August 24, 2012

Journey Across the West - Part 1

So as it turns out, blogging while traveling is very difficult!  Trying to use the computer while driving doesn’t really work and by the time we get to a camp site there is probably no service and we are too tired to even think about blogging.  And during the day we have been busy either driving, hiking, touring or trying to plan our next leg – which has turned into a bit of a struggle!  So I thought the best way to update everyone was a quick journal of where we’ve been in the last three weeks with a few photos thrown in.  I’m trying to keep a hand written journal of our day by day stuff, so after we weed through our photos when we get back East, I can give some more detail of our travels.

Our journey started from Southern Berkshire County in Massachusetts where both of our family’s live and where we are going to eventually be moving back to.  We started out West towards Adirondack Park in upstate New York on Friday the 3rd of August.  We stayed at Golden Beach Campground on Raquette Lake.  It was absolutely beautiful and after a day of hiking on Saturday we took a relaxing dip in the warm water!  It was wonderful to finally unwind and hike after the craziness of July.

Golden Beach Campground

Raquette Lake

We left the Adirondack’s on the 5th and headed toward Niagara, New York.  On the way we hit some torrential downpours outside of Rochester and finally got a chance to see how our weather proofing worked!  Amazingly there was only one leak on the passenger side door along the hinge… wah hoo!  We stayed at Golden Hill State Park which was 45 mins outside of the Falls and absolutely beautiful.  Our site was right on Lake Ontario and it had free showers!  The next day was spent at Niagara Falls and Old Fort Niagara which were both a lot of fun.  There’s nothing better then getting our learn on at historical sites… and the falls were pretty too!  Unfortunately my camera battery died, so I didn’t get any photos at the fort, but I highly recommend it!

Golden Hill State Park

Niagara Falls

Our next major stop was with friends in Michigan and on the way we got to drive along Lake Erie and into Ohio which was a pretty drive.  I never knew that there were so many vineyards in New York!  I also never thought about how many power stations there were along the great lakes either – hydro, coal and nuclear.  We pulled into East Harbor State Park in Ohio on Tuesday the 7th which was nothing to write home about.  It was huge (over 300 sites) and very much a city dwellers campground.  I didn’t even take any photos.  The next couple of nights were spent in Haslet, Michigan with our high school friend Robin and her boyfriend John.  It was a wonderful couple of day’s of relaxing and swimming in the nearby lake and planning.  The only photo I really managed to take was of the Big Boy restaurant’s sign where we had lunch one of the days… it was our first time and delicious!

Taking the suggestion of Robin and John we headed up North to Pictured Rocks in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.  We were going to go South to Chicago, but decided trying to navigate a city with the trailer would be to stressful.  Pulling in on a Friday night was a little crazy, but we managed to fine one campground that had open spots, Forrest Lake.  It was really out of the way (and about a half hour from the National Lakeshore) but beautifully quiet and almost empty!  It was a hidden gem.  Pictured Rocks was not at all what we were expecting from a Lakeshore.  The whole cost line is made up of towering sand stone cliffs along Lake Superior – which I swear is an ocean with the waves it had that day!  There were even a few beaches as well though the water was too cold for me to handle swimming… the hiking was easy though and the scenery beautiful!

Forrest Lake Campground

Beaches along Lake Superior at Pictured Rocks

Pictured Rocks

From Pictured Rocks we headed south again out of Michigan, through Wisconsin and into Minnesota.  It was just a driving day but we did manage to stop at Humbird Cheese in Tomah, Wisconsin to buy some delicious cheese and sausage before heading into Minnesota.  We spent a rainy night in Myre-Big Island State Park and finally saw our first home built teardrop on the trip!  It was fun chatting with the owners and seeing how they did things compared to us.

