Thursday, March 19, 2015

March update


That is all I can say about why I haven't posted since the end of the year. Spent many hours working. But since I managed to carve out a few minutes, I will try my best at covering all that I have been doing since then.

I went on the annual ski trip to Breckenridge in February. The weather was quite warm and, as a consequence, the snow was quite hard/icy. Not the best conditions for skiing compared to last year. I still had lots of fun and got to see my friends. I skied at Vail by myself once again. I am not sure why I am unable to convince my friends to go to Vail but I gave up trying and caring and just went. I didn't take any photos during this trip. I didn't bring my camera as I haven't taken many photos, if any, in the past years.

I think the next trip will be to see my cousin's wedding in August. I think there are some plans to do a trip in June to do mountain biking in CO but I am not really interested at the moment.

I now have my own studio on the peninsula of Newport Beach and it is 4.2 miles away from work. At some point, I will try and commute by bike but I need to sort out the parking permit situation so that I can leave the van parked for a few days at a time without having to move it.  Rent is a bit higher then I thought and the space is smaller but I am in a building on the boardwalk facing the beach. My unit doesn't face the beach, but it is a short stroll away. There are a few projects that I need to do to make the place a bit more liveable but overall it should be a decent place to stay. I've been told that it gets super busy in the summer as vacationers head to the beach. I've been rather busy trying to furnish the place.

I am a bit unhappy at what I've spent getting the studio up and running but I guess this is what it is like to be independent. Need to get a long range wifi antenna to pick up open hotspots.

Ill try to get some more posts up, probably ones about the beach or other projects. Only minor van maintenance projects for now.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

End of Year and Financial post 2014

Well, another year has passed and it is time to do a review. Overall, I think it went rather well.

As the end of the 2014 calender approaches, I sit and ponder over all that has happened in the past year. All I can say is that it has been an interesting year with lots of travel and I hope that 2015 is as interesting if not better.

lets take a look at the highlights of what went on:

  • Annual week long ski trip in February plus additional ski days at Vail after the trip was over.
  • I moved from CO to CA and changed jobs, 
  • My Mini placed 2nd in class in the annual all British car show, The Conclave. 
  • Two cross country road trips, I drove from Denver to San Diego then back to Denver, then back to San Diego. Each time having lots of fun in the National Parks and wilderness areas.
  • Moab, Arches, Canyonlands, Goblin, Grand Canyon twice, Bryce canyon 
  • Lots of beach time in SD.
  • A ten day backing trip in Canada to see Mt Assiniboine and Lake Louise. plus other sights

Looking forward to another ski trip in 2015 as well as going to Bozeman MT in August for a cousin's wedding. Maybe I can plan a road trip adventure to Yellowstone before or after the wedding.

I decided to take a peek a my total expenses for the year and was disappointed in what I found.
Overall, this year, I have spent roughly $18K. Way over budget considering I was unemployed from June through October. Where does it all go...

  • Almost $4k on vacations (flights, lodging, rental car, vacation food, etc...)
  • $2500 on Van repairs and upgrades (includes Insurance and registration renewal)
  • Fuel came in at $2700, not surprised by this though, the trips were lots of fun. 
  • Food was right at $2000, this is including going out to eat and liquor.
  • $1700 for health insurance
  • Hardware store expenses $1400, some rental house related expenses are here.
  • I spent $700 doing hardware upgrades to my laptop
  • $400 on bicycle repairs and acquiring a beautiful road bike (Thanks Devin)
  • I'm a bit disappointed that I spent $700 in cash purchases that I cant keep track of (could be fuel or food(eating out) or whatever)
  • Thanks to extremely generous family and friends, I've only paid $1500 in rent for the year.
  • And, as usual, the odds and ends category soaked up another $400.

I know that in 2015 I will be paying so much more for rent as I am going to get an apartment close to where I work (biking or walking distance is my requirement). If I can bike for the rest of next year and not use the van, it will save me approx $400 per month. I estimate that the rent for a studio is going to be in the 7-800 range. The van is doing well so I am not expecting to have to do much next year, same with the laptop. Ill try and cut back on the travel expenses, my solo trips are easy to control but the group ones I have no say other then not going on them.

That is it for now. I will update if I can think of anything else.

Hope everyone enjoys their New Year!

Monday, December 29, 2014

Canadian Backpacking adventure (Gear post)

This post is way late but I just finished editing all the photos from this trip. I flew home for a Christmas through New Year vacation and have had lots of time to take care of time consuming projects.

