Wednesday, May 29, 2013

A Swankie Bunk (bed)

In the beginning... finally, as a result of a insurance settlement... I have my new home... and since my last name really is SWANKIE, what else could I name it but "SwankieWheels?"   Now to make it mine, really mine.  The build begins.


Sorry this one is blurred, but here is my new van (in 2009) empty… a canvas waiting for a master.  Yes, it was already paneled and carpeted like this with a very nice felt pad and rubber mat on the floor.  It had been customized for a key maker, who then did not take delivery of it. Next a guy got it to haul his motorcycle in.  He only used it a year and it was pretty new still.  Only had 24,000 miles on it.  Chevy Express 2006 Cargo van.  With my trade-in, it cost me about $9,000.  I have not spent one dollar on it in five years now, except for regular oil changes, tires, and regular maintenance.

Note the nice wheel well boxes.  The lids lift off.  There was a huge speaker on the front of each box, which I removed and gave away.  The driver side box has a second air conditioner/heater… hence the vents on the front of the box.  Note the black hole below the left hand vent… that a cold air intake for the heater. I only looked at one other van before this, and knew this was the one for me… so I just got it.


With the lid off, you can see the AC/heater unit inside the box.


I needed to do two things first 1) build a bed and 2) get my desk into the van (that will be a separate blog).  So, seemed to me, all I needed to do was put a 2 x 4 piece on the wheel well boxes… and then plywood on top of that.  I drilled three holes to run bolts through, large washers inside the box and bolted the 2 x 4 in place.  Decided the wooden grills needed to come off so the 2 x 4 would be flush.  Then actually, if I need to run that heater, the air would get out better, since these spaces were now partly covered by the 2 x 4.


I actually enlarged the hole on the right, to let more heat out… but in four years, I’ve only been cold enough to use this heater twice and not for very long, just to get the inside of the van above freezing.


I did all this work, on the sidewalk by my friend’s house, in Monterey, CA… just four blocks from the Monterey Aquarium.  It felt odd, and a little embarrassing, but I had no other options.


With the 2 x 4s securely in place, I cut plywood to span the gap.  As it turns out, I changed the height of the 2 x 4s twice before I was happy with the height of the bed, but it was easy enough to do, just drilling new holes and bolting it all down again.


See the upright 2 x 4 under the bed?  That was to be a leg brace, but it got in the way of storing stuff and just didn’t seem needed since the bed platform was reinforced from underneath, so I removed that.  No sagging at all… because the span between the wheel well boxes is so short.

07-arigging_van 001

I made the back section of the platform, a hinged piece that could be set up like this to be kind of a couch back… leaving room for tall things to stand up by the rear doors.  Cool idea, just didn’t feel the need for it that way and it seemed to be wasting a lot of space.  (that sheet was for a double bed, so later it became my bunk curtains)

08-arigging_van 002

The bed in place, I now had room to lay down and be comfortable and begin sleeping in my own home.  I altered the desk and got it inside with the help of a couple of guys passing by (details in the Desk Post later).  I then began fitting other things in place and trying it all out.


The key maker had had nice hooks placed all over, so most stayed in place (see whisk broom?).  Here you can see the details of the couch back.  I like my wood well sealed with paint… so I can keep it cleaner and keep dust down.

10-arigging_van 006

It was nice to have that space in the back for tall things, like chairs and tents, but I felt it was also not a good use of space.

Finally, I just left the back board down and it has remained that way for years now.  The space where the purple pillow is, now has my duffle bag of clean clothes, another bag for laundry, my DVD player and DVDs, and a stack of pants and jackets.  All that is level with my mattress, and my extra blanket lays on top of that and extends the width of the bed a little.  Everything is handy to reach when I get up to dress in the morning, or want to lay in bed at night and watch a movie.  I’m not feeling the need to change any of that.  There is now a cargo net across that back, at bed level, and netting over this door space.  I love to lay there with my head in the fresh night air.


Earlier view before the desk and cabinets went in. Note the painted 2x4 sticking out on the right side of the photo… I finally moved the platform forward to be even with the front ends of the wheel well boxes, giving me even more storage on top and underneath.  The bed platform is not screwed in to anything, it just rests in place and should I need to use the van to haul things, I could just remove the bed completely in a matter of minutes.

Later view of the bed space.  Behind the blue pillow, you can see the top edge of a Campers Closet, a very well designed canvas shelf unit with zipper closures and pockets.  It was hand, but I later gave it away, as it too seemed to waste too much space.  I’ve thought of having heavy vegetable bins in that space, but have not yet decided.

