Monday, July 10 – 14, 2017
Leaving Columbus, Ohio in the early morning rain, it was a bit hectic making the right turns in heavier traffic than I expected at 6:30. Once I got on I70, things settled out. Ohio and Indiana are beautiful country. Just turn the music on, set cruise control and relax. I am still getting used to the new truck, a 2015 GMC Denali diesel. What is it capable of? Can I leave it on cruise control? What kind of diesel should I buy? What is this DEF stuff? Should I use an additive every time I fill up? Then there’s the infotainment center. It is a cool interface, the neatest part is being able to get satellite weather along the route.
There is heavy truck traffic since this is a huge transportation route. 90% of all truckers are very professional, drive very well and know the roads. Like anything else, there are some idiots who drive those huge rigs too fast, some thinking they are playing a video game. I have tremendous respect for truckers. I think I’m driving a big rig until I pull into a rest area and park between these giant trailer-trucks. I marvel at their abilities inside cities, navigating tight streets and backing into delivery sites, mostly without backup cameras. Speaking of which, I LOVE my backup cameras installed by Todd and his crew at Auto Trim Design. Thanks Todd! (I get no kickbacks or benefits from ANY business or company). It is soooo nice to look in the rearview mirror and look out the back of the trailer like you were driving a car. I put another camera on the back of the truck, which is a little crazy since the truck has one built in. But it always stays on whether you are in reverse or not, and you can see the hitch ball about 5 times bigger than the truck’s camera. I do like the truck’s camera for backing into parking places, but I still look at both cameras.
Anyway, those truckers put up with cars dodging in front of them alongside and behind. Mostly they can’t see what’s behind them. I travel 64 miles an hour in the right lane. That means trucks are passing me all day. Invariably there is a car or another truck pushing behind them. They really appreciate flashing your lights to let them know they can pull over ahead of you. Most will blink their tail lights to say thank you. I started doing the same for them. At first I tapped the brakes twice to say thank you, but I quickly realized that was dangerous. In an aha moment I realized I could use the emergency signal on top of the steering wheel column.
Indiana was beautiful with lots of corn fields and rolling hills. I arrived late to camp, checked in, set up, had a glass of wine, a quick dinner and went to bed.
Driving through Kansas City was nerve-wracking, as it is in all cities. There’s just so much craziness in cities. People driving too fast, switching lanes, talking on their phones, texting – and I still don’t know how they do that. Ed showed me how to dictate into the phone, which he does for everything. With a little practice, that became very valuable, and you can do it mostly hands-free. You just have to touch that little microphone, and there is something in settings you have to do, but I’ve already forgotten what it was. I had planned to go through Kansas City at 10:00, so it could have been much worse. Then I cut north on I29 to cross over to I80 through Nebraska. I29 was a very nice road with pretty countryside. North Platte was my destination for the night.
On Wednesday I drove from North Platte, Nebraska to Rock Springs, Wyoming. I planned the trip to drive 500-600 miles a day. That’s one tank of fuel in the GMC, so I would fill up at day’s end before going to the campground. On this stretch I realized I was following the California Trail. I didn’t want to be distracted from driving on this trip because I had a schedule to keep. I have an appointment at Highway Products in White City, Oregon on Monday. But when I saw a sign for Boot Hill in Ogallala, Nebraska, I had to go see it. There were other things in Ogallala, but I told myself to just go to Boot Hill. In the middle of a neighborhood, I parked in front of someone’s house and walked across the street to Boot Hill. Settlers traveling from Independence, Missouri would travel 2000 miles to California in 4-6 months. Driving it and looking at the land, you get a real feel for what they did. Some think I’m crazy to drive across the country pulling a trailer. Imagine walking it, oxen pulling a wagon that would carry half what I can put in my truck. Those wagons were small!
By the time they got to Ogallala, they had traveled 480 miles or so, following the Platte River Valley, which is quite pretty. On a good day, they would only cover 20 miles, so they had been on the trail a month. Many would die along the way, and Boot Hill would be a high burial place where animals might not get to the bodies. Some were children, some were killed in violence, or with their boots on. Thus the name Boot Hill. The best part was the statue of a trail boss, and there is a pretty view of the town and valley.
The Platte River is divided into branches and bands, all of which were pretty. To have seen these plains with elk, buffalo, wolves, coyotes and deer in a pristine valley must have been something. It would be fun to follow the trail with time to study it.
On Thursday my goal was to drive from Rock Springs, Wyoming to Winnemucca, Nevada. As I set up the night before at Rock Springs KOA, I noticed a nail in the back left trailer tire. I was up at 4:00 and took a nice shower and shaved. On my way back to the trailer, a gentleman next to me said, “I’m glad you are awake. I need to hook up and get on the road. I didn’t want to wake you”. A very interesting guy with Oregon license plates on a work truck I had admired as I set up last night. He is from the states, lives in New Zealand and works as an engineer and fiberoptic cable installer on the railroad. I could see they were doing a lot of work on the railroad on my drive yesterday.
