Sunday, July 10, 2016

Last Post of the St. Louis Road Trip of 2016

6:20 PM, July 10th, 2016, Buescher State Park

Today has been one of the best days of this 18-day adventure. I woke up to a coolish morning at 6:30. For only the second day of the trip, I had a full day at my campsite to enjoy without the nagging thought of getting back on the road biting at my brain. I savored every bit of it, and intend to do so for the remaining of the evening.

I enjoyed a breakfast of bacon jerky and a cup of coffee before getting dressed for hiking  and cleaning up the Colby T a bit. Just as I was about to leave for my morning hike at around 7:30, I realized that my phone was down to 23% of battery power. I knew I would want to take pictures and be able to make a call, if I broke a leg on a trail, so I plugged it in and waited to close to 8:30 before getting on my way.

I hiked by road to the trailhead of the trail that heads off in the direction of Bastrop SP. I knew from talking with the ranger yesterday, that only eight tenths of a mile were open due to some damage they had from flooding a while back. That was not a problem, because I only made it about half a mile before turning back. There were huge flies swarming all around me, and, every once in a while, one landed and had a taste of me. One actually drew blood! Waving my hat around as I hiked was tiring, and my lack of attention caused me to trip a few times. It just wasn't pleasant enough to continue.

When I got back to the road, the flies gave up on me and flew back into the forest. I was grateful. I took another trail directly across the road that wound through the walk-in campsites. There was nobody camping I that area at all. 

That led me to a short cut-through to one of the camping loops. This one was mostly for tents, I believe. I didn't see any RVs. There were about three sites being used, but it was quiet as if nobody was there.

I followed the road around the park stopping to see and take pictures along the way. I wanted to see one of the RV camping loops to see if it had been remodeled since my last visit. It had. The sites were all very new looking. There were some cabins on the lake side of the loop, and I investigated one that seemed unoccupied. It was actually on stilts over the lake, with a large deck just hanging out over the water. The breeze coming off of the lake was wonderful, and I imagined myself staying there, sitting on that deck, and just enjoying the feeling of being there.

Next, I came to the place that has a boat ramp and canoe rentals. I considered renting a canoe and going out on the lake, but I have never canoed by myself, and my college canoeing class was in 1977. I'm sure that I have forgotten everything about canoeing over the last 39 years. It just didn't seem prudent to try it now, so close to making it home in one piece.

I walked on and stopped at the park headquarters. Even though it was cooler this morning, I was totally soaked with sweat. I only carried one bottle of water, and this turned out to be a two-bottle hike. I was hoping to fill my bottle with water from the water fountain, but I couldn't take the taste. Instead, I went in and bought an ice cold bottle of water, using the money I carry in a tiny plastic bag that I keep in the tiny pocket on the front of my hiking hat. I keep it in the plastic bag because nobody wants to touch icky wet sweat-laden money.

While at the headquarters, I spent some time asking my usual obnoxious questions. I'm sure that every park has my picture posted in the back office with a warning that says, "Do not engage this old fat man in conversation. He will stay here and ask you rapid fire questions for at least thirty minutes". Regardless, the rangers are all some of the nicest people I have ever come across, and they always tolerate me and answer my questions.

I learned that they began overhauling the park last July (2015) and actually finished the project in March of this year. They poured new pads for all of the campsites and resurfaced all of the roads. They did a damned good job, too. When Jared and I camped here about three years ago, the Cozy Circle Camp Ground was pretty bleak. Our site was so not level that we had to use the BAL leveler and raise the port-side tire almost 10 inches off the ground. Now, the slabs are much wider, longer, and definitely level.

I drank the cold bottle of water as soon as I walked out the door of headquarters. I knew that I was about 3/4ths of the way back to camp, and the half bottle I still had with me would suffice.

I stopped next at the group picnic and fishing area. Just as I entered the circle, I spotted a beautiful fawn. It was tiny and wobbly, so I know it wasn't very old. There was no sign of its mother. I turned and walked the other way around the circle so I wouldn't frighten it. It eventually disappeared into the brush.

I took advantage of the picnic area to sit and rest for a bit. I also took off my shirt and wrung out about a gallon of sweat from it. It was as if I had just pulled it out of the lake. Satisfied that I was rested up and headed on.

