Showing posts from 2009
Need a bonding moment with your sons? We’ve always found a good Sci Fi movie is the best way to go. This season Avatar is the new movie getting all the press for the next big thing. It is way cool. My rating would be a solid A+. And you get to wear a pair of cool glasses while you watch the movie in 3D. Bonus. By the end of the movie, you’re rooting for the big blue aliens and you want the mean capitalists to give it up and go home. I don’t want to give anything away because you’ll want to see it for yourself. I predict a sequel.
Now this is a bonding moment!

Thanksgiving in the new RV

The RV was on order, the hitch was installed in the truck, the financing and insurance was all arranged, and we had packed the stuff we thought we would need for a short stay. We were like new parents just waiting for the main event.
Thanksgiving is when we usually get together with my older brother and his family at either their place or ours. This year it was at their place in Northwest Missouri. My brother can sometimes join us, but he had already bailed for this year. When we got the call, we found out we could take delivery a few days before Thanksgiving so we sent our regrets and headed for Couler Valley in Dubuque, about an hour and a half from where we live.
We actually went twice. The first time was to sign the papers promising to pay for it, but we were able to get a quick tour of our new home. It was still in their shop for the initial checkout and it looked awesome. We were able to order a couple max air vents we had read about on the forums, but otherwise it was everythin…

5th Wheel on its way!

Got word today that our 5th Wheel is on its way! Thought I'd stand in for John tonight and let you know our great news. Now the interesting part It won't be ready until the day before Thanksgiving. Not sure how all that is going to work but we've changed our plans so that we will be here and ready. Since I don't have photos of our actual rig thought I'd give you a couple from the website for now. Enjoy the preview.

Victoria & Vancouver

Our cruise ended at Vancouver, which was why the cruise required passports, but we had signed up for an extra day in Victoria and a couple of extra days in Vancouver before returning home. Before leaving the ship, they delivered our bill for our drinks, the pictures we had purchased from all those evenings we had dressed up, and the gratuity for all of the above (remember that handy credit card they gave us at the start of the trip?). Uffda. We had a fine time.
Our trip through Canadian customs was expedited because we had to catch a bus to Victoria. That worked out well. Victoria is an island, so we got a ferry ride also. Our first stop was Butchart Gardens in Victoria where we spent a few hours wandering around in an amazing botanical garden. The weather was back to being perfect again, so it was a very pleasant visit. The bus then dropped us off at the Empress Hotel, right down town Victoria.
The Empress is an old restored hotel, so the rooms are large with high ceilings and you can…


Next stop was Ketchikan, where of course the weather was perfect. More shopping, but we took advantage of the weather to walk around the town. There’s a salmon stream where a lot of the shops are (former bordellos that serviced the miners during the gold rush days) , that provided a great view of the salmon. This stream was more like a series of cascading waterfalls. The salmon would queue up waiting (resting?) for their turn to try to jump from pool to pool as they attempted to get past the waterfalls. It looked like a lot of work to me, and a lot of them ended up back at the start where I suppose they rested up for another try.


Turns out we didn’t have to wait until Ketchikan for the rain because our next port was Juneau, and it was raining. Juneau was our first scheduled excursion; a “bike and brew” where you tour some of the local scenery on a bike and end up at a local brewery. The group that put it together also provided rain gear and since we were in a costal rain forest, I suspect most of their trips were in the rain. It was a lot of fun. We not only got to see a glacier, but we were able to sit on one, or at least a piece of one. Our guide was a young man who had just graduated from the local high school and was looking forward to attending the University of Alaska. The glacier we were admiring had dropped chunks of ice into the lake we at and someone had talked him into retrieving one of the ice chunks as it floated by. Which he was able to do without getting too wet, so we took turns getting our picture taken with a piece of ice.
The brewery was for the Alaskan beer we had at the Seattle airport comi…


The time line for the cruise is already getting blurred in my mind. I remember Glacier Bay National Park. Did you know we have a national park that is a huge bay surrounded by glaciers? It even has park rangers who were nice enough to join the cruise (they tool around in their own boat) while we were in the park. Most nights we dressed for dinner and had our picture taken. Part of the entertainment is to get your picture taken by the ship’s photographers and then try to find your picture among hundreds of others the next day when they were posted on these big boards. There were also live bands, comedians, gambling (when the ship is at sea, and you can gamble with your ship credit card) and just hanging around the ship kept us entertained. We were having a great time, but still welcomed the chance to get back on land when the ship docked for the first time at Skagway.
Skagway, as you might expect for a cruise ship port, has a lot of tourist shops, restaurants and bars. I understand the …

