Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Living This Van Life

I’ll own it.   It has been a while.  In the frozen northland where I live, summer is a brief time of warmth and beauty.   I have been enjoying it.   But I have been working on the van a lot too, I just haven’t been writing about it much.   There will be plenty of time to write later, when it starts getting dark about four-thirty in the afternoon.  What I have been doing is taking a lot of pictures and I really look forward to bringing you all up to date.  In the meantime, I want to talk about some current events.

What has happened in the world of van life is the trial by fire.  Camping with The Wife.

Every year we go for a week even further north into the frozen wasteland.  This is our sans-kids-week-long-parents-relaxing-in-the-northwoods trip.  An event we look forward to!  Until last year we went on motorcycles.  Rode the twenty miles into town for meals every day.  But then came the flood.   Last year, on the day we were to leave home, the area around the campground got nine inches of rain.  Roads were under water. There was no way we were riding bikes to camp.     We either had to stay home or graduate up to the family mini van.   What are we going to do?   We had to take the van, but it was what happened next… Take a mini van with four motorcycle saddlebags sitting in the back?   Oh hell no!  Load it up!  Once that door was opened, there was no shutting it again.

Our nice little camping spot would not be complete without
flying the pirate flag!
This year we just did it in style.   I mean, we *setup* a tent.  You know, so we’re not the weirdo campsite with just a windowless van sitting in it.  But it was like a disguise tent.  The Wife used it once.   We slept in the van!

Up until this point she had spent two nights, van dwelling with me on work nights.   Then one short weekend trip where we really only used it as a bedroom parked in my sister’s driveway.  So those nights all went fine but this trip was a Tuesday through the following Monday.  More days and less conducive to backup plans.  Don't get me wrong, the place we go is off the beaten path but by no means were we boondocking.  (The practice of being totally off the grid) We had a 30amp electrical connection and could have even had running water if we wanted it.

Under-bed storage boxes with trays.
Still though, we didn't want to be running to town all the time.  Packing up was much more complex than our previous weekend excursion.  It was the first time I was planning on cooking out of the van.  Up there, town is about a half hour drive —it was my goal to not have to make that drive.  We had to pack in enough clothing (and for some reason, we always end up taking a lot of clothing to this event.)  We even took coats because… you know… it is only July.  It could maybe snow or something. <eyeroll>.

I have built some custom storage boxes for under the bed.   They were all full.   Floor to ceiling shelf was full of stuff.   Driving up there, pretty much the whole floor was full too.   I guess I lied.   Once we got there we did use the tent for storage as well.

How my colorless plan has come to have color!
With a trip plan for this many days I decided the time was right to outfit the van as well.   To do so we had intents of traveling the further distance to the big box retail store who’s political stance is more in line with ours.  But as often happens (with us anyway) time got short.  I felt guilty but we had to patronize the evil empire itself for all the plastic storage boxes, curtains, spoons, measuring cups, (bright pink rugs) and spatulas of a living space.  The final bill came to a tad over four hundred dollars.  Certainly more than I expected it would be.   Even then I think a secondary trip was required for an additional fifty.

A great spot to hang a mirror!  She
used the great outdoors as her dressing
room.  The mirror worked great on
the secondary door.
The week’s menu included some grilled salmon sandwiches on a ciabatta bread, bacon cheese burgers on nine grain, some grilled chicken  and on the final day an Indian rice curry.  In the end with the exception of running the rice cooker twice, everything I cooked was on the Weber Smokey Joe grill.  When the legs are off of it this grill just fits between the door and the bed on the back of the van.  Set it up and it proved to be a really great little grill for two people.

In a situation that is typical for the place we live, we had two days where we ran both the furnace and the air conditioning in less than 24 hours.  Because we are still learning, there was a couple hours one afternoon where they ran simultaneously. …Oh well…  But the main thing about both of these systems, was when all those other campers were shivering in their tents, we were warm and toasty.   Two afternoons, where it was not so much the heat as the humidity, we had wonderful cool dry naps.

The vent pipe for the portable AC unit
exactly fits two bottles of water.  I like
things that *just fit*!
The van itself performed almost flawlessly.   There was one exception, and once I figured out what was going on, an easy work-around.  Really it started with me thinking about the fact the fresh water in my ten gallon tank had been in there about a month.  I don’t drink it or cook with it currently.   I do brush my teeth with that water.   Hopefully that isn’t what kills me.  I had run a couple of batches of baking soda water through there.  Letting it slosh around for a couple days before draining it out.  But after draining out the soda water and flushing it a bit, I dumped in five gallons of fresh water and have spent the month using it.

I presume it could get stale or adsorb chemicals from the plastic tank.   Anyway, I drained the water tank using a provision I built in when I did the plumbing.   I have a turn valve on the floor which is connected to a drain pipe.   All I need to do is open it up and the water drains out onto the ground.   I filled it back up and we left home.

Here is the problem.  The pump lost prime. With the tank filter in place it was like there were air bubbles in the system and I couldn't get them out.   It took a while to track down and focus on the filter being the problem but eventually I did.  I pulled the filter out, hooked the pipes back up without it and whadda ya know, it worked fine after that.

The water filter once it is removed.  This filter
is for keeping out sand and big pieces that
might ruin your pump.  It is not for making
water safe or taste good.
For future reference, I think if my filter was below the level of the water tank this wouldn't be an issue.  But it is instead above and it was like the pump couldn't clear the bubbles out of it.  I even pulled the vent plug from the tank and blew into the tank to force water up through the system.  No joy.  So either I need to redesign the pipe system, or do without a particle filter, risking sand getting in my pump.

Otherwise the van functioned perfectly.  We had a great time and met some new friends.  Living the van life was amazing!