Category Archives: New Mexico

2016 Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta – Final Flight

I ended my last post by saying the final day of the 2016 Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta may be a bust. It was raining when I went to bed Saturday night and looking at the forecast, I fully expected to hear raindrops on the roof when my 4:30am alarm sounded. I was surprised to find it wasn’t raining and dragged myself out of bed.

Brad picked me up at the Fiesta Park entrance. I had a nice chat with Johnny, the security guy there, while I was waiting. Hanging out with Johnny for 15-20 minutes every morning for nine days straight gave us a chance to get to know each other.

Breakfast burritos and excellent locally roasted coffee from Piñon coffee was served to pilots and crew at the pavilion. A great start to the day. They do a great job of feeding about 1700 pilots and crew on weekdays and up to 2200 on the weekends.

The pilot’s briefing had weather info that caught me by surprise. It seemed like a nice morning with favorable winds, however there was some ground fog to the east and the possibility of more fog in the river bottom as the dew point and temperature were close.

After sunrise, Brad gave the go-ahead to unload and assemble the Heart’s A’Fire hot air balloon. We had it cold inflated and I expected Brad to fire the burners at any moment when we were given the command to stand down. I didn’t know what was up but soon found out that the field had been closed due to the fog bank to the east. Ground fog can be very dangerous for flight as it makes it impossible to see and identify obstacles for landing.

We were soon back at it, inflating the balloon. I really like manning the throat of the balloon and watching it inflate. It can be taxing at times as wind or the weight of the sponsor banner makes the balloon want to roll on the ground. It’s important to keep the envelope properly oriented with the basket so the lines don’t twist and tangle. The lines connecting the basket to the envelope are numbered and we strive to keep number 10 and 11 centered on top as the basket lies on its side. I had some muscle soreness every day for the first week of the Fiesta but now I’ve worked myself into shape – just as we’re finishing up.

Brad’s passengers for the day were a special pair of siblings – brother and sister. They are the children of a good friend of Brad’s that’s an avid extreme hiker – more of a rock/mountain climber than hiker from what I understand. About three weeks ago, he disappeared while hiking 14,000 foot peaks in Colorado. Search and rescue operations searched for eight days before they were suspended. The kids haven’t been out of the house since his disappearance. Brad thought it would be good for them to get out, have a flight in the balloon and enjoy a day. He contacted their mother and invited them to go up.

We were given the thumbs up by the launch director and they were off!

Final launch of the 2016 Fiesta

Final launch of the 2016 Fiesta

We chased the balloon over to 2nd Street, west of the field. Brad had it working as he flew high and went north over the Sandia Pueblo Reservation, then dropped altitude and came back south down low. In fact he went low enough to dip the basket in the Rio Grande River – what they call a splash and dash! He did this a couple of times.

After more than an hour of flight time, he landed near the water diversion channel – about 150 yards from his landing the day before. This time he was on the west side of the channel and the access road had a locked gate. Lucky for us, a Sandia Tribal Police Officer had a key and unlocked the gate for us. Last year I heard horror stories of how the tribe treated balloonists and crews that landed on the reservation. This year there seems to be much more understanding and cooperation – I haven’t heard any bad stories, only good news.

After packing up the balloon, we had our usual tailgate party. Donna and our friend, Kris Downey, joined us. One of the crew members, Darren, thoughtfully lent us his Ford F150 truck so I could transport the Traeger grill, table, chairs and a few odds and ends from our site in the RV park to our trailer. Thanks, Darren! It would have been a real hassle to walk the stuff all the way to where we dropped the trailer.

I napped and watched football for the remainder of the day. At 4pm, Donna took a Lyft ride to an after-Fiesta party. She had a good time and was glad she opted for Lyft instead of riding the Spyder. We had another thunderstorm pass through. Besides, she could enjoy a couple of glasses of wine without worry. Brad and Jessica drove her back to the coach.

This morning I woke up a little before 6am. It felt luxurious to lie in bed for 15 minutes, then get up. I felt like I’d slept in. After a regular breakfast of eggs, bacon and toast with raspberry-ginger jam, I started packing up for the road. I had a few things I needed to take to the trailer. On my way walking back after the first trip, I saw Jim McManus with his head inside the battery compartment of a motorhome belonging to a solo woman RVer. I stopped to see what was going on. She had a problem with her house batteries not charging. The generator had tripped the breaker. When I checked it, the breaker didn’t feel right, the switch didn’t snap into place like it should. I worked it a few times and snapped it vigorously and it closed like it should. We checked it with a meter and it was charging.

On my next trip to the trailer, I saw Jim messing with a compartment door on the same coach. The door wouldn’t latch and they were trying to come up with a temporary solution. I checked the latch and it worked. The problem was that the squared-off U-bolt that it latches to wasn’t adjusted properly. The woman who owns the coach said she just had that compartment door replaced. It appears as though the shop didn’t lock down the adjustment nuts and they worked loose. Easy fix.

I like to help people out when I can, especially if I know what the answer to the problem is. Helping out here put me about 15 minutes behind schedule – but hey, what schedule? So I thought we could leave by 9am. What’s the big deal? I didn’t have to be anywhere at any special time. By the time I hooked up the trailer and loaded the Spyder, we pulled out at 9:30am.

We didn’t have any special destination in mind. I was thinking if we could make it to Holbrook, Arizona we could find a place to boondock for the night.

We're not in New Mexico anymore

We’re not in New Mexico anymore

On the road, we thought about what we needed to do in the next three days. Tomorrow I want to stop in Mesa, Arizona at the RV Renovators to go over the work we need to have done to repair the damage caused by the suicidal deer in Idaho. Then I’d like to continue on to Casa Grande where I’ll have service work done at Speedco and a wash job at the Blue Beacon there. This had me thinking I should try to get closer to Mesa than Holbrook.

We ended up driving about 340 miles – a lot longer than we usually do – and are dry camped at a casino in Payson, Arizona. We started the day at an elevation of 5,000 feet above sea level in Albuquerque. Our route across I-40 took us to the Mogollon Rim in Northern Arizona – there’s some disagreement on how to pronounce Mogollon. This is probably due to various tribal dialects, Spanish speakers and settlers in the area. Most seem to agree it’s muggy-on. The Mogollon Rim brought us to an elevation of more than 7,700 feet. Now we’re right back where we started sitting at 5,000 feet above sea level.

Tomorrow night we can find another boondock spot – maybe the Elks Lodge in Casa Grande. Then we’ll move on to our little piece of desert in California west of Yuma/Winterhaven for the night.

It will be nice to have a quiet, secluded night before we move on to city life for the next three months in San Diego. I don’t think I’ll be posting for a couple of days as we take care of business.

