Last Touches

I just finished the last little job on the van: attaching the fire extinguisher mount to one of the bed legs. Now I know exactly where it is in case I need it.

I still have quite a bit more space under the bed, which we’ll use for dry goods.

I also brought up the little, inexpensive electric cooler I got on a whim at Walmart a while back because it was on sale for next to nothing. We have a bigger one, but it’s way too big for this van. I didn’t think this one would fit (I knew it wouldn’t fit under the bed). But it does fit–just barely–at the end of the bed platform. Fortunately, there’s a 12V outlet in the back on the driver’s side, and the cord is plenty long enough to reach it. I used this cooler on my last trip. It only runs when the engine is running, but since I spend a lot of time time driving, it’s enough to keep the ice I also use from melting quite so fast. I put my ice in jumbo-sized ziplock bags to keep water from getting all over my food. So far this system seems to work pretty good.

I also organized all my bins. Now I have the fuel for my stove in its own little bin, also the washing/shampooing/grooming stuff. I have blankets and towels in another one. There’s a big one for our clothes. Another for cooking utensils, dishes, etc. And a separate small bin for the aeropress and a couple of plastic quart jars of coffee I grind at home before a trip.

That little black “suitcase” is my duel-fuel one-burner stove.
Blankets, towels and clothes.

I have a luggable loo, which I really like, but I didn’t like having to use a five-gallon bucket for it. I’ve been looking for a shorter version of the paint bucket (the lip has to be exactly the same for the luggable loo seat to snap onto it). I finally found one the other day, and I’m thrilled.

Plenty of room for all the luggable loo supplies, plus extra water.

There’s space under the bed between the front seats to store my Jackery portable power station and my backpack. It’s important to keep that area clear so I can get from the bed to the driver’s seat without any trouble.

The bed is really comfortable. I got some new pillows. And I cut down and hemmed the curtains that go behind the seats. I can’t think of anything else to do now but go on a trip. I’m waiting for Alan to decide exactly where he wants to go, but it looks like we’ll spend a few days in the San Juans before heading to Meteor Crater and the Petrified Forest National Park. We’ll probably stop in Taos and Santa Fe as well.

New Bed!

I spent this past weekend constructing the bed platform for my van. I did everything myself except Alan had to help me attach the legs because I somehow got shortchanged and don’t have three hands. 🙂 

I built it in two pieces because the back of the van, where the wheel wells are, is about six inches narrower than the front by the sliding doors. I bought some pieces of metal strapping to join them together, but it turns out I didn’t really need them. Better safe than sorry, though.

I got some cheap carpet tiles to put on top the plywood. I didn’t buy finish-quality stuff, so it had a lot of splinters. The carpet works just fine and is very thin so it doesn’t add to the height of the bed.

The platforms after I put the carpet tiles on.

It was a little tricky getting the two pieces into the van. I had the plywood cut at Home Depot, and the cuts were a little off (bigger rather than smaller), so the fit is pretty tight in the back. I discovered that I had to put the rear piece in first through the sliding doors and push it back, then put the larger piece in. But I got everything in by myself.

I’m happy with the way I organized the legs. In the front part, next to the sliding doors, the legs run down the middle from front of the van to back. This is so I have open access to slide my plastic bins in from the sliding doors. The legs on the rear piece are set up so I can slide long items in from the tailgate. I also made sure that no legs block the opening to the bed platform from the front seats. That way I can slide my backpack and whatever else I need easy access to under there.

Before I made up the bed and put the bins in. This front platform holds four large bins (two on each side) with room for other stuff as well. Notice the long curtains behind the seats. I’ll be shortening those later today.

I already had two mattresses. A twin memory foam mattress that’s six inches high and the tri-fold mattress I used on the cot in the van before. It’s less than four inches high, so I bought a two-inch topper and supplemented that with another piece of foam I had on the cot. The mattresses are level with each other, and the bed is really, REALLY comfortable. It’s be a bit tight when I’m traveling with Alan because it’s just a tiny bit bigger than a full. But when I’m solo it will be luxury.

Cutting the mattresses to fit.

