Category Archives: Idaho

Clark Fork

In my last post, I mentioned a rig that pulled in at the Coeur d’Alene Elks lodge that caught my eye. I should explain why I took interest. First of all, Donna told me I should see the stacker trailer that someone dropped next to our trailer. I had to retrieve her bike from the trailer so I walked down and took a look and a photo.

Our trailer in the foreground – and people think WE have a big trailer!

That’s a tall stacker – our lengths are about the same

Walking down to the trailer, I saw an unusual looking coach. The rear cap had the words “Motor Coach Industries” (MCI). MCI is a well-known brand among tour bus companies and transportation companies. The only MCI motorhomes I’ve seen were conversions of seated buses that had the interior gutted and reconfigured as a motorhome.

This one was different. It appeared to be a purpose-built motorhome with two slide outs. The slides had radiused corners like you would find on high-end coaches such as Newell, Foretravel or Prevost based coaches. It looked to be about 40′ long and had two axles – no tag axle. I’d never seen anything like it.

Custom coach with an MCI chassis and shell

Two sides with radiused corners and pneumatic seals

Eventually I met the owners – first Lisa then her husband Tom. They are from the San Francisco Bay area of California. Tom was an entrepreneur with a business that built entry doors and security doors for hospitals and commercial buildings. He still owns the company but is no longer involved in the day-to-day operation. I’ve heard similar career stories from most of the folks I meet with these super high-end coaches.

This particular coach came from Florida where a dealer – I think the name was Amadas – acquired several MCI chassis and shells back in 2004. They planned to convert three or four per year into custom motorhomes. The financial crisis put their plan on hold from about 2006 to 2010 – that’s when this one was built, in 2010. It checked off most of the boxes on Tom’s wish list – 40′ long so he could stay under California’s 65′ overall length requirement which was a biggie for him. I was surprised to find it powered by a Cummins ISL – like ours – but this one is chipped to produce 500 horsepower – we have 400 horsepower. The challenge with chipping to this power level is keeping the engine operating temperature within a safe range. This bus chassis has a large radiator with a huge belt-driven fan. It also has super access to the engine – something often found on bus type conversions and an area where many motorhomes are lacking.

MCI engine compartment with super access

The bus shell is all aluminum – no fiberglass. The trailer holds their boat on the upper rails and their Cadillac SVR below. The front six feet are a workshop with power tools and a generator on the tongue. I really enjoyed talking to Tom and Lisa and learning about their unique coach.

Thursday morning we packed up and got ready to travel. Donna had ridden over 50 miles on the Centennial Trail to Spokane Valley and back on Wednesday and oddly had a hard time sleeping Wednesday night. I thought she would be out like a light after that endeavor, especially since she put in 35 miles the day before.

Donna snapped this photo of the Spokane River along the Centennial Trail

Tom and Lisa hooked up their trailer and pulled out just ahead of us, leaving us with plenty of room to maneuver and hook up our trailer.

Maybe we’ll see them down the road

We headed east on I-90 and enjoyed several great views of Lake Coeur d’Alene. Then we climbed Fourth of July Pass – a little over 3,000 feet above sea level and crossed the Idaho panhandle into Montana.

We entered Montana at the Lookout Pass summit in the Bitterroot mountain range a little over 4,700 feet above sea level – and lost an hour as we entered the Mountain Time Zone. From there we had a steep down grade to St. Regis. At St. Regis, I-90 follows the Clark Fork River. The river meanders through a long valley that took us roughly south east toward Missoula. The interesting thing is although it often felt like we were descending, we were actually gaining elevation. The Clark Fork runs to the northwest and of course it’s always going downhill.

The way the river meanders through the valley means I-90 crosses it several times. From St. Regis to Deer Lodge – a distance of about 150 miles – it crosses the Clark Fork 16 times. It’s hard for me to imagine, but the Clark Fork flows northwest through a series of valleys and eventually reaches Lake Pend Oreille, a watershed that empties into the Columbia River!

After a long day on the road with several construction slow downs on I-90, we found Indian Creek Campground in Deer Lodge, Montana at the headwaters of the Clark Fork. I didn’t bother to dump our tanks before we left Coeur d’Alene knowing we would have full hook-ups here. We’ll stay one night and push on toward South Dakota. We’re thinking we’ll be in Billings, Montana tomorrow, Then Gillette, Wyoming. We’ll leave here with a full fresh water tank and empty holding tanks – I see a couple of dry  camping nights ahead.

Fourth of July on the Lake

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

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

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

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

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

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

View from the deck across the backyard and lake

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

Jet skis and house viewed from a boat on the lake

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

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

Back of Donna’s head as we head upriver

Kenley in the back of the boat and downriver view

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

The girls on the bridge

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

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

Madison swinging from a rope on the bridge

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

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

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

Mouth of the Coeur d’Alene River at Harrison Slough

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

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

These docks were rocking!

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

Lining up at the gas dock

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

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

Jam Shack Band

Donna, Kim, Kenley and Gary at Harrison Park

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

Returning to the house on the lake

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

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

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

The Rude Crew

Life on the road isn’t always fun and games and sightseeing. We had a couple of reminders of this while we were staying in Winthrop. For one thing, sometimes things quit working or need maintenance – just like in a sticks-and-bricks home.

While we were in Winthrop, our toilet starting acting up. We have a Thetford Aria II electrically operated toilet. I can’t find an actual technical description or schematic of the operating system, but looking at the parts list, here’s how I think it works.

When you push the flush button it sends a signal to the control module (CM). The CM activates a solenoid that opens and allows water to flow through an impeller inside a plastic housing. At the same time, water is added to the toilet bowl. The impeller spins and operates a mechanism that opens the blade valve in the bottom of the bowl. The bowl empties and the first solenoid closes while a second solenoid opens, reversing the flow through the impeller and closing the valve. More water is added to the bowl and the flushing sequence is finished.

