Adventure Travel

My tiny town of sixteen thousand has three camper sales businesses. Seems like a lot of campers for such a small population. Ever since I got married I became fascinated by campers and camping. The basic camping lifestyle is learned in Boy Scouts, tent, backpack, wood fires, and sleeping bags. A more sensible or nonsensical camping style depending on how one wants to live is to put your six bedroom, eight bathroom, nine thousand square foot house on wheels and drive it to the edge of the woods. Maybe you would have a small fire to make samores with the kids.

When I got the bug my wife did not have a clue about camping nor did she want to learn. She was that way mostly because I tried talking her into back packing. That wasn’t going to happen and it never did. Instead I got my fill of the rough style by working with the Boy Scouts. That cured me.

Along the way I morphed into going camping in a pop-up trailer. It was the lightweight version of house trailer camping. I dreamed about getting one or better yet building a pop-up tailer. I drew plans for one but never got excited enough to begin building. Instead I began looking at camper trailers at the outdoor show. They made sense, but Barb still couldn’t be convinced that this was for us. Then I saw a used pop-up for sale near where we lived. I called and convinced Barb to come look at it with me. She grumbled and balked a bit but decided to come with me. In fact the whole family went. The seller had set up the unit in his driveway with the attached fly extending out from the tent. Under that fly he had a home-built portable kitchen set up ready to cook meals. The kitchen had pots and pans, dishes, utensils, a stove and wash tubs for cleaning dishes. All of it packed into two boxes that were neatly partitioned for all the goods. The sides of the boxes folded down to make a counter top.

The tiny trailer was a canvas tent set up on wheels. Inside, there was room to sleep six, we were five, and a table with seating for six. There was a tiny indoor kitchen with a sink and ice box for keeping food.

By the time Barb moved from the outdoor kitchen to the inside she was sold. We bought the trailer. It was the beginning of a new life for us. We named the trailer Gypsy II. The two was because our first gypsy vehicle was our tiny Ford Falcon in which we traveled.

Just prior to buying Gypsy II, I had bought a new family truck, a 1967 Dodge van. Vans were a new idea back then, and they became very popular, they still are to this day. I had intentions of converting it into a camper van. After buying the trailer that notion changed. I did build a section behind the rear seat to give the kids a place to play and to nap when we drove. Barb made curtains for all the windows in the back to keep the sun from burning the kid up. That van remained our faithful camping partner for five years. Then, I stepped up to another van, a larger one, with more power, and air-conditioning. We became a two-van family. I sold off my going to work car which was a Toyota Corolla wagon. It was a genuine pre-quality Japanese piece of shit. I couldn’t wait to get rid of it after only two years. I didn’t buy another Toyota until thirty seven years later. It happens to be the best most reliable car I ever owned, and I still have it.

With the new van I sold off Gypsy II and bought a new pop-up trailer with very firm side walls and solid top and a complete kitchen. We named it G3. Our camping trips became more frequent and we ventured much further from home. One summer, I took the trailer back to the manufacturer for warranty work. G3 was stolen from the manufacturing company in Indiana. Eventually G3 was replaced by G4. Five years later I bought a new GMC van with a super interior and a coral full of horses under the hood (~400 HP) it pulled that big trailer like it wasn’t even there. We took the adventure camping trip of our lives, a five week tour of National Parks extending from Chicago to Seattle, down to Los Angeles, and back to Chicago via the Grand Canyon and Santa Fe, New Mexico. The only regret I have about that trip is that it should have been ten weeks instead of five. As it turned out, that was the last time we had all three of our kids with us on a vacation at the same time. The next year the two older ones got jobs and we couldn’t travel long distances any more. Barb had totally adapted to the camping lifestyle and became a magnificent planner for meals along the way. She pre-cooked and froze many meals which we kept frozen until we needed them. She needed a vacation from cooking too, and this is how she accomplished that. We enjoyed her home cooking away from home.

