MA to AZ and beyond

rob cote

King in the Northeast
Hey overlanders! I know this forum is for real-time trip updates, but this trip began about 6 months ago. HOWEVER, it is still ongoing, so I hope it's alright if I post it in here. I'm cool with it if you are. I've written it elsewhere, so I can copy-paste it here faster than one day per day. I should be able to get caught up to real-time updates...someday. I'm not sure exactly how quickly, but let's find out, shall we?

Alright so, first things first (duh), I'm Rob. If you couldn't gather that from the username then perhaps I can't help you. I was a mechanical engineer working in aerospace. My wife is Mandy, and she was a pharmacist. Our dog is Loki, and he IS the best. Our adventure really begins several years ago, when Mandy found a picture of a pretty lake online. That lake was Atitlan in Guatemala, and we planned a trip to see it. Back then, we flew. But while we were there, we saw a van with Montana license plates on it, and it was then that we realized someone drove there. And if someone else could do it, so could we.

It was not an immediate spark of "Let's change our whole lives and do this straight away", like you often hear about. Although, that is where we got engaged, so we did change our lives a bit. Just not necessarily in the direction of overlanding the world. But we did talk about it off and on for a while thereafter. It would just come up randomly at times and we would consider the various hows. What vehicle would we use? What path would we take if we did that? And so on. Meanwhile, we started paying off our student loans more and more aggressively. And we put in a bunch of work to our home to improve it. This was several years in the making, you see. But with a healthy dose of luck in the housing market, we were able to sell our house in a day and earn enough money to pay off the remaining loans on our brains and our house, buy a van and sock away enough to upfit it.

So, I quit my job. It was cheaper for us to build a van ourselves, rather than buy one already built. Plus, we could create exactly what we wanted, rather than compromise on a really expensive vehicle. If you'd like to read about that whole process, I write it up here:


If you don't care about all that, that's fine too, just stick around here. I'm about to get to the adventuring part. Just a teensy bit more background first. I feel like it's relevant because it kind of defines part of the trip. The important bits of the build that you need to know if you opted not to read that other thread are that we completed it in December in southern NH. If you haven't been to NH in December, it gets pretty frickin' cold. And snowy. It's awesome for skiing, terrible for living in a vehicle. With Loki to consider, we couldn't both work jobs, because he'd just be in the van alone all day. So, Mandy quit her job about 9 or 10 months after I had quit mine, and she picked up a short, 3-month contract in Arizona. This would pay more than if she'd stayed put, and it got us out of the New England winter and into a milder climate. So now you understand where we were at, I hope, when we finally moved in and set out. Our ultimate goal is to get to Ushuaia, but we're still working on the timeline of getting there as we go. It's not going to be a direct route, so if that's what you're here for, come back later, I suppose.

Mandy works until 3:30pm Friday in Beverly, MA. There's a massive snowstorm rolling up the eastern seaboard, with Massachusetts and NH forecast to receive 1.5-2 feet of snow, and we can't leave until she gets out. At 3:45pm, after she's said all her goodbyes and gone back inside for forgotten items, we left. We made it as far as Cracker Barrel in Fishkill, NY. We parked just as it was barely starting to snow.

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There was some decent drifting by morning, but it was tough to get a real read on how much had fallen. Maybe a few inches? It was still coming down though. So, we hustled through our morning routine and dog walk. Loki's finally getting comfy moving about inside our new home:

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Saturday morning, we hit the road in search of cheesesteaks since it was on our way, more or less. Honestly, should have gotten cheesecakes instead. We went to Pat's in Philly and it was underwhelming. I dunno. They pickle the peppers, I mean, what the hell?! The roads were sloppy most of the way there, but the van was solid. It was in 4WD most of the time, cruising between 40 and 50. Crosswind assist was coming in clutch, because this storm was bringing some heavy winds up the whole coast. We saw this awesome old bus at a random pit stop:

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Originally, we were going to park it in Philly for the night, but once we were there, we were not feeling it. The wind was pretty brutal. So, we hopped back on the road towards wonderful West Virginia. It's probably not going to be any warmer, but it will get us to warmth sooner than if we didn't carry on.

We stopped along the way when Loki got antsy, in North East, MD. Never heard of it. But it was pretty adorable. Super creative naming; you'd never guess where it's located. We just did a loop around town on foot to stretch out the ol' legs and burn off some steak and cheese. Their fire department has a gorgeous engine from 1922 that we got to see through the glass. It looks to be perfectly restored. It was very impressive.

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We drove to Rusty Nail Winery in Martinsburg, WV for the night. They're a Harvest Host, and so we sampled some wines and then parked for the night in their lot for free. The wines were delicious, the owners were awesome, and we had a great night.
 

rob cote

King in the Northeast
We woke up and the temperature was about 8F outside. It was cozy inside because our heater is excellent, but who wants to stay cooped up inside all day? Okay, once in a while it's awesome, but it's not what we were after this day. So, after a short walk with Loki, we hopped back inside and moved on.

From there we beat feet towards Tennessee. But on the way we stopped in Newmarket, VA, to check out the battlefield. We're not civil war buffs at all, but it was nearby when we needed a stretch, and it was actually interesting. The landscape was more interesting than the history, though. Also, what the hell is cheerwine? Some kind of soda? We saw it in a vending machine.

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Our ultimate goal for the evening was Tennessee Hills Brewstillery in Johnson City. They're Harvest Hosts as well, though we realized the next morning we could have probably parked about anywhere in town for free. Oh well, you never know till you get there. We got a beer each inside, then made some dinner back in the van. Rib eye and asparagus. Mm-MMM! We made some more progress watching The Matrix quadrilogy and then passed out.

