Actually, demo days, plural. This didn’t happen all on one day. But if you’ve ever watched “Fixer Upper”, you know how exciting demo day is! It’s pretty fun to remove all the things you don’t like and get a clean slate to work with. There were a lot of things I didn’t really like in my camper. Like the bunk beds.
Another post about my eight months in Arkansas: The Buffalo National River! It’s amazing! The river creates a 150 mile long corridor of recreational opportunities in northern Arkansas. In addition to floating the river, there is great camping, historical sites, a random elk population, rock climbing and horseback riding at nearby Horseshoe Canyon Ranch, hiking on the Buffalo River Trail, and outfitters to help supply and shuttle canoes, kayaks, and other gear. Plus, the scenery is gorgeous.
Accessing the western end of the BNR corridor takes only about a 2 hour (scenic!) drive from Fayetteville, AR or Springfield, MO. The National Park Service’s website is chock full of resources to get you started with planning a trip: https://www.nps.gov/buff/index.htm
Spring is the best time to float the Buffalo because the water level drops quickly. Even in early May (after a recent flood no less!) there were spots where I had to get off my kayak and tow it over shallow spots. I borrowed a kayak (for me) and canoe (for my visiting parents) from local friends. Outfitters along the river seemed to have reasonable prices if you want to rent gear. The folks at Buffalo River Canoes were super friendly and helpful when we asked about water and weather conditions. Outfitters can also help with shuttling, even if you bring your own boats, but we had two trucks for shuttling ourselves from put ins and take outs.
We opted for a base camp approach so that we could return to the comforts of a familiar campsite after each day of recreating. Our camp was at Kyle’s landing. Kyle’s landing was a busy place during day light hours. Hordes of children (school groups? summer camps? idk), utilized it for put in/take outs. Things quieted down considerably in the evening and the landing had plenty of room for camping. It even had flush toilets! This surprised me because it had been described as “primitive”. Maybe that was in reference to the road- a long, steep, rutted and washed out dirt road. Vehicles with low ground clearance or without 4-wheel drive might struggle.
Floating the river
There had recently been heavy rainfall and flooding in northwest Arkansas. Like, major flooding. We were worried that this would affect our trip. Fortunately, the water had receded to a welcoming level. The brown mud color turned back into a beautiful turquoise. There were plenty of rapids to keep us occupied. Slower deeper stretches of water gave us breaks to sit back and admire the scenery.
We had a few issues with strainers (trees and branches across the water creating a hazard) but I kept telling myself that if those groups of kids and those older booze-cruising adults could get past them safely, so could I. I will admit to falling out of the kayak twice, but that was actually in the less sketchy spots when my guard was down, ha ha.
We experienced beautiful sunny weather (and no mosquitoes!!!) on our trip. My parents especially enjoyed all the bird watching and constantly scanned the bluffs with their binoculars. While we aren’t really into fishing ourselves, the river certainly affords that opportunity. The water temperature was just right, but I saw several copperhead snakes swimming and I didn’t really want to join them.
We barely touched on the hiking possibilities on this trip. The Buffalo River Trail parallels the river and it connects to the Ozark Highlands Trail. Backpacking trips are totally possible. Not to mention the webs of shorter trails around campsites and points of interest. We hiked to Hemmed-in-Hollow which features a 209 foot waterfall. This is the tallest waterfall between the Rockies and Appalachians. The pictures I took failed to take in the scope. My friend, Anna, hiked there a few weeks later and allowed me to use her picture in this post.
One last success to tell ya’ll about: I camped comfortably with my hammock! I’d tried to sleep outside in my hammock before, but I got too cold. This time however, I was perfectly comfortable because I was armed with an underquilt. Don’t know what that is? Stay tuned to my blog, I’ll do a future post: Tents vs. Hammocks!
They say the grass is always greener on the other side. As my five weeks in Europe wind down, I think more and more fondly of the USA. Pickup trucks are a rare sight in Germany, even though I’m in farm country. On my road trip to Italy over Easter, I saw lots of campers similar in size to mine, but being pulled with little hatchbacks. Or, picture two huge draft horses, each weighing easily a ton, in a horse trailer being towed by a Volkswagen Passat station wagon. It’s crazy. But I digress. Even though this topic is a year old, I’m currently reminiscing about spring stateside and my little Valentine. In this post I’ll tell you about the time when I decided to repaint her front end!
