I Am Just a Cowboy

Saturday was another warm day. The temperature reached the low 80s. Donna went out for a run before it got too warm. I puttered around. We planned on going to Donna’s sister’s house for a Halloween party in the evening. This has been an annual event for us over the last four years.

We were going to do western themed cowboy-cowgirl outfits since we both had the boots and would only need a couple of accessories. Donna changed her mind and made a creative outfit. She used cotton balls to create clouds on a blue shirt. She had a water bottle that sprayed a fine mist. When she was asked what her outfit was, she said, “I’m your up-to-the-minute weather forecast – partly cloudy with 100% chance of showers.” Then she would spray her water bottle. Fun.

I went ahead with the cowboy look. I rode the Spyder over to the Boot Barn in Kearny Mesa. I bought a Roper cowboy shirt with mother-of-pearl snaps and a bolo tie. I have a Stetson cowboy hat and I wore cowboy boots. Unfortunately I don’t have any photos from the party.

We decided to take a Lyft ride to Point Loma for the party at Sheila’s house. When I tried to schedule the pick-up, there was something wrong with the Lyft app on my phone. It located our pick-up point and I input the destination. When I tapped the “Request Lyft” button, it said “Busy” and went back to the previous screen. I tried it a couple of times with the same result. It never showed a car or driver or the wait time.

Donna opened the app on her phone and it worked fine. It showed a driver available with an ETA of four minutes. The driver picked us up and we were on our way. About half way to Sheila’s house, my phone rang. It was a Lyft driver telling me he was looking for us. I told him my app malfunctioned and didn’t confirm him coming, so we took another ride. A few minutes later, I received a text from Lyft saying they charged my credit card five dollars for a no show. How about that – a no show message as I was riding in a Lyft car. I sent an explanation to their customer service – we’ll see how that works out.

Sheila’s Halloween party is two parties at once. There are a number school kids – friends of her 12-year-old son Connor making up half of the party. Then there are the adults – parents of the kids and friends that make up the other half. We had an enjoyable evening with good food, drinks and lots of interesting conversations.

A little past 9pm, I tried to schedule another Lyft ride. My app had the same result – it said “Busy” next to the pick-up address and never showed a car or driver in the area. This time I waited to see what would happen.

After touching the "Schedule" button it shows "Busy"

After touching the “Request Lyft” button it shows “Busy”

After several minutes, my phone rang. It was a Lyft driver telling me he was in front of the house to pick us up. I had to break Donna away from a conversation she was having. We left in such a hurry we forgot to bring home leftover food and a package of pulled pork that one of the guests had smoked and given to us.

Sunday morning we woke up to a passing rain shower. It passed, leaving a thin overcast sky behind. Things quickly dried. Donna went out for a run – she ran along the Bayshore Walk path around Crown Point. Her plan was to pick up a City DecoBike near the Catamaran Hotel at the end of her run and ride the bike back to the RV park. There’s a City Bike station right in front of the RV park. She didn’t find the station she expected to find near the Catamaran. She had to walk past Mission Boulevard where she eventually found a bike station at Mission Beach.

Meanwhile I was absorbed in NFL games. The Chargers won a thriller in overtime. They came back from a second-half 17-point deficit to win 33-30 over the Falcons in Atlanta.

Today we have overcast skies this morning – it’s supposed to clear up by the afternoon and reach a high temperature in the low 70s. Sounds good to me.

San Diego Routine

Donna has been busy writing while I’ve been getting out to play pickleball. She has a mid-December book deadline and also has couple of articles to complete. I played pickleball four days in a row – about two and half hours per day. With the shorter waiting times between games at the Pacific Beach and Ocean Beach Recreation Centers, I’ve been getting a good daily workout.

My days are already falling into a familiar San Diego routine. Get out of bed around 7:30am. Mess around on the Internet for a while. Breakfast. Pickleball. Read. Happy hour with the guys at Offshore Tavern and Grill or Dan Diego’s. Watch a show or movie. Bed time.

The Internet continues to feed my latest obsession. Last weekend I ordered another pair of Lucchese cowboy boots. This time I went a little overboard and bought full quill ostrich boots with calfskin shafts. They arrived from Amazon on Wednesday. I was really disappointed when I opened the box. The stitching on the shafts – the part that comes up around your calf – was supposed to have a gold hue contrasting with the brown calfskin shaft. These boots looked like someone had smeared brown shoe polish over the stitching and the shafts were uniformly brown with no contrast – you could hardly see the stitching.

I called Lucchese customer service and told them the boots don’t match the images I saw online. They were very helpful and told me something was amiss. They stitch the shafts after the leather is dyed and polished. I don’t think it was a factory defect – something happened to these boots. They offered to repair or replace the boots if I sent them to the factory in El Paso. I opted to return them to Amazon since I had free returns with my Prime membership. I boxed them up and rode the Spyder to the UPS store in Pacific Beach. It was super easy – the UPS guy scanned the return label and gave me a tracking number.

When I came home, I ordered another pair of the same boots. I received an email from Amazon telling me they had already processed reimbursement to my credit card – they must get a notification when the return label is processed by UPS.

While I was at the Pacific Beach Recreation Center playing pickleball on Thursday, I got a notification on my phone telling me the replacement boots had been delivered! Wow! I ordered the replacements around 4pm on Wednesday and they came before noon the next day!

Lucchese full quill ostrich boots with calfskin shafts

Lucchese full quill ostrich boots with calfskin shafts

We had another minor issue this week. Last weekend the Mission Bay RV Resort office lent me a converter box for our TV since trees were blocking my Dish satellite reception. It worked fine on Sunday – I watched NFL football all day. On Monday night I wanted to watch football but the reception kept cutting out. Monday was a cloudy, overcast day. I assumed the clouds caused the RV park’s Direct TV antenna to lose the signal.

On Wednesday we tried to watch the presidential race debate, but the TV signal was cutting out again. There weren’t any clouds on Wednesday. The RV park sent a guy out on Thursday and he gave me another converter box. When I hooked up the new box, it couldn’t acquire any signal at all. I found it hard to believe that I had two defective boxes. I suspected a problem with our coaxial cable. The 50-foot cable I used to hook up to the park’s TV system was given to me three years ago by my brother-in-law, Tommy. It’s been knocking around in a container in our trailer since then. I went to Home Depot and bought a new cable. Problem solved – the TV reception is great and I was able to watch the game last night.

Donna made a pot of pork chile Thursday with the chicos she bought in Santa Fe. She had it in the slow cooker all afternoon. Our friend Mona visited with her while I watched the game and enjoyed the chile with a Racer 5 IPA. The chicos were coarser than I expected. Maybe that’s the way it is with ancient foods. I’m sure I got plenty of fiber.

