Balloons
(August 30 to October 21, 2005)

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After spending a marvelous summer touring the Oregon and Washington coasts and the Olympic Peninsula, we headed to Portland to get a new left side front windshield replaced on the motorhome. You may remember that it suffered a stress crack the day we arrived in Washington. No cause for the crack was determined, so we are hoping it was a fluke and doesn't recur anytime soon. We had the work done at Sierra Glass in Beaverton, which is just to the west of Portland. The owner, Gene Whittaker, took good care of us while we were there. We spent a night there and then moved down the road to the Camping World, where we spent the Labor Day Weekend. We pretty much just hung around and took in some movies.

A few months ago I read a short article about a sushi restaurant in Portland called Todai. It turned out to be a chain of very large sushi restaurants where the food is served buffet style. They also had hot foods on the buffet. It wasn't as cozy as a small sushi restaurant, but it sure was a good way to fill up on sushi without spending a lot of money. It's very easy to run up the lunch or dinner bill with sushi when you go a la carte. Given there were many Japanese folks eating lunch the day we were there, we figured it must be an okay place. The prices were $12.95 for lunch and $23.95 for dinner. We had lunch and we both got our money's worth.

We met Jim and Patty Hammond back in 2000 when we were all starting out with our full-timing lifestyle. They were on the road for a little over two years and decided to go off the road and build a house in a Sun City community in Lincoln, California. We planned our post coastal tour to put Lincoln in our path on our way to Phoenix so we could visit with them for a few days. There weren't many campground choices in the area. We opted for the Loomis Campground that was closest to Jim and Patty's house. It was an okay campground but very expensive at more than $30 for what they offered. No WiFi. No cable TV. Wooded such that we couldn't use the dish.

The Sun City community in Lincoln was huge and will top out at around 6800 homes. There are two golf courses there and Jim and I played one 18-hole round and one 9-hole round. Nice courses. They took us on a tour of Sun City and it is one of those retirement communities where it's almost impossible to not have something to do everyday if one chose to be that busy. The houses in these communities are pretty much cookie cutter type houses. Some folks don't like that look, but that wouldn't be a concern to us when we decide to come off the road. We really like the Kings Ridge community in Clermont, Florida and those are cookie cutter houses. What would be more important to us is amenities and closeness to activities, like a movie theater and golf courses. It was great to see Jim and Patty again and we had a very nice visit, including one evening to see a guy named Rich MacLeod perform some oldies a local pub.

It was now time to start heading east. We had a couple of scheduled events along the way, so we had to time our travels. Our plan was to cross the country via I-40. Given that we were fairly close to the Phoenix area, we knew we had to stop there for a visit with Diane's sister, Carol, and her family. We had some time and had a couple of movies to catch up on, so we parked the rig at the Camping World in Bakersfield over the weekend and then drove on to Phoenix. We took our time and did two overnight stops at the Flying J in Barstow and in Kingman. I am much more partial to green than brown as far as where I would choose to live, but I find the desert to be beautiful when driving across or staying in the West. The drive across the Mojave was marvelous as the terrain changed from flat to hills to mountains. We crossed the Tehatchapee Pass and went over other mountains along the way as we made our way into Arizona. What a beautiful country we have.

Of course, September was not exactly the time of year that one would want to spend two weeks in Phoenix. It was 100+ degrees just about every day we were there for two weeks, which challenged our refrigerator. There are lots of RV resorts in the Mesa area and we chose to stay at Val Vista Village, which was made up of a couple of other RV parks. The price was right at $97 per week for that time of year, plus they offered FREE WiFi access. We got a site in the Fiesta RV Resort section and were right across from the WiFi antenna which gave us a good signal. We stayed in the Mesa area in 2001 during peak season, so it was quite interesting to see a large 1000 site RV resort virtually empty. However, within a month the snowbirds would start arriving and activities would pick up.

