Ultimate Cooler Hacks

Ten tips on how to get 10 days out of your 5-day cooler

Another good thing about Coleman coolers — The hinges and plug assemblies are guaranteed for the life of the cooler. Just contact the company, and they’ll send you a new set free of charge.

Another good thing about Coleman coolers — The hinges and plug assemblies are guaranteed for the life of the cooler. Just contact the company, and they’ll send you a new set free of charge.

If you’re one of those people who can’t afford a cooler that costs more than your car, you can still keep your food and beverages cold for more than a week. Here’s how.

1. Start with quality. If you want a cooler that will keep things cold in 90-degree heat, you don’t have to spend an arm and a leg. A few fingers, perhaps, but not an arm and a leg. My Coleman Extreme cooler has served me well for many years. I paid $45 for mine. These days, they sell for around $60.

2. Ice cubes are great for mixed drinks, not for coolers. Always use blocks. I make my own by using gallon containers. If you want to bring along frozen foods, such as ice cream, use dry ice if you can locate a source to buy it. Word of caution there: Make sure you isolate your dry ice and frozen foods from other items in your cooler. Newspaper works for that purpose.

3. Freeze! Start out with frozen food. Any meat items you don’t plan to eat on the first day should be frozen. Keep them clustered and separate from eggs, cheese, vegetables, etc. Especially the etc.

Actually, if you have a large enough vehicle — such as a Hummer — you might want to bag the cooler altogether and bring your freezer instead.

Actually, if you have a large enough vehicle — such as a Hummer — you might want to bag the cooler altogether and bring your freezer instead.

4. Don’t run on empty. Eliminate air space with a closed cell foam mat. Last summer I saw “custom fit” mats advertised for this purpose. The cheapest ones cost around $20. You can get by cheaper than that by cutting off pieces of that yoga mat you no longer use — or your camp mate’s sleeping pad.

Make sure the mat is pressed down against the contents. For even more insulation — and to keep the mat in place — put an old towel on top of it.

Make sure the mat is pressed down against the contents. For even more insulation — and to keep the mat in place — put an old towel on top of it. (Dry towel.)

5. Throw a towel over it. Putting a wet towel over the top of a cooler helps keep it cool. This is especially useful when you’re transporting it in a canoe on a sunny day. Use an old towel or do what I do — buy one from a deep discount store. Keep the towel wet by pouring water on it from time to time or placing a wet sponge on top of it. When on river trips, I simply dip the sponge in the river, let it soak up as much water as possible and set it on top of the cooler. The towel will draw water from the sponge, keeping it wet for a long time.

6. Keep the damn lid closed. I don’t know how many times I’ve been on camping trips where I’ve looked around to see cooler lids ajar. I keep a stun gun handy for people who go into my cooler and don’t close the lid. It teaches them a lesson and adds to the entertainment.

7. Strap it down. By using a cam buckle strap, you can keep the lid closed tightly. This is a necessity in places with racoons. Some of them are clever enough to open a cooler that isn’t secured with a strap or other device. I use old straps that I’ve cut down for this purpose.

coolerstrap

Older cam buckle straps tend to fray, but the fraying often occurs toward the ends. By cutting old straps into 6-foot lengths – or shorter – you can get a few more years out of them by using them as cooler straps.

8. Close the damn drain plug! On a recent camping trip I took all of the precautions above, but forgot to close the plug on my cooler. So I turned the stun gun on myself.

coolerplug

9. Bag it. On the aforementioned recent trip, I had to leave my full cooler behind at base camp for a few days in 70-80 degree heat. I wrapped it in an old sleeping bag and put it inside a light-colored tent. After three days, only 25 percent of the ice had melted.

Note that the cooler is sitting on a mat, adding to the insulation.

Note that the cooler is sitting on a mat, adding to the insulation.

10. Take care of your cooler and it will take care of you. When storing a cooler, keep it out of the sun or sunlight. This can break down the insulation. Also, store it with the drain plug open and the lid ajar. I use a small piece of foam pipe wrap for the latter purpose. This keeps your cooler from getting funky. And don’t be like my buddy, Joe, who does his laundry in his cooler.

A well-dressed cooler — complete with towel, strap, block ice and mat.

A well-dressed cooler — complete with towel, strap, block ice and mat.

