Monday, January 15, 2018 – The Battle of Bartlett Flatts

Today was different.  Along with Angela, who left at 7am for Phoenix for a dog agility competition, the rest of the beach seemingly vacated.  I’d like to think they all knew what was coming, but in reality, it was due to the end of the long weekend.  Angela took Rubix and Gus with her.  That left me and Jake alone for the day for some dude bonding which would include some fetch to start our lazy morning around 10am.  It was windier this day than the last six, so instead of relaxing outside in the sun, we headed back inside.  With our recently repaired and functioning water system I opted to wash off the 6 days stink with a hot shower, followed by coffee and bailey’s keeping me hydrated for the next 2 hours while I read a book.  The window next to the bed I sat on was buzzing with small bees.  I didn’t think much of it at first as the window had a screen on it keeping them at bay.  Until one buzzed by my head – inside.  My weapon of choice for this first intruder is a hardcover copy of Wayne Gretzky’s 99 – Stories of the Game.  Being that I was mid-read in this book and roughly half way through, each open side offered a nice balance of mass to which I snapped shut on my attacker, rendering him quite dead.

As this day goes on, I’m beginning to blame the rest of the campers whose mass exodus left me the lone warrior on the miles long beach to fight off all the enemies they’d attracted with BBQ and the sweet smell of beer.  Now the only fresh beer was here.  I’d have not cracked one if I knew this was the fate it would bring.  Whether or not it’s fact, I’ve heard it said that killing a bee draws the attention of his comrades in effort to eliminate the threat.  As far as I’m concerned, it is fact.  The attack started at 1pm.  That’s roughly the time I extinguished the first intruder of my aluminium bunker.  By 3pm I’d closed the pages on at least 30 more, gone through the entire trailer and plugged any pinholes of light with tissue paper around our awning windows that the enemy could tunnel into.  While I fortified our base, Jake stood guard with a watchful eye alerting me to any new intruders.  I’m pretty sure he took down a few himself, thankfully without being stung.  Whoever reads “99” after I’m through it will likely wonder what all the stained pages are from.  Maybe I’ll leave a few notes for them, or one victim pressed between the later pages to close out a mystery spotted with evidence in previous chapters.

With numbers so stacked against us, the wise choice would have been to retreat, but Angela having fled early in the morning left us stranded.  It’s just after 4pm now as I write this, holed up, distracted every few words by a buzz that may be real, or at this point, I’m finding is in my head half the time.  I’ve taped our door shut from the inside, closed all but one window and one ceiling fan (both of which I’ve ensured have no holes).  It’s hot in here without the airflow.  I struggle to get a full sentence typed out without interruption of a real or imagined threat that has me out of my seat and scanning my limited surroundings.  Jake is sleeping in his kennel, the open side covered by a towel to prevent enemy infiltration.  Each time I jump though, so does he.  Every time an enemy combatant draws near the book becomes my weapon again, and as I yield it my page is lost, again.  No sooner do I find it after and get a few paragraphs in does the next wave of attack come.  I’ve given up on reading “99” anymore today.  But it will stay within reach.  When not used as a squashing trap, the book was a plank with which to bat them out of the air, first stunning, then squishing.  A few times my dry hands lost grip and the book flew across the trailer.  I was fortunate not to break a window and open the floodgates.

With a beautiful lake just steps away, calm from the absence of boats that chopped up the water just yesterday, I’d love to go for a paddle with Jake.  But I also want to sleep tonight, free from intruders.  So here I sit defending and documenting the battle, in case I should not survive.  I think tomorrow we’ll find somewhere else to explore.

 

Pumphouse Wash campsite, South of Flagstaff

About a 15-minute drive South of Flagstaff, on the highway to Sedona, we found our site for the next couple nights.  Deserted but for us, the squirrels, 1 coyote, and 2 other campers that showed up late and departed early the next day, we had our own private forest it seemed.  This was another great National Forest Service campsite, well laid out with lots of room and privacy.  These were a real kick back and do-nothing couple of days, with a few exceptions…

My previously sore neck felt a bit better.  There are few better ways I can think of to explore an area than by bike, terrain permitting of course.  One thing a lot of the places we’ve gone seem to have in common in horse/hiking trails.  Too rough and narrow for any motorized vehicles, these are often the trails I find myself riding, with a few areas requiring walking through.  This was no different.  The rolling hills full of lodgepole pine we’re hiding secrets.  Behind and between, dry creek beds snaked around.  If one wasn’t careful hiking or biking above you could quickly find yourself tumbling down 80-foot cliffs of stone, washed smooth high above the current day water line, giving a glimpse into the history of what the landscape may have been.

