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.

 

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.”

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

The barns at Malabar on a peaceful Sunday morning.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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I'll need some help identifying this plant.

Roundleaf ragwort.

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This emerging fern looked pretty cool.

This emerging fern looked pretty cool.

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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.

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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.

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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

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

333redneckgolf

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

333pasture2

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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

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Speaking of anachronisms.

333kitschyard

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

333bigmo

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Even the billboards along SR 70 are kitschy.

333magalines

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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.

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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.

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Nolin River Dam northwest of Mammoth Cave National Park

Nolin River Dam northwest of Mammoth Cave National Park

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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

 

Stairway to Heaven – Canoeing the Green River

Scouting Kentucky’s Green River, Tourist Traps, Backroads and Other Diversions – Part 2

When I first laid eyes on the Green River, I was filled with wonder. I wondered how the hell I was going to get my canoe into and out of the river.

The Green River is characterized by abnormally steep banks on both sides.

Typically, a river — unless it’s been straightened and dredged — will have a steep bank on one side and a gently sloping bank on the other. Ideally, it will have a gravel bar along the bank to make access even easier. And sherpas to shlep your gear up the bank, pitch your tent and make you dinner. But that’s not happening either.

I won’t go into detail about the forces of nature that caused the Green River to have steep banks on both sides other than to say that these were the same forces of nature that created 400 miles of caves beneath it. That’s 400 miles and counting. It is believed there could be another 600 miles of interconnected caves yet to be discovered.

Frankly, when I set out on a three-day trip through Mammoth Cave National Park, I didn’t worry all that much about getting my canoe and equipment out of the river. I’m retired and time is not an issue. Once on the river, I figured I could keep on paddling until I died of old age or came to an ocean, where I could land on a beach.

Getting onto the river was a breeze, thanks to the ingenuity — and apparently unlimited funds — of the folks at the U.S. Department of the Interior. At Dennison Ferry at the east end of the park, they have devised and built a two-tiered concrete stairway descending into the river. In the middle of the wide staircase is a wooden chute for sliding your boat down to the river.

g+dennison

Don’t let the name fool you; there is no ferry at Dennison Ferry. At one time, there was — along with about seven other ferries operating along the stretch of river that runs through the park. But that was back in the day when it was still farmland. The park wasn’t established until 1941. There are two operating ferries left, Houchin Ferry (my takeout point at the west end of the park) and Green River Ferry. There is no charge to use either one.

The Green River Ferry provides access to the northern part of the park and a popular link to Mammoth Cave.

The Green River Ferry provides access to the northern part of the park and a popular link to Mammoth Cave.

On average, the Green River is 200 feet wide and 10 feet deep. I was told that, in the summer, it can get down to three feet deep. Even at that level, that’s about two feet, nine inches deeper than the rivers I’m used to paddling in Ohio.

Twenty-six miles of the Green River lie within the park boundaries. Overall, it’s 384 miles long, ultimately flowing into the Ohio River at Evansville, Ind.

The current averages five miles an hour. But you won’t. At least not in the spring. I paddled alone, but headwinds were my constant companion. This made it much easier to make 20 miles of river last three days.

My first view of the Green River in all its wide glory. Although it was late March, trees were already budding. I've been told late April and late October are the best times to paddle it.

My first view of the Green River in all its wide glory. Although it was late March, trees were already budding. I’ve been told that late April and late October are the best times to paddle it.

There is no shortage of wildlife along the Green River, but you’ll be hard-pressed to see any of it. The critters manage to lay low when you’re around or skedaddle with the slightest provocation, so spotting them can be a challenge. Later I would find that the best way to view wildlife is to drive the park roads. Deer, turkeys and other creatures seem to be repelled by human presence, yet attracted to cars.

duckturt

Turtles proved to be an exception to the rule. It seems you couldn’t swing a frog by its hind legs without hitting one.

Synchronized sunning.

Synchronized Sunning

Paddlers can camp free of charge on the floodplain or islands inside the 52,000-acre park. A backcountry permit is required. That, too, is free. All you have to do to get one is answer a few simple questions. Such as “What is your name?” And “Who should we notify in case you’re eaten by a mountain lion?”

The camping permit comes with stipulations. You’re suppose to camp within 100 feet of the river, but not poop within 100 feet of it. I get that. What I don’t understand is the stipulation that you’re not allowed to camp within a half-mile of the ferries. Why on earth would anyone travel all the way to Kentucky to camp in the wilderness and do so within earshot of motorized traffic?

Although camping on a floodplain doesn’t sound appealing, I found it preferable to camping on the islands — which are plentiful and large. The heads of the islands serve as catch-alls for debris — natural and man-made. Furthermore, the terrain rivals the surface of the moon. However, I did explore the foot of one island and found plenty of level ground and lush vegetation.

On both nights, I camped on the banks. You’d be hard-pressed to find a better site than the one I found the second night.

g+camp2

 

April 1, 2015 — The morning view from my campsite.

April 1, 2015 — The morning view from my campsite.

Next: Exploring Caves

 

 

 

Pilgrimage to the Hilly Land

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

Part One – Instant Snowbird

Houchins Ferry, which wasn't operating at the time I stayed at the campground.

Houchins Ferry, which wasn’t operating during my stay.

If I had waited another week, I would have been writing this from a padded cell.

My camping gear had been staged in the office all winter, crammed into river bags and ready to go. The weather was not. For the second straight year, the rivers around here froze solid and ice remained on the lakes well into March. I have no qualms about winter canoe camping, but that requires open water.

I couldn’t wait any longer; it was time to head south. I’d been wanting to explore Kentucky’s Green River for years. The time — and the weather forecast — seemed right. The forecast called for warm, dry weather March 30 – April 1 and a lot of rain after that.

My plan, for want of a better word, was to spend three days and two nights on the river then scout more of it by car the rest of the week. Or however long it took.

Green River is 384 miles long, at least 350 of it navigable. About 25 miles of the river flows through Mammoth Cave National Park. Green River is, in fact, responsible for the formation of the cave system that has made the park an incredibly popular international tourist destination. The caves, still being explored, measure 400 miles long and counting. Some cave entrances can be accessed via the river. Although you’d need scuba gear and a death wish to explore them further.

Within the park boundaries, paddlers can camp free virtually anywhere along the floodplain. Certain restrictions apply and you must obtain a backcountry permit, which doesn’t cost anything.

It was 20 degrees when I left Ohio. By the time I arrived at the Mammoth Cave visitors center it was 53.

I planned to set up a base camp at Houchins Ferry, get a shuttle upstream and canoe for three days. It was surprisingly easy to set this up. I walked into the visitors center, talked to a park ranger and called a livery to set up the shuttle — all within 10 minutes. That included getting a backcountry permit.

Houchins is one of two ferries operating within the park. The other is Green River Ferry. Back when the park was all farmland, there were eight ferries operating along that stretch. The Houchins and Green River ferries allow visitors to access the northern part of the 52,830-acre park and there is no charge to use them.

The Houchins Ferry Campground was remarkably quiet. Until the owls got to hooting and screeching in the middle of the night. Apparently it was mating season and the owls that make the most racket get lucky.

Next — Paddling and camping Green River