We walked Loki in the morning and were so excited it was almost 30F at 6am! The town was dead which was cool. We got to wander around the old architecture undisturbed for a while. As traffic started picking up, we took our cue and began packing to hit the road. Though we weren't going far. Just across town is a little complex with a car wash, laundromat and dog washing. We ultimately skipped washing the dog, but we did all the laundry, organized a ton of stuff inside which was long overdue, washed ourselves, and washed the van. That was also overdue. But it's tough to wash a vehicle in subfreezing conditions. And we're finally out of the salt belt so it shouldn't be building up again. It felt so great to be so thoroughly clean! And warm!! It was like 55F and sunny!

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We navigated from Johnson City to Nashville. Not specifically for a hot chicken, but that was definitely a bonus. I've decided we shouldn't go to a place specifically for a food item anymore because it usually disappoints. We went to Miami for a Cuban once. Then there was the cheesesteak in Philly. The pizza in Chicago we never even got. It's a trend so I give up. But we parked for the night at Nissan Stadium and walked over the river to The Stillery. A recommendation from my dad. We had Loki with us, so we just ordered a couple sandwiches to go and ate them on the picnic table on the sidewalk. They were wicked good. For reasons unknown, we both secretly thought the hot chicken was dry but never mentioned it to one another. We assumed they were just breaded and fried with the spices in the breading or something. The sandwiches were sauced though. Which was totally fine! It just broke our unfounded expectation. We walked around a few blocks and then went to sleep.

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After a lap around the stadium in the morning, we got back on the road. I adjusted the shocks to 2.1 in the rear as an experiment. The fronts stayed at 3. It's hard to really tell how it's changing when the road surface varies so much, but I think this was a little more comfortable from the driver position. In retrospect, I'm glad of the timing of the adjustment. I didn't know it would be such a long day...
 

rob cote

King in the Northeast
We headed to Nashville - no we're already in Nashville - we headed to MEMPHIS from there. I always confuse those two. So, when we started this trip, we were thinking 40 hours of driving over 9 days is a little over 4 hours a day. So that put us somewhere around Nashville, I believe. It was going to be awesome weather and we figured we could finally get into easy days and enjoying the ride after the cold and dumpy weather we'd had so far. I thought this 3D display on the van's navigation display was super cool:


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In Memphis, we found a BBQ spot to get some ribs because, well, you just gotta. I forget the name of the place. We've been making full use of the Mercedes me Connect app or whatever it's called. It's rad. So, because of the dog insisting on standing on the passenger's seat for every drive, the copilot sits out back and looks up destinations. You can search on the map within the app. I'm accustomed to Google Maps so I use that and then just touch the Share button and it sends it to the navigation screen in the van. The driver hits a button and the address is added to the route. So easy. But as a resul,t I'm not really aware of where we're going I'm just following directions.

All that to say I don't know where we went for lunch, but the ribs were dank. We sat outside so Loki could chill with us and because it was like 60F outside. SO NICE! So, we're finishing up eating and planning our next move. Mandy looked at weather ahead and saw a massive cold front and snowstorm rolling through the entire southeast region. Awesome. This is what we're trying to get away from. After much discussion, we decided to try and get through it to the other side as quickly as possible to minimize our time in the cold.

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So rather than stop after 4 hours of driving and stay in Nashville, we did another 4 or so and pushed on to Oklahoma. We might have stopped for fuel in Arkansas, but I think we literally didn't stop at all. In fairness, we were only on the highway so I'm sure there's plenty more to the state, but from what I saw there wasn't anything of interest.

And I'm sure it's some sort of trucker strategy with some kind of advantage I'm not aware of but, driving this stretch of 40W was infuriating. They kept taking up both lanes. The truck speed limit is 70 while the car speed limit is 75. So, the trucks move over to pass, but it takes several minutes per truck that they pass. And they seem to pass several at a time. The van just dances in the turbulent wake of the passing big rig for a while each time. So annoying. I dunno, where I'm from passing happens much faster, and then you move back to the right when you're a slow vehicle.

We drove into darkness and there's really not much to report other than frustrating truckers in Arkansas. We stopped right after the border in Roland, OK at a casino. They have free RV parking with hookups. How neat is that!? We topped off our fresh tanks and dumped the gray water and pee jug. I think we skipped dinner because of the late-ish lunch. We weren't hungry. We just went to bed to prep for a long driving day tomorrow.

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rob cote

King in the Northeast
Waking up in Oklahoma was a bit chilly and wet, but not awful. We topped off our fuel supply and hit the highway. Why does the price of fuel vary so much out here?? You can cross any street and get fuel for 50 cents more per gallon. Why? It's so weird to me. We always go for the cheap ones, obviously.

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The sky was overcast, but the roads were dry and mostly empty. So, we paddled as fast as we could to get across Oklahoma before the snow came. We played with shock settings as well. We started with the fronts on 3 and the rears on 2.1 if you'll recall from Tennessee. The changes are much more obvious if you stop driving only to change the setting then keep driving immediately. We went to 2.8 in the rear and agreed it was way better. We'd eventually change to 3 in the rear, which was less drastic, but perhaps an improvement.

Anyway, Oklahoma rest stops were so trashy. Literally. The whole grounds were covered with garbage. There weren't parking spaces, people just park on the grass, I guess? Which obviously kills the grass and breaks off the edge of the pavement. Just so dumpy overall. The randomly strewn Jersey barriers were covered with bad graffiti. I can appreciate a well-done tag. But this was just crappy handwriting with a can of black paint. Overall depressing. So, we went to Texas.

