I have high hopes for 2012. Although two months have already slipped by me, I am anxious to accomplish some of my goals and go on a few trips this year. I am also confident that this will be a good year for weight loss. It’s gotta happen some time, right? …right? Plus, I’ve gotta start getting through my bucket list if the world is going to be ending this year.
I don’t think I have ever taken a “staycation” before. As I said before, I am almost always doing something or going somewhere when I take a day off of work. I wasn’t really sure what I was going to do leading up to this week, but as it turns out, Mary and I have been able to find enough things to keep us busy. Yesterday was a yard and house work day where we got quite a few projects done. Today we were thinking of doing some sort of day trip with hiking or geocaching. And then we still have one more day that is currently open without any plans, although I am sure it won’t stay that way for long. The concept of a staycation has already been growing on me. There is a little more freedom to do what I want and fly by the seat of my pants. Overall, it has been nice to get caught up on a few things and find some time to do some blogging as well.
And after this week that will conclude the camping season for Mary and I. Unless we have an unseasonably warm November, the tent will not be coming out again until Spring. Fall weather always goes by so quickly. I suppose there is no reason why we couldn’t go camping during the Winter, though. I guess we have just never gotten around to doing that, but I am always open to suggestions if anyone has any recommendations. However, there is still much to blog about even during the off season and I have promised myself to do better in keeping up with my blog posts even when I’m not out there camping.
My favorite time of year has arrived! Don’t get me wrong, Summer is great and all, but this is the season that really gets me excited. Cooler weather, trees changing colors, football season, Halloween and Thanksgiving, what’s not to like? It is also a great time to get out and go camping. If the trip is timed right, it can be a great time to catch the Fall colors. Depending upon where you are traveling, you may want to search the internet to find out how the trees are changing in that area. For example, Travel Wisconsin has a link that will show you a Fall Color Report by county. It is a great way to track the changing colors. Fall is also a great time to camp if you aren’t a fan of insects, mainly mosquitos. By this time of year their population has dwindled and you don’t have to worry so much about being covered in bug spray as you enjoy nature. And if you enjoy solitude while camping, there is no better time than now. Kids are back in school and most families have put away their camping gear for the season. State Parks still may fill up on the weekends, but you can practically pick the campsite you want during the week. If you can brave the cooler evenings and you don’t mind the sun setting earlier, this really is a great time to get out and enjoy the outdoors.
The design allows for air flow, tinder in the middle and kindling near the top. This is perfect for the heat, air, fuel combination of fire starting. Let’s get started:
First gather together some dead sticks, preferably no thicker than a 1/4 inch in diameter. You should be able to break the sticks pretty easily. Also gather some small sticks for the top. Grab some newspaper or dead, dry leaves, and the matches as well.
Lay two larger sticks parallel to each other. Then turn 90 degrees and lay two more on top of them. Do one more layer each direction and this time make the sticks a little smaller and move them in a little closer to the middle.
Now add the newspaper or dry leaves. If you use newspaper, make sure you crumple it up and twist it tight. It will catch fire easier and burn longer this way. Fill up the middle of your cabin with your tinder. Continue laying smaller sticks for one or two more layers.
Now add small sticks across the top and feel free to cover with bark which helps it burn even better.
With the initial construction complete, light a match and light the tinder in several places around the cabin.
As your fire begins to burn, remember not to add large chunks of wood until you get a good flame and some coals. This concept of fire making can be used for the smaller campfire or even for large bon fires. When I was younger, I constructed and burned a log cabin fire that was about 10 feet tall. I don’t recommend doing that in a park though.
Setting up a Bed in an Element
Setting up the bed is really quite simple. To start, open both doors, move the front seat forward, and remove the headrest. Put the back seat down and leave a slight incline.
Next, recline the front seat and move it back so it is touching the back seat. In our experience, we lined up the front seat so it was just a little higher than the front of the back seat. If it is lower and you are a side sleeper, you will really notice a gap.
Now your bed is set up. For a little extra comfort, place a camping mat down. Add your sleeping bag and pillow and you are all set.
During our trip
The beds worked great during our road trip. Sleeping was no 5 star hotel, but it was comfortable enough that we could rest well. Having the slight incline on the back seat helps make it a little more comfortable. You may have to try a couple different angles before you find the one you like. One thing to keep in mind is that you need to find a place to store all of your gear. Because the seats are elevated a little from the floor there is space underneath the bed. For larger items, you will need to move those towards the front or leave them outside if you are comfortable with that. We kept this in mind as we packed for our road trip. We bought a flatter cooler, and kept things in medium-size containers rather than one large container. In the rear of the vehicle, we were able to fit a large duffle bag underneath the seats, so there is some room for one or two larger items. For privacy and to block out the light, we put in our Reflectix window inserts. They worked great. Even after the sun came up, it was nice and dark in the car. Below are a couple of pics from our actual set up on the trip.
