Category Archives: Spyder

The RV Friendliest Town

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

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

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

Golden Spike Tower

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

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

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

Click photos to enlarge

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Free 50 amp service and fresh water!

We’re set!

Park across from our site

Nice view

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

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

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

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

Rat Rod

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

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

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

A Week in Kearney

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

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

Trail to archway

Great Platte River Road Archway

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

Thunderhead Brewing Company

Not so special IPA

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

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

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

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

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

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

Four Years Down the Road

I ended my last post as we backtracked to Waukon after the finish of RAGBRAI on Saturday. Team RV There Yet? went our separate ways.

Our destination was southwest of Waukon. I programmed our destination into Nally, our Rand McNally RVND 7720 GPS. She directed us on a route that took us south, then west in a stair-step manner utilizing mostly county roads. I trust the GPS most of the time – there have been a few occasions when I had to override her directions. The thing is, the RVND is an RV-specific unit. I entered our vehicle height, length, weight and other parameters such as how much propane we have on board. When the GPS calculates out route, low clearances or bridge weight limits, etc. are factored into the route.

We hit IA150 at Independence, Iowa and went south to Interstate 380. We were on 380 for about a mile and half and exited at Urbana where we found the Lazy Acres RV Park. The designation 380 for the north-south Interstate that runs from the Waterloo area to Iowa City seemed strange.

Primary Interstates have a one- or two-digit designation with even numbers designating an east-west route and odd numbers indicating a north-south route. Auxiliary interstate highways have a three-digit number with the last two numbers indicating which main Interstate route it’s attached to – in this case I-80. When the first digit is an even number, it means the auxiliary interstate is a loop. When the first digit is an odd number, it means it’s a spur. In this example, I-380 is spur from Interstate 80 to Waterloo.

The Lazy Acres RV Park is geared toward family use but it’s very quiet on weekdays. Even on the weekend, quiet hours are strictly enforced after 10pm. We were assigned to a long pull-through site – it has to be at least 100 feet long. The graveled parking lane is relatively narrow but the site overall is spacious with a large lawn area, picnic table and fire ring.

It was nice to find a quiet place to rest and unwind from all of the RAGBRAI activity that had us packing up and moving every day for an entire week. After we set up, we rode the Spyder about 10 miles into the countryside near the town of VInton where we found Donna’s nephew’s house.

Mark and his wife Jamie have about eight acres and a nice home of about 5,000 square feet – a big change from the 350 square feet we now call home. After the grand tour, Jamie put out some appetizers and then Mark grilled burgers and brats. It was nice to sit and talk with them.

On Sunday, we decided to extend our stay here until Tuesday. We’re in no hurry to be anywhere so an extra day of quiet time was nice. I even got my fishing pole out and fished the pond here. The office had photos of large mouth bass and catfish taken from the pond.

Fishing for fish

I didn’t have much luck. I had several bites, but they were small fish – not even big enough to take the whole bait in. They took nibbles and stole my bait. It was relaxing anyway.

Today we’ll move on a short distance to Amana. We’ll spend two or three nights there. We’ve been told there are interesting historic sites to see and they have a brewery!

The weather forecast calls for 80s there today, cololing to the mid 70s for the rest of the week. Thundershowers are likely on Thursday, so maybe we’ll stay until Friday.

By the way, I neglected to mention that the first day of RAGBRAI, July 23, marked our four-year anniversary on the road. And in case you’re wondering, we feel like we’re just getting started.

 

*Just so you know, if you follow one of my links to Amazon and decide to purchase anything, 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!

RAGBRAI Day One

The start of RAGBRAI was coming on fast on Saturday. If you don’t know what RAGBRAI is, please see my previous post. Donna and Deb Spencer took a walk to town with Jeff and Deb’s wire-haired fox terrier, Sam on Saturday morning. They met up with the rest of Team RV There Yet? at the RAGBRAI expo downtown. I rode the Spyder into town and met up with them around 11am. We wandered around the downtown area and checked out all of the vendor booths.

Orange City has a Dutch heritage – orange is the color of the Dutch Royal Family, even though their flag is red, white and blue. The Dutch influence is obvious throughout the town. Streets have Dutch names and many signs are written in the Dutch language.

RAGBRAI Expo tents seen from Windmill Park

We checked out the vendors and had lunch at a place that was named one of the 100 places in Iowa where you must eat before you die –  Woudstra Meats.

