Monthly Archives: August 2018

Speedco Not So Speedy

We extended our stay at the Boulder County Fairgrounds in Longmont, Colorado by two days – giving us a full week there. It wasn’t that we had any great plans, it was more a case of we needed time to plan. We had a look at route options, things to see and do and also find some opportunities to boondock along the way.

That’s one of the nice aspects of life on the road – you can adjust your variable expenses along the way. Our spring trek from Arizona across the country to Maine and back again to San Diego by the end of September means we’ve had higher than average fuel expenses. One way to offset that is to find free or nearly free campsites. Conversely, when we’re in San Diego we pay high campsite fees to be in the location we want to be in, but we’re stationary for a few months and don’t have fuel costs.

I mentioned Donna following the Bright Line Eating plan, so we didn’t go out to eat at all. The plan is working for her and I encourage her to stick with it. But, that doesn’t mean I’ll forgo some snacks or happy hour! Last week we stopped at a nearby taproom that was unique. I went there again Wednesday afternoon. It’s called Brewmented and it’s not your usual small craft brewery. Their core business is homebrew supply. They have everything you need to brew your own. They also serve beer they’ve made in small batches – they use a one-barrel system so they can only brew about 30 gallons per batch. They constantly rotate their beers so you never know what you might find on tap. Typically they have six to eight brews available on tap.

Donna’s eating plan doesn’t mean she can’t put tasty meals on the table. Tuesday she had the slow cooker going all day and made a pot of beef and bean chili. It was delicious.

Beef and bean chili

I made a second trip to the laundromat on Wednesday. We’ve been without a sewer hook-up since we left Sioux Falls, so we don’t use the clothes washer on board – it would use too much water and fill the gray tank. I know I’ve said it before – Donna says there’s nothing sexier than a man doing dishes. I wonder how she feels about a man doing the laundry. (Donna here: It’s even sexier!)

We had a plan when we pulled out on Thursday. First I stopped at the fairgrounds dump station and dumped and flushed out holding tanks. I had already filled our fresh water at our site. We drove to the Elks Lodge in Northglenn – a Denver suburb. We planned to drop the trailer there, then proceed to Speedco in Commerce City about 10 miles away. The Northglenn Elks Lodge has eight sites with water and electricity. I looked at it online and the satellite view looked good.

When we pulled in, it turned out to be not so good. The parking lot was packed – every space had a car in it. As we drove through, I noticed the windshields of all of the cars had writing on them. It appeared that the Elks Lodge lot was being used as an impound yard.When I got to the end of the lot, I had a problem. There was a tall, large-diameter metal pole on my right and I needed to make a sharp right turn to exit. The exit lane was narrow and had a cement barrier. There was no way I could make the turn without either hitting the pole with the trailer or hitting the barrier with the coach.

I had to reverse across the entire length of the lot between the rows of impounded cars, then I backed the trailer around a corner and had a straight shot back onto the street. Then I had another issue – the driveway sloped to the gutter and the trailer jack dragged as we crossed into the street. Grrr!

We continued down the road to Speedco. I dropped the trailer in their lot and we had the coach in the lube bay by 12:15pm. I needed to have it serviced. I was concerned about the condition of our motor oil. On long climbs where the oil temperature rises, we’ve been experiencing lower than usual oil pressure. I was thinking that the overheating problem we had in New York might have oxidized the oil and resulted in breakdown of the oil.

I’ve used Speedco since we bought our Alpine Coach. A few years ago, I could get the oil and filter changed, plus fuel filter and chassis lube for under $200. Then last year they raised their prices and it cost me about $250. Then Love’s Travel Center bought Speedco. This may have been a good acquisition for Love’s, but it’s not so good for customers. There were only three or four guys working in the lube area. All three bays had vehicles in them and there were at least four heavy duty trucks waiting to get in. No one touched our coach for the first twenty minutes. Then a guy in the pit below removed the oil drain plug and also took an oil sample – I’d ordered a used oil analysis. The the guy disappeared and no one touched the coach for next 20 or 30 minutes.

I couldn’t understand it. I talked to a trucker who told me he’s been getting his truck serviced here for years. He said it used to be great – good service and in and out quick. He said they had experienced crews manning each bay. When Love’s took over, they reduced employee benefits, took away accrued vacation time and reduced pay. Everyone quit. Now they have an inexperienced crew, low morale and no one is motivated. It took over two hours for them to change my oil and lube the chassis – usually about a 30- to 45-minute job. The cashier was a rude and surly woman. And the cost was $340! I think I’ll need to find an alternative in the future.

My used oil analysis confirmed my fears. Oxidation was high but a few of the other findings have me perplexed as they seem contradictory. I’ll have to study it a bit more before I can draw any conclusions.

It was close to 3pm by the time we got out of there. The trucker gave me a tip on the best route south out of the Denver area. We went east to I-225 and followed it south past Cherry Creek Reservoir where we picked up I-25. This cut out a lot of the city traffic, but we still had periods of stop-and-go. I-25 was no picnic at that time of day with unexplained slow downs.

We crossed Monument Hill at an elevation of 7,300 feet above sea level and dropped into Colorado Springs. We pulled into the Elks Lodge here around 4:30pm. We’re dry camped in their lot along with three or four other rigs. Their water and electric sites are all taken.

We met up with our friends Dave and Stilla Hobden. They’ve been here for the summer in their Alpine Coach. We got together for happy hour in the lodge. It turned into dinner, then after dinner drinks with cigars for Dave and me. It great to catch up with them. They’ll be here for a another month or so. We plan to stay over the weekend, then head out.

The forecast calls for mostly cloudy skies, warm today with the temperature reaching the low 80s – mid 70s for the rest of the weekend. We’re at an elevation of a little over 6,100 feet on the eastern edge of the Rocky Mountains. Weather here can change quickly and there’s always the chance of afternoon thunderstorms.

