Monday, February 4, 2019

Misadventures with Propane

 There are several disadvantages to using a Mr. Buddy heater as your only heat source. First of all it off gases carbon monoxide which can kill you! We have a small battery operated smoke and carbon monoxide detector on the bus to alert us when the levels are unsafe. It goes off more than I'd like to admit. Often in the middle of the night when the heater has been on straight for hours, requiring one of us to get up and open the window to let some fresh air in and/or turn off the heater for a bit. The other concern with Mr. Buddy is that he creates water. As the propane burns another by product is water which then collects on all of our windows and sometimes our ceiling. Somehow we have managed to avoid any mould problems but it could happen any day now. I wipe up the water or scrape the frost each morning and clean the bus more often than I used to clean my house but without a vented heater or an alternate heat system there isn't too much else we can do to get rid of the extra water.

Those are the natural disadvantages but what about when you add the human error factor in?  We are both pretty careful when it comes to using the heater and where it is placed but accidents can happen.

One night as I set up the heater I forgot to tighten the hose. I turned on the heater and watched as it lit up. When I saw everything was good I turned my back and that's when I heard a "pouf" sound. I thought for a second that my hair had caught fire! When I turned around I quickly realized what had happened and could see the flame growing on the side of the heater where the hose attached. Michael turned off the the propane from a safety valve he had added when he originally installed the propane lines. By the time both the safety switch and the heater had been turned off the flames had melted the edge of the heater. I immediately wanted to buy a new heater but Michael checked it over once it had cooled and said no serious damage had been done. Just forgetting to tighten that hose could have burnt the bus down or cost us our lives!

Another instance of human error happened to us on one of the coldest nights of the year. In general a twenty pound propane tank lasts for about two months in the summer months but only a week in the winter. If there is a really cold spell and the heater is on all the time we will go through all that propane in five or six days depending on how often we have had the heater on its higher setting. Well on a very cold January night after several of the coldest days of the season we ran out of propane at 2am. I thought for sure I would have to get up and turn on the bus to warm us up but thankfully the bus stayed relatively warm. By morning the air in the bus was cold yet we were still warm under the blankets. Fortunately we were in a city and could easily refill our propane tank first thing in the morning. If we had been out in the wilderness it may have been more of a problem.

These are the problems we have had using propane over the past two and a half years. Using propane is cheap, readily available and easy to use for heat, cooking and possibly powering your refrigerator. So far we haven't regretted our choice to use propane in the bus. If you have had misadventures with your propane system feel free to add your stories below.

Friday, February 1, 2019

Clutter Intervention

Recently a friend of mine decided to host a "Clutter Intervention." The idea is to eliminate an item everyday for forty days (she is calling it 40 for 40). In forty days the group will get together each bringing their pile of items. There will be an opportunity to pick through everyone else's pile before the items are donated to Wendat.

I thought this was a great idea but then realized that I have downsized so much over the years that I don't think I have forty extra items on the bus. So I put the idea out of my head thinking I had no clutter left. But over the next couple of days I found myself assessing each item I had and asking myself if I really needed it. I was also looking at my overhead cupboards realizing how rarely I open some of them. Surely there are items behind those doors that I am not using.

With that thought I decided to go through the bus over the next few days and see what I could find. I was shocked at how much I found in this tiny eighty square foot bus that I really don't need or even use! I started looking in the overhead cupboard that I open the least and found nineteen clothing items just in that one area!

I started to get excited thinking this was going to be easy! As I sorted though the rest of my "stuff spaces" I found a few more items and managed to collect thirty two things just from our living space (not the storage space under the bed)!

40 for 40 turned into a one day event as I am sure I can come up with at least eight items that I am not using in the storage area under the bed. I honestly didn't think I would be able to participate in this and if I can find this much extra in my tiny short bus I bet you could look around and host your own clutter intervention.

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Top 8 Places to Park at Night.

So many times in the past month I have been asked where we park at night. I'm sure I have written about where we stay while we travel but right now while Michael is working we choose places close to his work. These spots could be utilized in just about any city across the country. We follow these guidelines and haven't had any problems:

1.We never stay in the same spot two nights in a row and hang out in different places during the day.
2.We clean up after ourselves and follow all leave no trace principles.
3. We follow our guts. If something doesn't feel right about the spot we don't stay.

So here are our top 8 places we stay:

1. Parks or wooded areas.
This includes forest service roads on the edge of town, conservancy areas or historical sites. Anywhere with an awesome view or that is naturally sheltered is our favourite. Most of these places are also perfect for walking the dogs.

