Saturday, May 29, 2010

Memorial Day Weekend 2010..."Bill Camping" 2.0...or...Say Hello to my Little Friend

I saw my first one in Yellowstone National Park in September of 2008...on the way home from Alaska. At first, I thought that they might be some kind of storage trailer hitched to a vehicle. But they had windows!...and I saw people climbing in and out of them.
I found out later that these little trailers were called "Teardrop Campers". They first appeared in the 1930's and 40's...people built them from plans or "kits"...and they were an inexpensive way to camp. The term "Teardrop" comes from their unique shape.
Later, companies began to build and sell these little campers. Today, you can buy some that have kitchens, bathrooms, showers, etc. But most of them are very small...they sleep two, are insulated (R12 usually), have lights in the interior, and both 12 volt and AC power systems. And...most importantly, they are very light in weight due to the fiberglass and/or aluminum construction.
When I was camping this winter, I started thinking about how a "Teardrop" could really improve the camping "experience". Camping in Big Bend National Park in early December, it was pitch dark by 6:30PM and cold, very cold. If I wanted to read and be comfortable (and, perhaps, have a post-dinner "digestif"), my only option was to sit in the Escape with the engine running...not very comfortable or practical.
While it was plenty warm later camping in Everglades National Park, it was still dark at was that little matter of the mosquitoes.
So...when I returned from my Florida trip, I began to do some detailed research on these Teardrop Campers. There were three brands that I liked...and that had great reputations...T@B, Camp-Inn and Little Guy. Unfortunately, I also found that Teardrop Campers are expensive...very expensive.
So...I spent the rest of the winter and spring, searching for a used one on-line...Craigslist, e-Bay...used RV name it. When I thought that I had found something at the right price, it would turn out to be located in Oregon..or New Mexico...nothing local.
Ah...but then...yesterday, I was checking "Craigslist"...and there it was...a 2008 Little Guy 6-Wide...advertised as "brand new, never used". And, best of all, the price was right. So, yesterday, I went to take a look at it...and it was just as advertised. It wasn't "like new", it WAS new...squeaky clean without a single dent, scratch or other "blemish".
And so...I haggled a little over the price...and then...thanks to some very timely financial "assistance" from Mom...I bought it, and I towed it home, and it's sitting in my driveway.
The owners, Darrell and Ruth Ann were just the nicest people. I could tell that they were sad to part with their "Little Guy". And when my connection for the lights wouldn't work, Darrell could have said..."See ya". But he didn't...he spent the better part of an hour testing the circuits, crawling under the Escape...trying to get the lights to work. And, even though he was unsuccessful, the gesture alone was enough for me.
So...take a look at the photos. It's going to be a whole different world of camping from now on.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Spring 2010...Rites of Spring...Fun in Cancun..."A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Yukon"

I have had a very busy and productive spring. Back in February, while I was still enjoying Florida, I was putting together a list of spring "projects". I wanted to give my kitchen (particularly the cabinets and drawers) a thorough cleaning. I wanted to clean the basement and get it "Picnic ready" by the end of April. I wanted to have the 2010 Summer Picnic completely planned out by early May. And I had a host of other, smaller, but important projects as well.
The kitchen project took over three and a half weeks of six hour work days. You're probably wondering how cleaning a kitchen can take so long...well...remember that it's not an "ordinary" kitchen. There are thirty drawers and eighteen cabinets. at a time, I removed everything from each drawer/cabinet and washed everything (plates, bowls, glasses, silverware, etc.). I washed each drawer/shelf, as well as the inside of the cabinets, and wiped everything down with Clorox cleanser. I also tightened all of the screws on the rails and some cases adding extra screws for improved strength and, in other cases, completely replacing the rails and slides.
The Summer Picnic of 1997 is one that I will always remember for the "chaos". A month before the Picnic, I fired my kitchen contractor after his "six week" job became a "four month" project. As of mid-June, my kitchen was an empty islands, no cabinets, no sinks, no refrigerator, no nothing. I hired a new contractor, Phil, and he had a team of six workers on the job eighteen hours a day for three weeks to get things ready. By the time of the Picnic, I finally had a "real" kitchen...minus drawer fronts and cabinet doors.
The layout of the drawers and cabinets was born out of this chaos. Shelves were installed a random heights and things were thrown together. So, my spring kitchen project was not just cleaning, but also an opportunity to completely rethink and reorganize things. Lots of "limited use" things got moved to the adjusting shelf heights, I was able to add four new shelves and significantly increase my storage capacity. Another innovation was the installation of magnetic strips in the knife drawer (now two drawers)...instead of a drawer full of sharp knives pointing every which way, knives are now arranged by size and neatly affixed to the strips.
For those of you who have cooked in my kitchen, I think you'll see a real difference.
The "basement project" took just under three weeks to complete. I don't spend much time down in the basement except for around Picnic time. The rest of the time, it's Jonesie and Cleo's territory...and pretty messy.
So, one by one, I began emptying every shelf on my storage units...every canned good, every piece of kitchen equipment, every bottle of liquor. I then thoroughly cleaned every shelf and everything on it. The floor was swept and washed and then swept again using sweeping compound. And now, three weeks later, everything is "Picnic ready".
And so it has gone all of this spring...more and more projects. All of the closets have been cleaned and reorganized...decks and deck furniture have been cleaned...the 2010 Summer Picnic is ready to go (menu, invitations, shopping lists, rental orders, etc.).

