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Freewheeling: Kitchen Updates

August 17, 2013 Freewheeling No Comments

Right after we got back from Ironman Canada, Greg went to work redoing the kitchen. We found out very quickly that the setup was not very efficient and were able to identify ways to improve it.

As a reminder, here is what it looked like:

The stove/sink unit is on the right side, adjacent to the couch. The refrigerator is underneath the wooden countertop, on a slide-out mechanism that locked into place. It had to be rolled all the way out to be able to open the fridge. We found that wasn’t very convenient (especially when I wanted to fix a snack as we were driving down the road).

On top of the setup not being very user-friendly, it didn’t look very good. Here is the updated kitchen:

The new kitchen is so much better! The countertops and black paneling really make it look clean and “finished.” Plus, those countertops make it much easier for clean-up. All of our cooking supplies live in the storage drawer, making it easier for us to find things and keep everything organized.

The one down-side to the fridge top being part of the counter is that we have to move things off of that space when we want to open the fridge. I learned that the hard way a few times and have gotten much better about taking everything I’ll need out of the fridge before I start prepping.

Greg thinks of a lot of small details, and the LED lighting on the underside of the overhead shelves is really handy. He has the lights running from a switch on the electrical panel (just to the right of the water tank fill hole), making it really easy to access them. They make it nice for changing at night without blinding everyone with the harsh side-mounted light.

You may have also noticed that he made the low-profile shelves beneath the overhead shelves into drawers. I wasn’t sure I’d like this “upgrade” because I am not quite able to see into the drawers without standing on my tip-toes, but it does make it nice that everything looks tidy and nothing falls off of these shelves anymore.

This kitchen has served us well and Greg doesn’t have plans to make any changes to it. Two upgrades that he’s researching now are adding hot water to the sink and adding a shower option (with the spigot on the outside of the van).

Pics from Wildflower

I want to share a few Wildflower photos that were taken by friends of ours. First, an early morning shot of all the athletes racing:

The three guys on the left (Joe, Martz, and Kidder’s 14-YO son Kyle) were smart to do the Mountain Bike race. Their race didn’t start for two hours after this photo was taken and their smiles were just as big an hour after that. I’m totally doing that race next year!

Here’s a family shot from after the race. I was happy to be standing at this point. Greg finished about an hour before me and was feeling pretty good. Miles wondered when we were going back to the lake.

Our camping setup is pretty sweet, what with The Van and all. We arrived at our usual spot near Mile 12 and started nesting. Greg rolled out the new awning and carpet and we were ready to welcome visitors.

When the Martzes arrived, their older son Colin took great interest in the van. He has been researching an RV for himself, you see. He’s 10. The one he wants will arrive at his door in Santa Barbara for a mere $130,000. It was so fun to take him through our van and show him how everything works and why we did things a certain way. Apparently he took it to heart.

Two weeks after the race, we got a postcard in the mail, as shown below. It was from the Martzes. Colin had recreated all of Wildflower with Legos, including our van. Nancy took a picture and sent it to us, which will be a memento we keep forever. I love it so much!

As you can see, he built the van setup flawlessly, right down to the awning, bikes mounted to the back, and the sunroof. It even has the hitch on the back bumper! I love that he included me, Greg, and Miles. My favorite part? Greg is holding a bone for the dog and I am holding a bottle of wine. Ha!!

As we get ready to race again this weekend (Vineman Monte Rio), it is fun to look back on Wildflower through these photos. The beauty of Vineman is that it’s an Olympic distance race and we’ll both be done racing by 10:15 AM. Even with temps at 90*, we can enjoy the day on the river.

Freewheeling: Upgrades

August 25, 2012 Freewheeling 1 Comment

As I mentioned, Greg worked tirelessly to get The Van ready to go for our trip to Penticton, BC for Ironman Canada. He comes home from his day job and goes immediately to work in the driveway. He has a vision of what he wants and sets out making it into reality. A few of these ideas have been “fine” for a first attempt, but we are on v2.0 with several things.

