They won’t know unless you put it out there.

Originally posted to ontheroadagainagain.com on October 18, 2014

It’s a beautiful fall day at Ha Ha Tonka State Park in central Missouri. Fall colors are nearly perfect. I’m on a hike with two friends, one I met yesterday and one I’ve known most of my life. They each have a camera with a 12″ lens that takes 30 frames per second while I’m taking pictures with an iPhone.  In a few days they’ll go home and share incredible images from the trip with their colleagues at the camera club. And I’ll have a couple shots on my phone that might not even make it to my computer . . . to say nothing of Instagram.

Why am I not more like Pete and Bill? I’ve taken my share of photos over the years. I’ve had pictures published in national magazines. I have an SLR camera (in a bag at home). Years ago I even processed my own film and had a ball enlarging an image a hundred times just to see if that dot at the end of the pier was a person. 

Yet here I am shooting with an iPhone wishing I were more like them. Every time I get home with a bunch of “beautiful” shots, I dread the task of separating keepers from outtakes, then adding the right tags so they can be found a year later when I’ve forgotten where I was or with whom I was hiking. The idea of posting them for others to see intimidates me so badly I want to lock the phone’s memory so they can’t possibly escape. So there they stay. I’m even wondering if I should take any more.

My attempt at iPhone photography

Hold on a minute, GrandpaLyle! There’s little doubt that others are taking wonderful pictures. There’s no chance that iPhone images can compete with those captured on cameras that cost thousands. Yet you’re not chopped liver. What you see and record has value ‑ perhaps only to family and friends ‑ but you’ll never know if you don’t put it out there. 

So here’s a photo I took at Lake of the Ozarks. It represents a moment in my life that’s worth remembering. Putting it out there for y’all to see may be an even bigger moment for me. 

The new Intruder

Originally posted to ontheroadagainagain.com on March 24, 2014

Damon Intruder motorhome to become GrandpaLyle’s Ark

Last November, the 95 Damon Intruder motorhome I’d been driving for less than a year gave a sigh and died on an on-ramp. This knockout punch was landed less than a week after I made a typo naming it the Inturder. Though we laughed heartily, no one expected that to be a prophecy. Recovering from the downer, I came up with the idea of restoring its status to that of the Intruder and dubbing it GrandpaLyle’s Ark.

Maybe one day, I’ll put the whole story down. Right now I’m too excited about the new look to hold back any more. After some very creative work on the part of Sara Lim, a budding Chicago artist, and several exchanges back and forth, the design for the new Intruder is ready to go to Sign Artists. In just a few weeks, I hope to post pictures of the real thing.

Delivery and trial run in GrandpaLyle’s Ark – an old motorhome given new life

Taking delivery of GrandpaLyle’s Ark – my newly rebuilt motorhome

Originally posted to ontheroadagainagain.com on July 1, 2014

The plan was simple. Friday morning I’d head to Scotty’s RV. After getting a thorough checkout on all the new gadgets, I would drive it home, park it in our driveway, reload all the stuff that had been sitting in the back of the garage since Christmas, head out for a one-night shake down trip to a nearby location.

Sounds simple, right? 

Go home and get ready for the adventure. A little more than a year ago, I brought a used Damon Intruder motorhome. On day one I mashed it into the roof of the house – the beginning of a downhill slide from Intruder to In-turd-er. Eight months work and way too many dollars later, it’s now Grandpalyle’s Ark. This time I was more careful. 

Safely parked, I proceeded to plug it in. Using “shore power” meant I wouldn’t have to run the noisy, smelly generator to take advantage of all the luxuries found in this fabulous land yacht. Crackle. Spark. POP. That’s the sound a long extension cord makes when plugged in with a refrigerator, two air-conditioners and sundry other appliances attached . . . all trying to go on at once. Lucy and Desi were my role models.

Scotty’s RV team

Saturday morning started fresh with adjusting rear view mirrors. Sounds simple, doesn’t it. In a car, it might have been, but these mirrors are out of reach of the driver. Too proud to ask for help, I proceeded as follows: Sit in the driver’s seat, guess what adjustment is needed, walk fifty feet around the RV, tweak the mirrors, walk back to see what it looks like to the driver. Repeat as needed.

