The Adventures of Airstream Mikie

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Road Trip #1: Day 5, Big Sur!

Today almost never happened, and I wouldn't have had much of a story...

I was well rested and looking forward to my final thrust up the rugged coastline to legendary Big Sur.  The road between El Capitan and Big Sur gets progressively more challenging, and the last 50 miles are downright treacherous with a trailer.

I have played with very fast cars on this road many times.  Never with a trailer.  But I was ready for it when I woke this morning.  In fact, I was looking forward to the challenge.

I made the many preparations to break camp and prepare for travel.  One of the very last things to be done went seriously wrong and almost cancelled the day.  A part of the tow hitch went missing, and of course I had no spare part.  There were no such parts available at the camp store.

Do I really need that part?  Not absolutely, but without it the trailer will be more effected by gusty winds and swaying.  And gusty winds can be expected on this stretch of road through the mountains.  For the road to Big Sur, I want every advantage I can get.  I called two RV parts businesses nearby, but it's Sunday and they are closed.

I could wait it out here and get the part in the morning.  So what if I lose a day, right?  Normally, yes.  But my schedule (reservations) say that if I miss tomorrow then I miss Big Sur completely and I have wanted to stay at Big Sur ever since I first passed through the place more than 30 years ago.  If I want to stay there on this trip, I need to leave now, without the part, and without the added safety the part brings to the towing experience.

What was previously going to be a very challenging drive is now going to be off the charts challenging.  I was not looking forward to this at all, but then I was not looking forward to missing out on Big Sur.  This is one of those Go-NoGo situations, and I have had my share of those as an aviator.  The final decision usually comes down to Confidence...

So, I went for it!

This stretch of road is spectacular.  I love it, I love it, I love it!
There was lots of fog blowing up from the sea below, crossing the road at an upward angle and continuing to climb into the trees and the mountains and into the low clouds.  Fascinating!

I refueled at Ragged Point although I really didn't need gas, but I am magnetized by Ragged Point.  The name draws me!  I have stayed at this place many times over the years when I toured this road in Ferraris, Jags, Corvettes, etc.   I wanted to hang out and stretch a bit, but parking the rig was going to present challenges so I didn't stick around to savor the memories.

The road from Ragged Point to Big Sur is the best driving on the planet.  I loved every second of it, even towing the trailer.  In fact, the much slower speeds expanded the time to appreciate even more the beauty around every turn.

After getting parked in a grove of ancient redwoods, I headed out to a nearby pub for some fish and chips and a pint of Guinness (amazing, even here in Big Sur!).  Next door to the pub were a few tourist shops, and in one of them I spotted a hammock which was calling my name...

I have had in my mind since day one that a hammock is an essential piece of kit for the Airstream lifestyle.  Well, every lifestyle, actually.  It is my belief that a hammock is an essential part of life and there should be one wherever you (I) go.  It's embarrassing to admit, but in the 2 months I've had the Airstream I have not found my hammock.  I have searched, and in every case found the hammocks to be lacking.  And now, right here in Big Sur, is this hammock calling to me.  Great colors, all cotton... SOLD!

Back at the Airstream I stow the hammock in the closet, thinking I'll get to figuring out a way of rigging it later -- another day's project for sure.

I made a cup of coffee, and settled down, but the hammock was still calling to me.  I removed the hammock from the bag, and was impressed with how well made it is, and for only 20 bucks!  There's not enough room inside the trailer to lay out completely, so I take it outside and that gets me thinking and looking for where I could hang it.  There only one low branch anywhere nearby, sticking out of a redwood stump.  The other end would have to be the roof rack on the tow vehicle, so it could work out if I had a lot of rope.  And then I remember that I might have what I need in an emergency kit I keep and, YES!  The kit, put together about 15 years ago and never used, has a coil of 120' of a really interesting military surplus green natural fiber rope!

I whip out my Marine Corps Kabar knife from World War II, and it cuts through the rope like butter.  Maybe too easy, I think.  The knife is not that sharp, so maybe the rope has some rot from being so old.  Caution!

I cut two sections of rope and hung the hammock in less than 10 minutes, probably closer to 5.  I lowered myself into the hammock and stretched out completely and relaxed and the wonder of it all struck me:  Big Sur in a hammock!  Just doesn't get much better than this.  I took a few photos with the iPhone in my pocket, and a video, but can't upload because there's no signal.

