Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Back To The Wilderness - Van Repairs Made

READERS TAKE WARNING… this is a BOOK, not a blog post.

I have finally departed my friend’s place in southeast Arizona where I have spent the last three months making repairs and alterations to my rig, in anticipation of having shoulder surgery and maybe being unable to continue life as I have known for the past ten years.
There were a number of changes that were needed.


Very little room to work, to pry to old one loose, clean off the metal, and replace with the new one, less than 5”.
1) Most important of all, while in Washington state in September, my roof vent began leaking badly. You can get major mold and mildew problems inside a van if you allow such a thing.   I would at the least have to recaulk it… a major project with the cargo rack on top of the van…
and only five inches of space to work in between roof and cargo rack.  But it was raining too hard for me to tackle the problem there, and no inside shelter/garage to work in, so I put plastic over it and headed south to dry country, abandoning the idea of having shoulder surgery in Washington state.
As I drove, thinking about how much work that was going to be, I realized it made no sense to do all that and re-install a nine-year old fan, so I decided to find the money somehow to buy a new fan.  It came while I was camped in Ehrenberg, AZ and I went on to join the GalVanNation group at the RTR where I tackled the problem, and solved it.  Very challenging and I twisted and turned this old body in ways I did not know it would go… and challenged my bum shoulder in ways it did not appreciate.
Only way to fit suitcase on top was to have it overlap the vent fan hole.  Vent lid only opens 1/2 way with panel down, but all the way when panel is tilted up.  It works. Also, wind can not blow the vent cover off.
2)  My suitcase solar panel weighed 45 pounds and was big and bulky… and getting more and more difficult to lift in and out of the van or trailer and set up and move around.  Since I decided I could no longer lift the kayak on and off the top of the van, I decided to permanently mount the suitcase up there in the kayak parking space.  I consulted with Solar Bill’s first to make sure there was nothing technically wrong with that concept.  Then the challenge was, how to get it up there without help.  Luckily a friend came by to assist with that… and I secured it in place, however, not nearly secure enough, and wind came along and blew it off and it went crashing to the ground (in the middle of the night).  I don’t know why, but it did not break.  I re-mounted it… this time alone… and using bolts, washers and nuts instead of screws.  I must have gone up and down that ladder hundreds of times.

Another friend helped me figure out a way to better secure the legs when it was in a tilted-up position.  This has been a real challenge indeed, but I think it is good-to-go now.  Nice having 290 watts of solar up there instead of only 130 watts.

I had installed a plug on the outside of the passenger door where the suitcase plugged in when it sitting on the ground.  Now with the panel on the roof, I temporarily ran the wires down over the roof and plugged them in the same way, but later drilled a new hole in the roof, right above my battery bank and re-ran and reconnected the wires.

So that gave me 290 watts of solar to charge 345 ah of battery… when I mentioned that to a friend, he said he had a 60 watt panel I could have.  I ordered a controller for it, and installed it on the remaining space available on the roof, bringing my system to 350 watts of solar for 345 ah of battery bank.  Pretty good ratio, but I think I have done some damage to my batteries by trying to keep them charged using only 130 watt panel plus what they get off the alternator while I am driving. 

Sometimes they get pretty low overnight just keeping the refridge and freezer working.  I need to find the 110 cords for those appliances and connect to shore power whenever I can.

I may be looking at having to buy new batteries before long but will first check with Solar Bill in Quartzsite to see what the warranty covers.  During surgery and recovery, I won’t be using them much and maybe they can get charged back up???  But, me thinks, the damage could be irreversible.   Maximum charge reading I am getting on my Controller during full sun is 14.02… and I think it should go higher than that (like 14.4) in full sun mid day???  Last night (5/28) it dropped to 11.7 by bedtime.  I started the engine a couple times to charge it back up a bit, but worrying kept me from sleeping very well.  I reset the range on both refridge and freezer so they were not trying to stay as cold.  This is a problem I will have to address soon.

