Wait…what’s that smell???

From Mammoth Cave we made the decision to head west to Colorado. And like all great Western adventurers we headed to the gateway of the West-St. Louis. Things were going swimmingly. Cruising down the highway at Coachese’s maximum speed we made almost as good time as a covered wagon. As soon as the Legendary Gateway Arch came into view the camera came out.

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Somewhere out there is the Arch…really.

And that’s when it happened. First there was a terrible squealing noise, then a lot of shaking, then more squealing. Then the sensation the engine was about to fall out of the chassis. We pulled off onto the safest place we could find-a narrow median strip straddling a truck filled highway and an on-ramp. Super fun.

Once stopped we noticed smoke coming out of the engine. A lot. But it dissipated quickly. After a somewhat sketchy and terrifying attempt to check out what was going on we found nothing obviously wrong. Huh. After a few minutes we were able to start up Coachese and limp him off the highway to a nearby KOA.

We were 300 miles into our trip.

It’s important to pay attention to signs. This was not a great one. Still, as we camped at the KOA we weren’t ready to give up on our journey.We got some fairly optimistic advice we might be able to make it to Colorado if we just kept an eye on Coachese’s fluids. In the meantime there was a storm rolling in but we had an electric hook-up and could finally get Wembley comfortable with air conditioning. We had wifi and could stream the Olympics. We had our beautiful, water-tight mobile home to keep us dry when the downpour started. And in the morning, after checking our fluid levels, we were headed for Colorado.

Then the electricity at the campground went out. No problem, it was much cooler with the storm. But that also meant the wifi was down. No Olympics. Our positivity was starting to wear thin. But as the wind howled and the rain beat down at least we were dry.

Until…reaching into an upper cabinet water ran down my arm. In a massive rush to find the leak and move everything in its path we broke one of our favorite bowls. We discovered our ukulele had miraculously caught most of the water-shocking how much it could hold-so the water damage was minimal. But looking at our carefully organized upper shelf contents scattered on the floor was very disheartening. When we finally sat back down it was hard to keep seeing things in a positive light. But I tried.

“At least its only leaking in one-” I started to say.

And on cue drip, drip, drip splattered my arm from another upper shelf.

Signs.

It was a bleak night. But we woke up mostly dry and still dedicated to our Western Dream. We topped off our fluids, started the engine and headed out of the KOA. We lasted maybe 20 miles. This time there was a terrible burning smell and hollow whistling followed by a deeply disturbing wail. We were not going anywhere.

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Coachese Gets A Lift

So here we are, in St. Louis, Gateway to the West. It seems like a lot of the mechanical work we put into Coachese to start this adventure has come undone. This is actually a pretty big deal. Right now Coachese is in the hands of yet another mechanic. Why should anything go differently this time?

A few signs seem to be pointing in the right direction. We found a pet friendly airbnb in St. Louis in a great neighborhood a few blocks from Jeni’s Ice Cream. We have unlimited Olympic TV coverage and wifi. Wembley hasn’t panted in days.

And it looks like we’re going to get a much closer look at that Arch.

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Westward Ho.

 

 

 

 

 

Rolling Meth Lab

Well, we did it. So far. We’ve been camping for almost a week in Coachese. And I have to admit, he’s beautiful. On the inside. Where it counts. On the outside, well…cropped-0603161407.jpg

The week before we hit the road we did a lot of work on the inside with the help of our friends Erin and Ope in Cincinnati. More about that here. Our first night hanging out at their house they started to chuckle huddled over Ope’s phone. He read out his neighbor’s text.

“Who’s cooking meth outside your house?”

Yep, our beloved Coachese drew that reaction from our friends’ tony neighborhood. And I can’t say I blame them. In pictures its hard to tell but Coachese’s rusted and warped aluminum, wavy siding, and dry rotted window sealings do not make for regal attire, or even a presentable outfit. He looks more like a stout tramp in ripped and worn, but mostly clean, clothes. Ones with a wild stripe.

It’s not like our VW bus, which we had repainted so it looked new.

My beautiful picture

VW buses are so loved and associated with hippie culture it always brought smiles to people’s faces. Peace signs flew up as we rolled down the street. No one has the same associations with the ’74 Winnebago Brave. No one walks up and tells us how they grew up camping in one of these with their six brothers and sisters. Thanks Breaking Bad.

20160411_121941Looking at him you know he’s old. The passage of 42 years has left every dent, scuff, tear, hole, and irregularity marring his once pristine exterior. For that he gets his bad reputation. But his age is why I love him.

