Letters from America
Driving the pretty roads, from Texas to Vancouver and back
The letters were sent initially to about 40 people. By the end of the trip
this list had increased to 80 people. Click here for a list of the recipients.
Some people seemed to like my letters. Click here for some quotes. I
personally did not think my letters were so interesting, but there you are... .
If you wish to print it all out then it is available as a 286 Kb Word file.
Click here to download LFA.zip. For the real masochist
(or those with high speed connection) the title page, all 868 Kb of it,
is also available. Click here to download Title Page.doc.
I'm thinking you may be interested in brief infos of my movements. If not,
your delete key is real easy to find or you could just hit reply and add a
few choice words, I'll get the message...............
If I have not already mentioned it I've passed the last three months with my
Mum so I could keep an eye on her, she is 94 and was living on her own. She
had a minor stroke about a month ago and had to go into hospital. She is
now in a nursing home and is rather more settled and since she will be there
for 10 to 12 weeks I have now been able to start my US trip about a month
later than planned, leaving my sister Helen again with the responsibility of
trying to keep our Mum entertained and well looked after. Thanks
I arrived Newark New Jersey from Manchester on Friday 31st May, my plan was
to jump on a Greyhound for the 35 hour trip to Marshall Texas. I'd shipped
my balloon to Micki Killingsworth's repair shop a couple of months ago.
Didn't think about it at the time, but I'd shipped the balloon from France,
just after the war with Iraq, and France was not too popular in the USA. It took
forever and a lot of work from Micki to get it out of customs. One time she was
told they wanted to hold up the entire container for a month while they searched
for bombs. They eventually released it Friday, Shelley picked it up from Dallas.
So I arrived, phoned Micki, she was away in Statesville North Carolina
making some annual inspections on Rowdy Smith's balloons so
Rowdy says come on over. I hopped on a bus that evening and
after a 16 hours journey I was collected from the bus stop by Rowdy
and Micki. Didn't do a lot except shop for items for the BBQ Laura and
Rowdy were holding that evening. Sunday we looked at balloons, most of the
time being spent on a gore by gore check on Rowdy's Firefly 180. We did
manage to squeeze a drive by the Firefly factory but being Sunday were
unable to take a factory tour. Mind you I don't think either Rowdy or I
would have been particularly welcome. It looked a bit drab anyway for the
firm that Sid claims is the largest balloon manufacturer in the World (!).
It was the weekend of the Statesville Balloon Rally, Sunday evening we got
the message they were flying so we chased. Rowdy had passengers booked but
had decided it was a bit quick for passenger flying. Chasing balloons is OK
Rowdy's plan was to fly Micki and myself Monday morning with Micki booked to
fly home Tuesday morning. I was to follow taking the scenic route by
Greyhound through the Smokey Mountains. Turns out that Micki's flight was
Monday not Tuesday and to take the Smokey Mountain route I had to leave
earlyish Monday so we had to scrub the flight. I'll be back though Rowdy,
and by the way Rowdy has the most comfortable couch I have ever slept on......
presently visiting at Marshall, Texas
Number 2....................... Marshall, Texas
19th June 2003
Leaving Rowdy's in NC after a 23 hour coach ride I arrived in Marshall Texas
Tuesday 4th June to be met by Micki. The next few days were taken up
opening a bank account, looking for a small RV (recreational vehicle, or in
English, a motor caravan!), and similar stuff.
Friday morning we, that is Micki, Shelley Caraway, their respective sons
Adam and Staton, and myself together with our 3 balloons on two pickups and
2 trailers left on the 350 mile trip to Bentonville, Arkansas for a balloon
meeting. Friday evening we joined the group inflating for a glow then flew
Saturday morning. I was a touch late taking off and whilst on direct track
for the target all the low level left disappeared and I started going
backwards! Heigh ho, missed the target, but it was a nice, slow, flight,
apart from the time a lady pilot (I must add very quickly that it was
neither Micki nor Shelley!) dropped down fast right next to me then levelled
out just below me. With the momentum of the higher wind her envelope
drifted into my basket and I had to burn like crazy to climb away.
Fortunately there are no sharp edges on my basket to rip her balloon. She
didn't even notice................
I now need to look more seriously for a camper van - at long last I've got
some funds into my US bank. Not as much as I need but that's life. I have
managed to get a printer for my laptop and a mobile phone 903 578 5200.
I've been sleeping in Micki's workshop, comfortable enough although a touch
short on some amenities. Can't grumble at the decor though, balloon stuff
everywhere, nor the size, 2,400 sq feet, not bad for a bedroom.
presently visiting at Marshall, Texas
Number 3.....................Marshall Texas
OK so now I've found a camper van. From Wayne Standefer in Dallas. Just
the size and condition I wanted. Also, at the price he charged me it had to
be trade price. Noted and appreciated Wayne. I also got a fan and
generator from him.
Big story though has to be, I passed my US drivers licence Tuesday! I
had found insurance almost impossible to find using UK licence. One company
would do it, but expensive. Micki suggested, get a US licence. It takes 2
months (at least) to book a test in the UK or in France so I didn't really
think about US licence. But I went in, got the application forms and the
book with Texas driving infos, came back, read the book for 4 hours,
returned, presented the forms, and was given some papers for a written exam,
which I completed and returned. It took about 30 secs to mark my papers, I
passed, so another 30 sec wait and I was told to put my car under the awning
outside to be ready for the test.
Wow! A drive around a block or 2, I was back, and had passed. If I had
failed I would have had to wait until tomorrow to take it again! Oh really!
8 hours from deciding to apply for US licence to actually getting it!
Something else to love in the USA!
Bottle of champagne #2 has now gone. #1 went after the flight in
Bentonville last weekend.
So now I am putting bits and pieces right on the van. I've managed to get
the generator to go in and out of it's storage compartment, partly through
listening to ideas from Adam, partly from taking the feet off. We have to
make a platform at the rear to take the basket, ideas are already under way
with Tony, Micki's husband, who is a welder extraordinaire. Adam, Micki's
son, has some good ideas also. Meanwhile sewing continues at high speed on
Bill's 105. Micki is replacing fabric on about one third of the balloon.
Next in line is an old Raven 86, Susie (Micki's sister) is unpicking here
ready for the sewing rush next week. I am amazed at the skill that goes
into stitching all these panels together. Things that would take me almost
weeks get done after a quick nod between mother Micki and son Adam. In
between shouting at each other if things aren't going quite right. I keep
looking at the work they've done. It's perfect. Actually we inflated it
tonight, it looked great. Champagne #3 gone now.
It rains in Texas. Thunderstorms the like of which I haven't seen before.
Of course it's Texas where everything is bigger, better, hotter, colder.
Saturday we went to see the launch of an 11 MILLION cu ft balloon sent off
by the US Scientific Balloon Facility. Biggest balloon I've ever seen.
Tried to buy some picture postcards to send to my Mum. I can't find any
anywhere. Guess there are not many tourists come to Marshall Texas. I can
presently visiting at Marshall, Texas
Well, the important news is that I'm now on the road. The journey is now
However to continue from where I left off. I went to get angle iron for the
balloon carrying platform. I asked for
3/16" thickness. The owner asked what I wanted it for and said he'd be
happier if I used 1/4" so he'd give me 1/4" for the same price. It's Dove
Metals, remember the name Micki. I asked if he'd cut it to length and he
did. I don't think he charged me for cutting either. I tried to give the
guy who cut it a $5 tip. He flatly refused, said it's his job. You know, I
think there are more nice people around than those that rip you off. More
about the latter later. However, end of story is that Tony did a brilliant
job of welding it all together and it works a treat, it holds the basket
and balloon and is as solid as anything. I use a couple of long
webbing straps to hold it in place.
By Friday I managed to get the van insured and registered in my name. Still
couldn't find any picture postcards, of any sort. Saturday I spent trying
to fix the shower. Sunday to the East Texas Oil Museum and a drive around to
test the full rig. I finished loading on Monday and left for Austin Texas
Tuesday morning where I met up for dinner with Greg Winker, his wife
Michelle and his daughter, and Tim Baggett. Left the van parked in the
restaurant car park for the night.
I'd been experiencing some problems with the van stalling (ie stopping on
idle). I noticed on the trip to Austin it was using more gas (or petrol, or
essence, depending where you live) than it should have, around 10 mpg
instead of 14 mpg. Of course it is 5.8 litre, and US gas is VERY
inexpensive - around £1.00 per US gallon, 3.5 litres. So 10 mpg is not
dramatic. After leaving Austin the passenger side electric window stuck
open and I took it to a garage to ask if they could get it to close, so I
could lock it up. The mechanic fixed it in less than 15 minutes, said I
really needed a new electric motor. He also said the stalling and high fuel
consumption was probably due to faulty injectors which needed replacing. So
far so good. I asked the garage owner how much? It was an hour he said, we
charge $60 an hour, so it's $60. An hour I said? Yes he said. $60. Not
even please. So there's another Mexican rip off. By my reckoning I paid at
the rate of $240 per hour, that's 50% more even than my Paris divorce lawyer
On the way to Fort Stockton Texas I passed a FOREST of windmills. The
modern electricity generating sort. I could see around 200, there could
easily have been a total of 500 or even 1000. Of course, it's still Texas,
bigger, better, etc etc.
It was raining when I reached Fort Stockton. And I mean raining. There was
water several inches deep on the roads. One road I saw was flooded from
side to side over a length of about 50 yards. They only have 12" rain per
year, they must have had a large percentage just before I arrived. Stayed
in the Walmart car park for the night - Walmart welcomes overnight RVers.
The next day was mostly spent in a couple of museums showing life around
the 1900's when it was still the wild west and frontierland. They had a
sheriff named D Barker who was reputed to have killed 21 law breakers. No
relation. By evening I reached the Carlsbad Caverns just in time to see the
dusk exodus of around 400,000 bats from the caverns. They will catch around
4 tons of insects between them and some will travel 60 miles out and back.
Gotta go. Have to be up early in the morning to be in the queue to see the
caverns, they open at 8 am and I am parked in a picnic area about 10 miles
Why a new report so fast? Because someone asked for pictures.
I was 2nd in the queue for tickets at the Carlsberg Caverns. I managed 3 tours and it about did me in. I did the walking descent through the original entrance followed by the King's chamber guided tour then the tour around the big room. We are only about 5 miles out of Texas so the big room is a REALLY BIG room. About 8.2 acres (40,000 m2) in size and one and a half miles to walk round. It's certainly bigger than any of the French caves I have visted, maybe not quite so pretty. Well worth seeing though. Anyway after 5 hours of walking scrabbling climbing I was about knackered.
The big room is big because it was made using a different method. Normal caves are made after rainwater combines with carbon dioxide in the air and the soil making weak carbolic acid which seeps down into the limestone dissolving some limestone on the way. The Carlsbad caves are situated over a large oilfield. Many millions of years ago sulphur dioxide gas released by the oil deposits started seeping upwards. When it reached water sulphuric acid was formed. This acid is far more efficient at eating away limestone than weak carbolic acid and this aggressive dissolution of the limestone produced the huge chambers.
I left and headed north. I realised I was heading for Roswell so I phoned Bill Flynt, we arranged to meet for a drink and dinner. We got in a short queue for soft drinks and I let Suzie pay. Then I found out she had paid for the dinners, it was a buffet, eat what you like, pay in advance. It was a superb meal. We've arranged to meet there for breakfast. Now I know the system I'll hope to be able to pay my turn.
If the weather is OK in the morning Bill is planning to fly. So I have forsaken Walmart and parked near his launch field so I'll be handy to crew. I hate getting up in the mornings.
Here's a photo of my bedroom this past 3 weeks or so. I actually slept behind the cutting table out of the photo on the left. Micki is not there either, she was doing management stuff in the office.
This is my van. A 1988 Ford Econoline, Transvan by Champion, 78,000 miles. The small window is the bathroom. A bit cramped. To take a shower you have to sit on the loo. Could be an advantage I suppose if you wanted to do both things at the same time.
In the living area there's lots of relaxing room for one person. If you take them all out there's beds for 4 but you would need to be really friendly, or family, or something. The basket now has a cover, on loan from Micki. The bump on the roof is an air conditioner.
temporarily at Roswell, New Mexico
Number 6 ................Las Cruces NM
30 June 2003
So we didn't fly in Roswell, looked like it was going to be too windy. Alex
joined us for breakfast. He's been flying a few years, this year
he's going Metz, a big balloon meet in France, he'll be flying with Has Funk
Alex is a volunteer guide at the Roswell alien museum so we all went. A
spaceship is supposed to have crashed there in 1947 but the event has
arguably been covered up by the US military who claim it was a balloon. To
my mind the case is unproven but there are some interesting question marks.
The guy who discovered the "crash" was held by the military for a few days
while the site was cleared. He recorded his story for the local radio
station who were told they would lose their licence if they broadcast it.
The guy who discovered the "crash" site later changed his story and although
he was known to be broke soon appeared in a brand new pickup and bought some
property in a nearby town. He never said anything more about the event. A
nurse who told someone she had seen some strange small bodies was
transferred to England the day after and then reported to have died. The
military have later claimed the secrecy was because the balloon was part of
a program to monitor the USSR for atom bomb detonations but it seems this
program did not start until 1952..............
There is some really beautiful scenery in the mountains west of Roswell. The
road I was on climbed to 6,900 feet. I called to see Jim Hoidahl in
Alamogordo (he flies a Thunder Colt balloon) and later dined at a Golden
Corrall - a restaurant in the chain Bill Flynt had introduced me to the
night before. I don't think hamburgers are even available, I can certainly
recommend this chain! Night was passed in a new housing development, in the
car park of a newly built but not yet in use church.
The White Sands National Monument was the visit of the next day. The sand
is white gypsum, washed down from the mountains when it rains. The water
evaporates from temporary lakes and the gypsum then blows about like sand
covering about 200 square miles. Amazing. It's so white you need sun
glasses. Gypsum is another name for plaster of paris by the way. There's
not a lot of rain here, about 8" per year.
I am now boondocking (again!) in the mountains high above Organ near Las
Cruces New Mexico, I watched a superb sunset and now can see all the twinkling lights
down below. Very pretty. (Boondocking is camping out in the wild for free.
Free is a word that I like) Bad news is that the DC to AC inverter I
bought, whilst easily powerful enough to charge my laptop or phone, and run
my printer, coughs a bit when I plug in the microwave, I think I'll stick to
the gas stove for cooking unless I am connected to a mains electric supply.
It's windy here on the mountain. My empty plastic wine cup has just blown
off the table. Guess I'll have to fill it again to make sure it stays in
Dang! The empty wine cup has just blown off the table again. Guess I could
close the window. After I've found the wine bottle.
temporarily at Las Cruces, New Mexico
Number 7 ........ ..........Near Phoenix New Mexico
7 July 2003
I passed straight through Las Cruces. Straight being a relative term, I
went wrong but got out in the end.
I stopped at the City of Rocks, north of Deming. Out in this near desert
area there is a bunch of volcanic rocks sticking up, all on their own, the
weather has worn them in such a way they can easily be imagined to be a
bunch of houses with chimneys and alleyways making up a village.
Pressing on northwards towards the Gila Cliff Dwellings I found a river
running across the road. There had been a cloudburst and apparently it was
not rare for this to happen. I watched someone drive through, far too fast,
in a pickup, but he made it so I decided it was OK for me. Night was
looming and I looked into a National Forest camp site. Just on the edge of
Roberts lake. Real pretty. $7 a night but only $3.50 if you have a Golden
Age passport, which I have. So here we go, I booked in. Last of the big
spenders. Walked down to the lake in the evening and again in the morning
then continued towards the cliff dwellings. Some quite severe ups and
downs, up to 7440 ft, strained the van a bit on the ups, and strained me a
bit on the downs. I've mentioned the van will not idle so I had to keep my
foot on the accelerator while braking. Otherwise the engine stopped and I
lost power braking and power steering and raised a pronounced
Picked up a hitch hiker on the way back, he had a good run, about 4 hours.
He was on his way to Mexico to live it up for a few days. I checked emails
at a truckstop and continued on the highway for about 100 miles, then pulled
off to find somewhere for the night. Parked up in a dry river bed. Didn't
Took a bit of unmade road to see Fort Bowie (interesting) then went to see
Chircahua National Monument. Nice rocks. Then on to Tucson to see Jerry
Schell. Had problems with the phone. Seems US phone cards don't give
advance warning when they are about to run out. So I got cut off talking to
Jerry. After lots of tries my cellphone told me it did not work here. Here
was Tombstone Arizona. Lots of robbers used to live here. Seems some
still do. So I put money in the phone, it took all my money and didn't
work. So I changed more money for quarters which would go in the phone. I
didn't change enough so it kept all my money and didn't put me through. I
changed $5 for quarters and managed to beat it.
Found Jerry's house just in time to go out for dinner, for a steak cooked
on a grill about the size of a cattle grill (guard). Some of the steaks
were almost that size. Next day my van was booked into Jerry's repair shop
to cure the engine. Well after lots of head scratching and fitting of new
parts Cliff (Jerry's son) took the van round to a pal who fixed it. Jerry
let me have the parts at cost. Total bill was only $750. Phew! What a
relief. Could have been expensive, that little job.
(For Americans and any others who don't understand my sense of humour, that
was a joke.)
The Tucson balloon club were due to inflate their balloons at the local
baseball match but it was too windy. Super Mexican dinner in the evening.
Most of the next day I spent catching upon my Internet banking and emails.
I was supposed to have left in the morning. It was 4th July. That's the day
Americans celebrate having kicked the Brits out of the USA and gained
independence. Nonetheless I was invited to 4th July celebrations at
Warren's. Good company, good food.
Talking of which, it's time to eat. I gotta go cook. Filet Mignon,
frankfurter sausage, fried red onion, Avocado Tortilla Chips, Pinot Noir by
La Crema, fresh apricots. I'll catch you up on the missing couple of days
Oh, Whit questioned my use of a plastic cup for wine. I said I could only
find wine glasses in sets of 6 at Walmart. Whit said the method was to get
glasses from restaurants one at a time. Works for him he said. I bought a
6 oz coca cola glass for 35c special offer from Walmart. Works just fine
for me for wine and is actually cheaper than Whit's system since I don't
have to pay restaurant prices for the wine to start off with.
Currently in the Tonto National Forest, Arizona
Number 8 .......... ...........Flagstaff Arizona
10th July 2003
I'd spent my time in Tucson parked up in Jerry's yard. I was made to feel
very welcome there, thanks Jerry and Glorie. I pulled out early Saturday
morning to arrive at the Desert Museum when it opened at 7:30 am. Lots of
desert flora and fauna as you would expect. In the afternoon I visited the
Biosphere, where they have created a totally isolated living enviroment. I
remember reading about the experiment a few years ago, 8 people spent 2
years living inside this "dome" entirely self sufficient, recycling
I drove on to Coolidge and parked at Walmart, right opposite the 4 story
pueblo (Casa Grande) that I wished to visit next morning. The Indians built
this big building, including such things as lining up a window with the
place the sun sets on the longest day of the year, and then just left it
around 1400, no one really knows why. To me the best of the possible
explanations would be that floods had deepened the bed of the Gila river
making the normal water level too low to support the vast number of
irrigation canals that had been built. I think I would be very fed up if
that happened to me.
After Coolidge I headed of for a pure tourist recreation of a ghost town,
called Goldfield. I took a ride on the (imported) train, and visited the
(recreated) gold mine. I can give nothing but (real) praise though for the
blarney of the commentators on both trips.
Next came one of my less good decisions. I continued out along the Apache
Trail (Historic Scenic Road) to the Roosevelt dam. A wonderful road, by
lovely lakes full of swimmers - it was Sunday - and 110 degrees (43 degrees
C) - and the water was deliciously cool. Then a sign, pavement ends. That
means, the regular road surface ends, the road turns into gravel. The books
had said it was a a beautiful road, probably the most beautiful in Arizona.
I didn't notice. There were corrugations every 6 inches, the van rattled
and banged, everything fell out of the cupboards, all doors that could open
opened, and it rattled. And rattled. I'm normally fairly calm, but I
finished up yelling obscenities at the road surface while I was driving at 5
mph. It carried on for 23 miles. With corrugations every 6 inches. It's
quite an old mobile home, it rattles a bit under the best conditions. There
was a lot of traffic coming from the other direction, it was often very
difficult to pass. In a way I'm surprised the old girl got to the end in one
I spent the night in a perfectly adequate rest stop, and filled up with
water. The minor leak I noticed a while back had become more serious. I
called to look at the Tonto Natural Bridge State Park then phoned Jeff
Johnson in Flagstaff and we arranged to meet to say hello in the afternoon.
He also suggested an RV repair shop. I went via Sedona, those red rocks are
really beautiful. A couple of beers with Jeff, and a delicious snack, and I
finished up for the night in the forest just north of Flagstaff. I'd phoned
the RV repair shop the day before and they said they just did jobs as people
arrived, and they opened at 8 am. So I got there at 7:30 am to find two of
those monster RV's already lined up outside the gates. I'll take a picture
of one tomorrow.
They had to replace my hot water tank. They said it had been leaking for
years. I guess there had been a rattle at some time because someone had
drilled through the back of the metal control box, and pop riveted it to the
metal behind. The metal behind was the hot water tank. They had drilled a
hole in the hot water tank and pop riveted into it. Can you imagine that?
Jeeze.................Of course it leaked. All the metal frame the control
box was attached to was rusted away due to the long term leakage, the
mechanic had to glue the box back instead of screwing it. At $430 I reckon I
got off lightly.
On to Walnut Cavern Nation Monument cliff dwellings. More questions. Not
about the cliff dwellings, they are OK. But about people. Why in hell in
the 1890's did people have so little concern for the history that they
dynamited the walls of these dwellings so they could better steal the things
inside? Why at about the same time did Sergeant someone of the First
Cavalry carve his name in huge letters in the 4 storey pueblo I went to the
other day? Why do people even today throw coins into pools in the Carlsbad
Caverns when there are signs saying please don't do it? Why do people steal
an estimated 12 tons of petrified wood each year from the Petrified Forest
(where I have just been) They could buy legitimate fossilised wood from the
gift shops. Seems there was a national Monument fossil park created in 1922
in South Dakota. They closed it in 1953. There were no fossils left.
They'd all been stolen by visitors................I pass that on as a very
sick joke, but true.
So, questions not answered, on to a night encampment by the Little Colerado
river, boondocking in the Navajo Indian Reservation.
*******Breaking News*********Breaking news********
I'm in Gallup right now with a busted transmission. They think they can fix
it. They are working on it right now. They seem to know their stuff. I'm
in a motel. I'll give you updates. Good or bad!!
Number 9 ...... . ...........Gallup New Mexico
10th July 2003
I'd mentioned a temperature of 110 degrees (43C) and there had actually been
forecasts of 117 degrees (47C) This must rival the temperatures my son
Daniel experiences in Cyprus, he is working there with the British High
Commission. While talking about family, I have just heard from my daughter
Eleanor after a worrying gap of almost three weeks, she is holidaying in
India and has been living on a houseboat, temporarily out of touch with
email, experiencing a trip she says that she will remember all her life. In
October she restarts University, studying French and English law in Paris.
My Mum who had a minor stroke is now much recovered, and will be staying in
the nursing home for the foreseeable future. My sister Helen is in the
lucky position of having an ISP at home who has blacklisted my current ISP
so she cannot receive any of my reports at home and has to read them at
The Petrified Forest, my next call, was just amazing. Around 200 million
years this was a flood plain. Logs were washed on to the plain, were
covered in silt, mud and volcanic ash which slowed the decay of the logs.
Silica laden groundwater seeped into the logs and replaced the original
tissues with silica which then transformed into quartz. Different minerals
gave the quartz a variety of colours, and the result is, well, amazing. I
bought some polished samples. I don't buy souvenirs but I bought some of
these small pieces!
And so on to Gallup. After a night Walmarting I checked in at Midas to run
an oil change and check the steering alignment. They changed the oil,
couldn't do the alignment because of the weight at the back, and had
problems reversing off the ramp. They advised 1) that I should take out
membership of either AAA or join the Good Sam emergency service to give me
cover should I need a tow 2) that I should get the automatic checked out at
a transmission specialist. Said specialist took a test run and returned
saying this was wrong, that wasn't working right, etc etc. Wish I'd had a
tape recorder then I could have played it over and maybe understood some of
it. He said he's look at it. Well he's got a good reputation in the town,
it's obvious he's not short of work, and I'd noticed problems with the
It was too heavy to put on the lift. The boss asked if the fresh water tank
was full, I said yes, so he suggested draining the fresh water. I went
round with the mechanic to drain the water into the alley. I watched it
dribbling out and thought it was time for some creative thought. I said,
this will take for ever. I gave the mechanic a coke, and as I certainly
wasn't going to be driving, had a beer while we watched.
So finally I said, wouldn't it be easier just to take the balloon, envelope,
and burner off the back, that's 95 Kg (210 lbs) and it will only take a
couple of minutes, then we could take some propane tanks and the fan out of
the back. Oh he said is that a balloon? I thought there was an animal in
there. (I had Micki's cover over the basket) Anyway, around three minutes
later the basket was off, the fan was out, and so was one of the tanks. Now
the only problem was the twin back wheels. It was too wide for the ramp.
With the help of a shovel the wheels were guided onto the ramp. There was
an up and over door at the back of the ramp, goodness knows why. With the
height of the van and air conditioner on top he could only raise the ramp
about 2 ft (60 cms). He couldn't close the door, the van was too long. He
had to put chocks under the ramp because at that low height he couldn't get
the safety latches to engage.
I had run clear out of helpful ideas so thought it was time to clear off.
They ran me back to a motel. Now that's service!
There was a message from Whit, that I should contact Peter and Colleen
Procopio. I did, they took me out to dinner, which was great, we talked
balloons and about flying Saturday morning. Thanks Peter and Colleen.
I found my ISP was not wanting to play ball. I had purchased a 30 hour
access period for around $30, maybe it has run out of time. I never did
manage to access the page which listed my remaining time! I was getting
strange lock-out messages from Zone Alarm so I tried to access using the
international setting on my French ISP. Worked fine. Except it costs 10c
per minute that's $6 per hour so I don't think I'll be downloading any
balloon reflector messages - they go to a different address so I can easily
exclude them. When I get the disk for the ISP - it's in the van - I might
try again. Or maybe I'll shift to earthlink. I've got a CD.
