Sunday, November 28, 2010

Big Sur - Kirk Creek

At last.

After a year of using the Sunrader for point-to-point-to-point trips, we finally had the opportunity this week to give it a thorough wringing out with a three night stay at Kirk Creek, south of Big Sur on Highway 1.

Kirk Creek is listed in Sunset Magazine's top campgrounds in California, and it is by all accounts a spectacular location. The camp is set on a bluff to the west of Highway 1, with a full 180 degree view of the Pacific. The sites are mostly large with good fire rings, pedestal bbqs and picnic tables. Parking is on hardpack gravel, which is fine even on a rainy day as there is crabgrass everywhere and good drainage. Fortunately for us, the folks looking after Kirk Creek are helpful and flexible too. More on that in a bit.

Indy, our two-year-old Chocolate Lab, loved the chance to ride with a view out the front window.

We arrived late on Monday afternoon in light rain. The last 40 miles of the trip are on the coast road, which is quite windy and therefore a bit of a Dramamine proving-ground for the kids in the back. That said, all were in good spirits as we pulled in to site 17. Of all the sites, it seemed to have the steepest slope, which isn't comfortable for sleeping and can potentially wreck the refrigerator. We did our best to level the rig, and put together some franks and beans for dinner. Yep, campin'. The campground host suggested we could move in the morning, as some of the first-come-first-served sites would open up and we'd find a flat spot to settle in.

Mr. Clean Pays a Visit
I should have turned off the fridge, but instead we took Indy for a walk. When we got back, the smell of ammonia inside the Sunrader was mild. In a moment it was overwhelming. Even with all the windows open and the overhead fan full bore, there was no way to clear it out. The fridge was dead. These units use a combination of hydrogen and ammonia to cool, which means they can run on propane or electricity and operate silently. The downside is that they must be level, or the boiler can run dry and crack. I'm pretty sure that's what happened.

Anyhow, the sky had cleared up a little so we decided to sleep under the sky for the night. I rolled out the awning and put all the cushions out on a tarp -- hoping the rain had passed.

Of course, it hadn't.

At about 2:30 am, the rain started drizzling on the awning overhead and I tried to stay sleeping, hoping it would just pass on by. After all, we were right on the coast. What's a little mist? But what's the fun in that? Naw, it went from misting to dibble-dopping to pelting, and I started imagining all the nice new cushions from inside the Sunrader sopping up the Kirk Creek mud around the edges of the tarp.

So all six groggy campers (including Indy) mustered and recombobulated into the rig. Callie, in her inimitable way, managed to get in without ever disgorging herself from her sleeping bag. Fortunately, by this time, the overwhelming ammonia smell had completely dissipated and we all managed to stay dry and warm for the night.

The next morning, the campground folks helped us out and we got ourselves a nice flat site right on the edge of the bluff. Even if we'd killed the fridge, at least we'd be sleeping flat. It was a drizzly, wet day and the whole place was reminiscent of Scotland, with lots of low growing bush and groundcover and the omnipresent smell of damp. Thank goodness we weren't in a tent.

Kirk Creek
We took a quick hike down the Kirk Creek trail to the ocean. While the bluff is mostly a sheer drop to the ocean, the creek has cut a gently sloping canyon which makes for a beautiful walk through some redwoods down to the surf. There isn't any beach to speak of, just big gnarled rocks at the base of the cliffs. It is beautiful even in its bleakness.

The sun came out for our final full day, and we took a longer hike up the trail on the east side of the highway, which winds up into the Ventana Wilderness section of the Los Padres National Forest. This area, just south of Big Sur, is known for its diverse plant and animal populations, with coastal, savanna, and forest environments all tightly intersecting. Big Sur, so far as I know, may be one of the few -- if only -- places where you could see a mountain lion eating a sea lion.

We hiked up through lots of chaparral on wide open hillsides, then had lunch as the trail turned into a small valley packed with tall coast redwoods. The trail goes back up, far into the wilderness and certainly warrants another trip for a longer hike or backpacking expedition.

Our last dinner at Kirk Creek was bbq next to the campfire. Even though it was beyond cold, the big fire kept us outside under the stars long enough to roast marshmallows and make S'mores. And the sunset over the pacific, with the clear winter sky framed by a distant marine layer, striped the sky with orange and gold. It made it hard to think about packing up the next morning to head home for Thanksgiving... Here are a few more shots from the trip.


Saturday, November 6, 2010

Brake Job

So, part of my joy in owning the Sunrader is having an ongoing project. Something to do that can be all encompassing, get my mind off the work-week, and occasionally provide a sense of accomplishment. Even better, if I get sick of it and slam the door closed on a Saturday afternoon, nobody else really minds.

So I've been thinking about replacing the brakes. They're fine, but getting close to replacement time. Having never done a brake job on a Toyota pickup truck, I looked around for some Web guidance on the subject.


Sunday, October 24, 2010


A couple of weeks ago I took a trip to Chicago for the annual HR Technology Conference. To the unwashed, I'm sure that sounds like a niche within a niche, but the event gathers close to 3,000 professionals from around the world. And quite a few of them have become very good friends over the course of my career.

Rather than take the traditional conventioneer approach of late nights and foggy mornings, I elected this trip to get up early and go for a jog on the lakefront. It was the perfect time of year for it. Mostly clear skies, late sunrise, mild temperatures.

Somewhere up around Soldier Field, I took a wrong turn and wound up on top of a parking structure. I knew I was heading back toward the lake front, and started to "bushwhack" across the top of the lot, thinking (as I typically do) that my keen sense of internal direction would carry the day.

"I may have to hop a fence or plow through some bushes, but I know the lake is generally 'over there' so I'm good," I thought to myself.

And then I stopped.

As is so often the case, I was ready to persevere along my current course rather than turning back in order to go forward or (horrors!) ask for directions. This time I caught myself, fully aware that I was a) being foolish and b) had a schedule to keep.

As I reversed down the path already traveled, I spent some time thinking about a world where we are constantly in the presence of GPS, moving maps and products so epically named "Never Lost."

As a kid down in Southern California, my friend Matt and I would take the bus up to Malibu and find our way back behind the shopping center, into relative wildland along Malibu Creek. Sure, we weren't ever that far from homes or roads, but we were in places that rarely, if ever, saw the footprints of people. We were off the grid before there was one, and it is hard to imagine a parent today that would feel comfortable with their 10 or 11-year-old disappearing for an entire day at a time. But we did.

If the way forward required navigating underbrush or wading in knee-deep murk, we were undeterred. I can still taste that rich putrid smell of creek-bottom mud, the kind that permanently bonds to tube socks and probably inspired the inventor of the automatic washing machine.

But our reward was broad, calm freshwater pools and soft sand beaches filled with complete silence. We'd swim, catch crayfish and sunfish with our hands, and then sit out in the sunshine to dry out our clothes.

The crayfish were like little waterborne alligator lizards -- good sport to catch and release in the moment. They were incredibly quick, and good for a nasty pinch if you didn't grab them just right, which typically resulted in an explosive expletive from the pinch-ee and explosive laughter from the local audience. Matt liked to take the sunfish home, typically in a plastic bag as though he'd won them in a ping pong ball toss at the county fair. He had a substantial, by our standards, garage-sale aquarium in his room, where he managed to raise a few of the fish to the size of salad plates.