It was great to see Carol and Kevin again and Diane was very happy to visit with her sister. We got together several times at their house and went out to eat at a place called Buca di Beppo, a family style Italian restaurant. Great place, and they have locations around the country. Carol home schools her children, and works a part time job, so our visiting time was somewhat limited. Diane and I filled in the time with movies and some local touring, such as Scottsdale. You may remember that we are trying to recover some Hilton points we lost due to inactivity, so Carol and Diane took advantage of the opportunity and went off for a sisters night out at a local Hampton Inn.

It wasn't as hard to say good-bye this time given that next winter we will be out west and planned to spend a couple of months in the Phoenix area. We booked our site at Val Vista Village for March 1 to May 1. Hopefully, we'll get the same site so I can get a WiFi connection from inside the motorhome.

One of the places we have always had on our list of places to visit was Albuquerque, New Mexico. But it had to be in early October so we could do the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta. This year provided the perfect opportunity to do that as we traveled back east across the country. There were several choices as to how we could do the fiesta. We could do it alone, or with the Escapees group, or the Newmar group, or with Good Sam. We opted to do it with the Newmar group as we knew that Steve and Trish Brown were also going to be there, and we knew the co-hosts of the rally, Barry and Terry Klein. We took two days to drive to Albuquerque with an overnight at the Flying J in Winslow and then one night at the Flying J in Albuquerque. It was time to have annual maintenance done on the motorhome, so I scheduled it for the day before we went into the fiesta park for the rally. There was an Onan Coach Care facility in Albuquerque, so we parked the rig there for a couple of nights.

Diane had a cousin, Artie, who lived in Albuquerque and whom she hadn't seen for more than 30 years. She made contact with him and he drove over to the Flying J and then took us into Old Town Albuquerque for a nice Mexican dinner. I had never met Artie before, but I had met his twin brother, Alan, who lived in Connecticut. Tragically, he died in a house fire many years ago.
We walked around a bit before going back to the motorhome. As Old Towns go it was pretty nice, mostly shops and the Church of San Felipe de Neri. It is the oldest church in Albuquerque and has continuously served the community since 1706 when it was founded by Franciscan Friars. During its history, it has been served by the clergy of Durango, Mexico, the Jesuit Fathers and Brothers, and currently by the archdiocese of Santa Fe. We had a nice visit with Artie and I know Diane enjoyed visiting with him and chatting about family.

The rally was from Wednesday, October 5 to Sunday, October 9. When we arrived at the fiesta park we were able to park next to Steve and Trish. The rally included entry into the fiesta, a ride on the Sandia Peak tramway (booked as the world's longest aerial tramway), some meals, and a tour to Santa Fe. One of Diane's top things to do has always been to ride in a balloon and she got to do that during the fiesta.

The Sandia Mountains are the lower part of the Rockies and provide a great backdrop for Albuquerque. The city is what I think of when I think of the southwest. Lots of adobe buildings. Vast spaces. Mountains. The tramway takes you from around 5,500 feet to 10,378 feet over 2.7 miles of cable. At the top is The Hi Finance Restaurant, a very pricey place with great views. It was part of our rally fee, so we enjoyed the tramway, the great meal, and the views.

The Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta is the largest balloon festival in the world. We learned that around 700 balloons were registered to participate, with balloons coming from 45 states and 13 countries. It was hard to tell how many RVs were parked in the campground (a large dirt area with some partial hookups (electric and water) and boondocking sites, but it sure looked like there might be upwards of a thousand RVs, or more. We also were told to expect around 300,000 people Friday night and Saturday night.

We were scheduled to take a balloon ride on Thursday and had to be there at the unnatural hour of 5 AM. Trish and Steve Brown were scheduled at the same time. They were parked next to us at the fiesta, so we went over together. Unfortunately, the weather was rainy, windy, and there were electrical storms in the area, so all launches were canceled. We got a refund and found out we could come back the next morning at 5 AM for standby status. So we got up early again on Friday with no guarantee that we would get to ride on a balloon. We took the shuttle bus up to the fiesta park and walked down to the Rainbow Ryders booth to see if the four of us could get a ride. The line was long, but we kind of had an in from the day before when Trish chatted with a lady who seemed to be a supervisor. She said she would try and get us on the list towards the top. Sure enough, we were about the fourth group to be called up and the four of us were assigned to the same balloon and the same hop. Balloon rides are done in roughly hour long hops. The first hop goes up from the fiesta park and lands somewhere the balloon can be put down. While the folks are taking their ride on the first hop, the other group of folks act as the chase team and follow the balloon to its landing spot. Then they board and the people in the first hop become the chase team for the second hop.