I'll tell you later why
1) I was driving at 5 mph on the unpaved Apache Trail
2) I didn't buy a pickup for $28,000 and stay in motels
3) I can access the Internet apparently from the back of beyond
Temporarily stuck in Gallup, New Mexico
Number 10 .......... ...........Still at Gallup
11th July 2003
But not stuck here for long. The transmission repairs are due to be
finished tonight, they want to leave it parked overnight to make sure there
are no leaks. The really good news for me is that they managed to repair it
without replacing. That should make it considerably less expensive. Hope
I'm not counting chickens before they are hatched.
Colleen and Peter called round today, we loaded my balloon in the back of
Gallup City's balloon pickup and we plan to go flying in the Red Rocks
tomorrow! Wey Hey! And we're off to a rodeo tonight.
(There's been some advantages breaking down in Gallup.................)
I've also had time to spread out and do some accounts in an air conditioned
room. And line up another temporary ISP with another temporary address!
But down to nitty gritty of corrugated unpaved surface. I may be a trifle
younger than Don and I suspect it will not surprise him but like him I was
not born yesterday, not by a long way. Of course I tried different speeds.
30, 40, 50 mph with interesting result. Above 50 I experienced the sideways
slide Wayne described. Not funny in a top heavy 2 ton motor home, light on
the front due to a balloon being hung on the back. Interesting was the the
change in rattle rate at the different speeds. There wasn't any. Same
frequency of rattles bangs crashes you name it whatever the speed. Hence
the faster the speed, the lesser the number of rattles bangs crashes per per
I wasn't able to use this knowledge a lot. A very large part of this road
is steeply up then steeply down then starts over again. It was
barely wide enough for two cars to pass and is full of blind bends. Even if
the gravel surface permits it, trying to stop this monster in a hurry causes
stuff to crash around everywhere, in the fridge, etc etc. and it slews
around alarmingly. Did I mention there was an almost sheer precipice over on
the down hill side? In one place they had to build a wall 60 ft high to
support the road. Do more then bend a steering arm if you went over the
Hence my driving at 5 mph and yelling obscenities at the road surface.
Now why didn't I buy a pickup for $28,000 and stay in motels? Because I
would have to unload my stuff every night and load it back every morning.
Not to mention all the time wasted looking for motels. Not to mention that
often when I feel like stopping it's the back of beyond and there aren't any
motels. I've been on the road 3 weeks now. (I know to you reading these
reports it seems like more but it is only 3 weeks.) In that 3 weeks
(excluding the last 2 nights when the van has been in the garage) I've paid
total $3.50 for an overnight stop. That averages at 17cents per night.
Even including these 2 nights I've paid $57.50 total which is less than $3 a
night which again is more than a touch less than I would pay in motels on a
regular basis. Anyway the whole thing is academic, I didn't have $28,000
Sure I could have rented an RV for 6 months. Try the math. 26 weeks @ $400
a week. I can't hardly imagine a number that big.
I bought this van at a good price from Wayne (thanks again Wayne) Even with
the various repairs it will still have cost less than other similar vans I
looked at. When I've finished my tour I can sell it. Probably for more
than I paid for it.
I get my internet connections usually at truckstops. Sometimes they have a
data socket on the side of the table phones, sometime you have to rive the
phone off the wall to get to the socket (you lift up and pull). There is
book listing truckstops, it details which ones allow data access. Sometimes
I will sort out my emails when I call to see someone, Bill Flynt let me use
his phone so did Glorie Schell. Sometimes I will even use less conventional
methods - a couple of times I have borrowed the phone sockets at visitor
centres for National Monuments!
Speaking of National Monuments, this Golden Age Passport I bought for $10
has been fantastic. I get in free nearly everywhere! Brilliant! It's valid
for your lifetime! As soon as you are 62 and in the US go get one!
Tonight was the rodeo. Bull riding. I've seen it on TV but to see it in
real life - fantastic.
Tomorrow morning we meet at 5.45. Bill will also be flying, Peter and
Colleen are coming to crew for me. Peter's only been a pilot 25 years.
Due to temperatures I may have to fly solo. I may find a light passenger.
with yet another ISP and email address (hit reply if you wish but don't
save the address)
Number 11 ........... .............Leaving Gallup
14th July 2003
Well I did fly in Gallup, over the red rocks. Wonderful.
The day did not start well. I didn't hear my alarm and didn't wake up until
5:45, the time we were due to meet down the road. So I was late. When I
arrived Bill Lee was at the launch site, being doubtful about flying, it was
quickish, he was flying a biggish balloon, a 90, and he had an 11 year old
as first time passenger. I first decided to scrub also, being a stranger in
the area, and a guest, then asked Bill if he would like to fly with me, as
nursemaid. So we took off. It was quickish - and hot. And 6000 ft take off
altitude. My thermistor was at one point reading 133 degrees centigrade
(270F). I have two flags in the top of the balloon, attached by 2 meltable
links. One link melts at 110C (230F) the other at 127C (260 F). I watched
them carefully, neither dropped. The temperature probe is some 15 inches
from the fabric and we know that temperature inside the balloon drops
dramatically as you approach the fabric. Since skin temperature is the
important number, and my earlier researches having shown this fabric
doesn't start to melt until 134C, there was no immediate cause for concern,
but this temperature thing did attract my serious interest.
The flight was super, the landing quick, maybe 15 mph. I didn't open the
parachute enough before landing, we dragged about 20 yards. Then went for
I collected the van, all finished. Unfortunately I really had been counting
chickens, etc, they had had to fit an entire new transmission, $1700. The
van has now cost me approaching the regular price for this sort of motor
home - and if I'd paid the regular price it might still have broken down. I
hope I don't have to pay out much more though. Just like the fabric temps,
no immediate danger, but the funds situation is attracting my serious
Notwithstanding all that, Gallup now takes my top spot for best place to
break down. Thanks fellas! Top for many years was Augsberg in Germany, the
home of more than half of Germany's gas balloons where also we were royally
entertained at short notice. Since I've broken down in lots of places and
lots of times my top place award comes in above lots of
I headed north. Due to a misreading of the map I finished up on a dirt
road. Fortunately the road was almost straight and level and the
corrugations were not so severe so I could drive at 30 with minimal rattling.
With breathtaking views of canyons and mountains and deserts and badlands.
(For the locals the road passes through Nazlini, turn left just before the
pavement ends.) In the evening I checked my maps. I am using 2 similar
maps. One marks paved roads with bars, the other marks non paved roads with
bars. Sometimes you just can't win.
I'm now in the Canyon de Chelly. Took a walk from the canyon rim to the
floor and back today. Then came back to the free Canyon campsite. (note the
subtle unremarked usage of my favourite word, "free") Lots of trees for
shade so decided to do a bit of work on the van and exchange the front
seats. The driver seat has developed a split. Would you believe the
mounting holes are different each side by a millimetre, so I had to swap the
mounting plates. The campsite host, a lady RVer, said if you are travelling
alone, why keep a passenger seat? She said she threw hers out years ago.
Good point, makes it lots easier to get in and out. I can't use the
regular door of course, there is a balloon in the way.
I'll need the seat when I sell the van though. I'll check if anyone on my
route can store it then take it to Albuquerque.
I checked on my alarm. It's an Oregon Scientific (made in China). When it
goes off the alarm icon blinks. It blinks! That's it! Oh wow! That's
about as useful as a solar powered torch. Now if it incorporated a siren
like they use on US trains it would be OK. Those things can wake me up from 5
At the Canyon de Chelly, Arizona
Number 12 ....... ..............Flagstaff again
19 July 2003
I left the Canyon de Chelly heading generally westwards. My map had marked
the road as pretty, it wasn't very. Stopped at the Hopi Indian museum, they
had a few photos of interest. Must have missed my junction in Tuba City
eventually I ended on a gravel road. Again. I asked a smartly dressed
walker, he said you are right in the middle of the (Indian) reservation.
You need to be way over there, and he pointed. I could see cars on the
highway. Go on about a mile, down a dip, turn left by a bunch of trees, on
another road like this. He seemed very happy to accept my offer of a lift.
When I reached the highway about a million bumps crashes bangs later
(driving at the optimum 33 mph) I realised it would have been far better to
have gone back to take the right road. Still, he got a ride home.
I decided to stop whilst approaching Flagstaff and pulled off into the
forest and found a decent spot to lay up after only 100 yards of bump bang
crash. I spent the morning checking round the lava at the sunset crater
volcano and then the various old pueblos (Indian ruins) at Wupatki National
Monument. These pueblos have no connection with Spanish pueblos, it's just
that the Spaniard who first found some old Indian buildings thought they
reminded him of pueblos at home, and unfortunately the name has stuck. The
buildings were started around 1100 and added to for the next 100 years, then
they all left. No one really knows why.
There was a blow hole by the Wupatki pueblo. There are several in the area.
Air either naturally blows in or out of blowholes. Seems they are connected
to a huge series of underground fractures or cracks near the Grand Canyon
around 50 miles away. Air blows out if the outside air is less dense either
because it is warmer or because of barometric change and blows in if it is
more dense outside. Flow rates of 35 mph have been measured, and
calculations have shown the total underground volume to be around 7 billion
cubic feet. Equivalent that is to a tunnel 50 yards square stretching to
the Grand Canyon. All cavities that have been found are far too small to
I wasted an hour trying to send emails from a truckstop. I am subscribed to
3 ISP's all of which should allow for access most places in the US. All
showed Flagstaff as an access point. None worked. I have one ISP where I
can use an 800 number for extra cost. That didn't work either. I rang Jeff
and managed to get access from his office with one of the ISP's. We
arranged to meet later at his house for aperitifs and I headed off to the
washateria - hey I have to go there sometimes! Jeff opened my French
champagne and in doing so attempted to blow a hole through his ceiling with
the cork. He put this down to our being at 7,000 ft and lower air pressure
compared to the pressure in the bottle. That's his story. It wasn't a
problem after our flight in Gallup but then Gallup is only 6,000
Kathy, Jeff's wife, made a delicious soup. She claims to be a dab hand in
the kitchen and after tasting that soup I would totally concur. We passed
a pleasant evening and for the night I left the van parked where it was, on
the road outside their house. As Kathy said better not to risk drinking and
driving. Thanks Jeff, thanks Kathy. Super evening.
In the morning (Wednesday 16 July) I tried again for 30 minutes to access
emails, no success. I drove NW out of Flagstaff on the 180, a very pretty
road. I then dropped a bit south and followed the old route 66 for 100
miles to Kingman. Must have been rather like in the old days, miles and
miles of dead straight road with very little other traffic (nowadays traffic
goes on the I-40) It produced all sorts of nostalgic thoughts.
I stopped at the Dinosaur Caverns, recently renamed to Grand Canyon Caverns
because some red smoke inserted in the cave emerged near the Grand Canyon.
Presumably the same cause as the blowholes I found yesterday, lots of small
fissures in this whole area.
So after wasting another 30 minutes on email I am now parked up in Kingman
on a yet to be built housing lot. I looked at Walmart but it's right next
to the I-40 and noisy.
I've been using an 800 number for emails, which I got sort of by error, it
did work perfectly so I didn't try anything else. However it's now stopped
working. Don't know why, maybe they realised they should not have given it
to me! I can't get hold of their help desk they're always busy. I suspect
the truckstops may not allow free local calls, that might be my problem, one
I stopped in tonight had a sign saying this. Looks like I'll have to revert
to plan B, whatever that is.
Number 13 ........... ............Joshua Tree
19th July 2003
Plan B to connect to email turned out to be phoning Earthlink and agreeing
to pay 10c minute to use their national 800 number. It didn't work. After
3 or 4 more calls I spent nearly an hour on the phone with one of their
support people who was tweaking my dial up networking properties. When he
finished I could almost hear him smirk as he said now try it. I plugged
into a data port and tried to access. The computer crashed. When I got it
rebooted Windows XP told me it had recovered from a serious error.
Recovered indeed! I had lost all the dialup section with info for the 5
ISP's I use, phone numbers, passwords, the lot. I bought another picc time
disk so I could use their 800 number. It worked before.
I needed time to check out the computer to see just what had gone in the
crash so I gave up and continued on the old route 66 over the Sitgreaves
pass and stopped a few times to admire the view. In one place 100 yards or
so off the road, on top of a small hillock with a commanding view, I noticed
a few crosses in the ground with flowers around the base. On one was
written "Alaska Mountain Man". Together with the flowers at the base there
was a can of Budweiser. Thoughtful of someone. I guess he used to go
there because he liked the view. I later whiled away some pleasant time in
the old gold town of Oatman.
I am now parked for the night in the middle of the desert east of Joshua
Tree. There is a gale blowing. The van is rocking in the wind. Earlier I
had left both front doors open to allow the cooling breeze (!) to pass. It
(the breeze) picked up my trash bag, emptied it, and sent 2 empty and
squashed coke cans hurtling over he desert. I caught them, closed the doors,
and decided I had better shift to Corona (Mexican beer in glass bottles)
since empty bottles are heavier than empty cans. It's now raining, with
lightning around. Hope it doesn't rain too much, I am about a mile from the
highway. I got stuck for a while just turning round.
Next day I drove through the Joshua Tree National Park. It was a 30 mile
drive full of cacti and not surprisingly, Joshua Trees. So named
apparently because the Mormons on their journey west saw the limbs of the
tree as outstretched in supplication guiding them on and named the tree
after the biblical figure Joshua. The park was memorable for 3 unconnected
events. First, at one stop I noticed water boiling out of the radiator. I
hadn't checked the water level for some time, hopefully it had just been low
on water. Then I stopped to read a stone tablet. I drove close to the
tablet and got out to read it. Oops! I had meant to put the automatic
drive into park but only moved it as far as reverse. The van started moving
backwards with the open door against the stone. I managed to hit the brake
before any real damage was done, but the door creaks a bit when I open it.
Then I saw there was a Barker dam in the park deserving a special mention in
park guide. It was a mile and a half hike, the dam was not very
interesting, and it was empty.............
Called to see Max Holland in San Diego. I watched 6 balloons flying close
by. Apparently, due to restrictions such as airfields, there is only one
place to land in the whole area. The wind is generally much the same
direction so it does not make for very varied flying. We then just about
wiped out another of my bottles of champagne. I'll have to be careful. I
only shipped 48 bottles with the balloon, they are going down fast. Anyway,
it was a prelude to a delicious Mexican meal. Left the van on the road
outside his house for the night.
Number 14 ........... .........Fort Irwin, CA
23rd July 2003
So, in the morning I chatted a bit with Max, then left for the all of 30
mile drive to Dave and Kim Lynch's in Temecula. It was Kim's Mum's 70th
birthday and I was invited. Around 60 people were expected so we loaded up
with massive quantities of drinks. Well, I think 60 litres split between
coke, diet coke, and seven up is a massive quantity. I was convinced of
this when I found out later these were just chasers to go with such as rum,
vodka, or whisky. (It ruins the taste of the whisky, but boy does the coke
taste good!) Kim's parents came over from Holland in the early 50's, they
had a group of friends who arrived around the same time, and they all know
how to enjoy themselves. It was 2:30 am before we got back home. Home for
me being my van, parked on the road.
Sunday morning Norm Best called by to say hi, as did Rick Wallace and his
wife, they had driven from Santa Monica 2 hours away. This party broke up
at 6 pm so it looked as though I was here for another night. I found out
Dave and Kim had a cable connection so I downloaded some program updates.
Wow, 17 Mb in about 3 minutes!
In the morning I found my drivers side window did not work. Having had
enough of paying $60 for 15 minutes repair work a couple of weeks ago I
borrowed a small socket set, took the door apart, and fixed it myself. That
makes my earning rate $240 per hour. Well it would have been if I'd been
paid. I can live with that.
So time to go. Many thanks indeed to Dave and Kim. I was right royally
entertained during my stay in Temecula.
My first stop was the 95c store where Kim told me I could find a socket set
set for 95 cents. I did. Unfortunately I also found another dozen bargains
at 95c that I just could not do without............
My plan was next to call in to see George Stokes but he hadn't sent me an
update on his address. Partly my fault, I was supposed to send him a copy
of these reports, but I hadn't added him correctly to the circulation list
so he couldn't know I was just round the corner. Rick had his cell phone
number, but that didn't seem to work. So, sorry George, it's been nearly 30
years since you stayed at my house in the UK, it would have been great to
see you again. And this time the beers would have been on me. Hey ho.
Next time I hope.
So I continued on to see John Gunderson's son Andy at Fort Irwin, just
outside Barstow John said. When I got there I found that just outside meant
43 miles down a dead end road. Andy was found and we swapped stories and
beers. Well to be more exact, Andy is quite a new pilot, so mostly we
swapped my stories for his beers since I have stories and he had a box full
of beers. He showed me the M1 tank he drives. It weighs 70 tons and can go
60 mph. Ha! My van will go that quick. However it can't put a 4 inch shell
exactly on target from 3 miles away so Andy's got me beat on that one.
The night was adequately passed on the barracks car park and after sharing
coffee I left for Whit's. I drove and drove, then I drove round an old
mining town and then looked at the amazing rocks in Red Rocks Canyon then
drove on a bit more. I stopped for lunch and looked at the map. Kim had
told me it would take me about 4 hours from Temecula. I rang Whit and told
him I couldn't possibly get there today. Kim, it's 470 miles to Whit's in
Gardnerville from Temecula!!!! I still love you but I'd need a plane to do
it in 4 hours!
The road is interesting. For about 150 miles it runs up a valley maybe 10
miles wide, between 2 ranges of mountains, each going up to around 14,000
ft. The mountains on the left get around 50 inches of rain per year as the
wind blows off the Pacific. The valley and the mountains on the right get
about 3 inches because there is no rain left after the wind has blown over
the left hand lot (the Sierra Nevada mountains). The lowest point in the
US, Death Valley, is over on the right, just 80 miles from the highest point
in the US, Mount Witney. Well I think it's highest point in the US. Here
where I am passing the night in the boondocks at 7000 ft on the top of a
pass on a forest track I don't have ready access to the Internet to check.
The view is great though.
I'll mention my future plans. From Whit's I go to San Francisco then up
into the Napa Valley then up to Oregon then to Vancouver to visit relations.
I have to be in Vancouver before the end of August, because I came here on
the 3 month visa waiver program, so I have to be out of the US before the 3
months is up so I can come back in again. Then Montana then North Dakota
then South Dakota then down the middle to Carson in Louisianna trying to get
all this done to get to Albuquerque in October. Then back to the UK
probably by 11th November for my Mum's birthday but absolutely has to be
before the end of November, my ticket runs out.
One month out. 4,600 miles. Now lets see. I've spent around $3000 on
repairs, plus gas. That's 65c/mile plus gas..............I'm looking for an
improvement on that figure. However excluding breakdown motels my total
overnight costs are $3.50 i.e. $0.12 per night. That's better than
Number 15 ............ ........Gold rush towns
29th July 2003
I continued on the 395 pausing in Lee Vining to pick up some info on the
Mono lake. I did not pause even for a moment at the gas station with gas at
$2.40 a gallon. OK it's still cheap by European standards but compared to
the $1.30 I paid in Texas it's a rip off.
I got to Whit's in Gardnerville NV. Well, eventually. I missed our
rendez-vous point but by chance Whit spotted me driving by when he was going
somewhere else. Having met Whit I gather that's how things generally happen
in Gardnerville Nevada. Except when he's cooking. He made a delicious meal.
We arose somewhat before the crack of dawn the next day to see the balloon
operation from a boat on Lake Tahoe. They take of from the boat and then
land on the boat. Interesting. Not terribly interesting for the pilot
though. He takes off with 10 passengers or so, climbs a bit, then after an
hour descends to hover at a height of around 30 ft while the boat steers
underneath to catch him. If you are interested they have a web site, I
guess you would find it with a web search on Lake Tahoe balloons.
Whit and his son Josh were going to see the American Le Mans races at Sonoma
at the weekend. He had a spare ticket which he very graciously gave to me.
I left Friday morning to make a pretty drive on the I-80 in the direction of
Sacremento. I did a bit of shopping, realised dusk was descending, so
returned to a Walmart car park for the night. Quieter than usual for
Walmart, it closed at 11 pm and there was no nearby busy major road.
In the morning I drove through some of the old gold rush towns and stopped
at a couple of Farmers Markets. In Placerville, which used to be called
Hangtown due to there being so many lawbreakers they hanged them in pairs.
I even went down a real gold mine. Small, and now disused, but fascination
to see the real thing. I paid all of $1 extra to hire a cassette recorder
with commentary, hearing this recording brought the whole visit to life. If
you ever go to the the Gold Bug Mine, go short on lunch or whatever if
needed but make sure you hear the tape! Also see the reproduction stamp
mill. The stamp mill crashes gold bearing quartz stones to dust to allow
the separation of the gold. You could hear it a mile away. I then went to
the Gold Discovery Park at Coloma where gold was first discovered in
California in 1848. Came close to being boring. Marshall the chap who
found the gold had just built a sawmill and was poking around in the stones
to find why the water was not driving his mill. It was because the mill
stream did not have a big enough gradient. Duh! The mill closed after 2
years because it was so inefficient. Good job he found the gold.
I carried on down to the Sears Point Raceway, found Whit's campsite and made
myself dinner while I waited for him to get back from the pub which,
eventually, he did. I'm managing to produce eatable meals now, this was
corn on the cob, rib eye steak, green salad, fresh melon, accompanied by
Corona, a fine Mexican beer. Well, to be a touch more precise, accompanied
by several Coronas.....
It's getting cold in the evenings now. Those 117 degrees F (47C) days and
seemingly hotter nights have long gone. I swapped my shorts to jeans, and
added a jacket, and needed a blanket on my bed at night.
The motor races made a change. They made a lot of noise too. Around 4 pm
we packed to leave. Thanks Whit for the hospitality, more than I have
mentioned, I appreciate it, if I went through it all I'd never finish
writing theses notes.
now writing from the Napa Valley, California
Number 16 ...... .............Napa Valley
30th July 2003
Almost 20 years ago Wim van der Horst called to visit my home in the UK,
then he called again some 3 years ago at my home in France. So after
leaving Whit I headed up the road to Santa Rosa to meet Wim to return the
compliment. That is, if compliment is the right expression.
After a bunch of phone calls I found Wim, and with his son Scott we went to
a French restaurant, I had a wonderful beef Wellington made even better
retrospectively because Wim would not let me pay, even my share. I planned
to fly alongside Scott in the morning so returned to Wim's house where we
unstrapped my balloon from the mobile home and made it ready on the back of
Wim's truck. Wim topped up my empty tank from his bulk store. However in
the morning it turned out foggy, we had to move to another area, so it was
easier if I were to fly with Scott in his 180. A pleasant, gentle flight.
About the only place available to land in this valley was the airport, so we
landed at the airport.
I found a flat tyre on the van, on one of the back wheels. I remembered I
had hit the kerb the night before when trying to phone while in the midst of
traffic trying to rendez-vous with Wim. So very gingerly I followed Wim to
a local tyre shop. The van has twin back wheels, so it still had one good
wheel on the punctured side at the rear. The garage looked at all the
tyres, pronounced the front tyres OK, but said all the back ones were too
old, maybe 10 years old, and even though the tread was fine, said they
should be replaced, the tread could come off any time. I had been told the
same thing when I called at another tyre shop in Texas to check the tyre
pressures so it was no surprise. I had 4 good second hand tyres fitted
since they would probably last out the life of the van, at $160 it was
bearable. New price was $500 for the 4.
I headed along the Russian river and stopped to try to make a tour of a
champagne producer. Missed the last tour by 10 minutes, but managed some
tasting...........I passed the night in a lay by on a small road heading to
the hills. Continued on the same direction in the morning but it was not a
real good choice, the road went steeply up and steeply down like a
switchback, 1000 ft at a time, for about 30 miles. OK there had been a sign
saying not recommended for RV's but I thought, well, mine was only a small
RV! The road though was very beautiful, passing Lake Sonoma. I got plenty
of time to admire the view in my frequent stops to let the engine and brakes
I drove down the Napa valley, stopped for a moment, a convertible stopped
alongside, it was a Dutchman I had been talking with at the champagne
tasting. He was now with his wife and heading out to see the old faithfull
geyser. I went too, it was not as big as the Yellowstone Old Faithfull but
in a way more impressive because it was apparently a totally solitary
I arrived at Christine and Brent Stockwell's in Oakland. They've been
ballooning for ever starting some time like 1967. They write books, run a
balloon school and have a repair shop. Brent has a plane too. Christine
produced a delicious salad, she said it was just a salad but there are
salads and salads and this was perfect. In the morning I went to get the
brakes checked. The front disks, which I was worried about were OK but one
of the rear brake cylinders was leaking. That was $450 of not good news.
So I'm writing this waiting for the brakes to be fixed. Next I go to a
transmission shop for a transmission check. It's a regular check after
installation, it's all paid for and guaranteed so all should be OK. Just to
finish on a rather surprising high note. The transmission checked out OK,
and the check was free.
Number 17 ............... .........4th August 2003
Before leaving Balloon Excelsior - that's Christine and Brent's place - they
invited me to a small local meet they were organising on Sunday. More on
that later.... I then departed to meet Tom Wiggins of the St Gabriels
Celestial Brass Band. He gave me a couple of CD's, very nice of him, I was
interested to notice that there were 5 saxophone players in his BRASS band
and and the other disk had several accordian tracks on it and that he was
very proud of the amount of money he made from booking the band on European
Some time ago Whit said Kinkos offered free internet facilities. I noticed
a Kinkos and tried my luck. The first 3 booths did not work but finally I
got my modem to run and did a few emails. I found a quiet dead end road to
rest up in and parked off the road right at the end and got to work on
dinner. I was halfway through eating when 2 huge police cars pulled up and
shone a big light through the window. They called me and I said Hi. I said
can you hang on a tick, it's hot in here, I'm stripped off, I'm just putting
my jeans back on. They seemed content to wait.
Some local had reported a suspicious character. Oh the trials and
tribulations us boondockers have to go through just to get a free night's
camping. One of the police checked inside and said to his pal, hey, he's
eating bacon! They refused my offer to share and asked me to drive down the
road a bit when I had finished eating, out of sight of their complainant.
