We encountered our first problem this morning. Linda started to take a shower in the Viva and there was no hot water. The Viva doesn’t have a hot water tank--instead, it has an on-demand tankless water heater system similar to the one we have at home. The heater would kick on immediately and run for about 30 seconds, but the water stayed cold. Then the heater turned off. Not good! Rick tried to troubleshoot, but couldn’t find or fix the problem. It was time to hit the road, so we sent an e-mail to our dealership (Lichtsinn) and asked the service department to call us with advice.
Disappointed over this development, we left Badlands/White River KOA and toured all through the Badlands National Park. Linda got to use her senior free pass—one of the very few benefits of old age! We had heard of The Badlands, of course, but really didn’t know what to expect. It seemed like it was another world. Words and even pictures can’t begin to describe the unusual sights, the desolate beauty.
After leaving The Badlands National Park, we headed for Mount Rushmore KOA, our next camping spot. Along the way we stopped at the world famous Wall Drug Store in Wall, SD. Rick stayed with the dogs in the Viva while Linda took a little time to look around--she said it was an amazing place, with everything!--then it was on the road again.
The people here have a strange fascination with old fire trucks. At least a certain winery has a fascination. It seemed like every five miles or so, there was a billboard advertising a winery, and an ancient fire truck parked beneath the sign. In the middle of nowhere. Strange. Somewhere a village is missing its old fire truck.
Tim, the service manager, had called while we were in The Badlands. He didn’t know a fix for the water heater, either, so he said he would call the manufacturer. A couple of hours later, a guy called while Rick was driving and it was also pouring rain, so we told him we would call him back as soon as we arrived at the campground and hooked up.
When we reached the campground we learned that recent rains had left large areas very soggy. A KOA host was kind enough to drive us around in a golf cart until we found a dry spot that suited us.
Once we had hooked up the Viva and the rain stopped, Rick called Girard Systems LLC, the water heater manufacturer in California. We don’t think we’ve ever received better customer service from any company. It was late on a Friday afternoon, and they were about to close. The woman who answered the phone at first said we would have to call back on Monday, but after we explained our dilemma, she said to be patient and one of the techs would help us as soon as he was free. We ended up speaking with Kyle, and he was wonderful. He diagnosed the problem (not enough water was flowing through the hot water line) and how to fix it (hit reset button, then adjust the thermostat for temp control instead of mixing via the hot and cold faucets). We were back in business! But still no TV, either cable or over the air...
The next day (Saturday, May 31) we awoke to heavy fog, and it was slow driving to Mount Rushmore. When we arrived at the entrance it was still so foggy that we couldn’t see the faces on the monument, so we didn’t turn in. We kept going to find a town and a store where we could replenish supplies and then wait for the fog to lift.
Mount Rushmore wasn’t high on our “must see” list, but we made it one of our stops because it was on the general route we wanted to follow. We don’t like to see mankind put its mark on nature, especially in an area that is sacred to Native Americans. But if you can force aside those feelings, Mount Rushmore becomes an amazing work of art. It can be viewed from so many different angles, and with each new perspective the facial details change.
After Mount Rushmore it was on to The Crazy Horse Memorial, something we really did want to see. We had high expectations for this visit, but we were actually disappointed. We won’t go into all the details of this project--a web search can give you voluminous information--but to us it appeared to be a project without end. We understand the philosophy behind wanting to keep the project private and not owned by the government, but there has to be a better way to raise money and make faster progress. Crazy Horse deserves a memorial now, not several centuries in the future. Okay, rant over.
On the way back to the Mount Rushmore KOA we decided to take Iron Mountain Road through Custer State Park. Had we only known! It was the most twisting, winding, uphill, downhill, challenging road you could imagine, especially in a new RV that you’re still getting used to driving. We passed through three one-lane tunnels, and each time Linda had to get out to make sure we were clear overhead and on both sides. Such fun! Yeah, right!
But a really cool part was that several times we would go around a sweeping curve and Mount Rushmore would appear in the distance.
Despite the white knuckles on the steering wheel, it was a great drive!
