Hitchcock Nature Center, Iowa: Our new value standard for a partial hook up park

Before our failure to start problems in mid-Nebraska, the plan was to continue through the state into Iowa and spend the weekend at Waubonsie State Park.  After the starting problems delayed us, and with Flatwater Repair’s strong recommendation, we headed straight to Omaha to get our probable fuel-air leak checked out by Interstate Power Systems, and if resolved that day we could then continue in to Iowa.   Theoretically this could leave our recently developed route and timeline back to Florida mostly intact.

Not gonna lie: we are

Not gonna lie: we are “collecting” states. If we pass near a border, we are damn well gonna swerve in to stay the night so we can claim another state on our RV map.

Having arrived at Interstate on a Saturday too close to the end of their half work day for them to do more than take a cursory look, we made arrangements to come back Monday morning.  We checked the route to Waubonsie, and seeing that it was an hour from our current position southwest of Omaha, we looked at the notes from our state by state route planning research to find a back up option.  We discovered that the Hitchcock Nature Center was only half an hour away, also just across the Iowa border.  Hitchcock Nature Center sign

We called the ranger station, and they assured us they had plenty of spots left.  We made a quick stop for supplies and pulled into this small, county owned campground less than an hour later only to find that we had really pushed it: the park has 18 spots total and 16 were filled!  We picked the better of the two remaining, and watched the last site fill before sunset.

Hitchcock Nature Center has two loops: the upper with ten spots as seen here, and the lower with eight sites.

Hitchcock Nature Center has two loops: the upper with ten spots as seen here, and the lower with eight sites.

As the post title suggests, this park is partial hook up: electrical only, 20, 30 or 50 amp. But what the park does have is excellent overall value: RV sites run $15 per night with no extra fees for the shower houses, dump station, water fill station, and shockingly usable wifi.

Loews Hills prairie

Loews Hills prairie

I mean really usable: strong signal, plenty of bandwidth, and no “browser page capturing” that can cause technical glitches with different computer platforms.  Even when the park was filled we had no trouble any time of day with basic functions.  We didn’t think to try full video streaming until the park emptied out on Sunday, at which point we were fully able to use HBO Now and other similar services.Hitchcock sunset

If this were just a one night way station we would have been thrilled with the services offered at only $15/night.  But this place is way more than just a stopover, it is a nice destination for a several day stay.  The 1,268 acre park has 10 miles of hiking trails, a lodge, interpretive center, playground, archery range, and a hawk observation tower above the tree tops.  We took advantage of the trails and platform, startling a deer on the former and spotting two bald eagles from the later.

Bald Eagle Wingspan: Getting the right perspective before ascending the hawk viewing platform

Bald Eagle Wingspan: Getting the right perspective before ascending the hawk viewing platform

As I said, the park was completely filled on Saturday, and the friendly campers turned out to be almost entirely locals that frequent this park and a couple of others nearby on many weekends during reasonable weather.  There were two camp hosts, though it was not clear if this was a usual situation, and one seasonal couple using their fifth wheel as a home base since Hitchcock was closer to most of his railroad work assignments.  By Sunday it was just the two camp hosts, the seasonal couple, us, and one other family that showed up for a three day stay as part of their “gap year” following college graduation and before starting either work or a masters program.

Fireside cocktails and story time with the great couple spending the season at Hitchcock.

Fireside cocktails and story time with the great couple spending the season at Hitchcock.

Several of the park residents made reference to the better value of Iowa versus Nebraska public camping parks, specifically suggesting that in the neighboring state they tend to nickel and dime you on extra costs, such as dump station fees and coin operated showers.  They thought we should look into several other very affordable parks in Iowa as well.  While we are not going to be able to do that this year, we will keep it in mind for the next time we pass through the midwest.Hitchcock boardwalk trail

At the end of our first year we plan to review many of our lessons learned and experiences, and one intended topic will be the “best” and “worst” places we stayed using varying criteria for what is good and bad.  I strongly suspect that from a “bang for your buck” view, Hitchcock Nature Center will be near the top of the list.

