Left San Francisco behind and headed out to the east on Interstate 80 for 315 miles. Great bridges and some long uphill battles. The scenery was typical of a Hollywood western with some sprawling valleys and towering trees. Donner Lake was a worthwhile stop.
The scenery quickly changed at the Nevada border from lush ski resort green (an actual shade) to desert dry and brown.
We took our time today with three long breaks. It is all about a steady consistency for both the bus and the boy. We haven't played music since Arizona, just good conversation and chunks of silence. There's too much to see. I do keep hearing Bob Seager's "Turn the Page" in my head though from time to time.
Tonight we settled into Lovelock, NV. The next game is in Denver on Wednesday and there are some long drives ahead, but the Rockies are highly anticipated.
Left town (Locklove, NV) @ 7am. Goal today was Salt Lake City, some 425 miles away. Now there's the legendary Bill Rogers, Joan Benoit, Johnny Kelley and even Rosie Ruiz....but now there's us and Sweet Pea, for we ran a marathon too. Today lasted 10.5 hours and 426 miles at much higher sustained elevations. Old under-powered VW's using carburetors suffer with the thinner air but she chugged along. The going was slow initially, as if there was bad fuel with some light stuttering and loss of power, but once we began the first descent at 6,150 feet she was back to normal.
We took three long breaks to rest, refuel and acclimate to the mountains. The skies were brilliant blue with Temps in the low 80's, ideal traveling conditions so we just kept pressing on.
300 miles came and went quite easily with only a few big climbs, plenty of mountain / valley picturesque moments and even a couple of coyotes. Tommy read more Harry Potter about half of the day
Hello Utah! We cruised past the Bonneville Salt Flats Raceway and encountered for seemingly the first time, patrolling State Troopers. The speed limit was 80 MPH which made me laugh right out loud when one passed me. The distant mountains here grew steadily higher and steeper too. This state seems to have a more robust natural setting than Neveda; or perhaps it is just Interstate 80.
We reserved a spot at the Salt Lake City KOA and were delighted upon arrival. Knocked off some laundry, spent an hour swimming, went through email and now watching a DVD on the laptop with Tommy.
Getting some miles behind us today allows for a slightly easier mountain run tomorrow.
Some campgrounds are meant for multiple night stays and others are not. KOA Salt Lake City has the goods for a longer stay but we left at 9:30 nonetheless. Our goal this trip is to see the ballparks and spread a pinch of Johnny at each, but there are so many places we'd love to see again. After a drive by The Salt Lake Temple and Dunkin' Donuts and we were off!
Gorgeous city and towering mountains picture frame this area. The roadways were smooth and the traffic levels were mild. We set out to to split the difference between SLC and Denver, some 535 miles away. The next game is Wednesday at noon which does not give us much time on that day to travel.
The easterly trek along Utah's Interstate 15 and then on to US 6 was lush, hilly and relatively easy. No ill effects like yesterday morning. This 100 mile route brought us into more desert like climes and the heat began to sizzle. Many views looked as if we were traveling at the bottom of the Grand Canyon. We just cruised right along.
HELLO Colorado! Grand Junction was a nice rest stop for lunch, fuel and a cool down. The KOA book was examined for logical accommodations and a place 80 miles away was easily reachable and right off the interstate. The drive from there to Denver would only be 180 miles. A nice run for sure. The highway from here to camp tonight felt as if we were on a continuous downhill trajectory. The Colorado River has carved up this area something fierce, leaving behind sheer cliffs, canyons and a twisting roadway that is fun to drive!
We pulled into camp (elevation 5,432 feet) set up a bit faster than normal (Tommy is very helpful) and hit the pool for an hour. Dinner was enjoyed and a camp fire lit. The stars are out and it is getting late, merely because we entered a new time zone. I showed him Cassiopeia, Mars and we could even see the milky way.
The route tomorrow is supposed to be amazing and very steep. The cameras are being charged up, just like the boy wonder, my co-pilot.
