Author Archives: Mike Kuper

The Sun is Eclipsed by the Moon

We survived the solar eclipse. On Sunday afternoon and evening, a few more people showed up here at the city park in Bayard, Nebraska. An older Monaco Windsor class A motorhome parked next to us in the full hook-up site. A car with Texas plates parked on our passenger side and the lone occupant put up a tent in the park. Later, another car with two guys joined our new friends from Longmont, Colorado, Frazier and Debra, in the last campsite and put up a tent in their site.

The Monaco had three occupants, the elderly owner and his son and daughter. The owner – I didn’t get his name – was 90 years old and bought the Monaco new in 1991. He wanted to see the total eclipse as he figured it was his last opportunity. He also figured that this trip to see the eclipse, then Estes Park in Colorado and a couple of other sites would be his last motorhome adventure with his son and daughter.

The car from Texas on the other side of us was driven by Jesus. He made the trip up from Fort Worth to capture images of the total eclipse. He had a nice telescope that he uses to observe planets and the moon and he planned to use it to make a video and capture photographs of the eclipse. He was a nice guy and just wanted to find a place off the beaten path to take his photos.

Jesus and his telescope

On Monday morning, a few local people turned out at the park to see the eclipse. It was very low key with maybe 20 to 30 people overall. Many brought snacks, drinks and/or lunch and sat in the grass or at the picnic tables in the pavilion.

People in the park

The partial eclipse began at 10:26am local time. You wouldn’t know anything was happening unless you had eclipse glasses and could look into the sun to see the moon begin to cross the sun. It was a slow process and I was surprised to see how little effect it had on the amount of sunlight for the most part. Once the moon had obliterated all but a small sliver of the sun the amount of sun light noticeably decreased and air felt cooler like it does in the evening.

While we were waiting for it to happen, a few people amused us with eclipse parlor tricks. If you can catch shadows just right, you can see the crescent shape of the available sunlight in the shadows.

Sunlight crescents in leaf shadows

Sunlight through a colander shows the crescent shaped sunlight

At 11:49am bam! – the sunlight was gone. We were suddenly in darkness but it wasn’t totally dark. Although it was dark enough where we were for light sensor-activated street lights to turn on after a minute or so, on the horizon in every direction it looked like the sun was rising. This was the edge area of the total eclipse where partial sunlight was still hitting the earth. Cicadas began buzzing with the sounds of evening at mid-day. After about a minute and a half, the sunlight returned quickly. Again, without looking directly into the sun with eclipse glasses, you wouldn’t really know much out of the ordinary was happening.

Jesus in the darkness at 11:49am

In the end it was a fleeting moment in time, but everyone was buzzing about it and I’m glad we were able to experience the total eclipse. I now know that being in an area with 90%+ coverage is meaningless compared to the total eclipse – like I said, up to about 97-98% you wouldn’t know much was happening without looking into the sun with special glasses. In Donna’s words, “It’s the difference between night and day.”

The park soon cleared out and the tent campers packed up and left. Jesus had a long drive ahead to get back to Fort Worth. By 4pm, we were the only ones left at the park. Earlier, before the eclipse, I had ridden the Spyder into town and paid for another night here in Bayard. In the town office I paid $10 – that makes our cost for three nights with 50amp electrical service and fresh water come out to about $3.33/night!

The grocery store in town is small but they have their meats prepared by their own butcher. Donna bought a spatchcocked chicken at the store – I wrote about spatchcock here. It was a small, presumably locally sourced chicken of about three pounds perfectly spatchcocked. I set up the Weber Q and grilled it for dinner.

Grilled spatchcocked chicken

Donna served it with roasted butternut squash and sauteed spinach with garlic. It was delicious – the chicken was tender and juicy.

This morning, Donna is out for a bike ride. We plan to pull out of here by 11am and make the 145 -mile drive to Cheyenne, Wyoming. We plan to stay overnight there at the Sierra Trading Post outlet – we stayed there a year ago. Then we’ll move on to Longmont, Colorado where we hope to get a site at the fairgrounds – they don’t take reservations.

The high temperature today in Cheyenne is supposed to be 78 degrees with clear skies and overnight it will drop into the upper 50s.

Since leaving Iowa we’ve been steadily gaining elevation across the great plains. Bayard, Nebraska sits at an elevation of about 3,900 feet above sea level and we’ll be at 6,000 feet above sea level in Cheyenne. Longmont, Colorado is closer to 5,000 feet above sea level.

 

The RV Friendliest Town

We pulled out of Kearney RV Park and Campground a little past 10am Friday morning – a little later than I hoped, but not a big deal. We headed west on I-80 and found the road surface to be smooth and the driving was easy. We had a headwind but it was only 5-10 mph and we barely felt it.

We made a detour at North Platte, Nebraska – we wanted to visit the Golden Spike Tower. The Golden Spike Tower is a viewing tower eight stories high overlooking the largest rail yard in the world – Union Pacific’s Bailey Yard. Bailey Yard is where Union Pacific performs maintenance on locomotives and train cars 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

We entered the tower building which is also somewhat of a Union Pacific museum and gift shop and we bought tickets to go up to the viewing platforms on the seventh and eight floors. Wouldn’t you know it – when we went to elevators there was a malfunction and the elevator was shut down.

