Colorado Adventure Part 2 – Bear!

In 2018, when the Trail Team came out to Ouray… We had scouted out an area for camping on the south side of town, up about halfway on the route out of town.  The spot had not been ideal for one camper in our group with an adventure trailer. (There’s a whole conversation we could have as a sidebar to this post)  The trail to the campsite had a few rough patches of rocks and some sharp elevation changes. This year, with the three 4Runner sans the adventure trailer, we again scouted the area upon arriving to Ouray.  The trail was actually kind of fun, and when we reached the camping area, we found 3 empty spots set beside each other, up against a creek in an empty mountainside valley.  

This new-to-us camp spot was ideal, as we were close to Ouray and all of the local mountain passes.  Ouray is called Little Switzerland for a reason, for a good chunk of the year, its surrounded by snow capped mountains.  In a typical late-June trip, we were going to have our pick of a half dozen mountain trails to head over to the surrounding communities of Telluride, Silverton and Lake City.  

As we setup, the three girls took a walk to large boulder that was about 150 yards away, sitting neatly in the grass near the edge of the woods.  This single rock was as big as a Large Airstream Camper. The girls climbed it and watched us setup camp from their perch. 

Two of us with tents setup on the ground while Don, found a level spot to park his truck to use his rooftop tent (RTT).  Don and I were carrying food prep supplies as well… So we unloaded his custom made “chuck box” and my cooking gear to make the trucks easier to deal with on the trails.  Lets be clear, the trucks could handle the weight of the cargo. What we could not handle being on the trail with all of our gear getting bouncing around and the endless rattles of pots, pans and cutlery!  

At our base-camp for the next three days, we started off every morning with homemade breakfast.  I don’t want to brag, but we made breakfasts that would rival anything we could cook at home. As we have done more and more of these trips, I would be lying if I didn’t say that we are getting more extravagant with our meal prep.  That’s not to say we have elaborate meals, but we are not scared to use real ingredients to get the job done. On a recent trip, two days out in the field, done fixed homemade biscuits and gravy using a dutch oven to cook the biscuits… And his skottle to cook the sausage and gravy.  

Our trip seemed to his a high note on day two when a visitor came close to camp after breakfast.  While cleaning up our breakfast, Sophie yelled “Bear”… We all looked at her with question marks over our heads…  “huh?” “Not possible” all of us Dad’s thought in unison. It wasn’t till she yelled it again that we took her word for it and started looking around.

Sure enough… Sophie had witnessed a decent sized brown bear crossing the pasture in front of our campsite.  He was actually terrifyingly close to the boulder the girls had been playing on that first night of camp setup.  The “what-ifs” start flashing through your head when you think about the vision of your kid being on that rock while a bear would have been way closer than us Dads!  No worries… This guy took a look at us and kept up scooting into the woods towards town.

Dear readers… A bear passing by camp is a bucket-list event.  We have been going out west for over 5 years now, and I have never seen a bear in the wild.  We have camped and driven all over Colorado! So, seeing one in the wild, near our campsite… Well, this is one for the folks back home… We will be telling them all the tales of the bear that visited camp!  (And we have!)

10 minutes later…  Those stories got a whole lot bigger!  Summer, was walking to the backside of the camp when she saw a big brown face looking at her from the blades of tall grass behind Jake’s tent.  It was a bear! Probably that same bear that was passing by a few minutes ago. She yelled! Several, short, shocked yells! The bear backed off and started walking away.  Summer’s yell was a whole different vibe than Sophie’s. Sophie’s had been a fun “hey looky” thing… Summer’s was more of a mortal fear blurt!

What happened next was pure Dad instinct or something…  Don, our California guy proceeded to yell in the loudest and biggest fashion I had ever witnessed.  He puffed up his chest and began a guttural yell that said I pretty sure was meant to freak the bear out.  “Go Away Bear” was the words coming out of his mouth… But it sounded as primal as a dog bark! In the meantime…  I grabbed some pans and followed Don with some banging. I know Jake was doing something as well… But I was transfixed on the location of the bear.  (Sorry Jake!) The bear proceeded to wander down to the stream and disappeared into the woods.  

When the excitement was over…  One thing was clear… The RTT was the preferred location to be when a bear shows up.  We had all three girls up in Don’s tent looking out the window at us. Nobody was taking sanctuary in a ground tent!  NOBODY!  

