Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Lynnebago’s Maiden Voyage

Whereas the Winnebago started out with every comfort and convenience you could ever think of, the Lynnebago started its camper van adventures in a very minimal way (with my future plan to add features when they’re truly wanted and needed).

I wanted to bring the Lynnebago to the upcoming Midwest T@B Rally in Iowa, but that didn’t leave me with much time to get the new van ready for camping.  But I still had a few days to order some items online and run around to the local outdoors stores to fill in the gaps of my old tent camping gear that had been waiting patiently in the garage the past couple of years.

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The weather in Iowa was absolutely perfect for camping—daytime highs in the low 70’s and evening lows in the upper 50’s.  No need for air conditioning, and a good thing, too, because I don’t yet have one!  Since my site had an electric hook-up, I did bring a small Pelonis ceramic heater, but only needed it one morning.  It managed to heat the van up within a few minutes on its low setting.

While I managed to get the old grungy roof vent replaced with the new Fantastic Fan, I ran out of time to get the electrical connected to it.  So, I just brought my old Eureka 12 volt tent fan and hung it from a ceiling hook to provide ventilation.  That was helped with 2 new screened window louvers that I got from EuroCampers.com.  These worked great to provide air flow inside the van (while keeping most of the bugs outside).

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I got a very comfortable, lightweight, army-style cot at Gander Mountain that worked out well and bungeed securely to the van’s tie-down loops.  At 20” high, it was tall enough to stow lots of stuff beneath it (i.e. my plastic storage tubs of food, cooking supplies, an empty 7 gallon water jug, and my porta-potti), and yet the cot was still low enough to sit on as a sofa. 

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I added my self-inflating camp mattress, my heavenly Big Agnes Clearview air pad (cooler and more comfortable than memory foam), and my twin-sized Travasak (oversized sleeping bag with real sheets).  It made for a bed more comfortable than what I had in the View, and even a bit better than my real mattress at home!

My kitchen was split between indoor and outdoor spaces.  On the inside, I bought a new cooler-style Danfoss compressor refrigerator that runs very quietly and efficiently on battery or electric (an Indel B 51 litre).  It can run low enough to be a freezer, so I figured it will be able to serve double-duty at home too.  It stored quite a bit of food and ran extremely quietly.

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Next to the fridge, was a new 12-volt Duracell AGM Group 31 battery that I bought from Sam’s Club.  As I only have one 12-volt outlet at the dash (that I already use for my GPS and iPhone), I thought a separate “house” battery would be better to use for the fridge when traveling.

I brought an extra dishpan and extra 2 gallon water dispenser to use inside, but never really needed them, so next time will leave them at home.  Used more often was my 4 gallon blue water jug. When standing outside at the sliding door, the floor of the van made a convenient kitchen prep area and place to keep the water jug.

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For cooking, I bought a new LP camp stove, a Campchef Sierra, that worked wonderfully to boil water in no time with it’s higher-output burners.

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The biggest addition to my Lynnebago camping experience was my new 10x10 PahaQue Screenroom tent (shown in the first picture above with the side wall awnings rolled down).  This more than doubled our living space and Millie found it to be a delightful “dog house” to snooze in while I went off to kayak.

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The screenroom packs down into a small and relatively light weight 23 lbs (less than half the size and weight of a scissor-style “EZ-Up” shelter).  While the smaller size is perfect,  the jury is still out on whether I’ll use this often in the future.  It was impossible for me to set up on my own and I had to recruit a couple from the neighboring campsite to help hold poles and get it standing upright.  Once it was up, it was wonderful to have, and the side walls and rainfly worked great to keep the rain out on Saturday night.  It was also very easy for me to disassemble and pack away on my own.

I think it will be most useful in the future if I intend to “base camp” at the same site for a few nights and be off sightseeing in the daytime.  Having this screenroom up will clearly show others that my campsite is “occupied” even when my van’s not there.  But if I’m in hyper-travel mode staying at a different place each night, I’ll likely find a roll-out awning (attached to the side of the van) more useful.

