On Your Mark, Get Set…

Our winter weather was pretty wimpy from November until mid January, but things have really changed to what we normally see this time of year.

winter 1-26-19

Now that’s more like January in Michigan!

My original plan for my camping trip to southern Arizona called for leaving and heading south on Monday, 1/28, but that changed in a hurry when I saw Monday’s weather report this morning:  4 – 8 inches of snow with frigid temperatures. Those don’t sound like fun driving conditions so I plan to leave Sunday afternoon, before Monday’s snow and after giving them time to clean up the highway after Saturday night’s forecast of 4 inches or so! It’s not an ideal “window”, but I’ll take what I can get at this point. My planned route will take me south of here in a hurry to Indianapolis and into the western corner of Kentucky. Hopefully, that will let me outrun snowfall but cold temperatures look poised to affect all areas even into Arkansas. Given a choice, I’ll take the cold before snowfall any day I need to travel.

Thankfully, I’ve gathered my supplies and equipment, packed containers and a small suitcase so I can load up the truck quickly and head out of Dodge. Unfortunately, as I write this our Internet is down…perfect timing. I hope I can get this posted prior to heading out tomorrow. If not, I’ll post occasional entries as time and the availability of wi-fi connections permit.

Preparations Almost Complete

What do you need to eat, sleep and live somewhat comfortably while traveling for a month or so? Thanks to a few camping trips over the past couple years, I think I have a pretty good idea. The packing list I created contains over 190 items and with that I should have most if not all I need to have an enjoyable and safe time next month.

I have been amazed at the huge amount of information available on YouTube.com. Videos ranging from suggested camping supplies to reviews of specific campgrounds have been extremely helpful. Its really nice to actually see and get a feel for the types of terrain we’ll run into.

Unfortunately, this lousy government partial shutdown is beginning to affect our national parks. Reports of trashed restrooms and waste containers overflowing are a sad commentary on the childish behavior of many visitors—visitors who get into the parks free right now! Thankfully, my plans do not include national parks on this trip. So far, most of the places I’ll be visiting have not been affected. Who knows though…perhaps the childish behavior in D.C. will come to an end in a few more weeks.

Anyway, I’ll just keep packing and organizing, knowing that I’ll be heading west in a few short weeks. Shutdown or not, I cannot wait!

 

A Major Camping Trip Coming Up

Since I retired from my full-time job seven years ago I’ve worked a couple part-time jobs here and there. Now finally, my last part-time job is winding down. I look forward to being footloose and fancy-free…and why not at the ripe old age of 71?!!? With the time I’ll have on my hands and since my wife—9-1/2 years younger— is still working full-time I’ve decided to use this opportunity to take a long camping trip to the Sonoran desert in southern Arizona.

My wife has absolutely no interest in camping, especially in a tent, nor does she have any inkling that traveling over 2,000 miles by pick-up truck only to wind up sleeping in a desert with rattlesnakes, tarantulas, cactus galore and scorpions would be a good time! So, my dear friend and four-legged buddy, Abby, and I will be making the trip by ourselves…and we can’t wait. Near the end of January, I’ll be closely monitoring the weather reports from southwest Michigan, down to Arkansas, and then westward along I-40 and the old Route 66 to Arizona. As soon as it seems we’ll have a calm enough stretch of weather for traveling, off we’ll go.

I’ve been studying the area, reading the reviews of dozens of camping spots, and watching YouTube videos to decide where we should be setting up our camps. January through March is prime time for northern U.S. and Canadian snowbirds to visit that area, so I believe we’ll be with lots of company, even when camping in Bureau of Land Management free camping areas in the desert.

I’ve been stocking up the supplies and equipment I feel we’ll need, including an 800-watt power inverter to attach to my truck battery so we can power a few lights in our tent, phone and iPad chargers, rope lights and other low-power-using gadgets to make our camps more comfortable. Yes, I have a “jump-box” to help start my truck, just in case we drain the battery too far, although I don’t see that happening. Thankfully, my coffee pot and Coleman two-burner stove are powered by propane. Also, my First Aid Kit has been beefed up with a tourniquet, quick-clot gauze, and other “serious wound” items just in case I get stupid somewhere along the way.

So hey, if you’d like to “travel along” with Abby and me, be sure to “follow” our site so you’ll receive an email notification whenever we publish a new post. The follow button is at the top of the left-side column on this page.

Another Visit to Ocqueoc Falls

Last weekend I met my son and family for a weekend of camping ten miles west of Rogers City, Michigan, at Ocqueoc Falls State Forest Campground. My daughter-in-law arrived an hour ahead of me and reserved two campsites, directly across the road from each other.

Ocqueoc 8-18

It did rain Friday night into Saturday morning, then a bit later Saturday afternoon, but we had plenty of shelter so that didn’t slow us down at all.