A couple of years after that Barb was diagnosed with breast cancer. One way she used to beat the deadly beast was to dream about camping. I found a used almost new class C, mini-motorhome, and bought it. She and I used it to take respite trips to help her forget her battle with the disease. Our youngest was eleven, and he traveled with us as we explored Canada and the Eastern states. another five years later we used the MH to take respite trips when Barb was caring for her dying mother 24/7.

After our young son was in college I finally sold the motor home and Barb and I began taking trips using airplanes and staying in hotels. We often discussed camping, but never did again. Instead I wanted to show her the hotel lifestyle and to give her a complete vacations without cooking. She loved it and so did I.

Today, I watched a half a dozen short videos on people who live in their cars or who convert a van to live in. I loved it still, the juices are flowing again. I’m afraid however that I would not fare well sleeping in my Toyota while camping in the wilds of Wyoming and Montana. I’d need a more substantial living space and a more drivable vehicle. It would have to be a professional van conversion with total off the grid capabilities, and I’d have to stay in super-safe campgrounds away from the wilde-beastes.

My how times have changed as has my penchant for adventure.

Something Old-Something New

It has been too long since I tried to make a movie. A few years ago I became very adept at using iMovie on the Mac and went crazy converting my old Super 8 movies into digital media. Last week when I posted about my first Cattail bloom I tried posting a simple video from my phone. I couldn’t make it work. (I had to take and insert a  still photo of the Cattail to show it off).  So, I left  iMovie open and went to work on it. It took me a full week to re-learn iMovie, but it is getting a little easier, now that I know how to import from my phone, and to turn it into a project on iMovie. All of the stuff that was in the program five years ago is still there, but trying to find it now is not easy. It seems that the millennials working at Apple think differently than do I. I use my own logical thinking sequences to make things happen, and they use the mindless computer functions as the logic to make things happen. Then, they garble the whole thing up with computer speak that only the inventor of the computer and its accompanying language can understand.

I can not understand computer speak and must resort to trial and error to learn what works and what doesn’t. Most time I strike it lucky but then can’t redo the same function, or at least don’t understand what I just did. Mind you, I learned how to program a computer in 1962 on a rather clunky Royal McBee 5000 (the size of a kitchen stove) that needed step by step instructions in binary code to function. Computers and their programs have evolved tremendously since then. Thank you Lord! What hasn’t evolved as quickly is my brain. I think my brain stopped evolving about the same time I realized that programming a Royal McBee 5000 was not going to make me a living. Before facing a real physical Royal McBee 5000 on the job I had learned of computers from the Department of Mechanical Engineering at the University of Illinois. They proudly possessed a hand made (Heathkit) personal analog computer the size of a drafting table which could add and subtract. Hidden behind the walls in another part of the school was a special lab that worked on a thing called the ILLIAC.  We only knew of its existence by rumor as the machine of the future. None of us really gave a damn.

Throughout my career, I fought the temptation to become a computer nerd. As a machine designer I prided myself on being able to visualize, and to hand draw machines. When I entered the mold making business this skill was most useful, I was able to design a plastic part in two dimensions in all planar views. Then I became adept at converting those views into a three dimensional perspective, and finally to convert that into a reverse image which was the picture of a mold cavity. Mold makers loved that. Because when you are machining a mold you are not machining the actual part but rather the hole into which the plastic flows to form the part. My images enabled them to get the job done much faster.

Sometime in the nineteen eighties the company began thinking the wave of the future was Computer Aided Design or CAD. Piggy backing onto that was Computer Aided Machining. Just think, draw the plastic part on the computer, push a button and the mold cavity will be ready to cut. Just clamp a piece of steel onto the milling machine table, install the cutting tool, press go, and walk away to take a break. They(computer salesman) made its sound that simple. Of course our company bought into it. It wasn’t until the late nineties that we came anywhere close to having the right computer, and the staff trained well enough to be able to think in computerese, computer controlled machines, and to give up the old ways. About five years into the program to convert our engineering department into nerdsville we met with the company experts from McDonald Aircraft who were selling the CAD/CAM system referred to as McAuto. I attended the meeting to express my dissatisfaction with their product. I asked the VP in charge if it was true that their aircraft division used this system to design the F15 jet fighter plane. “Why yes of course” was the reply. I said, I am surprised the wings on the F15 stay attached to the fuselage.”

