Rollin’ Again!

Long time, no read, eh?  It’s been a long homespell for us this summer, as we tackled projects long neglected.  Since returning from our last trip in early April, here’s the short list of what we’ve been up to.

John’s folks moved into an independent-living apartment in December.  All the stuff they didn’t take with them was part of a massive estate sale in April.wpid-20150417_075936.jpg Then, we got everything cleaned and shined, and the house is now on the market.  There’s an offer pending, and we’re hopeful that this time it will result in a sale.  Frank and Verna Crankshaw (John’s folks) also celebrated 70 years of marriage this summer.  Can you imagine?

There’s always lots of bike-related stuff for us in the early summer months.  I’m a volunteer for the Rapid Wheelmen 100 Grand Bicycle Tour, and the MSU Grand Fondo.  The New Belgium Clips Beer & Film Tour also comes to town in early summer.wpid-20150611_095228.jpg Love volunteering for these events, as I know what a PITA it can be to wrangle volunteers.  These events all give a big boost to our local cycling community, so it’s fun to give a bit.  Cycling is a big part of our lives (John and I met in the Rapid Wheelmen Bicycle Club).

John’s involved with the National 24 Hour Challenge, both on a Director level, and as crew chief for a variety of riders.  This year, he crewed for the top female rider (423 miles) and also for the woman who set a new record in the 70-74 year age catetory (298 miles).  Three or four of the other riders on his team set personal records.  It was a huge year for him and his team.

We finally got our back yard in shape by adding a new patio. Old back yard…..wpid-20150705_073124.jpg Wow – what an improvement. New back yard….wpid-20150711_191312.jpg Of course, the completion also meant that he could finally get a Big Green Egg grill.  Wish we would have done this years ago – our backyard dinners have been fantastic!  We loved our Weber charcoal grill, but John’s really at the top of his game with the Egg.

We bussed to a Detroit Tiger game. wpid-20150719_122556.jpg (the stands were full – this was early pre-game)  I’m a huge baseball fan, and the Tigers are breaking my heart (and spirit) this year.  They just suck!  Going to a game is still special, though.  Got tickets again later this month, and we’re hoping for better results, although it’s not too promising.  They are hard to love right now

Our clutter reduction program continues.  Spent the worst two days of my life having a garage sale.  Made a measly $200, but took about two truckloads of leftover stuff to Goodwill.  Good riddance!  The struggle to simplify took a big leap forward.

While John was camping/cycling with his guy friends, I had a girls’ weekend at a friend’s cottage.wpid-20150619_151000.jpg Visited an elk ranch!wpid-20150620_120431.jpgThese enormous antlers grow within a period of just a few months.  Impressive antlers like these begin to grow in late March, and this photo was taken in late June. These enormous bulls were docile enough to eat oats from our hands – but when the fuzzy coating begins to drop off the antlers and rutting season begins, it’s another story. The bulls become very aggressive, and playtime is over!

But, finally…..the Fireball is ready to roll again tomorrow.  We’re heading out for two weeks – first to driveway camp at a friend’s cottage for a few days, then on to our favorite campground at Nordhouse Dunes for 10 days..  The first weekend of the Nordhouse trip is tied in with the Night Shift – a wacky 100 mile nighttime road ride.  We’re the support/chuckwagon for this motley group, and it’s a blast.  After that, we’ll be home for a few days, then off to Brighton Recreation Area (on the east side of the state), camping, taking in another Tigers game, and visiting some long-lost relatives.  Both John and I have a bad Camping Jones right now – time to roll!

Hopefully, at the end of the month, roofers will finally come to put a new lid on Chez Crankshaw.  Ice buildup/backup for the last couple of years has damaged some of our interior walls, and we’re hoping that new roof + insulation will fix this.

All this is prep for a two-month trip to the mid-Atlantic states in September/October.  Can’t wait to visit Boston and Providence.  We’re trying to decide if we’re brave enough to camp near NYC to take in the sights for a week.  Our camp style is to hang outdoors and bike/hike.  Not sure if we’ve got the grit to brave the big city, but there’s so much I want to see.  We are still debating……stay tuned.





Kickin’ Around

It’s just odd to be home.  Amazed at how quickly we fall into our routines and habits.  Instead of arising with plans for hikes and exploration of new places, we’re faced with a daunting list of mundane household tasks and repairs.  This is real life, not the fantasy Fireball fairyland (do I sound a bit like Spiro Agnew?) to which we became accustomed to.

