Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Nothing Went Boom!

You would think that the answer to a title like that would be, “GREAT!”  But in this case, things were supposed to go ‘BOOM’ and we were to have a front row seat for the action.

The Forest Service had a field trip to the Pinecastle Bombing Range today.  There is an 85 foot tower there that we were supposed to climb so that we could watch the F-18’s blow stuff up. 

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Let’s back up a bit…

We gave ourselves plenty of time to get there.  Even had time to run a quick test on the carburetor (been evaluating a few things).  Then off we go on a beautiful, windows down sort of day.  We were a bit low on gas but thought for sure we had enough to get to our destination and then to the station afterward.  Of course, the station we planned to go to was not where we had remembered it to be but we continued toward the bombing range anyway and figured we’d find one later. 

We were getting close.  Apparently, REALLY close!  When all of a sudden Darlene starts spitting and yeching all over the place.  Then Nicole realizes what happened.  An Asian Beetle had flown into her mouth and instinctively, she closed it in such a way as to pinch him or her.  And in return the beetle promptly peed (perhaps not the official term but its yellow so we call it pee).  If you recall, their pee smells really bad and apparently it tastes pretty dang nasty too.  This sent Darlene into a fit similar to that of when a kid doesn’t like what they ate and starts wiping their tongue and bleching all over the place.  Well, this sent Nicole into a very sympathetic fit of extreme laughter. 

A little while later things had calmed down and we realized that all of the excitement must have happened at the exact time we were passing the sign for our turn.  A few seconds after that we realized that we were lower than we thought on gas and the van started limping.  A quick check on the GPS said there may be gas eight miles ahead.  So, we soldiered on and fumed into the station to fill up.  By the time we got back and saw the very large sign for our turn we were definitely running late.  Probably not the best idea for the military but it appears that Pinecastle is a non-military contract facility so they were a little more relaxed and let us in anyway.

It is then that we learned we would only be getting a tour of the place.  No planes.  No things going boom.  No climbing the highest thing these rock climbers have seen in a good while!

So, they gave us some talks and showed us the operations centers.

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                Cameras, cameras, everywhere.
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Grid layout of the range and numbered boxes of strike zones.
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All of the aircraft in the area (in yellow).  Bombing areas are outlined in thick blue.
Only one of them allows live rounds.

So, it wasn’t what we thought we’d be doing but it was alright and not something everyone gets to see.  They invited us back in March when the ‘Bush’ (aircraft carrier) docks and does their turn on the range.

Oh… and as to why we didn’t get to see any active bombing today.  It seems that yesterday someone lost one of these…

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… and no one gets to have any fun until it is found!

All was not entirely lost though.  As we were heading home we saw Billy on the side of the road.  Figured he had broken down but instead he thought it was a great place to give us a spontaneous ‘come to lunch’ invitation.  So, off we went to spend some time with Billy and Bobbie.  We arrived at their campsite and Billy informed us that he didn’t have anything they could feed us.  Given the spontaneity of the invite we decided not to hold it against him… this time.  Great conversation, as always, and on our way out we introduced them to Geocaching bagging two more not far from their campground.  One day we will remember to stop enjoying their company long enough to take a picture of the really cool school bus that they live and travel in full-time with their two kitty kids.  This is their second school bus adventure.  Their first was back in the 80’s when their kids were little.  Sure hope we are still kicking around being cool like these guys after we’ve been (as Bobbie says) ‘around for a while’.

Ah and along the lines of things going (or not going) boom.  Nicole watched the new bathrooms and showers being brought into our compound the other day.  It went off without incident and nothing was lost.  So, we’re pretty sure these guys were allowed to play with potties the next day but we didn’t sign up to watch.

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Since we are on the topic of flying things, we’ll end with this shot of a winged fellow on a blade of grass.

