Sunday, December 28, 2008

Las Cruces to LA

I made the trip back to LA solo as Anja had flown off to Vermont to see her family and would fly back to LA after. The van drove great on this trip and I slept at a freeway exit about 60 miles from the CA border.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

More work in Las Cruces

Front Speakers: I upgraded the front speakers to a component set from Best buy. Normally, I would order online but these were on sale and seemed excellent. Infinity speakers with a 6.5" woofer and 0.75" tweeter with custom crossover. The dodge B3500 van stock speaker connection was a little weird as it connected to the stock speakers it had four wires. I was guessing the new Sony was in the dash was only connected to two so I clipped the connecter from the stock unit and tested in on the new speaker terminals. The middle wires were live so I connected them on up. I got the 6.5 woofer bolted in and installed the lower door although it was not really a good fit for the 6x9 space. The tweeters installed beautifully high on the door with the mounting kit supplied. I drilled a hole through the SMB trim and door and shoved the speaker wire through to connect it all up.

Lessons learned: AWESOME SOUND! What a difference. The treble was so muffled previously but now comes through clean. The base is nothing amazing, not like if we put in a sub, but it is enough for us. A 6x9 woofer would have been better for install and maybe bass since 6.5 is not that great of a fit. Rear speakers now seem a little lacking.

Front Hitch:
I found a $20 front hitch at Harbor Freight. Seemed like a good idea and right price so I made an attempt at putting it on but no idea how to do it. Not sure about that one?

Gearing up the van:
Harbor Freight. I got a tool box/tool set for about $30, which includes tons of stuff and fits next to the furnace under the middle driver side seat. My dad got me a soldering iron, a little dc air compressor, and an engine code tester to read any error lights. I also got a hydraulic bottle jack.
REI/Campmor: We got a Gerber folding shovel and a Gerber hatchet. We got a folding 21" wood saw; pretty cool how it folds up.
Home: put a corded drill from home in the van

Sunday, December 21, 2008

First Problem

Heading up a steep grade of I-8 we had a problem and started sputtering and lost power. I was able to exit and took a quick look around the van and under the hood. Not seeing anything abnormal and being late I declared we should take a nap and try in half an hour. Anja wanted to find the problem and looked around more but was soon lying on the bed with me. In half an hour we hit the road again but didn't make it more than 10 miles before the problem returned. We exited at the next town filled the gas tank (it had been ¼ full) and looked around the engine more, but again found nothing. After refueling we had no more problems. Since it was only about 40 degrees out it seems unlikely it was an over heating problem, and since the tank had been shaken like crazy exiting Cochise, we thought that maybe the fuel filter was clogged. A little research indicated that the fuel filter only is in use when the tank is below ½ so filling the tank would have taken care of the problem. This was our best guess.

Problem Solution:
We are still not sure if it was the fuel filter.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

To Las Cruces again with a stop at Cochise Stronghold

We headed to Las Cruces again and were again reminded that we could use better stereo speakers. We stopped this time at Cochise Stronghold southeast of Tuscon for two days of climbing. In route to Cochise we stopped at a gas station near Gila Bend with tons of cool Mexican lawn ornaments and got some great Christmas presents at a very reasonable price. We also got the van weighed with no water but somewhat loaded with gear, and it weighed 8,000 lbs. Heading up the 15 miles of dirt washboard road to Cochise near Tombstone, AZ we shook the van like crazy but it did great on the dirt roads and the clearance was awesome. I guess I had not realized just how big the tires were. I hope to measure the clearance one of these days with sand and find out. The mountain bikes were on the back this trip and were swung to the side when we setup for the night at camp. It was a little hassle removing the bungee cords and unlocking them from the spare tire. After two days of climbing we headed off to Las Cruces.

Cochise campsite

Ken leading

Anja leading


Friday, December 12, 2008

Mtbing Las Cruces Part 2

Again while in town we went for a mountain bike ride this time the trail was on the west slope of the Organ Mountains and we set it up as a car shuttle which would have made for a nice fast ride if we had not gotten flat tires and broken chairs. We rode the trail twice and the second time didn't finish til after dark.

Jill biking

Anja biking

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Trip from Las Cruces to Home

Anja had flown into Las Cruces, and joined me on the return trip to LA. We stopped at the Queen Creek climbing area near Superior, AZ. After climbing we hit major traffic about 150 miles from home caused by some construction on I-10. On the trip home I also declared the stereo system INFERIOR! We tried to listen to a Book on CD but the stock speakers were too poor.