“Why would you say that?”

“Because we use your system to model and machine our product, and at the intersection of the strap body (wing) to the cable tie head (fuselage) the system blows up and we cannot successfully complete the job. I can model and machine the job 1000 times faster using analog methods over the digital method capability.

What our problem was determined to be (note, it was our problem) was that we needed to make a design change at that intersection in order to make the system work. In other words, the system was incapable of replicating the geometry of our successful product, and now we were going to have to change the geometry to suit the capabilities of the CAD system. I was not a happy camper.  Luckily the owner of our company, the man who invented our product and insisted we keep the design exactly as he intended, allowed us to make this critical change and we moved forward.

So with all of the computer baggage behind me I am ceding to Apple’s latest iMovie system  to complete a short video which will become the basis of my new movie called 2020 Monet Vision-Retired. I selected the theme Retired because I fully expect this will be my last garden. I will use my iPhone exclusively to take videos and still photos of the garden as it blooms throughout the summer and use those clips to document this year’s gardening effort. I will post the finished product when it is complete, in the meantime here is the start, or in Hollywood terminology, the Trailer, but it is not really a Trailer because Trailers tell the whole story from beginning to end and my trailer is really just a Tease of what is to come, so here is the Tease.

 

 

 

Cause For Celebration

As my body ages my goals change to things that do not involve physical effort. There was a time when I exercised not for health but for the challenge of pushing my body to the limits. Now, I tend to remain seated. Is sitting an exercise? For twenty years my single biggest physical activity has been gardening followed by bicycling. If I could be biking while working the garden I’d be supremely happy. I have mentioned this many times, my garden has a name, “The Monet Vision”. To make it interesting I’ve added the theme after the name because I try to make it different every year, like Monet Vision-Golden Glow. This year I’ve decided to name it Monet Vision-Retired. Each year the theme depicts a color scheme or a specific floral planting. Because I am in the process of downsizing and will be giving up the castle sometime soon, I thought it necessary to redesign the garden to eliminate some maintenance. The problem is that I don’t quite know how to do that. I do, but the perfect scheme would cause me great amounts of energy expenditure and a large cash outlay. There was a time when the cash outlay would have been the greatest deterrent, but today it is the energy, both physical and mental, that challenges me.

One focal highlight of the garden is a water feature which I call the pond.  The pond gave me a new dimensions of plant life to exploit and enjoy. Even Monet needed water to grow his infamous water lilies. Water in the garden breeds mosquitoes and the pesky creatures defy enjoyment. To ward off the blood sucking pests a new element is introduced to the pond, i.e. mosquito eating fish. Ponds requires the movement of water to be effective in keeping fish. Fish require oxygen and moving water via water falls, and rapids add the oxygen, as well as soft sounds and contemplative visual scenes to sooth the soul. Last January, the mechanism for creating this water movement, i.e.the pump, died, and so did my fish. When water reaches thirty-two degrees F it changes phase and turns into ice. The water below the ice is probably at thirty-three degrees. I have worked with my hands and arms up to my elbows in such water and can testify that it is not pleasant, nor smart to do so.