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We disconnected from Lichtsinn’s services and the dogs and I hit the road for the first time in our new Viva! Linda followed in the rental car. I didn’t get a chance to drive the Viva on Tuesday or Wednesday, so I was a bit edgy as we set out. The ride was very smooth, and the Viva handled more like a car than a truck. The dogs settled in just fine. We took mostly back roads to I-90. There was virtually no traffic and the rural Iowa scenery was unexpectedly lovely. Linda went ahead to drop off the rental car at the Sioux Falls Airport, and Rick got lost (this will likely be a recurring theme throughout this trip) finding the airport road. He finally found it, and with Linda aboard, the family unit was intact. We passed the Corn Palace in Mitchell, SD, and were also close to Laura Ingalls Wilder’s home, but didn’t have time to stop at either place. We arrived at The Badlands National Park at what we thought was 5:00 p.m., but it was actually 4:00 p.m. because we had crossed into the Mountain Time Zone. The Badlands were simply mesmerizing--we’ll let the photos speak for themselves.
We camped at the Badlands/White River KOA, where we leveled the RV and connected services for the first time. It was 90 degrees when we got there, and the sky was cloudless. We had a problem with the sewer fitting, and a staff member helped us get connected and gave us two clamps. We bought a coaxial cable for the TV, but we couldn’t get the TVs to work. Rick took a quick dip in the allegedly heated pool, but it was a bit chilly. The park had a great fenced dog area, and Zoe raced around and loved it. We bought firewood and had a great little campfire, and toasted some of our $11/bag vegan marshmallows. Pricey, but they were wonderful! Chilly pool and TV issues aside (and we didn’t care about TV anyway), our first camping experience couldn’t have been any better. If all KOAs are like this one, we’ve got it made!
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A very special day for us--not only had we just spent our first night in our new Viva, today also happened to be our 35th wedding anniversary! But the day wasn’t without a few problems. The TVs (the Viva comes with 2 TVs) weren’t working, the kitchen sink was leaking, and a kitchen drawer was hard to open. Fortunately, we were in very good hands with Bill, our Lichtsinn service technician. He went above (literally--he had to get on the roof to fix the TV issue, which was a wiring problem) and beyond. He could not have been nicer or more professional. The Viva was in the shop for most of the day, though, so we didn’t have as much time as we wanted to continue to learn how everything worked. But, being the adventurous types, we were ready to set out in the morning for the open road.
About 30 minutes before the dealership closed, we realized that we had not yet had a chance to meet Ron Lichtsinn, the owner of Lichtsinn Motors. We had watched a number of Lichtsinn videos and web presentations during the time our Viva was being built, and we felt like we already knew Ron, but we wanted to meet him in person. Rick called the dealership from our Viva (which was still sitting on the Lichtsinn lot) and asked if we could walk over and meet Ron. The receptionist said she would page him and call me back. A few minutes later there was a knock at the door and it was Ron Lichtsinn. He was very nice, and thanked us for buying our Viva from Lichtsinn Motors. We even took a few pictures with him.
A huge THANKS to the entire LICHTSINN RV TEAM! All of our experiences with them were wonderful, from our initial contacts to waving goodbye as we drove off in our new Viva!
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The big day finally arrived! As we drove our rental car from Cedar Rapids to Forest City, Iowa, we became more excited with each mile. We had an orientation appointment at Lichtsinn Motors scheduled for 9:15 a.m., and we arrived at the dealership at 8:45. We were thrilled to see our Viva, our new home on wheels, sitting on the lot. We spent the first day going through the orientation with Bill, our service tech; meeting with our salesperson, Jason; going over all of the purchase paperwork with Hannah, the Business Manager; talking with Tim and Lonnie in service and parts; and looking over every inch and every feature of the Viva. Many times throughout the day Linda and I looked at each other in disbelief. An RV had been a dream for a long time, and finally it was a reality! Not only were we happy--Zoe and Tybee easily settled into their new home on wheels.
An added bonus in buying from Lichtsinn--they let us camp on their lot for free (with hookups) until we felt ready to hit the road. Being newbies, we decided that we wanted two days and nights to become comfortable with the Viva.
Great adventures ahead!
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