Pork chile with chicos

Pork chile with chicos

Racer 5 IPA from Petaluma, California

Racer 5 IPA from Cloverdale, California

As the sun was setting, I walked over to the cove and shot a different sunset view. De Anza Cove is east of the RV park. Looking across the cove you see the Bay Park neighborhood terraced on the Clairemont Mesa. The sun lit up the neighborhood as it dipped below the horizon. I missed the dramatic lighting by a minute or two, but this photo gives a sense of what it looked like.

Last rays of sun on Bay Park

Last rays of sun on Bay Park

We had an unseasonably warm day yesterday – the high was 89 degrees. The weather guessers are calling for low to mid-80s for the weekend before the temperature falls to a more normal high of around 70 degrees. Tomorrow we’ll go to Donna’s sister’s annual Halloween party. I’m taking a break from pickleball until Monday.

San Diego Spring Tides

I have an affinity for mechanical wristwatches. There’s nothing wrong with a quartz movement – in fact, the most accurate time keepers are probably quartz. But there’s a certain romance with a purely mechanical watch movement powered by a mainspring and meticulously assembled from tiny plates, gears and jewel bearings. Automatic watches have self-winding mechanical movements.

I had quite a collection of watches at one time. I kept my automatic wrist watches on watch winders – a special case that rotated the watch periodically to allow the rotor to wind the mainspring and keep the watch running. Like everything else, I pared my collection down and now I have five wristwatches and one railroad pocket watch. I’ve been favoring my GMT Master II for several years and it’s overdue for a service.

Monday I rode the Spyder to Ben Bridge Jeweler at Fashion Valley Mall. About a year and half ago the watchmaker there, Israel, serviced Donna’s watch. It takes about five weeks for a service – the watch is completely disassembled, all parts are inspected and any worn parts are replaced. Special lubricants are put on the bearings. Then it’s reassembled and regulated. It’s not an inexpensive job – in fact, the service costs more than the average wristwatch costs new.

Meanwhile, I’m wearing a watch that I bought several years ago when I had a Moto Guzzi motorcycle. One of the guys at the loosely organized Moto Guzzi Club commissioned a limited number of watches built with an ETA automatic movement and iron magnetic shield dial. The ETA 2824 movement is a common workhorse built by the Swatch Group and is used in many watches.

Moto Guzzi watch on my hairy wrist

Moto Guzzi watch on my hairy wrist

When I came back from Fashion Valley, Donna was back in bed. She had tummy trouble – we think it may have been a case of food poisoning. She spent the entire day in bed. Fortunately, she was better the next day.

She didn’t need me to do anything for her, so I went to Ocean Beach to the recreation center and played pickleball. I found out that the times listed on the USAPA site were wrong. The site showed pickleball from noon to 2pm – which is what I remembered from last year. Now they play from 10am to 2pm on Monday and Wednesday. I was able to get several games in and had a good workout.

It was overcast when I rode the Spyder to Ocean Beach. I thought it was the typical morning marine layer which would burn off. I was surprised when I left the rec center to find a low overcast still hanging around. I rode to Pacific Beach where I stopped for tacos and a mist was falling lightly. On the way back to Mission Bay, I hit a rain shower. It was brief though and the sun finally broke through by 4pm.

Tuesday morning I had to retrieve some things from the trailer. While I was at the storage lot, I noticed the tide was very high in the bay and the morning sunlight was beautiful.

Morning sunshine on De Anza Cove

Morning sunshine on De Anza Cove

Tuesday and Thursday pickleball is played at the Pacific Beach Recreation Center. Again, their hours have changed. It used to be noon to 4pm. Now it’s 10am to 4pm. The longer hours of open play makes it less crowded as people come and go after playing for a couple of hours. I barely had break time inbetween games. I played from noon to 2:30pm.

Later, I went to the Offshore Tavern and Grill to collect the spoils of my second-place football pool result. I got a free drink and five dollars. Winning is better, but I can’t complain. A funny thing happened when I left the RV park for the tavern. Just as I pulled out of our site, Donna saw my cell phone on the counter. She knows I don’t like to be without my cell phone. She grabbed the phone and ran after me. A car went through the automatic gate ahead of me, so I didn’t need to wait for the gate to open. I rolled out before Donna could catch me.

I was about to exit the Mission Bay RV Resort property when two women from the office came out and waved their arms to flag me down. I stopped and they said, “You forgot your phone.”  I thanked them and turned around. I assumed Donna had phoned the office and I had to go back to our coach to get my phone. About then, Thomas, the security supervisor rolled up in his cart and handed me my phone. I was surprised and a little confused.

Later Donna told me that Thomas saw her running after me. He pulled up beside her in his golf cart and took the phone and came after me. He must have radioed the office girls and told them to stop me. What an effort – just because I don’t like to go out without my phone!

After I returned, Donna and I took a walk around the Mission Bay RV Resort at sunset. The phase of the moon is creating spring tides. Spring tides don’t have anything to do with the season – it’s about the water level springing up and down. Spring tides occur when the gravitational pull of the sun and moon combine, causing higher than average high tides and lower than average low tides. At sunset, the tide was lower than I ever remember seeing in Mission Bay.

Low tide at sunset

Low tide at sunset

Boater paddling in the low water

Boater paddling in the low water

Donna made panko crusted rockfish filets for dinner. She served it with a kale salad with dried cranberries, pine nuts and parmigiano reggiano cheese. It was a delicious meal.

Panko crusted cod

Panko crusted rockfish

Today we’re in for another beautiful weather day. The forecast high is in the low 80s with abundant sunshine. Donna volunteered to do more data entry for the Girls on the Run organization. I think I’ll head over to Ocean Beach for more pickleball.


Run, Donna, Run

We had a fairly quiet weekend as we settled in at Mission Bay RV Resort.

Donna went to an office in Mission Valley Friday morning. She volunteered to do some data entry for an organization called Girls on the Run. I took a couple of walks around the RV park and mostly read a book on my Kindle. I retrieved the Weber Q grill and stand from our trailer in the storage lot so we could grill steak for dinner. Then I went to the Offshore Tavern and Grill for happy hour and met up with my pals there – Bob, Tye and Tim. We caught up and of course I entered the football pool.

On Saturday morning, Donna and I rode the Spyder downtown to the Little Italy District for the farmers’ market. We always enjoy farmers’ markets and the San Diego Saturday market is a good one.

Farmers' market on Cedar Street

Farmers’ market on Cedar Street

We strolled through the four-block section of Cedar Street and had food samples. We weren’t really shopping for anything, but we ended up buying a Greek-style eggplant and yogurt dip, baguette, smoked gouda cheese, uncured salami and two kinds of sausages from The Meatmen, a bomber bottle of Modern Times blood orange gose beer (brewed in Point Loma), plus pomegranates and kale. We like the smaller Tuesday farmers’ market in Pacific Beach too.