Saturday, November 29, 2008


Problem Statement: Anja wants to be able to make hot chocolate without turning on the generator.

Currently: the microwave is plugged into an outlet right next to it which is connected to the AC system (Shore power/AC system) so we put in a Xantrex 1200 inverter. The microwave is 600 watts so this should be sufficient power. Since I wanted to be sure I didn't accidentally leave the inverter on I installed a switch in the positive power line. I installed it with power connected straight to the batteries. The inverter has two outputs: one is connected to an outlet adjacent to the inverter; the second has a home depot extension cable attached that runs behind the driver side closets and is butt connected to a home depot power strip which is located directly above the microwave.

Old Inverter

New Inverter

Battery connection

Lessons Learned: The system seems to work but the switch only kind of works and may not be the best for the inverter. There are two switches for the inverter; one on the inverter (accessed by lifting up part of the bed) and a second easily to access circuit break switch so the inverter will not drain the house batteries while turned off. As installed the inverter turns off fine. Flip the circuit break switch and the inverter is off. However, to turn the inverter on you must turn the circuit break switch on, then turn the switch on the inverter to off, and then turn the switch on the inverter back to on. It is a little annoying to have access under the bed to turn the inverter on but the circuit break switch is effective for turning it off. In trials we are not sure if the microwave is getting full power but it is working and is nice to have a power strip available.

Stove install

The van had formerly had a stove or was setup to have an easy stove install. The counter was somewhat precut for one and the copper tubing was in place. I cut into the counter, screwed in the stove and connected it to the piping under the sink. No dice. The piping from the tank was not connected to the piping under the sink. No worries piping was all there just need to switch an elbow fitting under the van for a T fitting. Crux: had to flare the copper tubing under the van to do it. I got it all done and bubble tested everything but just didn't feel confident about having done the job myself. Lying on the ground under the van to flare and test was just too much. I took it to Snell's RV in El Monte and had it pressure tested. Sure enough my flare leaked and they reflared it and reconnected it. They were nice guys and had reasonable prices, so Snell’s might be my solution to the solar panel install.

Lessons Learned: The stove has not been that useful yet but I see its value more for colder trips and we have not done that yet.

The install



Friday, November 28, 2008

Work in Las Cruces - Solar & Bike Rack

Bike Rack
Yakima Terragate 4 for $125 off craigslist. It attaches to the back hitch and fits well even with the spare tire that is mounted on the rear door. It has a swing away action which allows for easy access to the back door even with the bikes mounted. Possible option: bike rack can hold four bikes. I'm thinking two bikes and two Lafuma chairs. Keep posted to find out if this works out.

Seat comfort
A memory foam pillow (full size) cut in half works great. It was a gift from Anja’s mom. It was too large so we cut it in half to enjoy it as a pillow and a killer lumbar support.

Solar Panel expansion
I bought two solar panels from an Arizona company. Kyocera 54 watt panels with junction box (25” x 26”) and z brackets for mounting.

Lessons Learned: I had underestimated the difficulty in attaching these to the van since you cannot really access the back of the roof. After I did a little research, well nuts seemed to be the way to go but I'm being chicken about drilling into the roof. We'd still really like to get these installed as the current 50 watt panel only provides enough power to keep the batteries full with nothing on if the van sits for a month or so between trips.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Mtbing Las Cruces

While I was in Las Cruces I went for a mountain bike ride in the Donna Ana Mountains north of town. It was a little hard to follow the trail as is weaved in and out from the dirt road and the climb was difficult up the dirt road with the loose cobbles but once on top of the plateu it was fast riding on the dirt road.



Self shot

Saturday, November 22, 2008

LA to Las Cruces

The second trip in the van I drove solo from LA to Las Cruces, New Mexico for Thanksgiving. I set out on Friday night after work and fought through traffic into Arizona. I pulled off the road about 60 miles into Arizona and slept in the van near Courthouse rock. The second day I drove on to Tuscon and stopped for some bouldering and a mountain bike ride. Since we didn't have a bike rack the bikes rode inside.

Lessons Learned: WE NEED A BIKE RACK! As luck would have it I already knew this and had found a Yakima rack on craigslist in Boulder which Keith (my brother who lives in Boulder) was enlisted to pickup and deliver to Las Cruces.

