Of Coaches, The Dismal Science, and a Lesson from Eyore

July 2, Forest City, Iowa

Winnebago Factory
We had to arrive at 6am and so we slept in the parking lot of the customer service center. There were RVers already gathered at the door when we woke up at 5:45! so we didn’t get Turtle in the shop until noon.

The people ahead of us were all in “coaches”: The difference between a coach and a motorhome is, like most differences in America, defined by money. If it the owners paid over 100,000 dollars, they call it their coach, the rest of us po’folks call ours motorhomes (we consider ourselves extremely wealthy, by world standards). A very seasoned sailor we had the privilege of crewing for, said that the pleasure received from a boat was in inverse proportion to the size, i.e. the smaller the boat the more fun the owners have. From a decade of RVing, I think the same principle applies to RVs. Turtle is relatively small, but for us, compared to a bike packing tent, luxurious; we think we’ve found the perfect balance; the people with the $500,000 behemoth probably think the same thing.

Owning a coach is sort of like owning a very large home: do the people own the home, or does the home own the people. I remember feeling owned by our home, as much as we loved it. When it reached pre-teen age, it began to demand more and more attention and expense, and wasn’t very cute or fun anymore; some parents can probably relate to that. More RVers are getting the idea; Winnebago reported to financial analysts that their large coach sales, and bottom line, were being hurt by the sale of smaller units like our 23 footer. Sorry Winnebago; get accustomed to the new world of $70 plus per barrel oil.

July 3

We know we’ve arrived in the Midwest; hot, humid and mosquitoes. We have friends all over the Midwest, and I don’t mean to insult their homeland, formerly mine, but when people like us, so dependent on being outdoors in spectacularly beautiful surroundings, suddenly find themselves in the flatlands, and suffocating, the first week or so can be tough. I’ll get over it.

One of the first things I noticed was how dirty the rivers are here, beginning as soon as the prairie gives way to cultivated fields. We walked across the Winnebago River, here in Forest City, and it was a sad little brown/green sluggish thing, incapable of reflecting a bright blue sky. I wonder if there are any fish in it, and if the kids are allowed to eat what they catch? I wouldn’t.

One night in Western Minnesota we parked in a town park, and I could smell the surrounding fields, and memories flooded back of the chemicals we used on our small farm when I was a boy in West Virginia. My father worked in the C&O switching yards in the chemical plants of South Charleston, WV (highest cancer rates in the U.S.) and the workers gave him paper sacks of the latest thing in bug and week killers. He mixed them in an open 30-gallon drum balanced on the drawbar of our Farmall Cub; I perched below the rim and hand pumped the chemical mixture to a homemade (and clever) three-row sprayer he made. The chemicals sloshed on me regularly and he told me to be sure and not get any in my mouth. Those smells bring back fond memories of childhood summers working on the farm, but I am glad I haven’t died from those chemicals—yet.

Over a decade ago, when we crossed the Great Plains on Zippy, our tandem, we stopped in Nebraska at a Soil Conservation office, to ask about water quality. They said Nebraska farmers were just beginning to work on reducing the amount of chemical fertilizers on their fields, and had a ways to go. The impetus was an unusually large number of women having miscarriages in farm communities and a rapid degradation of the drinking water. I wonder what progress they have made? When the fields smell more of chemicals than plants, as they do around here, I doubt much has changed.

Economic values take precedence in America. I believe an honest accounting system would place a value on the degradation of the soil and water, and those miscarriages. A pristine Earth is a deposit made in a bank for us by the Creator. Doesn’t it seem reasonable to account for our withdrawals? That way we would realize that each withdrawal leaves less for future generations. Just because we didn’t put it in the bank ourselves doesn’t mean we aren’t responsible for maintaining the balance. The balance we have to consider is: increased wealth for the present generation, against the permanent loss of life-quality to future generations. This is not wacko liberal thinking, it is simple conservative economics, and it’s time we began being honest and admit we’ve been stealing from the future. We are a smart people, we can have wealth and a healthy Earth.

How do you measure the economic value of poor health; perhaps you ask a woman who’s had a miscarriage, or the person who has a disease associated with the degraded environment. Someday the dismal science, as economics is sometimes called, will take account of quality of life issues, as well as wealth building. When people lose their health, they are willing to pay any amount of money (if they have it) to regain their health. Wouldn’t it be better for us all to have a little less money and a lot better health? We could if the science of economics would step up and count more than coins; your grandchildren’s lives depend on it.

