I swear they are not paying me to say this, but Safari Condo really does have the best people in the whole world.
Just when I think Safari Condo couldn’t possibly get any better, they go ahead and pull a stunt. Remember when I posted a shot of Dory 2 all completed with the whole factory crew standing in front of her holding a stuffed Dory? Well that was only part of the story, as it turns out. It seems my Canadian Boyfriend Francois was able to pull off a whole coordinated surprise, carefully staged over the course of the entire build process. Somehow, he talked the factory crew into taking pictures with a stuffed fish, placing her in hilarious poses, all through the assembly. I can only imagine how he explained that to them, but they appear to have had fun with it.
Yesterday, he sent us word that Dory2 will be heading out to Durango, CO for pickup at Durango RV. And that was already exciting. Then, ever so casually, he shared a photo album with me.
I have inadequate words, Francois. This is absolutely the best. Well played. You got us good, dude.
I’ve been obsessed with these photos for the past 24 hours and I see that Dory2 will be production number 2143. She looks gorgeous and we will be using every bit of self restraint to wait until summer break to go meet her.
So, here she is, in every stage of the manufacturing process. So freaking cool.
Here she is! “Lola Too” has now been officially welcomed into the Levenberg family (is it fair to call it a fleet yet?). First I want to share the story of her naming. Lola’s original owners, Gwen and Jim Mazza, are classic car aficionados and had spent 8 years lovingly restoring a 1951 Bentley named Lola. When they finally sold it, the gentleman buyer cried when he heard the name, because that was also the name of his late wife. So they wanted the same name for their Alto and I assured Gwen that it would never change. She will always be Lola Too.
Best. Picture. Ever.
She had a long journey from the storage facility in North Carolina and it was no small feat for Gwen to clear her out before the shippers got there. We got daily updates on her progress across the country, and more often than not, the photos looked like blizzard conditions that I was very happy to not be driving through. They took her straight to Randy’s and were amazed to see him raise the roof and test out the Caravan Mover. They said, “Wow! That’s an amazing trailer!” and were perhaps less confused about why someone would pay to have a tiny teardrop shipped across the country in winter. I smile every single time I look at the picture Randy sent us to let us know she’d arrived. Every time.
Randy’s Alto Fleet
When we went over to get a look, we saw that Randy has been amassing quite the fleet of his own. It was really hard to see poor Dory all crunched up next to Lola. That was emotionally quite difficult, but we were able to get a good look inside and sort of take stock. Gwen had disclosed that there was an oopsie with one of the rear window screens when lowering the roof. It looks like that damaged the curtain track too, so there will be a future project there to fix that up. Besides cushion color, there are some key notable differences between Dory and Lola, the most obvious being that there is a “BFW.” In the Altoistes group, the Big “Front” Window has long been the point of contention between the haves and have nots. We have always solidly fallen into the latter group, so this will be an interesting experiment to try it out first hand by way of comparison. For the record, Dory2 does NOT have this item on her current order, so if we change our minds, we’ll have to decide quickly. I won’t divulge which way we’re leaning, so place your bets.
Think this will go with my color scheme?
Another few differences were things we needed to change. Lola came with very nice 15″ wheels and a MaxxFan cover over the ceiling fan. Both needed to come off in order to get her into the garage and that turned out to be a really good call. There is also a very nifty hinged shelf that goes over the bathroom area. This would be great for extra counter space when at camp, but not so great if you have 2 showers happening every day. We will be taking that out, but it’s just velcro attached, so an easy thing to put back in. Then there are all the little mods we made to Dory. Some of these are more personal and not really necessary to function, so can be skipped for now. Some are super handy for the way we have learned to comfortably camp, and those will be on the re-do list.
*sniff* Just got some dust in my eyes here. I’m okay…
Once Randy was finished with the big ticket items and a good solid inspection, he surprised us with a text to come outside and see what Santa had left for us. There she was waiting for us, all washed and dolled up with some Christmas bling. As we were looking around inside, my eye caught sight of my little Dory, tucked away in her proper place. Randy had thought to move her into our new little home as a reminder to ‘just keep swimming.’ Seeing her there was a moment. Like there have only been a couple times in my life when I have been stopped dead in my tracks, literally jaw dropped by an act of profound kindness. Have I mentioned that we love Randy? Just want to make sure that’s clear.
