Friday, June 30, 2017

A day of stuff

It was a busy day at the shop. Forrest got an auxiliary gas tank installed on his project truck. More gasoline = more adventuring.

Lou and I (mostly Lou) made progress on the cabinetry. The stove/oven goes in the large opening. The The fridge will be on top of the counter, on the far left.

Counter top and doors not shown

But best of all, as far as I'm concerned, my new windshield was installed.

Forrest lends Pat the glass guy a hand

However, I'm having trouble dealing with the fact Forrest paid for the windshield. It was a surprise. A very very nice one, since I like not needing to spend money. But, I don't know, it just didn't seem right. True, I've been donating my time on his project, so it's fair for him to donate in return. He has already been feeding us and letting us use his bathroom and shower, and that seemed like enough. (Wow! Free showers! A boondocker's dream come true.) Maybe I don't value my time that much. Or maybe I underestimate what my help means to him.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

I'm not racing up Pikes Peak, but...

The Rolling Steel Tent has modest power for its size and weight, so it needs to be in lower gears, revving like a maniac, to climb steep grades. That generates extra heat—sometimes faster than the cooling system can deal with it. In the previous blog entry I mentioned pausing from my climb out of Black Canyon of the Gunnison to let the engine cool down. The temperature hadn't reached the dangerous range (which I knew because I watch my gauges, unlike some people), but there was an opportunity to pull off the road, so I did. Take care of the engine and the engine will take care of you.

Last week, elsewhere in Colorado, race drives not in cargo vans containing all their earthy possessions were screaming up the steep grades of Pikes Peak. They had engine cooling issues of their own—because of the elevation. As driver/car owner Rob Holland explained in Jalopnik:
First and foremost is that all cars struggle with overheating to varying degrees at Pikes Peak.  The air above 10,000 feet, and while cooler, it is also very thin and very dry. That combination is the worst-case scenario for cooling, as air at that altitude has very little convective capability and overall heat capacity.
Ah, thin air. I hadn't ever thought of that. I'll have to keep it in mind.

More wandering

I woke up alone at the compound. Lou was off fishing and Forrest was somewhere else. So I took off, too, with no actual plan. That lack of intent found me driving up Owl Creek Pass in the Cimarron Mountains west of town.

Chimney Rock

I chilled a little then continued on to Silver Jack Reservoir. The last time I was up here, last year, the place was crowded with RVs and anglers. This time it was deserted. I guess the crowds are holding off until Independence Day weekend. And, well, it was the middle of the week. I chilled some more.

The road eventually connects with US 50. I figured I'd just take 50 to Montrose then back to Ridgway. But the sign for Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park caught my eye. Hey, why not. I'd been to the north rim but not the south. And I had my Interagency Senior Pass.

At the south rim park entrance there's a paved road down to the river, at East Portal. It's narrow and steep—a 16% grade. Yes, sixteen, not six. I put the Rolling Steel Tent in first gear to save my brakes on the way down. There's fishing access and a campground. I chilled some more. Although the park's unofficial slogan is Deep, Steep and Narrow, East Portal isn't as dramatic. So I chugged back up to the rim in first gear, stopping a few minutes at a large pullout to let the engine cool.

Looking east from near the visitor center

The trouble with being at Black Canyon at midday, just after the summer solstice, is that the sun is almost directly overhead. That doesn't make for very interesting lighting. As photographers say, it's flat. I went from overlook to overlook seeking lighting that best fit the drama of the place. This is the best I could do. A different time of day in a different season would've been better, but still...

It's over 2,000 feet down to the river

Lou was back by the time I returned. He'd had a good day of fishing. It turned out I had driven past him near Silver Jack Reservoir. I didn't know that was where he'd gone. Or maybe he had mentioned it beforehand and I didn't consciously take note of it. Maybe my subconscious did, which is the reason I went that direction. Strange world. And beautiful.

Rectangular holes

What looks like plywood Swiss cheese is actually the front panel of the Baultmobile kitchen cabinets.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017


A year ago, or maybe two, Lou told me the story of an avid researcher of Anasazi culture who discovered an unopened storeroom and decided to leave it as he found it, even though he would never know what was inside. The man, Craig Childs, had written House of Rain: Tracking a Vanished Civilization Across the American Southwest. Lou recommended I read it. I bought the Kindle version and was going to read it after I finished some other books. Then I forgot about it.

