Virgin Couches

  IMG_5075

Freewill reigns, restrictions are my sworn enemy. Dormancy is not an option in our perpetual motion universe of parenting three kids (one special needs), homeschooling, lobbying a federal CBD bill in D.C., starting two family corporations, writing a book, and the ever-important adventuring. But life comes at you fast and hard, read:  ground, ground comes at you fast and hard. I took a short, violent fall bouldering a few months back, heard the ankle "POP!" when I landed. But being the stubborn girl I am, I kept on climbing and increasing my trail running miles for months, meanwhile icing, compressing and elevating, stuffing my tender, busted leg into my various, performance-fit-tight, so tight my toenails are never permanently attached, athletic footwear. Gregjohn, the Hot Husband, silently watched my internal belligerency with great restraint, but logic and concern finally erupted and he made me an appointment with an orthopedic ankle specialist. He had to physically drive to the office to chat without me present, knowing my general mistrust of medical intervention.

FullSizeRender-2

The verdict was in, I needed an ankle reconstruction surgery. No. Nope. Not possible. I had plans! Later that week I had an AMGA climbing guide certification course, followed a few days later by my off-road ADV motorcycle clinic, followed days later by an outdoor lead climbing class for the members of my new women's climbing company, belayHer. No time, NO TIME for this malarkey. Did I mention our special needs daughter currently has a broken leg?

FullSizeRender-1

My first trip to the doctor beyond birthing babies had me eavesdropping on The Waiting Room People's conversations. It was an unending stream of broken orthopedic clients filing in and out of the doctor's office at my various appointments and scans, boasting about their injuries, the one-upmanship, the surgical scar pride. It always peaked my curiosity, the satisfaction and attention-seeking of people with medical complications. This is an actual sport in the state of Florida where my parents live but they don't hand out trophies for Worst Chronic Injury. You buy your own, a headstone. In Colorado, it is more of a stupidity boast, what you got away with while playing in the mountains. Me? I was indoors at a rock climbing gym, landed on mats. Can I award myself a last place award?

FullSizeRender

It is said we all seek and must receive attention, it is human nature and necessary. Once you pinpoint your method, and others', you have such greater insight into motivations of actions. What is your attention-seeking route? I name them, none better or worse than another, they just are what they are. Are you; the Capable, the Mother Theresa, the Martyr, the Munchausen, the Joker, the Wallflower, the Narcissist, the Cheerleader, the Dramaqueen, the Addict, the Asshole? I believe when you don't fill your cup, the universe intervenes on your part, forcing you to focus on the deficit or die of dehydration. It isn't selfish, it is necessary, to take care of yourself first. If you want to be a productive human, able to give, you can't start empty. Duh. I think for me it has become scarily hard to recognize when I'm tapped out. I had gotten too proficient at functioning and contributing with very little going toward myself. I became proud I needed so little; sleep, alone time, money, sex, hell just food and water weren't always adequate. You can only do that for so long and then WHAM life slows you the fuck down and breaks you so you have to focus and love and attend to yourself. Perhaps my method is Capable, I get attention by being able-bodied. You can take anything too far. Got it. Noted.

IMG_5047

I wonder about the potential outcome of increased caution post-injury. Will I exert excess prudence on the rock, trails, snow and ice? Will I have more fear now when I'm out there adventuring? Gregjohn says in his case it went the opposite and he is even more daring, takes more chances since healing from his various traumas (he has had four recent firefighter injuries and surgeries.) Maybe having gone through more than a few of these now, he's learned he is fixable, and it ain't nothin' but a thang. Joy should not be repressed when joy means a full cup. If joy is barreling down steep single-track balls out, then barrel he shall.

image3

So here I lay, post-op, getting waited on by my supportive husband, kids, friends, family. It is an incredibly humbling experience, your first real injury. It is difficult asking for help and having people see you weak, stoned on drugs, vomiting from the pain, useless, needy. Turns out I am not invincible, I am just another soft-bodied human in a sharp world, likely having scraped by a gauntlet of near misses until one finally called my number. They opened up my ankle, reattached some ligaments and tendons, tooled bone. Six weeks I cannot put weight on my right leg. This is a big shit sandwich for a person who doesn't sit still for six minutes. We are outdoors people, we are middle-aged athletes, GD it! Meaning we can finally afford gear. The only gear in my near future is somewhere comfortable to sit. Excepting all the sex our couches are forced to endure, they are virgin furnishings in the "chill out" sense. My sexual sofa has become a sectional sofa.

Slow Days with Charlotte

Charlieoncouchblur.jpg

Many of our friends and followers on other social media regularly tell us how they live vicariously through us, as we try to be fairly active. Many of our posts are getting outside and being active but there is another side to our life that people do not see. One of the children suffers from Dravet syndrome with developmental and physical issues related to this crippling form of epilepsy. One of our goals with this blog was to show others with special needs children that you can get outside and continue to live life.

 

Getting outside is just as important to Charlotte as it is to us. She craves sensory stimulation and will look up in wonder as planes fly past, snow flakes fall from the sky or stopping on a hike to touch the bark of a tree. We all try to get out together and will carry her to the crags, bicycle rides or just being out to dinner and being a normal family.

Max and Chase recently traveled to Mexico and returned feeling a bit sick. We are not sure if Charlotte was affected by what the kids brought back, the full moon or her changing body. Talk to any special needs family and they can tell you how these factors affect the disease their children suffer from. Our weather was also changing and extreme changes in weather can also set Charlotte back for a few days. Unfortunately this downturn in Charlotte lasted almost a week.

This is longest time she has decompensated for. Usually she will have a occasional seizure at bedtime as she falls asleep but throughout this week there were several seizures during the day and throughout the night. Days were spent holding her on the couch or anywhere we could to keep her comfortable and feeling loved.  The other issue is that she will barely eat or drink during these moments.  These are the days when you feel utterly hopeless. Seeing a defenseless child seizing and turning blue, while all you can do is hold her and hope this isn’t the status seizure that will end her life.  She is 10 and will be experiencing puberty soon.  Changes in health and hormones stress Dravet kids and these stresses on their bodies may send them into the status seizure that ends their life.

