Monthly Archives: November 2019

Chester Minima Carry-on Suitcase Review

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I hadn’t had a suitcase in decades.

I got my first (and only until now) suitcase when I was a sophomore in high school. I’d written an essay and won a trip, and now I needed to pack my bags so I could board an airplane for the first time in my life.

I do not come from a nuclear family of travelers. We did not take a yearly vacation. We occasionally spent weekends at the beach or stayed overnight at the home of one of my grandmothers. I usually packed my little girl necessities in a tote bag.

My father had a small suitcase he used on the rare occasion of a business trip. It must have been deemed too small for my week-away-from-home needs because one day I came home from school to find a massive piece of luggage waiting for me. It was brown and made of some synthetic material. It certainly had room for a week’s worth of clothes and shoes and contact lens solution.

I went on two more major trips during my high school years, and my big suitcase came with me. It was cumbersome and heavy and lacked wheels. I left the suitcase behind when I went to college, but collected it from my parents when I went away to summer school in Europe. I stuffed the suitcase with enough clothes, toiletries, and textbooks to last six weeks.

After the trip to Europe, the suitcase fades from my memory.

In the ensuing years, when I went on a trip, I packed my things in duffel bags and backpacks. Suitcases seemed unnecessarily heavy, bulky. Of course, sometimes I found my backpack was wet or dirty when I pulled it out of the baggage compartment under a Greyhound. I wondered if the tiny lock holding the zipper pulls together was really protecting my gear from thieves. Did I need a suitcase to protect my belongings from liquid and dirt and unscrupulous baggage handlers?

A couple months ago I was approached by a representative of CHESTER

a NYC-based lifestyle brand dedicated to making travel more seamless…with carry-on luggage.

Black carry-on bag with wheels stands on pebbly ground
The Chester Minima carry-on bag has a polycarbonate shell and weighs just 7 pounds empty.

The representative asked me if I was interested in a partnership with CHESTER. He said he’d send me one of the company’s suitcases if I agreed to review it. Heck yes! Of course I let him know any review I shared would include my honest opinion.

According to the CHESTER website, all of their suitcases feature a

polycarbonate shell designed to be lightweight, ultra-durable and waterproof, yet flexible enough to expand and absorb external pressure, eliminating dents and dings.

My suitcase is the Minima. At only 7 pounds (before I stuff it with my travel gear), it is very lightweight. Seven pounds is lighter than a gallon of water!

The Minima measures 21.5″ x 13.5″ x 8.5″ including wheels. According to the Travel + Leisure article “Airline Carry-on Luggage Size Restrictions: What You Need to Know” by Lindsay Tigar,

[t]hough you might find an inch or two of a difference with various airlines, the standard domestic carry-on luggage size is 22” x 14” x 9”, which includes the handle and the wheels.

I’m pretty excited that my CHESTER bag fits within the standard domestic carry-on luggage restrictions. I haven’t flown for a long time (not since my dad died in 2016 and I had to make a quick trip down South), but I like knowing that if I have to get on an airplane, my bag can travel in the cabin with me.

Of course, if you need a bigger bag, CHESTER also offers the Regula suitcase. Meant to be checked, the Regula weighs a bit more at 9.5 pounds and measures 26″ x 18″ x 11″ to give you additional room for your gear.

When I pulled my Minima from the box it was shipped in, the first thing I was excited about was its wheels. After dragging along a suitcase with no wheels, followed by years of lugging a variety of backpacks on my shoulders, I was glad to finally be able to pull a suitcase smoothly by my side. The Chester website says that both the Minima and the Regula have “quiet, 360° multi-directional double spinner wheels.” These wheels are supposed to glide effortlessly over a variety of terrains.

Closeup of suitcase's built-in combination lock and luggage tag
Both the Chester Minima and Regula come with a built-in, TSA approved combination lock. The owner of the suitcase sets the combination.

The second thing I liked about the Minima was the built-in TSA approved lock. The CHESTER FAQ page says,

CHESTER’s integrated TSA lock uses zipper pulls to secure your luggage from unwanted access. Authorized TSA personnel will always be able to open your case for inspection, if necessary.

Of course, TSA approved locks aren’t necessary for travel. According to the article “Common Questions About TSA Approved Luggage Locks,”

…you are not required to have a TSA approved luggage lock on your bag to fly.


