Category Archives: Colorado

High Passes and Quiet Night

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

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

Entertainer tour bus

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

Front page of the Gazette

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

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

Shops on the left, Bristol Brewing in the right wing

Red Rocket ale

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Door step view

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

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

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

Here are photos from Donna’s walk…

Rio Chama River

Check out the sign!

Chama train station

Narrow gauge railroad track

Labor Lift Off 2017

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

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

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

Banner attached

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

Balloons inflating as we were exiting

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

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

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

Aaron, Darin and Katie cooking breakfast burrito fixings

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

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

The park is about to fill with balloons and people again

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

Inflated at twilight

Time to glow

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

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

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

Chasing Hearts A’Fire as it heads south

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Always Trouble in Threes

It seems like there’s always something that needs doing when your house is on wheels. In reality, there was always something that needed doing when we lived in a sticks-and-bricks house too. Then there’s the old adage about trouble coming in threes. It might fit here.

A few days ago Donna opened one of the overhead cabinets in our living room. The doors are rectangular with the horizontal dimension being the longest. The doors have struts on either end that are spring loaded and through clever geometry they hold the door in the closed position. But when you raise the door open, the spring-loaded strut goes over-center and now it props the door open.

Well, when Donna opened the cabinet door one of the struts popped off. The pivot on the strut arm connects to the mounting tab with a small rivet. The rivet had worn through and popped off. The door wouldn’t stay open as only one strut didn’t have enough force to keep it open. Luckily I keep pop-rivets and a rivet tool on hand. Rivets are handy in many situations such as times when you can’t get to the back side of a fastener to put a nut on a bolt or when clearance is limited, which was the case here.

I unscrewed the other end of the strut and took it off the cabinet. Then I knocked the remains of the old rivet out with a punch and screwed the strut back in place. From there, it was simple matter of inserting the correct size pop-rivet and using the tool to pull the rivet mandrel until it popped off and the rivet was swaged in place.

Proper size pop-rivet in place in the pivot

Installation complete

Every tool box should should have an assortment of pop-rivets and an installation tool. I bought my tool at Harbor Freight. It has four interchangeable heads to accommodate various size rivets. It was inexpensive – I think I paid $20 or $30 for it and it’s come in handy many times.

We pulled out of our site at the Boulder County Fairgrounds around 9:30am Thursday morning – checkout time is 10am. Driving a big rig through this RV park is interesting to say the least. The roadways are narrow with tight turns and the trees need trimming. I managed to circumnavigate the park, exit and cross the street where I made a loop through the fairgrounds arena lot and lined up with the RV park dump station. We were on our way by 10am.

Driving east on the Diagonal Highway (CO119), I noticed we had a problem. My Jacobs Engineering Engine Compression (Jake) brake wasn’t working. Then I noticed the Engine Maitenance light – equivalent to a Check Engine light on a car – was illuminated. It wasn’t flashing so I wasn’t too worried about it. Once we got on I-25, I realized I had no turbocharger boost. So, we were down on power and I had no Jake brake.

I pulled over and shut off the engine. I restarted and the light stayed on. I interrogated the system and found a Diagnostic Trouble Code (DTC) of 102 2. I didn’t know what that meant but felt no harm was being done and we were okay to proceed – albeit down on power and relying on service brakes only. We ran the gauntlet through Denver and continued south on our way to Colorado Springs.

South of Denver, past Castle Rock, it becomes hilly. We were mostly climbing but had a few downgrades. I had to approach the downgrades like I would in our old gasoline-powered coach – watch my speed and be careful not to overheat the service brakes. On the climbs, I did my best to keep the RPMs up and managed to maintain at least 55mph. As the hills became steeper, the turbocharger suddenly started working. We had power and the Jake brake was back in business too. The failure of both components was obviously related.

It couldn’t have started working at a better time. We crossed the summit north of Monument at 7,352 feet above sea level, then descended to Colorado Springs at an elevation of about 6,000 feet above sea level. Having the turbo boost for the climb to the summit and the Jake brake coming down was a relief. We found the Hotel Elegante and parked in the same spot we occupied last year.

Our dry camp at Hotel Elegante

Donna checked us in and found the rate was more reasonable than last year. Dry camping was $15/night and included the hotel amenities – like the swimming pool, laundry room and rest rooms.