I used an electric knife to cut the foam, and that worked perfectly. Unfortunately, I gave my old electric knife to the thrift store the last time we moved (I’d had it for 35 years and hardly ever used it). So I had to buy a new one, but I had enough points at Amazon that I didn’t have to pay for it. I guess I’ll keep this one. 🙂

I made up the bed this morning and tried what I’ve been worried about, given the height of this new bed. I was afraid that, with all my arthritis and bursitis, I’d have trouble climbing up on to the bed and, worse, getting from the bed to the driver’s seat in case of a nighttime emergency. But I practiced and I can do all of that without *too* much trouble. I’m not sure I’ll be very good at changing clothes on that bed, though. I can’t sit completely straight up because the Sienna doesn’t have a huge amount of headroom. But I think I can make it work.

It’s a good thing I decided to rehang the curtains. They’re above the level of the mattress now and won’t interfere with anything. I have to shorten the curtains that went behind the seats, and then I’ll be done. 

As for the issue of using the luggable loo, I still have to figure that out. With the single cot in the van, I could use it inside and have all the privacy I needed. That’s no longer going to work. I bought a popup shower tent for that purpose when I took my first camping trip in the Prius, and it’s a giant PITA. It’s supposed to fold back up into a circle, and I’ve read the instructions and watched the video a bazillion times. Even when I force it to fold, I can still barely squeeze it into its carrying case. But I think we might have to use it unless I can figure out some other kind of privacy screen. Or we can just always park overnight in the wilderness with no other people around and not worry about privacy. 🙂

One thing I’m happy about is that I finally found a shorter bucket for the luggable loo lid. The 5-gallon bucket is just so tall and unwieldy. I had looked at Home Depot and Lowe’s and was going to try going to a bakery, as some people had suggested. But I found one at Walmart yesterday. Yes!

Making some changes after my trip

I knew that my first real solo camping trip would help me iron out any changes I might need to make in the van and/or my equipment.

I’ve started making those changes.

I went over to Verizon and switched to them from T-Mobile. I have to pay more, but T-Mobile sucks. Seriously! During my trip I hardly ever had a cell signal and couldn’t get data most of the time. Unless I was on an interstate or in a bigger town, nothing, which wasn’t good since I was out in the middle of nowhere most of the time. I know Verizon is supposed to have the best coverage, so I’m going to give it a try. Let’s hope it’s better. It couldn’t be worse.

I decided to go ahead and  drill into the plastic sidewalls in my van to hang curtains. The way I had them hanging before worked, but I think I can make it better. Yesterday I drilled some pilot holes and screwed in some eye screws. They seem to be pretty secure, but I might put a little dab of epoxy on the screws, just to reinforce them.

I just came home from the lumber yard. The cot worked well for me, but Alan wants to go with me occasionally, and I learned on this trip that taking a tent for him to sleep in isn’t going to be the best option. So I’m going to build a platform for the van. I already have a twin mattress I can use, and combined with my tri-fold mattresss (and a topper I bought for it), I’ll just have to do a bit of trimming and I’ll have a bed between a full and a queen. When I’m solo, it’ll be luxurious. With Alan, well… it’ll be tighter than any bed we’re used to sleeping on together, and I’ll have to deal with Alan’s snoring (at home we sleep in different rooms on opposite sides of the house). But it will only be for short periods of time, so I think we’ll survive. I’m building the platform high enough that I can slide all my plastic bins under it. I’ll have a lot more storage than I did before.

So let’s hope I made all my measurements correctly. I’m going to start putting it together as soon as I finish the curtains. 

The other thing I did for the van was to take it to a muffler shop in my little town. The muffler dude was awesome! The van has had an annoying rattle since we bought it, and it drove me crazy on my trip. The check engine light came on, too, and was indicating that something was wrong with the catalytic converters. So I figured at least one of them was bad, and I was expecting a huge repair bill. Dan, the awesome muffler dude, had to spend some time finding the rattle because it doesn’t happen until the van is warmed up. In the meantime, he checked all the cats (all were fine) and the O2 sensors (also fine). The rattle? Turns out that when the exhaust got hot and expanded, a hanger rubbed against the hitch. That was it! Dan trimmed the hanger, and now all I have is blessed silence when I’m driving. And he didn’t charge me a cent. I’m so incredibly happy. I’m enjoying driving my van again.

