Wednesday, November 11, 2020

Settled in for the winter

I have left this entry a bit longer than I had planned. Just not in the writing mood I guess.

Anyway, our last couple of weeks in Okotoks were spent starting to get the campground ready for winter. With all the Poplar and Cottonwoods trees around, we had lots of cleanup. The leaves started coming down in early September and by the middle of the month, it became pretty much a daily chore to clean up as much as we could.
Years ago when we had our resort on Shuswap, that meant lots and lots of raking. My brother and I were fortunate in that we were able to avoid some of it as we had school, but we did get our share on weekends.
Oh, I would have loved to have one of these back then!

We use leaf blowers to blow the leaves off the roads and onto the grass, and then the Cyclone Rake makes short work of vacuuming them up and mulching them.
Other chores were taking all the signs down and putting them away, storing the equipment, putting picnic tables away and lastly, after everyone had left Oct 1, blowing out the water and irrigation lines.
We finished up with the water blow out in the early afternoon on the 2nd and as there wasn't much left to do and the weather was looking good, were given the OK to leave. Both Chris and I enjoyed our summer in Okotoks and given the opportunity, will likely head back there next year.

After leaving on the 2nd, we made it as far as Kananaskis and pulled into the Stony Lakoda Casino for the night. We have stayed here in the past and as an overnight stop, it is perfect. Just far enough off the highway to be fairly quiet. By nightfall there were probably 15 other RVs doing the same thing.

The next morning dawned, as we used to say back in my flying days, 'severe clear', and we headed off for BC and our next stop back at Silver Sage in Kamloops. We needed to be there for a couple of weeks to take care of several appointments. We had stunning weather all the way through the Rockies and all the way to Kamloops.

The only hiccup was just before getting to Kamloops, we noticed our check engine light on. Everything else seemed fine, the engine was running OK and all temperatures were in the green so I wasn't too concerned.

A couple days after arriving we noticed another Solitude pulling in. And it was being pulled by almost the identical truck as ours. They wound up parking right beside us. Other than the colour of their truck being slightly different, they could be twins!
We quickly got to chatting and found out they were Hal and Bonnie Dennison. A couple from Ontario who also have recently taken up the full time lifestyle. They were stopping off in Kamloops for a bit on their way to their winter digs at Harrison Lake.
Interestingly enough, their check engine light had also come on!

We had our truck booked into Zimmer GM to get it checked out the next day and Hal had his booked right after us.  The diagnostics on ours showed one bad fuel injector and possibly 2 others that may also have an issue. They didn't have the parts on hand so booked us for a return visit the next week.
Coincidentally (or maybe not) Hal and Bonnies truck also was diagnosed with injector problems. As they needed to be moving on shortly, they got priority on the first repair which was OK with us.

One of my chores to take care of before winter was to clean the roof. Being parked under 3 big poplars all summer had made a real mess. All the pitch that rains down coupled with the dust from the roads had left the roof filthy. I hadn't realized how bad it was until I started. I think I went through 2 pails of elbow grease, not to mention a gallon of sweat! This is how it looked after day 1. It took 2 more days to get it all finished up. Note to self: Don't leave it so long next time!

Another chore I wanted to get out of the way was to clean up some of the wiring and propane lines in behind our fridge. When we swapped it out last summer, the tech didn't have all the proper parts to make a clean install so we used what we had. I tend to be a bit anal on stuff like this and it just didn't sit well with me so decided to clean it up. I found the propane fitting I needed to do it right and spent probably a couple of hours at it. Here is a before and after pic.
Another project was to make up some cribbing. When we get to our winter site in Oliver I wanted to block the trailer up on something more solid than our hydraulic jacks. Especially since we would be in the same location for upwards of 5 months.

Just up the road from Silver Sage is a truss plant. They bundle up their off cuts and sell them for $25 for a cubic meter. We bought one of their pallets and I cut up a bunch of pieces 1 foot long which I then screwed together into 6 cribs about 12" high.