You can use any luggage lock you want but if your lock is not TSA approved, then if the TSA does search your luggage, they have the right to cut off your non-approved TSA lock because they do not have a key to open it.


By using a TSA luggage lock, you can avoid having your baggage lock cut off because the TSA has a key to open your suitcase.

I like that the Minima’s lock is built in. When I’m ready to travel, I don’t have to try to remember where I’ve stored the tiny little lock and the tiny little keys that go with it. I’m glad that if TSA decides to search my bag, an agent can use a key to open my lock and won’t have to damage my property. I appreciate that I can also set the combination to my own three digit code. WARNING: Write your combination down, or be sure you remember it. When I went to unlock my Minima three months after setting the code, I couldn’t remember what three digits I’d used, much less what order they were in. Ooops! I had to try over two dozen number combinations before I hit upon the right code!

The Minima is currently available in seven colors (black, charcoal grey, aluminum grey, ocean blue, sky blue, pink, and sand); the Regula in two (charcoal grey and ocean blue).

Chester luggage is covered by a 10 year warranty. WOW! That’s confidence. The company explains,

[t]he CHESTER is covered by a 10-year limited warranty, which covers any damage to the shell, wheels, handles, zippers, or anything else that functionally impairs the luggage…If anything breaks, we will fix or replace it.

Another great feature of the company is their return policy. CHESTER offers a 100-day trial. Again, the company explains,

We are confident in our product and want to give everyone the opportunity to make sure they really love their luggage before they decide to keep it, so we offer a 100-day trial (if purchased through our website). If at any point in the first 100 days you decide it’s just not for you, return it for a full refund—no questions or gimmicks.

Suitcase is unzipped and lies open with one compartment fully visible.
The Minima unzips and offers two compartments for packing.

All of these features are great, but you’re probably wondering, as I was, how much will the CHESTER Minima hold? Unfortunately, I wasn’t taking a real trip anytime soon, but I was going to spend the night at a friend’s place. Even though I wasn’t going to be away from home for long, I did get to pack my Minima and try it out.

I unzipped the Minima right down the middle and folded the bag open. I had plenty of room for my slippers, fuzzy leggings, sweatshirt, socks, undergarments, long sleeved shirt, hat, toiletries, sleep mask, and a couple of notebooks.

The nice thing about this little trip was having the opportunity to test the Minima in the snow. When my friend picked me up, the bed of her truck was full of snow! Well, this thing is supposed to be waterproof, I thought as I tossed the suitcase in the back of her truck. When I unzipped the bag nearly an hour later, nothing inside was damp, much less wet.

Once we got to my friend’s place in the mountains, I also got to pull my suitcase through the snow and test those “360° multi-directional double spinner wheels.” They worked great! The Minima glided through the snow with no problem.

One side of suitcase is packed full of clothes.
In this side of the Minima I packed a sweatshirt, three long sleeved shirts, a short sleeve shirt, a tank top, a pair of pants, a sleep mask, and 5 pairs of socks.

Packing for my short trip really didn’t allow the Minima to show me all it could hold, so I decided to pretend I was going for a longer trip and pack as if I was leaving tomorrow. I was able to pack all of the following items in my Chester suitcase:

  • flannel pajama set
  • pair of Crocs
  • long skirt
  • pair of pants
  • sweatshirt
  • 3 long sleeve shirts
  • short sleeve shirt
  • tank top
  • pair of tights
  • 3 bras
  • 6 pairs of socks
  • 5 pairs of underpants
  • 2 bandanas
  • toiletry kit
  • sleep mask
  • brush
  • comb
  • can of dry shampoo

Note: I’m a big gal, and I were big clothes. Smaller people with smaller clothes are going to be able to fit even more items into a bag from CHESTER.

I was disappointed when I couldn’t fit my hiking shoes in the Minima. Although they are not boots, they were simply too tall to fit in the Minima without getting crushed. I decided I’d pack the Crocs instead. Those shoes had just enough give to allow the barrier to be zipped over them.

Photos shows how cloth barrier goes over packed clothes and has a zipper compartment of its own.
Clothes pack into the main compartment, then the barrier zips closed over it. The barrier also has a zipper compartment where I packed my underpants and bandanas.

