Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Two More at Sleepy Bear

Monday, July 30, 2007 -- Still at Sleepy Bear

I made contact this morning with a local mechanic in nearby Traverse City that I found on the internet. The fact that a mechanic has a web site at all is something. But I liked the website... very simple and to the point, with some business philosophy I liked, and photos of himself, his wife, and an employee mechanic. It sounded genuine to me so I called him. I talked with the owner himself and he sounded real too. He had a full day today, but agreed to look at the toad tomorrow morning. I may be wrong, but I'm thinking (and hoping) the toad issue will be resolved tomorrow. So, our stay here at Sleepy Bear needed to be extended, and our arrival at Mill Creek in Mackinaw City delayed. Both campgrounds were accommodating. We added two nights here and cut two nights off the Mill Creek visit. If all goes well with the toad tomorrow, we'll leave for Mackinaw City on Wednesday.

.

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Tuesday, July 31, 2007 -- Sleepy Bear and Traverse City

Toad's fixed! The problem was a front wheel bearing and hub assembly that was starting to make noise -- not the pinion bearing or universal joint I thought (proof I'm not a mechanic!). They checked the rest of the drive line and found no problems. The repair shop was as good as I hoped it would be. They were professional, good-natured people who worked quickly and had me back on the road by noon. I was able to pick up a few things on our shopping list, wash the toad, and fill it with gas before heading for home. And the noise... the hum... is now gone. There are plenty of other noises, creaks, and squeaks, but the hum was gone. The toad is now recommissioned and is back in service. Dar's smilin' because she's still ridin'.

It's getting warm up here this afternoon, with temps in the mid-90's. We thought about going to the beach but canned that idea as it'd just be too hot to really enjoy. The winds are very light and sitting on hot sand with the sun glaring down just doesn't sound like the greatest idea. So the afternoon will be spent reading and getting ready for our move tomorrow.

That's it for now...

T

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Humming Toad

Sunday, July 29, 2007 -- supposed to be our last full day at Sleepy Bear Campground near Empire, MI

After towing the toad almost 110 miles on the way to Sleepy Bear, we began noticing, while driving it normally on our excursions around here, a drive-line hum or gear noise that wasn't there before. I tapped a good resource through our son, JT, and found that this could be a pinion bearing that's in the process of self-destruction. We're advised to not tow the vehicle until it's rectified. Don't know yet if this is in some way caused by towing, or just exacerbated by it -- remember, the toad has 127,000 miles on it. It's like a 56 year old human... a few aches and pains and, occasionally, something goes wrong that needs to be fixed. But we're not ones to give up on a car just because it's got a little age or a few miles on it. Tomorrow, Monday, we're planning to drive it into Traverse City and see what can be diagnosed and/or fixed. Our move to Mackinaw City may have to be delayed as well, but in that case we'll just extend here at Sleepy Bear and readjust our plans. Anything is possible when you're not tied to a schedule.

I've been slow to keep things updated on the web the last two days mostly due to a slow internet connection. I just got tired of waiting for downloads to download and uploads to upload. We've also been trying to take full advantage of the two days we thought we had here before moving north. Tonight, however, the connection seems to be better. So here's a rundown of what we've been up to:

The move to Sleepy Bear was uneventful. The heavy rain that was forecast for the area Friday didn't happen... well, not only didn't it happen, we awoke on Friday morning to sunny clear skies. So we hooked up the car and drove the 107 miles north to the Leelanau Peninsula of Michigan, where Sleepy Bear Campground is located, and didn't experience a drop of rain the entire way. Well, so much for relying on weather forecasts.

The campground gets it's name from the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore near here. This National Park was authorized by congress in 1970 and encompasses a 35 mile stretch of Lake Michigan's eastern shoreline, as well as two nearby islands, North and South Manitou Islands. It was created "to preserve the outstanding natural features including forests, beaches, dune formations, and ancient glacial phenomena... for the benefit, inspiration, recreation, and enjoyment of the public." In other words, to keep it safe from developers and well-heeled condo buyers. I think most of us could agree it's important to preserve large areas like this in a natural state and open to everyone, not just for the privileged or lucky.

We've been doing a lot of beach-walking, hiking in the park, visiting shoreline communities (often rich in history) and winery-touring (often rich in flavor). That's right, not only are there wineries in the extreme southwest of Michigan, there's another grouping of them around the Leelanau Peninsula. Despite what you're thinking, we didn't plan our route with wineries in mind. But we feel that since we're here, and since they're here... we have a responsibility to visit as many as possible! We're also enjoying a campfire almost every night, often sharing with neighbors here in the campground.

