Saturday, May 31, 2014

The Great Nova Scotia Adventure of 2014 Begins!

Minneapolis to Kakabeka Falls Provincial Park, Thunder Bay, Ontario.  

Chalk this up to general ignorance, but I didn't know that we switch from Central Time to Eastern Time when we cross the border from Minnesota into Canada.  And it was somewhere around Grand Marais, when the cats and I had been in the car for four or five hours already, that I had this impending sense of This Is Not A Good Idea.  Mostly it had to do with driving in a foreign country and without a phone.  But the drive up was easy--it was Memorial Day, so all the traffic was heading south--and I didn't stop at any of the overlooks, nor Grand Marais, though I wanted to. I should have stopped around Duluth, to get a picture of the iceberg chunks floating in the water, the fog hovering just above.  Lake Superior was spectacular as always, ancient and patient.  In hindsight, with the loss of an hour, I'm glad I didn't.  The border crossing was easy.  Another half an hour or so and I was in Kakabeka Falls--and it's a great campground, despite the treacherous road to get to it.  "Rough Road" doesn't even cover it.  The Scamp was not happy to be so bounced around, but the next few days would prove to be even more eventful, road-wise.  More on that later.

Rough Road.

All set up at Kakabeka Provincial Park.

The Whispering Pines campground is like all the other provincial parks I've been too, with each campsite rimmed by three sides of trees. Even so, I could hear screaming children and yappy dogs on the next loop.  I didn't pack fruits and vegetables because of the border crossing, so I'm glad I packed leftovers in my fridge.  So, it was potato salad and rice pudding for dinner.  Note to self: always have food you can eat without preparation for the first night.  I also decided that I would stay two nights at Kakabeka, to get my bearings, before I attempted a long day of driving to Sault Ste. Marie, and in hindsight (again), this was a very good plan.

On Tuesday, I wanted to recreate a childhood memory from our very first family camping trip (with a rented pop-up camper), a route that took us around Lake Superior.  We went amethyst hunting--and I still have that chunk in my home.  I didn't know which one we went to, so I just chose one at random and hopped in the Jeep.  I suppose it's important to mention that I'm a very nervous driver when I don't know where I'm going. I needed to fill up the gas tank and I needed to get some cash.  What I didn't know at the time was that all the Canadian pay-at-the-pump card readers required a chip that my credit card doesn't have--and so I got very nervous that my cards weren't working.  I couldn't get cash for the same reason (though I got my card to work at an actual bank ATM).  So I went to the Amethyst Mine Panorama and it was a beautiful day.  It's about half an hour east of Thunder Bay and as I was on the road, I wondered if I shouldn't have just gone on my way past the next day, but in that glorious hindsight, I remain eternally glad I didn't.  Once I got off the 11-17, the road was gravel and straight up.  I would have lost my mind if I were towing the Scamp up that.  When I got up to the mine, without cash, I was hoping I could pay the admission fee with my cards--but wouldn't you know, their machines were down and they were having to call in each card individually.  I convinced them that I would be buying amethyst, and could I just pay all at once?  They very kindly let me do that.

Outside, the sunshine was warm and after getting a brief history of the mine and some info on amethyst (there are four colors of Ontario amethyst--and what color you get depends on the iron in the quartz--and then it occurred to me that this iron, in Ontario you get amethyst and just a little ways south in Minnesota you get iron ore), I picked up my bucket and digging tool and headed out into the tailings to see what I could find.  I'm not sure why it surprised me to see all that purple just there on the ground, but tailings are tailings, whether they are amethyst or not.  I had been warned not to pound on the rocks, because amethyst can cut like glass (something I would find out I had done to my fingers later on, even without pounding the rock), and I went to it.  I searched by shape, and then sorted by color.  I liked the pieces that had more than one color in them, and I wanted to see if I could find all four colors.  I made sure to pick up some pieces for my niece who's four, because she's currently in a rock lover phase.  I started to wonder at what age kids start to love rocks--and why they do--and do we ever really grow out of it?  Also, cheap souvenirs for the little ones in my life.

Kakabeka Falls was gorgeous in the way that waterfalls are.  I think what I like most about waterfalls is that they are a full sensory experience.  This is why photographs  and postcards of waterfalls--Niagara and otherwise--always fall short.  You need to see the drama of water and gravity--and the Kakabeka gorge is magnificent--but no photographs I attempted will do it justice.  But there's also the way tht the rainbow through the spray moves and shifts, the mist on your skin, the roar of water you wish you could bottle for the white noise you need to sleep at night.  It would be an interesting experiment to see the different auditory pitches of different waterfalls and see which ones feel right and which ones don't.

