Tuesday, April 24, 2012

As most of you know, Daniel and I fund our trip mainly with side work. We really love getting mural jobs because its one of Daniel's great passions. Who wouldn't enjoy beautifying one aspect of a city and making people smile when they wander by? We met the owner of Sunnyside Auto Repair, Alex McClelland, through Craigslist when we were searching for a place to stay in Portland. Sunnyside is actually located in Salem, OR and even though we weren't planning to stop there, Alex really wanted a mural and Daniel really wanted to paint one! The mural ended up taking us about a week since Oregon is a bit rainy this time of year. We ended up loving how it turned out and even more important, Alex loved it too! Three cheers for Hot Rods!!
Check out the time lapse video below and let us know what you think!

Daniel working on the mural.

Monday, April 16, 2012

It's Not Goodbye, It's See Ya Later

Hello everyone!  As we reach our 6 and ½ month of traveling, we must apologize for the lapse in Daily Life updates; the time has gotten away from us! We just arrived in Salem, OR yesterday after spending a month and a half in California. We had so much fun and made so many new friends that it seems impossible to list them all, but we will try and fill you in on at least some of the things that we did!

Our most memorable adventures were with the new friends that we met while we were staying with Ron and Stephanie. One weekend after another we got to experience exciting new things. For example, we got to try our hand at wine tasting when Ron and Steph took us with them to Temecula Valley, the southern version of Napa. It was so much fun and we learned a lot about wine culture. 
The vineyards in Temecula Valley.

Angie wine tasting with Ron and Stephanie.

On one of the following weekends, we journeyed to the California desert with our new friends Mike and Genevieve to visit Slab City. We had heard about Slab City before because it is featured in the movie “Into the Wild,” which is one of Daniel’s all-time favorite films. Slab City is a community of RV’s, trailers, and other structures that are both temporary and permanent. Some people move to Slab City when they are down on their luck and plan to move out when they find a job while others move there because they no longer wish to be a part of mainstream society. There is also a giant shrine to Jesus that one man spent his lifetime building called Salvation Mountain that draws many tourists. The real reason we went to Slab City, though, was to check out East Jesus, a section of property in Slab City lived on by a fellow named Charlie. Charlie passed away recently, but not before he left his mark on many friends and the community itself. In fact, we went to East Jesus because his friends were hosting a memorial event called “Art Slam.” Essentially, East Jesus is a sanctuary away from mainstream society where people can go and be themselves. It is largely self-sustaining, utilizing solar for power needs. It is filled with sculptures created by anyone and everyone out of recycled materials, or “trash.” The “Art Slam” was a sculpture competition that we were happy to be a part of, in memory of a person who created such a wonderful place for everyone to enjoy.
Salvation Mountain, Slab City, CA.

Daniel sitting in a recycled vehicle decorated with all kinds of things at East Jesus.

Mastodon sculpture made out of tires at East Jesus.

A recycled bottle wall at East Jesus.

Our friends JP and GirlBob fire spinning at East Jesus!

We got to make even more friends when we went to the mud caves in the Anza Borrego desert the following weekend. The mud caves are pretty self-descriptive – caves made of dirt. They can change every year depending on the rains and during the dry season, people go explore them! I was incredibly nervous to go crawling through mud caves at first (and yes, there are some parts where you literally have to crawl on your belly because the opening is so small!) but it ended up being an amazing experience. The next day, when we were headed back to San Diego with our friends Darlene and Fernando, we stopped to do a short hike to a palm tree oasis in the middle of the desert. We had never seen a desert oasis before, and believe me, they are much more breathtaking than in the movies! It was truly beautiful. 
Part of our group of friends who we went to the Mud Caves with.
Daniel, Angie and friends about to enter another mud cave.

Darlene, Fernando, Angie and Daniel heading towards the desert oasis!

The last weekend we spent in San Diego was incredibly bittersweet. We spent the whole weekend working on a mural with Stephanie and Ron so that they would always have a little piece of us at their house. It was a sad goodbye, but we know that we will be seeing them again soon since Ron’s family lives in Fauquier County, VA! (Only the best county in Virginia, if I do say so myself) We have to believe it was fate that led us to them, considering how much we love them and how perfect of a fit it was.
Genevieve, Mike, Daniel, Angie, Stephanie and Ron (and adorable pups Chloe and Emily) in front of the mural we painted for them!