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Except Texas was where the snow finally started to hit the windshield. Picture this, we're driving basically due west on I-40, right? This cold front is pushing air from the north around 10-15mph. In New England, that kind of wind speed is nothing. Out here in the plains, it's incredibly strong. So, the wind is against our passenger's side pretty consistently. So consistent, in fact, that the tire temperatures began to deviate quite a bit from one side to the other. Because the driver's side was carrying more weight due to the sail effect.

At 75mph, it is a battle with nature to keep the van between the lines. Passing trucks is exhausting because the north side wind becomes a pulling force into the trailer due to the low-pressure area between vehicles. Then you have to be ready to jerk the wheel back when you get to the cab of the big rig, because here's the side wind again. Once the snow started to fall it was just one continuous drift for miles and miles. I never saw such a long snow drift. It's trippy if you stare at it a while. Feels like you're in a dream.

But here's the thing, that was really it for adverse conditions on the highway. A wind from the side and a visual effect over the pavement. A very thin film started to accumulate only in the middle parts, in a few small areas. But where the tires go was staying dry. And yet, I lost count of how many cars went off the road. It was mayhem. I put the van in 4WD after a stop for brisket lunch at Tyler's in Amarillo. That brisket was top. You should go there and get it. Anyway, 4WD and I kept it slow, around 60mph, mainly because I wasn't sure how the conditions would change because I'm in an unfamiliar area. In hindsight, I probably didn't need it at all. But it's everything we own so I wanted to be cautious. And I thought maybe there was some legitimacy to all these people losing control. But it was really simple to stay on the pavement and right side up so I dunno.

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We pushed as far as Tucumcari, New Mexico. We arrived fairly early but stopped for the night. We didn't HAVE to, but we were tired obviously, and it seemed a decent spot. But more importantly, highway 40 was straight up closed. In multiple areas ahead. Because there were SO. MANY. ACCIDENTS. Mandy read of a single crash involving 4 passenger vehicles and THIRTY-FIVE trailer trucks. Like I said, it's mayhem out here.
 

rob cote

King in the Northeast
Tucumcari got cold at night. I think the official temperature was 6F, but the weather app said it feels like -9F. We peed dog in the morning and hit the road ASAP. Ain't about that life no mo'. Mandy drove and I zoned out in the back, so I honestly don't have much to report from there all the way to Sedona, AZ. I think I was fighting through exhaustion from the days prior. Also, there's no "Welcome to Arizona" sign. We were going to get a video passing by. There are these chips, though, which were pretty good:

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In Sedona, we stayed at the Elks lodge. They have RV parking. It's a little expensive at $40, but we justified it by not having paid to park anywhere yet on this journey. And it was the only option in town. We arrived after dark, so we didn't have much opportunity to explore. The night sky was insanely dark though. Which let the stars shine through the light pollution. So, it was bright? I dunno how you classify it. There's very little light pollution. How's that? I love a clear night sky when you can see right into outer space.

I'll give you two days because that one was short and uninteresting and it's my own fault. We woke up and stepped outside to find the scenery was GORGEOUS. Mandy may have known from driving, I dunno. I couldn't really see from the back. Right across the parking lot was a U-Haul lot, and it was the most scenic U-Haul yard I've ever seen. We walked around for a while because we had a little time to kill (finally) and because we all needed it. It was chilly but we didn't even care. Somehow the cold feels different here, I'm not sure what it is. Perhaps the thinner air is less conductive. It doesn't hurt as bad as New England cold.

We got onto the road after making breakfast sandlers (a.k.a. sandys, a.k.a, sandos, a.k.a. sammies, a.k.a. sandwhiches) and headed up the curves out of town. I think northeast? We made our way to Flagstaff and then up the mountain to Snowbowl. Mandy was like "you're going to drive all the way up the mountain and there will be none left to ski". She was wrong, although it is a long driveway up the hill. I got up the chairlift a little after 9:30ish and it was a solid block of ice. Cool. I thought, "Whatever, I paid for it so I'm going to make the best of it". Around 10:30 or so, the sun crested the hill and started to melt the crust. Total game changer. The hill was a lot of fun after that, and I got the confidence to power through some moguls a few times. I could feel my legs starting to cramp a little because I forgot to stretch them out, so around 2:00ish we started heading out.

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It was almost what I'd classify as hot outside. Almost. It was so nice at the base. I took my time disassembling my skis, cleaning them up, inspecting them for damage. I stowed my bindings and tools in the trunk (that's what we call the rear storage drawer we built). All the while we had the doors open, minimal dress on, sunglasses. It was fantastic. I loved it. Loki got to hang outside the van tethered to it. He loved it, too.

Once we were packed up, we went back down into Flagstaff proper for another van wash. The last time, in Tennessee, I pretty much half-assed it, if I'm honest. I felt rushed before I started and then with the clock running on the machine, I felt like I shouldn't waste time trying to figure out what I was doing. So, this time I read all the signs FIRST and then did a very thorough job. We have our own car wash brush for snow, primarily. So, I used the questionable car wash built-in one to do windows and trim and wheels, and Mandy used ours to steal the foam and do the paint. It worked out pretty well this way. She also worked the camera and towards the end I began to slowly freeze to death.

With the van clean, we popped over to REI to spend some gift cards from Christmas. We had old folding chairs for YEARS that we kind of hated, but just always accepted because we had them, you know? But they fold up huge and don't fit the van, so we lost them in the move. It's time to get new ones. Loki got to join us which was awesome. We always like it better when he can come although he seems to be doing fine for short periods alone in the van. This way, we didn't feel rushed at all. We built several chairs in the store and tried them on. And we tried all the ones that were on display as well. We opted to get one Nemo Stargaze chair because I like it and Mandy's on the fence. She wants some more seat time before deciding. She was getting her ass kicked by a chair, so I took a picture:

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Leaving REI, we headed to our final temporary destination - Prescott, AZ. The surface of highway 17 is terrible, so I stopped to soften the front shocks to 2.8. I left the rears at 3. Not a crazy difference, but it seemed a bit quieter. Mandy rerouted us on the way, to Camp Verde because it would be about 11 degrees warmer overnight. I had no idea the weather would play such an important role in our life on the road, but it's cool. We stopped at Clear Creek Campground and found the perfect spot open. We snagged it for the night and cooked chicken tacos with Al Pastor seasoning. Is that allowed, or does it have to be pork? In any event, we marveled at the night sky a while and then went to bed.

