I’m in Breckenridge! I haven’t yet hit the slopes (nor have my skis) but that will be happening within an hour or so.

I left the house at about 7:50am on Saturday and drove down to St Louis to pick Brian up. I got there right at 11 (when I had planned to) and we quickly threw his bags into the back of my car and we headed on down to Rolla. Once at Rolla (got there about 12:35) we put all of our bags into the back of Bill’s Forester and got on the road.

When we got to Jefferson City we stopped at Backyard Burgers and had a late lunch. I had a bacon cheddar burger. It was pretty tasty. From there we went through Columbia and headed west on I-70.

We made it through Kansas City and headed into the dreaded state of kansas. Eastern Kansas isn’t too bad, because it still has the influences of Missouri acting upon it. So, it isn’t completely flat, and there are a few trees. We stopped in Salina, Kansas and ate at a family diner. They had a “garden salad” that was really good. It was a collection of raw vegetables (broccoli, cauliflour, carrots, sweet potato, onion, etc.) that had salad dressing poured over it. It was really good. I had salmon patties as the main dish, and also I had a homemade roll. After Salina we headed on to Hays, Kansas. We stayed at a Motel 6 in Hays.

When we got up the next morning it was 10 degrees. According to the TV, it was 0 degrees in Limon, Colorado, which we were driving straight through to get to Denver. But, it was supposed to warm up after that. As we made it into western Kansas snow start showing up regularly on the ground. At some points the fence rows were almost completely covered. This is, of course, the same area that had a blizzard just a month ago that killed several people. We saw several drifts that were about 10 feet high. Quite interesting.

When we stopped for gas in Limon, I talked to John and Natty in Denver and arranged a specific time to meet them at Casa Bonita. We drove on into Denver to I-25 and took it south for a few miles. Then, we turned west onto Colfax and went right in front of Mile High Stadium. It’s always neat to see places in real life that you’ve seen on TV. We obviously didn’t get very close, but that’s OK. No one was playing at that point anyway.

We headed farther west down Colfax and arrived at Casa Bonita where we met John, Natty, Gabe, and Rebecca. Casa Bonita is a mexican restaurant where the food isn’t terribly good, but the place has attitude. They do cliff diving there, they have regular shows, a puppet show, a cave with mean pirates that you can walk through, an arcade, bands that go around the tables singing, and a bunch of other stuff that I probably didn’t even see. Basically, you don’t go there for the quality of the food. You go there to see everything else. It’s a very kid friendly place. They are set up to handle a lot of people at once, and the seating is pretty neat. You don’t sit in a big flat room with everyone else. There are stairs and landings all over the place where they have tucked a table or two. One table was in the middle of this elevated gazebo. All things considered, I’m glad I went. I had never been there before, and it was definitely an experience. We said our goodbyes to John and family and headed farther west.

The trip from Denver to Breckenridge was totally uneventful. We had perfectly clear road the entire time, and the only thing of note was that traffic in the other direction was horrendous. It is definitely nice to be heading to Breck when all the Denver-ites are leaving it.

We got to Breck, found the Condo, got our stuff moved in, and went to the ski place. I needed to get my skis waxed, and Brian and Bill needed to rent theirs. We got that taken care of, and went to City Market, one of the local grocery stores. We bought food for breakfast and lunch, and then headed back to the condo. We didn’t do a whole lot else last night and turned in pretty early. I have a room to myself with a queen bed. Brian has a room to himself with 2 queen beds, and Bill has the living room to himself with a queen sofa sleeper. We have plenty of room.

More to come later….

City Market shopping list (my IGA card gave the discount, so be sure to take it next time):

2% milk - 2.99, D D Cheese - 3.50, Turkey Brst $8.49, Prsl Ham - 6.11, Havarti 5.49, Sunchips 3.49, Cheetos 3.49, Pretzel twists 1.00, KS Old fash multi bread 1.99, OW Lt Whole wheat bread 3.19, Mthrs ICD LM 4.19, Oroweat bread 3.09, raisins, 6 pack - 2.49, Nuts 2.00, Ch/Str shbrd 1.88, pecans 3.00, bigelow tea 3.19, squeeze mayo 1.89, v8 sp smthie 2.50, peanut butter 1.99, mini carrots 1.50, raspberry preserves 1.50, qkr regular oats 4.39, kroger juice 2.53, mplgrv czycttg s/f 2.49, cinnamon 2.59, granola bars 2.49, raisin bran crunch 3.99, oranges 6.89, bananas 2.35, pink ladies 4.30, cameos 6.57

Go to the next day

It’s been a while since I’ve been skiing (months!). Too long. As we roll into December, the weather has gotten colder, and this has allowed the midwest ski resorts to make their artificial snow with reckless abandon.