In the morning I Kinkoed again and caught upon emails. Then off to explore
more gold country. I got lost in Modesto on the way and stopped to check my
map outside the McHenry Museum so naturally went inside to explore, hey it's
free!, nice exhibits showing life in times gone by. I then walked around
the old gold town of Coulterville, more real in a way than some of the more
famous places. I drove up a ways on the 49 then back a little on an old
version of the road. I parked in a spot with a stupendous view. During the
night it rained. And rained. With thunder and lightning. Yet the dry
creek alongside was still dry. How much rain does it take to get it to work
I wondered, and to carve those deep channels?
Columbia, village and state historic park was OK. It was raining but I can
manage rain. Later, I called in at Melones Lake visitor centre at 4 pm, the
door was locked, they close at 4 pm. They unlocked the door and let me in.
Then the Ranger in charge said she still had work to do and unlocked the
museum door as well! It was a very small but interesting museum, I'm glad I
had the chance to see it.
My route then was to Manteca for the balloon meet. I found a quiet corner
of Walmart and set my alarm for 5.15 am. Subscribing to the once bitten
twice shy theory after Gallup I also set my cell phone, to 5:20 am. So I
awoke at 5.10, as you might expect, before both alarms............
Maybe in retrospect I would have been better to have not made that flight.
It started OK. I enjoyed the whole flight enormously. But just when I was
thinking of landing, after about an hour, dairy farms appeared. One after
the other, almost quicker than you can say it. I saw the first and climbed
to 1000 ft. The animals still spooked, even at over 1000 ft. In the UK if
you go to 500 ft animals are usually OK. When I climbed I turned to the
left directly over the farm, if I had descended instead I would have turned
right and missed the farm, and probably all the others. For non
balloonists, it is quite normal to finds winds of a different direction at
different heights. Typically (in the northern hemisphere) winds at 1000 ft
are 30 degrees to the right of the winds at ground level. Today was the
opposite but it happens.
With the wind speed there was barely room to pass a farm then descend
quickly and make a landing since most fields had crop of some sort. Dairy
farms in this area are very intensive, a massive number of cows in a very
small area, and the farms are close together. So I carried on. I tried to
descend from time to time but found unanticipated animals such as horses.
Finally no more dairy farms. Not a lot of fuel left either. We came down,
at low level we seemed to hit small thermals, nowhere to land, fields of
mostly almond trees, as far as I could see. Some smaller trees a field in
front but I couldn't see if there were power wires along the edge. At 10%
fuel left in one tank, the other one being empty, I decided to land in a
small crossways gap between the almond trees. We had to go through the top
of a tree to get to the space, we took out a couple of branches, and shook
down a lot of almonds. I forgot to reassure my first time passenger and
tell her to duck down and hide in the bottom of the basket when we were
going in to the tree. Oops! Better go back to school on that one. However
she took no long term damage and survived well enough to enjoy the
champagne. The farmer was there, he said if I could land there again, he'd
come with me, then he could walk home. I took this to mean he wasn't
bothered about losing a few almonds. Pheuw! I'm glad he wasn't upset.
One hour 40 minutes flying on 2 x10 gallon tanks. Not bad for a 27 year
We took breakfast, made our farewells, and I headed north in the general
direction of Oregon.
In the California gold country (yet again)
Number 18 ......... ..........Mount Shasta
7th August 2003
After breakfast I didn't immediately get very far north. There was a Kinkos
in the next town 14 miles away so I stopped and collected emails. I found a
plug for cable connection and plugged it in to my laptop. I had broadband!
So I looked at a couple of bank statements. There was a girl in the next
work area connected to the internet using a modem. When I left I offered
her the connection I had been using, managed to get it to work on her
computer, and left her very happily high speed surfing, it was the first
time she had tried broadband.
Now it was lunch time. I stopped in a park and borrowed one of their picnic
tables. Part through lunch I phoned Gary Rominger in Sacremento. He was
going to a baseball match starting at 6 pm, he had the use of a friend's
season tickets and his wife had not yet seen the team so it was important he
went. It was already 4 pm, so I cleared lunch and headed north again. We
just had time for a beer and short chat, Gary had just bought a home built
Cloudhopper from Guy Gauthier and needed urgently to finish a flight test
program so that he could take it with him to Oregon later in the week.
I parked up in a lay by. Not a good choice. It was on a steep hill, and
must have been a commuter road, at 6 am cars started grinding up the hill.
As a result by 7 am I was on the road and driving round Grass Valley looking
for the tourist office and the Empire State Mine. I think it's the worst
signposted place I have ever been to, I had to go on the freeway before I
found any direction signs. Empire Mine when I found it was fabulous,
absolutely fascinating. It was the biggest and richest underground mine of
the era, with 350 miles of tunnels and lots of relics. I even bought a small
piece of quartz bearing some gold, similar to the material they dug out of
the mine. The North Star Mining Museum was pretty good too. After an oil
change I found a much better place to park up for the night and passed the
time of day with a motorcyclist who had stopped to smoke some hash while he
admired the view. He was an artist who lived locally, he said he spent the
winters in Hungary because although it was cold there it was less unpleasant
than his own area in the winter, he said it rained all the time. Why
Hungary I thought but didn't ask. He did say Hungary was only $149 away
from anywhere else in Europe.
In the morning soon after I started I found I was in the South Yuba River
State Park. Beautiful river, and a covered bridge built 1862. I'd seen
mention of the bridge but had not known where to find it. At around 260 ft
it's the longest in California, possibly the USA. I found out why it's
covered. Obvious really. To keep the bridge timbers dry, to stop them
rotting. Nothing to do with keeping the people on the bridge dry as I had
thought! A lady volunteer working on a wild plant regeneration project
stopped me for a chat. Apparently nowadays you can get a degree in the
subject. She said she wished that had been possible when she took her
Up to Oroville, went to the visitor centre at Lake Oroville. This time 2
ladies, manning the centre, wanted to chat. They'd nothing else to do they
said. It was so quiet. However they let me use their phone line to check
my emails. There's a viewpoint tower there, well worth the climb. On I
continued on route 70 along the N Fork Feather River Valley. Oh wow! What
a beautiful valley, gorge, whatever you call it. 60 odd miles without a
road junction or habitation of any note. A stupendous drive. I stopped for
the night about half way, in an open space by a series of waterfalls on a
tributary stream. A climbed the rocks way up high, about 300 ft, and found
waterfall after waterfall.
The spelling of tributary doesn't look right to me. Maybe it is. I could
mention here I can't get my spell checker to work with Outlook Express so
spellings correct or otherwise are all my own work. (werk?)
During the night there was no commuter traffic. No commuters, nor anywhere
to commute to. No traffic at all until about 9 am. Only several trains
grinding their way past. Lot of good it did them. In the morning they were
all stopped, one after the other, further up the valley. They could have
let me sleep.
I continued along the same beautiful valley and stopped in Greenville for
food shopping. Wey hey! Right out in the sticks here there is this amazing
supermarket with an incredible choice of products. At least a dozen
vinegars, 15 different olive oils. Amongst other stuff I bought a wine
bottle stopper, super simple little thing, I've never seen one like it
before, even in France.
Along the way the passenger window stuck down in the open position. After
paying out 2 lots of $60 to fix this window, and having thought about it a
bit, I did nothing to the window, apart from banging the door hard shut a
few times. It worked. The window is OK now.
I was following route 89, marked as scenic on the map. It is. Super
views, especially passing through Lassen Volcanic National Park, lots of
trees too. There were lots of small dirt roads running into the trees, I
headed a little way down one, and parked up. Bliss. No commuters, no
trains, even the sound of the rare passing car was masked by the trees.
Close by Mount Shasta, CA
Number 19 ....... ............Approaching Oregon
11th August 2003
In the morning I headed off towards Mount Shasta. The town that is not the
mountain, although the mountain was around. I'd had real trouble with
moving the ignition switch to the start position for a long time, this
morning it was almost impossible to move it far enough to engage the
starter. I asked around and discovered it was a common fault on all Fords,
sooner or later they all got like this. The first garage had the part but
not the time, The second said $200, he could do it tomorrow. Not now? I
asked, I'm on the road. I'll see if I can improve it he said. He got a
squirty can and squirted down behind the steering wheel. Is that better he
said? Wow I said. Yes. Like new. Couple of seconds and a ton of
experience can work wonders I said. I asked can I pay you for that? Buy me
lunch he said. OK. One of the best $10 I have ever spent.
I looked at a museum, and the oldest fish hatchery in California. Millions
of trout for the N California rivers. Well, almost millions. They raise 6
million per year. I've never seen so many fish at once. Met a French
family there and discovered I could still speak French. My sort of French
that is. I re-visited the Tourist office and met another French couple the
office had told me about earlier. She had always wanted to visit Mount
Shasta they told me, it is important in Indian mysticism and they were here
for a week. They flew into Portland and took the Greyhound, 400 miles,
intending to take coach trips in the area. Oops! There aren't any coaches.
There are no car rental companies either. Due to a special convention,
there are no motel rooms even. They seemed very happy to be here, they had
found a camp site (they had no tent!) and were heading off for an hour and a
half on a Greyhound to pick up a rental car. Mount Shasta must have some
I went to see the source of the Sacremento river and then Ed Steele, a local
balloonist whose ad I had seen in the tourist office. He'd been flying in
the am and suggested I stay and fly tomorrow morning. But no, I have to
press on to meet Vicki and Meg and Geoff and the relations in Vancouver.
I'll mention how I choose my routes. It's simple. Mostly I look on the map
for the routes that are marked as pretty or pick up stuff from the tourist
office. I don't always agree but I reckon I am more likely to find a nice
road following the selected routes. It's the same in France when I am
touring, it works there too.
I could mention also how much I like this motor home. It's not too big, I
can park it most places, it has the main amenities I want, such as bed,
cooker, shower, toilet. There is hot water and refrigerator. Driving it is
unbelievable. It's like being captain of a cruise liner. It feels nearly
as big. You just sit there in control, in your plush covered armchair way
up high and it sort of does things. The 5.8 litre 8 cylinder engine doesn't
make any noise, it just goes. The gears are all automatic. There is cruise
control which automatically holds your chosen speed. There is power
steering - finger tip control. Power brakes make stopping barely more than
thinking about it. The windows are electric. The door locks are electric
too. The hifi radio has auto station search and plays my CD's beautifully
on it's quad loudspeaker system. The power inverter recharges my laptop and
runs my printer. There is air conditioning to keep me cool, and heaters to
warm me if I am cold. I could stay home. Well, I am staying home!
I took the Klamath River Highway then the crossed the Siskiyou Mountains to
Crescent City. Another beautiful road. At around the highest point, 4,500
ft, I stopped for the night in a huge winter sports parking ground. Before
midday I reached Gold Beach and met up with my cousin Vicki holidaying in a
chalet. It's only about a year ago we made contact, after my Aunt Lucy found
an old letter in my great Aunt Annie's old papers Could be called cat city,
Vicki has 3 cats, her friend, who has just moved here from Alaska, has
seven. You probably know, I like cats. So we got on fine, we had a look at
the harbour which was full of boats with fishermen trying to catch salmon. I
mean full. Wonder their propellers didn't get entangled never mind the
I went on an 80 mile jet boat trip on the Rogue River in the morning.
Amazing. Fantastic. The boats will work in only 6 inches deep water, they
go through rapids at up to 40 mph! (60 kph). Wow! We saw 3 separate bald
eagles, then a family of 3 sea otters, then a mink, then an owl. It was a
special sort of owl but I forget which one. The jet boat makes riding a log
flume in a theme park look like watching ducks float. Real nice but not
Then I immediately headed north, I needed to get to Yachats by 6.30 to hear
the Calamity Jazz band, with Meg Graf playing Bass saxophone. I had to rush
through some great coastal road and drive straight past viewpoints. What a
sacrifice. Normally I stop and look at EVERY viewpoint. My, does Meg play
the sax with energy, sounds great. The rest of the band are pretty good
too. The bass sax (called Big George) is huge. Meg is in a wheelchair, the
sax towers way over her head. Food in the Drift Inn, where they were
playing, was superb, real stuff, hamburgers nowhere on the menu.
I drove back down the coast a bit, and pulled into a car park for the night.
On the Pacific coast, Oregon
Number 20 ......... ...........Oregon
13th August 2003
Whilst I was clearing up in the morning I noticed another 3 vehicles had
pulled in for the night after me. Then a car pulled up with an elderly
couple who then went around waking everybody up and telling them they had to
pay a car park fee. They gave everybody a request to pay card. They could
have tucked the card behind the wiper without waking everyone up. Better,
they could have arranged to put up signs that you could see that said there
was a fee to pay. It was not obvious. And the fee was only $5, no big deal
for anyone. No problem at all for me personally, I was already awake when
the busybodies arrived, and with my golden age pass my parking was free.
The other 3 couples all paid happily but I'll bet they don't come back to
this area again, ever.
I had said I would go and hear Meg play at the enchanted village but the
Oregon coast was too tempting. I went to Cape Perpetua, claimed to be the
best view on the Oregon Coast. Yep, good view. Then I had another look at
Yachats, it's quite a pretty village - lots better than Gold Beach. Although
Gold Beach apparently can be up to 40 degrees (F) warmer in the
winter which could be tempting.......
I had a look at the bridge information centre in Walport. You know, all
these little information centres I have found seem to have a small museum
attached and almost without exception, wherever I have been, I have found
these museums fascinating. They are really well thought out and beautifully
Then I took route 34 inland. It was a beautiful, twisty road, I reached
Junction City just in time to hear Meg playing with a Scandinavian Polka
group at the Scandinavian Festival. Talk about sublime to the ridiculous.
Yesterday Meg and Calamity Jazz were playing fit to explode, today's group
were more wooden than any of the Oregon trees. Even Vicki, leader and
trumpet with Calamity Jazz, today playing drums, couldn't get any bounce
into it. Well, all in a good cause I suppose. We had a really good chinese
dinner after, really super, I'm just about to heat up some of the left
overs! Meals in the US are so large by the way that they always give you
boxes to take away the food you can't eat!
I headed back up a few miles on my route and hid down a track amongst some
trees for the night. In the morning I found the Visitor Centre in Eugene,
picked up local maps and infos, and discovered the whereabouts of Kinko's.
Since it was a while since I had picked up bank informations etc, and since
I had a cable connection today, I spent an hour and got most of the stuff I
I had an idea I would try to make a flight here with Meg so I rang Jim Desch
in Salem for local balloon infos. He was very helpful, sounded a nice guy.
I did some minor shopping in Walmart (I got a chair) then headed for lunch
in a birdwatching overlook. After going back to Walmart to retrieve my cell
phone which I had left there, I started lunch............
At the airport I went to the flying school and found the airport
restrictions. Basically I was OK with the balloon provided I stayed 5 miles
from the airport. I drove round the potential flying area, lots of fields
with recently cut crop, perfect for landing. Jim had said the weather
looked OK for tomorrow but I still had to ring the met. I started looking
more closely at the chair and the size of my basket. It didn't look like it
would work. Remember Meg is in a wheelchair so she would need to sit. Just
in case I filled my flight cylinders.
We had dinner at a local restaurant. Not as good as the Chinese but
absolutely OK. I thought about it more and realised the flight was not
possible with my basket, it was too small. I walked back home with Meg,
(gotta walk, can't get the chair easily into my van), made friends with her
3 cats, and headed for my van which I left parked up in front of her house
for the night. I forgot to ask, so I hope it was OK!
Meg gets up at 5 am to practice then leaves for work at 7 am so she beat me.
I kinko'd again, found a list of all their stores. They have 1100 worldwide,
even one in China. Email works better with them than with truckstops,
especially as Kinko's usually have cable available.
I took a slow pretty trip in the direction of Bend. After looking at
covered bridges I spent a long time trying to find the right road. I find
American signposting leaves a lot to be desired. Combine that with maps
where two maps for the same area will show entirely different roads. Small
roads that is, they generally agree about freeways. I also don't really go
for roads either that look like main roads then after about 5 miles have a
sign that says no admittance except on business. Did that twice today.
Eventually I found the road and afer lunch I parked myself in my (brand new)
chair in a sunny spot on the river bank next to some rapids and ate melon.
Without doubt there are worse ways to spend an hour. Parked up for the
night at a trailhead near some lava fields. I'll see Geoff in the morning.
Boondocking near Bend, Oregon
Number 21 ........ ...........Into Washington
15th August 2003
Almost the first thing I did in the morning was to stop at the Dee Wright
Observatory on the top of the McKenzie Pass and was rewarded with a superb
view of distant mountains over the lava field. I could even see Mt St Helens
87 miles away. Plus a couple in sleeping bags still sleeping on the
concrete path leading to the observatory! Everybody walked around them and
talked quietly while near by. No parking ticket busybodies here!
In Bend I made a quick Kinko's for email, did some essential washing, and
met Geoff for a very pleasant reminiscing lunch. Geoff I have known since
jazz club days in Hull over 40 years ago, he still plays the darndest
clarinet, he was also a balloonist and was president of the Balloon
Federation of America many years back. His third claim to fame is that he
has reached wife number 8.......
I took the van into a Ford dealers, I had not been happy with an
irregularity of the engine sound under load. I took a short drive around
with a technician who happened to own a van of similar vintage, with the
same engine. He said it sounded perfectly normal to him. I guess it's just
that these huge inefficient slow running engines sound different to the
engines I am used to. My own French car is about one fifth the size of this
engine, does five times as many miles per gallon, and I'll bet it travels
0 - 60 mph in one fifth the time. Of course the whole car is about one
fifth the size of this big van, and just to keep the number 5, the maximum
rpm on the car is probably 5 times that of the van.
Since the van noise check was so fast (it was also free!) I just had time to
scoot round the high desert museum before heading north in the Portland
direction. I found a super parking spot in a currently non used road
I reached the Columbia River valley in the late morning and followed it
upstream from the Portland end. There are some magnificent water falls off
the old route 30, all of which I visited, then I called in to the Bonneville
Dam. The dam is nothing special but the fish control was. There is a "swim
ladder" so that the local fish can by pass the dam and get upstream, with 4
or 5 underwater viewing windows so you can watch. The ladder narrows at one
point, with a girl counting all the fish passing by, noting type - mostly
sturgeon or salmon - and also noting if they were wild or reared. At the
fish hatchery, which I also visited, they cut one of the fins on all reared
fish. Apparently it is illegal for fishermen to keep any wild fish, if
caught they must be returned to the river. They can keep the reared ones.
They had a king size sturgeon at the hatchery, 10 ft (3 metres) long
swimming around with a few regular size 6 foot pals. The fish counting can
get a touch hectic at times the girl said, one time she had counted 100,000
sturgeon in an 8 hour shift. They fill her viewing window. This is on the
Oregon side of the river. On the Washington side they there is also someone
counting fish on that side. On these sort of numbers they reckon on 5%
error on the count. Today there were 5 or 6 biggish fish, then a wait of a
minute or so, then a few more fish. By biggish I mean about 2 ft (60 cm)
long, there were lots of smaller ones flitting about, not counted.
I drove up a beautiful river valley alongside a tumbling river full of
rapids. This time there were not too many trees between the road and the
river so it was possible to see. Today I had to drive a while to find
somewhere to stay but eventually found a track running off US 97 into the
forest. Before then every turn off the road led to someone's house!
Number 22 ......... ............In Canada
17th August 2003
Since Bend I've been temporarily back on the route Wayne Mohring planned out
for me around 5 years ago. I had to miss out this bit of his route at that
time. So now I continued on to Mount Rainier. Here the visitor information
centre car park was full, there were 100's of cars parked in the main car
park with lots of people heading up steep paths towards the mountain.
Thinking they knew something I didn't I followed them pausing only to
(frequently) gasp for breath and to rest. After some 30 minutes torture I
realised that the view of Mount Rainier although stunningly beautiful was
not noticeably getting any better. I gave it best and descended, marking
down the walkers as a bunch of masochists.
I found a forest road soon after exiting the park area, and settled for the
night. A carload of Japanese ladies came down the road, hesitated, and
stopped. The ladies got out, split into 3 pairs, and walked intently back
the way they had come. Some 30 minutes later they reappeared, got in their
car, and drove off. Obviously they had either not found Mount Rainier, or
the mountain walk had been insufficient for their needs.
In the morning, at Kinko's, I got found by a very chatty man trying to copy
his personal files from his hard disk to CD. I wasted nearly an hour trying
to help him before I managed to get away. Poor man didn't have a clue,
didn't know how much each of the 100 or so blank CD's that he had bought
would hold, he didn't know how big his files were that he wanted to copy, he
asked should he compress the files. The files I copied for him
uncompressed, and I think I found most, totalled around 20 Mb. That is,
putting it into perspective, 3% of just one CD, or 0.03% of the total
storage of the disks he had bought! No I told him, I don't think you need
to compress your files..................
My next stop was Seattle, to climb the space needle. Climb is not quite the
right word to describe going up in the high speed lift but it will do. The
view again was stunning and again the parking was free. I continued in the
direction of Vancouver. A 2 hour wait at the Canadian customs was not fun,
especially with the hot sun beating down and the heater set to maximum heat
to try to stop the engine boiling. Eventually I got through and arrived at
Aunt Thelma's, son Doug was visiting. Aunt Thelma is 97 and has 11 children
all now retired and 10 of whom married and had children who also had
children etc etc. All the children were fishermen or worked in some branch
of the industry. Must be 100 relations around here. Aunt Thelma's was my
father's half cousin, until recently we hadn't been certain that my great
grandfather had been married twice. Doug is getting up early and going for
a walk in the morning, Thelma says it's pretty, Doug asked me if I would
like to go along and I said yes. Some people never learn.
in Aunt Thelma's drive, Richmond BC, Canada
20th August 2003
Well I walked 4 times round the park, with Doug, about a mile each circuit.
I said that would about do me and Doug said him too. Ha! I've now heard
that Doug was once selected for the Olympics as a boxer, brother Bob
described him as the toughest guy he knew, he would haul moose further than
anyone else and sometimes drag along a couple of the other guys who had
given up too. Doug was being polite to me, thank goodness!
Margie and husband Hubb took me off to lunch in the biggest pickup I have
ever been in, a Cadillac. We went to a super waterfront pub then Costco. I
have a minor prostrate problem and take a daily tablet. I was running low
on tablets and enquired the price. $100 Canadian for 100. Wow! In the UK
they cost $200 Canadian, in the US $400 Canadian. We called by a doctor for
a prescription. OK they said, 10 or 15 minutes time. After waiting 1 hour
15 minutes the doctor appeared and wrote out a prescription. Took him all of
2 minutes start to finish. Only thing worse than waiting that long for a
doctor is waiting for someone else who is waiting for a doctor. Eventually,
back at Thelma's, Jackie - another brother - and Mona - another sister -
appeared. I collated some family tree information then discovered the
location of Kinko's and can happily report they offer free internet access
in Canada as well as the USA. Dinner was baked salmon by Bob who lives with
his Mum and keeps an eye on her when she'll permit it. Chirpy old lady is
The drivers side door of my motor home, which I had rarely been using since
I strained it in the Joshua Tree Park, had become so badly strained it was
unusable so in the morning Bob and I headed of to a pal of his to see if he
could fix it. He didn't want to try but suggested Brou. Brou was retired
but might have a go at it. Have a go he did. He found a couple of blocks
of wood and a plank, propped them under the door and asked me to heave on
the plank. I did this a few times until he was satisfied. He then took a
case opener and a hammer and bashed away at the spot where the door had
twisted away the bodywork. I finally got to try the door. It worked
perfectly. Wow again! Another case of 5 minutes work and 50 years
experience to solve the problem. He didn't want any money so Bob promised
to bring round a whole salmon - he was getting some that afternoon. That
seemed acceptable so off we went.
Hubb and Margie dragged me off not at all unwillingly to lunch again.
Chinese today. Since rather more than half the population of Richmond are
Chinese there are some really good Chinese restaurants. We went to one. I
could go there again, no problem! I went round the Cannery in the
afternoon, now a museum. In the top times they would produce 2½ million
cans of salmon per year here, it must have been horrid working in the steam
and the heat and the smell of putrefying fish offal. Dinner back at
Thelma's, Bob came back from Golf in a very cheerful mood, he had gone round
at Par. It being my birthday Bob took me round to the local pub for a
beer. With 11 in the family no one remembers or specially celebrates
anyone's birthday except Thelma's!
After a quick lunch Bob Thelma and I piled into my van to visit Dorothy.
Dorothy is the first person I have met in the family with a computer, so I
installed the family tree program and our family data - currently there are
673 individuals and 232 families on my version of the tree, the earliest
date being a marriage on 29 January 1701. On our return here Jackie
reappeared to take Thelma and myself out to dinner. Something of a red
letter day, it's the first time for years and years they have persuaded
Thelma to go to a restaurant and it was the second outing of the day! Well
it was a really super meal! Back at Thelma's I found I could attack my
email from the house, my French ISP could offer local call access. Not bad
really, although one of my US ISP's will also work in Canada.
Still in Aunt Thelma's drive, Richmond BC, Canada
Number 24 ........ .............Back in the USA
23rd August 2003
Next day was not interesting to write about. Quick trip to Kinko's to
collect email, then back to Thelma's to work on accounts stuff, check credit
card chitties, etc, until Jackie arrived to collect me for dinner at his
place. Nice dinner.
Thursday morning I headed off to find Charlie MacDonald's place. If
Mohammed will not come to the mountain I thought then the mountain must go
to Mohammed. Charlie had been described to me by several of his brothers
and sisters as the nicest of the bunch! He was out when I got there,
unusually playing golf, helping to make up a team for a tournament. I
admired his Oldsmobile from the 1970's, 77,000 km and still with original
tyres, it was just out for an airing. He arrived, we chatted, we had a
sandwich, and I left for Doug's cabin up in the mountains, about 4 hours
drive to the east. I got there, Doug had dinner ready, even though he had
thought I was arriving the day before. A delicious salmon steak,
brilliantly cooked by a bachelor.
In the morning we had a drive up to Jackie's holiday cabin, and Doug then
shook me again with an acceptable lunch. I headed off further east on my
I've had a superb welcome from the MacDonalds in Vancouver. I've asked them
all to come and see me in France. I shall find it hard to repay that
quality of welcome.
