Friday, June 9, 2017

Field research

I have a reputation as someone who'll drive several hundred miles just to spend a couple of days, then drive back. What's wrong with that? If I have a hankering to be somewhere else, and I have the gas money, why not go? I spent too much of my life being told I had to have good reasons, approved by people who thought they had the right to say so, in order to travel.

So, when Forrest needed a load of specialty plywood picked up in Denver, he turned to me. A 560 mile round trip for some wood? Sure. Why not? And I didn't need to do it in one day.

Forrest didn't expect me to add wear and tear to the Rolling Steel Tent, so he had me take his fourth-generation Dodge Caravan. "The space in back is exactly 4 by 8, if you scoot the front seats forward an inch," he said.

The back of a minivan looks huge with the seats out. So huge that I got thinking about the feasibility of me living in one when the Rolling Steel Tent can't wander any longer. Thirty-two square feet instead of sixty? Only 45 inches of headroom? Hmmmmm... We tossed in a foam pad, my pillow and a blanket and I hit the road.

Once I got reacquainted with quicker steering and a lower view of the road the drive was rather pleasant. Well, except for the bulge on the door containing the power window and lock buttons. It was in exactly the right spot to dig into the top knob of my left fibula. The route took me over 11,312 foot high Monarch Pass. The Caravan took it easily. I took a picture.

From the crest of Monarch Pass

I found the lumber yard then went scouting for someplace to park for the night. Walmart? No, there were nasty signs forbidding overnight parking. What about on the neighborhood with lots of apartments behind the lumber yard? No parking restriction signs, but I felt weird just sitting there waiting for night. "No, I'm not some creepy guy casing your apartments." So I looked up nearby campgrounds. Ah-ha, a country recreation area with a campground. But when I got there, "Sorry, we're booked up until next week." Okay, what else, what else? I googled sleeping in cars in Denver and found a guy's blog. He told of some park & ride lots on the west edge of the metro area. It sounded like what I needed.

It was dusk when I got to the lots right by I-70. Other vehicle dweller types had started arriving, which was a good indicator it was okay to be there. I climbed in the back of the minivan and tried out the foam pad. It wasn't my super plush bed, but it was better than nothing. Then I started thinking.

Okay, I could remove the passenger seat and put the fridge there, just like in the Rolling Steel Tent. And I could radically minimize my other possessions, do a drawer under the bed—a narrower bed, of course. A small cabinet there... and so on.

Then I had another, more immediate, thought. What if I need to use a toilet tonight? I could pee in the bushes, but what about poo? I hadn't come equipped for that. Rats. So I crawled back into the driver seat and went to check out another park & ride a few miles south.

What luck! This one was next to a 24-hour convenience store. And it was a little farther from the highway, so quieter. I returned to the back of the minivan for more thinking and planning.

Then the thunderstorm hit. It gets very stuffy and warm when all the windows closed. And some of this particular minivan's funkier aromas become more apparent. And the pad wasn't helping much. So I tossed and turned for several hours and wondered whether it would be safe to open the windows or would there be more rain after I finally fell asleep. I kept the windows closed and managed to nod off for a while.

There was a hint of dawn when I woke. And I needed a bathroom. The men's room was out of order, so I used the ladies'. It was 4:15, who would care. Not the night clerk.

A good thing about major cities is that it's easy to find decent bagels. A day that starts with a good bagel is much better than days which don't. So bagel, orange juice, gas, then off to the lumber yard. The order was ready and, as promised, fit into the minivan.

Even loaded up, the Caravan drove happily along. Up steep grades, air conditioning on, no overheating, no lack of power, no problem. Except for that thing digging into my leg. I'd have to do something about that. If.


  1. Do not think these thoughts while in the steel tent or it will get pissed.

    1. The RST is accepting of its inevitable mortality.

    2. On a atomic level it has an eternal
      Nature...rebuilds in LA are around 2k, tranny's are around 1500. The rest is peanuts. Keep it, restore it's dignity, drive it, maintain it. 400k is a minute fraction of one light year.

  2. When we were living in the last house we owned before going RVing fulltime we built a model railroad. We learned how wonderful my Grand Caravan was then for hauling plywood. I've often wondered since then if I could live in one.

  3. Of all the vehicles I have done extended driving in, the '04 chevy express I ran a business out of was the most comfortable. When driving Lora's Honda, I daydream about the van seat.
    Have you thought about replacing the seat with a less worn one from a parts yard?
    Maybe you don't feel as fondly toward your seat, but if you do, i'd bet there are numerous wrecked express vans at pick n pull yards all around the southwest.