“This baby’s got a few surprises left in her, sweetheart.” – the return of the MFALCON, new foglights and winter front grill covers

Leaving the Jeep better than I received it

So to be sure, it has been a massive blessing to have borrowed my friend Andrea’s Jeep – but I am ready to be back to my car and the stick shift’s far finer control.  As I send the Jeep back, the hood struts have been replaced (so the hood can remain open by itself) and the tailgate lock actuator (so now the gate can be opened from the outside AND locked).  I also ran Lucas fuel additive through several tanks of fuel, and both improved the fuel efficiency as well as brought the idling RPM from 1100 down to approximately 575 or so.  Definitely a fun vehicle to drive (and to think, I didn’t even get the chance to off-road with it), but too expensive per mile for me to drive any longer!

Thusly, given that this week saw me move to pushups on a 45 degree incline at physical therapy, and then on Thursday I received the permission of the surgeon, I have returned to my beloved MFALCON.

But I was not idle during my convalescence.  I planned out, and as of very recently, did the work involved in a couple of modifications and additions to the vehicle.

Clean and shiny as all hell (call it 90% wax, 10% sheen off the frozen rinse water)

Clean and shiny as all hell (call it 90% wax, 10% sheen off the frozen rinse water)

Fog lights, replacing the turn signals

Initially back in August, I recognized I would eventually want to install fog lights on my car – the extra light is a good thing for safety, but I also happen to think that fogs which are tinted look damned sexy whether on or off! :3

the new turn signal and fog light arrays

the new turn signal and fog light arrays

The assembly comes as a set (the stock assembly is a turn signal, a reflector, and then a fake fog light lens reflector), and thus I had to purchase replacement assemblies with the real fogs, as the sizing on the middle reflector is different.

the finished product, turn signals orange and fog lights yellow

the finished product, turn signals orange and fog lights yellow

And let me tell you, it was REALLY enjoyable to do a project even as simple as this, ordering and then cutting to size amber (turn signals) and yellow (fog lights) vinyl tint.  Having been incapable of doing much of anything for months as my arm healed, this was a really viable project for my still-healing arm while also being very practical and not too expensive.

New turn signals and fog lights installed, looking *awesome*

New turn signals and fog lights installed, looking *awesome*

Fabricating winter fronts for the upper and lower grills

A few weekends later, being optimistic that the surgeon would indeed clear me to drive my car again, and bearing in mind my home town of Chesterland Ohio is functionally the central Antarctic frozen wastes, I realize that my poor diesel engine will have a tough time warming up and staying warm while driving at home for a month (not as a flaw from my personal vehicle – diesels in general produce far less waste heat).  So taking a cue from school buses and semi trucks, I wanted to figure out some sort of winter front for my car.  There is a recently-released professional winter front available from ID Parts – but I do not want to spend $100 for this addition to my car’s winter time capabilities.

The initial pile of materials is confusing.

The initial pile of materials is confusing.

The solution was obvious, then: TO THE INTERNET!! I looked up various materials, even things like Lexan and Optix (various strength grades of acrylics) as backing materials; while using my friend Tom’s suggestion that the visible portion ought to be leather, for cool looks.  I ended up deciding on a lauan back board, with material taken from a $5 faux leather lady’s coat (thanks Good Will!!!) as the cover; the covers would attach to their respective grills using Velcro.

The finished bottom grill cover

The finished bottom grill cover

Without the CEID at Yale, I would have had to buy a bunch more tools (particularly on the fabric cutting and working side of things) – even still, I did pick up a titanium circular cutting tool and am VERY glad I did.  The overall cost was slightly over $50, so that is half the cost of buying a premade one.

The mockup emblem with the now-finished top grill covers for either side of it

The mockup emblem with the now-finished top grill covers for either side of it

Though the brown coat material doesn’t look half bad, I decided I wanted an accent color to really pop against the Storm Grey of my car; Burnt Orange it was!!

Yours truly, test-fitting the winter fronts

Yours truly, test-fitting the winter fronts

Additionally, even though this is faux leather (and thus a petroleum product), I want to try and protect the paint as best I can from the elements.  I looked into the options for leather conditioner + water sealer, and I found Aquaseal.