Woudstra Meats – Brats to die for

One of the traditions for RAGBRAI is to dip your bicycle tires in the river at the start of the ride and dip them again at the finish in the Mississippi.

Tire dip in Windmill Park

Donna’s getting revved up for the ride

The expo had live music – we saw two stages with bands playing and they were good. At 4pm I went to a presentation for support vehicle drivers and got an idea of what to expect.

The high school parking lot where we’re camped was filled to capacity by Saturday afternoon. This wasn’t too surprising. What surprised me was the grass lot across the street from our location. This was a large grass lot that appeared to be property of a company there. It was empty when we arrived. By Saturday evening it was a tent city!

Tent city

Sunday morning we were up early. I felt well rested – I was so tired when I went to bed Saturday night. Donna had her alarm set for 5:45am . I woke up minutes before it sounded. She had the little rooster crowing again – I love that alarm!

True to form, Jeff Spencer was onsite at 6:30am and Team RV There Yet? was ready to roll. I had the rig ready and was ready to roll out about 10 minutes later. Ozark the cat knew something was up and went into hiding.

It was an easy drive of about 61 miles. I found the fairgrounds with Fred right behind me. At the entrance I was told that I could have electricity and water for $20. I paid for it. Then I went to the northwest area where I was told to go. What I found was a large grass area with electrical pedestals every 100 feet or so. The pedestals had half a dozen 30 amp receptacles. Water spigots were even farther spaced. Half of the grass lot had chalk lined spaces. I went past that to an open grass area and parked next to a power pedestal. I was the only one in this area and hoped I wasn’t breaking rules. Within 30 minutes I had rigs all around me. Most of them didn’t have long enough power cords to reach the pedestals. I couldn’t reach a water spigot.

I found Deb Spencer less than a 100 yards away. After saying hi, I came back and saw a police car behind our coach. I wondered if I was parked illegally. When I walked behind our coach I saw the issue – the short bus with the bull horns we saw in Orange City was parked by us. A rental RV had collided with it. I’m not sure how this happened – there was plenty of open space.

Huh?

I rode the Spyder back along our route to Primghar – the designated meet up town on today’s route. The crazy thing is I got there and parked the Spyder – then I saw a text message from Deb Spencer telling me where Donna was about two blocks away!

The boys taking a break along the way

We found each other and had rib eye sandwiches with Jeff and Tom – eight dollars for a rib eye sandwich, chips and a bottle of water – benefiting the local fire department.

Early lunch in Primghar

I blasted back to the fairgrounds and we waited for our riders to arrive. Deb, Fred and I took chairs into a shady spot and watched riders come by. We had an idea from a couple of text messages where Jeff, Tom, Donna and Geoff were. We saw several interesting bicycles – recumbents and a penny-farthing high wheel bike!

Meanwhile I prepped babyback ribs that Geoff bought in Orange City. Iowa is the place to get first rate pork. I broke out the Traeger. Donna made an Asian cole slaw and cornbread, Deb brought a salad, sweet potatoes, and watermelon, and the guys brought chocolate chip cookies. It was a nice meal to end the day.

Tomorrow is a longer ride of 73 miles. The weather took a turn for the better – Saturday was hot with high humidity but the humidity dropped by the evening. Sunday’s ride had cooler temps by 10 degrees or more, much less humidity and mostly favorable winds. Fingers crossed for this to continue.

 

The Road to RAGBRAI

Our last full day in Sioux Falls was Thursday. I had a busy schedule – first up I rode the Spyder to Madison – 50 miles away. I went west on SD42 and knew I had turn north on SD19 – 456th Street. It was about 20 miles to the first turn. I hadn’t gone more than 10 miles when I crossed 467th Street. I thought, “How can this be? I have more than 10 miles before I reach 456th, but that’s only 10 blocks away.” Then it dawned on me. Outside of the city, the farmland is divided into sections. Each section is 640 acres – a square mile. Each numbered street is a mile apart – there are no subdivisions and city blocks.

Heading north on SD19, I missed a turn and had to ride about three miles of gravel road before I got back on track. In Madison, I visited the office of our mail service and found our registrations and license tabs had arrived. That was a relief – I did’t want to continue to drive on expired plates.

