super random stuff…

I’ve been home from my last trip for 35 days…seems like forever.  The longer I live, the more I wish to be traveling…all the time.  It feels like a flaw, yet I know deep in my soul I am the happiest on the road & exploring new places.  To say I feel trapped by winter is a huge understatement, yet I keep trying, year after year, to embrace the stillness that winter brings.  I keep failing.

So, I try to stay busy…get things done; learn new stuff; update or repair what needs fixing; research & get whatever gear I might need for upcoming trips.  I always come home from my season of traveling with a huge long list of things to get to done.  Things most people would find trivial & boring, but it keeps me focused & makes me feel ready to hit the road again as soon as I can.

Here’s whats been going on in my rather boring home life in Kansas:

My poor 20 year old 4Runner has had a tough year.  I get it.  It seems my body took some hits this year also, but we’re both fortunate that we can be put back together & neither of us are ready to give up on our road tripping outdoor lifestyle. Besides the new transmission that she got while on the road in California, once home she got new back brakes, new tires, an alignment, & the leak fixed from the new transmission.  She’s still lacking an emergency brake, about 10” of her tailpipe & we’ve been talking about the preventative measure of getting the water pump & timing belt changed….that’s expensive, but it’s something that could definitely strand me if it quits working.  But, she’s really good to go if I get the opportunity…. it’s been an expensive year for Camper.  She’s still my first pick of vehicles & every mechanic who has worked on her (which the list is long…my Toyota guy here in Kansas, one in Florida, one in California, & one in Colorado) is super encouraging of investing in my 3rd generation 4Runner rather than buying a new one.  I agree!

 This is always the time of year I figure out what I need for next year.  I’m not one to upgrade to the latest & greatest.  I buy great quality gear the first time around & it lasts forever…& you get this weird attachment to your outdoor gear, or maybe that’s just me.  But for the past two years, our tents have taken a beating.  They’re both pretty old, but the constant hot sun on the fabric has made them brittle.  Then, the past two summers the winds have been tortuous it seems.  One rip led to a huge rip, then several more…on both tents.  I’m wanting to start backpacking again, so it was time to research, choose & invest a new tent.  I am a little crazy about research…whether it’s a piece of gear or gifts for my granddaughters, I go down the deep rabbit hole of research.  Decisions seem to take me forever, but I know I’ll probably have that piece of gear for years.  At this age, I think, “Oh, this will probably be the last tent I ever buy”…till death do us part.

I narrowed it down to two tents:  The MSR Hubba Hubba or the Nemo Dragonfly.  I want to see, set up & lay down in a tent before I purchase it.  I chose these two from REI & had them shipped to the house.  It was my intention to take BOTH back when I’d made my decision & wait for the ‘chosen one’ to go on sale.  But, of course, the day AFTER I ordered them, one went on sale & the 20% coupon came out for members.

IMG 6682.jpg

They both arrived & I was like a kid in candy store, but I was actually in my living room.  I set both up & started to investigate…the zippers, the room inside, the way it would stake out, the weight, the size….it went on all afternoon.  When Danny got home from a long hard day at work, I asked him to crawl inside each one & feel what it would be like to sleep inside it.   

I really thought I’d go with the MSR Hubba Hubba….but

in the end I chose the Nemo Dragonfly.  It was lighter by almost a pound & I love the dark mesh on top so if you leave the rainfly off, you can see the stars better at night.

I called REI the next day & asked if they’d give me the 20% coupon off over my already purchased tent…& they did!  Then I promptly took  the MSR tent back to the store. Yay!  I’m ready to go backpacking anytime!  Who wants to go with me?

There’s only one other piece of gear I need for my upcoming trips & that’s at least one, maybe two, phone chargers.  The two that I had been using died last year & I’ve yet to replace them.  But I will…to me it’s an essential piece of equipment for car camping & keeping things charged is always a challenge.  There are a gazillion choices out there & that will be one deep rabbit hole of research & probably pricey, but thats my last piece of gear to add for 2022.  

