Category Archives: Elks

A Better Site

Donna’s left shoulder has been giving her trouble since she took a fall at the ice skating rink in Santa Fe, New Mexico in mid-September. She hadn’t fallen on the ice in years, but some kids on the rink distracted her and she caught an edge and fell. Donna’s sister, Sheila, is a physical therapist. Wednesday morning Donna had an appointment to see her to have her shoulder worked on. Meanwhile, I continued preparation to move from our site for one night.

We were in no hurry – I planned to move only about 20 miles away to the Elks Lodge in Chula Vista. I tried to contact the lodge to confirm site availability, but they didn’t open until 1:30pm. I wasn’t too worried about it – their web site said they had plenty of room and had never turned an RV away. I thought about the lodge in El Cajon, but when I phoned them I was unpleasantly surprised by the rude person on the phone. She told me she couldn’t guarantee space for us and they don’t take reservations – I would have to show up and take my chances there. This is common practice at most Elks Lodges, but they’re usually quite friendly and tell me if they think they can accommodate us.

I parked the Spyder in our trailer which we left in the overflow lot at Mission Bay RV Resort. The drive to Chula Vista was easy and the midday traffic was light. The Elks Lodge is located on a terraced bluff on the south side of Telegraph Canyon Road. They have 27 sites with hook-ups and also provide dry camping. I wanted a dry camping spot – no need to hook up for an overnight stay. The camp host directed me to a level area of the lot and said I would be fine there. We had a nice view of trees and shrubs on the hillside but also had road noise from Telegraph Canyon Road which is a busy thoroughfare.

Door step view at the Chula Vista Elks Lodge

After putting the jacks down and slides out, we walked to a shopping center about half a mile away. We found a Chinese restaurant there and had lunch. The portions were large and we both brought half of our meals home in box containers.

Later we went into the lodge for a cold one. As usual, the lodge bought a second round for us since we were first-time visitors there. Back at the coach, I opened a bottle of beer Donna bought for me. It was an interesting IPA from Modern Times – a local San Diego brewery. The beer was pale and obviously unfiltered. It was tasty but the mouth feel is what set it apart more than anything.

I read the label and saw it was made with Simcoe, Oregon Horizon and Amarillo hops. Oregon Horizon was a new hop to me. But then I saw what made this IPA different. The grain bill was pale malt (barley), white wheat and oats. Wheat and oats in an IPA is different for sure. I like this beer.

Modern Times IPA

Ozark the cat liked the change in surroundings. She spent a lot of time looking out the screen door at whatever was in the shrubbery. She also spends a lot of time in her window mounted shelf-bed.

Ozark in her favorite place

We pulled out of the Elks Lodge around 11:30 am. I made a detour on the way back to Mission Bay to stop at the Chevron station on East Balboa Avenue on the west side of highway 163. They have diesel at a reasonable – for California – price and I know I can get our rig in and out of there. There aren’t many places to get fuel for a big rig in the San Diego area.

It only took 35 gallons to fill the tank, but I knew I would want to boondock on our way to Arizona next month and we would need plenty of fuel for the generator – it won’t deliver fuel from the tank to the generator if we’re below 1/4 tank. It was also a good idea to do this while I didn’t have the trailer behind us.

Back at Mission Bay RV Resort, we were assigned to site 115. This is a much better site than 120 where we spent the last two months. In 120, we had trees that dropped foliage into our site, not to mention the birds that roosted in the trees every night and left their calling cards. The trees also blocked my Dish satellite reception. Site 115 is open with only one small tree.

I reactivated the Dish Network service and have great reception once again. I also replaced the filter elements in our water filtration when I set up. We have a two-canister filtration system. The first canister has a 10″ spun polypropylene sediment filter that filters down to five microns. This removes any sediment like sand or rust particles. The second canister has a fiber block carbon element that removes cysts and chemicals.

The sediment filter lasts about four months of full-time use. You can visually see the filter loading up with sediment. The second filter lasts six to 12 months. It can’t be visually inspected so I replace it after two sediment filter changes or every eight months or so.

We have a third anti-bacterial filter on the water dispenser at our kitchen sink. I need to replace this one as well. It lasts two to three years. It’s a bit of a chore to change, so I haven’t been too anxious to get after it, but it’s on my “to do” list before we leave here.

Spun polypropylene sediment element – old on the left, new on the right

Fiber block carbon elements

Since it was Thursday, I made the usual stop at Dan Diego’s for a cold one with the guys. Mike, the bartender, had special pricing on bottled beer again. This time I tried a Belgian Blonde Ale that was outstanding and priced at $3/bottle. What a bargain!

