A windy day in Nebraska

Just a quick post so my mother won’t worry about us …

We spent the day towing across Nebraska as quickly as possible.  We don’t have anything against Nebraska, but we made a conscious choice to spend more time in Denver and that meant something along the route east had to be sacrificed.  Sorry, Nebraska.

The goal was 400 miles but we actually stepped it up a bit and covered 500 miles, from the capitol of Colorado to the capitol of Nebraska (Lincoln).  A terrific wind all day made the drive more interesting.  We hardly noticed it, but we sure heard about it from other RV’ers and truckers during rest stops.

So we broke out the video camera and tried to get a few shots of the conditions.  You can see the video here.  The wind was running about 30 knots from the south all day, gusting to 40 knots occasionally.  It could have been a white-knuckle driving experience, but the rig performed beautifully.  I’m very pleased — it’s doing exactly what it is supposed to do.  The wind knocked down our fuel economy a bit (to 12.5 MPG overall for the day), but otherwise all went well.

The really good news is that we encountered no thunderstorms today, and tomorrow’s weather looks good too. No t-storms means no chance of hail or tornadoes, which are two things that would kill our Airstream.  I am always thinking about thunderstorms when we travel in the mid-west in the summer.

We’ll get an early start on Sunday so we can spend maximum time at our planned courtesy parking stop in Iowa over the next few days.  Right now, we’ve got to get some rest.  The trailer is rocking in the wind and it’s hot and humid, so it may be a slightly challenging night for sleeping. A cool shower before bed, and three vent fans running on MAX are prescribed for this evening…

Denver Art Museum

We stop in full-hookup places where the cell phone works partially to catch up on work.  So I expected to spend a lot of this week working, but I was not remotely expecting the two days I had Wednesday and Thursday.  I am in the middle of a bunch of projects, and they all suddenly intersected at once, unexpectedly.  That meant 12 hour days at the computer, thrashing out emails and dealing with all sorts of human interest stories.

By the end of each day, I felt completely fried and anti-social.  A couple of guys wandered by in the campground to talk but I was so burnt out I ducked into the bedroom while Eleanor chatted with our guests.  On Thursday I even passed up a night out at a local friend’s home, letting E & E go without me while I stayed back to decompress with a shower and a movie.

This is not how most people spend their time in their Airstream, but the life of a working full-timer is somewhat different.  Sometimes I envy those folks who only get in their Airstreams for relaxation and recreation.  I have to take whatever comes, and sometimes it’s not much fun.


But that only means we have to design fun into our lives.  So I got everything in order and we designated Friday as family outing day.  We chose the Denver Art Museum as our destination, combining a bit of culture, architecture, and home school field trip. (When she heard of our proposed destination, Emma had the audacity to complain, “My whole life has been a field trip since I was five!”  My comment back: “And you’re darned lucky! When I was your age … ” etc.  Note to future parents:  This is what happens when you let kids grow up to be age ten.  She’s lucky she didn’t drop that comment on Thursday — I would have cooked and eaten her liver.)

inside-denver-art-museum.jpgWe can definitely recommend the Denver Art Museum (DAM).  The main building (pictured above) is a bizarre slant-sided construction containing mostly contemporary art.  It is attached via a 2nd story bridge to the North Building, which has seven floors of all kinds of fabulous art.  We managed to spend four hours in the North Building and it was hardly enough. Eleanor and I tried to interpret the displays in a way that Emma would appreciate, and somehow we managed to keep her relatively interested through the entire visit.


If you happen to go downtown for the Mint or the DAM, observe the local parking situation.  There are many small parking lots, and they have an interesting pricing structure.  One block from the Mint, parking will cost you $10.  A block away, it will be $8.  Next door, the lot is $7.  Across the street from that, it will be $5 or $6.  Go another half-block and you can score the same parking for $4.  We even found a lot where one entrance said $5 and the other entrance said $4.  In cases like this, we will always park the extra block or two away and get the benefits of (a) cheaper price, and (b) a healthy walk.  You can’t lose, really.

Our day was broken up by the need to go visit one of my best clients, Timeless Travel Trailers in Wheat Ridge.  TTT has, for the past year, underwritten the cost of producing the free Online Edition of Airstream Life magazine, for which I am grateful.  Brett Hall runs the place and is always an interesting guy to talk to, so I always make a point of dropping by when we are in the Denver area.  If you ever get the chance to visit, you should, because they do some incredible work in the shop.  They are also one of the two shops in the world that can buy new Airstream shells for custom conversion.