Shortly after the nap on the hammock she popped awake and started talking in her happy sing song way “mommy, poppy, baaaabbbbiieee”. This is life with Charlotte, one moment you are drawn into her big blue eyes and love and the for some inexplicable reason you are wringing your hands trying to figure out what is making her worse.  Somedays our goal is outside and other days our goal is inside and ensuring Charlotte is taken care of.  Either way this is our life together. Some days are fun, some hard but they are all rewarding!

 

Some accessories and ventilation for the van

A bit of time has passed since our last post related to upgrades and converting the van.  We have pored over several forums and builds from other people. Before diving into the van project fully, we wanted to spend time living in it.  We have returned from our climbing trip to Potrero Chico and added a couple accessories and installed a roof fan. We are all smiles, great trip and our decision for van life cemented!

Portrero

Note: This post contains affiliate links.  If you click the link and buy the product linked we get a commission fee.  Your price is the same, if you buy from the affiliate link or not.  We just collect a small fee to help us continuing to upgrade, travel and other insanity. Thank you.

Accessories

We will separate accessories and upgrades. Generally accessories don’t require special tools or alter the van in a significant manner where upgrades may require altering some element of the vehicle. We purchased floor mats and hood deflector before the trip and were only able to install the mats prior to. We were still experiencing the grips of winter and couldn’t get the van clean or warm enough to install the deflector before leaving so it waited until our return and some warmer weather.

Husky Floor Mat

Cost: $109

Level of Difficulty: It doesn’t get much easier

Install time: The amount of time it takes you to open and box and put them in..

IMG 5804

Our van has vinyl flooring in the cockpit but more protection is needed to keep from ripping it up and one of the first purchases was a floor mat. We looked at all the options and decided on the Husky Floor liner that bridges the drivetrain hump.  The vinyl flooring of our van makes it difficult for mats to grip so having one joined in the middle keeps the mats together and limits them slipping around. This model also extends up into the foot well and towards the door to give protection on the foot rest areas on the drivers and passenger sides.

Review:

We installed these before our trip and they really protect the flooring. We exposed these liners to summer and winter use and they caught dirt and melting snow without issue. We do quite a bit outside and get in and out with various forms of footwear soiled with all forms of stuff so these work well for use and meet our needs.  They are not that expensive and fit the bill, not perfect but work.

Pros:

  • Heavy duty material that will hold up over time.
  • Mats are joined which helps keep them in place
  • Cover the foot well with curved sides to hold dirt and water in place

Cons:

  • Mats are joined which makes it difficult to removed one if it soiled, easier to clean in place
  • Mats do slide slightly on our vinyl floor and there isn’t anyway to secure to floor

Ford Hood Deflector

Cost $82

Level of Difficulty: Beginner, be patient to ensure alignment. An extra set of eyes could be beneficial.

Install time: About 30min.

Many of the roads in Colorado are treated with aggregate during the winter which flies up and causes problems.  Just about everyone drives around with several cracks and chips in the windshield of their vehicles.  Even if you don’t get some type of obvious damage to your windshield it will need to be replaced in a few years because it will resemble frosted glass with millions of pock marks, which is more pronounced at night. All this stuff hitting the windshield is also beating up the leading edge of your vehicle and exposing the metal underneath which leads to rusting of the hood. One popular way is with using a film or clear bra on the hood.  We considered using the film but passed because we didn’t like the look of a seam halfway up the hood and it really doesn’t offer a buffer from some of the larger pieces of rock thrown up on the roads.

This deflector is held on with 3M VHB tape attached to the back of the product so you don’t have to drill holes into the hood. Because you are depending on adhesive to secure it the temperature needs to be above 70 deg F and clean.  So wash the van with soap and water, try not to use a “wash n wax” product because the was can impair the adhesion. Once washed and dried use the alcohol preps, or mix of 50:50 isopropyl alcohol and water on a towel, to remove any greasy or waxy residue that may remain.

Washed, cleaned and ready for application

IMG 5323

Installation:

  1. Wash and clean surface
  2. Peel the film back on the corners of the tape, exposing small corners of the tape and then align with the hood
  3. Pull the tabs to expose the rest of the tape and apply pressure (3M recommends 15psi) to promote bonding to all the contact areas to adhere it to the hood.  Bonding strength is as follows, 50% in 20min, 90% after 24 and 100% after 72 hours.

After

IMG 5325

As you can see it fits nice and close to the van and doesn’t vibrate against rubber bumpers like some deflectors do.  We plan on blacking out the chrome.  The little Ford sticker didn’t last long and fell off shortly after installation.

Pros:

  • Ford product and designed to fit the vehicle
  • Fits close to hood and doesn’t vibrate or have a gap that collects pine needles or other debris that rolls down the hood
  • Added layer of protection from objects impacting the leading edge of hood
  • Doesn’t add to wind noise
  • No special tools to install
  • No drilling required

Cons:

  • It is flimsy plastic and can break if not supported during installation, as noted on Amazon review
  • Only one color available

Review

We have only had the deflector on for a short period of time so this would not be considered a long term review but it has remained in place and stood up to the rocks and road debris. The small Ford label on it fell off shortly after installation but you can’t tell it was even there.  We like the way it changes the styling of the van and protection it offers.  Will see how long it holds up but for now it was a worthwhile purchase and will help keep the hood protected and looking good.

Now it is time to move on to some real work, installing the ventilation fan.  But before we install it we had to pick one.  There are several different fans out there to choose from but the two top ones are the Fantastic and MaxxAir fans. We decided on the MaxxAir Maxxfan Deluxe 7500k fan for our van.  Both companies fans move 900+CFM and electric or manual lip opening, ceiling fan mode, remote control, thermostat and rain sensors.  We wanted the ability to operate the fan in the rain but we don’t like the look of a high rain cover poking up from the roof so MaxxAir was the choice for us. We also chose the smoke because it lets in more light than the white model.