Is it just nostalgia that makes me love him, that misguided notion everything was better in the past? Now is likely the greatest of all times. But it doesn’t stop me from romanticizing the way things were. Especially the way I think they were in the ’70’s from my formative Sesame Street watching years-a messier, grittier, less sanitized time when people were figuring out their new places in a world trying to be free of racism, sexism, classism, and homophobia.

So I’d like to keep all his outer wrinkles and signs of wear, prevent him from becoming too precious, too perfect. Sure he’ll continue to look like a rolling meth lab to a lot of people but to me he’s a nostalgic vision cruising into the future.

 

 

 

 

Ikea To The Rescue

 

Sorry there have been so few posts. It took a little longer than we thought to get on the road. BUT…We Are On The Road! There were a variety of mechanical glitches (honestly too boring to write about here) that delayed our start. We got them sorted out by some pros and hopefully things will hold up. When we finally got the Winnebago in our possession our amazing friends in Cincinnati let us crash with them while we cleaned it up and made it liveable. Thanks guys!!! And please apologize to your neighbors for the plummeting home values in Hyde Park while we were parked there.

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Over the course of about a week (and with tons of help from Ikea, our friends, and the Hyde Park Ace Hardware) we cleaned out all the cabinets (so gross) and reinforced the falling down shelves. We also yanked the crumbling yellow laminate counter and old sink out of the kitchen and installed a deeper sink and a butcher block counter from Ikea (who was conveniently having a ridiculous sale-hello $39 countertop!). This all sounds simple but it somehow became sort of insanely complicated due to our lackluster mastery of plumbing. Here’s the “before”:

And the “after”:

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New Ikea counter and sink

Demolition with friends:

 

Here are more shots of the finished product:

We also vacuumed the shit out of everything. And then we vacuumed again. We threw out the old sketchy mattress (which was only about 41″ wide) and put in a full-size mattress (also from Ikea) using a handy extension an RV guy named Josh built for us. Then we had to ACE hardware/MacGuyver a way to keep the bed from crashing down on our heads because the new bed is way heavier than the old one. This sounds risky and the full size bed extension was a pain in the ass to do, but SO WORTH IT. Otherwise, we’d never be able to roll over. Ever. Plus, we really wanted to be able to sleep with the pups. We’ll post some better pictures of the bed a little later, but that’s it over the driving seats, and that’s the latch system we made, and that’s Wembley getting excited to sleep in a loft.

We also made all new curtains WITHOUT ACTUALLY SEWING. We used an inspired combo of blackout curtains from Lowe’s and several miles of fabric tape. We’ll see how long that lasts. Also, the new seat cushions we ordered from an online RV surplus place finally came in. They were 4 weeks late but 10 times better than we were expecting. We chose the material online and really had no idea what it would look like.Our  expectations were pretty low but they look incredible! We love them. We’re thrilled.

Here’s how things were looking when we left Cincinnati:

When were about 90% done we decided we just had to go. If we waited until everything was perfect we’d never get started. We had no more deliveries scheduled at our adopted home so we finally  piled the rest of our stuff into the Winnebago and headed out of Cincinnati. We decided we could finish up our remaining projects on the road. And that’s what we did. We spent the first night at a state park in Ohio trying to hang our new front curtains (we succeeded) and getting the bathroom into shape.

We’ve been at Mammoth Cave National Park in Kentucky for a few days…trying out the composting toilet, figuring out where to keep everything, trying to hook up the solar, touring the cave. So far, so good. No major mishaps. We’re currently trying to decide if we should head out to Colorado or up to Maine. Any suggestions?

RV Equipment Wishlist

(We are really late getting this post out! Starting writing it a few weeks ago. We decided to post it in its original form to keep things in sequence.)

We haven’t actually camped in our Winnebago, Coachese, yet. We haven’t even had him in our possession for most of the time we’ve owned him (more on that HERE). But hopefully, sometime this month, we’ll set off to travel and live in him for a couple of months. So, how do we know what we’ll need to make the trip a success? We don’t. But that hasn’t stopped us from dreaming/planning. Some of the things we’re keeping in mind are:

  • Camping without hook-ups. Private campgrounds can be a drag (and expensive) so we want to be able to take advantage of some amazing National Forests and other free public lands.
  • Space efficiency. Coachese is pretty small for an RV, just 19′ long and no slide-outs.
  • Food. We cook a lot. We want to make smart choices about what to bring so we can eat the way we want to without dragging a lot of crap around.
  • Money. We came to the states to make money, so ideally, we don’t want to spend it all before we get home.