The rest of our time spent in California, those days we weren’t being adventurers, were filled with work! Daniel finished a commissioned mural as well as some other smaller paintings and I, thanks to my friend Mike, had plenty of freelance writing work to do! It definitely worked out great for us!
Daniel standing in front of the mural he painted in Santee.

After we left San Diego, we headed to our friends Bob and Karen’s house in the high desert of California, several hours north of San Diego. We were just planning to spend one night there, interview a wonderful non-profit called Cal-Earth in the morning and head north to Portland afterwards. Well, we did get to interview Cal-Earth (there will be a separate article on that in the near future) but our stay ended up being a bit longer than we anticipated. Luckily, Bob and Karen are amazingly hospitable and invited us to stay as long as we needed. Of course, the culprit behind the prolonged stay was a bus issue. Big Easy had overheated continuously on the way from San Diego to the high desert and once we parked at Bob’s house, we realized there was also a large coolant leak. We ended up needing to replace the radiator, which ended up being a bit pricey. Fortunately, we found an awesome mechanic who charged us about half as much as other places quoted us. Daniel also put in a new fan clutch and Big Easy has been running smoothly ever since. 
Daniel holding Big Easy's fan after surgical removal.

It ended up being a great decision to replace the radiator because our drive north was incredibly mountainous. We detoured through the Redwoods National Park and spent two days hugging enormous trees. Northern California is on our top ten lists of most beautiful landscapes, quite possibly number one. We camped on a gorgeous beach, with the Pacific in front of us and Redwoods directly behind us. There was even a magnificent rainbow to top things off. It was a beautiful journey and if you ever have an opportunity to visit that small piece of the world, you should immediately take it.
Daniel hugging a giant Redwood tree.

Angie posing between two Redwoods.

Big Easy sticking her nose into an enormous California Redwood.

Daniel gazing out over the beautiful Northern California beach.

A wonderful rainbow appeared over our beach campsite.

Daniel and Angie in front of the trunk of a California Redwood.

Beautiful Smith River, on the border of California and Oregon.

Angie standing in a dinosaur-sized Redwood forest.

The rest of our trip, thanks to Big Easy’s new radiator, was smooth sailing. We made it to Salem, Oregon on April 15th where we will stay until Daniel finishes a very cool (and very large) commissioned mural work. Then it will be onward to Portland!

Monday, March 19, 2012

Composting (Recycling 2.0)

In 1980, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), less than 10 percent of the nation’s Municipal Solid Waste (MSW), otherwise known as everyday household trash, was recycled. That’s like 100 students drinking from soda cans with only nine throwing them in the green bin when finished. The other 90 completely ignore it and throw theirs in the gray bin. Fast-forward 20 years and you’ll find that 34% of trash is now being recycled. That’s a 24 point increase! The amount of waste that the country generates has risen as well, from 3.66 to 4.43 pounds per person per day to be exact, but the recycling rate has consistently increased and will hopefully continue to do so, especially with the popularity and passion of the green movement. In 2010, about 65 million tons of MSW were recovered through recycling efforts. That astonishing number includes objects that normally come to mind when thinking of recyclables such as newspapers, plastics, soda cans and car batteries. While those efforts are highly commendable and need to continue, there is another type of recycling that is just as efficient and important, even if a little less popular – composting.
           Compost is an organic material that can be used as an additive to soil or as a medium to grow plants.  Anyone can make compost by recycling their organic materials, which can include anything from yard trimmings to tea bags. Meat products can technically be composted as well, but they produce an incredibly attractive scent that skunks, rats and other rodents can’t help but be drawn to. The rules of composting mean that a large portion of what we throw away on a daily basis can actually be reused in the form of plant food. We can crush up our eggshells, scoop up our rotten bananas and rake in our leaves all to be put in one big pile for future yummy plant nourishment. Composting could potentially mean a huge increase to the already-growing recycling statistics for this country. In fact, in 2010, 20 million tons of trash were recovered through composting. 20 million tons may look like an incredibly large number, but it actually seems kind of puny up against the staggering 65 million tons of other recyclables.
The amount of composting being done today will look even worse when you consider this next fact. Yard trimmings and food waste make up the second largest category of trash that goes into our landfills today, with a massive 27.3%. They follow plastics by a mere 1.2%. If you add in wood (because wood chips can be composted), organic compostable materials easily become king of the (trash) mountain. While over half of yard trimmings were collected for recycling in 2010, only 2.8% of food waste was recovered. Compare that number with the 72% rate of paper recycling in 2010 and it overwhelmingly shows that so much more can be achieved with composting. With recycling numbers increasing in every other category, why is composting trailing so far behind? It seems so easy, right? Walter Dodd of Soilutions, a composting company in Albuquerque, New Mexico had a few answers for us.
U.S. EPA Municipal Solid Waste Generation, Recycling, and Disposal in the United States: Facts and Figures for 2010.” - 2010 MSW divided by type of trash... Look at all of those compostables!