I decided to hang curtains with a bungee cord and cup hooks, so that I can close off the bed for more privacy or when I am up at my desk, I can heat the middle part of the van without having to heat the rear bed part of the van.  There are curtains behind the driver and passenger seat as well, so I am only heating 1/3 of the interior space, if I need heat.

Note the plastic drawers on top of the microwave… they are held in place by super Velcro and bungee cords… and have stayed secure for four years.  Amazing.  Note the green skirt on the desk (right side) my little one burner butane stove slides out from there, and heating up water for cocoa and hot cereal, heats up this center part of the van.


After three years, I decided to modify my bed because my mattress kept slipping off the platform.  Much nicer being able to do this in the desert near Quartzsite, AZ than on the streets of Monterey, CA.  No one thinks this is strange in the desert. So I dug out the tools, I've been thinking about how to do this project for three years... and finally worked it out in my brain.  I cut a piece of wood to fit between the wheel well boxes (width of van is 5’7” and I am 5’6 3/4”, width of the wheel well boxes is 12” x 2, so width of bed platform is about 3’7” or so).  I used L-brackets to fasten it to the bed platform and also to the wheel well boxes.


It worked splendidly, however after living with it a couple weeks, I decided it was too difficult to slide off over the board, and the board needed to be cut down.

That was fairly easy to do… I actually did it in place without removing the board.

And so here it is... my new bed rail/bumper and is now perfect.

My curtains also went from floor to ceiling, so I cut them down to just go to bottom of the bed. Sleeping better now and not feeling like I am sliding off the bed anymore.  Closing the curtains at night, keeps my body heat in that bedroom… and I love the coziness of it.
And that cost was for a couple 2 x 4s, some plywood, six bolts, nuts and washers, and a few angle brackets, and a little paint, which I already had.

Projects sometimes have to grow on you.  I sketch out my thoughts, then measure things, then re-sketch.  Then I think on it, sleep on it, and once I reach a level of comfort with the concept, I just build it.  Not always a fast process… evolving over a period of 3.5 years, but I think it will serve me well for years to come.  If not, modifications are easy and possible.  Not worries, mate.

For more details on my rig, click on The Rig tab at the top of the page.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.  (Truly, life doesn't get any better than this, until tomorrow.)

Monday, May 27, 2013

Differences… why we are who we are????

This week, leaving my brother Jim and the best birthday
I’ve had in years, I headed north out of NV into ID. (Photo by Marla Laughlin)


First thing I needed to do was find some wilderness and just decompress and I  met this guy!  I had a wonderful hike (see Nevada Hike page) and spent the night before heading on to Idaho.  Also see the Drive North.


Maryann having breakfast in her van.  I don’t know how she bends her body in thirds like that.

I had met Maryann (M.A.) in Quartzsite in Jan. 2013 and we have become friends through Facebook since.  She wanted me to visit and I wanted to get to know her better since we seemed to share so many common interests.

Her van was in the shop when I arrived in town so I went to the Ford dealer to meet her and then on to get tea/coffee?  I called her to let her know I was at Ford but she was already walking up the street to the Coffee shop… so I picked her up.  We had a great chat, then went back to get her van.  They said the alternator was bad and ordered a new one, but the van would be o.k. to use for the weekend (ha ha).  We van camped in front of her friend’s home (which has the most beautiful urban garden I have ever seen).

Next day we drove north to the next town where her daughter lives… and I got treated to a hydro-massage (now there’s something you should not pass up if you get a chance to experience). I really enjoyed meeting her daughter, who is in between my two sons in age… by one year.  Beautiful young lady.


Then we went back out to M.A.’s van and it would not start.  Great.  (I suddenly remembered why I hate leaving my van behind anywhere.)  A tow truck came, took us back to Hailey, ID, dropped me at my van (oh, thank heavens) and I followed them back to Ford.  M.A. and I then returned to her friend’s home for supper, and her ex joined us.  It was a nice evening, but I felt bushed even though I had not really exerted any energy that day. 

The van was fixed right away and we picked it up and headed out to an urban campground named Hayspur, which is adjacent to the Silver Creek Preserve.



Very nice spot, surrounded by agricultural fields and a Nature Conservancy property (an area that was a favorite of Ernest Hemingway – Silver Creek Preserve).  Our plan was to kayak through the Conservancy the next day.  M.A. had never kayaked before and like me, has a cranky shoulder.  I assured her, if she tired of paddling, I could tow her. We set up camp at Hayspur Fish Hatchery (a free place to camp).  it is also listed on


Five more of her friends joined us for a great evening of chatting, laughing, taking silly photos, and drinking a few beer.  Lovely evening.

