Saturday, August 1, 2015

With places to go and plans in place, the wheels fell off …

“Like somebody has taken the wheels off your car
When you had somewhere to go, well, it's annoying
Not going to get very far, I know …”

These lyrics by Sir Paul McCartney pretty much sum up the way the month went. In all the time Margo and I have been on the road I have never found myself looking into our garage and seeing no cars – nothing. Nada. Zilch. The iconic scene of Cadillacs, pictured above and buried nose-first into a field west of Amarillo, pretty much sums up how I felt as I scrambled to find a set of wheels for the family. Fortunately, our daughter stepped in and lent us her Toyota for which we are both highly grateful.  

The month started with us already well into our long drive through the south western states of the U.S. As this was a business trip with several meetings scheduled and presentation to be given, we were definitely going to need a car. Needless to say, it was back to doing what we like to do best – hitching up the trailer and towing the ever-faithful, multi-purpose, C5 Z06 Corvette. We have grown to really love this car and having as much power as it has on tap, it’s a blast to drive. I know it’s really a track car and I’m confident it will be back on track shortly, but as a touring car it surely delivers!

As for the trip itself, it would be a 4,000 mile trip featuring many different vistas where some of the roads driven would be a first for us. When the trip was over we found we had driven another 750 miles in the Corvette so our three weeks on the road saw us completing just a tad less than 5,000 miles. If you pull out a map of the U.S. you will see we followed a simple rectangular route but that doesn’t do the story justice. Not even Google earth can tell you what we encountered on this trip.

Turning east to go west may not be intuitive, but following Interstate 70 east out of Denver for a hundred miles would allow us to drive due south into Amarillo, Texas and then on into the Dallas / Fort Worth Metroplex. We then drove back to Amarillo, and followed Interstate 40 all the way to Kingman, Arizona, where we would take the cut-off to Las Vegas.  I still cannot get my head around the juxtaposition of Cabo san Lucas and Lake Como with Bellagio clearly visible!

It was then back on familiar roads as we headed down Interstate 15 to Barstow, CA, for a run through the Mojave Desert and on into Simi Valley, after which it was a simple case of turning north on California highway 101 for the run to Palo Alto. Homeward bound we followed Interstate 80 to Fernley, NV, where we cut across to U.S. route 50 – the loneliest highway in America, which we followed all the way back to Grand Junction before completing the journey on the original highway, Interstate 70.

As surprising as this may be, nothing quite prepared us for the surprise we had driving across Texas. The recent rains that had flooded much of the state have made it as green as I have ever seen it – more like parts of the UK or even Ireland. Layers of green upon green with new-filled lakes still overflowing their banks and where standing pools of water were present in every field we came across. Of course, this would be in stark contrast to what we were to encounter in California, but it too is a reminder of what can happen when you just add a little water. Skirting the Texas hill country to the west of Austin it wasn’t so much the green that interested us but the reds and browns of the meat to be found at the lone star state’s famous smoke house BBQ establishments.

Pulling into a parking area we saw on the outskirts of Stephenville, a township just before we left Texas Highway 281 to join 183 for the run into Austin, we came across Hard Eight Marketplace and the smoked brisket and sausage was just what we were looking for – standing in line and watching the staff slice off pieces of meat was quite a treat and for those a little more familiar with the protocol of ordering directly off the grill, service was fast. For Margo and me, it was the experience that counted as we sampled different cuts before completing our order. Great folks and terrific hospitality, with the real country Texas very much on display.

We had left the company command center in Arlington for the weekend and took advantage of having the Corvette on hand to catch up with business colleagues and good friends in Austin.  Of course, Saturday evening would kick off with more smoked meat and this time, it was Austin’s famous Iron Works Barbecue where our hosts, Lyman and Jane, took us before we walked the town stopping in for a couple of nightcaps. Margo and I took every opportunity to sample Austin night life and yes, this is a town we could easily “adjust to” should the opportunity ever arise. But next stop? Las Vegas! 

By chance, there would be one more side trip before we pulled the rig into our usual site at the Oasis RV Park on the southern end of Las Vegas Boulevard. Rolling through Seligman, AZ a little ahead of plan we turned away from the interstate, rig and all, and drove the 60 to 70 miles of route 66 that took us through “Radiator Springs” (officially, Peach Springs) and into Kingman, AZ. Fans of the Disney / Pixel movie, Cars, will find the township every bit as forgotten as depicted in the movie and like Eureka, we wondered how much longer it will survive should they continue to let route 66 deteriorate. 

As for its title of America’s mother road, that too will likely fade from memory with the passing of a generation or two, which will be sad and with its demise you will no longer be able to get you kicks on route 66. This day, there was plenty of cars and even more motorcycles but it still left us wondering about its future. Then again, how lonely can route 50 really be? At one point I stopped the rig and walked to the middle of the road where I went down on bended knee, right on top of the lane markings on route 50, looking west with absolutely nothing on the road for as far as I could see and took the photo, above.

