Category Archives: Beer

A Great Find at the Mercado

We’ve settled in quickly here at Mission Bay RV Resort. We had a few San Diego favorites on our list to hit and we started in right away.

On Friday evening, Donna and I headed over to Offshore Tavern and Grill for happy hour. But our real reason for going there was to have their poke plate for dinner. Poke (poh-key) is diced sushi grade tuna over a cabbage salad served with fried won-ton chips. Donna had poke on her mind for a while and couldn’t wait to get it at Offshore where they make an excellent version of this Hawaiian dish.

Poke plate

On Saturday morning, we rode the Spyder downtown to the mercado (farmers’ market) on Cedar Street in Little Italy. This farmers’ market is a favorite of ours.

The mercado

The street market covers about four blocks and has a great selection of local produce, meats and crafts. Donna was on a mission and bought several items including a dry mole salami that wasn’t local – it came from Salumi Artisan Cured Meats – a Seattle market founded by Armandino Batali, father of famed chef Mario Batali. The mole salami is amazing. Sliced thin, it’s somewhat chewy and the flavors morph from chocolate to cinnamon to clove and other flavors that I can’t adequately describe.

After we returned from the market, I took the Spyder to Pacific Beach for a much-needed wash. There’s a self-serve car wash on Garnet Avenue that I like and the Spyder is shining once again. I also ordered air and oil filters so I can service the Spyder – it’s due. We both spent a lot of time online ordering things we’ve been wanting but haven’t had to opportunity to get. We haven’t been in one place long enough over the past few months to get deliveries – the shop in Albuquerque and the balloon fiesta don’t count – we couldn’t receive deliveries there.

Donna also spent a lot of time online searching for a strength training class to join while we’re here. Tomorrow I’ll get back on the pickleball courts – I plan to play four days a week while we’re here. Hopefully I’ll get my game back up to a level where I can play with the 3.5 group when we get to Mesa, Arizona in late December.

While I was walking through the RV park, a high-end coach caught my eye – they always do. It was a 2007 quad-slide Newell. I’ve described Newell coaches before. These are top-of-the-line motorhomes that are mostly made to order in Oklahoma. Newell builds the entire coach from the ground up. They make a few coaches on speculation every year for use at RV shows before they’re sold. Being mostly custom-made, the prices vary, but bought new you need to bring something in the neighborhood of 1.5 million dollars to get onboard.

I met the owners of this Newell. They sold a ranch in Arkansas and bought the Newell. They got on the road with the intention of spending a year or so traveling the country before deciding where to settle down and enjoy retirement. That was one and half years ago and they’re still enjoying the travel.

2007 quad-slide Newell

I saw a similar Newell online for sale listed at $550,000 – probably a third of what it cost new. That’s the reality of RVs – they depreciate.

Last night I had a seasonal special from Alesmith – a local San Diego brewery. It was a Halloween release called Evil Dead Red. It’s a malty red ale that was tasty with a creamy mouth feel. It was very easy to drink despite it’s 6.6% ABV.

Halloween ale

We had cool weather on Friday – the high was about 70 degrees and a few rain drops fell. Saturday was clear and warmer with the temperature reaching 75 degrees. The forecast calls for a hot spell beginning today. Santa Ana winds should develop. Santa Ana is a condition affecting southern California coastal areas when high pressure develops over the desert basin. This pushes hot, dry air through the coastal mountain ranges and offshore along the coast. We should see upper 80s today and into the 90s over the next couple of days. Time to hit the beach!

But Wait, There’s More

The level of communication between Albuquerque Rocky Mountain Cummins and me has been poor at best. With that in mind, I decided to pay the shop a visit on Thursday afternoon to check on progress and see if they had confirmation of shipment of the new Charge Air Cooler (CAC).

I asked the Service Coordinator, Philip, about it. He picked up the phone on his desk and called the radiator shop. Then he told me the CAC had shipped and they expected it no later than Friday. I took this as good news. We walked out to the shop so I could retrieve a couple more items from the coach.

Before I left, Philip said, “Of course, if they have the CAC tomorrow, it doesn’t mean we’ll able to have the coach ready then.” I told him I understood – the radiator shop had to assemble the radiator stack and get it back to the shop. The mechanic had to finish putting the turbo assembly on the engine and install the cooling stack. I asked him if he thought Tuesday was realistic. He said he thought it was, but then he dropped a bomb. He told me they hadn’t received the replacement turbocharger yet.

I kept my mouth shut but thought, “What?” Last Monday they told me they would have the part by the next day. This potentially complicates matters. The mechanic will want to install the exhaust manifold and turbocharger before he installs the radiator stack. If he installs the stack – engine coolant radiator, CAC, hydraulic fluid cooler and AC condenser – he will limit the accessibility to the engine and exhaust system.

Yesterday I stopped by the shop in the afternoon again. As I said, communication isn’t their strong point – I figure if I want an update, I’d better stop in and ask. Philip confirmed the CAC had been delivered but then told me they should have the replacement radiator core on Monday! What? Again I bit my tongue – this was the first time any mention was made of needing to order the core and any delay with it.

The radiator core is the center portion of the radiator. It consists of tubes running from the radiator inlet tank to the outlet tank. Coolant passes through these tubes from one tank to the other. Thin aluminum or copper fins are attached to the tubes to transfer heat from the coolant to the air passing through the fins. Our radiator core had corrosion and the radiator shop was replacing the core, reusing the original tanks and end plates.

But wait, there’s more – Philip lobbed the final bomb. There was a problem getting the turbocharger. He said one had been located by Cummins, but it was in a warehouse in New Jersey that wasn’t operational at this time. Apparently, the warehouse is unmanned but it holds the only turbocharger in the country to fit our coach. He said the Cummins Holset turbochargers used on motorhomes have unique fittings and linkages.

He went into the service manager’s office to talk to the manager, Alvaro. He came out a minute later and told me their parts manager was working on a solution with Cummins, but wasn’t present at the moment. He said I should come back Monday morning to learn the disposition of the part in the warehouse. I think we’re in real trouble here.

The hotel has already informed me that we’ll be kicked to the curb on Wednesday. All the rooms in the area are booked for the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta. It’s the largest hot air balloon event in the world and it’s impossible to find a vacancy from a few days before the fiesta until the end two weeks later.

All I can do at this point is wait until Monday and hope for the best. Donna will return Tuesday night. I’m holding on to some hope they’ll be working on the coach by then.