Not mine but very similar to what I did.

I also cut a bunch of extra pieces as I didn't know exactly what I would need when we got to Oliver. This used about a quarter of the pallet load so I advertised the rest on Facebook Marketplace for free and someone came and took them away the next day.

On the 27th, we pulled up stakes at Silver Sage and headed for Vernon.  We planned to spend 5 or 6 days there before making the final push to Oliver. This allowed us to spend a bit of time visiting family and allowed Chris to spend her birthday with her parents.

Oh, and guess what? The check engine light on the truck came back on. I guess they should have changed out those other 2 injectors after all. I guess we'll have to deal with that after we get to Oliver.

Nov 1 we headed the last 160 km or so to our winter digs at the Desert Gem RV park. This is a smaller park right across the road from the Oliver airport. By the look of things they have 35 or 40 rigs here for the winter. Most, like us, frustrated snowbirds who are unable or unwilling to head south for the winter.

Setting up took a bit longer as I used the cribbing I had built earlier to add extra stability to the trailer. As we will be parked for 5 months or so, I wanted to make things as stable as possible. Also to take the pressure off our hydraulic levelers. Over the next couple of days we collected the remaining items we would need for the winter.  Heat tape for our water hose and some materials to skirt the trailer.

I was surprised that we couldn't find anything suitable at any of the building supply places in the area! We had to go all the way back to Kelowna and Home Depot to get the type of foam board I wanted. I settled on 1" Durofoam which has a silver side. It was also one of less expensive options at about $16.50 / sheet compared to $25 or more for the blue or pink stuff.

Day 1 was a very nice day and I was able to get the back end done up to just behind the wheels.

Day 2 was very windy and it was a struggle to manage the foam sheets. Everything had to be weighted down or they tended to blow away. I was able to get around the front end of the trailer done however which left mostly just the two big kitchen slides.
Day 3 was, if anything, windier and also cold so I decided to sit that day out.
Day 4 while still cool wasn't as windy and I was able to finish the chore off. One thing I have done is put one of my remote temperature sensors under the slide on the left side so I can keep tabs on the temperature underneath. While our water hose is heated, there are a couple of places where our sewer hoses are exposed and I would rather they didn't freeze although it wouldn't be a big deal if they did.

As it turned out the night after I completed the job, the outside temperature dropped to about -8C overnight yet the underbelly stayed at a relatively balmy +6C. I think I can call that success!
We have also noticed the floors inside are quite a bit warmer as well.

In this shot you can see that this park is a bit tight but we have enough room for what we need. Not visible and just in front of the truck is our 350+L propane PIG. This should satisfy our cooking and heating needs for the winter. The company that rents the tanks will come by every couple of weeks or so and fill it up as needed. This will hopefully be cheaper than constantly taking our small 30 pound tanks to the local vendor. Time will tell I suppose.

Sunday, September 13, 2020

Our season in Okotoks is almost coming to an end

I think I have mentioned in the past that we have never been real happy with the performance of the stock fridge that came with our trailer. It never would get as cold as we felt it should and it would run almost continually to maintain a barely acceptable level of cold. When running on propane it would burn up a 30 pound (7 gallon) tank of propane in a little over a week and we could only run it on AC power if we were plugged in. If I tried running it off our batteries through the inverter, it would drain them in about 4 or 5 hours. I did some calculations and learned that it was using the equivalent of about 21 KWh of energy per day! If I translated that into electrical drain on our batteries, that equated to about 1,450 Amp/hours per day.

Some of Grand Designs RV's come with a residential refrigerator from the factory and we had talked about replacing ours with a residential unit for a while. After doing some research we decided the time was right and went and did it!  I won't detail all the process here but if you are interested, you can see the gory details >here<.

As a comparison, the new fridge uses about 1.5 KWh of energy a day or only about 125 Amp/hours per day.