Ozark the cat has really taken to her window mounted bed. She slept Saturday afternoon in it, but the sunshine must have bothered her eyes.

Ozark the cat shielding her eyes

Ozark the cat shielding her eyes

Donna had volunteered to work from 2-4pm at the Girls on the Run booth that was set up for the Esprit de She race on Sunday so she rode her bike over there. While she was out, I made a run to the store. One of things I like about the west coast is the availability and large selection of craft beer in 22-ounce bomber bottles. We found plenty of craft beer in New Mexico, Colorado and even Wyoming but you had to look for it and generally it was only available in six-packs of 12-ounce bottles. In California, Oregon and Washington you’ll find good selections in just about every grocery store.

Islander IPA from Coronado Brewing Company.

Islander IPA from Coronado Brewing Company.

We snacked on the food we bought at the farmers’ market for happy hour, then Donna made turmeric chicken with bone-in chicken thighs. She served it with Israeli couscous and steamed green beans.

Turmeric chicken thighs

Turmeric chicken thighs

Donna had her alarm set for 5:30am Sunday morning. She was entered in a 5k race at South Shores Park on the south side of Mission Bay, just east of Sea World. Her plan was to use a City Bike to ride to South Shores Park – the race was scheduled to start at 7:15am. City Bikes are rental bicycles found in various locations in San Diego. The bikes are electronically locked in bike racks. You pay five dollars for half an hour – the machine will release the bike and record the time. When you return the bike at any City Bike rack, it locks in the rack and records the return time. There’s a rack of bikes just outside Mission Bay RV Resort, about a quarter mile from our site.

It had rained overnight, but no rain was falling when Donna left just after 6am. She had to take a towel along to wipe down the City Bike seat – and my headlamp as it was still dark. She was able to ride a bike path all the way to the bike drop-off, then walked another 1/2 mile or so to South Shores Park.

The start of the race was delayed until 7:45am. Donna ran a good pace – 9:48/mile and nearly met her goal of finishing in under 30 minutes. She finished in 30:25 and won the woman’s 50-59 age group.

I spent most of the day watching football. I was getting excited about my chances in the football pool. I picked winners in 10 out of 13 games played on Sunday. I ended up in second place though – the winner also picked 10 out of 13 but he ended up with 84 points to my 80. Oh well, there’s always next week.

Wipe Out IPA from Port Brewing Company

Wipe Out IPA from Port Brewing Company

On Sunday evening, Donna made a marinara sauce from scratch and served sweet Italian sausage with marinara over goat cheese ravioli – we bought the sausage and the ravioli at the farmers’ market.

Swwet Italian sausage with marinara over goat cheese raviola

Sweet Italian sausage with marinara over goat cheese ravioli

I have a few errands to run today and I need to get cracking on next year’s health insurance plan. This afternoon I’ll probably play pickleball at the Pacific Beach Recreation Center. Donna is working on a new book project that will occupy much of her time as she needs to meet a mid-December deadline.


*Just so you know, if you follow one of my links to Amazon and decide to make a purchase, you pay the same price as usual and  I’ll earn a few pennies for the referral. It’ll go into the beer fund. Thanks!

Three Summits to the Coast

After a quiet night in the desert, we pulled out of Ogilby Road around 9:30am. Interstate 8 has a huge construction project that spans miles and miles of road – nearly from the Arizona border to the Holtville exit – about 50 miles of freeway. I was amazed to find us on a temporary asphalt road running parallel to the interstate for several miles. It boggles my mind to think of how much it must have cost to pave this temporary road.

The traffic was fairly light and we made good time despite the construction. West of El Centro we crossed a desert basin with a sign post stating we were at sea level. There was a huge array of solar panels on both sides of the road. Then we started a gradual climb for a few miles before we began climbing in earnest. The next sign I saw said we were 1,000 feet above sea level, then 2,000 feet. The climb from 2,000 to 3,000 was short and steep. We crossed the Tecate Divide at 4,140 feet above sea level then dropped into a valley before we climbed again to the Crestwood Summit – the highest point on I-8 at 4,181 feet above sea level.

We dropped into another valley and made a familiar stop at the Buckman Springs rest area. I parked our rig in the truck parking and Donna made salads with roasted chicken. We sat at a picnic table in the rest area and enjoyed our lunch outdoors. The temperature at this elevation was a pleasant 70 degrees.

Dining al fresco at Buckman Springs

Dining al fresco at Buckman Springs

After we hit the road again we immediately ran into a Border Patrol check point. The Border Patrol agent waved us through – no questions asked. I believe they already know who they want to question and search – they probably know which vehicles came across the border or had their trip originate near the Mexico border.

We climbed once again out of the valley to the third summit on our route – Laguna Summit at 4,055 feet above sea level. From there we began a 13-mile descent with some steep downgrades. It’s mostly downhill all the way to the city of Lakeside, east of El Cajon, California. I had to get back into the city driving mode and be on the defensive. I choose the lane I want to be in well before I need to be there.

We pulled into Mission Bay RV Resort just before 1pm. We were checked in quickly and dropped the trailer in the storage lot across from the security shack. Thomas, the security supervisor, welcomed us and told us where to put the trailer. Maneuvering the trailer into place was a study in patience, but we got it done without any issues. We haven’t been charged for trailer storage since those Dirty, Rotten Thieves stole our trailer here in 2013.

Backing the coach into site 120 was another test of patience as I had to maneuver past parked cars and trees. I was feeling good about being back in San Diego. If any city is a homecoming for me, San Diego is it. Then I met our new neighbor.

I had positioned the coach in our site when the guy in site 119 on the driver’s side of our coach came out. He told me I was too far to the left and my slide out would encroach on his space. What? At Mission Bay RV Resort they have lines painted on the paved sites. There are two parallel lines about three feet apart bordering each side of the site. On the driver’s side, the sewer hook up is in between these lines. My understanding has always been that the three-foot zone between the lines on the driver’s side of the coach is a buffer zone for hook ups and slide outs.

Lines for a buffer zone with sewer hook up

Lines for a buffer zone with sewer hook up

This guy told me he’s been coming here for 10 years and I was encroaching on his “patio space.” I looked at the rig on the right side of us, site 121. He was parked with his slide out in this buffer zone. I pointed it out to him – in fact just about every site was parked like this. Rather than fight with the guy, I moved our coach over about a foot. Later I asked Thomas what the site boundary rules were. He told me I was right – my wheels shouldn’t be over the line but the slide out could extend over the closest line. The second line defines the boundary for the next site.

Then it got worse. My Dish satellite receiver couldn’t acquire a signal due to trees. We’re going to be here for two months! No TV for two months was not acceptable. Before setting up I went to the office to see if we could move to another site – one that would solve the satellite issue and get me away from the jerk in 119. There wasn’t anything available unless I wanted to switch sites every week or two. Oh, no!

