Monday, June 22, 2015

2015 U. S. Open

If you've read my blog, you know I enjoy golf. Oh, I haven't played since college. I really can't afford it. But I like to watch it. Of all sports, it is the one perhaps where a person plays not so much against others, but really against himself'/herself and the course.

Perhaps the greatest challenge in all golf is the U. S. Open, which is held at a different location each year. Normally, the course is prepared to challenge the golfer. Often fairways are narrowed, roughs are allowed to grow taller and thicker, and pin locations are placed to challenge the greatest golfers in the game. Scores normally hover around even for the 4 day event, and occasionally the winner will have a score above par. The Open is truly golf's greatest test, and that is as it should be.

This year, the Open was played at Chambers Bay, located on Puget Sound south of Seattle and Tacoma, Washington. At first glance, the course looks like a links-style course, similar to those in Scotland and Ireland. There is only 1 tree on the entire course, and it does not factor into play. But Chambers Bay is not a true links course; it just looks like one.

The elevation changes of the course challenge players with shots that go up and down. The players also find themselves walking up and down -- a lot. In fact, it takes 10 miles of walking to play the course. The grass, both in fairways and greens, is mostly fescue, and when mixed with other grasses gives the course a dry, splotchy look. Greens are not level, and balls can roll longer distances than on most courses. Sometimes that is good, and sometimes it isn't.

Some players were complimentary of the course; others weren't. But at the end of the day, those at the top of the leaderboard were the best players in the world, and that is what a challenging course is intended to do. Only the best golfers in the world should hoist the US Open trophy.

The winner this year was Jordan Spieth, a 21 year old from Dallas, Texas. Spieth also won the Masters earlier this year, so he has achieved half of golf's grand slam so far this year. The next major tournament this year is the British Open, which is being held at the home of golf, St. Andrews. Now, that should be fun to watch.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Texas Rising

When I first heard of Texas Rising, the History Channel's mini-series on the Texas Revolution, I was excited. According to the website, this show is "a series event on HISTORY that details the Texas Revolution and the rise of the Texas Rangers." Since it was being produced by the History Channel, I was hopeful that it would be historically accurate.

Boy, was I disappointed.

From the setting to the characterizations, I saw very little that resembled reality. But then, Hollywood is not known for being too concerned about reality on the screen or in real life.

Most of the scenery in Texas Rising was more appropriate for the area around Big Bend than for the coastal plain and East Texas. When the first scenes appeared on the screen portending to be the area around San Antonio and showed arid mountains, I should have turned to another channel. But I persisted to the very end. I guess I just wanted to see how far these folks would go in distorting reality. Perhaps I like to suffer.

There was a character named Lorca, portrayed by Ray Liotta, who climbed out of what appeared to be a mass grave for the Alamo defenders. He would go on to become the Alamo's avenger, using anything including rattlesnakes as weapons in his quest for vengeance. Billy Anderson, played by Brendan Fraser, was some sort of Native American wannabe, who even had a Comanche son. Empresario Buckley, played by Robert Knepper, was still distributing land after the fall of the Alamo, even when history tells us everyone else was fleeing east in the Runaway Scrape. And poor Deaf Smith. The producers killed him off a couple of months after the battle at San Jacinto rather than let him live until he actually died, which was November of 1837, roughly a year and a half after the battle. And the list goes on and on.

Late in the production -- after the Texan victory at San Jacinto -- a combined band of Mexican soldiers and Comanches attached the detail escorting prisoner Santa Anna to Louisiana in an attempt to rescue him. We are told the attack is on the Texas/United States border. The scenery was, once again, what I would expect to see in the western portions of the state. I guess the producers are unaware that there are 4 national forests in East Texas, and the entire region is heavily wooded with numerous rivers and streams.

In fact, Comanches played an unusual role throughout the production. They played no such role in reality that I know of. And I've never read of their roving as far east as the Louisiana border in any instance, though I've not read everything ever written about them by any means.

And I'm still trying to wrap my head around the use of the Rangers in the production.

The period of Texas history from 1821 to 1836 is fascinating. It does not need embellishment. Just tell the story the way it actually happened. Bring history to life.

Monday, June 15, 2015

The Plan

Since late in 2014, Donna and I have been working on the next phase of our retirement. The purchases we've made since that time have been part of the plan. Let me share that with you at this time.

Donna and I are always on the lookout for a better place to live. Now, we're perfectly happy with San Angelo, so we aren't really looking to leave this town. But we're always looking for a better house, a better neighborhood, and a better lifestyle. We think we just may have found the best situation for us.

There is a retirement based family of communities in San Angelo called Rio Concho. The communities include Rio Concho Manor, Rio Concho Terrace, Rio Concho Patio Homes, and Rio Concho West. Depending on your desire and your needs, there is a community for you. For Donna and I, Rio Concho West looks like a good fit for this time in our lives. When we first shared this news with our daughter Courtney, she was a bit upset, for she felt we are too young for a retirement community. But Rio Concho West is not an assisted living retirement area -- it is just a community of retired people our age or older.

Homes are individually owned. The plans we are looking at are the same size as our current home, perhaps a bit larger. But what makes this place special for us is that there is no maintenance. Once you purchase your home, you then pay a monthly maintenance fee that includes various services, including lawn care, house insurance and maintenance, including appliance maintenance except for washer and dryer,  and basic services such as cable TV and trash collection.

Within the community, there is a community center with salon, exercise room, billiard room, meeting rooms, and so forth. The community plans monthly events from trips and dinners to theater outings as well as various group projects. The area is ideal for walking; I've already measured a 1.5 mile loop. For us, there is even parking for our RV, complete with electrical connections and a dump station.

It will be a while before we move out there, though. We put our names on the list in December 2014. At the time, we were number 17 on the wait list for the floor plan we requested. I checked again in March and we had only moved up to spot 14, so it may be a while before a house becomes available. It looks like we are moving up about 1 spot each month. I figure when we get somewhere between spots 5 and 10, we'll put our house on the market. I'm gambling our house will sell first. If so, then we'll move our belongings into storage and take off for an extended trip in our travel trailer. So, this is one reason why we decided to buy another travel trailer.

But once we do move, we expect to take longer trips in the trailer. After all, there will be no regular maintenance I have to perform on our home, such as mowing the yard, so we'll be free to travel. And should something need to be done with the house, then maintenance will take care of it.

So, we're looking forward to this next phase.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

The Colts Are Gone

Ever since we moved to San Angelo, one of our favorite things to do during the summer was to attend the San Angelo Colts baseball games. That is a thing of the past, though. A member of the United League Baseball, the Colts declared bankruptcy last year. In fact, in January the entire United League Baseball  folded as I understand.

Donna and I will really miss attending the games. We enjoyed spending summer evenings at Foster Field watching the games. In these days of rising prices, the Tuesday $2 games were a real treat. On $2 Tuesdays, parking was $2, general admission was $2, hot dogs were $2, and ice cold beer was $2. For $20 or less, we had a ball.

I'd really like to see the league reform. I do not know what the future holds, though, and neither of the websites linked above provide any information.

I've written a couple of entries in the past about our attending the Colts' baseball games. If you are interested, you can find these at the links below:

Thursday, June 11, 2015

San Angelo is a Good Walking Town

I do enjoy living in San Angelo. The longer I live here, the more I like it. For a city its size (about 100,000), it is easy to get around, it has good medical facilities, shopping is good, and the restaurant scene continues to improve. The local community theater puts on some good plays, as does the university, and there are various other opportunities for entertainment.

One of the things I really like about San Angelo is all the opportunities for walking available here. Let me give you a run down of some of the places in our city where you can walk.

First and foremost there is San Angelo State Park. If you like to hike -- or bike -- there are over 50 miles of trails in the park. We enjoy the trails -- and we've walked every mile of them -- but we also enjoy walking the paved roads in the park. It's a peaceful place to walk, away from city sounds and worries. Since there is little traffic in the park, you can relax as you pound down the roadway. The park is large enough that you can put together a road walk of just about any distance you might be interested in. And if you are looking for a place with ups and downs, you can find them at the park. There is an entrance fee to the park.

