Off before sun up for repairs, our destination plans altered once again. I am smiling as we forge ahead, entering the brilliant sunlit mountainous terrain. Heat and disappearing radiator fluid brought about the inability for LilyPad to pull Ribitts to our next stop. John and KatieBug accompanied LilyPad, Ribitts and I traveled alone. My silver lining of a solo journey was having complete control over all music selections for the entire trip.
Along the way, a shaking clunking noise came from the motorhome undercarriage. Pausing for lunch, we searched through the Tiffin Forum, found a recommended suspension shop, called and added them to our list of fix-it stops.
The weather remains set on dark toast with no signs of cooling down to anything resembling bearable in the foreseeable future. Our hope was to find a 50 amp site with lots of space enabling us to move freely in and out of the site with ease. Adding another “be careful what you wish for” to our list of “hindsight being 20/20”, the Big Fresno Fair Grounds appeared to fit our needs. Our broken down condition did not allow us the luxury of being overly choosy. We pulled in, paid and set up camp. The temperature on arrival remained triple digits.
Within a few minutes of turning off the engine, a thick steamy brown smoke seeped into the bedroom from LilyPad’s engine and drifted towards me while I was working on the blog. The stench startled me and I bolted from the motorhome, grabbing KatieBug, my purse and the car keys before dashing out the door screaming at the top of my lungs for John who was removing the car from the tow dolly. I stood away from LilyPad while John poked around the engine and then entered inside.
Investigating, John confirmed it was another leak in the radiator system, probably another blown hose, the smell and smoke coming from the burning hot radiator fluid spraying all over the equally sizzling rear engine and entering LilyPad through our bedroom closet. The odor saturated our clothes and the entire motorhome interior.
Because one of our air conditioners needs a new capacitor and is shut down, the airing out process took an enormous amount of time due to extreme outdoor temperatures. The wait was stressful and exhausting. Six hours later, circulating 100 degree air and pushing it through the motorhome, the smell finally dissipated enough for us to go inside and fall sleep. It was substantially past bewitching hour when our heads hit the pillows.
In all the commotion, I failed to notice we were the only people spending the night. Also unsettling, the surrounding neighborhood appears precarious with thick ominous looking security bars on windows and doors.
Next morning, while driving up the street to find a grocer, the reason for window and door bars in the neighborhood became apparent. Piles of trash scattered amid a three block long area of make-shift cardboard and tent housing, the homeless and their shopping baskets full of personal belongings were stretched out under a dozen shade trees lining the streets. Each night, some leave, some stay but it appeared the area was a designated sanctuary for 40 or 50 homeless people, most spending the night.
Our site, at first glance, looked appealing. Taking a step back, you see “the rest of the story”. It did have all our requirements and the price was right so we would stay put.
Across from us are the goat, pig and sheep pens when the fair is up and running. The air smells of farm animals and blacktop tar from nearby patch repairs.
Returning to our rolling home each night, the entire fairground stays completely void of people, the exception being a friendly night guard who patrols the grounds every hour in his souped-up golf cart. Unnerved, sleep does not come easy while we are planted at the fairgrounds.
The Big Fresno Fair is the largest annual event in the Central Valley. Attracting more than 600,000 people during its two-week run in October, they feature a large livestock show, exhibits, musical entertainment, live horse racing, educational programs and serves as a link between urban and rural California, educating residents on the importance of the rich agricultural industry. It spans acres of the outlying Salinas downtown area. During our stay, the Junior Exhibits Building hosted a quinceanera and we gratefully welcomed the company.
Up at the crack of dawn, LilyPad’s slides tucked in, we are headed to the Cummins Dealership for diagnostics. For our day of being hot and homeless, KatieBug was sent to PetSmart for a bath, John and I to breakfast and to search for ways to keep out of the stifling heat. Even with an appointment, diagnosis turned into an all-day affair and we drove our car around with no place to stop but the air conditioning of a local Walmart, Marshall’s, Whole Foods and Trader Joes.
At the end of the day, we picked up our clean and fresh smelling fur baby, retrieved LilyPad and drove back through the highly populated homeless section of Fresno to our deserted fair grounds. Evening temperatures remaining above 100, LilyPad still in breakdown mode with half a week gone and every day being dedicated to the sole purpose of repair shop visits.
Next day, up before the heat arrived for diagnostics at Betts for LilyPad’s suspension. Luck on our side, after 4 hours, Betts charged us a sawbuck and told us our hydraulic leveling system and shocks had a little give but were secure enough to travel until we found a dealership for any needed repairs.
