Thursday, September 30, 2010

Thank You!!!

The tree above was the first thing we saw when we stepped out of Taj this morning. Pretty hard not to be in a very thankful mood when you see something like that to start your day! Life is good my friends!

On that note, Heidi and I would like to say "Thank You" to all of our readers here! We are always really grateful to those who take the time to visit here and share our lives with us! 

We appreciate you all, followers, subscribers, and casual readers! We especially enjoy all of the thoughtful comments you leave. We are grateful as well to our fellow bloggers as there is always something fun and educational for us to read each day!

It is so much fun to see so many of you as our "Wise and Wonderful People" too. It feels very much like a large extended family to us :) 

-Mike & Heidi

Monday, September 27, 2010

Vantramping with a disability.

I have been planning on writing this post for quite some time, but my reluctance to make mention of my own disability (Cystic Fibrosis) has kept me from it until now.  I am not ashamed of it or embarrassed mind you, I just really choose not to let it have any more impact on my life than I have to.  I believe, however, that the time is right to share some of the positive sides of vantramping with a disability in the hope that someone will benefit from it.

There is no doubt that many look at a vanhome as a very small space to live. The positive side of that is that it is a small environment requiring much less to maintain than even a small apartment. It is an environment that is easily customized to work more efficiently in suiting the needs of those who live within it.  In addition, this customized and highly efficient space, is conveniently along with you in most every situation.  There is no concern that you may have left an important or much needed item at home where it will do you no good in an emergency.  In my case, it offers me a private, comfortable place to relax and use my nebulizer if I find myself feeling congested, no matter where we may be. For just about anyone, it can be nice just to have a quiet place to lay down and let a headache pass or get over a stomach issue.  Having the peace of mind that comes with this mobile and always available refuge is truly priceless!

There are many out there, living nomadic lifestyles with a disability, that otherwise would not have been able to travel and experience so much of life without the economic advantages of a mobile dwelling. More specific information about finances can be found in my post on "The costs of life on the road".  Applying for the various national, state, and county park passes that offer discounts to those who qualify, is a small task well worth the effort.

Being able to migrate with the climate is a major advantage to those who deal with breathing issues or the various circulatory issues etc. Also, the ability to leave an area that has suddenly turned hazardous due to smoke from forest fires or an outbreak of influenza, without having to pack and make arrangements, can truly be a lifesaver.

I know that some contemplating this lifestyle in the future may have questions about dealing with ongoing care and any specialists they may require.  I can only tell you that for my situation, it has not been a problem. In most every area of the country, there are qualified doctors and specialists. It may not be the one you prefer, but with a little research as you travel, it is not hard to find any service or practice that you may require.

I have read many discussions on keeping your medical records along with you on the road, and I can tell you that I don't do this. In the cases where a doctor has needed access to my medical records, they have always been able to request them from the last medical facility that I utilized.

For prescriptions that are ongoing, it is pretty hard to beat Walmart, as there just are not too many places you can go and be far from one.

The last aspect of vantramping with a disability I want to cover is dealing with maintenance or modifications, etc. This is really something that is more about the individual than the disability. The ability to break a job down into many smaller tasks, then slow down and focus on one tiny goal at a time, is often what is needed to make almost any job possible. It may take 20 times as long but if it matters to the person, and the time is available, there are very few limits to what anyone can accomplish. 

As always, I hope this information is helpful and I would be happy to answer any questions you may have if I can.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Vantramp Simplicity

 The goal to live a more simple life has always been one of the driving factors behind both mine and Heidi's choice to live this lifestyle, even well before we met. I believe this is true of many if not most others living this way as well. It always interests me to hear the various perspectives on simplicity from other travelers as well as those living in more stationary ways. Truly, perspective shows that there are many versions of simplicity in the minds of the many.

Vantramp simplicity, our version, is fairly obvious from reading about our life on this blog.  We do our best to be as stress free as possible, living in a nomadic way, traveling with the weather and focusing on living life, exploring, sharing and always learning.

There are, of course, many common threads we share with most who seek simplicity. We are always striving to be more independent, requiring less from any outside source to sustain ourselves. We have reduced the number of possessions in our lives, to things that we enjoy and use on a regular basis or are necessary to be prepared for any contingencies that may occur.  We also do our best to not be caught up in the busyness of mainstream society, rather, we prefer a slower pace that allows time to appreciate anything that captures our interest.