Fairground Events

While we were dry camping at Sierra Trading Post (STP) in Cheyenne, I saw something interesting. Around 7pm, a UPS tractor-trailer rig with a long trailer pulled into the STP lot. It had an additional fifth-wheel plate mounted on a dual wheel tow bar trailing behind it. The driver dropped the trailer and left. Minutes later another UPS tractor trailer rig with a shorter pup-trailer pulled in. The driver dropped the pup trailer, then disconnected the trailing fifth wheel from the first trailer and moved it to the front of the pup trailer. Then he hooked up to the long trailer and left. A little while later, a third UPS tractor-trailer pulled in with a long trailer. He hooked the pup trailer to the back of the long trailer and pulled out towing a double combination rig. This performance was repeated in exactly the same sequence the following night.

Apparently, UPS used the STP lot as a staging/transfer station. It reminded me of the time we were in Alamogordo dry camping in an abandoned shopping plaza and FedEx trucks converged there to redistribute their packages. I guess UPS and FedEx can’t have dedicated facilities everywhere they need to transfer freight, so they make do with what’s available in the area.

When we left Cheyenne, we saw on Facebook that our friends Charlie and Sheila Pennington were in the area. They stayed at a campground south of town off of I-25. They were probably within 10 miles of us – too bad we didn’t know. It would have been fun to see them again – we met them in Rapid City our first year on the road.

I mentioned the Bright Line Eating plan that Donna’s on. It involves consuming a lot of vegetables and I don’t always eat the same meals as she does. But sometimes it works out and we have the same thing, just in different proportions. On Friday night, Donna made ginger-carrot soup and grilled wild coho salmon, bok choy and shishito peppers. Yummy!

Ginger-carrot soup with unsweetened coconut milk

Grilled salmon, bok choy and shishito peppers

On Saturdays, they have the Longmont farmers’ market here at the Boulder County Fairgrounds from 8am to 1pm. We walked over to see what it was all about. It was a fairly large market with dozens of vendors – local produce, meats and crafts along with food trucks. As usual, live music was presented with a bluegrass band playing while we were there.

Bluegrass at the farmers’ market

Walking over there, we passed a pond. There was a platform with a large osprey nest. The osprey was in the nest but jumped out and stood on the edge of the platform before I took a photo. It’s hard to see the bird, but the nest was huge.

Osprey nest on platform at the pond

After we shopped and bought a few fresh veggies, we headed back through the fairgrounds and stopped at the indoor arena. A horse show was taking place over the weekend – much like the one we saw in Springfield, Illinois but on a smaller scale. It was cool in the arena and felt nice to get out of the sun.

This girl competed in the nine and under category

Saturday night Donna made green chile turkey burgers and served it with fresh corn on the cob we bought at the farmers’ market along with grilled zucchini sprinkled with lemon salt. I had my burger with avocado on a ciabatta roll – Donna opted out of the bread.

Green chile turkey burger with veggies

Sunday morning the Moto GP race from Silverstone, England was cancelled due to standing water on the track. I watched the Formula One Belgian Grand Prix instead and it was a good one. This is the first time Moto GP has cancelled an event since 1980.

It’s been hot out with afternoon temperatures reaching the low to mid 90s. We’ve also had periods of gusty wind. We run the air conditioners from late morning until evening. With the interior temperature of the coach on the cool side, Ozark the cat likes to lay in the sun on the dashboard. She stretches out on her back and from the outside, she looks like a dead kitty.

Ozark the cat lying in the sun

Stretching out

As usual we witnessed the Monday morning exodus. The weekend warrior campers pulled out en mass.

The temperature should reach the low 90s again today with wind gusts up to 35 mph here and up to 50 mph in the mountains. A cold front is forecast to move in overnight and the temperature will be much cooler tomorrow – the high is predicted to be 75 degrees.  Last night we had a passing shower and gusty winds. We plan to extend our stay here until Thursday.




A Curious Thing

We left the Lusk Elks Lodge Tuesday morning around 11am. Before we pulled out, I walked to the Subway sandwich shop on the corner of Main Street. I took a sandwich with me for lunch on the road and we headed south on US85. This highway has light traffic and a smooth surface. It runs south through large cattle ranches. In much of Wyoming, you’re likely to see more antelope than people – as my buddy Jimbo would say, “That ain’t a bad thing.”

Our route took us through Torrington, one of the larger towns in the area with a population of 6,700. As we headed back into ranch land, a curious thing happened. We were in one those areas with little traffic and few people when two motorcycles approached in the oncoming lane. The lead motorcyclist raised his arm and gave a wave as they passed. I wasn’t sure what that was all about.

A few minutes later, my cell phone rang, but Donna couldn’t pick up the call – we had spotty cell service. About 20 minutes later, I stopped in a rest area so Donna could make a salad for her lunch. I checked my voicemail and had a message. It was from my friend and fellow Alpine Coach owner Dave Hobden. He was the motorcyclist waving at me on US85! I could hardly believe it – here we were in a remote area of eastern Wyoming and we pass each other like two ships in the night. He said he recognized our rig from a quarter mile away. He was on a road trip to Rapid City with a friend.

Eventually, US85 bends to the southwest. It was windy – the wind was coming from the southeast so we had a crosswind. It was a steady 20+ mph breeze so it wasn’t too hard to handle. Gusty winds can be a handful, but this was okay. We hit I-25 south and drove a few miles to I-90 east and found our way to Sierra Trading Post on Campstool Road. Sierra Trading Post has a large facility here – it houses their headquarters and fulfillment warehouse as well as a retail store. They have a marked RV and truck parking area with stalls about 90 feet long and they welcome RVers. This was our destination for the day.