Golden Spike Tower

We didn’t let that stop us. We climbed the stairs to the seventh floor which has an open-air viewing deck. My photos below cannot convey the scale of the operation. I’ve never seen so many locomotives and train cars in one place before. There are 49 tracks for the westbound trains and 65 for the east bound – counting the tracks into and out of maintenance facilities there are 200 separate train tracks totaling 315 miles of track on the 2,850-acre yard.

They have a hump for each direction – the westbound hump is a mound 20 feet high and the eastbound hump is 34 feet high. A locomotive pushes a train of cars up the hump and then, at the top, the cars are separated and roll down via gravity into a bowl which has several tracks. The cars are switched to the proper track to join a train being assembled.

The locomotive maintenance building is the size of three football fields and services about 750 locomotives per month. A modern diesel/electric locomotive is a complex piece of machinery. Maintenance and repair requires skilled technicians – diesel mechanics, electricians, hydraulic specialists and so on – more than 2,600 people are employed here. Again, my photos do not do justice to the scale of the operation.

Click photos to enlarge

The sand towers fill a hopper in the front of the locomotive with sand. All locomotives have a sand reservoir and a pneumatic system to spray the sand on the tracks ahead of the drive wheels in case of loss of traction.

More than 10,000 train cars pass through the facility daily. They service about 750 locomotives per month and change about 10,000 wheels per year on the cars they service. We went up to the eighth floor which is an enclosed platform with a docent and displays. We found the tour to be interesting and a worthwhile diversion.

We ate lunch in the coach, then continued on our way west. I stopped for fuel at the Pilot/Flying J Travel Center in Big Springs (exit 107). We had plenty of fuel but since I wasn’t sure where we would end up for the next few days, I wanted to have the tank topped up.

We continued west to Sidney, Nebraska – home of Cabela’s. We found their store just north of I-80. Unlike most Cabela’s stores, this one had a full service RV campground. They also had the usual dedicated RV and truck parking area. We went inside to see if we were okay to stay the night in the parking area – no problem.

We kicked around in the air-conditioned store for awhile looking at clothing and outdoor gear and sitting at the cafe. It was hot out. Around 4pm I went back to the coach and fired up the generator to start the air conditioners. We had an uneventful night there and hit the road around 9am Saturday morning.

We headed north toward Bridgeport, Nebraska and into the track of the total eclipse of the sun. This event has brought people out of the woodwork and into campgrounds all across the solar eclipse track. Most campgrounds are full and we heard about a few farmers opening up their pastures for dry camping – at $30 to $40/night! We also heard about some full service RV parks gouging with rates as high as $150/night for the weekend through Tuesday, August 22nd.

We didn’t want to end up in a farmer’s field – it would likely be crowded, noisy and if it rained, it could turn into a mud hole. There was no way I would spend the crazy campground rates we were hearing about. Donna had done some research and we thought we had a couple of viable options that wouldn’t cost much if anything and keep us away from the crowds. We decided to take the first good option we found.

It boiled down to two places we wanted to check out. First, there’s a city park in a small town called Bayard. The city maintains three RV sites with 50amp electrical hook-ups and fresh water. The first two nights are free, then it’s just $10/night. Now that’s an RV friendly town – the best I’ve ever found!

Our second option was the Kiowa Wildlife Management Area. There is a large, level gravel lot there perfect for dry camping in a big rig. The upside there would be a quiet place without much light pollution. The downside is dry camping with projected high temperatures in the 90s – meaning our generator would be running most of the time.

We stopped in Bayard first and were surprised to find the RV sites at the park empty! I unloaded the Spyder and backed our trailer into a site. I could hardly believe it – 50 amp electrical service and fresh water free for the weekend! We decided a bird in the hand was worth it – why move on to the unknown at Kiowa WMA and risk losing the site at Bayard. We set up and stayed put.

Free 50 amp service and fresh water!

We’re set!

Park across from our site

Nice view

The temperature reached the mid-90s and I was happy to have both air conditioners running. Another class C RV with a couple and their young son from Longmont, Colorado showed up. They had a campsite at the Chimney Rock Campground nearby. They said the premium full hook-up sites there were going for $150/night and they paid $30/night for a dry camping spot. They said it was crowded and noisy with generators running all around them 24 hours a day. They asked us to hold a site here while they went back to Chimney Rock and gathered their gear. They are happier in this location.

A police cruiser came through the park several times patrolling in the afternoon and evening. Everyone in town is very friendly and local traffic waves at us as they pass – not that there’s much in the way of traffic in this town of 1,200 residents. Bayard, Nebraska has to be the most RV friendly town you’ll ever find!

In the afternoon, Donna and I rode the Spyder over to Gering – a town about 20 miles from Bayard. They had a car show there, but it was a little different than most of the car shows I’ve seen. It had the usual classic cars from the 50s and muscle cars from the 60s, but it also had a category for rat rods. One of the rat rods had passed us on I-80 on our way to Sidney and we saw it the show. It looked like something out of Mad Max – The Road Warrior!

It started out with an old truck chassis and body and went crazy from there. It had a Cadillac 472 cubic inch V8 mounted mid-chassis with a GM 400 Turbo Hydramatic transmission mated to a Jaguar independent rear suspension. It looked like a death trap to me.

Rat Rod

The evening cooled down and we sat outside and read. Another group showed up – a car with three people from Lakewood, Colorado. They planned to tent camp here to view the eclipse. That’s going to be tough as there are no public toilet facilities. They set up a tent in the park grass.

This morning, lawn sprinklers are running in the park, soaking their tent. They’re not here – their car is gone and we have no idea what became of them. We plan to hang out today – Donna wants to go for a bike ride. I’ll probably explore a bit then we’ll sit tight for tomorrow’s eclipse.