One thing I have missed this summer is flying. Believe it or not, up until August 28, I hadn't flown anything since before leaving Kamloops in May. Most of the usual events in Alberta had been cancelled due to COVID or conflicted with our work schedule but near the end of August there was an event scheduled up in Red Deer that coincided with our days off. Thursday, after our shift finished, we prepped the trailer for a Friday morning departure and made the 2 hour drive to the Red Deer Propbusters field just outside Sylvan Lake. 

They have a beautiful grass runway in the middle of what was an old turf farm. The surrounding area has been replanted in Canola but the main runway is still the perfect grass left over from the turf farm. It was a beautiful sunny day when we arrive and several local pilots were already there. We quickly got the trailer set up and I started unloading the airplanes. While I was doing that, Chris was happily showing off our beast to several interested locals.

This was to be a jet event and several jets were in attendance including a gorgeous L39 owned by one of the locals.

I got my stuff set up in fairly short order and after doing my pre-flight checks, took off and put in a fairly tame flight to 'scrub the rust off'. Me, not the airplane! That all went very well and I put in two more during the afternoon. The L39 flew but suffered a flame out a couple of minutes into his flight. Fortunately the pilot was able to get it back on the ground safely so it will fly again another day.

Unfortunately, late in the day we got word from the event organizer that due to forecasted high winds for Saturday, the event that was supposed to happen would be postponed to Sunday.

Saturday, true to the forecast, turned out to be very windy and we didn't get any flying in until late in the afternoon. I still got two more flights though. Sunday turned out to be the same with more high winds all day so no flying until again late in the afternoon when I put in one last flight before putting everything away. 

I must also add that the whole time we were there, the Propbusters club members were wonderful hosts and really made us feel at home. Special thanks to Steve Morgan, Stacy Jussila and Jonathan Vogt.

We pulled out Monday morning and made our way back to Okotoks.  All in all it was a very relaxing weekend and felt really good to get totally away from the campground for a few days.


We are now into mid September and I find it surprising that the seasons are changing here this early. Maybe it is the elevation or the climate or probably a combination of both but the leaves are well into changing for fall. We stared to notice things changing 2 weeks ago but things are well underway now. The other hosts here tell me that the leaves should be mostly down by the end of the month.

Maybe it is the approach of fall but another thing I have noticed lately is that there are squirrels everywhere! We have seen quite a few through the year but right now they seem particularly active. No doubt preparing for winter. Around here the most common variety is the Eastern Grey Squirrel which around here seem to be predominantly black.

Squirrels in B.C.
Eastern Grey Squirrel (Image lifted from the web)

I have also mentioned in the past our herd of urban deer. As far as I can tell there are three does around here; 1 with 1 fawn, 1 with 2 fawns and 1 with 3 fawns. There are all very unafraid of people and can be seen wandering around the campground almost daily.

The campground here shuts down at the end of September and all the guests have to be gone by Oct. 1. I expect we will have to stick around for a few days after that to put things to bed but regardless we have to back in Kamloops for several appointments on Oct 5 so we plan to leave here by the 4th.

Saturday, August 8, 2020

Waterfalls, Dinosaurs and Lancasters

We have made a couple of excursions on our days off this month. The first one was a short drive up the Sheep River, through the foothills and into the Eastern Edge of the Rockies. We drove West on highway 7 through Black Diamond and Turner Valley then highway 546 into Kananaskis Country and the Sheep River Provincial Park. We drove to the end of the pavement then turned around and checked out a couple of stops on the way back. Bluerock Campground which is a wilderness campground. Nice but 99% of the sites would be too small for us.
Our next stop was the Sheep River Falls just a couple of kms East. We got out here to stretch our legs and give Maya a bit of a break.  They have set up a nice picnic area here and there are several walking trails up and downstream.

The river has dropped a lot since we got here in May! I can imagine what it must be like during the spring freshet.