According to Walter, the city government of Albuquerque, as well as many other cities, just simply doesn’t pick up green waste enough. “Twice a year or three times a year [the city] does a green waste pick up. You can put bags of leaves out on the curb and they’ll take it.” That pales in comparison to some other places, like San Diego County, where many residents can opt-in to have a green waste pickup once a week. To make it worse for citizens of Albuquerque, “they’re (the state composting facility) fifteen miles out of town, and the average Joe is not going to spend 20 bucks to go out there…” Obviously, the city is not making it easy on its inhabitants to get rid of their green waste. It’s incredibly easy to find a bin for recycling materials like aluminum and plastic in most major cities, but green waste just hasn’t caught up. Walter doesn’t really mind, though, because with the city making it more difficult for residents to compost, his company takes the opportunity to step up and provide that service. First of all, they are closer to town, so with gas prices rising, they are much easier to get to. They also provide pick up services for some businesses. “We go out and go to restaurants and provide containers. They fill it up, we exchange them and bring them back.” This is a great way to pick up green waste that otherwise would have been disposed of with regular trash. It’s easy to see that where the city is slacking, private businesses are stepping in. In fact, according to the EPA, the amount of private composting businesses has risen from 1,000 in 1988 to 2,280 in 2010. Obviously, these services aren’t free but they are much better than just letting your organic materials go to “waste.”
If you aren’t willing to pay to drop off your compostables and your city is lagging behind the times, you can always try your hand at composting yourself. With urban farming on the rise, there are tons of books and websites dedicated to homemade composting. You don’t even need to have a yard, composting can be done in buckets or tubs on your patio. Walter warns us, though, that some places may find it much easier to compost than others. “I think everybody that I know has a small composting operation in their backyard somehow. Most of them are failing, it’s not an easy thing to do. In [Virginia], you just throw it in the corner and it does it. Here you have to pay attention [because] you have to put water on it. Most of them are conscious of the possibility, but have families have lives and can’t go out there and turn it and take care of it.” According to Walter, composting requires four main components, Nitrogen, Carbon, Water and Air. All of those things are in abundance in Virginia, which is why a compost pile there will pretty much take care of itself. Unfortunately, in New Mexico, water is in very short supply. If there isn’t enough water in the compost pile, nothing will happen. Many people don’t have the time to make sure the ratios are correct and they’re adding enough water, so their composting piles fail. That’s where companies like Soilutions step in. If you don’t have time to do it yourself, you can just bring your waste to them and they will do it. 
Not only will composting allow our landfills to have a much longer lifespan, but it will also positively impact your surrounding environment. According to the EPA, composting can do all of the following things: improve soil health and structure; increase drought resistance; and reduce the need for supplemental water, fertilizers, and pesticides. As opposed to spending extra money on fertilizers to keep your vegetables alive, you can easily make your own, homegrown compost that will achieve the same results, if not better. Furthermore, planting in the same soil repetitively can strip the normal soil of all of its nutrients. Adding compost to the mix will ensure that your veggies and flowers will have all of the appropriate plant food that they need.
 So what can you do? Well first of all you can start your own composting pile! Go to your local bookstore or library, grab one of those books on “Composting 101” and dig in – literally! If composting really isn’t an option for you, then opt-in to your city or county’s green waste removal program and make an effort to throw your scraps and yard waste in the green bin. If your city doesn’t offer any of those programs then you should petition them until they start one. If that doesn’t work right away, then go visit your local composting business. If they are as friendly and helpful as Soilutions was, then they will surely work with you in figuring out a way to dispose of your waste in a green-friendly manner!

*You can find all of the data that I cited above and much, much more on several of the EPA’s extremely educational webpages listed below as well as their “Municipal Solid Waste Generation, Recycling, and Disposal in the United States: Facts and Figures for 2010.”  You better check it out fast before Ron Paul becomes president!