Neither of these famous routes are the highways of choice for big rigs and semis, that’s for sure, and the last time we drove route 50 was almost twenty years ago when we transported our BMW M3 convertible back to Boulder. Lonely, today? There were times where ten to fifteen minutes would pass without another vehicle to be seen! As for route 66, I rode it once, a decade ago, on my motorcycle, but that is a story for another time. 

On that previous trip across route 50 we had spent the night in Eureka in the small main street hotel alongside Eureka’s opera house. It’s still there but just about every other store is now boarded up and it’s kind of sad to see this once prosperous mining town dying the way it is – for sale signs on just about everything, but apart from a number of motorcycle groups that stopped by for gas and food, the signs of decay and neglect are reminders of just how many small towns out west, particularly those away from the interstate highways, will probably completely disappear in our lifetimes.

Much as we do when we take the rig to road tracks out west – Willow Springs and Buttonwillow both come to mind – we take advantage of a variety of places to camp overnight. KOA in Amarillo was a first for us this trip but after not enjoying our time at the Sam’s Town, the KOA site in Las Vegas we had tried back in June of this year, Amarillo’s KOA was a lot more enjoyable as they had a number of pull-through sites capable of accommodating our 60+ feet of length. In Arlington we also stayed at another KOA site and both provided good accommodation and we can recommend them both as good places to camp. 

However, KOA sites weren’t our only camp sites as we still take advantage of WalMart’s RV friendly policy whenever we can. The WalMart in Winslow, AZ, just off Interstate 40, is a great place to stop for the night and more than makes up for the disappointment we had a few years back with Flagstaff, AZ, where overnight RV stops are prohibited by city ordinances. The other really good WalMart site we like is in Fernley, NV – just outside Reno – where there’s more than enough space even for our rig. The good thing about WalMart is that when you plan ahead and know you will be taking advantage of their hospitality, you can restock your RV with food so that allows you to maintain an abundant supply of fresh fruits and vegetables.

On the other hand, we have become familiar with numerous truck stops where we can overnight and not stand out in the crowd. Green River, UT, is one such site where over the years we have spent many a night. Although, with familiarity comes understanding and should you, like us, pull into this truck stop, head for the north east fence line as this takes you well away from the big rigs running “reefers”, a reference to the refrigeration units that have to run continuously, and pack a number of such trucks together and your chances of a peaceful night deteriorate considerably. There’s another such site outside Beaver, UT, we also have used in the past but it’s not one we would recommend as it’s difficult to get into and out and a few miles further south, there’s a WalMart that’s more accommodating.

However, as I mentioned in the opening paragraph, this past month saw a multitude of little things escalate rapidly to where, with the month coming to an end, we saw all of our cars disabled. The warning signs first appeared when we were camped in Arlington with the casual comment from another camper that one of the tires on our trailer looked a little flat. It sure was with a nail right through the tire that necessitated a quick trip to Sears for a much bigger Craftsman jack, which we duly bought. As the picture below indicates, track time in the Corvette with multiple wheel changes under our belt, saw Margo and me working in the heat of the day to pull the spare off its mount to swap with the damaged tire one, it turned out, a local Firestone shop in Las Vegas repaired for free.

That was only the beginning, unfortunately. On a drive to the post office in the Maserati the week we had returned home the front tire completely peeled off the wheel. Our Maserati’s Tire Pressure Monitoring System (TPMS) had only stopped registering a couple of weeks back so have to believe we had a slow leak and with reduced tire pressure, it simply came apart on a slow speed turn as I parallel parked. With no spare provided it was a case of calling for a tow and dropping off the Maserati at the village import dealer best equipped to handle the car, we were down one car for the count.

Unfortunately, that morning I had dropped off the Corvette for a service and Margo had the Jeep. With the RV going in for a scheduled service, the driveway was looking rather barren but that wasn’t the end of the saga. Just a couple of days later, the Jeep picked up a nail and down went its tire, but no worries, I whipped it into the local tire shop for a repair, it was going to be dodgy as the nail had penetrated the tire right on the transition between tread and sidewall, but we patched it anyway. A couple of days later, down went the tire again and this time, it wasn’t repairable. Having already ordered a set of front tires for the Maserati from Tire Rack, it was back to the web site for yet another tire – the Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT is not really a Jeep and has a very limited choice in tires given that Jeep squared up the wheel size so each tire is a 295 X 45 X 20. Yes, we would have to wait.

But we still had the Vette, right? Not so fast, as a routine service highlighted we had no brakes - the rear pads were down to 0mm (and squealing incessantly in protest) and the fronts, they had a little less than 3mm – ouch, not a safe proposition to take on the road. So, no cars and Margo and I looked at each other. We need a fourth car – but what? And seriously, only a few months back we couldn’t park all cars in the garage and now this! Who knew … 

Summer has still many weeks to go and with fall we head into the best driving time in the Rockies so we will just have to wait and get everything back on the road before making any further plans for road trips. Conferences, meetings and events will still be in the calendar but we will have to simply rest a spell. But the roads do beckon and there are places to go – so yes, as the month comes to an end, it’s more than annoying for someone to have taken the wheels of our cars!