Valentine’s Day

We traveled along the Mighty Missouri River through the sand hills to Valentine, Nebraska, home of the Cowboy Trail and Ray and Win, more Texas friends. Last year we saw Win but not Ray and this year we saw Ray and not Win. She is in Denver working insurance adjustment for disaster relief and she is busy!

We settled in at Wacky West Travel Park where Jim and Ray played music every afternoon. We also hurt ourselves by eating at Milo and Max’s Mexican Restaurant, not once but twice. Lots of leftover food.
We took a tour of the town and Ray’s music store, where he actually sells everything under the sun. I scored this white Jesus plate and a leather vest. Thanks Ray!
Hail damage.

We rode the trail the first day, headed west from town. Just a few miles out we came to a sign that said “Closed for Public Use.” ??? So we turned around and rode about 20 miles east.

Along the Cowboy Trail.
Because everybody knows cows can’t read. On the way back the wind picked up and I got chased by the biggest German Shepherd I have ever seen. Fun!

One afternoon while the guys were playing music, Ray got a phone call from a couple wanting to get married! Apparently he performs weddings too. He didn’t have his “book” with him but knew what to do to make it legal so they came over with Grandma, their three kids and their paperwork to get married at The Wacky West Travel Park. Herman and Nicole have been together for fifteen years and just decided to get married on the spur of the moment. It was sweet to see them both tear up when reciting their vows.
Baby stayed in the car while the two other kids ran around and got stickers all over their clothes.

The cats had a good area to go outside and Carmella met some park dogs. This one is Scooter and they actually touched noses.
This was the camp dog who ran around and barked at her.
Saying goodbyes… Time to head for Denver before it gets too cold.
The sand hills were eerily foggy and mysterious.

We stopped in North Platte to have lunch and when pulling back onto the highway Jim started honking the bus horn. He said “It’s Ray!” He had left before us to meet up with Win halfway between Denver and Valentine. She works 12 hours a day seven days a week and this was her first day off.

The next day Jim got a call from Ray in the morning. He had seen us when he passed going home the other way and called Win to let her know we were just a few miles behind her so we could pull off and say hi. She waited for us on the shoulder then we stopped at a rest area to catch up a little bit. Pretty cool that we got to see her too. Perfect actually.
Now Win is back at work and Ray is on his way to Texas. We will meet up again soon.




Yankton With Peeps

Once we wrapped things up in Sioux City I realized we were just an hour away from some of our Winter Texan friends in Yankton, South Dakota. And we knew that other Texas friends, Sandy and Dave were on their way back to New York from Alaska. I had a feeling we would all meet up at Laura and Bill’s and indeed we did. They have room and hookups for two RVs and wanted us to bring the bus. “We love company!” she exclaimed. Our view for the next few days…
Laura is a talented musician and singer and she and Jim played some music together and plan to play more this winter. Sandy and Dave are naturalists and birdwatchers and we all had a fine time catching up with each others’ travels and getting to know each other better. We like all the big group parties in the winter but we love getting to know folks better with the quiet, thoughtful conversation that comes with a one-to-one meet-up. Or two-on-two in this case.

We were in their part of New York just as they were leaving for Alaska so we were really glad we got to meet up. Sandy is my official Tequila Bloody Mary taste tester. Along with Sherry, B and Jacqui. And Tony.

Laura likes to create things and paint them. She is also an avid gardener and their place is awash in colorful flowers and art projects of every type. People joke that if it’s standing still, Laura will paint it, including people. She does the annual body painting for the Mardi Gras party in February and her creations are always outstanding. A brief tour of the yard showed off many projects.

And so many butterflies! There were literally hundreds of butterflies, moths and bees on the sedum surrounding the patio. When you walked by, it was a butterfly cloud. It was wonderful.

More house and garden…

Sandy and Dave left a couple mornings later and Laura and Bill gave us a tour of their town, one of our absolute favorite things about traveling. Yankton has both a Walmart and a thriving downtown with many old buildings and signs. We drove around the town and they showed us their old house, business and the riverboat captains’ houses.

Then we drove out to see the Mighty Missouri. It rained so I was glad I washed and Rainexed our windshields before it started.
Tangent: Rainex is the bomb! Discovered during Jim’s motorcycling days, it works great on any windshield. Before we left Texas in April, I washed and Rainexed the windshield and I never had to wash it again until September in South Dakota. The raindrops just roll off and you don’t even really need to use your wipers. That’s a lotta miles with no icky streaks and incomplete wash from the nasty water at the truck stops when we fuel up.

This is Lewis and Clark Lake from the dam. We had a nice lunch at a really good restaurant. We like Yankton.

