Archive for June, 2012

New sleeping pad

Monday, 25th June 2012; 11:02 am

Following my ride to Amish country and back, I decided to replace one more piece of gear for the ride up to Hiawatha Country: my sleeping pad.

The one I’ve been using for camping the past 10 years is getting a little beat-up… but that’s not the reason I’m replacing it. It’s because I’m getting a little beat-up. It’s a simple foam pad, intended solely for insulation, not comfort. Sleeping directly on the ground in a down bag in a nylon tent in cold weather can suck the heat out of your body, so you need some kind of barrier between you and the ground. That’s all this does. It provides just a little padding, and with the wear and tear on my body of the past several years – especially the back surgery last year – that’s becoming a problem.

So I went shopping for something more comfortable, and… great scott! You can easily spend well over $100 on these! I probably spent about $15-20 for my current pad. But to get the kind of padding I’m looking for, I need something air-filled, and those are a bit more expensive than just a rectangle of foam, especially if you want it to last.

The next question is self-inflating vs. not. The self-inflating kind have just enough internal rigidity that they fill with air on their own; you just need to seal them up before lying down on them. The down-side of this is that they take some work to deflate. The other kind require you to blow into them. I’m OK with that, and the fact that they’re easier to deflate and stow for travel is another plus. And they tend to be cheaper. Relatively.

I ended up buying the $60 Big Agnes Air Core Mummy. Big Agnes gets good reviews, and this line is the least expensive of Big Agnes’ pads. They also sell a rectangular one, but the shape of my tent calls for the tapered “mummy” design. They also have an insulated version, but I don’t do a lot of camping in the spring/autumn, and when/if I do, I still have the foam pad to use with it.

Some people check out gear at local brick-and-mortar shops, then buy it online for the best price. I do it the other way: I use the Web to research products, then buy them from a local outdoor-gear store. (Which is really handy when you discover that you accidentally grabbed the rectangular version and need to exchange it for the mummy version: no shipping!)

This change of gear poses another change: how I pack the scooter. Because it deflates, this pad packs up much more compactly than the old one. That was even bigger than my tent; this one is even smaller than my sleeping bag. So I’ve had to reshuffle the positions of things on the rear rack, ending up with what looks like a more aerodynamic bundle that will also be easier to rainproof. Win win!

Vanity plate

Friday, 15th June 2012; 8:25 pm

Next month I am going to be riding across the Mackinac Bridge, twice. I’ve ridden it northbound before, which meant I didn’t have to stop for the toll booth until after I’d already crossed, so there was no one to stop me from taking my “moped” on those five miles of Interstate. But this time I’ll also be crossing the bridge southbound, and that could mean an overly zealous attendant stopping me before I can do it.

Understand: there is no practical reason why my scooter should not be allowed on the Bridge. The speed limit is 40mph and I can just barely keep up with that. And the speed limit for trucks is only 25mph, so if I follow one I won’t impede traffic in any way. Scooters just like mine but with a bigger engine are permitted. Mine is not, purely due to a technicality: the Bridge is an Interstate and my engine is below the specs required for riding on them. But this is not a typical Interstate, and the reasons for that rule don’t really apply on such a short and slow segment of it.

The only way a casual observer would know that my scooter isn’t Interstate legal is the lack of a license plate. So I bought one. A fake one, the kind of novelty plate you might put on a… well, I’m not sure what else you’d put this on. I’m putting it on my scooter. It would never pass for a legit plate if you looked at it closely.

I won’t be leaving it on all the time. I’m not trying to commit fraud. I just want to make it easier for a tollbooth attendant to mistake my Buddy 50 “moped” for a Buddy 150 “motorcycle”. If they catch me, I’ll tell the truth. I just want to avoid that if I can.


