Sunday, July 28, 2013
It came down solid this morning, smooth curls acquiring shape as they leaned over the cliff. Nothing to do with little cat feet. More like gray blind pythons nosing their way. From the solid nest above, flicking tongues slid tenderly across the cliff, searching. It was the omnipresent unseen made precisely visible, the exact edges of a temperature gradient flowing down to taste the topmost branches of a pine tree, resting there a moment, then moving on.
The sun rose murky over the mountain, like fresh snow against the sky. It was a broad dim glow, revealing nothing.
I opened the window a bit to hear the river. The chill came in. It was good to be warm in bed with a modest sense of dread, watching white glow flow thickly through the trees. It was like the memory of a childhood not my own. Like Hansel and Gretel.
I got up and turned the heater on. By the time I opened the door, the river had vanished. But you could feel it there, thick and real as muscles moving under a shirt.
Am I going out in that? Moisture beaded on the inside of the open door. I thought about it.
Then I did.
Posted by Bob Giddings at 6:45 PM
Saturday, July 27, 2013
If you get it from Amazon, by the time you get the connection kit and pay tax, it will run you close to $400. Then you have to install it.
I didn’t do that. I used a cheap voltage tester and an even cheaper hydrometer. And I had success.
I also ended up with a lot of figures that I don’t particularly trust. I asked Miss Calculate to look them over, but she declined. She just tossed that adorable red curl back up on her forehead, and said “I don’t do fudge. If you want fudge, try the ladies down at St. Olaf’s, on Saint’s Day.”
But I’ve come to believe that any discussion of battery charging involves plenty of fudge. And the more precision you get, the less accuracy you are likely to have. I do not mean any of my figures are intentionally false. It’s just that there are so many variables – in battery type and construction, in temperature, phantom drains, timing, surface charge, connection – that it is hard to know what the figures actually tell you about the deep innards of your batteries. Fudge factors tend to cancel out conclusions.
I have never tried the Xantrex Linklite, nor am I likely to. I just don’t trust precision in these matters. Your mileage may differ, and in any case there is a comfort in numbers appearing on a pretty display. They just seem so trustworthy. Besides, they wouldn’t put it out on the Internet if it weren't true.
Voltage Testers, as a class, should be ashamed of themselves. They pretend to tell you things that they do not know. In that they are the very model of the iconic Internet maven. In a practical sense, the readings are almost information free. Okay, if your reading falls below 11.9V, you probably need to charge up your battery. But if it reads 12.7V, that doesn’t mean you should stop. At 12.7V, one battery may run all your gadgets for 2 hours. Another may do so for 2 days.
So what are these readings good for? When the news is bad in every way, voltage testers can give you a hint that is so. But they won’t tell you when happy days are here again, or how to get there. Voltage testers are for people who value a false sense of security.
The battery hydrometer, on the other hand, is a simple tool that yields good results, but they are the devil to use. People just don’t like how easy it is to get that icky sulfuric acid all over the place. The hydrometer is not precise, because after all it is measuring the progress of ever shifting chemical reactions. It gives you a range of results, best read as “green, white, or red”. And it is frustrating to use because an accurate result means lots of waiting for chemistry to settle down, and having to isolate the batteries during measurement.
Who has time for that? On the other hand, what else you got to do?
Let’s face it. The battery hydrometer is nasty business. No instant gratification like with that wonderful Voltage Tester. And all the hydrometer reads is specific gravity. That’s all. But that’s important, because a low specific gravity means you have mostly water in your electrolyte, and a high specific gravity means you have mostly acid.
And acid is what makes it all work.
When I started this trip, my 5 year old golf cart batteries tested right up there at 12.7 Volts. And way down in the red on the hydrometer. That means I couldn’t get much work out of them. Effectively, they were on life support.
These were big batteries. And they were acting like small ones.
As I explained in an earlier report, the lead plates had become sulfated, and thus taken out of action. But it isn’t a matter of just adding more acid. The answer is to apply large charging voltages over a considerable length of time, and thus force that dead sulfate off the lead plates and back into the surrounding fluid – thereby getting back the acid your batteries started with when they were new. Or some of it, anyway.
Whew. Enough ancient history.
So here’s what happened in my little experiment last week with desulfation. There were 4 sessions, about a day apart. Each time I charged the batteries up with the PD 4645 converter/charger until the automatic routine tried to “taper off” from 14.4V to 13.6V. Then I used the “Charge Wizard” button to force the converter back to 14.4V for the duration of the session.
The sessions were 2,4,4, and 2 hours long. After each session I did a hydrometer test. I did it the same way each time, in a manner that suited convenience rather than accuracy. I did not disconnect the batteries for the test, but I did shut down all but phantom loads and let the batteries rest 30 minutes after charging. I did it this way because what I was after was not the numbers, but rather the change in the readings over time.
The results over 5 days were entirely and consistently positive. On Friday, July 19, I left the batteries charging for 21 hours, plugged into house current and letting the auto regime run its course. Nonetheless, the next morning the hydrometer was still slightly in the red, though the individual cells were consistent across both batteries.
On Saturday night and Sunday morning, I did the desulfation routine for a total of 6 hours. Afterward, the hydrometer reading was low but firmly in the white. After each of the following three sessions the reading rose steadily through the white and into the green. After the last session the readings for both batteries were at the very top of the green, and equal for all cells.
Success! And in the nick of time, because I was getting really tired of running the generator. This would have been a lot easier and less annoying to accomplish back home.
Nonetheless, I am pleased. Before, every day I would charge to 12.7V, and end up the next morning with 11.9V. After the last desulfation, the next morning the reading was 12.44V. I did no charging that day. The morning after that, after almost two days of use, the reading was 12.23V. I changed nothing in my usual routine of use. That I was aware of (fudge factor).
So I seem to have gotten back 2 new batteries, which can last at least two days between charges. And all it took was the PD 4645 converter, a $5 hydrometer, and a $7 voltage tester.
Well. It also took a degree of patience, a quality not everyone ascribes to me. It is rather a relief I don’t need to gin up any more of it for this purpose. Or even talk about it much any more.
