Northern Spirit Shakedown Cruise – Lots of Water, None of it Hot

We managed to get out the door, so to speak, about when I hoped to on Thursday morning. We picked up the trailer at Trailblazer RV, where they completed all the work we asked for and the only thing that wasn’t covered by warranty was the door latch ($35 installed). We hooked up without trouble, made our way to Glowing Embers RV Park to fill up the potable water tank ($5), and headed on our way.

We purchased the Garmin RV 890 GPS Navigator specifically to use when towing the trailer. It provides for us to enter the specifications of our trailer and tow vehicle and find the safest route to our destination. We set it up to avoid traffic, tunnels, highways, and unpaved roads, which is how we managed to stay off the QEII — that section passing Red Deer is a particular nightmare for RVs which we learned the hard way back in 2009 (I think it was), so we have no desire whatsoever to battle traffic there, let alone on the Deerfoot Trail through Calgary.

We left Acheson and Zoe (that’s the name of our GPS, so named because that’s the voice’s name…I know, not terribly original, but we like the name anyway and know a couple very nice people who have that name) took us south through Devon and then east to get us essentially on Highway 21. We had already decided to split the normally short trip to Calgary/Okotoks into two days, with our first night boondocking.

Mother Nature decided to kick our first mid-distance RV trip up a notch by ensuring that enough rain and wind was produced along our path to issue storm warnings. The first day it was mostly about the rain. Lots and lots of rain most of the way to our first stop and pouring all night. The wind started over night and continued at about 30 km/hr until we got settled into our campsite in Okotoks.

Max’s Diner, Bashaw

We stopped half way to our first campsite for lunch at Max’s Diner in Bashaw. They were short staffed so the food was take-out only, which we ate in the truck before getting back on the road. I had an individual pizza which I really enjoyed. Dan had a burger which he said was really good going in, but he later found it was not so good coming out, if you get my meaning.

D&A Gardens, Elnora

We took advantage of our Harvest Host/Boondockers Welcome membership and stayed at a lovely nursery/winery called DNA (D&A) Gardens. They have a fruit orchard with various fruits, including upwards of 19 different species of saskatoons. Who knew there were so many varieties of saskatoons??? We sure didn’t. They also sell various fruit trees and other types of trees. They have a wonderful cafe on site, selling foods that include their product, including scrumptious pies. We indulged in a piece of saskatoon pie and cherry pie, and they were delightful!

Hascap Berries

We chatted with the owner in the farm store, where we purchased a jar of saskatoon jam and a jar of brownie mix (yes, I’m going to try again). I think the owner may have sold Dan on purchasing a Hascap berry bush which produces a fruit that looks like a funky cross between a saskatoon, blueberry, and grape, but that apparently tastes like a cross between a blueberry and a raspberry. I may have to go back on my way home to pick up a tree… We did not get to go on either the Bat Trail Walk or the Nature Trail Walk; we figured the paths would be too wet to enjoy walking on, and we were already wet enough given it was still raining.

One of the other family member owners (I didn’t catch any of their names) lead us to the campsites. They have about six large spots lined up between two sections of the orchard. Each site has a firepit. The sites are grass and the road in is loose gravel. Everything was really soggy (did I mentioned it rained?), but the ground held up really well. We didn’t have any trouble driving around another camper (who had parked their rig on the road instead of on the grass) and backing into the spot at the furthest end of the row. We got all set up, opened the propane, confirmed the battery was full and the solar panels were working (despite the cloud cover…have I mentioned it was raining?), confirmed there was water in the water heater, and then turned the water heater gas switch on.

Then we went for supper. We ended up in a nice little community called Delburne and had supper at a cute little bistro called The Delburne Bistro. Then we stopped in at the local Co-op for milk and bread before going back to the campsite. That’s when we discovered the water heater wasn’t working. Say what? Yeah, no hot water. We tried to power it with the electric switch, but the battery doesn’t provide enough energy, so that didn’t work. We tried the propane again, but the pilot light wouldn’t light. It was fairly late in the evening at that point and pouring rain outside, so the idea of trying to figure out the problem at that point was not appealing. We agreed if we really needed hot water to do anything (you know, like dishes) we could boil water on the stove. That, and I accepted that I would have to forgo having a shower in the morning, unless I was okay with having a really cold shower, which I was not. We would call Trailblazer for their advice in the morning.

