Friday, June 28, 2013

Meeting Fred and The Glampette for the first time

The day I arrived in Greenville to pick up The Glampette I also (finally) met my trailer builder Fred.

Fred and I met on the internet last fall on the Teardrops & Tiny Travel Trailers forum and soon began speaking by phone to discuss build techniques when I still thought I wanted to try building the trailer myself. By winter I'd given up on that dream after feeling less, not more confident after taking a welding and a metal shop class, and had kind of begged asked Fred to allow me to hire him for the job. He took a day or two to think about it then said yes, he was willing to undertake the project. We drew up a contract and it was a go.

Even though Fred sent me pictures of the build on an almost weekly basis the waiting was the hardest part. Once the trailer was done it was time to go get her.

Some people are terrified of meeting in person people they've met online. We've all read those horrifying stories where someone met someone on Craigslist (whether to sell or buy an item or for social reasons) and things ended badly enough to be a headline story on the 5 o'clock news.

The day I met Fred on the tnttt forum.

While some of my friends and family members had misgivings about my driving out to Michigan alone to meet in person someone I'd met online I have to say while I certainly appreciated their concerns, I didn't share their fear.

The thing is even though I didn't know everything about Fred, after seeing pictures of the other trailers he's built, that he's been a member of the forum I met him on for seven years, and six months of closely working with him on this project, I felt I knew him enough to trust him. After I arrived we were chatting one day when he commented on the leap of faith I took both in hiring him and coming out to Michigan. My reply was that while I'm always very cautious, sometimes you just have to have faith in people and be willing to trust them. I don't ever want to become so cynical that I live in fear unable to trust and allow new people in to become part of my life. As it turned out the only thing I had to fear in Michigan were the mosquitos. There were a lot of them and for some reason they loved biting me!

Kitai and I stayed for five days as guests in Fred's home and I have to say they may have been the five most relaxing, interesting, and fun days I'd had in ages. I have lots of fun in CA, and interesting things to do abound, but the ability to just slow down and relax isn't something easily achieved in a big city. The quiet of being in the country definitely agreed with me and Fred's calm nature and willingness to patiently show me how to do things and teach me how to care for and tow my trailer helped me to quickly understand all of the advice he was willing to impart. There's a lot about Fred's lifestyle I envy and hope to somehow replicate in my own crazy, busy, California lifestyle when I get home.

Currently For Sale: The Northern Light Traveler weighs 525 lbs.

A lot of people were shocked when I said I would drive out to MI to pick up the trailer when it was done. "Why don't you have someone local build it for you?" they would ask. The thing is I needed an atypical trailer builder.

The traditional way of building teardrops and tiny travel trailers is to use wood to construct the framing and interior walls of the cabin. The problem with wood (for me) is that the trailer would end up weighing around 1000 lbs, my car's tow limit. And therein lay the rub: I wanted to use my everyday car to tow my trailer, not get a larger car that would require more gas on the majority of days when I wasn't using it as a tow vehicle. So when I saw these pictures of a Mazda Miata towing a trailer Fred had built on the Teardrops & Tiny Travel Trailers forum, I knew it was going to be possible, I just needed the right construction methods.

They included a custom chassis and a welded tubular steel frame construction.

Between the tube steel I'd need to use rigid foam board to insulate the cabin. This is how Fred builds all of his teardrop and tiny trailers. The other benefit of using no wood is that I don't have to worry about dry rot if the trailer ever does leak. Leaks are inevitable so this would give me peace of mind.

Greenville, MI

The day after arriving in Greenville Fred took me to the DMV where I registered my trailer. In California if you walk into the DMV with no appointment you can wait 2-3 hours before it's your turn. In Greenville there wasn't even a line. We walked in, registered the trailer, and before I knew it I was walking out with my new Michigan license plate in hand. When I get back to CA I need to immediately transfer the registration to CA both because the state and my insurance plan require me to do so.