Whew. At last, everything just works.
Please remember I was doing this with Golf Cart batteries. These are heavy duty numbers, able to take a lot of abuse. If you hook up a 10A dumb charger in boost mode to a cheap car or motorcycle battery and walk away for a day, you may really wish you had not done that. AGM batteries might not take it well, as easy outgassing is a critical part of the scheme.
You must watch what you are doing, especially if you don’t have the PD 4645 to watch out for you and shut things down when the batteries get hot or dry out. So don’t do that.
All that can happen with some batteries, according to rumor, but I saw no sign of it with mine. There was benign gassing. Nothing got hot. And that’s all I have to say about that.
Posted by Bob Giddings at 10:51 PM
My little house is oddly on the level. The hitch is down in the dirt. The back end is 2 1/2 feet off the ground. But not over half a bubble off, inside. Me neither.
I got here last Friday, and managed to make it all the way to Tuesday before turning my right ankle getting out the door. Not too bad, at first. But then Wednesday I had to test the dang thing by going after ice cream up in Granite. By the time I got out of the car and in the door of the Sage Café I was limping like the guy in Gunsmoke. Then while I was spooning up Pralines N’ Cream and commenting on the rain with the waitress, there was BAM! BAM! BAM! BAM! – four distinct reports – sounding like they came from the road in front. She froze, and then carefully peered out the front windows.
“Sounded like firearms, “ I said, helpfully.
“Yeah. Crazy Ed was just here. You saw him.'”
Actually, I hadn’t. Ice cream has that effect on me. As there was no answering fusillade, I went on spooning it up. She kept looking out the window.
“Tell you what,” I said. “I’m unable to run in my present condition. So if he comes back, you scurry out the back, and I’ll just sit here looking vulnerable.”
“O, I reckon he’ll be back, eventually.”
After surviving the drive-by, and hobbling around camp a bit, I decided in a flash of brilliance that the way to treat this foot problem was to lace it up tight and go hiking up a rough trail. Maybe clamber down the bluff to the river a couple of times. That’ll teach it. Thursday night, way into the wee hours, I woke up with my foot on fire. And knew past doubt the next couple of days were going to be murder.
I wouldn’t have got anywhere without my Arkansas Thump Stick. This is the Mammy Yokum model. I am well aware that thump sticks up in Arkansas tend to be a lot heavier than this flimsy noodle thing, at least for grown men. But it was good enough to lean on, and got me outside to do the one thing I absolutely had to do Wednesday: transfer 26 gallons of fresh water from the truck to the trailer. After that I went back to bed and whimpered.
I hate that, going backwards once I’ve been arguably up for the day. I also hate taking pain pills, which tend to make me goofy. But when your foot can’t bear the weight of a single sheet on it, sometimes you are led to modify your opinions.
I’m a terrible patient. And a worse nurse. No patience at all.
Over a long life, I have managed to survive 6 years of jumping out of airplanes, a decade or so of fairly reckless downhill and cross-country skiing, and 30 years working at the Fire Department. But all those things have conspired to evolve from the delicate bones and sinews of my feet and ankles a regular mess that holds together about as well as a large helping of hashbrowns.
It’s never been bad enough to operate on. In my opinion. But this happens every year or two. Like Chubby Checker, I just “do the twist”. And go down. The most important thing I’ve learned – or should have - is to stay off it and it will get better. Preferably while I am comatose. So with the help of Tramadol, I slept the clock around Thursday, just about. And stayed as level as I could.
It’s Friday now. I can get a shoe on it, if I’m careful. It hurts, but doesn’t glow in the dark and throb like it did yesterday. And as if this weren’t enough, I just had the oddest conversation with the BLM park manager. First time I’d seen him, and I’ve been here a week. He came by to find out how many days of the 14 I had left, so I told him. He asked if I was panning, and I said no, just enjoying the weather and trying to get back to where I could walk again.
And then out of the blue he warned me about John Hart, the guy who has the mining claim on the sandy S curve of the river here. The one who tacked up the flashy mustard yellow notice in my campsite. “He has strong opinions about what people can and can’t do on and around his claim,” he said. “Last year we had the Sheriff down here because he was waving his pistol at some fishermen.”
“Can he tell them not to fish on his claim?”
“Did he get straightened out?”
The guy shook his head, looked off, and said in a level wistful voice, “Yeah, he got straightened out.”
After he left I got to wondering why he felt the need to confide in me about this. Was it like a Bear Warning? Am I in imminent danger of being shot for camping in a designated site? Am I to be done in after all this time by some guy with a crazed notion of his hobby rights?
Well, just lovely.
As a practical matter, it takes a coward and a bully to wave a gun at an unarmed fisherman. And it only takes a single man of low character to put a chill in paradise. I hope he doesn’t come up here, waving his gun around. My foot hurts, and I’m not in the mood to put up with him.
Posted by Bob Giddings at 12:52 PM
This little bit of BLM bliss I’ve been staying at is designated on maps as The Stone Cabin Recreational Site. It’s on the Arkansas River just below Clear Creek dam, near the town of Granite.
I took a hike late Wednesday afternoon to go look at this cabin. I don’t know anything about it. There’s no sign or plaque. If I find out more later, I’ll add it here. But it was interesting just as a piece of home-made adaptive architecture. I don’t think it’s ancient. Too much glass for one thing, both in windows and doors. And the free standing fireplace has a modern look. If I had to guess, maybe the 1930s or 40s. Just a little more ancient than me.
While I was having pancakes at the ongoing food fight that is The Evergreen Café in Buena Vista the other day, I asked one of the flying waitresses what it was like around here in winter. She stopped cold, so to speak, and looked me in the eye. “Empty. Bleak. Freezing.” Then she was off and away again.
And there you have the environment that shaped the Stone Cabin. Built back into a hillside on the west. Bedroom on the north, near the fireplace. Entry on the south.
A raised level berm for a front yard in front of the long porch. Beyond that, a slope down to the river.
