Thursday, August 30, 2018

I Know A Guy!

Weather permiting, I often have both the side and back doors of The Van open during the day

Depending on campsite layout, I use the rear door as much if not more than the side door to get in and out.

Wet, powder-coated steel, such as on the swing-away bike rack hanging off the back of The Van that I use as a step, is slick, so I added an industrial sized patch of no-skid on that part. 

But still, it only took a couple near-misses before I figured out I needed to hang onto something when making the transition.

But what to grab?

The lightly strapped down camp-chair/EasyUp there just inside the door? Besides not offering much of a gripping point, they tend to wobble around when any force is put on them – you know, like when I’m in the process of falling on my ass.

The edge of the door?  Though not a particularly comfortable grip, it does offer a more stable hail-mary point to hang onto, but I have visions of the door swinging closed and mangling my hand.

A search on that interweb thingy turned up one and only one possibility.

At $20 + $20 shipping it is expensive, but not horrible, and it is functional, but esthetically it sucks. It’s a round bar violently bent in a jig with the ends smashed flat on an anvil and drilled – twice so that with two holes on each end this one grab bar works for both rear as well as side doors.

The reason the two holes per foot are required is that though the door-jams are factory drilled

and a couple of the holes actually have nuts welded on the backside, the spacing of the holes on the sliding door is different than that on the rear door.

Why the hole spacing is different between the side and rear doors is a question you would have to ask the design crew, because it makes no sense to me at all.

At any rate it looks like $40 for an ugly hand-strap.

But wait. I know a guy!!!

I turned up at my brother’s (guru of all things metal) shop expecting something very similar to what I found on line. A simple strap-handle that I didn’t have to pay $20 shipping for. What I got instead was a work of art.

When I described what I was after he went wandering off and came back clutching a stainless steel railing that came off of some fancy boat or other. (I don’t ask why he has things like this laying around. He just does.)

A couple judicious cuts removed the large flat mounting plates and the end and trimmed things down  so that there is an inch and a half clearance on the inside of the handle.

Now the only problem was that the bit of pre-formed railing was about 12” too long. A couple more cuts and a little welding took that 12” right out of the middle.

At this point I’m wondering just how the hell I was going to mount this to The Van, but the metal master had a plan.

After measuring the center-to-center spacing of the nutted holes three times (For some weird reason the spacing is something strange like 89 mm so it took several measurements to confirm I wasn’t holding the rule cockeyed or something) we built a jig, used it to drill holes through the railing,

dropped a short bit of stainless tubing through the holes and welded them in place. Well, my brother welded them in place since my welding still, and probably always will, sucks.

Add a couple new 8mm socket-head cap-screws

and there you have it,

a snazzy new grab rail to help keep me from busting my ass!

Monday, August 27, 2018

1 Shop Full Of Tools + 3 Old Men = Destruction!

What happens when you take 3 unsupervised old men, (my brother, a long-time friend of his, and me)1 shop full of tools, and one pair of $5 garage-sale binoculars have been dropped onto a hard surface and are now all wonky?

"Well hell, they’re already broke,

whata we gona do? Break em worse?"

"Cool! I always wanted ta see what’s in there!"

"Crap! This dang bit won’t unscrew."

"Well we got just the tool for that!"

"OK, Now ya think we can get that back together again?"

"I spose we can try. . ."

"Which one of us was supposed to be keeping track of what went where?"

"uh oh.. ."

"Oh well.  At least we got all these cool bits and pieces. Think we can start a fire with some of em??"

"Well. . . Maybe first we should get back to what we were supposed to be doing out here." (As in building that trailer there in the background of this last photo. . .)

Thursday, August 23, 2018

The Loss Of a Sole

This morning when I was trudging powering through my laps on the back of the property I was dismayed and confounded to find myself stumbling a lot. I mean A LOT. Tripping and scuffing and just generally being a clod.

What the hell!  Did I suddenly get old overnight?

OK, yes; technically I am old, and even older today than I was yesterday, but you know what I mean.

This seems like a cruel joke!  Losing the ability to gracefully put one foot in front of the other is something that should sneak up on a guy over time, not happen overnight!

My second (hopeful) thought is heat related issues. After all, for most of July (When this happened) we have been topping 100, and even though it is early morning the thermometer is already mockingly high and the Texas sun is  blazing fiery swaths down through the trees.

