Friday, September 30, 2011

Wake Up Call

Like everyone else I know, I've read the warnings that come with space heaters, and have always tried to follow the proper safety precautions.

I messed up this morning. 

I'd used my space heater last night, and forgot it was still on once I got up and moving.

Shortly after I woke up. I gathered all my stuff, grabbed a jacket against the cold, and left to go take my shower.  Arriving at the bathrooms, a good two blocks from the camper, I realized I'd forgotten my towel.  Grumbling, I redressed, and trudged back to the van.

When I opened the door, I smelled something hot.  Looking down, I realized, to my horror, that when I'd grabbed my jacket, my other coat had fallen on the floor right next to the heater - which had reactivated itself shortly after I left. 

I grabbed the coat - it was hot, but not yet close to burning - and immediately turned off the heater.

Lesson learned.  And am I glad I forgot my towel this morning.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Rain, rain...

White Mountains
New Hampshire

Last night, in Vermont, I met some people who told me the prettiest drive across New Hampshire was using Route 112.

I can't speak for the rest of the roads - but I can't imagine they could be much better than what I saw today.

It rained for my entire drive across the state.  I had to slow down more than usual on the curves;  had more than my usual share of impatient
drivers piling up behind me.  I always pull over when I can, and let them pass.  We're all happier that way.

Though the rain put a real damper on the picture-taking part of the adventure, and obscured some of the better views, in some ways it actually enhanced the beauty of the drive.  The colors were super-saturated; brighter than should be possible. Yellows, golds and oranges glowed in vivid contrast to the gray background of the sky.  Like yesterday, the worst part of the drive was not having someone else to take the wheel, so I could give the view all the attention it deserved.  (and if that's the worst part of my day, I have nothing to complain about!)


Since the rain is supposed to continue through the night, I decided to camp near North Conway.  I didn't realize until I reached the campground that it was near an outlet center.  I'm not much into buying anything these days - you can only fit so much stuff into a camper van, and mine's pretty much packed to its limit - but it did help me while away a few rainy hours, and let me stretch my legs.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Upstate New York, Continued

KOA, Herkimer, NY

I picked the campground mostly because it was in the right area, and I needed to do my laundry.  (I've quickly discovered KOAs are good for having consistently clean laundry facilities.)

The creek behind my campsite came as bonus.   I'm not sure why they call it a creek, and not a river.  In Missouri, even if it's shallow, as this one was, if it's that wide, it's a river!

Adirondack Mountains, NY

From Herkimer, I headed up into the Adirondacks, and was treated to several hours of some of the prettiest driving I've ever done.  I really wished I weren't traveling alone - I had to keep my eyes on the road, and couldn't spend as much time marveling at the scenery as I would have liked.

It was beautiful.  Colors layered on trees, trees layered on hillsides.
Hillsides layered on mountains, mountain layers fading off into the distance.

The colors on the trees ranged from just being touched by early fall to the reds of late fall, depending on where I was along the road.

From what I saw, you can keep your peak color season; I'll take the preseason show.
Ausable Chasm - New York

The forces of nature will always fill me with awe.  I couldn't resist stopping by the Ausable Chasm on my way out of the mountains.  The park is privately owned and they charge you $15 for the view - but it was all they billed it to be.

Unfortunately, the most dramatic views are unavailable, and will be for a while.  Irene roared through the area, filled the bottom 50' of the chasm, and took out most of the rails and several of the bridges on the trail that led down into the inner part of the cleft.  (THAT, had to be awesome to see...)  Bummer.

Until Irene came along, the 200+ lb. boat in this picture was stored INSIDE the shed.  The storm managed to pick it up and float it through the side of the building. 

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Just Me, the Woods and the Waves

Chimney Bluffs State Park
Lake Ontario, New York

I have now seen and touched all five of the Great Lakes, and am richer for it.  They are beautiful; they are amazing; they are Holy.

Today's hike took me across the bluffs of the Chimney Bluffs State Park, near Rochester in New York.