3) Biggest physical issue I had to solve, however, was how to keep my kayak accessible and manageable during recovery and not be frustrated (I.e. loose my mind) by being unable to kayak at all.  Full recovery for the surgery I am probably having could be a year.  A year without kayaking… hard to imagine.  So I came up with this idea of rebuilding the inside of my trailer so that I could have a chute on the floor of the trailer that the kayak would just slide into right off it’s cart, with no lifting other than an inch or two which I could do with my good arm alone. 

Once the concept was worked out in my mind, I needed a place to unload most of the contents and get to work.  I am the luckiest woman in the world to have a friend like Linda May.  I had barely arrived at her place to ask if it might be possible to tackle that there, when she just straight out offered… as if she were reading my mind.  It was a long and difficult process, of unloading, sorting, downsizing, deconstructing, constructing, and then somehow making it all fit again, but I did it.
It was in real bad shape.
Other projects including resealing the roof rack with high quality Roof Coating, resealing the trailer roof with what was left,  installing the old vent fan in the trailer, and fixing peeling paint on the van so it didn’t look trashy.  (still a work in progress as wet sanding is needed and then a good clear coat)  But it looks pretty good right now. 

 




Masking a Chevy van with blue painters tape does not always work… as it will peal more of the crappy paint off when you remove it.  Have had that happen in a couple spots… and need to fix them, again.  Still have more work to do which I hope to complete prior to surgery.

There were many more smaller projects I took care of during that down time, mending clothes and getting a tooth pulled, donating my bike and giving my bike rack away. No point in having an old bike hanging out in the weather for a long long time, when I might not even be able to lift it on and off the rack again anyway, and also the bike rack itself is very heavy.  Time to let go.  One day, in the future, I may have to upgrade to an e-bike, and/or folding bike that can be stored inside the trailer.

But finally all the major projects were done, Southeast Arizona was getting really really hot and I was ready to hit the road again, back to the wilderness.

May 18, I headed into the Chiricahua Mountains, to explore a totally new-to-me area.   Saw a coyote along the road but I was not fast enough to get a photo.  Saw many Century Agave Plants, maybe dozens or hundreds.  Also this plant???  Feels good to get away finally and just be thinking of nature.


Stopped at Leslie Canyon… walked a short distance but not the full 2 miles, as my van and trailer were parked on the road.  I would like to hike it one day.












Continuing on the way, I also saw lots of deer and wild turkey.
 


I drove to the end of 74E and found Rucker Forest Camp Campground.  I took the last spot at end of the road and was the only person in camp.  Perfect. The air was good, it smelled of pine.  I was enjoying hearing wind blow through the tree tops instead of just blowing against my van with nothing at all to buffer it. LOL I had no internet signal.



Wait, here comes Grandma and Grandpa with a small one in tow.  They took the two spots next to me, reserving one for people to come later.  Who knew setting up a small folding travel trailer would take so much banging or that one itty bitty little boy could holler so loud for so long?  Well, at least no one can have fires. 


By morning there were two more cars there.  Being a Friday night when I arrived, I anticipated that might be the case, so I only paid for one night.  So, I dropped the trailer there and went exploring, until 2pm checkout.  There was suppose to be a lake nearby with dispersed camping… and I went it search of it.  I took FS 628… which is “NOT maintained for passenger cars” but found I could not get through with the van and certainly not towing the trailer.  I think the lake was up that way.



At this point, I decided against going farther.  I walked a bit farther and turned back.
Later I found this information about the “lake.” 
This camp is located at the end of a Forest road that wanders up Rucker Canyon into the Chiricahua high country. Campsites are situated on both sides of the road in a stand of big trees that include ponderosa pine, Apache pine and Arizona cypress. This is bear country, so you’ll want to take advantage of the bear proof food boxes for storing your cooler and any other odorous items. On the way to Rucker Forest Camp, you’ll pass old Rucker Lake bed, which silted in after the Rattlesnake Fire in 1994. Rucker Creek still runs nearby. Closer to the campground, a number of Forest trails offer opportunities to explore the Chiricahua Wilderness high on the upper slopes.
So I turned around, parked and had breakfast.  At least I was getting some peace and quite which is what I was seeking.  Then I decided to write awhile.  I still had to tackle a very bad stretch of road to get out of there.  Next I went on to scout out a couple more roads… FS 4243 and 4244, 4245… these too looked problematic. 