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Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Van Renovations – Getting Started

Working on the van is a breeze after learning how to tear out a load bearing wall in the house and re-frame to put a big twin-double-hung window where there wasn’t one before.  About the only thing that we have to think about in the van that we didn’t in the house is that it moves and shakes and then moves and shakes some more.  This means that everything we build or wire must take this into consideration. 

We made a point during re-build to plug all old screw holes and create new ones and thus far we have not been sorry.  Our original door panels, which are still in use until such time we come up with our final design, are the only things that loosen or lose their screws on a regular basis. 

We made the decision to completely re-wire the entire RV section of the van for two reasons.  1) The original wiring was quite a web of poorly labeled and crazily run confusion linked with 1988 connectors that did not even stay shut anymore.  2)  Doing it from the ground up allowed us to minimize the wire runs and create a system that was well labeled, easily traced or re-run and completely visible by simply opening cabinet doors or raising the top of the bench seat.  All of our new wire connections are nutted and then very well taped. 

  You think we were kidding?!  This was after some organizing.
2011-10-07 Battery Bank Set-Up
So much neater now and about 1/3 of the original amount of wire and each wire clearly labeled with where it goes or comes from.  Since this photo was taken we’ve added two 110 outlets under our kitchen counter that run directly off of shore power and created a connection to charge our batteries from our converter now and then.
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Our small Cobra inverter sits behind on the wheel well and is connected directly to our two 12 volt marine batteries.  The white cord is a surge protector that we switch from the inverter to one of the outlets depending on whether we are running shore or battery power.  The original design of the unit had the same number of lights, outlets (including two twelve volts) and a generator.  We’ve removed the generator and installed solar.  Other than our solar, which has been clearly laid out in a previous post, that is the gist of our electrical.  At some point we may re-hook our water pump.  The wiring is already in place for when / if that day comes.

Although the campervan’s interior was overall in good condition when we bought it there were a few things that showed her age.  Things like the carpet (which was sufficiently dirty, especially that which surrounded the toilet and begged the question why???), the headliner material on the ceilings and walls had deteriorated and was virtually dust behind cloth, the plastic window shrouds were cracked and fragile and the paneling was also slowly succumbing to the years.
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The man we bought the camper from had been letting his grandsons use it as a playhouse so the carpet around the toilet definitely had seen its share of things we didn’t want to carry down the road with us.

Despite being a complete campervan, Annie was intended more for a weekend full-hookup outing and not meant for full-time boondocking off the grid living.  This meant… there was absolutely no insulation.  After much research and consideration we decided that, although we wanted insulation, our intent was to be mobile and that mobility meant we had the option to escape temperatures that just were not bearable.  We also realized after an unbelievably warm trip to the beach in Florida with the van fully stripped down to just a metal box that the key was going to be creating an air circulation gap between the exterior metal and whatever walls we put in.  Taking all of that into consideration, we opted for some insulation over none and were not concerned with major R-values or similar factors.
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Our choice was these wonderfully easy to cut and flexible panels and we have not be disappointed with this option.  For the floors we considered insulation under plywood and then decided that the plywood itself with a few throw rugs over it in the super cold would be just fine.  First to patch, prime and paint with a cool color.
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In tearing up the carpet we discovered the source of the constant gasoline smell in the van was not the carburetor or malfunctioning emissions system.  It was that two of the screws holding down the original flooring went into the top of the plastic gas tank.  We then discovered that many of the screws placed to hold the flooring were randomly shot into locations that may or may not have held a gas line, black tank, electrical wire, etc.  So, we carefully removed each screw and from underneath traced everything to ensure that no more damage had been done in the original installation.  We filled all of the original holes, sanded any pre- or obvious rust areas and spot primed and painted over them.  Then we went through and placed all of our new floor screws only in locations that we could observe from underneath the van.  This also allowed us to easily put some putty around them too.  By stripping the van down to the base we were able to fill any hole to the outside that would not otherwise be used.  Thus, also eliminating potential entry points for critters.