The rain poured and the wind blew all night, but we still managed to have a pretty good sleep. We were warm enough until the next morning when we learned our first actual lesson about boondocking, which is not to use the furnace on battery power unless you have a generator or more than one fully charged battery. Solar power will not supplement enough to accommodate the amount of power a furnace will use when it’s actually cool enough to need the furnace. We have now agreed and accepted that we will need to use more blankets and have warm pajamas available for those occasions when the temperature drops below 12 or 10 degrees. We will also likely get a second lithium battery, but we’ll assess for that when we go out in September with our new-found attitude towards managing temperature swings.

The water heater was still not working in the morning. We called Trailblazer and they suggested that while it could be a couple of different things it likely was the thermal cutoff fuse. They said we could try replacing it ourselves, but if we didn’t know what to look for we would have to bring it in to get it looked at. Given our location at the time we were clearly not bringing the trailer in. We decided to get settled in Okotoks and then see what Dan could figure out with the water heater. We packed things up and hit the road.

I had intended to attempt to drive with the trailer for a while on the way to Okotoks, but the wind was blowing and that made me nervous, so I didn’t say anything and just left it for Dan to be his competent self and get us where we needed to be. It turned out that half the way the wind was pushing along behind us, which was a bit of a relief given the other half it was trying to blow us crosswise off the road. It wasn’t really so strong as to be unsafe to drive in, it was just a new experience. But Dan got us there just fine.

We arrived at Riverbend Campground in Okotoks early Friday afternoon and checked into our electrical/water site. A couple of weeks ago I realized I had goofed up in making the reservations here a few months ago and instead of booking a full-service site (electricity/water/sewer) I had booked an electrical/water only site. There was no way we could go a full week without the sewer hookup, but the campsite didn’t have any full-service sites available on the weekends, so we managed to make a compromise. We’re staying in the e/w site for two nights and on Sunday we’ll transfer to a full-service site for the rest of the week. Our e/w site is comfortably large, with plenty of room for both the trailer and more than one vehicle. There’s a fire pit ring provided, as well as the picnic table, and it’s on the shore of the Sheep River. The river is flowing high and fast, and it’s wonderful! We’re really pleased with this site. The pad doesn’t look very level, but didn’t turn out to be too bad. This site is literally across the road from the bath house and laundry room, so I did get my shower that day after all.

Once we got settled, Dan did his YouTube homework (the manual was pretty useless for troubleshooting) and confirmed that the problem with the water heater could be either the motherboard or the fuse, but likely was the fuse because the water heater was working with the electrical power. But the electrical power didn’t even work until Dan removed and bypassed the fuse, so that was even stronger evidence that the fuse was the problem. The thermal cutoff fuse is necessary regardless of whether you’re using electrical power or propane power, and it shuts down the water heater when the fuse gets overheated. Usually the fuse will get overheated when there’s a flare up of the gas flame. But when you’re boondocking (i.e. not hooked up to electricity) you don’t waste your battery on the water heater, you use the propane to heat your water or you don’t get hot water. We figured replacing the fuse would be the appropriate first step. If that didn’t fix the problem, then we could look into replacing the motherboard or otherwise getting the dealer to investigate the problem.

Now that we had electricity hooked up the urgency for fixing the propane power to the water heater had lessened, so we took a break Friday night, built a fire, cooked some smokies, and enjoyed the outdoors for a bit before watching a show and calling it a night.

Saturday (today) we got up, took care of a bit of work-related business, and then went into Okotoks to purchase some replacement fuses. Yes, plural; can’t hurt to have spares on hand. We also browsed through the Buskersfest while we were there, briefly saw Antje at work at Monkey Mountain Toys and Games, and went for lunch at Heartland Cafe and Restaurant before returning to the campsite. Dan replaced the fuse and magically the propane-powered water heater was a real thing again! Woo-hoo! Major kudos to both Trailblazer for identifying the likely issue and to the Youtubers who provided visual guidance and advice.

We ended the day with venturing further into Calgary for supper at the Taj Mahal Restaurant — which was fantastic! — followed by a comedy show at The Laugh Shop headlining Mayce Galoni. It was a pretty low-key crowd, but Mayce was very entertaining.

Adelle and Dan

Northern Spirit Shakedown – Glamping Days 1 through 4

Hi! Did you miss me? Just a little? I’ve missed you, but boy, has this learning experience ever taken up our days. We’ve had long days since picking up the trailer, what with orientation, figuring out how to use our new toy without breaking it, and kitting it out with the bare necessities. As green as we are at this glamping life we really don’t have a foundation to start from, so we’re trying to be as logical and practical as we can.

