Saturday, October 24, 2015

HAIL... Damage, Repairs, Replacements, Upgrades

One of the things that we experienced on a regular basis while in Wyoming was hail. 

Lots and lots of hail. 

Usually, it came and went with just a few taps on the roof.

Then one day we headed down to Laramie to get a few things done.  Darlene dropped Nicole at McD’s to get some internet and she ran to Wally World for errands.  Shortly afterwards the bottom fell out of the sky and a whiteout of hail occurred.  As Nicole watched it, something in her gut said, “This isn’t going to be good.”  Darlene returned shortly after and confirmed that feeling with the statement, “Annie didn’t do so well.”

2015-07-02 A Hail Damage (15)
      Our dashboard companions and Darlene watched the show from inside the van.

2015-07-02 A Hail Damage (19)
                                                After the storm...

2015-07-02 A Hail Damage (21)
Darlene had to get out and break up the ice around the tires so she could move the van.

When the hail was done it started raining and when Darlene glanced in the rear view mirror she noticed it was raining inside the van.  She thought she had left the roof vent open and went back to close it.  She tried and tried to close it before realizing it was already closed... technically. 

2015-07-02 Vent Hail Damage (4)
                                 It was also now permanently ‘open’!

Although there was some damage to the roof and sides of the van it was strange that the majority of the damage was on the front.  Strange because there was another car parked in front of the van.  So, the angle had to be just right.

Other areas that were damaged included...

2015-07-02 Grille Hail Damage (2)
                                                       the grille.

2015-07-02 Grille Hail Damage (3)
                             Behind the grille you can see our condenser.

    We put a new one in when we bought the van.  It looked like this before the hail...


And looked like this after...

2015-07-02 Condenser Hail Damage (1)

                                           Dents and damaged fins.

2015-07-02 Condenser Hail Damage (2)

                             The trim on the high-top also took a beating...

2015-07-02 High Top Trim Hail Damage (3)

      In most of the damage you could see where each piece of hail made impact.

2015-07-02 High Top Trim Hail Damage (2)

The trim on the driver’s door window...

2015-07-02 Window Trim Hail Damage
     shows how close together the pieces of hail were landing.

2015-07-02 High Top Window Hail Damage (1)
Since we had put tinfoil in the windows to block the heat, we didn’t notice the broken high-top window until we climbed up to assess other things.

2015-07-02 High Top Window Hail Damage (2)
Miraculously, it was still together and not leaking.  We’re guessing the tint is responsible.

IMG_6443a (72)
                                           Pretty picture interlude...

Although we were not thrilled with the damage done, we discovered that we were fortunate.  Some vehicles had both front and rear windshields shattered and way more dents and dings than the few that we suffered.  We’d heard of significant damage to houses, as well.

Barn Swallows
                                In van-years, our Annie is no spring chicken.

The majority of her damage was to 27 year old plastic that had most likely grown brittle with age.  With the exception of the vent cover, none of the damage had to be addressed immediately.  We made it back up the hill with a plastic bag taped over the vent cover and then promptly pulled out the wonder of all wonders and remedied the situation.

2015-07-11 Vent Hail Repair (1)
                                                      Duct Tape!
Seriously, good as new - this held for three months until we could decide what we wanted to do with the fan.  More on that later.

Let’s Consider A Few Things:

Although it now gives quite a rattle, we decided to put off the trim / holding channel on the driver’s window until further down the road.  It is costly and quite a process to replace.  If you roll it to just the right place the window still holds tight so we just focus on ‘placement’ to avoid the addition of a broken window.

The high top trim is purely decorative (it covers the screws that hold the high top in place).  Although it is fairly easy to replace, it couldn’t be sourced locally.  So, we held off for a bit.

We did some research on the high-top window and found that a custom cut ($$$) would be needed.  Because of their angle, these two windows draw the sun inside in ways that heat the van significantly more than we like and thus we keep them covered at all times anyway.  So, since it is still (months later and knock on wood) not leaking, we have left it well enough alone for now.  In the future, we plan to paint the roof and will remove both windows and fiberglass in the holes.

That left the grille and the condenser to be first on our list.  Based on the pricing of a replacement grille, we decided to attempt a repair rather than a replacement.

2015-07-11 Grille Hail Repair (30)
      Nicole pulled out her dremel and went to work removing the damaged pieces.