After Doug I called in at a gold museum in Hedley then continued along the
border to the I-97 to return to the USA. The I-97 is quieter than the I-5
so I thought I might get by with a lesser wait than going the other way when
I waited 2 hours at the customs post. Ha! I saw a cut off to the right
signposted US border and presumed it was a short cut to the I-97. Not
so. Major error. It was a desolate country lane going to a minuscule
border check post (9 am to 5pm) manned by one immigration guy and one customs
guy. The customs guy was oldish I guess looking for a quiet life. The
immigration guy took me apart. He had the time. He read every single letter,
every single piece of paper, every single bank statement, that I had in my
brief case. He examined every page of my passport, then checked it again,
and then again. He asked every dumb question you can imagine, then a few
more. Then he asked where did I live, why had I sent my balloon to Micki,
who was Dave Lynch, why did I have his BFA roster, did I have a flight
ticket back to the UK, why had I bought an RV not rented one, how did I
live, where had I been, where was I going, did I have relations in Canada or
in the USA. Etc etc. I guess I must have looked to be a major security
risk, this old guy driving an RV.........................In the hour and a
half I was being checked not one vehicle passed in either direction.
Eventually he gritted his teeth and, saying nothing, started filling in the
approval form. While I was counter signing it he headed off to his computer
with my passport in I guess a last ditch attempt to trip me up. What a
welcome to money spending tourists. Meanwhile customs man chatted. Then a
very pretty drive towards the I-97 along a small valley
My faith in Americans was renewed at the supermarket. I asked a checkout
lady, where was the wine, just over there she said, but I couldn't see it.
She put her arm around me, and steered me to the wine. After paying I
couldn't carry everything. I'll come back for it I said. I'll bring it she
said. What's that on the back of the RV she asked? A hot air balloon I
said. Ooooh! I'm coming with you, she said!
People are lovely here in the USA and Canada. So many smiles.
In the Okanogan National Forest Nr Spokane Washington
Number 25 ........ ........Now into Montana
25th August 2003
I passed the night peaceably in a small clearing in a National Forest by a
bubbling stream. Around 10 the next morning I arrived at Colville to find
the road blocked by a smiling policeman who didn't seem to care if I
diverted to the left or the right. I found out why. It was a parade! A
small town parade perhaps but it was a parade and fun to watch. Some
floats, and lots of horses from here there and everywhere. So many horses
that one of the wheelbarrow and shovel followers had his barrow piled high.
I'll bet he has good tomatoes next year.
I continued down to Spokane, catching a glimpse of an Indian war dance at
some festival, and the Spokane Falls, not at their best this time of year,
anyway there was nowhere to park. I headed east on the I-90 towards the
route Wayne had told me was the most beautiful Interstate in the US. He's
driven every Interstate in the US so I believe him. On the way I tried to
phone Jan, Vicki Barker's sister, to arrange to call, and get her address.
Couldn't get the phone to work. I consulted a phone book at a gas station,
she was there, but had no address listed. I found a gentleman with the same
surname, he gave me good directions. Turns out he was her ex (oops!)
Jan had two broken arms, she had a crash on a quad motorbike a few weeks
ago. I guess that was a major oops! I saw some woodcarvings that Jerry,
Jan's friend, had made. They were incredibly lifelike, they were almost
alive, they looked alive, he cuts them with a chain saw at an unbelievable
speed like 2 two foot high bald eagles in a morning. Instead of sanding
smooth, like I would do, he burns off loose pieces with a metal cutting
torch. What a gift Jerry has got. He says he just does it. We headed off
to a friends for dinner, 3rd sister Sue was to be there. Jan didn't bother
to phone to say there was an extra guest. I realised why when I saw the
size of the stew pot. Would almost have been OK if the entire population of
Pinehurst had turned up. And there was only Jan's family, Sue's family, and
I headed towards Dody Barker's in the morning. I'd phoned the day before,
sounded as though I woke him up, he said he would be out but back by mid
day. It was 9 am but I called by. Well I tried to. I suppose there are
around 500 inhabitants of Silverton and maybe 20 roads. The first two
people I asked had never heard of the road Dody lived on. The next people
didn't seem to know the road either until I mentioned Dody's name. Then
they remembered that they had lived on that road (next door to Dody) for 20
Maybe I look a suspicious character. The immigration man thought so.
Colleen Barker was around, I added all her family information to the family
tree, and installed the program and tree data on her computer then headed
towards Kalispell to look for Gary Barker and Paul Fifield. Wayne was
right, the I-90 is a beautiful road. I bought - and ate - a delicious box
of cherries from a roadside stall manned by two Indian girls who must have
been at least 5 years old if they were a day. I carried on more beautiful
roads and pulled up for the night on a little track off a side road.
I had a quick check. There are now 747 people and 255 families on the
family tree with unchanged earliest date of 1701. Whilst sticking with
statistics I have now driven 9,000 miles in the van, lately without major
expense, so at around 35c my cost per mile is now about half what it was. I
have not paid any more camping fees so my single expenditure of $3.50 now
averages at 6 cents per night. I'll be trying to reduce that figure even
more although I have to admit new found wealth - since my birthday last
Monday I have qualified for UK pension!
In a forest Nr Kalispell, Montana
Number 26 ...... ..............Kalispell
27th August 2003
When I reached Kalispell I realised I didn't have either Paul or Gary's address. I called in at the information office and collected one of Paul's flight brochures. I phoned and Paul was not available. I'll call round for a coffee I offered. When I had untangled Marlene's route directions I reached their house, coffee was waiting! It's not been a good month for making passenger flights with Paul's balloons, there are some large forest fires around the area, and most days the valley has been full of smoke which makes it either impossible or at best unpleasant to fly. Bookings have been light for the same reason. Tomorrow looked OK for flying, Paul had no one booked, so I planned to fly with Marlene who normally did not get much chance to fly, and to complete the role reversal we lined up Paul to retrieve us.
I headed off to see Gary who was in the thick of things. He's an insurance agent, Mondays are busy days, and his assistant had left last week so he was on his own. Gary was interested to see us launch the balloon in the morning, coincidentally he had been thinking of booking a balloon flight for his wife, it was her birthday today, family celebrations were booked for the evening, so we arranged to meet up in the morning at 6.30 am. Gary's own interest is white water kayaking which sounds a touch more hectic than ballooning. I phoned Paul and suggested I take them both out for dinner, we arranged to meet at their house.
I took a few minutes out on the way to try to fix my driver side electric window. Last time it stopped working I had waited a bit, slammed the door a few times, and it was OK. That technique had not worked this time. I stripped the door down and got near enough to hear clicks as the motor tried to start but I couldn't fix it. Why do you want to open the window anyway someone had asked, you've got air conditioning. I decided I didn't really want to open the window and put it back together.
Marlene couldn't go to dinner, Paul and I went to a superb all you can eat Chinese restaurant. The bill arrived and Paul stole it before I noticed, and I was supposed to pay! Thanks Paul.
I parked up outside their house for the night, the morning was OK, we had a pleasant flight after a somewhat messy inflation caused by the temporary arrival of a parcel of wind. Paul took a decent photo of my 27 year old balloon see below.
I called round to Gary's now he had a little more time, really I was due to head off on the long trek to South Dakota but Gary said they would like to take me out to dinner. I'm easily persuaded and changed my plans.......... Meantime I called round to see a museum, an 1895 mansion furnished mostly with original furniture etc. but it didn't really turn me on, I'm generally used to older stuff back home! Dinner was great. Thanks Gary and Connie. I spent the night parked in their back yard with a superb backdrop of the Glacier Park Mountains.
Just about to depart Kalispell
Number 27 ...... .............Leaving Montana
29th August 2003
In the morning I called round at Gary's office to make some photocopies but
we got involved in computers and I didn't get away until nearly lunch time.
Gary and Connie are professional singers as well as the other stuff, singing
country and old time rock and roll. I've got a tape but no way to play it.
I can't wait!
Driving across the wide open spaces of Montana, beautiful mountains all
around, it all seemed unreal. I could hardly believe I am here. It is so
large, so beautiful, so different. I've been on this trip 3 months now but
everything is still wonderful and new. I guess you could say I am having a
great time! I started wondering what shall I write about it then I had to
say to myself, don't be so dumb! I'm not taking photographs on this trip
because I don't want to distract myself from the pure enjoyment of the thing
by looking for good scenes to photo so I'm not going to waste time by
thinking about writing. Leave that until tonight, after dinner............
I found myself a National Forest to stay for the night. Along a narrow
track wing up a narrow gulch. Up, up, and up the gulch. After about 8
miles I found somewhere to turn, and parked up. A bit close to the cleanly
picked skeleton of a deer, but there you are.
Right. Just now I am VERY fed up! I wrote the above last night and tonight
I continued with all the exciting (!) events of today. I hit send and
something went wrong and I've lost the lot. Didn't happen when you wrote pen and ink.
Aaargh! I'll try and remember what I wrote. But please excuse me if I'm a
touch abrupt. It's bed time.
During the night I got cold and put on a T shirt and socks and was OK. In
the morning I checked with my balloon altimeter and found I was over 6,000
ft. That's why I was cold. I also read my AAA tour guide and found I would
have liked to visit some places in Helena which I had passed. Tough. I'm
not going back. I tried my driver side window and now it worked perfectly.
All I'd done was to leave it alone. I guess you win some and you lose some.
I called in at the museum in Harlowton. Loads of stuff all given by locals.
Like me they must be too mean to take to the dump bit will happily give it
away. There were loads of interesting things.
I had a driving session with fairly constant scenery. Aha, I thought, now's
the chance to think about what I'll write tonight. I had some brilliant
ideas for really witty remarks. I've forgotten them all. I'd even
forgotten them the first time I wrote these notes.
I finally remembered to get spare keys for the van. $3 for two, almost
nothing. I recently paid about $10 for just one key in the UK.
I picked up emails and spent some time on urgent replies so headed down to
Walmart for the night. Have a nice day.
c/o Walmart, Miles City, Montana
I had been planning to continue on the 12 through N Dakota then S Dakota but
was advised to continue on the I-94 to Bismarck then head south. This not
only looked quicker but large chunks of the road were marked on the map as
being pretty so this is the way I went. For some reason which was important
at the time but the reason for which I have now forgotten, I had to keep
stopping at truck stops to check emails. I did also stop in the badlands
for some super views. They are called badlands because little will grow,
but they are fascinating to look at. In this case there were coal type
deposits near the surface which in the distant past have been ignited by
lightning. This has burnt and hardened adjacent rock layers which have not
been eroded and has left lots of little knolls with hard burnt bits on the
top. Otherwise the day was spent hurtling down the freeway at 65 mph.
I turned off and into the Fort Abraham Lincoln State Park. There was a
queue of RV's. It was $7 for the night. Oh hang the principles I thought
and paid. I had a site next to the river, very pretty (better than your
regular Walmart car park) and in the morning found another unexpected bonus,
hot (and stand up!) showers. Even with shower I was in the first
interpretative tour of the Mandan Indian Village. A fascinating, friendly
people who lived by farming and trade, in permanent villages, not at all the
type of Indian seen in Western films. The Mandans were decimated by small
pox, accidentally passed on by a European trader. 15,000 people reduced to
1,500 in just one year. Then 10 years later it hit again, and the 1,500
were reduced to only 150.................They had been living in their own
way for thousands of years.............Many artefacts have been found and
much is known about their way of life.
I continued down the Missouri River with some nice views. I finished up in
Pierre, state capital of South Dakota. A quick tour round the river bank and
I finished up in the town RV park. Free, even with electric hookup. I
hooked up long enough to defrost a lamb chop in my microwave then moved
closer to the river to continue. I phoned John Gundersen, my next call, he
was out flying with the Palmers. I'll be there after lunch tomorrow so I
hope we have good weather again, maybe I can fly too. By the time I get
there I will have driven 10,000 miles in the van so I have it booked in for
service Tuesday, Monday being Labour Day and national holiday.
On the banks of the Missouri River, Pierre, South Dakota
2 September 2003
I drove round the river front again in Pierre
(pronounced Peer) then headed for the lake near the capitol. John had
told me there were thousands of geese there so I couldn't resist. There
were about 30 ducks, 2 swans and 4 geese standing or sitting by the
lake, plus one moor hen swimming. The thousands of geese must have
migrated somewhere else. I needed a few minor shopping items and coming
out of town fell on a Walmart but they didn't have a food store. I went
to a food store just opposite and they didn't sell wine. Beer, but not
wine. Two supermarkets in one day is certainly one too many so I don't
have wine. I'll survive. I stopped off at Mitchell to see the famous
corn palace, the front is decorated with 1000's of different coloured
corn cobs, some of them making pictures. Yes, it is decorated like they
say and it held my attention for, oh, it must have been a minute at
least. There was a fair of some sort with food stalls and rides down
the main street and dozens of people eating in front of the corn palace.
So I went to the prehistoric Indian Village. This village, now being carefully being excavated, was inhabited around 1000 years ago by a people presumed to be the ancestors of the Mandan Indians. (The ones later decimated by smallpox). They lived here for around 100 years and then moved on further up the river, (the Missouri) probably because they had used up the timber resources of the area. The Indians and their agriculture seem to have started off somewhere in the centre of Mexico and moved north.
I parked in John and Ann's Drive for the night, and awaited their return, they had been away rather longer than planned settling their daughter Nicki into her first year at college.
After a quick tour of the farm in the morning we headed off for a day on the river. Burst up the river in a speedboat then back a bit for picnic lunch on a pleasant almost island. Then the boat was launched and everybody followed, indulging in what appeared to be a local ritual, floating. Well, except me. I sunbathed, temperatures a comfortable 80 degrees F (26C). We returned to a houseboat for a drink then more floating. To become an expert floater you don a lifejacket, climb into the water, and then, well, you float. Very relaxing I was told. I suspect that, like English beer, it may be an aquired taste. The water was too cold for me. A boat lift was winched to the river bank and we repaired to John's Mum's for home made peach pie which was delicious. Oh, forgot to mention, the house - John's Mum's - is perched on a cliff above the river, to get down to the river there is a private cliff tramway. Several houses have got them. Beats climbing 150 steps any day.
Dinner and night in John's drive again. I've had problems with unpaved roads. The unpaved roads round here are almost as smooth as the regular freeway!
In John Gunderson's yard, South Dakota
Number 30..... ..............Leaving South Dakota
6th September 2003
In the morning I took the van into the garage for service. In the afternoon
I collected it. $50. That's all? Oh wow! An honest repairman! He told me
the engine looked pretty new, judging by the paint, but the oil leak was
more serious than I thought, it would take a lot of work to fix it. Since
I'm only losing a pint per 500 miles I'll live with it. Then I went with
John to fix a boom watering system that had got stuck. The boom is almost a
quarter of a mile long so it is a pretty big field. 10 minutes with a winch
fixed it. John used about the oldest most beat up farm truck you ever did see to drive
into the field.
Then after dinner another exciting day was over.
I called to see Gary Palmer in the morning, an English balloonist I had
known years ago in England. He has a pleasure boat sales and repair shop,
and gave me a couple of washers for a fuel connector. I looked round the
visitor centre at the Gavins Point Dam, then on to the Ashfall fossil beds.
Called ashfall because something like 10 million years a volcano erupted in
Idaho way over to the west, the dust cloud descended here and blew around
until it filled a water hole, killing animals that were gathered around the
water hole. There are birds, horses, rhinos, all dying in close proximity
as they were standing there, some with offspring nearby, many of the fossils
show complete skeletons since they were not ravaged by predators. The
fossils have been left in situ where they were found.
In Norfolk, Nebraska Wayne Mohring took me out to dinner. Last time I
called by was 3 years ago when I took Wayne and Janet out to dinner, Wayne
picked the restaurant and it turned out way more expensive than he had
expected, so he reckoned he owed me a meal this time. Not really, but
thanks Wayne, better choice this time, excellent meal and not so expensive!
I had vaguely planned to move on the next day but Wayne was planning to fly
in the evening so that settled it. I stayed. I managed to get my phonecard
to work for France and spoke to Eleanor (my daughter) who was on the train
to Lyon to start University. It was supposed to be university in Paris but
there were last minute problems. The train would be a TGV which averages
around 200 mph for the 400 mile trip. Really, 200 mph. (TGV = Train Grand
Vitesse, vitesse =speed) It was great to hear her voice, first time we have
heard each other in 3 months. Emails are great but not quite the same.
The flight was really pretty, the countryside from the air is quite like
some parts of France. I enjoyed it. Too many cows for my liking though.
Big feeding stations around. I had had enough of feeding stations in
California - when I had to carry on so long I nearly ran out of fuel, and
actually did run into an almond tree trying to land before I actually did
run out of fuel. Roll on the desert with no cows. Not hot desert though,
today with my small balloon we were again flying with too high internal
temperatures - not dangerously so, but hotter than I like. Although I guess
anywhere is OK if there are fewer cows..........
Handy sometimes these big spraying booms like John had, which move round in
a circle . Since the fields are square it leaves a nice segment of waste
ground in the corners for people like me to land their balloons in. Nice
party after, by the roadside, Wayne's Californian champagne and my French.
At Wayne's, Norfolk, Nebraska
Number 31....... ............Des Moines
7th September 2003
During the retrieve for yesterday's flight the passenger side window of the
van again stuck in the open position. In the morning I worked on the
window, unsuccessfully, although I found the switch was working OK. Wayne
had a friend with a garage, I went round there with the door stripped down.
A mechanic came out, hit the window motor a few times with a hammer, and the
window worked. The motor was hidden behind metal door panels, I was not sure
how it worked. How much I asked? Couple of dollars for Josh said the boss.
Remember the other time I had the same problem, and got ripped off $60 for a
similar job? Also, now I know what the problem is. The boss has a Ford
truck himself, similar age, says he has the same problem. The armature in
the motor gets worn at the frequently used places, the extremities, and the
motor won't start. You either live with it, and stop the motor before the
window hits it's extremity, as he does, or you buy a new motor. I'll follow
his example and live with it. Also, I know now how to fix it if it breaks.
I continued on to Des Moines, by the pretty route, to call on Danny and
Karen Campbell. Whilst on the river a few days ago with John and friends I
had noticed the occasional monarch butterfly crossing the river flying
south, presumably starting their long and famous journey to Mexico for the
winter. Well, one flew into my windscreen wiper. Sadly it didn't survive,
but was relatively undamaged, it's a beautiful big butterfly, I've kept it.
You know, it doesn't weigh anything, even less than a piece of paper, I
wonder how can it fly so far, and know where to go?
I have written before that your feet hardly touch the ground when you call
by Danny's. Almost within a few minutes of my arrival for we were heading
off in a brand new one week old bright red all mod cons included pick up
towards Danny's current favourite Mexican restaurant for a delicious meal.
I'll not dwell on the fact that Danny decided there was still time to
celebrate my birthday and I was loaded up with a big Mexican hat and
serenaded Happy Birthday in Spanish by a happy bunch of waiters one of whom
was trying to play Danny's old Tuba. Rick Harper (Danny's crew chief) came
along with his wife. I discover Danny has been forwarding my trip notes on
to Rick. (Hi Rick!) I'll have to consider additional charges for Danny,
what with all the extra copies he keeps asking for and then pirating them to
circulate to friends.
Saturday morning Danny noticed I had forgotten my gas (GB-petrol,
Fr-essence) cap somewhere, wouldn't let me buy one for $5 from Walmart but
took me round to a scrap yard where we picked up a couple and the boss, one
time passenger of Danny, wouldn't let me pay. Pick up a spare hub cap for
Danny. Round to say Hi to Karen's parents and admire her dad's new mower.
Looked like a cross between invaders from Mars and a bulldozer. Back to
collect propane for my van and for flight cylinders. Stop for icecream.
Stop for gas. Back just in time for the 2 hour drive to a small town where
Danny was to make a tether. There he took about 100 kids, parents,
grandparents, even grumpy old ladies, for a quick tethered hop.
I haven't mentioned the half. There can't be anything left to do tomorrow.
Except we are planning to fly from Rick's place, I'll take Karen, Danny has
paying passengers. The weather forecast is OK.
Danny Campbell's drive, Des Moines, Iowa
Number 32..... ................Des Moines #2
9th September 2003
We kicked off today, Sunday morning, by heading off to get the steering
adjusted on my van. Track and camber in English, alignment in US, I forget
the French word, parallelism? You do know the French won't use the same
words the rest of the world uses. They even have a government dept whose
only job is to think of new French words to replace English word which are
polluting the language. Such as ordinateur instead of computer, or
telecopie instead of fax. Doesn't always work. French people still talk
about le weekend or le football and tend to use the word fax. Maybe we
English speakers should stop using such words as cafe, restaurant, or
Anyway, the wheel people couldn't do it, with my double back wheels it is
wider at the back than the front, stops them using their lasers. They told
us where to try Monday morning. On the way back we got propane for Danny's
balloon and sampled a new drive through car wash. (That was my little joke.
All car washes are drivethru, one way or another. I did see a drive through
shoe repairer once, I guess you take your shoes off and hand them in at the
first window, then collect them beautifully repaired at the second 5 minutes
later.) Then we got gas, then we got food, then we ate the food then we had
a doze, then we fiddled with emails, again it was time to leave to go
And what a super flight! We flew from Rick's yard. It was hot, so I
thought it wise to fly solo. The theory is easy. You get your lift from the
difference in temperature between the inside and the outside of the balloon.
The more weight you are carrying, the bigger the difference must be. You
can't go heating the balloon up for ever though, because eventually the
nylon fabric melts. And that is definitely not a good thing. You need to
stay a safe amount way below this limiting temperature. We use these nylon
type fabrics to get the light weight strong airproof fabrics needed.
However I need to check my balloon temperature indicator, it seems to be
reading too high.
Back to the flight. Danny left - he knows the area - and I followed a few
seconds later. We stayed pretty close, up and down, and then low over a
large wooded area around a river, then across a corn field just above the
corn. It was really nice. Slow and gentle with another balloon to look at.
Over the cornfield Danny started waving and saying something to me, I
couldn't hear, so I just carried on. There was a small bank, Danny flew
over it, and dropped down behind, then seemed to stop. I was lower, and had
to climb the bank. Climbing over the top I saw what he had been trying to
tell me. There was a small pond. For fun Danny had dropped his basket in
the water to make a splash and dash. Darn! I missed it! He landed on the
far bank and I dropped in about 20 yards away.
It was the garden - the yard - of a big house. The owner came along and was
pleased to see us. His grandchildren had enjoyed watching the landing and
he invited us to see his car museum and have a drink. Oh wow! Around 25
cars from the 50's and 60's in superb, absolutely new condition. He had 3
of one model, out of only 12 still in existence, and another the only one,
my mouth was open so hard it was hard to close it. He showed us his
original paintings. Wow! again. He's a multi millionaire road building
contractor. Started with one bulldozer he swapped for his father's tractor
and got into trouble with his father for the swap. Now he owns 350
bulldozers and has had president Clinton drop by to visit. Well, we've been
too! I gave him one of my bottles of French champagne, a small compensation
for his welcome.
Sometimes, you meet a real nice class of person when you fly balloons!
Monday we went to get the tracking done on my van but they couldn't fit me
in. Lunch at a Mexican restaurant with Ron. I met Ron last time I was here.
Danny rang him, asked would he like to buy us lunch. Ron said OK, and
actually bought us lunch! Thanks Ron! Nice lunch, good to meet you again.
Then Danny and I went to a living village museum. People doing things in
the village as though it was 1875. I enjoyed it, I think Danny did too.
In the afternoon I made a shelf for my van. I keep my balloon fuel tanks in
a wardrobe at the back of the van, there was a loose shelf on the top of the
tanks for jeans and various clothes. Each time I fly I have had to
dismantle the shelf, the clothes are getting in a bad state, thrown
everywhere. So I made a permanent shelf. It works.
Danny did a Bar-b-que in the evening, Rick and his wife and another crewing
couple came. Rick never had a hot rod when he was a kid. Now he's older
and relatively rich he's bought one. A 5.4 litre supercharged pickup.
Reputed top speed 142 mph. He took me for a trip. Oh my!
Danny Campbell's drive, Des Moines, Iowa
Number 33.......... ..........Leaving Des Moines
11th September 2003
Remember the super flight I made with Danny a couple of days ago? I forgot the photos. Here's the front of the house with our two balloons approaching. The car museum is in the buildings on the left. We landed before we reached the house, by a lake.
Just before we landed Rick dashed around the lake to take a picture from the far side. ith the reflections It came out rather well. Danny in ReMax is about to land, I'm still over the water, moving to the left.
Do you see the balloon shadows on the right? The spikey things to the left are garish neon car signs from the 1950's, outside the museum. Rick says at night you can see them from miles away, and he misses them if they are not switched on.
So now I've left Des Moines. A few fabulous days we could not repeat. I certainly had a super time.
Before I Ieft I worked on the pilot lights on my burner, one had been stuttering a bit on my flight. I cleaned it out and it's OK now. Ready for next time.
Maybe now is a good time to mention that I am, in principle, not taking photos on this trip. I want to see, absorb, remember. I don't want to be diverted by wondering would this make a good picture, or would that. I just want to see, and concentrate on seeing. I've got stacks of pictures from previous trips. I rarely look at them but I remember the journeys. I can close my eyes and dream, and remember. This trip is to make those new memories. And, of course, to enjoy the journey!
I only got about from Danny's 40 miles before I reached the Dutch community at Pella. In 1847 around 800 Dutch immigrants arrived and settled here, buying 28,000 acres for $1.25 an acre. They now have a historic village and museum. Plus a brand new (2002) Dutch made working windmill. The AAA guide suggests you allow an hour to visit. I was there more than 2 hours and it wasn't enough.
I found and followed an Iowa scenic route and stopped for the night on a disused track leading to a disused barn in a disused field full of weeds in the extreme south east of Iowa.
In the morning I pottered along, I don't know where the time went. I stopped and walked over an old bridge. And I just said, couple of paragraphs ago, I want to remember everything. Oh well, I do remember I had an extremely pleasant morning!
Oh I also remember my new shelf fell off. I bought some new glue, and fixed it. I hope.
I reached Missouri and found it very beautiful. Lots of trees, lots of green, roads running up and down the sides of valleys. I crossed the Mississippi river a few times, for fun, into Illinois, and noticed a town called Hull. I had to visit since I was born in Hull, in the UK. A bit smaller than my Hull - only 450 inhabitants compared to Hull UK which has about 350,000. But a much livelier and friendlier reception from the postmistress than I am used to in Hull. But of course that applies to everyone you meet here, much more outgoing and friendly then your regular European.
I arranged to meet up tomorrow with David Drum, a member - and host actually - of the balloon builders mailing list, then drove up a small track into a wood to rest up for the night.
