Monday, January 30, 2023

Garner - The Hike of Your Choice


A couple weeks ago I gave y'all a sneak-peek at my soggy stay at Garner State Park back in December with the promise of more to come, namely some of the hiking I did while there.

So OK. I'm finally getting around to it now.

Although the main attraction of this park, during the summer anyway, is the Frio River

making up the park's eastern boundary,  there are also nearly 20 miles of trail here as well.


For some weird reason I found myself making a number of short videos on this particular trip. If I keep this nonsense up I may have to switch to YouTube! Oh, and by the way, it's really discombobulating to hear my brother's voice coming out of my mouth. That's NOT what I sound like in my head!


I'll start by pointing out that this park has multiple personality disorder.  (Although I do dislike the use of "disorder" in these classifications. Technically I show signs of having "social anxiety disorder", but to me it's not a disorder at all, it's just natural. So what if other people are different than me? Does that automatically make me a disorder?)

Anyway - - -

The north end of the park encompasses the bottom of the Frio River Canyon, which offers relatively flat and mild hiking on soft and fertile land.

While the south end of the park includes the rugged hills and limestone bluffs that make up a good portion of the central part of Texas.

So when you are here there's the choice of hiking, almost strolling, the bottom-lands on the 3 mile long Frio Canyon Trail

which includes a 3/4 mile stretch marked up as an interactive wildlife trail with a number of info-plaques along the way.

Or, if you are foolish enough to want something a little more risky challenging, especially in this slicker-than-snot damp weather,

you could head for the many trails up in the hills down in the south end of the park.

As is normal for me, I spent much of each of the days I was there hiking many of the trails on offer.

I did dedicate one hike to the easy canyon bottom, but, as is also normal for me, (Mom is rolling her eyes in exasperation right now) most of that hiking was in the more challenging terrain of the hills and bluffs around the south end of the park.

But first.

I'm camped at the end of that arrow, and in order to go hiking I have three choices.

1) Drive The Van a few miles to a trailhead and back every day.

2) Leave The Van parked and hike 3/4 of a mile of park roads to the nearest trail intersection, (that yellow path) which is not a trailhead, just some faded zebra-stripes on the road where the trail crosses it, and follow that purple trail (the Canyon trail) to where I want to start hiking.

3) Leave The Van parked, take a compass heading due west and bushwack a quarter mile (that green path) to intersect the nearest established trail, and follow that (purple again) trail to where I want to start hiking.

I'll let you guess at which of the three options I chose.

OK, so I guess there's not THAT much guessing involved - - -

In order to make my life easier, once I reached the established trail after bushwacking through the first time I laid a few found branches down at the edge of the trail.

They wouldn't mean anything to anybody else, but because I knew what to look for, at the end of a hike I could easily and quickly locate the point where I needed to leave the established trail and head out cross-country to return to The Van.

 And to make it even easier, as in not needing the compass every time I left or returned to camp, I "flagged" my route with surveyors tape.

Here I'm standing on the established trail at my stick-marker and out there at the limits of visibility

 in this rain heavy photo is my first flag.

In all there were 4 or 5 of them guiding me in and out of my campsite.

On the last hike of my last day I scattered the sticks and collected my flags as I went, leaving no trace other than a few fading footprints behind.

Since I've got a whole lot more photos, and a few more videos, left over there will be more coming on my hikes in Garner State Park. - maybe -

Monday, January 23, 2023

Into the Now - Kicking and Screaming

 I know that in the last post I teased about following up with some hikes from Garner State Park, and I do intend to get to those, eventually, but I've been a bit busy lately. In fact I just got back home yesterday from another week-long hiking trip, maybe the last of the season before I start a big project, so for this week I'm throwing this post out there because I already had it mostly written and could finish it up quick and dirty.

I have personally owned a set of jumper-cables ever since I bought my first car in 1970, a reject VW bug, off my Uncle. (Who the day before signing it over to me decided to stop at the garden center on his way home from work and stuff it full, front trunk, front passenger foot-well, front passenger seat, rear seat and even the shelf behind the rear seat, with rolls of fresh sod. - Then he opened the window at 40 MPH!