Last year I drove from Durango to Albuquerque. I saw the signs on US 550 for the turnoff to Chaco Culture National Historic Park but passed by because I had other plans on my mind and I’d read that the road there was 25 miles of washboard.

A week and a half ago, dinner guests who had lived many years in New Mexico asked if I’d been to Chaco Canyon.

“Not yet, but I want to.”

“Oh, you should definitely go.”

A week later was Kat and Joe’s wedding. Afterward, Cyan reported on Facebook that she’d seen a man at the wedding “wearing an animal skull with a scarf through the eye sockets as a tie.” (I remembered seeing him and admiring his neckwear.) Forrest introduced Cyan to him. It was Craig Childs, who lives off-grid somewhere in the area and, evidently, is a friend of Kat and/or Joe and of Forrest. Cyan wrote, “I try not to go all fan girl because he's the author of the book I'm reading!” Which is the book I was going to read. Eventually.

So I pulled up the book. It starts with the story of the unopened room. A couple of chapters later Childs is at Chaco Culture on the summer solstice.
No one moved as we huddled at the eastern arc of Casa Rinconada this morning. All eyes peered to the west. Suddenly, the sky split open, and a meteorite slivered the blue horizon, its metallic green streak bright even in the morning glow. A full second of arcing, electric light marked the whole western sky. Voices of alarm rose from the crowd. Everyone had seen it, a coincidence of position. The meteorite fell beyond the horizon, striking the desert somewhere out past Standing Rock.
As this vein of light faded, many people gasped. Some laughed almost uncomfortably. I heard the word omen spoken under someone’s breath. The Tewa-speaking man who had sung the morning song said nothing. He had already turned to face the east. I turned also and saw a pinprick of orange light break the horizon. 
...The sun’s light was channeled through a portal of Casa Rinconada. A square of sunlight landed on the opposite wall in a niche just its size. I looked east, straight into the light, and saw great houses illuminated in the distance, miles of stonework ruins positioned to mirror and regard the turning sky. Across the canyon stood the behemoth of Pueblo Bonito, looking like a ship stranded in the desert, its five-story hull open, wooden ribs sticking out of the masonry. I lifted my hand to shade my face. The summer sun began scalding the bare landscape, shrinking every shadow back into itself, turning this place from an immortal calendar back into a searing desert.
I will definitely go to Chaco Canyon.

More butt experiments

One of the keys to happy traveling is a contented butt. I've experimented with several cushion options for the Rolling Steel Tent's driver seat and ultimately rejected them all. Being an optimist (or a fool) I hold out hope for eventual perfection.

I've gone back to the regular old seat, but, as you can see, it's not in great shape. And vinyl causes butt and back sweat. So I got a seat cover.

I don't know if it will help the sweat issue, but it looks better. They come in pairs (because most people don't remove the passenger seat) so I might try doubling up. If nothing else, it would solve the question of where to store the second cover.

Monday, June 26, 2017

A drive

The afternoons have been a little too warm here lately, so today I took US 550—the Million Dollar Highway—south to higher elevations and lower temperatures. Destination: Silverton.

It had clouded over and was drizzling here and there on the way back. That's good for cooling things down.

Not a double-holer

Ever since there were boats, sailors have been hanging their butts over the side to relieve themselves. However, the two holes at the back of the Baultmobile aren't for that purpose. Because it's not a boat. They're access hatches for batteries and other electrical equipment.


When I got the Rolling Steel Tent there were no skins on the back doors, just painted steel and openings into the vast nothingness of the door cavities. I filled the doors with cellulose insulation, then sent off for a set of cargo van skins. However, they didn't come with the part that covers the latch. So I suffered through this ugliness for the past four years:

I could've done something about it a lot sooner, but the planets finally aligned—those being the planets of Thinking About the Missing Cover (which is roughly the size of Neptune), Finding It on the Web (about the size of Venus), and Being in One Place Long Enough to Receive It (about three times the size of Jupiter). The cover arrived today and now the back door looks like this:

Much better. There's still a little piece that goes right behind the latch lever. I'll get that in another four years.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Wedding day

Joe and Kat got married today. It was a casual affair in the park. The bride, wearing a white gown and cowboy boots, arrived on the back of an old firetruck driven by Lou. RrrrrrrRRRRRRRrrrrr. The groom sang his vows. We all had barbecue.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

This time last year

Independence Pass, east of Aspen CO

Grab it

I want to lower my bed to give me more headroom when I use the bed as my chair. But there are things stowed under the bed that just barely slide in and out the way things are now. That means I need to switch to shorter things under the bed. Hurray for chain reactions.