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rob cote

King in the Northeast
To anyone familiar with the area, were those coyotes we heard howling in the dark? It was probably 4 or 5am if I had to guess but I didn't check the clock. Loki was very intrigued, but we got him to calm down and sleep some more.

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We eventually got up. This was the least-hurried morning we've had yet; I think. It was quite nice. After we ate, we took a stroll around the campground to put our trash bag in the dumpster. On our short walk, we bumped into the host, Brian. He was super friendly and very laid back. We expressed interest in hiking from the campground, but were planning to move the van out of the site so we wouldn't violate the checkout time. He said not to worry about moving. Thanks Brian!

So, after chatting a bit more with the host, we set out. With no map and no trail markers, I didn't want to get too crazy. It wasn't a full-blown trek by any means. We just meandered up the dry riverbed a while. We enjoyed the solitude together. There wasn't another person around the entire time we walked. And we could only hear cars if we really listened closely. It's incredibly rare to find a place like that in New England, so this was very relaxing.

When our water bottles were half empty, we turned back. Back at the campsite, Mandy whipped us up some leftover tacos with the addition of chorizo to stretch them a bit further. We relaxed at the site in the sun for a while. Loki really loved this part. He's been deprived of his midday naps because he doesn't sleep well while we're driving the van yet. I think he's still getting closer so hopefully someday. He laid out on his bed in the warmth, and you could just tell the was at peace.

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He had access to his bed here, I swear, he just chose the dirt instead for a time.

Eventually it was time to go. We packed up and made the last little push to our final destination of Prescott. For real this time. We made our way to White Spar Campground, but stopped for groceries along the way. The campground is very nice and super clean. It's probably the cleanest national park campground I've seen. Ever. We picked an open site and reserved it online through Thursday. We did some basic math and came up with a decent plan.

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You're allowed to stay 14 days in a 30-day period in Prescott National Forest. So, if we do Monday-Thursday nights while Mandy's working in town, we'll have to vacation every weekend away from Prescott. And then we'll just have 2 days to find parking somewhere else.

We made baked ziti for dinner and then watched the tinder swindler. If you've seen it, I feel like you'll agree that is such a high-effort con. So not worth it to me. If you haven't seen it, it's kinda weird but not a terrible documentary. If that's your thing, watch it if you feel like it. Or don't. It's not my movie I don't care.
 

rob cote

King in the Northeast
We awoke in White Spar Campground and just got to chill again. No plan. No rush. Just made it up as we went. Sometime mid-morning, we decided to go for a hike. There's a bunch of trails that begin at the campground. We had sort of a map this time, on Mandy's phone, but didn't really refer to it all that much. We just kind of went where we felt like and tried to keep our bearings relative to the campground.

I have to shout out the Mercedes app again here. Not that we needed it, but there's a feature that could come in super handy. I'm hoping we never DO need it, but it's great to know it's there if we do. So, if you have your device's GPS antenna on, and you open up the map in the Mercedes app (side note: we've learned to call it "M-word" in the van, because if you say her full name she's all "How can I help you" and then we're like "NO, SHUT UP"), you can see two dots; one is you, one is the van. If you ever get lost and need to get to your vehicle, this is really handy to know. You just have to walk in the direction that connects the dots, then you're there. Just wanted to spread that knowledge in case.

So, I couldn't really tell you which trail numbers we did. I think they were all in the 270s-range, though. If that means anything to anyone. We learned that one of them goes to a lake which we'll definitely be checking out soon, once it gets just a tad warmer. Hopefully we can swim there. We'll see. Eventually, it was coming up on lunch, so we made our way back to finish up the leftover ziti. We reheated it in the oven. So good. We also had a wobbly pop each, and just relaxed in the sun at the campsite. I sat in my new chair which is awesome. Very recommend. I tried to adjust the passenger's side power step to alleviate the retraction issue, but it didn't seem to improve any. It's just annoying. It only retracts about halfway when the air outside gets too cold (around about freezing, but worse at lower temperatures). I think it's because the van and the step have different rates of thermal expansion.

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When we felt like we wanted a change of scenery, we lazily picked up and set out in the van. We made the short jaunt into Prescott and parked to walk around Whiskey Row and the courthouse. It's such a cute little town, and super dog-friendly, which is awesome. We picked up some post cards for family and Loki literally just laid down inside the store. So lazy. The shopkeepers were laughing at him. Not AT him, but like, in a nice way, you know? Eventually, Mandy was like let's find a patio to get a beer. Okay I'm in, of course. We were wicked picky for no real reason, but we ended up at Ad Astra. It's a tiny brewery in town. Also dog-friendly. We sat on their patio which is so adorable. Mandy got a strawberry-something sour that was really good, and I got an imperial IPA. Yes, I have a beard, too. Don't judge me.

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We made our way back to the campground, and parted ways. I set to making a fire in the pit, and she made us dinner. Steak tips, roasted broccoli and home fries. We sat on the ground next to the fire pit and elbowed dog so he couldn't swipe any off our plates. We put the fire out so we could walk Loki around the campground, and then we went inside to avoid the nightly chill. We caught an episode of Ozark and passed out immediately after.