There was a lot of raccoon roadkill on the road leading into Hitchcock. This pooch seemed like he was bringing one home. As a gift. For the family.

There was a lot of raccoon roadkill on the road leading into Hitchcock. This pooch seemed like he was bringing one home. As a gift. For the family.

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Our route back to Florida from Colorado

UPDATED 11/9/15!  Changes marked by line out (deletions) and italics (additions), and the route map has been split into two maps: Colorado to Arkansas in one and Arkansas to Florida in the other.

Our original plan for the year was a clockwise tour of the US following the seasons:

  1. Winter headed west across the south
  2. Spring up the West Coast
  3. Summer rounding the corner headed east across the top of the country with detours into Utah and Colorado
  4. Fall coming down the east coast all the way from Maine to Florida.

We followed this plan for the first two season, but our series of mechanical problems, particularly the nine week breakdown in Colorado, derailed part of the Summer and Fall plan.  Rather than jaunt back north to continue an eastbound run across the top of the country, we are going to have to skip most of New England and intersect the east coast much further south.

Part of the justification is time driven: we need to be in North Carolina for Thanksgiving, and part is weather related: it’s getting too cold to be so far north and we want to minimize the chances of getting snowed in.  As we neared the end of our stay in Greeley, we started to solidify some of the details for this revised route back to Florida.  In very general terms, we planned to go about 400 miles east, then 500 miles south, then east again all the way to the Atlantic in North Carolina. Specifically, it looked like this: Half way through the journey and the route taken already looks like this:

  • Chimney Rock Pioneer Crossing, Nebraska for two nights
  • One Two night stop in middle Nebraska. Sunny Meadows RV Park and the parking lot across from Flatwater Repair in nearby Overton.
  • Waubonsie State Park, Hitchcock Nature Center, Iowa for three nights
  • Interstate Powersystems, Omaha, NE for four nights
  • Clinton State Park, Kansas for two or three
  • Roaring Rapids State Park, Missouri for two or three
  • Natural Falls State Park, Oklahoma for three one
  • Hot Springs National Park, Arkansas for three four

And the part we have yet to take, at least as of this 11/9/15 update, should end up sort of like this:

  • One night stop in west Tennessee
  • Mammoth Cave National Park, Kentucky for two
  • Chattanooga Tennessee for five days of mostly electrical work
  • Uncertain path continuing through Tennessee to Wilmington North Carolina via either South Carolina or Virginia
  • Great Smokey Mountains National Park for two
  • Congaree National Park for three
  • One night stop in north central part of North Carolina
  • Norfolk, VA for four
  • Wilmington, NC for four 
  • South to Florida mostly long the coast (not shown on map, ran out of points I could connect in google route planning)
  • Charleston, SC for three
  • Jekyll Island, GA for three
  • Gamble Rogers State Park, FL for five

As they say in the military, in battle the first casualty is “the plan,” and true to form, ours has already changed.  We were delayed a bit getting through Nebraska, changed our Iowa stop, and may end up skipping the Chattanooga repairs if what we are doing now in Nebraska solves most of the problems.  I will keep this map embedded here to refer back to in future posts as the plan continues to evolve.

Aaaaaand another problem: Trouble starting, possible air leak into the fuel lines

After spending one night in Sunny Meadows we planned to push on to Iowa and Waubonsie State Park, hoping to get one of the walk in sites there since we are inside the reservation window.  Unfortunately The Big Kahuna had other plans, and though the engine would turn over, I just couldn’t get him to catch and fire up.  I had been noticing some difficulty starting both before and after the Greeley repairs, but was not sure if it was getting worse and how much the recent cold weather in Nebraska might have contributed.  I tentatively tried a bit of starter fluid, but even that wouldn’t do it.  So once again it was mobile mechanic hunting time.

Pulling in to the shop.

Pulling in to the shop.