**I started typing this up as a trip post but got sidetracked by gear so this will be just about the gear I have/used and a second post will be about the actual trip**

Way back in August I did a road trip to back Denver so that I could get my camping gear and fly to Calgary to meet up with my adventure friends. The plan was for a 5 day trip to Mt Assiniboine and then a bunch of day hikes afterwards.  The peak with the cloud coming off of it is Mt. Assiniboine.

I had to acquire some gear for the trip as I did not have a water purifier, camelbak, or a backing backpack.

I found a good water purifier (HikerPro) on craigslist. The owner was a former REI employee who was moving to Michigan in a Westy! Naturally we talked for hours about vans and traveling before I left with the goods. I put a new filter kit into it and it worked perfectly throughout the trip.
Found this photo online, mine is similar

I purchased the camelbak new from REI. The bag has special quick release fittings on the drinking end which allowed me to tie the water purifier directly into the drinking hose without having to take the pack out of the backpack to refill. Super handy while hiking but I had to be extremely careful about not contaminating the clean hose with the dirty water hose. I did carry some small bleach packets with me to purify the system just in-case. After doing the hike, I am not sure why I have never purchased one of these before. They are awesome and I've been using it while riding my bike or even during the long road trips. I keep the backpack hanging from the passenger seat and the drinking hose hanging out of the side for quick access while driving.

The backpack I picked up was a nice 2 year old Deuter AirContact 65L (similar specs but older model) pack off of craigslist. I got it at a good price because the pack had spent a year traveling on the back of the first owner while in the Dominican Republic. Needless to say, it already had some scuffs and battle damage. I happily did a deep cleaning and then patched up the pack and reapplied waterproofing to bring the pack back up to working condition. I was quite pleased by the pack during the hike and the best part was not having to worry about keeping it clean and pristine like I would have if I had picked up a new one. The one accessory I would like to have is a rain cover. I used some trash bags while on the hike but they look really bad and are not very durable.  The only modification to the pack that I would like to do is to convert the top flap storage pocket into a removable day pack for side hikes.

Some notes about the rest of the gear :
I really like my sleeping pad and my sleeping bag, both work really well. I hardly noticed the cold temperatures and slept soundly throughout the whole trip. Other members of the group had trouble sleeping due to poor insulation or pads that were too thin. At times, I had half of my bag unzipped to let out heat while others were sealed in their bags wearing all possible warm articles of clothing. I did have to wear my signature red merino wool adventure hat at night to keep my head warm. For those who dont know what pad I have, I have the Exped Downmat in an extra long size. This mat has a micro-down insulation layer giving it an R value of 8. It weighs in at 1.2lbs of awesomeness.

My sleeping bag is a 1970-80s era REI rectangular non-mummy down sleeping bag. It has approx 4-5" of lofted down feathers, which I picked up off of Ebay for 20 bucks several years ago. I had to do a deep cleaning and patch up a couple of small burn holes but otherwise it was in good shape for its age. The only issue I have with my sleep gear is that it is down based and I can not let it get wet as it loses it's insulation properties very quickly.
I also have an inflatable ergonomic pillow which I am not so thrilled about but it is better then a pile of clothing.

I need to get a new pair of closed toe hiking sandals, the ones I have do not have any more tread and are coming apart. However, having said that, they worked extremely well during this trip. I did bring a pair of socks in-case of cold weather. I didn't have to worry about walking through a creek or stream or lake shoreline, I simply did so and they were dried out shortly afterwards.They are much lighter then traditional hiking boots and breath really well. The only time I would use hiking boots are when I have to cross snow fields or along very loose/rocky terrain. The best reason to wear hiking sandals is that you get a cool suntan pattern on your feet.

I really do not like my convertible pants, they are a terrible color green, look like parachute pants with cargo pockets attached, and have scratchy seams that chafe while hiking.  I would like to find something with less pockets, that look like normal pants, are a neutral grey or brown or beige color, slim fit, and have leg sections that are removable without taking your shoes off.
yes, I am hiking in sandals with black socks on.

The merino wool tshirts I have are nice but are developing holes. I would like to get a few more, perhaps in a looser size, as they tend to shrink over time. Other then Rayon, there aren't many materials that can match the awesomeness of merino wool. Quick drying and great thermal control properties. I also had my hand knitted red merino wool adventure hat.

