Van Modifications

First off, with this post we hit the 100 blog post mark. While our pace of travel has changed since we started this blog, our site statistics still say people are reading and watching our blog, so we plan to continue posting, especially as we head overseas in the coming year.

Now, on to our subject for this post, our van and what we have done to it since we got it! We have been really enjoying our Ford Transit, but we couldn’t help tweaking it to suit us just a little bit better.

Within just a few days of buying the van we installed a dash camera, ham radio transceiver, and 500-watt power inverter. All of these were in our former van, a Toyota Sienna, and were easy additions with a little bit of power wiring. It stands to reason why Heather just stood and shook her head as I pulled up floor panels and drilled holes in a van that we (according to the DMV) didn’t even fully own yet. We also noticed that there was no place to hang garments in the van, so two grab handles were added to the rear ceiling just in front of the rear doors that double as locations from which to hang hangers.

ENTRY STEP

If one looks at the picture from our post announcing the van purchase one would notice there is no step on the side. This did not make it impossible to get in or out of the van, but it made for a large first step to get in, especially for small children. This too was an easy fix because we were able to find an original equipment step on eBay. Better yet, the van frame already had the threaded mounting holes, so with just a few bolts the step was ready for use.

POWER OUTLETS

Heather and the kids enjoy playing MineCraft with family in Ohio. However, our satellite internet connection causes issues while playing the game together over the internet. To combat this they have been taking the van to a parking lot in town and using the cellular hotspot on our cell phone to play instead. Yes, the cell phone data speeds are less latent than our satellite connection at the RV. To power the laptops for hours of gaming they use a gasoline generator and and extension cord run through a door to a power strip. To streamline the process and reduce the stress on the electric cord being repeatedly being slammed in a door, a shore power connection was mounted in the rear bumper and wiring run to a total of 6 120-volt outlets mounted in the side wall of the van interior. These outlets are only active when plugged into a generator or shore power, but that is ok as we also have the inverter if needed for small 120-volt needs while driving. This setup can be used in-motion by ratchet-strapping the generator to the utility tray that mounts to the rear of the van via the 2″ trailer hitch.

SLEEPING ARRANGEMENTS

Heather wanted to use the van for some longer road trips instead of always bringing the full RV with us. For this Heather planned, designed, and installed a bed and hammock system all by herself while I was gone on deployment. I have to say, I was pretty impressed when I saw it. The bed platform is made entirely of plywood and allows all 10 rear seats to be installed. There is a bit of an overhang, so the rear 4 seats should be used by shorter passengers, however if the front two slats are removed from the platform a full-sized adult can sit comfortably in the rear seats. The entire bed platform is designed to be easily installed or removed with no tools, including screw drivers. It is put together a bit like a puzzle only with labels. This same tight fitting puzzle is what keeps it from shifting out of its spot on long drives. The side supports can come out as whole pieces and no further disassembly is required.

For the hanging hammocks, Heather removed the interior ceiling panels and bolted Uni-strut to the existing roof cross-members creating a grid framework to hold the weight of the hammocks and occupants. From there she poked eye bolts through the interior panels and (once the panels were reinstalled) the bolts threaded into captive nuts in the Uni-strut track. From these eye bolts she hung homemade hammocks made from PVC pipe and rip-stop nylon, which she sewed herself. She hung these hammocks with nylon webbing and properly-rated carabiners.

The hammocks can be removed and stored on the rear bed platform or strapped to the ceiling above our heads, however this option does obstruct some ceiling lights. For those that notice the white mesh item on the back middle seat, that is Chipmonk’s crib with mesh sides so he doesn’t crawl all around the van before he goes to sleep. It too can be broken down flat for storage.

