Northwest Michigan Camping: Lake Michigan Focus

Credit: Google Maps & MS Paint.

We have a friend coming this summer who wants to camp near Petoskey or Sleeping Bear Dunes. That got us hunting for a good campground. We really need to get Best Tent Camping: Michigan (2015).

I decided to put a list together like the one I did for southwest Michigan car camping. The list doesn’t include ferry options, for instance North and South Manitou Islands or Beaver Island. Some of these are more rustic, some more developed. Some are close to water, while others are slightly more inland.

Here are the campgrounds that stood out to us. I’m sure there are other great locations we’re missing, so share your favorites in the comments below.

Here is a table of travel times for the same cities I used in the analysis of southwest MI camping.

NW MI distances

Next I need to work on locations in the UP, but with so little vacation time, we tend to do most of our trips in the lower peninsula, but I’d love to see more of the UP ( | |

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Posted in adventure, Nature

Van Life: Wood Burners & Showers

I’ve never lived out of a van. When I finished my undergrad studies, I sold everything big that I owned so I could fit in my little car (with a roof storage unit). I never lived out of it either, but for a year and a half, I worked and visited friends all over the US.

I like to see how others make van life work. Here are three short videos of people living in vans with a few extra treats — wood stoves and a shower.

Of course I like all the Goal Zero | En Route setups too.

Posted in adventure, sustainable living

Southwest Michigan Camping: Lake Michigan Focus

Credit: Google Maps. Edited in MS Paint (keeping it real).

The list below grows out of conversations with a few different friends who want to go camping this summer in southwest Michigan. They live in different locations, and they have different needs. One common interest: water.

First, I list the camping areas near Lake Michigan or other bodies of water that most stand out to us. Locations are listed from North to South. Second, I post the travel times around the area. Obviously, neither the list of cities nor campgrounds is exhaustive. (And please see links below for local connections.)

What’s your favorite place in this region not listed here?

  1. Meinert Park (Montague)
  2. Pioneer County Park (Muskegon)
  3. Muskegon State Park (Muskegon)
  4. Holland State Park (Holland)
  5. Saugatuck Dunes State Park (Holland)
  6. Van Buren State Park (South Haven)
  7. Covert Park Campground (Covert)
  8. Dune Lake Campground (Coloma)
  9. Shamrock Park (Berrien Springs)
  10. Weko Beach Campground (Bridgman)
  11. Warren Dunes State Park (Sawyer)
  12. Indiana Dunes State Park (Chesterton, IN)

(click to enlarge)

If you want to go further afield, see my post on northwest Michigan camping. Next I need to work on locations in the UP, but with so little vacation time, we tend to do most of our trips in the lower peninsula. Still, I’d love to see more of the UP ( | |

And if you’re looking for a local place to get camping gear or clothes, check out:

  • Wanderlust Outfitters (St. Joseph; Instagram). Just about everything you’d need for a camping or backpack trip (or a day at the beach). Brands: Prana, Fjallraven, OR, Marmot, The North Face, Columbia, Kuhl, Osprey, Black Diamond, MSR, Eno, Therm-a-Rest, Western Mountaineering, Klean Kanteen, Nalgene, Swartwool, and many more. You get the idea. It’s not a huge store, but they make good use of the space to bring quality and variety to our area. It’s so great to have a local gear shop with a friendly crew.
  • Third Coast Surf Shop (St. Joseph & New Buffalo; Instagram). Patagonia, surf boards, SUPs, rentals, skateboards, etc. Also, check out their paddling shop in Benton Harbor.
  • With these shops, we don’t have to go to Chicago for REI or Uncle Dan’s. Shop local!

While I’m at it, here are three of my other favorite shops in town:

  • Bound for Freedom (Facebook). Buy what you need, keep it ethical, change the world. We’ve purchased snack bars, a shaving kit, sunglasses, and flip-flops. We’re getting our next soccer ball here.
  • Forever Books (Facebook). It’s nice to have a local bookstore, not just Amazon. In the past they had more environmental books, but last time I was in, that area was more limited.
  • Cycle and Fitness (Facebook). Bikes and related gear. Check next door for your running needs–Taylor’d Running.
  • Bonus: People in Mishawaka or South Bend may value Outpost Sports. I haven’t been to their stores in South HavenSt. Joseph, or New Buffalo yet. When I visited the Mishawaka store, bikes were the focus.
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MI Camping: Covert

I’ve been visiting campgrounds along Lake Michigan, getting ready for some local fun this summer. Scope: Indiana Dunes State Park (IN) up to Holland State Park (MI).

