Some (Hiking) Lessons Are Hard to Learn

I’ve been hiking for decades, over countless trails and paths, more than I can remember. Over that time, I’ve picked up the handful of tips and tricks that keep one safe, hydrated, cool (or warm), etc. But there’s ONE area I seem to have a mental block on learning: the art of bug deflection.

Maybe it’s because only a smaller percentage of hikes over the years have needed bug goop. Or maybe it’s because when I apply that nasty stuff, I’m always in a hurry to get that part over with. Whatever the reason, this morning’s nice hike at Camp Seven Lake Campground in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula (the YOOP), yet again, reminded me of my memory bane.

The thing is, the first thirty minutes of hiking after said bug goop application is a blissful experience: the bugs act as though you’re not really there.

The second thirty minutes, however, they do begin to circle and lightly swarm. They don’t alight nor bite, but they now sense your presence and the waiting game begins.

By the third thirty minutes, their patience pays off. That’s when either through evaporation or dilution via sweat, patches of your skin become… vulnerable. This is when the smarter buggies will find those small patches of unprotected skin and start their feast. This is also when smart hikers who CARRY more bug goop will STOP AND REAPPLY PROTECTION from the forest’s flying teeth.

Fortunately, for me today, the hike only lasted 90 minutes, so my solution for that last 30 minutes was to walk faster! Sort of worked.

So was THIS the time I finally learned my lesson and will start packing the juice on future, bug-season hiking? Hope so, but I’ve been in this predicament before and it didn’t stick.

We’ll see next time!

Life In The Slow Lane

Finally. After two-and-a-half months home in Ann Arbor, I am on the road again!

Other than arriving back too early from wintering in the southwest to avoid winter’s grasp, it was a good stay with some significant mods to VanGeist completed (more on that soon), lots of good hot showers without “military” style efforts, old haunts visited, plus the usual amenities of homelife versus vanlife.

As I planned for the next phase of vanlife travel, 4 months exploring New England then the Canadian Maritimes, there seemed to be a buzz kill waiting for me: Canadian gas prices.

Watching the Canadian vanlife YouTubers I follow and their universal choruses of traveling laments because of high gas prices, I wondered if I should cancel visiting Canada on this trip. I filled up before leaving Ann Arbor a few days ago at $4.39/gallon. Canadian gas? $6.15/USD gallon.

Obvious first-thought solution would be to a) travel shorter distances overall, or b) explore the wonders of Michigan and a few adjoining states and defer Canada for another time. Who among us fully explores their own backyard states, likely full of great places to visit?

There is always another way, of course, to look at things. I recall my trip last December from San Diego, CA, to Yuma, AZ. I installed a second solar panel on the van and because the Dicor goop used to help secure the panel’s mounting feet needs time to cure, I thought it better to slow down to 55 mph versus 70. Results? MPG went up from my usual 15.5 (@ 70 mph) to 19.5 (@ 55 mph).

I wondered: could I be seeing the impact of gas prices the wrong way by just focusing on per-gallon cost? On a per-gallon basis, it is a staggering leap from U.S. to Canada, and more so from a cost-to-fill-tank view: ~$105 in U.S. to $150 USD in Canada.

Breaking down to a cost-per-mile basis, it tells a slightly different story:

  • $ 0.28 – U.S. gas price, per-mile, @ 70
  • $ 0.23 – U.S. gas price, per-mile, @ 55
  • $ 0.40 – Canadian gas price (in USD), per-mile, @ 70
  • $ 0.32 – Canadian gas price (in USD), per-mile, @55
  • Differences:
    • 40% increase, gallon of Canadian versus U.S.
    • 14% increase, per-mile Canadian @ 55 mph versus U.S. @ 70 mph

This way to look at costs shows me if I drive 55 mph in Canada, the cost-per-mile increase is more acceptable to swallow than the cost-per-gallon increase. Driving slow in Canada appears easier to do than the U.S., based on my day drive earlier this week from Detroit-to-Buffalo via Canada (most of the way highway limits were ~55 mph). My takeaway is that I can justify the Canadian Maritime wanderings part, but I removed my original plan to head west after the Maritimes through Quebec, Montreal, Ottawa on the way back to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Net result is a higher monthly gas budget over that time, but saves by eliminating the longer east-to-west planned Canada route.