Fogs and turn signals still look good; winter fronts installed and making a HUGE difference on time to warm up

Fogs and turn signals still look good; winter fronts installed and making a HUGE difference on time to warm up

Traveling home to Ohio for Christmas and the 2013/2014 transition

So, these mods done, I got some help from a friend (for the sake of my poor shoulder) to get the Thule roof box atop my car, and then loaded – since last spring, I decided that each trip I take home will see my car loaded with things I do not want to get rid of, but do not need here with me in New Haven… so that eventually, when I depart this place in May 2014, the moving experience then will be easy (and almost solely furniture).

Thule box on the roof, the car is getting packed and ready to be driven into (apparently) some serious Lake Effect snow in NY

Thule box on the roof, the car is getting packed and ready to be driven into (apparently) some serious Lake Effect snow in NY

Also for the sake of my shoulder, I decided to split the trip into two days of travel – I will drive first to my friend John’s house in Rochester NY, to visit and board game with him.  Then, on Sunday, I will drive the approximately 4 remaining hours home.  Apparently big winter storms all across New England and New York starting tomorrow, so this should be interesting!

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New England Camping Experience (NECE) #1 – Mount Greylock, MA

NECE: an introduction

So, a short and sad story for you.  I had, with me in Warshington DC, for 5 years and change, all the camping gear one would ever need.  It was mostly left over from my days as a Boy Scout, and it was all in mostly good shape; my dad even bought me a $150 Eureka tent, which I never even opened.

But I let things like school and work, and not having fun, get in the way of going out and thriving in the elements.  I regret this deeply.

So, with a car of my own, and my camping gear mostly still with me, I came to Yale intending on camping quite often.  But I promptly fell into that bad habit of too much work and school, again, up until about a year ago.

That is over, now.  I am stacking my class schedule for  the fall to be Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday only.  That means 4-day weekends, every weekend.  That means between 1 and 3 camping trips to New England locales per month, every month, until I escape this New Haven in May 2014 (and let me assure you, I am quite ready to escape).

This blog post chronicles the first of these NECE trips.

Prep and arrival; black bears, not as many as expected

That said, about a week ago I finally said to myself “the summer is nearly done, and I am still nowhere close to my goal of camping at least once per New England state.  Why the hell am I putting this off, what is stopping me??”  What, indeed.

preparing to camp

preparing to camp

I started researching places in Massachusetts with good hiking and better views, as the state is close enough to be a good test run, but still a very different creature than Connecticut.  Lo and behold, Mount Greylock, the tallest mountain in MA at 3491 feet, came up.  Besides being a serious backpacking experience (one has to hike 1.5 miles or so, from the parking lot to the campground), the trails there are reputed to offer interspersed GREENERY OVERLOAD with “my goodness gracious, I didn’t know scenic vistas were legally allowed to be THAT gorgeous.”  As the photos posted below will demonstrate, those are both fair contentions.

Greylock is in prime black bear country; the otherwise-primitive (no water or electricity) campsites all came standard with locking bear-proof steel boxes, to store food and pungent items (toothpaste, deodorant) inside at night.  Sadly, no bears were encountered… though I had purchased a combination tomahawk-style hatchet with included saw, both for woodcraft AND fighting off all the bears the woods could throw at me.

Greylock's "front" "door"

Greylock’s “front” “door”

A Saturday spent hiking and soaking in the absurd beauty of the natural world

one of many photos I took of the forest, and one of  the brooks coming down from the summit

one of many photos I took of the forest, and one of the babbling brooks coming down from the summit

The hike in at night up the mountain went alright, and camp was set up without too much of a problem.  Therefore, my Saturday was spent with two goals in mind: hike to the point of exhaustion, and get excellent photos of  the summit and forest before the first goal was fully realized.  Speaking of the forest, apparently the elevation of the mountain is such that the humidity is high enough, and the temperature low enough, for the coniferous trees to count as part of the boreal forest (the largest biome in the world is the boreal forests of Canada and Russia, which go north into the tundras, and it is fascinating to have been in such a southerly part of it).  As such, the conditions lend themselves to a whole hell of a lot of green and shade, even when the day itself is quite sunny – this will be seen below, as the photos from within the forest all look like late afternoon or dusk, whereas the summit was quite sunny and warm (a good 15 degrees warmer than within the trees).

