Cooking on the Road

fullsizeoutput_126aHaving now done four summer trips of around two months each, we are honing in on some things that work for us, in terms of cooking on the road. There are a lot of variables involved when it comes to finding a nice balance between ease and overall quality of the meals. Some of these include: driving days vs. staying put days, weather, proximity to towns with decent markets, proximity to fun restaurants. We aimed to reach the maximum level of flexibility so that we could adjust to the conditions at hand without having a ton of food go bad. One of our other goals was to increase healthy meals, including vegetables, and not rely quite so heavily Bertoli and P.F. Changs.

One Pan Wonders

On “journeying days,” when we need to make tracks and cover miles, I don’t usually feel much like cooking. Our go-to in these cases has been one pan meals. We can always find a variety of frozen, packaged, 2-person meals at Walmart, or Trader Joe’s when we’re on the west coast. We’ve also started to see them at smaller grocery stores. These are perfect in that they are fast, low mess, and sometimes include veggies. It’s also a nice way to eat pasta because you don’t have to strain any water. We try to always have two of these in the freezer so we can pull one out when tired. In 7-10 minutes on the stove, you’ve got yourself a satisfying dinner. Yes, they are great, but they do get a bit tired if that’s all you’re eating.

Cooking Indoory in Dory

FcwaCbpoSAm5CHfsSqoyvQBesides baked things, there’s really nothing that cannot be cooked inside the Alto, though there are a few things we avoid. One of those things is pasta, or boiled potatoes, or anything needing to be strained. We don’t like putting the waste water into our holding tanks, partly because it takes up valuable tank space, and also because it will make things get smelly faster than shower water. Rice is great, and most of the recipes I used for inside cooking included rice. Tortillas are also great, and I discovered that you can warm tortillas quite nicely if you put them in foil and use a camping toaster on medium to low heat. Just be sure to flip the packet after a couple of minutes so they don’t burn.

wwGcsbohSR2O1oXG0dG4ogI got my routine down pretty well this summer. I’d first just assemble all the ingredients on top of the stove area with the lid closed. That’s the primary surface I used for prep, with cutting boards placed on top. Then all the veggies would get rinsed and chopped and placed in their little mis en place containers. I brought paper muffin tin liners and disposable paper bowls for that purpose and that was awesome. It reduced dishwashing by a lot. The only time I used non disposable prep containers was for liquids, like sauces. The Joseph and Joseph nesting bowls saw a great deal of use and I’d say those, along with the Magma pot set, are must have items for me. I also like having color coded flexible cutting boards to separate raw meat surfaces from everything else.

Cooking on the WeberQ

J%G1suUSSJyWerYbL1tzZwOne thing that pleased me was how well things like potatoes, carrots, and broccoli do in foil packets on the grill. Most of the recipes where I tried this originally called for baking on a cookie sheet in a 450º oven. Potatoes did better as wedges than as slices, and everything did extremely well with just olive oil, sprinkled spice blends and/or salt and pepper, for 20 minutes over a medium/medium-high flame. I flipped the packet over half way through.

hBFtpibdQiWSUgSHcU8ehAThe stand out celebrity for the last trip was definitely the little Weber Deluxe Grilling Pan. This allowed me to make sauces and sautés, right on the grill. I could also use it for small things, that would otherwise have fallen through the cracks. Kale worked like a charm with a bit of garlic, sometimes a shallot or pepper flakes, vinegar, and a bit of water.

I can tell that the next thing I’m going to want to try is grill mats. For now though, I’m pretty happy with this pan.

It was sometimes a squeeze to get a cut of meat, a foil packet of potatoes, and a grill pan, all going at the same time on a WeberQ 1200. But figuring out the real estate paid off big time when it was too hot to cook inside. A few times I cooked rice meals, marked for indoor cooking, outside. In order to minimize heat from the stove, we used a small kettle to quickly boil a cup of water, which was then poured into a thermos containing Minute Rice. You get all the ricey goodness, without the 15 minute flame time.

Recipe/Shopping Cards

ZxTiqdaCQR24uUsbrtVN5gWe do Blue Apron at home, and have been for quite some time. Thus, we have amassed an impressive collection of recipe cards. One big project was to flag ones I thought I could replicate on the road. The decision making criteria I used was mostly tied to what ingredients I thought I could find in the middle of nowhere. The other factor involved how much of a pantry of weird ingredients to bring along. Luckily, there were enough recipes using the same weird ingredients that I was able to pull around 20 for indoors and 20 for outdoors with a good crossover. We hardly had any repeats after two months traveling and it’s amazing what a difference it makes when meals feel ‘new.’

bPZcgYiDQsmlSU6sipV+NQThe cards got post it flagged for indoor vs outdoor, and the ingredients I’d need to buy fresh got highlighted. That way, every five or six days, we could plan ahead and evaluate our needs based on where we were going to be, and what the weather looked like. If it seemed like it was going to be cold and rainy, we’d go through the indoor pile and pick 3-4 cards. If it looked hot, or even nice, we’d choose from the grill pile. We tried to match up recipes if we needed to buy large things, like kale, or things you can only buy in a package of 10, like tortillas. Once selected, we added the highlighted items to the Grocery Gadget shopping app, and we were good to go. I will note that things I imagined would be impossible to find (Sambal Olek, Gochujang, pickled Jalapeño peppers) were in fact rather ubiquitous. I will also note that the only recipe cards that never got used were sea food. It’s really hard to plan for getting fresh fish or shrimp and be able to cook it that day so it doesn’t start to smell everything up.