Covert Park has potential. I want to see it when it’s green. The campsites don’t look great (better for trailers than tents maybe, sites 5-9 or even 10 could work for tents), but it has a bathroom, a couple small playgrounds/swing sets, and easy access to a nice beach. Plus it’s cozy–it’s small and surrounded by low hills.

Here are a few poor quality pictures (in reverse order):

Lake Michigan

Path to the Beach

There are two circles of sites. This is the larger one which is just below the first, smaller set of sites.

This bathroom is in the small circle of sites.

Opposite the bathroom. These are some of the better tent sites (maybe #7-9). Sites 5-10 look flat enough for tents. I presume stakes could handle it.

Posted in Uncategorized

Do Much with Little (Smartphone Edition)

This phrase — do much with little — has become a mantra that rolls around in my head. I used to work for a Christian nonprofit that fights human trafficking, and this line was one of our three catch-phrases. “Do much with little.”

Though not very systematically, I have tried to apply this idea to different parts of my life. In order to simplify well, we need the little that remains to be able to do a lot. This could be a pair of shoes that can be used in multiple pursuits, an appliance that can perform more than one function, or a backpack that can work around town, on a plane, and on the trail.

This post is focusing on one such device: the mighty smartphone. Since we still can’t get the Fairphone in the US, I’ve used the two standard options–Android (an early Samsung Galaxy) and the iPhone.

Consider our two week kayak trip. I used the Galaxy to:

  • track our miles with a GPS
  • take pictures and video
  • upload the media to our WordPress blog when we’d get a decent signal
  • watch the weather forecast
  • text trip updates to our team at home who were following our fundraising trip 

0069d-p1150990During the day, we generally used the smallest GoalZero solar panel to charge a battery, which we then used to charge the phone in the tent at night. Do much with little.

I also used that smartphone in my media work. When I went to Europe for 10 days to see some friends and report on a conference for a magazine, I wanted to pack light, so I just took my phone and a Bluetooth keyboard. Each night I’d prop up my phone and pound out my article. Do much with little.

So when I got into podcasting, I was again impressed with the many devices that could be used with a smartphone. At this point I’m back to using an iPhone, so that’s what I’ve been learning about (and thus listing here). Naturally many of the items I’ll mention here could work with iPads as well (and Android phones).

A little background: I started podcasting with a system centered on a mixer and audio recorder that the nonprofit Board approved (SoundCraft EPM6 $220 + Roland R-O5 $200). Then I simplified to only a Zoom H6 ($350, simple & complex configurations). But could it all be done on my phone? 


I have started experimenting with Bossjock (YouTube, $10). Instead of mixing my podcast intro (music fade, voice over, etc.) in Audacity (free and easy to learn software), I’m playing with using Bossjock for this. It’s pretty easy to do, and the auto-ducking is nice. This app includes sound carts similar to the ones offered by Sound Byte. And of course there are a lot of other good apps for recording audio that don’t have podcasting features. Be sure you can record in a high quality format like WAV

An app to record Skype calls would also be useful. I need to do this at times, but I haven’t experimented with it on my phone yet. In the past, I’ve set up a mix-minus on my mixer and compy to do this. Using an app to do this would obviously require turning Airplane mode off (normally have Airplane mode on to avoid interruptions), so incoming calls and texts could interfere with your recording unless Skype blocks them. I need to learn more about this.


Since the mic on the iPhone isn’t going to give you quality sound, you need to connect a good external mic. You have a ton of options here at all price points.

A few things to keep in mind:

  • Connection type: 3.5mm (1/8″) headphone/mic jack on older iPhones versus Lightning only on the 7. Buy the right product for your phone or get an adapter.
  • Contacts: TRS (tip-ring-sleeve) on most non-phone connections and TRRS (tip-ring-ring-sleeve) on smartphones and some other devices, to oversimplify. Again, consider an adapter if needed. (Wikipedia)
  • Type of mic: XLR, USB, or 3.5mm (connection); dynamic or condenser (power); shotgun, clip-on lav/lapel, or regular studio mics  (location/design). Again, to greatly oversimplify.
  • Note on power: some dynamic mics like the Shure SM7B ($400) need more power. And condenser mics need phantom power. Keep this in mind as you think about the type of cables, adapters, and audio interfaces you might want. A Cloudlifter or Fethead can help in some configurations, but not all.

