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Our Camper Van




Amy's Cakes

Outboard Hydroplane Racing

Radio Controlled Toys

Camping in Moab, overlooking Arches and La Sal Mtns.

01/14/06 (E): Wherein Erik & Amy Deal with Leaks of Air and Water...

The last few weeks have been quite busy, and hopefully will excuse the lack of update here.

First I will try to list the work we have done on the van since the latter half of December:

  • Added 3 rails to the pantry, on the side with no rails, increasing the load capacity and making it much less wobbly (this brings the number of rails to 6, where it was delivered with 2, which broke) (photo in the interior page near the bottom)
  • Replace cheap GE fluorescent fixtures we had installed in the rear of the van with brighter (and hopefully longer-lived) marine fixtures (photo in the electrical page near the bottom)
  • Ran the air plumbing and electrics for the ARB locking differentials front and rear
  • Installed a 6 lighted switch panel for the computer cabinet to more easily turn components on and off, and to indicate when we have forgotten to turn something off (photo in the electrical page as well)
  • Injected expanding polyurethane foam in the arch over the rear door to better insulate the plumbing against freezing in cold temperatures
  • Diagnosed a significant leak in the passenger side-sliding window as due to the window seal not being installed with the window, and in fact the window is a driver's side specific window anyway. Silicone rubber for a temporary seal while SMB ships us the proper window and seal.
  • Replaced hard line from water tank to water pump with a flexible supply hose to further isolate pump vibration (details at bottom of plumbing page)
  • Installed battery temperature sensors for the battery monitor, inverter/charger, and solar charge controller, allowing them to account for temperature affects on battery voltage and capacity
  • Added 1" of foam insulation around and under the house batteries to keep them warmer in cold weather (warmer batteries yield easier alternator charging and higher capacity)

all of which has been done in Seattle while it tries to break the historical record for number of consecutive days of rain...

And now a summary of our "adventures"....

The last entry left us in Salt Lake City getting locking differentials installed a few days prior to Christmas. On Christmas eve we left Amy's sister's hospitality and headed north, aiming for a place we had seen on a map, in Idaho, called "Lava Hot Springs". We did not know what to expect but figured it was probably something to do with hot water.

Lava Hot Springs is actually a small tourist-oriented town south of Pocatello, ID in a narrow valley with hot water coming out of lava rock in a number of places. The main hot-pools are in down-town with a few large and small pools with water that was plenty hot for us, with a nice atmosphere. 5$ entry per adult for the day. We spent a few hours at the pools and, as dusk approached, we hoped back in the van and looked at local roads for some isolation.

We ended up going out a dirt road covered in ice till another road branched off which had only had snow-mobile traffic for the visible past. We followed the snowmobile tracks through about 1' of snow for a mile or so till we were at a high point of the road away from everything. The drive was a bit interesting, with lots of sliding about and wheel spinning, but since we were always climbing I kept reassuring Amy getting out would be "no problem"...
Christmas in the Snow

We strung up our LED Christmas lights in the van, hung a blown glass tree ornament from a penthouse hook, and built a gingerbread house from a kit. Then, while munching some of the leftover candy that didn't make it to the house we watched some old Christmas classic cartoons and the movie Elf.
Chiristmas Lights in the Van

On Christmas we opened the gifts from our parents and each other, called family and friends over the satellite phone, and then went hiking around the area in the snow for a few hours. We came back, ate the candy off the gingerbread house, put the house itself (the gingerbread was stale) out for the local critters to gnaw at, and listened to some audio books for the evening.
Gingerbread House

After Christmas we headed into Pocatello and finally managed to catch the latest Harry Potter movie. Following this we started south again, as we had just gotten word that we needed to get some final appointments in SLC taken care later that week.

We camped again in some mountains after driving as far as we could out a snow covered road, then backing up about 100 feet, turning around, and calling it good.
Idaho Mountain Snow

Back in Salt Lake City we discovered that gear oil was now dripping out of one of the axle tubes of the front axle. We brought the van back to the shop which had installed the differentials and asked that they resolve the issue while we ran our errands on the motorcycle. They finished replacing the axle seals around 6:30pm (apparently they had buggered up both sides of the front when doing the differential install), and we immediately headed towards my parents' place near Baker City, OR.

After a 9 hour drive, crowned by an hour of driving on the narrow winding Snake River Road avoiding rock falls in pitch-black, we arrived at my parents' home and went to sleep.

We spent a few days visiting with my parents, exchanging stuff we were carrying with stuff in storage, and picking up packages and mail that had been awaiting us. At this point we first noticed that a lot of water (from snow melting on the roof) was coming into the van and onto the counter from the passenger side slider window.

On New Years' eve we headed up to the Seattle area to attend a party being held by one of our friends. We parked the van in Amy's parents' driveway, attended the party and then began doing work on the van over the next few days.

The first task was installing the air lines to drive the ARB lockers. I moved the one-way valve from the air-tank to the compressor outlet, ran a branch of the now-pressurized line to a small regulator which feeds both of the solenoids for the front and the rear lockers (the lockers require 85-105psi). The air line to the front differential was then run, and the wiring and switches were installed in the dash and hooked up to power as necessary. On firing up the compressor, testing for leaks, and actuating the locker everything seemed perfect except for a hiss of air leaking from inside the front differential, and cycling of the air compressor.

I disassembled the air-fitting on the front differential and found that the shop had installed the internal air-line incorrectly, using a brass compression ferrule where a rubber o-ring was intended. I had to phone the shop over a couple of days and then finally drive to ARB in Renton, WA to pickup a replacement bulkhead air-line fitting kit. The kit they provided turned out to be the wrong one as well, but I was able to scavenge the necessary parts from it to replace the damaged ferrule and seal everything up. The rear differential hooked up properly and caused no problems, but after all those screw ups I am certainly not terribly keen to have a shop ever touch our van again.