VENTILATION

One drawback of the Transit van is the lack of natural ventilation. You see, only the two front door windows open. That leaves the other 10 seats in the van with only ventilation from the heating and air conditioning vents. This meant that we were running the fan just to have some airflow and not because we needed heat or cooling. To remedy this we installed a 14″ vent fan in the rear roof of the van. This allows hot air to escape out the top and draw fresh air into the van through the front windows. We have a similar vent fan installed in our RV bathroom, but the MaxxAir MaxxFan is built to handle the wind forces of driving and protect against surprise rain showers without the addition of an extra cover. The fan has 10 speeds and an automatic mode that, when activated, will automatically turn the fan on when the temperature in the van reaches 78 degrees. As the temperature continues to rise, the fan will increase in speed through its 10 speeds as needed. When the temperature falls below 78 degrees, the fan turns itself off. After a hot sunny day at the beach parking lot I can tell you the automatic feature is awesome!!! Instead of opening the door to a blast of hot air upon returning to the van, we actually found the van interior to feel cooler than the exterior air temperature. One final note is that the fan took some of the ceiling space that the cargo area ceiling light formerly occupied. The removal of this light left the cargo area a bit darker than I wanted, so two ceiling LED lights were added, one on each side of the fan to provide ample light to the cargo area (not in this picture).

EXTRA POWER

The next question was how to keep our roof vent fan spinning all day while ensuring the van would start the next time we wanted to drive it. The solution was two-fold. First, the starter battery under the driver seat was scooted to one side to allow the addition of a second (29-series marine deep cycle) battery under the seat. Special care was required to ensure the battery vent still poked through the floor to vent the battery underneath the van. The deep cycle battery was then attached to the vent fan as well as a few cigarette lighter sockets and anderson power poles for powering auxiliary devices. The second part of this was to ensure the battery would be able to be recharged. For this we added a 160-watt solar panel to the roof of the van and mounted a solar charge controller above the driver seat on the wall.

Wiring was threaded from the roof to the controller and down the wall behind plastic panels to the battery located under the driver seat. While solar will be the primary method of recharging, periods of shade and high device use may result in a need to use an additional charging method. To address this, we added a plug-in charger that uses one outlet on the van wall, so when shore power is connected to the rear bumper it charges the deep cycle battery. This dual-charging setup will allow us to utilize the sun when possible and have a backup charging plan when there is less sun available.

Covid-19 Deployment

By: Kevin

The last week of March 2020 was the beginning of a new era for many Americans as they went into lock-down mode as businesses closed and travel became restricted throughout the United States due to the outbreak of Covid-19. However, for me and about 500 of my peers, a new journey was just beginning. I had been called upon to serve aboard the USNS Mercy, a huge white floating hospital ship operated by the U. S. Navy. I was asked to prepare for deployment in about 3 days while businesses and even travel around the city of San Diego was being halted. That added an extra degree of difficulty as I prepared due to stores being closed that I wanted items from! We were able to find some work-arounds such as doing curbside pickup of boot socks from Dick’s Sporting Goods, where you drive up after ordering online, roll down the window, and they pitch your purchases to you through the open window from a “safe distance”. Talk about abnormal shopping!

Well, I was able to get everything I needed in those few short days of scrambling around, jammed all of it into a seabag, a backpack, and a garment bag, and boarded the huge white ship which pulled out of port heading North, but with no official destination. It was determined a few days later that we would be heading to Los Angeles to help ease the load of local hospitals by taking non-Covid patients and caring for them aboard the ship. This was done because infection control is hard to battle onboard a ship in normal times, let alone with a tenacious virus like Covid-19 of concern.

Ship life was not too bad once one figured out how to navigate around the ship. Due to the large number of officers onboard the vessel I spent part of my time sleeping in an enlisted rack and part of the time in an Officer Stateroom. I will have to say I preferred the spacious Stateroom, but the enlisted rack was tolerable. I found the rocking of the ship at sea soothing as I was rocked to sleep at night, and it only took me about a day to get used to walking down a passageway while compensating for the shifting deck. Once we arrived in Los Angeles harbor the rocking of the ship stopped and we only noticed the tide when comparing our height to the cruise ship terminal at which we were docked.