The clear coat was peeling off the hood and front left panel of Valentine at an exponential rate. It was spring in Arkansas: nights were dewy, days were humid and all this moisture seemed to exacerbate the problem. The paint underneath was mostly okay, but there were a few spots that had deep scratches. In fact, I deduced that these scratches were the origin of my peeling problem. I based this assumption on the pattern of sun fading on the exposed red paint. I didn’t want the unprotected parts to begin to rust. A body shop quoted me $1,100 to repaint the hood and left front panel. Insurance did not cover it. This was not really in my budget, so I began looking into how to repaint it myself.
Doing thorough research is the most important step. I quickly learned that it would be unwise to just slap some clear coat over things. To bond properly, the clear coat should be applied within 24 hours of fresh paint. You can’t overlap new and old clear coat: You have to do an entire panel of the body at a time, even if the damage to that panel is limited to a small area. Again, it’s all about the adhesion.
I’d also have to monitor the weather for ideal conditions as there were all kinds of warnings with the paint: do not apply if temperature is outside this range, in this humidity, in direct sunlight, blah blah blah. Then, once finished, there’s a 48 hour “cure” time where you ought not to leave your truck out in a hailstorm. Since I didn’t have access to garage parking, I would really have to plan the timing carefully.
I’d never done anything like this before, so I made sure to do my homework. I read reviews of paint products, FAQs, and watched YouTube videos. Some people buy a reusable spray gun and cans of paint that attach to it. Since I didn’t think I’d get enough use out of the spray gun, I chose to go with spray-paint style cans. I decided to start with the fender panel, as it was a smaller area than the hood. This would give me a better idea of how much time to reserve for the hood, and how many more cans of paint to order.
I ordered all my paint and most of my other supplies from Automotive Touchup. I really recommend their paint! It was a perfect match, and the resources on their website were extremely helpful. When I contacted them with a question, I got a speedy and useful response.
( Automotive Touchup did NOT endorse or sponsor this post, or provide me with products for review)
The prep work
While I waited for my shipment of supplies, I removed the remains of the peeling clear coat and did A LOT of sanding. Because I did this all by hand, I got a major arm workout. Fortunately, I didn’t need to sand all the way to bare metal, just enough to get a uniform/prepped surface.
Finally the right conditions presented themselves. I got ready by removing the plastic trim piece around the wheel well and removing the headlight housing. A true pro might have chosen to remove more parts, like the bumper, but that would have required a helper, and at this point I was flying solo. I just made sure to tape super good. Can you tell I like horses? Those are feed bags 🙂
Finally! time to repaint this thing
Painting was an all-day affair because of the dry time between coats. I did about 8 coats of color coat, followed by 8 coats of clear coat. Automotive Touchup won’t sell you the clear coat without extracting a promise that you will wear an intense mask during application (provide your own or buy from them). Of course they have no way to enforce this, but I like my lung tissue pink and healthy so I made sure to don my mask for every round of spraying. After a day of painting, the breathing barriers on the outside of the mask had acquired a red hue, which I was glad had not gone in my lungs.
By the time I was ready to tackle the hood, I was in Minnesota at my folk’s house. The humidity wasn’t a concern as much as in Arkansas, but I had a new nemesis: cottonwood trees. Bits of cottonwood fluff were floating in the air everywhere. My dad didn’t want red paint and a whole lot of fumes in his garage, so I constructed a shanty thing in the backyard and dubbed it my spray booth. I hoped this would protect my wet paint from anything carried on the breeze. The plus side of doing this part in Minnesota was that I could enlist some family members as helpers!
I removed the grill myself but I needed help to remove the hood because of it’s size. We set the hood on two saw horses in my shanty. To be honest, I didn’t spray primer over the whole entire surface of the hood. I focused my primer application on the more troublesome areas where the hood had been scratched. Then I did a bit more (light and careful) sanding to blend these areas and make sure I would have the ideal surface for the new paint to adhere to.
So much spraying
My grandpa, a lifelong handy man, was eager to help with spraying and he gave me a pro-tip to improve my technique: instead of aiming straight at your target and then pushing the button, start the spray off to the side a little and then sweep your arm over your target. This results in less splatter/bubbles/drips and gives you more even coverage.
Again, I did about 8 coats of each color coat and clear coat and it took ALL DAY. We moved it into the garage overnight so squirrels wouldn’t leave paw prints on it or anything like that.
Next was to get the hood back on an align it, which my dad and sister helped with. The last steps were replacing the grill and the little dodge symbol. (By the way, I had removed the symbol with dental floss and then used goo-gone to get the sticky stuff off. I found fresh sticky stuff in the automotive aisle at Walmart). I also used a soft cloth and a little solvent (from Automotive Touchup) to gently buff the surface for the smoothest texture and shine.
It’s almost perfect. A couple teeny tiny flies made the mistake of landing on the hood between coats. I tried picking them off with a tweezers, but some fly wings will forever be preserved between clear coat layers. Like Jurassic Park insects in amber.
