Friday, October 31, 2014

Granger and Inks, a tale of two lakes, conclusion

So there I was, at the wrong end of a wind-swept lake in my inflatable kayak, scaring myself with what was going on beyond the protection of the trees I had backed myself into. The water was all churned up, the flags were standing straight out, and the tops of the trees behind me were thrashing and banging in the wind, but I was also getting bored with waiting for said wind to die down (Which it probably would, but not until sometime after sunset. . .).

So I let the air out of my seat to put me low in the kayak, reducing my windage, re-secured all my gear, set the paddle to feather mode, aimed the bow into the wind and waves, and started paddling.

It was a slog, paddling directly upwind half the length of the lake, and I could claim it was an epic - man against - battle that I barely survived, heroically paddling with one hand and bailing with the other; but it wasn't.

In fact it wasn't all that bad. Yes, I got a little wet, but not near as wet as I had built myself up to expect, and with the proper plugs removed the kayak is self bailing anyway. I did feel it in my arms, the long strokes, one right after the other, no time for rest, pushing with the top arm, pulling with the bottom one for power, over and over and over. But I could see from the passing shoreline, which I stuck fairly close to, that I was actually making good progress, better progress than I expected.

In fact my progress was so good that when the campground was one last 1/4 mile of open water away, I hung a left instead and switched back to sight-seeing mode.

Having been there before I knew that at the far east end of this branch of the lake Spring Creek empties into the lake between some decent rock walls. My plan was to drift quietly up through the resulting canyon until I gently beached where lake meets creek-bottom.

Except I never made it there.

When did kids stop going to school???  Here it was, early afternoon, mid-week the third week of October, yet there was a mess of kids running loose on the world up there in the rocks! In fact some of them were climbing high above the lake then leaping off the rocks into the water far below.

All of this was accompanied by the kind of whooping and hollering and screaming only kids and drunks can produce, and I'm not any more a fan of kids and drunks than I am of loud, unnecessary noise. (By the way some of you motorcyclists out there, and you know who you are, the ones with painfully loud exhaust systems; stop trying to feed the rest of us that crap about about the noise making riding safer for you. Just man up, regardless of your gender, and admit it's all about making you feel like the big man on the block.)

So after snapping a few photos of the shenanigans for evidence, I turned tail and retreated to camp.

The next morning I was once again up and at it early.

The kayak was still inflated from the day before (I've found that if I remove the skeg I can slide the inflated kayak, stern first, under the van from behind (Once everything under there has cooled down!!) and tie the bow off to the hitch to keep it safe.) so actually getting on the water was simple; but only after checking NOAA for wind predictions and double-checking those against Weather-bug!!!

It was a morning of quiet paddling, except for the guy sitting in camp with his cup of coffee who thought it appropriate to tear the serene silence apart with shouts asking about the fishing, or the two guys a couple of camp sites further down babbling loudly away at each other over inane crap, apparently enamored with the sound of their own voices (Come on people!!! It's dawn in a public campground. SHUT THE HELL UP!!!)

Again, I had the lake to myself and it mostly turned out to be a morning float of birding, though I never did find that dock loving White Crested Camp Longhorn Aqua Bus listed in my Sibley Guide to Birds.

 I thought I got some really good shots of this Blue Heron taking flight by using the rapid fire Sport mode on my camera, but every one of the dozen or so shots was focused on the background and not the bird. . . Guess I need to get the manual out and work on that.

 Clearly this guy is not a morning person and I got the evil eye for daring to drift by!

I don't know if it was my skill at stalking, or if this Eastern Phoebe just didn't give a rat's patootie that I was getting close. (Though I strongly suspect the latter.) But he stayed right were he was, never stopping the characteristic twitching of his tail, which is why it's blurred in every shot I took.

I thought this was my bonus shot of the day since Belted Kingfishers are a little uncommon. (This is  a female by the way, with the rust band under the blue band. The males just have the blue band. A little backwards in the bird world but there's always exceptions.)

But then I caught sight of this guy.

He was a ways off and pretty skittish so as I drifted closer this is the last shot I got before he flew off. (I took more shots as he was leaving but my aim was terrible and I got nothing but sky.)

I was pretty sure I was mistaken until I got a closer look at the photos, but the white cap and dark eye-band had me thinking Osprey.

