Baitcon XIX,   June 2008

Party like it's 19...

Our traditional camping and ice-cream making event, with the usual weirdness and a peek at some of the infrastructure support that goes with it. While I had been at the walkthrough prior to '07 I could not be at the actual event that year, so this was my first time helping wrangle things at the Abode.

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Loading up the van at Tamar's place. With the event venue able to supply most of the kitchen gear, refrigeration, dishes and other support stuff, the load to transport can be downsized into a couple of smaller vehicles rather than having to rent the big box truck. I stuffed a couple of items into the Prius, but even with lots of food added in we weren't completely desperate for haul space.

We convoyed out on that Thursday, mixin' it up with the plentiful aggressive tailgaters ...

... but overall it wasn't too bad. At one point we fell in behind a rig from "USA Truck" who was setting a lovely pace of about 57 MPH on average in the right lane of the Pike, allowing speed to drop off uphill and getting it back on the down side which is a more efficient way to drive just about any vehicle. Segments like this return obvious fuel-economy gains, clearly shown on the 5-minute bargraph on my car. Some trucking companies and drivers have clued into this, but many have still not.

It is important to note that "behind the rig" doesn't mean anything like drafting, but more like a nice safe 5 to 10 seconds of following distance and just letting him lead. The fuel-efficiency community actively discourages drafting or any sort of tailgating or hazardous vehicle proximity, for the record, and asks for [but rarely receives!] the same courtesy in return.

On the approach road through the Shaker village , there's this notably tumbledown barn. I have a mild fantasy of collecting lots of similar pictures and doing the "decrepit barns" coffee-table book or something.

One part of the final climb to the site is wicked steep, and even with the new gravel the Abode folks had laid down it's easy to start losing grip on this part. Even their little SUV spits its share of stones on the ascent.

Ironically, *I* even got stuck on this part for a while -- heavy-loaded, front wheel drive, steep upward pitch, and I attacked it at too low a speed and reached a point where the front wheels were diggin' but just not getting anywhere, as the traction-control then kicked in. It took a couple of retries, and I finally had to back all the way down to a small flat place right at the sharp bend and then nail it to take a good healthy run at the slope which finally got me up and around the curve. Here's the story from the GPS's point of view, with the sad parts near the pointer arrow. Of course with all the low-speed climbing prior to this point the hybrid battery was pretty low already, so the engine was trying to push the car and recharge it at the same time with almost no airflow through the front -- one of the very few times I've ever heard the radiator fans come on, in fact.

New Lebanon is about 700 feet altitude, and the mountaintop campground is up around 1700. A thousand feet up over a relatively short horizontal stretch, with a brief wander across the state line back into MA in the process.

As the crew arrived, we started exploring the infrastructure. One notable improvement for the summer season was the Abode's rental of a much larger generator, 40 kilowatts or so instead of the 8.5 unit from last year. This would be capable of running the well-pump and the rest of the camp at the same time, as opposed to having to swap back and forth. [They had asked for 20 kW, but got this.]

And this one was running on 100% biodiesel, yielding almost odorless exhaust. A little more expensive, perhaps, but definitely improving Baitcon's already fairly dainty environmental footprint.

The gennie hookup into the camp's main feeds looked a bit sketchy, but seemed solidly connected. The plug for the old unit [upper left in pic] was still connected but taped off so [in theory] nobody could grab its pins and get a 240V surprise.

Most of the power distributes from this main panel in the maintenance shed. The big breaker at the top that you'd expect to be the main input isn't, the main is down one level [see the panel cover label] and the big one feeds off to the kitchen subpanel. This is sort of bass-ackwards, but seems to have sufficed for some time now. The larger issue stemmed from the fact that a tree had fallen across the feed from here to the kitchen over the winter, and the pull on the wire managed to slightly bend the roof conduits at both ends. See the pipe going upward directly over the big breaker? If water dribbles down through that into the box, guess what happens?