So, like I said, we'd dry ourselves in the sun, head back down the creek to the bus stop and head home. Those were summer weekends.

20 years later, a group of us were on a company-sponsored camping trip to the Western Sierra in an area called The Dardanelles near the Sonora Pass. A few of us elected to take a long hike along a loop trail -- I think it was supposed to be about 12 miles -- up to the nearby peaks. It was a beautiful summer, and we arrived up in a beautiful high-mountain meadow around mid-day. The wildflowers were head high and abundant, the air was clear and the sky delivered its multi-hued blue that comes with altitude.

On the far side of the meadow, where we'd hoped to find the continuation of our loop, there was only a marker for the trail over Sonora Pass. Knowing this couldn't possibly be the way back to the campground, we elected to take first one, and then another, and then another in a series of game trails through the treeline. A few of us (I think we were a group of 5 in all) were confident in our direction of travel, down into the valley cut by the stream that passed through the campground.

Within a couple of hours, we were scrambling over big granite boulders and scree fields, alternately descending through a series of small waterfalls. That may sound an odd choice, but the terrain was so steep and the surface so unstable -- it was made up of what I remember as tiny chips of granite -- that the gradual step-downs of the waterfalls and pools made it easier to traverse.

At one point, our Black Lab, Sierra, who was quite an experienced hiker in her own right, was cautiously making her way across the top of a five or six foot fall, with Beth's hand wrapped around her collar to keep her safe. And then Beth was yelling with the empty collar in her hand, as the dog unceremoniously landed feet-up in the pool below. For a moment, everyone stopped cold thinking that surely she'd be seriously injured.

At that point, one of the members of our party sat down. She was done. Scared, and ready to spend the night on the side of the mountain rather than continue down and risk getting hurt. Sierra, it turns out, was fine. The dog was clearly shaken, but uninjured. But it took about 20 minutes of talking to get the group back moving downhill. Up to that point, I'd been moving along under my own assumption that just by keeping on going we'd be aok. And it was startling to consider that we were really and truly lost.

We pressed on as the daylight waned, and finally reached the valley floor as the stars (and thankfully a little moonlight) erupted overhead. The dog took the lead as we found the trail again and made our way back to the campground, where we discovered that the search and rescue teams had been called and were waiting till dawn to come looking for us -- sure that we'd headed off over the Sonora pass.

For her part, Sierra went straight into the tent and went to sleep. The rest of us did what any 20-somethings would do. We drank beer and told stories around the campfire. And enjoyed our dinner.

Sometimes it is good to be lost.


Sunday, October 10, 2010

Photos: Levi's GranFondo 2010

Levi's GranFondo II

The GranFondo 'Medio' loop is about 60 miles tracing from Santa Rosa to Occidental and down the Russian River to Duncan's Mill. From there it is a left turn onto the coast road for some spectacular views of the leviathan rocks over an almost Caribbean-blue Pacific Ocean. The sky was clear as we made the turn and the air carried the cool dank of seaweed soda-foam up the sheer cliffs from the water's edge to the roadside.

This stretch of Highway 1 climbs and descends with wide, sweeping bends that encourage the two-wheeled set to accelerate madly on the way down, tuck tight into the apex and hold as much speed as possible on the climb out. Big ring, all the way. And the road surface, unlike so many in California, is seamless and uniform. It's like the best amusement park roller coaster you've ever been on, but better. No rails.

One more rest stop at Portuguese Beach, and it was just a quick spin down to the left turn and Coleman Valley Road. I'll start by admitting that I had to put my foot down this year. Beth, after training for her half-marathon and a good deal more riding than I've done this year, went spinning right up to the top. This is by all accounts a killer of a hill with some parts into the double-digit incline percentages. The pros have done it in the Tour of California, and apparently they go up on the big ring. I was wishing for a triple because I didn't have enough power to keep things spinning while in the saddle. Standing up, the whole way. Without enough miles in the legs its just a challenge to keep out of the red zone. It is still an awesome feeling to crest and take a moment to look back at the view from the top. We live in a state with spectacular natural beauty, and it is all too easy to drive right on by and never notice it.

Somehow I'd managed to forget that there is still a good bit of climbing to do after Coleman to get back to Santa Rosa. The roads wind between active farmland and redwoods, and there is a beautiful old schoolhouse along the way as well so it is hard to avoid being enchanted by the environment. Through Occidental and over the last few ramps into Santa Rosa, where we turn right onto the local cycle path. Last year, this section was all packed gravel but it was paved for 2010 and FAST. Unfortunately a number of the "Grand" riders seemed to forget we weren't racing and went blazing through, almost obliterating a couple of riders who were out for a casual weekend ride in the other direction. Fortunately the outcome was only skids and hollers.

And with that, we were back into the Finley center where we enjoyed some free food, lemonade and got to say hi to Levi and Ben King (the newly minted U.S. Pro champion.).

As organized rides go, this one has about the best organization and engagement I've ever experienced. The people are all fabulous. The support from the city of Santa Rosa is more than you could possibly hope for, and the involvement of local riders and international pros makes it more than just a training target.

I can't wait till next year. Better get training.


And P.S. -- Thanks to the Flying Goat for the free coffee. Superb.

Levi's GranFondo 2010

Months of non-preparation.

Weeks of denial.

A couple of hours driving.

A twenty-year-old bike in need of a tuneup...

Last year was a terrific year for me as a weekend cyclist. 25 lbs. off the waist, 100+ miles a week, lots of climbing. By October, I had pair of centuries already in the legs and lots of motivation. We hit the first-ever Levi Leipheimer GranFondo in great shape. Ready. To. Go.

And it was a blast. That was 2009.

Now 2010 was a blast too, but it was a little different. This year somehow the weekend motivation to ride has been swamped by sloth, carpooling kids to athletics and work. Lots of work. And the mid-week rides that were a staple last year have never materialized. Embarrassing doesn't begin to explain it. Sure, I've had some weekend rides of note -- up the Del Valle grade a few times. A few 40s out and back on Calaveras road.

Arriving in Santa Rosa on Friday night, all sins were absolved. The pre-ride dinner at the Olive Garden (yep, we go in style, people) was a great laugh with our cycling groupetto from southern California. Interesting to think in the few years I've known some of these friends, we've spent many more hours on two wheels than off. As Helene aptly put it, "because we can." Or at least, because we could.

Cycling adventures are wonderful in part because packing is so simple. Gear for riding and a few bits of casual wear and you're all set. Ain't no fancy shindigs to worry about and most of the hotels or motels have a free breakfast. Oatmeal is a staple. So we sacked out at the Hampton Inn in Rhonert Park and within what seemed like moments the 5:45am wakeup call had us up and out to grab parking close to the start. With 6,000 participants this year, it was by far the largest group ride I've ever participated in.

At the start we had time to sip coffee and stay warm, get the bikes pulled together and tires topped off. About 30 minutes before the start I went to put on my shoes.

Where the heck are my shoes? Or my helmet for that matter.