Level of Difficulty: Moderate

Time: 4 hrs

Cost: $476 - For the supplies only, if you need some tools then add accordingly. You always need more tools.

Below is a chart for MaxxAir with the features of the various models. If you are active and spend time away from your vehicle, we recommend starting with models that include a rain sensor that will close the fan if you are away from the van.  Spending a few extra dollars for a rain sensor is cheaper than replacing water damaged interior or electronics from a flood of rain.

Fans

Now we picked the fan it was time to get the rest of the needed supplies and equipment. This is our step-by-step installation and products we used.  Walk down the isle at Home Depot or a RV shop and you will see all the different products to seal, glue, caulk or otherwise “waterproof” the holes you will put in your van. The products or methods you use in your installation may differ based on your local weather or views on how it should be done.

Ok, Let’s get our stuff together. It was this point I realized we only had the exterior roof adapter.  Today was the only day I had to get the fan installed before I had to get back to work and the weather changed.

P2170228

Not Pictured

  • Drill bits
  • Dremel or rotary tool or a flat file
  • Center punch
  • Hammer
  • Clamps
  • Caulk gun
  • Step Ladder
  • Blanket or something to protect the finish on the roof.

Step 1.. Prepare and homeschooling lessons

IMG 5350

We were able to cover several homeschooling topics during the fan installation.  We used all kinds of visuals to demonstrate fractions but it was using money as the example that brought the “Aha!” moment and fractions were better understood.

  • Reading tape measure
  • Adding and subtracting fractions
  • Converting fractions to decimals
  • Use of hand and power tools
  • Making mistakes and recovering
  • Safety and teamwork

Step 2

Decide where you are going to place your fan.  We are planning on a roof rack and a solar panel being mounted towards the rear so ours is placed forward on the roof.  This is also going to be in our kitchen area and we wanted to ventilate close to the cooking area. Find the centerline (CL) of your roof and measure 7” to either side. The fan requires a 14” opening.  Use the painters tape and sharpie to layout the square you will cut.

Measure 3 time and cut once, especially when you are cutting into a vehicle.  Body repairs can be costly.

P2170230

Step 3

Reconfirm your measurements, just one more time.  Place another piece of tape on the CL and use the center punch to put a small indent into the roof (this gives a place for the drill bit to start, if not the bit will wander on the surface and put a hole where do not want it) where you will drill a pilot hole to fit the blade of jig saw through and make a test cut along part of the CL.  OK.. Practice is over, now use the center punch in each corner and drill holes for the jig saw blade.  You want the drill bit to touch both lines of the corner but not extend outside of your lines.

P2170231

Step 4

The hole is cut! Remove the painters tape.  The edge will be pretty rough with a rough edge inside and out. You can use a file to take care of the edge but a dremel makes quick work of it. Any metal extending above or below could keep the adapter from fitting flush and getting a good seal. Test fit the fan mount to make sure your hole is properly sized. Then clean inside and out with alcohol to remove wax, grease and tape residue.

P2170235

Step 5

The cutting will leave exposed metal that will start to corrode and it needs to be refinished.  We laid some cardboard over the roof and covered to outside with a box to prevent overspray onto the finish off the roof and taped a bag over in interior to prevent overspray into the cabin.  Wait for primer to dry before applying the paint and then the paint to dry before the clear coat.

P2170241

P2170250

Step 6, 7, 8

Clamp the adapter, fan mount, and the interior adaptor.  In our case we used wood and used a small hand plane to match the curve of the roof line, important to do to ensure all the surfaces stay flush and tight to prevent further leaks.  Drill the holes for your screws, remove and apply the butyl tape to the bottom of adaptor and then the underside of the fan mount.  The holes were drilled before drilling to prevent the drill bit from becoming clogged.  The tape will bend and can be applied in one piece, mating the ends together.  Clamp it all back together and fasten it all together.  Use a lug nut method of putting it all together, bring one fastener snug then the opposite side. Repeat all around the mount until securely fastened. The butyl tape is designed to spread out and create a seal between the surfaces. Trim off the excess with a plastic putty knife.

P2170265

P2170270

P2170269

Step 9

Load the self leveling sealant in your caulk gun and try to stay clean..  I ran a bead of the sealant at the adapter interface and then where the fan mount met the adaptor.  Then coated the screws and ensured coverage of all the surfaces from top to bottom.  This whole process used almost a whole tube of the sealant.  It is designed to flow and self level a bit.  It can get messy.. Yes, my legs are shaved.

P2170274

P2170272

Step 10

Open the fan with the manual handle on the underside and place in opening.  There is a rubber gasket in the base mount that the fan will sit on and it will help if someone pushes down on the fan assembly and get the 4 mounting screws inserted. All mounted up, this is right after mounting and the sealant can take several hours to finish ‘leveling’.  Use a shop vac or air hose to get all the metal shavings out of the roof crevices.

IMG 5367

Step 11

Enjoy your beverage of choice and smile.  You did it!  My helpers lost interest so I am celebrating solo.

IMG 5368

IMG 5369

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Things to keep in mind:

  • Don’t rush and make sure you will have plenty of time.
  • The butyl tape and self leveling sealant have application temperatures and use in warmer temperatures will help with products performance.
  • The holes for the fan mount line up to the sides of the van.

This is only part of our ventilation plan.  Next will be to remove the inserts underneath the van by the spare tire and open the flooring up for ventilation.  All of this will help air circulation if we are kept inside due to weather and keep the electronics cool.  You will be nerve racked when you drill that first hole in the van roof.  Don’t worry, you can do this.

Winter has returned to Colorado so the spray insulation will have to wait for some warmer weather days.  It would be nice to have a warehouse or garage with heat and big door to work in. Maybe the next upgrade should be build another garage..