The drive through Minnesota along interstate 90 was actually really interesting.  Mixed in with all of the farms were literally hundreds of windmills, not something I expected to see here.  Once we crossed the border into South Dakota we could get back to doing some touristy stuff.  I wanted to stop in De Smet to see the Laura Ingalls Wilder homestead and from there we got to see the worlds largest Pheasant in Huron and the Corn Palace in Mitchell.  All were really fun and worth the stops.  That night was spent in the Fort Pierre National Grassland which was amazing.  Though you can camp there, there aren’t any official campgrounds.  One of the websites we found about the grassland literally gave you GPS coordinates for a fishing spot where people had camped in the past.  It was just off a gravel road and so peaceful since we were the only ones there!

Windmills in Minnesota

The Ingalls house in De Smet, SD

Worlds Largest Pheasant!!

The Corn Palace

Ft. Pierre National Grassland

On Tuesday the 14th, we finally rolled into our first National Park, Badlands.  Driving in was breathtaking!  After miles of flat grazing land, the rock formations of the Badlands suddenly appeared seemingly from nothing.  Once we were in the park, the landscape got even more spectacular with deep canyons, high peaks and stunning rock formations.  The rock itself almost seemed like it would crumble away if you were to touch it, but for the most part it was pretty solid… but the wind!  The second day we were there hiking we ended up with headaches from the wind blowing so strongly and constantly.  But it was worth it.  Of the two campgrounds, we stayed at the one with water – Cedar Pass. 

Approaching the Badlands

We also swung by Mount Rushmore while we were staying at the Badlands.  Though I’m not overly patriotic, it was a very impressive site and even after a lifetime of hype, it didn’t disappoint. 

About an hour and a half further west of the Badlands is another small National Park, Wind Cave.  It is tiny but worth it because while you’re there you can wander into Custer State Park and the Black Hills which are in complete contrast to the Badlands – mountains, forests and green rolling grasslands.  The cave system at Wind Cave is definitely worth the tour too.  It is one of the longest cave systems in the world and is completely dry, at least in the areas that the different tours go though.  It doesn’t have the traditional stalactites and stalagmites but boxwork and different beautiful formations.   After the cave tour we went on a hike in the northern end of the park.  We were disappointed in our lack of animal sightings until at the end of the hike there was a huge male bison standing in the middle of the trail!  We did a large loop around him, but it was so cool so see one so close in the wild.

Boxwork at Wind Cave

The bison is scratching his head on the trail marker!

On the way out of Wind Cave, we drove North through the Black Hills along the Needles Highway.  The rock formations through the mountains were stunning and worth the drive!  From here we linked back up with interstate 90 and began our trek into Wyoming.  Our first stop in Wyoming was Devils Tower.  I’ve seen it countless times in photos before, but the real thing can’t be compared.  It rises out of a sea of prairie and the faceted sides are so different to any rock formations around it.  Like so many other places we’ve seen, our first thought is that it can’t be real.  After a quick hike around the base of the tower and some lunch, we continued our journey West to Big Horn National Forrest for the night.  We managed to snag the last campsite at Lost Cabin Campground.

Rock formation on Needles Highway

Devils Tower


The change in landscape out of Big Horn National Forest was stunning all over again.  The mountains of the forest gave way to deep, rocky gorges and then as we exited the rolling dry hills of northern Wyoming opened up.  They red, brown ground was covered with light green sage brush and small yellow and white flowers.  We drove through the small town of Ten Sleep and then stopped for a break at Castle Gardens Scenic Area in the surrounding BLM.  The rock formations were amazing and well worth the stop to explore.  The day ended in Cody, Wyoming just outside of Yellowstone where we stayed at a KOA campground.  It wasn’t my favorite but we could do laundry and take hot showers, plus there were free pancakes in the morning.  That night we went into Cody and had a delicious dinner at the Prime Cut Saloon and then when to the famous nite rodeo.  It was a little touristy but super fun.

Wyoming landscape outside of Ten Sleep

Castle Gardens - can you find Darrell?

Cody Nite Rodeo!

