I was working on a program at the picnic table today when the rain kicked up again. It’s been raining here for about a day and a half and is expected continue for a few more. We had a break in the rain and I figured that I would get out of the van for a bit, but got caught outside.
We recently bought a tarp and some poles for our camping gear. The tarp is mostly to let people know that there is someone already camped in this site when we are in town. Today it kept my computer and me mostly dry.
You can’t really tell from the photo, but the rain was coming down in buckets. I was really surprised to see the deer hunters out in this kind of weather. I suppose they were probably surprised to see some guy working at a computer in it. I felt sorry for the dogs the most though. The hunting dogs that is.
This little girl had about had enough of it and was more interested in sniffing the grease drippings in my fire pit.
One of the things that greatly surprised me was how deer hunting in the deep south was so much different than how we do it in the midwest. Firstly, they almost completely hunt from their pickup trucks. It isn’t illegal to shoot across a road down here or to have a loaded gun in the vehicle. Heck, about half the pickups I see down here have a seat mounted in the bed of the truck to sit on and shoot from. They look like some kinda 4x4 bass boat or something. Oh, and everyone uses a high-power rifle.
The other thing they do is use dogs to run the deer. Some of the more responsible hunters put radio collars on the dogs and track them. You’ll see them with what look like old TV antenna’s, waiving them around the outside of their pickup trucks trying to track the dogs. This is the same stuff we used to watch Jim put on a lion in Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom.
Some guys don’t use the radio collars. There are these cages about every other corner on the gravel roads that say “Lost Dogs” in them. If you find a dog, you’re supposed to put it in the box and hope someone comes along and claims it.
The other thing I found surprising was how small the deer are here. I hear that if you get one over 100lbs, you got a good one. Maybe hunting small deer with dogs, pickups, and high-power rifles is more common than I knew about. It was all new to me and I found it all a little strange.
We visited Charleston on our way south into Florida. It was a beautiful city. We parked the van in an overnight public parking spot and walked around the downtown area. It was pricy parking spot at $30, but it is still cheaper than most camping sites, hotel rooms, and police station visits.
Most of you know that Nic and I like to go out and have a good time. With trying to get into shape we came up with a new regimen that cut beer out of our diet. Mostly that is. We allow ourselves a night of drinking every other Saturday. Our visit to Charleston landed on that. Since we had permission from ourselves to party and a safe place to sleep, we walked around Charleston and bar hopped.
We checkout out the bay and saw the sites. We didn’t take a carriage ride which seemed to be the big tourist thing to do in Charleston. The carriages were so prevalent that the parking lot we were parked at reeked of horse piss until they hosed it down at the end of the day.
No trip for Nic and I would be complete it seems without a stupid sign. You couldn’t drown in this fountain if you were face down and someone was pushing your head down.
We rounded out the evening at a fancy restaurant. We weren’t looking for an upscale restaurant, but pretty much everything in downtown Charleston was. It had been a while for us so we decided to treat ourselves. The place we went to was so fancy that they even had their own cookbook.
Yeah, the restaurant was actually named S.N.O.B. or Slightly North Of Broad. The food was awesome and well worth busting the budget a little bit.
It seems Nic and I are finally slowing down a bit in our older age. We were in bed by 10 and on the road the next day by 7. Next stop, Osceola National Forest.
We’ve been here for about a week now and really enjoying it. The campsite is posh for a free one. We have running water, a flush toilet, garbage pickup, and even an outdoor shower. The shower is interesting, but we shower at the gym. The campsite location is another win. It is only about 25 minutes to the gym and Lake City, FL. Lake City is big enough that you can get anything you want there.
It also is really quiet here most of the time. Not on Thanksgiving weekend though. The campsite filled up with people who brought in SUV’s to ride on the many surrounding off-roading trails. They (and a bunch of other campers) were up late playing loud music, drinking beer, and shooting of both guns and fireworks. They kept Nic up late, but I’m had no problem sleeping through everything. The holiday weekend crowd trashed the place, but the forest service was out promptly and cleaned up the area. It is back to peace and quiet now.
