Family Vaca 2019 – Seattle

Angela and I visited the Troll back in 2004 when we were on our Honeymoon…  We made it back today… Nearly 25 years later.  A few things have changed with us… But the Troll still looks the same!  Good for him!

Here is our route…  Generally…  Crater Lake was a bit ambitious…  We agreed we would do it again… But I am not sure!  That was a drive!

Here is the link to the updated Photo dump on Google Photos.


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GSMTR 2019

Article I wrote for the Fort’s Trail Team Page.    
Matt is watching Trey’s underside coming down a “moderate” trail
To start the story of our Trail Team trip to Tennessee this spring… We need to go back to October 2018 in Arkansas…  The Southern Cruiser Crawl in Hot Springs. As you know from our previous ventures to SCC, this is a favorite haunt of the Trail Team and we were there again in full force at last years event. It’s a tradition that our guys buy into the saturday night charity raffle at SCC and this year we all walked off with some great prizes.  One of them was Jake’s certificate for a free entry to the Great Smoky Mountain Trail Ride, donated by Southeast Toyota Land Cruiser Association.  The event is held at Windrock Part in eastern Tennessee in late spring. It was decided then that the group who were present for SCC would make the trip to GSMTR.  (Thats a lesson for you other TLCA events… 1 registration for free turned into 6 total!) Only a handful of our crew in Fort’s Trail Team have been to Windrock, Jake, Stork and Chism made it down for the Appalachian Trail Roundup a few years back.  Of that crew, only Jake was making this trip.
The 4runner Salute!
It was 5 greenhorns and one veteran.  But, as we later found out while venturing around the park, it would take a long time become a veteran at Windrock. We left as a crew of 6 trucks from Fort’s on Wednesday morning.  The drive has you go from Indianapolis, to Louisville to Lexington and straight south…  All told… It’s 550 miles and 8 hours of driving. Anyone with a V6 was making this in 2 tanks…  The V8 guys seemed a little thirstier! Windrock park is 73,000 acres of wooded Tennessee knobs, hills and rocks laced with gravel roads to get you around.  In between those service roads are a variety of terrains that go from moderate (Blue Trail) to difficult (Black Diamond) to extreme (Double Black). We spent the first day getting our feet wet in the park.  We picked up maps in the office (Pro Tip, these are the best maps we have ever gotten at an off-road park) and headed into the trails without much thought about where to go.  That worked for a while, but after a few hours we found ourselves doing a few circles on some trails that didn’t quite follow the map. The goal was to have lunch in a spot that would give us a scenic view.  That didn’t happen and we ended up eating lunch in a 6 way crossroads for 45 minutes or so.
Now at most Off Road parks…. You would expect to see a couple dozen trucks pass by while you are sitting at an intersection like this.  If we saw two trucks, I’d be lying. We saw a couple of side by sides and a jeep… But other than that, we were out there on our own. The park is massive, and its not something I can’t stress enough.  Our experience with off-road parks has always been something much smaller.  You go run a few trails… Then come back to the pavilion and eat lunch… People relax and tell some stories, meet new friends, or even take a siesta before heading back out for more fun.    It doesn’t work that way at Windrock. Once you are committed to some trail time in this park…. You should plan to be out all day, and return when you are done for the day. Fortunately, we had all planned for eating on the trail that day and had packed our coolers accordingly.  The smart guys had brought chairs. After lunch, we meandered on some blue trails towards the western side of the park.  The trail markings were becoming clearer and we started to get a better sense of where we were at.  We spent another 3 hours going around small rocky hills and thickly brushed trails. Unfortunately… As we wandered to the end of the park… We started to wonder if we could get out!!!  The trails end near the edges of the park, and we soon worried that we would have to backtrack the whole trail system to get to an exit. (In a small park, this is not a problem, here it could be another 2 hours!)  Harper ran ahead on a trail that was marked dead-end… We were skeptical of the markings because our GPS’s were all saying that this was 4×4 road that exited on a paved road. Thankfully, this one did end up on a road.  Not sure you can get so lucky every time so take this story as a cautionary note.   A couple of us ran into town for provisions… Others stayed and had the provided Taco dinner in the pavilion.  (Which I heard were far more delicious than the Chik-Fil-A that we had in town!)
Harper’s 4th Gen
Day 2 had us back on the trails with a little more confidence… And a plan!  We had studied the map and decided to hit the eastern side which had some long stretches of blue trail.  We were all wanting something more difficult than the previous day. Again, Windrock demonstrates its massive size.  In order to get to the inlets for the trails we wanted, we had to leave the park and drive through town… And then drive another 20 minutes on county/state roads for the entrance.  This is great, but we are all aired down to 15 to 25 psi… Its a slow slog on the pavement with tires that mushy. Again… This park has you plan differently! We took green trails back to the beginning of the blue and began a great run of scenic and challenging driving though the lush Tennessee backwoods.  There were areas and roads that appeared to be chiseled from rock… There were other spots that had 18” to 24” boulders cast down the roadway like it was class 5 riverbed…  Sans the water. All in all… The blue trails were fun… But, we were kinda hoping to find a black trail to see if the grading was the same caliber as these blues. Honestly, the blues were not anything we had been threatened by to this point.  There were a few blacks off-shooting from our route, unfortunately as we came upon the trail guides, they were marked for quads and bikes only. (Eric didn’t see that part in the map legend that describes each trail… Because that’s really hard to read while driving!)

