« July 2006 | | September 2006 »

August 31, 2006

Working on the book

It has been "partly cloudy" here (meaning frequent rain and hardly any sun, as I noted earlier), and I've had a job waiting for sunshine. The folks who distribute Birdy Bikes in the US are going to take out an ad in Airstream Life magazine in the Fall and I promised I'd take a photo of the bikes next to our Airstream.

Charlotte birdy bikes.jpg

Yesterday the sun came out in the afternoon and Eleanor and I ran out to capture some photos. You may see one of them in the magazine (minus Eleanor's hand, which you can spot at left in some of the photos). Eleanor was willing to "model" with the bikes but then she'd probably send me a bill. ;-)

Everyone is having fun except me and Eleanor. We are still trying to close up 1,001 loose ends with cars and other possessions. Emma and her grandparents went out to Pizza Putt last night, which is sort of a Chuckie Cheese with mini-golf -- a major attraction for the sporting 6-year-old. I stayed behind and worked.

I am working on a book project, in addition to the Fall magazine. As a result my life is 12-15 hours a day in front of the laptop ... not exciting. I only mention this because I still often get comments from people that I don't work and am on some sort of endless vacation. The book, when published later this fall, will help explain how working couples can do what we are doing. I think once people start to recognize that today's technology makes it possible for many people to travel extensively before retirement, that stigma of "you don't do any work" will go away.

Another setback on the car front: the Nissan dealer didn't inspect the car when we had it in for the 30,000 mile service on Monday. So we brought it back yesterday to get the sticker, and discovered it can't pass -- the exhaust manifold is cracked! That's an expensive job, fortunately under warranty. I'm wondering if we shouldn't consider an extended warranty now, since our new-car warranty will run out in 6,000 miles.

The dealer can't get the replacement manifold this week, and we are leaving for Maine on Friday. It will have to get fixed when we return on the 12th. In the meantime, we are carrying a letter from the dealership which explains we have an appointment to get it fixed but couldn't get the part before the inspection runs out. I am hoping we won't need to use that letter.

August 30, 2006

Maintenance schedule

Some of our blog readers have questioned whether we are doing maintenance on the Airstream as well as the cars. The answer is that we aren't doing much right now, because we do it as we go. As full-timers we don't often have the opportunity to stop and do a big maintenance session, and we don't have the luxury of holding off on things until it is convenient. So we do what we can when we can.

The wheel bearings were re-packed when we did the disc brake conversion in March. Our tires and wheels have seen plenty of maintenance lately (I hate to even think about it!) In general, the running gear is in good shape.

We usually clean things inside and out as we see the need. For example, I cleaned the exterior refrigerator compartment just a few weeks ago, when I noticed it was getting filled with dust and crud. Today Jay & Cherie suggested checking the water heater for mineral deposits, which is a good idea. We've never drained it, since we never winterize the trailer. I'm hoping the water filter we put on our incoming water line has kept the minerals to a minimum.

Ditto for lubing the locks and latches. I keep several kinds of lube in my tool bag: grease, Reese hitch lube, silicone-based liquid lubricant, and liquid graphite. The latter two are good for locks, latches, and hinges. I lubed the hitch ball (which is hidden under the Hensley hitch all the time) just a couple of weeks ago a a rest stop in New York. It's a messy job that needs to be done every few months if you full-time, or perhaps annually if you don't. While I was at it, I took the opportunity to check all the bolts and pins on the hitch.

These sorts of items go hand-in-hand with a good general check everytime we hitch up. As you know, I now check all the lug nuts and tire pressures as part of the pre-departure checklist. Pilots of aircraft do a "walk-around" check before takeoff, and I do the same thing. I look for open windows or vents, things that are loose or hanging, obstacles under the trailer, drips from unexpected places, tire damage, etc. In general, everything should be clean, tight, and dry.

The Honda Prelude has been condemned by the inspector. The rust is worse than we thought. A portion of the underbody frame collapsed when the car was put on the lift. It won't pass inspection without at least $1k worth of work, and then it will need more (timing belt, etc) very soon. We are going to put it out to pasture and find another car for economical local commuting next summer.

August 29, 2006

Now I remember ...

... what bugs me about Vermont. It's a lovely place and you should come visit -- really! -- but the weather is always a crapshoot. Today, more gray and drizzle, but at least it's not cold.

The weather forecasters here are perennial optimists. They have to be. So "partly cloudy" is code for "You'll be darned lucky to see the sun today!" "Chance of rain" translates to, "Good weather for mushrooms."

I remember in Big Bend when the opposite occurred. There, "10% chance of rain" was their hopeful phrase. They said that every day when we were there in February, and we never even saw a cloud the entire time.

Yesterday we got the big service on the Nissan. At 30,000 miles an expensive service interval comes up: automatic transmission flush, coolant flush, oil change, rear differential fluid change, engine belts, numerous systems checks, and many small part replacements (radiator cap, distributor cap, rotor, spark plugs, engine air filter, fuel filter, wiper blades, cabin microfilter) Some of these items only apply when you've been towing, as we have.

We just put new tires on last Thursday, also. Between the tires and the 30,000 mile service, the total is over $1100. It's a hard bill to swallow, but our experience has shown us that preventative maintenance is absolutely essential, given all the miles and desolate areas we travel through. I talked to Bert about it over dinner on Sunday night and he felt the same way. "We maintain the heck out of that truck!" were Bert's words -- but when you roam the country for months on end, utterly dependent on one vehicle, it doesn't seem like skimping on maintenance is a wise idea.

Today our local car (an elderly Honda Prelude) is in the shop for its inspection. The poor thing is 15 years old, burns a quart of oil every 500 miles, has a tough case of rust along the passenger-side rocker panel, 144k miles on the clock, and it is due for an expensive timing belt replacement and an exhaust pipe.

Every year at inspection time we consider whether to fix it again or push it off a cliff. But despite its flaws it runs beautifully, gets great gas mileage, and is a lot of fun to drive. I haven't seen much on the market that can compare under $16,000 (new). Eleanor says if it were a vintage Airstream I wouldn't hesitate to dump $10k into it to restore it and keep it on the road. I suppose that's true, but a 1991 model is not vintage, either. It's just a cool sporty car that I could probably replace for $2000 with a rust-free one from the south. So today is decision day ... we'll know more when the garage calls and tells us what is needed to get it to pass Inspection.

August 28, 2006

Where was the Cat in the Hat?

Rain, rain, rain. Yesterday I woke up to the sound of rain pelting our aluminum roof. It was one of those endless Sundays of clouds, wind, rain, and cold, which Vermont can get any time of year. We couldn't do much outside. We couldn't get rid of stuff from storage (because the drop-off places were all closed). So we all whittled away at the day the best we could. It was a dull, dull day.

With the dense clouds, our solar panels were only able to make 6 amp-hours all day. That's the worst performance we've had since we were in the dark Redwood forest in California. Normally they generate 40-55 amp-hours this time of year. It's not a problem because our battery bank can easily cover us for a few days.

In the evening we met Bert & Janie for Italian dinner at Papa Frank's. They are leaving today for Quebec City. We've come to realize that our schedules may align again in October as we are heading down the east coast, so with luck we'll be able to travel with them again to Philadelphia, Shenandoah National Park, Great Smokies National Park, and Cumberland National Seashore. This will change our plans but for the better, I think.

