Anyone Still Out There?

Yep, I’m still here.  At Home Judy is not as much fun as On The Road Judy, for sure.  Seems like I really have to scrape to find anything to post

May and June are full of bike events that are important to John and me.  Up until my retirement in January 2013, I worked every Saturday and Sunday.  So, while everyone was having fun doing these events, I was lugging books at the bookstore. I’ve been a busy volunteer – anyone who knows me knows that I’ve done some serious arm-twisting for volunteers on bike events in the past.  So, it’s been a good chance for me to reciprocate. One of the funnier volunteer gigs was pouring beer (as a volunteer worker for Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation) at the Motley Crue/Alice Cooper concert.  Omg – it was deafening!  CAN YOU HEAR ME NOW????  My hearing may not recover for months!

We are lucky in Grand Rapids to have the New Belgium Film Clips and Beer Festival come to town.  This is an traveling outdoor film extravaganza of short clips, augmented by great beer – set in Ah-Nab-Awen Park in Grand Rapids, right on the downtown riverbank.  Best of all?  100% of the proceeds from this event – beer sales, merchandise sales, raffle tickets (our friend Troy won a $4000 custom fat bike!) go to support the Greater Grand Rapids Bicycle Coalition.  Nearly $14,000 this year!  So, one very hot sticky day was donated working setup for the event – I helped push up probably 20 Easy Up tents.  My shoulder was so sore the next day, I could hardly move!  Worth all the effort – what a wonderful event.  Grand Rapids is so lucky to be one of 25 (give or take) cities on this Tour.  Here’s our site from under one of the Easy Ups….20140627_111056The crowd gathers….20140627_212659Showtime!20140627_222408

The day after the Festival was the Gran Fondo (Italian for Big Ride), a chip-timed 40 or 80 mile bicycle rie from Grand Rapids to the Lake Michigan lakeshore and back.  Now in its second year, the Fondo is a fund-raiser for the MSU College of Human Medicine.  It was great fun to be a volunteer at the first rest stop on the 80 mile leg – although many of the early riders were in race mode, and didn’t stop. 20140628_08445320140628_084343 Downtown Grand Rapids was transformed to a big street party following the Fondo, punctuated by the Grand Rapids Criterium (bike race) for the afternoon.  It was a great weekend for cyclists.

Remember drag racing on your bike when you were a kid?  Lining up with another kid, yelling go, and racing to some pre-determined point down the block.  Exactly what the Blue Bridge Hustle promised to be.wpid-wp-1402834038027.jpeg This new event seemed like too much fun to pass up, so I paid my $20 entry fee to race.  I’m not fast, but adult bicycle drag-racing just made me laugh to think about it.  John was like, “Seriously?  You’re drag-racing?”  It helped that he was out of town that weekend…..Long story short – I won my division.  Check out my prize.20140626_154034Nine $40 gift certificates to some of the best restaurants in the area.  John has changed his tune to, “I’m really proud of you for entering”, but his little act isn’t fooling me.  Now all I have to do is figure out who Judy Crenshaw is…

In the meantime, there has been lots of work to do on the Fireball.  After losing license plates in Utah (2014) and Texas (2013) due to the flimsy license plate bracket that was part of a taillight assembly, John rigged a new bracket.  This is our LAST license plate!20140709_134755Taillights were another issue.  If you had ever followed at night, we weren’t very well lit.  All changed with our new LED configuration.wpid-20140709_134738.jpg

Caulking the underside? Check!  Cleaning/waxing? Check!  My project list included recovering our dinette seats and painting one wall.  I’m very happy with the results.wpid-20140709_134919.jpgTask list for the Fireball still includes updating the flooring and the radio.  But, in the meantime, we’re finally going to hit the road for about 10 days.  Heading to Nordhouse Dunes, our favorite camping spot in Michigan.  After five days, John is leaving to go tent-camping and cycling with the boys in Empire (near Sleeping Bear National Lakeshore), and Caroline is coming to camp with her teardrop trailer and her mountain bike.  Should be big fun.  She can only stay a few days though, then it will be Jezzy, me, the bears, my mountain bike, and the beach for a few days until John reappears.  Back to the good life!