Thursday, March 1, 2012

California Dreamin'

California has so far been everything that we have hoped for and then some. Fortune has smiled upon us with amazing new friends, sunny days and beautiful landscapes to explore. We are staying in Lakeside, which is a bit mountainous, but a quick morning drive easily puts the beach in reach.

Big Easy against the Southern California night sky.
We have spent many a lazy day relaxing on Stephanie and Ron’s property in Lakeside. It’s picture-perfect, with mostly sunny skies and springtime weather. Mountains border it and the neighbors range from people to Chihuahuas to donkeys. There is even a peacock wandering nearby, but we’ve only had the pleasure of hearing his voice so far. Our favorite part about the property has got to be the citrus trees, of which include grapefruit, lemon, orange and tangerine. Whenever we’re in the mood for a fresh afternoon snack, we can just meander over to the fruit trees and pick the plumpest one. Aside from the “green” aspects of the property, we also love relaxing here because of two sweet little terrier pups named Chloe and Emily. They have been very welcoming to us and spend the day either cuddling up beside us or playing a game of fetch. We definitely missed having pets around, so it’s nice to have some new furry friends.
Our back yard view of the mountains!

Little misses Emily and Chloe.

The weekends out here in Lakeside have been even better. The first weekend we were here, Ron and Stephanie hosted a Mardi Gras party for about 20-30 of their friends. Even though we didn’t know any of the guests that were coming and had barely even gotten to know Ron and Stephanie, a party’s a party and we were excited to join in. It ended up being much better than anything we could have expected. All of our hosts’ friends were beyond kind and fun. They are all part of the Burning Man community (as are Ron and Stephanie) and were even more unique, creative, and awesome than we could’ve imagined. Between making meals together and sitting around the fire pit listening to stories, we felt like we truly made some new friends. We wished we could have spent more time with each individual, but we hope there will be more time in the future to become even better friends. We are incredibly grateful that Ron and Stephanie invited us to take part because we definitely had a blast.

The following weekend was more low-key, but still a lot of fun. On Saturday, we spent part of the day with Ron and Mike, one of their close friends. Mike and his girlfriend, Genevieve, live in a neighborhood but have an awesome urban garden in their backyard… chickens included! They also have a short bus! (Who wouldn’t love them after just this information?)  We went with Ron and Mike to check out his garden and bus, as well as pick up a giant wooden box he was giving to Stephanie to use as a raised garden. Mike’s garden still had some vegetables in it, which is something we aren’t used to this time of the year in Virginia. Southern California offers a great climate for growing because it stays pretty warm all year long and they even get some rain (unlike Phoenix). He even had a pretty large compost box filled with tons of composting worms! Our favorite part is that every now and again, he harvests some of the worms and gives them to friends so that they can start their own worm-composting pit. Talk about a good friend… I don’t know how often even my BEST friends could convince me to go digging for worms.
That same afternoon, Mike took us up to really cool trailhead near Lakeside called “El Capitan.” It looks beautiful; I hope we get a chance to take a walk there very soon. After a couple hours of relaxing, Mike and Genevieve came back over and, along with Ron and Steph, made a delicious dinner for all of us. It was a lovely evening. We finished the weekend off with some around-the-house projects, including the making of one very cute Mason jar herb garden! It was another great weekend.
Mike and Genevieve's backyard urban garden.

A couple of backyard hens!

Aside from all the fun we’ve been having in Lakeside, we’ve also ventured out and soaked up the sun in other parts of Southern California. Stephanie works in La Jolla so she has kindly offered to take us there to spend the day while she works. We have, of course, taken her up on this offer a couple of times and will probably go several more as well! La Jolla, for those who don’t know, is a beach town a little bit north of San Diego. It’s filled with fancy boutiques and even fancier houses that are most likely filled with ultra fancy multi-multi-millionaires. We can’t really even be envious, though, because the houses are just gorgeous to look at and the boutiques offer an extraordinarily posh window-shopping experience. Of course, the best part about La Jolla is the beach! The Pacific Ocean looks pretty similar to the Atlantic (for those of you who didn’t know…) but it has beautiful cliff overhangs mixed in with the flat, sandy beaches. The water is still pretty chilly so we didn’t go in, but there were plenty of surfers and other things going on to entertain us on the beach for hours… aside from sunbathing of course. Finally, and best of all, La Jolla is home to a population of seals that just hang out on a certain part of the beach all day. They allow you to walk up pretty close to them which was awesome in its own right, but we were also lucky enough to be there during “pupping” season, which means we got to see little baby seals too! They were so ridiculously cute that we stood there for hours admiring them.
Cute seals playing in the surf!

