When you know it’s a bad idea

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The forecast for the next few days is grim. Lows forecast to be something between -8 and -4 (-22 to -20 celcius) depending on the source. But we’ve decided to stay put instead of heading somewhere warmer (Branson, MO in particular). We’re not sure this is a great idea but the roads are dicey. Pick your poison.

Cold weather is a problem in an Airstream. Assuming you have money to burn (on propane), the issue is not comfort. You can keep an Airstream as warm as you like I suppose.

The issue is water. Ultimately water has to come in and it has to leave.

For a while you can live in a closed system. The Airstream has a fresh water tank and both grey and black holding tanks. Two people, living glamorously, can go for a day on the fresh water tank and about the same before needing to dump the grey water. You can typically go for several days – about four – before emptying the black water (sewage) tank. There are extreme-boondockers who can turn a day into a week but we’re not interested in navy showers.

So what? The furnace ductwork in the Airstream has been designed to heat the tanks – fresh water, grey and black. So, theoretically at least, by burning propane you can prevent those tanks from freezing. Our experience in single digit temperatures confirms this.

The difficulty then is bringing in fresh water and eliminating dirty water in sub-freezing temperatures. These are actually two separate problems.

Inbound water is the easier of the two problems to deal with by far. Assuming the campground keeps the water supply turned on, you can ensure the water pipeline remains open by using a heated hose from the spigot to the trailer and a combination of heat wrap/insulation on the spigot itself.

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If we’re only staying a night or two, and temperatures rise above freezing during the day, we’ll usually just fill our fresh water tank and disconnect from the spigot overnight. No big deal and quicker than bothering to insulate the spigot.

Unfortunately outbound water is not an easy problem to deal with. Since the tanks themselves are theoretically heated by the furnace, the main problem is the exposed drain pipes. These are made of some sort of plastic and always freeze. There is a danger of them becoming damaged as a result, although we have been fortunate.

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When (not if) these pipes freeze you must resort to a hair dryer, heat gun or similar. We come at it from both ends and put boiling water down the sinks/toilet at the same time as heating from the outside.

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Ideally though you want to prevent the drain pipes from freezing in the first place. There are a few options here.

First you can go all out, skirt in the bottom of the trailer with some insulating material and add a heat source. ok if you are situated permanently but not really an option for streamers on the go.

Second there are some interesting options using heating pads or crafting a light-bulb based heating contraption between the dump valves.

Third, you can attempt to fill the drain pipes with anti-freeze. Since anti-freeze is denser than water, if you dump anti-freeze into the tanks it should, theoretically, settle at the lowest point (the exposed drain pipes), keeping the water itself in the heated area.

The third option is how we do it. After emptying the tanks we put three gallons of anti-freeze into the black and two gallons into the grey. Airstream suggests one gallon each. We’ll have a real test tonight.

– Anthony, Pomona State Park, Kansas. 25 degrees.

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Are we in the South?

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“So where is the South? Well, that depends on which South you’re talking about. Some places are Southern by anybody’s reckoning, to be sure, but at the edges it’s hard to say where the South is because people have different ideas about what it is. And most of those ideas are correct, or at least useful, for some purpose or other.” – John Shelton Reed.

It’s been fun to think about this question over the years. I have seen southern traits in places I didn’t expect to – southern Illinois, for example. And there are almost entire states that are apparently part of the South, but don’t feel at all southern to me – Oklahoma and Texas in particular.

What constitutes “the South” is a topic already tackled by others. By almost every definition, Arkansas is firmly in the South. Some even throw Missouri in at the fringes.

For me the South starts with Pine trees. And Bojangles. By the Bojangles map (below) we are not in the south.

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What about pine trees? The distinct smell when you get off the plane in much of the South the summer. In the map below, states where the Loblolly Pine is found are shaded dark green, with the actual counties where the Pines are found shaded light green.

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Although I haven’t investigated this thoroughly, I suspect there are some anomalies due to human plantation: the bright green in the middle of Oklahoma, for example, where Oklahoma City lies. But generally light green marks the south, for me.

So are we in the South? Not by my map. We are in Conway County, Arkansas, which is dark green. The county to the south is Perry County, which is a light green. So we’re very close. In the map below you can see the county line at the bottom. We are on the shore of Lake Bailey.

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So we have failed the Bojangles test and the Loblolly Pine test (but just barely). We’re still in the Mid-West.

– Anthony, Petit Jean State Park, Arkansas

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas . . .

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. . . everywhere we go!

We are currently in Petit Jean State Park, Arkansas. A beautiful park and I think we have it all to ourselves – probably because we’re in the middle of an ice storm.

We have a knack for bringing bad weather with us. Today we lost shore power around 08:00. Shore water is frozen so we’ll attempt a de-thaw shortly. We call this “involuntary boondocking.”

We’ll be exploring the park. Keep an eye on our Flickr feed.

– Anthony, Petit Jean State Park, Arkansas

Ahhh-rkansas

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We made it to Arkansas! This state is absolutely beautiful. From the rolling mountains and tall pines, you can’t help but have “wow” moments just driving around here.

Yesterday it was a lovely 72 degrees and sunny! We are staying at Petit Jean State park which is Arkansas’s first state park. Alfred and I went out hiking around yesterday. There is a waterfall here which is one of the main attractions of the park. Cedar falls is a 95 ft waterfall, one of the tallest flowing waterfalls in the state. When we saw it the falls were not flowing that heavily, but still quite beautiful. I always enjoy going on a hike with a goal to find.

Outside our Airstream is a lovely lake. The geese have been flying around and even hanging out a few dozen feet away. Alfred has enjoyed watching them, he isn’t sure whether they are a bother or if he needs to go chasing after them. The squirrel that lives in the tree next to us has really gotten his attention though!

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Today and into tomorrow we are expected to have a icy/wintry mix. Semi preparing to be boon docking possibly tomorrow. I figure we already endured a 4 day blizzard so a little wintry mix should be nothing for us to handle!

…. Famous last words?

– Julie, Petit Jean State Park, Arkansas

The Great American Desert

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This morning the wind is howling in Wakeeney (just west of Hays), Kansas. Fortunately it’s warm at 50 degrees. Looking out of the window I see almost unbroken brown grass to the horizon. It caused me to think of “The Great American Desert.” I am in the middle of it now.

An inspiring view of the Great...

An excerpt from Stephen H. Long’s contribution to “An Account of an Expedition from Pittsburgh to the Rocky Mountains, Performed in the Years 1819, 1820” by Edwin James (1823).

“In regard to this extensive section of country, I do not hesitate in giving the opinion, that it is almost wholly unfit for cultivation, and of course uninhabitable by a people depending upon agriculture for their subsistence . . . the scarcity of wood and water, almost uniformly prevalent, will prove an insuperable obstacle in the way of settling the country. . .

. . .This region, however, viewed as a frontier, may prove of infinite importance to the United States, inasmuch as it is calculated to serve as a barrier to prevent too great an extension of our population westward.”

Stephen Long’s map can be found here:

Stephen H. Long’s 1822 Geographical, Statistical and Historical Map of Arkansas Territory.

– Anthony, Wakeeney, Kansas

The exit

We are now well out of the Black Hills and safely tucked away in Central City, Colorado. Some footage of our final exit from Rapid City on Monday is above.

– Anthony, Central City, Colorado