With those goals in mind, here is a list of things we’re hoping to have for this trip-  we’ll let you know what we are actually able to get and how everything works out as we go:

  •  Nature’s Head Composting Toilet. Pros: I know, it sounds gross but stay with me. It uses no water at all and there is no black (sewage) tank to dump.  We know from our experiences renting RV’s that we HATE emptying the black tank. Plus, it’s an insane waste of water. So this should allow us to convert our black tank to a gray tank and keep us from using a lot of our fresh, drinatures head picnkable water to flush poop.This one piece of equipment should allow us to camp in the wild, without dumping, for much longer periods of time. I’m not going to go into all of the science-y details of how this works because other people on the internet have already done a much better job than I can do. Check them out.                        Cons:  It’s bigger than our existing RV toilet and it  might be a tight squeeze in our very tiny bathroom. If it doesn’t fit where the old toilet was, we’ll put it in the shower stall, essentially turning it into a wet bath like in a sailboat. Another drawback is the expense. The Nature’s Head costs about $950. Yeah, American Dollars. It’s a big investment for  an RV we’ll only be using a couple of months at a time, but we’re also considering one for our house in St. John where water conservation is crucial. This’ll be sort of a test case. Verdict: We are definitely getting this. It’s being shipped and/or installed right now. We’ve never actually seen one in person and I know some people might be as curious as I am about it, so we will be sure to post about it every (possibly disgusting) step of the way.

 

  • Solar Power.  After looking at a bunch of fancy rooftop solar renogy generic picsolutions, we decided to just go small. We think it will be easier to be careful about how much power we use than to go super high-tech. We’ll be using the batteries for the lights (which we’re changing to LED), a couple of 12V fans, phone and laptop charging, the circuit board for the fridge (which will run mainly on propane) and the very small vent fan for the toilet. We ordered a 100W RENOGY Solar Suitcase to charge our batteries. We also got this Renogy 30 Amp Charge Controller and some extra long cables so that we can park in the shade and leave the panels in the sun. The whole setup cost about $350. You can also get the suitcase with a built in controller, but those were out of stock when I ordered. The whole package is on the way and we’ll let you know how it works out.

 

  • Water. We’re big fans of clean drinking water without disposable plastic bottles.goberkey You should be too. To filter our cistern water in St.John we use a Big Berkey Water Filter. We love it. It’s easy, it tastes amazing, it uses no power. For this trip we need something small and easily stowable, so we opted for the tiny 1-qt Go Berkey and a couple of Berkey sports bottles, neither of which we’ve used before. Our plan is to use the GoBerkey to fill up a bigger container of water we’ll keep in the fridge or wherever.These are all items we can take back with us if we need to. The Berkeys just came today and when we try them out we’ll let you know how it goes.

 

  • Kitchen.  The sink in the RV is tiny and we know from experience that doing dishes will be a challenge. Remodeling the kitchen is out. Bringing along a couple of collapsible tubs is in. We love this one. 61ezv9UVilL._SL1200_We used it for years when we were camping in the VW. Wash in the sink and rinse in the tub. Super easy. Very cheap. We also ordered a slightly larger one as a general purpose bucket. Because you never know…                                                                                                             And, finally, we splurged on this nesting set of pots from Magma. Seem to be high quality pots that take up very little space. Can’t wait to try them out!magma pots

Disclaimer!!! Just to be clear, we are not getting any compensation at all for trying these products out. Zero. Really. We bought them all ourselves and we are just writing about it because we’ve gotten a lot of pretty good info from people on the interweb and we think we should contribute something. We’ll keep you posted on how this stuff works out for us, and if you have any questions or comments about something specific just leave us a note. Thanks!

The Truth about Our Winnebago

20160411_121941Our Winnebago Brave is kind of a wreck.

Originally we’d planned to buy a pretty inexpensive, probably very ugly, RV in fairly good working order. Maybe a Class C from the nineties. Something practical we could use for a relaxing road trip in the states before we head home to St. John. We thought we could either sell it after the trip or store it to use whenever we’re over here. You know, something practical. Because as much as we love older vehicles, we knew that we were in no position to buy a project. We’ve been living out of a seemingly endless string of Airbnb’s in Indianapolis for months as Jennifer’s work assignment keeps getting extended. We have no tools. We have no contacts here. We don’t reliably have a driveway or a garage. We literally have our two dogs, our luggage, and a couple of hard-to-find-on-island goodies that we’re planning on taking home. But after a couple of weeks of scouring the internet for possibilities, we saw an add for a “90% restored” 1974 Winnebago Brave D19.