Large masonry arms reach out to shelter the porches at both ends from wind and snow.
A neat little cold storage room that pushes back into the weather at the rear of the house, accessible at near waist height through wooden doors inside. In the summer, I imagine this fellow had some sort of cooling arrangement with the river.
The main misstep seems to be with the flooring. He laid what look like 2x4 joists right on the ground, and of course everything rotted.
There you have it. Year round living in the Rockies, not all that long ago. Heck, this would still make somebody a nice summer cabin, with a little fix-up.
Right now I'm living in something a lot smaller.
Posted by Bob Giddings at 12:49 PM
Wednesday, July 24, 2013
The beauty of this part of the Rocky Mountains is hard to take. It is impossible to convey.
There is too much of it. There is no scale. As a vision it doesn’t lead anywhere, because at least now, when my eyes are new to it, it all seems indistinguishable. Everywhere I look, there is this same intensity, a grandeur that stuns but does not invite.
Central Texas, where I grew up and largely live today, has its own sort of beauty. It is rather a quiet thing, nooks and hollows and farms and out of the way charms. Crawling with people. I come from a land amenable to the plans of men. Even a town boy like me could see how to make a living from it, if he had to. Stick most anything in the ground and it will grow, if you can get water to it. The main trouble is keeping something else from eating it before you can gather it up.
Central Texas drawls and whispers its sultry available beauty. A man can prosper there.
The love of mountains, however, is an unrequited love. The Rockies don’t need you. They are their own hard self, going up and down and up and on and on. “You can look but you cannot have me,” they say. “I will kill you if you try. I will dry you up. I will take your breath. I will knock you down. I will break your heart. Beginning now.”
That is the voice I hear in the wind. That is the voice I hear in the roar of water. Is this the other side of mountain euphoria? Mountain psychosis?
Something is trying to kill you. You can’t tell where it is, because it is everywhere. You can’t tell what it is, because it is everything. You are being stretched out of shape. You forget to eat. You forget to drink. O, that’s the sneaky thing, you forget to drink. You find yourself falling asleep in the middle of the day, and when you awake it is like a drowning man. Either you are being killed… or you are being perfected. It may amount to the same thing. The problem with Heaven has always been that you have to die to get there.
“You can look but you cannot have me,” the voices say. “I will kill you if you try.”
Well, I am going to try, in the weeks to come. I am going to try to learn how to grade goddesses on a curve. To diminish them to human scale, take them down a notch, so that I can at least distinguish between their parts. I will try, in fact, to make the mountains ordinary, even boring. Capturable.
Otherwise, when I return to the old and familiar, there will only be a blank where memory should be.
Posted by Bob Giddings at 10:10 AM
I’ve been running out of things to complain about lately. And that bodes ill for the blog. So I’ve been cogitating on ways to stir up a little trouble, but repeatedly it all comes to naught. For instance, the moment I moved down here on the Arkansas River I saw this sign tacked to a bristle-come pine:
Mining claim? Should I expect dredgers at dawn, peeling away all this bankside beauty and running the revealed gravel through giant noisome mechanical shakers? I was beginning to take a real dislike to John Hart, though I’d never met the man. Then later in the day I was having coffee out under the endangered pine when a guy walked right through my campsite and behind my chair to peer up at that notice.
“You know what it means?”
“Panning claim. This guy Hart has a lock on panning here. You him?”
“Ah, no. Panning, huh? So no giant dredgers, then?”
“He can use a hand dredger. But he’s supposed to put it back like it was.” And with that he was off and up the trail.
I called after him. “Where you headed?”
“To find the end of this claim.”
Ah, there’s a man with something to complain about. Dreams of Avarice. But they’re his, not mine.
I have no idea what a “hand dredger” looks like. Mr. Internet would know, but out here at the edge of cyberspace it’s like I’ve been lobotomized.
Let’s see. I could complain about the new campsite, but it’s darn pleasant here. Not only right on the water, but a far sight from my nearest neighbor.
Too bad I lost all the pictures from July. Just think of a roaring river just below a bluff. That's it.
It rained a bit yesterday, redeemed later by a sky full of stars, and almost a full moon. Bright enough to walk around by, which I did, but not to wander into the bushes. So I peed in the middle of the road. Then I took a picture. No, it didn't survive.
And then there was dawn.
I dunno. I just can’t find anything to complain about. Except…well, there is always the Ultimate Complaint, the complaint that Satan had with Heaven.
“This place is just too damn perfect!”
Maybe I can do something about that. O yeah, I could lose all the pictures in a hard drive crash.
Posted by Bob Giddings at 10:07 AM
That’s the sound. About 3 seconds every couple of hours. It’s coming from under my bed. Just enough to wake me out of a deep sleep.
Yes, it’s the water pump. I usually remember to turn it off before I go to sleep. It’s been acting this way during the whole trip, and probably for a considerable time before that. I know it’s a leak. The problem is finding it.
I’ve been hunting it down for weeks. I’ve checked every hidden joint and valve. I’ve torn the shelves out, upended the bed to check the pump, looked under the shower and the sinks, feeling at arm’s length and searching with a flashlight for any sign of moisture, tightening everything in my wake. I’ve released and reset the pressure relief valve of the water heater. Twice. Even ran the outside shower for the first and probably last time.
Nothing. Nada. Zilch. Dry as a bone. Dusty, dusty. Brrrrrrt.
The hot water heater was always, after the pump, my prime suspect. But I could never find water there. There was a good bit of old scale from some earlier era that I’ve been meaning to get some vinegar to and clean up But, as you can see, that wasn’t really high on my todo list.
Wherever it was, it had to be a tiny thing, a leak that dried up even as it appeared. Just enough to very slowly reduce pressure over a long period. Something the pump could ultimately recharge in 3 seconds.
Well, today I found that sucker. And, as usual, more than I bargained for. There appeared a single tear hanging pendant and wobbling from the water heater drain plug. Gotcha.
