Socrates wasn’t infallible

May 5th, 2014 by Rich Luhr

Introspection is good, in moderation.  “The greatest good for a man is to discuss virtue every day,” said Socrates, adding the famous statement that “the unexamined life is not worth living.”  These days blogging is the common man’s method of self-examination, revealing quite a bit about the bloggers to the world even if the bloggers themselves aren’t aware of it.

But there’s only so far you should follow the advice of a guy who has been dead for 2,400 years.  (Socrates himself made a point of the fact that he didn’t know everything, which he viewed as a slight advantage over people who think they know everything.)  So after about ten years of nearly constant blogging (first in the Vintage Thunder blog, then Tour of America, and now Man In The Maze), I finally got to a point where it felt better to be quiet for a while, and just enjoy life.  And that is the short explanation for the long absence of this blog.

Now it’s time to get back to it, because the Airstream is about to move and our plans have been laid for the next six months.  We have much to do, and many places to go.

First, we need to get up to Ohio for Alumapalooza.  This is the fifth year we’ve made this exact trip, and while Alumapalooza is always fun, we’re all getting a bit bored with the drive.  We have tried just about every route between Tucson AZ and Jackson Center OH, running anywhere from 1,900 miles to 2,400 miles one way.  Last year we were so desperate to have a change of scene that we went all the way east to the Great Smokies before heading north.  It was a good trip, but now our options for seeing new landscape will have to bring us up to North Dakota, and that’s just too far out of the way.

So I’ll find some things to see and do along the way that we have missed before.  Not sure what yet.  We may end up going off on weird little side trips, like our quest for “Forbidden Amish Donuts” a couple of years ago.  I’m open to suggestions.  (No giant balls of twine, please.)

After that, we will set up the Airstream in Vermont, and then I’ve got a two-week “adventure motorcycling” trip scheduled in June.  Three guys on BMW F650 bikes (3 of the 4 members of the former Black Flies gang) will wander up into Quebec, around the Gaspé Peninsula, through New Brunswick and northern Maine, basically seeing what there is to see.  I hope to spot a few puffins and get some nice photos of the scenery, but those are optional. My only real desires are to stay dry (it’s rainy up there) and avoid incidents.  With luck, my cell phone won’t work most of the time.

Late June gets really interesting.  Airstream is lending me a new Interstate motorhome for a couple of weeks.  This is a real privilege, because (a) the thing costs $140,000; (b) it’s super-cool.  My plan is to take it from Los Angeles up the coast to the SF Bay area, then back south through the desert, then via Palm Springs to I-8 and back to Tucson.  During the trip I want to meet as many Airstream Interstate owners as possible, so if you have one please let me know if you can cross paths between June 28 and July 7.

In July I’ll pay the price for all this fun by parking my butt in Tucson and working like a dog at the computer, and in August we’ll haul the Airstream back west—and right now I have no clue what route we’ll take for that.

In early September, Brett & I will be running Alumafandango in Canyonville OR.  That was great fun last year and I expect it will be even better this year.  We’ll have all-new seminars, more off-site tours, bicycling, all-new entertainment, and of course an Airstream display indoors.  Since we moved this event to September instead of August, the weather should be even better, too!  I’m told that early September is a spectacular time to be in southern Oregon.

And finally, in October we’ve got another trip on the drawing board, which (if it comes off) I’ll talk about later.

All of this moving around comes at a price, and I don’t mean dollars.  There’s a lot of prep.  We’ve been getting ready for months, arranging dates and flights, twiddling with the Airstream, scheduling appointments months in advance, collecting destination information, cleaning, re-stocking, upgrading, etc.  The motorcycle trip, for example, kept me engaged for a couple of weeks just figuring out what gear I would need and how to pack it all.  But really, this is good.  During the off season, travel planning is a great way to build anticipation and pass the time on dark winter nights.  When I think of it that way, it doesn’t seem like a “price” at all.

In the Airstream, Eleanor has made a special effort this year to pull out a lot of stuff that had been accumulating, and culling down to the things she really needs.  So I’ve done the same, and it’s amazing how many things I don’t need anymore.  I would say that the Airstream is going to be a few hundred pounds lighter, but it looks like all the ballast we’ve ditched is going to be made up with new stuff.  Partially this is because our interests and situations have changed.  The Airstream is no longer young, and so I’m carrying a few more tools and spare parts than I used to.  We’re eating differently than we did just a few years ago.  Emma is a teenager, and I probably don’t have to tell you what a massive change that has been.  We’re no longer carrying snorkel gear—instead Eleanor packs equipment for cooking demos in some of that space.  It’s all good because it’s a reminder that the Airstream reflects who we are, rather than defining us.  That’s why they’re shiny.

