Category Archives: Beer

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.

Overnighting near Omaha

Donna here, standing in for Mike. He woke up feeling pretty good this morning, but the good feeling didn’t last. He’s resting again.

We’ve been parked at Ameristar Casino in Council Bluffs, Iowa these last two nights. It’s a nice, clean casino and hotel with several restaurants. The casino itself is housed on a real riverboat.

Ameristar Casino, Council Bluffs, Iowa

As it turns out, there’s a bike path that goes right by here. Lucky me! On the first day, I walked the path about 2 miles to the pedestrian bridge that goes over the Missouri into Omaha. The border between Iowa and Nebraska is in the middle of the river.

Then yesterday, I went out for bike ride that took me north along the river on the Iowa side to the Lewis & Clark Monument – quite a climb but worth it for the views.

View from Lewis & Clark Monument

There’s a fence at the monument lookout that is covered with padlocks. Upon closer inspection, I noticed that some had been engraved with names. I posted a photo to Facebook and my friends told me that people do this all over the world as a symbol of their love. Apparently there’s a movie called Love Locks. Have you seen it?

Love locks on the fence

I enjoyed the downhill ride from the monument to the pedestrian bridge and crossed over into Nebraska for some Omaha sightseeing.

My destination was Old Market, Omaha’s most historic area. I had to get off my bike when I arrived as the streets are cobblestone, making for bumpy ride. I locked up my bike and walked around for about 45 minutes, exploring the many shops and restaurants.

Old Market Passageway

Then I wandered into Upstream Brewing for a Boom! Chocolaka milk stout. If I had wanted, I could have had it served over vanilla ice cream as a milk stout float. Yes, really.

Boom! Chocolaka milk stout

I snapped this photo on the way back over the bridge from Omaha to Council Bluffs.

My bike in two states at the same time!

We’re going to try to snag a site today at Walnut Creek Recreation Area in Papillion which is just southwest of Omaha. I chose this park for its easy access to miles of bike paths and to Prairie Lane Park where the locals play pickleball. It’s a first-come, first-serve park so hopefully, we’ll get lucky since it’s Monday.

Speaking of cycling, I had a blast doing the ride across Iowa. I was afraid I hadn’t trained enough. I mean, how do you train to ride 60 miles a day except to ride 60 miles a day? I got in about 650 miles over the 7 weeks leading up to the ride. It was enough. My legs were tired by the end of every day but felt just fine each morning.

Call me crazy, but I just signed up to ride a century (100 miles) in Longmont, CO on August 26. It’s a benefit ride to raise money for scholarships that go to high-achieving students from low-income families. If you feel so inclined to support me (I committed to raising $250 by August 13), click here. Thank you!

When we get to Walnut Creek, Mike will unload the Spyder and I’ll go get some groceries. I have not been grocery shopping in 18 days and our cupboards are bare!

 

 

 

 

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.

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.

The Road to RAGBRAI

Our last full day in Sioux Falls was Thursday. I had a busy schedule – first up I rode the Spyder to Madison – 50 miles away. I went west on SD42 and knew I had turn north on SD19 – 456th Street. It was about 20 miles to the first turn. I hadn’t gone more than 10 miles when I crossed 467th Street. I thought, “How can this be? I have more than 10 miles before I reach 456th, but that’s only 10 blocks away.” Then it dawned on me. Outside of the city, the farmland is divided into sections. Each section is 640 acres – a square mile. Each numbered street is a mile apart – there are no subdivisions and city blocks.

Heading north on SD19, I missed a turn and had to ride about three miles of gravel road before I got back on track. In Madison, I visited the office of our mail service and found our registrations and license tabs had arrived. That was a relief – I did’t want to continue to drive on expired plates.

After I got home, Donna and I took turns going out on the Spyder and shopping – we were stocking up for the next 10 days as we cross Iowa. I also organized the trailer and made it ready for travel. Thursday evening we took a walk through the RV park and got a taste of what we’re heading for. A converted bus with 10 bicycles on the roof was in the park. This is a support vehicle for a team of RAGBRAI riders. We talked with the owner – he came from Richmond, Virginia and is participating in his 10th RAGBRAI. The bus was outfitted with seats and storage spaces for 10 riders,  large quantities of beer, water and sports drinks and they were installing USB ports so the riders can charge their devices. The owner is a Blue Oyster Cult fan and the bus has Agents of Fortune stenciled on the side – that was Blue Oyster Cult’s biggest selling album in the ’70s.

