Bill and Kit’s 2016 Excellent Adventure, Journal #6

Bill and Kit's Woody and Airstream-2015

Be careful going in search of adventure – it’s ridiculously easy to find

William Least Heat-Moon

 

Monday, January 4, 2016:  Up and on the road shortly before 1000 under cloudy skies and temperatures in the low 50’s.

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This morning we are leaving Las Vegas and heading down south to spend more time with my desert dwelling family in Tucson, and to participate in the celebration of a very important milestone.

A few weeks ago, Kit and I drove up from Arizona via US-93 which lies to the east of the Colorado River…..so just to be different and for a change in scenery, we decided to return by heading south on US-95 which lies to the west of the river.

About an hour later, we rolled across the border and entered the State of California and then crossed Route 66, a historic east/west roadway we have explored on previous Excellent Adventures.  As it began to lightly rain, we intersected I-40 and headed east crossing into Arizona near the town of Topock at 1300 hours.  At this point, we also entered the Arizona Mountain Time Zone (AMTZ), as opposed to the more common Mountain Time Zone (MTZ).  Why the difference?  Well, most of the state of Arizona does not observe Daylight Savings Time (DST).  So, why doesn’t Arizona go along with the rest of the country?  (Boy, you guys sure ask a lot of questions!)  Well, it just isn’t cool (pun intended)…..the last thing Arizona needs to conserve is daylight!  Especially during mid-summer as the temperature hovers around 110 degrees and most Arizonians do not need the sun beating down on them until late in the evening.  So back in 1968, the Arizona Legislature, in a near unanimous decision, voted to permanently opt out of daylight savings time.  However, the statement I like the best came from the Hopi native people of Northeastern Arizona:  “Only the white man’s government would be so stupid as to cut a foot off the top of a blanket, sew it onto the bottom, and think they have a longer blanket.”  Yep, pretty much sums it up!

Speaking of quotes, remember the one that graces this issues masthead?  (OK, I’ll wait while you go back and read it.)  Generally, the selected quote parallels the main storyline of the current issue or at the very least, compliments it…..this particular quote is spot on to the “adventure” we were about to experience.

After two weeks glamping (Google it if you must!) in Las Vegas, Kit and I decided that our next camping opportunity would be more rustic.  Which is more to our style anyway as we thoroughly enjoy National Parks, State Parks and the various municipal parks featured in many small towns across America.  So today we decided to head for Alamo Lake State Park which is located in west-central Arizona, 38 miles from the nearest town…..and when accessed from the north, down a rather long dirt road.

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Not a problem, we have drug our previous campers along many an unimproved road and this particular unit is built to handle the rough terrain…..to a point.

As Kit and I slowly rumbled along enjoying the rough but scenic ride, we noticed this area of Arizona is designated “open range land” and as such is the domain of more livestock than people.

 

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As we passed, many of the area’s residents stopped what they were doing and gazed at the crazy gringos pulling a house behind their truck.

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I carefully maneuvered the rig to the far side of the road to minimize any road rage confrontation, after all their horns were far bigger than the trucks!

Everything was going OK, even as the road started to get a bit rougher…..I just slowed the rig to a crawl remaining confident that Alamo Lake State Park would be just around the next corner.

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Soon, we started noticing a series of intersecting “roads”…..some that looked promising either narrowed to game trails or became way too rough to navigate safely.  Recovering from these “detours” resulted in some creative multipoint U-turns or very long retreats in reverse.

I should have taken that as a sign…..or i could have just as easily paid closer to this sign we spotted an hour ago!

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But, no…..that sign seemed more like a dare!

Stopping to take a bathroom break, we discovered that the camper can handle the rough terrain, but not so much the interior contents!

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That mess will have to wait until we get to our destination, which surely cannot be too much farther.  After all, we have been on this 38 mile dirt road for over three hours!

As the rig climbed to a higher elevation we could see water in the distance…..it just had to be Alamo Lake, right?  It appeared to be just a few miles down the hill and off to the right….just to the other side of a rather large wash!?!?  For those not familiar with that term, a wash (also known as an “arroyo” in the desert southwest) is a dry stream bed that can quickly fill with torrents of water during the rainy season and this particular wash already had a bit of water flowing through it…..and the darkening skies foreshadowed more rain!

Undeterred, I (notice the narrative has shifted from we to I, yep Kit has wisely decided this was now my project!) motored onward.  As the truck eased down the hill, all eight tires lost traction and we started sliding sideways…..Yikes!!  Fortunately the GM traction and sway control systems kicked in and straightened the rig out, thereby safely controlling our decent.  Gotta love modern automotive technology…..it sure saves one from their own stupidity!!

It was time to call the ranger at Alamo Lake State Park as Kit suggested…..an hour ago.  After telling him where we thought we were, he mentioned there was an easier way to get to the state park but the road we were on would lead there as well…..as long as you had a high clearance vehicle with four-wheel drive (Check!) and, weren’t towing anything larger than a small aluminum boat (Un-check!?!?).  Seems we would have to ford that water filled wash we had seen from the hill.  Since it was getting late, I asked about boon-docking right where we were.  The ranger confirmed that a rain storm was heading in from the west and would likely fill the wash with even more water so he highly suggested heading for higher ground.

So I did an about face, shifted the truck into four wheel drive and headed back up the hill we had just slid down.  It then began to rain, not only reducing visibility but also making the dirt road a bit greasier.  About half way up the hill, our tires began losing traction, the truck slowed, and I tried to keep momentum by feathering the throttle while the trucks traction control system once again came to the rescue by finding the best combination of speed and power to maintain forward progress.  Just when I thought we may be boon-docking on this hillside, the truck crept over the summit and back on somewhat level terrain….whew!