We’ve had a series of thunderstorms passing through since Wednesday and that has hampered my activities. Yesterday, after I left the shop, I went to Rio Bravo Brewing. I looked for the owner, Randy, but he wasn’t in. He’d promised a brewery tour. The bar manager took me back to the brewhouse. When I mentioned I had experience with home brewing, he was relieved not to have go through the brewing 101 spiel about how beer was made and cut right to their equipment and processes. The brew master, Ty Levis, was there and he gave me a one-on-one tour and talked about some advanced techniques he uses and some experimental brews he’s working on. It was one of the best brewery tours I’ve had. I didn’t take any photos because they all start looking the same – stainless steel fermenters and mash tuns, etc.

An interesting thing I learned at Rio Bravo had to do with the canned beer they distribute. The four-packs are held together with what looks like plastic rings, just like you find on most six-packs. But they’re not. They are biodegradable, I think he said they’re made from corn starch. Don’t get the four-pack wet – it might disintegrate into loose cans!

I don’t have any big plans for the weekend – I’ll just wait and see what comes next.

One Thing Leads to Another

We made it through the weekend in our temporary quarters at the Hotel Elegante in Albuquerque. The weekend was just a waiting period until we could see what comes next in our engine repair saga. Although the square footage of our hotel room isn’t much different than that of our coach, the layout is very different. The hotel room is made for sleeping and the small desk and storage areas are afterthoughts. The coach is much more comfortable and organized – long hot showers notwithstanding.

On Saturday afternoon, we headed over to Marble Brewing to take the 2pm tour. They were having a fundraiser for the Albuquerque Mountain Rescue Council and that packed the house. The brewery tour had to be broken up into two groups and the groups were still too large. It was interesting nonetheless. The thing I found most interesting was part of their process – they boil the wort in a 30-barrel brew kettle. This isn’t unusual – what’s different is that the wort is transferred to 150-barrel fermentation vessels. It takes five batches to fill the fermenter! It must be quite a task to keep things consistent when you have to brew five batches before you begin the fermentation.

150-barrel fermenters

We also viewed a temperature-controlled storage room filled with wooden casks where beer was being barrel-aged.

A portion of their barrel-aging storage

The bottling line

We sampled a few ounces of brew, then decided to leave the crowded brew pub and head over to Rio Bravo Brewery. They have a large brew pub and it’s really laid back. They also serve food – Marble and Tractor brewing rely on food trucks.

Donna had a quinoa and arugula salad to go with her porter while I ordered a New Mexico treat. In Michigan, you’ll find cafes that specialize in what they call Coney Dogs. These are hot dogs covered in a type of beef chili (no beans) and various other condiments. In New Mexico, they serve hot dogs with cheese and diced green chilies. It was tasty.

Green chili cheese dog

On Sunday morning, Donna wanted to get out and get some exercise in the fresh air. So she rode the Spyder to the east end of Menaul Boulevard to the Menaul Trailhead to hike. I stayed at the hotel and watched a very entertaining Moto GP race from Aragon, Spain. Valentino Rossi showed his talent as well as his toughness as he held on to second place for much of the race before fading to fifth place near the end – this was just 24 days after he broke his leg! He broke his tibia and fibula in a training accident and could barely walk a few days ago.

On Sunday evening, Donna took an Uber ride to the Old Town area to meet up with her friend Hazel. They walked from Hazel’s house to the Range Cafe restaurant where they met up with more friends. I stayed home and watched the Oakland Raiders struggle against the Washington Redskins.

On Monday morning, it was time to get back to business. I was getting ready to go over to Rocky Mountain Cummins when they phoned and told me they had the turbocharger removed and I should come and look at it. The original estimate called for a turbo replacement due to oil leaking past the seals. I didn’t believe this was the case. The oil in the intake and turbo housing was coming from the auxiliary compressor on the engine. This compressor supplies air for the suspension system and air-operated parking brake.

With the turbo removed, I could see there wasn’t anything wrong with the shaft bearings or seals, however it did have a problem. The blades on the intake compressor wheel were damaged. They had small nicks in the leading edges of the blades. This is usually the result of foreign objects ingested through the intake system. That could be really bad news as any foreign material would pass through the engine and most likely damage pistons and cylinders or at least piston rings. Close inspection revealed the nicks only to be on the leading edges – dirt or other abrasives show themselves across the blade. Also, there was oil in the turbo and no sign of dust or dirt in the oil.

In talking it over with the mechanic doing the work, Josh, we came to the conclusion that the nicks in the leading edges of the blades were likely caused by droplets of oil being struck by the spinning compressor blades. The turbine wheel on the exhaust side, the shaft and the compressor wheel and blades are constructed from lightweight materials. This allows the wheels to quickly spool up to high operating RPM – over 100,000 RPM at times. The compressor is designed to operate in a clean air environment.

The integrity of the blade material is important. Anything that weakens the structure could lead to a failure such as blade separation. That would be bad, very bad. A blade failure would send pieces of the blade through the engine with catastrophic results. I decided to have the turbocharger replaced.

Turbocharger on bench

Close-up of compressor blade damage

I saw the exhaust manifold on a cart. It wasn’t just cracked – it was completely broken into two pieces! This is likely due to the leak in the charge air cooler. A pressure leak in the CAC can lead to excessively high exhaust gas temperature. One thing leads to another.

Broken exhaust manifold

Now we’re back in a waiting pattern. The CAC and engine coolant radiator are at the radiator shop to be re-cored. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that they can repair the CAC. If all goes well there, the shop may have everything back together by Thursday – we’ll see. One good thing about being here in Albuquerque is the availability and concentration of qualified shops. There’s a lot of heavy-duty truck traffic due to I-25 and I-40 intersecting here without much else within a few hundred miles. The Albuquerque Rocky Mountain Cummins is one of 32 Cummins Coach Care Centers in the USA. They do a lot of RV work.

Tomorrow morning, Donna flies back to Albany, New York. She’s visiting her parents for a week in Bennington, Vermont. It’s pretty good timing for her – she can get out of this hotel. Meanwhile it presents a logistical dilemma for me. If the coach is ready to roll on Thursday, I need to figure out how to get all of our stuff and Ozark the cat from our hotel to the coach. I’ll come up with something and try to remain optimistic about having the work completed by then.