This was all happening on the longest day of the year. The Arkansas summer sun was high in the sky, the temperature was soaring and I was about cooked. And I was foolishly trying to have everything in perfect order before the first trip. 

Fortunately, Marie insisted on a sanity break. “Setting up an RV is a lot like moving into a new home,” she said. “You don’t have to have it all done in one day.” The reason for the trip was not to start the rest of my life in the Ark – it was simply to get acquainted and make a list of things for Scotty or me to tweak before I left town.

Sunday. Time for the big trip. Not so big actually, Scotty suggested Rocky Branch. It’s only about a thirty-minute drive and is in a beautiful location on Beaver Lake.

They still had a site that was reasonably level – the jacks should finish the job. Or they would if they worked. Flipped the switch and watched nothing happen. Ugh. Maybe the fuse. Pulled it out, checked it and it was fine. Put it back and everything worked – this could make me crazy.

Time to make some ice. Oops! There’s no water pressure. Ugh. Fortunately there’s a potable water source less than fifty feet away and a potty a few feet from there. UN-fortunately, the water tastes terrible and the potty smells worse. Back to the Ark. Let’s see if we can trouble shoot. The third valve I twisted did the trick – life is good again. And the double filtered water tastes great.

I’m thrilled. The In-turd-er really has become Grandpalyle’s Ark.

Don’t give up too easily

Some days it pays to get up. And to get going. And some days it pays to keep going even after you screw up.

This morning was one of those. My day was perfectly planned: Work out, garbage out, breakfast, etc. By step two I was screwed. 

Normally trash would have gone out yesterday, but this week was special. Monday was Presidents’ Day . . . a government holiday . . .  trash pick-up would be delayed a day for the rest of the week. It was to go out today instead. 

NOT! Here in Northwest Arkansas not everyone closes up shop just because some lawmakers vote themselves what they are convinced is a well-earned day of rest. Monday was NOT a trash holiday. The truck was at the curb on Thursday as usual. 

But our cans were not.

Today is Friday. I was feeling so smug when I carried everything out to the curb at the crack of dawn this morning. It did seem odd that none of our neighbors were as clever as I. But they weren’t. Not one.

More than once I have been sure that I was right and the rest of the world wrong. I can’t recall that it was ever true. This was no exception. Back to the computer. Monday was indeed a federal and city holiday. So there! Wait . . . what’s this? City hall was closed but the workers serving us were on the job as usual. The truck had come and gone. Yesterday.

Now what? Two very full cans of trash, recyclables and dirty diapers sit at the curb awaiting a truck that won’t be here for another week. And that week will produce enough garbage to make our yard look like Manhattan when city workers are on strike.

My kids (the ones who are supposed to learn everything they know from me!) say, “Don’t give up just because you encounter a bump in the road.” 

With trepidation, I called Allied Waste. BJ, a very courteous customer service representative, immediately informed me that I was SOL (Sure Out of Luck). Then, with no prompting, she asked me to hold. After only a couple seconds BJ came back on the line and said, “Leave the cans out. The dispatcher will try to reach a driver in the area and have them make a special stop.” Then she repeated emphatically, “Leave the cans out.” 

Life is good. All I did was make a phone call, ask for help . . . and leave the cans out! Good folks in the world responded. 

Making the mistake was foolish. Giving up would have been ridiculous. Admitting that I could learn from my kids was painful . . . but wise.

Believe the GPS: Low bridge, everybody down.

Last night I must have been completely fried. Exhausted enough to sleep for days, I paid for two nights. But I really wanted to get right back on the road. In the morning, the proprietor at Wishing Start Campground in Shediac, NB, could see that I looked refreshed . . . then, as nicely as could be, gave me full credit for the second night. (Not all places will do this.) When I checked in, I must have looked as bad as I felt. Very nice.