We may extend another night here before we move on to Cheyenne, Wyoming.

A Week in Kearney

We’ve spent the past week here at Kearney RV Park and Campground in Kearney, Nebraska. By the way, the local pronunciation is KAR-nee. I always thought of Fort Kearney – Kerr-nee. It turns out that Fort Kearney was named after General Stephen Watts Kearny – no “e” before the “y”. So his name was pronounced Kar-nee but the town and sometimes the fort were mispelled so often that the post office resigned itself to the spelling “Kearney.”

Donna really enjoyed the bicycling in the area and found a few routes on dedicated bike trails. Yesterday she hiked one of the trails to the Great Platte River Road Archway and museum. The archway is a structure spanning 310 feet across I-80. It marks the area where the old western Oregon Trail, the Mormon Trail and California Trail converged near Fort Kearney. From here they split off to the Willamette Valley of Oregon, Salt Lake City and the Sacramento Valley respectively.

Trail to archway

Great Platte River Road Archway

Tuesday afternoon we rode the Spyder into town for a few groceries. While we were there we checked out a local brewery – Thunderhead Brewing Company. The ambiance of the place was lacking and the brews we tried weren’t much better. Oh well, I guess you can’t find great brew in every small town in America.

Thunderhead Brewing Company

Not so special IPA

I did a little fishing in the pond here but didn’t have much luck. I took advantage of the quiet park to catch up on a few maintenance items. I washed out our wet bay – dirt and grime seems to accumulate there and a lot of parks prohibit washing. I also cleaned our battery banks – another area where road grime seems to accumulate.

I did some reorganizing in the trailer and made it easier to find and access a few items that were too deeply packed away. I cleaned and lubed the rams on our HWH leveling jacks. Most importantly, I changed the oil and filter on our Onan 7.5kW Quiet Diesel generator. I try to maintain a 150-hour oil service interval on the Kubota diesel engine powering the generator. I was about seven hours overdue.

The days have been warm and breezy – temperatures reached the mid-80s most days and winds were 15 mph with gusts over 20. We’ve had thundershowers more often than not around sundown or in the night. I’ll remove our windshield cover and pack it this evening so I won’t have to worry about packing a wet cover away.

This morning, Donna rode the Spyder 14 miles south to Axtell, Nebraska to be a guest on a local ABC TV station. This scheduled appearance was the reason we chose to make a stop in Kearney. I stayed home to record the show for her. You can view the program here.

Tomorrow we’ll head out for parts unknown. Call us crazy, but we plan to more or less follow the track of the upcoming complete solar eclipse and hope to catch it on Monday. This is a big deal for a lot of the towns along the narrow geographical band that will experience the total eclipse. Most RV parks are full with exorbitant rates for those that want to be in the path of total darkness at mid-day – something that will last about two minutes. The partial eclipse with the skies turning to twilight at mid-day will last around two hours.

We have a few options to explore, but our loose plan is to follow the path and boondock along the way. We’ll have full fresh water and empty holding tanks – and we’ve had our special eclipse viewing glasses for months! We’ll let you know how it all works out.

Out of Iowa

We left Center Point, Iowa and made our way west to Council Bluffs on the first of the month. Our travels across Iowa for RAGBRAI and back west across the state kept us mostly on state roads and county highways. In Iowa, most of these roads are either slabs of concrete butted together, worn asphalt that’s been chip-sealed many times over or dirt/gravel surfaces.

The concrete slabs are most common along state roads and they heave where the slabs butt together making a rough ride. At the best of times, the tires set up a rhythmic slapping sound and the coach gently bounces along. More often than not, the slabs launch the coach from one section to the next. The chip sealed surfaces are no better. I could usually see if cross traffic was approaching by the dust cloud raised as the vehicle approached on the gravel/dirt side roads. The dirt is a fine, light, powdery dust.

When we made our stop in Council Bluffs, Iowa near the Nebraska border, the constant pounding had taken its toll. First off, we couldn’t find our Jetpack wifi. We usually move it to kitchen counter before we move, but had forgotten to do that this time. The power cord was on the counter, but no Jetpack.

We searched under the slide-outs and everywhere we could think of. We found several wood screws – I’m thinking these are dropped screws when the crew rebuilt our living room slide wall. When they drop a screw, they don’t look for it, they grab another one and keep moving. It was a good time to do some real cleaning under the slide-out.

We usually place our Jetpack on a small shelf on top of the kitchen slide-out. It gets good reception there and is out of sight, but we don’t travel with it there – usually. It occurred to Donna to get out our step stool and look on the ledge and sure enough there was the Jetpack – whew! I was getting worried.

I also discovered that the stud holding the toilet seat hinge fell out! I found the stud and re-installed it with Threadlocker.

Toilet seat hinge stud

We ended up staying for two days at the Ameristar Casino while I was recovering from a virus that had me down. We moved a short distance to Papillion, NE to Walnut Creek Lake Recreation Area. This is a city park with electric hook-ups – no water or sewer. I was still feeling the effects of the virus and spent most of my time resting. I couldn’t even muster enough energy to post to this blog. We spent four nights there before heading westward to Kearney, Nebraska.