Tree Hugger, at the lead.

At the head of two trails..  82 and 83… There is a high road and low road “route” that take you around American Knob (cowpunk band name idea!).  The merge onto 82 looked a little daunting, it was up a hill with some severely cut grooves around some boulders. If this trail had been marked black… I probably would have stepped out of my truck and double checked the route.  But this was still “blue”. To this point. Blue had not meant anything that we could not conquer with ease. I lined my 2010 4Runner up and ascended the hill with a moderate clip to fight off gravity. I dodged the first obstacle and then quickly made a zig to the left to get some traction on the rocks and boulders that looked the least scary.  Physics got the best of the truck and I was suddenly stuck underneath with neither forward nor rear movement. Jake and a couple others were yelling for me to stop, as it appeared I was making matters worse. I was high centered on my CBI skid around the transfer case area. We tried a couple different wheel directions.  Tried all the of the fancy controls on the ATRAC, Diff Lock…  We didn’t try a different driver! But I did have plenty of spotters with experience.  I was “treed” up on this boulder. Fortunately, we had just installed a new 12,000lb line and control bezel on my Smittybuilt XRC winch before this trip.  I was ready. We found a tree on center and started the arduous dance of back and forth with the winch and truck drive-train to get off of the protruding rock.  When your muffler is getting crunched… You get amazing noises from the spring loaded connections in the exhaust line. (Trail damage this trip is underneath). Harper got Tree Hugger in line and I got to the top. Once I was on top…  Its was decided that this was not a trail for the whole group!  Jake and his 2017 TRD PRO Runner were certainly capable… But was it worth the risk of damage to his new truck.  Same thing with Trey and his new Tacoma. Ultimately, Scott and Harper decided this was a route their 4th gens would take with me.  Harper made it up and made it look easy. Its amazing what aggressive tires can do in these situations. Scott’s route was based on the muscle of his V8 engine…  He nearly jumped the boulder… Only to end up with 1 wheel hanging off the obstacle at the top. Smittybuilt winch to the rescue again!
Recovering Mountain Goat, Harper at the ready
Once we gathered back on the merge point on backside of American Knob…  We decided that the Windmills and overlooks might be a fun way to decompress!  Again, the mega park had us driving for a while… But when we found the overlook…  It was worth the trip. I have no idea how far you can see from these hillsides… But it felt like being on top of the Sears Tower (I know I know…  Willis Tower is what you call it these days) with a view of trees for 10 miles through the “smoky mountain” haze. Towards the end of the second day of wheeling.  We found a rocky little hill climb and started heading to the top.  It was a soft pile of yellow rocks sitting in orange dirt. We hadn’t seen much action in the past hour…  So, this was a welcome distraction. Tree Hugger made it to the top with little incident… The rest of the group followed.  Jake told us as he got to the top that he had blown a tire… Every rotation of the passenger front wheel let off a little air hiss. For the record…  If you have followed us at all…  You know that Jake somehow takes the brunt of trail damage and field repairs!  Not sure why… He is not the craziest person on the trail… He is actually one of the most reserved.  Here was another incident that we can use to prove our trail prowess. A multiple patch repair. Tree Hugger was holding an ARB tire repair kit.  We started adding plugs to the sidewall of the Falken until it stopped hissing. Then we added two more plugs for good measure. Jake had a Milwaukee portable compressor that we set to 35psi.  That little guy worked for about 10 minutes before shutting off. The tire did not appear to be leaking. In that 10 minutes, Jake found 4 or 5 places that had a tire near the park. They were all $50.00 overpriced!  But, you take what you can get! We figured this bit of afternoon drama was a good place to stop for the day.  Now… The long path back to the main entry trail began. It took nearly an hour to cross the park and get to the formal entrance.  Jake watched his on-board tire monitors the whole way back and found that our patch was holding. We got back to the camp and headed for dinner at the Pavilion.  Friday night was burgers and dogs covered in your event admission.  This was my first chance to sit down with a couple locals putting on the event.  I had sought out Jason Hoffman for the past two days. He is one of the hosts of the Toyota Trucks and Trails Podcast.  We had been chatting back and forth over the past few months, and we wanted to meet up. After dinner we sat down and were talking about his show…  It was then that I discovered he was the VP of the SETLCA. As we chatted, Jamie Murphy, the secretary, sat down with us and I asked some questions about the event.  I knew the event had been going on for a long time… 29 years. But when he told me that they had registered over 200 trucks for this year… I was blown away! This park is soooooo big, you really can’t feel the crowd.  This event had moved to Windrock a few years ago and now has the space to grow. As they keep fine tuning, they are moving some future dates as well. I met a few people at the pavilion that night and had a moment of realization that even though the faces were 100% new to us…  They all love Toyota trucks and anything that has to do with off-road, gear or travelling all over this hemisphere. There is a community within TLCA that makes traveling anywhere to any event feel like you are among family.  When Jason’s wife said she had had enough of this truck talk (and mosquitoes) she gave me a big old hug that made me feel like we had been friends for decades.
After dinner and chatting, a few of us decided to head back on the trails in the dark.  We headed back to the lookout point and were blown away by the view that a full moon and clear sky were presenting.  What during the day had looked like thick green forests with no civilization in sight now showed off ribbons of lights.  Roadways and small towns were all over the horizon. Saturday, I had to blow out early with Trey.  We both had graduation commitments on Sunday. The rest of the crew stayed behind for one last day on the trails.  Jake got his tire fixed up that morning and the team sought out the “tunnels”. I’m waiting for a full report, but it sounds like these long caverns are akin to a sensory deprivation chamber.  Pitch black and filled with water.
Pet friendly atmosphere.
That night, southern style BBQ Chicken and pulled pork were the menu. The food, its just one more reason to come to a park during these group sponsored events.  Jake sent me a picture of his plate as a reminder that leaving early deserves punishment. I was also missing the best part of all TLCA events, as per tradition, they hold a charity raffle.  This years proceeds were going to the Tennessee Fisher House Foundation.  Nearly $25,000 in gear were up for the grabs. Just $100.00 in tickets won Scott a voucher for Upper Control Arms and a brand new Power Tank setup.  That’s a bargain! Also of note, for the first time ever, Jake came back win-less from a raffle? He did snag two t-shirts from mid-air… So he wasn’t completely empty handed! Sunday morning, the rest of the crew broke camp and headed home.  Fortunately there were no more incidents with trucks, tires or ignition coils… Just a big May rainstorm to wash the trucks on the way through Indiana. This was a fun trip with new folks and new trails.  Regardless of not winning any more tickets to future TLCA events at the GSMTR raffle.  You will likely see this whole crew in Arkansas at Southern Cruiser Crawl for another SCC in 2019. See you on the trails! Eric Stahl Links:
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Class of 1989

