Tuesday, August 4, 2015


Tom Galvin was out of town when I got to Pagosa Springs, but I found a great private little campsite off of Buckles Lake Road south of town and had my first two nights of official boondocking.  It felt so awesome to finally be doing something I had been wanting to do since before I started out on the road.  I had thought that I'd have all that stuff figured out before I got on the road, but I spent so much of my time at Quest getting other things in order that it just never happened.  And since I didn't want to sit around forever until I was 100% ready (I didn't really think I'd ever be 100% ready) I just decided I'd figure that stuff out on the road.  Well, getting sick with bronchitis really slowed my research efforts to a standstill.  So it was really awesome to run into someone who not only knew how all that stuff worked, but was willing to spend the time to show me. I'm pretty sure he thought I was a complete idiot, but in this case it was true, so no hard feelings.  It was such a wonderful feeling to be in the middle of the woods with no neighbors and actual nature all around me.  I was a little worried that I'd have some kind of wildlife encounter, but I never did.  And I loved sitting on my front step and staring at the moon through the trees.  
One last look at the view from the Villa Grove launch

Storms all around but not raining on me

Now, I will admit that I had my doubts about boondocking.  I was afraid I would get stuck on some narrow dirt road with no room to turn the trailer around and I'd be totally screwed.  I was afraid that I wouldn't be able to get the fridge working, or that the water pump wouldn't cooperate and I'd be left without a shower.  

So, on my way to finding this awesome, private, FREE campground I almost turned off at a couple of different RV parks.  There were at least two that I aborted because I didn't like the look of them - too crowded, not enough trees, too close to the highway.  The third was call "Last Resort" and it must have hit my emotions - it was late and dark and I was tired - so I turned down an unlit dirt road toward this place.  Well, I never found it because the only sign actually looked like the entrance to a private house and I didn't want to make the mistake of barging into someone's driveway with the trailer and then have to back it up in the dark. So I turned around on the dirt road.  It was wider than normal at this point since it was a 3-way intersection, but still not big enough for me to turn around without backing up.  Since I didn't have an audience I just went for it.  And I jackknifed.  Just a little.  I heard a noise as if I'd hit something metal behind the trailer but I didn't see a signpost or anything. I had a brief moment of panic, but I calmed myself down and eventually figured it out and got the hell out of there.  

Even though that experience sucked, it made me a little less scared about traveling into the woods on some old dirt road looking for a campsite, and once I found Buckles Lake Road I drove the whole 7 miles, checking out every single campsite to make sure I got the best one.  Maybe I was a little hypoxic as well as tired.  

Anyway, I found a great campsite - big and circular so I could pull around and not have to back up at all.  But when I went to unhitch, I noticed that the little rod & clamp that holds the propane tanks onto the tongue was out of place.  Instead of holding the propane tanks securely in place, it was laying between them as if someone had gently placed it there.  This is not normal.  This happened when I jackknifed.  Holy fuck.  How do I fix this?? I can't travel again without securing those tanks. I got myself settled, got the fridge turned on and went to bed.  
Looking up from my seat on the front step of my trailer

Monday morning, after a great night's sleep, I went into town for breakfast and to do some work, and started looking for an RV parts dealer.  The closest one was in Durango, about an hour away, and they had the part I needed.  So, after breakfast I hopped in the car and went to explore Durango for the day. Not what I'd planned, but I wanted to see Durango anyway.  I got the part and went up to the Animus Overlook and did a quick little hike there - nothing much, but at 9,000 feet I was still not fully acclimated so I didn't want to push it too hard.  It should also be noted that the hour drive took about 2 hours, thanks to Colorado's road work initiative...every single road trip I took in Colorado took about 30% longer than it was "supposed to" thanks to road work that included single-lane roads and periodic road closures.  It's so great that they're taking care of their roads, but the delays were killing me.  At least when I got "home" I was able to take a hot shower. 