This is what happens. After noticing some fairly severe flickering in the lights we investigated a bit, and noticed the main breaker connection in the kitchen giving a little "Fzzzt!" and actually throwing sparks every time the fridge compressor kicked on. Oops. Turned out that the bus-bar connection there was pretty hopelessly corroded from the same water problem, with corresponding damage on the 100A main breaker coming from the shop feed. We fiddled some breakers around and swapped in a 60A for the kitchen main one and put it one slot down onto a clean bus-bar connection, and everything was much happier thereafter even though somewhat derated as far as current capacity. With seph's mass replacement of incandescent bulbs with compact fluorescents around the main buildings and bathrooms earlier in the day, I don't think we were anywhere near the reduced limit.

As prep wound down that evening, most of the unloaded stuff sat under the main food pavilion for the night.

Friday morning, I made it a bit of a priority to go pitch my cozy little home-away-from-home, before the threatened afternoon rain arrived.

More infrastructure support arrived -- the propane guy found that we didn't need that much but it couldn't hurt to head into the event with full tanks behind the kitchen to handle all the rest of the cooking. The massive Vulcan stove in the kitchen is probably about the least efficient unit available -- it has a substantial pilot light per burner, and its companion "wall o' flame" huge potboiler unit off to one side has two.

The various service trucks such as this and the LN2 delivery seemed to have no problem climbing the hill, probably because of dually rear-wheel drive and plenty of weight over it.

Later, the dairy order arrived and I space-packed it into the fridge. While in there I noticed that the drip pan under the evaporator coils was angled wrong and not getting the condensation over to the outflow tube like it should. It needed to be tilted up a bit at the outer edge.

I tried to kludge it up with a couple of bolts as an attach-point and a bit of tie-line, but I'm not sure if it really improved anything. The whole pan attachment needs to be reworked and a new rubber gasket installed, because much of what's here is toast. And the badly unbalanced fans loudly rattled the crap out of this whole rig the entire weekend. It did keep the room cold, nonetheless, especially with our care in keeping the door closed as much as possible.

The promised rain *did* arrive later in the afternoon, dumping about an inch in an impressive 15 minute downpour. The same storm apparently moved east and really hammered the Boston north-burbs area later that evening, too. Made the ground nice and squishy here and there, just in time for people to start arriving and looking to pitch their tents.

Despite some reservations about pissing too many people off, I offered to take parking duty for the evening. I moved my car down to the head of the parking area to stick some signage on it and have sort of a base of operations.

The other reason for bringing it down there was to run some lights off the UPS in the back and actually have some visibility in the parking lot after dark. As dusk fell, the advantages of having this became pretty clear. One light got clipped to a convenient roof-rack on one of the early arrivals, and another got hung in a tree waaay down around the bend with a cord run down to it through the woods. For most of the evening until it filled up in the lower part, this provided pretty good coverage.

For the next several hours, the arriving attendees and the "Baitcon hill-climbing championships" were my world. They clawed their way up the slope one by one and sometimes in bunches, and most knew to not stop here where I was but to keep going up to the top of the hill. A few who hadn't been to Baitcon before saw somebody standing around with a radio and thought they were supposed to stop there, until I sent them onward and upward. A couple of them got stuck on that same steep part a little down from here, but everyone who needed to managed to figure out how to back off and take a fast run at it by the time I walked down far enough to try and help out. In only a couple of cases did I have to ask people to *wait* until the car ahead was clear of the top curve before launching, rather than trying to just blindly follow. The key thing was to keep shoveling the coal and not slow down, and to do so as *evenly* as possible without pulsing the pedal and breaking the tires loose again. This is apparently a skill that some people simply don't have.

They'd unload at the welcome tent, and then come back down to me to get parked. The idea was to pack 'em in as tight as possible, and to that end I came up with the method of slotting cars in with the right-hand sides as close together as possible and leave just enough room on driver's sides to get out, thus eliminating almost half the inter-car spacing that might otherwise be needed. This required alternating nose-in and tail-in and some fun proximity games in often slippery/muddy grass. For those who didn't want to handle backing with mirrors, I offered to jump in and do it and wound up doing so for four or five folks -- thus, Baitcon 19 possibly became the first one with optional valet parking.