On Tuesday night, I made a fire and cooked three packets of hoboes: potatoes, carrots, onions, mushrooms, in foil in the coals--but I broke into my marshmallows before the fire was ready, because Maeve the Twerp decided to have an adventure of her own and she snuck out.  Luckily, she was underneath the camper, but there was some serious terror on my part before I found her.  Food-wise, cooking those hoboes was a good idea, because of what I'd need the next two days.

In the morning, I hooked up the camper and hit the road by about 8:00 am, headed for Sault Ste. Marie.  This did not go as planned.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Scamp Food: Practice Session

Time is getting short!  I'm leaving Minneapolis on Monday and aiming to spend two nights in Thunder Bay, Ontario to get my trip going.  Yesterday was a bit of a wash, as I had to take the Scamp to get the AC fixed, because the deluge of rain we had a few days ago turned my AC into a waterfall. I was not pleased.  So, they replaced a gasket and hopefully that solves the problem. But it does put me a bit behind the packing eight-ball.

I've been hunting thrift stores and such to get my Scamp kitchen together, because I've never been gone longer than a week.  So, tonight, with my parents as guinea pigs (mostly willing), I cooked dinner only using what I would have in the Scamp (though I did it in their kitchen.

I have this regular type of hot plate and I have my brother-in-law's sister's induction cooktop--and I love the idea of the induction in the camper--especially with my beloved cast iron.  So, tonight was an experiment of all that.

I made gnocchi with tomato sauce...

Club cast iron pot, heating to boil the gnocchi on the regular hot plate.

My Lodge skillet on Laurel's induction burner. It was like magic.

Everything I've read says how it heats up so quickly and it really does.  I think the cast iron slowed it down a bit, but not by much.

I took the pot of water off the hot plate, because it hadn't started to do anything and within a minute or two, it was already simmering, ready for the gnocchi.

I forgot to take a picture of the way it all turned out, but it went swimmingly.  I used my collapsible strainer to drain the gnocchi, like I'd have in the Scamp.  Mom, Dad, and I ate dinner outside on their deck--absolutely perfect night for it.

And then I wanted to try the 3-2-1 cake mixes I made yesterday.  I found the recipe on Pinterest and now's a perfect time to try it.  It's a box of angel food cake, one box of any cake flavor of your choosing, mix them together and then it's 3 T of mix, 2 T of water, and one minute in the microwave.  I ended up putting 1/4 c. into the baggies because it was easier than 3T and it still made 22 of them.  Tonight, we experimented, to see if a regular mug would work, if it'd need a soup kind of mug, and then I wanted to try out my brand new oatmeal/cake mug that I found the other day.

I love this little whisk.

Verdict in the regular mug:  awesome.

Soup mug worked just as well. It's a very spongy, light cake--and it's delicious.

Here's my new mug--perfect.

And the last fooding of the day was to make up the individual instant oatmeal packets--also a recipe I saw on Pinterest.  This made 30 individual packets. I put in some freeze dried fruit, so we'll see how that works.

30 packets is more than enough for my entire trip.

Too many to fit in a gallon bag!

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Trial Run: Frontenac State Park, Red Wing, MN

The Setup:

Scamping with my niece is something I've been dreaming about before she was born. Last summer, she spent a night with me in the Scamp when the entire family camped in Fargo, but it didn't go all that well. But she's four now--and I had hopes. The only possible wrinkle was that she was coming from The Plague House of Pink Eye (Patient Zero is her brother who keeps reinfecting himself--and then cheerfully giving it to everyone--his mother got it on Monday, Cora got it on Tuesday, and then got it in the other eye on Thursday)--but since my sister is a nurse, I trusted her when she said Cora wasn't contagious.

The parentals and I went on a trial run overnight to Frontenac State Park in Red Wing, MN--and all three of us decided that we will never do another big trip without another trial run first to figure out what we'd forgotten. Me, I didn't have pillows--or the piece of foam for Cora's bed, but I didn't know that until we got there.  Dad and I had been working on the closet door (it's still in process--it just has one coat of paint on it) and we put it back up for the trip.  We tried to secure the knife rack, but it didn't last very long before it fell off. So I'm still in search of a workable solution.  I did sand and paint three out of the four closet shelves and the white shelves, oh, that's brilliantly wonderful.  Makes so much difference to have them painted--they finally look finished.  I couldn't get the top shelf out without popping the PVC joints, so I'll do that this week sometime.  I'm glad that I didn't glue those joints when we built the shelves.