M.A.’s friend lost her husband this week and early the next morning she was called to be by her side and she departed camp before I was up.  I really came to visit M.A., not kayak, and without her there, I felt the need to move on but I went out and drove the kayaking route, checking out put-in and take-out points.  There is a visitor center you are suppose to check in before kayaking.  It was not open… I was told, ‘cause I couldn’t even find it.  I didn’t have a map.  I didn’t have a shuttle. 

The Un-Paddle

I think I would have enjoyed this location for a nice easy paddle.  I headed out early to explore the route… and found frozen spray in the agricultural fields.  Neat.


This would have been a fun paddle for me as it’s kind of a walk in Hemingway’s footstepsPage 2.





A bench at Hemingway’s Monument.



Met a beaver.


Normally, I kayak a circuit and don’t need a shuttle, but the current was too fast for me to paddle upstream, so, I determined I really needed to just get back out into the wilderness, especially since this was Memorial Day weekend Friday and many other campers and kids and dogs were arriving.  By nightfall, the place would be thick with smoke, and screaming kids, and being in the middle of a bad migraine, I knew I must leave.

Ice Cave

On the way back south to Jackpot, I stopped to see the Shoshone Indian Ice Caves.  Here are slides for now.

Why? Why did I need wilderness??   Some people need other people and like having lots of other people around and are more comfortable urban van camping.  I like/need lots of wilderness around and only truly enjoy real wilderness camping.  After stopping to pick up my printer, which I had left in Twin Falls to be check out as to why it stopped printing (it can still scan),  I then headed back down to Jackpot, NV and then out into the wilderness the next morning.


That night there was a full moon and I spent time talking to my sister in Alaska, beginning to plan my trip there.

Into the Wilderness, again.

Seen on the way to my 5/25 campsite:

I’ve been out here now for over 12 hours and have not seen one single person or vehicle.  Two antelope, a couple of swallows, I heard a crow, and there is a large mammal hole near the van, that I think is a badger’s (but I have not seen him yet).


Opal Spring and rock outcroppings that contain the Opal,
and a local resident.

One of the things I was searching for out here was an opal digging spot.  I had a local hand-drawn map I found at a gas station, but I had no topo map of the area… so I can’t believe I actually found Opal Spring (there are no signs).  I collected a lot of rock… and waste flakes from Indian projectile point production.  I wanted to continue on this road to a place called “Snake Skin Agate” diggings, but… the road didn’t look 2-wheel drive friendly.  At the Spring, you drive across the little stream (I did)… and you have a short dry stretch of road, and then a bog.  Looks like people drive through it at times of the year… and you can see the road continues on the other side… but I walked a bit of it and decided only 4x4 should try it.  There’s another road around to the Snake Skin Agate spot and I will try it later. Right now, I’m content to sit right where I am until I get antsy. 

Last night I returned on the road I came in on, about 1 mile to a nice level spot.  As I was trying to go to sleep… with a migraine and sinus headache, I noticed ringing in my right ear.  Pretty sure it’s not a new thing, just that I’ve just been in places with so much noise, I couldn’t hear it.  But last night, in the dead silence of this spot… it seemed very loud.  I guess I had heard it before, but thought it was my inverter, my solar controller, or my 12 volt refrigerator…. and never considered it was my ear!  My son has really bad tinnitis in his ears and it was so bad he had to take a leave of absence from work to deal with it emotionally and physically. 

But this morning, I woke and it was gone.  I laid in bed a long time wondering why it was so bad last night and so quiet this morning… and I conclude it was stress.  Stress?  From what?  I’m retired, doing what I want to do and in my own time.  Then it must be just being in cities, in towns, around people, cars, trucks, diesel fumes, car fumes, sounds of people, vehicle doors opening and closing, traffic, etc. I am not sure all of us were meant to live that way.  But here in the wilderness, I am noticing lots of differences.  Not just in my right ear.

First difference I noticed yesterday was SOUND, or lack thereof (an occasional airplane is all).  It was unnerving to begin with… but I’m quickly adjusting.  Second difference I noticed (maybe too much information here) was my bladder calming down and my kidneys working better.  Who would have thought?  Third difference I noticed as I prepared breakfast was the speed of preparation (or rather the slowness of it)… and how I was taking time to decide what to eat and how to fix it… and I was eating slowly and chewing more and enjoying the whole process, something that is very different from my normal style (quickest, easiest, fastest). 

I really became aware today for the first time, of how truly different I feel both mentally and physically by being in the wilderness and away from civilization (people, dogs, cars, campers, fumes, etc. and so forth).  Sure, most people can get the Mental part of that, but the impact and difference on me Physically is astounding.  O.K. I mentioned the bladder… and I don’t know why it’s better.  I’ve been on Detrol LA for years but went off of it a couple months ago… and have been doing pretty well, until I spent too much time in cities and drinking too many sodas.  And I guess there really is a “stress incontinence”  but I didn’t think it was caused by mental stress, just the physiological stress.