Blue Oyster Cult themed support bus

Friday morning we woke up to rain. I deviated from my normal routine and hadn’t removed the windshield cover the day before travel. So I had to store a wet cover in the trailer. I didn’t want to roll it up and store it in a basement compartment like I usually do because it would likely mildew.

We had a short drive of 77 miles to Orange City, Iowa. As we traveled south out of Sioux Falls, we passed by Lennox. I had relatives in the Sioux Falls area – mostly great uncles and aunts – brothers and sisters of my grandfather on my dad’s side of the family. When I was 10 years old, I spent a week on my great uncle Hank’s farm near Lennox. Our route then took us through Canton where my great uncle Ed was sheriff. I spent a week with him and Aunt Sadie on the same trip when I stayed on the farm.

Donna commented on the rolling hills of northern Iowa. The bike ride across Iowa may not be as flat as we envisioned. We came into Orange City from the north. As we rolled through town, we saw preparations underway for the start of RAGBRAI. We didn’t see the turn for the RV parking and had to make a loop around a section of land – once we passed through town we were immediately into farmland on a dirt road.

Our friend and organizer of our team, Jeff Spencer, phoned us. He was at a high school parking lot that was a designated RV area. He gave us directions and we found him along with a volunteer named Brian who was in charge of the parking area. It was a large, fairly level concrete lot. We were the first RV to arrive there. Brian directed us to park diagonally with our front pointed toward the exit. He was planning ahead for the rush of vehicles trying to leave the lot all at once Sunday morning.

RAGBRAI is an acronym for the (Des Moines) Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa. This event was conceived by two columnists that wrote for the Register in 1973. It has grown to huge proportions. There are 8,500 riders registered along with 1,500 RV permits issued for the 45th event. We’re told some sections of the ride will have more than 10,000 riders as unregistered bicyclists join in. Not all of the support RVs are registered – many will dry camp along the streets. The registration sticker for a support vehicle allows access to designated RV camps.

Our support vehicle pass

There are two routes published for each day. One route is for the bicyclists that will take them on roads closed to vehicular traffic. The other route is for support vehicles to get to the destination city for the that day.

As the day wore on, more RVs pulled into the parking lot. Around 5:30pm, the rest of Team RV There Yet? arrived. It was three people in a class C coach – Tom, his father-in-law Fred and another Geoff. Tom and Fred are from Elkhart, Indiana and Geoff is from Austin, Texas. Fred will drive their RV while Tom and Geoff ride. Jeff Spencer will ride and his wife Deb will drive their truck and fifth-wheel RV. Of course I’m driving our coach and Donna will ride.

Team RV There Yet?

Some of the support vehicles are a hoot. I took a few photos of the rigs here.

Several riders are supported by this bus

Short bus put together with a heavy duty diesel drive train

There are several conventional RVs – we’re on the far end

It was hot and humid out. We set up chairs between our coach and Tom’s where the breeze kept us reasonably cool and visited for a while.

Jeff Spencer, Ozark the Cat, Tom, Donna, Geoff, Deb and Fred

After a while, we walked over to Los Tupilanes – a Mexican restaurant next to the high school. The food was surprisingly good. This city of about 6,200 people will be hopping this weekend as its population triples. This is the first time Orange City has been on the RAGBRAI route – the route changes every year. Everyone in town seems excited to be the starting point of the event and I’m sure the local businesses are happy about the inflow of visitors.

Over the past 44 years, RAGBRAI has passed through 780 Iowa towns and spent the night in 125 overnight towns. It has been in all of Iowa’s 99 counties.

Today the Expo with vendors starts at noon. I’ll go to the support vehicle driver’s safety meeting at 4pm. It’s going to be another hot day – the temperature should reach the low 90s. Tomorrow is expected to be a little cooler. I plan to head out early – be on the road as close to 7am as I can. The route is about 63 miles and will end in Spencer, Iowa. Right now I have good internet connectivity. That may change in the coming days. Even if we have a good signal, I’m guessing cell towers may become overloaded. I’ll post updates when I can.

 

Back to South Dakota

We pulled out of the Broadus, Montana city park around 10am Sunday. Our route had us continue down US212 where we traversed the northeast corner of Wyoming before we reached South Dakota. We saw several antelope in the fields along the roadside this time – I expected to see them the day before but didn’t.

