Thursday, June 30, 2005

Still on the Road West

Hey there friends. Sorry for the lack of posts the past few days. The campgrounds at which we have stopped have had no internet access and I have been feeling a little disconnected.

We have had a relatively easy time traveling the interstate highway system to get to where we are now. I-90, I-71 and now I-70 along with the various bypasses around Cleveland, Columbus, Indianapolis and St. Louis have been little disrupted by construction and/or heavy volume. We did run into a little problem on Tuesday just across the Indiana line. Thunderstorms reduced visibility to only a few yards and the pickup in front of me didn’t turn on his lights making it even more difficult. Traffic kept moving, however, except for a few vehicles that pulled over to the shoulder. I am reluctant to do that since I can picture someone slamming into my rear if I do. No exits or rest areas were available so we just kept rolling, albeit at a slower speed than normal, until we got out from under the storm. Later, we came upon a six-mile long backup where road construction had reduced the highway to one lane of stop-and-go (mostly stop) traffic.

On Wednesday, the small problems we experienced were put into perspective. On the eastbound side of the highway, there was a multi-car accident in a construction zone (reduced to one lane) that shut I-70 completely. The backup was a good 10 miles and people were shutting off their engines and getting out of their cars. It was about 95 degrees (St. Louis predictions were for 100) and they had to be uncomfortable. State troopers and fire trucks were present up and down the line. There was a second accident caused by the first and that too had its own mini-backup—although even without it the people behind them weren’t going anywhere. Just the sight of all the parked vehicles made me happy to be on the westbound side.

We’ve crossed our first time zone. Leaving Indiana and crossing into Illinois we went from Eastern to Central Time. We’ve also crossed the Mississippi River and the Missouri River (twice, as it makes a big loop south then north as you go up river from the Mississippi north of St Louis).

We crossed the Missouri River for the last time this morning (Thursday) as we went from Kansas City, MO to Kansas City, KS. Got good views of the baseball and football stadiums as they are right next to I-70. It was much cooler than Wednesday. The temperature is closer to 85 than 95.

We ran into some more heavy rain Thursday morning just west of Kansas City, KS. Some poor woman a short distance ahead of us must have hydroplaned into the median. When we got there she had some help with two trucks having pulled over. One was protecting her car from oncoming traffic and the other was on the shoulder with his lights flashing. First aid was being administered and a highway worker was already there with radio in hand. Otherwise, the travel has been relatively smooth and we are sitting in Salina, KS having lunch at a Flying J and using their wi-fi network. We will be in Oakley in about three hours. Then it’s on to Monument. We've been doing about 400 miles a day and that is just about right with the trailer.

Kansas is not as flat as it seems. Besides the rolling hills as you travel west, there are many eroded gullies and breaks. It's similar to the Badlands further north but with grass. The trees disappeared from most of the land as we left KC behind. Now they are only in the depths of the gullies where water accumulates and around the rivers and ponds.

That's all for now. Tune in later for more.

Sunday, June 26, 2005

Let's Hit the Road!

Everything is set to hit the road early Monday morning. Five days of driving will get us to Monument, Colorado. We’ll make four stops along the way:

1- Geneva, Ohio at Kenisee’s Grand River Camp --375 miles
2- Cloverdale, Indiana at the Cloverdale RV Park Cloverdale RV Park --400 miles
3- Higgensville, Missouri at the Interstate RV Park --400 miles
4- Oakley, Kansas at High Plains Camping --400 miles

From Oakley to Monument is only 240-250 miles. We should be rolling into Lake of the Rockies RV Park in Monument by 3 o’clock on Friday afternoon.