The grandkids couldn’t wait to get into the water at the falls, but Abby wasn’t so sure she liked the water temperature; I can’t say I blame her!

PA Tregurtha-Calcite

No trip to Ocqueoc would be complete for a couple “boat nerds” like my son and I without visiting the limestone quarry at Calcite, just south of Rogers City on Lake Huron. We arrived just in time to see the Lee A. Tregurtha pulling in to pick up a load of limestone. She joined the H. Lee White which had just completed loading.

Tregurtha at Calcite

On the way back to camp, we stopped at Plath’s Meats in Rogers City to pick up a little jerky and a few beef sticks. Excellent! Plath’s has been making fantastic meats for over 100 years. As they say, “Bacon makes everything better!” Here…watch for yourself: Under the Radar at Plath’s Meats

We had a great time together, made even better with Melanie’s delicious cooking for everyone! I headed for home around 1:00 Sunday afternoon, leaving the kids to enjoy the waterfalls one final time before traveling home themselves.

 

A Few Days at the Soo

I recently spent the better part of four days camping in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan. I wanted to watch the lake freighters up close and personal. It was fantastic! I saw 17 ships negotiating the twists and turns of the St. Marys River before or after going through the locks. The locks make it possible for the ships to move between Lakes Huron and Superior, lifting or lowering them the 21 feet of differing lake levels.

A few facts about the locks, courtesy of SaultSteMarie.com:

  • 90% of the world’s iron ore moves through the Soo Locks
  • Duluth, Minnesota to the Atlantic Ocean (via St Lawrence Seaway) is 2342 miles or 7 days
  • Soo Locks have no pumps they are 100% gravity fed
  • Poe Lock requires 22 million gallons of water to lift or lower a boat
  • The Soo Locks close from January 15-March 25 each year for repairs
  • It would take 584 train cars to move 70,000 tons of cargo or just one 1000 foot freighter
  • The Paul R. Tregurtha is the largest freighter on the Great Lakes at 1013.5 feet
Hon James L Oberstar

The Hon James L Oberstar slowly glides under the railway bridge and the International Bridge to Canada and into the locks before heading south to Lake Huron.

Yurt at The Soo 2018

Our camp/tent/shelter/yurt—call it what you will—at The Soo Locks Campground was just 100 yards off the river and a few short blocks from downtown.

We were in the right place/right time to catch the CSL Welland sounding the standard “greeting and salute” to another freighter she was about to meet on the river:

 

Wednesday morning dawned beautifully…with a gorgeous pink, cotton candy sky over our Canadian neighbors to the east. Wow! Makes it well worth getting out of bed at the crack of dawn!

Sunrise

Camping in town, close to restaurants and lots of fast food places, I found it hard to take the time and trouble to start a fire and do my own cooking. I did, however, have the urge for a plate of fresh tomato and avocado, accompanied by a few pretzels and Schuler’s Cheese Spread. Yum! Of course, my next meal was an olive burger and french fries prepared by Clyde’s Drive-In.  🙂

Good Lunch

I was a bit surprised to see the number of U.S. Border Patrol vehicles here and there along the river. Evidently, they were watching for unauthorized border crossings between the states and Canada. The Coast Guard Cutter Escanaba was even passing through from her home base in Boston. Beautiful, isn’t she?

USCGC Escanaba

Our last morning in camp, fog rolled in soupy thick on the river.  You could barely make out the Sugar Island ferry midway between the island and mainland. About 45 minutes later, the fog was starting to clear and we were fortunate to catch the American Integrity upbound, along with the blast of her foghorn.

Fog

Some folks say, you see one of those freighters, you’ve seen ’em all. Well, to each their own; I don’t happen to agree with that myself. Whether you’re watching a thousand-foot self-unloading bulk carrier, a chemical tanker, a tug/barge combination, one with a more modern single aft superstructure, or the older style with the bridge and superstructure on the bow, each one is unique and interesting…at least they are to me. I do seem to favor the older, bridge/superstructure forward style, like the Roger Blough, shown in the two photos below. Originally launched in 1972, she’s a majestic ship, isn’t she? That distinctive paint style on the bow really sets off all ships of the Great Lakes Fleet, Inc.

Roger Blough

Roger Blough aft

I’m not sure at this point where my next travels will take me; time will tell. Duluth, Minnesota sounds interesting. We’ll see. I may not have enough time to make that long trip this year due to work responsibilities. Wherever I go, there’s a very good chance lake freighters will influence that decision!

A Few Days on the Water Highway

I just spent the better part of four days camping near the Saint Clair River, running between Algonac and Port Huron, Michigan. Dozens of Great Lakes freighters make their way along this byway, either heading upbound to Sault Ste. Marie and into Lake Superior on their way to Duluth or Two Harbors to pick up a load of coal, iron ore, various grains, or other valuable cargo, or downbound to deliver the equivalent of 3,000 semi truckloads of cargo to waiting processors.

