Goodbye Old Friend

R.I.P. 2008 - 2011

You came into our life during a time of transition. You gave hope, energy and caffeine on those summer Saturday mornings when we were building our future home. Your stainless carafe was sturdy and unbreakable as we bounced down washboard roads from Vermont to Utah. Your speedy brewing got us moving out of those Wal-Mart parking lots in a timely fashion. Your sleek design and simple functionality were things of envy among the climbers in Mexico. Your five-cup capacity ensured a fresh second pot on those cold rainy mornings when we just couldn’t get out of the van. You waited patiently in the holler while we swapped hemispheres. Your timer functioned flawlessly as you sputtered to life at 5:30 AM, signaling another morning of work in the California wine cellar. And you continued to brew, right up to the end, in our new Oregon home.

Goodbye old friend, your efforts were not in vein.



Ahhh spring time is in the air. The grass is greening up, the birds are chirping and the days are getting longer. True signs of a season change. But you know how else I know its spring? We’re getting more hits on our van construction page. Laugh if you will but its the truth. Soon after we made this blog public (ie Google searchable) we noticed that most incoming traffic was going to the van construction page. Turns out a lot of people dig homebuilt camper vans. And after combing the internets for ideas and information while building ours, I can attest to the fact that there aren’t very many good homebuilt van sites on the world wide web. So as we blogged about our travels we always got a chuckle that the only real interest this site was the van construction page.

Like clockwork we noticed the spring spike in hits.  It started a few weeks ago, it seems that after a long cold winter the dirtbags are stirring. Tired of being cooped up all the rock climbers, adventurers, and those suffering from seasonal induced wanderlust start day dreaming of escape. They turn to the Google and end up on our blog. Who can blame them really? What better way to shake off the winter blues, see the sights and recreate than in your very own home built campervan.

Speaking of shaking off the winter blues, we’re dusting off our rig and getting ready to set sail once again. I’ve been tidying up a few odds and ends that have fallen by the wayside while we were in New Zealand and then rocketing across the country for the harvest last fall. The biggest change of all was recovering the headliner.  Seems the thirteen year old factory job was starting to give out. Changes in temperature and increased moisture from cooking and living aboard had worn out the glue holding the fabric to the backer board.  No worries, just pop out the factory headliner, strip off the old fabric and foam to recover with a material of your choice.

While I’m not sure about our choice in finishing, Jill loves it. Definatley different, it lightens things up from the deep dark factory navy blue that was original to the van. Our new headliner might not fly on the high fashion runways of Paris this spring, but it sure will look good out on the road.

Lowest of Lows

Nowhere to go but up.

We bottomed out in California. Soon after harvest Jill and I found ourselves at the lowest point we’ve ever been since starting our travels back in the fall of 2008, Death Valley. At 282 feet below sea level Badwater Basin in Death Valley National Park is the lowest point North America. For a couple who like to climb up high and look around it wasn’t exactly tops on our list of places to visit.

And not an ocean in sight.

As it turns out, a place with death in the name is quite an attraction, well worth a look. From 11,000 foot peaks, sand dunes and canyons the park has plenty to see and do. While not as spectacular a desert setting as Southern Utah or Red Rocks Canyon in Nevada, the park is special in its own right. A place of extremes, from elevation to temperature, Death Valley National Park is another shining example of Mother Nature’s sense irony.

Mesquite Flat Dunes in Death Valley National Park

During our stay we soaked in the dramatic landscape, experienced the rare occurrence of rain (of course we did) and hit the lowest point in our travels. You see, every journey is filled with highs and lows. We just prefer to measure ours in the physical sense.

The namesake of the lowest point in America.

Zabriskie Point looking into Badwater Basin with the Panamint Range rising from the west.

The Long Way Home

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Leaving California in December we struggled to decide on our route home. We dreamed of hitting countless back country and cross country ski destinations across Utah and Colorado. We did pull off a snowy Thanksgiving visit to Yosemite before the reality of coping with the effects of winter on both ourselves and Norman Clyde sent us south.

We ticked off some new places and visited old favorites. It rained in Death Valley, slightly and in the middle of the night but still rain in the desert of deserts. Of course there was! We soaked up the mesmerizing peace that is Joshua Tree. We were wowed by Petrified Forest National Park, spent a quick day peering into the Grand Canyon thinking it just might be worth returning to for deeper explorations and marveled at the be-jeweled interior of Carlsbad Caverns.

We topped out on the Texas high point, Guadalupe Peak (8749 ft). Who new Texas has mountains that are nearly 9,000 feet tall? Putting off the bulk of the driving for as longs as possible, we spent a few days soaking in the sunshine and the hot springs of Big Bend National Park in far southwest Texas. I visited Big Bend years ago when tourists often crossed the Rio Grande and spent the afternoon in the tiny Mexican village of Boquillas. Today this is a big no-no as all unofficial border crossing were closed in the wake of 9/11. Blah.

Leaving the southwest behind we made a mad dash across Texas and tackled what for us is the most adventurous activity of all. We took the van into a city. A city with narrow, one way streets and lots of parking garages that can’t house a giant van. Shockingly, and I mean shockingly, it all came together and we had a wonderful 24 hours in New Orleans. We found a charming hotel. Norman Clyde had valet parking. Best of all great restaurant beta from the brother-in-law. And we have a new “I have to go back there” destination.

Help Wanted…

This is a genuine help wanted ad placed on a NZ work/travel website. Enjoy.

I’m a single mum with 2 girls, 8 and almost 3 years old.
I need someone to help them get ready in the morning for school and kindergarten. (I leave for work at 5.30 am, so i’m not home then)
We live on a big lifestyle block, and have horses, you will be able to ride in your spare time. There is heaps of walking trails nearby, and the beach is a 15 min drive away. We’re a 10 min drive from Dunedin, 5 min from Mosgiel.
now here’s the catch.. we live in a house truck. You will get your own smaller truck, with own toilet and a shower, it has power it’s not too bad, but you need to have a bit of an adventurous spirit..
I need someone asap, would like a minimum 1 month stay, but if you can start right now i’m happy for even a week or 2.
You need to have a drivers licence, you can use my car to drop the kids off.
Because we are close to town there will be an opportunity to find a paying job in town if you have your own transport.
I can consider taking a couple or 2 friends as the bed in the truck is a double.

I love New Zealand.

Scrabble On

Scrabble occupies a cherished place in our lives. When heading off in the van we snagged a vintage version from Steve’s mom. So for the next few months we drove around the west in the rain and played Scrabble. We lost one of the Ws. Replaced it with a pebble from Smith Rock in Oregon. We had every intention of bringing the game with us to New Zealand but in some last minute moment of insanity we deemed it unnecessary.

After getting settled in Gisborne, I realized the grave mistake of leaving Scrabble behind. Started looking around, couldn’t find it at the local big box store, the Warehouse, nor did the opp shops have it. Eventually I saw it in the back of the bookstore for 45 Kiwi dollars. Seriously 45 bucks for a board game? Even taking in the exchange rate that was too much for this cheapy.

Bring on Easter sales. Back at the Warehouse I noticed board games were on sale. So I checked and there it was. I pulled it off the shelf and held it close. A few minutes later Steve found me. After he saw it under me arm he said, “Can’t talk you out of it, can I?”

“When you pry it out of my cold, dead hands,” was the only appropriate response. So we brought it home a few days ago. Our inagural game Jill 328 to Steve 194.

I intended to post this weeks ago but forgot about it in the busyness of leaving Gisborne.  Just last night our current WOOF host taught us Speed Scrabble. Interesting for a group but for me, I prefer trad Scrabble.