Peace In A Tin Can

Peace In A Tin Can

Thursday, January 28, 2016

The Roadtrek Winter Freezeout Mantra: No Bugs, But Cold Seats In The Pit Toilet

People say I am crazy.  When I tell friends and acquaintances in my hometown I am going camping in Michigan's Upper Peninsula in the winter, they shake their heads and look at me like I am not quite right in my head.  Won't it be cold?  What about wild animals?  What if your truck gets stuck in a snowstorm?  They express all kinds of worries, letting their imaginations and fears get the best of them.  It's really no big deal to go, but it is a big deal to be there.

I have been hearing this sentiment for years, longing to meet people who are more like me, with the same interests, passions, and desire to experience nature.  A few years ago, I stumbled across a blog by Mike Wendland,  Roadtreking:Discovering the Small Motorhome Lifestyle.  This guy, and his wife, Jennifer, travel around the country in a Class B Roadtrek motorhome, a big van really, and see things most people don't see, meet interesting road warriors who do the same, exchange stories and experiences, and teach the rest of us how it is done.  I began following his blog, listening to his
podcasts, subscribed to his newsletter, and eventually began an online interaction with Mike.  Most of his group are Roadtrek owners, they go to rallies together, have smaller meet-ups, and wave to each other on the road.  I was delighted when Mike said I could join a Roadtrek outing in Winter 2015, even though I would be camping in my car, at Tahquamenon Falls.  I had a great time playing in the snow with a small group of adventurous souls who took good care of me, bringing me coffee in the morning and checking to make sure I hadn't frozen to death in my car.

This year, our group grew, as did my camping accommodations.
We had about 50 people arrive in our winter wonderland as I greeted them from my truck camper.  Still not as convenient as a Roadtrek, but a definite step up in comfort from last year.  The park staff at Tahquamenon Falls State Park are top-notch and had plowed additional sites out for us, brought us snow shoes to borrow, and a bucket of sand in case anyone got stuck in a snowbank, which one of us who shall remain nameless ended up using.  The outhouses were clean and well-stocked with toilet paper. (You'd be surprised how pleased we all were by that).  Our weekend began with happy reunions and getting to know the newbies.  I was so happy to be there my face froze in a great big smile.
Road treks parked at
The Inn in Paradise.
Photo Credit: Ari Adler

Yoopers - people who live in the U.P. of Michigan - call the land above the bridge "God's Country".  Indeed, it is.  They even have signs posted along the road, to remind drivers they have no worries, they are in God's Country.  The Roadtrek Band of Merry Men and Women embraced it, got out in it, breathed it in, let it fill them, and became part of it.  Collectively, we snowshoed to the lower Tahquamenon Falls with Theresa Neil, Michigan DNR Interpreter, then a small group took the challenging  route to the upper Falls, a strenuous 8 mile hike wearing snowshoes designed to keep your feet on top of the snow but aren't that effective on the steep up-and-downhill terrain.  Some went to the dogsled races, while others explored Whitefish Bay with Lake Superior waves frozen mid-curl, where time stands still and the winds do not.  Mike set up his HAM radio at the upper Falls, on a section of the North Country Trail to participate in the National Parks on the Air. You can read all about it here. Photographers broke trail and captured places where no man had walked since the freshest snowfall.  I drove to a parking lot, left my vehicle, and spent two hours of solitary hiking on the North Country Trail while waiting to give a ride to that small group of hearty snowshoers making their long journey to the upper Falls.  They were unusually happy to see me at the end.

Photo Credit: Yan Seiner

Photo Credit: Yan Seiner

Photo Credit: Ari Adler

Photo Credit: Lynn Ellen Kaiser

Habushu: The Essence of Snake
We spent most of our time outside, some of it in remote areas.  We weren't cold, because we were moving and dressed for the weather.  We weren't miserable, or isolated, or hungry or thirsty.  We were alive!  At night, we built a bonfire and sat around its warmth.  Some of us supplied a little bit of our own warmth.  Yan even brought Habushu, but that is an entire story in itself which I will tell later.  Tired from our day spent exploring outside, we enjoyed good conversation, Gouda cheese, a warm fire, and stories of our travels.