This project took a lot of planning, preparation, and patience. I spent nearly $300 on paint, tape, sandpaper, the mask, etc. That sounds like a lot, but this was way cheaper than the $1,100 that the pros quoted me. Valentine’s new paint held up perfectly through all kinds of weather over the following months of road trips, work, and adventures.
I’ve been in Europe for a couple of weeks already, with a couple more to go. My friend and I went to Italy for a long Easter weekend, but the main reason I came to Europe this spring was to spend the month at a horse breeding farm in eastern Germany. Back in 2012, I stayed and worked on this same farm for half a year.
In 2012, I was fairly fresh out of college with nothing really lined up. This seemed like a good time to go experience another culture and be immersed in another language. But, I had no desire to be a nanny or teach English- common routes to go abroad. Horses are more my thing, so I used Yard and Groom to find a place with horses!
It’s amazing how little has changed here on the farm. Some of the same horses and dogs are still here, though others have been born, sold, or passed away. Still, the daily routine is the same.
During my first stay here, I rarely phoned home due to the inconvenience of international calling. Instead, the internet was my umbilical cord to America. I sent tons of correspondence through emails. Years later, all those emails still exist as an archive of my experience. I’ve selected some snippets from 2012 to share in this post. I want to present a very honest account of what my experience has been here and be true to my original words, but I did edit these for clarity’s sake.
Over Easter weekend I travelled through northern Italy to the region of Tuscany. I already flew into Berlin a week before and got settled into my spot in Germany, which I will cover soon in its own blog post. My friend, who has been living in Nuremberg for several years, gets all the credit for planning our Italy trip. I just showed up and came along for the ride. I took public transportation down to Nuremberg to meet up with her, and from there we used a rental car. So, from leaving Nuremberg to returning there a week later, my Italy trip was under 500 euros. This includes splitting the hotel, rental car, costs of driving (toll roads, parking fees, gas, etc.) as well as any food, shopping, or admission to exhibits.
I spent the past couple weeks in Idaho and before heading back east, I took a day to seek out wild horses (a.k.a. mustangs) on public lands. I was pleasantly surprised at my own success on this mission. It was an epic way to finish out my Idaho experience. The horses were fascinating to watch, and I think they were a little fascinated with me as well.
While hanging out in Salmon, Idaho this past week, I have visited five natural hot springs. There are TONS more, but five has certainly been a good introduction for me. Each has been unique and it’s hard to pick a favorite. While some are better for a good soak, others have more “wow” factor or awesome scenery to make the experience extra special. In this post I’ll give you a little intro into the five natural hot springs that I have check out so far. Then I’ll give you some “Do’s and Don’ts” to know before finding your own Idaho hot spring to soak in.
You’ve seen the outside of my trailer in a previous post, now it’s time to reveal the inside before I show off my modifications.
I wanted to dive right into things and start making changes! I immediately took out all the blinds, hideous valances, and excess ruffles. That was the easy part. In my trailer, the window treatments were super basic. Some trailers have fancier box-like valances ( I found a tutorial for removing this style of valance here). I also threw out the extra bunk cushions from both top bunks. Don’t need ’em.
First big decision
Before I could start ripping more things out, I had to just be in the space for a bit and do some thinking. The size of the back bunk was something to consider. At 48×74 inches, it’s not a true full size bed. In fact, I’m 73 inches tall. It’s a squeeze. To make this bed longer, I would have to alter or remove the pantry. That’s not something I really want to do because storage space in an RV or camper is precious. And then I’d have to get a new mattress and blah blah blah. I liked how there’s a curtain that pulls across to make a little changing area. The curtain itself was ugly, but easily replaceable using the existing track on the ceiling.
The alternative sleeping option would be to collapse the U-shaped dinette into a larger “queen” and sleep in the front of the trailer. However, that would put my sleeping area right next to the entrance and food prep zone. The front of the trailer also has more windows. What a shame to curtain all those windows off for sleeping when I could instead use that natural light for my dining/living/office space.
I crawled into that back bunk and decided that I could indeed sleep there even if my toes hung off the end a bit. It would work, if only because I was gonna be stubborn about it. With that decision made, I began brainstorming how to handle that dinette!
I had all these ideas swimming around my head, but I was living pretty far from any hardware or home improvement stores. It’s not like I have a garage full of tools either. I had a borrowed power drill and a couple hand tools, but not much in the way of resources. Throughout the next posts about my camper renovations, you’ll see how I stuck to simple, low budget solutions. With barely any construction skills. If I can do it, you can do it. Seriously.