Last week, the toilet would add water to the bowl when the flush button was pressed, but it wouldn’t always open the blade valve. It took several presses before the toilet would actually flush. I tried to look at it while it operated and see what was going on, but the back of the toilet where the operating mechanism is was too close to the bathroom wall for me to be able to see. I saw a couple of drops of water come from somewhere in the back when a flush was attempted. I felt around and thought the water was coming from the impeller housing. I tried tightening the bolts on the housing, but I couldn’t get a wrench on all of the bolts.

So, I had to remove the toilet and turn it sideways to see what was going on. Of course I had to disconnect the water supply to do that so I couldn’t flush and observe. I tightened the impeller housing bolts and while I was at it, I decided to tighten the seat and lid mounts. To do this I had to reach inside the back and feel for the little lever on the plastic mounting nuts. In the process of doing this I felt something strange – the open end of a plastic hose. I put my head down on the floor and peered upward with a flashlight and found a hose had come off a plastic barb. This was my water leak and maybe it was impeding flow through the impeller.

I reconnected the hose and put everything back together. The toilet flushed fine and no leak! Job done! I don’t know how the hose came off, but if we have trouble again I know where to look.

Over the long holiday weekend, the Pine Near RV Park was overflowing with people. There were tents pitched all around and even people camping in regular vehicles. It wasn’t too bad during the day as most people were out and about. The evenings got a little noisy.

We enjoyed dining outdoors at the picnic table and watching the antics of some of the kids. Donna made a jerk marinade for shrimp which I grilled for Sunday night’s dinner. She served it with an orzo, spinach, tomato and feta salad with basil vinaigrette.

Shrimp with orzo salad

Park overflowing – the Bounder and tents on the right turned out to be a problem.

Sunday night a group of people about 100 feet away from us got rowdy. This group appeared to be friends and extended family with three generations together. They were housed in a Fleetwood Bounder Classic motorhome – which we assumed belonged to the grandparents – tents and a rental cabin. They had a number of little kids and young adults.

After dark the little kids were inside and a group of about a dozen thirty-somethings sat outside around a table where they were drinking and playing some kind of game. They were hooting and hollering and one of them would break out with loud, shrill laughter. A little before 11pm Donna went over and politely asked them if the could keep it down. They seemed okay.

But it didn’t end. If anything they got louder. After 1am, I’d had enough. I went over and asked them to stop the noisy partying. They were obviously intoxicated and told me they were camping and having fun. I told them they weren’t out camping in a secluded area, they were sitting in the middle of a hundred people trying to sleep. They told me if I didn’t like it, I should leave! They kept at it until well after 2am. I’ve never encountered such a thoughtless and rude crew in an RV park before.

Monday morning while we were preparing to hit the road, Donna had a conversation with Anna, the owner of Pine Near RV Park. She told Anna we enjoyed our week in the park until Sunday night. She said it was the worst night she’d ever had in an RV park in our entire four years on the road.

Anna said we should have called her – she keeps her cell phone on her nightstand and comes out when there’s a complaint. She lives onsite and she usually sleeps with her window open. But she was up the night before dealing with a loud group on the other end of the park and slept right through the noise we were complaining about.

Rude crew Bounder

If you see the Bounder pictured above in the RV park, you might want to consider staying somewhere else. I had to remind myself that these were not RV people. They were “camping out” in tents and rental cabins. They were clueless about RV etiquette and obviously had no sense at all. Anna said she would deal with them and apologized for the unacceptable behavior.

We pulled out of Winthrop before 10am – both of us feeling the effects of a near sleepless night. We avoided the traffic on WA20 by taking the Twisp – Winthrop Eastside Road. Our route took us down WA153 along the Methow River to Pateros where the Methow reaches the Columbia River.

From there we took US97 across the Columbia River to WA17 through Bridgeport onto WA174 past the Chief Joseph Dam and the Grand Coulee Dam and onto US2. This highway took us east and we stopped at a rest area east of Creston – one of the very few rest areas found on US2. We ate lunch at a picnic table at the rest area and met a guy touring on a motorcycle. He had ridden his Indian motorcycle from Allen Park, Michigan where he left a week before. He was headed for the coast.

When we got back on the road, I noticed something strange. My ScanGuage D was displaying erratic coolant temperature readings. As I accelerated out of the rest area, the reading shot up to 220 degrees – I doubted if this was a true reading as we had parked for at least 20 minutes I would have expected to see a temperature of around 170 degrees. An over-temp alarm sounded, then the temperature reading went down to 170. Then it jumped back up to 215, then 220 and an alarm sounded before it went back down to 180 and then it read normal temperatures between 180 and 190 for the rest of the way. I’ll have to inspect the wiring or maybe I have a sensor malfunctioning.

We made a stop for fuel after crossing into Idaho on I-90. While I was fueling up, Donna called the Coeur d’Alene Elks Lodge to see if they had an open site. They did. The camp host told her we should take exit 11 and come up Ramsey Road. The usual way is to take exit 12 and go up US95. He said US95 was a traffic snarl and coming in from Ramsey to the west was a better option. His route worked great. We dropped the trailer and backed into site 23.

Coeur d’Alene Elks site 23

Several rigs came in after us but there’s still a few open sites. In the evening, I saw on Facebook that my friend Gary Stemple is here. We plan to hook up this afternoon for a Fourth of July boat ride on the lake.

It was blissfully quiet all night and Donna and I woke up well-rested. She’s out on the bike trail taking a ride to Spokane and back this morning. Wherever you are, I hope you have safe and happy Independence Day!