Francie's Cabin

I think I hit my expiration date on my body.  Earlier this year I tore my right medial meniscus earlier this year and had to cancel our plans on a couple of hut trips this year and my hopes of some winter travel were put on hold for a bit.  It was a bit of time before I could get in for a appointment with a surgeon and by the time I was ablet to get in the swelling and pain has subsided a bit.  With the pain and swelling down I was able to still get out and play a bit, at a lower intensity and still work.  I went in for a consultation with a surgeon and after looking at the MRI he told me my mensicus would require surgery but it was up to me when I wanted to have it.  Recently my work assignment changed and the dates available for vacation would be between January and the end of March.  This time frame also coincided with the kids father being back in town, which offers Paige and I the opportunity to travel a bit more.  So I decided to schedule the surgery in April and go in earlier if my knee became worse or started to really affect my ability to work. After a bit more time passed my knee felt a bit better and would only be sore after more intense activity so I have been keeping it easy.  With the idea of keeping it mellow and wanting to get out we decided on taking Max and Chase for a hut trip and hoped we could find one with openings for us that met our needs of a short approach and some skiable terrain.  Most of the hut availability is taken towards the end of the previous season during a lottery so our hopes were a bit low.  Luckily we are able to travel during the week and we found two nights available at Francie's Cabin.

Max and Chase are pretty active but the thought of being away from wifi and electronic devices was not the most appealing trip we could have planned for them.  As the trip grew closer we started to prepare food and get our gear together the kids became more excited.  While packing the food Max excitedely said, "I think this will be a lot more fun than I thought!"  Phew, our hopes of them having fun may actually happen. 

How do you ensure people are going to enjoy their first hut trip?  Bring plenty of food and extra clothes, plus some alcohol for the adults.

 

You also want to keep the packs light for the kids.  Which means the extra sleeping bags, food and gear need to be carried by us so we loaded up the sled for the trek in.

 

We took the shorter but steeper route up Crystal Creek Road.  We avoided the very steep section of Crystal Creek Rd by staying on Spruce Creek Road to the Burro Trail and then continuing up Crystal Creek Rd so our mileage was 1.6 miles and gained about 800' to the cabin from the parking lot.  Once the initial excitement of snowshoeing and getting moving passed we pulled out all the stops to keep the kids moving, ie pacing, telling jokes, pick a point to stop and go to there for a rest, etc.  They did great and we made it in just over 2 hours.

 

Once the other hut dwellers arrived or returned from touring we all discussed sleeping options and were able to get the four of us in a room to ourselves.  Once we were all settled and organized a bit it was close to dinner so we relaxed the rest of the day and talked with our cabin mates.  The kids were happy to help with the basic shared hut needs or water, keeping the fire going, clean up and cutting wood.

The cabin sits a beautiful basin with mountains all around, Crystal Peak.  The snow around the cabin was nice but up high it was wind packed sastrungi.  We did a quick tour and headed back to the hut to spend some time with the kids.

They made some snowpeople and then we all went sledding. 

The other hut activity, reading and eating cheesits..

We have all been living together for over a year and we continue to all come closer together.  I never knew what I was missing and these guys are incredible! We became even closer together.

It all came to a end and we packed up to head out. Smiles all around.

 

Chase even wanted to pull the sled the last half mile to the car.

The trip was a success with the kids having fun and looking forward to another hut trip and us continuing to grow even closer together. We will see what we can find for next years trip.  The kids also experienced bring what you want but you are packing it in and the packing list for next years trip will be adjusted.  

 

  

Wait.. You guys are driving to Mexico! And you are married now?


The universe came into alignment for us and several projects and life goals seemed possible.  As you read in the first post we weighed all the options and decided to purchase a Ford Transit, Van Wilder.  Winter is in full swing in Colorado and Paige mentioned getting away somewhere warm.  Like all outdoor maniacs we are always discussing 'where to go next' and one area we have both wanted to go is Potrero Chico, Mexico.  Neither of us is a lie on the beach person so clipping bolts in Mexico with the possibility of some close beaches fit the bill.  The next big step was Paige and I getting married and showing everyone what we had already told each other, we would never find a more perfect fit and we will stay together forever.  

 
This next part may make you sick, guys, but our first date (thank you Match.com) never ended and we both 'knew' the moment we saw each other.  Over a year later and this traveling nomad is now living in life and not moving through it.  We had talked about getting married for a bit and friends were asking 'when' and starting to give us ideas on how we should celebrate our love and nuptial.  Well it is our love and nuptials, and this would not be the first time for either of us. Third time better be the charm.  We had both seen the demise of our past marriages after expensive weddings and did not see the need for any of it.  We even questioned whether we should get married but the kids really wanted us to get married and would ask if would ever break up.  In their view we were only dating and living together, we were not committed to each other in their minds.  Then there are the pragmatic reasons of life such as health insurance, property transfer in the unfortunate death of one of us and recognition as a real couple.  So we did it for us and on the way to the climbing gym it was decided we would get married after our gym session.  
 
Colorado is one of a few states where you can marry yourselves without any official or witnesses.  So we headed down the courthouse with Charlotte and we made it official.  No fanfare or other BS, just us.  Celebrating after buying our rings that night.
 
 
 
The dates are set with the kids father and now our inaugural trip in Van Wilder will be our honeymoon.  Kris at Alpinemechanisms suggested spending time in the van before we start the conversion and get a feel for how we want it laid out.  So we did a temporary van conversion; bed (inflatable queen mattress), refrigerator (RTIC cooler), water system (8 gal portable water cube), electrical (small duracel inverter) and kitchen (propane stove).  It was suggested to up to travel in the van before starting the conversion and see how we would like to layout the interior.  Traveling for 2 weeks throug Mexico for some climbing and beaching in Mexico would be the perfect moment.  Thankfully one of the first upgrades we did to Van Wilder was installing some Nokian Hakkapeliitta LT2 studded tires as reccommeded by another couple converting their transit at faroutride.com and reading the thread on FordTransitUSAforum about winter traction in these vans.  The thread made the limited slip differential a must have for where we live and how we plan on using the van.
 