No problem. Probably a whole mm of room to spare.
It feels like it’s been a year since we’ve moved a trailer into the garage, but in reality, from the day of Dory’s accident to the day of Lola’s delivery, it was only one month and six days. Richard moved Heaven and Earth to get us a 1723 in time for our planned winter trip departure date. And he succeeded. Except we are locked down and all the campgrounds are closed. *sigh* But still, that is an awesome feat and he really came through with all the tightly moving parts. And speaking of tightly moving parts, getting Lola under the garage opening was a bit exciting. Dory always cut it close, but had maybe an inch to spare. Lola looked like she was a hair’s breath away in two or three spots. It could be because her newer suspension rides just a little higher, or the fact that she is unpacked, or the fact that her dolly wheels are properly inflated and their axle is not bent. We were ready to let some air out of the tires, but didn’t need to. That antenna was not one of the high points, so that was good news. Out of curiosity, I do not understand the point of a TV antenna. I had thought the days of broadcasting over the airwaves was long passed, but perhaps someone can enlighten me. As we never watch live television, this is all sort of a mystery. In any case, she made it in and with the modifications we had done to our garage, she was even able to open up completely inside. This is a real game changer and I am so happy we did that. This allows us to do all of our packing, cleaning, and little projects right inside the garage.
We weren’t aiming to do this right off the bat, but those plastic latches did not know who they were messing with.
Practically the first project we did, after doing a thorough scrub down and steam clean, was the latches. We’ve always seen the plastic push button latches as a weak spot in Altos and we have little patience when one of them doesn’t work on the first click. Pretty much the first time we tried opening the kitchen cabinet, the housing pulled out. We were like, “Yeah, no.” We have spares lying around that still haven’t gotten installed in a friend’s trailer, so out came the drill. Richard’s template worked like a charm. It is important to note that if you do this mod, there is no room for error or turning back. You have to drill a much larger hole than the one for the original latches, and you have to put an extra spacer in the “keeper” location so that the latch will engage tightly. I just mounted the keepers that came with the Southco latches using double sided tape and that works just fine.
Thumbs up to the coroplast storage idea I stole off another Altoiste. These cups made it through the collision without a single chip.
Other projects on the ‘must do list’ included putting up organizers for the bedroom area, the entry area, and the shower. I installed new Chilewich carpets in the same style as before, and changed out the shower head to an Oxygenics model, with a flow controller so the water turns completely off. I also put in coroplast cubbies for the glass coffee cups and am happier with how that went than I was with Dory’s. In fact, in being forced to do a bit of rethinking due to the lack of overhead cabinet storage and different under bench dimensions due to the Truma Combi heater/water heater, I must say I’m pleased with how it all went together. I had some very specific bins for pantry items that fit perfectly in front of the water heater. Now that whole space is taken up by the Truma. In exchange, there is space in the entire under bench area by the bathroom. That allowed me to put in another set of “Like It Stackable Drawers” for pantry items. Those drawers are the perfect fit with one exception: you have to remove one of the door knobs on the driver’s side sliding panels and switch the orientation of the doors so that they will open all the way enough to open both sets of drawers. Not sure if I’m explaining that clearly.
What a fun idea! I added our names and the Mazzas to send off to the next Altoiste.
One happy discovery in the things that were packed in Lola was a “Pass Along Platter.” This was given the first time at the rally in Oregon back in 2016. It has since been passed along to other Altoistes and has made its way through Canada and the east coast. It’s really fun that it found its way to us, especially in the way it did. I know just where to re-home it next so that it can continue its Alto journey.
Looking ready to roll!
So all that’s left is packing. I love love love the bigger fridge and that will be a game changer for long trips. I love love love the Truma heater and that means not only snuggly quiet comfort, but also the fact that we can hang out in Lola in the garage with the heater on in electric mode. And yes, we’ve had our first sleepover and she is super comfortable. She passes the sleep test as well as the Kitty test. Having a television in there is turning out to be more fun than I expected and that might be something we put in Dory2. For movies, I think we’ll still want to go big with the projector and screen set up, but for a bit of fun, or when we’re too tired to do all the set up, the TV is a nice option. She’s in really great shape. The kitchen and bathroom seem brand new and lack the ‘lived in’ look that Dory has. Even the black cushion support wedges look nice (because they have not been squished a couple times by the roof going down).