My son also removed the running boards for me. One of them was already crooked, and I banged up the other one pretty good at a tricky campsite at Lake Pend Oreille.. They were hard to get off, but I’m so glad we did it. The insides were completely rusted and falling apart. Tons of tiny little pieces. The van looks so much better.

We only have one more thing to do and that’s to repair the speaker in the passenger door. My son is pretty sure it just needs new insulation. It’s a pain to take the door apart, but he just did that on his Toyota, so he knows what he’s doing. 

I’ll post pictures when I get the interior changes made.

Day Twelve—Beartooth Pass, Yellowstone, the Tetons, and home

After a yummy breakfast cooked by Larry Yung, proprietor of the great Alpine Lodge, I headed up over Beartooth Pass. I’ve ridden the pass about five times on my bike and driven over it in a car several times, but this is the first time I went over it by myself. I didn’t stop to take many pictures, but here are a couple. It’s an impressive pass and fun to ride on a bike.

Higher up the pass looking down onto the road I just drove up.
Another view of the road.

I went through Cooke City and on to the northeast entrance to Yellowstone. There wasn’t a single car there. None! I drove right up, handed over my senior park pass, and was on my way. I doubt that will ever happen again. 🙂

I also didn’t stop to take many pictures in Yellowstone. I took the eastern loop around the park, avoiding the tourist stuff, and then drove directly into the Grand Teton National Park.

It seems like every time I go through the Yellowstone the bison are congregating across the road right at this very spot. I think they get a kick out of causing a huge traffic jam. A lot of people were out of their cars, getting way too close to these giant beasts. They seem peaceful enough, but just this summer they’ve attacked people who got seriously hurt.
The eastern side of the park might not have all the tourist attractions, but you drive for a long time past Yellowstone Lake, which is huge and beautiful.
The lake.

I stopped to stretch my legs and decided to take a look at iOverlander. I had decided, prior to my trip, to go to a dispersed site outside Jackson. But it was quite a way off the road, and I was kind of tired of driving. So I decided to go to an iOverlander spot that overlooks the Tetons. Again, it was a dirt road, and parts of it were dodgy. But it was only about six miles up to the spot I picked. I was all alone there and it was so quiet and dark. I sat on my cot and looked out the window at the blackness and thought it was a fitting spot to spend the last night of my trip. There were signs warning about bears, but the only wildlife I saw was a chipmunk.

The incredibly beautiful Tetons.
View of the Tetons from my campground.
My free camp site outside Teton park. Notice the bear sign in the background. Not a bear in sight, though.

The drive home was long and tiring (isn’t the last leg of a trip always that way?). I wanted to go south on smaller state highways instead of going out to Casper and taking the interstate all the way. Maybe I should have done the latter. I was trusting my instincts on which way to go (south) but they didn’t serve me well at one point, and I ended up going 30 miles out of the way. The only good thing about that is that I had breakfast at the little town where I had to turn around and retrace my path. Ugh. But I made it home safe and sound. The van was absolutely covered in bugs, dirt, and mud, and I prayed to Joe Pesci on the way home to give me a good hard rain to wash it off a bit. He came through! When I turned off onto 287 at Laramie, I drove into a downpour that lasted for about 30 miles. Thank you, Joe! Just as George Carlin promised, he comes through for me about half the time.

I drove 3700 miles on this trip and covered five states and one Canadian province. It was a good trip, and I look forward to many more in my trusty Sienna.

Day Eleven–To Red Lodge

I’ve been to Red Lodge many times. We’ve made the trip on our motorcycles (from northern Colorado) about half a dozen times, and we’ve driven it several times. But I’ve never approached it from this direction. We usually have to drive north through Wyoming. But this time I was coming from Glacier, and the trip was unique (for me). Lots of rolling prairie, and no traffic whatsoever. When I got about 20 miles from Red Lodge on 212, though, I ran into construction. A few miles (no idea how many) of the road torn up so completely that we had to follow a pilot car (it reminded me of a motorcycle trip through Yellowstone with the same thing, riding over rocks the size of softballs—scary). I didn’t even make it to the Alpine Lodge (owned by our friends Larry and Trish—where we have stayed for many years) because I saw the Red Lodge Ales has a new brewery, beer garden, and kitchen! I had to stop, of course. I sat there for two hours, reading Facebook, updating my blog, and drinking beer. It’s hot, and although the Alpine has an awesome covered patio, I wasn’t too keen on sitting outside in the heat.