This is what it looked like the next day, and while the lot grew close to full over the course of the evening I didn't actually run out of space. That took care of almost the entire attendance except for the very few "emergency cars" left up top and three or four "commuters" that we put in the upper lot. Total count was just over 70 cars down here, I think, and the Abode people were apparently impressed with the packing job in contrast to their other events.

Eventually I made it back up the hill to rejoin the con -- I didn't mind being on parking duty that long since it was sort of an experiment that I wanted to see through to its end with consistent methodology applied. Now we know that doing this works well, and people weren't visibly annoyed with me and my curt vehicle direction [to my knowledge] and as far as I know there weren't any busted side-mirrors or other disasters on the way out. I made every effort to advise caution when retrieving cars, about proximity and also some small badly cut off tree stumps that were scattered around part of the lot that I'd carefully brought some cars' wheels in between.

Hopefully the Abode can do a better brush-clearing job here next year.

The pavilion had meanwhile gotten more organized, and an ice cream ingredients prep table set up along one side and the mixing area farther out under the yellow party-tent. I managed to stitch these together into a half-ass wide panorama in the big pic.

There wasn't a whole lot going on, but some people were still up and being mellow around the campfire. Mellow enough for a 3-second exposure, in fact.

Saturday morning, and the zombies shuffled into motion...

Aided by plenty of coffee, made in the Abode high-volume method. This is a colander of the right size dropped into the top of an electric urn and hot water ladled over coffee in a large filter. I'm sort of amused by the similar look of the wood floor and the primordial soup of the coffee-in-progress, which benefitted from occasional stirring while draining down. Their idea is to use propane to heat the water on the stove instead of running the 1500 watt percolator, and then let the urn only run its 100 watt or so keep-warm heater element instead. In most cases we transferred the product to the insulated brown dispenser jug which kept it plenty hot on its own without further power expenditure.

Overnight, the usual extensive tent city had sprung up.

The Lefton Shift in the kitchen.

Mad scientist Phil the Bald drawing another portable dewar of LN2. The ice cream folks frequently had to fight with the valve on the big dewar getting iced up and hard to close.

The small dewars supplied the mixing process, as usual.

There was an active robin's nest on top of one of the pavilion columns. Other people likely got better pictures of it than I did, since many people noticed the nest because the babies were making plenty of noise every time one of the parents flew back in with food. I tried presetting exposure and focus and flash and a timer and then lofting the camera up over the nest on the tall tripod, but that came out fairly overexposed. I got a half-decent one of the babies stretching upward later on, though. Through the weekend these poor things probably got more flashlamps going off in their faces than celebrities out on the town.

Aerial silks training for the masses.

Top detail of Phil's new, more "portable" rig.

Hearing some noise, I wandered the long path out to the far tent ...

... where I found the Taiko drummers rehearsing for their performance later in the afternoon.

Recalling that the long path was one of the navigational difficulties for some people and we wanted to encourage folks to actually go out to the far tent for various activities, I pulled out the batches of solar path lights that we'd found in Storage. Since they wouldn't get nearly enough light to charge up if deployed along the shady path in the daytime, I set them all up under nice bright direct sun specifically to charge through most of the afternoon and we'd then deploy them later on.

Whatever brain surgeon thought to sell *plastic* ground spikes, such as on the larger units here, into the New England market needs to be taken out and flogged.

More infrastructure wandering: I finally went up the hill to have a look at the water supply tank. It seems to have an amusing kludge jammed in underneath to help keep it from rolling down the hill. The condensation on it pretty clearly indicates the water level. The pipe running around behind it is the supply from the wellhead, and dumps into it at the top; the fat pipe feeds down the hill to the facilities.

On the way back down I noticed that the generator fuel level had gotten down under a quarter, and topped 'er up from the jerry cans that Nevin had brought up earlier.

It actually turned out we didn't need to keep doing this. The gennie trailer has a *huge* belly tank in the trailer chassis, with its own fuel gauge, and the one I was looking at was only for the much smaller top tank. They're simply connected top-to-bottom with a pipe, and we probably could have run the entire weekend on what was in the pair of 'em. But refilling also allowed the Abode folks to calculate how much fuel we used.

The generator added a steady 1800-RPM thrumming undertone to the entire weekend, and it felt somewhat odd for that to go away when we finally shut the thing down on Monday afternoon.