Heading back north, on the same road we were traveling a few hours ago, it started to rain even harder and the road became very muddy.

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At the next flat and wide spot on the road, we pulled over for the night as vultures began circling our bivouac sight.

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OK, there were no vultures, but there were coyote’s howling late into the night…..Kit was not a happy camper (pun intended)!

 

Tuesday, January 5, 2016:  Up at 0643 as the sun rose in the east on an otherworldly landscape…..Kit referred to our predicament as lost on the surface of the moon!

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It is a bit remote and isolated and desolate…..but possesses its own unique beauty.

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Last night was the darkest of any campsite so far on any of our Excellent Adventures…..too bad it was overcast as I bet the heavens would have provided a spectacular display!

To illustrate the remoteness of our wilderness camp spot, I captured the below image off of Google Maps.

Map-Lost in the Desert-1

Notice the lack of roads?  Most of the trails we were on didn’t even register on the GPS!  What was I thinking?  Kit would tell you that I wasn’t!  Oh, and that little blue area lower and to the right of our position was Alamo Lake…..oh so close!

Not wanting to tempt fate, we hit the (dirt) road and continued northerly.  Traveling along, we must have been right on the border between Pacific Time Zone and the Arizona Mountain Time Zone as the clock on the truck’s navigation screen kept flopping back and forth…..sorta like that episode of The Twilight Zone!?!?

A short time later, the sun rose above the clouds and brightly illuminated the road ahead.

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Near a roadside mountain range, I stopped to take a “hero photo” to capture our “Light at the End of the Tunnel” moment!

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Notice how dirty the truck and trailer is in the above photo?  There was mud caked everywhere…..even baked on the trucks exhaust pipe!

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Finally, at 0856, some 20 hours after we had last left it, we found the blacktop road that led back to I-40…..life is good!

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Well, that was a 124 mile trip to nowhere!  Kit and I (especially Kit) had more Excellent Adventure than we (she) could tolerate so we stuck to the blacktop road as we headed east before intersecting US-935 in the town of Kingman.  Since we made tracks (literally) before getting breakfast, we pulled into a Flying J Truck Stop for a hearty meal.

Breakfast after Lost in The Desert

Forgoing our plan to visit Alamo Lake State Park, even though Kit discovered an easier but longer road to the park from the south, we diverted south to Gila Bend, Arizona.  We found a nice camp spot for the evening at Luke Air Force Auxiliary Field.

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Gonna sleep well tonight!

 

Wednesday, January 6, 2016:  This remote Air Force base is on the edge of the Barry Goldwater Bombing Range…..oh boy, another adventure in the making.

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This base not only serves as a divert field for Luke Air Force Base up in Phoenix, but is also used for training pilots in high rick maneuvers and for loading munitions for active bombing practice…..oh, and as a repository for old retired military folks to spend the winter!?!?

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The base is so remote that the only potable water comes from individual Reverse Osmosis systems at each campsite.  However, discounting the jet noise, and the distant rumble from bombing the heck out of the desert, this is a rather peaceful place…..honest!

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Well, at least the price is right…..$10.00 for full hookups and a free laundromat!  In addition, there is a nice walking path complete with information signs explaining the terrain and vegetation, which Kit and I enjoyed.

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Breaking camp at mid-day, we pulled out and made our way onto I-8 heading east.

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In a few minutes we intersected I-10 which would take us to Tucson and by midafternoon found us pulling into Catalina State Park in picturesque Oro Valley.

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This very nice state park is nestled in the foothills of the Catalina Mountains and only a short distance from Tucson…..it has become one of our favorite Arizona State Parks!

After a nice meal and a refreshing nightcap we turned in to read before the howling coyotes lulled us to sleep.

 

Thursday, January 7 through Tuesday, January 12, 2016:  Catalina State Park, Tucson, AZ:  We returned to the Tucson area because not only is this where part of our western family resides but in addition there is a very important birthday celebration we wanted to attend.  Our sister-in-law’s mother, turned 100 years old on Sunday, January 10th!

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Emily, shown above with her daughters Bea and Jo, is a remarkable woman who pretty much lived independently until a few months ago.  She is alert, bright, and quick witted…..her stories of the things she has seen and done are thoroughly entertaining.  Family members came from Minnesota, Wisconsin and Colorado to help this outstanding woman celebrate her major milestone.

 

Emily-2014-1

Happy Birthday Emily!

 

This topsy-turvy weather pattern we have been experiencing has the weather guessers scratching their collective heads.  Global Warming has become Regional Warming as the entire northern tier of the US is indeed warmer than normal…..and in the warm, sunny, southwest we are experiencing Regional Cooling as evident by snow in the nearby Catalina Mountains!

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Regardless of how cool this area is, it is still warmer than most of the northern United States so for now we will stay put…..if things change then a trip deep into Mexico may be in order to seek out the warmth that we snowbirds deserve!

Speaking of traveling south of the border, I did accompany bruzzin Dewey into Nogales, Mexico one fine day.  Traveling south through the remote desert on the famed CANAMEX Highway was a surreal experience after the congestion of metropolitan Tucson.

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At the town of Nogales, Arizona, population 20,456 we crossed the international border with zero attention paid to us by the Mexican border agents…..

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…..and entered the city of Nogales, Mexico, population 212,532…..yep ten times larger!  And the population density is many times larger as well!!

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The two border towns have shared a symbiotic relationship since the very early days of their existence.

Nogalas Border 1900

The photo above was taken in the early 1900’s and shows just a strip of vacant land separating the two nations…..today there is a substantial fence.

