Saturday, July 27, 2013

Trip Summary

Here are the key statistics for the trip.

Twenty-one days
5,853 truck/trailer miles - Average 10.9 MP(US)G
725 motorcycle miles - Average 36.6 MP(US)G

It may seem crazy to cover this kind of ground just for a few days riding with friends. But this is what we do and these aren't just any friends. We spent time with amazing people and saw some awesome roads and scenery. We'll do it again.

You will note that the mileage towing the big trailer was less than ideal. I had a plan and it looks like I didn't think it through. This unit pushes almost fifty square feet of frontage through the air, a lot of it beyond the hole punched by the truck. The ability to carry a second bike is nice but is costing too much. I think it is time we backtracked and got a smaller trailer.

I like the Pro-line construction, though. They make a nice 5 x 10 V-nose that only weighs 900 pounds. Towing our old 5 x 10 square nose Car-Mate gave us almost 14 MP(US)G and I have every reason to believe a lighter V that is six inches shorter will do better, leading to a probable 50% improvement in fuel economy. This unit is too narrow for our two cots, so it will probably mean going back to a tent for the two weekends we actually do camp. On the plus side, we have the truck and aren't limited by the size constraints associated with motorcycle travel.

The truck was making an unusual growling noise at low speeds. This just started recently and we'll see what the local shop says about it. It has been my experience that ignoring something like this will bite you later, usually at the most inconvenient moment.

Anyway,we are back and regrouping. The upcoming weekend is the 20th Annual Freedom Rally here in Sudbury. The next weekend is the VROC Interlochen Rally and then there is the MS Ride in Kitchener on the 25th. In September, we will be traveling to Eureka Springs, Arkansas which will probably be our final run of the regular season.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Auburn Indiana to Sudbury Ontario

The dawn of the last day of a road trip is always a bittersweet experience. It seemed like I was still on Arizona time as I dragged myself out of bed later than planned. Or maybe it was going to sleep at 2:00 AM after finishing a couple of blog days (only one behind now) and posting the receipts so I could make a list of purchases for the Customs Man. Regardless of the reason, Sandy was up and moving briskly while I struggled.

After enjoying the usual continental breakfast (Raisin Bran and yogurt), we checked out, fueled at a nearby Speedway and were northbound on I-69 under partly cloudy skies at 7:45 AM. I had decided to go via the Soo to avoid Friday southern Ontario traffic.

We crossed the Michigan line early and appreciated the road work they did a few years ago on this interstate. It was much better than the jolt we get when we enter the state on I-75.

Welcome to Michigan

And a special welcome to Michigan

We made a fast stop in Pottersville for second breakfast to go from McDonald's. You may have noticed we have been supporting Ronald quite a bit on this trip. It is quick, relatively consistent and Sandy has become addicted to their Blueberry-Pomegranate Smoothies. This was a smart marketing move on McD's part since a large smoothie easily makes up 1/3rd of our typical bill. This location had a place for truck parking but it was full of trucks so we had to park across the street.

We fueled again at a small and congested Speedway in Clare, Michigan. This tank would get us all the way to the Soo. Traffic was busy as people appeared to be heading north for their weekend getaway. After connecting with I-75, the winds picked up and got gusty around Gaylord.

Along this stretch, we heard on the radio that a squirrel had tested positive for bubonic plague in the Angeles National Forest in California. There was a sense of connection because this large tract lies south of Highway 14 and the Pearblossom Highway, part of our recent route.

Lower Peninsula trees - so unlike the southwest

As we approached the Mackinac Bridge, the winds died down. The temperature was a seasonal 75 F and we had a pleasant crossing with both lanes open all the way across Big Mac.

Ancient GM RV for Kudzu

Another view

A good day on the Big Mac

Welcome to the UP

Once in the Upper Peninsula, the traffic volume dropped significantly. There was a line of orange barrels reducing us to one lane all the way to the Detour Village exit. All those barrels and not a single sign that any construction was going on. And whoever set the barrels out put them on our side of the dotted line, further reducing our path. A few were out of line so I had to hang the trailer wheel over the line on the left. Luckily, there was new asphalt and they hadn't cut in the rumble strips yet.