There are also many differences in our version of simplicity compared to many.  We believe that one path is not better than another, rather a matter of preference with each offering its own rewards. Our desire is to continue living this lifestyle as long as we are physically able so, our path has a definite priority on maintaining comfort and a reliability while keeping our footprint small.  We understand the attraction to a more spartan path as well, but remain very satisfied with our choices.

Whichever path you choose, Heidi and I hope that it brings you as much satisfaction and fun as we have been having!


Thursday, September 23, 2010

Slow week and some lovely art (wiring diagram).

It has been a rough week here for us. Heidi started it by not feeling well but, luckily, is now feeling better. I am surviving but not fully recovered.  I am pretty sure this would kill a normal man but, me not being normal, (too easy, just ignore the setup) I am handling it!

Okay, maybe the artwork above isn't lovely, but it might answer a few questions and show a couple ideas others may be interested in.  As you can see, the diagram really is based mostly on how the coach electrical system is setup now. ** Click on the image for a larger version**

There is one other area I would like to direct your attention to. That is the accessory fuse box added on the firewall and tied into the isolator on both sides through a 3 way switch. The way this works is simple. The switch, when in it's top position, connects the fuse box to the starting battery/alternator side of the isolator. When switched all the way down while the ignition is off, the power to the new fuse panel is pulled from the coach battery.

The idea behind the new switched fuse box is to allow the accessories wired into it to be run from the alternator, starting battery, coach batteries or be switched off completely. It has worked quite well and just adds a little more flexibility to our power system.  Feel free to ask any questions you may have. I promise, the next blog I write will be more entertaining!

Sunday, September 19, 2010

LP tank repair...

With the memory of the Tacoma Propane explosion (pictured above) still fresh in my mind, dealing with our messed up LP tank valve wasn't my idea of fun. I suppose I should start from the beginning. On the very first night we left Washington State, I went to open the LP valve and it sprayed out all around the stem, even when fully opened. I took most of that spray on 3 fingers that were instantly frostbitten.

With the tank still almost full, finding someone to work on it wasn't going to happen. So, on the advice of a few LP supply companies, I took Taj out to the middle of a field and shot her...Back up, just kidding :) I waited for a very windy day and in the middle of a field with both the van battery and coach batteries disconnected, I let that full tank empty out. Made me a little nervous, but it worked out just fine.

With the tank empty, we took Taj to Range Bottlegas in Coleraine MN where I led the first employee I saw out to the parking lot for a look. He went back inside and was right back out with a box of parts and a few tools. About 10 minutes later, a new valve core was installed and I was headed over to the fill station where he put just enough of a charge in it to test all the fittings in the tank area for leaks. All checked out well and the tank was then topped off. So, now the interesting part. Total Bill: $18 including the LP. No charge for him installing the valve or testing the fittings, just the gas and $6.50 for the valve guts. He was a really nice guy, even reluctant to accept the tip we gave him, just don't find such great service like that very often. We were extremely thankful for the work they did and that the LP is now good to go once again!

Friday, September 17, 2010

Squirrel Drama...

The back yard at my Mom's place in Floodwood Minnesota is pretty much a constant show. One of the stars of that show is "Casper", the pretty white squirrel above. He isn't an albino, but certainly not the average gray squirrel either. Whatever causes him to be white, it really bothers the other plain gray squirrels in the yard. He is different and must be vanquished!!!

Above sits one of the other participants in the daily battle for "King of the feeder". There are many like him of course so poor Casper has a pretty big challenge to face each day. Casper deals with it much the same way humans do, which is to say he finds someone lower on the food chain to pass the harassment to. Enter the rest of our cast, little red squirrels and chipmunks.

These poor little guys catch all the passed along abuse.

The last remaining characters in the cast of the Squirrel Drama Show, are the little flying squirrels who were unavailable to have their picture taken. They are a bit shy and show up just after dark each evening.

Of course there are other shows in the back yard as well with yet full casts of their own. The "Bird Drama" is especially entertaining!

Just thought I would leave you with a few parting shots of Casper since he is pretty much the star of the backyard show! Hope you enjoyed meeting the cast!

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Free Rustic Campsites

After the "B Social" get together in Grand Marais last weekend, Heidi and I did a little hunting for good local boondocking spots and found some very nice ones. The picture above is of the Superior National Forest facilities at White Pine Lake. Not seen, but just to the right of this picnic area, is a boat launch and to the right of that, the barrier-free fishing pier shown below.