Was this guy hungry and ferocious…  And possibly looking to recreate a scene from the Revenant?  Not likely.  If you had to guess, this bear is probably closer to Yogi and BooBoo in his habits.  I am not denying the danger of a wild animal like a bear… But this guy was on a route.  The valley where we were staying was a series of camping spots that are probably used quite a bit during the summer season.  This bear, like a Midwestern raccoon, probably runs a route through the campsites looking for scraps that campers left in their fire rings or trash from careless campers.  It was probably no accident that he walked right up to our site. (Another opportunity for a conversation about Leave No Trace could be inserted here!)

This was day two of the trip…  We had to question whether leaving out all of cooking gear in the open was going to be a good idea today.  Again, we don’t want to drive the mountain passes with our gear… But we also don’t want items with the smell of fresh cooked breakfast laying around for the sensitive nostrils of the local wildlife.  What do you do? We cleaned up… Pulled all trash out and left our gear out in the open. If he was going to come back… He could really do whatever he wanted, regardless of how much of the campsite we pulled up.  Who’s to say he wouldn’t sniff something on a tent from a camp out years ago? (Again, more conversations about the dangers of eating in your tent, or sleeping in clothing that you have cooked in could be added.)

When we came back that night from our short day on the trail to Telluride (Part 3, coming soon-ish) the campsite was pitch black.  We turned into the campsite, looked the site over with our headlights, and found everything in order. It was doubtful that our new found friend had come back, or that any of his other friends had swung by.  A quick inspection verified the lack of wild animals frolicking in our tents or cooking  gear. That was a relief.  

I would be lying if I didn’t tell you that sleeping that night in my Cabella’s ground tent was done with a slight tinge of trepidation, knowing that a giant man eating bear with razor sharp claws could be plotting to eat my daughter and I alive during the night!  Exaggeration? Maybe. But when you hear creaks and snaps in the woods around your tent… You wonder what the intentions are of the beast that is making all that racket. Fortunately, we made it through the night with no incidents.  

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Colorado 2019 – Part 1 – #3dads3daughters34runners

For the past few years we have made the trip to Ouray Colorado for FJ Summit or to be near the area to catch a bit of “Summit”.  FJ Summit is an annual event that brings in 300+ Toyota trucks to a little town in the middle of the San Juan Mountains of Colorado with some of the best mountain pass roads in the United States. 

This year… Complete madness at work had left me in a position where I was not sure I could plan a trip to the grand scale of years past.  Adding to the confusion… My kids were not cooperating either. One kid was graduating High School and the other had a social agenda that was hard pressed to spend time with “Dear ole Dad”.  

Never fear…  A trip was going to happen whether I showed up for not!  Other Trail Team trip members were making sure that something was going to happen this summer.  Three families were making plans with our without me being along for the ride. When the smoke cleared… Two Trail Team Dad’s, Don and Jake, had grabbed their daughters and started a trip to Ouray by way of the Rimrocker trail in Moab Utah.  If I hustled… I could meet up with them in Ouray for a long weekend of camping pre-FJ Summit.

When the time came to take flight and catch up with the others out in Colorado…  I was lucky enough to have my newly graduated Daughter along for the trip. We headed out early from Central Illinois to make the rendezvous for camping near Ouray.  Pekin to Denver is a 14 hour trip. Ouray is another 4 hours past that. We stopped in Denver after the first day of driving.  

There were a 100 different combinations of drivers, co-pilots and kids that could have shown up this year to Colorado.  Ironically… The other trucks, like me, had all come in 4Runners with their daughters. The trip could have just as well been 4 dads, 4 kids and 4 4runners…  On the 14 hour ride out to meet up with Jake and Don… It started to fall into place. Three Dads… Three Daughters…. And Three 4Runners. Serendipity? Kizmit?  Who knows. But it was a great trip vibe starting and a great tag for Instagram.


Stay tuned… More to come about this trip!

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Desert Life… The Ick Factor

The third and final day on the Mojave Road trail was an idyllic morning.  I had woken up around 6AM and could feel the peaceful air from inside by ground tent.  Not a breath of wind was to be heard and the brightness on the outside of the tent meant that there must not have been many clouds either.  I unzipped by door shade and revealed the cloudless, crystal clear blue sky that I was hoping for.  