Knowing the fixing of several “it’s always somethings” would reach deep into our pockets , we stingily kept our wallets closed and drove around searching for interesting but gratis activities. One repetitious sight, multiple tall forest green spires, natures church steeples, shooting up into the sky, rivaling the pointed heights of church turrets, both rising above the skyline, piercing the baby blue heavens.
I had not planned for repair “down time” this trip, quite sure we had fixed everything before we departed. A Facebook post read, “You know great things are coming when everything seems to be going wrong. Old energy is clearing out for new energy to enter. Be patient.” – Idil Ahmed.
Patience is not in my DNA. When I am desperately hot, lungs struggling for air from breathing dust and burning smoky damp chemical radiator fluid, stuck in an uncomfortable and questionable location at night, unable to pause anywhere during the day because KatieBug isn’t allowed in stores, all of us restricted from our home multiple days in a row, this gray haired old lady’s single patience gene disappears.
This weekend is The Fresno Flea Market, a dozen football fields of hot blacktop covered in square metal framed structures topped with a variety of multicolored tarp roofs and selling everything we would never want or need.
The walk across the street was our one and only outdoor exploration during the seven days we spent stalled in Fresno. 9:00 am, already sweltering, sluggishly dragging ourselves the short distance, paid the entrance fee, bought a tacky umbrella to keep the sun from scorching our heads, crept from one shade spot to another, found nothing and walked back home. At least we made an attempt to venture outside to confirm it was one horribly bad idea.
Nighttime approaching, we were grateful to Red Box for allowing us something with which to entertain ourselves while we wait for our next repair appointment.
The weekend passed, this morning we are off to Cummins at the first peek of the sun. Assured LilyPad would remain plugged in, we left for the day, returning at 3pm to find our motorhome sitting out in full sun, no plug connected and not repaired. Unhappy campers, we asked the manager why our full time home remained out in the heat all day without allowing the a/c to be connected. Excuses, but no logical reply. When the motorhome was finished, six hours after promised, the inside of LilyPad was a blistering 120 degrees.
Paying, leaving and settling back into our fairgrounds site, I opened the freezer and saw water dripping off everything. John quickly moved whatever possible to our downstairs electric ice chest, stacked refrigerator food in our rolling Coleman ice chest and reset the refrigerator. Next morning, believing all to be in working order, we trustingly put everything away.
On our final night before leaving the fairgrounds, we were joined by two small campers. Their arrival did nothing to decrease my feeling of unease.
Next morning we left the fairgrounds, any possible AquaHot water heating system attention could wait until Lodi, our next destination. The broken a/c capacitor would be fixed in Harbor Oregon where we had shipped the new part and our failing Road King shocks would be diagnosed at the dealership in Colorado. That was our plan but the universe had its own ideas and wasn’t paying any attention to our itinerary.
Lodi was to be our “in-between repairs” breather. A vital downtime to savor a few moments of retirement, taste wine, visit the farmers market and plant ourselves among friendly people, a safe environment and calm surroundings.
We drove in on Hwy 99 passing row after row of Oleander bushes and patches of Eucalyptus trees.
As soon as wine vines came into view, we knew wineries were not far from our reach.
Arriving at Flag City RV Resort early afternoon, our site was paved, spacious, with excellent power and water pressure. Nothing makes me smile wider than a new-to-us RV park with no bad surprises.
Lodi is where Robert Mondavi, who put California wine on the map, grew up. I checked out the deep red wine choices and noted four wineries to visit for tastings. Back in relax mode, we turned in for the night.
Morning arrived and we thought the winds of change might begin to blow in our direction, at least for the next few days. Our Aqua Hot repairman was mobile, no need to uproot to find the shop. The appointment was quick, easy and he found no damage to our system from the blown out coolant hose. Now we could focus on the important task of wine tasting.
First up was Michael David Winery for their Earthquake Cabernet Sauvignon. Gracious winery but only an OK tasting. Their wine stayed at the winery and we moved on.
Next was Abundance Vineyards for a 2013 Petite Sirah. Beautiful Southwestern style winery tasting room with an impressive Manzaneta wood wine caddy standing by the bar. What we came to taste was not available. We chatted and left empty handed.
Lange Twins Winery was chosen for a 2014 Cabernet Reserve.
The tasting room, winery and storage tank area was massive but the wine fell short of our expectations and had an excessive price tag.
Fields Family Wines was a small, unimpressive, warehouse building with a barely pleasant wine steward behind the bar. He controlled his distaste for us using a Groupon long enough to make it through the tasting but only because he was catering to another couple already imbibing. We guessed his attitude was due to a disappointing day, or by the expression on his face, sour grapes . His social skills during the presentation were egregious. Our Groupon included a bottle of wine and we left with the only winery where a bottle came home with us. We broke open a bottle of our private stock of Joel Gott and watched the sun set.