Yup. Gonna need a new one of those.
Before we hit the road (IF we are able to hit the road), we will need to pull out the backup weight distribution hitch and make sure it looks level for towing. The fact that we have a backup weight distribution hitch set up is a small triumph for me. Way back in 2018 when we took our second once-in-a-lifetime trip to Quebec in order to attend the 20th anniversary rally, I purchased this off an Altoiste who was looking to get rid of it. We had a perfectly good one, but I like to overkill backup items (says the woman with a backup Alto). Richard insisted I was crazy and couldn’t believe I expected to drag that thing all the way across the country, only to have it sit on a shelf doing nothing. When Lola got packed up for delivery, Gwen put the sway bars inside, but not the hitch, and missing this part would have grounded us until we could obtain another. Well, well, well, who’s the crazy one now, eh? That feels satisfying.
Happy Holidays, y’all!
We are happy and Altoed again. We love all the people who helped make this happen; from the ones who alerted us to the sale on another site, to Gwen for choosing to sell to us given our sad sad loss, to (again) Randy for helping us every single step of the way. We may not have been able to keep our winter reservations, but it was not for lack of an Alto. Despite the trauma, a little Christmas miracle has been pulled off. We are grateful for all of it.
So this happened. It’s been a busy month for the Levenbergs. Bruce 1 has recovered nicely from his wounds and gets to retire to mostly grocery shopping and the short commute to school. The Subie had very low miles and was able to bring a nice trade in price toward a brand new Honda Passport. At the end of the day, payments on the Passport will be less than they were for the Acura and we only have a month left on that. So no pain there. And insurance fully covered the repairs, also good news.
It’s a great car and I’d already test driven one, so I knew it was comfortable and fun to drive. Towing capacity for both Bruces is the same, and in fact they have the same engine and basically the same AWD systems. Bruce 2 gets a couple more gears in the transmission and the all important ventilated seat feature. That turns out to be fun for hot flashes. Storage looks about the same, though the Passport for sure has more vertical space. Potentially enough to throw a bike on top of stuff. One of the key features however, is the high ground clearance and departure angle. That means he can make it up our driveway without scraping his butt. He can also handle some decent off roading, so once we actually get to leave lock down, it’ll be fun to go exploring.
He looks right at home in the redwoods
We got to break him in by taking a day trip out to get pie from Gowan’s Oak Tree in Mendocino, again. We needed a mission and apple pie seemed the best possible reason for taking a long drive. It’s important to get about five hundred miles on a new car before towing and we lacked the excuse of driving out to Quebec this time. Richard got in a little ride out to Navarro Beach, and then we turned around and came back home. All good and super fun to play with the new navigation and Apple Car Play tech. One thing we noted is that Bruce 1’s navigation voice always sounded eerily like the master computer from “Logan’s Run.” So you have to second guess just a little bit when the doors autolock. “Is it time to got to Carousel now, Bruce?” Bruce 2’s navigation voice seems more laid back, and a little happier, so no Carousel concerns there.
He got all his accessories installed this week, including hitch and harness. So he should be ready for his first rodeo as soon as “Lola Too” arrives, hopefully next week! Bonus points for the two blue Bruce Brothers looking nice together in the driveway. Things are moving forward!
Having 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
Besides 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.
I 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
One 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.
The 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.
We 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.’
The 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
I 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.
For 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.
Mostly 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.
Perishables: 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
Our 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.
We 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.
We 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.
It 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. Richard 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.
And 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!
The 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.
Meanwhile, 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.
It 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.
With 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.
One 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!
Having 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.
For 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.
Loosey Goosey Planning
This 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.
The 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.
We 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.
There’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.
This 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.
This 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.
We 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.
This 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
I 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.
This 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.
While 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
This 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.
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 alwaysappreciate 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.
Just 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
Richard 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.
We 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.
Maybe 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.
So 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!
Happy 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&