Adventure Downtime

As lock downs are lifting, I wanted to stop and reflect on some new hobbies I’ve been keeping busy with. The activities are overland-related and should improve your overall experience on your next trip.

Build a Tiny Truck R/C Crawler

This is not your childhood RadioShack R/C car. The kits today made by Traxxas, RC4WD, and Axial Racing will have you doing a double take. Don’t believe me? Check out @scalebuildersguild on Instagram. These are 1/10th scale 4wd vehicles complete with differentials, solid axles, and even lockers. Not unlike our overland vehicles, each platform offers different advantages and challenges.

The biggest factor in choosing a platform is which body style you find most appealing. Everything is available from classic Land Rovers, Blazers and Broncos to modern Jeeps with lots in between. Can’t find your exact rig? 3D printing has created a niche market for builders to create 5th Gen 4Runners, 3rd Gen Tacomas, and many others.

R/Cs come ready-to-run (“RTR”) or as kits, which are little more than a bag of parts. Limitless upgrades include metal bumpers and sliders, waterproof electronics, and scale accessories like Hi-Lift jacks, roof racks, and even remote controlled electric winches. The downside is these R/Cs aren’t cheap. Expect to shell out $500+ to get something special.

The manufacturers provide surprising customer support and there are loads of dedicated forums and YouTube channels to get you inspired. Wondering what kit I’m running? I went with the RC4WD Gelandre II, which is a solid body design.

What do you do after you build your R/C? Show it off, of course! There are driving skill and build competitions all over the US, including the RC4WD Tiny Truck Challenge Uwharrie hosted by BowHouse RC ( at the Big Creek trail system in North Carolina. Windrock Park in Tennessee ( has a beautiful and technically challenging obstacle course that will inspire you to build one of your own in your backyard. A wheelbarrow of stones, sand, and firewood can build a great backyard course. Don’t forget to air down!

Learn to Play the Guitar

Image of a guitar laying on a blanket

Besides sipping on your favorite bourbon, nothing beats a good campfire guitar session to relax into the evening. I’ve always wanted to play and have at least a couple of half-baked failed attempts under my belt as a teenager.

Like all of my endeavors, I went in with both feet buying an electric followed by an acoustic guitar within a couple of months. While one isn’t a substitute for the other, the acoustic is best suited for life on the road. Look for a travel guitar that is 3/4 size for the best balance of compactness and tone. The Taylor GS Mini ( is the gold standard for travel guitars and is designed to fit in the overhead bin of an airplane, not that you’ll need to do that in our lifestyle.

These guitars aren’t toys, they range from about $500 to just under $1,000 depending on the tonewood. You can always buy a less expensive or used guitar if you’re not ready to drop that amount of cash. I went with a highly recommended teacher, Chris Holly (, who was able to adapt his business to an online format as pandemic restrictions tightened.

Really want to impress people? Start out learning the blues; a simple shuffle, turn around, then a few pentatonic scales will go a long way to sounding like something your friends will tap their feet to. Trust me, I’ve learned a dozen sounds since January and unless you’re ready to sing (read: pat your head and rub your belly), few people are going to recognize the rhythm guitar sections from ‘You Can’t Always Get What You Want’ and ‘Every Rose has its Thorns’. But if you can belt out ‘Sweet Home Alabama’, ‘Come as You Are’, and ‘Mary Jane’s Last Dance’ it will take you a little further, but nothing (at least to me) will beat Eric Clapton’s ‘Before You Accuse Me’. Likely the least famous song I listed, but it will work the best when passing the guitar around the fire. Don’t forget to bring your picks, capo, and tuner!

Take up Bushcraft

Image of an ax and knife. Essential tools for bushcraft

I love to spend my couch time watching YouTube bushcraft videos. We load our overland rigs with everything minus the kitchen sink. Wait… Actually, some of us have a kitchen sink, ha! But, how much do we really need? Beefing up your bushcraft skills will teach you to do more with a whole lot less.

My kit is down to about ten essentials not including a great bucket style pack complete with axe sleeve. My pack acts as my bugout bag and I keep it in my truck at all times. Everything goes in the bag, minus your bush knife, which should always be on your belt.

Bushcraft doesn’t mean using a bow drill or flint and steel to start every fire, but it doesn’t hurt to learn. Personally, I keep a film canister with 3-4 cotton balls dipped in Vaseline along with a ferro rod to get my fires going quickly. You’ll need a fix blade bush knife with a square spine (90 degree edge) to create the best spark with your ferro rod. Bushcraft Outfitters ( sells everything you need.

My pack is from the Hidden Woodsman ( Out of the three hobbies I’ve discussed so far, this has the lowest cost of entry and will immediately improve your outdoor experience. You’ll be making your own chairs and sleeping with just a wool blanket in no time.

Get your Ham Radio License

The faceplate of a HAM radio

I got my technicians license a few years back, but it’s a great time for you to study up. Yes, there is an exam, but trust me, it’s not impossible. It’s just challenging enough to provide you with a nice sense of accomplishment. The exam is administered by volunteers who want you to pass and it’s a very low pressure multiple choice exam.

Studying the answers may get you across the line, but won’t necessarily make you a good Ham. I had success with Michael Burnette’s audios books ( which are perfect for long hours on the hardpack. Michael teaches in a way that will help you understand the theory, practice, and nuanced etiquette to make you a great ham radio operator.

Amateur radio has every advantage over CB, FRS, and GMRS. The radios are much more powerful (read: you talk further) and the reception is crystal clear with a much smaller antenna. I realize this isn’t the first choice for every trail ride, but as you start to take longer and more remote (even international) expeditions, you’ll find ham radio is your best (if not only) option.