There is also a bonus when dropping to 55 mph versus 70, regardless of where one buys gas: a significant increased driving range of 100+ miles, which is a huge plus, especially when wandering back roads and such.

Driving slow also has human benefits: more awareness of surrounding scenery, a quieter ride, fewer vehicles riding your tail urging you need to move over, and more relaxed thinking time. Sure it takes longer, but a small price to pay to soften gas prices by taking you farther down the road. Most of my driving days are a maximum of five hours anyway, so for me, slowing down does not add much time.

This drive-slow approach, of course, requires a highway habit shift (with all respect to The Eagles):

🎶 Life in the fast lane, surely make you lose your mind…


🎶 Life in the slow lane, surely make you chill your mind…

Welcome to Windsor

Nota bene: This post marks my return to more frequent blog posts, and to adding new videos to my recently renamed YouTube channel, Adventures Nomadic.

Silent Too Long!

Where has the time gone? Not long ago I posted on my last hike in the desert, then prepared for the five-day trip back to Michigan for a few months of modifications (mods), recharging the appreciation for vanlife, and the usual pleasantries of endless hot water and a full kitchen with a big refrigerator to play in!

That explains the month’s absence of blogging, although it doesn’t really excuse it.

Meanwhile, March was a beast here in Michigan with rare days of warmth or sun, making me somewhat regret not waiting until April to drive back home from warm, sunny California/Arizona. But, I had some doctor appointments long set up. And in these Covid times it’s impossible to reschedule med appointments to something just a little further out: I tried, but the next opening was in November, so had to take off despite the weather forecasts of “still winter” back in Michigan.

Spent time in March planning van mods and tweaks to rename my travel YouTube channel to build on what I posted there during my Subaru Outback camper conversion build and travels. The YouTube channel is now called Adventures Nomadic and will include travelogues and videos about living in a small van along with mods and features of the van.

Also worked to finish writing my Nomadic Vanlife book, lots of reading time, Netflix binging, and just general lazing about. I’m hoping to have the book published on Amazon (ebook + paperback) before I leave to roam again around May 15.

So stay tuned and I’ll try to get back to blogging more between now and then, although most posts may be van-mod specific.

Shot is of my new van bed mattress. One major mod is to remove the original murphy double bed and frame, then build a single bed at the rear, parallel to the back doors. This will provide much needed storage under the bed, yet still have room in the garage area to stand and counter space on either side to use. The murphy bed took up all the counters when down, and I chose to raise/lower the bed every day. The new single bed will make the space more multi-functional and a relief from the daily grind of tilting the bed up and down.

Last Winter Desert Hike

Long view to the east behind the dwelling remains
Long view to the east behind the dwelling remains

On a warm, sunny, and moderately windy day last Monday, I took my last hike at the LTVA (long-term visitor area) near Yuma, AZ and the Arizona/California border. I intended it to be just a short two-hour hike to get in some exercise and one last wander through the desert landscape. I had a few long hikes I wanted to do, but for one reason or another, I did not complete that short checklist.

After hiking out about a mile and a half, I was feeling good and as I looked to the west, I noticed the faint rock pile remains of some sort of structure off in the distance. I’d looked at this often since it was a location I wanted to hike to, but was clueless how long a hike that destination would take. Was it four miles? Six? Or more? Really wasn’t sure, and Google did not let me drop pins out here in the wild to figure that out.

So on Monday, I paused, drank some water, and realized I had hiked to the dirt road that if I turned left down it, would take me toward this checklist price. What the heck, go for it.

I’d hiked a lot in this area and as any hiker knows, the first time trekking down a new-to-you path is usually the most interesting part of any hike. And so it was that day as I hiked past the mound with the large cairns on top that I’d climbed on previous hikes and headed into new territory and the fun of figuring out how to go there.

Pictures below show some oddities I saw on the path, the awesome view from above the rock formation, and of course, of the rock formation only previously seen through my binoculars, which didn’t really reveal what it was. Near as I can tell, it’s probably the remains of someone’s hunting cabin from many years ago. Or perhaps some soul’s effort for a solitude life in the desert wilds.

As for my checklist hike, turns out it was a 6.25 mile round trip, easily within my doable range. As I climbed out of the arroyo below where my van was, I was pleased I’d pushed myself to wander toward that spot I’d seen when I first arrived and wanted to hike out to see what it was. A good, fitting final touch on my three months dispersed camping in the desert.