Each cloth barrier has one or more zipper compartments built in. Those compartments give a bit of additional space for packing, but really hold only a minimal amount. I found packing bras and underpants in those compartments made the most sense.

Once items were packed into the slightly bulging middle zipper compartments, I was afraid the suitcase wasn’t going to close. However, once I pushed down from the top, the sides of the zipper came together, and I was able to slide the zippers with ease. The zipper pulls locked in place, my suitcase was secure, and there were no bulges or bumps.

Suitcase is covered,, but top does not lie flat.
After packing, I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to close the Minima.

Even fully packed, I was able to lift my Minima over my head to mimic sliding it into an imaginary overhead bin.

Overall, the Minima is a great suitcase. I can easily fit a weekend’s worth of clothing in it. Depending on where I was going and what activities I would be participating in, I could probably get enough for a week or two into it if I was committed to rewearing clothes. It rolls easily and smoothly, and it keeps my clothes dry in the snow.

I can’t wait until I can take it on a real trip.

If you want to check out the Minima or the Regula suitcase, please use my referral link. (https://chestertravels.com/ref/RubberTrampArtist/) If you click on that link and buy a suitcase within 45 days, I’ll receive a commission. Thanks!

The fully zipped Minima suitcase lies on its side on a bed.
Fully packed, I was able to zip the Minima with only the slightest pressure to the top.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a free, gently used Minima suitcase from CHESTER in exchange for this review. I only review/recommend products or services I use personally. This review reflects how I honestly feel about the product. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

I took the photos in this post.

Lack of Linens

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There were yurts in the campground where the Mercantile was located. People could rent the yurts for $85 per night. The yurts were basically glorified tents with wooden floors and furniture. The furniture included a futon that converted from a couch into a double (or maybe a queen) bed, a bunk bed with a double bed on the bottom and a singe on top, a wooden bedside table, and a wooden rocking chair. Unlike the traditional Mongolian dwellings on which these camping structures were based, these yurts had windows with flaps outside that rolled down for privacy. There was no electricity in the yurts–or anywhere in the campground–and no running water within a ten mile radius. The yurts were also without heat. Even so, the half dozen yurts in the campground were booked nearly every weekend and often during the week too.

A green yurt with a brown door is covered with a dusting of snow. Snow is on the ground in the foreground and trees are in the background.
Yurt in the snow

I could understand the appeal. Some people don’t want to sleep on the cold, cold ground. (I sure as heck don’t!) Some people have physical limitations that make sleeping on the ground impossible. Some people are too afraid of spiders, snakes, bugs, and other critters to even contemplate sleeping on the ground with them. The yurts were sort of a middle ground between sleeping in a tent or not going camping at all.

Not only were the yurts lacking in electricity, running water, and heat, no linens were provided for the beds. This lack of bedding was a practical consideration. Sheets and blankets and pillow cases would have to be changed between guests, and the nearest place to the campground to do laundry was 25 mountain miles away. Each yurt would need a minimum of two sets of sheets and blankets for each bed so fresh linens would be available even in the event of back-to-back check ins. Someone (probably the already overworked camp host) would have to drive the dirty bedding the 50 mile round trip to the tiny laundromat with one one coin operated washer and one coin operated dryer. That person would likely have to spend a whole day loading linens into washer/out of washer, into dryer/out of dryer, then folding, folding, folding. Providing linens just wasn’t practical, so the yurts were strictly BYOB (Bring Your Own Bedding).

Whenever visitors in the Mercantile asked me about the yurts (and multiple people asked every week), I always explained that folks who stayed in the yurts had to provide their own bedding, either sheets and blankets or sleeping bags, I spelled it out for them.

Unfortunately, the reservation website doesn’t spell things out for campers quite as well as I did. While the website gives the (questionably punctuated) information


No Pets, No cooking or No smoking allowed in the Yurts[,]


it doesn’t say anything about bedding not being provided. Ooops! Hopefully when a person actually reserves a yurt, the reservation information includes details on the lack of bed linens.

Many visitors to the mountains don’t understand that the higher they go in elevation, the cooler the temperature will be be, especially at night. Sometimes people staying in the yurts brought bedding, but not enough of it to stay warm. The camp hosts in 2016 were super sweet and lived in a converted school bus with plenty of room, so they would loan their personal extra bedding to yurt dwellers who were cold. I appreciated their generosity (as I’m sure the campers did too), but I would never loan my blankets to strangers. First of all, when I live in my van, I don’t have room for extras. Secondly, sometimes people are harboring bugs! Besides, campers should plan ahead and prepare for all eventualities, even if they are going to sleep in a yurt. Yurts are a bit sturdier than regular tents, and the walls are a bit thicker, but not by much.