After leaving the falls we stopped at the Sandy McNabb Campground. There was a bit more development here in that quite a few sites had power and there were a number of sites that would work for us. They also had a couple of group camps that were being used as overflow camping. Mostly these are in an open field which would actually be perfect for us. Gives us good sky exposure for both our solar panels and the satellite dish.
Our next excursion a couple of weeks later was to Drumheller, about 2 hours NE of Calgary. Drumheller is home to one of the best dinosaur museums in the world (CNN). The Royal Tyrrell Museum. Chris and I had been here once before about 15 years ago with her niece and nephews. The kids were pretty young then so we went through it pretty quickly. This time we were able to take our time and actually read the info on many of the exhibits. Alberta has one of the richest deposits of dinosaur fossils in the world and the Tyrrell museum highlights these.
As is frequently the case, they had one section of the museum shut down to overhaul it and put up new displays. Essentially everything from the last mass extinction 65 mil years ago to the present.
This is the first thing we ran into on entering the museum. That's quite a mouthful!
This guy reminds me of the pet calot, "Woola" from the movie John Carter
Black Beauty, the only Black Tyrannosaur skeleton.
At the end of July, we took a drive south to Nanton. We have passed by here a couple of times and noticed a place called the Bomber Command Museum. What gave it away was a big hanger right on highway 2 with a complete Lancaster Bomber in it.
This time we decided to pay a visit. Upon entering we found it was a lot more than just a hanger with an old Bomber in it. They have many displays of aircraft, vehicles, informational displays and more. Chris and I spent about 2 hours exploring it and by the end were suffering from information overload.
While this big bird will likely never fly again, they do bring it out a couple of times per year and run up the engines. That is an event that usually draws quite a crowd. Unfortunately all that has been put on hold this year due to COVID-19.
One interesting thing I learned was the importance of military aviation in Southern Alberta during WW2. Many pilots were trained here at a number of locations south of Calgary.
After leaving Bomber Command we took a short drive East to Vulcan, AB. What makes this small town special is it shares its name with a fictional planet in the Star Trek universe and they are capitalizing on that. They have a visitor centre that is styled to look like a space station.
Photo lifted from the Vulcan website

As well as a large model of a Star Ship. Not the 'Enterprise' but close.

They even style their street lights to look like a starship!

So by now, you may be wondering what camp hosting is all about.
This year is a bit atypical but my work day starts about 6:30 on weekdays with about 2 hours of irrigation. We don't have the luxury of automatic sprinklers so we wind up dragging hoses around for that time. After that it is the first garbage run of the day followed by cleaning out firepits.
By this time it is usually coffee/breakfast after which, if there are lawns to mow or grass trimming to be done, I do that. Checkout time is 11 AM and at this point we get the camp ready for the new arrivals which starts at about 1 PM. This involves sanitizing all the departure sites by wiping down the picnic tables and power pedestals with a bleach and water solution.
Through the afternoon I am escorting arrivals to their sites,  helping them get parked and doing any minor chores and maintenance items that need to be done.
We break for supper between 6 and 7 and after that, I do the second garbage run of the day and get things ready to put the camp to bed. Weekends we don't mow or irrigate but otherwise it is about the same.
Technically we are on duty all night but so far haven't had anything come up to disturb us.
Chris works in the office and her day starts about noon. She takes telephone calls, makes reservations, checks guests in and otherwise liaises with the guests and sells firewood, etc. We have a small concession which she also looks after.
We typically work 2 days on after which we have 4 days off.

Monday, July 6, 2020

July catch up

I seem to be running out of catchy titles but things are pretty consistent for us at the moment so it kinda fits.  Not boring or anything but a lot of same old, same old, but there have been some interesting moments.

We have had some pretty extreme weather in the area recently. A couple of weeks ago, we had a very strong thunderstorm roll through the Calgary area. We fortunately missed most of it here in Okotoks, only getting some heavy rain and light hail. Northeast Calgary though, which is only about 30 miles north of us, got hammered with heavy hail. Some of the hailstones were baseball sized or larger. Here are a couple of pictures lifted off the web.

