Saturday, December 31, 2011

Our Trip Vehicle: LeTigre, the little van that could...

Our faithful little van/home for the last 5 months.
15,570 miles so far!

Quite a few people have asked about our van and how's she's holding up so I thought I'd do an update on her status.  First a little background...

We considered a few other van-based motorhomes and camper vans before purchasing LeTigre back in July 2010.  A Volksagen Westfalia conversion would have been nice but the purchase price for one of these is pretty steep and I wouldn't have been able to work on it as easily as LeTigre, which is based on a Chevy Astro mini-van.

Which one of these is not like the others?

We knew what we didn't want, a full size RV.  A priority for us was being able to drive anywhere a regular van could go and have something with decent gas mileage.  We've averaged just under 15 miles per gallon so far.  This includes lots of mountains...

The company that made LeTigre, called Provan, is still in business and we encountered a handful of newer ones along our trip.

Needles Highway in the South Dakota Black Hills, no problem.

LeTigre is 6'8" tall so parking garages did pose a problem but this one in San Francisco was 7' so we skimmed in.

Auto ferries were never an issue.  LeTigre is only 17' long, no extra charge!

We encountered this Tiger in Crater Lake National Park, Oregon.  There're quite a few of the older ones still kicking around, especially out west, as they were built in Colorado.  We found ours on craigslist and picked her up in Sedona, AZ.

Problems along the way?  Oh sure, there were a few.
This vent cover blew off in South Dakota... twice!  After the second replacement disappeared, I had to rig it with some tupperware lids and duct tape until we could get another one.

Ahhh the wonders of duct tape, this held for months!

If you're not familiar with this it's a "coil wire".  It carries the spark from the ignition coil to the distributor.  This was the source of our first breakdown in Vancouver, BC.  Luckily, LeTigre is old enough (1988) for me to still understand and work on.  I rerouted the coil wire away from what it was arcing on and got to the nearest auto parts store to get a new set of spark plug wires.  $50 bucks, no big deal.

AAA to the rescue.
We have the membership with the free 100 mile tow.
I highly recommend it if you ever embark on a cross country road trip.

This could have been fixed on the roadside if we hadn't broke down in the middle of nowhere.  Got dropped at an auto parts store and installed the new one in the parking lot.
The culprit?  A $50 serpentine belt tensioner.

LeTigre turned her 200,000th mile along the way!

She's got the old fashioned 5 digit odometer so it's like starting over again!

Starter motor in Albuquerque.  Guess how much?
Yep, $50.

So besides the starter, tensioner, plug wires, and vent covers, the only other maintenance has been front brake pads (in Portland), a power steering hose (in Colorado), and oil changes.

Here in Texas we're required to get a safety and emissions inspection annually for our vehicles.  We left in June and LeTigre's inspection sticker expired in August, oops.  Of course it was no problem in other states and we made it back to Austin without getting pulled over...
until I was on my way to get the van inspected!  No joke!  Luckily the Trooper that stopped me was in a good mood.  I had Kipper with me and some of our business cards to prove we'd been on an epic road trip and he let me off with a warning.  Thanks Trooper Simmons!

Oh, and LeTigre passed with flying colors!

Since getting back to Austin, we've been working on a few LeTigre projects to get her ready for the next leg of the trip.

More on those soon...

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Back in Austin........

We got home late on Dec 2 and have been very busy since then!  First order of business: catching up with friends and family.  

Bryan and Ania were sweet enough to have a dinner for us...and of course we didn't starve!!

Why are there 7 girls in the bathroom?  Well, didn't you know that's where we like to hang out?  Actually, we were all in there admiring Ania's new tub/shower/vanities/etc.  Very nice!

Even Jello the Cat joined the festivities.  Here, he makes friends with Chloe and Cari.

Me, Greg, Lauren, Amy, Ania, Bryan, Scott, half of Erika's face, Kat, Erik, Chloe, and Cari.

Uuummmm, TRYING to take a picture with the tree.  Technical difficulties.....but it looks cool!
Thanks for a great party, Bryan and Ania!

A few days later, we went to Mike and Ayse's house for homemade pasta!  Yuuuum...

So, you know all those cooking shows where the Italian grandmothers are saying how easy it is to make homemade pasta?  Not so.  It's actually kinda tricky.  But Ayse managed to pull it all together and it was delicious! 

Greg and Mike

The next week, we took Greg's mom to Buda to go to their Trail of Lights with Stephanie, Travis, and Maxie.  Austin was too broke to have their annual Trail of Lights this year...Buda's doing something right!
(Stephanie, Travis, Greg, Barbara, Maxie, Camille)

And it was great!  Lots of opportunities to take silly pictures!