We drove through the town of Belle Fourche, South Dakota which has the distinction of being near the designated geographic center of the United States of America. This designation was  bestowed by the US Coast and Geodetic Survey in 1959 – after Alaska and Hawaii were admitted to the union. The geographic center of the 48 contiguous states is Lebanon, Kansas.

We drove through town on US 85 next to a truck pulling a fifth-wheel trailer which had a cargo trailer attached to it – you don’t see that very often! We turned southeast at SD34 while the trailer pulling a trailer went straight down US85. We hit I-90 at Whitewood west of Sturgis. A little while later, the trailer pulling a trailer passed us at about 70mph. He must have taken US85 due south and got on I-90 west of Spearfish. Ours was definitely the shorter, faster route.

We pulled into the Elks Lodge in Rapid City around 1:30pm. I parked in the front lot while we figured out how to set up. This is a very nice lodge – one of the largest and cleanest lodges we’ve visited. This is the first lodge we’ve been to where the bar is open to the public. This is due to the golf course on the lodge property which is also open to the public. The RV lot is for Elks members only.

We dropped the trailer in the main parking lot and backed the coach into site four. We have 50amp electric service and fresh water, no sewer hook up. We paid for four nights and shouldn’t have any worries about sewer. The 50 amp electric service was needed – we had to run the generator on the road to power the front roof air conditioner. Once hooked up, we ran both roof A/Cs – it was 100 degrees outside! The average high temperature in July for Rapid City is 85 degrees – we were in for a few days with highs above average.

We had a problem with one of the basement compartment doors over the last couple of days on the road. The door popped open a few times. I adjusted the plate the latch attaches to, but it still wasn’t very secure. On Monday, I found an Ace Hardware store and bought a flat brass bar one-inch wide. I had them cut a three-inch section. I glued this flat bar to the latch plate effectively extending the height of the plate. The door latches securely now and shouldn’t be a problem down the road. While I was out, I picked up a few groceries.

Meanwhile, Donna was out for a bike ride in the 90 degree heat. She planned a route looking at a map and headed out for a 24-mile ride. Little did she know her route included some steep climbs! She got through it though.

I went online Monday and found the local Department of Public Safety (DPS) licensing office. I found out they take appointments for driver’s license exams and renewals. Donna lost her driver’s license back in November in San Diego – she figures it must have slipped out of the slot in her purse when she pulled her cell phone out. I scheduled an appointment at the DPS office a few miles from the lodge for 10am Tuesday morning. They advise arriving 10 minutes prior to the appointment time.

We walked into the DPS office 12 minutes before 10am. They had a sign telling us to take a number after we completed the application paperwork. Donna had already completed the application so she took a number. Then I saw another sign telling us to notify a clerk if we had an appointment. Donna told a woman at the counter she had an appointment and gave her name. She was told that she would be next in line.

We sat down to wait and within two minutes Donna’s name was called. The woman at the counter entered Donna’s application in her computer terminal, took her photograph and printed her new driver’s license in less than ten minutes! I’ve never experienced such efficiency at a government agency.

We were back on the Spyder and on the road a couple of minutes past 10am. We headed up US16 and turned off at 16A. We were headed to Mount Rushmore. We visited the monument in 2013 when we first hit the road as full-timers (post).

Once we got through the tourist town of Keystone, we hit a traffic jam trying to enter the monument. There was a crew painting new road lettering and arrows and they had a lane closed. This confused the traffic as it was forced to converge into two lanes from three – the two lanes that are for entry to the monument. Through traffic had to go around the crew, then get out of the entry lane at the entrance and get back on the highway. We baked in the sun for 20 minutes trying to enter.

When we were here before, we paid the $10 fee to park and were planning to show our National Parks pass inside but there was no entrance fee. This time I showed my National Parks pass and was told the pass doesn’t do anything for me at the monument – everyone has to pay for a parking permit to enter the monument. So I paid $10 again. We walked through the monument viewing area. We both thought the famous sculptures looked like they had been cleaned since our last visit.

Donna in front of the state flags display

At the viewing pavillion

We didn’t stay long. We went back to Keystone for lunch at Peggy’s Cafe. We were disappointed in the food quality – not on our recommended list. I wanted to take the scenic drive down Needles Highway again but realized that would mean we had to fight our way through the traffic jam at the monument again.

I decided to ride the Spyder down 16A to SD87 and we could come up the Needles Highway from the bottom. This route took us through Custer State Park. At the park entrance there was a sign advising a fee for a park pass to use any of the parks facilities – through traffic on the highway didn’t need a pass. So I carried on without stopping.

