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I am fortunate to have in-laws who are nice people, with nice kids. Emma spent the entire day with her cousin Hannah, and Eleanor spent the day with her sister-in-law Alison. They all had fun at the swimming pool. I spent the day working on their dining room table. Oh well.
One of the fun things about visiting Emma's cousins is that there are so many of them. There are five kids from 18 to 5 years old in this family, all great. The two oldest girls and their boyfriends joined us for dinner. Eleanor made an Italian entree that I can't spell (but it was really good), and she seasoned the cauliflower in such a way that everyone liked it (which I would have thought impossible).
Eleanor's grandfather was the Head Chef of the Locke-Ober Restaurant in Boston for twenty years. That's where Eleanor got her cooking talent. Her brother Arthur also inherited the cooking gene, so when the two of them get together it's time to build up your appetite. Tonight Arthur was busy at a baseball game, so he only showed up for the eating segment of the evening, but I wouldn't be surprised if they team up in the kitchen later this week.
I uploaded pictures from Garden of the Gods city park today. See the Flickr photo album. We also worked out some tentative plans for the weekend and next week. We're going to head west into the Rockies to Salida and Gunnison. This will be our last chance at Colorado for a long time, and we would like to enjoy it as much as possible.
... and then, nothing happened.
We had to move the rig this morning from the dull & noisy campground we had in Colorado Springs to a spot about 15 miles south of town. So we spent the morning doing Sunday morning stuff, and then stopped off for groceries, and by the time we got to our new site it was nearly 2 pm and 96 degrees outside.
I had all these ideas about driving out to some little towns in the mountains, seeing the Royal Gorge Bridge, etc., but somehow they all evaporated in the heat of the day. Besides, I found out a bit too late that cell phones don't work here, even though they work just about 2/10ths of a mile down the street. So I spent an hour of the afternoon trying to get my Vonage box to work on the campground's wireless network, and then Eleanor and I languished while Emma griped about our lack of activity.
Well, once in a while you've got to take a day off from everything. I guess today was it. Tomorrow we will resume our usual schedule of frenetic activity. Since I can't make calls from here, I will tag along as Eleanor and Emma head up to Colorado Springs, and park myself either in the in-laws' house or Panera Bread for the day. I could do worse than having an office in Panera Bread ...
But despite the lack of activity today, I did find a great place to go for good times with family:
Sign of the week!
The weather continues hot here in Colorado, but we decided to hike around Garden of the Gods city park anyway. This place is too beautiful to miss.
It's also rather busy, especially on a sunny summer weekend like this, with rock climbers and browsers of all descriptions. There are a few short trails off the beaten path, if you need to escape the crowds.
There's a good Visitor Center with various added-value attractions: a movie ($2), gift shops, cafe, a bus tour ($5), etc. But the park itself is free and the view is spectacular.
After some hot hiking, we decided to visit our local Thai restaurant for lunch. A blog reader and fellow traveler, Brad A, mentioned that he has not seen any good Pad Thai lately. Brad, this one's for you!
Now we're taking a break before meeting the in-laws for a barbecue nearby.
... where the rain came in (metaphorically). We don't actually have a hole in the Airstream, but we certainly had a few holes in our systems lately.
We packed up and left Cherry Creek today for Colorado Springs. But before we left, I picked up my Powerbook with the new 100 gigabyte hard drive, and a copy of Tiger too. That's two items fixed from our bad luck spell: computer and phone. Eleanor also got me a very good t----- wrench (I still can't say the word, but you know what I'm talking about) at Sears. Cost about $65 on sale, and I think the regular price was about $90. Well worth it given the alternative.
So I before we pulled out, I added two items to our pre-departure checklist: checked the lug nuts on the wheels, and checked the air pressure in all the tires. We won't have THAT disaster again if I can help it.
Fred C wrote me to say "thanks for the KITA" (Kick In The ***). My hard drive failure inspired him to get serious about backing up his stuff too. I hope our disasters have been at least useful in preventing other people from having similar problems. That's why I go out on a limb and admit all the stupid things I've done and the things that have gone wrong.
Now that my Mac is almost fully set up, I'm installing a program called Silverkeeper by LaCie. It is an automatic backup program, very easy to use and fast. I'll run it at least twice a week to back up my files to the external LaCie hard drive. It works with any type of drive, including CDs and DVDs.
Our campground in Colorado Springs is not pretty. It's sort of a dirt parking lot with views and sounds of a busy highway. The wi-fi does not reach us, predictably, and since I needed to download some big files I'm at the Panera Bread. We didn't have much choice in places to stay, since everything else seemed to be booked up for the weekend. Fortunately, we are only spending two nights at this campground and then moving along to another one in the Colorado Springs area.
Tomorrow we'll have some fun. It's about time. There's a lot to do in the area of Colorado Springs and I plan to check some good stuff out! I'll also resume taking photos for you.
We have been making plans for the next few weeks. Our obligations are declining for the late summer and fall, and that's a good thing since it means less running around. But we still have a few things that must be done, and logistical problems to solve.
People often ask how we decide where to go and what to do. With Airstream friends all over the country, family, events, and seasonal changes, we never run out of ideas or places to go. Our bigger problem is figuring out the logistics of how to make it all work and not spend a billion dollars on gas. And when we are going somewhere in peak season, we have to work out places to stay, but we try to avoid crowds so that isn't often a problem. I prefer to have freedom to meander, and having campground reservations can kill spontaneity.
Speaking of peak season, tomorrow we have to leave Cherry Creek because there are no sites available for the weekend. We'll head down to Colorado Springs for a while. Next week looks like a work week, with some visiting. On the 9th or 10th we'll head to the Rocky Mountain Vintage Rally in Creede CO for some fun.
After the rally, we are going to get our bent aluminum fixed at the Airstream factory in Jackson Center OH. It's right along our route eastward. We should be in Vermont by the week of the 20th, and then we can stay put for a while. The trip eastward will be our last big mileage push for a while, which should be a welcome relief for the fuel budget.
At this point the only major trip from Vermont will be a week in Maine, visiting Adam and Susan. We'll go across Lake Champlain to Plattsburgh, to visit with Colin Hyde at GSM Vehicles and do a few upgrades to the trailer, but that's just a short hop from home. We may take the trailer up to Montreal too, but again that's a quick trip.
So that's how trip planning is done. We just look at what we want to do, what we need to do, and usually a plan presents itself. There's enough of interest in this country that we rarely have to worry about finding something to do when we get there.
Since I'm working long hours this week to get the Fall magazine and other issues under control, we aren't having a lot of adventures. Tonight we visited Fred Coldwell and took him out for pizza & ice cream, but other than that the day has been "just another day at the office."
All long voyages have days like that, whether a long day at sea during which nothing much happens, or day of doing laundry and polishing the brightwork. I don't regard it as time wasted, just time spent a bit differently. The lack of news gives me a chance to talk about other things.
For example, I've been reading more travel books as we go, and it occurs to me that I haven't told you the latest items in my bedside book nook.
One classic of Airstream lore is Wally Byam's book, "Trailer Travel Here and Abroad." It's half travelogue, half "how-to" guide for prospective trailer owners in the 1950s. Wally talks about some of the superb adventures he and his fellow caravanners had in the heydey of international trailer travel, when a trip to Europe was a glamorous experience available to an elite few.
The book also covers his many trips to Central America, Africa, and the Middle East. Interestingly, the insights and notes of the book echo many of the lessons we've picked up as we've traveled in the 21st century. I can read his comments about trailer travel and (excepting technology changes), many are as relevant today as they were half a century ago.
Fred and I were working on a project to scan this book (long out of copyright) and reprint it. I was unsuccessful at achieving a good OCR (optical character recognition) scan of it, and for now the project is on hold. If anyone has access to a resource that could handle this large task at low cost, let me know. I'd like for this book to be available to everyone, since it is very hard to find and rather expensive on eBay.
One thing in particular that echoes throughout the pages of "Trailer Travel Here and Abroad" is Wally's firm belief that by traveling, every caravanner was a diplomat and emissary of international peace. We have noticed also that in travel we learn more about the diversity of people and come to appreciate the differences between human beings, rather than fearing them.
Wally was a self-described gadget man, too. He had a phonograph, wireless set, bullhorn, and other gadgets in his trailer. I expect that today he'd have wireless Internet, a cell phone, an iPod, DVD player, and solar panels -- just like we do.
Another book I'm reading about a great voyage is Steven Ambrose's "Undaunted Courage". This is the story of the Lewis and Clark "Corps of Discovery". Our recent travel has taken along their route (but in the opposite direction), from the Columbia River in Oregon to the Snake River in Washington and Idaho. We camped in Lewiston ID (just across from Clarkston WA), and followed their path into Montana. Their accomplishment is incredible considering the times.
It's easy to find a copy of "Undaunted Courage" in western national park bookstores, and I'm sure it is still in print. Their rough-and-tumble voyage in a set of pirogues and river boats bears little resemblance to our cushy existence in an Airstream, but still I find tiny parallels. There are commonalities to all voyages, and it is inspirational to read of the fearlessness of this team that penetrated the west when the west was unmapped and mysterious to all Europeans.