I used to be on all kinds of medicines, for bladder, stomach, headaches, allergies, nerves, inflammation, blood pressure, what’s left?  But now, the last medicine I’m trying to get off of is Prilosec.  I keep trying, and keep getting a really angry gut – the kind that makes you feel that you will surely die.  I realize I  need to completely change my eating habits (no fast foods, etc.) but that seems nearly impossible when I drive past those places all the time.  The difference out here in the wilderness is that there are no Golden Arches.

And headaches… I have suffered with bad headaches for the past couple of weeks.  That is different as mostly the past few years I seldom get a migraine – which I have suffered from since childhood.  But the past few days it has been pretty bad.  I decided last night I’d take whatever meds I needed to take to be out of pain and get some sleep.   I slept almost 12 hours and only had to get up to pee once (difference is usually up 4-5 times a night).  This morning, no headache.

So, it’s not just the COPD that I have to learn to manage, but I have to learn to listen to my whole body and how the stress of “civilized” living negatively impacts me.  We all need to listen to our bodies more.  Someone told me they are afraid of the openness of the wilderness and it would probably negatively effect them to do what I am doing now.  I accept those differences in other people.  Right now I have a 360 degree view of wilderness.  Only sign of civilization is a fence and cattle guard.  To me, this is wonderful, almost divine… but to others it is terrifying.  Why?  I think it is only their lack of experience in such settings.  I don’t feel I have anything to fear here (the badger has not even come out to say hello to me yet.)


I do admit, yesterday I considered camping on top of a ridge, a knoll, but it got very windy and wind is the one thing that really causes me anxiety (one only has to think about the recent storms in the Midwest to understand that)… and being the highest point around… there would be lightening to consider as well.  So, I got down off the hill and back into the valley.  The view is really just as amazing down here.  Jackpot has an elevation of 5,217 feet, and the mountains surrounding me range from 7,295-8,299 feet.  Elevation doesn’t seem to bother my COPD like it does some others (although I wondered while I was up on that ridge if it was making the headache worse). Could be a difference of 2,000 ft. from where I ended up for the night.  Just recently heard on radio if you take Ibuprofen before ascending to these high elevations, it can help prevent altitude sickness.

There’s another difference, I can breath better out here today, and the incessant dripping nose has stopped dripping.  Oh, thank God.

I don’t know how one person can be so different from another.  I don’t know how long I will be here… a day, or two, or until I run out of water or food? I like living in the NOW and not planning my next move.  I don’t even have cell or internet service here, so this won’t be posted until I go “into civilization.”  It doesn’t matter… I’m just going to enjoy all the marvelous differences. If I had a legacy to leave everyone, it would be “Do not fear the DIFFERENT but embrace it and enjoy all the new things there are to learn about your world and yourself.”


Another adventure heading my way, clouds are forming and are dark.  It might rain.  If it does, I won’t be able to leave… this road is not 2-wheel drive friendly if it is wet.  OK… my “don’t pen me in” panic button is on alert… but this too, I will deal with.  I have all I need to survive for even a couple weeks or more.  I’m O.K. and people who get my SPOT notices will get one nightly, showing my exact location.

Update: I left Friday to go into the wilderness. Saw no vehicles going 25 miles into the wild. Next day or two, I saw none. Then I saw two 4x4s with a couple each in one. They told me where I was on my little map... so I was on track getting to where I wanted to be. Didn't see another human until I came out of the wilderness this afternoon and 9 miles before I reached the highway again, I saw a truck with a guy in it. Didn't see any houses that whole time until 4 miles from the highway. I'm talking about 50 miles of wilderness driving... on some really bad roads... with rain threatening tonight, I needed to get out while I could. (The Panic Button won out.) Would not have minded staying there a week or two, but only if it was my choice. With rain coming in, I might have been trapped... and I'm not good at that.  Back in Jackpot, NV tonight (5/27/13).

Who is Swankie?

My photo
Anywhere, USA, Full-Time USA traveler, United States
In 2006, I was shopping for a wheelchair. By 2007, I had new knees, better health and by 2008 a kayak. In Aug 2013, I kayaked my 49th state, Alaska, at the Holgate Glacier and in May 2014, I kayaked Hawaii, my 50th state, to celebrate my 70th Birthday and the finale to the wonderful adventure of Kayaking America? Next up... Solo Hiking the Arizona Trail, 820 miles? Maybe. Still healing from shoulder and trying to decide.