2015-07-11 Grille Hail Repair (21)
          Basically, all of the in between grids (or what was left of them) were removed.

2015-07-11 Grille Hail Repair (24)
Not too shabby but these large openings will do our already burdened condenser no favors.

Grille Repair
    Hard to see but we mounted some extra screen across the front behind the grille.

                           Ta-dah!  Our girl, looking pretty Boss afterward.

While Nicole was working on the grille, Darlene began the slow, delicate process of unbending the tiny fins on the condenser with jewelers screwdrivers. 

Since it was only four years old and the damage did not go through to the interior tubes of the unit, we did not need to replace the condenser.  Straightening the fins however is important to maximize capacity and keep the unit running efficiently.  Our radiator also resides behind this condenser so straightening the fins will additionally benefit the vans entire cooling system by allowing solid airflow through to the rad.

There are a lot of bent fins though.  So instead of attacking it all out, we are approaching it as a work in progress that we will continue little by little.  Photos when we finish.

Fast forward a few months to ‘now’.  We had a big decision to make with regard to our old vent fan. 

                                    It was really cute and retro but...

Here’s the deal:

1) We typically use things until they no longer work. 
2) At the point that #1 happens, we try to renovate or repair them and continue use.
3) Since we removed the AC unit from the roof a long while back the roof fan had become
    a very important part of our interior comfort.
4) A new lid would cost only $15.  Not too bad.  The cheapest fix of all of the hail damage.
5) However, in terms of comfort, we had changed our travel modes a bit and are not
    always ‘escaping’ the weather but often embracing it.  Our older roof vent, on
    the other hand, was not doing a very good job of helping us embrace these changes.
6) So, we decided that after four years of giving this still working fan a real effort and
    looking ahead to our travel plans, it was time for an upgrade.

We do not take spending lightly and we knew whatever we got would be it for the next 27 years.  So, loads of research and reading ensued.  Many months later, enter...

                              The MaxxFan Deluxe 5100K by MaxxAir.

The install was relatively easy and started with the removal of the interior portions of the old fan, followed by the removal of caulk, screws and eventually the fan itself.


                           Then it was time to dry test fit the new housing.

The new housing had fewer screws on the sides than the older one did but the corners lined up. So, we set it down in place with the corner screws then predrilled and screwed the new holes. 

Next, we marked the corners to ensure we could find proper alignment once the butyl tape was in place and covering the screw holes.

Butyl Tape application... We put a little extra on the corners and in one spot we discovered during our test fit where the roof of the van sinks a bit and leaves a small gap.

Then it was time for permanent placement and the tightening of all of the screws.
This was followed by the trimming of any excess butyl that had been squeezed out.

Next, a good amount of caulk on each screw and around the edge.

      Then drop the fan and rain-shield into place and attach it with four screws.

Climb down the back of the van admiring the beauty that is your new ventilation system.

     Head inside, connect the wiring, cut the shroud, drill holes and screw into place.

                     Then lay back and enjoy the wonder that is the MaxxFan.

Surely, if you are still with us at this point, you are wondering what our thoughts are.

Here we go...

1) This is likely the most amazing purchase we have ever made for the van.
2) It is very quiet compared to our old fan (which ran with a sometimes intolerable sound).
3) 11” blades and 10 speeds in both forward and reverse.  We haven’t needed to go above
     4 or 5 which equals low amp pull on our solar which equals awesome!
4) A thermostat that will turn the fan on and off and manipulate the fan speed to maintain
     whatever temp you set (dependent on outside temp, of course).  It was 92 inside when
     we finished the install.  We set the thermostat to 78 degrees and sat back to enjoy the
     breeze. Ten minutes later we were chillin’ at a comfortable 78 degrees.  Very cool!
5) The integrated rain cover that can be lowered to lessen clearance - Excellent!
6) 900 CFM of air moving and only 4.5 amps pulled at speed 10... Great!
7) The ability to run the fan even with the cover closed in which case it behaves like a
     ceiling fan would in your house is a big plus for those times when the outdoor air just
     isn’t what you want to be pulling in - Can’t beat it!

Short and simple, this fan is awesome and the amount of air it pulled in through our open windows turned a dead calm day into something that felt like a steady breeze off the ocean.

                                 Here it is in the up position.