A Can of Worms

I mentioned in an earlier post an engine problem we began to experience in Colorado. We had an intermittent loss of boost pressure causing a reduction of power. When this happened, it set a fault code in the Engine Control Module (ECM) and the engine maintenance light in the instrument panel illuminated. I interrogated the ECM with our ScanGauge D and found a Diagnostic Trouble Code (DTC) telling me that the intake manifold pressure wasn’t at the expected level. Due to the intermittent nature of the issue, I assumed it was a poor electrical connection or a problem with the pressure sensor.

While we were in Abiquiu, New Mexico I investigated the problem and found a crack in the exhaust manifold. This can cause a boost pressure problem. Our Cummins ISL diesel engine is turbocharged. A turbocharger is a device with two chambers in a steel housing – one chamber is fitted to the exhaust system while the other chamber is connected to the engine intake system. Each chamber has a wheel – think of it as a windmill although its shape is more complex than that.

The exhaust side is called the turbine. Hot exhaust is expelled from the combustion chamber and flows through the exhaust manifold and the turbine side of the turbocharger. This spins the turbine wheel. This wheel is mounted to a shaft that passes through the housing and is connected to the wheel on the intake side. This is the compressor wheel. The spinning turbine wheel turns the compressor wheel and the energy transferred compresses the air flowing into the engine through the intake system.

In order to burn fuel in an internal combustion engine, you need fuel and enough oxygen to combine with the fuel. The more oxygen you can pack into the combustion chamber, the more fuel you can efficiently burn and the more power you can extract from the fuel. The compressor side of the turbocharger packs more air into the engine. But there’s a catch. Compressing the air heats it and the turbocharger housing is also very hot. Hotter air is less dense than cooler air, thus negating some of the advantage of pressurizing the intake system. To counter this, most turbochargers use a type of radiator in the intake system – the hot pressurized air is directed through a cooler to reduce the air temperature and increase air density. These coolers are usually an air-to-air radiator called an intercooler or Charge Air Cooler (CAC).

The exhaust leak in our manifold was allowing the hot exhaust gasses to escape before they entered the turbine of the turbocharger. This imparted less energy to the turbine wheel and it couldn’t spin the compressor wheel at the proper speed.

Cracked exhaust manifold

I knew this had to be repaired immediately. In our case, immediately meant when we arrived in Albuquerque. Northern New Mexico is fairly remote and there wasn’t a shop closer than Albuquerque that I trusted. I was still bothered by the intermittent nature of the problem. The exhaust leak was a constant mechanical defect so why was I losing boost intermittently?

We left Los Suenos de Santa Fe RV Park around 11am on Wednesday and stopped for lunch across the street. Then we took US 14 south through the small towns of Madrid, Golden and Antonito avoiding I-25. It was a scenic and leisurely drive – there’s very little traffic and I could cruise without pushing the engine too hard.

We arrived at Rocky Mountain Cummins around 1:30pm and I checked in with their service department. I had an appointment for 7am Thursday morning. We talked about the repair and the time frame. Completing the exhaust manifold replacement in one day was doubtful. They told me I could park the coach and trailer on the street in front and hook up to their 50-amp electrical pedestal.

Donna packed a bag – she would spend the night in a nearby hotel with Ozark the cat. We walked with her suitcase, laptop bag and a couple of plastic bags with cat supplies to the Comfort Inn on 4th Avenue a few blocks away. We walked past a small park with many homeless people sleeping in the shade. We must have looked like upscale vagabonds carrying our stuff past the park. Ozark wasn’t comfortable in the hotel room – she spent most of the time hiding under the bed – she’s so accustomed to her home in the coach.

I stayed overnight in the coach – it wasn’t the best neighborhood and I didn’t want to leave the coach unattended. The Rocky Mountain Cummins shop is fully fenced in with standard chain-link and barbed wire fencing backed up with a 7,000-volt electric fence. On Thursday morning, I dropped the trailer in their fenced lot and checked in for my appointment at 7am – the coach and trailer would be secure in their fenced lot from that point. That’s when things started on a downhill spin.

They weren’t very organized at the service counter. I had talked to the woman there, Barbara, twice in the last week to make sure they had parts and were ready to do the work. She acted like she didn’t know who I was or why I was there. She wrote up the work order and I sat in the waiting area to see how things would progress. At 9am, our coach was still sitting where I parked it.

The service manager, Alvaro, was in a meeting. I asked for him and he left his meeting to talk to me. I explained the situation beginning with the appointment I made a week ago and the estimate they e-mailed me at that time. I also explained the need to get the work done so we weren’t stuck in a hotel. He apologized for the issue and told me the guy that scheduled the work and made the estimate was out of the office. He put someone on the job and work commenced.

I hung around until noon, then went to the hotel to take Donna out to lunch. Wouldn’t you know it, while I was at lunch, Barbara phoned and said Alvaro wanted to show me some issues they found with the engine. I went back to the shop. It was bad news. The charge air cooler had a leak. They pressurized the CAC and showed me where it was leaking. The CAC would have to be removed to see if the leak was repairable. Hopefully a radiator shop can repair it. If it needs to be replaced, it’s not a common part and might be difficult to find. Motorhomes use CACs designed to fit their layout, unlike a heavy duty truck that would use a common part.

The CAC is sandwiched between the coolant radiator and air conditioning condenser. It’s a big job to remove it. They also found oil in the turbocharger and thought it was damaged. I wasn’t convinced it needed replacement. Turbocharger oil seals aren’t like the rubber seals on a crankshaft for example. The shaft is sealed with steel rings, like a piston ring. Seal failure on a turbo is usually the result of a lubrication system problem – I didn’t have an issue there.

Further inspection revealed the source of the oil was the accessory air compressor on the engine. The compressor draws fresh air from the filtered intake air upstream from the turbocharger. The compressor was leaking and some oil was entering the intake system from it. The compressor would have to be replaced.

This was quickly turning into a can of worms. An expensive can of worms. I gathered a few things and spent the night at the hotel with Donna. On Friday, we checked out at noon and moved to the Hotel Elegante on Menaul – a better neighborhood. They had a special rate for Cummins employees and customers. Donna called Uber to transport herself and Ozark while I drove the Spyder. Ozark isn’t sure what to make of our new digs and mode of travel.

After checking in, we went back to the shop to get more clothes and necessities. We will be out of the coach for an undetermined amount of time at this point. While we were at the shop, I looked things over and had another nasty find.