It was so cute! It was so much cooler than modern RV’s. Plus, it was small enough to fit in most parking spaces. And it has a bathroom, which is a huge upgrade from the 1977 VW bus we loved and traveled in before. We couldn’t resist. So I flew down to Florida to check it out, in hopes of driving it back to Indianapolis for some minor updating.

 

The Winnebago looked much rougher in person than in the photos. Shocker, right? This was not “90% restored”, even from a distance. It had obviously been sitting neglected for a very long time. The tires were dry rotted. The inside was pretty filthy and moldy. The appliances had not been tested. There was some water damage…but it had such a better feel than a modern RV. It was like a cabin on wheels.

Then came the test drive. It was a disaster. It barely ran. The brakes were pretty much non-existent. None of the gauges worked. There was absolutely no way I could drive it 1000 miles. Or even 10 miles. The price was way too high but I negotiated it down (still way too high) and called Jennifer. After maybe five minutes discussion, I bought it and the seller’s son bravely coasted it over to a nearby shop. And I flew back to Indy empty-handed. Here’s some of what it took to get it stable enough for me to be able to drive it to back to Indianapolis:

  • 6 new tires
  • Full tune-up and replace intake manifold gaskets, timing cover gaskets, etc.
  • A very hard to find water pump
  • shocks
  • batteries and terminals
  • fix and/or replace all the wiring for brake lights, signals, wipers, horn, headlights, etc
  • brakes: master cylinder
  • reroute generator fuel line (safety issue)
  • new oil pressure gauge

It stayed at the shop for like six weeks. When I finally went back down to pick it up it was running. But it was leaning pretty heavily to the right and the steering wheel was not aligned. Basically I had to steer at an angle to go straight. And I kind of felt like I was going to fall out of my seat a lot of the time. I needed to get an alignment and to have the suspension looked at, but I didn’t have time. The mechanic who’d been working on it wasn’t set up to do it and none of the truck places could fit me in. SO after much discussion with the mechanic, I decided just to drive it like that and get it looked at in Indianapolis-if I made it.

Kind of a sketchy decision. Also, in general, it is not ideal to go on a 1000 mile/three day trip in a vehicle that has been sitting so long. I pretty much knew SOMETHING would go wrong, just not exactly what or how bad it would be. I had gotten used to this feeling when we had our ’77 bus. Without knowing much about engines or cars in general I was always having to figure stuff out with the bus. I wasn’t sure how much of that VW technical experience would carry over to the Winnebago, but I knew how to expect the unexpected and keep on rolling.

This journey was made even more interesting by the fact the speedometer, odometer, and gas gauge were still broken. Not running out of gas would get tricky but I was pretty sure I wouldn’t be speeding. My first stop was a Wal-Mart where I picked up a decent GPS  I could stick on the dash that would give me a rough idea of how fast I was going and how many miles I’d traveled. I also bought a pen so I could keep a log of how much gas I was going through (a lot). High-tech meets low-tech. My plan was to drive in daylight and sleep in motels because nothing had been done yet to the interior or any of the camping equipment/systems. And, just to be clear, the Winnebago was still really gross.

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On the road!

The first couple of hours, bouncing along at 50mph in the right lane, were absolutely terrifying. But then I got used to it and it was amazing to be cruising down the highway in such a fine, fine motorcoach. Obviously the radio didn’t work, but I eventually downloaded a book on my phone and stuck one headphone in so I could be entertained and also stay alert for scary noises.

Sometime on day two I noticed the gas pedal wasn’t really bouncing all the way back when I let up on it. I pulled over, did some googling, did some looking around under the Winnebago and decided it was probably a spring of some kind, or maybe the cable, but I had no idea how to make it better so I just took off my shoe so that I could physically pull the pedal back with my toes. This was not a practical solution for everyday driving but I thought it would be manageable since I was pretty much only on the highway. Okey dokey.

Then in Tennessee at the end of day two, maybe 600 some-odd miles in, I hear a scary noise. A loud continuous THWAPPING sound, like a belt gone crazy or something. So I took the next exit and heard some sputtering, like backfiring. As I’m coasting into this gas station to check it out I hear the loudest backfire. Ever. I did a quick inspection and saw that there was indeed a belt hanging loose, but I couldn’t figure out where it went. I ended up calling AAA and getting hooked up with a very cool local mechanic and his girlfriend (thank you John and Ashley) who met me at the gas station. John showed me how a bolt came off the alternator causing the belt to slip AND showed me where the spring for the gas pedal had broken off AND fixed both things right there. No tow. Great conversation.

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Whoa! Muffler explosion.

