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.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

The Little Traverse Wheel Way (Part 2)

Okay, so now for part two. We started out around seven a.m. and had a nice calm little ride into Harbor Springs, the little, well, not so little town at the other end of the bike path. That side is only about fourteen, or thirteen miles round trip. It's peaceful, quiet, and right on the highway. Yep, you ride about ten feet from the cars, all going about seventy (Okay, maybe only about forty-five.) For one thing, it makes you go really fast, at least in my case, on the other hand, your nerves are pretty much shot by the time you get home.

That's part of the trail, most of it's the same distance from the highway as a sidewalk from your average road, about five, ten feet. So overall, there's about ten or fifteen feet between you and the cars. For me, that's a good distance. At the end of the trail, if you ride into town, there are some truly stunning views, and some fantastic Victorian houses. However, do keep in mind the hill... It's long, steep, and ends on a corner. So yeah, I hope you've got good brakes. Coming back up is hard, but it's also kind of fun. By this point I was sort of giddy, I hadn't made it all the way up and down the trail before, so it was a fairly big deal for me.

Alright, I get it, I'll find you some pictures now.

So we saw this last year, and I really truly didn't remember it. But now... Well, I put my fingers in the cage...

 Elliot and I fell for it...
 Here we are, down by the docks in Harbor Springs, eating...
 Here's a nice picture over the harbor from the top of the hill.
  And here we are, from last year! There's Elliot, without hair spilling out of his helmet, my mom, looking like she's having fun, and I look like I'm going to start screaming at people. Well... at least I enjoyed it this year.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

The Little Traverse Wheel Way (Part 1)

Today we rode from Petoskey State Park, all the way down to Charlevoix, and in Charlevoix, there is a Cherry Republic. Overall, that's thirty-eight miles, round trip. That distance is over twice as much as my personal longest ride. So yeah, I'm tired, still hungry, and a little crabby. It was really, really fun. It's certainly going down as one of the best days of my life.

Okay, so this morning, we were riding by seven, and on the actual bike trail by 7:05 a.m. The Little Traverse Wheel Way goes along Lake Michigan for pretty much the entire time, so you get pretty spectacular views for the whole ride. I, personally, didn't look around very much on the way there, mostly focusing on getting there. I really like my chocolate covered cherries, okay? Anyway, the first stop we had was the MDOT Overlook, about halfway or so to Charlevoix. We sat on the beach for a while, just enjoying the view. Our second stop was on the other side of around three miles, the other MDOT Park. However, this one had bathrooms and water, oh, yeah, and a map. The maps along the trail are great, because each stretch was labeled with how long it was (1.8 miles, 3.0 miles, etc.) And at this point, they haven't faded at all.

When we got to Charlevoix it was around ten, so the roads were mostly clear, and some of the shops were still closed. Luckily, there was a Farmers Market, and for me and Elliot, a great, old fashioned toy store. The two of us like the logic puzzles and such. Cherry Republic was fantastic, lots of free samples. I can personally recommend the dark chocolate covered cherries, but they have plenty of other things for those of you who prefer savory over sweet. I am not in that category.

The way back was hard. It really was, but only for the first few miles, after that, you forget you're biking. My favorite part of this trail is the fact that it's flat. Properly flat, not “flat” but real flat. For me, that's important, I wouldn't last halfway around Canandaigua Lake, that's forty two miles, and very, very, hilly. So yeah, I loved it, and will certainly do it again next year, and would recommend it to any of you bikers.

Elliot and I in the MDOT Park, my favorite spot along trail to stop. It's right by the water, and very pretty.

This one is overlooking the harbor, after we dragged ourselves up this huge hill.

And here's my dad wind surfing off into the sunset.
By the way, this is Alice, not Dale.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Au Gres

After we got all our stuff done in Hartland, we headed up north to see our friends at their cabin on Lake Huron, just outside of a little town called Au Gres.  It was great seeing them again after a year, we had lots of fun windsurfing and swimming and sailing.

I had never been on a catamaran before, it's a lot less tippy than a monohull!  I'm still not sure if I'd wanna live on a boat, but...

This was also my firs time playing tetherball, it was fun!
We had a lot of fun playing with this little sailboat (and taking on lots of water!)

One of the afternoons was pretty rainy, but this puzzle kept us busy for a few hours
We went for a swim around 11 at night, and we kept getting blinded by camera flashes!

This water was REALLY cold, I only lasted 5 or 10 minutes

We had a great time hanging out with everyone here, but we all had to move on after a few days.  We still have about a week and a half until we have to be back for good, so we headed up towards Northern Michigan.