S10 Shakedown

Bob Boyer

Member
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The old Chevy ZR2 idles as we check tail lights, then brake lights on first the truck and then the little motorcycle pop-up camper. We’ll roll out of the driveway with windows down – an homage to years of top-down travelling on two lane roads in a Miata and later a Mustang GT convertible with a tent, a stove, and a couple of sleeping bags. Following six months of chasing minor electrical gremlins, upgrading lights, resurrecting a camper cover which came out of a farmer’s back yard complete with a rack system for $150, adding leather upholstery to an otherwise pristine interior, building out a small organization system for the truck bed, performing a major tune-up, installing new Dick Cepek Trail Country EXPs - replacing tires for the first time since a previous owner did so in 2011, servicing the transmission, differentials, and the transfer case, and chasing missing skid plates while slowly venturing further from home on a few trips to see just what the old girl brings to the party, we hope she’s ready.

A couple of business trips to Nashville, some trips up into the Cherokee National Forest in search of trout and forest service roads, and an annual rendezvous with dear friends down on Tybee Island – six hours from home – show us some her capabilities. Unlike today’s V-6s, the 262 cubic inch Chevy - really just a venerable small block V-8 with either the front or rear two cylinders chopped off, depending upon whom you’re talking with - neither swims nor flies. It’s got the power of a four cylinder and the gas mileage of a V-8. With 3.73 gearing, 70 mph is okay, but she’s really more comfortable between 55 and 65. It leaks a little. My mechanic reminded me, “welcome back to old Chevys”. But it’s not enough to be an issue and there’s no payments, for which there’s much to be said. Just a blue-highway truck for a blue highway kind of guy.

There’s a little Aspen pop-up camper, small and light enough to be pulled by those big Honda cruisers. We purchased it because we were tired of sleeping on the ground and our former travelling companion – that 300 hp Mustang GT – could not, I swear to you, pull more than 1000 pounds gross. There’s a Goal Zero Yeti 400 with the car charger for the CPAP machine, and a Fuji XT-1 with 16-55/2.8 zoom lens – the smaller, lighter, more capable version of the Nikon F3s of a former pro photographer’s younger days. A classic Coleman camp stove, a fancy new cooler, a couple of chairs, a couple of sleeping bags, a lightweight folding table, 5 gallons of water, a couple of toolboxes for both the truck and the trailer, and some supplies. It’s been whittled down quite a bit so we can see how everything behaves if we only have a couple of hundred pounds of stuff in the back of the truck and maybe another couple of hundred in the back of the little trailer. Because of a couple of years of health issues for both of us, the little trailer has not seen much use, just a few weekend trips with friends. We’re a bit weaker than when we bought it from a retired Fed Ex pilot who took it to California and back behind his Goldwing, so we need to see if the routine of setting it up and taking it down is more than we want to bargain for now. Hopefully it’s not. If it is, we’ll rethink our needs, not our desire to roam for increasingly longer trips with more time spent off-grid.

The route has been planned, consulting Google’s mighty glowing screen and transferring the information to folding paper maps. We’re old school that way. We’ll be working from paper maps for this trip as we try to assess some digital options on our smartphones before deciding whether to go with a new tablet or an all-out GPS. Or neither. We’ll keep a log in a well-worn 2010 US atlas just so we can remember where we’ve been – adding the trip to the others in our memory banks.

Other than hunting between overdrive, fourth, third, and occasionally second while climbing the Cumberland Plateau on cruise control, the truck drove unremarkably – as it should. Quickly learning that transmission shifting could be minimized on long uphill grades by using the right-foot cruise control, we found our comfort zone around 60 mph on the two-lane farm roads of Tennessee, Kentucky, and Indiana. From Chattanooga across the verdant Cumberland Plateau to Cookeville on state road 111 then northward to Dale Hollow Lake and on through central Kentucky, skirting the west side of Louisville and crossing the Ohio River into Indiana at Paynesville, the old truck rumbled.

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Already an overcast-to-flat partly cloudy early in the morning, the skies grew increasingly restless as we drove northwards, breaking occasionally and finally letting loose around 3 pm with the first of several thunderstorms we encountered. We had planned on setting up camp at McCormick’s Creek State Park but those late afternoon thunderstorms grew increasingly nasty, and the weather radio noted they included the threat of tornadoes, which caused us to rethink our plans. We ended up in an airbnb in Bloomington with lightening cracking around us. It should be one of our longer days at 360 miles, give or take.

Tomorrow, the farm roads of Indiana will lead north past the fields of emergent stalks of corn – a symbol of the state’s agricultural past and present as we amble up US 231, Indiana 43, and US 431 towards the Michigan border where we track the western coastline to some friends’ summer house in Pentwater.

Then a quiet couple of days catching up, getting some provisions, and maybe unlimbering a 7’ bamboo fly rod of my own making on the Manistee River. The trout have no worries, though.

From Pentwater, a couple of hours north to Sleeping Bear Dunes National Seashore for one night and some exploration and landscape photography before wandering through Traverse City’s cherry heritage the next day on the way to the Upper Peninsula and Brimley for a couple of nights, allowing us to wander up to Whitefish Bay and say howdy to Sault St. Marie on the way in or out. Tracing the beginnings of Michigan’s eastern coast, we’ll set up camp in Cheboygan for another couple of nights with our oldest son-in-law’s parents joining us. We’ll be taking the ferry to Mackinac Island and hopefully we’ll also enjoy one of Michigan State Park’s Dark Sky programs. From there, we wander south along the eastern coast to Bay City where we’ll camp while checking out the German food and American kitsch of Frankenmuth before venturing further south and inland to Grand Ledge where our younger son-in-law’s mother lives. From Grand Ledge, it’s due south, criss-crossing the Ohio – Indiana border until crossing back into Kentucky for a couple or three distillery tours in Bardstown. We’ve been advised to save the distillery closest to My Old Kentucky Home State Park’s campground until last as the hospitality folks there tend towards heavy pours. My kind of day. Homeward next, past both Abe Lincoln’s birthplace and boyhood homes, back across the Cumberland to return to a doctor’s appointment and a meeting with someone who’s advising us on Medicare options before checking back in to work after July 4th.