It looks like we are going to be here for a while. The location, weather, and amenities are better than we would find anywhere else. The usual limit for this campsite is 14 days in any given 30 day period. This time of year it is unlimited days until Jan 6th. The unlimited time is for hunters, but there aren’t really any of those around. Until further notice, Osceola National Forest is home-sweet-home.
Nic and I are still in the Francis Marion National Forest. We’ve been camping at different campsite than I told you about in my last blog post. This campsite is closer to town (and Planet Fitness). It has a through hiking trail that runs along it. I’ve been told that it goes for 450 miles. I’ve hiked the trail for a few miles while listening to podcasts and it is very beautiful. Enjoy this picture of a Smurf house I found along the trail (the house was about 5” tall).
I think the fact that this place is free to stay at combined with the trail and how close it is to town has made this quite the strange campsite. The strangeness was almost immediately apparent. The first thing we saw when we got here was 2 boxes of generic hamburger helper and a package of spaghetti noodles propped up against a log. There was also this bundle of flowers. There were also some tents, but no one around.
The tents themselves weren’t strange at first anyway. People often put up tents and go do day hikes or visit local attractions. It wouldn’t be until later that I realized that Nic and I were the only non-permanent residents. Yeah. We’ve been at this campsite off and on for almost 2 weeks and the tents don’t move. At about 8 or 9 at night cars start to show up to spend the night. Not every night, just most nights.
Stranger still are the tents I saw when gathering firewood even deeper out into the woods. Take the one in the next picture for example. It has porch, laundry lines, and various junk scattered around it. Hell, it even has a set of golf clubs as you can see in the picture. The notice on the front is a warning from a forest ranger about it being abandoned, but its date is Sept. 18th.
The inside was decorated with pallets and wicker furniture. My guess is that the poor homeless person that lived here got arrested and didn’t have a chance to come back for their golf clubs.
The strangest thing to me is this table that someone keeps moving around the woods. We’ll leave and go to another campsite for a day or two and this thing will be in a different place.
Nicole says she likes this campsite, but she does spend most of her time in the van reading. The one time she went out walking by herself, she didn’t get out of eyeshot of the van before returning and swearing she wasn’t going out on her own again.
This is our last night here. I’m not going to miss this place. Tomorrow (Saturday) we go into Charleston, SC for a date. The plan is to urban camp in Charleston after we have a night out on the town and then drive to Florida on Sunday.
We left Croatan National Forest a couple days ago. We enjoyed our time there, almost 2 weeks, but it was time to move on.
We set our sites on South Carolina and hit the road. Conway, SC looked good on paper. It had some free camping sites near by and Planet Fitness in town.
Planet Fitness has become something of a requirement for Nicole. She’s pretty serious about getting in shape and we work our at PF exactly 3 times a week. I’m enjoying the regular showers and the workouts add some entertainment to our days. We’ve been going for about 3 weeks now and are beginning to see some results.
But I was talking about Conway, SC. We got there and checked out the camping site. It was along another river though not nearly as nice as the White Oak River we had had been living next to. In fact this place was a little trashy. Broken beer bottles, cans, and other trash where everywhere. Heck, one guy even forgot to pick up his boat when he was done with it.
We decided to stay the night anyway. It was hardly the worse place we’ve stayed at. About midnight a pickup with open exhaust roared into the camping area. They decided it would be funny to do a donut and splatter our van with sand and mud. The racket they made woke Nicole up in a panic and she wasn’t able to get much sleep the rest of the night. It was now the worse place we’ve stayed at.
Strangely the pickup got suddenly silent after doing the donut. Then about a half-hour later it started back up and left quietly. It wasn’t until the next day that I understood. I went for a short walk and found where they had lost control of the truck and slid off the road and into the surrounding swamp. It looked to me like they had buried their front tires into about 2 feet of mud and water. They got the truck out, but given how long it took them to get it into 4WD, I think that they spent some time knee deep in swamp mud getting the front hubs locked in.
This negative experience meant that we were only one night in Conway. The next day we headed to Francis Marion National Forest where there are almost a half-dozen free campsites. We’ve been here about 3 days now and are enjoying it.
We have between 25-40 minutes to drive to the Planet Fitness near by, but it seems worth it so far. The weather is overcast, but it is warm and in the 70’s. The biggest complaint I have today is that some jackass over the hill is blaring country music and some other jackass is firing off a 22 so fast that there obviously is no aiming involved. Miles from anywhere and I have this shit to put up with.
