27 November 2012

Moving On

175 Posts and almost 4 years later, I’ve run out of free storage space on this blog. Everyone knows the best part about a blog is the pictures and I can’t post any more unless I upgrade to paid storage, which is not something that my half-homeless budget will allow. So just in time to move on to my next adventure I’m also moving my blog over to WordPress, where a free account gives me three times the storage, but about half the design options. When pigs fly and I get paid to blog about my ordinary life maybe I’ll consider paying to make it look nicer, but for now it will have to do. I’ve imported all of my old posts for posterity, but they probably look better if you read them on this blog. To read about my current adventures, click Here or go to jmw556.wordpress.com. If you've been following this blog and you want to stay updated you'll have to re-subscribe over there.

09 November 2012

Colorado Camper

Blank Slate: 2012 Chevy Colorado, full size bed
When I way lying on the floor of my hut in Senegal and counting straws in my grass roof during the hottest part of the day, I used to daydream about ways I could maintain my nomadic lifestyle once I moved back to America. How am I supposed to travel in a country where biking from one border to another isn't a practical option and camping on the side of the road is frowned upon at best, and in most places illegal? The solution I came up with was to buy a truck and turn the bed into a livable space. In the last month my dad has been helping me turn my daydreams into reality, and we've been building a platform that has plenty of storage space underneath, and plenty of sleeping space on top.

I did a lot of research on the internet before we started construction and stumbled across someone else who had done something similar to what I was imagining, but with a Toyota Tacoma. Their pictures gave me a good starting point, but we made a few changes in order to accommodate the different design of my truck as well as my own preferences. I figured now that I've got my platform built I would share the process for anyone else interested in becoming a vagabond. All of the materials cost me about $140 and construction took about three days. I'll put a list of materials at the end of this post, but for now lets get to the fun stuff.

Vertical supports
Step 1: Install the vertical supports

We used five 1x12 pine boards (two down the center) to build a frame to support the plywood deck. Everything is anchored with 1.5" L brackets to the board sitting flush against the front of the bed, which was trimmed to make a very tight fit into the available space. This divided the bed into six storage compartments, two long bays and four smaller ones to the front and rear of the wheel wells.

Measuring the exact space needed for
my storage drawers
Step 2: Finding storage options

Once I had the frame installed I went shopping for some sort of containers that would fit my exact dimensions without wasting any valuable storage space. I settled on a set of stacking drawers, rather than a conventional tupperware, so I won't have to do any unpacking when I get wherever I'm going. I can just slide them out and stack them up! I slid them into the cargo bays so that we could block off the length of the rear compartment to fit them exactly.

Horizontal supports
Step 3: Installing the horizontal supports

To support the forward compartment doors we installed four 2x4s horizontally across the space where the front and back of the doors would rest. Since the supports lower the height of the storage space by 2" they also serve to keep my storage containers from sliding all the way to the front of the truck without entirely blocking off the separate compartments. That gives me the option of storing something longer such as ski gear or a dead body if I remove the containers. We used the leftover pieces of 1x12 as supports for the outer edge of the decking, one in front and behind each wheel

Deck and doors installed
Step 4: Installing the plywood deck and access doors

For the decking we used two pieces of 3/8" plywood, cut to fit the contours of the bed and lined with a piece of pipe insulation to allow for a tighter fit.  The deck is secured to the framework with 1 1/16" wood screws, and the doors on each side were cut wide enough to allow access to the two small compartments in front of the wheel. The doors were installed after the deck using two 12" piano hinges

Indoor/outdoor carpet installed
Step 5: Installing the indoor/outdoor carpet
We purchased an inexpensive roll of grey indoor/outdoor carpet that complements the interior of the truck and the headliner of the camper shell and installed it with standard carpet adhesive. We also put a row of heavy-duty staples around the edges for good measure. The carpet was laid as one piece and we used a box-cutter to cut out the doors once the adhesive was dry

Rear Access Panel
Step 5: Rear Access Panel

Using some of my leftover plywood we cut a board to fit over the end to act as a rear access panel. It isn't hinged, instead it has holes drilled to fit over two small pieces of hardware that protrude from the vertical supports and a lock or carabiner is used to hold it on. I liked the pattern of the grain in the plywood so I opted to stain the wood rather than carpet it, and I'll probably end up covering it in stickers as I travel.