I enjoyed my time in the hammock immensely, smiling the entire time.  Admittedly, I got pleasure out of the thought that I did something improvised with a knife and rope and achieved one of my primary objectives for this Airstream.  What impressed me is how everthing just flowed...

The rope has been in that emergency bag for many years, waiting for some purpose.  The knife was an impulse buy, in my previous life of conspicuous consumption, at least 15 years old, and never used!  That knife and rope have waited a long time to meet the hammock, and what a beautiful thing they did when they finally got together, and it all flowed so naturally.

I moved through each phase of the job with a general idea of what needed to be done and improvised along the way.  However, my moves were so fluid, so flawless, that anyone watching would think I had done it a thousand times before.  I was like a big jungle cat, moving deliberately without any lost energy or mis-steps.  Today I was a tiger.

The night among the big trees was silent and peaceful.  I could not have been happier!

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Road Trip #1: Day 4, Santa Barbara, CA (El Capitan State Beach)

I headed out before breakfast to find the Pacific Ocean, El Capitan State Beach, to be specific.  More of a hike than I expected but it's always a reward to arrive at the sea.

In fact, it was an excellent hike.  There was a nice fog and it seemed to want to rain but couldn't quite make it.

I ran out of bananas and a few other items are running low, so I was forced to make a supplies run into the nearest town, Goleta, 13 miles to the south.

It's Saturday night, and there's a live Rock 'n Roll band playing in the canyon just over the ridge.  It occurs to me that if those sounds were coming from another camper nearby, it would be a nuisance, but since it is so far away, and a live band, it is not only acceptable, but fun!

The park's Wi-Fi is FUBAR so I use the iPhone to connect for email and check out the route to Big Sur, using Google Maps satellite/hybrid views to see what's ahead.

The RV park is big and sterile, with paved parking pads and all the conveniences, but lacks the one thing I want:  the beach.

Tomorrow:  Big Sur!

Friday, September 18, 2009

Road Trip #1: Day 3, Santa Barbara, CA (El Capitan State Beach)

I had a great sleep - No Buzzing Refrigerator Fan!

The Airstreamer next door (23' International and Chev. Tahoe) confirmed the fan problem.  Says he disconnected his fan months ago.  It was driving him crazy.  How could Airstream build, and its dealers deliver, such a flawed product?  But then, I suppose I have been a perfectionist so long and I should expect mediocrity as a best case scenario.     This is the sort of quality you might find in a 1950 Schwinn bicycle.  I know, I have one.  It may be that Airstream has been coasting on their reputation for a long time and has never really needed to compete to survive.

Breaking camp went easy enough, and the drive to Santa Barbara was simple.  Actually it was north of Santa Barbara, and north of Goleta, to a place called El Capitan State Beach... an RV park called OceanMesa.

The farther north, the more fog.  And now, parked in the new camp, the "ocean view" I wanted is just a wall of white.

In the afternoon I had a good phone meeting with a Protégé, proving out the concept of doing business from the road is possible as long as you have a phone or Wi-Fi connection.  This was a key experiment planned for this trip: to see how well a mentoring session can go without being face to face.

Think of me as fog and tree...
Think of me when the fog slips through the trees.
I am that moment when fog feels tree and tree feels fog.
What is their first reaction?
What can they know of each other - they are so different
and have so little time together.
The fog is just passing through,
but the tree is happy to stay.
I think they are happy to see each other, like old friends,
familiar with each other's ways.
One wanders, one waits.
In need of each other,
a story without end.

Think of me as fog and tree.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Road Trip #1: Day 2, Malibu, CA (I killed the Buzz)

I woke at 7:11 AM after a decent night's sleep.  That is, after I got myself pointed up hill.  The parking spot is supposed to be level, but either that's not exactly right, or the bed is unlevel, or the cushions are weird, or something, but my body was sensing something not quite level, and I confirmed it with my iPhone.  It has an app called "Carpenter" which displays a very sensitive bubble-level.

Last night was the first test of the "Travasak" bedding system, and it seems to work OK, but it's quite bulky.  I could probably use a smaller size.

In the middle of the night, I thought I had gone suddenly deaf.  The refrigerator stopped buzzing (briefly).  It has been making that awful sound since I have known it (a couple of months).  And now, without any action on my part, it had gone silent.  Sublimely silent!  What the heck is that all about?  I am at once happy and curious, but also sleepy, and sleepy wins.