Mine wasn’t the only excitement there.  While Angela had Jake for an off-leash walk a coyote wandered near.  Jake has been experiencing a bit of stimulation overload lately with all the new scenery and wildlife.  And the coyotes here seem much healthier than the scraggly bunch back home.  I’m guessing the fact they don’t have to survive on scraps through a chilly winter contributes.  Fortunately, Angela spotted the wild dog first and was able to quickly grab the attention, and collar of Jake before he spotted it.  I don’t think that would have ended too well had she not.

All this stimulation has more than just Jake on high alert all the time.  Gus was secured to the site post with a 30-foot line made of standard leash material when he spotted something.  I happened across the doorway of the trailer when I noticed a white blur moving quickly away.  I cringed anticipating the violent snap back he was about to experience when he ran out of slack, but only for a brief moment.  I quickly recognized the weathered maroon colored streamer flapping behind him, now at least 50 feet away!  The old line was no match for an 80 lbs Gus, bent on catching – a pine bow, that had fallen from a gust of wind.

Wal-Mart Camping

Before we left on our trip I had convinced myself we’d be in the wild every night.  I’m now convinced I was wrong.  When you pull into a town after dark, need to stock up on groceries and water again, and want to sleep, the big blue box is an oasis of sorts.  This wasn’t our first WalMart camp, and I’m certain it won’t be our last.  Most of our sleeping in the wild has been with nobody in sight.  But there is a strange comfort once in a while in having neighbors, even if they are 60 foot diesel tractor trailers that start up every hour through the night as a reminder you’re in a WalMart parking lot.  But one night is enough.  This isn’t a place we’ll be putting a doormat down.

At this point, we have yet to fill our water tank in the trailer.  Most of our stops to date have been 1 or 2 nights, the rest of our time spent driving so why add the extra weight?  We have jugs we fill every couple of days and that’s been working just fine.  It’s not just the weight though.  Until you use something it can’t not work, right?  And so far, we’ve had a couple things not quite work.  I mentioned before I’d do a write up on the solar and electrical systems.  When I do get to that I’ll tell you all about things that didn’t quite work.  That being said, we really did want to get south to warmer weather and find a place to stop and not leave for a week or so.  With weather in mind and the previous pledge to return to Colorado, we decided to scrap our plans of exploring Southern Utah at this time and head further South again.  But not without a quick stop at the iconic Horseshoe Bend, just outside of Page, and West to see the South Rim of Grand Canyon National Park!

Pagosa Springs and the burning brakes

Pagosa Springs and the burning brakes

We didn’t end up making it up the Dunes the following day.  Based on weather we opted to hit the road and make for the 4 corners, where New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, and Colorado all meet, pledging to return to Colorado on our way back North.  There is so much more we want to see and explore there.

We fueled up in Alamoso, the last big stop before venturing back into the mountains.  Next stop Pagosa Springs.  On the way there we would climb 3000 feet quickly, and proceed to drop and another 3000 feet in equally short order.  At the summit of that pass, Wolf Creek ski hill, seemed to barely have enough snow to be open, but it was enough to attract hundreds of skiers, boarders, snowshoe hikers and the sled crowd.  Everyone has been saying this is an unseasonable winter, warm and short on snowfall.  And it shows everywhere.   We were at 10,300 feet at the summit of the pass and yet any slope not facing North was dry and free of the winter white.

The majority of our elevation drop came in the first 5 miles from the summit.  As we began our descent we spotted a sign stating that emergency run off lanes were at 3.5 miles down and 5 miles down for the second one.  After the first mile or so and being on the brakes the whole way I made a comment to Angela about the distance to the run-offs.  Imagine being 2 miles down this windy highway bobsled course, being unable to control your speed and somehow having to make it another 1.5 miles!  At about 4 miles we found out a bit what that feeling would be like.  I felt my brakes beginning to fade.  I cranked up the trailer brake controller, geared down, and looked to the sky when we spotted a view point pull-off.  By the time we came to a stop outside the parking lot you could smell the brakes and see the smoke billowing past us.  Yikes!  The overconfident looky-loo in me was too busy taking in the scenery and subsequently quietly panicking to realize I had, in fact, turned the trailer brakes down, not up.  The front brakes on the truck essentially bore the brunt of all 12000lbs of our home and motor.  One thing is for certain, that is a mistake I will NEVER make again.  30 minutes off cool down time for the truck brakes and my nerves later, and following 7-8 brakes checks on the trailer for good measure, we continued our descent into the flat valley below.  Pagosa Springs has a brewery.  You can bet we stopped there after that luge run.  A quick beer, some fries, and free wi-fi was just what we needed.  We found a little RV park just outside of town with laundry (my underwear needed cleaning) and showers.  It was getting to the point we couldn’t just smell each other, but ourselves too; it was time.

Soon the fun begins

This is coming completely out of order but we hadn’t realized it wasn’t posted yet.

With most of the work done behind the walls it was time for carpentry.  This is the task I’m most comfortable with.  Because of that comfort I was willing to challenge myself and do something different.  But before that, we needed a plan.