Or, if you don’t want to go through all that, you can spend upwards of $750 for a high-end expedition cooler.

 

Advertisements

Meandering through Mifflin

From the big flop to the big house

This morning’s peregrinations took me through Mifflin and Charles Mill Lake Park, but to little avail — except for a cup of coffee and some corporate donuts at Greedy Greg’s. Not much bird action down there and no sign of osprey on the Wayside Ballfield nest. However, just up the road the morning light was just right for a few shots at Malabar Farm.

A faded dream. This mini billboard on the side of Mifflin Inn is testimony to a colossal flop — The Johnny Appleseed Outdoor Drama. My take? They should have made a play about Daniel Boone and called it "Daniel Boondoggle.”

A faded dream. This mini billboard on the side of Mifflin Inn is testimony to a colossal flop — The Johnny Appleseed Outdoor Drama. Taxpayers ended up footing a good part of the bill for this venture. My take? They should have made a play about Daniel Boone instead and called it “Daniel Boondoggle.”

§§§

The barns at Malabar in the morning light on a peaceful Sunday morning.

The barns at Malabar on a peaceful Sunday morning.

§§§

Detail from the Big House, home of author and sustainable farming advocate Louis Bromfield. He named the farm after a place he had visited in India.

Detail from the Big House, home of author and sustainable farming advocate Louis Bromfield. He named the farm after a place he had visited in India.

§§§

The Big House at Malabar Farm — reflected in the pond on Bromfield Road.

The Big House at Malabar Farm — reflected in the pond on Bromfield Road.

 

 

Foragraphy

Combining two of my favorite pastimes — foraging and photography

Here are a few shots from this morning’s aimless wandering on the Jungle Brook Trail at Malabar Farm State Park.

Emerging swamp marigolds. Soon the moist areas of the forest floor will be carpeted in these.

Emerging swamp marigolds. Soon the moist areas of the forest floor will be carpeted with these little beauties.

℘℘℘

This female cardinal took an interest in what I was doing. I had spotted a white-breasted nuthatch building a nest and tried unsuccessfully to get photos. I'll try another morning.

This female cardinal took an interest in what I was doing. I had spotted a white-breasted nuthatch building a nest and tried unsuccessfully to get photos. I’ll try another morning.

℘℘℘

I'll need some help identifying this plant.

Roundleaf ragwort.

℘℘℘

This emerging fern looked pretty cool.

This emerging fern looked pretty cool.

℘℘℘

The foraging part went really well too, but I’m not one to divulge trade secrets.

 

 

 

Just a little hole-in-the-wall place

Scouting Kentucky’s Green River, Tourist Traps, Backroads and Other Diversions – Part 6

Coming back to Ohio from Mammoth Cave I opted to take the backroads. “Spurnpiking” I call it.

I didn’t coin the term. Or its root word “Spurnpike.” I recall first hearing it from my friend William Breitbart. I liked the word because it described my attitude about travel. Interstate highways are sterile and boring.

Driving backroads takes a lot of patience. And time. I inherited patience from my father. I’m retired now, so I have plenty of time.

Chinn’s – From an old postcard.

Chinn’s – From an old postcard.

Had I taken interstate highways all the way home — more than 360 miles worth — I would have missed one of the most fascinating things I’ve ever seen, the ruins of a restaurant built inside a cave.

It wasn’t a natural cave. Not all of it, anyway. It had been blasted into the side of a steep bluff along U.S. 68 by a demolition expert known as “Tunnel” Smith. According to an account written by Bryon Cranford, Col. George M. Chinn Jr. hired Smith to do it. Chinn, a large and colorful character, decided to build a gas station and restaurant there. It was called Chinn’s Cave House.

The ruin's of Chinn’s. Apparently, an addition was made at some point in time.

The ruin’s of Chinn’s Cave House. Apparently, an addition was made at some point in time.

According to Cranford, customers marveled at how Chinn could afford to sell his sandwiches so cheaply. Apparently, he was supplementing his income with slot machines in the back.

Chinn did get arrested for operating games of chance. He beat the rap by proving that — the way the machines were rigged — there was no chance involved.

Chinn also made his mark as an inventor or automatic weaponry, earning high praise from none other than astronaut and U.S. Senator John Glenn.