Testing out the space in the left compartment...
perfect fit!
To finish everything off I've ordered a Leer mid-rise cap to keep me and my things out of the elements. I went with the model 180 because it offered a bit more headroom, and opted for the Adventure Sports package which includes a Thule locking roof rack for my bike, a ceiling mounted gear net, a 3 outlet 12 volt power block, two interior dome lights and a grey carpet headliner. Its not here yet, but once it arrives I'll be ready for my next adventure...driving out to Telluride, Colorado for my winter job.

List of Materials:5 Pine boards 1x12x6
2 Sheets plywood 3/8" *
2 Piano hinges 12"
16 L brackets 1.5"
Wood Screws 1 1/16"
2 Foam pipe insulators 6ft
Ribbed indoor/outdoor area rug 6'x8'
1qt Carpet adhesive

* I weigh 130lbs and the plywood sags a little bit at the rear of the deck if I sit directly over the open space. I would suggest a thicker piece of plywood if you weigh over 150.

05 November 2012

Santa Cruz

A few pictures from my visit with Goza in Santa Cruz. I stopped by at the end of my road trip down from Alaska and spent a week enjoying the California sunshine before I flew back home. I had my bike with me so I entertained myself exploring and shopping downtown while Jessica was at work or school. On her day off we packed in the fun activities...visiting the redwoods, walking on the beach, tasting jam at Swanton Berry Farm and taking nice long walks and drives.

03 October 2012

If your friends jumped off a bridge would you?

Guess that answers that question. 200ft. bam.

Chilkat Glacier Helicopter

A new perspective on Skagway
 A few days before leaving Skagway for the summer I got a chance to see the town and the mountains from a completely different vantage point. Randy and Patty, two of the best people in town, had a pair of tickets for a helicopter tour (that Patty won for making the worlds most amazing macaroni and cheese) and they weren't going to be able to use them before the end of the season so they let Steve and I take their place! The morning of the flight we had some of the most amazingly clear weather I have ever seen in Skagway, so the pilot was able to take us up to the Chilkat Glacier which is one that they  normally can't visit because they don't have the visibility to fly that high. The flight up was about half an hour and we spent 45 minutes exploring the glacier before flying back to town. We passed over the mountain that I worked on all summer, and I was finally able to see what lies on the other side...more mountains. Nothing but peaks and glaciers all the way to the horizon! I never realized just how isolated Skagway really is. It was the perfect way to see the area one more time before saying goodbye to Alaska.


Mountains beyond mountains beyond mountains...

21 September 2012

Hiking the Chilkoot Trail

Elevation profile of the trail. Yup. Crazy
As the tourism season winds down here in Skagway the opportunity for hours at work took a nosedive so I opted out of the rat-race and decided to take well-earned mini vacation for a week or so before I head back to the east coast. Last Saturday I gave my final tour of the season, and on Sunday I started out to hike the Chilkoot Trail, a 33-mile route from Dyea into Canada that was used as an entryway to the Yukon by Stampeders during the Gold Rush. The trail is technically closed for the season, which means we didn't have to pay the $50 permit fee to hike it, there were no rangers posted at the camps, and we had the whole thing to ourselves! We didn't see any other people until we arrived at the end of the trail and ran into a German and a Japanese hiker who were also enjoying the solitude of the off season. It took us three days to hike the trail and a fourth day to poach the railroad tracks out to the road to be picked up.
First section of trail
Day 1: Dyea Trailhead to Sheep Camp, 12.7 miles, 1000feet elevation gain

  We started out around 8am with cloudy skies but mild temperatures, and had decent weather for the whole day. We spent the first 5 miles getting used to the weight of our packs and settling into a rhythm and took our first break at Finnegan's point to bust out some snacks and assess our pace. We saw a ton of bear scat and quite a few tracks, but the only bear we spotted on our whole hike came 3 miles later at Canyon City camp when we stopped to read a historical marker. I heard a crashing in the bushes and looked over in time to see a little black bear barreling through the brush in our direction. It made to climb a tree about 20feet away, got about two hops up before it realized we were there and then jumped down and bolted in the opposite direction. Exciting, but not quite the encounter I was hoping for.

Shortly after Canyon City campsite there was an opportunity to take a detour to Canyon City Ruins, the remainder of what used to be a more permanent settlement along the trail, but the promise of "historic trash" including an old boiler, bits of broken glass and an old stove wasn't alluring enough to add any more distance to our almost 13 mile day. We continued on along the trail next to the river and paused to enjoy occasional views of mountains and low-hanging glaciers instead. We made another stop three miles later at Pleasant Camp for another snack break, and somewhere in between we crossed out of the US and into Canada with just a tiny sign to mark the event. Four miles after Pleasant camp we arrived at Sheep Camp and set up our tent for the night. There was just enough daylight left for a quick dinner of cous cous, veggies and hotdogs before we turned in for the night. I woke up sometime in the early hours of the morning to the forbidding sound of raindrops on the tent roof and spent a little bit of time worrying about our big elevation gain the next morning before falling back asleep.