August 26, 2006

Belated birthday

It's too bad Bert and Janie are on a schedule. They need to be in Quebec City soon so they can finish some research there, head to Maine, hike Mt Katahdin, then drive through New Brunswick to Nova Scotia, explore the entire Evangeline Trail and Cape Breton and somehow make it back to Maine before mid-October. That's a lot of driving, exploring, and research, and in the midst of it they need to be working on their various book, magazine, and photo assignments.

So today Janie stayed in to proof galleys of an upcoming book, while I took Bert around town to show him some of the highlights of Burlington.

Burlington city park.jpg

One of the simple pleasures of Vermont is the Saturday Farmer's Market. They are held all over the state. In Burlington, our "Queen City", it was in the City Park. The diversity of food was impressive. I bought some terrific blue gorgonzola from a local farm. We ate most of it before dinner -- one of the best blues I've ever had. Too bad we can only buy it at the local stores.

Burlington storycorps.jpg

The "Storycorps" Airstream has been parked in the Church Street Marketplace for a while. Next week it heads to Portland, ME. Bert and I checked it out -- a 2005 Airstream International 25 shell, with an extra large door to the left of the main door (for handicapped access) and very few windows. GVWR is shown as 7500 lbs.

A friend has been encouraging us to go in and tell our story ... We're considering it. Maybe in Maine.

scaled.Burlington Storycorps Rich.jpg
Rich interviews the Storycorps interviewer. Photo by Bert Gildart.

Emma spent the afternoon on the lake with her Uncle Steve, getting towed around behind the Boston Whaler on an inflatable donut. I hope to be able to post pictures of this later, when I get them out of Eleanor's camera.

This evening we gathered for dinner on the deck again, and afterward Eleanor brought out a cake she made today: yellow cake with lemon curd filling and butter cream frosting. Excellent! Everyone sang Happy Birthday for me and Janie, since we both had birthdays this month. Emma made me a paper crown to wear, and my parents gave Eleanor and I a gift of dinner at a new local restaurant.

Charlotte singing.jpg

Charlotte cake cutting.jpg

August 25, 2006

Dinner by the lake

We can see that getting rid of things in storage will be a multiple-step process. Today we made progress, but it will take several long days to even dent the belongings that own us.

The eBay seller was first in line today, at 10 a.m. He picked up a dozen items. Then we started loading stuff into a minivan to take to the "waste transfer station" (what we used to call the dump). My brother and one of his business associates showed up to take some office furniture and miscellaneous. We have a lot of miscellaneous, so there was plenty to go around.

Storage multiple cars.jpg

Eleanor sorted out dozens of boxes of outgrown kid clothing, housewares, and toys to be donated or given away. I identified boxes of ancient files (cancelled checks from 1992, stories I wrote but never finished in 1989, etc) and put them in a pile to be burned on the beach next week. Four or five boxes of paperbacks will be donated to rummage sales or local used-book stores. We'll keep a handful for book exchanges at the campgrounds we go to.

Then we hauled the antiques to an auction house, packed the remaining stuff away, and vowed to return again. Next week we plan to hold an open house for our friends. Anything they want, except the furniture, is free if they take it away on the spot.

Bert & Janie Gildart showed up this evening in their Airstream Safari 28. They're parked up in Shelburne, the next town north. They joined us for dinner on the deck, overlooking Lake Champlain. My brother and a couple of his friends also showed up, and listened to us swap stories of the great national parks of the west. Bert and Janie have some incredible stories about their travels.

Charlotte Bert.jpg

I grilled hamburgers, Emma helped to shuck corn on the cob, Janie brought salad, and Eleanor prepared everything in the kitchen. After dinner, we sat by the table and had ice cream over blueberry coffee cake, and peeked at Jupiter and four moons through the telescope. It was superb evening ... one we hope to repeat again tomorrow night.

August 24, 2006

Using Google Earth to find us

I'm also experimenting with another possible feature of this blog. If you've heard of Google Earth but haven't tried it, get a copy soon. It's really spectacular. You will need broadband Internet and a recent-model computer to use it, however.

You can install Google Earth from this link. It's now available for PC and Macintosh. Here's Google's own description of it:

Google Earth streams the world over wired and wireless networks enabling users to virtually go anywhere on the planet and see places in photographic detail. This is not like any map you have ever seen. This is a 3D model of the real world, based on real satellite images combined with maps, guides to restaurants, hotels, entertainment, businesses and more. You can zoom from space to street level instantly and then pan or jump from place to place, city to city, even country to country.

I have used Google Earth to create a "placemark" for the location where we have parked the Airstream. The placemark comes in the form of a ".KMZ" file, which you can download:

Download our current parking location here!

If you have Google Earth, opening this file should allow you to instantly "fly" right to a view of our parking spot! Very geeky ... and fun!

Charlotte Google view.jpg

Now, keep in mind this is just an experiment. I won't be able to do this every day because I won't always have broadband Internet (Google Earth won't work without it). But, if you like it, I'll try to post some of our more interesting camping locations.

Another thing to keep in mind is that the satellite imagery you'll see on Google Earth is not real-time. So you won't see our Airstream. In fact, the image for today's parking spot appears to be at least 15-20 years old. The road has been paved since this image was taken. But, it's good enough for a general idea of the setting.

Try it out and let me know how it works, OK? Thanks!

Subscribe to the Tour of America

Good news! I finally hooked up some easy links on the website so you can subscribe to our weblog without having to remember to visit it every day.

Just hit this page and click one of the colorful little "chiclets" to the left, just below where it says "SUBSCRIBE". You can use Yahoo, AOL, Newsgator, Bloglines, or Inclue -- your choice.

If you have the Firefox browser, you can also click the little orange RSS symbol too, to subscribe using your browser instead of a third-party service. Click below, or click the identical orange symbol that appears in the address bar of your browser. Other browsers may support RSS as well.

August 23, 2006

Summer vacation

It's 9 pm and all is well. I spent the day in my parent's house borrowing their Internet connection and catching up on work. Eleanor spent the day sorting clothes that don't fit Emma anymore, arranging donations, and picking out long-stored jewelry she wants to sell. Emma, of course, spent the day playing with her grandparents, who show no sign of being tired of her so far.

We have hardly been in the Airstream lately. We're spending all day out or here at my parent's place on the lake. Since we are showering here, and eating here, I suppose our holding tanks will be good for longer than I thought. And Mary doesn't seem to be in a hurry to evict us. It's very convenient being parked a few hundred feet away, and a real money saver too. We haven't paid for camping since August 13, which helps balance expenses against the $700 in fuel we spent getting here from Colorado.

I called a bunch of people about getting rid of our stuff. We've got a few pieces sold, and a few pieces committed to various outlets. The auction house wants our antiques. The eBay guys are meeting us on Monday to see about anything over $50 in value and under 100 lbs. The used furniture guy will meet us after Labor Day to pick over the cheap furniture. And a few friends have put in their bids for various other items. Last night we delivered a couple of nice cherry ladderback chairs to our friends Katie & Guy. But with all this, I fear we still have a long way to go.

The really sunny part of today was hearing from friends in every part of the US. Gunny called in from Oregon to tell about his latest fiasco in his new rig, this time a water pump failure. Rich C called in from Tampa to say he was having a nice time at the same park we used when we were there.

