Category Archives: Traveling

The Road Less Traveled By

Any other highway but I-10 would be fine this time. So we started westward on I-20 and almost magically found ourselves entering the Sacramento Mountains on US-82. How could we have known how cool this was going to be? How many times did we not take this road?

We’ve crossed the continent, out and back, almost every year for the past ten. Every time we’ve been pulling our sweet 25′ Airstream home-on-wheels behind us. It seems like we’ve taken I-10 way too many times.

Really we probably used other highways at least half of the times we traversed the continent. We’ve crossed on The TransCanada Highway once, and each of I-90, 80, 70, and 40 at least once in both directions. Interstate 10 gets all our other crossings because it’s the most southern route and therefore the most suitable for towing our unwinterized RV in January, Feb, or Mar, which we often seem to do.

We were headed from North Carolina to Casa Grande AZ for the WBCCI Airstream Club’s annual winter Board meeting. Each evening on this trip we looked at the possible routes and weather a day ahead ahead. An overnight in Sweetwater TX on I-20 gave us a good look at a route we’d never considered. We saw a straighter line than I-20/I-10 offered from Sweetwater to Las Cruces, by picking our way from I-20 to US-82. We had no idea the adventure we were facing, the route simply looked more direct.

One hundred or so miles later we were in an incomparably beautiful area, the Sacramento Mountains in Lincoln National Forest. Without a doubt this was the prettiest part of our entire drive. The two lane road gently turned and climbed back and forth as it followed an ancient route through a gorge and then inexorably upward toward Cloudcroft NM at 8,650 ft above sea level.

There were long stretches of nothing but unspoiled terrain. This natural beauty reminded us of driving on Top of the World Highway between Dawson City YT and Chicken Alaska, where for as far as we could see away from our road there was no trace of civilization anywhere. Gradually we started seeing more homesteads, then RV parks, and finally stores. In Cloudcroft we even drove by a small ski slope filled with folks enjoying skiing on a sunny afternoon.

It took a little while for us to recover from the excitement of watching our engine and transmission temperatures climb on the mile-high climb and imagine our brake temperatures climb on the 4,300′ descent. Then we realized we were going to be driving right by White Sands National Monument. Several times we had driven on one border or the other of the White Sands Missile Range. We’d never been on this side of the area and hadn’t thought how to find our way to it. We had to stop!

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We spent a fascinating hour touring the Visitors Center and watching their very good video about the area. We learned some history and geology about the area, and why the white sand is special – it’s gypsum instead of quartz. What surprised us most is the rule prohibiting taking any of this white sand out of the park. Sure enough, we saw little piles of it on the sidewalk of the parking area where people dumped out their shoes so they wouldn’t be absconding with the material.

I’ve friends who won’t take that road, the one less traveled. Their travel’s going to be on the four-lanes and GPS-referred routes. There’s nothing wrong with that. Those roads are likely to have good paved shoulders, softer grades, great sight lines, and perhaps other safety features. The best thing is that the really interesting routes might remain, in Robert Frost’s words, “the road less traveled by.” It did make all the difference for us yesterday.

See You Down The Road

Jim and Debbie,
dreamstreamr odyssey, chasing 75 degrees
©dreamstreamr odyssey 2017

Preparing for Snow?

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This morning on the telly NC’s new governor, Roy Cooper, announced declaration of state of emergency for all 100 counties. They’re pretty sure this snow’s coming. We’re in the dark blue region on this map so things could become messy. We made a quick trip to the local store, beat the rush. We have enough scotch and bourbon for the weekend.

We were planning to leave NC today for sunny Arizona. We miss 75 degrees and look forward to a great Board of Trustees meeting of the Airstream Club. Our new plan is to enjoy the snow and tow our Airstream southbound starting Monday. We’re ready to go!

See you down the road,

Jim and Debbie
see us at dreamstreamr odyssey, chasing 75 degrees
see what’s going on at WBCCI, The Wally Byam Airstream Club

Kickstarter for Alumination, a feature-length documentary

We’d never contributed to a Kickstarter campaign. We’d never even browsed their web site. Kickstarter claims 15 diverse categories and thousands of projects. I’d wondered what was the motivation to contribute to a campaign. Someone I know kicked in on a project a few years ago. He received a handful of the items when it went successfully to production and he gave us one. Still I wondered, why get involved in this?