Today, Sunday, we enjoyed Traverse City and the Old Mission Peninsula... an 18 mile long spit of land that separates the East Bay and the West Bay. Despite the gear-humming toad, we made it all the way to the northern tip of the peninsula which happens to be exactly where the 45th parallel runs through. We stood there for some time but never saw the parallel itself... I guess it runs underground. Everyone we asked looked at us like we were crazy.

Tomorrow we hope we'll learn more about where we're at with the old toad. Will it be deemed safe enough to continue on?? Will it have to be hospitalized and repaired?? Does it have something wrong that's even worse than we're thinking?... maybe even terminal?? [Gasp!]

Tune in tomorrow and find out.

Life's an adventure.

T

Thursday, July 26, 2007

The Moving Dunes

Thursday, July 26, 2007 -- Last full day at Silver Lake State Park, MI

It looked like rain all morning so we stayed close to home. I did yesterdays blog post and we made reservations to stay a couple different places during the next two weeks. This time of the year, reservations aren't really needed during the week... it's possible to get a place almost anywhere. Weekends are a different story. Without a reservation there's a serious chance we'd be staying in a strip mall parking lot -- at least around here. By mid-August vacationers will be wrapping it up as the kids head back to school and the pressure on camping sites will start to ease.

Around noon we finally got going and headed for the dunes, specifically, the pedestrian access point near the north end of Silver Lake. Here, the dune is advancing into the forest, and doing so with drama. The picture below shows the sand advancing from some distance away.



The next two photos show some detail, at the margin, where the sand meets the forest floor.





It's a scene from a science fiction film, but it's real. I don't know how fast it's moving, but the photos leave one with the impression that it's advancing inches or more each day. Just a fascinating place to see.

We climbed to the top of some of the highest dunes where we heard a small kid, maybe 8 or 10, say, "it's like I'm in an endless video game, there's sand wherever I go." And there is, for miles around in every direction. Dunes like this fascinate while grass covered hills of the same size don't. Is it the novelty of it? The uncommon nature of it all? The thought that it's almost alive... moving... growing here... shrinking there? I don't know. But I do know that it's a kick being on top of one. I may actually, now, better understand the dune-machine gear heads that have a passion for driving machinery around these piles of sand. It's an environment that's unique, challenging, and, probably, just plain fun.

We took a few pictures of a selection of dune-machines. It's a wide range of stuff, but don't let these pictures narrow your thinking about what a dune-machine is. Almost anything on wheels can (and probably has) be modified to work. Check out the photos we took in a new photo album called Dune-Machines.

With rain and clouds around, we scratched going to the beach (like we needed more sand anyway), and drove to the next town north, Pentwater. After a walk around town and a quick beer at one of the local establishments, we headed back home for a fire and some preparation for moving tomorrow.

T

Fulgurite

Wednesday, July 25, 2007 -- Silver Lake State Park, MI

Occasionally, as thunderstorms pass over dune country, lightning strikes the dune itself. The result is something called a "fulgurite" -- a long, slender, glassy tube produced when lightning travels through the sand seeking solid ground, melting the particles into glass as it travels. Thousands of these fulgurites have been found over the years. Also referred to as petrified lightning or thunder tubes, most range from a few inches to a foot or two in length. One of the largest ever found, which we saw on display, is over 9 feet long. They're very fragile and almost always break into smaller pieces as they're retrieved. Around here, if you're not hanging out at the beach or running fat-tired vehicles all over the dunes, you might be walking through the dunes searching for fulgurites.

Wednesday was a full day for us. First on the agenda was a ride through the dunes. Since the old Blazer isn't dune-ready (tall mast on front bumper with red flag at the top, big low pressure sand tires, doors ripped off, top cut off, muffler removed), we did a Mac Wood Dune Tour. Mac Wood is an institution around here as he's been doing this for over 75 years. Back then he used modified Model A Fords, today a slightly newer and heavily modified Ford Truck. Of course old Mac isn't around anymore, but the business is still in the family. It was fun and got us into a part of the dune you can only see on this ride, as Mac Wood leases 600 acres of dunes from the State Park for exclusive use. Originally, before 1872 or so, these dunes were here and covered with large stands of white and red pine trees. After the Chicago fire, lumber barons bought up these stands of timber, cut it down, and shipped the lumber to Chicago for the massive rebuilding effort. After the trees were gone, wind action and blowing sand prevented re-establishment of the forest. So, all these dune-riding gear-heads have Mrs. O'Leary's cow to thank for their kicks and the sand in their underwear.