This is where the coolant radiator and CAC normally reside at the left rear of the coach

AC condenser, CAC and coolant radiator behind the CAC

The coolant radiator had corrosion on about a quarter of the fins and the core was about to rust through. It needs to be re-cored. This is the part of the radiator closest to the rear wheels – it can’t be seen without crawling into the engine compartment from underneath and removing the fan shroud. Send more money!

Lower right corner of radiator core corroded

I’m hoping there aren’t any more bad surprises. As my friend and fellow motorhome owner, John Hinton, reminded me – I should be thankful to be getting the repairs made here in Albuquerque rather than being stuck on the side of the highway in some remote area.

Meanwhile, Donna and I are making the best of it, staying at a hotel and taking advantage of the amenities. We’ve also found a few breweries in the area – Rio Bravo, Marble and Tractor. They have great brews that are only found here in New Mexico.

I found a sign on 4th Avenue near downtown – Donna will set me free! I wish she could bail our coach out of the shop.

Better call Donna!

I’ll update our situation when I know more on Monday.

Sometimes I’m Crazy Like That

We pulled out of White Rock, New Mexico a little past 10am Wednesday morning. It was a surprisingly quiet night there – the Visitor Center is right on the main drag near the geographic center of the small town. However, the traffic heading out of town to the southwest past the Visitor Center is almost all going to Bandelier National Monument. There’s no real reason to head out that way after dark, so traffic falls off to next to nothing.

We made the 40-mile drive to Santa Fe and arrived in familiar surroundings by 11:30am. We pulled into the Los Suenos de Santa Fe RV park on Cerrillos Road where we’ve stayed the previous two years. We were assigned to site 93 on the south end of the small RV park. This puts us about as far from the road and traffic noise as we can get, so it’s a good site. We’ve learned through experience not to enter the pull-through sites in the “normal’ fashion – that is, entering from the rear and pulling through. The sites here are relatively narrow and the management has placed bright yellow concrete barriers shaped like barrels at the back of the sites. These barriers can be difficult to maneuver past, especially if you’re pulling a trailer or vehicle behind the coach.

We made the loop around to the front of the site and backed in. It’s much easier as the front of the sites have no barriers and plenty of room to maneuver. Then we found a new twist that affects the sites on the south end of the park. The fresh water spigot and sewer connector are located at the far back end of the site. With our trailer, our water and sewer lines had to extend about 45 feet to reach the hook-ups. This wasn’t a problem for the fresh water – I have plenty of hose. But the sewer line was a different story. In four years on the road, I’ve never needed more than 30 feet of sewer hose. I had to go to Walmart and buy hose extensions to hook up.

Meanwhile Donna was at her computer working on some proposals. She finished up and we went out around 4pm to stop in at Duel Brewery. Duel is a unique experience – they specialize in Belgian-inspired beers and a European style food experience. We haven’t eaten there, only tried a few of their brews. The Santa Fe location has a fairly small bar and is served by a small 10-barrel brewing system. They don’t distribute their beers – if you want Duel, you’ll have to visit Santa Fe or their Albuquerque location. Their beers are fairly strong for the most part and all of them have unique flavors. I’ve found all of the beers I’ve tried there to be very good. Donna and I each ordered a sampler flight and enjoyed them.

Thursday morning we rode the Spyder downtown to walk around the plaza area. This is where most tourists end up in Santa Fe. The plaza often has events and entertainment and the surrounding area is full of upscale boutique shops and a few historical buildings.

We window shopped, then I suggested we go into the Lucchese Bootmaker shop for a look around. I knew it was dangerous thing for me to do. I’ve been wanting to get a pair of crocodile western boots for about a year. And wouldn’t you know it, I found a pair black cherry boots with crocodile belly vamps (the part that covers the top of your foot) and ostrich heel counters and shafts (the part that goes up your calf). They had my size and I tried them on. I couldn’t resist and bought them. As my friend Keith Burk would say – sometimes I’m crazy like that.

Lucchese crocodile boots

I figure I’ll be 61 years old in a few weeks. I deserve a splurge every now and then. Life’s short, enjoy the ride, right?

While we were at Duel the day before, we inquired about the best green chile cheeseburger in town. We were directed to Cowgirl, a bar and grill on Guadalupe Street about a half mile from the plaza. It was overcast and few rain drops began to fall, so we decided to leave the plaza and stop for lunch at Cowgirl.

They bill themselves as serving “New Style Comfort Food.” We found an item on the menu called “The Mother of All Green Chile Cheeseburgers.” Here’s the description from their menu:

Our secret blend of all-natural beef, local buffalo and applewood smoked bacon, grilled to your liking and served in a cheddar/green chile bun with melted brie, truffled green chile, a slice of heirloom tomato and some hand cut truffle fries – Just ask for “Mother!”

It was obviously a large burger and priced at $15. Donna and I split one – it wasn’t an unusual request to split the order apparently. It was the best burger I’ve ever tasted. The blend of beef and buffalo ground with bacon made a tasty blend that wasn’t the slightest bit greasy yet wasn’t as dry as buffalo burgers can sometimes be. The brie and green chile with truffle oil was out of this world good!

The Mother of All Green Chile Cheeseburgers

We beat the rain home. Donna later walked to Sprouts and picked up a few groceries. If the market is less than two miles away, she often likes to walk and shop. I started the break-in process on my new boots after treating them with Bick’s leather conditioner. Crocodile leather isn’t as supple as ostrich and the break-in takes some time.

I watched the Thursday Night Football game then went to bed for a quiet night’s rest. This morning we headed out at 8am to the Genoveva Chavez Community Center for pickleball. We spent about three hours there. I haven’t played since we were in Coarsegold – about three months ago. It was good to be back on the court and knock some of the rust off. We’ll go back on Monday.

Tomorrow we plan to head over to the Farmers’ Market down by the Santa Fe Railroad Park. We always enjoy our visits to Santa Fe. Donna wants to get some bicycle riding in over the weekend. I don’t have any plans other than the market and of course watching the Formula One race from Singapore and some NFL action.

High Passes and Quiet Night

With the rest of the Hearts A’Fire team heading for home Monday, Donna and I decided to spend one more night at the Hotel Elegante in Colorado Springs. Donna was able to get some laundry done in the hotel while I walked over to the convenience store and bought some drinking water.

