Things I Learned on Roadtrip #2

I keep taking The Ghost of Ohio out well before she’s ready.  Some would say I’m a glutton for punishment, but I think you “learn things better” when you experience them first hand.  Traveling with an Airstream that is under renovation, though it’s not the most luxurious situation, contributes greatly to improvements in design, layout, use, and materials.

The first road trip (at least the end of it) was a pretty miserable failure.  My kid will always have fond memories of breaking down in the middle of nowhere and being stranded for a week, and he swears that Worland, WY is his favorite place on the planet, but there’s no denying that the end of that trip (post breakdown and what it led to), was one of the worst experiences of my life …and that’s saying something.

So here I am on the second “case study” road trip.  Just me and my 5-year-old driving from Denver to Northwest Ohio.

Use your tire covers (especially when your Airstream is sitting for extended periods).

Tire blow out.  Likely the result of UV damage (covered-side tires were far less deteriorated).  I quickly learned that it is difficult to find trailer tires while on the road, and most places simply will not put anything but an ST (trailer rated) tire on a rim meant for a trailer (liability).

Luckily we had a good spare, but that also reminded me how important it is to check your spare before you leave on a trip!

Having things fastened down and contained is key.

We don’t have cabinets or permanent seating (with storage) yet, so currently everything is in bins (or loose). Even things that seemed like they would never move or slide were all over the place.  Every time we stopped, it was an adventure (and a pain) getting everything back to where we could make sense of and access our stuff.  If it’s an option, even just screwing a 2×4 to the subfloor to create a rail to keep bins from sliding is a good idea when traveling while you’re under construction.

Space to move around is a major consideration.

While it’s fun figuring out just how tightly you can cram everything into a space (Tetris-ing seems like the most efficient way to organize and store your stuff), using the Airstream with all that stuff crammed in there makes me realize how important negative space really is.  After visiting my parents, we also took on extra cargo that contributed to the issue.  Trying to move around while living became a nightmare.  This is a good lesson to learn and will definitely contribute to future layout design.

Be judicious with your preparations.

I have a problem.  I am waaaay too concerned with making sure I’m “prepared.” And to me, prepared means over-prepared, usually to the detriment of getting on the road in a timely fashion.  I also enjoy figuring out how to make my tool collection most efficient for any and all possible situations, but I’m still taking way too many tools.  Take tools that are good for emergencies and can do double-duty, but don’t waste time, space, and weight with tools for a “project” that you might undertake while on the road.  In fact, make your life so much easier and your trip so much more enjoyable by NOT doing ANY of your resto/reno projects while on the road.

A brake controller is a nice thing to have.

I realize now that I had no brake controller all the way from Denver to Indiana.  On the upside, it means the tow vehicle can handle braking with the Airstream if the controller or trailer brakes fail.  On the downside, it certainly wasn’t ideal as far as safety goes, and I’m sure I need new brake pads now.  Be sure you are familiar with your controller and how it works before you head out on the road, so you aren’t figuring out what things mean and how things work while you’re towing.  My controller looked to me like it was doing its job, but I realize now that it wasn’t hooked up properly.

Hensley Hitch Issues (know how your hitch works and travel with spare parts if you can!)

The safety chains go BETWEEN the leveling bars.  I went back and forth on this when hooking up the trailer, and I should have just taken the time to consult the manual.  It seemed like the chain would be in the way of the bars if “threaded” through the middle, so I laid them on the outside of the leveling bars.  Big mistake.  On the return trip, I actually bent one of the struts to nearly a 90 degree angle.  The struts also pinched and dented the head (the part that holds the ball hitch).

I spent almost a whole day trying to find parts to make the hitch work for the return home, but finally just threw in the towel and ended up rolling with the Airstream attached straight to the ball (Hensley Hitch removed).

Additionally, and even though I actually did take time to think about it and try different routing paths, be sure your trailer electrical connector doesn’t get pinched by the hitch.  My cord was pinched at some point (though I’m still not sure how), cutting several of the wires.  I lost my running lights; luckily the brake and turn signal wires weren’t damaged, and those things continued to function.

Materials and routing are important things to consider.

Aluminum conduit (obviously) conducts heat, and the back of your 3-way fridge gets INSANELY hot!  I had a temporary 12v line run up the wall, and it shifted and lay across the refer cooling coil.  I’m surprised it didn’t melt anything (including the wires inside).  I grabbed the conduit to move it, and it burned me good enough to blister. Idiot.  [update: I have since had a similar issue where the conduit fell across the coil again (not my fault!) and the wires inside did actually melt and blew a fuse]

Pay attention to the message other drivers are trying to convey to you!

While driving, the rear side hatch blew off (not really sure how, most likely didn’t get shut and latched properly).  When someone drives by waiving their arms wildly, sometimes they are just admiring your awesome Airstream.  However, more often than not, they are letting you know that something is flopping around or that you’ve lost something (and hopefully it didn’t hit their vehicle).