Ham radio isn’t limited to trail comms. Portable low power HF rigs have jaw dropping international range with the right antenna. Are you an extreme adventurer? Check out Summit on the Air ( It would be unforgettable to transmit from on top of the San Juan Mountains.


I want to hear how you’ve been spending your time in 2020 when not out on the trails. Comment with what you’ve been focused on. I’m always looking for another hobby!

Keweenaw Peninsula

In May we had the opportunity to take a long awaited 4-day trip to the western portion of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula aka the UP (or “Yoop” in local slang). It was an amazing trip that did not disappoint, and really spiked our interest to see more of this vast region!

First place we headed was to the Porcupine Mountains.  We did a quick drive around the Wilderness State Park and cruised through to the other side to see the Lake of Clouds.  Unfortunately, it was getting late and we hadn’t eaten lunch yet (which meant hangry was right around the corner for me), and we had a fussy baby on our hands. Then we realized there was a fee to get back there, so we decided to see it another time.  I’m sure we missed an incredible picture op and view from all the descriptions and the pictures that we have seen.  But, it gave us something to have to go back for!  Headed out of the park towards Houghton, we stopped along the coastline to feed Kaylee and make some lunch in the form of carnitas tacos. They were delicious and the view was incredible!!

The one thing we noticed about Lake Superior was that it reminded us of the ocean.  It is HUGE, has the waves of the ocean, the breeze of the ocean, but lacked the smell, the salt, and crabs scurrying around.  We decided instead of pushing through we had better find somewhere nearby to camp.  We came across the Ontonagon Township Park where we were able to camp right on the beach. I highly recommend the campground if you are in the area.  We walked around, explored the beach and after making dinner, we settled by the fire and watched the sun go down.  We ended the night with smores before headed to bed. We slept like babies to the sound of the ocean lake. We didn’t even need the sound machine for Kaylee.

Lake Superior Fun Facts:

·  Lake Superior contains 10% of all the fresh water on the planet Earth.
·  It covers 82,000 square kilometers or 31,700 square miles.
·  The average depth is 147 meters or 483 feet.
·  There have been about 350 shipwrecks recorded in Lake Superior.
·  Lake Superior is, by surface area, the largest lake in the world.
·  It contains as much water as all the other Great Lakes combined, plus three extra Lake Erie’s.

The following morning we had some bacon and eggs cooked on our trusty Tembo Tusk skottle and then packed up to continue up north.  We drove through the town of Houghton where we stopped at the Suomi Café, known for Finnish food, and tried their famous Pasty and Pannukakku.  They were both scrumptious (write up of this café will be under our Good Eats section soon on our site at Lone Star Adventurer).

After stopping for our snack, we hit up the Quincy Mine across the river from Houghton in Hancock, MI, before continuing our journey to High Rock Bay.  Once again, pressed for time, we only perused the outside of the mine.  The Quincy Mine was founded in 1846 and was the country’s leading copper-producing mine from 1863-1867.  Mining operations have been closed since 1945.  On the premises, you could see remaining hoist houses, shaft houses, and even able to look down one of the mining shafts.

We left the mine and were given a tip to check out the Gratiot River County Park located off Gratiot River Shortcut Rd in Allouez, MI.  It is was trip down a couple mile long dirt road trail that suddenly opens up to a beautiful view of Lake Superior’s 8,489ft sand, slate, and cobble shoreline.  There are several dispersed campsites back here if you are lucky to nab one.  We walked the beach and found lots of interesting rocks.

After checking out the area, we backtracked to the US-41/I-26 and towards Eagle Harbor where we checked out their lighthouse.  The red brick Eagle Harbor Lighthouse sits on the rocky entrance to the harbor and is a working lighthouse as it still guides mariners across the northern edge of the Keweenaw Peninsula.  The original lighthouse was built in 1851 and was replaced in 1871.  It is said that you could occasionally see the northern lights displaying their beauty from here.

Following this, we stopped at the Jampot (a must see stop if you are in the area) which is a Catholic monastery of the Byzantine Rite operated bakery.  They offer a variety of jams, jellies, preserves, fudge, and baked goods including giant muffins, lemon cakes, delicious peanut butter & jelly brownies and one of the best fruitcakes we had ever had.  I could literally eat this every day!


We came across a few waterfalls on our travels, one of which was right before the Jampot on the right.  Leaving the Jampot, we headed even further north.  Refueling in the quaint village town of Copper Harbor, we hit the dirt trail to High Rock Bay.

With no cellular service and going off of Gaia maps and friends’ gpx tracks, we went down the trail for what seemed like over an hour until we reached the stop sign at the end of the trail.  We were going to camp right at the point, but because the wind was strong and cold off the ocean lake, we chose to go a little further back, but did manage to take in a photo op first.  We had some dinner and watched a movie on our good old iPad (peaking out the window at the beautiful view due to the freezing wind chill) and set out in the morning to walk around and explore.  Before leaving the next morning, we worked our way down another very tight trail to check out the Keweenaw Rocket Range.

The Keweenaw Rocket Range is an isolated launch pad located in Michigan’s Keweenaw Peninsula.  It was used between 1964 and 1971 for launching rockets for meteorological data collection.  NASA, along with the University of Michigan, conducted the project to collect measurements of electron density, positive ion composition and distribution, energetic electron precipitation, solar X-rays, and Lyman alpha flux.  The collected data was later to be compared to five other sites in the US.

We knew our trip was coming to an end, but we still had one more night and we didn’t have a set plan for it.  We stopped by to check out the Gay Bar in Gay, MI that people were telling us to visit. When in Gay, you go the Bar.

We decided to work our way closer to home so that we could get back home in Illinois semi-early the next day.  We ended up stopping in the Ottawa National Forest nestled along the Sturgeon River before hitting the pavement for good.