Daniel and Angie in front of La Jolla beach.

A large number of seals soaking up the sun on the rocks.

Angie with a large starfish on the beach.

Daniel on a cliff overlooking the Pacific.

Momma and her pup sunbathing on the sand.

We have had such an amazing time so far and it seems it will only get better. We plan to spend a day at Balboa Park (museums and the famous San Diego Zoo) as well as go to Orange County (maybe we’ll get a reality show?), LA, and many other cool places. Stay tuned for tales of our adventures!
Palm Tree lined street leading to the beach.

Monday, February 20, 2012

The Power of Sunshine

Solar power is often the first technology that comes to mind when you think of the green movement.  After all, what could be more abundantly renewable than sunshine? When Angie and I first started contemplating how to make this trip sustainable, we knew one of our biggest challenges was going to be equipping the bus with a power source.  “What if we put solar panels on the roof?! The sun shines for free everywhere!” I remember thinking how brilliantly easy the solution appeared, but then I wondered if it were that simple, why weren’t there solar panels on everything? When our trip reached Baton Rouge, Louisiana we were able to ask Jeff Shaw, founder of Gulf South Solar, just that.

“Well the cost has been so high,” Jeff told us, which was no surprise after our own investment in panels to fulfill the bus’s modest needs came with a $900 price tag not including the batteries. But Jeff told us the technology is improving, and with better efficiency comes cheaper prices. “Every year, I’ve been in this for 12-13 years, it’s been more and more power in less space for less dollars. It’s getting to that break-even point where it makes sense financially.”

So what is the break-even point for most Americans? According to the D.O.E. (Department of Energy), “On average, a typical household in the United States uses 920 kWh of electricity per month.” And how much does that add up to? “In 2010, the average retail price for all customer classes remained unchanged at 9.83 cents per kWh” (D.O.E.) That means the average American household pays around $1085 per year in electric bills. Jeff told us the average household systems Gulf South Solar installs are between 5-8kW, “if your not really big energy users, but some of them have big homes … pools and things like that that require a lot of power and then we’ve bumped up to18kW. Our state law limit is 25kWh to grid tie for residence, but we don’t know if we’ll ever hit that. … Rule of thumb on a midsize system is about $6/watt” So your average 5-8kW system would be roughly … $30-$50k?! That would take the average household forever to pay off! 

“Now that’s pre taxes,” Jeff quickly explained, “so now with the tax credits if you get 80% off of that then its only 20% of the $6/watt.” A $6k system would then only take the average household a little over 5 years to pay off, which is a huge difference. Jeff agreed, “Here in Louisiana it use to be about 12-15 [years] and then the tax credit pulled it down.” Even still, Jeff recognizes that for some people a 5 year return on their investment is still a hard sell, especially in this economy. “Americans are real mobile, I notice that a lot. I notice the people that typically buy from us think that there job is going to stick around for 5 years because they bought a system. Most people don’t know if their job is going to be here 2 years from now. Are they going to move around or do something different? So they don’t want to put a big investment in something if they aren’t sure they’re going to get their money back.” All the more reason why states should be pursuing everything they can do to help people feel confident in investing in the energy technology of the future.

Unfortunately not every state is pitching in with the 30% federal tax credit passed under the Energy Policy Act of 2005 (extended until 2016 under the Energy Improvement and Extension Act of 2008). Jeff found the demand in Louisiana for solar power nearly doubled after the state passed its own tax credits. “Before the people who wanted it were people who wanted green, or backup power, Hurricane emergencies that kind of thing. Run their well when the power stops, develop a camp or property that couldn’t have power before. But all the sudden the people that were really worried about the money the payback, people that were worried about the finances of solar all the sudden it became affordable. … When the state kicked in that really did it.”

There are numerous reasons why some states offer tax credits and others don’t or do at a lesser value, but one reason might be because no one has stepped up to get the legislation passed. “At the same time I started the company I wrote a major law to allow us to net meter, which is to sell power back onto the grid. … we became the 34th state that could do it.” Jeff told us. But when it came to getting tax credits passed Jeff had a much harder time, partly because so few people knew about the industry. “No one knew anything about it, I mean it was totally silent,” Jeff said. “It was years later before we found the right legislator that was writing the right law that could get behind it and push through in order to get the tax credits. I had to actually go down and testify. … [but] then the whole industry opened up in Louisiana. It went from 2 of us to 120 people that are listed to do that. So big change over night.”