After the dune ride, and a big breakfast at a local diner, we headed for the Hart-Montague Trail State Park. This 22 mile long bike trail follows the path of an abandoned railroad right-of-way. We did a little over 16 miles through mostly wooded country-side and stopped half-way for an ice cream cone at the Country Dairy Farm Store. This little operation raises and milks their own cows (over a thousand) and operates their own dairy making organic drinking milk, cheeses, and ice cream -- about as vertically integrated as possible. It couldn't have been more perfectly placed for our ride.

Sore muscles and all, we headed for the Little Sable Point Lighthouse, very close to where we're camping. If you'd glance at a map of Lake Michigan, you'd see two "bumps" along the eastern shore where the land projects out into the lake 20 or 30 miles further than the rest. The lower of these two points is called Little Sable Point, and is only a mile or two from our campsite. The lighthouse was built in 1873, which should ring a bell with you, if you've been paying attention: recall the logging operations that started about this time to help rebuild Chicago. As ships were plying these waters at night or in bad weather, too many of them were hitting these points of land jutting into the lake. The lighthouse reduced the problem.

Roasting hotdogs over a small campfire, we toasted the end of one more day along the trail.

T

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Pulling the Toad

I wrote this post for those readers interested in more details on what's involved with towing our car behind our camper.

This business of towing a car with all four of it's wheels on the ground can be complicated and requires some preparation and planning. Readers of this blog know that we started our endeavor with Dar driving the car separately, following the camper wherever it went. This is not an ideal situation. Not only because this requires fueling two running engines, but it's just not as much fun traveling separately. When you turn the corner and get that sudden view of the mountains or Lake Michigan or whatever, there's an added sense of enjoyment when it's experienced together. So pulling the car, after an initial period of familiarization with driving the camper, was always part of the plan.

The "together but separate" phase ended a week or so ago when all the hardware for towing was installed on the camper and the car. I thought I'd use this post to explain all the gear and what the process is like to get it all connected and working.

First, the vehicle that you're going to tow is called, among RVer's, "The Toad". Get it? towed... toad? Our Toad is an 8 year old Chevrolet S-10 Blazer -- not worth much but if we're going to have problems or wreck something I'd rather we do it to this thing than a new car.

The toad must be deemed "towable" by it's manufacturer or an authority on the subject. Most cars aren't designed to be pulled down the highway with their engines and lubrication systems turned off. Only a few vehicles are towable right from the factory: most 4WD Jeeps and some older-style 4WD's from other manufacturers are among them. Our old Blazer is one that fit's the bill. Almost any other car can be towed but only after an additional lubrication pump or some kind of drive-line uncoupler is added.

Then a towbar system must be purchased and installed. The towbar itself is a beefy "V" shaped affair that connects to the camper at one point, the hitch receiver, and to the toad at two points. The two places it attaches to the toad are called the baseplate or brackets, and these must be securely installed to assure a solid fail-safe connection between the camper and the frame of the toad.

A wiring harness must also be installed to connect the lights, brake lights, and turn-signal lights of the camper with the same lights on the toad. Just as on a trailer, proper lighting is necessary for safety and is required by law.

Then, a braking system must be installed on the toad, again, for safety and as required by laws in most states. We chose an electronic system that senses deceleration and manually pushes the brake pedal when needed. Because the motor of the toad isn't running, there are no "power brakes", but it pushes hard enough that it does provide noticeable braking power. So when the brakes are applied in the camper the deceleration is sensed by the system in the toad which decides whether the deceleration is greater than a pre-set amount, and if it is, applies the toad's brakes to help the whole rig come to a stop.

Of course, a couple beefy safety cables are hooked between the camper and the toad, as required by law. In the unlikely event that the towbar or it's connections fail, the safety cables are there to keep the toad connected to the camper and not going off on it's own, totally uncontrolled. Then, there's a "break-away device", which comes into play in the even more remote event that the towbar fails AND the safety chains fail, and the toad is now going off on it's own. When the toad separates from the camper altogether, this device activates the toad's braking system, applies the brakes and stops the vehicle -- hopefully before too much damage is caused to other persons or property.

All this gear takes us about 10 or 15 minutes to hook up and make operational every time we're pulling the toad. Our limited experience so far is good. The toad is barely noticeable to the driver of the camper, who really values the rear-view camera as it's the only way to keep tabs on that little car behind the big ol' bus. The toad tracks mostly within the turning radius of the camper so, except for maybe really tight turns, it's not necessary to allow extra turning room for the toad. Oh, and one more thing... the toad should NEVER be backed when connected to the camper. Very bad things can happen to the toad's steering and suspension systems if backed up. So far, I haven't gotten us into a situation where backing is necessary while towing. When it happens, and it will happen I'm told, you gotta' un-connect and re-connect the toad after getting pointed in the right direction.

None of this is cheap. Our towing system is worth about the same as our old Blazer. But most of it is transferable to our next car whenever that happens.

So that's my primer on pulling the toad.

T

Monday, July 23, 2007

Moving Day

Monday, July 23, 2007 -- Silver Lake, MI

Wanting to spend more time along the shore of Lake Michigan, we moved a little over 100 miles today and ended up at a small campground only a couple miles from the beach. We're at Hideaway Campground in Silver Lake, MI for the next 4 nights. It's very quiet as there are a lot of seasonal campers that keep their campers here all summer. But during the week many, if not most, are gone... probably to home and jobs. The campground takes on a ghost-town-like character with all this hardware scattered about, but no people. We're enjoying the quiet. The problem we had with the last place was the lack of trees. This place is in a forest... trees all around. Much more to our liking.

This part of Michigan is all about the dunes... sand dunes. It seems everyone has a dune-buggy, or dune-truck, or dune-jeep or dune 4-wheeler of some kind, each with a little red flag flying from a tall mast attached to the front bumper of the vehicle. Big under-inflated tires with deep treads designed for sand are on the wheels. Often, the doors or top have been cut off for some reason... probably to make sure the sand gets in every orifice of your body as you're having fun on the dunes. Jeeps and sand! That's my first impression of the area. I'm sure there'll be a lot more to say about all this in the next few days.

We're a little remote here, so the internet connection is weak. I'll probably keep the posts short for the next few nights unless I can get the speed up a little. And I'm glad so many of you are following along by reading our journal. It's a good feeling to write something and know someone's reading it.

T

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Ottawa Beach Memoirs

Friday and Saturday, July 20 and 21, 2007

Consistent westerly winds over thousands of years created the massive sand dunes that run along the eastern shore of Lake Michigan. The water is churned and waves driven toward shore, grinding rock into smaller and smaller bits which eventually become grains of fine sand. This sand is washed ashore and driven by the wind into snowdrift-like piles that grow into bigger piles and eventually into 150 foot high sand dunes that line the eastern shore of the big lake. Michigan ends up with most of the lake's sand, while Wisconsin is left with a lot of rock. Over the years various proposals have been floated to move some of the sand back to Wisconsin -- mostly by property owners along the Wisconsin side of the lake who'd like all state residents to pay for their new beaches. But reason prevailed and the sand is still in Michigan.

On Friday, we visited the Lake Michigan beach at Holland State Park and walked barefoot for miles along the waters edge. The wind was hard out of the northwest and only the most tan-desperate were baring much skin. On a detour back to the car we found an area called the Ottawa Beach Historic District. Between the 1880's and the 1920's, this area flourished as a resort destination for wealthy people from around the Midwest. Built along the original canal between Lake Michigan and nearby Lake Macatawa, there was a large hotel and many Victorian-style cottages with huge screened verandas. It was possible to imagine stately people relaxing in style while enjoying the cool breezes from the lake. The big resort hotel burned to the ground in November 1923 and was not rebuilt. It ended the Golden Age of Ottawa Beach.

Alas, Ottawa Beach is now hidden behind a sand dune that was created by man or nature when a new channel between the lakes was dug and the old abandoned. There are efforts at revival and restoration of some of the Victorian cottages, but some sad relics of that classic period remain. I hope the area survives to flourish again.

Later that afternoon we visited Grand Haven, a few miles to the north of Holland. We walked from downtown, along the Grand River, on a nicely developed public walkway all the way to the end of the jetty that juts into the lake and guards the channel -- a distance of more than a mile. A monument to those who lost their lives by being blown or washed from the jetty reminded us to proceed carefully in the near gale-force winds that day.