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Notice the graffiti that sez:  “You Can’t Trump Our Fence”?  OK I made that up…..sorry, the election silly season is getting to me.  Actually the portion of the fence that I could see was devoid of vandalism, unlike the US side.

It seems strange that what appears as a thin line on a map is a barrier that one can thread through and enter another country to experience its unique culture and traditions.  Bordering the border there are many stores, small business and eating establishments on both sides.

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Nogales, Mexico is a cosmopolitan city with major factories and medical practices that cater to the US population who acquire products or obtain medical and dental care.

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Walking away from the tourist areas, one senses the true character of the Mexican people.  Everyone we met was happy and courteous, interested in where we were from and what it was like north of the border.   Along the back streets, one is likely to bump into a famous resident…..such as the infamous El Guppy.

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Following El Guppy’s dental work, we made our way back to the border and endured the surly Border Patrol folks that seem to staff many of these crossings……many of these folks need some human curtesy training!

Heading back toward Tucson, we detoured through the small village of Tumacacori and stopped at Wisdom’s…..a legendary Mexican Restaurant.

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Among the many delicious authentic Sonoran dishes they feature are a few items original to Wisdom’s.  One such specialty is called a Fruit Burrito…..a flour tortilla wrapping various fresh fruit and deep fried before being rolled in cinnamon sugar.

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Yep, it’s as good as it looks!

Back at El Guppy’s hacienda we were treated to a fine meal and drinks by Senorita Beatrice, before Kit and I returned to the campground for the evening.

Every morning at Catalina State Park was a different display of Mother Nature’s best as the sun peeked over the Catalina Mountains…..on clear days the shafts of sunshine were dazzling, and on overcast days, it was far more brooding and dramatic!

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IYep, that’s the sun trying to penetrate the clouds…..not the moon!  Also entertaining us around the campsite were these little guys!

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Contrary to their name, I never witnessed one actually running down the road, or come to think of it, a coyote sprinting off a high cliff, or an anvil appearing out of nowhere to follow the hapless coyote to the ground…..guess that only happens in cartoons.  However, I was able to get real close to this fellow as he mined the earth for his breakfast.

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There were also lizards, bunny’s and coyotes about…..the first two were way too fast to capture on film, and the last one only made their presence known after sunset.

My two brothers live in Tucson, and one of the highlights of our stay every year is to share time, experiences, and meals with them.

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My family tree is a bit convoluted…..actually it’s shaped more like a telephone pole!  However, I consider both these guys my brothers and love them very much!

Catalina State Park has an extensive multiuse trail system that is very well marked and leads to some incredible backcountry scenery.  On a few occasions, I took my bike out on these trails to explore the terrain.

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Consisting of mostly double-track, these well maintained trails have very little elevation gain but do feature some interesting creek crossings.

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Fortunately the creek beds were rock free, hard packed, and fairly shallow.  Other than getting my boots wet, they were a fairly easy crossing by bike, or horse…..did I mention this was a multiuse trail?

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Whenever I encountered an equestrian, I would slow, pull to the side of the trail, and let the animal and rider pass…..this courtesy was frequently acknowledged by the rider, which was nice.  However, there were a number of ‘road apples” left on the trail by the well fed horses…..why aren’t they required to carry blue bags on the trail like responsible dog owners do????

Well, it’s time to leave Catalina State Park and relocate to another campground south of Tucson…..stay tuned!

Kit’s Bit’s:

The highlight of this part of our visit in Tucson was Emily’s 100th Birthday!  Such a delightful party for a beautiful woman!  Your daughters, Bea and Jo, are so fortunate to have you!

So, on our little Alamo Lake adventure, Bill forgot two important incidents.  Towards the “sliding down the hill” thing, twice, we had to cross piles of big boulders!  He must have thought we were driving a Jeep or something, because we just rumbled over them like it was nothing!  I was prepared to roll into a ball to survive, had we tumbled over on our side.  I had no clue as to how we could be rescued, had it happened.  The landscape out there made me think of the Mars Rover, “Curiosity”, which we know a bit about from Bill’s cousin Donny, in York, PA.  Seriously, though, camping out in the boonies for the night was awesome!  I loved it!

Bill and Kit’s 2016 Excellent Adventure, Journal #5

Bill and Kit's Woody and Airstream-2015

Our deeds still travel with us from afar,

and what we have been makes us what we are.

George Eliot

 

Note:  This week our humble website, www.bilnkit.com, blew past the 100,000 hits milestone with a readership of over 200 folks!?!?  Hard to believe that what started life seven years ago as a Word document attached to an e-mail could mature in such a way!  Kit and I are as confused at why these journals remain popular as I’m sure some of you are.  Thanks to everyone for your continued encouragement, support, and comments as we document our experiences while meandering about this great country…..we value each and every one of you!

 

Tuesday, December 22, 2015 through Sunday, January 3, 2016-Las Vegas, Nevada:  Kit and I enjoyed a great two weeks in town with our Las Vegas family.

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Suzie and Kevin, with Jack, age 11, and Tucker age 8, have lived in the city of lights for years, and thoroughly enjoy the excitement and opportunities of the area.  Both grandsons are smart, inquisitive and active…..they are a joy to be around.  In fact, had we know that grandchildren would be so much fun…..we would have had them first!

As in the past couple of years, we have set up camp at Oasis RV Resort, a short distance from the kid’s home in South Las Vegas.

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This humongous 805 site RV Park features everything one could want in a destination campground, including a large luxury hotel style reception center and lobby that contains a store, café, ballroom and lounge area.

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Just outside this centralized complex is a beautifully landscaped area with a kid’s pool complete with a beach sand area, multiple waterfalls, an adult pool and spa.