The first several balloons that go up are know as the Dawn Patrol and their job is to test the wind conditions at different altitudes. Friday morning was cool but calm. We were led out to the launch site for our balloon, known as California Dreamin, where we met our pilot for the ride, Pierre "Pete" Brunner. He was from the San Diego area. Control of whether, and when, balloons can launch are under the control of the "zebras", so called because their uniforms were similar to those worn by football officials. Once the all clear was given, the balloon crews started blowing them up with large fans until they stood straight up. It was a beautiful site watching all the balloons fill with air (but not all 700 at one time). When they started rising to the vertical position, the pilots would blow hot air into the balloon which caused them to sort of glow in the dark.

Most balloon crews use a small basket that can hold two or three people, but the commercial crews use bigger baskets that hold up to twelve people. We had ten people on our hop. The second hop had twelve people. The basket wasn't actually that easy to get into for some folks, but everyone made it in with some help and nudging. Then it was time to lift off. Wow. It was fantastic. Up we climbed with absolutely no noise. We drifted with the winds at the different altitudes for about an hour. The only noise was the occasional blasts of hot air provided by the large propane tanks. The views were magnificent as we went through different altitudes up to a height of about 6,800 feet. Given that we were around 5,000 feet in Albuquerque, that meant we were up almost 2,000 feet. After almost an hour, Pete found a landing spot in an open area near the Sandia Casino. We were warned the landing could be a bit bumpy and it was as we hit the ground and bumped a couple of times and then were dragged until the chase crew could get to the basket to help stabilize it. Then it was time to switch positions with the folks who were scheduled for the second hop.

We watched them rise as we climbed into the van to act as the chase crew for that hop. Here's where it got very interesting. There were more than a hundred balloons up in the air and the winds changed. It was blowing the balloons to the south and east (mostly south). That meant they were heading towards stores, shopping centers, schools, office buildings, etc. We could see that Pete was searching for a place to put the balloon down. We could hear the chatter on the radio and see him bring the balloon down and then take it back up because their were obstacles precluding a landing, such as power lines or not having a large enough field on which to put it down. Pete had the two chase vans in sight and would tell the drivers which way to turn as we wound our way through local streets. Finally, we could see that he was coming down as we crossed over I-40. I could see just the top of the balloon and see that he had touched down. I leaned over to Diane and said that it sure looked like he was very close to the interstate. Then we heard Pete on the radio telling the drivers to hurry up because he had to put it down on the side of the interstate just off the shoulder. The vans pulled into the rear parking lot of a flooring store. The balloon crew jumped out of the vans and ran to the fairly tall wrought iron spiked fence to climb over it and get to the balloon. Some guys from the neighboring spa and hot tub place had already come out and were trying to stabilize the balloon. They got a long strap that was attached to the basket and threw it back over the fence. Then a bunch of us pulled on the strap as Pete used the hot air to lift the balloon enough to clear the fence so we could get the balloon into the parking lot. With that accomplished, everyone breathed a sigh of relief and gave Pete a big hand for bringing the balloon down safely.

Pete drove our van back to the fiesta park, so we got a chance to chat. I had asked him on our hop about what was his hairiest ride and he told me about a couple of flights that were a bit hairy. He said this one ranked right up there and was fairly stressful. He said there weren't many places to put the balloon down had he continued across I-40. Pete said they sit down and chat about rides to learn from each other to see what may have gone wrong on a ride and how to avoid it.

