Saturday, June 28, 2014

Keeping the Fan-Tastic vent fantastic

One thing small spaces need in abundance is ventilation. A fart or wet, moldy sock in a 2000 square foot house is one thing, but put either one of those inside an RV the size of the guest bathroom of that 2000 square foot house and you could have a problem!

A big part of the ventilation strategy on my van is the Fan-Tastic vent/fan combination. A lot of RV's have these because they're well made and, even after the buyout by Atwood, the company is very responsive to the needs of it's customers, right down to the occasional free replacement part. I don't have the remote control option because - well - the fan is always pretty much within arms reach anyway, but my fan has all the other bells and whistles, including a rain sensor to shut the vent for me when I've wandered off and left it open.

Which I do a lot; leave it open that is. Anywhere from a month at a time in the driveway between trips* to a few minutes in the parking lot when running into the store for a Twinky delicious organic apple.

All this open time means a lot of exposure for the little rain sensor and - well folks, it's a dirty world out there! After discovering a pond inside the van one day I figured out that I need to get up there and clean the sensor off once in a while or it's going to stop sensing.

Today was one of those whiles.

The vent, as usual, was already open and switching the fan speed to zero also disables the closer motor so when I get the sensor all wet and rainy-like the cover won't close on my hand like a pissed off, though really slow, clam. The van is tall and it takes my largest step ladder to get up high enough, but once there all it takes is a little soapy water and a bit of scrubbing.

As long as I'm there I give the rest of the fan a good cleaning and, for good measure, give the solar panel gets a swipe or two as well.

Safely back on the ground (Man it's a long way up there!) I turn the fan speed back to 1 and test the up-down motor then mark the calender to remind myself to repeat the process again in about 6 months.

*I always drive the van somewhere at least once a month, trip or not, to make sure everything stays limber and operational. I also fire up the second most complex mechanical device, the fridge, at the same time.

Monday, June 23, 2014

North Country: St Ignace

Jun 23 2013
The day started cold and, true to form, wet. 60 degrees and the air is filled with cold fog again. I screwed around for a while to let the day get a good start then headed the couple miles on into St. Ignace. As long as I'm here I'm going to hang out a bit before heading south.

Though it looks pretty weathered, therefore aged like it’s been there a while, I don’t remember there being a boardwalk in town before, but then again it's been a long time since I was here last. Of course, since it was there I had to walk it. Plenty of parking at the public marina and even the few parking spots one lot over designated specifically for the boardwalk were empty. Again, where are all the people??
I started out near the remains of the rail float dock that used to be the primary link between the lower and upper peninsulas. It's over near the lighthouse which anchors one end of the boardwalk. Then, following the weathered boards and reading the information plaques along the way, I snaked my way along the shore behind several businesses and through several Mackinac Island ferry service parking lots.

You can catch a ferry out to Mackinac Island from either here in St. Ignace or down in Mackinaw City. (Yep, both Mac's are spelled right.) Unless you can afford a private plane charter or are crazy intrepid enough to brave the some-times ice-bridge on a snow machine during the winter, that's the only way to get out to the auto-less island which, among other things like the historic fort and fudge shops, is where the Grand Hotel is. The building's 660 ft front porch is said to be the longest in the world. A cousin of mine spent quite a few winters (The off season.) on the island renovating the 1890's building and my retired Uncle would sometimes hire on to haul loads of building supplies up from the southern part of the state.

Mackinac Bridge from the south shore. This didn't exist until I was 2 years old
But back to the boardwalk. You have the choice of walking it out and back or just out then wander the sidewalks of the main drag back, window shopping along the way. To make it even more interesting they have displays scattered along the boardwalk talking about the history of the area.
Prior to that you had to take a car ferry across the straits.
OK, enough of that; time to cross the very long Mackinaw bridge and start moving south. Well – a little ways anyway. As soon as I was over land again I got back off the road and messed around for a while in the state park under the shadow of the south end of the bridge. It was still foggy and I think I got a couple ghostly images of the bridge disappearing into the distance.
Moving south in earnest now I was passing through what used to be a playground for us when I was a kid. I have no idea how many nights we spent in various places in northern Michigan but it was a lot. At first, passing through Indian River, Wolverine and Vanderbilt, it didn’t look like it had changed a lot, but then I got to Gaylord!