At the turn-off to Needles Highway we were stopped and an agent told us we had to purchase a pass to enter the highway, even if we didn’t plan to stop. I didn’t recall paying anything four years ago when we drove down the highway. I paid $10 for a pass.

Needles Highway is very scenic – and it’s slow. The road is narrow and full of twists and turns. There are six tunnels – some a as narrow as eight feet seven inches. I don’t know how the tour buses which are eight feet six inches wide manage to get through, but they do.

I didn’t stop to take photos at the Cathedral Spires which are granite columns – needle like – towering along a section of road. I thought we would come back down the highway and I would get pictures then. We went all the way to Sylvan Lake before stopping to stretch our legs.

Sylvan Lake

We were hot and the route was longer than I anticipated. We didn’t have enough fuel to back-track down the highway. We cooled off in the shade and Donna even put her feet in the lake.

Donna cooling off in Sylvan Lake

We exited the highway at the top end and rode back to Rapid City. We had put in about 110 miles and spent four hours on the Spyder. We had enough sightseeing for one day – we were getting saddle sore.

We ended the day with grilled green chile turkey burgers cooked on the Weber Q for dinner and some leftover red potato salad.

Green chile turkey burger

I opened an IPA called Total Domination from Ninkasi Brewing in Eugene, Oregon.

Ninkasi Total Domination

We’re thinking about going to a barbeque and rodeo later today – it depends on the weather. For the last three days, a thunder shower developed in the late afternoon. Usually it blows through quickly but we had a considerable amount of rain along with high winds, thunder and lightning last night.

Tomorrow we’ll head east and probably make an overnight stop near Chamberlain before we check in for a week in Sioux Falls.

Fourth of July on the Lake

We had a great Fourth of July – I hope yours was equally enjoyable.

On Monday evening, I saw a picture on Facebook of my San Diego friend Gary Stemple wake surfing. I could see he wasn’t in Mission Bay and I had a suspicion the picture was taken on Lake Coeur d’Alene. I commented on Facebook and sure enough, he was here staying at a house on the lake owned by his aunt Phyllis.

We made arrangements to meet on Tuesday afternoon. Gary’s cousin Kim spends the summer at the house on the lake with her twin daughters, Madison and Mackenzie. I got directions to their place and after lunch Donna and I headed out on the Spyder.

Lake Couer d’Alene stretches north to south about 25 miles and is one to three miles wide in most places. The lake is primarily fed by two rivers – Couer d’Alene River and St. Joe River. On the north end of the lake is the town of Couer d’Alene and the lake empties into the Spokane River there.

Their house on the lake is located roughly half way down the west side of Lake Coeur d’Alene at Black Rock Bay (map). It was about a 23-mile ride on the Spyder from the Elks Lodge in north Coeur d’Alene.

When we arrived, we parked in the back along with several cars. The house and deck were filled with family members, neighbors and friends. Donna and I were introduced to a number of people – there’s no way I can remember all their names.

View from the deck across the backyard and lake

After giving us a tour of the place and wetting our whistles with a cold beer, Gary and I took the jet skis out for romp around the lake. The jet skis were fun – almost like riding a dirt bike. I got a real workout jumping the swells and wakes on the lake. We made a big loop – first we went south then we crossed the lake and headed north before we crossed back again and came back to the property. In areas of flatter water, I hit speeds up to 46 mph – that really feels fast on a jet ski!

Jet skis and house viewed from a boat on the lake

Later Madison and Mckenna along with their friend Abbie took the jet ski and headed out. I wasn’t aware of their plan – I just knew that Donna and I were joining Gary, Kim and her neighbor Kenley for a ride in their ski boat.

We crossed to the east side of the lake enjoying the ride and the views. We entered the Couer d’Alene River and made our way upstream.

Back of Donna’s head as we head upriver

Kenley in the back of the boat and downriver view

We went a few miles upriver to the Anderson Lake Road bridge where we found Madison, Mckenna and Abbie up on the bridge – they had come here on the jet ski.

The girls on the bridge

Madison doing a flip off the bridge down to the river!

Madison jumped performing a forward flip. Mckenna and Abbie stayed put but Madison wasn’t done yet. We saw a guy swing on a rope from the bridge like Tarzan and jump into the river. Madison had to give that a try.

Madison swinging from a rope on the bridge

In fact, she did it twice and I shot a video of her second swing – unfortunately I’ll need to install software to edit the file, it’s too large to post it here.