So if you are on the fence about whether the price is right and if you’ve reached your break-even point, are there benefits to using solar that might tip the scale? For our purposes on the bus it was the best option by a long shot. It meant we could run a mini-fridge 24/7 without having to pay for (and constantly run) a noisy generator or buy additional fuel like propane as many RV fridge units require. All of our power is always on and traveling with us everywhere we go with no maintenance required. And if one day the bus needs to go into retirement, the panels will still have plenty of life left in them. Jeff told us he has 12 year old panels on his house, “and they are still producing, still doing fine. The warranty on those was 20 years and has been extended to 25 years. …In the next 25 years to the 50 year point they are going to slowly drop off maybe a percent a year.” It will take a quarter of a century before those panels will even begin to lose efficiency, and then only a tiny fraction of loss per year. 

When a panel does finally reach the end of useful output they are recycled. “The manufacturers have all formed like a union together to return the modules back to them where they recycle them just like you would recycle glass bottles. These things are [of] a majority aluminum frame, glass, and then the cells in-between so they are highly recyclable.” Jeff explained. He then went on to say that even the batteries included in the solar power systems are recyclable. This fact was unexpected since we had often heard that batteries were terrible to use because they would just destroy the environment as they sat in landfills. According to Jeff, though, “Batteries are even more recyclable than solar because they can take everything in a battery and reuse them again. … They take the acid out and re-strengthen it, they take all the lead out and reuse it, the plastic shell… They reuse everything in there and then they build more batteries.” Solar technology not only lasts but also is environmentally friendly through and through. Furthermore, it is one of the few products that is still heavily manufactured in the United States, making it not only great for the environment but for the economy as well. Jeff said Gulf South Solar does a great deal of research into the manufacturing companies before investing in any product and they use both solar and battery manufacturers that are here in the US.

Another benefit that solar energy can bring to a community is relieving demand on utility power plants especially during critical ‘peak’ times when consumption rates are highest. “What happens is when solar is producing the most power in Louisiana is when it’s the hottest, the summer, the afternoon when typically the AC loads are very high. In our state, [and] in other states too, what they have to do is buy power or fire up less efficient plants to try to catch that peak. So what we do is sell solar as a peak shaver.” Jeff said. This is possible through special hybrid systems, like those that Gulf South Solar install, that allow individuals to sell excess power back onto the grid instead of storing it in battery banks. Not every state allows this process of ‘net metering’ but where it does exist, solar power systems are able to provide support to existing power utilities.

Solar power makes so much sense. As a power source it is completely renewable. The equipment materials are long lasting and completely recyclable, making the technology environmentally friendly through and through. It is an industry that is already growing here in America and can provide jobs in both manufacturing and research as we develop more and more efficient panels. Thanks to individuals like Jeff Shaw, solar power is becoming a common place energy alternative in many areas. Support solar technology and ask your state representative, “Why aren’t there solar panels on everything?”