No problemo, right? I’ll just tighten it up a smidge. When I did, the top twisted right off the dang thing. Glug, glug, glug, glug. 6 gallons worth. I waited while it drained. And turned off the gas. Then I had the delicate job of using a flat screwdriver to chisel out the plastic left down in that hole. Without screwing up the metal threads, thank you.
Remarkably, that worked.
Lessee, I know I have a spare here somewhere. Not that big thing, that’s the garden hose adapter for my shower head. All right, all right, the search is on. Root, hog, or die. I finally found it… in my shoeshine kit. Remind me to look there first for whatever I need in future.
All’s well. No leaks. And on that triumphant note, it’s about time for lunch down by the river. I’m thinking cabbage rolls and fritos. There will be plenty, if you can find me.
Posted by Bob Giddings at 10:01 AM
Monday, July 22, 2013
If these continual repair reports begin to seem tedious to you, let me just say I know what you mean. After I got my generator working properly a few days ago, I went off and left it running for as much as 8 hours at a time with a 20A charger working the batteries. And every morning I am back down to 12.3 Volts. Bah.
With the batteries disconnected, my converter wouldn’t even power one light for long. It was obvious toast. So I ordered a Progressive Dynamics PD 4645 replacement sent from Amazon to a friend staying in a commercial campground in Salida. It arrived Wednesday, so I went down Thursday, paid $30 to check into a gravel slot for a day, and installed it in a couple of hours. Then I plugged in for the rest of my 24 hour sentence.
Not exactly. The converter seems to work fine. But everything is not quite right, and it took the intervention of Mr. Internet to point me in what I hope is the right direction. I probably won’t know for sure for a week or so yet.
The PD 4645 is a 45 Amp “4 Stage Charger” designed to slide right into the cabinet installations of converters preferred as OEM by many cheap bastards …er… manufacturers. Instructions are simple, and detailed. Stage 1 is the Boost charge, at 14.4V. Stage 2 steps it down to "Normal" or 13.6V for the last 20 % or so. Stage 3 is a "Storage" voltage of 13.2V, for keeping the batteries topped off when charging is complete.
Stage 1 is the workhorse. I have seldom seen Stage 3. And Stage 4 is a real ghost in the machine.
“Stage 4” is described as a “Desulfation” routine that supposedly runs automagically for 15 minutes every 24 hours. What? That would be fine if I were always and constantly hooked up to a wall wart, and had brand new batteries to begin with. But then why would I need batteries?
What I tend to have instead are 2 hours here, 3 hours there, with days between, and maybe a year’s malpractice behind me in trusting an old converter probably made by the People’s Liberation Army, which may not ever have fully charged my batteries in the first place.
Now I admit I’m a rabid fan of Pandora, mornings and evenings. And I recharge my laptop and other small toys daily. And there’s a lot more of those than there used to be. So maybe I’m using a bit more power than I used to. And I only have two batteries instead of the four I once had. But I still think I ought to be getting more joy than I’ve been getting lately.
Mr. Internet to the rescue! He told me avidly about a special routine of charging at 14.4 Volts for 4 hours that would cook the sulfate scale off the lead plates….
Okay, okay. Have mercy. A little background. Here’s what I think I know about lead/acid battery chemistry. Fear not, this won’t take long. Everyone knows that electricity is released when sulfuric acid in the presence of lead breaks down into lead sulfate and water, right? In the process, the lead sulfate is laid down thinly on the lead plates of your battery. Now ordinarily this doesn’t matter, because in a little while you are going to hook it up to a charging source, like an alternator, that will drive the sulfate back off into the surrounding electrolyte and form sulfuric acid again. Right? Well, what if for some reason, like perhaps a vast Communist conspiracy, you do not fully recharge your battery? Pretty soon that sulfate begins to layer up into a matrix somewhat like the scale in your water pipes at home. And that part of your battery is then dead, dead, dead, because the acid can’t get to the lead.
This is what Mr. Internet tells me has happened to my batteries. They have become sulfated. All I know is they don’t last nearly as long as they used to. First they were in my fifth wheel, briefly, and then in the Lazy Daze, where they worked fine. Then in the XT-200, where…. well, I don’t know, because I never used the XT-200 for anything but therapy. It just sat in the driveway. And then they landed in this little Weekender, here in Colorado, where they haven’t been working worth squat. So off another battery goes to recycling, or even possibly to the landfill to fulfill its secondary destiny of poisoning the water supply and retarding the next generation of Americans.
Except…there is a rumor of a way to revive the battery. If I am lucky, and the process hasn’t gone on too long. And that is through this process of “desulfation”, which is accomplished by pumping in lots and lots of extremely attractive electrons to tempt some of that sulfur to go play in the water again, and make lots of little sulfuric acid molecules like God intended.
Forget tapering off. Forget 15 minutes every 24 hours. Pour it on.
Which brings me again to the embarrassing lack of details about the existence of this “desulfation stage” on the PD web page. Or elsewhere. Let alone how to use it. Nothing in the customer instructions. It’s all automatic, you see. Don’t worry your pretty little head about it. Why, if you got to tinkering around with the innards of your battery, it might boil over, or explode, or maybe the earth itself will crack open and swallow your whole rig down into a giant fissure of Hell. And then burp.
Mr. Internet cracks me up. He’s always on all sides of an issue. He’s got it surrounded. He is, in the words of Woody Allen, “polymorphously perverse”. In fact, it may be that one really good reason for camping far from Mr. Internet is the same reason people take to drink. It silences the more annoying parts of our brains.
But parts is parts, and sometimes we need them all.
One thing finally did get through to me: “14.4V? Heck, it does that already, in the Boost Stage.” Then I was reminded of the built-in “Charge Wizard”, which is a button that lets you set each stage manually, even at times when the automatic process doesn’t want you to. What if… What if the “Desulfation Stage” actually isn’t a matter of What, but of When?
And that’s it. A matter of timing. As with so many things.
Reading voltage is useful to tell you how low your battery is, but it doesn’t tell anything about how full it is. When the PD senses that your battery voltage is around 12.7V, it starts to lower the input, to “taper off”. At that point, you just stick a fat finger on that button and make it stay in Boost Mode. Got it? One click. Gas bubbling off? Good. That’s what you want.