Be Careful – Shift Happens

We pulled out of our roadside boondocking spot at Georgetown Summit around 10:30am Thursday morning. Our route took us down US30 to the Wyoming border. As we continued on US30, we crossed a few summits over 6,000 feet above sea level and one summit near Diamondville over 7,000 feet above sea level. It wasn’t too bad though, we weren’t much below 6,000 feet at any time.

We made our way to I-80 east and about 25 miles later, stopped for lunch at Little America. I remember stopping here twice traveling cross-country with my parents in the ’60s. The food wasn’t anything to rave about but the break was needed and they have ample parking.

Around 30 miles later, I-80 took us past the town of Green River. I could hear John Fogerty and Creedence Clearwater Revival singing in my head;

Well, take me back down where cool water flows, yeah.
Let me remember the things I don’t know,
Stopping at the log where catfish bite,
Walking along the river road at night,
Barefoot girls dancing in the moonlight.
I can hear the bullfrog calling me.
Wonder if my rope’s still hanging to the tree.
Love to kick my feet ‘way down the shallow water.
Shoefly, dragonfly, get back t’your mother.
Pick up a flat rock, skip it across Green River.
Welllllll!

Our destination was Rock Springs, Wyoming – more accurately the Sweetwater Events Complex, home of the Sweetwater County Fair and many other events. They have more than 1,200 RV sites with full hook-ups. As Escapees members, we could get a site for $21/night. We want to spend a few days in the area and attend the Blues and Brews festival today.

We found the complex without any trouble, but the check-in was a little different. We followed signs to the caretaker’s house. I knocked on the door and a woman invited me in. I told her we would like to stay for four nights. She asked if I was paying with a credit card. I said yes – she told me I would have to go to the office building then and gave me directions. I’m glad we didn’t arrive on a weekend – the office is only open Mon-Fri 8am to 5pm.

At the office, I paid for four nights and asked if there were any pull-through sites. The woman said no. Then she looked out the window at the size of our rig. She got a map of the RV sites out and told me what I should do. She said to park adjacent to two sites on the end of the row, with our rig on the side of the interior road. She said that we should be able to reach the hook-ups and have plenty of room for our length.

I could hardly believe they would allow this, but the place is fairly empty and it looked like a good plan. The regular sites are all back-in and laid out strangely. The sites are fenced off with wooden rail fencing on three sides. The hook-ups are in the rear, behind the fence and are shared with the site behind.

Fenced back-in site

Fenced back-in site

Confusing looking rows of sites - they look like pens

Confusing looking rows of sites – they look like pens

I studied her map carefully to be sure I understood what she was telling me to do. I pulled into the area she indicated and stayed close to the fence to keep us from blocking the road.

We're on the side of an interior road adjacent to two sites

We’re on the side of an interior road adjacent to two sites

It was a fairly long run to the water and sewer hook-ups, but I managed. The living room slide came within an inch of the fence. Shortly after I got us hooked up, a thunder shower hit us accompanied by gusty winds. I had to pull the living room slide in to keep the slide topper from flapping itself to death.

Long run for water and sewer

Long run for water and sewer

One of the things we always have to be careful of after a day on the road is opening cabinets. Like the airlines always say, cargo may have shifted in the overhead bin. Donna had her laptop on the floor in front of her seat as she was using it as we traveled down the road. When she opened the overhead cabinet in front of her seat a remote for the satellite receiver fell out. It landed with a bang on her laptop about six feet below the cabinet.

The impact was too much apparently. No visible damage, but her laptop wouldn’t boot up. It went to a blue screen with an Aptio set up utility. The utility wouldn’t work – it just went in circles back to itself. She texted our friend and computer guru, Joel Myaer. He said he thought the hard drive was toast. I called my friend, another computer guru and former colleague, Bob Clogg. He had me try a few things, then suggested I buy a special cable and remove Donna’s hard drive. I could use the special cable to connect it as an external hard drive on my laptop and maybe retrieve her data.

On Friday morning, we went to a computer shop called Sweetwater Technology Services – there’s no Best Buy in Rock Springs – in fact the nearest Best Buy is in Salt Lake City! I found  a device to hook up her hard drive. We also shopped for a new laptop at a few stores but didn’t find anything she wanted.

After removing her hard drive and connecting it to my laptop, I couldn’t retrieve anything. The hard drive was recognized by my OS, but it couldn’t read any files. I took her hard drive back to Sweetwater Technology Services and asked them if they could retrieve the files. The minimum charge to hook up and diagnose was $41. I left the hard drive with them.

Later they called Donna. No dice. The hard drive is toast. If she really wanted the data, they could send it out to a specialist, but she would be looking at $1,200+ to get it. Donna used to use Carbonite for back up, but we don’t do that anymore since our data usage is limited and backing up to a remote site means double dipping on data. She’s sorry now that she didn’t do more frequent backups to her external hard drive. From now on, we’ll do that.

Donna ordered a new laptop on Amazon and we should have it Monday. That means we’ll extend our stay for another night here.

The weather on Friday was much nicer. Not much wind, clear skies and a high temperature of 79 degrees. Donna went for a short run and did a workout in a grassy area nearby. She said she could feel the effects of the elevation – we’re nearly 6,800 feet above sea level.

 

*Just so you know, if you follow one of my links to Amazon and decide to make a purchase, you pay the same price as usual and  I’ll earn a few pennies for the referral. It’ll go into the beer fund. Thanks!

Don’t Do It!

We decided not to go to the Basque museum on our last full day in Boise, Idaho. Donna went grocery shopping, then she had some cooking to do. She baked a French style cherry pie and added apricots to it. She also made prosciutto-wrapped asparagus spears with garlic and herb boursin cheese. She wanted to bring the appetizer and dessert to our friends, Mike and Dina Martin’s place where we were invited for dinner.

Mike and I chatted outside their coach at Riverside RV park in Garden City – a Boise suburb north of town along the Boise River. Meanwhile the girls had girl-talk inside while Dina prepared an awesome chicken piccata.

