Tuesday, September 27, 2011

a partial list of essentials for Van living.

not in order and not the usual....just random thoughts.

duct tape
zip lock bags
spare tire
zip ties
some 12 Gauge automotive wire
electricians tape
a pantyhose (use as a spare belt for short distances)
spare key or two
flushable wet wipes
a 5 gallon bucket with snap on lid
a 12v hanging lamp with battery connections
heavy duty trash bags
a small can of kitty litter
some small mason jars
some dried food tucked away in an air tight container
Leatherman Skeletool
2 part epoxy putty

hmmmmm...........I will add to this later.

staying clean.. Zodi Review

Living mostly full time in a van is great.......for the most part. Staying clean can be a challenge especially since I am in a river all day who's cleanliness is questionable. last summer I made a great purchase, a Zodi hot water shower. The unit heats cold water up to a bearable level and has a built in shower head. It stores in it's own bag (in a multi-use 5 gallon bucket) and runs off of propane. The water is heated as it is pushed through a copper tube which is heated by a "camp-stove" type heating element. A submersible 6v pump supplies the pressure which is just enough to wash down with. It runs on 1lb green propane bottles but I bought a bulk propane hose to run it off my 5lb tank. I keep a couple of green bottles around just in case. There are two problems with the Zodi. First, the piezo igniter is garbage. It broke on my first Zodi which I returned and then broke on the replacement. I use a stick lighter now and it works just fine. The second problem is the power for the pump. It runs on 4 2.5v D cell batteries which wear down too quickly. I never tested it but I would guess the batteries are good for a dozen showers. I have been thinking of hacking a 6v power supply or a different pump but you want the water pressure to stay the same because it heats as it goes through the copper tube. If the water goes too fast it won't heat and you will have to cycle the water in the bucket to get it pre-warmed. Speaking of the bucket. I store the Zodi in it's bag in a 5 gallon bucket which I use to hold my wash water. I have found that I can get clean and have a nice shower on half a bucket of water (2.5 gallons). If I have to pre-heat really cold water it helps to have the bucket only half full.
To use the shower you simply fill your 5 gallon bucket up with the water you intend to use. Drop the 12v pump and shower head into the bucket, push the on button on the battery pack making sure the water is flowing, turn the gas on and light. Depending on the temp of your source water the shower could be warm enough or you may have to cycle the water in the bucket for a minute to pre-warm. don't pre warm too much though. The water coming out of the shower head is going to be much hotter than the water in the bucket since it goes through a heating cycle as it comes to the shower head. It is also important to shut the burner off before you shut the water pump off so you don't melt anything.
My shower process is simple. Get wet with luke warm water and put the shower head back in the bucket. Soap up and rinse off. The rinse water will be warmer since it has been cycling while I lathered up. I carry bio degradable peppermint bar soap (Dr Bronners)and use that to wash my hair as well. I use bio degradable conditioner as well. My soap stays in a zip-lock bag and I always hang my towel up inside the van to dry.
Since I live in a secluded parking lot I usually strip down and shower right out in the open which is not practical if you are urban camping. If you are trying to be stealthy you will need an alternate method of staying clean. This is where baby wipes become your best friend. These things are great for staying clean, can be flushed, take up little space and are usable in confined spaces. I have a sink in my van so I can wash my face but getting to the undercarriage can be tough in a van. I keep the baby wipes in a zip lock and I buy them in bulk when I can. I have often thought of a way to use the shower in the van but it is just not practical.

....the river rises.

