(August 30 to October 21, 2005)
You can click on "photos"
directly to the first photo page, which has a connector to the second
page (if there is one).
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
We had a fantastic day, one of those days you remember for as long as
Some folks have asked us if we would take another balloon ride.
bet. But ballooning is not without risk. They make you sign
that you can get hurt or die or whatever. I had to sign the same
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
above the ground. Inside were three people, a grandfather and his
grandkids, I think early teen or preteen. They couldn't get a
in because of the guy wires so they had to climb down the tower.
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
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
over the place, including on state highways. Our tour guide on
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
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
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
dash. There were no injuries during the fiesta. However,
early in the
week they had a distance race and one of the experienced balloonists
the race last year in Europe) experienced a severe down draft while
Kansas and the balloon got tangled in some power lines. The
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.
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 the Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi, and walked through
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
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
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
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
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
going closer to 40 as no one goes 30 along that stretch of road.
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
rolling, two deer crossed in front of the car. I knew I didn't
come to a complete stop to let them clear the front of the car.
out of the corner of my eye I picked up on something moving. It
third deer. I braked hard and the car was almost stopped
the deer hit the right side quarter panel. The deer bounced
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
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
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
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.....