Throwback Thursday: Engaged in Florida

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On October 9th, 2011, we were in Naples, Florida, with streamer_a’s mom, Irene. streamer_a and streamer_j were engaged on the beach on October 5th.

The photo set from the trip is here.

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Maintenance day

Maintenance day, Pomona State Park, Kansas

We’re on a maintenance bonanza this week as we feel the warm weather coming to a close.

Washing, polishing, waxing, caulking, caulking, caulking. I think many of us living in Airstreams have developed a fear of water. Water will ruin Airstreams – shortly after the warranty has expired – due to rotting of the plywood sub-floor.

Every two weeks I check the floor by sticking a moisture meter through the laminate flooring at various intervals around the trailer. I also look for caulking gaps outside around windows and seams, the banana wrap and the roof.

Here’s the best caulking method I’ve found. To remove old caulk, use a plastic caulk removal tool combined with WD-40 combined with paper towels. I found a cheap plastic knife helps too – the kind you find in a big pack at Wal-Mart.

Before applying new caulk tape around the area. Both sides of the joint. This takes forever and is as boring as watching caulk dry. Then apply a bead of caulk – we use Vulkem 116 ordered online from Home Depot. Wear disposable gloves and use your finger to push the caulk into the joint. Just run your finger along it like you would caulking anything else.

Then pull up the tape. Easy. I don’t mind if there is caulk visible around the seams and windows as long as it’s neat. Vulkem 116 color matches quite well too.

We also have a general rule these days to avoid driving in the rain at all costs. Rain is a 70mph all-angle power wash of a thing that is made of wood and caulk with aluminum painted on it.

And yes, our bank did re-issue our credit card due to the Home Depot breach.

– Anthony, Pomona State Park, Kansas

DVD revival

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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