We really needed to settle into the Denver area for a while. There is so much to be done. I picked up my new phone today from FedEx, then spent a couple of hours trying to get my Mac Powerbook serviced. I finally settled on a specialist in Denver who will put in a new 100 gb drive and have it back to me by the end of the week.
While I was gone, Bill (The Health Chic's other half), took Emma's training wheels off and started teaching her to ride her bike, while Eleanor supervised. It went well, and now Emma is able to ride in a straight line all by herself! The campground is an ideal place to practice, since there's no traffic, flat smooth paved roads, and lots of room.
In the afternoon I had a conference call, which I usually take outside so I can pace around while I talk. Unfortunately, we got a rare sprinkling of rain right around then, so I spent most of the conversation ducking between trees for shelter. I could have gone in the trailer but when I'm concentrating on a call I just can't sit still -- and besides, Eleanor and Emma were in there making noise. Such are the compromises of working in a trailer with family.
This evening we went to the home of our friends Forrest and Patrice for dinner. Forrest draws the cartoon for the magazine each quarter, in addition to occasionally contributing articles. We solved all the problems of the world in one evening, so if anyone needs to know the way to world peace, rejuvenating the WBCCI, or inexpensive electric power from cold fusion, just let me know.
I'm so sick of the word "torque" that I'm going to try avoid the word for a while. Suffice to say, our wheels are still attached, and we are now parked for a few days of rest in this suburb of Denver. (We were here last October, and you can read about it in the blog archives.)
Not long as we arrived, I got an email from The Health Chic asking where we were. Turns out they were at a cybercafe in Denver catching up on email. I told them where we were and about an hour later they showed up for a night of camping in the next space! This is the third time we've crossed paths since last month. Are they stalking us? ;-)
After work, Bill and I took Emma out for a quick bike ride and Eleanor and Wendimere sat in their trailer gabbing ... for hours. I think Eleanor and I are still decompressing from the events of the past few days, and having someone else to talk to has been nice this evening.
This week will be busy. I've got to run all over town to get my new cell phone, get my laptop fixed, and meet with people. Eleanor plans on running her errands too, so we're going to have to negotiate "car time".
I have neglected to mention our recent experience with the solar system. It has exceeded our expectations. At this time of year, we can go indefinitely without plugging in. When we reached Victor ID, we had been unplugged for eight days straight -- and our batteries were still at 95%. The only reason we bother to plug in now is for A/C. Everything else we have runs on the batteries and solar panels.
I'm going to be interested to see how well the system performs this fall and winter. Obviously it won't be quite so good, but I still expect we will not feel the need for a generator at any time, which makes me happy.
Perhaps we are turning the corner on luck. Our drive along I-80 in Wyoming was uneventful, which lately is unusual for us. We stopped and checked those darn lug nuts at 10, 20, 30, 50, 70, 100, 150, and 200 miles. At the first few stops, 2 or 3 of the new ones I installed would move a tiny bit, but eventually they all seated and stopped moving. That’s normal, according to everyone I talked to.
So hey – I fixed my own trailer and I got 200 miles without a problem. And now I know exactly what to do if this problem ever recurs. That’s a great feeling!
The only bad luck today was at the last lug nut check. After I checked them, the new torque wrench fell apart in my hands. Apparently one of two screws that holds the assembly together vibrated out during travel. It has disappeared. The other fell out roadside and the next thing I knew, little springs and cogs were sprinkling down by my feet. We gathered all the pieces for re-assembly, but I may buy a better quality torque wrench instead.
If that’s the worst thing that happens, I’ll be grateful. Hopefully I can turn this blog back to the enjoyable part of traveling. (Although I must admit there’s a unique satisfaction in having rescued oneself, by doing a repair on your own trailer with your own hands …as long as the opportunity doesn’t present itself too often!)
I-80 in Wyoming is a vast arid landscape dotted with gas tanks and other signs of the petrochemical industry. The Green River Valley area is the hub of oil shale in this country, and we saw plenty of action out there. Further east, there’s a refinery in Sinclair, and all along the Interstate there are yellow Union Pacific diesel-electric locomotives running east-west with long trains behind them.
I suppose some people would call this landscape boring, but I liked it. I guess today I would have liked any landscape that we were not broken down in.
The camping options along I-80 are horrible. Most of the campgrounds are desolate gravel parking lots right next to the highway, with the requisite noise all night long, and sites so jam-packed you can reach out and touch your neighbor. For a view, choose from Interstate highway or oil tanks.
We were flying without a plan today, because we honestly didn’t know how far we’d get. By 4 pm we were in Laramie and I decided to follow Garminita’s advice to take Rt 287 south from there into Colorado. It looked like a nice scenic and quiet roadway, which might present interesting boondocking possibilities.
That was a great decision, if I do say so myself. Take Rt 287 south from Wyoming sometime. Once the road crosses into Colorado, you enter the most marvelous landscape of layered and eroded rocks, stacked like pancakes among the evergreen landscape. It is beautiful, open, and unpopulated. I kept thinking, “Why isn’t there a state or national park here?” It’s that nice.
About 20-30 miles into Colorado, somewhere between Virginia Dale and Livermore, we passed a white sign that said, “Cherokee Park.” WHOA. I hit the brakes, made a U-turn, and down the red dirt Cherokee Park Road we went.
I was hoping we’d make another “find” like we did last October in Iowa when we found a little county park way out in the farmlands, and had one of the most lovely nights of boondocking we’ve ever enjoyed. We had no information on this Cherokee Park other than the sign: no idea where to find it, how far down the road it would be, whether we could park there overnight, or even if we’d be able to turn around. But if you want to find the places “off the beaten path” you’ve got to be willing to take a chance on the unknown.
The red road twists among the fantastic rock formations, and climbs briefly at what I would guess is about a 10-12% grade. We had to switch to 4WD mode to keep the rear wheels from slipping. About 6-8 miles along, Cherokee Park Road descends and brings you by a dirt parking area with a set of signs that identifies the Cherokee State Wildlife Area, Lower Unit.
Parking in the lot is OK for up to 14 days, according to the signs. You can leave your rig unattended for 48 hours to go exploring. This is horse country, but an ATV would work well too. The scenery is fantastic. The spot is quiet and isolated. It’s great boondocking, and if we had more time I am certain the hiking would be superb as well.
One caveat: you are supposed to have a “Habitat” sticker to use this area. We’ll buy one, to atone for our minor sin of parking here without one. I think buying a sticker which supports the preservation and access to such beautiful lands is a small price to pay.
There’s only analog cell phone service here (and not much of that), so this blog entry will be posted in the morning as we head to Aurora CO. Other than running some backups on the computer and typing up this entry, I’m taking a night off. After all the stress of the past few days, I need a little break before the work week begins. This seems like a nice place to relax.
I've replaced all six studs and lug nuts on the offending aluminum wheel. The parts store did not have enough lug nuts for the other (steel) wheel on that side, so we are going cautiously proceed without replacing the lugs on that one for now. I'll be checking torque very often.
Colin Hyde was on the phone this morning with some helpful advice also. It gets detailed, but the gist of it was to be sure the lugnuts were tightened evenly and absolutely on center. I've done that.
I did loosen and re-tighten the lugnuts on the steel wheel and found them to be VERY tight. They are now re-torqued to the proper amount. I also checked the other wheels on the driver's side, which have not been touched by mechanics with air wrenches. All good.
More later if I can get online!
There's a force in the universe that is out to get us, but we aren't going to let it win!
Today started out fine. We went to Fossil Butte National Monument, which is a fairly obscure national park outside Kemmerer. That made a good addition to our national parks Passport book. Emma really seemed to get into the cool fossils they have in the new Visitor Center.
Emma takes the pledge for another Jr Ranger badge
Then we headed to downtown Kemmerer to hit the public library. I updated the blog and Eleanor and Emma read stories in the kids' room.
Then we drove about 80 miles to Green River, WY, which is along I-80. It's pretty lonely country, so I decided to stop in Green River for lunch around 2 pm. That gave another chance to check the lugnuts...
... and one of them twisted right off.
The stud had broken right in the middle.
Well, you can imagine my reaction to that. I'll skip the gory details, but after about two tense hours and several phone calls, we ascertained the following:
1) Both of the wheels on the entry door side of the Airstream had been tightened by mechanics using air impact wrenches. After tightening the nuts, they followed up with a torque wrench to assure 110 ft-lbs of torque.
2) NEVER NEVER NEVER let anyone tighten the lug nuts on your Airstream with an air impact wrench unless they are using the wrench only to spin the nuts on loosely. The air impact wrench will overtighten them. Torquing them after that is utterly pointless -- they're already overtorqued.
3) All 12 of the studs and lugnuts on the two right side wheels of our Airstream need to be replaced, as a precaution.
4) Nobody in Green River, WY could possibly get us into their shop for at least a few days.
This put us in a tight spot. Driving the Airstream with a known problem like this (and one stud already failed) would be asking for another wheel separation like yesterday. But staying here to wait for service wasn't much of an option either.
We had two basic choices:
1) Deflate the known bad tire by 10-15 lbs to lessen its load, and proceed SLOWLY to the nearest campground, about six miles away, then wait several days for service.
2) Fix it ourselves.