I was cleaning dirt and dust out of the little nooks and crevasses of that car for weeks!)

Like most first cars, of those days anyway, especially in the north ( Where I had to keep an electric dipstick oil heater plugged in overnight all winter to make it to school in the morning.) jumper cables were required equipment if you wanted to have a fighting chance at suavely driving your current crush home from the movie and make out in his/her driveway instead of suffering the ignominy of waiting under the marque for dad to show up and fix things.

Even though those days are far, far - far - in the past, The Wife and I currently own three sets of jumper-cables. One in The Van, one in the car, and one in the barn.

Since I have The Van set up to be able to self-jump off the house batteries, and the car is only 8 years old, gets driven at least once a week, and is on a second, fairly fresh battery, it's the set in the barn the gets the most use.

This was the completely ignored 6 year old battery for the gate up at the end of the drive. It was in a proper box all that time but I guess the vents offered free passage for some of the smaller critters. I have since stuffed the vents with steel wool for ventilation without infiltration, actually copper wool so it doesn't just rust out.

Especially lately since battery replacement around here has been deffered for quite some time due to a COVID-driven (Yeah, let's blame it on that.) aversion to actually shopping out in public.

Since the small batteries used in general yard maintenance equipment don't last all that long, having to jump one piece of equipment off another was getting to be a standard, if annoying, policy around here.

Except for the generator.

That's one piece of equipment you DON'T want to be screwing around with, so I keep a battery maintainer on that one.

- - - Welllll - - -

Only problem with that is that it masks just how ragged out the battery really is. Until the other day that is.

I had disconnected the maintainer and rolled the generator outside like I do every month to start it up and run it with a load on. But this particular day The Wife had our one meal of the day ready earlier than usual and I wasn't about to miss out on that!

But when I got back to the generator an hour and half later (Hey! we only eat the one meal a day so we have to make the most of it!) I turned the key, it let out one, short, strangled grunt, and that was it.

Flat battery. - not even the dreaded clicks.

 OK. You might have already seen the connection between jumper cables and the current situation, But you might be wondering why a flat battery would result in our generator now sitting here in the barn naked,

with the covers tossed in a haphazard jumble nearby.

And how the hell that relates to jumper-cables.

Well it's all because, and I didn't know this before hand though it would have been handy information to have, these generators apparently have a nasty habit when jumped, even when jumped correctly, if you, as I was always trained to do, quickly disconnect the jumpers once it starts and before the on-board battery has a chance to build any useful voltage back up.

I got the generator started alright by jumping off the lawnmower, but as soon as I disconnected the jumpers it stopped again as the all-important smoke escaped out of the generator's control board.

When I went on-line to research this new, self-generated issue, the first item on the list of many things that can go wrong posted as a trouble-shooting guide by a place offering repair services was "smoking the control board when jump-starting"

I was actually looking for a replacement board at the time, but when I found out a new one (Of which there are plenty available out there, further illustrating that this is a common problem.) would cost five times more than shipping the old one off and having it repaired (they had it repaired and back on its way to me within 24 hours of receiving it) I adjusted, adapted, and revised my remediation plan!

So what's all that got to do with "Into the Now" as the title implies?

Well, despite being a crotchety old man set in his ways and vocally leery of all this new-fangled crap, (why the hell would I want to turn my lights off with my phone when I can just take a few steps and use the wall-switch in less time?) in order to distract myself from the shame of my latest costly f*%k up I decided focus on the hassle of using traditional jumper cables and do a little looking into some of these "miracle" jump-starters I've been hearing about.

Yes, they sound too good to be true, but after over 100 years of evolution (Since the first set of jump cables was invented) there was is bound to be some changes. Maybe even some of them for the better.

So don't tell the guys drinking their morning coffee at the McDonald's geezer table lest they label me a rabble-rouser and ban me to the worst seat, but now, for $100, I am the proud(?) owner of one of these.  -  I'm talking about the Norco boost on the left, although technically I do also own the $70 jumper cables on the right.

Although I could have spent more money and gotten more power, I bought the 1000 Amp version which they claim, and reviewers seem to verify, can jump up to a 6 liter gas engine and a 3 liter diesel.