Then the woman in the office said, “Why don’t you hook up to the park cable TV?” I told her my TV was on an HDMI cable, I didn’t have a coaxial cable set up. She said she would lend me a converter box with an HDMI port. I brought the box back to the site and it worked! I don’t get all of the channels I have with satellite, but at least I can watch the football games.

Home for the next two months

Home for the next two months

We’re required to leave the park for 24 hours after two months, then we can check in again. We plan to stay for a total of three months here. We haven’t decided where we’ll spend our 24-hour exile, but we have plenty of time to get to that.

The five-day forecast looks great – some clouds with daily highs in the low 70s. It’s great to be back.

Did You Hear That?

I woke up well before dawn at the Mazatzal Casino parking lot in Payson, Arizona Tuesday morning. Lying in bed with my eyes closed I heard Donna whisper, “Did you hear that?” “Uh-huh.” “Was that an elk?” “Yeah, it’s a bull elk bugling.” Of all the places we’ve been, a casino parking lot was the last place I’d expected to hear a bull elk bugling in the pre-dawn hours. I heard it two more times in the next 30 or 40 minutes confirming it was real, not a dream.

We were packed up and on the road a little after 9am. We drove down AZ87 – also known as the Beeline Highway – southwest toward Fountain Hills and the greater Phoenix area. Payson is 5,000 feet above sea level. The Beeline Highway descends rapidly and has a series of steep uphill grades – the net result is a loss of elevation. We arrived in Mesa at an elevation of around 1,200 feet above sea level and pulled into the RV Renovators lot on Main Street.

RV Renovators is the outfit I’ve chosen to repair the damage on the coach from the encounter with a large buck in Idaho. I wanted to stop there and go over the insurance estimate and discuss the repair work before we return in January to have the work done. The job will entail some complicated fiberglass repairs on the living room slide-out.

We had a short meeting and they have us on the calendar to return and start work on January 15th. Although the insurance estimate only shows 40 hours of labor, they told me two weeks of work was more realistic. The goal is to start work on January 15th and finish by the end of the month. They also told me we can stay in the coach at their shop – they have hook ups. Staying in the coach helps – we won’t have to find a place to stay for an indefinite period of time and have to deal with our personal belongings in the coach. We’ll also be onsite every day to oversee progress. This is good news. Now I just need to figure out what to do with our 20-foot car carrier trailer while we’re at the shop.

From there we moved on to Casa Grande where I stopped at the Speedco service center to have maintenance done on the coach. I do an annual preventive maintenance (PM) which includes an engine oil and filter change and a fuel filter change, chassis lube and inspection. Our Cummins ISL diesel engine falls under their medium duty PM schedule. In the past, I paid $179.99 for this service plus any upgrades or additional work found upon inspection. I usually upgrade the oil filter to a Fleetguard instead of the standard Baldwin and use Chevron Delo 400 LE 15-40 oil. This time I was told they had a price increase – the medium duty PM base price went from $179.99 to $249.99 – a 39% jump in price! I also have the used oil analysis done. This too had an increase – it was $17.99 now it’s $24.99.

I went ahead with it. When I looked at the used oil analysis I could see something was wrong. Everything looked good until I saw the viscosity at 100C – it was listed as less than 3 cSt.  The specification is 12.5 to 16.3 cSt. If my engine oil was really less than 3 cSt, I wouldn’t be holding any oil pressure when the oil was at full operating temperature. When I asked about how this could be, I heard a lot of mumbling and the girl at the counter highlighted the specification. I told her I was well aware of the spec and what it means – but I didn’t believe the results because it didn’t make sense. She took it to the manager. After a few minutes he admitted that he didn’t even know what the measurement meant – it’s just a number their machine spits out – he refunded the $24.99. I might have to rethink how I’m having used oil analysis performed.

Later, I looked at the Speedco corporate website. Their price sheet which was updated in September still shows medium duty PM at $179.99. I sent an inquiry to their customer service asking if I’d been overcharged.

From there we had the coach washed at Blue Beacon, then found the Elks Lodge near the courthouse downtown. Parking was easy and as always, the people at the lodge were friendly. Unfortunately this is a lodge that allows smoking at the bar.  Overnight dry camping cost $10.

On Wednesday morning, Donna went for a run, then we prepared to move on. The lodge lot was empty – we were the only RV there and all of the cars from the night before were gone. This made it easy to exit the parking area.

When we pulled out, our fuel gauge registered less than 1/4 tank. I wondered how this could be – where had all our fuel gone? We had several hours of generator run time, but that only accounts for half to three quarters of a gallon per hour. My plan was to fuel up in Yuma at the Pilot/Flying J at exit 12 where we’ve stopped several times before. I was pretty sure we could cover the 160 miles, but I don’t like running below a quarter tank.

About an hour later, I figured something was up with the fuel gauge. Now it was reading a quarter tank – higher than when we left 60 miles before. We made it to Yuma and I topped off the tank with only 65 gallons of fuel – there was more than a quarter of tank left. The fuel price of $2.26/gallon with my Pilot/Flying J RV Rewards card was nice too!

While we were in Yuma we made a Walmart run and stocked the pantry. I also bought a quart of Delo 400 oil to top up the generator. We’ve run it over 50 hours since I changed the oil at Eagle Nest Lake. It only took about 12 ounces to top it off – but with a sump capacity of only three quarts, I don’t like to run it low on oil. With the generator oil topped off, I fired it up to run the roof air conditioners. It was 95 degrees in Yuma!

I thought about stopping at a couple of other RV stores in Yuma for a few supplies I need, but blew it off as I can get them from Amazon when we’re settled in at Mission Bay RV Resort. We continued west on I-8 past Winterhaven, California and found our little stopping spot in the desert at Ogilby Road. We’ve stayed here several times on BLM land that’s part of the Picacho State Recreation Area (SRA). The SRA borders the Picacho Wilderness and the area we stay in has a fairly level, hard-packed gravel surface. It’s a popular if somewhat secluded area for snowbirds that don’t mind boondocking. This part of the desert sits at an elevation of about 400 feet above sea level. It’s much warmer than we’ve become accustomed to after months in the mountains.

The rock garden area we usually stay in was occupied by the only other RV in sight. We found a nice, level spot that had a site marked by rocks over a quarter mile away – leaving plenty of space. People that spend most of the winter here arrange rocks around their rigs. It’s against BLM regulations, but no one seems to mind.

Our "site" in the open desert

Our “site” in the open desert

Path from our door step

Path from our door step

Many people would view this area as a barren wasteland, but I enjoy staying here. I love the views, the quiet and the seclusion.

Our windshield view

Our windshield view

Desert sunset and sunrise is always spectacular.

