We had gone to the Hershey show last year and we are going down again this year. Last year our focus was on narrowing our decision for a new motorhome. This year? Well, this year we would just like to enjoy the show and learn a bit more about the odds and ends of the lifestyle. We won’t need to be quite as focused in terms of where we spend our time.
I have a number of gadgets that I wouldn’t mind picking up at the show. They include:
- Tire Pressure Management System
- RV Level
- Adjustable Water Pressure Regulator
- Sewer Hose Extension
- Package of Assorted 12V Fuses
- Telescopic Ladder
Lorraine and I have also talked about whether we want some signage for the coach. Something that might say “Castaway” for example. I suspect we may pick up a few other items while we are down there.
We’ll also spend a lot more time exploring the various travel booths at the show. Last year we spent most of our time exploring the coaches.
We’ll still walk through many of the new coaches this year and we will probably tell ourselves that our coach is much nicer than any of the 2017 models. At least for now. That could change in another 10 years or so.
It will just be the two of us for the show. We have booked a site about an hour’s drive from Hershey. Not too far and not too close.
We are working through our retirement plans, anxious to make our way on the road with our coach. There are stunning places to visit in the United States and, as future snowbirds, we have no concerns about finding the types of parks where we would like to stay during the fall and winter seasons of Canada.
Canada, though, is proving to be challenging. We are required to live at least 153 days in Ontario if we want to continue to be covered by our healthcare system. The question is: where would we stay during that time? Most of the parks that I have researched in Ontario are, well, not quite what we would be looking for as part of our stay. Not bad for a night or two but not something we would want to use for a week, a month or a season or two.
When Lorraine and I went to visit Hearthside Grove Motorcoach Resort in Michigan, we really loved the place. And touring the sites gave us an idea.
Our current house is way too large for the two of us. Our first thought was to sell the house and travel full-time. Now we are thinking that we may want an outpost in Ontario, our own tiny house with our RV, as a base from which we can travel and return. It would provide a permanent residence, a potential site for when we come off the road, and it would be expressly built for our lifestyle and our coach.
All of the photographs on this site are taken by me. Except for the two that follow. They are from the Hearthside Grove Motorcoach Resort website. It was seeing this site, Lot 148, that gave us the idea.
Once we have sold our current home, what would prevent us from finding a suitable lot in the country, not that far from where we are now, and transform it into a small oasis with a tiny house and a nice area for our coach?
The house pictured above is roughly 600 square feet. And it has a small storage building along with some nice landscaping and a paved drive. Looks just perfect for a couple of castaways to spend a bit of time when landed in Ontario.
We actually have a much larger version of this arrangement right now. Our coach is parked alongside our home and we have been basically living out of the coach during the summer. We do make some use of the house but really all of that space seems quite excessive now. Our current house has about 6,000 square feet of space. And we have almost 7 acres of land to maintain.
With an outpost, we would still have the flexibility to travel whenever we might wish. We could close up the outpost and reopen it whenever we made our way back.
Still dreaming a bit I suppose. But I think a project like this — I would do as much of the building and landscaping as possible — would be fun to do over the next few years during the spring and summer months in Ontario. And we would have our adventures in the south as we follow the nice weather in the fall and winter.
After we returned from our first major trip with our motorcoach, we thought about some of the lessons that we learned.
Lesson 1: Be Prepared
Our coach was only a few months old. We were taking her on her first long trip. And we had some problems. Not so much in the planning of the trip, although that part is very important. This is a vehicle that usually likes to travel in one direction: forward. Making sure we had our waypoints well established, particularly for refuelling, was essential.
I had programmed the trip using Garmin’s BaseCamp. I made sure that we had easy access to food and fuel for a trip which spanned almost 3,000 kilometres. Big rigs like ours need big spaces. In addition to our RV specific GPS, the Garmin RV 760 LMT, we carried the Rand McNally Motor Carriers’ Road Atlas. We also carry the Big Rigs Best Bets Campground Directory. The latter includes a list of easy access fueling stations across North America.
Roadside assistance is an essential service. With the engine and tire trouble that we experienced on our first trip, we were thankful that we had spent the money on Coach-Net. The service paid for itself on our first major trip.
Lesson 2: Carry Extensions
Our final stopover before heading home was at the Port Huron KOA. Our sewage hose barely reached and our black tank rinse hose did not reach. We did not bring any extensions. We do have 50-foot power reels for electricity and potable water and a 50-foot reach is more than enough for those services. I thought 25-feet would be enough for sewage and black tank rinse. Not so. We need to bring extensions for our other services.
Lesson 3: Perform Circle Checks
Always, always perform circle checks. If I had not performed a circle check, I would not have caught the sidewall bulge in our front tire. A front tire blowout, particularly at high speed, is going to ruin a good day.