I found a Fire Station, not on the map, near those roads.  That lake I was looking for was also not on the map, but I think was up at the end of FS 628.  I think there are places the F.S. no longer wants people to go.  It is frustrating.  I spotted some small yellow finches and heard woodpeckers nearby.

 Returning to my campsite, I found no other campers in the campground before Rucker, or in Rucker itself, save the folks next to me????  WTF???  They could have stayed farther way from me.  I hooked up the trailer and headed out to one of the boondocking spots I had just found.  It was a good spot and I found these strange fungi.




But, I had this creepy feeling all night long… and thought I heard a vehicle pull up and doors close.  Saw no one.  Middle of night I heard two knocks on my van but no one was there.  That happens each time I am parked somewhere that doesn’t feel right.  I woke early and just decided to head out. Vandweller rule #1… if it feels creepy, leave.  Drove to Sunnyzona… and parked there awhile at a restaurant… and wrote and caught up on internet and checked my bank balances, until finally the urge to head north and get to CO before I ran out of gas money overpowered me.  I figured I might just have enough $ to get me there.  At least I would be closer to surgeons for appointments and such and it was bound to be cooler.

I was being plagued by bug bites of unknown origin.  I got several night before leaving Linda’s.  I got a new one the next night. I believe I am going to have to tear my whole bed out and do a good cleaning and vacuuming. I have looked and looked, shook things out, etc. I can’t find anything.  This, in itself, is a lot of work for this old shoulder.  OK, as of 5/28, I have washed all my bedding, emptied the left wheel well storage box and vacuumed it as best I could, swept out the whole bed area, swept and vacuumed under the drivers seat as it seemed the last bite happened after I drove last time.  I killed one bug, now identified as a Kissing Bug  http://kissingbug.tamu.edu/found-a-bug/.  I have had no other bites since.  That is a bad bad bug.

I wrote the surgeon in Colorado Springs and requested an appointment as soon as possible.  The letter was received in their office on 5/25. I mailed all my shoulder medical history.  It might take a couple months to get an appointment but at least I am closer and cooler. I will follow-up with a phone call to surgeon’s office after Memorial Day.

Southeast Arizona is just too hot, although up in the Chiricahua Mountains it was only about 73f.  But can I find a place I want to stay awhile?  I had mail come after I left, and I need to get a dental spacer made for the tooth I had pulled, it is healing but needs more healing time.  I was tempted to head north anyway, have the spacer made in CO and have someone get my mail and forward it on to me.  I was ready to go… don’t want to go south again when I need to go north????

What to do?  Explore? Think?  Sleep?  Kill bugs?????  Well, it was too dammed hot in southeast Arizona to do any of that, so north won out.



First four bites I found, one on check bone… two on eye lid and one above eye brow.  Later that day I found three more, one on that shoulder (imagine sleeping with your head leaning on that shoulder… areas are very close to each other) and one on that collar bone, and one on that elbow.

Now I have no idea how to get my birthday present or where to go next.  I stopped to visit another shoulder patient who raises Icelandic ponies… and that has been cool.  She kindly allowed me to camp on her ranch until after Memorial Day.  Check out her website: Lough Arrow Icelandics -  http://www.coloradoicelandics.com/.   Hug a pony.  LOL












I have begun reading Desert Solitaire by Edward Abbey… boy can I relate to this book.  I am not a reader… Abbey’s books are some of the few I bother trying to read.  I tried to sit out at picnic table and read last night but bugs drove me back to the safety of my van.  I don’t even know if they wanted to bite me, but I wasn’t waiting to find out.  Guess all the bites I got had me feeling paranoid.

But, moral to the story is, don’t ever let them tell you old ladies can’t do stuff. I turned 74 this week.  LOL

Hope to give a review of all of 2017 in my next post.  Sorry for the delay, but I been kind of busy and challenged to the max.  BUT, not bored, no, not bored.

Saturday, March 24, 2018

Grateful for Help Received (3/24/2018)

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March 1, I found myself pretty far away from everyone I knew.  I had budgeted just enough money for gas to reach the next location where I hoped to stay put and work on the van.  Suddenly, I realized… I was BROKE.  How can one not know that is about to happen???  Well, for me, it was stupidity.  I had failed to make note of the re-occurring Amazon Prime annual fee of about $100…. and had not cancelled it.  Now, taking into consideration the automatic Electronic Fund Transfers already set up for the rest of the month, I was left with only $40… and had no way of getting to the next destination.

