Category Archives: Bicycle

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.

Onward to Colorado

It took us a little longer than expected to pack up and head out of Bayard, Nebraska. It was after 10am by the time Donna returned from her bike ride. We pulled out at 11:30am Tuesday morning, but we only had about 150 miles to go to Cheyenne. We followed back roads and stayed off I-80. Our route took us along US26 to Torrington, Wyoming, then we headed down US85 to Cheyenne.

We found the Sierra Trading Post without any trouble and parked in their dedicated RV/Truck lot. I checked in at the warehouse office – all they ask for is a name and contact phone number in case they need to reach us for any reason and we were good to go. There were a few other RVs in the lot when we arrived.

Donna and I walked to their outlet store and shopped around. I didn’t find anything interesting and left after about half an hour. Donna stayed and tried on clothes – that stretched into two hours. Later Donna walked to the Walmart Super Center about a mile away to pick up a few items. I hung out and read a book. By 5pm, we were the only RV left in the lot. There was more train traffic overnight than we remembered from last year, but we both slept well.

On Wednesday morning, I pulled up to their dump station and dumped and flushed our tanks, then we were off to Colorado. We hit I-80 west for a few miles then turned south on I-25. Traffic was light. I stopped at the Pilot/Flying J Travel Center at exit 7 in Wyoming to top up our tank then had the coach and trailer washed at the Blue Beacon there. The coach was dirty from the dusty trip across Iowa and the thunder showers in Nebraska. We only took 40 gallons of fuel, but I wanted to top up the tank to get us through Colorado. There aren’t very many Pilot/Flying J truck stops in Colorado and most of them are in the Denver area where I would prefer not to pull off the interstate.

Our destination was the Boulder County Fairgrounds in Longmont, Colorado. They have 92 RV sites there. Eight are long pull-throughs. Several other sites in the park are also pull-throughs, but they are too short for our rig. The sites ringing the outer boundaries of the park are very short back-in sites. All sites are first-come first – serve, no reservations. Stays are limited to 14 days per year.

When we arrived, we found the check-in process to be a little confusing. I parked in a large dirt lot across from the “office.” The office was un-manned and had a sign in front directing us to find a site, then pay at the automated kiosk. I walked into the park to see if any of the eight long pull-throughs were open. Meanwhile Donna found a park ranger who suggested we use site 1 – the longest pull-through they had. It was open! We paid for five nights using a credit card at the automated kiosk and we set up in site 1 in no time.

The longest site at the fairgrounds

I lived here in Longmont 40 years ago, but I don’t recognize the place today. These fairgrounds didn’t exist then and highway 119 – the Diagonal Highway between Longmont and Boulder – is unrecognizable. Back in the day, it was a rural two-lane highway through the countryside. It passed by a small village called Niwot. Today it’s a divided four-lane highway with shopping centers lining the highway through Longmont. Suburban sprawl lines the roadway with some farmland through Niwot all the way to Boulder.

We rode the Spyder to Bicycle Village in Boulder where Donna picked up her participant packet for the Venus de Miles women’s century ride. She raised over $500 for the charity event being held this Saturday. In her packet was a $20 gift certificate from the bike shop. She ended up buying a new pair of bicycle shoes – they were on clearance and with her gift certificate she paid $80 for a pair of $180 Pearl Izumi shoes. I’ll install the cleats on them today.

While we were out, I stopped at the Whole Foods Wine and Spirit shop. I splurged on a bottle of Balvenie Double Wood single malt Scotch whisky. This is a real goody that I’ll reserve for special occasions.

We were hit by a few drops of rain on the way back, but avoided any real rainfall. We had a quiet evening and I think we’ll enjoy our stay here. It’s remarkably quiet to say we’re right in the city. I think we’ll end up extending our stay by a couple of days to a full week. It’s $25 per day for electric and water – no sewer hookup, but there’s a dump station here.

The forecast calls for mostly sunny skies with highs in the upper 80s for the next week. There’s always a chance of a thunderstorm at this time of year. Typically you’ll see clouds building over the Rocky Mountains to the west all afternoon before they push east, sometimes bringing thundershowers with them before the blow east over the plains. Longmont is northeast of Boulder which sits at the foot of the Rockies. Boulder is at an elevation of about 5,700 feet above sea level. The Flatirons tower over Boulder at a height of 8,000+ feet above sea level. The mountains are spectacular.

Today Donna has a lunch date with a friend in Loveland – about 27 miles north of here. She’ll ride the Spyder there. I think I’ll take a walk to the mall about a mile from here. I need to stop at the bank and I’ll take a look around. Maybe later we’ll head over to Left Hand Brewing which is nearby. They brew some really fine beer there.

The Sun is Eclipsed by the Moon

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

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

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

Jesus and his telescope

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

People in the park

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

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

Sunlight crescents in leaf shadows

Sunlight through a colander shows the crescent shaped sunlight

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

Jesus in the darkness at 11:49am

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

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

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

Grilled spatchcocked chicken

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

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

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

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

 

The RV Friendliest Town

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

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

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

Golden Spike Tower

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

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

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

Click photos to enlarge

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Free 50 amp service and fresh water!

We’re set!

Park across from our site

Nice view

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

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

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

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

Rat Rod

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

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

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

A Week in Kearney

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

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

Trail to archway

Great Platte River Road Archway

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

Thunderhead Brewing Company

Not so special IPA

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

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

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

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

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

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

Out of Iowa

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

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

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

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

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

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

Toilet seat hinge stud

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

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

Damaged seal on radiator cap

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

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

Our windshield view

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

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!

 

 

 

 

Trouble Comes in Threes

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

Lazy Acres site 42

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Right rear jack intact again

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.