Followed the Acadian Coastal Drive in Eastern New Brunswick as closely as possible, Gypsy (GPS) clearly showing every road. Then for no apparent reason, she insisted on a twenty kilometer detour. Not just once, but demanding a U-turn at every opportunity. I should have listened – she was guiding me away from bridges with clearance and weight limitations that would scalp the Ark and possibly send me for an icy swim. Thank goodness they were well marked. And thank goodness for the Convert Free app – the signs were all in metric.

Best and worse on the evening’s hike: Worst – for the first time the mosquitos got to me. Best – the sunset was, well, look at the pictures.

Trail in Kouchibouguac National Park
Gobs of birds feeding in the sand (mud)
And, of course, the sunset itself – complete with jets racing across the sky

Canada to the United States – and the day in Maine

Originally posted September 23, 2016

Question to ponder: When did the United States of America change from plural to singular?


Know that they did a thorough inspection of GrandpaLyle’s Ark before allowing it to reenter the U.S.

Entering the U.S. at a remote point with minimal traffic seemed like a good idea – a charming experience with the same low key approach to life I’d been enjoying for the past six weeks in Canada. Not so. The staff has way too much time on their hands – time that easily leads to mischief. As I drove up to the gate, the officer immediately told me to turn off the engine – not a good sign.

As expected, he “asked” me for my passport. Even this is annoying when you consider that I’m crossing a border that used to require nothing more than a driver’s license. In modern Europe you don’t even slow down from autobahn speed to go from one country to the next.

Next the agent started asking questions. Lots of them. He must have found the opening he sought because next he excused himself to round up his colleagues. As they surrounded the Ark he asked me to step outside. I hoped they had been trained in the use of the sidearms on their hips. One took me around back to inspect the firewood. Meanwhile the other four helped themselves to a look around inside – not an inspection – just a gander. Only twice has anyone ever asked if they could see the inside my RV – both at border crossings – both by “officers of the law.” Sure glad I made my bed this morning.

Looks are deceiving. Riverside Take-Out served me some of the best food on the trip.

The day’s drive took me downeast to the Maine coast. Dinner was at Riverside Take-Out, an unpretentious roadside stand in Machias, Maine. Wow. Great lobster roll – simple, but great. Plus a scoop of blueberry ice cream that tasted like a sundae made with fresh Maine blueberries. Could hardly believe my tongue.

While I savored dinner at a picnic table in the parking area, Penny from Re Find Furniture next door came by to check out the Ark and chat about it. Then she invited me to see the store. Of course I accepted. While chatting with Penny and Kim (the owner) about the Maritimes, I asked if they had heard of the Abegweit. Kim remembered riding on it as a child. The Abegweit spent her (the Abby’s) first 35 years as an ice-breaker/railroad-ferry connecting PEI and the mainland. Since then she has spent 35 years as a prominent feature of Chicago’s lakefront, where she’s the clubhouse for Columbia Yacht Club. I love discovering what a small world this really is.

The Abegweit
Ice-breaker/rail ferry for 35 years between PEI and the mainland.
Now serving Chicago as Columbia Yacht Club.

By this time all I wanted was a place to sleep. I wish I had thought to ask Kim and Penny if I could just boondock in their parking area. Another hour found me at a lovely out-of-the-way place on the bay. While setting up I had a tough time leveling the Ark – one of the jacks wouldn’t work. Got out to check. A tire had a hole that you could put your fist through. Ugh. A few phone calls revealed I was too late reach anyone. Story will have to wait ’til tomorrow.

Don’t give in to the brat.

Originally posted October 1, 2016

Across the lake is Old Forge Camping Resort with
more than 400 campsites and cottages.

Last night at Old Forge Camping Resort I vowed to hike the nature trail in the morning. This morning as the sun came up there was no part of me that wanted to leave the warm sheets and soft pillow. But I did. A lesson in the making.

As I left home (GrandpaLyle’s Ark) I thought of leaving my trekking pack behind. After all I was in a camping resort – it was super civilized – the trail was probably paved. 