Backcountry stuff but not gear…
There were two Black Friday sales I took advantage of this year…one was a Pro Membership to Gaia.  It’s a app that will let you download all kinds of maps & do sort of a live tracking to keep you on the trails even when you don’t have service. It can also show you backcountry roads & possible camping sites.  I’ve sort of gotten badly lazy & not always taking maps with me when I’m in new places.  This probably shouldn’t replace a real map, but it’s better than no map.  Now I just need to learn to use it.  When I recently went hiking in Kansas, Gaia didn’t even have the trail in it’s library (not surprised…more on this trip later)…so I couldn’t practice using the app.  It’s gotten great reviews though & I just need to learn how it works now.

The second Black Friday special I signed up for was a basic Wilderness First Aid course, done on Zoom by an ER Doctor associated at a University hospital in Utah.  It was pretty basic, but probably covered most things you’d encounter in wilderness situations.  There were 30 of us in class…complete with questions we had to answer, gory photos & a test at the end.  I knew most of what to do already, but there were new things to learn & I always need things like this repeated.  I’ve added this to my to-do list, to listen to the transcript at least once a month.  I’m hoping it just seeps into my brain & if I’d ever need it (boy do I hope I never, ever do), I’ll just instinctively have it stored in my brain & really be able to come through for myself or someone else.

IMG 7018.jpg

Spanish Lessons
Speaking of learning, I have had it on my list for years, to learn to speak Spanish.  I’ve also ignored this list item for years.  So, when the Mexico trip came up quick & fast, I dived into the language just to try to learn some basics.  I have books from a Spanish course I took when I worked at the college, but that was years ago.  I carried those books in Camper all last spring & summer to be ready to learn on the road…but I continued to ignore them.  So, once back home from Mexico & having mastered “Hola” & “Buenos Dios”, I wanted to continue to learn.  Speaking only three words is rather pathetic, so I started listening to “Coffee Break Spanish”.  It’s a podcast but somehow it resonates with me.  I’m writing the phrases down phonetically, so nowhere close to how it’s actually spelled, but just trying to get the pronunciation right instead.  I do two lessons a day & miss about 2 days a week, but I’m slowly making progress.

A Sewing Project…
Usually in the fall, I have multiple craft/sewing projects.  It’s the only time of year I drag out the sewing machine, glue gun, rotary cutter, pompoms, glitter, etc.  But, this year I only had one.  Sad for me, since I still like crafting once a year.  I usually make a Halloween costume, a SantaCon costume, some stuff for the grand girls, & so on.  The lonely item on my list for this year was two fleece skirts.  I’m calling these “bun warmers”.  While I was in the Grand Canyon on a float trip, one of the guides told us about another guide who owned a company called Funluvin’ Fleece.  I looked them up once back on land & loved their stuff.  I always wish I could buy from small businesses, but sometimes I just can’t afford their prices.  And, it’s not like I NEED it, but it’s just something I’d like to wear.  Then I wondered if I could make a couple myself.  I found a simple pattern for free online, found a sale at a fabric store & took an evening to make the skirts. They were easy, way way cheaper than buying them already made & I love the way they turned out & fit.  The crazy desert pattern was supposed to be my ‘trial’ skirt, but I ended up loving it…it just may be too wild to wear out of the house, but maybe not.  I have tights, boots & fleece pullovers to wear with both…should be nice & cozy.

IMG 7074.jpg

She buys a gadget…
I really hate it when I do things like this.  It was the day I was out with my sister-in-law on our annual birthday celebration for her.  We tend to do the same things every year, but I always look forward to my time with her.  I’m not a big shopper, but I do kind of enjoy it when I’m with someone else.  I shopped with my Mom & Grandmother a lot as a kid.  And I always wish I could do this with my daughter, Claire & Emma, but it never happens.  So, back to my new gadget.  We always go to Nordstroms gift department which is decorated for the holidays & filled with stuff I’ve usually never seen.  Being one who doesn’t watch TV or shop much, I’m usually the last to know (like years later) about a great product.  We found various boxes by a brand called “Dash”.  They were small kitchen appliances in pretty colors: one made waffle sticks, one made donuts, tiny bundt cakes & the one I bought, made little bitty pies…just a smidge bigger than the palm of my hand.  Anyone who has shopped with me, knows I’m horrible at making $20 decisions (unless it’s a beer!).  I can overthink it to death!  Even after I had it home, it sat in the box, haunting me everytime I’d walk by it.  I purchased it because I thought it would be a nice addition to my once a month cooking…making Danny small sweet or savory pies to freeze…perfect for one person.  And, I was thinking…" if the little girls ever get to come back to visit at my house, how much fun it would be to make tiny pies".  Well, it finally made it out of the box, got cleaned, got used & here’s the end result….

