I’ve watched a lot of posts about the finish on Avion coaches. The debate about how to manage the anodized aluminum ranges from painting them to soaking them with WD40. I was looking for something in between. If you own an Avion, you know how they look pretty splotchy, they are hard to wash, and the dirt sticks pretty hard because of the porous surface. I tried some different waxes and aluminum polishes, but they either collected in the oxidation or faded quickly. The cost of having a body shop clean and clear coat the coach was out of the question, and I wasn’t so sure it would be a good solution anyway. After quite a bit of reading, I settled on Toon Brite.
I called the company and talked to the technical department. Filling them in on my challenge, they assured me that if I wasn’t satisfied I could bring the cleaner and coating back for a refund. I wasn’t about to jump in and do the whole coach right out of the gate, so I did a 2×2 foot test patch. The test patch has been on the coach for about a year and looks great. Toon Brite and Everbrite are similar products, but I went with Toon Brite since it’s readily available at retail stores. Toon Brite calls for the aluminum to be washed with their cleaner. A super mild acid wash. This is a really important step and cannot be skipped. It’s the key to removing as much oxidation as possible and prepping the surface for the coating application. We landed in New Mexico about a month ago, the perfect location for this project since the weather is cool in the mornings and with really low humidity. Starting from the top I washed the roof, following manufacturer’s directions on rinsing and protecting glass and awnings from the cleaner.
Our ZipDee awnings proved to be quite watertight and keeping the cleaner off the fabric wasn’t hard at all. I used the cleaner at a 1:1 ratio mixed with water. I was amazed at how much grime came off. Once the roof was clean I coated it the next day. The coating allows for a pretty quick turn around, so I applied two coats on the same day. Toon Brite calls for a foam brush application, or to rub it in with a cotton cloth. I used a foam roller to put it on the coach and back brushed it with a foam brush. Working my way from the gutter line down I cleaned and coated the upper walls, the front, and rear top caps and then moved my way down to the lower walls. Finally, I worked my way through all the storage doors and lower section of aluminum curving under the coach. About noon or so I’d quit putting the coating on, since it was too hot, do some more cleaning on the shady side of the coach, then in the evenings apply some more coating as the temperature cooled. The entire coach got two coats. I think I’ll put one more coat on the front where road debris is a challenge.
The results are quite nice. The coach has a warm, shiny appearance. Water beads up and runs off like a paint job with a fresh coat of wax. There are a few areas where the oxidation is not 100% invisible, and I have some areas I’ll need to wash out with acetone and redo. I got a little orange peel when it was too hot, and a few drips when I wasn’t looking. But overall, I’m thrilled. The chalky, streaky look is gone, and I can’t wait to wash the coach at my next destination, knowing the dirt will come off freely. By default, every rivet and seam on the coach has now been sealed. I expect that this is a protection, not a permanent product. Based on what I’ve read, I’m thinking I’ll re-wash and re-coat the project within 18 months, and probably every 2-3 years after that. I don’t mind the work, because the old chalky look made me crazy. Driving back from the store the other day, Luna looked bright and shining on the sloped pasture we are staying in. When I got up this morning after last night’s rain, there she was, shiny, clean, and happy to get the attention she deserves. To finish things off nicely I added a fresh coat of gloss black paint to the tongue, visible frame, and rear bumper. Luna is shining brighter now than ever and feels loved and cared for. Just what every little house wants.
Living full time in a travel coach has a lot going for it. We don’t thrive on super exciting adventures in white water, zip lines, or action-oriented activities. The lifestyle we live is exciting enough. Going outside at 2:30 am in a sudden wind storm to tie down awnings and covered bikes can be very exciting. Pulling the coach with the van in traffic, tight parking lots and rough roads provide plenty of heart-racing moments. And living so close to the outdoors means bugs, mice, birds, horses, and all kinds of other critters invade our space. Just yesterday a pony flipped my work table, covered in tools, over onto the ground. How do you shoo a pony away?! This lifestyle is an adventure at its very foundation, almost every day. So for us, the real adventure is in the heart and mind. Since we are alone a lot, we find ourselves living deeply within. And even though our little house is only 34 feet long, we can sit and read, listen to podcasts, watch videos and focus on the things we love the most, without being in each other’s way. Christina loves to cook. She can surf recipes for hours, pick one out, and make the best vegan pizza I’ve ever tasted. Fluffy crust with a decoration on the edges, simple ingredients laid carefully in place with an artful eye. All measured, mixed, and baked in our solar-powered kitchen. It takes time, and yesterday I could smell the cooking outside while I worked on the coach making repairs. I couldn’t wait to see what she was making and the whole field smelled like beautiful food. Christina also loves artwork. She spends time at her desk, felting, sketching, and creating. From the heart. From the mindful adventure inside. Thriving in the open space of her thoughts and emotion, interests, direction, and journey. Not once have I ever heard her complain of boredom, she lives this life fully.