But that’s normal around here this time of year and something I pay attention to. If the sweat has built to a sheen on my arms, if a trickle has collected on the point of my nose, and another on my chin, and even if the stinging crap has worked its way down through my eyebrows, then all is well. But if my palms are slick and greasy and sweat is dripping off of me to patter on the ground like a spring rain then I know it’s time to slow down and let my body cool off before I get to the stumbly, weak, and dizzy stage of heat exhaustion. So no, can’t blame all this clumsiness this morning on that.

Maybe it’s the weighted pack I have on my back! After all, I’ve got it loaded to half-again my normal hiking weight! But no, I’ve been doing that for years now, so that can’t be it either. . .

Which leaves me stumbling and tripping and crashing through the woods with dark and dire thoughts of walkers and nursing homes. . .

Until, on one particularly bad stumble, I happened to catch a glimpse of extra flap down there around my snake-boot.

I don’t actually wear the snake-boots for snakes. In our dozen or so years on the property, among the loads of non-venomous serpents, I’ve probably stumbled across a total of 3 or maybe 4 venomous snakes, all more than happy to slip away without confrontation.

No I wear them because when here on the property I almost exclusively wear a kilt and when I venture away from the rather civilized environs of the barn and driveway I use the tall snake-boots to protect my lower legs from slashing thorns and pokey sticks.

I like kilts because I’m not a fan of restrictive clothes, buying large shirts instead of the mediums I should be wearing, and even then, cutting the sleeves out of the worn ones that have been relegated to shop-wear, and I gave up jeans and T-shirts (In fact I don’t wear anything I have to pull on over my head anymore)  back in 1980 because they are too heavy and restrictive. (Wearing nothing but jeans and T-shirts every single day for three years in the high heat-high humidity environment of a Mississippi shipyard might have something to do with that. . .)

Made out of 7.5 oz. fabric, the Utlikilt I wear is not exactly what you would call lightweight, but it does wear like iron, in fact I still have my original kilt which is has suffered over 15 years of near daily shop-abuse, but despite the heavy fabric, by its very nature, these kilts allows max freedom of motion, as well as plenty of ventilation. 

The major disadvantage, other than leaving my lower legs unprotected, is that wearing a kilt allows gravity full and unfettered access to my balls, which only exacerbates a rarely mentioned old-man issue involving the same sort of sag that inches old-lady nipples closer and closer to their waist. In order to keep them, you know, the balls, from taking a dip I figure it won’t be too much longer before I’ll have to hoist them up out of the way when I sit on the toilet!

But, . . . ahem. . . back to the boots. . .

My snake-boots are as old as my kilt and showing their years in many ways, (They used to be waterproof but that ended a while ago.) but even if a store was right around the corner, which it’s not, those dang things aren’t free! So I’m going to try a quick fix here.

The uppers were originally glued to the sole, so why can't I just glue my wayward sole back into submission? The glue needs to be water-resistant and flexible, so I fall back on an old standby, caulk.

An adhesive caulk would probably be better - you know - since I'm trying to adhere things, but I don't have any of that on the shelf at the moment, (Note to self, add adhesive caulk to the shopping list.) but I do have a partial tube of gutter-caulk left over from installing the MaxAir Vent on The Van.

The issue with partial tubes of caulk is that it doesn’t take long before they are a partial tube of cured caulk, no matter what lengths you go to to seal up the tip. Which makes old tubes of caulk pretty much useless unless you have some place to stick a tubular object with a point on one end.

But I have found that these tubes with the unscrewable tip can be successfully kept for much longer than the fixed-tip kind.

But it has to be the original tip that’s full of caulk. I’ve tried moving an uncut tip onto a partial tube but that doesn’t work so well, allowing a cured plug of caulk to form inside the tube, successfully blocking egress for all the rest of the caulk. My theory is that when the caulk in the cut tip cures there on the shelf while the tube waits for the next time you need it, it forms an effective seal that protects the caulk remaining in the tube itself.

Now I can unscrew the plugged tip, put the tube in a gun, and dispense fresh caulk right from the end of the tube. It may not be the neatest way to apply caulk, but it beats throwing away a whole tube, just because I needed a little bit.

After firmly mushing the upper and sole together to spread the caulk, I threw a kan of Kilz primer on top as a clamp. (There are so many solids in Kilz primer that shit is heavy!)

The caulk cures in 24 hours and I did this just after flapping and stumbling and tripping my way back down the hill, so I’ll see when I do tomorrow morning’s laps if it is up to the job. . .