Nearby is the O C Fisher dam. I wrote about this place in January 2014 (see "Hike Report: O.C. Fisher Lake Dam"). From the parking area at the park headquarters off Mercedes Street, you can walk onto the dam, and there is no fee. Keep your eyes peeled to the paved surface and you will see distances written on the surface. I've never walked the entire length of the dam; the farthest I've walked is the sub-station about halfway, and that is a bit more than 2 miles. Remember that you have to return the way you came, so walk 2 miles out and you have to walk 2 miles back for a 4 mile total. The views of the surrounding area are quite good in all directions. Since this is a dam, the surface is extremely level, ideal for bike riders who don't like pedaling up hills. I measured the total length of the dam on Google Maps, and it returned a one-way distance of 7 miles. I cannot verify the accuracy of this, but that would make a nice round-trip bike ride.

The Concho River downtown has a walking path, mostly paved, of about 1.5 miles one-way (See "The Concho River" from December 2012). It's a pleasant walk, mostly level. There are benches along the way to stop and rest, and restrooms are available in Santa Fe Park. The houses on the opposite side of the river are impressive, and the trees and birds along the river are interesting.

The Red Arroyo Trail Project is expected to be completed this summer.The trail will follow Red Arroyo that snakes through several residential areas in southwest San Angelo. The paved bike and pedestrian path will be about 4 miles, making for a nice walk in an urban environment. Since the trail is not yet open, I really have no experience with this trail, but I look forward to trying it out.

A lot of folks in town park across the street from the KOA near Lake Nasworthy and walk the 2 mile Gun Club Road loop. While building our house, Donna and I stayed in the KOA, so we made the loop a few times. It has some nice ups and downs, and views of the lake are pleasant. This is not a park or designated walking area -- it just happens to be a place that has evolved over time.

Middle Concho Park is located at Lake Nasworthy. This 90 acre park is accessed off Red Bluff Road, which is next to Packsaddle BBQ off of Knickerbocker. Just follow the winding road to its end. Entrance fees are accessed on weekends and holidays, but during the week there is no fee. The park actually fronts the Middle Concho River as it feeds into Lake Nasworthy. I've never walked out here, but I drove the roads recently to get an idea of distance and believe you could get a 2.5 mile walk in the park.

Finally, there is Spring Creek Park, which is located along the banks of Spring Creek as it feeds into Lake Nasworthy. It is a 60 acre park with fees collected on weekends and holidays. We spent 6 weeks at the RV park there a few years back. It is perhaps the busiest of the parks around the lake, and the RV park attracts lots of out of town visitors. If you walk the entire length of the road, you can get close to 3 miles (round-trip). With the trees and water, it's a nice place to walk. Keep an eye out for deer, turkey, and black squirrels.

There are numerous other parks located around town, but these are the ones where you can actually get some distance and variety in your walks.  Happy walking!

Walking opportunities in San Angelo. See legend below for details.

A = San Angelo State Park
B = O. C. Fisher Dam
C = Riverwalk along Concho River near downtown
D = New Red Arroyo Trail
E = Gun Club Road walking loop
F = Middle Concho Park
G = Spring Creek Park

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Trailer Life: Weight Distribution and Trailer Sway

When we purchased our trailer, we knew we needed a good hitch with sway control and weight distribution. On our Rockwood trailer, we had used a Husky hitch, and I rather liked that hitch, though we did have a couple of problems with it. Prior to that, I had used one of the chain hitches (see picture below), and I did not care for that at all.

Example of a hitch that uses chains. The sway or tension bars are fitted into the hitch from below, then twisted and locked into place.

When I told our salesman that I preferred a bar hitch to a chain hitch, he recommended a Trekker. After some research, I decided to give it a try.

The purpose of a weight distribution hitch with sway control is varied. First of all, too much weight in the front of the trailer will place excessive weight on the back of the towing vehicle (our truck), raising the front of the tow vehicle and causing loss of steering control, hitch dragging and braking difficulties. The key is to balance the weight over the axles and the hitch. The weight distribution part of the hitch does precisely this. Of course, you should also be very careful how you pack your trailer, being careful not to place too much weight in the front, where the storage bay is located on many bumper pull trailers such as our Coachmen.

Truck/trailer combo WITHOUT sway bars attached.