Maredsous Belgian blonde ale

I watched the Thursday Night Football game back at the coach. Rain moved into the area before the game ended. The rain continued through the night and it’s raining off and on as I type this. The weather guessers say the rain will move out of here this afternoon.

A Day Away

I have just a quick post this morning.

Yesterday, Donna and I went to the Pacific Beach Recreation Center for pickleball – Donna hadn’t played for a couple of months. I was pleasantly surprised to find Hans Kohls (Metamorphosis Road) at the rec center. We had a good time over a couple of hours of games. Donna wasn’t too rusty and I enjoyed playing a few games with Hans.

We’ve reached the 62-night limit here at Mission Bay RV Resort – you must exit the park for at least 24 hours after 62 consecutive nights. This is better than the policy in the past which limited stays to 31 nights. They consider a month-long stay to be 31 nights, regardless of the calendar month.

We’re still deciding on where to go for our 24-hour exile. I’m favoring an Elks Lodge. There are four lodges in San Diego county with RV facilities – Chula Vista, El Cajon, Vista and Oceanside. We really don’t need hook-ups – just a dry camping spot for the night.

We’ve moved most of our outdoor gear to Sini’s site for the 24-hour period which makes it easier. We just walk our stuff to her place and then we’ll walk it back to our site when we return. It’s so nice to have friends in the neighborhood!

I also checked our tire pressures and found them to be three to five pounds per square inch low. So I broke out the air compressor to correct the tire pressures. This is something that should never be ignored. I also pulled the windshield covers to put them away while they’re dry – I like to do that the day before we leave to ensure that they’re aren’t wet from overnight condensation, morning mist or rain. I’ll park the Spyder in our trailer, which will remain here while we go away. We’ll return Thursday for another month in San Diego.

I have to add a couple of links. We’ve been featured in an online publication called  MRV The Buzz in an article about full-time RVers here. I don’t think this qualifies us for celebrity status by any means, but it’s kind of cool. Donna also got a link to one of her dozens of television broadcasts from her trip to Atlanta. You can view it here.

With the moves over the next two days, I probably won’t post again until Friday.

There and Back Again – Part Two

The last post ended with us finishing a 400-mile day at the Seven Feathers Casino. Seven Feathers is located between Roseburg and Grants Pass, Oregon. The casino is very RV friendly – they have a full service RV park on the west side of I-5 and a dry camping RV lot on the east side adjacent to the casino. We stayed overnight in the free dry camping lot.

Monday morning, as we approached Grants Pass, the terrain became hilly. I drove about 40 miles to the Manzanita Rest Area at milepost 61 and stopped there. After letting Sini’s golden-doodle dog, Ziggy out for a break, she took over driving.

The hilly terrain became mountainous as we crossed the Siskiyou Range and topped out at Siskiyou Summit more than 4,300 feet above sea level. This gave Sini a chance to experience driving up steep grades and once over the summit, she had to control the coach on a long descent.

When you’re climbing a grade in a motorhome, you want to maintain momentum. This requires a vigilant watch of the rearview mirrors so you’re aware of faster car traffic overtaking. When you have a slow moving tractor-trailer rig ahead, it’s good to time your move to the left lane to pass the slow moving truck with a break in the left lane traffic. If you slow down and stay behind the slow truck, you’re stuck. You probably won’t be able to overtake once you’ve slowed down too much. I explained this to Sini before she took the wheel. She did a great job of staying aware of the traffic situation and maintained our speed over the pass.

On the long downgrade to Medford, Sini made good use of the exhaust brake (sometimes called a PacBrake) and used good braking technique to avoid overheating the brakes. The exhaust brake helps to slow the coach. It’s not as effective as the Jacobs Engineering two-stage engine compression brake on our Alpine Coach, but it works well enough.

A little over ten miles into California, we hit the rest area at mile post 786. Sini had over an hour at the wheel and gained valuable experience handling the coach in the mountains.

Sini is all smiles at the wheel

Sini is all smiles at the wheel

I took over driving again when we left the rest area. It was familiar terrain as we drove through the mountains past Mount Shasta. Before we left on this trip, I wondered how the National RV Tradewinds coach would handle. It’s built on a Freightliner chassis and it’s powered by a Caterpillar 3126B six-cylinder diesel. The 3126B has a displacement of 7.3 liters (439 cu. in.) – smaller than the 8.9 liter (543 cu. in.) Cummins ISL in our Alpine Coach. The turbocharged 3126B provides 300 horsepower and 860 lb-ft of torque versus the 400 horsepower and 1200 lb-ft of our ISL. However, the Tradewinds is a lighter coach than ours by about 5,000 pounds. I found the power of the 3126B to be adequate and the handling of the Freightliner chassis was better than I expected.