Also, my shoulder pain was increasing to the point it was causing my Blood Pressure to be elevated and I needed to buy a blood pressure monitor to keep an eye on it.  In addition, I had infections in both ears which began from allergies… and I had co-pays for meds to cure that problem, I did not feel I had the money for all that, so decided to sit in that drug store parking lot and try to figure it out.  The itching was about to drive me mad.

I felt stuck, desperate.  Was I going to have to sit in this parking lot and wait three weeks for my March 21 payday???  I felt like a trapped wild animal.  I decided to ask for help, not an easy thing for me to do, as stubbornly independent as I am.  So, I sent out a plea, asking only for $5 or $10, to the contacts in my Google email, trying carefully to eliminate people I didn’t know, or who I knew were not in a position to help, or businesses, etc.  I didn’t do a perfect job of that I guess.  LOL

The response was immediate and gratifying.  Also a bit scary.  Two people whose email addresses sounded familiar, came back at me with a lot of hate, calling me names and telling me to grow up.  One said, it was the second time in seven years I had begged him for money.  I forgot what the other said, but he was also hateful.  All the others renewed my faith in humanity and gave me hope.  One wrote me yesterday, saying she finally managed to get the service dog I helped her with financially.  Friends help friends.  That’s what we do.

First my regular budget update for the month.

Budget Update

Month / Pay Period

Fast
Food

Meals
Out

Gasoline

Groceries

Sep 20- Oct 17

51.87

34.92

432.27

164.72

Oct 18 Nov 14

76.04

53.89

144.70

175.81

Nov 15 – Dec 19

48.25

47.04

325.47

351.26

Dec 20 – Jan 17

28.02

36.35

182.40

262.24

Jan 18 - Feb 20

35.51

36.32

260.00

153.37

Feb 21 – Mar 20

48.89

14.23

233.10

131.06

These are not by any means my only budget items. My monthly Electronic Fund Transfers for bills come to: $295.00 monthly.  I can’t change much of those right now.  I tried to cancel my gym membership, but Planet Fitness said I could not, unless I paid for the remainder of the contract.  This is not what they told me when I joined and I am planning to try and fight this as there are no gyms near where I boondock.

So, here is an accounting of my expenses since 3/1 when my plea went out.

Supplies - $100.00
Groceries/meals out – $105.00
Solar supplies – $13.75
Gasoline – $141.21
P.O. Box/postage – $43.00
Kayak Chute Supplies – $100.00

None of that would have been possible without the help I received. Thank you again.

Major changes to my rig:

Kayak Chute:  For nine years I have loaded my kayak on top of my van.  It was difficult at best.  With pending shoulder surgery and a very long recovery, I had to find a better way to manage the 53-pound bulky boat.  Building a box on the floor of my trailer in order to slide the kayak into the trailer without any overhead lifting is the only solution I could come up with.  Lifting the kayak overhead may not be possible after the surgery, so I want to prepare for that possibility so I can continue to be independent and keep kayaking.  This week I accomplished that due to financial assistance I received.

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Once it was all helter-skelter in there, and whatever I needed was always under something else.  Now things are compartmentalized, and the kayak slides easily in and out with only a couple inches of lifting, which I can do with one arm.

No more of this:

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Still to do – Peeling van paint:  Finish fixing peeling paint on the van.  Hard to do with shoulder situation so I bought an oscillating sander to assist.  My last major adaptation.  I like to keep the van looking neat and clean.  These Chevy vans were really bad about paint peeling off.  I keep postponing this as it hurts a lot to do it.

New thought: I now carry 3 six gallon jugs of water… when I make camp.  That is 48 pounds per jug.  Most the places I buy water sell five gallons for $1.00, so I began just getting the five gallons instead of six. But even the 40 pounds is getting too hard to lift.  I need to find a way to have a water supply on hand that does not involve me lifting those jugs.  I just might not be able to do it after surgery.  I am looking for affordable solutions now.  A friend is going to share plans for her system.

