Saturday, July 7, 2012

THE 2012 MAIDEN VOYAGE OF THE ROADSHIP “ENTERPRISE”: it takes a highly trained crew --- by Jeannie Snow VanOrden

I can’t help it.  I’m a Star Trek geek through and through.  From the first season of Star Trek when I was a kid lounging on the carpet of my parent’s living room to the latest incarnation of the franchise, I love them all good, bad, indifferent, it’s my entertainment comfort food.

So what better name to give my own mega-ship, an Itasca Latitude home on wheels, than the roadship “Enterprise”.  We’ve used our motorhome for three summers and finally I’ve come up with a name grand and complex enough to describe our homey (not homely) behemoth. The moment we step inside it after its long winter’s sleep we feel a comfy sigh escape our lips, and a breathless pulse of anticipation course through our veins and as we look forward to another season of adventures.

Like its starship name sake, our “Enterprise” requires a knowledgeable and well trained crew.  From the beginning of our motorhome ownership it was clear that a class on each of the vehicle’s systems would have been very helpful but we managed to learn on the go, on our feet, from study and experience how our home on wheels functions.  The running of our “Enterprise” requires an engineer (Ralph), a communications officer (me), a navigator (me), a pilot (Ralph), a ship’s psychologist (me), a mechanic (Ralph), a cook  (me),  an assistant cook (Ralph), a ship’s plumber (Ralph), quick thinking trouble shooters all.  You get the idea.  This RVing is a major undertaking and the more you know about your vehicle the more you save in repairs and anxious moments. 

Every season the first camping trip is the shake-down cruise when we learn how much we don’t know and don’t remember about this complex, high-tech vehicle. The first two season’s maiden voyages we camped just across the river from our neighborhood at the Eagle River Campground within easy access of home and stores where supplies and tools could be fetched quickly. This proved a bright move since we were all thumbs and remembering to pack everything we needed was not yet second nature.  Our first big venture the first summer was a trip to Denali.  Since then we’ve gone to Denali two more times; Homer, Alaska; Hope, Alaska and places in between.  Each time we become more confident in our roles as crew members and each time we find new things we don’t know.

Our first RV summer,  we lived without the hot water because no matter what we studied or did, we could not figure out how to get the hot water heater working.  The second summer we discovered the services of an RV supply and storage business whose owner cheerfully shared helpful information, for example: the shut-off valve to the hot water heater.  This resource is probably number one on the list of essential tools for the RVer: a generous expert willing to share knowledge. Next would be other RV owners whose difficult experiences we don’t have to repeat because they post their stories on the internet, or they happen to be chatty camping neighbors. 

The first major issue we had with our motorhome was with one of the sliding rooms on the side.  The kitchen/bedroom slide-out began to slide cockeyed, the rear end of it lagging behind the forward end.  Through our own study we learned that there are manual functions to help remedy the situation when the motorized slide is out of sync.  Through serendipitous investigation we found that the pedestal under the king-size bed had pulled loose from the wood floor and was hanging up the sliding process. We were able to repair it ourselves and felt quite proud of ourselves for figuring it out.  However, the pedestal pulled loose several more times and finally we took it to a repair shop.  The solution: build a whole new pedestal. The expert at Alaska Performance RV was willing to figure out a much better and much cheaper sliding pedestal for the bed.  He was baffled as to why Itasca had installed the original pedestal which was so clumsy, prone to break, and expensive to replace. We now have another important tool for our RV, a kindly and informative repair service.

Our maiden voyage this year was to Seward.  We thought we would surely have a smooth beginning to the camping season with two summers of RVing under our belt.   This is a particularly important year because we are selling our home and moving out of Alaska by driving our roadship “Enterprise” down the Alaska Highway.  There is a spacious bridge with two captain’s chairs and a mind blowing collection of gages, buttons, and a closed circuit television for observing the rear of the vehicle while driving. 

There is also a large control panel in the wall mid-ship filled with switches and red, yellow, and green lights that indicate important information about all the systems of the ship.  All systems must be in tip-top shape and the crew fully conversant in the functions and failings of each.  What are those systems? Here are the ones I can think of right now.

First of all there is the engine, a gas pusher, meaning it’s in the rear of the vehicle. This is the least of our worries.  The engine has very few miles on it.  Change the oil and check the fluids and she should run great. 