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rob cote

King in the Northeast
We were once again in White Spar Campground. I guess we "live here", right? Hopefully we don't die here. Although it's not a terrible place for it.

We did the morning routine. Get up. Shower. Eat. Lift the bed. Feed the dog. Pee the dog. Drive Mandy to work. Then we ran a couple errands. Me and Loki. I opened up a mailbox so we can receive stuff. Got some groceries. Basic boring stuff.

Eventually we circled back to the campground and set out for a hike out of our site. Gold Water Lake is 3.5 miles away. That was our aim. Was. We got to a sign at an intersection that said it was 2-1/4 miles left to go, and we passed that with flying colors. But sometime thereafter, Loki started lagging behind me pretty consistently. I took it as a sign we should turn around because I can't carry that boy 2 miles. We'd never get back.

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He paused to sit once or twice on our way. But eventually we bumped into someone else walking with a dog, and he found his second wind. Luckily, they were going the same way as us for a bit. That helped motivate him most of the way home. We parted ways and made the rest of the solo journey back to the van. He plopped in the campsite immediately and passed out. I relaxed in the sun for a bit until we had to go pick up Mandy.

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I was starving, so we set to work straight away making a fire. As you do when you're a hungry caveman and want a pizza. We put the skillet over the open flame and grilled chicken with BBQ sauce, and some bacon slices. Then we flipped the skillet and stretched the dough out on it. Once lightly toasted, we flipped the dough. Sauce it, and top it, and wait for the cheese to melt. Then devour it. The dough was not great to work with, as I could only find gluten free dough. But the pizza was still great.

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After we cleaned up and put the fire out, we did the evening routine and fell asleep.
 

rob cote

King in the Northeast
It wasn't all that exciting, really, but it was a day, so I'll write it. We dropped off Mandy for work and punched up an address in Phoenix into the van's navigator. And we set out. I forgot the shocks were still at 2.1 all around so this ride was a bit smushier than it should have been. Oh well! Should have opted for the Adapt system so we could control it from the dash, I guess. Next time. Other than that, the ride was pretty uneventful. I still don't love Android Auto. I was trying to find a particular song, but there's no way to search for it, which is annoying. And if you search albums, they're not in any sort of discernible order. So, I had to scroll through line by line by never-ending line. To discover I didn't even have the song on my phone. Classic!

There was some work ongoing alongside the highway with the use of a helicopter. So, the signs read "Helicopter in use. Drive with caution." Which was a new one for me. They were picking something with the chopper as I passed. Having worked on aircraft engines before quitting, I have a special fascination with them, and especially helicopters. Somehow, I managed to keep it on the road. A nice bonus.

Descending into Phoenix from such lofty altitude as Prescott, we averaged nearly 20mpg so that was cool. The last leg of the ride we watched the temperature outside climb steadily almost 20 degrees. It felt so hot down there. It was like 75-80F. Brutal. We walked around an industrial complex as we were a bit early for our appointment. By the end of a half hour loop, Loki was dragging pretty severe. But he made it.

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Our meeting was brief. We hopped back in, and I made a second coffee. We reversed the navigation and headed back to pick up Mandy. I figured we'd have time to do a short trail from the campground before heading to her work. Once in Prescott again, we popped into the cheapest diesel station and filled up from 2 bars. The pump was going so slow, no exaggeration, it took a half hour to fill up. No idea what was going on with it. Does that mean the in-ground tank is empty? I've never encountered a pump that slow. At $3.599/gal it was about 2 seconds per cent on the display. Excruciatingly slow.

Anyway, that killed most of the time I thought we'd use. But after we picked up Mandy she wanted to hike anyways. We followed a well-worn, but new-to-us trail that headed towards Goldwater Lake. Once again, we didn't quite make it. The sun was dipping behind the hills, and it gets cold fast once that happens. It only matters that we were out there, anyways.

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After the ~5 hours drive, my back was in so much pain I hobbled back to the van and laid down. I intended to do all of dinner but I couldn't and she wouldn't let me. I pulled down the bed and tried not to move. We had steaks and roasted asparagus and potatoes. So freaking good. Another episode of Ozark, and lights out.
 

rob cote

King in the Northeast
Another fairly uninteresting day. Do you guys want these, too, or just the exciting ones? I dunno. I try to make the boring days sound interesting. I mean, they're interesting to me but I feel like...do the people want to read about me running errands all day?

Because that's what I did. We dropped off Mandy at work at 8am and headed over to the post office. The parking around the corner is 2 hours, whereas the spaces in front are only 15 minutes. I saw they don't open until 9:30, so we parked around the side. I made some bacon and eggs for breakfast and cleaned up. You gotta always do your dishes straight away in a van. That's one of the biggest differences I think from living in a house. I mean, if we're parked, sure we can let them sit. But then we're going to have to wash them right before cooking the next meal. And if we need to drive for an emergency or whatnot, it's best to be prepared. So always wash and store your dishes.

Loki wanted to go out, so we walked around the courthouse. I saw this pristine truck and snagged a picture.

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I must have been off because it's the only picture I took all day. Sorry. We got back from our walk and I started working on our next blog post. I typed two sentences and Loki wanted to go out again. Instead, I made room on the bench for him. He got up and passed out. Phew! I continued typing.

The post office opened so I popped in real quick to mail a couple post cards to family. Loki kept my seat warm while I was out. I did a bit of researching for our weekend plans until 10:15-ish when I had to go back to the VA. Mandy forgot her wallet, so she grabbed it on her break. She was finally able to get an ID for work.