“It always rains on tents. Rainstorms will travel thousands of miles, against prevailing winds for the opportunity to rain on a tent.” -Dave Barry
Weather can be so unpredictable sometimes. There may just be a small chance of rain in the forecast and that “chance” could be right over your campground. For those of you who enjoy camping on a regular basis, you know that rain is just something that you need to be prepared for. This post should give you some ideas of what to do when it rains while you are camping. I will share some of my own experiences as well.
Preparation for rain can be done even before you plan your campout. If you have had your tent for a while, take some time to waterproof it. Purchase some fabric waterproofing spray and just follow the instructions. We waterproof our tent about every two years. There are also products you can purchase to reseal the seams, but in my experience, waterproofing the tent does a good enough job. Check the forecast right before you leave. Some parks even print out the local forecast and post it at the main office. When packing for your trip, remember to bring your raincoat. Sure, you might not even use it, but if you need it, then you have it. Another thing you might want to pack if you are a sensitive sleeper is ear plugs. A raindrop hitting the roof of your tent can be very loud and even louder with thousands of raindrops. The sound may keep you up throughout the night if it rains a lot and having the ear plugs will help muffle the sound. Preparation for the weather can really help make a campout more enjoyable, so be sure to take the time to do it.
The weekend I planned to go camping has rain in the forecast, now what?
I say, go camping anyway. Bad weather often produces the best camping memories. It is important to anticipate that you may not be able to do everything you originally planned. It is important to have a backup plan and other activities that you can do if your trip gets rained out. On a recent campout with my Boy Scout troop, we got hit hard with rain on one particular day. The schedule that day was to wake up, make breakfast, and work on merit badges in the morning until lunch and afterwards we would go swimming. A chance of rain was in the forecast, but I thought it was supposed to be in the evening. After waking up the scouts at 6:30 am sharp, the first drops of rain started to fall. It wasn’t long before there was a torrential downpour. Every thing at camp was getting wet. It was too wet to start a fire and every bench and chair we had was wet. So, we decided that we needed to set up a shelter. It turned out that we had everything we needed for a shelter, including and extra large tarp, but it wasn’t easy setting it up in the rain. After we finally got that all setup then we began to work on breakfast. By the time we got the shelter set up and breakfast cooked and cleaned up, it was only about an hour or so before lunchtime. I was ready to start working on a merit badge, but everything at camp was wet. On a whim, I decided that we would go to another part of the park and use one of the picnic shelters. It worked great for what we needed. That afternoon, we passed on swimming because it was too cold, but we ended up having a great time playing card games. Even though we had to completely ignore our schedule for the day, we ended up getting some things done and having a great time.
Camping in severe weather
When staying outside among the elements (aka camping outside) weather becomes more of a factor than on your average day at home. If you find yourself camping in severe weather, it is really important to be alert and find shelter. In the Midwest, thunderstorms can be a bunch of rain or it could result in a tornado. If you are not sure and it looks bad, err on the side of caution. One of the worst storms that Mary and I got caught in was during a campout with friends over Memorial Day weekend. Before we left home, we noticed that on Memorial Day there would be a chance of thunderstorms, but seeing as that would be our last day camping, we figured to we could pack up camp early that day and avoid them. As it turned out, the storms came Sunday night while we were sleeping. I awoke that night to the rain and a very loud crash of thunder. We were in tents and our campsite was surrounded by large trees. The last thing we wanted was a large branch to land on our site. I peaked out of the tent to see how bad everything was and I saw a flash of lightning hit the ground not far from us. The storm was right on top of us. I called out to my friends and we made a dash to the car. We had no idea how bad the storm was going to get or if there was any chance of a tornado. When we got in the car we turned on the radio for information, but we couldn’t find any stations with a live DJ or a weather report. We drove to the ranger station, but of course no one was there. The ranger station had an open parking lot, so we just parked there for the night and all tried to sleep in the car. It wasn’t ideal, but one tent was flooded and it was safer in the parking lot than underneath a bunch of trees. As it turned out, our campsite was safe from any damage, it was just really wet. After that campout, Mary and I invested in a weather radio and we have not been caught in a bad storm since. Severe weather can be scary, but it helps to be prepared with a weather radio so you can know what is going on. Also, pay attention to where you set up your tent. Make sure you do not have any dead branches above you. Avoid setting up your tent in any kind of dip in the ground. Even if it is a very shallow dip, it will still be a place where water collects and as a result, cause puddles in your tent.
Remember, even if you are having a frustrating campout due to the weather, sometimes those trips result in the best stories to tell later. Prepare yourself for the weather and have a great time camping. If you get a little wet, it’s not the end of the world. You will dry out… eventually.