I have been pleasantly surprised with all of the seemingly minor things he is doing that really make traveling in The Van more comfortable. Here are a few of the things he has been working on:

Bed 2.0: The original bed setup was kind of an “accordion” mechanism that folded into itself above the cockpit. This meant we were sleeping on camping-style sleeping pads and it was a real hassle to set it up and take it down. He upgraded the sleeping quarters to a much more comfortable solution, complete with a custom-cut 6″ memory foam mattress. It stays intact and half of the bed slides out on tracks to make it the full length. He even installed a “pull-up bar” to make it easier to get into and out of. Luckily we are fit people. Maneuvering in this van takes a fair amount of athletic ability in itself…

Cabinets 2.0: He installed the cabinets a few months ago using pre-fab frames and custom-built interiors and doors. They look sleek and are very functional — they open up and stay open, and they lock shut. He recently upgraded them so that the ones on the right side extend all the way to the back wall. This added more storage space and cleaned up the space above the countertop/stove. He also installed three electrical outlets, perfect for charging devices and powering the immersion blender for smoothies.

CABINETS - BEFORE

CABINETS - AFTER

Toilet 2.0: He upgraded the toilet to a compost model. The clean-up is MUCH better. I’m taking his word for that one… I’ve (luckily) never had to do it.

Skylight 2.0: He added a wind deflector to the skylight to help with noise and aerodynamics. It also improves the look of things up there.

Sink/Stove/Fridge: We have running water in the sink thanks to a 26-gallon tank + on-demand pump housed under the van. The two-burner stove runs on propane, which is housed in a nifty little box he designed as part of the countertop system. The fridge is probably my favorite feature of the van. It locks into place under the countertop when not in use, then slides out and opens like a chest cooler.

Roof Rack: He designed, built, and installed a roof rack to accommodate for extra storage. Since we are transporting a third bike for Kidder to use at the race, he also attached a fork mount on the rack. Not only is it functional, it looks pretty bad ass with all three bikes on board.

Nav/Media Center: He designed and built this tablet holder + phone mount to have his music and navigation tools at his fingertips. The audio system is set up for Bluetooth integration, so the phone can be streaming Pandora or playing his personal music through the stereo speakers while the tablet is navigating. Pretty handy.

It was a 23-hour trip to Penticton from San Mateo (longer than anticipated because of swim breaks for Miles and because we drove 130 miles out of our way. I’ll save that story for another time…). The Van performed flawlessly and made it pretty enjoyable. When we got hungry, I’d make my way to the back to fix sandwiches or grab a beverage. We rolled into a campsite on Diamond Lake Wednesday night at 8 PM, I heated up dinner in about 10 minutes, and we slept under the stars (under the skylight) until 6 AM the following morning. It took about 30 minutes to put everything back together and we were on the road again.

I just love it when a plan comes together!

Nonstarter (almost)

August 22, 2012 Fear, Freewheeling No Comments

ROAD TRIP!!

Greg and I love a road trip even in a “normal” vehicle so we have been looking forward to the 1000-mile trek to Ironman Canada in The Van, perhaps even more than the race itself. (Why? The driving will take ~19 hours and will be done over two days. My race will take ~14 hours and has to be done all in one shot.)

Greg has worked tirelessly getting The Van ready, and most of the work has been done expressly for this trip. It’s our first long over-the-road trip in it and he wanted things to be as comfortable as possible. He thought of so many details and everything came together. Load ‘er up!

We had the bikes mounted last night, the cabinets and fridge full, and our clothes + race gear packed and ready to be loaded first thing this morning. The plan was to be on the road within 30 minutes of waking. Around 10 PM last night, Greg remembered that he needed to add a power supply for his phone in the new mount system. So, electrical engineer that he is, he went to work to quickly take care of this issue. In order to get to the wiring, he had to have the key in the On position and the transmission in Neutral. He completed the task of wiring power to the phone holster and started putting things back together. Done and done. When he went to turn the key off and lock everything up, the situation took a turn for the worse.

The key wouldn’t move. He couldn’t turn the engine over, he couldn’t turn it off. He frantically went to work searching the Sprinter forums, the owner’s manual, the error code reader he installed on his computer. Nothing turned up. He had to disconnect the battery as not to drain it while he continued troubleshooting. He came to bed defeated.

At this point, Greg was convinced that The Van was a DNF for Ironman Canada. He told me to start loading everything into his car — a Honda Element. Ummmm, there’s no way everything we had packed food-wise, clothes-wise, and gear-wise was going to fit in the Element. Add a big dog and it was a laughable thought.

Or it would have been laughable, if it weren’t so devastating.

I refused to believe we were not going to find a solution and be on our merry way. I tried calling my German car mechanic, but couldn’t get in touch with him. I called my dad, but he didn’t have any other suggestions than the ones Greg had already tried. Greg finally got in touch with the “lead tech” on the Sprinter forum he follows and that guy said that it wasn’t some fancy computer switch or anything, so it was probably the tumbler in the lock cylinder. He suggested we try a locksmith.