After I got home, Donna and I took turns going out on the Spyder and shopping – we were stocking up for the next 10 days as we cross Iowa. I also organized the trailer and made it ready for travel. Thursday evening we took a walk through the RV park and got a taste of what we’re heading for. A converted bus with 10 bicycles on the roof was in the park. This is a support vehicle for a team of RAGBRAI riders. We talked with the owner – he came from Richmond, Virginia and is participating in his 10th RAGBRAI. The bus was outfitted with seats and storage spaces for 10 riders,  large quantities of beer, water and sports drinks and they were installing USB ports so the riders can charge their devices. The owner is a Blue Oyster Cult fan and the bus has Agents of Fortune stenciled on the side – that was Blue Oyster Cult’s biggest selling album in the ’70s.

Blue Oyster Cult themed support bus

Friday morning we woke up to rain. I deviated from my normal routine and hadn’t removed the windshield cover the day before travel. So I had to store a wet cover in the trailer. I didn’t want to roll it up and store it in a basement compartment like I usually do because it would likely mildew.

We had a short drive of 77 miles to Orange City, Iowa. As we traveled south out of Sioux Falls, we passed by Lennox. I had relatives in the Sioux Falls area – mostly great uncles and aunts – brothers and sisters of my grandfather on my dad’s side of the family. When I was 10 years old, I spent a week on my great uncle Hank’s farm near Lennox. Our route then took us through Canton where my great uncle Ed was sheriff. I spent a week with him and Aunt Sadie on the same trip when I stayed on the farm.

Donna commented on the rolling hills of northern Iowa. The bike ride across Iowa may not be as flat as we envisioned. We came into Orange City from the north. As we rolled through town, we saw preparations underway for the start of RAGBRAI. We didn’t see the turn for the RV parking and had to make a loop around a section of land – once we passed through town we were immediately into farmland on a dirt road.

Our friend and organizer of our team, Jeff Spencer, phoned us. He was at a high school parking lot that was a designated RV area. He gave us directions and we found him along with a volunteer named Brian who was in charge of the parking area. It was a large, fairly level concrete lot. We were the first RV to arrive there. Brian directed us to park diagonally with our front pointed toward the exit. He was planning ahead for the rush of vehicles trying to leave the lot all at once Sunday morning.

RAGBRAI is an acronym for the (Des Moines) Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa. This event was conceived by two columnists that wrote for the Register in 1973. It has grown to huge proportions. There are 8,500 riders registered along with 1,500 RV permits issued for the 45th event. We’re told some sections of the ride will have more than 10,000 riders as unregistered bicyclists join in. Not all of the support RVs are registered – many will dry camp along the streets. The registration sticker for a support vehicle allows access to designated RV camps.

Our support vehicle pass

There are two routes published for each day. One route is for the bicyclists that will take them on roads closed to vehicular traffic. The other route is for support vehicles to get to the destination city for the that day.

As the day wore on, more RVs pulled into the parking lot. Around 5:30pm, the rest of Team RV There Yet? arrived. It was three people in a class C coach – Tom, his father-in-law Fred and another Geoff. Tom and Fred are from Elkhart, Indiana and Geoff is from Austin, Texas. Fred will drive their RV while Tom and Geoff ride. Jeff Spencer will ride and his wife Deb will drive their truck and fifth-wheel RV. Of course I’m driving our coach and Donna will ride.

Team RV There Yet?

Some of the support vehicles are a hoot. I took a few photos of the rigs here.

Several riders are supported by this bus

Short bus put together with a heavy duty diesel drive train

There are several conventional RVs – we’re on the far end

It was hot and humid out. We set up chairs between our coach and Tom’s where the breeze kept us reasonably cool and visited for a while.

Jeff Spencer, Ozark the Cat, Tom, Donna, Geoff, Deb and Fred

After a while, we walked over to Los Tupilanes – a Mexican restaurant next to the high school. The food was surprisingly good. This city of about 6,200 people will be hopping this weekend as its population triples. This is the first time Orange City has been on the RAGBRAI route – the route changes every year. Everyone in town seems excited to be the starting point of the event and I’m sure the local businesses are happy about the inflow of visitors.

Over the past 44 years, RAGBRAI has passed through 780 Iowa towns and spent the night in 125 overnight towns. It has been in all of Iowa’s 99 counties.

Today the Expo with vendors starts at noon. I’ll go to the support vehicle driver’s safety meeting at 4pm. It’s going to be another hot day – the temperature should reach the low 90s. Tomorrow is expected to be a little cooler. I plan to head out early – be on the road as close to 7am as I can. The route is about 63 miles and will end in Spencer, Iowa. Right now I have good internet connectivity. That may change in the coming days. Even if we have a good signal, I’m guessing cell towers may become overloaded. I’ll post updates when I can.