Last night I did this for a couple of hours. Then today for 4 hours, which I learned is a self-imposed manual operation limit, after which it turns itself off. Unless you reset it. That means I can go off and leave it, at least with the big batteries I have, and it will handily prevent any Battery Apocalypse without further input from me. Which is just as well.
You can do the same thing with a “dumb” charger that puts out 10 Amps or more, but you have to watch it. Eventually- someday, maybe- it might boil away the electrolyte. Mr. Internet says 4 hours at a time should be okay.
Why don’t they spell all this out in the instructions? I think it’s because of lawyers. Here’s what they Do say: “The manual button has been provided to allow the operator to temporarily override the converter (not recommended) or to verify the converter is operating properly.”
Thanks. Not a word about manual desulfation. Not a word about saving your old batteries. Just “Push this button at your peril”.
And then go buy new batteries. You deserve them.
Posted by Bob Giddings at 12:50 PM
Thursday, July 18, 2013
This is the trailer I have now. The name, I suppose, represents the modest ambitions of the manufacturer. Guaranteed to last a weekend. After that, you’re on your own. They don’t make them any more, to my knowledge, though the name is sometimes applied to other floor plans.
The Weekender 150 is distinguished, if that is the proper word, by a rear entry, somewhat like a truck camper. It is 17 feet long from nose to tail, like the Casita. Though not near as pretty outside, it beats the Casita all hollow inside. At 76 inches, I can stand up in it, for one thing, though I might have to dodge the air conditioner. It has a full oven, a complete bath with stand alone shower and a bath sink and mirror with storage beneath. It has pass-through storage beneath the couch, and a 40 gallon fresh water tank. It weighs half as much as my previous trailer, the XT-200.
And it cost me all of $5500, baking in the sun on a caliche lot outside Johnson City, Texas.
I made a number of moderately expensive improvements, including a TV and stereo, 2 golf cart batteries and a 1500 Watt inverter, upgraded wheels and 8 ply tires, and even a Wilson Sleek Cell Amplifier with a Yagi cell antenna. I modeled my antenna after Andy Baird’s, though I used a different adjustable height painter’s pole and turning mechanism.
With this antenna and the Sleek I can fairly reliably turn "No Service” into 3G with 3 bars on my Iphone 4. It’s not “Internet Anywhere”, but it is a vast improvement over driving 30 miles to talk a business owner into letting me use my modem with his landline. Which is what I had to do circa 2001, when I started RVing in earnest.
O Ancient of Days.
So there you have my current home. In a nutshell. It ain’t much, but it’ll insert into many a place I’d like to be, sometimes with a little coaxing. And in a pinch I could abandon it to rising flood waters without much of a pang. Though I’d probably yell a lot in a manner unsuitable in a family blog.
I have come to believe that 17 feet is the minimum size for a trailer with full amenities, and of course you don’t always get them even then. Below 17 feet, something really has got to give.
As an aside, I saw one 14 foot trailer I liked - the Carson Kalispell. But it gave up the oven, bath vanity, pass-through storage, TV antenna, awning, even the spare tire carrier. What you got in return was a full sized fridge, a fiberglass exterior, and a 5000 lb. axle, all of which are good to have. Plus an absent 3 feet of additional maneuvering room. I would like to have had it, but I could not get the owner to come down even close to the cost of the Weekender. Here is a similar Kalispell:
Life is full of compromises. Some of them even make sense.
Perhaps it is my imagination, but I can almost hear a question forming in the minds of people new to this stuff, looking for a shortcut. "So, Bob. After all these RVs - popup, truck camper, 5th wheel, motorhome, various trailers - which is the best RV?"
The best RV for you personally is the one that will get you off your ass and on the road. Of course there are differences, and they matter somewhat. And some are better than others for particular tasks.
But as I see it, RVing, despite what the manufacturers might like you to believe, is not about the vehicle. It is not about the money, or the equipment. It is about the experience.
And that, my friends, is what you make of it.
Posted by Bob Giddings at 11:29 AM
Wednesday, July 17, 2013
Lately I've been poking around some so-called roads up in the Collegiate Peaks between Buena Vista and Leadville. I looked high, and I looked low. Poking around is an art practiced for its own sake, of course. But I also kept an eye out for a potential change of address.
It's not that there's anything particularly wrong with where I am. Perhaps it is merely a matter of attitude. What seemed brooding and romantic down among the trees has transmogrified over a fairly short time into merely gloomy and drippy. Without actually changing all that much. It has rained almost every day for a week.
|A view of the mountains...|
What the campsite here in Cottonwood Canyon has, in spades, is solitude. In all the time I've been here, I've had only two neighbors, and neither lasted more than a day. I don't think it could have been my lack of social graces. I only spoke to one of them, and that went pleasantly enough. I've been out and about most of the time. It's a mystery.
I have an errand over the next couple of days in Salida. When that's done, I think I'll return to a different place. Just for variety. There's plenty of places to be, though internet access often does not pair with other fine qualities.
Here's some of the possibilities. Feel free to weigh in with suggestions.
|I don't think so...|
Below, I could be pushing it, parking in this guy's front yard. But he hasn't been using it lately.
|Along the Arkansas River|
Everywhere I look, there's neighbors to deal with. Me and Dan'l Boone. But at least this one's across the river.
|Again by the Arkansas.|
Then I went up a neighboring canyon. Who builds a log cabin in a pond? This one's my favorite, despite a complete Verizon blackout.
|Up Clear Creek.|
Unfortunately, the site is occupied.
|Whatcha lookin' at?|
Posted by Bob Giddings at 3:00 PM
Tuesday, July 16, 2013
|Serendipity Strikes Again!|
When I first started this blog back in 2010, I had a 1992 Lazy Daze. Yep, that one up there. My brother Mike got me interested in motorcycles, so I bought a 16 foot trailer to carry his and mine up to Arkansas, which turned out to be our last long trip together. Later that summer I went solo to Colorado and Utah, and gave my Kawasaki a workout on some lonesome roads. Great on pavement, not so much on gravel. Had one bad slip-n-slide, a couple of near misses.