Three Generations. 89, 69 and 49.

I was fortunate to have the time to sneak away from our graduation activities for Summer this weekend, to run over to my old Ala mater for our 30th class reunion dinner.  Prairie Central Class of 1989.

We were having a small get together in Fairbury that day for some family members that came in from Detroit for the aforementioned graduation. So, timing was all kind of working out for a change.

I was actually nervous upon entering the school. Its changed drastically since we left years ago. The old building has been torn down and just a few bits of the structure I used for High School are still standing. The main part, the gymnasium where we had the banquet, is the last substantial piece. As soon as I walked in from the south entrance… I had a good feel for where I was. It was just a matter of asking for directions to where we were meeting.

Now, I had no idea what to expect… Lots of people?… No people?… Who was too know?… But I was certainly more optimistic for a showing than what had arrived. Myself and 5 other classmates? Add on two spouses and you nearly fill one table! That’s out of 126 (best recollection) who graduated in 1989.The class of 89!

We all laughed and made the best of it. Other than Eisemann… I had pretty much kept up with the others at the table. It was fun to see people face to face for a change instead of “liking” their stories!

Now, I could argue that the reunion being held at the school does remove some fun. I even said that same thing that very night.  Ultimately, I dont need a beer in my hand to keep a conversation.  So, this was not a deal-breaker.

Here is the part that is hard for me to grasp until I get there. I knew a lot of people at that event outside my class. Not tons mind you… But I was part of three generations who graduated from a Fairbury related school over the past 60 years. My step dad’s brother, Terry, was also there with his wife and my mom’s best friend Lulu was there as well.