Wrong! Not only was the pack the right thing to have, I longed for the walking stick.

The Corps of Engineers would be proud of this artificial lake, but credit goes to eager beavers that formed the dam in the foreground.

A warning at trail’s head cautioned that parts might be impassable due to beaver activity. The little darlings love to build dams that turn creeks into lakes.

The hike was exhilarating and breathtakingly beautiful. I returned safely an hour later with nothing worse than wet shoes.

The lesson for me: When my brat begs to stay in bed, think not of the warm comfy sheets, but of the elation that awaits the end of the trek.

Things I love about GrandpaLyle’s Ark

Originally posted February 5, 2020

. . . in no particular order:

Newly refurbished GrandpaLyle’s Ark
  • Adventure: It’s delivered me safely to all four corners of the 48 states and parts of Canada. 
  • Wrap: I wanted to create something unique. And I did. It’s often the opening to a nice conversation . . . or even a delightful evening with new friends.
  • Leveling jacks: Flip a few levers and, voila, things don’t roll off the counter and I don’t roll off the bed. And it all happens before I leave the driver’s seat.
  • Power electric cord reel: 50-amp cords are heavy. A 25-footer weighs a ton. An extension weighs another ton. But in the Ark, I push a button and an electric motor reels in the first ton of cable. And the 25’ extension? I think I’ve only used it once. (One of many foolish purchases – the extension cord, not the powered reel)
  • Sleeping: Like a baby . . . in a bed that’s as comfortable as the one at home. And usually with windows open on both sides of the room. I only wish Marie was cuddled up next to me.
  • Showering: The shower here is only a few inches smaller than the one at home. My daily routine is undisturbed.
  • Self-contained: Although it’s nice to plug in rather than run a generator or simply live off the battery, there’s nothing I have to give up when I’m boondocking. Water and sewage needs are met with a full hookup once a week – including everything that’s needed for the washer, dryer and dishwasher.
  • Refrigerator: It takes care of itself. I never even think about whether it’s running on gas or electric – I just know the ice cream will be ready when I am.
  • Funky horn: As I roll through a town, kids often shout and give me a big thumbs up. I love the look on their faces as I respond with a friendly “oogah oogah.”
  • Perimeter lights: When out on an evening stroll it’s always easy to find my way home. And like the wrap, it’s often a conversation starter. 
  • Power mirrors and rear camera: So easy to retrace my movements . . . as I do way too often. 
  • HVAC system: Although I strive to find nice weather I sometimes blow it. When I do, whether it’s too hot or too cold outside, I’m comfortable inside.
  • At home on the road: Every day I wake up in my own comfortable bed. I wash my face in my own bathroom where everything is exactly where it belongs. I make tea in my own kitchen with my own teapot and favorite mug. To say nothing of knowing exactly where to find every pot, pan, knife or unique kitchen gadget I just bought at a flea market. Then I open the drapes and, wow, I’m looking at a new front yard. And, oh, the view! A lake . . . a mountain . . . a babbling brook (and yes, they actually babble.)
  • On the road while driving: In the fifties, Dinah Shore (remember her?) nailed it, “See the USA, in your Chevrolet. America’s asking you to call.” (Dinah Shore “See the USA in your Chevrolet” – 1953) Believe it or not, the prairies are actually covered from horizon to horizon with amber waves of grain . . . and the only word to describe the sky in Montana is “big.” A Cèilidh (pronounced kaylee) in Nova Scotia, the Blue Angels practicing in Pensacola, Wyatt Earp’s legendary battle near (not in) the OK Corral and Dave Matthews season finale at the Gorge at George  (The Gorge Amphitheatre) . . . have all been right outside my door.
  • The weather: A few years ago, having spent most of our lives in Chicago, Marie and I moved to Bentonville to escape the blizzards and subzero temperatures. So while our grandchildren excitedly harvested the entire yard for enough snow to make a 10” tall snowman, all I could think of was the temps in Laredo, TX that were nearing 80. Time to get outta Dodge. Rarely do I cover more than 50-100 miles in a day, but in 48 hours (drive ‘til tired, sleep ‘til wakeful, repeat as needed) I was 900 miles closer to the equator. Right now as I write this, it’s sunset and I’m sitting outside overlooking Lake Casa Blanca – the high today was 86. Every day my planning is about the same – where’s the nice weather tomorrow? Wherever it is a wonderful adventure lies ahead.