We set up in their lot and Donna went shopping. She can spend hours in their store browsing through clothing and trying on clothes, especially when they’re having their annual summer clearance sale! She also checked us in at the fulfillment center – they like to know who’s in their lot and keep contact info. We were the only rig in the RV/truck area. A guy stopped by and talked to me. He was a former full-time RVer and is planning to get back on the road soon. He and his wife had to get off the road after five years to attend to her fathers health issues, but he said they weren’t ready to stop traveling yet. It turned out he was the fulfillment center manager and he told me we were welcome to stay as long as we wanted.

Later, a couple of other rigs pulled in to shop and spend the night. We had a quiet and uneventful night. On Wednesday, I shopped in the retail store and bought lunch at their counter – it’s mainly for employees but they serve the public as well. Most of the cars parked in the two lots are employee vehicles – I don’t know the number, but a lot of people work at the headquarters and warehouse.

We decided to hang out and spend another night. Thursday morning the weather forecast called for a cold front to move into the area and bring high winds – gusts up 50 mph possible by afternoon. I dumped and flushed our tanks at the Sierra Trading Post dump station and we headed out by 9:30am to beat the wind. I had talked to a trucker the night before and he strongly recommended staying on US85 and avoiding I-25. He said due to some construction and low speeds in a couple of towns, the trip might take 15 minutes longer, but he said I-25 was a crap shoot once you get past Loveland. Wrecks, distracted drivers making crazy maneuvers and whatnot were a constant on I-25. We followed his advice after topping up on diesel fuel at the Pilot/Flying J down the road from Sierra Trading Post.

We pulled into the Boulder County Fairgrounds in Longmont, Colorado before noon. We were happy to find open pullthrough sites. They don’t take reservations here – all sites are first-come-first-served and they only have eight pullthrough sites. I paid for five nights but we may extend. We have 50 amp electrical service and fresh water, but no sewer. They have a dump station that we’ll use when we’re ready to leave.

After setting up, I got our DISH satellite dialed in – there is a Moto GP race this weekend and also a Formula One race. I set up the Weber Q grill and Donna took over. She’s becoming quite the grill master. She cooked herbed bone-in chicken thighs and also grilled patty pan squash with onions and peppers. She served it with steamed spinach. Donna’s following a strict diet called Bright Line Eating – so we don’t always have the same meals together. Last night it worked out fine though and the dinner was delicious.

Grilled bone-in chicken thigh, grilled veggies with feta cheese and steamed spinach

High barometric pressure has moved into the area. We can expect mostly clear skies and temperatures reaching 90 degrees. The humidity is low – in the teens. There is some haze over the mountains to the west, but the reports of smoke from wildfires in the west seem to be exaggerated a bit. Typically at this time of year, a passing afternoon/evening shower comes from the mountains in this area, but nothing remarkable is in the forecast.

Deadwood, Spearfish and Lusk

I wrote my last post from the Elks Lodge in Rapid City on Thursday. That night, our friends Mark and Emily Fagan (RoadsLessTraveled) stopped by with their dog, Buddy. We met Mark and Emily five years ago when we were in our first year of full-timing. Since then, our paths have crossed several times and now they’re in Rapid City at the America’s Mailbox campground nearby. The last time we got together was in Mesa, Arizona last March.

Buddy the dog was uncomfortable with Ozark the cat. So we sat outside and talked for a couple of hours. It’s always great to meet up with friends on the road and catch up on things.

On Friday Donna and I had appointments at the driver’s licensing office nearby. We could’ve changed our information online by scanning a form they gave at our new mail service (Your Best Address), but if we wanted the correct address to appear on our actual license we had to go to the office. This entailed a new application and a $15 fee. I had just paid and renewed my license in June, but there wasn’t any way around it. We paid up and walked out with new driver’s licenses in about 10 minutes.

Saturday morning we heard a lot of activity early – before 7am. The Rapid City Elks Lodge is unique in that it has an 18-hole golf course on the property that’s open to the public. Their restaurant and bar is also open to the public. I haven’t been to any other Elks Lodge that allows the public to have access to the bar unless accompanied by a member in good standing. Anyway, it turned out there was golf tournament there Saturday morning. They were setting up and some foursomes had early tee times.

The parking lot was filling up. I went to our trailer and put traffic cones in the spaces in front of it – if someone parked in front of the trailer, we wouldn’t be able to hook up. We were packed up and hooked up the trailer with no problem by 11am.

We’ve been re-watching the HBO series, Deadwood. This series is set in the town of Deadwood, South Dakota in the 1870s. Some of the characters actually existed – Seth Bullock was the sheriff, Sol Star was his partner in a hardware store, Al Swearingen owned the Gem saloon and casino. But other than that, the account is fictional and greatly embellished. We enjoy watching it and are on the third and final season.

We decided it would be fun to spend a day in Deadwood. I found a likely boondocking spot on Google Earth about six miles from Deadwood outside the Black Hills National Forest on Rochford Road. It was about a 50-mile drive, mostly uphill. We found the spot and it was a huge gravel parking area that was fairly level at one end. No other vehicles were there and no signs were posted. We set up and prepared to get the Spyder out to head back into town. We were at an elevation near 6,000 feet above sea level – our GPS showed 5,965.

At the back of the trailer, I looked at the sky to the southeast. It looked ominous. I checked the Radar Express app and saw we were about to get hit with a thunderstorm. We didn’t unload the Spyder and went back inside instead. About 20 minutes later, the skies opened up and it poured rain. It rained off and on the rest of the afternoon with a few bouts of pea-sized hail. We managed to get outside for a couple of short walks, but it was raining too hard most of the time to do anything. So much for our tour of Deadwood.