The original floor plan was awkward and tight.  Speaking of awkward, it has just occurred to me after misspelling the word 3 times that it is an awkward word to spell.  We will be living in this trailer for at least the next 6 months, and maybe longer.  It needs to feel spacious.  It needs to function.  It needs to have kennel space for 4 dogs.  We need to be able to move about comfortably and pass each other without having to reverse into a more open area to do so.  Only 2 of our dogs reverse well.  At the same time, it needs to maximize storage.  So how do we achieve all that in a 190 square foot space?  Some things are sacrificed, that’s how.  Using Google Sketchup we laid out a few different plans that included a small dining table as well as a couch/day bed in addition to a queen size bed, large kitchen and large bathroom.

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With a plan we felt confident with we began.  I didn’t touch on this in the previous post, but it’s work that happened during the demolition stage, prior to the spray foam.  Most of the electrical components for the solar setup had arrived, including 3 massive panels.  38 ¾” by 79” to be precise.  These were selected without much planning.  We wanted to maximize our energy production without it being obvious we are driving a rolling power plant.  I knew we could fit 3 and no way could we fit 4.  As it turns out we couldn’t quite fit 3.  Not without making some changes that is.  The trailer had 3 roof vents on it; one in the bathroom with a broken fan and broken cover, one in the middle with a broken cover and damaged operating hardware, and one at the front with a broken cover.  The only way 3 panels were fitting up there is if we went down to 2 roof vents and moved one of them.  But that wasn’t all there was to do with regards to the roof.  Various brackets, antennas, satellite dish and other random items were fixed to the roof of the years and served no purpose other than to create work removing them.  For 3 days I drilled rivets out, removed screws, removed all the junk, patched holes, replaced damaged sheet aluminum, eliminated two vents, replaced one vent, and cut in a new hole to install a new vent in the kitchen area.  Being the only roof vent outside the bathroom, and without air conditioning, we put a 10 speed, 2 way fan in this location.  By the end of it I had patched 17 different locations on the roof, drilled out at least 300 rivets and installed close to 500.  I purchased a pneumatic rivet gun for this and it has got to be one of the most worthwhile tools I have ever bought.  I couldn’t imagine using a hand operated riveting tool for all of this.  I’d probably still be doing it between stints of physio for all sorts of issues I no doubt would have.

For the solar panel mounting I opted not to use the small brackets that were supplied and went about a bit different route.  I had concerns with the brackets for a few reasons.  The first of which was that they were meant to mount the panels on a wall or roof that isn’t going 120km/h down the road.  Secondly, I didn’t want the panels to be visible chunks on the roof of a fairly Streamline(d) trailer (see what I did there?).  I chose to run 3/16” wall, 3” aluminium angle front to back on either side to act as a sort of saddle for the panels to mount between.  To deal with water shedding, at each point of the shell frame that the trailer was bolted into I used a small piece of ¼” flat bar to act as a stand-off and effectively raise the channel that much from the surface of the roof.  One un-planned benefit of the 3” angle was that it provided some roof-line rigidity that helped to take out some hefty dents at a few bent wall/roof frame members.

Now back to the inside

I’d recently worked with cherry wood for a renovation project and really like the way it looked.  It has some beautiful marbling in it and the natural color demands nothing more than a clear varnish finish.  Having relationships at hardwood wholesalers made it an actual affordable option too.  I did some rough estimating on what would be required and went shopping.  The main ingredients for the build are 8/4 and 4/4 rough sawn cherry wood (mostly 8’-10’ lengths), ¼” cherry mdf core, 5/8” cherry particle core, ½” pre-finished poplar ply, 5/8” fir ply, 1/8” puck or rink board and .040 aluminium sheet.

The ceiling seemed like the logical place to start.  With roughly 38” of flat width before it starts to curve down to the walls we agreed that would be a nice place to run some cherry wood and break up the sea of white puck board that will be the walls.  Now when it comes to woodwork I can be a bit obsessive in the details.  And it started here.  The easy thing would have been to put up 40” wide sheets of cherry, 3 of them, and cover the seams.  But with our open plan in mind you would be able to see from front to back at once, so the ceiling needed to flow.  That is, the pattern of wood had to be consistent.  The sheets of ¼” had a repeating pattern on them which allowed one sheet to cut down into three identical strips.  What we have is 3 strips, a 14” (middle strip) and two 12” outer strips.  With it all cut and dry-fit it was back into the shop to spray it all prior to final installation.  3 coats of a satin finish, water based lacquer and it was time to install!