For me, I still live the adventure of tools and materials. We left our house a year sooner than we thought we would, so I’m still making improvements to the coach. In the last few days, I’ve rebuilt all the access doors, added wind braces to the chimney and presently I’m fortifying the front exterior wall over the tongue. How can that be an adventure? Easy, we’re in a field, with no pavement, no shelter from the rain, and a limited set of tools. I’ve learned to throw everything into the van in seconds when a cloudburst tries to soak everything. Kneeling may include rocks, cactus, or big black beetles everywhere. The sun is relentless at 8,360 feet, and the wind blows until my dried out arms look like leather.
Yesterday I woke up to a flat tire on Sunny the van and had to change it, on a slope, in dirt and rock. It took two tries since the van slid off the jack the first time. In between chores, I enjoy jogging, cutting firewood, and being near the land and sky. I don’t think a day goes by when I am not awestruck by a bug, critter or bird, and the skies always remind me I’m barely attached to the earth and free to live so. I feel fully alive in these moments. One adventure after another. Simple moments, hours, and days and nights. The adventure of a lifetime, living fully from our hearts, following the direction our minds seek the most, and practicing gratitude for the opportunity to do so. Today we hope you find your adventure. The one you follow daily, expressing yourself and the passions you feel, living fully from your heart and mind, no matter where you are.
The last 4 days have been pretty interesting if behind the wheel adventures are your thing. Driving out of Clinton Lake State Park, in Lawrence Kansas on Thursday, the temps were already over 80 degrees, with humidity around 75%. Pretty sticky and hot, unless you’re naked, and I keep hearing stories about the laws against that. We jumped on I-70 heading west about an hour. At exit 225 we exited onto state Highway 156 heading southwest across the state, two lanes all the way. This is the drive most people complain about, that there’s nothing out there or it’s flat and boring. I’d be happy to argue that notion. The land is varied in terrain and a gradual climb in altitude. Along the way the flora and fauna change. In the Flint Hills, bison appear on the slopes, surrounded by prairie dogs, pronghorn, and coyotes. Flora is represented by scrub brush, sage, and plants that are tough enough to live in arid conditions. Some say it looks a little pre-historic. Eventually, the landscape changes from natural to farmed. Grain elevators are just yards off the highway every 30 miles or so. The highway passes through towns so small the speed limit is reduced from 65 miles an hour to maybe 50. There is almost no traffic anywhere. Mostly cattle trucks, agriculture chemical tankers, and occasionally a local pick-up. Passing farm equipment and tractors on the road is a regular occurrence, and watching crop dusters sweeping across fields and making low flying u-turns over the highway kept us on our toes. The corn grows from horizon to horizon, in all directions. We wondered how much of this food is grown for markets overseas and how much of it stays here. We thought about family farms and the changing way of life. We passed a few cattle feedlots. 25 to 30 acres of bare dirt with cattle separated into a hundred different pens. Thousands of cattle, all fed a rich diet to fatten them up for their last ride in a cattle truck to a factory that will render them into packs of meat for markets. We pondered these great plains and the planting, growing, and harvesting. At times we felt a little quiet soaking it all in. Arriving in Garden City Kansas, we fueled Sunny the van and slipped into a row of over the road trucks in a Walmart parking lot. While I took Indie for a walk, Christina cooked dinner. We ate, reflected on our day, and the scenes we witnessed. After washing the dishes and reading a little, we settled into our lovely little bed, snoozing away to the sound of purring trucks. In the morning it was funny to wake up realizing half the trucks had left. We didn’t even hear them pull away. We made coffee, ate breakfast, checked the fluids in Sunny, and hit the road again. Heading south on I-83 from Garden City we exited onto state Highway 160 for our trip to Trinidad Colorado. The two-lane road on this route cut through the land, rough and with no shoulders. Tallgrass and scrub grew right up to the white lines on both sides. At one point for several miles, the road looked like a ruffled ribbon headed for the horizon, at 60 miles per hour we were riding what felt like a little roller coaster. The pavement was un-even and for the first time in our travels, some things inside Luna came out of the cabinets and broke. Not one single other RV or camper was seen until we crossed into Colorado. It was the most desolate section of the country we crossed so far. Highway 160 took us straight into Trinidad Colorado. A beautiful little city, with lots of stone buildings. It reminded us a little of Jackson Hole Wyoming, a ton of tourists and bustling shops. We did some shopping for supplies and were glad to see the store practiced COVID-19 safety. Leaving Trinidad heading south