On Sunday morning, it looked like wind and rain would continue. We decided to head over to Spearfish. Mark had told me about the Walmart there and said it was a great spot to dry camp overnight. We drove down through the scenic Spearfish Canyon. A marathon event was being held, but lucky for us the runners were in the opposite lane from us going downhill. We dropped about 2,000 feet of elevation and found the Walmart at an elevation of 3,900 feet above sea level. We shopped a bit and hung out while the clouds slowly cleared. About half a dozen RVs overnighted there.

We were in no hurry to leave, so on Sunday morning, we got the Spyder out – it was finally dry outside. We rode into the historic downtown area and parked. We stopped at the visitor center, then took a walk and had a look around. We were mostly reconnoitering for future reference – we think we would like to spend some time here next year.

Centered on Main Street is the Matthews Opera House and Arts Center. This building dates back to 1906. Currently the Opera House hosts live music of all genres, an art gallery and theater.

Matthews Opera House and Art Center

After walking around, we rode the Spyder to the D. C. Booth Historic National Fish Hatchery. This hatchery was created in 1896 and is located on a beautiful park-like property. They had an underground fish viewing window in a pond where they keep adult fish for educational purposes. These were some of the largest trout I’ve ever seen at any hatchery. We were told some of the fish in the pond were 10 to 12 years old.

Fish viewing

The ponds and raceways are fed with fresh water from the Spearfish Creek which runs adjacent to the property. They had a fish car – a rail car that was used to transport fish across the country for broodstock and for stocking streams and lakes. They would load the car with large stainless steel milk jugs full of fingerlings in fresh water. The fish cars were in use until the late 1930s when trucks took over.

Fish car

We left Spearfish just before noon. Our route took us west into Wyoming on I-90 to Sundance where we left the Interstate and headed south on WY585 to US85. The road surface was smooth and traffic very light on this scenic byway. We drove through cattle ranch land and spotted dozens of antelope along the way. We pulled into the town of Lusk – population about 1,600 – around 3pm and found the Elks Lodge. We’re back up to 5,000 feet above sea level.

The Elks Lodge here is a brick building erected in 1910 that originally served as the high school. Their parking lot is fairly large and level and they welcome Elks members to dry camp. When we pulled in, I saw someone at the front door. I went over to ask about parking and he told me to pick anywhere I wanted. The lodge is only open on Thursday, Friday and Saturday so we had the place to ourselves.

We got the coach and trailer lined up in a level spot and set up. Then we took a walk back into town and found the Stagecoach Museum. The Stagecoach Museum name is a bit of a misnomer as it contains much more than stage coaches. It is a collection of Old West and Wyoming memorabilia.

Much of the stage coach material revolves around the Cheyenne Black Hills Stage and Express Line owned by Russell Thorp. The stage ran a distance of 320 miles from Cheyenne, Wyoming to Deadwood, South Dakota. It started operating in 1876 and was owned by F. D. Yates. Later, Russell Thorp Sr. bought the line. It was interesting to read about the stage and I’ve included a photo with a letter describing the operation from Russell Thorp’s son – click to enlarge and read.

Cheyenne Black Hills stage coach

They had first class?

They also had some oddities on display. For example, fossil remains of a triceratops dinosaur found in Wyoming and a two-headed calf born in the area in 1942.

The wind picked up in the evening and we had gusts up to 30 mph overnight. Today is windy with thunderstorms moving in this afternoon. I have a theory that all of the smoke from the wildfires out west are collecting moisture in the particulates – like seeding clouds – and the result is higher than normal rainfall across the area. We’re going to move on to Cheyenne and hope it isn’t too windy or stormy.




90,000 Miles and Another Time Zone

I wrote my last post Tuesday morning. Then I walked to Hardee’s – about a block and a half away – for an order of biscuits and gravy. Before I knew it, the morning was getting away from me. Check-out time at Tower Campground is 11am and it was time for us to leave Sioux Falls. I had packed most of the things in the trailer the day before, but I still had a few things out. I also needed to dump and flush our holding tanks before I brought the slides in and the jacks up.

When we dropped the trailer in our site, I was able to back it in from the left and work it past a tree. Getting it out was going to be problematic. I had the trailer far enough back into the site that the wheels were well past the tree. Before I could turn the trailer left, I would have to have to get the wheels past the tree or else the trailer would clip the tree. There wasn’t much room – the road wasn’t wide enough to bring the coach straight back to the trailer.

Tree next to the trailer

Someone had left a car illegally parked beside the road on the right, making an approach from that direction difficult, but it was the only way out. I angled the coach back to the trailer tongue as best I could – it was nearly in a jack-knife position. It worked out though and we loaded the Spyder and left the park right at 11am.

I opted to head west on 12th Street which became highway 42. Instead of droning across I-90, I thought a drive through farm country would be nicer and we only had about a three-hour drive ahead of us. I had to make a jog south to Parker and pick up SD44 west. This took us through farm after farm until we hit SD45 north and found Kimball. We left the storm clouds behind us. Ditty’s Diner is off of I-90 at exit 284. It’s a small truck stop, diner and bar with a large, fairly level dirt lot. Our destination was Rapid City, but I didn’t want to do the 360-mile run in one shot. Ditty’s was a convenient overnight stop.

The only problem at Ditty’s was the dry and dusty lot. Trucks pulling in kicked up a lot of dust. We closed all of our windows and ran the air conditioner off of the generator. Our stay was uneventful and it was surprisingly quiet all night.

Wednesday morning Donna and I had breakfast in the diner then got back on the road around 9am. It was foggy out, but visibility wasn’t too bad. About 20 miles west on I-90, Nally – our RV specific Rand-McNally GPS – announced “Steep downgrade ahead.” At first I was puzzled, then I remembered, we were about to drop down and cross the Missouri River. Once we crossed the wide Missouri, I felt like we were officially in the west. I wrote about our first crossing here in our motorhome in this post.