Frantically pulling apart every nook and cranny of the well-packed Honda Pilot it soon became clear that neither shoes or helmet were with us in Santa Rosa. DOOM. So while the others went off to stage with the other riders, I was carefully adhering to the posted speed limit all the way down to the Hampton Inn, hoping I'd just left them by the door in my pre-dawn stupor.

Yep, there they were sitting neatly on the bed. Just as I'd left them. Almost insultingly perfect in their cheery placement.

As quickly as the overly "calm" elevator would carry me back down to the foyer I was out the door and back in the Honda, once again carefully proceeding in accordance with all California traffic laws on my way back to the start. It was now about 8:15, and while the ride had officially begun my group still had yet to start as they had positioned themselves in a rather humble position toward the back of the 6,000 carbonistas preparing their assault on King Ridge.

Using my internal compass as a guide...a tour guide for the back roads of Santa Rosa...I managed to get back to our parking spot, shoes on and rolling by about 8:30. Lucky for me, even with all the riders well up the road there were still a few onlookers on the sidewalk to give me a courtesy cheer with a lone cowbell as I went immediately into full Time Trial mode to try and catch on. Nothing better on a cool morning than taking the old cardio system right up to threshold. Thank goodness for the hotel's 'perk me up' dark blend and an ample helping of adrenaline.

13 minutes solo, almost to the second, till I made contact with the back of the pack and found Lynn and Beth. They were slowing down to wait for me, but I was full-bore, in-the-zone and blew right by. But we managed to connect up a little further down the road, say goodbye to Lynn as she was doing the shorter (but still challenging) Piccolo route, and head off in our little two-person paceline to try and catch the main group.

Little talking, just the rhythmic swish of the chain on the big ring and the occasional 'on your left' as we started passing folks.

Back on track...

Monday, August 30, 2010

What's Shakin'

My parents celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary this past weekend. A remarkable achievement for them and a delicious (can't keep Mom from cooking, even for 50 guests) dinner for our family and friends down in Los Angeles.

Rather than whizzing down I-5 in our Honda Pilot, it was my fabulous idea to take the Sunrader, stopping at Pismo Beach for an overnight on the way down and camping at the beautiful Malibu RV park for the night following the party.

That was a lot of driving. Again. You'd think I'd learn.

We took Hwy 101 from the Bay Area to Pismo Beach on Friday afternoon. 101 is still in much better condition than I-5, and the gently winding trip down through Salinas and Paso Robles is much more picturesque to boot. While it is a longer trip, it is far more forgiving on the kids riding over the 1-ton axle in the back.

We arrived about 10pm at the Oceano South campground at Pismo. Set just behind the dunes, the site is pancake flat and wide open, but makes up for it with the fact that the beach is just a short walk away down a sandy trail. And leveling the rig using just the rear airbags is pretty awesome too, especially since we arrived late.

As noted, we pulled into Oceano around 10pm, leveled and brushed teeth, then went to bed. The kids had already been snoozing on the back bed anyway, so it was a relatively (not too much wrestling required) smooth process to get to sleep.

Bright and early Saturday morning we were up. Beth and I grabbed a quick walk to see the beach before getting the kids set with bagels and brewing a pot of coffee. With a couple of hours in the rig to go before a planned trip to the beach and on to my parents house, we had to hustle (though we did manage a stop for a 'proper' coffee on the way out of town).

One of the always wonderful parts of any adventure in the Sunrader is the people you meet on the road. Lucky for us (ok, for me) this trip was no different. As we passed the big rock at the Ventura county line on Hwy 1, I spotted the supercamper. Wow. Ryan and Holly have a very cool little rig, completely home made. Ryan graciously gave me a tour of the coach, which in every way represents the comfortable practicality of a professionally engineered design. Unlike the particleboard cabinets of the Sunrader, the Supercamper is made entirely of Nida Core honeycomb laminate. In person the exterior and interior of the Supercamper is slick and clean, and I'm sure with the fiberglass and aluminum joins they used it will be solid for a good long time.

We took the opportunity for lunch overlooking the ocean. The Pacific is stunningly beautiful north of Malibu, with little in the way of buildings or civilization. The view at the big rock is among the more beautiful of this part of the coast.

My parent's 50th was a lovely evening, and afterwards we trucked back up into Malibu to the RV park. The view off the back of our campsite was fantastic, even at 10pm, and the hookups were well sorted and well taken care of. Off to sleep in a new town.

Morning in Malibu was beautiful. Opening the rear windows to see the calm ocean, a few kayakers going by as the mist lifted over the ocean, and within a few minutes hummingbirds on the red flowers of the hedgerow behind the rig.

A perfect morning to lay about, make breakfast and just enjoy the view. And from the park it is a short hike down the hill to the beach too... so tempting.

But we were committed to breakfast back down in Pacific Palisades so it was a quick up and shower (smokin hot water, yeah!) before disconnecting and driving the 20 minutes back south. Breakfast with my parents was wonderful, so well worth it. Oh, and the Charlie Mackenzie inspired coffee cups (the size of my head) didn't hurt a bit.

So what's shakin?
On the way back, Beth offered to drive. We took I-5 to try and shave some time off the journey. It had been a ton of driving to grab two meals with family down in LA, so we were a little anxious to get home. Duncan opted for shotgun for part of the trip, so I took a place in the back. That gave me a chance to see what all moves around and makes a racket while we're cruising down the highway. The Sunrader is pretty quiet on a smooth road, which would be fine if we lived someplace where they actually DO road maintenance. But California is the land of the pothole monsters, so I-5 has sections with massive distortions in the aging concrete plates. Fine in the 2004 Honda Pilot unit-body SUV, but kaBOOM in the old 1990 1-Ton Toyota.

The rear cabinet that houses the kitchen sink and stove is, alas, done for. The whole thing shivers and rattles too much, and a good jolt makes it come to life like an excited cartoon character. The old particle board wasn't good when it was new, and now it is distorted and weak enough that I don't see much alternative to building a whole new cabinet.

So now in the off hours I daydream about cabinet design. And of course, if I'm replacing THAT cabinet, it would be smart and simple to replace the face boards underneath the seats in the back of the coach. They're just as old and worn out as the cabinet and, really, it wouldn't take much to cut new ones and it will be much easier to do with the kitchen cabinet out... Now about the cabinet for the refrigerator...

Maybe I just want a project for the off season... that could be it.

And next time, for a down and back like that, we'll take the Honda.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Bit o' Polish

Most of my time thus far has been spent on restoring the inside of the Sunrader, making it livable and workable for five of us at this year's Tour of California. Just made it.

This weekend, I got back to work on the exterior. I had gone over the whole coach with a restorer-polish and took the opportunity to completely wash it down again before starting on wax. Rather than try and wash the rig again in the driveway under the relentless California summer sun, I took it up to a local self-serve/coin-op car wash. The rig just fits in a bay, and the pressure washer and long brush make scrubbing things down quite a bit easier.

Those pressure washers are also great for cleaning out underneath, in the wheel wells, etc. Much better than my wimpy garden hose and not as paint-peeling powerful as a real pressure washer.