Other random observations from my first camping trip:

  • I bungeed a cargo net across the stuff in the back of the van (miscellaneous small camping & paddling gear, my extra leveling blocks, shoes, tote bag, duffle bag of clothes, etc).  I didn’t like having so many “unsecured” items on the floor, so know I’ll want some overhead cabinets and maybe a tall floor to ceiling storage closet too.
  • Still not sure if I want a window behind the driver’s door (opposite the sliding door).  While the added view and ventilation would be nice, I also liked the how nicely insulated the carpeted plywood wall was next to my bed.
  • I need to get some nicer curtains made soon!  For this first outing, I used the fabric shower curtain that came with the van to block off the cab from the rear living space, and then re-used some pieces or Reflectix to cover the rear and sliding door windows.  Quite a “Hillbilly Hilton” look, but at least it provided the necessary privacy to sleep at night!
  • Hated using the grungy campground showers (although my new $5 K-Mart flipflops sure did help!).  I’ll need to start figuring out a way to rig up a portable shower of some kind.
  • Really loved how peppy this van traveled now that it was not towing the Tracker!  Driving 70 mph in wind, I still managed to get 20 MPG which is much better than the 12-13 MPG I’ve usually gotten with the View.

I’ll keep tinkering with the camping gear and layout for the next few camping trips until I settle into something that feels like it will stick long-term, then I’ll be ready for the walls and ceiling to be ripped out and the real solution to finally be built!

Any tips or suggestions from you van dweller or small-camper pros, please comment away!

17 comments:

  1. If you go to Mexico this winter the screen room will be very useful.

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    1. My thinking exactly! But, you'll need to help me set it up :-)

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  2. Looks to me like a fabulous start.

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  3. I ordered a compressor type 12v fridge from Amazon and its on backorder. I could not decide for a long time, but ordered the one with dual compartments so I could have a fridge and freezer at the same time. I'm interested in how yours is working out. I sometimes think of getting a class B, but the lack of a decent bathroom holds me back...but maybe someday that won't be such a big deal.

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    1. I used to have a little Norcold 1.7 cu ft compressor fridge in my T@B and really liked the simplicity and "instant on/instant cold" features. It also had a little metal freezer section with a tiny metal ice cube tray that I loved (as I still cannot shake my soda addiction!).

      The new fridge is quieter and holds more than the Norcold did, but I really missed having a freezer section, or rather, having both a fridge and freezer (2 separate temp zones). I set the temp to 34 and put my one frozen food item on the very bottom with an ice pack beneath it. That seemed to work o.k. but I will continue to experiment with maybe using heavy duty aluminum foil or something to keep the freezer items colder. For ice, I filled up a 6-can cooler with ice from home. That did fine for the first day, but by day 2 it was a solid block, and day 3 it was melted. So, I'll need to figure out a better solution there.

      What make/model fridge did you order?

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    2. I just got a Dometic 1.1 cu chest fridge/freezer with the Danfoss compressor as I wanted to have a freezer in addition to the fridge. Well, my expensive marine fridge decided not to work again so I just used the chest. The bottom froze things, the top stayed nice and cool when set at about 37F. Having an icepack below on the floor would have insulated the bottom things. If your cooling thing is on the bottom like mine, you will find it will freeze better with nothing between it and the item.

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    3. Yeah, Tesaje, I'm thinking a 2nd (smaller) Danfoss fridge is in my future to use it as a freezer while the bigger one stays as a fridge. We'll see!

