Saturday, October 17, 2015

Our Trip North...Part Three...the Return to Arkansas

We left Valparaiso on Wednesday morning, September 30th, and headed back toward Terre Haute the same way we had come 2-1/2 weeks earlier. Air bag suspension and a new (rebuilt) transmission was not planned for, but ya gotta do what ya gotta do. It hasn't affected any of our plans, one way or the other.

We got to Marshall, Illinois before sunset, and our host was waiting, this time with a dry yard that we wouldn't get stuck in. We settled in and had a long discussion about usual things around the campfire until way past dark.

Our camp fire at our host's place.
At one point, we noticed the sun trying to make a good sunset, and Sharon went out to the road, beyond the tree line, to get a few photos. The one below is the best of three.

Not a "great" sunset, but we'll take all we can get!
This, admittedly, wasn't a "great" sunset, but nice. The rain was moving out to make way for better days ahead. Here in Arkansas, surrounded by trees, we can't even remember when the last time was that we saw a decent sunset. All we can see is an occasional glimmer of orange through the dense trees. We miss the fantastic sunsets that are only seen out west.

This is a good example of seeing the joy in little things, even if they aren't the best we have ever seen. When you don't get to experience much, you'll take whatever you can get, and appreciate it.

Even Angel was having a great time, even though we kept him on a leash. We're sure he would rather run free, and that would have been fine with our guest, but he is our "child" and we want to know what he is getting into. Our host told of a story of a dog finding a 12-foot rattle snake behind his property. Angel has never seen a snake before and wouldn't know enough to stay away from it. We may have to send him through the "snake school" in Tucson when we get out there, to teach him to recognize and stay away from snakes. It could save his life, and for $80, it's a good investment.

Angel, "chillaxin" in our hosts yard.
We all finally gave up and went in to our respective abodes after it got too cold around the campfire, and then had a late dinner that was more snack than a meal. But sometimes that's all it takes.

The next morning, after another leisurely breakfast with our host at the McDonald's we had stopped at before, we headed straight south out of Marshall on Hwy 1, all the way down to Carmi. It's a beautiful drive on good roads through mostly farmland, and we got to reacquaint ourselves with "small town America". I intend that in a very good way. Getting away from the interstate and speed is a good thing when you're trying to gear down to casual travel.

We checked out our over night options at a Walmart in Carmi, and would have been content to stay there, but discovered a state park not far west, so we located Hwy 14 and headed straight west a few miles, to Hamilton County State Fish and Wildlife Area. All we knew was that they had electric, and that's all we cared about at the time, but discovered it's right on Lake Dolan. In fact, the 99-acre parcel completely surrounds Lake Dolan, and has a road around the lake as well as trails to use.

Our parking spot at Hamilton County State Park in Illinois.
Our retirement age, work camping hosts in a nice fifth wheel were very cordial, and gave us the first site coming in, opposite a tee road, so we could pull into the tee, and then back straight into our site on the other side of the road.

We realized after we got set up, that everywhere we had been, including Valparaiso in a subdivision, that the trailer was positioned in such a way that people couldn't readily look into our windows at night. But here, being right on the main drive coming in, we would have all kinds of people coming and going, both walking and driving. We had left all our curtain material at home, so we came up with the next best thing... bungees and towels!

There ain't no panty-waist Private Benjamins in our group! We do what we gotta do, when we gotta do it, and we get the job done! Out came the battery drill, some screws, two containers of various sizes of bungee cords, and whatever towels we could find. I ran a screw into the wall at the top on each side of each window, stretched the bungees across them and looped the towels over so the excess hung on the inside. Problem solved!

Then we went for a walk before dinner, and another one after dinner. Angel was so excited to be out in a new place that he wanted to constantly pull at the leash, but we did our best to encourage him to "heel" and stay by our sides on a short leash... at least when walking. We let him explore to the ends of it at other times, but always kept him leashed... and with "trash" bags in our pockets... just in case.