I didn't have much farther to go. I stopped at the other cabins to see them. They were a bit more rustic- more like screened shelters. I also walked over to the recreation hall to take a picture. I love seeing all of the old CCC buildings in the state parks. I need to ask why they are always built out of copper colored rocks. 

I got back to the Colby T, and was happy to find that it was still only 73* inside. It had gone down to the mid-sixties during the night, but you can never take it for granted that it will stay cool during a hot Texas summer day. I go a nice cold drink (Have I mentioned how much I love that ice maker?), stripped out of my wet clothes, and relaxed until I felt dry.

The rest of the day was spent hanging around the Colby T. I sat under the awning for a long while enjoying a warm breeze that kept blowing most of the afternoon. Then, when it started getting hotter, I came in and alternated between napping and reading. It was wonderfully relaxing. Time to spare for the first time in about 6 days. 

The Colby T never got warmer than 85* today, which sounds horrible I know. In actuality it is quite pleasant with the box fan blowing directly on me in such a small space. I went through about 8 bottles of water between making ice and drinking iced water and water with flavoring in it. I carried two cases of water to St. Louis and replaced what I used before the return trip. Water is the most important supply. Food, I can do without. Not water in July.

I should mention that, when I got back to the Cozy Circle, everyone else had left. There were five other sites being used last night- not counting the park host. Now it is just me and the host. This late on a Sunday evening, I am not expecting to be joined by any other campers. I may be wrong. We'll see.

Oh, there is one other thing I forgot to mention. Several of my FaceBook friends have been yapping about a Pokeman virtual reality game played on the iPhone. It sounded terribly silly to me, but when I saw that N1S was playing in Denton with his girlfriend last night, I decided to download it and give it a try. I spent about a half hour walking around the Cozy Circle "catching" Pokemons. It really isn't for me, but I can definitely see the appeal. It reminds me of geocaching in a way, and that is something that I do like. In fact, I might look to see if there are any near my camper and make a sunset run to get one or two.

One other thing I meant to mention yesterday. On my way out of Fairfield Lake SP, I talked to about five rangers who were at headquarters about the snake I saw. They do not think it was a copperhead because of the black coloration. I looked at hundreds of images on the Internet, and I have to agree. I think it was a water snake. It most closely matches one of the pictures I saw that was labeled a Northern Water Snake. Makes no difference, I steer clear of all snakes in the wild. I'm not afraid of them. I just smart enough to give them a wide berth.

I can't believe how emotional I am becoming on this last night of my adventure. It has been a fantastic eighteen day journey. Par of me doesn't want it to end. The other part can't wait to get home to Rachel. I am so fortunate to be married to such a wonderful woman. She supports my love of camping and puts up with my running off all the time to do it. Of course, she claims she likes the time at home by herself, but I still feel guilty being absent so much. We knew when we married that she would not be going camping with me. We also did not know that I would be hit with a camping bug five years ago that would lead to this obsessive need to tow the Colby T off all the time.

I'm going to let myself wake up naturally again tomorrow. Hopefully, it will be sometime around 9:00, although that doesn't seem to be the norm in the Colby T. I won't have breakfast because I have to have blood drawn tomorrow when I get home. It will take longer than usual to get on the road because I have to pack the things that I have been able to leave in the trailer during the trip. Also, things like the ice maker and Keuring coffee maker need to be cleaned, dried, and properly stowed. In addition, I need to give the sink and toilet a good scrub, vacuum and mop the floors, and make sure that everything that stays in the camper is in its official place. I have been pretty lax during the trip. Not out of laziness, but more out of necessity for quick and easy travel.

I won't post about tomorrow. If anything out of the ordinary happens on the way home, I will mention it on FaceBook. I hope that those of you who have been reading about my trip have enjoyed it. I write the posts mainly for myself. It is sort of a journaling thing. However, I appreciate those of you who take the time to put up with my silly stories, and especially those of you who make comments and egg me on.

Until my next trip... Happy Trails!

Saturday, July 09, 2016

Day 5 of the return leg of the St. Louis Road trip

7:18 PM, July 9th, 2016, Buescher State Park

This has been a very different kind of day. It started out normally. I got up at 7:00, drank coffee at the picnic table, packed everything up and went to the dumping station at about 8:15. By 8:45, I was on the road.