We got a recommendation from the Pilot station just up the road, and within the hour Andrew from Flatwater Repair was on scene troubleshooting.  He reset the master kill switch, verified a few other components were working correctly, and got us started using a bit more starter fluid than I was willing to spray into the system.  He strongly recommended we come down to his shop, fearing we had an air leak leading into the fuel lines allowing the fuel to drain back into the tank each night. This made sense since it seemed that I have been having progressively  more trouble getting Kahuna to start as time has gone on, suggesting that the leak was getting worse.

This type of picture is just a little too common by now

This type of picture is just a little too common by now

We followed Andrew ten miles down the road to the shop in Overton.  Flatwater assessed that we also had very badly corroded connections on every electrical lead between the batteries to the starter.  They re-soldered and connected them all, significantly improving our batteries’ starting capability.  The degraded current flow was exacerbating the probable fuel air leak problem: before the connection improvements we didn’t have quite enough juice to keep the engine cranking long enough for the fuel line to refill.  Fixing the connections was preferable to their original concern, that perhaps our ten month old starter batteries were going bad and not able to hold sufficient charge.

At least we had a nice sunset!

At least we had a nice sunset!

As for the suspected leak itself, when Flatwater’s owner, Bob, took a look he advised us to proceed on to Interstate Power Systems in either Lincoln or Omaha, as they were Detroit Diesel experts.  I contacted them, and unlike an unfortunately high percentage of supposed truck mechanics, they did not bat an eye at the age of our bus.  We made an appointment for the next day, Saturday.

And a diner type restauant attched to the repair shop and gas station which served quite good grilled cheese and reuben sandwiches.

And a diner type restaurant attached to the repair shop and gas station which served quite good grilled cheese and Reuben sandwiches.

At Bob’s suggestion we spent the night drycamped in the hard packed dirt lot across the street, generator hooked up to power our fridge, inverter, and accessories.  This lot is immediately behind a set of RV-style electrical connection posts owned by the railroad and used by truckers in their employ.  It seems we can’t escape trains: The Clarion hotel is a couple of blocks from heavily used tracks, Greeley RV Park is within earshot of them, as are Chimney Rock and Sunny Meadows.  Fortunately I find the sound of trains passing in the night almost comforting, which is a good thing because we were camped literally within 50 feet of the quite busy tracks.  Rosemarie is a little less enthusiastic about any future RV parks within miles of trains.

Our free drycamping spot for the night.  You can see the railroad cars in the background.

Our free drycamping spot for the night. You can see the railroad cars in the background.

The next morning, assisted by a shot of starter fluid, The Big Kahuna gave us no trouble starting and we headed 200 miles west to Interstate Power Systems on the outskirts of Omaha.  We were relieved to see the big Detroit Diesel and Allison emblems displayed prominently on their large building.  It had taken us too long to get there to expect that they would take us in and start work: it was less than an hour before they closed for the day, but two of their mechanics came out and took a quick look-see.  They are not sure about the Flatwater’s “air leak into the fuel lines” theory, particularly their guess as to which lines might be leaking.  While they have not ruled it out, they are thinking it might be the fuel lines inside the valve covers are leaking.

Poor Kahuna.  Will you never be reliable?

Poor Kahuna. Will you never be reliable?

Either way, we will be in bright and early on Monday to have them troubleshoot this issue, and we will provide our ongoing “punch list” of other less urgent issues to see if they want to take a crack at them with the couple of days we are willing to stay in Omaha.

East through Nebraska: Chimney Rock and Elm Creek

After we finally escaped from Colorado we got about 175 miles down the road, stopping at Chimney Rock Pioneer Crossing for a two days.  The place offered full service hook ups with a very attractive view of the name sake formation out our main front window.  Chimney rock is illuminated all night, and looks like some sort of octopus alien landing in the desert.