I had lots of plans for upgrades to the Airstream but in keeping with the decision to pause blogging, I decided not to take on any huge projects in March or April (when the weather here is usually ideal for outdoor work).  Instead, I took care of a few small things and otherwise left the Airstream alone.  No worries, it’s ready to go, thanks to all the updates and repairs I made last year (backup camera, new storage unit, 4G mobile Internet update, flooring and plumbing, window gears).  The only significant task this year was to finally get rid of the factory-installed Parallax Magnatek 7355 power converter, which I’ve never liked because of its lame charging capabilities, and install a Progressive Dynamics Intellipower 9260 in its place.

This was a a little out of my comfort zone but worked out well.  High voltage isn’t my thing, so I Googled a bunch of reports from other people who had made similar conversions, and eventually realized that there’s no single “best” way to do it, and that the job isn’t really that hard either.  Over-simplified, it came down to disconnecting four wires (two AC wires and two DC wires) and connecting five (I added a ground wire on the AC side). One trip to the hardware store for an outlet box and some wire, and the job was done in about two hours.

The only way you can visually detect the change is by the little “Charge Wizard” stuck to the wall (this gizmo allows you to overrride the automatic function of the charger), but the Intellipower documentation (and my voltmeter) tell me that we should now have far superior charging.  That means the batteries should recharge faster, be automatically “equalized” (essential for their long-term health) and I no longer have to worry as much about overcharging while in long term storage.

The real joy of this, if I’m totally honest, is that I did it and nothing blew up.

Well, perhaps that’s the joy of everything we try outside of our comfort zones.  I think I would be OK with an epitaph that read something like, “He did many things … and nothing blew up.”

In fact, that’s pretty much the goal for the next six months.  I’ll keep you posted.

Taking stock

March 11th, 2014 by Rich Luhr

I remember back in our full-timing days that we used to tell people we had chosen lifestyle over money. In other words, our apparently footloose life was a compromise balanced against career advancement, possessions, community, and the sense of security that a stationary house provides. But this was just a convenient explanation for people who couldn’t understand why we’d sell our house and most of our stuff to go “out on the road.”

In reality, we didn’t give up much at all. I was able to grow Airstream Life slowly while we were traveling, and we had all the possessions we needed (and gained a new understanding of what’s really important), we discovered an entirely new traveling community, and we felt just as as secure in our Airstream as in any home we’ve ever owned. Few people who hadn’t tried the lifestyle would believe that.

However, there was one painful truth. When the business got to a certain point, it became less convenient for me to be traveling around full-time, and I found much greater productivity when I was able to stay home and sit at a desk with reliable high-speed Internet. I’m not saying that I couldn’t continue to travel, but once placed at home, things sort of blossomed, work-wise.

Now, five and a half years after we stopped full-timing, I find that I’ve managed to fill in all those hours that I formerly spent towing the Airstream and exploring national parks, and suddenly the work has taken over. It all came to a head on this trip, as I was trying to tow the Airstream east from Tucson to Sarasota, then run a week-long event, and then tow back to Tucson. There just wasn’t enough time in each day to take care of everything and it was getting frustrating to try.

So after Alumaflamingo, we stopped to take stock of everything. We dropped out of sight for a days, Internet- and phone-free, and spent some time in the driveway of our friends Bill & Wendimere. Think of it as a sort of personal retreat. Time to contemplate toes and get a fresh perspective.

The outcome is that, given all considerations, we should lean back a little toward lifestyle over money. For one thing, that means bringing on more staff to do things that I (and Brett) have been doing for both Airstream Life and R&B Events. It also means looking at everything else we do as a business and as a family, to decide what needs to be pared down so that we can start traveling with less pressure and more spontaneity.

These choices aren’t easy. It’s very much like moving out of a large house and into an Airstream: you have to be decisive and committed to the path or you’ll fail. In the case of downsizing one’s possessions (which we’ve done once before), success is indicated by the amount of “stuff” you stick in storage. If you put a lot of stuff in storage, you haven’t really pared down, you’ve just postponed the decision till later. It’s the same with lifestyle choices. If I offload work but continue to micromanage, I’ll be reminded of the folly of that strategy next year when a lengthy trip is interrupted and made stressful by numerous problems from the office.

It will all work out in the long run, but I also know that none of this can take effect soon enough to help me on the drive home. It’s over 2,000 miles back to home and my “to do” list is embarrassingly lengthy. My goal is to be closer to the footloose mode of travel by next year, albeit perhaps a little bit poorer financially. It’s worth it.

For the return run to Tucson there wasn’t much to do but to put on a smile and drive like a lunatic. The longer we take to get home, the more work piles up. The quicker I get home, the sooner I can start training people to do jobs that lighten my load. So while we aren’t going to get home quite as fast as we left for “Aluma-Zooma” we are going to be back no later than March 16.