The buzzing is there when I wake up, but then, suddenly, it goes quiet again.  And so I have come to expect intermittent behavior from a previous constant.  I guess I'm learning, but I'm not sure what!

Another observed oddity, this one positive, is that this morning I did not even think about using the computer (email, news, comics, facebook) while having my coffee.  Instead, I opened the door and went outside into the fresh air and watched the waves.  And I picked up my pen and notebook.

I like the idea of staying an extra day (one full day) in a new place.  It gives me some time to relax and get a feel of the local vibe.

I clean the floor with a tiny whisk brush and sweep the debris onto a small Post-It note slip.  It's good stretching exercise as well as cleaning, and we all know how Virgos love clean.  (They love the fact of clean, but not necessarily the work of cleaning.)  The floor is, of course, very small, so it's not much work.  How small?  That got me curious, so I measured it and it comes to about 27 sq. ft.  which seems like a big number for such a tiny trailer.  That's just floor space, where you can actually put a foot.  The actual enclosed space inside the trailer would be about (14x6=84sq. ft).  It's interesting that my condo is about 15 times the size (1250 sq. ft.) but I don't feel very cramped at all.  Yet.

The space seems a lot bigger when the door is open.

The unused parking spaces here are all groomed with a fresh and orderly raking each day.  A nice touch.

Beethoven plays as I write.
The buzz stops again!
OK, now I'm awake and curious, so I launch an investigation.  I turn battery power off and remain on shore power, figuring it might be the inverter.
Beethoven without the buzz is suddenly more beautiful, but soon the buzz comes back, telling me it's not the inverter.  It's got to be the refrigerator, but I'm not sure what I can do about it.

So I move outside and for the first time deploy my patio tarp to cover the parking spot dirt with a green space which mimics a lawn and gives depth to "My" domain.  I move the tow vehicle to fully open the 7'x15' tarp then park it with left wheels over the edge, keeping it in place.

Next, I deploy a low folding chair.  The color is a lime green which literally Screams against the very different dark green of the tarp, but I let it go.  Somehow I am just too relaxed to care.  The chair decides to test my calm and prefers to stay folded when I prefer to have it unfolded.  It's one of those cheap aluminum frame things, and I know it will soon break anyway, and I have already resolved to replace it with a quality wooden one which sits at a normal height.  Revenge is sweet.  I will not get angry, I will get even.

Eventually I get it to allow me to sit in it, and, fully reclined, soak up the morning sun.  It's barely past 9 AM.

At long last, I am feeling brave enough to attack the awning.  I have put off this chore long enough.  I wanted to see the awning procedure demonstrated one more time before I tackled it, because I remember there was something important that I should NOT do, but exactly what escapes me now.  There are multi-jointed arms and springs and detents and all manner of gizmos to deal with but I ignore them all and simply tie the grab-strap to the rear wheel of the tow vehicle.  Hopefully, I will not drive off and cause great damage to the awning, trailer and my reputation.  I take an iPhone photo of my new patio room outdoors and send it up to facebook.  Only then do I check my email for the first time this morning, even though I have no interest in any of it.

About mid-day the temperature climbs to 82 and I start up the air conditioner for the first time for a nice cool breeze and fix my first meal of the day: some oatmeal (McCann's Irish), with sliced banana, and have a relaxed breakfast on my patio in the shade.  Life is good.

The afternoon evaporated in blissful indolence.

The weather station (brought it from home) goes spastic, showing 131 degrees.  It's probably the corroded contacts, the ones I didn't clean very well when I changed the batteries a few weeks ago.  This will be a good project for later, but right now the weather is Perfect.   There are low lying clouds off shore, waiting for the cool of evening to roll in and blanket everything in a soupy fog.  That would be nice.  Foggy in the morning, foggy at night, sunny in the middle, and my day's a delight!

All around me the RV people putter with their Stuff.  This is the background music of the passing days in an RV park. The neighbors all seem to want to be alone, just like me, and that's surprisingly refreshing.

Gray water tank is half full, so I need to empty or go without a shower in the morning.  Deal with it now, and stay ahead of the curve.  Did I mention that the water outlet in the Airstream is lower than the RV park sewer inlet?  And since water seldom goes uphill except in the Bible (Red Sea parting episode), this is an unpleasant chore.  There should be a pump, or is that just too obvious.  Duh.  Why is this entire camping this so Primitive?  Didn't we send men to the moon?  Yes, they wore diapers, but you get the idea...

