“Where did the dinghy go?”

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Leaving Arkansas

Posted on Sunday Apr 22, 2012

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Oauchita mountains (really only hills) were beautiful!  Everything was blooming and spring was in full force.  Unfortunately the camp sites were "closed until spring."  Since no one was around we camped at the mountain visits and hiked several of the trails.  Lower down along the rivers there were some free camp sites, but the nearby farms sounds made it sound like it was feeding time at the zoo.  Hounds, geese, cows, pigs were going nuts.  Quite a weird scene to be camped by the river in the woods yet feel like you're in a farm-insane-asylum.  I guess after being feed they all seemed to quite down because eventually the forest returned to normal.

The bonus was we road some of the BEST single track mountain bike trials right from our camp site!!

We also stopped at Hot Springs, Arkansas.  Home of Bill Clinton and National Hot Springs Park.  Excited to soak in some hot water with our sore biking muscles we strapped on our boots and hiked about 5 miles from the park's campground to the hot springs center.

Nice museum and everything, but no public hot springs?!  They brag everywhere in the park about preserving the springs for everyone, not just the elite few and how this is one of the oldest protected areas in the USA from the 1800's.  And for irony the campground doesn't even have hot showers!  Something's wrong here.  And all the private spring bath houses are expensive.  So we got caught in a freezing rain storm, trudged all the way back to the campground and huddled in the RV with the heater going.  Great.  Some hot springs park.  At least the hiking trails were nice.

Now we are in MISSISSIPPI looking for our next campground/trail/adventure!


BLOWOUT

Posted on Monday Apr 16, 2012

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Starting the day with a bang can suck. Especially if the bang is your hard-to-find 8-ply tire and you're in the middle of nowhere. We were heading down out of the Wichita mountains in Oklahoma when one of our dually tires exploded. (Dually tires are two tires side by side.) Fortunately only one of the two blew out, so we were able to slooowly drive on the shoulder to a truck stop, oddly named "Love's."
Finding the replacement means ordering it, because it is an odd tire. So here we sit at "Love's Travel Stop and Country Store" of Medicine Park, OK waiting for the tire to arrive tomorrow. In the meantime we have been busy listening to dozens of trucks running their engines all night (Sherrell's resorted to plugging her ears with tissue). Quite a change from the pleasant wilderness we were camping in only 20 miles back.

All the free camping we have been doing has just been wiped out by having to special order the tire and having someone come do a roadside repair for us. In a WTM-style moment we thought about just cutting away the blown tire (a la hacksaw because the lugs are on so tight we can't turn them with our tire iron) and driving another 11 miles on the shoulder of the freeway to a tire store and save about $50, but here in the US the cops wouldn't look lightly on us pulling that stunt on the freeway and unlike Mexico where the drivers are more prepared to handle unusually slow moving things on the freeway, I fear someone might plow into us as we creep across on and off ramps. In both cases the risks are too high. So like good citizens we are staying put and paying for someone to fix it for us.

Now if we can only get some of these semis to shut down their engines during the night....

From the wilderness to aliens

Posted on Wednesday Apr 11, 2012

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Six days in the Gila wilderness wasn't enough. The temps at night were in 25F (-4C) range and it snowed on us once, but there are over 400 miles of hiking trails and lots of hot springs. The camping was free and hardly anyone was in the park -- probably because of the cold.

We stopped at White Sands National Monument which blew our minds, literally.

Now we are in Roswell checking out the crashed aliens and looking for the truth.

After today we are off to Bottomless Lakes park and then onward to the Wichita Wilderness in Oklahoma. Assuming we don't stop for an abduction.

We will have some great videos and photos to post when we have a decent internet connection in Maryland.

White Mountains Camping

Posted on Friday Mar 30, 2012

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We left Tuscon and headed to the mountains last week. We mountain biked at Catalina State Park then went by Biosphere 2 to check it out. They wanted $20 per person to tour it, so we just looked from a distance and left.

The drive through Salt River Canyon was breath taking. And then we worked our way to the forests near Show Low and Pinetop where the night time temperatures were in the low 40's (probably colder on the mountains where we camped). They had a blizzard the week prior which left snow patches and mud in many places. Most of the AZ state camp grounds where closed so we had to get creative in finding legal but nice overnight camp sites.