  Not only does it pack away in about half the space taken by my heavy-duty set of traditional jumper cables, with the Norco I don't have to

(a) wait for hours in the dark and cold with card in hand for the AAA guy to show up
(b) maneuver the jump vehicle through snow-drifts and crowded parking lots to get it nose-to-nose with my dead one.
(c) drag some other 80 pound, non-self-propelled but functioning bit of yard-equipment across the meadow and up the ridge to jump-start the damn lawnmower. (Which needs jumping because I ran it out of gas but didn't discover that until I had flattened the battery and also had to drag a 40 pound gas-can up there.)

With this self-contained 2 pound little gadget I can simply reach behind the seat, or wherever I store it, pop the hood, and do the deed all on my own.

The one I bought even tells me if I hook it to the battery the wrong way around and won't let bad things happen until I do it right. (Not that I, with all my experience, would ever hook it up the wrong way around but - well - we don't talk about the regulator I once had to replace in the old lawnmower after I hooked the jumpers up wro - OK said I don't want to talk about it!) But let's just say it's kinda comforting knowing that the Norco will let me know.

Like many of them do, this particular model charges off of a USB port, or the charging cable can be plugged into a standard 12V outlet with the included adapter.

They warn you in the instructions that it is shipped only partially charged. Out of the box mine showed somewhere between 25% and 50% charge. The Norco marketing staff, and reviewers, note that this is still enough for one or two jump-starts, (The claim is up to 5 jumps on a full charge but I don't plan to test that one out!) but I still plugged the charging cable in and it was fully charged within 6 hours.

I saw some reviewers complaining about the device not having a full charge when they needed it after months of laying around in the dirt, fuzzballs, condoms, both used and new-but-dusty, and cheeseburger wrappers under the seat, but the internal charger of this particular unit has a maintenance mode, which means the unit's lithium ion batteries can't be "overcharged", so I don't understand why those whiners don't just find a switched outlet in their vehicle and leave the thing plugged in. That way whenever the vehicle is running the jump-starter's charge is being topped up.

Now the sharp-eyed among you may have noted that The Van's diesel engine is a 3 liter which is pushing the boundaries of this device's capabilities, so why didn't I spend a few more bucks and get a larger one? (a 1500 amp version rated for up to a 4.5 liter diesel is $150) Especially since I'm always pretty skeptical of "up to" claims.

Well first, I can already self-jump The Van off the house batteries.

Second, the primary use of this thing, as I envision it, will be for all the small engines lurking around in the barn. I very rarely have to jump start a vehicle but am frequently having to do so with those small engines.

And thirdly, there are some changes in the works that will make that 3 liter diesel engine a non-factor in the future - but that's all the hint you get on that for now.

Next time, back to hiking Garner State Park.

At least that's the plan.


Monday, January 16, 2023

Experimenting with a New Place


When I first moved to Texas and family back in Michigan saw some photos I'd taken the reaction was along the lines of "I didn't know there were trees in Texas!".

Well yes, despite the impression given by the westerns of my childhood, although it might feel when driving from Junction to El Paso, not all of Texas is desert and scrub-lands. Texas has a  whole variety of terrains and habitats to sample, but that's mainly because it's a friggin big state, and that means it's a looong ways to some of those places.

For crying out loud, on I-10, even with an 80 MPH speed limit on some of it, despite minimal stops to eat and shit it takes 16 hours to cross the state from border to border! 

That means as a resident living somewhere near the middle of the state that the amount of area I can cover in a reasonable week-long trip where travel is the tortilla on either side of the filling is somewhat limited. Couple that with the fact that Texas actually has very little public land, (an artifact of being it's own country for a while) and my casual trip options are limited.

Over a 40 year span this has resulting in over-utilization of many of my options.

Which finally brings me to the subject of this post.

Garner State Park is one of those places within my circle of reasonable reachability (When I mentioned the upcoming trip one family member estimated it was 2.5 hours away. I know I'm not the fastest driver out there, but it's actually more like 4 hours away.) but it's also a place I have avoided because it is a wildly popular destination.