On day three of my visit I towed my trailer for the first time. On day four we had a bunch of errands to run so Fred put me behind the wheel and I drove us to several stops. Later, I drove down to a church parking lot to practice backing up. Backing the trailer out of Fred's driveway was pretty painful. But once I got to the lot I figured out the best way to do it was to use my mirrors to make sure I was turning the steering wheel the right way, then immediately start turning my head and looking over my shoulders rather than relying on the mirrors. It made a world of difference and before I knew it I was able to back out of a parking space, albeit slowly, but with no problems.

After meeting him and seeing his other trailers Fred inadvertently made me change my mind about one major thing: Before I got to Greenville I wanted to paint the trailer in fun colors. Now? I want to leave the aluminum bare (I'll still add some graphics) but the bare aluminum is Fred's style and even though I designed the trailer and he built it, I want some of Fred to shine through every time I look at The Glampette.

Before I knew it it was time to leave Greenville. Both Kitai and I were sad to leave (ok, I was sad to leave Fred, Kitai was sad to leave his yard and have to ride in the car for 10 hours a day) but the Glampette and I had some bonding to do and the road was calling.

To Fred I have to say thank you. Thank you for building The Glampette so perfectly for me. Thank you for teaching me so much along the way, for being such a wonderful host and taking such good care of me while I was a guest in your home, and for being my friend. I simply couldn't have found a more perfect person to have collaborated with on this build. Driving out across the U.S. for the first time and the memory of the five days I spent in Michigan will always remain very special to me and I'm definitely looking forward to retuning in 2015 to say hello when I travel your way to attend the Tear Jerker's Crossroads of America rally in Indiana.

My friend Oren commented on Facebook the other day that the trailer would add "smiles to my miles." It has indeed :)

If you're interested in purchasing an ultralight trailer like the Glampette be sure to check out the Northern Light Traveler Fred has listed on the T&TTT forum.

To be continued.

To follow my Michigan or Bust road reports here they are:

Days 1-3: Picking up my tiny travel trailer: 2364 miles to happiness :)
Day 4: Be still my glamping heart: The cutest vintage grill ever!
Days 4-8: Meeting Fred and The Glampette for the first time
Welcome to The Glampette: A peek inside
Day 8 Part 2: Around the lake and on to Wisconsin Wine Country
Day 9: A suspenseful night at the Kennebec KOA
Day 10: It could have been worse
Day 10 continued:  Overnight at a Walmart, a traveler's rite of passage
Day 11: Montana to Washington car don't fail me now!
And my favorite RV Park was: Hi-Way Haven in Sutherlin, OR
4974 miles later our adventure comes to an end

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Be still my glamping heart: The cutest vintage grill ever!

Squeeeeeeeeee! I'm so excited to say that this is The Glampette's new old vintage BBQ grill! It's so cute it just makes my heart go pitter patter every time I look at it.

I saw it in the Ora Grace Vintage shop on Etsy.com last fall. I eyed it longingly but it was part of a larger set of goods and red plaid wasn't going to fit my decor. So I coveted it but never dreamt it would be mine. Then last winter I sent the owner of the shop a message asking if they would sell the grill only. Their polite reply was a simple no, it was part of the larger set of goods. Fair enough. I sent back a reply letting them know that if they ever did decide to split the items I'd be very interested in the grill.

Months later, out of the blue, and just a couple of weeks before leaving for Michigan, a message arrived saying they had decided to split the items. A quick look at their Etsy shop and I saw they were located in Grand Rapids, MI.

As it turned out Grand Rapids is on the way to Greenville! I messaged back that I was driving out to Michigan shortly and would love to be able to purchase the grill and could even come pick it up in person. Long story short arrangements were made and just a couple of weeks later on Day 4 of my "Michigan or Bust" road trip I was the proud owner of this gorgeous, vintage, aqua blue, Big Boy grill!

I tried to learn more about the grill but couldn't find any information on this model on Google. I did learn that Big Boy Mfg. Co. was based in Burbank, CA in the 1950's.

I love that the unit has sidewalls to block the wind.

The grill itself can be raised or lowered. It doesn't look like it's ever been used as there are no char marks inside. The grill needed a good scrubbing with an abrasive kitchen sponge though so I think it may have been used at least once but the tray may have been lined with foil or something similar.

This handle turns and forces the lever beneath the tray to raise or lower the grill.

Of course my furry boy Kitai had to come see what was going on during the Big Boy's photo shoot.