The main building of DAM stayed open until 10 p.m. tonight, so we were able to go back downtown after our TTT visit and spend another three hours exploring the modern art.  There was some minor grumbling from the backseat when this plan was announced, but once we were in the Museum again and appreciating the strangest of the avant-garde works, Emma was riveted again.  I tried to encourage her by “warning” her that we were about to see the “really weird stuff, bizarre things that no human should contemplate.”  You can’t go wrong telling a kid that things are about to get amusingly weird.

That wraps up our Denver visit.  Tomorrow we hit the road, covering the many flat miles of Nebraska along I-80 as we head to our next visit in Iowa.  It looks like a long and boring drive, but at least we have good weather ahead — no chance of the Airstream-devastating hailstorms that are common in the midwest this time of year.  We will start early so we have time to sniff a few roses along the way, while still covering a solid 400 miles east.

Denver, CO

One of the very best things about owning an Airstream is that we can “live” in all of our favorite places without having to buy second homes, timeshares, or hotel rooms.  As we’ve traveled the country we have found a number of places that we seem to be drawn to again and again.  Without the Airstream, we just couldn’t afford to make the long visits to those places that we’ve become accustomed to.

Denver, our current stop, is one of those places. We have a remarkable number of friends in the area, including several regular contributors to Airstream Life.  There’s a very active vintage Airstream community here.  Recreational opportunities are excellent, the climate is mostly dry, and Colorado in general is a great state.  Every year we spend a week or two here, and it costs us about $250 a week to live in the Airstream, conveniently located in Cherry Creek State Park, with all the comforts of home.

Another spot is in Vermont, where we have family.  With courtesy parking, two months in our rolling condo costs us exactly $0.  Florida is another.  We spend a month in Florida every year or two, which costs us perhaps $800-1,000 for camping.  (Compare that to a vacation rental.)  And for that we get to camp on the beach in places like Fort Myers, Destin, and the Keys, plus Disney World’s Fort Wilderness campground and next to beautiful Florida freshwater springs in various state parks.  You can’t beat it.

Over the years we’ve collected a lot of favorite places.  I think discovering those places has been a big part of the joy of travel.  The first visit to every special place has always been the most memorable. We go back mostly in hopes of feeling that joy again.

I have talked about all of our favorite spots in previous blog entries (mostly the Tour of America blog) but I haven’t compiled a formal list because everyone needs to find their own.  Sometimes the aspect of a place that strikes us is something subtle that we can’t quite describe or quantify: a smell in the air, a small-town atmosphere, or a formative experience in an otherwise ordinary place.  It doesn’t matter.  The important thing is that we made a wonderful memory and if we go back we can add to the original moment. You’ll find yours, too.

This week we have been making the rounds of friends and places in Denver.  Our major tourist moment was going to the Denver Mint on Tuesday.  If you are hoping for free samples you will be disappointed, but you can buy a shiny gold-colored presidential dollar coin in the gift shop for the bargain price of … $1.  Considering that we are talking about the Federal government here, that’s really not bad. No tax.

The tour is about 30 minutes and includes a peek at some of the heavy-duty industrial gear that is used to make coins.  You don’t get to see too much, and photos are strictly prohibited, which is why you will see no photos here.  Security is tight.  An armed officer is positioned both behind and ahead of the tour group at all times, so there’s no possibility of wandering off on your own tour.  You can’t bring in anything larger than a wallet.  We went through a metal detector and they required me to remove the battery from my cell phone.

colorado-state-capitol-building.jpgThere are good exhibits, but the machinery is mostly hidden in the form of a series of large metal boxes that do mysterious things.  Unless the conveyor belt is running, you can’t really tell what anything does from the mezzanine viewing area.  You could just as easily be touring a cheese factory. Go for the exhibits and the tour guide’s interpretation, not to see big machines stamping out coins. By the way, the Denver Mint doesn’t make paper money.  The word “Mint” in its name might have tipped you off, but a lot of people are surprised by this, so I thought I’d mention it.