Van work needed:  I still need to replace the power steering fluid pump on the van and have the name of a trusted mechanic I will check with this week.  I have the pump donated by a supporter.  Big O tires also said I need a lot of front end work to keep my van from eating my front tires.  I had to buy two cheap new ones a couple months ago to feel safe and get by.  The estimate from Big O tires was over $2,000, for things like Pitman arm, etc. Same Big O gave a friend of mine the same estimate on his van… he said his van was not even worth that.  I am going to see what this local mechanic thinks, as I think my van is worth that to me… it is my home, the only one I really ever want to have.  If you wish to help with van work, you can use the donation button on the right.

I have thoughts of setting up a Patreon account to raise funds for the van work needed.  In the nine years I have had the van (and 100,000 + miles), I have only replaced the water pump, and tires.  I have driven places and gotten into situations I should probably not have gotten into… but I need to keep this machine working… and make it last me the rest of my life???  I would be selling notecards, reprints of my art work, maybe some original art and possibly some vandwelling mentoring sessions… where newbies could come camp with me for a week.  Any thoughts?

Another new thought?  Most likely the first few months after shoulder surgery, I will have to sleep in a recliner.  I really don’t want to spend that time inside a nursing home or someone’s sticks and bricks house any longer than necessary, so I have begun thinking about getting a recliner inside my van.  My bed is easily removed… and if a recliner will fit (it will have to be a power recliner or one with a left handed leaver)… I will find/get one… some way.

I CAN and I WILL do this.  (And I have not given up my Arizona Trail hike dream… but all the rest of this has kind of put it on the back burner.)

Thanks go out to all the generous supporters and I pray the trolls get a life and find some happiness out there.  (Don’t worry, Trolls, you have been removed from my Google Contacts.)  I am humbled by the support I have received and will pay it forward.

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Maybe I should buy land here… southeast Arizona????
(and call it home)
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Monday, November 20, 2017

HipStar™: The World's Best Hands-Free Travel Cart

Posted first by Igor Koshutin (Creator); re-posted by Swankie.

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HipStar™ - Hands-Free Travel Cart 
(watch video - https://youtu.be/VmQe0wY_U5g)

Hey Backers, 

Today we have another great supporter - Charlene Swankie (AKA "SwankieWheels"). Charlene is living on Social Security, but she is living life to the fullest, camping full-time in a home built camper van.  Here is a bit of her back story: 

In 2005, Charlene could not walk and was shopping for a wheelchair. She then had bilateral knee replacements and two years of physical therapy. She has had to learn how to walk all over again. Soon, she began biking and running. In 2008, she was feeling so fit, got bored, bought a kayak, learned to kayak and set off to Kayak America. Charlene's goal was to kayak all 50 states, and she completed her 50th state, Hawaii, on her 70th birthday! She is now 74 and recently began looking for a new goal and decided on a solo hike of the 800-mile long Arizona National Scenic Trail (or Arizona Trail). She is working hard to prepare for that challenge. Charlene has wilderness and outdoor experience, having studied and hiked with Paul Petzoldt (founder of the National Outdoor Leadership School - NOLS) in the 1970s, but that was 40 years ago. A lot of retraining is required.

Here is what Charlene wrote: 
“I struggle to get ready for the hike due to limited finances, and also a bad shoulder. That is why HipStar™would be so important to me. I am seeking a second opinion this month on the shoulder to determine what I need to do about it and how much recovery time will be required. My goal to hike the AZ Trail felt aimless... and I kept searching for a purpose for doing it. I wanted a goal that was bigger than life itself, like kayaking all 50 states was, but I couldn't find one until I connected with HipStar™. Needless to say, I am extremely excited about this new challenge... of working with HipStar™ to make the wilderness more accessible to seniors and those mildly physically challenged!