Eric Bricker is a friend we first met at Alumaflamingo (Sarasota FL) several years ago. We’ve since met with him several times in other locations. He’s each time impressed us with his enthusiasm for the Wally Byam Airstream Club and all things Airstream. Clearly he’s done his homework about our Club and community. This morning we opened Eric’s invitation to look at his Kickstarter campaign for “ALUMINATION, a feature-length documentary”. We love it and we’re all in!

This film is something all Airstreamers can look forward to enjoying. Eric’s trailer will give you a pretty good understanding of his feel for our Aluminum community. I’m interested in supporting this project because of his demonstrated talent, hard work, and successful portrayal of something I believe in – the Airstream lifestyle. I hope you’ll agree his project is worth supporting, and you’ll open your wallets to kickstart it like we have.

Jim

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©2007-2016 Dreamstreamr odyssey

Air travel is Again safe

Tried to get through TSA screening today with Chapstick in my pocket. It’s nonmetallic, non-liquid, right? The full-body scanner picked it up, thank heavens. We then submitted to the one-on-one.

“Sir, do you have items in your pocket?”

“Yes.” Reach in and retrieve the Chapstick, and I show it to him.

“Sir, I’ll need to pat you on that side.” I guess it was good for him. Then he said, “Please open the Chapstick.”

Okay, that worked. I get to keep my Chapstick. They either didn’t detect the individually wrapped lifesaver mint in my other pocket or they know what it is. Probably the latter, eh?

I hope we’re safer now. So long as only goodness comes in Chapstick- and smaller-sized packages, I do feel safer.

How many years full-timing?

2-dswkayak2015 was a good year for us. It wrapped up an enjoyable eighth year of full-timing. We began the year in a wet and chilly Corpus Christi TX, and the year mostly improved from there.  Our year was full of interesting travels throughout much of the United States. We visited another FL state park (Silver Springs) for the first time before visiting Sarasota and Miami again. We added another state, Pennsylvania, to our camping list with two weeks enjoyable visits there.

5-liarWe traveled a different path westward to Farmington NM for the Airstream Club’s annual meeting and rally. It was fun to stop at the mother ship of Bass Pro stores in St Louis MO. Along the way we discovered a free city park in Elk City OK (electricity and water,) and nice RVers everywhere we went. While in Farmington at the annual meeting, Jim was elected to 2nd Vice-President of the international Airstream Club. This was an exciting event and promises to provide a lot of hard and rewarding work.

9-ChacoFarmington NM is a great part of the USA to visit. Attractions include Shiprock, Chaco Culture National Historical Park, and Aztec Ruins, and Hovenweep National Monument, and Durango, among other ancient and more recently developed attractions. Summer may not be the best time to visit the southwest but we found the weather manageable and enjoyed our stay and the attractions.

3-CWCSadly, Jim’s mother died in mid-March last year. We left Miami earlier than planned to rush home to be with Catie and family during this tough time. Thankfully the campground in southwest Miami was very accommodating about refunding our unused camping nights, and we’re glad we weren’t any further away from the family home. Our full-timing lifestyle allowed us to quickly respond to the family’s needs and care for Catie so she could stay home during her last two weeks.

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One of our daughters and her family repatriated from Vancouver in Canada last month. They’re getting settled in with many adjustments after being out of the country for ten years. We’re excited to have all our children and grands living in North Carolina for the first time. We sense, on the other hand, a tug to start settling on our NC mountain acreage. Doesn’t this look really inviting? We have courtesy parking – let us know if you’d like to stop in. It’s pretty nice.

 

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Two new grandchildren joined our family last year. We’re grateful our travels and their arrivals all timed well, and they’re both in N.C.

 

We encountered our fair share of mechanical issues last year. Our fridge and water heater both failed on our rain-soaked trip from Farmington. Not until we hit some dry pavement in Tennessee did these start working again. Our batteries stopped charging from shore power. We accidentally destroyed our folding step when we ran it into a projecting concrete sidewalk. Precipitates from the water heater clogged our sink faucet completely. The solar charger quit. Debbie’s makeup mirror LED lights failed. We found ourselves needing to replace the trailer’s brakes and turn the drums. We had our worst water leaks into the cabin. One that soaked the fabric base of our sofa and one that dripped onto the floor from inside the roof air conditioner.

These are all pretty routine maintenance issues to us. To have a gaggle of mechanical issues in the same year is unusual for us and was frustrating at times. We sometimes defer maintenance when we think we can count on getting to it before long. Ideally, we catch problems before they catch us. Other times, a delay turns out to be punctuated by a repair instead of preventive or scheduled maintenance. Dry camping is easy when most things are working. Living in an RV is easy for us when most things are working. Our RV is eleven years old and is apparently becoming a little more demanding. Okay – we’re on it!