I unzipped the door and let the cool air flow into my tent.  It was so quiet and perfect that I curled back up into my sleeping bag and dozed off for a bit longer.  

It was brisk, 50 degrees or slightly better.  But experience told me that a few hours later we would be up to the mid 70’s.  Today being our last day on the trail meant a small breakfast, a few hour drive to the end of the road near Zzyzx.  To this point on the trail, I had been wearing jeans/pants and boots for the uncertainty of the trail. What if something went wrong?  I can’t be recovering a truck in sandals! 


This morning had all the signs that it was time to relax.  I put on the one pair of shorts I had packed and pulled out the Sanuk flip flops and pretended today was a beach day.   The morning was uneventful. I broke camp and took 

down my tent, sleeping pad and cot in a slow pace as to make sure everything was packed correctly for the ride home.  I then took the portable toilet setup and headed off a few hundred steps to have a relaxing view of the landscape. I parked the seat up near some black volcanic rocks that had some old coyote holes burrowed into them.  We had scouted them before, and they appeared empty.  

Everything was right with the world…  Until it walked into camp… A Tarantula

The day before when we arrived at camp, one of the other campers, Mike, had been out looking for the hairy spider lairs.  We found holes in the ground that might have been the home to giant arachnids. Don, our resident desert expert said with some authority that the Tarantulas were not going to be active during our visit.  This was enough affirmation for me… Nothing to worry about here.  

Well…  Our new friend with 8 legs wasn’t listening to Don.  This 4 or 5” spider was gingerly walking into the middle of camp.  He appeared out of nowhere under a truck and then started heading towards our fire-ring.  We took a few pictures of the guy as he was moving along. He did seem to be at a slow pace because of the temps.  As he was halfway across camp… Orin, another of our campers, used a small stick to interfere with his route. The spider didn’t care for this one bit.  I swear that he jumped 2 feet and started hustling his pace.   

I don’t know what happened to our spider from that point forward…   I stopped caring about him and started thinking about self preservation.  Immediately, I looked down and my flip-flopped feet and bare legs and realized that I might be unprepared for more spiders.  I turned back to the open field behind the campsite in fear that I be looking upon view from the film “Kingdom of the Spiders” or “Arachnophobia”.  Wave upon wave a newly awoken Tarantulas crawling out of their beds to visit our band of squatters set up in their territory. Nothing yet… But they could be preparing a calculated raid.

I then started thinking back over the morning… I had slept with an open door to the desert…  I had been on my knees in the sand rolling up my tent and bedding materials… My open air bathroom visit earlier was also fraught with peril as I had not been looking over my shoulder at any point during the day.  There were countless opportunities for a hundred spiders to have murdered me in the Mojave.  

As it turned out… We only had one tarantula visit our camp (that we know of).  But this was enough for me to realize that jeans, boots and some form of Kevlar are your best protection out in the desert.  Also, I don’t know if we have a snake bite or spider bit kit… But it might be something to pack for future trips!

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Summer is amazing!

After graduation from DeeMack last year, Summer accepted the Federal Air Force Scholarship for College Tuition.  She had to have the grades and get through the interviews to make this happen. Her high standing in Civil Air Patrol also boosted her chances.  I wanted to post is all over social media and proclaim her greatness… And I probably should have… But I knew that she still had some hurdles to get through before she would be in the clear.  One of those items was the Air Force physical.  

Today we got the call.  At 5:30 this morning she was stressing and working out while we were in bed.  Angela called her at 7 and we got confirmation that she passed. 

This means that Mom and Dad will be wearing Air Force gear ASAP!  We are super proud of Summer and relieved to a small degree. She still has 4 years to go but we are off to a good start and are fully behind her!

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Peggy the Time Machine

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Mojave Road Breakdown thwarted!


When you are driving 1000’s of miles… Even in a newer car… You have to be ready to deal with a sudden failure.   We drive Toyota’s for a reason…  More reliability on or off the road no matter where we go.  But even with the best of odds, you can have a one small problem turn into something that will ruin the best laid plans.

This last trip our west had us dealing with a fluke event.  A 2015 TRD Edition 4Runner started leaking oil while on the way to Mojave California.  