Article by: Daniel Johnson

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Crossing into California

Late on the evening of February 14th, after a long day of driving through extreme terrains such as deserts and snowy mountain passes, we finally reached the halfway point in our journey: San Diego, CA. It was a happy and fitting end to St. Valentine’s Day. According to our “plan,” we should have arrived here over a week ago but at this point in our journey, we know that not many things go as planned. In fact, we are sort of getting used to living that way. We ended up having to remain in the Phoenix area longer than expected because of costly and time consuming mechanical problems. Everything seems to work out, though, because we got to have a lot more fun with our Arizona friends. Our host couple here in California seems to be just as awesome and we are looking forward to countless good times here as well.
Our mechanical problems began over a week ago on the day that we were first going to leave for California. Daniel noticed that the bus was lurching whenever it switched gears as he was speeding up. It was also making a weird “clank” noise when it switched from drive to overdrive. We knew we were going to have to cross some extreme terrain and that the bus, even in prime condition, would have a difficult time crossing the mountain ranges. We decided that we would bring her in to get checked out, even though it meant putting us back a week in our schedule. Big Easy spent two nerve-wracking days in the shop before we even heard what was wrong and then, when we got the news, we almost wished they hadn’t told us. She either needed a completely rebuilt transmission that would run us close to $3000 or to be scrapped. Daniel and I talked it over before we made our decision. It was definitely a lot of money to spend but if we didn’t, it would mean our journey with Big Easy would be over. We would have to rent a moving truck for several days to get our stuff back to Virginia and then spend a great deal of money in gas to drive back across the country. Worst of all, Big Easy would be gone and all of the love and work we put into her would be lost as well. Obviously, we decided to swallow the cost and continue on our trip. We know that we made the right decision because we get to continue with our awesome journey and now we feel even more confident that Big Easy will stick around for years to come and be our companion on many more (slightly smaller) expeditions.
We finally got the bus back this past Thursday and decided that we would spend our last night doing something fun. So, on Friday afternoon, Daniel, our new friend Trenton and I packed up our camping gear, piled into the bus and headed towards the Superstition Mountains. We planned to hike down the Peralta trail and camp overnight in Geronimo’s cave. Frustratingly, we drove about 20 miles down the road and realized that the bus was overheating. It sounded to us like it wasn’t switching gears as we sped up, but we didn’t know for sure. It hadn’t been doing that before we brought it in for the transmission repair, so we hoped that it was something the mechanics had accidentally done and could be fixed quickly and for free. We were already running out of daylight though so we decided to just take it slow, get to the trailhead and worry about the bus on Saturday. We eventually made it to the trail and had a beautiful three-mile hike. We spent two hours climbing up through a mountain range and I definitely had a few of those “go on without me” moments (and I wasn’t even carrying the heavy packs!) but it was worth every heart-pounding step. We ended up in the saddle of the mountains (the part where they come together and form a ‘U’ shape) overlooking an amazing rock formation called Weaver’s Needle. We never ended up finding Geronimo’s cave before we ran out of sunlight so we camped in front of a smaller but perfectly comfortable cave. We even ran into some other hikers and shared s’mores and stories. It was a completely different experience than camping in Virginia where you’re covered in trees. In Arizona’s desert, camping without a tent is gorgeous. The moon was incredibly bright and all of the rock formations looked even more amazing outlined by the stars. It was an incredible experience and I’m so glad we got to share it with Trenton and the other hikers we came across.
Angie standing in front of the Weaver's Needle rock formation.

Daniel and Trenton on Peralta Trail.

Making s'mores in front of our cave with new friends.

The next day when we returned from the hike it was back to more bus troubles. Big Easy had not magically fixed herself overnight so we had to call the mechanic shop. Unfortunately, they couldn’t get us in until Monday, which meant that we would be delaying our departure again. We spent the rest of the weekend relaxing and hoping for the best.
Monday morning found us bright and early at the mechanic shop. We waited for about four hours while they searched for the problem that could be causing the bus to overheat. It turned out that we aren’t getting full use out of our throttle cable. In fact, we are only getting about 60% of the power that Big Easy’s engine has the potential to produce. This normally isn’t really a problem and can actually give you better gas mileage if you don’t use full power, but the mechanic didn’t know that in advance. He had set the throttle sensor on the new transmission to work at 100% power and since our throttle cable didn’t go that far, the engine was basically shutting down and over-heating so there wouldn’t be any more damage done. Big Easy is a pretty smart bus after all! In the end, it was an easy fix for the mechanic once he figured out what was wrong and, best of all, it was free of charge! We think that Big Easy might have an easier time pulling the trailer up mountains if we were to get a new throttle cable that could go up to 100% power, but since it isn’t really that big of deal, we think we will just wait on that one.

With Big Easy fixed and ready to go, it was time for us to say goodbye to our Arizona friends and make the long trip to Califorina. We started out early Tuesday morning and drove all day through the ever-changing terrain. We drove through miles of desert and I half expected to see a camel walking over the dunes! Then, we drove straight from the desert up into a long mountain range that was quite cold and windy. There was even snow on the ground towards the top. It was really interesting to drive through a desert and snow all in one day! We also drove through three border patrols on our way to San Diego. The first two just waved us through but the last one wanted to take a look inside our bus and even brought the drug-sniffing dogs into it. Perhaps having Captain Planet on the side of our bus makes us suspicious? They seemed a bit disappointed that they didn’t find anything and waved us away without even a goodbye. It must have been a boring day for them. Finally, after what seemed like an endless mountain range, we made it to our home for the next month located in Lakeside, CA! It’s a beautiful place and our host couple, Ron and Stephanie, are incredibly nice and hospitable. We think that we are going to have a lot of fun here and we can’t wait to get some exploring done in San Diego, especially the beach!
California desert sand dunes with Angie in the distance.