One of the things that helps make the Tradewinds easy to drive is the shorter wheelbase compared to our Alpine Coach. The Tradewinds is about 36 or 37 feet long overall and has a wheelbase of 208 inches. Our Alpine coach is 40 feet overall and has a wheel base of 278 inches. The extra five plus feet between the axles is noticeable – the shorter wheelbase makes it easier to maneuver.

Our next stop was at the Olive Pit in Corning, California. This is a favorite stopping point for Donna and I – we always stop there when we pass through the area. We stretched our legs and shopped – I bought a couple of jars of bleu cheese stuffed olives. Sini and Linda made purchases as well.

I thought about stopping at the Rolling Hills Casino where Donna and I stayed last spring, but we wanted to get a few more miles under our wheels. Sini took over driving again when we left the Olive Pit and had the opportunity to drive through town and down a two-lane road. While she was driving, I was looking ahead on my smart phone. We wanted to stop somewhere with a sports bar so we could have a cold one and watch the Seahawks on Monday Night Football – Sini is a Seahawks fan.

I found the Colusa Casino about 60 miles down the road. I phoned ahead and found they offer free overnight RV parking and they had a sports bar. Bingo! Sini pulled into their parking area and we found a large, level gravel lot with striped pull-through RV spaces. Perfect! We put in about 330 miles for the day.

I was back at the wheel Tuesday morning and drove through Sacramento where we hit US99. This took us through Stockton, Modesto, Fresno and eventually Bakersfield. I told Sini I thought we could make it to Tehachapi and stay at the Mountain Valley RV Park where Donna and I stayed two years ago. We had a plan – but it was soon dashed. Sini found out the Mountain Valley RV Park was closed for the winter. Tehachapi  is nearly 4,000 feet above sea level and it gets cold in the winter.

Sini continued searching for a place to stay for the night. She found an Elks Lodge in Mojave, but no one answered the phone or returned her call. Then she found an Elks Lodge in Palmdale. The original plan was for Sini to get more driving time on Tuesday. However, once we decided to press on to Palmdale, I stayed at the wheel and kept our speed over 65mph. I wanted to get there before dark – remember the electrical problem with the taillights?

We didn’t make it before sundown and I drove the last 20 minutes with the lights on. The Elks Lodge in Palmdale had electric and water hook-ups in pull-through sites for $20. When we parked, Sini saw the taillights on the toad were working. It must have been a poor connection at the plug that worked itself out as we drove. We went into the lodge and had a drink while we watched the election returns. I had put in 400 miles and nine hours at the wheel. I was whipped. We had covered nearly 1,200 miles altogether and were less than 180 miles away from Mission Bay.

Wednesday morning Sini drove out of the Elks Lodge. She had the opportunity to drive through city streets then we hit highway 138. There was construction on this highway and Sini had to run the gauntlet. Concrete barriers were on the right side of the lane with no shoulder – only inches to spare on the right while she hugged the center line on the left. Oncoming trucks created pucker factor at times. This went on for a dozen miles or so.

Then we hit I-15 south and drove into heavy traffic in San Bernadino. We took the I-215 route – Sini was driving 60mph on an Interstate seven lanes wide. The right lane was filled with tractor trailer rigs. We were in the number two lane with cars flying past at 80 mph. At times she had tractor-trailers on both sides. We stopped for fuel in Menifee after a couple of hours of high stress driving. Sini had earned her wings – after that stretch, I thought she could drive the coach anywhere.

I drove the final leg to Mission Bay RV Resort. After she checked in, I told Sini she was driving – it was time for her to learn how to back in to an RV site. She had already looked a the site location and had a plan. She wanted to circle the park so the site entrance would be on the driver’s side. She felt more comfortable backing in from that direction. I went over hand signals with her and got out to direct her. She backed in and positioned the coach in one shot! No more driving lessons needed for this gal!

Sini, Linda and Ziggy at Mission Bay

Sini, Linda and Ziggy at Mission Bay.

You might be curious about sleeping arrangements on our road trip. Sini and Linda shared the bedroom in the back of the coach. I slept on a blow-up mattress in the living room with Ziggy on her dog bed. Ziggy is the mellowest creature – she never barked on the trip and slept quietly through the nights.

It was an exhausting road trip, but we accomplished what we set out to do.

