Castaic, CA

Wednesday, April 13

With the home visit out of the way, I’m free to leave the Acton KOA and seek cheaper and and more natural accommodations. But where to go? There aren’t many free camping options near Los Angeles, space is at a premium as evidenced by the high nightly rates.

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The Angeles National Forest campgrounds are an option. They require passes for camping which can be bought on a daily basis or for a year. But the America the Beautiful pass (Interagency Pass) that I got at Joshua Tree also counts. Not all National Forests accept it, but this particular one does.

Angeles NF covers several mountainous areas near LA, and many of the campgrounds are at a higher elevation and up narrow twisty roads. Most have smaller sites that won’t fit RVs, but Oak Flat campground just north of Castaic along I5 is rated for RVs up to 18′. Assuming those larger sites are open, I should be able to squeeze in.

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On a whim, I look for boat repair places in Castaic along the way, figuring as close as I am to the coast they should exist.

Yes, boat repair. On my older Casita, the A/C unit isn’t on the roof but mounted into the front of the trailer the way a window unit does. There’s an exhaust vent that needs to be covered when I drive so that water and dirt kicked up from the truck doesn’t get into it. The vinyl cover I’ve had for the past two years is starting to tear again (same thing that happened to the last one) because it fits loosely. The flapping of the cover when I’m driving 60 mph down the road puts stress on both the fabric and the metal fasteners that hold it on and both are now in bad shape again.

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RV repair shops don’t know what to do with this cover, it’s an unusual setup. Camping World tried to fix it once for me long ago, that was a joke. Larry at Little House Customs knows exactly what to do, but he’s several states away.

Hence a boat shop. The cover is similar in scope to a boat cover, so they’re the best equipped to deal with it. I do some research and eventually end up at Roberto’s Boat Repair, which is willing to take on the challenge and see if they can help. I arrive around 1 pm and Roberto and his upholstery guy get to work on it right away.

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I’d already bought the new fastener hardware back in Quartzsite last January. The rivets come out on the broken fasteners and new ones go on. They custom make a new cover using umbrella canvas that won’t stretch the way vinyl does, the same stuff they make their boat covers with. The canvas is cut and seams sewn to increase durability. It takes them about an hour to do and it looks great. I opted for gray because it won’t show dirt as much, keeping the white vinyl one looking good was impossible. It fits very tightly and won’t flap in the wind, I’m very pleased with how it comes out. And Roberto only charges me $40 total, buying a new ill-fitting cover from Casita would have been $35 without shipping. I leave one very happy customer.

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Getting to Oak Flat is a climb. As always, Bertha handles the steep grade like a champ, putting along at a steady 40 mph with the semis. The engine temperature climbs, but not enough to require pulling over. To get there, take exit 183 off of I5 for Golden State Highway. It’s a four lane road that sees little traffic and has plants growing up through cracks in the pavement. I’m guessing it stopped being used much once the interstate was built.

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Located on a flat spot on the side of a mountain, the views to the north and east of the campground are quite spectacular.

Click for larger image

Click for larger image

Because of the abundant oak trees, most sites don’t have a clear view. There is one exception, a site closer to the edge of the cliff that is already taken when I arrive. None of the sites are numbered.

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Even the interior sites are pretty though. Beneath the oak trees, tall green grass waves in the breeze. The site I choose has the longest pad of the bunch, and at 35′ truck and trailer just barely fit in without unhitching, but a 35′ motorhome wouldn’t be able to make it in because of the tight turns. The rig on the cliff edge is probably about 25′ long and I’d say that would be maximum length.

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Thursday, April 14

If I were to call into a regular job and tell them I couldn’t work because there were too many trees, I’d get laughed at, and then reprimanded. But it’s the absolute truth here. I can’t power my computer because there’s too much shade on my solar panel.

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When I arrived yesterday I didn’t think much of this because I was only intending to stay one night. Now there’s a wind warning out for much of southern California starting this afternoon and going until early Saturday. Not wanting to drive the rest of the way through the mountains with 70 mph wind gusts, I opt to wait at Oak Flat and hope I don’t get blown away.

I can’t work, but there are other things to keep me occupied. I walk and take pictures, and when the wind picks up I retreat inside the RV and read.

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A combination of topography and trees keeps it from getting bad. The Casita doesn’t rock as much as when I was camped in the windstorm at Joshua Tree.

