A Disappointing Search for Sunshine 2020!

January, 2020 : Preparation…

It had been cold in the Central Valley in January – cold for wimps like me and I had struggled to stay warm, even indoors. It was definitely time to begin my 2020 Search for Sunshine and hit the road for some warmth.

However, this years Search had been delayed – I’d been held back once again by heart issues. During a hernia surgery back in November, it was discovered that I had atrial fibrillation, or bad heart rhythm. On December 12 I had an electrical cardioversion to zap my heart back into its proper rhythm. The process was much like surgery, except that when they put me under, instead of a scalpel, they applied shock treatment to my chest – similar to those defibrillators used for heart attack victims. My heart went back into rhythm on the first jolt and I was discharged the same day. My skin showed a red outline of those electric paddles for days!

But… in mid-January the arrhythmia returned. I would have to get some rhythm before my Search for Sunshine could begin, and my trip would be on hold ’til I was cleared. My cardiologist scheduled another cardioversion, and also changed my meds a bit.

I felt that I had finally found my rhythm after just two doses of the new medicine, and after a visit to the clinic, an EKG confirmed it. I was free to hit the road! It was the 29th of the month when I was cleared, and I planned to load up Big Blue and head south the next day.

Before the delay, I had prepared the coach for the trip, topping off the bank of house batteries’ water and checking the tires for inflation, etc.

Click to enlarge and read the captions:

Checking the battery water includes the above four deep cycle, six volt batteries – that’s 12 cells to check. (They are connected in series to produce 12 volts.) Those big-rig sized 22.5″ tires want 90 pounds of pressure, and it takes forever to add air with a small, home style compressor. Fortunately, I can tap into the big compressor aboard the coach which is large enough to keep the air suspension and air brakes supplied. It easily handles airing the tires when needed. That long air hose (above) stays aboard the coach.

As I mentioned in recent trips, we changed our cell phone service from AT&T to Consumer Cellular (CC). CC is on the AT&T network and we get the same coverage and every bit as good service, at about half the price. We should have changed long ago! And I recently purchased a new iPhone 7 from CC as my old Samsung Galaxy S3 had become an antique. My dear Wifey has had an iPhone 7 for some time, and we both like it. Now we each have one!

We have three Amazon Echo devices in our house that I use all the time. They are “smart speakers” that connect via wifi to the internet and can do many things. I use ours mainly for music, but they’re also good for weather reports, as a timer, and can provide answers to many questions – all in response to one’s voice. We have taken an Echo along on our coach trips because the iPhone will connect it to the ‘net without any nearby wifi as we have at home. It is a real handy device to have along on our trips.

2012-1-19a Echo, iPhoneThe Amazon Echo and my new iPhone – working together at last!

The main shortcoming of my old phone was that it would not connect our Echo to the ‘net, so I could not use one when traveling alone. But my new iPhone 7 from CC will do just that, and that was the main reason that I bought one. And I would have a handy Echo along for the coming Search for Sunshine adventure!

Day 1, Thursday, January 30, 2020, Home to Tulare via CA99: 154 miles

I  plugged the coach into 120V overnight to charge the batteries and to cool the fridge. When I headed down to the community RV lot to get the coach the morning of Day 1, all was well with my world. I’d be heading off on one of my bum runs, something I hadn’t done since September when I bummed my way home from the kids’ place near Denver.

I wouldn’t have a schedule of any kind, and though I had planned my overnight stops at Walmart stores every night, I had no schedule to keep and nobody was expecting a darn thing of me. Now, that’s a bum’s life and I love it! 

I spent almost three hours getting all my stuff aboard. That included some break time as this old man tires easily. But finally, all was loaded and at 1100 hours I bid my dear Wifey good-bye, and headed for the open highway.

First thing, I pulled into a local gas station and pumped on 20 gallons of fuel to get me down the road about 125 miles to cheaper fuel – not that I’d burn all 20 gallons, but to include a sure margin. I then drove through town to a propane dealer, and had them pump on about 16 gallons of the stuff to fill the 20 gallon tank.