I got mad about the lackluster interest I received from the RV repair shop, the local tire shop, and two other repair shops I called. When I get mad, I get busy. So we towed the Airstream less than a mile to the NAPA Auto Parts and got busy.
First, I called David Tidmore again, and Brett, and got advice. Then we bought 15 replacement studs at the NAPA store and backed the Airstream into a spot next to the store. I broke out my tools and made sure I had what was needed to do the job: a hammer, a torque wrench with extension, socket for the lugnuts, some blocks to pull the Airstream up on (so I could remove the wheel), a sacrificial nut, and mental gumption.
Rich exercises his non-existent handyman skills
The process of removing a stud and replacing it is fairly straightforward. You bang the old stud out with the hammer, and then slip in the new one. The sacrificial nut is used to pull the stud through until it is seated properly. We pulled the emergency brake cable on the disc brake system to lock the wheels in place during this operation (that's OK to do with disc brakes, it won't burn out).
At 4 pm, the NAPA store owner closed up, but he came by to make sure we were OK before he left. He said we could stay overnight if we needed to, and he'd be back at 9 a.m. tomorrow. Unfortunately, I let him get away before remembering to buy the replacement lug nuts. I tried to recycle the old ones, but two of them were in terrible condition and I decided to suspend work for tonight. I'll buy a completely new set tomorrow and finish the job.
Studs I removed. Note the broken one at top right, with the matching nut at left.
So now it is 6:40 pm and we are parked on concrete next to NAPA and a drive-through liquor store. Fortunately, the liquor store is closed too. It is not all that bad here -- I've been in worse KOAs -- and except for the heat we are doing fine. As I've told people, when you have a problem in your Airstream, you're still home with all the conveniences, so how bad can it be?
OK, there was a moment when Eleanor said, "I want a hotel room with air conditioning and a pool!" And as tempting as that is (it is 98 degrees in the trailer at this moment), I think we will resist the urge. After all, this is home, and I wouldn't feel right abandoning my home just because it had a little problem.
So we've opened up the vents and windows and are cooling things down now. I've got a cold Jarritos Toronja (grapefruit soda), Emma is doing homeschooling (but she doesn't know it), Eleanor is avidly reading something trashy by Eric Lustbader, and pretty soon I'll plug in the iPod to listen to some music.
In other words, we are going to make lemonade out of this and not let this incredible streak of mishaps drive us to insanity. We're going to fix the trailer once and for all, and get on with the business of having fun.
One other thing: thanks to my friends David, Brett, Terry, and Rich C for their support on the phone the past few days. Thanks to Carol, Marc, Terrie, and everyone else who wrote in with supportive comments. Without you guys I'd probably be a lot more stressed about this stuff. And thanks to whoever in this strip mall left their wi-fi network open, because otherwise I wouldn't be able to get online tonight to post all this!
Our streak of bad luck has continued, but we are learning to focus on the bright side.
This morning, we packed up and departed from this week’s home in Victor ID. We chose a gentler route than we’d come in, which took us over the low Pine Creek Pass and southward. Ascending the pass was easy, and we were winding down the other side at a leisurely 35 MPH when we heard a tinny noise and saw in the right side mirror, almost simultaneously, a black-and-silver object go flying off into the weeds.
For a moment I was confused, thinking it looked and sounded like the little disposable charcoal grill we had packed in the rear compartment. Had the compartment come open? I quickly pulled over and walked back to the trailer.
As I was walking, a discussion I’d had with my friend Doug Dukane in Tampa flashed through my mind. Doug had the unfortunate experience of having two wheels come off his 34-foot Airstream, leaving him and his family stranded by the roadside in Ohio. The cause was a mechanic who didn’t tighten the lug nuts properly on the wheels. The damage to his trailer was extensive – when the wheels depart an Airstream, they usually take some of the aluminum side sheet with them.
So when I got to the passenger side of the trailer, I wasn’t surprised by what I saw. The forward wheel was gone. It had left us for a ravine about 200 feet up the road.
A motorcyclist pulled up. “Something came off your trailer!” Yeah, I know. He left, and a man in a pickup truck stopped by. He blocked traffic for us, while I went up the hill to retrieve the missing wheel.
The damage showed what happened. One lug nut apparently came off its stud. The remaining studs were unable to take the strain, and snapped off cleanly at their bases. The wheel flopped around for a moment during this process and then bounced out, damaging the Airstream’s body as it left.
Note five studs snapped off, one stud left
The strange thing was that the wheel that left us wasn’t the one we’d had worked on last week. I would have sworn that if a wheel was to come off, it would be the last one that had been removed. But it was the wheel forward of that one instead.
This was one of those “It can’t be happening” moments. Sure, I’d seen many trailers where a tire had blown out or shredded, leaving carnage in its wake. But our lug nuts were well-seated, having been worn in over many thousands of miles of travel. They had been re-torqued when we installed the disc brakes in May. All the nuts were present when we left the campground (I checked as part of my routine pre-departure walkaround). How could a nut have come off completely in just seven miles?
We weren’t in the right place to be doing forensic analysis, I realized. We were parked blocking most of one lane of a winding mountain road, far out of reach of cell phone service, AAA, or any other service that might rescue us. Our spare was already in use (we haven’t had a chance to replace it since the drywall screw of last week).
Now, in my opinion, the most critical thing about an emergency situation is how you and your group react to it. Regardless of how serious a situation is, you probably can make it better with the right response, and with the wrong response you can make any situation much worse.
There is a process involved here. Step One is to calm down. Don’t yell at anyone, since that usually makes things worse. Step Two is to mentally step away from the situation, as if you’d had a night to sleep on it, and then look at it again from a big perspective. I try to defocus my attention on the proximate issues that tend to make me react emotionally, whatever those issues might be: someone bleeding, bent metal, unhelpful bystanders, etc.
In this case, the guy with the truck who was blocking traffic for us started saying, “That disc is red hot! There’s something wrong with your brakes. That’s what made the wheel come off!” I felt the disc, and while it was hot, it wasn’t “red hot.” It was as hot as you’d expect a disc to be after descending a 5% grade for two miles in 85+ degree temperatures. (Later analysis showed the disc brake to be operating normally.)
I also try to avoid being pressured to do something that might make the situation worse. For example, if someone is shouting, “Get it off the road, you’re blocking traffic!” you might hastily jump in the truck and pull your trailer further and make things much worse. My feeling is that traffic can wait a minute while I figure out what’s going on.
When I ran through that mental process, I realized that I needed to assess the damage to ensure the trailer was towable. A quick check in the wheelwell assured me it was. Nothing was dragging, and the hydraulic lines to the disc brakes were intact. Once I knew the trailer was OK, and I could tow it with three wheels, I felt better. All we needed to do was get it to a tire shop and they could fix it. Fortunately, an Airstream can be driven with one wheel off, as long as you go slowly.
It occurred to me that if we lost another tire for any reason, we would be completely stuck by the side of a road and in a situation where we could not even be able to stay in the trailer due to the tilt of the road. So, what to do to ensure this wouldn’t happen?
Three things: 1) I could drive slowly. Sure, traffic would pile up behind us and the drive would be akin to water torture, but I’d rather have a few annoyed drivers behind us than be sitting by the road with another tire gone.
2) The load each tire can take is dependent on air pressure. Since three tires now have to do the work of four, it’s a good idea to make sure the tires are inflated to their maximum pressure, which is usually 65 psi. Read the side of your tire to be sure. I already had 60 lbs in each one but in retrospect I could have added a little insurance by putting the additional air in.
3) I checked the torque on the remaining three wheels – and it’s a good thing I did. All of the lugnuts on the wheel that had been removed last week were loose too! That’s not uncommon when a wheel is removed. I should have checked the torque before we left Victor, since that was about 50 miles after the wheel service was done.
Continuing in the same direction was out of the question. We were headed for Swan Valley, a town of 200 people and very little else. We drove another ½ mile down the road to the first turnout and executed a very slow, tight 180 degree turn. Then we drove at the sedate pace of 25 MPH all the way back up the pass, down the other side, past our campground in Victor, and another eight miles to Driggs, where we pulled into Kaufman’s OK Tire.
Eleanor and I, although completely stressed out, tried to relax and think during the long slow drive back to Driggs. I tried not to get anxious about things I could not control, like the probable cost of repairing the body damage. Focusing on the good things in life helps avoid “catastrophizing” (obsessing on what’s gone wrong). So I counted our blessings: everyone was fine, we were going to be able to get it all fixed, there was a tire store only 14 miles away, and it was another gorgeous sunny day.
When we arrived at Kaufman’s OK Tire, both Eleanor and I had our plan. I explained to the tire shop owner what had happened and outlined the repairs we’d need. Eleanor took Emma into the trailer and made a special lunch for us – comfort lunch.
And of course, everything turned out fine. We spent the afternoon walking the streets of Driggs, which is something we’d wanted to do all week anyway. It was a bonus, really. We dropped in on the rock shop and Emma entertained some grandparents while we were there. It was over 90 degrees, so we dropped in on the old-fashioned soda fountain and got some great cold treats: Bumbleberry ice cream for Eleanor, Oreo cookie shake for Emma, and a frosty Lime Cooler for me.