 
 
A few things to keep in mind before driving your vehicle into Mexico. Your regular auto insurance will probably not cover your vehicle in Mexico so you will have to purchase it online, we used Baja Bound and it cost us about $300.  The next step in obtaining a visa and vehicle permit.  You are not on a plane and no one will hand you your paperwork so you have to stop at immigrations after you cross the border for your visa and temporary vehicle import permit if you are traveling outside the Mexico Free Zone, which we were.  The temporary import permit is graduated according to the year of manufacture of your vehicle and is refundable upon your exit of Mexico.  Just make sure the border point your are crossing offers temporary vehicle permits and the hours of operation.  We had it down getting in, getting out was a different story.
 
Crossing into Mexico was easy and we received only a cursory glance inside.  The temperatures warmed and we left the snow behind.  Welcome to sunny Mexico!
 
 
 
The further we drove the closer the mountains came to us.  We were shocked when we drove through Monterrey and all the factories there.  When you see the Made In Mexico symbol on a product it either came through Monterrey or was made there.  Just past Monterrey you come to Hidalgo and the cliffs of Potrero rise above the fray.
 
 
We toyed with climbing but we had been driving for over 18 hours and wanted to just find a place to camp and relax for a moment.  We went up the valley a bit more and found a dry creek bed with a level spot to make ours.  The next day we woke to a cold morning and misting rain so we made coffee and looked at our weather apps.  The sun we saw before leaving turned into several days of cold and rain, not the best weather for climbing on limestone.    This was our first night sleeping in the van and we loved it.  The simplicity of vanlife was apparent right away.  Not having to remove most of our gear and then set up the truck and then put it all back together to leave was simple and fast.  
 
  
 
The decision was made to head towards the Sea of Cortez and Mazatlañ and to take a scenic route through the Cumbres de Monterrey (Summits of Monterrey) National Park.  Unfortunately the clouds and rain followed us into the park and we could only glimpse the many waterfalls and vistas.  We found a campground with cabañas and campsites, all empty.  We paid our fee and the wife of the groundskeeper sold us fresh eggs and tortillas for breakfast in the morning.  We thought the snow was behind us but we were over 3k feet and woke to snow and rain.  We really didn't plan for too much cold weather on this trip so it was a bit chilly in the van and we had to start it a couple of times for some heat.  We are definitively looking forward to getting the Webasto heater installed and insulating the van.
 

 

 
On the way out we passed through several mountain villages with cabañas for rent with soaring limestone faces all around.  A quick search showed us there is some climbing here but the weather kept us moving.  It is a place we would like to return to and explore further.  With all the food stands and rentals this area must be very popular to visit but the weather kept the crowds to none and open food stands at the same status of the crowds.
 
 
 
Camping and RV parks are limited in Mazatlañ and we found one on a blog that was located on the beach, trailer park Las  Van Wilder parked amongst the big boys at the park.  We really brought class to place.  RV campgrounds are a great place to people watch.
 
 
 
We officially toasted our marriage with Winefication from the Bruery, not exactly a light beach beer but a special one to enjoy.  We were up in the air with our plans and after this beer and a couple other beverages it was decided to stay another night.  !
 
We then ended up being tourists and went parasailing and then taking a Hobie sail around a small island off the beach. The next thing I knew the sun was going down and I didn't apply any sunscreen to my milky Colorado body so I topped off my tourist day looking like a lobster on one side.  Oh yeah, we also bought Burkenstocks before leaving. I wish I would have bought some sooner! Next up will be matching Hawaiian shirts.. Never
We chatted with the 'experienced' RV people around us about which way to head next, North or South.  Unfortunately they never stopped anywhere North of Mazatlañ in the 20-30 years they have driven down from the United States and Canada.  Even the resort staff didn't really recommend anything worthwhile North so South it was. It didn't take long to see the change from the drier northern climate to the lush jungle foliage of the south.  
We found a RV park/hotel (Hotel Paraiso Miramar) on a web search and as we drove down a stone cobbled road we were a little suspect.  There were several run down houses and lots filled with trash but we felt hopeful when we parked at a locked gate.  Just past the gate we could see the water and outdoor seating for the restaurant overlooking the water.  The grounds are incredible and contained pools, large palapa with tables, beach and several building with rooms for rent.  We ran across a expat from California and were told of the violent history of this property.  Apparently it was built by Germans who exploited the locals in the mines, to the point of revolt.  All the male Germans were hung in the large tree overlooking the water, with the females and children allowed to flee. It then sat dormant until a local Governor bought the property and then hung himself from the same tree.  The story continues with families battling in court to this day..  
The one detraction of heading South was increasing temperatures, humidity and the addition of bugs.  Since we haven't modified Van Wilder with windows or ventilation we opted for a room with a/c.  The tree of death and the grounds:
 
 
 
 
We continued South and found the small beach village we were hoping to find when we rolled into Chacala.  We parked Van Wilder outside a beachside restaurant and that I where she stayed for the day while we sat on the beach and pondered the rest of our lives.  Looking out at the anchored sailboats we discussed sailing the world some day, living out of the van for years and riding motorcycles from the Arctic Circle to the tip of South America.  Along with many other adventures and explorations.
 
 
 
 
There is some camping along the beach here but the heat and bugs made us decide to get a room this night also.  During this whole trip these would be the only nights we didn't spend in Van Wilder.  Accommodations in this area of Mexico are very affordable and didn't break the bank and also have a pretty nice view. The campground is in the palm trees you see across the water.
 
 
 
Well according to our weather app Portrero's weather has improved and it was time for some climbing.  We took for granted the availability of ATM machines and money exchanges. Chacala did not have any of these and the closest one was almost to Sayulita but that was not on our way back and we did not have enough pesos for the toll road or fuel (not all the gas stations take credit cards).  It took us several hours and stopping at a few different towns before we finally found a ATM we could get money out.  No all the bank ATM's worked with our cards either.  The old adage of if you see fuel get it also applies to money when traveling in the smaller town areas of Mexico.  The piggy bank refilled and we set our route back to Potrero on the toll road and the long drive across Mexico.  The toll road is expensive to drive but it is feat of engineering with several bridges and tunnels.  The toll road also saves hours in travel but takes you away from towns.  We thought about taking the free road and going through Aguascalientes but we were itching to get some climbing in.
 