Chicken piccata plate ala Dina Martin

Chicken piccata plate ala Dina Martin

As usual, the time got away from us and it was after 9pm before we got home.

On Wednesday morning we prepped for travel and pulled out of Mountain View RV Park. Our first stop would be in Jerome at the Pilot/Flying J travel center about 120 miles away. I planned to fuel up there and also have the coach and trailer washed at the Blue Beacon truck wash that shares the lot with the travel center.

We got there around 12:30pm. While I pumped 67 gallons of fuel @ $2.48/gallon, Donna walked across the street to Subway to get meatball marinara subs for lunch. I told her I would be at Blue Beacon by the time she came back. I pulled over toward the Blue Beacon and found a queue of trucks. I stopped short so I could allow room to maneuver and got out to see if this was a line for the truck wash. I asked the trucker ahead of me and he said it was. I asked how long he thought it would take, he said, “Figure 20 minutes per truck so we’re looking at about two hours.” I was glad I stopped and allowed room to move – I moved out of line and parked on the street. I phoned Donna as she was leaving Subway and told her where to find me.

Boise sits at an elevation of around 2,700 feet above sea level. As we drove east on I-86, it’s a gradual but constant climb. Pocatello sits at an elevation of 4,460 feet above sea level. Along the way, we were involved in an incident.

You’ve probably heard the old saw about the difference between being involved and being committed where a plate of ham and eggs is the example. The chicken was involved while the pig was committed.

We were cruising along on what had been an uneventful few hours of driving. We passed a few signs warning of game crossing the road, but at 2:30pm, I wasn’t too concerned about game crossing. I could see the Snake River on our left and thought maybe deer or antelope might come out of the hills and cross the interstate to reach the river for water in the morning or evening.

Around mile post 49 I saw movement out of the corner of my eye. It was a deer – a large bodied buck crossing the westbound lanes toward us at full speed. I said out loud, “Don’t do it, don’t do it!” Donna heard this and saw the buck come flying into the center median where he made a quick cut to his left. I could see our paths would coincide and for a split second, I thought this cut to the left would avoid us meeting. But then he bounded to the right onto the eastbound interstate and took a flying leap into the side of our coach.

The force of the impact made a loud bang but otherwise didn’t disturb our 35,000-pound rig moving along at 60mph. The buck didn’t fare so well. The moving coach spun him around and hurled him to the pavement. It wasn’t a survivable impact. He was committed to getting across the interstate and unfortunately we became involved. I don’t think there was anything I could have done to avoid it – it happened way too fast.

I pulled off the road at the next off-ramp and checked the damage. We have a dent and crack in the fiberglass laminate sidewall on the driver’s side on the living room slide. A basement compartment door also has some damage and there are a few paint scrapes.

Crack in fiberglass laminate side wall

Crack in fiberglass laminate side wall

Looks like I’ll be dealing with insurance again.

Our plan was to boondock for the night at a spot Donna found on the Escapee’s directory outside of Soda Springs. The last update was about two years ago, so we figured it would be a safe bet. Not so much. It’s currently an active gravel pit with loaders and construction trucks. We kept moving.

Eventually I found a pull-out on US30 at Georgetown Summit where we’re parked at an elevation of 6,280 feet above sea level. It turned out to be more than a 300-mile day – longer than we’ve been driving lately.

The temperature dropped to the 40s overnight and although there was some road noise, I slept soundly. Today we’ll press on to Rock Springs, Wyoming. We plan to check in at the fairground RV park and hit the Blues and Brews festival this weekend.

Freak Alley – Boise, Idaho

We pulled into the Mountain View RV Park in Boise around 2pm on Saturday. The registration lane is relatively short and we took up the whole lane. The manager on duty, Justin, came over to my window before I shut off the engine. He told me to follow him in his golf cart and he would get us into our site so the lane wouldn’t be blocked. He already knew who we were and what site he was going to put us in.

He knew we had a long rig with our trailer and selected a site with a smaller rig next door which he had them position well forward in their site to give us more room to turn in. I think he expected us to have a difficult time maneuvering, but it went smoothly. I pulled through our site, then reversed to straighten out the trailer and we were all set. He told me to take my time setting up and come to the office any time before 6pm to sign in and pay. Nice check-in process.

The park is fairly tight and a little noisy as it’s next to I-84. It’s on the east end of the Boise airport, but since the prevailing wind is out of the west, airplanes take off in that direction and we don’t even hear them. The park is nicely landscaped and well-kept. All of the sites and interior roads are paved so there’s no issue with dust.

After we set up, I made a run to the Fred Meyer store on the Spyder and reconnoitered the area. Later, Donna went out and walked nearly five miles.

On Sunday afternoon, we rode the Spyder to the Boise Depot a few miles from here. The Boise Depot is a Mission-style structure built in 1925 to house the train station. It was proclaimed “the most beautiful structure of its kind in the west.” Today the Boise Depot is a museum with artifacts from the golden age of railroading prior to World War II. After perusing the displays, a docent took us up the bell tower in an elevator. The original spiral staircase had been removed and replaced with a elevator.

Boise Depot bell tower

Boise Depot bell tower

There are four bells in the tower, each one a different size and weight to create different tones. Today only one is used and it chimes at 8am, noon and 5pm. The view from the bell tower was outstanding. We could see the old downtown district and state capitol to the north.

Downtown and capital building

Downtown and capitol building

To the east, we had a view of a city park and mountains in the distance.

View to the east

View to the east

From there we rode to  the old downtown area. The roads are a little tricky to figure out around the depot.  Capitol Boulevard is divided and you can only go south from the intersection at the depot. We wanted to go north. I found a way by following Crescent Rim Drive to South Americana Boulevard which took us downtown.