View from Animus Overlook

Tuesday morning I got up, went for breakfast and another little hike to Opal Lake.  This was a very pretty hike but a bit crowded for my taste.  There were climbs, multiple creek crossings, meadows full of wildflowers, and looming mountains as a backdrop for the lake itself...but on my way back I had to wait for scaredy-cats to cross the logs over the creeks...slowed me down a bit.  Then I got back to the trailer, repaired the propane tank holding tray, hitched up, and headed south towards Santa Fe.  This was a relatively short drive and I had plenty of time to make dinner and get the trailer cleaned up.

Opal Lake

Wednesday morning in Santa Fe was rainy and cold, so I was pretty unmotivated to get out and sight-see.  Luckily, I had plenty of groceries to make my own breakfast and was able to just hang out in my little home and get some work done.  Later on I ran some errands, ate some barbacoa tacos and drove through Old Town Santa Fe.  Very cute but I wasn't feeling inspired to get out and walk around.  I guess I just needed a lazy day, so I watched a couple of movies and relaxed for the night.  

Thursday the 30th I drove from Santa Fe to Roswell, NM.  Roswell is the town where a UFO supposedly crashed in 1947 and the military covered it up.  It's pretty interesting to read accounts from both sides - the UFO Museum downtown has signed affidavits from both civilians and military personnel that talk about the shrapnel and the "non-human" men they found.  According to the military, the wreckage was just a weather balloon...interesting that they'd be so concerned about a weather balloon that they'd confiscate all the pieces immediately.  And the little men were supposedly crash test dummies from parachute testing that was carried out in 1957.  Yeah. The UFO crash was in 1947, but the military's explanation is that people just got their dates mixed up?  Hmmm..

Thursday night I stayed at Bottomless Lakes State Park outside of Roswell.  Not boondocking, as this is a bona fide campground with electric & water hookups, but much cheaper and much prettier than an RV park.  And bigger sites, so some semblance of privacy - no one staring in my front door while they eat their dinner.  Not a bad place to stay for my last night before I head to Big Spring, Texas, a town that's known for its 5 prisons and for the annual hang gliding competition in which I'll be participating.  
Interesting sharing of space in Roswell

Maybe 100 yards from my campsite?

I backed it in all by myself :)

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Colorado (Quite Possibly the Love of My Life)

I had originally planned to go to Yellowstone after leaving Missoula, but as I called around to RV parks I found that they were pretty full.  I thought about staying in a crowded RV park and going to a crowded national park and decided that was not the kind of experience I wanted to have, so I postponed Yellowstone and decided to go visit the crew in Villa Grove, whom I'd met last summer at Colorado Fly Week 2015.  Rich Jesuroga had invited me to bunk at his place, and I'd recently had some pretty good luck taking people up on those offers.

I drove from Missoula to Idaho Falls on Saturday the 18th, stopping at Big Hole National Battlefield.  Big Hole is the site of one of our infamous massacres of Native Americans.  When we decided to confine them to the reservations, some of them resisted and ran.  The military chased them to this place where they thought they'd be safe, and wound up killing a bunch of them and forcing the rest to Canada.  It's a beautiful place, and without the signs telling the story, you'd never know such an awful thing had happened there.  I think Rinker Buck sums it up well in his book The Oregon Trail: A New American Journey:
In the cemetery quiet of these places, all the clangor and hell of actual history - the smell of manure where horses were bedded, earth scorched from fire pits or cannonball explosions, the stench from bayonets ripping flesh - has been sanitized away. While preserving history, we remove it. There's nothing wrong with this, of course, and I'd rather see a beautifully maintained battlefield than a Wal-Mart parking lot.

In Idaho Falls I stayed at a county park with RV hookups.  This was pretty cool - there were only a handful of other RVs there and it was pretty quiet...and since it was an actual park, as opposed to an RV park, there was a much higher ratio of park to RV than I'd become used to.  Sunday morning I had my biggest driving day yet - about 500 miles. According to Google Maps that would have been a 7.5 hour drive, BUT I hadn't towed the trailer in so long that I forgot how much slower than the speed limit I have to go...so it took me all damn day.  I did manage to squeeze in a very quick stop at Lava Hot Springs, though, which felt so good I almost didn't get back on the road.  However, once I saw the large group of children checking in at the front desk I felt a renewed motivation to get going. 