After the Mint we checked out the state capitol building, just a short walk away. That meant another metal detector, but after that we were free to explore the architecture.  Colorado’s capitol follows the usual rotunda-and-marble theme of most others.  It’s fine, but Wisconsin’s capitol building in Madison is considerably more interesting for tourists.  Not far away, across the park is a bizarre mishmash of architecture surrounding and including the Denver Art Museum.  You have to see it to believe it.  Downtown Denver is spectacular for architecture, and I could definitely take a few days to walk around and see it all.

Visiting local friends and being tourists on Tuesday has meant several meals out, so Eleanor has not had need or opportunity to make dinner for us since her video debut on Monday.  Tonight she’s going out to see a friend without me, which is great for me since I’ll get to eat leftovers of Monday’s fantastic little stew.  I think we’ll try to do another food video blog in a few days.  This weekend we’ll be boondocking across Nebraska, which might result in some brutally honest “we just towed 400 miles and I don’t feel like cooking” moments.  Will we just roll over and eat at Cracker Barrel, or will Eleanor get creative?  Tune in to find out.

Where’s my dinner?

Eleanor and I are trying a new experiment.  No, it’s not one of those experiments to “liven up the marriage,” but just something that we’ve wanted to do for a while.  As we travel, we’d like to periodically produce a simple, low production-value, video blog about food.  So we took a stab at a first episode today, and you can see it here.

eleanor-video.jpgWe have no particular aspirations for this, and we don’t expect it to be a major hit.  It’s just one of those things we do for ourselves.  Eleanor has a lot of good ideas and a lot of experience at cooking (not to mention a degree in Culinary Arts).  It has been more than a decade since she last worked as a chef, and so the video blog is simply an outlet.  It’s a chance to explain what we eat when we are in the Airstream and how she prepares it. Hopefully it will be helpful to someone else who likes to travel and cook, too.

Right now the video blog has no name, and no home.  If we keep doing them, we’ll set up a website for them.  (Don’t expect anything as professional as The Long Long Honeymoon, however.  Those two are pros — we’re just hacks at this video blog game.) For now, it’s just for fun.  We’re thinking about calling it, “Where’s My Dinner?”

Our drive today was only about 70 miles, from Colorado Springs to Aurora (a suburb of Denver).  We’ll settle in here for a few days to get some work done.  I have plenty to do.  Although most of the work for Alumapalooza was completed weeks ago, we still have lots of small tasks, and as the event date approaches the phone seems to be ringing more.  We have 118 trailers signed up and we expect over 125 in the final count.  About 260 people are signed up to attend so far.  An amazing number of people are flying in, too — I think the Hampton Inn in Sidney OH (our official hotel) is going to be Party Central for all those folks without trailers.  So Brett and I have been very busy trying to make sure everything comes off just right.

The only thing that keeps me awake at night is the possibility of rain in the days before the event.  Everyone hates mud.  Since this is an El Nino year and it seems like it has been wetter than average almost everywhere, we’ve got a tractor on standby just in case things get sticky in the field.  Pray for dry weather on May 29-31 …  but probably it will all be fine.  I’m obsessing a little because I want everyone to have a terrific time.

On the maintenance front, I did get around to lubing the squeaky ball on the Hensley hitch, but I didn’t shoot a video of it.  It would have been a horrible video, because everything went wrong.  I forgot to do the job before unhitching the car, and it’s really difficult to do once unhitched, because the darned thing is so heavy.  I use the car’s receiver connection to support the hitch head (which is what I was going to demonstrate on the video) and of course I didn’t remember until the trailer was completely set up.

So everything had to be done twice, and there were plenty of glitches like the cordless drill battery going dead, and me accidentally smearing the back of my hand with grease.  It wasn’t a pretty scene.  But eventually it all got done and now we are squeak-free again.

This may seem like a small thing, but it’s actually very important.  I like the hitch to run as close to silent as possible.  That way, if something cracks, loosens, or otherwise fails to operate normally, I will hear it and know to investigate.  This turned out to be quite important two years ago when a hitch bolt came loose on our Nissan Armada.  The squeaking of the hitch ball was driving me insane today because it kept setting off my “danger” radar.