Colorado has not disappointed us with its rugged beauty, thrilling hills and green sloping mountains. We left Silt, CO this morning after a second long day in the bus from Utah. This gave us an easy 180 mile run today to Denver, or so we thought.
We slept in a little today largely due to the 45 degree night and getting out from under warm blankets to pack up was not so appealing. We had breakfast, fueled up and hit the I-70 east at 10:30 am.
We steadily drove up the winding highway without much effort really. The trees grew greener and taller as our speed was slowly sapped away. I enjoy 62 MPH in this vehicle. It is safe, comfortable, as fuel efficient a speed as I have logged and predictable when measuring time and distance. This all quickly changed as we neared Vail Summit, coming in at a whopping 10,603' a height that fellow XBHS classmate and mountain man John Porro climbs for fun. Sweet Pea is more of a beach cruiser, so it took a little bit of right lane, low gear, inner strength not commonly called for.
But the downhill rush was fun at each and every twist and turn. The ski areas came up fast and furiously, Copper, Vail, Breckenridge. I see the appeal here being relegated to NE exclusively. Another time perhaps.
We took in the passing views with a HD GoPro, an SLR Canon camera and cell phone pix; but nothing is better than a scenic view from a bluff. We ate fruit, cooled down for 20 minutes and checked out campgrounds for tonight using a handy app. And then we began the climb of climbs for poor old Sweet Pea. We hit fourth gear once for about three minutes and then 3rd, then 2nd and yes, 1st gear. Truckers were not gaining on us either. It was truly a Watt Piper moment right out of "The Little Train That Could". It was sketchy at best, starving for air, not getting any engine rev with a flutter gas pedal trick, but ultimately, we reached the tipping point and entered the Johnson Tunnel at 11,158, gasp, feet. It was all downhill from here!
Fourth gear allows a nice 65 mph steady ride down on the 6.5 degree slopes. We cruised into Prospect RV Park in Wheat Ridge, CO at 4pm., 11 miles west of Coors Field. Nice people, no amenities. We did laundry, took advantage of a VHS library and TV in the common room watching star Wars Episode I and then V eating Domino's Pizza while observing a hail storm. I wouldn't trade this for a night at the Ritz.
We packed up early and headed out of the Wheat Ridge, CO RV Park, grabbed breakfast and drove 11 miles to Coors Field. Friends from scouting were in town so we hooked up. Paul Wintrobe and his son Eric (bear scout buddy) joined us for the game. Thus far, we've met up with my aunt and cousin near San Diego, Kristin's relatives in Los Angeles and now Florida friends in Denver.
“Coors Field”, home of the Colorado Rockies, is huge, modern, drew a good crowd and offered us great views of the field from the second row balcony overlooking the mound on the first base side. It was sunny and hot and we enjoyed dollar dogs, pizza and later, cotton candy for the kids.
Paul never met Johnny. His son joined the scouts this year but he was interested in hearing about our trip, the quest to visit the ballparks to scatter his ashes and of how Johnny was an avid fan and student of the game.
Tommy and I unfurled a simple napkin with a sprinkling of Johnny and poof, we honored him again in section 325. The game continued, we watched, the boys played around and we slowly made our way out of the park toward the exit. It was a long goodbye, farewell, be safe, see you back in Florida kind of an end to the meet up. It was nice to see friends for a change. Tommy makes friends easily wherever he goes. Seeing a familiar face however was especially nice.
The ride out of Denver during rush hour was hot and slow. This lasted an hour but as we continued east, metropolis disappeared just as the darkening horizon loomed ahead. I was surprised just how quickly and severe that the city ended and pancake flat farmland began. We pressed on for 80 miles and pulled off of the I-70 in Limon, CO dry and ready to rest up. Tomorrow calls for a trip through Kansas, a first for both of us.
Happy birthday Kristin Sloan. Also, Happy Birthday Erica Flagg.
Tommy and I are seeing brand new places but also recognize that we are missing key moments. We'll all survive.