Back at the fiesta park, Pete explained why it was tradition to celebrate a balloon ride with champagne, so he opened a couple of bottles of champagne, or soft drinks for those not interested in the champagne, or mixed it with orange juice for a mimosa (which is what most of the folks drank). He told us the story about why it was a tradition and it had something to do with Louis XVI. Pete concluded by reciting the following prayer:

"The winds have welcomed you with softness.
The sun has blessed you with his warm hands.
You have flown so high and so well that
God has joined us together in laughter and set us
gently back into the loving arms of Mother Earth.
          - Irish Balloonists' Prayer"

We had a fantastic day, one of those days you remember for as long as you live.

Some folks have asked us if we would take another balloon ride.  You bet.  But ballooning is not without risk.  They make you sign a waiver that you can get hurt or die or whatever.  I had to sign the same kind of papers when I got an epidural, so no big deal.  Last year the Smokey the Bear balloon drifted into a 700 foot tower.  The basket was about 600 feet above the ground.  Inside were three people, a grandfather and his two grandkids, I think early teen or preteen.  They couldn't get a chopper in because of the guy wires so they had to climb down the tower.  I wondered what they would do if someone froze and just couldn't bring themselves to climb down the tower. I'm not sure I wouldn't freeze, and I'm about positive Diane would freeze.

On Saturday, the winds blew the balloons north away from the camping area at the fiesta park, so we lost site of them.  The newspaper had a story about those flights and said balloons were landing all over the place, including on state highways.  Our tour guide on our bus tour to Santa Fe said there is an unwritten rule that the locals will drop everything to go help a balloon if it lands anywhere near them.  That's what happened on the second leg of our balloon when it landed just off I-40.  Some workers from nearby businesses came out and hopped the fence immediately to help with the balloon until the chase crew could get there.

Another balloon was trying to "splash and dash" in the Rio Grande River where the pilot takes the balloon down to touch the water and then go up.  Well, on one of the attempts, the balloon splashed, but didn't dash.  There were no injuries during the fiesta.  However, early in the week they had a distance race and one of the experienced balloonists (he won the race last year in Europe) experienced a severe down draft while over Kansas and the balloon got tangled in some power lines.  The basket tipped 60 degrees and he fell out and broke his pelvis and one arm fractured in several places. His co-pilot, a woman whose name I forget, got the balloon untangled and managed to land it many miles away.  I guess that's what makes it exciting.  There is some risk.

The final activity of the week was a bus tour to Santa Fe. What a nice city. Very southwestern with lots of shops and restaurants. We had lunch in a Mexican restaurant and then had a couple of hours to walk around. Diane and I visited the San Miguel Church, the Loretto Chapel, and St. Patrick's Cathedral, and walked through many shops.

The San Miguel Church is the oldest church structure in the United States. It original adobe walls and altar were built by Tlaxcalan Indians under the direction of Franciscan Padres around 1610. The Loretto Chapel was the first Gothic building west of the Mississippi. It was patterned after Sainte Chapelle in Paris and was built between 1873 and 1878. The chapel is known for its choir loft staircase. It was referred to as miraculous due to its two complete spirals without center or side supports which defied engineering logic.

One of Diane's favorite symbols is the "kokopelli", the flute player. He is regarded as the universal symbol of fertility for all life, be it crops, hopes, dreams, or love. She has kokopelli earrings and a small statue that stands on top of our stereo cabinet. In Santa Fe, there were more kokopelli items than I had ever seen in one place. Diane found a very nice denim shirt with very colorful kokopelli on the front and back. She left Santa Fe a happy camper.

We had a fantastic week in Albuquerque and must plan to return to visit again.


After the balloon fiesta we had six days to travel from Albuquerque to Fairfield Glade, Tennessee where we were scheduled for a timeshare week. We took our time and pretty much hopped from Flying J to Flying J. We stopped in Amarillo, but the Flying J lot was too tight to park the rig for the night, so we went to the Wal-Mart where Steve and Trish had parked. Then we stopped in Oklahoma City; Russellville, Arkansas; and West Memphis, Arkansas. The final night
was spent at the Camping World in Nashville, which turned out to be fortuitous. Our RV friends, Kirk and Pam Wood were in the area and we were able to get together for dinner.  That's one of the great perks of life on the road, hooking up with friends on the road.

