Monday, June 27, 2016

Madison Wisconsin to Sudbury Ontario

If all went as planned, this would be our last day on the road for this trip. We were down for the hotel breakfast when it opened at 6:00 AM. This time, they had little omelets and hash browns in addition to the usual fare.

We set out at 6:30 amid heavy Monday morning rush hour traffic. The GPS started giving me some strange directions, so I zoomed out and saw that it was routing me home via Thunder Bay and the north shore of Lake Superior. Once I turned off the avoidance for toll roads, things started looking more normal and we navigated the combination of highways around Madison towards Oshkosh.

Our rally organizer was still in our minds

Sun effects

US 151 took us northeast past Beaver Dam, where we saw another Culver's "Thank You, Farmers" barn. Then we took Wisconsin 26 as a shortcut to US 41. On the way, we stopped in Rosendale for fuel. You know you are in farm country when they have separate pumps for On-Road and Off-Road diesel fuel. The difference is in the taxes.

Pick your diesel

US 41 was under heavy construction through Oshkosh and Green Bay. Then things got better as we moved further north. gosh!!

Oshkosh is all about airplanes

Someone wasn't having a good morning

Just outside Appleton

Finally clear of the morning traffic

Green Bay (the bay, not the city)

We made a stop at a McDonald's in Marinette before crossing the Michigan border. I commented to the staff that they need a sign indicating that their thoughtful pull-through parking spaces were for oversize vehicles. When we arrived, every one was occupied by car drivers who had no appreciation of the challenges facing those in RV's or those towing trailers.

Cars were using all these spaces when we arrived

Crossing into Michigan, we took M-35 along the shore line to Escanaba. returning to our own Eastern Time Zone. The temperature was down to 69F. If you are reading this, Sherm, this is the temperature that human beings are supposed to live in:-))

Tree lined Michigan 35

Still Green Bay

On US 2, we encountered a few drops of rain. This was the first precipitation we had seen since we left Taos. Another deer wandered out in front of us, but was far enough ahead that we got slowed down with plenty of room to spare. After driving north on M-117 through Engadine, we stopped for another bite and smoothie at the McDonald's in Newberry. One hour remaining to the border.

I needed to stop at WalMart in Soo Michigan for some pens. I have a preference for Zebra G-301 gel pens but, although Staples in Ontario carries the refills, they don't have the pens. Neither does anyone else in Canada that I can find. The WalMart in Taos was out of them but I found three pairs here.

There were no cars lined up to get into the USA as we left. There were very few waiting on the Canadian side, either. The young CBSA hotshot asked how long we had been away so I told him twelve days. He asked if we had been in the USA the whole time and I said yes. He asked the farthest point of our travels and I told him Taos, New Mexico. He asked if we had flown from the US side and I said no. He looked at us funny. Then he asked if I had receipts to prove where we had been and I said yes. (He obviously didn't know who he was dealing with.) He asked to see them and I said I would have to get them out of my computer bag in the back seat. He replied never mind and then chastised me for not having them immediately available (this was the first time I had ever encountered this request), before sending us on our way. I stifled my first response, said thank you and rolled out onto Canadian soil.

Want to buy a steel mill?

Home again

Lots of construction going on

But short lines

The trip east on Highway 17 was uneventful until we caught a line painting crew east of Bruce Mines. In addition to the warning vehicle a mile back, they had two trucks in the painting caravan. The first was painting the lines and the second just seemed to follow to increase the costs to the taxpayer.

They don't move very fast

Just after we went through Blind River (Long May You Run), the panel gonged and I looked down to see the fuel warning light on. My usual last stop before crossing the border is to top off with relatively cheaper US gas. Somehow, with the stop at Wally World, I forgot. I did some fast calculating and figured we could make it to the station in Massey with what we had on board.

I hadn't thought of the First Nations station in Cutler, but stopped there instead once I saw it. The price was competitive so I topped up. A westbound motorcyclist told me he had been stuck in a construction zone the other side of Massey for an hour. We came this way less than two weeks ago and I didn't remember any work of that magnitude.