Except that Osprey are typically a saltwater bird of prey and it's fairly rare to find them around freshwater, especially freshwater nearly 200 miles from the nearest coast!

But a blow-up of his feet, an Osprey's grey feet, pretty much cinched the deal.

Two bonus birds in one morning's paddle!!

And on that note it was time to head back to camp and call it a trip since, on the way back home, I was scheduled to meet my wife for a late lunch in a town still 2 1/2 hours away.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

What if: Interior, countertops and cabinets

Aft of the bed there’s a countertop with cabinet below along both sides of the camper. These are both about  3’3” long. This is the distance from the edge of the bed to the point where the floor widens behind the wheel wells, which seemed like a good place to stop.


6.5' of countertop might seem like a lot  for a small, one person space, but because of that limited space it also functions as a table and desk and dresser-top and catch-all and - well, you get the idea.

The right-hand counter is 21” wide. I got that dimension by taking the 20” width of the horizontal over-the-bed-rail wing and adding 1” for counter overhang at the front. This puts the face of the under-counter cabinet flush with the lower face of the camper shell. In other words, there is a single, clean line from the right edge of the floor up to the bottom of the countertop. Clean lines help make a space feel larger and simplify construction.

21” is narrower than a standard household counter top but is exactly as wide as the countertop in the van which is still plenty wide enough to be useful.

The astute will notice that this leaves no toe-kick on the right side but I have lived with no toe-kick in the van for years and don’t really miss it.

The story is a little different over on the left side though. Here the countertop is a little more generous at 24.75” from front to back. I got here because of the required size of the fridge cabinet which I'll get to later.

Allowing for the same 1” overhang for the countertop at the front edge, the face of the cabinet under this counter extends  about 4” beyond the lower face of the shell.

The space left over between the two countertops is about 38".  If this was a serious cruising boat that would be too wide because a person could be thrown far enough to get hurt in rough seas, especially when trying to cook a meal, but this isn’t a boat and it’s highly unlikely I’ll be cooking in it while negotiating any rough seas.

Considering that the aisle/workspace in the van is 18” wide, 38 seems downright decadent, but in the van one side of the narrow aisle is the 18” high gaucho so my ass-ets can ‘hang over the edge’ and it feels much wider.

I also like my countertops high and in this camper have placed them at 38” above the floor instead of the normal 36. This puts a countertop right at hip-bone level on both sides of the aisle so the extra width comes in handy.

There are several advantages to the 4” overhang of the cabinet on the left side besides lining up with the fridge cabinet. For one it's key to routing the plumbing, which I'll get to in another post.

It also adds additional storage between the cabinet and the floor. In fact  the diameter of the standard disposable propane bottle is about 4”. So now I can install a secure rack down there to safely hold several of these bottles tucked away and protected but handy. That will still leave room for other items as well.

Rather than the complication and additional weight of closing this space off with a very shallow cupboard and clumsy doors, I’ll leave it open and add custom brackets and straps to secure other things in any leftover space down there as I go.

I actually like my countertops slightly higher than the 38” I've used here, ideal for me is more like 40 to 41 because I do all my computer work and playing of the keyboard while standing with the laptop and/or keyboard sitting on the counter tops. When I was still working my 'desk' was a standing workstation and I had no chairs in my office. (Helped keep meetings and other distractions short!) Now days, if I sit at a table or desk and try to do much computer work I get a stiff neck and a headache. (I guess that comes with aging and bifocals.) But I settled for 38” in order to leave room for the all-important windows between countertop and upper cabinets. If I raise the countertop any higher I also have to raise the windows and with them the bottom of the uppers and it doesn’t take long before the uppers end up smaller than they need to be.

The countertop on the left side has a sink mounted in it. I chose this side for the sink because it’s the same side standard RV fill and dump connections are found and I’ll get into those later.

Some small-space designers advocate using the largest sink that will fit in the space. I disagree with that and go for the smallest rectangular sink I can find. (Round sinks are just one giant pain in the neck so those are out.) This way I can fill it to a reasonable depth for dish-washing, etc. without using up any more water than necessary.

I like mounting the sink in the middle of the counter space so I have working area
to both sides (i.e. transferring dirty dishes from the left, through the wash-water in the sink, and then to the right where they wait for a return trip during the rinse cycle.) By mounting the sink towards the front of the counter it is easier to reach into, especially with the higher than normal counters, and leaves plenty of space behind it for stuff to sit. And since I’ve found it so handy in my past rigs, there will be a drop-in cover that goes over the sink and hides the dirty dishes as well as adds more work surface.