I got gas in Fairfield. I had just enough to get to Beuscher, but I don't like to get below half a tank when traveling. Sometimes, the wind or other conditions change the amount of fuel I burn when towing. It's always safer to get gas when I can.

Yesterday, my friend Janet asked me where Fairfield Lake Sp was. I had to honestly answer that I didn't know. I went through Tyler and headed south, but I changed roads so many times, I really had no idea where I ended up. I am so GPS spoiled that I just wait to be told to turn.

Today was similar, except that I knew my ending point. I switched from road to road, blindly following Siri and hoping it was right. Once, about 20 miles from Smithville, it directed me onto a crappy little road that looked more like a private ranch road. It was only gonna be .5 of a mile, so I went with it. Sure enough, it took me to another highway. Siri knows some serious short cuts!

When I stepped out of the truck to register, I was shocked at the wave of heat that hit me. It was 95* in Smithville, but Weatherbug said it felt like 108*. I felt like I was cooking, so it was probably closer to 350*.

I got checked in, bought a medallion for my walking stick, and headed over to my site. I chose number 10 because the ranger said it had better shade than the others. She must have meant late evening or early morning. Only one side of the trailer had shade. I used the awning to shade the other.

I had to back in to this site. I'm not sure when it happened, but I have actually learned how to do it with no issues. I think the biggest part of it is that I am more comfortable. I take my time and don't feel worried about an audience.

I went into the trailer and turned on the AC and set up the icemaker. I was naively pleased that the temperature inside was only 85. I decided to go for my barbecued mutton in Bastrop. When I returned, I was sure the Colby T would be nice and cool in the 79-81* range- good for a hot Texas summer day.

I called Billy's Pit barbecue to make sure they had mutton. I had gone there once before right after they sold out. I like there other food, but if they didn't have mutton, I was going to wait and try tomorrow. Unfortunately, they were out and wouldn't be getting any in until Wednesday. 

I decided to got to WalMart and get my wine and pork rinds. But when I saw the Buccee's sign, I changed my mind. I was going to go there last, but decided to just do everything there: gas, wine, pork rinds, and something to eat. 

Buccee's was SUPER crowded. I ordered their new cod sandwich and some chile cheese fries. I have been so good on this trip, but mutton disappointment turned me BAD! I even had bacon and cheese added to the already glutinous sandwich. They didn't have my box of wine, so I decided to buy some Coke to mix with my whiskey. I had bought several bottles on sale at Dierburg's in St. Louis at amazing prices. I like to keep a little something in the camper. I usually drink bourbon, whiskey, or scotch strait up when I camp in the winter. Other times, it is Merlot.

When I got to the soda aisle, I had three choices. I could by individual bottles of Mexican Coke, a 3 liter bottle of Coke, or a twelve pack. I chose the twelve pack. I figured I could keep the unused ones in the camper for later, although I'm thinking now that they might explode when the Colby T is parked at Packrats. I got up to the counter to pay and changed my mind. I couldn't see drinking all that sugar. I ran back and switched the Coke out for Coke Zero. Rachel drinks it all the time. She likes it. I figured it would be good enough for mixing with whiskey.

I gathered up my other items, paid for it all, and headed back to Buescher State Park, which I notice I keep alternating the spelling on. It is Buescher not Beuscher. Whatever!

When I first got into the Colby T, I thought it was cool enough. After all, it was certainly cooler than outside. But, instead of cooling down while I was gone, it had gone up to 87* inside. 

I put my boxed fan on my little ice chest so it would hit me more directly. Then I got my rarely used little fan out and set in on the counter, also blowing right on me. I sat there comfortable enough to scarf down all that delicious food. It was heavenly. Those days when you actually allow yourself to eat such wonderful delights guilt free are so rare for me. Not the eating. I'm talking about the guilt.

Keep in mind that I have done nothing to set up the inside of the camper, yet. I simply got my table up, got some ice cold water, and ate my lunch. Stuff was everywhere. But, after stuffing myself with all that food, I was feeling kind of woozy. It was about 3:30 PM, and I couldn't motivate myself to do anything. I just moved the things that are on the bed during travel and took a nap. The food must have helped, because I can't usually sleep in the heat. This time I slept until 5:35 PM!