Let’s see … what have we done so far? Wednesday March 5, we left the driveway near Kissimmee and headed toward the panhandle. After an uninteresting roadside stop overnight, we pulled into Henderson Beach State Park in Destin, FL and had a couple of days at the beach. We watched the seabirds and walked the white sandy beach. This visit set a pace that I liked: two days of zoom, two days of chill.

So we headed to Austin, TX next. Despite the fact that South by Southwest is going this week, we managed to snag two nights at Pecan Grove (near the epicenter of SXSW). I had a meeting downtown on Sunday night, which turned out to be an adventure in itself thanks to the colorful array of humanity attending SXSW, and another meeting on Monday at a barbecue place. To me, that’s a double-dip because Texas barbecue is pretty good stuff.

We logged a lot more miles on this trip than I had anticipated, so I also spent half of Monday at the local Benz dealership getting routine service done. Good thing the dealers all have fast wifi—it was just as productive a morning as I would have gotten at home, with the added benefit of free pastries and a comfy couch. The GL320, by the way, has 87,000 miles on it now.

Today, Tuesday, we started the trek across west Texas. There isn’t much to be said for the run along I-10 after Fredericksburg, so we made a point of stopping for lunch in Fredericksburg at one of the German restaurants, as a sort of last hurrah before plunging into the nothingness. Fredericksburg was a mob scene, as all the state parks are, because this week is also Spring Break in Texas. We had plans to hit a bunch of state parks on the way home, but that plan got quashed when we tried to camp at South Lllano River tonight and were told “all full”. Ah well, sometimes the footloose life isn’t easy. May we live in interesting times.

Flamingo done, what next?

February 25th, 2014 by Rich Luhr

Let’s start with the biggest and best news: Alumaflamingo was a big success.  I know a lot of long-time Florida State Rally attendees were wondering if it would be worthwhile, and from the anecdotal reports we received on-site, they drove away with smiles on their faces.  We had over 250 Airstreams parked on the field, and next year I would be surprised if the number wasn’t much higher.

Pulling off an event of this site was a monumental task, and of course a few things didn’t come off as planned, but overall I was pleased with the results.  The SNAFUs were minor: two presenters failed to show up (in one case, an attendee jumped in to take over), we ran out of Airstream t-shirts, we had to cancel the third campfire night because of wind, etc.  These small glitches were outweighed by the successes, in my opinion.  Several presentations and tours got high praise, the meals were a hit, the entertainment and vendors were great, and as I mentioned before, the parking crew managed to park over 200 trailers in a single day.  We kept the attendees busy day and night with things to do, and I think a lot of them were surprised by that.

About 30 Airstreams have been signed up for next year already, and we haven’t officially opened registration yet!  It’s great that the event has been so well accepted, but of course that means we need to start planning for next year … and right now I need a vacation.  We’ve just completed a marathon of sorts: five days of Alumafiesta, a week-long drive 2,000 miles across the south, and then five days of Alumaflamingo.  Time for a break.

Our first post-event stress reliever was to visit Lido Beach in Sarasota before hitching up the Airstream.  The beach is a great reviver, with the sound of waves and the squinch of white sand beneath one’s toes, and the seagulls & pelicans flying around.  In just a couple of hours, most of which I spent lying on a beach blanket, I started to see what we’d managed to accomplish—and it feels good.

Now parked in Tampa, we are spending three days at an RV park to catch up on things, and then we will go offline for a four-day weekend.  The trip back west will begin on Tuesday, March 3.  I don’t have an itinerary for the return trip, but I can say with some confidence that we will go a lot more slowly.  I can’t face another 2,000 mile race along I-10.  People keep asking when we will get home (including people in Tucson who I need to see), and I keep saying “sometime in mid-March.”  At this point that’s a good answer. The return trip is an opportunity, and if we do it right, it might be the best part of our entire voyage.

Alumaflamingo day one

February 18th, 2014 by Rich Luhr

When I left off last we were on the final leg to Sarasota to run Alumaflamingo.  Now we are in Sarasota, and have been running around for two days trying to make everything come off as best it can for this very ambitious event.

On Sunday at about 5:30 p.m. we finally pulled into the fairgrounds where Alumaflamingo will be held.  The fairgrounds are pretty roomy, and I remember seeing 700 Airstreams parked here back in 2004, when we first attended the Florida State Rally.  That rally ran for decades, and last year it took 67 committees to run it.  It was humbling to think that all the responsibility for a new generation of Airstream events in Sarasota was falling entirely on us.

The magnitude of the task was even more obvious in our Sunday night staff meeting.  The entire staff numbers about twenty people.  We assembled them in a room and talked about what it would take to make everything go well, and I was gratified to see them nodding and smiling, ready for the challenge.  Nobody seemed scared that they would have to be doing the work of six people.