The biggest fridge isn’t always the bestest fridge.

I tried out a larger fridge on this trip, and I didn’t have it hooked up to propane.  While it’s nice having that extra space, if you are going for significant amounts of time without being able to power the refrigerator (in my case, being able to plug into 120v), you will have problems keeping things cold.  Not only will the larger fridge lose it’s cool faster than a smaller one, but it also takes longer to get it back to cool.  A smaller fridge is easier to use like a cooler (placing ice packs in it to keep it cool).  Just something to consider when deciding on fridge size.

Carry plenty of hand sanitizer and wet wipes (especially if the plumbing isn’t hooked up yet!).

Even if you have plenty of bottled water or jugs, it isn’t always convenient to haul them outside just to wipe your hands.  Wipes and sanitizer are SO much more convenient when you’re on the go (literally and figuratively).  I have also since learned that a pump container of Gojo (pumice hand cleaner) and a good rag is really nice to have if you are continually working on things covered in grease, diesel exhaust, etc.

There are armadillos in Missouri!  Lots of them.

Unfortunately, the ones we saw were all dead and lying on the side of the road.  My five-year-old and I are also convinced we saw a dead platypus (duck bill and beaver tail, no question!).  Yes, I know they only live in Tasmania and a little bit of Australia’s southern coast, but we saw one (shut up), so it must have escaped from a zoo.

Trucks have all kinds of weird diesel pumps these days.  You are not always allowed to use them.

I actually came across a station that advertised diesel, but would not sell me diesel (because I didn’t have a semi-truck). It was incredibly frustrating, especially when running on fumes.

Things I Learned on Roadtrip #1

Well… there’s really no way to sugar coat it; this was a bad one.

It started out well.  The first part was fun and exciting.  We traveled from Denver all the way up to Missoula, Montana for the wedding of some friends.  The Airstream was completely gutted, just a shell, and only the rear was insulated.  We had a power strip, a window air conditioner sticking out of the old hot water heater portal, a portable toilet and some carpet, mats, and sleeping bags on the floor.  We were looking at it as a “camping experience” where we could pull the entire site and not worry about rain.

On the way up we stopped and slept wherever we wanted to.  It was great.  The sky was amazing and the dog and kiddo loved exploring wherever we felt like parking the rig.

In Missoula we parked in a shady spot on the street outside our friends’ neighbors’ house and ran an extension cord.  The dog enjoyed the A/C in the Airstream during the day, and we didn’t have to take up space in anyone’s house.  It was fantastic.

The adventure continued on the way home as we visited another friend in Boseman, and then spent that night just outside of Columbus, MT, right ON the Yellowstone River (our kiddo could lob a stone from the front door into the river) at Itch-Kep-Pe Park near the border of Wyoming.  There had been a family picnicking in a prime spot on the river, and when they left at dusk, we whipped into the spot.  We built a fire, watched the moon rise over the river, listened to the water, and breathed in the cool night air.  It was amazing.

The whole time we kept thinking about the slide out, fiberglass box RV that was over-nighting at the gas station where we had fueled up earlier (maybe eight minutes from where we were now parked).  The lesson there?  Wherever you land, drive around a bit before conceding to sleep in a parking lot!

The next morning we stopped at a super cool drive-in restaurant just outside of Columbus to get coffee (we ended up getting ice cream and french fries) and geared up for the rest of our adventure.  That’s when things turned south (literally and figuratively).

We decided to take a more scenic route down highway 310.  Big mistake.  Though it may look like you’d be seeing beautiful mountains driving along a river down 310, the terrain is not unlike the surface of the moon.  And we just happened to take that route on the hottest day Wyoming had EVER experienced, and winds were gusting over 100 mph with a constant 55 mph (burning hot) wind.  Awesome.  On the upside, the Hensley Hitch was fantastic with the wind.  I could barely feel the gusts, even at those speeds.  However, the hills and the heat were just too much for little Pepa (our Jeep CRD).  Frustrated and impatient to leave that terrain, dust-filled wind, and heat behind us, I pushed her WAY too hard.

Going up a long hill, we broke a rocker and started billowing thick black smoke.  Thus began the downward spiral into hell.

Even though the Airstream was “water tight” (resistant?) and safe from the rain and road splash, I didn’t show enough concern regarding how open it was (via cracks and small openings) to other elements since the belly wraps were not installed; thus, all the Diesel Exhaust pouring out of the Jeep was filling up the Airstream.  By the end of the trip, everything was covered in a layer of black soot.  And since the Jeep broke a rocker and we had to drive 30 miles to “civilization” (I use the term loosely) trailing thick black smoke, things got really covered with soot.

Things did not go well from here, but I don’t feel like reliving the experience, so I’ll just leave it at that.