Some estimates place the total damage in the area at around a Billion (with a B) dollars!
In fact we have had thunderstorms to some degree about once a week for the last month or so.
Last week several funnel clouds were even spotted south of us during another storm.

June is also the season for Cottonwood seeds. It started about 3 weeks ago with a few little bits of fluff floating around, but within a few days it turned into a full blown fluff storm. If it wasn't for the seasonable weather one might almost think it was a blizzard.

This lasted almost 2 weeks during which time the stuff was everywhere!  The campground is surrounded by Cottonwoods and a variety of Poplar that also creates fluff seeds so it didn't matter which way the wind was blowing, we got it!  We had to make sure doors were kept closed or it just invaded any open space. Eventually though the seed pods were spent and then they just littered the ground.

I have mentioned previously that we have a small herd of urban deer around here. It is amazing how unafraid of people they are. Chris and I came upon this one while out walking Maya the other day. We were within 5 feet of it and it just stood there and watched us.

It wasn't until we walked around behind it that it decided to be somewhere else and wandered off.
We also saw these two on the tree just outside the office.  Looks to be a parent woodpecker teaching its little one how to drill holes and look for bugs.

Last week we took a drive out to the object the town of Okotoks is named for. "Okotok" in the local native tongue means "rock". Just outside of town is a big glacial erratic dropped during the last ice age.

All around the area are families of these little guys. While I don't know for sure, I believe these are a variety of prairie dog, a type of ground squirrel.

Analysis has proven that the rock originated up near Jasper, BC, about 400 kilometers away. There is a trail of erratics stretching between here and the Rockies near Jasper. This is the largest in that trail.

A couple of weeks ago we took the trailer into the local Grand Design dealer (Woody's) to get the last of our warranty items looked at. They needed it for a couple of days but as this is our home we had to have it back at the end of each day. During the first day they had it, we did a bit of running around in Calgary that we wanted to do. IKEA being one stop. While there we found a few items for the trailer. One other stop was the local GMC/Chev dealer just across the street from Woody's. They had several of the new 2020 1 Ton dually's on the lot. One was almost the same colour as ours. Anyway after talking to the sales guy for a bit, we took it for a test drive and after kicking it around for a bit, decided to trade the old one in. This one was one that was special ordered for another customer but apparently at the last minute the financing fell through. His loss, our gain! The old truck needed new tires anyway!

We managed to work a deal where all we did was extend our existing payment for an additional 3 years. The same amount of time we'd had the old truck.
The new truck has a bunch of new features that will make towing nicer including more horsepower and torque. Our old truck had a max towing capacity of around 22,600 lbs which was sufficient for our trailer (20,000 lbs) and worked well enough but having a larger safety margin is desirable. The new 2020's have upped the towing capacity to just under 32,000 lbs and also increased the payload. Add in a bunch of new features specifically geared for towing and it should make for a more comfortable experience.
There was some confusion the next day when we went to close the deal though. Someone had recorded all the important info like stock number and Vehicle ID # incorrectly. It took them a couple of hours to get it all straightened out so it aligned with the truck we had decided on.
The last thing we did was transfer our stuff from the old truck to the new one. The big item being the hitch for the trailer. Both trucks use GM's built in 'puck' mounting system, and neither I nor any of the GM sales staff had known that GM apparently changed the spec for the 2020 model year. The hitch wouldn't fit! Not even close! Now this was a problem; we had a new truck without a functional hitch and a trailer over at Woody's that we needed to get back to Okotoks. Fortunately the dealership was nice enough to loan us a set of dealer plates so we could use the old truck to haul the trailer back to the campground. The next day, Saturday, we drove back to Calgary and picked up the new truck. Luckily I was able to order a new set of legs for our hitch at a reasonable price so we are once again good to go. The rest of the day we spent driving to Sparwood, BC so we could properly register the truck. As we are BC residents we couldn't register the thing in Alberta. We needed a break in run anyway. Sparwood being the closest BC insurance broker open on Saturday.