Update: I chickened out and strapped on my regular hiking boots for the next day's laps, figuring it wouldn't hurt to give that much caulk extra time to cure. The next day I zipped up the "repaired" snake boots and took them out for a trial run. It's a bit lumpy under my toes but the sole stayed in place, at least for the first two miles. . . And not surprisingly, I have since had to 'caulk' the other boot as well.

Monday, August 20, 2018

It’s Open!

That JPEG-pixilated stuff on the left is Rend Lake

I’ve said before on these pages that one of the best interstate rest areas in the country (Or at least one of the best that I’ve been to) is in Illinois on southbound   I-57 at MM 79.  Only problem with it is that it is in Illinois, a state which has been ‘curing’ its financial woes in part by closing down rest areas.

Well this rest area is now open again!! At least it was the last week of June.

If you stay to the right as you enter, (follow the ‘car’ sign not the ‘truck’ sign) drive through that car-parking area, then hang a right onto the “Y” just past the building, you end up on a loop that will eventually bring you right back to the “Y”.

As you can see the loop road has a wide-paved shoulder and is suitable for most RV’s, towed or not.

Why should you care?

Because this is the view out my front window

and when I slide the side door open and start building a sandwich at the counter, this is my view.

When I did slide that door open I nearly had these things joining me for lunch.

Other than they vaguely resemble Osage Orange but smaller with a soccer-ball pattern instead of an evenly pebbled surface, I have no idea what kind of tree this is.

There is plenty of room to spread out here on the shore of Rend Lake and, if you have rug-rats or are a rug-rat at heart, there is even a decent playground tucked in behind the modernized (The state had to do something to justify the multi-year closing!!) bathroom building 

With the loop being set a decent ways back from the interstate and truck parking, this makes a refreshingly quite rest-area overnighter spot.

If northbound just jump off at exit 83, make a U turn and come back. In the morning another U turn at exit  77 gets you headed back in the right direction.

Thursday, August 16, 2018

If I’m With More Than Two People It Must Be Reunion Time!

Yep, when I look around I recognize most of the people I see (Not all mind you but most) so it must be the family reunion camp-out!

(In real time this was the weekend of June 23-24)

Since, by my own self-imposed rules I can't publicly publish family faces, this post is populated with non-people photos taken around the Holly Recreation Area where we camped and ate and talked and ate and sat and ate and - well, you get the idea. Since Mom doesn't do tent anymore, this is the cabin she and my sisters stayed in. (And if they ask at headquarters, me too. . .) It's several narrow twisty miles by road from the campground but we made it work.

I think there were 26 of us there this year spread across 6 campsites and one cabin, (Counting heads seems like an important ritual at these things and since I can’t remember the final tally for sure it might appear that I don’t care, but the fact is, to me any more than 5 or 6 bodies in close proximity just looks like A LOT and by that time I’m too busy fighting the urge to run away to pay attention to actual numbers.) and that included Pablo, an exchange student from Chile that lived with us for the best part of a year around 1970.

One nice thing about staying there in the parking lot behind the cabin (I mean in the cabin!!) is that in the morning, you know, before most are up, or want to get up, there is a 2 mile loop around the lake right out front of the cabin where I could start my day in peace and solitude with a couple 20-minute miles, pretty much like I do most mornings out on the back of the property at home.

I had to relinquish the ‘came-the-farthest’ award this year, but I don’t mind. It takes Pablo something like 4 or 5 different flights and the best part of two days of travel to get from his home in Antofagasta to Michigan. (Hey wait a minute! It takes me 27 hours of driving to get there plus at least one stop to pass out - I mean rest. I think I want a recount!)

The canoes come with the cabin, which looks out on this lake, but frankly with that many people there just wasn't much time in the schedule to fit much floating in, besides, kayaks are better!

The first time Pablo arrived in Michigan well over 40 years ago it was winter and since it was impossible to buy winter clothes in Antofagasta in those days, at the time Antofagasta being a small desert town and all, he walked out of the terminal to his very first glimpse of snow (which was actually just some left over slush there in front of the airport) in shirtsleeves. We took pity on him, being the caring and sensitive family we are, by dragging him up north the very next weekend to where our travel-trailer was parked in Harvey’s driveway.

Parked but not dug out. (Harvey, a family friend with acreage in the far north of the lower peninsula, had a big driveway!)