 

Falls Park

Donna took a rest day on Tuesday after riding 85 miles over three days. She had plans to meet her friend Elizabeth Hagen for lunch. I did some light maintenance on her bike – washed it, cleaned and lubed the chain and adjusted the derailleur.

Other than that, we didn’t make any plans because the forecast called for bad weather. The dire warnings of severe thunderstorms likely to hit Sioux Falls Tuesday afternoon turned out to be a false alarm as the storms stayed to the north. So we went out to explore.

We rode the Spyder over to Falls Park – a city park on the Big Sioux River where it cascades through a series of Sioux Quartzite rock formations. Sioux Quartzite is a very dense stone consisting of silica-cemented quartz sandstone – it’s said to be the second hardest rock – only diamonds are harder. The stone beds at the falls are very resistant to erosion and the rocks in the area probably haven’t changed much in 10,000 years.

We parked in the lot behind the Falls Overlook Cafe. When we pulled in, we saw an Alpine Coach pull into the park ahead of us. We talked briefly with the owner. He and his wife were from Pennsylvania and were on a five-month long trip that took them down to the southwestern US and now they are completing the loop back to Pennsylvania.

We walked along the paths in the park and checked out the falls. The Big Sioux River is contaminated with decomposing organic matter and agricultural runoff – swimming in it isn’t advised. At the falls, I noticed some of the water was the color of tea – probably due to tannins from decomposing twigs and tree branches. Donna noticed excessive foam on some pools of water – most likely another by-product of decomposing organic matter acting as a surfactant. Both tannins and surfactants are naturally occurring when water is exposed to plant matter or peat.

At the information center there’s a small gift shop and a viewing tower. The tower is about five stories high and gives a great view of the park and surrounding area.

Falls Park from the viewing tower – downtown in the background

In the photo above, the Falls Overlook Cafe is the building on the left. Behind it you can see the ruins of the Queen Bee Mill. This seven-story structure was built in 1881 at a cost of $500,000 – a staggering sum in those times. It processed 1,500 bushels of wheat per day, but closed down in 1883 due to inadequate water to power it and a shortage of wheat. It changed hands several times but never was successful. In 1956 it was destroyed by fire which consumed the upper floors and roof. Later, the upper walls were knocked down to prevent them from falling.

A look at the falls from the foot bridge spanning the river

These closer views reveal the color from tannin

Although the heat and humidity was oppressive, the walk through the park and observation tower were well worth the effort. You can take an elevator to the top of the tower and the breeze up there felt good.

We left the park and rode downtown to Woodgrain Brewing Company. This is a microbrewery with a 10-barrel system and a nice pub at the corner of Phillips and 9th in the Plaza Building. We were a little surprised to see they share the first floor with Bluestem Capital – a financial planning firm. One door out of the pub leads you across the Bluestem reception area where you’ll find the restrooms. Now that’s a little different!

Woodgrain Brewing makes their own brews onsite and strives to use locally sourced ingredients including local hops and yeast strains developed by a local microbiology company. I had a pale ale and an IPA – the pale ale wasn’t my cup of a tea – a little green. The IPA was well balanced and I liked it. Donna had a lime kolsch that she thought was a little bitter and a milk stout that she enjoyed.

Wednesday we had more storm warnings for the afternoon. Donna went out on her bike and rode 28 miles. I had errands to run. I had passport photos made at Walgreens, then went to the post office to turn in my passport application – my old passport is expired. I’m a bit worried about how that will turn out. We don’t have a permanent physical address, only a mail forwarding service address. I don’t know what the US State Department will make of that. If they don’t issue me a passport, I’m out $110 – they don’t make refunds if an application is denied – and I won’t be making any plans to cross the border in either direction.

Once again the severe weather passed to the north of us. Donna caught up on laundry using the park’s laundromat and I completed my errands. We hung out and had a quiet evening.

There’s a construction crew on the highway next to the RV park. They start work early – around 6am and they are noisy! A jackhammer at 6am is not nice. Today I need to make a 100-mile round trip on the Spyder – I’m going to Madison to pick up mail at MyDakotaAddress. We usually have them forward our mail whenever we’re stationary for a week or so, but I’ve been waiting for our registrations and license tabs to arrive. So I’ll ride up there and retrieve our mail.