On Monday we set up the facilities, which means working with the fairground staff to establish water and electric hookups for everyone, and laying out the parking grid, stuffing goody bags, organizing registration and the greeting station, receiving deliveries, setting up the stage, etc.  The details are monumental, and since we are here for the first time, there’s a learning curve too.

Now it’s Tuesday.  I write this at the end of a very long day, but ultimately a successful one.  Our parking and registration teams managed to get 243 rigs settled in one day, which is absolutely amazing.  It’s a record for the most trailers and motorhomes we’ve parked in a single day —in fact, this is more than double what we’ve ever done before.

Of course there were many problems, and I spent part of the day rolling around in a golf cart to resolve them.  Most were minor issues, easily resolved.  Three were a little challenging,  but everything worked out in the end.  Between bouts of trouble-shooting, I  managed to get the ukulele group together (8 ukes plus Curtis Remington on guitar) and we practiced enough to be comfortable serenading the Happy Hour attendees with three songs:  Tonight You Belong To Me, Little Grass Shack, and I’m a Believer.  Dr C, please note that we got real and enthusiastic applause, and requests for an encore.

The weather has cooperated, too.  While lots of people had to fight their way down here from snowy spots all over the east coast, it’s absolutely beautiful here: clear skies, warm afternoons, light breeze, and we are expecting more of the same most of the week.  Can’t ask for much better than this!  It’s beach weather.  Maybe if I get lucky with timing I’ll actually get a chance to see the beach before this week is over!

So the event is rolling ahead.  Tomorrow will bring its own challenges, but at least 90% of the Airstreams expected are already here.  Everyone on the staff has done an incredible job, and I have to say I don’t feel like I deserve such wonderful people.  I’m glad they are here.  I’m glad we are here.  And I’m glad that after a year of planning and organizing, Alumaflamingo is now real.

Aluma-zooma day seven

February 15th, 2014 by Rich Luhr

We all knew that driving from Tucson to Sarasota in a week would be a long slog, but it’s not until we really got into it that we recognized the full impact. Now we are in Archer, FL, courtesy-parked in a quiet place in the woods, trying to recover from this immense odyssey.

It would have been much easier if we didn’t all have colds, and if the weather wasn’t a challenge, and if the water fill hadn’t started leaking … and, and, and … But there are few long voyages without adversity of some sort. Those that are completely without adversity are probably cruises (and even those feature norovirus and seasickness sometimes).

Our “Aluma-zooma” road trip has required our best rapid-travel skills, because there hasn’t been time to waste. We have been sleeping in noisy parking lots near the Interstate because campgrounds take too much time. Every other day we have dumped tanks and picked up water wherever it was convenient (sometimes a rest area, sometimes a truck stop). Meals have mostly been quick and simple, except for one night when Eleanor cooked for everyone.

Everyone has been doing their best to “keep the shiny side up” despite the tedium of the long drive, and I have to say that I really appreciate the endless patience and good humor of our friends Alex & Charon as they traveled with us.

The last couple of days have been the most challenging for me, at least. My cold really started to hit hard, and we were trying to cover 380 miles on Thursday, and then 360 miles on Friday. In the middle of the night I’d wake up because of the cold and be at my computer for an hour or two trying to catch up on work, which didn’t help things.

I reached my limit on Friday, which was obvious to all when I nearly fell asleep during dinner. I was considering declaring myself medically unable to drive for a day. We would have gotten into Sarasota a day late, which wouldn’t have been a catastrophe really.

And then last night I managed to sleep for almost ten hours, which made everything seem much better. So we mounted up again and drove 300 miles to our current spot, and even with some leisurely breaks during the day we got here around 4:30 pm.

We are parked in the woods at the home of a friend who has a small collection of vintage trailers in various states of repair. It is quiet and peaceful here—a real antidote to seven days of Interstate highway. The two Airstreams in our caravan are resting on the sandy circle driveway next to the house and shop, surrounded by pine trees dripping with Spanish Moss.

I wish I could say it’s smooth sailing from here but we have much to do before and after we drive the final 180-mile leg to Sarasota tomorrow. Eleanor spent this evening cooking some things that would otherwise spoil in the refrigerator, thus giving us dinners for the coming event week when time will be short. More groceries are needed, our laundry has piled up, and the Airstream appears to need another on-the-road repair.

The repair will probably be replacement of the power converter. Our batteries weren’t charging when the trailer was plugged into shore power. (They are charging on solar.) I noticed the problem this evening, thanks to the Tri-Metric battery monitor. It’s a fairly easy problem to diagnose if you carry a voltmeter. Our main power converter failed the voltage check prescribed by Parallax Power, but then it started to work again after we’d “reset” the unit by disconnecting shore power and re-connecting.