 

 

 
And some pics of the limestone walls.  We used the Rakkup app for the climbing guide. Nice to have updated route information but there is something about a actual book we missed while climbing the cliffs.  Our leading heads were not altogether there and barely bumped the 5.10 grade but we still found some stellar climbing.  Unfortunately we never conquered a mutilpitch on this trip so we will have to return.
 
 
 
 
 
Nice when they label the climbs
 
 
 
The trails aroud the routes are littered with cactus. Note to self, don't grab the cactus when you fall.  I am still pulling spines out of my hand.
 
 
 
We also ran out of coffee and had to resort to instant and then we bought some ground coffee at the grocery store. The instant was better.  The cream is a bit different also.  Sometimes you have to really suffer when traveling.
 
 
We didn't starve or go thirsty!
 
 
 
After our last climb we bought some bloodied from the drink trailer and shared a final beer before heading out.
 
 
 
 
 
Before leaving we decided to go through a different border and we thought it was open 24 hours for immigration and vehicle permit refunds.  All the border crossings are toll roads and the people on either side of the border are toll collectors with limited knowledge of procedures and our limited Spanish made it more difficult. In order to get our vehicle permit fee we would have to drive over a hour back and then return.  The toll collector told us we could just keep going and then visit a consulate in the US to get the fee back and return our immigration papers so we thought we were golden.  Just head home and go to the consulate in Denver. Not so much.  The US border guard told us we would have to go to a open Mexican border immigration and vehicle permit office for a refund and to turn in our paperwork if we wanted our money back, and more importantly, be able to travel to Mexico again. We thought about getting a hotel room and then returning at this border at 8am when it opened but then looked at maps and websites and found a border a couple hours to the North that opened at 6 am with the services we needed.  We drove to just outside the border we needed and found a deadend street to nap for a few hours.
 
Well, back to Mexico again. It took a bit to find the building for our vehiccle permit refund and a bit back and forth.  You only have to show paperwork to get the permit and sticker but to get a refund they take pictures of the VIN and need to see the vehicle.  Then we had to locate the immigration office and we followed a toll worker through several buildings as he attempted to locate the office.  All of our paperwork was finally taken care of and we were free to return to the US again.  All our border crossings were painless and quick.  We thought the van would get torn apart and inspected but we only received a cursory glance.  All the doors would be opened and the cooler looked in but we didn't spend hours having our bags inspected and everything taking out.
 
The drive home was uneventful and boring.  Western Texas and the New Mexico border are scrubby and full of oilfields. Also only two lane highways with a lot of semi truck traffic that makes for slow going.  If we would do it again we would route ourselves around these areas and take the interstate. 
 
Once home we thought about the trip and our experience.  Friends and others asked about our safety or if we felt threatened at all.  We did not but our trip was shortly after the inauguration of President Trump and since then protests have happened at the border with Mexico.  It also came back to us about our talks with Canadian travelers telling us about ill feeling towards Americans based on the election and the policies being put into place. We drove across Mexico twice throughout the night twice and never had a issue but we could see how the views of the world towards Americans could be changing.  
 

 

It was a great trip and our purchase of Van Wilder was reinforced, along with our love.

And Van Wilder is home plus first upgrade, tires.

1484719717_featured.jpeg

Upgrade: Tires Nokian Hakkapeliitta LT2 265/75 R16

Time: Minimal, tire shop did the work

Cost: $790.48

After weighing all the options out there we settled on a Ford Transit van and searched around the interwebs for a used model with the options we needed. Craigslist searches were fruitless but we found the van we wanted at Uftring Auto Mall in East Peoria, IL. It was a bit different bargaining over the phone with a sales person. Although these vans are in demand and not much bargaining can be had but there was still the back and forth. Thankfully our time wasn’t spent sitting in a showroom while people came and went, it was “Ok, I will call you back” and so on. Needless to say getting it home was a bit more tiring.

Once the deal was finalized we looked at a few of options to get the van to us in Colorado.

  • Have a friend in Indianapolis drive it out and then we would fly him home
  • Delivery company
  • One of us fly out and then drive home.

We really wanted it here ASAP and our friend wasn’t available for a couple of weeks so that option was out. The next option we looked at was the delivery company. The initial prices were coming back fairly reasonable but once they had the measurements of the van the price rose from around $400 to almost $1,500. That price would cut into our conversion budget so onto flying out and doing it ourselves. A one-way flight was only $170 and the drive back would just be a long day, easy...

Luckily I had a 4 day (4 days off in a row) coming up so a ticket was purchased and the date set. Woke at 4am for the alpine start to Colorado Springs airport and set off. We were nervous because the day before our area experienced winds of 100mph and all the flights were canceled and we hoped I would be able to get out this am. Checked the flight status before leaving and all appeared to be on time and the winds were down. Received my pat down at he the security checkpoint and sat down at the gate. That was when the annoucement was made.

“Attention passengers. We were just informed the pilot found a hydraulic problem with the aircraft and he is waiting for a mechanic to check it out."

I immediately got in line to see what my options were or if I would miss my connecting flight. I had to fly south to Dallas before I could fly north to Peoria. The gate agent was very forthcoming and recommended I take a flight on another airline from Denver to Chicago and then to Peoria becaue hydraulic issues generally take awhile to sort out. I took him up on the offer and he booked me on a shuttle van from Colorado Springs to Denver. Things are looking good!

It has been a bit since I flew across the country and when the delayed flight annoucement to Chicago came across my memory also came back of many missed flights and delays related to going throught Chicago. Needless to say I missed my connector in Chicago to Peoria and I had to get a hotel room to stay overnight. Needless to say, our sales man John Applen was very understanding and recommended a hotel just up the street and he picked me up in the morning. Great customer service!