As I washed it down, I was worried about water getting in around the front windows, but the seal work by RV Doctor George was watertight. I think they have the technique right for those front windows, pulling the center strip out of the rubber gasket and injecting sealant between both the fiberglass and the gasket and the window and the gasket. So far, so good.

And after a pocket full of tokens, we drove away down the freeway for a 65mph air-dry.

Ok, I'll admit it. That isn't the whole story.

There were two trips to the car wash. On the first trip, I underestimated the cash required to completely clean the Sunrader and I ran out of time with foamy soap still covering a good part of the coach. So yeah, I was that guy... driving down the freeway in a Sunrader that looked like it had a bad case of rabies. It happens.

Second wash completed and back at home, I got out the buffer/polisher and some new foam pads from Meguiars. It takes a good long while to go over the whole rig (I still have the roof to do) but the sponge cutting and polishing pads are supple enough to handle most of the curves and corners. Much better than the wool/synthetic pads that came in the box with the polisher.

Now with a complete coat of wax the gelcoat has a nice shine to it. Not quite new, but pretty darn close. Next thing on my cosmetic list is the aluminum window frames. The years have worn away some of the black paint and they're looking pretty dull. But it will be a big project to remove, repaint and reseal them.

New shocks might go on first. KYB Monomax are the current favorite, with more research to do.

Either way it is good to have a long list.

Saturday, July 10, 2010


A child will fly a kite on a windless day; running back and forth across the lawn over and over again while the flying machine flails rather helplessly behind. I imagine the kite wondering, "for goodness sake, why can't we wait for even the slightest breeze to do this?"

But one day, it clicks. The kite finds purchase in the air and zigzag sprints turn to thoughtful tugs on the line. The kite climbs, and the pilot learns to coax it higher and higher till the string has run out and the spruce and tissue are just a diamond speck in the sky.

There is a purity in the balance of the kite and the pilot.

The kite wants to fly, its pull almost relentless, but without an anchor it will just flutter and drift back to the ground. The forces on each end of the string are strong, but the system is frail.

I watched that frailty in my son last night. In his summer before middle school, he's on the cusp of taking flight on his own. Making decisions, managing consequences, challenging the sky above him. And then all at once, seemingly without warning, crashing down again.

I imagine him looking down from up there and wondering, "for goodness sake, what happened to the people holding the string."

We're here pal. Promise.

image credit

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Red Zone

The Toyota 3VZE V-6 of 1990 doesn't compare to a more contemporary powerplant. Its 3 liters promise a little over 140 horsepower, more comparable to a 2010 econobox than a pickup truck. That means on any sort of incline, the 3VZE has to spin fast to develop enough power to pull the Sunrader up hill. Climbing the Grapevine on Interstate 5 a few weeks ago, we were down into second gear to maintain 45-50 mph.

And I was watching the temperature gauge. High revs, heavy loads and slow speeds are all ingredients for overheating -- something that almost never happens anymore in modern automobiles. The little Toyota didn't disappoint, and while the needle moved substantially higher on the scale it never once approached the red zone. This after more than 100k miles of service. Chalk it up to reasonable care and maintenance by previous owners, and fresh coolant.

Today I took a bike ride in the mid-day heat. That is something I typically avoid, but after a late start and a tire change on the Serotta, it was after 11am when I set out. What had been predicted to be a day in the high 80s turned into more than 100 degrees F indicated on our back patio.

Last summer, on a similarly hot day, I got about 30 miles into a 40 mile ride. In spite of carrying extra water and being diligent about drinking, I hit the red zone and had to stop. Completely. It was the first and only time I've ever called home for a ride. And it took a few hours back at the house to actually recover.

Today, I used some human coolant called EFS, similar to Gatorade but with a better electrolyte content, at least for me. I had good legs, which is surprising considering my lack of training this season, but remembering last summer I was cautious through the entire ride. In spite of my legs feeling good, any time I upped my effort on a climb or a strong acceleration I almost immediately overheated.

And the signs were obvious.

Normal human response to heat is, obviously, to sweat. And for body hair to lay flat -- at least according to the small amount of research I did online after my ride. Today on the road as my core temperature climbed, so did the hairs on my arms. Straight up. Kinda like that temperature gauge going into the red zone. And I got the chills.

Now apparently that little signal is the beginning of the skin's evaporative cooling system starting to shut down. The human equivalent of steam slipping out from under the hood.

This year I knew enough to pull over and find some shade, drink, and add coolant. It was definitely a day in the red zone. But I made it, so I have that going for me which is nice. Now to work on the horsepower. Or at least the power to weight ratio.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Fathers' Day

Few plans, but good ones, for today. This morning, Duncan took me for a bike ride up to the Peet's coffee shop in Danville, Ca. It is as close to an East Bay cycling Mecca as you can get, and by the time we arrived mid-morning the entire patio was filled with riders (and bikes) basking in the sun. At 10, Duncan is really coming into his own on the bike, riding on the side of relatively busy roads and keeping a confident, straight line over almost 15 miles of riding. And he actually admitted to me AFTER the ride that he enjoyed it... hmmmm. We may have to keep this going for the summer.

I needed a replacement as the 'treadwear indicator' on my back tire (i.e. the beltweave) had started to show. Whoops. Pegasus in Danville doesn't carry the Specialized Armadillos I have come to love (3,000 miles without a flat) so they talked me into a similar Continental tire that they swear rides better and provides good protection. Armadillo or Ultra Gator. We shall see.

I may regret the convenience later!

I just read an interesting article via Yahoo news (yes, not the bastion of high-quality information but this was a re-post of a U.S. News and World Report piece) that listed some of the top places in the world you could retire and live well on just your U.S. Social Security check. Assuming those checks will still be coming by the time I'm eligible (Gartner 0.5 probability for my enterprise software friends).

I think I'd pick Cuenca, Ecuador. Mild climate, high mountains, rivers and multiple universities...the feel of a European city with a history that goes back 10,000 years.


The big question is whether the roads are decent for bicycles...worth thinking about. I wonder how long it takes to get to the coast...

This afternoon the kids are taking me to go see Toy Story 3 on the IMAX. It is our first movie at the theater together in a LONG time. And then a burger afterwards.

Yep, it is Fathers' day.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

ToC 2010

Just wanted to share a few pictures from the Tour of California 2010.

Monday, May 24, 2010

First Trip

One in the books. Whew!

I'll just say up front that the driving-to-vacationing ratio was a little off on this one. We left home at about 6pm to get from the Bay Area down to our camp site in Big Bear. 9 hours of driving under the wheels and we pulled into site #17 at Pine Knot at 3am. It turns out that the camp ground was about a block away from the finishing straight for the Big Bear stage of the Tour of California. Ha! Happy coincidence.

As planned, we were up at the crack-of-way-too-early-for-a-vacation the next morning to go meet some friends and stake out a spot on the final climb where we could get a good view of the bike race. Leveled out, awning cranked, coffee and pancakes wrangled and we were kings of the mountain on the side of Hwy 18. Everything was working flawlessly except the coach battery had discharged completely on the road down (must not be getting a charge back there) so we were constantly getting an undervolt alarm from the propane sensor. Just enough charge to run the water pump now and again, thank goodness :).