That’s us with our new Place!

The people at Trailblazer RV are fantastic and so friendly and patient with us. The orientation went smoothly, but it was a lot of information to take in. When we got to the campsite at Diamond Grove RV Campground it took a bit to get the hitch to disconnect, but we did not need to call for assistance. Then we thought we locked ourselves out of the trailer, but just as I connected with someone at Trailblazer Dan pulled the latch the right way and voila! The door was open! I told whoever answered the phone that all it took was to just make the phone call to them to convince the door to cooperate – Murphy’s Law in our world. We’ve had no problems with the door since.

Dan noticed some of the seals on the outside panels appeared to have gaps, so Trailblazer is going to take care of that when we return home.

Plug in the shower???

And the plug in the shower — yes, plug in the shower, I know, why does a shower need a plug??? — would not stay open and the little handle kept popping off when we’d pull it. We didn’t know what kind of plug it was, so we didn’t want to put too much pressure on it (you know, with a lever or something) because we didn’t want to break it. After consulting with Dale at Trailblazer (who also shook his head at the idea of a plug in the shower), he looked into it and confirmed that we could just pull that entire cap right off the drain and problem should be solved. They’ll take a closer look as well while they have the trailer.

As in all (most?) trailers like this one, the bed lifts up on hydraulics to expose storage space underneath. What’s different about our storage space is that the manufacturer has designed bins, drawers, and a seating area in that storage space, including a spot to keep the laundry basket. It’s awesome! I love the smart use of that area. The only problem here is the motion sensor light that was provided in the space. It switches on and off at the slightest movement or shadow, day and night. In other words, all night every night the light would start flashing on and off from under our bed. We mentioned that to Dale as well, and he suggested we could either have it removed entirely or change it from a motion sensor to an on/off switch. I like the latter idea, so they’ll do that for us while they have the trailer as well.

The only other issue is not one we’ll be asking the dealer to look into because it’s not a defect, it’s just an observation and one that I can remedy myself. And this one is odd coming from a Northerner like myself who is used to sleeping through sunlit night skies. The skylights and vent covers in the trailer (as I understand in most trailers) pretty much glow when there’s any external light. So we’ve found that despite having the blinds drawn in the bedroom, the vent cover is what lets us know that dawn has arrived. The easy fix, of course, is to velcro a dark piece of cloth over the vent at night, so I’ll take measurements and make something when we go home to bring back later in June.

Now, we have no point of reference from which to know how much rocking and rolling (without the obvious explanations for such, wink, wink) is normal and how much is because we haven’t applied the stabilizers properly. Whether what we experienced — which wasn’t terrible, but was definitely noticeable, especially when Dan is walking around (you can hear him walking around in our house, and our house is solid) — was normal or not is now moot. Dan being Dan has used 2×4’s to build additional stabilizers at the hitch jack (for the front/back rolling) and for the stabilizer jacks (for the side/side rocking), as well as the wheel chocks between both pairs of wheels. This trailer is barely moving at all now, not even in the gusts of wind we’ve experienced the last couple of nights!

We were warned at the orientation that the oven temperature would not likely match the numbers marked on the oven dial, and my first lighting of the oven proved her correct. We were very glad we took her suggestion to get an oven thermometer. I have to set the dial at the highest setting of 490 to get it to reach 400, and about 432-ish to get to 350 (which is what I needed to bake brownies…). I still couldn’t bake the brownies the first night I turned the oven on and learned about the temperature gauge, though. I’m sure there are those of you out there who have probably guessed why. It turns out there’s ‘stuff’ that needs to burn off in the oven before you should use it the first time. It got really smoky and smelly in the trailer there for a bit…

Our first cooked meal in the trailer.

We did get to use the range sooner than intended. We had planned to roast hot dogs over a fire for our first meal at the trailer, but shortly after purchasing the wood and before Dan could actually start making kindling out of some of it, dark clouds started rolling in, the temperature dropped, and it eventually started to rain. Yeah, we fried those hot dogs in a frying pan with some onions on the range instead. It was actually pretty awesome, and damn, does the gas range ever cook fast! Totally have to get used to adjusting the heat levels down from what I’m used to. We had purchased the ‘camping condiments set’ — ketchup, mustard, relish — to compliment our meal, but decided not to partake of the provided ketchup upon discovering the seal had not properly set at the manufacturing facility. Still trying to find a small bottle of ketchup to replace it.