I made a trip to the local auto parts store to get a torque wrench. I’m going to check the torque on those nuts EVERY trip from now on! And then I spent about an hour with the very friendly service tech David, who explained to me in detail everything he was doing, in his classic Mexican accent.
The wheel did a lot of damage, and yet we were lucky. As it wobbled off, the wheel’s stud holes were destroyed, making the entire rim into expensive aluminum trash. It also knocked off the dust cap that covers the wheel bearings, and we never did find the hubcap in the tall weeds. Five of the six studs were snapped clean off, and the one remaining was badly mangled. The stud ripped a large hole in the tire, too. Finally, the wheel bent the aluminum trim piece that surrounds the wheel well, and bent the side of the trailer too.
The stud ripped a hole in the tire as it came off
Stripped out and enlarged in all six holes. This $300 wheel is trash.
So why were we lucky? Well, the damage to the Airstream could have been worse. Blown tires often shred before they come off, ripping apart the wheelwell area and even destroying dump valves and parts of the belly pan. Our body damage was limited to a bit of bent metal and a piece of trim. This may be fixable without replacing the aluminum side of the trailer.
The bill at the tire shop was $264, for two tires (I got a replacement for the spare, even though we don’t have a rim for it at the moment), bearing re-pack, valve stems, wheel balance, seal, studs, lug nuts, dustcap, and disposal of two tires. We’re riding on the steel spare rim at the moment. I called David Tidmore at Roger Williams Airstream and asked him to bring a replacement aluminum rim and hubcap to the Rocky Mountain Vintage Rally, where we will meet him in two weeks.
So our string of bad luck has continued, but I prefer to look at it as a karmic balancing. We’ve had a charmed life in the past year, with very little going wrong. As my good friend Adam said, “Even if you stayed home, the water heater would have broken or something.” In other words, stuff happens no matter where you are. Our house has given us very little trouble over the past few months, and I guess we have to expect a little grief once in a while.
The work at the tire shop was completed by 4:45, and we decided to do a little driving this evening. I stopped every 25-35 miles to check the torque on the wheels with my new torque wrench. It’s now 10 pm, and we are parked behind a gas station in the town of Kemmerer, WY, about 150 miles from Driggs. This town is known as the birthplace of JC Penney, and the “mother store” is still here in town. Tomorrow night we may drop in for a peek before we get out on the road again.
Sorry for the shortage of pictures lately. It has been hectic this week, with work, equipment trouble, and having to commute back and forth to the Public Library. Sometimes the Internet works at the campground, but mostly it doesn't, or it drops out at inconvenient times. And I've had to concentrate on the Fall magazine most of the week. So I haven't had much opportunity to take out the camera and document this town. Mostly I'm working.
Emma has been completely occupied the past two days with the girls from next door, Rebecca and Susannah. Their parents (David and Laura) invited us over for dinner last night and we took the opportunity to cook up that giant salmon that Eleanor and Susan bought back in Montana. David and Laura chipped in shrimp and ice cream.
Once again we stayed up late yakking and comparing great places to go. Yup, we've made another set of new friends. That's one of the best things about being "on the road". We'll stay in touch via email and probably see them again when we get to Florida in December.
Today is the fourth day of catching up on stuff I thought would only take two days. I'm still behind where I'd like to be, but regardless, we need to get over to Denver and we are leaving tomorrow morning. I'll have to find some time next week in either Estes Park or Aurora (the two places we expect to land while we are in northern Colorado).
We're certainly not tired of Victor. There are still cafes to explore, the drive-in movie theater, and a lot of interesting back roads to drive. I love the dry climate. I can see why we keep running into people who are settling here, after years of being seasonal residents. And Emma will never get tired of the swimming pool.
Tomorrrow's route should be scenic, from here to I-80. Thereafter I don't expect much. We're hoping to get somewhere east of Rock Springs, WY by Friday night. Blog reader Roger wrote in to say the Rock Springs was only memorable because he lost an window on his Airstream there. Let's hope that doesn't happen to us --we're already using enough spare equipment as it is!
A lot of people wrote to me today to offer advice on the phone problem. Brett suggested I get a refurb phone for less than the new price, so I'd still be able to upgrade to a nicer phone in September.
Dennis suggested a second phone on a different network, for redundancy. (We already have a Sprint phone for that exact reason, and I've been using it lately.)
Janine suggested finding one on eBay. Clarke suggested trying *228 to reprogram the phone.
These are all good suggestions. We did try *228 and it didn't help, but it was certainly important to try it before giving up on the phone. I wish I'd thought of the eBay or refurb ideas last night but, being in a tizzy about the impending failure of the phone, I ordered a new one online. I'll pick it up at The UPS Store in Aurora CO next week.
Terry also called to suggest we put a tube in the damaged tire, and keep it as a spare. We'll be looking into that possibility, which could save us $100 or so.
Thanks to all of your for your concern and assistance. It really means a lot to us to know so many people are looking out for us!
Today, Rich C and I took one more drive over the Teton Pass to Jackson to pick up another mail package I had requested be sent to General Delivery. The pass is still an interesting ride each time! Today there were a bunch of cyclists working their way up the 10% grade. A few people we've met here in Victor commute over the pass every day, all year long.
I am still getting a lot of paper mail despite trying to get everyone on electronic delivery. Sprint keeps sending me paper statements even though I enrolled in their online system, but hopefully this is the last one. The health plan people can't seem to wrap their heads around the concept of electronic delivery at all. Fidelity is still sending me statements on my retirement investments, so I'll log on there today and try to put a stop to that. USAA sends me everything electronically except life insurance renewals, so there's another website to visit today. And, about half of the advertisers in the magazine still prefer sending paper checks even though we accept all credit cards and PayPal.
It would be a fine day if I received my mail and there were nothing in the package except Netflix! But I've come to realize that day is probably never going to come. Paper ain't dead yet -- a good thing, considering that my job is publishing a print magazine.
Emma has found friends at this campground. They were also homeschooled for the first few years of their education. We stayed up till 11 last night talking with their parents in their motorhome, and Eleanor has picked up some very useful information about homeshooling as a result.
If problems come in threes, I’m afraid I’m in for a two-fer. And you’re in for a long blog entry, because I’m going to tell you the whole story right now.
Modern full-timers rely on technology to get things done. In my case, I rely on it more than most, because I’m running a business from my trailer. So when things fail, backup plans are needed. But what do you do when the entire support system starts to collapse?
It started with our Garmin GPS. A couple of weeks ago while in Glacier we noticed that the internal battery was no longer holding a charge. This means the GPS has to do a “cold start” every time we use it, which takes a long time. We’ve come to depend on “Garminita” (as we call the British voice programmed into our unit). Having to wait five minutes or so before she woke up and started telling us where to go, has been a nuisance.
I contacted Garmin support yesterday from Jackson WY via email, and they’ve advised me that they’ll fix Garminita under warranty, but we need to ship her back to the factory and have a UPS-shippable address for the return in 7 to 10 days. I will notify them that we’ll pick Garminita up in Denver. The trick here is knowing where we’re going to be in 7 to 10 days …
As I mentioned earlier this week, my Mac’s hard drive failed during our stay in Yellowstone last week. I had a full system backup from 10 days earlier, and since I recognized the symptoms of hard disk failure, I was able to retrieve nearly all of my intervening work before the drive completely died. In just an hour I was able to move to the backup laptop (Eleanor’s) and resume working as if nothing had happened. So that’s OK for now, but we’ll need to find a Mac Service Center, and it seems the closest one along our route is again in Denver.
We weren’t planning to be in Denver for more than a day, but it looks like things could be changing.
Two days later, we picked up a screw in one of the trailer tires. Fortunately, we had a spare, because the screw punctured the tire in a place where patches are not advisable, and we were 60 miles from a tire dealer. OK. We’ll probably replace the spare in Rock Springs WY.
Lately, my Verizon cell phone has been performing poorly. I’ve been missing a lot of calls, and it has been roaming to analog when other phones nearby are making digital calls with no trouble. Right now, it reporting “No Service” but Rich C’s Verizon phone is happily placing digital calls everywhere in the campground. Admittedly this is not a huge surprise, since the phone got, uh, “damp” when Brett and I were jetskiing on Lake Mead last month.
I checked the Verizon website at the public library today and found that there was an authorized outlet in the Radio Shack up in Driggs. Perfect – only a few miles up the road. I got my opportunity to go check it out around 2 pm. There was a small fire across the street near the Market & Café, and the whole downtown was blacked out, which eliminated all the free wi-fi in town. So Rich C and I headed up to Driggs.
No luck. Verizon apparently has an east-west division, and authorized re-sellers from the west can’t sell me an upgrade phone since we’re from the east. I was advised to try the Verizon store in Idaho Falls, an hour away.
OK, but before I drive an hour, I’m going to call and make sure they can help me. Hmmm… how to call Verizon? I would dial 611 from my phone, but it’s saying it doesn’t feel like placing a call. So I borrow Rich C’s Verizon phone and try 611.
No dice. We’re on an extended network and 611 doesn’t work. So I borrow a Yellow Pages from the campground and find the number for the Idaho Falls store. After a long wait, the tech support rep comes on and tells me that comparing two phones side-by-side isn’t really a reliable way to know if my phone isn’t working well. “One phone may be tri-mode, while another is pure digital, and you have different manufacturers, ages, etc,” she explains.