A circle check is a comprehensive inspection of the motorcoach both before and after any trip. I had written a very detailed post about our inspection checklist here. It does seem like a lot of work but it really does not take that much time. When operating a rig that is about 40,000 pounds, the 20 minutes or so that it takes to check the coach before a trip is well worth the effort. Safety first.
Lesson 4: Birds of a Feather
We thoroughly enjoyed our time at Petoskey and it was due, in part, to two things: a quiet, peaceful setting and couples at a similar place in life. Don’t get me wrong. We love kids and families with children. That said, we really stand out when we pull our motorcoach into a crowded, chaotic RV park filled with trailers and 5th wheels. The sites are tight with very little privacy. We often wind up shading many of the windows on our coach.
Not at Petoskey. Even though the sites were not overly generous, the overall look and feel was expansive. There were numerous Class A motorcoaches and wonderful couples similar in age and experience. Very easy to meet people and to make new friends.
It is worth our time to seek out these types of experiences whenever we can. We are confident that this will be easy to do once we are snowbirds and going south to places in Florida and Arizona. We have yet to find anything here in Canada. Lots of Provincial Parks and private campgrounds. And most of them fall into the crowded, chaotic category.
Lesson 5: Lifestyle
This was a tough one. Lorraine and I are both very anxious to start our retirement and to get out there with our coach. Getting a small taste of what lies ahead was wonderful. We also found it really, really hard to leave and to go back to what currently passes as our “normal lives”.
There is a time and a place for raising families and careers. We are finding ourselves more than ready to move on to retirement and to travelling in our coach while we are still healthy and still relatively young.
Lesson 6: Take It Easy
Letting go of all the stresses and worries of modern life takes a bit of effort. Having a few mechanical issues actually forced us to be flexible. We extended our stay by two days. And you know what? That was just fine. Everything worked out.
“All our dreams can come true if we have the courage to pursue them.” — Walt Disney
I came across this video clip on my YouTube feed. I believe it may have come from Jeff Krulik’s 1997 documentary: Ernest Borgnine On The Bus. The documentary chronicled the time Krulik spent in 1995 on tour with Borgnine as they drove across the Midwest in Borgnine’s 40-ft Prevost bus, The Sun Bum. He was clearly proud of his bus. Interesting to see how much has changed with motorcoaches over the years although the Prevost does hold up pretty well over time. Even with a “telephone” in the cockpit.
The infamous shakedown trip.
That was one of the major objectives for taking our coach, the Castaway, out on an extended trip, to find any warranty issues with the coach.
The good news?
After putting almost 3,000 kms on the coach, we have only a few warranty items from the shakedown trip:
- Paint flaw on the driver’s side fuel tank cover
- Missed silicone sealant under the passenger’s side mirror
- Slight gap in a small section of tile grout (roughly half an inch)
- Lift of a section of fabric trim on entrance door to master bedroom (about 10 inches of trim needs to be glued back into place)
- Tile cracked under one of the recliners on the full wall slideout
- Full wall slideout is not settling properly, out of level and requires adjustment
- Kitchen sink is leaking
We will be taking the coach down to Newmar for a custom install of bedroom windows in the spring — we somehow missed that on our order — and perhaps we might have them address the warranty items then or we can work with our dealer on the warranty items before we put the coach into storage in the late September/early October timeframe.
We did have two other issues that occurred during our shakedown trip.
It was unfortunate that we experienced a sidewall bulge on our first long trip with the coach. A sidewall bulge is an unsafe tire condition. Our dealer was very helpful in terms of how to best replace the tire and roadside assistance was clearly the most appropriate solution given our location. Our dealer worked with Coach-Net and they arranged for the service provider and covered the costs associated with sending a service provider out to our site in Petoskey, Michigan.
The service provider did not provide any warranty support and we are out of pocket $1,000 CAD to switch a new tire for another new tire. Lorraine is going to follow up with that service provider regarding warranty coverage and she will also follow up with our dealer. Hopefully we can get the tire covered under warranty.
The Engine Fault
We reached out to our dealer as soon as the engine warning indicator turned on. The dealer told us that we should be fine driving the coach on the yellow engine warning light. We also contacted Cummins as they are the warranty provider for the engine. They wanted me to run the diagnostic and identify the specific fault. The fault was SPN 3216 FMI 2 OC 1.
What I was told is that this fault code is set when the difference between the expected NOx ppm and the actual NOx ppm is greater than 200 ppm. The Cummins support person was concerned that this particular fault could lead to an engine shutdown.
I found out on the iRV2 forums that a number of Dutch Star owners have experienced this fault and, ultimately, the only fix is to update the software level in the engine. When we stopped at a Cummins dealer in Saginaw, Michigan, to resolve the issue, all they did was hook up a Dell laptop to the engine where they found the fault codes from when the coach had been built (they were never cleared) and the fault code that triggered the yellow engine warning light. They updated the engine software by connecting the laptop to a hidden port in the engine and once the update process was complete, the engine warning light was gone. The session at the Cummins dealer took less than 30 minutes.