Be warned, it’s not going to be as adorable as what you see on Pinterest. Maybe someday. But at this point, putting chalkboard paint on my refrigerator is not a priority. Remember, some pretty key factors for me in doing projects on my trailer are:
- Cheap- Of course.
- Simple- I’m doing this by myself. I’m a biology major, not an engineer
- Practical- Not gonna waste money on cutesy stuff. The changes I make should be enhancing the livability.
- Lightweight- The heavier the trailer, the worse my gas mileage.
After towing my trailer from place to place, I am more skeptical of some of the things I see on the internet. Open shelving with a neat stack of china and glassware….that is gonna go flying as soon as you move an inch. I have plastic plates and cups. This one time, like a year ago, I saw an article about installing a washing machine into a travel trailer and I was like “heck yeah!” but now, I think that is totally impractical. It’s heavy, takes up valuable space, and it would use so much water.
I’ve quickly learned that any project I start will take twice as long as I expected. So those total gut jobs, conversion vans or school busses from scratch, or even when someone replaces the flooring or repaints the walls- that takes soooo much work. Major props if you have done any of that. I love Pinterest for inspiration though, and through it I have found some good ideas. Here’s a couple other blogs I like but there are tons more out there. If you have a similar blog you author or follow, leave me a comment because I’d love to check it out!
Minnesota is great and all, but not when it’s the middle of winter and you have no job or purpose there. It becomes rather bleak. While my truck (Ruby, read about her here) was in limbo, I increasingly felt the effects of cabin fever staying at my parent’s house. I pushed my plans for a winter road trip to Idaho farther and farther out.
Never again, Greyhound
In a scheme to escape for a bit, I purchased a Greyhound bus ticket to Chicago. Unfortunately, I showed up to Union Depot to await a bus that would never come: All service to Chicago had been cancelled for a big snowstorm. Due to Greyhound’s ridiculous refund policy, it looked like I would not be getting my money back (yeah, even though THEY cancelled on ME). I felt sooo frustrated and trapped!
There are a lot of reasons I prefer road trips to planes/trains/busses. Travelling sucks when you are subject to baggage rules, extra fees, no legroom, crying babies, drunk people, layovers, stepping in poop from emotional support dogs, bad customer service, and impossible refund policies. It sucks when at every step of the way you are treated like livestock on its way to the slaughter house- being herded, poked, prodded, and treated with indignity.
I wanted my truck back. I wanted FREEDOM.
As I was penning an angry letter to Greyhound, there came the light at the end of the tunnel! My insurance called to discuss a settlement- poor dead Ruby’s blood money. While snow continued to unload on Chicago, I browsed used trucks.
The Blue Ox
I wasn’t gonna wait around forever for Ruby’s clone to magically appear. Considering that the time, place, and price had to be right, I went with a 2007 Ford F150. It is about the same age and miles as Ruby. I am satisfied with what I found and the speed in which I found it. It’ll ride.
I’ve decided to name this truck “Babe the Big Blue Ox” in a nod to its rural Minnesota roots, color, and the fact that it’s my beefiest vehicle yet. This is the fourth vehicle I’ve owned in the past year. I’m hoping for less turnover in the future…..gosh.
Here she is my parent’s driveway (notice the bleakness of Minnesota in the background):
When you buy used….
Before I sealed the deal, I got the seller’s permission to take the truck in to a shop for a pre-purchase inspection. This revealed a few things that needed tuning up, but nothing that was super sketch. It did give me some bargaining power and peace of mind. After the purchase, I immediately invested the “savings” into getting the truck road trip ready with new brakes and such.
Want to hear a nasty surprise? I couldn’t get the rusty pin and ball, which was the wrong size, off my new truck. It was seriously stuck. I doubt anyone had tried to get it off in 10 years. I added this to the list of things for my local mechanic to tackle. The solution involved a blow torch.
Another surprise? Well, the brake controller rescued out of Ruby had a wiring harness for a Toyota. I went out and got the part for a Ford. Feeling satisfied that the truck was ready to roll, I began putting my useful things- you know like an umbrella, first aid kit, flashlight, extra chapsticks, etc., into nooks and crannies in the cab. And you know what I found? A wiring harness. Like the one I had just bought. The former owner had at some point purchased one and never installed it. Gah.
Winter Road Trip
You just can’t beat the feeling of a fresh oil change and a full tank of gas. Finally, I have escaped the doom and gloom of the Midwest and am back in the mountains!
Babe the Blue Ox performed well on her maiden voyage. I’ve never had heated seats before, but I must say they are a nice feature when you wake up in Billings, Montana and its minus 15 degrees below zero. After just 2 weeks of ownership and over 2,000 miles, I’ve managed to crush Cheezits into the floor mats and smudge chocolate on the seatbelt. It feels like mine now!