We were able to get PBS over the air so we continued watching Ken Burns’ Vietnam series. We were completely riveted by it and even though I lived through all that, I am ashamed at how much of the history and politics I was not aware of at the time. I knew the war was bad but I didn’t know how bad. And it is depressing to think we haven’t learned anything…

We said our goodbyes on a rainy morning and set our course for Valentine, Nebraska to ride the Cowboy Trail and visit another Winter Texan, Ray. Last year we came through and saw Win but this year she is in Denver working hurricane disaster insurance stuff so we will catch up with Ray. We will be able to finish watching Vietnam there.

Then we are off to Colorado as we wind our way back to Texas. Only about another month of wandering around until we head south. We have no more eclipses or obligations. Between the Elks and the bike trails we may try to catch the Balloon Festival in Albuquerque. And this might be a good time of year to visit Big Bend National Park. And lots of stuff in between.

It’s easy to run out of time!

We are so happy we stopped in Yankton. We had such a fun reunion with our Sandpeeps. Laura and Bill, thank you so much for a wonderful visit. We are BIG BIG Lucky.


The Sauk Rail Trail

Jim found this 33 mile trail and we booked ourselves into Black Hawk Lake State Park to ride it. Another great Iowa trail, paved concrete, very scenic. And very windy. We rode about 12 miles tp Carnarvon into a strong headwind, explored a little and headed back to the park. In the middle of all the vast crop fields, the little gem of Carnarvon is nestled.

We got some tea and explored the whole town which took about 10 minutes.

On the way back the wind was at our backs and we flew along. After a smoky evening, we set out for Sioux City to be parked where we can get over-the-air PBS to watch the Ken Burns’ Vietnam documentary It’s a whole other story why we can’t get PBS on DirectTV which we hardly ever watch.

The Elks in Sioux City fit the bill nicely so we are hunkered down, catching up on work, playing ukulele, walking cats. We are about four days into the show and transfixed. Really well done.

Oh and there’s a bike trail here!

Make Fire, Not Smoke!

We decided to stay an extra day at the Black Hawk Lake State Park because 1) the Sauk Rail Trail trail was awesome and 2) we hadn’t figured out where to go yet. And our view from the bus.

This was fine except it would mean we would be pulling out on Saturday. Weekends at state parks are um, interesting. People load up all the kids, bikes, dogs, yard ornaments and … firewood.

The problem with the firewood is that they bring lots of split and unsplit logs, mostly green, but no kindling. How on earth do people expect to make a decent fire without the right tools? It’s so simple. We heated with wood for many years; that teaches you how to start a fire and keep it going. We used to get up in the middle of the night to add wood to the stove so it didn’t go out and have to start all over. And once you get a good bed of coals you really can throw on a bigger or green piece of wood and make it burn up.

Without smoking. Ahem.

We were camped right on the lake and a couple trailers pulled in behind us. Kids, check; bikes; check; firewood; check. Kindling, no. Pretty soon the city boys had a raging smoke inferno blowing right at our site. We were outside barbecuing and a couple times asked them to DO SOMETHING! I said, “Put some little stuff on it.” They said, “Don’t worry, it’ll get going.” Yeah, in how many days? (I didn’t say that.) Later I asked them if they wanted some help with the fire but of course they refused that. A girl? Helping with their macho fire?

Needless to say it smoked away for hours. The bus smelled like smoke for several days after even though we gave up and closed the windows. Thankfully it rained hard that night and put out the mess. Of course, in the morning they were at it again.

We pulled out. When we drove by their site we could see the bed of the pickup with lots of logs, several sizes even. But no kindling.

We hardly ever make a fire because we don’t want to buy or carry around wood but while we were at Sportsman’s Park, Jim collected all the wood from the empty campsites. The park was littered with tons of kindling of all sizes so we made a fire.

Carmella says any idiot should be able to make a fire in one of these.
Start Small. Crumple up some paper and/or very dry leaves and make the base. Fires need air as well as flame so around the leaves/paper make a tepee of very small sticks. Then add larger sticks in the same tepee arrangement.
Start adding firewood. Use the same tepee arrangement for the larger logs with plenty of air between. Leave the very largest for when the rest has formed some coals and it can catch easily. This was all scrounged wood so not ideal size-wise but still workable.

Light the paper/leaves combination in several places around the circle so it burns evenly. If you put enough dry stuff at the base you won’t need any “Scout juice” or starter fluid. That stuff stinks too.

