Archive for October, 2011

Luck Not Skill

Tuesday, October 18th, 2011

October 11, 2011

We left Denton, Texas around 10 a.m. – an hour later than I wanted, but traffic was moderate to heavy on northbound I-35. Our destination was anywhere there might be autumn foliage.

In heavy Interstate traffic, I tow at 55 mph. I know that seems really slow, but I’m comfortable at that speed because I like keeping a generous following distance between me and the car ahead. Being vintage, none of my brakes are disk except for the front wheels of my tow vehicle. So, my breaking distance isn’t exactly exceptional. Coming to a stop from 55 is a lot easier than 60 or 65. Then there are the ST tires on my trailer that are rated for 65 mph. That maximum is only good under ideal conditions. My viewpoint is that I am never towing under ideal conditions, and though I’ve not had any problems with my tires that is likely because I keep my speed down, watch the tire pressures and temperature, and trailer weight.

I also like to drive with no music playing and, weather permitting, with the windows down. That is not what most drivers do. They drive with the stereo blasting away, texting or talking on their cell phone, windows rolled up, air conditioner blowing cold. Not only are they driving distracted, but insulated from the sounds of the road.

I used to drive like that when I was young, but when I became a police officer, I was instructed to not play music and always keep the windows cracked open a little, even in the dead of winter.  In the early Seventies, police cars only came with an AM radio anyway and that was supposed to be used to listen to news and weather reports during blizzards or other emergencies. Not that cops didn’t listen to Rock n’Roll, but really the radio was only for official use. In other words, we were supposed to listen to the police radio and for sounds of traffic and the city.

People have complained about cops being insulated by their cars for quite some time. It’s hard sometimes to flag down a passing police car because officers are going down the road in air conditioned comfort (they have to because of the body armor they wear today), sometimes typing on or reading off a computer laptop, and with the FM radio playing their favorite station. It might sound like I’m being critical of them, but I’m not. I’m just acknowledging that it’s a different time.

But I had the driving techniques I learned and used for so long serve me well. A lot of arrests resulted from my hearing a scream, a gunshot, a window breaking, or tires squealing, and I saved myself from collisions with other police cars, ambulances, or fire trucks running red lights or stop signs when we were responding to the same emergency situations.

So, my driving habits are the result of a couple of decades of experience, and I’m so used to driving that way that I’m not comfortable driving the way, “civilians” do.

That paid off for me today on I-35. A semi-tractor trailer passed us with its left inner dual rear tire making a “whump-whump-whump-whump,” sound. As he went by, I saw the tire was low on air, and remarked to Patrice that it wouldn’t be long before it would blow out. I no sooner said that and we heard a remarkably loud explosion. Not only had the inner tire disintegrated, but it blew out the outer tire as well. The carcass from one spun from one side of the road to the other in front of us. I changed lanes to avoid it, and cars behind us impatiently passed us on the right, only to have to brake hard to avoid chunks of rubber coming off the truck. One of those drivers, talking on his cell phone, nearly ran off the road. It’s amazing how much less control you have steering with only one hand.

We avoided an accident or at least kept our truck or trailer from being damaged by the tire carcass because I heard, then saw what was going to happen. That is what defensive driving is all about.

Not just good driving habits keep us out of trouble though. Right after we crossed the border from Texas into Oklahoma, we stopped for a few minutes at the visitor’s center. When we came out traffic on the interstate was backing up. Four or five miles up the road, there had been a bad accident – a man driving a pickup truck fell asleep at the wheel and rear-ended a semi-tractor trailer that had slowed for traffic. It took the fire department an hour and a half just to extricate him because his truck was crushed and trapped under the semi. Amazingly, he lived, but the accident closed down the Interstate for hours. Other vehicles were off the road, on the median or shoulder from taking evasive maneuvers. All other traffic was detoured onto side roads and it took us an hour just to go six miles.

Afterward, I wondered if our taking a short break at the visitor’s center had prevented us from being involved. Our break had only been for maybe five minutes. Time and travel speed would have put us in very close proximity if we had not taken a break. That’s a matter of luck, not skill.

Fall Travel

Saturday, October 8th, 2011
This year, we stayed home for the Summer and instead saved traveling for the Fall. So, we’re on the road now.
Our first stop was Camping World in Fountain, CO, to join with our friend, Barb Wool in a little caravan to the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta. We again decided to get out of Denver late at night to avoid heavy traffic. That worked pretty well, but just like last time, we ran into a cone zone (line painting) and had some cars zoom ahead of us only to slam on their brakes when the lanes went from five to one. That was the only really tense moment  though, and from there it was smooth sailing.
We slept the remainder of the night at Camping World, did some shopping in the morning, and then with Barb, continued on to Trinidad Lake State Park. We’ve used this park in the past as an overnight stop. It’s not too far off the Interstate and is a pleasant, quiet place.
From there came the climb over Raton Pass and into New Mexico. We had a tail wind nearly all the way to Albuquerque that gave us a little better miles per gallon and easy driving.
Apparently, Denver doesn’t have a monopoly on heavy traffic. The last time I was in Albuquerque was 1971 when the Draft Board bused me and some other 18 year olds there from Durango, CO (where I was going to college) for our physicals. It was a much different town back then. Like Denver, it has grown dramatically.
Fortunately, we made it to Enchanted Trails RV Park on the west side of town without a problem. There we linked up with over a hundred other Airstreamers and caravanned to the Balloon Fiesta the next morning.

Airstreams lined up at Camping World for the Caravan to the Fiesta

The Fiesta was wonderful. After awhile I realized that my face hurt from smiling so much. I went crazy taking pictures (only around 850 or so), and my back and neck ached from looking up. We hope to return next year with two of our grandkids.
Unfortunately, for the Fiesta, the Airstream group only stayed four days, and we took the good weather with us when we left. The rain and wind pretty much shut everything down afterward.
From Albuquerque, Patrice and I went to Roswell. We’ve never been there before, and I really didn’t have a clue what it was like. In my mind’s eye, I thought it would be some little community with a main street a few blocks long, eking out a living from tourists wanting to see flying saucers and little green men. The reality is there is a population of around 55,000 people and tourism is just a small part of the economy. But we did get to see a few little “grey” men.

"It's true, they do exist!"

Having now seen Roswell first hand, I doubt we’ll ever return. It was kind of disappointing. We did enjoy Carlsbad Caverns though. The only time I’ve ever been there was when I was a child. I mostly remember eating in the cafeteria deep down in the cavern, and told Patrice that was something we’d do. Now there is only a small snack bar by the elevators. Apparently, the cafeteria attracted unwanted wild life (mice?) and it was closed about two years ago. I also remember the place was much more lit with lights of various colors, but now the lighting has been greatly reduced. It’s all in the name of conservation of course.
Even the drive there was significantly different because there was a fire last June that left much of the surrounding area scorched.  In all, it made me feel like I’d waited too long to visit. Things change dramatically sometimes.
Our drive across west Texas was dusty, with a 30 to 40 mph cross wind all the way to Dallas. Today, it is overcast with a possibility of rain here in Denton, but we didn’t come here to see the sights. We’re here to visit my sister for the first time in about a decade. Other than visit with her, I really just want some down time to recover, catch up on emails, write and process some of the hundreds of photos I’ve taken.
We don’t know where we’ll go from here. It might be back home, but I’d also like Patrice to see the Autumn foliage. So, we might head for Arkansas.

About the Author

Hi, my name is Forrest McClure. I've been writing for the magazine since its inception. My wife and I travel with our 1966 20' Globe Trotter or our 1986 32' Excella. So, my primary interest is vintage travel trailers.