After about 4-5 days of hiking/biking we are now on our way through Alpine and towards the Gila National Forest in New Mexico. Since many of the upper roads were closed due to snow we had to skip some of the more impressive camping areas in the 9000+ elevation area. We were really disappointed, but we had to leave Mexico because our Visas were up which forced us to be here a little too early in the season.

At least the weather has been very nice. In the 60's during the day and 35-45 at night (brrrr!) with a bright sunny sky.

Ok, we've borrowed this WIFI connection long enough...got to hit the road!

US Border Crossing Closed Down by the WTM

Posted on Thursday Mar 22, 2012

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When that "Charge" light kept turning on after the engine warmed up, I decided to just wire the solar panel into the engine electronics. With all the sun down here we turned the WTM into the WORLD'S FIRST HYBRID TOYOTA MOTORHOME. The solar would run the fuel pump and the electronic ignition and keep the battery charged up enough to crank over the engine once or twice a day. Our goal was to get to the US where the car parts are a lot cheaper.

In Guaymas we stopped to visit friends and I noticed the belts were really loose on the engine. Since the alternator failed to charge after the engine got hot, I wondered if the belts were just slipping. So I tightened them and we pressed on.

Well, it was obvious after about 30 minutes when the charge light came back on that the belts weren't the problem. We pushed on. A new alternator in Mexico is almost 2x more than in the US and we only had about 400 miles to go.

All was great with the sun shining brightly on us powering our electronics. However at the US side of the border everything changed. They made us pull into the Agricultural Inspection Area that is covered (no sun!) and shut off the engine. Without the solar power we couldn't get it started again. Ok, we really didn't block the WHOLE border. But we did shut down our line (1 car behind us). The officers said it happens all the time and since I had cables, we got the car next to us to jump us.

But now that we've got a new alternator all is good (we hope!). Only $80 here, instead of $140 in Mex...that's why we rigged the RV to run off solar until we could make it back to Tuscon...almost worked.

Changing the alternator was a classic WTM moment too. We parked next to O'reily Parts. Went inside, verified they could test everything and they had a rebuilt alternator in stock. Then we proceeded to strip out the old alternator in the parking lot -- it's not like we could really disable our only car anywhere else.... The job required removing some cooling hoses (and draining the coolant) and taking off several brackets and plates. Once we could squeeze the alternator out it of course passed their tests. Since it normally takes about 20 minutes for the alternator to stop charging (measured at the alternator), we opted for the new alternator assuming the problem was intermittent. Then we put all the pieces back in and refilled the coolant system.

Not as quite a WTM moment as when we changed all the shocks last year in the NAPA Parts parking lot with a huge floor jack we rented, but it is a close second! Installing the shocks with the RV blocked up was quite a crowd pleaser.

Now to start the long trek EAST to see our family!

How to Add Google Maps to Blogger.com

Posted on Tuesday Mar 13, 2012

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I've updated some of our Web Tips so they support the new blogger.com templates. So if you're using a free blog from goggle and you want to put a map on your blog and be able to post way points on the map via your posts, then check out http://www.svsarana.com/web_tips.php#blogger_map

You'll have to edit your template, so if HTML scares you off then don't try it. There are two basic steps you need do to insert the HTML code into your template. And you need to get a key from google maps for your blog, but it isn't too hard. Take a look at http://svnakia.blogspot.com to see it in action.

Wild mama caught

Posted on Saturday Mar 3, 2012

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Like 6 years ago when we here last, the cat population has exploded. One cruiser, Bill, had most of them fixed, except one particularly wild mama kitty. She managed to pop out 3 litters and we found homes for them, but we were never able to catch her.

In fact, like crazy people with nothing better to do than talk to cats, we sat for hours trying to coax her into the trap with fresh dorado, canned tuna and cat food. Four weeks and no luck. So we decided to wait until she got pregnant again and really hungry.

When she appeared to have swallowed a football, we set up camp again. Since we are leaving soon, this is our last chance to sterilize all the cats, because if we don't do it, no one else will and her offspring will breed fast. When that happens we usually see cats getting poisoned. So it was do or die for this mama.