2. Tourist Information parking lots.
We look like we belong here.

3. Mall, Grocery store or Wal-Mart  parking lots.
This is my least favourite but sometimes the most convenient. We usually look for the darkest corner away from traffic to park but recently learned that our solar panels will continue to collect power if we park right under a light post.

4. Costco
Especially on days when you need to refill your propane tank and/or get gas.

5. Recreational Centres, Arenas or the YMCA.
Sometimes you can even grab a shower!

6. Churches
This is perfect for the nights where it's really snowing and you need to be out of the way of the snowplows.

7. Outdoor Gear Shops
MEC, Sail, Sojourns, Cabellas, Bass Pro
, or any fish and tackle shop.
The bus just looks like it's supposed to be there.

8. Pet Stores and Dog Parks
Because we have a logo on our bus that pertains to dogs we fit right in and go unnoticed when parked in front of a pet store or a dog park.

Hope this gives you a few new ideas about where to park for the night.

Sunday, January 27, 2019

How to Live on a Bus in Winter.

After living out of a backpack for five months coming home to the bus felt like a luxury! The seemingly endless propane to cook and heat up with and the giant water tanks compared to my small water bottles make my eighty square foot bus feel like a palace when  compared to my hammock. Even though it is now winter in Canada the bus is so much warmer than sleeping in California in the desert. 

This isn't our first winter on a bus and yet we are still often asked how we manage. These are the steps we take to ensure we stay warm:

1. Insulate.

 Michael had insulated and covered over all the windows (including the back door) with styrofoam and plywood and added underlay and a carpet over the hardwood floor for the winter before I came home.  I much prefer the 360 degree view that all of the windows offer but realize that it's more important to be warm. It's also been handy being able to open the back door to access the under the bed storage area from outside without having to worry about making the inside of the bus cold.

2. Cover the front windows at night.

In the past we have used an insulated sunshade on the windshield at night along with a thick wool blanket over our passenger door along with another thick blanket that separates the driver area from the living space. This worked well but this winter we decided to try to use all the space in the bus as living space. This winter we are using cheap bamboo beach mats that are lined with a thin silver layer on one side. I bought them last spring from a dollar store hoping they would work to cover any remaining windows this winter. They work great! We hang two of them from clips  from the overhead wall on the front of the bus and they are long enough to go right to the floor. The third one we hang over the passenger door. Not only does this keep the warmth in and the cold out but the light reflecting off.of the silver layer really brightens up the bus at night.

3. Cover the stairwell.

We use a spare pillow in the stairwell and cover it over with a board insulating the stairs and creating a few more feet of usable floor space at night. By far this is the coldest area of the bus and the hardest to keep warm but this year it doesn't seem as cold using the beach mat over the door.

4. Add heat.

We are still using our Mr. Buddy heater we bought a few years ago. Because we remodeled the bus it can no longer be permanently mounted to the back door. Instead we have to detach the propane hose from the stove in order to use the heater (which is a bit of a nuisance) but now the heater is in the middle of the bus where it heats up the entire bus quickly even on the low heat setting. Just remember that if you choose to use this method of heat you need to make sure you have a working  carbon monoxide detector near your heater as well as some.method of air exchange. We just leave the driver side window down a crack and that allows enough of an air exchange to dry put the damp air (a byproduct of burning propane is water) and allow and keep enough oxygen in the air. 

5. Choose a sheltered location to park.

I prefer to park in the protection of the trees every night in the winter but that isn't always possible. We pay attention to the wind direction and when we can't park surrounded by trees we park somewhere where we are out of the worst of the wind whether that is up against a building or a giant snowbank or a semi truck.

I am sure there are a few more things we do to keep warm (like wearing extra layers or drinking more hot chocolate) but these are things that everyone does in colder whether regardless of the size or type of house you live in. I hope you are all as warm as we are in our little bus!

Monday, January 21, 2019

The Mojave

Miles 1951 to 2652

This is my last and most dreaded section on the PCT. I was thankful it was at the end because I am sure if it was first I would have quit (another reason I am glad I hiked southbound). Even though I was dreading this section I couldn't help look forward to the lower elevation (and warmer temperatures) as I entered. The hike into Kennedy Meadows South was enough to let me know that this would not be my favourite part of the hike. As the terrain changed from majestic mountains and pristine lakes to brown hills and sparse, prickly shrubs the sun became more intense and made my head feel hot even when the wind was cold. Sure the elevation gain was less but it felt like I was looking at the same scene over and over again. The monotony got to me. The trail wound in and around every nook and cranny of the same valley over and over and over again.  Mentally the hike was hard and physically my body was exhausted. I was still feeling light headed and dizzy every time I stood up and I was likely malnourished but I only had seven hundred miles left. "I can do this for a little longer"I told myself repeatedly throughout the last seven hundred miles. 