Javier and Sandra, the camp hosts my last year on the mountain were nice people too, but they were also vandwellers without room to spare for extra bedding. When campers arrived unprepared for their night in a yurt, there was nothing the camp hosts could offer but sympathy.

One evening I was hanging out with Javier and Sandra on their campsite when a European couple arrived. There was some discussion I couldn’t hear between the man who’d been driving and Sandra. I did hear Sandra say they should find the yurt and she’d be over before dark to do the check-in paperwork. The couple drove off, and I began saying my good-byes so Sandra and Javier could finish their work before they ran out of daylight.

Before I could leave the host site, the European man had driven back to the front of the campground and was asking about bedding. The mattresses in the yurt were bare, he said, and they hadn’t brought any linens. Did Sandra and Javier have any sheets and blankets they could use?

Javier and Sandra shook their heads. No. Sorry. Linens were not provided in the yurts.

The fellow wanted to know what they should do.

I asked if they had sleeping bags. I thought maybe if their itinerary included actual camping at some point they might have camping gear.

The fellow said no. They hadn’t brought sleeping bags. Then he asked if there was any place nearby that might sell bedding.

I told him the Mercantile had sold out of both sleeping bags and blankets. If there had been anything useful in the store and if he could pay cash and if he didn’t need change, I would have unlocked the door and helped him out. However, during the last cold snap, unprepared campers had wiped us out of all things warm.

Sandra told him there was a general store about 25 miles away that maybe sold sleeping bags, but she didn’t know if the store was open so late in the day. She also mentioned the store 35 miles away in the opposite direction that sold outdoor supplies. Maybe that store had sleeping bags.

The European man stood and stared at us in disbelief.

Of course there’s Wal-Mart, Javier said. He explained it was at the bottom of the mountain and about 60 miles from the campground.

It was obvious the camper didn’t want to drive 25 miles (and back!), much less 60. He just stood there and looked at us, and Sandra kept repeating that she was sorry. Finally the camper got back in his car and drove to the yurt where he and the lady would be spending a chilly night. At least they might have enjoyed the cuddling they probably had to do to stay warm.

Having never reserved a yurt, I don’t know if the reservation paperwork spelled out the lack of linens and if it did, how prominently that information was displayed. I do know if I were paying to stay anywhere other than a conventional hotel or motel, I would find out if bedding was included instead of assuming it was.

I took the photo in this post.


Why I Decided to Sign on with Patreon

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I’ve thought about Patreon for a long time. I considered it seriously before I signed up.

Not sure what Patreon is? That’s ok. I’ll tell you.

According to a February 2019 article from The Street called “What Is Patreon? History, Controversies and How It Works” by Anne Sraders,

Patreon is a crowdfunding platform that enables fans (or patrons) to pay and support artists for their work. For producers of [art, writing, whatever], Patreon is a way to earn extra money on what might otherwise be free content, and allows fans to contribute to their favorite artist’s platform.

According to the Patreon website,

Membership is a relationship between [me] and [my] most engaged fans — the ones that choose to go a level deeper than just following [me] on social media. They become paying patrons in exchange for exclusive benefits [I] offer.

But let me sum it up for you in my own words. You can join me on Patreon and gain access to thoughts, ideas, and photos I’m not sharing anywhere else. I’ll even tell you about upcoming blog posts before the posts are made public. You will receive different perks depending on the membership level you choose to participate at. For just $2 a month, you will receive

  • MY eternal gratitude
  • A shout out on my blog
  • Access to Patreon-only content

Of course, the higher the level of support you offer, the more perks you will receive.

Want to know what else you can receive? (Hint: perks include monthly email updates, handwritten postcards that I send to my patrons through the mail, Rubber Tramp Artist stickers, Rubber Tramp Artist buttons, custom made hemp bracelets, and hand crafted collages.) Simply click on the “Become a Patron” button just under the search bar at the top of the toolbar on the right and you’ll be whisked away to my Patreon page where you can see what perks patrons at each membership level receive.