The next series of photos were taken along a 100 foot stretch of shoreline out in front of the cabin

At the time I didn’t think much of it because this was normal shit for our family, but I can only imagine what was going through Pablo’s head (In no small part because it was in Spanish and in those days I didn't know any Spanish let alone the swear words.) as he watched a couple of us dig down through the drifted snow in the dark of a winter night to free up the door to the trailer while someone else dug out the propane tanks so the valve could be opened, every headlight-backlit breath clouding around our heads in the painfully sharp air which was the best part of 100 degrees colder than what he was used to.

¿en qué demonios me metí?

And now, just to let Pablo know that we still love him, for the reunion we set him up on one of the campsites in my tent with my sister’s sleeping bag, my mom’s cooler, my brother’s camp stove, and the bathrooms a good hike away. Oh, and just to make it interesting for him, we threw in a number of passing rain-showers.

It just gives you a warm fuzzy all over doesn’t it?

I probably spent a good half hour covering those 100 feet

and when you take the time to look there's all sorts of things to see.

That leaf back there in the top center reminded me of the veins on back of my hands, my old-man hands. (Where the hell did they come from?!)

This cattail-pod is a little raggedy, but I can relate. . .

Just happened to catch a beam of sunlight just right. Which pretty much describes this year's reunion, (Except for the one cousin standing next to me in the run-up to the obligatory group photo driving a nail straight into my already compromised ear when she screamed across the whole campground for someone that was slow in turning up for the photo - - Don'tcha just love those group photos?) where there was a lot of good food, good visiting, and good times - and to wrap it up in the best possible way, (for me anyway. . .) after the four-day weekend we all broke camp and went our separate ways. (I know, I know- what is wrong with me?) 

Monday, August 13, 2018

Going Home; Leaving Home

Home is a slippery word.

On the one hand home can mean the place where I’ve gotten my mail for the past 12 years, on the other hand, and with just as much sincerity, it can mean a place I’ve never actually lived in at all.

Two days after leaving Lake Glendale I slid the door of The Van open and greeted the sunrise from the driveway of Mom’s condo; from home.  Which is really weird when you think about it because Mom and Dad bought this condo 30 years ago and I haven’t shared an address with them for 47 years.

One of life’s little oddities I guess.

As usual, summer here at the condo means an abundance of color

and stork-legged Sandhill Cranes casually wandering by on their way from one place to another.

For most of the 37 years I’ve lived in Texas, ‘going home’ has meant coming here to this condo, yet, in addition to this place never having actually been my official address, I rarely even sleep in the condo when I am here, preferring to stay in The Van out in the driveway where I have all my ‘stuff’ and my ungodly early hours won’t disturb normal people.

Yet somehow there has never been any question about this place being ‘home’.

On the other end of the ‘home’ spectrum; leaving home; are Mom’s parents.

After saving up for years, grandfaher, a Belfast taxi driver and grandma, a housemaid, bought passage on a less-than-luxury ship, packed all their belonging into a single suitcase each, and left Ireland, and much of their family, for the US.

Though a few relatives had already made the move before them (To Canada but grandfather couldn’t find work he liked there so soon came on to the US. At least that's the story. . .) there is some mystery about the actual circumstances that drove those two, my grandparents, from their ancestral home.

1927 is squarely in ‘the troubles’ of Northern Ireland so there are the inevitable rumors, rumors only fueled by the fact that my grandfather was a hard, secretive, unbending, hard man, (I know I said hard twice, but in this case its appropriate) but at this point it seems like the real facts have died with his generation.

Regardless of the why, my grandfather would never again set foot in Ireland and I suspect he knew this when he left.

When I look at this suitcase I try to imagine what he was thinking, what he was feeling, as he picked it up, hefted all he had to claim in this world in one hand, and took his last steps on Irish soil as he made his way onto the ship.

The suitcase is still in fine condition 91 years after being carried onto that ship, and my Mom is a master at preserving things, if not like new, then at least in the condition she found it in, (She still uses the same electric frying pan she cooked meals in when I was a kid! And it’s just as shiny and unblemished now as it was then.) so I choose to believe that the wear on this handle is from my grandfather. That imprinted there in the leather are the remaining traces of my grandfather’s hands. Traces dating back to the day he left home.

I also like to think that if I knew how to read them, those traces, I could interpret the why’s and wherefores’ of that leaving.

            If I could read them. . .

Thursday, August 9, 2018

Circling The Drain – – I Mean The Lake

It’s Sunday morning (June 19 in real time) and it’s time to start heading on up to Michigan for the family reunion, (Mom really doesn’t like it if I’m late. . .) but first there’s plenty of time this morning for one last hike.