Nice, but it can’t compete with City Star (even though City Star doesn’t have a kitchen).

But now I’ve arrived and am parked in the rear of the property. Larry and Trish have added some new bathrooms for people who rent their teepees (yes, real teepees, but outfitted with luxury bedrooms). I had a nice shower, and now it’s cooled down. I have the fan going in the van, with the windows down a bit (plus I’m in the shade), and I’m sitting on the patio writing this and drinking a Twisted Tea.

Last night I decided to stay at a rest stop because it came recommended by a web site I use. Yes, it was convenient—right off I-15—and it had clean bathrooms and free WiFi. But as I soon discovered, it was populated by about a dozen big rigs, half of whom kept their engines running all night—right outside my van. I was trying to watch YouTube videos (using the free WiFi!) but the trucks were so loud I knew I’d never fall asleep. I had ear buds, thank goodness, so I kept those in all night. I don’t think I’ll do that again, unless I have to. It’s convenient, but too noisy for me.

Day Ten—Glacier National Park

I stopped in Libby for breakfast before heading to Glacier. It’s crazy, but I wasn’t able to get a signal anywhere. When I get home, I’m going to look into changing from T-Mobile to Verizon. This is ridiculous. T-Mobile works fine for me 90% of the time, but it’s the other 10% I worry about.

I might also invest in a SPOT satellite messenger (my friend Carlo has one). Years ago, when i was attempting to hike the Colorado Trail, I got a SPOT device that was only useful as an emergency signaler. But the new messenger lets you text people, so I could keep in touch with my family (or contact AAA, if needed) anywhere I am. It’s expensive, but if I keep doing these solo trips, it would probably be a good investment.

For instance, my spare tire is inaccessible if I get a flat on this trip. Alan got under there and tried to loosen the bolt that holds it on, but he couldn’t get it off. I figured I could call AAA if I had a problem, but if I don’ have a signal, I can’t call AAA, right? Sheesh.

The drive through Glacier was impressive. The Going to the Sun road starts out (from West Glacier) as a nice, twisty road among the trees and past lakes and waterfalls, but then it changes to an extremely narrow road with barely room for two cars. I saw a dude riding a bicycle up that road. I wouldn’t have the nerve.

Something was going on with my phone. A lot of pictures have a white streak across them. I attribute this to the talk about spirit creatures that I had with Carlo and Tracy when I was in Penticton. 🙂 Actually, much of the time I was taking pictures into the sun, so I tried to block the sun with my hand. I don’t think it worked very well. So the pictures I’m posting here are the ones that didn’t get ruined. I stopped often to get out, stretch my legs, and just look around.

What a beautiful road! And it doesn’t take a long time to drive it, either, even if you’re getting out of the car every 10 minutes like I did. The park was crowded, though, even though it was after Labor Day. I can’t imagine it during the summer. I collected my NP pin! (I have a collection.) 

Lake Left Behind
McDonalds Waterfall
Starting onto the Going to the Sun Road (from West Glacier).

Day Nine–Back to the U.S. of A.

I got to drive back over Highway 3 again, but I came into the country at a different border crossing—a teeny, tiny one with no line. (And, again, I didn’t take any pictures. I’m an idiot.) I came into Idaho and drove down to Libby, Montana. I camped at a campground on the Kootenai River, right next to the Libby Dam. It was quiet and peaceful. The only other campers were way down the road from me, and I was right on the river. I even had shade. I made dinner (cooked some Penticton potatoes that I didn’t declare at the border–illegal potatoes!!) and had a beer while I watched the eagles fly over the river. Lovely and peaceful. I slept well that night, not in the least worried about anyone walking up to my van. I didn’t even close the curtains. This was a free campground.