In the center of the camping area closest to the entrance, behind the hosts trailer, is a nice log restroom and shower building. There is another pit toilet building down the hill toward the lake. We're sure there are others throughout the park, but we didn't explore the other areas around the lake. Next to the shower building is a dead end road that leads down to the picnic area at the point in the lake, and along that road are several very nice log cabins for rent if someone doesn't own an RV or a tent.

Log cabins at Hamilton County State Park.
Next to the cabins, on the opposite side of the road from the showers, is a tent camping area and trails into the woods. When we arrived, there was a school bus full of young people getting dropped off to use the tenting area. The bus disappeared later, but the kids were still there, very well-behaved and quiet.

There were really no "bad" views of the lake. No matter where you went within that campground, the lake was always in sight.

Lake Dolan, looking to the southwest.

Lake Dolan looking southeast toward the public boat ramp on the other side.
After dinner, we walked past the cabins and out to the picnic area at the very tip of the point. From there, we could see the dam across the lake, and look back east the length of the lake, and even around the corner to a bay to the north. We stayed long enough, sitting on a lone picnic table, to watch the sun go down. We took so many photos that I can't show them all, so I will try to pick out the best.

From the picnic area on the point at Lake Dolan.

Another shot with a little more color, from the picnic area at Lake Dolan.
On the way back, we even noticed that some of the trees on the north shoreline appeared to be Cypress trees, with knees coming up all around them! We haven't seen Cypress trees in years!

Cypress trees with "knees" at the shore of Lake Dolan.
We headed home as darkness approached, and had a relaxed evening in our new little home, thinking about future improvements and what we had to do after we got back home. We left the next morning after coffee and a last walk, and continued working our way south until we could get over to I-57 before crossing the big river again. From there, it was all "routine".

We ran out of water in our only tank (that was filled) on our way home. We hadn't used the other Hydroller yet, and it was still empty in the van. We still had drinking water, but no running water in the trailer. When we arrived home on Friday, we discovered that the plumber had still not been there to repair the broken/frozen (?) valve at the meter by the street, and we had shut the water to the house off before we left. So we called a friend here in the Village and went over to his house to fill our Hydroller at his outside spigot, and visited for awhile before going home.

With electric, and a full water tank, we were all set except for emptying the new porta-potty, so I took it around the house to the outside "clean-out" and dumped it straight in there. The nice thing about portability is that we don't have to search out a dump station like most RVs do. We can get water and dump our porta-potty without ever moving the trailer. That's a big advantage for the way we travel.

One revelation we discovered while traveling is that the microwave doesn't like our modified sine wave inverter. It growls at it... literally! So upon arriving home I immediately ordered a Xantrex 2000-watt pure sine wave inverter. I hope to have time to install that tomorrow, since I didn't get it done today.

We also "bungeed" the drawers on the kitchen cabinet to keep them from flying open when traveling. That worked pretty good, but very inconvenient when we have to get into them. So yesterday, I ordered some new drawer locks, like the kind with keys...only these have just a "thumb wing" on the front. They are basically like the kind used on non-locking RV storage compartments, only much longer. The drawer fronts and inner fronts together are 1-1/2 inches thick. The longest locks I could find are only 1-3/8 inches long, so I'll probably have to recess them on one side or the other. They'll be here by early next week.

We haven't tried our little single-burner butane stove yet, but we decided we need something safer to use inside besides the microwave. And if we have power available, it needs to be electric. So this morning we ordered a single burner induction cook top from Walmart, and it is available at our local store for pick up. We might even be able to use it with the inverter for short periods, depending on how much current it draws. Even if it's more than our 700-watt microwave, it is bound to be much quicker for things like pasta, and therefore, more energy efficient.

We "can" do pasta in our little 700-watt microwave, but it takes a good 15 minutes to get the water to a boiling point, and then another 12-15 minutes to cook, so that's nearly a half-hour total... too long to be running it from the inverter. For longer term cooking, we also have our little 2-quart slow-cooker/crock pot for days when we aren't traveling, and have an electric hookup. It should not be run off the inverter, either, because of the length of time it must stay on.

So other than spending the past 10 hours working on these last three blog posts, we have been cleaning out paperwork and sorting stuff in the house yet, while still taking care of fixes on the trailer.