From there I drove about 125 miles down CA99 to the small town of Selma. I pulled into a station I found online that sold Diesel 2 (not that awful biodiesel) for just $3.50 per. In Kalifornistan’s high-dollar world, that’s a real bargain. I pumped on 61 gallons to fill the diesel tank, and I’d next buy fuel in Arizona where it was selling well below $3 per.

Click to enlarge:

I stopped at a Mickey D’s in the small town of Chowchilla for lunch. That particular Mickey D’s has a large parking area for big rigs, and it works very well for parking Big Blue. I enjoyed a delicious McGriddle sandwich, and also a snack sized Oreo McFlurry. I washed it all down with a large coffee, and was wide awake and alert the rest of the day. McFlurries and coffee always perk me up.

After fueling, I had only about 25 miles to drive to the Tulare Walmart store. I pulled in there a few minutes after 1500 hours to spend the night.

2020-1-30d snowy Sierras

Note the snow capped Sierra Mountains far off in the distance – we need a lot more snow and rain this year as we’ve fallen behind the normal precipitation.

It was a sunny, but not very warm, afternoon in Tulare, and I took it relatively easy. I worked on this travelogue and edited the few photos of the day while listening to music on the Echo Dot. The music streamed from the ‘net via my new iPhone. About sundown I tended to the evening chores such as shower, dinner, etc.

During the evening I continued writing this travelogue. It was good to be living aboard Big Blue once again, and I was a happy camper. I dug out my DVD of the movie Fargo, which I’ve seen so many times, but still find entertaining. I poured a couple cool ones and enjoyed them along with the craziness that is that great Coen Brothers movie. I called it a day a bit after 2300, set the coach up for the night, and climbed into my cozy bed at 2330.

Day 2, Friday, Tulare, CA to Parker AZ via CA99, CA58, I-40, US95, CA62: 401 miles

I slept well through the cool night, as usual, aboard my cozy little home on wheels, parked in the Tulare Walmart lot. It’s a good life for a bum. I’m very comfy and cozy most all of the time.

I was up a bit after 0600 and turned on the heat and water heater, then returned to bed while things warmed up. The low in Tulare was 41° which to me is pretty cool. I worked through the morning chores with the intent of hitting the road as soon as I could for the long drive that awaited me. I pulled out of the Walmart lot a few minutes before 0800.

The day’s drive was to be a bit over 400 miles, traveling east over the Tehachapis, across the Mojave Desert to Needles, then south into Parker. It’s not the most pleasant chore driving south and through Bakersfield in Kalifornistan’s crazy traffic. But once east of Bakersfield it is a scenic and somewhat less crowded drive. Once east of Barstow, it is a beautiful drive along I-40 through the barren, yet beautiful Mojave.

2020-1-31a CA99 southboundThe drive down CA99 was mostly rural. Bakersfield awaited me…

I had to drive something over 60 miles on CA99 to the CA58 junction in Bakersfield. The drive was pleasant but the usual Kalifornistan traffic got busier the closer I got to Bakersfield. Just before the turnoff to CA58, the right lane was blocked and traffic was very slow. It delayed me about 15 minutes, so it could have been worse. I never did see what the problem was, but a big rig was on the shoulder with the CHP and a fire engine.

Once clear of Bakersfield, the drive became more pleasant. When I began the climb up the Tehachapi mountains, I took an off ramp to find a place to pull over for breakfast. I whipped up some oatmeal with a cut up banana for breakfast, trying to stay on my diet. And I continued climbing the Tehachapis.

2020-1-31b oranges along CA58The drive along CA58 included some farming before I crossed the Tehachapis into the Mojave Desert. Here oranges appeared ready for harvest.

