California or Bust!

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There is something so admirable to me about the mentality to push yourself as hard as you can, no matter what obstacles come your way (although I realize some may feel differently). We recently watched our favorite show, Survivor, and fan favorite Joe Anglim was eliminated. Knowing he would be voted out if he lost an immunity challenge, he pushed himself in challenges so hard that he literally passed out with nothing left. Just like Joe wanted so badly to win Survivor, we wanted nothing more than to make it all the way to California.

The summer of 2015 was much anticipated… planned and tweaked for months prior… one of those once in a lifetime adventures we couldn’t wait to share with the pack. In terms of expected and especially unexpected adventure, the trip did not disappoint.  Many have asked us about the troubles we encountered, so we decided to share the whole story with those of you who truly want to hear it.

We made it through Nebraska for the first time in years with no issues.  Once we reached Denver, we were elated… and the mountains we call home were in sight. I started contacting all the friends we were planning to meet at Snow Mountain Ranch.  We could not wait to be ‘home’ and told them we would be there in the next two hours.

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Of course, we spoke too soon.  As we started to go up in elevation and found ourselves in traffic, our Odyssey, with only 80,000 miles, gave us a hard time once again.  We noticed that the air conditioner was pumping out hot air… and that we were overheating.  We pulled off the highway at the next exit… which happened to have a Honda dealership!  Seriously, what are the chances? We drove in to the dealership and waited for them to squeeze us in. After a couple hours, they ran diagnostics, took the car for a test drive, and told us they could find nothing wrong. We were so relieved and chalked it up to hot weather, a bad traffic jam, and a big rise in elevation.

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We hooked up the camper and headed back up the mountains, thankful we had only been delayed shortly once again.  Immediately, we overheated AGAIN!  After turning around and heading back to Honda, they hooked up the diagnostics with the camper attached and headed back into the mountains for a test drive.  They ran into the same trouble we did, but again, they could not identify the problem.  Our service coordinator, Ben, told us they would have to have a master technician look at it the next day.

At this point, it was 10pm.  The Hoff crew was out of commission.  We were unable to stay at the Marciseks and about to set up our camper in the Honda parking lot when a lovely lady we did not even know offered her Tahoe to us to head to the mountains.  The kindness of strangers is something we will never forget… especially in Colorado. At the same time, our friend Rich offered to come down to pick up our camper and tow it up while we drove up in our loaner Pilot courtesy of Honda.

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At last, we arrived at Snow Mountain Ranch at almost 2am! We always try to arrive at a destination before dark, but there is first for everything. UGH… but we could not have been happier to be there.

Saturday morning, Honda called back and told us that after consulting with corporate Honda, the only thing they could recommend was a transmission cooler since they could find nothing wrong with our vehicle.  We asked all the questions as to why this would happen when we had never had a trans cooler and what would happen if this $1000+ part did not fix our problem.  We explained that we would have much bigger problems if we ran into trouble as we crossed the country through the Mohave Desert and more.  They truly believed it would fix the problem and we were left with no other option than to go ahead and do it.  After ordering parts and waiting, our car was at last ready 8 days later.  Good thing we had already planned to be at SMR with 18 of our favorite friends this long anyway!

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We took the time to pack the camper down and test drive it up Berthoud Pass.  Thankfully, we had no overheating issues.  Everything appeared to be in working order, and a few days later, we left to meet the Davids in Santa Fe.  On the way there, we noticed the temperature rise once a little, but thought it may do this regularly and perhaps had never noticed. We were probably being overly sensitive.  When we arrived at Hyde Memorial Campground, it was raining and the dirt road up the campground was incredibly steep with little traction.  We overheated again.  We considered bringing the car back in, but decided conditions may have warranted it for once, and that Honda would again find nothing wrong.

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After a fun, yet stressed time in Santa Fe, we plotted out the locations of Hondas across the country and had the Davids follow us west as we headed to Flagstaff and they headed home to Phoenix.  We reached Flagstaff with no issues.  We were so happy!  It appeared our problem was resolved.  After a couple days in the Grand Canyon and surrounding area, we headed west for our longest driving day across the Mohave Desert and beyond, looking forward to one of our most anticipated destinations – Sequoia National Park.

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Aside from getting ripped off on gas just over the California state line (over $1/gallon over the price before at the last exit in Arizona), everything seemed to be going alright.  Suddenly, we overheated going up a steep incline in the Mohave.  We help our breath, thankful for AAA, and unsure of whether we would make it up the mountain, heat blasting, with a large cooler full of liquids in case we were left stranded in the hot desert.  We continued up more mountains that afternoon with no issues… until we blew out a camper tire.  After calling around, we ended up in a small, shady California town, waiting for two new tires, despite the fact we had two replaced on our way home from Glacier the year before.  We informed cousin Jill, who we were supposed to meet in Sequoia with her tent and sleeping bag, that we were having trouble and questioned being able to make it.

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As we moved along, it seemed we were doing alright.  We even managed a stop in McFarland, USA to see our new favorite running town. However, as soon as we turned off to head into Kings Canyon and Sequoia, the Odyssey overheated like never before.  The temperature gauge topped out immediately with the incline that would have eventually landed us at the 10,000 ft Lodgepole Campground in the park.  Reality set in.  We were in big trouble.  We were done and there was nowhere for us to go but down.

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As we headed down the mountain, we saw a sign for a campground. Exhausted and relieved, we pulled in and called the phone number at the office for late arrivals. This place was far from our kind of “camping.” After crossing a rickety old wooden bridge with our camper attached, we quickly surmised that this was no place for us. There was a scary old woman (clearly a year-round resident) sitting outside with her cats and pit bulls, next to the site the owner had recommended, which was adjacent to the only light around in the overgrown field called a campground. We weren’t at all sure we would make it back over the old bridge, but decided it was the lesser of the two evils. We never looked back.