I don’t expect to get rich on Patreon. Most creators don’t. But of course, every little bit helps. My current supporters (via Patreon and a monthly donation set up through PayPal) pay my monthly phone bill. Thanks friends! I appreciate any and all support that I receive.

So please go check out my Patreon page. See what I have to offer you, the little somethings extra I can give you in exchange for your support. If you can’t afford to support me, I understand. Times are tough. Money is tight for so many of us. Don’t worry, the content on the Rubber Tramp Artist blog will always be free.

Everyone who supports me on Patreon gets a shout out on my blog. Thanks to Keith for being my very first Patreon patron!

I took the photos in this post.

Bear Bells

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Photo of Grizzly BearThe Mercantile where I worked sold bear bells. Folks who’ve never hiked in bear country may have never seen these large jingle bells that attach to a backpack or a belt. They jingle as the hiker moves and are meant to warn bears of the human’s approach. In theory, the foreign sound tells a bear that a hiker is approaching so the bear can amble off and avoid a confrontation it probably doesn’t want any more than the human does.

Some experts don’t believe bear bells work. Some sources say hikers are better of talking or singing or clapping their hands when moving through ursine territory. However, since the store I worked in sold bear bells, I tried not to discourage customers from buying them. When customers straight out asked me if the things really worked, I told them I’d never used one (truth) and different people have different ideas about their effectiveness (also truth).  I mentioned clapping and singing and talking as bear deterrents too.

The company that manufactures the bear bells takes precautions to cover their corporate ass. Upon the cardboard the bells are attached to for display are printed the words “Alerts bears of your presence and sometimes sounds can cause bears to run and hide.” I love the word “sometimes” in that statement.  I can imagine the company lawyer saying, Add “sometimes” in there so we don’t get sued if a bear doesn’t run and hide when it hears the bell.

Each bell came in a little black mesh bag. A magnet is sewn into the bottom of the mesh bag. When the owner of the bell doesn’t want it jingle jangling, the magnet is placed at the bottom of the bell so the little metal ball inside that otherwise bounces around in there and makes noise is held in place and the bell is silenced.

One day a couple of young women in bikini tops and short shorts were browsing in the Mercantile. One of them saw the display of bear bells and decided to examine them carefully. She picked up one of the bells and gave it a little shake. The magnet must have been in the perfect position to hold the inner metal ball in place because the bell made not a sound. She held the bell up and said, Does this make a sound only bears can hear?

I suppose it’s a reasonable question if one encounters one’s first bear bell and it produces no noise.

Image courtesy of https://www.pexels.com/photo/photo-of-grizzly-bear-1328414/.

Guide to the America the Beautiful Federal Recreation Site Passes (Part 2)

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Autie Em and I got into the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument with no admission fee because she flashed her America the Beautiful Senior Pass.

Last week I told you about all of the the America the Beautiful Annual Passes: the basic Pass available for $80, the FREE America the Beautiful Pass for active members of the military and their dependents, and the America the Beautiful Annual and Lifetime Senior Passes. According to the National Park Service, any of these passes

is your ticket to more than 2,000 federal recreation sites. Each pass covers entrance fees at national parks and national wildlife refuges as well as standard amenity fees (day use fees) at national forests and grasslands, and at lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management, Bureau of Reclamation and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. A pass covers entrance, standard amenity fees and day use fees for a driver and all passengers in a personal vehicle at per vehicle fee areas (or up to four adults at sites that charge per person). Children age 15 or under are admitted free.

Today I’ll tell you about other groups who can receive FREE America the Beautiful passes. Passes are available FREE to folks with disabilities, 4th graders, and federal volunteers.

Sign with National Park Service logo on it and the words Island in the Sky Visitor Center Canyonlands National Park National Park Service U.S. Department of the Interior
Folks with disabilities who have the FREE America the Beautiful Access Pass can visit Canyonlands National Park without paying an admission fee.

A special America the Beautiful pass is available FREE to people with disabilities. According to the USGS Store, the Access Pass (formerly known as the Golden Access Passport) is

[a] free, lifetime pass – available to U.S. citizens or permanent residents of the United States that have been medically determined to have a permanent disability (does not have to be a 100% disability)…

permanent disability is a permanent physical, mental, or sensory impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, such as caring for oneself, performing manual tasks, walking, seeing, hearing, speaking, breathing, learning, and working.