There were no further delays, in fact there was brand new highway, completed since my last trip through the area, and CA58 was much improved. At the US395 junction, which was once a stop light and was sometimes a real traffic snarl, the new highway rose above the entire mess. I was delighted! There was nothing but new highway for miles, eliminating the rough, old railroad crossing, as well. There were several miles of two lane as the east bound side was still under construction, but it was still new highway, and smooth as a baby’s bottom! What a great change!


Once in Barstow, I headed down I-40 which begins there, and runs clear to Wilmington, NC. But not for me; I drove it for well over a hundred miles, and turned onto US95 South at Needles. The rest of the drive was all two lane, and it was a fine, light traffic affair – except that the road was pretty rough in spots. Especially when I turned off US95 onto CA62. It was a rotten road with several signs posted that simply read “Rough Road”. And I didn’t need a sign to tell me!

2020-1-31j2 Begin of I-40As I began the trek along I-40, I paced this train for miles. Quite a nice shot, if I do say so myself. I like photos of trains charging across the country!

2020-1-31k Mojave viewA view along the Mojave Desert drive on I-40. Desolate, barren and beautiful, all at once.

I finally crossed the Colorado River and entered Parker AZ and the Walmart lot at 1800 hours Mountain Time.

As soon as I had the coach set up, I walked into the store to take my daily walk. After a good walk, I returned to the coach and… I noticed something leaking at the rear of the coach. I dipped my fingers into it and took a whiff – it was coolant and water, and it was slowly dripping from somewhere in the engine area. When I checked it later, the coolant reservoir was empty. Rats! I didn’t need such an issue – especially 560 miles from home!

2020-1-31n Uh-oh. This can't be goodUh-oh. …that’s not good!

What to do?! Well… there was nothing I could do. It was very unlikely that I could find anyone in the small town of Parker on a Friday evening who would help me. My only option was to continue my evening as usual, and deal with it in the morning. Saturday was probably a poor time to find anyone to do repairs on a diesel engine, too.

During my nightly call to my dear Wifey, I explained to her the issue and that I didn’t know what would happen. I’d try to find the leak in the morning, but chances were that I wouldn’t find it – I would likely need a mechanic and probably wouldn’t find one ’til Monday! What a fix…

My evening continued on as usual. I showered, whipped up dinner in the coach, and settled down to edit photos and write this travelogue. But the fix I was in weighed heavily on my mind all evening.

Nevertheless, after finishing with the blog, I continued watching the movie Fargo. Life goes on…

Day 3, Saturday, broken down in Parker, Az.

My night was as usual, but it was difficult keeping my predicament at bay. Still, I slept well and rose to a very nice, although a bit cool, morning in the sunny parking lot of Walmart. I went about my morning chores as usual, continually reminding myself that I could do nothing yet, and fretting was no help.

2020-2-1a broken downBroken down and frustrated at Parker, Arizona’s Walmart. If I was to break down during this trip, the safety and convenience of a Walmart was the place to do it!

I took my daily walk in the store fairly early, keeping myself busy ’til businesses would (maybe) be open – it was, after all, Super Bowl weekend. When the time came, I called two local heavy towing companies and learned, to my chagrin, that a tow back home would be something north of $4000.

I looked in vain for a nearby Caterpillar dealer, or diesel truck and RV repair, as there was nothing in Parker. I didn’t want to try someone who worked out of their home as this was likely pretty major. I climbed under the coach and looked up at the big Cat engine – I could see the water pump and it was soaked. Of course it could have been a leak above it, but the hoses were replaced less than two years ago. I called one local fella who was listed as a mobile diesel and RV repair business, and he may have been qualified, but he was down with pneumonia.

I called Mello Truck Repair in Modesto where I’ve had very good service, and they would certainly be my first choice for the repair, but that would include an expensive tow. I was lucky when I called, as the owner answered the phone on this Super Bowl weekend! He said he knew of a good repair outfit in my area and that he’d call them, then let me know. So far I hadn’t heard back. If he could not put me in touch with a local repair near Parker, perhaps he’d have a heavy tow in the Modesto area that gave him better deals – and I would perhaps save money that way.