There were some adjustments needed for some of the recipes, especially those being done on the grill instead of the stove and oven. But really, I was mostly able to follow the same procedures and use the same cooking times. Overall the meals were flavorful, fresh, and satisfied the healthier dinners requirement. We were both really happy with how this worked.

Pantry and Storage

mM3apfYrQsOd6Ox69bepmgI did some rearranging of the pantry items before leaving and I think my favorite modification was my silly little garlic box. It’s a simple thing, made from coroplast and hot glue, but it perfectly fits three heads of garlic and contains the mess from the husk flakes. That lives with the spices behind the stove. Then, in a clear container that lives in the under-sink storage area, I have all of the non-refrigerated liquid items. In the fridge there is another clear container that has all of the perishable things.

tojIXuPLR0O22ZLVIggFor fruit, we purchased produce bags in varying sizes and used those for both fruits and vegetables. We hung the fruit up and out of the way when stationary, and hung it in a protected place over the sink for travel. The only fruit that went into the fridge were the blueberries and blackberries. For those, we poked some holes in the top of a couple of storage containers and that kept them from getting too moist, and/or leaking all over everything.

fj1i6+%fQaum2sLdobDuBAMostly I didn’t even need to make substitutions, but when I did, they were minor. Like sometimes I used rice vinegar instead of white wine vinegar, snow peas instead of Bok Choy, or red pepper flakes in lieu of a Birds eye red chili pepper. Sour cream is a totally adequate substitute for creme fraiche or fromage blanc.

Non perishables included: soy sauce, olive oil, red wine vinegar, rice vinegar, honey, balsamic vinegar, sesame oil, and maple syrup.

0jjvHR0zSPuN3g4LhjQ+rgPerishables: Sambal Olek, mayonnaise, mustard, ketchup (had WAY too much), Hoisin sauce, soy glaze, Thai chili paste, Gochujang, tomato paste, capers, sour cream, and a tube o’ ginger. I liked tube o’ ginger. It might not have tasted as strong as fresh chopped ginger, but it meant I didn’t have to shop for it or end up with way too much.

Blue Apron Spice mixes: Cajun, Smokey, BBQ, Tuscan, Weekend Hero, Mexican. Also had: saffron, salt/pepper, black and white sesame seeds.

Additional: white sugar, cornstarch, Jasmine rice. Potatoes and onions got stored separately, and only as needed.

Cooler for Veggies

cSWwozTzSaWo3e9GJeTgDQOur first shopping trip did not go well. It was pretty hot and we came out of the market with bags of stuff we needed to cram into the fridge before it went bad. Our fridge is really small. You get the idea.

The very next thing we bought was a small plastic cooler and some gel ice packs. This actually worked surprisingly well. Really, all we needed to put in there was the bulky stuff, like broccoli heads, bunches of kale, scallions, Brussels sprouts, or bags of pre-shredded cabbage. I needed to swap out the ice packs every day, but that became part of my morning routine along with making my protein shake. The additional space was not much, but it was enough to handle what we needed, and it did seem to keep things from going bad for 5-6 days. I would never put meat or dairy in there, but the veggies mostly did ok.

Cilantro does not last well, but those little packages of freeze dried Cilantro worked great. Bags of pre-shredded cabbage worked great for all cabbage recipes. Brussels sprouts are hardy creatures. Broccoli is bulky and one time it turned yellow after a few days in the cooler, not sure what that was about. Kale was better in bunches than pre-chopped in bags, but it won’t last a week without starting to look sad.

Meat

yeeDxLBuQVGt+P3XE4N18gWe learned after the first shopping trip not to try to store meat in the freezer because it gets rock solid frozen, even with the fridge at a low setting. We ditched some of the carbonated lemon waters we like to keep under the freezer and used that space to store meat. That was a winner for not too cold, but cold enough to trust. Another thing that helped with storing meat was to remove it from its store packaging right away, divide servings into individual Ziplock bags, and place everything inside a large Ziplock bag. For this purpose, we got some disposable gloves so that I could do this right after shopping, and get everything stored quickly. Then it was ready to grab for meal prep time and there was no longer any worry of juices getting all over everything in the fridge (cause that is exactly what happened the first time).

I’d say the only challenge buying meat was getting what we wanted in reasonable serving sizes. Most chicken breasts sold in stores were huge and came in packages of four. Sometimes we lucked out and found butcher departments, but other times we did last minute substitutions based on what we could find in reasonable amounts. We didn’t want to be throwing out a bunch of meat, so we only bought for the recipes we’d selected. On most shopping trips we’d have: 2 frozen pan dinners and 4 recipe card dinners. With that assortment, we could store it all safely and could last about a week (with eating out an average of once a week). No meat ever spoiled and that, in and of itself, was an encouraging sign of success.