I have found it!  The noisy buzz was the refrigerator fan.  It is very quiet from the outside, but the hard mount and hollow cabinet sure do make it a lot worse.  So I disconnect the fuse, and now the sweet sounds of the surf are much more enjoyable.

One improvement of minor note, I have removed the cosmetic valance over a window blind which was installed improperly at the factory so that it interfered with the control rod operation.  The Quality Control manager must have been sick when my unit rolled off the final assembly line.

And, finally, a decorating note:  I cut up some west coast campground maps and scotch-taped them to the ugly white vertical surfaces for a big improvement.  Better color and educational too!

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Road Trip #1: Day 1, Malibu, CA

The "Morning Of" went well enough, a flurry of activity, of course, but it seemed to go without any major problems.  I was just hoping that I wouldn't get 100 miles down the road and realize that I forgot something essential.  I hate when that happens!

In its first real test, the Garmin GPS in the Toyota FJ Cruiser works well enough to get me where I need to go, in spite of several disconcerting audible messages that advise me that it has lost its satellites.

The drive went smoothly enough, and I soon pulled in to a commercial campground in Malibu, on the legendary Pacific Coast Highway, right across the street from the Pacific Ocean.   Some first impressions:

Electricity!  Real electricity, not from batteries, but the good old fashioned stuff right out of the plug waiting by the parking space.  An inexhaustible supply, no generator needed, no battery recharging needed.  Just like home!  I can charge my computer/iPhone/iPod and listen to music and microwave food and use the air conditioner all at the same time without blowing a fuse.  This is truly civilized living!

Wi-Fi.  I can use the computer for email instead of using the mini screen on the iPhone, and it's a lot faster too.

Water!  Right out of the hose, an unlimited supply, so I can take a real shower without being concerned about running out or overfilling my gray water tank.  However, the trailer's water outlet is lower than the park's inlet.  And, from what I learned as a child, water doesn't go uphill.  What is this all about?  Didn't Wally B. start this camping stuff like 70 years ago?  How can it be that the Airstream is designed with such a low water outlet?  How can it be that a campground in Malibu (USA) decided to build sewer inlets higher than an Airstream outlet?  I guess I'm just going to have to get used to the idea that outdoor types don't spend very much time thinking about such details.  Probably a plethora of mesomorphs involved in this camping thing.

View.  A great 180-degree white-water view of the Pacific.  I have a front-row seat (parking spot), precariously close to the edge of the hill.  I chock the wheels for the first time.  Sure, the spot is level, sort of, but the idea of some kids coming along in the night and pushing the trailer over the edge is unsettling.  (I'm remembering my own mis-spent youth.)

Weather.  Perfect. 74 degrees, clear.

Cost.  80 bucks per night!  Yikes!   That seems high to me, but it's probably a lot less than any hotel I might find in Malibu.  And I know where the sheets have been...

1.  The traffic noise during the day all but obliterates the sounds of the surf.
2.  No Sunsets!  That was a huge surprise.  Malibu faces south, and is cut of from sunset views by some mass of land to the west.  Total bummer!  How do these people survive without sunsets?
3.  No Pool Table.  Actually, there is a pool table, but it is closed after 6pm when the campground store closes.  It seems obvious that these people are not pool players.  It's probably just as well because the table is in a semi-outdoor spot, so the table and equipment is almost certainly FUBAR due to the ocean salty humidity.

Late at night, the traffic noise decreases until there are moments, some lasting almost a minute, where there are no cars at all, and the sweet sounds of the surf can be heard.  Big, clean waves roll in and crash on the beach with the sound of thunder.

There is a buzzing sound coming from the refrigerator area.  It will not stop unless I turn off all electricity,  and of course then the food will spoil, so that's no solution.  It is not at all conducive to sleeping, and of course it completely spoils the natural sounds of the surf.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Road Trip #1: The Night Before

I've been wanting to get out of town on a decent road trip, but all the details of trying to make schedules and reservations was just too much for me to deal with so I finally did what has worked so many times in the past:  I delegated the details!

One of my favorite sayings: "I delegate, therefore I am."

I simply charged my assistant Carol with making it happen.  I gave her the final destination (Big Sur) and the duration (about 10 days) and asked her to research the campgrounds and see if she could make reservations for me along the way there and back.  Many days of planning and preparation all come down to "The Night Before", an auspicious time if ever there was one.

I reflect on the other epic journeys in my life, all of which began with their own Night Before and Morning Of.