I wish my camera gear didn't weigh so much but so far I have not found a suitable lightweight replacement. Most of the weight is in the glass lens.

Other gear was normal, had a rain jacket and a mosquito head net. Since this was a group trip, I didn't have to carry a tent or stove which was nice. The group adjusted our pack weights by shifting around group food to lighten up some of the heavier packs. I ended up carrying a lot of the group food since my pack was lite. Overall we were at 20-25% of our body weight in pack weight. I think mine ended up close to 40lbs with water.

Ill post up the trip details in another post. Hopefully sometime this week as I am kinda stuck inside due to a winter storm with sub zero temperatures.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Feeling Wanderlusty again

Life is good right now.
I have a job that I enjoy doing in a climate region that is very suitable and have very little to worry about, but tonight, I am feeling rather Wanderlusty (yes I just made up this word but it works). I am not sure what it is that causes it but I just want to get into my van and drive. No idea where though. Why is my brain broken?

Do I reach a level of physical detachment with the surrounding environment that is so high that I suddenly feel the need to become one with nature?

Or perhaps I get comfortable with my life choices and then I see something that reminds me of how it feels to be free which exposes how unfree I am. Of how dependent I really am.

Perhaps I get a small reminder of how dangerous the physical trappings of modern life really are and it freaks me out.

How do people spend their entire life working? Why do I think that my life has to be super-amazing-awesome in order for it to be time well spent? Do I really enjoy traveling or is it a social idea that I have bought into?

Why do I take so many pictures on my trips? Do I do it because I like to or because everyone else does? Is it to prove that my life isn't boring and that my decisions are justified?

What is it that I am bothered by? Is it the monotony of the working life? or is it the feeling of being separated from the surrounding social structure?

Am I more afraid of spending my whole life searching for answers or becoming a model of the american way of life?

I hate this...

Monday, September 15, 2014

There and back, a Road Trip Update!

Today was an unfortunate weather day and I've been indoors apart from a couple trips to the van for stuff. I was just going to write off the day until I realized (at 5pm after wasting most of the day) that I needed to update the blog with trip photos and other info. Fair warning, this is going to be a long post.

In the last post I had set off to CA for both fun and employment reasons, well I did have fun and am still working on the employment stuff. Mainly waiting on the owner to make some sort of decision.

Anyway, here is my road trip summary. Breakdowns are offset with bullet points

The first leg of the journey was from Denver to Salida. Part of it was highway, the other being scenic routes.The views of the two mountain ranges were awesome as I traveled along the valley.

The free camp site I ended up at was along a winding dirt road into national forest land. Fairly level with a fire pit but the best part was the night sky. No moon that night to pollute the sky and I managed to capture a few good star shots.
  • I managed to travel 115 miles before something broke. Specifically the sliding brass contact part inside the shifter assembly split in half. I was able to make a suitable repair out of one of the broken halves and it worked well until I replaced it once I returned to Denver.

The next leg was from Salida to Durango. This segment involved going over Monarch pass (hwy 50), taking the scenic route from Gunnison to hwy 160 via hwy 149.

 Traveling over Wolf Creek Pass was fun but quite slow, I met a fellow Westy owner on the other side of the pass who was heading to Durango.

After an interesting van discussion, we formed a slow two van expedition for the rest of the way to Durango. Camped out at Herman's trail-head which was quite busy
  • Filling the tank up in Salida, I discovered the rubber hoses that feed fuel to the expansion tanks were leaking. The old hoses must have cracked when I was reinstalling the fuel tank. I purchased some hose clamps and tried cutting the cracked bits away but was only partially successful in stopping the leaks. I ended up replacing two of the easy-to-reach sections of hose in AZ. Upon returning to Denver I replaced all 4 of the rubber lines and, so far, have not had any fuel leaks.
  • Leaving Salia and traveling up Monarch pass, I had a massive burst of oil smoke happen while at high rpms in 2nd gear. I thought I had blew the motor. After cursing the VW gods, I went back to inspect the damage but was surprised to find that there was nothing to see. I restarted the motor and saw that it was smoking only on throttle application but I didn't hear anything unusual. After driving up the pass and down to Gunnison the smoke had cleared out and it was running normally. The next day in Durango I paid a visit to Mick with and borrowed a compression tester to figure out what had happened to the motor. Nothing out of the ordinary showed up and apparently what had happened was actually a design flaw. When the engine is at the full mark of oil, and you happen to be going up a steep enough hill at high rpms, the oil will froth up and fill up the crankcase vent pipe till the pcv valve opens up and it all gets sucked into the intake causing a massive cloud of smoke.
From Durango, it was a short trip to Mesa Verde National Park where I signed up to do two guided tours of the cliff dwellings. The tours are cheap! ($4).