I made 12 pies on my first attempt, learning as I went.  I made 4 turkey pot pies, 4 apple pies, & 4 quiches.  Danny ate one of each then we froze the rest.  No going back now….the gadget is mine to keep.

Meet our new family member…
Frank the Gargoyle.  Go ahead & call me crazy & take away my "minimalist badge”.  Before last Christmas adopting a gargoyle had never entered my mind.  Then I found the Facebook Page called “Frank the Christmas Gargoyle”.  I found it early & started reading the entries.  In a nutshell, a slightly depressed woman started dressing up the gargoyle that sat on her porch, in Christmas garb.  One thing led to another & soon she had a whole porch filled with crazy Christmas creatures.  Then it got hilarious.  A neighbor whom she referred to as “Karen” started writing her nasty letters, turning her into the HOA & then the Mayor.  The gargoyle kept getting more & more friends as the complaints came.  And the FB page, kept getting more fans by the thousands.  By the end of Christmas, the lady had found a purpose, although pretty random & slightly crazy & I wanted a gargoyle.  I had lots of company, hundreds of people started buying gargoyles & naming them.  It’s the little bizarre things in life that sometimes bring a smile to your face, & I loved this page!  I told one of my friends about wanting a gargoyle….a really tiny one…& during my spring road trip she texted me that a friend had given her one & did I want it?  Fast forward to this fall when I was back & my friend & I hadn’t managed to get together for me to get my gargoyle from her, when she texted me she’d some really small ones at a pop up sale near me & told me the time & place when they were open next.  So, early one Saturday morning, I went to gargoyle hunting.  It wasn’t much of a hunt & I knew I had to bond with the right one…remember, I’m picky & I don’t part with a $20 easily (except for beer) & I knew I only wanted one…THE ONE.  When I got to the place, there was only one gargoyle.  He looked at me & I looked at him.  We stared at each other.  He was the right size.  He had a serious look on his face.  I picked him up & looked closer….& then we bonded.  I knew this was MY Frank!  My search for a gargoyle was over & his search for a family was done too.  I texted my friend & it turns out she wanted to keep the friend-given gargoyle for herself & I shared the FB story with her.  She posted a photo last week of her bow-dressed gargoyles & I think she has four!

IMG 6955.jpg

Now the only thing crazier than wanting then buying a gargoyle is to dress a gargoyle.  I did question my sanity as I pulled out bits of red fabric & white trim & stitched Frank a cute Santa hat & scarf.  He now sits on the table on our front porch, taking in the scenery in the front yard, watching the birds that flitter by, the traffic on the road, the Amazon & UPS delivery men than drop packages at our door.  Danny & I say “Hi" to him every night as we turn on the twinkly lights that shine on his porch.  He likes the twinkly lights…not everything about gargoyles are fierce.  

A trip camping & hiking in Kansas…
I tried.  I’ve never loved my state.  The longer I’m in it, the more I don’t want to be.  In a desperate move, I decided to take one more camping trip before the end of the year.  I couldn’t go far…it’s already snowing loads in Colorado; it gets dark every night by 6pm & the temps are dropping to more-than-chilly.  I seriously couldn’t remember ever camping in Kansas before.  I loaded up Camper for a two night trip & hit the road mid week.  I drove the boring highway through the plains for nearly 3 hours finally stopping at Wilson Lake State Park.  There are two entities that regulate this park; one side by the state & one side by the Corps of Engineers.  There were some rolling hills as I approached my turn off.  No one was here.  I stopped on the State Park side, got a map & talked to the woman at the Visitors Center about camping & hiking.  I took about an hour to drive around the lake looking for the perfect campsite. Every one was available.  They were $10 a night. The trail I wanted to hike today, was on the Corp side, so I drove over there.  I found a nice campsite on the lake, dropped my chair, unloaded my firewood & drove back to the trailhead.  This was the Rock Town trail… a whopping 2.5 miles (so glad I drove 3 hours to hike a teeny-tiny trail).  This one is known for it’s rock formations on the edge of the lake.  I took off through a field of grasses blowing in the wind & quickly made it to the lake & to the TWO rock formations.  

