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Our First Covered Bridge. An old Rail Line

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Loading the Bakkie onto the Mack Truck

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Havana, Illinois. 6th September

 

Not the best start of for our two months away. I mentioned in the last blog how the van started the first time but after sitting in the campsite for a day all it would do was cough and wheeze when started. That was on the Saturday of the Labour Day long weekend and of course nothing was to happen until the first day back, Tuesday. Chad, the bloke who serviced the bakkie in our absence kept putting us off and I think had lost interest in our situation. On the Tuesday I rang a mobile diesel mechanic who duly appeared, changed the fuel filters that Chad had said were not available in the US. Tried it but still the same. That was US$441 worth. But he did call the Mack tow truck which turned up and soon had the van on the back and us clambering mountaineering-like into the cab.

Our sprits were decidedly low. However, at the workshop, Nick, a young mechanic, came out, introduced himself, asked what year the bakkie was, and with no further ado, grabbed a couple of spanners, and started fiddling. Remember this type of vehicle is not sold in USA, there was no diagnostic plug, and so he was flying blind.

Fifteen minutes later, the motor was idling beautifully, revving well and ready for a test run. Things were looking brighter. But it was evident to Nick something was still not right. It lacked power. No acceleration. By now it was late and they needed to keep at it the next day. The dropped us off at the nearest motel, a Motel 8. Now Joan has always been disparaging of this hotel chain but it was roomy, clean, comfortable bed and friendly staff. Could’ve done with a couple more pillows but we did have a TV remote. Kenneth, the Uber driver said his experience with a Motel 8 stay included not even a TV remote.

I called the workshop a couple of times the next day only to hear bad news. But they were persevering and even had the big boss over to give advice. In the meantime I started looking at hire car agencies, as we needed to get to Boston to meet Adam on the 12th. I also started looking up local car wreckers. What a terrible way for the bakkie to end its life! We had faith in these mechanics and I didn’t think anyone else could do a better job but one had to be practical.

Juan phoned us early the next day, Thursday and I could tell by by the sound of his voice he had good news. Problems solved. It all comes back to storing the bakkie in a non temp-controlled shed for over 12 months in below zero temperatures for weeks on end. In that situation the diesel takes on a turpentine appearance and changes its viscosity. It becomes more sludge like and that clogs up the filters, pump, the works. They took out the tank, emptied it, put another fuel filter in as the ones put in the day before were full of the sludge. Replaced a couple of fuel line that were cracking causing air to creep in and bypassed one of the fuel filters as the pump on it was dicey. We were ecstatic.

So, at ten yesterday morning we hit Interstate 80. A shit of a road as it’s full of semis, but so good to be moving. We stayed the night at Rock Creek state park and today branched off onto the local roads and experienced some of Small Town America. Many lovely places with their spired court houses and clean streets.

Havana is one such place. There is a delightful little campsite here over watched by Deb. Perched on the banks of the Illinois River metres from the broad river. A tug boat went up river not long after we arrived pushing 15 barges, five long and three wide each 20 metres in length. It was an amazing sight. This is Oktoberfest weekend in Havana and the festivities started off tonight with a parade. Very lively and enough candies thrown from the floats to ruin the most shiniest of kids teeth. There were feed and trinket stalls up town. Also a MAGA stall filled with Trump insignia. It was pleasing to see no buyers of goods in there the two times we walked past.

 

 

 

 

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A Model of the Book Depository and Elm Street With Bullet Trajectory.

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The JFK Memorial Near the Book Depository

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The Window From Where Oswald Fired

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Book Depository in Background. Old Court House in Right. From Hotel

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The Sliced Lady

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Kevin Keen to See Joan. Where We Stored Bakkie

USA 2019

29th August. Dallas

There is an ‘X’ on the asphalt below and to the right of the southern side of the Texas Book Depository which marks where the fatal shot hit President Kennedy. If Lee Harvey Oswald was right handed, the angle required for him to fire those three shots was very acute. He must’ve have been a good shot to hit a moving target travelling away at such an angle. He did have a scope though.

The Sixth Floor Museum is now the most visited attraction in Dallas. Not a pleasant fact that the most popular site is where a President was assassinated. But it is a very interesting display especially when it shows how unpopular Kennedy was in the city especially with his civil rights stand. Prominent citizens had taken out a full page advertisement listing their grievances before he arrived and the local democratic party was split between the progressives and the conservatives in the party. His visit was to heal those wounds and as a fundraiser for his pre election. He never did make the fundraiser dinner where he was heading when shot.

