Tag Archives: rv travels

Transit Van Conversion – In Progress

Conversion of this Ford Transit van into a super-cool 4×4 campervan (aka, the Traveling Cat Adventure Van II) is now finally really making progress after several delays, most notably the shutdowns for Covid-19.

It was a year ago, last July, that I ordered the van and set things in motion.  I wasn’t able to find a Transit van anywhere that wasn’t either completely bare bones or loaded with every option – including glass in the rear doors and dark paint that I didn’t want, both which would make the van less comfortable in hot and sunny climates.  So I had to order from the factory.  I was able to finally pick it up last December and pass it off to QuadVan for the 4×4 conversion part, including upgraded suspension, locking differential, raised shock mounts and all terrain tires.  (More details here.)

Van Haus is doing the actual campervan conversion and we worked out a mostly final design layout in January.  I was originally excited about doing a build like this one where there was enough storage for the bikes inside the van under the bed but still room for a wonderful dinette seating area situated mid-cabin.  The platform for a queen-size sleeping area would extend out over the dinette area.  However, given all the gear we like to carry on our adventures (mountain bikes plus gear, two-person inflatable kayak plus gear, telescope and camera gear, folding chairs, portable grill, etc.) plus room for the cats’ litter box and feeding area… well, it seemed pretty clear we needed to dedicate more room to the “garage” by doing a common fixed platform bed.  Plus the queen-sized bed needs to be oriented lengthwise since I can’t fit width-wise between the walls of a van, even with those side extrusions some people put in.  So here’s the final design.  Plus, now there’s room for a full cat apartment under the bed platform.

 

Due to scheduling and miscommunication mishaps, the van didn’t actually get over to Van Haus until late-February and then didn’t really get started before everyone went into shelter-at-home mode in response to the Covid-19 pandemic.\

At the end of May, Van Haus was able to start work again, albeit at a much slower pace with social distancing safety measures in place.  I already sold the original Traveling Cat Adventure Vehicle in late May and now Darlene and I eagerly await completion of the van conversion, hopefully in August sometime.

As of late June, they’ve installed the front side windows and the little bunk windows over the sleeping area, the powered Fiamma awning w/LED light kit, the 500W of solar panels on the roof, the MaxxAir fan at the rear of the roof, the Amp Research powered steps on both driver and passenger sides, the various external ports (120V, 12V, aux solar, shore power, etc), my two little cellular booster antennas and the swivel seats in the cabin area.

As of early July, they’ve now installed the floor, all the wiring runs, the infrastructure for the upper cabinets, ceiling insulation and initial wall insulation, and the bug screen.  They’re now in the process of making the wall panels and when those are done the full wall insulation will go in.

Mid-July now, and the wall insulation is finished and the wall panels are in.  They’re starting work on the cabinet parts using a CNC machine:

   

It’s late July now and the cabinets are coming together and they’re building the aluminum bed frame.  They also tried squeezing my spare oversize tire underneath the rear of the van but then convinced me to go with getting a tire carrier for the rear door (from Aluminess).

 

Early August and now some of the overhead cabinets are installed, plus the bench seat (which hides the toilet) and the Rixen heat/hot water system.  The electrical components (inverter, fuse box, battery system) and other plumbing will be going in soon.  They’re estimating another two weeks of work.

Well, early September now and the van build is complete… except we’re waiting on the spare tire carrier for the rear door from Aluminess.  With luck it will actually arrive at Van Haus by Sept. 14th or so and we’ll be able to drive up there and take delivery of the van later that same week.  Fingers crossed – it’s been 14 months since I started this whole process!

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Carrizo Plain National Monument

After getting the Traveling Cat Adventure Vehicle back from the repair shop (following my close encounter with a falling tree limb), Darlene and I decided to get in another little road trip.  I found Carrizo Plain National Monument initially as looking like a nice layover point on our planned way to Joshua Tree National Park, but we ended up deciding to spend our four days just there, exploring the hills and valley.

Carrizo Plain is probably most known for many illustrative pictures of the San Andrea fault cutting across many old creek beds and showing how quickly (geologically) the two plates are moving past each other.  It’s also home to some once elaborate Native American rock paintings, at “Painted Rock”.  Here’s some great side-by-side images showing the terrible damage these rock paintings have been subjected to over the last century.

In the spring, the valley and foothills are often covered in a brilliantly varied carpet of wildflowers.  (See this image search for examples.)