Brett called from Florida also, to catch up on a few things. (Happy birthday, dude!) Bert Gildart called from the highway in New York to say he and Janie will be here tomorrow. They're in Ticonderoga NY tonight and will be checking out historic Fort Ticonderoga tomorrow morning before they leave, so they are just down the road from us.

It's great to hear from all our traveling friends once in a while. We were all together not long ago, and their calls remind me of the good times. I don't know if we'll see some of these folks for weeks, months, or years, but I do know that we will see them.

Charlotte bicycle practice.jpg

This evening after dinner on the deck (and before chocolate cake & Star Trek), Emma and I went out on the road for a little bicycling practice. She's still a bit wobbly but gaining capability fast!

Now Emma's in the tub and Eleanor and I are about to head back to the Airstream -- our home next door in the neighbor's driveway. Emma is still a hostage here, so once again we'll be alone. This is really starting to feel like summer vacation.

August 22, 2006

The stuff we left behind

We screwed up our courage and headed over to the two 10x13 storage units that we rented way back in June 2005, the month we sold our house.

Storage unit.jpg

For comfort and convenience, we took the Airstream with us. This allowed us to compare what we had in the trailer with stuff we found in storage, and of course it gave us a convenient place to take breaks and get cold drinks from the refrigerator.

I had thought the process would be straightforward, but it wasn't. We were immediately overwhelmed by the sheer volume of "STUFF" we had stored. When we left on our trip last October, the idea was to come back in 6 or 7 months and build a house. Along the way, the plan changed, and so when we got back to see what we had left behind, it was more than a little shocking.

Houses allow you to accumulate stuff, and big houses like our previous one can accumulate a LOT of stuff. We have everything in storage that you can imagine: housewares, linens, clothes, toys, books, appliances, furniture, bicycles, office equipment, tools, pictures ... and so much more, you just can't believe it until you see it. Despite the fact that we spent months in spring 2005 giving stuff away, selling things, and throwing stuff out, there is still an amazing amount of just plain worthless STUFF in our two 10x13 storage units.

And it's costing a pile of money to keep it there. In fact, I would be surprised if the used market value of everything in both units exceeds $10,000. Yet our cost to store it all for the past year has been over $3,000. This is obviously nonsensical from a financial standpoint.

Storage 2.jpg

A lot of the stuff seemed to have sentimental value when we stored it. Some pieces seemed like they were worth keeping because the cost of replacing them later would have been much higher. And many other things were just "too good" to give away or throw away.

But now our perspective is different. It has been a year and we haven't needed 90% of it. We haven't missed 98% of it. Our lifestyles are lighter now, my office is leaner now, our plans are different now. If we build a new place it probably won't be close by, so it may be cheaper to buy new things than to transport all this across the country. The "stuff" needs to find a new home.

We started in on the piles but it was too much to tackle in one day. Tomorrow we'll be calling auction houses, cleanout services, used furniture stores, Goodwill, and anyone else we can think of. It took years to accumulate all these things and it will clearly take at least weeks or months to get rid of most of it. Anyone need a nice three-piece set of black walnut living room furniture, a collection of old Polaroid cameras, or a unicycle?

August 21, 2006

Charlotte, VT

Mary has consented to let us a stay a while, and it's awfully convenient being two doors down from where Emma has been taken hostage ... um, I mean, "where Emma is visiting my parents" ... so we are here for a couple more days.

Charlotte driveway2.jpg

We could stay for quite a while. We aren't using Mary's electric or water but since we are showering at my parents' house and not really doing any cooking here, our gray holding tank should be fine for at least a week.

Charlotte Emma balancing.jpg

I received a birthday present to myself yesterday: a new Nikon lens for the D70 digital SLR. Back in Colorado I ordered a 55-200 mm zoom to be shipped here, and I got a chance to try it out today on Emma as she played by the lake. This should be a fine addition to my camera bag, especially when we are on nature walks and Eleanor says, "Ooh -- get a shot of that bird!"

Charlotte creamee stand.jpg

This evening after dinner we all went out to the local "creemee" stand, an old standby called Uncle Sam's. Creemees are one of the great summer traditions in this part of the country. Summer is winding down here in Vermont but it's not dead yet. The four mosquito bites I got on my feet this evening prove that.

Tomorrow Eleanor and I are going to tow the trailer up to Burlington to visit our two storage units. The plan is to park the Airstream right in front of the doors and exchange things. The clothes and gizmos we haven't used will go into storage boxes, and the items we've collected (rocks, a walking stick from Mexico, and other souvenirs) will get offloaded too. Then we'll go "shopping" among our other stored items to see what we need. It's fun to shop your own stuff.

The rule about refitting the trailer is that nothing is sacred. Everything that is in the trailer gets considered: Do we need it? Have we used it in the past six months? Are we sure we will need it in the next six months? Anything that flunks the tests gets put back into storage, to make room in the trailer for more useful things. This process also ensures that we expose all the nooks and crannies for cleaning, which is important for keeping dust under control. Other people unload their Airstream after every trip -- but as full-timers we don't get that opportunity very often.

August 20, 2006

Low on Fuel

Home at last. We are parked, temporarily, in the driveway of one of our longest-term neighbors. Mary L happens to have a nice straight long driveway and she was happy to lend it to us tonight so we wouldn't have to go searching for a campground. I grew up two houses away from here, and lived on this street from 1966 through 1981, so courtesy parking my Airstream at the neighbor's house really is a new twist on "coming home."

Charlotte courtesy parking.jpg
Mary L and my mother greeting the Tour of America

Emma is having a long-awaited sleepover with her grandmother tonight. Eleanor and I are preparing for a lot of tasks we need to complete while we are in Vermont: car inspections, maintenance, dumping unneeded stuff into storage, selling off furniture, cleaning the Airstream, checking on friends, etc. We will be very busy, I expect.

Along the way here we came up I-87, the NY State Thruway, which comes up from Albany into the Adirondacks. I had forgotten how hard it can be to find gas in the Adirondacks, and made the mistake of exiting the highway onto Route 8 near Horicon with only 1/4 tank left. Thus began our unintentional empirical test of the gas gauge's accuracy ...

I have not had the occasion to test the gauge below about 1/8 of a tank during our ownership of the Armada. However, I have been in this situation before with our prior tow vehicle, a Honda Pilot. The sinking realization that you are on perhaps the last gallon or two of fuel, and making headway at only 10 MPG is bad enough. But when you are in a place known primarily for trees, lakes, mountains, and remote villages -- on a Sunday afternoon at 5 pm -- in the rain -- in a place where cell phones do not work -- the sinking feeling turns into a stomach-churning nightmare.

Turning around on a twisting Adirondack road with a 30-foot trailer is not often an option. There wouldn't be any gas behind us, anyway. Garminita's database of gas stations has proved to be unreliable, so she wasn't much help. I began to drive more carefully, touching the brake minimally, slowing down, coasting wherever possible. Mentally I began reviewing the procedure to follow if the engine suddenly sputtered and quit (power steering and power brakes would fail, but the trailer brakes would still work).