Janie's Big Rip

Dining on a cruise ship is one of the main events, so I guess it’s not surprising that there were lots of options on how and when you wanted to eat. With traditional dining, you dress up and eat at the same time and with the same people each night. We selected the “anytime dining” option when we booked the cruise. This means you still have to dress up (mostly), but you select what restaurant you want to eat at each night, and go when you want. Usually you’re seated with other “anytime” diners who just happened to arrive at the same time you did. That was the case for our first dinner on the ship.
We looked good. I couldn’t even remember the last time I wore a suit coat and tie to dinner, but it still fit. We were seated with three other couples, introduced ourselves and ordered drinks. Conversation was easy and we were both enjoying ourselves. Just like it was supposed to be. Then Janie had to sneeze. Of course, she knows the current best way to sneeze: you sneeze into your arm so you …

The Glacier Tour

There was plenty to do and eat while we waited for everyone to get on the ship. We found the work-out center. It was very well equipped with machines and free weights. It was the last time we would see it. There must’ve been a dozen bars and almost as many restaurants and cafeteria’s. We would eventually experience them all. Plus room service. Twice. There were multiple pools and several hot tubs, but it never really got warm enough for that to seem like a good idea. The one time we jumped in to one of the rearward pools (that would be the stern) we had it to ourselves. Could’ve been because it was midnight.
This boat is big enough that it came as a surprise when I realized we had actually pulled away from the dock. I was watching the shore guys cast off our anchor lines but then got distracted (had to find another beer). No tugboats. This ship can go sideways and backwards by itself. Probably steer it with a joystick. First chance I got, I would talk my way onto the bridge and see how…


Anchorage was fun, but after a couple of days we were ready to get on board the ship and do some cruising. Too bad cruise ships didn’t dock at Anchorage. No problem; the cruise people had arranged for a bus to take us and a couple thousand other people to Whittier, where the ship could dock.
You began to get an idea of how big this ship was by the size of the staging area for the bus trip to Whittier; they used a local convention center for collecting our luggage and assigning us to a bus. We were staying just a few blocks from the convention center, so we checked out that morning and walked down the street to see if we could get in early. It was already busy when we got there (apparently lots of people were ready to get started), but we didn’t have to wait long before they took our luggage and gave us a number for the bus.
Alaska is so scenic that even the bus trip to Whittier was amazing. It was only a couple of hours, but we stopped on the way to gawk at a glacier (the first of many)…


Bad boys, bad boys, whatcha gonna do, whatcha gonna do when they come for you?
When those lights show up in your rear-view mirror, you know you’re busted. But this time, I had no idea why. Honest officer.
Turns out my window tint was too dark for the front side windows. I didn’t even know there were laws about how dark my window tint should be. Since I bought if from a dealer, I figured maybe the officer was ticketing the wrong guy. Turns out I was wrong. There aren’t any laws about selling a truck with front side windows that are tinted too dark, just about driving that truck. That was me. I was driving the truck, so I was busted. I was a criminal. It would cost me $80.25 and I would need to remove the tint. The officer even offered up some tips on how to do that involving ammonia. Of course, I Googled it and he was right on all counts. My window tint was not only illegal in Iowa, but in every state of the union. To remove it, you should spray it with concentrated ammonia. I don’t thin…
Our Alaskan cruise was scheduled to leave from Whittier and end in Vancouver, so we had to fly to Anchorage to begin. We were unable to book the land package to Denali, so we just added a couple extra days in Anchorage. Besides, it would be too stressful to travel the same day the cruise ship left, even though their schedule would have allowed it. What if something went wrong and our flights got delayed?
So we get to airport at 5:00 in the morning for a 7:00 flight to Minneapolis to find out our flight was not delayed; it was cancelled. Not to worry, Delta already had us confirmed on a flight leaving the same time the next day. The next day? If we wanted to leave a day later we would have booked it then. Turns out we could get to Anchorage today, just not on Delta (bonus) and not through Minneapolis. So we flew through Chicago and Seattle and our flight to Chicago was leaving at 6:30. I see why they want you there two hours ahead of time.
In Seattle we had time to eat and disc…
The Race
We had planned a cruise of Alaska’s inside passage for our 25th wedding anniversary, and the time was near. It would be my first three week vacation since I started working for Rockwell 34 years ago, and I was pumped. The cruise part was only a week, so we had time to do some other stuff too. Like go see a friend of ours swim, bike, run a triathlon in the Detroit Lakes area of Minnesota and camp out at their lake side cabin. Sweet. Our tent was back on-line after we replaced the tent poles that were broken during a storm earlier. The tent was ready, but I wasn’t sure Janie would be. I guess she could sleep in the truck again if the need arose, but what were the chances we would get hit by anther storm? She wasn’t going to miss this race, so we hit the road.
The cabin turned out to be a nice property on a bluff over looking the lake. Plenty of room for a tent. I parked the truck close by just in case, but the weather was perfect. We all piled into their boat for a “booze cruise”…