Along the lines of holes that needed to be plugged, we had decided that we would get rid of the water flush toilet that came with the rig and put in a ‘urine separating’ toilet seat over a bagged bucket with (our choice of) pet bedding.  It takes a bit of aim (er, getting used to) but we are very happy with this decision.
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As a result we needed to plug the sewer hole that led to the black tank.
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Shuffling through the garage we found two perfect items for the job.  The first is already glued and caulked into the hole upside down.  Can you tell what it is?

That’s right, a kitchen sink garbage disposal plug.  After that cured we cut a section of milk jug and secured that over the hole in the metal flooring.  The black tank hangs about 1/2” below the actual metal flooring so in the event that our original plug came loose and liquid started trying to escape, it still would not make it into the van and neither would the smell thanks to the milk jug cover.  We also made a point to put a separate board down in this area so that we could pull it up if needed without affecting other sections of the van.
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There was another hole into the black tank that led from the sink.  Although we still aren’t sure that we want a sink in the van, this inlet allowed us to easily tube #1 from our new toilet into the tank.  In the event that we do hook up our sink we will simply place a ‘Y’ connecter at this tank entry point.
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Above is our temporary toilet framework made in a pinch for a weekend trip.
It hasn’t fallen apart and fits perfectly into our design so we’re still using it.
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Plywood down, we toyed with the idea of sticky tiles or linoleum or click-n-lock flooring.  None of these fit with our idea of minimalism combined with easy clean up and most importantly, no concern with damage due to everyday use.  So, we went into the garage and grabbed a $5 ‘oops’ can of Home Depots best Exterior Paint that had been sitting around.  Several coats later we were quite pleased.
2011-09-04 Floor Painting
We liked it so much that we decided to do our ceiling in it too.  The beauty is that sweeping is a breeze, it easily washes up with soap and water and if it starts showing its age or we ever get tired of it we can change it out for $5.
2011-09-19 Reflectix Sidewall 5
Before putting our ceiling up we made the decision to use Reflectix on our hightop.  There were several reasons for this but the most important was that it was the thinnest material we could find that would at least give us some barrier between the exterior and interior surfaces.  We also wanted to preserve as much cabinet space and headroom as we could.
2011-09-27 Ceiling Three Panels
Somewhat complete ceiling.  We also decided to paint the exterior hi-top white instead of the dark blue that it came with and that cooled things down considerably.  However, we are not huge fans of the white (RV’ish look) on the van and will sometime in the future change all or at least the sides of it to a silver to match the rest of the van graphics.

Looks like the state of our current internet is going to limit this post here so we’ll stop here for now.  Stay tuned as we get into framing up the windows, making walls and refurbishing the cabinetry.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

It’s Only January But…

We’re in bloom around these parts.  Before we get to that let’s talk some more about that Asian Beetle infestation that we mentioned the other day.

We told you that they were swarming us when we were on the trail on Thursday.  At least it was only when we stopped.  In between time we were able to go at a good enough speed to almost not notice them.  But when Friday came around and we were raking, which meant going 5 mph the whole time, there was no escape.  So, when 1:30 came around and the swarm ensued as did the biting the stinking and the difficulty of driving with only one hand as you constantly swatted with the other, we opted to call it a day and head back to camp.  Seemed like a great idea and hopped into the van to open up some windows and then back outside to wash off the daily dust.  Thirty seconds and three or four bites later the washing was not going to happen and thirty more seconds later we discovered that it would not be a window afternoon as they were finding their way into the van left and right.   Creative little boogers crawled up the channels of the windows until there was no window or screen and then celebrated by flying around and landing in our hair or on our nose (of all the nerve).  So, windows closed the numbers were seriously limited although they still put in great effort to find every single gap in our door trim (guess that may be next on the fix-it list).  And, in case you don’t believe us…

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I know, it doesn’t look like a lot.  Guess you had to be here.  Or, you could have been here…

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That’s the floor of one of the trailhead restrooms.  Yes, those are Asian Beetles.  If you want to know what the ceiling looked like just turn your head or computer upside down.