One option we have always reserved for emergencies is to park and unhitch the trailer roadside, then go get gas. Without the trailer, our fuel economy doubles, which could make all the difference. I was getting ready to do that after we passed through Horicon, Brant Lake, and Hague without spotting an operating gas station, and the fuel gauge passed below the "E" indicator.

The little orange "low fuel" light was on for over fifteen miles, and our level of despair was peaking, when we spotted an unexpected pair of gas pumps in a dirt lot next to a small campground. It was the sort of impossible gas station approach that I would normally bypass (uphill, two sharp turns), but in this case I was pleased to be gouged at a price about $0.40 per gallon more than what it would cost just 10 miles away. I bought three gallons, maneuvered very carefully to escape the pumps, and drove on to Ticonderoga to fill up at a more normal price. Between the two stations we bought 25 gallons.

So now we know: the gauge can go below the empty mark in this truck. The tank is rated for 28 gallons, but I would not dare to conclude that we had three gallons left. I think it more likely that the pumps shut off early. Now that we've "tested" the gauge, I hope never to cut it that fine again.

August 19, 2006

Rochester, NY

Lou and Larry made us feel so at home in Lagrange that we didn't feel particularly motivated to leave today! We ended up staying hours longer than we should have, departing finally at 3 pm. Of course, the prospect of spending time on I-90 wasn't very enticing either -- it's not a highly interesting road through Ohio, Pennsylvania, and New York.

We have passed a small milestone today: 30,000 miles on the Armada. We've crossed the country from Atlantic to Pacific and back four times towing our Airstream with it since last October. Our tires are nearing replacement time. We've roamed everywhere we could find to go from 200 feet below sea level in Death Valley, up to 11,000 feet in the Colorado Rockies. Except for a small transmission line leak, it has been reliable and completely up to the task. I think it's safe to say that the Armada has proven its worth as an Airstream tow vehicle.

Since I'm dispensing praise, I should also mention the fine folks at Garmin. We sent our beloved "Garminita" in for repair back in Colorado. Email communications with Garmin were very professional and easy. Once I received an RMA #, I was told to expect the GPS back after 4-5 working days. Instead, Garmin diagnosed it the day they received it, and since they couldn't fix it economically, shipped back a free warranty replacement the next day! Nice job, Garmin.

Today's drive brought us through rain and thunderstorms for five hours to Rochester NY, where we are ... guess ... parked at a Cracker Barrel. It's deja vu all over again -- each one of these places is absolutely identical. Even McDonald's has more variation. If the parking lot wasn't different, I'd wonder if we had gone anywhere at all. But I still love 'em for their very cordial overnight parking policy.

Northeast humidity has struck since we arrived in Ohio. We'd almost forgotten how thick the air can be. A week ago we were in the dry clear thin air of Colorado, at 8800 feet. I loved it. Now we are down toward sea level in air so heavy you can drink it. I've never been a fan of humidity but I guess we'd better re-acclimate because we are going to be in the northeast for a while.

August 18, 2006

Lagrange, OH

We are done at Airstream. Today was highly productive, and it's a fitting end to a long week. The guys in the shop took our trailer in and did the best they could at hiding the damage where the wheel came off.

JC repair 1.jpg

Here's a shot as the trim was being removed. The aluminum side sheet was stretched as it was bent by the wheel coming off. This meant that bending the aluminum back would have only fair results. But the alternative was removing the side sheet -- a complex job that involves removing several access doors and part of the entry door. I think Airstream estimates this job at about 40 hours of labor.

I decided I didn't want to put our trailer through that trauma. Also, we'd have to stay for several days to get it completed, and file an insurance claim with our $1000 deductible. It wasn't worth it for a simple cosmetic problem. So I asked the guys to do the best they could without removing the metal, and they did.

Here's the result:

JC repair 2.jpg

You can still see the wrinkle in the aluminum, but the new trim and a bit of caulk help minimize it. Also, we have the new aluminum wheel in place (which means we also have a spare again!) I think I'm going to have to do some cleaning on the trailer to get all my wheels to look this good.

We also got a few other items fixed, like a couple of broken latches and a faulty plumbing vent under the bathroom sink. Overall, there wasn't much to be done. I told the guys in Service and some representatives of the manufacturing facility how impressed I was with the way our Airstream has held up through 30,000 miles of towing in the last 10 months. They told me, "People really appreciate their Airstream when they use it!"

I didn't get to go through the factory on this visit, for lack of time. Photos and videos are no longer allowed on the factory tour anyway. But I have posted a bunch of photos of the factory from my visit in May 2004, on the Flickr photo album.

Lagrange Lou Larry.jpg

Now we are in northeastern Ohio visiting our friends Larry and Lou. We've courtesy parked in their driveway twice before (with Vintage Thunder, our 1977 Argosy), and they always make us feel at home. Emma is learning how to work with the dogs, Zora and Diega, to do tricks, and Eleanor is talking with Lou about homeschooling, since Lou is a former schoolteacher.

Tomorrow, we will begin the last big push across OH, PA, and NY states toward home ...

August 17, 2006

Airstream headquarters, Jackson Center, OH

We pulled in around 2 pm today, having taken an easy morning. We only had about 80 miles to drive today, which is much more pleasant than the miles we've been putting on lately.

It happens that the Museum of the National Road is in Richmond, IN, just a mile or so from where we parked last night. I have been working with a freelance writer on an article about the National Road, so it was fortuitous indeed that we were there. We dropped by and took some photos, and got a chance to meet the staff. You'll probably see that article -- and today's photos -- in the Fall or Winter issue of Airstream Life.

Now we are in the Airstream Terra Port, which is the courtesy parking that Airstream provides on its grounds for customers. If you are a service customer, it's free, otherwise $10 per night (honor system). All the sites are full hookup and Airstream provides free wi-fi too. Not bad.

JC factory.jpg
Airstreams on the assembly line, May 2004. Click for larger

August 16, 2006

Richmond, IN

Almost there ... another long day but the marathon is nearly over.

Along the way, we stopped at the famous gateway arch in St Louis. Or was it?

St Louis arch.jpg

... and then we parked for the night by a giant bowling pin. It's a day for giant fakes, I guess.

Richmond bowling pin.jpg

I forgot to mention that while in Creede at the rally I met up with David Tidmore of Roger Williams Airstream and picked up our new aluminum rim, hub cover, and a replacement Centramatic balancer. Thus our equipment is once again complete. I just need to get the spare tire mounted on this new rim and put the steel rim we are currently using back into the spare carrier.

David also inspected the lug bolts that I took out of the wheel when we had that breakdown in Green River, WY. The bolt that broke definitely had been overtightened. He showed me the stretched threads -- they were easy to see. Interestingly, none of the other five bolts I removed from that wheel showed any signs of thread stretching, so they may have been fine, but I’m glad I removed them as a precaution anyway.

August 15, 2006

Columbia, MO

Normally full-timers don't travel as quickly as we are right now. I always hate these big pushes, because we have to pass dozens of interesting spots. Instead of the relaxing travel style we normally have, it's rush-rush-rush.

Most full-timers we know don't do more than 300 miles in a day for any reason, and usually try to cover only 100-150 miles and then stop for a few days. Today we covered 532 miles -- the most miles we've done in a single day since we started full-timing over a year ago!