Second:  The chassis. This is a large class A motorhome with a solid Workhorse truck foundation on a long wheel base.  No worries here.  This is the most rock-solid kind of chassis for a motorhome.  It keeps the RV moving smoothly if we drive gently and slowly over bumps and frost heaves.
Third is the electrical system.  This is where things get crazy.  There is a battery for starting the engine, which is separate from the other electrical systems but sometimes it mysteriously goes dead. 

We have “shore power” when we plug the motorhome into our house electrical or an RV hook-up at a campground.  It gives us power without concern of running out of juice for heat, hot water, refrigerator, outlets, television, dvd player, stereo, microwave oven, etc..   But you have to watch the system’s console and make sure you don’t use over 30 amps at any one time or you’ll throw a breaker on the electrical source.  

A word about the outlets:  Some can be used only on full hook-up power, some can be used on battery power, some on generator power.  In case you don’t have a plug in RV site, the roadship has 12 volts auxiliary battery power.  We have installed two golf-cart batteries to give us plenty of reliable power when we are “dry camping,” meaning camping where there are no hook-ups.  These batteries, when running low, can be recharged by the gas generator which is upfront on the chassis of the motorhome. The microwave oven will not work unless the RV is on an electric hook-up or the generator is running. Keeping all this straight is a challenge.  And sometimes complications ensue that just seem plain contrary to logic. 

Fourth: the propane system. The kitchen stove works on propane only.  The refrigerator, and hot water heater, can be run on either propane or electric power.  There is a gas leak detector that will chirp if propane is leaking into the motorhome and/or if the power gets so low that the detector senses the batteries running low so it will be unable to detect.  Got that? 

The detector seems to be a poor substitute for your nose because our bed pedestal problem nicked the gas line at one point and we experienced a strong odor of propane even though the gas alarm didn’t go off.  This made us think we were having a sewer problem.  Well, the bed is fixed, the leak is fixed, and we didn’t die.  But if you are going RVing make sure you know the difference between the smell of propane and the smell of the black-water holding tank.

That brings us to a fifth system: the water system.  We have hot and cold running water in the kitchen and bathroom.  The motorhome is equipped with a cozy little shower that feels down-right luxurious on a lengthy camping trip.  We have a holding tank beneath the floor for fresh water and a gage to tell us when it is running low.  When dry camping, it is necessary to keep an eye on the water level because you just might run out.  If your RV site has water supply, a hose stored in the belly of the ship can be hooked up, thus sparing the crew worries about sufficient water.

Next we have the sewer system.  There are two gray-water holding tanks: one for the bathroom sink and shower, and one for the kitchen sink.  The kitchen tank always fills-up first. Then we use the bathroom sink drain as a back-up for the last few hours of camping, or we fold up the ship and drive over to a dump station to empty our tanks and to fill up with potable water.  There is a black-water tank for the toilet.  A blue treatment chemical is flushed down the toilet to keep it fresh and unnoticed by happy campers.  It is important to always empty the holding tanks before traveling.  Thus unpleasant experiences with sewage odor in the cabin are avoided. 

There is also the fun and comfort system.  This is the whole point of the above systems.  We have very much enjoyed our family and couple campouts in the motorhome.  Clearly we have to stay sharp and educated about its complexities.  But the point is to be comfortable while having a lot of fun. Games, bikes, movies, hikes, photography, naps, and just being still and looking at the view are the fun.  Comfortable beds, comfort food, hearty breakfasts, a warm place to sleep are some of the comforts.

On our trip to Seward, the first of this summer camping season, we took lots of notes on things that we needed to fix and supplies we needed to remember to load next time.  But we had a great time.  We found ourselves relearning things we later remembered from last year, and becoming acquainted with things we hadn’t yet tackled: like setting the clocks on the complex stereo systems in the dashboard and the bedroom.   Oh, yeah, that reminds me – there is a surround sound system!

Seward gave us lots of opportunities for fun.  We road our bikes on the coastal trail, picnicked by the Iditarod monument, rode to the marina to eat fish and chips, bike-toured the old downtown.  Best of all we sat by the fire by the beach stuffing ourselves with smores and watching the otters and loons play in Resurrection Bay. 

Our “Enterprise” keeps us sharp as we try to keep up with it. We look forward to our trip down the Alaska Highway, grateful for other RVers in Seward who shared their recent travels from Washington and California.   Our roadship takes some extra preparation and work but overall it has given us countless stories to tell and great journey’s to remember and beautiful views of life.

1 comment:

  1. Isn't the Denali Highway awesome? I drive my motorhome up there and camp near the trail to the copper mine every May and September. It is nice to return from a day long atv ride and have a warm safe home. I hope you return to Alaska. Have a safe trip.


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