The disability requirements for the Access Pass are not based on percentage of disability. To qualify for the Pass the disability must be permanent and limit one or more major life activities.

Orange Cliffs Overlook in the Island in the Sky District of Canyonlands National Park

You must submit appropriate documents to prove that you have a disability before you will be issued an access pass.

Some examples of acceptable documentation include:
Statement by a licensed physician  (Statement must include: that the individual has a PERMANENT disability, that it limits one or more aspects of their daily life, and the nature of those limitations.) ; Document issued by Federal agency such as the Veteran’s Administration, Social Security Disability Income, or Supplemental Security Income; Document issued by a State agency such as a vocational rehabilitation agency.

The pass program for folks with disabilities is operated by five Federal agencies that operate under different regulations and have different fees. This means the discount program for this pass is handled differently on different federal recreation lands. You can research the discount guidelines here.

According to the National Park Service,

Peeling brown wooden sign reads Sequoia National Forest Campground Redwood.
Folks with the America the Beautiful Access Pass can often get a 50% discount on camping fees.

The Access Pass may provide a 50 percent discount on some amenity fees charged for facilities and services such as camping, swimming, boat launching, and specialized interpretive services.

The Access Pass generally does NOT cover or reduce special recreation permit fees or fees charged by concessioners.

It is important to remember that if there is a 50% discount on camping fees,

The discount only applies to the fee for the campsite physically occupied by the pass owner, not to any additional campsite(s) occupied by members of the pass owner’s party.

As I mentioned above, the America the Beautiful Access Pass was formerly known as the Golden Access Passport. Like the Golden Age Passport, Golden Access Passports are no longer sold. However, Golden Access Passports are lifetime passes and are still honored under the terms of the America the Beautiful Access Pass. If a Golden Access Passport wears out or is lost, the pass owner must resubmit acceptable documentation to prove disability.

There is no age requirement for the Access Pass. Even a child with a permanent disability can receive an America the Beautiful Access Pass.

The National Park Service says there are two ways a person can obtain an Access Pass. One can get the Pass

In person at a federal recreation site (see PDF list of federal recreation sites that issue passes) [or] [t]hrough the mail using this application form (PDF).

Note: The cost of obtaining an Access Pass through the mail is $10 for processing the application. (The pass is free.)

Fourth graders and their grownups can see the wonders of nature (like these giant sequoias) at national parks (like Sequoia National Park) without having to pay an entrance fee if they have their Annual 4th Grade Pass.

The Annual 4th Grade Pass is available for FREE to every

U.S. 4th grade student (including home-schooled and free-choice learners 10 years of age) with a printed voucher from the Every Kid Outdoors website. Students may not receive a pass without a valid voucher.

The get the voucher, 4th graders must complete a

web based activity on the Every Kid Outdoors website. [After a 4th grader completes the activity] they will be awarded their voucher package for printing. Once your 4th grader arrives at the participating Federal recreation site they may exchange their Every Kid Outdoors voucher for the Annual 4th grade Pass. A list of sites that issue passes is available. Please contact the Federal land you will be visiting in advance to ensure that they have the pass available.

According to the USGS Store,

The pass is valid for the duration of the 4th grade school year through the following summer (September – August).

Like the America the Beautiful Pass for active members of the military and their dependents, the Annual 4th Grade Pass

does not cover or provide a discount on expanded amenity fees such as camping, boat launch or interpretive fees.

Holders of most America the Beautiful Passes will receive free admission to White Sands National Monument. (The White Sands Fees & Passes page makes no mention of the Annual Military Pass or the Annual 4th Grade Pass.)

As I mentioned, a fourth grader must jump through a few hoops to get the FREE Annual 4th grade pass. Go to the Every Kid Outdoors website to learn about the hoops and do the jumping. Each 4th grader

[m]ust have a paper voucher printed from the Every Kid Outdoors website to obtain the Annual 4th Grade Pass. Digital versions of the voucher (such as [on] smart phones or tablets) will not be accepted.

The final free pass that allows access to federal recreations sites with no admission fee is the America the Beautiful Volunteer Pass.

A “Volunteer Pass” is an Annual Pass awarded to those individuals who volunteer 250 hours at one or more recreation sites managed by five Federal agencies as a way to say “thank you!”