Our 2015 towing mileage was 11,740, down from 14,866 miles in 2014. This brings our total full-timing towing miles to just under 108,000 miles. Our truck has 157,000 total miles, so towing represents 70% of our total truck mileage. The truck and trailer each continue to delight us with low maintenance needs and costs. We still plan to run the truck to 200,000 miles, or another three to four years, before replacement. Get your bids in soon for future purchase of a lightly used truck!

Our full-timing travel costs continued another year to trend downward. We spent $2,966 on camping sites, down from $4,050 and $4,565 the prior two years. Our average cost of camp site rental for 2015 dropped to $8/night, down from $11 and $13 the prior two years. Our average nights stay per site returned to six nights.

One expected decrease is our towing miles per relocation. We averaged 178 miles per relocation in 2015, our second lowest number in eight years. Moving more often within southeast USA from July through December 2015 drove this and other reductions. This year we’re likely to spend more time traveling out west, so some of these may swing upward again.

10-75 degrees

Finally, we now freely admit we’re likely to build a house. We bought very nice land two years ago in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina. Weeks spent at various times of the year getting a feel for the sun, the weather, the wind, and the neighbors, provide us good ideas for site placement.

This attraction to building a house runs counter to our full-timing ethic of the past 8+ years. We promised we would only stay on the road full-time so long as we wanted. We’re still loving it, but are beginning to wonder how many more years. We think it’d be nice to eventually have a house again.

See you down the road!

Jim and Debbie
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©2007-2016 Dreamstreamr odyssey

Living Together in Tiny Spaces – Hobbies and Agreements

We enjoyed a fabulous gathering of aluminized folks at John Leake’s Alumalina Rally at Palmetto Cove Park in Cleveland SC. Approx 120 Airstreams, members and non-members of the Airstream Club, didn’t matter – everyone seemed to have a great time in wonderful Fall weather.

The drive back to Ashe County was accentuated by Blue Ridge Parkway trip from Blowing Rock to Deep Gap. Whatever the experts say, this afternoon was PEAK COLOR on that stretch of the BRP! Just gorgeous.

Just returned to Woodland Ridge, our spot in Ashe County this afternoon and glad rain hasn’t started yet. We want rain, but nice to have opportunity to park the Airstream, arrange everything, get settled without dealing with rain too. Let it rain tonight!

This was a “contest” weekend for ham radio everywhere. No matter where I dial in, multiple ham radio operators from all over the world trying to connect with each other. On one hand, sort of amazing so many people are involved in ham radio. The American Radio Relay League (ARRL) reports more licensed hams in USA than ever before, and something like 18K new ones each year. Sure seemed like it all this weekend, whenever I turned on the radio.

So, it didn’t matter we had relatively weak reception in Palmetto Cove, tucked down below mountains all around. I was able to check into the RV Service Net ham radio net at 8:15 Fri morning, thanks to a relay from friend Garry W8OI in Huntington WV (Garry’s been a licensed ham radio operator for 62 years!) Even in difficult conditions, ham radio always works.

This afternoon I raised my G5RVjr dipole antenna (it’s 55′ up, between a pair of trees 70′ apart) and re-installed my tuner to optimize using that antenna. Now I have choices for HF ham radio of screwdriver antenna on the Airstream’s roof, G5RVjr (oriented north to south, so strongest signal east-west,) and 74′ end-fed wire. Capable and fun!

While at the RV gathering in South Carolina this weekend there was an open house of many of the Airstreams including ours. Lots of questions asked about how we have room in a 8.5′ X 23′ cabin to live year-round. Complicating the question is our sort of full-featured ham radio station and other stuff we like in our lives. Folks naturally are curious about how we fit all our interests into a <200sf cabin and live without getting in each other's way. Many consider our space tiny, and it is smaller than many Tiny Houses. We neither feel cramped nor crowded despite supporting trappings for our varied interests.

A couple living together, with or without children, makes agreements ALL THE TIME. Another word sometimes heard is, compromises. It's what being together is about for us. We're in this together. If one of us isn't suited then something's wrong for us both. We don't look at compromises as a reduction in stock for one of us, but try to make it a win for us both. I've kidded before about the genesis of moving the ham radio station from in the truck's dash to on the dinette table. Debbie expressed reservations but I promised to make it work well for us. It did, although she's not sure if this latest iteration is fully okay.