I was thrilled to be able to see the MV Paul R. Tregurtha, the current “Queen of the Lakes” at 1013-feet in length.

Paul R. Tregurtha

Over the three days I camped at Algonac State Park, I was able to see 25 other freighters moving along the river. There is quite a variety of sizes, styles and destinations among these ships. My favorite iPhone app, MarineTraffic, made it very easy for me to know when a certain ship would be motoring by.

 

Actually, I enjoyed the ship-watching and camping so much I’ve decided to head north to Sault Ste Marie next week. The Aune-Osborn Campground is just east of town, on the banks of the St. Marys River and not far from the Soo Locks. Without a doubt more ships will be coming by during my short stay.

Camping on a Freighter Highway

Last week I spent five days on the east side of Michigan, camped next to the St. Clair River, just north of Algonac. Algonac State Park provided my campsite, just a couple hundred yards from the waterway that runs from Port Huron to Algonac, separating the United States from Canada. Here’s our meager camp; I’d guess the campground was just 1/4 full or so.

Campsite 192

It was pretty cool to see and hear those huge ships from our campsite. We made a number of trips up and down the river, trying to see as many ships as possible. Here are just a few of the ones we watched churning by:

Cason J. Calloway

The 787-foot Cason J. Calloway

Edgar B. Speer

Edgar B. Speer—1,004 feet in length!

AlgoCanada

AlgoCanada

Up in Port Huron, we also saw these coming in:

John J. Boland

The John J. Boland entering the river from Lake Huron under the Blue Water Bridge.

AlgoSteel

AlgoSteel

My youngest son has gotten me very interested in Great Lakes shipping. The premiere web site for all things freighters on the Great Lakes and up the St. Lawrence Seaway is BoatNerd.com. Look what I found on one of our trips to Port Huron:

BoatNerd.com

I went in to look around and came out with their 2017 booklet, Know Your Ships, containing tons of information about shipping and ships in our area. I also grabbed a deli sandwich which was very tasty!

Next summer I hope to get up to Sault Ste. Marie to see the locks in action, raising and lowering these huge vessels on their journeys. This may have been my last outing for this year. At 6:30 Friday morning it was 48 degrees! We’ll see—maybe one more heat wave will come our way yet this year.

 

Finally, Some Time in the Woods

It has taken much longer than expected, but I finally spent nearly a week camping in the north woods between Rogers City and Onaway. Better late than never certainly applies here, as I had a terrific time, re-learned quite a bit I’d forgotten since I last camped forty years ago, and got a special, unexpected visit.

I arrived at Ocqueoc Falls State Forest Campground Tuesday afternoon, August 1st. With only three campsites available out of the total of 14 there, I picked the best one remaining and began setting up camp. The tent was easy as could be, but I found setting up a kitchen canopy using two 8×10 tarps, 4 poles, and 10 guy lines with stakes was a difficult proposition for one person to handle alone. Still, a bit of Yankee ingenuity helped to get the job done and soon the camp was looking good and very comfortable.

 

Our campsite backed up to the river, just 20 or so yards away. I could hear the rushing water and it provided a soothing effect for this suburbanite. My camping buddy, Abby, enjoyed playing with chipmunks, barking at other dogs, and swimming in the river with a playful otter.

 

Michigan State Forest Campgrounds do not provide electrical hookups, and I found that my Limefuel External Battery Pack Charger could not keep up with both my iPhone and iPad’s charging needs over the six days of camping. Perhaps the lesson here is that one should not want to “be connected” while getting away from it all, eh? The downside was not being able to take as many photos as I would have liked with my phone.

On Wednesday, I drove the 12 miles into Rogers City to visit the Calcite limestone quarry, the largest in the world, just south of town. While there, I was fortunate to watch as a great lakes freighter, the H. Lee White, pulled into port for a load of limestone. At nearly 700 feet in length, it was amazing to see the huge ship up close and personal. Here’s a shot of part of the quarry…Michigan’s own Grand Canyon.

Calcite QuarryWe experienced four short-lived rain/thunder storms during our stay. Thankfully, the canopy did its job, providing a comfortable shelter from the elements. I had set up a small kitchen area under the canopy, with a table, Coleman stove, coffee pot, and utensils. With a couple folding chairs, it made sure a rain storm did not keep us from enjoying the day.

The menu during our stay included hobo pie pizza, brats, scrambled eggs, smoked sausages, a burger, and much, much better fare thanks to our visitors for the weekend.

Scrambled eggs on the Coleman

However, the campers next to me outdid everyone one evening…a lobster dinner!