Mission belatedly accomplished

Tuesday, 12th June 2012; 11:28 am

I again got on the road early, around 7:30 this morning. Most campers were understandably still sleeping, so after packing the scooter I pushed it to the entrance of the campground before starting it. Don’t assume this was an heroic feat; I was in campsite #1. 🙂

I stopped in South Haven to walk out to the end of the pier, then got back on the Blue Star Highway, which I rode almost to Holland. Hardly any traffic, so it was a pleasant ride; Blue Star is a two-lane road much of the way, so it can be problematic if you have a lot of people behind you who want to go 10-15mpg faster. I voluntarily detoured through farmland to avoid Holland, then took Chicago Drive (with a mandatory detour around a mile of construction) into Grand Rapids. There was a cool northwest wind blowing all morning, which made for a chilly ride. Sometimes it gave me an extra boost of speed; most of the time it was just annoying.

The house was as I left it. I’ve parked the scooter, dumped my small bundle of clothes in the laundry basket, and am about to fix myself lunch.

I’ve now accomplished what I set out to do… last August. I’ve stayed at the campgrounds I missed last year, seen the places I wanted to go, and visited all of the counties I’d intended to reach: 9 in Michigan (3 of them new) plus 3 counties in Indiana.

VanBuren morning

Tuesday, 12th June 2012; 6:27 am - Location:

After supper I went to the beach and watched the sun set. Not spectacular, but pretty. Then to bed.

One of the objectives of this trip was to determine how well I can handle sleeping on the ground following last year’s spine surgery. Last year’s ride tested that too, but since it was cut short, it didn’t tell me as much as I hoped.

The answer is that I can do it… but. There are fewer positions I can sleep in than there were before. If I lie like this or like that, the nerves in my neck get irritated and I get tingly fingers. Options which would have worked on a soft mattress… don’t. Being confined to a sleeping bag in a small tent narrows things further. Of course flat on my back is always a safe option, but on hard ground it’s a bit rough on the base of the back. So I think I’m going to explore the possibility of getting a softer pad to sleep on. The one I have is geared more for insulation than softness. And let’s just admit that I’m 10 years older than I was when I bought it.

All of which is a roundabout way of saying that I slept OK last night, but not great. No rain, just the wind in the trees above me, and pleasantly cool. Be nice weather for the ride home today.

The new tent is just a little bit taller than the old one, making it easier to get dressed in it. It’s still rather awkward, but not as much as the old one.


VanBuren supper

Monday, 11th June 2012; 8:13 pm - Location:

This campsite is a little nicer than last night’s: instead of having an access road behind it, it has a sand dune. I climbed it a ways, but to be honest I’m a bit tired for any serious hiking, especially if it involves piles of sand.

I did go to the beach to explore a little. Not that Lake Michigan beaches have a lot to surprise me with any more. 🙂 This one, on the other hand, has a nuclear power plant just down the shoreline from it. I remember going on a tour of it as a kid, back when we still talked about nuclear power.

I again opted to set up camp before going out for supper. The nearest option that sounded good was the Curve Inn, a few miles north on Blue Star Highway. Another bar with a grill and deep fryer; I’m having a chipotle cheeseburger and fries. Hey, I’m on vacation. 🙂 It’s a lot quieter than last night’s eatery. Faster service too.


VanBuren arrival

Monday, 11th June 2012; 6:19 pm - Location:

I arrived at VanBuren State Park around 5:30. Considering I started around 7:30 this morning, that’s a long day of riding. But I took it pretty easy, so I’m not exhausted. I stuck to county roads most of the last leg, including the spot where I hit 25K miles.

Last year when I reached Saranac, I had the feeling that I was all-but-home, since I’d been there on several day trips. This isn’t quite that familiar, but I have reached the point now where I don’t need a map anymore; I know my way from here. And it’ll be a short ride, especially if I don’t stop.

This campground isn’t any more full than Pokagon, which means I kind of wasted my $8 reservation fee. Oh well. I paid the $5 fee for my “Michigan Passport” which will also get me into the other state parks I’ll be visiting next month.