Driving the rig is half the fun. Most of the time.

The last 4 days have been pretty interesting if behind the wheel adventures are your thing. Driving out of Clinton Lake State Park, in Lawrence Kansas on Thursday, the temps were already over 80 degrees, with humidity around 75%. Pretty sticky and hot, unless you’re naked, and I keep hearing stories about the laws against that. We jumped on I-70 heading west about an hour. At exit 225 we exited onto state Highway 156 heading southwest across the state, two lanes all the way. This is the drive most people complain about, that there’s nothing out there or it’s flat and boring. I’d be happy to argue that notion. The land is varied in terrain and a gradual climb in altitude. Along the way the flora and fauna change. In the Flint Hills, bison appear on the slopes, surrounded by prairie dogs, pronghorn, and coyotes. Flora is represented by scrub brush, sage, and plants that are tough enough to live in arid conditions. Some say it looks a little pre-historic. Eventually, the landscape changes from natural to farmed. Grain elevators are just yards off the highway every 30 miles or so. The highway passes through towns so small the speed limit is reduced from 65 miles an hour to maybe 50. There is almost no traffic anywhere. Mostly cattle trucks, agriculture chemical tankers, and occasionally a local pick-up. Passing farm equipment and tractors on the road is a regular occurrence, and watching crop dusters sweeping across fields and making low flying u-turns over the highway kept us on our toes. The corn grows from horizon to horizon, in all directions. We wondered how much of this food is grown for markets overseas and how much of it stays here. We thought about family farms and the changing way of life. We passed a few cattle feedlots. 25 to 30 acres of bare dirt with cattle separated into a hundred different pens. Thousands of cattle, all fed a rich diet to fatten them up for their last ride in a cattle truck to a factory that will render them into packs of meat for markets. We pondered these great plains and the planting, growing, and harvesting. At times we felt a little quiet soaking it all in. Arriving in Garden City Kansas, we fueled Sunny the van and slipped into a row of over the road trucks in a Walmart parking lot. While I took Indie for a walk, Christina cooked dinner. We ate, reflected on our day, and the scenes we witnessed. After washing the dishes and reading a little, we settled into our lovely little bed, snoozing away to the sound of purring trucks. In the morning it was funny to wake up realizing half the trucks had left. We didn’t even hear them pull away. We made coffee, ate breakfast, checked the fluids in Sunny, and hit the road again. Heading south on I-83 from Garden City we exited onto state Highway 160 for our trip to Trinidad Colorado. The two-lane road on this route cut through the land, rough and with no shoulders. Tallgrass and scrub grew right up to the white lines on both sides. At one point for several miles, the road looked like a ruffled ribbon headed for the horizon, at 60 miles per hour we were riding what felt like a little roller coaster. The pavement was un-even and for the first time in our travels, some things inside Luna came out of the cabinets and broke. Not one single other RV or camper was seen until we crossed into Colorado. It was the most desolate section of the country we crossed so far. Highway 160 took us straight into Trinidad Colorado. A beautiful little city, with lots of stone buildings. It reminded us a little of Jackson Hole Wyoming, a ton of tourists and bustling shops. We did some shopping for supplies and were glad to see the store practiced COVID-19 safety. Leaving Trinidad heading south on I-25 the climb continued. Sunny the van did fine, keeping a steady pace and running at normal temperatures. Passing through Raton we crossed our first mountain pass. About halfway up the climb construction was being done and the highway was only one lane. I was a little nervous we might slow down a lot and hold up traffic, but we kept a good speed, gained just a little engine temperature and crossed the top in good form. The road down the other side was forgiving and not too steep. It was good practice for things to come. We exited onto Highway 64 and headed toward Cimarron Canyon. This drive was fun. Sharp curves and rollers for an hour or so. Christina said it was a pretty view, but I didn’t see anything but curves in the road, and trees hanging low. Finally, after several long hours of driving our destination was just minutes away. We drove into the north end of Eagle Nest New Mexico late in the afternoon. Tired from driving all day we were ready to get to our destination, and we were glad to find Squash Blossom Lane just off Highway 64. Parked on the side of the rocky road we google earthed the location and thought we had the spot figured out. Worn out and hungry we headed for the driveway leading to our parking spot. The driveway heading up the mountainside had a decorative wood beam over the gate, and as we approached we both agreed the rig would clear the beam. This would be the last of our worries, then a drive up the lane to our spot. As we started to climb the slope it became very evident the grade was way steeper than it looked from the road. No problem I thought, if in doubt power out. Putting the pedal down we took on the slope, climbing a narrow rock drive that we could