We waited for the road to close, and as I was off doing something in the back of the rig, one of the kids shouted "hey Dad, there goes another Sunrader." So what are the odds that it would be parked in Pine Knot #16 when we got back later that evening? (Thanks for coming by to say 'Hi!' Henry... great to meet you!). After another night in the campground and a breakfast at iHOP (they put the calories on the menu now. WOW, you could fuel a small city on a stack of chocolate chip pancakes) we headed down to LA to watch the ToC time trial. Thank goodness we can fit into a standard parking place, because it was a zoo down at the Staples Center.

I love watching the Time Trial... such a brutal effort. All mind versus pain for 45 minutes on a machine that is pretty unforgiving. The dragster of bikes. Great for straight lines and getting power to the ground, but handling, notsomuch. The wind was gusting enough at times that it would just whack riders sideways when it hit those rear disc wheels, especially as they passed by an intersection and a space between the skyscrapers.

Dinner (after proper, indoor-plumbing-based-showers) was at the lovely La Bruschetta on Westwood Blvd. Terrific food, wonderful staff and a great time with friends.

Sunday morning we were off again, having boondocked in our friends' driveway for the night. Up to Kanan road and Mulholland drive to watch the final circuit race of the 2010 ToC. We found a perfect spot, just beyond the KOM and unfolded the chairs beneath some truly spectacular blue Southern California skies.
So if you've ever wondered how close you can get to the action in pro bike racing, this picture about sums it up. I was using an 18-70mm lens, crouching on the side of the road and the guys came by within 6-8 inches. Amazing. The final stage was a 4 lap circuit, so we got to see plenty of racing, including some amazing attacks. Now these guys go uphill as fast as normal people go downhill, but when they attack it is almost unbelievable. On the final lap, Chris Horner (center) of team Radio Shack, along with a rider from the Garmin team, took it up another big notch and just departed from the front of the main group. It looked effortless and just really, really fast. Unlike ToCs past where the final day was more of a parade lap for the winner, there was some real jockeying for position in this one which made it more fun to watch. George Hincapie in the red white and blue of the U.S. Pro road champion made it a race to the end, coming in 2nd for the day.
But ultimately, this blog is supposed to be about the Sunrader. Hmmm... a quick review, perhaps. Certainly not a flawless trip by any stretch of the imagination. Interstate 5 is a terrific way to get down California in a luxury car above the speed limit. But it is so trashed by semi-tractors that pushing the rig to 75 with the occasional mighty pothole just isn't a whole lot of fun. Next time, 101 is the choice along with a more leisurely travel schedule.

The Grapevine was a nice adventure. We kept 45-50 all the way up, which is pretty impressive given 100k miles on an engine that at best is 130hp, all loaded up with the camper and 5 of us. And we did keep a pretty easy 70mph on the flats -- with 13mpg. All the appliances worked perfectly. I'm most impressed with the propane option on the fridge. Easy to light, and uses hardly any LPG at all to keep things ice cold. Love that. Oh, and roadside pancakes also rule.

The trip back up 101 was much nicer. The road is generally smoother, lacking as it does the caravans of tractor trailers. However, it was as windy as I've ever experienced. We had gusts of easily 40 mph coming across the road, sometimes shifting directions very quickly. That beats caffeine for keeping you alert. But the rig holds the road just fine, and the steering is light enough so things stayed reasonably relaxed. It seems to me that by avoiding the Grapevine and having a smoother surface the difference in distance/time is about a wash. It was certainly a less wearing journey on the way back.

And how amazing to run into ANOTHER Toyota Motorhome owner in Buellton, CA while stopping for some dinner. I was just checking the oil and a fella walks up to me to make sure everything is okay. Turns out he has an Odyssey of his own but loves the 'leak-free' idea of the Sunrader (I set him straight about my front windows, but he assured me I had nothing to complain about).

All in all a great trip. A few too many rattles, a few to much banging and washboarding (new shocks may get to the top of the list soon) but lots of fun.

Lots more pictures that I'll have to get up in an album soon.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

New Commission

Soon we launch the Sunrader on the first trip of its new commission. There is still plenty of work to do, lots of bits and pieces as I've said, but it is well and truly roadworthy now.

I got a little behind on things like picking out fabric for new curtains, so I took a chance on some black RIT dye from the supermarket and ran the old ones through the wash. As you may notice, the curtains from the rear window did not survive the process. 20 years of sun exposure will do that to you! But the rest came through in sort of a taupe-tinged charcoal that looks decent enough to work for now. I'm thinking something in a cycling print for the final window coverings...

This week was about lots of finish work. Replacing the cutting board to fit into the left sink, reattaching cabinet doors and adjusting latches, finding an after-market latch to hold the fridge shut while underway. Thanks to the folks at Allied Trailer in San Leandro for lots of help and suggestions. The Web is great, but people who know their stuff are the real deal.

I also went through all the major systems. Hot water is back online, the fridge works on all three power sources (phew) and the stove lights up like a champ. Water flows. Tanks empty.

I'm sure we're going to overload with too much stuff and still pull out of the driveway with one or two things (hopefully not tools) that we'll need along the road. We have a great time watching the so I'm looking forward to catching some time with the kids for that, and meeting up with cycling buddies on the road too. Hmmm, may have to put the bike on the back of the rig for this trip. I suppose that wast he whole point anyway.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Packin Up

Not quite done with the rig yet, but the Tour of California awaits. This week I've been reassembling things. The stove is back in and reconnected, hot and cold running water is running (and draining) properly, and all the lights are back in place.

I also finished up the trim around the new floors (the angles were all something different from 90 degrees, so my mitering was more puttying...) and touched up some paint here and there. Still many bits and pieces to do.

I installed two fire extinguishers as well, one just inside the coach door and the other opposite it inside the main utility box. I then quickly kicked and broke the plastic mount for the one in the coach. Perfect! On to plan B...

I also finally got to fixing the big pots-n-pans drawer slide, which had been attached and reattached to the outside wall of the rig at least a half a dozen times over the years. A new plywood mount for the drawer slide with 4 #10 screws should last a little least.

This weekend, we'll test fit all the gear: sleeping bags, cookware, plates, etc. (reading avidly all the RV lists out there on the web) and see what new storage bins we'll need. We'll also be fitting out all the plastic drawers with new cushioned liners to help keep the road noise down. Even with all the cosmetic work, the Sunrader still finds all the bumps on a rough road. Hopefully we won't have to hear the silverware all the way down the road!

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

The End of Carpet

I have about a quarter can of Dap solvent-based contact adhesive if anyone needs some.

I've learned a lot more than I ever planned about auto upholstery in the project. Thankfully, making new friends in the process. I wouldn't hesitate to re-carpet one of these little motorhomes again. In fact, I think that next time I might be a bit more aggressive about gutting the coach before I started the refurbishing.For those who haven't done this before, I thought it might be useful to provide a bit of how-to and show just how simple this material is to apply.
First off, the right kind of carpet for the job is key. My upholstery shop hooked me up with a carpet that acts just like felt. You can stretch it a long way in all dimensions in order to fit odd shapes and corners -- a must for things like the cab-to-coach interface.
In this case, I was finishing up the rim of the rear dinette couches where the table rests to form the back bed. A couple of strips of carpet get a thin coat of contact cement. I rough cut the pieces to width and length (you can always stretch them a bit later) and just used an old paintbrush to apply the glue. Keeping the can closed or, better yet, using a paint pot for a small amount, is important. The solvent evaporates out of the glue very quickly, especially on a warm day, and you can wind up with a gunky mess. The recommendation for cleanup is gasoline, so I try to avoid that as much as possible. An orange-based mechanics hand cleaner takes the glue off skin just fine.The plywood gets a coat of glue too. A good layer will leave it shiny. Note that this stuff will instantly remove latex paint. Foom. I have some touching up to do.