Once we climbed out of the Missiouri River Valley, the terrain immediately changed. It was hilly and there were mountains in the distance. The corn and soy bean fields gave way to large cattle ranches with a few feed corn fields and canola. It began to rain. We stopped at the Pilot/ Flying J Travel Center in Murdo and filled up with 80 gallons of diesel. I’m happy to get away from the biodiesel B20 that we had to use in Indiana, Iowa and eastern South Dakota. In the western half of the state they pump 100% petroleum-based diesel fuel. B20 is 20% bio-mass-based fuel made from vegetable oils blended with petroleum diesel.

I’m not a fan of biodiesel fuel. Low percentages have their pluses – it adds lubricity to the otherwise dry diesel fuel since sulfur content was reduced to 15ppm. Diesel fuel had good lubricating properties when higher sulfur content was allowed. B2 or B5 adds lubricity without all of the drawbacks of B20. The B20 fuel has lower energy density than petroleum-based diesel fuel, so fuel mileage suffers. The vegetable oil isn’t as stable as petroleum-based fuel – diesel fuel can be stored for long periods of time without deteriorating as long as it isn’t exposed to moisture but the vegetable component will break down relatively quickly – maybe after a few months.

At mile marker 175, we entered the Mountain Time Zone and gained an hour. Shortly after that, we broke free of the cloud cover and rain. We hit another milestone as well – our odometer turned over 90,000 miles on our Alpine Coach. We paid for three nights at the Elks Lodge in Rapid City. I dropped the trailer in their parking lot and we set up in site 8. They have 10 sites with 50-amp electrical service and water – no sewer. We have appointments on Friday to update our driver’s licenses with our new address. Other than that, we plan to relax and do a little shopping.

We’re at an elevation of 3,200 feet above sea level here. I think it’s the first time we’ve stayed overnight higher than around 1,500 feet above sea level since leaving New Mexico last April. The forecast calls for daily highs in the mid-80s and we may see rain Friday night before we leave on Saturday. I think we’ve had more rainy days this summer than any of the previous five summers we’ve spent on the road.


Our New Hometown

In my post last Thursday, I said I was looking forward to some relaxation. I mostly got my wish, but there were a few things that needed to be done. A change of address isn’t as simple as it sounds. There were several notifications that had to be made – financial institutions, insurance companies, pharmacy, vehicle registration and driver’s license, voter registration – I’m still coming up with things.

I also had a couple of small projects to tackle. Just before we arrived here in Siuox Falls, I was driving up I-29 with the cruise control set. As we neared the city and traffic volume increased, I tapped the brake pedal to cancel the cruise control – this usually works best as I can then press the resume button if I want to go back to cruise control without having to reset it. This time the brake pedal didn’t cancel the cruise control and I had to turn it off with the button on the steering wheel. I made a mental note to check it out after we settled in.

When I was dropping the trailer in our site, I set the engine speed to high idle. I did this by simultaneously pressing the cruise control “on” button and the “set” button. This increases the idle speed to about 1,000 rpm and keeps heat in the combustion chambers. Idling a big diesel slowly for extended periods can allow the cylinders to cool too much and unburned fuel can collect on the cylinder walls – eventually it’ll make its way past the piston rings and dilute the oil in the crankcase. Stepping on the brake pedal drops the engine speed back to the normal idle speed – around 650 rpm. Except this time it didn’t. I dropped the idle speed with idle control rocker switch and parked the coach. I had Donna check the brake lights – as I suspected, the brake lights weren’t working.

The control module for the cruise control receives a signal from the brake light switch. When you press the brake pedal, the brake light switch closes and activates the brake lights. I thought the brake light switch on our coach was probably a pressure switch hydraulically actuated by the master cylinder. I was surprised when I crawled under the coach on Thursday to find it wasn’t so, it was a simple, spring-loaded mechanical switch on the brake lever arm. The brake pedal is attached to a lever arm that’s shaped somewhat like a boomerang. The center of the arm is mounted to a pivot point and the other end of the arm is attached to the master cylinder pushrod. A switch is mounted against the lower portion of the arm – with the brake pedal in the normal (not on) position, the arm presses against the switch and opens it. When you step on the brake pedal, the arm moves away from the spring-loaded switch and it closes, completing the electrical circuit to the brake lights and sending a signal to the cruise control module.

Brake light switch

I had Donna step on the brake while I observed the switch, It was stuck in the open position. I pulled it closed and it started working again. I sprayed some WD40 on the switch rod and had her work the pedal a few times. All was good, job done.

Friday Donna rode her bike on the bike path. The paved path is only about half a mile from Tower Campground and runs along the Big Sioux River. It was hot out – the thermometer hit 86 degrees with high humidity. I mostly puttered around and relaxed with a book. In the afternoon we rode the Spyder to another local brewery – Granite City Food and Brewery. The place has a good reputation, but I found the beers to be average at best. I think they’re known more for the food they serve.

Speaking of food, later Donna fixed shrimp fennel and feta which she served over rotini. Yum!

Shrimp with fennel and feta over rotini

My friend David Hobden bought a new motorcycle and I’ve been following a road trip he’s on with his motorcycling buddy. Dave got a 2017 Indian – I think it’s the Chieftain model. They rode from Colorado Springs, Colorado down to Louisiana. The other day I saw a guy here in the park with an Indian Roadmaster. I talked to him for a bit and found out that the rights to the Indian name were obtained by Polaris and they have been building Indian Motorcycles since 2014. The Indian name was used by a few different manufacturers in the ’90s and early 2000s – some of them weren’t very well-engineered motorcycles.