While we were in Papillion, I looked the engine compartment over – it’s always a good idea to keep an eye on things. I was surprised to find a damaged pressure cap on the coolant surge tank. I replaced this cap about three and half years ago. I’m not sure what makes the surge tank on our Cummins ISL diesel such rough duty. I found a replacement cap at an auto parts store and replaced it. If the cap doesn’t hold pressure, coolant can boil prematurely. The cap holds 13psi and raises the boiling point by 39 degrees.

Damaged seal on radiator cap

Kearney RV Park and Campground boasted 100′ pull-through sites on their web page and it may be true in one area of the park, but not where we are. The park is split into two locations. It’s a little strange. The GPS directions will take you to the north park area that sits along the north channel of the Platte River. We pulled in there to find it mostly empty with what appeared to be a few long-term occupants. A guy came out of his RV and directed us up the road to a different location where the office and the “Getaway Bay” area of the RV park is.

We found the office and checked in. They had us in the Getaway Bay in a pull-through site with a nice view and easy fishing access. The pull-through site has a level concrete pad and was just long enough to fit our 65′ length.

Our windshield view

Last night, a thunderstorm came through with heavy rain. I’m not certain, but I think I may have heard some hail in the night. Today is overcast and cooler. We plan to hang out here until Friday. There’s plenty of good biking, pickleball if I’m up to it and it’s good place for me to continue to rest and recover. Maybe I’ll catch a fish or two in the pond.

There Are No Old, Bold Pilots

Yesterday didn’t exactly go as planned. I felt better for most of the morning, but still off. I filled our fresh water tank in anticipation of hitting the road Friday. Then I spent most of the afternoon napping while Donna went for a run around Lily Pond.

Donna fixed a plate of leftover pasta with meatballs for me. I could only eat one meatball and a little of the pasta. I haven’t eaten much over the past few days.

I went to bed around 7:30pm and was out. Donna stayed up a watched a movie. Friday morning I woke up feeling well-rested despite gusty winds in the night. My head felt clear. Donna made a Switchel Sports Drink – it has maple syrup, fresh ground ginger, apple cider water and a pinch of sea salt. It was good and I had an appetite for a small bowl of cereal.

Donna remarked that I looked much better. I was feeling better for sure. But she had reservations about hitting the road. It was windy with occasional unpredictable gusts well over 20mph. I have to digress here for some background.

About 17 years ago, I took an Airman’s Medical Exam and was issued a certificate. I started taking flying lessons. I’ll never forget my flight instructor telling me that the most important trait a pilot must possess is one he can’t teach – good judgement. After a few flight lessons, cancer intervened – realistically I couldn’t afford it at the time anyway. Several years later, I went for another Airman Medical Exam. By then a lot had changed. I had been through several surgeries and no longer had sight in my right eye. The doctor told me he thought I was a risk taker based on my medical history.

I had to admit that racing motorcycles was definitely accepting a certain level of risk, but much of the rest was the result of a very active lifestyle. I can’t help it if while riding my bicycle I get hit by a car driven by an inattentive driver on his cell phone – what am I going to do – just give up cycling? He said he had issued certificates to one-eyed pilots before but it adds to the risk factor and he needed a little more time to review my history. He finished the interview with the old adage – there are old pilots and there are bold pilots, but there are no old, bold pilots.

I received my certificate a few weeks later but never took another lesson. So, what am I leading up too? Donna felt the wind conditions were tricky at best and could be tough even if I was at 100%. Even if we waited to see if the gusty winds would improve, we would be heading right into thunderstorms in the west by afternoon.

I did a self-assessment. There’s a game app on my smartphone that I play at the highest level. I’m usually quite proficient and score among the top five on their weekly results board. I opened the app and tried a few rounds. The games ended quickly when I would make a wrong move or my reaction time was too slow. That sealed it. Donna called the office to see if we could remain where we are for another night. I bit the bullet and paid the premium.

That being said I am feeling quite a bit better today. What was slow, incremental progress became a big step today. Hopefully we can move west tomorrow and not battle the weather conditions.

 

Wishful Thinking

Yesterday I said I was feeling better in the morning. Better is a relative term – in this case, I no longer had a fever and I had enough of an appetite to eat a small bowl of cereal. By 10am, I knew it was wishful thinking on my part. The fever had returned and I recorded a temperature of 101.1. My plans for the day were dashed.

I spent the rest of the morning on the sofa – reading for about 40-45 minutes then napping for 45 minutes. Around noon, I moved to the bedroom an continued reading and napping. Donna made a BLT sandwich for me, but I could only eat half of it. I slept a lot but my condition was mostly unchanged.

Donna rode her bicycle to downtown Amana and checked out a few shops, She stopped at Millstream Brewing and had a cold one – a stout. She brought back some summer sausage from Amana Meats and Smokehouse. She also brought back some IPA for me. I told her the yeast used in brewing ale is full of B vitamins – that’s my story and I’m sticking to it. I managed to eat the rest of the BLT while she was out. Donna took a few photos along the way from the bike path.

Bridge on the bike trail

More of the trail along the Millrace Canal

Old Amana train depot

Lilly Pond – 170 acres of lilies

Millstream Brewing Co.

Around 6pm, I sampled the IPA. It wasn’t a good choice on my part, I could barely get it down. By 7pm I was out like a light on top of our bed. Donna went out for a walk, I vaguely remember her heading out. She found a theater that had a production starting at 7:30pm. She came home to change clothes and tell me she was going to watch the play. I was dead to the world. I wouldn’t have known she was out for the next two hours at the theater if she hadn’t told me this morning.

