8th Annual Buellton Vintage Trailer Bash

Our good friend David Neel has been organizing a “Vintage Trailer Bash” in Buellton CA for eight years, and each year he very kindly invites us to attend. Normally we’re still traveling somewhere far away from California in September (except last year when we were busy with Alumafandango) so we’ve missed out.

But not this year! Coming back to Arizona in August has its perks, and one of them is being able to hitch up the old Caravel for a 600 mile road trip to the gorgeous Pacific coast for a rally.

The only problem was that the Caravel hasn’t been used much over the past few years, and storage is never kind to a travel trailer. Even though we have kept it out of the sun in a dry desert climate, inevitably things get funky. So I ended up replacing the spare tire, battery, and a few belly pan rivets. The toilet valve was stuck, the entry door lock was stubborn, the bathroom vanity needed a latch re-aligned, some screws and nuts had magically vibrated loose or gone missing, the dump valves had begun to leak (uck) … you get the picture.

Airstreams really prefer to be used rather than stored. Even in ideal storage conditions, stuff happens. In our climate, rubber seals go bad and lubricated parts dry up. I wasn’t surprised we had to do some maintenance, and overall I was pleased that it was as mild as it was. The fundamentals of the trailer were all still good: no weird smells, no rot or leaks, appliances all fine—so with a few days of part-time tweaking and lubricating we were ready to go. The final step was on the second day of travel: we stopped at a car wash in Blythe CA to get the dust off and were feeling pretty good about things.

Marana Airstream Caravel

Of course it wasn’t quite that easy. Something had to happen. See that white blob on the roof (the AC shroud) in the photo above? After a few years the plastic shroud covering an RV air conditioner tends to get brittle and crack, and then come loose.  Apparently, ours suddenly departed the Caravel somewhere along I-10 in California—unbeknownst to us— and so we arrived at the rally with a naked air conditioner. It gave the trailer a bit of a “Mad Max” look on the roof.

(I have since ordered a replacement shroud which will be at our home on Friday. It’s a simple matter of four screws to put on a new one, so not a big deal. I have no idea where the old one is. Upon landing it undoubtedly experienced a RUD.)

Buellton Vintage Rally mod girls

Buellton Vintage Rally mod coupleThe rally, in case you are wondering, was fantastic. David really has found an ideal mix of trailerites and activities, and the result is a fun time with a lot of cool people. In fact, the rally is so popular that it sells out in a matter of days, so David has had to deal with a lot of flack from people who want to attend but couldn’t get in. Success has its drawbacks.

We participated in the vintage fashion show and the vintage scooter parade, among other things.  Eleanor made a 1960s dip (which contained of a lot of stuff you’d never knowingly eat today, but which when combined actually tastes pretty good) for the Vintage Appetizer Party. She and Emma missed no opportunities to dress up, including the 70’s Disco Party and the Tiki Party.

Of course we had to watch the vintage movie by the pool (the 1966 Batman movie, fantastically campy), and who would miss the morning “donut truck” on Sunday before departure? When at a rally, diets are forgotten and there is no shame in being goofy.

 

Buellton Vintage Rally canned hamsBuellton Vintage Rally Pierce ArrowBuellton Vintage Rally canned ham 1

Returning home, I had a mix of feelings about the Caravel. The trip had proved that it is really too small for us, but the trailer is so adorable and relaxing that part of me wanted to keep it. It’s fun to meet up with other vintage trailer owners, and once we sell the Caravel that door will be never be open to us in the same way.

Quartzsite Airstream Caravel 2017-09

This made our final night, parked in the remote BLM land at Quartzsite, somewhat poignant. I took a picture of Emma sleeping in the trailer, in exactly the same position as that little three-year-old we used to travel with, and realized this was the end.  The Buellton bash was an excellent way to experience it just one last time so we’d all remember the Caravel with a fresh fond memory.

We’ll probably stick close to home for the next month or two, but you never know. Perhaps something will come to entice us away for a few days. In the meantime we’re going to be perfecting the Caravel for sale and planning a longer trip for this winter.