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The weather was a bit cooler than normal for this time of the year, but that didn’t prevent the boys from spending many hours in the large heated pool.

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Surrounding the complex is an 18-hole putting course that Jack, Tucker and I tried our hand at.

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We made up our own rules, sometimes on the fly, and “tried” to keep the golf balls from straying into the RV Park itself.

As mentioned, the weather was sunny but cool, in fact on Christmas day it was colder in Las Vegas than at our home in Maine!?!?

Speaking of Christmas, we had a great time taking the boys shopping so they could buy gifts for their parents as well as for each other.  In addition, an annual tradition is for Kit and I to give them a set amount and turn them loose for a personal shopping spree.  It is fun watching as they fill their shopping baskets and try to squeeze the most out of their available funds.  We then brought their chosen Christmas gifts back to the camper, wrapped them up, and brought them over on Christmas morning.  Not sure what they like better…..the anticipation of waiting for a present they personally selected or the anticipation of waiting to see what Santa may have brought them.

On a number of evenings, we enjoyed having Jack and Tucker sleepover in the camper with us where they preferred to make their beds on the La-Z-Boy recliners.

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Every morning, the boys were the first to awaken and they made a beeline for our bed to snuggle under the quilt and talk about the plans for the day.  The first order of business was, of course, breakfast!

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Kit did a wonderful job grilling a huge pile of pancakes and a bunch of bacon……hungry Jack loved the Hungry Jack syrup, by the way.

The rest of the day was spent at the clubhouse, or in the pool, or riding their bikes and scooters around the park.

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All the outdoor activity, usually wore them out…..here I’m feigning sleep so young Tucker doesn’t wake up.

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Kevin was off work the second week we were in town, so they boys rightfully wanted to spend some time with their father.  This provided Kit and I the opportunity to mosey around town and shop for necessities and camper supplies…..or to just relax on the pool deck with a good book.

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One Vegas attraction I wanted to revisit was the Shelby Heritage Center at their new location south of the strip.

Shelby Heritage Center, Photo #1

Carroll Shelby is an American automobile icon.  He started his automotive career after serving as a pilot in the US Army Air Corp during World War II.

Carroll Shelby-1964

After mustering out, Carroll began racing various high performance sports cars and racked up a series of wins leading to the Sports Illustrated Driver of the Year in 1955…..however his crowning achievement was winning the 24 hour at Le Mans in 1959.  In the early 1960’s Carroll developed his own sports car using a rolling chassis from the British automaker AC Ace and marrying it with a racing engine from Ford Motor Company.

Shelby Heritage Center, Photo #3a

The above photo is AC Cobra #1, the most valuable car that Carroll Shelby ever built, currently estimated at 26 Million dollars!  And that’s in “survivor” condition…..in other words, not restored!

Shelby Heritage Center, Photo #4a

Notice the tattered upholstery in the photo above, Carrol maintained ownership of this car throughout his life and expressly stated that it never be restored but left as is…..a testimony of the roots of his company.  This one-off racing sports car drew a lot of attention from the motoring press of the day.  Whenever Carrol shipped the car out for a magazine review and road test he painted it a different color, thereby giving the illusion that he had a stable of these magnificent cars.

Note the gentleman in the photo above…..his name is Jim King and he was our guide for the very informative and highly entertaining tour of the Shelby Heritage Center.  Jim, a retired engineer form Ford Motor Company and a lifelong Ford Racing enthusiast, wove Shelby historical information with his own experience with Ford and Shelby American Motor Company.  Jim gave a brief synapsis of the linage of the company through the historical automobiles that were on display.

Shelby Heritage Center, Photo #5

After viewing the museum cars, Jim led us onto the factory floor where we were able to observe the manufacturing of the newest sports cars.

Shelby Heritage Center, Photo #7a

Yep, the AC Cobra is still being manufactured, one at a time in this relatively small automotive plant in Las Vegas!  The cars shown under black are customer’s automobiles being readied for shipment and delivery.  They are kept under cover for protection and to ensure the new customer’s first glimpse of their six figure car isn’t on Facebook!

Shelby American also creates highly modified Ford Mustang’s…..some boasting horsepower ratings of 1000 HP!!  A barely street legal racing machine!!

Shelby Heritage Center, Photo #2

Some of these 2016 Mustangs, modified by Shelby American, have an MSRP of $250,000.00 each…..yep, a quarter million dollars!?!?

In addition, the factory will restore any previously built Shelby automobile for the old car enthusiast…..such as the line of famous 1965 Mustang GT350’s shown below…..the one closest to the camera is a GT-350R, the rarest of the rare!

Shelby Heritage Center, Photo #8

Shelby American also modifies Ford F-150 Pickup trucks, tweaking the engine to an unbelievable 700 horsepower!

Shelby Heritage Center, Photo #9

If you ever find yourself in Vegas, make it a point to visit the Shelby Heritage Center, it’s free and a very enjoyable experience for the auto enthusiast.

During our stay, we received word that two friends from San Diego were in town for the holiday.

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Joanne and Ron were staying in a hotel on the strip so we gathered up the boys and headed downtown.

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After visiting in the lobby for a while, we all went to the casinos video game parlor where Joanne treated Jack and Tucker to a series of plays on the various machines.

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They had a blast and ended up winning a number of additional plays!  Joanne is a childhood friend of Kit and mine that we had lost track of for over fifty years.  Fortunately due to some skillful sleuthing by Kit, we reconnected last year and are looking forward to spending even more time with them when we visit our old hometown next month.

The main reason for our being in Vegas this time of the year is to spend Christmas with our two youngest grandchildren and their parents.  Kit and I were woken very early Christmas morning by a series of texts from the grands imploring us to get up, get dressed, and get over to their home…..Santa had visited!