Desert sunset

Desert sunset

After dark I walked outside and looked at the sky expecting to see it filled with stars but the 3/4 moon was so bright, it washed out many of the stars.

I slept soundly. The overnight low temperature was in the 60s and we had all of the windows open. I woke up just before sunrise.

Our rig is dwarfed by the open desert

Our rig is dwarfed by the open desert

The sunrise was every bit as spectacular as the sunset the evening before.

Desert sunrise

Desert sunrise

The balloon fiesta in Albuquerque is a memory now and the days spent there seem like a blur. This morning we’ll move on to San Diego. We look forward to our time there every year – this will be our fourth winter visit. There’s always so much to do and it’s great to reconnect with old friends there.

I think we’ll make our usual stop for lunch at the Buckman Springs rest area and check in at Mission Bay around 1pm. The weather forecast for the next week in San Diego looks great – highs in the low 70s with partly cloudy skies.


2016 Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta – Final Flight

I ended my last post by saying the final day of the 2016 Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta may be a bust. It was raining when I went to bed Saturday night and looking at the forecast, I fully expected to hear raindrops on the roof when my 4:30am alarm sounded. I was surprised to find it wasn’t raining and dragged myself out of bed.

Brad picked me up at the Fiesta Park entrance. I had a nice chat with Johnny, the security guy there, while I was waiting. Hanging out with Johnny for 15-20 minutes every morning for nine days straight gave us a chance to get to know each other.

Breakfast burritos and excellent locally roasted coffee from Piñon coffee was served to pilots and crew at the pavilion. A great start to the day. They do a great job of feeding about 1700 pilots and crew on weekdays and up to 2200 on the weekends.

The pilot’s briefing had weather info that caught me by surprise. It seemed like a nice morning with favorable winds, however there was some ground fog to the east and the possibility of more fog in the river bottom as the dew point and temperature were close.

After sunrise, Brad gave the go-ahead to unload and assemble the Heart’s A’Fire hot air balloon. We had it cold inflated and I expected Brad to fire the burners at any moment when we were given the command to stand down. I didn’t know what was up but soon found out that the field had been closed due to the fog bank to the east. Ground fog can be very dangerous for flight as it makes it impossible to see and identify obstacles for landing.

We were soon back at it, inflating the balloon. I really like manning the throat of the balloon and watching it inflate. It can be taxing at times as wind or the weight of the sponsor banner makes the balloon want to roll on the ground. It’s important to keep the envelope properly oriented with the basket so the lines don’t twist and tangle. The lines connecting the basket to the envelope are numbered and we strive to keep number 10 and 11 centered on top as the basket lies on its side. I had some muscle soreness every day for the first week of the Fiesta but now I’ve worked myself into shape – just as we’re finishing up.

Brad’s passengers for the day were a special pair of siblings – brother and sister. They are the children of a good friend of Brad’s that’s an avid extreme hiker – more of a rock/mountain climber than hiker from what I understand. About three weeks ago, he disappeared while hiking 14,000 foot peaks in Colorado. Search and rescue operations searched for eight days before they were suspended. The kids haven’t been out of the house since his disappearance. Brad thought it would be good for them to get out, have a flight in the balloon and enjoy a day. He contacted their mother and invited them to go up.

We were given the thumbs up by the launch director and they were off!

Final launch of the 2016 Fiesta

Final launch of the 2016 Fiesta

We chased the balloon over to 2nd Street, west of the field. Brad had it working as he flew high and went north over the Sandia Pueblo Reservation, then dropped altitude and came back south down low. In fact he went low enough to dip the basket in the Rio Grande River – what they call a splash and dash! He did this a couple of times.

After more than an hour of flight time, he landed near the water diversion channel – about 150 yards from his landing the day before. This time he was on the west side of the channel and the access road had a locked gate. Lucky for us, a Sandia Tribal Police Officer had a key and unlocked the gate for us. Last year I heard horror stories of how the tribe treated balloonists and crews that landed on the reservation. This year there seems to be much more understanding and cooperation – I haven’t heard any bad stories, only good news.

After packing up the balloon, we had our usual tailgate party. Donna and our friend, Kris Downey, joined us. One of the crew members, Darren, thoughtfully lent us his Ford F150 truck so I could transport the Traeger grill, table, chairs and a few odds and ends from our site in the RV park to our trailer. Thanks, Darren! It would have been a real hassle to walk the stuff all the way to where we dropped the trailer.

I napped and watched football for the remainder of the day. At 4pm, Donna took a Lyft ride to an after-Fiesta party. She had a good time and was glad she opted for Lyft instead of riding the Spyder. We had another thunderstorm pass through. Besides, she could enjoy a couple of glasses of wine without worry. Brad and Jessica drove her back to the coach.

This morning I woke up a little before 6am. It felt luxurious to lie in bed for 15 minutes, then get up. I felt like I’d slept in. After a regular breakfast of eggs, bacon and toast with raspberry-ginger jam, I started packing up for the road. I had a few things I needed to take to the trailer. On my way walking back after the first trip, I saw Jim McManus with his head inside the battery compartment of a motorhome belonging to a solo woman RVer. I stopped to see what was going on. She had a problem with her house batteries not charging. The generator had tripped the breaker. When I checked it, the breaker didn’t feel right, the switch didn’t snap into place like it should. I worked it a few times and snapped it vigorously and it closed like it should. We checked it with a meter and it was charging.

On my next trip to the trailer, I saw Jim messing with a compartment door on the same coach. The door wouldn’t latch and they were trying to come up with a temporary solution. I checked the latch and it worked. The problem was that the squared-off U-bolt that it latches to wasn’t adjusted properly. The woman who owns the coach said she just had that compartment door replaced. It appears as though the shop didn’t lock down the adjustment nuts and they worked loose. Easy fix.

I like to help people out when I can, especially if I know what the answer to the problem is. Helping out here put me about 15 minutes behind schedule – but hey, what schedule? So I thought we could leave by 9am. What’s the big deal? I didn’t have to be anywhere at any special time. By the time I hooked up the trailer and loaded the Spyder, we pulled out at 9:30am.

We didn’t have any special destination in mind. I was thinking if we could make it to Holbrook, Arizona we could find a place to boondock for the night.

We're not in New Mexico anymore

We’re not in New Mexico anymore

On the road, we thought about what we needed to do in the next three days. Tomorrow I want to stop in Mesa, Arizona at the RV Renovators to go over the work we need to have done to repair the damage caused by the suicidal deer in Idaho. Then I’d like to continue on to Casa Grande where I’ll have service work done at Speedco and a wash job at the Blue Beacon there. This had me thinking I should try to get closer to Mesa than Holbrook.