Chimney Rock

Chimney Rock

It is a small RV Park, about 20 spaces total, with rates dependent on what level of amperage you hook up to.  We ended up paying $25 plus tax each night, which seemed quite fair given the extraordinary view.  The park is situated on 160 acres of mostly clear fields and farmland.  Two pairs of the pull through sites were specifically designed and built to facilitate pairs of RVs travelling together such that they could have their main entrances face each other, creating a sort of joint yard between them.Chimney Rock Pioneer Crossing decor

Perhaps the best feature of the park is the owner, Joe.  He was incredibly helpful, spending part of his morning helping me find an oil leak that I assumed was transmission fluid but turned out to be regular motor oil.  The only down side to our stay was that we did not get the chance to explore since the weather turned cold and rainy the second day.

Alien Octopus

Alien Octopus

We left Chimney Rock and pushed half way across Nebraska to the small town of Elm Creek, leaving us roughly 200 miles more before we reach the Iowa border and turn south.  About half an hour before I was ready to call it quits for the day, we pulled into a rest stop and consulted the Passport-America book to check for nearby RV Parks with the heavily discounted PA rate.  We didn’t need anything fancy, just electrical power and a safe place for the night.  Perfectly positioned we found Sunny Meadows Campground only 30 more minutes down the road, exactly where I wanted to stop, offering a $15 PA rate with no restrictions for full hook up sites.

Reading the restrictions for each park on the Passport-America site is important: many of the participating places have length of stay minimums or maximums for the 50% off rate, and even more of a pain there are often the date restrictions blocking out entire months during their high season.  For instance the handful of PA parks in the Florida Keys block out January through March, some even block December and part of the summer.  We managed to lock in our favorite RV resort in Venice the week before the PA restrictions go into effect, but it looks like we are out of luck for The Keys.

Our site at Chimney Rock

Our site at Chimney Rock

Next, onward to Iowa, maybe.

A Fantastic Day in Loveland

In our last post we mentioned getting our tow rig installation done in Loveland, Colorado.  Since this was a complicated process, we had to spend the majority of the day there waiting.  Rosemarie located the nearest library, less than five blocks away. where we spent a couple of hours using their wifi.

We didn't make it to he east coast in time to see the leaves change, but Loveland is making up for it.

We didn’t make it to the east coast in time to see the leaves change, but Loveland is making up for it.

Later that morning we learned that a local nature sanctuary was conducting an educational program on nocturnal hunters, complete with live snakes and three different owl species.  So we joined the preschoolers and parents for what turned out to be a pretty cool event.

One of three owls at the presentation

One of three owls at the presentation

Afterwards we wandered the attractive downtown area examining the various restaurant menus before choosing Henry’s for bison meatloaf, elk and boar sausages, a glass of wine and a local IPA.  More than we planned to spend, but it was a great meal.

With plenty of time still to kill, we located Crow Hop, a local brewery just blocks from Kirby’s.  We sampled a flight of their flagship offerings.  Though only around for couple of years, they have already garnered several medals in significant beer events.  Their IPA was, not surprisingly, my favorite.

After a half hazard attempt at geocaching, we got called back to Kirby’s, the tow work complete and Loki ready to pick up.  All in all a very pleasant day, much better than just sitting in the mechanic shop’s lobby.  At least until the Sea Witch got me.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Loki’s first tow: Underway and out of Colorado with our Geo Tracker hooked up

We selected our tow vehicle in large part for the ease with which it can be “flat towed,” i.e., all wheels on the ground.  Most vehicles with automatic transmissions can’t do this since even if you place them in neutral, the transmission is not get lubricated during the tow process.  The main exceptions are 4×4 vehicles with transfer cases, like our Loki.

Having driven the tracker all the way from Florida, and finally being in possession of The Big Kahuna after two months away we set to the task of acquiring the remaining tow parts and getting them installed.  We ordered the base plate that gets bolted to the tow vehicle, had it shipped to Kirby’s Hitch & Wiring in Loveland, where they installed it, rigged the vehicle for brake and turn signal lights, and manufactured the electrical pigtail that connects the bus to Loki.  We also scrambled around town trying to find the proper safety tow chains that serve as a back up connection in case the main tow rig comes loose on the road.

"Drag test" from our hard packed dirt spot in Greeley.  Make sure the wheels roll properly.

“Drag test” from our hard packed dirt spot in Greeley. Make sure the wheels roll properly.