I looked up the DTC 102 2 and found it meant there was an erratic signal from the intake manifold pressure sensor. With an implausible signal, the Engine Control Module (ECM) opened the wastegate on the Holset Turbocharger to bleed off all boost and we were running without turbo boost – this also disabled the Jake brake. Apparently we have a poor electrical connection somewhere between the pressure sensor and the ECM. This will probably be very difficult to find – especially since it’s intermittent and decided to start working fine again. I’ll start digging around – we’ll need all the boost we can get and the Jake brake too as we cross mountain ranges into New Mexico next week.

Later, I was dialing the satellite TV in when I noticed our house batteries were low – below 12 volts! I try to never let them go below 12.2-volts or 50% capacity as this will shorten their service life. It was puzzling. I had the inverter on since about 9:30am, but we can usually run the inverter for 14 hours or more without having to recharge. I started the generator to recharge the batteries. I let it run for a couple of hours before we went to bed.

This morning, I was up at 6am. I found our house batteries down to 12-volts again. I started the generator and saw it was only charging the battery bank at a rate of 50 amps. I would have expected to see a full 100 amp charge for the depleted batteries. I went out to check the battery bank and found we have a couple of corroded connections that are causing excessive resistance. I’ll have to find a shop with new cable end connectors and repair it ASAP. That was strike three.

We expect our friends Brad and Jessica Rice and family to arrive later this afternoon. We’re looking forward to seeing them again and also to a weekend of hot air balloon fun at the Labor Day Lift-Off! The forecast looks great for the weekend – temperatures in the mid to upper 80s in the afternoons – the mornings will be cool with temperatures in the low 70s – perfect for ballooning with clear skies and winds under 10mph.

 

***UPDATE – I just rechecked my house battery bank. The batteries weren’t discharged excessively. A loose connector was causing a voltage drop and that was what I was reading. I tightened all connectors and it’s reading 12.5V and when I turned on the generator it hit them with a 100 amp charge. All is good.

Having Fun in Longmont

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

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

Ozark tuned into cat TV

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

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

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

Spyderco headquarters and outlet

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

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

Spyderco Paramilitary 3 with Cruwear and G10

Cruwear blade and compression lock

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

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

The old house hasn’t changed much

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

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

Soul Sacrifice

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

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

Hoop dancers among the crowd

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

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

 

 

Donna Does a Century

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

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

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

Left Hand Brewing Company

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

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

Donna in the Left Hand seat

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

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

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

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

Donna crossing the finish

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

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

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

 

Rock & Rails in Niwot

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A good crowd at Rock & Rails in Niwot

Three-man band onstage

Food vendors

Beer tent

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

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

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

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

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.

Eagle Nest Lake

We got a late start leaving the Elks Lodge in Colorado Springs. Donna wanted to go for a run in the morning. While she was out I puttered around and cleaned the HWH hydraulic leveling jack rams with WD-40. By the time we filled the fresh water tank and dumped and flushed the holding tanks, it was after 11am.

Our first stop was just a few miles down I-25 at the Walmart where I picked a couple of cases of drinking water and Donna bought a few groceries. Then we hit the road in earnest. A few miles down the interstate – near the field where Brad landed the Heart’s A’Fire on Saturday at the Mesa Ridge exit, there was a bad accident blocking the northbound lanes. It was a visual reminder to be alert and drive defensively. A smashed car was being loaded onto a flat-bed truck and a high-cube type delivery truck was lying on its side across the lanes. Traffic was completely stopped as the State Patrol directed all northbound traffic onto the off-ramp.

We’d decided to head down to the Cimarron Canyon area in New Mexico. Our route took us down I-25 about 160 miles to the New Mexico border at Raton Pass. This pass is part of the old Santa Fe Trail in the eastern Sangre de Cristo Mountains and has an elevation of 7,834 feet above sea level. On the south side of the pass, we encountered rain.

We stopped in Raton for fuel at a small truck stop. The pumps weren’t the high speed nozzles I’ve become accustomed to at Pilot/Flying J. It was just a standard automobile type and it took about 20 minutes to pump 63 gallons of fuel. I can usually fill up in five minutes or less using two high-speed nozzles.