According to an America the Beautiful document , the Volunteer Pass is

valid for one year from the month of issuance.

There are some other things to know about the Volunteer Pass.

There is no specific time frame in which volunteer hours must be accrued. Hours can be accrued over one, or several, calendar years.

You can accrue 250 hours by volunteering on Federal recreation lands managed by one or all of five agencies – NPS, BLM, USDA FS, FWS, and Reclamation. For example, you can volunteer 100 hours for each of the five agencies and earn a pass.

Once the 250 hour requirement is reached, a pass is issued, and the volunteer’s “pass hours”; are reset to zero and the count begins again.

Campground hosts are eligible to receive a Volunteer Pass once they have completed 250 hours of service.
Campsite with a picnic table under a shade structure and a fire ring
Camp hosts can receive the America the Beautiful Volunteer pass after completing 250 service hours.

To find out about volunteer opportunities at federal recreation sites, visit volunteer.gov.

To earn the America the Beautiful Volunteer Pass, volunteers must get all volunteer activities pre-approved by a volunteer coordinator. Activities that are not pre-approved may not count toward the 250 hours needed to earn a Volunteer Pass. Volunteers must get their record of volunteer hours signed by applicable Volunteer Coordinator(s). The Federal Volunteer Coordinator/Manager who authorizes that a volunteer has accrued 250 hours will issue the Volunteer Pass.

According to the USGS Store, with any pass

[p]hoto identification may be required to verify ownership [of pass]. Passes are NON-REFUNDABLE, NON-TRANSFERABLE, and cannot be replaced if lost or stolen.

Hopefully the information I’ve provided today and last week will help you decide if you want to get an America the Beautiful federal recreation pass. If you already have one, would you suggest that others get one? Please leave your thoughts in the comments section below.

If you found this post helpful, I’d love your support! Hit the donate button in the right toolbar or go to Patreon to become my patron.

Please note all information was correct to the best of my knowledge when this post was written. Blaize Sun is not responsible for changing prices or any other changes that may take place after this post was written. Use the information given here as the starting point of your own research. Blaize Sun is not responsible for you. Only you are responsible for you.

I took the photos in this post.

Little Freek Library in Phoenix, AZ

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Here is some of the art Nolagirl and I encountered at the 2017 Grand Avenue Festival in Phoenix, AZ.

Nolagirl and I were at the Grand Avenue Festival in November of 2017. As we walked down the avenue looking at public art and popping into galleries to see the cool pieces on display, we came across a Little Free Library (LFL).

If you don’t already know from reading my blog or from your own experience, Wikipedia says,

Like other public book exchanges, a passerby can take a book to read or leave one for someone else to find. The [Little Free Library] organization relies on volunteer “stewards” to construct, install, and maintain book exchange boxes. For a book exchange box to be registered, and legally use the Little Free Library brand name, stewards must purchase a finished book exchange, a kit or, for a DIY project, a charter sign,[23] which contains the “Little Free Library” text and official charter number.[24][25]

The addition of one letter can change a Little Free Library into a Little Freek Library

The LFL we encountered on Grand Avenue was not your everyday Little Free Library, not at all! It was a Little FREEK [sic] Library. Someone came along and with one letter changed this registered Little Free Library (charter #5315) into a Little Freek Library.

I know I’ve said in the past that anyone who would steal or vandalize a Little Free Library has problems and needs prayers, but I’m not upset that someone with a Sharpie turned a Little Free Library into a Little Freek Library. In fact, I think it’s hilarious. I guess I’m a hypocrite. Oh well.

This “vandalizing” doesn’t upset me because I don’t think this “vandalizing” hurts anyone. It’s not like the “vandal” wrote anything vulgar or offensive on the LFL. There’s no hate speech here, no drawings of Nazi swastikas, no racism or misogyny,  just the request to “celebrate freakier neighborhoods.” I just can’t argue with that. I think freakier neighborhoods (and freakier neighbors, for that matter) do need to be celebrated, especially in places like Phoenix that can seem very mainstream and somewhat boring (at least to me).

This LFL needs some good books in it.

There were only a couple of books in the Little Freek Library, and they seemed old and in poor condition. I wished I had a few books with me to contribute to this LFL. It really needed some book love. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to revisit this LFL before I left town.