I see no reason to alter what I cook on now since it works very well for me, so the camper’s stove will be a portable single burner that uses the disposable propane bottles.

When used inside the stove will sit on the right-hand counter. When I want to cook outside I’ll just carry the same stove out to the picnic table and won’t have to have two different stoves along for the ride.

When not in use the stove, always with gas bottle removed, will tuck into a cupboard, probably under my cast iron frying pan like in the van, with a bit of padding between to eliminate rattles. This clears the counter space for other uses.

If I change habits some day and find I regularly need two burners to prepare my gourmet meals all I have to do as buy a second single burner stove for less than $100 and I’m good to go.

And finally; in the van the bottom edge of the over-counter cupboards are 59” above the floor and set back from the front edge of the countertop by 7”. Since I’ve never hit my head on them I’m using the same spacing for the uppers in this camper. As mentioned before, the upper on the right side extends over the head of the bed all the way to the front wall which makes for lots of storage. Over on the right side the uppers are restricted to the same length as the counter by the fridge cabinet on one end and the air conditioner cabinet on the other, but this still leaves quite a bit of storage space up there.

Next time, a word about drawers and doors

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Granger and Inks, a tale of two lakes, part 2

I have no idea what time I went to bed last night because I deliberately spent the day avoiding all clocks. (Not easy!!) Once I was safely parked at Inks Lake State Park I sat out under the oak in my chair and read a book until it was too dark for these aged eyes, I ate when I was hungry, and I put my magazine down and made up the bed when it felt right.

But I do know I was awake well before dawn. Which is kind of a life-time condition for me, though just how 'well before dawn' varies from day to day. Sometime it's just a little before dawn and those are the best days, sometimes it's enough before dawn to lay there in bed and write The Great American Novel in my head (And at the risk of bragging, I have to say that in my head it's a damn good read!; now if only I could get it down on paper before it morphs into really bad crap!!) and once in a while my mornings start almost before night has had a chance to get warmed up.

I haven't figured out why I sometimes wake closer to the middle of the night than dawn, but for this particular night I'm going to blame the new parts for the Fan-Tastic Vent. For some reason this new version of the fan sports a couple surface mount LED's on the circuit board that the original lacked, glaring red LED's, red LED's I didn't even notice when doing the install in daylight, but in the dark of night they're pretty dang bright and from the bed I'm looking right up at them.

You ever notice how many lights have been creeping into our lives in these 'modern' times? I'm not sure I took note when it began but now I notice all sorts of multicolored little points of artificial light in my space!

You can't really turn off the TV anymore so there's always some little light to remind you it's there, and the microwave doesn't care if there's anyone to see or not, its going to sit there broadcasting the time in greenish glow 24 hours a day regardless, and if you don't turn your phone off or hide the computer in a drawer somewhere or unplug all the various chargers modern life demands, there's enough light flying around in the middle of the night to cast shadows all over the place!

At the house we use power strips that get turned off at night, and throw a dishcloth over top of the ever-glowing robot vacuum. In the van I leave the TV unplugged, open the breaker for the microwave, and put tape over the little green lights on the smoke and CO detectors. (Not sure what I'm going to do about the LED's in the new vent, I just know that I have to take it apart again to get at them.)

Anyway. . . As soon as the sky began to properly lighten this morning I was out of bed and prepping to go kayaking. In deference to those with different sleep patterns, especially the old lady in the Casita next to me, who, judging by her near perfect eye avoidance yesterday, already doesn't like me much, I trod around silently on moccasined feet, pushed doors closed gently instead of slamming, and carried the kayak a-ways down the shoreline so the noise of inflating it with the foot-pump wouldn't bother anyone. (Or if it did I would at least be too far away to hear the complaints!)

Before long I was floating gently on the mirror smooth lake.

I had it to myself, not even any fishermen out there, only amazingly large fish (Of some kind.) unexpectedly breaking the surface, and the silence, with their exuberance.