During the winter I contemplated the maintenance needed to restart the water flowing again. The dead pump allowed the stream that connects the water fall to the pond to dry up. This enabled me to get into the stream and to rip out the pond grass from either side of the water fall. It sounded easy, but in reality it took me three weeks of intense labor to cut the roots of the grass and to lever the system out of the river bed with a crow bar. All of this was done while in a crouch with my knees on a pad and my toes crunched up under my weight. At my age, getting up from this position requires considerable energy and time for my joints to relax back into their normal position. Anyway, I opened up the stream from the grasses that were choking the water and forcing it to overflow the banks. This backup caused me to lose a lot of water every day and water although plentiful does not come free where I live. By the time the grasses were gone, the remainder of the weeds in the garden took off like one of Elon Musk’s rockets to the Space Station. Another six weeks later I had completed a 360 degree tour of weeding and shrub trimming around the house. It was now time to install the pump, but I hadn’t bought it yet. I went into COVID-19 shock when I learned the cost to replace the pump from the original Japanese manufacturer had risen to five hundred and fifty dollars a full 25% more than previous. Another week of research on the internet and I finally hit the check out button on a replacement for less than three hundred dollars.  Take a guess where it is made, yep you guessed it, Taiwan, ROC (Republic of China). It will be hard to swear off buying from China when it affects the pocket book so drastically. If my plan works, this will be the last pond pump that I will buy in my lifetime.

By the time, the pump arrived, the stream bed which had been dry all spring was now full of weeds again. Another two hours on my knees with my toes crunched under were needed to clear the stream bed before I could wrestle the pump into place and hooked up. The final step was to plug it in and pray it worked, it did, and that is cause to celebrate!

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One of My Best

Cold Callers

Is it just me, or is there an inordinate amount of people calling who are interested in wasting my time with their sales pitch? I try to be polite to these callers, but that is asking a lot when they insist on being aggressive in their approach. The latest barrage of callers is trying to make me switch out my insurances. I tell them I am very happy with a forty year relationship with my insurance company, and the caller has the audacity to ask why am I so happy? One reason is because I don’t get aggravating calls from my guys and gals, but they do listen when I call them. That is when they make me very happy.

Over the last four years I have been questioning myself over the sanity of keeping a telephone line. Ninety-nine percent of the calls I receive are from telemarketers, and or scams. Why do I continue to pay a high price to have a service at my disposal that is not being utilized? How stupid can one be? Two stupid is what I say. I have two phone systems at my hand and only one of them is mildly useful. I have to admit that I like my cell phone much better than the land line. At least with my smart phone I can get the caller streamed right into my ears through Bluetooth. That means I can hear the caller. On the land, line I rely on getting the noise transmitted to my hearing aid microphone which does a somewhat crappy job of interpreting the noise and translating it into intelligible speech. My calls kind of go like this:

“Please speak louder I can barely hear you.”

“IS THIS BETTER?”

“Yes, but only slightly”

The caller then realizes he has a crack-pot on the phone and tries to hurry the call. I say, “please slow down your speech, I am very hard of  hearing and it takes me more time to process what you are trying to say.”

“Ohh, I’mm soorrry, I’ll try to speaak morre cleaarly.”

“You still sound like you are calling from a sewer in China.”

Thus goes the conversation, but inevitably I’ll finally figure out what the person is selling and then end the call. My goal is to make certain the caller is as relieved as I am at ending.

Things might be better if the phone services would send all the sound over the lines. In their attempt to streamline and reduce costs they eliminate much of the digital signal. I now understand why there is a resurgence in sales of vinyl records. People seem to believe that the sound they get from an old fashioned vinyl disk is much more rich than that of the digital noise they get from Apple.

Add the complications of phone companies trying to conserve bandwidth to the sound interface between the caller’s microphone to my telephone receiver, to my hearing aid microphone, and then into my tired ear mechanism and multiply it by the caller’s national dialect, his inability to enunciate, and the speed with which he speaks, and I don’t care. I think the phone companies should pay me for the calls they put through because of the extra time it takes me to get rid of these callers.

Some of the worst calls come from the Mid-eastern countries that learned to speak English from the British and have mixed it with their native language. To me they sound like they are speaking with a mouth full of marbles while under water.