Something that I didn’t realize was Oswald had been employed at the Book Depository a few months earlier and was questioned by the police when leaving the building. But when told he was an employee he was allowed to leave. The death of Officer Tippet by Oswald would have been prevented if he had been apprehended at that point..

Our hotel is a couple of blocks from the museum. The interesting old red courthouse with its cones and bell tower, at the moment all swathed in scaffolding, is to the right with the Book Depository a further block away.

The Perot Museum of Natural Science was also an interesting destination. Most remember Ross Perot when standing as an independent for president some elections ago. He made his money in oil and one of the four levels of the museum is dedicated to oil and gas. But the remaining floors were all very interesting especially for kids. The exhibit that stood out for me, and more so when Ron, the volunteer, explained it to me, was these three full length images of a woman’s body. But they weren’t images at all. It appears this German woman in her 50s was dying and wanted to donate her body to science. But not just bits here and there. So when she died they stored her in formaldehyde for two months then froze her for a similar time. Then they sliced her body with a bandsaw head to foot just like they do salami in the IGA. Not sure of the thickness of each slice would but I would say about 10mm. As you can see with the photo you can see through her quite easily. Then she was enclosed in glass for the world to see. At one time a doctor told Ron that it was possible to see what she died of. Lung cancer. She was an athlete who smoked heavily. Bit creepish but very interesting

 

30th August. Koa West Omaha Campsite.

 

We stayed at this camp site 14 months ago when we packed up ready to head home. It was an ideal place to head to to sort out the van after being stored all that time. Things were musty, had to be washed. Opening a cupboard Joan was confronted by slivers of glass falling out. Four tonic water glass bottles had frozen then expanded in the cold winter they experienced here. The same with a bottle of nice Napa wine given to us on our last trip. The cork had blown and the wine ruined.

 

Been some very helpful people here. Kevin, where we left the bakkie, and Chad, the bloke who serviced the vehicle while we were home. The bakkie started well when we drove off and also when we exited Walmart. But this morning, already to start our drive east, all it could manage was a wheezy idle. Checked for air and water in the lines but all well. To make it worse, Monday is a holiday so nothing can be done until the Tuesday. That’s when we are booked to be in Chicago, some 8 hour drive from here.

 

 

 

 

A Few Photos

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From our camp overlooking the Badlands

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Prairie Dogs at the Badlands

Grand Teton NP in the Morning

Grand Teton NP

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Lake Yellowstone

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One of the Thermal Pools

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Bison Have the Right of Way

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Pronghorn

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Crazy Horse Memorial

Omaha. Nebraska

Grand Teton NP. Wyoming 15th May.

Things are getting serious regarding bears and in this park which is just south of Yellowstone, many people walk around with Pepper Power bear spray in a holster on their belt. We saw a jogger this morning alongside the road, didn’t have much on but did have his spray with him. It’s a bit scary so I thought it best if I purchase a canister. It’s capsicum spray in a large canister that sprays for about 4 seconds. But the instructions on the tin don’t give a person much joy. Saying things like ‘a bear can cover 50 feet in three seconds’ ‘wait until the bear is about 20 feet away charging at you before using the spray’. If he’s travelling at that speed and you have to wait until he’s 20 feet away that means you have less than 1.5 seconds to act. Then they say to ‘Stay Calm!’

Our problem is the canvas over our bed. Because of that we have had to empty ALL our foodstuff not in tins into the bear box. That includes everything in the fridge. Our alternative was for one of us to sleep on the floor and the other in the narrowed bed with the side up. It’s even worse in Yellowstone where I believe in one of the camps they don’t allow canvas tents at all. Not sure how we will go.

But this park, once again, is a beautiful place. The mountain range to the west has a good coating of snow on the higher parts. The lakes are pristine and the country is meadow-like interspersed with pine groves. It doesn’t get the visitors as much as Yellowstone but still worth visiting. Moose, elk and black and grizzly bears are the larger animals in the park.

The last note regarding the bears. The camp ground we had been staying was just outside the park. All camps in the park were full. Larry the Texan host at our camp was saying that bison come through the park and that is when you may get bears following trying to grab a calf. The first morning Joan noticed fresh scat outside our back door. On making a few enquiries were told that yes, it was bear scat. So they were around and me sleeping with the bear spray under my pillow wasn’t a case of paranoia.