I wasn't home a week when my brother suffered a collision with a car while driving his Suzuki Boulevard home from work. October 1, 2010.
In the 9 months it took to get Mike put back together again, sort of, I lost interest in motorcycles. Then he came down with lung cancer. It didn't look like I was going to be traveling much. I sold the lot.
Cut to the present. Right around the first of July, I moved onto some BLM land outside of Salida, where I was flabbergasted to run into the Lazy Daze again. Jeanne and her Shelty Riley had been full-timing in the thing for nearly two years, and about the third camp I make on the first trip since selling it, I run into them again! Jeanne was kind enough to show me what she'd done with it in the interim. Some mods were major, like solar and removing the old generator. But the thing that got me was how much difference purely decorative internal changes made in the feel of the coach. An entirely different spirit inhabits it.
My old LD has passed on. It's Jeanne's baby now.
I was not entirely sans RV during the two years while Mike was an almost daily occupation for me. A few months after he came home from the hospital, he was doing much better. Able to swallow and feed himself, for one thing. And I was really in need of a distraction.
So I got to messing around with Craig's List. Always a dangerous activity. I found a Fun Finder XT-200 Toy Hauler. I was fascinated with the elevator bed and the drop-down ramp/patio in the back. I suppose among the random thoughts going through my head were these:
1. I might get another motorcycle some day.
2. That ramp could easily accommodate a wheelchair.
I worked on this thing off and on, when I had time, gradually turning it from a spartan hauler to something I might live in.
At 25 feet, there was even room for a desk and a chair! But of course for the year following it never even left my driveway. When I finally did take it, fully loaded, for a trial spin in the hill country, I discovered something startling: A toy hauler is built specifically to haul toys!
When you don't have a couple of 800 lb. motorcycles riding behind the axles, that throws a lot of weight forward. And turns a nominal 400 lb. hitch weight into a 900 lb. hitch weight. The other part of the math was that in the interim I had sold my F250 V10 and replaced it with a half ton Dodge pickup. Theoretically the Dodge could handle it. The problem was not the 8000 lb total trailer weight, but rather the gargantuan tongue weight sans compensating cargo.
I tried mods to make it better, with some success. I put air bags on the back of the Dodge. I counter-weighted the tongue with a reserve 26 gallon tank of water at the rear of the trailer. But the dang thing still didn't ride like I wanted it to, and got 8 mpg while trying.
So I sold it.
For what it's worth, this is the first RV I ever made money on. That is, if you don't count my labor, which was more in the nature of therapy anyway.
Around this time Mike went into a nursing home for a spell, which freed me up some. Somewhat idly, I found a light weight 17 foot trailer on Craig's List. That's the one I have now.
But that's a story for another time.
Posted by Bob Giddings at 3:24 PM
Saturday, July 13, 2013
Buena Vista, CO
Mr. Fixit. Don't I wish the name applied. But Modesty forbids.
However, from time to time throughout this sybaritic summer, practical things simply have to get done. I can do it myself or hire it done. And if Modesty is goig to end up costing me money, then the heck with Modesty.
Fortunately for Mr. Fixit, the Internet is full of fine folks who ACTUALLY KNOW WHAT THEY ARE DOING, and some of them are happy to share. Some are happy to share even when they don't know what they are doing. As the banjo player said, "The trick is in the pickin'."
My Honda EU1000i generator ran fine at home in the driveway. About 500 feet above mean sea level. I ran pretty good there too. Both of us started having mild problems at about 7000 feet back in New Mexico, and by the time we got to Salida, CO, it was obvious something had to be done.
The generator alway starts right up. But then it dies. Sometimes that takes 5 minutes, sometimes an hour or more. The smell of the exhaust implied it was running rich. Getting the flutters from too much of the good stuff. I know just how it feels. But my nefarious plan for charging up my batteries while I am elsewhere depends on the thing running dependably unattended.
Mr. Internet said I needed to install a High Altitude Jet for Colorado. He also wanted me to switch to premium gas. The premium helped, but then I moved from Salida to my canyon camp here at 9600 feet, and new gas wasn't going to cut it. The jet thing had to be done.
The trouble was finding one.
There are two Honda Equipment dealers in Salida, and neither carries any parts to speak of. They are happy to sell you a new one. One of them wanted to ship mine off to Laramie, Wy. for repair. That didn't get very far. Then I got to talking to one of the older clerks, and he suggested I talk to "an old boy that comes in here in the morning. He used to work on them." So bright and early I tried out my old boy entrapment skills, and durn if he didn't have one! Just the one. Probably the only one closer than Pueblo. Six bucks.
There's a lot to be said for the Old Boy Network.
But it's one thing to have parts, and another to have gumption. The only thing I ever rejetted in my life was the single barrel carb of a 1973 Toyota Land Cruiser, she of blessed memory. So I put it off. But time ran out on me today.
Mr. Internet said it was easy. Mr. Internet had a 12 Step Plan.
1. "Turn Engine Switch to off." I'm there with ya, Doc. Done.
2. "Turn Fuel Cap Vent to OFF."
Okay, right in here Mr. Internet started to seem sort of slow to me, so I skipped a few steps. Then when gas ran all over my tailgate and WOULDN'T STOP, I came back to review Step Two, after which the gusher abated.
5. "Drain gas from the carburetor by loosening the screw on the bottom of the carburetor bowl." Okay, now it's coming back to me.
6. "Close Drain Screw when finished." Is this guy beginning to sound sarcastic to you? Is there a camera around here?
It went on like that. Mr. Internet appears to have dealt with people like me before. Painfully explicit. Boringly repetitive. But that still didn't save me from giving my tailgate an oil bath by over filling from a quart bottle without a funnel.
I was willing to give Mr. Internet a lot of slack, because the generator ran fine when I finished, and continued to so for maybe 10 minutes, when it began to surge. That's when I went back to look at Step 9: "Slide Carburetor out BEING CAREFUL WITH GASKETS."