Interspersed with the troubles involving the differentials, I sprayed foam in the arch over the rear door to better insulate the plumbing (where we believe it had frozen when in SLC), installed some extra rails on the pantry to better support the load, installed better fluorescent lighting in the rear of the cabin, and put in place a lighted switch panel for the computer cabinet.

While parked in the Seattle area, it was raining every day, and we kept finding water pooled up on the counter in increasing amounts. I examined the window and could not see any seal that would keep water out and so contacted SMB to find out how water was intended to be excluded from the interior. In the interim I ran a bead of silicone rubber around the flange of both slider windows to keep down the water damage. After a few days of conversations it came out that not only had a seal NOT been installed on our window as it should have, but we, in fact, had the incorrect window installed (a driver's side instead of a passenger's side window). We are now awaiting a shipment from SMB of the proper window and a seal for it.

Today we have just returned to Amy's parents' after spending 3 days at the ski area at Snoqualmie Pass, about 50 miles east of Seattle. We had purchased season passes last season, but there was near no snow all winter, so the ski-area rolled the passes over to this season. With the van and our living situation we are able to stay up during the week when there are few people and no crowds. I am also going into my office a few days of the week to get some work done and touch base with my coworkers.

02/11/06 (E): Snowboarding.... More Snowboarding... And More Snowboarding...

Still in the Seattle area after a month and a half. We have settled into a routine where I go into work at the office on Monday, Tuesday morning we drive up to the ski area, Tuesday afternoon through Friday we snowboard during the daylight hours, and then head back into town as the crowds pick up on Friday afternoon.

With the snowfall we usually keep our roof down overnight so that the mechanism is not overloaded by the snowfall. Often we wake up to 1-1.5' of fresh snow.
Nightly Snowfall

We have both improved significantly with our snowboarding skills, and the ability to live a hundred yards from the bottom of the lift all week is pretty darn cool. The weather has been rather wet throughout, with the first days of sunshine this last week. Temperatures at Snoqualmie Pass are usually around or above freezing, with the snow only staying around because it falls so much and so often it doesn't have time to melt till spring.

The roof-box sprung a leak where one of the bolts holding the solar-panels on goes through the roof. Since there were no drain holes in the bottom of the box it had developed a nice little lake till we discovered the issue. Luckily we have dry weather this weekend to address this.

In terms of the van only a few things have gone wrong in the last few weeks. We installed the new side window one afternoon when the rain stopped, and discovered the leak was due to a plywood flange around the inside of the window hole not being cut to proper size. The plywood strips holding the curtains up gave up with the humidity and we replaced them with 1/8th aluminum strip. The plastic tape that protects the edge of the metal van roof from the penthouse edge (when the roof is down) has begun to peel up on one side. The toilet has stopped flushing (motor runs, but nothing is pumped out) and water seeps up into its battery compartment from below. The interior ceiling corners are degrading further with the high humidity and condensation.

We have also obtained a new form of data communication. Data service over cell has advanced quite a bit lately, and there are now large areas that are covered by EVDO and 1xRTT service, which allows us to get online with less hassle and latency than the satellite system. The satellite dish is still the only thing for our remote travels, but when we are on a freeway, or near a large town or city, this will be how we get online. We picked up a PC card that will work in any of the computers, and augmented it with a roof-mounted omni-directional cell antenna. The antenna helps when we are far from a tower, or even just when the computers are shielded by the walls of the van. The antenna also works with our cell phone, so we can make and hold calls better when on the road. If needed we can also put a powered bi-directional signal booster in line to increase our coverage range, but we will wait to see if this is necessary.

02/16/06 (E): San Jose Business Trip

I'm writing this as I fly back to Seattle from a two day business trip to the San Jose, CA area. Each time I go through there I am reminded of how glad I am that we did not move down there during the tech-boom of the late '90's. Too many people, too many cars, etc. etc. It really puts our current nomadic lifestyle into significant contrast. The one thing I did envy was the prevalence of motorcycle parking areas, which seems a foreign concept in the Seattle area. I did get to meet up with my old high-school friend Shane for dinner, and catch up (although in this age of email and IM, there wasn't much new to talk about except how old and ugly the other was looking).

On the home-front we took the porta-potty into a service shop for warranty repair and they called back to say it would be about 7 business days till it was fixed... So we get to go for two weeks without, which will undoubtedly be terribly fun. While at the shop we looked at the manual flush units that Thetford also sells. They look identical to our electric unit (model 585) but have a rubber/plastic bellows for a pump, and the shop even carries replacement bellows. We are considering switching over, or seeing if the bellows will fit in place of the motor unit, as that would reduce the need for batteries as well as providing a simpler mechanism for which we can carry a spare.

At the slopes we are getting more adventurous, spending most of our time on Monday and Tuesday snowboarding through the terrain park, trying out the smaller jumps, esses, and the half-pipe. All the time practicing has taken us from definitely below-average at the start of January, to a bit above average compared to the others we see on the hill. We picked up some new bindings for Amy at an REI clearance sale, and they seemed to make a significant difference as these actually fit her boots (the old ones were quite a bit too large, and quite cheaply made, but we bought all our equipment cheap and used when we did not know how much we would actually use it).

Sportsmobile has sent us some replacement tape for the stuff that is peeling up where the penthouse sits on the metal roof, and some reinforcing pieces to put at the corners of the penthouse inner ceiling. Installation will be as time and weather permit, since neither of these are immediately critical tasks.

We saw 14.4 amps of input current from the solar array on Monday at noon (clear day on the mountain), which is the most we have seen to date. Come summer time we should have no problem at all maintaining out batteries indefinitely while parked, even being somewhat frivolous with our power usage.

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