We discovered day before yesterday that we had a water leak from a loose connection on the supply line behind the left pantry, and between the cleanup and repair, that shot most of that day. Then yesterday, we still saw water, and pulled out everything from the cabinet again, only to find that it was water seeping out from under the cabinet floors and walls that hadn't dissipated yet. We made a concerted effort to "wick" it out from under there with paper towels until we couldn't get anymore. We haven't seen any since, and it now appears dry.

I also repaired a drain leak that was caused by an assembler not putting together the Camco RV drain trap properly. They pinched an O-ring around the edge, but I was able to put some plumbers grease on it and get it back together. No leaks now!

Oh, and the curtains! Yes! We had some grayish/bluish/burgundy curtains in a pattern called Flame that we had made for the Maxi-van we were starting to convert out in Mesa (and never finished it). They were close enough in size to re-use them here in the trailer. All I had to do was re-cut the tracks to the right length, and they work great... except that the one above the head of the rear bunk is about 4 inches too long. I guess I'll have to continue to use the towel for that window until we can get out west, and have time to get Sharon's sewing machine out and hem it. The hemming isn't the problem, it's attaching the ribbon of cleats to the back of it that hold it to the track.

As far as our first impressions of living in the trailer while traveling... we're fine with it. The temporary getting in each other's way occasionally is normal and will take some adjustment in our habits, but that is to be expected. We are into a cool part of the year right now, and extremely busy during the daytime, when we could otherwise be doing things outside, including cooking. When we get out west, we will be spending more time outside with more time to pursue our leisure activities, and no deadlines on getting anything done. Then the trailer won't be so crowded, except on a rare rain day.

Believe it or not, I have read about people (even couples!) who are traveling full-time in tear drop trailers, so we're sure that we can get used to the generous amount of space we have compared to their circumstances! People who say they "could never" do this, either haven't tried, or aren't willing to try. That isn't the same thing as "can't"! They just aren't willing to adjust the size of their "comfort zones"! That's a choice, not a physical fact!

As far as ventilation, it's working out just fine. We noticed some condensation around the aluminum door frame the first night out in the Walmart parking lot in Marshall, Illinois, but that was because we didn't have the electric heater on, had the windows closed to conserve what heat we had, and it got chilly in here. But it got chilly a few nights in Valpo, too, and didn't have the condensation... because I also had the electric heater on. With heat, and leaving the vents open slightly, which we like to do by the heads of the beds for fresh air, we don't have a problem with condensation. It shows up on the glass of the new windows sometimes early in the morning, but doesn't stay long, and doesn't run down anywhere else.

As for comfort, we knew the beds were slightly shorter than our height, but it hasn't been a problem, the beds are wide enough to sleep slightly at an angle, and that works for both of us. I'm an inch taller than Sharon, so it's less of a problem for her. The only issue is that we both know the foam on the front bed isn't the best. After all, it was made in 1986! After we get out west, we'll order new foam from the Foam Factory in Michigan, just like we had ordered for the minivan project, and which is now on the rear bunk.

As far as space for other things, we are only putting in the trailer what we need for everyday living. Excess stuff that we still want with us (extra pans, dishes, popcorn popper, and even extra clothes) are going to have to go in the van. We are still figuring out what will go where, and have already removed the printer from the overhead cabinet. It is already replaced with extra kitchen stuff, but I have to make another door for it, and add all the usual hardware.

The printer, although a necessary part of printing labels and such for our online sales, is not used "every" day. Sometimes we go as long as a week without a sale, and then may get three or four on the same day. It's fine if it stays in the van. My laptop has enough battery power to go out there to print the labels, and we have a 400-watt inverter in the van to run the printer. No big deal.

At this point, I am even considering "not" putting in the power regulator that was planned for the upper cabinet next to the printer. Our power is already surge protected and pretty well regulated, and now with the new Xantrex pure sine wave inverter, we shouldn't have any problems with our computers. These new computers today are much more forgiving of power fluctuations and static than our old QLT imaging system computer (with a metal case) from 1994, when we were furnished the regulator to control static problems. We probably don't even need it anymore... another future eBay sale item.