I had plenty of sleep – I’ll bet I slept for 15 hours between 10am yesterday and 7am this morning. I woke up feeling a lot better. No fever and my sinuses are clear this morning. I’m keeping my fingers crossed the fever doesn’t return. There’s rain in the forecast but the dire prediction of 80% chance of thundershowers yesterday has been reduced to 50% this morning. If all goes well, maybe I can get out and have a look around Amana today.

Trouble Comes in Threes

I mentioned the spacious grass area in our site at Lazy Acres RV in Center Point, Iowa. Our’s wasn’t the only one – almost all of them had plenty of room.

Lazy Acres site 42

While were at Lazy Acres, they had an issue with their water supply. On Sunday, the water pressure would drop and we only had a trickle. Donna heard the owner say he was having trouble with the pump on the well.

The water issue continued on Monday – in fact, the water was completely shut off for a while. We had used just over half of our onboard fresh water tank – I hadn’t refilled it yet. There was probably close to 50 gallons in the tank leaving us with about 40 usable gallons. The fresh water tank is a rectangular tank that’s flat and long and only four or five inches tall. The water pick-up is in the left rear corner. When the water level drops below the pick-up, it can’t deliver anymore water.

We were faced with this situation a few years ago and needed water when none was available to us. I manipulated the leveling jacks to intentionally have the driver’s side and rear of the coach low. This pooled the remaining water in the tank in the left rear corner and we got through another day before filling up the tank again.

I had intended to fill the tank at Lazy Acres but on Tuesday morning, I saw the owner going from site to site with a five-gallon bucket. He would run water at the spigot into the bucket and then dump it out. He did this several times at each site. When he reached our site, I went outside to see what was up.

He told me they had to replace the well pump. This was not so easy as the pump was at the bottom of the well casing 180 feet below ground. A well company had to pull casing tube and insert a new one with the pump attached. This left a lot of detritus in the water supply. I saw what was in the bucket and it wasn’t pretty. I decided to wait until we reached Amana to refill our tank.

We were checking out that morning – they have a relatively late checkout time of 1pm. We planned to travel about 40 miles to Amana, Iowa so we had a leisurely morning preparing to leave. I never like to push our checkout time to the last minute – you never know what might come up.

I went through my pre-flight checks and the last two items are to retract the jacks and disconnect the power cord. When I came back in to coach to fire it up, I saw the right rear “jack down” indicator was lit. This is not good. I went outside and took a look.

We have an HWH leveling system. Our jacks extend hydraulically and retract under spring pressure. Two powerful springs bring the jack back up forcing the hydraulic fluid through the solenoids and back to the reservoir. The springs are attached to the foot or pad at the bottom of the hydraulic ram. The foot had slipped off of the ram and hung uselessly by the springs. This happened to us once before in Hamburg, Pennsylvania a couple of years ago. At that time, our roadside assistance, Coach-Net sent a mobile tech out. Two strapping young guys attached it with pry bars and put it back in place.

I called Coach-Net a little before 11am. I went through the usual runaround – first you talk to someone who fills in the blanks on their computer, then they tell you a technician will call back. This took about 10 minutes plus five minutes of hold time. Then I got a call back 20 minutes later. After going over the problem again, he said he would find someone to help me out and call back. He called back half an hour later. He said he might be able to get someone out by the end of the following day, if not it would be three weeks! Unacceptable.

I started looking up mobile RV services and made a few calls. Two of them had to see if they could juggle their schedule and come out that afternoon – they would call me back. I went up to office to notify them of the problem. I talked to the owner who seemed to be mechanically competent and knew what I was talking about. He said, “How about we go down to the shop and grab a couple of pry bars and see what we can do?” I told him that sounded good with one caveat – we do it with pry bars only, no one sticks their hands anywhere near those powerful springs.

To give an idea of how powerful the springs are, the first thing we had to do was push the ram back up to force the hydraulic fluid through the solenoid. He applied pressure to the ram and I actuated the solenoid so fluid could flow. More than five minutes later, he had it halfway up, but I could see he was fading. I took the lever and heaved against it. Another five minutes and it was up. The springs usually retracted the jack against this resistance in a matter of a few minutes.

Next we levered the foot down trying to center it below the ram. This is easier said than done. After a few failed attempts, we decided the plan was for me to lever the foot down, then he would use his bar to tap it in place under the ram. Success! It was 12:45pm and time to hit the road.

Right rear jack intact again

We arrived at Amana Colonies RV Park around 2:00 pm. This is a fairly large park at 76 acres. They advertise 75-foot long sites. The problem for us is, they put the power pedestal at the far rear of the site so it could be shared with another site behind. We didn’t have a good option for dropping the trailer – our power cord and sewer hose would have to extend all the way back past our trailer. They offered us a solution – for $10/day additional they would give us the two back to back sites essentially making it a 150-foot pull-through. We went for it.

Before I hooked up our fresh water supply, I opened up the sediment filter canister assuming it needed replacement after the well problems at Lazy Acres. I’ve never seen such crud in the sediment filter – it looked like sludge. Before I installed the new filter element, I rinsed the canister thoroughly. The bottom of the canister looked like it was full of the dregs from an espresso machine.

Old filter element on the left – new polypropylene filter on the right

Donna wanted to take a bike ride and see the area. After getting her bike out, I was feeling punky and laid back on the sofa. I didn’t rise for about 90 minutes and realized then that I was starting to feel really bad. My head was pounding, my sinuses we plugged and my right eyeball had a stabbing pain. My joints ached all over. I was lethargic. Strike three – water, jack and now I’m ill.