A view from what might have been part of the dining area at one time.

A view from what might have been part of the dining area at one time.

While he was serving in the U.S. Marine Corps, Chinn’s higher-ups called on his slot machine expertise on one occasion. According to Cranford, the officers couldn’t figure out why their slot machines at the service clubs weren’t making money. Chinn recommended that they change the personnel in charge of emptying the machines at night.

Chinn died in 1978. He was only in his 50s, but left a legacy that will live on for generations.

The interior — sealed with cinderblocks. Wonder if the slot machines are still back there.

The interior — sealed with cinderblocks. Wonder if the slot machines are still back there.

♠♣♥♦
Apparently, the men's room — judging from the rain gutter that would have served as a urinal.

Apparently, the men’s room — judging from the rain gutter that would have served as a urinal.

 

Kentucky Fried Kitsch

Scouting Kentucky’s Green River, Tourist Traps, Backroads and Other Diversions – Part 5

The Colonel reigns supreme over the Cave City skyline.

The Colonel reigns supreme over the Cave City skyline.

Before you get to Mammoth Cave, you must drive through a gauntlet of tourists traps on State Route 70. Tourist traps are inherently pathetic, but these are particularly so because many of them are in disrepair, for sale, or both.

The tourist traps lie on the edge of Cave City, a charming little town once you get past the commercial strip at Interstate 65.

Again, I’ll let the photos do the talking.

One brochure boasted of the “scenic view” from the ski lift that takes customers up the hill to see this old west Potemkin village. Riding up on the lift, the only scenery you’d see would be the bare ground in front of you. Coming down, you’d get a breathtaking view of I-65.

One brochure boasted of the “scenic view” from the ski lift that takes customers up the hill to see this old west Potemkin village. Riding up on the lift, the only scenery you’d see would be the bare ground in front of you. Coming down, you’d get a breathtaking view of I-65.

♦ ♦ ♦

It’s fun to try to guess the themes of some of these roadside attractions. I think what they were going for here is some sort of visual pun as in “Ma and Pa Kettle.”

333mapakettle

♦ ♦ ♦

Apparently the proprietors of this fine establishment aren’t too keen on political correctness.

333redneckgolf

♦ ♦ ♦

By the way, here’s what the scenery along SR 70 looked like before the tourist traps came along.

333pasture2

♦ ♦ ♦

More mixed messages at this “Happy Days” themed miniature golf course. In addition to Elvis, the carhop and the 1950s car facade, there were statues of nursery rhyme characters and the Blues Brothers.

333elvis

♦ ♦ ♦

Speaking of anachronisms.

333kitschyard

♦ ♦ ♦

Prehistoric creatures are a common theme here. Apparently they’re implying some sort of connection with cavemen.

333bigmo

♦ ♦ ♦

Even the billboards along SR 70 are kitschy.

333magalines

♦ ♦ ♦

One of my favorites — a gorilla with the worst case of diarrhea imaginable.

333apeshit

The rivers beyond Mammoth Cave

Scouting Kentucky’s Green River, Tourist Traps, Backroads and Other Diversions – Part 4

Tailwaters of the Green River Dam. There’s a paved boat launch just downstream on river right.

Tailwaters of the Green River Dam. There’s a paved boat launch just around the bend on river right.

I could easily spend a month or so on the Green River. Throw in its tributaries, and I could probably stretch it out to a year or more.

After canoeing 20 miles of the Green River in Mammoth Cave National Park, I spent a few days scouting parts of the upper and lower river and Nolin River by car. I didn’t come away with any great knowledge these stretches, but I saw enough to get an idea of what they’re like and nurtured a desire to explore them further.

There are more than 100 miles of navigable river upstream of the park, 26 within park boundaries and 185 miles from Houchins Ferry, near the west end of the park, to the mouth of the Green River in Evansville, Ind. The Nolin River, which flows through the west end of the park, is more than 100 miles long. The last nine miles from Nolin River Dam, then upstream on the Green River to Houchins Ferry, would make for a good day float.