I added the bottom component today. It's a ham radio antenna tuner with three knobs, a meter, and three buttons. It essentially doubles the ham radio footprint on the table. One, it's on my side of the dinette table, except when we share our table with friends. Then it's "our" side of the table. Two, this component IS removable. Unscrewing two cable connectors and one small power wire on the back lets me slip this tuner out and store it. Debbie's being very sporting about going along with it for now, and I'm okay with moving it out of sight if helpful.

Here's what my "big" ham radio station now looks like in this full timer's cabin:

Our HF station

See you down the road!

Jim and Debbie

dreamstreamr odyssey™
visit our website
©2007-2015 Jim @ Dreamstreamr.com

Troubles on the Road

There’s no perpetual motion machine, no unbreakable machine, no way to escape certain things like maintenance and repairs. We may try to avoid working on things that are still “sort of working”, but we’ll eventually get our hands dirty. Many of us are, consciously or unconsciously, aware of deferred maintenance, known more familiarly as procrastination.

Debbie and I try to keep up with all the required and advisable maintenance on our truck and Airstream trailer. In ten years, we’ve had very few problems, maybe not ten in all until our travels this summer. This story is one of my longer ones — Sometimes, like everyone else, we learn we missed something important. In this case, more than several things:

(1) Two months ago we learned our trailer brakes were broken. Fortunately we discovered the damage in Airstream’s excellent service facility in Jackson Center OH. The great folks in the service shop were going to do a quick brake adjustment. But it turned out to be more — much more.

Short story, Airstream replaced the electric brake magnets on all four wheels, turned all four drums, and put our brakes back together again for us. Ouch! We didn’t even know they were coming apart. Airstream Service DOES IT RIGHT! We’re good now, thanks to them.

(2) Both the charge converter and the solar charger quit charging the batteries on our way to the Region 2 Rally in early June. We need these to keep the trailer’s batteries up to keep our lighting, music, fans, and water pump working.

We were using the lights and fans, so we seemed to have battery power. But the battery monitor, a really cool Trimetric 2025, showed the batteries were discharging and not getting any juice from the chargers. Strange.

Finally I turned off the charge converter on the 120vac breaker panel in the trailer. The trailer’s lights and fan died immediately. I pulled the 12 volt system main (30a) fuses. They looked okay and I put them back in place. Everything turned back on and the batteries were getting a charge from the charge converter. The contacts for the two small 30 amp fuses for the 12 volt system weren’t letting juice get through the contacts until I removed and reinserted them. Okay — fixed.

(3) Next, our solar charge controller had stopped noticing sunlight. Instead of the soft amber light signaling everything is copacetic, we now had a bright red indicator light. No more charging from our solar panels, no matter how great the sunlight. We’d replaced our solar charge controller before, but only after it had a stunning smelly electrical circuit board failure.

Figuring I had nothing to lose, I pulled the fuses on all the power connections to solar power system, took the solar charge controller out, and took it apart. Apparently all the smoke was still inside. This time there were no smelly surprises, no charred diodes. I carefully cleaned the contacts, board and components, reassembled the solar charge controller, and put power back to it. It works perfectly. Yep! I probably only needed to do a power reset on it in the first place. We’ll call the extra work preventive maintenance.

(4) A few days later at a rally with the Airstream club’s Region 2 folks near Penn State, we had another surprise. Thanks to John Hussar for doing a propane safety check on our trailer (and even our gas grill!) One of the hoses showed a slight leak on a crimped fitting, according to John’s very sensitive meter. During our stay in Albuquerque NM we had Randy at R and L Propane Service make us a new set of hoses to connect the propane tanks to the gas regulator.

(5) Next, our shower head stopped working. Nothing but a dribble out of it. While we were at the Airstream Service facility I felt courageous enough to tear into the shower plumbing. I’d tried cleaning the shower head but didn’t find anything in it. I wondered about the long flexible hose. Killing two birds with one stone, I replaced the kitchen faucet with the shower hose. Great flow! Years ago a friend told me he’d removed his shower’s vacuum breaker. It’s at the bottom of the hose, where the water comes through the shower wall in a nice chrome elbow. These come in all shapes, ours looked like this:

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Okay, not the cut-off valve, not the hose, not the shower head. I took off the vacuum breaker, reconnected the shower hose and the most amazing thing happened. We have incredibly great flow and pressure, like never before. Why didn’t I do this ten years ago? Good grief!