After her ride, Donna prepared leftover chicken stuffed with feta and spinach. I could hardly eat. This is only the second time I’ve been ill during our four years on the road. I chalk it up to a healthy environment with plenty of sunshine and fresh air. Being in a crowded office all day or flying around the country exposes you to who knows what.

Last night was rough. I went to bed at 8:15pm. I slept for four and half hours then woke up with a fever. I was alternating burning up or freezing cold. I had a time of it getting back to sleep. Sometime later, maybe 4am, my fever broke. I’m feeling better this morning but will avoid any strenuous activity today.

We plan to get out and see the sights today. The forecast calls for a high of 86 degrees. Tomorrow should be upper 70s with an 80% chance of rain. On Friday, we’ll hit the road again for parts currently unknown – it’s supposed to be cooler on Friday.

Four Years Down the Road

I ended my last post as we backtracked to Waukon after the finish of RAGBRAI on Saturday. Team RV There Yet? went our separate ways.

Our destination was southwest of Waukon. I programmed our destination into Nally, our Rand McNally RVND 7720 GPS. She directed us on a route that took us south, then west in a stair-step manner utilizing mostly county roads. I trust the GPS most of the time – there have been a few occasions when I had to override her directions. The thing is, the RVND is an RV-specific unit. I entered our vehicle height, length, weight and other parameters such as how much propane we have on board. When the GPS calculates out route, low clearances or bridge weight limits, etc. are factored into the route.

We hit IA150 at Independence, Iowa and went south to Interstate 380. We were on 380 for about a mile and half and exited at Urbana where we found the Lazy Acres RV Park. The designation 380 for the north-south Interstate that runs from the Waterloo area to Iowa City seemed strange.

Primary Interstates have a one- or two-digit designation with even numbers designating an east-west route and odd numbers indicating a north-south route. Auxiliary interstate highways have a three-digit number with the last two numbers indicating which main Interstate route it’s attached to – in this case I-80. When the first digit is an even number, it means the auxiliary interstate is a loop. When the first digit is an odd number, it means it’s a spur. In this example, I-380 is spur from Interstate 80 to Waterloo.

The Lazy Acres RV Park is geared toward family use but it’s very quiet on weekdays. Even on the weekend, quiet hours are strictly enforced after 10pm. We were assigned to a long pull-through site – it has to be at least 100 feet long. The graveled parking lane is relatively narrow but the site overall is spacious with a large lawn area, picnic table and fire ring.

It was nice to find a quiet place to rest and unwind from all of the RAGBRAI activity that had us packing up and moving every day for an entire week. After we set up, we rode the Spyder about 10 miles into the countryside near the town of VInton where we found Donna’s nephew’s house.

Mark and his wife Jamie have about eight acres and a nice home of about 5,000 square feet – a big change from the 350 square feet we now call home. After the grand tour, Jamie put out some appetizers and then Mark grilled burgers and brats. It was nice to sit and talk with them.

On Sunday, we decided to extend our stay here until Tuesday. We’re in no hurry to be anywhere so an extra day of quiet time was nice. I even got my fishing pole out and fished the pond here. The office had photos of large mouth bass and catfish taken from the pond.

Fishing for fish

I didn’t have much luck. I had several bites, but they were small fish – not even big enough to take the whole bait in. They took nibbles and stole my bait. It was relaxing anyway.

Today we’ll move on a short distance to Amana. We’ll spend two or three nights there. We’ve been told there are interesting historic sites to see and they have a brewery!

The weather forecast calls for 80s there today, cololing to the mid 70s for the rest of the week. Thundershowers are likely on Thursday, so maybe we’ll stay until Friday.

By the way, I neglected to mention that the first day of RAGBRAI, July 23, marked our four-year anniversary on the road. And in case you’re wondering, we feel like we’re just getting started.

 

*Just so you know, if you follow one of my links to Amazon and decide to purchase anything, 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!

RAGBRAI – Last Day

I mentioned the challenges I was having with my internet connection in my last post. The Verizon signal was fine – the trouble was the number of people trying use the cell tower all at once. I finally gave up uploading the photos for that post, so I’ll post a few here the really should have been in the last entry.

This shot gives an indication of how many riders stopped at the Iowa Craft Beer Tent. This is less than half of the bicycles that were parked there while we were there.

Bikes in the farmer’s yard by the beer tent

Tom, Deb and Donna at the Iowa Craft Beer Tent

After we returned to the fairgrounds, I took a walk around. I found way more tents in the area than I’d seen before. One large area had tents lined up in neat, orderly rows with the tents all numbered.

Numbered tents

I talked to a couple there and they told me what the deal was. A company provides a tent for two people with cots – you get the same tent and cots each night. They set up the tents and take them down to transport to the next site. The cost for the week long RAGBRAI event is $800/person or $1600 if you want a tent to yourself. They thought it was well worth it.

Off in the distance, I could see vehicles parked along the edge of a road with tents set up alongside for half a mile or more.

Long line of tents in the distance

I saw another colorful schoolie too.

Colorful schoolie

On Friday evening, Jeff Spencer grilled boneless, skinless chicken thighs. We set up both of our Weber Qs to handle the volume of food. The dinner was excellent as usual – we cut up our chicken and served it over salad.

Both grills in action

I put the grill in the trailer and secured both of my bikes before bedtime.

