Working on a few projects and upgrades

Once we arrived back in Grand Rapids to be with Diana’s mom, we thought we would take the opportunity to get a few maintenance issues with the rig taken care of, along with a few upgrades we had wanted to accomplish.  Grand Rapids is Michigan’s second largest city, and everything we need to get the job done is here at our fingertips.

The first order of business was to get the leaking steering box on the F-350 replaced.  Turns out that there is a huge back order on the part, and no one seems to be able to get one.  Mark up at Uncle Rod’s in Elk Rapids even did a search for me, to no avail.  Of all the vehicles I’ve had over the years, this is my first steering box issue.  I am amazed that they are that hard to get, as was Mark.  The mechanic at Ford told me it wasn’t leaking too bad, and to just keep an eye on the power steering fluid.  Meanwhile, I’ll keep searching….
The next project was to install the skirting on the trailer again.  What took me a good 4 days to do last year was whittled down to 2 days this year.

Not only was it faster, but I also was able to do a better job of it.  Not what I would refer to as a ‘thing of beauty’, but it gets the job done in a big way.  The temperature sensor was at 45 degrees under there this morning, and the outdoor reading was at 22.  The electric heater underneath will not kick on until it reaches 41 degrees, which it has yet to do.

Inside the trailer, I put 3M window film on the windows.  While it doesn’t totally eliminate the condensation on the aluminum frames, it greatly reduces the moisture on the windows and cuts down on the drafts.

Once that was done, I was able to concentrate on two sets of improvements I had wanted to tackle:  new drawer glides and cabinet latches.  Having spent my career in the cabinet industry, I was impressed with the quality of the doors, frames and drawer boxes in our fifth wheel when we first saw it.  The  drawer glides were standard epoxy-coated glides, and I had always planned on upgrading them to full extension drawer glides.  I’m in the process of doing that now.  In conjunction with that, I am installing new cabinet latches.  A year ago, I purchased a couple of sets of Tot Loks.  There were several glowing reviews of them on the RV forums, so I thought I would try them out.  We had a few issues where our cabinet doors and drawers popped open as we were going down the highway, and these locks will prevent that from happening.

With the red lever flipped forward, the latch remains open for everyday use.

With the lever flipped back, the latch pops open.  When you close the door, it is closed and latched.  The only way to open it is….

…with the included magnet.  All you have to do is set the magnet near the location of the lock on the front of the door and you can hear it unlatch.  Open the door, flip the lever forward and you are good to go.  Nothing is visible from the outside.

With that being said, installation is a little tricky.  The latch requires a hole to be drilled in the back of the door that comes within 1/8″ of the front.  I am using a metal over-the-bit depth gauge on my drill bit that is set to 5/8″ deep, so I have confidence I won’t pop through the front.  The company that makes the Tot Lock has answered customer concerns about this by developing a new lock called the Safety 1st Magnetic Locking System that doesn’t require a deep hole to be drilled in the door…only the smaller pilot holes for the mounting screws.  Reviews seem to be as good as they were for the Tot Lock, without the installation complaints.  Though both were designed to keep children out of the cabinets in a home, they work great in keeping the contents of the cabinets from flying out while going down the road in an RV.  We haven’t road tested them yet, but I’m not able to open the door by pulling hard on the knob.  I’m sure they will work well for us.


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A Time For Mom

I thought I’d write a quick update to let everyone know what our winter plans are.  We came back to Grand Rapids for the month of November, hoping to find an opportunity to head to Florida for the winter.  That all hinged on our assessment of Diana’s mom’s health.  Not long after our arrival, she took a turn for the worse. It became obvious that we needed to be here.  Mom is now on hospice, and even though she is a fighter, her health is declining.  But beyond that, we just want to be with her.  She lights up when she sees us, as do we when we are with her.  It’s a tough time in the circle of life, but also a very sacred time.

So beginning tomorrow, the skirting goes back on the trailer, as we prepare to face another West Michigan winter.  We are supposed to get measurable snow here on Saturday.  I am going to find myself referring to my own blog posts from last winter and taking my own advice!    I sure hope it’s good advice! 🙂   If I come up with any new ideas, I’ll be sure to pass them along.  We will be posting from warmer winter locales in due time.  For now, it’s Mom’s time and turf…and that is a pretty special place to be.

Diana and her mom on Mom’s 80th birthday last April. 


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Rail Trails of Grand Rapids, Michigan

On November 1, we relocated back to Grand Rapids, Michigan to be near Diana’s mom.  We are evaluating the situation and trying to make the best decision regarding where to spend the winter.

Our first week back, we have been fortunate to have had some great fall weather.  For three consecutive days, we had temperatures in the low 70’s, and we took advantage of the sunshine and checked out the local rail trails.  The Grand Rapids metro area is home to an extensive collection of recreational trails, and each year brings more miles of paths onto the region’s map.

The above image shows the trails marked in red.  As you can see, it is quite possible to ride a very long distance!  🙂

On Monday, November 2, we drove to the southern terminus of Kent Trails in Byron Center. This asphalt pathway was paved in 1992, and is the oldest rail trail in the region.  It runs on the rail bed of the defunct Grand Rapids and Indiana Railroad, which first ran on this portion of land in 1870.  At its peak, the railroad ran from Cincinnati, Ohio to Mackinaw City, Michigan, and was the route that Ernest Hemmingway took on his excursions to Northern Michigan from Chicago.