I was encouraged by this, though Greg kept saying there was no way he could fix anything in time. We’d be better off loading up the other car and going, the sooner the better. Undeterred, I called a local locksmith. He said we’d have to call a mechanic. All the while, Greg was still fiddling with the key in the ignition. Confident in knowing it wasn’t a computer issue, he applied a little elbow grease to the key while poking his needle-nose pliers in to create a little more space.

VOILA! The key came out!

With trepidation, he sprayed WD-40 into the key hole and inserted the key again. He was able to turn it over and turn it off repeatedly. We were back in business! By this time, it was 9:15 AM or so. I hustled to get all of the last minute stuff loaded while Greg took care of his few final chores. We pulled out of the house at 10:25.

I think the lesson learned here, which just became my mantra for Sunday, is DON’T STOP BELIEVING. (Plus, it comes with its own theme song… You’re welcome.)

IRONMAN CANADA OR BUST!! 

Freewheeling: Skylight

May 25, 2012 Freewheeling 3 Comments

So, what else is new in the van? Pretty much everything. Greg figures out what he wants to accomplish, does his research on the Sprinter van foums, writes out all his plans/diagrams/sketches, procures the supplies, and begins work. Midway through, he figures out a better way to do it and starts over. Doesn’t that sound rewarding?

The skylight is no different, but he hasn’t started over… yet. This took too much time (and money) for him to scrap it. And honestly, it’s pretty much awesome so we should enjoy it for awhile.

Before showing you the new windows, we left off with the sleeping quarters finally being finished. Remember?

But before he could sound-proof it and do all the finish work, he had to build the skylight. You can see here where he’s left a space to cut it out:

Greg designed the skylight, then welded together the frame and figured out how all the hydraulics will work (WAIT FOR IT). He had the Plexiglass custom-cut for the job.

And then he checked his plans a bazillion times. And then he measured. And measured again. And measured again, just for good measure (<— I’m funny!). And then he cut a hole in the fiberglass top.

Gearing up to cut

First cuts

He installed the frame that he designed and welded.

And then installed the final piece of “bubbled” Plexiglass.

Meanwhile, he was upholstering the entire topper area to make it nice and cozy.

The man is nothing if not detail-oriented. He stands 6’3″ and spent many, many hours in that sleeping cubby making things perfect. Here’s how it looks when the bed is folded up:

And here’s our view from the first night we slept up there (on our way to Tahoe one weekend):

Pretty great, right? It really is quite comfortable. I did hit my head on the hydraulic arms in the night a time or two, but it only hurt a little. And honestly, when you have something as awesome as this, who cares about a bump on the head?

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For the utmost convenience, the skylight works with a remote control. Although it’s a little loud (he has a replacement in the works, naturally), it really is a great solution to add a little light and keep the air moving in the back of the van.

Stay tuned for all he’s done to enhance the interior. So many amenities, we are considering selling our house! (I kid… kind of)

Freewheeling: Windows

May 25, 2012 Freewheeling 1 Comment

This is a long overdue post on some of the updates Greg has made to the van, and it’s one of many. I am still very much a van widow, but now that I’ve gotten to reap the benefits (a la deluxe accommodations at Wildflower), I truly believe it was all worth it.

The van has been all over California and it proves to be as solid as Greg hoped it would be. Even when it’s sitting in the driveway, it isn’t sitting idle. Greg has made a lot of progress on the interior. It was in Long Beach for a couple of months while Fiberine was fitting it for the custom topper — sleeping quarters!

Before Greg drove the van to Long Beach, the new windows arrived and we installed them. He did most of the work, but needed an extra set of hands for a few things. Using power tools? Showing my awesome strength? I was happy to oblige. Actually, I mostly just documented the event…

Here are a couple of shots of the van before the new windows, just for reference:

The process was relatively simple. It went like this:

1) Remove existing windows. This required cutting the bonding compound between the window and the van. This was difficult and Greg employed a lot of trial and error (heating the compound with a heating gun and using a utility knife, sheer force from pulling).

2) In some cases, the new windows were larger than the existing, so he had to use the sawzall to remove some metal and then sand it down so the new windows would fit.

3) Once the size of the hole was correct, he painted the bare metal edges to seal it. He used metal primer and spray paint for this.

4) Then a rubber flange goes in to seal the window before it is installed.