Saturday morning started out just like the previous six days – alarm clock went off at 5:30am followed by coffee and breakfast. Then Donna and I prepped the coach for travel and everyone was ready to roll by 6:30am.

Day seven – Waukon to Lansing

After our riders headed out, we caravaned in our usual fashion – Deb took the lead, I was in the middle followed by Fred. We had our route planned but ran into a snag a few miles down the road. The route we wanted was IA9 east to Lansing – a short drive of about 14 miles. But we hit a barricaded IA9 at Lycurgus Road and had to detour to the north. This route took us along ridges where we could see foggy valleys – we ended up in the fog for several miles. The riders went south, then east through the Yellow River State Forest – with significant climbs – to Harper’s Ferry. Then they followed the Mississippi River north with two more long hills leading to Lansing. It was a relatively short route at 45 miles, but the total ascent of about 2,900 feet made it a difficult day.

We entered the town of Lansing from the north on IA26. Traffic was bumper to bumper and crawling for the last few miles to town. Once in town, it was chaotic. The parking situation was not good. We were directed through residential streets skirting the downtown area and vehicles were parallel parked on the narrow streets. We kept going hoping to find a large lot somewhere.

On the west end of town, Deb realized that we would soon be on IA9 heading back to Waukon, so she pulled into a large concrete parking pad in front of a house. It was large enough for all three of us. But there was a problem. The homeowner came out on his balcony and said something to Deb. She told him we were trying to figure out where we could park. His reply was, “It’s not here!”

There was a mini-storage facility across the street. We walked over to check it out. There was a painted sign at the front entrance that said Lot H, but it also had a No Parking sign and yellow tape across the entrance. Behind the storage buildings, we saw a large fifth-wheel trailer support vehicle. We looked around and there was enough room for us, but I wouldn’t be able to get turned around if I entered from the back side.

So we came up with a simple solution – Fred pulled the yellow tape – Deb and I rolled in the front entrance and drove around the building to park with the RV in back. Fred replaced the tape. He parked on the street with his passenger side wheels right at the edge of a ditch and his driver’s side a few feet into the street. It was a quiet street with only a handful of houses on it and cars could easily get past. I put out orange traffic cones in front of and behind his rig.

Meanwhile we saw a few other people try the large concrete pad and the homeowner quickly kicked them out. Fred and I walked to a gas station/convenience store a few hundred yards away and bought breakfast pizzas. When we were coming back, I saw two volunteers in orange Lansing shirts removing the yellow tape and no parking sign. I asked them what the deal was. They were holding the spot for one team with a schoolie! I asked them how that worked and all I got was a shrug.

A woman in a black car showed up and started berating our group for parking in her neighborhood. She demanded that Fred get his RV off the street. I was feeling pretty fed up at that point and told her what nice people we’ve met all across Iowa and how each town was so accommodating of the RAGBRAI event – except for Lansing. She said, “We’re a small town, we don’t need this!” I told her that they’ve all been small towns and walked away. Apparently the woman called the police. An officer on an ATV showed up. He said we can’t block driveways or the street. I asked him if we were blocking anything. He looked around and said, “I’m just trying to keep the peace” and rode off up the street toward the complainants house. We didn’t hear from him again and settled down to wait for our riders.

All four riders found us by by 11:20am. We quickly packed our stuff and said our goodbyes until next time. All three of our RVs had separate destinations. That’s how RAGBRAI XLV ended for us. It was a great week, lots of fun with good people. I’m not going to let a couple of sour people in Lansing spoil my memories of great time. Donna had a quick shower and we were on our way. All three of our rigs headed back to Waukon before going in various directions. Going back through Lansing was not a viable option as traffic was completely snarled. For miles heading west on IA9, we saw RVs and buses lining both sides of the highway plus cyclists looking for their drivers. It was slow going for a few miles but nothing compared to town. I’ll write about our trip in my next post.

RAGBRAI – Days 4,5 & 6

I haven’t had a good internet connection for a couple of days, so I’m catching up on the ride now. The day four weather forecast Wednesday morning was not promising. It called for thunderstorms – possibly severe. Looking at the Radar Express app on my smartphone, I could see a line of heavy thunderstorms just west of us and it was moving east. Donna and Jeff Spencer decided to take a day off and not chance riding in what could turn out to be dangerous conditions. Geoff Harrison and Tom decided to go for it. They took off before 6am and hammered eastward to try and outrun the storm. So, team RV There Yet? was split up on Wednesday.

We headed out from Clear Lake before 7am and made a 46-mile drive to Charles City. The bike route for the day was 57.5 miles. We went to a high school that was identified as the main campground. When we arrived there it was chaotic as RVs were trying to exit and enter at the same time while other RVs stopped in the parking area. It turned out the organizers wanted to only have tent campers there. We were told we should go to the KMart parking lot.

Up to this point, the RV camping had been organized pretty well. Trying to accommodate the number of riders and support vehicles of this event in small towns is a logistical nightmare. The crew at KMart wasn’t prepared for the onslaught of RVs. It was every man for himself. We found a level spot that would allow us to exit without too much hassle and had our three rigs lined up.

A fifth-wheel trailer parked next to me and the woman driving it said she was worried about being able to get out in the morning. I told her we planned to leave before 7am and she should have plenty of room to maneuver once we were out. Then she told me one of the crew directing the parking said he might have to put someone lengthwise across our respective bows. This would block us all in. When she told him we needed to able to leave in the morning he said, “Yeah, everyone will leave in the morning.”