About 10 miles south of there, we left I-25 and hit US64. This took us past the NRA Whittington Center and through the town of Cimarron. Donna found sites at Cimarron Canyon State Park that appeared to be big enough for our rig. She phoned the ranger and he told us we should check out the first campground – it had the longest sites. The State Park system here uses Reserve America for its reservation system. One of the issues I have with Reserve America is it doesn’t allow you reserve on the same day as you arrive – you must make reservations in advance.

Not all of the sites in New Mexico State Parks are reservable though. They keep a number of sites in each park available for what they call “walk-ups.” We were counting on snagging one of these. Since it was day after Labor Day, we expected most of the campers would have gone back to their workaday lives.

Before we got to Cimarron Canyon State Park, Donna found another park about 10 miles further down US64. It was called Eagle Nest Lake State Park. She hadn’t seen this park before and it isn’t listed on our Rand-McNally RV GPS. We decided to take a look at Cimarron Canyon, then proceed to Eagle Nest Lake and make our choice. Eagle Nest Lake sounded good – long pull-through sites with lake views.

The sites at Cimarron Canyon weren’t too appealing. So we continued on to Eagle Nest Lake (map). The entrance to the state park has a visitor center and a self-serve kiosk for day use and camping. At the stop sign, the sign above the kiosk warns not to enter the park without paying first. Here’s the thing – the self-serve kiosk at the entrance is about a mile from the campground. When you fill out the self-serve form, you’re supposed to enclose cash or check and drop it into a lock-box. So far, so good.

I filled out the form, then the last blank said to enter your site number. What? How could I know my site number if the campground is a mile away? Even if I’d been here before and knew what site I wanted, how could I know if it was open or if another “walk-up” had already taken it? The visitor center was closed, so we drove to the campground and made a couple of loops to check the sites out. We decided on site 16 – a 62-foot-long curved pull-through that easily fit our 64 foot rig. It also has our door facing the lake. Nice.

I drove back to the park entrance, Donna wrote our site number on the form and dropped it in the box. We paid for two nights but will likely extend. Campers are allowed up to 14 nights before they have to leave the park for a minimum of one week. We’re dry camped – there aren’t any  hook-ups here. The cost is $10/night and they have a fresh water fill station that we’ll hit when we leave.

We’re at an elevation of 8,215 feet above sea level, so It’s a lot cooler here. Plus light rain was still falling when we arrived so we didn’t get to explore.

Sunset at Eagle Nest Lake

Sunset at Eagle Nest Lake

Overnight the temperature dropped to the 40s and we were comfortable under our down comforter and blankets. It’s totally quiet here – almost eerily quiet after spending the past week in a city. I’m loving the change of pace.

This morning, it’s about 60 degrees as I type this at 10am. The expected high is 72 degrees with partly cloudy skies.

Lake view from our site

Lake view from our site

Another view from our site

Another view from our site

The camera perspective doesn’t do justice to our view. It’s a beautiful spot. Eagle Nest Lake has a small village a few miles from the campground. We plan to take the Spyder out and look the place over. At some point, we’ll head west on the Spyder about 30 miles to check out Taos, New Mexico.

 

Donna Sails Water and Wind

After watching the Moto GP race and napping Sunday afternoon, Donna made beef ragu over spaghetti squash for dinner. We had hit the hotel pool briefly before dinner and got the scoop on the night’s social event. Someone in the group – it seems like there’s a little controversy over how it came about – secured a reserved conference room on the third floor of the hotel for a round of Cards Against Humanity and other nonsense. We were in – we came back around 8:15pm to see what was up.

We found the conference room and the party was already rocking. After an hour and a half of this crazy game and adult beverages, I was feeling like I needed to bow out. Nothing good would come from the lack of sleep, physical work and abundance of adult beverages I partook in. I loudly announced it was time for me to hit the sack and found my way home. Donna soldiered on for another hour before the game ended, then she joined me. We hear things got interesting after that.

I slept like a rock until the alarm woke me at 5am. I got up and fired up the generator and started the Keurig coffee maker. Donna was up as well – she needed to ride to Memorial Park with me and the crew this morning as she was invited to take a balloon ride today.