Friday, April 15

With the wind diminishing in the afternoon, I depart Oak Flat and continue north on I5 to Bakersfield. The small town of Grapevine signals the end of the mountains, but as I’m coasting down in second gear with it in sight, the check engine light comes on in the truck. Uh-oh.

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Since Bertha is still driving normally, I continue on to Bakersfield and stop at Walmart to stock up. When I turn the truck back on after shopping, the light is still on.

I’d hate to break down along the side of the road, so I opt to get it looked at. Luckily, there’s an auto shop not far away that can get me in at 2:30 pm on a Friday afternoon. The guys at G&G Auto Repair have me pull up to the curb and check the diagnostic code without unhitching, which simplifies things greatly.

One last pic from Oak Flat, click for larger image

One last pic from Oak Flat, click for larger image

The verdict? A bad O2 sensor. I had one of these die two years ago when I was working at the renaissance festival in Georgia, this isn’t the same one. They’re honest, saying it doesn’t need immediate attention and I’m safe to continue on to my destination. They also don’t charge me a penny. Yes folks, there really are good repair shops out there and I’ve gotten lucky twice in a row now.

It’s getting on in the afternoon as I depart Bakersfield and traffic picks up. The delay means I’ll be arriving at my boondock later than anticipated, but the lighting ends up making for a perfect drive. More on that coming next!

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At IO I teach people how to ditch the status quo and travel full-time before retirement, and share stories of my adventures (and misadventures) to inspire future nomads and armchair travelers alike. Included at no additional charge: seizing your dreams, living boldly, and making a difference.


  1. Roy on May 26, 2016 at 8:03 am

    Researching the “Life” and found you on Bob’s youtube channel .I already live in a Jayco 5th wheel but plugged into shore power on 5 acres. I want to get out of Manitowoc eventually and hit the road. So trying to figure out my escape vehicle. :)))


    • Becky on May 26, 2016 at 2:09 pm

      Hello Roy and welcome to IO! Glad you’re finding my blog helpful.

      I’m originally from Wisconsin myself (which you may have already learned). It is nice to spend winters somewhere warmer, haha.

      I wish you the very best, it takes some time to figure out the perfect RV for your needs, but I’m sure you’ll get there. Take care!

  2. Kerry on April 27, 2016 at 9:21 am

    Hi Beck,

    FYI my check engine light was on for years in an older Taurus without a very detailed code system. No one could figure it out. Finally, my last mechanic knew what it was and just cleaned it. I think he needed a special cleaning fluid. Just a thought. Enjoy CA. This is the perfect time of year. And you’re right. Not much free camping. Glad you found Oak Flat.

    • Becky on April 27, 2016 at 10:06 am

      The light hasn’t been back on since the shop in Bakersfield cleared it, may have been some temporary imbalance due to the climb. Next time I take the truck in for an oil change I’ll have them check everything over to make sure there are no issues.

      I am enjoying CA, thanks!

  3. Terri on April 25, 2016 at 8:04 pm

    That spot at Oak Flat seems beautiful. If I had stopped there, I likely would have wanted to stay even longer! I’m so glad you found two honest and good repair shops. The repair the boat guys did looks awesome. And I’m so glad you found out the problem with the O2 sensor. I’ve had one of those go on a vehicle before too. They definitely could have taken you for a ride if they had wanted to.

    I’m so enjoying catching up on all of your photos. Seeing them when reading your posts on my phone just isn’t the same!
    Terri recently posted..Selling the RV, moving into a studioMy Profile

    • Becky on April 25, 2016 at 8:24 pm

      Yeah Oak Flat was great! And so far the check engine light hasn’t come back on, so it’s possible the code was tripped due to the climb and it sorted itself out.

  4. Phil on April 25, 2016 at 8:03 am

    Hey Becky. Glad you found an honest garage to help you out.
    You are correct that it could have been the driving conditions that caused the light to come on. A dirty air filter can cause the O2 sensor to trigger a code.
    Get a code scan tool to keep with you.they are really quite easy to use inexpensive on Amazon now.
    If the light comes on just plug the tool in and read and record the the code then erase the code and then research potential causes and see if it comes back.
    I had a vehicle that had a recurring code for years yet the vehicle remained a reliable and carefree driver. When I needed to get the car e-checked I would erase the codes then when they saw that there was no data in the computer they would do the exhaust test and it always passed.