One of the tall things under the bed was my tool box. I found a shorter box that still holds all my tools, though in a less organized way. Hurray for trade-offs. The old tool box had a place I could grab to pull it from under the bed. The new one didn't—until this morning.

I walked over to the small hardware store and, with the assistance of a pleasant clerk, got just the handle, screws and nuts I needed.

Now, along with the replacement for the standard size milk crate I was using before, there's plenty of room to lower the bed. After I do something about the plastic bin of clothing and stuff. I feel another Festival of Purging coming on.

Friday, June 23, 2017

I did my first brake job

When I got new front brake rotors and pads for the Rolling Steel Tent back in November, they told me my rear brake pads should be replaced sometime in the near future. The rear brakes aren't as critical because the front brakes do most of the stopping. But you still need rear brakes to keep the back end from coming around. And the rear brakes are your emergency/parking brakes.

With my limited gearhead knowledge I suspected replacing the brake pads wasn't rocket science. So I went on YouTube and, voila, an instructional video about replacing brake pads on 3/4- and 1-ton Chevy Express vans. Oh yeah, piece of cake. One wrench and a big C-clamp. Though it would be easier and faster if I had a better jack than the one the Rolling Steel Tent came with. And an air wrench. So I waited until I got to Forrest's place.

Forrest said I could get name brand, American-made brake pads online for a fraction of what a Chevy dealer or auto parts store would charge. So that's what I did.

You've seen this view before if you've ever changed a flat rear tire. The caliper looks all complicated and mysterious (which is what mechanics would like you to keep thinking) but it's actually rather simple.

As explained in the video I linked to above, there are two bolts on the back of the caliper that need to be removed (with a 17mm wrench in the case of the Express).

The bottom bolt on its way out

But, really, you can change the pads by removing just one bolt (the bottom one is easier to get to) and loosening the other so the center of the caliper swings away. That means you don't need to worry about the brake line. Then the pads just slip out to the sides.

Here's a comparison of the old and new pads. The old ones would still work a while longer, but now I won't need to think about them for the remaining life of the van.

Since the new pads are thicker, the pistons that press the pads against the rotor need to be pushed back into the caliper. That's what the afore-mentioned C-clamp is for. Unless you're Superman.

Just hold an old pad against the piston then crank the C-clamp as far as it will go. This is also easier to do with one end of the caliper still bolted in place. And with an extra hand to hold the caliper up. Thanks, Forrest.

Slide the new pair of pads into place, swing the caliper over them (which might require a little jiggling), replace and tighten the bolts, and there you go.

You don't need to take the old pads out to see how worn they are. And, hopefully, you don't find out by being unable to stop. With the wheel off (and maybe with it still on, depending on the vehicle) you can see the pads through the inspection window on the caliper. Here's the view with my new pads in place.

There you have it. It would've taken longer with the jack and tools I have, but I still could've done it, even out in the boonies. You probably could, too.

Interior wall going up

The main structure of the shower/bathroom is in place. It just needs trim, which can't be put in place until the ceiling, flooring and other things are done. So it's wall time.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

This doesn't happen with the Rolling STEEL Tent


The rebuilding of the locking hubs is done. I think the answer was more beer.

Into the woods again

It was going to be hot in Ridgway, so I headed for higher, cooler ground. County Road 7 follows the East Fork of Dallas Creek, past Ralph Lauren's ranch, almost to the northern base of Mt. Sneffels. The road is good but deteriorates somewhat when it crosses into the Uncompahgre National Forest. Then it's lumpy and potholed but still easily passible in the Rolling Steel Tent. I wouldn't want to tow anything up there, though. But I don't want to tow anything anywhere, so take my opinion for what it's worth.

There are several places to camp on the way to Blue Lakes trailhead, at the end of the road. Some are next to meadows, with fewer next to the creek. I like water. The large, tenacious flies in the area seem to have no preference.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Goodbye ads

I've turned off AdSense. It hasn't been worth it. Enjoy vintage RollingSteelTent.blogspot, now 100% ad free. Monetization isn't everything.