2016 Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta – Part Three

The weather guessers had it right on Thursday. The Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta Park was nearly 10 degrees warmer than the previous day at 5am and the day turned out to be a nice one. We took the Heart’s A’Fire hot air balloon offsite to launch for the day’s competition. There were two events – a ring toss with five poles on the Fiesta park grounds and also a bean bag toss onto golf greens at the park. The objective was to launch a minimum of one mile away from the park and fly back over it to complete the ring toss and/or the bean bag toss.

Mr. Peanut balloon inflated at the park

Mr. Peanut balloon inflated at the park

Our pilot, Brad Rice, wanted to head northwest to Corrales to launch. After conferring with his ballooning buddy, Neil Jackson, and another pilot, he changed his mind and we went southwest to launch from a shopping center parking lot.

We had to wait for the field to open for competitors after other balloonists not entered in the competition cleared the field. There are balloons launching from the field every day the field is open. So far only one day of flying was cancelled – that was Monday.

We launched a few helium-filled balloons called pie balls to check the wind direction aloft. The pie balls headed northeast – right toward the park. We set up and launched around 8:15am, about a minute after Neil took off. Both balloons moved southeast – not toward the park. So much for that day’s competition.

Both pilots tried different altitudes to see if they could find air moving north to no avail. Brad flew east of I-25 then found a wind current that brought him back to the west. As we chased, he radioed and told us he was on track to hit the Arroyo Del Oso golf course. I phoned the golf course and secured permission to land the balloon there. The manager had a groundskeeper lead us through the golf course to Brad’s balloon. I think he was near the 6th fairway. We quickly deflated and loaded the balloon and cleared off the golf course.

We joined the crew from Ireland for a little tailgate party after the flight. They had a friendly rivalry with the Viking crew which led to some tomfoolery. The Vikings pulled up in a pick-up truck, jumped out and wet down the Irish crew with water cannons!

Attack of the Vikings

Attack of the Vikings

After taking a nap back at the motorhome, I returned to the park around 4pm. We had a barbeque and little party scheduled. We celebrated three birthdays – Julie Jackson, Rita and me. I’m the senior celebrant.

Birthday barbeque - Donna and her friend Hazel in the center of the photo

Birthday barbeque – Donna and her friend Hazel in the center of the photo

Donna met up with her friend, Hazel Thornton, from Albuquerque. They rode the shuttle from the RV park to the Balloon Fiesta Park and Donna brought a carrot cake she made that morning. She also gave me the latest Kindle for my birthday so I can read books without downloading them to my laptop.

Happy birthday Julie!

Happy birthday Julie!

Happy birthday Rita!

Happy birthday Rita!

Happy birthday to me

Happy birthday to me

I’m 60 years old and have been retired for more than three years – all of my retirement has been life on the road. Who would have guessed it.

Officially an old dude

Officially an old dude

Friday was another competition day. High winds were reported in the area – mostly south of the Fiesta Park. It seemed like it might be a problem, but the winds stayed south and we had good flying conditions. This time we launched from a lot next to the Target store southeast of the park on the east side of I-25. This worked out great as the balloon was carried west by wind up high, then moved north to the west side of the Fiesta park and dropped low bringing it east again right over the park.

Brad and Neil coming in low over the park

Brad and Neil coming in low over the park

Brad missed the ring toss and landed the balloon in a parking lot on the north end of the park. We returned to the park and had the usual tailgate party with a few other crews that share row “H”. Someone had T-shirts made with “Row H Family” on the left front.

The Row H family

The Row H family

Each day after we retrieve the balloon and pack it in the trailer, we fill the propane tanks after we return to the park. Fuel is provided by the event organizers at no charge for registered pilots. A fueling station is set up on the north side of the park with more than 30 lanes. A maximum of three persons per balloon are allowed in the filling station and baskets in enclosed trailers must be brought out of the trailer before fueling.

By Saturday morning, a cold front had settled into the area. I went to the Sid Cutter Pilot’s Pavilion for breakfast as usual. The free breakfast for pilots and crew at the pavilion is anything but usual. Today we had Frito pie again. They have a rotation of hot breakfast food – breakfast burritos on the first day followed by green chile chicken stew, then green chile beef stew and finally Frito pie. I wrote about Frito pie in my last post.

Breakfast of champions - Frito pie

Breakfast of champions – Frito pie

It was breezy and cold. Flights were suspended and we hung out at our launch site without unloading the balloon. I handed out Heart’s A’Fire trading cards and talked to spectators. We were hoping conditions would change after sunrise. It was past 8:30am before the field opened for flight.

We quickly unloaded the gear and set up the balloon. We were the first one ready on row H. This is the nice thing about having a stable crew where everyone knows what to do and works in harmony. Brad and his passengers were released for flight before any balloons in our vicinity were ready to go. A few minutes after we launched, flights were suspended again as rain was falling south of the park. I shot this picture of a balloon inflating after Brad launched – notice the cloud cover.

Overcast skies

Overcast skies

Brad piloted the balloon slowly to the north and made a short flight. He could see a wall of rain moving in. He landed near a water diversion channel northwest of the park.

Heart's A'Fire near a water diversion channel

Heart’s A’Fire near a water diversion channel

We quickly disassembled the balloon and had it packed in the trailer as rain started falling. I received an alert on my smartphone warning of flash flood possibility – we got away from the diversion channel fast!

A stage was set up on the north end of the Fiesta Park field. A concert with three bands was scheduled to begin at 1:30pm. We set up our tailgate party in row T, closest to the concert area.

Cold weather for the concert

Cold weather for the concert

It was raining while we set up and lightning strikes occurred less than two miles away with booming thunder. It passed after half an hour and the grills were fired up and food was set out. The cold, windy weather put a damper on things and I left around 2pm. Donna had joined us but left before me to visit with Tom and Kris Downey and warm up in their motorhome at the Fiesta Park VIP RV area.

I can hear the concert as I type this. It’s still windy and rain is expected to move into the area soon. Rain is also forecast for Sunday morning – the final day of the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta may be a bust. We’ll see.


2016 Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta – Part Two

After I posted on Monday, Jim McManus of the Escapees Boomers group organized a trip to the Boxing Bear Brewery a few miles down Alameda Boulevard from the RV park. I rode with Jim in his Jeep. We had seven people – five men and two women for the brewery tour at noon. The tour was given by the brewmaster, Justin. This is a relatively small brewery using a 10-barrel system. A standard beer barrel is 31 gallons, so they brew around 300 gallons of beer per batch – the exact amount varies depending on the grain bill and how many hops are used.

Fermenters on the left, 10 barrel tun on the right

Fermenters on the left, 10-barrel tun on the right

They had some brews aging in bourbon barrels.

Aging brew in bourbon barrels

Aging brew in bourbon barrels

It was a nice tour and we each had a couple of pints along with lunch. The lunch special includes some really tasty sandwiches – I had the Cubano – and a pint of beer for $10. Not a bad deal! The beers were very good and a good time was had by all. We came back to the RV park around 2:30pm. It was nap time for me.