We left east Colorado at 8AM after a big breakfast. During the middle of the night we apparently donated some fuel and the red gas can bungee-corded to bus roof to a needy soul. No worries. I am grateful that I have what I have. Things could easily be worse for anyone. We filled the tank and applied a coating of Rainx to the windshield as the forecast called for showers.
On the road again, we traveled along the high plains which are situated at 5400 feet above sea level and gradually drop down as one heads east. No ill effects on us or the bus but it was a bit chilly at 8AM so I turned on the heater, which is to say I rolled up the windows - by hand.
Hello Kansas! The fields consisted of either rolled hay or were lush and green dotted with barns and windmills. Tommy finished his book so we will have to stop and get the next one.
And then it happened.
Sweet Pea decided to pull over and rest. It was as if we ran out if gas, but I can assure you that hasn't happened since the first week I owned my first car and it just stopped one day. A call to my father using a payphone and costing a dime quickly ended after I described the symptoms and he asked have you put any gas in your car yet? No, today was different. The afternoon was downright hot! I had the air conditioning on full - both widows were all the way down; so I figured the bus was just hot and needed a cool down. We did not rest long at the last fuel stop 30 minutes ago. It was at mile marker 147 on the I-70 at 2:35 in the afternoon. As luck would have it, we glided just beyond an overpass. I stopped in the sunshine so the bus would be highly visible, checked the oil traced the plug wires, looked at the coil / wires, tried it. Nothing. So we let it sit for 40 minutes to cool. We sat in the shade behind the protection of the hefty guardrail. Had it been raining without a bridge around we would have have been wet. Never sit in a car on the side of the road.
She cranked right up. Eureka. I was right, she needed a rest. Wrong. She bogged right down again and shut off. Must be a fuel issue.
A State Trooper pulled up behind us to check out the situation and I said we are good, that I have AAA and will tinker for a bit. He left. I explained to Tommy that we are safe, that problems arise and we think through solutions, come up with options and do it. Another 20 minutes passed, the engine was cool. It started again. It stopped again. I called AAA and my friend Mike Bradley to describe the symptoms. He said it sounds like the fuel pump, offered a tip on how to test viability and said any shop can easily replace it with an generic unit. Thanks Mike. That sounded spot on, simple and cheap. If you have a V-Dub, he is your go to guy having just opened up a new shop.
The flatbed truck dropped us off 10 miles and way at Rein's Repair. The driver said there are hotels steps from the shop, recommended a family restaurant and mentioned the the town fair was opening tonight with live music. The shop opens at 7:30AM and the owner has a mechanic who has rebuilt several VW Beetles and agreed it sounded like a simple fuel issue.
We checked into a Motel 6 after first trying a couple of other slightly nicer places but it was fine. We ate at that restaurant and then hit the sack early.
The adventure continues and the setback is not a big deal. If anything, it teaches Tommy to think about solving problems. I completely get caught up with dumb inconsequential things like DVR snafus, but thanks to having a series of old cars that would break down when I was as kid, what some would gasp and say is a serious problem is not much of an issue at all. Besides, Hays, KS is a nice little town.
Woke up and walked to the auto repair shop next door. The bus was a priority for the mechanic who recognized that we were out of towers just passing through on a long holiday weekend. He listened to my description of the problem and turned the key to start the diagnostic.
Basic rule of thumb, eliminate the obvious. He tested the electronic fuel pump with a simple voltmeter and there were no signs of life - hah! It was the pump after all. Then he traced the wire to the coil, the power source that feeds the pump the juice and he discovered that the wire connection was loose; just loose enough. He cleaned and crimped the connection and tested the pump and the voltmeter lit up like a Christmas tree, just like me. It was a simpler fix than expected, like when Prince Akeem Joffer, the prince of Zamunda, got his haircut in the movie "Coming to America": all of a few seconds.
The mechanic heard the brief overview of the trip for he saw the stickers and memorial like peace sign on the side window. He was only to happy to assist us with this repair and wished us well on the rest of the trip. I knew I liked this town. I will be investing in a voltmeter and a helping of humility soon. We loaded up our gear and headed out of town at 8:30 after breakfast and a shower.