So buy the kind of mic that you want to use (dynamic or condenser studio mic, a shotgun, or a lav) and then figure out how to get from that type of connector (XLR, USB, 3.5mmTRS or TRRS) to the type of connector your particular iPhone has (3.5mm TRRS or Lightning). Here are a few examples:

In the above picture, you see the setup I’m playing with now. I’m using my Zoom H6 as an audio interface to connect my XLR dynamic mic to the lightning port on my iPhone so I can use the Bossjock app (theme music in one cart). 

Here’s the chain: ATR 2100 mic – XLR cable (low quality build) – Zoom H6 – USB mini out – Apple USB/Lightning camera adapter – iPhone 5S – Bossjock app.

Obviously, I wouldn’t buy an H6 for an audio interface. The other options above are cheaper and as good or better for that. But I already had it, so I’m experimenting with it. 

I like the ATR2100 for a few reasons: it’s affordable, it sounds okay (comparison), and it has both XLR and USB outlets (Ortega).


Use them. While you’re recording. If you don’t, you’ll wish you had.

And use them when watching these YouTube videos about gear. You’ll hear the differences much better. 

Earbuds are better than nothing, but at $25, the Sennheiser HD 202IIs are hard to beat (B&H).


So after you have the audio dialed in, you just might want to see what you can do with video as well. 🙂

These options show the diversity of ways you can maximize your productivity with the phone you already have in your pocket (since a lot of this applies to other operating systems, not just the iPhone). You don’t have to have a mixer, audio recorder, and video camera to make quality content. With the specific tools that fit your phone and your creative projects, go forth and do much with little….

YOUR TURN: What other tools do you use with your smartphone to get the most out of it?

Posted in gear, media, technology

Access, Adventure & Guilt

Here are three things that have caught my attention recently:

  1. Access: Patagonia 
  2. Adventure: Marmot
  3. Guilt: Goal Zero & Salomon

(1) ACCESS. Patagonia used their Tumblr account to share this open letter from a group of outdoor companies:

January 17, 2017

To our elected officials and those who value America’s great outdoors:

This open letter expresses the view of more than 100 leaders of large and small businesses in the outdoor industry, which contributes more than $650 billion annually to the U.S. economy, generates $80 billion in tax revenue and employs more than 6 million people. Together, we represent a huge range of activities – from hiking to hunting and camping to conservation.

Our businesses make the lives of everyday Americans, from every corner of the political spectrum, healthier and happier. We do not often unite as an industry in the way we are today but we are compelled to make clear our collective view on a vitally important issue that affects the economic health of our industry, our local communities, and the lives of all Americans.

It is an American right to roam in our public lands. The people of the United States, today and tomorrow, share equally in the ownership of these majestic places. This powerful idea transcends party lines and sets our country apart from the rest of the world. That is why we strongly oppose any proposal, current or future, that devalues or compromises the integrity of our national public lands…. [read the rest here]

In case you’re wondering what that’s about: three days later, Business Insider ran this story: “Congress just made it easier to sell off federal land, including national parks” (Heather Hansman, 20 Jan 2017).

(2) ADVENTURE. Advice from Marmot on how to get outside more.

Some epic adventures are worth changing your life for. We’re talking about the months-long bike tours, the overland trips, and the long distance backpacking trips. In between the epic trips, though, are a thousand tiny ways to get outside without major life alterations, from impromptu paddles to single-night backpacking trips.

It’s not always easy: assembling gear takes time and effort, adventure buddies can be hard to find on short notice, and weather turns on a dime. But if you use these simple, weeknight-tested techniques to keep your life adventure prepped, you’ll be able to get out the door with minimal fuss, keep your backcountry skills on point, and stay ready for the next big trip.

Access the 5-point list here.

(3) GUILT. I first heard about Guilt Trip, a ski and science mini-expedition to Greenland, on the Goal Zero blog. That short behind-the-scenes video made me curious about the full-length film, which can be found on the Salomon website.

Posted in adventure, video

Enbridge and NIMBY

The Kalamazoo River oil spill was close to home. Line 5 is pretty close. I’d like it to not spill any oil. Truth. NIMBY.

I use oil and oil-derived products. Unfortunately, that is also true. I’m part of the problem.

I appreciate that these guys are trying to be part of the solution:

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Posted in environment, video

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