Space Race In Kansas – Overland Expo West 2015

I’ve been to the Cosmosphere in Kansas before, on the way to my first Overland Expo in 2011. I was just about to leave to start the big trip, and it was something of a shake down for the Ural. I learned a lot about traveling with the Ural on that trip, mostly that it wasn’t ready for the trip I wanted to take, and that it was too much motorcycle for what I wanted to do. The caused a sudden, last minute change to my 250, Curiosity. I wonder, sometimes, how different my trip and the years since would’ve been if I hadn’t been faced with this last minute challenge.

When I stopped at the Cosmosphere the first time, it was an impulse based on seeing a Point of Interest marked on the map. That trip ended up having a lot of space things on it, but it was still early and I hadn’t really thought about a theme. I hadn’t expected much, a small space museum with models and posters, maybe a short movie. What I found was a satellite museum of the Smithsonian, and the best collection of Soviet Space memorabilia  outside the Russia.

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While I’ve frequently brought the Cosmosphere up as favorite place occasionally, I haven’t been back since that first visit. Since I was taking a similar route (Cliff has a similar speed and range to the Ural, and slightly worse gas milage), I figured this was the year to go. I’d left early and found a park near Hutchinson, Kansas to sleep in (it’s a bit easier to just park anywhere in the RV), but was a bit slow in the morning and arrived at the museum around lunch time. I will admit to still adjusting to having all the food and cooking resources of Cliff. I was still adjusting.

The map makes the museum look rather small, but it’s deceiving. There are a lot of little rooms, and thousands of words to read on all the displays. Here and there are short video presentations, one on the success rates of USA rockets before NASA really got going,

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And a personal favorite from the cold war

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There are other amazing things on display, such as the actual command module from Apollo 13. Yes, the one they really went to space in, completely refurnished.

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Things that have been in space are cool.

There is also one of the two remaining Luna Sphere. Five were made, one was lost in space (it missed the moon), one just lost, one landed on the moon, and two are in the USA. One is in Kansas.

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It was a total propaganda move, landing these on the moon. There is a complete timeline of the Soviet Space program, contrasting it with the American one at several points. It’s a long read, matched with the actual Soviet space tech on display. I spent a lot of time there, though the parts where it trends into the rest of the cold war (while also interesting) I skipped over most of it. I was having an odd itch to get moving. Oddly enough, the same thing happened my first visit, after spending a few hours inside. Perhaps I was just too recently back on the road.

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Prep Thoughts Overland Expo West 2015

I really like going to Overland Expo. It’s a huge venue, lots of cool people, and the chance to see other overlanders, all in one place, can’t be missed. With living in the middle of the country, it seems like all the cool stuff is on one coast or the other and I just don’t get to see friends as often as I like.

Held just south of Flagstaff Arizona, OXW is the original Overland Expo – there is now an east coast event – has grown year after year. It’s also 1600 miles from Milwaukee. I usually take a week to get there, and a week to get back, but with other trips and wanting some time off to spend with Sue this summer, I decided I would try to make it back in 2 days. It would mean long riding days, but I was pretty sure Curiosity and I could manage it. Sue, however, didn’t like the idea as much. For a while I planned to just use a regular car and a trailer to get Curiosity west. Sue pointed out that we’d gotten an RV for moments like this, and kept up the pressure until I agreed.

I decided to keep the route simple, just driving there and back. One thing I have learned about travel – when time is tight keep the miles down. With Cliff my fuel economy would be much worse as well, two tanks of gas being the entire fuel budget for Curiosity to make the trip. But, in theory at least, it would make the drive back safer and Sue wanted me to be safe.

It also meant I could bring books with for signing and selling, and have more things than what I could cram onto the back of the bike. That would be nice, I supposed. Little did I know what sort of adventures waited ahead in what would become an Overland Expo to remember.

That was still a ways off,  though. First, there as an old friend I wanted to visit – hidden in the plains of Kansas, one of the best collections of space history in the world.

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On the Road Again, Arrivals, and Returns – Horizons Unlimited Virginia 2015

We had called about getting the RV back, and was told to be there around 4pm. The shop closed at 5, and we were going to be one of the last jobs. We stopped for lunch after the coal mine, a Chinese place that google found when we were hungry. It was… a mistake. I was a bit worried when there was no one eating inside, but we were all very hungry at this point and decided to go for it. To say it was disappointing was something of an understatement, and we all felt a bit off later.

We arrived back at Glen’s, and Cliff was inside. We checked at the desk, were told it was being worked on, and there was a waiting room. We moved there, finding one trucker there on his phone and a very loud TV. We took a couple chairs and made a place to watch some Mythbusters episodes I’d downloaded before the trip, just for this sort of arrangement.

5 O’Clock came and went. So did 6. I didn’t want to be annoying, but we had been told the shop area closed at 5 – if we were going to be stuck another day we had to find somewhere to stay. I went and asked, and was told they were still working on it, it would be done soon, and there was really a mechanic still there, and still working. Near 7 we finally got the all clear. That was about the time I was supposed to be presenting at HU.