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With ceiling panels on we could now begin to move down the walls.  We started with puck board butting into our ceiling edge and flexed it into the curved upper portion of the walls, securing it to the framework with rivets.  It remained quite rigid due to being pressed into the curve, so it only required fastening at the edges and maintained shape well.  This is nice because it means no visible rivets after all the seams were covered.  The install of the puck board is a 2-3 person job.  A good friend of mine, Spencer, was happy to help.  Like moving though, I provided the beer.  Piece after painstaking piece, we slowly worked our way back to the spot that the bathroom wall would be and down to the floor.

 

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With the walls done, it was time for the daunting part – the upper cabinet at the front of the trailer.  The old aluminum cabinet that was removed was not suitable for re-use.  Something new had to be made to fit into a curved roof and a curved front wall.  First thing was templating the curves.  I tried to trace out from the old cabinet onto cardboard but without being installed the old aluminum was too flexible and did not provide and accurate template.  A few hours later I had traced and trimmed and marked and trimmed and screwed up and started over, tracing and trimming, until I had tow templates that were a close enough fit to work off.  Another day later I had a cabinet box 80% built, ready to fit.  And fit it did, surprisingly well!  Now we could finish the cabinet (built out of the light ½” poplar ply) by gluing on ¼” cherry to the visible front and bottom, cut open some additional small storage spaces, and spray it.  Of course, mistakes were made, and we cut in the access to additional storage in the bottom of it.  The price of long days.  I still blame Spencer on this one because had he not been helping I wouldn’t have had the extra beer or two that evening prior to cutting holes in the wrong spot.  Fortunately, it was an easy fix.  Upon correction we figured it best to call it a night.

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The balance of the front area cabinetry went without many hiccups.  The bed frame, speaker boxes, and additional storage went together well.  Onto the rest.  The front closet I was dreading.  It was more cabinetry that had to fit into a curved wall.  I had picked up some steel studs that I planned on using for the bathroom wall a few weeks earlier.  After tripping on and knocking them over numerous times I finally had a use for them!  I used them to template the curve (which I should have done for the front cabinet) by cutting relief cuts every two inches from the point at which the wall begins to curve, to the end.  This allowed me to press the now flexible steel stud into the curve of the wall.  With a few pieces of lumber screwed in to brace and hold the curve I now had a very accurate template to trace onto my plywood.  It worked perfectly!

With the front closet built we took a step back and looked at our plans.  What looks great on paper doesn’t always execute the way you’d hope.  There was no way we could fit the kennel space and a day bed/couch.  So goodbye day bed.  The balance of cabinetry went without fuss.  I installed our new water tank centered over the axles and tight to the wheel well, which were insulated using 1” rigid foam insulation, glued down and taped at seams.  The batteries would sit in the same position on the opposite side.  The cabinet boxes were built, lacquered and installed, waiting for countertops to complete.

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On the opposite side we built 2 kennels as one structure with 2” x 2” solid cherry making the frame.  Puck board acted as walls, with vinyl lattice for sliding doors, sitting in track cut into the framework prior to assembly.  More lacquer.  The remaining space would allow for an extra large removable kennel.  We though it would have been nice to have another built in one, but having the flexibility with the space matters more.

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Now for the reading room, er, bathroom…

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This was a challenge.  Our original idea was to have this be what is known as a wet room.  Meaning the entire space can get wet and drains to a central location.  Picture a spa type bathroom or that of your local gym.  We had the idea based on our experiences in Bali, Indonesia where it seemed every bathroom was built in such a way it could simply be blasted with a pressure washer to clean everything.  In a perfect setup you could properly shower while sitting on the toilet, not that you’d ever need to…  Unfortunately, due to the location of the black water holding tank it did not allow for a central drain that was easily sloped to.  This meant the floor drain could only easily be a shower drain offset to one side where the shower was to be.  So, with that in mind, and to maximize our shower space to be comfortable to use, we had a local stainless steel fabrication shop create a custom shower pan with a curb and lip all around it to fit into the rear corner of the trailer.  This allowed us to enclose the remainder of the bathroom walls, as well as the shower walls with .040 aluminium.  More sheet stainless would have been preferred due to its scratch resistant characteristics but cost, and more so workability was a major deterrent and pushed us towards the aluminium walls.  The aluminium was easily scored, cut and bent without the need of a pneumatic shear or hydraulic break.  That’s not to say it was easy.  It was not.  Just when I thought I had things figured out did it become glaringly apparent I didn’t.  Not at all.  The corners were an absolute nightmare.  And I’m still not happy with how they turned out.  The reading room is probably the first place (and was the last place to finish) that I started to say “good enough” as we were getting deeper into Canadian winter and needed to hit the damn road and start this adventure!  There are still a few little finishing details remaining that need attention, but we have yet to hit warm enough temperatures to be able to actually use the water systems.  So in the words of a good friend of mine, “problem for tomorrow!”

Trailer is done enough, time to go! (still some electrical and plumbing details I haven’t covered, but those are a bit more technical and will require a more in depth post that will put all but the most interested readers to sleep)…