Yes. I was grasping at straws. Still, I was also very grateful to have this problem at the Walmart in Parker instead of somewhere along the four hundred miles of desolation I drove through the prior day. It could have been much worse!

Meanwhile, I stayed busy all morning with the calls, and fixing breakfast, and piddling with small chores as I enjoyed resting in the coach. But nothing interested me more than getting back home – and soon!

I was pretty depressed about my situation. That’s not my usual style, but I had only one option so far – and it was a $4000 tow! I needed more options. As the afternoon wore on and my fix wore on me, my Modesto hero Joey, the owner of Mello Truck Repair, called and said he found an outfit that made roadside repairs. He was about two hours away and would be heading my way. Joey said I’d be hearing from him, or an employee of his. It was about time I heard an encouraging word!

Sure enough, a fellow named Sean called and told me he was on his way from two hours away and would see me in an hour or so. Goodness. It was going to be dark soon, so I asked him how he could do the job and he advised he had a flashlight! He seemed determined, and told me all he does is roadside repairs, and night work was part of the job. I was encouraged.

About an hour later a big Ford service truck pulled up next to me, and Sean got to work. His truck was a first rate roadside repair rig with lights on all sides for night work. It seemed that Joey had found a good outfit for me.

Sean got right to work examining the big Cat engine from below the coach, then came inside to get at it from the bedroom. The bed, bed frame and flooring were designed to be pretty easily moved out of the way. Soon Sean was grappling with hoses and clamps from inside the bedroom.

2020-2-1d2 service rigSean’s truck, with bright lights and lots of equipment to do roadside repairs – even in the dark. Here he is pressurizing the cooling system to help him find any leaks.

At first, Sean found a minor leak in a hose connection that he easily repaired by tightening the clamp. We were both delighted, thinking the leak was so easily repaired! I even called my dear Wifey and also Joey to let them know the good news.

Unfortunately, when Sean pressurized the cooling system again to check his work, he discovered the main source of leakage – the water pump! And it appeared to him it might be coming from the engine block itself where the pump attaches. Sean said that was beyond a roadside repair, and I agreed. I had to get that coach home, one way or another.

2020-2-1c engine accessThe bed and part of the bed frame were raised up and out of the way, then an engine cover on the floor was moved for access to  the big Cat engine. It was relatively easy access considering the motor is hidden below the bedroom. (Click on photo to enlarge.)

I called my wife with the bad news. We were both very disheartened. Then I called Joey and told him the sad story. Well… Joey had a plan! He advised that I leave the radiator cap turned down only one click, and thereby let the pressure release instead of building and forcing water through any cracks. Really?! I was ready to try anything. Sean filled the coach with the proper coolant, and I just hoped it wouldn’t leak out during the night.

Sean presented me with a bill of $570 for his work. He’d driven two hours each way, tested the cooling system very carefully, but discovered a repair was needed that could not be done outside of a shop. I dug out my credit card and paid the bill. It was difficult to pay so much and still have the problem unresolved, but he did his best and earned his pay. Ouch! The whole evening had been a painful experience.

After Sean left, I spent my evening as usual. I dug out another favorite movie, The Green Mile, and watched most of it once again. It’s a real classic and I enjoyed it as much as ever. I had to head to bed before it was over, so I’d watch the rest later. It was a glum evening, but Joey had given me hope that his idea just might work.

Day 4, Super Bowl Sunday, Parker AZ to… ? I wasn’t too sure!

I was awake around 0500 hours, and wanted to sleep another hour. So I laid there, perhaps dozing a time or two, but my situation was on my mind and it was difficult to get my mind relaxed. I finally got up some time before 0600, but close enough to my usual seven hours that I felt rested.

After working through the usual morning chores, I checked that the coolant reservoir was full, and somehow it stayed full over night. That was a good omen!

