Sunday, May 24, 2015

Hiking, Biking and Trail Angels

I don't normally plan to go camping during the big holiday weekends because the campgrounds are usually so full and it's hard to find a place to go, but I'd packed the RV to go camping last weekend and then the RV was at the dealer all weekend and now I wanted to test out the new turbo thingy. So Saturday morning I tossed the remaining items I'd need into the RV and headed out! I made a quick stop at Wegmans in Gainsville then drove out 29 to Warrenton to 211 to make the big climb into the park!
I suspect my turbo thing had been malfunctioning for some time because I noticed a huge difference in how she accelerated and handled hills! The service writer told me the RV would take off like a rocket and he wasn't kidding! WOW! Going up 211 into the park the speed limit was 35, I caught myself going 45-50 a few times and almost took a few of the curves way to fast! It was as if I had to hold her back! The "extra" power was also noticeable when I had to pass bikers on Skyline Drive!
I'm working on hiking the AT in the park and I left off at Simmon's Gap in the South District. I'd realized that with Skyline Drive I could potentially do a one way hike and then ride my bike back to the car. I'd decided it would be even better if I could figure out how to bike the direction that was more downhill than uphill.
When I arrived at Simmon's Gap I kept driving to Pinefield Gap where the AT crossed Skyline Drive. It was only two miles, but it would be all downhill from Pinefield Gap back to Simmon's Gap. So after driving past and going up to Ivy Creek Overlook to turn around I pulled into Pinefield Gap parking area (there was a NPS work truck parked there and I almost got stuck!) and locked my bike & helmet to a tree, then headed back to Simmon's Gap.
I wasn't far from Simmon's Gap when I encountered a PATC Ridgerunner assisting some hikers and when she turned to look at me I realized I knew her! It was Blissful! Blissful thru-hiked a few years ago and I'd followed her on, she also wrote a book about her hiking experience, which I read, and she's the moderator of the Shenandoah Hikers group on Facebook! It was like meeting a trail celebrity! She recognized me too and since we were heading in the same direction we hiked off together, quickly meeting up with her husband, Papa Bliss. We continued down the trail chatting and meeting Thru-hikers (there were 30 hikers at Blackrock shelter Friday night!).
They'd seen my bike at Pinefield Gap and I told them of my plan to ride back to Simmon's Gap. Papa Bliss frequently does the same thing when he is out supporting Blissful in her Ridgerunning so he knew something I hadn't figured's all downhill from Ivy Creek overlook to Simmon's Gap. Hiking on to Ivy Creek would give me a 3.7 mile hike, which was better than the 2 miles I'd worked out. Papa Bliss offered to shuttle my bike to Ivy Creek for me so I could keep hiking! WOW! I thought this sounded like a perfect idea so I took him up on it!
At Pinefield Gap Papa Bliss and I got my bike loaded in his car and I told him the lock combo and he was off to Ivy Creek while I headed back down the trail. I was able to catch up with Blissful before she reached the turn off for the shelter and we were able to grab a selfie.

Blissful headed down to the shelter and I kept hiking up, up, up, toward Ivy Creek! The rest of the hike was a nice stroll in the woods, it was all up, which was nice since I'd rather hike up than down! I saw few other people except Thru-hikers! Soon I was at Ivy Creek and there was my bike locked securely to a tree visible from the trail! I unlocked it and walked it out into the overlook. After a quick snack I was heading down!
This was the best part! I'd hiked up and now I was flying down! It was almost as good as a zip line! I was totally sold on this idea of using my bike to help me do one way hikes! This was awesome! True to prediction, there was only one small section of uphill on the way back, most of the trip back I was flying down the drive! It had taken me 2 hours and 15 minutes to hike the 4 miles to Ivy Creek, it took me 15 minutes to ride back to Simmon's Gap!
As soon as I was back at the van I began plotting my next section! I saw that the section from Ivy Creek to Loft Mountain was about 4 AT miles as well, so I headed out to see which direction had the most downhill on Skyline Drive. It looked best to leave the bike at Ivy Creek again and walk from Loft Mountain. I figured I had enough daylight to accomplish this today, however, I was going to be hiking during dinner time. No problem, I'd just eat an early dinner! I drove up to Ivy Creek and turned the generator on and heated up a frozen meal, even though it was only 4:30! After dinner I locked the bike to a tree and drove back to Loft Mountain Wayside.
I headed up the Fraizer Discovery Trail until it joined the AT then hiked north on the AT. This was an especially nice section of the AT. First the trail wound through some old fields and the trail was bordered by bluets on both sides.