In General

XkaKazalTTmhYI6YX1AZigWe found this to be kind of a perfect mix of easy vs fancy. We had only one cooking catastrophe when a corn salad au poivre became tres beaucoup au poivre due to the unexpected detachment of the pepper grinder lid.

Paper plates are awesome. I can tell that Richard wants to never go back to regular plates.

Even the smallest change in similar ingredients feels like a whole new recipe. And having so many new recipes was really fun.

Getting the grill out of the car is a pain. We are thinking about making some kind of contraption that would create a protected slot in the trunk for the grill. All it would need to do is prevent all the other things from sitting on top of the grill so that we don’t have to empty the car any time we want to use it. That was the single most limiting factor in how much the grill got used. I really like cooking on it, so it would be worth the effort I think.

We ate well this summer for sure! Proof of concept has been achieved and now I look to every new Blue Apron recipe with an eye for how it would fare on the road. And that is a fun thing to think about.

 

Lagun and Summer Prep

l8qSXY44Rh276sPJHLlP4gIt seems high end trailers attract high end people who like to customize. This is a lucky thing because that means we can copy great ideas. Case in point, a very clever Altoiste recently modded out his trailer by changing out the standard table pedestal for a slick, rotating “Lagun” table mount system. The main benefits of this mount include having a much wider range of table position options, an easier way to move the table, and the ability to lose the track on the floor. He was so awesome about sharing his enthusiasm, he even went so far as to mass produce installation kits so other Altoistes could do this mod with minimal tools required.

What followed on the Altoistes site was a flurry of activity, as others jumped on board. The frenzy swept through North America and all the way to Altoistes Down Under, where variations began to develop in how clever people approached the technical challenges associated with putting a table mount onto a non weight bearing wall. We stood back and watched with interest as we pondered whether we wanted to join the party, and if so, how we would want to tackle the framing. W5JYVtF5RQ2OxEKw4AuE2gRichard decided early on that, if we were going to do it, he’d want the structural reinforcement to be invisible, so that only the mount would show. As it happened, another smart Altoiste figured out how to do just that and posted instructions for how to use a frame he dubbed the “Lagun Mount-O-Matic 8000.” This was what Richard used as his guide and the next several weeks were spent tinkering (and purchasing new tools).

As he went super slowly and carefully, I kept busy by figuring out what else was going to need to change if we modded the table. I knew I’d need to relocate the led candles if we were going to have a swiveling table. I also knew we’d need more Chilewich carpet to cover the area taken up by the table track.

mM3apfYrQsOd6Ox69bepmgAnd then a new project presented itself when yet another brilliant Alto owner posted pictures of a super clever organizational system he built for the kitchen shelves, using blue coroplast. I admit, the blue caught my eye, but I didn’t want to change up the shelves. However, it got me thinking, and I came upon the idea of using the same material to make travel-safe storage for our coffee cups. We were still using pieces of foam and packing material around the cups and it took up lots of room. It also was a minor pain to put in and take out with every set up. Now we have a super cool custom storage area, and I own a glue gun. The possibilities are endless!

fj1i6+%fQaum2sLdobDuBAThe finished coroplast project opened up more storage space for spices, which in turn opened up more space for the storage of a wider range of oils and sauces. And that all got me thinking about creating a pantry that could support a selection of Blue Apron recipes while on long trips. With the acquisition of just a few specialty items (soy glaze, Gochujang, and Sambal Oelek, for example) I was able to gather about thirty different recipes where the only items I’d need to shop for would be easy to find meats and vegetables. This summer it doesn’t look like we’ll be in Walmart land, but I’m optimistic that I will now have more flexibility in cooking flavorful, fresh meals.

CGV+oXPpTmue3dTbTzljmQMeanwhile, back with the Lagun, we decided to take a break from camping in the rain this weekend and instead stayed home to finish up projects. Creating the frame had been completed, using 3/4″ aluminum square tubes, nested into a top and bottom section of aluminum C channel. He’d learned how to rivet for this part and we’d had to remove a storage shelf from behind the thin metal “wall” where the frame was going to go. Next, he needed to drill additional holes in the floor and into the heavy duty frame structure at the front of the Alto that forms the support for the dinette seating area.

IMG_1214It was tricky work getting measurements accurate, but he did a great job. He used a section of black, poly cutting board, mounted behind the Lagun bracket, as a spacer to make sure everything clears the lip on the horizontal bar. Once holes were drilled, it was just a matter of screwing, riveting, and bolting things into place. We were fully committed to the project once he had to drill through the thin metal wall.

The last bit of tricky work was getting the Lagun table bracket to work with our existing drawer. This is something we added ourselves and we really do like it for pens and pencils, paper tablets, and whatnot. It turns out the drawer just clears the bracket. We can’t realize the full 360º range of swiveling motion because the drawer gets in the way, but I don’t think that will actually matter.

FeoiEbhHQjOd5cFKzCR1rwWith everything installed, we put the table on the mount and tried it out. In a word: AWESOME. This really does make a huge difference in how that space is used, and we haven’t even tried it with the roof up yet. It makes it a hundred times easier for me to get in and out of my area and it allows us to raise the table height without being limited by the proximity of the front wall. It also means we can push the table out of the way. That whole space feels much bigger now. Once we were convinced this had all been a good idea, I went ahead and removed the track from the floor and cut a piece of Chilewich to fill the gap. The storage shelf went back with just a few little notches cut out to clear the vertical square tubes.