At the park, we started with the morning pilot’s briefing as usual – Donna hadn’t been to this before. She discovered the pilot’s briefing includes donuts, bagels and coffee. The briefing was all positive and the weather outlook was good.

We walked back to our launch area, then stood around while our pilot, Brad, sussed out the wind conditions. The weather forecast at the morning pilot briefing has been suspect at best – in fact they were 100% wrong so far. Brad made the decision on how we would orient the envelope and we started laying out the equipment. Once again, we had a large crowd of spectators.

Crowd of spectators in our launch area

Crowd of spectators in our launch area

I don’t mean to brag, but I should add a footnote here. Our pilot, Brad, and the Heart’s A’fire balloon own a great advantage. We have a dedicated crew that works together, knows what needs to be done and how to do it, and each of us collectively take our stations in turn and get the job done. Many visiting pilots rely on volunteer crews that have never worked together or maybe never crewed a balloon before. Props to these volunteers – they’re needed and much appreciated by the ballooning community. But this scenario means the pilot must direct each step of the operation and double check all of the work. Of course, Brad inspects all of the critical work, but he’s in a position where he can work on public relations and think about the upcoming flight knowing his crew will have things ready. I’m proud to be part of this crew.

We set the equipment out and started the Honda gasoline powered fan to inflate the envelope. I take the left side (viewed from the basket) and Daren takes the right side. We have to hold the throat of the envelope open so the balloon can inflate. We also have to keep the balloon stabilized so it doesn’t start rolling from one side to the other as it inflates. The sponsor banner makes this difficult because it’s heavy and wants to roll to the ground.

As the balloon inflated, the ground wind kicked up. It was variable – coming from the west, then north and then northeast. As the balloon filled with cold air, the wind was trying to roll it away from me. I usually invite photographers and people with children to step up next to me during this phase so they can have a look up inside the balloon as it fills. Today it was spectacular as the top of the balloon has a heart that was backlit by the morning sun. I do this due to following Brad’s lead – he’s a huge ambassador for ballooning and encourages spectators to get up close and get excited.

I was soon unable to even think about the spectators as the wind tried to roll the envelope away from me. I spent the next 30 minutes wrestling the ropes to keep it from rolling over as we cold-filled the balloon with the fan – it was far more difficult than I’ve experienced.

Then Brad decided to fire up the burners and heat 90,000 cubic feet of air. We got the balloon upright. The next 45 minutes were agony for me. Brad kept the balloon inflated with bursts of flame, but it was just another static display. The winds aloft had a shear that would take the balloons north-northwest to restricted air or over the Gardens of the Gods. Sending 60 hot air balloons into restricted air space was a no-go and trying to land in the rocky Garden of the Gods would be a disaster.

Brad has the right temperament for a hot air balloon pilot. He was patient and kept the envelope inflated while I kept my weight on the basket rim. He said, “It’s better to be on the ground wishing you were flying than to be in the air wishing you were on the ground.” Finally Brad told Donna to get in the basket. Balloons were launching. We’d burned a lot of fuel by then, making the flight decisions more critical.

The launch controller came to our site and directed us out. Brad added heat to the balloon and the basket got light. We walked it out 20 yards while Brad hit the burners and they were off!

Donna's launch

Donna’s launch

Donna had a real treat. They flew over the ridge and trees, then descended into the lake at the park. Brad expertly dropped the balloon and had the basket floor two inches under water while Donna hoisted herself on the basket rim. They sailed the length of the lake – the balloon acting as a sail while the basket skimmed along. Then Brad hit the burners and they climbed above Colorado Springs. The winds aloft carried them to the northeast. I wish I could’ve captured a photo of the dunk in the lake, but we were dealing with crowds of spectators as we tried to follow in the chase rig.

After a while, we saw them descending back toward the park. Brad read the wind perfectly and had them on track to land near where they launched. By then, though, we were on the wrong side of the park and would have to run the gauntlet through spectators again to get to where they would land.

When Yonnie stopped the vehicle for spectators, I bailed out of the truck and said I would run to the landing zone. It was a little over half a mile, but I got there well before the vehicle could make it. The balloon was already down without incident. But here’s the thing – when I signed on to be a crew member, I felt it also meant I took on a responsibility. Every time that balloon goes up on my watch, I need to do everything in my power to make sure it and its occupants land safely.