According to online and printed sources such as Bob Sehlinger’s book “A Canoeing and Kayaking Guide to the Streams of Kentucky,” the river upstream of Green River Lake can be run between November and mid June. The rest can be paddled year-round. There also are several tributaries that looked promising. (When and whether any river can be run is subjective. It all depends on how much bushwhacking and dragging you’re willing to do. And how much stuff you feel that you need to pack.)

There are a number of canoe liveries along the Green River, including Mammoth Cave Canoe & Kayak, which provided the shuttle for my three-day trip trough the park.

Downstream on the Green River is a different story. According to Sehlinger, it’s not as scenic and far more civilized. From what little of it I saw, the lower Green River would be comparable to the Muskingum and Ohio River closer to home — plenty of motorized boat traffic, a few dams along the way and other signs of civilization.

In scouting the rivers by car, I went as far downstream as Lock 6, which is about two miles from the confluence of the Green and Nolin Rivers. Upstream, I went as far as the Green River Dam. I also checked out the Nolin River Dam. The Nolin and upper Green rivers looked inviting.

Lock 6 on the Green River. Park literature warns of the dangers and not without cause. The dam is not marked with buoys and can only be portaged on the right.

Lock 6 on the Green River. Park literature warns of the dangers and not without cause. The dam is not marked with buoys and can only be portaged on the right.

♦♦♦

Attention to detail. The depth gauge on Lock 6 is done in ceramic tiles. An angler there told me he is 51 years old, fished there since he was a boy and that the lock has not been operable in his lifetime.

Attention to detail. The depth gauge on Lock 6 is done in ceramic tiles. An angler there told me he is 51 years old, fished there since he was a boy and that the lock has not been operable in his lifetime.

♦♦♦

Nolin River Dam northwest of Mammoth Cave National Park

Nolin River Dam northwest of Mammoth Cave National Park

♦♦♦

The Nolin River, just below the dam. Looks pretty inviting.

The Nolin River, just below the dam. Looks pretty inviting.

Cave Dwelling on the Green River

Scouting Kentucky’s Green River, Tourist Traps, Backroads and Other Diversions – Part 3

As if hundreds of miles of mostly unspoiled river weren’t enough, the Green River’s caves add to the charm.

Paddlers won’t get lost in the caves. Not unless they have scuba gear and a death wish. The cave openings accessed from the river aren’t recessed very far into the limestone. But, beneath their blue-green waters, they are connected to the hundreds of miles of caves that are part of the Mammoth Cave labyrinth. As mentioned in the previous post, 400 miles of caves have been documented and it is believed there could be 600 more.

Of the three cave entrances I found during my trip March 30-April 1, only one could be paddled into. The river was running high at the time. It’s possible that more can be seen and explored when the river drops to normal levels.

Regardless, it was an awesome experience — and another reason it was so easy to spend three days on just 20 miles of river.

The caves I found were located between Dennison Ferry and Houchins Ferry, near or downstream from the visitors center. All were on river left. (In paddlers’ jargon, river directions are always based on a downstream orientation. In other words, if you’re paddling upstream, river left is on your right.) The best way to find the caves is to paddle up any side creek you come across.

Here are some photos of the three caves I explored in the order I found them.

I was able to paddle into this cave west of the visitor center.

I was able to paddle into this cave west of the visitor center.

Inside the cave.

Inside the cave. At the right end of the sandbar is an underwater cave opening.

Department of the Interior depth gauge

Department of the Interior depth gauge.

The second cave I explored was near Sand Cave Island.

I had to hike back into this cave.

I had to hike back into this cave.

There are also passageways in the ceiling of this cave.

There are also passageways in the ceiling.

 

The third cave I explored was near Turnhole Bend.

At higher water levels, you could paddle part way into this cave.

At higher water levels, you could paddle part way into this cave.

Interesting pattern formed by the motion of moving water on the sand.

Interesting pattern formed by the motion of moving water on the sand.

cave3a

cave3c

It’s also fun to explore the creeks of the Green River. This one led to Echo River Spring just upstream from the Green River Ferry.

echoriver

Nearer to my takeout point at Houchin Ferry, I explored Buffalo Creek, which required some bushwhacking. It did, indeed, smell like buffalo.

buffalo

Wildlife on Buffalo Creek.

buffalobird

Here is a map showing approximate locations of the caves.

Cavemap09042015

Next: Nolin River and Green River before and after Mammoth Cave National Park