Coming north out of Byron Center, the trail runs between the two halves of Railside Golf Course.  There are two of these graceful golf cart bridges over the path.

A few miles north, the trail goes under M-6, otherwise known as the South Beltline or the Paul Henry Freeway.  We purposely are not political on this blog, but Mr. Henry’s legacy bears mentioning.  Paul Henry was a Republican U.S. Congressman who oversaw the same district that Gerald Ford held when he was a congressman.  From that office, Ford moved into the vice-presidency and then the presidency.  Mr. Henry was known to vote with his conscience, even if it meant that he went against the rest of his party and President Reagan, which was quite remarkable in such a heavily Republican district.  We had the pleasure of meeting him as he passed us at an outdoor cafe in Grand Rapids, and he was a true gentleman who was well respected on both sides of the aisle.  He ended up getting a brain tumor and passing at age 51.  During his tenure, this much needed highway was in the planning stages.

When we got to the five mile mark, we discovered that the trail passed by the new Cabela’s store in Grandville.  We stopped for a little bit, then headed back the five miles to our truck.

On Tuesday, we rode on the northern portion of the Paul Henry Thornapple Trail.  This particular trail is still under development, and runs along a former railroad between Grand Rapids and Vermontville to the southeast.  When complete, it will be 42 miles long.

We started on the outskirts of town and rode north into Kentwood, a southern suburb of Grand Rapids.

The trail was very nice.  We did have to cross a five lane portion of 52nd Street, but it was at a traffic light.  There was a nice city park with restrooms near that intersection.

We came to an intersection with the East-West Trail and continued north on the Paul Henry Trail.  The neighborhood started to get a little too urban for our taste, so we backtracked to the East-West Trail and checked it out.

This is a fairly new route that runs along a series of high tension power lines through a Consumers Energy corridor.  It’s definitely a suburban route, and is a great use of the land.  This particular raised wooden path over a swamp was first rate!

Kudos to Consumers Energy for partnering with the community on this trail!

On Wednesday, we decided to check out one of the premiere trails in Michigan: The Fred Meijer White Pine Linear State Park.  This trail runs along the same Grand Rapids and Indiana corridor that Kent Trails runs on, only the White Pine is from Grand Rapids north to Cadillac…a distance of 92 miles.  

The southern 22 miles is asphalt, with the rest being a hopscotch of asphalt and crushed limestone.  We started out in the town of Belmont and headed north.


In the parking lot, we had met this fellow TerraTrike owner who constructed this sidecar for her doggie. That was one happy puppy!
The trail ran near the Rogue River, and there were several deep ravines.  This particular portion of the railroad grade dates back to 1867.

Just prior to passing under 10 Mile Road, the route crosses an old bridge over the river.

It then runs through the quaint town of Rockford.  Longtime readers may recall our post from this town last December called ‘A Small Town Christmas’.  On this beautiful November day, the town was packed with people enjoying the sunshine.

We had a trailside lunch at Ramona’s Table, which was delicious!

From there, we continued north for a bit.

Pretty soon, Diana pointed skyward…


….and the leaves appeared to be raining out of the clear blue sky!
We ended up pedaling to 12 Mile Road, which was six miles from our starting point.  We headed back and called it a day.

These pathways are just a small sampling of what the area has to offer.  We look forward to exploring more of West Michigan’s trails in the future.

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Houdek Dunes Natural Area

The last of the Leelanau Conservancy preserves we visited for the year was Houdek Dunes Naural Area.  We went there after completing our hike at Whaleback on October 19th.

Looking at the map, we hiked the entire outer loop, except the Ridgeline Trail, as we were pretty tired from the combined hikes.

At 370 acres, this property is one of the largest preserves owned by the conservancy.  A portion of the land was farmed over a century ago by Charles and Isabelle Houdek.  In 1998, the conservancy purchased it for $680,000 from a developer who intended to turn it into a golf course.  After visiting, we are so happy that did not happen.

The first portion of the trail went through a heavily forested back dune.  This is the area behind the main slope of the dunes that face Lake Michigan.  With the carpet of fallen leaves, we had a hard time making out the trail in some spots.

There was every color of the rainbow!

The maples were intense, with reds, yellows and greens.

There was fungi…

…and more fungi!

Really cool mosses……

…and more cool mosses!

One really amazing feature of Houdek Dunes are the giant white birch trees.  Normally a ‘transitional’ tree between a juvenile and mature forest, these birches have survived for over a century.

And a favorite spot for photos is this 100 year old maple.  Diana is doing her best to hug it, but that is a huge tree!

It is rumored that you can occasionally see wildlife swinging from its’ branches!

Farther along the trail there is an overlook at Houdek Creek, which is the largest tributary into northern Lake Leelanau.  Notice how clear this spring fed steam is. The sand bank is fragile, so access to the creek is discouraged.

In 2011, the descendants of Charles and Isabelle Houdek funded and built a deck overlooking the creek.  Are those glasses of wine?  Well…it is the Leelanau Peninsula…..  😃

The last part of the trail passes across a blowout dune, where the wind is winning out over the vegetation.

We thoroughly enjoyed our hike at Houdek Dunes, and we can’t wait to go back and hike the Rigeline Trail sometime in the future.

Well that wraps up our summer in Leelanau County and at Wild Cherry Resort.  We had a fabulous time!  

  Stay tuned to see what vista we explore next!
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