Though I have to admit that I’m kind of over this hot-and-humid-jungle stuff found here along the Ohio River.  Oh sure, this time of year it’s hot and humid back in Central Texas too, but at least there I don’t have to deal with the abundant, or rather over abundant, ticks and chiggers

and instead of being ensnared in a claustro-tunnel of green, I can see through the woods a little, as this photo above, taken along one of the trails on our property, shows.

But at least this 3.5 mile trail sticks fairly close to the shoreline of Lake Glendale

which allows for frequent glimpses of a longer view than just the leaves of the next fern there three feet in front of my face, or rather the spiderwebs between me and the fern there three feet in front of my face.

I pick up the trail just a few feet from my campsite just as the overnight fog is starting to lift

and the sunrise start to this hike adds a little color to the view.

Shortly after setting out counter-clockwise around the lake I come across the cleared ground of a combination picnic/group camping area.

Ever since I arrived on Wednesday the road into here has been blocked off so I guess no one has reserved the place.

Not that I’m complaining!

Standing in the same place I took the previous photo, I turned towards the lake and took this one. If you look close you will see three other creatures

that also aren’t complaining about the people-free picnic grounds.

Leaving the turtles to do their – well – turtle stuff,

I quietly worked my way a little farther around the lake,

at one point getting lucky enough to capture this flora-and-fauna vignette through the choking surrounding vegetation.  

Whatever this signpost was trying to say, it has been forever silenced now.

Near the eastern end, the swampy end, of the lake two unnamed (As far as I have been able to determine anyway) creeks feed into the lake.  The first is not much more than a slightly wetter area in the already wet of this low ground but the second is somewhat more substantial and the concrete crossing certainly looks worse-for-wear, but is still easily negotiated, especially by a two-sticker like me.

Crossing the unnamed creek means I’m now headed west and by sheer luck of timing a streak of orangeish light from the rising sun sneaks in through a narrow gap in the trees, zips over my right shoulder, and makes the end of this fallen log glow as if it's lit from within.

A few seconds either way and I would have missed this.

And it’s not like there’s loads of places where sunlight can get all the way to the ground around here.

Shortly after taking this photo a kayaker drifted in from around the point near that white tree.

I sat quietly and watched as the kayaker gently drifted along the shoreline with the occasional, slow and deliberately soundless stroke of the paddle.

I didn’t take any photos of him/her, or otherwise make myself known, because whoever it was deserved this solitary moment to themselves.

If you look close in the highlighted area of this photo what you are seeing is the plethora of spiderwebs I’ve collected on my hat this morning. In addition to keeping a close eye on my light-colored pant-legs for the telltale dark spot of rampaging ticks and the tiny red dots of vicious chiggers, I’ve been pulling webs off my face and spitting out the little bits of bugs and spiders that come with them ever since I stepped onto the trail. The downside of being first out.

So it was a relief to step out onto the cleared ground, the web-free environs, of the Pine Point Picnic Area which is on the opposite side of the lake from the campground.

Adjacent to the picnic area is the official beach and the only place swimming is allowed on the lake.

If it looks kind of gatey with lots of NO signs posted around, that’s because it is.

The beach is run by a concessionaire that want’s blood $4 from anybody using it. To that end the picnic area is separated from the beach by a high fence (Just visible on the far side of the trees two photos ago) and the only way in is through this building.

Saddly, if you want an early-morning or sunset swim you are shit-out-of-luck because the concessionaire has taken banker’s hours and one-upped them so your swimming is restricted to the absolute worst UV hours of the afternoon. But during those hours they are more than willing to sell you overpriced grill-food, goggles, and water pistols for your swimming enjoyment!

Of course this is our own fault since it’s a direct result of our unwillingness to pay for the upkeep and running of our own public lands.

This medallion marks point R5 of the State Water Survey.

I don't know what that is either, but they do have a facebook page, which to me pretty much guts their credibility. . . but that's just me.

Once I get across the dam at the head end of the lake the sun is going to be shining right off the lake into the camera, so I will leave you with this last photo taken from the dam looking out across the 82 acre lake. (Swimming gulag area just visible as a string of dots, buoys holding up the official boundary rope, to the left)

In the meantime there’s a slot at a Fort Wayne Walmart, 430 miles away, waiting for me so I better wrap this hike up and get on the road.