We also have to finish stocking up supplies for the RAGBRAI next week. The ride across Iowa takes us through many small towns and groceries are sure to be in short supply as thousands of people come through.

The forecast for today calls for a high of 90 degrees with thunderstorm warnings again tonight. I’ll pack up the trailer and we’ll head to Orange City, Iowa tomorrow morning.

Settled in at Sioux Falls

After an uneventful night dry camping at Cabela’s in Mitchell, we packed up and continued east Friday morning. We could’ve gone south about 10 miles and hit SD42 – a two-lane country road through farmland but I got on I-90 instead. The country road would have been more scenic and it would have taken us directly to the entrance of Tower RV Park – our next destination – but I wanted to make a short detour on the way to stop at Blue Beacon Truck Wash on the northside of Sioux Falls.

Our coach and trailer were badly in need of a wash after driving through the construction zones on US212. Blue Beacon is a chain of truck washes specializing in big rigs. They mainly do commercial tractor-trailer rigs but also have pricing for RVs. There was a line of trucks waiting to enter one of the two wash bays, so we had a bit of a wait. We were only traveling 70 miles, so I didn’t mind waiting for a wash. I had the full wash on the coach and trailer including a Rain-X treatment. The cost was $70 and I think it was money well spent.

I had viewed the entrance to Tower RV Park on Google Earth, so I knew I couldn’t enter directly from eastbound SD42 – I had to go through a neighborhood to get us turned around and enter from the westbound lane. Check-in was quick and efficient. We were assigned site 309, a back-in site where we had to drop the trailer first. The paved pad was large enough for us to drop the trailer and back the coach in next to it.

Wide site 309

We checked in around 2pm and there were several open sites in the park. By 6pm that was no longer the case – the park was completely full. The park is convenient to I-29 and only a few miles from I-90. Saturday morning a few of the rigs pulled out after a one-night stop, but by Saturday afternoon the park was at full occupancy again. Even with the park full, it’s a quiet place. Well, there’s some road noise from I-29, but the constant chatter of cicadas nearly overrides it!

We chose to stay for a week here due to the location. We are about half a mile from the Sioux Falls Bike Trail which follows the Big Sioux River. Donna rode a about 25 miles on Saturday and about 20 miles again on Sunday. Heat is an issue – it reached 95 degrees on Saturday and about 90 degrees on Sunday. Donna is out riding this morning and plans to do a long ride of over 40 miles. She’ll take a day off the bike tomorrow, then ride Wednesday and Thursday before taking a break as we head out to Orange City, Iowa on Friday. On Sunday, she’ll start the RAGBRAI course which will take us across the state to Lansing, Iowa.

When Donna returned from her ride on Sunday, she told me she saw what appeared to be race cars at the fairgrounds about a mile from here. So after lunch, I rode the Spyder over to the fairgrounds and saw an autocross course had been set up in a large parking lot. Autocross courses are typically very twisty and are laid out with plastic cones. This course was relatively long with some very tight turns. There were more than 50 competitors. The skill level and equipment varied. Some were quite quick, others not so much. Each car runs solo racing against the clock to complete the course – there’s no wheel-to-wheel racing.

Lining up for a run

The average time to complete the course was in the upper 80-second range – 85 to 88 seconds by my reckoning. A couple of cars took over 100 seconds – these were driven by novices. The quickest car there was a Porsche 911 Turbo S. This car costs nearly $200,000 and boasts 580 horsepower. It was the only high horsepower car there to turn very quick times. Other high horsepower cars such as Corvettes and Camaros struggled for grip through the tight sections. Driver skill played a big part undoubtedly. The 911 Turbo S turned a quickest time of 73.0 and made several runs in the low 74s with a different driver. The only other car to run sub-75 seconds was a Honda S2000 that turned a 74.9 lap. This car handled well and had a skillful driver that was very smooth on the course.

Quickest car with a 73.0

Too much wheel spin for this one

80-second laps

This Miata ran well – high 70s

Quick S2000

I hung out for about an hour and a half before I decided to get out of the sun. While I was out, I made a stop at the liquor store.

I figured I would want to have a bottle of Scotch in the liquor cabinet so I could have a dram or two when we cross Iowa. I get spoiled by the price of liquor in California – it’s so much cheaper than just about anywhere else. Here in South Dakota, a 750ml bottle of Glenmorangie Single Malt Scotch is $44 – in California I could get it for $10 less.