C6XCiLReQAKtkEX9KDHmpAOne last project came up when I took “after” pictures. With the track out of the way, we can put the espresso machine battery wherever we want. Thing is, the last time I messed with its appearance, I had covered the plastic shoe box that houses the battery with metallic, adhesive backed, craft paper. It was ok as long as it was sort of hidden. But now… ok new project.

A few hours later on a rainy Sunday and our espresso machine battery box now has a custom cozy. I can still move it and use it as an ottoman, like when I’m typing reports.

All in all, this has been a highly productive, and equally satisfying weekend. With one more weekend left before our next summer trip, things are looking good. Tomorrow is Memorial Day and I believe I will Bissel the upholstery.

We are hugely thankful to Phil Silvester (don’t worry, your install kit is being passed on since we didn’t end up needing to use it), Alan Davies, and David Hruby. Y’all are impressively clever humans!

Post Long Trip Thoughts

xPD+fMkwR%2HkQ8b9VtSzwHaving just completed our longest Dory trip to date, I wanted to sum up some of our initial impressions over what worked particularly well, what we’re still pondering, and what fell into the “not so much” category. These are in no particular order, but came up as highlights as we reflected on the trip as a whole. And overall, I must say I think we were extremely well provisioned for an extended time out.

E55CP%fxR7mh+LeJxkgqjwFor us, “Long Trip” means: 2 months (6/13-8/12), 9,274 miles, 37 campgrounds, 19 states, 2 provinces, 2 countries, 2 languages. We broke personal records in: length of time on the road, length of time in one campsite (7 nights), number of one night stands in a row (9), and certainly number of Bison spotted (same is true for motorcycles). Here’s a wrap up of our post summer opinions.

 

Thumbs Up

Loosey Goosey Planning

img_2161This comes in as number 1 on our list of things that exceeded expectation. Really, we only reserved campsites ahead of time for rallies, where we needed to be sure we had a site for a specific time and for a longer stay. I think doing it this way accomplishes a couple of things. First off, it makes the pre-trip planning much easier. But more than that, it builds in flexibility to adjust your route based on information you get along the way. For example, had I mapped the whole thing out ahead of time, I might not have chosen a return path through Ontario, and that turned out to be one of my favorite areas.

img_2162The caveat that comes with this is to be very prepared to stay in weird places if need be. There’s always somewhere to stay for the night, but it might not be the most scenic. We almost always lucked out with really nice sites in state or provincial parks. There weren’t always hookups though, so hot weather narrowed the choices to mostly independent places or KOAs. We got in the habit of always filling the fresh water tank, just in case.

Allstays is a must have app for this kind of traveling, and it really helps to have the non-driver doing the research and phone calling on the road. If I were a single traveler, this would all have been much, much harder. Allstays works without cell service pretty well too.

Nemo Stargaze Chairs

img_2163We probably gave as many “tours” of these chairs as we did Dory. They are super comfortable and easy to set up and take down. They store down into nice, small, light packages that don’t take up much room in the car. We have officially ditched all other chairs. They’re expensive, but worth it. There was a safety recall on some of them, but we checked and ours are fine. The enjoyment factor we get out of these has actually changed our behavior in terms of how much time we spend outside. The only downside is that now we need to think more about insect repelling.

Chilewich Rugs

img_2164There’s been a lot said in the Altoistes group about these rugs, but I’m going to go ahead and say more. I really love these. The color adds to the overall attractiveness of the inside and I can’t say enough about how great they are at hiding dirt. For two solid months we did very little in the way of cleaning the floor. We shook out the piece that is by the door maybe once a week, and I think we shook out all of the pieces like twice. I never felt sand or dirt on my feet because all of it falls through the little loops. We dropped stuff on it and weren’t terribly careful about tracking stuff in. Once we got home, I took the pieces out and gave them a good hose down. The water coming off the stuff was brown and filthy. After that, they were good as new. Again, pricey but well worth it.

O-Polar Fan

img_2165This is more an endorsement for having some kind of little 12v fan in the bedroom area, rather than a specific brand recommendation. I do like this little fan because it’s super quiet and uses very little battery power. In fact, we’re not quite sure how it works. I have it plugged in to our USB all the time and it only seems to draw power to recharge its battery when it’s not running. The power draw is less than .3 amps, so it’s pretty efficient. Anyway, having any kind of fan there can really make a difference when it’s hot and you don’t have hookups for AC. I think I might have actually died in Arches without this little guy, so I’m giving it a thumbs up.

Pur Water Pitcher & Rotating Water Bottles

img_2166This is something that has been under appreciated and taken for granted because we’ve had it from the very beginning. It’s really nice though to have filtered water all the time. We got into a system of filling and rotating water bottles on the upper shelf of the fridge. That shelf stays very cold, even on the lowest setting, so the water was always nice and refreshingly cool.

img_2167We got a water bag that we use to fill the pitcher and just lash it to the top with a Velcro strap. An important modification was the addition of one of those really big rubber bands all around the top opening, so that it forms a gasket when the top is on. That, plus the lashing with the Velcro strap, prevents water that hasn’t yet filtered down into the bottom from sloshing all over the place. It only took us three years of sloshing and wiping to figure that out.