As for the count this afternoon.  When we got back to the van, which had been closed up all day, we caught twenty five on our skylights in about three minutes.  It has been interesting to say the least.

Anyway, back to January in bloom and some other stuff.

Yes, spring is springing around these parts.  Or maybe these springing things aren’t really spring items.  Doesn’t much matter to us because seeing them sure does make it feel like spring is in the air.

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2013-1-26 Ocala (29) We finally got a shot of the super crafty and elusive Sherman Fox Squirrel.
Check him out dead center of the photo.

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These are beautiful creatures.  This is our favorite color variation.

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                      Do you see it?
              Here’s looking at you, kid.

Bye for now…

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Thursday, January 24, 2013

Making a Clear Path and other Nonsense

We were out signing today.  No, we weren’t talking with our hands.  Unless you count that guy we got mad at and then it was just one sign. 

Just kidding.  About the guy we got mad at not about the signing. 

We were signing.  We signed and signed.  And then we signed some more.  We covered south yellow and some of brown.  Those trails got signed.  And they got signed good!  Twenty seven miles of trail got signed today. 

Did we mention that we signed the trails?

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Remember those cute little Asian Beetles?  (A.K.A. Harmonia axyridis) Last time we told you that they liked to bite and to leave a stink on you.  Did we tell you that they are basically infesting everything right now? 

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They are infesting everything right now. 

That includes us.  Every time we stop the ATV’s we get swarmed.  So, if you happen to be on the yellow or brown trails and notice that a few stickers are slightly askew it is because we were signing on the run.  Literally!

The songbirds have been serenading us for a few weeks now.  Guess spring has sprung in Florida?!?!

Our friend, Lyn, has been visiting.  She came in her fancy new Tiger Adventure Vehicle.  It looks something like this.

Something but not exactly because we took this picture from the company website (which should be somewhat evident by the non-Florida-like background scenery).

These rigs are super well put together.  We discovered how well in the process of helping Lyn upgrade her solar controller to an adjustable Morningstar.  It was an epic adventure just to get to the batteries.  But we overcame.  Unfortunately though after a few days of random and sometimes ‘sparky’ trials, we discovered that the controller she was sent was not working.  Arg.  At least we were able to make access to her batteries a little easier and to show her how to hook up the new one when it comes in.

We’ve got some neat experiences coming up that include super fast planes, Rainbows, 7 miles journeys with a paddle and cutting things.  Only time and a (potentially) working camera will tell if they’ll make a good blog post.  One thing is for sure, we’d better be working on our coordination and teamwork or there is the potential that we could end up…
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      swimming with the fishes at one of the events!

Until the next time, enjoy a few more photos from the Ocala National Forest.

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Cool trees.
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Animal feet.

And this awesome miniature Mushroom Village!
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Hundreds of these pinky size guys all on one log.  Very cool.
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And, this…
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Monday, January 21, 2013

Renovations – In The Beginning

Folks have been asking about the van and our ongoing renovations.  Mostly they ask, “Are you done yet?”  But they also ask what we’ve done lately or what new ideas we’ve had.  The van renovation project is an ongoing event.  Although it may have been nice to get her all wrapped up before we hit the road, in the end we have been quite satisfied to be able to build-to-suit as we travel and live in her.
The build-to-suit concept is not new to us.  Before we hit the road full-time we took on a full renovation of our sticks and bricks.  

Apparently, the challenge of learning how to frame walls, windows and doors was not enough and so we added a business expansion to the mix.  Using our newly acquired wood working skills we began building new rock climbing walls ourselves.

It seemed that we missed the class on the principle of one project at a time.  So, when (our campervan) Annie came into our lives it only made sense that we promptly tore her apart to begin creating our ‘vision’.  Three is the charm number, right?
05-2010 Annie Interior Shots (3)
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And that is how it all began…