The liquor store had a special on a Glenmorangie Highland Single Malt Scotch that included a 750ml bottle of The Original and two 50ml sampler bottles containing The La Santa and The Quinta Ruban. The Original Glenmorangie Highland Single Malt Scotch Whisky is aged 10 years in oak casks that are sourced from forest land they own in the Ozark Mountains. They lease the casks to Jack Daniels and Heaven Hills to age bourbon for four years. The casks are then shipped to Ross-Shire, Scotland to age the Scotch whiskys.

Glenmorangie special offer

The La Santa is what Glenmorangie calls an Extra Matured whisky. The whisky is transferred into a cask that sourced from Spain where it originally held sherry. It’s aged for an additional two years and picks up flavor and complexity from the wine cask. Glenmorangie pioneered this technique in the 1990s – many other distilleries such as Balvenie started doing this around 2000.

The Quinta Ruban is similarly transferred to a secondary cask – in this case it’s a cask that held port wine before. The 50ml tasters are about 1.7 ounces – just enough for a sipper.

Highland Scotch like Glenmorangie, Glenfiddich, The Glenlivet and so on are typically very smooth and somewhat dry. Some Scotch afficionados prefer a more peaty or smoky profile and consider these Highland varieties to be an entry level whisky lacking complexity. I don’t care – I know what I like and it’s not an Islay Scotch full of smokiness.

The forecast calls for another hot day with a high of 95 degrees before it cools down to a more normal temperature in the mid-80s. I have a short list of things I want to get done before we move out of here. Donna’s main goal is getting her training rides in before she tackles the 411-mile ride across Iowa.

Back to South Dakota

We pulled out of the Broadus, Montana city park around 10am Sunday. Our route had us continue down US212 where we traversed the northeast corner of Wyoming before we reached South Dakota. We saw several antelope in the fields along the roadside this time – I expected to see them the day before but didn’t.

We drove through the town of Belle Fourche, South Dakota which has the distinction of being near the designated geographic center of the United States of America. This designation was  bestowed by the US Coast and Geodetic Survey in 1959 – after Alaska and Hawaii were admitted to the union. The geographic center of the 48 contiguous states is Lebanon, Kansas.

We drove through town on US 85 next to a truck pulling a fifth-wheel trailer which had a cargo trailer attached to it – you don’t see that very often! We turned southeast at SD34 while the trailer pulling a trailer went straight down US85. We hit I-90 at Whitewood west of Sturgis. A little while later, the trailer pulling a trailer passed us at about 70mph. He must have taken US85 due south and got on I-90 west of Spearfish. Ours was definitely the shorter, faster route.

We pulled into the Elks Lodge in Rapid City around 1:30pm. I parked in the front lot while we figured out how to set up. This is a very nice lodge – one of the largest and cleanest lodges we’ve visited. This is the first lodge we’ve been to where the bar is open to the public. This is due to the golf course on the lodge property which is also open to the public. The RV lot is for Elks members only.

We dropped the trailer in the main parking lot and backed the coach into site four. We have 50amp electric service and fresh water, no sewer hook up. We paid for four nights and shouldn’t have any worries about sewer. The 50 amp electric service was needed – we had to run the generator on the road to power the front roof air conditioner. Once hooked up, we ran both roof A/Cs – it was 100 degrees outside! The average high temperature in July for Rapid City is 85 degrees – we were in for a few days with highs above average.

We had a problem with one of the basement compartment doors over the last couple of days on the road. The door popped open a few times. I adjusted the plate the latch attaches to, but it still wasn’t very secure. On Monday, I found an Ace Hardware store and bought a flat brass bar one-inch wide. I had them cut a three-inch section. I glued this flat bar to the latch plate effectively extending the height of the plate. The door latches securely now and shouldn’t be a problem down the road. While I was out, I picked up a few groceries.

Meanwhile, Donna was out for a bike ride in the 90 degree heat. She planned a route looking at a map and headed out for a 24-mile ride. Little did she know her route included some steep climbs! She got through it though.

I went online Monday and found the local Department of Public Safety (DPS) licensing office. I found out they take appointments for driver’s license exams and renewals. Donna lost her driver’s license back in November in San Diego – she figures it must have slipped out of the slot in her purse when she pulled her cell phone out. I scheduled an appointment at the DPS office a few miles from the lodge for 10am Tuesday morning. They advise arriving 10 minutes prior to the appointment time.