One problem I see is, the Arizona Trail Association  doesn’t allow carts!!! Why??? They allow bikes, and horses, and unicycles? I know I could not use it on the ground through the Grand Canyon Angel Trail, but that's what is so great about your HipStar™ design, I can roll it where possible and backpack in other places. I intend to fight this with the AZ Trail Association and get permission to use HipStar™! I am going to contact the Americans With Disabilities group and get them behind me in fighting the park and trail systems, to allow these carts. ACCESSIBILITY is supposed to be provided for all and not allowing seniors to use the cart is discrimination! I might even fight them to the point of getting arrested and jailed for refusing to be forced off the trail for using the cart. And I certainly would bring in the press if that happened.”


Then we discussed this subject. I told her that I was also going to apply for special permission to use HipStar™ on restricted trails as soon as HipStar™'s design is completed, tested and first product rolls out production line. But, of course, I had no idea what stages I have to undertake. So, we agreed to join efforts and outline the plan. I am sure many of you would support us! 


Then Charlene wrote:
“I am very excited about the idea of doing battle with the Park Service and other trail associations on behalf of all Seniors who wish to continue to enjoy the outdoors. I think this could be a wonderful partnership between HipStar™ and the senior community. Let’s continue to explore the possibilities!” 

Charlene has written about her kayaking adventures and pre-visits to Arizona Trail trailheads, and also about life on the road for the past decade as a full-time vandweller. 

Charlene Swankie : http://swankiewheels.blogspot.com/
Facebook:  https://www.facebook.com/swankie.wheels

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Please visit the HipStar™ website for more details.

Also support them on HipStar™.  HipStar is a collapsible cart that makes it easy to move heavy items over any type of terrain and can be used as a backpack if needed.   The HipStar™ is a project of our passion in striving to help people achieve full mobility with only the power of two legs and accomplish physical feats they never thought possible – no matter if they’re young or old. It will be an affordable way to make travels more enjoyable. 

Sunday, October 22, 2017

The Awakening of Swankie (being all I can be… to me)

If you want to awaken all of humanity, then awaken all of yourself.  If you want to eliminate the suffering of the world, then eliminate all that is dark and negative in yourself.  Truly, the greatest gift you have to give is that of your own self-transformation. Lao-tzu

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Left Monterey, CA yesterday morning arriving in Paso Robles, CA where I may stay a few days.  Away from anyone I know, away from doctors, just away. Last night I parked in a large parking lot not far from Walmart.  Used to be a Kohl’s store there but it is closed now.  One other camper in lot.  It was quiet and I rested and caught up on stuff.  Got the ladder out and cleaned off my solar panel, and took the plastic off the roof vent, as I doubt I will get any rain here and I need the air flow. I will fix the leak soon, when I get out to open spaces.

So, I woke this morning thinking, I’m nobody to no one – no one’s mother, daughter, sister, wife, lover, friend.  No one.  OK, then so I need to be all that to and for myself. 

The people I have loved the most, have hurt me the deepest.  In some cases so deep that I can not to bear to think of them or be with them anymore.  I could not be to them what I wanted to be to them or what they wanted me to be.  I CAN be all that to me and if I work hard and fast I will be able to leave the second-best legacy behind for them – the genealogy I have spent 1/2 a century working to collect.  Statistics say I have 15 years left, well, probably more as I’m a lot healthier than most living 73-year olds.

Feels good, fresh, starting over at will.  No obligations to others, just me!  Take the best care of me that I can.  Be the best I can be.  That felt hopeless before, but with the recent involuntary weight loss (caused by the removal of a hormone-secreting benign tumor in my right airway, blocking air flow to my right lung) I have hope that I can be all that – to me, for me.  Yes, it is time to be selfish and it is o.k. to be selfish.

So, I better get busy.  Today, I am working on genealogy notes laying around on my desk.  Be gone, notes, be gone.

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Who is Swankie?

My photo
Anywhere, USA, Full-Time USA traveler, United States
Visit me on https://www.facebook.com/swankie.wheels. In 2006, I was shopping for a wheelchair. By 2007, I had new knees, better health and by 2008 a kayak. In Aug 2013, I kayaked my 49th state, Alaska, at the Holgate Glacier and in May 2014, I kayaked Hawaii, my 50th state, to celebrate my 70th Birthday and the finale to the wonderful adventure of Kayaking America? Next up... Solo Hiking the Arizona Trail, 820 miles in Spring 2017. In training now for the hike.

Followers: