Sunday, April 27, 2014

Van Update

The van's come a long way. I put up another batch of insulation, leaving me with two layers of reflectix and some styrofoam board sandwiched in between. The difference in sound-deadening and temperature control is incredible. I still have to insulate the doors, but that's a minor project that I'll tackle later.

I picked up some cheap foam-rubber interlocking flooring from Costco and started the installation thereof. I also completed the bed this weekend! My storage bins ended up fitting in there perfectly, side-by-side, and with enough room left over for AGM battery storage. The top of the bed opens to the front, allowing full access of the interior storage.

I ended up making the bed narrower, and leaving some space between the bed and the back doors. I will use that space for more storage as well as enabling me to carry a bike inside. I'm happy with the change.

There I am, flushed of face and exhausted after spending the whole weekend tackling various projects in the van.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Stephen Foster State Park: Azalea Festival 2011!

In March 2011, I stayed in a cabin at Stephen Foster State Park (yes, the Stephen Foster, folk singer of "Old Folks at Home" fame) with my mother, my older sister, and my two nieces. It was a fun experience for everyone, and our stay there happened to coincide with the park's annual Azalea Festival. Everything was in bloom, including the park's famous azaleas.

I was trying to capture the patterns on the inside of one particular azalea flower when a bee photo-bombed my shot! I was so pleased. Look at him, hard at work. I love bees.

My nieces got into all kinds of harmless mischief at the park; I don't get to see them often, so it was nice to spend time with them and watch them be kids. See that proud girl standing in front of the campfire? She made that all by herself: it was her first campfire!

I have a few more posts to share on the topic of White Springs; we spent quite a bit of time there. We went hiking, horseback riding, and did quite a bit of local exploring (and loafing about). If you have any questions about the park or the surrounding areas, let me know.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Bliss, bears, and belligerence at Cloudland Canyon State Park

I thought I'd take a break from all of the Florida posts in order to share with you my experiences at Cloudland Canyon in Georgia. My older sister and I camped inside the park, and we had the whole campground to ourselves for the most part -- aside from a passing bear in the night and a very loud deer in the morning.

We chose a campsite that was situated near the babbling waters of a deliciously cool creek (seen in the photo below). We used the creek as a sort of primitive refrigerator by placing our drinks in the water and surrounding them with stones so they wouldn't be carried off by the current. It worked like a charm.

That night, as I lay in my hammock, being lulled to sleep by the sounds of the creek, I caught a flash in my peripheral vision. I blinked and looked around. I was suddenly filled with joy and awe as I realized that our entire campsite was populated by a host of fireflies! I called out to my sister and asked if she was seeing what I was seeing; her answer was a hushed, mesmerized, "Yeah...." 

They wafted about languidly, blinking their fluorescent buggy Morse Code to one another. I held out my hand at one point, watching as it became limned by the pulsing glow of each passing firefly. It was such a quiet, magical experience, and I am so grateful to have had it.

When I'm camping, I generally wake up once or twice a night; this trip was no exception. It was still dark; the air held that pre-dawn chill that clings to everything. I drifted between la-la-land and Cloudland, and at one point, that familiar, musky-greasy-dirty bear smell hit me right in the sinuses. I was too groggy to look around and investigate, but it was unmistakably derived from a black bear. I went back to sleep.

The next morning, I was trumpeted awake by a large passing buck. The scenario was pure comedy; I was sleeping face-down in my Warbonnet Blackbird hammock. The deer -- moving from the direction of the nearby creek toward the deeper woods -- walked behind the hammock, and loudly announced his presence to the world. My head shot up; I was instantly awake. My adrenaline was pumping, my eyes were wide. I probably looked ridiculous. I looked around and there he was; striding quickly and purposefully, head held high, the bastard. It was like being roused by a military bugle call.

After I exited my hammock, I stretched and looked around.... Oh.

Our black bear friend -- remember him? -- left us a present in the night as he passed:

It was fresh; still leaking sap. It wasn't there the night before. It was ten feet away from my hammock. Fun times.

 That morning, my sister and I took had a saunter on the West Rim Trail; the hike was fantastic. The trail takes you through several small ecosystems and skirts around the edge of the canyon, offering multiple opportunities to take in the weathered, tree-covered expanse that the park is named for.

This flower -- a hellebore, I think? -- smelled heavenly. I wanted to bottle its essence and wear it always.

