Sunday, April 15, 2007

Driving School in Des Moines

We started this past weekend with a great plan to get out of Quincy as soon as I was out of work, at least for me! Ken got everything packed and hooked up and picked me up directly in the Gardner Denver parking lot when I got off at lunchtime. I didn’t have to prep anything, just walk out of work and walk in to the weekend!

Surprisingly, there was very little wind and we made great time into Iowa. Neither Ken nor I had eaten lunch so we pulled over at the first rest area, past Iowa City on Interstate 80 to take a break and make sandwiches. Iowa has really RV-friendly rest areas with wireless internet access AND free dump stations. We didn’t need either of those but Ditka and Sox were really happy for a break.

‘Baby’ (my nickname for the motorhome) got to feel like one of the big boys parked amidst the semi’s.

We got to Des Moines Area Community College (DMACC) by 5pm. They said it was fine for us to spend the night on their lot and even provided 30amp electrical service. They have long, paved walking paths around the lake that Sox, Ditka and I enjoyed while Ken kicked back after the drive.

We splurged a bit and did Outback rather than cook in the motorhome. I enjoy their sweet potatoes and chop salad so much that the filet ended up in a to-go box to be snacked on the remainder of the weekend. We ran into a friend of Coach Roc from EIU. This guy recognized the Panther on my shirt and started up a conversation. He coached with Roc at Buena Vista College but now Ken and I can’t remember his name to pass on to Trev to say 'hi' to Roc--- hmmm…is this what 50 is like!!!

The RV driving course we attended is described in more detail at

As it turns out I don’t think we learned a lot new but it was particularly good for me to get to practice backing and negotiating tight turns on a big parking lot where the worst thing I could destroy was a few big orange cones.

The lady who was suppose to teach the course, a big rig truck driver who also drove RV’s, called in sick and so we had a replacement teacher who had helped with the class a few times but was obviously a ‘stand-in’. I think the DMACC director called him in because he hated to have to cancel on us for a second weekend.

Now, you can't go by the look on Homer’s face!...I really did quite well. In fact, by the time we were finished I drove across the mile-long bridge over Lake Saylorville and across the dam.

The actual big-event of the day had nothing to do with the driving school itself. As I drove near the lake, I noticed a young deer running beside the road and got my speed down to a crawl, not sure when he my bolt in front of me. There was something moving in the fence nearby and I pointed it out. Paul, our instructor, yelled ‘stop’ and was out of the coach before I’d come to a complete stop. There was a big doe, probably the mama of the frantic deer on the road, hanging upside down with its hoof caught in the fence. Paul was brave (or maybe a bit crazy!) about it and worked to detangle the hoof while the deer kicked fought back. People in cars behind us got out to help, or more precisely gawk at what he was doing. Suddenly the deer was free and, amazingly, bounded off, with the little deer at its tail. I guess Paul accomplished his good deed for the day even if I did cause a traffic jam with the rig parked in the middle of the road! In this case, it looked like everyone behind us really did understand the circumstance, with not a single horn honked during the ordeal.

Paul finished out the class by giving us certificates showing we’d completed the course.

We could stay at DMACC again for the night but decided to head out instead to spend the night in Cherry Glen Campground at Saylorville Lake, just a few miles up the road. The campground was fairly full but this was probably because it was the only Corp or Engineers grounds open in the area before May 1.

We hadn’t expected we’d leave the DMACC parking lot so had only brought spaghetti to cook rather than anything to grill but somehow it still tastes better when you cook even spaghetti outside. Of course, the bottle of Italian wine we’d packed to complement the meal made it even better. It was a 2003 Montepulciano d’Abruzzo from the wine tasting put on by our friend Becky Vogel who invited us to her first event representing the Traveling Vineyard a few weeks back.

We enjoyed a long walk down by the lake after dinner and then sat around the campfire.

Sunday was my favorite kind of morning. We just lounged, drank coffee and listened to NPR. We at a late breakfast at about 10:00 and then took the dogs for a walk around the campground.
We met the custodians who have lived at Cherry Glen and were just finishing cleaning up one of the biggest messes they’d had since they started there. Apparently some kids trashed the men’s restroom/shower room late the night before and they had peppered the whole interior with wads of toilet paper that were now dried and very difficult to clean up, especially off of the ceilings. I felt really bad for these very nice people but it was good to hear that kind of vandalism is highly unusual.

I’m beginning to catch on to the various levels of RVers that help out at these campgrounds. These folks were the actual paid custodians, who kept things clean and were paid for their services above and beyond having the site for their RV. The campground hosts are yet a different level of volunteers who get a full hookup site for 2 or more months for free for helping run the office, mark reserved sites, etc., At least in Iowa there is a third set who for each 3 hours volunteered can get credit for a free base night’s campsite.

We found out that this area is a nesting site for white pelicans. In fact, only 2 miles down the road, they have the annual Pelican Festival at the Jester Campground. Apparently at times there are as many as 10,000 of these huge birds in this area. We were amazed to see as many as 100 at a time flying in formation above our campsite. If you are interested in these birds or the annual festival you can find more at

We were sad to realize that the afternoon had snuck up and we had to pack. We are getting faster and more coordinated on this every outing. We dumped our tanks and hit the road mid-afternoon and as usual I’m updating you here on the blog as Ken drives us back home.

We stopped at the new Flying J in Wayland, Missouri, and filled up on diesel. $2.75 which was .15 cheaper than in Quincy but still gave us a final bill of $175 at the pump! But then if you figure 2 nights lodging and 2 night dog boarding, plus eating out all meals...well, yes, ok, I'm rationalizing!!

I’ll leave you this time, with a Saylorville Lake sunset….

Hugs, C

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