  5. Ernesto Quintero on April 17, 2016 at 10:54 am

    Becky thanks for reminding me of my vacation trips to California in the late 80’s – early 90’s. 🙂 Now I’m stuck in Florida for another 9 years or so. :-(. But my road trip adventures in the Southern states will start sometime this summer. SUPER 🙂 Again thanks for giving me the courage to dump my stick N brick and do the RV thing now and not wait till retirement. Keep up the great blog and be safe.

    • Becky on April 17, 2016 at 9:10 pm

      You’re welcome Ernesto. Glad you enjoyed this post and I’m sure you’ll find plenty of great places to visit in the south, take care!

  6. Swankie on April 17, 2016 at 10:19 am

    I recently had to replace an O2 sensor as well. I drove way too long with it bad and it damaged the catalytic converter which I also now have to replace. I learned a couple things… a bad sensor can effect your gas mileage… and my van is getting expensive. lol Good luck.
    Swankie recently posted..Arizona National Trail—Passage 8 Scouting Trip (April 13, 2016)My Profile

    • Becky on April 17, 2016 at 9:08 pm

      Yeah, this shop tells me the engine throws more gas into the mix when an O2 sensor is bad. I believe I had to replace my catalytic converter when my last sensor went bad. There’s a slight possibility it was tripped due to the climb and will resolve on it’s own. We’ll see when I leave this current camp. If the engine light comes back on, I’ll get it fixed right away when I leave this camp.

  7. Alan Belisle on April 17, 2016 at 10:06 am

    Our paths crossed, even if we were a few days behind you. On the 16th, we passed through Castiac and stopped for lunch at Denny’s. Good eggs but very slow service. From there, on to Oakhurst to our new home for the week. Looking forward to exploring Yosemite. So far no problems with Gypsy, our Nissan Rogue (Gypsy Rogue Lee) other than an annoying slow leak in one of the tires. Glad to hear your mechanical problems are few and far between. Climbing steep mountain passes with nothing but sand and rocks for miles, even a minor problem could be a disaster. Continued good luck and smooth sailing!
    Alan Belisle recently posted..San Diego, California 4/2/16 – 4/9/16My Profile

    • Becky on April 17, 2016 at 9:05 pm

      Glad you missed the wind Alan, I would have hate to have driven through that and am glad I stuck in Oak Flat an extra day. Also glad to hear your adventure is going well minus the air leak. I had that happen on my last vehicle and it was annoying.

  8. Bill Davies on April 17, 2016 at 9:59 am

    Love that last pic! I always look forward to your reading your blog. Safe travels!

    • Becky on April 17, 2016 at 9:02 pm

      Isn’t that a great view Bill? That’s heading east on 178, such a beautiful drive. I’ll be sharing more about that soon.

  9. Jodee Gravel on April 17, 2016 at 9:51 am

    Seems like you’re traveling through all my “home towns” recently. We launched our full-time life from Santa Clarita last summer and five of our six boys still live there. As is often the case, I didn’t even know there was a KOA nearby, but I’m not surprised to hear it was overpriced and lacking in desirability – they almost always are both. So glad you found good people to take care of your issues – California really isn’t the horrible place so many make of it 🙂 I almost missed your last post with the big news – whew, that’s quite the hoops to jump through but I’m glad the dogs don’t just go to anyone with the money in hand. Best of luck on finding your new family member.
    Jodee Gravel recently posted..Our New Most Favorite Place on the PlanetMy Profile

    • Becky on April 17, 2016 at 9:00 pm

      Thanks Jodee! I also appreciate that this rescue goes to lengths to ensure a good match between adopter and dog, I can tell they really care about what they do and I feel good about supporting them.

      California’s been just fine, and it certainly is pretty. I think the high prices (on just about everything) are the worst of it – particularly gas. But as gas is generally cheap right now this was probably going to be my best bet for seeing this state with the least damage to my wallet. I don’t regret coming coming here!

  10. RGupnorth on April 17, 2016 at 9:25 am

    Oak Flats looks like it was a nice stop for you. Weather is starting to warm up acr

    • Becky on April 17, 2016 at 8:56 pm

      Yep it is warming up. The boondock I’m at now is right along the river and it’s flowing pretty good with snow melt from the mountains. Going to be in the 80’s the next few days. Then again, I’ve pretty much been following 80 degrees since mid February so it’s a little different for me, haha.