I walked into the store and at Walmart’s very inexpensive Primo self serve refill water station, I filled three of my gallon water jugs in which I usually carry drinking water. I also bought two more gallons of purified water. I then had a total of seven gallons of clean water on board the coach to add to the reservoir if needed.

Back at the coach, I stowed the water and made sure everything was secure and ready for the drive. I started the coach, powered in the slide and raised the jacks.

I then drove to a nearby station and pumped on half a tank to fill it, almost 50 gallons, at the excellent price of just $2.79 per. And then it was time to hit the road and hope that the coolant would stay put.

I watched the temperature gauge very closely as I drove – and it stayed put at normal. I was encouraged. I was also prepared to turn around and head back to the Walmart lot if it started leaking out rapidly.

Click to enlarge and read the captions:

As I drove, the coolant temperature never once moved beyond normal. I added a ScanGauge when I bought Big Blue that shows a digital reading of the coolant temperature (and so much more). It showed that the temperature stayed at 188° to 190° all day long. It didn’t matter if I drove uphill or downhill, it stayed pegged within that range the entire drive. I was beginning to think I’d make it!

At first I wanted to drive all the way home, about 550 miles or so. But as I drove and gained confidence, my spirits were lifted and I began thinking more clearly. A repeat of Day 2 would be plenty of driving – that would be 400 miles. Then I could arrive home the next morning, refreshed and able to unload the coach when I got there. And that became the plan.

I stopped at a rest area after about 100 miles or so and checked the reservoir. I added a half gallon of water to top it off. I also whipped up a good breakfast of oatmeal, chased with a small orange. I drank coffee much of the drive, too, to stay alert. The miles went by and the coolant stayed put. I was very, very relieved!

I pulled into another rest area for lunch around 1300 hours, and checked the reservoir – it was just fine. I was beginning to think I just might make it home on my own!


Bees are a big deal in the Central Valley as early springtime approaches. There are many acres of orchards and other crops that depend on the bees for pollination. Read more about them here.

The drive along CA58 from Tehachapi to Bakersfield was miserable due to the awful condition of the highway. It was so rough that the microwave popped open and the turntable fell to the floor and shattered. I had to stop and clean up the mess before the glass splinters would be spread far and wide – my dear Wifey and I sometimes walk about the coach barefooted. I cussed the road, I cussed the politicians, and I cussed Kalifornistan in general. I am so disgusted with the high taxes and lousy governance, and I am sorry we didn’t move out of this Sovereign State of Stupid long ago!

I arrived at the Walmart store in Tulare at 1600 hours. I was so pleased that I successfully drove 400 miles. I was also very pleased with Joey for the help and advise he freely gave to help me make it home. I called him as I neared the end of the drive to tell him how well I had done and to thank him profusely  once again for his help. He certainly went beyond the call of duty.

My evening was about as usual except that I didn’t have to eat my own cooking. I ordered Panda Express online and walked the short distance across the parking lot to pick it up. I really enjoyed the teriyaki chicken, orange chicken, and white rice. Perhaps I was celebrating my successful day in a very tangible way, and I surely had reason to celebrate – I’d be home the next morning, and it wouldn’t cost me a $4000 tow! I also watched the rest of the movie The Green Mile, and greatly enjoyed it yet again. Instead of cold ones, I enjoyed a couple hot ones – apple cider heated in the microwave, then a shot of vodka for good measure. mmmmm. A nice, warm change. I called it a day at 2330.

Day 5, Tulare, CA to home via CA99: 153 miles

Only five days on the road does not make for a successful Search for Sunshine! But my return home did not require a tow truck, and I was very grateful for that. The leak continued overnight, and it amazed me that the engine leaked more when off than when cruising down the highway. I would ask Joey how that could be.

The morning of Day 5 would include some shopping in the store for groceries that I’d take home so we wouldn’t have to run to the store right away. Shopping at Walmart where I was already parked was easier than a special shopping trip in the car later.

After shopping, I added about a gallon or so of water to the reservoir. As I pulled out of the lot, I noticed a station selling diesel for just $3.54, so I filled up before leaving. It took half a tank to fill and I’d have plenty on board for the next trip after the coach was repaired.