The color in the nearby rocks was really cool…certainly not what you see in this state, more like Utah & Arizona.  I photographed & took long looks at the colored rocks.

Here are the two formations.

I think I spent almost as much time crawling & climbing on the rocks & getting this selfie, as I did on the whole hike.

Okay…that was nice.  Super short but nice.  I drove into the next town about 10 miles away called Lucas (great name!)  It’s known for a place there called the Garden of Eden.  It was super weird.  Lots of super religious overtones…somewhere between creepy & interesting.  

IMG 6872.jpgIMG 6877.jpg

But the rest of the town is pretty much nothing.  So many Kansas towns are like this.  I didn’t even see a grocery store & it seems in the middle of nowhere.  Leaving the town I passed a huge…super huge cemetery.  I think there were more dead people there than alive in the town.

I drove back to my campsite on the Corp side of the lake.  Its free if youre not at a hook up site.  But when I got back it was so windy!  I was parked on a point & I didnt think Id be able to make a campfire if I stayed there.  I packed up my wood & my chair & drove down the hill towards another part of the lake but lower, hoping to find a break from the wind.  I passed one other camper who was camping in big huge trailer.  I drove over to the far side & didnt see one other person.  I found a site & even though it was an electrical site, I figured no one would care.  Then I walked to the bathrooms which were locked up tightoh well (the other site Id been at had an unlocked bathroom).  I made a salad, sat on the picnic table, ate & stared out at the lake.  There was one fisherman in his boat but it was all pretty quiet.  As it got colder, I hauled out all my wood & built a fire & watched the sunset light up the sky.  That was very pretty.

As darkness started to fall as well as the temperature, my fire kept me warm, but I ended up using all the firewood I brought.  I was pretty sure at this point, I wouldn’t be staying another night.  I had a long hike I wanted to do tomorrow, but I wasn’t feeling like I’d want to stay another night.

I crawled into Camper when the fire died, talked to Danny, then read for a short time.  I had hardly slept the night before & I was dead tired.  I loved tucking into my bed in Camper again.  I  can’t explain how much I enjoy traveling in my version of a camper.  I fell asleep quickly & early, only to wake up in the middle of the night for a few hours then doze back off.  As soon as the sun was just starting to rise I woke up…I love this!  It’s how it is everytime I spend time camping…tucking in at dark & waking with sun (even if there are hours in between that are icky).  I watched the sun light up the sky, threw on my jacket, grabbed my coffee stuff & made a cup.  It was cold but I loved sitting on the table, watching the sky light up while drinking my hot strong coffee.

I packed up & drove over to the State Park side, paid my $5 & found my trail.  The woman at the Visitors center told me to start to the right; the bikers went left.  I needed to use the bathroom, but it was also locked up…seriously?  I took a 5.5 loop, hoping to add some distance onto that when I finished.  I took off through another grass field with hay bales all around.  To sum up this hike…I pretty much was never more than a mile from my car.  The trail builders tried hard & succeeded to get 5.5 miles out of this trail, but you essentially went back & forth & round & round, only seeing the lake a couple of times, but all the hay bales frequently.    I’ll just end this by saying, I was over it by the time I was done with the loop.  I got in my car & left. I drove to the next “big” town, called Salina & had lunch & a good jalapeño beer at Blue Skye brewery & then I went home.

I have a friend who lives a life that I know would make me crazy, but I really admire her a lot.  She travels around Kansas taking amazing photographs of cemeteries, old statues, libraries, prairies, etc.  She quilts, she cans, she gardens, but most of all she loves her life in Kansas. She sees such wonderful beauty in this state.  I am in awe of her & how she does it.  