We walked into the DPS office 12 minutes before 10am. They had a sign telling us to take a number after we completed the application paperwork. Donna had already completed the application so she took a number. Then I saw another sign telling us to notify a clerk if we had an appointment. Donna told a woman at the counter she had an appointment and gave her name. She was told that she would be next in line.

We sat down to wait and within two minutes Donna’s name was called. The woman at the counter entered Donna’s application in her computer terminal, took her photograph and printed her new driver’s license in less than ten minutes! I’ve never experienced such efficiency at a government agency.

We were back on the Spyder and on the road a couple of minutes past 10am. We headed up US16 and turned off at 16A. We were headed to Mount Rushmore. We visited the monument in 2013 when we first hit the road as full-timers (post).

Once we got through the tourist town of Keystone, we hit a traffic jam trying to enter the monument. There was a crew painting new road lettering and arrows and they had a lane closed. This confused the traffic as it was forced to converge into two lanes from three – the two lanes that are for entry to the monument. Through traffic had to go around the crew, then get out of the entry lane at the entrance and get back on the highway. We baked in the sun for 20 minutes trying to enter.

When we were here before, we paid the $10 fee to park and were planning to show our National Parks pass inside but there was no entrance fee. This time I showed my National Parks pass and was told the pass doesn’t do anything for me at the monument – everyone has to pay for a parking permit to enter the monument. So I paid $10 again. We walked through the monument viewing area. We both thought the famous sculptures looked like they had been cleaned since our last visit.

Donna in front of the state flags display

At the viewing pavillion

We didn’t stay long. We went back to Keystone for lunch at Peggy’s Cafe. We were disappointed in the food quality – not on our recommended list. I wanted to take the scenic drive down Needles Highway again but realized that would mean we had to fight our way through the traffic jam at the monument again.

I decided to ride the Spyder down 16A to SD87 and we could come up the Needles Highway from the bottom. This route took us through Custer State Park. At the park entrance there was a sign advising a fee for a park pass to use any of the parks facilities – through traffic on the highway didn’t need a pass. So I carried on without stopping.

At the turn-off to Needles Highway we were stopped and an agent told us we had to purchase a pass to enter the highway, even if we didn’t plan to stop. I didn’t recall paying anything four years ago when we drove down the highway. I paid $10 for a pass.

Needles Highway is very scenic – and it’s slow. The road is narrow and full of twists and turns. There are six tunnels – some a as narrow as eight feet seven inches. I don’t know how the tour buses which are eight feet six inches wide manage to get through, but they do.

I didn’t stop to take photos at the Cathedral Spires which are granite columns – needle like – towering along a section of road. I thought we would come back down the highway and I would get pictures then. We went all the way to Sylvan Lake before stopping to stretch our legs.

Sylvan Lake

We were hot and the route was longer than I anticipated. We didn’t have enough fuel to back-track down the highway. We cooled off in the shade and Donna even put her feet in the lake.

Donna cooling off in Sylvan Lake

We exited the highway at the top end and rode back to Rapid City. We had put in about 110 miles and spent four hours on the Spyder. We had enough sightseeing for one day – we were getting saddle sore.

We ended the day with grilled green chile turkey burgers cooked on the Weber Q for dinner and some leftover red potato salad.

Green chile turkey burger

I opened an IPA called Total Domination from Ninkasi Brewing in Eugene, Oregon.

Ninkasi Total Domination

We’re thinking about going to a barbeque and rodeo later today – it depends on the weather. For the last three days, a thunder shower developed in the late afternoon. Usually it blows through quickly but we had a considerable amount of rain along with high winds, thunder and lightning last night.

Tomorrow we’ll head east and probably make an overnight stop near Chamberlain before we check in for a week in Sioux Falls.

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.

Winthrop Discoveries

We did some sight seeing on Thursday afternoon. We rode the Spyder out East Chewuch Road past the Pearrygin Lake turn-off, then crossed over the river to West Chewuch Road. We continued north past Boulder Creek and Eightmile Creek until we found the aptly named Falls Creek.

Falls Creek flows from the west and empties into the Chewuch River. There’s a trailhead on the west side of the road north of the bridge over the creek. About a quarter mile up the trail there’s a waterfall. It’s an easy hike with the trail partially paved.