After completing the paperwork and John getting me all setup with the van, going over the controls and hooking my phone up to Sync, I was off. There is a thread on FordtransitforumsUSA dedicated to the lack of snow performance of these vans with the stock tires and no weight in the back. Both of which this van had. I looked at the grey clouds and pondered for a moment about getting some sandbags but I looked at my weather app and it showed clear weather all the way home. Weather apps are about as reliable as weather people.

We like our beer and I was told to stop at John's Grocery in Iowa City and Beer Corner USA in Omaha, NE. I quickly looked at the website for Beer Corner but skipped John’s website. On the outside John’s looked like a little neighborhood grocery store with take away food. Once inside I turned a corner at a sign pointing to the beer area and it was like a hallway from “The Shining”, it seemed to extend out against all laws of physics and then there was the beer cooler. So much beer.. Colorado was well represented on the shelves and there were other beers I recognized so I tried to concentrate on beers from the area. Luckily the beer manager, Chris, came up and started showing me the goods. I held back a bit because I was thinking about Beer Corner and what I may find and place with such a hallowed name.

First cargo load for Van Wilder

The temps dropped significantly across the Nebraska but Van Wilder was keeping me warm and comfortable. The seats and cockpit are well laidout and she handles like a dream. The Ecoboost motor will definitely let you know when you are putting your foot on the pedal as your body presses into the back of the seat. The windows and lenght of the hood allows me to see everything around me and even in the strong winds she tracked like a charm. The sun put my fears of weather at bay, but there I still felt something in my gut.

Next stop Omaha and Beer Corner! Exited the van and saw the back of a small strip painted with beer banners and restaurants and the excitement built. See those blue skies? All is good.

I was hurried along to Beertopia by the single digit temps and wind and as I came in the door I was deflated. There was a decent selection of beers and I purchased a few sours and saisons but otherwise nothing super exciting. I was hoping to find some Cantillon but none were found. Deposited a small box of beers into Van Wilder and then had dinner at Crescent moon. Pretty good tap seletion and good food. Beer Corner is definitely worth a stop if you are in the area but I would not go too far out of my way to get there. Now John’s Grocery is another story.

Back on the road. As the miles ticked past and the night came on a few flurries came across the windshield. Oh boy. Well it really started blowing and snowing. Nothing was really building on the road but as I went over a uphill bridge there was a slight buildup of snow and the backend suddenly started to sway. Thank you for the traction control for stopping the wheelspin and keeping us moving forward in a straight line. The snow became a bit heavier and the winds picked up more but I cut my speed significantly and I started making mental calculations about arrival times to home.

I brought a sleeping bag, pad and inflateable pillow with me and I thought about pulling over to sleep and let the weather pass. I gave myself another hour to see how it went and the snow let up and I had clear roads the rest of the way home. I took a deep breath and sighed, thankful I didn’t just wad up our new to us van. Arrival time was about 0130, took me about 15 hours to get home.

We are following a Transit van build from a couple in Canada (FaroutRide) that also mountain bike and ski. They recently went on a ski trip and I reached out for some tire information. They are using BFG AT tires because they are planning on traveling and didn’t want to change tires mid travel but said they would go with a studded tire if they were not traveling. So we called up the tire shop close to our house and made the appointment to have four Nokian Hakkapelliita LT2 studded tires installed. We also upsized to a 265/75, which gave the van a bit higher clearance and more aggresive look.

Stock

Nokian

We have had a bit more snow and these tires changed the snow and ice handling of the van. There are also six 60lb bags of sand in the back for more weight and traction. I thought it was just the wind but when the tires were installed the alignment was checked and it was a bit off so that added to our install cost. Anyone want some stock tires with 14k miles on them? We will make you a good deal.

Van wilder is home and we are smiling. My hands and nerves are back to normal, after sampling some of the booty I brought home!

Also took Van Wilder to Alpine Mechanisms for some planning so stay tuned. Great things are coming.

Picking a new Vehicle

Posted by Greg

We are selling the Gordita, our 2000 Tacoma TRD with a Flipac camper and a few other upgrades. She has taken me many places and is still a capable rig but since Paige and the kids have come into my life we need more room and after using this type of setup for over 13 years we had a idea of what we were looking for and this is what we looked at and our final decision.

We (kids included) looked at all the options:

Earth Cruiser

Pros:

  • Self-contained
  • Able to get to camper without going outside
  • Already set up
  • Access to refreshments and bathroom while driving
  • 4x4
  • Campsite only needs to be size of vehicle

Cons:

  • Expense.. Maybe someday.. Where is that damn Powerball ticket!?
  • Not practical as a daily driver around town.
  • Everyone wants to visit you in the campground. We experienced this with the Flipac also.
  • Difficult to park in a city

Considered another pickup, Chevy Colorado diesel (Toyota needs to get off their butt and bring the diesel they sell is around the world to the US!!), with a crew cab and then add on of the following:

AT Habitat

Tepui Roof Tent


Cricket Trailer


All of the above share the similar pros and cons, with the exception of the Cricket trailer. We did look at a overlanding or adventure trailer option with a roof top tent but the cost of one of those trailers start at $15-$20k and when you start adding options the price skyrockets. And that price is on top of a new vehicle to tow it. Anyone looking at 4x4 vehicles has come to the realization of how expensive used ones are with low mileage so you are better off getting a new one. We keep our vehicles until they fall apart or no longer meet our needs and spending 30k on used truck with over 100k miles didn’t seem wise to us.

Back to pros and cons.

Pros:

  • Vehicle is a daily driver
  • 4x4
  • Easily maneuvered and parked in a city
  • Campsite only needs to be the size of vehicle
  • Able to set up and leave it (trailer option)
  • Vehicle is serviceable at dealership

Cons:

  • Difficult to park and maneuver in city (trailer option)
  • Limited access to refreshments
  • Exposed to elements while setting up (not as much with Cricket)
  • No access to toilet while moving
  • Special parts to repair tent or habitat, may be difficult to source when traveling abroad.
  • Vehicle has to be packed and repacked if moving to daily objective.
  • No real ventilation or climate control inside (except the Cricket option and after years of using the Gordita and spending days in the rain you don’t want everything smelling like bacon or whatever you are cooking inside).