Or not. The more we travel, the better retirement looks. At least that was what was on my mind as we pulled out of the driveway.
 

Dougnuts

Observer
Maker’s Mark is my recommended distillery. We have visited all of the ones on the Bourbon Trail, and then some. Maker’s was an unanimous pick as our, and the other couple’s, favorite site, it’s just so pretty. I also really like the recently opened Castle and Key in Frankfort KY, but their bourbon is still a few years out.
 

Bob Boyer

Member
Thanks for that heads-up, Doug. We've been to the Buffalo Trace, Jim Beam small batch, and Woodford Reserve (Labrot & Graham?) distilleries over the years so we'll add a couple or three more on this stop. We'll make sure to include the Maker's tour.
 

Bob Boyer

Member
Days 2, 3 and 4

Rain, or the future possibility thereof. Details. Things left behind. Damn, where is that battery charger for the camera batteries? Then, where can I find a camera charger for the camera batteries? I didn’t drive 1000 miles to come away empty-handed. First the rain forecast is wreaking havoc with my photography plans and next comes the realization that it may not matter as the camera batteries are almost dead anyway.

None of that matters Saturday evening in looking at the Pentwater river from behind the fire pit at friends’ house. It’s been a busy two days catching up, helping them get settled after moving into their summer home from their old home where they used to live in Chattanooga, checking out beach front sunsets, watching the Great Lakes’ last coal-burning car ferry dock next to a beautiful lakefront park in Ludington after its four hour voyage from Manitowoc, Wisconsin, and yes, heading up to Sleeping Bear Dunes early because of the threat of lousy weather when we are going to be there.

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As drives go, it’s been another good trip so far. Though the first two days were longer, we’re now looking at two to four-hour drives between stops as we make our way around the mitten. It’s been good to just stretch our legs on the north-and-south two lanes in Kentucky and Indiana, and to wander through coastal Michigan burgs on the way to Sleeping Bear Dunes today. And yes, there is at least one real camera store left in middle America - Camera Outfitters in Lafayette, Indiana, to be exact. A big shout out to those ladies who did have a universal battery charger with the needed Fuji attachment.

The weather, which will go south tomorrow, has been good to us since the storms in Indiana. Comfortable temperatures brought out the old guys in their old convertibles to tool up and down US Highway 31 today and the tourists to the Dunes. Checking out an actual Jeep Gladiator at the Chrysler-Dodge-Jeep dealer in Manistee and answering questions about the new tires from a couple of folks at stops along the way. In between looking for images, it was interesting to listen to park rangers and hear of the effect of logging on the vast sand hills for which this part of Michigan is so known – both at Silver Lake and at Sleeping Bear – and what last century’s mistakes mean for this century’s inhabitants.

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Tomorrow we get real. Opening up the pop-up tent in what will most likely be rain for the first time since we acquired it, then breaking camp the next day in the rain as well. Thankfully, Monday’s drive to Brimley promises a drier couple of days for our exploration of Whitefish Bay on Tuesday as we start making notes – the good, the mistakes, and the experiences. But for now, the view and the fire are all that’s important.
 

Frazeur1

New member
Nice pics! I made a trip up to Luddington a year ago and enjoyed the area, walking to the light house, seeing the smoke-belching dragon of the Luddington Ferry! I am trying to get a little R&R scheduled for the UP soon, want to head up to Copper Harbor and then on around to Marquette and who knows where else. Thanks for sharing your trip! Oh, the S10 looks good too, appears to be in nice shape! And don't even talk about retiring, I am sooo ready, shame the bank account isn't!
 

Bob Boyer

Member
So a few notes after returning from Mackinac Island before it starts raining again. Tent camping - in any form in bad weather - is tough. It’s made more so by what we’ve come to learn is bad organization, in spite of our best efforts. The trailer is just a tub as is the back of a pickup. This can lead to the appearance of organization which constant rain quickly unmasks. The constant juggling of stuff from one vessel to another based on forecasts saps energy that should be directed towards the travel experience. It’s time to consider hard sided alternatives and take a serious look at what is actually needed in a camp kit. We like it but need to get much better at it. Good lessons learned in a gentle environment. More photos to come as wi-fi again becomes available. For now, dinner with friends who joined us in Cheboygan.
 

devero4

Adventurer
Now in Texas, I'm originally from Northern Indiana. Looking back, I never wandered away to the places I should have when I lived there, as you as doing now. Maybe one day I will get to see more of those areas. Enjoy!
 

Bob Boyer

Member
With one exception - a day trip to Mackinac Island to see how the one-percent vacations - our journey basically became one of photographing lighthouses around the coasts. In spite of the rain, we managed to find three nice days to enjoy some of the sights. Sleeping Bear Dunes were impressive - their physical presence imposing.

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In the next week, we found good weather for the trip to Whitefish Point with stops along the way.

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And as the weather cleared while we were on Mackinac Island, we came back to be treated to a wonderful sunset in Cheboygan.

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All in all, a good trip. Learned a lot and it begins with rethinking our organization and saving for a small enclosed trailer.
 

L3TT3RS

@pooping_outside
Excellent write up. Thanks for the details!
I as a kid had a crush on the that generation s10 zr2 single cab. Dad's close friend had one in red and I always imagined it would be my first truck, alas it was not. I'm happy to see that there are still some of these trucks kicking around.
 
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