Donna at the landing site

Donna at the landing site

The bummer is Donna’s smartphone. After take-off, it froze. The camera wouldn’t work. She had opportunities for fantastic shots as they sailed the water with reflections of balloons on the lake surface, but it wouldn’t cooperate and she was too taken in by the sights to mess with her phone/camera. I don’t blame her, but it was a bummer nonetheless.

Back at the hotel we said our goodbyes – until we meet again soon in Albuquerque. They were all looking forward to a night back at home in their own beds – that’s an advantage we enjoy. We’ve been home in our own beds the whole time and will be in Albuquerque as well.

We moved back to the Elks Lodge and need to figure out where we’re going next.

 

 

Labor Day Lift Off

Our main reason for coming to Colorado Springs was the Labor Day Lift Off hot air balloon event. It was an opportunity for us to reacquaint ourselves with Brad and Jessica Rice and their family and some of the other crew members for their Heart’s A’Fire hot air balloon team. I looked at it as kind of a pre-season opportunity to get back in the game ahead of the big event – the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta.

The Labor Day Lift Off in Colorado Springs is celebrating its 40th annual event. Although the number of balloons participating pales in comparison to Albuquerque – about 70 balloons here versus more than 500 balloons there – the event is well-run and draws large crowds of spectators. The organizers fill an area of Memorial Park with vendors and also bring in a mobile kids’ amusement park.

On Saturday morning, I rolled out of bed at 5am and prepared to go to work. I met Brad, Yonnie, Darin and Aaron at Brad’s rig. We would be the main crew for Brad. We rolled out to the same area of the park where we set up the static balloon display on Friday. Our stall was marked E2 on the site map, but it wasn’t clearly marked at the field. Brad had an app on his smartphone from the organizers that utilized the GPS function to pinpoint our spot. We were in the right area but it still wasn’t clear which way to orient everything for set up. Looking around, it seemed everyone was in the same boat and we saw what appeared to be a haphazard approach around us.

Sunrise at the pilot's briefing

Sunrise at the pilot’s briefing

After the pilot’s briefing, we quickly set up and inflated the Heart’s A’Fire balloon. Brad had two passengers from his event sponsor, Xfinity. We were in the first wave of balloons. They had divided the participants into two groups. On Saturday morning our group went first and on Sunday we would go in the second wave. The launch official had us release soon after we were inflated.

Another successful launch

Another successful launch

We piled into the chase vehicle and slowly made our way through the crowds of people and onto the city streets. Navigating around Colorado Springs is challenging. None of us were intimately familiar with the roads. I was using the map app on my phone as we watched the direction the balloon was heading. The wind speeds were much higher than anticipated and the balloon was heading south.

We thought we knew where it was going, so I navigated us to a commercial area where the road ended by a Camping World store. I was hoping we could find a dirt road to get us into the pasture where we thought they would go. No such luck. There was a dirt road but it immediately crossed a ravine with steep sides that were too much for us to pull the trailer through.

After radio communication with Brad, we hit I-25 northbound and pulled off to the shoulder. We could see a number of balloons in the cow field to the east. It was rough terrain and also had a sturdy barbed-wire fence. I wriggled through the fence and trotted down into the field. I wanted to make sure everyone was okay. I saw Brad walking toward the fence. I continued past him and found the balloon and confirmed both passengers were fine. As I looked around, I could see this wasn’t going to be an easy extraction.

Rough pasture landing area

Rough pasture landing area

I saw a balloon with a pilot and two passengers approaching the landing. They had to come in high enough to clear power lines to the north, then quickly drop – only to find a steep ravine that had to be cleared before they could set down. The ground wind had picked up and I could visibly see their balloon pick up pace during the last twenty feet of descent. I ran hard and caught their basket when it was about two feet off of the ground. It was moving fast. The initial ground contact resulted in a bounce that threw me off. I scrambled and jumped and grabbed on again, expecting a rough ride. Just then Aaron appeared and grabbed the basket right next to me and we pulled it to the ground.

The basket was stopped but the wind blew the balloon until it was pulling the basket past the tipping point. I warned the passengers to keep their hands in as it tipped on its side. No harm done. They were safely on the ground. Eventually 13 balloons ended up in this field. It wasn’t an easy landing for anyone, but there were few alternatives.