Besides these sights, we got in some hiking, drone-flying and general exploring.  I also brought along my newly acquired digital imaging telescope from Unistellar to see what it can do.

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Transit Van Arrives

  

With Glenn’s help, I picked up my new Ford Transit van in Portland on Monday, soon to become the *new* Traveling Cat Adventure Vehicle.  First step was delivering it to QuadVan in Portland to have a four-wheel drive system installed plus upgraded shocks (Bilstein) and leaf springs (Vancompass), a full set of skid plates, larger all terrain tires (BFG KO2’s), new wheels, a locking differential (Detroit Trutrac) and have the rear shock mounts raised up.  Once this work is completed, the van is off to Van Haus for a complete campervan build out – somewhat similar in layout to this one but with different cabinetry designs, appliances and materials.

While meeting with the owner John of QuadVan, we got to meet his amusingly helpful German shepherd:


Update (February 25th, 2020):

The van was finally transferred from QuadVan to Van Haus to start the build out this week.  It’s a late start, but at least it’s starting.  Should be about 12 weeks to completion.  In the meantime, I’ve worked with Erik of Van Haus to finalize the design – and we’ve moved away from the dinette under the slide-out bed to a fixed platform bed design just to get more storage room for all the gear.

 

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Big Trees, Missing Arms and Falling Limbs

Darlene and I joined Resi, Troy & Aiden and Greg, Erin & Merritt for another camping weekend, this time in Big Basin Redwoods State Park in the Santa Cruz Mountains.

Besides some hiking among lots of giant redwood trees, we got in a couple of games, Decrypto and Quacks of Quedlinburg, and we got to experience the spooky, night time reenactment of Big Basin’s last lumber mill owner’s fateful encounter with a grizzily bear and the subsequent haunting of his missing arm!

 

The weekend ended with a true scare though.  This was another weekend of hot and dry winds, setting off wildfires despite PG&E’s efforts to shutdown large portions of the electric grid across many California counties.  Just a minute or two before we were to drive out of our campsites, several redwood tree branches gave way and came tumbling down just in front of our vehicles in the roadway.

Before that dust had settled, I heard another large crack directly overhead as I was still standing in our campsite, just outside the RV, about to climb aboard.  I ran off towards our adjoining campsite where everyone had just got into their cars and spun around to see a large 20-foot long limb, maybe 8 inches in diameter, come crashing down onto the back of the RV, right where I had been standing – and where we had been hanging out in our camp chairs much of the weekend.  Darlene was inside the RV and was startled into a scream at the sound of the crash and rushed out to see what had become of me.

Everyone piled out of their cars to quickly clear the roadway so we could make an immediate departure and get the heck out of there.  Later I was able to pull off the road in a clearing and survey the damage: the edge of the roof was busted open, exposing some wiring, the awning was crushed and bent and partially torn from its mount and a couple of solar panels were damaged.

So, both lucky that no one was hurt and that it didn’t come down while everyone was sitting around camp or in their tents and unlucky that we didn’t leave just a minute or two earlier and avoid the whole mishap.

Click through for the full gallery.

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Camping in Pinnacles

Darlene and I met up with Greg, Erin & Merritt and Resi, Troy & Aiden for a very warm weekend of camping at Pinnacles National Park this past weekend.

Click through for the full gallery:

(And sorry guys, the first batch of photos are pretty messed up by my not noticing until our hiking snack break that I had left my camera set at a very high ISO.  Just think of it as an old-timey filter…)

   

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Flying Around Mono Basin

This little road trip to the Eastern Sierra got off to a rough start as I experienced a breakdown in the Traveling Cat Adventure Vehicle far from any service help.  I was on US-395 just past the intersection with CA-108 (still closed from snow on Sonora Pass) when I suddenly felt multiple and ongoing jerking motions from the transmission as it seemingly tried to jump between gears.  I was luckily right in front of a pullout (which are few and far between) and was able to pull off the highway and try to figure out what was going on.  I ended up waiting about four hours as Mercedes roadside service tried to find a tow service before I found I could get the vehicle moving and head back towards Gardnerville and eventually Reno to get the vehicle looked at the next day.  (For more play by play on what happened, see this thread in the Sprinter-Source forum.)  Anyway, after losing a couple of days to dealing with that and then another day back at the Tahoe house fixing the RV’s refrigerator (which had also started acting up), I eventually headed out again.