I don't want anyone to get the impression that it was all horrible. I saw more animals in the desert than in any other section. Condors, lizards, coyote, deer, bunnies, mice, a tarantula and a mountain lion who hissed at me when I got too close to its den at night. There were absolutely gorgeous sunsets and the night sky was amazing. The Joshua trees and the many types of cacti made the brown sandy background a little more interesting.

The redeeming factor in the desert was the people I met and the trail angels who helped me!  I never had to carry more than three litres of water in the desert because so many kind people left water caches every twenty miles or so. This on its own is huge! Some northbound hikers said they had carried up to eight litres at a time through this section. I can't even imagine what it would be like to have to carry all that extra weight especially in the state I was in at that point. Thank you to anyone who leaves water caches along trails for hikers!

While it was harder to get a hitch to town in this section, some kind soul would eventually stop and offer us not only a ride but offer to drive us around town to get groceries or find a hotel. Several times here I was told "God told me to turn around and pick you up." Every single town here was filled with people more than willing to help a hiker!

By this point in the hike I had already purchased my return airfare home and was in a bit of a hurry to stay on track and finish in time. Because of this I missed out on a chance to stay at Casa de Luna (the Anderson's). They host and feed hikers and I would have loved to take a break. Online I had posted a picture at the five hundred miles to go sign and so when I didn't arrive Terri Anderson sent me a message on fb making sure I was okay and giving me a personal invitation. Of course I was already past her house and kicking myself for not stopping in. As I walked into the next town an older gentleman called over to me from a restaurant patio offering to buy me breakfast. I definitely took him up on that but then skipped Hiker Haven run by another famous trail angel family who hosts up to fifty hikers at a time.  I realize that if I had taken the extra time with these trail angels it may have completely changed my perspective of this section. 

Still I feel blessed. It was in Julian that my big trail magic story happened. We hitched into town on a cold and windy day. All of the hotels were way overpriced and we were deciding to just head back to the trail. As we walked back through town we noticed people gathering near Mom's Pies. This place was known to give thruhikers a free piece of pie so of course we got as close to the door as possible. When they opened to sell pies from the door they saw us and invited us in to get warm and enjoy a free pie! We were so excited and thankful for the warm place to sit, recharge our phones and enjoy the pie. But it got better! They invited us home for thanksgiving dinner and said we could set up on thier property! This family is awesome! It turns out that this wasn't the first time strangers had been invited to a big family meal. Thank you so much for your hospitality it came at just the right time for me! 

Every town stop seemed like a reprieve for me close to the end and every little kindness no matter how small seemed huge!  In Warner Springs the community had set up an area for hikers with outdoor bucket showers, laundry and an area to set up camp. It sounds simple but it was so nice to be able to get clean and wash out my hiking clothes. We didn't stay though as Eagle Rock was only a few miles from there and I really wanted to camp beneath the eagle.

The closer I got to the Mexican border the more excited I became to finish. I started hiking out from camp earlier in the morning leaving Rogue on his own to pack up. He was still faster than me so he usually caught up within an hour and was soon ahead of me for the rest of the day. The last days on the trail seemed to fly by and the miles came easy. On the very last day we had planned on just getting to Campo (the last town on the trail) and then hiking the last mile to the border the next day. But when we arrived in Campo we were excited to be so close to the end. After a short break spent stuffing our faces with chips and root beer we were soon racing through the very last mile of the PCT. I was happy to touch the monument and gloat to the border patrol agents that we had hiked the entire trail when they drove up to check us out. It wasn't until we started hiking back towards Campo to find a spot to set up on the trail one last time that I realized I made it! I thruhiked the Pacific Crest Trail!



Tuesday, January 15, 2019

The High Sierras

I should have posted this awhile ago but better late than never.

Miles  1635 to 1950

I was so excited as I entered the High Sierras even though the weather was less than ideal. I'd dreamt about being here in this place for a long time and it was really good to finally be here. It actually felt like the weather was greeting us with its hail (like confetti) and then snow and wind as if it was showing  us what it could be like here. 

Hiking up to Dorothy Pass and entering Yosemite National Park was another monumental moment. And it was so beautiful to sit along Dorothy Lake for a break and enjoy the amazing scenery.