View of the falls from the trail

Here’s a closer view with spray hanging in the air

It was warm out – the temperature was in the upper 80s. Near the falls it was much cooler as spray from falls evaporated and cooled the air.

Falls Creek downstream of the waterfall

There’s another waterfall higher up trail, but you need to be prepared to scramble up a steep climb. We didn’t wear appropriate shoes for such a climb. We started up the trail but it was too steep and slippery, so we gave it up figuring it wasn’t worth risking a fall.

Later Donna prepared wild Alaskan sockeye salmon. She simply salted and peppered the filet, added sliced lemon and I grilled it on a cedar plank. The plank had been soaked in water for a couple of hours.

Cedar planked salmon

I grilled the salmon at about 350 degrees for 17 minutes or so – it reached an internal temperature of 130 degrees before I removed the fish from the plank.

Donna served it with grilled fresh garlic scapes and sauteed kale and garlic. It was a tasty dish.

Dinner is served

The evenings cool quickly and our picnic table in site 11 is shaded by a large tree – so we dined outdoors.

Friday was another warm day – upper 80s again. Once again we headed out on the Spyder leaving Pine Near RV Park around 11am. We headed southeast from town out Twin Lakes Road then west on Patterson Lake Road. Our destination was Sun Mountain Lodge – a resort overlooking the Methow Valley. The views are spectacular.

Lower Methow Valley from Sun Mountain Lodge

Upper Methow Valley from Sun Mountain Lodge – snow on the peak on the left

North end of Patterson Lake from Sun Mountain Lodge

We had lunch on the outdoor deck at the Wolf Creek Bar and Grill in the lodge. It was shaded and pleasant outside. The lodge has a great taxidermy display that came from the estate of a local resident after he passed away.

On the way back into the valley from the lodge we stopped at the Winthrop National Fish Hatchery.

We met a docent that gave us a tour and told us about the history of the place. He and his wife are full-time RVers and workcamp at the fishery. They work 20 hours a week – five four-hour days and live in their motorhome with full hookups at the hatchery for four months during the summer.

Click on the photos to enlarge and read the placards

This hatchery doesn’t allow as much access to the fish runs as the hatchery we visited in Branson, Missouri. It does have a viewing area where we saw large Chinook salmon that had returned to their birth place after a few years at sea. It’s amazing that they can make the 600-mile fresh water journey upstream to reach the hatchery from the Pacific Ocean. Over 1100 salmon returned in June. After the fish spawn, they are allocated to two Native American tribes in the area.

The tour included a cup of fish food for each of us to take to a holding pond where we fed the trout in the pond. There were some large trout along with hundreds of smaller fish.

After we returned, Donna braved the heat and went out on her bicycle – she put in 16 miles out Wolf Creek Road.

For dinner, Donna had marinated a pork tenderloin with her mojo marinade sauce. I grilled it along with two ears of corn on the cob still in the husks. I soaked the corn for about 20 minutes and removed the cornsilk before I put it on the grill. I grilled the pork tenderloin and corn for about 22 minutes at about 350 degrees – turning the tenderloin.

The grill thermometer is an upgrade from our old Weber Q – we love the Q2200

Donna fixed an Asian chopped salad for a side with the pork and corn.

Once again we dined outdoors in the shade.

Donna found pickleball in Winthrop! She found a schedule for open play at the skating rink where they play on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. Too bad we didn’t know earlier, we would’ve played. We had to settle for Saturday only.

The skating rink is an outdoor affair with a large, smooth and level concrete pad next to a large clubhouse. It has pickleball courts lined out for up to six courts. We assumed it was an indoor rink and didn’t know until we arrived and saw the nets being set up outside. We climbed back on the Spyder and made a quick run home for hats and sunglasses.

They had three courts set up when we returned a few minutes after 9am. The fee for drop-in play was $3/person. We met some really nice people and played until noon. Now we know – next time we’re here I’ll play as much as possible.

The Pine Near RV Park is filled to capacity with people enjoying a four-day holiday weekend. There are more families with kids than I’ve ever seen here. It’s a little rambunctious in the evenings. It gets dark so late that the kids are still running around after 10pm. By 11pm the park is quiet though.

Today I’ll start prepping for the road. We’ll pull out of here tomorrow and head east to Coeur d’Alene where we’re hoping to find a spot at the Elks Lodge. They don’t take reservations so we have a back-up plan as well.