There were other perks of being an officer onboard such as having a separate (shorter) line for food from the enlisted and we ate in the Wardroom instead of the common galley. However, due to social distancing requirements both officers and enlisted were detoured to the flight deck to eat under a large white tent when the galley and Wardroom were too full.

After 6 weeks aboard the USNS Mercy, while most of my peers were preparing to head home, I was re-tasked to a land-based mission in the Los Angeles area aiding local nursing homes who had requested assistance and had been identified by the state as being in distress. I was honored to be named the Officer in Charge of this mission, reporting directly to the Fleet instead of the USNS Mercy. Multiple small Medical Strike Teams were formed and we headed out to various nursing homes to assess, provide staffing, and teach infection prevention and control measures to mitigate Covid-19 transmission. We obtained vans and they were loaded down with personal protective equipment for each Strike Team. If there is one thing the military is good at, it is providing needed gear for its personnel.

For this phase of the mission we were based out of a hotel, as the USNS Mercy had pulled out of Los Angeles Harbor and was headed back to San Diego. After 4 weeks of assisting over 500 nursing home patients, the military made the decision we were no longer needed and we handed off our mission to the National Guard (a state asset) and the California Medical Assistance Team for continued work. While I have really enjoyed the 70 day mission and the experiences I have taken part in and learned from, I will be happy to return to the Navy Hospital and see my teammates of the Emergency Department again.

New wheels…again

By: Kevin

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When we moved to San Diego, we never intended to change vehicles. We had a truck, van, and motorcycle that served their purpose and we enjoyed them. As one can read in a prior post on our site, we have already upgraded our van since we arrived in San Diego. Then I was on my way home from a training class on a freeway fly-over ramp when the SUV in front of me decided to brake harder than necessary. Due to being in a full-bank turn my motorcycle was hard to bring to a stop and I ended up skidding into the back of the SUV. I came off the bike and rolled past the side of the SUV before coming to a stop against the concrete barrier wall. Other than sore hands I had no other injuries. It certainly could have been much worse! The accident only left a scratch on the SUV (which the owner was not concerned about) but bent my handlebars and front forks. The insurance company inspected the bike and totaled it in a matter of minutes. It was mid-December so we decided to wait a bit for the weather to warm back up before seeking out a second bike. Well, San Diego weather is fairly mild, and by mid-February I was back on two wheels. My former bike was a 2005 Honda Shadow 750cc cruiser. I enjoyed it and put 41,000 miles on it since I purchased it brand new. Now that I had been riding for multiple years I was interested in a bike with a few more creature comforts. After test-riding it, I purchased a 2011 Kawasaki Concours 1400cc sport touring bike. After my crash some advised me to give up motorcycles entirely for safety reasons, but instead I more than doubled the engine size and top speed of my old bike. You can tell I listened very well, LOL.
The new bike has many creature comforts and upgrades compared to the Honda. It has ABS linked braking, a motorized push-button adjustable windshield, heated hand grips, a throttle lock, keyless ignition, locking hard saddle bags, full cowling, a digital dash, tire pressure monitoring, and LED lamps to name a few things I did not have on the Honda. I am very happy with it, and the ride is great. For anyone who cares, it also cost me half of what my Honda did, although the Honda was purchased brand new and the Kawasaki was purchased used with 13,000 miles on it.

Note: Since purchasing the bike all the Coast Guard stickers have been removed 🙂

Starting College Degree #3

Upon completing my Associates of Nursing I kind of knew at some point I would need to return to school for a Bachelors of Science of Nursing. I took a year off and then started back to school to obtain my BSN. In the middle of my degree program we launched on our Full-time RV adventures with travel nursing. Much time was spent at the homemade desk that was fashioned in our bedroom of the RV working on school assignments. I completed my BSN capstone project in Daytona Beach at the hospital where I was a contracted travel RN. The administrators were blown away that I was doing a capstone project in their hospital but was not even an employee. They offered me permanent employment multiple times over my remaining contracted time there. At the completion of my BSN I figured I was done with school. I was a well-educated bedside RN with no aspirations to become an advance-practice nurse.