In between workouts I’ve been getting some light reading done and quite a bit of coding. While I consider myself retired, I don’t want to let my skills degrade. Given the recent uncertainty in the stock market, it isn’t a given that I will never have to get a job again. Besides, I enjoy programming again and it passes the time.
We’ve been in the Croatan National Forest for a couple of days now. Nicole has been doing a bunch of reading and I have been teaching myself the macOS graphical API’s for an open source project I have been contributing to.
We are moving between a series of campsites along the White Oak river trying to see which we like best. There are 5 of these total, but only 3 are in the national forest. The 3 in the national forest are the ones we are looking at because they are the ones we can camp for free at. Most of the sites have launches so that you can canoe down the White Oak and get picked up at one of the downstream sites. There are also a couple of sites on the other side of the forest we will be getting to next week.
Nic and I also decided that one of the things we should be doing with our free time is getting into shape. We’ve started hiking a little more. Yesterday we went and got a membership to Planet Fitness and did a workout. We plan on going 3 times a week. Pricing wasn’t bad. We got Nic their premium Black Card Membership that allows her to any of their 1500 locations for about $25/month (including annual fees). It also allows her to bring a guest when ever she wants, so I can get in for free.
Neither of us have done much working out lately, so we’re both pretty sore today. On top of things it is raining all day and tonight, so today is a hang around inside the van and lick our wounds kinda day.
Nic and I considered our time with Lisa and Flash to be a vacation. We spent more than we usually do on dining, drinks, and gas. It was time to get back to just living life as simply and as cheaply as possible.
Some of the best places to do that are National Forests. In this case we went to the George Washington National Forest and a place called Wolf Gap. This was directly west of Washington, DC and on the border between Virginia and West Virginia. And I mean on the border. It was literally a 5 minute walk for me to get from my campsite on the Virginia side to the West Virginia border.
Dispersed camping often times means you get nothing except a spot to park in the woods. Wolf Gap had a bunch of nice-to-haves. Marked and maintained campsites, a pit toilet, picnic tables, fallen dead wood (for campfires), and fire rings were all available. They even had level tent pads for the tent campers (which was everyone except us).
Here are some close by things that you want when living off the grid and on the road. It had a public trash facility only 5 minutes away. Less than 5 minutes was an artisan well that was maintained by the local 4-H with safe drinking water to fill our tanks. It also had a nearby recreation area (Trout Pond Rec Area) that had cheap showers or if you wanted something nicer there were 2 truck stops just 20 minutes away. Finally, it was close to a city that had all the shopping you could need.
Also it had some kick ass views if you were willing to hike a couple miles to see them.
Wolf Gap was about as good as it gets except it was too cold for Nic. Days were 50-60 degrees with nights getting down to the 30’s. I put a Webasto heater in the van this year, so it stayed at what ever temperature we wanted day or night. This made it possible for us to stay a week at Wolf Gap, but it didn’t give Nic a lot of outside time. She mostly stayed in the van and read. I was sitting outside enjoying an all day fire either listening to music or reading as well. The cold doesn’t bother me the same as it does Nic.
The wife wanted something warmer, so we hit I-95 and started heading south into North Carolina and the Croatan National Forest. We just got here today, 10/23/18, and set up camp. It is about 20 degrees warmer here.
My blogging station for the night.
We had a couple of big items that we wanted to accomplish while being in New England. We wanted to see the fall colors, lighthouses, eat lobster rolls, and go to Salem, MA. We got plenty of views of the foliage in Maine and Vermont. The lighthouses were kind of a bust. The really nice one we went to, you couldn’t get close to and it was covered in scaffolding.
Salem surprised me by how much fun it was. This is where we got the lobster rolls (for Nic and Lisa) and did some touristy stuff we hadn’t done for much of the trip.
Parking was a nightmare in Salem. The public parking garages had 6’ 6” clearances. We left Flash and Lisa’s RV at a campsite and took the van, but it is still closer to 8’ tall than 7’, so we had to find alternate parking. We ended up in a private parking lot that cost $30 (which Flash covered for us). Other than the cost the parking lot worked out well because it was centrally located.