We planned to meet up with Mike and DIna Martin at 5pm at the Bittercreek Alehouse for cold brew and dinner. We found a place to park on the street in front, but we were early. So, we took a walk across the street to Freak Alley. This is an outdoor art gallery established in 2002 where local artists create spray-paint art. Artists submit their proposals and once a year – between the first and second Saturday in August – new murals are painted. I’ve seen something similar to this in Barcelona, Spain. It was an interesting walk down what is otherwise a regular working alley with dumpsters and loading areas behind businesses.

Freak Alley

Freak Alley

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We walked back toward Bittercreek Alehouse just in time to find Dina and Mike coming up the sidewalk – they were early too. We found a table inside next to an open air window to the patio and sidewalk. I’ve never met them before but Donna’s known Dina for about 10 years through the National Association of Professional Organizers.

This was the reason we left the McCall area to come to Boise – Mike and DIna have been on the road for nearly four years in their Monaco Signature coach and this was the first time we found ourselves in the same area at the same time and we wanted to get together.

Donna, Dina and Mike

Donna, Dina and Mike

Our server seemed a little spacey at first. She brought us water right away and we said we needed a minute to peruse the beer selections. They have about 40 beers on tap plus bottled beer. Then she disappeared and seemed to forget about us. Eventually she came back and took our drink orders.

We sat and talked and enjoyed a couple of cold ones before we ordered food. Donna ordered a smoked trout salad and I went for the beef au jus sandwich. The food was outstanding – one of the best sandwiches I’ve had and Donna really liked her salad.

Donna smoked trout salad

Donna’s smoked trout salad

Beef au jus sandwich with potato-corn chowder

Beef au jus sandwich with potato-corn chowder

We stayed at the alehouse talking until about 8pm. The time flies when we’re with good company.

Today the forecast calls for a high of 86 degrees with only a few clouds. Donna and I are planning to float down the Boise River this afternoon.

Smoke on the Water

Our overnight in Grangeville, Idaho at the Bear Den RV Park was surprisingly nice. Who would have thought that such an out-of-the-way spot would have a clean, friendly park with all pull-through sites and lightning-fast, free wifi! This was probably the best park wifi we’ve ever experienced.

We pulled out a little before 10am Friday morning and headed down US95. It started out flat and I was cruising at 60mph with a tractor-trailer rig behind me. After a few miles, we hit a steep upgrade with a passing lane. I didn’t have to worry about the tractor-trailer – we dropped him like a rock on the incline. A few cars cleared out and we were traffic-free as we crossed the White Bird Summit at 4,245 feet above sea level.

At the summit, there was a sign that said we were in for seven miles of seven percent downgrade! Trucks were advised to maintain 35mph. Like the drop into Lewiston, this is a long drop with several runaway truck ramps. If a trucker allows too much speed or overheats his brakes through poor technique, all braking power can be lost with a heavy load and gravity hurling his cargo down the grade.

Runaway truck ramp with deep gravel

Runaway truck ramp with deep gravel

As usual, I silently thanked Jacobs Engineering for the development and release of an engine compression brake for diesel engines in 1961. Using our “Jake” brake, I controlled our downhill speed and only used the brake pedal a few times for some of the curves. There were a few signs warning “Grade Steepens” – really!?!

The view to the south toward the Hell’s Canyon Recreation Area is spectacular and you can see for miles as you descend from White Bird Summit.

The photo from Donna's seat cannot capture the grandeur of the view

The photo from Donna’s seat cannot capture the grandeur of the view

We leveled out and followed the Salmon River. It was so pretty, Donna took a few passenger seat photos along the way. You really have to see it to appreciate it though.

US95 along the Salmon River

US95 along the Salmon River

Another passenger seat view with what appears to be sandy beach

Another passenger seat view with what appears to be sandy beach

We saw several areas with what appeared to be sandy beaches. I think it’s more likely to be clay silt deposits, but without wriggling our toes in it, we’ll never know for sure.

At New Meadows, we hit the junction with ID55. We took a left and followed ID55 through Meadows toward McCall. It was twisty and steep at times – also narrow. After a while, we ran into a construction zone with a few tight, tricky, turns then finally an area with only one lane of traffic. The sign warned of delays up to 30 minutes, but we were only stopped for about five minutes. We lost an hour though as we crossed into the Mountain Time Zone.

I had programmed GPS coordinates into our Rand-McNally RVND 7720 GPS to find Mark and Emily Fagan’s boondocking site – Emily had sent the coordinates to Donna earlier. For those who may not know, GPS coordinates are latitude and longitude markers using a geographic coordinate system. This system sets up a grid for world geography. Latitude sets a number of parallel lines around the earth starting at the equator. The equator is zero, the north pole is 90 degrees north and the south pole is 90 degrees south. One degree of latitude is 69 nautical miles and one minute of latitude is one nautical mile. It’s then further broken down into seconds which can then be further defined with decimal points.

Longitude is a little more difficult due to its point of origin. Instead of something easy like the equator, we have a seemingly arbitrary starting point. Zero degrees of longitude coincides with a north-south line through Greenwich, England and aligning with the north and south poles due to England’s mastery of the seas when this system was devised. These lines are called meridians. Once again we have defined degrees west of Greenwich and degrees east of Greenwich. On the opposite side of the earth we reach a longitude of 180 degrees where east and west meet. Anyway, using a coordinate system can pinpoint a spot without an address.

As we rolled along toward our turnoff point, Donna spotted Mark on the left shoulder among some Ponderosa pines waving at us to get our attention. We pulled off the road into a Forest Service area set aside for snowmobilers in the winter months. As usual, Mark and Emily found a nice, free boondocking spot. We first met Mark and Emily in San Diego in 2013 – read here.