Well, let me tell you, things change…..

After joining the US Navy I learned that while it is a number of years off, if I desire to obtain the rank of O-5 or above, I will need to have a Masters Degree. Add to this that the Navy offers tuition assistance (TA) to those taking classes, and the thought and cost of a Masters Degree became very attainable. I researched schools and started the process. I was once again back in school. Of course, anyone who knows the military knows that EVERYTHING is subject to change. Part way through my degree plan I learned that I was temporarily not eligible for tuition assistance because of a rule change made at the national level. This meant that at least one class would have to be paid for out of pocket instead of receiving tuition assistance. Heather and I decided that while this would be a minor inconvenience, the military tuition rate was still pretty darn good and that I would continue working on my degree until I became eligible once again for TA. After a single class being paid for out of pocket I fell back within the criteria for TA and I happily accepted additional money for school. My degree was then once again put on hold due to deploying on the USNS Mercy, one of two Navy hospital ships. Upon returning from my deployment I will restart my courses and with any luck I will complete my Masters Degree at my next duty station.

I guess it just stands to reason that wherever I start my degree is not necessarily where I will complete it. My BSN was completed over three geographic living locations, and my MSN will be completed over at least 3 geographic living locations as well, more if you count each campground separately.

Temporary Duty in Florida

By: Kevin

IMG_9215Upon returning from our Ohio trip, I was fully anticipating to settle back into my work schedule at the hospital. However, the Navy had different plans. I worked a whole two shifts before I was placed on administrative hours so I could prepare for departure again.

It turns out I had been selected to be an instructor for Navy Corpsmen who were preparing to go to an operational job with a ship, the US Marines, or other forward-deployed medical facilities that would be dealing with trauma patients. I would be helping to train the Corpsmen of the future.

So what did this mean for me? Well, for starters, I would be living in a hotel for 8 weeks. This in itself was an interesting experience. I was given a daily allowance for food and incidentals. I could eat out all three meals a day for the entire trip. However, my waistline would have doubled if I had done that, so I opted to eat out some and make food in my hotel room part of the time. Now, cooking in a hotel room which only has a microwave and mini-fridge was a bit of a challenge. I could not get food that needed to stay frozen (no freezer, just a fridge), nothing that required a pan to cook, and nothing to go in the oven. I looked into a meal-prep service, but many of them required at least some stove-top prep, and the ones that were fully prepared were delivered once a week. That means I would have to play Tetris with a week’s worth of food in the mini-fridge. Instead, I simply went to the commissary/grocery store and cruised the aisles for food I could easily store and prep.

The training included classroom and skills practice, followed by 5 weeks in a local Level-1 trauma center to care for actual trauma patients. The Corpsmen who were selected for this training had not been involved in patient care for the past few years, so a good dust-off of skills was needed, but they were eager to learn and the classroom portion went well. Next the Corpsmen actually performed direct patient care at a local Level 1 trauma center which opened their eyes to patients they may actually encounter. They started IVs, dressed wounds, inserted Foleys, and help set broken bones among other tasks. Everyone agreed that the training was invaluable to them at the conclusion of the course. It is my understanding that the program is intended to be expanded around the US over the coming years to benefit even more Navy Corpsmen.

Of course I didn’t pass up the opportunity to enjoy Florida on my days off. I visited Daytona Beach and the Ponce Inlet lighthouse, toured the St. Augustine distillery and the Angell & Phelps chocolate factory, as well as various restaurants around Jacksonville. I spent a decent amount of time soaking in the Atlantic, which is considerably warmer than the Pacific at San Diego. I met up with a retired Navy officer and her husband to check out the Central Florida Zoo followed by lunch.