The downside was the huge backfire was basically my muffler exploding. Serious exhaust problems and a very loud Winnebago ensued. John’s opinion was that I wouldn’t actually be doing more damage by driving it that way, so the next morning I fired it up, opened all the windows and actually made it to Indianapolis. Rejoice. However, when I was taking pictures of Jennifer and the dogs in front of the RV, I noticed that the rooftop AC unit was in tatters. Somewhere along the way the shroud (and various ac parts) must have blown off. So scary.  I had no idea. So scary.

Once in Indy I took it pretty much immediately to get aligned and have the suspension adjusted (although the wheel still needs to be straightened). And then on to another shop where they replaced the muffler and the exhaust manifold…but it’s not a perfect fit so they’re looking for another manifold (and a shifter cable, too) and in the meantime it’s at yet another shop (two hours away, near Cincinnati) where we are having some stuff done to the interior (new a/c, water tank, composting toilet, checking all the propane, etc.). I took it all the way to that shop because I’d seen pictures of the work they’ve done on older campers and because when I called they were nice. Also, we have friends in Cincinnati . Very scientific reasoning, I know.

On our way to Cincinnati I noticed that the oil pressure seemed kind of low compared to when I was driving back from Florida. Also, there were a couple of low popping sounds which I think might have been from the exhaust leak? Anyway, I stopped. I didn’t see any leaks. I checked the oil and there was some brown oil on the dipstick (which is hard to read) but it was arguably a bit low. So I put in maybe 1/2 to 3/4 of a quart. But when I checked the dipstick again…I couldn’t see any oil at all. Seriously. Jennifer and I both dipped and looked and dipped and looked and nothing was on the stick. Where’s the oil??? I didn’t want to keep pouring it in without any idea of what was going on. So I fired it up. The pressure was better. We continued on our way and made it to the shop, although the oil pressure seemed to be creeping back down a bit. This shop doesn’t really do chassis work, they’re just doing the camper stuff, so I’ll have to figure all that out when they’re finished. I just need to make sure I can drive it two hours back to the shop that’s finishing the exhaust work.

Basically we’ve done exactly what we said we were not going to do. We bought a project. And because of our current situation (time and space) we have to just keep paying different people to work on it for us. Although, honestly, most of this stuff we would have had a mechanic do no matter where we were living. We have about six more days in Indianapolis, and we can probably stay with our friends in Cincinnati for a while after that, but we are really, really hoping to be on the road within the next two weeks. That way we can travel in the Winnebago for at least six weeks before we head back to the Virgin Islands. So, instead of buying a practical  RV that would have been easy to part with at the end of our adventure, it already feels like we have a new family member.

 

 

Adventure Limbo

We’ve heard there’s a lot of satisfaction in carefully planning an adventure, in taking the time to map out a route, buy the necessary supplies, and prepare for all contingencies. We know the excitement of the last minute decision to take off with its frantic packing and unknowable future. But right now our pre-travel state is neither of these. We’re in adventure limbo.

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Our home in St. John

Four months ago we left our home in beautiful St. John to come to Indianapolis to make money. After four months we’d planned to take a trip around the country in an RV. Then we’d leave the RV stateside when we went back to St. John so we’d always have a home and vehicle in the states. In the dreaming phase our trip around the country was purposefully vague-we’d see how much money we had and where it seemed good to go depending on the weather or people we needed to visit.

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Coachese in Florida

We bought an RV in Florida about two months ago. It’s a 19′ 1974 Winnebago Brave we’ve named Coachese. It was in pretty bad shape. It kinda ran and barely stopped. But it’s perfect for us! We love vintage vehicles, its small enough to fit in a parking spot, it has a bathroom, and its exactly as old as we are. So we left it in a shop in Florida for six weeks before it was safe enough to make the 1,000 mile journey to Indianapolis. We’ll write a separate post about the mechanical stuff but in short fixing Coachese was like playing with Russian nesting dolls, every time they worked on one problem another one was uncovered. Now its outside of Cincinnati awaiting a camper overhaul. Nothing fancy, just things like fixing the leaking windows and roof, getting the appliances and plumbing working, and checking the electrical system. You know, everything.

 

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Coachese dinette and toilet.

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Coachese kitchen and toilet.

We have eight days left in Indianapolis. We have no idea when Coachese will be ready. There are tons of things we need to do to get ready for our trip. We have no basic camping supplies, no sheets or towels, no sleeping bag, no pots, no pans, no flashlights. It’s crunch time, or is it? Welcome to the uncertainty of our lives. Stay tuned.