Sini and me at Mission Bay

Sini and me at Mission Bay

Manby Hot Springs Adventure

We had fine weather on Monday and went out to explore. I worked out a route on Google maps that would take us on a loop to a few sights we wanted to see and bring us back to the Taos Mesa Brewing Taproom.

We rode through town around 11am and hit NM522. We took this state road to a county road marked B-007 which would lead us to the trailhead of Manby Hot Springs. The county road was paved for the first few hundred yards, then became a gravel road which quickly deteriorated into a rutted dirt road.

County road B-007

County road B-007

It was treacherous on the Spyder – we have less than five inches of ground clearance. I continued slowly and picked lines to keep us out of the deep ruts. I felt like the road was better suited for a mountain bike! The road was unmarked, I had to stop a few times and find my location on my smartphone before proceeding through intersections.

It took a while as I was only going 10-15 mph, but we eventually found the trailhead above the Rio Hondo River.

Rio Hondo River below trailhead

Rio Hondo River below trailhead

It was about a mile from our parking spot to the hot springs next to the river. The trail was steep and rocky in a few places, but it was mostly fairly easy going.

View of the Rio Hondo about half way down the trail

View of the Rio Hondo about halfway down the trail

Supposedly the movie Easy Rider used these hot springs as a setting for the swimming scenes at the hippie commune. I guess things can really change over the course of 45 years – the movie was filmed in 1968 – but the springs aren’t nearly as large as the pools in the movie.

Rock cairn by the Rio Hondo

Rock cairn by the Rio Hondo

Donna soaked in a pool that was supposed to be about 97 degrees but she said the water didn’t feel that warm.

Donna magically disappears in the hot spring

Donna magically disappears in the hot spring

We hiked about 30 minutes up the trail back to the Spyder. I decided to take a different route out of there. County road B-007 became Tune Road – according to the map – there weren’t any signs. If we followed it, it would take us to US64, about four miles down the dirt road. This turned out to be a better route. It wasn’t rutted, but I still had to keep our speed down due to the washboard surface. There were a number of nice, large adobe homes along this road. A UPS delivery truck passed us on the way out. I can’t imagine driving a UPS truck on these roads day after day.

We followed US 64 west to the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge. There’s a rest area on the southwest side of the bridge and several vendor tables along the roadside with native jewelry, gems and rocks, pinon nuts and spices. This is a popular stopping place to take in the view of the gorge from the bridge.

Rio Grande Gorge Bridge

Rio Grande Gorge Bridge

Rio Grande Gorge

Rio Grande Gorge

We walked out on the bridge. The bridge has a concrete sidewalk on both sides and viewing platforms in the middle. We took a selfie by the platform on the south side. It had an emergency phone with a direct connection to a suicide hotline! There have been a number of suicide jumps off this bridge.

Rio Grande Gorge viewing platform

Rio Grande Gorge viewing platform

We continued on US64 a few more miles to the radical Earthship Biotechture community. This is a supposedly self-sustaining community with functioning dwellings incorporating passive solar energy, thermal mass construction and integrated water systems. Water comes from rainfall, there are no wells here. Indoor gardens supply food sources.



Passive solar heat

Passive solar heat

Another Earthship

Another Earthship

Rain runs off the steel roof panel and down the channel on the right

Rain runs off the steel roof panel and down the channel on the right

The run off from the roof is directed to a catch basin and drained into a filtration system

The run-off from the roof is directed to a catch basin and drained into a filtration system


Thermal mass construction

Thermal mass construction

It’s a real oddity in the middle of nowhere. They have been here since the 1970s.

We rode back to Taos and stopped at the Taos Mesa Brewing Taproom. We had a late lunch/early happy hour with a really good wood-fired grilled pizza and a few samples of their excellent beer.

As we were getting ready to leave, a few raindrops started falling. We were able to take a back road and outrun the rain shower instead of sitting in traffic in town as the rain came down. Later, Donna went out for dinner with her friends, Kenton and Ricky Pass. I stayed home and watched Monday Night Football – it was double-header night.

On Tuesday morning, we prepared for the road and headed out of Taos Valley RV Park at 11am. We planned to find a boondocking spot for the night before we check in at Los Suenos De Santa Fe RV Park on Wednesday. We changed our plan on the fly a few times. We considered stopping in Espanola where we hit US285, then thought we would go on to a casino near Santa Fe. Espanola sits at an elevation 5,600 feet above sea level – we dropped down from 6,800 in Taos. We eventually decided on the Santa Fe Elks Lodge.

