Sunday, October 8, 2017

Winding down the summer - It's been a good year back at home

The season is apparently passing on now, I should do an update.  I say apparently as the weather has been a little nuts; the leaves are falling early from the lack of rain, and temps in the 90's the last week or two of September.     And it's been about a year since we've been back, I can tell because the cable internet bill just when up by 150%.       Seriously, life is good here;  no hurricanes, everyone is healthy, 50% of the children like school but 100% are excelling.

In the last post we started off on our first summer trip.  A great benefit we're fortunate to have is a good couple several weeks of vacation a year, and Annie's job happened to end about when school finished.  (and now in the fall she has another job at a local charter school, so she'll be off again next summer!)

So we're going to summarize the summer;  it was good.

Starting off, as an entertaining gag, we pulled my cubemate's leg at work; everyone at work telling him that I just took off again while he was gone the previous couple weeks, and then looking over his shoulder when he checked the blog or facebook, to see us leaving on another apparently extended camper trip, last minute trailer repairs and everything like before.

First, we spent time with both of our parents and family reunions in western New York, rode around the lake with the cousins, and then made a couple stops on the way back.

Letchworth SP,  Elliot & I rode around the gorge.  That was a real big ride.
I fittingly drank a Genny or two from the gorge.  The gorge was pretty, but standing in the cold case at Wegmans, my eyes really lit up!   (The Genesee River flow through the gorge, and that's what goes into the cans....)
We met up with Annie's college roommates for the afternoon.

CCC Camp Seneca,  More biking and hanging out.  This was a great hidden little park, outside cute little town of Ellicottville, with great mountain biking, and also near Griffis sculpture park where Annie & I went on an early date decades ago...

This was the Bent Rim trail  (serious, that's the name, and it's got a couple rocks on it.  You have to be real good to clean this trail, not put a foot down.)
 Ants invaded the camper one day, and I had a good time evicting them.  I happened to tie this strap to a small tree with the anthill at the base.  The ants all said 'lets go up the beanstalk'.

Lake Erie SP,  More biking, Elliot started using clip-in bike pedals, for little 40+ mile ride.  Fireworks for the 4th, a little windsurfing.   Alice took some really great sunset pictures one evening.  Nice pictures Alice!

On the way though, we stopped by a great windsurfing shop south of Buffalo for a little more modern (used) setup.

Port Dover, Port Colbourne ON,   a couple of great windsurfing spots.  One I want to stop at again in Port Colbourne, great for windsurfing and could potentially boondock at,  if it's windy enough to merit overcoming objections about the stinky mud and goose poop.   Another spot, Turkey Point, where we did stay for the day right by a nice beach area and also great for windsurfing.  Annie & Alice walked the beach and biked around the neighborhood, and Elliot took another trail ride to a nearby provincial park, and I sailed.

Holly State Rec, MI    We camped one more night and spent a few hours at a mountain bike trail work day, clearing the trail.

We came back home for about a month in the middle, doing work work, and camper projects.  (wiring the camper  solar panels with grid tie inverters)

Then we headed south to go see the eclipse, and meet up with my brother and family.  More camping, biking, windsurfing, hiking, playing in the water.

The eclipse was worth the trip.   During totality we could see the corona, it was really amazing.  As totality was ending, I still had the filter off the camera and caught a couple shots with some corona, some flares and the sun peeking back out.   All of us, including the camera could still see fine the next day!

       I took a video of us watching the eclipse.    Annie, Glenn and all the kids were down at the water, Kristine & I were up at the campsite.  It was pretty neat hearing everyone cheering as the totality started and ended.  The camera is on a kitchen timer rotating stage which didn't keep turning the whole time, that's the ticking at the beginning.   Totality is about 2/3 of the way through.    

Since school started, the kids have been running local mountain races, they've had a real good time.

And that's about it for the summer.  The whole summer in one post!

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Amok Time

In honor of the Original Star Trek series, season 2, our first episode is 'Amok Time'.  Sort of sounds like a second mid-life crisis, no?
When Mr. Spock begins behaving aggressively, Kirk discovers his first officer must return home to Vulcan to be married, or die. Kirk disobeys his orders to save Spock, only to find the unbalanced Vulcan at his throat when the bride forces Spock into a duel – and chooses the captain as her champion.[3]

So here we go on our next big trip.  We had everything packed up, ourselves moved out of the house and slept in the driveway to get an early start.
It's really pretty out this early in the morning.  Glad we got up so early.
This last week has been a rush of smaller camper projects and packing up the house into the camper, and also Elliot & Alice's last week of school.  