Sylvia, Marie, Luann, myself and Terry

Its apparent that I have some lineage in this town that I no longer call home. That was a little sad for me that I have shut down the legacy of family members who will graduate from Fairbury.  Is this life altering and a tragedy?  No. But its something I recognize. Traditions sometimes end… Sometimes they pickup somewhere else. Though I doubt my kids will have the same kind of reverence for Mackinaw and its HS that I had after spending 19 years will at least half my graduating class.

I was genuinely thrilled to take a picture with my Grandmother and Aunt at the event… It was really my motivation for going in the first place. Seeing old friends like Tom, Megan, Cindy, Mary, Eric and Amy were bonus!

When my 40th anniversary comes around, will we have Marie here for her 70th? She’s trucking along pretty good right now… You never know. Heck… Whos to say i’ll be here?

It was a good night, regardless of the count. It is worth noting that the older classes had more people than the younger ones… Sometimes the conversation and laughs are worth more than worrying about getting a drink. (God that sounded “on-high”. Not my style, unless its litter!)

Maybe I’ll make it to the class cookout in August.

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The Graduate

Summer knocked it out of the park… Won a couple scholarships and awards as she walked out of High School. Very proud… She’s a far cry from the student I was!
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Mechanics for Momma’s

Love doing these segments with CJ from Mix 106.9. Check it out!

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Snowy Drive – 1.19.19

8 minutes of your life that you will never get back. Dont say you were not warned!

Music by They Might Be Giants

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Religious Experience?

Recently, I was talking to a customer that I have become friends with over the years.  I was describing a memory from my trip to Alaska this past year. I was remembering the moment our fishing boat came out of an inlet and were greeted to a view of a jagged rock point.  The rocks were cut with almost perfect angles on all sides. They towered a hundred feet over our boat.

It was almost appeared contrived and fabricated for a movie.  Wet and glistening layers of brown and black surface crashing against the waves as hardy, gnarled rooted evergreens hung on for dear life against the onslaught of wind and tide.

It was a glorious site as our little boat chugged along against the ten foot swells.  It left enough impression on me that I remember is clearly.

I told the customer, Richard, that “It was as if God himself cut this rock”.  Rich fired right back at me…. “He did! God put that there for you to see.” Richards conviction that God had been there building sculptures ahead of my arrival seems silly at first…. But honestly…. The majesty and natural beauty of that scene have me wondering if I had had a religious experience.  

Maybe a Muir moment?

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Terrible inspiration

I was in a conversation a while back about being accused of something you didn’t do. I know the feeling from an incident about 30 years ago when I worked in Fort Meyers, Florida. (I’m like a freaking elephant… I never forget this kind of crap).

Anyway… I was inspired to write it down… I did a rough draft a month or so ago, and polished it more tonight. Look for that 2500 word diatribe out soon! I would release it now, but I am thinking about illustrating it, so its gonna be a few more days. Or months. Who knows!

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Christmas with the family 2018

I really just wanted to,share some of this video of Marie playing piano. Enjoy.

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An Englishman in Chicago

OK… That title is clearly plagiarized… And I am not talking about Sting, so I should probably start over. Sorry to you purist type A’s out there.

I am getting back to that The The concert concert from a few months ago. It’s great that that show and Matt Johnson’s music have that much influence on my day to day life that I still feel compelled write about it.

Back Story, as I recall:

The The were a mildly successful alternative “band” from England in the 80’s and 90’s. They had a “hit” with the song “Infected”. You may or may not remember it, and I would not hold it against you if you have never heard of the band outside of hanging out with me.

The The, the band, is kind of a misnomer. Matt Johnson is the singer and songwriter for all the music listed under the band name… But the rest of the band has been a rolling cast of characters. Jonny Marr, ex Smith’s guitar virtuoso has been the only semi-constant player in the band.

In the 80’s, The The used MTV and long-form video better than anyone. The album “Infected” was available as a full length VHS album as well. Every song was made into a video. Of course, only one or two made it to MTV, but the rest were produced with the same love and attention of anything showing on TV. “Mind Bomb” followed up this album with several video treatments of songs as well. Johnson was giving equal attention to video and music. (The good news is that both still hold up over time)

I never saw them live… And when they last toured… I lived in Florida. They never even came close! (At least I dont recall it)

Earlier this year:

When I heard that Johnson was bringing The The out of retirement to go on tour earlier this year… I was totally beside myself. Until I heard the news that his shows were only scheduled for the UK. ???? NO!!! I have already felt the depression of missing Kate Bush’s month long London engagement a year ago. I really didn’t want to relive this. After all the shows were announced… I began to talk to the Mr’s about a quick trip to London. Fortunately, The The sold all their venues quickly and decided to take the show across the pond. Dates for the US were made. 1 night in Chicago!