I found this wording interesting, as if they all just suddenly decided to live on the reservation

The next couple of nights were spent in Steamboat Springs at the KOA there - chosen for its proximity.  Not my favorite campground - as is common for KOAs, it was just a few feet from the main road.  Although it was also right on the river, the sites were arranged in such a way that every pair of RVs face each other.  This meant that my neighbors, a woman and 3 kids, looked in my front door while they ate every meal.  Pretty uncomfortable, especially since one of my favorite things about Colorado is buying pot legally and then smoking it.  There was plenty for me to do away from the campground, though, even though it rained for a decent portion of my time there.  I got a nice little hike in, which totally kicked my ass thanks to the altitude and the fact that my hiking shoes were tearing up my feet again.  I definitely ate well in Steamboat - had a lovely brunch, including a damn fine Bloody Mary at Creekside Cafe & Grill.  I even took myself out for a nice steak dinner at Mahogany Ridge Brewery & Grill.  

Tuesday morning I got back on the road, headed for Rich's house in Salida.  He had even arranged a place for me to leave my trailer not to far from his place, in case I needed to get in and out of it while I was staying with him.  And folks, my good luck continued...Rich's place was beautiful, but the best part about it was that every room in the house had breathtaking views of the mountains to the west.  I couldn't get over it, but Rich and his wife Susan just kept telling me to wait until I saw it in the morning.

No flying happened on Wednesday, so I took a road trip to Crested Butte, and thanks to Rich's advice I kept going North past Mt Crested Butte on a dirt road to the little town of Gothic.  This place was so cool.  It's part town, part environmental research facility.  I didn't get too much info because the visitor center was closed by the time I got up there, but I did get to see some beautiful wildflowers and an amazing full double rainbow.  

Wednesday morning we were up and out of the house by 9:30 and headed for Villa Grove.  This place was just as beautiful as I remembered - possibly more so because they've had so much rain this season that the valley is much greener than usual.  The wildflowers are spectacular this year and they provide a beautiful contrast to the normal sagey green.  I ended up not flying because it was pretty gusty and I wound up tiring myself out just holding the glider waiting for a good cycle.  The altitude is a killer - launch is just under 10,000 feet, and the valley floor is at 8,000.  It's a workout just hanging out up there, let alone setting up a glider, suiting up, walking to launch and then controlling the glider in gusts.  Rich and I decided to head to the training hill the next day to get me a confidence flight or two before I went up to Villa again.  

Well, Friday was a bit cloudy and there was rain around us (although notably not in Salida) but we headed out to the training hill anyway, west of Saguache. I had my vario back in working order, which seemed like a good omen. We never even made it there, though, because it was raining in the vicinity.  We turned around to head for Villa and check out the scene out there and pick up Rich's glider, which he'd left on launch the day before.  When we stopped in Saguache for gas, I found this little gem while I was waiting in line for the bathroom.  You can't make this shit up.

On Saturday I decided to just go hiking, figuring that would be more enjoyable than hanging around on launch all day hemming and hawing about whether I was going to fly.  I had a nice little hike and then towed my trailer down to Villa - Tiffany & Larry were having a party for Tiffany's birthday so I parked in their backyard.  No hookups, but what a view.  And there's a bathroom nearby so not too primitive.  And Scot Huber and Mike Chevalier regaled me with tales of sledders off of Whale (Scot's first sledder in probably 20 years) and no flying at all from Villa, so I didn't feel bad at all for missing out. 
The view from my bed Saturday night 

Sunday morning, Scot and I spent some time figuring out my self-contained systems...getting the 12-volt stuff to work off actual 12-volt power (new battery solved that one!), getting the fridge to work off propane (again - new battery to the rescue) and making sure the water pump worked.  In exchange for Scot's expertise I gave him a ride up the mountain, where he had his second sledder in 20 years (!) and then I skipped town again and headed for Pagosa Springs.  