Photo Credit: Jim Diepenbruck
Roadtrekers aren't crazy, but they are my kind of people.  They had come from Michigan, Ohio, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Indiana, and Ontario, Canada.  They have traveled through Canada to Alaska, from Maine to the Outer Banks to the Florida Keys, from Texas to New Mexico and Arizona.  They have boondocked at Yellowstone, Glacier National Park, and along the Pacific shores in Oregon and California. They have been to the Heartland and made it part of their own heart.  Jim, a photographer in our group, boondocked in an extremely isolated wilderness on the way to and from the U.P., looking for Elk.  He didn't find any, but Jim did get a fleeting look at the Coyote who was none too please to have Jim as a guest in his home, and expressed the sentiment late at night while Jim was outside photographing the stars.  Jim's not crazy, but he experienced something most people never will, a close encounter with a wild animal late at night, and shared a moment with a Coyote, a moment he won't forget.  That Coyote is part of Jim's journey now.

I have turned my dream of owning a Roadtrek into a goal.  I have no idea yet how I can make it happen, but I can open a conversation with my husband about his retirement in a few years.  Together, we can decide what we can live without (you'd be surprised what you can live without), what we can give up, and what we can gain by traveling the country together and immersing ourselves in the adventure of living.

I want what these people have.  They have worked hard, raised families, overcome tragedies and health issues, have faced the challenges we all face.  Some are still facing them, still working, still planning.  But they all know this very important secret:  whatever came before today is over.  Whatever will come tomorrow is unknown.  So take today as the gift that God gave you, go out, and explore.  Fill your soul with a spirit of adventure!  Embrace the mantra of our Winter Freezeout; No bugs (the perks) and a very cold seat in the pit toilet (little inconveniences that don't matter).  Wherever you are right now, in your home, in your office, out shopping, or camping in two feet of snow...there are perks and minor inconveniences.  We are not crazy.  We are fun and full of life.

Photo Credit: Yan Seiner

If you still think we are crazy, watch this video by Roadtreker Ari Adler:

To be on the edge of a cold wind and a warm sun, and watch the melding of water and ice; to stand where there are no footprints and breathe; it is the igniting of imagination, the freefall of spirit, and the stillness of your soul.  But it's not crazy

I am grateful for my time with the Roadtrekers in a winter wonderland.  I love their stories, their warmth, their laughter, and their willingness to explore.  I love their sense of humor.  I love them. Most of all, I love being in God's Country with them.  No big deal to go, but a really big deal to be there.  Crazy, eh?

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Living with Dr. Seuss

You're off to Great Places!
Today is your day!
Your mountain is waiting.
So...get on your way!

                           ~Dr. Seuss

My go-to gift for high school graduates is the book "Oh, the Places You'll Go!" by Dr. Seuss.  It lets kids know they are ready to go and grab life and do great things.  Except when they don't.

I have always had an adventurous spirit, but most of my life for various reasons, I have not spent much time on great adventures.  Not to complain, because I have had some wonderful times in the wilderness, I have also had some wonderful times at home with my family, and then all the times when life wasn't the way I wanted it.  That's life.

One of the obstacles I have faced is the same for most people: money.  Or lack thereof.  It's expensive to be an outdoor adventurer, and sometimes when I hear the mountains calling, or the wilderness whispering and beckoning to me, I have to silence their sound and stay on course at home.

In my younger days, it was a little easier.  Give me a tent, a sleeping bag, and some basic gear and I was good to go.  But gone are the days of riding my mountain bike full-tilt down a single track.  I am no longer capable of jumping up after a head-first dive into the ground and thinking it was awesome.  Gone, too, are the days of throwing my gear in my car on a whim in the middle of February to either sleep in a snow-covered tent or worse, in the backseat of my car, just to see Lake Superior when it's frozen - which doesn't happen often.

There was a time when I was up for any adventure and could make it happen on a pretty small budget.  I still have the desire.  This year alone, I jumped out of an airplane, hiked among waterfalls and mountains, and explored the rugged wilderness of Michigan's Upper Peninsula, in good weather and bad.  But I am no longer up for anything. Winters in the U.P. are really, really cold.   I have reached that point in my life (and by that point, I mean that age) where adventure is still awesome, but so is heat and a comfortable bed.

Oh! The Places You'll Go!
You'll be on your way up!
You'll be seeing great sights!
                                     You'll join the high flyers
                                         who soar to high heights.

                          Except when you don't.

                          Because, sometimes, you won't.

Winter adventures have been a challenge, and often, I have said no to the wilderness because my aging bones just can't take it.  I just need a bed and heat without spending a lot of money. Apparently, a lot of people want basic comfort without big expense, and one man heard their call and set about turning the vision into a reality.  Dustin Johns, President of Travel Lite, designed and built the Rayzr, not just for the cutting edge of innovation in the RV market, but for people like me, who live for the cutting edge of adventure and do not want to be encumbered by a complicated, expensive fancy camper or reservations at a hotel.