Since we had been able to make reservations for our campground at Yellowstone we took our time heading out in the morning.  Before heading into the Shoshone National Forrest, we stopped at the Buffalo Bill Dam.  When it was completed in 1910 it was the tallest dam in the world at 325 feet.  There was a great visitor center there and it was a fun stop.  Next stop was in Yellowstone National Park!  Driving it we knew that we would need to extend our stay.  The entire park is larger than the state of Rhode Island and it takes hours to drive around the whole thing.  The scenery was beautiful though and there is no way I could possibly describe it in a paragraph.  From corner to corner, each section was different and the thermal areas were spectacular.  We ended up spending four nights and three full days there and I still felt that it wasn’t long enough.  We definitely want to go back.

Buffalo Bill Dam

Formations at Mammoth Hot Springs

Grand Prismatic Spring

'bobby sock' trees near Old Faithful

We managed to leave Yellowstone on the 23rd of August and headed south to Grand Teton National Park for a night.  Unfortunately the mountains were shrouded in haze from the wildfires in Idaho and Nevada, but they were still stunning.  Their jagged peaks rising from the planes surrounding the park.  At night they were even more unreal because all you could see was the solid outlines of the mountains in flat colors of grey and blue. 

The Grand Tetons

Hiking with Mount Moran in the background

Our original plan was to travel up to Glacier National park next, but as we were charting our course, we realized we are quickly running out of time to get through the country!  So plan B, we are heading directly west to Yosemite National Park and then into San Francisco.  This will save us at least 5 days on our schedule giving us more time to stop at the parks in Arizona and Utah.  Either way, our trip so far has been amazing and we have seen so much of the country.  Though we are both a tad road weary, we are still excited to see what adventures lie before us in California and beyond!

August 9, 2012

The maiden voyage

We were finally DONE!!!  After months of designing, building, freezing, sweating and figuring we finally were able to hook up the trailer and take the trailer on her first test drive!  It was so exciting to be able to back up the car, hook up the trailer and go.

I did manage to take some final interior shots of the trailer before we hooked up the trailer to our car.

Hooking everything up…

And away we go!

After a bumpy ride down our street (they have been doing some serious road work in Providence and we might as well have been off roading it was so bad) we turned onto the Blackstone Boulevard.  This is a long, straight road near our apartment with a running path down the middle.  It was so fun driving down and having joggers literally stop and stare after us!

Parked on the Boulevard

It's still there!

We finally ended in a nearby parking lot to check things over and take some photos.  Everything seemed intact and all of the lights still worked!  YAY!  The extra fun part was that two separate cars actually pulled up next to us asking questions about the trailer and commenting on how cool it was.  So flattering!

We took this initial test drive on July 20th which now seems so long ago!  After a few more tweaks to the trailer, we spent the last week and a half of July packing up our entire apartment and moving all of our things to a storage unit in Berkshire County.  Finally on July 31st, we packed up the remainder of our things and the trailer and left Rhode Island for good.  Then, four days later, we hit the road on our big adventure.  We’ve been taking loads of photos, so hopefully soon I can start posting about our travels as we wind our way across the U.S.!

Cars and trailer packed and ready to go!

Finishing touches

We’ve finally reached the point during the trailer build where all of the major projects were done and there were just a handful of random small projects to finish up.  Instead of doing a bunch of short posts I thought it would be the easiest to lump them all in one before doing the FINAL reveal post.

Hooking up the trailer lights

When we bundled all of the wires together for the trailer into the liquid-tight connector that would be going into the tongue box, there were four wires that were still left exposed.  This was the wiring for the running lights on either side of the trailer (a hot and ground wire for each).  We had run these wires to poke out the front of the trailer, and then we ran them behind the front running board so that they would be grouped in the middle directly under the liquid-tight connector.

After adding some caulk to the hole in the running board that they were coming out of, we fed them into the bottom of the tongue box through a hole Darrell had to drill out. We used the same type of liquid-tight connector we used at the vent fan for the solar panel lights. Inside the tongue box they joined the wiring that goes back to the trailer hatch (for the brake, turn signals, and license plate lights). These wires then all leave the tongue box through the same bottom hole and then were attached to one half of a four pin connector.  This connector then hooks up to the trailer hitch when we are on the road so that the car can power and control the lights.