So on Day 4 I left the Newton KOA and drove 7 hours and 37 minutes to Grand Rapids to pick up my new BBQ.

Another 40 minutes and I was in Greenville just minutes away from finally meeting my trailer builder Fred and The Glampette in person!

It was quite the exciting day.

And if you're looking for cute vintage goods like this BBQ be sure to check out the Ora Grace Vintage shop on Etsy.com. I know I'll be checking back for more unique items to accessorize The Glampette.

To be continued.

To follow my Michigan or Bust road reports here they are:

Days 1-3: Picking up my tiny travel trailer: 2364 miles to happiness :)
Day 4: Be still my glamping heart: The cutest vintage grill ever!
Days 4-8: Meeting Fred and The Glampette for the first time
Welcome to The Glampette: A peek inside
Day 8 Part 2: Around the lake and on to Wisconsin Wine Country
Day 9: A suspenseful night at the Kennebec KOA
Day 10: It could have been worse
Day 10 continued:  Overnight at a Walmart, a traveler's rite of passage
And my favorite RV Park was: Hi-Way Haven in Sutherlin, OR
4974 miles later our adventure comes to an end

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Picking up my tiny travel trailer: 2364 miles to happiness :)

My journey has begun! To pick up The Glampette here's the route I took on Interstate 80 across the country for the first time ever. The times below are the estimates from Google Maps. Most days I had to add an hour or more to each estimate due to gas stops, breaks for Kitai to get out and walk around, meals, roadwork, and traffic. Most days I ended up being on the road from 9 to 11 hours.

Day 1: San Jose, CA to Wendover, NV - 649 miles, 9 hours 37 minutes
Day 2: Wendover, NV to Cheyenne, WY - 565 miles, 8 hours 21 minutes
Day 3: Cheyenne, WY to Newton, IA - 659 miles, 9 hours 32 minutes
Day 4: Newton, IA to Greenville, MI - 491 miles, 7 hours and 28 minutes

Day 1
I found myself playing my entire John Denver catalog as I drove through Nevada. His songs just fit the scenery perfectly.

Fred says I could be a long haul trucker because I was keeping trucker hours by driving so far each day. I just figured I may as well drive while there was light to burn because I wanted to get to Michigan as quickly as possible.

I didn't mean to drive at night but the first day I did. I watched the sun set on my way to the Wendover KOA on the Nevada side of the NV UT border. We arrived after midnight but had no problem finding our cabin.

As KOAs go I'd say it was adequate. The room was clean and the location very convenient. It did lack charm and there were quite a few beer caps, broken shards of glass, and weeds in the crushed gravel around the cabins and the courtyard between them.

Each cabin had its own picnic benches and table and a BBQ grill. I would stay here again and would recommend it as a stop while traveling, more so than a vacation destination in itself. The property seemed to be a large gravel parking lot with trailer slots and cabins. Nothing particularly home or welcoming except for the staff who were all very nice.

That night there was a fierce wind storm that woke Kitai and I up the wind was howling so loudly. He's never been afraid of thunder or fireworks but the wind freaked him out so much he crawled under the bed to hide from it. Poor little guy :(

Day 2
The next morning the storm had blown through and were on our way.

Just a few blocks away was this huge sign of Wendover WIll.

And a mini Las Vegas type strip of casinos and restaurants.

Wendover is right beside the salt flats in Utah. You can see them all along Interstate 80.

I was disappointed to not be able to photograph any of the Salt Lakes in Utah. I needed a third hand and at least one extra eye to be able to drive and shoot at the same time.

After passing Salt Lake City I stopped for gas in Park City, Utah. While at the gas pump I looked over and noticed the ski slopes and realized I was in PARK CITY, UTAH where many athletes train for the winter Olympics.

After leaving Park City I was heading to Cheyenne, WY. Along the way I saw a lot of dead deer and a dead antelope. I thought to myself so this is where the deer and antelope play, on the highway, where they get smooshed by cars.