Even then, I didn't feel like messing with set up. Believe me, we are only talking about 10 to 15 minutes of easy labor putting everything where it is supposed to be. But, NO. I didn't want to do it. I decided that a nice shower might help. I certainly needed one, but had planned on waiting until after I hiked a bit. 

The shower did the trick. When I was finished at 6:00, the camper had dropped to 82*. The promised shade had covered the roof. I prefer lower, but 82* I can live with when I'm just sitting inside doing nothing.

I sat in front of the fan for awhile to make sure I was totally dry from the shower. Then I got my butt in gear and whipped this place into shape. I spent a little while on FaceBook until I lost service. It comes and goes here, also. I have 1 or 2 dots of service in the camper most of the time. Then for no reason (apparent to me) it is just gone. I am not complaining. When Jared and I were here a few years back, we couldn't get enough service outside to do anything but text. We even went to Bastrop to buy a booster device that really doesn't do anything.

I should mention that the camp sites have been totally redone here. I am in the Cozy Circle area. Since our last visit, they have resurfaced everything. The sites are wider and very level. It looks like they might have redone the electric boxes, too. On the short stretch of road into the circle, they have added 5 new back in sites.

I would tell you more about the park, but it will have to wait until tomorrow. I have decided not to hike at all today. It is a day of rest and recuperation. I am going to spend the evening drinking a few whiskey and Cokes and listening to the book I was listening to in the truck. It is at an exciting part.

Friday, July 08, 2016

Day 4 of the return leg of the St. Louis Roadtrip

10:04 PM, July 8th, 2016, Fairfield Lake SP

This was a great day. I got up at 7:00 am and got everything ready to go. It was a little more involved because of the BAL leveler. That thing takes some work to crank down. Then I had to take everything out of the basement again to put it in the box.

I took my time prepping because it was already hot. I had to put the trailer back on the hitch, too. I hit the road at about 9:00 am.

The drive was really nice. It was another one of those trips where I was almost constantly changing roads. That made it go by really quickly. The book I am listening to helped a lot, too. I found good easy access gas stations along the way.

When I got to the park, they offered me a choice of several different sites. I chose a pull through right on the lake. The camping loop is new. The sites are large, well spaced, and extremely level. I asked which of the two on the lake were best shaded, and it was the one I took, number 83.

I spent a while just sitting at the picnic table enjoying the view after the AC and icemaker were set up. I was in no big rush. After yesterday, I wasn't even sure I was going to take a hike at all. I got here at about 12:15, but didn't finish all the set up until about 1:30. It was just too nice sitting by the lake and enjoying the somewhat cool breeze coming off of it.

The service is terrible here. Not the worst of the trip. I have none indoors and anything from no service to two dots of service outside. It severely limited my ability to check FaceBook, etc. I did see one post about the shootings in Dallas. I was able to get an article on the Internet and read about it. I won't bother philosophizing about it. I am a firm believer of the "Satan is alive and living on Earth" point of view.

I took a nap for about 90 minutes. It wasn't the best because it was 84* in the camper for most of it. However, I did have a flying dream. I love those. My whole life I had had the ability of flapping my arms as hard as I can and raising straight up in the air- flying in an upright position above whomever is down below me in my dreams. I seem to be able to control my flights until, suddenly, they are over. I love those dreams.

At about 4:30, I decided to take a hike. They have some really nice trails through the woods here. The one I took wound around the shore of the lake, occasionally giving me a nice view of it. I was sweating up a storm and must have smelled good to the flies. I had two or three buzzing around my head the entire trip. I wasn't sure if they traveled with me, or if new ones took over along the way. I remember that happening on another trail sometime in the past. It is annoying.