.....so the last month or so of rafting has been tough. After a season of relatively easy water levels the river dropped and really sucked the fun out of what I do. It's not really that much harder to paddle low water but it sure does change the dynamic with the customers. They simply do not have as much fun with the river which makes the guides have to work harder to be more entertaining. It just became a lot of work. Well last week the mighty river rose to 4000cfs (cubic feet per second). To put that in perspective, the last trip I did before that the river was at 680cfs. It wasn't high water but it was at least water and and it certainly rejuvenated me. The next day the river was back to 2000cfs and I am not sure where it is now but still up over a thousand. That is a nice little kick at the end of season. I have also been getting some "Trip Leader" trips which helps out. It's a little extra money but more importantly I can work on a one boat trip. There are a lot of hungry raft guides out there right now and I am trying to keep my (and Sho's) bellies full.

speaking of electronics.

I do not have a bunch of electronics in the vandaminium save a small Acer net book, a Kindle reader, and an old portable 10"DVD that no longer works on it's own battery and has to be plugged into 110v electricity (I lost the 12v cord). These are the "entertainment" electronics. I also have 12v incandescent lighting, a 12v Edgestar refrigerator, a Sony car stereo, a CB (never used) a 12v pump for my sink, and 2 12v fans. These items are powered by the marine battery which is charged from a small solar panel as well as the alternator when the car is running. You may notice the lack of an inverter. With the exception of the DVD player and computer, everything I run is powered from the 12v system. I charge the computer up while I use it at coffee shops, surfing the net or writing. As I don't boondock that much this works out great. For boondocking I will add a small inverter and more solar panels. A small generator might be on the horizon as well. I find that if I drive a bit everyday my house battery stays charged but if I stay in one place my battery only lasts 2 days. More solar and another deep cycle should allow me to stay out for a few more days which is the goal. I would like to be able to stay in one place, away from civilization for 7-10 days without having to drive the van to charge batteries. The generator would alleviate this but I don't want to put a stinky, gas generator in the van and I dont want to mount it outside and blow my stealth ability. If I add more solar panels they are not going to mounted to the roof of the van but put on a rack with a quick disconnect so I can aim them at the sun for more efficiency. When they are not in use they will slide into a special sleeve under the bed. Tha's the plan anyway. Amazon sells a 45w kit as does Harbor Freight. This may be my next purchase.

Monday, September 26, 2011


I want hardwood floors in the van.....or at least laminates. I went to Lowes today and found packs of 24 square feet for 16$ each. I have stripped the original shag carpet up and have been using a carpet for the last year. Unfortunately, this black carpet shows mud and dog hair so bad it is impossible to keep looking nice. Also wood floors in vans is bad-ass! So soon I am going to put cheap laminates in. There I said it. New floors......soon.

....new water pump and alternator and belts and.....

I picked up the van yesterday and have been doing some test driving.Everything seems good. My mechanic installed a new water pump and alternator. He also replaced all of the belts up front and the voltage regulator. All for 175$ in labor ! The charging system seems to be doing great although I might have installed a better, higher amperage alternator. My alternator must have gone when I had a short a few weeks ago. The diode pack blew and even though the alternator was still working it was overcharging. This would have eventually destroyed both batteries. The short was where I fed the cable from my battery isolator to my extra battery passed through the metal firewall. The rough edge cut into the cable and ....POOF! The charging system is working now as are the gauges which started acting funny after the short. My spare battery is charging again so the fridge is back on line. I re-wired the fridge and the sink and hooked the little solar panel up to the spare battery and everything seems to be OK.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

wants and needs........living in a van.

.......storage. Storage. Storage. Where do I put it all. I kind of cleaned out the van the other day and took a look at everything that I have been carrying around. Most of it needs to be in the van but there were a few things that I really didn't need. I carry a lot of camping gear......some I use...a bunch I don't. I just put a bunch of stuff in the storage unit (more on that later) but here is what is left....

3 big dry-bags (I only need one for a laundry bag)
1 pelican case (empty)
small dutch oven (never use it)
1 bag of tarps and poles (almost never use them)
1 small cheap dry-box (actually holding some epoxy and adhesives)
1 large duffel full of cold weather clothes (some of these I need)

This is all extra. Here are my storage places....