One other thing I forgot to mention:  we are traveling with a four-foot long fiberglass greyhound.  It used to hang in the Greyhound Bus station in Phoenix.  I call it “Glassie.”  As pets go, it is pretty good.  No “walkies,” no scooping, no barking, no shedding. I could get used to this but the dog belongs to a friend in the Chicago area for whom we are transporting it.  An Airstream is a better and safer method of shipping a dog than UPS, as it turns out, except that the dog keeps falling asleep on our bed during towing, and I have to evict it to another part of the trailer at night.

Colorado Springs, CO

We were lucky — the weather driving up I-25 from Las Vegas, NM to Colorado Springs, CO was nowhere near as bad as I had feared.  A few sprinkles to wash the Arizona dust off the car, and gray scudded skies were the worst of it.  Even in the Raton pass the wind was not bad at all, which made the trip only mildly uninteresting, which is better than extremely interesting when you’re talking about weather.

I am really enjoying the rear-view camera we installed on the Airstream.  I leave it on most of the time we are towing, and it acts basically to replace the rear-view mirror. The wide angle lens is ideal for backing up because I can see things to the sides and above the trailer (like tree branches that might scratch the top) but the corollary is that it is not so good for seeing vehicles at a distance as they approach on the highway.  No matter — it is still great to have early warning as vehicles approach to pass, or when somebody is tailgating.  It’s also great that I can now back up short distances (like at a gas station) with positive assurance that nobody is standing behind the trailer in the blind spot.  We don’t have a blind spot anymore.

I’ve found, however, that there is no substitute for Eleanor standing beside the trailer to guide me in when backing into a campsite.   The fish-eye perspective of the camera makes judging distances almost impossible.  I tried it here at Cheyenne Mountain State Park yesterday and it was clearly not going to work.   So we’ll continue to back into tight spots the way we always have, using hand signals.


Last year I blogged about Cheyenne Mountain State Park, saying that it was a great addition to the Colorado State Parks system, and clearly many people agree.  We had to book our weekend reservation weeks in advance, and even then we could not get a contiguous 3-day stay.  So today we had to hitch up and move to a new site for our next two nights.  It’s still worth it.  Like some other Colorado State Parks, the campsites are primo: landscaped and manicured sites with pink concrete pads, full hookups, beautifully laid out, hiking trails everywhere, and almost every site has a view. Plus a good laundry, store, an awesome visitor center, picnic areas, etc.  I should stop talking about it or the next time we won’t get in here at all…

It’s particularly ironic to be enjoying the great state parks of New Mexico and Colorado when the goofball politicians back in Arizona are busy devastating the state park system there.  If you want to camp in Arizona, be aware that the state park you planned to visit may be shuttered or operating on a limited schedule this year.  Other states are enjoying record attendance in their parks (SD) (NC) (VA) (FL) (MO) and can clearly see the economic benefits of state parks, but some of Arizona’s state legislators have seen an opportunity to raid a fund and cut a budget item.  Which will be the most sustainable long-term choice for the state’s economy?

Well, we’re spending our money in Colorado now, and thanks to this state park in Colorado Springs we will stay for three nights when otherwise we would probably have stayed only one or two.  If we hadn’t made reservations up in Denver for Monday, I would be booking a fourth night, because I’ve since found more things to do here.   State parks are a long-term investment in a state’s future economy and quality of life.

Today we had planned as a free day, but the weather was not great for outdoor stuff, since it is cool and thunderstorms have been popping up.  That’s when the errand list comes out.  There’s always something that needs doing, whether it’s a little shopping or a bit of maintenance on the trailer.  Since we just got started, I had only two items on the trailer list.  The strut jacks on the Hensley hitch have been binding lately, and that’s a problem solved with a few shots of silicone spray.   As we pulled into Colorado Springs, I also noticed the distinct squeaking that tells me the hitch ball needs lubricating.  With a Hensley, that’s a job most easily done while the car is still connected.  I’ll do that on Monday when we get to our next stop, and maybe shoot a little video to show you how we do it.

When we were full-timing we were often asked how we decided where to go.  There’s a long answer to that, which involves juggling a bunch of priorities, but part of the answer is that we try to get ideas from people we meet. That’s what happened today, when we met up with blog readers Al and Jo.  They told us about the work they do with Canine Companions for Independence, training puppies to become service dogs. We learned that these service dogs go through a lengthy training before they can become service dogs, and when they are done they actually have a graduation ceremony.  So attending one of the ceremonies got added to our list of “interesting things to see” and we might even get to see one this November.