We ended up driving about 340 miles – a lot longer than we usually do – and are dry camped at a casino in Payson, Arizona. We started the day at an elevation of 5,000 feet above sea level in Albuquerque. Our route across I-40 took us to the Mogollon Rim in Northern Arizona – there’s some disagreement on how to pronounce Mogollon. This is probably due to various tribal dialects, Spanish speakers and settlers in the area. Most seem to agree it’s muggy-on. The Mogollon Rim brought us to an elevation of more than 7,700 feet. Now we’re right back where we started sitting at 5,000 feet above sea level.

Tomorrow night we can find another boondock spot – maybe the Elks Lodge in Casa Grande. Then we’ll move on to our little piece of desert in California west of Yuma/Winterhaven for the night.

It will be nice to have a quiet, secluded night before we move on to city life for the next three months in San Diego. I don’t think I’ll be posting for a couple of days as we take care of business.

2016 Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta – Part Three

The weather guessers had it right on Thursday. The Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta Park was nearly 10 degrees warmer than the previous day at 5am and the day turned out to be a nice one. We took the Heart’s A’Fire hot air balloon offsite to launch for the day’s competition. There were two events – a ring toss with five poles on the Fiesta park grounds and also a bean bag toss onto golf greens at the park. The objective was to launch a minimum of one mile away from the park and fly back over it to complete the ring toss and/or the bean bag toss.

Mr. Peanut balloon inflated at the park

Mr. Peanut balloon inflated at the park

Our pilot, Brad Rice, wanted to head northwest to Corrales to launch. After conferring with his ballooning buddy, Neil Jackson, and another pilot, he changed his mind and we went southwest to launch from a shopping center parking lot.

We had to wait for the field to open for competitors after other balloonists not entered in the competition cleared the field. There are balloons launching from the field every day the field is open. So far only one day of flying was cancelled – that was Monday.

We launched a few helium-filled balloons called pie balls to check the wind direction aloft. The pie balls headed northeast – right toward the park. We set up and launched around 8:15am, about a minute after Neil took off. Both balloons moved southeast – not toward the park. So much for that day’s competition.

Both pilots tried different altitudes to see if they could find air moving north to no avail. Brad flew east of I-25 then found a wind current that brought him back to the west. As we chased, he radioed and told us he was on track to hit the Arroyo Del Oso golf course. I phoned the golf course and secured permission to land the balloon there. The manager had a groundskeeper lead us through the golf course to Brad’s balloon. I think he was near the 6th fairway. We quickly deflated and loaded the balloon and cleared off the golf course.

We joined the crew from Ireland for a little tailgate party after the flight. They had a friendly rivalry with the Viking crew which led to some tomfoolery. The Vikings pulled up in a pick-up truck, jumped out and wet down the Irish crew with water cannons!

Attack of the Vikings

Attack of the Vikings

After taking a nap back at the motorhome, I returned to the park around 4pm. We had a barbeque and little party scheduled. We celebrated three birthdays – Julie Jackson, Rita and me. I’m the senior celebrant.

Birthday barbeque - Donna and her friend Hazel in the center of the photo

Birthday barbeque – Donna and her friend Hazel in the center of the photo

Donna met up with her friend, Hazel Thornton, from Albuquerque. They rode the shuttle from the RV park to the Balloon Fiesta Park and Donna brought a carrot cake she made that morning. She also gave me the latest Kindle for my birthday so I can read books without downloading them to my laptop.

Happy birthday Julie!

Happy birthday Julie!

Happy birthday Rita!

Happy birthday Rita!

Happy birthday to me

Happy birthday to me

I’m 60 years old and have been retired for more than three years – all of my retirement has been life on the road. Who would have guessed it.

Officially an old dude

Officially an old dude

Friday was another competition day. High winds were reported in the area – mostly south of the Fiesta Park. It seemed like it might be a problem, but the winds stayed south and we had good flying conditions. This time we launched from a lot next to the Target store southeast of the park on the east side of I-25. This worked out great as the balloon was carried west by wind up high, then moved north to the west side of the Fiesta park and dropped low bringing it east again right over the park.

Brad and Neil coming in low over the park

Brad and Neil coming in low over the park

Brad missed the ring toss and landed the balloon in a parking lot on the north end of the park. We returned to the park and had the usual tailgate party with a few other crews that share row “H”. Someone had T-shirts made with “Row H Family” on the left front.

The Row H family

The Row H family

Each day after we retrieve the balloon and pack it in the trailer, we fill the propane tanks after we return to the park. Fuel is provided by the event organizers at no charge for registered pilots. A fueling station is set up on the north side of the park with more than 30 lanes. A maximum of three persons per balloon are allowed in the filling station and baskets in enclosed trailers must be brought out of the trailer before fueling.

By Saturday morning, a cold front had settled into the area. I went to the Sid Cutter Pilot’s Pavilion for breakfast as usual. The free breakfast for pilots and crew at the pavilion is anything but usual. Today we had Frito pie again. They have a rotation of hot breakfast food – breakfast burritos on the first day followed by green chile chicken stew, then green chile beef stew and finally Frito pie. I wrote about Frito pie in my last post.

Breakfast of champions - Frito pie

Breakfast of champions – Frito pie

It was breezy and cold. Flights were suspended and we hung out at our launch site without unloading the balloon. I handed out Heart’s A’Fire trading cards and talked to spectators. We were hoping conditions would change after sunrise. It was past 8:30am before the field opened for flight.

We quickly unloaded the gear and set up the balloon. We were the first one ready on row H. This is the nice thing about having a stable crew where everyone knows what to do and works in harmony. Brad and his passengers were released for flight before any balloons in our vicinity were ready to go. A few minutes after we launched, flights were suspended again as rain was falling south of the park. I shot this picture of a balloon inflating after Brad launched – notice the cloud cover.

Overcast skies

Overcast skies

Brad piloted the balloon slowly to the north and made a short flight. He could see a wall of rain moving in. He landed near a water diversion channel northwest of the park.

Heart's A'Fire near a water diversion channel

Heart’s A’Fire near a water diversion channel

We quickly disassembled the balloon and had it packed in the trailer as rain started falling. I received an alert on my smartphone warning of flash flood possibility – we got away from the diversion channel fast!

A stage was set up on the north end of the Fiesta Park field. A concert with three bands was scheduled to begin at 1:30pm. We set up our tailgate party in row T, closest to the concert area.

Cold weather for the concert

Cold weather for the concert

It was raining while we set up and lightning strikes occurred less than two miles away with booming thunder. It passed after half an hour and the grills were fired up and food was set out. The cold, windy weather put a damper on things and I left around 2pm. Donna had joined us but left before me to visit with Tom and Kris Downey and warm up in their motorhome at the Fiesta Park VIP RV area.

I can hear the concert as I type this. It’s still windy and rain is expected to move into the area soon. Rain is also forecast for Sunday morning – the final day of the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta may be a bust. We’ll see.


