Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Back To The Wilderness - Van Repairs Made

READERS TAKE WARNING… this is a BOOK, not a blog post.

I have finally departed my friend’s place in southeast Arizona where I have spent the last three months making repairs and alterations to my rig, in anticipation of having shoulder surgery and maybe being unable to continue life as I have known for the past ten years.
There were a number of changes that were needed.

Very little room to work, to pry to old one loose, clean off the metal, and replace with the new one, less than 5”.
1) Most important of all, while in Washington state in September, my roof vent began leaking badly. You can get major mold and mildew problems inside a van if you allow such a thing.   I would at the least have to recaulk it… a major project with the cargo rack on top of the van…
and only five inches of space to work in between roof and cargo rack.  But it was raining too hard for me to tackle the problem there, and no inside shelter/garage to work in, so I put plastic over it and headed south to dry country, abandoning the idea of having shoulder surgery in Washington state.
As I drove, thinking about how much work that was going to be, I realized it made no sense to do all that and re-install a nine-year old fan, so I decided to find the money somehow to buy a new fan.  It came while I was camped in Ehrenberg, AZ and I went on to join the GalVanNation group at the RTR where I tackled the problem, and solved it.  Very challenging and I twisted and turned this old body in ways I did not know it would go… and challenged my bum shoulder in ways it did not appreciate.
Only way to fit suitcase on top was to have it overlap the vent fan hole.  Vent lid only opens 1/2 way with panel down, but all the way when panel is tilted up.  It works. Also, wind can not blow the vent cover off.
2)  My suitcase solar panel weighed 45 pounds and was big and bulky… and getting more and more difficult to lift in and out of the van or trailer and set up and move around.  Since I decided I could no longer lift the kayak on and off the top of the van, I decided to permanently mount the suitcase up there in the kayak parking space.  I consulted with Solar Bill’s first to make sure there was nothing technically wrong with that concept.  Then the challenge was, how to get it up there without help.  Luckily a friend came by to assist with that… and I secured it in place, however, not nearly secure enough, and wind came along and blew it off and it went crashing to the ground (in the middle of the night).  I don’t know why, but it did not break.  I re-mounted it… this time alone… and using bolts, washers and nuts instead of screws.  I must have gone up and down that ladder hundreds of times.

Another friend helped me figure out a way to better secure the legs when it was in a tilted-up position.  This has been a real challenge indeed, but I think it is good-to-go now.  Nice having 290 watts of solar up there instead of only 130 watts.

I had installed a plug on the outside of the passenger door where the suitcase plugged in when it sitting on the ground.  Now with the panel on the roof, I temporarily ran the wires down over the roof and plugged them in the same way, but later drilled a new hole in the roof, right above my battery bank and re-ran and reconnected the wires.

So that gave me 290 watts of solar to charge 345 ah of battery… when I mentioned that to a friend, he said he had a 60 watt panel I could have.  I ordered a controller for it, and installed it on the remaining space available on the roof, bringing my system to 350 watts of solar for 345 ah of battery bank.  Pretty good ratio, but I think I have done some damage to my batteries by trying to keep them charged using only 130 watt panel plus what they get off the alternator while I am driving. 

Sometimes they get pretty low overnight just keeping the refridge and freezer working.  I need to find the 110 cords for those appliances and connect to shore power whenever I can.

I may be looking at having to buy new batteries before long but will first check with Solar Bill in Quartzsite to see what the warranty covers.  During surgery and recovery, I won’t be using them much and maybe they can get charged back up???  But, me thinks, the damage could be irreversible.   Maximum charge reading I am getting on my Controller during full sun is 14.02… and I think it should go higher than that (like 14.4) in full sun mid day???  Last night (5/28) it dropped to 11.7 by bedtime.  I started the engine a couple times to charge it back up a bit, but worrying kept me from sleeping very well.  I reset the range on both refridge and freezer so they were not trying to stay as cold.  This is a problem I will have to address soon.