Saturday, August 1, 2015


As soon as I stepped out of the Missoula airport late on the night of Monday, July 13th, I noticed the difference in air quality.  The air smelled...good.  It was such a change from what I'd become accustomed to in NY, without even realizing that I had be come accustomed.  Matt's dad Craig picked me up, we went to meet his wife Barbara at her job and then went on a pilgrimage to find eggs past midnight in and around Missoula, MT.  They gave me the basement in their huge house and I passed out.

Tuesday morning, I was up at 8 for breakfast prepared by Craig, using the eggs we finally found at a gas station the night before, with Barbara fresh off her overnight shift. After breakfast I worked for a while and then set about finding a flying contact. A bunch of people tried to give me contacts...when Joel mentioned that one of his guys owned a brewery I jumped on it.  Stopped by the brewery, had a beer & some food & inquired as to the whereabouts of the owner.  Had a nice chat with Paul and decided to possibly check out Sentinel that evening & possibly fly Tarkio on Wednesday.  

Since Sentinel is a H-4 site due a restricted LZ, and I'm a H-3, it was not in the cards for me to fly there on this trip.  However, Mt. Sentinel is also a popular hike for Missoulians - there's a steep zigzag path up to a giant concrete "M" and then another trail up to Hellgate Ridge and, eventually, the summit of Mt. Sentinel.  I was itching to get hiking, so I went over to the "M" trail - it's pretty freaking steep but it rewards you with great views of both the city and the mountains across and down the valley.  I made it about a half mile from the top, but I had a monster blister forming on my left heel and I was already out of water, so I turned around and went back down - what a quadbuster!  My legs were sore for days - it felt awesome. 
View from the M

On Wednesday morning Paul texted to say that it would be an evening flight, if at all.  I spent the better part of the morning fiddling with my vario, which refused to start even after replacing the batteries with both alkaline batteries and new rechargeables.  I was pretty nervous about flying a new site and foot launching, so the last thing I needed was to have to fly without a vario.  But alas, a call to Steve Kroop at Flytec (the manufacturer's US dealer) confirmed that I would have to ship the vario to Florida for service.  Luckily, Paul had a spare to lend me.  What a guy!

Wednesday afternoon I met Paul, Josh & Paul at Paul's house in downtown Missoula.  We loaded up two hang gliders & two paragliders and set out for Tarkio, about an hour west of Missoula.  What a beautiful site (and sight).  Incredible view.  Basically a cliff launch.  Both Paul & Josh gave me some pointers on the launch and where to find lift, and after inhaling a Kind Bar I suited up.  I got a few blips on the vario, but felt I wasn't sure which way to turn to stay in the lift, so I tried all three areas where the guys told me they normally find lift.  I wasn't able to get established in anything, so I headed out to the LZ for a nice landing.  I looked up in time to see Paul launch, and continued breaking down my glider.  Not long later, I saw Paul's glider over the LZ, coming in to land near me.  I told him he didn't have to land just to make me feel better, but he insisted he didn't...which, of course, made me feel much better. We hung out for a while watching Josh tow his paragliding student Paul with a scooter tow system, and in the meantime, Bill and his wife (the owners of both the launch and the LZ) came by and we had a lovely time chatting with them.  I felt very comfortable and peaceful in that valley.
The launch at Tarkio

Thursday the 16th I worked for a couple of hours and then I needed to get out of the house.  Craig and Barbara had just gotten back from a motorcycle ride into Idaho to Lochsa Lodge, and Craig thought I'd really enjoy taking the same ride (in my car, of course).  Since this was not the first time I'd been told about the beauty of US 12, I figured I had to check it out. Well, I was not disappointed - the road not only parallels the Lochsa River but runs right along its banks for a while.  I had a delicious salad at the Lochsa Lodge and turned around, stopping at a couple of places I had skipped on the way out, including a cedar grove and a nice meditation spot on the riverbank.  

I had planned to be moving on by Friday-ish, but a favorable weather report for Friday had led me to extend my trip.  Well, wouldn't you know it, but Friday morning Paul wrote to say the weather looked like crap for flying, both Friday and Saturday.  I had already promised to feed the dog for Craig & Barbara, so I stuck around till Saturday noon, mostly just working, doing laundry and getting myself re-packed into the trailer for the next phase...Colorado. Quite possibly the love of my life.