The usual chair farm sprouted on the lawn.

Hammock play. The hammocks and the Abode-provided swing were in almost constant use the entire weekend.

View from inside one of the hammocks.

A musical interlude.

The strange flower arrangement that showed up in the welcome tent.

At some point our esteemed founder Bait could not be located, but by looking very carefully at our surroundings we eventually found him. Well, we could have told him not to sample the undiluted "mystery backyard berry" ice cream mix...

A while later I decided to take a little stroll, and wound up at the temple remains. The little structure someone put inside it looks vaguely like ice cream.

The stroll turned into a much longer hike way down around the south end of the mountain, in a fruitless effort to find the fabled pond. Each trail I tried turned into pretty much this -- more overgrowth and more swampy the farther down I went, becoming not a trail at all. They were possibly maintained years ago, but not anymore. I eventually gave up and hiked back up.

This pic was more of an excuse to try and capture some of the surrounding woodland sounds -- the territorial chipmunk, an agitated squirrel, the occasional truck out on 20. At times I could also hear the taiko drum booms floating down through the wooded hill above me, giving a handy reference point as to where the camp was.

Upon return to the main compound, I found more silliness in progress. Marcia was doing her best to approximate a bridge, so we decided to load-test it with one of my extraordinarily white cinderblocks.

The usual boffer battles, with some odd antics involving the furniture.

A mass poi-spinning lesson, aka "two dozen old socks".

The Oracle receives her knowledge from mystical dwellers in shadowy domains.

After dinner cleanup, the moment everyone was waiting for. First, Bait reeled off a few announcements ...

... and then officiated the long-standing Running of the Flavors while holding the masses at bay outside the food pavilion.

Then the mobs were released, and the feeding frenzy ensued. Three full rounds of this cycle were required to get through the 120+ flavors that had been made over the course of the last day and a half.

Late-night contra in the big far tent. This was the main reason for putting out the little solar path lights, and they really helped.

Sunday morning, Nevin and crew came along and installed a nice solid stair railing off the kitchen. Mom was thrilled with this.

More food prep for Sunday lunch. Although the running directive for the day was, of course, "eat more ice cream!"

Later that afternoon, Phil and Liz performed on the silks, including their sexy duet from the Machine show.

Marcia as a wood sprite.

A bit of a line at the dishwashing station would form at peak times, although the process was fairly efficient with seven or eight buckets down the line and the option to use the "spoo-be-gone" spray head when needed.

Another traditional ceremony also happened, and when Bait complained that the hose water and the LN2 were bloody *cold*, someone obligingly dumped a pot of warm water over him.

Joe provided the usual huge bubbles, and I happened to catch one right at the moment of collapse.

Alia and the newly-arrived Razielle.
(Taken by Marcia)

There's a reason the Abode provides a "tick kit" of fairly precision tweezers sitting in clearly labeled cups in the bathrooms. Deer ticks were observed on some people, and a general announcement went out to get everyone checked for them -- usually on lower legs, as they most likely came from the low underbrush and were still in their tiny nymph stage. I seemed to be clear in a cursory check, but of course with spatters of various muck and leaf bits all over my legs from running around doing stuff it was a little hard to tell. I later discovered one behind my knee. They are really tiny -- that's my thumb next to it. I nipped it out with my Swiss tweezers and bled the area a bit, and here's hoping it didn't inject anything nasty. The various pages about Lyme disease agree that getting ticks off you promptly is one of the better preventions.


The remaining cleanup crew went to dinner at a local pizza joint and then back to the Abode for a longish debrief session, rants about child behavior and supervision, and yet more tick checks.

Monday held lots of teardown and cleanup and van-packing, and a little bit of silliness with the remaining LN2. Jess "christened" the van by shattering a frozen flower against it.

After filling the small dewars and fooling with a couple of experiments, the rest of it got vented back to the air from whence it came, making plenty of water vapor in the process.

Phil tried taking a shower in it, and reported that it was, uh, cold.

During kitchen cleanout we found the tub of Unknown Ice Cream, and were very afraid.

_H* 080706