Once it dries, it is time to bring the two pieces together. It takes a bit of care because once they touch they want to be together forever. It is possible to reposition things if the contact is minimal, but once you start smoothing things down you're pretty well committed so start at one end, or in the middle, and work your way across keeping things smooth and straight.There's a pretty good gap between the cabinet top and the top edge of the bed support, so it is pretty easy to tuck in the carpet with a finger. There are lots of places in the rig, such as the overhead steel supports or the back bulkhead where tucking in the carpet took some careful working with an old (well rounded) screwdriver. Tedious, but worthwhile.

All done.

I've put some more photos of other areas I covered with this material in the album. Again, it is pretty forgiving to work with. We'll see how it holds up over time.

I Need One of These

This restoration is part cash, part grunt work, part repair work, part staple removal, and part putty-n-paint (making up for my lack of carpentry skills). It is also a bit of a scavenger hunt. Thankfully, parts for the Toyota chassis are readily available and the major appliances are all fairly standard across the mini-RV spectrum. A couple of things are a little tricky, though. The Bargman 1400 tail lights are no longer manufactured, but the lenses are out there on the web (and are on my list) so I'm planning to restore the existing housings. That's for a later date.

What I'm looking for right now is this.

My Sunrader came with a Carefree Freedom retractable awning. Remarkably, the awning is still in pretty good condition, with just one small tear in a corner that looks reasonably repairable. This worm gear, however, is kaput. It is an uncomplicated part, and all it does is turn vertical twist from the crank handle into horizontal twist for reeling the awning in and out.

But Carefree doesn't stock 20 year old parts. Drat. So I've spent a few hours doing Web-based spelunking and it looks as though I could probably source a shipping container full of them from China if I were inclined to start my own awning business. I've yet to find any parts, however, that I could even consider modifying to fit the job.
Next step? I'm trying one of the handful of RV salvage yards and dismantlers in hopes that they have something close. In the meantime, I can use an old 1/2" socket wrench. Hopefully they won't send us to the back of the campground!

Saturday, April 17, 2010

A Bunch of Bunk

After a few weeks off for a trip to Northstar for some phenomenal spring skiing (truth be told, the conditions were phenomenal but my skiing was middling at best) and some business in London, it is back to the Sunrader for more fit and finish.

The looming project for the past few weeks has been the carpeting of the overcab bunk. Lots of corners, wrapping, edges, tucking and fiddling to do. Up till this morning, I had the excellent excuse that the water-based contact cement I had on hand was worthless or at the very least more time consuming and temperature sensitive than my patience will tolerate. Easily solved by a trip to OSH.

I started by rough cutting the carpet to fit the bunk area and the passenger-side truck/coach interface. This is a big piece of carpet, and pretty unwieldy, but the hope is obviously to minimize seams and overlaps. This carpet works a lot like felt -- it is extremely flexible and stretches easily.
With the rough cut done, I started under the front windows with a light coat of contact adhesive and worked down to where the bunk area flattens out. With the carpet folded toward me, I brushed glue on the back of the first third of the fabric. The glue takes a few minutes to set up. After that, it is just a matter of smoothing it carefully from the middle out to the edges. The willingness of the fabric to stretch makes it easy to work in some of the odd corners in the Sunrader, and the glue is plenty tacky to hold it once the two surfaces meet.
Once the first section was attached, I folded the rest of the carpet back on itself and worked my way toward the back of the coach, gluing a bit at a time.

The step was much easier to work than I'd expected. First i cut a piece that would fit over all sides of the step, applied some glue and stretched it into place. It isn't perfect, as there are some little wrinkles, but they're very hard to find. Basically the material fit over the wood block like a piece of plastic wrap. Having covered the step, I then just cut the main carpet to form a perimeter around the step. Voila, a seamless covering that almost looks molded to the step. Hopefully it will be durable enough to handle the kids going up and down. Maybe we'll start a shoes OFF policy in the rig. That sounds like a good idea to me.

I think i mentioned previously that the original shag (I wonder whether the words 'original' and 'shag' really belong side by side...) had been attached to the Toyota plastic moulding with about a dozen stainless steel wood screws. It left the plastic looking like it was full of bullet holes. During the last visit to the upholstery shop, Mike went ahead and covered the plastic with carpet.


That makes it possible to wrap the carpet from the bunk right around and tuck it in between the moulding and the rear of the cab. I love these little details.

Tomorrow I'll finish up wrapping the carpet around the inside of the "U" opening and glue all that in place. It is a bit tricky because of the two inside corners, but I think it will be tidy enough to pass inspection. After that, it will be on to the little bits and pieces of carpet that cover various parts of the ceiling, the supports, the entry door surround. Anywhere they could make a staple stick.
For now, I think this is a very nice improvement on the original entryway.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Easter is a Time For...

Aluminum stair edges and contact cement...

While Mike works on the new cushions for the dinette and the front bunk, my job is to get the rest of the carpeting finished. Today I focused on covering the two rear benches, which was actually a very easy little project. The contact cement is simple to work with, as is the carpet -- although as the afternoon warmed up the glue started tacking up a little too quickly. I just rough cut the carpet, coated both parts with glue, waited a few minutes and then smoothed the carpet on. On the front edge, I tucked it around for a neat finish. As simple as that. (I added some more project photos to the slideshow for anyone who is interested.)

Oh, did I mention that before I started I pulled out all the remaining staples? Yep. More staples.

With the benches covered, the back really looks sharp. I used new stainless steel screws with countersink washers to hold the panels in place. Hopefully they won't cause too much wear on the cushions, but I don't see any way around them because the luan just isn't very strong unless it is held in tension.
Duncan spent some time clearing carpet and staples off the 2x4 that holds the coach door strike. I love it when he lends a hand, but he probably doesn't think much of peeling off filthy shag. Today he was game and he did a great job.

At this point, I ran out of glue. A quick trip to Home Depot had that solved, or so I thought, until I got home and realized that the only type of DAP contact cement they carried is the water based version. Gasp. Unless I have significantly better (read "any") luck with it tomorrow, I'll call it a complete bust. The solvent-based glue reeks up a storm and gives a nice dip to the IQ if you stand too close, but it dries almost as quickly as I can work and sticks tight. The water based stuff...not so much. There went my goal of at least starting on the floor of the overcab bunk.

Instead, I opted to fit some aluminum stair edge to the cab-coach interface and to the lip of the entry step. It is thin and easy to work with using a hack saw and a drill. I used some longer stainless screws to hold it in place where there was a good substrate of chip board, and the included spiraled tacks in the middle. Hopefully it will stay in place just fine.