The drive today was very pleasant. Lightly rolling hills like yesterday continued to stream on past us. We noted many "Wizard of Oz" and President Eisenhower references, as well as Kansas State University boastful billboards. We fueled up and I made reservations for a two night stay at "Worlds of Fun" Amusement Park and RV Camping which put us on property in Kansas City Missouri. The tickets to the park itself were donated by our cub scout friend when we met in Denver and I thought we should use them and stay put for a couple of days of summer fun.
The campsite is superb, low in cost and packed for the holiday weekend. We were lucky to get the two nights. People came out to see us, well actually to check out the bus and our setup.
We are headed over to watch fireworks with two families and will bring along our smores supply.
The trip is going just fine. We hit a little snag and pressed on happily. Tonight is a weekend kickoff to complimentary park admission tickets and fireworks, but having Tommy smiling all the way is what makes me say ooh and aahhhh.
Rain fell all night and sleeping in was a good plan until Tommy woke up and said let's hit the amusement park. "C'MON DAD!" Was mentioned several times so as soon as the rain tapered off we gabbed our ponchos and hit the pavement for the 400 yard dash to the gates. Sporting swimsuits proved to be a wise choice.
The first ride was "The Mamba" the highest, fastest, coolest coaster in the park. The rain kept the crowds away to the point where there more employees than patrons. We walked right onto this thrill ride, as we did every other amusement "World's of Fun" offered up. As a rule, I skip wood framed coasters as they simply scramble my head so much it hurts, but Tommy was highly satisfied with Mambo and other high energy rides crying "again, again, again" with regularity. The only ride he begged out of was "Detonator" that zooms you up 200' and drops you down. One coaster "Patriot" would have required me putting a couple of lumps on his head as he came in at 52", just a bit shy of the new 54" standard so we just headed to Snoopy Land.
Tommy speaks so well, having such a command of language and is well generally 'with it', that I often times forget he is still only 8 years old. The kiddie rides still hold a little interest for him and I know that before long, he will be all grown up, so please, have at it. I enjoyed watching him gleefully enjoying the old standard circular rides of our youth and thought of how lucky I am that he is here, young, full of life with years to go. I thought of Johnny too because they did this together but Tommy is all alone now. His laughter and smiles made me realize again that life is so precious and to enjoy what we have because be it a ride at a park or more, it will pass by. I wish he could stay young forever, but I look forward to seeing him grow up too.
The weather was raw, spitting droplets all day but it never grew intense or lightened up. Low clouds created a misty effect around the tops of coasters and towers alike. We escaped into the covered kid play zone launching nerf style balls from air powered cannons at one another for an hour. Lunch was a nice respite too, as was the steam powered train ride around the park.
My cell phone battery quit long before we did. I chose to skip the final five coaster rides the boy wonder did solo, arms raised of course. This I regret not having a photograph to keep, but the memories will be etched there, just like those I have of Johnny doing the same thing.
We ended the night doing laundry, eating a late dinner and watching a "Diary of a Wimpy Kid" movie on the computer. Tomorrow calls for the same rainy weather and we are leaving by 11am but it is Sunday and pancakes always make him smile. After that, we'll I haven't gotten that far as yet but it will work itself out as we head to St. Louis.
The morning came too quickly today. A brisk cool night with heavy rainfall can easily set one up for a deep sleep and that was the case here. WHAT? It's 10am? We have an hour to clear out? Thankfully the camp was dry albeit the cloud cover was thick, perhaps keeping the sun from waking us up earlier.
The boy and I sprang into action, putting the beds away, stowing water lines and electrics, dropping the roof, packing up and otherwise getting our stuff together. The next game is tomorrow in St. Louis and we have about 250 miles to cover so a good start would mean an earlier finish this afternoon. Well, not every day is perfect.