The description said there were two acres of RV space, no hook-ups. Plenty of room for big rigs. I usually look at Elks Lodges on Google Earth to confirm the best entry and where to turn around if necessary. I didn’t do this since we made the choice while I was driving.

I missed the first driveway but there was a second driveway 200 yards down the road. Another motorhome was behind us and followed us up the driveway. As I approached the lodge, I had to choose – stay right and drive in front of the lodge or go left around the lodge through a parking lot. I chose right since I wasn’t sure if I could get turned around in the parking lot. The motorhome behind us went left.

He made the better choice. I ended up making a tight left turn past the lodge where the road narrows and there were trees overhanging on both sides. In hindsight I should have gone straight and turned down the first driveway – then I could start over. But I didn’t. I tried to cut the turn as deep as possible but still ended up with tree branches on the left side of the trailer. I’ve driven over 6,000 miles with the big car carrier trailer without incident. Now, after the last two stops, I’ve put scratches on both sides of it! Dang!

We hung out at the lodge and had an uneventful night. In Santa Fe we’re back up to an elevation of 7,200 feet above sea level. Today we’ll move to the RV park for a weeklong stay in Santa Fe, New Mexico. The weather forecast looks favorable with the temperature in the 70s and a 20% chance of passing showers.

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.



Bad Dry-Camping Etiquette

Life on the road can be full of fun and adventure, but’s that’s not always the case. Maybe I’m just being grumpy, but I won’t sugarcoat yesterday’s misadventures. We woke up to blue skies and the promise of a better weather day here in Colorado Springs. I still wasn’t feeling 100%. I have a cough left over from the bug I picked up and each time I cough, it sets a pounding headache for a few minutes.

I unloaded the Spyder. Our neighbor was checking the tire pressure on his Airstream travel trailer and found a tire with very low pressure. He asked me if I could locate a Goodyear dealer as he didn’t have wifi access. I found one three miles down the road. Then I looked the map over and found a route to the Hotel Elegante. That would be our first stop – a reconnoitering run before we move our rig there. From there, I looked at what appeared to be an easy route to Manitou Springs where we could do some touristy stuff. I wasn’t up for hiking Garden of the Gods which was the other option we considered.

Instead of jumping on I-25, I took the back way to the hotel down Las Vegas Street. I was looking for Janitell Road which would take me right to the hotel. Somehow I missed it. Then I was looking for Lake Avenue, not knowing it was called Circle Drive where it crosses Las Vegas Street. This changing of road names with no apparent logic would continue to get me. I ended up going way too far south and had to circle back until I found Lake Avenue west of the hotel.

We found the area where we’ll be allowed to park and scoped out our choices for a site. I also confirmed with the hotel registration desk – they told me I would just have to pay $35 for a pass and we would be good for Thursday through Tuesday.

When I checked out the route from the hotel to Manitou Springs, it looked pretty straight forward. Follow Lake Avenue west, then go north on Cresta to US24. Well, I should have looked at more detail. When Lake Avenue reaches the Broadmoor Resort, there is a series of roundabouts. In each roundabout, I encountered drivers that didn’t know how drive them. The rule is, the vehicle in the traffic circle always has the right of way and should keep moving. The vehicle entering the traffic circle must yield until there is a sufficient break to enter. I had drivers coming to a stop in the roundabout to let me or other vehicles enter, throwing the whole thing into chaos.

Anyway, at the first roundabout, I took the first right to stay on Lake Avenue.  But it wasn’t Lake Avenue, it was called Lake Circle. The next roundabout didn’t have an exit for Lake anything. There were two choices – Mesa or Mesa. I took the second Mesa and 300 yards later the road name changed to Park Avenue. I was confused. Another few hundred yards and now the road was called El Pomar. El Pomar hit Penrose at a T-intersection. I turned right on Penrose and the next thing I saw was a sign calling it Mesa Avenue! I tried to visualize the route in my head and use dead reckoning. This didn’t work so well as many of the roads go into box canyons with no exit.

We finally backtracked after looking at Google Maps on my phone and tried the other Mesa Avenue – we’d been on few roads called that by now with no sense of logic to it. Suddenly I was on Cresta. Yay! But then I missed US24 – just spaced it out. We ended up in Old Colorado City where I took the main drag – Colorado Avenue northeast. This was the right direction. After a while, Colorado Avenue became Manitou Avenue Business Route 24 and we found our destination.

Manitou Springs is a lively old west town. The main street had many shops, restaurants and pubs. There are also nice city parks and alleyways with merchants. We walked the main street and checked out menus and settled on a Mediterranean diner. I wasn’t feeling up to par. I ordered a Gyro but could only eat half of it. It was a little dry and could’ve used more tzatziki sauce.