On the step I added some Gorilla glue since it seems to do a pretty good job of metal-on-wood. Now all that's left is figuring out a way to fill the space between the hardwood and the door frame. I haven't got that quite sorted out yet.

Through the whole project, I've been enjoying the new stereo. It sounds fabulous and I have it wired to easily connect up with the iPhone. The only problem is that the truck battery seems to run down awfully fast. Even though it cranks the truck powerfully and reliably, I think it may be heading towards end of life.

Bikes are so much simpler...

Oh, and Gonzo came for a visit today after the sun came out. I suppose this was his way of calling me a fool for not spending the day in the garden...

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

New Seats!

Just went over to the shop to pick up the Sunrader. The seats are done and the door panels are recovered to match. Wow, what a difference. The interior looks close to new now. More pictures as I get a chance in the daylight.

Next steps are some carpet on the back benches (under where the rear dinette cushions go) and to finish the lip/transition between the laminate floor and the carpet at the back of the cab.
Then lots more painting of cabinet doors, the ceiling above the front bunk, and eventually the rest of the carpet up there. But it sure is coming along.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

The Importance of Patterns

Today I finally got back on the program, and on the bike, and got in a 40 miler over Calaveras Road before lunch time. It is a privilege to live in such a beautiful place, and the road up past the reservoir is spectacular in spring. Indian Paintbrush, Vetch, California Poppies and Shooting Stars line the road climbing up out of the canyon, and there is a mating pair of Bald Eagles that returns each year to a huge nest atop one of the power transmission lines.

Last year I saw their fledgling testing its wings on the edge of the nest. It is a bit like a 747 hopping on its landing gear, as even the juveniles are huge birds. This year the couple apparently have two babies in the nest. I was only able to glimpse the head of one of the adults sitting watch as we rode by, but there are a few folks with long lenses that capture amazing images each season.


Having installed most of the jute yesterday, I spent this afternoon cutting and fitting the portion of the carpet that runs over the top of the wrap-around windows. Call it good thinking or good fortune, but I had yet to throw away the original fabric that covered the same space. I pinned it down to the new carpet as a pattern and cut everything out.

I applied contact cement to the interior wall of the cabover, then to the back of the carpet. Starting at the bottom between the two windows, I carefully positioned and smoothed the carpet into place. Fortunately the material is very forgiving for the amateur -- it stretches or compacts almost like a poly felt -- so I was able to pretty much make it do what i needed. A couple of times i got an area bunched up together sort of like a bundle of clingfilm, but with some gentle tugging it all came apart and smoothed out nicely.

I measured 12 inches back from the opening of the forward vent and put a pencil line across the ceiling for reference. To finish off the carpet, I just folded it over and put a line of staples through it into the Luan. On each side, i trimmed back the carpet to leave enough overage to stuff into the gap between the side panel and the ceiling. A blunt, flat screwdriver worked nicely even in the tight spots.

The finished product looks great but it isn't perfect -- there are a couple of tiny gaps between the window gasket and the carpet where I didn't quite notice it soon enough. I may just use a sharpie to blacken the fiberglass behind but I think I'll be the only one who will notice anything.

The rig goes back to the Upholstery shop in the morning for a few more measurements and the start on door panels and cushions. And now the cab needs a thorough vacuuming to get up all the stray bits of jute that seem to float around like dandelion fluff whenever I work with it.

We'll see how much work Mike can get done on things this week, as I know the Porsche in his shop is still at the front of the line. Meanwhile, I need to get back into the pattern of riding 2-3x a week so that there's actually a point in having this rig. It is for cycling trips after all and if my sluggish legs are any indication there is plenty of room for improvement before we go anywhere.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Carpet Time

After a few discussions with Mike from Tri-Valley Auto Interiors, I am off to the races with the overhead bunk carpeting project. Mike assured me it was more time consuming than complicated, and ordered up some very flexible and easy-to-work-with carpet to match the cab. He's going to do the seats and the door panels. The rest is mine. I have to say working with quality people is just a pleasure, and we're lucky to have Mike around here. Not only is his work respected by the automotive community in the area, he's just good people. He sent me home with one of his staple guns and an air hose so I could work on the rig this weekend without going to the rental yard. Who does that anymore?

Glue and Jute

First step was a final cleaning of the fiberglass surface -- just another wipe-down -- and scraping off the remaining foam padding from the ceiling panel above the wraparound windows. Easy stuff.

Next comes the jute padding.

It's worthwhile to note the original carpet installation -- the heretofore mentioned shaggus repulsivus -- was house carpet and had been installed as such. It was held in place at the perimeter of the upper bunk by staples and little plywood strips. Those strips were attached with screws into the Luan panels along the sidewalls and into the wooden frame at the cab/coach interface. It is hard to imagine any actual 'design' involved in the installation, more a 'make it work with more screws, leftover plywood and more staples.'

To paraphrase Bruce Dickinson, "I've got a fever and the only more staples."

I have removed all those little bits of plywood and instead am opting for contact adhesive to hold everything in place. The jute is easy to work with -- cuts with scissors and stretches or compresses just like felt to fit into place. I did the large flat area in two halves by cutting the jute to fit, then folding it over and coating first the fiberglass and then the jute itself with the contact glue. 15 minutes to dry and i could roll it carefully out to make contact and press it into place. (Thank goodness for the Fantastic Vent and the air conditioner fan...the fumes are significant) I left a little extra jute along the outside edge to tuck underneath the Luan. Even though there are some remaining holes and fractures in the Luan, I think it will make for a nice finish in the end.
To complete the job, I just duplicated the same approach on the other side. The contact cement is a bit more forgiving with the jute than I've experienced with things like laminate, so there is some ability to reposition a piece if it isn't quite right.
Around the rim of the cab interface, I wanted to have some better cushioning so I cut two strips of scrap carpet and tacked them around the edge with the staple gun. For the vertical panel by the door with the step, i cut a panel of the same scrap carpet to fit, then contact cemented it into place. I used scrap carpet rather than jute primarily because it was a little easier to work with on a vertical surface.

I was able to tuck the edges under the original plastic trim in the cab of the truck. If only the Sunrader folks had done it this way and avoided the 20 holes in the trim that formerly held stainless steel screws.

I've yet to figure out a remedy for this, so I may wind up using screws myself, though with the black low pile carpet I'll opt for black fasteners instead of silver. TBD.
The final carpet is charcoal that matches the molded kit in the cab below. I rolled it out for a look tonight and I think it will be pretty sharp. A nice upgrade. I added a few more pictures into the album tonight, so you can see it there.

I'm a bit concerned about the challenge of cutting it to fit precisely around the front windows. While the carpet cuts easily with a pair of scissors, I can't decide whether I'd be better off creating a pattern out of paper, then cutting it out on a tarp on the driveway. I suppose the alternative is to just do it all in place, but that seems a bit dodgy. I kept the thin covering that originally went up around those windows when I did the demo, so I may use it as a template... hmmmm...