One of the first things we’ve done is fill up our cycling calendar.  John has two weeklong camping/cycling trips planned with the boys, and I’ve got one planned with my best cycling pal Caroline.  I’ve somehow found that I’ve got volunteer gigs planned for four bike events.

One of the first things on the list was the Ride Around Kent County.  This 145 mile bike event is one John started about five years ago as a training ride for the National 24 Hour Challenge.  He stepped away from leading the ride, as we weren’t sure if we would even be home in time for the event.  When it became evident that we would indeed be home, I (crazily) volunteered to make the traditional RAKCwich for the cyclists’ lunch.  So, on a very chilly Friday afternoon, we found ourselves up to our elbows in sandwich assembly on our deck. Jezzy kept a very watchful eye on every movement.20140516_12505920140516_134932 The RAKCwich is shredded rotisserie chicken (Costco has the plumpest, best ones), organic greens, Havarti cheese, and sliced apples on a bakery bun.  Tomatoes and condiments on the side.20140516_134914  In case you’re wondering, 100 sandwiches require 14 chickens.  It was a long day…..and it will be a while before chicken is on the menu around here.

Yard work continues.  We had a bumper crop of maple seedings hatch in our absence.  Seems like the abundance of snow kept all the unraked maple whirligigs moist enough to hatch.  While we can simply mow and re-mow the ones in the yard away, the ones in the perimeter bed need to be pulled up one by one.  Sunday, I finally finished – pulled about 3000 seedings. Before…..20140518_111458 (I know because I counted the first 1000, then roughly measured volume!).  After…20140518_141431Now I can finally plant my tomatoes, and get some new perennials and annuals in the ground.

The city streets in Grand Rapids really took a pounding this winter.  Riding a bike to run errands has become a danger-filled obstacle course.  In many spots, there are simply holes, threaded together with thin strands of pavement.  This is the main street nearest our house – cars and buses are all fighting me for a path though this mess.20140512_141423 I realize that it will get better, but it sure can take the fun out of a bike ride.

Some of you may remember the post from our stay at Antelope Island State Park in Salt Lake City.  We were approached by folks who wanted to use the Fireball as a backdrop for their book catalog.  We agreed, and here is the result.  We have to laugh at the books selected, but not only is the Fireball in the photo, they also used our CampChef Everest stove as a backdrop.  Hope we are not permanently on the mailing list for catalogs!


My sister showed up yesterday with an unexpected treat.  For the past few years, they’ve had morels pop up in their back yard.  She graciously turns them over to me.  Sisters are the best!20140521_195141After seeing everybody’s trailers at the Blue Ridge Rally, I decided that the Fireball needed a bit of sprucing up.  First step?  Recovering the dinette cushions.  I picked out fabric, found an old friend to do the sewing work for me, and loaded the cushions up on my touring bike to deliver them to her.  Can’t wait to see the results.  This is Step 1.20140520_101755Getting on the Oral Surgeon’s schedule for my fun-filled summer dental work has been accomplished.  It will be a huge relief to get this started – and finished.





Days Full of Big Fun

I fear losing credibility with anyone following this blog.  How can every campsite be the New Best Campsite, and each new stop be the Most Beautiful Park Ever?  Can I even be objective about this anymore?20140319_091622

Instead of standing on the rim and viewing the Canyon floor, we’re now camped on the valley floor and gazing up at the Navaho sandstone walls towering overhead.  Magnificent.

We pulled in later than our usual ideal time, after dawdling around Grand Canyon soaking up the last of the sights there.  So, it was around 6:30pm when we finally arrived to find a packed campground teeming with tents, RVs, and campers of all sorts.  Been a long time since we’ve camped in such a busy spot, but it’s worked out well.