  11. Jeff on April 17, 2016 at 9:20 am

    I-5 is often necessary, but it can be boring. Glad you found the beauty of it to share. We’ll often pick up 99 in Bakersfield then back on 5 in Sacramento to break it up. Safe travels!

    • Becky on April 17, 2016 at 8:54 pm

      I’ll be driving a good stretch of I5 coming up Jeff, it’ll be mostly new for me though. I can’t imagine it being worse than I10 through Texas but I could be wrong, I guess we’ll see! Thanks and take care.

  12. Steve on April 17, 2016 at 8:58 am

    Hi Becky,

    Glad to see you trying to save money anyway you can on your ‘house’. Here is a thought to save you even more on your cover. Marine Sunbrella is one of the better choices of fabrics that you can use for your project. Depending on exterior conditions, covers made from that fabric can last about 7 years. Buying one or two over-sized pieces ahead of time can save you time and money, and it wouldn’t take up too much room. When a new cover is needed, trim to fit allowing for fold-over and stitching, flame raw edges with a candle, then for a few bucks, take it to a shop to have them fold and stitch the edges. Then you would carefully install the hardware yourself. You may be able to save 50 to 75% by doing it this way. If you decide to use vinyl, a durable brand is Commercial Naugahyde, not the off-shore products found in most fabric and discount stores.

    Safe travels.

    • Becky on April 17, 2016 at 8:52 pm

      For the do-it-yourself person this is good advice Steve, thanks for sharing.

  13. Michelle on April 17, 2016 at 8:56 am

    Very interesting reading! Nice pictures too, 🙂

    • Becky on April 17, 2016 at 8:50 pm

      Thanks Michelle, glad you enjoyed it!

  14. Cat Lady on April 17, 2016 at 7:02 am

    Becky, on your last post you had to pay a high price to stay at a campground. I wanted to let you know that another blogger said that Thousand Trails is now letting folks stay at Passport America rates. Soledad Canyon Thousand Trails might have been convenient for your stay…at least the price would have been right. This information might come in handy in the future

    • Becky on April 17, 2016 at 8:50 pm

      I don’t have Passport America or Thousand Trails Cat Lady, but yes the price is good if a person does! I spend so little of my time at regular RV parks that neither of those clubs would be worth it to me, the only reason why I did this time was for the home visit. This advice may help others though so thanks for sharing. 🙂

  15. Beverly in CA on April 17, 2016 at 6:38 am

    Hi Becky, I am glad you found some of the beauty on I5. Some of the smells, views, and condition of the road if you travel north are not great. Take care.

    • Becky on April 17, 2016 at 8:33 pm

      That section between Castaic and Grapevine is lovely Beverly, I’ve driven it once before heading the other direction too.

      I’m currently northeast of Bakersfield camped along the Kern River, it’s beautiful! More about that coming up. From here I will be heading north on I5, it can’t be avoided. But that’s okay. Not every drive can be scenic and in this case the destination will be worth it!

  16. Pamelab on April 17, 2016 at 12:19 am

    Hi, Becky – you have definitely had the good luck! Things come up and mechanical issues are important to not put off. You are wise and practical. Such a good place for you to hunker down during the wind and pretty, too. Thanks for the nice landscape photos and those brilliant flowers.
    Happy trails.
    Pamelab in houston

    • Becky on April 17, 2016 at 8:29 pm

      You’re welcome Pamela. I just love springtime and flowers and am glad the wind wasn’t too bad where I was. The rescue lady in LA who did my home visit called to check on me and make sure I was okay, she says it was the worst wind she think she’s ever experienced in that area. It was very sweet of her.

      And yeah, I don’t take maintenance lightly. My whole lifestyle rides on the truck after all!

  17. Ron on April 16, 2016 at 8:57 pm

    Great scenery and photos. Have you ever considered buying a Honda 2000 generator? But then it’s nice to have a shade day now and then.

    • Becky on April 17, 2016 at 8:24 pm

      If I have to I will Ron, but so far I haven’t. This is the one day it would have been handy in the three months I’ve been boondocking so far. I don’t need a generator enough to make it worth the cost right now. 🙂

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