Somewhere outside of Kingman Arizona…  Libbie started smelling burning oil while driving her 4Runner.  We stopped our three car caravan to check and see what it was.   At first glance… It would have appeared to have been the oil filter housing.  The leak was all over the skid plate and the engine was soaked behind the filter.  Immediately, we were ready to blame the guy who changed the oil last.  (I can tell you as the service manager that I was seeing red!)

With the TRD Skid on, the filter is nearly impossible to reach.  I was able to touch it from the passenger side, and did not feel anything out of order.   The oil was still topped off, so the decision was made to try and get to a town with a quick lube or any service station that could get us in to check the filter.  We hit the road again.

After a few miles of being in the chase vehicle to keep an eye on the situation…  Oil spatter was covering my windshield.  I used the three wipers and it just smeared oil all over my FJ.  We pulled over again and this time found an area where we would remove the skid plate ourselves and check the filter tightness.

After getting everything pulled apart… It did not appear to be the filter.  But honestly, I am not a tech.  I was pretty sure it was something else but felt better with a second opinion.  I called our Master Tech, James, and asked for remote assistance!

With the help of pictures and videos…  James and I deduced that the leak was coming from the oil pressure sender on the side of the engine…  Right above some coolant lines that run near the filter housing.

This was a fresh leak, and it was doubtful it had been doing it for very long.

We called the local truck repair shop at our exit, they said they did not work on smaller trucks like this, but referred us to a shop called ADAN in Kingman Arizona.  We called them and explained what was going on.   They said to “come on over.”  This was already going better than expected.

As we pulled out… I saw what I can only describe as a “gypsy” sitting on the curb with a gas can.  She looked to be 100 pounds.  I thought she might be hiding from the law with the giant sunglasses and wig she was wearing.  Her kids were decked out in footy pajamas and looked like they had been sleeping on the desert floor all night.   And their van… Oh my…  It was something.  An older Chevy conversion van with handwritten messages of “love everyone” and “peace” told a story of spending lots of days and nights at gas stations!

I asked her if she needed money for gas.  (She was holding a gas can)  She said “yes”.  I said “I need all the Karma I can get” as I handed her a ten dollar bill.   She said something unintelligible as she took the money.  I like to think it was a Gypsy blessing.  Because luck was starting to fall into place.

As we pulled into Kingman… I was getting bigger puffs of hot oil smoke and I knew that we could not keep up a drive with this truck spitting out more and more.   While on the road, I called the local O’Rielly Auto Parts store and told them what I needed.   An oil pressure sender for a 4.0L Toyota is not a common repair item in our shop… I was praying that the store would have one, or be able to refer me to where to get it.  Even so, if I had to drive to another town… We may have been looking at three plus hours for a return trip with the part.  Nothing is close in Arizona.

O’Rielly had one!  I told the others to head to repair shop with the truck while I headed for the part.  Once in the store, I inspected the “sender” and verified it was correct.  (Believe it or not… Sometimes parts stores say they have something… And its not correct!  Shocking right? )

My Gypsy luck was holding.

ADAN had checked in the truck and was getting ready to lift if when I pulled in.  They were very firm about a $100.00 rack fee and said they would not be responsible if my diagnosis was wrong.  We were just fine with those terms.  The techs at ADAN went to work on the repair.

An oil pressure sender is something that could be done with the small amount of tools we had in convoy, but it was much easier to do on the lift in a shop.  The $100 fee was a small price to pay versus doing it ourselves on hot Arizona pavement.

We started the truck after the repair.  No leaks.

We ended up being 2 hours late to our meeting point with another truck outside Ft Mojave later that day.  But, the alternative was far worse.  2 hours is small potatoes when weighed against getting a hotel room and being stranded.

Some say you make your luck.  Traveling with tools, experienced staff and having a master tech one phone call away dampen the chances of failure on the road.  I still say a little old fashioned luck never hurts and I’ll thank the Gypsy for her help as well.

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The first thing to go?

Is it eyesight or hearing?  Because both of mine are in a race to turn me into an old man!

Today… Today was the day that I had to note my eyesight failing.  I was trying to use a tape measure for some floor trim.  It was a low light situation and I had to do a round-about guess-ti-mate on the measurement.

I have been blessed to this point with pretty good vision.  I took a prescription 15 years ago when I left Toyota to work at a data company.  I was in front of a PC all day under florescent lights… I think that lended itself to my vision problems.  I could barely see at night on the way home from North Peoria.