The instructor assignment was considered unaccompanied and I flew to Florida by myself. However, Heather being the strong independent person that she is, decided that if I wasn’t in San Diego then she did not need to be either. With 4 kids and a dog jammed into the cab of my truck she hitched up the fifth wheel RV and towed it from California to Ohio to visit her family (who we just got done visiting about a week prior). She spent a few weeks there before hitching up again and driving to Jacksonville, FL to visit me as well. After a few weeks in Florida she hitched up once more to start the journey back to California so she would beat me back to San Diego as I flew back at the completion of the course. All in all it was a great experience and would do it again if given the opportunity to teach the course to future classes.

Road-trip back to Ohio

By: Kevin

DSC_0357aWhen Chipmunk was born the US Navy awarded me with 14 days of free leave. However, with Heather’s mom in town and the support of our church, I did not feel the need to take leave immediately after Chipmunk’s birth. We had meals being delivered to us and an extra set of hands to care for the other kids. Instead, I decided to save my leave and use it for a trip back to visit friends and family in Ohio after Chipmunk was old enough to really travel.

We decided to make the trip in June, so the weather would be nice during our visit. This would make Chipmunk 4 months old. While he would still need stops to eat and have his diaper changed, this would be much easier than when he was younger.

We packed the van and were ready to go the night before leaving, which we did for a number of reasons. One of these reasons was that I worked the night before we left. Luckily for me, the flow of patients was not horrible and I was able to head home early, which allowed us to pull out of the campground right at 2:00 am Sunday morning instead of around 7:00 am if I had worked my entire shift. We were officially in for the long haul! The kids were excited to be on the road and were very energetic, but after we made it out onto the freeway they all went back to sleep until after daybreak. It was a little over 2,200 miles from California to Ohio. We were prepared with snacks, activities, and 5 gallons of drinking water.

We settled into a routine when we would make stops along the way. I would fill the van with fuel and wash the bug cemetery off the windshield. Heather would tend to Chipmunk. Pie would help with Miss Kicky Feet, and Bug would potty the dog and refill Dixie’s water bowl. This kept our stops short as possible to reduce any unnecessary additional time being added to the trip. Our system must have worked, as we pulled into the driveway in Ohio at 5:30pm Monday. When you account for the 3-hour time zone difference, this put us right about 36 hours for the whole trip including stops.

We were asked by some why we didn’t fly to Ohio. The first was simply cost. We would have needed 5 round-trip tickets, and once we arrived we would not have a vehicle, so we would most likely need a rental car. Comparing this cost to the fuel expense to drive the van to Ohio and back, the choice was clear. We also were planning (and did) bring back a 30-gallon cooler of frozen beef. I don’t think the airlines could have accommodated that.

The next two weeks seemed to fly by as we relaxed, visited with family and special friends, and enjoyed watching our kids play with their cousins. Each of Heather’s sisters had given birth to a new baby that we had not actually met yet, so it was nice to seeing the babies in person instead of just pictures. Additionally, none of the extended family had ever met Chipmunk either, so all three new babies got passed around quite a bit.

While I have been away from the Fire Department for a few years now, our visit to Ohio coincided with Chief Henry’s retirement from STFD, the second department I was on while in Ohio. It was great to see my coworkers again and catch up with what was going on around the department. I am very happy with my current occupation and location, however I am truly thankful for the time I got to spend on the department.

Since I was thinking about the Fire Department I opted to make a visit to the Mansfield Fire Museum, a small museum that I had heard about but had not made it a point to visit while actually living in Ohio. Miss Kicky Feet came along with me and she enjoyed seeing all the retired trucks and equipment. She even got to try on some junior-sized fire gear.

I think we each gained about 10 pounds while we were in Ohio thanks to “Grandma cooking”. Make no mistake, the feasting was glorious! It was like a full-fledged family reunion at each night’s dinner. I even got to enjoy my favorite homemade pie, Apple Rhubarb.