Tuesday morning I was up before 5am. Brad picked me up at the entrance to the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta Park. After another odd breakfast in the Pilot’s Pavilion – a New Mexico dish called Frito pie – we went to the pilot’s briefing. Frito pie is a bowl with a handful of Frito corn chips topped by chili with beans, beef and cheese. Breakfast of champions.

Once again we had iffy wind conditions. The dawn patrol balloons remained grounded and a yellow flag was flying – meaning the field was closed and no one was allowed to lift off. Our pilot, Brad, had to decide if he wanted to go offsite on the chance that the field would open and he could fly in the day’s competition or stay at the field since there was a good chance the competition would be cancelled.

The competitions involve a target and test the pilot’s skill. The object is to fly over the target and drop a bean bag on it or toss a ring on a pole – things of that nature. Usually the target is on the balloon field. Competitors have to launch a minimum of one mile away from the field and aren’t allowed to lift off until all of the other balloons have left the field.

Brad decided to stay at the field. Our friends, Tom and Kris Downey (Open Road 365), arrived yesterday – they have their RV in the VIP parking area inside the Balloon Fiesta Park and they came to our launch site. They were excited to be here – it’s their first time. I explained what was going on to them and also told them they were only seeing a fraction of the normal number of balloons due to the wind concerns.

Around 7:45am, the field went green and balloons began to launch. The day’s competition was cancelled. We scrambled and assembled the balloon and inflated quickly. Brad was in the air by 8:10am. The wind out of the north had the balloons moving briskly to the south. At 8:23am, the announcement was made to close the field at 8:30am. It was getting too windy.

Brad made a short hop with his two passengers. We picked them up a few miles south of the field around 8:45am. It was short day of flying. I saw a few balloons landing at speeds that looked a little scary. Anything over 10-12 mph can be hairy.

After lunch, I spatchcocked a chicken with poultry shears Donna bought recently. The Oxo poultry shears made cutting the backbone out of a whole chicken a breeze. This was the first time I tried spatchcocking a chicken myself and it was easier than I expected. After I removed the back bone, I flattened the chicken and cut the wing tips off. Donna marinated the chicken in olive oil, lemon juice, garlic, fresh rosemary, salt and pepper. I cooked it on the Traeger and it was delicious. I set the Traeger to 350 degrees for 40 minutes with the chicken breast down, then I flipped it over and raised the temperature to 425 for 10 minutes to crisp the skin.

Traeger chicken with roasted potatoes and asparagus

Traeger chicken with roasted potatoes and asparagus

I slept soundly and the alarm woke me at 4:45am this morning. I walked across the street to the entrance to the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta Park where I waited for the crew to pick me up. I talked to Johnny, the security guy at the entrance. Johnny has been working that post for 17 years. He always has a big smile and a wave for everyone entering the park. He knows many of the participants by name after all these years. Lots of people bring him food or coffee which they hand off to him as they enter the park.

On Wednesday morning, the conditions were much better. They would have the competition today, but competitors would launch from the field and make a drop on the target south of Alameda Boulevard in the RV park right in front of our site! Donna had a front row seat from the coach!

Balloons inflating and launching

Balloons inflating and launching

Special Shapes balloons

Special shapes balloons

The famous Albuquerque Box was working today. Wind near the ground and up to a few hundred feet was moving the balloons south. At higher altitudes there was a wind shear and the wind brought the balloons back north – northwest. By working the balloon up and down, the pilot could move back and forth over the park.

After we launched the Heart’s A’Fire balloon, we piled in the chase vehicle and drove out to the south entrance – where I was picked up earlier. We waited there to see where Brad would end up. Lots of balloons were flying low overhead and I shot a few photos.

Coming through low over the trees

Coming through low over the trees


Special Shape in flight

Special shape in flight

Lots of balloons

Lots of balloons


Pretty in the early morning sunlight

Pretty in the early morning sunlight

After flying low over the target, Brad flew the balloon high and went north past the Balloon Fiesta Park. Then he dropped down and we lost sight of him. After a while he contacted us on the radio and said he was on track to land back in the park. We drove back into the park and saw him coming in. The traffic was slow and I was afraid we wouldn’t get there in time. It wasn’t too big of a worry though – with so many crews in the park, someone would help them.

While we were stopped in traffic I decided to bail out of the truck and run to where I thought he would land. Brad’s wife, Jessica, said she would run with me. When I said run, I meant jog. Jessica ran. The balloon landed before I reached their landing point. Jessica got there a good 30 yards ahead of me! Jessica is 37 years old and I’m on my last day of 59 – that’s my excuse.

After we packed the balloon, I found out we had another task. We were taking the balloon to the school where Brad and Jessica’s three older children attend. We would set up for a static display and demo for the school kids.

While we were setting up, Brad noticed a tear in the envelope. The tear was nearly two feet long. The fabric was torn near a pulley for the top release. When we landed at the park, a guy I’ve never seen before helped us take the balloon down. It appears that he didn’t know what he was doing and pulled hard on the rope which must have been jammed at the pulley and tore it.

After the demo we packed up again and went directly to a shop called Aerco. They are an FAA-approved balloon repair facility. We unloaded the envelope and they will have it repaired by the end of the day.

It turned out to be a good thing we did the demo – if not, we wouldn’t have discovered the tear until we set up Thursday morning and the day’s flight would’ve been scrubbed.

Tomorrow’s forecast looks good. Hopefully they have it right and we’ll have another great day of flying on my 60th birthday. I forgot to mention this morning’s cold temperature. It was 48 degrees at 5am. Just before sunrise the temperature dropped to 37 degrees before it started climbing again. This afternoon as I type this, it’s 75 degrees outside. Thursday isn’t supposed to be quite as cold in the morning and we’ll see mid-70s in the afternoon again.


*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!

2016 Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta – Part One

The 45th Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta (AIBF) opened on Saturday. This annual event starts on the first Saturday in October and runs for nine days – the final lift-off is on the second Sunday of the month.

My plan was to meet up with the rest of the crew at the entrance to the Balloon Fiesta Park and ride in with them. The entrance to the park is only about a quarter of a mile from our coach on the north side of Alameda Boulevard. My alarm sounded at 5am. I thought this would give me time for cup of coffee and light breakfast before I headed out. As soon as I rolled out of bed my phone rang. It was our crew chief, Yonnie, advising me they were 15 minutes away.

I quickly dressed and brushed my teeth and went out the door. Luckily the gate at the northwest corner of the RV area was open, so I had a short walk to the Balloon Fiesta Park entrance. I stood by the entrance in the dark looking for our pilot Brad Rice in his Infinity SUV with the balloon trailer. An Audi Q7 stopped and I heard someone calling my name. I jogged over and got in, wondering who’s car it was. It was another crew member, Jeff, and his wife Katie. Aaron was also with them. We drove in and parked in the south lot.