Well, that's all nice, but I want the phone that works! I explain this concept to the friendly tech, who then tells me that my phone is out of warranty, and if I can just hang on to my malfunctioning phone for two more months, I’ll get a cheap “upgrade” to a phone that works, whereas if I insist on a replacement now, it will cost me the full retail price.
Two months with my phone only working when I’m standing directly under a cell tower? No thanks. Rich C, who used to work in the cell phone industry (as did I), calls this “standard service.”
So we have a dead tire, a dead computer, a faulty GPS, and a deeply traumatized phone. But we’re standing tall nonetheless. Yes, my technology is collapsing around me, and I need my technology, but we’re just going to be flexible.
What do you do in this situation? There are two basic options: (1) flee to a major city and get everything fixed; (2) extend your stay and try to work things out via Internet and UPS/FedEx. We like it here, so we’ve booked another two nights. I’ll take a few hours to make the arrangements for repairing everything.
Duelling Macs on the picnic table in Victor, Idaho
UPDATE: Rich C and I went back to the park beside the Library on this fine evening and found power restored. We're both blogging and doing other work from a picnic table. Eleanor and Emma are off at the shoppe across the street getting ice cream sodas. It's another gorgeous evening in Victor ID.
Now I have to take back a lot of what I said yesterday. I said Victor doesn't have any Internet -- but in fact there's a lot of free wi-fi all over town. I'm in the public library now, which has the fastest public Internet I've ever experienced. And everyone in the downtown area has an open wireless network, so there's plenty to borrow. Rich C asked around and nobody seems to worry about it.
I also put my blog entry in the category of "Places to Avoid", but I was really thinking of the Teton Pass. Avoid that with a trailer. But Victor ID, and the nearby town of Driggs, are really wonderful places to visit. We are in the midst of a huge valley, on the west side of the Tetons. Here the jagged peaks of the Tetons are mostly hidden behind rounder green foothills. The view is vast and gorgeous, with dry clear air and lovely sunsets over the low mountains to the west.
The people are friendly, there are no mosquitoes, and there seems to be little pollen this time of year. Eleanor and Rich C are loving it. Emma likes the swimming pool and the foosball table (we all had a foosball tournament last night.) So we've decided to stay a few more days to catch up on work and enjoy the fine weather.
But everywhere there are the subtle signs of a place with a real estate boom ready to happen. There's a Sotheby's Real Estate office in both Victor and Driggs. The highway has been widened in the towns. New development is happening everywhere, with large parcels of land already sprouting golf courses and huge "rustic-style" log homes. The tourist atmosphere of Jackson seems ready to spread to this side of the mountains.
We'd consider buying some land here if it were a place with a warm winter, but they get plenty of snow here and snow no longer interests me. This won't be a place we settle down, but it is a peaceful spot to hang out in the summer. I hope Victor and Driggs can remain quiet little western towns for a long time, but I think the folks at the Highway Department, Sotheby's, and the two log home companies on Rt 33, are all working to change that.
Last night, after I finished working in Jackson at the music/tattoo/Internet/cafe, we drove around the Victor/Driggs area to explore. One of our "finds" was the local Spud Drive-In Movie Theater, with the biggest potato we've ever seen.
I also dropped in our neighbors who work-camp here. Spencer was a lawyer for 40 years in Minneapolis, but retired and re-trained as a barber. Once he had his Master Barber's License, he and his wife Ingrid hit the road in their fifth wheel. They spend every winter in Mazatlan Mexico, and summers here in Victor. Ingrid works in the office and Spencer does other duties, in addition to providing good haircuts for $10. It was a unique experience for me to get a haircut under the awning of an RV on a warm summer afternoon, and chatting with Spencer about his winters in Mexico made it even better.
OK, there's one really good reason why people don't make the 20-mile drive from Jackson, WY to much cheaper campgrounds in Victor, ID: the Teton Pass.
Rich C went over first, yesterday afternoon. He came down trembling, and called us to warn us. The pass is a monster -- easily the worst one we've seen yet. 10% grade up and down, with lots of twists. In the winter, it's basically impassable many times due to heavy snow (it tops out around 8500 feet).
It did turn out to be an interesting test of the Nissan Titan/Armada. Rich C has the Titan, we have the Armada. Both are identical engines, transmissions, and nearly identical towing capacities. But Rich C has an advantage going up: his trailer weighs about 6500 lbs loaded and ours weighs about 8000 lbs loaded. So he got up in second gear, occasionally slowing to 25 MPH. That wasn't bad because the speed limit was 25 most of the way.
We had more difficulty. The engine got hot about halfway up and we had to climb in 1st gear to keep it under control. Thanks to keeping the engine revolutions high (over 3,000 RPM), the transmission never got hot, but about 2.5 miles from the top, we were forced to pull over and rev the engine in neutral to let it cool. It was 87 degrees when we did this, so we also pulled out some of our other tricks, including turning off the A/C and turning on the heat, full blast. This is the first time in 25,000 miles of towing that we've needed to go to such extremes.
Downhill, we had the advantage. Rich C has the factory drum brakes, but we have discs. Even with a much heavier trailer, we have more than double his braking capacity. It was no big deal for us to modulate the speed all the way down the 10% grade. Rich C's ride wasn't so pleasant ...
Rich C stated what we all felt: "There's NO WAY I'm going over that pass again with the trailer!" We'll use a lower pass about an hour south of Victor to get to Colorado, when we go.
The campground and the little town of Victor are nice, in a western style. We're all loving the dry climate and beautiful weather. Emma and I spent the early evening in the pool diving for sticks, and just relaxing.
However, there's no Internet in Victor. Sprint doesn't cover the area. The campground wi-fi, predictably, doesn't work. So today we all drove over the pass again (without trailers!) to Jackson and I settled in here at the local cybercafe/tattoo shop/jazz cafe to get a day's work done. We may stay another night or two to get caught up on things, then we'll head into Colorado for more adventures.
I'm still catching up with blog entries and photos too, so look for more backfilled stuff as I get time.
We are back in contact with the world. At this moment, we are making an afternoon camp in the parking lot of the Menor Historical Site, just 1/2 mile north of Moose, in the Grand Tetons National Park. The mountains are looming to our west, just out the dinette window where I am sitting catching up on work.
The past four days have been great, and there's much to tell. I will try to backfill some blog entries tonight and tomorrow. In short:
1) I took over 500 photos, of which some are now in our Flickr album.
2) Yellowstone was crowded and, although a terrific place to visit, will not be on our top ten list of national parks we most like to go. Yes, we saw geysers, bison, pronghorns, and many other creatures. The park is so big (size of Connecticut) that we were only able to see a tiny fraction in three nights. But in that short time we managed to get caught in a couple of huge traffic jams, the parking lots were all overflowing, and even the 7 a.m. ranger walk was attended by over 50 people. We got up every day at 5:30 to beat the crowds, and it was a drag to find full parking lots everywhere by 8 a.m. If we come back, it will be in the off-season.
3) My Mac's internal hard drive died on Friday, but fortunately I had a full backup made on July 4, and I had enough warning of the problem to save most of the intervening work as well. It's now completely un-bootable, but I am fine, working off Eleanor's laptop with all my data on the external backup drive. However, I was not able to retrieve about 100 great photos from Glacier National Park before the main drive died. I still hope to do that when we reach a service center in Denver. Have you remembered to backup your data lately?
4) Jackson WY campgrounds are incredibly expensive ($52 per night with Good Sam discount) so we are going to head to Idaho today to get cheaper camping in Victor.
5) We managed to run over a 1" drywall screw in a campground in Grand Tetons, which meant an emergency trip to the service center in the park. The tire is unrepairable, so we are on the spare at the moment. How did a drywall screw end up in the center of a huge National Park?
[Hmmm... re-reading the above I can see where it might seem like we had the Trip From Hell. I should reassure you, in spite of the minor annoyances we really did have a good time. I'll detail the hikes and highlights in the backfilled blog entries later. I think if you take anything away from what I've just outlined, it is that backup plans and flexibility are the keys to success.]
6) We found Rich C today and had lunch with him here in Grand Teton. He's off to the campground now, and we'll meet up again with him tonight. Right now, I'm catching up on work since I finally have cell phone and Internet again, Emma is watching a cartoon on my iPod, and Eleanor is sleeping ... she suddenly started not feeling well after lunch. Hopefully we'll be on the road again for the short drive to Victor ID in an hour or two.
I have to admit that I arrived in Yellowstone with less than the appropriate attitude. Part of it was my fault: I never took the time to research the park before we arrived, and so I was repeatedly surprised by things that I should have expected.
As we passed through the North Entrance, I was expecting to drive a few miles to our campground and settle in before the thunderstorms arrived. But Yellowstone is a park the size of Connecticut, and so I should not have been surprised to see a sign advising us that the drive to Bridge Bay Campground was 62 miles further down a twisting road with a speed limit of 35-45 MPH.
Along the way, we passed through Mammoth Hot Springs, the northernmost of several "villages" that exist inside the park. To visit a park the size of Yellowstone (we belatedly discovered) you need to pick an area you want to explore and then choose a village nearby. Otherwise, you'll spend all day driving around the park. It is typically 35-50 miles between villages, and traffic sometimes moves slowly in the peak months of July and August.