Stops along the way from Chicago to Tucson

From Chicago to Tucson could have been a blur of interstate concrete, and to be honest most of it was, but we did manage to make a few pleasant stops along the way.

Ideally this would have been at least a week-long trip. Unfortunately I had to get back to Tucson to supervise a major move: the Airstream Life Store was at long last scheduled to escape our broom closet-sized office. Going from about 300 square feet to 1,350 square feet was something the staff and I have been looking forward to doing for quite a while, and I wasn’t going to miss the big moment.

Iowa Rock Creek SP

This meant a mad dash of 1,870 miles the way we went, across Iowa and Nebraska, to Golden, Colorado and down Route 285 to Santa Fe. The days were spent covering miles, but each night we tried to find somewhere interesting to stay. The first night was a big hit at Rock Creek State Park in Iowa (conveniently located just off I-80, pictured above). After our four nights in a truck lot in Chicago it was genuine luxury to have access to a dump station, fresh water, and 30-amp power.

Nebraska Great Platte River Archway Airstream

The second night was kind of fun, at the Great Platte River Archway. The parking lot is noisy but you can’t beat the price or convenience as an overnight stop, and there’s a pleasant multi-use trail nearby that I got to ride early in the morning before we hit the road again.

Great Platte River Archway Nebraska

From there we plowed ahead to Golden CO, climbing to the higher elevations to escape the heat since we’d be boondocking again. Picking up I-25 would have been quicker but not nearly as scenic as the beautiful Route 285, which brought us winding through the mountains and along rivers in cool air between 7,000 and 10,000 feet all day.

CO Rt 285 Airstream lunch stop

CO North Fork South Platte river Airstream

Tourist brochure hyperbole? Blogger exaggeration? I understand. I’m skeptical of many travel writers who strive to make ordinary experiences seem far more exciting that they were, so check out the two roadside stops we made (lunch and a quick exploration of the North Fork South Platte River) and decide for yourself. You wouldn’t find such attractive spots along I-25.

Route 285 continues all the way down to Santa Fe, and honestly nearly every mile is scenic. We stopped in Santa Fe for two nights to recuperate from too much time sitting in the car, and took advantage of gorgeous weather to ride one of the many city trails into downtown.

Santa Fe trail ride

Even with my self-imposed deadline to get back, it was tempting to linger in Santa Fe. The town has a lot to offer, and it’s kind of like Tucson but with flowing rivers, more greenery, and an amazing art community. Neat place. We’ll probably take more time to explore it on the next trip northward. But this time, there was no choice but to get down to the low desert, back to the late summer heat, and projects waiting.

We spent one more night on the road before getting home, and I’ll write about the final miles in the next blog.

The last tour of the GL?

After plodding through the mushy wet snow for a couple of days it was a welcome change to have the sun come out in Fort Collins and watch it all melt. The two pictures below were taken two days apart:

Fort Collins Airstream slushFort Collins Airstream campsite sun

And that changed the mood of the entire rally. No longer was everyone hunkered down inside with the furnace blowing, peering out through fogged windows in the hope of seeing sunshine. Suddenly people were outside, walking around and talking to their fellow rally-goers. Emma and I went for rides, Eleanor and I went for walks. It all turned out very nicely.

Saturday night the weather was so fine that people were grilling outdoors and I offered test rides to anyone who wanted to try our electric kick scooter. About ten people hopped on and zipped away—and they all came back with a big smile.  This guy even popped a wheelie.

Fort Collins scooter wheelie

Fort Collins was nearly our halfway point to Alumapalooza, which meant we still had 1,100 miles to go.  After the rally there was no avoiding that we were going to make our 31st crossing of the American Great Plains, so we braced ourselves and began to log some miles.

Kansas center of USATo mix things up we always look for a new route. I think we’ve driven every possible major route through the center of the continent but there was a bit of northwestern Kansas we hadn’t seen before so we headed that way. It’s not much different from other parts of Kansas but at least it was new.

The nice thing about taking the quieter roads is that there’s more variety and occasionally an under-appreciated state park in which to spend the night. This time it was Prairie Dog State Park.