Brad drove in behind us. Brad got us into the Intel hospitality tent where they were dishing up breakfast burritos and coffee. Yum! I was thinking I missed out on my breakfast, but a big egg, hash brown and sausage burrito with cheese filled me.

The next order of business was the mandatory daily pilot’s briefing. This takes place at 6:15am on the west side of the launch field. Five hundred and fifty pilots and balloons were registered for the event – many more applied but 550 is the limit. Each morning several pilots have their number called at random and they must report to the FAA officials to ensure they attended the meeting. It wouldn’t be practical to have a roll call with 550 pilots.

Pre-dawn pilot's briefing

Pre-dawn pilot’s briefing

The dawn patrol goes up before sunrise. These are specially licensed balloons with running lights that can lift off in the dark. They give the rest of the pilots a good visual clue of what the winds aloft are doing.

Dawn patrol

Dawn patrol

After the briefing it was time to get to work. We had plenty of manpower – our pilot is a local Albuquerque resident and many of his friends come out to help on the weekend. The core crew group is Yonnie, Aaron, Darren and me. Alex comes out when he can and also Jeff. During the weekdays, we lose a few of the guys due to work commitments, but there’s always someone to fill in. We set up the basket and laid out the envelope after sunrise.

Envelope laid out with basket tipped on it's side

Envelope laid out with basket tipped on its side

We’re in row “H”, so we have to wait while balloons south of us launch before we can be released to launch. We try to coordinate our set-up to be ready with time to spare, but not too early as it wastes fuel to sit on the ground with the balloon inflated. With all the manpower we had Saturday morning, we set up a little too quickly. We start the inflation process by blowing air into the envelope with a large gasoline engine-powered fan. This is called cold inflating. With our quick set-up, we ended up with a long cold inflation period. Darren and I man each side of the throat of the balloon – the opening at the bottom of the envelope. We hold it open so air can blow in and we stabilize it so the envelope remains oriented properly. This can be difficult at times because the sponsor banner, which is on top of the prone envelope is heavy and wants to roll to one side or the other and any wind component will also roll the balloon. We were wrestling with the lines at the throat for a long time before Brad hit the burners and the hot air stood the envelope and basket up.

Brad’s wife Jessica went up along with another passenger, Bryan. Although they own the balloon, Jessica hadn’t been up in it for several years.

Jessica and Katie with their Heart's A'Fire attire

Jessica and Katie with their Heart’s A’Fire attire

Officials at the launch site called Zebras – they dress like a football referee in striped outfits – give the go ahead to launch. Brad hits the burners and lifts the basket about a foot off the ground. We walk it away from the crowd and vehicles and he gives the “hands off” command and heats the balloon to lift off.


Lift off

After the launch, we gather up gear and head out to give chase.

Mass ascent

Mass ascent

Sometimes it’s hard to pick out the balloon among the hundreds in the sky. It’s good for one or more of the chase crew to keep eyes on it – once you lose sight of it it can be a little scary.

Where did they go?

Where did they go?

Brad made a tricky landing southwest of the park in a small clearing – he had to avoid trees and a wall around the clearing. Jessica and Bryan jumped out and Brad went back up in the balloon with another passenger for a short hop and landed again in another small clearing with a few other balloons in it. The ground wind had picked up considerably, but it was a successful landing.

While we were breaking the balloon down, we heard a loud pop – like a gunshot. It was followed by a hissing sound, making us think a tire had blown. A quick walk around the Infinity SUV and trailer showed the tires to be good, but the rear of the SUV was sagging. An airbag for the air-ride suspension had blown! First day of the Fiesta and the chase truck was out of commission. Yonnie’s Suburban was pressed into service to tow the trailer and carry the chase crew. After we packed up the balloon, we returned to the Balloon Fiesta Park for the tailgate party. We had plenty of food and cracked open beers before noon!

Donna and I came home around noon. I took a short nap. We had to go back to the park and set up again in the late afternoon for the evening glow event. The glow is a static display – we inflate the balloon just before sunset. The crew weights the balloon to keep it down by leaning our arms on the basket. After dark, the pilots hit the burners to light up the balloons in unison and they glow in the dark. It’s a popular spectator event and the Balloon Fiesta Park is filled with thousands of people.


Heart's A'Fire glowing

Heart’s A’Fire glowing

Glow display

Glow display

We packed the balloon around 8pm – it was a long day. I came home and relaxed with a scotch on the rocks before sleeping like a rock. At 5am Sunday, the alarm went off and I was up and at it again.

This time after meeting my ride at the entrance, we went to the pilot’s pavillion for breakfast. It was genuine New Mexico fare – green chile chicken stew before 6am! We had another day of beautiful weather and our preparations were just like the day before – including another long cold inflation period. I’m getting a real workout. Brad took a couple of representatives from his sponsor – Cottonwood Mall – up. They had a great flight and landed the balloon in a small park south of the launch site.

I spent the afternoon watching NFL games and snoozing on the couch. Rain moved in Sunday night – I woke to the sound of raindrops on the roof. By the time my alarm sounded at 4:45am it had stopped. Brad picked me up at the entrance and went to the pilot’s pavillion for breakfast. This time it was green chile beef stew.

The front that pushed the rain in was causing strong winds aloft. Although it seemed fine at ground level, the wind speed picked by 400 feet above ground level and grew stronger as you went up. The flights for the day were scrubbed. No balloon flight meant I was back at the coach by 7am and I had a chance to write this post.

The weather guessers say we’ll have cooler weather as the cold front comes through. We should stay dry for the next few days with highs in the 70s. With any luck we’ll have balloons in the sky tomorrow morning.

Albuquerque Aloft

Before we left the Enchanted Trails RV Park, Donna had a delivery from a company that specializes in pet products. She ordered a special cat bed that mounts in a window. The bed uses four suction cups for mounting – two at the bed level and two more for support straps.

K&H Pet Products cat window bed

K&H Pet Products cat window bed

I assembled it and we mounted it on the living room slide out window Thursday morning. Ozark didn’t seem very interested at first. Then we had to put her in her crate while we relocated to the Balloon Fiesta RV dry camping area. While we made the 20-mile drive, Donna had black beans cooking in the slow cooker. She plugs in the slow cooker hot plate and puts it in the sink. The slow cooker runs off the inverter and cooks while we drive.

Slow cooker

Slow cooker

When we checked in, I told the person manning the office my name and said we were pre-registered with the Escapees Boomer Group. They looked up my information and had a guy escort us to the Escapees area. From there, another guy with the Escapees named Jim directed us to an area where we unloaded the Spyder and dropped the trailer. Then he escorted us to our site.

