Monday, July 4, 2005

Happy birthday, USA!

One of our loyal readers, Ben, inquires how many miles we put on Odyssey annually.

That's a difficult question to answer. We have only been full-timing for nine months. However, at this rate, we are doing about 30K or so per year. That's about double (or maybe more) than our planned usage pattern -- our intent is to park at each stop for an average of a week. This first year is different, for a couple reasons. First, we started with a big loop of the US to visit friends and family who have been following the conversion saga for two years. Between the visits and some other stops that had specific calendar dates attached, we were on the move almost every day, with only three or four long stops on the whole loop.

After this first loop, we had planned to slow down considerably, and we did for about two weeks. Problems with the engine, which I have chronicled here, followed by the failure of our satellite dish, forced us to backtrack, added another 1,500 miles or so, and ate up three weeks of our planned leisurely six-week jaunt to Fort Worth.

We are hoping to slow down to our originally planned pace after the Bus'n'USA rally in Rickreall and subsequent repairs at Infinity Coach in Sumner. My hope is that, in our second year of operation, we will put only 12-15K on Odyssey, and perhaps 10K or so on the motorcycles, which saw only very limited use this year due to the blistering pace.

This morning we are at the Heyburn City RV Park, a municipal park right on the Snake River across from Burley, ID (map). After leaving Flaming Gorge yesterday morning, we followed Utah 43 into Wyoming, and then Wyoming 414 until it dropped us onto Interstate 80. As much as we dislike traveling the interstates, there really was no reasonable alternative to take us to Brigham City. This section of I-80, and the piece of I-84 that brought us into Ogden, are very rural and very scenic, and traffic was light for a holiday weekend, so it really was not bad at all. As a bonus, we were able to pick up 70 gallons of diesel in Evanston for $2.23 a gallon -- had I known we were going to detour through Wyoming when we left Texas, I would not have filled the tank in Amarillo.

From Brigham City we proceeded west on Utah 83 to Promontory Summit, site of the driving of the golden spikes and the connection of the east and west coasts for the first time by rail. The park service now owns this site, and they have built a nice visitor center with exhibits, and also re-laid the bit of trackage on either side of the site, and commisioned exact replicas of the two locomotives that stood pilot-to-pilot on May 10, 1869. Unexpectedly, we arrived just in time to see one of the locomotives, the Jupiter, build up steam and head off to the locomotive barn for the night. Live steam is always an impressive sight in today's diesel-electric world.

We opted not to tempt fate by driving Odyssey on the old historic railroad grade that is part of the self-guided auto tour, but we looked at the rest of the exhibits. This is a little-visited park in a forlorn and remote place, but the monumental undertaking it commemorates changed the country forever, in ways no less significant than, say, the invention of the light bulb or the telephone, or even the industrial revolution itself.

After leaving the park, we turned north onto 83 which took us past the vast Thiokol complex. Thiokol makes rocket fuel and rocket boosters, and you may recall the name from the Challenger disaster nearly 20 years ago, as Thiokol made the Solid Rocket Boosters (SRB's) that were implicated in the explosion (to their credit, Thiokol engineers had repeatedly warned NASA not to launch in freezing conditions, a warning that went unheeded on that fateful day). Now, making rocket fuel and solid rockets is an incredibly dangerous business, so we were not surprised that the plant is under tight security and there are giant earthen bunkers everywhere. We were, however, amazed to see several of the production buildings bristling with escape slides. Imagine those tubular slides you see in the play area at McDonalds, only adult-sized and two or three stories tall. Now imagine a building forty feet high and perhaps 200 feet on a side with dozens of these slides attached to it at regular intervals, leading to the large open space around it. You could not pay me enough money to work in this building.

As we drove by, I recalled the horrific explosion at the PEPCON rocket fuel plant in Henderson, NV which has been the subject of several of my beloved disaster-reconstruction TV programs. Given how bad things can be, every split second counts, and escape slides make perfect sense. I have just never seen this before. We're sorry now that we did not have the camera at the ready to post a photo of the more slide-endowed building here. Louise did get one in-motion shot of another building with a single slide.

A bit further up the road we pulled into the facility to visit the nice rocket and missile display they have there, with examples of perhaps 20 or 30 missiles in a park setting, including the SRB.

83 dumped us back onto I-84 north, but we were able to bail back off just south of the Idaho border and take a two-lane alternative, Utah 30 to 42 connecting with Idaho 81, which brought us all the way here. Tomorrow we will head west on US30 and Idaho 78 into Oregon.

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