I couldn't resist trying to get a picture of the landscape I was passing. I know some people may freak out but there were no cars within a mile in front of or behind me and I was on a straightaway so I raised the camera and randomly aimed it out the windshield all the while hoping I was getting a decent image since I didn't even glance at the view finder. I didn't take my eyes off the road, not even for a second. Even if the pictures were crooked or off center I knew I could rotate and crop them in Photoshop so I figured I'd end up with something I could salvage.

I saw a bear along the highway just outside of Park City. It was standing on all fours motionless in a meadow. How I would have loved to have taken a picture but there were too many cars around.

Another shot from the road in Wyoming. I loved this bank of clouds. They were gorgeous!

By the time I hit Wyoming I'd moved from John Denver and was playing the Eagles. I think certain songs just sound better when played in context.

I arrived at the Cheyenne KOA just after sunset.

My cabin was the one on the left.

As I pulled into the driveway the show began: No rain, lots of wind, and tons of lightening. I think I saw more lightening that night than I have combined in the rest of my entire life.

The cabin was well maintained, the staff very friendly. Overall I would give this campground very high scores in all areas. I wouldn't hesitate to stay here again in the future. But if you're a light sleeper bring ear plugs because you're right beside the highway and you'll hear train whistles into the wee hours of the morning.

Day 3
In the morning I used my tiny, ultralight, MSR MicroRocket, propane stove to make soup for breakfast.

I made a stop in Des Moines, Iowa to have dinner with two of my Dogster.com friends. It was my first time meeting Steph in person and the second time seeing Stacie. We had a great Mexican food dinner while Kitai stayed home with Steph's husband who graciously offered to dog-sit so we girls could step out and relax.

This bunny was on Steph's front lawn when I arrived at her house. So cute! All of the lawns in Des Moines were the most vibrant green I've ever seen. Definitely prettier than how they brown out in California when they don't get enough water.

Unfortunately I didn't take another photo the entire day while driving through Nebraska because the interstate was so full of cars I didn't want to even try to pull over or use my one-handed-no-looking-at-the-viewfinder method of shooting. Safety is very important to me and was reinforced even more so when I saw a small cargo trailer that had slipped its hitch on the interstate. The tow vehicle was in the median sideways and the trailer had gone over the right embankment beyond the shoulder of the highway and had tipped over on its side. Fortunately it didn't appear that anyone had been hurt but it was a reminder that towing a trailer is not a small thing. Done incorrectly someone could be seriously injured or killed.

I spent the night at the Newton, Iowa KOA. It was dark when I arrived so I took this photo of their entry driveway the next morning. KOAs are so easy to find. They have big signs on the interstate and once you exit smaller signs will lead you right to them.

This is a gorgeous property. It's incredibly maintained, their customer service is impeccable, and there were lots of amenities. Even before I left I was already looking forward to returning someday.

This time my cabin was a Deluxe Cabin. It was fancier on both the outside and inside.

For starters inside there was a real bed!

By real I mean a top mattress and box spring and the bunk beds were made of naturally stained boards and a metal ladder to the top bunk. The bunks also had small windows which let in natural light in the morning.

I was really happy when I realized there was also running water! Most of the cabins I've stayed in are basic cabins so they electricity but no water.

Ah, after three long days of driving I felt like I had fallen into the lap of luxury in Newton.

The air conditioner was pulling double duty both cooling the room and creating white noise to block the sound of trucks on the interstate. There was also a closet bar if you wanted to hang your clothes.

And though I didn't use it it's worth mentioning that there was also a flat screen tv in the room with cable tv for those of you who want more amenities.

Outside was a playground for kids, a pool for everyone, a bench on my front porch, a fire ring, and even a basket of flowers. Combined, all of the attention to details and great service mean this must be one of the best campgrounds in the entire nationwide chain.

That left me with just 491 miles to go to make it to Michigan where The Glampette was waiting for me. I did it the next day with a little stop along the way.

To be continued.