On the road again, we looked at the map and noted that Fresno would leave us two hours from Sequoia… and two hours from our next destination, Yosemite.  If we were lucky, and clearly we deserved some luck now, this might possibly allow us a week to get our car fixed once again while we travelled around to both parks. Knowing that we were only supposed to be in each location for a couple days, and that those reservations had been carefully pieced together more than 6 months prior with difficulty and daily revisions, being off course would mean our vacation would take a heavy hit…not to mention the many visitors who had travelled thousands of miles to meet us in different spots around the country.

We called around, until we found a campground that would take us in at 10pm.  Fresno RV Park was a great place to land, despite its location amongst the homeless streets of Fresno.  The small campground was surrounded by video surveillance, which the old vet owner insisted provided a safe and secure home. We couldn’t have agreed more that day. By the time we set up in a residential RV park where we never expected to be, we fell asleep, totally exhausted, emotionally and physically, only to be awakened by Braden, who had vomited all over the ‘boy side’ of the camper after having a tummy ache from an earlier stop at McDonald’s. It was everywhere! Unfortunately, the bathroom was coded to prevent the homeless from hanging out inside, and we had not received the code with our late night arrival. Grateful for a crack in the door, we were able to sneak into the bathroom to shower Braden off and get the boys side back in working order for the night. There is nothing like cleaning up puke in the middle of the night, but this was almost laughable at this point given the severity of the situation we had now found ourselves in. Despite our exhaustion, there was not much sleep that night as we anticipated all the “what ifs” that would hopefully be determined the next day.

Cali or Bust. We had made it to California… and we were busted alright. Stay tuned for Part II…

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Hoffing It

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If we had to pick one word to describe our family, it would be ‘adventurous.’  Every one of us thrives off of it. We live for it. Although every day probably qualifies as an adventure for us Hoffs, the summers define it. We built our marriage on it long before the Hoff pack became seven. Married in 1998, it only took two years to realize and resolve the fact that we wanted and needed them for a different purpose than most. I abandoned my career in engineering to join the teaching world with Chuck, and the rest was history. Every summer, we have been privileged to take off on whatever pursuit called our name… moving to Colorado, a drive to Alaska, leading kayak trips for a camp, a 4,000 mile bike journey from the Pacific to the Atlantic, etc. We continued once we had kids, taking off to Hawaii with our one year old baby and another on the way, a toddler and a newborn to the Pacific Northwest, and bought a popup camper to make things easier after baby number three. After a summer off before giving birth to the two girls who completed the team, the desire to adventure only intensified.

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In 2012, against all odds and without reason, we travelled with our five kids (6 and under) to Colorado, which was ablaze with wildfires. At this point in life, we were uncomfortable anywhere but our own house. Even going to a family party was difficult for us, and we often spilled food (or worse) all over somebody or something if we went out of our comfort zone. Piling all of our kids, supplies, and a breast pump that followed me everywhere into our Honda Odyssey was quite possibly the best decision we had made in life, and a turning point that confirmed not to let anything tie us down or deter us from what we loved most. A trip to Snow Mountain Ranch, Rocky Mountain National Park, our old stomping ground in Boulder, Telluride to visit one of our favorite people, and back to Snow Mountain solidified everything we ever wanted out of life. Our crew that could not function at a family party survived and thrived off of a summer in the mountains. The last three years discomforts have made many question whether it’s worth it, but alas, “There are no shortcuts to anywhere worth going.”

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In 2013, we put up our popup for the first night in North Platte, Nebraska, only to have the whole camper crash down from a busted cable.  We found quickly that the cable could not be replaced anywhere.  We needed to get to a StarCraft deal who serviced popups.  The closest dealer was hundreds of miles away in Denver. We would not be deterred as we were headed right through there!  Ketelsen Campers told us the wait was 6 weeks for service.  After begging and pleading and telling them we were supposed to be in our camper for the next 6 weeks, they told us if we could get to Denver by 8am the next morning, the tech guy would come in early to get us on the road.  We drove on to the Marciseks, crashed there for the night, had our camper fixed, and continued on to the mountains.

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In 2014, while driving through Nebraska on our way to the mountains, our Honda Odyssey hit the mileage of 66,666 miles, we looked down to catch it, and the drive sign started flashing immediately.  We looked up the closest Honda, which happened to be in North Platte.  We camped at our favorite Holiday RV Park once again, brought the car in, and discovered the problem was a transmission sensor.  They thought it would probably be safe to drive all the way to Denver, given that we did not want to wait in North Platte for the part to come in 4 days later.  We worked up a plan with the Marciseks to continue to Denver, and that Rick would come out to tow us if we ran into trouble.  Even though we had friends we were supposed to meet in the mountains, we opted to stay in Denver at the Marciseks once again until our car could be repaired.  After a few days of Denver fun, we raced off to the mountains.  We had to be flexible with a new plan, but again, not too bad. We had been blessed to spend some extra time with one of our favorite families!

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Summer 2015 was the third year in a row we had run into trouble (the most difficult by far, without our car for 24 days) and questioned whether we should continue on our path. The details of that story will be saved for another time, but without question, it has been worth it every time. The kids have earned a viewpoint of the world that most adults haven’t had the privileges of seeing. “Hoffing it” has given us the unbelievable opportunity to spend time in the most awe-inspiring places… and allows us to spend quality time with friends near and far who run their race like we do. We can’t wait to share the stories with you!

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Time off with the Hoffs