Sure enough, the Spanish River Bridge was down to one lane. The signal lights were shut off and a flag person was controlling the traffic flow. We got there at the end of a group and made it across without stopping. On the other side, the traffic was lined up to Old Nairn Road, a distance of probably seven miles. The MTO said the bridge would be down until fall. To add insult to injury, the bridge on Highway 6 into Espanola was also down to one lane, causing a double whammy for any folks from there or Manitoulin Island going to Sudbury.

Spanish River Bridge - Highway 17

Westbound waiting to cross

Seven miles later - still stopped

Slow trucks at Beaver Lake

Wind is out of the north

We got caught in slow traffic until the four-lane. There was a long stretch of the four-lane with orange barrels ready to be moved out to block a lane. This section needs some real work, but I think I won't go west this summer unless I really have to. Finally, the ramp from Municipal Road 55 eastbound to Highway 17 appeared to have been dug up by no less than three excavators.

The best way through town would have been on Lorne Street, but I am sorry to say that this major artery was just too rough to be considered. I don't know how anyone on council could be proud of the their city, given the state of many of their major roads. Instead,we took the Big Nickel Road and Lasalle Boulevard. It was interesting to see that Vale, who managed to cap the old slag dump and get grass and trees to grow on it, had planted some new trees along the sky line.

Tree line on a ridge - Sandy's favourite

We pulled into the driveway just after 8:00 PM and were unloaded and unpacked by 8:30.

Over 4,000 miles round trip to spend four days with friends. Quite the effort. Was it worth it? You bet it was. A few more weeks and we'll be off to see more friends for a few days in Kentucky.

Today's Route (614 Equinox miles):

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Junction City Kansas to Madison Wisconsin

I had set the alarm for 5:45 AM and we got to the motel breakfast shortly after 6:00. We had already loaded our gear in the car. Art and his wife need to work on the breakfasts because there was no decaf coffee on the rack. Sandy doesn't drink real coffee so we stopped at the McDonald's right next door for two senior coffees to go before we left town. We also stopped to talk to a couple of locals, which added to our impression that folks around here were quite friendly. Although it was only 73F, the air already had an oppressive feel to it.

On the way out of town, we passed Fort Riley. This installation has been here since 1853 and was originally built to protect settlers moving west on the Oregon, California and Santa Fe Trails. George Armstrong Custer was stationed here for a while before his unfortunate encounter at the Little Big Horn, as were elements of the Buffalo Soldiers. The base is currently the home of the U.S. Army's 1st Infantry Division - The Big Red One

Sunrise over Kansas

This part of Kansas is rolling, green and very pretty. The sedimentary rock outcrops reveal layers of different coloured rocks. I found with the 75 MPH speed limit that fuel mileage seems to drop off a bit, but you cover a lot of ground. West of Topeka on I-70, we traveled along the first eight mile stretch of the Interstate Highway System to be opened to the public in 1956. When I look at all the Interstate Highways opened in the 50's and 60's, I wonder how more than fifteen years have gone by since Ontario started four laning the one hundred miles of highway between Parry Sound and Sudbury and yet they are still nowhere near finished.

Rolling green hills

Pretty coloured layers of stone

A pretty place

The GPS tried to avoid downtown Kansas City by sending us north on I-435 but it was Sunday morning and we had never been through either KC before, so I ignored it. The stretch of I-70 into the city was a toll road that didn't recognize my E-ZPass transponder but only cost us $3.00. It was quiet as we got a chance to look at the Kansas City skylines and crossed into Missouri. Then we headed north on I-35 out of the city.

Kansas City

Their cable stayed bridges don't break

Double the cables

As we headed northeast on I-35, we saw an electronic sign alongside the highway that said "This is Missouri - Show me your turn signals". Drivers are really the same everywhere (except maybe Vermont). We stopped at a Love's Travel Center near the Iowa border for fuel and noted that the sale of fireworks must not be legal across the state line based on the two large specialty stores at this exit.

We did see some large turbine blades and tower parts heading south destined for some future wind farm. These are really becoming common all across the country.

Turbine blade in a rest area

Turbine tower on the road

We reached Des Moines and transited to I-80 East where we found a lot heavier traffic. Particularly, the highway was rife with left lane hogs so I started driving Toronto style, making use of the right lanes wherever other people didn't. The biggest choke points were the RV's, 5th wheel and trailers puttering along and forcing the big trucks out to pass them. On top of that, the fine rain grooves in the concrete caused a steady howl as we moved briskly along.