Though not as all-out beautiful as the Painted Rocks National Park in Michigan, I enjoyed my walk along the bluffs here more than I did the
carefully maintained pathways there. 

Part of it was the weather.  Today was gorgeous, perfect for a morning's hike; my day in Michigan was borderline cold, with a major wind blowing.

A greater part of it was the path.  There were signs warning hikers not to venture too close to the edges of the bluffs - but no walls.  The path was well-defined, but I had to watch my step.  There were roots and rocks and ankle-turners a-plenty along the way.  It was just wide enough for one person to walk on, and I pity anyone foolish enough to take it in shorts - I saw plenty of poison ivy along the way.  Walking along it, I felt closer to nature; closer to the land.  And certainly closer to the edge.  The path, just over a foot wide, came right to the edge of the bluffs at some points.  (I wouldn't want to be walking on it in the rain, I'll put it that way.)

Since it was fairly early on a Sunday, I had the path to myself most of the way.  Just me, the woods around me, and the sound of the waves, below.  (No mosquitoes here - a few cold nights have taken care most of the bugs, which makes a walk in the woods shortly after a rain much more pleasant.)  I do so like spending part of Sunday in church - as long as one has a broad definition of church...
Lake Erie
Erie, PA

Here's the picture of the happier part of Lake Erie I wanted to post yesterday. 

I love camping this time of year.  The weather's still nice, the bugs are mostly killed off, and there are lots of open sites, so even when I roll in, as I do, without reservations, I get to stay right next to the water. 

Life is good.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Define Internet Access

I'm quickly discovering that wi-fi access is just a buzzword at some campgrounds, used to lure in the unwary. Of course, we have WI-fi. but we won't give you the correct code until you've asked twice, and it doesn't actually work from YOUR campsite. You don't mind coming out in the rain to check your e-mail, do you? Oh, you wanted web pages to actually load? Sorry, service isn't so good in this area.... I've quickly blown through the initial 250mb iPad data plan. Even in the extended data service areas, it tends to be faster than the WI-fi. But it does make it harder to do blog posts (a standard keyboard, this is NOT), and pictures are out of the question... That said, I was happy to find the PA part of Lake Erie was much cleaner and prettier than the western part of the lake. I spent a quiet hour watching the sunset near Erie, PA night before last - beautiful.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Lake Erie

Lake Erie
Marblehead, OH

Lake Erie is just as beautiful as Lakes Superior, Michigan and Huron - from a distance.

Poor Lake Erie - after years of extensive cleanup after the fish population was decimated in the '70's, its fish are again having problems - this time caused by agriculture.  Nitrogen-rich runoff has caused an algae bloom, and the lake's oxygen levels are again low. 

You can see it in the water along the lakeshore.  Instead of the clear blue of the other three lakes, it is a murky brown.  We have learned some since the '70's, and they are working now, this time BEFORE the fish all die, to get the problem under control.

It made me sad to see this beautiful corner of the world so abused.  We are learning, but are we learning fast enough?

Last night's campground, along the shore of the lake, was an RV ghost town.  I pulled in; the office was closed.  I was about to leave when a very nice lady came around the corner, told me I was welcome to stay, and led me to a great campsite near a number of other RVs.

A quick walk around the camp showed that everyone but me and two other guys were off at work for the week.  The rigs were all well-maintained - but deserted.  A little spooky, but it did make for a nice, quiet night's sleep...

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Home Maintenance

I guess I can't get away from it.  Even though I'm on the road, I need to work on the house. 

Earlier this week, I was washing the bug collection off the windshield of the camper van, and for some reason the area above the windshield caught my eye.  It was covered with some sort of black mold. 

I checked with my good friend Google, and sure enough, the fiberglass on the camper van ought to be waxed at least once a year.  Since my best guesstimate says it's been five years or so since the camper van was used on a regular basis, the work was probably long overdue.