Right away we saw the Witch House. We plopped down our $8 a piece to tour the place.
Inside was a historical look at colonial life.
Salem itself was interesting this time of year. Lots of people and kids were dressed up in costumes and walking around long before Halloween. Sorry, I didn’t get any pictures of them. We also walked around town, grabbed some coffee, and eventually ate at a really nice restaurant to get the lobster rolls.
We even checked out an old cemetery.
At the end of the day, we made our way back to our campsite. The next day we dropped off Flash and Lisa’s RV at the rental place and took them to the airport.
The airport is in downtown Boston and we dropped our friends off right at 4:00 PM. Boston rush hour is a real hassle. Nic and I left Boston and headed to Providence, Rhode Island to spend the night. We rested our heads in the parking lot of a Cracker Barrel restaurant.
The drive between Boston and Providence was basically one long traffic night mare. Nic and I had decided that we’d had enough of cities and decided to head out to the wilderness. We set our sites on West Virginia and the next morning hit the road.
Everyone told us that all the tourist go to Bar Harbor. So we went. We just visited the town and missed things like Thunder Hole because we were a bit fatigued from driving that day.
After that we headed to Glen Ellis, Maine. We got some gloom and rain or this would have been one of our favorite camping sites.
About 20 minutes away was Glen Ellis Falls where we hiked in to view one of the largest waterfalls locally.
We spent a lot of time in Maine and it were ready to see some other states. On our way to Vermont, through New Hampshire, we took the Kangamangus Highway which was very scenic this time of year.
We ended up in Stowe, Vermont. One of the first things we did was check out a local maple sugar farmer who sold us some really good maple syrup. We then headed out to checkout out some local breweries. One we went to was The Alchemist. The beer was disappointing, but the architecture was impressive.
One common beer theme that we liked about New England was that you could get Shipyard Pumpkin Ale everywhere on tap. It tastes almost just like a pumpkin pie. If you want they will coat the rim with a brown sugar mixture. We found it to be too sweet, but it must be popular because it was always offered to us when ever we ordered a Shipyard Pumpkin Ale.
More in Part 3...
We spent 10 days with our good friends Flash and Lisa. Nic and I had a great time with them and it was lots of fun sharing the van lifestyle with them. They had an RV, but it was a Class B and not much bigger than a converted van. We did stay primarily in campgrounds. I think they got the good parts of van life and missed out on the scrambling to fill your water tanks and taking daily sponge baths.
The It was pretty cold along the Maine coastline.
Here we are out on a little hike on a small mountain. There was originally a fire watch station here. You can start to see some of the famous New England fall color in the landscape.
Later we found this awesome lakeside campsite. The weather was in the 70’s and view was beautiful.
Here is Mako giving attitude. She really enjoys being outside and since it was so warm those few days, she got to enjoy the outside. Flash and Lisa even took her on a leash guided tour of their RV.
Here is Flash babysitting for us.
After our lake campout in Maine we hit up a an huge antique store on the way to our next destination. I fully expected Lisa to pack their RV with some finds, but she had lots of self restraint.
More coming in part 2...
On our way to meet up with Lisa and Flash we stopped at Niagara Falls
Yeah, some people are so stupid that we do need signs like these.
After we left Niagara Falls, we went looking for some free backwoods camping. We ended up sleeping on a pullout just south of Syracuse, NY.
I wanted to stop at the Volo Auto Museum after I saw it on Roadkill. If you haven’t watched Roadkill, I highly recommend it. It is car guy reality TV without any faked up drama.
One of the first things you see when entering the museum is their Dusseldorf collection. Nicole and I both agree that these cars have to be the height of automotive manufacturing and design ever. We also learned a fun fact. The phrase, “That’s a doozy” comes from peoples admiration for the car.
Another cool thing about the Volo Auto Museum is that it is basically the worlds largest hotrod car lot. You can buy about any tricked out car you can think of.
They also had a ton of movie and TV Show cars.
We only spent a couple hours there, but had a great time. I highly recommend it if you are ever in the area.