Bison can cause huge backups in the summer
It moves even slower when a bison crosses the road. We got caught in a series of thunderstorms, with small hail -- which always strikes fear into the heart of an Airstream owner -- and then of course, a bison showed up somewhere, and all traffic stopped dead. There's nothing like watching hail hit your trailer in a mile-long traffic jam with no way to escape. So we arrived much later than we expected, and I was not feeling very upbeat about it.
We found Susan and Adam in their campground, 2 miles from ours, but they had decided to depart in the morning, so that was the last we saw of them. We were sorry to see them go, but glad they felt they had a great adventure with us the past ten days.
Knowing that crowds and traffic were going to be problems, we woke at 5:30 the next morning so we could get to a Ranger-guided hike at 7:00, about ten miles away. We figured the early start time would allow us to see lots of wildlife, and it would keep the crowds away. We were wrong on both counts. Over fifty people showed up, and the fog was so dense we couldn't see anything most of the time. There's no chance of spotting much wildlife with fifty people tromping around anyway ...
Dropping in on the other roadside sights worked better for us. We hit the Sulphur Cauldron, the Mud Pots, and a few geysers, did a little more hiking, and then we started to feel that you can only look at so much belching mud in one day. We collapsed in the trailer for lunch and a nap (for me).
In the afternoon we were surprised by Wendimere "The Health Chic" and Bill, who we had met in Salem just a couple of weeks ago. We spent an hour chatting with them and talked about meeting up again in Florida, where they live. From here the plan is a quiet evening in, some movies, and early bedtime ... because tomorrow will be another early day.
We are heading out this morning to Yellowstone National Park, 100 miles south of here. We'll probably be unable to blog for a couple of days, because we are staying in the center of the park where only analog phone service exists. Yellowstone has been the subject of a few well-publicized cell phone towers, but in reality it is unlikely we'll find any coverage (except at Old Faithful).
Rich C is heading to Bozeman for maintenance. We'll meet Adam and Susan in the park and report back when we emerge, probably by Friday.
It's a fine day here in southern Montana. This really is a beautiful state and worthy of many weeks of exploration, if not months. I'm sorry we aren't taking more time here, but we will just need to come back again later.
Us, and Rich C, parked in the otherwise empty campground
Our drive today has taken us to Lewis and Creek Caverns State Park ($18, no hookups), which was once a National Monument. It was transferred to the state of Montana in 1932 when Congress was looking for ways to pare down the National Parks budget. The caves are three miles up a twisting road from the campground. The area is very scenic and remarkably quiet.
We've decided to skip the cavern tour, even though Adam and Susan reported it to be a good one, because it is two hours long. Emma's attention span in a cave is not quite that long, and we've seen a lot of caves in the past six months, including Oregon Caves, Mammoth Cave, Lehman Cave, and Kartchner Cavern. Instead, we're taking a quiet afternoon around the Airstream.
I've been meaning to share a small tip for camping this time of year: be careful for wasps at your campsite. Last week at the Corps of Engineers campground in Pasco, WA, I opened the cover to the electrical hookup in campsite #46, and was immediately stung twice by wasps. We retreated to another site.
Even though the stings hurt, I was sort of happy to be the recipient of them. Rich C is allergic to insect stings and it would have been much worse for him. I didn't want to have to inject him with an Epi-Pen. Carol gave me some topical pain reliever (benzocaine or something similar) and it worked very quickly.
This experience actually paid off just a couple of days later when Rich C opened another electrical hookup cover at another campground. Just before opening it, he thought, "Hmmm.... maybe there are wasps in here, too." So he opened it cautiously, and sure enough, there were unhappy wasps. He ran fast and was lucky not to be stung.
Photo by Scott Fassett
Monday was a chance for everyone to figure out their new plans. Since Bert & Janie are leaving today for up to five months, we have decided to leave the rest of Glacier for another visit.
Susan and Adam decided to start heading south toward Wyoming. They only have a few more days before they have to park the C and fly home, and they would like to see some of Yellowstone. They left Monday afternoon.
We are going to follow them today (Tuesday) and catch up in Yellowstone on Wednesday. Tonight we've got a nice state park picked out in southern Montana.
Rich C is going to go the same way, but he's already left early this morning. We should re-group with him tonight. His friends Tom and Shane decided to head up to Banff for a few days, so other than a brief visit yesterday afternoon, we won't be seeing them. They will be flying back out of Seattle this weekend.
Bert & Janie are leaving this morning too. We are both parked in the driveway, hitched up and just about ready to go. Watching Bert & Janie, I am reminded of how much work it is to get an entire house secured before an extended trip. They've been checking items off their lists for days, arranging for mail forwarding, turning off appliances and water, setting out supplies for contingencies ... it seems endless. We used to do that too, before every trip.
My major prep was putting in a 12-hour day at the "office" yesterday. The World Headquarters of Airstream Life magazine were located in Bert & Janie's living room for the day, where I could borrow his broadband Internet connection. I like having a portable office. Everything I need, including whatever current projects and paperwork I have, fits in a medium-sized blue backpack. I just sling it over my shoulder and head to my dinette, the local coffee shop, or a lawn chair outside.
If Emma wakes up soon, we'll be able to follow Bert & Janie for a few miles, but Emma seems determined to sleep in today. We'll be the last people here in the driveway today, looking forward to seeing our friends again tonight and tomorrow for more adventures.
You may have noticed that I didn't post last night. There's a good reason for that: total exhaustion. Following Bert's recommendation, we all got up at 6 a.m. and were driving toward Glacier by 7:30, to beat the crowds. Glacier is getting sadly overcrowded on the only road that goes through the park, namely "Going To The Sun Road." An early start saves a lot of time by avoiding the traffic.
One of our first views from the hike. Click to enlarge
Now, the plan was supposed to be that we would spot a car at a hairpin turn in Going To The Sun Road, then proceed up to the Visitor's Center at Logan Pass, and hike generally downhill for about eight miles along the Highline Trail back to the first car. However, Bert somewhat underestimated the mileage for the hike ... which turned out to be about 12 miles ... and also neglected to mention that about 1/3 of the hike was along trail with 1,000 foot drops along the left edge.
This made for a spectacular view, but a nerve-wracking hike for Eleanor and I. Emma is a superb hiker, and can easily cover six miles in a half day, but we've never even dreamed of taking her 12 miles! Plus, we had to hold her hand tightly through some tricky spots. I was envisioning her slipping down the nearly-vertical slope and jumping down after her, so at times my grip was tight.
Lake McDonald in the background. Click to enlarge
But Emma was a trouper. Not only did she safely hike 12 miles with 600 feet of vertical gain and 2900 feet of descent, on a day that approached 90 degrees, but she did it in good spirits ... wearing sandals. (I was wearing sandals too, and neither of us had a blister or even a sore toe.) Not bad for a six-year-old, eh? We're very proud of her, and our hiking partners Adam, Susan, and Bert were very impressed. Bert was so impressed that wrote about Emma in his blog, which you can read by clicking here.
Mountain Goats resting nearby. Click to enlarge.
This was more than a hike, it was an adventure. Bert, being a former ranger in the park, was full of interesting information about the wildlife, plants, geology, and history of the park. We really got more than our money's worth out of the day.
The historic chalet, about 6.7 miles down the hike. Click to enlarge.
The best thing about this hike may have been the ending: just a few hundred feet short of the trail's end, when we were all hot and sticky, we found this superb cool stream. I immediately ran down and dunked my head in the water. Ahhhhhhh.... Bert and Adam quickly followed suit, and Emma filled her hat with water and poured it over her head. At point, we all felt refreshed enough to hike a few more miles.
I have posted an entire new album of photos from this hike on Flickr. Click here to see the pictures. If you can't browse the pictures now, suffice to say that Glacier is a wonderful park, huge, gorgeous, and filled with waterfalls from the melting snow.
Another view from High Line Trail. Click to enlarge
Glacier is also logistically tricky. To see it, you really need to go hiking. Driving the Going To The Sun Road is great and there are many pullouts to see waterfalls, goats, and fantastic views, but that's only a tiny sampling of what the park has to offer. And it's a huge park -- just driving from the West Glacier entrance to Logan Pass is over 20 miles.
We can't tow the Airstreams through the park. Our next goal would be to travel to the east side, where Many Glacier can be found, but since we have to detour around the park, this would be at least a three-hour trip. After thinking about it, we've decided that we are satisfied with our very full day and we will save the rest of the park for another visit.
Today will be a work day and then tomorrow we plan to start heading south to Yellowstone. Adam and Susan have already headed out, since they have less time than we do. We'll caravan with Rich C. Bert & Janie are heading out too, for several months of work on the road writing and photographing subjects from Montana to Nova Scotia, and then down the east coast. We are hoping to meet them again in Maine, in September.
Last night, after getting the second car and driving to the West Entrance, it was about 7:30 pm. We drove over to Kalispell (35 miles away -- things are spread out in Montana) for pizza at Moose's Saloon. If you ever get to Kalispell, check this place out. It looks disreputable, but the pizza is great and the atmosphere is fun. The floor is covered in sawdust and peanut shells, the music is loud, and it's a great place to get the two things Bert wanted most after our 12 miles of hiking: pizza and beer.