I’d sent some emails, explaining we were delayed, but hadn’t heard back. All we could do was press on, but we quickly learned Cliff’s headlights weren’t up to the task of dark, mountain roads. We found free camping in a parking lot, settled in for the night, and planned for an early start in the morning.

Up early, we pressed on for HU. We had the GPS on, but I was talking to Sue and missed a turn, adding time and a twisty road to the trip. Cliff didn’t seem all that fond of the twisty road either, rocking back and forth on his suspension. But we arrived before anyone lost breakfast.

Once there, I had about a hour before the my first talk (having missed one the night before). It was Sue and the girl’s first HU, and I didn’t really want to take off on them right away, but I go to these events to support HU – it’s an amazing resource for overlanders, and Grant and Sue are just good people. So I quickly unloaded Curiosity, made sure it had the right gear, and started my packing talk right on time. Sue and the Girls even managed to watch, and reports are I did a good job.

 Once class was over, we unloaded Sue’s bike, talked with friends, watched other classes. Sue’s two girls were so excited my my first talk they wanted to just spend the weekend seeing my two classes over and over, but Sue and I managed to talk them out of that. The result was, by the end of the weekend, people were walking up to us and mentioning they couldn’t recall talking a class that one or both of the girls weren’t in, usually right in the front row. Cliff the RV was no longer all that cool and both confidently stated they wanted to ride motorcycles all over the world. I was, of course, quite pleased.

I spent most of the weekend catching up with friends, making some new ones, and am almost ashamed to admit I took very few pictures. The girls met this guy and were super excited about it.

I saw this too and wondered if it was even legal (or a good idea)

Sue, another friend, and I loaded up the girls and tried for a motorcycle ride, but Sue’s bike almost immediately developed clutch/shift issues and we turned back. I’m a little sad, there was a lot of history going on right there, and I kinda wanted to see some of it. It probably worked out for the best, though, since everyone else wanted to ride the roads and avoid the massive crowds gather for the Appomattox anniversary. We got back without incident, but Sue was sad over the break down. It happens.

Sunday morning we said some quick good byes, I forgot to grab my unsold books, and we headed back north. The plan was to make the trip home in one day, since I had to work the next day at 6am (Monday). Everything was going fine until a traffic jam in louisville,  which caused Cliff to overheat. Nothing would cool the engine down, and the cap on the overflow tank kept popping off, causing coolant to spray everywhere We eventually stopped and got a campsite for the night (there is a KOA downtown – who knew?). I called work to say I wasn’t going to be there, and we went to sleep.

In the morning I took a long look at the coolant system and found a couple clogged vents and hoses. A walk to the local autozone found the parts I needed (with some explaining, I guess Winnebagos aren’t in the database). The walk back was hot, the temp must’ve climbed 15f while I had been in the store. I changed hoses and caps, refilled the radiator (as best I could, I’d forgotten to get a funnel), and with crossed fingers we got back on the road.

Cliff was fine the rest of the trip home, actually running cooler with (essentially) a coolant change. Traffic was fine too, and we arrived home, ready for the next adventure.


That one, though was just going to be me, Curiosity, Blue, and Cliff.

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The Joy of Breaking Down – Horizons Unlimited Virginia 2015

One thing I was struggling with, traveling as a family in an RV, was the tendency to get on the road around noon. I’m not a crazy early riser, but am used to having more time moving than we were getting. This meant I had a slight pressure to keep moving, since there was minimum number of miles we had to manage each day to reach HU Virginia. Since we also wanted to stop before dark, the late starts meant we had to keep moving, once we were on the road.

I was driving as Cliff started to sputter going up a mountain. There was a truck lane, and I was already in it, so as our speed dropped I turned on the hazards, then shifted into a lower gear. This seemed to correct whatever was wrong, and we crested the pass feeling pretty good about ourselves.

The next mountain was steeper, and down shifting didn’t actually help. Just short (I mean, a hundref feet or so) of the summit, Cliff died. There was no shoulder, so I pulled over as far as I could and tried to get the engine restarted. The battery issue wasc back, the starter not even turning over, and as Sue got on the phone for AAA, I started to disconnect the main engine battery, hooking up the two house batteries instead to see if that would get the engine running. Those batteries were new, and while house batteries aren’t the same as engine batteries, they should be able to start us moving again – at least to get into a less exposed area.

They didn’t

AAA said it would be 45 minutes to an hour, so with nothing else to do we made lunch. Important for keeping spirits up. We were still assembling sandwiches when a rescue truck pulled up behind us, lights blinking. It was the local DOT version, not able to help something like Cliff, but he did find out that the tow service AAA had called was more than an hour away, just drive time. He called the closer, local company, and (after confirming they also did AAA), a tow truck was there in minutes. With all of us still in Cliff, he towed us to the next exit with services.

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