Our coach was two versions back on the software. The technician was surprised that this had not been caught prior to delivery. Although the Cummins support person would not explicitly acknowledge the presence of a software bug, the technician in Saginaw told me that the initial sensitivity parameters set by the software needed to be “adjusted” to eliminate the fault and that could only be done by updating the software level.
Tomorrow I will share a few lessons that we learned in taking the coach out on a long distance trip across an international border.
We have not travelled far and wide so our first impressions are based on a handful of campgrounds. However, I know what I like and what I do not like. And Petoskey Motorcoach Resort? Lorraine and I loved this place. Not perfect but overall I would rate this park 9.5 out of 10.
A little bit about our expectations. We don’t mind paying more for a nice experience. This resort is on the expensive side of the ledger. If you are looking for a low cost site, this park is not for you. We paid $85 per night to stay here. We also enjoy a clean and calm environment with lots of space. This park is really not designed for kids. Yes, it has a swimming pool and a tennis court but it was clearly designed for, ahem, older folk. There is not much here for children. If you enjoy a quiet experience with some Class A coaches to keep you company, this place is for you.
No picnic tables. No fire pits. Petoskey is generally a more upscale park than most.
Getting into the Park
The Petoskey Motorcoach Resort is located in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. We had a long drive to Petoskey from our home in Canada and we took exit 290 from I-75. There were several hours of very rough roads on the Interstate but otherwise a very straightforward drive to the exit. The path to Petoskey will take you through some narrow winding roads in town and there can be a lot of traffic. This part of the drive kept me alert. US-131 to US-31 are the roads that you have to use to get to Petoskey. Heights were fine all along the way to the resort.
Pulling into the resort you will find a wide boulevard and an entrance that was clearly designed for big rigs. The office check-in was quick. They knew we were coming and they had our package ready for us. The package contained our passcode for the security gates, rules and regulations of the park and tourism brochures.
You will have two choices depending on the type of site you select: pull-in or back-in. The pull-ins, like the one we had, are the most expensive in the park. The pull-in sites are 1-24 and 66-73. That said, I would have been happy with most any of the sites on this resort. We wanted to be away from the clubhouse and away from the sites that backed on to US-31. We had site 4. The yellow sites, 1-16 are all nice. I also liked the purple sites, 45, 48-50, 55-57.
Very quiet park catering more to Class A coaches and older couples
Beautifully landscaped with a high-end, private golf club feel
Generous lot size and expansive views
Not very many coaches on site and this may be why they recently opened the park up to RVs of all types
Odd mix of primarily Class As with a few fifth wheels and travel trailers — odd because the demographics of the park do not mix well. Most of the people we spoke with wanted a quiet, upscale experience and not a busy KOA experience.
We loved our time at Petoskey and we would definitely go back.
Our yellow engine warning light has disappeared. Why? Because the coach needed a software update. Turns out our engine was two releases backdated. A new software patch resolved the isolated engine fault.
Our first shakedown trip identified a few minor issues although one was costly — a new tire. The engine control module software update was performed under warranty at no cost.
We have made it to the U.S. Border and we are staying overnight at the Port Huron KOA. We will be back home tomorrow.
Well, I hope the second new tire will be covered under warranty otherwise it will be an expensive first long trip with the Castaway.
There was no doubt that parts of the I-75 in Michigan were in horrible condition and it could well have been a pothole that caused the sidewall bulge. Whatever the cause, we had no choice but to get the tire replaced.
Trying to get the tire replaced proved challenging. Lots of phone calls between ourselves, our dealer, Newmar, Michelin, assorted Michelin dealers in Michigan and, finally, our roadside assistance service, Coach-Net. Coach-Net got the job done and covered the cost of sending a repair truck right to our campsite.
With a tire on the back of the truck, Steve, our tire repair guy, got ready to work. First, all of the power tools.
His first task was to position the tire jack. We did not have to pull our own jacks up and we did not have to bring our slides in. Nor did we have to unhook our services.
Steve made the job look easy, way too easy. That tire and wheel weighs in excess of 100 pounds or more.
For sure we would not get very far with this setup.
Steve deflated and then removed the original tire from the wheel and mounted the new tire on the wheel all within about 10 minutes. He was even thoughtful enough to inflate the new tire.
Then it was simply a matter of repositioning the wheel and making it secure.
And now we have a coach that we can drive again. I sure hope we don’t have another event on the I-75 going home. I may complain from time to time about the highways in Ontario but they are as smooth as glass when compared to sections of the I-75 in Michigan.
With the tire replaced, we can begin our journey back home. Bright and early tomorrow morning. Our first stop will be the Cummins dealer in Saginaw to get a software update for our Engine Control Module. From there, we will stopover at the Port Huron KOA before making our way home on Wednesday.