After Gary and Kenley cooled off with a quick dip in the water – it was in the upper 80s – we headed back down river. Gary wake surfed behind the boat for a while on the way down. We stopped when we saw a man and a boy stranded on their jet ski. They had sucked up some aquatic plant matter in the water inlet. He was able to clear it and they were on their way so we continued on.

We entered Lake Coeur d’Alene at Harrison Slough and went through the channel around the point toward the little town of Harrison.

Mouth of the Coeur d’Alene River at Harrison Slough

The town was named after President Benjamin Harrison and once had a lumber mill and was also a supply point for mining operations – it was incorporated in 1899. Only a few hundred people live here. We were heading for the gas dock at the marina there.

The marina and town were hopping with holiday revelers. I’m sure the visitors outnumbered the residents by a factor of at least two-to-one.

These docks were rocking!

There was a line up at the gas dock and we had a bit of a wait.

Lining up at the gas dock

After gassing up the boat, we tied up at a visitor’s dock behind the bar and restaurant at Gateway Marina. We took a walk into town for a cold one at One Shot Charlie’s. This was a favorite watering hole for Kim’s parents and their parents as well.

We took our drinks in plastic cups and walked to Harrison Park where a band was performing on an outdoor stage. It was the Jam Shack band, a local favorite for lakeside clubs.

Jam Shack Band

Donna, Kim, Kenley and Gary at Harrison Park

From there Kenley took the helm and brought us back past Black Rock to Kim’s place.

Returning to the house on the lake

We were invited to stay for dinner and even spend the night if we wanted to. We had a great time with some very generous people – but we thanked everyone and declined the offer. I wanted to get back through town before it got dark and the fireworks and craziness started. Also, I wanted to be sure Ozark the cat had food and water and wasn’t freaking out over the fireworks.

Today we expect the temperature to reach the 90s. Donna’s been out on her bike since about 9:30am. I puttered around trying to figure out why my coolant temperature reading was erratic but haven’t come up with anything yet. I also met the owner of a unique coach, but that’s fodder for another post.

We’ll pull out of here tomorrow morning and head to Montana – maybe as far as Butte. I’ll have to figure out our destination tonight.

North Cascades Smokejumper Base

I saw something unusual Tuesday here at Pine Near RV Park in Winthrop. A car was towed into the park – not behind an RV but on a flat-bed tow truck – and dropped into a site next to the clubhouse. I was curious about this and went outside. I asked a young woman why the car was being dropped here.

She told me they were camped here and her car broke down on a day trip to Pearrygin Lake State Park. She was from Bellingham – about a four-hour drive from here – and friends were going to come down with a truck and trailer to get her car home. However, they couldn’t come until later because they were at work and would leave Bellingham around 5pm. At Lake Pearrygin, she was told the car would be impounded if she left it there, so she had towed here to wait for her friends to come and take her home.

Car dropped off at the RV park

Around noon, Donna headed out on her bicycle. She rode south on Castle Avenue which became Twisp-Winthrop Eastside Road. This road follows the Methow (MET-oww) River all the way to WA20 on the south end of Twisp. I gave her about a 30-minute head start, then followed on the Spyder.

We met at the La Fonda Lopez Mexican Cafe in Twisp for lunch. Spending so much time in the southwest, it’s easy to become jaded and think that’s the  only place to get good Mexican food. We ate at La Fonda Lopez last year and found it to be very good. Who knew you could find good Mexican fare in a small town in the North Cascades?

It was pleasant weather wise. I spent the afternoon in the shade of our awning reading a book. We decided against moving to another site to extend our stay here. Someone had reserved the site we’re in starting Friday, so if we wanted to extend we had to move. While I was sitting outside reading, Anna, the owner of Pine Near RV Park, stopped by and told me the person with the reservation for our site just called and cancelled. We could extend if we wanted to without moving. Donna and I talked it over and decided to stay through the weekend and we’ll pull out of here on Monday. Anna gave me the weekly rate and gave me a bonus discount!

I grilled lemon rosemary chicken thighs and garlicky asparagus for dinner. Donna made red potato and egg salad to serve with it. We dined al fresco at the picnic table on paper plates.

It was windy on Wednesday so a bike ride wasn’t appealing to Donna. After lunch, we rode the Spyder down the Twisp-Winthrop Eastside Road to the North Cascades Smokejumper Base. It’s located about halfway between Winthrop and Twisp. They offer free tours during the fire season – June 1st to October 1st.

