It’s fall. And that means time for my annual roadtrip.

If you’ve followed my adventures on this blog over the years, you know I don’t just road trip. I take themed road trips. One year I followed the trail of Chief Joseph and Lewis & Clark. Another year, I challenged myself to the Road to Nowhere, I’ve done more than a few Mission Missions, where I cram in as many of California’s missions as I can in one road trip.

One of my preparations for trips is to stock up my iPhone with a good selection of audiobooks for evening entertainment. Of course, Hillary’s latest book is on my list and I have my Hillary Action Figure. Hey, there’s a theme! Hillary’s Alternate Book Tour. While the real Hillary is addressing crowds and getting carpal tunnel syndrome from autographing copies, her alter ego, my Hillary doll, could be cruising through the West enjoying the wonders of Nature. It was a good plan until I stumbled out of bed yesterday, grabbed the last few things I hadn’t packed and discovered I’d taken Mighty Mighty Thor instead of Hillary! I’m sure it’s not the first time Hillary’s been confused with a Super Hero. So that kind of destroys that theme, which leaves not much else to take its place. What I’d planned is heading back out Utah way to hit some of the areas I missed in last fall’s trip. So it’s kind of The Utah Mop Up Trip — except I’ll be swinging through Arizona and Nevada as well. I convinced myself something would come to me. No matter how aimless they start out, road trips have a way of making some sort of sense when they are finished. I decided to wait and see what would be revealed.

Hillary didn’t make the trip. Neither did the dogs. Turns out, neither did I.

As I always seem to do, I spent way too much time on the way investigating rest areas and roadside attractions. Next thing I knew, the sun was sinking down and I found myself on the same washboard road to Mojave’s Hole In The Wall Campground that I thought I’d plotted a way around. Even worse, after our torrential rains last winter and spring, it was in even worse shape than usual. I drove through huge drifts of sand until I hit one that completely trapped the RV. I had time to read the manual, learn how to flip Buffalo Soldier into 4WD and was just freeing myself when a Park Ranger pulled up. She suggested I should turn around as the road got worse from there. But the road was too narrow to allow me to turn my RV around. So the only choice was ahead. She said she’d follow along with a tow rope at the ready just in case. But I made it into Hole in the Wall just as the jackrabbits and bats were coming out. Good old Buffalo Soldier! And thanks Mercedes Benz for the 4 wheel drive!

I made the campground just before dark. In ten minutes, the Milky Way was overhead. I vowed to set up my camera the next night and capture it.

I wish I could have poured a glass of wine for Buffalo Soldier as he did the yeoman’s work on this day. I drank it for him instead. Grabbed a few of my emergency “no cook” items — which I save for just these sorts of occasions — and watched as the Milky Way appeared before me. The next day’s plan included some hiking and an attempt to photograph the amazing starry skies out here.

Mojave Cholla by twilight.

Except, the next day, I woke up to a completely flat coach battery. That means nothing in my RV works except for the vehicle engine. I can’t say I was surprised. It’s been a problem since I drove Buffalo Soldier off the dealer’s lot. I specifically chose this model because it’s built especially for boondocking with a long-lasting Lithium Ion battery and several back up charging systems including solar panels and something called VoltStart which kicks the engine on to charge the LI if it gets low. In addition, my rig — which is a hybrid created just as they were moving from traditional AGM batteries to the Lithium Ion system — has both. Yet, 99% of my camping has been in campgrounds hooked up to shore power. Because each and every time I have tried to boondock, my battery has died within six hours. And it’s not as if I’m running the TV and blow-dryers and microwaves. When I’ve tried to boondock, I don’t even put on the cab lights. I wear a hiker’s head lamp and rely on flashlights and LED lanterns. That leaves only the tiny fridge drawing power. Now I know just enough about electronics to be dangerous, but do know math. And I can calculate the stated amp hours a fully charged battery is supposed to give me with the manufacturer’s stated draw of the fridge and I should have had hours and hours to spare if not another day.

I’ve taken it back to the dealer three times and each time have been told there is nothing wrong with it. But I’ve stopped believing them. I read the manual forwards and backwards before I went camping, then I read the RIGHT manual forward and backwards which the manufacturer sent me after I realized the dealer had given me the wrong manual initially. Basically, reading the manual, being active on the forums and watching the manufacturer’s very informative videos confirmed that the dealer was completely full of shit. Just about everything they had told me to do was wrong. (“Oh, leave the inverter on all the time”. Nope, you turn off the inverter until and unless you are plugged into shore power or need to briefly switch the cab from DC to AC power.) I found an independent service place that was very helpful and actually found something that was wrong with my system (a malfunctioning connector). Feeling comfortable, I took off, only to find the same old issue. Again, I know just enough about electrical systems to be a danger to myself, but Andy has an advanced degree in Electrical Engineering and has built and rebuilt numerous marine systems for various sailboats — including Lithium Ion and solar systems — and he was mystified too. My theory is that everyone is obsessing about all the connectors and the way the batteries and backups all connect and no one but me has been screaming the obvious: that Lithium Ion battery is a dud. Well, it’s back at the service place now and they are swearing to get to the bottom of this. I just want a new battery and to go from there.

So anyway, there goes my fall roadtrip. But I guess if the worst thing in my life right now is that I have to postpone a trip, I’ll take it. It’s not as if some grapes in Sonoma aren’t waiting to be picked. And Utah will still be there for me later.

Well, unless Ryan Zinke and Trump pave it over, frack it or bulldoze it down. Can’t decide if I should pick this up in the Spring. Except that’s when I was planning to go to Texas’s Big Bend National Park before Trump put a big freakin’ wall right through it.

Come to think of it, I’ve got a theme for all future roadtrips. Call them: “Last Chance to See…”

It wasn’t all for naught. I did finally route myself on the James Dean death highway. This is Blackwell’s Corner where he made his last stop. (And for non-California readers, yes those are outrageous prices. They are jacked up because this place is literally in the middle of nowhere — probably 50 miles from anywhere in any direction.)