Next morning we woke to another near flawless day of tranquility. Lodi Farmers Market was a short drive into town, located on the main street section and enough shopping, dining and general merchandise to fit my idea of small town perfection.
Parking up the street, we strolled along the blocks, hand in hand, warm sun, cool breeze,
soft rock band music echoing in the distance.
The sign posted near the market entrance gave us both a chuckle.
John decided a snack might hold him over until dinner. Rosewood, claiming to have the best bar-b-q oysters, sounded ideal. I love bar-b-q oysters and we make several stops at Gilhooley’s, purveyor of premium oysters in San Leon Texas whenever we are in the area. Two beers later, I ordered half a dozen oysters. I know my jaw didn’t drop when I saw the plate but surprise is too mild a word for my reaction. I asked if these oysters were the normal size they served. “Why yes” was the reply. Finishing, I ordered one single oyster, placed a dime next to the oyster and my Nikon preserved the setting. That photo ended my “perfect little town” perception. For $3.50 you get one single oyster, containing double the oyster’s weight in cheese, a reality shock and nowhere near my idea of perfection.
Returning to LilyPad, we passed a vintage Mickey D’s with golden arches, closely resembling the first McDonald’s restaurant in Chico. The sight brought back memories of John and my young adult lives together in California. Back then, we had considered dinner at McDonalds and a few beers at Some Other Place bar, to be a night out on the town. Retirement has brought us closer to those days than when John and I both were employed. But no real serious complaints about our rolling around the US. It is an adventurous lifestyle, good for some, not so much for others but sure beats staying home, doing nothing.
Back at LilyPad, John remarked our bed was harder than normal. Sleep Number beds fluctuate with the altitude but our bed wouldn’t adjust. Crawling under, he unplugged, wiggled wires, untangled hoses, replaced batteries and generally rattled every connection possible. One final push on the controls and a soft “shhhhh” sound let us know John had solved the problem. Oh how I love quick, easy, no cost solutions. And now, to all a good night.
As is our usual practice, an early start for a day of rolling down the road. Rice fields surround us. Crop dusters swoop past, spreading chemicals over the rice fields, some spilling over onto cars speeding along the roadways.
Giant storage bins sit in wait for their load of harvested rice.
We passed over the peacefully still Sacramento River with the calm reflections of trees lined along its banks.
Throughout our travels across California, we have noticed the love of Oleander plants. Oleanders line freeway mediums, serve as neighborhood fence lines and grow in backyards freely. I fail to understand why a state, so clearly concerned with human life, would let a poisonous plant grow freely when every part of the plant is a danger to living beings. The roots, stems, leaves, flowers, seeds, fruit, sap and nectar contains naturally-occurring cardiac glycosides, toxins directly affecting the electrolyte balance within the heart muscle. Oleander leaves or flowers floating in water will leach poison. I am at a loss to understand the attraction.
Prior to arriving in Chico, we followed behind several convoys of Emergency Fire and Rescue trucks from Williamson Rescue, engines spattered with pink foam retardant and grey muck, returning home after fighting the Wall fire.
Chico greeted us as we crossed over the town’s boarder.
Chico Elks Lodge has a gorgeous RV park. Only water and electric with gravel roads but had it availed full hook-ups, it would not have empty spaces. No trains, no planes, no traffic, quiet and safe, snugly tucked under giant old Oak Trees at the back of the Lodge. The Elks host a baseball diamond on the property, they built a substantial covered pavilion with bar-b-q pits, tables, horseshoe pits, a large children’s playground full of swings and other play equipment and a half acre of giant shade treed grassy space for activities
Another plus, when staying at this Elks Lodge, your second drink is free. At our age, two is our maximum and driving the block back to our RV spot is a short, traffic free, no-pressing-of-the-gas-pedal roll.
LilyPad comfortably set up and planted in the same site where we had previously stayed, John drove past a few old haunts in town. The corner liquor store where I bought my Boones Farm and Pagan Pink Ripple wine, the motel for which I worked while attempting to squeeze a living out of Chico State University’s job scarce college town and gigantic Bidwell Park with Big Chico Creek flowing gracefully through the forested 2,400 acres.
Sadly grandpa and grandma’s home and Verzi Hall, the women’s dorm, are gone, cleared from the earth’s surface and soon to be an apartment complex. Grandpa’s men’s dorm house, where I lived in the downstairs 2 bedroom apartment, is still standing. Tangibles of my youth may be gone but memories will forever remain. Each evening, returning to LilyPad, the nights are silent and sleep comes quickly.