I’ve visited Little Free Libraries in Los Gatos, CA; Santa Fe and Taos, NM; Flagstaff and Mesa, AZ; and others in Phoenix too, but this was my first Little Freek Library. I was pretty excited to have stumbled across. Let your freek flag fly, Little Free Library on Grand Avenue. Let your freek flag fly.

I took the photos in this post.

Sandwich

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According to the National Day Calendar website, this Sunday, November 3 is National Sandwich Day. What will you do to celebrate?

In recognition of this popular food, today I’ll tell you a little story about a sandwich. It’s kind of a gross story which also involves pit toilets. Don’t say I didn’t warn you…

I’ve heard it said that humans can grow accustomed to anything. Anything? Well, probably most things, including the gross and the stinky.

Pit toilet with lid down.
This photo shows an actual pit toilet.

When I worked on the mountain, pit toilets at the very busy trailhead and the campground next to it had to be pumped several times between the middle of May and the middle of October. The truck that came up to pump the toilets was the same kind that removes the waste from porta-potties. A long, flexible hose was dropped down into the chamber (also referred to the pit or the vault) below the seat. A pump on the truck sucked up all the waste materials from inside the chamber and deposited everything into a big holding tank mounted on the truck. When the tank was full, the truck went down the mountain to deposit the waste I-don’t-know-where.

A sign  reads, "For better smelling restroom keep toilet seat down." Two drawings of the side view of a pit toilet show that with the toilet lid down the "smelly" stays below the toilet and then vents up and out of a pipe, but when the lid is up, the "smelly" fills the toilet room.
Even keeping the lid down couldn’t control the bad smell after the pit toilets were pumped.

The pumping process stirred up all the decaying waste material and created a HORRIBLE smell. If you’ve never encountered a large concentration of decaying human waste, let me tell you, it smells really bad. It stinks to high heaven. To put it simply, it smells like death, and death does not smell one bit pretty.

I wouldn’t say I grew immune to the stench of toilets being pumped, but at least after the first couple of times I encountered the process, I knew what to expect. As GI Joe taught us, knowing is half the battle.

Most of the visitors to the trailhead and campground were city folks; many of them had never encountered a toilet that didn’t immediately flush their waste away. On a regular day, the smell from the pit toilets was often enough to make them mighty uncomfortable. When the city folks were present for the pumping or its immediate aftermath, they were quite surprised and quite disgusted and quite unhappy.They had no idea shit and piss could smell so nasty.

One day the pump truck came up the mountain. We could practically smell it before we saw it.

Small building with two doors, each with a restroom sign next to it. Two metal trash cans sit outside the building.
This is the building in the middle of the parking lot that housed the pit toilets.

Here we go, I thought. I knew the visitors were going to be melodramatically grossed out, and I was sure to hear complaints.

The pump truck went down to the middle of the parking lot where the two pit toilets were located. I couldn’t see the two men at work, but I could hear the pump and smell the funk. Yes, as always, the churned up human waste smelled horrific.

Finally the pump was switched off and the quietude of nature prevailed. I knew the stench would settle, but at the moment the entire parking lot was enveloped in an awful aroma.

The truck came around the curve leading to the parking lot’s exit, and the driver stopped it near me. Groan. The driver hopped out with clipboard in hand and asked me to sign the form stating he and his partner had been there and done the job. I agreed, wanting the reeking truck away from me as soon as possible.

Sign reads, "Keep this toilet clean." The sign gives instructions (with corresponding drawings) on how to properly use the pit toilet. Instructions include "Sit on the toilet during use. DO NOT stand on the toilet. DO NOT use the floor. Use the toilet. Put used toilet paper in the toilet. Do NOT put trash in the toilet. Use the trash can."
My favorite sign explaining how to use a pit toilet.

Just before I signed the form, I glanced over at the truck. What I saw gave credence to the idea that humans can grow accustomed to anything. The other pump truck worker, a young guy probably in his early 20s, was sitting in the passenger seat munching a sandwich.

The tourists were reeling, practically dry heaving and passing out, and this guy was sitting in the stink truck, nonchalantly having lunch. I wondered if he had no sense of smell or had simply become so accustomed to the stench that it was basically background noise–or perhaps more accurately, background stink. In any case, he seemed to be enjoying his sandwich, not at all bothered by the odor that was causing the rest of us so much grief.

I took the photos in this post.