Working our way up the Golden Stairs in low-visibility. Don't let the
angle fool you, Steve is only 12 feet or so below me...it was that steep!
Day 2: Over the Golden Stairs to Happy Camp, 7.8 miles, 2500 feet elevation gain

We got a late start in the morning due to rain, and didn't make it out of camp until about 9am. Fortunately we hiked the trail in the small part of the year where avalanches really aren't a risk so our only concern was beating the sunset to our next camp. The half mile section of trail after Scales promised to be the hardest of the day, where the 45 degree climb known as the "Golden Stairs" would take us the last 1000ft up over Chilkoot Pass.
Historic Trash!

What started off as a well-defined trail became nothing more than a jumble of large boulders with a few sporadic cairns to mark the way, and as visibility deteriorated to about 10 feet in the clouds we became a bit nervous about missing the route and ending up at the top of the wrong boulder field. Fortunately we followed our instincts and some conveniently placed "historic trash" and despite the wind doing its best to blow us off the mountain we managed to make it the 4 miles from camp to the summit shortly after lunch. A quick stop at the summit shelter to re-fuel and we started the steep decent down the snowfields to Stone Crib.

Clouds clearing over the lake at Stone Crib
The 45 degree descent on the snow and ice was even more nerve-wracking to me than the climb, because it seemed to be just a straight drop off into nothing, but as we slowly worked our way down the snow the clouds began to clear and I realized what I thought was a plummet into the abyss was actually a lake at the end of the descent, and that I was more than 2/3 of the way down already.

Cairn marking the way to Happy Camp
Over the next few minutes the skies continued to clear until we could make out several lakes and mountains in the distance, and a big flock of ducks relaxing on the lake. Over the next hour the weather continued to clear, and the final 3.5 miles from Stone Crib to Happy Camp were relatively flat, and well marked with cairns and orange surveyors flags. There were a few more snow fields to cross, and a myriad of small streams and rivers to be negotiated, and we stopped often to take pictures and just enjoy the views. We arrived at Happy Camp around 8pm cold and wet but excited about the days accomplishments. Since we were the only ones in camp yet again and our tent was soaking wet from packing it up in the rain we decided to bend the rules a bit and sleep in the warming shelter while we attempted to dry out some of our gear. We strung up our wet clothes, made a dinner of ramen noodles, hot dogs and eggs, and promptly passed out using the benches as beds.

Trail from Happy Camp to Deep Lake
Day 3: Happy Camp to Lake Bennett, 12.5 miles, 1000feet elevation loss

We woke up the next morning to beautiful weather for our final day on the trail, blue skies and clouds without any threat of rain. Unfortunately the cold weather didn't do much for our damp gear, and my boots that had been soaked on multiple river crossings the previous day were now not just wet but also freezing cold. It took us a while to pack everything up and we got on the trail around the same time as the previous day to start making our way toward Lake Bennett.

Blueberries = blue tongues!
We planned to rest at three camps along the way, all about three miles apart, and we came upon Deep Lake in just about two hours after many detours to pick blueberries along the trail. Without a doubt the best part of the day was the plethora of blueberries available to us, although they also created quite a delay since every time we moved on from one bush we would find another with even bigger and more tempting fruit. We rolled into Lindeman City around lunch time, and decided that a hot-lunch was the way to go, so I pulled out my stove and made us a pot of ramen while Steve filtered some more water.We both agreed that Lindeman would have been an excellent place to camp, and regretted that our scheduled ride back from Canada meant that we couldn't take an extra day to just relax and enjoy the area. If I did the trail again I would definitely spend an extra night at Lindeman city to recover and explore the area.