I’m not sure I have ever seen a billboard for Walmart before but at the moment there’s one out there as you come into Gaylord from the north. But, along with the Walmart and the Lowes and the Ruby’s and all the other new things causing some real traffic jams in what used to be a small village back in the day, the Call of the Wild museum is still there.
When I was a kid this was a slightly cheesy but exciting place full of worn and shedding taxidermy posed in fake natural habitats with fake natural sounds coming out of not very well hidden tinny sounding speakers all inside a low, grey building wrapped on the outside with fake rocks to look like a miniature mountain.
Back then, if you paid to go in it also meant you were going to get a Call of the Wild museum bumper sticker put on your car. (I imagine too many people complained if they stuck it on with glue like most bumper stickers but these were the days of real steel bumpers so wire was threaded through holes in the ends of the bumper sticker then bent around the bumper to hold them on.)

I can’t comment on what’s inside the place these days since I didn’t stop, but the building is either the same one from those days or a new one built just like the original right in the same place. Hard to believe that place has survived all these years.

Well I'm still 1500 miles from home but that’s going to about wrap things up for this trip. Tomorrow I arrive at family for family things followed by a mad dash straight through to Texas to get safely home before the 4th of July’ers get turned loose on the roads. (I made it home on the 2nd after a day and a half of nothing but windshield time.)

23 days
3679.4 miles
159.9 miles average per day
230.47 gallons of fuel
20.3 miles per gallon

Sunday, June 22, 2014

North Country: The long drive east

Jun 22 2013

Today was all about driving, about 400 miles worth, as I worked east across Wisconsin and Michigan’s upper peninsula to a campground near St. Ignace. Farthest single driving day so far this trip, though there are a couple longer days coming up at the end of the trip.

The reason for the long day is that I got word that the wedding preparations could use a little extra help so I'm going to get down there a few days early to pitch in. Our family has a history of sensible weddings where we do much of the work ourselves and utilize backyards and our own shop buildings as venues. As always there's lots to get done so I'm on my way to pitch in.

Fog and rain started the day and fog is finishing the day. In between there were areas of pretty good visibility and it did lighten up a few times, but it never got any better than light grey, no sun today.

I feel a little bit like I’m in the twilight zone here, and not because of the fog. It’s a Saturday at the end of June a few miles from Mackinaw Island, one of the biggest attractions in the state, and I’m sitting in a campground with about two dozen occupied sites out of 170! I expected hoards of people to be crawling around. I called a few days ago to see if I could make a reservation. Now I know why, after confirming plenty of space available, the guy asked if I still wanted to make the reservation.

What happened to the Michigan summer weekenders!!?

Saturday, June 21, 2014

North Country: A rainy loop

June 21 2013

Warning! No photos. Too much water falling from the sky to get the camera out today.
First day of summer. . . It rained all night, was 50 degrees this morning and made it all the way up to 52 for the day. Sure am glad I’m not tenting it! To sum it up, yesterday was wet and buggy, today was wet and muddy and buggy; weudyugy.

News people said the rain was moving east and would clear out through the morning but be back for the evening, (They were wrong! It never left.) so I lolly-gagged around until 9:00 when it seemed to be at least slowed down, before heading out for the day.
Since I was going east I caught up with the heavy rain about the time I got to the Northern Great Lakes Visitor Center in Ashland Wisconsin, the new and improved center on the west side of town not the old one right in town, which I suppose is closed up now. This is a really well put together place with lots of displays and a really cool 10 minute film all about the people and activities of the area for the past few hundred years. They also have tons of maps and other info for planning a visit to the area.