 

Camping Lessons

After months of camping by ourselves, mostly in quiet campgrounds, the five days of our Blue Ridge Rally for T@DAs and T@Bs (and friends) was an explosion of laughter and conversation. My face hurts.20140501_13433420140502_09464520140501_133341

Those of us with these unique campers are an active family.  We share a Yahoo group and a couple of Facebook pages.  Problems are solved, and camping experiences are shared. 20140502_094543 The pioneer T@B owners have had their campers now for 10 years, and are generous with their knowledge.  T@DA owners, like us, are far fewer.  They were made for just three years between 2008 and 2010, and in much smaller numbers. 20140502_094514Many T@B owners graduated to the slightly larger T@DAs, and several T@DA owners are now Airstream owners, leaving some of us (?) with a case of aluminum envy.

Getting together lets us all peek – inside cupboards for storage ideas, under the frame for structural issues, and around the outside to see the dozens of different awnings we all utilize. 20140503_101254 This one is called the T@BMahal.  Little crystal chandelier and beautiful table.20140501_134600 These folks have really gone small with a Little Guy camper.20140504_081034It’s amazing to see how everyone has customized their camper to suit their needs. Our T@DA is a camping machine – we’ve got our storage issues figured out and working great for us.  Camping long term is easy, even with a big dog and a small space.  But, our interior is definitely Plain Jane.  I’m excited now to pretty things up a bit – add a bit of color, and replace the crappy flooring that I’ve disliked since Day 1.  John’s also considering adding another small ceiling vent that we saw in an Airstream.  That would be deluxe!

John and I also spent a bit of cycling time riding on the Blue Ridge Parkway.  20140502_105134The beautiful, smooth surface is a pleasure, but there was not ten feet of flat pavement in the 30 miles or so that we cycled. 20140503_13495320140502_10574920140502_10555220140502_10465120140502_10342020140502_102112 20140503_122839We were either grinding uphill, or flying down.  Makes for a great workout, but we sure missed our road bikes.  It’s a LOT more work on a mountain bike.

Sunday was rollout day, and the parade of cars and trucks towing campers was nonstop.  We finally got packed up, said our goodbyes and thankyous, and headed for Natural Bridge Resort State Park in Slade, KY.  We’re back to camping on a quiet little stream, an explosion of singing birds outside the wide-open windows. 20140504_175116 Ahhhh, this is good.

 

Sub Zero

You think I’m about to complain about the weather?  Nah….talkin’ about altitude here – we’re in Death Valley, the lowest spot in North America, at -286 feet below sea level.20140305_142920The storms that chased us from Prescott also ‘swamped’ Death Valley, providing them with enough moisture to account for about 20% of their total annual rainfall of 2″.  The result is that much of the surface had an unpleasant mushy texture, with pools of brackish standing water in several places.  It just doesn’t absorb as one would imagine that it might.  Curious.  New salt crystals form every day, giving the landscape an odd puckery look.20140305_135728Death Valley has so many different features.  We tried to take in all the sights in our three days there.

Scotty’s Castle is a mansion constructed around 100 years ago by wealthy Chicago businessman Albert Johnson. 20140304_122727 Johnson came to Death Valley to check out investments he had made with Walter Scott in Scott’s fake gold mine.  Instead of gold, he found a lifetime friendship with con artist Scotty, and a love for the desert, which prompted him to build his desert palace.  Tour guides are dressed as characters from the period – our guide took on the role of journalist.20140304_100619

20140304_09583820140304_10534520140304_11052020140304_124541We also took the Underground Tour, which focused on many of the nuts & bolts of the construction.  That tour was led by a guide in the role of construction worker.  (We both seriously disliked her presentation – over-the-top phony).  Couldn’t wait for it to be over.