I was in no rush and slowly headed in a generally westerly direction towards an arm of the lake I hadn't explored before, one that has state park on one side and waterfront homes along the other so I can be one with nature while, at the same time, marveling at (And scorning the heedless excess of. Jealous?? Hell no! Not me. I don't think. . .) the lakeside mansions, but on the way there I stopped off in a tiny little cove.

This cove is 100% state park and though the park road passes fairly close to the upper end of it, it's very secluded. I drifted in slowly, falling back on military training (Falling waaayyy back!) and paddling silently. (Back then it was rubber boats and canoe paddles but if you made any noise the drill instructors got pissed off, and you didn't want to piss off the DI's because then bad things would happen!)

I was rewarded with a racoon coming out and pawing at the water and a flock of American Coots that didn't seem to notice me for the longest time, and even then they just paddled off to the other side of the cove.

Of course the camera was in the dry bag and as soon as I started fishing it out the racoon took off, but I had better luck with the Coots.

Encouraged, I backed the kayak into a patch of water plants that would hold it in place near the eastern shore of the little cove and, with the rising sun behind me, readied the binoculars and camera, pulled out a book, and settled in.

Sorry to disappoint Mr. Troutwine, (An old teacher of mine.) but the book wasn't Ulysses or Ivanhoe or even one of the American classics; it wasn't a weighty tome on the state of the world and how to fix it, or a thick biography of some admirable character, but it was light and fun and good enough to fill a couple hours there in the cove.

It was a pretty quiet couple of hours, but nothing wrong with that.

The racoon never did stick his head out again. A few White Wing Doves, much bigger than the Inca Doves around the house, messed around in the trees across the way, a few turtles climbed up on various structures to take in the sun, but the most interesting inhabitant was a little 4 point deer.

He never did come down to the water's edge but I caught glimpses of him moving around across the way. I couldn't get a good enough look to be certain, but I'm pretty sure he had a little velvet still clinging to his diminutive rack even though it's pretty late in the season for that. It was probably still there because he kept picking the flimsiest of bushes and even weeds to savage while trying to rub it off. At one point I couldn't see him at all but I could see the spindly branches of some tall, end-of-season weed being thrashed and whipped and thrashed some more as he worked at it. It made me think of trying to clean my teeth while holding the dental floss at only one end. . . It's just not going to do the job dude!!

Perhaps not entertainment up to par for all, but plenty to keep me occupied; and by the time I looked beyond my little world there in the cove again, the dead calm day was no more! Through my binoculars I could see a distant flag across the lake telling me the wind had seriously kicked up and was coming from the east, right were I had come from and eventually needed to get back to!

This morning NOAA radio had said the wind wouldn't be here until late afternoon, but now Weather Bug is saying that at Buchanan Dam, only a few miles away, it's out of the ESE at 12 to 15. That was the good news, because when I used the old Boy Scout trick of estimating wind speed from a flag it said it was worse! (Estimate the average angle the bottom edge of the flag is standing out from the flagpole and divide by 4.) In fact the flag I was watching was pretty much standing straight out most of the time, which indicates winds up around 20!! Of course, I reasoned (hoped/wished), that that old method probably assumes a heavy cotton flag of years gone by and not the light, synthetic flags of today, so it's probably not as bad as it looks. But holy crap it's windy out there!!!

Some years ago I got caught out; way out; on Kentucky Lake in an earlier, much flimsier, one step up from beach toy, inflatable kayak and got pushed around pretty bad by winds that also raised some significant waves, significant for a tiny blow-up kayak anyway. (No smartphones or Weather Bug back then, though I'm not sure I would have been smart enough to check first anyway. . .) For a long time after that I did my kayaking within arm's reach of a sheltered shore.

I've only had my Sea Eagle FT385 for less than a year and, while venturing well out into open waters with it a few times, so far have been very careful to avoid pretty much any winds at all while using it. So sitting there with nothing but open, wind-whipped water between me and the campground, my first thought was to abandon my original plans, which would take me quite a bit further downwind, and instead make a (Half-panicked I'm sure.) run back across the lake into the teeth of the wind and attempt the safety of the campground.

I'm a pretty cautious person and caution has kept me safe in a lot of lonely places for a lot of years, but as I sat there in the protected cove, looking out at the riled up lake, contemplating running for cover, I realized that somewhere along the way I've allowed caution to grow to something very close to timidity. Lately I've been reading blogs written by people doing things like jumping into their Tracker and tackling mountain tracks I would be hesitant to hike let alone drive, or driving the Apache Trail in a class C with a toad behind after I chickened out taking my relatively nimble van on that same road. Well dammit! Those are things I want to do too and it's not going to happen if I keep letting a little fear get in the way! I'm either going to have to step up, push myself, test the limits (Gently of course!), or end up living a life of missed opportunities from my easy chair while growing my situpon to epic proportions.

So I sucked it up, double-checked to make sure everything was tied down and all the delicate gear stowed in properly closed dry-bags, glided past the line of turtle-heads guarding the entrance to the cove, stuck my nose out into the lake, and hung a right; putting the wind, and the safety of the campground, at my back.

I'm not saying I suddenly became fearless, because frankly, as the wind and waves drove me down the empty lake away from the campground at speeds I'm pretty sure I'd never manage by paddling, it was scary. It was noisy and bumpy and I wasn't at all sure that I'd be able to paddle back across the lake, uphill into those same wind and waves, and make it to the campground. But the only reason I wasn't sure is because I'd never tried it before, so dang-it! here we go!!!

Worst case, I have to stash the kayak somewhere and hike back around the lake then return with the van to fetch the rest of my gear. (As usual, just in case something like this ever happens, I had my hiking boots, socks and pack in the kayak with me.)

I very quickly made it to my originally planned destination under wind power with very little paddling involved, I was saving that, the paddling, for later. . .

Even though this arm of the lake trends north-south, it's large enough that the ESE winds wrapped around the corner and there wasn't a whole lot of shelter in there. I hugged the eastern shore, the State Park side, and followed it up to where a highway crosses the head end. If needed, that would be my stash point where I would begin the foot journey back to the campground.

The western side of the arm is lined with lakefront mansions. OK, OK, maybe calling all of them mansions is a slight exaggeration, but one or two had boathouses large enough for a family of 4 to live in very comfortably. Of course, mansion or not, every one of them had some sort of watercraft bobbing at docks ranging from basic and crude to extravagant and ornamental.

It didn't escape my notice that all of these watercraft were sensibly tied up tight and I seemed to be the only one foolish enough to actually be out on the water in these conditions! But I told myself that's because it's a weekday and all the boat owners are off working at jobs so they can afford the boat; oh, and the house on the lake that goes with it.

Once again I backed the kayak into a corner and pulled out my book, slightly watermarked now since it was in one of my pant's pockets and not a dry-bag.

My plan was to kill a little more time to see if the wind would settle down at all. A foolish hope I know; and I ended up doing little actual reading of book and a whole lot of studying of wave heights, nearby treetops and distant flags in the hopes of seeing some easing of the situation.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

What if: Interior, over the bed

Now that I'm done prattling on about my ingenious chair (Or is the word I'm looking for ridiculous?? Whatever; it's one of the 'ous's' and  I'll let you pick.)  I want to go back and look at the space around the bed from the mattress up.

With the base of the bed 21” above the floor and allowing for 5” of mattress on top of that, there’s still 50” of space above the bed before I run into the ceiling. Some of that will be left alone and will help alleviate any sense of the space closing in as well as provide access to the storage in the cab-over fairing, but that still leaves a lot of space that could potentially be used for other things.

Over on the left side, where my feet will go when I’m sleeping, I decided to mount the through-the-wall air conditioner. Again, this is a heavy system and placing it at the front of the camper shell helps ensure I end up with a functional center of gravity when all is said and done.

Also, though I’m not a fan of air conditioning, when it is necessary to use it, unlike in the van where the AC is as far away from me as possible and does a good job of chilling my storage area but a poor job of chilling me, this placement directs the output right where I will be spending most of my time in the camper, so even in the hottest of weather I’ll be able to stay somewhat cool with this small unit.

I designed a cupboard space to fit a Freidrich model US08D10. This is an 8000 BTU through-the-wall air conditioner designed to retrofit into the space utilized by many other brands of through-the-wall units. I figured this would be a pretty generic size to work with.

Vertical placement of this cupboard was a balance between keeping the weight of the air conditioner low but at the same time not cramping my feet too bad-ly. (Must keep up with proper grammar or the world just might fall apart, or so I’ve been told.) After a bit of experimenting I set the bottom of the cabinet at about 14.5" above the bed cushion. That would be impossibly low at the head end of the bed but I think is is plenty high enough that I’m not likely to notice it lurking there over my feet when lying down. This also keeps the top edge of the AC unit low enough that if I decide to clip the corners of the shell I won’t have to cut anything off the AC unit as well, and I’m pretty sure that’s a good thing.