On Saturday, we helped Dar's sister and brother-in-law, Cher and Jack, with some yardwork and just hung out at their house much of the day. They treated us to dinner at a restaurant in Paw Paw that had a great outdoor deck dining area overlooking a woodsy area and a quick-flowing stream. Cher even spotted a deer in the woods as we ate dinner and toasted the end of a productive day.

Sunday, we're staying home and get ready, leisurely, for our moving day on Monday. At this writing, I still don't know where we're going from here, but that should be resolved by Sunday night.

T

Friday, July 20, 2007

Thursday

Thursday, July 19, 2007 -- Hopkins, MI

A short post today as we stayed close to home yesterday. A cold-front came through and the high dew points experienced on Tuesday and Wednesday dropped into the 50's by Thursday night resulting in much more comfortable sleeping conditions. During the day I activated our Sirius satellite radio so we'll be able to get consistent radio broadcasts wherever we go. But we're still holding off on the satellite TV -- just haven't felt the need yet. I dug out the Canon DSLR camera and took some pictures around Hidden Ridge. A few of them made it to the online photo collection.

Friday we're heading up to Holland and Grand Haven after Dar's hair-do appointment in the morning. Thought we'd take the bikes along as there are supposed to be some great trails in that area.

Saturday will be a work-day, at least part of the day. We're exchanging a little landscaping work at Dar's sister's place for dinner.

That's it for today.

T

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Michigan Wine Tour

Wednesday, July 18, 2007 -- Hopkins, MI

We finally got going this morning about 9am and headed down to Kalamazoo to pick up Cher, Dar's sister, who took the day off to be our guide. An hour or so later, we're in one of the two Michigan grape and wine producing areas. This one is in the extreme southwestern corner of the state, near the town of Baroda. There are 8 or 10 wineries here that are working hard to produce respectable wines and eek out a living.

Wine can be produced anywhere -- even your basement. But decent wine grapes can only be grown in areas with the right growing conditions: latitude around 40 degrees, extremes of climate moderated by a large body of water, good-draining sandy soils, etc. This area, which is within about 5 miles of Lake Michigan, fits the bill. Areas like this that both produce the grapes and make the wine from those grapes are referred to as an appellation. This area is the "Lake Michigan Shore" appellation. A bottle of wine that has "Lake Michigan Shore" on it's label has been produced here and made from grapes grown here. It's the real article. While a wide range of wines are being produced by these wineries, it seems this appellation's strength is the whites... particularly Demi-Sec and Traminette. A point of interest is that Bob Hope's favorite wine was Tabor Hill's Demi Sec. All the wineries we visited were also making reds, but in smaller volumes.

Despite my efforts to convince the gals that we should stop at all 8 or 10 wineries, I was outvoted and we focused on 3: Tabor Hill, Round Barn, and Domaine Berrien Cellers. By the time we got to the area, it was almost time for lunch. Conveniently, (or was it planned in my absence?) Tabor Hill was the first stop and, "whadya-know", they have a very nice restaurant... so we had lunch. Our table was at the windows overlooking the vineyard, the day was sunny and perfect, add a little Demi-Sec wine, good food, and the fact we had no schedule -- it doesn't get much better.

Each of the wineries has a tasting room -- a combination bar and store. It's a key element of their marketing efforts as it gets tourists like us in to taste their wine. Who's going to turn down an opportunity to taste wine for free, and who's going to taste the wine and not buy some? They also did a nice job having the right people working with us as each of the three we visited had friendly, knowledgeable people helping and answering questions as we tasted. Since it was a Wednesday, we were often the only people in the tasting room and we had their full attention.

The process of sampling wine involves a certain process involving a bunch of words that start with the letter S: See, Swirl, Sniff, Sip, Savor, etc. Those with a refined palette, olfactory sense, and large vocabulary can come up with the most amazing descriptions of what they're experiencing. For example, Dar can do a respectable job of describing what she's sniffing -- "wild cherry", "nutty", "musty", "currants", "black cherry", "melon", "spicy", "peppery" -- and many more. I'm amazed by this talent and I've tried and tried to be more like her. She'll say something like this: "this one has a good oaky nose, with flashes of black cherry, pecans, and spice, a hint of musty-ness in the back of your throat, and then a long peppery finish." People who work with wine all the time are always talking like that. I don't have this ability. Tasting the same wine, I'll say something like "It's good" or "It's really good". I believe my ability to make fine distinctions was damaged during the war years.

Dar and I limited ourselves to one bottle each per stop, so we brought home 6 bottles to enjoy in the next few weeks. It was a very enjoyable day, and a big "thank you" to Cher for being our guide.