On our last trip we determined that 400 miles is about our daily limit, especially since I do all the driving when the truck and trailer come in to play. It isn’t much when traveling by car (or truck), in fact we have done almost twice that on some recent trips to Idaho and once, in our wilder and crazier youth, we drove from Colorado to NJ non-stop. Of course, Terry helps with some of the driving as long as the Silverado is not involved. (Our son had to do even more: Moscow, Idaho to NJ non-stop and alone. He says he will never do that again. The dancing hippos in their pink tutus began to appear around the Ohio/PA border and kept him company for the next 6 hours.) Anyway, hauling a 27-foot trailer behind a nearly 18-foot truck doesn’t allow you to hit the 75 mph you see the cars and even the 18-wheelers doing. Just can’t be done. Cruising speed will be around 60-65 tops, which means 6 to 7 hours of driving when you figure in gas stops. Potty stops and such are extra. That means about 8 hours to go 400 miles. That’s enough.

Since we are traveling from Monday through Friday, I made no reservations with any of the campgrounds/RV parks except for Lake of the Rockies where we will be staying the week of July 1-8. We will do as we did last trip, when we are about 100 miles from our proposed destination, we will call them on our cell phone to see if they have a parking space for the night. I don’t remember anyplace that was fully booked the last time we traveled west. If any are (or if we don’t like the looks of the place), we can look up another campsite in our 2005 Trailer Life Directory and move on down the road.

Actually, not liking the place occurred only once when we stopped at a state run facility. Not that the campground was bad, just overcrowded. There were people at sites selling crafts and foods. Sites were so close that you could almost open your car door into the camper next to you. We moved on from that one.

All four places I listed above are members of the Good Sam’s Club and have their campgrounds rated in the Directory. We have been to the first two and they are beautiful places worthy of extended stays. The other two look interesting and might well be as nice.

We’ll be up and on the road by 8 AM Monday morning. I’ll try to keep you posted on our progress but do not know if the campgrounds will have internet access available. I’m sure that I will be able to get access in Monument or Colorado Springs, however, so I will be able to let you know what we are up to. We intend to see/do the following: the National Rodeo Hall of Fame, The Flying W Ranch, Monument’s 4th of July Parade, Pike’s Peak, Garden of the Gods, hot air ballooning in South Park (just over the pass to the west of Pike’s Peak), Old Town (east of Colorado Springs), and who knows what else.

Oh, by the way, here is a picture of our home for the next three weeks.

Mark, my upstate neighbor, likes to call this our “3rd home” and he’s right, though we don’t spend as much time in it as we would like. I have a feeling that is about to change, however.

Friday, June 24, 2005

Ready To Roll

I’ve been at the Bolt Hole for five days getting the truck (a 2000 Chevy Silverado 2500) and trailer (a 27-foot Wilderness travel trailer by Fleetwood) ready for our trip to Colorado starting Monday, June 27. I hitched up truck to the trailer and pulled it out of the barn, parking it closer to the cabin where I could get an electric line from the porch and water hose from the well pump over to the intake ports. First I had to clean the kitchen drawers and both cabinets beneath the sinks. We haven’t taken the trailer out for two years and the mice found the paper products (towels, napkins and TP), sponges (though they were still in the wrappers and artificial to boot), and Ivory Soap bars (must be the 99 and 44/100 pure). They chewed up most of that stuff leaving tiny pieces scattered about along with their droppings. I found a likely looking nest (empty) under the kitchen drawers. We were smart enough to leave no food items but dumb enough to leave the soap and paper. I should have remembered our BSA camp clean-up regimen and realized those things had to go. After vacuuming up the mess and washing the kitchen utensils, I deemed the inside of the trailer fit.

Then I went to work on the water system. Once hooked to a water supply, I proceeded to flush the water system of antifreeze by letting all the faucets run until they were clear and for three-five minutes after that. Then I put about 20 gallons of water in the freshwater holding tank, drove the trailer into the street and backed it up in a k-turn so I had the drain plug on the down hill side of the lawn, and drained that water out of the tank.

Last time we went out—our first experience—I had filled this tank with water. We hauled that 200 gallons of water to Colorado and back and never used it since we were hooked up to a water line at every camp at which we stopped. I don’t want to think how that affected the performance of the truck. I do know that traveling across Kansas (uphill from east to west—don’t let anyone tell you it’s flat—and against a headwind of about 25 mph) we only managed 5 mpg. I’m not making that mistake again! If we aren’t boondocking (camping without out hookups for electricity, water and sewer), we aren’t carrying that amount of water.