Loki and I went back to the campground afterwards. I called the insurance company again (I left out the pointless half hour I spent on the phone the night previous) to get a rock chip in the windshield repaired. This is precursor work to getting tint installed. I've only ever installed tint myself, but I'm never 100% satisfied with it, and there's no way I'm doing the windshield myself so this time I'm paying a pro. I've been communicating with Auto Trim Plus. Not sure if any of you Arizonans know of the quality of their work.

Anyways! I finalized all the weekend plans. Figured out our route and stops. Checked the weather. All that jazz. Everything looks like it'll be great. I did some yoga and relaxing. Edited our next video. Enjoyed the sunshine and warmth. I found a laundromat for the evening. Laundry is the one thing I'm not crazy about in our van. We hoped to use behind the drivers side bench for storing dirty laundry but there's not enough space really. We can fill it up in less than a week. A few days really, depending. But it's way less than a washing machine full. And it's kind of difficult to access. So, we end up with overflow on the floor by the rear doors because we don't walk there. Not ideal but that's van life!

We parked at Iron Springs laundromat and Mandy washed everything. All the clothes, bedding, and towels. I set to work making chicken pesto pasta. We had a little bit of ziti left over from the last time we had pasta, but I also added in a box of chickpea pasta. If you haven't had chickpea pasta, it's indistinguishable from regular boxed pasta. Less carbs though so that's great. I also added in a few strips of bacon. You gotta. We ate it and it was so good. The leftovers didn't stand a chance. I finished it all. Washed the dishes. Mandy finished up the laundry and we headed back to White Spar Campground for the last night of our reservation. We put the clothes away and headed to bed.
 

rob cote

King in the Northeast
We got up and out early enough to do a little hike from the campsite. We did the day before, too, but I forgot to write it. Little sunrise hikes. So nice. We love it. It's chilly, but not awful at all. And by the end of it, we're warmed up and it's comfortable.

On the way into work, Mandy told me a piece of equipment had arrived that we ordered. It was going to be a little project day! I dropped her off and headed straight to our mailbox to gather our first delivery! If it doesn't fit in the box, UPS puts a receipt in there and you gather it from the desk. This is all new to me, but probably mundane to you guys.

We had to get some groceries, so I headed to Sprouts. It's more expensive, but I was in Safeway the other day and it seemed like everyone in there was wasted, and I wasn't crazy about the selection of groceries. PLUS, there's a great little park right next to the plaza Sprouts is in. So, after I got what we needed in the store, Loki and I went for a walk around. He was being lazy, but I made him at least do the full loop around the park. They have a children's book printed on these signposts, one page per, spaced along one of the paths. It's called story walk. I never saw one before, but I thought it was a pretty cool idea to encourage reading. Hell, I even read it. That penguin was so determined to fly, and by golly he did it! Pic not related

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Anyway, the walk was necessary to make dog nice and pooped so I could work uninterrupted thereafter. We got back home, and I set about unboxing our cell booster. We looked at weBoost, which everyone seems to have, and Surecall, which we had never heard of. The specs are so similar across the two brands, it really came down to installation and price. The Surecall Fusion2go Max exterior antenna is a magnet-mount sharkfin. Too easy. Plus, it's powered by 12VDC with a standard plug. We finally have something to use the driver's seat base plug for! Actually, not really. If you were wondering, that socket only has power while the engine is running. So, I installed it temporarily there, to make sure we are pleased with the booster's performance. If it works well, I need to figure out how to power it off the house batteries. [Wait til you get to read THAT day, what an adventure that was!]

We tried to walk around the park again after, but he wasn't cooperating. We went over to Affinity RV and dumped our grey water and filled our fresh water. We had plenty of fuel so skipped topping off that tank. We headed to Home Depot to pick up some screws. The piece of maple across the rear edge of our bed developed a little wiggle because the screws I used were too small, apparently. They were starting to strip out. I removed the replaced them with countersunk screws that were larger diameter and longer by about two inches. That'll do, pig.

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Then we waited on Mandy. We parked outside her work a little early and I prepped the navigation. It was actually a bit of a struggle to locate our destination, which was odd. The maps and search function in the MBUX unit are generally really good. The best I've ever encountered in a vehicle. They're usually on par with Google Maps I feel like. Anyway, I ended up navigating to a point on the map. She got out and we started rolling. South and east. We passed through 'the valley' (Prescott Valley), Camp Verde, and then started climbing some mountain.

I don't know all the places we went through so I'm not going to list them. It was a gorgeous drive over a couple mountain passes through sunset. The landscape is just so IMMENSE! Does it ever get old for those of you that live here? I had to slam on the brakes suddenly otherwise I'd have taken out a family of elk. There were a couple dozen milling about on both sides of and in the middle of the roadway. Just south of Strawberry. Right around dusk. So, from there on, I was super tense. My shoulders were sore when we finally parked in Payson at Houston Mesa Campground. I gave my eyes a break from scanning for wildlife.

I set to work making dinner while Mandy paid for our site for the night. I wish it wasn't generator city here. Is that a new trend? It's annoying, if I'm honest. We had pork chops. Nice thick cut, bone in chops. Seasoned and baked. Alongside Brussels sprouts and home fries. Both olive oiled and seasoned and baked. I also caramelized an onion to mix into the sprouts. It's great to be cooking full meals again. We cleaned up and watched the latest video from Expedition Overland and then went to bed.

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rob cote

King in the Northeast
Big day for the van - its first off-road trail!

We got up at the crack of 8:30ish. Let the dog out into our campsite. We were parked such that no one could really see into the passenger's side and it was warm enough so we could shower with the sliding door open. It was chilly, but in a good way. The kind of cool that you know is going to vanish quickly. We ate breakfast and took a quick lap around the campground with Loki before setting off.