Daniel standing in the California desert.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Making Memories in Mesa

Happy February everyone! We can’t believe it has been four months since we left Richmond! Time flies when you’re traveling around the country in a short bus! We are sorry for the delay in updates, we’ve stayed pretty busy over the past two weeks, between work and play! The weekend of the 21st, Daniels dad flew in from a business trip in California to hang out with us here in Arizona! This past weekend we celebrated Daniel’s 25th birthday with our friends here in Mesa. All of the days in between have mostly been filled with side work (yay!). We are heading to California this weekend so if we have as much fun as we’ve been having here, it should be a fantastic experience.

We were so excited to see Daniel’s dad, Steve, when he visited; it seemed like forever since we last saw him in Baton Rouge. He was interested in going to see the famous rock formations in Sedona, about halfway between Phoenix and the Grand Canyon, so we spent all day Saturday doing just that. It was a bit drizzly, but that didn’t stop us from meandering up Bell Rock, a place known for its mystical “vortex” (Darn, I forgot to wear my crystals!). Daniel climbed up even further than Steve and I, just to show off. A park volunteer had told us that just that morning, a person had climbed to the very top but couldn’t get back down and had to be rescued by helicopter. I think Daniel was trying to out-do that fellow. Luckily, he made it back down perfectly safe. Next, we drove further into the rock formations on the hunt for Snoopy Rock. It is supposed to look like Snoopy lying down his doghouse. Unfortunately for us, we found two different formations that matched that description. We weren’t really sure which one was the real Snoopy, but we felt satisfied in knowing that we could at least claim to having seen it… even if we weren’t sure which one it was! We also walked down a trail that led us to a giant sink hole. We would have never known it was there until we saw a little trail sign pointing to it! It's amazing the things you will discover when wandering through Arizona. Aside from the awesome rock formations, Sedona is home to some fantastic art galleries and mystical stores. We explored one very large gallery that had everything from a $500,000 dollar eagle statue to pretty turquoise jewelry. Daniel and I didn’t end up acquiring any masterpieces, although I was quite enamored by that eagle…
We spent the last day of Steve’s visit just spending time with him at Daniel’s step-uncle’s house. It was a nice, relaxing day to finish off his visit. We are so happy that he stopped by!

Walking up to the Bell Rock formation.

Daniel and his dad in front of Bell Rock.

Angie overlooking the giant sinkhole.

Angie looking out over the rock formations.

Snoopy Rock! ... we think!

The following week was mainly filled with work. Between housework for our host, commissioned paintings, and a writing contest that I entered, we didn’t have much spare time. We definitely aren’t complaining though, we will take as much side work as we can get in order to keep this trip going! Luckily, Daniel’s step-uncle came to the rescue and added something more interesting to the week. He works for a company, Stara Technologies, that has a branch of solar research. Essentially, they win contracts from entities like the military that are looking for more efficient ways to produce power. The military, for example, uses a lot of expensive fuel to power generators that, in turn, run things like showers. Stara said, “hey, we can make you a shower that runs off of solar panels” and the military was super interested. Who wouldn’t be when solar can save you millions of dollars? We got to check out some of Stara’s solar research, including the shower, and were really impressed. They also have a power station that we got to see. It’s basically an office inside of a trailer unit that runs completely off of solar power. The really cool thing about it was that they were tracking how much power was coming in at any moment. We have seen a lot of solar products so far on our journey, in the form of solar panels on houses or solar charging stations for your gadgets, but we have never seen a place where solar technology is actually developed. It was a really cool experience.
Solar Power Shower.

Solar Station.

Last Friday was Daniel’s birthday and we turned the whole weekend into a celebration! He spent the day painting Captain Planet on the bus and then we hung out with our new Mesa friends that evening and went to play pool. We also had a cookout that weekend and had some target practice with paintball guns (you can call me Angie Oakley because, yes, I am that good). It was an incredibly entertaining weekend and I hope that Daniel’s 25th birthday was one that he will always remember.
Captain Planet, the newest addition to the bus mural.

This week has been filled with even more work so far. Daniel painted a logo on the side of a really long trailer for a glass company and refinished another that they already had but was fading. Luckily, it seems that our work is over as far as Mesa is concerned and we can enjoy our last few days here enjoying the gorgeous weather. This weekend it is on to San Diego, CA so wish us luck crossing over the mountains!
Daniel working on a logo for The Glass Shop with Big Easy parked out front.

Mesa, AZ sunset.