Lobster dinner

Friday afternoon, I had the pleasure of welcoming my daughter-in-law and two grandkids to the campground! Coincidentally, they had planned a weekend of camping at Ocqueoc, so it worked out perfectly. They were able to set up just two sites away from mine, making back and forth visits very easy.

Since I welcomed Melanie’s delicious camp meals, I spent most of my time at their site, eating, visiting, and enjoying their campfire. My son arrived Friday evening after his work day. Here, he and Abby were looking for that otter for more play in the river.

Greg at the river

On Saturday, Rogers City was having their annual Maritime Festival, so we went in to see what they had to offer. At the Calcite quarry just outside of town, they had some of their HUGE equipment on display. The 53.5/85-57 tires on that loader cost $79,000 each when new!

 

Back at the campground that evening, it was time for dinner and some roasted marshmallows…no, I’m not dozing off, but it does look like it!

Round the campfire

Sunday morning, the grandkids took advantage of one last opportunity to enjoy the rushing water at the falls. I think they would have stayed there all day long if possible!

Kids at the Falls

We broke camp, packed up, and headed to our respective homes by 1:30. It was a wonderful time together; I know we all enjoyed our camping and the memories we made.

Back home, Abby and I did a lot of this to recover from our super time in the woods!!!   :-))

Abby sleeping

A Slight Change in Early Camping Plans

Good friends recently found out, to their disappointment, that their son would need to attend summer school for one middle-school class. Since they both work, they wondered if I could pick him up at 11:00 a.m. each morning and give him a lift home for three weeks in June (they both work full-time). Of course, I said “sure”—I can relate since I spent a few weeks re-enjoying Chemistry class one summer during my high school days! 🙂

However, my plans to begin camping 5 hours away from home during a couple of those weeks would need to be put on hold, obviously. Instead, I’ve been looking for a campground much closer to home so I could still camp and pick him up from school. I went to investigate Bertha Brock Park near Ionia today. I think it will be a great substitute for one or two outings.

FullSizeRender2

It’s just 40 miles from home, so in a couple hours I’d have my “UBER” duties completed daily. It’s a small county park, just 20 rustic sites, each with a fire ring and picnic table. Just the kind of camp I’m looking for.

The sites are large and have plenty of wooded area between them. Just how I like things. I found some sites not suitable for a tent, not level at all, but I’ll still have at least ten of the sites to choose from.

Now that the weather is warming up, I hope to be out in the woods in a couple weeks!

Homemade Jerky

I love jerky, but I certainly don’t love paying exorbitant prices for it! You can pay $20 per pound and more for packaged, store-bought jerky. Unbelievable!

I’ve made jerky before, but it has been quite some time. Since I was craving the stuff, I decided to dive in and make a batch using my Excalibur dehydrator. I went to my old standby—AllRecipes.com—and soon found a jerky recipe that sounded great: Sweet, Hot, and Spicy!  

I ran to the grocery store to pick up a few items I don’t usually have on hand, like pineapple juice, Liquid Smoke, and Terriyaki Sauce, along with a nice, lean 1-1/2 pound top round sirloin steak. Returning home, I tossed the beef into the freezer and began mixing up the marinade according to instructions…it smelled wonderful.

I gave the beef two hours in the freezer to firm up and make slicing much easier—an appreciated tip from an All Recipes reviewer. I cut the meat against the grain into 3/16″ slices and tossed it into a gallon-size ziplock bag, followed by the marinade. I mixed it all together well and placed the bag into the refrigerator to do it’s magic overnight.

By mid-morning the next day the meat had been marinading 18 hours, which I thought would give it plenty of time to soak the flavor into the beef. Using a colander, I drained the liquid off the meat, then spread the cut strips out on paper towels to remove as much liquid as possible.

The pound and one-half of steak strips were placed on three dehydrator trays, being careful to leave space between the pieces, as shown below, for better drying. Thankfully, I placed the dehydrator in the basement during the drying process, since the wonderful aroma of the marinade filled the basement, rather than the kitchen and living room!

After 5-1/2 hours at about 160 degrees, I felt the beef was dried properly, so I turned off the dehydrator and removed the trays of jerky to cool. After a few minutes, a taste test was performed and the jerky passed with flying colors (see photo, below).

After further review—it’s important to eat enough to make a fair judgement 😉 —I’d say next time I’ll reduce the “sweet” ingredients a bit, while increasing the hot and spicy flavors some. Also, I must be honest in reporting I could have taken the jerky out of the dehydrator a half-hour sooner. It’s still very good, but just a bit too dry in my opinion.

I vacuum-sealed about one-third of the batch, placed another third in a zip-lock bag and that in a Mason jar with cover seal, then put the balance in the freezer to see how that comes out in a month or so. All in all, I’m quite pleased with the results and will now have jerky to enjoy for a few weeks or so.