2020-2-3b Kalif's Folly HiSpeed RailDuring my drive home from Tulare, I passed this awful reminder of why Kalifornistan is the Sovereign State of Stupid. That concrete structure beyond the rail bridge is part of the boondoggle known as the Kalifornistan High Speed Rail. Billions have been poured into it, and billions more are needed for its completion. Investors and the federal government fled from the project. Former governor Brown had visions of high speed rail from San Francisco to Los Angeles that would rival the travel time and convenience of air travel. It never materialized and it likely never will. This is a fine tribute to the many stupid politicians that have helped ruin this once very lovely place! For more info on Brown’s Folly, click here.

Within the first hour, and for the first time ever, a message appeared on my dash “Info Center” reading Low Coolant. No doubt once the engine heated up and the coolant began circulating, the coolant in the reservoir flowed out to fill the block. The temperature remained just fine, however, but I pulled into the first rest area and added another gallon or so of water.

2020-2-3c HomelessDuring the morning’s drive, I passed several homeless camps, and I’m sure there were many more I didn’t see. What a sad and tacky mess!

A few more miles up the road, I pulled into a Mickey D’s for breakfast. I ordered my favorite – a McGriddle with sausage, egg, and cheese. And for the first time, something called donut sticks. And, of course, a large coffee. To go. That was likely the first and last time I’d order donut sticks, but I loved that McGriddle and Mickey D’s great coffee.

The drive was miserably windy against a strong, cold, north wind – something not uncommon in the Central Valley. I ran the heater all the way home and barely kept comfortable. And I was supposed to be enjoying Texas sunshine about that time!

2020-2-3d WindyThis flag, high atop an agricultural plant, testified to the high winds that swept through the Central Valley that day. And it was a cold wind!

I arrived home about 1220 hours. I grabbed a couple of the bags of groceries I’d bought that morning and headed into the house. It was sooo good to plant a kiss on my dear Wifey and to share a long, warm hug! It was only a short, five day trip, but the stress involved in all the frustrations made the joy of being home again all the more joyful.

I let the coach idle as I unloaded my stuff – otherwise it would have leaked out more coolant. After the rather big job of unloading, I drove down to our community RV lot and dumped the tanks and filled the fresh water tank. When I backed Big Blue into her big car port, I kept her idling till I put a tub under the engine to catch the coolant. When I shut her off, she leaked what I would guess were several gallons into the tub.

Back in the house after parking her, I called Mello Truck Repair in Modesto and make an appointment for having that water pump repaired. I would drive Big Blue down to Modesto on Wednesday of the following week, which was their first opening. It would not be an inexpensive repair, but it would be done right and Mello had already proven to me long ago that they stand behind their work. (I picked up Big Blue from Mello Truck Repair ten days later, and she was fixed properly. The bill came to $1067 which included a new water pump and several gallons of new coolant. Ouch! But my lil’ home on wheels was ready for the next adventure!)  

I would forego another Search for Sunshine 2020. Our next trip would likely be north to Gridley to visit my dear twin sis and her husband. We were overdue for a visit, and I was looking forward to seeing them as soon as Big Blue was repaired.

About FishWisher

Over the years I have posted many exciting fishing and boating stories here, but now in my seventies, it was time to sell the boat and find less demanding pastimes. All the fishing stories are still here! I will now post my travels aboard the motorhome and other activities. I hope y'all will still enjoy the fishing and boating adventures and perhaps peek in on my post-boating activities on occasion. Thanks for dropping in and I hope you enjoy your visit.
This entry was posted in Travel: Interstate Adventure!, Travel: Search for Sunshine!. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to A Disappointing Search for Sunshine 2020!

  1. Pingback: A Much Anticipated Trip to Gridley | FishWisher's Home Page

  2. Pingback: To Gridley and, Finally, Oregon! | FishWisher's Home Page

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