Finally, I checked the running lights and the signal lights, the tire pressure, the propane system, etc. I found I only needed to replace a broken level at the rear of the trailer.

I spent the better part of another day going shopping for food supplies, trailer supplies and truck supplies. The rest of that day was spent replacing the foam gasket on the truck where the cap meets the bed. The old one had slipped, aged and hardened to the point where I was concerned about dirt and water getting into the bed and damaging what ever I had stored in there. This must be a popular project around this time of year. I had to go to three different auto supply stores before I could find the broad foam material. The first two stores were out of stock but the third had two rolls left and I took them both.

I finally got all the shopping done and finished the chores. I may have to cut the grass again on Sunday as well as head down the hill to gas up the truck, but everything is ready and I’m anxious to get started.


I've been at The Bolt Hole for five days now getting ready for our big trip. Except for the one day I had to go down to town to do some shopping for supplies I haven't seen or talked to another person. That doesn't mean I am alone.

Red squirrels chastise me from the pines as I work in the yard. Birds (lots of birds) wake me at 4:30 AM and continue to sing all day long. Hawks and turkey vultures glide overhead. A chipmunk came out of the bushes to spy on me while I burned some wood in the fire ring in the backyard. And the occasional garter snake makes my heart race as it slithers back into the grass when I walk past. But my best visitors to date were the two pairs of deer that casually walked through the yard Wednesday and Friday morning.

Wednesday I was sitting at the kitchen table surfing the internet during breakfast when I say a deer walk past the window. I grabbed my camera and went out the front door to see two does standing in the lawn. They spotted me and went through the gate and across the street. I stepped into the road and snapped a couple of pictures. (And, no, that is not the trailer we are taking west in the background!)

Wednesday's Does

Friday morning I happened to glance out the front door at 7 AM (the birds had me out of bed much earlier) and spotted a 4-point buck and a doe feeding on the lawn. I snapped this picture through the glass before heading upstairs to the deck to see if I could get another photo of them before they headed down the trail on the other side of the yard. (I did snap two more pictures but the buck's was the best.)

Friday's Buck

Here's a close up of the buck.


It's twilight now and the robins (as well as other birds) are getting in their last chorus for the day. Soon the swifts will be chittering above the tree tops, then the owls will start. Perhaps there will even be some coyotes yipping away during the night.

No, I haven't seen many humans up here where the paved road ends, but I am hardly alone.

Monday, June 20, 2005

Getting Ready to Travel

I drove up to The Bolt Hole this morning hauling some of the debris from the old deck, three bags of concrete, one-and-a-half dozen tomato plants (I always over plant my seedlings and hate to kill them off) and the clothes Terry and I will need on our trip to Colorado next week. Besides delivering all this stuff to The Bolt Hole, my job this week is to prepare the trailer for our trip.

But first, there’s the matter of the lawn. I was last up here three weeks ago and the grass has shot up 8-10 inches. So immediately upon my arrival, I started cutting grass. I spent four hours and have only half of it done. It will take another four hours to do the areas east and north of the cabin. If the lawn mower holds up, that is. I hit a chunk of wood over by the barn that was laying in wait for me and may have done some damage to an already ancient machine. All I know for sure is that it didn’t run as well after I dislodged the wood from the mower blade. Perhaps the shaft is bent slightly but I couldn’t detect anything visually wrong.

Tomorrow will be grass cutting and tomato planting. Then I will start to look over the 27’ Wilderness travel trailer that will be our home for three weeks. The battery is already hooked up to the charger. I need to flush the anti-freeze from the water lines and the holding tank, check the tires for air pressure and the propane system for proper operation. The refrigerator needs to be checked, too. I may have to do some lube work on the wheels and slide out. And who knows what else needs doing? The inside has to be aired out even though I was sure to leave the windows cracked just a tiny bit. Then I will have to practice hitching and unhitching the trailer to the truck as well as checking the wire connections to the truck. I just pray there is nothing wrong. We already have reservations in Monument for July 1st.