As always, I'm a little bit nervous, but also feeling confident and strong.

Nevertheless, I updated my Will.

I make last-minute piles of supplies and equipment, and tire myself out, finally getting to sleep and  dreaming of Grand Adventure in the morning.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Generator blues...

Hired a professional electrician to check out why my Yamaha 2400 generator will not start the Airstream air conditioner even though other Airstream owners claim that it works for them.

Still don't know why it works for others, but we know that it will never work for my Airstream air conditioner because it draws more juice to start than the generator puts out.   The unit needs 48 amps to start!  However only 24 amps will run everything simultaneously.  That's good to know.  So if I got a generator that put out 3,000 watts continuously it would cover normal operations, but still not start the air.

Road Trip #1.

ROAD TRIP! Beaches, big trees, quiet, reading, planning, writing, pool, yoga, hiking. Secondary purpose: extended shakedown expedition for Airstream trailer.

A "Road Trip" definition:
minimum 7-day, 
epic locations (beaches, mountains, islands, Parks, events, etc.),
billiards is optional, but welcome.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Local #2: Silver Strand, Coronado, CA

This was the second overnight trip in the Airstream.  Actually got some sleep, but am convinced there must be an improvement with the bedroll.  Check out Travasak.

The beach here is spectacular.  Very wide, and goes as far as the eye can see, and that's forever.  Just north of the camp area is a Restricted Area, so the walk starts out going South.  Lots of kelp, probably due to the purse seine fishing boats just off-shore.

Noise from nearby highway overpowers the sounds of the surf.
Lots of parking space.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Local #1 San Elijo State Beach, Cardiff-by-the-Sea, CA

I have visited this campground before.  This was my first over-night stay in the Airstream.   I'm thinking that it was made easier because I am sort of familiar with the campground -- I have visited friends here on a couple of occasions.  About 7 miles from home.

My birthday!  Joey and I get into some seriously good frisbee on the beach at sunset.

I figured out that if I shower at home in the morning, then I don't have to fill and dump the tanks as frequently.  I'm learning.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

There may be hope...

It is said that none of us is as smart as all of us, so I went online to the Airstream Knowledge Forum to see what "all of us" might have to say about my generator failings (see previous post).

Amazingly, there are posts by several people who say that their Yamaha EF2400IS unit does in fact start up their 13,500 BTU air conditioner on their Airstream.

That really confuses the issue for me, so I left a post begging for some help or insight into why it works for them but not me.   It's really nice when the internet can connect you with people who will take the time to help.  I got a couple of replies and offers to help and now I have something to try before I just give up completely and return the generator.

First thing to try is to see if the air conditioner will start up by using normal household AC electricity.   There's no such juice in the storage unit, so I'll have to hook up and drive it 100 yards to check it out, but that's easy enough to do.  If it starts the unit, then the next step is to measure the power draw on start-up to see if it's more than the generator puts out (2400 watts maximum).  Then I can measure how much juice the generator is putting out.  When I know all this, I should know where the problem lies.

If the air conditioner is drawing too much, then there may be a solution by installing a "hard start" device.  This is way outside my talent zone for now, but I'm learning as I go...

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Caveat Emptor

The current (if you will excuse the pun) situation with the new generator not being able to run the Airstream air conditioner:

The Airstream local dealer service department got through to Carrier (the manufacturer of the AC unit) and they say that the unit will require 28 to 29 amps on startup although only 12.8 after startup.

So, 29 amps, multiplied by 115 volts, equals 3335 watts of power needed to start that sucker (only 1472 to keep it running).   The generator that was recommended to me by the local Airstream sales rep is the Yamaha EF2400IS (the one I bought).

The Yamaha web page for this unit says it has "the highest output in its class -- enough to power up most 13,500 BTU RV air conditioners".  The specs page shows that it produces 2400 watts max, 2000 watts rated.  But the Airstream AC unit needs 3335 watts.  Big difference!

The generator I need will cost twice as much as the one recommended, in addition to about $500 in return shipping and restocking fees to return the one that doesn't work.

The bottom line:  "Caveat Emptor"  Let the buyer beware!  And, of course, the real bottom line is that I did not do my homework and check every detail.  Instead I relied on the recommendation of the Airstream sales rep, who, as it turns out, made the recommendation based on no personal experience whatsoever, just the recommendation of his local Yamaha generator dealer, who, it seems perfectly clear now, had no idea what he was talking about.

I guess you could call this an expensive learning experience.