While we were reading a placard in front of the office, one of the fire fighters came over to us and introduced himself. His name was Tom McCullough. Tom offered to give us a tour – we just had to sign in the guest book in the office.

Placard by the office

This is where smokejumping began. In the fall of 1939, experimental jumps were made with firefighters parachuting into remote areas of the Okanogan (formerly called Chelan) National Forest. These experiments were successful leading to the establishment of two smokejumper bases in 1940. This base in the Methow Valley was one of them – the other was Ninemile Camp, near Missoula, Montana. Today there are about 400 highly trained smokejumpers employed by the US Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management in nine bases in the western states and Alaska.

We started the tour in the Lufkin Parachute Loft. This loft was built in 1939 and is named after Francis Lufkin. Francis Lufkin made the first wild fire jump in the Pacific Northwest and was a smokejumper here and managed the base until 1972.

Parachute loft

Inside the loft there was an artistic display made by one of the crew – it featured smokejumper equipment in an array that looked like the wings of an eagle.

The main firefighting tool is the Pulaski – two of them are crossed in the center of the display above. A Pulaski is a combination of an axe and an adze (sometimes called a grub-hoe) in one head. It’s used to chop wood or dig trenches.

They also had a plaque displayed with brass name tags under jump milestones – ranging up to 350 – only one name was under the 350 jump heading.

They wear jumpsuits made of Kevlar and Nomex which are hung on hooks along a walkway. The jumpsuits are packed and ready to go. The firefighter steps into the suit backwards and straps it on. The fully packed suit weighs about 70 pounds. The Nomex material is fire-resistant and it’s also padded to prevent injury if the jumper happens to get hung up in tree. They also wear a helmet with a wire mesh faceshield for protection against tree branches.

Mannequin jumpsuit display

If they get caught in a tree, they carry gear to rappel their way down. Then they have to recover their ‘chute. Additional firefighting gear is dropped in cargo boxes pre-packed by the smokejumpers with smaller cargo ‘chutes.

Rookie smokejumpers must pack a minimum of 20 practice parachutes that are inspected and passed before they actually jump with a parachute they packed. The 21st ‘chute is used by the person who packed it. With more experience and certification, they can pack ‘chutes for other people to use.

Smokejumpers are responsible for maintaining their gear. They’re proficient with sewing machines and repair any rips or tears in their parachute canopy, Nomex clothing and jumpsuits. In fact, they make all of their own fire fighting suits.

At the North Cascades Smokejumper Base, they contract with an aviation company to keep a CASA C-212 short takeoff and landing airplane. The contract includes pilots for the plane. The CASA -212 was made in Spain mainly for military use. It’s powered by two 900 horsepower turbo prop engines and is known for its great rate of climb. The smokejumper plane is set up with two opposing benches on each side of the fuselage. The door is removed and a static line is installed to clip the parachute release. When the jumper goes out the door, the static line pulls the release on the parachute pack and the ‘chute opens automatically. The CASA C-212 carries 10 passengers in this configuration – eight smokejumpers and two spotters plus a flight crew of two.

They usually jump from about 1500 feet above ground level and are down quickly – maybe 60 to 80 seconds of flight time before they hit the ground.

CASA 212 Smokejumper plane

The tour included going inside the plane for a look. We also toured the warehouse where supplies are packed with parachutes attached. The supplies are meant to equip two people or feed and provide water for two people for 48 hours. The smokejumpers always jump in pairs – when the lead jumper is released by the spotter, his partner immediately follows out the door.

The fire season is just beginning. On average, they will work 45 fires per month at this base during the fire season. When they aren’t on a fire, their days are still busy. They have about an hour and half of physical training every day. They do practice jumps and they maintain equipment. They work regular shifts for five days, then have two days off. Crews of eight jumpers are on the board everyday – ready to go seven days a week. When they’re on a fire they don’t have any time off. They’re on overtime working 24 hours a day until they have the fire under control.

The tour was very interesting and definitely worthwhile if you’re ever in the area. We finished the day by going to the Old Schoolhouse Brewery and enjoyed a couple of pints on the deck next to the Chewuch (CHE-wock) River.

Old Schoolhouse Brewery Allgood IPA

Chewuch River

Donna tried the Double D Blonde ale but it was more bitter than she likes. Then she tried the Uncle Bigs Brown and liked it. I had the Allgood IPA and it was nice.