Yet, it’s not me & never will be.  I ended this trail & this whole camping trip, trying not to think of it as a waste of time & bitching about walking in circles looking at hay bales.  I told myself, instead, what a lucky woman I am to have hiked hundreds of miles on amazing trails, to have seen so much breath taking beauty & camped in magnificent places.  

A trip down memory lane…
My mother in law, who passed away 1 1/2 years ago, had a best friend named Betty.  Betty is such a happy person, never without a smile & she is 94.  I know she feels lost without her best friend & most of her other friends have died as well.  Danny & I try to call & visit her as much as possible.  A few weeks ago I had taken her a tenderloin from a place she’s talked about for months.  During that lunch, she recounted her childhood, which was difficult.  I asked her last week if she’d like to take some time & I’d drive her around to places she remembers from her childhood & I’d drive by mine too.  So, we took a few hours & did that.  

This was my house I grew up in until 7th grade.  Funny how things look so much smaller.

The house my Mother, Grandmother & I lived in & rented 7th grade through my senior year in high school.

And, this was the house Danny & I lived in our first year of marriage.  Yikes!  It’s the only other house we’ve lived in besides the one we live in now...

The houses all seem so drab now & poor.  I never lived around rich kids but I went to school with them.  I knew we didn’t have much money & I was being raised by a single Mom.  But when I look back on growing up in my family, I feel so lucky & fortunate to have been loved by my Mom & Grandmother.  

Betty & I had lunch at hamburger place that has tons of memories for me with my Mom.  It was a good day & Betty enjoyed herself.  I know we both miss Phyllis.

Black Friday Tradition…
A few years ago, Danny & I discovered a beer we love.  It’s one of my #1 beers (I have two #1’s).  It’s only released on Black Friday & is usually limited by the number of bottles one person can buy.  So, we started the tradition of going from liquor store to liquor store, buying up our limit & spending a boatload of $$$ on Bourbon County Stout (this is NOT a tough decision).  This year was no different, except we only had to go Lawrence.  We lucked out big time, when one store offered to sell us all they had & another store sold me a case …that’s unheard of!  This is 14% beer…we call it a share-beer, because we typically only drink it when we’re together & can share a bottle (I’m drinking one as I write this article & I’m sure it’s enhancing my writing skills!)  Yay!  We have enough to get us through the year!

Christmas Lights…
I love Christmas lights!  We’ve never put them up outside our own house, but the inside of my house is filled all year round with twinkly lights….on the front porch, over my fireplace, in my front window & in my bedroom….out of control twinkly lights (& of course, I have some in Camper too).

I love to drive & see the displays everywhere.  I always take an evening, usually alone but bring along a cup of hot tea & drive around Lawrence to check out the holiday lights.

Then I always make it to the Plaza in Kansas City to look at their lights!  This year I took a long walk up to Loose Park waiting for the night sky & darkness before heading back to the Plaza.


Love all these brightly lit towers!


A little sliver of the moon showing.


Another Christmas tradition I enjoy is visiting the Festival of Trees at the historic Liberty Hall in Lawrence.

PMYX7233.jpgIMG 6798.jpg

I walk my local trails several times a week, either alone or with  2 or 3 super awesome women.  I have a list going of new trails within 25 miles; I’m trying to walk someplace different at least once a week.  There is just something wonderful about being outside…I can be in a crappy mood or have a slight headache, but get me out on the trails in fresh air, & all the negative floats away with the wind.  I’m enjoying every good weather day we have & trying not to think about cold dreary winter days in Kansas.

Danny & I have decided not to decorate our house for Christmas this year.  We have no family coming to celebrate & it just seems depressing.  I have my winter tree I put up every November through Februarya homemade wooden tree with twinkly lights, red birds & a tiny bit of sparkle. My shopping has been done for awhile, all has been shipped & delivered.

I wish you all a Happy Christmas & hope yours is filled with family, friends, laughter & most of all love.   Wweroiweuprou                                                                                                                                                 © Vicki Hill 2023