Our first disappointment came the next morning when we found that the shuttle buses which take hoardes of visitors up the scenic drive to major drop-off spots doesn’t begin operation until April 1.  The congestion created by hundreds of cars on the narrow two-lane road is unbelievable, and haphazard parking creates all kinds of difficulties. So, we decide NOT to drive from the campground, but walk to a nearby hike with views of the Valley.  20140317_12423120140317_122654

One thing I really love about the National Park Service is their attempt to use native materials and incorporate native color schemes into the parks.  The result of this is the beautiful red scenic drive, which blends into the surrounding scenery.  Small touches make huge differences.wpid-20140317_113134.jpgIt’s Day 3 already, and we know that we have to get cracking to get our two dream hikes accomplished for this trip.  The biggie for us to hike into the Narrows, a slot canyon at the north end of the scenic drive.  The Virgin River runs through the canyon, and we know that this will mean getting our feet wet.  We have waterproof hiking boots, and are willing (fools!) to wade in and and take our chances. 20140318_104610 Such dopes.  We pack our lunch, load our backpacks and head off in anticipation of stepping daintily across river stones, gazing up at the ever-narrowing canyon walls.  Not exactly.  We meet folks in the parking lot wearing wet suits and dry suits, carrying special wooden poles to find their way across the river bottom.  Seems like this specialized gear can be rented from outfitters in town for about $50 per day.  So, we stroll out along a milelong path, until we get to the beachy end of the Trail.  Lots of folks are standing around taking photos.  We watch two older guys (in wet suits) march off into the water, carefully picking their way across the river to a wide sandbar on the opposite shore, about 25 yards away.  “Hell, I’m going in”, announces John.  With that, he rolls up his pants and steps in.  I follow.  Picking my way across, all is well until the first rush of freezing cold water rolls over the top of my boot.  Yowza!  It’s March, and the water temp must be around 40 (air temp around 45).  Well, once it’s done, we just march on to the relative safety of the sandbar. 20140318_103905 We wander along, boots pumping out water with every step.  End of sandbar – we have to wade across the river again to the shallows on the other side.  We slosh back in.  Splashing along until we come to young couple contemplating their next move.  They’re watching the folks about 100 yards ahead of them who are wading in water up to their thighs!  The folly of our plan is becoming pretty clear.  Our fellow travelers take our photo, standing in freezing water up to our calves, and we make our way back.wpid-20140318_104826.jpg

As we head back toward the truck, we spy an interesting spot across the river with an old staircase rising above the rocks.  We plunge back into the river to check it 2 On the other shore, we find a water source and old rock climbing lines set in the wall.  We bask in the sun for a bit, then have to wade back through a very strong current.  It was a great morning.

To escape some of the growing crowds, we decide to spend the afternoon on the east side of the Park, scrambling around the red and white limestone slickrock there.20140318_130054 We found a great spot for lunch.20140318_133550 Got a good look at the formation called the Checkerboard Mesa, a white limestone cliff with wind erosion in a unique pattern.20140319_111836

One last stop for the day was the Canyon Overlook Trail, a 2-mile roundtrip hike with spectacular canyon views.  Best of all were the five bighorn sheep perched on a rock just above the trail.20140318_15052020140318_144706 Once again, we were lucky to be in the right place at the right time.

Day 4 – our last day here.  The hike has to be Angel’s Landing, a strenuous 5 mile round-trip trail,20140319_122445 with a series of switchbacks knows as Walter’s Wiggles.20140319_120711 On top of this is a sandy spot known as Scout’s Landing, the last point before a very treacherous ascent to the top.  Getting to the top requires pulling yourself along a series of chains planted in the slickrock.  20140319_104611

Footholds are very narrow, and the dropoff to the canyon floor 1400 feet below is unprotected.  Having gotten an early start on the day, we were at Scout’s Landing before the big crowds of the day.  Leaving our packs behind, we gamely set off on the steep sides, doing pretty well.  But, when we hit the first plateau, about 300 yards up, we decided to call it quits.  The next series of chains were very, very steep, and the footholds tiny.  We admired the views from our precarious perch, and headed back down.20140319_115708(we stopped at the big tree in the center of the photo).  The return trip was twice as harrowing as the ascent, reinforcing our decision to bail out as the smart one for us.  From Scout’s Landing, we prowled the West Rim Trail for a mile or so, looking for a good lunch spot, protected from the wind.20140318_133925 At one point, we laid on our bellies and peered over the rim of the canyon to see a couple of rock climbers below.  We ended our hike with big smiles.