I-80 rolling east of Des Moines Iowa

Before long, we cut north on I-380 to Cedar Rapids and found, once again, that parts of US 35 suck. It was almost as rough as home. Then we connected with US 151 and followed it northeast to Madison, Wisconsin.

Eastern Iowa is pleasant

Arriving in Dubuque Iowa

Dubuque County Courthouse

Bridge over the Mississippi River

Welcome to Iowa

Sedimentary layers of Wisconsin

Iowa County is in Wisconsin

It was 87F under blue skies when we arrived in Madison at 4:00 PM, still in the Central Time Zone. We have stayed at this Days Inn and Suites a couple of times in the past, including our last trip with Ron and Brad from New England. It is a nice property. We went out and brought back another Subway sandwich for supper while I caught up with my unexpected success in the NASCAR race at Sonoma. My Fantasy League picks were right on the money for a change.

Although I have been able to keep up with the photos, maps and notes for the blog each day, the actual writing is taking a back seat. I spent the evening reading my Kindle and watching a bit of TV before turning out the light early in anticipation of another early morning.

Today's Route (625 Equinox miles):

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Taos New Mexico to Junction City Kansas

Time to go home. Our days here have flown by, which happens when you are having fun with people you care about.

I woke up at 5:15 AM and found Sherm was already up, dressed and texting Lanny about their departure time. Sandy and I were up right away as well. We took care of morning things and loaded our last travel bags in the Equinox while Sherm was putting his gear on the red Harley. As a possible insult by the weather deities, the skies started sprinkling lightly.

After one final goodbye to the early birds, we pulled out of the lot at 5:45 but didn't turn right. The GPS told me there was no fast food and very little food of any kind for several hours in our direction of travel, so we went down the Paseo to McDonald's for coffee and breakfast sandwiches. The Paseo was very passable at this time of day.

On the way back past the Kachina, we pulled into the lot and saw Sherm, Lanny and Penmaker under the covered area in front of the entrance getting ready to leave. With a final wave, we headed out of town on US 64 West.

Final goodbyes

and a last wave

We followed US 64 to where it turned due west, and then took New Mexico 522 north. This was the same road we took on the last two day-rides, but this time we kept going up into Colorado where it ended at US 160. With almost no traffic, the flat land was almost a mile and a half above sea level and was a perfect example of the wide open spaces many westerners talk about.

Sunrise over the mountains to the east

High tech police vehicle

Leaving the Land Of Enchantment

Prime residence in San Luis - Oldest Town In Colorado

When the road, now Colorado 159, ended in Fort Garland (population 433), we turned right on US 160. I had forgotten we had to climb to North La Veta Pass at 9,413 feet before descending to the flatlands. An electronic sign in the pass warned us not to stop on the way down due to rock slides.

Sandy's specialty - trees on a ridge

Descending from La Veta Pass

The tree line is pretty clear

Snow a little higher up

Coming into Walsenburg, we found Brandon on the side of the road facing west. This was odd, since he was returning to Kansas, but he assured us all was well. He had left Kachina while we were visiting McDonald's. There was a 7-Eleven where we stopped for a bathroom break, snacks and more coffee before continuing  east.

On the way out of town, we passed a long string of empty coal hoppers traveling east. It was odd that the head end power consisted of one BNSF diesel and one Union Pacific. These railroads are such fierce competitors that it was notable when they shared trackage rights at the large coal operation in central Wyoming.

Strange trackfellows

Heading east out of Walsenburg on Colorado 10, the mountains faded in our rear view mirror. We crossed a low rolling landscape with many ups and downs but nary a curve and almost no traffic. There was another large wind farm where an entire section of turbines was shut down.

Blindly following the GPS out of La Junta, we paralleled US 50 on Colorado 194 and went past the site if historic Bent's Fort along the winding Arkansas River. For sixteen years from 1833, this post was the only major permanent white settlement west of Missouri on the Santa Fe Trail. It has been reconstructed and is operated by the National Park Service. We learned in Taos that Charles Bent's wife Ignacia was sister to Kit Carson's third wife, Josefa.