I put pot holders between my dishes to protect them (I broke a lot of dishes last much physics in the camper...) and that worked very well (so far).  I also cut some 2" PVC to protect my little bottles of oil and vinegar and while the container that they will go in is still negotiable, I put it in the closet (along with everything else) and the good news is that I made it there and back without any broken bottles. God bless the brilliance of PVC.
Thrift store dishes, protected by thrift store potholders. My Spud Sack (microwave potato thingy) protects it from the bottom.

2" PVC
This configuration is temporary, and I'll glue the PVC together when figure out whether I want them in a line or a square.
On the Road:

We pulled out of the parental's driveway mid-morning on Thursday and drove the hour and a half to Red Wing--I went to pick up Cora, so they were a ways ahead of us and I ended up missing the turn off Hwy 52 to 61 and took the scenic route.  No harm.  Cora was delightful as always.  We had lunch (in the parental's 5th wheel) of peanut butter sandwiches in the parking lot of the Econo Foods in Red Wing and then Cora and I took off for Frontenac State Park while Mom and Dad went to Red Wing shoes for Dad to see if he could find some shoes to fit him. (No dice.)  The sun came and went and the temperature hovered around 40-45 degrees. Not the most ideal camping weather, but what are you going to do?

As we pulled into the campground, we saw what I think was a brand new Scamp, still shiny from the factory.  Its humans were away elsewhere every time I wanted to go knock on their door and say hello.  The campground at Frontenac is lovely--and I bet it's even better when the weather is nice.  I'll definitely stay there again.  I got the Scamp set up fairly quickly, though it took longer with my magnificently curious niece asking what I was doing every time I turned around, but like I said, I've been dreaming about this for four years, so I minded not a bit.  Of course, when I got inside and started dismantling the front dinette to turn it into her bed, I realized I'd forgotten the piece of foam that goes in the middle.  I was sold on the trial run, right there.  Thankfully, she's still short enough that I could push the two dinette cushions together and it was fine.  Then I opened up her bee suitcase and realized she didn't have a pillow, thanks to her mother using this opportunity to sanitize everything she'd come into contact with in the last few days.  So, then, I started making my bed (I love my camper bed,'s just a few inches too short to be completely comfortable) and the mattress pad went on (thrift store comforter), bottom sheet, glorious flannel top sheet, electric blanket, down-alternative comforter, bedspread (whose sole purpose is to keep kitty feet off my bedding)--and then I went to put the pillowcases on the pillows and I have no pillows either. "Mom, didn't you say my pillows were in the bag with the bedding?" "Uh, no?"  So we improvised--rolling up blankets for both Cora and me to sleep on.  Then the cats got transferred from the Jeep to the Scamp.  I turned on my heater (which is so cleverly stored in the bottom compartment of the closet).

About this time, the Parental Excel had arrived and they got theirs all set up (including Daisy the Goldendoodle who had pretty much forgotten all the manners she'd learned in obedience classes the year before) and we all took naps in our respective campers.  The cats did not nap, which meant Cora had a hard time falling asleep.  Too much excitement.

After naps, Dad and I discussed whether or not we would do our hoboes (tin foil, filled with whatever) on a fire or in their oven.  By this time, it was frigid outside--but it was still not raining.  I pointed out that we'd promised Cora s'mores and not to do them would be tragic. He agreed, so we started the fire and pointed out the fine art of pyromania to her.  Mom cut vegetables inside as we did.  The fire burned down fast enough that we decided just to cook our dinner on it, so we compiled our hoboes and did just that.  They turned out so well. I love hoboes.  Our s'mores episode was also an epic success (and I'm glad Kristi sent along Cora's winter gear) and we taught her how to rotate her marshmallow to get it evenly brown. Once again, I am thankful for my brother-in-law, who brought the brilliance of using a Reese's Peanut Butter Cup instead of Hershey's to our family when Kris and Mike got married.

The evening ended fairly soon after that and we retreated to our respective campers for bedtime rituals.  Took Cora a while to get to sleep, but that wasn't a surprise.  I didn't stay up too long after she went to  bed.