Nicole and I left Centerville on Monday, Oct1, 2018 to travel around New England with our friends Flash and Lisa. Our plan is to pick up Flash and Lisa at the airport in Boston, MA on Friday. We’ll be taking them to an RV rental place where they are getting a Class B RV to convoy with us for 10 days. We don’t know what we are going to do for 10 days, but I’m sure we won’t run out of things to see.
After our friends head back to Iowa, we are going to head south to stay out of the snow. We’ll probably be gone for 4-6 months living on the road. I’ll try to keep the blog updated with what we are up to.
Nicole wanted a map to track which states we have been to. We stuck the map on our refrigerator as you can see below.
So far on this trip we have been to the Volo Auto Museum, in Illinois, and Niagra Falls. I’ll post separate blog posts for each of those. We’ve been driving for 3 days now, so the Northeast United States is getting filled out.
We are currently in a Walmart parking lot in Westborough, MA for the night. The sign when you enter this Walmart says “No Overnight Parking”, so we’ll see if we get over looked or not. We purposefully built the van to not look like someone is sleeping in it for this kind of situation. We’ve done multiple nights in Walmarts that banned parking before, so I don’t expect any problems. I’ll let you know if we get rousted. :-)
I just ordered a new iPhone. I’ve been using the same iPhone 6 Plus for 4 years now and am tired of it not fitting in my jeans pocket when riding a motorcycle. If I didn’t want a smaller phone, I probably wouldn’t have upgraded. More on that later...
I ordered a silver iPhone Xs and a green leather case for it. I think it looks pretty sharp. With the camera bump on the back, I think that the case is required equipment. The total cost was over $1200, but Apple is giving my $100 for my old phone.
Although it is a lot of money, I feel really good about the purchase, especially after watching the September Keynote address. In it Apple stated the making phones last longer is a specific business strategy for them. Horace Dediu has a great right up on it, Lasts Longer.
Essentially, without the carrier subsidies, people aren’t upgrading their phones as much. I used to update mine every 2 years. Back then it wasn’t like they were going to make your monthly bill smaller after paying for 2 years, so everyone always got a new phone. That was awesome for the companies selling you phones.
Now that the subsidies are gone, that incentive to upgrade every two years is gone. My wife and I held on to our phones for 4 years and she still doesn’t want to upgrade hers. So what are these companies to do? I think Apple’s approach is to be known as the company that makes phones that last the longest and charge more for that. What they are willing to do is sell you a phone that lasts 2-3 times as long for 1.5-2 times the price.
I think they are really serious about this. I’ve been running the test version of iOS 12, the version that comes out this month and it is impressive. It made my old iPhone 6 Plus run faster than the day I bought it. That is great, considering that most operating system releases try to take advantage of the new phone hardware to add new features. That makes the older phones run slower. Not this time. It sped up and it sped up a lot. And iOS 12 supports some really old phones. It supports the iPhone 5s that came out 5 years ago.
My advice is this. If you are in the market for a new phone then take into consideration that you will hold on to that phone for 3-5 years now. Does your phone get regular software updates? Will it be getting software updates after 2 years? And if you have an iPhone that is feeling slow and think it is time to upgrade, wait a minute. The new iOS 12 is coming out soon and your old phone might feel brand new again.
Apple has a winner with Xcode 10. With macOS Majave it gained Dark Mode which many of you have seen in other IDE’s and pro level tools. Not only does it make it look futuristic and cool, it is actually reduces eye strain by reducing how much brightness is pushed at you.
Beyond that, I’m having trouble putting my finger on what is so much better about Xcode 10. It feels like I am fighting it less often. Maybe it is because I have gotten more experience with it over the years, but I think something is different. It’s like the searches are more accurate and navigation takes you where you expect it too. Autocomplete seems to work better too. It is certainly more stable than Xcode 9, even while still in beta.
I’m not quite sure I would say that Apple has caught up to Jet Brains or Microsoft for IDE’s, but I think they are closing the gap.
I started the blog and a couple others in early 2017. My thought was that I would write posts about IT and Vanlife and keep them separate. That was way too ambitious for me. At the time I wasn’t very interested in the IT world and the Vanlife posts seemed to take too much effort.
I ended up settling on using Instagram to post Vanlife pictures. It had a simple interface and made it easy to crosspost to Facebook. The icing on the cake was using an Instagram plugin for my Wordpress site that automatically pulled Instagram content and integrated it. It worked pretty well. For a while.
