Monday, January 18, 2021

Day 35 - Harlingen, TX - TT

Today was a long-ish travel day at 299 miles. We had a 30+ mph head wind for most of the trip. I’m sure that our mileage will be pretty poor. The driver side mirror was vibrating from the wind so I may need to reinforce the body where the mirror attaches. 

The pool is open and it’s heated. It’s very nice on this warm evening. It 83°F on the drive down. I’m not going to complain about that.

The following short time-lapse was taken of the sunset from the pool. The phone is just propped up on a towel and the wind gradually changed its angle. 
 



Sunday, January 17, 2021

Day 31, 32, 33, 34 - Columbus, TX - TT

Thursday (Day 31) - I saw 71°F this afternoon. I’m not going to complain about that! This mornings walk was a little short at 2.27 miles as there was an early ham test today. About an hour earlier than usual. Google calendar chose today to put me back in AKST. Earlier in the week, it registered CST like it had for the previous couple of months. 

Friday (Day 32) - Another nice walk though it was windy and coo but at least it was sunny. I keep looking for a convenient route that'll be over three miles. This is just because I had signed up for a virtual 5k. And I figure that I really need to start walking everyday again.

Right now, I'm waiting for another test session to start. I hadn't signed up originally but there was a message sent out last night that they could use a couple more VEs. Since I didn't have anything planned, why not. A couple of weeks ago, they started testing two people at a time each in a seperate breakout room within Zoom. The problem they are going to run into is each room requires three VEs. I don't know how this is going to scale. 

Later - The applicant passed two tests and is now general class. There is another session tonight (8pm CST). 

I did get a task done that I've been meaning to do for quite a while. One of the pass through storage bays has a tray that pulls out about ⅔ of the way out on either side. The tracks width did not match the tray width by about ¼" and it kept falling off the rails. It was an easy fix. New bolts plus some washers to space the rails from their mounting. There was no adjustment provided by the brackets so it's just poor manufacturing. The frame of the tray is steel so it isn't like something shrunk. 

Now the bearing touch the tray and keep the tray centered, Before, it kept falling off of the bearings. What I was surprised by is that all of the bearings still have grease in them. While I was working on this, I vacuumed out the floor of the bay as well as the tray. There was a year and a half of dirt and sand.

Saturday (Day 33) - After the first testing session, I took a walk and by zig-zagging around all of the trails and roads, I managed to find a route that was over three miles. Still a tenth or so under 5k but close enough. We are going to be here for a couple more days before we head south to Harlingen, TX, which is just north of the border. The temperatures there are warmer than here with highs in the mid-70s. We will be in that area for around five weeks.

This park is just about completely full as is typical most weekends. Those here for the weekends seem to bring a lot of outdoor stuff and usually build fires. Lots of scooters and bicycles. 

There is another test session at 4:30 CST so I'm typing this post while I'm waiting for the session to start. The laptop Internet is almost always through either the iPhone or the iPad as the campground WiFi is too variable for the Zoom session. For the test session, I need a couple of web pages loaded (and one of them updates continuously while the test is in progress), Discord (chat) and Zoom. The iPhone is limited to 400kbps when used as a hotspot during peak times and it has been throttled in the evenings. The iPad isn't throttled or limited until I hit 15GB. 

Sunday (Day 34) - A beautiful day. Clear blue skies and 67°F with no wind makes for a nice walk. Only 2.22 miles around the perimeter of the park. I have some things to do around the RV. Not repairs just cleaning. I had picked up a small shop vac as we’ve needed a small vacuum for some outside chores. 

The HomeAssistant software died in the middle of a software upgrade. Probably due to the poor Internet. I had another micro-SD card purchased so I re-installed v4.18 that I had previously downloaded. After booting up, the host software upgraded to the current version then around 1am, I then upgraded the operating system to v5.10 and reinstalled the ESPHome add-in. I still have a few things to fix but I’ll wait until we get better Internet. 

We had lunch/dinner at Nancy’s Steak here in Columbus. They actually had a salad bar complete with a box of disposable gloves before the plates. A delicious dinner and reasonably priced. Especially if you compare it to Alaska prices. 

Later, we went to the hot tub one last time. At least for this park. I believe the next one has their outdoor jacuzzi open.

Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Day 31 - Johnson Space Center

We visited the NASA facility for all manned space flights located south east of Houston. It was an almost two hour drive from the RV park and we needed to go through downtown Houston. We went on the tour and the first stop was a training facility. This was the most basic one as it doesn’t match the ISS. Mostly just familiarization with where things are. 

This is Artemis, a proposed moon landing vehicle, being used for development. It seems small. 

Here is a mockup of the Orion capsule being developed by Boeing. I thought it was interesting that there was little or no mention of SpaceX. All of the displays talking about future manned missions seemed to focus on the Boeing vehicle. I think it’s because it’s familiar. More of the same old thing.

We then went to the Saturn V building housing the actual launch vehicle for the cancelled Apollo XVIII. Not a model or a mockup. It is housed in it’s own building right next to Rocket Park where there is a Redstone rocket used on the Mercury missions and a test vehicle for the emergency rockets for Gemini. It’s amazing to see the size difference between the Redstone and the Saturn V. BTW, the five stands for the number of engines on the first stage.