Polaris made Victory motorcycles and their engineering is proven. The new Indians look like a great motorcycle, worthy of the name. The original Indian Motorcycle company made great bikes from 1901 to 1953. Interestingly, another guy here at the RV park has an antique Indian that he rides almost every day. One evening Donna and I walked down to his site and checked it out. It was a 1946 model. I’ve ridden motorcycles since I was a kid, but I don’t know if I could handle this one. The throttle is on the left grip, not the right. That’s because you need your right hand to grab the shift lever next to the fuel tank to shift gears while working the throttle with your left hand and the clutch with your left foot!

1946 Indian

Shift lever and knob next to the fuel tank

Saturday I set up the Traeger wood pellet fired smoker grill and prepared a rack of baby back ribs. That was my big project for the day! The temperature reached the upper 80s and I mostly stayed cool and read a book. Donna has been braving the heat and either walking the river trail or biking every day. I read two books over the weekend and watched the Moto GP race from Austria on Sunday. I got ambitious in the early afternoon and cleaned the Traeger and the Weber Q and relined them with aluminum foil.

Saturday evening Donna and rode I the Spyder to the fairgrounds and went to the PRCA rodeo. We enjoy rodeos – it’s an All-American experience although several Brazilian cowboys are on the professional circuit nowadays.

Monday I started packing and organizing the trailer. I had one more project – it was time to service the Spyder. Nothing is easy on the Spyder. You have to remove body panels – the tupperware – to get to anything. Then the engineers have packaged everything so tightly that the simplest tasks are a struggle. For example, the oil filter element is housed under a metal cap on the left side of the crankcase. The cap is held in place by two cap screws. Fine, except they routed the shift linkage and an oil line right in front of the cap. The lower screw cannot even be seen. I removed and installed it by feel only and had to wiggle the filter element out past the obstructions. Oh well, it’s a once-a-year task and I got it done.

Today we’ll be pulling out of here. I think we’ll dry camp overnight at Ditty’s Diner in Kimball as we head west. We already checked and they allow overnight parking in the large lot by the diner. Rain is forecast to move in from the east early this afternoon. Hopefully we’ll outrun it as we move west.


Mister, Can You Help Me?

Sunday was our last night at Griff’s Valley View RV Park. We really liked this place – it’s right on the bike trail, clean and well-maintained and did I mention quiet?  Donna seared a flank steak in a cast iron pan on our induction cooktop. She sauteed fresh green beans and cherry tomatoes that we bought at the farmers’ market the day before. She served the flank steak with pan gravy over mashed sweet potato and it was a winner!

Seared flank steak

After dinner, I put away our chairs – I had already packed the Weber Q grill and Donna’s bike in the trailer. I checked the lug nuts on the trailer wheels with a torque wrench – they were fine. For the first few thousand miles, the trailer lug nuts needed to be tightened periodically. Now they seem to have settled in.

A thunderstorm passed through in the wee hours of the morning. By the time we were up and had breakfast, it was drying outside. Donna went out for a morning run and we showered before hitting the road at a leisurely 10:45am.  We had a couple of possibilities in mind for an overnight stay on our way to Sioux Falls, South Dakota. Our route took us up I-35 about 20 miles before we turned west on US30 through Ames.

We decided we would head to Spencer and dry camp at the Walmart there. We stayed in Spencer last year when Donna rode across Iowa in the RAGBRAI event. Our route took us northwest toward Spencer in a stair-step fashion along divided US highways and two-lane county roads. It was all farmland. It’s amazing to me to see nothing but corn or soy beans for mile after mile. The terrain in Iowa isn’t as flat as you might think. There are gently rolling hills.

At the junction of IA3 and US71, traffic came to a stop. When I say traffic I mean all eight cars on the highway – there isn’t a lot of traffic through central Iowa farmland. The hold up was due to an oversize load on three trucks trying to negotiate the 90-degree turn. Once the trucks and escort vehicles got through the turn, they pulled off to the shoulder to allow the cars and trucks they held up to pass.

Once we were in Spencer, we made a right turn and headed east on 11th Street – which is still US71 – and found Walmart. We parked in the northwest corner at a level spot. Once I had us set up, I saw a commotion down the road where we made the turn. It was the oversize truck convoy coming through. Once again, after they made the 90 degree turn, they pulled into the center turning lanes and waited for traffic to clear before moving on.

The three trucks were hauling wind turbine blades. These long composite blades were probably for a GE 2-2.5 Mega-Watt wind turbine – it’s the most common in the US. The turbine utilizes three blades to power the generator as the blades are spun by the wind. The blades for a GE 2 – 2.5 MW turbine are 116 feet long. I don’t know how they got the trucks and trailers through 90-degree turns! I shot a couple of pictures as they drove past.

Wind turbine blade

Wind turbines use three blades because it’s the best compromise when you factor in efficiency, balance and tip speed. I never thought about how they get the blades to the site before.

We had a quiet night although once again, a thunderstorm passed through in the night. It was dry in the morning and we took our time getting ready for the road. Donna took a walk to a nearby park for exercise before we left.

As we drove through old downtown Spencer, Donna recalled riding through it last year. We stayed on US71 to the junction with US18 which took us west. I recognized a lot of this road – this was the route – in the opposite direction – we took to get to Spencer last year.

US18 took us through Canton, South Dakota. When I was a kid, I visited Canton in the summer of 1965 to stay with my great-uncle Ed. Ed and his wife Sadie lived in Canton where he was the county sheriff. I stayed with them for a week after spending a week at a cousin’s farm near Lennox.

We pulled into the Tower Campground around 12:30pm and were assigned site 207. The back-in site is paved and has a pad for a vehicle. We dropped the trailer without too much difficulty although we had to maneuver within inches of a tree. We were all settled in and relaxing by 2pm.