We set about disassembling the Heart’s A’Fire to a greater degree than usual. We removed the three propane tanks in preparation of packing everything back to the rig at the side of the interstate. Luckily, about then, a local person who knew Brad and crew drove up in a Jeep. We were able to load the envelope, tanks and other hardware in the Jeep and she drove out to the trailer. While the rest of the crew unloaded the Jeep and packed the gear in the trailer, Brad enlisted his two passengers and the four of us started carrying the basket out of the field. It was laborious to say the least, but we got it done and it was time to tailgate.

Back at the park, tables, chairs and easy-up canopies were taken out and set up. Yonnie, Darin and Aaron manned the grills. They made a pile of fixin’s for breakfast burritos. We had eggs, sausage, bacon, hash brown potatoes, grilled tortillas and condiments galore.

Aaron and Yonnie at th egrills

Aaron and Yonnie at the grills

A burrito and a couple of cold beers at 10:30am made the physical labor of extracting the balloon soon forgotten. We were home by 1pm and I was ready for a nap. Donna went to the hotel swimming pool. I ended up taking a dip in the pool around 4pm, then I had to start thinking about the evening event.

Heart’s A’Fire was participating in the evening glow. The evening glow is where the hot air balloons are set up by sundown and provide a static display. When the pilot hits the burners, the balloons glow like a lamp shade. It can be spectacular and a huge crowd came to the park. About half of the registered balloons took part Saturday night, the other half will participate on Sunday night.

Of course a static display entails all of the same steps as a flight, minus the launch and chase. The set-up and tear-down are the same amount of work as always. The workload got higher as the wind started blowing harder than forecast, making it difficult to control the balloon and keep the basket from tipping. It’s physically demanding work to put your weight on the rim of the basket to keep it from rising or tipping. I was too busy to shoot any photos – but here’s one from Albuquerque last year.

Glow photo from last year

Glow photo from last year

The spectators mostly seemed oblivious to anything other than watching the balloons light up. Our balloon was near the tipping point and Brad decided it was best to deflate before things got any worse. As the envelope was collapsing, people continued to crowd around and walk right through the area where the envelope would land. I was yelling, “It’s coming down!” repeatedly as I struggled to keep the basket under control. Aaron and Yonnie were manning the crown line and we had to enlist a couple of spectators to add their weight by putting their hands on the basket as it was more than Darin and I could do. When the envelope deflated, we had to remove a few things from under the envelope like a stroller and backpack that someone had left on the grass in our area. We packed with headlamps on our caps.

I was exhausted by the time we came home. After a nightcap, I zonked out until the alarm had me rolling over at 5am again.

The weather forecast was much nicer for Sunday. After the pilot’s briefing, we were moved to a different launch site. Today, Brad would be the hare pilot for the hare-n-hound event. This meant that Heart’s A’Fire would be the first balloon released in the second wave. Brad’s task was to carry a target, set his balloon down in an appropriate area and the other balloons would chase him. After he set the balloon down, one of the crew would take the large vinyl “X” and place in the open. The other balloonists would drop a bean bag and judges would measure for the closest “hit.”

Once again, the park was filled with crowds of spectators.

Large crowds at he park

Large crowds at he park

We launched with two passengers aboard – a woman who’s apparently involved in the sport and her five-year-old daughter. They had a nice flight. They went up high and moved to the northwest, then dropped down and changed direction bringing them back toward the park.

We were able to watch most of the flight from the chase vehicle and made it to their landing zone just before they arrived. Aaron, Darin, Yonnie and I converged on the basket and set it down gently on the grass as it floated by. Perfect! Aaron quickly set up the target.

Soon balloons were passing overhead and the pilots were throwing their bean bags with streamers at the target. We had to educate a few spectators that were standing and talking near the target completely unaware that bean bags could land on their head if the weren’t watchful.

Balloons coming in over the target

Balloons coming in over the target

We were packed up early and ready to tailgate by 10am. There were brats on the grill this morning plus tables full of side dishes. We were back home by noon. I’ll relax for the rest of the day and watch the Moto GP race from Silverstone, England. Tomorrow we do it one more time, then we’ll move back to the Elks Lodge in the afternoon and ponder our next move.