Once all this was done a helpful neighbor in the Greeley RV park guided me through the connection process, and we were ready for a light and road test.  We found two problems: the turn signal lights were wired backwards, and Loki’s back wheels dragged despite my having set him up to roll.  We solved the first problem with a drive back to Kirby’s to have them switch the wiring, and the second with an urgent request for help on the RV.Net forums.

The auto trans 4×4 trackers from the 1990’s can be rigged for tow by putting the transfer case shifter in neutral, the automatic transmission in park (!), the manual lock out hubs in free, and the key in the ignition and turned to the ACC position (so the steering turn lock does not engage).  Based on my description, the experts on the forum suspected I did not have the transfer case shifter in true neutral.  They were correct: I had assumed that if the shifter knob could be moved freely from side to side it was in neutral, when in fact it was still in “4 High.”  I needed to move it forward one more notch to get to neutral.  Once I did that we did another short pull to confirm everything rolled freely, then did a couple of miles of road test before we were comfortable taking it on a 175 mile tow into Nebraska.

Heading out of the park for a road test

Heading out of the park for a road test

Everything went great.  I notice the extra weight a bit going up hills and with what appears to be a bit less acceleration on flats, but we had no actual problems.  We arrived at the Chimney Rock Pioneer Crossing RV park in the mid afternoon, and have settled in for a two day stay before continuing east.  We are looking forward to stops in Iowa, Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Tennessee, and Kentucky before getting to Wilmington, NC to spend Thanksgiving with family.

Arrived safe in Nebraska

Arrived safe in Nebraska

Finally back in The Big Kahuna! SO good to be home…

Yesterday we picked up our bus from B & G Equipment!  The transmission appears to be working properly, which considering the thousands we had to spend, it better be.  Earlier in the week our latest mechanic, Jacob, reinstalled the tranny but found that the original symptoms were still present, i.e., even at idle or low speed it was constantly trying to force itself into “direct” (sort of the second gear) vice staying in “turbine” (low gear.)

Kicking up dust as we finally leave B&G's lot

Kicking up dust as we finally leave B&G’s lot

The organization out in California that rebuilt the transmission clutch provided phone technical assistance, and Jacob was able to determine that the hydraulic valve body that issues the signals to the transmission was bad.  In yet another example of the previous owner implementing non-standard modifications, there where signs that some of the ports had been drilled extra wide and then over time cracked, allowing fluid to leak by.  They managed to get the replacement sent overnight, but this was one of the reasons we ended up staying in the Clarion hotel as long as we did.

Rebuilt transmission with new valve body back in place.

Rebuilt transmission with new valve body back in place.

More than eight weeks away from our home mandated a weekend stay at a local RV park so we could get The Big Kahuna in order.  We needed a deep internal cleaning, reorganization of the storage areas since we brought some items with us from Florida, restocking of supplies, and sorting out of the tow rig for Loki.  Besides, we wanted to stay local at least until Monday in case the transmission acted up again and we needed to pull back into B&G for warranty work.

Arriving at our weekend park, Greeley RV Park

Arriving at our weekend park, Greeley RV Park

Consulting RV Park Reviews and Campendium, we settled on Greeley RV Park, the only one we found immediately in town with full hook up options.  It does not have the greatest reviews, but at $32 a night all in after Good Sam discount, we are finding it to be just fine.  We were fortunate to get a spot: in addition to the many long term railroad and oil field workers there was apparently a major dog show going on locally that filled many of the remaining spots.

Google Earth view of the Greeley RV Park South Annex.

The first night we had to stay in the overflow annex across the highway from the main area, and that section appears to be the source of at lease some of the less enthusiastic reviews.  It is a desolate sand and gravel area with no trees or grass at all, oddly arranged site parking, no facilities, excessive sand that could pose problem in the rain, and awkward water and power hook ups.  I am frankly surprised they charge the same rate for the annex as the main section.  On the plus side the roads were wide, the pull through sites were easily entered, and the free wifi seemed to have a stronger signal over there.  We didn’t mind the negatives since we didn’t even arrive until 6PM and were able to move to the main RV park the next morning.