By the time I exhausted the inside stuff the rain had sort of eased up but showed no signs of actually stopping. Not to be thwarted I donned rain-gear, still damp from yesterday, and wandered the nature trail out back for a while. Even with the rain I had to double up on the bug juice out there! Rain or bugs, either one could have been keeping the smarter folk away which probably explains why I had the trail to myself.
Thoroughly moisturized, I climbed in the back door of the van and shed rain-gear in order to minimize spreading the damp around inside, then moved a few miles up SR13 to the town of Washburn. They have a trail starting at the West End Park (Beach, boat launch and campground.) and wrapping part way around the town, hugging the shoreline. It was a pleasant and solitary walk but not spectacular. Might have been spectacular if there was any visibility to see across Chequamegon Bay towards Ashland and the Bad River Reservation over on the other side, but there wasn’t. The cold air is keeping things pretty foggy despite the persistent rain.

Repeating my shake like a dog/climb in the back door/shed rain-gear/towel off head (I have got to replace my old, worn Tilly hat some day!), I continued up SR13 which wraps right around the Wisconsin peninsula that faces Minnesota’s north shore (The northwest side of the Wisconsin peninsula is known as the south shore.  ) There are several little towns along the way; and several road construction projects too since it’s that time of year; as well as a mainland piece of the Apostle Islands National Seashore.

The rest of Apostle Islands is - well, islands and, given the conditions, the thought of parking the van on the mainland and taking a ferry across to do some hiking just didn't seem worth it, though sitting there in damp underwear might have had some influence on that decision. . .

There is only one mainland trail to be found in this park and I headed for it. On the northwest side of the peninsula the park encompass' a sliver of land along the lake shore. The trail traversing this is accessed at the Meyer's beach kayak launch on Squaw Bay. For some reason my parks pass was only good for a 50% discount on the $3 fee here, usually the park pass covers the whole fee. . . Oh well.
I suited up for a serious hike out to the cliff caves area a few miles away and began slipping and sliding and sloshing and clumping and wading my way down the very muddy, often water covered trail. I was only about a half mile in when I came to a stream crossing, OK, more like a river crossing. I looked down where the trail ended on my side, I looked across the 10 or 12 feet to where it started again on the other side, I looked at the rushing, churning, muddy water in between, I poked at as much of the bottom as I could reach with my hiking stick, I wandered upstream then ambulated downstream, I tested the birch tree that had fallen across between the banks, I tested a couple rocks and another log that were poking up out of the water, though not by much – and I turned around.
That dang thing scared me! And since I make up one of the safer hiking demographics, (The most dangerous being two young couples where both guys are trying to be alphas and the girls think it’s cute. The safest being a single mature couple that have been together long enough that they don’t have anything to prove to each other, though a single man old enough to have some experience under his belt is a close second in safety since he knows what he’s capable of and there’s no one around to see him back down.) So anyway, in order to hold up my end of the hiking demographic risk table, I had to turn around. Sorry, that's the rules.
Not yet ready to give up completely, I backtracked a little to get away from the swollen stream (According to the news guy tonight the past two days have been record rains.) then bush whacked my way down to the shoreline itself. Carrying a GPS along with a paper map makes doing things like this way more comfortable. I start each hike by marking on the GPS where I’m parked then every move I make is automatically recorded, making a track. When I do something like bush whack or come to a fork in the trail I set a waypoint, another mark on the GPS, so I can keep track of what I’m doing and get myself back to where I was without having to worry about memorizing landmarks, (Yeah, like that works! ‘This must the tree marking the turn – or is it that one – or was it even a tree??’) or having critters eat my breadcrumbs. (Just my luck I’d mark a trail with survey ribbons and a ranger would come along and tear them down on me!)  And yes, I carry spare batteries; and still carry a compass and matches and extra food and a poncho/shelter and thermal blanket and . . . well . . . if you get the idea that I might be a little overly careful, too bad. I call it taking responsibility for myself rather than expecting someone else to come along and pick up the pieces if I get into trouble.
Between the rain from above and the wind pushing all the lake water that was supposed to be over there on the Minnesota side over to here, there wasn’t much beach where I came out at the shore. In fact at points the waves reached right up to the base of the bluffs along here.  Because my boots are only waterproof up to the top I switched over to my water-shoes and gave the sand a try anyway.