Between 3 miles of the perpetually cool, spring-fed Frio River to tube down,

the landmark of Mount Baldy to climb,

and the resort-like atmosphere of paddle-boat rental, miniature golf, basket and volley ball courts, and even weekend dance-nights in the old CCC Pavilion, this is the kind of place people flock to.

In scary-large numbers.

(By the way, the last three photos were not mine but rather publicity shots from the web site.)

I mean Holy Crap!

This place has 513 campsites and 10 bathhouses spread over 7 campgrounds!

Not exactly my kinda place.

But it boasts 16 miles of trails on a variety of terrain and I was desperate to hike a spot within reach that I didn't already know like my own back yard,

so I ignored my personal cacophony of crowd-contrariety and started carefully inspecting the maps to find a campsite that had the potential to not suck.

The Rio Frio campground wasn't my first choice, but in December the Percimmon Hill and Live Oak campgrounds are shut down for the season, the River Crossing campground is mostly cabins, Shady Meadows is just too damn close to the main road, (Trucks are either gearing down to attack the climb or leaning on their jake-brakes to make the turn at the bottom.) and even their own web site warns that the Oakmont and Pecan Grove campgrounds are popular because of their proximity to most of the amenities and can get pretty boisterous.

So Rio Frio it was. 

But I kinda screwed up.

Notice that the Rio Frio campground is a mix of water/electric and dry campsites. Except they don't make much effort to distinguish the boundaries between them. I was looking for a dry campsite but in the process of cross-checking availability of nearby campsites (Hoping to have empty sites around me to keep from feeling crowded) I lost sight of the boundary between dry and serviced campsites and booked into 432 instead of 434. In my defense, because it's never my fault!, 436 was scheduled to be occupied and 425, 427, 428, and 430 were not.

Yep, ended up paying a few extra bucks a night for services I didn't really need, but it was what it was.

What it also was was grey and damp - all week.

That happens sometimes when slow systems sweep in across Mexico from the Pacific.

Hard to predict the weather when you're making reservations a month out.

Though it wasn't very conducive to good photography, and I had to keep my chair inside The Van when I wasn't sitting in it so the mist and fog didn't sweep in under my canopy and set the seat up to give me swamp-ass, it kept enough people away that, with a few brief exceptions, I had the trails to myself all week.

Although that could have been the timing too. Who the hell goes camping in mid December?

Anyway, more on the trail opportunities later.

For now I need to get ready for my next trip.


Monday, January 9, 2023

We're Finally Somebody!!!


I imagine that most of us in North America take a mailbox for granted.

It's just something that's there. Important only when a special treasure is expected. Begrudged when the bills roll in. Cussed at when stuffed full of sales crap, (Thank you very much AARP and medical insurance shills!) or you're trying to mow around it.

But The Wife and I have been living without a proper mailbox for so long we had forgotten just how special having one of these tin boxes out on the street at the end of the driveway really is!

OK, I was going to post a photo of an official document here but by the time I finished redacting all the incriminating evidence that might point to just who and where we are it looked like some approved release of an accounting report from a Trump business entity.

You see, 16 years ago we moved onto a previously unoccupied piece of land and received an official address from the county office of emergency services. A 911 address if you will. This comes with an entry in the county records, an update to the emergency dispatcher's map, an officially stamped document for our records, and a reflective fiberglass address plate.

First we fastened the address plate to the fence near the gate as instructed and carefully installed an official USPS mailbox as per USPS rural mailbox regulations. (X number of inches off the road and the bottom of the door between Y and Z inches high)

Then, continuing to follow instructions, we confidently swaggered in the door of the post office that services our area with our official embossed document in hand.

Within 5 minutes, 4 of those waiting on the postmaster (it's a small office so other than the two actual letter-carriers that's the extent of the staff) to acknowledge that we were standing at the service counter in the otherwise empty building and grudgingly heave himself out of his chair with the universal long-suffering sigh of the useless, we were slinking back out the door in defeat.

Not only did he refuse to accept our new address and tell us that if we didn't remove our newly installed mailbox that very day he would sic the law on us, he also informed us that he wasn't going to let us rent a PO Box within his little domain.

