readily accepted.  I also called my brother, an automotive engineer, who suggested that I leave it on the charger overnight before trying to start the engine.  I also called our roadside assistance provider, who told me that I would need to wait until Monday before calling back (as expected) for a tow truck that could be sent from 1 1/2 hours away.  

Btw.  We also attempted to buy beer and wine at the campground office, but apparently it was a Native American holiday.  Liquor sales were forbidden until Monday.  No wine before dinner that night for us (or the next).  (And boy, did Roger need a beer by that time.   All he could do was look longingly at the large cold beer display in the campground office....-- D.)

The next morning I took the battery off the charger.  It started!  I let it run for about 15 minutes.  Turned it off.  Then tried to start it a second time.  Dead as a doornail.  It would not start for the rest of the day.  I know I am being punished for something.  Now what?

It was apparent that we needed to find a Toyota Dealership in the event that the problem was more than the battery. The nearest Toyota service department was in Great Falls (a day's drive).  We decided that it was pointless to spend any more time in St. Mary.  We accepted the fact that we would not be seeing the east side of Glacier National Park other than what tiny portion we could see from our camp site.   I told the KOA people that we would be leaving the next day, and they refunded our money for the remaining three days!  Wow.  Did not expect that at all.

I cannot leave the discussion of our two nights at the KOA without highlighting the fact that we were bored.  We had been without TV for over 3 weeks.  We are not TV addicts, but we wanted to see the news and I wanted to see the Olympics.  The wifi at the campground only worked about 25% of the time (typical) and was very slow.  We were almost out of Verizon data minutes, so we had to rely on the campground for internet.  (We tried taking our computers to the office once, but it was so sunny where the chairs were that we could not read our computer screens.)  We were both weary of reading (which we typically enjoy), crossword puzzles, and sudokus.

  To make matters worse,  the weather was wonderful.  We could have been exploring and hiking and doing other things, but we were stuck in the campground.  Walking to the office to get ice cream was the best part of each day.  Charlie the cat obviously handled the boredom better than we did (see photo above). 

I did not comprehend the depths of our boredom until I heard silly music and voices coming from the living area of the motorhome while I was in the shower.  I yelled to Dianne, "What the heck are you watching?!"  When I walked back into the living area, this is what I saw on the TV.

 "You are watching Betty Boop!  Really?"  Dianne responded that she borrowed the DVD from the Retama Village library.  "The Retama Village library has a Betty Boop DVD?!  And you borrowed it?!"


We had scheduled a 3:00 p.m. appointment on our departure day at the Toyota service department.  There was plenty of time to complete the 4 hour journey, but we started early anyway.  Before leaving we went to the campground office when it opened at 7:00 a.m. to buy beer and wine :-).  The Native American holiday had ended.  We would not be able to buy it in Great Falls because our car would be in a service bay.

We also needed to pick up our mail at 8:00 a.m. which had been delivered to the post office at Babb, Montana --- ten miles to the north (the wrong way).  We would need to drive the motor home with the Toyota in tow.  I lost quite a bit of sleep the night before worrying about where we would be able to turn around in a town that had no side streets and only three buildings.  If we could not turn around we would find ourselves back at the Canadian border.  When we pulled into town, I pulled into a parking area in front of a closed cafe where I was sure I could make a u-turn.  I stayed with the dogs while Dianne walked along highway 89 toward the post office.  Wait a minute.  We are back in the U.S. and can use our phones.  When I saw that Dianne was almost to the post office, I called to see if the motor home would fit in the lot.  It would.  That problem solved.

Free-range cattle roam beside and on the road!
The drive south along highway 89 turned out to be yet another stressor.  It looked like a good road on the map, but it was curvy, hilly, very narrow, and had no shoulders.  There was no place to pull over to let faster traffic pass.  During the fifty or so miles on 89 I struggled to keep the motor home on the roadway while not drifting into on-coming traffic.  The drive fit right in with our luck during the past few days.  Oh, and there were loose cattle along the road.  I would normally enjoy seeing the cattle.  However, on this day with our past luck, I fully expected to have one of the bulls charge at us.

We saw the cattle in three locations.  One of those locations was on the roadway.

One of the few place on 89 with a berm of any kind

The remainder of the drive was uneventful except for a gasoline stop in a crowded service station.  No problems, just concerns about getting out of the station.

We arrived at Great Falls just after noon (three hours early).  I had concerns about parking the motor home in a crowded car dealership that were unfounded.  We were able to drive right into a pull-through bay and unhook the car.  Mike, our service agent, was great.  Things were finally looking up.  

Guess what?  When Mike turned the key of the Toyota IT STARTED!  The problem is still a mystery.  We left the Toyota so the technicians could replace the battery, check the alternator, check the starter, check all the connections, and change the oil.  We went to our RV park.  

Toyota sent a car to pick me up after the service was complete.  The car was and is working well.  Finally, the thrill of victory!

We decided to spend a few extra nights in Great Falls so we could continue to drive the Toyota for a while in a city where it could be serviced if there were further problems.  Dianne got a hair cut.  I bought a better battery charger.  Life is good!

Just one more interesting story.  I was able to exchange our $30 of remaining Canadian money while Dianne was getting her hair cut.  It took about 20 minutes and was far more involved than crossing the border.  The process involved two pieces of photo ID, computer and phone checks to determine that I was not on the terrorist watch list, a check to see if we had a mortgage with the bank, two signatures, and a $7.50 fee.  The teller was extremely nice, but jeesh!   

Our next post will be from Bozeman, Montana where we fully expect (with 95% certainty) to finally see a living grizzly bear.


Here is a rare shot of all three of our animals in one picture:

Isn't there anything for us to do here?

1 comment:

heyduke50 said...

Sounds like you two are just having too much fun...