To follow my Michigan or Bust road reports here they are:

Days 1-3: Picking up my tiny travel trailer: 2364 miles to happiness :)
Day 4: Be still my glamping heart: The cutest vintage grill ever!
Days 4-8: Meeting Fred and The Glampette for the first time
Welcome to The Glampette: A peek inside
Day 8 Part 2: Around the lake and on to Wisconsin Wine Country
Day 9: A suspenseful night at the Kennebec KOA
Day 10: It could have been worse
Day 10 continued:  Overnight at a Walmart, a traveler's rite of passage
Day 11: Montana to Washington car don't fail me now!
And my favorite RV Park was: Hi-Way Haven in Sutherlin, OR
4974 miles later our adventure comes to an end

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

How to convert a 1 day cooler into a 3-4 day cooler

After looking longingly at the high end, 5+ day Yeti coolers and others of similar caliber I realized nobody makes a small, long lasting cooler. The key word being small. All I want to be able to do is bring a dozen pasture raised organic eggs with me on long road trips and be able to save my lunch leftovers to eat for dinner while traveling to and from Michigan, partly because it'll be easier than stopping twice with Kitai (my dog) with me and more importantly because I hate wasting food. I also wanted enough space to be able to store the second half of a can of soup until the next day.

So far I've been able to keep ice frozen for three days after doing some serious redesign modifications on the Coleman Party Stacker Cooler my friend Carl got me as a trailer-warming gift. I liked the stacker style because it's rectangular but low profile. The exterior dimensions are 22"L x 13.5"W x 8.25"H with interior dimensions of 16.38"L x 11.13"W x 6"H. Now, how to fit the things I want to keep cold and keep them colder for longer than just a day?

Here is my solution:

1. Coleman Party Stacker cooler.

2. I added a cut to size piece of Reflectix (the silver, mylar, bubble wrap insulation). I thought to use the Reflectix because some of the reusable shopping bags I own are lined with it and I saw a forum member use it in their cooler on a trailer forum I joined. So, I figured it was good for insulating. I found it by the foot at Orchard Supply Hardware and by the roll at Home Depot.

3. Using a sliding, long blade utility knife I cut apart an extra styrofoam ice chest we had and made 1.5" insulating panels for the sides around the ice container.

4. I purchased a plastic egg caddy at REI but it was too tall so I cut it in half removing the lid and cut the handle off


Then I made my own mylar dividers to protect the eggs.

5. I added more Reflectix around the sides and found three tupperware containers that fit perfectly for storing my leftovers.

I'll use the largest tupperware for restaurant leftovers, the medium one for the second half of canned goods, and the smallest one for incidentals.

6. I took the cooler to Storables and found the perfect container to fill with water and freeze solid to create my own block of ice. I carved a perfect niche in the styrofoam sides to hold the container above the food. The best part of this is the water will stay clean so I can reuse it by pouring it with a funnel into a fresh water container.

While on the road I'll have to purchase bagged ice which I'm sure won't last as long as a block but it'll do in a pinch.

I also added two smaller foam blocks to the right and left sides of the cooler to give more insulation around all four sides of the ice tray.

Granted, when the yellow container is full I will want to pour some of the water out as it melts so that it doesn't splash onto the food below but that'll be easy to do.

7. I used more Reflectix and made one more insulating layer to place between the top of the ice container and the cooler's lid.

8. With the lid in place.

9. I added one more piece of Reflectix to the top of the lid. Sorry for the lens flare.

10. So now the sides are insulated more heavily but what about the top and bottom? I used the lid to the cooler I cut apart to set the Coleman on top of it. I wrapped the edges with duct tape just to make them more durable.

11. Then I made a Reflectix outer box to set the cooler in using only duct tape to create the box and hinged lid.

I did this because I could feel the cold coming off the top of the cooler once it had been sitting with the ice inside for a few hours.

I simply place the Party Stacker inside the insulated cooler cozy. . .

Then shut the lid.

12. To top if off I purchased a small piece of rigid foam board to add more insulation. I may make another Reflectix sleeve to hold it in place, like a larger version of the lid to the outer box.

13. To make it less noticeable in the car I can drop this wool blanket that matches my car's interior over the whole set up as it only fits on my front passenger seat. A bonus is the fit is so tight it's wedged in place so I don't have to worry about it becoming a projectile that will hit me if I slam on the brakes.

I'm hoping by opening the cooler only three times a day the ice will last 3-4 days. I'll report back after my road trip and let you know how it worked out.

If you have any suggestions on how to improve my design please leave them in the comments!