Outside our windshield is a large open field. Last year, the balloon I crew for landed here on one of the flights. I’m hoping we do so again. I needed to get the Traeger wood pellet fired grill from the trailer. Unfortunately, the area where we dropped the trailer is about 300 yards from our site. Jim said he would see if he could find someone with a truck to help us out. A fellow Escapee, Ken, volunteered to help us. We loaded the Traeger, chairs, table and a few odds and ends in his pick-up truck and he drove it to our site. Nice!

I needed the Traeger to cook two racks of babyback ribs for the potluck dinner at Brad and Jessica Rice’s house. I know I go over this every time I make babyback ribs, but I’ll repeat my method. I prepared the ribs Wednesday evening so I could get a head start on grilling after we set up our rig. First I removed the thin membrane from the bone side of the ribs. This isn’t too hard – I start in the center and separate the membrane from the ribs with a table knife. You don’t want a sharp knife – it will cut through the membrane. You just want to peel a little of the membrane from the ribs. Then I use a paper towel to grip the membrane and slowly pull it off the ribs.

With the membrane removed, I’m ready for dry rub. This time I used a 3:2 ratio of Pappy’s Choice Seasoning and Lambert’s Sweet Rub O’Mine. It takes a few tablespoons per rack. I wrapped the ribs in cling wrap and put them in the refrigerator.

On Thursday afternoon, I preheated the Traeger with the setting on 300 degrees. This gave me a pit temperature of about 280 degrees. I put the ribs on the grill, bone side down and closed the lid. I let them cook for two and half hours before I opened the lid. Then I wrapped them in heavy-duty aluminum foil, put them back on the Traeger and dropped the setting to 250 degrees.

Fifteen minutes later, I took them out of the Traeger, stacked the two racks and wrapped them in a bath towel to keep them warm. This is different from the way I cooked them in the past. The results turned out to be superior. The dry rub was just about perfect, the ribs were moist and the meat fell off the bone. We loaded the Spyder with the ribs, slow cooker with the beans plus two containers of restaurant-style Mexican rice that Donna prepared the night before.

We headed out to the Rice’s house around 4:30pm. The traffic on Alameda was unbelievable. It took us 45 minutes to find their house which was about 10 miles away. We had a feast there for the Heart’s A’Fire crew, families and friends. It was a fun party. Just as everyone was filling their plates, a thunderstorm blew in. We weren’t expecting that. Donna and I rode the Spyder home around 8pm and it was still sprinkling and the roads were really wet. Visibility was poor, but at least the traffic was light.

When we came home, we found that Ozark the cat likes her new window bed.

Ozark on her window bed

Ozark on her window bed

I watched a lackluster Thursday Night Football game and hit the sack around 10:30pm. I had my alarm set for 5am – that’ll be the drill for the next 10 days.

After a poor night’s sleep, I was up at 5am. I’m sure our neighbors were thrilled to hear our generator fire up at that hour. But that’s how it goes at Balloon Fiesta time. Generator hours are 5am to 10pm. Many of us have to be up early to crew.

Friday’s flight isn’t really part of the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta. It’s an extracurricular event called Albuquerque Aloft.  Pilots sign up to lift off from local public schools to raise awareness among young people. I rode back to the Rice’s house – at this hour it took me little over 15 minutes to get there. We pulled out of their driveway before 6:30am and went to Maggie Cordova Elementary School for our flight.

Brad lifted off around 7:30am with Lisa, wife of crew member Aaron on board. They had about an hour of flight time before we chased them down at an abandoned golf course northeast of their starting point.

Heart's A'Fire over the chase vehicle

Heart’s A’Fire over the chase vehicle

We had things packed up fairly quickly and I was back home by 10:30am and ready for a nap. This evening, we have another potluck dinner with the Escapees Boomer Group. Tomorrow will be a long day. I’ll roll out of bed at 5am to meet the crew at the Balloon Fiesta Park. We’re assigned to launch site H7. After the morning flight and tailgate party, I’m sure a nap will be in order. Then we will set up again for the evening glow.

A Surprise Visit

It’s almost time for the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta again. It’s hard to believe a year has gone by since I learned to crew a hot air balloon. The event officially starts on Saturday, October 1st and runs through Sunday, October 9th. Things will begin for us on Thursday as we move and set up our rig with the Escapees Boomers Group outside the Balloon Fiesta Park.

I forgot to mention in my last post that Donna manned the grill while I watched Monday Night Football. The grill is usually my domain, but she did a fine job grilling a mojo marinated pork tenderloin. We planned to cook the tenderloin on the weekend, but gusty winds and thundershowers meant it stayed in the refrigerator. It didn’t hurt it to marinate for a couple of days – in fact it came out excellent. She roasted green chilaca peppers with it and served it with a side of steamed green beans.

Mojo marinated pork with roasted chilaca pepper

Mojo marinated pork with roasted chilaca pepper

Tuesday morning we went to the Los Duranes Community Center for pickleball. We played for two hours and had a good time as always. This community center is a nice facility and it’s open to the public – no charge!

After pickleball it was noon and we were hungry. We stopped at Blake’s Lotaburger – a popular chain of fast food in Albuquerque. We both ordered their signature burger – Lotaburger with green chile and cheese. Spicy, but very tasty. We don’t eat fast food often, but we were happy we stopped and tried the green chile cheeseburgers.

I had a couple of errands to run and also took the Spyder to a self-serve car wash to clean it up in the afternoon. It was overdue, but it’s looking good now.

I saw on Facebook that our friends Dave and Stilla Hobden entered New Mexico on I-40 in their Alpine Coach. They’re traveling west after spending time in Tennessee visiting family. They are on their way to an Alpine Coach rally in Pahrump, Nevada. Dave phoned me and said they wanted to stop and see us – they could make it to the Enchanted Trails RV Park by 5pm and stay the night.

We saw them pull in and after giving them a chance to set up, we walked over to their site. After a short visit we all came to our site for happy hour. Donna cut up and reheated the leftover pork tenderloin and we made street tacos for dinner.

Stilla, Donna and Dave

Stilla, Donna and Dave

It was great visiting and catching up with them – we last got together in January at Lake Havasu. Dave and Stilla pulled out of here around 9:30am this morning. They’re planning for a long day as they need to be in Pahrump tomorrow.

We pulled out on the Spyder right behind them. I dropped Donna off at a Starbuck’s by Costco on Coors Boulevard. She was meeting Jessica Rice and Ruth Garner. They were going to do some meal planning over coffee at the Starbuck’s then pick up provisions at Costco. There will be a lot of tailgating at the Balloon Fiesta.

Meanwhile I made a stop at Dan’s Boot and Saddle Shop on 4th Avenue. I wanted to see an assortment of boots and make some comparisons. You can only learn so much online – sometimes you need to actually touch and feel them and see the workmanship first-hand. Dan’s had a wide selection and I saw several boots I’d only read about before.