Skillet Dinners

img_2168This is proably our most mundane recommendation, but man, these frozen skillet dinners make cooking so easy. We can fit three in the freezer and that was about the right time span for shopping trips anyway. Walmart, yes I’m gonna say it because I am not pretentious, has the best selection. There are nice Bertoli pasta dishes and some good ones from P.F. Chang’s. Lots of them have frozen veggies thrown into the mix and we found them to be quite tasty with minimal prep and cleanup. The P.F. Chang’s dinners worked nicely with (we’re in full disclosure mode here) Minute Rice. Does it help at all that it was brown Minute Rice? No? Whatever. It worked for us. We have a little Thermos that we use for the Minute Rice because boiling water in a kettle and pouring it in works slightly faster and uses less propane than cooking rice on the stovetop. Which is nice when it’s already hot. And, as always, the Magma frying pan worked like a champ.

Baking Soda and Bleach Crystals

img_2169I do a sponge cloth “swooshy” of the water in the back of the shower basin before each time we pack up and move, so the bathroom normally stays pretty clean. Using a spritzer bottle with some kind of citrus based cleaner, I spray everywhere, and this mostly keeps things nice and fresh. However, for extended traveling, I found that when a little more is needed for either the floor or the toilet, Baking Soda works great. The bleach crystals were a new experiment to see if it would work on the grey tank when it started getting smelly. It did. And I like the idea of carrying dried crystals rather than liquid bleach for multiple reasons. Every once in a while, or if we notice smelly grey water dumps, I’ll pour what looks like about a Tablespoon down the shower drain and/or sink drain. I just run a little water to wash it down and that seems to do the trick. Bonus if I can time it so there’s already some grey water in there and we have to travel a little to the next dump, so it can slosh around.

Solar Charger

img_2170This is also something we take for granted, but since Richard replaced the factory solar controller with a Sun Saver Duo, we really haven’t had to worry about charging the coffee machine battery. I realize most of you do not have a 12v standalone battery powered Italian espresso machine, but my point is, if you did have something you wanted to power with a standalone battery, this system works well to keep things charged. We do have a backup charger on hand that we can use when we have hookups, but we really only did this once or twice the whole trip. Nice.

Sure Call/Signal Booster

img_2171While I’m not necessarily endorsing the specific brand name here, I will say that having something like this (or a weBoost) has been very helpful in multiple situations. Since Richard had to work during this trip, the expenditure was justifiable, as was the time and effort put into figuring out how to mount the antenna on a pole. So far, using two pieces of aluminum conduit, joined together by a standard connector, has given us enough height to be able to grab a signal even when the phones say “no service.” Of course, there are places where “no service” means just that, and no booster will help. But for most situations, we were able to boost to 3-4 bars of something, even from nothing to LTE. That’s enough for mail, or a phone call, or web access. It’s also not that time consuming to put up and take down. I’ve got strategically placed Command Hooks to route the cable, which runs through the back window. The cable fits even when the window is closed and in the “ventilation” lock position, which is good, both for security and in the event of rain.

Port Side Keder Rail

5yQr%SJcSC+XRZ9oEAYlOQThis was a good upgrade. Already, we’ve tried out hanging a piece of Aluminet or using the Pahaque Visor, and we can tell there is a difference in interior temperature getting that sunny side shaded. In fact, I like the Visor even though I don’t have the correct pole set up yet. I may have to end up getting another to go for the full Dumbo look when all we’re after is shade. Anyway, having that rail there really helps.

Fixing the Fridge Noise

This is Richard’s favorite thing right now. For three years, he has been complaining that the fridge was noisy. For three years I have blown him off saying it’s “normal.” It wasn’t. When we told Frederic Pratte about the rattle, he immediately knew there was something missing, or broken, behind the fridge to hold the compressor coils in place. It is totally silent now. Sorry, Sweetie.

Thumbs Down

Offline Blogging

This was, hands down, the most frustrating part of the whole trip. I have to admit, keeping up with the blog on the road was hard. At home, it is super easy and part of my Sunday routine after we get back. But this summer, I spent lots of time re-examining why I do this because there was a strong pull to give up. I’ll say this though: I always appreciate having done it, later. Yes, it’s my own public travel journal, and it’s how I look back and remember our trips. But it is also a resource and we find ourselves looking things up and like having it all there. And of course, I enjoy sharing it out, especially because I personally got so much out of reading other blogs, like RouteAlto80.blogspot.ca. It helps me feel connected to friends when we’re far away and I’d like to think it offers helpful information from time to time.  Truly, those people who told me they appreciated the blog kept me going more than any other factor.

So I knew I wanted to keep it up. And I knew that if I didn’t write it down in pretty close to real time, it would be overwhelming and forgotten later. What I tried to do was just keep current on the writing part first and foremost. This was something that was supposed to be possible in the WordPress iPad app when there is no service and you are working offline. I even verified with tech support before we left. They were wrong, it is not. So sometimes I had enough service to connect and do the writing, sometimes I wrote in a note and pasted later, and sometimes I thought I had enough service, but it hadn’t saved, then it crashed, and I ended up losing stuff. Arf.