I'm doing all this on my own because Terry has a wedding to attend on Saturday and a wedding shower (different bride) on Sunday. She will be driving north after the shower on Sunday so we can get on the road early Monday morning.

Home Improvement

After several years (okay, more years than there should have been) of living with a damaged and rotting 10’ x 20’ redwood deck in the backyard, I decided to tear it out and rebuild.

Tearing out the old deck was no great feat. A framers hammer, crowbar and pry bar were all that were needed. It did take time to remove all the nails, cut up the old wood into either salvageable pieces (for use at The Bolt Hole in NY) or scrap for burning (also at The Bolt Hole). Due to the heat that swept into NJ during the beginning of June, the process took longer than I expected. I had planned on three days but it took five.

All Gone:

On Monday, I began my trips to Lowe’s to purchase new pressure treated lumber to construct the deck frame and surface and to the local hardware store for concrete for piers, fasteners (stainless steel screws for the surface, hot dipped galvanized for the frame) and hangers for the joists, beam, stairs, etc. Lowe’s is about 20 miles away but has much better selection of lumber than Home Depot (three of which are closer) and I can pick through the stack for pieces I want (something I can’t really do at the local lumber yard).

I had to rent a post hole digger (the manual clam-shell type) since mine is up north in at The Bolt Hole. (DOH!) I was able to dig three holes in just under two hours and slide the cardboard tubes in place for the pouring of concrete into the piers. (Damn, those 80-pound bags have gotten heavier over time!) While the concrete hardened, I built a 20-foot long beam from four 2 x 10s overlapping the joint in the middle and gluing and screwing them together. That was day one of construction (Tuesday).

I also rented a hammer-drill so I could anchor the ledger board into the concrete foundation. After mounting the ledger boards, and measuring out the location for and attaching the joist hangers, I cut and placed the three 4 x 4 posts on top of the concrete piers and enlisted the aid of my wife to lift the beam into place. Next, the joists were cut to length and placed in the hangers along the ledger boards and fastened atop the beam so they cantilever past the beam about 18” and a header board was attached to their ends. Day two (Wednesday) was complete.

Back to Lowe’s for the decking. I purchased 10’ and 12 ‘ lengths so the joints could be staggered and three 2 x 4s to double the thickness of the joists where the ends of the decking would butt against one another. I began cutting and laying the decking; screwing it down using three stainless steel square drive screws on each joist. (Joe, if you read this, I am sorry I didn’t get square drive screws for the barn. They are a joy to work with, just as you said. Beat Phillip’s head screws hands down.) The only problem with these screws is that they are very costly—and it took a lot of them. I got about a third of the boards in place before the sky darkened and I could hear thunder in the distance so I had to quit for the day. Five minutes after I had all the tools put back in the garage, the sky opened up and we had a torrential rainstorm that lasted only a half hour to forty-five minutes but made the backyard a pool. That’s day three (Thursday).

Day four, (Friday) I completed the placement of all but the three boards closest to the house.

Day five (Saturday) and it was back to Lowe’s for stair material. I got a 2 x 12 for the stringers and four 2 x 6s for the treads. Returning home I first cut and placed the three final deck boards and then puzzled out how to measure for the steps. Having decided to use a closed end stair, I didn’t have a lot of fancy cuts to make, but I did have to know how long to make the stringers and where to place the support brackets for the treads. I figured it out and made my cuts, drilled some holes for the lag screws that would hold the brackets and put them in place. I then positioned the stringers and attached them to the deck and put two of the tread in place before calling it a day.

Father’s Day I was back attaching treads and finishing the steps. The deck is complete except for a railing along its edge and for the stairs. Those will have to wait until we return from Colorado. I cleaned up the site and loaded the truck with the old joists cut to 8’ lengths, five large plastic bins of burnable scrap and three extra bags of concrete bound for The Bolt Hole.

All Done (for now):

Proper Lawn Care (?)