Boondocking with Mark and Emily (Mark Fagan photo)

Boondocking with Mark and Emily (Mark Fagan photo)

It was a roomy lot and we got turned around and lined up with them easily. It’s hard to believe, but it’s been more than two years since we last saw Mark and Emily. It was great to hook up again. Once we set up, we sat together at their rig and talked for a bit. Mark and I drove into town in their new Dodge Ram 3500 dually to refill one of their propane tanks and hit the grocery store while the girls caught up.

After we returned we decided to go back to town – McCall is only a few miles from this spot – and check out the Salmon River Brewery pub. This area of Idaho has been hit with smoke from fires to the north and fires in eastern Oregon. Depending on the wind direction, the smoke can be a distant haze or it can be be a fog with a campfire smell. When Mark and I went for propane, Payette Lake was clear and the view was beautiful.

When we returned to hit the pub on the lake, the wind had shifted and the lake had so much smoke that you could barely make out the scenic hillsides and forests on the far side.

Smoke on the water

Smoke on the water

Smoke and clouds

Smoke and clouds

Emily, Donna and Mark at Salmon River Brewring

Emily, Donna and Mark at Salmon River Brewing

We ordered food and few beers, then took a walk by the lake. The sun broke through the clouds and smoke briefly and left a beautiful reflection on the lake. Mark was pining for his camera.

Should I say - a fire in the sky

Should I say – a fire in the sky

On the way home we parked at Rotary Park and walked across the bridge to Shore Lodge. This is where visitors to McCall and Payette Lake get first-class accommodations and services. We took a stroll through and looked around. They had a nice seafood display on ice in a canoe in front of the restaurant that looked very appealing.

Seaweed, oysters, king crab legs and prawns

Seaweed, oysters, king crab legs and prawns

We made our way back to camp and sat outside and talked for a while. I had unloaded the Spyder when we arrived, but it turned out to be unnecessary since we never used it. I left it outside overnight and regretted it as unexpected raindrops fell overnight. I’m blaming the raindrops on the smoke – particulates in the air can collect moisture. If they collect enough, it gets heavy and falls to the ground as rain – that’s the theory behind “seeding” clouds. It’s my theory here and I’m sticking to it. I slept poorly overnight with the intermittent rain showers and sudden humidity.

We said our goodbyes Saturday morning as Mark headed out for a bike ride. Emily had a stomach bug and wasn’t feeling well – it’s funny as she was the one who only had one beer the night before. Earlier, Donna needed to get in a quick hike. She walked up a trail – everything is up from here – for about 20 minutes, then ran back down and covered it in 10 minutes.

Donna's hiking path

Donna’s hiking path

She saw a few mountain bikers on the trail.

Coming through

Coming through

We headed out toward town on ID55. Nally, our GPS had us turn before town. She had a clever route that bypassed the town and its tourist traffic and took us past the airport where we rejoined ID55.

Although we only had to cover about 120 miles, Nally predicted a two-and-a-half hour drive. I expected more like three with weekend traffic. Our route turned out to be very scenic although challenging at times with steep grades and tight turns. Some of the tight turns had us right up against sheer rock walls and I had to be mindful of how the trailer was tracking so I wouldn’t scrape them.

We drove into more smoky areas. This route on ID55 through McCall, Cascade and Smith’s Ferry to Boise is also known as the Payette River Scenic Byway. It’s aptly named as we followed the river almost the whole way. It’s a great recreational area and we saw several rafters and kayakers on the river. From Smith’s Ferry on down, we saw more and more and Donna kept trying to capture photos, but it’s hard when you’re rolling down the road. I tried to keep my attention on the road and concentrate on driving, not sightseeing.

Keep your hands on the wheel and your eyes upon the road

Keep your eyes on the road and your hands upon the wheel

Rafters on the river

Rafters on the river

Heading for whitewater

Heading for whitewater and more smoke

This post is getting too long, so I’ll post about our current location later.

Idaho’s First Capital

I asked Bob, the camp host at the Coeur D’Alene Elks Lodge, where the best place was to get propane in the area. He told me there was a place a few miles south on Appleway Avenue that had the best price. Later I rode the Spyder down there to check it out. It turned out to be an RV store that had propane for $1.99/gallon. I talked to the guy  there and he said he would open a second gate for me so I could drive in and circle behind the shop to pull up to the propane tank. Easy!

While I was out, I ran a few errands and stopped at Del Taco for lunch. I rarely buy from fast food chains, but it wasn’t bad. When I got home, Donna walked to Bed, Bath and Beyond, then hit a couple of other stores nearby. She ended up buying a smaller tomato cage at a local feed store, so I won’t modify the one I bought at Home Depot. We actually gave the one I bought to Bob and told him he could return if he wanted and use the refund to buy a drink on us.

Donna's heirloom cherry tomato plant - look closely and you'll see she already has a tomato

Donna’s heirloom cherry tomato plant – look closely and you’ll see she already has a tomato

On Wednesday night, Donna tried a new recipe for black bean soup with braised chicken and chorizo. She wanted to use the dry beans she bought in Quincy (one of many agricultural crops there) and read that she could do it without soaking the beans first, but it would take longer to cook. It ended up taking even longer than expected and came out much thicker than she wanted – more like a stew or pot of chili than soup. But, served with a dollop of sour cream, avocado cubes, green onions and cilantro it was very tasty.

Donna in her element

Donna in her element

Black bean soup

Black bean soup

I was hoping to roll out of the Elks Lodge by 9:30am Thursday morning. We loaded up and picked up the trailer, then I loaded the Spyder in the parking lot. We pulled out at 9:32am. We went directly to Bobby Combs RV Center on Appleway Avenue where I checked out the propane the day before.