Truck/trailer combo WITH sway bars attached. If you look carefully under the storage bay at the front of the trailer, you will see more light beneath the trailer on the bottom picture rather than the top picture, which demonstrates that the weight has been distributed more thoroughly.
If you look carefully at the two pictures above, you will see the top picture has a slight dip where the hitch is located. The weight at the front of the trailer is exerting too much pressure on the hitch, causing the front of the trailer as well as the end of the truck to dip a bit. In turn, this causes the front of the truck to raise up a bit, giving less control to your front tires. The second picture, with the sway bars in place, evenly distributes the weight. I try to pack the trailer so there isn't much weight at the front of the trailer, so it is rather hard to tell the difference. In a badly packed trailer, the difference is much more noticeable.

But more importantly for me, the sway control aspect of a hitch is important. I especially notice its importance on high speed multi-lane highways. I usually hold my speed to 65 or below. As I've said many times before, most trailer tires are rated for a max speed of 65 mph, and I adhere to that. As a result, I get passed quite a bit. I can feel when a truck approaches to pass. It's like it is pushing a wall of air ahead of it. As soon as that wall hits my left rear trailer bumper, it seems to push to rear of the trailer towards the shoulder. This causes trailer sway, that nauseating fish-tail motion that makes a driver begin to feel a bit helpless. A good trailer sway system helps to mitigate such sway and return control to the driver. I also find that if I get as far right in the lane as possible, I am less affected by passing trucks. But passing semis are not the only causes of trailer sway. Wind is also a factor, and perhaps more so than passing trucks. Road surfaces can also contribute to trailer sway.

Side view of my hitch system. The long black horizontal bar is the sway (or tension) bar on this side of the hitch. There is another one on the opposite side. The chains are safety chains in case the hitch should fail. If you look closely, you might also see a single thin silver cable just above the tension bar. This is the breakaway cable. Should the trailer become detached from the tow vehicle, this will automatically apply the trailer brakes, bringing it, hopefully, to a stop.

Overhead view of the hitch system, with both bars visible.
The downside of using a sway control system is that your turn ratio can be reduced, which means you can't make really sharp turns. This really isn't a problem in transit, but it does become a problem when we are trying to park the trailer, especially in tight places. As a result, when we arrive at a park, Donna usually goes inside to register while I quickly remove the sway bars, which takes me between 5 to 10 minutes. I've seen hitch systems before damaged by making turns that were too sharp, and sometimes the brackets become damaged.

Overhead look at the hitch without sway bars attached.

Rear look at the hitch without sway bars attached. The sway bars fit in the round holes.

If you have a trailer of any size, you really need a good weight distribution hitch with sway control.

Monday, June 1, 2015

Dog Crazy

Before I even start, let me say that Donna and I both love dogs. And I'm pretty pretty sure Donna was a dog in her former life; she still has some canine tendencies. To be honest, I prefer dogs to most people. I find them to be nobler and truer and to have better personalities. I really can't think of too many people I prefer to dogs. My grandson Xander would be one of them. He's a pretty good young man. The jury is still out on his young infant brothers; they just haven't had time to develop their personalities yet, so we'll just have to wait and see how they turn out.

But I digress . . . .

Our country is going to the dogs, literally. I don't mind people owning dogs and loving them, and I expect all dogs to be treated properly and humanely. But take a look around. I know you've seen what I've seen. Here are a few of my observations.

My desk sits in a front bedroom next to a window where I can look out onto our street as I use the computer. I see people walking their dogs at all hours of the day, and sometimes they have 2 or even 3 dogs. I observe a lot of folks who do not have their dogs on leashes. They believe their dogs are so special and so well behaved that a leash isn't required, even though it is the law. I watch as their dogs scamper into yards up and down the street, leaving scented packages for all the homeowners. Most of the time -- not some of the time or even occasionally, but most of the time -- the dog owner does not clean up after his/her pets.

Then there are those dog owners who drive around town with their dogs in their laps, the little armload of fur often hanging out the window. I really don't see much difference between texting and driving and holding a dog -- or any other animal -- while you drive. Responsible drivers have both hands on the wheel and their full attention on the road. Drivers holding dogs are not giving driving their full attention. And many times, these drivers are elderly, with response times that are not what they used to be. I feel that I can make a statement such as this since I am a senior citizen myself.

As we travel around in our RV, we're always surprised at the number of people who travel with pets, especially dogs. Quarters in any RV are cramped in some way, so when 2 or 3 dogs pile out of a rig we are always amazed. And as in neighborhood life, RV travelers often fail to put their pets on leashes or pick up after them.