on I-25 the climb continued. Sunny the van did fine, keeping a steady pace and running at normal temperatures. Passing through Raton we crossed our first mountain pass. About halfway up the climb construction was being done and the highway was only one lane. I was a little nervous we might slow down a lot and hold up traffic, but we kept a good speed, gained just a little engine temperature and crossed the top in good form. The road down the other side was forgiving and not too steep. It was good practice for things to come. We exited onto Highway 64 and headed toward Cimarron Canyon. This drive was fun. Sharp curves and rollers for an hour or so. Christina said it was a pretty view, but I didn’t see anything but curves in the road, and trees hanging low. Finally, after several long hours of driving our destination was just minutes away. We drove into the north end of Eagle Nest New Mexico late in the afternoon. Tired from driving all day we were ready to get to our destination, and we were glad to find Squash Blossom Lane just off Highway 64. Parked on the side of the rocky road we google earthed the location and thought we had the spot figured out. Worn out and hungry we headed for the driveway leading to our parking spot. The driveway heading up the mountainside had a decorative wood beam over the gate, and as we approached we both agreed the rig would clear the beam. This would be the last of our worries, then a drive up the lane to our spot. As we started to climb the slope it became very evident the grade was way steeper than it looked from the road. No problem I thought, if in doubt power out. Putting the pedal down we took on the slope, climbing a narrow rock drive that we could not stop on safely at this pitch. Within yards, the drive became a washed-out gulley. I felt like we were about to meet our maker, if I stopped we’d likely slide backward. Giving Sunny the adventure van even more gas we held on tight, steering between almost knee-deep gullies in the drive and bouncing like crazy we took the second right, the drive leveled out, and had no erosion, but as soon as we turned left again, not only was the drive washed out, it was grown over with brush, hard to see and almost as steep. My heart was racing and my mind was reeling in hysteria, so I gave Sunny all the pedal he had. The little Duramax motor revved up like a champ, new Michelin all-terrain tires spun and threw gravel but kept getting a grip. Luna closed her eyes and held on tight. Roaring up and around the last curve we pulled into the parking space next to the house we had so carefully determined to be our destination. We both laughed out loud at our crazy antics. Getting out I let the van idle for a few minutes to let the turbo cool down, and almost immediately Christina started to say we were at the wrong spot. She was right. We had climbed a slope when all we had to do was turn right instead of left at the bottom of the hill and park near another horse barn. Christina said she was considering punching me, especially since I had just almost killed all three of us. Fatigue had been our enemy, and my sense of judgment was skewed from a long day of driving. We should have never attempted that climb. Texting the landowner, our host who lives in another state, he was amazed that we had climbed that mountain, not only pulling a 34-foot trailer but also with only two-wheel drive. We were, you know, screwed. Our rig measures 53 feet total and we had about 44 of driveway width along a ledge to turn around on. But by now we were shot. I walked Indie, and Christina made supper. Worn out and feeling stupid, and knowing I had to figure out how to get our rig down the mountain, I had a tumultuous night, to say the least. What little sleep we got was good. Christina gave up the idea of murdering me in New Mexico, and I was pretty sure I had a plan to turn the rig around. After breakfast, we got to work. Reducing the air pressure in the front and rear axle tires meant we could swing Luna hard toward the ledge. I’d need to get the back tires within about 18 inches of the ledge to make room to un-hitch Sunny the van and move it to the other side of the tongue. About the time I had the back tires almost to the edge of the ledge, I saw a Dodge 2500, four-wheel-drive quad cab coming up the hill. Arriving at our little project Ed and Jackie got out and walked right up, staring at us both like we were crazy people. Ed said, “did you drive this rig up this road?”. Yes sir. “Well that makes you one heck of a good driver, I don’t know how you did it!” I was relieved, I was prepared to be laughed at out loud. But Ed and Jackie were there to help. The landowner had let them know we had arrived, at the wrong spot, and we may need some assistance. Christina and Jackie started to chat it up while Ed and I continued working on getting the coach swung around. Ed and I may have a few things in common, and he’s a few years older than me, so I’m pretty sure Jackie was congratulating Christina for keeping the murder rate to a minimum the night before. Ed and I backed Luna right out to the ledge, chocked the wheels and un-hitched Sunny. As planned I moved Sunny to the other side of the tongue and backing up swung the ball under the coupler and hooked up. The