 The depth of the air conditioner, minus shell wall thickness, minus minimum exterior extension (1/2”), minus minimum face extension (3.75”) set the depth of the cupboard at 11.5”.  When not occupied by my feet, the space under this cupboard will work very nicely for rolling my bedding into and out of the way during the day as well as storing my pillow when the rest of the mattress is tilted up for chair access.

There’s also space above the unit which will make a nice additional storage cupboard.

Over on the other side, the right side of the bed, I chose to just extend the over-counter cupboard all the way across the head-end of the bed to the front wall.

For reasons I’ll get to later, the bottom of this cupboard is 33” above the bed cushion. Anyone who has designed tight spaces knows that the average person sitting upright needs about 36” between butt and top of head. This obviously doesn’t quite make the grade, but I also know that if and when I do choose to lounge decadently on the bed I will be more or less prone, (Seated lounging is what that gimmicky chair is for.) so I decided the complication of adjusting the height of this portion of the cupboard upward for circumstances that are unlikely was just not warranted.

Next time, counters and cabinets

Friday, October 24, 2014

Granger and Inks, a tale of two lakes, part 1

OK, the windshield is repaired, the batteries replaced and the new parts for the vent installed; time to go camping!

This first day started and ended with birds.

Just a few tenths down the road from the gate, before the van has even had time to warm up properly, I found my way blocked by this flock of turkeys.

They were pretty stubborn and I ended up coming to a full stop. They then kind of moved towards the edge of the road as if to get out of my way, but must have collectively changed their minds. Maybe they were admiring my van. . .

Judging by the blanket of feathers scattered across the road just in front of my bumper, someone else didn't bother to stop, or perhaps even slow down this morning.

The owner of the flock came roaring up on his Gator and the two of us searched the ditches and managed to find the gobbler that belonged to all the scattered feathers. It was sitting up, nested down in the tall grasses (The county doesn't mow this time of year so the seed-heads can mature and drop.) but we couldn't tell without disturbing it just what kind of shape it was in, and being the squeamish sort I was happy to just leave it alone!

I did find it amusing to stand out in the road surrounded by aimlessly busy poultry while this guy complained at length about all the 'city folk' moving out here to the country and roaring up and down the narrow, twisty county roads at 60 MPH with no regard for others.

I guess I should clarify that I don't find fast driving folk, urban or otherwise, amusing at all, in fact if I was in charge there would be a special form of punishment for such blatant recklessness, (And believe me, it's a good thing I'm not in charge!!) The amusing part was that it was only three years ago that this guy and his wife moved out here from the big city into their brand new Austin stone cottage complete with the kind of story-book barn and fancy iron-gate entryway only 'city folk' build. (Full disclosure. We've only been out here about 12 years now so are also 'city folk', especially compared to our southern neighbor who's family has been ranching the land for 3 generations.)

Anyway, that was the beginning of my day. And as I finished it out, sitting under an oak at my campsite in Inks Lake State Park, reading a book in the fading light, I was inundated by ducks.

Based on their behavior over the next couple days this is apparently a daily thing. Every 24 hours or so they come swarming, or rather noisily waddling, in to check out what ever goodies might have fallen out of the tree since they were last here. It was also apparent that as long as you sat still they couldn't care less that you were there in the middle of them. There were several times I could have just reached down from my chair and snatched up a couple dinners worth of fresh duck, but with my fridge already full it just didn't seem like the neighborly thing to do.

In between the turkeys and the ducks I had made a detour to check out Granger Lake. This is a Corp lake a few hours from home. I was here once a long time ago but - well - it was a long time ago, and now I wanted to check out its possibilities visa-vi the kayak.

The lake is pretty much surrounded by several Corp parks with the spaces in between taken up by various wildlife management units and there's a 4 or 5 mile trail along the south edge of the lake from which I expected to get a pretty good idea of its possibilities as a future kayaking destination.

Since this was just a passing reconnoiter, rather than pay the $4 entry fee and start my hike at the East trail-head (Pictured here.) I started at the West trail-head where there is no entry fee.

Though the East trail-head is in fact at the east end of the trail, the West trail-head, off of county road 496, is not the west end of the trail but rather somewhere in the middle. (Where in the middle is apparently up for debate. The sign in the photo above indicates it's 1.2 miles from the East trail-head to the West, but the trail markers have it more like 1.5 miles and the Corp trail map has it 1.6 miles.) Hiking west from the West trail head along the lake shore for about 3 miles takes you to a primitive camping area near where the San Gabriel river turns into Granger Lake. Hiking east from the West trail-head (got that??) takes you to the East trail-head and Taylor park, one of the 3 developed campgrounds.

Oh, and by the way; the only hint of a  'trail museum' I could find were the information plaques at each of the two iron bridges.

Unlike when living in the north, where I tended to hibernate during the winter and subsequently suffer through getting rid if the 'winter bloat' as things started to get active in the spring, down here in Texas that process is reversed and it's the summer bloat that gets me.

When I first hit the trail this morning I knew I had a bad case of bloat. It had been two and half months since my last real hike and it was a summer of piddly little projects, few of which required any sustained effort. My pack straps were heavier across my shoulders than I remembered, that initial downhill pitch was tougher than I expected, and climbing back up out of that first ravine had me rethinking this whole hiking business!

But things soon leveled out; not the trail mind you, but my heart rate and breathing dropped back out of 'Oh crap! what's wrong with me!!' territory and back to more tolerable and less fear inducing levels. I've noticed that before, particularly hiking in Alaska where, especially along the fiord-like Turnagain Arm where all hikes start with an epic uphill. By the time I topped that first climb, I would be convinced I was the least fit hiker in the world, but then after another half mile or so everything would settle down and I'd get my legs, and my confidence, back.

Maybe I should start every hike by jogging a few laps around the parking lot before setting out? Wake up the body and prepare it for what's coming.

Anyway, I chose to go east because there are two relocated historic bridges along this section of the trail.

The trail itself is easy-moderate with lots of ups and downs as it cuts across the many rivulets and small ravines dropping down to the lake, but none of which are all that high. The ups and downs are just long enough to let you know they're there but not enough to set up a real burn.

The lake is located in the Blackland Prairies zone of Texas and the land around it is relatively flat and primarily crop land, including the recently harvested cotton. (You can always tell because of the drifts of little white puff-balls along the roads.) If it wasn't for the old watersheds at the the confluence of the San Gabriel River and Willis Creek, there wouldn't have been enough hole in the ground to form the lake in the first place.

Forked Blue Curls

It doesn't seem to be talked about much, not like the spring wildflower season, but fall, especially when there has been a bit of rain right at the end of summer, is the second wildflower season of the year around here, and this has been a good year. The fall flowers might not be as big and flashy as the spring crop, but if you take your time and - well - smell the flowers - there's really a lot going on.

One of the Asters (I'm not good enough to know which one!)

I know, badly composed photo, but I didn't have many to choose from

Throw in the undulating silvers and maroons and purples of ripening grass seed-heads and it's quite a show.

Of course it's also the second burr season of the year so getting off the worn trail is done at your own risk!

It helps to carry a leather glove along to get the nasty little buggers loose again.

Speaking of worn trail, there were two other vehicles at the trail-head when I left and one when I returned, but I didn't see anyone while out on the trail, I mean not a soul! Not even at a distance; not even when I put the binoculars on the swimming beach over there across the lake on this bright sunny day with the temps headed for the low 80's!

Which meant I had the two turn-of-the-century (twentieth century that is) iron bridges to myself.

This one, the single span Friendship bridge, which cost something like $500 in the early 1900's, was originally put across Willis Creek. It had to be rebuilt after the 1921 floods that devastated the area (Which is one reason why Granger Lake was formed in 1972 by the Corp in the first place.) then moved to it's current location as a foot bridge in 1982.
One of the link pins holding all the bits together

The a-symmetrical double-span Hoxie bridge was built over the San Gabriel about the same time and suffered the same washed-downstream-and-rebuilt-again fate as the Friendship bridge; during the same flood. Only the contractor that got the rebuild job on this one used convict labor and there's a gruesome story of a convict run amok, shot and hung from a nearby tree as an example. Apparently his ghost has hung around frightening people on full moon Friday nights.