Today isn’t as windy as yesterday was and Donna plans to go for a bike ride. I need to give her bike a tune-up. The forecast calls for a high in the low 80s with a few clouds. We don’t expect any rain during our stay here in Winthrop.

Last Weekend on the West Side

Donna and Sini planned to go to a house concert on Saturday. House concerts are an interesting concept. The host opens their home for the performance and will usually offer local transportation and lodging for traveling musicians. People attending the concert bring food to share and, in this case, pay $20 each which goes to the performer. About 30 people attended the concert.

House concert

Charlie Imes performing

We used Alana’s car and drove down to Edmonds where we met Sini for lunch. We had lunch at Ono Authentic Hawaiian Poke. I had an episode that ruined lunch for me. I chronicled my battle with throat cancer in an earlier post and won’t rehash it here except to say I have permanent damage from radiation treatments. It left me with a chronically dry throat.

Sometimes when I swallow food, it becomes lodged in my esophagus. This was one of those times. I had a piece of fish caught in my throat. It was terrible. I excused myself and went outside the restaurant. It was painful and I knew there were only two possible outcomes – either the fish would continue to move down to my stomach or it would be expelled. After about 10 minutes of hiccuping, it moved on and I was able to finish my meal.

Donna’s plan was to go with Sini to the concert, then spend the night with Sini at her friend’s house. Sunday morning Sini was going to the Tulalip Casino with a friend at 11am and I met them there and then Donna and I made a stop at Best Buy where she bought a new laptop.

I wanted to watch the Moto GP race from Assen but my satellite reception failed in the night and the program didn’t record. Luckily there was an encore showing of the race at 1pm. I started packing the trailer, then took a break to watch a very interesting race. It was about 100 degrees in the trailer but I managed to get it 90% packed and figured I would finish up Monday morning when it would be cooler before we headed out.

We were invited to have dinner at LuAnn’s house at 6pm. LuAnn had spicy shrimp and crab legs as the main entree and a large selection of veggies from her garden to make salads.

Salad buffet spread

I brought along a bottle of IPA called Crikey from Reuben’s Brewery in the Ballard district of Seattle. I hadn’t tried this one before, but I liked the name. It wasn’t anything special, just a typical west coast IPA.

Crikey

We sat in the backyard until the mosquitos started biting – the sun doesn’t set until well after 9pm this far north at this time of year. Back at the coach, I watched the Formula One race from Azerbaijan which I had recorded during the afternoon.

Monday morning I finished packing the trailer and we headed out by 10am. It’s always a little sad to say goodbye, not knowing when we’ll be back to see my daughter and grandchildren again. We know we’ll be able to see Lainey when we return to San Diego in October – she’ll be there attending college at San Diego State University.

We went west on WA530 to the truck stop at Island Crossing. I wanted to top off the tank as I didn’t think we would have an opportunity to fill up until we were in the Spokane area. The fuel price was very reasonable at $2.49/gallon.

Then we drove east on WA 530 up to Darrington where WA530 hooks north to Rockport. At Rockport we hit WA20 – the North Cascades Highway. This highway snakes its way along the Skagit River up to Diablo and Ross Lakes. It’s one lane in each direction with lots of twists and turns and has become bumpy in many places. The North Cascades Highway closes in the winter – generally from mid-November to mid-May. They cannot keep the road clear of snow in the dead of winter. There are still some very big snowbanks along the road and lots of snow on the surrounding mountainsides.

Climbing up the west side of the Cascades, the terrain is rugged and heavily forested. Big, moss-covered fir trees dominate the terrain with blackberries and beds of ferns so thick you cannot see the ground on the forest floor. Once you cross over to the east side, the firs are replaced by pines and the forest opens up considerably.

We crossed Rainy Pass at an elevation of about 4,900 – we started out at 300 feet above sea level in Arlington. Then we dropped down a bit and climbed again over Washington Pass at 5.477 feet above sea level. At the summit, Donna noticed something in the driver’s side rearview mirror. She pointed it out to me and I saw we had a basement door open. I pulled over and found the rear compartment just ahead of the rear wheels had popped open. I keep my portable compressor and accessories in there. Everything looked to be intact – nothing spilled out onto the highway. I always check the doors and make sure they’re locked before we move. The latch was in the locked position, but something is worn and if I give the door a yank, it pops open. Hitting a bumpy section of road must have made it pop. It’s on my “to do” list now.