I didn’t think much about getting tickets when they went on sale… After all, this was a band that had not toured in 20 years… And an album had not been released for a decade. How flash can tickets sell?

The tickets sold out. Ouch. I was distressed, until I remembered that nifty website called StubHub. THANK YOU STUBHUB for existing. I got a pair of tickets for about 15 bucks more than list price. I can handle that for my stupidity.

Now the next hurdle. Would they be any good? Johnson was a solitary guy who has not been out practicing or playing gigs for years. He has released 2 singles over the last 10 years… But he wasn’t touring or backing up these songs with live shows. He had been doing some soundtrack work, but I believe that was instrumental work. Maybe the scariest realization was this: his amazing prowess with video had left a mental image of an artist from 1989 in my head. I saw Brian Wilson last year… He didn’t leave his Piano for the whole “Pet Sounds” show. He didn’t appear physically able too. Johnson would surely be better than that?

The reviews of the shows in England were all glowing. But can you trust super-fans spewing praise at their favored artist? I took all the reviews with a grain of salt. Adding to this apprehension… Johnson made a plea online, instagram, facebook etc that nobody record the show. “Put your phones down and enjoy the show” was the extent of the message. While this is a great message, it leaves a cyber snoop like me little to work with for my show expectations.

The show:

I titled the piece “An Englishman in Chicago” because that is exactly what we got that night performing. Matt Johnson does not write cheery or bubbly music. He writes about lost love and personal failings. I was not expecting this handsome, non-aged and jovial man to pop out on stage and start complimenting us for coming to his show. He was truly enthusiastic and spoke in a wonderfully chipper English accent.

I was blown away. Even hearing him talk a little bit as the show started eased many of the fears I had been harboring.

The lights dimmed and in true The The fashion… The artistic element was introduced. A solid while background behind a band that were not illuminated. It was a striking contrast. The video backdrop played into the show all night.

The first song he played was “Global Eyes”… It starts with a chunky guitar riff and has all the brooding Johnson you have come to expect. It sounded amazing. The band was tight, and Johnsons multiple microphone setup had him sounding perfect. (Before Brandon Flowers could even walk, Johnson was using mics for different song moods)

The set list wasn’t completely timestamped, but the band played songs that started with earlier music and worked their way to his early 90’s triumph, “Dusk”. I do like that album, but have always been partial to the earlier stuff. The song choices were strong. He picked all the signature music that everyone in the crowd could sing along too.

The encore started off with the devious intro to Dusk and included one of my all time favorites, “Uncertain Smile”… The song includes a piano solo that goes on for nearly 5 minutes. The encore gave the band the opportunity to play this twice the length. The song was turned into a jam session. The ending was “Lonely Planet”. A song that I have sung 500 times but never listened to the lyrics that intently. Probably because it came out later… When real life had intruded into my ability to absorb and memorize lyrics.

The last verses of the last song resonated more-so now than ever before. We live in a time and an age where our every action can mean so much to the people around us. It was personally touching.

Johnson ended the show as he started it… Thanking everyone for coming. Even after playing two hours plus of emotionally wrought lyrics.. He was a cheerful gentleman.

Please Matt… Please. Don’t wait so long to tour again!

Lyrics to Lonely Planet:

Planet Earth is slowing down
Overseas, underground
Wherever you look around
Lord, take me by the hand
Lead me through these desert sands
To the shores of a promised land.
You make me start when you look into my heart
And see me for who I really am.
If you can’t change the world. Change yourself.
If you can’t change the world. Change yourself.
I didn’t care if the sun didn’t shine
& the rain didn’t fall from the sky
I just cared about myself
From this world to the next
And from the next back to this.
By our actions we are bound.
We’re running out of love
Running out of hate
Running out of space for the human race.
Planet Earth is slowing down.
You make me cry when you look into my eyes.
And see me for who I really am.
If you can’t change the world. Change yourself.
If you can’t change the world. Change yourself.
And if you can’t change yourself….change the world.
I’m in love with the planet I’m standing on
I can’t stop
I can’t stop thinking of
All the people I’ve ever loved
All the people I have lost
All the people I’ll never know
All the feelings I’ve never shown.
The world’s too big. And life’s too short.
To be alone…To be alone. 


Angela did take a few pics… You see those here. I tried to take 2 at the beginning and end… But they didn’t turn out. In hind site, I don’t need a video from the show to remember it… But a few pics are nice. Sorry Matt.

Also… I finally got a The The T-Shirt… I’ve been waiting my whole life for this!

Link to Uncertain Smile: Spotify

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