Truck gets a GPS

The truck gets a GPS
It really started out to be just new speakers for the truck’s sound system. The radio was the factory original and, judging by the way they sounded, so were the four speakers mounted in the doors. Crutchfield had a speaker on sale that looked like it would work for this truck so I figured it was worth a try. Couldn’t sound any worse, or so I thought, and I was almost right.
The installation went smoothly. The door panels came off just like the directions from Crutchfield said they would. But after the four speakers were installed, only the right channel worked. Both the left front door and left rear door speakers were completely silent. The right side front and rear door speakers sounded great; much better than the original equipment, but not having a left channel was a bummer. I figured the original radio couldn’t handle the new speakers and blew an output transistor or something. Dang.
I knew replacing the radio was not going to be as easy as replacing the speakers…

The truck gets a checkup

I've never owned a diesel. I don't know anybody who owns a diesel. A friend of mine works on diesels, but they're the kind you crawl into the engine compartment to work on. When I bought the truck it had 28,000 miles on it and it had a sticker on the window that wanted me to change the oil at 31,000 miles. The owner's manual thought I should take it in to a Dodge dealer after 30,000 miles for some maintenance. The truck now has over 31,000 miles, so it was time. But first a wash and wax to get the truck ready for it's trip to the dealer. Then I made the call.
Thought I would start with an oil change and let the mechanic and the truck get acquainted (I called ahead to make sure they even had a diesel mechanic). They bonded while the mechanic (Chuck) changed the oil and made a list of stuff that it would need for the next 30,000 miles. Turns out big trucks require a special lube and gasket for the differentials (and I have a 4x4 so I have two differentials). $143 for …

The flamingo

So what's with the pink flamingo? Well, we thought a green one would be too weird. Besides, they only come in pink.
The flamingo has been hanging around in the backyard of our last house for years. It got planted in the backyard after the boys and I decided it would be the perfect Mother's day gift. Apparently Janie thought so too, because when it came time to downsize from the house to the apartment, it made the cut. That was after Gabe put in a bid for it. Popular bird for something I thought was destined for the landfill (even the recycling center wouldn't take it).
So the bird was moved to the apartment and even made the short list of things we would have to take with us in the RV. Light weight, quiet, no batteries, and it stays outside when we're parked. The perfect traveling companion.

Janie: I just needed to tell you the year I got the flamingo, John had convinced the kids that this flamingo was the end all and their mommy would be soooo excited. Now he knew very w…

The Visit

So we have a big truck, but nothing much to haul. After much pondering, lots of RV shows, and visiting a few RV dealers in our area, we have this idea that we would like to own a fifth wheel built by Peterson Industries called the Excel. Turns out that Peterson Industries is located in Smith Center, Kansas, and Smith Center is just South of Grand Island, Nebraska, where my brother-in-law Gary lives. The Excel web site said we could tour the factory if we wanted to. Sounded like a good excuse for a visit.
We load up the trusty tent and all the stuff we need for camping. I fill up the truck, and since I hadn't used the extended tank yet, I fill that too. $99, a new record. Turns out Cedar Rapids has the highest price for diesel in Iowa, Nebraska and Kansas. Who knew?
We find a nice campground in Grand Island that's right off the interstate. Maybe a little too close, since we could hear the interstate traffic at night. Be nice to have a fifth wheel to cut down on some of the noise,…

The Truck

Just to recap: we sold the house, said goodbye to a lot of our stuff, moved into a two bedroom, one bath condo, and purchased a truck. All this began as an exercise in preparing to haul a fifth wheel around the country as “full timers” also known as “homeless people with big trucks”. It's a really sweet 2007 Dodge Ram 3500 with the 5.9L Cummins diesel and dual rear wheels. It's a beast. You can tell because it sort of growls when it idles. This was the last year Dodge made the 5.9L diesel. By January of 2007, Dodge was putting their new bigger/better/cleaner diesel in their trucks to meet the federal standards for 2010. I figured they had worked out all the problems with 5.9L by then, plus the previous owner had installed an extended tank, added a trailer brake controller, step-up bars (it's a very big step up into the cab without them), bed liner and stuff I would have added to a new truck. And it was cheaper than the new 2009 version without all the added stuff.But the a…