2016 Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta – Part Two

After I posted on Monday, Jim McManus of the Escapees Boomers group organized a trip to the Boxing Bear Brewery a few miles down Alameda Boulevard from the RV park. I rode with Jim in his Jeep. We had seven people – five men and two women for the brewery tour at noon. The tour was given by the brewmaster, Justin. This is a relatively small brewery using a 10-barrel system. A standard beer barrel is 31 gallons, so they brew around 300 gallons of beer per batch – the exact amount varies depending on the grain bill and how many hops are used.

Fermenters on the left, 10 barrel tun on the right

Fermenters on the left, 10-barrel tun on the right

They had some brews aging in bourbon barrels.

Aging brew in bourbon barrels

Aging brew in bourbon barrels

It was a nice tour and we each had a couple of pints along with lunch. The lunch special includes some really tasty sandwiches – I had the Cubano – and a pint of beer for $10. Not a bad deal! The beers were very good and a good time was had by all. We came back to the RV park around 2:30pm. It was nap time for me.

Tuesday morning I was up before 5am. Brad picked me up at the entrance to the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta Park. After another odd breakfast in the Pilot’s Pavilion – a New Mexico dish called Frito pie – we went to the pilot’s briefing. Frito pie is a bowl with a handful of Frito corn chips topped by chili with beans, beef and cheese. Breakfast of champions.

Once again we had iffy wind conditions. The dawn patrol balloons remained grounded and a yellow flag was flying – meaning the field was closed and no one was allowed to lift off. Our pilot, Brad, had to decide if he wanted to go offsite on the chance that the field would open and he could fly in the day’s competition or stay at the field since there was a good chance the competition would be cancelled.

The competitions involve a target and test the pilot’s skill. The object is to fly over the target and drop a bean bag on it or toss a ring on a pole – things of that nature. Usually the target is on the balloon field. Competitors have to launch a minimum of one mile away from the field and aren’t allowed to lift off until all of the other balloons have left the field.

Brad decided to stay at the field. Our friends, Tom and Kris Downey (Open Road 365), arrived yesterday – they have their RV in the VIP parking area inside the Balloon Fiesta Park and they came to our launch site. They were excited to be here – it’s their first time. I explained what was going on to them and also told them they were only seeing a fraction of the normal number of balloons due to the wind concerns.

Around 7:45am, the field went green and balloons began to launch. The day’s competition was cancelled. We scrambled and assembled the balloon and inflated quickly. Brad was in the air by 8:10am. The wind out of the north had the balloons moving briskly to the south. At 8:23am, the announcement was made to close the field at 8:30am. It was getting too windy.

Brad made a short hop with his two passengers. We picked them up a few miles south of the field around 8:45am. It was short day of flying. I saw a few balloons landing at speeds that looked a little scary. Anything over 10-12 mph can be hairy.

After lunch, I spatchcocked a chicken with poultry shears Donna bought recently. The Oxo poultry shears made cutting the backbone out of a whole chicken a breeze. This was the first time I tried spatchcocking a chicken myself and it was easier than I expected. After I removed the back bone, I flattened the chicken and cut the wing tips off. Donna marinated the chicken in olive oil, lemon juice, garlic, fresh rosemary, salt and pepper. I cooked it on the Traeger and it was delicious. I set the Traeger to 350 degrees for 40 minutes with the chicken breast down, then I flipped it over and raised the temperature to 425 for 10 minutes to crisp the skin.

Traeger chicken with roasted potatoes and asparagus

Traeger chicken with roasted potatoes and asparagus

I slept soundly and the alarm woke me at 4:45am this morning. I walked across the street to the entrance to the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta Park where I waited for the crew to pick me up. I talked to Johnny, the security guy at the entrance. Johnny has been working that post for 17 years. He always has a big smile and a wave for everyone entering the park. He knows many of the participants by name after all these years. Lots of people bring him food or coffee which they hand off to him as they enter the park.

On Wednesday morning, the conditions were much better. They would have the competition today, but competitors would launch from the field and make a drop on the target south of Alameda Boulevard in the RV park right in front of our site! Donna had a front row seat from the coach!

Balloons inflating and launching

Balloons inflating and launching

Special Shapes balloons

Special shapes balloons

The famous Albuquerque Box was working today. Wind near the ground and up to a few hundred feet was moving the balloons south. At higher altitudes there was a wind shear and the wind brought the balloons back north – northwest. By working the balloon up and down, the pilot could move back and forth over the park.

After we launched the Heart’s A’Fire balloon, we piled in the chase vehicle and drove out to the south entrance – where I was picked up earlier. We waited there to see where Brad would end up. Lots of balloons were flying low overhead and I shot a few photos.

Coming through low over the trees

Coming through low over the trees


Special Shape in flight

Special shape in flight

Lots of balloons

Lots of balloons


Pretty in the early morning sunlight

Pretty in the early morning sunlight

After flying low over the target, Brad flew the balloon high and went north past the Balloon Fiesta Park. Then he dropped down and we lost sight of him. After a while he contacted us on the radio and said he was on track to land back in the park. We drove back into the park and saw him coming in. The traffic was slow and I was afraid we wouldn’t get there in time. It wasn’t too big of a worry though – with so many crews in the park, someone would help them.

While we were stopped in traffic I decided to bail out of the truck and run to where I thought he would land. Brad’s wife, Jessica, said she would run with me. When I said run, I meant jog. Jessica ran. The balloon landed before I reached their landing point. Jessica got there a good 30 yards ahead of me! Jessica is 37 years old and I’m on my last day of 59 – that’s my excuse.

After we packed the balloon, I found out we had another task. We were taking the balloon to the school where Brad and Jessica’s three older children attend. We would set up for a static display and demo for the school kids.

While we were setting up, Brad noticed a tear in the envelope. The tear was nearly two feet long. The fabric was torn near a pulley for the top release. When we landed at the park, a guy I’ve never seen before helped us take the balloon down. It appears that he didn’t know what he was doing and pulled hard on the rope which must have been jammed at the pulley and tore it.

After the demo we packed up again and went directly to a shop called Aerco. They are an FAA-approved balloon repair facility. We unloaded the envelope and they will have it repaired by the end of the day.

It turned out to be a good thing we did the demo – if not, we wouldn’t have discovered the tear until we set up Thursday morning and the day’s flight would’ve been scrubbed.

Tomorrow’s forecast looks good. Hopefully they have it right and we’ll have another great day of flying on my 60th birthday. I forgot to mention this morning’s cold temperature. It was 48 degrees at 5am. Just before sunrise the temperature dropped to 37 degrees before it started climbing again. This afternoon as I type this, it’s 75 degrees outside. Thursday isn’t supposed to be quite as cold in the morning and we’ll see mid-70s in the afternoon again.