Start by purchasing a roll of Reflectix (which is essentially bubble wrap covered in a sheet of some kind of silver paper). Plan on paying about $20-$30 (although I have seen smaller rolls for cheaper). You should be able to find this at most hardware stores.
Next take measurements of the windows in the vehicle from the inside. Do not worry about slants and curves for now. Measure the longest length and width for each window. Add at least an extra inch to each measurement just to make sure you do not measure short. Another reason for doing this, is that in some cases after continued use, the panels have shrunk a little.
Transfer those measurements onto the roll of Reflectix and cut out the rectangle.
Take the rectangle of Reflectix back to the car and place it over the window you are working on. Push the edges of the Reflectix into ledges of the window. For the corners that have a slant or curve, use the Sharpie to mark where you need to cut. Trim it where you made your marks.
For the side windows take the panel you just made and use it as a stencil to make a duplicate for the window on the other side.
Once all panels are cut and trimmed, it is time to put them all in. Line up the Reflectix insert with the window and then tuck the edges into the ledges that border the window. It should stay nice and firm. If, for some reason it still seems too big, feel free to trim it further until it fits. Just make sure you do not trim it too short otherwise you will need to start over. It is difficult to cut the perfect shape, but don’t worry too much about that because usually you can just tuck in the extra material.
To store your panels while they are not in use, take all the panels and lay them in a pile. Then roll them up like a sleeping bag and secure the roll with a strap or bungee cord.
If done correctly, you should be able to block out just about all light that would come into the vehicle. This makes your vehicle private and cozy. One thing I should add though, if your windows are shut while you are sleeping in the vehicle, don’t be surprised to see an accumulation of water on the windows in the morning. It is just trapped condensation and it will go away after a few minutes of running your defroster.
For our first time camping in a vehicle, the Reflectix inserts worked great. There were a couple of corners that we cut short that let in a slit of light, but it wasn’t enough to bother us. Overall, this was an effective and inexpensive project and we were glad we used the inserts rather than paying the extra for the privacy curtains.
Badlands National Park – This was the final park that we stopped at. The only reason we thought to stop here was that it had been recommended to us by several people. We entered the park from the west and similarily to Arches, I thought we would just drive through, take a few pictures, and be on our way. I honestly didn’t think it would take more than 30 or 45 minutes to drive through. Well, we ended up spending the whole afternoon/evening there. As we got into the park, I really understood why this had been preserved as a national park. The landscape is incredible! Fortunately, Mary was patient with me as I wanted to get out at each overlook and take pictures. Ironically, some of the best drive was near the entrance to the park (which is on the east side) which we got to after the sun had already set. We did not take the time to do any hiking, but we experienced enough to know that we want to return to explore more. Badlands is truly a unique landscape and definitely earns its spot among the great National Parks.
We really enjoyed all the stops we made. Throughout the trip it was incredible to see all the different and unique landscapes. For those of you that enjoy the outdoors, I strongly recommend that you get out and experience this countries national parks. They are definitely a thing of beauty.
The restaurant tour was inspired by a favorite show of ours called, “Man v. Food” that airs on the Travel Channel. For those of you who have not seen this show before, the premise is, the host, Adam Richman, highlights the best pig-out and comfort food spots in the US. Each episode covers a city and some of their best restaurants. We incorporated this into our trip by selecting certain featured restaurants that looked good to us and then mapped out a route to take us from Wisconsin to Utah. The result took us on a route that was pleasing to our eyes and our taste buds. Here is a rundown of the restaurants that we visited:
Cozy Dog Drive In, Springfield, IL – “Home of the famous hot dog on a stick”. That’s right, Cozy Dog is the birthplace of the corn dog. This is a really cute diner-style restaurant with plenty of memorabilia and souvenirs. It is a well known spot along Route 66 and it seems to be even more popular with the locals. We stopped in around breakfast time and even though it was early, we could still get an original cozy dog. I am not a corn dog enthusiast by any means, but the cozy dog was really tasty. Well worth the stop and if I ever find myself in Springfield again, I’ll be stopping in for another.
Pappy’s Smokehouse, St. Louis, MO – This was one of the restaurants we were most excited to visit. Pappy’s has a big reputation for having some of the best BBQ around. After eating there, I can see why. This place has some of the best BBQ I have ever had! Pappy’s only cooks so much of each meat every day, so when they run out (let me just emphasize when they run out) you are out of luck. We knew this ahead of time so we got there early. Even though it was around 11am on a weekday, there was still a waiting line that went out of the restaurant. It was well worth the wait though. When it was our turn to order, we ended up trying four different meats: pulled pork, ribs, spicy sausage, and the beef brisket. I will be honest, the side dishes were nothing to write home about, but the meat was phenomenal! It is hard to pick a favorite as it was all very good, but we were most impressed with the beef brisket. It just melted in our mouths! The only problem with the beef brisket was that we didn’t order enough of it. Oh well, all the more reason to get back to St. Louis sooner than later.
