We’ve had some pretty cool firsts: we put the truck on a ferry and it was super sweet. $19 to save us 4 hours of driving is not too bad! We also had a good border crossing into British Columbia. We had everything in order so it went very smoothly. Mostly, the border crossing agent wanted to know where he could get a truck like ours. He actually seemed sort of serious about it.
British Columbia is an interesting place. It almost reminds us of California in that it has a lot of variety.
The days are getting much longer, and it’s not getting fully dark at night anymore. It’s also been interesting because we have been watching the season reverse. When we left Washington state, it seemed like early summer. As we’ve driven north, it has started to seem more like early spring and now we have been passing through areas where there aren’t leaves on the deciduous trees yet.
From the beginning of our habitat design, we put a lot of thought into ventilation and air circulation topics. We generally like air that is moving and dislike stuffy environments. We also were concerned with carbon dioxide buildup from such a tightly sealed habitat. As we live in the dry Mojave desert, we had been warned by many of humidity buildup issues that we might have when visiting humid areas.
Now that we have been on the road for a few weeks, we have been able to evaluate our build and ventilation strategies. We have been in some dry and extremely humid environments. In fact, as we are writing this, we are in a temperate rain forest listening to rain on the habitat.
One of the first things that we have noticed is that for some reason, we are comfortable in a much wider temperature range in the habitat than we are typically comfortable with at home. We have an indoor/outdoor digital thermometer on a cabinet in the habitat, and we find it really convenient for paying attention to the thermal environment.
We have also found that we have our small Sirocco II circulation overbed fan running basically all the time. It is quiet, hardly uses any power, and really keep the air moving. The fan helps evenly warm up the habitat when running our Planar 2D diesel heater, it promotes good air transfer when sleeping with the overbed windows slightly open at night (we always have at least 2 windows slightly open while sleeping), and it helps cool down and ventilate the habitat while cooking with the windows open.
On the topic of cooking with the windows open, we have found that it is nice having the large window directly behind the stove and counter open while using the alcohol stove. We have been really pleased with how the stove works, but it is nice (and important) to have good ventilation while running it.
We have been surprised at how little we have had to use our heater. Even with the windows cracked at night (by the way, the fine screens on our EuroVision windows have been doing an excelling job at keeping even small insects out), just our body heat and the small amount of waste heat from the refrigerator is enough to keep the habitat 25-30 degrees F above outside air temperature. If it is a little chilly in the morning, we just run the heater for a few minutes to encourage us to get out of bed.
We have also been using the heater to help with humidity. After showers or coming in with wet clothes after a hike, we have found that it is nice to heat the habitat up pretty well with the heater to help evaporate all of the water and then we run our Fantastic vent fan to blow all the hot, humid air out. So far everything has been quite dry. To date, the only humidity issue we have had was related to the insulating plug that we made for the Fantastic Vent. The top surface of the plug seems to get damp if we leave it installed for a few days, so we have stopped storing it in the fan opening and we only put it in place when we want to block out light.
Overall the truck is running really well. With all the work and upgrades that we had done, we had assumed that some issues might crop up early in our trip. We planned the beginning of our route to cross paths with several of our friends in case we needed a helping hand, but everything has been working nicely.
We have had a handful of maintenance items that we have done over the first few weeks.
Tighten alternator belt (the tachometer had been periodically bouncing)
Tighten fan belt (there was a periodic squeak at high RPM or rapid RPM change)
Check clutch drain plug (no oil from rear engine seal)
Fix transmission leak (improved seal on forward/reverse shaft linkage)
Checked power steering filter
Fuel additive (started adding lube + Cetane boost every few tanks)
We have also been carefully tracking our fuel consumption. There is a slight variability from fuel we burn using our habitat heater and engine pre-heater, but we are averaging 10.5 mpg regardless of what kind of driving we have been doing. We have done long highway stretches at 60 mph and quite a few long dirt tracks averaging 20-30 mph. Our fuel consumption seems surprisingly steady regardless of driving type.
Well, we’ve started heading north. Things are going well so far, and we are really enjoying the truck. We are starting to fall into a daily routine and are figuring out all the finer nuances of living in a small space, driving a big vehicle, and navigating back roads.
After a year and a half of preparation, it’s hard to believe that we are finally out on the road. The truck drives a little differently now that it is fully loaded with extra fuel, water, and full provisioning. It still cruises right down the highway, but it feels a little different.
We are both enjoying having slow time in the afternoons once we arrive at our camp spot for the evening. We have been working on the truck for so long that it is nice to finally be able to just slow down and enjoy the fresh air.
We got the Dahon folding bikes loaded on the roof rack for the first time last week. We were a little concerned about how to get the bikes up on the rack and fitted correctly because the last time fit them, it was at a super ergonomic height in the shop. It turned out to not be much of a problem with the help of a 1″ wide piece of strapping wrapped through the tires. The bikes don’t weigh much, so it’s easy to just pull them up, one at a time, with the strap and drop them into their cozy storage on the roof rack.
We have been doing really well on our trip preparations. We have been able to get out for several nights and test everything out in the truck. We have been making lists of things that we have forgotten or need modified as we have been using the truck. It turns out that the lists are pretty short and nothing major has come up. The biggest thing that we have noticed is that the habitat is very comfortable and we seem to sleep in more than we mean to!
The truck has been performing better than expected on the highway. It cruises comfortably at 60 mph at 4,000 feet elevation. Exhaust gas temperatures have been really reasonable so far, even pushing it on hills we haven’t seen it go above 1200 F. Slight hills seem not to affect the cruise speed much, but steep hills do require downshifting to take advantage of the grunt of the diesel. All the sound deadening and upgrades in the cab were well worth it. We can carry a normal conversation while driving on the highway. It’s not much louder than driving our Jeep Wrangler.
We extended the ARB awning for the first time and enjoyed some shade in the desert on one of our trips. The ARB awning is quite nice, but we did have to take it down when the wind picked up. The awning can be set up with one person, but we found it is easier with both of us.
During our trips we were able to try out our OMNIA oven with our alcohol stove for the first time. It worked really well! The alcohol stove has been performing great in general. They seem to have a reputation for slow cooking, but we haven’t been disappointed.
Not that anything about using the truck is difficult, but we have found that there are enough new things that we were forgetting steps when getting ready to go. Being the aircraft engineering nerds that we are, we have now made checklists so we don’t miss anything. It’s probably overkill, but it makes us feel a bit more relaxed when doing things like leaving after tearing down camp.
The painted lady butterflies are migrating from Mexico to the Pacific Northwest through central California right now. It seems that they are following the good weather. It’s probably a sign that we need to get ready to follow them.