*Just so you know, if you follow one of my links to Amazon and decide to make a purchase, you pay the same price as usual and  I’ll earn a few pennies for the referral. It’ll go into the beer fund. Thanks!

2016 Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta – Part One

The 45th Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta (AIBF) opened on Saturday. This annual event starts on the first Saturday in October and runs for nine days – the final lift-off is on the second Sunday of the month.

My plan was to meet up with the rest of the crew at the entrance to the Balloon Fiesta Park and ride in with them. The entrance to the park is only about a quarter of a mile from our coach on the north side of Alameda Boulevard. My alarm sounded at 5am. I thought this would give me time for cup of coffee and light breakfast before I headed out. As soon as I rolled out of bed my phone rang. It was our crew chief, Yonnie, advising me they were 15 minutes away.

I quickly dressed and brushed my teeth and went out the door. Luckily the gate at the northwest corner of the RV area was open, so I had a short walk to the Balloon Fiesta Park entrance. I stood by the entrance in the dark looking for our pilot Brad Rice in his Infinity SUV with the balloon trailer. An Audi Q7 stopped and I heard someone calling my name. I jogged over and got in, wondering who’s car it was. It was another crew member, Jeff, and his wife Katie. Aaron was also with them. We drove in and parked in the south lot.

Brad drove in behind us. Brad got us into the Intel hospitality tent where they were dishing up breakfast burritos and coffee. Yum! I was thinking I missed out on my breakfast, but a big egg, hash brown and sausage burrito with cheese filled me.

The next order of business was the mandatory daily pilot’s briefing. This takes place at 6:15am on the west side of the launch field. Five hundred and fifty pilots and balloons were registered for the event – many more applied but 550 is the limit. Each morning several pilots have their number called at random and they must report to the FAA officials to ensure they attended the meeting. It wouldn’t be practical to have a roll call with 550 pilots.

Pre-dawn pilot's briefing

Pre-dawn pilot’s briefing

The dawn patrol goes up before sunrise. These are specially licensed balloons with running lights that can lift off in the dark. They give the rest of the pilots a good visual clue of what the winds aloft are doing.

Dawn patrol

Dawn patrol

After the briefing it was time to get to work. We had plenty of manpower – our pilot is a local Albuquerque resident and many of his friends come out to help on the weekend. The core crew group is Yonnie, Aaron, Darren and me. Alex comes out when he can and also Jeff. During the weekdays, we lose a few of the guys due to work commitments, but there’s always someone to fill in. We set up the basket and laid out the envelope after sunrise.

Envelope laid out with basket tipped on it's side

Envelope laid out with basket tipped on its side

We’re in row “H”, so we have to wait while balloons south of us launch before we can be released to launch. We try to coordinate our set-up to be ready with time to spare, but not too early as it wastes fuel to sit on the ground with the balloon inflated. With all the manpower we had Saturday morning, we set up a little too quickly. We start the inflation process by blowing air into the envelope with a large gasoline engine-powered fan. This is called cold inflating. With our quick set-up, we ended up with a long cold inflation period. Darren and I man each side of the throat of the balloon – the opening at the bottom of the envelope. We hold it open so air can blow in and we stabilize it so the envelope remains oriented properly. This can be difficult at times because the sponsor banner, which is on top of the prone envelope is heavy and wants to roll to one side or the other and any wind component will also roll the balloon. We were wrestling with the lines at the throat for a long time before Brad hit the burners and the hot air stood the envelope and basket up.

Brad’s wife Jessica went up along with another passenger, Bryan. Although they own the balloon, Jessica hadn’t been up in it for several years.

Jessica and Katie with their Heart's A'Fire attire

Jessica and Katie with their Heart’s A’Fire attire

Officials at the launch site called Zebras – they dress like a football referee in striped outfits – give the go ahead to launch. Brad hits the burners and lifts the basket about a foot off the ground. We walk it away from the crowd and vehicles and he gives the “hands off” command and heats the balloon to lift off.


Lift off

After the launch, we gather up gear and head out to give chase.

Mass ascent

Mass ascent

Sometimes it’s hard to pick out the balloon among the hundreds in the sky. It’s good for one or more of the chase crew to keep eyes on it – once you lose sight of it it can be a little scary.

Where did they go?

Where did they go?

Brad made a tricky landing southwest of the park in a small clearing – he had to avoid trees and a wall around the clearing. Jessica and Bryan jumped out and Brad went back up in the balloon with another passenger for a short hop and landed again in another small clearing with a few other balloons in it. The ground wind had picked up considerably, but it was a successful landing.

While we were breaking the balloon down, we heard a loud pop – like a gunshot. It was followed by a hissing sound, making us think a tire had blown. A quick walk around the Infinity SUV and trailer showed the tires to be good, but the rear of the SUV was sagging. An airbag for the air-ride suspension had blown! First day of the Fiesta and the chase truck was out of commission. Yonnie’s Suburban was pressed into service to tow the trailer and carry the chase crew. After we packed up the balloon, we returned to the Balloon Fiesta Park for the tailgate party. We had plenty of food and cracked open beers before noon!

Donna and I came home around noon. I took a short nap. We had to go back to the park and set up again in the late afternoon for the evening glow event. The glow is a static display – we inflate the balloon just before sunset. The crew weights the balloon to keep it down by leaning our arms on the basket. After dark, the pilots hit the burners to light up the balloons in unison and they glow in the dark. It’s a popular spectator event and the Balloon Fiesta Park is filled with thousands of people.


Heart's A'Fire glowing

Heart’s A’Fire glowing

Glow display

Glow display

We packed the balloon around 8pm – it was a long day. I came home and relaxed with a scotch on the rocks before sleeping like a rock. At 5am Sunday, the alarm went off and I was up and at it again.

This time after meeting my ride at the entrance, we went to the pilot’s pavillion for breakfast. It was genuine New Mexico fare – green chile chicken stew before 6am! We had another day of beautiful weather and our preparations were just like the day before – including another long cold inflation period. I’m getting a real workout. Brad took a couple of representatives from his sponsor – Cottonwood Mall – up. They had a great flight and landed the balloon in a small park south of the launch site.

I spent the afternoon watching NFL games and snoozing on the couch. Rain moved in Sunday night – I woke to the sound of raindrops on the roof. By the time my alarm sounded at 4:45am it had stopped. Brad picked me up at the entrance and went to the pilot’s pavillion for breakfast. This time it was green chile beef stew.

The front that pushed the rain in was causing strong winds aloft. Although it seemed fine at ground level, the wind speed picked by 400 feet above ground level and grew stronger as you went up. The flights for the day were scrubbed. No balloon flight meant I was back at the coach by 7am and I had a chance to write this post.

The weather guessers say we’ll have cooler weather as the cold front comes through. We should stay dry for the next few days with highs in the 70s. With any luck we’ll have balloons in the sky tomorrow morning.