Cotton or down?

I'm camped next to cottonwood trees, and it's reproductive season. That means little fluffy white tufts find their way into the Rolling Steel Tent.

I also have a small leak in my down quilt. That means other little fluffy white tufts find their way into the Rolling Steel Tent.

It's like winter in June.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Fillet of shower

It was time to join the walls of the shower to each other and to the floor. The assembly needed to be watertight, of course, which is no problem for Lou. He used to build wooden boats for a living. He uses this epoxy-based stuff. It fills, bonds, and seals. Sort of like super-duper bondo.

After the joints cure they'll be sanded and another layer of clear epoxy will go over everything.

Back road rendezvous

On the way back to Ridgway after a day at Alta Lakes I had the impulse to turn up Last Dollar Road. More curiosity to be satisfied. More experience to be gained.

I had pulled over to take pictures like the one above when I heard my name called. It was Forrest, Cyan and Jenya taking the slow, scenic route to Telluride. One of those weird intersections of random stuff I wrote about the other day. Good luck.

Jenya decided she wanted a photo of her very pregnant self with the flowers and mountains in the background.

Child number two just a couple of weeks away

Monday, June 19, 2017

High water

My friend Colvin recommended Alta Lakes when he read in a previous post I had been in the general area. I asked Forrest about Alta Lakes and he enthusiastically agreed. So here I am.

Getting annoyingly technical

ALTITUDE: Vertical distance between an object and the local surface of the Earth. In other words, height in the air.

ELEVATION: Vertical distance between the local surface of the Earth and global sea level. The local surface of the Earth will be either land or water surface. In other words, height on the ground.

So, unless you're flying, you get elevation sickness, not altitude sickness. And I'm camped at an elevation of 11,215 feet. Yet I'm not suffering elevation sickness. I'm suffering a bout of pedantry.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Good luck, bad luck, good luck, bad luck...

I don't believe in fate, predestination, karma or similar things. The world is just filled with the infinite intersections of random stuff. There's no supernatural intent behind any of it. Sure, I call it luck, but I don't think luck is an actual thing. Sometimes randomness affects me positively, sometimes negatively, but usually it's rather neutral. And sometimes "luck" is the natural consequence of things I saw coming, or should've seen, but I ignored, or hoped would turn out another way. Today was a grab bag of randomness.

It was laundry and supplies day. So after my morning routine I headed to Montrose. About five miles up the highway traffic came to a halt. I couldn't see the reason because of a bend in the road. Construction maybe? I put the Rolling Steel Tent in park and waited. And waited.

A vehicle or two would occasionally come the other way. The line would creep forward a bit. I waited. Some drivers ahead got out, walked around, talked with other drivers. Hmmmm. A DOT truck came by on the shoulder. That wasn't a good sign. Probably an accident. Very bad luck for whomever was involved. Relatively insignificant bad luck for me and the other drivers. If I had left sooner I might have avoided the accident. That would've been good luck, of which I would've been totally unaware, because nothing would've happened. If I had left at a different time I might have been in the accident. Very bad luck.

Then I realized I was in luck after all. I knew a detour. And I knew the detour because I had driven it while exploring, on a whim. "Where does this road go?" So I turned around to pick up the alternate route. Sweet.

The detour is paved at the beginning and end. The middle isn't. There was a steady stream of vehicles in both directions. They knew the detour, too. Lucky for them. Then one of them kicked up a stone that smacked almost directly in the center of my sight line. It made a chip about the size of a quarter. Aw man, bad luck.

But wait. It wasn't really bad luck. The rock didn't come through the glass. It didn't harm me. It just pissed me off a little. Besides that, I had already planned to replace the windshield because of a big crack. (Earlier bad luck.) More than a week ago I had talked to Forrest's friend who does auto glass work. He said he'd get back to me with an estimate. But he hadn't, which I thought was bad luck. If he had gotten back to me, and if the windshield had just been replaced, then it would have been bad luck of the sort that convinces me some malevolent force is out to get me.

The rest of the day was filled with moments of very minor good and bad luck. It all averaged out, though. In fact, I'm ahead of the game because I'm here to write about it all. But if a meteorite smashes into the van as I sleep and turns me into a smoldering grease spot, it will be because I've blasphemed fate. Which doesn't exist. Neener neener neener, come and get me.