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Archive for February, 2006

Groovin’ at the Grove

Pecan Grove RV Park is a nearly legendary place in Austin these days. It has been described to me as “the place the hippies used to hang out,” but now it is a funky oasis in the midst of the town that wants to keep itself weird. (That’s what the t-shirts say: Keep Austin Weird.)

There are at least a dozen Airstreams here, and several Avions as well. Most of the residents seem permanent, or at least seasonal, and there’s a very friendly vibe about the place. I am sure we will like being here, especially now that the weather has improved.

I have done some more research on the bike thing, and it seems clear that we are safe with a bike rack / receiver hitch mount on the rear. Our loaded weight will be well within what the chassis can withstand, and really it won’t be much more than many people put in their bumper storage compartments.

Some people go a bit further with their frame mounted equipment. Here’s one I spotted recently. I wonder if the owner has trouble towing it in traffic?

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And you were worried about a bike rack?

Tomorrow we’re going to look up an old friend of mine who relocated here years ago, and of course in the evening we will have dinner at the Salt Lick BBQ with a gang of Airstreamers. By the way, the Salt Lick calls itself “The last bit of Texas in Austin.” Sounds promising.

The Bike Rack Fiasco

Sunday we ran errands, so it wasn’t a fascinating day. Still we did get to the Witte Museum (free, because we used our ASTC Travel Passport again). Emma seemed to like the Texas animal exhibits best.

We also researched the bike rack problem. Here’s the short version: Yakima no longer recommends ANY bike rack on the Nissan Armada. That’s a change in their policy, since we bought our rack. Presumably the problem is the flexible factory crossbars that allow bikes to wobble too much.

Thule offers a very weird solution that is essentially a set of their crossbars mounted to the factory crossbars. This provides a rigid base and probably solves the problem, but it looks like a Rube Goldberg invention and raises the height of the rack a couple of inches, which would make mounting a bike even harder than it already is.

On their website, Nissan recommends a Yakima rack that is discontinued. No help there. I doubt it would have worked better anyway.

A few readers suggsted putting on a front receiver hitch. Unfortunately, nobody makes a front receiver hitch kit for the Armada so far as I can tell. Trunk racks don’t work for us because they force us to remove the bikes everytime we need access to the back, which is often.

Another reader suggested dumping the bikes and rack and getting a pair of folding bikes. But folding bikes are expensive, and we’d take a huge hit on the bikes we already have (which we just bought last September). Plus, the folding bikes would end up in the trailer or the truck, which is what we are trying to avoid. Interior space is at a premium.

That leaves us with putting a receiver hitch on the rear of the Airstream, for a receiver-type bike rack. It can be done in some cases. In the 1970s Airstream sold a bike rack option for their trailers, which I have seen on rare occasions. It was bolted to the sides of the bumper compartment and carried two bikes. However, the 1970s plague of “rear end sag” on some longer rear-bath models put an end to that. People got paranoid about overloading the rear, and legitimately so in some cases, where the trailer was heavy and the frame was light. Those 70s frames couldn’t take the shock load (“moment arm”) of the extra weight when it bounced over a bump.

But not all Airstreams are made the same. In our case, we are lucky that the Safari 30 is built on a Classic frame, meaning that it is very strong. We believe that we can put a receiver hitch on it and be safe as long as we keep the overall added weight to <100 lbs, including the hitch itself. But clearly more research is indicated. I'll continue looking in to this to see if we can get away with it. If so, I think this would be the best long-term solution. Sign of the week: Stealthcactus.jpg
“Seen” at the Pima Air Museum, Tucson, AZ

Damp in San Antonio

It rained a tiny bit last night — a sign that we are finally coming out of the desert. We haven’t seen rain since December in Los Angeles!

We’re taking a day off today, which in our world means no tourist stuff, just a few errands. I am going to keep my eyes out for a red-and-white barber pole since I need a haircut. You need a sense of adventure (and a distinct lack of concern for hairstyle) to just pick a random barber in a strange city. Sometimes the results are good (as in Borrego Springs CA) and sometimes they are tragic (as in Cupertino CA). Be grateful I didn’t post a picture of the Cupertino haircut. Eleanor said I looked like Moe of the Three Stooges.

I want to remind you of a few events, in the hope you can join us. We are having a dinner at the Salt Lick in Driftwood TX on Wednesday night. Also we will be at a rally in Cleburne TX next weekend and and also at the Region 9 Computer Rally in Hillsborough next Monday. If you think you might want to drop in on any of these, check our Schedule page for details or use our Contact Us form.

