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Lightening up

We’re back in Tucson at home base.   The little three-night trip to the Sierra Vista area was very helpful as a test of our ability to go back to road travel after three months of parking.   It was as easy as anything could be, so my fear of getting terribly rusty has been abated. I can still back up the trailer, hitch it, and find my way to the bathroom at night — the three essential skills.

Tucson has warmed up to what I regard as decent weather: low 80s during the day with lots of sunshine.   “Winter,” as it is defined here, is over, and that means the house is starting to show how well-designed it is for desert life.   I opened the door this afternoon and found the interior at about 68 degrees, downright chilly for my blood, despite the warm temperatures outside.   The masonry construction and reflective roof are doing their job.   I almost wish we could spend the summer just to see how well it performs in the real heat yet to come.

The warm weather has inspired Eleanor too, I think.   Knowing that we have only a little more than a week left here, she is starting to tackle the maintenance and housekeeping items   on our list.
First item today was the routine defrosting of the refrigerator.   Since our refrigerator is normally in continuous use, it accumulates ice and frost and needs this process every six months or so.

It’s much easier now that we have a second refrigerator in the house to put all the food in, but even on the road it’s not hard to do.   We just put the food into a big cooler, shut off the refrigerator, prop open the door, and mop up the melting ice for a few hours.   The melt from the refrigerator compartment will mostly drain out the drip line (located in the exterior refrigerator access hatch), but the freezer doesn’t have a drip line so it has to be mopped up with a sponge.

The other major task to prepare for the road ahead is to clear out stuff from the Airstream.   When we started full timing our procedure was to re-evaluate what we were carrying every six months.   Anything that wasn’t used in the preceding six months, and wasn’t likely to be used, got pitched overboard, donated, or shipped back to storage.   We haven’t done that in a while and since we are here at our “storage facility,” this is our chance.

Some of our stuff has become embedded in the deepest, darkest recesses of the Airstream’s storage compartments.   The only good way to deal with it is to completely empty those compartments, and then re-pack them slowly, evaluating the utility, necessity, and weight of each item.   I already did this with the front storage compartment and found that about 20% of the stuff could stay behind.   Now we can actually get to things we need in there without fighting past layers of “we might use this” stuff.

The mental challenge of this stems from the fact that even an Airstream can seem dauntingly packed with stuff.   Where to start?   It’s a gumption block.   So we’ve broken the task down by room.   First on the list will be the bathroom.   Everything comes out, gets evaluated, and only the essentials go back.   If we tackle one room a day (counting the exterior storage compartments as a single room), we’ll easily be done before next weekend.

When we get back on the road, I’ll stop and get the trailer weighed.   This is another task we haven’t done lately, and I think it’s good practice for every RV’er at least annually.   We haven’t done it since July 2006, so we are overdue.   Our GVWR (maximum weight) is 8,400 lbs., and at that time the trailer weighed 7,320 lbs.   The empty weight of the Airstream is 6,400 lbs., so at the time of our last weigh we were carrying less than 1,000 lbs of stuff (including a full tank of water @ 312 lbs by itself).

People are often surprised that the trailer weighs so little, and that we able to full-time with so little weight.   But what would we carry that weighs a lot?   Clothes are light, as are bedding, toiletries, DVDs, laptops, and stuffed animals.   The only heavy things we carry are magazines, books, dishes, cookware, Emma’s rocks, and water, and we keep our collections of things like books and rocks to a bare minimum (which reminds me, I’ve got to check that Emma has offloaded her rocks).

I do see some RV’ers who carry ridiculous items just because they have the space.   More than once I’ve observed a fifth-wheel or Class A motorhome owner open up a basement storage compartment and reveal half a dozen concrete blocks (“to put under the stabilizers”), a chainsaw, 300 feet of garden hose, and a mechanic’s toolkit that could be used to rebuild a Boeing 777.   I think we run light because I enjoy the challenge of finding lighter and smaller solutions to problems.   I was just eyeballing the charger for my Nikon batteries and thinking, “I bet I can find a travel-size version of that.”

I’ll also need to make some off-site backups of my data.   I’m amazed at the number of people who travel around taking irreplaceable photos of their trips and don’t even have a primary backup.   One microscopic failure in their computer’s hard drive, and poof, all those photos are gone! That happened to my photos from Glacier National Park, and it was painful enough. It would be a nightmare to lose two years worth of photos.

So in addition to my primary backup drive, I have an emergency backup of my most critical files on a 60gb iPod.   It’s encrypted so if the iPod is stolen, no valuable information can be compromised.

I have also periodically maintained a off-site super-duper emergency backup on DVDs, but this is getting too cumbersome (my photo collection alone is over 30 gb, which is about seven DVDs). I considered getting a subscription to “.mac” (dot-mac), which will do incremental backups over the Internet, but the sheer volume of data I have makes that impractical (and dot mac costs $99 per year).   Ultimately, the cheapest thing to do is buy another external hard drive for $100, back everything up to it, and leave it in the house.

Think I’m paranoid? Well, remember we don’t go to home base very often.   If the Airstream is stolen, or catches on fire, there goes my computer, my backups, and a big chunk of my livelihood.   For the average traveler, I’d just recommend having at least one good backup on an external hard drive — and remember to update it once in a while.

Soon we will be lean, clean, and tuned up for another six months on the road.   This will be the critical week before getting back out there.   Our trial run worked out well enough, but after a week more of preparation we should be in prime form for some fun camping.

4 Responses to “Lightening up”

  1. Mike Young Says:

    Rich,

    Have you upgraded to Leopard yet? If so, the built-in Time Machine app is the ideal way to maintain incremental backup of all your computers. You could have an external drive either attached or accessible wirelessly to do the job without human intervention. That’s good for those of us with poor memories or indifferent backup habits.

  2. Rich Says:

    I haven’t gone to Leopard but am considering it. Right now I use Silverkeeper, which is free from Lacie. It works well but not as automatically as Time Machine.

  3. Jimbo Says:

    Not to knock Airstreams Rich but… When you have a large 5ver, And it’s a full tilt coach we can carry 3500 pounds or more, We want it all with us….it’s hard to hit the road!, unless you have room for Grandma. (Can u imagine having to leave her at home);)

  4. Rich Says:

    Jimbo, please tell me she doesn’t ride in the basement storage! ;-)

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