4) Finally, window installation! This was a two-person job. I held the windows in place while Greg screwed the trim ring in.

Behind the driver’s seat, there were no existing windows to replace. However, there was was a stamp in the metal indicating where a window could/would go. Greg used this as a guideline to cut his own window hole with the jigsaw. Beyond that, the process was the same.
YouTube Preview Image

Reasons he changed the windows:

  • The existing windows did not open. The new ones open, allowing air flow and a place for the dog (originally Argus, now Miles) to stick his head out and sniff.
  • Aesthetics. These just look better.
  • It was a relatively straightforward project that didn’t pull a lot of surprises. Start to finish, the project took one full weekend (Friday night – Sunday night).

Here’s how it looks now:

 

In the back, he painted a “bandit mask” between the two windows. I think it makes it look a little like a paddy wagon… He’s still not sure if he’ll keep it.

More updates to come! You can read all about the van project in the Freewheeling category. Feel free to ask questions! Greg loves to talk about the van!

Freewheeling: Heat Systems

March 24, 2011 Freewheeling 1 Comment

Beyond the electrical work that went with the audio system upgrades, Greg pulled out the big guns to fix the heating systems in the van. Cold weather camping, here we come!

AUXILIARY HEATER
The next project was to engineer a more effective auxiliary heat system. But first, some context.

The van has two heat systems on-board:

  1. Residual air heat system: This system draws heat from the engine to heat the interior of the van, even while the engine is off.
  2. Auxiliary heater: Engages the auxiliary heater unit, auxiliary water pump, and fan to heat the interior of the van AND the engine — even while the engine is off.

The purpose of Greg’s project was to be able to heat the interior of the van and heat the engine without the key being in the Run position. Pre-heating is particularly important for a diesel engine in cold weather. How does it work? With the engine off, push the button –> water pump runs, heater turns on, fan runs. This is ideal for us since we’re planning to sleep in the van, often in cold/winter conditions.

The button for the residual air heat system was there and was working, but was ineffective because the auxiliary water pump (an electric pump that runs in concert with the other one to assist in distributing the fluid throughout the whole coolant system) was barely turning. To remedy this, he replaced the water pump. More engine work!

Then he took the switch panel out and brought it inside. Greg went to work wiring in relays that would send the signals to the proper places, even with the engine off. The van was not wired up for this prior, even though it was an option. There is a Mercedes-Benz technical bulletin that goes through this option, so Greg put his know-how to use.

Unrelated to the on-board systems, Greg is also working on a third heat source. This is a portable propane heater that he is rigging to make it safe for indoor use. It will hook directly into the on-board propane tank that will be stored on the under side of the van, similar to the way VW buses/vans are. He is planning to wire in the thermostat, giving us the ability to turn it on and off from inside the van. The particulars of this are not entirely figured out yet…

Practically speaking, if we are camping in Tahoe in the winter, we will use the propane heater to heat our living quarters overnight, then turn on the auxiliary heater in the morning to preheat the engine. Lots of options!

You may also be interested in:
Freewheeling: Audio
Freewheeling: Exterior Aesthetics
Freewheeling: Under the Hood
Freewheeling: Sound Effects
Freewheeling: The Adventure Begins

Freewheeling: Audio

March 24, 2011 Freewheeling 5 Comments

Greg earns his (our?) living as an electrical engineer, and it’s paying off on his hobby as well.

It’s a good thing he knows what he’s doing, because the van needed a lot of upgrades in this department. He designed several improvements and then went to work making them happen. At this point, he pretty much has the cockpit of the van finished according to plan. Of course, there will be more to do when he gets the “living quarters” installed. The captains chairs and couch have been ordered and should arrive within the week!

The first order of business was to upgrade the radio.

MULTI-FUNCTIONAL AUDIO SYSTEM
The van came with a primitive radio; the factory model left a lot to be desired. Literally — my 1996 Cabrio has a stereo more advanced than this… For the kinds of adventures we are about to embark on, upgrades were needed. While I felt it was perhaps an early project and expense, the new system is definitely impressive. Greg had ample opportunity to test everything out on his inaugural road trip this week: he drove the van to Long Beach so the fiberglass workshop can begin the structural roof changes. Exciting!

The new model he chose is a Sony multimedia receiver with lots of bells and whistles including Bluetooth integration with his phone (through the car speakers) and several USB auxiliary inputs to integrate with satellite radio and other devices. Once the new device arrived, he began work removing the old model and installing the new one. This was pretty straightforward, all things considered. It wasn’t his first time replacing a radio, so he knew what to expect.