The trailer spare is mounted up under the trailer, instead of having it kicking around the truck bed or breaking off the rear bumper.  It hangs from a winch strap on the floor under the couch.

The trailer brakes had been acting funny near the end of the last trip, and I didn't like how they were wired.  The scotch lock connectors get corroded, the wire through the axles shorts out eventually, and the length to each brake coil is not equal wired the trailer brakes.  The front axle through wire had shorted out in the past, and I found the rear axle wire looked suspicious now.   I ran a 1/2 inch PVC conduit down the center of the trailer, which fits perfectly through existing holes in the frame.  From the rear junction box, wire goes out to each wheel, and connects with nice waterproof-ish shrink wrap butt splices.  (From Skycraft in Orlando, so we need to make another stop there!)

After all that, with really nice perfect electrical connections to the brakes, I took a short test trip around the neighborhood.  And I was rewarded with, perfectly Not working brakes!

Wow, how could that be, they worked before....   They would hold initially at a stop a little bit, but once moving they wouldn't do much.  So I jacked up each one and adjusted the star wheel, and pulled the breakaway connector to test that each one worked individually.  They all seemed to work...  

Test again with truck back and forth in the driveway and still Not working brakes....   Hmmm.  Checked the resistance of the brake circuit from the front of the trailer, seemed about right.   Hmmm..    One of the adjusters didn't need to be turned as much as the others, maybe that coil was shorted out?   We jacked that wheel off the ground and measured the resistance, while Elliot turned the wheel.  Ahaha!  The resistance changed when that wheel was turned, that coil was shorting out to the drum.

With the new wiring, nice good connections all equal length to the main wire, one coil shorting out takes down the voltage equally to the other coils.   With the old wiring, the main wire to the brakes had been down the left side, and then across the axle to the right side.   A short on the right side doesn't lower the voltage as much on the other 3 wheels.   A short on the left side would take down all four brakes.

So the short term solution was to disconnect that brake in the rear junction box.  The brakes work pretty well with the other three, and I ordered all four next brake assemblies.  Only $57 per axle for complete new shoes, backing plates, coil, etc, all together.  We'll put those on at Grandpop's house.

Funny that what I'd think is a better, more robust wiring setup is actually worse.  Maybe adding a large resistor in series with each coil, in the rear junction box would make it more robust to shorts.

Another satisfying little project finally got done Thursday night.  Literally years in saying gee I should fix that somehow, and less than an hour once the materials gathered together on the workbench at home.  Ingredients of said fun have been kicking around the garage for years:  4 small pot metal castings from Walmart bike brakes, a rod with a circlip from an old mimeograph machine, 2 blind clip nuts.    What can we do with these?

 Ahah,  mount muffin fans properly on the fridge heat sink!   And the fans can be slid left to right occasionally to melt the ice off, instead of needing to completely defrost it.
After:  clip nuts firmly hold to the fins, circlip holds the rod from left to right, and the fans hang from the rod but can be moved left & right to defrost the fins.

Before:  wood stick, twist ties

Well, those are the fun camper projects so far.  The next week or two we'll visit family in NY, do some more camper projects, and then we'll see where we go next,  East or West....

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Status Update

Well, it's now been about four months since we moved back into our house, and guess what?! We're not dead! (Yet)  There was a mushroom growing in the window, and the grill needed cleaning, but beyond that, it was all pretty smooth sailing.

The cats are quite happy to be home, and most of their time sleeping or antagonizing one another. My mom and dad both returned to work.   They get to take romantic walks over to Dunham Lake in the morning after I get on the bus,  ewww.   Thankfully these days it's too cold for that!

We took another canoe day trip when it was still warm out, that was fun, until it got dark!

Elliot and I have gone back to school, happily on my part, not so much on his. He (Elliot) is still riding his bike the two miles-ish to school, despite below twenty temperatures up here.   This was the first day of school:

Elliot and I both have our midterms coming up, four each. I'm only in eighth grade!
Anyway, we've yet to do any more traveling, but we certainly plan to this summer! Trust me, you'll hear about it...

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Higgins Lake

After a few nights at Petoskey State Park, we packed up and drove south, towards Hartland, and ended up at South Higgins Lake State Park.  It was Sunday night, so it was pretty empty.