The fix is not particularly difficult, but I’m a little frustrated because I already have a replacement power converter in Tucson. I carried it around in the Airstream for a couple of years (just because I bought it during a long trip and forgot to take it out). Then a few weeks ago I put it in the storage shed, and now of course I need it. The same thing happened with the city water fill that failed: I had two of them in the storage shed.

I’m not sure what is worse: having to buy parts on the road that I already have in storage, or rolling around the country with a rolling parts bin of things I may not need. I think I’m going to stop buying parts until I need them, even if they are “great deals”. So far the great deals I have gotten on spare parts haven’t saved me anything.

Well, all of this will have to fall away in the coming days, because we’ve got work to do. On Tuesday and Wednesday we are expecting about 250 Airstreams to show up in Sarasota, and Job #1 is to make sure that things go as smoothly as possible. Aluma-zooma is just about over. Time to switch gears. In the next two days we’ll get ourselves set, so we can spend the rest of the week taking care of our guests.

A day on the road

February 13th, 2014 by Rich Luhr

Driving the Interstate hundreds of miles can be dull, but it gives me plenty of time to think, and I like that. With the weather cleared and mechanical problems gone, it was a fairly peaceful experience (except for Houston) driving I-10. We covered the concrete from Seguin TX to Lafayette LA, 370 miles, so I got to air out a lot of cobwebs in the brain pan.

The plan was to get up early and hit the road around 8 or 9 a.m., but that hasn’t worked out even once on this trip. Each day we have something that needs doing in the morning (like shopping for a new power cord for the GPS today, or waiting for the frost to melt yesterday), and we also seem to kill a fair bit of time bantering with Alex & Charon in their trailer.

That’s because Alex is recording about 10 minutes of ad hoc discussion each morning, when we talk about the day before. His plan is to edit it down into a short podcast series, so you might be able to hear that on the Internet later. We have a lot of fun doing the recording each day.

We finally got on the road at about 10 a.m., which was not great but still early enough to make it to Lafayette before dark. When you’re traveling as we are, covering lots of miles and boondocking occasionally, you also have to allow time for stops to replenish supplies (mostly diesel, propane and water), and dump the tanks. Even with a big pause at a Love’s truck stop, we made fairly good time.

Propane has been a big thing for us on this trip. The cold weather means lots of furnace use, and we have already stopped twice to fill 30# tanks. Electrically we are doing pretty well. The furnace has chewed up a lot of battery power each night but we are getting enough sun on the solar panels to keep us afloat since we left Sonora TX on Wednesday morning. In the summer we wouldn’t even think about it because we never run out of power when the sun is high and no furnace is needed, but this time of year it’s something that I watch closely.

In addition to the re-supply stops, this trip has reminded me of the necessity of on-the-road maintenance. This is a habit from our full-timing days, but just as relevant now. For example, every 500 miles I have to grease the Hensley hitch. Two days before we left, while camped at Lazydays, I had to replace a worn-out grease fitting on the hitch, too. When you are moving fast there’s always something that needs attention: cleaning, lubing, tightening, adjusting, inspecting, or airing.

Things don’t break in the driveway (usually)—they break on the road, as our city water fill did just two days ago. So you have to be ready with a tool kit and some knowledge, or face the prospect of stopping at a repair shop for every little thing. I don’t like on-the-road breakdowns any more than you do, so I do what I can to maintain everything at home, but I’m realistic: stuff happens.

The other big maintenance item is personal mental health. Driving like this isn’t really fun, and without much exercise day after day, the entire body starts to rebel—at least mine does. A walk at the end of the day is helpful if we have time (even if it’s just a stroll inside the Wal-Mart), and taking time to tell jokes to our caravan-mates (Alex & Charon) on the radio is nice, and decompressing at the end of the day over a movie or dinner is very comforting. We are trying to find the little things in each day that make it less boring to be in the car. There are a lot of such things if you look for them.

We still have 800 miles or so ahead of us, so our pace isn’t going to slow yet, and we won’t be doing a lot of sightseeing. Eleanor and I are noting things to check out on the way back, instead. It’s a sort of small consolation for the tedious nature of our travel eastbound. For now, Florida beckons, and we want to make it to Sarasota by Sunday if we can, in time to help with Alumaflamingo setup.

One day at a time

February 12th, 2014 by Rich Luhr

The skies this morning were foreboding when we awoke in Sonora, TX. The icy fog that motivated us to leave the Interstate had only deepened overnight, and the temperature had plummeted to 21 degrees. While we were warm inside the Airstream, I could see small deer foraging just a few feet away on frosty ground under a deep gray sky. It felt like winter in Vermont.