On Thursday, December 7, I received an email from Paoli Peaks (a resort in Indiana) saying that they would be opening on Saturday the 9th. I’ve been wanting to go skiing. This email intrigued me. I’ve been to Paoli Peaks. It was the first midwestern resort that I actually visited. It’s no Colorado, but I can get there and back in a day, which I can’t do with Colorado.

For a complete collection of pictures, visit

Last year (2005), just a couple of days before Christmas, some college friends and myself went to a Trans Siberian Orchestra concert in St. Louis. This year, we decided to go to see Mannheim Steamroller (hereafter known as MS). The MS concert was December 3, 2006 at 7pm in the evening. Brian got the tickets back in early October when they first went on sale to the general public. They ended up being about $56 apiece with all the cuts that the ticket places get.

If you’ve been following my journey for the past year or so, you know that I’ve been looking for a truck camper for quite a while. (See this, this, this, this, and this)

I’ve posted about the various truck campers that I’ve seen on eBay, but they just never worked out to my satisfaction. Usually, they were too expensive. Truck campers that fit a small truck are rare. In the past year, I’d estimate that 10-15 have shown up on eBay. There are a LOT of truck campers that fit full size pickups, but ones that will fit a small truck are rare.

A couple of weeks ago, a popup truck camper showed up on eBay. The basic description was:

This is a decent older camper of unknown manufacture. It is a commercially made camper with a seal from a RV camper’s association seal. My guess is it was made in the 80s or early 90s. The camper has a fridge, 3 burner cook top, furnace, power converter, small water tank and sink with hand pump. I bought this camper about four years ago intending on using it in my retirement but my plans have changed. The camper has been in a boat storage facility and I have never used it. I did hook it up to an electrical outlet and the lights and fridge worked. The gas tank is the old type and needs replacing. I have never used the gas appliances or water pump. The previous owner told me the fridge (3-way) was new the year I bought it.

The upper bed is about the size of a single and not large enough for two full size adults (unless you like to cuddle.) The lower bench slides out to make a bed. There is a table that is stored under the upper bed.

A few of the screens have small to moderate size holes in them. The clear plastic windows are fine (some slight clouding) as are all the vinyl sides and zippers. No smoke or pet smells.

The bottom section of the camper is 38 inches wide and 86 inches long. The overall width is 78 inches. The distance from the bottom of the camper to the bottom of the cab overhang is 42 inches. Weight unknown. The previous owner carried this on a Dodge Dakota without and suspension modification. I moved it on my wife’s Ford Ranger and although it set level, it was apparent when driving some additional support in the rear springs would be necessary on a long trip.


I’ve been watching for a truck camper for my Toyota for almost a year now, and there just aren’t very many that show up. Ebay has one right now that would be really nice, but it isn’t going to be in my price range, I’m sure.

It’s a 2001 Phoenix Coyote (C6M model) pop up camper

The description is as follows:

We all have lists. We often say to ourselves, “I’d like to do that sometime”. I suspect that many of us have a list of things that we’d like to do.. eventually. To this end, I decided to formalize things a little bit and make up a list of Things To Do Before I Die.

Things To Do Before I Die

I make no promises about this list. I revise the right to modify and tweak the list now or at any point in the future. How about you? Do you have things that are on your list that aren’t on mine? (I’m sure you do) Go ahead and comment if so. I might steal the idea and add it to my list. I’m sure I’ve forgotten a lot of things.

Raft On The Colorado River
In May 2006, I decided to hike the Grand Canyon. I felt like I was in good enough shape, and, as they say, there is no time like the present.

I’ve made up a detailed website where I discuss the trip. It contains a lot of pictures. But, more importantly, I kept a detailed journal of the entire trip. I’ve typed up the journal and put it online, with lots of links to appropriate pictures. Hopefully you’ll find it entertaining. To get there, just go to the above link and click on itinerary/journal. Then you can jump to the excerpt from first day’s journal entry.

I’d recommend a Grand Canyon hike to anyone. I had been there once before, but stayed on the Rim. Getting “below the rim” is a wonderful experience.