See, winter is prettier with mountains.
I made a big circuit around Idaho and I’ll be spending the next couple weeks in Salmon. I’ll be fixing up the inside of my trailer, and, hopefully, I’ll get to do lots of exploring outside. So far this week I’ve seen tons of cool birds, mule deer, two moose, and a herd of antelope.
My dad had this nice Toyota Tacoma that he wanted to sell me and made an offer I couldn’t refuse. It was a great deal on a meticulously well cared for truck. He even had a brake controller installed, knowing it would be useful to me as I had recently bought my camper. So I came home to my parents house for the holiday season prepared to sell Valentine, who I’d owned for under 10 months, and buy the Tacoma off my dad. I named this truck “Ruby”.
Ruby’s new title hadn’t even arrived in the mail yet when tragedy struck. It was dark and snowing when I hit an icy spot on the highway. The truck fishtailed, spun, and went in the ditch. It slammed down on the driver’s side. In days to come, I googled “what to do when car fishtails” and “how to prevent fishtailing” which returned tips that I already knew. If I had been going 20 miles an hour, I probably wouldn’t have a story to tell you. But at highway speed…it all happened so fast. I was out of control in an instant and in the ditch the next. I just feel lucky it wasn’t worse. Seatbelts really do save lives. My full Nalgene flying at my face was a surprise hazard though.
Laying sideways in the ditch, I remember thinking ‘I should probably turn the ignition off. I’ve gotta shift it to park though, which is so weird when none of the tires are on the ground. I can probably climb out the passenger door. But first I need to find my cell phone’. Adrenaline was pumping, but at least I was able to think. The crying and cussing and general hysteria didn’t set in until help arrived. That’s typical for me though- I’m okay until someone asks, “are you okay?”
I sat in the back of the state trooper’s patrol car like a criminal. We passed my insurance card back and forth through a slit at the top of the cage/partition. There was a can of dip on the backseat and I asked, “Want me to pass this?” He replied “No, I thought it was yours. Huh. There was a shady character back there last night, prolly fell out his pocket.” As we watched the tow truck guy winch my truck over and drag it sideways up the ditch, I cringed and sobbed harder. The trooper tried consoling, “I mean, it looks, like, it might be drivable? Once they get it right side up. Nope that rear end is not…. okay well, it’s probably still repairable. You know. Doesn’t look, totaled. I mean, I’ve seen way worse. The important part is you’re ok”.
That’s what everyone kept saying- the important part is you’re ok. All I could say was, “Fuck. My new truck. It’s fucked. I’m fucked. Fuck.”
Between me, the trooper, and the tow truck guy, we pulled the torn-off topper like a sled up to the shoulder of the highway and strapped it back onto the bed of the truck. Spilled gasoline soaked the snow in the ditch. I shined the cop’s flashlight around the truck for a better look. It seemed like the right rear wheel was the tipping point for the entire weight of the truck. It had snapped in half. The axle and suspension looked messed up too, but I wouldn’t notice the broken glass all over the backseat until retrieving my belongings a week later.
The trooper’s uncertain but optimistic assessment of the damage was shared by my insurance company. I became increasingly impatient as my truck was shuffled between tow lots, determined to be repairable, then repairs stalled over an updated estimate. Twenty seven (TWENTY SEVEN!!!!!) days after the accident, I received the call from my insurer informing me that my vehicle was, after all, indeed, a total loss.
The salvage yard where I handed over my title (it arrived in the mail during the TWENTY SEVEN day limbo) was a sad, sad place. So many cars and trucks in various states of decay, empty and discarded. My dad rescued his new brake controller out of the truck and walked off immediately, wires dangling. I stayed a moment. Even though it didn’t really matter anymore, I made sure her doors were locked. She deserved to know she wasn’t being callously abandoned to be scavenged like a carcass. I told her she was basically an organ donor; her many remaining good parts could live on in other vehicles. I gave her one last pat and thanked her for allowing me to walk away from the accident unscathed.
This was Ruby’s first and only accident. We were partners for such a brief time that I didn’t have a proper photo shoot with her. While I did snap some pictures documenting the damages, I just don’t think it’s appropriate to display autopsy photos at the memorial of a deceased loved one. In digging through old files on my parent’s computer, I discovered that my dad took a few landscape shots in which Ruby appeared. My mom likes to take photos in which the subjects are unaware and not facing the camera- Ruby is in some of these as well. Thus in this post I’m able to feature Ruby in her prime: Looking rugged on various camping trips over the course of 12 faithful years of service.