Within the visitor’s center, there was a nice mockup of a moon landing. There was a room with numerous moon rocks as well as a history of space suits including one still coated with moon dust. Very dusty. There was an excellent movie on the history of manned space flights including mention of both the Challenger and Columbia disasters.

Outside, was one of the 747s used to ferry the Space Shuttle from its landing spot back to Florida. The landing sites were usually Edwards Air Force Base or White Sands. Many of the later missions used the landing strip right at Cape Canaveral which simplified getting the shuttle ready for its next flight.

The snack bar was closed in the visitor’s center so we stopped at Buc-ee’s for a late lunch. We needed to fill the car up anyway. If you aren’t familiar with this Texas chain, there are lots of pumps and the little market is larger than many grocery stores.


Tuesday, January 12, 2021

Day 30 - Columbus, TX - TT

The cold night (27°F) was followed up by a nice morning. Once it was above 40°F, we switched from the propane furnaces to the heat pump. The last couple of days, we used around a quarter tank of propane for the two furnaces. But they’ve did a reasonable job of keeping the RV warm. This is something that they struggled with in the past before the repair. We will need to switch back to the furnaces around 10pm as the temperature will be in the 30s (°F). A few days ago, we had to use the furnaces all day as it never went above 40°F. 

On my walk this morning I ran into quite a few deer. They must be used to people as they barely acknowledged me walking by. There were quite a few groups about this size totaling around twenty or so. 

This mornings walk was slightly longer than yesterday’s and I avoided the really muddy areas. I did stop at the office to get a jacuzzi reservation for the afternoon. That’s where I’m writing this post. I just finished one test session and have another one later this afternoon. That’s sort of my average day. 

Monday, January 11, 2021

Day 27, 28, 29 - Columbus, TX - TT

Saturday (Day 27) - According to the weather app, it was down to freezing last night, I had switched to the heated water hose yesterday. Probably not really needed but I figured that it couldn't hurt. The propane furnaces did a decent job heating the RV though I did drop the front temperature down to 65°F and had the electric radiator up there as well. The furnace didn't run all night which was the goal.

The water level of the river seemed to drop a bit more. Kind of hard for me to tell l since I rarely look at the river from the same location. It just looks like there is more ground showing. Today's walk was only 1.65 miles as the first hame radio license test session ran long due to Zoom issues. We learned that if you "boot" someone out of a session, they can't reconnect later unless a flag is cleared on the meeting configuration which is only accessible through a web portal not through the application.

Sunday (Day 28) - I think this is the warmest it’s going to be today. It’s snowing to the west and north of here. I think that it has been raining on and off since about midnight and will be continuing throughout the day. The furnace has been getting a workout but at least the front heater is actually working. The air from the vent under the sink is putting out 100°F air where it wasn’t putting out any air before. The living room is a very comfortable 70° according to my HomeAssistant temperature sensor. 

There has been a gradual cooling trend that started yesterday and continued all day long according to the HomeAssistant outside temperature sensor. This sensor is about 3’ above ground level in the open space behind the propane tank and the diesel fuel tank and the storage bays. The temperature is moderated by its surroundings but I wanted to find a location protected from the elements.

Monday (Day 29)
 - Another chilly day but at least we didn’t get any snow like other areas in Texas. We heard that it snowed at the last RV park we were at in Athens. I don’t think that snow here is a fluke it’s just not that common. The forecast looks like there is a slight warming trend which is nice since we are planning on tourist-ing on Wednesday.

Did a 2.5 mile walk after the first radio test of the day. The trail section was pretty muddy in some sections requiring some detours through the brush. The water level in the river seemed lower than the last time which seems odd given yesterdays rain. This is a nice park for walking around and the trails are nice and quiet. I think Bridget said that this was some sort of wildlife preserve. The only wildlife we’ve seen are deer and birds.

Time to get ready for the next test session. Volunteering for these test sessions are really a nice diversion and an opportunity to do something useful with my license.

Friday, January 8, 2021

Day 25, 26 - Visiting Friends + - TT

Thursday (Day 25) - Another walk around the park this morning. The weather was “brisk”. I think that’s the term. Windy with temperatures in the low 50s (°F). Lots of mud from yesterday’s rain so I avoided the trails. Even with the rain, the water level of the river looks like it dropped. 

We headed towards Houston on I-10. Lots of construction. Stopped at Petsmart and Jo-Ann with an opportunistic stop at Dick’s Sporting Goods before heading north to Cypress, TX, to visit with CCJon and his wife Amparo. He is another sidecar rider with lots of epic trips on a variety of two and three wheeled rigs and an incredible photographer. You can find him on his blog, Riding the Horizon, I had missed him on his Alaska trip on a Ural but caught up later at the MOA rally in Salem, OR. Then again on another trip to Alaska with his sidecar camper. Here the sidecar camper is now paired with a real beast of a bike. A Triumph Rocket III. With an engine much larger than some cars. Ready for more adventures.