As you can see, this was really a gorgeous area! It was really very secluded and quiet as well, with only the sounds of the birds, the waves against the shoreline and a light wind through the trees. I apologize to Nellie for not taking pictures of the outhouse, but maybe next time :-)

There were a grand total of 3 campsites here, each with a fire ring, picnic table and nice level parking space. The one above was ours for the night. The "rustic" designation means there is no potable water available and you have to pack your trash out with you. Of course there is also no electricity or other services available, but for boondocking, these spots are ideal.

Within about 20 miles, there were 4 other small groups of rustic campsites, still located within the Superior National Forest. I put specific directions to this site in our page on free camping and boondocking found by following:

You can also get to the page by clicking the "Free Boondocking/camping" link under the Vantramps page banner above. These types of sites can be found in many locations throughout the country. Heidi and I will do our best to document the ones we can personally vouch for as we travel.

Easy Ciabatta!

The Autumn weather has me wanting to make breads, soups, and other comfort foods.

This recipe will make two small van-sized loaves or one large class A sized loaf of nummy Ciabatta bread.

Add to the bread rising container:
1/4 teaspoon of granulated yeast into
2 cups of warm water

Mix in a separate bowl:
1 teaspoon of salt into
4 cups of all-purpose flour

Add the flour/salt to the water/yeast mixture. Stir to the consistency of a heavy batter.

Cover with a towel (or plastic wrap) and let it rest for 8 to 12 hours. A cold or drafty area may retard the dough rising process. Hmmm, where to find a warm-draft-free-bread-rising-place in a van?

I place the dough rising container on a heating pad, place it in the pressure canner (without the lid), and cover with a towel as seen below.

Flour the pan and sprinkle with cornmeal. Set the oven at 400F (or get that dutch oven hot?). I use a small convection toaster/oven.

Pour half of the dough out onto the pan. Sprinkle dried oregano, basil, and rosemary on the loaf. Place the loaf in the oven for 25 minutes. Let the bread rest for 10 minutes before cutting.

*** Vantramp husband note: As a not-very-often-enjoyer-of-bread, I have to say this stuff is excellent!! ***

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Grand Marais B Social

Heidi and I spent a wonderful 4 days in Grand Marais Minnesota this last weekend, hanging out with a great bunch of people who happen to be fellow "B" owners. I didn't get a confirmed final count, but I believe there were a total of 19 vans in our group. A few different makes were represented including Roadtrek, Pleasure Way, Leisure Travel Vans, Sportsmobile and one larger rig, a very nice Itaska Navion IQ.

The location was nice and right along the shore of Lake Superior. This is the view of the fairly protected bay area. This shot was taken while standing in the RV park.

I apologize for my somewhat slack picture taking. I was enjoying my time so much getting to know all the great new friends we made that I was pretty slow with the camera. At any rate, here are a few of the B's I did manage to get pictures of.

The first morning after meeting a few of the "neighbors", a local couple, George and Lesley, had us all up at their beautiful place for some amazing brick oven pizza. They are also fairly new owners of a very nice American Cruiser B that didn't stay at the park.

Lesley did an incredible job of cooking all the personal style pizzas after each person "built" their own with the toppings of their choice.

This was Heidi's creation which she said was the best pizza she has ever had. It was mighty good pizza indeed! Thank You George & Lesley!

The afternoon and evening was spent getting to know all our new friends and also watching Barb & Florence attempt to grill a hot-dog which was easily the funniest thing I have witnessed in quite a while. I believe there were at least 12-15 people involved or observing the attempts at lighting the charcoal and it just got more entertaining from there. Okay, so you probably had to be there to appreciate it fully, but seriously it was pretty hysterical!

The next day we spent most of the afternoon up on the Gunflint Trail, enjoying the amazing scenery. We learned a little history about the area at the Chik-Wauk Museum and enjoyed some pie that was part of the "Taste of the Gunflint Trail" event going on over the weekend. We also stopped at the Gunflint Lodge and enjoyed some walleye chowder. That stop was pretty special to Heidi, who always considered Justine Kerfoot (longtime owner of the lodge) to be one of her heroes. Justine passed away in 2001, but the lodge is now owned and operated by her son Bruce. Heidi spent a few moments talking to him which meant quite a lot to her.

The evening brought more excellent food in the form of a pot-luck back at the RV Park. The B'ers put out quite a spread! Great food and a lot of fun conversation! Later, before turning in for the night, there was a nice fire to share in the pavilion by the water. We said most of our goodbyes at that time.