On my way to the store, I saw a couple of interesting coaches in the hotel parking lot. They were Prevost custom conversions. I could tell they were entertainer buses – presumably a band traveling through the area had stopped for the night at the hotel. I could tell these were entertainer tour buses by the small lettering on the side indicating they were leased from Roberts Brothers in Springfield, Tennessee – a well-known provider of entertainer buses.

Entertainer tour bus

I wondered who it was, but wasn’t curious enough to find out. At the store, the local newspaper caught my eye. On the front page was a photo from the Labor Day Lift Off balloon event featuring Hearts A’Fire taking off from the park.

Front page of the Gazette

On Tuesday morning, we packed up and headed a few miles north to the Elks Lodge. Our plan was to spend one night dry camping at the lodge so we could use their dump station to flush out our holding tanks and refill the fresh water tank before leaving town. We also used the opportunity to do some grocery shopping and pick up some items Donna had delivered to the Sierra Trading Post store.

While we were at it, we decided to visit Bristol Brewing, a local brewery with an interesting location. They’re in an old schoolhouse. One half of the schoolhouse has boutique shops and a coffee shop/bakery while the other wing houses the brewery and pub.

Shops on the left, Bristol Brewing in the right wing

Red Rocket ale

Donna and I returned to the coach to plan our next move. We enjoyed a stay at Eagle Nest Lake in northern New Mexico last year but decided we wanted to explore new territory this year. Donna wanted to go to Abiquiu (Abbi-cue). We decided to head to Alamosa, Colorado across the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, then south into New Mexico.

Our trip down I-25 started off with a bang. We were driving along and went through an underpass. Just as we went through, a high-cube rental truck passed us on the left. I heard a loud boom – almost like a gun shot. I checked my mirrors and saw gray smoke on the left side of the trailer. I pulled off on the exit ramp and stopped on the shoulder – I thought we had blown a trailer tire. I went to investigate but didn’t find anything amiss. I guess the sound and smoke came from the truck overtaking us.

The turbocharger on our engine was still giving me problems. The engine control module (ECM) was intermittently losing the signal from the manifold pressure sensor. When this would happen, the turbo no longer provided boost pressure and there was a power loss. Also, the Jake brake would quit working whenever we lost the boost. I knew the problem was in the wiring harness at the ECM. I had taped up the harness for better support while we were at the Elks lodge. I checked the harness and repositioned it while we were stopped. This issue would continue to plague us on the trip to New Mexico.

We left I-25 near Walsenburg and headed west on US160. This took us through the Sangre de Cristo Mountains over La Veta Pass at an elevation of 9,426 feet above sea level. Wouldn’t you know it – I lost boost pressure on the climb up the pass and had to gear down to third to pull the grade. There was a Newmar Dutch Star motorhome traveling the same route that must have had engine trouble too – we overtook him on the climb.

We stopped in Alamosa and had a Subway sandwich for lunch. Donna looked up a couple of boondocking opportunities on the route to Abiquiu. Apparently we hadn’t communicated clearly on the route. I intended to head south on US285 from Alamosa into New Mexico. Donna had us heading west on US17 which curves south into New Mexico.

We punched the first boondocking possibility into the GPS and I happily followed the directions. It was near Manassa, Colorado and I felt like it was a bit early to stop and wanted to continue on. The next place Donna had identified was in New Mexico – about five miles across the border near Chama. We programmed that stop and I didn’t give it another thought. When we came through Antonito, I followed SR17 instead of US285 without thinking about it.

This took us over the San Juan Mountains into New Mexico. We had to climb up to La Manga Pass – this was the steepest grade we have ever encountered. Luckily our turbocharger was cooperating and I had the power needed for the climb. La Manga Pass tops out at 10,230 feet above sea level. We wouldn’t have made it without turbo boost. After a short descent we climbed Cumbres Pass at an elevation of 10,022 feet above sea level.

From there, it was downhill into New Mexico and we found a paved pull-out that was level and stopped there. It’s a mile and half from the small town of Chama across from a paved landing strip. It’s in beautiful surroundings and there’s very little traffic on SR17. We’re at an elevation of 7,966 feet above sea level.

Donna went out for a walk. She didn’t to go far, but she heard a train whistle and saw a sign for the Cumbres and Toltec Scenic Railroad indicating it was one mile away so she kept walking. She took a few photos along the way – they’re at the bottom of this post. The Cumbres and Toltec Scenic Railroad runs on narrow gauge tracks between Chama and Antonito. This historic railroad still uses coal-fired steam-powered engines. The track runs just to the west of our boondocking spot. We heard the train pass by, but it doesn’t run at night. This place is so peaceful and quiet – a welcome respite from the time recently spent in cities. I took a couple of photos before sunset – I stood on our door steps for these shots.

Door step view

I watched the US Open Tennis tournament on TV – I’ve been following it – while Donna prepared cod in parchment paper with asparagus, butter, tarragon and fresh squeezed orange juice. Just because were boondocking doesn’t mean we can’t eat well!

Cod cooked in parchment paper with asparagus, tarragon, butter and fresh squeezed orange juice

Today we’ll move on down to Abiquiu. The weather forecast looks good with highs in the 80s and cool nights in the upper 50s. We may have a stray thunder shower or two, but no big storms expected.

Here are photos from Donna’s walk…

Rio Chama River

Check out the sign!

Chama train station

Narrow gauge railroad track

Labor Lift Off 2017

I’m writing this post Monday morning – Labor Day – after a labor-intensive weekend crewing for our friends and their hot air balloon, the Hearts A’Fire. We expected Brad and Jessica Rice to arrive at the Hotel Elegante in Colorado Springs Friday afternoon. Around 6pm, Donna and I took a short walk around the property and ran into Jeff and Katie – other friends and also crew members for Hearts A’Fire. Little did we know Brad was already onsite but his wife Jessica was driving up separately with their kids and fellow crew member Darin. Jessica came in much later than expected – I think it was after 9pm.

We already made plans for the crew to head out at 5:45am Saturday morning to Memorial Park where the Labor Day Lift Off hot air balloon event takes place. I had my alarm set for 4:50am – or so I thought. I got distracted while I was setting the alarm and instead of setting it for Saturday morning I had it set for everyday except Saturday. Luckily my internal clock woke me and I checked my watch next to the bed at 5:10am. I scrambled and managed to down a cup of coffee and meet up with the crew on time.