The photos are a whole other thing. You really need WiFi and/or an unlimited service plan to upload those. And no matter what, it’s going to be time consuming. I sort of settled on using iPhone hot spots to upload just enough pictures to tell the story. I then organized all the rest into albums on my iPhone so I would be able to find them after we got home. That part worked ok, but does not work unless there is enough service to get the pictures to WordPress. And that only happened sometimes.

What I want Richard to invent and make a million dollars from, is a truly offline version of WordPress, where I could create drafts on an iPad or laptop, don’t care what, that have a couple of pictures placed and formatted and ready to upload when I have WiFi. Then I could more easily do the formatted posts in real time, save, and upload sporadically along the way. That was what I thought I’d be able to do and it was absolutely not the case. If someone knows something I’m not understanding, please post a comment! By the way, all the photos are now uploaded. Home WiFi rocks.

Wax Candles

lzyPdtP+RbWH5NGUJ7OtgQJust nope. They are so pretty and have little fake flickering flames that reflect off the ceiling. But they do not get along with 100+ degrees. So sad.

I am reasonably happy with the Romance Package 2.0 LED string lights, and even added a set of blue string lights in the bathroom that can be set to blink or pulsate. Like a Disco. A bathroom disco.

General Delivery from Amazon

IMG_0613Richard gets all excited about the idea of general delivery, so we had several things sent after we left home. Anything mailed from a USPS post office works great (thanks Caz & Steve for mailing checks and re-issued credit cards after ours got compromised and cancelled). Things sent from Amazon usually go through UPS or FedEx and neither of those will deliver to a post office. Luckily, the box of 100 Kustom Koozies we had made got redirected to a FedEx warehouse in a location not far from the Colorado Altogather. Just good to know in the future that this doesn’t work as well as we thought it would.

BAL Leveler

img_2185We are pretty sure we’re giving up on the BAL, even with its nice pizza box storage solution. Thing is, we only ever use it in situations the Anderson Leveler can’t handle, so like really unlevel sites where you have to crank up the BAL to its highest position. This is really hard to do and Richard hates it. It is also apparently not how you are supposed to use the BAL because ours ultimately started to bend at the part of the frame that holds the giant screw thingy in place. After talking to them on the phone, they were sort of willing to replace it, but cautioned us against using it this way. So, if that’s the case, we really would not ever want to use it. Plus it’s big and heavy and awkward. And, I mean, so am I, but since the BAL is an optional member of the camping party, we’re thinking it’s out for good. If it comes down to being that tippy, we’ll just aim the downhill side so the shower water drains properly and not worry so much about whether round things roll off the table.

 

Still Thinking

Awnings/Screen Rooms

IMG_1481Maybe it’s good to have some kind of unattainable goal. Like it keeps you motivated and prevents boredom. Of all the many options out there for shade/rain/privacy/bug protection, no combination has yet spoken to me as the perfect solution. We have a Pahaque “front arc style” awning, which is great. I really do like it a lot. Its best use is privacy screening and shade. It does both of those things really well. For us, it has worked pretty well for rain too, especially with the addition of the center pole. The downsides are that it’s not super easy to put up or take down and it really blocks the view out the side windows. Also, I was in the middle of trying to make it bug proof. I think if I ordered or made a skirt to block off the underside of the trailer, it would be close to bug proof. At least, as close as is reasonable to expect. But there’s still the set up/take down/block view. And wind. Nothing is going to do well in the wind. We put up our awning a total of two times this trip, each time was at a rally with a stay of at least three nights. One of those times I had to take it down because of wind. And did I use the bug netting either of those times? No. Instead, I got bitten.

4Q9IcUiETM2oGDChsVW3CgSo that leads me to thinking I should get a standalone thing, like a Clam or easy up canopy thing, that is detached so it doesn’t block views and is quick to put up/take down as soon as there’s wind. But honestly, that leads me to “Meh” because I don’t really have the urge to go over and sit inside a screen house. I guess I’ll just stick with the Pahaque awning, and now the Visor, for shade or privacy. So far, I like the Visor because it does not block views and is pretty quick. Granted, I don’t yet have the correct pole setup, so I’ll report back after we’ve used it properly for a while. I could order an “old style” SC awning, but, beyond punching another hole in some Awning Frequent Purchasers Club card, it doesn’t really get me anything I don’t already have. Maybe if that could be ordered with bug netting, I’d get excited. Or maybe I need to keep working on the Permathrin clothes instead.

 

And that’s a wrap for now on things that stood out for one reason or another this summer. There are things we value more highly (Techimpex, rear projection system), but I’ve talked about those a lot already. I hope to never stop tweaking things though, because that is all part of the fun!

Favorite Gear

IMG_5661Happy New Year! We’ve stayed put with Dory safe in the garage over Winter Break, but we did do a few little trailer projects. I also thought this would be a good time for a post of some of our favorite trailer gadgets thus far. Some are used daily, some handy for specific purposes, and some just cool. I’ve provided links to these, along with pictures, down below.