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  4. Hi, Lynne. For the shower I have a couple of thoughts: I have a "pop-up" Privvy shelter that I have used for brief camping in the past. I do not see the exact model on Amazon -- I don't think the company that made mine is still in business. The best feature of the one I have is that it really is sturdy (heavy) enough to allow the hanging of a 5-gallon sun shower water bag. Yet, it folds down to a large circle that slides inside a storage bag. When I am able to hit the road as a full-time boondocker, I plan to take a square of Trex decking to put on the ground as a shower "floor." I have also seen a quick-and-dirty shower enclosure on Pinterest that involves suspending a hula hoop from a tree limb, then putting a shower curtain on the hoop using regular shower curtain rings. Looks pretty ingenious, but only would work if you have something to suspend it from that is tall and strong enough. I enjoy your blog. Carla

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    1. Great ideas Carla, thanks! I used to have an Outback popup shelter, but could never figure out how to fold it back up flat and into it's bag, so I bought a PETT privy shelter. Expensive, but it set up quickly and was pretty strong. I still have it in the garage and will probably take it out for my next trip along with a 5 gallon solar shower bag I bought last week. I've never used those bags before, but I'll give it a try before I move up to a more complex system.

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  5. LOL, Lynne, I had to watch an online video several times to get the hang of getting my Privvy back down to a flat circle, so I know what you mean. In doing my before-bed tour of vandweller sites this evening, I came across an article on how one woman outfitter her high-top cargo van from scratch. She has an inside solution for showering. Here's a link to her ideas/photos:
    http://tinycamper.wordpress.com/from-cargo-to-camper-van/

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  6. I love your setup. I am particularly intrigued by your window louvers. Are they locked in somehow so someone couldn't remove them from the outside?

    I also appreciated your impressions of the PahaQue screen room.

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    1. Yes, the metal louvers have lips on the sides and top that fit into the window slots. The bottom of the louver has a slot for the window to roll into making it very snug and secure.

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  7. I read about people using a big pan and a shower curtain hung from the ceiling to surround you with either the solar shower or some other type pump thing for the water. Works well and you just put away the stuff when not in use and dump the water in the pan. I also saw a rig that had a water heater/pump and shower installed above the side door with a shower curtain to go around the ceiling. The guy rigged it so the base would drain and used a teak floor for when he wasn't showering. That way, any extra water would go out the step well. You could rig up a drain in the van floor for where you want to shower with a pan that is either permanent or placed there for use. AS long as you are in a dispersed area, there would be no environmental issues in draining the gray water outside or you could put a catch pan under the drain. I don't really like the idea of outdoor showering in a tent or not - I feel a little too exposed as a single woman. When it is hot out, a real shower with soap is the only thing that works. All the hand dabbing just doesn't do the job.

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    1. I'd love a built-in shower pan into the van floor with a drain, but too chicken to drill any holes in the van's floor! So, I think I'll keep it simple initially-- I bought a $5 mortar pan at Home Depot, and will install shower curtain track on the ceiling. Also am ordering a $30 immersion pump with a shower head that runs off of 12v. Will just heat water on the stove, dump it into a big bucket and then use the pump to bring it to the shower head. Hopefully, if I'm coordinated enough, I'll manage to do all this inside the van without making a royal mess out of things! Thinking about putting a garden hose drain into the shower pan so that I can empty it into a portable gray tank on wheels if I need to-- otherwise, I'll use biodegradable soap and dump it on the ground.

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    2. My van has holes drilled in the floor for the big electrical wires, the drains and a big one in the back for an underfloor storage box and two on either side for the battery boxes. There is no real danger in that. You should just be sure the location is where you want it. Bondo works great for filling any mistakes. The main thing is to do proper rust prevention as in good paint. What gives me a bit of pause is the cut they did in the lower side rib for the water heater but I can't see any real problems even with that.

      Your solution sounds good. My van has a dedicated 2'x4' wet bath. Since I have it, I use it but it does seem like a lot of space for maybe 10 minutes of use a day. I had an idea of rigging up a counter height cabinet that would use a shower curtain around it to form a shower and would hold the dry toilet that would come out for shower time. My wet bath has the toilet installed and it takes up a lot of space in there making the shower tighter than is really comfortable. There's a lot to be said for having one but not have it take up space when not in use in a small living space.

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  8. Wow, I'm amazed that all those kinds of things are now available for camping and vaning. I haven't camped in 30 years (when kids were little) and I'm impressed at what you can buy to outfit the van. Hmmmm, the wheels are turning!

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