Then I stopped at Smith’s Grocery and bought two racks of babyback ribs. My original plan was to smoke a brisket for the potluck dinner at the Rice’s house where we’ll kick-off the Balloon Fiesta Thursday night. Then I realized with the move to Balloon Fiesta Park and set-up time, I wouldn’t have enough time left in the day to smoke a brisket. So I changed up the plan and will put Memphis-style babyback ribs on the Traeger to bring to the potluck.

I don’t know all of the details yet, but we will display the Heart’s A’Fire hot air balloon at a local school on Friday morning. The actual event begins on Saturday and I’ll be at the Balloon Fiesta Park by 5am. We also have an evening glow event on Saturday, so it will be a long day.

I usually try to post to this blog in the morning hours, but with the Balloon Fiesta schedule I won’t be doing that. I expect to post irregularly over the next 12 days.

By the way, WordPress finally fixed the bug that stopped the e-mail notifications. So, if you are a subscriber, you should be getting e-mail notifications when I publish a new blog post.

Petroglyph National Monument

The overnight lows here in Albuquerque have been in the mid-50s. When we woke up yesterday, it was 59 degrees in the coach. I sleep comfortably under blankets and a down comforter when it’s cool like this – better than on a warm night. The temperature warmed up to the upper 60s by late morning.

We rode the Spyder to the Petroglyph National Monument. There are four separate areas – Boca Negra Canyon, Rinconada Canyon, Piedras Marcadas Canyon and Volcanoes Day Use Area. The first two have an abundance of ancient petroglyphs. We went north on Unser Boulevard a few miles to Boca Negra Canyon.

The west side of the Rio Grande Valley near Albuquerque is a fairly featureless flat mesa. In several areas, there are cinder cones which are debris fields of volcanic clinkers and ash rising in steep conical hills. Boca Negra Canyon is formed by a series of these cinder cones.

Ancient Puebloans living near the Rio Grande were drawn to these cinder cones and some of the areas were considered sacred ground. They drew figures on the basalt rocks. The meaning of these figures isn’t really known. Some of the figures at Boca Negra were added by sheep herders in the 1800s, but the majority of them are more than 500 years old.

Click on the photos to enlarge and read.


We parked the Spyder in the first lot and hiked up the steep Mesa Point Trail. We found the first petroglyph a mere 50 feet from the parking lot.


First petroglyph near trail head

First petroglyph near trail head





When we were about two-thirds of the way to the top, we saw a pair of Greater Roadrunners on the rocks above us. The Greater Roadrunner is the New Mexico State Bird.  The male was playing hide and seek with us. He would appear on top of a rock and sit there until we got close, then he would hop off and disappear only to reappear moments later on top of another rock.

Playful Greater Roadrunner

Playful Greater Roadrunner

In the next photo of a petroglyph, you can see the Spyder in the parking lot well below us. This was about three quarters of the way to the top.

See the Spyder below?

See the Spyder below?



We hiked all the way to the top, then followed the trail back down to the parking lot. We rode the Spyder about a quarter of a mile to the next lot and found the Macaw Trail.


Maybe this image gave the trail it's name

Maybe this image gave the trail its name

The Macaw Trail is short and mostly flat unlike the Mesa Point Trail. Jimson weed was flowering along this trail. Jimson weed was used as a medicine to relieve pain or asthma symptoms. It’s also a powerful hallucinogenic and amounts only slightly higher than the medicinal dosage can be fatal.

Flowering Jimson weed

Flowering Jimson weed

Our last stop was at the Visitor Center down Unser Boulevard at the entrance to the RInconada Canyon. There are hiking trails and more petroglyphs here, but we just wandered in the Visitor Center which is more of a gift shop than anything else.

I posted about a traditional New Mexico oven called a horno before. They had a functional horno at the Visitor Center. These wood-fired ovens are used to bake bread or make chicos.

This horno is about three feet tall

This horno is about three feet tall

Later, Donna went to run a few errands and met up with her friend, Hazel Thornton. Last night was Monday Night Football time. I didn’t win the football pool yet, but I’m getting close. I was fourth out of about 40 entries for the last two weeks.

This morning we’re heading out to the community center to play pickleball.



My Boot Obsession

On Thursday morning, Donna went out for a run while I wrote my blog post. We thought about taking a ride up to Sandia Crest – either up the backside road on the Spyder or taking the tram to the top. In the end, we decided we should head over to Enchanted Trails RV Park on the west side of the valley sooner rather than later. The forecast was hot – high temperature over 80 degrees and a chance of thundershowers in the afternoon.

Albuquerque and the wide Rio Grande Valley from the west

Albuquerque and the wide Rio Grande Valley from the west

Enchanted Trails RV Park is on a mesa west of of the Rio Grande Valley adjacent to I-40 next to Camping World. It’s a little way out of town, but not so far to be a great inconvenience. The weekly rate was favorable and they had a long, spacious pull-through site for us, although it only had a 30 amp service.

The sites are a little different – the pull-throughs are arranged so each site enters from opposite directions and the hook-ups are aligned between every other site. We had an issue with two neighbors who couldn’t figure out the electrical panel and shut off our power when they were hooking up or disconnecting. The sites are roomy though.

We had thunder showers Thursday evening. On Friday, Donna went out for a bike ride in the late morning. By the time she was heading back, the wind had increased considerably. Wind can make bicycling difficult – or easy if it’s a tailwind!

Cinder cone volcano at Donna's turn-around on her bike ride

Cinder cone volcano at Donna’s turn-around on her bike ride

The gusty winds were a precursor to another thunderstorm. The wind had the coach rocking. So much for our plan to grill a pork tenderloin Donna had marinating. We looked for pizza delivery, but there wasn’t anything available in our location and I wasn’t about to go out on the Spyder for take-out. Donna ended up pulling homemade marinara out of the freezer and we had it over spaghetti with spinach and feta chicken sausage. Nice!

I need to mention Ozark the cat. She’s been shedding fur for the last couple of months. Donna was vacuuming the coach with the central vac system and saw Ozark sitting on a dining room chair. She thought she could put the upholstery attachment on the vac and see if Ozark would like to be cleaned. Amazingly, Ozark let her vacuum her coat – I’m sure a lot of loose hair came off.

Okay Ozark, here comes the vacuum

Okay Ozark, here comes the vacuum

She's Okay with it

She’s okay with it

Now I’ll have to reveal my obsessive personality. I get into various things – hobbies and such – and take a deep dive. I could go on for thousands of words to talk about different things or activities that grabbed me and how I followed them.

Readers may recall the cowboy boots Donna bought me in Cheyenne. She’d wanted me to have a pair of cowboy boots for some time – she likes the look of them with jeans and really wanted me to have a pair. She made it Christmas in August and bought me a pair of Ariat Heritage Roughstock boots.