Adelle, Dan, Paul, Sarah – First visitors!

We had our first visitors at the site Saturday morning, which was pretty exciting I do have to say. My Uncle Paul and Aunt Sarah stopped by and received the grand tour of our new wheels. They’re glamping veterans themselves, so they duly appreciated what we have and offered invaluable advice as well. We had a nice visit and hope to see them again later this week.

After getting some more shopping done that afternoon (it seems never ending!) we finally took some time to ourselves by going to West Edmonton Mall for supper and a show. Bourbon Street has changed its selection of restaurants over the years since we were last there, but we ended up going to Earl’s because the wait wasn’t terribly long and gave us time to go across the hall afterwards to Rick Bronson’s The Comic Strip. I have to mention, the clam chowder at Earl’s was amazing! They tweaked the recipe to really make it their own signature dish with a subtle smoky-sweet taste. Totally worth it, and likely all I’ll be ordering at future visits.

ISMO at The Comic Strip

At The Comic Strip we were entertained by the host (who’s name I now forget, I’m sorry), the opening act named Gulliver Twist, and the main attraction: ISMO. Look him up, he’s a Finnish fella now living in LA giving a solid bit on the oddness of the English language and the varying uses of the word “shit”. It was a good show and I’d recommend seeing him if you get the chance.

Sunday ended up being a fuller day than intended, starting with taking longer than I’d hoped to update our books (i.e. pay some bills) in the morning before managing to get out to another fun event: the Leduc Rodeo and Car Show. Specifically this afternoon we watched some barrel racing, which I thought was a lot of fun, and then took a closer look at the vintage vehicles at the car show.

Carmen on Posse
Julia on Navajo
Cassie on Crimes Times Nine
Ford F100
Check out the plate.

We finally ended the weekend having my Mom and Step-Dad over for supper, which was entirely made on the range/oven. Fried chicken breasts, fried baby potatoes with green onions and spinach, orzo pasta salad, and garlic bread. My mom didn’t know what to do with herself because the kitchen is way too small for more than one person to work in it, lol! We followed up with brownies, which almost turned out except that I didn’t know I had burned the crust until I served it. But the inside and top were still good, so I’ll take it as another learning experience for this oven. Mom and I played a game of Canasta while Dan and Andy watched some local TV.

So that pretty much catches us up here. It’s already Midnight again and I have an early appointment tomorrow, so I’d best let you all go.

Adelle and Dan

Northern Spirit Shakedown – Travel Day 2

Good evening….tired tonight so expect this post to be short. Despite the room we stayed in being comfortable I did not get much sleep. I may have been a tad too excited for this trip. The lack of sleep resulted in today feeling rather long, even though it really wasn’t any longer than it was expected to be or that we are used to (eight hours from High Level to Edmonton is pretty standard).

Of course, it didn’t help that the fan in the truck appears to have crapped out, so we did not benefit from any air conditioning. It was rather stuffy in the truck today, likely contributing to my general feeling of tiredness. We’re going to try and get the truck in to get checked before we have to go home.

We arrived at my mother’s at around 6:30 pm, just in time for a BBQ steak supper with all the trimmings, including puffed wheat squares for me and Mom and apple pie with ice cream for Dan and Andy. The puffed wheat square I had been anticipating from the High Level Esso Station was disappointing and I did not eat it; it was odd because they usually make a really great puffed wheat square. The pleasant surprise was that my Mom had just made puffed wheat squares, and honestly nobody can beat hers anyway.

The evening ended with a thunder and lightning show, which was pretty cool. Tomorrow will be a full day of picking up the trailer, orienting ourselves to it, and kitting it out.

No photos today, nothing really caught my attention and the following critters didn’t stick around long enough to capture.

Wildlife sightings primarily consisted of the bird variety with a whole bunch of ducks, about a dozen geese, one magpie, two hawks, and two grouse. The grouse were actually the last thing we saw, in my Mother’s back yard of all places, where we usually see a ridiculous number of rabbits or hares. We did also see one coyote and one chipmunk. That’s right, a chipmunk, crossing the road in front of us. Lucky he didn’t become roadkill…

Anyhoo, going to try and get some shut eye now. Talk to you tomorrow.

Adelle and Dan