The sun comes up and temperatures slowly rise to a steady 107, increasing only slightly higher as we come into peak heat levels for the afternoon. With 2,700 acres of the Butte County Wall Fire blazing through the hills nearby and only 20% contained, I was momentarily concerned but the winds were blowing away from the town and the firefighters working out of town had returned home.
Groceries, errands and a walk through main street rounded out our day and TV entertained us for the evening. In tonight’s sky, the moon’s lower half was hidden behind a thick cloud of smoke from the fires. Had I know what was to be in our future West Coast travels, I would have turned tail and sped back to Texas.
Chico was the home of my grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins, my parents and myself, off and on, for several decades. John attended and graduated from Chico State University. Neither of us had visited Bidwell Mansion, the home of Chico’s patriarch. We both thought today would be an excellent day to do so. The Mansion’s Italian Villa style, with its soaring tower, remains the town’s focal point.
The picture below, 1870 depiction, was borrowed from the Bidwell Mansion Association’s website: http//www.bidwellmansionassociation.comstory-of-bidwell-mansion.html. The site contains additional information on the Bidwell’s and their lives.
Known for their gracious hospitality, John and Annie used the mansion extensively for entertaining friends, family and a host of special invitees. Their list of guests included, President and Mrs. Rutherford B. Hayes, General William T. Sherman, Susan B. Anthony, Francis Willard, Governor Leland Stanford, John Muir, Asa Gray, and Sir Joseph Hooker.
John Bidwell was born in 1819 to a poor East Coast farming family. As an ambitious 22 year old, he crossed the Sierra Nevada and arrived in California. Finding gold on the Feather River, he purchased more than 26,000 acres of land including a parcel known as Rancho Del Arroyo Chico in 1851. His plans to build a 26 room mansion began in 1865 and the home was completed in 1868.
Despite his modest roots, he became a key figure in California’s history, participating in the Bear Flag Revolt, lobbied in Washington for California’s statehood, achieved valuable advances in agriculture, founded the town of Chico, served a term in the House of Representatives and was nominated for US president. While serving in the House of Representatives, he met the much younger Annie Ellicott Kennedy, a Presbyterian activist who would become his wife.
Annie came to live in Bidwell Mansion after it was nearly completed. John bought an extravagantly priced piano, shipping it to the mansion at great expense, for her as a wedding gift. He hoped it would lessen any disappointment she felt for not having more involvement with her new home’s construction.
The house contained many modern conveniences including running water, flush toilets, acetylene gas lighting system, eight fireplaces and wall to wall carpeting. John and Annie had their own large private bathroom.
The hall was built with huge closets to store trunks for the influential people who came and stayed for long periods, extra bathrooms for guests, even a child’s bedroom for the children of guests.
The President’s bedroom was beautifully furnished and near as large as John and Annie’s room.
A painted slate fireplace was featured in the dining room and the dining table expanded to seat a dozen dignitaries.
In the corner of the sitting room was an Edison original, one of his first record players and in the bookcase, a set of originals, History of Women Suffrage.
There was an indoor laundry room and the kitchen contained one of the first refrigerators.
Up on the third floor, bedrooms for the presidents staff and extra rooms for storage.
Outside was the carriage house displaying several styles of carriages typical of those used in the 1800’s.
General John Bidwell passed away in 1900 and Annie, honoring her husbands wishes, donated 2,400 acres of creek side property to the city of Chico in fulfillment of her husbands wishes. The park, established July 10, 1905, was given the official name of Bidwell Park.
In 1918, Annie died and bequeathed the mansion and grounds to the Presbyterian church to establish a coeducational Christian school where the Bidwell values would be taught. The church realized establishing and continuing such a school was not possible and in 1923 the property was acquired by the Chico State Teachers College. In 1964, the California State Park System gained possession, naming it the Bidwell Mansion State Historical Monument but later changing to Bidwell Mansion State Historic Park.
After walking the mansion grounds, John thought we should drive through the park to reawaken memories long past, reflecting on the years we appreciated Bidwell Park for all it had offered, long walks, swims in the cool waters, peace and quiet, gatherings with friends. We stopped several times to breath in the forest bouquet and reflect, not in any hurry to interrupt our thoughts.
Back to LilyPad at sunset, pack up inside and out, early to bed for next mornings drive.
Leaving slowly from our site at Chico Elks Lodge, sunshine rising above the distant mountain, we watch several young men practice in the cool mist of the morning on the baseball field. John dumps our tanks and I watch dragonflies zip around the outfield. KatieBug has had her morning constitutional and we are on our way. The drive is not long and we should arrive at our next destination, Willits California, before noon.