I was going to meet up with Hoan and his family in Mammoth Lakes but they ended up bailing out and so I spent a few days in and around the Mono Lake basin.  The first night was a little off road on the way up to Virginia Lakes after discovering the dirt roads any higher were still blocked with snow.  Still it was looking to be a lovely high altitude spot for star gazing with my telescope – until after setting everything up I realized I had forgot to pack my counterweight – making it mostly unusable.  D’oh!  Still it was a nice spot to fly the drone around a bit with Mono Lake visible in the distance.  And Pan caught himself a mouse. ;-)

  

The following day I dropped down into the Mono Basin and went off roading a bit to get near the Mono Craters to go exploring on foot and in the air.  (I wasn’t going to try take the Traveling Cat Adventure Vehicle up the slopes of the craters!)  My cross-country hike turned out to be much more difficult than expected as it was really tough just getting up a step or two without slipping back on  the steep scree slopes.  But my, such a lovely and fascinating view over the top by flying the drone!

 

The last day involved some more exploring and flying near Grant Lake – and I found myself pushing the vehicle climbing on some just barely passable rough dirt roads.  Once again, I’m really looking forward to downsizing to a much smaller and more capable off-road van.  After getting out of there without mishap, the return trip involved backtracking north on 395 to highway 88, Monitor Pass and Markleeville.  Tioga Pass was still closed and Sonora Pass and Ebetts Pass would be a really bad idea for a 25 ft. RV!  Carson Pass was lovely and snow capped all over on the way back though.

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Summer Road Trip

These are the posts from our eight-week road trip in the RV (with the cats of course!) traveling from California through Oregon, Idaho, Wyoming, South Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, Kansas, Colorado, Utah and Nevada:

Visiting Crater Lake – July 2018
A Close Encounter with Devils Tower – July 2018
Badlands of South Dakota – July 2018
Minnesota/Wisconsin State Parks – August 2018
Passing through Colorado – August 2018
Colorado National Monument – August 2018
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Colorado National Monument

Continuing on our way home from Wisconsin, Darlene and I came across Colorado National Monument just outside of Grand Junction and decided to have a look.  I’d never heard of this place but the scenery was gorgeous and there were fantastic views and rock formations in every direction throughout the park.  We ended up spending a couple of days to check it out and do a little hiking – click through for the full gallery:

      

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Passing through Colorado

On our return trip from Wisconsin, Darlene and I made our way down through Iowa and Missouri and across Kansas with one overnight stop and then into Colorado stopping off in Denver but failing to find anywhere nearby to grab a campsite.  (Ended up in a motel parking lot north of Boulder.)  We stayed a couple of nights in Rocky Mountain National Park to do some hiking.  The long views weren’t all that great because the smoke from the huge California wildfires were filling the skies even in Colorado.

  

Heading south, we found a spot to camp for a couple of nights in national forest land outside of Winter Park and got in some high altitude (10,000′) mountain biking.  We visited Dave and Martha at their new home in Evergreen before continuing west on I-70.  We camped out a couple of nights and did some trail riding in the hills above Eagle and had to wait out the mud in the morning in order to get the Traveling Cat Adventure Vehicle™ safely down the mountain again.

We also took some time to ride along Glenwood Canyon and tried to hike up to Hanging Lake late in the evening but ran out of time.  We came across a mama bear and her two cubs climbing in the trees near the trail though:

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Minnesota/Wisconsin State Parks

Continuing our road trip out to Darlene’s mom, we hit up a bunch of different parks in Minnesota and Wisconsin – some on my own (with Pan and Hera) while Darlene helped her mom during her hip surgery recovery and some together both before and after.  We got in some mountain biking, kayaking and sightseeing all around as well as a two-day photo shoot for Carlyn’s high school graduation.  However, I forgot to take any pictures while camped out with the cats in her mom’s driveway for a couple of weeks!

      

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Badlands of South Dakota

Continuing our trek out to Wisconsin along I-90 and across South Dakota, we visited and hiked around a bit in the Badlands National Park and encountered some bighorn sheep.  The park campgrounds were full but we found dispersed camping (with lots of other folks) just outside the northwest entrance.

We weren’t able to visit some of the other interesting sites in the nearby Black Hills area (like Jewel Cave or Wind Cave National Park) because a severe thunderstorm and hail warning drove us north out of the way.  The next day I dropped Darlene off at the Rapid City airport so she could fly home to make her doctor’s appointment (she’s currently on medical leave due to a hip injury).

I continued on with Pan and Hera and visited the Minuteman Historic National Monument, which was well worth the stop.