Even though the sand looked reasonably firm, and under normal conditions is, there's this thing call liquefaction where earthquakes or wave action or some other disturbance breaks the friction bond between sand particles and turns it into a soupy concoction that is anything but firm! My first step was knee-deep, my second thigh-deep!

I did manage to move sideways 30 feet or so and get to dryer sand furnished with an old snag to use as a seat. Notice I said dryer, not dry.
I sat there for a while keeping a wary eye on the waves to make sure they weren’t creeping closer and a couple times the fog pulled back far enough that I could see s shadow of the coastline for a half mile or so in each direction, but soon it, the fog, would come right back in.
Given the saturated nature of the beach I decided it probably wouldn’t be a good idea to try to get back to the trail head by walking the shoreline, especially since there was so much water coming down from the soaked land and fresh streams were probably cutting through the beach all over the place, so after putting up with the rain and limited visibility for as long as I cared to, I whacked my way back uphill to the main trail.
Shortly after I got there a couple rangers came by from the direction of the flooded stream. Since they hadn’t passed me along the way they assumed I was outbound and informed me the trail back behind them was washed out and they were going to close it so I would have to turn around and follow them back to the trail-head. I was kind of glad to hear that. Now I knew for sure that I wasn’t just wimping out when I turned back at the flood-waters.
Other than the drive to complete the loop and get back to the campground that was pretty much my soggy day, and now I’ve got to dry my boots and socks and underwear and ears and - well, you get the idea.

Friday, June 20, 2014

North Country: The north shore

Jun 20 2013

It was a bit wet today, all day, but I girded my loins and worked my way up the north shore of Lake Superior.

At the northeast, or as the locals call it, east side of Duluth, SR61 splits into the ‘expressway’ route and the scenic route. Guess which one I took. . . The whole road layout through this part of the city is a little strange though. I35 comes up from the south, drops 500 feet over the bluff down to the shoreline and flys/burrows a bee-line path through downtown Duluth between the tracks and lake on one side and the city rising up the hills on the other, (With less than a dozen blocks between lake level and the heights above, Duluth is one steep city!) but then just ends right there on the edge of downtown at a traffic light where it dumps into SR61. For the next 4 miles SR61 is a two lane road with a 30 mile per hour speed limit wandering through a residential area along the lake shore. On the lake side are really big and fancy houses, one after the other, on the other side are older 1200 to 2000 sq. ft. frame houses like you’d see in any typical older neighborhood in a Midwest town. It’s not until after threading through all this that SR61 splits between its two versions, and by the way, the ‘expressway’ version isn’t, it’s just a 4 lane divided highway. Regardless, it must be a real pain during rush to either live along that 4 mile stretch or have to drive it.

So, after threading through that residential street with plenty of stoplights and tons of driveways SR61 splits and, predictably,  the scenic route runs along the shoreline with views (If it wasn’t quite so foggy!) of the lake, lakeside homes and resorts, and there's plenty of pull-overs where you can get your feet wet along the rocky shore, assuming you're immune to the effects of submerging your feet in ice water!

For me Lake Superior has always been a slightly intimidating place. Remote, icy waters; really deep icy waters; legendary storms and history in and around it that will curl any boy's hair. On the north and western shores, where prevailing winds blow any sand on into the lake, the shoreline is predominately dark and rocky and the ancient granite kind of thrums with its own energy collected over millions of years. (OK, this is what happens when you spend too much time alone standing on a rocky, fog-bound shoreline knowing that the vast lake is lurking out there just beyond vision, just waiting to rise up and slap down the careless and unwary. . .)