I was promised by Heather’s mom that during this trip I would not have to take on any home improvement projects like the prior visit when I ripped up and re-tiled the bathroom floor. While she did not ask me to do any projects, I did do a few little jobs like moving the Wifi router, changing the bathtub spigot, chainsawing 2 trees, and adding a vent valve under the kitchen sink to name a few. I also hopped on the zero-turn lawnmower, although I’m not sure if that really qualifies as work or play. For reference, it had been 5 years since I last mowed a yard.

Once our two weeks had come to an end, we loaded up the van and headed back West. This time the anticipation and excitement were not the same, and we knew exactly what we were in for over the next 36 hours. That made the return trip seem longer than the trip heading East. We also started out first thing in the morning, which means the kids did not sleep the first few hours like on the way to Ohio. Regardless, we made good time and pulled back into the California campground around dinner time the next day, approximately 36 hours after leaving Ohio.

It was great to see our family and some special friends during this trip. As we pulled out, we were not sure when the next time we would be back in Ohio so the hugs were long and there were even a few tears shed.

Introducing Chipmunk

By: Heather

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It is funny how radically different every child can be. This is my 4th child and not with any of my other 3 did I experience “Braxton Hicks” contractions. I had no idea what those felt like. All of my previous contractions led to birth within a relatively short period.

My due date was February 11th. Pie was born 8 days after her due date and Bug and little Miss Kicky Feet were born pretty much on their due dates. My mom was worried that she would miss the birth because she was flying in on the 8th. When the 8th rolled around I was a bit surprised to be in labor! We were out running around getting things done and I was having contractions for 2 hours straight that were 3 minutes apart, though they were not very intense. That should have been my sign, I guess. We thought maybe Mom would have to get an Uber from the airport or something, but once we got home from running around I relaxed a bit and the contractions just melted away like they had never come. huh. I continued to have these light contractions on and off for the next 7 days. On my due date we went out to the beach and took some pictures but there were no signs of any real labor. On Valentine’s day the weather was yucky and rainy so we went to a mall to walk around. I was trying to walk this baby out (and had been for days and days) but he still did not seem interested and I was exhausted and horribly uncomfortable and just wanted a nap. That evening we left the kids with my mom and Kevin and I went on a walk all by ourselves. We were staying at a campground on the San Diego Bay and it was beautiful. We walked outside in the dark hearing the soft sound of the waves lapping against the beach and looking out over the Bay which reflects the lights from the city and the Coronado Bay Bridge. It was wonderful and peaceful though still uncomfortable. Shortly afterward I carefully collapsed into my bed. I slept hard.

 

I was awakened a few times somewhere around 1:30am. I wasn’t sure why I was awake but then realized I had had a contraction that had woken me up. Nothing new but when the next one came I timed it. 7 minutes apart. But the next one was 3 1/2 minutes and then 2 minutes. After that they were all coming about 2 minutes apart and were pretty intense. I don’t think I was even fully awake yet and was spending a lot of time in the bathroom with my digestive system expelling everything that had not yet been fully digested. yum. My mom had not fallen asleep yet and heard me up and decided to put her bed away in preparation. I remember the dog bed being in my way and moving it out of its normal place at the bottom of my bed and putting the dog in her crate. Around 2:30am I awoke Kevin and we called the midwife. By this time I don’t remember much except trying to ride the waves of contractions. Kevin and Mom were getting things set up, getting a table to put supplies on, and getting the supplies down out of the loft. Somewhere in there little Miss Kicky Feet woke up to use the potty. Surprisingly, she let my mom take her and did not even ask about what I was doing and went right back to sleep. This labor was fast and intense! I labored standing at the end of my bed with my elbows and head on the end of the bed. I remember one point I was thinking that either this was the worst labor ever or I was already in transition (I was in transition). I was alone in the RV just then with my 3 sleeping children. Apparently Kevin and Mom were outside watching the Navy Seals training out on the Bay. I was getting a little bit worried because I was starting to feel like I needed to push and there was literally no one else around. I really was not very interested in delivering all by myself. Thankfully, just then Kevin and Mom came in and brought the midwife with them. Whew! After that contraction ended I stuck my head out the door and informed everyone that I was really feeling like I needed to push.