Over the past many calls I have learned not to answer immediately. If I hesitate and stay quiet the call doesn’t connect me to the recording or an actual human. I wait for them to say hello and ask for me before I engage. When they do engage I wait long enough to learn what they are pitching and then hang up. I will often try searching for the number to determine where the call originated. Usually, I  learn that the company has a block of numbers from which they call. So If I place a block on a caller another caller from the same place will call a day later.

After insurance salesman, the next most aggravating caller is the professional fund raiser. My most polite answer is that “I can’t afford a thing at this time, thank you for calling” click. The worst experience is when I am too slow in responding and the guy takes off like a rocket with his spiel and I have to get a word in edgewise. Usually that occurs when he asks for an answer to a yes, I will donate question. I will tell him I can’t and he immediately goes into another endless rant about the importance of supporting his cause. When I finally get a moment to speak I say. “You didn’t hear me did you, I can’t” CLICK. The ugliest trick is when I put the receiver down and walk away. Eventually the phone gives me the disconnect signal.

None of these ploys is fun, nor is it exciting to me in any way. At times I empathize with the poor guy calling because it is his job and I begin to think about his situation  with a wife and ten kids at home all in college for a nano-second and then regain my sensibility. You have to love rejection to have a job like that, and I would have to be desperate hungry to become a telemarketer.

 

Adventure Is Dangerous But Boredom Is Lethal

A friend called me Saturday evening and said simply, “come pick me up.”  She was seventy miles away. I didn’t hesitate, I put on a shirt, got in the car and drove to get her. Earlier in the year we had made a deal. Basically, I would let her stay in my house so she could become independent of her son. It took her four months to finally make it happen. On the ride back to Frankfort, we discussed her need to de-stress. I told her, you need an adventure. “What is adventure,” she asked? She is from a foreign country and can speak well enough to make a living, but every once in a awhile she will stop dead and ask the “what is” question about the meaning of a word. I am becoming a better linguist as a result of it. Having to define the meaning of words which are natural to me is quite a challenge. I defined adventure as a trip or activity that is  new and exciting. I was dead on Webster correct except for one additional descriptor, “new, exciting, and possibly dangerous.”  I explained to her that adventures stretch us and make us think about life in a new way. An adventure can be exciting, like taking off on a whim at sundown on a Saturday night to drive to the far north side almost to the Wisconsin border in the dark on roads, and through towns I am not very familiar with.

Normally my adventures are quite tame compared to that one. Like for instance taking my car to get emission tested in another town from the one that currently shut down and converted to COVID-19 testing.

I read a meme describing adventure is dangerous but boredom is lethal. Complacent activity doesn’t move the blood like adventure.

All my life, I have enjoyed taking adventures, mostly bicycle trips. There is nothing like the thrill signing up for a one week long bike trip with twelve thousand other crazy people to ride from one border of a state to another. The whole thing takes ones mind off of the stresses of daily work which tends to get a bit stressful at times. Once you punch out of the job and head for the car packed with your equipment and bicycle your stress level changes from the job to the new adventure. Excitement and adrenaline takeover the body, and you move forward, away from the stress that was grinding on you.

My friend recently had an illness which consumed her body. For her entire life she has been healthy, robust, active person without any complaints and then painful joints hit her like a ton of bricks. Lots of tests, and pain later the doctors concluded that she had fibromyalgia. She never heard of it. She asked where does it come from? Believe it, or not they couldn’t, or wouldn’t answer her question. Being naturally curious she searched the internet rigorously until she learned that one cause of fibromyalgia is stress. What stress? she asked herself. I listed some possibilities: you were unemployed for three months and couldn’t find work, there is friction between you and your son with whom you have lived for over twenty years for starters. It all adds up, some of the stressors are tiny, but I believe they are additive. Your cup fills with stress and when it reaches the rim it causes your body to react with pain.

I ended my adventure by driving home in the night. I missed a turn at a round about, and wound up giving my GPS a workout. Eventually, the stress of being lost changed to being comfortable in the dark after I began to recognize where I was.

 

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