About 25 miles up the road is the town of Two Harbors. Named Two Harbors because - well - there's two harbors. The town sits on a peninsula between Agate Bay and Burlington Bay. This is iron ore country and Agate Bay is protected by a couple breakwaters and dominated by large ore docks where loads are transferred from trains to ships. Burlington Bay is much less developed, out on the bay itself anyway but it looks like a brand new campground is going in over there on the edge of it.

Back in the dark ages; maybe even before the light bulb was invented; I was in the military and stationed in Virginia with a guy from Two Harbors. His dream upon getting out of the service was to go back home and start a business building custom furniture. I was thinking of this as I working my way down 7th avenue towards - well - the harbors, when I passed a workshop/storefront called Original Furniture. And I wondered. . . 

Two Harbors being Two Harbors, there was plenty of room to pull over and park. Unfortunately (Maybe fortunately for anyone who might have been in there. . .) the place was closed so I couldn’t go barging in, not remembering his name and certainly not what he looked like, blindly asking if anyone associated with the place was maybe in the military a long time ago.

Foolishness thwarted, back in the van and continuing on. . .

Freighter being loaded at the ore dock

There's plenty of parking down by the harbor so I did, park that is. There was a freighter being loaded at one of the two operating ore docks and the Corp of Engineers had some work barges set up at the end of one of the breakwaters where they seemed to be reinforcing it. (See! What did I tell you about the lake just waiting to rise up and slap something down!)

This isn't your little local lake! The Great Lakes are big!
I walked out on the breakwater to get a closer look at both operations, the freighter loading and the breakwater fixing. A couple times fingers of thick fog blew in from the lake, the 40 degree lake. Got a bit chilly for a bit there! Fortunately I was smart enough to be wearing an extra shirt under my rain gear. (I know! Karma getting me for all the bitching I was doing about the heat just a week or so ago. . .)

And so are the ships that work them.

The largest steam to work this railroad

And the smallest
After getting thoroughly damped and chilled out there on that skinny bit of stone and concrete that's supposed to keep the lake in check, I headed for the trains. I mean, who wouldn't?! It's trains for crying out loud! Two Harbors pretty much exists as a town because of the trains bring ore down from the mines in the interior to the ships in the harbor and they have an outdoor display of the first and the last steam locomotives used on that railroad. The depot has also been preserved and turned into a small museum/gift shop, more shop than museum in my opinion, but then I might be biased.

Of course, what rocky shoreline would be complete without a lighthouse? Unfortunately the lighthouse tour is only open Friday through Monday and this wasn't, (Friday through Monday.) but there was a mildly pleasant little path down along the shoreline below the lighthouse.

 I was in the service with another guy who came from Brimley Michigan at the other end of Lake Superior and his father fished commercially from a boat just like this one. Does the fact that it's completely closed in and the nets are worked from the large hatches in the sides give any hint of what it can be like out there on the lake???

Another 12 or 13 miles on towards Canada is Gooseberry Falls state park. This is where the Gooseberry River drops over a series of hard rock ledges as it works the last couple miles down to the lake. There is an interpretive center tucked down there between the road and shoreline, but the big attraction is the falls, reached by following a trail up under the highway bridge and back inland to the rock ledges.

By now the rain had really set in but I still managed to get in a little hiking/ambling, tucking myself under trees or the bridge during the worst of it, though it did keep me off some of the trails further inland as they snaked their way up and down steep and now very slippery rocks and exposed roots. Not the time or place to get hurt! It also kept my camera, which is allergic to large amounts of water, in the case so I don't have much in the way of photos of this area.

As I write this, back at the campground for the night, the rain continues, sometimes pretty heavy.