In less than three weeks, we’ll be up in Indiana for a brief visit, at Twin City Airstream of Indiana (Lafayette). This will be the only stop we make up north until July, so if you can drop by, please do! I’ll be fine-tuning my presentation on “Getting online while mobile” if anyone is interested in seeing it. We also have a slide show of about 80 of our favorite Airstream photos. Let me know if you might be able to visit while we are in Indiana.

San Antonio, TX

COLD! Something is wrong here in Texas. The temperatures in Big Bend dropped into the 40s on Friday, a 30+ degree change from the day before. By the time we arrived at Seminole Canyon State Historic Park Friday night it was 37 and the wind was blowing hard. We turned on the furnace and spent the evening watching a movie (“Emma”, the Jane Austen story with Gweneth Paltrow) and having a belated Valentine’s Day.

This reminds me of two things: First, we stepped up our Netflix subscription to 8 CDs at a time. We love movies and we rarely watch (or can receive) over-the-air TV, so having a choice of movies on disc is essential for those bad-weather evenings like last night. People ask us how it works when we are always moving, so I’ll tell you.

It works fine. We have our mail forwarded to General Delivery or a friend’s house every week or two, and that’s how we get our movies. Having the “eight at a time” plans means that we usually have 3-4 handy at any given moment, and each mail package brings the balance. I try to plan the Netflix queue to include at least two kid movies, two family movies (hard to find these days), and some movies for adults like thrillers. We’re Jackie Chan fans, so I’ve got his latest (“Thunderbolt”) here right now.

The second thing I wanted to mention is that we like to be flexible about holidays and birthdays. If our schedule makes an event inconvenient, we postpone it. No guilt, no pressure. We were so busy in Big Bend that we skipped Valentine’s Day until last night. With nothing to do in Seminole Canyon, Emma and I worked on making Valentine’s cards with glue, markers, construction paper, and rubber stamps. Then Emma and Eleanor made a cake and we watched “Emma” the romantic movie. That was Valentine’s Day for us: February 17, 2006.

Valentines day.jpg
Valentine’s Day 2006 in our Airstream

Now the problem is what to do for the next few days. Today (while driving to San Antonio) we started off at 33 degrees and never warmed above 37 all day. These are the coldest daytime temps we’ve seen since we started the trip.

It’s not much fun in the 30s. It’s too warm for winter activities (skiing, sledding, skating) and too cold for summer activities. We’re going to have to exercise some creativity to keep busy until it warms on Tuesday. I’ll catch up on work and Emma will do some schooling, but then we’ll have to get out for at least a few hours. The San Antonio Riverwalk does not seem appealing in the 30s. We are parked in the midst of several historic Missions, so we may attempt them, but if the weather is really abominably windy as it has been, we may resort to doing our shopping and laundry.

Goodbye to the Big Bend

We’re leaving today. Emma is still sleeping, but Eleanor and I are prepping to go to our next stop, which is Del Rio, Texas.

We’re all a bit wiped out from the hiking. Yesterday I worked all morning at the local coffee shop (where I could get online) and after lunch we drove back into the park for a pair of hikes, 3.8 miles and 1.6 miles. The day before we did the same thing, taking Bert with us up to the Chisos Mountains for a hike until sunset. The weather has been spectacular (80 degrees and unlimited sunshine) and there hasn’t been much wind, which is essential in this dusty environment. We consume a LOT of water these days to combat the dryness, because if you get behind you’ll feel even more tired.

BB Emma hiking.jpg
Emma the leader gives instructions to her troops on a Chisos Basin hike

The lack of telephone service and questionable Internet has been troublesome for me, and we need to get going if we are to make our scheduled dinner at the Salt Lick in Austin next Wednesday. Between then and now we want to visit Del Rio and San Antonio, and there’s 500 miles to cover along the way.

Sometimes people think that our lives on the road are without the usual challenges of day-to-day life. In fact, we’ve just substituted new challenges for the ordinary ones. For example, consider the fiasco that ensued when a component on the bike rack snapped last Sunday, forcing us to carry one bike in the trailer until a new part could be shipped in.

We called for a spare part (from a payphone) and asked for it to be shipped overnight. But FedEx doesn’t deliver here. USPS offered “Express Mail” service to the Panther Junction post office but failed to meet the delivery promise of Wednesday. By then, we were in Study Butte, 30 miles away.

It was hard to track the part because the Internet service at the campground went down daily. The wifi signal was borrowed from a nearby liquor store, apparently by some agreement. First the problem was the phone company, then somebody tripped over the power cable on the wifi router. Each time it went down I ended up on my hands and knees in the dusty back room of the liquor store, trying to diagnose the problem for the owner, who wasn’t too happy at my presence.

Finally I gave up on the campground wifi and started driving to the one other place in town where people can get online: the coffee shop. There, things were more reliable (I’m there now). The bike rack part has arrived now, so we’ll get it one the way through the park on our way north to Marathon. Then we can re-assemble the rack (in the parking lot of the post office) and proceed to Del Rio.

UPDATE Feb 2006: Carol McNair, general manager of the Big Bend Motor Inn and RV Park, informs me the entire campground will have wi-fi Internet next year!

But I am not happy with this Yakima roof rack. The “universal” connection method they use for the Nissan Armada results in a very wobbly rack, which is why the part broke in the first place. It’s also very hard to get a bike on the roof of this tall vehicle without (a) scratching the car; (b) killing one’s self. We need a better solution for carrying bikes with the Airstream in tow. I’m researching that now, and will report on it later.

BB lizard.jpg
Met this guy on a trail yesterday and he tried to sell us car insurance

About the people here

It’s a rare day that I post twice, but Bert & Janie showed up with my camera and so I had to rush down to the coffee shop to upload photos of Big Bend for you (which you can see by clicking the Pictures link to the left), and to mention a few other things.

I have posted my essay on the plight of the people of Boquillas Mexico. You can find that by clicking the “Gather” link to the left. I think their story is interesting and I hope you’ll enjoy the essay.

Boquillas Victor.jpg
Victor Valdez, lifetime resident of Boquillas Mexico, singing by his handmade walking sticks

The other thing is simply that we keep meeting great people and I want to mention some of them. Besides, David, who I mentioned earlier today (below), we have met the McLravys of Lansing Michigan, who are traveling in their Airstream Land Yacht. Yvonne McLravy is quite a good self-published author, who gave me two of her books. I was up late last night reading her account of traveling Alaska’s Inner Passage, a trip we plan to do in the next couple of years. She may contribute some writing to the magazine in the future.

We also met Carol McNair, who is the general manager of the campground we are staying in. She dropped by today to say she is a big Airstream fan and owner of an Excella herself. She is one of those folks who stopped in Terlingua for a visit (four years ago) and just never left. Carol is also a subscriber to the magazine, which always warms my heart…

So between the new photos and the Gather essay, there is a lot of content for you to browse today. Enjoy! Let me know what you think. We’re off for a hike in the Chisos Basin now.

Terlingua, TX

Are Texans extra friendly or are we just becoming notorious? We spent part of the afternoon visiting Terlingua, where we met a fellow named David, who runs a ghost town. It consists of the remains of a handful of dry-laid stone buildings and a few slowly melting adobe huts. On behalf of the owner of the land, David leases the buildings to artists and entrepreneurs and other such people, who are slowly rebuilding them into a new sort of community.

David and his wife also run an art gallery from one of the refurbished buildings, featuring local art. Their home is a 37-foot school bus. They have unreliable electricity, unremitting heat in the summer, little water, and few local amenities. For seven years, they have lived in the dusty surroundings of Terlingua Ghost Town, with the other quirky inhabitants, and they have loved it.

We immediately hit it off. When Eleanor mentioned that she lives in an Airstream, David did a double-take and said, “I think I’ve read your blog!” Since we hadn’t mentioned we have a blog, this was a shock. Keep in mind we were standing in a ghost town that is sort of a suburb of a tiny village that is literally the end of the line in southwest Texas. I can only get online by driving down to the Terlingua Springs Market and borrowing their wi-fi. Many people here don’t have telephones. And yet, this guy knows us!

But that’s how it is going now. People are writing to us from other parts of the country, saying basically, “I’ve read your blog. Come to our town and we’ll give you courtesy parking.” We love that. I expect we will meet a lot of people by courtesy parking in their driveways, and it sounds like a great way to spend the summer.

Today we are going to take most of the day to go hiking in the park. I’ll hopefully have my camera back tonight (still no appearance by Bert & Janie), and if so I’ll try to post as many pictures as I can. In the meantime, I can use Emma’s camera to document today’s trip.

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