Some of our projects were prompted by plans to head south to Joshua Tree next Spring Break for a whole week to ten days. Looking at campsites down there, it appears most places do not have services and many are not reservable ahead of time. In some ways, this really appeals to me. I’ve always liked the idea of just hitching up and driving; no plans, no reservations, just see what comes. On the other hand, it would require us to be a bit better prepared for spending time being completely self sufficient. So that gave me some things to plan for.

First off, I needed to increase the storage capabilities for food. On weekends, we mostly bring heat-and-serve meals, or items that are easy to throw on the grill. This is great, but takes up a lot of room in the fridge. It is clear I’m going to have to branch out into honest cooking when out there for longer periods of time. Prompted by posts on the Altoistes site, I did some reading on The Boat Galley and looked into some interesting cooking solutions involving Billy Pots and Thermoses. IMG_5685This kind of cooking not only cuts down on propane use, but also offers some nice flexibility in terms of timing. Essentially, you cook whatever you’re making on the stove just long enough to fully cook the meat or bring ingredients to a boil for a few minutes, then you take the pot off the heat and put it inside a thermal case. It continues to cook without you having to worry about energy usage or flames, and you can come back hours later to a hot meal. That’s the theory anyway. And while I can’t speak to billy pot cooking personally yet, I can say that cooking instant rice or couscous in a thermos just by pouring in boiling water and waiting ten minutes is very handy and really good food. I’ve been putting together a list of meals that go with rice or couscous and that’s been fun. I also tried cooking pizza on the WeberQ and that was seriously awesome.

IMG_5684As for storage, I figure I’ll need more places for things like rice, spices, canned things, and tons of coffee pods. So I got another “Like It” drawer from the Container Store to put cleaning things in, lost the tub that previously housed them, and got some wire racks and clear stackable shelves. It took a substantial amount of time to find exactly the right fit so that I’d maximize space and yet not run into plumbing under the bench area. I must say, I’m pretty happy with the results, and the research and measuring time pleasantly occupied me for the whole first week of break.

IMG_5674We previously stored our dirty clothes bag under the bench, so that had to be moved in order to free up space for food. Happily, The Container Store also had a perfect blue and white striped laundry bag and all I had to do was cut it down and hang it in the bathroom.
IMG_5675

Other minor projects included mounting Mr. Moose with real screws for eyes, adding another cup holder, and getting a clippy mount for my iPad so we can watch movies or downloaded TV shows. IMG_5680

I also washed all the linens and that was a pain in the butt. I have some ideas, thanks to some helpful Altoistes, for how to facilitate putting the foam mattress pad back into the duvet cover next time, but I’ll bet it’s just going to be a big chore no matter what. Yes, I tried the “burrito method”, and no, that didn’t help. You try rolling 2″ thick foam padding inside a flannel duvet cover.

And last, the biggest wow factor project came in the form of my Christmas present from Richard. Here’s how our conversation went over gifts this year:

Am I supposed to get you a diamond ring?
I would kill you if you spent money on a diamond ring.
We already have Dory. I’m not sure what I’m supposed to get you.
I’d really like a dimmer switch.
A dimmer switch with diamonds inside?
That depends; will it dim the lights?
Yes. And it will have diamonds, but they will be invisible.
Sounds perfect.

 

IMG_5673So the LED strip that goes under the front cabinets is now dimmable by remote control. This is very cool because the light there is quite bright. Great for working, but not so much for dinner. And lighting the LED candles, while pleasant, is not enough light to see. This allows us to have the overhead strip at a nice low setting and turn on the candles for ambiance. I’m looking forward to that!

That’s a wrap for current projects. What follows is a list, in no particular order, of some of our favorite gear. I’ve organized the list in broad general categories and have provided links. This is by no means comprehensive, but just a highlight reel of things we currently like.

Galley

 

Organization and Storage

 

Bathroom

 

Miscellaneous Nifty Items

Baggage

IMG_3898As I’ve noticed the suitcases of kids going to 5th grade camp getting bigger and bigger over the years, I’ve often thought the size of the luggage likely equates to the level of nervousness of the parents. Once you get beyond the basics, every item added after that probably comes with a “what if?” statement.

So I look at my car packed to the brim and I think: “Wow. That’s a lot of fear right there.”

And it is. I will cop to that 100%. I will also say, however, that I don’t want to spend this trip finding the nearest Wal-Mart along the route. I don’t want to be annoyed over creature comforts and spend my time thinking about what items I could purchase that would make trailering more like home. I had plenty of thinking time on my hands and I used a lot of it on provisioning. I am hoping with all of the perfect little things I’ve gotten, I will be good for the long haul. Dad would shake his head, but I would remind him that when we went backpacking, we only had to deal with discomfort for a week, tops.

This left me with a whole new potential set of problems when it got time to actually pack the car.

IMG_3882
This, plus more, all went in my car

The Acura has exceeded hopes thus far and packing has really shown off its awesomeness. There are nice spaces on the floor between all three rows of seats for packing. Having the seats be forward/backward adjustable definitely helped.

IMG_3883This was the first layer of packing. There is a camp “rug”, roll up table, two chairs, tablecloth, stakes and clips, privacy curtain (sewn by ME!), water can, tent, coffee machine, a couple hundred coffee pods, battery, charger, wine bottle carrier, and single bed bedding.
IMG_3892Next, the big-ticket items went in. This includes all of the big plastic tubs that have been holding our accumulation of trailer purchases for the past year, and the grill. Then really it’s just a matter of packing around them. I bought clothing storage cubes nearly a year ago and I have had to take little hyperventilation breaks while packing because I’ve gotten too excited.

Around this, went: pillows, sleeping bag and mat for the tent dweller, tent rug, grill things, bike wheels, bike tires, toolbox, spare CO2 and tubes, bike cover, pump, RV TP, odds and ends, and a nice present for my Canadian boyfriend and the fabulous staff at Safari Condo.

Here is what my view into the back from the driver’s seat will look like:

IMG_3901
No, it’s not illegal as long as you have two side view mirrors.

And from the driver’s side rear door:

IMG_3899
Yes, that’s ONE roll of paper towels, for all the paper product worriers out there.

IMG_3906So with the bikes ready to roll and only minor details to take care of, I am just one week away from actually beginning this journey in earnest. My mom and dad will be on my mind and Mom’s ashes will be making this journey as well, all the way from here to Quebec, and until Scottsbluff, NE. It is largely because of the both of them that any of this is even possible financially. Certainly their passing has been the catalyst for my desire to get out there. And all along the road, no matter what I encounter along the way, this will be my motto:

IMG_3903

#633

We found out the official manufacture number for Dory! She will be the 633rd Alto ever produced. We have also seen pictures taken from a tour of the Safari Condo factory and the Alto that is right now in the last stage of production is #634. So you know what that means? Dory is ready!!!

I am equal parts crazy excited and terrified. I must say, I have a fairly omnipresent sense of worry that something is going to screw this up. I’ve never waited this long for anything, including the births of my children, so it’s difficult to believe that this is going to actually happen. The last time Richard and I went away, some bad things happened right after we got back. Unrelated, sure, but un-fun nonetheless, and it’s always seemed connected as some sort of cosmic payment. We haven’t really gone away together, just the two of us, since. It’s pushing ten years at this point. However, other bad things have also happened that have clearly not been precipitated by us getting away and having fun. So there you go. Might as well have fun before the next bad thing because it will happen regardless. I’m not sure if that’s a transcendently zen acceptance of the fluid nature of life, or a nihilist and thoroughly depressing go ahead, we’re all going to die kind of perspective. Let’s say it’s the positive one. Dory would want it that way.

We have also found out that the awning we will be getting is one made by Pahaque and will look like this:

altovisormain

We ordered a “Front Wall” add on to go with it, which hopefully will arrive before Richard leaves. Those side walls can unroll fully and go all the way to the ground, so this will allow us to have a little private porch area. Excellent for Piyo stretching and post bike ride changing.

Time to departure: 12 days, 8 hours, 37 minutes, 20 seconds as of riiiiiiigggghhht NOW!

12v Espresso

The first thing you need to understand about this post is that my husband is crazy. He was raised on excellent coffee, he has roasted his own beans, and we have more than two very expensive Italian espresso machines in various states of disrepair sitting in our garage. For context, here is our current home coffee set up:

IMG_3402

I have my own personal barista making me seriously good cappuccinos every morning and that has become something that’s hard to give up when we leave home for any reason. When we have gone backpacking, we’ve used little packets of concentrated espresso that we just pour into hot chocolate or something. It’s not like home, but it’s caffeine, and when you’re backpacking, you don’t expect to be comfortable. When we’ve gone bike touring, finding good (or at least acceptable) coffee is always the first order of business every morning. Some mornings are better than others, and the reality is that we’ve both learned not to talk to each other until Mission #1 has been accomplished.

So now that we’re moving into a whole new realm of comfort with Dory, we’re looking for ways to keep that morning “Ah” as close to what we’re used to as possible. We figure if we can do this, then truly extended periods of being away from home will be more fun.

handpresso
Handpresso Wild

Richard began researching morning coffee almost instantly after we placed the deposit on Dory. Our arrival at the present coffee candidate was more a matter of a process of elimination than a direct route. We knew we’d be happier with something that made actual espresso rather than French press type coffee. Yes, we have a “camping” French press. We also wanted to avoid needing to use loose grounds since that would mean having to figure out a portable grinding solution or having pre-ground coffee that would go stale very quickly. Yes, we have an Italian stovetop coffee maker. So that led to some of the handle pressured or tire pump type gadgets out there.

rok1
Rok Espresso Machine

We tried a Rok espresso maker where you pour a tiny amount of hot water into the top and plunge some big arms down, squishing the water through the grounds. This was when we decided for sure we didn’t want loose grounds. Remember: we drink at least four shots every morning.

So somehow, Richard found an espresso machine made only in Italy that runs off 12v power. The Techimpex is quite the high tech gadget, made by a company specializing in cooking appliances to be used mostly in yachts. It had a high sticker price, but my thinking was we were going to end up there anyway, so why not just bypass the interim expenses on systems we’d ultimately reject? So yeah, we got an Italian 12v espresso machine.

IMG_3571
Said to be “un prodotto fantastico!” and “proprio come quello bevuto in un otttimo bar.”