Sand Section Road Notes: Winnie's Revenge (January 2011)

It's not until you buy a crappy Winnebago that you realize how much you take a reliable vehicle for granted. Minor obstacles such as hills are never cause for concern in any contemporary motor bearing vessel, but for the 1978 Sand Section RV, hills are not ever to be taken lightly. Although we have always known this to be true, our latest adventure hit us smack in the face with some terrifying reality.

For those of you who are reading your first Sand Section blog, or those of you that just skimmed the old ones, I should probably first say that we have a band Winnebago that is less than reliable. In fact, roughly 75 percent of the time that we take our Winnie out on an adventure, something extraordinary happens one way or another, and yet for reasons I cannot explain or comprehend, we still take the huge risk of letting the beast out on the open road. Maybe it's denial, possibly stubbornness, could be shear stupidity or a number of other character flaws, but at the end of the day we continue to hammer the proverbial square peg into the round hole and refuse to throw in the dirty Winnie towel. Plus, the addition of some new belts and a new fuel pump gave us a strange confidence that this trip was going to be different for the old Winnie. After a brief test drive on Thursday afternoon, the genius mechanics here at Sand Section Auto Repair decided she could make it 400 miles with out any problems.   

We left from the Alamo (Jeff's new place of residence, dubbed as such for a number of reasons that I might get into in a future blog, but for now don't worry about it) at roughly 12:47pm on an overcast Friday afternoon en route for a gig at Frog and Peach, a bar in the beautiful central coast city of San Luis Obispo. Our crew consisted of a few new faces that had no idea what they were getting themselves into when they signed up for a Winnie adventure. Of course Tony and I were well aware of the inevitable danger looming on the open road, but this was a first major expedition for members Pete Mackinnon who has been filling in for us on the drum kit, Stefan Partelow who is our second newest member and rocks the keys, rhythm guitar, and percussion (separately of course, he is an awesome utility man and musician, not a circus performer), and Kevin Halcomb who is Jeff's roommate and long time friend of the band who was simply looking for a wild night outside the South Bay bubble.  

In a nutshell, here is the basic recipe we were working with: five grown male bodies, three amps, five guitars, an entire drum kit, an average sized cooler full of beer and ice, bedding for five, clothing bags, and a waste tank that should have been emptied three trips prior… Needless to say, the Winnie was driving heavy.

We were convinced that we could safely make it up the coast with minimal hills if we took Highway 1 all the way to Ventura, and we did so successfully all the way up through Pacific Palisades and almost all the way through Malibu. The Winnie was running stronger than ever and we were all having an amazing time enjoying the beautiful ocean view and good company. Our worst nightmare occurred however, when we quickly discovered that the rains that have pounded California the last few weeks had forced the beautiful sun-soaked highway to be closed right at Malibu canyon.

Here is where we made our first mistake. Tony looked me square in the eyes and said, "What do you think, should we turn around or just risk it?" It pains me to recapture this moment, but I looked right back at Tony and said "F*** it dude, lets just risk it," and off we went up the 13-mile uphill detour through Malibu canyon.

To our great surprise, the Winnie tackled the first ten miles with relatively no grunts or groans, and we were all geared up for our first celebration of the trip... Thats when we heard the click of death. When you hear a loud popping noise explode near the engine area, you know you have roughly 30 seconds to stop before you lose Winnie. Tony, being the expert captain that he is, immediately pulled off to the side of the road to let the poor vehicle take a breath. Spirits will still high and jokes were still being told.

After about five minutes, we all saddled up and got ready to tackle the remainder of the treacherous Malibu canyon. Tony fired up the engine, put her in drive, and made it about 20 yards before losing power. The engine shut off and along with it went the power brakes which caused the enormous RV to start rolling backward down a steep stretch of highway. I was the first one out the door before Tony could even finish yelling "WE LOST BRAKES! BAIL!"

With his driver door open and everyone in the cabin scrambling to unlock the back door, Tony was finally able to slam down the emergency brake and jockey the temperamental gear shifter to the park position and stop the Winnie before it was potentially crushed like a tin can. The good news at that point was that we were only blocking one lane, the bad news was that it was at a turn on a highway that has a 55 mile-an-hour speed limit. Tony called the Autoclub while Pete and Stefan directed traffic, and I pretty much did nothing except fall silent and try to figure out the best way to go about the remainder of our day. Tony was convinced that we call up a donation company and just donate the Winnie on the spot for the cost of the tow truck, while Kevin was confident that we could get the injured bucket of bolts all the way to SLO if we just got towed the remaining three miles to the 101 freeway.

After about 45 minutes, the tow-truck arrived to help our sorry asses out of our less than favorable debacle. For honestly nothing more than the sake of adventure, we decided to take the two mile tow and give the Winnie another shot on the more level 101 freeway. Another huge risk.

After the brief tow we fired up the old hag, and sure enough she felt as strong as ever. The tow truck driver followed us for a couple exits to ensure that we didn't prematurely slow to a halt, and after about five miles he pulled off the freeway and we were left alone to continue our journey to SLO.

I think the best way to really sum up the remainder of the drive to SLO is to quote verbatim what I wrote in my iphone notebook about an two hours after our Malibu blow out: "My heart is literally in my throat as I write this while our Winnebago climbs another monster incline about 26 miles north of Santa Barbara on the 101 freeway. As the speedometer drops near the ten o'clock position, all our Winnie passengers go silent presumably praying to our respective deities in hope that we can summit this last rough hill and have smooth sailing for the remaining 70 miles to San Luis Obispo. This is pretty much the standard of any Winnie expedition-one minute we are laughing and telling stories, and the next we fall silent and look like terrified wide-eyed gazelles waiting to be pounced by a blood thirsty predator."

Sure enough we made it to San Luis Obispo with no more breakdowns! It took us seven hours to go 200 miles on traffic-free highway, but who's counting. We met up with our long time friend Max up in SLO and eventually made our way over to Frog and Peach because after all, we still had a show to play.

The gig was awesome. The entire bar was filled to capacity for our entire three hour set and everyone in attendance was loving Sand Section! We even had a crazy girl on stage taking turns humping all our band members for about two hours. I really don't need to elaborate much more because after all, this blog is about Winnie.

Her final parting shot was hilarious and took place on Saturday morning at a Chevron station. You may or may not recall, but just moments into our first tour the Winnie got her bumper caught on a protective post at an ARCO station and it got ripped clean off. Well in San Luis Obispo, we got attacked by another rogue post which pulled off a few feet of metal siding along the right side of the Winnie. After a quick reverse we were headed back for home with said metal siding flapping in the breeze.

Naturally on the way home the crew stopped off in Isla Vista where Stefan and I resided while we attended UC Santa Barbara. We stickered the town, hit the local watering hole, picked up more beer, and before we knew it no one was sober enough to drive the remainder of the way home. We were forced to stay the night and party UCSB style. I won't go into much detail here, lets just say it was good to be back in the old stomping grounds.

After some much needed breakfast burritos on Sunday morning, the crew was headed for home, and I am proud to report that we made it all the way with absolutely no Winnie breakdowns. For now we are all home safe and sound, including Miss Winnie who is enjoying a peaceful slumber in the Alamo driveway. We head up to Tahoe on Wednesday, but this time we are not taking the Winnie because adding snow to the equation is just plain insanity. Hope all our Sand Section fans are enjoying the new year as much as we are, and we look forward to seeing everyone in the not to distant future. Thanks for reading.

-Jeff and the Sand Section Crew