But that's I-70 for you. There's not much to see along I-70 in Kansas and the speed limit is 75 MPH most of the way. (We don't tow any faster than 69 MPH, by the way, regardless of the speed limit.) Although I was glad to pass the cornfields quickly, I was disappointed to pass the "Wizard of Oz Museum". (I love their phone #: 866-458-TOTO)

I'm always aware of when we are traveling through Missouri, whether on I-70 or I-44. It's the only state in the Union with a sex shop at every exit! No kidding, they are everywhere. I can think of a few theories why there are so many here, but I'd probably better keep those theories to myself...

last leg.jpg

Since we have only 516 miles left to go tomorrow, we could finish the drive in one more long day, but I think instead we will do 350-400 miles and give ourselves a break tomorrow evening to walk around somewhere. That will leave a short day for Thursday and we'll get a chance to do more while we are at Airstream's "mother ship" in Jackson Center.

Since we are on a high-speed leg, you'll note we aren't bothering with campgrounds. Tonight we are in the parking lot of a Cracker Barrel restaurant, for example. This saves money but more importantly it saves time. Checking into a campground at 8:30 pm is usually a procedure that takes 15-30 minutes, and for what? It's quicker and easier just to park somewhere for free. We aren't going to use the campground facilities anyway, so why bother with them?

We certainly aren't lacking for anything, without a campground each night. The solar panels have given us all the power we can use, so our batteries are full again tonight. I have researched dump stations along the highway using a web site but we really don't need to hit one. We'll be fine without any hookups or dump stations until we reach the Airstream Terra Port on Thursday night. Being independent is a big part of why we travel this way, and it's fun to use the capabilities to their best advantage when we are trying to cover a lot of miles quickly.

August 14, 2006

Goodland, KS

The Big Dash East has begun. We hung out in the west as long as we could but it's time to head home for a while. We've got an appointment in Jackson Center, OH (Airstream headquarters) on Friday and that's 1,656 miles from Creede, CO where we left this morning. So there's some serious driving to be done this week.

Big dash east.jpg

We said goodbye to Rich C this morning, with a big "group hug", and also bade farewell to a few other good friends in the vintage club. I checked all the tire pressures and lug nuts carefully, and by 10 a.m. we were driving beautiful Rt 149 southeast. What a sweet section of road that is -- decorated with green hills, red cliffs, the fast-moving water of the Rio Grande, and old mining towns. It was a nice drive.

We made good time today, thanks to speed limits of 65-75 MPH most of the way. The best news is that absolutely nothing bad happened. Eleanor and I listened to music on the iPod, Emma watched some Scooby Doo, we had stuffed animal fashion shows in the car (I was the judge), and generally the time passed uneventfully.

Tonight we are in Goodland KS at the Wal-Mart. It's sunny, sultry, and breezy here. We'll take a walk, do some shopping, make a pizza and watch a movie. The road trip is off to a good start.

August 13, 2006

Rocky Mountain Vintage Rally, Day Three

Another great day at the RMVR. Today was the Open House day. In the morning, we (and all the other rally participants) were open for each other to visit, and in the afternoon we were open for the general public. Thus, we basically spent most of the day socializing.

In between the two Open House periods, we headed over to Creede to take in the underground Mining Museum. In 1990 Creede hired some miners to tunnel out a Community Center, Fire Station, storage for the local constabulary, and a museum. All of these are located in the side of a mountain of rock just north of downtown. I've never seen a Fire Station built underground before, and it's odd to imagine a chicken dinner fundraiser or a Seniors Bingo Night being held in the underground as well, but that's what they do here in Creede.

The weather was changeable today, as it has been in Colorado for weeks now, so most of my photos ended up as interiors. Here are a few of the people at the rally and their trailers...

Creede Truitt.jpg

Harry and Kim Truitt have made over this 1966 Airstream Safari beautifully. Now they are ready to tackle the outside. Harry's the guy who sold me the 1960s Thermos.

Creede Liner.jpg
I didn't get this gentleman's name but I will later. He owns a pair of 1940s Airstreams, both in remarkably original condition.

Creede Raimondo.jpg
Patty Raimondo demonstrates the Dickinson marine fireplace she recently added to her very customized 1954 Flying Cloud.

Creede Bailey.jpg
Diane Bailey and her dog seem very comfortable in this plush 1961 Bambi.

Creede Supers.jpg
Rob and Sadie Super have been customizing this 1973 Safari for quite a while. It has a very cool aluminum and naugahyde interior. There's some finishing work yet to be done here, but the design inside is excellent.

A friend of Rob & Sadie's made this sign to commorate the long effort:

Creede sign.jpg
"Rome was not built in a day -- and they did not build it out of ALUMINUM!" Sign of the week!

This evening at Happy Hour everyone gathered around and sang Happy Birthday to me. (I'm 43 today!) Then we got a group of about a dozen people together and brainstormed for about an hour on the 1952 Cruiser project we are doing for Matthew McConaughy (Project Vintage Lightning). Some excellent ideas came out of this, which you'll be able to read about in the Fall issue of Airstream Life.

I want to publicly thank all the people who worked to put together this superb rally. It's a lot of work to put on a good rally, and the talented people who volunteered their time have made this rally one of the best in the nation. Everything, from the signup process to the goodie bags, from the entertainment to the presenters, was first-rate.

This is our last day in Colorado. Tomorrow we must hit the road to Ohio if we are to keep our appointment at Airstream. We're already packed and ready to hitch up. It's going to be four days of long hauling ... We'll also be saying goodbye to Rich C for a few months. He's heading to Florida for medical treatment, and we will probably not see him again until November. It is a bittersweet time for us, leaving the west and many friends behind, but we are headed home to other friends and family, and that will be a nice thing too.

August 12, 2006

Rocky Mountain Vintage Rally, Day Two

Terrific rally day today! This morning Herb Spies did his famous Airstream polishing demonstration, on a pretty Colorado morning in front of an audience of about thirty people.

Creede polishing crowd.jpg

Herb gave us the theory and technique of polishing, complete with demonstrations of polishing using a low-cost Harbor Freight grinder and an expensive Cyclo polisher. Herb prefers Nuvite polishes, by the way, but he acknowledged that you can polish with a wide variety of products.

Creede polishing.jpg

Later in the morning we had the Swap Meet, which was fun. I sold most of my remaining Airstream Life shirts, and bought a very cool 1960s polished aluminum Thermos drink cooler for our 1968 Caravel back at home. The seller was kind enough to arrange shipping back to Vermont for me, so I won't have to find room in the Airstream for it.

In the afternoon Emma and Eleanor headed off to collect rocks in the mining area north of downtown Creede. Mike Bertz, who we last saw in Tucson, is here at the rally and he lent Eleanor a rockhammer and chisel. They came back with plastic bag full of colorful stones. I think a few of them will polish up nicely. While they were gone, Molly Butterworth and I reviewed the layout for her article on "Streamlining", which will appear in the Fall 2006 issue of Airstream Life.

Creede western dinner.jpg

This evening the dinner was western themed so we all showed up in whatever we had. Great catering, including a HUGE selection of homemade pies. I swiped a spare piece of cherry for later ... there was plenty.

Creede Fred.jpg

After dinner, Fred Coldwell put on another of his fine presentations on vintage Airstreams. This one was 1964-1968 Airstreams, a subject that interests me in particular because our vintage unit is a 1968 Caravel. At 9 pm he finished up and the campfire was lit outside, but we decided to call it an evening. Tomorrow will be a busy day -- it's Open House day. I've got to photograph about a dozen trailers and their owners, while we try to hold Open House at our trailer at the same time.