pristine wilderness perfection, now with more Mike-dream-house

pristine wilderness perfection, now with more Mike-dream-house

one of many shots I took from the summit - see below for the rest

one of many shots I took from the summit – see below for the rest

The summit holds a World War I memorial, and it was sad to see how much it had deteriorated – to the point that it is structurally unsound to go up in the observation tower atop it.

decaying WWI memorial

decaying WWI memorial

An attempted Mohawk Trail State Forest interlude

Having had a lovely day on Saturday, I asked one of the rangers about my other options for things to see and marvel at on the way home, and he suggested I check out Mohawk Trail State Forest.  The oldest trees in the state of MA, more than 500 years old, are massive hemlocks within this forest, and I wanted to check it out and hike it.  Google Maps was given the address, and took me through the back trails and hills of MA, places so pristine (save for the road and a handful of houses) that I had trouble believing I was in New England.  Eventually, I was told to turn right onto some sort of “Black Briar Street” and came upon this sign:

This seems like a good plan, right?

This seems like a good plan, right?

Well, that didn’t sound THAT bad, right?  The road went from 2-way paved, down to barely one lane and gravel.  And it kept getting more and more narrow, and the ruts for wheels got to the point where my car bottomed out twice, until I got to the edge of (I presume) Mohawk Trail State Forest:

... the road kind of disappeared, and turned into wilderness

… the road kind of disappeared, and turned into wilderness

Those ruts are for some kind of vehicle  that has 1) tires larger than tiny; 2) more ground clearance than “a smidgen.”  Not sure if accidentally finding the smuggler’s rear entrance (?) to the forest counts as visiting it, but I decided I was too hungry to drive all the way around, and started the trip back home…

“THEY TOLD ME THEY FIXED IT. THIS ISN’T MY FAULT” – MFALCON troubles on the way home

… but the recent (maybe 1.5 month old?) loud road noise I have gotten above 35 mph suddenly got a LOT worse.   Like, to the point of the steering developing a LOT of play in it, and vibrations throughout the whole car.  My initial diagnosis, of tires wearing unevenly (which has happened to cars owned by my family before, and I know it isn’t unsafe, just a noisy nuisance) was suddenly untenable.  I stopped at a Firestone tire, they lifted the car up, and diagnosed the following:

MFALCON on the lift, this wheel bearing is the culprit

MFALCON on the lift, this wheel bearing is the culprit

1) how is this 1996 vehicle in such great shape?!?
2) I want to go offroading in your car, dude (I told them about Mohawk’s back entrance, and how it isn’t as viable as I had hoped)
3) the front right wheel bearing has gone VERY bad, and will need replacing soon
4) both rear tires internal rings have slipped, meaning you’ll get unpredicatable behavior from the tires and need to replace them
but
5) we will close in less than 2 hours; we don’t have the time to do these repairs by 5 and don’t want to strand you here; and you can probably make it home to New Haven, its only an hour away!

WELP.

20 minutes later, this happened, in the fast lane on 91S:

the damned tire blew up on me

the damned tire blew up on me

The tire is gone.  Turns out that unused 18 year old stock tires, even when stored in a heated garage their entire life, and with no visible cracks or problems, aren’t the best choice.  My folks bought me two brand new tires for the front, back in March; the tire dealer assured me the rear stock tires would last another year.  6000 miles later, one of them went on me, in an explosive way… so I will be replacing both rear tires this very week, I should think.

As for the wheel bearing, its a $90 part… and will cost me $311 to have replaced.  Time to buy some tools and roll up my sleeves, and teach myself how to do it (and check the integrity of the other 3 stock 18 year old bears, while I’m at it).  Stay tuned later this week.

wore out a wheel bearing, a tire, AND this pair of shoes this weekend

wore out a wheel bearing, a tire, AND this pair of shoes this weekend

That said, I am still basking in the memory of how glorious nature is, and how much this dumped fuel onto the flames of my desire to go buy a big chunk of land and turn it into a self-sufficient paradise.  I have the sense that these NECE trips will do the same thing over and again, and I am OK with that 🙂

Oh, and some necessary gloating:

Total miles traveled: 311.4
Cost of fuel for the weekend: $33.20
MPG (including SERIOUS mountain terrain, and 75 miles driven on the spare tire): 38.9
Cost of campsite: $18 for 2 nights.

$51.20 for a weekend of THAT level of awesomeness? Yes, I think I will, thank you very much.  🙂

Photos

Finally, the gallery of all the photos, for those interested parties: