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Archive for August, 2006

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Summer vacation

It’s 9 pm and all is well. I spent the day in my parent’s house borrowing their Internet connection and catching up on work. Eleanor spent the day sorting clothes that don’t fit Emma anymore, arranging donations, and picking out long-stored jewelry she wants to sell. Emma, of course, spent the day playing with her grandparents, who show no sign of being tired of her so far.

We have hardly been in the Airstream lately. We’re spending all day out or here at my parent’s place on the lake. Since we are showering here, and eating here, I suppose our holding tanks will be good for longer than I thought. And Mary doesn’t seem to be in a hurry to evict us. It’s very convenient being parked a few hundred feet away, and a real money saver too. We haven’t paid for camping since August 13, which helps balance expenses against the $700 in fuel we spent getting here from Colorado.

I called a bunch of people about getting rid of our stuff. We’ve got a few pieces sold, and a few pieces committed to various outlets. The auction house wants our antiques. The eBay guys are meeting us on Monday to see about anything over $50 in value and under 100 lbs. The used furniture guy will meet us after Labor Day to pick over the cheap furniture. And a few friends have put in their bids for various other items. Last night we delivered a couple of nice cherry ladderback chairs to our friends Katie & Guy. But with all this, I fear we still have a long way to go.

The really sunny part of today was hearing from friends in every part of the US. Gunny called in from Oregon to tell about his latest fiasco in his new rig, this time a water pump failure. Rich C called in from Tampa to say he was having a nice time at the same park we used when we were there.

Brett called from Florida also, to catch up on a few things. (Happy birthday, dude!) Bert Gildart called from the highway in New York to say he and Janie will be here tomorrow. They’re in Ticonderoga NY tonight and will be checking out historic Fort Ticonderoga tomorrow morning before they leave, so they are just down the road from us.

It’s great to hear from all our traveling friends once in a while. We were all together not long ago, and their calls remind me of the good times. I don’t know if we’ll see some of these folks for weeks, months, or years, but I do know that we will see them.

Charlotte bicycle practice.jpg

This evening after dinner on the deck (and before chocolate cake & Star Trek), Emma and I went out on the road for a little bicycling practice. She’s still a bit wobbly but gaining capability fast!

Now Emma’s in the tub and Eleanor and I are about to head back to the Airstream — our home next door in the neighbor’s driveway. Emma is still a hostage here, so once again we’ll be alone. This is really starting to feel like summer vacation.

The stuff we left behind

We screwed up our courage and headed over to the two 10×13 storage units that we rented way back in June 2005, the month we sold our house.

Storage unit.jpg

For comfort and convenience, we took the Airstream with us. This allowed us to compare what we had in the trailer with stuff we found in storage, and of course it gave us a convenient place to take breaks and get cold drinks from the refrigerator.

I had thought the process would be straightforward, but it wasn’t. We were immediately overwhelmed by the sheer volume of “STUFF” we had stored. When we left on our trip last October, the idea was to come back in 6 or 7 months and build a house. Along the way, the plan changed, and so when we got back to see what we had left behind, it was more than a little shocking.

Houses allow you to accumulate stuff, and big houses like our previous one can accumulate a LOT of stuff. We have everything in storage that you can imagine: housewares, linens, clothes, toys, books, appliances, furniture, bicycles, office equipment, tools, pictures … and so much more, you just can’t believe it until you see it. Despite the fact that we spent months in spring 2005 giving stuff away, selling things, and throwing stuff out, there is still an amazing amount of just plain worthless STUFF in our two 10×13 storage units.

And it’s costing a pile of money to keep it there. In fact, I would be surprised if the used market value of everything in both units exceeds $10,000. Yet our cost to store it all for the past year has been over $3,000. This is obviously nonsensical from a financial standpoint.

Storage 2.jpg

A lot of the stuff seemed to have sentimental value when we stored it. Some pieces seemed like they were worth keeping because the cost of replacing them later would have been much higher. And many other things were just “too good” to give away or throw away.

But now our perspective is different. It has been a year and we haven’t needed 90% of it. We haven’t missed 98% of it. Our lifestyles are lighter now, my office is leaner now, our plans are different now. If we build a new place it probably won’t be close by, so it may be cheaper to buy new things than to transport all this across the country. The “stuff” needs to find a new home.

We started in on the piles but it was too much to tackle in one day. Tomorrow we’ll be calling auction houses, cleanout services, used furniture stores, Goodwill, and anyone else we can think of. It took years to accumulate all these things and it will clearly take at least weeks or months to get rid of most of it. Anyone need a nice three-piece set of black walnut living room furniture, a collection of old Polaroid cameras, or a unicycle?

Charlotte, VT

Mary has consented to let us a stay a while, and it’s awfully convenient being two doors down from where Emma has been taken hostage … um, I mean, “where Emma is visiting my parents” … so we are here for a couple more days.

Charlotte driveway2.jpg

We could stay for quite a while. We aren’t using Mary’s electric or water but since we are showering at my parents’ house and not really doing any cooking here, our gray holding tank should be fine for at least a week.

Charlotte Emma balancing.jpg

I received a birthday present to myself yesterday: a new Nikon lens for the D70 digital SLR. Back in Colorado I ordered a 55-200 mm zoom to be shipped here, and I got a chance to try it out today on Emma as she played by the lake. This should be a fine addition to my camera bag, especially when we are on nature walks and Eleanor says, “Ooh — get a shot of that bird!”

Charlotte creamee stand.jpg

This evening after dinner we all went out to the local “creemee” stand, an old standby called Uncle Sam’s. Creemees are one of the great summer traditions in this part of the country. Summer is winding down here in Vermont but it’s not dead yet. The four mosquito bites I got on my feet this evening prove that.

Tomorrow Eleanor and I are going to tow the trailer up to Burlington to visit our two storage units. The plan is to park the Airstream right in front of the doors and exchange things. The clothes and gizmos we haven’t used will go into storage boxes, and the items we’ve collected (rocks, a walking stick from Mexico, and other souvenirs) will get offloaded too. Then we’ll go “shopping” among our other stored items to see what we need. It’s fun to shop your own stuff.

The rule about refitting the trailer is that nothing is sacred. Everything that is in the trailer gets considered: Do we need it? Have we used it in the past six months? Are we sure we will need it in the next six months? Anything that flunks the tests gets put back into storage, to make room in the trailer for more useful things. This process also ensures that we expose all the nooks and crannies for cleaning, which is important for keeping dust under control. Other people unload their Airstream after every trip — but as full-timers we don’t get that opportunity very often.

Low on Fuel

Home at last. We are parked, temporarily, in the driveway of one of our longest-term neighbors. Mary L happens to have a nice straight long driveway and she was happy to lend it to us tonight so we wouldn’t have to go searching for a campground. I grew up two houses away from here, and lived on this street from 1966 through 1981, so courtesy parking my Airstream at the neighbor’s house really is a new twist on “coming home.”

Charlotte courtesy parking.jpg
Mary L and my mother greeting the Tour of America

Emma is having a long-awaited sleepover with her grandmother tonight. Eleanor and I are preparing for a lot of tasks we need to complete while we are in Vermont: car inspections, maintenance, dumping unneeded stuff into storage, selling off furniture, cleaning the Airstream, checking on friends, etc. We will be very busy, I expect.

Along the way here we came up I-87, the NY State Thruway, which comes up from Albany into the Adirondacks. I had forgotten how hard it can be to find gas in the Adirondacks, and made the mistake of exiting the highway onto Route 8 near Horicon with only 1/4 tank left. Thus began our unintentional empirical test of the gas gauge’s accuracy …

I have not had the occasion to test the gauge below about 1/8 of a tank during our ownership of the Armada. However, I have been in this situation before with our prior tow vehicle, a Honda Pilot. The sinking realization that you are on perhaps the last gallon or two of fuel, and making headway at only 10 MPG is bad enough. But when you are in a place known primarily for trees, lakes, mountains, and remote villages — on a Sunday afternoon at 5 pm — in the rain — in a place where cell phones do not work — the sinking feeling turns into a stomach-churning nightmare.

Turning around on a twisting Adirondack road with a 30-foot trailer is not often an option. There wouldn’t be any gas behind us, anyway. Garminita’s database of gas stations has proved to be unreliable, so she wasn’t much help. I began to drive more carefully, touching the brake minimally, slowing down, coasting wherever possible. Mentally I began reviewing the procedure to follow if the engine suddenly sputtered and quit (power steering and power brakes would fail, but the trailer brakes would still work).

One option we have always reserved for emergencies is to park and unhitch the trailer roadside, then go get gas. Without the trailer, our fuel economy doubles, which could make all the difference. I was getting ready to do that after we passed through Horicon, Brant Lake, and Hague without spotting an operating gas station, and the fuel gauge passed below the “E” indicator.