August 11, 2006

Creede, CO

First official day of the rally has been mostly nice ... Creede is an interesting old mining town with a historic downtown butted up again towering rock walls. We took Rich C into town and did some exploring.

Creede downtown.jpg

There's a lot for such a small community: a historical society, a museum, hotel, general store, "self-service B&B", a dozen or more shops, a lot of rental cottages, and "the best doghouse in Creede." We went to the dog house and got some bratwursts for lunch.

Creede doghouse.jpg

From downtown you can drive a few miles up into the former mining country and see abandoned mines everywhere. We were told the rockhounding was good, so we took the drive.

Creede rockhounding.jpg

In 15 minutes of hunting we found some colorful stones and a lot of rocks flecked with iron pyrite (Fool's Gold). Eleanor and Emma are planning to head up again tomorrow to do some real searching. Emma wants to find a piece of fluorite.

The road makes a grand circle up into the mountains to well over 10,000 feet, and then winds down with views of Creede and our campground.

Creede view.jpg

This evening's rally events were great, too. Tonight was the chili dump, a notorious event where everyone brings a portion of homemade chili and it all gets mixed into a big pot and served. It came out pretty well ...

It's a shame that the evening had to end on a bad note. When we returned to our campsite, after dark, we found our new friends and next-door neighbors pulling their vintage Airstream out of their campsite. They had only arrived this morning. I was told that the campground management was rude to the mother over some minor issue, and their 13-year-old daughter spoke back, saying "You can't speak to my mother like that." The management, unable to deal with a 13-year-old, evicted them on the spot.

We've been here only one day and it has become obvious that this campground is not family-friendly. Every child attending the rally except Emma has had a run-in with the management. The campground is busy selling long-term leases for campsites (reportedly for $60k!) and apparently would prefer that children not be part of the scenery.

The transition to leased campsites is not attractive anyway. Rich C was bitched at by some busybody "owner" (lessee) for pulling up in the wrong spot while registering for his site. I (and several other people) got lectured for using a "private" walkway alongside the campsites. Some of the people who are buying lots here have crossed the line from happy campers to possessive fools. If that's what "campsite ownership" turns people into, I'll never do it.

Our other Airstream neighbors are leaving tomorrow -- three days early. Even though they don't have kids, they no longer feel comfortable staying here. I am wondering if we'll be next. We would hate to leave the rally, but ethically we are caught between supporting our friends who put a lot of effort into organizing the rally, and disagreeing with the policies of the campground management. One thing is certain, I cannot recommend the Mountain Views RV Park in Creede Colorado to anyone with children, and if you don't have children, be sure not to set foot on an "owner's" campsite.

August 10, 2006

Morrow Point Boat Tour

We had conspired to take the Morrow Point Boat Tour this morning before heading south to Creede. The National Park Service has a tour down the Black Canyon of the Gunnison where it becomes the Morrow Point Reservoir, on a 42-passenger pontoon boat, and it seemed like a fine way to wrap up our stay in Gunnison.

But this morning, as I was making our pre-flight checks, I found that one of our tires had gone flat. Yes, another flat tire. Was our luck about to turn ugly again?

Fortunately, the tire had only a slow leak. We refilled it with Rich C's portable air compressor (mine does not have a long enough cord to reach the driver's side -- something I'll have to rectify) and the tire held air. But since we don't currently have a wheel for our spare, we needed to get the tire fixed immediately. I figured that the trip downtown to get a tire patch would make us late for the boat trip, so we resigned ourselves to spending yet another day at a tire shop -- and losing our non-refundable fares for the boat tour.

Gunnison tire shop.jpg
The Tour of America, or Tour of America's Tire Shops?

And then we got lucky. The second tire shop we tried was willing to squeeze us in, and the problem was located and fixed in about 20 minutes. (It was a small nail this time, right through the center of the tread.) I stopped the mechanic and gave him a short synopsis of our previous tire/wheel problems, wrapping up with, ".... and so that's why I want to torque the lug nuts myself, OK?"

He was amenable to that, and just spun the nuts on loosely. I carefully tightened them using the procedure I had learned back in Green River, WY, and checked them five, ten, and 25 miles later. This little episode only cost us $20 and about 45 minutes including hunting for tire shops so we decided to see if we could still make the boat tour.

We drove about 10 miles west on Rt 50 to the Elk Creek Visitor Center, unhitched the trailer in the parking lot (with permission), and raced another 15 miles west to the parking lot for the boat tour. From there, it is a hike down 232 stairs and along 1/2 mile of abandoned railroad bed to the boat launch on the Gunnison River in a deep canyon. We made it, with ten minutes to spare!

Gunnison boat tour leaders.jpg

Our tour leader and Capt. Tom told me later that they were actually going to wait for us. Apparently the rangers at Elk Creek radioed ahead to tell the sad tale of a family who got a flat... in fact, by the time we arrived, all 39 other guests on the tour were aware of our story.

Gunnison waterfall.jpg
Click for larger

The tour takes about 1.5 hours and is spectacular. The canyon walls rise from 100-300 feet up to several hundred feet, as it widens into the Morrow Point Reservoir. There are a lot of interesting sightsalong the way including the waterfall pictured above, an old narrow gauge railway bed, hawks & vultures soaring above, caves in the rock walls, and beautiful calm waters.

Gunnison cnayon.jpg

After the tour we hiked back up the 232 stairs and over to Elk Creek again, where Emma picked up her 14th Jr Ranger badge and we hitched up for the trip over to Creede. Route 149 to Creede is predictably scenic, but that also means curvy, hilly, and remote. It took us nearly three hours to drive about 100 miles, mostly because of the 11,500 ft Slumgullion Pass just past Lake City. Speed limit on most of the southbound (uphill for us) portion of the pass is 15-25 MPH most of the time, and so we climbed the hill rather slowly in first gear. But it was a troublefree climb and descent.

We are in Creede at the rally campground now. When we arrived it was pouring rain and absolutely dismal so we stayed in and haven't seen anyone yet. There are at least two dozen cool vintage Airstreams here already, and more than 30 more expected tomorrow. I'll get pictures ... and I'll get the new rim from David Tidmore when he arrives, so we can get our spare tire mounted on it for the NEXT flat.

August 09, 2006

Downtown Gunnison

We spent part of today exploring the downtown of Gunnison. It's a small town, but everything is there, from the western outfitters to the old barber shop. Uptown you'll find the newer places such as Wal-Mart and the quickie oil-change place. We stopped to get the oil changed and found ourselves in line behind Rich C's Titan.

I think you can learn something about a town from the architecture you find. In Gunnison, you can find ...

Gunnison victorian.jpg
a beautifully maintained stone Victorian ...

Gunnison hotel.jpg
a colorful former hotel ...

Gunnison studio.jpg
and an industrial-style artist's cooperative, complete with welded steel fence -- all within three blocks.

To me, this indicates a town with vivacity, a sense of community, and history. I'm sure we'd like to live here, if it weren't unbelievably cold and snowy all winter. But we've been warned by locals: this is nothing like "banana belt" Salida, even though the altitude is similar. I can believe it. Each evening we've felt the wind rise and the temperatures plummet. It's nice now, but I don't want to be here in December!