FUN IN CANCUN can't have all work and no, in the middle of all my "projects", I did find time to get away for a few days to Cancun in March.
If you had asked me about Cancun before my first visit there six or seven years ago, I would have said that it's about the last place that I'd consider for a vacation. But I have my friend, Kammi Whatley from Shreveport, to thank for changing my mind. She handled everything on my first visit to Cancun...and it was a place that I liked right away. Even with a new terminal, the airport in Cancun is a mass of thousands of tourists arriving or departing. The trip down Kulkulcan Boulevard takes you past miles and miles of luxury hotels, all packed together. The city itself is noisy, smoggy, dirty...great fun. And the restaurants, from the "well known" to the "divey", are surprisingly good.'s tacky and touristy...but it's still the cheapest vacation in the Caribbean.
On this trip, I was able to book the Hilton at a great rate, and my friend, Angi, decide to go along. We staye at the Ramada near the airport to be close for a 6:00AM hassles...out to the shuttle, over to the airport, smooth check in, and an uneventful flight.
Over the next six days, we were able to do all of the fun stuff that I have come to enjoy while in Cancun. First, there's the obligatory hour or two each day at the "swim-up bar". You lay in the sun until you're really hot, then you slide into the pool and "swim up" to the bar. So...your lower half is in the water, and your upper half is leaning on the bar...pure bliss...every day...sometimes twice a day.
And the restaurants...ah...all my favorites. Fresh lobster on the water by moonlight at Lorenxillos, thick and juicy Argentinian steaks at Cambalache, the spicy crab soup and giant grilled prawns at El Cejas, the fine "upscale" Mexican cuisine at La's all good. And no meal is complete without the best Caesar Salads around prepared tableside and the famous Mayan Coffee (also prepared tableside).
And my favorite "divey" bar, Mextreme, was still there at the little bend in the road at the end of the Hotel Zone. Every afternoon and most evenings, Angi and I would park ourselves at our favorite spot at the bar and say hello to our bartender, Edouardo. I'm always a generous "tipper so, by day two, Edouardo was "comping" about one-third of our beverages...freshly made Margaritas, cold glasses of Dos XX's on draft, and shots of the best "premium" Tequilas (Cazadores, Don Julio, Don Edouardo (no relation to the bartender!), and Patron. Great times and great conversation at Mextreme!
And. of course, no visit to Cancun is complete without a visit to the island of Isla Mujeres. You take the bus to the ferry, then a relaxing twenty-minute boat ride to the a golf cart for the day...lunch on the beach at NaBaLam Hotel...then a bar-hopping tour around the island. It's always as close to perfect of a day as you could want.
But six days of great food, cocktails, the beach, the pool, etc. is enough...even for me. After six days, I was glad to go home.

As you friends, Roger and Gretchen, asked me a year ago to travel with them in their motor home back to Alaska. And, although we've been "talking" about it since then, we didn't really start "planning" it until recently.
And, unfortunately we began to run into serious "scheduling" differences not long into the planning. Their start and end dates could not "mesh" with mine.
So...this year, I am not returning to Alaska. Ah...but if you think that I'm staying home this are dead wrong. One of the nice things about retirement is that you have lots of free time for what I call "idle projects". And several of mine are sketches of future vacations...camping trips to Maine/Nova Scotia, a hiking trip along the Appalachian Trail, camping in Australia/New Zealand...and a camping trip to the great National Parks of the southwest.
So...when this summer's change in plans became clear, I was able to turn to one of my "off-the-shelf" vacation plans. And...on June 17, I'll be leaving for three months to visit the great National Parks of the American Southwest. I'll be camping from five to seven days each at Rocky Mountain, Arches, Canyonlands, Capitol Reef, Bryce Canyon, Zion, Grand Canyon, Joshua Tree, Sequoia, Yosemite, Lassen Volcanic, Redwoods and Great Basin National Parks...whew...that's a lot of Parks!
And I'll get a chance to stop in Reno and visit my old friend, Tom Mirczak, with whom I worked at Litton/Western Atlas/UNOVA. We had so many fun times over the years while in the UK...many of them in the town of Bedford (north of London) where Tom lived before moving back to the U.S. of all...this trip will be what I refer to as "Bill camping"...staying in the National Parks (at $7-$10/night), sleeping in a sleeping bag, cooking outside on the Coleman stove or the "notebook grill" electricity, no TV, no newspapers...just the enjoyment of the very best that this country has to offer.
I can't wait to leave.