The last time I bought propane was in Coeur D’Alene in July of 2014 – we went more than two years on one tank. The weight placard for our coach says the tank holds 42 gallons or about 189 pounds of propane. I’m not sure if it’s a 42-gallon tank – which would really only hold about 34 gallons of propane or a 53-gallon tank which would hold about 42 gallons. Propane tanks can only be filled to 80% of their actual capacity.

Our tank level sensor display fell below a quarter tank a few months ago and has been showing empty. It took 30.1 gallons to fill it. So, I’m assuming we have a 42-gallon tank with about 33 gallons of usable propane. The only time we use propane is driving down the road to run the refrigerator – very low consumption – or when we’re boondocking to run the refrigerator and water heater. We’ve rarely used the propane furnace – we usually stay in warm areas or run the heat pumps if needed. I hope it’ll be another two years before I have to fill it again.

After filling the tank, we drove south on US95 past Lake Coeur D’Alene and climbed into forested mountains. We would make several climbs and a few descents along the way. After a while, as we neared Potlatch, the forest gave way to farmland – mostly rolling hills with wheat fields. We continued on through Moscow – home of the University of Idaho and eventually hit the steep downgrade into Lewiston.

The grade is long and very steep with several runaway truck ramps along the way. The runaway truck ramps are lanes off to the side of the road filled with deep gravel to slow a truck that’s lost its braking power. Some of the runaway truck ramps were built into steep hillsides to further slow a truck without brakes. There were advisory signs for trucks indicating a speed of 35mph.

I thought this seemed like a reasonable speed down the long grade with a few switchback turns. I kept the Jake brake on high and only stabbed the brake pedal a few times on the way down. About a third of the way down, I pulled off at a scenic overlook. The view was incredible. Looking down into the valley toward Hell’s Canyon, we could see where the Clearwater River joins the Snake River. The Snake River flows north out of Hell’s Canyon. Lewiston is on the east bank while Clarkston, Washington is on the west bank. The Snake River continues through Washington and joins the Columbia River.

Clearwater River from left to right joins the Snake river, separating Lewiston, Idaho from Clarkston, Washington.

Clearwater River from left to right joins the Snake River flowing up from the south, separating Lewiston, Idaho from Clarkston, Washington.

A little known factoid is that Lewiston was the original capital of the Idaho Territory.

Click to enlarge and read about the first capital of Idaho

Click to enlarge and read about the first capital of Idaho

US95 took us across the Clearwater River at an elevation of about 750 feet above sea level. We began a long, steady, uphill grind out of the valley. It wasn’t too steep, but it was a constant uphill pull with a headwind component. And it was about 90 degrees out. With the engine running full turbocharger boost pressure, our coolant temperature started to climb. When it hit 200 degrees, I downshifted the six-speed Allison  3000MH transmission to fifth gear. This kept the temperature stable at 198 – 200 until we hit a steeper grade.I went to fourth gear and slowed to 50mph. Then the grade got steeper again. I watched the coolant temperature rise to 207 degrees and saw it flicker up to 210 a couple of times on the Scan Gauge D digital readout. The Scan Gauge operates off the feed from engine sensors to the Engine Control Module (ECM). For our CAPS Cummins ISL, 210 is the maximum coolant temperature I want to see. Later models with the common rail fuel system can tolerate higher temperatures.

I finally downshifted to third gear and slowed again. This kept the engine RPM up to 1,900-2,000 RPM to circulate coolant and run the radiator cooling fan at high speed. This dropped the temperature again and we finally crested the plateau.

For the previous hundred miles or so, we drove through farmland mostly growing wheat. On the plateau, the wheat fields were replaced by miles of barley – the grain most often used to make beer. Being rural farmland, we had to watch for farm machinery driving on the highway. We came upon a couple in the road and also drove through a few construction zones. All-in-all it wasn’t a hard day of driving though.

Slow tractor on the highway

Slow tractor on the highway

We pulled into Bear Den RV Park just outside of Grangeville around 2pm. We have a long pull-through site with full hook-ups and 50 amp power. We set up quickly and started the air conditioners. The park is surprisingly nice considering the relatively remote location. Nice, level, long pull-throughs and good wifi!

Donna took a walk to town – about a four-mile round trip. Driving through all those barley fields left me with beer on my mind. So I opened one!

The park was quiet overnight and the temperature dropped to a low of 55 degrees. We slept comfortably with the bedroom window open. The elevation here is around 3,400 feet above sea level.

We’ve changed up our plan. Instead of making it a two-day stop here, we’ll pull out today so we can drive down ID55 and hook up with our friends, Mark and Emily Fagan (Roadslesstraveled) near McCall, Idaho before moving on to Boise.

 

Burger Night

Yesterday was a lazy day for me. I dropped Donna off at the hair salon, then rode the Spyder down to the City Park and Beach on Lake Couer D’Alene. It was warm but breezy, so I was surprised by the number of people on the beach. The traffic in Couer D’Alene can be challenging. All of the north-south routes have many stoplights and traffic backs up.

On the way back, I stopped at Home Depot and bought a cage for Donna’s tomato plant. This thing is growing so fast, it’s sure to need support soon. I didn’t want to get a very large one, the smallest they had was 42″. I think I’ll try to cut it to a smaller size today.

After I posted yesterday, I received a message from our friend Mark Fagan. Mark and Emily are currently camped in McCall, Idaho. Mark cautioned me about wildfires in the area – we’ll need to keep an eye on it as we head south. So far, it looks like our planned route will be okay.

We’ll head out of here tomorrow. Our plan is to drive south on US95. We’ll stop at an RV park south of Grangeville for two nights. They have 80′ pull-through sites which is very convenient. Then we’ll move on to Mountain View RV park in Boise. We’ve booked four nights there and plan to meet up with Donna’s friend Dina Martin and her husband Mike. They’re in their fourth year on the road, but this is the first time we’ve been in the same area at the same time. Dina writes a blog at themartinsamericanadventure.com.