1. Under bed. Lots of room
2. New Closet. Hanging clothes on top and three plastic drawers on the bottom
3. In-Door cut-outs. A little space in these. used for small miscellanious items
4. Kitchen pantry. Pretty good sized for dry foods and canned goods
5. Silverware Drawer
6. Some room on top of the stove
7. Some room under the sink
8. Empty spot where the passenger seat used to be
9. small slot in bulkhead above bed
10. Small storage ottoman

That's it. I need to pack it all in these spots .......and nice. My biggest problem is wet clothes. I work on the river in the summer and bathing suits get funky quickly. I have tried rinsing and hanging them but.....well, funky. Wet clothes end up laying on the floor and then the clutter begins. I think a mesh bag on the roof is the answer for that....

I need to build a seat/storage area where the passenger seat used to be. That can hold the deep cycle battery and maybe pots and pans etc. Under the bed I can put extra clothes, tool bag, and the outside living set-up (more on that later).

.....and more repairs. And new Blackout Curtains

.....so the vandaminium is back in the shop and I am couch surfing again. I am having a new water pump installed and hopefully having the charging system fixed. My alternator has been overcharging since a bad short-out. The alternator was putting out close to 17 volts......way too high. Hopefully it is the voltage regulator. I installed new rear and side curtains the other day. They were cheap and easy from the dollar store. here is a shopping list with approximate costs...

. Black Polyester Black Out Panel 10$
. 2 extandeble curtain rods 3$
. 1 can black spray paint 1.5$
. Lighter (had)
. Shallow sheet metal screws

The black out curtain was long enough to cut in half and use for two windows. I singed the bottom with a lighter to prevent fraying. I screwed the rear curtain rod into the plastic cover for the rear air conditioner. The curtain has a simple pocket for the rod which is better than tabs because the top edge stays tight to the ceiling allowing no light to pass. The side doors were done the same although this time I spray painted the curtain rod black for aesthetics. the cheap curtains do a pretty good job of keeping light out and in. If the van is parked on a marginally lighted street the outside glare on the windows would likely make all but the brightest light from the inside invisible. It greatly reduces sunlight coming in (but not completely). I may still tint the rear and side windows for added stealthy-ness.

That's all for now...... I will keep you posted on the van repairs.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

.....Problems with systems....

OK. Been a month or so and I have been working out the bugs with the new dual battery setup and the bugs........with the van. The steering on the van had been dodgy since I bought it so last month I started re-doing the front end. I started with new shocks all the way around which my buddy Chris and I did in an afternoon. It improved the ride (the old shocks were completely dead) but made me aware that there were more problems with the front end. I took it to a local service shop to get an estimate (and to figure out why I was losing coolant) and was told that I needed new upper and lower control arm ball joints and that that alone was going to cost 600$. Bad. The coolant leak was from some bad freeze plugs on the motor and the local shop would not fix them. I was hosed. A buddy recommended a shade tree mechanic he knew and so I took it to him. He was willing to to the ball joints for 100$ per wheel if I brought the parts!!! After a few false starts on the internet buying the correct ball joints I left Napa Autoparts with upper and lower control arm ball joints for both sides, idler arms for both sides (yes my van has two), 3 freeze/expansion plugs and my fingers crossed. My mechanic installed all for 340$ and the van actually steers now. I paid less for all that work than the "shop" was going to charge and I am just tickled. My new mechanic said that I need to replace the water pump soon so I bought one and I am just waiting for a food time to install it. Here is a list of the work done in the last 10 days....
1. Upper control arm ball joints (both sides)
2. Lower control arm ball joints (both sides)
3. Three leaky freeze plugs on the engine block
4. 2 Idler arms
5. New shocks all the way around

Normally I would have tried these repairs myself but the fact that special tools were needed and I found a mechanic that didn't charge an arm and a leg, I had the work done.

The van is riding remarkably better which makes the other problems stand out a little more. More to come. I am going out to work on the van......