August 08, 2006

Black Canyon of the Gunnison NP

After Eleanor and I got a few hours of work done this morning, we packed up a picnic lunch and headed to Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, about 50 miles west of here.

Along the way we saw all the great campgrounds we would have liked to have stayed in this week. The Blue Mesa Reservoir starts just a few miles west of town and there are several great National Park and commercial campgrounds right along side it.

Gunnison cg.jpg

A little further down, we spotted a pair of vintage Airstreams parked in a tiny roadside campground. Linda Hogan was there reading a book next to a burbling stream. We last met Linda in Sisters OR at the vintage rendezvous just before the International Rally. She and her fellow travelers will be at the Rocky Mtn Vintage Rally later this week.

Gunnison vintage.jpg

Once again, Colorado has amazed us with its splendid scenery. Just the drive along Rt 50 is worth the effort, but then once you arrive at Black Canyon of the Gunnison NP, the vertical scale of the canyon is downright stunning. My pictures can't possibly do justice to the incredible overlooks. The walls of the canyon are decorated with crazy lines of pinkish pegmatite amidst the darker schist.

Gunnison canyon.jpg

This is our kind of park -- uncrowded, photogenic, and remote. We spent over an hour in the Visitor Center alone, and of course Emma scored another Junior Ranger badge -- her 13th, I think.

Gunnison jr ranger.jpg

By the time we left, it was past six and we had to hustle to get back to camp by 7:30. I grabbed a quick bite for dinner and headed up to a nearby Recreation Area with Rich C to get some sunset photos.

Gunnison scenery.jpg

The light and the scenery were unbelievable at sunset -- a photographer's paradise. Both Rich C and I shot dozens of photos while we were up there. All of these photos were shot without filters.

Gunnison riders.jpg

The area is riddled with mountain bike trails, 4WD trails, and fantastic rock spires. We may go up again tomorrow, since it is only five minutes from the campground. The dirt roads generally require a high-clearance vehicle, but they go on "forever" according to the locals, from the recreation area to BLM land to National Forest. We'll take the Nissans and go exploring.

August 07, 2006

Where to camp?

A blog reader who shall remain only partially anonymous (Brad A) wrote me today to ask:

Do you use the Passport America discount on your trip? I'm just starting to check it out for our route, and it looks like it'll pay for itself pretty quickly, like a the national parks pass. It's one of those things that seems like such a good deal, it must be a trap- maybe they coax you into a box, and you wake up drugged and are forced to sew Nikes somewhere in the Phillipines.

We just started using Passport America in northern California, when Rich C dragged us to a place in Klamath that offered the PA discount. We bought a PA membership on the spot and the first two days discount paid for about half the cost of the membership.

What we've found is that those places that offer PA tend to be the ones at the edge of town or in the less-desirable spots. That doesn't make them bad, but because of their locations we end up only using PA places once every few stops. I think at this point we have spent about 10 nights in PA camps and 7 or so of those were eligible for the discount rate. That easily paid for the membership, since most nights are discounted to about half the regular rate.

When we are looking for a place to stay, we go down this list:

1) National Parks
2) State Parks
3) Courtesy parking
4) Boondocking in remote area
5) County parks/ BLM camps/ Corp of Engr camps
6) Commercial campgrounds w/ PA discount or KOA discount
7) Wal-Mart, Cracker Barrel, Camping World, casinos, etc. (if staying only one night)
8) Gas stations, empty parking lots, etc.
9) Commercial campgrounds with no discount
10) Highway rest areas (extreme desperation)

Keep in mind that this list is oriented to our interest in natural areas, socializing, and cheap camping. We don't feel the needs for full hookups unless we are going to be staying for longer than four days. Other people feel differently, so you may not agree with the order we use. Still, with this policy we have managed to keep our campground expenses generally under $300 per month.

Of course, the order of the list can change if weather is extremely hot (A/C needed) or we need to be in cell phone or Internet range. That's why today we are at the KOA in Gunnison rather than at some very beautiful campsites a few miles west of town near the lake. Cell phones don't work over there, and I have work to do this week.

I think PA is a good deal if you camp a lot. Keep in mind that not every place offers the discount every day. Some are restricted to 2 nights, or weekdays only, etc. It works best if you have flexibility in where you want to stay.

We keep the PA guidebook under the front seat with the atlas and the KOA book. I'm planning to add books on Corps of Engrs campgrounds and BLM campgrounds to the pile. Rich C swears by "Don Wright's Guide to Free Campgrounds" as well.

If anyone has a guidebook that they recommend, post a comment here and share it with everyone!

August 06, 2006

Monarch Pass

Reluctantly we left Roger and Brenda behind this morning after visiting the site where they are building their new home in the foothills near Salida. The views in Salida improved this morning, with a temporary lifting of the clouds, and showed us how spectacular and panoramic the views are in Salida this summer. But it wasn't long before the thunderstorms began building again, as we began the long climb up to Monarch Pass on Rt 50.

The grade is only 6% up to Monarch Pass, but the road climbs and descends for about ten miles on each side. At the peak, we reached 11,312 feet and paused to ride the Monarch Pass Aerial Tram another 700 feet up a very steep peak.

Monarch Pass tram.jpg

The reason I felt obliged to stop is that we've got an article coming up in a future issue of Airstream Life about aerial trams ... and this is one the author hasn't yet covered. So I took pictures for the magazine and some notes. My major note is that very steep vertical climbs in aerial trams make me really nervous.

Monarch Pass tram loading.jpg

Monarch Pass tram trlr view.jpg

But Emma and Eleanor loved it. It was fun, but I was glad to get off it all the same.

Monarch red tram.jpg

Definitely don't forget your camera on this trip. It's short but very impressive. Several mountain ranges are visible from the top, and you can straddle the Continental Divide from the observation deck at the top -- from an altitude of 12,000 feet.

Monarch Pass view.jpg

Everything worked fine in the Nissan and Airstream too. No problem towing up to 11,300 feet, and nothing exploded in the trailer. Last year when we went over 11,000 feet a bag of sour cream and onion chips went poof. And hey, all the wheels are still on!

Everything in Gunnison CO was booked except the KOA next to the airport, so that's where we ended up. It's a good thing we don't mind the sound of airplanes running up their engines, and taking off. (In fact, I kind of like it -- reminds me of going to Oshkosh and Sun'n'Fun.) We're parked on grass, our cell phones work, we have free wi-fi, and that's all pretty incredible considering how small Gunnison is and how remote we are.

Rich C came to meet us, up from his base in Cortez CO. We'll spend the next three days checking out stuff in the area. There's a lot to do. Tomorrow will be mostly a work day but then we'll get to Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park and a few other things too.

August 05, 2006

Downtown Salida

We moved the Airstream from the Wal-Mart lot over to a space next to Roger & Brenda's house. Even though it's only a hundred feet on the other side of the fence, it seems so much nicer here. We still haven't plugged in, since I wanted to see how the solar system performs on cloudy days. (With mixed sunshine and clouds, we easily were re-charged in a few hours.)