Lakes and Mountains and Streams, Oh My!
The seven miles from Lindeman City to Lake Bennett were a bit more challenging than expected, and the wear and tear of the previous two days really started to take its toll. The three miles to Bare Loon Lake seemed to take a bit longer than we thought it should and involved a lot more uphill than the map led us to believe, so we opted not to stop for a snack and push on in order to make it to camp before dark.
Steve kept me going by dangling food in front of me like a donkey with a carrot and distracting me from my knee and hip pain with "snacktivities." Our final mile to Bennett was a sandy track that gave me flashbacks to oh so many death marches in Senegal, and I was relieved to arrive at the lake just as the sun slipped behind the mountains. We shared the warming shelter that night with two other hikers, one from Japan and one from Germany, who spent the previous night at Lindeman city and were impressed that we had come all the way from Happy Camp that same day. We were too tired to socialize much, but I did find out that a bear bell I had found on the trail before the Golden Stairs belonged to the Japanese hiker and was given to him by the German guy. I was happy to return it and we all had a good laugh about the odds of it finding its way back to Hajime after he had lost it. We feasted on the rest of our cous cous, hot dogs, veggies and hot chocolate and promptly passed out next the the wood stove for our first warm night of sleep on the trail.

White Pass Train Station at Lake Bennett, closed for the season
Day 4: Railroad Tracks to Log Cabin, 8 miles, 0 feet elevation gain

Since we were hiking the trail after the train stopped running for the season our only option was to trespass on the railroad and hike the 8 miles of track back to the road and wait for our friend Casey to come pick us up. We knew he wouldn't be there until sometime after 6pm so we weren't in any rush, and after eating the rest of our oatmeal we went back to sleep and didn't wake up again until 11am! I made a second breakfast of scrambled eggs with cheese and onions and we slowly packed up our things and filtered a few more liters of water before we said goodbye to the shelter.

We took a moment to explore the "town" of Bennett, which consisted of a private cabin, the train station and a historic church, before we started our walk down the tracks. We had mostly blue skies above us, flat ground underfoot, and beautiful mountains and lakes everywhere we looked, so the walk out was every bit as pleasant as the trail itself. We even had mile-markers to help us gauge our progress, although we weren't sure at the time if they were in miles or kilometers so we didn't get our hopes up too high. We took a brief rest stop about half way for some sausage and cheese and made it to the road just before 6pm. As we sat and devoured the rest of our snacks that we had so carefully rationed we watched the clouds overhead drift by and change colors with the setting of the sun.
The view we enjoyed on the side of the road
Our ride arrived around 9pm, and apparently not a moment too soon since we had an unexpected visitor just a few minutes later. I went off to go to the bathroom before our drive back, and when I returned it was to find out that a big black wolf had emerged from the woods behind where we were sitting and had come within 15 feet of Steve and Casey before running off into the brush. Crazy to think that it may have been watching the two of us for quite a while, especially since it could have easily outweighed either one of us. I'm kind of bummed I missed seeing it, but I'm grateful it wasn't a closer encounter than that. It was definitely an awesome trip and a great way to end my season here in Skagway. I'll spend the next few days packing up and saying my goodbyes then its off to new adventures!

Eagles and Seals and Whales, oh my!

A few weeks ago I finally got the opportunity to go on tour with Ocean Raft Alaska, something I've been wanting to do all season. Most of the tour companies here will exchange free tours with each other on the understanding that you always leave a generous tip for your guides, but although I've taken out tons of locals and seasonal workers on the zipline I haven't had the opportunity to check out any of the other excursions in town. To be perfectly honest, sitting on a street-car or riding a train with a bunch of tourists was not on the top of my list of things to do on my rare days off, so the jet-boat was really the only thing in town I was interested in checking out.
We met at the dock first thing in the morning and got all dressed up in bright orange survival suits before we headed out onto the Lynn Canal in the zodiac boat to go crashing through the waves. We alternated between speeding along the shoreline; jumping over waves and doing donuts in inlets, and stopping in coves and along the shoreline to search for wildlife and check out some beautiful waterfalls. We spotted quite a few bald eagles up in the trees, saw a lot of harbor seals lazing about on the rocks like a bunch of fat sausages, and best of all almost got blown out of the water by a humpback whale!
We first spotted the whale when we were making our way back towards Skagway. It was about 40 yards away and had just finished breaching, so Captain Ashley decided to kill the engines and wait around for a few minutes to see if it would resurface. After about 6 minutes we figured it had moved on, so he took us to a small inlet to talk a bit about the Tongas National Rainforest and give the tourists an opportunity to have their "rainforest moment." Just as we were inching into a small corner of the shoreline about 30 feet deep and maybe 20 feet wide, the whale breached again no more than 6 feet away in between our boat and the rock wall. It scared the crap out of Ashley and pretty much everyone else in the boat...and it continued to spout and swim just 10 feet from our little 30ft raft for a few more minutes before disappearing again to find a better hiding spot. I couldn't have asked for a more exciting trip.