Our spot for the last two days of our three day stay at Greeley RV Park

Our spot for the last two days of our three day stay at Greeley RV Park

The main area is much better than the overflow: Lots of trees and grass, better arranged water and electrical connection points, hard packed dirt and gravel roads and sites, and all the facilities (laundry, private shower rooms, store, gym, clubhouse.)  They could benefit from a bit more attention to maintenance issues, e.g., four of the eight washing machines were out of order during our stay.  All in all, while we don’t plan on coming back to Greeley, if we ever found ourselves here in need of a short stopover I would not hesitate to pick the Greeley RV Park.

Lastly, we need to keep our giddiness in check, for we know we will have additional mechanical challenges and expenses down the road.  E.g., we could have picked up The Big Kahuna one day earlier, but we wanted to give B&G time to take a shot at some of the other, less critical problems we have been having.  Unfortunately, with only a day to work it, Jacob was not able to resolve the alternator/generator failure to charge the starter batteries, but was able to conclude it is a wiring issue and that we should consider replacing the entire wiring harness.  He suspects that degraded and shorted wiring is likely the source of our other issues as well, particularly the left low beam headlight only working when we turn on the high beams, and might also be causing the dashboard oil pressure gauge to read low and the dash water temp gauge to not read anything at all.

Two of these gauges don't work correctly. The red light below the speedometer is the generator failure light, which is almost always illuminated, unfortunately.

Two of these gauges don’t work correctly. The red light below the speedometer is the generator failure light, which is almost always illuminated, unfortunately.

But for now we are back on the road, and will address the wiring harness issues along with the still extensive list of upgrades and repairs we would like to make later this year or early next.  If anyone has recommendations for an east coast mechanic capable and willing to work on a vintage bus, we are eager to hear about it.

Nine days in Greeley, Colorado

Nine days ago we made it back to Greeley, the town where our Big Kahuna has spent the last weeks months devoid of a transmission.  Our admittedly overly optimistic hope being that just as we arrived in Colorado our motorhome would be ready to pick up and go.  After spending a night in the downtown Clarion Hotel, we contacted B&G the next morning to find that the transmission had only just arrived from California, and it would take them a day or more to install.

Every town has its charms. Our section of Greeley had a profusion of street art and plenty of parks.

Every town has its charms. Our section of Greeley had a profusion of street art and plenty of parks.

Had we but known:  Thus began our daily routine and prediction challenge: extend our hotel stay by one day in the hope that the bus would be ready the next, or anticipate that things would take far longer than the best case scenario and head out to other parts of the state to enjoy our forced stay in Colorado as best we could. Over and over we elected the former, which turned out to be the wrong choice since The Big Kahuna would not be ready for nine days.  If we knew that in advance, we would have headed south to the Colorado national parks we missed during our transit over the continental divide or north to the Dakotas, or something, anything.

Wind driven statue

Wind driven statue

Bars and breweries:  So we stayed local and made the best of it.  In addition to a solid, military-discounted rate, Clarion turned out to be ideally situated for us to enjoy Greeley.  It was six blocks from our mechanic and one block from the revitalized down town area with the best restaurants and bars.  Two blocks north we found WeldWerks Brewing, where we sampled some of their beer; a double IPA for me and a brown coffee ale for Rosemarie.  While there we watched a cystic fibrosis fundraiser involving enthusiastic teams competing at a giant-sized Jenga contest with cut 2″x4″s boards.  Later we caught the first part of a dubious “beer olympics.” Our timing was particularly lucky as the weekly food truck event was in progress, so we dined on brisket banh mi from The Tramp About.  We can’t recommend this local bar enough.

On another night we had happy hour drinks at Gentry’s, an intimate bar in the previously mentioned revitalized area one block south of our hotel.  The bartender, “Sauce,” gave us great advice on the local food and drink options amidst discussions of his intended doctorate work in early US history.  What a world. We also met the bar owner, whose name it will shock you to learn is “Mr. Gentry,” who pointed us toward The Mad Cow across the street for our dinner.