For this trip, we have been using the portable table on tripod legs and a couple of folding chairs where the piano will go before we leave here. This has worked well as a little "side dinette", but we know it will have to change. We will have to make up the couch (from bed position) every day, for sitting and eating. This little table can still be used with it, or if it gets in the way, we will have to use some kind of lap tables/desks. It's a work in progress, and we'll adjust as we go, and figure it out.

As far as towing the trailer... no problem at all. It tracks perfectly, and is easy enough to stop, although a little harder than just the van by itself...again, expected behavior. It is questionable right now, whether the electric brakes on it are working as effectively as they should, and that will be checked before we leave here. I used to be able to skid the wheels on it when it was behind the Dakota, even with a partial load on it. But now, even though I can hear the solenoids activating, I can't really tell that the brake shoes are engaging as they should, even with 66% pressure, which is as high as the brake controller will go. I don't detect any stopping ability on the trailer.  It has set for a few years, and maybe something rusted up. We'll see.

And now that we have the Air Lift air bags over the rear axle, I find that about 80 pounds of air in them levels things out nicely and even improves the ride and handling. As far as backing up with it, I was raised on a 100-acre farm, and have been driving tractors since I was eight. I learned how to back a trailer with and without mirrors a long time ago, so backing into any space is not an issue at all. The only way you learn is by practice, and I've had a lot of it!

We also changed out the ribbed, vinyl covered clothes rod in the closet. It was a royal PIA! It works fine for across a vehicle to keep clothes from sliding into your rear view field of vision, but it's not worth a damn when running lengthwise in a tightly packed closet! There is now a telescoping smooth chrome rod in its place!

I can't imagine trying to use one of those clothes hanger brackets with the triangular holes in it, like are so prevalent in RVs these days. I would yank that thing out of there the first week, and change to a smooth rod!

Currently, we are still shuffling a few things between daytime and night time mode, to get them out of our way, but we still have to add a few hooks, hangers and brackets here and there to create "a place for everything and everything in its place" as the old saying goes. Besides the already designated places for Sharon's piano AND accordion, I still have my guitar to hang somewhere. I'm thinking across the front, above the couch, in lieu of the shelf that I was originally going to install there. That's about the only place where it won't be in the way, and won't have to be moved all the time.

We still haven't added anything to the storage area (about 36 x 20 x 14) under the couch, either, so maybe some of the extra kitchen-related items can go under there. Experimentation to see what works best is inevitable in any new endeavor, and this is no different.

I want to cut and install the aluminum corners back on the front vertical corners by the couch before we leave, as they are too delicate and easily bent to try to store them until we get where we are going. I only left them off this long to make sure we had any wiring in place that we need to run through those spaces.

And I decided to take a piece of plywood along and a few 2 x 4 scraps to build the base for the shower enclosure after we get out west. We are crunched for time right now, and we don't need it that bad at this time. There will be more about our portable, inside shower enclosure at a later date, but there was also an earlier post on that subject, too, if you want to read back that far.

At some point, we will also want some hot water, too, and I have a couple of ideas for that. The solar water heater design was already mentioned in a previous post, but we have another idea, too, that we may use as an alternative. More about that later.

Other future improvements will be to add a back splash behind the sink and refrigerator... probably ceramic tile. I don't like the cheap stick-on "fake" tile I have seen, nor their lack of proper instruction for DIYers to install it. Ceramic tile is easy and extremely durable, and I have all the tools to do it properly.

If I don't use the new LED tail lights that I bought for the fenders, I may replace the existing bulb-type tail lights that came with the trailer. The new ones will be an exact size match to fit in the rubber boots that hold the old fixtures in place. All the other incandescent lamps, even in the clearance lights at the top will eventually get changed out to LEDs.