This spring I became determined to improve the backyard of our home. Approximately 100’ x 50’, the rear yard is on the north side of the house and is shaded by several large oak trees and surrounded by maples and locusts. In the middle is a specimen Japanese red maple that turns a glorious shade of red in the fall. Because I used a mulching mower much of the oak flowers and not a few leaves got mulched and returned to the soil. This lowered the pH of the soil to around 5.5—which is not god for grass but just dandy for the moss that loved the shade. I don’t think we have had a real lawn in the backyard since my son was around 10 (he just turned 22).

Any way, right after Easter I formulated and implemented my plan of attack. First, I raked up all of the moss. Some of the moss was one-half to three-quarters of an inch thick and extremely plush. Then I screened the moss to get any topsoil back. I purchased lime—lots of lime—and spread it on the soil until it looked like it had just snowed. Then I spread some fertilizer over the lime, rented a tiller and turned all of this into the top four inches of soil. Next I spread some Scott’s shade loving grass seed and used a rented roller to tamp it into the soil. Then I began a regimen of watering. Three times a day I would water the lawn to ensure it would not dry out. And I waited. And watered.

Ten days later the grass began to grow. It grew slowly at first but then it began to fill in. When it was about three inches tall, I cut it for the first time. About a week later I cut it again. And then On May 13th, a Friday, I cut it for the third time. At this point some broad leaf weeds were also making their presence noticeable, but I had read that after the third cutting it was okay to spread some weed-and-feed on the new grass. So I purchased and applied Scott’s Step Two, along with another 150 pounds of lime. Temperatures soared to over 90 in blistering sunshine on the 14th and 15th of May but I let the chemicals sit on the lawn without watering so they could better work their magic on the weeds. The night of the 15th, however, I relented and watered the lawn heavily.

Then I went away for two weeks leaving the watering chores to my wife who did follow the program as prescribed. She therefore escapes blame in what followed.

Wha' Happened?

When I returned on May 31, vast swatches of my beautiful new lawn were wilted and dead. I almost wept. Then I looked more closely and could see that those areas where the weed-and-feed had not been applied were still growing well. (I had applied the lime first and then the w&f making full coverage difficult to determine—that whole white-on-white thing.) Did I apply the w&f too soon? My neighbor thinks so. Did I overlap the w&f in spots to provide too great a dose? The stripes tell the story of missed areas but not necessarily overexposed ones. Did the combination of lime and w&f create too strong a chemical scene? Possibly. Did the searing heat without water do the damage? The still growing strips of grass suggest heat alone may not have been the killing factor but add the chemicals and the young roots may have been killed. Was the application of the chemicals on Friday the 13th to blame? Mmmm?

I’ll be back to reseed the lawn during the end of July when I can be sure to keep the watering on schedule and perhaps I will yet have a real lawn again. And this time I will let it grow a whole lot longer before I apply any weed killer—maybe until next April!

Sunday, June 12, 2005

Lazy, Hazy Days of Summer

(Okay, so it won't technically be Summer 'til the Solstice in a little more than a week. It still feels like it though!)

It's been a sultry and sweaty week in Northern NJ. The temperatures have soared into the 90s most days and thunderstorms sweep through in the afternoon and evening hours just like it was Florida.

Through the heat the new lawn I seeded in the rear of the house has mostly died. Part of that is due to the application of weed-and-feed after the third cutting last Friday. The books all said that was a safe time to apply the W & F treatment, but the blistering sun and mid 90s temperatures on Saturday and Sunday took their toll also. I'll have to reseed much of the 5000 sq. ft. and then be sure to let it grow much longer between cuttings and truly establish a root system before adding any chemicals to it.

We drove out to PA on Tuesday to clear some brush on the property and then visit with the General Contractor and review the preliminary plans for our log home with him. He will be contacting an excevator to work on the driveway and look over the building site in preparation for digging a foundation. We discussed the layout of the house, heating system (radiant floor for the basement and first floor, hot water radiators for the second floor master bedroom), water system (possibly boosted by the installation of two reserve bladders holding 200-300 gallons of water since the well is only 130 feet deep and yields 2 gallons per minute), the foundation (9' basement walls of poured concrete), and fireplace/wood stove installation.