One was in the afternoon and the other the next morning. I purchased an annual park pass there as I had several other National Parks to visit along the trip and it has already paid for itself after stopping at just two parks.  Camping in the park was quite expensive ($30!!) but the whole campground has fast WiFi and nice showers. I was able to set up camp and make a nice meal before the sun set.  I wish I had a motorcycle as the roads inside this park are epic. super twisty with lots of undulations. I had tons of fun driving the van hard through the park. The cliff dwellings are impressive and almost impossible to imagine that people actually lived inside them. Such limited space and water resources.

  • While having fun in the park, the speedometer decided to have some fun by reading double. If I was doing 20mph, it was reading 40mph. 50 was 100, etc.. It would not do it from a cold start but soon afterwards it would jump up and stay that way. I had to disconnect the drive cable while driving to keep the needle from ramming into the stopper at 120mph. Sometimes I could reconnect the cable and it would read normal till I stopped. Eventually I just automatically disconnected the cable at every stop and kept doing this all they way to CA and back to Denver. Upon inspection in Denver, I found that some grease from the odometer drive had worked its way up into the magnetic portion of the needle drive and was physically bonding the two together. I cleaned out the grease and everything is working normally once again.
The next stop on the road trip was to get to the Grand Canyon via the scenic route (hwy 162 & 163 in Utah through Monument Valley) and also stop at the 4 corners.

Such beautiful scenery; deep red canyons, vast expanses of dry plains, and buttes! Spectacular Buttes in Monument Valley! It is a place that must be experienced, no photo can capture the beauty of this place, the same applies to the Grand Canyon.

 I arrived at the Grand Canyon about midnight and camped out on the national forest land just outside of the park for free.
  • I discovered the illumination bulbs within the shifter housing had burned out. Probably burned out just to spite me as I recently had the housing apart to fix the shifter contact parts.
Next day in Grand Canyon was mostly walking along the rim trail, which was super nice, and then down 4 miles into the canyon along the Bright Angel trail.

Afterwards it was a nice drive to Lake Mead national park and hot desert camping on the lake. About half of this drive was along old route 66 which was quite fun. Hardly anyone drives along the route and most of the towns are empty. There are a couple of places that are done up nicely for tourists but, for the most part, it is just a nice scenic route to avoid the highway that it parallels. I did do a bit of a mileage experiment just to test out the fuel tank and level sender by seeing just how far I could go without stopping. I gave up at 250 miles. Filling up afterwards I calculated that there was about 1 gallon left in the tank. 
  • Nothing broke during this part of the trip
From Lake Mead, it was a long, hot, drive through the desert to Joshua Tree park. I got up just before sunrise and walked around in the lake before heading out.

Despite the lack of moisture, the desert is quite interesting, lots of rock outcroppings  and scrappy looking shrubs and cacti. Joshua Tree park is like driving into an alien landscape full of bizarre looking trees.

I though I was going to spend more time here but most of the park can be seen just by driving through and doing a few of the short hikes. After the park, I drove around the Salton Sea, which is 246 ft below sea level, and then hit up some super awesome twisty roads on the way into San Diego.
  • The first and by far the worst casualty to report of the whole trip was the brand new windshield, the first rock to hit it managed to put a 6" crack on the passenger side. I had it drilled and filled to prevent further damage. I can never have nice things...
  • Second casualty was my starter motor giving up. Whenever I stopped for gas, I had to hose down the starter with water to cool it off before it would crank the motor over. I purchased a re-manufactured starter from the local parts place and now it cranks up quickly, regardless of exterior temperature. 

Entering civilization after being on the open road was interesting: First thing I noticed was how slow I had been driving or rather how slow I had gotten accustomed to traveling. Nothing like a super highway to speed things up. Second, was just how disconnected I felt with the surroundings. The noise, lights, and people were overloading my senses.

Other notes:
From now on, whenever I do a road trip, I will be keeping my sleeping bag spread over the rear bed as it was doing a very nice job of reducing engine noise. I noticed this after the first day of driving and it was quite a difference, especially after 5-6 hours of 50-60mph.