After I left that job and went back to the dealership… I have generally not worn any specs. Like 99.9% of the time.  Occasionally with lots of driving or going to see a movie… I will take them.  (A movie looks like ULTRAHD vs HD with my glasses)

So… What am I going to do about it?  Probably nothing!  LOL.  I just need more light and I can get it done in the meantime.

Now my hearing… Thats another story.

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Ric Ocasek has left the building

I say that title with the greatest reverence…  If Elvis was king to kids in the 50’s…  Ric Ocasek was “king” to me in the 80’s.  I have had a heavy heart since hearing of his passing a few days ago.

I threw a few bits on Facebook this week talking about it…  Here is that post.  (because someday… Facebook is going to delete everything you all post on it!!!)

I actually have a lot to say about my love for the cars and Ric Ocasek. But it’s late and this week is going to be tough to blog about it. Here’s a few thoughts as they fall out of my head.

The Cars were an odd band on the fringe, and that was how I thought of myself as a middle school and high school kid. They were my soundtrack to life for a decade.

My kids know Candy-O front to back because it’s one of my favorite travel albums in the car.

I am stealing this line from Bob Walkenhorst… “there was a time when I did believe that I could remember every day I had lived. (Well, at my class reunion a few months ago, I found out that I have forgotten more than I remember since HS!). But! I still remember strange things like where I picked up certain albums…

To illustrate one instance of this… I can tell you that I remember gong to Tower Records in NYC when I was 11 or so… And picking up Ric’s first solo album… Beatitude. I played the hell out of that cassette. (Also picked up Elliott Easton’s solo record “change no change”). I was listening to Beatitude last week on Spotify!

(It’s not just this record… if I pull up my CD collection, I can tell you were I bought most of them. Who I was with etc)

I didn’t idolize sport stars or astronauts as a kid. Ric was my childhood hero… I read Rolling Stone every week for any news on the band (no mtv in Fairbury back then). I bought their book to know everything about them.

Ric was geeky… socially awkward and had looks that would never get the homecoming queen (but he did). If he could be successful in this superficial world that rewarded looks and celebrity… The rest of us misfits all had a chance!


I would love to tell you that I was a hardcore debut album guy when I discovered The Cars.  But I would have been 8 at that time.  No, I was a fan of the band like most people when the video for “you might think” came out.  I had no idea who these guys were.  And frankly…  The videos from Shake it Up looked a little scary when going back and looking at them after the Heartbeat City videos.

I had a solid foothold in the new stuff for a long time.   It wasn’t long before I started going back into the catalog to check out other “cassettes”.  I think the debut album was next…  Then Candy-O.  When I picked up Panorama… I was a little let down.  The music is great, but the production is muddy as hell.  I am a geek that way.  (Too Much Joy’s third album “Mutiny” always drives me nuts with its production as well)  I digress.  Panorama slowed me down.  I dont think I picked up Shake it Up for many years.   Then again…  Childhood memories are tricky to pin down…  It was probably 6 months.

Over the years…  In college especially, I was enamored with the debut album and Candy-O.  The production and clarity of those early records are a far cry from the nosiy and overproduced later works.  They made for CD’s that could be played at a very loud volume over my Polk Audio Monitor 10B’s.

As I have moved 30 years past those days…  Candy-O is the album that stands up the best for me.  Its all over the place.  Ric, Ben, David, Elliott and Greg (I know all their names without looking it up!)  are at their masterful best in 1979.  Rocking, quirky and strangely distant in its feel.  Its a timeless album that I think will be with me till I die.  Let that not be too soon.

Also, Beatitude… Ric’s first solo album has been on my Spotify rotations a lot over the past few years.  Not sure why.  Its a bit of a dated synth and electronic drum period piece… But it seems I can overlook that electronic sound because I still know all the lyrics and great memories fill my head when I listen to it.

One last thought… If I wanted to visually remember Ocasek at his masterful best…  I think this video for “Magic” probably is it.  Full 80’s garb…  Walking on water to a crowd of freaks and geeks.  It was very symbolic of his persona and power to kids like me during the 80’s.  (Plus Easton and Orr are rocking in the background!)