On August 22, 1989, my dad and myself went to Springfield and bought a new Toyota pickup with 21 miles on it. In the last seventeen years or so, my truck has been good to me. I’ve had a couple of major things done to it, but it’s been remarkably well behaved for its age. However, time is eventually going to become the enemy, and I decided a couple of years ago that I needed to start planning for this eventuality.

So, I started putting a little money aside each month to help make a down payment on a new or newer vehicle. The Toyota Prius has been a very interesting car to watch. I love the keyless entry and ignition, the gas mileage it gets is rather impressive, and it’s a Toyota. However, when I started running the numbers, I just couldn’t monetarily justify the Prius. The price premium would take many many years to recoup, and the hybrid technology is changing so fast right now that it really is a game for early adopters, and I wasn’t in the mood to do that.

2007 Red CamrySo, I thought for a while about a fun two seater, but ended up going with something more useful: A Toyota Camry. Toyota had redesigned the Camry for the 2007 model year, and I liked the new design, so I started looking around.

I’ve never enjoyed the negotiation stage of car buying. For this vehicle, I thought I’d probe some dealers via the internet before going in and visiting in person. So, I went to Toyota’s website and sent in a request for a quote to the Toyota dealership in Decatur (about an hour from here) and the local dealership, O’Brien Auto Park. Dale Grinestaff from the Decatur dealership responded promptly. To this day, O’Brien still hasn’t responded. A day or two later I sent mail to additional dealerships, in Mattoon (about 45 miles away) and Danville (30 miles away). The Danville dealership never responded. Phil Holdren from the Mattoon dealership responded promptly.

I started working with the Decatur dealership. I asked for a price on a Camry LE, 4 cyl, auto, sunroof, VSC, and the JBL audio system. There were only 2 of these in the United States, apparently, and I thought a lot about it and ended up dropping the JBL audio system. I went to Edmunds, and got the “low down” on the car. List price, Invoice Price, and what other people in the area are typically paying for that vehicle. Even this new car was a pretty rare thing. In fact, it just didn’t exist. At the time, I wasn’t that concerned about the color, but I ended up settling on the red color over time.

Dale said that he had the option of trying to “change” one of the incoming Camrys to match my requested configuration. Toyota isn’t like GM or other companies, though. With GM, you can “order” a car to your specifications, and they’ll make it for you. With Toyota, you can “suggest” that they change one of their incoming cars to match, but that’s it. Each dealer gets their predetermined allocation, and that’s just the way it is. So, Dale said that he could try and change one. He also offered me a price about $1,200 below list as a starting point.

Phil, from Mattoon responded to my request. He said that nothing was available, but that he had had good luck changing cars and that he could try, if I was interested.

I went to the local dealer and test drove one of the Camry LEs. It didn’t have the stability control or the sunroof, but it gave me a feel for what the car would be like. I didn’t bother telling the guy there that I had sent an unanswered email earlier. I just let him give me the story on the car. After the test drive he “invited me inside” to check and see when they might get a car in that matched my request. After sitting there for 5 minutes or so the basic line was that there wasn’t anything, and they didn’t know when they would get anything. And, they offered to let me know when something came in. No mention or offer of trying to change a car to match my requested specs. I’d say I was there for about an hour or so. The next day I got a call from the salesman. He said, “You were looking for the Avalon, right?”. Not impressed.

Meanwhile, Phil kept in contact with me. One day in early May he emailed me and said that he had attempted to change an incoming car to match my specs, and after the second attempt, it went through, and that they should have a car on the lot June 10th that perfectly matched my specifications. I hadn’t been emailing him real regularly. I wasn’t in a huge hurry to purchase, but he had taken the initiative, and actually changed an incoming car without any sort of confirmation or intent to buy on my part at all. Granted, he could have, no doubt, sold the car to someone else from off the lot, but the fact that he was willing to do that meant a lot to me. I told him that the other dealer had offered me the price that it had, and he went a couple of hundred dollars lower than that.

I emailed Dale back and told him this, and I have yet to actually hear a response from him.

I was out of town the last half of May, but when I got back into town I confirmed the June 10 arrival with Phil.

On June 10, I got an email from him saying that the car had arrived the night before. Up to this point, I actually hadn’t offered a price at all for the car. I was content to just let the dealers battle it out. But, since one of the dealers had “left the building”, so to speak, that wasn’t working out well for me. Knowing that a car was on the lot solidified in my mind that it was time to make a decision. So, it was time to get serious. I had planned to get him down a few hundred dollars, and thought that I’d be able to do that. But, you never know. Brand new car.. they are selling like crazy.. hard to say. But, I sent him some numbers. One was at invoice price, and another was about 2.5% over invoice.