As we rolled out of the campground before daybreak, I spotted a full moon.

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Dubbed “The Christmas Moon”, this rather rare pairing of the holiest of days with a major celestial event hasn’t occurred in almost 40 years, and will not be repeated for many a moon (pun intended)!

Arriving at the house, the kids patiently posed for a photo……

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…..before tearing into their gifts

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Even though it was colder today than at our home in Maine, we had a roaring digital fire on the large screen to help ward off the virtual chill in the air.

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The boys made quick work of opening all their presents and then took to playing with them for the remainder of the day, interrupted only by an excellent holiday meal.  Kit and I thoroughly enjoyed sharing Christmas day with our Vegas family.

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A large part of our two week stay was devoted to spending time with the family and especially Jack and Tucker.  We took them on walks, to the bookstore, out to lunch, and also just watched them interact with each other and their friends during their daily activities…..it was a blast!

A sad occurrence marred this otherwise joyous holiday period.  One of the families two Cavalier King Charles Spaniels took ill and later passed.

Rosie

Rosie was nine years old and was loved by his immediate family, friends and neighbors, as well as Kit and I…..RIP Rosie, you were a good dog and you will be missed.

The day before the kids had to return to school, and Kit and I were scheduled to depart, we all met at the Silverton Casino for a fantastic Sunday brunch.

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Rated as one of the best on the strip, the menu was extensive, the service first rate and the food excellent!

The Silverton is connected to a huge Bass Pro Shops store and an excellent source for rugged clothing and outdoor gear.

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While hunting for some shirts, I noticed a strange aquatic creature in the large fresh water aquarium that was a centerpiece of the store.

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Wondering if mermaids were in season, I was dissuaded by a security person from grabbing one of the display fishing poles and trying my luck.

Couldn’t locate Kit to tell her the tale of the fish that got away, then she texted me to turn around as I stood close by and I eventually picked her out amongst the woodland camouflaged recliner.

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Before closing out this episode of Bill and Kit’s 2016 Excellent Adventure, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the rest of our family back home in Maine.

Our eldest daughter Kim, shown below with her son Joe, watches over the family home while Kit and I take off gallivanting about the country.

Thanksmas 2015 (9)

Joe works as an apprentice sailmaker during the winter and a whitewater river guide over the summer months.  His sweet girlfriend Abby works for the local humane society…..she and their playful pup Mosey are welcome and frequent guests in our home.

Thanksmas 2015 (6)

Joe and Abby have recently acquired an historic 185 year old farmhouse they are slowly bringing back to life with the goal of moving in soon.  They are accomplishing much of the work themselves and are learning a great deal about old house restoration!

Our son Joe and his family, Ann, Katie and Chris live an hour away in a home that Joe mostly built himself on eighteen acres of wooded land.

Thanksmas 2015 (7)

Katie attends college in New York where she plays Division One Lacrosse and Chris is a high school student-athlete in his own right.

Katie’s longtime boyfriend Jimmy is on Sabbatical from college in New York and is currently in Prague, teaching English as a second language for the semester.  He is a frequent guest at our home and, during the summer at the family camp.

Thanksmas 2015 (5)

We were pleased to host all our Maine (no pun intended) family at our annual Thankmas celebration and were able to say our goodbyes before leaving on this adventure.

As many of you know, I’m a hobbyist woodworker.  And for many years I have handmade Christmas gifts for our grandchildren until they “age out” at eighteen years old.  Well, our grandson Joe has taken up the hobby and this year he turned some beautiful wood pens for members of the family.

Thanksmas 2015 (1)

It is nice knowing that the family basement workshop will be productive during the long spells we are on the road!

As the sun sets on our final day in Vegas, Kit and I are truly blessed that we have great kids; fantastic grandkids and wonderful friends.

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We hope everyone had a very Merry Christmas and enjoy a prosperous and healthy New Year!

Tomorrow we once again hit the road, and the destination is sure to be both enjoyable and poignant……stay tuned!

Kit’s Bit’s:  We have been so fortunate to be able to spend the holiday break with our two youngest grandsons the last few years.  Watching them grow and change is amazing!  Jack has become so interested in school, and loves reading and video games.  We took him to Barnes and Noble and I bought him a HUGE Star Wars book which he loves!  Tucker, on the other hand, is much more active and can’t be bothered with sitting “still” for any length of time.  He’s always up for anything active!  For Christmas, he received a Tuxedo!  He was thrilled!  He now loves to wear it; or the vest and tie over a white shirt most of the time.  He loves to make funny faces, especially for the camera!  Just like his mom did when she was younger!  We have very few pictures of Suzie as a child, with a straight face.  We love watching both these kids as they grow and develop and exhibit some of the same traits as their parents and other family members.

 

Bill and Kit’s 2016 Excellent Adventure, Journal #4

Bill and Kit's Woody and Airstream-2015

Traveling is a brutality. It forces you to trust strangers and to lose sight of all that familiar comfort of home and friends. You are constantly off balance. Nothing is yours except the essential things – air, sleep, dreams, the sea, and the sky – all things tending towards the eternal or what we imagine of it.

Cesare Pavese

 

Monday, November 30, 2015:  Previously on Bill and Kit’s Not So Excellent Adventure, our traveling duo were holed up in the West Texas town of Van Horn while dealing with an ailing truck and faced with a long slow drive to the nearest Chevrolet dealer in El Paso, Texas.

Well, last night there was a significant amount of time devoted to online reading of various diesel truck forums for information on similar problems.  It appears that a fresh helping of diesel fuel and topping off the Diesel Exhaust Fluid (DEF) tank, basically a transfusion of sorts, may sometimes fix a problem similar to ours.