I was being careful. I carefully put the gasket in upside down. After I fixed that, THEN it worked fine. And continues to do so. But I'll tell you what. The Toyota was easier. And it had springs and little ball bearings to deal with. But that was long ago. I was smarter then.
After the successful end of the Carb Debacle, I turned to the water supply. I was about out. But in the back of my truck I carry a 26 gallon reserve supply, in a potable water sprayer tank I bought from Northern Tool last year. I also have an AC high volume water pump to move water to my trailer tank. Now that I had a working generator to plug the pump into, it was the work of minutes to complete the job.
I wish I could claim this was my idea, and I'm not above slightly lying to make myself look better. But you see, I'm afraid of getting caught. A character flaw, I know. So I got the idea from Mr. Internet. It works swell.
Drinking water is available most everywhere. Sometimes you have to pay for it. Sometimes you have to work at it. Water in Buena Vista is available to campers at McPhelemy Park, across from the City Library. I may have mentioned giddily before now that free wi-fi from the Library is available in the park. But it bears repeating. I am typing at a picnic table in the park right now. But today I learned that the Library leaves the wi-fi on even when they are closed. Now that is downright friendly.
The water authorities, whoever they are, are not so friendly. There is one public hydrant, at the front corner of the park. It is a smooth hydrant. You can't just screw a garden hose into it. I could carry water back and forth in buckets, I guess. Pfah. You know, it's almost like they didn't want me taking 20 gallons at a time. Huh.
I used a Water Thief. This is a rubber tube that screws onto your hose on one end and presses onto the smooth hydrant on the other. Every camper should have one. You have to hold it on. If you let go, and the pressure is at all high, you are going to get wet.
Ask me how I know.
I have mentioned before how pleasant it is to sit in McPhelemy Park. Always something going on. Kids learning to swing, learning to kayak. Old people walking their dogs and trolling for conversation. There are electrical outlets available for computer charging, etc. There's even a curious object I learned was a Poop Bag Dispenser.
One thing in particular caught my attention today. About a year old girl and her mom were cruising about the pond on a Paddle Boat. This kid was just laughing out loud. A Paddle Boat is a new thing to me, and it looks like a large thin old-style surfboard, with some kind of grippy area on top. You normally use it standing up, with a long paddle.
The first time I saw one was last week. Sitting on a bluff outside Salida, nursing a therapeutic beer or two, I was watching the Arkansas River roll briskly by over some rapids below. Suddenly around the bend appeared a teenaged girl on a paddle boat, standing straight up, unconcernedly maneuvering around and between the scary looking rocks. She wasn't even getting damp above the ankles. And she was clipping along at 20-25 miles an hour as she sped out of sight.
Posted by Bob Giddings at 4:43 PM
Friday, July 12, 2013
When I was young and on this sort of trip, I was always thinking of places to get to. Now I just find myself looking for places to be.
Early this morning something woke me up. I listened for a minute, but nothing happened, and I was soon back to dreamland. Later, on my post-breakfast walk, I found I had a new neighbor. It looked like a tent down there. And then I thought it might be a boulder.
Okay. It was a tent. I knew this spot was too good to last. I will say the guy took the site as far from me as possible. That's my kind of neighbour.
Another unfortunate event, unconnected except karmically, was that my morning request for new email was enigmatically denied. These guys need to work on their messages. Call in Hallmark. The upshot is that it seems my 3 bars of 3G is wavering over into 1. I don't know why. The only thing that has changed other than acquiring a neighbor is that it clouded up some and started to softly rain.
Dang. I was going to work on the generator this morning. Sure I was.
Instead I drove over to Cottonwood Lake, in and out of rain, and up into the mountains above. The route is 3 miles of gravel road crowded thickly with towering aspens. I remember driving it once long ago in the fall, when the leaves were letting go, and it was like driving through a blizzard of golden butterflies. Today was more sedate, and the trees kept their quivering parts to themselves.
Quite a few fishermen were parked right around the shore of the lake. The FS campground had one or two acceptable sites. I went higher, and within a mile or two began to see camping spots that made me wish I'd brought a tent along. I think many an RVer would profit from carrying a tent along. It broadens your horizons.
Most of these campsites were entirely reachable by any little car, if you are willing to go slow and be careful. But the trees were barked and denuded about 8 or 10 feet up where people tried to pull trailers through them. A few scars were lower. I guess some people have more courage than they have car. I began providing mental band-aids where necessary, but soon ran out.
There were lots of tents, though. From kiddy pop-ups to heavy square canvas army types secured to pounded stakes that looked like lengths of rebar. Those guys must be planning to stay a while.
I continued on up. The object of going higher is to leave traffic behind, but there will always be some, if only the noisy ATV trikes roaring by. A person equipped to park the car and walk away a couple hundred feet to set up a tent behind a screen of trees has a considerable advantage in finding The Perfect Spot.
What makes The Perfect Spot? Well, there may not really be such a thing. It's certainly a moving target. But it might be possible to put together a list of vectors to lead you on.
1. Within 20 miles or so of a grocery store and a supply of municipally treated fresh water.
2. Far enough from the road that got you there for some hope of concealment.
3. Aesthetic water, either a burbling stream or a lake. Beneficent fishermen willing to share their catch are a plus.
4. An inspiring view of some sort. To my thinking there are two kinds, either a shady closed in bit of forest with the possibility of critters wandering through, up to - but not including - a mama bear with cubs, or else a wide open meadow with a clear view of mountains in the day and stars at night. No pillar of fire, thank you Moses. No burning bush. Not this year. Wildflowers in season, perhaps. Either of the two sorts will do, though I notice that when I get too much of one I tend to pine for the other exclusively.
5. As much quiet and solitude as practical. Exceptions happily made for the fishermen noted above. Another exception might be a good 3G Verizon signal, but now we're getting crazy. I prefer a site where, one way or another, I don't need to worry about lowering the blinds at night. And where there is no possibility of being discovered while allegedly walking straight out the door 20 feet or so in the evening and peeing on a tree.