WA20 took us directly to Winthrop. There’s a four-way stop at Riverside Avenue which is the main drag through town. Going right keeps you on WA20. We wanted to go straight ahead up Bridge Street to Castle Avenue, but Bridge Street was closed for construction. We were directed to go left to the north side of town where we found the end of Castle Avenue and doubled back to the Pine Near RV Park.

Pine Near doesn’t have much in the way of amenities, but it has large pull-through grass sites and is located on a bluff overlooking downtown Winthrop. Winthrop has a population of about 400 people in town with about 2,000 permanent residents in the area. It’s a western themed tourist destination.

A few rain drops fell as I was setting up. The owner of the park, Anna, told me not to worry – it would pass quickly. She was right and the thermometer stayed at 89 degrees!

From Pine Near RV Park, I walked across Castle Avenue through the Shafer Museum – a collection of pioneer artifacts – and down a terraced boardwalk into town. Meanwhile Donna was working on an article – she has a few assignments to complete while we’re here.

Terraced boardwalk

As I walked through town, I found a new plaza called Confluence Park. It’s a small square with landscaping, paver stones and benches overlooking the confluence of the Chewuch and Methow Rivers.

View of the Chewuch joining the Methow River at Confluence Park

The park was dedicated last October – it wasn’t here when we stayed in Winthrop last summer. I made a stop for a cold one at Schoolhouse Brewery.

Pine Near RV Park – site 11

Last night I enjoyed an IPA from Elysian Brewery called Space Dust.

I had it with dinner in a pint glass Alana gave me as a Father’s Day present.

Around 9pm, I stepped outside and shot a photo of a pink sunset.

Pink sunset in Winthrop

This morning I walked down to the Rocking Horse Bakery across the street from the terraced boardwalk and picked up breakfast sandwiches for Donna and me. That’s one of the things we like about this RV park – everything is within walking distance, yet it’s still very quiet and has a country atmosphere.

Rocking Horse Bakery

We’re thinking about extending for an extra day here, but that will mean we have to move to another site. I don’t like making a move within a park – I have to secure everything just like I was going to head out on the road. We’ll see how it works out.

Lainey’s Graduation and Party

We drove with my daughter Alana to the Xfinity Arena in Everett Thursday evening for the Arlington High School graduation ceremony. It was hard for me to believe my granddaughter, Lainey, was graduating from high school. Every year seems to whiz by faster and faster.

They had 350 students graduating – the ceremony lasted a little over two hours. Afterwards we made our way through the crowds and met up on a street corner to shoot a few photos. I had my camera bag and my trusty Canon 10D – I haven’t used this camera in a few years. I mostly just point and shoot with my smartphone. We were able to shoot the pictures before the rain started falling again.

Lainey and Alana

By the time we finished up with photos and headed out, it was after 10pm. We met up at Buffalo Wild Wings at Smokey Point and had a few beers and food. We didn’t get home until after midnight – I don’t stay up that late usually.

The rain moved out of the area Friday afternoon. Things were looking promising for the graduation party on Saturday. Donna was able to get a bicycle ride in, then we took Alana’s car and shopped at WinCo Foods.

Saturday morning we stayed dry and the weather forecast called for zero percent chance of rain. Everyone got busy preparing for the party at LuAnn’s house. I grilled marinated chicken thighs on the Traeger that was then chopped into pollo asado taco meat. I had to make three batches as the grill wasn’t nearly large enough for the amount of chicken I grilled. Meanwhile Alana and Shauna were grilling marinated beef at Luann’s house.

I pulled the last of the chicken off the grill and we walked over to LuAnn’s house a little past 2pm. The house was all decorated for the party.

Props for selfie photos

The dining room table was made into a large taco bar with tortillas, meats, beans, rice and all the fixings.

Taco bar

There was enough food to feed an army. I don’t know for sure how many people came – people filtered in and out all afternoon. I think there had to be at least 40. We hardly made a dent in all the food – lots of leftovers were sent home with guests.

Backyard party

Remember that zero percent chance of rain forecast? Well, this is western Washington in June. I don’t think there’s ever a zero percent chance of rain here at this time of year. A few raindrops started falling. Looking at the Radar Express app on my phone, I could see a large area of precipitation to the south of us.

Zero percent chance of rain!

When the rain started to come down steadily,a couple of EZup canopies were quickly deployed.

Party on under the canopy

After lots of food and too much beer, we called it a night and headed back to our coach. I was done in.

It rained again this morning but the weather guessers say no rain this afternoon. We’ll see.