Tail light cover plates

We found some simple metal blank cover in the electrical section to hide the holes we made for the tail lights in the hatch.  These ended up being a great idea in the long run because now we had access to the tail lights in case anything electrical were to go wrong with them.

Hatch wiring.

I put some of the left over black loom over the wires running from the hatch to the pin connectors in the trailer.  This just cleaned up the look a bit and finished it off.

Sink plumbing

Our sink setup was really simple (though it looks kind of complicated.  We found a drain connection at Home Depot that fit our sink drain opening perfectly.  After cutting the length of the pipe to be a bit shorter, we then were able to adapt it to a garden hose connector with some PVC components, rubber hose and hose clamps.  Instead of buying a long length of garden hose, we were able to get a brass hose connector and clamp a shorter length of vinyl tubing to it. It looks bit wonky but works really well. 

For our water, we simply cut a length of clear vinyl tubing that would attach to the connection to the hand pump.  This tubing could then be fed into a re-used gallon milk jug we could fill with water.  Simple but effective!

The stove

Before fixing the stove to the pull out shelf, we decided to protect the wood from the heat of the stove and cooking goo with some more aluminum flashing.  It was cut to size and then nailed down along the sides of the shelf with twist nails.  This would also give us a surface we could easily clean and possible replace if needed in the future.

For the gas connection, Darrell was able to modify the regulator that came with the stove so that we could keep the propane hose connected at all times and still push the shelf in.  After this was screwed in and the stove located, we used some angle brackets to secure the stove in place.

Hatch pole

Though many people used hydraulic pistons (similar to what you might see on a car) we decided to go low tech and just use a long pole.  So that we could store it in the trailer, we bought two shorter wood dowels and then used a threaded insert and double sided bolt so that we could simply screw the two pieces together.  On the bottom end of the pole, we actually nailed on a rubber doorstop to provide the pole with a larger and more gripping foot.

On the hatch we used a wooden closet rod flange that I stained the same color as the counter for the pole to sit in.

J-molding above side doors

Above each of the side doors, we installed some curved j-molding.  This molding acts as a drip edge above the door to help protect it from rain dripping down the wall into the door.  We did our best to bend it to follow the curve of the door, but ended up making it a shallower curve.  It was difficult to bend and we didn’t want it to disfigure the shape as we were bending.  Since the curve was different, we decided to mount it about an inch above the edge of the door frame trim.

Weather stripping  

About the most frustrating part of the project was the weather stripping around the doors and hatch.  When everything was installed, the fact that ours was a home built trailer was definitely showing.  Though it looked great, there were some definite alignment issues at the doors and hatch, especially on the driver’s side door.  It was tight along the hinge and bottom of the door, but the top right corner splayed out almost a ¼”!  Also at the bottom of the hatch, it no longer was closing flush and we also had a pretty big gap to contend with.

Darrell finally, after a lot of research and hair pulling, found some ½” x ½” and 1” x 1” weather-resistant neoprene/EPDM/SBR foam that came in 25’ lengths.  This stuff was closed cell meaning that it restricts absorption and could be used outdoors.  It also had a super strong adhesive back that could be stuck to the T-molding around the doors. 

What we ended up doing was first taping the strips to the doors and through a series of measuring, opening/closing the doors and test runs, we trimmed down the weather stripping in the areas we needed to, while leaving other areas thick so that we could get custom seals around the doors.  After this was done, we crossed our fingers and removed the paper backing, permanently attaching weather stripping.  At the side doors, we also attached some thin rubber P-strip weather stripping (which we got at Home Depot) to the foam stripping for added sealing and protection.

And after finishing the weather stripping… WE WERE DONE!!!  Some final photos and documentation of our maiden voyage to follow soon!