I stopped at O'Reilly Auto Parts earlier this week, and picked up the cleaner stuff, but wasn't sure how I was going to reach the roof to clean and wax it.  I thought I'd have to wait until I found a campground owner who a) owned an 8' ladder, b) was in a good mood, and c) trusted me not to kill myself using the thing.  But, as luck has it, last night brought me to a former co-worker's house in Indiana.  When we came back from dinner, and walked through the garage to get into the house, I noticed they had an 8' ladder.  My new best friends!

They were happy to let me use the ladder this morning, and I spent a good four hours doing the three step process of scrubbing off the grime (with Step One of the Icy-something-car-cleaner system), using the clay bar and clear stuff to do whatever it does to smooth out the surface and get rid of the scratches (Step Two!), and putting on a coat of wax.  After all that, I thought a bit, and since 90% of the work was getting the surface clean enough to wax, I added a second coat of the wax.

My arms ache just a bit, but the whole van looks happier now.  The grime up top didn't catch the eye, but now that it's gone, it sparkles!  There's something very satisfying about a job like that well done.  Take THAT, you Black Nasty!  Begone, Foul Grime!  (Not to mention the happiness in knowing I have friends willing to both help me with my home-improvement projects, and to put up with me for an extra night - by the time I finished, it was too late to move on for the day.)  I will sleep well tonight.

Friday, September 16, 2011

The Bear Went Over the Mountain

Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore
Empire, MI

I didn't know it before I went there today, but Good Morning America recently named the Sleeping Bear park the most beautiful place in America.  I still have a lot of America left to see, so I don't know if I agree, but it sure was pretty!

Most of the visitors to the park stop with the initial climb up the first dune - it's a steep hike in the deep sand, and the view from the top is beautiful.

Some of us - the fit and/or the foolish - are drawn further, to a mile-and-a-bit long trail promising a view of Lake Michigan at the end.

The sandy trail goes up and down; the entire length of it through soft sand.  The first hill just gives you a view of a second hill.  The second hill, a more-scenic third.  The third gives you a deceptive glimpse of the water ahead - it doesn't LOOK like it's that much further...

until you come across the top of the next hill.

The view as you come down the final hill is breathtaking, and someone has thoughtfully left a cut log on the beach for hikers to rest on for a bit. 

It was 'long about then, as I was resting and contemplating the serene beauty of the lake, that it sank in that I needed to walk back up the trail...

My calves and arches won't forgive me for days, I'm sure, but the hike was well worth whatever aches I end up with.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Change in the Weather

So much for nice fall weather.  These last few days have been spitting rain, with highs in lower 50's.  Not that it stopped this intrepid traveler, thanks to my new raincoat and warm hoodies.

I've decided that the must-go tourist places probably aren't for me, for the most part.  Yesterday, I took the ferry across to Mackinac Island.  I loved the ride across the lake, but I have to admit the tourist trap on the other end left me cold.  I enjoyed my walk about the town, looking at the houses and hotels; there was a charming old Episcopal church where we were invited to 'Enter, Rest and Pray'.  But with the exception of the fudge and the popcorn (which can be found, minus the price of the ferry ticket, on the mainland), there was little original in the shops.  I guess I was expecting intriguing local art - there was a little of it, but not much...

Today I drove across the Mackinaw bridge into the lower part of Michigan.  I would have enjoyed the bridge more if they weren't working on the asphalt.  For parts, they'd stripped it down to the metal mesh that you don't normally get to see.  It felt VERY slippery under the camper van, which meant I had to keep my eyes firmly on the road instead of oogling the sights to either side.  What fun is that?

To calm my nerves after the bridge, I stopped in the charming little town of Charlevoix, which drew me in with its quaint drawbridge and pretty flowers lining the main street into town.  (Something tells me the flowers looked a little happier before last night's lows in the mid-40's, and I wouldn't have found the drawbridge quite so quaint if I'd been waiting for an hour in the line of traffic that just HAS to build up during the busy summer months.)  There, I found some of that fun local art I was looking for on the island.  The creations of one of the local artists, who does wonderful wacky sculptures and paintings, had me laughing out loud!  - see samples, below.