Manitou Springs

Manitou Springs

The walk through town was taking a lot of effort for me. I hope I regain my strength – I’m due to start crewing for the Heart’s A’Fire hot air balloon on Friday.

Homes on the southwest side of town are terraced into the mountain side with steep entries

Homes on the southwest side of town are terraced into the mountain side with steep entries

Fountain Creek runs next to the sidewalk at Soda Springs Park

Fountain Creek runs next to the sidewalk at Soda Springs Park

We decided to head home after lunch. I had a much easier time finding my way home. We made a stop so Donna could buy some gardening tape to help support her tomato plant. When we pulled back into the Elks’ Lodge, I could hardly believe what I saw.

While we were out, someone decided to set up their travel trailer. Fine. There is lots of open space in the back lot.

Lots of open space

Lots of open space

More open space

More open space

But this guy decided he needed to be in the area right next to our door. He set up his travel trailer so were facing door-to-door ten feet apart. I could understand it if the lot was full, but he had a ton of space to choose from.

Our new neighbor

Our new neighbor

This is what you call bad dry-camping etiquette.

Our new doorstep view

Our new doorstep view

They weren’t here when we arrived and didn’t come home until 10pm when they fired up their generator and set out a grill and chairs. We’re pulling out this morning anyway, but I have to say some people have no sense at all.

Donna went for a bike ride while I took an afternoon nap and by chance met a guy who works for the parks commission and is an advocate for the bikeways in Colorado Springs. He was on his way to a meeting on his Tern folding bike with panniers. He apologized for lack of signage on the trails and pointed out recent improvements as they rode together for about 20 minutes.

I met with an insurance adjuster at 4pm. He was a nice guy and knowledgeable enough to see this was more than a cosmetic issue resulting from the deer colliding with our coach. I was happy to hear that as I was concerned that the insurance may try to downplay the issues. We’ll have to continue to work out how we’re going to get the fiberglass siding on the living room slide repaired.

It’s time to start packing the trailer so we can move on to the Hotel Elegante today.

Pikes Peak Views

In yesterday’s post, I wrote I hadn’t been sick in more than three years. I also stated that after a rough afternoon and night I was feeling much better. Well, it’s all relative. When you’re really down for the count, being able to stand up without nausea and joint pain feels pretty good. Reality set in – I was feeling better, but I wasn’t good.

Once I realized how weak I still felt, I knew I had to take it easy and recover completely. The weather was threatening anyway, so I wasn’t too keen on unloading the Spyder and heading out anywhere. Besides, as foggy as I was feeling, I didn’t think riding the Spyder in traffic made much sense.

As I said, the weather looked threatening. I’ve been wanting to capture a photo of Pikes Peak to the west of us, but we’ve only had a few brief periods where it’s visible.

Pike's Peak obscured by clouds yesterday morning

Pikes Peak obscured by clouds yesterday morning

Donna had a haircut appointment at a salon downtown – about three miles away. Even though there was heavy cloud cover and we heard a few cracks of thunder, she decided to walk there. She wanted to stay ahead of the rain which we were sure was coming and left around 12:30pm for her 2pm appointment. She made it there with dry feet and hair 40 minutes early for her appointment. So she wandered around the downtown area and into a few shops.

After two hours with the hair stylist, she took the bus north on Nevada Avenue up to Trader Joe’s to do some shopping. She did a fair amount of shopping and had to take an Uber ride back to the Elk’s Lodge to get all of the bags of groceries home. While she was out, the skies actually cleared – well, really it was the overcast ceiling rising to a higher altitude and exposing Pikes Peak. It wasn’t exactly clear skies.

Higher overcast ceiling reveals Pike's Peak

Higher overcast ceiling reveals Pikes Peak

Meanwhile I had talked to an insurance adjuster who was coming out to assess the damage on our coach from the suicidal buck. He said he would arrive in the afternoon and would call me when he was on his way here. I spent the afternoon reading and napping and waited for the call.

Donna came home around 5:30pm. I waited around until 6:15pm – no call. We walked to the lodge for their taco Tuesday and had tacos. I had a glass of IPA but wasn’t really up for it. I left after 25 minutes and Donna stayed to visit with Kim the bartender.

I never heard from the insurance guy. I went to bed early again and was out by 8pm. After I had another fitful night, we woke to clear skies this morning.

Clear view of Pike's Peak

Clear view of Pikes Peak

I heard from the insurance guy this morning. He was apologetic and said he was out without his assignment sheet yesterday and made several stops by memory but completely forgot about my case. He’s supposed to show up around 4pm today.