A single night in a state park isn’t enough time to get to know it, but clearly it’s a jewel judging by the number of locals who had staked out spots with their RVs and fishing boats.  The park has a nice small lake stocked with fish. (There’s also lots of space for unicycle riders.)

Prairie Dog SP Emma

Rains came in the evening, and despite my efforts to cover the delicate rear computer in the GL, a few drops of water got in again. I woke up at 3 a.m. to see the taillights glowing (a clear sign that the computer was freaking out). Computers and water don’t mix.

I dried it off and covered the computer better but the damage was done: multiple error messages in the console, and the brake controller was ON all the time. That’s because the computer was telling the brake controller that the brakes were applied when they weren’t.  This meant the trailer couldn’t be towed. And of course the nearest Mercedes dealer was 3.5 hours away.

At noon we were still without functioning brakes and we had to leave the campsite, so I disconnected the 7-way cord to the trailer and towed gingerly to another part of the park without brakes or taillights. I pulled fuses in hopes of forcing a reset, to no avail. Finally, on the phone Colin Hyde came up with a temporary solution: cut the wire to the brake controller that receives the braking signal.

I did that and reconnected the 7-way cable. Now we had taillights and manually-operated brakes, so we could proceed. I just had to keep a hand on the manual brake lever and coordinate braking the trailer by hand with braking the car with my foot. It’s not as hard as you might think.

A few hours later I reconnected the cut wire and found the computer had returned to normal. We were back in good operating condition from that point onward. But I wonder how long the circuitry will continue to work, now that it has gotten wet twice. (I also rigged up an elaborate multi-layer water protection system, in the hopes of preventing a third dousing. I can’t stop the actual leak but I have fixed things so any water that gets in will be shunted far away from the computer.)

The rest of the drive was uneventful and uninteresting. Suffice to say we survived KS, MO, IL, and IN without extreme weather or dramatic failures and pulled into Jackson Center OH—center of the Airstream universe—by Wednesday evening. We’re set up at the Terra Port and getting ready for Alumapalooza 8.

I am eyeing a replacement vehicle. The GL’s recent crises involving the water leaks, along with numerous other age-related problems, are starting to drive my repair costs to an unacceptable level.

We’re at eight years and 134,000 miles with this tow vehicle, which is less than I had hoped for when I bought it, but still a respectable amount of use. The choice of what might replace the GL is difficult since our criteria are complex, but I hope to make a decision in the next few weeks: keep or replace, and replace with what?  I’ll talk about that in more detail in another blog.

Left turn at Albuquerque

BugsABQ“I knew I shoulda taken that left turn at Albuquerque!” — Bugs Bunny

 

 

If we had, we would be in California right now, instead of this:

Chatfield SP Airstream snow

It was a bit of a shock to wake up in Chatfield State Park to snow falling, since even the gloomy forecast didn’t predict it until the following night. What a change from the previous day’s sunny 72 degrees.

And the danged snow just kept coming down all morning, until we had about five inches on the grass. Emma was delighted, Eleanor was tickled to take photos from inside the Airstream, and I was horrified. That’s how we all generally react to snow.

Chatfield SP Eleanor photo

Well, in such a situation there are clear protocols: First, crank up the heat.  Second, make a hearty breakfast.  Third, go outside and throw snowballs around.  We’re in an Airstream that we just loaded for five months on the road, so believe me when I say we had all the gear needed for this event: warm socks, a variety of teas, lots of propane, cold weather clothes, toast & marmalade, bad/classic movies on DVD, etc.

We were due at a rally in Fort Collins, but waited until about noon to leave the state park, hoping the weather would clear.  It didn’t. Weighing the options it seemed like the best move was to tow during midday when the temperatures were sufficiently above freezing to avoid icing on the roads. The trek to Fort Collins up I-25 was slow and occasionally “exciting” but overall safe enough and we got to the KOA in fine condition.

Fort Collins Airstream slushThe GL had to fight a little to push the Airstream back into the snow-filled campsite. Even with all-wheel drive it was tough when the all-season tires slipped. This is definitely winter tire weather.

However, please notice the tire tracks on the snow: one pass to get parked—that’s our “performance guarantee”. I hate hacking the trailer into a site (going back and forth repeatedly). Eleanor took the brunt of this particular job since she had to go out in the wet slush and heavy falling snow to guide me in.

