Happy Monday video!

Alfred’s first time successfully swimming! We’ve tried to teach him before in lakes and swimming pools but he never let go, until now. Happy Monday – enjoy 🙂

Julie, Pomona State Park, KS

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DVD revival

photo 1

Iowa doesn’t have “high speed” internet in the commonly accepted sense. A single South Korean Millenial’s mere presence would bring the entire state network down. But it does have good-enough-speed internet to abandon cable TV.

So some years ago we became early adopters and fans of the Apple TV. The Apple TV is a very small device that plugs into your television via a single HDMI cable. It connects to your network wirelessly or wired if you prefer. During the setup you associate it with your iTunes account.

It’s operated by a remote with easy menus on the screen. No computer required. Once set up you can browse the Apple media store and buy TV shows in standard or high definition (about $2 and $3 respectively) and do the same with movies – you can also rent movies which was generally our preference. No contracts, no monthly fees. Just buy what you want, when you want.

In contrast our cable bill topped $100 a month and spewed nothing but garbage. Everything we really wanted always seemed to be pay-per-view anyway. We don’t watch live sports and television news I only watch in airport lounges.

One of the other wonders of the Apple TV is not needing to store anything. You buy a show, it streams to your TV, that’s it. Want to watch it again? It streams again. Since all your Apple devices are linked to your iTunes account, you can buy a show on one device and watch it on any of the others. For example, you could buy a season of “Rome” on your Apple TV then take it with you on your iPad. Easy. Oh, it works with music too.

So the first accessory we installed in our Airstream was an Apple TV.

We never use it.

We live in a bandwidth constrained environment. Wi-Fi does not exist at campgrounds. Allegations are occasionally made that wi-fi is available but these are inevitably affirmations not fact – rather like my weight loss.

Our internet connection is all through a 4G Verizon Jetpack. It works surprisingly well. It also acts as a little router and switch for up to five connected devices. So we don’t need any other network gear in our trailer. Within its service area it would be more than capable of serving up media. The problem is it’s metered. 10GB/month with astonishing overage fees. Streaming a single HD movie could consume half of that. Several other cloudy things have been killed off as a result, including Dropbox and Evernote.

What to do? While wi-fi does not exist in the wild, Wal-Mart does. Everywhere. In Wal-Mart you can procure things never seen by a South Korean Millenial – small shiny discs. These are sometimes called Blu-Rays or DVDs. They are like magic crystals. They don’t require any connectivity to use. You put them in a device usually referred to as a “player.”

A single Blu-Ray disc containing an uncompressed high definition (1080p) movie consumes about 50GB of storage. Let’s say a round-trip to Wal-Mart is an hour. That translates into the equivalent of 110 Mbps of bandwidth! Now you’re approaching South Korean dial-up speeds. Buy two or three while you’re at it and you’re talking bandwidth that well exceeds what your router could push.

Another benefit is that often you will receive an iTunes code along with the disc. Enter this code into iTunes and now you have the best of both worlds – a version in the cloud you can watch on any device and a local cache (Blu-Ray) in your Airstream for when you’re in the forest.

But Blu-Rays are bulky? No they aren’t. They’re 1.2mm thick, which is 83% thinner than an iPhone 6. What are bulky are the cases they come in. Dump those and put them in a little paper pocket. You buy these by the hundred from Wal-Mart. Then you can have lots of them in a very small space. They even sell boxes for this purpose. I never knew. The main buyers of these are apparently country-music fans who still buy lots of CDs. In fact a Blu-Ray actually provides more storage per cubic inch than a hard drive. So amazing is this technology that even Facebook is stockpiling this more than decade-old format.

One last thing – the $5 bin at Wal-Mart.

Works off the grid. Provides an iTunes copy. Retro. Cheap. To the Blu-Ray.

– Anthony, Pomona State Park, Kansas

Throwback Thursday: camping

909 Walnut Street, Kansas City, MO

In September of 2010 (four years ago!) we started our first experiments in camping. At the time we were living on the 26th floor of a building in downtown Kansas City.

We ordered our gear online from REI and of course we set it all up in our apartment. Our love of REI remains true.

Those camping weekends were challenging, miserable and fun. It was invariably too hot, too cold, and since building camp fires is fun it was always stinky.