We needed the early start as we had to put a sponsor banner on the balloon envelope and we were scheduled to take off early.

Banner attached

It was a Hare and Hound event and we were the hare. The way it works is this – the three commercial Rainbow Ryders balloons take off first with their huge baskets holding a dozen or more paying customers. Then Hearts A’Fire would take off. The task was to set the balloon down somewhere with the rest of the balloons following. After lift off, getting the chase vehicle out of the park is always interesting. Aaron and I walked in front of the truck and tried to keep spectators clear along the paved path. Most people were oblivious as they took photos or watched balloons inflating. We managed to keep it clear enough and got out of there.

Balloons inflating as we were exiting

When Brad set the balloon down, we unfurled a large X on the ground. Brad waited a few minutes to give the other balloon pilots a chance to see where he landed, then took off again. The object was for the other balloonists to drop a bean bag and try to hit the X we set out. The closest bean bag wins a prize.

Brad continued to fly southeast and then found a high school football field to land in. There was a scoreboard and goal posts that created an obstacle. Brad cleared them by a few feet and was actually close enough to touch the upright on the goal post as they floated past. The landing was perfect – the basket stuck on contact with the grass.

The balloon was deflated and we had it packed up in no time. Sounds easy, but it entails some work and bit of heavy lifting. We went back to the park where Jessica had staked out space for our breakfast tailgate party.

Aaron, Darin and Katie cooking breakfast burrito fixings

We packed up and were back at the hotel by noon. Donna and I stay in our motorhome on the hotel property while the rest of the crew has rooms in the hotel. I had recorded the Formula One Qualifying from Monza, Italy – or so I thought. I kicked back and started the replay. After a minute and half, the qualifying session was red-flagged due to heavy rain. The next three hours were delay after delay. My recording ended without seeing any qualifying. I was half snoozing on the sofa anyway.

At 5:30pm, we were headed back to Memorial Park. They had a glow scheduled for Saturday evening. A glow is a static display of the balloons. We inflated just before sunset. Once it was dark out, the balloons glow like lampshades when the pilot hits the burner.

The park is about to fill with balloons and people again

There were quite a few people that must have hung out at the park all afternoon when we arrived. Soon the park was packed with balloons and people.

Inflated at twilight

Time to glow

By the time we were packed up again it was after 9pm and I was worn out. To tell the truth, I don’t enjoy static displays or glows so much. It’s the same work as a flight without the satisfaction of a launch, chase and recovery.

When I got home I found Donna had a small party happening in the coach. Jessica, Melissa, Katie and her husband Jeff were enjoying wine and conversation. I poured myself a dram of Glenfiddich Single Malt Scotch. Later, Brad’s brother Eric and his girlfriend Brittney joined us. I was exhausted but it was after 11pm by the time I got to bed.

Sunday morning my alarm worked fine and I was up at 4:50am so we could do it again. The weather was great for flying with the exception of wind direction. The wind was taking the balloons due south. The preferred flight path is southeast or even easterly.

Chasing Hearts A’Fire as it heads south

I was navigating in the chase vehicle. Colorado Springs isn’t the easiest place to navigate as many roads are dead ends or loops. Also, road names change in a seemingly haphazard fashion only to revert back to the original name in another area. On Saturday, I was able to navigate our way to keep us in sight of the balloon and put us in place just in time for the landing.

Sunday didn’t work as well. We had communication issues as we weren’t receiving all of Brad’s transmissions from the balloon. The balloon was heading south so I found a route that would position us ahead of him. Then we lost sight of the balloon. This was the first time I can think of when we didn’t have a clue where the balloon went. Finally we were able to reach Brad by cell phone and found out he was north of us and had landed in a soccer field. Luckily, Eric was nearby at the time and Eric and Russ were able to secure the basket at the landing site.

We found them and proceeded to pack the gear and head back to the park for another round of tailgating with breakfast burritos and beer.

On Sunday afternoon, I watched the Formula One race then snoozed while watching the US Open tennis tournament. The rest of the diehards were at the pool with the kids and Donna went to find them. It was hot out – mid-90s. We had the generator and air conditioners running all afternoon.

I joined everyone at the pool around 5:30pm, then Donna and I walked to Bada Japanese Restaurant for a sushi dinner. When we came home, Donna went out to rejoin the party but I was whipped. I was out by 10pm and slept like a rock until the alarm woke me at 4:50am.

Today the weather didn’t cooperate. The winds aloft were moving too fast for ballooning. Also, a lot of smoke blew into the area from forest fires in the northwest. We ended up with static display only. There were a couple of highlights though – well maybe the first encounter wasn’t really a highlight.

After we arrived at our assigned spot, Brad and the rest of the crew walked down to the pilots’ briefing about a quarter mile away. I hung out back at the truck and trailer. Just before sunup, a guy came by pushing a wheelchair and stopped about 15 feet away from me. He lifted what appeared to be a girl about six years old or so out of the wheelchair. I saw him manipulating her legs, then he knelt down and set her gently on the ground and began manipulating her arms. That’s when I realized this was a mannequin – a doll – not a real girl. After about 10 minutes, he lifted the doll back into the wheelchair and wheeled it away through the crowd. Weird – no, it was creepy!

During a static display, four or more crew members station themselves around the basket to keep weight on it in case the wind tips it or it begins to lift. While I was holding the basket, a small group of Asian people approached me. Most of them apparently didn’t speak English. One girl and guy started asking me about a balloon ride. I referred then to the Rainbow Ryders commercial balloons – affectionately called the cattle cars. They came back twice more asking me about getting into the basket, they wanted two of their party to get in – the communication was poor, but I got the gist of it.

I told them to ask the pilot, Brad if they could get in the basket. I heard Brad tell them to come back in 10 minutes before we deflated the balloon. They came back. Most of the group lined up with cameras in front of the balloon. Then a young guy in dressy clothes and a girl in a white dress stood in front of the basket. The guy handed her flowers the got down on one knee. He produced a small jewelry box and ring and proposed to her while the rest of their group took photos with the Hearts A’Fire balloon in the background. Then they both climbed into the basket for more photos. You never know what you might see at these events!

