“Then something Tookish woke up inside him, and he wished to go and see the great mountains, and hear the pine-trees and the waterfalls, and explore the caves and wear a sword instead of a walking-stick.” – The Hobbit
Not sure about that whole sword wearing thing, but apart from that I’m with Bilbo on this one and feel that something Tookish has awoken inside me as of late. My plans for traveling to Utah in the van got pushed back about a week from what I’d originally envisioned. Really I had just picked a date that would give me a lot of time and allow several stops along the way before my first day with UCC. As things got closer though, I realized I was going to need more time to wrap things up.
Two days before my departure, I brought Veronica to the mechanic to have them fix the sliding door hinge that had broken a week or so prior. I hoped they might be able to give me interior lights that worked too…and an aux outlet! Thus, it came about that the day before leaving I was at the mechanic mid-afternoon waiting for the van to be fixed. The electrical proved to be too messy for the time/budget I had in mind, but I’m happy to report the door now slides smooth like butter! The oil too was changed and all appeared (somewhat) dandy on the general inspection of things.
I had started stockpiling all the items I thought I’d take with me in the van, but never actually tried to fit things inside. It was quite a fiasco. When I’d been preparing for the PCT, I felt like I was organized. I had my gear in nice neat piles and even had an inventory on a spreadsheet I think. This time, not so much…
So, starting at 5:00pm the night before departure, I finally started packing. It went pretty good surprisingly and I felt ok about the space I had. A few things got cut and would remain behind, but for the most part, I got everything in that I wanted too. As wise Brother Abram said to me, “Some things you’ll find you won’t prefer, and others you will…like a banjo, you’ll probably find out you want a banjo along.”
The Master Van Builder and Super Seamstress Sheryl were also making sure I was ready to go. That night they were still making some last minute additions in the form of curtains and window covers. I think they turned out spectacular and I’ll be quite happy I have them!
I wanted to be all on top of things for y’all and have some nice photos and videos showcasing Ronnie’s many beautiful features, but as mentioned above, I was a little tight on my timing. Thus, that will have to come later.
Saturday morning, Dave H concocted a delicious egg with bacon sandwich breakfast. I still had a few last minute items to throw into the van, but then it was goodbyes prior to my 8:58am departure. Here’s some pics just before taking off from he Hoekwater ranch
After a visit to Fred Meijer’s store for a few more last minute purchases, it was off to meet my girlfriend Maria, who would be accompanying me on this first leg of the trip! The plan was to visit Starved Rock State Park in Illinois, spend some time around the Chicago area, and meet up with a good friend prior to my continuing onward and Maria taking the train back to Michigan. And we did just that… it was such a wonderful way to kick off this adventure!
I do have to report that only an hour into the trip we heard a scraping noise coming from below our feet. After a quick pull-over and investigation, I learned that the metal shield/guard that covers all the parts underneath the front of the van had partially fallen down and was hanging, scraping on the rough road. My father had made sure I had tools along and without me even knowing had thrown in a plastic tupperware full of random screws and such. It’s a good thing he did, because that’s exactly what I used to fix it. 10 minutes later, the shield was screwed back up to the frame (via 1 small self-drilling zip screw), and we were merging back onto the highway. It’s one of those things where I could’ve gotten really upset and worried and all that, but thankfully, it was a quick fix and we could laugh about it once going again. Apart from this, Ronnie ran like a champ and started great even in some sub-zero temperatures!
Starved Rock is a pretty amazing place with numerous carved sandstone canyons and small streams flowing through most of them. Being rather chilly, they’re all frozen right now, which made for some spectacular scenes! On top of that, there are a few spots where you can hike up to the tops of cliffs with overlooks of the Illinois River. We even discovered that Bald Eagles congregate at this time of year and enjoyed watching some soaring far out above the river.
Here’s some photos (I added in a few comparison photos too from my visit this past summer)…