Orange barrels in the UP

This part of the UP looks like Nebraska

The final gas stop was at what used to be the Citgo in Soo, Michigan. It is now a Krist and actually has pay-at-the-pump. This wasn't the only change as the McDonald's next door has completely disappeared. I have to note that the UP gas prices are steep but still nowhere near as bad as Canadia.

Michigan  gas prices

We started over the International Bridge at 3:18. I paid the toll in Canadian funds since they were taking it at par. The line to get into the USA was, as usual, lined up more than half way across the bridge. The Canadian side was longer than usual, too, but was only a fraction of what the southbound had to deal with.

The Border Agent, a pleasant young man we have encountered before, asked where we were coming from. I told him we had gotten as far as Solvang, California and he asked if we had gone there and then just turned around a come back. I told him that was pretty much how it was. He smiled and welcomed us home without looking in the trailer.

Toll booths on the International Bridge

US bound traffic line up

The flags mark the border

Black clouds to the west

Canada bound shorter line up

Urban renewal near the bridge

Canadian Customs

Once on Canadian soil, we took the truck route up to the Second Line and stopped at Last Minute Mama's as we had promised on the way west. Spyder was installing a new shelf on the trailer and told us business had been very good. Melissa, Spyder's wife, was also there with her Avalanche. As we ordered stuffed chicken wings to go, pizza for me and broccoli and cheese for Sandy, the thunder, lightning and rain began. We said goodbye (we'll be seeing both of them at the Freedom Rally in Sudbury next weekend) and hit the road for the last leg of the trip.

Melissa and Sandy

Spyder, master craftsman

It rained steadily as we headed east but really picked up in intensity between Bruce Mines and Iron Bridge, a stretch of thirty miles. For some of it, I was down to 40 MPH with the four way flashers going due to poor visibility. This was the first real rain we have seen since South Dakota on day two of the trip. As we approached Blind River, the rain eased and then stopped but the winds got gusty. The last ninety miles was pleasantly uneventful.

Heavy rain

Not so heavy rain

We crossed the Greater Sudbury city limit (only thirty more miles) at 7:40 PM and got to our driveway just before 8:30. Although we were tired, I unloaded the bike, unhooked the trailer and we brought all the bags inside before settling down.

Only thirty more miles

Typical Sudbury landscape

This was a good trip and I will post a summary soon.

Today's Route (603 Avalanche/trailer miles):

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Springfield Missouri to Auburn Indiana

We left Springfield just after 7:00 AM Central time. It was a still morning, clear and cool but not cold. From here, we were on our regular commute path to and from Eureka Springs, Arkansas so the rest of the way will be familiar.

Seen as we were leaving Springfield

As we drove up and down the grades on I-44, I came up with a hypothesis as to why truckers move to the left lane when they pass vehicles stopped on the shoulder. It isn't for safety, it is because they are bored and are looking for any variety they can find. 

The trucker's XM channel was talking about the North American Fatigue Management Program, developed in Alberta to look into ways to tired over-the-road drivers. After experiencing just that on many days of this trip and believing it was a contributing factor to my vertigo issues (which returned yesterday), I need to look into this.

I suspect another cause of my personal problem is a lack of hydration. Reflecting back, I haven't had hardly any water on the days I had trouble. Today, I will hydrate liberally and see what happens.

Fog at Piney River Valley near Fort Leonard Wood

Rolling Missouri sans fog

Amazing that we can't see ourselves

We stopped at a McDonald's in Rolla where a very cheerful guy served us breakfast. I also paused at a gas station there just to scrape the bugs off the windshield. There was a fuel stop in St. Clair, near St. Louis. This was where we met that tour bus last fall on our way to ES. As I was watching the pump, two Sheriff's Deputy cars went by on the cross road, sirens and lights going and pedal to the metal. Those Chargers sure can move when they have to.

We went through St. Louis on I-44. Just as we were starting up the ramp to I-55, a truck ahead of us towing a trailer with ladders and building materials came to a sudden stop. I wish the lights on his trailer worked. I was glad both my trailer lights and brakes were functional because I barely avoided hitting him while the car behind managed to avoid me. It turns out that another car broken down on the ramp was the cause of the initial stop.

Gateway to the West (Defiance, anyone?)