And of course, a power tongue jack has been on our list for a long time, but may have to wait awhile, until our finances recover from the huge hit caused by the transmission replacement and air bags. Also on that list is a better TV antenna, one that will mount permanently to the roof and not require additional storage space. It could even end up being a small satellite dish, although I despise anything with a monthly subscription. Maybe I'll check out "free to air" (FTA) satellite and see if it has enough useful channels for our entertainment needs. And we still have loads of DVDs to watch and can rent more. Only time will tell on all these issues.

So that's about it for now. In "near future posts" I'll talk more about the new Stanley jumper pack and how such an item can take the place of a wired-in secondary battery system for most van dwellers. I'll show the transition from the existing 1500-watt modified sine wave inverter to the new pure sine wave inverter and report on how well that works for our microwave and new induction cook top.

As far as our schedule for leaving... we really have none. Three previous "deadlines" have already flown the coop, so I hesitate to suggest a fourth one. All I can say is that the way it appears right now, it could be into November by the time we leave here, but just when in November is anyone's guess. It might even be December when we pull out for the last time. We still have some sorting and packing to do in the house yet to get whatever we want to keep out of it and over to the storage or packed for traveling. Then we have to find a buyer for the remainder and have them come look at it (on their schedule, of course). And if we don't find someone that wants the house, we have to make arrangements with a realtor, and then have the house winterized by a plumber. Anytime other people are involved, we always have to deal with their schedules, too.

But hang in there. We will soon have more travel stories and experiences to read about. If you are new to the blog, I encourage you to subscribe to future post notifications so you don't miss or forget about it. If you have any questions or comments, don't be afraid to speak up, but please know that comments made strictly for the purpose of advertising a business will not be approved. You are welcome to link to your own blog, and carry on a relevant conversation. Thanks for reading, and we hope to see you across the campfire some day!   


Ed Helvey - Location Independent Traveler said...

Universal laws, John. It always takes longer than your plan. I always cost more than you budget/expect. There are always more things to do than you realized. You will always take more stuff than you really need, even though you were sure you pared it down to the least possible. I so relate to your adventure, but I'm so glad I only have to think, plan and accommodate for one. Your trailer would literally be like a small mansion for the one of me. But, I know you and Sharon function so well together that despite the close quarters, you'll do great! Besides, you've been on the road before so this is just an extension of "the adventure" with a few new twists.

You did bring up a really good point about a printer. I just sold two of my laser printers (three more to go and an office copier). I also have an almost new photo quality inkjet printer, but it has a pretty large footprint. I wasn't planning on a printer, but I am planning on taking a substantial amount of very small items to sell on eBay (and maybe a little on local Craig's Lists), so I'll have a need to print out labels and postage/UPS fees. I guess I could find ways to use places like Staples, Libraries and such, but that is so iffy and such a pain, especially if only one label is needed. So, I guess, based on your example, I'm going to need to find a very small inkjet printer I can stash someplace except as needed. Thanks for bringing that up. something to add to my list.

Live Free & be happy,

John Abert said...

Hi Ed! Yes printers can be a royal PIA, but yet so necessary when you need one! We have a couple of Lexmark printers, one older one, and a newer one with wireless capabilities that we haven'the even used yet! We bought the latter one because it uses the same ink cartridges as the first one, but both are way too large for van life! But, they both have full flat-bed scanning capabilities...something we will need when digitizing photos and copying important papers to files, so we can become more paperless. By the time we get caught up, both of these printers will likely be obsolete, and then we can downsize to a more portable size.

We are currently debating whether to even take the second printer with us, or leave it in storage. The latter seems counter-productive, if the other one fails. It would mean buying another one wherever we are, and possibly losing some of the capabilities that we still need. And yet the original box is half again larger than the printer itself, so space is wasted, unless we can fill around it with other office supplies. It seems there's never an easy solution when it comes to sorting and packing. As you said, we will likely take way more than we need on this first trip, and will undoubtedly have to rent a second storage area in the Yuma area while we are out there. But much of it is to be digitized, so the originals will eventually be eliminated. I suspect that it could take us a good two years to purge even 50% of our excess belongings, but that's OK. Sometimes you have to be in the right mindset and circumstances before you can let go of things. That's just human nature, and must be allowed for in this kind of endeavor.