My site on the Kootenai River near the Libby Dam.
The Kootenai River.
My nearest neighbors.

Day Eight—Labor Day, Camping near Penticton

We got up early, and I followed Carlo and Tracy to their favorite place to camp near home. I took us about an hour and a half to get there, and most of that was driving on a dirt road. As I followed, I wondered why we were going to FAR. We went way past all the other campers I saw. But then, when we stopped, I figured out why. Their secluded spot was right near the river, and Ichabod, their four-year-old dog, loves to chase chipmunks. He barks his head off while he does so, and where we were camped, no one could hear us. We were completely isolated. 

Our beautiful camping spot.
Carlo kept the fire going the whole time we were there. And although the dogs had their beds, they both dug holes in the ground to rest in. Ichabod was especially pooped after his chipmunk-chasing adventures.

Carlo and Tracy have a really nice set up. I ate good (both lunch and dinner supplied by them), and we had a fire the whole time we were there. They have a lot of experience camping, and it shows.

Lunch. Dinner was French dip sandwiches. Plenty of IPAs, too.
The river was unusually low. Carlo gave me a helping hand to hike down there. (It wasn’t very far, but I’m decrepit.)
Ichabod (on the right) loves the water. He’s the barker. 🙂 Molly is deaf.

We went to bed early because I had a long drive the next day. 

Day Seven–Penticton

This day was all about exploring Penticton and spending time with family. Tracy’s parents came over for dinner. Such lovely people. They’re from Glasgow; they immigrated to Canada in the 70s. They still have their Glasgow accents, which was fun for me, since I have good friends in Glasgow.

One of Penticton’s many, many vineyards, this one with a fabulous view of the lake.
The fabulous Mr. and Mrs. Ferrari. If I hadn’t bought a Kawasaki back in the day, I never would have met them. They came to the second Red Lodge rally, and we’ve been friends ever since, along with a core group of people who became fast friends the same way.

Carlo took me for a drive around the area, and we stopped at a microbrewery, where I got a nice, strong IPA. Then it was back home, where I made green chile and we had smothered burritos. Nobody there had had Colorado/New Mexico style green chile, and I think they liked it. I brought four extra packages for their freezer.

I don’t have any bad tattoos, but I enjoyed the beer here, nevertheless. It can’e compete with City Star, though!

Rita and Al (the parents) are a lot of fun. Al reminded me a bit of dad because he immediately started telling me jokes. Rita is warm and a lot of fun. She takes good care of Al, who has had a lot of medical problems in the past few years. We watched a horror movie together (one I know for a fact my parents NEVER would have watched).

Day Six–Highway 3 to Penticton

I left Lake Pend Oreille and headed north to the border. The line at the border was LONG! When I got up to the border agent, he asked me the usual questions about whether I was bringing in drugs or fire arms, etc. If he asked whether I had pepper spray or bear spray. I told him I had both. Apparently, pepper spray is illegal in Canada, but bear spray isn’t. 🙂 It’s all about intent, he told me. I didn’t tell him that my intent with both sprays was to shoot a human who attacked me, not a bear. But I kept my mouth shut. I had to give up my pepper spray but crossed the border with the giant can of bear spray. 🙂

The drive along Highway 3 is one of the most beautiful I’ve ever taken. The road is mountainous and twisty, and all along the way there are lakes and rivers (including the Columbia). It was a fun road to drive, and I was wishing I’d been on a motorcycle. Next time.

Sadly, I was so busy driving that I didn’t stop to take pictures. There wasn’t really any place to stop, though, and since the road was so twisty, I was preoccupied with taking care with my driving.

I hadn’t realize how that the entire area where Carlo and Tracy live is a fruit-growing region. Once I got near Osoyoos, there was nothing but orchards and vineyards. I stopped to get some fruit to tae with me to the Ferrari’s house.

I got to Penticton in plenty of time for dinner, and we went out to a restaurant coincidentally named Casa Ferrari, where we had some excellent pizza. That night I slept in a comfortable bed, and I got to take a hot shower. Luxury! 🙂