Last night was burger night at the Elk’s Lodge. We walked over around 5:30pm for burgers. The place was packed! It took over an hour for our burger order to come up. It was okay, it gave me a chance to sip a couple of pints of IPA.

We met a neighbor at the lodge the night before and he stopped by our table. It turns out his son-in-law is Ken Schutz, married to his daughter Leann. Ken Schutz was the Darrington High School principal where my daughters graduated. He said he talked to Leann the night before and got the scoop – she remembered me and my family. I lived in Darrington, Washington for about 12 years.

While we were in Alana’s driveway in Arlington, Washington my project was replacing the front shock absorbers on the coach. When we first left Arlington, I thought the front suspension felt a little stiff. Now that I have a few hundred break-in miles on the shocks, I’m very pleased with them. Parts of I-90 through eastern Washington are rough. The shocks kept the front end planted and under control. It made driving the coach much easier. Now I’ll have to see how durable they are. I’m hoping the new design from Koni holds up in the long haul.

Today we have cloudy skies and cooler temperatures – the high is predicted to be in the upper 70s. I need to run a few errands. We’ll pull out of here tomorrow morning and make about a 200-mile drive south through a variety of terrain. I’ll post about the drive on Friday.

 

Coeur D’Alene Elks Lodge

Donna sent me a text message Sunday afternoon saying she was stuck in traffic on I-90 due to an accident, but thought she would make it to Wenatchee by 3:30pm. I rode the Spyder to Pangborn airport in East Wenatchee to meet her at the rental car return and arrived at 3:20pm. Ten minutes later I saw Donna drive into the parking lot.

I grilled salmon patties and Donna served them over a mixed green salad for dinner. We had a quiet night and planned to be on the road around 9am on Monday morning.

I was out of bed by 7am and put away the windshield cover and packed the grill. After breakfast, we did our usual routine making the coach road ready – I worked outside while Donna prepped the interior. Ozark the cat has been a little funny on travel days lately. The last two times she saw us preparing to move, she hid under the sofa and wouldn’t come out until we were rolling down the road.

I don’t like operating the slides with the cat out – it would be horrible if she was in the wrong place at the wrong time. If I know for sure she’s under the sofa, it’s safe to retract the slides. This time she just laid in front of the refrigerator and watched us get ready to roll. She didn’t complain when Donna put her in her crate.

I pulled out of our site and then loaded the Spyder in the trailer. We drove out of Crescent Bar RV Resort at 9:30am.  Crescent Bar RV Resort is on the bank of the Columbia River and is at an elevation of just under 700 feet above sea level. The road out of the RV park immediately climbs up a steep, twisty grade and gains a few hundred feet of elevation. From there we drove east on WA28 to Quincy, then south on WA281 to George, Washington where we hit I-90 east.

The traffic was fairly light and we cruised at a steady 60mph. We stopped after we crossed into Idaho at the Pilot/Flying J travel center in Post Falls and filled up with 80 gallons of fuel. I added a full ounce of Biobor JF to the tank before pumping, guessing that we would need about 80 gallons and that’s exactly how much it took. With the Pilot/Flying J RV Card discount, we paid $2.58/gallon.

Speaking of expenses, July turned out to be our least expensive month for campground fees ever. Moochdocking in my daughter Alana’s driveway for 15 days had much to do with that. But we also took advantage of our Thousand Trails membership. We had six days remaining on our “free” four weeks which I amortized at $19/day to cover our membership fee and paid $20 for five additional days. Our total campground cost for July was $279 – that’s just nine dollars per day. I think I spent that much on beer!

Our destination was the Elks Lodge #1254 in Coeur D’Alene. They don’t take reservations – it’s first-come first-served. As we pulled in, I saw several RVs behind the lodge and wondered if we would get a site. It turned out they had 30 sites with 50amp electrical service and freshwater hookups and only a dozen or so RVs there. We have a fairly large pull-through site, but we had to drop the trailer in the back of the park.

Our pull-through site at the Coeur D'Alene Elks Lodge

Our pull-through site at the Coeur D’Alene Elks Lodge

In the photo you can see Donna’s tomato planter in front of the coach. The heirloom cherry tomato plant a vendor gave her at the Camas farmers’ market has really taken off. I’m guessing we’ll have fresh cherry tomatoes before the end of the month.

I had to walk to the end of the park to retrieve the ladder from the trailer so I could put the windshield cover on. That’s one of the reasons I don’t like to drop the trailer – it’s inconvenient when we need something that’s stored in the trailer. Another reason is security. I have two locks on the tongue so it would be very difficult to hook up and tow our trailer away like those Dirty, Rotten Thieves did in San Diego. The doors also have padlocks on them.

One thing I’ve noticed on the 20-foot-long slab-sided trailer is the effect of thermal expansion on the aluminum skin. The side facing the sun heats up and the aluminum siding expands. The skin is screwed into the steel frame and can’t move, so the expansion of the aluminum skin results in a wavy surface. Once it cools down, the aluminum contracts and the side is smooth and tight again.

Wavy trailer siding in the sun

Wavy trailer siding in the sun

We paid for three nights here at the Elks Lodge at a cost of $20/night. With 50 amp electrical service and the need for air conditioning, I think this is a bargain. The temperature hit the mid-80s yesterday with clear skies and we expect more of the same over the next few days. The elevation here is around 2,200 feet above sea level.

Today Donna has an appointment with a hair stylist that cut her hair when we were here two years ago. As always, that’s one of her biggest challenges – finding a good stylist who knows how to cut curly hair. We need to plan our next stop – I’m thinking we’ll head south on US95 toward Boise. All I know for sure is that we need to be in Colorado Springs by the end of the month to crew for the Heart’s A’Fire hot air balloon at the Labor Day Lift-Off balloon festival.