It’s probably a testament to the devotion and hardiness of the local Airstream club that more than half of the rally attendees eventually arrived despite the conditions.

Normally I’ll do everything possible to avoid snow. Towing in snow is craziness. We once bailed out of a great trip in Banff because it was October and a small snowstorm was looming. At that time of year one good snowfall might mean you’re stuck for weeks, because just as one begins to melt another snowfall arrives.

But this is May, so any snow that lands will melt quickly even up here at 5,000 feet.  The roads and bridges aren’t going to freeze (at least not for long) and there was no chance of the temperatures declining further as long as we didn’t go further up in altitude. So coming here was a calculated decision. No biggie to wait out a couple of days of snow.

We started our trip with full propane cylinders of course, but using the furnace all night and the catalytic heater all day means we will probably drain a cylinder before we leave on Sunday. Normally I don’t have to buy propane until the end of the summer. We’d be burning it even faster if we didn’t have the catalytic heater to use during the day (it’s much more efficient than the furnace).

Our strategy lately is to run the cat heater by day because it’s efficient. It’s fine for our 30 foot trailer down to about freezing. Below that, the ends of the trailer tends to get chilly. At night when temperatures are likely to drop below freezing we switch to the furnace. That way the trailer is heated more evenly and the holding tanks get a little warmth too (so they don’t freeze).

All of this will hopefully be of academic interest only in a few days. I’m looking forward to rolling down to the Great Plains and points east for a sudden switch to summertime greenery and warmth.  So for us, summer starts Sunday or Monday.

From desert heat to Rocky Mountain snow

Airstream ready for departureThe saying is that “the journey of a 1,000 miles begins with a single step.”  The problem is that it takes a while to get ready for that first step. Lots to pack, arrange, and prepare when you don’t plan to be home for five months.

And that explains why our Airstream left the driveway two days later than planned.  Things weren’t quite ready and in the context of months, a couple of days isn’t really a big deal so it made sense to delay the trip just a little.

This delay cost us a couple of good stops. I was planning to go to Sunset Crater and Wupatki National Monument, then up to the Four Corners region and stop at Hovenweep National Monument. But we had also committed to a rally in Fort Collins and so instead of just moving the entire schedule back, we had to skip past the Four Corners.

That meant taking the Interstate highway system, a necessary but tedious expedient. Taking the Interstate is a great way to get from A to B without seeing anything. Almost as good as a jetliner. But we were slightly pressed for time and so we plowed west on I-10 and north on I-25, with the only good part being the detour through Hatch, New Mexico and a stop for lunch beside the town’s collection of advertising statues.

Hatch NM Airstream

After a night in Albuquerque we pressed onward to Littleton CO and Chatfield State Park, just outside the Denver metro area.  This park surrounds a flood-control project that forms a nice little lake.  There’s a bike trail surrounding the lake, which enticed Emma and I out for a very pleasant morning of riding on our electric unicycles, for 14 miles.

Chatfield SP Emma EUC

But now that we’ve gotten here, the weather is about to make us regret doubly our decision to skip the sunny and dry Four Corners region…

Fort Collins rally wx

Snow?  High temps of 37?  Isn’t this May?

This will definitely put a damper on the rally, but knowing the Airstreamers they’ll all find a way to have a good time anyway. Personally I’m going to stay in the trailer all day Friday with the catalytic heater and a movie marathon running.

To get ready Eleanor and I went digging in our under-bed storage and swapped out all our shorts and sandals for those items we keep on board for the occasional spate of bad weather. I keep a few items in the Airstream at all times: long underwear, hat, gloves, warm socks, and some grungy clothes for emergency roadside repairs. This stuff rarely comes out, and I sure didn’t expect it to be needed four days after leaving the near-100 degree weather in Tucson.

Well, on a journey of 1,000 miles (or in our case about 10,000 miles) change is to be expected. Before this trip is over we’ll visit at least 11 states and perhaps a couple of Canadian provinces. It won’t be sunny every day, nor will it always be warm. But, if we’re lucky, it will always be interesting.