The site of historic Bent's Fort

The reconstructed adobe fort

Soon after leaving Bent's Fort we saw a humongous rat run across the road between two fields of crops, reminding us of Romy's story about cane rats. This rodent was big enough that I would have kept medium sized dogs away from it.

Continuing on, we connected with US 50 east again and, just outside Lamar, crossed the Arkansas River. It was a slow moving trickle compared to the mighty river with the Class V rapids that carved the Royal Gorge.

We cross this again

Less awesome than the river that carved Royal Gorge

In Lamar, we stopped at a McDonald's. This was the first golden arches we had seen since leaving Taos. It was in the high 90's and gusty when we got out, with the winds not bringing change but, rather, the smell of feed lots. It looked like a pleasant place but I don't think I could live there. We got twenty McNuggets for $5.00, coffee and a smoothie and were on our way.

We caught up to and passed a unit coal train rolling east (I still think there is way too much coal being used for it to be replaced anytime soon by green energy) and a unit auto train moving west, both headed by BNSF power. Somewhere in the emptiness, we left Colorado and entered Kansas without noticing.

Eastbound loaded coal train

Westbound auto train

Kansas is supposed to be windy

The rumble strips down the centre of the road in Kansas were brutal. The only way someone could cross into the other lane without realizing it would be if they were dead. A determined crop duster caught our eye as he flew under power lines while completing a pass. These weren't big power lines, just the regular side of the road kind and I wondered if he had been doing this for long. A quote about old pilots and bold pilots came to mind.

Somewhere, we crossed into the Central Time Zone. The only way I noticed was because both the car and the GPS clocks changed their times automatically. Going west has the benefit of giving us an extra hour as we cross about one time zone a day. Traveling east we lose an hour, which results in a net two hours less daylight when chasing the sunrise. It isn't a really big deal since we don't usually travel from sunup to sundown in June.

East of Jetmore, we encountered miles and miles of empty CWEX hopper cars being stored on what must have been an unused rail line. The line of cars was only broken where roads crossed the tracks. I did a little research and found these were privately owned cars belonging to Commonwealth Edison and used for coal unit trains bound for their generating plants in Illinois. I could not find anything regarding these surplus rail cars, but maybe the use of coal IS declining in some areas.

Stored CWEX coal hoppers......

.....seem to go on forever

Leaving US 50 for Kansas 156 in Garden City, we eventually came to Great Bend where the GPS took us around town. After passing two police cruisers searching a pickup truck and its occupants and a large number of stored tank cars, we were held up by a long, slow-moving train. The cars carried rough KO reporting marks, indicating they currently belonged to the Kansas and Oklahoma Railroad, although they looked like they were a hodgepodge acquired from other roads.

Someone is getting searched

Stored tank cars

A slow moving train in Great Bend Kansas

There was a small Love's gas station in Great Bend. Love's is better known across North America for its large travel stops, but this must be the way they got started just over the line in Oklahoma. Regardless, gas was only $2.12 per gallon making me a happy traveler.

Continuing to follow Colorado 156 northeast, we came to I-70 and swung due east again. There were rain squalls to the north and a few drops fell as we motored along.

A few showers out there

Folks here don't treat you mean....

It was 97F when we arrived in Junction City and found that the Super 8 was not where the GPS thought it was. Luckily, the phone knew where to go, and we arrived there after stopping at a Subway for a sandwich to bring with us.

Our room on the ground floor had good air conditioning and the WiFi worked well. We met Art, whose wife had taken over management of this property a month ago. She was experienced in the hospitality industry in general and, specifically, with the Wyndham chain, so was brought in to correct problems stemming from incompetent prior management. There were some louder construction workers hanging out near our door but Art convinced them to relocate and keep the noise down.

Tonight's room cost us just $30.00 and 3,000 Wyndham points under the Go Fast program. I booked tomorrow night's room at the Days Inn and Suites in Madison, Wisconsin at a Go Fast rate of $55.00 (because everything costs more in Madison). This would have us get home from Taos in three days of just over 600 miles each.

Today's Route (602 Equinox miles):