You know you’re getting old when . . .

On April 1, 2016 I posted the following: It’s been nearly a year since I last posted anything . . . please forgive the lapse. While getting back on track I found this piece written last June. Although her thirty-first birthday is right around the corner, I’d like to go back to her thirtieth for y’all.

Our Annie, our baby girl, turned thirty on Sunday. For each of our kids, Marie and I have hosted a party celebrating this event — this would be our last. 

This party proved a new experience for me. Not the party, actually, the hosting. With an important episode of her TV show, “Focus on Suppliers,” only a week away, Marie was up to her eyeballs at work. She was having nightmares trying to fit it all in.

Annie and her daughter, Hazel Marie Nelson

GrandpaLyle to the rescue: Marie, why not let me take care of the party?

Marie: Are you sure? That’s an awful lot to do.

G: How hard can it be? Send invitations. Order some food. A quick trip to the store for some drinks, paper plates and plastic spoons. I can do that.

M: OK. That would be great. 

But she had an odd look on her face as she said it – as if she knew something I didn’t.

I’ve always prided myself in being an equal opportunity fool. So I forged ahead. Sent invites. Ordered food. Ran to the store. The party was on. Guests arrived. I greeted them like a perfect host and began enjoying my party.

Meanwhile, Marie jumped into the breach I didn’t know existed . . . doing all the “woman’s work” I had overlooked. Ordering food is not the same as serving it. Beverages don’t pour themselves. Arriving guests need more attention than arriving kids. Midway through the afternoon I wondered why I had hardly seen Marie. 

The light came on. She was doing the myriad tasks required to keep things moving — the invisible ones every host does that cause departing guests to say, “What a wonderful party.” 

All this time I was having a ball at the party I had thrown. I came to my senses just in time to give Marie a break. She was able to enjoy watching our Annie open gifts while I did some clean up.

At thirty, Annie was as engaging as she was at three. There wasn’t a person in the room who didn’t feel the joy of being part of her life. Especially Marie.

And I’m feeling a little younger, knowing that I’m not too old to be a real jerk.

-GrandpaLyle

P.S. You know you’re getting really old when . . . your son (Annie’s older brother, Scott) flashes his AARP card at that same party.

Update October 16, 2020: Hazel now has a brother, Robbie. And two more of Annies siblings have joined AARP.

Situational awareness

Originally posted October 22, 2014

A dear friend and operator of a top quality flight school posed this question in a lesson. Although he was teaching aspiring pilots, the lesson applies to driving as well as a host of other life situations:

“You are driving down a 4 Lane Divided Hwy. There are high curbs on either side of the narrow northbound lanes. You are in the right lane, and there is a motorcycle to your left somewhere in your blind spot. A tandem gravel truck is tailgating you uncomfortably close. Everyone is speeding in the 45 mile per hour zone. Suddenly, a squirrel jumps from the tall curb and scampers into your lane. You must make a split second decision.  What would you do?”

As painful as it might seem, the obvious choice is thump, splat – poor squirrel.

But remember, you have only a fraction of a second to make that decision. There’s no time to look around for a better alternative. If you don’t already know the situation – maybe you’ve been distracted by a snack or the phone or GPS – you might react differently:

You might swerve left. Oops. Sorry, biker

Or you could slam on the brakes. The accident will no doubt make the evening news.

Only if you maintain Situational Awareness will you be able to react with the painful, but life-saving response.

Thanks to Skip Goss, president of Skill Aviation at Waukegan Regional Airport.

btw – If the squirrel had situational awareness, it wouldn’t have run onto the highway.

Skip is now General Manager of Waukegan National Airport. Skill Aviation is still a top quality flight training school.