In route I stopped for a mountain bike ride in Tuscon. It was a nice ride and felt fairly remote in spots. Luckily I did not get a fat in all that desert vegitation as it was soon dark after I finished.

Trailhead parking

About a third done

About two-thirds done

The front seat is not that comfortable for a long ride as it lacks lower back support. With two people driving it is not a problem but an eleven hour solo drive is not very comfortable.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Anja's Birthday Weekend in Joshua Tree Nat. Park

The first trip we took with the van (besides the drive home) was to Joshua Tree for climbing and a party for Anja's birthday. We packed 4 (Rachel, Ram, Anja, and Ken) people in and left our apartment for Jtree on Friday night with a stop at the Ontario airport to pick up Alex. We brought Lufuma Recliner chairs Clipper XL, and they are hands down the most comfortable camp chairs I have ever sat in. I could easily spend the day reading, relaxing, and napping in these chairs. We spent two nights in the van at Sheep Pass Group Campground, the second night was windy and chilly. Erika was the first overnight guest in the van. Saturday night Anja held a cake contest for her birthday and awarded prizes. Jenny won for overall but Erika and Crystal had excellent entries.

Lessons learned: We have camped countless times at Jtree often in a Honda Element sleeping inside so having a shelter like the van was nothing new but so much space was awesome. It was cold and windy the second night and when we got up in the morning everything was blowing like crazy, enough to rock the van back and forth a little, but we were cozy inside.

We have seating for 7 but 5 is really the max for driving and the head space is not the greatest in the back 5 seats.

Fixes: Not sure what to do about Lufuma Chairs so comfy but not sure how we can fit them on.
The back passenger side has a head board of sorts which limits head room.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Summary of things to change

In our rig we have a generator, shore power connection, 2 house batteries (Group 27; estimated 75 amps x 2), microwave, and Todd Power Source PC-45 converter/charger. Our microwave runs on AC power so it only powers on when we have the generator on or connected to shore power.

1. Inverter: We will rarely connected to shore power so we don’t want to have to turn the generator on to every time we use the microwave for 3 minutes (estimated a 5 amp draw). I’d also like to power the 110 volt outlets. From my research I see a cheap option of adding a 1,000-watt inverter ($200) and expensive option replacing the converter/charger with a converter-charger-inverter ($700). I will probably do the cheap option unless I get talked out of it. I’m not sure yet where the inverter should be wired in? Does not seem like I would want to wired in before the 110 AC circuit breaker because then it would run to the converter/charger which would try to charge the batteries.

2. Second solar panel (80 to 135W Kyocera) – Currently 50 watt panel; Specialty Concept Mark 15 solar charger controller.

3. I’d like to build an exterior storage location for white gas for backpacking stove. A gallon of white gas is about 4” x 6” x 8” and the fuel canister to use with the stove is about 2” x 8”. I’d either like to store this on the roof or rear of vehicle. An Aluminess bumper would be the perfect solution and frankly makes van look badass but I’d rather not spend $3,000. If I could get by with a more white trash solution for way less.

I have been considering a bolt on storage shelf on the rear door or even rear of the roof, like this jerry can carrier.

4. DC powered computer like from
5. LCD TV which can also serve as monitor
6. propane stove in counter (debating between Atwood ($50) and flush mount smev 2-burner ($270))
7. replace front seats foam and create arm rest (or new seats)
8. Component speakers up front and upgrade rear 6x9s
9. Bike rack to hold two bikes (probably receiver hitch rack; maybe front hitch?)
10. LED replacement blubs or fixtures
11. Make side “40” side of 60/40 doors swing all the way open. (I guess we just pull the restrictor pin)
12. Front hitch
13. Center consol on top of doghouse

Known problems:
A. Rear door power lock does not work
B. House batteries are a little old
C. Windshield wiper fluid does not spray
D. Tires are old and cracking a little.
E. Doghouse gets pretty hot under regular driving

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Headed Home

After a great Mexican dinner with Pat and Sara we were headed home. We slept off a dirt road in the National Forest and passed Mt. Shasta in the morning. When we saw a van with a very interesting paint job we knew we were almost back in LA LA Land. After seeing so many awesome places we were less than excited to return to LA.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Smith Rock

After dreaming of going to Smith Rock for over 10 years Anja was finally there. She LOVED IT! We were pretty tired from the whirlwind journey but had a great time climbing and hanging with Pat, Sara and Roxy (Pat's dog). Since this was Anja's first trip there we had to hike over the pass to see Monkey' Face.