The Greeley Restaurants:  At Mad Cow we stumbled into the weekly prime rib special. Unfortunately we did not last late enough for the free-style rap context next door at The Moxi Theater.  Later that week we experienced a fantastic and very low cost Mexican meal at Taqueria Los Comales.  Not only do they have fresh baked chips and a great multi-option salsa bar, but you can also order your Mexican favorites with options beyond the usual carne and pollo.  I had three soft shell tacos, one each with lengua (beef tongue,) barbacoa (beef cheek,) and tripas (small intestines.)  Taqueria Los Comales is a fantastic, affordable, authentic restaurant with great food. Go if you get the chance.

During our last days there we each enjoyed a slices of “New Jersey Style” pizza at Right Coast Pizza.  Though Rosemarie disagrees it reminded me, to some extent, of Steve’s, our favorite Miami pizzeria: Thin crust, very large, and quite affordable. Some might object to the minimal amount of red sauce, making it almost a “white” pizza, but I liked it.

Lastly, I want to mention Carl’s Jr.  Yeah, I know, it’s pure fast food.  But as southeast coastal dwellers, this is not a burger chain to which we had any exposure before our journey around the country.  As we made our clockwise trip around the nation we were excited to try those chains that our mid west, west coast, and northern compatriots enjoy.  Thus we have tried Shake Shack in Florida (ungodly good) before we started this journey, Whataburger in Texas (terrible, god awful), and In-N-Out Burger in California (awesome).  Situated one block from our hotel in Greeley, Carl’s was our closest option for fast food, and you know what?  It was great.  At fast food joints we usually order from the discount “dollar” menu, and despite Carl’s two dollar price for most of the items on said menu, we liked their options significantly better than the McDonald’s or Burger King equivalent.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Markets, fairs, caching and massages:  One of the things that we thought we would do a lot more of during this RV adventure was attend farmer’s markets, thrift shops, craft fairs, and the like.  Alas, the lack of a tow vehicle really limited our chances to do this. But now! Now, with our Loki, we could explore these events to our hearts’ content.  And so we did, beginning with the Saturday Greeley farmers market, where we had a fantastic peach jalapeno scone, and then the arts and craft fair at the local events center.

Entry to the farmer's market

Entry to the farmer’s market

We entertained ourselves as well as possible.  Close proximity to The Big Kahuna meant that anytime we needed something it was easy to retrieve  This allowed Rosemarie to spending a good amount of time working on her jewelry projects with the tools and supplies stored on the bus.  I explored the local area during various geocaching outings, particularly on the University of North Colorado campus just south of us.Art statue 1

We also discovered a massage school, The Academy of Natural Therapy, less than two blocks from the Clarion.  Schools like this are great places to get low cost massages since the students are required to get hours of practical experience.  The price is typically around half of what you would pay for services from a certified therapist.  You just need to have reasonable expectations for both the student’s capability and the ambiance of the school’s facility.  The Academy of Natural Therapy was one best in terms of the latter, with a very nice lobby, well appointed rooms, and a cute heated saltwater therapy pool.  As for the student massage therapists, they did great.  Mine in particular could easily have passed for fully trained and certified.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Getting things done:  It wasn’t all fun and games; we tried to accomplish various pressing things while in  Greeley.  Top of the list: getting Loki rigged for tow behind The Big Kahuna.  We already have the Blue Ox style tow bar assembly that attaches to the bus, but we needed to acquire and install the base plate bracket that gets bolted to the front of the tracker, as well as the wiring assembly for the brake lights and turn signals.  After several pricey estimates and lengthy time line proposals due to the base plate not being in stock (thus making it a special order item), I found the exact model we needed on ebay, negotiated a “best offer” price, and had it shipped to our preferred installer in the nearby town of Loveland.  This shaved six days off of the process.