The former might have been because the address assigned to us by the county entity that does these things was out of sequence, but that's not unusual in this county. It could be that the county where we live is not the same county where his post office resides, again, not unique. Or maybe he was just a mean son of a bitch. I don't know. I also don't know why he refused to let us rent a PO Box. (Our old address was about to go away because we were selling that house so coming up with an official address was kinda urgent!)

So we went to the next nearest town, more than 3 times farther away, and had no trouble renting a PO Box, which has been our increasingly more expensive mailing address ever since. 

In other news, UPS had no trouble finding our new street address and delivering our Omaha Steaks orders once every year or two, nor did The Mattress Store when we had to replace our old one and figured it would be a lot easier on us for them to haul the old one away, and two different lumber yards found us just fine with the supplies for a couple of the larger projects. But since FedEx is pretty much in bed with the USPS, since the address wasn't officially recognized by the USPS they couldn't find it either.

It took Mapquest and Google maps a while, but about 7 or 8 years ago they started showing us in the right place as well, (Google's pin even lands right on our barn some 600 feet in from the road.) but that's still not good enough for the USPS and FedEx.

For 16 years we have made the 34 mile round trip to our mailbox about once a week.

For 16 years we have struggled to get anything with an installed battery, or sometimes just because you could install a battery in it, delivered to us since the post office marks stuff like that as hazardous. (They can put it in their trucks along with all the "benign" letters and packages, they can receive it at the local post office sorting room to be divi'ed up and handed off to a letter-carrier to be crammed into the confines of their overstuffed vehicle along with all the rest of the mail for delivery along their route, but it "can't" be shelved for pickup at the service counter.)

To add just a little more spice to the situation, drivers licenses and credit cards have to have a street address associated with them, even if it "doesn't exist", which is a pain since we have to make sure they don't send renewals and credit card documents to the "address of record".

I've even had stuff delivered to my brother's place some 1300 miles away because it was too big for the USPS to handle and the only other option was FedEx who would always just return our shit to the sender rather than admit we existed.

We did try once again many years ago when we heard the original postmaster got moved to a new location, but the new postmaster wasn't any more willing to accept our official document.

Then one recent day as I was coming back from a post office run along the winding county roads, (In addition to the usual wild-life, I've had to stop at various times and herd a gaggle of domestic turkeys, a goat, a grumpy bull, and two small herds of cows off the road.) I saw a Prime truck trundling down the rutted lane of a ranch not more than two miles from our place.

Hot Damn! The Amazon fleet has made it out to our area!

The next Prime eligible thing I ordered off Amazon I had shipped, with some excitement, to our official/un-official street address.

Because we normally keep the gate closed, and this was, at best an experiment, I watched the tracking info carefully so I could make sure the gate was open when the driver came along.

I watched that package leave some east-coast distribution point, show up at a centralized air hub and be sent on out again, turn up at a regional hub and then go back out the door on a truck. I kept checking, expecting to see an "out for delivery" update, but what I saw instead was that at 0632 Prime handed it off to the "local post office" for final delivery.

Oh Crap!

The USPS letter carrier comes past our place about mid-day but I didn't have to wait that long to see what was going to happen because by 0900 tracking showed my package listed as "undeliverable"

Not expecting to be successful but willing to try anyway, I made sure I had my ID in pocket, the tracking info in hand, and on a whim, I also opened the safe and grabbed a couple copies of our official address document, before heading on over to where my package was languishing in the limbo of the unaddressed.

Well it turns out the local post office is now on its third postmaster and when I explained to her about my package she remembered seeing it in the back and handed it over with no problem. I then explained why our address doesn't show up on their books and she said "no problem, just let me get you to fill out a form". I pulled out my official document and she put the form back down, took mine and said "this is all I need. When you get your mailbox put up just fill out this postcard, put it in the box with the flag up and you are good to go."

And we were! A decade and a half of being nobodies and it was that easy!

It could be that, unlike the previous two, middle-aged male postmasters, the current postmaster couldn't resist my good looks and charm, but, given that I don't have either - looks or charm - I think it's far more likely that men, especially petty men with Napoleon complexes, just suck.