We were only here for two nights, but we took a few bike rides and just sorta hung out around the park.  My dad got one of the windsurfers down and went out paddling on the lake.  It's nice biking around here, once we got off the big road, we were just riding on a little county road along the lake, through the woods, past a bunch of cabins.

We didn't really take any pictures while we were here, but there was a pretty cool sunset one night.

Higgins Lake is really pretty!

My dad had to be at work the next day, so after two nights, we packed up and drove back to Hartland.

Monday, August 29, 2016

Budget? What Budget?

What does it cost to roam around the US with an inconspicuous travel trailer for a year?   Gee, has it been 52 weeks?  Should we really stop?

You'll make your own choices of course, it could cost whatever you want it to.  For us, I think we were relatively low budget.  I'm sure some spend less, and I'll bet 95% of people spend more.

First you should start with the idea to try a boat, so that'll cost you.  But then most of the family may revolt following a couple of local Great Lakes sailing trips.  The boat is really great, the pictures we have are all cheery and peaceful, but, ...   the camera doesn't represent the thunderstorms, some motion sickness and constant fear of sinking that people without gills may have.

Later that fall, after Annie's offhand comment that something with wheels attached (not a boat on a trailer) could be tolerable, after a week or so with craigslist, we had The Transporter,  a 1999 Dutchmen travel trailer in the driveway, making the boat nervous.  We won't talk about the boat cost here, yet.  But costwise, a boat would have to be more, unless it's substantially miniaturized....
musical toys in the driveway, which will go first?
2800 Purchase price
265 camper mirrors for truck
383 reg, tax, title
115 propane tank
257 2 6v batteries
213 12 converter / charger
54 surge suppressor
25 misc
400 generator
75 500w inverter, switches
50 led lights
75 ubiquiti wifi
4712 total before summer trip

94 replace tire
395 tires, mounting
44 water accumulator
99 trailer 12v wiring breaker / junction
25 grounded cat5 wifi cable
50 100A 12v DC breaker
5419 total before leaving on year trip

65 propane tank
875 solar system
35 propane regulator
100 2000w inverter
6494 total camper cost

As we were firming up our decision to take off for a year, we took a 3 week trip, mostly to see if we could get along together.  (and keep everyone's arms and legs inside the vehicle while moving)   This also allowed us to see what we'd spend, roughly.  We drove a lot more than we'd prefer, but that's what happens with a relatively shorter trip and having a far off destination.  So fuel cost was more than we'd expect, actually half of the total cost (about $1800).  Groceries are next largest, and we probably would spend even more than this on a year trip, since we started out packed to the gills and used up some things by the end.
Based roughly on that trip, and what we might get away with for a whole year, we had a goal of $600 a week.  We were able to keep within that on average for the whole year, the average week was $537.  We had a couple high weeks in Florida (go see Harry Potter, and install solar panels), and a few low weeks (boondocking for free, or nowhere to buy groceries).

It's interesting to look at by category.  First let's talk about averages. 
About $75 a week on gas, because we generally took our time and didn't go too far each day.  Groceries were our largest cost, average $250 a week, similar or less than what we spend at home.   Camping averaged only $62 a week, that's equivalent cost to 2 typical state park nights.  This was possible since we spent many nights at free places (boondockers, public lands and at least 2 months total with family), and a lot of city or county parks.

Looking at the maximum amounts by category brings back some fun times.  Usually we didn't spend much on entertainment or eating out.  We did once have  a real nice dinner out with all of us, for our 50th day anniversary on the trip, near here.  Tolls we usually avoided, except a ticket for swerving off the highway to catch the library in Yuma, AZ.  Capital expenditure on the trip was primarily the solar panels installed over the holidays in Florida.  Groceries were sometimes more, especially when we stocked up on peanut butter at Trader Joe's.  There were a couple of weeks where we stayed mostly in state parks, which can get to $200 a week.

So that's it!  There's your budget, you are authorized to take off from work and bum around!  Go For it!

Fine print:  Many additional costs are not included.  We already had a good pickup truck, and already were paying for insurance, health care, etc.  Other than taking Annie's car off the road, and renting our house for the year, those costs were similar to before.  Opportunity cost of not working for a year is ignored, but at least that can't get taxed!  What a conundrum, how much to spend taking a year off work, we are very fortunate to have been able to do this.