Headed to Smith Rock

We had owned the van for nearly over 24 hours so heading off in it to a climbing area was already far over due! So we headed off to Smith Rock in Bend, OR with Pat and Sara.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Headed to Portland

We had the van and we headed to Portland to catchup with a climbing friend. We made a quick stop in Seattle to show Justin the van.

Van Celebration

Lunch at Antonio’s was great and reasonable with most dishes costing between $15-25. Anja mentioned that he should order whatever he wanted and Ron replied “that’s all I needed to hear, I’ll take the halibut”. At lunch he also told us: “there are two days of celebration in the ownership of an RV, Boat or Home; the day you buy it and the day you sell it.” Thanks for celebrating with us Ron! After a quick stop at the park near Antonio’s we headed off to Portland.

Van Theft Story

On the way to the restaurant we asked Ron about the theft, and he told us that one morning he came out of his condo to find the van gone. He phoned the police and then went looking for it. After an hour he found it with some people unloading/loading stuff. He notified the police and they came quick and pulled there guns as he sat in his car and took pictures! His bike and radios were missing from the van, but his sleuthing continued. He checked on eBay and found his radio for sale from a local pawn shop! Once again got the police involved and recovered his radio. While the bike was gone, his insurance company reimbursed him for the cost of the bike.

Van Transaction

We then took it on the freeway for a test drive on our way to Wells Fargo. It is HUGE but drives great. We were both excited and Anja was exceedingly excited. At Wells Fargo we completed the transaction and offered to reimburse him for the repair cost, but he said he felt he should repair it since he had told me the A/C was in good condition. What a super cool guy! We insisted he let us take him out to lunch, and he suggested Antonio’s: a nice seafood restaurant on the water front. A quick photo op with the keys to our new van and we were off.

Van Inspection

Ron had the van there at the station so we went through everything he could think of in the parking lot. Location of tanks under the van, heater and AC controls, starting the generator, the alarm system, the sink, the electrical, the microwave, water heater, where the propane was plumbed, the bed, the awning, solar system, and everything else. It was really helpful; Thanks Ron!

Train Ride

We got up early to catch the 7:30am train to Bellingham. We boarded and had a very pleasant ride, there was great leg room, a dining car and the route followed the coast. As we exited the train, we looked over at a man waiting for people to arrive and Anja said “Maybe that’s Ron”, to which I replied “Ron is 6’6” that guy is 5’8”. It was chilling in Bellingham so we headed in the building at the Station to call Ron but there was a 6’6” man in there and we introduced ourselves.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Trip to Seattle

On Thursday afternoon (10/23) we sprinted from the UCLA parking lot at 3:52 pm to catch the Westwood Flyaway bus to LAX. We got there just as the last person was stepping on the bus, but as we tried to climb on the driver said she had space for only one! We offered to stand, but she said “No”. Fortunately, a passenger offered to hold his kid for the ride, and she was ok with that. It actually would have been ok to take the 4:30 bus as our official flight was at 6:30, but my hope was to catch an earlier flight.

At LAX we discovered that Alaska Airlines was the only airline operating out of the second half of terminal 3 so we made it through security in 5 minutes. The whole time we just kept asking were are we this can’t be LAX. In the terminal we looked at the screen quick and when Anja said gate 31B we were off. We got to 31B Alaska Airlines departing for Seattle at 4:50 pm and boarding had just ended and it was full anyway; Damn we missed it. Anja was starving so we went to Burger King and got some food but as I sat there something did not seem right that we had missed that flight so I went back to the terminals and low and behold there was an Alaska Airlines 5ish pm flight boarding and there was room so I ran back and grabbed Anja and we hopped on the flight and got the last row of the plane to ourselves.

In Seattle Justin picked us up and we headed to the Tap House in Downtown. Steve Schwieniman, a friend from Cal Poly, came down and meet us and he and I discussed current times and back in the day. Steve headed off to get home to his 3 month old daughter and we were about ready to leave when Papkin showed up. Anja and I had met Papkin in the northern jungle of Thailand in January 2007 and had gone caving with him. We caught up and headed home to Justin’s at about 11 pm.