Along the way, the electric side of our hot water heater failed. I called Suburban because I was sure it was the thermostat that they installed at the Newmar rally in Salem, Oregon in June. But they don't make it easy and said they aren't allowed to ship parts to owners, only dealers, plus he couldn't know for sure it was the thermostat. Having had one fail back in 2003, I knew it was the thermostat. I took the cover off and it looked fried to me.  Just like in 2003.  I went into the Camping World and asked the guy what the chances were of them looking at the hot water heater by the next morning and he said slim.  I asked what the chances were he had the thermostat or heating element in stock and he said good.  Well, a guy named Scott Pearce overheard the conversation and offered to help. He was a Ford Motor electrician from Louisville and was at an RV rally at the KOA next door to the Camping World.  Well, he ended up not helping, but doing.  He tested the heating element to make sure that wasn't the problem, and it wasn't.  It was the thermostat.  He drew me a picture of the circuits and tested the connections.  He could see it was fried and said if I bought a new thermostat he would put it in and also fix the wire and connector.  The Camping World guy gave him a connector.  I really appreciated the help from Scott and offered him a bottle of wine that he didn't want to take, but I insisted.  I gave him a bottle of my favorite Bordeaux.

As usual when we go to Fairfield Glade, we parked the motorhome and went into a timeshare condo for a week. Diane loves the huge Jacuzzi tubs. My brother, Charlie, flew up for five days so we could play some golf. A friend of Charlie's, Greg Rasch, who I also know had recently moved to Fairfield Glade, so we visited with him a few times and we played three rounds of golf. Diane played with us one of the days, not so much because she is an avid golfer, but because the course we played, Druid Hills, has some great views of the Cumberland Plateau, which is where Fairfield Glade is located. The weather during mid October could be cool, but we ended up with a week of absolutely fantastic weather with temperatures in the 70s. The day we left it turned cold. Pure luck.

A final story - Hit by a deer.

There I was minding my own business on Sunday in Fairfield Glade while driving to a store to get the newspaper.  The speed limit was 30, but I was probably going closer to 40 as no one goes 30 along that stretch of road.  I happened to notice a couple of deer coming out of the right side of the road up ahead so I slowed down.  With the car slowed down, but still rolling, two deer crossed in front of the car.  I knew I didn't have to come to a complete stop to let them clear the front of the car.  Then out of the corner of my eye I picked up on something moving.  It was a third deer.  I braked hard and the car was almost stopped when the deer hit the right side quarter panel.  The deer bounced off the car and rolled over a couple of times on the shoulder, got up, and ran across the road to join his/her buddies.

I have never hit a deer in my life.  Still haven't.  That deer hit me.  ;-)

Oh, and the car?  Well, a dent in the upper part of the panel behind the headlight and the rear lower part was pushed in such that the door wouldn't open properly.  My handy brother took a screwdriver and was able to bend the panel out almost flush with the door, so it works fine.  I'll probably just leave it that way.

We left Atlanta in late April and would now head back to the Atlanta area to take care of doctors and dentist appointments and visit the kids and grandkids. After that, we will head to Florida to visit with my mom for a while and make a short stop in the Orlando area. We will head back to Atlanta for Christmas and then hook up with Norm and Linda Payne to travel out to the desert, Quartzsite, for the Newmar rally. Then we will join a caravan (Newmar) to Puerto Penasco (Rocky Point), Mexico. We will spend a week with the Newmar folks and then plan to spend an extra week in Mexico. Our big plan for 2006 remains a journey to Alaska provided, of course, that diesel fuel doesn't get any more unwieldy than it was in 2005.

With that I end this travelogue. I don't expect to put up another travelogue until probably in the Spring of 2006.

Until next time, safe travels.....

Copyright © 2005, Roaming America with Rich & Diane Emond - All Rights Reserved

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