not stop on safely at this pitch. Within yards, the drive became a washed-out gulley. I felt like we were about to meet our maker, if I stopped we’d likely slide backward. Giving Sunny the adventure van even more gas we held on tight, steering between almost knee-deep gullies in the drive and bouncing like crazy we took the second right, the drive leveled out, and had no erosion, but as soon as we turned left again, not only was the drive washed out, it was grown over with brush, hard to see and almost as steep. My heart was racing and my mind was reeling in hysteria, so I gave Sunny all the pedal he had. The little Duramax motor revved up like a champ, new Michelin all-terrain tires spun and threw gravel but kept getting a grip. Luna closed her eyes and held on tight. Roaring up and around the last curve we pulled into the parking space next to the house we had so carefully determined to be our destination. We both laughed out loud at our crazy antics. Getting out I let the van idle for a few minutes to let the turbo cool down, and almost immediately Christina started to say we were at the wrong spot. She was right. We had climbed a slope when all we had to do was turn right instead of left at the bottom of the hill and park near another horse barn. Christina said she was considering punching me, especially since I had just almost killed all three of us. Fatigue had been our enemy, and my sense of judgment was skewed from a long day of driving. We should have never attempted that climb. Texting the landowner, our host who lives in another state, he was amazed that we had climbed that mountain, not only pulling a 34-foot trailer but also with only two-wheel drive. We were, you know, screwed. Our rig measures 53 feet total and we had about 44 of driveway width along a ledge to turn around on. But by now we were shot. I walked Indie, and Christina made supper. Worn out and feeling stupid, and knowing I had to figure out how to get our rig down the mountain, I had a tumultuous night, to say the least. What little sleep we got was good. Christina gave up the idea of murdering me in New Mexico, and I was pretty sure I had a plan to turn the rig around. After breakfast, we got to work. Reducing the air pressure in the front and rear axle tires meant we could swing Luna hard toward the ledge. I’d need to get the back tires within about 18 inches of the ledge to make room to un-hitch Sunny the van and move it to the other side of the tongue. About the time I had the back tires almost to the edge of the ledge, I saw a Dodge 2500, four-wheel-drive quad cab coming up the hill. Arriving at our little project Ed and Jackie got out and walked right up, staring at us both like we were crazy people. Ed said, “did you drive this rig up this road?”. Yes sir. “Well that makes you one heck of a good driver, I don’t know how you did it!” I was relieved, I was prepared to be laughed at out loud. But Ed and Jackie were there to help. The landowner had let them know we had arrived, at the wrong spot, and we may need some assistance. Christina and Jackie started to chat it up while Ed and I continued working on getting the coach swung around. Ed and I may have a few things in common, and he’s a few years older than me, so I’m pretty sure Jackie was congratulating Christina for keeping the murder rate to a minimum the night before. Ed and I backed Luna right out to the ledge, chocked the wheels and un-hitched Sunny. As planned I moved Sunny to the other side of the tongue and backing up swung the ball under the coupler and hooked up. The little Duramax did it’s work and tugged Luna across the slope and to a point where the whole rig was pointing straight toward the downward slope. The rig was turned around, and that was a huge relief, but now I had to get the whole thing down the mountain without breaking free and either getting stuck in the ruts or sliding of the ledges. Jackie and Ed are easy-going folks, so they made us take a break and check out the house we were parked near. They made sure we were drinking plenty of water since we were affected by the altitude and had some laughs with us while we checked out the place. On the way back to our rig, I asked Ed if he’d be nice enough to strap to the rear bumper on Luna and dead man the rig down the road with his Dodge. He said sure, and we got him hooked up. So off we headed down the slope, me steering with one hand, and managing the brakes with the controller and the braked pedal. The trailer brakes slid several times and I was pretty happy to have that Dodge back there keeping things on track. It took a little time to get back to the road and a flat spot to take the strap off Ed’s Dodge. I’ve never been so happy in my life to have a job done. We drove 50 yards to the gate across the street, backed into the pretty field we are in now, parked Luna, and breathed a deep breath of relief. Ed and Jackie shared a few minutes before they left, and I helped Ed change a tire he punctured on an elk skeleton while he was turning around in the field. Left alone, in the correct parking spot, with the sun in the sky and wind blowing through our little house, we reflected on the lesson we had lived. The adventure isn’t always on a trail or in a kayak. The thrill of this lifestyle comes in all different kinds of places. We learned a lot from our little climb up the mountain, and back down, and we’ll never forget it.

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