I'm fortunate to have really good friends.
Some folks are terrific at small talk and cocktails and big noisy parties. Me, I'm one for a bench on the back patio and a long conversation, or a favorite mexican restaurant with extraordinary agave libations. My friend Renee and I refer to this as "The Happy Place," and we return just regularly enough to ensure it is well maintained. But I digress.
Joe and I met a couple of dozen years ago as colleagues on our university newspaper. I'm sure he thinks that I was drawn to his dry humor and a shared taste in can't-tell-this-one-in-front-of-the-girls humor, but really it was his slammed Chevy S-10 that sealed the deal. Did I mention he's a writer? Respect. We reconnected almost 10 years ago over cycling. I can't recall, sitting here, what it was exactly but it was probably the first year of the Tour of California bike race. Regardless, we've watched it together, all over California, ever since.
Like me, Joe is an avid cyclist. He's a high-cadence guy, I'm a diesel, but we manage. He hides in my slipstream on the flats, then drops me on the hard climbs. Relationships are give and take like that.
Joe encouraged me to ride my first century. A hundo. Triple digits. And he had just the plan. A group of his friends were driving from LA to Portland to ride Reach the Beach. Long story short, it was a special weekend. New friends, a revelation on two wheels, sunshine and rolling Oregon green to a big-rock-beach sunset. I met Helene and Wes, Joe's riding companions in So Cal. By met I mean we spent days together in a Ford 12-passenger van. Over the next few years, we've gotten together to ride some great routes. Levi's Gran Fondo in Santa Rosa is a perennial favorite, as is our annual self-guided trip from LA to San Diego (SAG drivers always wanted). The combination of cycling, long conversations, great scenery and, most importantly, companionship, has made a huge difference in my life.
So in that context, it may actually make sense that Joe and Wes offered to come up for a weekend to help me work on my little Sunrader. We've used it as a basecamp during the ToC, but it has mostly been my weekend project for mental relaxation. I have had some amazing gifts in my life, but to have these guys drive most of a day each way just to do some finish carpentry for me...that's right at the top of the all time list.
So what did we work on?
As I've mentioned before, the cabinets in these RVs were designed for the showroom. Particleboard, glue and staples were the primary building material. In the 20 years since construction, the laminate facing became as much the primary structure as a decorative finish. In this Sunrader, the kitchen cabinet was in the worst shape of the lot. Heat, vibration and time have turned the particleboard into little more than tightly packed powder. Doors didn't close properly, latches couldn't be secured and the cabinet shimmied and squeaked while underway.
Demolition was a breeze. What fasteners remained weren't holding tight to much. Unsurprisingly, many had backed out of their intended anchor points long ago. The 2x4 support for one side of the cabinet was actually floating free under the sink. Quality optional?
The first task, per Joe's suggestion, was planning out the rough layout and location of the bulkheads that would support drawers and the countertop. 1/2-inch Birch plywood is the choice: easy to work with, stable and plenty strong. We opted for a drawer set from Ikea rather than building our own box and drawers, though we'll do that for the more unusually shaped boxes that will go under the sink.
We got the first bulkhead, by the entry door, fixed in place with wood screws into the door frame. To install the next three, a friend who is a boat builder recommends we either fiberglass cleats onto the side wall of the coach and the floor, or use the 3M 5200 adhesive to glue them into place.
It is amazing watching Joe and Wes work. The fabric of friendship is a powerful thing, bringing different perspectives to the table in highly constructive (oops) ways. Joe is the carpenter, but Wes is a problem solver. Joe knows the how and why of a face frame. Wes pays attention to the last 7 details I'd consistently overlook. One of the best parts of this experience, for me, was getting that sense of cohesion and combined achievement.
Next up is designing the second face frame and the under-sink drawers. I also need to be careful because I have a strong itch to tear into the other side of the interior and start reconfiguring the closet and inverter panel. One step at a time, one step at a time.
And hopefully Wes and Joe need another vacation sometime soon. And yes, we did get in a good bike ride up to the dam too...