Boondocking in Missouri
Number 34 ..Arriving in Missouri
13th September 2003
I left early in the morning heading for Colombia. On the way I paid a visit
to Daniel Boone's home. Not the most fascinating place I have seen but well
worth the visit. Had an individual tour and a very pleasant chat with the
three ladies who run the show. In the shop they have some Lewis and Clark
books but not Mary Gunderson's Lewis and Clark cook book. Ah they need
that I said. OK they said. So John, get your sister to contact them, all
she has to do is fix the quantity, the book is already sold!
Eventually arrived at David Drum's where after dinner (at David's and
Marda's home) a few locals called in to say Hi. Gary Whitby (saw him in
Bentonville). Tucker Smith (He was in Bentonville but I didn't meet him
there). Herb Hereford (I've written to him but not met him). Oh, that's
it. Seemed more.
Where to stay? David's house is on the sort of incline where trucks need to
engage low gear. Park in the neighbours drive said David. But the
neighbours returned home a day early. Park in our drive said David. But
Martha is leaving at the crack of dawn for swimming. Martha said we have a
spare room. I don't want to put you out, I'll be OK in the van, I said. By
now it was pouring with rain. David took out his car, then Martha's car, I
drove in my van, David drove Martha's car back. He must have been soaked.
Guess it would have been less bother if I'd taken the spare room. I'll not
mention that with the heavy rain and the trees the sound of the rain was
pretty noisy on the roof. That'll not help sleeping. Duh!
For any masochists, and Danny, I've put these journal notes on my web site.
I'm not sure I want to publish them to the world just yet so the link to the
notes is not immediately obvious. Go to my web site, address below, and
click on my autopilot. Scroll down to the end (I'm certain not many people
get there) and you will read Click here to go back to the start page . Well,
don't click there, it'll take you back to the start page. Instead click on
the slightly separated full stop at the end, the dot. That's the link.
Just the dot. You will get to a zip file which with most systems will
automatically download. Otherwise you may have to right click and select
save. I think.
In the morning I visited the Rock Bridge State Park, and took a short walk
to view said bridge, then continued to explore the Devils Icebox cave. This
is quite an interesting cave, there is a stream running through it, and I
suspect it is much like some of the other caves I have seen, but in the
early stages of their formation. It is a do-it-yourself exploration, bring
your own flashlight. This is needed to lighten your way down the stream, on
the stepping stones.
In Jefferson City I caught Herb Heriford about to start lunch and we headed
off to a pizza place for a remarkable good buffet lunch. Herb introduced me
to the Capitol building, the displays looked fascinating, he had to get back
to work, I got more visiting done on the display. Very briefly the displays
covered the history and life of Missouri and were very well done. My
parking meter ran out after an hour, I was nowhere near through, I needed to
book another hour. There were some murals, 6 of which were particularly
interesting, they gave a different aspect when viewed from the left and
right sides. For example one picture viewed from the right showed large
fields and a small wood. The same picture when viewed from the left showed
small fields and a large wood!
It had started to rain heavily so guessing Herb's flight for the evening had
been scrubbed I headed back to his printing works. We headed off to his
home, I parked up in his drive, we destroyed another bottle of my champagne
and then headed off to dinner. Similar place to lunchtime, and good again.
Thanks Herb and Cheri.
In Herb Heriford's drive, Jefferson City Missouri
Number 35 Missouri
15th September 2003
This morning Herb left early for work, I hung around a while but no-one else
seemed to be stirring, so I did a touch of shopping, then called by the
visitor centre in Jefferson city. There were some nice exhibits and I
watched a film about the development of the city. At least that's what I
think it was about. I fell asleep but the bit I did see seemed interesting.
I headed of towards Lake Ozark. David Drum had told me it was very
commercial. Yes it is, but pretty too. I parked up for the night in the
driveway of a tumbledown building. After a couple of passes to inspect, a
beat up red pickup stopped, a young man got out and said Hi. So I said Hi,
how are you? Fine he said. Look he said, we own the farm. I just stopped
here I said. We're bothered about people going in the buildings he said,
they're not safe. I'll not go in I said. You're OK he said. Thank
goodness. If he'd been like the US immigration officer on the Canadian
border he would still have been there talking and I'd still have been there
In the morning I left to see the Bridal caves. And wow! are they
impressive. I've seen a lot of caves, this is one of the best. Plus we had
a guide who hardly stopped talking, giving out loads of fascinating
information all the time.
After lunch I rang Shane Robinson who told me was planning to fly in the
evening with some passengers. It's blowing a gale here I said. It'll be OK
tonight said Shane, we're all meeting behind MacDonalds at 5.15. I'll be
there I said. I filled in the time by going to the Fantastic cave. Lots of
things it may be but fantastic is not one of them. Unless you reckon seeing
a moderate cave from sitting on a tin seat on a trailer towed by a jeep to
We met, went to the launch site, and flew. Shane had said to stay low, we
were close to the airport. So we flew low over the bigger part of the
town technically I suppose making a slow climb out from launch. All I could
see were trees, more trees, and houses. Very pretty I thought, but where do
we land? Parking lots? Back gardens? I presumed Shane knew what he was
doing so I followed him. Sure enough after an hour we reached a big field
and landed. Just like that.
That's another bottle of the champagne I brought with me from France which
has disappeared. I now only have 21 bottles left, I'll have to go steady.
Then we went for dinner. Shane paid. After helping throw me in the air
then rescuing me from a maybe tricky landing by leading me to a field he
insists on paying for dinner. Oh my!
Shane Robinson's drive, Springfield MO
Number 36 ..leaving Springfield
18th September 2003
Next day we went to look around Bass Pro Shops Outdoor World, hailed as
Missouri's number one attraction. Well it's a very big shop, beautifully
designed and stocking a huge range of outdoor items, for hunting, boating,
golf, camping, fishing, etc., and certainly there were a lot of people
shopping. We had lunch then went to the Wonders of Wildlife exhibition,
with huge salt and freshwater aquariums, live animals in native habitat,
Shane had a flight booked in the morning so since I was making the retrieve
I had to get up early. But it's pretty countryside so I quite enjoyed
following the balloon. It was a fairly quick flight but I was near enough
to watch him land (of course!). I dozed a bit during the morning and then
went to see a museum at the city hall before dining at a rather good Italian
restaurant with Shane.
In the morning I headed down to Branson, I wanted to see the Imax film on
the Lewis and Clark Expedition. By chance I timed it right, and had only
about 20 minutes to wait until the film started. It was a superb film. The
next was a film about China, which seemed as though it might be interesting,
there was a special offer, second film half price, which did not discourage
me. That was pretty good too so I decided see a later fim about the Ozarks.
There was an hour to wait, the next film was about coral reefs which I
didn't really want to see, anyway 4 hours of films in a row would have been
a mite too much. I drove down through Branson on the 76. I'll be it was
quite a pretty place before they lined the road with live theatres, motels,
miniature golf and various other amusements such as slides or laser
The Ozark film was good too, I was glad I had stayed to see it. I headed
off about 20 miles south to visit with Christine Kalakuka's sister Page and
husband Larry who live at the end of a dirt road towards the top of a valley
in the Ozarks, Arkansas. A little piece of paradise I think Christine
described it, and I'd go along with that. A beautiful little valley with
trees lining the slopes. A good proportion of their 8 dogs and 6 cats turned
out to welcome me although the (sort of a pet) racoon that lived in the roof
stayed away. As did the 2 cows. After a couple of drinks at their
neighbour's home- who turned out to be a touch improved by the wine he had
drunk but in a real nice kind of a way - Page produced a simple and
I'm coming back tonight!
At Page and Larry's piece of paradise
Number 37 .. a little piece of paradise
21st September 2003
From Page's next morning I headed to Eureka Springs, a pretty little town.
I stopped by the train station to look at some exhibits and noticed a sign
"steam train excursions" and some people getting into a railway carriage.
The train was about to depart. I quickly bought a $9 ticket and jumped on
board. Not the most exciting or fastest train trip of my life, 4 miles out,
4 miles back, in 45 minutes. Work it out. A not exactly record breaking 10
mph average speed. While the train was turning round at the halfway point I
noticed the engine was a big diesel not steam. Well, in spite of
everything, it was a pleasant way to pass the best part of an hour.
I called at the visitor bureau and was told I should take the tram with
guided tour of the town. That was OK. I noticed the Preservation Hall Jazz
Band were appearing in the town the next day, at a sort of jazz festival.
I'd heard that they were very good so I sprung $38 for a ticket and headed
back to Page's house. Page and I sat on the balcony, looked at the view,
and wiped out a bottle of champagne. Now that is a really pleasant way to
pass an hour. I found it is not such a little piece of paradise, it's
actually a moderate sized piece of paradise, they actually own 175 acres,
about everything we could see from the terrace. Larry came down, he works a
regular midnight to 8 am shift in the police, so is forced into funny
sleeping hours. Dinner again, was simple, and delicious.
In the morning Larry fiddled with a spare car he needed to lend to his son
who lived nearby, and I fiddled with my drivers side window, which was stuck
again. I think I've got it sorted now. I only need to take the speakers
out of the door, whack the motor a couple of times with my hammer, and
bingo! we have action. I reckon I could get it down to 6 or 7 minutes with
practice. I said my goodbyes and headed for a local gun museum. They've
got Jesse James's gun. Wow! Then to Cosmic Caverns, another cave. Well, I
I had thought it would be too late after the concert to get down Page's
narrow lane, and I would wake up locals, so I had in mind just to drop into
the local Walmart car park for the night. But when I reached Eureka Springs
I drove around a little to find somewhere to stop to make dinner and found
a super little spot off a quiet road, trees all round, so I'll come back
after the concert.
At the concert I was not impressed by the Preservation Hall Band. The
pianist was very good, the banjo produced a good rhythm but played solos
like he was playing a guitar. Kindest thing I can say about the leader, the
trumpet, is that he was weak. Seems they made up the band by dragging in a
few people off the street. Having said that I must mention that the audience
went into raptures at each solo and gave the band a standing ovation. The
Calamity Jazz Band is way better. That's Meg's band. They've made a CD by
the way, obtainable from Meg, meggraf@OREGON.UOREGON.EDU. I can recommend
While handing out accolades I'll mention that at Page's I finally got the
chance to play the country rock tape Gary and Connie Barker had given me in
Kalispel. Larry plays guitar, he had his own Country and Western group for
about 15 years. He liked the tape, was very impressed, and wanted to be
sure I told that to Gary. Well there you are Gary, and I can tell you I
think it's really great too!
Boondocking in the Ozarks
Number 38 .. Caves and things
21st September 2003
I left Eureka Springs at a good hour and headed east. Then I saw a balloon
in the air. Got feet absolutely soaked helping move it to a short grass
area. It was the owner's first flight in a new (to him) balloon. He'd just
bought it for $1400 on ebay. He had no problem in getting an annual, he is
certified FAA repair station at the local airport, normally for airplanes,
but he can do balloons, and he is an airplane pilot. The balloon was lowish
on hours and even though a Firefly it seemed he's bought it for a good
price. They didn't have anything with them to celebrate - shame! - so
another of my bottles of champagne got wiped out. They bought me breakfast.
I went for a walk in the afternoon, at Lost Valley. Very pretty. Up a
valley to a cave you could self explore with a non working waterfall because
it's too dry just now. About 2 miles, called a hike.
Americans seem to call anything further than about 10 yds a hike. Now,
me, I think of anything over about 10 miles as a hike. This has caused
slight misunderstanding when I've been asked if I like hiking. For me 10
yards, or even a touch more, even 2 miles, is OK. 10 miles is too much. So
I guess I like hiking, American style.
Followed a sign down a side road to a recreational area in the National
Forest but on the way found a super place to park up. So that's where I am
now when I write this. Forgot to send off yesterdays journal notes when I
checked email at the airport repair station so it will arrive late. I just
stepped outside for a moment, beautiful clear sky, but what a huge din from
crickets or some such.
The next morning passed pleasantly enough as I meandered towards Blanchard
Springs Caverns. Oh my! these must be the best caverns ever. They are huge,
they have wonderful formations, the lighting is marvellous, and because the
main cave was only discovered in 1955 there is not the damage that is seen
in just about all other caves. They are just wonderful. As happens from
time to time I had trouble stopping my mouth gaping open in awe. If you
never see any other caverns in your life go see Blanchard Springs Caverns in
They just might cure me of my interest in caverns just like I was cured of
an interest in cars. Around 1970 I bought a 1962 Jaguar 3.4 Mk 2.
This was such a wonderful car I knew I would never find a car to match it
and since then I have had no more than a passing interest in different types
of cars. Similarly my 50 or so high balloon flights crossing over the Alps
offered views that I think I will never surpass and that combined with the
size and scope and skill requirement of such flights means that whilst I
continue to love "regular" balloon flights they are not quite the same.
I was hoping to meet up with Don Rummel in the evening but my email of a
couple of days ago had bounced and I couldn't find his phone number until I
reached Blanchard Caverns. Also I found that I had messed up again in
adding his name to receive these notes so he probably had no idea I was just
round the corner itching to meet him again. I found my way to his house but
he was out. He just phoned me, he'd been to church. Well, pretty regular
thing to do on Sundays. We've arranged to meet tomorrow.
It's midnight. I was about to turn out the lights when the car park
sweeping vehicle arrived. It's noisy. I guess it will go away soon and I
can sleep. I'll just be thankful they didn't ask me to move over!
Walmarting in Batesville AR
Number 39 ..in Arkansas
24th September 2003
I passed the time next morning in Batesville river park, sorting papers and
emails, then arranging to get the steering fixed on the van, then reapairing
the toilet seat in the van, the plastic hinge was broken. It's tricky trying
to repair hard plastics. I took lunch with Don - thanks Don - then wasted
about a couple of hours in his office trying to get my computer to work
properly. Don's into supplying cell phones and my goodness was he busy.
Even with his two assistants there was a stream of queries, how to use the
phone, accounts problems, always one or two people waiting. Some of them,
fortunately for Don, actually wanting to buy a new phone. If you want
service with your phone 5 Star Communications, Batesville, is the place to
I had hoped to call in on Elisha Jenkins in Memphis but didn't get a reply
to my emails. Possibly I think now because I wrote to her using piccmail.
It's some months since I last used piccmail and I know that some mail sent
through that ISP is now being bounced because of spam being regularly sent
from it and maybe some is being just quietly squashed instead of bounced.
Picc's system is open to spam abuse now I think about it. You buy a CD for
between $5 and $30 from such as truck stops and which includes a certain
amount of connection time, there are many local access numbers and the
possibility to use a national access number. Ideal for people needing
internet access away from home. But also ideal for spammers, since you
don't need to give either home address or credit card information, you can
just buy a $5 disk, send out your spam, then throw the disk away. They've a
lot to answer for these spammers. I'm now getting large 150 Kb spam emails
with virus attachments. They are becoming more than just a nuisance and if
I find they have caused the loss of my emails to Elisha I shall be quite
I headed off towards Little Rock stopping briefly to admire the sights
around the Greers Ferry Lake and parked down a side road for the night. In
the morning I visited the Plantation Museum in Scott. Previously I knew
almost nothing about cotton growing, just that it was grown and that slaves
generally picked it. Now I know more. I even picked some cotton myself.
Fascinating. Well, I suspect that you would not describe it as fascinating
when you were picking from sunrise to sunset.................
In Little Rock I visited the Old Statehouse and the Historic Arkansas
Museum. It was here I started realising they sometimes do things rather
differently in Arkansas. In the museum I checked with the large map on the
wall to find the rest rooms and was confused. Then I realised that the big
"you are here" star on the map was not where I was, I was somewhere else.
There were 6 people manning the reception desk with no other visitor in
sight. There was a 1000 year old canoe surrounded by 6 very clear do not
touch signs. I circled it twice before I found the information plaque and
then I had to kneel down to read it. I was late parking last night, I
noticed that each house, way out in the countryside, had it's own street
light. No other street lights anywhere, just one by each house. Central
Street, Little Rock, runs along the northern extremity of the town, next to
the river. Nowhere near the centre. The statehouse had displays of famous
people from Arkansas. Many were not born in Arkansas. One biography
didn't mention even that he had ever lived in Arkansas. There was a slip
road off a bridge that terminated in a junction with the road you had just
turned off. Weird. Maybe goes some way to explain why Arkansas's most
famous son, and in my opinion an extremely good president, would be able to
to say that whether you had sex depended on how you defined it.
I wasted time in Kinko's emailing and again it was dark before I headed out
to a rest area for the night. Well, the rest area was marked on the map but
not, apparently on the road. Of course, it's Arkansas. No big deal, I
continued on a touch more and parked on a side road in the National Forest.
Boondocking near Hot Springs AR
Number 40 leaving Arkansas
27th September 2003
I took a slow morning on unpaved roads in the woods. Unlike my sample near
Phoenix these were relatively smooth. Also unlike Phoenix there was not a
constant stream of traffic with trailers coming at me trying to edge me over
the precipice. So I quite enjoyed the trip. When I reached Hot Springs I
looked round an old bath house. People would come for the supposed medical
benefits of the hot springs. And they really are hot, 140 degrees F (60 C).
There are hot water fountains around the town and people call to fill their
water containers. When it's cooled, the water certainly tastes OK.
I had an address to call in Hot Springs, another relation, Thelma Smith,
she's now 95. She chattered 10 to the dozen about people places and events
most of which I didn't understand and none at all that I now remember!
Fortunately her grandson Joe arrived, he's into genealogy and has got most
of it recorded. I went round to his place to swap our family tree files.
He's now got a chunk of information about English ancestors and I have info
about the family in Arkansas. We dined at his home, he took me on a tour of
Hot Springs at night, and I parked overnight in his yard. It's going to
take me a little while to incorporate his tree information, he had 119
people and 39 families listed, and of course some are duplicates of the
people on my tree which means I have to check his information with mine, and
solve the differences.
I drove up North Mountain and took the lift up the tower, nice view, and
left heading west on the 270. I had hardly gone a couple of miles before I
saw a sign to Lake Ouachita and followed it. I found the dam, super view
from the top, then headed west on more unpaved roads. I found a nice little
bridge and a stream so managed to straddle the ditch and parked for the
night, at the side of the road.
Only 3 cars passed before I left in the morning. I wandered along and
reached the small town of Mount Ida. There was a sign to an information
centre so I followed it, I need some local infos. I never found the
information centre but instead I found gold! There was a sign Montgomery
county museum, a tiny little building. I'm a sucker for local museums so I
went in and explored. Soso. Then there was an old map on the wall, centred
round Norman. Norman? NORMAN!!!! Wow!!! Just yesterday morning I had
received an email from Thelma's daughter Dorothy telling me that Thelma had
been to school in Norman AR. Thelma you will have forgotten was the old
lady of 98 that I had visited in Richmond BC, Canada and who was the
youngest daughter of the William Barker who had gone to the US in 1888,
first to Marengo Iowa then to Arkansas. In the museum they had copies of
the old census reports, in the 1910 report I found entries for her family
and her brother's family. I took copies of these pages. I knew her mother
was buried locally and this was recorded in a cemetery record book in the
library. I went out and found her gravestone, cleaned it off and
photographed it. It was one of the oldest in the cemetery, 1912, but in good
condition. Thelma was only 6 years old when her mother died.
I carried on towards Mena. It was about time to look for a place to stop
the night and I thought of Walmart. Walmart is easy but not really pretty
so I continued on up the mountain and now I've stopped high on the mountain,
in a spot that had a superb view over trees and other mountains and a
wonderful sunset but now shows lights twinkling everywhere. I'm amusing my
self by thinking if anyone arrives and says I'm not allowed to stay here
overnight I'll tell them I've just stopped, I'm waiting to see the sunrise.
See if they realise I'm looking the wrong way!
Because I'm high, it's windy. So windy the van is rocking a little, and
even though all the windows are closed there's a draught. I just closed the
heater vent and it's better.
When I stopped, I fixed the window again, it had stuck closed. I'm getting
real quick now with that hammer on the electric motor and had a real good
view while I was doing it. I've put a stop in the top of the door so the
window can't be tightly closed. Maybe appropriate to mention now that my
shelf fell down a total of 5 times but it has been OK for 4 days now, maybe
it's staying up permanently, I just left my 5th gas cap and bought another,
the drawer broke today and I fixed it. The toilet seat has held it's repair.
My coca cola wine glass broke when the drawer broke. It's getting like
living in a real house, things need fixing all the time. I screwed a
cupboard knob back on again for about the 56th time. I don't bang my head
so much now. One time I wore a cap all the time I was in the van, and
actually thought about buying a safety helmet.
On a mountain near Mena AR
Number 41 Oklahoma
29th September 2003
The morning on top of the mountain was real misty, at first I couldn't see a
thing then it improved a touch so I decided to wait. I dropped back into
Mena and filled in time by visiting the coin wash When I got back up the
mountain it was beautifully clear and I dawdled along stopping to see the
view at the many vista points. It's a beautiful road, the Talimena Scenic
Byway, it runs for 53 miles along the very top of a mountain ridge from Mena
to Talihina in Oklahoma. About half way along I turned off down a small
road down a valley and found a spot to park up for the night where the road
widened to skirt a muddy patch. It was dry so I parked where the mud patch
used to be. Didn't matter, no one passed.
The morning was cold so I headed off as fast as I could to the next
viewpoint which was bathed in sunlight so I could make coffee and wash in
relative warmth! The car heater works fine but the inside (propane powered)
heater didn't work on the couple of times before when I tried it. I had
thought I wouldn't need it but I'll get it checked, or have a look at it
myself. I just did! I got the front off with a bit of a struggle, and
found some operating instructions. That might help. I'll try to start it in
the morning. I remember I needed to adjust the air intake on the burner for
the hot water heater before that would go properly.
I had a slow day today. Viewpoint after viewpoint. It's nice to be able to
stop as long as I want without someone nagging hurry up! I eventually found
one I couldn't tear myself away from. Mountain view it was called, you
were on the top of a mountain, you could see miles and miles in most
directions. After I'd looked around quite a lot I settled at my table in
the van and wrote a couple of emails then worked on the family tree. A bit
of a waste of the view I thought, but what one heck of a view from your
office window! Including lunch I was there at that one spot well over 3
hours. A few more viewpoints and I was down on the lower level roads
heading to Oklahoma City and looking for a spot for the night. I decided to
start looking earlier since the evenings are drawing in, so I drove down a
side road at 5 pm and of course 10 minutes later was parked in an ideal area
down a dirt road.
Number 42 .. Oklahoma
Ist October 2003
I continued on the route my map had marked as the pretty route, and stopped
at Robbers Cave State Park to inspect the cave. It seems the Indian Nation,
which had control of the territory here, did not, or could not, enforce the
law so many of the famous robbers of old such as Jesse James rested up in
the area in comparative safety. They might (!) have used this cave!
I then spent a couple of hours working on the interior heater in the van.
The inlet and exhaust for the propane burner are on the outside of the van,
and I noticed the outlet was partly blocked by some sort of insect nest
which was built using earth. The burner was behaving as though it wasn't
getting enough air since it would go, sort of, then stop, if I took the
front off, so I dismantled all the back to see if there was further
blockage. Very tricky, as there was almost no space, and I had to undo nuts
and screws using a mirror. There was no other blockage so I put all back
together, which was even trickier....... Then I thought, if it needs more
air to work, then I might get the same effect by reducing the gas flow.I
could not see any way to adjust this so instead of opening the gas valve
fully I just cracked it open. With some adjustment of this valve the burner
worked perfectly. Wish I'd thought of that before I'd pulled it all apart.
My digging around the back of the heater did one good thing. For days I've
been plagued by an annoying rattle that I could not trace. I noticed 2 seat
support screws were loose and tightened them. The rattle seems to have gone.
I had some Internet searching to do so I headed to a Kinko's just south of
Oklahoma City and passed the night at an adjacent Walmart. It rained. And
rained. In the morning I fiddled with the computer and put the heater on.
It works really well, after 30 minutes I had to turn it off. Well, it works
off a thermostat, I turned the thermostat down a touch, it shut off
I sometimes feel like chucking a brick at my computer. It has just decided
it won't run batch files or *.com files directly. These are hangovers from
DOS and I use both types. The .com files are executables, one worked when I
renamed it *.exe. My address book is a DOS *.exe file. It works if I click
filename but won't run using a shortcut. I don't know why it should be any
I went back to Kinko's later in the morning for some more Internet stuff, I
should have sent this note then because all I did after that was to drive to
Anardarko and take a tour round the Indian Village which was extremely
decrepit having been developed about 50 years ago and not a lot has been
Walmarting in Anardarko OK
Number 43 ..en route to Albuquerque
2nd October 2003
In the morning I started off towards the Wichita Mountains but since a large
part of my reason to visit was the promised view and it was decidedly murky
I changed my mind and went to look for another Indian museum, the Kiowa
Tribe museum in case it was better than yesterdays effort. I didn't find
out. I knew which road it was on, and roughly where it was, but I didn't
I pressed on to Weatherford where I checked emails. For some
reason my Earthlink connection was not working so I used piccmail to get my
mail meaning to try Earthlink again to send out my diary notes. I've just
found out that I forgot. I'll have to send out number 42 tomorrow.
The day might have been a dismal failure except I called in at the route 66
Museum in Clinton. (Oops, must be careful now, mention of that name sends
one friendly recipient of these notes absolutely wild. I'll be clear. I'm
not talking about the man Clinton. This Clinton is the name of a town in
Oklahoma. Nothing to do with Bill.) Anyway this museum is superb.
Everything about it is well done and of course full of nostalgia. It's well
worth a call, just off the Interstate 40 and of course on the old route 66.
Yesterdays run down Indian village tour cost $8.50. This wonderful museum
tour with super portable cassette tape commentary cost me $2.50. There's no
sense in this world.
I suppose there never was. I called by the site of the Washita battlefield.
General Custer attacked a sleeping Indian village, whose chief had been
requesting peace, because some Indian warriors who had been involved in an
attack in Kansas were sleeping there. With his 500 cavalry he slaughtered
12 warriors, and er more women and children, lost 22 men, captured 53 women
and children, and killed 800 horses. This attack apparently completely
changed the style of life on the plains. The other Indians were horrified.
Thank goodness our standards have changed since those days.
I called in for propane yesterday, asked the price, and was told $2.00
gallon. Today I bought propane for $1.30. Like I say, there's no sense.
I parked up in the Black Kettle Natural Grassland, in a small area reserved
for parking and camping. Nice. Maybe there is sense somewhere.