Strange reflections on our coach in site 207

The back-in sites here align with the site directly behind putting the back of our coach a few feet from the back of the coach behind us. We have a nice grassy area with a picnic table. We’re booked here for a week.

Donna prepared something new to us for dinner. She made blackened catfish and served it with green lemon rice.

Blackened catfish with lemon rice

We’re re-watching the HBO series Deadwood and sat through a couple of episodes before heading to bed. Lying in bed, we could hear voices from our neighbor. A group of people were sitting outside talking over each and telling tales. Some of them must have been funny, because the group would roar with laughter. By 11:30pm, I’d heard enough. The campground rule is quiet time after 10pm.

I went outside and found six or seven women sitting around a campfire in the site behind us. They must have thought they were alone in the woods or something. I asked them if they knew what time it was. One of them actually looked at her watch. I reminded them that quiet time was 10pm to 7am. One woman said, “We’re just sitting at the fire next to my coach.” I told her they were sitting at a fire 20 feet from my bedroom and needed to quiet down. Things like this happen sometimes in RV parks – people forget about neighbors and think they’re camped out when in reality they’re in a high-density area. Hopefully it won’t happen again.

Wednesday morning I was up early to shower and have a cup of coffee before I headed out to the Avera Healthcenter for my annual check-up. We have health insurance through Avera and it covers an annual physical here in South Dakota. That was the main reason for our stop here. Donna had three appointments for the day – the first one at a hair salon, followed by a mammogram and a visit to her doctor.

We worked out a plan where she walked 2 1/2 miles to the hair salon, then I rode the Spyder there to pick her up at 1pm to take her to the doctor about six miles away. I got to the hair salon a little early and was standing by the Spyder when an Asian women from the nail salon next door called out to me and asked if I would help her. She waved at me to follow her – I shrugged my shoulders and followed her into the nail salon.

She told me in broken English that she needed help putting up nail polish display racks and handed me a cordless drill and a handful of screws. I installed four racks for her and she offered me a pedicure. I declined as Donna would be ready to go any minute. It all seemed a little bizarre, but it made the wait interesting.

Donna had two appointments at facilities about a mile apart from each other. I dropped her off at the first place, then she walked to the second appointment and I planned to pick her up there around 3:45pm. Again, I arrived a little early, but I brought a book with me to fill the time. It’s a good thing I did – the doctor was running late and Donna hadn’t even got in for her 3 o’clock appointment when I arrived!

We were on our way 45 minutes later and stopped at Hydra Beer Company – a local brewery and tasting room – for a cold one. They have some good ales made onsite in their 10-barrel system. It was a good way to cap off a busy day.

We grilled green chile turkey burgers for dinner before watching a couple more episodes of Deadwood and then hit the sack. Thankfully it was quiet last night and I slept well – I needed it. Donna had to go out for one more appointment this morning for a fasting blood draw, then we can relax. The forecasts calls for sunny skies and upper 80s for the next week. I have a couple of projects in mind and we’ll go to the rodeo on Saturday. Other than that, I’m looking forward to some relaxed days.


Iowa Cheese and Beer

Friday morning Donna marinated a pork tenderloin with her mojo marinade sauce. I grilled it on the Weber Q for dinner and Donna prepared acorn squash and asparagus for side dishes. I cooked the pork to an internal temperature of 135 degrees – perfect.

Mojo marinated pork loin with acorn squash and asparagus

Saturday morning we headed out on the Spyder around 9am. We went to downtown Des Moines for the Saturday farmers’ market. The market is huge – it covers nine city blocks in the historic courthouse district.

Des Moines farmer’s market – Polk County Courthouse in the background

We spent an hour and a half wandering and shopping the vendor stalls. Donna bought lots of fresh veggies. We also bought some cheeses – I bought a quarter pound of Maytag blue cheese that came from the Maytag farm near Newton, Iowa. This delicious cheese differs from most blue cheeses in that it’s made from cow’s milk instead of the traditional sheep milk or goat milk. Maytag blue cheese was developed in 1938 by Iowa State University and was first produced at the Maytag farm in Newton, Iowa in 1941. Frederick L. Maytag II and Robert Maytag, grandsons of the founder of the Maytag appliance company, Frederick L Maytag, first made it commercially available. It is delicious – a little bit goes a long way!

We left the farmers’ market around 11am as the crowd grew heavier and the temperature started to rise. The temperature hit 90 degrees in the afternoon. We mostly hung out in the air-conditioned coach and read in the afternoon. Griff’s Valley View RV Park is very quiet. The grounds are well-maintained and the clubhouse right behind our site (one of two on the property) is immaculate. The bathrooms look more like something you would see in a fancy restaurant or hotel – nice tile floors and backsplashes with granite counters. The shower stalls are also nicely finished, clean and private with individual exhaust fans in each of the showers. Saturday someone reserved the clubhouse for a party and it was still quiet!

Saturday evening Donna manned the grill and made chicken breasts that she spiced simply and served them with a kale salad – made with fresh kale from the farmer’s market, green apple, chopped dates and almonds and crumbled Maytag blue cheese. A nutritious, delicious meal!

Chicken breast and kale salad

I paired the meal with an IPA from Kolona Brewing Company in Kolona, Iowa. The ale was called Sucha Much and it was made with only two hop varieties – Nugget for bittering and CItra for finishing. But they use five different malts in the wort. It’s unfiltered and the cloudy brew has yeast dregs – it was interesting, flavorful and I liked it. I read that their brewery has four 15-barrel fermenters and two 30-barrel fermenters but only two 15-barrel bright tanks – no wonder some of their beers aren’t clarified.