Crown Candy Kitchen, St. Louis, MO – Crown Candy has been around since 1913 and is known for their unique selection of candy and their homemade ice cream. This is a quaint little corner store with a lot of charm. On Man v. Food, this was the location where Adam Richman tried to down 5 malt milkshakes in 30 minutes. Keep in mind that each milkshake comes in those large mixer cups so they fill about 3 regular-size glasses (15 glasses of shake for those of you keeping track). Unfortunately he failed. Given my ability to down ice cream like there is no tomorrow, part of me wanted to try the challenge, but I figured a road trip wasn’t the best time to get sick. So, I just got one chocolate malt. Ice cream was the perfect desert for a hot day. If you are planning a visit to Crown Candy and you are not familiar with St. Louis, make sure you have good directions. Its inner city location makes it tough to find and I’m not sure we would have found it without our GPS.
Stroud’s Oak Ridge Manor, Kansas City, MO – Nothing has ever made me say, “You know, I really need to get to Kansas City” until now. Where do I begin? Stroud’s has some of the best home cooked comfort food I have ever had. It is located in an old manor house that does not seem to have any 90 degree angles at all. The old feel of the building just adds to a place that immediately feels comfortable and familiar as soon as you walk in. As for food, we decided to go with a family style order of pan-fried chicken with mashed potatoes and green beans. The chicken was some of the best fried chicken we have ever had. It was crispy and well seasoned and the meat was juicy and hot. The gravy is also worth mentioning. It is thick and very tasty. As I understand it, they make it with the left over chicken bits from pan-frying the chicken. I don’t know how that couldn’t be good! The biggest surprise to us was that the meal was served with the most amazing cinnamon rolls either of us have ever had. Neither of us are big fans of cinnamon rolls to begin with, but these were simply amazing! They were dense, gooey, and packed full of tasty goodness! They were so good that we asked for two more to go after we were done. Stroud’s is well worth the stop even if you aren’t in the area. Needless to say, we now have an excuse to get back to Kansas City.
The Cherry Cricket, Denver, CO – This was the last stop on our restaurant tour. Cherry Cricket is known for their burgers and even more than that, they are known for the wide variety of unique toppings that make your burger just about as individual as you are. As it says in the menu, “If we have it in our kitchen, we can put it on your cricket burger!” The cricket burger is served ‘a la carte with lettuce, tomato, and a pickle spear. After that it is up to you to choose what kind of toppings you want on it. For example, I ordered my burger with white cheddar cheese, a fried egg over easy, fresh avocado, and salsa. That was a tasty burger! If you decide to come here and construct your own burger, one thing to watch out for is the price. Each extra topping has its cost and it does not take long to create a $10 burger.
That concludes the restaurant portion of our trip. I hope you enjoyed it. If you are looking for a fun way to spend a vacation, consider taking a restaurant tour. Remember, you do not have to order a full meal at every restaurant (but you just might want to). Sometimes, just getting a featured item from the menu and sharing it is just as good. For more great restaurant recommendations, check out Adam Richman’s blog.
As I alluded to in an earlier post, this year we took a road trip out west. After contemplating what kind of vacation we wanted to do this year, we determined that we have never really taken a road trip together nor have we really spent much time discovering other US states. We decided that we wanted to visit my brother and his family in Salt Lake City, UT, but we did not want to drive the most direct route, interstate 80, which also happens to be the most boring drive. So we came up with a route that would be a little more scenic and give us a lot more things to do along the way.
The second part of preparation was coming up with a budget. With the cost of gas around $4.00 per gallon, we knew that was going to be the major expense of our trip. To help cut costs, we decided that we would sleep in the car. Now, I have slept in a car on road trips before and it isn’t pleasant, however, we were going to be taking our Honda Element which allows both front and back seats to fold down flat. They make great beds. After testing the make-shift beds, but never really spending a night on them, we decided that would work. And it actually did work quite well. Now that we were going to be sleeping in the car, we mapped out a collection of state parks that we could stop at to sleep. They were much quieter than a truck stop. So we did have a small budget to pay for camping, but it was worth it.
Overall the trip was a great success. There were days when we had to drive for almost 10 hours, but we came prepared with a lot of things to do in the car and we took turns driving frequently. We experienced just about every kind of weather imaginable: severe thunderstorms in Missouri, high winds in Kansas, snow in the mountains, hail in SLC, hot temperatures in Southern Utah, and cold temperatures in Yellowstone. We saw some amazing natural scenery and a lot of wildlife. It constantly amazes me how diverse this country is from state to state. And when we had finally pulled in the driveway at home after being away for 11 days, we had driven just shy of 4,000 miles. For a trip that we were really unsure about even up until the week before we left, it ended up being an incredible vacation. We enjoyed every bit of the trip and if we had more time, we probably would have extended it.