We packed up and Jessica dropped Donna and I off back at our rig by 9:30am. We said our goodbyes. They all have to make the five- or six-hour drive back to Albuquerque. I think we’ll stay put for another day – we can hang at the pool and use the hotel laundry. Tomorrow we’ll go to the Elks Lodge and plan our route into New Mexico. Starting tomorrow the weather is supposed to cool dramatically – they’re calling for a high in the mid 60s!

Having Fun in Longmont

Ozark the cat as been enjoying our stay at the Boulder County Fairgrounds in Longmont, Colorado. There’s so much activity for her to follow outside our windows – she spends hours watching the world go by. Donna calls it “Cat TV.”

The Longmont Humane Society building is next to the entrance to the fairgrounds. Everyday dozens of people come out to walk the dogs or maybe adopt one. Ozark gets to watch them parade by. Then there’s the livestock and horse arenas across the street from our site. Plenty to see there too. Yesterday Ozark was so caught up in it she wouldn’t move as Donna made the bed and she ended up half under the comforter.

Ozark tuned into cat TV

Donna’s friend, Liz Canavan Byrne, came by around 9am to go for a walk and visit with Donna. They walked the trail out past Cattail Pond to the Greenway Trail and caught up on their lives. Meanwhile, I took the Spyder and rode down to Golden – about 30 miles away. Once I got through Boulder and into some open country, it was a beautiful ride. The temperature was in the low 70s and the skies were clear with just a little haze in the air.

Rocky Mountain Front Range from highway CO93 – the Flatirons over South Boulder on the far right mountains

Some readers may remember that I’ve acquired a small collection of Spyderco folding pocket knives. My destination was the Spyderco headquarters and outlet store in Golden.

Spyderco headquarters and outlet

My intention was to have a look around and take advantage of the opportunity to check out and handle many models I don’t often see. I’ve been interested in their Paramilitary 3 knives.

From time-to-time, Spyderco makes what they call Sprint Runs – these are a limited number of knives made of special combinations of blade steel and handle scales. They had the Paramilitary 3 in a Sprint Run with CPM Cruwear blade steel – one of the so called “super steels” – and light gray G10 scales. This knife has been hot on the market and all of the online retailers sold out immediately – only 1,200 were made. The Spyderco Outlet Store got 10 pieces last Thursday and had two left. Now they have one – I couldn’t help myself and bought one.

Spyderco Paramilitary 3 with Cruwear and G10

Cruwear blade and compression lock

I’m not sure what I’ll do with it. I think for now it’ll be a drawer queen, not a user. Maybe later I’ll sell it to a bona fide collector – these Sprint Runs can gain value over time.

I grabbed lunch while I was out, then on my way home I detoured into old downtown Longmont. I looped around on 3rd Street and made a stop at Sherman Street where I found 234 Sherman Street. This is the house where I lived in 1976 when Jim Birditt, Chris Nirschl and I were roommates with hopes of becoming a rock and roll band. I wrote about an adventure here in this post. This area is known as the Bohn Farm neighborhood nowadays. I’m not sure why, but I think the dairy farm that used to be at the south end of Sherman Street might have been called Bohn Farm.

The old house hasn’t changed much

By the time I got home, it was very warm out. The temperature topped out at 90 degrees. We stayed indoors and Donna completed the first of three writing assignments she picked up. She has two to finish today. She was done by 5pm, so we rode the Spyder over to Prospect Park – the same location where her century ride finished.

From May to September, they have free concerts there on Monday evenings – next Monday will be the last for 2017. It’s catered by food trucks and includes beer vendors set up in tents. The band playing this week was called “Soul Sacrifice.” They were a Santana tribute band covering the 1970s Santana hits – most of the songs started out faithful to the original, then turned into jam sessions. It was fun and the band was good.

Soul Sacrifice

The lead guitarist was pretty much the front man. He had a great sound playing through a 70s vintage Mesa Boogie 1×12 amplifier.

There were a few women hoop dancing. One was very good and we found out she was sort of the teacher/leader for the group of hoopsters and spent the summer here. She’s from North Carolina and will be heading back there. She lent Donna a hoop and taught her a new move.

Hoop dancers among the crowd

We finished the evening there with a walk through neighborhood around the park. Prospect is an interesting neighborhood. It’s very high-density with apartments and lofts over ground-floor commercial spaces. The buildings are all three stories high. It reminded me of many urban settings in Europe – Barcelona comes to mind. We saw a flyer for a unit for sale – it included ground floor office space and a one-bedroom, two-bath loft ( plus half-bath on the ground floor). The 1,926 square foot space – I assume that includes the office space – was listed for – wait for it – $450,000.

We extended our stay at the Boulder County Fairgrounds until Thursday morning – check out time is 10am. When we leave here we’ll head straight to Colorado Springs to meet up with our friends Brad and Jessica Rice and family for the Labor Day Lift-Off hot air balloon event. We expect more hot weather until then – the forecast calls for low 90s the next couple of days. Colorado Springs will be cooler.

 

 

Donna Does a Century

On Friday afternoon, Donna and I walked along the trail by Cattail Pond out of the Boulder County Fairgrounds. We hit Boston Avenue and headed east. Our destination was Longmont’s most well-known brewery – Left Hand Brewing Company. It was warm out – in the upper 80s, but the walk was nice – close to a mile and a half.

We had a reservation for a brewery tour. The brewery is housed in a much smaller facility than I expected – they brew a lot of beer here. Their beer is distributed in 40 states, the District of Columbia, Europe and Japan. There were only three participants in the tour – Donna, me and a guy from Lyons. The tour guide told us about the beginning of the brewery when they searched for a suitable location in 1993. They found this building and thought it would be ideal. It had concrete floors with built-in drainage. Keeping the gear and brewing environment clean is a very important part of a successful brewery.

When she told us it was formerly a meat processing plant called Green’s Sausage, I was stunned. I lived here in 1976 and was a laborer on the post setting crew for Anderson Fence Company. In the ’70s and probably well beyond, almost all fence building contracts along the Front Range north of Denver were held by Anderson. We fenced this property back then when it was called Green’s Whole Hog Sausage! I didn’t recognize the place as back then it was the only building in the area surrounded by farms and horse properties. Now it’s on a busy street with a greenbelt along the St. Vrain River next door.

Left Hand Brewing Company

The brewery runs three shifts producing beer 24/7. It’s a very efficient operation brewing 60 barrel (1,860 gallons) batches simultaneously in several fermenters. It’s a wonder they are able to fulfill worldwide demand from this relatively small operation.