Claire is finishing up here June deadlines and I’m helping with the pictures while we luxuriate in Turtle’s air conditioning courtesy the Earth Bank. We are making a withdrawal of Wyoming coal and spewing carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, contributing to your grandchildren’s future. “Oh well,” said Eyore, “Nothing to be done.”

The Winnebago folks are friendly, and hopefully fixing our relatively small issues. We’re enjoying free wi fi, and electricity, at Lichtsinn Motors, where we bought Turtle. I’m just hoping for some rain to lower the humidity. The dawn sky was that soft rose color I associate with humid summer mornings. It hasn’t gotten to the wring-it-out of my shirt level yet, but I can feel where it is heading.

July 4

Happy birthday! Read from Thomas Jefferson today in celebration.

It’s just another workday for us. This is new, working on the road. We used to gather pictures and notes for stories while we traveled and finish them when we settled down in Tucson or the Northwest. This year we won’t settle down, we’ll travel 10 out of 12 months, three or four months of it in South America, where we won’t be able to write and submit stories, just gather pictures and notes again. But Claire will find several stories to tell later, and I’ll provide the pictures.

Everybody around here is out crowding the lakes, drinking beer and trying to keep cool until the fireworks tonight at Spirit Lake. Hillary and Bill Clinton are appearing less than 20 miles from here, but it’s way too soon for Presidential politics. The way things are going, in 50 years the Presidential election season will be three and a half years long! Give us a break folks. I think I like the parliamentary system, where the party in power can call an election at anytime; in something like five weeks the election is held, and the whole thing is mercifully over. It’s not as if having a long time to decide on a President contributes to the quality of the choice. We have 16 months to go!

The Goodlands National Park, or is that Badlands?

My feet over the abyss, and a stupid bunny who let me get way too close: coyote snack.

Claire being brave, and a prairie blossom

Badlands National Park got its name from the early French trappers and American settlers because of the eroded spires and hoodoos of rock that made travel difficult. I couldn’t find out what the Lakota (Sioux) called the beautiful (to me) land, but they made a good life there hunting bison until the Wounded Knee Massacre in 1890. The mixed-grass prairie on the highlands, and on the White River lowlands, is the largest such prairie in the National Park System; it is home to the newly introduced black footed ferret, that feeds on the Park’s many black tailed prairie dogs. Long gone, probably never to return, are the wolf and grizzly.
Whitetail deer out for a morning munch in a meadow
The fantastic eroded soft rock is a wonderful playground for the sure-footed, providing infinite routes in over and around the fantastic shapes. The colorful bands tell a story of millions of years of inland seas filled by river sediments; watering holes collected the bones of vertebrates long extinct, just now being dug up and classified. We were able to visit one such dig and watch the workers carefully brush soil away from bones undisturbed for 75 million years. Humans are a very brief part of the history of the Earth: it is unsettling that we are so thoughtless in our treatment of such a precious gift. Some are learning.
Vertebrate dig
If you ever get a chance, detour off of I-90, and spend a half-day at least taking in this less-visited park. You won’t be sorry.
. Prairie sunset

Black Hills of South Dakota, Crazy Horse and Sioux Falls.

Riding the Mickelson Trail
Harney Peak, highest point between the Rocky Mountains and the Pyrenees (Spain and France border) at 7240 feet.

Most people know the Black Hills as the home of Mount Rushmore National Memorial and the Crazy Horse Memorial giant sculptures. There is much more to the Black Hills than these two hugely popular tourist attractions. We parked Turtle for a week beside Mike Reynolds and Pam Traina’s (FHTV #190) house in Hill City, in the heart of the Black Hills. We should have known that visiting with Pam and Mike (Mike in Tucson, Mick in Hill City) would not consist of porch sitting and lazy walks. We bicycled a total of 169 miles with something over 12,000 feet of vertical climbing. After having not ridden for nearly two weeks, that was the biggest jump of weekly mileage, outside of touring, that we can remember. To top it off, the weather was at near record levels of heat and the humidity, though not high by Midwest standards, was brutal by Arizona/Utah standards. We survived though, and think we probably gained weight eating Pam’s great pasta meals. We also hiked to the top of Harney Peak, with a thousand or so other hikers; apparently it is the most popular hike in the Black Hills, with good reason.