Perhaps my favorite feature of Death Valley was the Ubehebe Crater (u-bee-HE-bee), formed by a volcano 2000 years ago.  Stark and beautiful.20140304_13135120140304_131322We cycled to Badwater Basin, the lowest point in the Park. 20140305_135519 We headed out with two water bottles each, on what we thought would be a 15 mile ride.  Wrong-o!  After riding about four miles, we discovered that the distance was more like 40 miles.  So, we turned around, went back to the Fireball, and grabbed another gallon of water along with a package of Skratch Labs, our favorite electrolyte mix.  A wise decision.  Such a beautiful ride.20140304_123019I also detoured to the Devil’s Golf Course.  This area looks like a flat, baked plain that someone ground up with a giant rototiller.  The ground is heaved up, then crusted over with salt.  Walking across it, the salt crunches, but the ground doesn’t give.20140305_14463520140305_144548For comparison, here’s a shot from my sister’s neighborhood that I call Vegas Devil’s Golf Course.20140302_121929Our cycling day was probably the hottest day of our three there.  We had put up our Visor awning on the opposite side of the Fireball, which faced south. 20140303_162735 With shades drawn, and our Cool Cat set on its airconditioning cycle, we felt comfortable in leaving Jezzy for the day.  Temps rose to near 90 degrees that day, but all was comfy inside.

Zabriskie Point provides a view of the Valley that is unmatched.  The white borax hills, salty floor, and snow-covered Telescope Peak are all in view. 20140306_10521320140306_105053 There is an eerie peacefulness about the place.  Oddly enough, my turn at the top (John and I alternated, so that we could waltz Jezzy around outside, as it was too hot to leave her in the truck while we went to the top of the lookout) was marred by the Odd Family.  This father and two daughters were walking around in their pajamas.  He was a large guy, wearing red plaid cotton pjs and slippers.  One of the girls was wearing a fleece onsie – complete with footies and long sleeves.  It was 85 degrees outside!!  Goofy.20140306_105038

One last spot we visited we visited was the Harmony Borax Works.  The white hills of Death Valley are borax, which was mined in the 1880s.  Lots of interesting artifacts from the mining days remain.

A Death Valley fixture appeared for two of our nights in camp.  Mr. Kenney, a 90-year old bugler came to camp and played Taps.  Apparently he had done this for years, but has been absent for most of the past two years.  His notes were wavering and not strong, but true and sincere.  Respectful applause came from all over the campground at the last note.  It was a wonderful way to end a trip to one of the more unusual National Parks we’ve visited.

One last sight (that I hope I never see again!)20140305_111931

Lug Nuts

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The last two times an RV dealer has removed our T@da’s wheels, the tech has broken one of the lug nuts. Broken? How do you break a lug nut? Turns out the lug nuts are two-piece — a steel nut surrounded by a softer chrome-plated shell. Apparently the air wrench batters the shell until it breaks. $5 to replace.

Worse, the battered lug nuts are hard to remove since you can’t easily slide a socket wrench over them. Not what I need when changing a flat at the side of the road. Solution: replace the two-piece nuts with chromed one-piece lug nuts. I got mine at a custom wheel shop for 60 cents each.

Above I’m showing two of the battered lug nuts and two of the new ones. Below is the T@da wheel with the new lug nuts installed.

Easy fix.

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Secret Storage

One of the challenges of small camping is adequate storage space.  I KNOW that we travel with too much stuff, but we are often traveling thru a couple of seasons, so we do require more things than if we were just going out for a week or two.

While tinkering in the Fireball one day, John found untapped storage space.  If you have a T@DA, the cupboard below your refrigerator probably looks like this.20131027_132736Did you know that below the bottom shelf is an empty space?  To John, it looked like the ideal spot for storage for our hiking boots, which usually reside in the back of the truck. So, he removed the lower panel, cut an arched opening, sanded a bit, reinstalled, and put a small piece of carpet on the floor to insulate a bit, and also to catch any moisture that may accumulate.  Voila!20131027_13280320131027_133011Perfect for a couple of pairs of boots or whatever.

Also, I love the half-sized flexible cutting boards that are available. These are non-skid, and washable.  They come in four-packs. Bought mine at Bed, Bath & Beyond. With a small bungee and a couple of eye hooks, they are always handy, yet out of the way. We slide two boxes (a beer carton and a wine box) into this cupboard where they fit snugly and hold all of our foodstuffs.20131027_133107