We stayed overnight in Mansfield before driving south to the Cabela's store on I-78 and Route 61 in Hamburg, PA on Wednesday. Even if you are not an outdoors person, the Cabela's stores have got to be seen. Each one is unique and offers displays of wildlife that is museum like. Every time I go into one, I am reminded of entering the Museum of Natural History in NYC. And if you like to hunt, fish, hike, barbecue or shoot there is something for you to buy or just look at.
We have been to three of the stores now (Sydney, Nebraska, Mitchell, South Dakota, and Hamburg, Pennsylvania) and will definitely stop at others as our travels take us around the country.

Back in NJ I have been dismantling the 10' x 20' deck in the backyard in preparation of its replacement. The deck was over 25 years old and insect damage (as well as a very large oak limb that fell on it 10 years ago) was starting to weaken the structure. The surface itself was redwood and much of it splintered when I pried it up. The heat and humidity dictated the pace at which I worked and it took me all of Thursday to just remove the decking. Friday was a day of rest as showers swept the area. Saturday I cut the decking into smaller pieces for easier disposal and/or transport to The Bolt Hole for reincarnation as outdoor tables or bird feeders or such. Today (Sunday) I dismantle and salvage the 2" x 10" boards that make up the frame. Monday will be shopping day for new lumber and materials. Then the reconstruction begins.

Working in the heat and humidity makes me happy that I'm not in an unairconditioned computer lab trying to teach 24 kids.

During this, Terry went to Carlisle, PA Friday and Saturday for a class in Crewel Embroidery. She wasn't feeling well on Thursday so I had to push her out the door to join her friends Friday. She came back Saturday night sounding like she was glad she went.

Monday, June 06, 2005

Home Again in NJ

After cutting the grass at The Bolt Hole last Monday, I drove back to NJ on Tuesday. Since then I have turned over the remaining third of the garden, planted all my peppers and tomatoes (and repotted what tomatoes were left), attended a retirement dinner for four of my former colleagues, “supervised” the installation of a new front door and the final of 10 replacement windows, cut the lawn (much smaller job than that up north), limed the lawn, spread weed-and-feed on the rear lawn (which I started from seed last April), washed the truck (parking it under a budding maple tree up north got it coated in sap and leaf buds), and moved a ton of rocks (removed from the lawn when I started the seeding). In short, I have been a busy, busy, busy. I have yet to get to work on the deck but figure I will spend some time today taking the lattice off the side so I can see how much of the original structure can be saved and how much I need to replace.

Terry and I got the approval drawings from Beaver Mountain Log Homes last Thursday and looked them over. Sweet! We then called the General Contractor out in PA and made arrangements to meet with him this Tuesday to go over the drawings and see what he has to say. We’ll leave some copies of the drawings with him so he can contact subcontractors about the electrical, plumbing, HVAC, etc. One more step on the way to building our log home. We will go out early Tuesday to visit The Aerie (at 2100 feet above sea level and on the side of the mountain overlooking the Route 6 corridor some 500-750 feet below, it seems an appropriate name, don’t you think) and cut some weeds and brush. After an early bite, we will meet with the GC at his home.

We have finalized our plans for our upcoming trip to Colorado (June 27th-July 14th). I’ve mapped out our route from The Bolt Hole to Monument and the stops we will make along the way. All stops are about 400-450 miles apart, which will be a good 8 hours or so driving even on the interstates with the trailer in tow. The first two campgrounds/RV parks are ones we stopped at on our last trip. They are beauties and have enough facilities to make them destinations in their own right but we will just be passing through again on our way west. The Lake of the Rockies resort in Monument is where we stayed two years ago. Even without its lake (drought and dam problems have removed the water) the place boasts a swimming pool and hot tub that can cool and relax a weary traveler. It is also within easy walking distance of town so we won’t have to drive to the parade on the 4th. We have booked a slot for a week this time. Hope they set aside a nice one.