                 Love being able to lower the integrated rain-shield.

Although we haven’t closed the shield since the day we installed it, the best part of being able to lower it is that it closes to a height only 1/4” more than our previous cover.  So, no new clearances to get used to.

Are there any drawbacks to the fan? 

Honestly, we haven’t found one in a practical or functional sense.  We are very pleased with it.  If there had to be something it would be that the indicator light for the thermostat setting is bright enough to show the aliens where to land.  But that is easily remedied with a small piece of electrical tape.

And so, as we prepare to move on to new discoveries in different parts of the country,  we will end with what will be the last of our Wyoming photos.

2015-07-23 Wyoming, Foxpark - Leucistic Junco Bird (4)
                                               A Leucistic Junco

Leucism is a condition in animals that causes partial loss of pigmentation.  Unlike albinism, it is caused by a reduction in multiple types of pigment, not just melanin.

This is the first Leucistic bird we have seen and it was a stumper for Nicole’s Bird Group.

2015-07-23 Wyoming, Foxpark - Leucistic Junco Bird (5)
                   A real cutie - looks ready for winter.

                                   As are we.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Happy Van-niversary!

October 1, 2015 marked four years that we have been both living and traveling full-time in our 1988 Dodge Camper-Van named Annie.

In that time we have covered 34,000 miles, volunteered in ten places and explored many new (to us) parts of the country.

Annie's Travels 2010-2015
             This is a map of our travels in Annie since we set out in October of 2011.

To stick to our allotted budget we’d figured we could travel 6,000 miles per year.  As you can see, we managed to go over that a tad.  A couple of things allowed us to increase our yearly distances.  Times of lower fuel costs and a few volunteer gigs providing a stipend. 

Idaho, Priest Lake
                                    Working hard for the money in Idaho!

We have paid for camping twice in four years.  Once to obtain our South Dakota residency and the other time was when forest roads to our planned boondocking spot were impassible.  That is a grand total of two cents spent per day on lodging in the last four years. 

Oregon, Beverly Beach
Why pay for camping when volunteering gives us views like this out of our window?!

Looking at the previous map, you can see we’ve still got a few gaps here and there.  However, before we hit the road full-time, we would close our business for a respite month each summer.  We used this time to venture around, first tent camping out of the Jetta and later in our Tacoma, exploring the country and the idea of living in small a vehicle.


       When you add in our pre-full-time travels, it looks something like this...

All Travels

                 What did we learn from those month long pre-full-time journeys? 

                          We learned that ‘home’ was a state of mind. 

We also discovered there were three things that we wanted in our permanent travel vehicle that we did not have in the truck:  1) to stand-up  2) to cook inside  3) to get to the driver’s seat without having to go outside.

Enter Annie...

Madison, SD
                          ... our idea of the perfect traveling home.

In terms of traveling, we learned that we often enjoy a different approach than most.

Example, While others admired the faces of Mt. Rushmore, we climbed up their backs!

We’ve had some adventures and after several years of part-time travel, four years full-time and many miles back and forth across the country, one might think that we’ve developed quite a taste for this or that and we would know what we want from our full-time travels (or life, for that matter).  Truth is though that we have no idea about any of that.  What we do know is that after four years we still enjoy living in a van and traveling.

We have also discovered that we enjoy volunteering our time for various agencies.

New Mexico, Sevilleta NWR
               Taking down old fence to prepare for new fence in New Mexico.

Our foray into volunteering just sort of happened on a whim and a was an unexpectedly enjoyable experience.  So much so that we just kept doing it.  Now 10 gigs later and getting ready to start number 11 we’ve computed our volunteering to comprise 57% of our travels.

      Our time on the road and the freedom to roam are an ever evolving project of self. 
    It is about wandering.  It is about new and different.  It is about being open to change. 

                                                        It is about? 

                      Satisfying our shared interest in a simple, nomadic lifestyle
        and being o.k. with the fact that we never really know where life is taking us.

                Lake Mohave

                                  On that note...  take it away Metallica!

“Anywhere I may roam, where I lay my head is home.  I adapt to the unknown, under wandering stars I've grown.  The less I have the more I gain.   Off the beaten path I reign.

                                   Rover, Wanderer, Nomad, Vagabond

                        Anywhere I may roam, Where I lay my head is home.”