At 0745, under brightening skies and warming temperatures, Kit and I drove out of Mountain View RV Park and made tracks for the nearest fuel station…..and, the pumps weren’t working!  So down the main drag we limped in the hopes of finding fresh life blood for the engines circulatory system (like the biologic metaphors?).

At the west end of town, which is clearly visible from the east end of town…..yep, it’s that small, we found diesel!  After topping off the fuel and DEF tanks, the truck did seem to run better however the Check Engine Light was still illuminated.  Pulling onto I-10 and heading west, Kit and I were pleased that the truck was back to full power effectively reducing our expected four hour drive to an hour and a half.

2015-12-17, Photo #26

Within a few minutes, humming along to Willy’s “On the Road Again” we crossed into the Mountain Standard Time Zone.  We maintained normal speed for the duration of the trip…..well, except for the stop at a Border Patrol checkpoint, but after a few questions by the agent we were on our way once again.

As Kit and I neared El Paso, she called the military campground at Fort Bliss and secured a spot for the next few days, and I called Viva Chevrolet on the Bluetooth connected phone to explain our dilemma.  Stacy, the service advisor, said to come on in when we got settled at Fort Bliss and she would put us in the repair queue.

After dropping and setting up the camper at Fort Bliss, Kit decided to veg (do laundry) at camp while I drove the truck four miles to the dealer.  Stacy was wonderful and very understanding of our plight that we were just passing through and needed quick attention.  She put us ahead of other repair jobs and arranged the use a loaner car for the duration of our stay.

With the truck in good hands I drove the Chevy Equinox, a nice little car by the way, back to the campground.

2015-12-17, Photo #27

It’s been a rather long couple of days, so we just hung around the campsite, relaxed with glass of wine and an excellent camper-cooked meal, then turned in early to read…..zzzzzzzz!

 

Wednesday, December 16 and Thursday, December 17, 2015-Fort Bliss, El Paso, Texas:  On past cross country trips this city has usually been a multi-day stop for us anyway as we make our way to the left coast…..but with the truck in the hospital it may be a longer stay than normal.  The Fort Bliss RV Park provides a perfect opportunity to do laundry, visit the Post Exchange and Commissary for supplies and ready the truck and trailer for the next leg of the trip.  It is a nice military campground with lower overnight fees than most, they even offer discounts for National Park Senior Pass holders!

Around mid-morning I received a call from my new friend Stacey at Viva Chevrolet.

WARNING—–Lots and lots of technical verbiage follows…..if this stuff makes your eyes glaze over, kindly skip the next four paragraphs!

Stacey relayed that the diesel service technician had run a series of diagnostic checks and noticed a Trouble Code (TC) that had been logged in the Engine Management System (EMS) which set the Check Engine Light (CEL) on the dash.  (Hey, I warned you thinks were about to get overly technical!).  The EMS is basically the computer processor that manages and monitors all aspects of the engine and drive train.  The TC indicated that the trucks Diesel Particulate Filter (DPF) had become partially clogged with soot either due to bad fuel, bad Diesel Exhaust Fluid (DEF) or a malfunctioning part……It was basically FUBAR!

Modern diesel engines create more horsepower, produce greater torque, and emit far less pollutants than in the past.  Part of the technology that makes this so, is Selective Catalytic Reduction (SCR) which reduces the inherently dirty diesel exhaust into less harmful nitrogen and water vapor while maintaining the power and fuel economy diesel engines are known for.  A component of this process is injecting DEF into the exhaust stream.  DEF, just like modern gasoline and diesel fuel, has a specific length of time that it remains effective, a “shelf life”…..and out of date DEF  creates a SNAFU.

Even though they were able to reset the trouble code and the truck appeared to be running normally, the tech recommended some preemptive maintenance since the truck was still under warranty.

The sole “component part” that could have caused the problem was the DEF Injector, and even though it tested “good”, they decided to replace it anyway.  Next, not be content to see if the EMS would force an automatic Regeneration (Regen) procedure they used a GM scan tool to force a manual Regen to clean out the DPF.  A Regen is basically a normal procedure required of a modern diesel engine that periodically cooks off any soot captured in the DPF by using extremely high exhaust heat.

Note—–If you skipped the previous four chapters than here is a synopsis:  “The go thingie under the hood was misbehaving and now it’s good”.

Viva Chevrolet wanted to hang on to the truck and rerun it through the complete battery of tests to ensure there weren’t any other issues.  Not a problem, Kit and I appreciate their conscientiousness and we still have the loaner…..which was used to make a run on the Post Exchange.

Kit and I travel with a fair amount of technology and among those devices is a couple of iPads.  Mine is fairly new, but Kit’s is a few years old and every iOS update causes it to run slower and slower.  So it was time for an upgrade…..and the Post Exchange had a large variety of iPads with great prices!

2015-12-17, Photo #28

You can tell by the smile on her face that she is now one happy camper (pun intended)!

Kit and I have tried to stay fit while on the road, mainly by tracking our steps with a FitBit.  In addition to our normal daily steps, we both enjoy walking around our newest location to see where everyone hails from and to scout out the various types and styles of RV’s folks use to travel in.  On one of these walks about the campground, I heard a low rumble from skyward and noticed this strange looking beast slowly moving across the sky.

2015-12-22, Photo #1

A quick check on my phone with Professor Google identified it as a B-377-SGT, known as the Super Guppy.  These small planes with an expanded fuselage were manufactured fifty years ago by converting existing Boeing-377 Stratocruiser’s.  They were engineered and built by an American manufacture solely for transporting oversized cargo.

