Small House Big World

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Glacier and Various Fires

Anna Edgren • August 13, 2015

It seems that our mechanical problems like to crop up in the midst of only the most beautiful scenery, so it is appropriate that while in the stunning and serene Glacier National Park all hell would break loose. That might be a BIT of an exaggeration, but anytime a piece of your vehicle melts, I think it is appropriate to express a fair amount of concern. 

I will start with our arrival: We decided to stay at the Apgar campground, it is at the edge of Lake MacDonald with shady little spots and a quick walk to the edge of the lake. Great campground, but the cell signal was a little spotty. It worked in half of the campground, but once you got too close to the back of the park, there was nothing. The campgrounds in Glacier are known for being very busy, so we had to be quite strategic about finding places to move and timing it right. It was a bit frustrating, but we finally picked out a spot we liked where we both had decent signal. Hooray! 

So we are finally content, sitting quietly in the middle of the day in our happy little spot, generator running to power our laptops, both of us diligently working away, when we suddenly hear an odd noise come from the generator. It sounds like: THPPPPPPPPPP. And then it stops. It sounds like our generator just stuck its tongue out at us. We glanced at each other suspiciously, and then the smell hit. Sour, putrid, sulfur, burning smell. Like nothing I have ever smelled before. 

When you smell something so evil coming from your own home so suddenly, there is no hesitation, there is no “hmm well that’s odd”, there is only “OH MY GOD WHAT ON EARTH”. Something was OBVIOUSLY very wrong. We have fire extinguishers handy in the RV, of course, and I quickly grabbed ours. We walked through the RV trying to locate the smell, and determined it was coming from under the fridge, which is the main hub where the circuitbreakers, converter, fuses, and… other electrical thingys are located (I’m out of vocabulary on this). We found nothing ACTUALLY on fire, but we could tell that something must have singed, or melted, or burned in that general area. Whatever happened, we were no longer able to generate power. 

Without power, our RV is basically unusable to us, as we can’t charge our laptops and do our jobs. Unless we were able to fix the problem, we would have to leave Glacier just as soon as we had arrived. Which I for one was not keen to do. 

So Kelly, upon whom I cannot bestow enough credit or thanks, decided he was going to troubleshoot the problem. He started with the generator, since one of the breakers had tripped during the ordeal. He made various attempts to isolate the issue through experimentation. Eventually, he determined that there was nothing wrong with the generator, but the problem was coming from something under the fridge, where the smell was strongest. Long story short – he busted in there and unscrewed everything you could possibly unscrew until he found the automatic transfer switch box, which smelled PARTICULARLY rank. When he opened up that cavern of mystery, we were greeted with this:

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Hmm that doesn’t look so good let’s take a closer look…

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Oh I see, everything is COMPLETELY DESTROYED and melted together and covered in charred horribleness. A very satisfying smoking gun to find, I will say. 

Kelly, and again, I don’t know how he managed this, but he did, simply rewired the power controls to exclude the switch – so we are able to use the generator to create power. The caveat is that we are now unable to plug into shore power, since the switch controlled that ability. That means will need to buy and install a new switch in order to be able to do both. But in the meantime, we have power through our generator, and everything is basically totally fine and useable. Miracle. 

So with that little issue out of the way, we were able to go enjoy the park! 

Speaking of things being on fire, about a week before we were planning to head to Glacier, we learned that there was a pretty decent sized fire in progress on the east side of the park. It was still burning when we arrived. Luckily, we were staying in West Glacier, which means we were nowhere near the problem. The main issue was that the going-to-the-sun-road was closed in the middle. The famous road is the main link between the east and west side of the park, and it is filled with spectacular views, so this was disappointing.

After exploring a bit of the West side of the park, and made plans to go take a boat tour to see the Many Glacier area, which is the area of the park that contains the most glaciers (who would have thought) and is also closer to the burn area.

Since the main drag through the park was closed, in order to get to Many Glacier we had to drive all the way around the edge of the park.  We got up early to give ourselves enough time to make the drive, only to arrive at the East Gate and be told that the going-to-the-sun-road actually OPENED this morning for the first time in weeks. Whoops. Bummed we wasted an hour, sure, but it was a pretty drive around the park that we otherwise wouldn’t have taken. And since the road was now open, we got to drive through much of the fire’s damage, which was interesting to see up close.

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Burnt trees next to the road

Portions of the fire are still burning, though it is contained: 

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Smoldering away!

Our boat tour and following hike were lovely:

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We camped afterwards at St. Mary, where our campsite was surrounded by thick, lush huckleberry bushes BURSTING with berries. 

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Sampling the berries

The next day we returned to our site at Apgar, where one of my highlights of the trip was swimming in Lake MacDonald in the evening. 

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Being at Glacier was great. It felt like a vacation. After all of our boondocking time, spending time in a more touristy place was fun. We survived another RV meltdown, literally, and I know Kelly learned a TON about electrical wiring and although it was difficult and unfortunate, it is always satisfying to have learned how to fix something yourself.  And believe it or not some of the fix-it mentality is starting to seep into my brain. When something goes wrong I find myself trying to troubleshoot right along with Kelly, and not being entirely terrible at it. Next up: Heading through western Montana and Idaho and then stopping in Washington State for a while, first in Spokane. 

apgar campgroundDIY RV repairglacier fireglacier national parkmany glacierrv electrical repairrv switch box

Anna Edgren • August 13, 2015


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  1. Kathy Edgren August 14, 2015 - 5:33 am Reply

    I always love your happy endings.

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