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Monthly Archives: December 2019

On the Road—Wyoming, Colorado, Nebraska, Iowa, Illinois

The Van trip continues—my last blog post was from a hotel room in Rock Springs, Wyoming—a town full of empty hotel rooms, located between the national parks of Utah and Wyoming. The hotel we stayed at was cheap—a nice room for $45—with a special discount based on the fact that the building heat wasn’t working properly—we had a small electric space heater to keep the room warm.

 

Wyoming December 2019

The worry in Wyoming was the wind. Gusts up to 60 mph, warnings about blow over potential for high, light vehicles. Our van doesn’t do well in the wind, so we got off of I-80 and followed the lower, slower Route 30 through Medicine Bow.

 

 

Wyoming, December 2019

Out of Laramie, we decided to head south, into Colorado, to meet up with my old bicycle trip route from 1984, which began in Denver and headed into the high plains east of town. The road between Laramie and Fort Collins had a few patches of blowing snow, and a few cars and trucks in the ditch, but we made it through safely. Fort Collins and Greely were crazy—traffic—and we noticed that we were getting a pronounced wheel vibration—perhaps a thrown wheel balance weight—but perhaps warning of a tire failure—the tires were new in 2002. We stopped to have the tires checked in Fort Morgan, and decided to have them replaced at a Walmart there. The ride was much smoother after that.

 

 

Colorado, December 2019

 

Colorado, December 2019

After buying new tires and fretting about why we didn’t do that before the beginning of the trip, we realized that when we began this trip, we weren’t sure how the trip would go, and the possibility of needing to abandon ship along the way is something we discussed. When I first tried to start the van last summer, the van wouldn’t start—dead battery. I bought a new battery, still wouldn’t start, spun over without catching. I bought a can of starter fluid—and it started—drove it a quarter mile to the end of the driveway, then back to the house. The van was covered with decaying leaves and moss from years sitting idle. The windshield had a crack, but we weren’t sure it was worth replacing. In early November, we drove the van down the hill so it wouldn’t get snowed in at the farm. We weren’t sure the van would make it to Spokane, but it did—so we took it to the car wash and got the worst of the accumulated grime off the outside, and vacuumed most of the mouse poops out of the inside. The fan belt failure was a warning about how old this vehicle is—and how the rubber parts especially were aging.

 

 

Western Nebraska, December 2019

After the new tires were installed, we noticed that the van seemed to be running quite well. In Hastings, Nebraska we stopped for coffee at a Casey’s and met a man who seemed shocked to see the old van still on the road—he had been a dealer for them back in the 1980s—“we sold a ton of those rigs”—and told us that people were restoring the campers and selling them for a lot of money. Looking on the internet, I’m not so sure that there’s a real market for them—all the older units I can find are priced low—I think we’re still in the “junk” stage of collectability. Which is fine, as long as it runs…

 

Nebraska, December 2019                      Western Nebraska, December 2019

 

When I rode bicycle through eastern Colorado, Nebraska, and Iowa in the mid 1980s, the towns seemed to be emptying out, a process that seems to have continued. Most of the small towns are now filled with empty main streets, the exception being the county seats where there seems to be enough work to keep a viable community going. Even there, though, it seems that Walmart and Dollar General have replaced the local department stores, and most of the businesses are small and fragile—Mexican restaurants, antique stores (almost always closed, please call this cell number), real estate offices, insurance salesmen…

 

Bloomfield, Iowa, December 2019

The grain elevators are bigger—huge steel tanks, ground piles, always next to a rail line. The smaller elevators are abandoned and decaying. Many of them have already been demolished, but a few ghosts remain.

 

Illinois, December 2019

The small towns in Iowa seemed to be doing better than the places further west, maybe because there seems to be more small scale manufacturing scattered among the farms.

We were stopped by snow in central Illinois—got a room at a motel with a whirlpool. It’s good to be in a warm, dry place when the snow is falling…

Taking a camping trip in December might not be most people’s idea of fun… But I’ve managed to cross the country several times in winter without much trouble. This time looks like it might be different.

Idaho, December 2019

We have an old beater van camper, a 1985 Chevy, with over 180,000 miles on it, and decided to give it a shot, trying to make the East Coast for Christmas. From Spokane, after a small front went through, it looked like there would be a period of calm dry weather extending out into the week ahead. So we decided to go for it.

So far, the trip has been both very fun and very frustrating. On the fun side, a couple days in Idaho with beautiful weather, open landscapes, good traveling.

Idaho, December 2019

On the frustrating side, at the start of the trip, we had a belt that squealed. We call the van a pig, partly because of it’s color, partly because it wallows down the road, and partly because it uses so much gas. So our joke was that the van was squealing like a stuck pig.

Just outside of Idaho falls, trying to make a run for the continental divide, Rachel suddenly noted that the power steering was no longer working. The belt had failed. We turned around, and made it a few miles back towards town before the engine overheated. We pulled into a safe pull out, and called a “mobile mechanic”.

The mechanic was great–stopped by after dark to look at the problem–“a real shitshow” was his assessment–one belt sliced, the other two twisted–and recommended replacing all the belts. He went to town, came out the next morning with the new belts–arrived just as the snow did. It took him about an hour to change the belts, and another hour for us to go back to Idaho falls to get more glychol for the engine. By the time we headed east again, the roads were snow covered and slick.

Fun, Fun, Fun

It took us 3 hours to drive through the snow storm–fortunately our smart phones showed us the edge of the snow just to the east of us–and eventually we drove out of the mess.

 

Wyoming, December 2019

We made it to Rock Springs and a hotel room–on I-70–but are currently worried about wind advisories between us and Laramie. But waiting means snow–so I think we are pressing on.

In Alaska, we used to joke that “having an adventure” meant really doing something stupid so that it became life threatening.  So far, so good–hope our luck continues.