The little orange “low fuel” light was on for over fifteen miles, and our level of despair was peaking, when we spotted an unexpected pair of gas pumps in a dirt lot next to a small campground. It was the sort of impossible gas station approach that I would normally bypass (uphill, two sharp turns), but in this case I was pleased to be gouged at a price about $0.40 per gallon more than what it would cost just 10 miles away. I bought three gallons, maneuvered very carefully to escape the pumps, and drove on to Ticonderoga to fill up at a more normal price. Between the two stations we bought 25 gallons.

So now we know: the gauge can go below the empty mark in this truck. The tank is rated for 28 gallons, but I would not dare to conclude that we had three gallons left. I think it more likely that the pumps shut off early. Now that we’ve “tested” the gauge, I hope never to cut it that fine again.

Rochester, NY

Lou and Larry made us feel so at home in Lagrange that we didn’t feel particularly motivated to leave today! We ended up staying hours longer than we should have, departing finally at 3 pm. Of course, the prospect of spending time on I-90 wasn’t very enticing either — it’s not a highly interesting road through Ohio, Pennsylvania, and New York.

We have passed a small milestone today: 30,000 miles on the Armada. We’ve crossed the country from Atlantic to Pacific and back four times towing our Airstream with it since last October. Our tires are nearing replacement time. We’ve roamed everywhere we could find to go from 200 feet below sea level in Death Valley, up to 11,000 feet in the Colorado Rockies. Except for a small transmission line leak, it has been reliable and completely up to the task. I think it’s safe to say that the Armada has proven its worth as an Airstream tow vehicle.

Since I’m dispensing praise, I should also mention the fine folks at Garmin. We sent our beloved “Garminita” in for repair back in Colorado. Email communications with Garmin were very professional and easy. Once I received an RMA #, I was told to expect the GPS back after 4-5 working days. Instead, Garmin diagnosed it the day they received it, and since they couldn’t fix it economically, shipped back a free warranty replacement the next day! Nice job, Garmin.

Today’s drive brought us through rain and thunderstorms for five hours to Rochester NY, where we are … guess … parked at a Cracker Barrel. It’s deja vu all over again — each one of these places is absolutely identical. Even McDonald’s has more variation. If the parking lot wasn’t different, I’d wonder if we had gone anywhere at all. But I still love ‘em for their very cordial overnight parking policy.

Northeast humidity has struck since we arrived in Ohio. We’d almost forgotten how thick the air can be. A week ago we were in the dry clear thin air of Colorado, at 8800 feet. I loved it. Now we are down toward sea level in air so heavy you can drink it. I’ve never been a fan of humidity but I guess we’d better re-acclimate because we are going to be in the northeast for a while.

Lagrange, OH

We are done at Airstream. Today was highly productive, and it’s a fitting end to a long week. The guys in the shop took our trailer in and did the best they could at hiding the damage where the wheel came off.

JC repair 1.jpg

Here’s a shot as the trim was being removed. The aluminum side sheet was stretched as it was bent by the wheel coming off. This meant that bending the aluminum back would have only fair results. But the alternative was removing the side sheet — a complex job that involves removing several access doors and part of the entry door. I think Airstream estimates this job at about 40 hours of labor.

I decided I didn’t want to put our trailer through that trauma. Also, we’d have to stay for several days to get it completed, and file an insurance claim with our $1000 deductible. It wasn’t worth it for a simple cosmetic problem. So I asked the guys to do the best they could without removing the metal, and they did.

Here’s the result:

JC repair 2.jpg

You can still see the wrinkle in the aluminum, but the new trim and a bit of caulk help minimize it. Also, we have the new aluminum wheel in place (which means we also have a spare again!) I think I’m going to have to do some cleaning on the trailer to get all my wheels to look this good.

We also got a few other items fixed, like a couple of broken latches and a faulty plumbing vent under the bathroom sink. Overall, there wasn’t much to be done. I told the guys in Service and some representatives of the manufacturing facility how impressed I was with the way our Airstream has held up through 30,000 miles of towing in the last 10 months. They told me, “People really appreciate their Airstream when they use it!”

I didn’t get to go through the factory on this visit, for lack of time. Photos and videos are no longer allowed on the factory tour anyway. But I have posted a bunch of photos of the factory from my visit in May 2004, on the Flickr photo album.

Lagrange Lou Larry.jpg

Now we are in northeastern Ohio visiting our friends Larry and Lou. We’ve courtesy parked in their driveway twice before (with Vintage Thunder, our 1977 Argosy), and they always make us feel at home. Emma is learning how to work with the dogs, Zora and Diega, to do tricks, and Eleanor is talking with Lou about homeschooling, since Lou is a former schoolteacher.

Tomorrow, we will begin the last big push across OH, PA, and NY states toward home …

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