3) Biggest physical issue I had to solve, however, was how to keep my kayak accessible and manageable during recovery and not be frustrated (I.e. loose my mind) by being unable to kayak at all.  Full recovery for the surgery I am probably having could be a year.  A year without kayaking… hard to imagine.  So I came up with this idea of rebuilding the inside of my trailer so that I could have a chute on the floor of the trailer that the kayak would just slide into right off it’s cart, with no lifting other than an inch or two which I could do with my good arm alone. 

Once the concept was worked out in my mind, I needed a place to unload most of the contents and get to work.  I am the luckiest woman in the world to have a friend like Linda May.  I had barely arrived at her place to ask if it might be possible to tackle that there, when she just straight out offered… as if she were reading my mind.  It was a long and difficult process, of unloading, sorting, downsizing, deconstructing, constructing, and then somehow making it all fit again, but I did it.
It was in real bad shape.
Other projects including resealing the roof rack with high quality Roof Coating, resealing the trailer roof with what was left,  installing the old vent fan in the trailer, and fixing peeling paint on the van so it didn’t look trashy.  (still a work in progress as wet sanding is needed and then a good clear coat)  But it looks pretty good right now. 


Masking a Chevy van with blue painters tape does not always work… as it will peal more of the crappy paint off when you remove it.  Have had that happen in a couple spots… and need to fix them, again.  Still have more work to do which I hope to complete prior to surgery.

There were many more smaller projects I took care of during that down time, mending clothes and getting a tooth pulled, donating my bike and giving my bike rack away. No point in having an old bike hanging out in the weather for a long long time, when I might not even be able to lift it on and off the rack again anyway, and also the bike rack itself is very heavy.  Time to let go.  One day, in the future, I may have to upgrade to an e-bike, and/or folding bike that can be stored inside the trailer.

But finally all the major projects were done, Southeast Arizona was getting really really hot and I was ready to hit the road again, back to the wilderness.

May 18, I headed into the Chiricahua Mountains, to explore a totally new-to-me area.   Saw a coyote along the road but I was not fast enough to get a photo.  Saw many Century Agave Plants, maybe dozens or hundreds.  Also this plant???  Feels good to get away finally and just be thinking of nature.

Stopped at Leslie Canyon… walked a short distance but not the full 2 miles, as my van and trailer were parked on the road.  I would like to hike it one day.

Continuing on the way, I also saw lots of deer and wild turkey.

I drove to the end of 74E and found Rucker Forest Camp Campground.  I took the last spot at end of the road and was the only person in camp.  Perfect. The air was good, it smelled of pine.  I was enjoying hearing wind blow through the tree tops instead of just blowing against my van with nothing at all to buffer it. LOL I had no internet signal.

Wait, here comes Grandma and Grandpa with a small one in tow.  They took the two spots next to me, reserving one for people to come later.  Who knew setting up a small folding travel trailer would take so much banging or that one itty bitty little boy could holler so loud for so long?  Well, at least no one can have fires. 

By morning there were two more cars there.  Being a Friday night when I arrived, I anticipated that might be the case, so I only paid for one night.  So, I dropped the trailer there and went exploring, until 2pm checkout.  There was suppose to be a lake nearby with dispersed camping… and I went it search of it.  I took FS 628… which is “NOT maintained for passenger cars” but found I could not get through with the van and certainly not towing the trailer.  I think the lake was up that way.

At this point, I decided against going farther.  I walked a bit farther and turned back.
Later I found this information about the “lake.” 
This camp is located at the end of a Forest road that wanders up Rucker Canyon into the Chiricahua high country. Campsites are situated on both sides of the road in a stand of big trees that include ponderosa pine, Apache pine and Arizona cypress. This is bear country, so you’ll want to take advantage of the bear proof food boxes for storing your cooler and any other odorous items. On the way to Rucker Forest Camp, you’ll pass old Rucker Lake bed, which silted in after the Rattlesnake Fire in 1994. Rucker Creek still runs nearby. Closer to the campground, a number of Forest trails offer opportunities to explore the Chiricahua Wilderness high on the upper slopes.
So I turned around, parked and had breakfast.  At least I was getting some peace and quite which is what I was seeking.  Then I decided to write awhile.  I still had to tackle a very bad stretch of road to get out of there.  Next I went on to scout out a couple more roads… FS 4243 and 4244, 4245… these too looked problematic. 