Before the 1 o'clock checkout, there was time to visit a little more and explore the inside of a few of the remaining B's as well as show some of Taj's finer points. Heidi and I had so much fun getting to know everyone! We can't wait to see more of them in the future! Special Thanks to David who was responsible for making it all happen!

Parting Shot is of Taj sitting next to the bay after a serious scrubbing at the car wash. She was pretty dirty after her day up on the gunflint!

Friday, September 10, 2010

The cost of life on the road.

After getting a ton of questions over the years concerning the costs of living this lifestyle, I am hoping I can shed some light with this post. Of course, the money involved is going to vary widely based on your particular rolling home and the way you travel, so keep that in mind as I share our experience with this topic.

First, there are the regularly scheduled expenses that we all face. For us, insurance is currently at $57 a month and yearly registration is $112.

Other expenses that are a little more varied, but not by a significant amount are our LP costs (propane) and tank dumping fees.

When we are utilizing our LP for the fridge while boondocking, hot water for showers, the furnace at night and the stove during the day on a fairly regular basis, we seem to fill it about once every 10 days at around $12-$14. So we can add about $40 a month on average for that expense.

Dumping the tanks for us most of the time isn't an expense in that we are usually able to locate a free dump station. For the times we have had to pay, it has never been more than $10 and usually is more like $3 to $5. This is a minor task that we take care of about once a week. It would be a very safe guess to say $20 a month for this in our case. We generally make sure the fresh water is topped off at around the same interval and have never had any expense to do it.

The most significant impact on the cost of living this lifestyle is really based on the pace we choose to travel at. Fuel, of course, is the main factor. Continuous travel is obviously pretty expensive and honestly just not that much fun if the pace is too quick.

Taj does fairly well on fuel, always staying above 15 MPG. I don't let her 35 gallon tank go below 1/4 on the gauge which means, at current prices, it requires about $75 to top off her tank and allows around 400 to 450 miles of driving. If we keep a mellow pace and enjoy an area for a little while before moving on, fuel costs can be pretty reasonable, even with a bit of local exploring. Destination driving is just more expensive so we usually try to avoid it.

For the most part, Heidi and I don't spend a lot of time in RV parks. Usually, we are able to locate a decent boondocking location or other form of free parking so, for us, this isn't a normal expense. There have been times we do enjoy staying at an RV park, but it is rare and usually due to a specific rally like the one we are currently attending this weekend.

Maintenance is a cost that must be considered and budgeted for. I keep up on Taj's service pretty well and do enough monitoring and preventative work that, other than regular interval type service, we really don't end up dealing with many unexpected repairs. $100 a month is more than our maintenence expenses, but I would say that is a fair amount to log if all of it were averaged over a year. That would be enough to cover general service easily.

We do laundry on a weekly basis at a typical laundromat. It is usually only 1 load and to wash and dry averages about $3 total so another $12 a month on the tally.

Another possible expense associated with life on the road is for a mail forwarding service. The services I checked into averaged $10-$20 per month. We don't generally get a lot of mail since we try to handle most stuff online. The few things we do get go to my Dads house where he can forward them if we need.

Expenses like food, clothing, entertainment, etc are really not too specific to this lifestyle so there isn't much point in calculating them for this post. I didn't include our Verizon 3G expense either since many just use Wifi where they find it and it isn't a requirement, though really nice to have.

So to sum things up a bit:

$57 for insurance
$10 for license fees averaged over a year.
$40 for LP(propane)
$20 for tank dumping
$300 for fuel if we top off once a week
$100 for maintenance averaged
$20 for mail forwarding
$12 for laundry
$554 total per month. This is actually a bit higher than our usual expenses, but it should give a decent starting point for a budget. Hopefully this will be helpful to those who are curious. Please feel free to ask any questions you may have.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Wow! Looks like Fall!

It is getting cooler finally and there have already been a few trees changing! The colorful one in the picture above was seen at my Dad's place in Port Angeles last year however. There really have been a few of the local Minnesota trees starting to show the signs that summer is over though.

After spending most of this wonderful Summer hanging out with my Sister Traci and her amazing family in Ogilvie, Heidi and I are now again just a few hours further North at my Mom's house. We will be here less than a week before we are off again, headed for the North Shore of Lake Superior to hang out with about 19 other Class B'ers.

So Back to Mom's, well what are we going to do here? Hopefully, just relax, whup up on Ma in our usual cribbage battles and try to catch up with my blogging. I am happy to report the whupping has already begun!