We pulled out of KCMO at 11:15 and headed east on the I-70 under gloomy but dry conditions. No time for my Sunday pancakes today. We stopped for breakfast and lost an hour for the privilege, but our goal was to simply go east and get as close to the Mississippi River as possible anyway. There was a gas station break and a windshield Rain-X treatment which wicked away the light rain but soon thereafter, for the first time, I actually turned on the wipers.
The highway was littered with billboards, exit ramps, McDonald's and gas stations every few miles. Sure there were a few cornfields and gentleman farms, but long gone were the agricultural feeding grounds that support a nation. This realization was somewhat of a letdown. Yes, I will be happy to get home, but the country seen so far has shown itself as beautiful, majestic and rugged. We have all for the sake of convenience and progress, changed the landscape. It is the Interstate after all and if time would have allowed, I would have taken the road the less traveled, and a difference it would surely have made. But I have a schedule to keep!
I checked my handy campsite finder app, and the weather, which magically led me into the parking lot of the Fairfield Inn. A room for $30 more tonight would be a nice treat and since we have another 40 miles to go in the morning for the 1PM game, this choice just made sense.
Overall, we hit the mark today. It would have been nice to get into the city, take a riverside stroll and check out the arch. The rainy weather has spoken though and we are content for the night. Tomorrow will arrive on time I suspect: and so will we.
Happy Independence Day! I have always loved this holiday for the historical significance, for the fireworks displays and seeing the Boston Pops on the Esplanade, and that it falls at the height of summer! Perhaps this is why I love living in Florida today, where summer lasts 10 months a year.
Tommy and I arrived at “Busch Stadium” home of the St. Louis Cardinals at 10:15 A.M., parked beside the ballpark, got tickets and marveled at the bustling crowd already here 3 hours before first pitch. The Gateway Arch was looming in the backdrop. I thought of Johnny and how he would have loved seeing this slice of America. He knew the Arch was in St. Louis and that it was as wide as it is tall- 630'. I don't know if he knew that it stands to symbolize America's westward expansion, sitting on the left bank of the Mississippi River, but if he did, it wouldn't have surprised me at all.
When the old stadium was leveled, they used a large chunk of real estate to create the best game day fan zone in the land, complete with a massive sports bar complex, concert pavilion and team store. Known as "Ball Park Village", this area draws fans to the game early said Earl, an ambassador we spoke to on the street. The pregame atmosphere here today was like that of a carnival; rich with smiling faces, energy and lots of loyal Cardinal's fans donning scarlet red. I imagine that Fenway Park in Boston could someday have such an amazing newly constructed ballpark combining old world charm, maintaining classic field dimensions but with all of the latest and greatest amenities.
We had an early breakfast before arriving but this venue was so inviting that we shared a small pizza and then simply crossed the street to enter the left field gate. It was "hat day" and Tommy scored an instant souvenir.
We did our typical walking tour of the park and what struck me was that for the most part, the field was not visible from the vending / concession areas like most modern facilities. The outfield underbelly was as gloomy as the gray skies overhead. When we stepped up to the next level at home plate the park opened up slightly more. The upper level however was wide open offering stellar ballpark views and a full cityscape. A light rain fell and for the first time a game we attended was impacted with a 75 minute delay.
The game was exciting once it began at 2:30, complete with bang-bang double plays, stolen bases, home runs and strikeouts. Tommy would say the best part was when the MVP vendor reached section 345, Row 5 seat 20 and he got his fix of cotton candy.
Today marks the likely final game of this trip as the Braves and Rays are on the road when we cruise through those cities. Tommy stood tall during the 7th inning stretch today. He sang "Take Me Out To The Ballgame" and he sprinkled his brothers ashes with me. I looked at the Gateway Arch and smiled knowing that Johnny was a wonderful boy as I kissed Tommy's head appreciating his remarkable personality. A slight sprinkle would hit us occasionally and as the game ended and we headed out of St. Louis heading South towards Memphis, I know that another visit here will be made. Tommy at my side.
HIGH PLAINS DRIFTERS
JUST EAST OF DENVER