After writing those notes I looked at the map and realised it was still 400
miles to Albuquerque and I had only 2 days left to get there. 200 miles a
day is about my maximum so I changed plans and decided to do some Interstate
Freeway driving to move on a bit. Fortunate really, just after deciding
that I developed a streamer of a cold. It just came on, suddenly.
I got up late in the morning, thankful that I had fixed the interior heater.
I shall refrain from calling it the interior hot air heater in case picky
picky decides jump in again. In view of the cooler nights and my cold I
decided to blow $10 on a sleeping bag. A bigger problem than the $10 is
the storage space the sleeping bag takes up. I have been using 2 sheets -
one black and one white so I can easily tell the difference in the gloom of
the night - plus an indian blanket if it's been cooler.
I also bought a box of tissues and whilst they have nearly gone the cold has
not been too bad today. I turned off the freeway heading for a rest area
marked on 2 of my maps. Not only was there no rest area there was no sign
that there ever had been one. Not to worry, I took a nice scenic tour round
a dam and pulled off on the side of the road for the night.
Number 44 . .Arriving in Albuquerque
5th October 2003
In the morning I left my temporary resting place and headed off down the freeway, arriving at Albuquerque in the late morning. There may be some people on this world who don't know what happens at Albuquerque each year. There may even be some people receiving this letter who don't know. I'll tell you. There is a very big balloon meeting. A VERY big balloon meeting. The biggest in the world. 750 balloons. I shan't attempt to send you a photo of 750 balloons in the air. Even if I could take the photo most of the balloons would appear as tiny little dots. You have to see them, to be there, to really appreciate it. To give some idea of the number, here is a photo I took of some of the balloons inflating.
Now, I count 24 balloons in the picture. Think of that picture repeated 24 times.
You'd be over 150 balloons short. Wow!
To get back to where I was, arriving in Albuquerque. On the way here, on the freeway, I stopped a couple of times, first at a truck stop, where I picked up the local Albuquerque paper, with lots of information about the balloon meeting, such as maps and lists of entrants, then second stop was at an information office, to get a local map of Albuquerque.
I hadn't officially meeting, because I left it too late before I decided to come, but found my way to the pilot check in without problem. I was hardly parked a couple of minutes before Sara Williams said hello, fancy seeing you here. I've known Sara and Crispin many years, and I think we are possibly members of the same mutual admiration society. Crispin beats me hollow on this though, he's the current World Champion at hot air ballooning, I can't get anywhere near that claim to fame! After a short while the conversation turned to did I have crew passes, for parking and such like. Half a mo said Crispin. Well, I don't think those where his exact words, but in almost no time Crispin was asking at the official check in desk for passes for another crew member. Thanks Crispin.
In the few minutes I spent chatting to a couple of pilots parked next to my van about half a dozen people stopped and said hello. My, don't you know a lot of people the two pilots said. I just sort of passed it off. Didn't mention that that half dozen represented a very large proportion of the balloonists I knew in the US, it was just coincidence they were all there at the same time! I hung around and chatted a little while longer then thought it was time to find somewhere to stay. Especially as by now it was raining heavily.
I passed a Casino on the way and stopped to look inside. I wonder if I am lacking something because I don't see any attraction to sitting in front of a slot machine for hours on end, feeding in money, pulling the handle, and hoping to win. There are hundreds and hundreds of people there. Hundreds. There are certainly more people who play slot machines than fly balloons. Mind you there are probably more people who kill other people than there are who fly balloons. Guess I'm just into a minority sport.
I drove a little way up the mountain and looked back at the flying area then returned to the RV park at the casino. No hookups but the price is right. (They hope you'll go into the casino and spend money. In my case that's 50% right. I went in.)
It had stopped raining by the morning so I headed to the launch field where I had a super time looking up the people I knew. Well, some of the people. Some had already taken off and left before I found their launch sites. Not to worry, 8 more days to find them. I sat outside the hospitality tent - free coffee for crew - and watched the sky full of balloons. Bliss. As the balloons and crews drifted back I found Micki who introduced me to some friends then disappeared. American are very hospitable and I can understand the sign I saw on one chase vehicle. "My drinking team has a problem with ballooning." On the way back to the car park I flagged down a car I thought was Barry. It wasn't, it was Jon Radowski. What the heck, somehow he knew where my van was, turned round and drove me there. One of Jon's claims to fame is that he built his own balloon and used a garbage can as the basket. When you've finished flying you stuff the balloon in the garbage can and wheel it away.
I took a short explanatory trip further out of town, then it was back to the Casino RV park for the night.
Sampling a (free) Casino RV park in Albuquerque
Number 45 ..Albuquerque
7th October 2003
Next day I was late on the field, it was Sunday and the road was packed with
spectators going to their car park. The queue was statationary so I took a
15 mile diversion along the freeway to reach the launch field.
It was windy. Most balloons flew, although many of the people I know stayed
on the ground. The wind usually drops off after 9 or 9:30 I was told, but
you can't be sure. I enjoyed watching again. Because it was windy it took
longer to get all the balloons airborne, they started to land as soon as the
last had taken off. Great for watching but didn't give much time for
morning coffee in the crew hospitality tent.
The gas balloons were planned to launch at 5 pm in their long distance race
so preparations began soon after lunch. I know 4 participants out of the
total 14 entries so I wandered round watching, talking, being available to
help. I actually did do a couple of things to help but I mostly did the
watching or talking thing. One of my friends, Shane, whom I had stayed with
in Springfield Missouri had an unfortunate take off. Gas balloons take off
one after the other, in this case from a podium, checked by a launchmaster,
who ensures that they have enough lift to take off safely. He does this by
asking everyone to hold the balloon, then saying "hands off". Shortly after
it is "hands on". In between the launchmaster observes the rate the balloon
commences to climb, and either requests another sandbag to be unloaded, or
gives the all clear to go. He's been doing this for years and generally
gets it right. He's supposed to always get it right. For the launch, his
word is god, the pilot is not allowed to countermand. For Shane he got it
wrong. The balloon barely cleared the podium when it started to dip and the
basket swiped a couple of cars before Shane had time to drop more ballast
to restart the climb. Shane, wake up faster next time! Once the balloon
leaves the podium, you're in charge! This probably got him disqualified
from the event because of ground contact, his score would be about 30 yards.
Bummer! And definitely not funny. Last year the winner flew over 2,000 miles
in around 60 hours flying. It's quite expensive entering a gas balloon
race, even presuming you have a gas balloon licence. First you must buy the
balloon, then a load of special instruments, then the gas for the race. In
this case the helium was subsidised and only (!) cost $1400. Later on, and
unconnected with the ground incident, Shane's balloon started leaking gas,
they had to throw ballast out all night to stay flying, so had to land as
soon as they could. Double bummer! Most of the other balloons had to land
later in the day after take off though, they were flying into a
thunderstorm, and thunderstorms are not good news for any kind of balloon.
As soon as it was dusk, it was time for the balloon glow. Balloons are
inflated in the dark, and glow when the burners are put on. It's actually
quite pretty. The crowds love it, the crews love it, and incredibly so do
some of the pilots. Me, I reckon balloons are for flying and not for
pretending to be Halloween pumpkins. Leave that to the pumpkins.
After the glow came the fireworks. They were pretty too. Then came one of
the many advantages of not having a balloon here, and having an RV instead.
All the balloons queued for ages to get off the field to refuel with more
propane for tomorrow whilst I cooked and ate my dinner.
One reason that I was late yesterday was that my alarm didn't work. I can
generally wake up when I want. Not today. I awoke almost every hour on the
hour and arrived bleary at the field. It was windy, the official flying was
cancelled, but pleasure flying was permitted. Around a dozen balloons leapt
into the air then it was time for another round of tailgate parties. After
the flight (or non flight as today) crews gather round different launch
sites for drinks etc. A very pleasant tradition.
Overlooking Albuquerque is the 10,500 ft Sandia Peak. Albuquerque is a
little over 5,000 ft high but it's still quite a big mountain. There's a
cable car to the top, at 2.7 miles (4.5 km) it is hailed as the longest
passenger cable car in the world. The last single span is 1½ miles (2353 m)
long. That's a lot of wire. It's a long trip and a long wait to get the
car but the view is worth it.
I checked emails at Kinko's and bought a new battery for the alarm clock.
At $1.06 it cost 2 cents more the clock itself had done originally.
Still sampling the Casino RV park in Albuquerque
Number 46 Albuquerque
9th October 2003
Tuesday was a beautiful morning. Micki took off with around 40 other
balloons in the New Mexico challenge, this a maximum distance race with
limited propane, 60 gallons only can be carried. Then the remaining
balloons left, and I left for coffee. Until I noticed through the plastic
window in the hospitality tent that the sky seemed full of balloons and I
left the tent at speed to watch them flying low over the field dropping
streamers on to the targets now laid out over the field. Only the earlier
balloons made it to the targets, the wind later changed and the balloons
could not make it back to fly over the field. All of it great to watch.
At one time after the balloons left I did feel a pang for a moment wishing I
was up there with them but if I'd been up there I would not have been able
to watch all the balloons heading for the target. You can't have everything
in life I've noticed a couple other advantages to spectating rather than
flying. No briefings. No getting up before the crack of dawn every day.
No queuing to refuel. No worrying about all the other balloons in the air
round about. No thinking about where to land. No organising everything for
the flight. It's quite a lazy life, spectating!
After the flight was the tailgate party organised for people on the balloon
reflector. There were not many people there whose names I knew, nice to
meet those I did know of course, but I slid away as soon as I could and
circulated adjacent tailgate parties. Meanwhile Olivier Roux Devillas, an
old friend from France, found me to give me a ticket for an international
dinner in the evening. Great! Thanks Olivier! Especially as it's at the
casino where I am living so I don't even have to drive home.
It poured with rain all afternoon so I settled down and rewrote the notes
for my US Trip 45 then sent them from Kinko's. I wrote them all last night
then managed to shut the computer down without saving anything. I wrote
some great stuff too but I forget exactly what it was so my last offering
was less good than it should have been.
The dinner at the Casino was OK. The conversation was fine. Possibly the
best bit was finding it had stopped raining when I came out.
It wasn't raining when I left for the field in the morning. But boy, was it
raining when I got there! Everything was cancelled. I went back to bed.
Another nice thing about having your home with you, all I had to do was park
up and crawl into the back.
During the morning I had an oil change on the van, then had the transmission
oil changed. Then the sun came out and I went to a picnic at the the zoo.
A hamburger and a beer and polar bears. Didn't eat the polar bears. I can
think of worse things to do on a sunny afternoon, also better.
On the way back I noticed a few people flying . I picked up emails and went
back to my temporary resting place.
Becoming a resident at the Casino RV park in Albuquerque
Number 47 Still in Albuquerque
10th October 2003
In the morning I had been invited to fly with Leo Burman, a Canadian who had
visited my house in France whilst he was there to enter the Gordon Bennett
cup, a race for gas balloons. It was a very pleasant flight, albeit with a
difficult fast landing. No problem, Leo handled it like he always landed
that way. Also on board was Jean Michel Francois, an old friend from
France, I have done the annual certification check on his Cloudhopper for
Not a lot else happened. I sat on the field in my RV, checked emails at
Kinko's, and returned in time for dinner with Libbie's parents. They have an
RV also, but about twice as long as mine, and they stay in the presidents RV
park. Olivier, whom I already mentioned, borrows his Albuquerque balloon
The morning provided calm winds. First the special shapes flew, I watched
Barry and Jon with the US Flag and Patriot balloons then the regular
balloons trying for targets on the field. This was amazing. The wind at a
few hundred feet was the opposite direction to the wind on the ground so
balloons would come in, try for a target, then climb, go back, descend, and
have another go! There were 5 key grabs - a 21 ft high pole with an envelope
attached to the top is erected, the pilot has to fly close enough to the
pole, at the right height, to grab the envelope, keeping both feet on the
floor of his basket. Most envelopes contained several 1000 dollars, one
held the keys to a new $24,000 pickup. All the prizes were won! There were
other targets on the field. Oh, for this event the balloons have to launch
from outside the field.
It was fantastic to watch. With variable winds, different pilots had
different ideas on places to launch to give the best chance of a prize.
They had to launch minimum 1 mile away from the target area, and balloons
launched from everywhere. The sky was full, whichever way you looked in the
sky there were balloons, balloons, and more balloons. There were whole
gangs of balloons heading in towards the different targets. I watched wave
after wave after wave of balloons heading towards their targets. And wave
after wave passing close by these targets. I said, the sky was full.
In the afternoon I helped Tom Donnelly, an old friend from the UK, to dry
and pack up his gas balloon, after the America's Challenge race. He's asked
me to fly with him in the morning in his regular hot air balloon. Just at
the time of writing, 10 pm, things don't look too good. Thunder and
lightning around. But things can change very fast here. We'll see.
Becoming a resident at the Casino RV park in Albuquerque
Number 48 .Albuquerque
13th October 2003
The morning turned out fine, I went to Tom's spot and he inflated his
balloon. We had a little trouble with the pilot lights but put this down to
the regulator icing up. Unfortunately this was not so, both went out soon
after take off. Tom had trouble relighting, the striker would not go
through the cowling round the burner, so he had to climb on the side of the
basket to relight from the top. As soon as the pilot was lit and Tom was
out of the way I fired up both burners. Just in time because we missed the
ground and the side of a tent by just a few feet. Phew! It was a pleasant
flight after that, we flew about 20 minutes.
The rest of the day was much the same as before, wandering around talking
then relaxing to await the evening. It's really handy having a motor home.
I showered and changed while parked in the middle of the launch field! The
first part of the evening was to be a glow followed by fireworks. It was
too windy to inflate the balloons but the fireworks were OK.
The morning had been promised to be windy but turned out pretty near
perfect. I'd promised to lend Tom my radios so headed for his launch site
to take them and stayed to help. There were still problems with his pilot
lights, the flame was blowing off the top of the fitting. We put our
combined 63 years of pilot experience to work and decided it could only be
due to the 5,000 ft altitude since it was identically affecting two entirely
separate systems. The vapour pressure needed to be reduced to compensate.
We took the back off one regulator, which is supposed to operate with fixed
output pressure and noted it needed an Allen key to adjust it. We didn't
have an Allan key. Well, I had one in my tool box, the best part of a mile
away. I managed to get the pilot lights operating correctly by cracking
open the pilot cut off valve on the burner. Tom's passenger watched all
this and decided he didn't want to fly. Well Tom was happy with the pilot
lights now, and so was I, so I went with Tom. It was a super flight, nice l
anding. Glad I went. Because of the delays caused by the pilot light
problems we had the dubious honour of being the last balloon to fly from the
field in this years fiesta, since the meeting is now finished.
Back at the field we decided the successful conclusion of both flights
deserved a bottle of champagne. Now I've only two bottles left out of the
48 that I brought with me.
In the afternoon I drove up the Sandia Mountain, 10,768 feet high then
returned to join Barry and his team together with Danny for dinner. I
dropped Danny back to his hotel and planned to stay in the hotel car park
for the night. I found a quiet corner but then listened to the trucks etc
passing on the freeway, decided it was not that quiet, and returned to the
I have had a super time here at the balloon fiesta. I've met lots of old
and not so old friends and met lots of people some I'd heard of and was glad
to meet and some I'd never heard of but was still glad to meet them. Made
lots of new friends. I've seen lots and lots and lots of balloons, skies
full of balloons, hundreds of balloons on the ground, ready to launch. I've
watched dozens of balloons trying for targets, vying for a place, some
trying as much as 6 times for a target, by trying for the target, then
climbing, finding a wind going back, then dropping down and making another
target run. I've looked at all sorts of different balloon systems and
admired the many special shape balloons. I've even made a few flights.
But I doubt I'll be back. It's too big. There are people I've wanted to
meet all week and haven't been able to find them. The skies are cluttered
when you are flying, you have to watch all the time to try to ensure another
balloon does not come too close. But I'm glad I came.
Soon to leave the Casino RV park in Albuquerque
Number 49 ..Durango
15th October 2003
Sometimes you could kick your computer. I had just about finished my
account for the last 2 days when I went to Word to check a spelling and when
I returned to Outlook Express to finish my email it had all gone. All of
it. It took me about an hour to write the stuff that has gone. I should
save more often.
I'll start again. Won't be as good as last time though, I'm in a hurry now,
I was about to head out of Albuquerque when I realised I was low on water so
headed to a travel centre to get more. I took the opportunity to empty my
waste water tank and buy more gas since it was cheaper than anywhere else
locally. I also dropped in at Kinko's whilst I was passing to check mail.
Soon after leaving Albuquerque I was diverted, I saw signs to the Coronado
State Monument and followed them. It was the ruins of an Indian village and
Further on the way my map showed a diversion to a scenic overview. I went
down the gravel road and found a super view over some badlands. Badlands
are areas where nothing will grow and are generally cut with deep valleys
showing the different colours of the ground below. Generally pretty, this
was no exception.
While there I needed to visit the toilet. It is not an interesting subject
to discuss but it is one of the essentials of life. (Damn! When I wrote
about this subject the first time, I did it much more delicately!) Anyway,
I have found all toilets here to be spotlessly clean, with toilet paper etc.
About all you can say about toilets in France is that they are generally
disgusting. In the UK they are a bit better than that but always surrounded
with graffiti. Here you can climb a mountain, and there is a toilet there ,
clean, with paper, and graffiti free.
So there was a toilet at the scenic overview. An earth type, as there was
no running water, but I have no trouble with that. As clean as usual.
Interesting was that the ventilation was so good down below that when you
sat down there was a really cold and strong draught on your
I called in to look at the Salmon ruins. A rebuilt Indian village which
was interesting but it delayed my visit to the Aztec ruins. These are
basically one huge pueblo with hundreds of rooms which I only had 15 minutes
to see before closing, I ran around with the self guide tour book in my
hand! More fascinating stuff.
I planned to take a trip the next day on the Durango to Silverton steam
railway and had arranged to park in their car park for the night, since I
needed to be there by 7.30 am to board the train. On the way though I
noticed an ideal spot to stay, down an almost disused track so I went down
there and hid behind some trees to sleep.
It was really cold during the night! I woke up and put on a sweater in my
sleeping bag, also put on the van heating! I suppose Autumn is progressing,
winter is nearing, and I am over 7,000 ft high.
I had no trouble getting up early, it was the same time I had been getting
up for the morning flying in Albuquerque. But in the morning at 6 am I was
amazed by the amount of traffic around. It took me 5 minutes wait to get on
to the 550 there was so much traffic. I never knew so many people got up so
early. I'm not around much at that time. In my 30 years in business I got
up around 9 am, we started at 9.30. Well, my staff started at 9.30, I had
to be there earlier to open up. But it was still a long time later than
The train trip was superb. Durango to Silverton, 45 miles climbing from
6550 ft to 9,300 ft, taking about 3½ hours each way, returning after a
lunch pause in Silverton. When I arranged to go I thought there might be
another dozen people making the trip, but no. There were about 600 people,
so many that they put on two trains. In the summer they have about 1500 per
day. Absolutely amazing views, I can see why so many go. I had lunch in a
saloon in Silverton whilst a honky tonk piano player played away in the
background. That was fun too. They said the saloon was more or less
original as it had been in 1902. Most mining towns have burnt down several
times and been rebuilt, Silverton was lucky and escaped a fire, so there are
many of the original buildings.
We got back at 5.30 pm. I took a quick walk around the town then visited
the railway museum. Since it was now dark it was too late to go looking for
a quiet place to park up, so I'm at Walmart.............
Walmarting in Durango, Colorado
Number 50 San Juan Skyway
17th October 2003
In the morning I called in at an RV supply shop to buy a couple of vent pipe
covers. I've lost them at some time, probably they've been dragged off by
low branches. I've already replaced one of the running light covers.
Trouble is this motor home forgets it's a motor home when it sees a tempting
little lane towards night time, it thinks it's a tiny little camper van.
Having been to Durango my next call had to be Mesa Verde. Oh what a place!
I got there slowly. All the leaves are turning and it was a beautiful
drive. High, with wonderful views. On the way into Mesa Verde there were
stops with viewpoints. And what view points. It was like you were standing
on top of the world. Using the binnoculars I even picked the place to stay
for tonight. At the museum I booked the tour, then went to see as much as I
could. Mostly, here, it is cliff villages. The earliest date is around 700
AD and there are the ruins of different stages of inhabitation. The Indians
started with houses above ground, they were improved, then improved again,
in three separate phases. Then they started to move to cliff dwellings, it
is not known why. Then, around 1300, after a 24 year drought, they moved
There are more remains of cliff dwellings here than the total of all the
other cliff dwellings I have visited. And in a superb state of
preservation. There are drives around the mesa, there are places to stop
all the time, to view more cliff dwellings on the canyon opposite, and tours
to visit the villages themselves. I arrived here at 11 am, and I was
nowhere near finished when it started closing at 5 pm.
I headed off to my chosen place to stay. There was a gate on the start of
the road that I had not been able to see. So I am Walmarting again, in
In the morning I took a quick run to the truckstop at the other end of town
to check emails, then headed off to complete the San Juan Skyway. This is a
232 mile scenic drive, I've already done the Durango to Cortez section, now
it heads north on the 145 over the Lizard Head Pass, 10,222 ft, and the
Dallas Divide, 8,970 ft, then returns to Durango down the 550, crossing the
Malas Pass, 10,899 ft, and the Coal Bank Pass, 10,660 ft.
The hunting season has just started. There are hunters everywhere. Either
in pickups towing trailers with 2 quad cycles, all with attached gun
holders, or in pickups with some sort of accomodation mounted on or towed
behind. Even the Walmart checkout girl this morning was complaining to her
previous client that her husband had gone off hunting.
I'd only made 6 miles of this journey before I was diverted. I saw a sign
to the Anasazi Heritage Centre. I remembered the dismal failure of my visit
to the Indian village near Oklahoma and almost continued on. Fortunately
curiosity prevailed. The centre here was state run, and well presented.
There were about a million kids here, on various school trips, but I can
live with that. Parents seemed to have come along as well, which seems a
good idea. They were playing teachers, explaining all to their own
children. On my own I learnt a little more about Indian life in the area.
There was a special display on pottery. Now I'm not generally very
interested in pottery but I had a look. It was amazing! In 1976 a
Californian bought 3 beautiful pots in a junk shop in New Mexico. He
thought they were old but the junk shop owner said they were new, she had
traded them for some old clothes. The Californian thought about it for a
month then went searching the potter. If his pots were being sold in a junk
shop it was obvious he was unknown. He took photos of his pots, and headed
for Mexico. He showed the photos to everyone he met, (including the
policeman who had given him a speeding ticket!) and eventually found the
potter, in a scruffy village 150 miles into Mexico, south of El Paso. He
set out to sell the pots to museums and similar places. He succeeded so
well that the original potter finished up having to teach his relations,
then the rest of the village, his special techiques to make his pots. There
are now 300 people in the village making these pots, and they are beautiful,
really beautiful. Delicate, thin, storage pots, hand made, wonderful shapes,
beautiful primitive painted designs. I was so impressed that I not only
read all the wall information but sat down and read through some of the
books that had been written about the village and it's story.
I eventually continued on, passing beautiful golden aspen trees, stopping
often to admire the view with snow covered mountains in the distance, then
crossed to the 550 to start the trek back south. I saw a sign showing entry
to the National Forest, so I followed it, climbed a bit up the mountain
side, and stopped for the night in a clearing off the roadside.
Camping in the woods at 8350 ft
Number 51 Durango, again
18th October 2003
Well, after closing down my journal notes last night I found the crock at
the end of the rainbow. Digging around in my balloon fuel tanks I found
another box of champagne. Wey hey! 6 more bottles! Also found another
dozen pairs of socks...........
There aren't a lot of truck stops in these mountains, Kinko's are not thick
on the ground either, so I sorted my emails from the visitor centre in Ouray
then explored the waterfall at Box Canyon. It was well worth the climb.
The town museum was pretty good also, they had one exhibit showing how
different mineral rocks fluoresce under ultra violet light, this was very
impressive, some very beautiful rocks under this light. I took a rain check
on a visit to the Cascade Falls after noting the rather pitiful flow
downstream of the falls.
I continued on the San Juan Skyway, this part of the journey is called the
Million Dollar Highway. I don't exactly know why, but the views are
breathtaking, there are also lots of views of old mines. It's certainly
high, passing over the Red Mountain Pass, 11,075 ft. I had intended to call
in to the Strater Hotel in Silverton to say hello to Jeannie, a balloonist
who Whit tells me runs the hotel there. Turns out it's in Durango not
Silverton, so I backed up my route a couple of miles to a side track I had
noticed on the way down, and found a lovely flat area in the National Forest
to camp for the night.
The only sour note is that my central heating has given up. There's no
spark to light the burner. It's a touch chilly in the mornings now, and
that heater was useful. It will be fixed!! Somehow!! That's the second
time in a week I've had been in trouble with a burner lighting. Different
type of burner but we fixed it last time. Well, to be exact it was Tom that
fixed it then, when we were flying.
Well, it's next morning now and it certainly was a touch chilly last night.
There was a hard frost. Down in Silverton they told me it had dropped to 22
degrees F during the night, I was a little higher up, at 9,760 ft according
to my altimeter, so would guess it was around 20 degrees F (minus 7 degrees
C) where I was camped out. Chilly, certainly. At the visitor centre they
also told me they usually had had snow by now, they reckoned it usually
started the first week of October.
I reached Durango around midday, and headed straight to the RV place I had
been to previously. Only the parts department was open, they gave me a
couple of suggestions for the possible cause for my heater problem together
with a parts diagram. No luck. I'll have to find a specialist. I bought a
gas lighter in the hope I could light it manually but no luck there either,
seems that if there is no power for the spark then the gas does not turn on.
Neat safety feature but I could do without it right now. I'll just have to
make do with an extra blanket on top of the sleeping bag and get out of bed
into cold air and shiver, like I used to do before we had central heating.
No luck with Jeannie either, she was not at the hotel today. I've now
completed the San Juan Highway, all 232 miles of it, which is reckoned to
take 7 hours. Took me three and a half days and I loved every minute. I'm
not sure where I am headed now, but I took off heading east on the 160 and
turned off into the National Forest for the night, quite early but I need
time to contemplate the trees. Besides, I have some work to do on the van,
some filling to do on a hole that has been there since I bought the van but
which I have started to repair, and I need to trace a squeak which has been
driving me frantic.