We hit Speedway to dump whatever small amount of grey water we had with us and top off the fresh water and diesel tanks. We went to Home Depot to get a wire holder thingy for charging cables and some glass wipes. Dog nose prints everywhere inside. And bugs all over the outside. Needs to be cleaned. It's impossible to keep clean, though.

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Then we headed south down 87 with the windows wide open. It was so warm! We hopped off the highway right around mile 222, at the Mount Ord trailhead slash FR-686. After a half mile or less, the pavement disappeared, and we were just left with gravel. We set the shocks to full-floppy and began climbing. Up and up and up. Somewhere along the way, I decided to put it into low range so I could drive slower. I didn't really need all four wheels driving, but it's a side effect of engaging the low range.

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The views were amazing all the way up. Mildly terrifying, too. There's just a sheer drop in a lot of places, and a couple shady areas were still coated with a thick layer of ice. We managed. The van actually had no issues whatsoever. We didn't slip once that I was aware of. We could have been more comfy had we let some air out of the tires, but I left my compressor back in New Hampshire. I could probably make it fit somewhere, but I'd rather have the ARB one (or equivalent permanently-mounted unit), but the mounting bracket puts it where our furnace is so it's a whole big thing I haven't solved yet. Someday.

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At the top of the trail, we met Russ who was pitching his tent. He camps there often. Really nice guy, who had a lot of great info. After we chatted with him a bit, we hiked up the last half mile or so to the summit. There was still a fair bit of snow up there, but it was melting and making the dirt into soup. Gross. And bad for traction. The views at the summit were insane.

After we took it all in for a while, we turned around and headed down. Loki was pretty lazy on the down hike. Back at the van, he wanted nothing more than to nap underneath it. We eventually coaxed him into the van, and we set off back down the hill. We became aware of a popping sound somewhere along the way. It was in the rear. I walked next to the van while Mandy rode the brakes over some bumps. I couldn't quite pinpoint it, but we took a few minutes to put a wrench on the upper shock hardware anyways. I got about 1/4 turn out of the passenger's side bolt, and we continued on in silence. Problem solved, I guess. The rest of the trip down seemed much shorter than the ride up. Uneventful. Which is what you want, really, when you're driving on the side of a cliff. "Events" are usually bad.

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Back on pavement, we stiffened the shocks back up and beat feet to Roosevelt Lake. We weren't sure which campground would have sites available, if any, so we were hopeful but not certain. They're mostly first come-first served this time of year. Cholla Campground had plenty of sites available, so we picked our favorite, hung our receipt on the post, and took a short ride south to Ffinchs (sic) for dinner. I got ribs and Mandy got a pulled pork sandy. Loki got a cup of whipped cream and a cookie. The views across the lake were better than the food, but it was fine because we were starving.

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We tried to walk down to the marina, but the sign said no pets on the docks. So, we went back to our campsite instead. Someone was leveling their camper trailer when we arrived. I explained that we had already paid for that site. They packed up and moved over a site, but we felt bad. Even though we'd done nothing wrong. I'm sure it would be crappy to have to set up twice. We scouted some spots for night sky photos in the dwindling twilight and went back to the van to wait for full darkness. Mandy forced me out of bed around 9. I was so sleepy I didn't want to go shoot. We stepped outside to find that there was way too much campfire smoke to see much in the sky at all. We abandoned our plans and instead took a few shots of the van. We went back in to sleep.
 

ThundahBeagle

Well-known member
We were once again in White Spar Campground. I guess we "live here", right? Hopefully we don't die here. Although it's not a terrible place for it.

We did the morning routine. Get up. Shower. Eat. Lift the bed. Feed the dog. Pee the dog. Drive Mandy to work. Then we ran a couple errands. Me and Loki. I opened up a mailbox so we can receive stuff. Got some groceries. Basic boring stuff.

Eventually we circled back to the campground and set out for a hike out of our site. Gold Water Lake is 3.5 miles away. That was our aim. Was. We got to a sign at an intersection that said it was 2-1/4 miles left to go, and we passed that with flying colors. But sometime thereafter, Loki started lagging behind me pretty consistently. I took it as a sign we should turn around because I can't carry that boy 2 miles. We'd never get back.

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He paused to sit once or twice on our way. But eventually we bumped into someone else walking with a dog, and he found his second wind. Luckily, they were going the same way as us for a bit. That helped motivate him most of the way home. We parted ways and made the rest of the solo journey back to the van. He plopped in the campsite immediately and passed out. I relaxed in the sun for a bit until we had to go pick up Mandy.

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I was starving, so we set to work straight away making a fire. As you do when you're a hungry caveman and want a pizza. We put the skillet over the open flame and grilled chicken with BBQ sauce, and some bacon slices. Then we flipped the skillet and stretched the dough out on it. Once lightly toasted, we flipped the dough. Sauce it, and top it, and wait for the cheese to melt. Then devour it. The dough was not great to work with, as I could only find gluten free dough. But the pizza was still great.

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After we cleaned up and put the fire out, we did the evening routine and fell asleep.

"Bad" pizza is still pizza, so...good!
 

ThundahBeagle

Well-known member
Another fairly uninteresting day. Do you guys want these, too, or just the exciting ones? I dunno. I try to make the boring days sound interesting. I mean, they're interesting to me but I feel like...do the people want to read about me running errands all day?

Because that's what I did. We dropped off Mandy at work at 8am and headed over to the post office. The parking around the corner is 2 hours, whereas the spaces in front are only 15 minutes. I saw they don't open until 9:30, so we parked around the side. I made some bacon and eggs for breakfast and cleaned up. You gotta always do your dishes straight away in a van. That's one of the biggest differences I think from living in a house. I mean, if we're parked, sure we can let them sit. But then we're going to have to wash them right before cooking the next meal. And if we need to drive for an emergency or whatnot, it's best to be prepared. So always wash and store your dishes.