little Duramax did it’s work and tugged Luna across the slope and to a point where the whole rig was pointing straight toward the downward slope. The rig was turned around, and that was a huge relief, but now I had to get the whole thing down the mountain without breaking free and either getting stuck in the ruts or sliding of the ledges. Jackie and Ed are easy-going folks, so they made us take a break and check out the house we were parked near. They made sure we were drinking plenty of water since we were affected by the altitude and had some laughs with us while we checked out the place. On the way back to our rig, I asked Ed if he’d be nice enough to strap to the rear bumper on Luna and dead man the rig down the road with his Dodge. He said sure, and we got him hooked up. So off we headed down the slope, me steering with one hand, and managing the brakes with the controller and the braked pedal. The trailer brakes slid several times and I was pretty happy to have that Dodge back there keeping things on track. It took a little time to get back to the road and a flat spot to take the strap off Ed’s Dodge. I’ve never been so happy in my life to have a job done. We drove 50 yards to the gate across the street, backed into the pretty field we are in now, parked Luna, and breathed a deep breath of relief. Ed and Jackie shared a few minutes before they left, and I helped Ed change a tire he punctured on an elk skeleton while he was turning around in the field. Left alone, in the correct parking spot, with the sun in the sky and wind blowing through our little house, we reflected on the lesson we had lived. The adventure isn’t always on a trail or in a kayak. The thrill of this lifestyle comes in all different kinds of places. We learned a lot from our little climb up the mountain, and back down, and we’ll never forget it.
We’re making the best of the COVID-19 pandemic. We watch only a little bit of news, just enough to get some of the science and medicine recommendations, avoiding the rest. We’ve kicked into isolation and distancing. A few friends have come by our campsite, we make our own colloidal silver, so they come by and pick up a quart. Everyone knows the drill, set your jar down on the ground, and stay 10 feet away. So we haven’t been completely isolated, but the few friends who do come by, come and go without our usual hug. Yah, we’re the hugging kind, because we love people. A lot. We run to town about once a week to pick up our mail and packages from two different places. Christina stays in the van while I open and clean all the arrivals. Our groceries are delivered to the park entrance now so we don’t have to go to stores. We really miss the road. Traveling and meeting new people. So we stay busy and out of each other’s way. Christina is a nester. She likes a quiet, comfy place near a nice view and her dog. She’s been baking a lot. Which is pretty cool since we live off-grid on a solar system. I never thought we’d be able to bake bread all day and sleep on a heated mattress pad at night, all on solar. So she bakes. Whole wheat bread, English muffins, and cinnamon rolls. Initially, I was afraid we’d both plump out eating so much homemade bread, but that’s not happening. She gives most of it away. Especially to the park rangers and manager. I’d like to say they love us, but they don’t. They love Christina, I’m just the guy married to the cute girl cooking all the bread. She also has taken up felting, creating little figures of leopards, bears, and anime characters, she sits for hours jabbing the felt or fleece with needles to create the perfect felt finish. I often imagine her mumbling my name while jabbing away. Christina is also a jigsaw puzzle fan. I don’t know how she does it, sitting for hours collecting pieces of what was once a perfectly printed picture, cut into 1000 pieces. She loves them. I’ve done quite a bit of jogging. It clears my mind and gets me in a place of meditation. I’ve regained some distances I thought were long in my past, so I’m happy to imagine I’m reversing my age. That lasts just long enough to get up the next day and try to walk. Indie and I cut firewood a couple of times a week. It gets us out in the woods and in the tick zone. We cut a bag full, bring it back, and split it. I’ve also been going to the archery range. Kind of like running it’s a little bit of exercise and meditation at the same time. Keeps the crazies away. To spend time together, the three of us walk the campground, always wary of others, and keeping our distance. We hike the trails, once after a rainy night with no shoes on. A few days ago we rode our bikes over to the other closed campground and picked out our sites for May and June. We’ve always enjoyed cooking together, which means I chat or mix drinks while Christina cooks. Then I wash all the dishes, while she doesn’t. That’s cooking together, right? We read in the evenings or surf the net, but mostly we like to watch movies. We watched every Avengers movie, in story order. On some evenings we join Zoom dinners or groups, together or on our own. We are witnessing a historic time together. Watching carefully and with balance and discernment. We’ll be glad to get back on the road, but in the meantime, we have bread to bake and calories to burn.