After several days with her still being too smart to get in the trap, we decided to mix it up. We got a giant net, put the trap out, loaded with food while I walked around trying to get the cats accustomed to me moving with the net. After about an hour of careful manipulation, I manged to get into a good position to try springing the net.

BOOM! She exploded into the net in a wild furry fury. Teeth, claws were everywhere with both Sherrell and I standing on the edge of the net to keep her from escaping. She writhed and twisted violently, but we had no choice but to find a way to trap her. We secured the net with some rope and then carried her in it all the way to the vet. She was thrashing in protest and the vet was really impressed we actually caught this one.

Here she is during transport. It's the only photo I have. She's trying to wiggle under the car seat while being entangled in the net.



She didn't seem to worse for the experience when we released her -- all things considered. But we haven't seen her since and she's probably happily avoiding humans for a while.

Sarana--Extreme Makeover

Posted on Tuesday Feb 7, 2012

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Sometimes I hate having a boat and sometimes I love it. This is one of the hate times. We have spent months working on some long neglected cosmetic work. But things are looking up as we get closer to the end. After finishing a grueling project like this the love comes back quickly.

I don't have any photos from the galley reconstruction because I lost my camera with all the photos. The only shot is the one my sister tried to take. If you look inside you can see the galley sink and counter tops are missing.

However after about 3 months of rebuilding the galley was ready to varnish.

As I mentioned in our previous post, we developed a secret recipe for removing old teak oil. In the area above the galley you can see the markings of our various experiments with letters to represent the mixtures. These were all applied with one application and then wiped off. You can see the dramatic difference.

Naturally the Navigation Station needed to be varnished too:

As well as the full interior which looks like a construction zone!

But as you can see the galley turned out nice. (In this photo you can see we haven't done the upper walls yet. They still need to be cleaned, prepped and varnished).

And so did the Nav Station

And we had to do the rest of the boat in sections. Here's some various BEFORE shots:





(the spots you see in the above photo was from dust on the lens not in the varnish!)

And the nice AFTER shots:







We still have a long list of things to finish: refinish the floors, paint the upper walls with a brighter paint over the varnish, refinish the outside teak (in progress now), and paint the cap rails. Oh, then we have to switch back to the non-cosmetic work that needs to be done! It never ends until you just decided to quit.

Varnish Stinks and Secret Recipe Revealed

Posted on Monday Dec 12, 2011

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I think we have been stripping teak and varnishing for 8 weeks now and we probably have another 4 or 5 weeks to go not including holidays. We've gone through a gallon of varnish which is supposed to cover 500 square feet in one coat. To say we are tired of stripping teak oil, and varnishing and sanding is an understatement. Just smelling the urethane solvent from a distance brings me down.

Here's an example of the starboard side settee after we stripped it and before we varnished it.


Now here's what it looks like after varnishing.


We usually put on about 6 or 7 coats so it will be durable and hopefully last about 100 years. Since we have to do everything in sections, we have to move things around and try to plan what can be stripped while the other area gets varnished. This makes all the spaces in the boat either under construction or buried in stuff for storage.

We did perfect a secret recipe for stripping off the teak oil:

  • 1 - part "Roma" laundry soap powder. (Roma brand soap is an important ingredient!)
  • 1 - part Baking Soda.
  • 2 - parts White Vinegar.
We apply this as a liquid paste and don't let it dry but rather sit on the wood for 10-15 minutes. It pulls the teak oil and gunk out. We can usually strip off the old layers of oil in 2 passes. Sometimes some sanding is required, but the stripping part usually removes a large bulk of the old teak oil. Rinsing the soap out of the wood probably takes another hour or two of work, but at least the chemicals are fairly non-toxic and they work well.

Pitching the Guides

Posted on Sunday Dec 4, 2011

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Our friends Bill and Jean from Mita Kuulu run the Rally to El Salvador and we donate a few guide books for them to raffle off. They kindly let us join in their presentations, which is rare because we are often never in the same spot at the same time. It gives us a chance to talk about the things we like in Central America and talk about our books. We had a pretty big crowd turn up for this rally which was pretty exciting.

Me babbling about Central America!

Good sized crowd
About 35 boats signed up for heading south! Here's a link to the Rally if you're interested:
http://elsalvadorrally.blogspot.com/