The moon was far from full and it was broad daylight so I can't personally confirm that. . .but,

this is a photo of a few of the camp sites at the Taylor Park unit near the East trail-head. As you can see they're fairly nice sites and at least some have power, yet not a single one of the 48 sites was in use!

I mean, I'm all for crowd control, as in keep them all away, but I didn't expect anything like this and it was a little eery. . . Maybe there is something to that ghost story!!

OK, time to head back to the van and get the heck out of here!
(Only because I have other places to be of course. . .)

On my way out, before heading on over to Inks Lake State Park, still a couple of hours away up on the Edwards Plateau, I circled Granger Lake. The bass fishing is supposed to be great but the lake's surface was unbroken by even a single boat and the whole place felt kind of sterile, except where Willis Creek enters the lake. It looked like there might be some interesting kayaking around that area.

Maybe one day I'll brave the angry ghost and give it a try, but perhaps not on a full-moon Friday. . .

Thursday, October 23, 2014

What if: Interior, the chair

 The solution to coming up with a chair that fits the limited space yet will be comfortable in different situations, such as eating dinner or lounging with a good book, has it's root origins in a design I used in another of my rigs where I needed a set of chairs, adjustable for both upright and lounge sitting, that would also function as legs to support the big double bed when it was folded down. (I was more optimistic about my travel-companion situation back then. . .) Even so, there are some significant differences between the two solutions.

Rather than the basic flat seat and back with thick cushions I used on those early chairs, the starting point for this chair's geometry is the tried and true Adirondack.
The chair seat is a pretty standard 20” wide and is sculpted to be a comfortable shape. Additional comfort can be added with a seat cushion. It doesn't have to be thick or fancy to do the job, in fact the $10 stadium cushion sold pretty much everywhere would do nicely.

The space for the chair is slightly over 22” wide which leaves room at the sides for the supports that are key to the chair functioning in several positions.

 The slightly curved chair-back pivots, including folding forward so the chair can be tucked away when in bed mode. The pipe that acts as the hinge for this also extends beyond the chair sides to rest on the supports mentioned in the previous paragraph. This combination of hing ends and support brackets replaces the back legs usually found on chairs. (You know, so they don’t fall over backwards??)

The front of the seat is held up by a pair of traditional legs resting on the floor. These were necessary because the front of the seat extends too far beyond the bed structure to be supported the same way as the back. The bottom of these legs are radiused because the chair seat, which the legs are rigidly fastened to, will tilt at different angles depending on seating position, so flat-bottomed legs wouldn’t work very well.

How it all works:


To store the chair the back is folded forward, more or less flat to the seat, and the chair pushed back on the side supports to the furthest detente. 

The ottoman is then slid under the chair. This tucks the whole thing away so it fits completely under the lowered bed.

To use the chair, the mattress and center mattress support are raised and held in place with a simple strap and hook. The chair is then pulled out to the second detente on the side supports and the back raised to rest against the bottom of the raised mattress support. (This eliminates any additional structure or mechanism, simplifying and lightening the whole shebang.) This position keeps the seat bottom relatively horizontal and the back tilted back from perpendicular a couple degrees and is the ‘sit up and eat’ position.

For a more relaxed seating position, the chair is moved out one more detente. This tilts the seat bottom back about 10 degrees, very much like an Adirondack chair.

Still just resting on the bottom of the raised mattress support, the chair-back is kept at about the same relative angle to the seat, 95 to 97 degrees, again very much like an Adirondack chair.

One final detente keeps the same 10 degree seat bottom angle but reclines the back another 10 degrees or so for even more relaxed sitting.

If I want to be any more relaxed then that then that it’s time to make up the bed!

The exposed mattress platforms on either side of the chair, in addition to being hinged access for the tank and battery areas underneath, act as arm-rests and the large expanse (To the right in this drawing) all the way to the side-wall under what will be the head of the bed, makes a pretty handy end table.

And now to the foot of the matter:

I’m a kick up the feet kind of guy so an ottoman is in order. It has to fit under the chair when stored so that dictates the size. I added a little curve and slant to the top to make it comfortable in a number of positions and, by making the lid hinged and the base a box, I have a place to store small heavy things like the collection of paperbacks and magazines I always carry along.

This setup isn’t perfect and might be a little fiddly, but I think it’s a pretty good use of what I had to work with.