When it’s going good, add the larger logs. We only had one outsized big log so I added some smaller stuff on top to make it catch.
IMG_0526  IMG_0527
This is what you’re trying to avoid… Death by smoke.
Just add some more small stuff under the log, now burning well. Make sure and keep out a longer sturdy piece for moving the logs around in the circle and adding more. Firestick.
At the end it should all burn down to coals which don’t smoke out the neighbors and make it easy to rebuild the fire later.
There was a chill in the air that night so it was nice to cozy up to the heat.
Minus the smoke.

Conclude Public Service Announcement.
Rant over.

45 More Miles on the RRVT

We rode 45 miles to Jefferson at the end of the trail and back. Iowa is beautiful this time of year!



Spent a day reprovisioning and repositioning about 55 miles to Black Hawk State Park. This is our view from the bus for the next few days, right on the Sauk Rail Trail.

Raccoon River Valley Trail

We reached Adel, Iowa in the late afternoon after about 260 miles from Missouri. That’s a long day for us, these days especially. We reprovisioned and repositioned to be set on the Raccoon River Valley Trail for the holiday weekend. Adel has a wonderful grocery store, Fareway Grocery, where everybody was helpful, good meat department, liquor and they come out to the parking lot with you to take back the cart. My helper was Gwendolyn, wish I’d gotten a pic. Thanks, Gwen!

When we got to Island Park City Park, the fields were teeming with hundreds of kids playing soccer, adult spectators, kids playing on the playground and generally running amok. There were not a lot of sites left that we could fit into so we picked one by the soccer fields. A car was parked across it but magically that guy came and moved it for us. We squeezed in after moving the picnic table into the site next door which was so close that when we put our awning out, it extended into that site. Hmmm. Maybe nobody would pick that one.
See where my bike and picnic tables are? That is actually another site.

The first day we rode from Adel to Redfield. While we were there, we met up with a Dallas County Conservation officer and told him what a great trail it was. He gave us a map of all the Iowa bike trails and camping and amenities at each one. In the depot at Redfield they had lots of information about other county and city parks along the trail and we took some. We decided maybe we would have to stick around longer; there was no way we could do the whole 89 mile trail from Adel. He said he had been at Island Park the evening before looking for a friend but hadn’t seen the bus.

When I was looking over the map and brochures that evening the very same guy approached the bus and introduced himself as Dennis. What a nice surprise! He brought his wife, Elaine and we chatted for a few minutes. She seems to be enamored of the vagabond lifestyle and we told her what people told us, “Do it while you can!”

We had a nice conversation and told him we were thinking about moving down the road to Sportsman’s Park in Dawson. 50 AMP Electric site, $12 a night. And more Raccoon River Trail. Lots more.

There was a big tent encampment of motorcycles in the park; they were raising money for the disabled. A band played Saturday night and we had front row seats from our site. Some of the bikers came over and said hello. They are serious about their ink.

Adel is a nice quiet town with a beautiful courthouse and brick streets all around the square. When you ride out on the trail a little ways, there are big brickyards. I guess that’s how Redfield got its name.

We knew our friends from Texas, Sue and Randy were in the Des Moines area somewhere so we emailed them and they were able to come have breakfast with us one morning. They are workcamping at the nearby amusement park and have to work nights, so we told them we would have happy hour next time. It was great to spend the morning with them. We caught up on all the news.
They are both natives of Iowa and Randy is a veteran of RAGBRAI, The Register’s Annual Great Bike Ride Across Iowa. I had always wanted to do RAGBRAI but never got the chance. Not sure I am up for several consecutive days of a hundred miles. On the road. He used to train on the Raccoon River Trail and gave us lots of good tips about which ways to go. That afternoon we headed for Waukee, the beginning of the trail. Where I turned over 3500 miles on my bike. My sorta goal is 4000 miles this season, maybe if we keep up this pace I can make it.

We made our Holiday burgers for Labor Day only this time I used grated onion along with a little chopped onion, jalapeno and Show Me barbecue sauce. We are going to try adding some egg whites for more cohesion next time. That will be next Memorial Day probably. With Marni’s onions, tomatoes and sweet corn, they were perfectly satisfying. How can you be in Iowa and not eat corn?
This nice 1964 Impala cruised through the park. Carmella was watching.

On most bike trails we know when we are coming to a town when we see the water tower. In Iowa, it’s the grain elevator. This is a superhighway of a trail, paved concrete in great condition and you can easily ride along at 15 or 16 MPH. There is a $2 a day trail permit fee, well worth it!

My favorite pic from Island Park. With my phone…
The Island Park cleared out mid-weekend and we went the 26 miles to Sportsman’s Park on Tuesday. This is a great 10 campsite shaded, quiet spot where the cats have free run of the place, even Astrid! Under our close supervision, of course. We have been the only ones here all week.
We rode to Perry and Minburn our first day here. Both towns are really on the bicycle bandwagon with restored depots, parks, bike racks in town and thriving shops and a farmer’s market in Perry. We ate at a very good Mexican restaurant in Perry, Casa de Oro. Highly recommend. No dinner that night.

The next day we headed west toward Herndon. As we went through Dawson, about a mile from the park, we didn’t see any place to buy ice. Jamaica was five miles further away and we thought if we bought ice there we would end up with a bag of water when we got back. I pulled out my trusty iPhone in Herndon and called The Coal Mine Cafe in Dawson to see if maybe they would sell us some. A man named Andrew answered and I figured I must have the wrong number. So I asked him if there was any place to buy ice in Dawson and he said No, there were no stores. OK…

Then he said he was headed to the local convenience store and would be happy to pick up a bag for us. What a guy! We agreed to meet at the trailhead and about 20 minutes later he was there waiting for us! He didn’t even want to take any money but we insisted on a tip for the driver. Here he is holding our card and with Jim and the ice. Note the grain elevator.

Thanks to Dennis for the maps and to Andrew for the ice! As always, the best thing about traveling and bike riding? The people, hands down.


After the Eclipse…

Once the eclipse was over we decided to stay a bit longer at Marni and Eric’s to get in some time with them and riding the Katy Trail. Jim’s good friend Joe lives right up the trail about eight miles and I wanted to meet up with a friend in Rocheport about 20 miles up the trail.

They grow almost all of their own food and Marni kept us supplied with a steady stream of onions, tomatoes, potatoes and watermelon. And fresh eggs.

Nick made brushetta two evenings in a row with his delicious heirloom tomatoes. He brought them all the way from Chicago. Best ever!

More eclipse party people…

Our parking spot from the house:

We rode to McBaine and visited with Joe at the trailhead before I headed on to Rocheport. This section of the trail is one of the most spectacular with the Missouri River on one side and the bluffs on the other. Also saw the Burr Oak, largest in Missouri. It was there when Lewis and CLark came through in 1804! There used to be two of them but the 1993 flood wiped out the other one.

I didn’t meet up with my painter friend in Rocheport but the ride was lovely and I had a nice chat with Len and Larry at the cafe there. Larry said Shakespeare’s Pizza is as good as ever.

These informative signs weren’t there when I rode the entire trail in 1998. They are good to lean your bike against.
IMG_0315 IMG_0302
We had to ride to Cooper’s Landing each morning to get a good internet signal, about 6 miles. We checked email, downloaded the paper and headed back on the trail. Some guys there have been building these hand carved canoes for a couple of years now. Looks like they are getting closer to launch.

We rode back to McBaine another day when Kathy was off work so we could catch up with her too. We also attended another friend’s 50th anniversary party.


Kathy and Joe


Fiona, their one year old lab rescue

Carmella and the cats explored Eric’s truck.

Our last night Marni had a dinner party which was fun and delicious as always. Dana wore her pussy hat since was going to a protest the next day. Marni’s mom tried it on too.

The morning we left, Eric came down to the bus and we recorded some of his music. He is an amazing musician and songwriter; always a pleasure to listen to him.
Here’s a link to a video.

We always have a good time on the river with Marni and Eric. We ended up spending 10 days there and got in about 110 miles on this trail. I turned over 3400 miles on my bike.
IMG_0323  IMG_0299

In the final days of August we headed for Adel, Iowa for the Labor Day weekend. Jim found a bike trail there and when we called to make sure there would be room at the city park, they said no problem. So on to the Raccoon River Valley Trail, 89 paved miles of bike riding pleasure.

On the way out we were treated to this view; acres of sunflowers on the river bottom right along the Katy Trail.


The Total Solar Eclipse

We are not known for planning our trips very far ahead; usually just a few days. This year we had a couple of destinations in mind; Pennsylvania in June and the total solar eclipse in Mid Missouri in August. We just kinda wander around in between, visiting friends and riding bike trails.

We planned to be at Marni and Eric’s a year ahead for the eclipse. Eclipse glasses, check. Solar filter for my camera, check. Jim built me a custom solar filter for my DSLR and I went out a day ahead to practice a little. First I discovered that my tripod would not point the camera straight up enough into the sky. It just wouldn’t lean back enough. I improvised using my selfie stick as a tripod leg and got a good working arrangement. All ready for the party and friends on the 21st.

The 21st dawned clear and hot. Friends Doc and J came from the Lake of the Ozarks to howl at the moon with us.

These are all SOOC (straight out of camera)

Just beginning…
A few clouds moved through… Go away clouds!DSC_0565DSC_0605DSC_0630
Almost complete totality…DSC_0653
Totality! Solar filter comes off!DSC_0657DSC_0665
And the Diamond Ring! I got it!DSC_0671
Moving away, solar filter back on.DSC_0677DSC_0700

After this picture the clouds moved in and obscured the rest. We were thrilled that we got to see almost the whole three hours up to this point! What a fantastic experience!

Whirlwind Week!

We planned some time in Kansas City to see Jim’s dad, keep appointments, shop and restock and visit with friends and family. Celebrate my birthday. Eat some barbecue. And have some downtime. That’s not too much, right? We planned to stay in our usual spot at the Elks in Grandview where we and the cats have the place to ourselves. We were also expecting mail and packages there. And there’s fresh catnip too.


Carmella on the deck

On the way into town from the north we got our first surprise. A van pulled alongside the bus and the driver started waving at Jim. He said, “It’s Bob!” And indeed it was our very old friend Bob. We both pulled off and compared eclipse plans.

It was a good thing we had Jim’s dad’s car for the week and knew our way around; we ended up flying around the whole week. We did get a lot of stuff crossed off the list and a few problems solved. Worthwhile but whirlwind.

Jim’s dad made us another stained glass piece for our bus and now it hangs right below the one of the cats he gave us. We stow them while driving but we put them up when we sit awhile. He is 95 years young. Good genes, baby.
My friend Laura came out to the bus and brought some extra eclipse glasses. We had a good time catching up. It is very difficult to take pictures when you can’t see anything!

We got to see a ten year old tragedy solved when they found the remains of a girl who had been missing for over ten years. Seventeen year old Kara Kopetsky disappeared in 2007 and for ten years afterward this sign stood at her mom’s house in Grandview. They altered the sign after she was found.

We enjoyed Happy Hour at Nick and Jake’s for my birthday. Bleu cheese stuffed olives and ahi tuna! Yum. I am officially old now.

The skies over Grandview during our stay.

From here we are off to Marni and Eric’s in Mid Missouri for the total solar eclipse. We will likely stay there several days and catch up with Columbia friends. And ride bikes on the Katy Trail, of course.

When we left KC heading for our eclipse spot, another car pulled alongside and Jim said, “It’s Chris!” And our friend and neighbor from Kansas pulled over and we had an impromptu chat. First two times that has ever happened! We have gotten a couple emails from other travelers who said they saw us. I guess the bus is hard to miss.


The North Coast Inland Trail

Once Jim got permission from the Fremont, Ohio Mayor’s office, we set up camp in the East Side Park, right next to the North Coast Inland Trail. We planned to stay for a few days and were all stocked up from our re-positioning day, fuel, groceries, ice, liquor; check!

Oh Ohio! Our parking spot was close to the railroad tracks but not as close as in Nelliston, New York where the trains were long, loud and constant. The cats ventured outside here but they could always tell when the train was coming; you feel it before you hear it. Trains are good cat control.

We rode about 26 miles to Lindsey and back the first day. The trail had just been resurfaced and it was like a superhighway. With lots of good old Midwestern skies to go along with it. And corn! I had fun fooling around with panoramas, down to up and side to side. The sky was magnificent!

The next day was also a gorgeous day so we rode to the end of the trail to Bellevue and back, about 28 miles. Part of this section was right along the tracks so, yeah, more graffiti.

The city of Clyde, Ohio has really rolled out the red carpet for trail riders, they have gazebos and flowers and lots of places to stop and rest. It’s kind of funny that this is a rails-to-trails bike path but another railroad runs right alongside. From the historical markers on many of the trails, the competing railroads each laid their own track. Talk about a chance to cooperate… Naw.

For my buddy Paul

We had planned to leave today anyway but since it was Monday there was more activity in the park and a few worker’s trucks came to check out the bus. While we were having breakfast, we got a visit from the Parks Director who told us, “You can’t camp here.” We explained that we had gotten permission from the Mayor’s office but no go. We were planning to leave anyway so no harm done and we had a great weekend stay. We ate some good Mexican food, toured the historic houses on Hayes Street and rode by the Rutherford Hayes Presidential Library but didn’t visit it. I have actually never been to a Presidential Library. Maybe that would be a good theme to take up after we have ridden all the bike trails.

Tonight we are in Lafayette, Indiana, making our way back to mid Missouri for the total solar eclipse August 21. We have a great camping spot at Eric and Marni’s place right on the Katy Trail and Sandy and Carl will be joining us.

Before that we will hit Kansas City to see Jim’s dad, practice yoga with Emily and catch up with friends. We will be there for First Friday where they are having a street art paint event. Maybe we should take the bus… Nope.