No trailer lights

The cause of the bottleneck

Leaving Missouri, we followed I-55/I-70 to where they split. This is where, in 1978, Sandy didn't tell me she saw the sign for Indianapolis as I was passing a tanker throwing stones and gravel on us. The next exit on the way to Chicago was about ten miles up the road. We still talk about this.

Our infamous exit

Gas just across the Illinois border was $3.81 per gallon. Luckily, we didn't need any at that particular moment. We stopped at the welcome centre where I found a nice bench in the shade with a cool wind blowing and I rested my eyes for a few moments.

Just out of the rest area,  we encountered a construction zone with single lane traffic. The sign said the speed limit was 45 MPH, photo enforced, with a $375 minimum fine. No problem there because the traffic was crawling bumper to bumper until we got past the flag person. Then we got up to speed again.

Slow moving Illinois construction

I-70 across the Land Of Lincoln looks pretty flat but it is actually mostly a gradual uphill climb. Both ways, it seems. But the land is green and lush, the very ideal that goes through my head when I think of Robert Heinlein's Green Hills of Earth. Mid-state, gas prices were $3.59, much more reasonable than out first impression.

A quick gas and lunch to-go stop in Casey gave me a chuckle. As we pulled out, the GPS said it was 106 miles to Indianapolis. It wasn't dark but we had a full tank of gas, half a pack of cigarettes and I was wearing sunglasses, so I hit it:-)

I got my daily quote from comedian Steve Gilliland along this stretch:

"Labeling is disabling. You have to appreciate all people."

Effingham Illinois

We crossed into Indiana near Terre Haute. 

Indiana wants me.....

I dream about the moonlight on the Wabash (hidden behind the trees)

Indiana was so nice for the first five miles. Then we reached the first construction zone. Everyone stopped. We eventually crawled down to the merge and traffic started moving. Then it was back to four lanes for a couple of miles before we all stopped and went through the process again. We did this four times so it took us two hours to cover 30 miles. I have no idea why we spent so much time stopped since we never saw any flaggers. In fact, in the whole stretch we only saw one crew doing any work at all.

No one going anywhere quickly in Indiana

This was the only crew working in 30 miles of construction zone

Another stop and go line on I-70

An another

Eventually, we cleared the orange barrels (I really should see who makes these and buy stock) and continued to Indianapolis. I had targeted Fort Wayne as our destination for the day but remembered that I don't much like that city. Twenty miles north is the pleasant community of Auburn, Indiana where we have stayed before so I reset the GPS.

The infernal Garmin wanted to take me through Indy on I-70 but it was near rush hour and I opted for our usual route on the south I-465 loop. Traffic was busy but flowing well and we soon had Circle City in our rear view mirror as we plugged along on I-69 North. I made one more gas stop in Muncie where we got Subway to take with us. The wind was neutral, the grades were slight, the traffic was minimal and the driving was very pleasant. Somewhere along here, we gave back our last hour as we entered the Eastern Time Zone.

The Super 8 in Auburn had lots of room in its parking lot. In our ground floor room, we ate our sandwich and I posted the receipts so I could make a list of what we bought for the Customs Man tomorrow. Then we walked next door to Walmart for water bottles (the hydration worked very well at keeping me focused today), a box of 5 Hour Energy and some more flavoured coffee creamer singles (no Irish Cream in stock). Back in the room, I finished another couple of blog days and got to bed late. This will hurt tomorrow as we run the final six hundred miles to home.

I've been thinking about traveling across the USA at five or six hundred miles per day. Each evening, it is like you are in a different country. Accents, idioms, customs and dress change. But, amid all these differences, Wally World remains the same. There is a message in there somewhere.

Today's Route (597 Avalanche/trailer miles):

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Amarillo Texas to Springfield Missouri

Two notes carried over from yesterday.

First, that Rube Goldberg device attached to the back of the semi trailer in my last photo is called a Trailer Tail. We are seeing more and more of them on the road. According to the talk on the XM trucker channel, they are supposed to reduce drag, increase controllability in windy conditions and reduce spray on wet roads. Sounds like an all around winner to me until someone needs to open the back doors.

Second, we talked to Sherm yesterday and he told us the wreck we saw on the way into Kingman Sunday happened when an eastbound pickup truck with four people in it blew a tire and crossed the median, hitting a US Mail semi. One person killed and everyone else seriously injured. That is the kind of wreck that gives me the willies because it could happen to any one of us. Now back to the day at hand.

We woke up at 6:30, not bad considering it was still 4:30 back in Arizona. Sandy had Raisin Bran while I checked. We had a truck jam as three floats before us attempted to get out of the parking lot onto the busy service road, but we were finally moving by 7:45.

It was 68 F as we headed east on I-40 under cloudy skies. The wind was out of the north as we moved along. The terrain was flat except for where it climbed to pass over secondary roads and railway tracks. As we entered Gray County, the countryside became more arid with many hills and gullies. We passed McClain, where I remember the Interstate going through the town at street level in 1978.

The flat Texas panhandle

Groom Texas

Helicopter lowering a worker to a power line

By the time we reached the Oklahoma line, the wind was out of the east and the clouds were long gone. We stopped in Erick for fuel and I picked up a Subway flatbread breakfast sandwich. The wind started coming from varying directions and I even saw two flags on the same pole going different ways. The trailer tows well but strong unpredictable gusts can make it a little hard to handle so I slowed down to 55 for a while.

Welcome to Oklahoma

The winds got stronger

I wonder about the real economic viability of wind farms

Lush Okie countryside

This is very pretty countryside

We arrived in Oklahoma City around noon. I should have looked for a McDonald's in an outlying area because the place I did stop was very busy. Their lot was full and the nearby lots, including Walmart, had nine foot bars over the entrances to keep tall vehicles out. I managed to get parked and we did get food before moving on. Sandy also found the squeak in the trailer. One of the metal tie down hooks was making the noise where it was connected to the aluminum eye bolt.

We left I-40 here in Okie City and started northeast on I-44. This is a toll road in Oklahoma, or rather two toll roads. The Turner Turnpike took us to Tulsa, while the Will Rogers Turnpike took us on to Missouri. On the first stretch, I stopped for fuel at a service area. We had to pay to get off in Tulsa, where I couldn't get The Tractors out of my head. On the Will Rogers, I nearly got into trouble because the largest bill they would accept was a $20. The toll was $9.25 (four axles) and I had $110, consisting of just two bills.

Oklahoma City skyline

Frontier City - Oklahoma City

The Turner Turnpike - straight but not level

Even the toll roads have construction

A barge on an unknown river

This sharp trailer passed us three times today

Sooner or later, the piper needs to be paid

Cash only lanes

There was little traffic as we left Oklahoma and its turnpikes for the free interstates of Missouri. We stopped at the Welcome Centre and I called ahead to reserve a room at a Super 8 in Springfield. There was a fifth wheel there with a family in it. More about that later.

Welcome to the Show Me State

On the way towards Springfield, I tried a little experiment. Jack had asked me about using the Tow/Haul Mode, a transmission setting that alters the shift points to a more aggressive map. I told him I didn't use it because it is reactive while I am even more aggressive by seeing what is coming and manually shifting proactively. But I wish I had a six speed transmission and paddle shift because the four ranges are pretty wide. The experiment consisted of checking the RPM of various (three) speeds at 60 MPH. Fourth was 1,700 RPM and third was 2,400 RPM but second was a whopping 4,100 RPM. That is a large jump and it would be nice to have some more options in there. This is easy to fix if I want to trade up to a 2010 or newer model. Maybe later.

We started to see more Branson billboards as we approached Springfield and I felt the pull to turn south towards Eureka Springs, Arkansas. But that will have to wait for the September pilgrimage.


On the way to the motel, we stopped at a McDonald's for some McNuggets to take with us and encountered the fifth wheel from the Welcome Center. The Mom told us her husband sold aircraft and they were on their way to Oshkosh, Wisconsin for the air show. I'm sure Jack will understand.

Getting situated at the motel involved some backing and maneuvering since the lot didn't go all the way around, but I did it without hitting anything and I  avoided the trees. Sandy slept while I sorted pictures, transcribed notes and actually managed to get two blog days posted before turning in just after midnight.

Today's Route (539 Avalanche/trailer miles):