Then the trail descended to a stream - Ivy Creek - I think the may be the only, or one of a few places in the park where the AT follows a stream! There was one stream crossing with a nice view of a little cascade. I of course got my feet wet trying to get a picture!

After the stream crossing it was a long slog uphill to a view...

I liked hiking in the evening, the light was softer! This isn't a time when I'm normally hiking, I'm usually trying to get home by the time evening rolls around or I'm back in my campsite. Anyway, after this viewpoint the trail wound around up and down, down and up, before finally coming out at Ivy Creek overlook.
It was only 6:15! I'd expected it to be closer to 7 by the time I got back to my bike, so even through the hike seemed long, I'd done it quickly! I was hot and sweaty from the long slog uphill so riding downhill was a great way to cool off! This section had some uphill at the end though and by the time I got back to the van I was hot and sweaty, but I was at the Loft Mountain Wayside a purveyor of Blackberry Milkshakes! Lucky for me that I got done earlier than I'd planned...the wayside & snack bar closed at 7:00 and it was now close to 6:45! I was just in time to score a blackberry shake to top of the day!
After enjoying my shake I made my way back down Skyline Drive. All the campgrounds were full, as I'd expected, and I'd decided that I'd just enjoy every minute of the day and then head to the Wal-Mart in Ruckersville - intersection of US 33 & US 29 - for the night since I'd get home really late. Enjoying every minute of the day included the sunset! I decided Swift Run Overlook was the place for the sunset - it was the closest overlook to the park exit, which meant I wouldn't have to drive much of Skyline Drive in the dark.
I arrived at the overlook about 7:30, sunset wasn't until 8:25. I settled in to read until it was time. As soon as I picked up my kindle it started informing me that it's battery was dead. Such a 21st century problem...I can't read because I forgot to charge my book. I usually keep a Kindle charger in the van, but somehow it wasn't there. Glad I was going to Wal-Mart! So I decided to take a shower instead. I was too impatient to wait for the hot water heater to finish heating so it was lukewarm, but it was nice, until I realized that I'd forgotten my towel. All the towels were at home - the dish towels, my bandanas, the bath towel...luckily I had a chamois, like the ones Olympic swimmers use! Once I'd dried off and gotten into my pjs the sun was low enough to start taking pictures so I headed out of the van. Standing on the wall snapping pictures of the setting sun, I discovered that I had enough signal to download my book to my phone! So in between pictures I was reading!
It was one of the best Shenandoah sunsets I've ever seen! Usually clouds roll in at the last minute! Not tonight!
As soon as the sun was gone I headed down the mountain! Most nights I'm in bed by 8 so I was fading fast, especially after hiking & biking all day! I arrived at Wal-Mart and there were no other RVs! I didn't want to ask permission, I was afraid I'd be told no and I didn't have other options! I did run into the store and found a charger cord for my kindle so I could read (I like reading on my kindle better than on my phone!) and then hunkered down in my RV. said overnight parking was permitted at that store so I figured that was good enough. You are supposed to ask permission, but oh well.
It was actually a pretty quiet night! The parking lot Zamboni came through around 1:30, but that was it! I was tucked away in a far corner away from the traffic lanes so that helped! This morning I was up by 6 and read for awhile before driving home. I didn't even get dressed before I headed out! It only took 2 hours to get home!
It was a great day in the park! I only wish I'd made a reservation so I could have stayed in a campground instead of Wal-Mart, but thanks to my bike I was able to cover almost 7 miles of AT and I've now hiked from VA7 (Bear's Den Hostel) to Brown's Gap in SNP. I have about 40 miles left to have covered from I64 to Harper's Ferry!

Monday, May 18, 2015

Mechanical Moment: The Turbo "Thingy"

*I have a 2011 Sprinter Van, converted to an RV by Pleasure-Way.

I'm writing this for anyone else who might encounter a similar problem with their Sprinter Van, I believe this is a rare problem so who knows if anyone else will encounter this.