The Airstream was showing signs of the harsh weather. Splatters of road grime (and dare I say it? road salt from the bridges), and icicles hanging from the belly plan where the leaking water had escaped gave it a “rode hard and put away wet” look.

But the forecast from the weather service—and my own personal forecast for the day—were both positive. We had a list of challenges ahead, all of which I felt we could accomplish with just a little luck.

First, we needed the sun to break through and bring us temperatures above freezing so that the roads would be clear of ice. This happened by 10 a.m., right as predicted by the weather service. We waited a little longer to be sure the ice was melted, so our actual departure was about 11 a.m.

Next, we needed to drive 160 miles uneventfully to the nearest RV dealer with a parts shop, in Boerne TX, to find a new Shurflo city water fill (in chrome) to replace the leaking one on the Airstream. There was no guarantee that any of the white-box RV dealerships would have the part, so the night before I found three places that we could check.

Third, we needed to install the part in the Airstream without any “surprises” in the process. If my diagnosis were wrong, replacing the part would do no good. I was pretty sure the leak was from the water fill, but not 100% sure.

Fourth, we needed to find a place to spend the night, and we couldn’t know that until we finished the repair. I estimated the repair time at 30 minutes but who really knew what it would take until we got into it?

Fifth, we needed more propane. The cold air has really challenged our furnace and water heater. We filled one bottle of propane in Lordsburg NM on Monday, and now we had killed the other one.

Finally, atop all the other things was the cold virus I picked up last weekend. This morning I felt it more than any other day so far, and I was starting to wonder if I was going to lose steam early in the day.

All of these things were weighing on my mind as we prepared to go this morning, and I was trying not to be apprehensive. This trip is supposed to be fun (and it HAS been fun) so I didn’t want the little worries to overshadow the bigger picture: caravanning with friends across the country to a five-day party in Florida.

It all worked out. We drove in pure sunshine and dry roads all the way to Boerne. The first two dealers we checked didn’t stock the part (but one of them did have propane) and when it looked like nobody in town would carry a Shurflo water fill we pushed onward 40 miles to New Braunfels to Camping World. They had located what we needed and put it on hold at the parts desk for me. When we arrived they also said it would be no problem for us to do the replacement in their parking lot.

Replacing the water fill was dead easy. Four screws on the outside, one threaded swivel fitting on the inside, and a bit of prying to break the thing free of the caulk bedding. We had the new one in place in less than ten minutes, and it solved the leaking problem entirely. (Of course, it was easier because I already had some plumber’s tape and Par-Bond sealant in my tool bag. If I hadn’t, we would have had to do some more shopping.)

With a careful look at the old part, we could see that the threads had been bollixed by someone. There was a distinct flat spot, suggestive of cross-threading, which was prevented from leaking by some plumber’s tape. I think a bit of freezing was the catalyst to allow this marginal installation to finally let loose. It doesn’t leak a drop now that we’ve installed a new fill.

It was about 4 p.m. when we finished, so we decided to do some grocery shopping and overnight park at the Super Wal-Mart in Seguin. After dinner in our separate Airstreams, we met up for a movie here in our trailer. Alex brought some Betty Boop cartoons from 1932 for the pre-show. It’s our form of civilization.

We’ll hit the road again early in the morning. Our plan is to get well into Louisiana tomorrow, and —assuming no misadventures—arrive in Sarasota by Sunday night. But we’ll have to take it one day at a time, just as we have done so far.

Frozen

February 11th, 2014 by Rich Luhr

I have to admit that living in Tucson has changed our perspective on winter a little.  All the news stories on TV about major winter storms, freezing temperatures, airport & highway problems, etc. have seemed a bit unreal as we have shivered our way through days where the temperature barely reaches 72 degrees.

But as we were preparing to leave Tucson we heard a few warnings from those who had come west.  “Watch out,” they told us.  “You’ll run into nasty weather soon enough.”

We figured that by the time we got to the southeast the weather would have changed and I-10 would be a safe route to get to Florida.  Indeed, as we drove through New Mexico yesterday under clear skies and warm air, the prospect of bad weather seemed impossible.

And yet, in the afternoon after leaving El Paso (where we stopped for some nice Texas brisket), there was a chill in the air.  By the time we reached Van Horn it was distinctly cool, enough to make me shiver in a long-sleeved shirt, and then to our dismay we watched as the temperature dropped into the thirties in a very short time.

By the time we reached Balmorhea State Park in west Texas, it was nearly freezing and the sky had clouded over in a grim and vaguely threatening way.  Even though the spring-fed outdoor pools were as warm as bathtubs in this park, it was far too cold to enter without calling it a Polar Bear Dip.