They took us to Julio’s Cantina, a fantastic Mexican restaurant in the area. The food, company, and margarita were fabulous. Thank you for dinner and the wonderful visit. I'm looking forward to the leftovers tomorrow!

Friday (Day 26)
 - Another Apple virtual award for the new year. I’m not sure why these things motivate me to exercise but I guess I’m glad they do. I need the exercise. Today’s walk was around the circumference of the RV park and added 2.5 miles to my monthly total. The Apple (for me) goal for January is 56.7 miles. I’ve got 17.6 miles to date.

I have another test session later this afternoon but did manage to snag a jacuzzi slot for 1:00. I’m looking forward to that as it is only getting up into the low 50s (°F) today. But it is sunny with blue skies. It’s going to be cooler temperatures through the beginning of next week. 

Wednesday, January 6, 2021

Day 23, 24 - Columbus, TX - TT

Tuesday (Day 23) - Another 70°F day here at the TT campground. I was VE for another radio exam while sitting outside under the awning. The other VEs were from Utah, Colorado, Wyoming, and Alaska. All have been experiencing freezing weather. At least I didn’t have green grass in the background. No virtual background needed for these Zoom sessions. I mentioned that I was going to be headed to the pool shortly.  Was that a bit much...

I went for a couple of bike rides today as well as another walk around the park. The walking is preparation for a virtual 5K race that I signed up for on April 15th. I figure that 5K is a reasonable goal given my current shape. 

Wednesday (Day 24) - The day started out warm but rain is in the forecast for this afternoon. I took a shorter walk today and picked up a time slot for the hot tub later this afternoon. I find it hard to pass up. This wagon is at the entrance to the park. I don’t know anything about it but I liked the metal wheels. 

There was another ham test this afternoon. I believe the group has administered over 400 remote tests so far with a failure rate of just under 10%. This compares with the failure rate of the paper based tests of 28%. 

The video below is a very short capture of the water running off the roof of the RV during the storm this afternoon.



Monday, January 4, 2021

Day 20, 21, 22 - Columbus, TX - TT

Saturday (Day 20) - An 240 mile driving day. Just about all of it on Texas state highways no interstate. We are at a TT park about an hour west of Houston.   There is no WiFi here at the park so we’ll be relying on Verizon only. I have some amateur radio exams scheduled but even when we had WiFi, I needed to switch to Verizon as it was more stable. 

This park has their hot tub open but you need to make an appointment as they are limiting access. Apparently it isn’t too busy as I nabbed a spot for 4:00pm. They clean between appointments. It was a relaxing drive and we were given a 50amp site when we arrived. The prior tenants left a couple of days early and those on the 50amp waiting list didn’t want to switch sites. It’s not that we need 50amp but it sure is convenient. 

Sunday (Day 21)
 - I walked down to the river this morning. The weather app indicated that it was much higher than normal due to the rainfall last week. I guess I expected the water to be a bit higher. It was really muddy which suggests that there was quite a bit of runoff. 

It hit 70°F today which is a nice change from last week. Hopefully we get some decent weather for a while.

Monday (Day 22)
 - Another late morning walk. This was on the trail following the perimeter of the TT park and was around 2.5miles. Not a lot but I haven’t been walking very much and it felt warm at 66°F. It’s supposed to hit 75°F today which is a nice change. 

This is the tent camping section of the park. The river is behind me and it’s around the bottom-center of the above map. 

There are quite a few deer in this park. And that seems to be the norm with these Texas campgrounds. I rode the bike around the same trail I had walked this morning. Much faster though the mud made for some slipping and sliding. I don’t think I picked up any thorns in the tires.

Friday, January 1, 2021

Day 19 - Hello 2021!

Friday (Day 19) - It still feels cold around here today though the forecast is for warmer temperatures. Last night, it dropped into the high 30s (°F) so I thought it would be a good idea to start the engine. One because of the ambient temperature and secondarily for my peace of mind. No surprises tomorrow morning when we get ready to leave. I did not run the block heater. The grid heater was on for about 30sec with the "Wait to Start" light lit. It cranked for about 10sec before starting. I've read that this is about normal though the Cummins engine in the truck starts up much easier than that. But, I'll take it. Normally at these temperatures, I would run the block heater for at least an hour or so as I will do tomorrow morning. I let the engine run for about 15 minutes while I was draining and flushing our holding tanks. The engine water temperature got up to 140°F. Not truly warmed up but easily long enough to build up air pressure in both air tanks.

Overnight, the heat pump kept the coach warm enough until around 3am. At that point, it was 65° in the living room. I switched to the propane furnace at that point and turned off the electric heater in the bedroom. I should have moved the electric heater to the living room at that point as the furnace still struggles when it's colder outside. This RV has only 2" walls and an unheated basement so not really designed for "extreme" environments. 70°F preferred.

So far, we have a few reservations made like the Albuquerque Balloon Festival in October and Fort Wilderness for sometime in December (I think). We do have some near term reservations nearer to Houston followed by several reservations in Harlingen, TX. I need to fly back to Fairbanks sometime in the beginning of March. Maybe from San Antonio, TX.