Loki wanted to go out, so we walked around the courthouse. I saw this pristine truck and snagged a picture.

View attachment 731636

I must have been off because it's the only picture I took all day. Sorry. We got back from our walk and I started working on our next blog post. I typed two sentences and Loki wanted to go out again. Instead, I made room on the bench for him. He got up and passed out. Phew! I continued typing.

The post office opened so I popped in real quick to mail a couple post cards to family. Loki kept my seat warm while I was out. I did a bit of researching for our weekend plans until 10:15-ish when I had to go back to the VA. Mandy forgot her wallet, so she grabbed it on her break. She was finally able to get an ID for work.

Loki and I went back to the campground afterwards. I called the insurance company again (I left out the pointless half hour I spent on the phone the night previous) to get a rock chip in the windshield repaired. This is precursor work to getting tint installed. I've only ever installed tint myself, but I'm never 100% satisfied with it, and there's no way I'm doing the windshield myself so this time I'm paying a pro. I've been communicating with Auto Trim Plus. Not sure if any of you Arizonans know of the quality of their work.

Anyways! I finalized all the weekend plans. Figured out our route and stops. Checked the weather. All that jazz. Everything looks like it'll be great. I did some yoga and relaxing. Edited our next video. Enjoyed the sunshine and warmth. I found a laundromat for the evening. Laundry is the one thing I'm not crazy about in our van. We hoped to use behind the drivers side bench for storing dirty laundry but there's not enough space really. We can fill it up in less than a week. A few days really, depending. But it's way less than a washing machine full. And it's kind of difficult to access. So, we end up with overflow on the floor by the rear doors because we don't walk there. Not ideal but that's van life!

We parked at Iron Springs laundromat and Mandy washed everything. All the clothes, bedding, and towels. I set to work making chicken pesto pasta. We had a little bit of ziti left over from the last time we had pasta, but I also added in a box of chickpea pasta. If you haven't had chickpea pasta, it's indistinguishable from regular boxed pasta. Less carbs though so that's great. I also added in a few strips of bacon. You gotta. We ate it and it was so good. The leftovers didn't stand a chance. I finished it all. Washed the dishes. Mandy finished up the laundry and we headed back to White Spar Campground for the last night of our reservation. We put the clothes away and headed to bed.

That's what I think of when I see the words "Ford Bronco"
 

rob cote

King in the Northeast
We got up, showered and dressed and everything. We were going to try and tackle a couple small issues, not really issues, with the van, but we realized we only had an hour to check out and didn't want to rush. We walked down to the lake instead. I went for a swim. By swim I mean I went underwater and immediately got out. That's all you need when it's that cold. Loki wouldn't go in above his toes.

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We headed back to the van and stowed everything away, did the preflight checklist, and rolled out. We made it to Punkin with Mandy driving. She found a pull-off on the side of the highway where we could do the work we wanted to accomplish. First, we opened up the sliding door all the way and sprayed clear coat over the artwork on the side panel to protect it. We did this first to give it time to dry before driving again. After the air cleared, Mandy made us breakfast and I cleaned all the windows. The amount of dog slobber and bug splatter is insane. There's a lot of glass, though. Our location was ideal for testing our newly installed cell booster, too, because service was weak.

I started the van and noticed no real change. I started looking more closely at the installation. My plan was to try moving the roof-mounted antenna first. As I was pulling the wires out to move them, I realized I'd plugged them in backwards. I righted the connections, and we had an immediate improvement in signal. An easy fix. It's plugged into the driver's seat base for power at this point, which is only powered when the engine is running. Wait till you get to the part where I "fix" that, tomorrow.

As we were working, we were perched on an outlook above Punkin, and noticed several trucks crossing a river. We had to get the van's first water crossing checked off the list, too. Since we'd just done the first off-road trail. I got video while Mandy drove through. It looked deeper from the cliff, but it was still fun to play around with, even though it was only a few inches deep. I don't think I got any photos; I was only shooting video. Sorry, you'll have to head over to YouTube if you wanna see it.

So, we continued on our way back to Prescott, since Mandy had work the following day. She rerouted us along the way, to Tonto Natural Bridge. She took a left off the highway, and we plunged deep into a valley. I think the sign said 16% grade? I still don't know how grades are measured exactly, but I don't think I've seen one that steep, ever. Eventually we got to the bottom of the hole. Neither of us knew any more about the site than what was on the signs. That is, it's a natural bridge. Expectations were zilch.

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We were prohibited from the hiking trails because we had Loki with us, but we were allowed to get to all the observation areas at ground level. What a cool site! It would have been awesome to hike down into the crevasse formed below the bridge but the views from ground level were very cool. If you're ever near it, check it out. It's hard to explain how interesting a landform it is, and it's hard to convey in a photo, too. And I apparently took none of the bridge. It's all video. I'm sorry. I got this cactus, if that helps:

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After we checked out all the angles, we got back in and carried on the rest of the way to Prescott. We opted to stay at a dispersed campsite to save a few bucks. We went down Bannie Mine Road and were surprised to find most of the sites full on a Sunday night in February. But that's the way it goes, I guess. It was much tougher going than we expected, or hoped for, I guess. We planned to cook dinner and post our video, because we post each Sunday. The site we got was pretty un-level, so the cooking was crooked. And there was no cell service at all, even with the engine running (which was obviously not a solution, especially with other campers around). So, after dinner and cleanup, we drove back to Whiskey Row to park for the night in town. It was better to drive the slow way out taking our time, than to have to do it while concerned about getting to work on time. There, we uploaded the video and went to bed.
 

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