Saturday, October 10, 2015


One of the reasons that we travel and volunteer like we do is that it permits us availability to help out family when needed. 


Back in late July, we were living at 9000’ and halfway through our volunteer assignment in the beautiful mountains of Southern WY. 


We had just attended a volunteer appreciation luncheon when we received word that Nicole’s father was scheduled for spinal surgery.


The next day, we turned in our truck and our keys, bid wonderful Wyoming farewell and began the 2100 mile journey to Florida so that we could be there to help out.

2015-07-29 Wyoming, Foxpark - Ruby Crowned Kinglet Bird (1)

For the most part, the journey was nothing if not very fast.  We did see a few ‘firsts’ though.

                    Our first 13 lined ground squirrel - at a rest area.

          Our first Monarch (of the season) on Milkweed - at a rest area.

Our first Red-Headed Woodpecker (immature so no red yet) - at another rest spot.

Did you notice that we rested a lot? 

Well, although the trip was quick by our standards we had more rest stops than usual (and we usually make a lot of rest stops).  The reason for this is that something was going on with the cooling system on the van and the temp gauge kept heading up to the big ‘H’. 


We like to think that we know our girl pretty well and we were pretty sure it was just the gauge acting wonky.  It was most likely the sender but the last time the sender went bad it went bad in the ‘C’ range so we weren’t totally convinced.


As we descended from our higher elevations and headed east the temps were hovering above mid 90’s.  Since the heat did nothing to aide our cooling system, we decided to give the van frequent rests and cool down periods to ensure a ‘mechanically’ safe journey. 


We opted to change out the thermostat upon arrival at Darlene’s folks in GA.  It was time for a new one anyway.  As we continued our trip it became obvious the new thermostat did not resolve our problem.  But through all of our diagnostics the van still wasn’t convincing us that she was actually running HOT.

So, since we were due for another rest stop we headed into Summit Racing. 

Nicole attained instant perma-grin, her eyes glazed over and she deemed this ‘the best rest-stop ever!’  Eventually, Darlene convinced the motorhead that we had come to buy a gauge not to dream and drool.  So, we grabbed one that provided true temp numbers (not just high and low) and we ‘creatively’ installed it in the parking lot before cruising on down the highway.

Not exactly permanent but we were at least able to monitor actual temperatures for the rest of the trip and happily report that our girl was and is running completely normal.

So, it was the sender after all but we’ve been meaning to get an actual temperature gauge and this was the push we needed.

UPDATE (two months later):  The gauge is now temporarily permanently installed. 

Since we don’t listen to our radio, Nicole removed it and utilized whatever she could scrounge up to give the gauge a more stable mount. 

Although this isn’t the final design she has in mind (hence, temporary) it is solidly locked into place and the wires are all run appropriately (permanent). 

   And, we’ve even got room to put in the oil pressure gauge when we get it.

               But we digress.  This post, after all, is about Family.


We arrived in FL on Aug 7th.  Nicole’s Father went into the hospital for spinal fusion on Aug 11 at the wee-wee-weeeeee hours. 


The goal was to relieve the horrible pain he had been in for so long.  Some time later he awoke pain free.


Let me tell you, it is very difficult to convince nurses and doctors that you have no pain when you have a six plus inch scar on your spine hosting 32 staples.


                             But he didn’t and we were all thrilled. 


While in the hospital, Nicole’s Dad celebrated the big 8-2.  We sprung him from rehab for the day and took him to the patio to celebrate.

Dad B Day 3

At home, Nicole, Darlene and Mom spent their time adapting the condo for someone who is not allowed to Bend, Lift or Twist for a good long while.

Gotta be careful with the screws and such until the bone graft takes.

Seventeen days after his surgery Nicole’s father ended his in-patient rehab and we brought him home during a proper FLA summer-storm. 


We stayed with them for another good bit to help out with outpatient therapy, doctors appointments and home related stuffs and to enjoy some relaxed visit time.


Lots of walks and bird watching ensued.


Two months later, all was going well and it was time for us to move on and leave Nicole’s parents to start enjoying the new home they had moved into only a month prior to the surgery. 


We were happy that our lifestyle affords us the opportunity to help out the way that we did.  It was also great to have a nice long visit. 


Although we are always excited to get back on the road, leaving can be a sad event.

                                     Good thing they made a point to smile!