Memorable trips included a night in the Devil’s Backbone Wilderness, Missouri. It was hot and I have never been exposed to so many insects. Ever. We set up camp quickly and hid. Throughout the night we heard nature grunting, snorting, screeching, running, charging around us.

Indian Cave State Park, Nebraska

Another night – we think it was at Indian Cave State Park in Nebraska – we decided to test our new four season double sleeping bag. It was winter with temperatures in the teens. We all huddled together. Alfred crawled into the bag and stayed all the way in at the bottom. He wouldn’t come out until morning.

Fond memories. See the Flickr album.

– Anthony, Pomona State Park, Kansas

Our F-150 after 51,188 miles

Pawnee National Grassland, Colorado

On September 7th, 2013, I took delivery of our tow vehicle.

In honor of its one-year anniversary I thought I would share a few statistics and an opinion on our setup.

Mileage

Annual mileage: 51,188
Towing mileage: 20,836

Daily average miles: 140
Daily average towing miles: 57

Weights

First, a quick primer on three terms.

  • GVWR stands for Gross Vehicle Weight Rating. This is the maximum your vehicle can weigh fully loaded.
  • GCWR stands for Gross Combined Weight Rating. This is the maximum your vehicle and a trailer can weigh together.
  • GAWR stands for Gross Axle Weight Rating. This is the maximum weight that can be put on a specific axle.

You really shouldn’t exceed any of these ratings. So, for example, you may be under your GVWR but over the GAWR on one of the axles. Not ok – load must be redistributed.

With that, my readings:

Average towing GVWR: 7,472 lbs. (98% capacity)*
Average towing GCWR: 13,864 lbs. (81% capacity)*

I should note that the truck’s GCWR (17,100 lbs.) exceeds the combined axle ratings of the truck and trailer (15,400 lbs.). So with our trailer, GCWR is not a limitation. GAWR and GVWR will be hit before GCWR.

* These numbers were averaged from five CAT scale readings spread over several months.

Fuel

Gasoline consumed: 4,133 gallons
Average MPG: 12.4
Total spent on gasoline: ~$14,176*

* We track spend but have not broken out our Audi vs. truck spend. $14,176 was estimated by taking an average gasoline price of $3.43 multiplied by 4,133 gallons.

Unscheduled repairs

  • 1 set of front brake pads replaced
  • 1 front rotor machined
  • 1 transmission fluid flush
  • 1 windshield replaced

Opinion

This truck is capable of towing a 28’ Airstream International. Over 20,836 miles of towing it has handled two high-speed emergency stops very well, pulled up and braked down Rocky Mountain passes gracefully and suffered no significant mechanical issues. Over 30,352 miles not towing it has been pleasant to drive.

But I wouldn’t buy one again for our application. Why? It’s payload capacity is too limited, as you can see from us being at 98% of the GVWR on average.

Getting under the GVWR, and the rear axle’s GAWR, required careful distribution of load in the trailer. For example, when towing we put our bikes, the generator and a heavy toolbox in the trailer behind the trailer axles. Ideally these would stay in the truck bed.

Using 1,200 lb. Reese trunnion bars I have the following CAT scale readings on the front and rear axles:

September 7th, 2014

Drive axle (rear): 3,940 lbs. | GAWR: 4,050 lbs.
Steer axle (front): 3,580 lbs. | GAWR: 3,750 lbs.

Not much room at all. 95% capacity of the front axle and 97% capacity of the rear axle.

I have also not yet managed to completely eliminate rear-end sag. The pavement to wheel arch measurements taken at the same time are as follows:

Front: 37 1/4”
Rear: 36 3/4”

It’s not bad. The rear is sagging 1/2” which isn’t visibly noticeable, but that is apparently sufficient to make the headlights blinding to oncoming traffic.

One solution to this problem will be to add helper leaf springs, which I plan to do.

Lastly, I have some concerns about the longevity of the components with this amount of load.

Doing it again I would have bought a 250/2500 series truck for increased payload.

– Anthony, Pomona State Park, Kansas

If we didn’t live in an Airstream, we probably wouldn’t run around as much

Cheyenne Mountain run

In Life-Before-Airstream most of my running mileage was on a treadmill for basic fitness. Headphones in. Average distance precisely 4.00 miles. Average speed precisely 6.8mph. Then press “STOP.” Headphones out.

In Life-After-Airstream I run more often for basic fun. Headphones in, GPS on. Terrain varies. Weather varies. Distance varies. Speed varies. It’s almost as though I’m a product of nature. Headphones out.