It was such a great camping experience that the end of it was almost paradoxical. As we were leaving, I decided to fill up the gas tank at the first station just outside the park before we got on the highway. Long story short, for some reason, my fuel gauge didn't pick up on the fact that there was gas in the tank after I filled up.

I went inside to inquire about the pump, not thinking it could be my car that was the problem. The owner came out, tested the pump, said it was fine. He walked around my car, saw my out-of-state plates, and then proceeded to lose his mind, accusing me of trying to scam him and threatening to shoot my tires if I tried to leave. I remained eerily calm in the face of this sudden assault, and I stayed where I was, and I called the police. I ended up filing a report against the xenophobic asshole, and then we got back on the road to look for another gas station. A few miles later, my fuel gauge finally registered the fuel input.

I laughed.

Let me ask you this, dear readers: have you ever encountered hostile locals while you were traveling? How did you react to their abuses?

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

The Van

I already started putting up the insulation before I realized that I hadn't taken any photos. You can see the first layer done on the roof. I'm using old scraps of Reflectix to start the walls while takes its sweet time sending me the rest of the rolls I ordered.

Already, this conversion is proving to be so much smoother than the first one I did years ago. It truly helps to know what one is doing. If you want to do your own camper van conversion, I cannot stress highly enough the importance of doing your research. Watch YouTube videos, subscribe to blogs, search for web sites on the topic. You also might want to become familiar with basics on construction, plumbing, and gain a general understanding of how electricity systems work -- even if you don't end up installing any of these things yourself. Knowledge is power.

I'll be sure to add a post to the blog with any further updates on the conversion. In the meantime, here's a "bonus lizard;" this cheeky fellow lives in a Christmas cactus outside my front door.

Flat Rock Park

One time, while visiting family, my little sister and I took a day trip and wandered Flat Rock Park in Columbus, Georgia. As you can see, the water level was low when we went; depending on the time of year, the water can be the merest trickle or it can be a unyielding torrent. 

The rocks are very slippery when wet! When the water is at a manageable level, you can slide down the rocks as if on a water slide. Expect bruises. ;)

 I spent the time testing out a Panasonic DSLR that I later returned. I liked the camera; really, I did. It was just a matter of having to choose between two DSLRs, and the Canon won out. If I had the money, I would've kept both.

We found a turtle luxuriating in the muck of one of the many little streams in the park. Check out the algae growth on his shell... and that frown. Sorry for interrupting your quiet time, little brother.

If you've been following this blog for any amount of time, then you might have noticed that I tend to photograph the way that light plays off of objects, plants, and scenes. These next two photos below are no exception to that rule:

My sister and I pointed out various objects and plants to each other as we wandered around the park. At one point, we discovered a broken tree trunk, weathered to a driftwood-like texture and weight. We both agreed that it looked rather like a steer skull, horns and all, so we took turns "modeling" it for maximum effect.

The temperatures began to climb to uncomfortable heights, so we decided to end our visit to Flat Rock Park. We had a lot of fun; hiking, scaling the rocks around the natural water slide, swinging on the swings in the park's playground, and taking lots of photos. I look forward to our next adventure together.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Playing on the Florida Trail at River Bend Park

As an outdoor enthusiast and member of the Florida Trail Association, I do a lot of hiking on the Florida Trail. It is a designated National Scenic Trail, spanning over 1,000 miles all over the state of Florida. It is an unfinished work, with many unconnected segments, so it is essentially a section hiker's dream. There are so many wildly different ecosystems in Florida, and the trail does a great job of showcasing them.

I'm a sucker for old cars, and this one -- laid out to rest under the shade of an even older oak tree -- caught my eye.

This particular hike took me through some pine and palmetto scrub, as well as a floodplain forest. I did this hike with my mother and my dog on a gorgeous mid-March morning in 2012. 

That's my dog, Duchess. Look at that balance! She zoomed across that narrow log like it was nothing.

I couldn't believe the coloring on this insect. It's camouflaged coloring was impressive, but do you see the flash of blue and orange on the inside of its leg? Incredible! Nature is full of happy surprises.

The trail also took us through a few rural backyards; we were greeted by a couple of friendly horses at one point:

We were a few hours into the hike when we came across this water crossing. As common as water crossings are in the southern parts of the Florida Trail, we just didn't feel like getting wet that day, so we decided to turn back. All in all, it was a fantastic hike; great weather, good company, and a couple of interesting ecosystems.