The forecast today looks good – a 15% chance of rain throughout the day if the weather guessers have it right. I think I’ll finally unload the Spyder. Tomorrow we’ll hit the dump station here and fill the fresh water tank before we move on to the Hotel Elegante where we’ll dry camp and meet up with Brad and Jessica Rice. We’ll be crewing for them in this weekend’s hot air balloon event – the Labor Day Lift-off.

The Streak Ends

It’s been a little rough for me here in Colorado Springs. I was hoping we could ride the Spyder out to the Garden of the Gods and hit Trader Joe’s on the way back yesterday. I’ve been wanting to get a photo of the snow on Pike’s Peak, but the top of the mountain has been obscured by clouds most of the time.

Donna went out and ran the Templeton Gap and Pike’s Peak Greenway Trail yesterday morning. Both trails run alongside the Monument River and are just a half mile from the Elks Lodge RV Park. When she came back, we stood outside and talked to our neighbors, then came in for lunch in preparation for heading out. I knew we would have more thunderstorms in the afternoon, but I was hoping to get ahead of them. No such luck.

It started raining around 1pm. By 1:30pm, the rain was pouring down and numerous hail stones came with it. It wasn’t very windy and the hail was about the size of a pea – maybe more like a chick pea. I didn’t think damage would be an issue unless the hail got bigger or high winds whipped it around. The hail stopped about 2pm, but it continue to rain in spurts. There was a lot of flooding in the streets and our smartphones were shrieking with severe weather warnings.

We're in the center of a nasty storm

Us in the center of a nasty storm

Around 3pm, there was a small break in the precipitation. I put on a microfiber jacket with a hoodie and walked half a mile to the store. I was feeling cooped up and wanted some fresh air. I also wanted resupply with some beer.

We’ve been on the road a little over three years – that’s more than 1,100 nights. During that time I’ve never slept anywhere but in our RV. Also, during that time Donna and I have never been sick – not even a cold. I’ve had a few allergy bouts, but no real illness. That’s not true for me anymore.

On the walk back from the store, I started perspiring and had to open my jacket. By the time I got into the coach, I was sweating profusely. I felt slightly nauseous, bloated and started to have sharp pains in my joints. I laid down on the sofa and read, but I was definitely feeling punky.

We had planned to go to the Elk’s Lodge for their slider night dinner, but I wasn’t up to eating in public. Donna went and brought the sliders home. I managed to eat them, but I was feeling greater discomfort all the time. By 7:30pm, I was dozing on the sofa and got up to go to bed.

I was shivering uncontrollably and the pain in my shoulders, elbows, and hips was very sharp. My legs were aching too. I couldn’t get comfortable and fever set in. It wasn’t a fun night. Between the joint pain and nausea, I barely got any sleep. Sometime around 4am, the fever broke and I was finally able to sleep.

I’m feeling much better this morning, we’ll see how much activity I’m up for. So far, seeing the sights around Colorado Springs has been a bust.

Stealth Parking in Denver

I didn’t post over the weekend, so I have some catching up to do. Friday was our last full day in Greeley, Colorado. We decided to take our chances on getting caught out by an afternoon thundershower and rode the Spyder into town. Our first stop was the WeldWerks Brewery on the corner of 8th Avenue and 5th Street. It’s a very nice taproom and the beer is brewed on site.

I started with a West Coast-style IPA, then followed up with an IPA called Juicy Bits which is a little sweeter, almost fruity. Donna had an apricot gose, then had a five-ounce pour of a beer called Berlinerita. Berliner is a beer style, in this case lime was added thus the ‘rita name.

Donna's little Berlinerita next to a full size glass

Donna’s little Berlinerita next to a full size glass

At WeldWerks they have something I haven’t seen before – they call it a crowler. If you’ve been to brew pubs, you’re probably familiar with growlers, which are usually 32- to 64-ounce refillable glass jugs. The crowler is a 32-ounce can of beer canned on site – it isn’t refillable though. This was a very popular take-out item!

WeldWerks crowler

WeldWerks crowler

After trying a couple of beers, we moved a few blocks away to Santeramo’s Italian Restaurant on the corner of 10th Avenue and 13th Street. This is a family-owned restaurant opened by second-generation immigrants, Lawrence and June Santeramo. Lawrence died in 1968 and June kept the restaurant going until she retired in 1987 and then the restaurant closed. A son and grandson bought the original building in the 2008 and reopened the place. It’s an old house on the corner. The ambiance was casual and very homey. The service was great and we enjoyed the food – Donna had lasagna with a big meatball and I had linguini with marinara and Italian sausage. The pasta was made in-house.