Day 2

The cats had no intentions of sleeping, mostly Galway who decided he was starving about 1:00.  And so he jumped on my bed, saw that I was awake, and then jumped down. When I didn't move, he jumped up again and jumped down. I naively hoped he would stop this, but he's a persistent furball. And so about 3:00 or so, I put my shoes and coat on, went to the Jeep to get their food, and then they calmed down.  Cora woke up about 5:30 when the sun started to rise and it took her a while to get back to sleep. When we did get up, I looked at Maeve and saw that her right eye was gooey--and I'm 95% sure that Cora didn't give her pink eye to Maeve.  Mostly, I think Maeve's eye does that when she's stressed or it's allergies. So Cora got her eye drops and Maeve got her eye drops and then we went to Nana and Boppa's camper for breakfast.

We broke camp after breakfast and drove the half hour to Wabasha to the National Eagle Center. We had been planning on taking a river boat ride to see the eagles, but there's some flooding and their dock and their parking lot is underwater, so no cruises were happening.  The National Eagle Center turned out to be a suitable compromise--Cora didn't know the difference--and it would have been ridiculously cold on the river anyway.  We learned all about eagles, got to meet one of their residents, named Columbia, and I thought it was fascinating.  All the eagles at the Center are permanently disabled in some way, mostly wing injuries, and would not survive in the wild.  I learned that eagles can produce 400 pounds of pressure with their talons and out in the center, there's a doohickey where you can test your hand strength to see how you measure up.  Dad gripped the thing and his grip was 40-45 pounds of pressure--and get this, my grip strength was 50-55 pounds of pressure. I beat my dad.  Ha! Of course, that puts into very clear perspective how much more pressure an eagle can exert.

Donald the Golden Eagle
Harriet, age 33, retired

We got to meet Harriet, who is 33 years old--and they know exactly how old she is, because she was banded as an eaglet in her nest as a baby.  She was hit by a car and her wing has recovered as much as it's going to (she can't fly) and she's got a permanent rooster tail hair style, because of the way her feather follicles healed. But the best thing is that she's the eagle who's on the MN state veteran's license plate--and like all good models, she was Photoshopped.  They Photoshopped off her hairdo.


When we left the eagle center, we went to Kellogg to surprise Cora with the Lark Toy Museum and their carousel.  She rode the unicorn and was all set to do it by herself until 5 seconds before it started and then she wanted me to stand next to her and make sure she didn't fall off.  Nana rode the dragon next to her.  We walked through the museum, through the toy store itself, and then we decided an ice cream snack would be just the thing.  Cora got rainbow sherbet and Mom and I got the best-named ice cream:

We strapped back into our rigs and headed back to Minneapolis.  Cora napped for about an hour. I wish she could have slept through Friday afternoon rush hour traffic, but no luck there.  When we pulled up to her house, she had so much to tell her parents (her brother, at fifteen months was not as interested as she might have liked)--but over dinner, her tired self caught up with her, the adrenaline drained, and she went up to bed by 6:30.

When I finally got back to the Parental Abode, parked the Scamp in their driveway, unloaded the cats and essentials, I think I was as tired as Cora--and didn't stay up very late either.

So, the moral(s) of the story is this:  the trial run was awesome.  I will always do one from here on out.  Second, my niece is amazing and I can't wait to go camping with her again.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

The Closet Update

Dad and I attempted the first of the work we're going to do on the Scamp (hopefully before the parentals and I take my niece for an over night later this week)--and cutting this hole in the closet is the only close work we have to do in the Scamp. Everything else we'll do in the shop.

The reality is that this is one of the ways that my dad and I work well together.  I have the vision and he cares about things like sixteenths of an inch.  Also, he doesn't trust me with his saws.  So, I roughed out where it would go, he measured it right and then took the Skil saw to it. 

What you see here is the shelving we built several years ago, with PVC supports on the sides and shelves that sit on the T joints.  When I built that, I built a shelf to sit on the wheel well and I cut a half circle in the shelf that sits above it so I could access it.  But I never used it because I didn't really have a use for it--and it was hard to get to.  So, since we're making new doors, I wanted to cut a larger hole in the closet so I could use that space.

It wasn't as simple as just cutting down the closet opening.  There's a thick ridge of fiberglass right below the existing bottom edge, for horizontal support.  So that's why there are two holes, rather than one big closet door opening.

Before (with the bottom shelf slightly raised)


The first cut


Done!  (With a view to the bottom of the PVC shelving system.)

Hooray, my big(ger) appliances fit perfectly!

I just put the crock pot, electric kettle, and the heater in there to see if they'd fit and they fit perfectly--and there's still quite a bit of space in front of them.  I'll take all that out tomorrow as I work on other things, but I'm so pleased all the big stuff fits in that cupboard!