Photo from Google Images

Photo from Google Images

Of the five original Super Guppy’s, only one remains flying, is based out of El Paso, and is used by NASA for moving large space components about the country.

Late yesterday afternoon, Stacey from Viva Chevrolet called and said that the truck was ready…..so off I went.  Before leaving the dealership, I was able to talk to the diesel service tech and get a better understanding of the care and feeding (pun intended) of our new truck.  At this point, I have to mention the wonderful and professional service by Viva Chevrolet…..in my opinion they are one of the best!  Also, so GM doesn’t get negatively called out by my experience, a quick search of the internet shows that all diesel powered cars and trucks can, and do, have problems with their emission control systems from time to time……gotta watch the age and quality of the DEF used!

It has been a great stay at Fort Bliss, as we were able to get the truck back in top running order, do a little shopping, and relax a bit as well.  Tomorrow we head to Tucson for a quick visit with my bruzzin and my sister-in-law!

 

Tuesday, December 15, 2015:  Pulled out of the campground at Fort Bliss, Texas at 0825 hours under sunny skies and a temperature of 32 degrees.  Yikes…..it’s warmer back home in Maine where their temperature is a balmy 48 degrees?!?!  Can’t go much farther south without crossing the border into Juarez, Mexico so we’ll have to continue west in the hopes that the temperatures will rise at some point.

Back on I-10 and the truck is running great.  Within the hour Kit and I crossed the border into New Mexico and pulled off at a roadside rest for breakfast and our second cup of morning coffee.

Back underway we came to our second Border Control checkpoint of this trip, but certainly not our last.

2015-12-22, Photo #2

The agent was professional and friendly…..a marked improvement from the universal surliness of agents a number of years ago.  He asked the basic questions, noticed my veteran’s plate and thanked me for my service, then quickly got us on our way.

At 1120 we crossed the Continental Divide and an hour later we entered the great state of Arizona.

2015-12-22, Photo #4

Stopping at a roadside stand in Bowie, Kit picked up some pecans and jerky to add to our Truck Snack collection.  What are truck snacks?  Well, funny you should ask because I was just about to mention them.  Truck snacks, or “toddler snacks” as our daughter Kim refers to them, are a large bag of goodies that we carry in the truck and keep supplied.  Truck snacks frequently come in handy when hunger strikes and we either can’t stop or don’t want to take the time to pull over for a more formal meal.

Kit and I have noticed more and more roadside rest areas have been closed, presumably as a budget cutting measure.  One of our favorites in Texas Canyon was shuttered for the first time…..sad.  Of course we tow our own “rest area” and only have to pull off onto a wide spot in the road to, um, rest.  But the majority of the traveling public does not have that luxury.

Cruising along on Arizona’s I-10 just to the east of Benson, we abruptly came to a crawl.  Yet another group of knuckleheads decided to play bumper cars on the nation’s highways.  This mishap closed one of the two travel lanes right near an interchange with a state highway.  Not sure how folks figured that by exiting the interstate, crossing the highway, and reentering the interstate a few hundred yards further on down would benefit anyone, but many folks attempted it, thereby creating a few more lanes and further clogging traffic.  One long haul trucker became agitated and used his rig to block two of the impromptu lanes much to the satisfaction of the more courteous and sane drivers.

Finally back up to speed we mixed it up with Tucson bound traffic on our way to Dewey and Bea’s place north of the city.  At 1615 we were backing into their spacious driveway, hooking up to their 30 Amp RV outlet, and setting up for what will certainly be an enjoyable two day visit.

2015-12-22, Photo #9

Dewey and Bea had been invited to a friend’s Christmas party on the night we arrived.  When these friends found out we were in town they invited us as well.  Kit and I had a nice time visiting and celebrating with a great group of folks!

 

Saturday, December 19 and Sunday, December 20, 2015-Tucson, Arizona:  This trip through Tucson was to be relatively short as we want to make it up to Las Vegas and spend Christmas with our youngest daughter and her family.  We made the most out of the time we had by visiting and reminiscing about the past while enjoying some great home cooked food, and a few meals at some of our favorite dining establishments.

Tucson was one of the incubators for the now nationwide “food truck” phenomenon.  In the early days, these parking lot entrepreneurs were primarily Mexican’s who grilled authentic “south of the border” cuisine using traditional methods and ingredients.  As the food trucks became popular, the owners had kinfolks open business at other locations, and at some point the more popular operations opened formal restaurants.  A favorite food truck of Dewey and Bea’s, and now ours, is Aqui Con El Nene.

2015-12-22, Photo #5

Operating out of a cargo trailer in a parking lot near the Flowing Wells part of the city, El Nene’s as it’s known, is one of the best sources for authentic food made in the Sonoran style.

2015-12-22, Photo #6

We generally order their signature Sonoran Hot Dog, but on this trip we were persuaded to try the Carne Asada Torta!

2015-12-22, Photo #8

It was incredible!  If you’re ever in Tucson, find your way to the corner of Wetmore and Flowing Wells, and order one of everything on the menu…..you can thank me later!

It seems odd to view Christmas decorations while wearing summer attire but that is Arizona!  One of the better lighting displays on a private residence is nearby Dewey and Bea’s house.

Tucson Christmas House

According to them, this place gets bigger and better every year and the festive display starts materializing shortly after Thanksgiving.

In addition to Dewey and Bea, there are three other residents of the house, and they love to check out the neighborhood.

2015-12-22, Photo #10b

Nile, Kali and Pillito enjoy exploring the hood with Bea, and I was invited along for the outing.  After excitedly sniffing about and “marking their territory” (the dogs, not me!) they walked patiently on leash for the hour we were out.