One day the Instagram integration stopped working because they made their API more restrictive. Pretty irritating, but I got it back up and working. Then Twitter began shutting developer API’s and it got me thinking more seriously. Then Facebook shut down the ability to do cross posting through its API. Twitter did it to try to make more money and Facebook needed to do it to stop the Russian troll bot farms. Regardless it got me thinking.
It is just a matter of time before Instagram shuts down the API I am using to integrate it with my site completely. They don’t make any money off of it and it doesn’t drive much traffic to their site. When that happens, all my content is locked up there.
So to clean everything up, I merged all the content from my different blogs and Instagram into this one blog. My strategy from here on out is to only post content to my own server and then crosspost links back here from Facebook, Twitter, and/or Linkedin so that people can find what I have been posting.
I also am using a pretty nice piece of blog posting software, MarsEdit 4. Now with the right tools and the right strategy, you’ll start hearing more out of me.
We lived just outside Yellowstone and The Grand Teton parks for over a week. The West Yellowstone campsite was our favorite. It was right next to a babbling brook where I could set up my hammock and read all day. There was also plenty of fallen deadwood to use for the fire. It was pretty much everything you wanted in an off-the-grid campsite.
This is shot I took while trying to cook foil dinners in the rain. Nic is hiding inside and all the furniture is stuffed under the front of the van to keep it dry. I was determined to keep the fire going for the 40 or so minutes it took to cook dinner. It was close, but we campfire dinner that night.
Big Sur and Yosemite we some highlights from when we left LA this spring (2018). We stayed at some pretty amazing spots, but they rarely had cell service. To get cell service, we stealth camped in Woodland, CA. After that we head to Napa Valley to check out the wineries.
Here is one advantage to having a low top van. I was able to park it in a friends parking garage in LA when we were visiting California this spring (2018). Unfortunately, most parking garages are still too short especially now that the van has been lifted and has solar on the roof.
There is a saying in the #vanlife world. “You can live in your van or out of your van.” My original intent was that we would be living out of the van and mostly just spend time in it when sleeping. That didn’t exactly work out how I had intended. We spend much more time than I had expected cooking inside, working there, and hanging out inside to escape bugs. Still, besides having to put my pants on bent in half, I haven’t missed having a hightop. The way the van is set up on the inside almost everything can be done from the sitting position including cooking.
Some nice advantages to having a low top van are that it is more stealthy. That is, it looks more like a contractor’s panel van than a camper. This is handy if you are sleeping somewhere that you aren’t supposed to. The low top also allows for more square footage on the roof. This means that more solar can be fit on the roof than some other vans.
For now the low top van works great, but I wonder about 15 years from now. Will I still be flexible enough to get my pants on?
Lake Havasu was too hot for us, so we went to the Mojave Desert. Really. It was much cooler in the Mojave due to being farther north and, I think, a higher elevation.
This spot was one of my favorites. We were by ourselves a good distance from the highway. There was a town 30 minutes away and we had excellent cell phone data reception. I think that this might be a place to spend an extended amount of time in the winter.
Here we are camping near Lake Havasu, AZ. On top of the roof rack, you can see our 400 watts of solar panels. This powers all our accessories in the van including our halogen hot plate for cooking.
This is another shot of the solar panels at our home in Iowa. Next to the solar panels are the sand ladders. If I get stuck in sand, mud, or snow, I can place those under the rear wheels to (hopefully) drive myself out of any holes I’m in. They also serve as a platform to walk on the roof to check out the view or to clean the solar panels.
Here’s is the family enjoying the Grand Canyon. We didn’t spend much time there. We basically looked at it, found a campsite for the night and took off the next morning. Maybe next time we will take a hike down into the canyon, but this time we didn’t feel much like fighting the crowds.
Here are a couple of pictures of the van with the new suspension from Weldtech Designs. I had it installed in San Diego, CA when we were out there this spring (2018).
They lifted the front 3” and the rear 1.5”. Previously the back sat higher than the front, so the van is pretty much perfectly level now. It is amazing how the van rides and handles. Better in every way, both on the highway and off the beaten path.