When I got home with my wayward package I pulled the old mailbox off the high shelf where it has wasted away for the past 16 years, dusted it off, tracked down some fresh stainless steel screws and, since we had never removed the post, just the box, had our mailbox installed within the hour.

I know it probably sounds silly to the properly mailed,

but there's something very satisfying, and exiting, about actually getting mail up at the end of the driveway! About going into our Amazon account and making our street address the default ship-to address. (Amazon continues to hand packages off to the post office even though I just saw another Prime truck turn down yet another nearby ranch entrance the other day.) About gradually changing our address over with various entities and seeing stuff show up at the end of the driveway instead of 17 miles away in a small box with a sticky lock. (Since it's paid for for quite some time yet we'll keep the PO Box for a while so there's no rush to get it all done right away.)

It's hard to explain, but there's such a feeling of lightness and well-being associated with being able to walk up to the end of the drive (OK, it's a bit of an uphill hike so The Wife actually drives) and collect our mail like normal people.

On top of that, now we can send mail out by simply walking up to the end of the driveway and flipping the flag up.

¡!How cool is that?¡!

Using some concrete blocks I had laying around, a wood stand left over from other projects, a sawed off fence rail, a little bit of paint, and a new deck box,  

we have also installed a package-drop box near the gate.

We are officially somebody now!!

Monday, January 2, 2023

Update on the Pike Trail Gaiters

A while back I wrote a post reviewing the Pike Trail Gaiters

 I had been using for about 8 months while hiking the property to protect my legs from all the pokey things that had been tearing them up.

Well it's been about 10 more months and the gaiters are a little bit funkier now, but they still serve, almost daily, to keep my legs looking pristine and youthful.

OK, that youthful bit might have been going too far - - - In fact, pristine might be a bit of an exaggeration too - - - Oh well such is the hubris of vanity.


But yesterday morning, as I was putting them on, (to get back to the point)

I noticed an issue with one of the foot-straps.

In my original review I remarked on how my biggest concern, durability wise, was the foot-straps that, as I pointed out at the time, "are down there getting ground between my boot and the trail with every step"

Back then I estimated I had put about 300 miles on the gaiters and still couldn't find a nick or even a scuff mark on the straps.

Well now I've easily got 600 or more miles on the gaiters and the straps are not quite nick free anymore and one of them had failed, or almost failed, at the stitch-line.

But we're not the kind of household to give up on possessions that easily. I mean, it's a little worse for wear now, but I'm still wearing one of my old office-shirts every evening after I get out of the shower (It's been 10 years since I retired) and when my sister saw the battered and  taped-together folder I keep my Sumoko puzzles in while we were at the family reunion last summer she handed me a brand new folder - which I tucked away in a safe place for when I really need to replace the current one. 

So instead of panicking and hitting the "add to cart" button I dug the first-aid kit out of my backpack.

No, not because I'm going to fix it with a band-aid

but because that's where I keep my big-ass needle!

Which I threaded with some dental floss. - From my bathroom drawer. No sense in using up what I keep in my first-aid kit after all.

Strong stuff dental floss. Far stronger than any of the "normal" threads we have for the sewing machine.

With supplies ready I cut the strap the rest of the way loose, but not before marking where on the gaiter the strap went and which side of the strap faced up with a bit of chalk.

Then I began re-sewing the fresh, undamaged end of the strap back onto the gaiter.

Driving that needle through many layers of tough fabric wasn't easy

so I used the narrow slot between my bench-vise and bench to support the work while driving the needle down through the gap

with the help of the little wooden block I use to protect the tip of the needle when it's stored in my kit.

To help even more I also soaped the tip of the needle before every stitch.

And before long I had box-stitched the strap back onto the gaiter, not only along the two original stitch-lines but down both sides as well because - well, overkill is a hard habit to break,

and the gaiters are functional again! - If this photo looks harsh around the edges it's because the sun wasn't up yet this morning when I set out on my laps so I had to use the flash.

This whole process probably took me a half hour to do. Since it would have cost me $25 to replace the gaiters with a new set I figure I earned myself the equivalent of about $50 an hour there. And I don't even have to report it to the IRS!

Not bad for a retired old fart!