Of course there is the van conversion option via a upfitter, with name Sportsmobile being the most recognized. This option shares similar pros and cons as the Earth Cruiser above but is a bit cheaper and within reach but we felt we didn’t really get the value for our money spent on the vehicle. It is nice to go down a list of options and watch the money fly out of your wallet and then in a few months go pick up you vehicle but you pay for it.

As homeschoolers (specifically unschoolers - yeah we are those people), we are always looking for educational experiences and converting our own van offers several areas of learning and working together - hopefully not fighting. We wedged the three kids into the extended cab of the Gordita and headed over to Alpine Mechanisms, a local upfitter to look at some options and discuss what we were looking for in the next adventure vehicle for us. Their bumpers and roofracks are clean looking and stout, without looking too bulky like the Aluminess.

 

What was number one on the kids list?

Wifi, to stream YouTube, Vampire Diaries, Netflix, etc. We explained how that is possible but only when we had cell service.

Next on their list.

Space to move. Not sure why this was next but looking at them sitting behind us with their knees around their ears it was readily apparent why.

Our reasons for going the do-it-yourself van route:

  • Self-contained.
  • Room for kids to move around.
  • Easy set-up and take down in weather.
  • Serviceable at dealership.
  • Can be a daily driver.
  • Adaptable to different configurations.
  • Family learning project.
  • Access to refreshments while moving.
  • Ablility to prepare meals without exposure to the elements.
  • Ventilation and climate control.
  • Educational opportunity
  • Customized with our layout with the materials we want to use and for our use.

In a past life I spent a fair amount of time in a Westy and I am well aware of the negative and benefit of going the van route. My experience with the Westy ruled it out for us based on reliability and the ability to get a repair beyond our capabilities. Let alone the cost of one in good condition. If you own a Westy you know what I am talking about.

The next decision was which van? For us there were only three options:

Mercedes


First is The Mercedes or “Sprinter”, the most widely recognized van out there. This is also the most expensive van in this category and if you add the AWD option the price really goes up. I used AWD and not 4wd because the 4wd drivetrain is not super stout and is not in the same class as a true 4wd rig, our opinion so feel free to disagree. This is the one I drooled over when it came out and would always look at them wistfully when I would spot one in our travels. But like many dreams there can be a ugly reality and talking to friends with them the ugly came out.

We have several friends who owned them, with the operative words being owned them. All said "never again!” when asked if they would buy a Sprinter for a conversion now. Horror stories of random alarms that wouldn’t shut off without a dealer visint, going into limp mode for no reason, cost of repairs and the requirement of finding a Sprinter Mercedes dealer for service all sealed it that this would not be the van for us. Sadly, I was deflated and a dream crushed.
Mercedes

Dodge Promaster

Dodge was the original seller of a rebadged Sprinter back in the day but then Mercedes decided to pull the model and sell them under the Mercedes name when the new diesel motor came out. The Promaster is the design and vehicle Dodge came up with. It is a capable platform for conversion but the styling, handling and layout were less than the other options.
Dodge

Ford Transit

My past experience with Ford products did not go well so the Transit wasn’t high on my initial list of choices. Ford did some homework when developing this van because several reviews from magazines place it over all the others, even the Sprinter. I am not a big fan of the cockpit styling of Ford but it is fairly well laid out and everything is in reach and works. All the vans have different sizes and low, med, high, extended, long and extra long all varying with different manufacturers. The medium height and long wheel base (148) struck a perfect balance for us with space, styling and the ability for some light off road exploration. Needless to say this is the one we picked. There isn’t a 4x4 option but there are several companies doing them now and we will entertain that option if the LSP differential doesn’t perform like we would like.

Next decision was new or used? Our view is to not go the new route if possible. The immediate loss in value when you drive off the lot is a bitter pill to swallow and takes money out of the coversion budget. So we set out see what is out there in the used market and if it was possible to find the options we wanted. It is easy to find used ones white, stripped down and low roof but because we live in Colorado, converting to a camper and towing adventure motorcycles from time to time there were a few must have options for us:

  • T250/350 - rating of drivetrain and suspension
  • Ecoboost motor - torque and mileage (if I can keep my foot off the accelerator)
  • Heavy duty alternator
  • Limited Slip Rear Dif - snow and offroad traction with 3.31 gearing preferred
  • Cruise Control
  • Upgraded interior - you spend time there getting places and surrounded by vinyl from top to bottom is not the way to go.
  • Low Mileage
  • Hopefully not white
  • Medium Roof
  • Long Wheel Base (LWB 148) but not xtra long

When we started the search it was like looking for a mythical unicorn and expanded out to a nationwide search. The largest stumbling blocks were the Ecoboost motor and LSP rear differential and we started to think about what we could possibly give a bit on. The one option you can add later is the LSP rear with either a electric or air locker but that conversion costs over $1k. As luck would have it we found a ’15 demo at a dealership in Peoria, IL with all the above and red and several other options that were on the nice to have list (it is pictured above)! Not sure if having to fly to Peoria is lucky though..

The Toyota was known as the Gordita and we are tossing names arond for the van.. Van Wylder is the front runner at this time. Stay tuned for updates on how the build goes.

Next step is flying to Peoria next week and driving across back to Colorado across Nebraska or Kansas. Sadly it will be a solo trip so I can’t medicate with alcohol to make the drive across those visually stunted states. We do like our beverages so stopping at Beer City USA in Nebraska and John’s Grocery for some hard to get beers will make it worthwhile, I hope.

You can follow our conversion on the blog here or over at Fordtransitusaforum.

Found this pic of red Transit in our color with some some of the exterior upgrades applied, not sure on a front bumper yet.. Looks a bit different than the dealer pic above. HELL YES!