Camping in the National Forest near Durango, Colorado
Number 52 ..San Luis Valley, Colorado
21st October 2003
OK OK so I missed out a word. The champagne and socks were not actually IN
the balloon tanks (duh!) they were in BETWEEN the tanks. Now back to my
This morning I think I've found a connection with the squeak. I took off
the engine cover in the van, and the squeak stopped. I think. You can never
be sure about these things that come and go. Obviously I can't drive all the
time without the engine cover, it's noisy, fumes get in the van, and I get
hot or cold air entering. The latter wouldn't matter too much except it's
usually the opposite of what I want. Maybe if I put the cover back the
squeak will go.
I also thought I had found the source of the echoing type rattle that also
has been driving me frantic. I've previously emptied all the cupboards and
shelves and under seat storage in the area where the noise seems to come
from. No luck, the rattle continued. I've crawled under the van, looking
for loose nuts, I've tightened some, I've fixed other things that might have
caused the rattle, to no effect. This morning I bought gas, and whilst
waiting for the tank to fill, washed the side windows. Part of the plastic
(or rubber) window surround of the large window was loose, and banging
against the window. I tightened it, and the noise seemed to have stopped.
I'll await a few more miles before the final verdict.
I called at a visitor centre. It was shut. I looked at a waterfall, the
flow was somewhat pitiful, rather like that from a bathroom tap. Then I went
to another visitor centre and museum. That was shut too. Obviously I'm
here at the wrong part of the year. However the scenery was marvellous,
the tree colours superb. I took a side route directed to a scenic vista.
It was 3 miles along a corrugated gravel track, the vista was OK, and
produced a new record for the height I've driven this motor home, 11,656 ft.
When I started flying the Alps with Simon 25 years ago we switched on the
oxygen at 10,000 ft. Now I'm at nearly 12,000 ft and driving an old motor
home, with no oxygen either for me or the van!
I can't remember what else I did. Maybe it's the oxygen deprivation. I do
remember I couldn't find anywhere to send emails, and also that I'm now in
the Walmart car park in Alamosa. Oh, I remember I had a shower where I
bought the gas. $3. It was worth it for the sheer luxury of being able to
stand up while I shower.
In the morning I called at the visitor centre in Alamosa to get local info
and to ask if I could check emails. They gave me info but said no to
emails. They suggested the library but it was shut. Then I went to see the
Great Sand Dunes National preserve, sand dunes 700 ft high. The prevailing
south west wind picks up sand and drops it when it reaches the next lot of
mountains. If some by chance gets carried up the mountain then it gets
blown back by the occasional north east wind, or carried down by a creek
which then disapears into the sand. That's what the brochure says. The
staff were much nicer, yes I could use their phone line for a couple of
minutes for emails. But they have some new switching system on their
phones, it didn't work.
I walked over to the start of the dunes. It was about half a mile, heavy
going in the sand. I don't know why I did it. There were already some
people who had climbed to the top, more were following. I thought I was
dumb to go as far as I did. I turned and went back.
On the return to Alamosa I give a lift to a young man carrying a pack and
water container. He had come into a little money, found that this was the
cheapest place to buy land in the USA, he'd bought 5 acres and a plastic kit
house, which he assembled in 3 days. Now he was going to town to wash up
since his girl friend was arriving.
There are 3 truck stops in Alamosa but none had the possibilty of internet
connection. I went to a coffee bar which served great coffee, they let me
use their new, 2 day old, high speed connection. Didn't work. I tidied up
my morning purchases from Walmart and found that I didn't need to have
bought that gallon of oil, I'd already bought one a while back. I drove
around the town to find an RV repair shop to fix my heater, then asked
directions. There isn't an RV shop in Alamosa. Also I've still got the
rattle. I turned down a wide gravel road and sat in the passenger seat
while driving to try to source the rattle. No joy. And I've still got the
I was about ready to write off the day as a total disaster and headed off
south to Antonito and on the way called at a library in a small town. Can I
use the computer? Of course says the librarian. Then I realised I need to
plug in my lap top to send emails. I don't know says the librarian lady,
ask Gary. Gary came out, a big guy, scruffy, straggly beard, thick glasses.
(Hi Gary! Welcome to my list!) To conclude his description, he owns about
the tattiest car I have ever seen, and a nice dog. Gary saved my day.
Turns out he is a computer buff. Consultant to the library. He produced a
lead with an ethernet connection and in no time emails were done, also the
latest 4 critical updates from Gatesville. Thanks Gary.
I looked at the trains in Antonito, they are not running today, then headed
to the National Forest for the night.
Watch out Bill. Time to put the house up for sale, make an urgent visit to
the in laws, something. I'm heading your way, again.
Parked in the National Forest at 9,600 ft
Number 53 ..Enchanted Circle, NM
23rd October 2003
Although I spent the night at almost 10,000 ft it was not too cold this
morning. I drove slowly over the mountain to Chama admiring the view all
the way. I took the opportunity at one particularly nice view to do a
little more work on the filler I was putting in to repair the ancient
damage. Not the best way to admire the view perhaps but one helluva great
place to work on the van.
I looked at the steam trains from the Combres and Toltec Scenic Rail Road in
Chama. There was a big sign on the visitor centre, free maps, free coffee,
free internet. They've got me on any one of those. Maps and coffee were
OK so was Internet. Bit slow perhaps and I could not use my own lap top but
I was able to read my emails using web access. I couldn't send you my
journey notes from yesterday, no way was I going to type it all out again
plus including manually inputting around 75 addresses, it'll have to wait.
I headed east on the 64, over another mountain, with yet more striking
views. I lunched sitting in my chair under the glorious sun, not a cloud in
the sky, fabulous view in front, binnoculars in my left hand, a can of beer
alternating with a ham cheese and tomato sandwich in my right hand. Bliss.
Whilst mentioning beer, I discovered that in Colorado, when you buy beer in
a grocery store such as Walmart, the strength is held back to 3.2%.
Normally it is 5% or more, but to get this strength you have to buy in a
liquor store. Doesn't worry me, I drink beer because I like the taste, but
it might worry some recipients of these notes so take care Whit............
I've started on the Enchanted Circle, an 84 mile tour starting and ending at
Taos. I reached the Red River Trout Hatchery a couple of minutes before it
closed so I'll go in the morning. I backed up a little on the road to the
hatchery and hid behind some bushes in the picnic area. It's in the
National Forest where camping is allowed. There are signs saying no
campfires, but none saying no camping, so I think I'm OK. In any case I
doubt anyone will beat on the side of the van and say I've got to move.
In the morning I had a quick wander round the trout farm. They had a dozen
tanks, each with 12 to 15,000 trout. The tanks are maybe 50 ft by 6 ft by 3
ft deep. A lot of fish.
I carried on round the Enchanted Circle and stopped at the visitor centre in
Red River. Well, I went up and down the main street before a local pointed
it out to me. I collected useful infos about my route and then asked where
could I connect my laptop to collect email. Normally the library said the
charming young lady manning the centre, but the library is closed today.
You can use our phone line. Wow! She just upgraded to CHARMING young lady.
The phone connection didn't work, probably due to modern switchboard links,
but the fax line did. I went back to my van to check through my messages,
and realised the two messages I wanted to send hadn't gone. I went back to
the vistor centre, no problem, I dialed up through the fax line again, and
they went. Remember the town Red River. Nice lady in the visitor centre.
I carried on round the Enchanted Circle until I found the windmill on the
roadside with sign for the Elizabethtown Museum just as the Red River lady
told me. I drove down the track and it was shut. Tough cheese. Maybe they
More enchanting scenery on the Enchanted Circle, and then I was in Taos. I
found a parking meter with 1h 38mins left but even with that incentive only
stayed about 10 minutes and headed off to the Taos Pueblo. People are still
living there, some of the houses are reputed to be 1000 years old but I
guess they have been repaired a bit since they were built. Inside the
pueblo they tolerate no electricity or running water but propane is OK.
Presumably because there are no pipes or wires running in from outside. $10
to look at the village, tip required for the guided tour. I enjoyed my
visit, and I guess it's expensive keeping these holiday homes in the Bahamas
Camping in the National Forest near Santa Fe, New Mexico
Number 54 ..Roswell
25th October 2003
I awoke with a stomach ache and didn't feel at all well. Nevertheless I
continued on towards Santa Fe, pleased that I had chosen the higher route
from Taos, along the 518 and the 76, since I was not so ill that I could not
enjoy the magnificent views!
In Santa Fe I picked up emails at Kinko's. Since I had a quick connection
and the time I picked up my various bank statements. There was a chunk of
unpleasant news. My daughter had still not received confirmation if she
could start the University course to study law at the University in Paris
and the course has actually already started. A couple of bills had come in
much higher than I expected and there had been a sizeable payment from one
account that I had not authorised and did not think was justified. Added to
this my mother is not getting any better and my sister is having a worrying
time visiting her. Plus the memorial crosses at the side of the caused me
to think of Rupert, my son who died almost 3 years ago. All in all, not a
When I'd been in Albuqurque I'd intended at some time to drive along the 14,
the Turquoise Trail, a scienic byway running behind the Sandia Peak, but
hadn't somehow got around to it, so I headed off south on this route,
stopping fairly soon for the night. I turned in at 8, remarkably early for
me, and slept almost round the clock. I felt a bit better in the morning
but not exactly on top form.
The Turquoise trail was certainly well worth driving, then after I turned
onto the freeway to head for Bill and Suzie's's in Roswell. Bill had written
to me, "If you come tomorrow evening (Friday,) we will probably eat supper
at Price's for their "all-you-can-eat
ribs and catfish" special. Yum. Yum. !!" It was now Friday so it
I arrived at about 4pm, there was no one home yet, so I went into the town
to find an RV repair shop to look at my space heater. I found an RV place,
the mechanic looked at it straightaway, grumbled that the heater was hard to
get at, then banged the side, and it started! By now Bill and Suzi were
home, we went out to Prices, and, yes, we had a very good ribs and catfish
meal. Maybe things are looking up a bit!
Parked outside the Flynts, Roswell NM
Number 55 . near Carlsbad Caverns - again
26th October 2003
In the morning I tried the heater. It didn't go so I banged it, then it
started. I shut it down then switched it on again. This time I had to bang
half a dozen times to get it to go. It's not going to work well like this.
Breakfast was next on the Agenda. Well, not quite. Flying was supposed to
be next on the agenda, but it was windy. For breakfast I had coffee. Bill
and Suzi had the regular American choice. First you choose from about 20
different breakfast menus, then about 10 different ways to cook the eggs
then do you want sausage or bacon then how to cook the bacon or the toast or
whatever and what would you like to drink? Add it all up, there must be
about a million permutations for breakfast.
I went to the RV repair shop. It was Saturday, there was no mechanic on
duty. But the owner was there. He suggested to check the circuit board and
power contacts and told me where to find the board. I took the board out
and it checked out OK. He said it might be a problem with the detector for
the airflow from the fan. That microswitch did not seem to switch so I
tried to make contact with a screwdriver. The screwdriver caught in the fan
blades which stopped. I guessed I had blown a fuse but it was not the same
fuse I blew last night when checking another switch. The owner got in the
van and found the fuse I had blown, and gave me another, with a spare.
I replaced the fuse and the heater started OK. I have no idea why. A day
later, at the time of writing, it is still working. I tried to give the
owner $20 but he said I didn't owe him anything. He said he had enough
money, all he wanted was to sell the business so he could retire, he said he
was 70. I thanked him, chatted a bit, we swapped a couple of stories (I
told him my story about finding the 36 bottles of champagne in the old
bathroom cupboard in our house in France), I told him it was great being
retired, that he shouldn't hang about too long, and said goodbye.
Pleasant lunch with a couple of friends then dinner at chez Flynt. In the
morning (it was windy again!) it was breakfast with Alec and Sandra. Alec
had had his van stolen and then written off at Albuquerque and had just
bought a replacement. With the insurance money plus $2000 he had won on a
key grab at Albuquerque plus some of his own money he had a better van now.
I had news that my mother had had a much better day and my sister had taken
her out, and that my sister was not so worried. I talked to Eleanor, my
daughter, I had misunderstood her when her portable phone had died, she had
actually secured a place at University in Paris to read law, and although
she had only had this confirmed Friday she had actually started attending
classes the previous Monday. Very sensible of her.
So maybe life is looking up again. It generally does.
I headed off in a southerly direction, towards Big Bend National Park.
Thanks Bill and Suzi for your hospitality. Great to see you again.
This morning we had seen a dragster heading south through Roswell so I
called in at the drag strip in case there was an event. The strip was
deserted so I continued south to finally park in the same rest area where I
had stayed before visiing the Carlsbad Caverns 4 months ago.
A few days ago concern was expressed that I might run down the van battery
in the evening and not be able to start in the morning. Very cunningly my
van has two batteries, one for the driving function and one for the living
function. Should I run the living function battery totally flat, the van
battery is unaffected. Additionally, the inverter I use to power my laptop
(running from the living battery), and my printer, has a light showing the
battery state. It runs though green for all OK through orange then red and
then red with a screaming noise to signify the battery voltage is low. It is
impossible to continue with the screaming noise, I have to switch the
inverter off, but the lights seem to continue OK. Both batteries are
recharged when the van drives. Just in case the van battery should be flat,
and the living battery OK, there is an overide switch so that the power from
the living function battery can be used to start the engine. Very clever,
these designers, sometimes.
Parked by the Guadalupe Mountains, Texas/New Mexico border
Number 56 Guadalupe Mountains
29th October 2003
Number 57 ..Marfa Lights
31st October 2003
I had stuff to do today. There was a sticker on the windscreen for a
vehicle inspection certificate which appeared to run out tomorrow. I didn't
really know what is checked for this but I was sure at least one of my front
tyres would not pass. I found a tyre place iin Alpine and they confirmed it
would not. They could do me a new one at $109 but they did not have any
used tyres my size. The next, and only other tyre place in town, had one
only, it looked really good, lots of tread, for $45. So they fitted it.
Fortunately they did a leak test, there was a small leak round the rim. The
tyre had been damaged, and by error had been put in the used tyre stock,
instead of the throw it away it's no good pile. In view of the cock up the
boss would do me a special deal, $89 on a new tyre. Not as good as $45 but
better than $109.
Of course, when I come to pay, $89 is not $89 but 89.99 and there is tax
extra $7.42. I hate this tax which is added on to everything. I wish
prices were quoted tax inclusive as they are in Europe. In the UK it is
actually illegal to quote a retail price exclusive of tax. At home the
price they say is the price you pay.
I then went to get the vehicle inspection done. The inspection did not seem
too severe, the mechanic said he had to drive it to test it. He returned in
one piece and that seemed sufficient to give it a pass, after a quick check
that all the lights worked. $12.50 and I'm legal again. Although some
places in Texas need an emission test, that can add over $100 to the cost of
Then I needed to do some clothes washing. I look on washing as a waste of
time so tend to just buy more clothes when I am running out of clean items.
However there comes a time when storage space (and allocatable funds) is
running out and that time has arrived. It took three washing machines to
deal with my collection.
I'd noticed a couple of computers in the visitor centre so I called back.
Could I collect my emails please? Certainly. Er, using my own lap top?
We're on satellite connection, they said, don't know if it will work. I'll
tell you straightaway if it doesn't I said. Two minutes later I had
received and sent all mail. They are real nice in some visitor centres.
This was Alpine where they were nice. I could check all my mail using their
computer and web mail but it would take for ever. Here in the US I can send
mail using 3 different ISP's so need to check each of these 3 addresses in
case anyone has just hit reply. Then I have another address I use for non
urgent stuff, such as mail from mailing lists, or larger files. I can get
everything, usually around 50 or 100 emails, in around 2 or 3 minutes. I
once tried web mail in a library, it took me almost 2 hours on line to read
and reply to it all. And then I couldn't send anything. I could maybe get
a file like this into web mail using a floppy and cut and paste, but I would
have to manually type each address. And there are currently 75 recipients
of these emails.
I had a quick look at the Big Bend Museum, well worth visting, and took the
drive around town, noting all the listed buildings, then took off to see the
Marfa ghost lights from The Marfa Lights Viewing site. These lights, low in
the night sky, were first noted in 1883 and are rumoured to have been seen
many years earlier by Indians. No one knows how they are caused. There are
lots of theories, and, actually, quite a lot of people looking for them. In
the small crowd tonight was a balloonist/fixed wing flyer from Las Cruces,
and also an Englishman. The lights could be caused by a temperature
inversion, or static electricity, or swamp gas, or bent light. They could be
caused by car headlights over the mountains but there were no cars in 1883.
I can see reasons to support this car theory. Unfortunately I can also see
reasons to disprove it. Since I am parking overnight next to the viewing
area I shall pop out from time to time to see what's happening. If it's
cars there should be less of them at 3 am than at 9 pm. Unless of course
Marfa tourist board have employed a couple of down and outs to drive back
and forth all night over the mountain.
12.30 am, I've just been out again, talking to a local man, he's convinced
it's not cars. He says there's been research teams out for months on end
trying to find the source of the lights. He's even driven over the desert
himself looking for them. I went to look at the lights at 5 am, there were
still lights crossing left to right. In the morning I continued down the
road and I realised this road I was on was the same as the one crossing the
mountain. Now I had noticed during the night there were quite a lot of
trucks passing by me coming from that direction, presumably goods from
Mexico destined for the US market. Hmmm.
Mind you, if it was just truck headlights, it would have been too easy for
someone to prove. And one man was there tonight with a x148 power
telescope, if it was truck headlights he should have been able to
distinguish 2 sources, but his image was blurred. Maybe it is is truck
lights plus some atmospheric phenomenon.
The Englishman I had spoken to seemed shocked that I was passing Marfa and
had no plans to visit the Chinati Foundation, housing permanent
installations of contemporary art. He told me there were daily tours
starting at 10 am so I duly presented myself. The first exhibit was a
hangar type building full of neatly arranged aluminium rectangular shapes
each about 6 ft x 3 ft x 3ft. The guide assured us each shape was different,
and certainly some had internal inserts sloping this way or that. I
wandered about seeking inspiration from this art form. The next exhibit was
a continuation of the first. The next was a Russian's artist's
recollections of his schooldays, all sorts of bric a brac, scattered about.
Then an empty hanger size room, with some simply made tables and chairs. The
guide, studying for her majors she told us, said the next part of the tour
was in the town. I excused myself since this art did absolutely nothing for
me, and headed south to the Rio Grande.
The river road, heading south east from Presidio was beautiful. After a
little while I turned off up a dry canyon following a well used path, and
after a while decided to turn. I got stuck. I should know by now how to
drive this thing. As I write this I'm still stuck but it's dark, and dinner
time. Well, I had a beer (or two) first, in consolation. I'll get out in
Stuck in a beautiful spot near the Rio Grande, Texas
(maybe I'll stay here for ever)
Number 58 Leaving Big Bend
1st November 2003
During the night I dreamed about shovels. In the morning I realised that
even if I didn't have a shovel I had saucepans. Even, I had two the same
size, bought because at the price of $1.88 for a non stick pan I thought
they would not last 5 minutes. I can say that even after shifting about
half a ton of sand, my second pan is still in great condition, albeit a
touch scratched around the rim.
Last night I had concentrated on jacking up the back of the van, (I had had
the forethought to equip the van with a hydraulic jack), and raising the
pair of rear wheels that had dug in, then trying to drive the van forwards.
I couldn't go backwards because the front wheels were raised slightly on the
edge of the dry river bed and consequently the low back end was digging in
when I tried to reverse. As I mentioned, this hadn't worked by the time
During the night I had a brilliant idea, like lots of good ideas which come
at night. With a shovel I could dig around and consequently lower the front
wheels, so raising the back end, then go out backwards, after taking off the
balloon carrying platform, (I had already removed balloon, basket, tanks,
and fan to lighten the back end) giving me more reversing space behind. I
did that, then cleared around the dug in back end with my newly found
"shovel" and attempted a tiny reverse move, about an inch. All OK, the
front wheels dropped a touch into the hole, and the back end raised a little
so I continued back in tiny bits, checking a bit and digging a bit each
time. It worked.
It took me about 2 hours in total to get out, including remounting all my
balloon paraphernalia. As I went back I looked again at the canyon, it was
super, steep walls with small, shallow caves every few feet. I'm glad I went
there. Except of course I wish I hadn't got stuck. I wished I could explore
further up the canyon. But I was not going to push my luck further. One of
the few times I would have found it handy to have a 4x4.
At the time I didn't think of walking. Duh!
Back on the river road the views were breathtaking. It was hardly worth
stopping since around each bend in the road was another view, just as good
as the last, but different. It is one of the most enchanting roads I have
driven along, it's certainly a road I could drive along again. It's about 50
miles total length.
Towards the end of the road, at Terlingua there was a World chilie cookout.
Actually, there are two different chilie cookouts, both claiming to be the
original. I looked around one, there were stacks of trailers mounted with
special cookers - this apparently is a chilie cooking competition. I could
hardly be farther away from being a chilie expert so I moved on. Although I
would have enjoyed the beer which seems to be a parallel requirement and I
probably also would have enjoyed my innaugration into becoming a chilie
The Big Bend National Park was a bit of a comedown after the stunning views
on the road down here. Beautiful, absolutely, no doubt about that. I
explored the park slowly, and parked up for the night in a National Park
campground. I had diverted down to a closed visitor centre, since the
outside phone there had a data socket, which worked OK, but the diversion
had left me late to find a spot outside the Park. No big deal, with my
Golden Age passport I get into the park free, and the campsite half price.
In the morning I had about as luxurious shower as is possible in the van.
Thanks to there being an adjacent source of water also a dump station I had
no need to be frugal with water. With my newly working furnace I cooked up
the van interior so that it was baking when I exited the shower. I had
already chosen a spot in the campground that caught the early morning sun,
it is still a touch chilly at nights although lovely and warm during the
day, temperatures still in the middle 80's (29C).
I then spent nearly an hour at the data port which obviously had decided
that although it was not going to work today it was going to look as though
it was about to work and so waste my time investigating and trying. I
continued slowly through the park, heading north in the direction of
Marathon. At the north visitor centre I bought a book on the south west
national Parks since some superb photos were included, of the 52 parks
listed and photographed I have been to 39, hey I didn't realise I had missed
so many, although there were a couple I missed intentionally because they
did not sound too interesting at the time. I don't know why the book omits
Joshua Tree National Park, more west then any mentioned, and more south than
most, but there you are.
The day passed with no great activity, since I mostly continued driving
slowly, just admiring the view. In Marathon I chatted with some locals,
bought some bread, and headed off to Del Rio on the 90. On the way I
stopped for the night in a picnic area next to the road. I really do love
these signs, "Texas regulation prohibit stopping here more than 24 hours".
Obviously, overnight is OK. Another sign I like is "camp fires
prohibited". If they have to prohibit camp fires then they must be assuming
you are camping, so camping there is OK too.
I'm right next to the railroad here and there are trains every hour or so,
but there are no bridges or crossings or halts so they don't use their
"let's try to wake up the dead" sirens. I'll survive.
Number 59 Texas
4th November 2003
In the morning I continued down to Del Rio. I wasted a bit of time in
Sanderson looking for the museum, obviously hiding it's light under a bushel
since although it was signposted I couldn't find it. I stopped to explore
Justice Roy Bean's saloon and museum at Langtry, the original buildings
nonetheless, and took advice from about the most knowleadgeable local travel
expert I have met. I tried to do emails there, so I could let you know I
had survived being stuck in the canyon, but couldn't get the connection to
work. I called at the Seminole Canyon State Park, now visited by guided
tour only. I missed the last tour of the day by 10 minutes.
In Del Rio I toured the truck stops, neither had the facities to allow
internet connection, so I headed to the Walmart parking lot for the night.
In the morning I called at the chamber of commerce, yes, I could use their
phone line no problem. While there I checked on bank stuff. I found
another $700 had been transferred from my French bank account to pay another
local French tax bill, on top of the $1500 transferred a couple of weeks
ago. Since I had neither seen nor authorised the payment of either invoice
and since the house had been sold in February I was hopping mad, and fired
off another angry email to my French bank. These two payments about clear
out my balance in that bank. Didn't somebody once say something like
mistakes can happen once, but twice suggests carelessness? My sister had
actually seen the first invoice but returned it to my ex wife, saying I
would deal with it on my return. Seems someone has decided not to wait
until then even though my signature should be required for any payment.
Neither my sister nor I had seen the second invoice.
I wondered about going to see the Amstad dam, and taking a 10 mile trip
through Mexico to re enter at Cuidad Acuna, just opposite Del Rio. I could
I thought maybe extend my visa waiver, which expires 21st November although
my airline ticket is valid until 30th November. I decided the way my luck
was going they might just not let me back in again never mind extend my stay
a touch so went to look at the San Philipe Springs, which produces 90
million gallons (300 million litres) of water per day. It seemed to be
covered in by a modern water treatment plant. Probably a good thing I
didn't go to Mexico.
Further down the road was the Alamo village, built for the film the Alamo in
the 1960's and used by about 100 films since. One of the things that struck
me was a note somewhere that said John Wayne rang the building contractor
one time and said stop building, he had run out of money, the contractor
lent him the money to continue because he had 400 men working on the site
and knew he could not replace them if he laid them off. But 400 building
workers? I'd always thought these film sets were knocked up in 5 minutes
by a few carpenters. With 400 builders at today's money that's around
$250,000 per week. No wonder films can cost millions!
I had spotted a road marked as pretty north of Uvalde. On the way I took
the 334, not marked as pretty, but it was OK. Then the 336 heading towards
a rest/picnic stop. That turned out to be unacceptable for an overnight
stop, it was a minute pull out with houses and restaurants round about, so I
returned a couple of miles down the road to an interesting looking turn off.
A super little road, green, full of trees each side of the road, I followed
it 8 miles, frequently dropping into little cuts over a river. There had
been some recent rain, so about half a dozen times, if not more, the river
was flowing over the road. I like fords. One of my old favoured
photographs is that of a friend standing in the middle of a ford after he
had just skidded and fallen off his bike. He just looks so sad! He soon
dried out though.
I returned a little way down the road and pulled off the road for the night
at the side of a field entrance.
Number 60 .Texas Hill country
5th November 2003
Due to my emailing error you have already received the next 5 paragraphs.