What he didn’t seem to understand was not everyone leaves at the same time. That’s why he was still trying to find space for people two hours after we arrived. We put our chairs out in the area in front of our rigs to keep the area clear.

Geoff and Tom rode hard and they made it to Charles City ahead of the storm. I think Donna made the right choice to take the day off though, I don’t think she could safely ride the pace they rode and would have ended up exhausted and possibly caught by high winds, lightning and heavy rain. The number of riders out was way down from the previous days. Where we were parked we only caught the edge of the storm cells. I could see the severe weather around us on the weather radar.

Charles City is called the “Hump Before the Hills.” It was hump day and eastern Iowa gets hilly from there to the Mississippi River. Fred had flank steak marinating in his special sauce and Jeff grilled it – we had corn on the cob to go along with it and enjoyed another great meal together.

Storm moving off to the east

Deb Spencer and I looked at the route laid out for vehicles to get from Charles City to Cresco on Thursday. The route looked fine if you were leaving from the high school, but we were across town at KMart. It would require us to go through the center of town with heavy traffic and cross the bike route which can be difficult as a line of bikes are streaming down the road. We mapped an alternate route which worked out great. We looped around town on US218 and found IA9 that took us all the way to Cresco.

Heading out for day five

We went to the county fairgrounds. When we pulled up at the entrance, the girl directing traffic in the street asked me if I had a reservation. Uh-oh. When I told her “No,” she said I would have to go to the dry camping area. Whew! That’s what we were planning to do anyway.

We’ve figured out that if we leave in the vehicles before 7am, we can reach the day’s destination early enough to be ahead of most of the support vehicles and snag choice camping spots. This worked out great at the fairgrounds as we found a nice level grassy area and parked together. Vehicles kept arriving after us and within 45 minutes, the place was packed and people were pulling in then turning around to find another place for the night.

I got my mountain bike out of the trailer and then pulled out my Orbea road bike. Our plan was to ride to the Iowa Craft Beer tent later and meet up with the rest of the team. I haven’t had my road bike out in a while and I had to change the tube in the front tire – the presta valve was leaking. Deb was going to ride my mountain bike and I would ride my road bike. Then we found out the beer tent was a lot farther away than we thought. We bagged the plan.

When I saw a text from Jeff saying they were about seven miles from town, I rode my mountain bike downtown. I saw Geoff and Tom come by and shortly after that I found Jeff and Donna. I led them to our site – the fairgrounds are fairly large and by then RVs were scattered all over the place. The volunteers were directing riders to the south end of the fairgrounds – we were on the north end.

One of Thursday’s highlights was Lance Armstrong riding the course. A couple of NASCAR racers were on the ride as well – Jimmie Johnson and another that I can’t remember now. I saw a Featherlite Coach built on a Prevost XLII chassis in the fairgrounds. It was decorated with University of Iowa Hawkeye logos and the license plate was Coach1. I thought it was maybe an Iowa Hawkeyes football coach, so I introduced myself and inquired. It turns out he was a fan, not a coach. His license plate was a reference to his number one coach.

When I mentioned his XLII double slide chassis, he asked if I was a Prevost owner – he said only a Prevost guy would recognize the difference between an XL and an XLII. I told him I was an RV geek – I knew the XLII didn’t have the visible rivets of an XL.

Featherlite Vantare on an Prevost XLII chassis

There are more school buses converted to bicycle support vehicles than I ever imagined. We seem to have gotten into a rhythm with other RV support vehicles that make an early start and arrive at the next destination around the same time as us. But I still see a schoolie here and there that I haven’t seen before.

Colorful schoolie from Georgia

The temperature was cooler on Thursday and everyone enjoyed a great ride. Well, almost everyone. Jeff and Donna witnessed a crash involving three riders just ahead of them. The riders were down and police on site called for an an ambulance. We’ve seen a few crashes – it can happen in a heartbeat when riders are in a pack and someone gets distracted.

This morning we were up and ready to roll at the usual time.

Team RV There Yet? day six

We’ve been driving on two-lane highways through rural farmland all week and today was no different. We encountered some rolling hills, but when we arrived at the fairgrounds in Waukon our elevation was about the same as when were in Cresco and Charles City before that – about 1,300 feet above sea level. Once again we snagged primo parking with an easy exit plan for tomorrow.

Primo parking spot

We were able to track the progress of the riders through instant messaging. When Donna and Jeff left Postville – the last town before Waukon – Deb, Fred and I headed out on our bicycles. Our plan was to meet them at the craft beer tent – we figured it was about 5-7 miles away and we should arrive around the same time a Jeff and Donna. Tom and Geoff were ahead of them.

I rode my Orbea road bike, Deb took my Specialized mountain bike and Fred rode his Trek hybrid. Our route shortcutted the final leg of the riders course and had rolling hills. It was also longer than we expected – about eight miles. We made it there and managed to meet up with everyone.

It was warm out and everyone wanted a spot in the shade.

Shade tree

Tom, Fred, Jeff, Deb and Donna in our shady spot

I had a cup of Des Moines IPA,Donna had a hefeweizen – she also had a bacon and blue cheese bratwurst. The ride back was a little harder – it had more uphill sections than downhill and we were riding into a headwind.

Tomorrow is the final day of RAGBRAI XLV – it’s also has the most hills on this year’s course. I have a couple more pictures to upload, but my internet connection is so poor I’m giving up and hoping I can get this post published. After Donna completes the course tomorrow we’ll be on the road – so I won’t post again until Sunday at the earliest.