Also, I like this new motor, it drives well and is good at cruising speed, I consistently averaged 18mpg for most of the trip. Although more power would be nice to have for those mountain passes and off-road excursions.

The return trip

Since I did a lot of sightseeing on the way out, I shortened the trip to just stopping briefly at a couple of locations on the way back. I stopped at grand canyon again and also stopped at mesa verde to use their showers. I did take a slightly different route once I had crossed the CO boarder which took me through some very nice mountain passes I had not been over before.

A super cool cloud sunset over route 66.

A good Grand Canyon shot with a clearer sky.

  • I had to get the propane tank filled up in the Grand Canyon. It was cold outside when it was filled up but in the heat of the day, the tank started to give off large bursts of propane to reduce the internal tank pressure. This was unnerving as every 15 mins or so I would get a cloud of propane and could smell it inside the van. I'm just glad that the gas cloud didn't ignite while I was filling up at the gas stations. Hopefully the pressure relief valve didn't decide to fail as I need to use the tank for the return trip back to CA. 

 A super chill goat in Utah

 Over the pass at Silverton.

 And the van turned over 180,000 miles

Next post should be about the backpacking trip in Canada. stay tuned....

Sunday, June 22, 2014

On the road again!

So much time has passed since the last post, I've done quite a lot of stuff.

I've changed the flex plate, then had the bolts come loose again and had to re-torque both the flex plate and flywheel bolts on the side of the road in the middle of the night. Had to build a transmission cradle out of scrap wood I found nearby.

I've put on another rear main seal only to finally discover that the oil leak I have is coming from the case seam just below the seal itself. I can't fix it without disassembling the motor.
I also discovered a leaking torque converter seal while I was there.

I did an automatic transmission service with a new screen filter and fluid.
I changed the differential fluid (with Redline MT90), pan gasket, and changed out the driveshaft seals.

Instead of replacing the CV boots I had a shop replace all 4 CV joints. Upon inspection of the joints after they assembled them, I noticed that the manufacturer had put them together incorrectly. Had to reassemble/re-grease all of the joints.

I pulled the fuel tank to hammer out the dent which was messing with my fuel gauge readings. Most of the dent came out after several hours of hammering. Also applied sealant to all rubber seals to prevent future fuel leaks when full. Replaced the fuel level sensor while I was there.

Also found out that there is a space below the seats where there is no sound proofing. I stuffed it full of acoustic foam to hopefully quite down some of the road noise.

So, now after all that work, I am ready for a road trip to California. Specifically to San Diego for a month or two while I try to get a job in Costa Mesa. The van is absolutely packed with stuff and I've got a week or so of travel planned. Mostly seeing national parks along the way but also just taking my time and doing the scenic routes. I should have some nice photos of the trip soon.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

What is that noise...

tick tick tick.. rattle rattle rattle... buzzzzz...knock knock...clunk
wtf is that sound!?!?

From a cold start I was getting more then normal valve lifter noise and also some exhaust noise. Under acceleration the motor would go quiet but after letting off the throttle it would go noisy. When warm it sounded like a bunch of ball bearings in a blender.

I put the van up on the lift at work and found that the exhaust pipe had cracked through at the flange at the cat. I welded it back together and that quieted up the exhaust noise but I still has the other more serious sounds to contend with.
Then I noticed that I was about half a quart low on oil and also realized that I was still on the winter= oil 10w30. Once I topped it up some of the lifter noise went away, but the other more sinister noises were still there.

So I decided to do an oil change to 20w50 still thinking that it was a noisy lifter. I pulled both valve covers off to see if I could find anything wrong with the rockers. Didn't see anything there either. The motor did quiet down with the fresh oil but it was still making a knock sound.

Oh God I thought, I am losing this motor.

After driving it back home I started poking at various parts to see if anything had loosened up. While turning the crank by hand I could feel metal on metal contact. I was able to narrow down the location of the noise to somewhere inside the torque converter area. I pulled the rubber plug covering the access hole to the flex plat bolts and found two of the three bolts had loosened up and were letting the flex plate slap around.  Unfortunately one of the tabs had cracked but I was able to re-torque the bolts and the terrible noise went away. So now I have to split the trans case and replace the flex plate. When I do, I will flush the differential and the transmission and do the CV boots. I've already purchased a used flex plate from a local shop and the rest of the parts are on their way.