A note:  when I was taking everything out of the Scamp, so it didn't get covered in fiberglass dust, I noticed that the bed cushions were wet.  Yup, I've still got a leak in one of my windows.  Not sure which one because I wasn't here when Minneapolis had that week of solid rain that turned my parents' backyard into a waterfall.  But I'm so annoyed.  I hope I can find the leak and fix it before I get on the road.  I"m so tired of these windows leaking.  It might be that next year, my savings account goes to getting new windows.  It's a 2002, so maybe the seals are just fatigued.  But for now, I'm annoyed.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

On the Jeep's Pedicure, Bravery, Stupidity, and Gendering Travel

It's a rainy Thursday in Fargo and I'm getting the maintenance done on the Jeep, stuff I knew was coming, but that doesn't make it hurt any less.  There's a table in this Tires Plus, thank goodness, so I can spread out my maps and try to figure out how far I can--and should--drive in a day to get where I'm going.  So far, the only thing I know is that I'm going to Thunder Bay on the first day and beyond that, I don't know. I'm thinking Sault Ste. Marie on the second day, but it gets less clear after that.

They're very nice here, though the men clearly think I'm nuts.  The first guy said I was nuts for teaching English and liking tea (and hating coffee)--and then as I spread out my maps and set up my iPad to connect to AAA, he wanted to know what I was doing, so I told him.  I'm nuts for camping alone too.  But he grinned at me and said, "Any other dumb questions I can ask you? You seem like an interesting person."

The world of people I encounter seems to be firmly divided into two camps (no pun intended):  the camp that is in the Admiration/Bravery and the You're Nuts faction.  I don't know what to do with either of them. It's going to be something that won't ever go away, but I never know how to respond. I've never felt brave and I know I'm not nuts.  But the world is not wired to understand the solo person, let alone the solo woman.

I know that the Jeep is about to hit the 100,000 milestone and that's a painful one.  And I know I need to do all that preventative maintenance before I leave.  Today, I'm getting the tires rotated, balanced, and aligned--and I know that the rear brakes need to be replaced. Whether it's just pads or pads and rotors, I didn't know.  Apparently, it's worse than I thought and my rear brakes wouldn't get me to Thunder Bay. Yikes. One of my recurring nightmares is the brakes in the car failing, so that would be good to fix.  And the front brakes are rusted (thank you, salt on the roads) and should be replaced before too long, so might as well just get them done together.

Dad and I can do the spark plugs and replace the dead headlight when I get to the Cities.

 But I also have some painful fluid flushes and leaks to fix when I get to the Cities.  It's 100,000 miles. And then there's a leak in the transmission line (I have to look at my notes to remember where) and one in the front differential and my heater fan only works on the 4 setting.

I always feel like I need to be on my guard when I'm getting stuff fixed on my car, because I always feel like I'm treated like a girl. And I don't know enough about terms and such to know if I'm being taken advantage of--or talked down to. But at least I could tell the guy--who's very nice--that I knew about various things and would take care of them myself (ahem, or have Dad show me how to do them myself).

I don't know if it's the end of the school year and I've reached some sort of emotional threshold, but I seem to have reached it.  I'm sick and tired of it being okay to tell me that you hate my profession five seconds after meeting me. My friend the math professor says it happens all the time to him too.  We don't say, hey, what a coincidence, I hate mechanics! Of course we don't say that.  I've reached my threshold of people telling me how brave I am. I'm tired of people telling me I'm crazy. I know these words have become euphemisms and the people who say them to me are perfectly nice human beings. But I'm not brave. This is my life. And I'm not crazy.  This is my life.  

How have we come to be arbiters of sanity? What hallmarks of society make that possible?  I already know I operate outside societal norms that make people look at me weird--I'm thirty five, solo (not single, there's a difference), and I have never wanted kids.  If we're using that measure, I think that people who have kids are nuts.  We might tell a woman who starts a business how brave she is taking that risk, but we wouldn't necessarily say so to a man. I also know that my sensitivity here is wrapped up in my education, the things I cannot now unsee. 

I can't escape the feeling that the whole bravery and stupidity thing is wrapped up in gender.  I doubt that many of the men who travel or camp solo have ever heard that they are brave or stupid for doing such a thing.  I got the same sentiment when I started traveling alone to Ireland. And I wish it didn't bother me, but it does.  I think I'll spend some good time on this trip exploring the roots of the bravery and stupidity ideas--and why it bothers me so much--and maybe I'll come to some kind of conclusion.

We'll see.  

Solo camper friends, how have you encountered the bravery and stupidity?