Sucha Much Today

A thunderstorm passed through around 4am this morning. With it came high winds, but it didn’t last long. After breakfast, Donna went out for a 25-mile bike ride (her fourth ride this past week) before it got too hot. I watched a very entertaining Moto GP race from the Czech Republic.

I don’t think I mentioned the ponds here at Griff’s Valley View RV Park – they have two of them and they have fish in them. I fished for a bit on Thursday and caught half a dozen fish in about 45 minutes. I braved the 96-degree temperature and fished again this afternoon. I caught 12 bluegills in about an hour! The fish weren’t very large, but fishing is always fun when you’re catching fish and I was releasing them anyway.

A couple of bluegills from the pond

When it cools down a bit this evening, I’ll pack the grill and Donna’s bike in the trailer. Tomorrow we’ll head out of here. I’m not sure where we’ll stop tomorrow – somewhere between here and Sioux Falls, South Dakota. We’ve booked a week at Tower Campground there beginning on Tuesday. We plan to make doctor visits and check out our new mail service location while we’re there.

It looks like we could be in for another wet driving day. Hopefully we won’t be caught in any severe thunderstorms.


Satellites and Trains

We’ve been enjoying our stay at Griff’s Valley View RV Park in Altoona – near Des Moines, Iowa. The park is super clean and well-maintained and it’s also very quiet – both day and night. Now that we’re west of the Mississippi, it was time to reset our DISH Network satellite antenna to the western arc.

DISH Network broadcasts from clusters of satellites in different locations. They have multiple satellites in each location – some are for redundancy and others are used for various channels, pay-per-view and High Definition. I don’t know for sure how many satellites they use. The main television broadcast satellites are located at a longitude of 110 degrees west and 119 degrees west. Additional satellites are at 129 degrees west and 61.5 degrees west. The 61.5 degree satellites are for the eastern arc. The western and eastern arc overlap in the midwest.

When we’re in the northeast, we cannot receive a signal from 129. We have to locate satellites at 61.5 degrees. Our Winegard Road Trip satellite antenna has to be reconfigured to locate 61.5. This is done with DIP (dual-inline package) switches on the unit. There are eight DIP switches. By opening or closing various switches, the motherboard for the antenna is reconfigured. Anyway, while we were in the northeast, I set up the satellite antenna for 61.5 degrees – DISH eastern arc. Now I had to reset it to the western arc – 110, 119 and 129 degrees. It entailed climbing on the roof, removed the antenna dome cover and configuring the switch. Not a big deal.

Satellite antenna controller

Tuesday afternoon Donna and I rode the Spyder to Bondurant – a small town a few miles away from here. We went to the Reclaimed Rails Brewery. They have some good beer brewed onsite in their 15-barrel system and the finish work of the interior of the pub is unique.

The have reclaimed and repurposed wood and corrugated tin for the finish work. The bar top surface was cut out of an old trailer they found in Branson, Missouri. The bar was trimmed with a cove taken from an old train depot. The ceiling was lined with corrugated tin they found on an old barn in Minnesota. The table tops on the deck were made from the lids of old oak bourbon barrels. It was all nicely done – I wish I’d taken some photos.

After we came home, Donna whipped up seared scallops with a jalapeno vinaigrette and sweet potato spinach hash for dinner.

Seared scallops and sweet potato hash

Thursday morning Donna was getting ready to head out on the Chichaqua Valley Trail on her bike when she found a problem with our door. Our door had a check lever that stops it from opening more than 90 degrees. The check lever has a pawl that locks the lever in place, holding the door in the open position. To close the door, you have to release the pawl with either the inside or the outside door handle. The door wasn’t locking in place – it was swinging about in the breeze.

I was afraid the pawl was broken. This can happen if someone unfamiliar with the door mechanism tries to force the door closed without releasing the pawl with the door handle. We haven’t had any visitors lately, but it could have been damaged at an earlier time. I got the ladder out of the trailer and inspected it. The pawl wasn’t broken – it was sticking in the open position.

Door check lever pawl

The pawl is spring-loaded and is operated by a cable attached to the door lock mechanism in the door. I pushed the pawl into the locked position and it seemed fine. I released the pawl with the handle, then closed and opened the door. The pawl didn’t catch on the door check lever. I inspected everything and didn’t find anything broken, so I cleaned and lubed the cable and the pawl rod. It’s working nicely now. Job done.

Door panel removed to expose lock mechanism

Donna rode up the bike trail past Valeria and back – about 26 miles – and got home before it was too hot out. After lunch, we took the Spyder north on US65 and rode through the little village of Valeria and continued east for a few miles until we found Trainland USA. Trainland USA is a museum/display featuring Lionel “O” gauge model trains and accessories.

It was conceived and built by Red Atwood and many friends. He began collecting Lionel trains in 1961. He eventually built a 2600-square-foot building to display trains and accessories – including model trains dating back to 1916.

It has 4,000 feet of track, 35,000 hand-cut ties and 120 automatic switches. The display is set up to depict train activity across the country. You take a walking tour that begins with a diorama of Grand Central in New York, then follow along as the dioramas take you through the southern states to the west coast, up the coast and back to Omaha. I shot a few pictures, but the lighting was challenging and I was shooting through glass, so the pictures aren’t the sharpest.


On the way back, we made another stop at Reclaimed Rails Brewery for a cold one. I really enjoyed their red lager. Last night, Donna prepared tortilla-crusted tilapia for a dinner – always a favorite.

Tortilla-crusted tilapia with a dollop of salsa and green beans

The weather had been warm – in the low to mid 80s and breezy. Today will be the start of a heat wave. The forecast calls for a high of 97 degrees and the weekend will continue to have highs of 90 or greater. Tomorrow we plan to go to the farmers’ market in downtown Des Moines – rated one of the best in the country.