Thursday will be another stay-home day. Friday we think we're headed up to the South Haven and Holland shore, and maybe work in one more winery near Fennville, MI.

T

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

A Day at Home

Tuesday, July 17, 2007 -- Hopkins, MI

This morning I got up early, made coffee, and headed for the bathroom... WAIT JUST A DOGGONE MINUTE! NOT THAT MUCH DETAIL! You said you're not going to get so detailed -- no one wants to read that kind of detail. Please start again.

OK. Clear head. Take a deep breath. Here we go...

We woke this morning to a light rain. And a cool breeze wafting in from the open windows in the bedroom. The hypnotizing sound of the rain tapping on the roof puts one back to sleep... over and over again... no where to go... nothing to get up for... it's ok to roll over, punch the pillow, and drop into light unconsciousness... again and again... the cool quiet air... pull the covers up a little more. Thus was the start of the day for Dar.

There was nowhere to go today, no schedule. Just an off day. We wanted to do some cleaning, a ton of laundry, and get caught up with the "admin" things that have been put off. We did pick up a few groceries and made dinner on the grill.

We're beginning to feel like we're really fulltiming now.

Tomorrow, we're off to the Michigan wine country to seek out some adventure from squeezed and fermented grapes.

T

Blog Direction

I don't know why I've been so dis-interested in updating this blog in the last few weeks. But I'm feeling the need to write again. Part of my problem was deciding what to do with this blog now that we're actually underway and officially fulltiming. The options I considered were, first, to write only occasional witty insightful interpretations of what we're doing or seeing -- for instance, maybe an essay on "how small towns along the Michigan shoreline acquired their names" or maybe "a comparison of American Indian burial sites throughout the upper Midwest". Everyone would want to read things like that. It'd be great stuff. Why these essays could even be collected published after my death and become classic works. Except for the death part, that sounds really good.

My other option was to write a simple daily journal of our activities. But it'd be hard to get these published. It'd probably be hard to get anyone to read them at all. Most people have enough trouble keeping up with their own daily activities, much less spending valuable time reading about someone else's.

What to do? The first option sounds like too much work -- putting thoughts together with proper grammar and sentence structure; the coherent flowing from one point to another, from one thought to another, trying to get each essay down to exactly 500 words -- something I struggled with in high school. The second option sounds like too much work too -- having to write something every day; like having a deadline. I'm on sabbatical and shouldn't have deadlines. And a daily journal could become inane and senseless with small details no one cares a whit about... like "today I got up and made coffee, then headed for the bathroom..." No one wants to read that.

Mental struggle. Writer's block. Wringing of hands. What to do?

"Just stop it! That's what to do! Stop thinking about this blog as something it's not." I slapped myself in the face. "Just stop it! If you want to write, just write. Don't care what it looks like or sounds like or what other's might think of it. Just write!"

There. OK. I feel better now.

T

Monday, July 16, 2007

The Toad

Monday, July 16 Hopkins, MI

We now have a "toad", which is RV-language for a vehicle that's towed (get it?) behind the camper. Up to this point, I've been driving the camper and Dar's been driving the car -- our old 1999 Chevrolet Blazer with 127,000 miles on it. This arrangement isn't so bad on short trips. But on longer drives, like we've done this past week, it's boring as heck for Dar. Imagine following a bus going 55 or 60 mph -- for 250 miles. Probably too much to ask.

But today, Monday the 16th, we had a bunch of hardware put on the Chev and a little more on the camper, and we're now capable of towing the "toad" wherever we want. We can now ride together and talk conversationally, instead of over a little hand-held two-way radio. We towed the car about 20 miles home from the shop and Dar had a smile from ear to ear all the way. I'll like the company too.

The people who installed it all, Paul and Jack from Cummins Bridgeway in Grand Rapids, were just top-notch. They were personable, professional, and made sure we were trained properly before we left. The work they did was high-quality too. For a while last week it was looking like we wouldn't be able to get it installed this week due to difficulty in finding a key part for the 8 year old Blazer. But Paul called other installers around the country and found the part -- and saved the day.

So what's it like towing a car behind the camper? I could hardly feel any difference. Because the car is so much smaller than the camper, the rear camera is essential to a relaxed driving experience as it's the only real way to see it at all, to know it's is still there, still rolling along, still not on fire. Others who tow "toads" say there's very little impact in fuel mileage, so we should continue to get between 7 and 8 mpg.

T