Lastly, a big shout out to the staff at he Greeley Clarion.  They were helpful and flexible in every way, and their included breakfast was better than any of the other hotels we hit during the full road trip.  As much as we appreciated it, we do hope this is the last hotel we stay in for some time; we are quite ready to live and sleep in our own home.

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Nine Months Fulltiming: September 2015 Report

Yes, this report is two weeks late, but with the flurry of posts associated with our road trip from Florida to Colorado, we are actually almost caught up!  After this report and tomorrow’s entry on our time in Greeley, Colorado, you will be completely up to date with our travels.

The Distance: 0 miles!  Or rather, zero miles with The Big Kahuna, but if you take into account our road trip in Loki, we drove 830 miles during the first three legs of our eventual 2700 mile trek from South Florida to Colorado.  In Florida we went from Coral Springs to Geneva to Gainesville, and then pushed on to Wilmington, NC.  Total (Big Kahuna) distance for the year remains 11,384 miles.

The Places:  We spent a few days in Coral Springs, a quick trip over to Venice on the Gulf Coast, then back to Coral Springs, up to Geneva in Central Florida, further north to Gainesville, and finally on to Wilmington, NC.  We stayed with family for 29 days and spent one night in a hotel.

The Budget:  Finally another month under budget!  Thanks to all the family who hosted us this month we kept our costs below budget despite aggressively using the month back in Florida to catch up on medical and dental appointments.  We ended up 6% under for the month, though admittedly that does no include the $3800 (plus tax, tag and title) we spent to purchase our tow vehicle Loki, for which I took out a short term signature loan, the repayments of which will count against future monthly budgets until paid off.

The Drama:  No actual new drama to report, just the ongoing problems with the repairs to The Big Kahuna in Colorado.  The transmission rebuild in California took longer than expected (surprise!) in terms of finding the right place to do the rebuild, the shipping to CA, and the actual work while there. Other than that a pretty drama free month!

The Improvements:  As mentioned multiple times, we bought a tow vehicle!  That’s pretty much it, but that’s a big one.

The Westward Sprint back to Colorado

We weren’t in tourist mode, so despite having passed through Asheville and Knoxville we did not get to enjoy those cities.  The closest we came was a great meal at Nine Mile in Asheville and listening to some country music on the radio as we left Knoxville.  We were, rather, in “get home mode” and thus sprinted west and north, exiting Tennessee on the norther border and cutting across the corner of Kentucky before entering Illinois.  We continued on as far as East St Louis, right on the border with Missouri before calling it a day.

I know, that is not a lot of mileage for a day of travel.  In our younger years we might drive for 12 or 16 hours in a day, maybe even trading off for a full night drive.  We just don’t do that anymore.  It’s not safe, and we get cranky after too long in the car.  But it was part of the plan, and largely based on where I could find a decent hotel at a good point value.  The research from the previous evening’s stop led us to lock in a combined cash/points deal in the Hampton Inn.

The next morning it was back on the road for another conservative run west, passing through Missouri and getting deep into Kansas.  This had been a much harder state for us to find a good stopping point, but we had found a reasonable point deal on a Four Points Hotel in Manhattan, KS, a shorter run than we wanted, but a nice hotel for the night.  Besides, our every other day check in with B&G indicated we would probably be arriving a bit too soon for The Big Kahuna to be ready.

Late the next morning we headed out again, initially intending to stop east of Denver for the night. We had no specific point in mind since our hotel research had failed to turn up any particularly decent option with a program in which we still had points.  After getting into Colorado, however, we decided to push on all the way to Greeley, arriving at dusk.  Since this was unplanned, we pulled into a well lit parking lot and did some quick smart phone hotel research using Kayak.com.  This led us to swing into the nearby Clarion hotel, a chain I don’t recall ever using.  We locked in a very solid military discounted rate in a place that would turn out to be ideally located with all the amenities we like, particularly reliable wifi and free breakfast.

And there you have it, our roughly 2,700 mile road trip back to Greeley complete, and now just the waiting game for our bus to be ready for pick up.  That would, unfortunately turn out to be much longer than we had anticipated.  More on that later.