The GoodGuys show is in town this weekend at the Alameda County Fairgrounds so Duncan and I went over to take a look at some hot rods and talk to the folks at Meguiar's about the best polishing strategy for the fiberglass. I haven't ever owned anything big enough to justify a power polisher before, and I wanted to get some pointers from the pros before I go rent (or invest in) one and wreck something.

So this morning while normal people were having coffee, I was polishing the side of the Meguiar's truck. Piece of cake. I'm going to give their RV/Marine kit a try and I think the local tool rental folks actually have some decent car polishers, so we'll see if we can make the coach shine again. I'm sure everyone has a point of view as to who has the best products for polishing or restoring this or that, but every time I visit the Meguiar's display at GoodGuys there are nice folks there who genuinely believe in their products, know how they work and are excited to tell me how to use them successfully. Good business.

And I'm excited to give it a try. The 'rader didn't look too bad after a basic wash, so I think there's still good life in the gelcoat and it might just come out looking good. AFTER I get the carpet done. With this project, there are so many bits and pieces it is easy to get distracted with fun stuff.

The Stove
I'm almost ready to finish up with the stove. The opening where it sits has a plywood frame. I think I mentioned it before. The strips of plywood are simply siliconed to the underside of the fiberglass counter to provide better rigidity and support the weight of the oven. While ultimately I'm going to replace the cabinet altogether, and with it the countertop, I managed to clean and re-silicone the old plywood back into place (note to anyone who cares, Liquid Nails was a BAD first choice even though I had an old tube on the shelf). Now that its cured, I'll get the fully cleaned-up stove back into place and test the gas line for leaks. That part of the project can be put to bed.

Tomorrow. More carpet.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

New Carpet

What a difference.
The new carpet went into the cab this week and it looks fabulous. While it isn't an OEM color, we picked a nice charcoal (it really is charcoal, even though the photos make it look a little red) that complemented the grays and blacks in the stock interior and Mike @ Tri Valley Auto Interiors ordered a fully molded kit from the carpet manufacturer. While I elected to go without Dynamat on the cab floor, it is still noticeably quieter and i think it will further improve when we get the door panels redone.Now I have to hustle and get some floormats before I go and mud-up this nice new carpet... a 20-year-old rig is starting to have that "new car" smell in place of the "old shag" smell. Quite an improvement. And with the return of the SUN (we were in doubt for a while) the difference made by the paint on the interior walls and cabinets is profound.

I'm taking the rig back to the interior shop this week to start work on the seats, door panels and the rear cushions. We had to track down some 80-inch-wide carpet to work in the upper bunk, but that's now in stock. I'm assuming there is a good approach to make the join in the back of the cab -- some bit of upholstery guru magic -- I'll post that when I find out. I have some aluminum step edging to go between the edge of the laminate flooring and the carpet, but we may change that idea too if there is a smoother interface. TBD.

One item I have yet to track down is new plastic sleeves for the buckle-ends of the front seat belts. The sleeves are cracked and broken, so they look pretty awful and don't do a particularly good job of holding the buckles in place as designed. I'm thinking there must be something close out there, even if I can't track down the originals.

I've also been looking at working on the tail lights which, while functional are dimmer than modern units and SLOW to light. One of the folks on the forums has done restoration on these before -- they've long since been discontinued by Bargman, the manufacturer. I may opt for fabricating an adapter for a new LED set or find some new lenses (still available) and rewire the housing as he suggested here . It is amazing how many people truly love these little Toyota-based rigs and put so much effort into keeping them roadworthy.

And a little bummer
I had decided to keep the kitchen cabinets in place and use the original fiberglass counters for the time being, just so we could be on the road by the end of April for a shakedown run. We're planning to make our first real trip for the Tour of California in May. It is an annual trip that we usually do in our Honda Pilot with stops at some fun little (okay, cheap) motels along the way. Two or three years ago, we rented a 28 foot, Chevy-based class C RV for the trip instead and we had a blast (part of the reason we picked up the Sunrader this year).

All this is a long way around to say that as I was doing some fiddling with the plywood "support" strips that are siliconed to the underside of the fiberglass around the stove opening (yeah, I asked for it) I discovered they were too loose to be useful anymore. The silicone had just given out over all this time. So now I get to either cut a new support structure (the little strips of plywood in the original approach seem awfully half-a$ed to me) or just jump ahead and order the new laminate counter-top and move forward with that project. Decisions, decisions. As one poster on the forum put it, "I enjoy reading how the destruction bug possess ppl. Everything starts out mellow, then BAM! It's all in pieces!"

That about sums it up.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Quarter Round

As promised, here's the subwoofer and amplifier in place behind the driver's seat. I'll still tidy up the wires a bit, and I expect we'll carpet over the plywood too, but everything is basically where it belongs.

Back to the Floor

The laminate flooring now sits atop an underlayment of tiny Styrofoam beads sandwiched between two thin plastic sheets. Light, resilient and hopefully a nice way to quiet down the back of the coach. Since the floor floats on that underlayment, it gets held down all around the edges with some composite quarter-round that mostly matches the floor.

A home installation would likely get glued or use finishing nails to minimize any view of the fasteners. On the rig, however, I want to be able to easily take out the floor later in case I have some unforeseen maintenance or decide to take on some new cabinetry, etc. Every moment I spend patching the particleboard cabinet structures gets me more excited about just ripping them out, but that's a 2011 project at the soonest -- I want to get out on the road this summer.

In addition to the quarter round, I've started replacing the furnace vents which are now painted with that Rust Oleum hammered metal. The paint seems to adhere very well, so I'm encouraged to think they'll last a while. And the painted aluminum table mounts are back in place. I used a little bit of silicone on the subfloor and around the edge of the laminate flooring just to discourage any water from underneath. I know the mounts will get scuffed up quickly, but they'll also be easy to touch up later.

After cutting and fitting the quarter-round, I pre-drilled each length and used a countersink bit to remove enough material so that the brown painted deck screws will sit flush. They look a little bit utilitarian, but I happen to think that's just fine for an RV. As with the flooring itself, this is another opportunity to see the impact of twenty years on the road on anything that ever was a square corner. Every day it seems I encounter another situation that reminds me of This Old House. Not the contemporary show, mind you, but the one with Bob Villa back in the day. Maybe somebody else remembers how they'd inevitably discover that the whole foundation structure of the house was rotten and they'd somehow find a way to jack it all up and replace it from underneath without folding the place in half. Thank goodness the Sunrader is only 21 feet long!

I also did a bunch of the finish work on the entry step. Gorilla glue was what I had around, so that's what I used. I suppose proper wood glue might have been better to keep the kicker in contact with the riser, but since everything gets stainless steel screws (or painted deck screws) to hold it in place I think it will work out fine. I have plenty of those screws left over from the carpet removal.


I spent a few minutes today stitching in the new steering wheel cover from Wheelskins. So far as I can tell, they make the nicest semi-custom leather covers out there. Far better than the ones you can find at Kragen or Target, even if you do have to spend an hour snugging waxy thread through tiny holes. The fit is perfect, and they let you order just about any combination of colors too.

Mike is hoping to take the rig tomorrow or Monday to install the carpet kit in the cab, depending on his backlog. And I have to get the countertop out at some point to pass it over to Suba to make a new one. I'm thinking plywood substrate. I have enough particleboard already.