IMG_3419In the morning we found the Airstream covered in ice, and a forecast of “freezing fog and freezing drizzle” along our route.  We delayed a while, then hit the road, but I wasn’t happy with conditions as the temperature remained in that dangerous zone of about 27-28 degrees where freezing rain is possible.  We stopped for lunch in Ozona, but the weather was unimproved when we moved out again.  Finally, with the prospect of making our destination near sunset and a very fine mist on the windshield, I called Alex on the radio and announced we were going to bail out.

IMG_3420Since we only covered 200 miles today, this is going to put us behind schedule, but continuing on wasn’t worth the risk.  Fortunately we were near Caverns of Sonora (Sonora, TX) where there’s a pleasant little campground that we’ve visited before.  And I needed some time to catch up on work.

So all seemed well, and I was happy with the decision to stop early.  The weather outside remained just awful outside but warm enough in the Airstream and we have an electrical hookup too.

IMG_3421Then the next problem cropped up.  The water pump started cycling when we weren’t using the water.  There’s only one reason for that: a leak in the fresh water plumbing system. I went outside to find water dripping from the bellypan, then started tearing out drawers inside, in an attempt to find the leak.  Eventually I isolated it to the fresh water fill.  It has sprung a leak.  There’s nothing I can do about it (because there’s no convenient shutoff valve) except leave the water pump off when we don’t require water pressure.

This has changed our plan yet again.  We were already accepting that tomorrow we might not get on the road until afternoon, when the threat of freezing rain is supposed to abate, and now our first stop will have to be an RV parts store somewhere along I-10.  Oh well, at least it’s a 30 minute fix and I have all the tools and caulk here with me.  Looks like we will be late getting into Sarasota, but I won’t officially make that call until Thursday, when hopefully the weather will be better and we have had a chance to make up some time.

Tonight we are going to have dinner together here in our trailer, and forget our troubles in the warmth of an Airstream. What else can you do?

Aluma-Zooma

February 10th, 2014 by Rich Luhr

This may go down as one of the most busy February months of our family’s life.  On Sunday we wrapped Alumafiesta in Tucson, which was a considerable event in itself, and now we are embarked on a 2,000 mile cannonball run across the southern tier to Florida, where we will work on Alumaflamingo for another week.

Fiesta was a success.  We had about 100 Airstreams in the campground (after a few last-minute cancellations) and it seemed that just about everyone had a great time.  The program was as packed full of activities as we could make it, and so Brett & I were busily running around for five days making sure it all happened as we’d planned it.

During the week Eleanor was commuting from our house to complete preparations for the heavy travel yet to come, and finalizing all those other details that come before departure.  Emma, meanwhile, was parked inside the Safari with a cold, not doing much except Pokemon-related activities. (You might be surprised to realize what a wide range of Pokemon-related activities exists, but listing them all is far beyond the scope of this blog.)

After running all the activities of the event (many seminars and off-site tours, five Happy Hours, a bike ride, two walks, one hike, two breakfasts, one dinner, three Open Grills, four evening presentations, Food Truck Friday, a ukulele practice session, etc.) we were all completely exhausted.  And that’s where Aluma-Zooma comes in.

IMG_3406Due to a series of circumstances mostly beyond our control, we have a second event this month: Alumaflamingo in Sarasota Florida.  Because it is the first year for Flamingo, we decided it would be best if we took the Airstream to that event rather than flying in, which means that on the last day of Alumafiesta we were re-packing for immediate departure east on I-10.  We have to traverse seven states in a week, a rapid pace in the best of circumstances.

These are not the best of circumstances.  On the last day of the Fiesta I began to detect the impact Emma’s cold virus on myself, and then Eleanor began to feel some symptoms too, so our tow vehicle became a sort of plague ship with the three of us all sporting various symptoms—and nearly 2,000 miles of rapid driving ahead.

IMG_3413Brett, meanwhile, has flown ahead and will be spending the next week trying to get all the remaining pieces of the Flamingo event puzzle into place; not an easy task with nearly 240 trailers expected, 23 vendors, and a schedule just about as packed as the one we just completed in Tucson.  I can’t do much to help while I’m driving, so at this point I’m just a telephone consultant with a hoarse voice.

Fortunately we are joined on this adventure by our supportive friends, Alex and Charon (famous for their talents in the sideshow arts, including fire breathing and swordswallowing) and their hairless cat Brundlefly.  With us they form a 2-Airstream caravan, and it is making the trip much more fun to travel to together.  Alex has painted a sign on the back of their 1960s-era Airstream Overlander which says:

ALUMA-ZOOMA
Tucson to Sarasota
180 hours

We left Tucson at about 3:30 pm on Sunday and pulled into Lordsburg NM that evening for an overnight boondock behind a restaurant.  I was feeling pretty poorly and crashed into bed at about 8:00, waking at 4:45 with a raging sore throat, but got back to sleep and by 7:00 a.m. was feeling much better and looking somewhat less like a person with terminal fatigue.  Eleanor pitched in later on Monday by towing the Airstream 100 miles of our 350-mile daily quota even though she wasn’t feeling top-notch herself, and so tonight we are in Balmorhea State Park in west Texas and all is well.