At one neighbor’s yard the dog’s spotted a colony of Leafcutter Ants.

2015-12-22, Photo #11

This species of ant can form one of the most complex societies on earth, second only to humans.  Their vast interconnected colonies are only visible above ground by the large cone of tailings that surround the excavation site.  So, how do Leafcutter’s gain their name?

Photo from Google Images

Photo from Google Images

Yep, the foragers cut chunks of leaves and carry them back to the nest where they’re added to an active fungus garden for use by the colony.  A large group of productive Leafcutters can strip a fruit tree of its leaves in 24 hours!

Kit and I spent the better part of the two days in Tucson visiting with these two wonderful people.

2015-12-22, Photo #12

Bea is a fantastic cook and she fed us well!  The weather was nice enough that we enjoyed some of our meals in their beautiful desert garden.  Can you tell how content Kit is?

2015-12-22, Photo #13

And Bill?

2015-12-22, Photo #14

Kit and I love basking in the Arizona sun, visiting with Dewey, Bea, and Brother Dan, while drinking Margaritas and watching the sun sink into the western sky.

2015-12-22, Photo #15

Tomorrow we hit the road for Las Vegas and Christmas with our youngest daughter and her family……goodnight.

 

Monday, December 21, 2015:  Up and on the road by 0623 under partly cloudy skies and a predawn temperature of 37 degrees.  Jumped on I-10 heading west and skirted the City of Phoenix by way of the Bob Stump Memorial Highway.

2015-12-22, Photo #16

Needing fuel, we stopped into a Love’s Truck Stop just north of the city…..wanting to gain speed on this travel day, the shortest day of the year by the way, I investigated filling up with 115 octane racing fuel.

2015-12-22, Photo #17

As it turns out, racing fuel is very high octane gasoline and sold only for non-highway purposes.  To economize on the number of fuel islands, this truck stop provides racing fuel pumps in the same island as RV diesel.  I’m guessing this is so the folks that drag their high powered sand buggies to the surrounding desert have a convenient place to obtain fuel to power the beasts and the vehicles that tow them.

On US-60 Kit and I continued to the northwest, pausing for a “walk around break” in the little town of Wikieup, Arizona.

2015-12-22, Photo #22

Where we found an old fashioned trading post to park the rig and peruse the numerous tchotchkes and western wear.

2015-12-22, Photo #19

We bumped into this nefarious character wearing an authentic western cowpoke tchotchke chapeau.

2015-12-22, Photo #20

Yep, you are so correct…..I successfully merged four different cultural expressive words into that last sentence!

Back underway, we intersected I-40 which took us to Kingman, Arizona where we jumped over to US-93 North…..the future corridor of the new Interstate 11, if the feds ever build it.

2015-12-22, Photo #18

Around noon we crested Coyote Pass before descending the Black Mountains and slowly returning to the desert floor.

2015-12-22, Photo #18b

An hour later, while nearing Boulder City, we were instructed by electronic signs to move over to the left lane before attempting to cross the Pat Tillman Bridge.  At 840 feet above the Colorado River and prone to high winds, this recommendation seemed prudent.

2015-12-22, Photo #23

At 1300 we crossed the river, entered the Pacific Time Zone and the state of Nevada.  Stopping for our final break of the day at one of the outlying casinos, Kit and I enjoyed lunch while viewing the expansive landscape that surrounds Lake Mead.

2015-12-22, Photo #24

Back underway and about an hour later the skyline of Las Vegas came into view.

2015-12-22, Photo #25

We stopped at our daughter’s home in south Vegas for a surprise visit, before finding our way to Oasis RV Park…..our home for the next two weeks.

2016-01-03, Photo #1

Kit and I are looking forward to spending Christmas and New Years with Suzie, Kevin, Jack and Tucker and have many things planned with our two youngest grandsons during their winter break from school.

Before I close this issue of Bill and Kit’s 2016 Excellent Adventure, there are a few additional items I would like to mention.

First, today is the Winter Solstice…..supposedly the shortest day of the year.  Well, it aint!  I checked……today has exactly twenty-four hours in it just like every other day of the year!

Second, as you may know I’m a gadget nut and here are a couple of gadgets I’ve picked up this year to enhance our traveling safety and experience:

First is a temperature meter to measure the heat output of truck and trailer brakes, hubs, rims and tires after a sustained period of driving.

Temp Meter

Over temperature of any these components could lead to catastrophic failure and an accident, so I generally check the temperatures with this simple device at every stop.

Next, a plugin digital voltmeter to check campground power is in the normal range of 114 VAC to 126 VAC.

2015-12-05, Photo #21

This devise plugs into any standard outlet and helps minimize the potential of damage to sensitive electronics by verifying the supplied voltage is within normal ranges.

And last, but not least, here is this year’s Maine Christmas Wreath proudly affixed to the rear of our camper.

2015-12-10, Photo #46

Where it will remain until it transitions form lush green to desert beige, to highly combustible…..only then do Kit and I know we have truly arrived in the sunny and dry southwest.

 

Kit’s Bit’s:  Quite a learning experience we’ve had with the DEF thing.  As frustrating as it was, (more for Bill, than me), I was very thankful it happened out here on a very long straight stretch of highway.  Going 30 MPH along the shoulder as the other traffic whizzes by at 80 MPH can be a bit unnerving.  However, I was so thankful we weren’t on the Jersey Pike!  Imagine how frightening that would have been!  All in all, it was a good learning experience.  Good thing Bill is so patient with this stuff!  Other than a few questions or comments, I just kept my mouth shut.  Had I been in charge, I would have just called AAA and been done with it.  Of course, it would help if we had AAA, which we don’t.