At one point on the trail, I got to see the first venomous snake I have ever encountered on a trail, with the exception of some coral snakes I have seen on the Leon Creek Greenway. This was the largest copperhead I have ever seen. It was about six feet ahead of me smack dab in the middle of the trail. When I saw it, I actually screamed, "AHHHH!" It startled me. I stopped in my tracks and just stared at it getting ready to run back down the trail if it came toward me. It didn't. It just lay there in all of its beautiful splendor. It was almost black with beautiful splotches of a dark brown. It looked like it had recently shed its skin. I reached in my pocket to take a picture, but it slithered off the trail really fast. I was so rattled, that I shot a video by mistake. If you freeze it at the very start, you can see the snake. Most of the 4 second video is of the ground and my thumb.

I am always super diligent when I am on the trails. I watch for two things: snakes and poison ivy. However, actually seeing a poisonous snake on the trail in front of me put me on edge. Every branch looked like a snake to me for the rest of the hike. I was so relieved to get to the end of it. 

I walked on the road to the boat ramp area. The "courtesy dock" is blocked off due to damage from a story, but the view of the lake was awesome just standing on the boat ramp.

Before the hike, I had planned on taking a trail that runs from the boat ramp area to the camp sites. When it came time to take that trail, I chose not to. I had my fill of watching for snakes. Instead, I took an extra half mile to follow the roads back to camp.

When I got to the Colby T, it had cooled to a very comfortable 77*. I was soaking wet, so that and the fan were practically chilly. I took of the wet clothes and hung them on the awning to dry. Then I got a nice cold glass of ice water. I couldn't get enough cold water to drink. Once again- so happy to have that icemaker!

When I was cooled down, I grabbed a cold drink and my iPhone and went to the picnic table to try FaceBook again. Now, however, I wasn't even able to get service. Every once in awhile, I got one dot, but nothing would download. Just as I was able to give up, I got a second dot. I checked a few things, but didn't accomplish much. Oh, I should say that I was sitting at the picnic with no shirt on. Anyone who knows me knows that is totally out of character for me. I do not like for people to see my blubber. Today, I didn't care. Besides, my site is fairly private. The only thing that bothered me was when sweat would slide down my back. Usually a shirt absorbs it. Today, it felt like bugs.

Speaking of bugs, I found a lightning bug in the bathroom today.  I'm not sure when it decided to become a stow away. There weren't any at Jackson Port of Daingerfield Lake. It is either from Babler or Sam A. Baker in Missouri. I don't see any here either, so I am going to take him to Buescher and set him free tomorrow, if he is still alive in the bathroom.

I spent about 25 minutes nailing all my hiking medallions on my walking stick. I did a pretty good job. Since they give you three nails with them everywhere but Sam A Baker, I even had extras to put that one on. I had to start going down the back of the stick.

The rest of the evening was spent eating dinner (Hormel Compleats chili, which tastes just like the chili from Wendy's, which I like.), and finishing up the video game that I have been playing during the trip.

I've been writing this for 40 minutes and drinking Merlot. I need to go to Walmart in Bastrop and get another box. This one will be empty tomorrow night. I also need more pork rinds. The plan for tomorrow is to get to Beuscher, set up the trailer, and head to Bastrop for barbecued mutton at Billy's, get gas and goodies at Buccee's, and hit the Walmart. I'll take a nice hike on the roads around the lake in the evening to get my steps in. Then on Sunday, I'll take a nice hike on the trails and maybe even drive over to Bastrop SP and look to see the progress they are making after the flood.

Anyway, that's a report on today.

Thursday, July 07, 2016

Day 3 of the return leg of the St. Louis Road Trip

7:34 PM, July 7, 2016, Daingerfield SP

I woke up pretty early today because I knew I had a five hour minimum drive ahead of me. I was hoping to be on the road by 7:00. That would put me at my next destination between 12:00 and 1:00, which would give me plenty of time to explore before dark.

Packing up when I stay on the hitch has become a fairly fast and easy routine. It only takes me about 30 minutes from start to finish. What takes time is making and drinking my two cups of coffee as well as making sure I am REALLY done with the bathroom, if you know what I mean.

I put a little deet on, but I didn't see any mosquitos. That's kind of odd, because usually if they're bad at night somewhere, they're bad in the morning. Lucky me!

Most of my drive was on four lane highways today. In fact, 183 miles of it was on I-30. It wasn't until I got to Texas that I started being diverted to smaller roads. I kind of like them. The only problem I had today was the traffic. There were so many trucks headed to Dallas, it was making me crazy. It was pretty windy in spots, as well.