One more unusual event punctuated our day.  The previous day, we had noticed a big satellite truck parked not far from Angel’s Landing.  John surmised that the truck might somehow be related to the rock climbers we saw, so we decided to investigate.  Bingo!  The truck was sending a live feed for a BBC reality show,  To raise funds for families with hardships, including typhoon victims, show host Alex Jones is climbing Moonlight Buttress, a sheer 1200 face. wpid-20140319_131455.jpg(You can see the crew in the lower right side of the photo) The trick is that Alex has only climbed once in her life, and before January, had never climbed at all.  With a professional trainer, and three cameramen filming every move, she’s climbing this massive wall.  We went back in the evening to check progress – looks like she’ll make her summit on time sometime Friday afternoon.  There’s lots of info on the web on this crazy stunt.

So, Zion’s been great, incredible. The best?  Can’t imagine what’s around the corner.  A few more random photos – we’re off to Salt Lake City for a few days of urban adventure.  20140319_19365120140319_12503020140319_11484320140319_100118wpid-20140317_163143.jpg

We’re headed to Salt Lake City for a bit of urban adventure for a few days.


The National 24 Hour Challenge.  Sounds so simple – how far can you ride a bicycle in 24 consecutive hours?  How will you deal with the pain, fatigue, nausea, cramps, bonks, and (sometimes) hallucinations that come with total exhaustion.  Can you outride and outlast 400 other riders to become the overall mileage champion?

This year's t-shirt embodies the 3am cuckoos that happen

Official t-shirt design

The event is laid out in three loops.  Riders must complete the first and second loops (117 and 25) by specific times in order to continue riding through the night on a 7.5 mile course.  For several years, John has provided crew support for a number of riders.  This year, nine riders took John up on his offer of assistance – many seasoned veterans of the N24HC, one newbie, and three riders making their second attempt.

The weather gods once again wreaked havoc with the N24HC.  Fierce thunderstorms passed through the area in the wee hours, forcing a nearly three-hour break.  The unwanted rest benefited some riders, and hurt others.  After hours in the saddle, body parts stiffen up after an extended rest.  Although a rest or nap sounds like a really great idea, it can hurt more than help.  At 4:30am, the storm finally passed, and the ride resumed (finish time is 8am, Sunday morning).  Probably less than 1/3 the original 300+ riders were still on their bikes at that point.

Checkpoint volunteer Rick works from midnight to 8am.

Checkpoint volunteer Rick works from midnight to 8am.

Early morning checkpoint

                                                                                                                             Early morning checkpoint

Two of John’s riders stopped their rides, but seven gamely continued unil 8am.  Dawn peeks through around 5am, and spirits pick up.  The final checkpoint/finish line is crowded with crew and riders, shouting encouragement to cyclists coming in.  Lots of cheering.  With a half-hour left to go, many riders buzz through the checkpoint for one last 7.5 mile lap.

Pascale cruises into the checkpoint with one lap to go.

Pascale cruises into the checkpoint with one lap to go.

Our eight riders are still out there.  It’s crazy at the finish line – there are big smiles, a few tears, and the kind of wacky hilarity that total exhaustion brings (from riders and crews, alike).

George has finished.

George has finished.

Camera are flashing, there are hugs, cheers, and cowbells.

Susanne's big finish

Susanne’s big finish

John’s team rode an incredible 2475 miles.  Susanne 255, Denny 317, George 279, Clint 279, Pascale 339 (the overall women’s champion), Frank 232, Jason 232, Bill 256, and Gary 286.  I’ve only pedaled  the N24HC once – managed 220 miles, then quit.  Wish that I had had the benefit of a crew like John to keep me going.  Maybe I’ll try again sometime.  I get really geared up while I’m there, but the reality of actually trying to ride 250+ miles gets the better of me each year.  So, I help out.  It tickles me to know that these super-riders are all “normal” cyclists who I’ll ride with on another day.

In the meantime, many are already plotting how to eke out more miles next year.  John’s wondering how he might run his crew service a bit better.  I’m wondering if Susanne really might tow me around for 24 hours…;-).  We’ll see.  Pascale is dreaming of 400.  Laura (2nd place overall woman rider) is plotting how to get 400 herself.

Nancy and Laura (in green) are mother/daughter team champs w/611 combined miles

Nancy and Laura (in green) are mother/daughter team record holders  with 611 combined miles.  Smashed their old record

Riders get a punch each time they ride thru the checkpoint.

Riders get a punch each time they ride thru the checkpoint.

Until then, rest, my friends… don’t have to train for a few days.

I felt like this, and didn't even ride!  Early morning fatigue.

I felt like this, and didn’t even ride! Early morning fatigue.

More photos below….