Lots and LOTS of opportunities to be silly......

Oh yeah, and we got reindeer noses.....lots of fun!!

Greg's Aunt Mary lives about 30 minutes away, but we don't get to see her nearly as much as we'd like.  She was nice enough to invite us to her house for lunch with her daughter, Beth, who is a new Austin resident.  Welcome Beth!!!  And thanks for the wonderful afternoon, Aunt Mary!

Cari writes for Edible Austin and was given the assignment to write about the infused vodkas at the Side Bar. It was a sacrifice, but Amy, Ania, Erika, and I joined her for a tasting a few days before Christmas. We had an Orange vodka and a Gingerbreak vodka, made with Tito's (an Austin vodka) and as much local produce as possible.  They were sooooo good!  The hot toddies were especially delicious on that cold, blustery night!  The Side Bar makes their infused vodkas in-house and they're different every week.  Go check them out!

Here's Cari, all smiley with her gingerbread vodka and cute gift from Erika.

And then it was Christmas Eve.  Scott and Amy were out of town, so we had a party at their house.  Not really.  We just had dinner.  In the Casita.  Nothing got broken....

It's not a party without a 1,000 piece puzzle that drives everyone crazy.  

Stefon, Vince, and I put the last three pieces in.....

....wait a minute, that's not a very Christmas-sy sentiment!!!

And of course there's the Christmas tradition of Yahtzee and James Bond.  Is there anything better?

(Vince, Grandma, Barbara, Mom, Ali, Stefon, me.  Greg's there too....behind the camera)
It was a great Christmas!  We hope you had a safe holiday too.  And Happy New Year!!

Monday, December 5, 2011

Days 162 - 165: West Texas

We finished early enough in the day at Carlsbad Caverns National Park that we had time to drive south to camp at Guadalupe Mountains National Park.

Which is in Texas!

Guadalupe Mountains National Park was created in 1972 from land donated by geologist
Wallace Pratt, and land purchased from rancher JC Hunter Jr.

The campground was basically a parking lot but the park was pretty, in a desert-like way.  Except for McKittrick Canyon, which has water flowing thru it.

Wallace Pratt, a geologist sent to the area to explore for oil, fell in love with the canyon, bought it, built a vacation cabin, and later donated all of it to help create the park.  Here we sit on the porch of the cabin that, except for some roof support timbers, was built entirely from local stone.  Floor, walls, and even the roof are stone.

After camping at Guadalupe Mountains NP we drove thru the towns of Van Horn and Marfa.  We'd planned to camp in Marfa but it was too cold and the hotels a bit pricey so we drove onto Alpine and got a cheap room there.  Here we celebrate with Lone Star beer, tuna salad,  and a game of "VC", a card game we had played with Vince, Stef, and Ali in Mexico last year.  Fortnuately, Vince knows the game very well because we had forgotten some of the rules.

LeTigre in Terlingua!
What a weirdly cool town.  We wanted to spend our time in Big Bend so we just did a quick drive-by but we'll definitely be back to explore this place more.

Onto Big Bend...

...where we got a great campsite in the Chisos Basin.

Angie and Kipper took the day off but Vince and I did the "Window" hike which started from the campground.  The entire Chisos Basin drains into this funnel and as a result the water has been polishing the rock for thousands of years, so that it's become smooth as glass!
It looks like ice and is so smooth that it's slippery.

Sunset at Chisos Basin, the Window in the distance.

Vince is a real camper.  Unless it was below freezing, he slept in a hammock rather than the van!  Yep, he's in there.

Hot springs!  Big Bend has a hot spring down by the Rio Grande that pools in the foundation of an old bath house.  There was also an abandoned store and some other structures from when there was a town here.

Mexico is just across the water!

Camping among the mesquite trees at Rio Grande Village.
Another beautiful West Texas sunset.

The historic Gage Hotel in Marathon, TX.
Unfortunately not in the budget this trip so we just took a quick look.

We did, however, get some sandwiches down the street at Guzzi Pizza (very tasty).
Good thing we did, because our plans to camp at Garner State Park got rained out...

...and we drove all the way home!

We'll be here over the holidays and into January before heading east for the second leg of our journey.  Please drop us a line if you have suggestions for destinations in the eastern US and Canada.  In the meantime we'll be fixing up LeTigre and working on some other projects.  We'll continue updating this blog with anything interesting, including entries about LeTigre's status and some information about our budget and how the trip is going.