Just about the time I hit the Texas/Arkansas state line, I finished the book I was listening to. The iPhone instantly switched to music, and that was okay. I also started wanting to get gas around that time. I had already stopped once, but it was creeping back down towards half a tank. I can't risk getting any lower because of the difficulty I have finding suitable stations.

I took and exit off the highway in New Boston. The sign said there were four gas stations, and I figured one of them would work for me. As I was pulling off, I saw a Walmart across the highway and really liked the pump layout. I drove over there and filled up. The downside? No restrooms unless you go all the way into Walmart! I just pulled the trailer over by some truckers who were parked at the far end of the parking lot and used the toilet in the Colby T. What a luxury!

The last 50 miles of the trip were on small roads. I would go about five miles and make a turn. It really made the trip go fast. It seemed I was at Daingerfield SP before I even knew it.

They gave me a choice of sites 1 and 4. I took four, but when I got to the loop, 4 was the only one with no shade. All the other sites are nestled under huge pines. I looped back around and pulled into site one. I called headquarters and they said I could have it.

When I first pulled in, I wasn't overly worried about the levelness of the site. I did all my normal "on the hitch" set up. Then I went inside to do some setup and just couldn't deal with the way it felt. There was a side to side difference of about 6 inches. Also, since I was on the hitch, the front end was way higher than the back.

I raised the stabilizers back up, got the trailer off the hitch, removed the chains, pulled the truck up, leveled front and back with the crank, pulled everything out of the basement so I could access the BAL leveler, installed the leveler and raised the port-side tire six inches, and re-lowered the stabilizers. When I was done, I was a HOT mess.

Luckily, the AC and icemaker are the first two things I do. The camper was semi-cool at 83* by the time I finished, so I just sat there in front of the fan for a few minutes. Then I went out and put everything back in the basement.

I took out my iPhone and started following my normal campsite arrival checklist. Funny how I need that.

I decided that I could wait to set up the coffee maker, kitchen cabinets, and get my Merlot out of the overhead storage. There were some other little OC things I needed to do, also. I just wasn't in the mood right then. Instead, I put on hiking clothes and hiked the trail by the lake that leads to the camp store. I wanted to buy a walking stick medallion. It was a very nice hike. The breezes coming off the lake were cool, and the trees gave me shade the whole way.

When I got back, I ate a snack of pork rinds with squirt cheese. That has really become my favorite snack on this trip. Then got two bottles of water and squirted some flavoring with electrolytes in them and left to hike around the lake.

I took the road to get to the trail head. It was all up hill, there wasn't as much shade, there was NO breeze, and I almost aborted the mission altogether. I'm glad I didn't because it was a beautiful hike. I thought I would have to double back. I totally misinterpreted the trail map. I didn't see that there was a connecting trail that would get me to the tent camping loop. Then I could just walk the road to my site.

It is a good thing that I didn't have to backtrack. By the time I found myself in the tent loop, I was already pretty spent. I can't tell you why I was so worn out today. It wasn't any longer of a hike. It wasn't any hotter. It sure as hell wasn't as humid as the hikes at Sam A. Baker and Jacksonport. My back hurt. My knees hurt. Every step was an effort. I was so tired that I was partially dragging my feet and tripping over things that normally don't bother me. On top of that, I felt overheated. I don't understand that either. It was nice and cool and breezy on the trail and I drank two bottles of Gatorade-like liquid.

When I got back to the camper, I stripped off the wet clothes, threw a towel on the bed, grabbed a nice cold drink, and just lay there naked in front of fan trying to cool down. After about twenty minutes, I was dry and feeling better.

I decided to take a shower at the bath house. It is about 50 feet from my site. I started out with water hotter than I usually like and then brought it down to lukewarm and just stood there for awhile.

When I got back to the camper, I did all those things I had skipped before. Then I got caught up on FaceBook, email, and the OpenRoads RV Forum.

Dinner tonight was one of those Hormel Compleats. This one was Stroganoff. I liked it. I like all of the different ones they make.

Before I knew it, it was already 7:30 P. I poured a glass of wine and started this post.

And that, my friends, was Day 3 of the trip back home!