When we finally emerged from Moose's, it was 10 pm and the sun had just set. It wasn't completely dark until 10:30. In this time of year, Montana seems to understand that your days will be full, and it obliges with plenty of sunlight.
We've arrived at Bert & Janie's house in Bigfork, near Flathead Lake. The drive up was fine, but fraught with construction zones. Arriving at Flathead Lake, the largest freshwater lake west of the Mississippi (just behind our own Lake Champlain in Vermont), we were greeted with spectacular views of mountains and blue water.
We got all the Airstreams parked in and around the driveway -- 4 in all, counting Bert & Janie's. Rich is parked down below the driveway in a secluded spot, we are in the circle drive, and Adam and Susan are in front of the garage. Bert tried to get a photo of all four from the roof of his house, but it was impossible with the trees and obstacles.
Bert took Susan, Adam and me out for a boat ride on the river. We spotted some young eagles, a couple of blue herons, and two osprey in their nest. Bert was our personal tour guide for the trip, which last for a couple of hours. I think Susan and Adam are beginning to see why courtesy parking is so cool.
I also spotted signs of an old practice: farmers using junked cars to shore up the river embankments. Kind of incongruous with the beautiful scenery here in Montana.
Dinner was shared at the picnic table in the middle of the driveway. We had a nice time but the mosquitoes have appeared, and eventually we fled to the house for watermelon. Bert shared with us his basement "natural history museum" (bear skulls, photos, artifacts, etc), and then it was 9 p.m., time to start the bedtime process with Emma.
Tomorrow Rich C is going to relocate to Big Arm State Park, nearby, for a couple of nights. He'll meet up with his friends from the east coast and then rejoin us later. Our plan is to get up EARLY and head to Glacier National Park around 7 a.m. Bert has a big hike planned for us. He says we're going to look for pikas, but there should be more than just those furry little rodents to check out. We'll also drive the Going To The Sun Road. It should be marvelous, if Emma can hold up. If not, we have some backup plans. I expect great photos to come out of this hike.
Other items: Eleanor was up till midnight doing the laundry. Susan and Adam never did do theirs. The next morning, Adam and I were asking ourselves, "So why did we go to the KOA??" Instead of paying $38, we could have had the same water and electric hookups in a more scenic State Park for about $20.
Blog reader Peter suggested we use a 120v to 12v adapter so that we can inflate the tires on the driver's side of the trailer. Then we can use any convenient extension core. Good idea. Today I borrowed Adam's 120v compressor to inflate the tires. One had only 47.5 lbs in it (it should have had 60 lbs) so I'll be keeping an eye on that one.
Sadly, Carol has departed our group today. Her husband called and said "I miss you," and so she decided to hightail it back home. We gave her a hug and watched her pull out. We'll have to meet up with her again later this year.
The group made a good call on the route today. Instead of taking the easy route up Rt 95 and back to Interstate highways, we decided to plow through the heart of Idaho on Route 12.
Adam and Susan walk back to the Airstreams, Nez Perce NHS
From our base on the Snake River in Clarkston, ID, the road goes east along the Clearwater River, and stays in the river valley for more than a hundred miles. We stopped in at the Nez Perce National Historic Site first, and of course we picked up another passport stamp there. Susan had her brand-new National Parks Passport book too, and we were privileged to see her get her first stamp. Emma also did the Junior Ranger activity and got a patch.
The land gradually changes from brown and sparse "high desert" to forests of evergreen as it winds and climbs. The river changes to the Coldwater, and then the wild and scenic Lochsa.
Along the route there are a few pullouts, but not nearly as many as you'd like. The water was extremely tempting: clear, cool, gorgeous, and spotted with the occasional rafter or kayaker. Rich C called us from his position many miles ahead, and said, "It just keeps getting better. I feel like I just drove through a postcard."
With the stops and the winding road, the drive from Clarkston to Missoula, MT, took about eight hours. Of course, not all of that was drive time, but it was still a long and challenging drive. Adam has crashed and I'm feeling pretty tired myself. We have found a KOA to stay at, mostly because everyone said they wanted to do laundry, but of course nobody has so far. We did all hit the Safeway for groceries, but I'm wondering when the laundry is going to get done.
Tomorrow I need to do some maintenance too. The tires need air, and I've found that my 12v compressor will not reach to the driver's side. So I need to find a service station with air. We also need propane, and while I'm at it I should check a few other things on the rig. Our drive tomorrow will be short: two hours to Bigfork, where we are expected by Bert & Janie.
A good night's sleep can make all the difference. We all put on the air conditioning and conked out for a solid nine hours. When we awoke, Rich C was already on his way and everyone else was slowly coming to life.
Last night we elected to take the scenic route, so we are proceeding east on Rt 124 to Rt 12, all the way through the fabled amber waves of grain to Idaho. They really do have waves rippling through the grain in the breeze, and it looks terrific, as we discovered today. Route 12 turned out to be a spectacular drive, past stands of popular, grape vines, giving way to hills covered with golden wheat, scenic rivers, and tiny villages.
Susan and Adam followed us all the way. The road follows Lewis and Clark's route along the Columbia and Snake Rivers, and so there's history to be learned here for anyone who is interested. But the pull-outs are almost invisible. If you want to stop and read the signs, drive slowly.
Stopping at the Laht Neppur Brewing Company along Rt 12 in Washington state.
Across the Snake River from Clarkston, WA is Lewiston, ID. Take a right and head a few miles along the river and you'll find Hells Gate State Park. This place was recommended to us many months ago when we were in Arizona the first time, and I've been waiting to come to this area ever since. It's a classic state park, shady and grassy, right on the banks of the Snake River (w/e, $20.88).
Jet boat tours can take you up the Snake River to the deep canyons ($135 pp), but we have decided not to take another day to do that. Instead, we took some short bike rides, explored the "Lewis & Clark Discovery Center", and had a nice group dinner on the picnic table. I also took another long nap -- still catching up on sleep.
Tomorrow's ride will be just as scenic, and we've planned to take the entire day to drive only about 300-350 miles. We'll continue on Rt 12 through some mountains and along the "wild & scenic" river all the way to Missoula, MT, and perhaps farther. If we make good progress, we'll reach Bert & Janie's house tomorrow night, otherwise we'll see them in the morning on Saturday.
We are off again, heading east again. I'm glad to have the rally behind me, even though it was great fun, because after a few more days of that schedule I'd probably end up sick. The last three nights I got only about 5-6 hours of sleep.
Lack of sleep made towing today less fun than it should have been. I-84 runs through the Columbia River Gorge for over a hundred miles, and every inch of it is scenic and wonderful. Wind funnels down the valley and skims the top of the wide river, creating whitecaps and perfect conditions for windsurfers and kitesurfers. Marvelous bridges cross to Washington state periodically, and often there are high walls of rock with cascades tumblng down alongside the road. Barges and paddlewheel boats can be seen floating down the river. It's not just another dull strip of Interstate highway.
Adam and Susan caravanned with us for most of the drive, but Rich C left early (as usual) and Carol was somewhere in between. By 4 pm we were all at the campground, which is a lush and green oasis on the banks of the Snake River in the midst of the high desert.
It was hot when we arrived. This Corps of Engineers campground has a small beach on the river and a roped-off swimming area in the cold water, so everyone except Rich C and Carol jumped in.
Photo by Carol
Eleanor and I did take a few minutes to unfold the new Birdy bikes and test them around the campground. We also had a quick meeting with Rich C and Susan to plan our route for tomorrow. We're definitely winging it, since tomorrow's route is completely different from the plan we had this morning.
I'm not the only one who is tired. We're all taking it easy tonight, eating leftovers from the last few barbecues and restaurants, and staying inside to watch movies. Tonight will be an early night.
This is our last day at the International Rally ...
It has been a fine summer day in all respects. Brett, Rich C and I worked the Flea Market in the morning. Brett and I had a successful time selling Airstream Life magazines and other things, while outside thunderstorms rumbled by.
Then in the afternoon, the weather turned fair, breezy, and warm -- ideal for us to get organized for our next roadtrip. We cleared out a lot of excess junk in the car and trailer, organized a few things, and re-packed all the toys, including the new Birdy bikes. (They fit very well in the Armada's storage area with tons of room to spare.)
Robert blows bubbles for Emma, from his bike
Many people have departed the rally grounds already. This left plenty of empty sites near us, so Robert towed his Airstream "Pearl" over, Adam drove the C-Stream over, and Carol B showed up in her new 2007 Airstream Classic Limited 27FB, too. Rich C was already here. So we were all parked together this evening.
Steak, chicken, sausages, grilled asparagus, salad, guacamole, and more tonight!
Eleanor and Susan have been planning a Fourth of July barbecue for everyone. The whole gang attended for a final night together, before we disperse. Brett will be heading back home via air, Robert will be heading south into Oregon to meet his family, and Carol, Rich C, Adam, Susan and us will be caravanning east.
The festivities are still going on as I type this at nearly 11 p.m. All around us, fireworks are popping. We've been singing along to the Trailer Park Troubadours on the iPod, blowing bubbles in the wind, and telling hysterical stories. It's a night that defines summer. I hope you had a good Fourth too.