Dustin created the Rayzr not just for adventurers, but for anyone, really.  It is a small, simple space with ingenious design to offer all the necessities without all the frills and headaches of RV ownership.    It is very affordable, which is good, because I do not foresee many used Rayzr's available anytime soon.  People will buy them, and keep them.

What is all the excitement about?  Simply put, it's the solution to so many problems.  Relatives coming to stay?  Give them their own space and a comfortable bed.  Going hunting?  Fishing? Come back to warmth and a cup of coffee.  Outdoor adventurers can now go anywhere and still have a home.  Park on the street for an Art Fair, and have a place to store all your purchases and make lunch, maybe even take a midday nap.  Christmas shopping becomes less stressful when your second home is parked in the mall parking lot. The Rayzr is a place to be, a space to call your own, in any situation.  You can cook, sleep, stay warm or cool, read, store all your stuff, and in one model, even have a bathroom.  All for a very affordable price and the ease of barely knowing it's there.

You can read all about the different models and technical stuff in an article published in Truck Camper Magazine which interviews Dustin Johns.  It's a good read and gives you all the floor plans, pricing, and details.

But for me, I can sell the idea of this camper easily. The Rayzr is affordable, versatile, simple, and comfortable.  It can be plugged into shore power, but as a self-contained unit that needs no hook-ups for several days, it can also be my comfort in a State or National Forest or cross-country trip. I can take it anywhere I can drive my truck.  Yes, you do need a truck, but in my mind, who doesn't want a truck?

I recently took my Rayzr FB on its maiden voyage, and I was not disappointed.  I easily loaded it in the back of my truck, threw in some food and clothes, and headed north.  The weather was miserable.  I chose to go to a State campground with electrical hook-up, because I have never camped in a self-contained unit and wanted a back-up plan.  At arrival, I jumped out of the truck in the pouring rain, took a few seconds to turn on the propane tank, then went inside the Rayzr.  There was nothing else to set-up.  I was good to go within 5 minutes of my arrival, except that it was raining so hard, I never left that night.  I stayed warm and dry in the Rayzr, read a good book, made a pot of coffee on the stove, and ate some soup.  I slept like a baby, and early the next morning a cold front moved in and brought a thunderstorm with it.  Lying awake in a warm bed at 5:00am while the thunder boomed and the winds gusted over Lake Michigan was pure joy.  As the temperatures plummeted, I tried to imagine what the conditions would be in a tent, and while I've been in that situation many times, I sure was glad I wasn't in it this time.

Even with the cold and the rain that lasted a few days, I did get out and do a little hiking and exploring.  I had the entire area to myself, in an empty state park.  The Rayzr was a welcome site at the end of the day, when I was chilled and wet, hungry, ready for some fresh percolated coffee.  It rained so much that I never would have been able to cook a hot meal outside, and I can assure you that, had I been tent camping, I would have gone home after the first night.  I love to be outside, and go camping, hiking, embrace outdoor adventure of many kinds.  Now there is nothing stopping me!  I can go anywhere, anytime, in any weather, spend my days doing what I love outside, and have a warm, dry space waiting for me at night in the Rayzr.

My family is planning a quick ski trip, staying at my daughter's house.  But there aren't enough beds for all of us, so my husband and I will be parking in the driveway and sleeping in the Rayzr.  In a few weeks, I am heading over the bridge to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan for a winter getaway of snowshoeing and photography.  My Rayzr will keep me safe and comfortable at the end of the day.

Oh!  The places you'll go!

Dustin Johns is my hero.  He heard what customers want, envisioned the solution, and built it.  The Rayzr is the answer for so many people, especially me.  The next time the wilderness whispers to me, beckoning me to get lost in the woods, I will go.  I won't have to worry about where I will sleep, will I be warm, or is there enough in my budget?  I can just go.  Living with Dr. Seuss' timeless wisdom, Oh!  The places I'll go!

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Shadow and Light: Patterns in Nature

I have long been fascinated with different patterns created by Mother Nature, sun, wind, water, and snow.  This post is a little different for me; no long story today!  Just a few images I have captured over the years - raw and unedited - of shadows and light.  Please enjoy them, and feel free to post any images you have of this theme in the comments section.

On a nice sunny day, a sudden storm front turned day into night. (Ludington State Park, MI)

Sunlight reflected on water (Clark Lake, MI)

Mud Wasp Nest.  Fifty Shades of Grey?

A foggy field in southern Michigan

September morn.

Some snow falls through the branches, some does not.

Polka dots!

Snow, with a few sparkles from the sun

Wind blown snow

More patterns made by the wind

Tree shadows, brought to you by the sun

The horizontal pattern made by the snow mimics the vertical pattern of the tree bark.