The Ariats Donna bought for me

The Ariats Donna bought for me

To tell the truth, I wasn’t that keen on cowboy boots. I imagined them to be uncomfortable and something I would seldom wear. It didn’t seem like a good bargain for the price.

What I found was, I love wearing them. They are so comfortable and caress my feet. They make me taller, which is a plus and I feel like like they improve my posture as I tend to stand straighter and walk taller in them.

Of course, this led me to an online odyssey to learn more about western boots. The more I discovered, the more I wanted to try other boots. I found many sites with collectors that have dozens of boots. I began to understand why – I wanted more styles and types. I’ve been through these obsessions before – watches come to mind. I collected mechanical self-winding wrist watches and railroad pocket watches before. Then it was guitars – I think I had seven guitars and five guitar tube amplifiers before we hit the road.

After learning what I could online about western boots, I needed another pair. I learned that the Ariat boots I selected and Donna bought for me are one of the most popular brands currently available. The brand was started by two women in 1992. They had a vision of combining athletic shoe technology into western boot designs.

They have several patents and use the latest design techniques, machinery and materials – such as shanks made from composite materials in a “Y” shape. Soles are often made with high grip rubber compounds. Most of their boots, including the pair I have, are made with a stacked upper design.

After learning this, I became interested in more traditional designs. I learned about custom made, bespoke boots. These are mostly out of my reach as it doesn’t fit the budget. I also found many manufacturers that employ traditional hand made techniques. Hand made is a difficult to define concept with boots – machines are always employed and necessary. Even the highest level of custom boot making uses sewing machines.

One of the best boot makers in the world is Lisa Sorrell – she makes two or three pairs of boots per month and does all of the work herself. Of course these boots capture my imagination, but they won’t encase my feet.

I decided to buy myself an early birthday present – it’s two weeks away. I ordered a pair of Lucchese (lou-Kay-zee) smooth ostrich skin boots. Lucchese has been making boots in Texas since 1883. They follow traditional methods. The only computer-controlled automated step in their process is the cosmetic stitching on the boot shaft – the part that rises over the calf. Stitching the shaft to the inner liner is done by hand as is all of the rest of the stitching. This means it’s hand-guided sewing machine work.

The shank is steel and it’s fastened between the outsole and the insole in the traditional method with lemonwood pegs. Lemonwood swells with moisture at approximately the same rate as leather – using these pegs for tacks to fasten the sole means the leather will not swell around the tack and allow water ingress.

Ostrich skin is arguably the ideal hide for western boots – only kangaroo comes close for durability. Ostrich leather has a very high tensile strength while being amazingly supple. Different cuts of the hide have different properties  and costs. Full-quill comes from the back and has a goose-bump appearance from the large feather follicles and a fairly even distribution of bumps. Half-quill comes from the belly and neck area and are less pronounced and uniform. Smooth-quill comes from the sides and have smaller follicles and a more random pattern. The price varies respectively with full-quill being the most expensive.

The thing is, regardless of appearance, ostrich leather has the same physical properties. Its strength and suppleness make it extremely comfortable and durable.

My boots arrived in Albuquerque last evening from Zappos. They were delivered to Donna’s friend, Hazel Thornton. Hazel wasn’t home, but her neighbor held the package for me and I retrieved it Saturday morning. The boots are fantastic. The turquoise calf-skin shafts are a bit flash, but I wear my jeans over the shafts leaving a more understated look. I think it’ll be a few years or more before I can say if traditional hand made methods and materials or modern machinery and man-made materials are superior.

Lucchese smooth-quill uppers with calf-skin shafts

Lucchese smooth-quill uppers with calf-skin shafts

After I picked up the boots, Donna and I rode the Spyder to the Los Duranes Community Center. They had pickleball from 10am to noon and it was free! Pickleball is always a good time.

Since the storm came through on Friday, the temperatures have dropped. Saturday’s high was only 71 degrees and we can expect mid-70s for the next few days. Overnight lows are in the 50s. Very comfortable. No rain is expected today but I’ll be my usual Sunday couch potato.

I recorded the Moto GP race from Aragon, Spain to watch this morning and then it’ll be NFL action for the remainder of the day. Donna will go to a birthday party at Aaron and Lisa Ivener’s house up in Rio Rancho – it’s their young son’s birthday. Aaron is one of my crew mates on the Heart’s A’Fire hot air balloon.



Good to Have a Plan “B”

In my last post, I mentioned a problem with our awning. The pin that the upper eye on the gas strut mounts to came off. I temporarily installed it and secured it with wire. I needed a new clip washer to complete the repair.

Tuesday was our last full day in Santa Fe. While Donna went out for a run in the morning, I took the Spyder to Home Depot to see if I could find what I needed. No luck finding an actual clip washer. After searching around, I came up with something I thought might be workable. The pin is 3/8″ diameter. I found internal toothed lock washers and selected a package to fit a 5/16″ bolt. I figured I might be able to force the under-sized washer over the pin and the teeth would grip it.

5/16" internal toothed lock washer

5/16″ internal toothed lock washer

I tried to force the washer over the end of the pin by fitting a 3/8″ socket over the washer and tapping it with a hammer. The stainless steel washer was too stiff, I couldn’t get it over the pin. I used pliers to bend the teeth slightly, opening up the inside diameter of the washer. A few more taps with the socket and it was on. Then I used a punch tool and tapped the teeth firmly against the pin.

Washer locked down

Washer locked down

This locked the washer in place. I’m fairly confident it will hold the pin. It took longer than it sounds, but in the end it was job done!

I downloaded another novel by Kyle Mills from Amazon to my Kindle Reader. This is my third book from this author – he writes a great story but the Kindle editing and formatting leaves a bit to be desired. There are typos and missing punctuation at times.

On Wednesday morning, I had much to do. I secured everything in the trailer and loaded the Spyder. I checked our tire pressures and put away the tire covers. I filled the fresh water tank and dumped and flushed the holding tanks. I worked for nearly two hours before I was ready to light the fires in the Cummins ISL diesel engine. We pulled out of Los Suenos de Santa Fe RV Park right at 11am. I usually prefer to hit the road earlier than that, but we were only going to Albuquerque – about 60 miles away.

Our first stop was at the San Felipe Truck Plaza in San Felipe, New Mexico – about halfway to Albuquerque. We’ve only covered a little over 200 miles since I last filled up in Raton, but we have run the generator a lot since then and I will be running the generator in the next few weeks. I like to have the tank topped up when I know we’ll be using the generator. Diesel fuel at the truck plaza was $2.19/gallon. That’s the least expensive fuel price we’ve had since we hit the road.

Our destination was Jessica Rice’s parents’ home in the North Albuquerque Acres neighborhood near Sandia Heights. Our plan was to dry camp on their property for a week until we move to the Balloon Fiesta Park. I had looked at the property on Google Earth and it looked large enough, but I thought I would have to back into their driveway or else I wouldn’t be able to turn around and maneuver.