Salida wall art.jpg

We spent most of the day in the historic downtown of Salida. The commercial section is only about three blocks wide and five blocks deep, but it's filled with interesting shops, parks, and restaurants. One of the interesting little features of Salida is the commercial art painted on the sides of the brick buildings. The more you look for it, the more you'll notice. I shot pictures of at least a dozen good examples.

Salida Airstream.jpg

Wandering around, we found a 1966 Airstream Safari parked right in front of what used to be a Firestone tire shop. The owners are artists who use the building for workspace on the weekends. We told them about the upcoming Vintage Rally in Creede and they are thinking about dropping in for a day.

Salida river.jpg
Kayaking along the river, downtown Salida (click for larger).

The foot of downtown is defined by the river. It's ideal for practicing whitewater kayaking, with long gentle sections of quickwater punctuated by small drops and standing waves. I was able to get in close to the kayakers practicing flips and get some great action shots.

I've uploaded a bunch of photos from Salida to the Flickr photo album.

Salida kayaker.jpg
An intentional forward flip. Click for larger.
Salida is a neat place with a unique climate. Despite being at 7000 ft, it gets very little snow. The valley is surrounded on three sides by 14,000 ft mountains, which squeeze the moisture out of the air. As a result, most winters experience only a couple of good snowfalls which disappear quickly. They get less snow here than Denver or Colorado Springs, and 315 sunny days a year.

But not this week. It has been unusually wet this summer, and has been raining regularly each afternoon, like Colorado Springs was doing to us last week. We don't mind the rain, having seen very little of it, but all the same it is hard to believe the locals' claims that the place is normally parched, when everything here is so very green and lush now.

August 04, 2006

Salida, CO

We're moving again, and as always it's an interesting challenge. Our drive from Colorado Springs southwest to Canon City was sunny and uneventful. We took a four-mile detour off US-50 to go see the Royal Gorge Bridge, but I was disappointed to find that you can't even walk on the bridge without buying an expensive admission ticket to the "Park" that goes with it.

We were only there for a quick look, so instead of going in, we parked up in Lot B (overflow area) with a few other RV'ers and had lunch with a gorgeous 360-degree view of the mountains. From our lofty spot I was able to receive Sprint and get online to do a few last-minutes pieces of business during lunch, which was a bonus.

If you go to the Royal Gorge Bridge area, you will find no end of places to spend money. There's a Royal Gorge Route train that goes through the canyon below the bridge ($39 adults, more for 1st Class or meal service), a narrow-gauge railway that goes near the bridget ($9), a bunch of "western" towns with shoot-em-up shows, the Royal Gorge Bridge and Park itself, gift shops galore, and numerous other attractions. One could be forgiven for thinking that the bulk of Canon City's economy is based on the bridge.

Canon City shootings.jpg
Another place that did not get our tourist dollars today

Our plan today was to drive up to Salida to meet with Roger and Brenda Roelfson. We met them last October in Denver and I interviewed them for the magazine. They used to live in Mississippi. You can read their story of fleeing Hurricane Katrina in the Spring 2006 issue of Airstream Life magazine (look for the article "Silver Survival Pod").

About nine miles east of Salida we found the last public-lands campground before town, along US 50 bordering the Arkansas River. Rincon Campground is in the Arkansas Headwater Recreation Area, which intermittently follows the road. It's a pleasant enough spot and a great starting point for fishing or rafting, but close to the highway.

We called Roger from Rincon, thinking we'd spend the night, but it turned out that the house is next to a Wal-Mart Supercenter in Salida. Hmmmm.... pay $14 for a campsite by the highway with no services and have to drive 9 miles back and forth to the Roelfson's house, or pay $0 at Wal-Mart for a parking space by the highway with no services and walk next door to dinner?

So we drove into Salida and here we are parked only a hundred feet from our hosts, on asphalt provided by Wal-Mart. Eleanor went into the store and stocked up on groceries for the next two weeks, thus assuring that Wal-Mart is happy with our presence. And I am communicating with you courtesy of Roger's wi-fi, which I can receive in the trailer using my little Linksys repeater. Not bad.

August 03, 2006

The best way to visit friends and family

A few days ago when were browsing around Colorado Springs I spotted an interesting looking restaurant called "The Edelweiss" (shouldn't it be "Der Edelweiss"?). Tonight, Arthur and Allison proposed taking us there. They spent a few years in Germany and gained an appreciation for German food. Plus I could not recall ever having been to a German restaurant so it was worth going just to try.

The food was indeed good, and it was a nice way to wrap a nice week of visiting. Of course, I didn't do much this week other than work on the dining room table, but Eleanor and Emma got to see a fair bit of Colorado Springs. There's still more to check out, but we plan to be through here again next spring and hopefully I'll be less busy with work.

Co Spgs carousel.jpg
Emma, Allison, and Hannah at the zoo

I think part of what made this week so pleasant is having the Airstream as our home base. Visiting people can be so stressful when you are under their roof. Their household rules apply, not yours. It's easy to feel like an imposition, taking up a bedroom or the couch in the den, eating your host's food, taking up space. With the Airstream we were free to come and go as we pleased, sleep in if we felt like it, have breakfast in our home, and generally stay out of the way. So at the end of a week of visiting, nobody felt tense from "too much togetherness". I doubt we would have stayed a week otherwise.

Tomorrow we are heading up into the mountains. "Up" is relative, since we are already between 6000 and 7000 feet, but for the next two weeks we will be even higher, in the cooler air. This will be our last move west for a while...

August 02, 2006

Operation Kill Paper begins again

Sorry I've been offline. The in-laws offered to take Emma for an overnight with her cousin, and Eleanor and I took the evening off to go out on a date. I figured if I'm taking an evening off from being a parent, I can take an evening off from being a blogger, too.

With a dining room table and high-speed Internet available to me, I decided to get back to Operation Kill Paper, which was last conducted in December back in San Diego. The plan is to reduce this:

Co Spgs kill paper pile.jpg

... to this:

Co Spgs kill paper CD.jpg

I found that most of the paper can be trashed immediately. It's amazing how much paper we had in the files that we really didn't need. I spent much of yesterday and today scanning the rest, and earmarking things to be dropped off in storage when we get back to Vermont.

Getting rid of the paper is a job, too. It's all sensitive data, filled with account numbers, tax ID #s, SS #s, etc. Shredding it all is out of the question -- I have enough to overheat any shredder, and shredding takes too long anyway. We'll burn it tomorrow night in the campfire ring.

People often say how "brave" we are for tossing the paper in favor of scanned images. But really, this is much safer. A fire or water leak in the trailer would probably result in total loss of our paper files. Once scanned, however, I have multiple copies and can re-print any document in seconds. One copy of everything will be on my laptop, another on Eleanor's laptop, a third on my backup hard drive, and a fourth copy will be burned to CD and mailed offsite for ultimate security.

Moreover, I don't have to worry about someone coming in the trailer and stealing documents for purposes of identify theft (not that I was really concerned in the first place). I can easily encrypt the entire folder of "scanned documents" so that nobody but Eleanor and I can view them -- better than a safe!

The only downside of this is the initial job of scanning a few years worth of documents. We brought documents (mostly tax records) going back to 2003. I have invested several days, counting the time back in San Diego, getting all that paper reduced to electrons. Going forward it should be much easier, since I scan new incoming documents every couple of weeks, and also because we are receiving much less paper these days than before we started full-timing.