(6) Shortly after, Debbie’s vanity lights went dim. These are pretty high tech LED super-bright (205 lumens) lights (similar to these.) They seem 1.5X brighter than 12 diode pucks, even though they’re only 3 LEDs. Expensive too, at $19 each through Camping World (you can find them cheaper but might not receive warranty replacement at on-line stores.) Fortunately there’s a Camping World next door to Randy’s Propane Service place and they stock these. Okay, another problem fixed on this trip.

(7) Then, our kitchen cabinet door just barely worked. I’d tightened the Grass hinge screws but the screws wouldn’t stay tight. The door became really sloppy. I’d tighten the two hinges and the door worked perfectly. For a few days, then loose again. I finally took the hinges off, inserted big round toothpicks in the woodwork’s screw holes, and reattached the hinges. A month later and still okay.

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(8) On our I-40 voyage into New Mexico I was blowing my horns to say HI in morse code (dit dit dit dit dah dah) to W5AOX Jim while talking on the ham radio with him as we crossed paths East and West. When I keyed the microphone, the horns died, the ham radio quit, and the GPS went blank. No power to any of these accessory loads. I’d overloaded the circuit because the new air horn compressor is a power hog and so is the ham radio when I’m talking full power. Short fix, replaced the 25 amp blade fuse for the accessory circuit and good to go. Project for later – add a dedicated fused line from the battery to the air compressor.

(9) During our stay in New Mexico, the truck’s air horn system completely died. The dash switch had power and I detected power to the relay. Oddly, the primary line only had 11.5 volts compared to the truck’s 12.5+ volts. Instead, I waited until I could get into the project mentioned at the bottom of number (8) above.

If I’d remembered how the line was connected I might sooner have figured out the problem and easily made a temporary repair (just as well I didn’t.) Here’s what I used when I had spliced the air compressor’s line power:

Solderless Wire Quick Splice Connector

Solderless Wire Quick Splice Connector

As soon as I removed the tape from the joint and saw this connector I knew why voltage was low and no current could get to the load — the inexpensive splice connector didn’t hold up. I removed the splice and installed a new (fused) wire straight to the battery. Everything is good. Many of you are probably saying, “He should have run a line direct from the battery in the first place.” You’re right. That’s what I did for the ham radio because we always do that for ham radios.

(10) On our way back from NM, I reached up to turn one of the reading lamps above our bed. It fell loose into my hand, tethered only by the 12vdc wires. Granted, the shelf it’s screwed into is a thin material but heck, I was just re-aiming it! For a long time I’ve wondered if I could, some day, get the squeak out of the ball joint that allows aiming these neat little lights.

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I squirted a tiny spray of Boeshield T-9 onto the ball joint and the swivel. Wowzers, I should’ve done this years ago! The light head swivels and aims silently and smoothly. Just one more case where deferring maintenance probably hastened the attachment failure. Oh yeah, and I reattached the lamp to the shelf in new holes.

(11) On the way home from New Mexico two weeks ago we drove eastward through two days of hard rain on I-40. On the second day we realized neither the fridge nor the water heater would light on propane. The water heater’s never given us a minute of trouble and the control board is potted in some kind of epoxy so looks really waterproof. The fridge, on the other hand, has been troublesome off and on for all ten years of travels.

Good news, the fridge still worked on electric (110vac) and our inverter and batteries can handle the load. The drain on the batteries wouldn’t be a big issue for short drives but we were driving Farmington NM to Charlotte NC in four days, averaging 450 miles daily.

Dinosaur P-711 board

Dinosaur P-711 board

Also good news, we have Dinosaur Electronic’s P-711 control board for Dometic fridges and Dinosaur has GREAT customer and tech phone support. I talked with Chris at Dinosaur who determined the board was functioning but perhaps it’s the thermocouple?

fridge thermocouple

fridge thermocouple

On the way to Camping World the next day, the water heater and fridge both fired up perfectly. We’ve been asked a few times what spare parts we carry for our RV. Just added a (spare) thermocouple for the fridge — Chris at Dinosaur may have been right and we’ll be ready.

We had more maintenance issues in June and July this year than in the ten previous years. We should be good now, everything’s been fixed. Now, everything works perfectly and we don’t have to do any maintenance until the next thing happens — or maybe we should? I think yes we should.

Next post may be about spare parts — what else do we carry?

See you down the road!

Jim and Debbie

dreamstreamr odyssey™
visit our website
©2007-2015 Jim @ Dreamstreamr.com