I jacked the trailer up, took the tire off and drove it to Dan’s Tire Service that was rated 4.6/5.0. It opened at 7:30 and I got there at 7:15. A very nice gentleman with his arm in a sling was just unlocking. He took the tire and said it should be an easy fix and to come back at 8:30. Returning to the campground, I took the spare tire out and put it on the trailer. Trying to find things in the truck now is a bit of a mess, but I found the torque wrench and sockets and torqued the nuts. Back at Dan’s, I happily paid $16 for the tire repair. The gentleman had his sling off, so I asked about it. He was just two weeks out of rotator cuff surgery, with which I am very familiar. Amazingly, he has no pain and showed me his stitches. I showed him my healed scars from surgery several years ago. I don’t how Dan’s only got 4.6 stars. A fellow checking out ahead of me thanked him profusely for the great service. They are out of the way in Rock Springs, but if you need help, go find them!
I didn’t get on the road until 10:00, but all-in-all I was very happy to have done it in that time, and thankful I didn’t have to buy a new tire. Goodyear Marathons are notorious for blowouts. Kelly can tell you the stories. They are also rated for top speed of 65mph. I have also learned you should change your RV tires every four years. These are three years old and look great. I have gotten used to traveling 64mph, so it doesn’t bother me really, although there are times I would love to do more. Driving a trailer 75 or 80mph is asking for trouble. In 8 hours of driving you will arrive 40 minutes sooner for each 5mph increase. Nice, but not a big deal. There are times when you have to drive faster for safety and self-defense, particularly in heavy traffic. This was the case today in Salt Lake City.
Once you have changed a few flat tires, you become sensitive to the amount of rubber along the sides of highways. In the middle of Salt Lake City on a 10-lane interstate 80, traffic was crazy. A work truck passed me pulling a steel trailer loaded with heavy stuff. In the dull recesses of my mind it was recorded as such, but I was trying to stay on the right highway and not make a wrong turn. I was in the middle lane with cars zipping in and out of lanes to gain a few seconds in their frantic schedules. Then the work truck’s trailer tire that was so heavily loaded started to unravel. The dull senses recorded it, but didn’t react. The driver must have felt it, as he started to switch lanes to the right, but the tire now delaminated, unraveling, and came apart, bits of rubber flying in the air. Then the huge unraveled piece flew six feet in the air. Traveling at 75 miles an hour in heavy traffic in these circumstances shoots adrenaline through my body in a millisecond. A small piece of rubber hit my truck or trailer, but I glanced in the side mirror and dodged the big piece of tire. I could see the truck swerving back and forth trying to maintain control and also trying to get out of traffic. I stomped the gas and shot past him, unable to look back to see what else happened.
Salt Lake City was disappointing. It was likely a beautiful spot when the Mormons arrived, but now it is an ugly, huge city. Driving along the Great Salt Lake was interesting though. There should be enough salt to supply the world! Over the mountain and down the road I-80 goes right through the middle of the Bonneville Salt Flats. It is huge! Road construction constricted traffic to one lane with cones in the middle and a speed limit of 65. This means you can’t look up, glance around or slow down. I don’t know how far it was across, but maybe 45 minutes of driving. A rest area at the far side was a welcome site.
On Friday my goal was to drive from New Frontier RV Park to Valley of the Rogue State Park in Oregon, a fairly easy day, but I made an into a difficult one. I changed my mind about going to a KOA in Medford, Oregon and hanging out for two days before going to Highway Products on Monday. I thought a day or two in a National Park was just what I needed after driving across country. My mistake was not calling for a campsite in Crater Lake National Park as well as grossly underestimating Oregon citizens’ desire to go camping. Not only was the National Park completely filled, but the KOA was filled. Mom and Pop RV parks were filled. I could have found a place in the national forest, but I was getting low on fuel. The truck will travel all day on a 39 gallon tank of gas, or 500-600 miles. I had not seen a gas station all day!!!
Driving Rt 95 is a very cool drive. It is remote! If you want to get away from it all, take 95. Who knows what is out in that semi-desert? Like to go off road? Load up your jeep, take all your supplies. You had best have good maps, a compass and GPS, and you’d better know how to use them. The road goes through the Pronghorn Preserve, miles and miles of sagebrush desert. Didn’t see a pronghorn or a Bighorn goat, but it was mid-day and hot. I was now following the Oregon Trail, and I cannot imagine walking this!
I crossed into Oregon in the middle of the park. Then down a steep, curvy mountain on the edge of a cliff – not my kind of road, but I must say it was cool. The views were spectacular, but who could take their eyes off the road? I would have been scared to death driving that part in the Nissan, but the big GMC diesel makes it easy.
Across the desert floor, up over a mountain and there was water, a lake, green grass, farms. What a change! A curvy road follows a beautiful stream. A sports car on this part would be fun. Then over a mountain and follow another beautiful river. Over another mountain and another beautiful river. Surely pioneers walking the Oregon Trail must have thought they were in heaven. The entire trip from Kansas City follows the California Trail or the Oregon Trail.
I was very fortunate to find a campsite at Valley of the Rogue State Park. It was only one night, but surely something would open up tomorrow. I had made the trip across the country in five days and I was tired. Then I thought of those in the great western migration walking sometimes with no shoes. I had seen a lot of beautiful country, most of which I had never seen. Now I am in Oregon and look forward to exploring this state for the next four weeks before picking Kelly up at the Airport in Vancouver.