This post is not intended to be a bragathon – I’m certainly no athlete! But in my last post I tritely lectured, “Your Airstream provides a new context for living. Its flaws don’t matter one little bit. Remember why you bought it. Do those things.”

For us, improving our health was one of those things. So I thought I would provide some evidence. Conveniently it turns out 2014 has been the year of fitness milestones. Here are a few.

* * *

Best distance: 12.9 miles (and most calories burned – 1,539).
July 22nd, Boyd Lake State Park, Fort Collins, Colorado.

co_run_1

I remember this run well. I ran without water (dumb) and my legs gave out at the end with the heat and sun.

* * *

Longest duration: 3:32:06.
Greatest elevation climb: 2,861.
August 3rd, Pike National Forest (nr. Lake George), Colorado.

co_run_2

This was a fun run/scramble/climb of 9.5 miles around Badger Mountain in the Pike National Forest, Colorado. Photographs and Gratuitous Garmin Adventure.

* * *

Best average pace: 7:34 per mile.
All right so this one was less exciting – I pulled it off on a treadmill at the Overland Park Marriott, Kansas.

* * *

Longest run at sea level (a made up milestone): 9.7 miles.
January 4th, 2014, Dauphin Island, Alabama.

al_run_3

Alfred came along (photograph) on this one .

* * *

What about something a little more gentle?

On August 2nd I took a memorable 11.4 mile hike with Alfred and Julie to find the first Geocache ever placed in Colorado.

co_hike_4

* * *

4 miles is still my daily standard. Fortunately Pomona State Park in Kansas has a nice 4.3 mile loop – my new treadmill.

ks_run_5

Alfred came along (photograph) on this particular run around Pomona too.

* * *

Now, to the beach.

(probably wouldn’t be here without an Airstream)

– Anthony, Dauphin Island, Alabama

Is living in an Airstream a bad idea?

So shiny!

I enjoyed the recent “Life’s Not Perfect” post in Melanie’s blog, “A Small Life.” It made us smile.

We like beautiful Airstream photographs. We like the cheerful stories. But like Melanie I think they offer a rather stylized perspective. Perfectly manicured moments.

That’s to be expected of course. I suspect there is an element of affirmation taking place.

Plus, who wants to hear bad? The power of positive thinking! Fair enough I suppose. But I think there is also joy to be found in the shared experience and struggle of real life, with all its warts.

A year ago today we bought an Airstream. It seemed like a good idea at the time. It was.

But in contrarian form, in honor of the first anniversary of our Airstream purchase, I’ll tackle the question, “is living in an Airstream a bad idea?”

One. Campgrounds are dreadful.

We have talked about this before. We created a naive and fantastical dream where every day resembled living in a National Forest with birds singing and Bambi and tame bears. And a beach. But with full hookups. In Kansas.

It’s not like that. There are shirtless people and biting insects.

Two. Airstreams aren’t actually very good.

I am convinced our Airstream is the most unreliable, poorly built thing we have ever purchased. Hyperbole? Think about it. Most of the things we buy were made by machines. They are uniformly produced.

An Airstream is made by people who bang things together and screw stuff in by hand. And make no mistake, our Airstream was not built by a group of Swiss watchmakers painstakingly attaching the value of their family’s heritage to the quality of their craftsmanship. This is a shed on wheels built quickly in time before beer o’clock.

I never thought of myself as handy – you know, as someone who could fix a toilet. Yet over time I have become a person who fixes things in uncomfortable settings. I have downloaded and filed away plumbing diagrams. I keep bolts on hand. There’s one in my pocket now.

“Not me,” you say, “I’ll have professionals fix it.” I’m with you. Except when there aren’t any around, which is most of the time, and when you realize what a PITA it is to leave your house at a dealer for a few days.

So if you are, like us, an owner of a new Airstream, find some communion knowing that it’s not just you. You are sharing the experience with hundreds of others who have dropped a lot of money on a fashionable thing that is, well, really quite awful and depreciating rapidly. Remember, a lot of people buy boats too.

For an equally uplifting perspective on this, I recommend reading this entertaining opinion from Robert Platt Bell, author of the fantastic Living Stingy blog. “I love the Airstream, in concept. But like an old wooden boat, I will let others buy them and suffer, and admire them from a distance instead.”