When we arrived, we saw Jessica’s dad Bruce in the driveway. I stopped in the street and got out to look things over. The street was narrower than I expected. When I stepped out of the coach, I noticed that the edge of the road dropped off immediately into a ditch. I also found the weeds along the ditch were full of goathead stickers and my bare feet in flip-flops collected several. Ouch!

After looking the situation over, we decided we needed to go to plan “B.” The narrow road with no shoulder coupled with posts on each side of the driveway entry would make it difficult if not impossible to get into the driveway. Even if I made it into the driveway, there was less room than we thought there would be. I think Bruce was surprised at the size of our rig. Bruce felt bad about us having to go somewhere else, but it wasn’t his fault.

It’s always good to have a contingency plan when we’re going to an unknown dry camping place. We were invited to join Bruce and his wife Casey along with Brad and Jessica and Jessica’s brother Bruce and his wife Julie for dinner at the elder Bruce’s house around 5pm. Donna had baked pear gingerbread before we left Santa Fe in the morning to contribute to dinner. We left the gingerbread with Bruce and headed over to the Sandia Resort & Casino.

This was our fall-back option. We knew we could park overnight at the casino which is only about five miles from Bruce and Casey’s house. After some tight maneuvering in the casino lot, we found ourselves in nearly the same spot we occupied last year.

Donna took her laptop into the air-conditioned lounge in the casino and used her phone as a hot spot to get some work done. It was 87 degrees in the coach! Around 4pm, we rode the Spyder and made a stop for a quick cold one at Albuquerque Brewery which was near Bruce’s house. This is a small brewery making good beer to style. We met the brewmaster who is also one of the owners. We had a nice chat and enjoyed a pint before we headed to dinner.

Casey cooked up a large pot of southern New Mexico-style green chile enchiladas. These are different than the usual rolled enchiladas. It’s more like a green chile chicken stew served over a fried tortilla and it was absolutely delicious. The eight of us enjoyed the meal and conversation and had a great time. Casey gave Donna some of the leftovers and also a couple of servings of adobada (sometimes spelled adovada) which is a red chile marinated meat – most often pork or chicken but could also be beef. I’m not sure what’s in this dish, but I’ll find out for sure today. If it’s half as good as the green chile enchiladas were, it’ll be a treat!

We were having such a good time, I didn’t want to interrupt the flow by taking photos, so no pictures from the dinner party. It started to sprinkle as we were leaving but we managed to outrun the storm. Back at the coach, I covered the Spyder before the lightning, thunder and rain hit.

This morning it’s clear and sunny. We’ll move to an RV park on the west side of town called Enchanted Trails RV Park. I’ve booked a week there, then we’ll move to the Balloon Fiesta Park as planned.


*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!

Trouble with Fasteners

Sunday went pretty much as planned – I watched a lot of TV. First up was the Formula One race from Singapore, then it was NFL action for the rest of the day. Before I got through the race, we had a problem though. I was putting the awning out when I heard a sharp snap followed by a loud bang. I could see the rear support arm wasn’t extending like it should.

Upon inspection, I discovered that the pin the upper end of the gas strut is mounted to had come off. The pins used on the awning supports are held in place with thin clip washers with a serrated inner circumference. These are forced over the end of the pin and grip it, holding it in place. Well, the clip washer had broken off, allowing the pin to come out.

Upper gas strut mount broken

Upper gas strut mount broken

To get the strut back in place and insert the pin, I had to compress the strut. This is easier said than done, the pressure in the strut is amazingly high. With a little ingenuity, I was able to extend the awning support arm and lever the strut in place. Then it took several attempts using a large screwdriver as a pry bar to align the upper strut mount with the holes in the awning support and insert the pin. Once I got the pin in place, I temporarily wired it so it wouldn’t back out. One of the spacers is also missing, but the wire job kept the strut in place.

I need a bigger hammer

I need a bigger hammer

Temporary wire job

Temporary wire job

After I got the awning back in, Donna took advantage of the nice weather and walked to Sprouts to do some food shopping and also walked to Ulta. Then she rested her shoulder and read a book – one of my favorites – Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.

On Monday morning, we were a little more ambitious and went to the Genoveva Chavez Community Center here in Santa Fe to play pickleball. We played for more than two hours and I think I got nine games in. I played much better than I did on Friday as I lost some of the rustiness from going months without playing. Donna’s shoulder issue is on her left shoulder. She’s right-handed so playing pickleball was okay for her.

I had another project in the afternoon. Our toilet seat cover is deteriorating. The toilet seat and cover are made from molded pressed wood particles and covered with a urethane finish. The urethane is flaking off in a few places and I can see raised areas where it’s separating from the pressed wood.

Old toilet seat cover

Old toilet seat cover

I ordered a new seat and cover from Amazon on Saturday. Tracking showed delivery to the RV park Monday afternoon – how do they do that? I walked up to the park office and asked about the delivery. I was told nothing came for me. I saw a flat box in the corner and walked over to look at it – sure enough, it had my name on it.

The new seat and cover are similar to the old one, but it has a soft-closing feature. When you lower the seat or lid, some kind of friction device lowers it slowly so it’ll never bang shut. Getting the old parts off and installing the new one was harder than it should have been. Obviously the seat and cover were put on the toilet before it was installed in the coach. I didn’t want to remove the entire toilet to change the seat so I had to be a contortionist to get to the mounting nuts behind the toilet. It took a little time and effort but I got it done.

New seat and cover installed

New seat and cover installed

I have a gripe about the new cover though. Typically these are installed with nylon bolts through the mounting tabs and nylon nuts underneath the toilet to clamp the mounting tabs in place. Some whiz-bang engineer thought it would be wise to come up with a new way to accomplish this. The new nylon bolts have a circular shoulder with a groove around the circumference. The mounting tabs have plastic fingers that are forced into the groove when the mounting tab cover is snapped in place. These plastic fingers and groove are what holds the seat and cover to the toilet.

What were they thinking? Bolts, washers and nuts are clamping devices. The age-old method of using them as such to hold the seat works fine. With the new method I have problems. When the soft-closing feature has the cover slowly lowering, the leverage it has puts a large force on the mounting tabs. One of the tabs has popped out of the groove in the bolt several times already. Using the shoulder of the bolt to create a friction fit of the fingers in a groove is just plain stupid. I reinstalled the offending bolt this morning, we’ll see if it holds or if I have to come up with something else.

We’re expecting a high in the low 80s today. The weather guessers say there’s zero percent chance of rain. I’ll go to the hardware store and see if I can find a suitable clip washer for the awning – we’ll want to shade the coach with the awning today. Tomorrow we’ll leave Santa Fe and move to Albuquerque where we’ll be for the next 19 days.


*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!