After the tour, Donna and I each a sampler flight of beer and followed it up with a pint – milk stout for me and porter for Donna. Left hand is known for their quality stouts. In my opinion it’s more difficult to brew a fine stout than it is to brew a hop monster IPA. Stouts are more delicate and flaws are obvious while a hoppy, bitter, high-gravity brew can hide some flaws.

Donna in the Left Hand seat

We walked a different route back and got three miles of walking in to offset some of the beer. I’ve lost about 15 pounds since the end of RAGBRAI in Iowa and wouldn’t mind to take another seven or eight pounds off.

We tracked Hurricane Harvey as it hit the Texas coast. We stayed in Rockport, Texas a couple of years ago. They took the brunt of the storm in Rockport and Port Aransas. Rockport suffered major damage and people are still missing there. We can only hope for the best. My daughter Jamie was spared by the worst of it in Robstown, just outside of Corpus Christi. It’s amazing what a difference 30 or 40 miles can make in a situation like this. The story is far from over though as widespread flooding will continue for days to come. Our thoughts are with the people of Texas.

Donna was up early Saturday morning. She headed out before sunrise on her bicycle two and half miles to the start of the Venus de Miles cycling event. Venus de Miles is a fundraiser for Greenhouse Scholars and Donna received over $500 in pledges. She opted to ride the century distance – 100 miles. The participants were all women.

It wasn’t an easy ride. The elevation change over the course added up to 4,380 feeet of climbing. It was also very hot out – the temperature here in Longmont topped out at 94 degrees. I went to the finish area around 4pm and saw Donna cross the finish line after 102 miles of riding.

Donna crossing the finish

Committing to a century ride is commendable – riding 100 miles in one shot isn’t easy. Donna felt like this was a good time to do it as she felt strong after training for RAGBRAI and making the ride across Iowa.

After the finish, Donna was treated to a free massage while I had a free beer from Bristol Brewing – a brewery in Colorado Springs. Donna also had a free meal at Comida – a Mexican restaurant across the street from the park at the finish. I headed for home while she went to the restaurant with her new friend from the ride. And then she rode the last two and half miles back to the campground.

High pressure continues to dominate the weather here. We can expect mostly sunny days with highs in the upper 80s to low 90s for next few days. I think we’ll stay here until Wednesday, then head down to Colorado Springs.

 

Rock & Rails in Niwot

Donna says we’re just goofing off in Longmont, Colorado. I don’t know, I’m always just goofing off, no matter where we are. I guess from her perspective, she doesn’t have any writing deadlines and is enjoying her free time.

Yesterday she rode the Spyder up to Loveland – about 27 miles from here – to meet her friend Autumn Leopold for lunch. The route had several turns along the way and Donna did a great job memorizing the unfamiliar route before she left. She found the restaurant where they had lunch with no problem. She’s gotten a lot better at plotting a route and finding her way around since we hit the road. When we first met, she was so directionally challenged, that she would often get lost in Phoenix  where almost all of the roads are straight on a east-west/north-south grid.

While she was out, I walked over to the shopping area on Hover Road, not too far from the Longmont Fairgrounds where we’re staying. I stopped for lunch at Noodles, then hit the Chase Bank to deposit a check.

I didn’t mention the good mail I received while we were in Kearney, Nebraska. First off, I got a check from the IRS refunding an overpayment I made two years ago. The refund included interest at a better rate than I get on my savings accounts! Nebraska and Wyoming don’t have Chase banks, so I held the check until we reached Colorado.

I had another piece of mail from the State Department. They returned my old passport. I thought this wasn’t a good sign until I opened the next piece of mail and it contained my new passport – yay! I was a little worried that our nomadic lifestyle with no real physical address would cause problems with issuing a new passport. No worries!

While I was out, I stopped in at Wynn’s Wine and Spirits for a look. I was shocked to see The Balvenie Doublewood single malt Scotch whiskey 750ml bottle on sale for $39.99! I’ve never seen it priced this low – not even in California. I hate to admit what I paid for a bottle the day before in Boulder!

By the time I made it back to the coach, I’d covered 6,000 steps – about three miles of walking. Donna came home around 2:45pm and had a good time with Autumn. Clouds were coming in off the mountains and the wind picked up. I expected a shower at any moment. The rain bypassed us – most of it skirted to the south. We decided to take a chance and rode the Spyder to Niwot to check out the Thursday evening entertainment at a small park there.

Niwot is a small village of about 4,000 people located between Longmont and Boulder. The community is relatively affluent and seems close-knit. On Thursday evenings from 5pm to 9pm during the summer they have a two bands every Thursday for an event they call Rock & Rails.

We showed up around 5:15pm and found parking nearby. A band was playing as we entered the park. They also had food trucks and a beer tent.

A good crowd at Rock & Rails in Niwot

Three-man band onstage

Food vendors

Beer tent

We grabbed a pint of local beer at the beer tent – IPA for me and a stout for Donna. Then we ordered Vietnamese style savory crepes from a food vendor. We watched the band while we ate and enjoyed the beer. The temperature was in the upper 80s in the afternoon, but once the clouds came over the mountains, it quickly dropped to 70 degrees. The wind kicked up and was blowing at about 20mph. By 6pm we had all the fun we could take and decided to get out of the chilly wind.

Yesterday my daughter Jamie phoned from Texas. She lives there with Francisco and their family in Robstown – just outside of Corpus Christi. They’re bracing for the incoming hurricane Harvey to make landfall. They’re on relatively high ground and are well stocked with food and water. Hopefully the hurricane will lose some of its force before it hits Texas. If not, they may have to evacuate the area. Our thoughts are with them and we’re hoping the storm does minimal damage.

Today I plan to hang out. Donna made a reservation for us to tour Left Hand Brewing – a brewery less than a mile from here. Left Hand makes some outstanding beers. Donna is a big fan of their nitro milk stout. There are three well-known breweries in the area – Left Hand, Oskar Blues and Odell’s. There’s also a smaller brewery that I’m not familiar with called Skeye Brewing down the street from us. I’m looking forward to the tour at Left Hand.

Donna wants to get out on her bicycle and pre-run the route to the start of tomorrow’s women’s century ride – the Venus de Miles. She’ll need to ride her bicycle to the start tomorrow morning around 6:15am. High pressure has formed in the upper atmosphere here so we can expect temperatures near 90 degrees with little chance of rain.