Donna enjoyed the lasagna

Donna enjoyed the lasagna

On Saturday morning, we made a quick run into town again for the Farmers’ Market next to the Chamber of Commerce on 7th Avenue. We bought some honey, elk sausages and Cajun andouille sausages. We also had Philly cheesesteak-style breakfast sandwiches made with thin sliced steak, cheese and eggs on a soft hoagie roll.

We came back to the RV park, I loaded the Spyder and dumped our tanks. I also filled the freshwater tank – that’s how we like to roll – fresh water full, holding tanks empty. We exited the park just after 11am.

Our first destination was the Blue Beacon Truck and RV Wash in Denver. There are only two Blue Beacons in Colorado. We were badly in need of a wash. The thundershowers while we were set up in a dirt/gravel site splashed dirt up the sides of the coach. Runoff from the roof also left streaks. I had a coupon from FMCA for a free Rain-X treatment at Blue Beacon, so we went there by driving down US85 to I-70. Getting in and out of the place was a little tricky. It’s in a lot behind a Pilot/Flying J Travel Center. You have to drive through the travel center and follow signs to find the entry to the wash bay. I figured it out without too much trouble. But when we left, I made two laps of the travel center lot trying to find the exit. The signage pointed me back to the Blue Beacon. Donna asked a trucker walking by and he explained we had to exit next to the Blue Beacon under the elevated freeway onto an access road. It looked like the entrance to a warehouse to me, but it worked.

Our next stop in Denver was an area called Englewood where Donna’s friend, Ann Koerner, lives with her husband Jim. We planned to park in front of her house for the night so Donna and Ann could spend some time catching up. The last time she saw Ann was in 2006 when we visited her in Santa Barbara while we were touring on our motorcycles.

Ann lives on a fairly wide street and there was plenty of room to park without blocking her or her neighbor’s driveway. Her neighbor is an RVer and didn’t have any problem with us spending the night there. Some people refer to street camping as stealth parking. But we aren’t exactly stealthy at 64 feet long. Getting us level wasn’t entirely possible with the slope and road crown, but I got it close enough. I waited until after dark to put out the passenger side bedroom slide. I left the other slides in – they would have extended into the road too much. The passenger side bedroom slide allows us enough room to walk around the foot of the bed, which is oriented east-west in the bedroom.

Traffic cones out to prevent anyone from accidentally walking into the bedroom slide

Traffic cones on sidewalk to prevent anyone from accidentally walking into the bedroom slide

Ann made a delicious grilled lemon-chicken dinner for us with a fresh salad from her garden, corn on the cob, quinoa salad, roasted broccolini and brownies. Thanks, Ann!

On Sunday morning, Ann and Donna loaded their bicycles in Ann’s SUV and went to the South Platte River Trail for a bike ride. Meanwhile I watched the Formula One race from Spa-Francorchamps, Belgium. There was a horrific high-speed crash at the Eau Rouge corner that Kevin Magnussen thankfully walked away from. Later I caught the first half of the Chargers – Vikings game before it was time for us to move on.

We headed south on I-25. The portion of I-25 from Cheyenne, Wyoming to Puebla, Colorado runs just east of the Rocky Mountain Front Range. As we drove along heading south, towering mountains were on our right side and endless plains to the horizon on our left. We had a few slow-downs where I-25 squeezes down from four lanes to three, then to two. The high point between Denver and Colorado Springs is Monument Summit – also called Black Forest Divide Pass at more than 7,300 feet above sea level.

We arrived at the Elks Lodge in Colorado Springs a little after 3pm. This Elks Lodge has RV sites with hook-ups for Elks members and also allows dry camping. I checked in at the lodge and found all of the first-come first-served RV sites were occupied. We joined a few other rigs in the back of the parking lot and we are dry-camped with them. To the west of we see fresh snow on Pikes Peak.

A thundershower arrived in the evening and grew to a large storm after dark. The street behind us flowed like a river and the parking lot had a couple of inches of standing water as it came down faster than it could drain. Our smartphones had severe weather alerts beeping. Lucky for us, it didn’t get very windy and there wasn’t any hail involved. Late afternoon passing thundershowers are common in this area at this time of year. We’ll have to do our sightseeing and shopping earlier in the day to avoid them.

Today we have partly cloudy skies and expect a high temperature in the mid-70s. Although we’re at an elevation of over 6,100 feet above sea level, the overnight low will be in the mid-50s. Perfect for us.