Bison in Custer State Park

We also visited with Nick and Carolyn Clifford, new winter residents (owners) in Far Horizons Tucson Village. We also met Mary, raconteur and next door neighbor, and friends Fritz and Loretta, who gave us a ride, with bikes, about 35 miles up the Mickelson (rail) Trail for a one-way ride back to Hill City.

Approaching bison in Custer State Park; trying to decide how to hide behind those cars.

We rode many miles in Custer State Park, gem of the Black Hills, home to herds of bison, pronghorns, flowers, blue skies and puffy clouds. Those puffy clouds do tend to turn to thunderstorms, and one day pelted Turtle with golf-ball-sized hail; we were convinced during the cacophony of hail and thunder, that we were about to lose our second motorhome to hail. We were lucky: the hail was not baseball sized, and our roof is now fiberglass and stood the test well; we could find no dents. The only casualty was a huge hematoma on Claire’s hand as she tried to stuff a blanket through the skylight to protect it, while I stood by and reminded her that hail was probably the main reason we have insurance. I’ll never say that again, and she won’t stick her hand out in large hail again.
Crazy Horse’s eye

Crazy Horse from back side
Crazy Horse from his index finger

We left Mike and Pam after a week and went back to work, getting an up close tour of the Crazy Horse Memorial by the public relations staff (thanks Ace Crawford) for a proposed story on Native American Tourism. We spent one night in Rapid (short locally for Rapid City) and a short visit with Tass and Bruce, fellow cycle touring adventurers we met in Turkey. They had some great ideas for South America from their trip there several years ago.

Since we were passing through Sioux Falls, we decided to pop in on Miller and Marilyn Glanzer (FHTV 421). They showed us the falls and the interesting downtown sculptures and treated us to sodas at a great soda fountain. Thanks! That rich ice cream soda was a wonderful lunch and will help us put back on the weight we lost in the Black Hills! (Yes, Pam and Mike, we both lost weight, despite Pam’s pasta).

The best soda in years in downtown Sioux Falls.
We’ll be in Iowa soon, visiting Winnebago for a few minor things on Turtle. For the RVers among you, we are getting 18-19mpg, even in the mountains. Good boy Turtle!

Next up: The Greatlands National Park of South Dakota

Bob and Claire

Tornado within a mile or two


Last night in Spearfish, S.D., we noticed the sunny day turn black, then green, which Claire said meant tornado. Hah. It did look funny though. So we turned on our little yellow weather radio (never travel the great plains without one!) and heard a line of violent thunderstorms were due to arrive in Spearfish at 7:45. Right. 7:45. Sure. At 7:43 a light rain began. I laughed. Some storm. At 7:44 the breeze picked up a bit. So what.
At 7:45 (I swear) exactly, we were hit by a downpour and 60mph winds, lightning and thunder. Turtle shook violently. I will never doubt our little yellow National Weather Service radio again. We were somewhat protected by Wal*Mart, but when some hail began to pepper us (we have a history with hail) we drove close to the wall of the building and were well protected through the worst of it.
Then we heard about a tornado bearing down on Spearfish. We are still debating whether we should have gone into Wal*Mart. I could see that huge roof sucked off and dropped back down on us in pieces; Claire could see Turtle sucked up the tossed onto the Yellow Brick Road.
Wal*Mart is on the far eastern edge of Spearfish. the tornado touched down three miles east of Spearfish, perhaps a mile or two from us. Yikes. Glad we didn’t know until morning.
The wind backed and stayed force six until about 2:00a.m. when we again moved to the lee of Wal*Mart so we could get some sleep. I think I like 107 degrees in Tucson better.
We met a nice couple from N.C. heading for Alaska in their View (like Turtle) and spent a couple of hours talking about little glitches, and how much we like our Skinny Winnies. During the storm, we looked like two white beetles scurrying around in the horizontal rain, looking for shelter.
Not the the two pictures, taken a couple of minutes apart, are not the same. Picture number one, a heavy Wal*Mart cart is being blown uphill, out of its corral; picture number two it is long gone; we never saw it again after it passed our stern at about 20 mph.