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A Close Encounter with Devils Tower

After stopping over in Portland to visit Glenn and Michele and make a couple of repairs (as well as visit Outside Van), we finally turned east to truly head for Wisconsin.  Two of the few tourist stops we made along the way was the Museum of the Rockies in Bozeman, Montana and the Devils Tower National Monument in Wyoming.  The Museum of the Rockies has a few rotating exhibits but its showcase is its dinosaur collection which includes “some thirty-five thousand specimens, including the world’s largest collection of Tyrannosaurus and Triceratops, along with America’s largest collection of dinosaur eggs, embryos, and babies”.

Continuing on but before we came upon Devils Tower, I had to sit Darlene down the night before our arrival to watch “Close Encounters of the Third Kind”.  We arrived early the next morning (before 7 am) to beat the crowds.  (Apparently it gets crazy busy there everyday from 10 am to late in the afternoon.)  Darlene slept in on the early morning drive and awoke to this view out the campervan window:

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Visiting Crater Lake

We made a bit of detour starting our road trip out to Wisconsin by swinging up through Oregon, but I finally got to visit Crater Lake after having passed nearby so many times over the years.  We stayed a couple of nights, did a little bit of hiking (Darlene’s still recovering from an injury) while circumnavigating the lake and we took one of the ranger-led boat tours around the lake.  Very nice!

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Geminids over Pinnacles

Darlene and I went down to Pinnacles National Park for dark skies to watch the Geminids meteor shower Wednesday night:

Time-lapse of Geminids meteor shower

That’s a 20-second time-lapse I made looking south towards Orion about midnight, covering about 90 minutes that didn’t include any light trails from passing airplanes.  And here’s a still shot.

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October Road Trip

I made a number of additional miscellaneous stops on my October road trip with Pan and Hera in the Traveling Cat Adventure Vehicle, including along a section of historic Route 66 in the Mojave Desert, on the road in northern Arizona and southern Utah, mountain biking outside of Zion National Park, and taking the tour of Hoover Dam.  This was over the course of two weeks (October 4th-19th, 2017).

Mojave Desert outside of Baker, CA

Looking down Hoover Dam

Click through for the full gallery:

     

Here are the other separate galleries for this trip:

And here’s a video montage of my drone flights over the trip, including my last flight where I lost control, crashed and was forced to leave it behind:

What happens when the Mavic Pro doesn’t have GPS lock and you’re too high for the down-facing optical sensors to work is that the Mavic becomes unable to hold its position and it starts drifting all over the place.  I was trying to compensate and keep it away from the walls but I was not at all successful.  It almost crashed into one wall but halted itself when it’s forward-facing sensors detected the wall.  As it started drifting towards the opposite wall, I had just decided to try to get it up and out of the shadow of the canyon entirely to hopefully gain GPS lock and regain control but it was too late – and this time it wasn’t facing the wall and didn’t detect it.  It crashed and fell to a point immediately below me.  While it was only like 35 feet down, it was a sheer drop with only a couple of narrow soft ledges.  Without rope and climbing gear, I would have been risking my neck to try to retrieve it.  Yeah, very sad to have to leave it behind, though it looked pretty busted up anyway.

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Vermilion Cliffs / Paria Canyon

The Vermilion Cliffs / Paria Canyon National Monument in northern Arizona and southern Utah includes a huge area of amazing rock and sandstone formations, including what may be the longest slot canyon in the world, Buckskin Gulch (15 miles!).  During my October road trip, I got to experience a little taste of the canyon from the Wire Pass trailhead but it would take an overnight trip and gear to do the whole thing.  (Here’s some details on what it involves.)  I would definitely like to come back and do that as well as try to get a permit to go visit “The Wave” (restricted to 20 people per day via a lottery system) and some of the other formations in the Coyote Buttes area.  I tried to get out to the White Pocket formations but the road turned out to be too sandy for mountain bike access, too far for day hiking and certainly too much for the current incarnation of the Traveling Cat Adventure Vehicle.  Some serious 4WD required.

 

Another cool multi-day adventure trip in the area is backpacking all the way through Buckskin Gulch and following the Paria River Canyon out to Lees Ferry and the Colorado River over 4-5 days.  This whole wide area is a really cool region to explore and there’s plenty to come back and see.

Click through for the full gallery, including hiking a canyon wash above Soap Creek (and losing my drone!), visiting Lees Ferry and the start of the Grand Canyon at Marble Canyon, checking out Horseshoe Bend and Glen Canyon Dam and a couple of little detours into Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.

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