I found a Fire Station, not on the map, near those roads.  That lake I was looking for was also not on the map, but I think was up at the end of FS 628.  I think there are places the F.S. no longer wants people to go.  It is frustrating.  I spotted some small yellow finches and heard woodpeckers nearby.

 Returning to my campsite, I found no other campers in the campground before Rucker, or in Rucker itself, save the folks next to me????  WTF???  They could have stayed farther way from me.  I hooked up the trailer and headed out to one of the boondocking spots I had just found.  It was a good spot and I found these strange fungi.

But, I had this creepy feeling all night long… and thought I heard a vehicle pull up and doors close.  Saw no one.  Middle of night I heard two knocks on my van but no one was there.  That happens each time I am parked somewhere that doesn’t feel right.  I woke early and just decided to head out. Vandweller rule #1… if it feels creepy, leave.  Drove to Sunnyzona… and parked there awhile at a restaurant… and wrote and caught up on internet and checked my bank balances, until finally the urge to head north and get to CO before I ran out of gas money overpowered me.  I figured I might just have enough $ to get me there.  At least I would be closer to surgeons for appointments and such and it was bound to be cooler.

I was being plagued by bug bites of unknown origin.  I got several night before leaving Linda’s.  I got a new one the next night. I believe I am going to have to tear my whole bed out and do a good cleaning and vacuuming. I have looked and looked, shook things out, etc. I can’t find anything.  This, in itself, is a lot of work for this old shoulder.  OK, as of 5/28, I have washed all my bedding, emptied the left wheel well storage box and vacuumed it as best I could, swept out the whole bed area, swept and vacuumed under the drivers seat as it seemed the last bite happened after I drove last time.  I killed one bug, now identified as a Kissing Bug  http://kissingbug.tamu.edu/found-a-bug/.  I have had no other bites since.  That is a bad bad bug.

I wrote the surgeon in Colorado Springs and requested an appointment as soon as possible.  The letter was received in their office on 5/25. I mailed all my shoulder medical history.  It might take a couple months to get an appointment but at least I am closer and cooler. I will follow-up with a phone call to surgeon’s office after Memorial Day.

Southeast Arizona is just too hot, although up in the Chiricahua Mountains it was only about 73f.  But can I find a place I want to stay awhile?  I had mail come after I left, and I need to get a dental spacer made for the tooth I had pulled, it is healing but needs more healing time.  I was tempted to head north anyway, have the spacer made in CO and have someone get my mail and forward it on to me.  I was ready to go… don’t want to go south again when I need to go north????

What to do?  Explore? Think?  Sleep?  Kill bugs?????  Well, it was too dammed hot in southeast Arizona to do any of that, so north won out.

First four bites I found, one on check bone… two on eye lid and one above eye brow.  Later that day I found three more, one on that shoulder (imagine sleeping with your head leaning on that shoulder… areas are very close to each other) and one on that collar bone, and one on that elbow.

Now I have no idea how to get my birthday present or where to go next.  I stopped to visit another shoulder patient who raises Icelandic ponies… and that has been cool.  She kindly allowed me to camp on her ranch until after Memorial Day.  Check out her website: Lough Arrow Icelandics -  http://www.coloradoicelandics.com/.   Hug a pony.  LOL

I have begun reading Desert Solitaire by Edward Abbey… boy can I relate to this book.  I am not a reader… Abbey’s books are some of the few I bother trying to read.  I tried to sit out at picnic table and read last night but bugs drove me back to the safety of my van.  I don’t even know if they wanted to bite me, but I wasn’t waiting to find out.  Guess all the bites I got had me feeling paranoid.

But, moral to the story is, don’t ever let them tell you old ladies can’t do stuff. I turned 74 this week.  LOL

Hope to give a review of all of 2017 in my next post.  Sorry for the delay, but I been kind of busy and challenged to the max.  BUT, not bored, no, not bored.

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.