He responded, and agreed to the 2.5% over invoice price! If I had known he would do that, I would have gone lower. 🙂 This actually ended up six or seven hundred dollars below where we had been at before.

So, I responded saying that I’d need the car pretty quick if I decided to buy (I had to go out of town in a couple of days); that I didn’t know how I’d get down to Mattoon, and that I was curious about what they could do for financing.

He said that they could have the car ready, that they would come and pick me up (90 miles roundtrip) and he quoted me a loan rate about 1.5% lower than my own bank had quoted me. Furthermore, he said that they could be flexible on the financing. If I didn’t have the financing totally procured they could talk to the bank and make sure that things were in progress, or that they could work with a check and wait to deposit it.. Basically, they were wanting to work with me.

At this point, I decided it was time to decide. I decided to go for it, and, for the first time, picked up a phone to call him. I had done all of the negotiations without ever having to deal with the “car salesman” face to face. Granted, I did drive the car from another dealer, but, other than that, I didn’t have to see a salesman.

When I talked to Phil on the phone, he said that he could come up that evening and we could get things taken care of. So, he came and picked me up (got here a few minutes late). He was a youngish guy. On the way back down to Mattoon we talked about various things. He was friendly, but not “salesman” friendly. Just friendly. A few minutes after we got there, my car arrived from being filled up with gas. It was pretty. I looked it over pretty good. I found one tiny little scratch on the passenger’s side mirror that they looked into, and then I went inside to take care of all of the paperwork.

During that part of the process, I was asked to purchase extended warranties. Before Doug (the banker guy) showed me the paper, he said that everything was optional. They had extensions to 7 years, and something like 100,000 miles. As always, they had the “new” and “old” monthly payments listed. After asking a few questions, I discovered that the actual flat fee for the extended warranty started at about a $1,000 and went north from there. I said no, he took the sheet of paper away, and that was that. No hard sell.

While all of this was going on, Phil was putting license plates on the car, and working on that mini scratch a little bit. Once I had the paperwork taken care of (signing one’s name 17 times is always a good time) I went out to the car and Phil showed me how everything worked. We ran into a small problem with the sunroof. The tilt-down function was running the glass down flat, but then going back up again. Both Phil and Doug looked at it, but never did figure anything out. They said that there had been a bulletin at one point describing something similar that could happen if the sunroof hadn’t been properly initialized, and that they would get ahold of me the next day and have me press the proper buttons to see if that fixed it. If not, they would come and pick the car up and get it taken care of.

The car had 3.8 miles on it. I felt quite lucky to have the car with so few miles on it. This was one of the reasons that I didn’t delay very long in deciding to purchase it. I knew that if I did, they would probably let other people test drive it, and I just didn’t want that. Other than that, the thing seemed just dandy. I headed out about 7pm from the dealership and proceeded north towards Champaign.

Floormats were close to a two hundred dollar option, so I declined. But, I knew I wanted floormats, so I headed to Walmart to pick some up. I got some gray ones that matched the interior, and then I went over to Rob’s house to show him the car. He felt compelled to take a couple of pictures of me with his new camera. We went for a short ride around the block and then I went home and trimmed the floormats to where they would fit nicely and put them in.

The next day I tried the reset techniques for the sunroof that Phil and Doug emailed and faxed me. Nothing worked. But, a couple of times that day when I tried it, the button did what it should. The rest of the time it went down and up, but a couple of times it worked properly. Over the next few days it started working all the time. Now I can press the down button and it does exactly what it should. Go figure.

Since the purchase 9 days ago I’ve put over 900 miles on the car. I’ve been annoyed to discover that there is another red Camry in the parking garage where I work. But, when you buy the best selling car in the nation you have to expect that. I drove the car down to Missouri and managed 28.4mpg on the one fillup that I’ve had for it. I’m hoping the mileage gets better. No one can believe it is a Camry. The styling is totally different than before. I definitely approve of the new styling, though. I think I’m going to really enjoy the sunroof. It gives me a nice feeling to have it open. The car has a lot more power than my truck. I have to watch my speed; particularly when I pull out to pass another vehicle. All of the other features on the car (power everything) are also nice. It’s taking some getting used to, though. My truck didn’t have any of that stuff, so I’m still in a learning phase.

All things considered, though, I’m glad I made the purchase. Hopefully Toyota’s legendary quality will carry through on this car, and I’ll have many years of trouble free use!

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