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Chasing Buster

This story is just an observation that was rattling around my head the other day.  Why are old comedies dying? Where is the humor we used to love?


I had an opportunity to watch one of my all time favorite movies with my son the other day…  He is 15, and we are currently working our way through a pile of DVD’s from the 80’s and 90’s that I have deemed “educational”.  Past curriculum movies have included Animal House, Better Off Dead, Blues Brothers etc. I think you get the idea.


This session was National Lampoon’s Vacation.  The classic family road trip movie that follows the Griswald clan as they travel from Chicago to Wally World in Southern California.   To be fair, my son has seen quite a bit of this movie through bits and pieces over the years… But this was the first time he would be seeing the unedited version with its snippets of nudity and swear words.  (At least that’s what he told me!)


To be honest, the movie does not age that well.  Sexism and racism abound in these old movies, and I am sure this script would have been “nuked” by any studio head these days.  Its a great series of vignettes that create outlandish and uncomfortable situations. But as far as cinematic masterpieces go… Its a little thin.  Really, the joy in this movie comes from the lead playing dumb as well as any star has. Chevy Chase, an icon of the 80’s, was known for his “every-guy” looks and ability to take a fall on SNL fits the bill for a bumbling and out of touch father taking his family on a cross country vacation.  He is surrounded by other amazing comic actors who heighten any bizarre situation… Namely Imogene Coca and Randy Quaid. They put Chase’s skills to the test when they are on the screen together.


While we were watching this movie… I started to wonder what happened to Chase.  After the movie I did some digging. He is a bitter dude who is blaming everyone around him for his lack of career.  Read about his feud with Bill Murray. Its brutal. There are reports that he had a complete flameout when he joined the cast of “Community” (NBC sitcom about community college).  I had recently tried to watch his interview show on netflix… It was cute for an episode, but his antics with a glass of water became tiresome.  


Here’s the thing.  You can have youthful handsome looks and do physical humor to great effect…  It’s not expected and can surprise an audience.  


When you are closing in on the nursing home… And its all been seen before.  Its frightening and you start to get a little scared for the actor that he has not moved on for the past 30 years.  


This is not to say that old people cannot do physical humor… But it really is a focus in on Chase’s “playing stupid” act.  Its worn. It’s all been seen before. As a matter of fact, I think a lot of those little tricks and bits were done in front of by Brother and I by our Grandfather’s best friend.  


While I was thinking about where Chase is… I was reminded of a documentary I watched a few months ago… The Great Buster.  Buster Keaton was arguably the greatest physical actor of any generation. Prove me wrong! Regardless of your opinion… I think there are similarities in the careers of Chase and Keaton.  Both were stars in their youth and towards middle age. As they lost their looks and step… Audiences moved on.  


Keaton rebounded and hung around…  In the end, he started getting the recognition from a generation that would be more akin to his Grandchildren.  As Keaton’s career turned into that of an “old man” he became a regular with Frankie and Annette… You would see him in the background working some obscure part in any of their beach movies.  He was also ready to take on Twilight Zone or 60’s comedies like “A Funny Thing Happened on theWay to the Forum”. The guy worked and continued to love the job that made him the renowned name that he is today.

As I was comparing these two actors… And I realize this is a stretch for many…  I thought to myself, “Where is Chevy’s, Frankie and Annette?” Would he take the help if it was offered by the younger generation?  Chase, as shown to us by Buster, cannot rely on physical humor into his old age to pay the bills. We know he can play the straight man…  And we seem to be lacking the kind of actor in today’s movies. Watch his pseudo talk show on Netflix “The Last Laugh”. Where is his growth?  Why can’t he take on a roll like Mike Myers did in Inglorious Basterds and play a straight man once and awhile?  


Ego?  Clutching youth?  Just an asshole? I add that last part because there are stories at every corner that would portray the actor as “hard to deal with”.  Sounds like a report card from grade school. Everyone can outgrow that phase, unless this is where they are growing into. But honestly,  money talks. If you have the chops and can fill the seats, nobody is kicking out off the stage.  

Whats most interesting about this is… Why do I even care???  Hard to say, but I think my love of old school physical comedy sometimes makes me hyper-aware of these trends.


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Aiden is a dork


For all of those people who follow this page strictly to mock Aiden…

Please do your worst.  He deserves every bit of the damage you can unload on him!


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