It's an old Boy Scout thing. You probably wouldn't understand.
It was along about here in my ruminations that I found it. Right there. The Perfect Spot.
Screened from the road. Check. Burbling stream. Check. Solitude galore. Check. Birds and other bumbling critters that don't want to be seen. Check. Less than 20 miles to Civ. Check. High enough that the air is noticeably thin. Gasp. Check. No Verizon signal whatsoever. Um.
I did remember to bring a chair along in the back of the truck, so I could sit here in comfort for an hour or so, soaking up the essence of the thing. A place to just be. I remained long enough even to scribble most of this little memorial to The Spot That Got Away. I'm not going to tell you exactly where it is. I might want to come back.
But, but, but.... The Perfect Spot? The sad fact is, whatever you are looking at, perfection fades.
Or is it just me?
Posted by Bob Giddings at 4:29 PM
Thursday, July 11, 2013
I am writing this on a picnic table at a pretty little park with a pond at the corner of Hwy 24 and County Road 306 in Buena Vista, CO. It is across the street from the library, and apparently I am spiriting away their free wi-fi. I came into town to go to the City Market, where I found 4 pieces of fried chicken for 4 bucks, a bargain any way you look at it. This park is a great place for lunch. Or just relaxin'.
Unfortunately I lost almost all the pictures when my laptop crashed.
There's a couple from Texas walking their blue heeler, a half dozen tiny kids learning how to paddle their equally tiny kayaks on the pond, some other kids fishing and playing on a swing. I could profitably while away the afternoon here, if the benches weren't so hard. Should have thrown a chair in the back of the truck before I left camp. A couple of big motorhomes could park on the side street.
Heck, they could even charge up their batteries here. There's power outlets on the pole behind me.
Quite a friendly place.
I was headed up to Cottonwood Pass on 306 the other day, when just a little past Rainbow Lake I saw a cut in the bushes on the downhill side to the left. It didn't look like I could get the trailer in there, so I proceeded on a half mile or so to the Forest Service’s Collegiate Peaks campground. I found a spot, though the place was crowded. But as I was setting up my mind kept going back to that little cut in the bushes. So ultimately I just dropped the trailer and went back there. Turned out to be 6 or 7 sites along a little stream. Completely deserted, completely free. Lots to trees to scrape against if you've a mind to, but they are avoidable if you know what you are getting into. You could even get a Class C and a toad in there when it's empty like this. But the problem is you can't see what you are getting into until you are well into it. Best to explore first in a smaller vehicle.
Very nice, very quiet, very shady, a stream running past and singing you to sleep at night. My kind of place. There's even a 4 bar Verizon connection when I use the Yagi antenna. To bad about the fire ban. I'd really like to cook a steak here. Tonight will be my third night, and nobody has turned in here yet. Unbelievable.
Four miles back toward town I passed Cottonwood Hot Springs, a kind of mom and pop little spa. I misinformed a few people about this place in the past, calling it Princeton Hot Springs. That is another place altogether, on another road, and a lot more of a commercial complex. Cottonwood is just a small motel with a few camping places and 5 pools ranging from 95 to 105 degrees. Fifteen bucks gets you an all day pass, from 8 am to 10 pm. I showed up at 10 this morning and had the whole place to myself for an hour, when maybe half a dozen others came in.
|The only surviving picture from the day.|
Let me see if I can describe the rigors of my day. First I got in the mild pool, quickly moving on to a hot one. Then I got a cold cup of water and lay back on a lounge chair in the dappled shade of a tree, and let the cool breeze tease me dry. Somewhere in there a short nap caught up with me. Then I got back in the pool again, talked to some folks, then back to the napping place. Then I tried the sauna for a bit. Then back in the hot pool, followed by another snooze.
It's a harsh regimen, I know. But somebody has to do it.
There's plenty of parking for cars, considering the lack of traffic. There's a small campground that will accommodate tents and small campers, but as they don't have electricity I didn't look at it. If you have a larger RV or a toad, just past the entrance is a huge gravel parking lot with a trail at the back that leads down into the springs.
Well, that's it. As you can see, I've been busy here. I may be able to stand it for a few weeks, unless something better comes along.
Posted by Bob Giddings at 4:23 PM
Monday, July 1, 2013
I’ve started traveling again.
And as you can see, I’ve streamlined my act a bit. The last time you heard from me I was moseying about in a Lazy Daze Class C, with a Motorcycle hanging out behind. Now I have a Dodge truck and a 17 foot stick-and-tin trailer.
My brother’s accident set this blog back a bit. Then when he got lung cancer and passed away the following year, it just stopped. It was a case of having nothing useful to say and too much to talk about, all at the same time. If you catch my drift.
“Catch Me If You Can” has become an iffy title for the blog, because as it turned out I got caught rather easily. Big-time. Perhaps I should start anew with an different smart aleck title. It isn’t as if a few don’t come to mind.
But if life can be full of gaps, why not blogs? We’ll see how it goes.
I’m going to begin with July 2013, in Colorado, and make posts of some letters to family and friends. They are not all that personal, and may be mildly educational for those of you that have not traveled the road I’m on. But indeed, there may not be any of “you” left after my personal interregnum. That will be as it may.
I expect that things may not be exactly sequential for a while. My last post was about the birth of my grandaughter. She’s 16 months old now, and learning to say “no”. That’s a critical juncture in any woman’s life. She’s a quick learner. I expect by the time I return in September she will be doing her own shopping.
There won’t be anything new before the post called "Hostage Taker", but everything since will be dated in some approximate manner for a while, including perhaps a few bridge pieces about the last two years. I will be posting those from memory, in a gesture towards overall coherence. But I have actually begun writing again right after the Fourth of July 2013.
You can keep looking back for new stuff if you want. There will be some. But I expect to be going forward as well. Bear in mind that I am doing all this from the side of the road.
Wish me luck. And ya'll have a nice day.
Posted by Bob Giddings at 1:55 PM