One very interesting experience in Yellowstone was chatting to a bloke who had been studying wolves since the mid 70s. We met him standing behind a serious scope focused on a wolf den some 1.25 miles away. He was one of the forces behind reinstalling them back in Yellowstone. He showed us the genealogy of some of the wolves they were studying. Through his scope we watched a grey female lazing on the grass. Earlier I had picked up with my binoculars one of the pups coming out of the den. So very interesting.

Saw bears (7 grizzlies 3 black) and all the other things that go bump in the night. Then there was the thermal activity. So varied and colourful.

Little Big Horn camping. 19.5.18

So this is where the General met his Waterloo. Rolling hills with embankments to the east of the Little Big Horn River. Green grass and a fast flowing water after recent rain. Tomorrow we will take a tour of the battleground.

Black Hills Free Camping. 21.5.18

The Black Hills in South/West South Dakota was another broken promise given to the Indian tribes. It was to be theirs in perpetuity but once gold was discovered (in very small quantities) the rush was on and it was then the army’s job to protect the prospectors.

We are only on the edge of the forest, near a small stream, on our own. Last night was also a free camp in the Custer State Forest in Montana. Another great site.

Yesterday morning was spent at the Little Big Horn battle site. An area of rolling hills covered in spring grass. Boards along the drive describe in good detail how the battle proceeded and standing on ‘Last Stand Hill’ it is easy to see there had to be just one result. The Indians just outnumbered the 7th Cavalry and there was no where to retreat. The reinforcement were having to retreat under large numbers. It was very interesting but was the death knell for the way of life the tribes were used to.

Today’s highlight was a detour to ‘The Devil’s Pillar. A 860 feet solitary stand of rock. A favourite for rock climbers. It is very impressive.

Horse Thief Camp. Nr Black Hills State Forest. 22.5.18

We had visitors this morning when exiting the bakkie. Two mule deer daintily crossed the road a few metres from us on their way to the stream for a drink. Leaving we came upon more further into the forest then had a couple jump across the road in front of us. Tonight others have come down to this park to graze on the short grass.

We have become a little more selective on what we take the time to see now. Mt Rushmore is in the Black Hills, the four presidents carved into the mountainside. It is a rite of passage for American citizens to visit some time in their lives but to us not so essential and one is able to get good images from outside the park. A couple of snaps and we were on our way.

The Indian effort is Crazy Horse on a horse. It will be the biggest rock carving in the world when finished but not sure of completion date. Started in 1948.

Lake Ravenna. Nebraska. 28th May

The Badlands in Sth Dakota were a fitting finale to our meandering over the western half of the US. 70 million years of erosion has left the area in which the White River flows, a mass of spires, drop offs, canyons separated by some of the last of the native grasslands in the country. In spring the grass is high and a vivid green. The bison love it as do the big horn sheep and prairie dogs. Our first night camping on the area was on the edge of the park, in grasslands with the rim of the Badland drop off metres from the back door of the bakkie.

Yesterday we started the drive to Omaha, Nebraska where the bakkie will be stored and we will catch the Amtrack train back to San Francisco. The trip will take almost two days but we will have a cabin if you can call such a small space that. Then 4 nights in SF and catch the flight home. Before crossing into Nebraska our route took us very close to Wounded Knee. The site of the last massacre of men women & children by the US military where 230 were killed. Another depressing place. We gave it a miss.

Nebraska is renowned for its corn. At this stage the new crop is only starting to appear above ground so we are not viewing corn as high as an elephant’s eye this time around. We have really taken the back roads after leaving Sth Dakota and the towns in many cases are dying or have died. It is an agricultural area and the bigger places are thriving while the small drive-through places are missing out. Places to pull over for a break or morning coffee are non existent. The guide books try and give the state a bright write up to attract the tourists but methinks it’s a lost cause.

The reason we have chosen Omaha to leave the bakkie is because the Amtrack Californian Zephyr train only stops at a few places on its route. It also means when we come back we are in a good position to head east and take in the autumn colours. Besides, maybe some of Warren Buffett’s magic dust might fall on our shoulders.

The Coastline at Westport Campsite

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Wrapped for the Wind Swept Beach

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