My pace slowed here and soon it became apparent that this rugged section was going to  wear me out! It's true that my legs are stronger now and I can just hike straight up any mountain but when there isn't enough air in my lungs I begin to fall apart. I got dizzy, woke up with headaches and just felt like I had less energy. In short I was exhausted!  The daily mileage slowed a little and I started to wonder what was wrong with me. I was in such a beautiful place but just getting through a day was an effort. 

Getting off the trail to go to Mammoth Lakes turned into our first end of season road closure experience requiring us to walk out to the nearest open road and try to hitch from there. In town we met a trail angel who treated us to an amazing green curry meal before taking us back as close to the trail as she possibly could.  As we put more miles in the landscape became more beautiful. Kings Canyon was gorgeous! And every single day I spent there will be cherished but I was happy to leave. I think places like this deserve fresh eyes and fresh legs.  Being a thruhiker in this section, I felt like I was just rushing through rather than enjoying this beautiful place.  The trees here are amazing! The mountains overwhelming and the many, many lakes in the remotest of places were surprising. I will definitely come back to the Sierras. 

Hiking southbound was a definite advantage here as we started with the lower more manageable passes and worked our way up to Forester Pass at 13,153ft. As a bonus we hiked out at Whitney Portal and had not only breath taking view but also got to deal with snow and ice one last time on this trail. 

At Lone Pine we tried to eat at just about every place in town trying desperately to get as many calories into us as possible. This town has epic views of the mountains on either side and a rich history of movie making and mining. Now it is mostly a tourist town as the main entrance to the John Muir Trail and to Mount Whitney (the highest summit in the contiguous US). As I hiked down and out of the Sierras and said goodbye to Sequoia National Park it was sad to leave.but I am sure I will be back to this magical place one day!


Thursday, October 11, 2018

Northern California

Mile 960.9 to Mile 1635.7

The excitement built as we approached the California border. The landscape was changing from dense coniferous forests to open grassy areas with sparse tall pines. At the actual border we dropped our packs and I piggy backed Rogue across into California joking that now he needed to carry me all the way to Mexico!

 We waited for So Good just behind us and congratulated her on her achievement. Then it was on into California! 

The scenery changed almost instantly. Now we were hiking on red dirt mountains that looked almost bare and suddenly there were little lizards everywhere. It was so beautiful! I often felt like I was hiking through the setting of an old western movie. The trail seemed to change as well. Instead of hiking in one direction for most of the day we were now snaking around each mountain and would spend hours in each area getting to see each nook and cranny of the mountains. The trees got taller and bigger and there were several different types of pine, cedar and fir that I couldn't name but loved instantly. 

It was here that a deer chose to follow me for over a mile. Cautiously at first but soon close behind me.

Sadly this is where we lost most of our trail family. Most of the hikers we had been hiking around in Washington and Oregon were racing on ahead while we seemed to be slowing down. At first it seemed appropriate to be hiking in such a desolate place alone but as the days of solitude turned into weeks I began to look for other hikers at every town stop hoping someone else was out there with us. 

The towns here seem to be very, very different. The first town was a bit of a shock in that it was a tiny, run down looking little hamlet but the people were so friendly! The restaurant owner had made an area outside for hikers on her property with a picnic table, washrooms and outlets that we could use even if her business was closed. There was a town event happening the evening we were there and we were invited by almost every local we talked to. Leaving Seiad Valley we encountered the longest road walk we have had so far in order to cross the Klamath River safely. Along that road walk we passed the thousand mile mark and then had nineteen miles of up to hike. I dreaded it but that hike up out of the valley was so enjoyable that now whenever I look at the map and see a huge up in front of me I hope that it is just like that hike up out of Seiad Valley. The next town was pretty and quaint. It was still a tiny, rural town but there was definitely more money here. The people were so friendly here! We loved Etna. Then came Mount Shasta which was huge by contrast with those first few towns. Generally bigger towns mean more amenities but less help getting to and from the trail but not here! A local picked us up and then offered his number telling us to call him if we needed anything including a ride around the first and only fire closure we experienced. 

I won't mention each town stop but as the miles added up these towns were my only opportunity to talk to other people (and we all know how much I like to talk). I was starting to feel isolated from everyone on the trail and worried that we had slowed down too much to safely hike through the High Sierras. On the other hand it felt so good to slow down and find the most epic  spot  to cowboy camp each night plus it's hard to say no to an extra town day!

 

By the end of Northern California the nights were starting to get colder and although most of my gear has held up well it became obvious that my sleeping bag wasn't warm enough. I added new wool layers and hoped it would be enough. Northern California surprised me with its beauty  and diversity and was a great introduction to the California. I am excited for what will come next!