The good news is Airstreams are shiny, so we can still take nice pictures of it.

Now with the acceptance that your coveted do-bob is actually depreciating junk comes powerful and liberating joy. We have discovered, finally, that we cannot buy happiness. The photograph of happy people running around an Airstream with their kayaks is not an experience for sale.

We make our experiences, often randomly, and mostly obliquely. Your Airstream provides a new context for living. Its flaws don’t matter one little bit. Remember why you bought it. Do those things.

And no, you can’t have your money back and yes, you still need to make your payments.

Three. Working is even more stressful.

There are two parts to this.

The first is that work is less stressful because our cost of living has reduced substantially. The dependency on work for survival has reduced. So the consequences of working, or not, are different. This has had real implications for our quality of life and on the quality of work produced. Work produced with dependency diminished is better work.

Unfortunately the second part is that it’s now hard work to do work. If you have a real job job (note – we do not advocate real job jobs at all) you need to be in certain places at certain times. Initially we tried to do this by traveling with our Airstream. We quickly burned out with day after day of driving. The stress was compounded by needing to fix broken things while trying to get to business meetings in a certain place at a certain time.

More trivially but importantly, internet and cell phone availability are not what we assumed. We assumed these things were effectively ubiquitous outside of the Northwest Territories. They are not. Not at all. So we have had to to schedule travel around work and schedule work around internet availability. This is complex, generally unworkable, and therefore stressful.

These practical limitations also apply to community involvement, like volunteering.

Four. Laundry is a drag.

Nobody likes doing laundry.

But what came to mind as streamer_j described her visit to a laundromat in Colorado Springs was the bar scene in Venusville – the red light district in Schwarzenegger’s “Total Recall.” Edgy at first but rapidly unsavory.

total_recall_full

Five. Dishes are a drag.

streamer_j complains about this. I think she over states the problem and dishwashers are over-stated as a solution.

Insert from streamer_j: streamer_a has done the dishes approximately 2 times in a year. He should have no “statements” on the matter.

Six. Dirt is a drag.

“Cleaning must only take two minutes.” Sure, but we clean all the time. Small space, dog that sheds, bad.

I refer to Robert’s blog once again, “Camping should be about camping, not keeping some talisman of an icon in perfect condition all the time. When you worry about tracking dirt into your camper, maybe it is time to give up on camping. I’m just saying….”

Seven. Seasons.

The Airstream is generally regarded as a three season trailer. Two of the three are Spring and Fall. But we can’t figure out what the third is supposed to be. It can’t really deal with Winter or Summer.

Despite producing a racket that would mask a nearby event of Krakatoan proportions, the Airstream cannot stay even moderately cool in summer. Nor can the fridge.

In winter, the Airstream does a reasonable job of keeping the living area warm. We don’t mind that it consumes a lot of propane – it does stay warm in our tests down to -17F. However, plumbing does not work at those temperatures. We can get water to the Airstream using a heated hose and faucet. We can also leave the grey open and generally the water will flow out without freezing. But we can’t get black water out and the interior pipes freeze. Last winter we ended up with ludicrous but effective skirting.

Realistically we’re keeping it on the fairway between 30F and a cloudy 80F.

Without any effort (aside from the heated hose) we can take overnight lows down to the mid-20s provided we get above 32F for a good portion of the day.

Above 80F and sunshine you’re in for a hot day. Worse, a hot night. Fans help. Eat the stuff in your fridge quickly.

We think with a composting toilet we could solve the black water problem which would get us down to 0F before we’d start having insurmountable interior pipe issues (then we’re back into skirting).

Of course if we didn’t have to work (problem three), we would encounter newfound joy in harmony with nature, following the seasons, the wind, humidity and elevation to be always in the right place at the right time. Summers at elevation, winters by the beach. The seasons problem is obviously user error. We’re doing it wrong.

You get it. For at least half the year weather is an issue.

Eight. Goods and services

When you live in an Airstream, visiting the doctor, dentist and finding things is more difficult. Not impossible. Just more difficult. That should be obvious.

And so that broadly wraps it up. Eight reasons why we think living in an Airstream is a bad idea.

Pessimistic? Quite the opposite. These problems are awesome! An order of magnitude fewer and less substantial than the problems we managed before we lived in an Airstream. If doing dishes is in your top eight list of problems, you’ve got something going for you.

Stream on.

– Anthony, Dauphin Island, Alabama