Then came the custom work. He wired in an external antenna and behind-the-dash power for a phone mount. This will allow for mostly-eye-and-hands-free tinkering with the phone while driving: navigation, Pandora/podcasts through the stereo, phone calls. There are additional benefits to this as well — the mount will charge the device while in use (a must-have for use with the HTC EVO) and the external antenna puts the signal outside the car, providing easier access to cell sites, less phone radiation inside the car, and less battery drain.

SPEAKERS
There were no speakers in the doors in the van; the only speakers were in the dash. We’re talking about a 19.5′ vehicle with ONE set of speakers. Therefore, Greg installed new speakers in the doors. Of course, he did the requisite soundproofing first.

He then used a hole saw to cut the space for the speakers and got to work fashioning his own mounts using 3/4″ oak. He got the first one done and went to install it, only to find that the new speakers were too deep for the door panel because of the window… so he had to double-up on the oak mounts. They look very professional!

Beginning with the end in mind, he has also run the speaker wire to the back of the van where there will be additional speakers once the living quarters are installed.

You may also be interested in:

Freewheeling: Exterior Aesthetics
Freewheeling: Under the Hood
Freewheeling: Sound Effects
Freewheeling: The Adventure Begins


Freewheeling: Exterior Aesthetics

February 17, 2011 Freewheeling 1 Comment

The work has not all been behind the scenes. Greg has taken care of a few aesthetics as well.

The big ticket item: NEW WHEELS! When six new rims + six new tires arrived on the doorstep one day, I instant-messaged Greg to say, “How much did these cost??” and he said, “Probably too much, but they’re here now!” The reason they were too much is because the van had perfectly good wheels and new tires on it. But these aren’t just six pretty faces — they are also more efficient. Cruising down the highway at 70 mph with the old wheels, the RPMs were at 3300. With the new wheels, the RPMs come down to 2700. The diesel engine is burning less fuel, and noise is also reduced. All good!

He’s planning to sell the old ones and recoup some of the cost. Anyone need any 15″ dually rims off of a 3500 Sprinter? The tire size is 195/70 R 15.

Wheels BEFORE

Greg got them installed the next day and beamed as he drove home. “It really looks like an urban assault vehicle now, doesn’t it?” What do you think?

It doesn’t matter what any of us thinks; Greg is happy! We took ‘er out for a joy ride with Argus, just for the fun of it.

Wheels - AFTER

He also replaced the branding elements on the car, indicating ONCE AND FOR ALL that this is not a Dodge product. It’s a Mercedes! These markings are what a “normal” Sprinter coming off the line in Germany would look like. Greg has basically reverted to its original style. I like it!

Hood Emblems

Door Emblem

Rear Detailing

And here’s a sneak peek at the “homework” he did to make sure the big structural changes I mentioned are going to look aesthetically pleasing:

I am glad he decided to outsource this part of the project!

You may also be interested in:

Freewheeling: The Adventure Begins
Freewheeling: Sound Effects
Freewheeling: Under the Hood

Freewheeling: Under The Hood

February 16, 2011 Freewheeling 1 Comment

A van update!

We are on the cusp of some big changes. STRUCTURAL CHANGES. In the meantime, Greg has been working on small projects to pass the time. Thank goodness I’m so secure in myself and our relationship that I am not upset about him coming home from work and immediately going to the garage until he’s called for dinner. Then going back out to the garage until he stumbles to bed, exhausted and smelling of auto parts.

Secure = I also like my own space. And my own TV shows.

What has he been working on?

There has been additional soundproofing. Greg removed the hood and worked his magic by applying a sound absorption foam (0.5″ thick) to reduce engine noise:

Sprinter Van Hood - As Is

Sprinter Van Hood - Protection Removed

Applying Soundproofing

Soundproofing Finished

Ready To Re-install

While the hood was off, he took it upon himself to become acquainted with the engine compartment. Note his care for the landscaping…

A critical project was to replace the hoses responsible for the turbo air circuit. These were leaking and he was able to fix the problem. The good news was that everything else looked to be in good condition, and he has familiarized himself with the lay of the land.

He also did his first oil and transmission fluid changes:

I hope his next project is to fix the door to the garage, which is being supported by that car jack and a 2×4…

You may also be interested in:

Freewheeling: The Adventure Begins
Freewheeling: Sound Effects