For the sake of continuity I'll repeat them. That way you can delete the
previous US Trip 60 I sent you. Of course, you can delete this one too if
you wish. But to continue. You remember I'd turned off down a super little
Well it seemed a quiet road. I thought I went almost to the end of this
dead end road before I turned around, and I only saw about 20 houses after
my stopping point. But at around 3 am cars started driving past. One
after the other. It was worse than being parked at Walmart or by a main
road. I'd left a window open by mistake so the noise was worse than normal.
There was a car, I'd wake up, then after 5 minutes I'd get back to sleep,
then there was another car, and then sequence was repeated. Jeeze. I
wonder what all these people do so early in the morning.
I forgot to mention. Back in Texas, at only about 1000 ft, it's warm again.
The forecast minimum for the night was 66 degrees (19C) so I have stowed my
sleeping bag and am using sheets again. Strange to think that only 2 weeks
ago I was experiencing a hard frost at 20 degrees (-7C) and needed sleeping
bag plus blanket.
At Leakey I consulted all my papers and decided to take the 337 east. And
what a good decision. It's a spectacular road. I had no idea the Texas
hill country could be so beautiful. I turned north on to the 187 and called
in at the Lost Maples State Park which was a failure. At this time of year
the maples should be a gorgeous colour but due to the above normal rain and
wind all the coloured leaves had blown off the trees. What remained was a
pale shadow, a really pale shadow, of the wonderful gold of the aspens of
the San Juan Mountains that I saw a couple of weeks ago. I guess nature is
I had a look at a 2/3 lifesize copy of Stonehenge, since I had lived 20
miles from the original for 30 years, but was not impressed. At Comfort the
library ladies were very helpful but I could not get my email connection to
work. I took the pretty road to Fredericksburg and looked at the Enchanted
Rock. It's a big rock, and very old. A billion years. That's an American
billion, 1,000 million, somewhat smaller than our UK billion which is a
million million, ie 1,000,000 million. However, it's still very old. I
myself won't last that long.
I found a side road and pulled off on to a flat area. A pleasant man on a
quad called by to make sure I knew this was a private hunting area, I
didn't, but I'm not hunting, so no problem!
It rained a touch during the night, but warm as it is it's no real hardship.
When I reached the nearest town, Llano, I found why the hunter was
concerned - Llano bills itself as the deer hunting capital of Texas.
Another charming lady in the chamber of commerce let me plug my computer
into their connection. It didn't work. So she let me borrow the fax line
and I was able to connect using my earthlink toll free number.
I headed off to the Langhorn Caverns. Now these are different to your
regular caverns since they are formed by a river flowing horizontally,
rather than water dripping vertically. As a result they are rather light on
stalactites etc but but what amazing shapes the rushing waters have carved
into the rocks. I was fascinated. And the tour guide was about the best
that could be - natural, friendly, and informative. Not producing the
clockwork churned out learned by rote spiel one often gets.
I headed to Austin - by a pretty road - to see the Texas State History
Museum. Although well done it did rather look at Texas from the Texan
viewpoint but since that is the idea of the museum one can hardly object.
Similary the IMAX film "Texas the Big Picture" that I saw did nothing to
suggest Texans would hide their light under a bushel. Nonetheless I enjoyed
I'd phoned Greg Winker earlier to suggest meeting later. He phoned to say he
would be late, so I waited on Riverside Drive, I found a spot with a
magnificient view of the lights of Downtown Austin and very contentedly
filled in the time with a beer and a few olives as apιritif. Dinner in a
southern style restaurant was good, the conversation better. I thought it
was my turn to pay but Greg reminded me he owed my $25 so I nobly let him
pay so that we could call the debt square.
I followed Greg out of the centre of town, along the way I spotted a Walmart
so flashed my lights goodbye and turned off to park for the night.
Number 61 Back to Marshall, Texas
6th November 2003
During the night it rained. Not a lot, but it rained. It also got cold.
Just after I'd been saying how warm it was in Texas.
I headed in the direction of Palestine Texas. On the way I picked up emails
and was knocked back to discover Geoff Woodhouse had just died. I've known
Geoff around 45 years, going back to our jazz club days in Hull, long before
either of us had heard of balloons. I called to see him on this trip during
August, in Bend, Oregon. Geoff played in Hull and continued to play in the
US a wonderful brand of jazz clarinet, he flew balloons too and was at one
time chairman of the Balloon Federation of America. I shall miss the chance
of meeting him again.
I'm sending this unfinished note now because I know many of you knew Geoff.
Number 62 going back to Marshall Texas
8th November 2003
I'm sad now to have reduced the circulation list of these letters by one.
Good Bye Geoff. I'll remember you.
In Palestine I phoned Bob Redinger and met him at Walmart where I was
getting an oil change on the van. I followed him out to his house. What a
super house! There must be 100 trees in the garden, there is a lake, there
are TWO clearings he can launch his balloon from, the house is superb. We
wiped out a bottle of my champagne but Bob then produced a delicious bottle
of red to go with dinner. Later I was left with no option but to take a
bedroom in their house for the night. I found it very hard to refuse.
Especially as it has suddenly become very cold in Texas.
I left in the morning heading for Marshall, the starting point for my
driving tour, and the workshop of the best balloon rebuilder in the World.
Rowdy and Shelley were there, I'd met both before. In fact, I stayed with
Rowdy in Stateseville, North Carolina, just after I arrived in the US. I
picked up my last 4 month's mail, about 6 letters in total, and noted that
the mirror on my van wardrobe door, taken out to enable storage of the
balloon tanks, was still doing sterling service in the rest room. I then
unloaded my balloon into the workshop. I'll hasten to add, it doesn't need
rebuilding, it's flying just great, but I'm planning to leave it here when I
go back to the UK, and also I want to check if there are any damp patches
after it got rained on in Albuquerque. Friday is the day of the local
pilot's social drinking evening in Longview so away we went, Micki and I,
and enjoyed a pleasant evening.
Saturday I made some minor repairs to my basket, and pulled my balloon out
of the bag. There were a few damp patches, so I am pleased I thought about
it. There were a couple of tiny holes, Micki came in and said it will only
take 15 minutes, and fixed them. I had a lot of internet work to catch up
on, downloading bank statements and the like and spent some time on that. I
confirmed my flight back to the UK, 20th November 8.20 pm departure from
Newark, New Jersey. It seems like the holiday is ending, but it's 12 days
away, that's all the time some people get for their annual holiday. There
are certain advantages in being retired.......
At Micki's Balloon Repair, Marshall, Texas
Number 63 . ..Marshall, Texas
11th November 2003
Soon after nine the phone went in Micki's office. It was Micki, phoning
from home. I've already phoned twice she said, where have you been? Well,
I'd been getting up of course. There is a charity balloon meet this
afternoon it seems, about an hour away, the plan is that Micki will tether
her balloon, then fly one of Shelley's envelopes, with Micki's hardware, I
am to fly with Micki. Whilst a touch complex, that's fine with me. I'm
just getting in the shower says Micki, be along soon.
Around two and a half hours later she and Tony arrive. That shower must have
been about a shower and a half. We load a repaired basket for delivery,
spare fuel tanks for loan, I make up a refuelling hose, and away we go.
Micki's balloon was already in the trailer. The tether was OK, the flight
slow and gentle over pretty countryside with lots of landing fields. Super.
Back to the workshop to unload a few items, Micki and Tony departed home, I
worked on dinner.
On Monday I called at Walmart to see if anyone had found the keys I'd lost
somewhere on Saturday, they hadn't. I was a little annoyed at losing the
keys, I had duplicates of the 2 main keys so they didn't matter but the
third I'd only just found out was for the back door. I hadn't realised that
before, since up until the time I took the basket off the back I hadn't been
able to use the back door. Then I noticed the outside part of the back door
lock was broken, so I would have needed to replace the lock anyway. I
bought some linseed oil, turpentine, and white vinegar, mixed the lot up,
and sloshed it on the basket. You can either varnish or oil baskets. I
prefer to oil them, I think it keeps the wicker more supple.
I bought my Greyhound ticket. Departure Marshall Texas 10:40 pm on the
18th, arrive Newark New Jersey 1pm on the 20th, 1625 miles in 36 hours 20
minutes. At $89 quite inexpensive if you buy 7 days in advance. Duane
Clark of Greenville South Carolina had noticed my flight departure date and
dropped me a line to say if I was passing through Greenville on the way up
then to give him a ring on his cell phone we'd meet up for dinner or
something. I was amused to note my Greyhound schedule took me through
Greenville so was able to write back to Duane to say I knew when I'd be
there, 7:50 pm on the 19th, would be great to meet him but since the bus
left at 8:00 pm we wouldn't have time for dinner..........
My plan is now to have a look at New Orleans, I've found a pretty way there
and a pretty way back, I've arranged to meet Carson Lane in either Baton
Rouge or Lafayette and am to meet up with Glen Moyer in Shreveport on the
way. Glen edits Ballooning magazine, today was the final day to go to
press, things were going wrong, so I delayed my departure until Tuesday.
I had some good news too. My daughter, who used to be at university in Aix
en Provence, now at university in Paris studying law, has found an apartment
and needs to bring all her things up from Aix. It's a round trip of about
1500 miles and I've been trying to find a van for her to hire, without much
success. I asked my friend Jerome Hallier in Maintenon if he had any ideas
and he has offered to lend his van. Hey thanks Jerome, that's great!
Still parked at Micki's Balloon Repair, Marshall, Texas
Number 64 .New Orleans at last
13th November 2003
looked at my clock when I woke up. It seemed very early but I seemed
pretty well awake so I got up. It was some considerable time later that I
looked at my watch and realised that I hadn't woken early at all. It was my
regular time, around 8 am. The wall clock in the van had run out of battery
I made it to Shreveport and had a very pleasant meet and coffee with Glen.
He'd finally finished work on the magazine at 2 am so it was fortunate that
I had not got up at the time I originally thought, otherwise I might have
phoned him to advance the time of our rendez-vous and he would probably
still have been asleep when I phoned. We both remembered corresponding with
each other some years ago, but niether of us could remember why, and I had
nothing on my files to remind me.
I phoned Carson and Martha in Baton Rouge and arranged to see them in the
early evening so I headed in their direction, managing to avoid the freeway
for the greater part of the trip. Martha produced an interesting - and very
good - fish based dinner accompanied by an excellent wine home made by
Carson. Well, although home made, he'd bought all the ingredients from
France so it should have been good. Of course we started out by wiping out
one of my few remaining bottles of French champagne. They gave me a nice
champagne glass. It's me who should be giving the presents.
I left late in the morning for the state capitol in Baton Rouge and took the
lift to the viewing platform on the 27th floor which provided a magnificient
view over the city. Next stop was the rural life museum showing, as the
title implied, various aspects of early life in Louisiana. It was
fascinating, a collection of old buildings containing a selection of
bric-a-brac from the period.
I had a brochure purporting to show the scenic byways of Louisiana. I found
the whole thing, especially the maps, to be almost incomprehensible.
Eventually I managed to match up a byway with my normal map, got myself on
it, then before I knew where I was found myself back on the I-10. Oh well.
I continued on to New Orleans.
In New Orleans I had great problems finding my way to the French Quarter. I
think the signposting here is even worse than in the US in general. Well
there is one clear advantage. If anyone ever decided to invade the US there
would be no need to rush about removing road signs to confuse the enemy.
Unless you are local it is already very hard to find out where you are
The French Quarter was great. I'll be back tomorrow, and probably the next
day. I asked in the information office for the best place to hear some
jazz, the Preservation Hall they said. I wasn't in the slightest put off by
remembering the absymal performance I had heard from a touring Preservation
Hall jazz band in Eureka Springs two month's ago since I was sure that they
were just a bunch of musicians dragged off the street for the show. I was
right to ignore that show because here, in the real, the preservation hall
band were superb. Rocking away, every single musician superb. The ambience
was great, the hall seemingly unchanged (or even cleaned!) since the 1930's.
The band played and sang without amplification as they used to, to a packed
and appreciative audience in the small hall. I'll be back.
Walmarting in New Orleans
Number 65 .New Orleans
16th November 2003
I had a very interrupted night at the New Orleans Walmart. Now Walmarts
are, by their very nature, at the side of busy roads, this one was no
exception, next to the I-10. Trucks continue all night, which is generally
no big deal, but here about one in 10 is extra loud and breaks my sleep
rhythm. I had ear plugs but they didn't seem to make much difference.
I fiddled with email stuff at Kinko's in the morning and then explored a
little of New Orleans. There are a lot of large, and really nice old houses
here, there must have been a lot of very wealthy people here at one time.
Well maybe there still are, I don't know.
In the evening I went to the Palm Court Jazz Cafe. The music was good, not
quite as bright as the Preservation Hall lot, and the musicians looked
rather bored when they were not playing. I went round to the Preservation
Hall and found I had to queue for almost an hour to get in. It wasn't
quite the same group as last night, some new musicians, still good though.
Playing 7 nights a week they will need to change the personel round from day
I wandered around a little after the band finished at midnight, there was
still a lot of action and music in the other bars round about.
I've gone off to park for the night near the lake. It's quite windy, some
of the lakeside drive has been closed because water is blowing over the
road, and the van is rocking. I think I'll be OK though.
Constant commuter traffic on the Lakeside Drive started at 6.30 am. That's
too early after a late night at the Preservation Hall. I checked emails and
continued round the Lakeside Drive, the wind and therefore the waves were a
touch quieter today. Still as beautiful. At one pont the road was being
rebuilt, there was a dead end run to it. A perfect spot for tonight in one
of the car parks out there. No traffic in the mornings, nowhere to go.
I continued round on part of the suggested car trip around New Orleans then
struck off towards the Destrehan Plantation. I thought I might learn more
about the plantation way of life, but the tour was a tour of the house.
Interesting though. It was built in the late 1700's, and that's old enough
to get my interest.
I returned to New Orleans and continued round the suggested road tour of the
city. I saw even more superb big houses. I looked for a Kinko's to check
emails and missed a stop sign. Oops! There was a lot of of horn blowing, I
pulled in, and a police car stopped alongside. Be more careful in future
he says. Well, OK, I said. Of course.
I stopped to cook up dinner. I had bought a take out shrimp fried rice for
lunch. Actually by error, I was really looking for a local dish. I got
Chinese. But with standard size US portions I barely touched the surface for
lunch, there is still a lot left after I heated it for dinner.
I have decided to take an airboat swamp trip in the morning. The first tour
leaves at 9:40 and if I stay in my planned spot I am likely to get stuck in
traffic at that time. So I will have to cross the river tonight and stop in
a Walmart again. Pity. I had found a good spot for the night!
I headed off again to the Preservation Hall, there was a huge queue so I
waited around until about everyone had gone in, and joined the end of the
queue. They played 30 minute sets, so in between each set I went out and
explored more of the neighbourhood. At Fritzels the band was better than
the previous nights, when the Preservation Hall finished at midnight I sat
and listened there for an hour. There is a lot of live music going on in
the French Quarter, but it's mostly rock or whatever they call it.
Walmarting south of the Mississippi, New Orleans
17th November 2003
I had a much quieter night, there were no heavy trucks passing (in English
we call them lorries, or HGV's, short for heavy goods vehicles) nor much
commuter traffic. I bought my airboat ticket and noticed I had a flat tyre,
one of the twin wheels on the rear.
Which reminds me. I didn't think the French Quarter streets were
particularly narrow, maybe because I've become used to the size of some of
the back streets in Paris which would not be wide enough for my motor home,
even with no parked cars. But the streets here must be sufficiently narrow
to deter other motor home drivers, I saw none at all in the French Quarter,
and only two on the periphery. I should quickly add, when I bumped the kerb
I was well outside the French Quarter!
The air boat ride was described as "an adrenalin rush, a thrill ride". Nah!
On an excitement scale of 1 to 9, I would give it about 2. Very pleasant
nonetheless, and we did get to see 16 alligators and some swamp. For a fun
ride though, give me the jet boats at the Rogue River any day.
I went to find a tyre and whilst turning at a tyre place caught the back end
of my motor home on the bumper (fender) of a parked van. Did no real damage
to the other van but pulled a good chunk of the back off mine. The owner of
the other van, who worked at the tyre place, announced himself not unhappy
with the damage to his van, he'd back into a tree to straighten the bumper
he said. He then got a crow bar and put my van into a driveable state.
Then after all that they didn't have a used tyre my size! The place they
told me about did though, I took the best of the ones they offered, at $25.
Just about next door a body repair shop put my van back into a fully
driveble but not very pretty state for $50. It was not real pretty before so
I can live with that. Maybe I'll improve the look later, with some fibre
glass repair and some new trim. Funny, I bought a fibre glass repair kit
months ago, and because I hadn't used it I gave it to Adam, only last week.
Now I'll have to get it back!
By the time I had a late lunch and driven a little further it was time to
stop, so I pulled in at a Walmart for the night. I wasted about an hour
looking for a place to buy propane, it's only just round the corner from
here but I got misdirected to the other side of town. As soon as I got back
to Walmart I thought of the boiled shrimp I had seen placarded by the
propane place, so I went back, again, and then dined on boiled shrimp.
Delicious. They are actually what I would call prawns, shrimp in my
terminology are a much smaller creature. By now being fired upon seafood I
then went into Walmart and bought some crab.
After that, and probably due to my recent short nights, I fell asleep in my
chair. So now it's 3 am and I am wide awake. And there are still people
shopping at Walmart. Not many I'll grant you but there are
In the morning I wandered around the pretty roads. I picked a good time to
tour the area, the sugar cane is just being harvested. As I drove around
the bayou I got to see a great many fields of sugar cane, many tractors and
semis (artics, or articulated lorries) hauling the cane to the processing
plants. I stopped to see three plants, all with huge loads of cane arriving
every few minutes, all belching steam or smoke into the air, all working
furiously. The sugar solution is boiled to remove impurities after it has
been crushed from the sugar cane. There were huge piles of cane stockpiled
for later processing. I picked a bit of cane off the road, cleaned it, and
chewed it. It tastes of sugar all right.
I started heading north more seriously, going by the LA 10 from Lafayette
then the 171, marked as pretty roads on my map. It came on to rain, and as
night fell it got difficult to drive. Also I could not see the view. So
although I originally planned to be back at Micki's tonight I stopped for
the night in a Walmart on the way. It was well away from the main road so I
thought I would have a quiet night. About 10 minutes after I stopped there
was a caterwauling sufficient to awaken the dead. I guess I am right next
to a railway line. Maybe that's why there aren't any other RV's parked here
for the night. Or maybe they can't find their way here either and it's not
just me who can't understand the Louisiana road maps.
I dug out all the maps and brochures I had saved over the last 6 months.
Most of the stuff I get from tourist offices I throw away when I leave the
area, keeping just a small quantity, which I throw in the storage space
under one of the seats. This small quantity amounted to a pile well over 2
feet high. I have made a start on throwing more away, I can't keep that
much. I also dug out my British portable phone to charge it up. Can't find
the charging cord anywhere. I must have brought it. It'll turn up.
Walmarting in Mansfield, Louisiana
US Trip 67 Preparing to leave
19th November 2003
I made it back to Micki's in the morning, about a couple of minutes before
Micki and Adam arrived. I spent the day sorting stuff out, washing clothes,
getting ready to pack. It's handy having a huge cutting table available to
pile everything on.
I phoned my daughter, mentioned I was about to start on a 36 hour bus trip,
she didn't sound at all impressed. Turns out she went on a 3 day bus
journey when she was in India this summer.
It rained hard in the afternoon, there were tornado warnings on the
television, Micki and Adam decided not to risk the drive home and camped out
In the morning I headed off to Walmart to by a suitcase with wheels. I
still have vivid memories of arriving in the US with 3 carry on the shoulder
bags and a heavy briefcase, I could barely hoist the lot into the air never
mind walk with it all. I bought the largest case Walmart sold, it measured
out just to the maxim allowed size for the airline.
I carried on cleaning and tidying the van, then stuffed the case full of the
things I had earmarked to return. There was far too much for the suitcase
so I filled up one of the carry bags. Now I'd checked at Greyhound, the
maximum weight for a bag is 50 lbs (around 20 Kg). The airline maximum
weight is more at 70 lbs each bag. So we weighed the wheeled case. 67.2
lbs. Oops! I took out the heaviest things and eventually got it down to
51.6 lbs. If that's too heavy, I'll take something out and carry it. The
other bag now weighed 43 lbs. I can strap that to the wheeled bag when I
move. Makes the wheels creak a bit, I hope they will hold out. I'll put
my computer in my big brief case along with my papers. That'll be heavy
too, but they don't weigh it.
So I'm all set to go. Micki's had to go out. When she gets back we'll take
my van around to Micki's in laws - Tony's parents - and leave it somewhere.
They've plenty of space, about a couple of hundred acres, it used to be a
farm but they don't farm it any more. Then an au revoir dinner with Micki
(I'm paying!) and I'm all set fot the 10:40 pm Greyhound bus to Newark, New
Still at Micki's Balloon repair
Number 68 ..On the way back
20th November 2003
Turned out that after all the rain it was too wet to drive the van over the
grass to a parking spot at Micki's in-laws, so I had to leave it at Micki's.
There's plenty of space there, but it will be safer at the farm. The
balloon is going into Micki's storage but there was long wet grass on the
way, so Adam preferred to put it over there later by himself. The balloon is
pretty light so I guess he'll manage. Well I guess he would manage even if
it wasn't light, but this way it's easier.
Dinner was good, at an Italian place Micki hadn't tried before. The bus
arrived, a touch late, goodbyes were said to Micki and Adam, and, as you
know from Micki's note, I've started the return journey. A little while ago
Duane Clark had written, and, thinking I would be driving back to New
Jersey, suggested I called by his home near Greenville, South
Carolina on the way. I realised my Greyhound bus made a short stop in
Greenville, so I replied jokingly, saying I would indeed be passing through
Greenville, arriving 7:50 pm and leaving at 8pm. I changed buses in Atlanta
a few stops before Greenville and then realised the bus was not making the
stops shown on my itinerary although going the right way. I seemed to be on
some sort of express bus.
I opened up my lap top, looked up Duane's email with his phone numbers and
copied them into my cell phone so that I could easily phone him if the bus
did not stop in Greenville. It didn't, so I phoned Duane to tell him. I
didn't get a reply so I called the other number I had recorded (I had
entered his numbers in my phone book as Duane 1 and Duane 2) and got the
same response, a recording saying he was unavailable. I repeated both calls
over the next hour or so, with the same response. Then I noticed I had
entered the same number under each name. Duh! I set my laptop in motion
again, and called the other, real, number and got through straightaway.
Duane had been planning to pop down and say a quick hello how are you. So
until next time we had to make do with a quick chat on the phone.
I found I had indeed boarded an express coach, it left a few minutes before
the one where I had the schedule. With a long delay further on and with
three changes instead of one I finished up arriving in Newark, New Jersey,
at 12:20 instead of 1 pm, not a dramatic saving on a 36 hour 20 minute
I took the train out to the the airport, readily found my way to the checkin
terminal and found I could check in immediately for my 8:20 pm flight. I
had a small but rather important task to do first however. Head off to the
restrooms and make a change of clothes. I don't want to be forced to sit on
my own in some enclosed part of the aircraft! There must be some effect
after wearing the same things over 36 hours non stop.
I checked in about 3 pm, sailed through the security check, and found the
internet data terminals without problem. So here we are. All I envisage
doing for the rest of the day is having a drink and something to eat, then
boarding the aircraft. Since you now know what I'll be doing and since I
can't send this after I'm on the plane I might as well send it now.
Waiting for my plane at Newark New Jersey
Number 69 .Back Home
23rd November 2003
The plane left more or less on time, around 8:20 pm and arrived in
Manchester more or less on time too, around 8 am UK time. I took the train
to Hull, about 2½ hours. My sister Helen was at the station to meet me, we
got to her place around noon. I looked briefly at the huge pile of paperwork
that had accrued over the last 6 months, bank statements and such like,
sorted it out into appropriate piles, for later checking, but found to my
relief that most of the information I had already picked up from the
internet or it had been dealt with by emails between Helen and myself. I
managed to stay awake until 9 pm then crashed out and slept for 14 hours!
Saturday I called in to see my Mum, she seemed to be doing pretty well
considering she is now 95. I now have a week on my own here, Helen and Tony
leave very early Sunday morning on holiday, then soon after they return
after I'll go to see my daughter Eleanor in Paris, I haven't seen her for
close to a year, she has now settled in to the start of her University
course for her degree in law. I need to collect a few things from my
belongings that are scattered around France, and to call by to say hello to
a few friends, and also to call in to see if my cat remembers me! She's
been holidaying too, with another cat lover and ballooning friend, Barbara
Reed, near Poitiers.
Then I'm back here for Christmas, and over again in France in January. I
make the annual inspections on British registered balloons that are based in
France, there are only a dozen or so, and we arranged to do most of these
before I left France last January, bringing some of them forward. So now of
course they are mostly bunched up in January. It would be nice to fit in a
trip to see my son Daniel, his wife, and my two grandchildren. He is
temporarily working at the British Embassy in Berlin, but it's a very long
drive, even though a lot closer than Cyprus where he is normally based, it's
also a bad time of the year weather wise. While in the UK I'll visit the
grave of my eldest son Rupert, and the advice centre that has been named
after him in Winchester, also call in to see friends in that area, I lived
there for 30 years before retiring in 1996.
After that I don't know. I've left my motor home and balloon in the USA, I
plan to return, maybe to visit Mexico, maybe to explore some of the US east
coast, maybe to discover more about the Rocky Mountains. Just when rather
depends on how many holidays my sister can squeeze in. One of us needs to
keep an eye on our Mum, she's in a nursing home, and while I have been away
Helen has been doing rather more than her fair share of visiting, worrying,
and looking after.
So my trip has ended. 19,000 miles on the road, 3500 miles by bus, about 100
miles by train. I have a huge bundle of memories, of places, people, things,
enough to keep me dreaming for years. Thank you all for sharing the trip with
me, for all your emails, for being in a way my travelling companions.
I hope you have enjoyed reading about my journey, I know many of you did,
you told me so, I'll add a few excerpts below and include these on my web
site, if that's OK. My circulation list, which started at 40 people,
finished at 80 and I'll add all your names (but not email addresses) on my
web site too, if that's OK.
I have a great big thank you to those whom I visited and who welcomed me
into their homes, I had a great pleasure in meeting you all. I can't start
to mention names here because there are too many, every single person I
mentioned in my journal welcomed me, and I was pleased to meet.
Resting at my sister Helen's home, Burton Pidsea, UK
© David Barker 2003