IMG_3417As expected, we have driven out of the balmy southwest weather and into that deep freeze that we keep hearing about on the news.  Even here in southwest Texas, it was 38 degrees before sunset, a horrifying change from the lovely 70s that Tucson is currently enjoying.  I couldn’t hook up the water hose because it is going to freeze tonight.  Balmorhea is famous for its crystal-clear warm water springs, and normally we’d go swimming or snorkeling here, but even with water at 80 degrees or so it is just too darned cold outside to even consider the idea.  So instead we just fed the catfish and watched the turtles swimming before the skies became dark and fiendishly cold.

The trip plan is to drive about 300-400 miles daily all the way to Sarasota.  With time being short, it’s going to be Interstate highway all the way.  Not very interesting. Still, since we’ve all done this trip many times (but not as a caravan) we have the opportunity to share our favorite roadside stops with each other, and that’s fun.  I’ll update the blog as often as I can while we are traveling, and you’ll also see brief updates and more photos on Twitter (follow @airstreamlife).

A great week ahead

February 2nd, 2014 by Rich Luhr

That energy level I mentioned in the previous post has very suddenly kicked into a higher quantum state.  (Apologies to real physicists who are wincing at that statement.)  Airstreams are pouring into Tucson from all over, and it’s impossible for me to remain calm about it.

Lately I can’t drive in the southwest corner of Tucson without seeing one on the road.  Normally Airstream spotting is a rare event, but this week it’s a regular thing.  Today I made my daily trip to the Alumafiesta site and found silver dots all over the 400-site campground.  Right now they are a minority but by the end of the day Monday a giant aluminum formation will take shape: Airstreams lined up in rows, signalling by their shiny presence that something interesting is about to happen.

My main mission today was to drop off the ’68 Caravel for Brett to use.  While I was trying to set it up in the site, two non-Airstream owners came by separately to talk about vintage trailers, and one Airstream owner as well.  This was fun but it made setup take about an hour.  That Caravel sticks out in a crowd.  There is no flying under the radar in a vintage Airstream.

In just a couple of hours I ran into Koos and Stefan (who flew in from The Netherlands to attend Alumafiesta), Rob, Chris, Stevyn & Troy, Numeriano, and a few other people who waved from a distance. I’d say there are about 15 Airstreams in the park right now, and that’s just the beginning.  That’s in addition to the several Airstreams that are boondocked in BLM land off Rt 86, near Saguaro National Park West.

Tomorrow I will go over to drop off the Safari in site 1415. The guy occupying my space today is in an Airstream but he is not coming to Alumafiesta. He came last year, and so tomorrow he’s heading to Sarasota to attend Alumaflamingo!  Lucky guy—he’s got two weeks to make the trip, so he gets to spend six days chilling in Destin FL on the way.  We have only one week to go the same 2,000 miles, so we have to zip along I-10 in a sort of Airstream Cannonball Run with no fun stops.  (Alex & Charon are making the trip with us, and Alex is already calling it “Aluma-zooma”.)

Yesterday I had lunch with Chris and Leslie.  They are attending Alumafiesta in a brand-new 30-foot Airstream bunkhouse.  Leslie writes for Airstream Life, and Chris is the developer of our new—TA- DA!—  iPad app.  Yes, Airstream Life is finally available in digital format on iPad. Almost every issue published (minus two) is available, which is pretty remarkable considering most have been out of print for years.  If you’ve got an iPad you can check it out (free) by clicking here.  We’ve got a special limited time offer on eight of the back issues for $0.99 each, and if you are a subscriber you get four issues for free!

I had a small surprise this week after sending out a notice to attendees that we would be doing an informal “beginner class” on ukulele.  I figured that maybe two or three people would be interested.  Suddenly about 15 people came out of the bushes waving ukuleles, and about a third of them had never actually played one.  So I’ll be leading a group at 1:00 on Tuesday, and if it goes well we will probably have a few sessions during the week. I’m excited about that.  Maybe we’ll get a few songs up to performance quality and play for the attendees at one of the Happy Hours.

Tonight we are having a pre-event “kick back” dinner at home, before the heavy action begins tomorrow.  This is our last chance to have a meal as a family at home, so Eleanor has made some nice mushroom risotto and a cake, and I’ll be grilling steaks.  Tonight we feast, for tomorrow we enter the fray …  It should be a great week.

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