Last July, on the first full driving day of my summer trip, I was under three miles from my destination when the van lost power! I was in a residential area, on a busy road, traveling about 30-40 mph trying to get up a fairly steep p, but short, hill. Without warning, without any indicator lights illuminating, the van simply stopped moving and the RPMs dropped suddenly. I attempted to give the van more fuel but pressing the accelerator but it did nothing. I was able to get the hazard lights on and I coasted, slowly, but still moving forward, to the top of the hill. Once I began to descend the van shifted gears and began to gain speed. All was ok until I hit the next hill - a more gradual climb, this time I was on a more deserted street almost to my uncle's house. I was able to pull into his driveway where I pulled out the unhelpful owner's manual.

Soon, my parents got back and I began describing the problem to my dad. He and I took the van out for a test drive. At first, it seemed that there was no problem, it went up several hills and didn't lose power at all. But then, just as we were returning to my uncle's thinking it was just one of those weird things, it happened again. This time the Check Engine Light (CEL) came on. We decided that "turning it off/back on again" had possibly reset things and was why we were able to drive around without it losing power, so we tried that. It did work to restore power, but the CEL was still on.

The next morning I drove over to Mercedes of Ft. Washington. The technician was confused by the codes the CEL was giving him, he said that it indicated that the turbo needed to be replaced, he was hesitant to get on board with that because it was a rare problem and the repair would take days and I was living in my van, so this was going to be a problem. He took it for a "restorative test drive" and cleared the codes. He also wrote up a detailed report with what codes had come up and what he had done in case this happened again, I could give that to the next Mercedes Dealer so they'd know. I tossed the paper in my glove box and headed out with fingers crossed.

I drove about 5,000 miles - all types of driving conditions - highway, country roads, mountains, steep inclines, long gentle inclines, long driving days, short driving days, - without having another obvious problem. Then, on the 2nd evening of my spring break trip I was heading up a long steepish hill on Little River Road in Great Smoky Mt. National Park when suddenly the van lost power again. It was exactly what had happened back in PA. This time I tried shifting into a lower gear to try and get the engine to change and snap out of whatever was causing it to stick, but that didn't really work. I was able to coast into an overlook where I turned the van off and back on again. That seemed to cure the problem and didn't happen again, despite me giving it lots of chances too! This time the CEL did not come on. I drove over 500 miles - even took it up to a trailhead with a hill so steep I had to put it in first gear to get down! I suspect that there may have been some "glitches" or minor "seizures" with the RPMs, but the van did not dramatically lose power again.

Last Thursday I took the van in to my usual Mercedes dealer - Meredes of Chantilly, here in VA, for its 30k miles service. I was about 4k miles early, but I have plans to drive it to Oregon next month so I wanted to be sure everything was working! I'll probably be putting 10k miles on it and I'd rather get the service early than late! When I dropped the van off I casually mentioned the to kid the problem with it losing power. He, and I, were skeptical that they'd be able to find the problem, but I asked them to look and agreed to the $130 diagnostic fee. I forgot to tell him about my note from the Ft. Washington Mercedes guys, but I did tell him that my visit to the other Mercedes dealer was probably in the computer.

I was shuttled to school and went about my day. It was at 4:00, when I was trying to get I touch with the Mercedes people to come get me, that I got the call from the Service Writer...the turbo needed to be replaced, it was covered by warranty, and the van would be ready Monday! WHAT?!?!

Now, this did not come as a surprise, I fully expected we might be looking at replacing the turbo, the problem was the van was my only transportation home (I live 30 miles from the Mercedes Dealer! It's close to my work, but not my house) and my friend who could have driven me home had already left! I explained this to Joe and he quickly understood and rather than giving me the van back and waiting for me to arrange my own transportation so I could leave the van with them for a few days, he gave me a loaner car! NICE! They don't usually give loaners for Sprinters, but this was an unusual situation!

Joe did say that potentially, the other 2 random CEL incidents I've had could be related to the turbo. That would be really nice...if this was the answer to all the weird stuff the van has done!

I got the call today, Mon, that they had finished the repair, they were test driving it and I could pick it up Tuesday morning! I'll be going to school and then going to the Mercedes Dealer to pick it up!

This was truly the best case scenario for getting this problem fixed! I'd much rather deal with this here than in the middle of Iowa! I'm so glad that I will have the van in perfect working order for my trip to Oregon!