Adam and Susan admire the sunset, with Emma crowding in
Tomorrow, we leave for a campground in southeast Washington state, on our way to Bigfork, MT.
We are in our final days at the rally but we are still going full-bore. It's strange, because the rally winds down in some ways days before it officially ends. Parking stops or slows on the weekend right in the middle of the official rally dates, the vintage area's tent disappeared yesterday, some of the signage that indicates the rows and sections has disappeared, the Airstream store closed, etc.
Despite the official opening last Wednesday, the true rally dates started the previous Monday. This is when most people are expected to arrive. Those unfortunate enough to have to work during the week, and who arrive Friday night or Saturday are inevitably disappointed. They expect to arrive to a rally in full swing but find that nobody is available to park them, and exhibits and services are closed. The message seems clear: if you can't be here during the week, you're not a valued customer.
I am perhaps a bit sensitive to this because I've had to spend much of the past few days counseling folks who tried to join the rally Friday afternoon or later, and found themselves treated as if they had shown up 30 minutes late for a performance of Blue Man Group. These people have been (I think justifiably) disgruntled and wondering why they made an effort rush from their jobs to the rally.
What can I tell them? "You should have been here on Monday," said one of the parkers, when she encountered a couple trying to get settled in on Friday afternoon at 3 pm. Parking hours were set on the schedule for Friday through 4 pm, but the parkers decided to shut down at 1 pm, for their own reasons. That's no consolation for working people trying to attend the rally.
And then, if they are successful getting parked, "late" arrivals find that although the rally schedule continues for four more days, registration has shut down. The Airstream store is gone. The vendors in the Airstream area are long gone. On-site service is gone. The Vintage happy hours are over. Major events such as the Concours d'Elegance are over. The schedule on Sunday is virtually barren.
Our response is again to ignore the formal program, and create our own fun. I encourage others to do the same, because waiting for the rally to entertain you is a formula for disappointment. The rally is what you make of it. But I do feel badly for the people who come just for the weekend and are basically left to their own devices.
Today the kids' program held one more day of fun for Emma and her friends, so she was fully occupied. I spent the day in meetings with advertisers and other folks, planning out the next year of Airstream Life and other ventures.
One of the highlights was a visit with David Black and his wife Anya, who together run Birdy Bikes. As you know from reading this blog, I've had considerable trouble with our bicycles traveling on the roof. Although we finally got a good roof rack, our bicycles have still been problems. David and Anya solved that for us today.
We're trading in our set of standard bikes for a pair of Birdy bikes. You can read all about them at the Birdy website, but the bottom line is that these very cool aluminum folding bikes fit into portable carry bags in the back of the Armada. For us, this means we eliminate a few problems:
-- we can once again drive through car washes and into parking garages without trouble
-- we no longer have to fight to get the bikes on and off the tall SUV roof
-- the bikes won't rust on the roof, exposed to the weather, as they have been
-- we can eliminate some aerodynamic resistance and hopefully improve our fuel economy slightly
Plus, the Birdy bikes are pretty darned cool. They are officially licensed by Airstream and so ours proudly say "AIRSTREAM" on them. I rode mine around for ten minutes this morning and got stopped twice to demonstrate how neatly it folds up -- in about 15 seconds! I think we'll be happier with this solution going forward. David is going to ship our old bikes back home to Vermont for us.
This afternoon we were visited by Scott and Shelly, blog readers from Portland and the recent buyers of an Airstream International CCD 25. They came over to ask questions about our full-timing experiences, and we liked them so much we invited them out to dinner with Susan, Adam, and Brett. It was a terrifically fun dinner and I hope we see Scott and Shelly again during our travels.
Photo courtesy of Scott Fassett
Yeah, I know it's Sunday but we've got to work sometime. Brett and I spent much of the day meeting with potential advertisers for the magazine. As a result, there's not much to tell, other than the fact that we probably have two new advertisers.
The schedule today had not much on it (choir assembly, teen queen practice, Skymed seminar, bean bag baseball lessons...) and so many people bailed out for more interesting things. Eleanor and Emma hit Wal-Mart ... yee ha!
I noticed a lot of happy hours at 4 pm, also. We were invited to two of them, so we had to skip around a bit, and then I ended up at Adam and Susan's with Brett and Rich C, while Eleanor, Emma, and Robert went to see the Teen Queen Pageant. Robert called it a "piece of Americana" and said he wouldn't miss it. Eleanor always goes because "those girls work really hard," and she likes to be supportive. I always stay home, because by the time the pageant comes around, I'm usually looking for a quiet night.
Sign of the week
Last night I never did get around to updating the blog -- I was just too tired. Our day started innocently enough, as I noted in the morning. A dull agenda meant we'd be making our own fun, but we do that every day, so what's the difference?
Then we started wandering around and pretty soon everyone was busy doing something. We took Adam and Susan to the new trailer display, introduced people to other people, and checked out some of the vintage trailers we never got time to see on Saturday. Around this time, Gunny showed up to grab Rich C for some tech support on his new Mac, and Dan dropped in for the day to scout for used trailers to buy. Behind every corner there seemed to be someone lurking, waiting to pounce for a "quick" chat, so our progress around the fairgrounds was fairly slow, but that was part of the fun.
A restored 1958 Pacer is being raffled off by the Florida Mystic Springs Unit. It's a cute 16-footer with no bathroom. Herb Spies and other members of Mystic Springs worked on it. I bought three tickets ...
Around 2 I finally met up with Wendimere Reilly and her husband Bill. Wendimere is "The Health Chic," who you will see in the Summer 2006 issue of Airstream Life. They are traveling the US in their cool decorated Airstream International CCD 19, talking about healthy stuff and visiting health food festivals, etc. She had some advice and contacts for Rich C to use, since he has a rare auto-immune disorder that he's learning to manage. We agreed we'll try to meet again out toward Wyoming or Montana. Meanwhile Eleanor took Adam and Susan out for groceries, so now they are stocked for our trip onward this week.
I also caught up with Forrest McClure (draws "The Panes" cartoon for the magazine), Jim Haddaway (last year's president of WBCCI -- we had dinner with him in NTAC in May), Mike Scherkenbach and several other people from the San Diego contingent, and numerous other people who dropped by to asked questions or buttonholed me to buy a back issue. It's a full-time job just keeping up with all the people we've met over the past year. I finally dragged back to the Airstream for a 20-minute power nap at 4 p.m.
Around 6:30 we had a barbecue hosted by Adam and Susan Maffei at their unique Airstream Class C, with Robert, Steve, Colin, Brett, Rich C, Eleanor, Emma, Dan, and I attending. I started things off with a "caravan meeting" to explain how some of are going to travel together to Glacier National Park starting Wednesday. It was easy: There aren't any rules. I gave everyone Bert Gildart's address in Montana and said "be there around July 7 or 8, and we'll figure out the rest on a day-to-day basis."
We heard that Colin's latest major project, the 1965 Caravel owned by David Hale, scored highest possible marks in the Vintage Concours d'Elegance. Official results are coming out today. That's a big validation of Colin's shop, and he deserves congratulations for the achievement. That kind of high-quality work is part of the reason why GSM Vehicles will be doing our Vintage Lightning restoration for Matthew McConaughey.
We were all noticing the vicious pollen in the air lately. Several of us had itchy burning eyes by 6 pm, but the barbecue ended up going to 10:30 anyway. This was a fascinating and intelligent group of people, and I took the opportunity to facilitate some brainstorming on "Airstream issues", which was really productive. After we broke up, Steve and Colin headed back to Portland to catch an early morning flight home.
So, despite the agenda's general dullness, it was a great day to just explore the grounds and we never felt like we needed to leave to stay busy. Today may be the same, since Brett and I have meetings set up for half the day, we need to pre-register for next year's International Rally in Perry, GA, and everyone has someone they want to find and talk to. Eleanor is going to do laundry this morning, in preparation for our departure on Tuesday afternoon or Wednesday morning. If we have time this afternoon we'll head over to Silver Falls with the mountain bikes, but I suspect we may be busy enough all day.
Last night was a total blast. We visited the Vintage happy hour again for a few minutes, and I teased the crowd by giving Ed Emerick, the new VAC president, an advance copy of the Summer 06 Airstream Life, which came by FedEx yesterday. They had a ukelele band practicing for an upcoming rally on the flatbed of a antique truck.
Afterwards we gathered with everyone who didn't have any food in their coach (or were staying in a hotel) and headed to a recommended restaurant in town. In the picture you can see (L to R), Adam, Susan, Emma, Eleanor, Steve, Robert, Colin, and Brett. I'm standing on a chair to take the photo ...
Dinner was a blast, with lots of raucous conversation, and around 9 we headed back to our trailer to talk more. Rich C showed up, too. We ended up gabbing to about 11 p.m. before we finally wrapped it up and got Emma to bed. It was a great night with some great friends ... and I'll be sorry to see Colin and Steve fly out tomorrow.
Today the schedule is barren of things we are interested in (knitting, party bridge, amateur radio, prostate CA "the miracle beam", scrapbooking, teen queen talent judging, computer class, a few luncheons -- these are actual items on the program today, and they wonder why "young people" aren't interested in the club). So we are probably going to organize a day out somewhere.