The last thing for this installment is something I have wanted to do with the trailer for a while and with all the electrical storms we have had recently, convinced me that now was the time.
This is the installation of an Electrical Management System or surge protector. This one has a number of other features as well that should protect us against badly wired campground electrical pedastals. More common that you might think! The photo below shows the new EMS installed beside the existing transfer switch.

I mounted the remote display on the compartment door beside the Electronic Levelling control panel. In this photo it is showing we have a solid 60Hz power feed. Right where it should be.

All in all, the whole install only took about an hour and a half and now we should be safe from almost all shore based electrical problems. 

Tuesday, June 2, 2020

June catch up

We left Kamloops as planned on May 15, and headed to Vernon for a couple of days. Spent a bit of time visiting my Mom who is now allowed outside a little bit if all social distancing protocols are followed. It was nice to see her face to face at close range for a change. FaceTime is nice but can't compete. I just wish I was able to give her a big hug though. We also spent most of Sunday with Chris's parents.
After leaving Vernon on Monday morning, we made the trip to Okotoks. Unlike last time when we ran into snow showers, this time was much better with only a couple of light rain showers as we came through the Rockies.
We pulled into the Okotoks Lions Campground, which will be our home for the summer, at about 4:30. We quickly set up camp in site 20 which is one of only 2 or 3 sites that we will fit.  It is one of the designated host sites so is nice and close to the office.

This area seems to be about 3 weeks behind Kamloops, weather wise. You can see in a couple of the pics above the trees are just starting to leaf out. The shot with the front of the trailer was just taken a couple of days ago and the trees are now in full leaf. The trees here are almost 50/50 Poplar and Cottonwood. We have had those little sticky leaf bud covers all over everything for the last couple of weeks! Fortunately they are almost done now but in a week or two we will be having the cottonwood fluff storms starting.
The first couple of weeks here we spent just learning the ropes. Chris works in the office so had to learn their booking and office systems and I was outside doing guy stuff like lawn mowing, trimming and associated stuff. Also figuring out the campground layout and the best way to get rigs into the various sites. Some are a bit tight. The park has 55 full service sites with 30 Amp power, water and sewer and 6 tent sites with 15 Amp power available. For the tenters, there is a washroom building with hot showers.
You will notice some of the pedestals in the photos have bags over them. Due to COVID-19 and social distancing requirements, we are only allowed to open up half the park. We have to leave an empty site between occupied ones. That means we only have about 26 or 27 available sites at the moment. Also as the public washrooms have to remain closed, we are not allowing tenters either. To stay here guests must be in fully self contained units. As per COVID-19 protocols, we also have to go around and sanitize the picnic tables and pedestals when a guest leaves and not to mention, anywhere where people are likely to touch.
Also for this reason, Pauline, the manager, has only hired one other couple to work with us. Normally there would be 4 couples working a 4 on, 4 off shift cycle with Pauline managing. Now there are only the 3 of us including Pauline and her husband Vern. The other couple, Don and Glenda, are people we originally met in Yuma 3 winters ago. They actually told us about this park and are partially responsible for us being here. They are old hands here as they have been doing this on and off (more on) for the last 10 years or so.
There is a fair bit of urban wildlife around here. We have a small herd of deer that are very tame. Not so tame that you can touch them but Maya and I have been within 5 feet of them and they just stand there and watch you or casually move away.

This one was a lot closer than it appears in the picture; maybe 10 feet away and was coming up to check us out.

We also had a pair of Canada Geese nesting in an old stump at the back of park. About 2 weeks ago, we got word that one of them was in distress. It seems mama goose had got her neck stuck in a crack in the stump.

In the above shot, you can just make out her head at the bottom of the crack. Papa standing guard on top.
One of the guests had called the fire department and they showed up with a truck and ladder and were able to get her head unstuck.

I am not sure if they had anything in the nest but we have seen them back a couple of times but they don't seem to be nesting.