I would call him Little Chipmunk but there is really pretty much nothing little about him. This guy is big and adorable and sweet and LOUD.

 

Kevin:

On the midwife’s arrival she started going through the box of supplies and arranging them on the table. She said she would check Heather shortly and see what kind of timeline we were anticipating.

After Heather stuck her head out and barked at us the midwife sprang into action. She and I were ready to accept the baby and were sitting on the floor under Heather. Chipmunk’s head came along as expected, but after the head finished I was fully expecting for the rest of him to follow as in previous deliveries. It didn’t. The head was fully out and he had stopped. The midwife took over and flipped Heather up onto the bed and told her we needed to get baby out right now. She was able to maneuver Chipmunk’s shoulders around the pelvic bones and successfully delivered the rest of his chunky body. No broken or dislocated bones for the win! From the time the midwife walked in the door to the time of delivery was under 10 minutes. Heather did not waste any time.

Chipmunk is our largest child at time of birth weighing in at 9 lb 4 oz.  He is now 2.5 months and has not missed a single meal..in fact, he probably had a few extra. At 7 weeks old he weighed 15 lb 1 oz !!

Monserate Mountain Hike

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By: Kevin

The staff of our emergency department at the hospital not only enjoy working with each other, but also hanging out together outside of work as well. On this day we all met up at the trailhead of Monserate Mountain for a group hike. The trail was great. Even though it had rained within the past few days, little mud remained on the trail.

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The ascent was quick but tolerable and we summited 1200 ft above our vehicles within less than 2 miles. One of the guys brought his drone and got some awesome aerial photography of the hike and mountain.

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I asked my coworkers if I could bring the kids along, and while they agreed I think they expected the kids to be bringing up the rear of the group. Wrong! Bug was out in front leading the charge. In fact, one of my coworkers commented about Bug literally running the trail even after we summited and were headed back down. Both Pie and Bug got turns flying the drone which they both thought was awesome! Of course as soon as we got back in the car they both wanted to know if we could get a drone like the one they flew. I did look at the drone online, but with a price tag of around $800, it will not be a purchase we will be making this month…or probably next month either.

Miss Kicky Feet made the trip too, although she was in the backpack on my back. She would have liked to walk more than she was allowed to, but that surely would have slowed down the group a good bit. I let her out to run around at the summit before loading her back in the pack for the trip back down. I have to say, I LOVE the Osprey pack! It makes all the difference for distance hikes with a toddler on your back.

All in all the trip went pretty well without even a scraped knee. The only casualty of the trip was a pair of boots that didn’t make it the distance. The wearer did make it all the way up and down the mountain before deciding to retire the boots and make plans to buy new ones. I do have to admit watching him hike the mountain without soles on his boots was rather entertaining.

Following the hike we all met up at one of the attendee’s house to have a grill-out and relaxing hangout. I mean, we had to replace those calories we burned off, right?

New Wheels

By: Heather

We bought a thing! A new to us 12-passenger Ford Transit! It is disappointingly white but spending thousands of dollars to paint it iridescent orange was not exactly in the budget.

So backstory: In 2014, shortly after we started our full-time RV journey, we bought a van. It was a 2004 Toyota Sienna that had been sold at auction and fixed up by a student trying to pay his way through college. We paid $5,000 for that little van and it was money well spent. That thing traveled all over the country and often pulled our box trailer as well. I was spoiled with that van. It had heated leather seats and automatic doors and the back seats folded flat into the floor, I mean, what else could a girl ask for?

Well eventually it did get old. 265,000 miles and 15 years old plus 10 of those years had been spent in Ohio with winters full of salty roads. A recent repair shop in California said there was so much rust on it that many of the parts they were trying to remove were fused together to other parts. Plus, now as a family of 6 we only had one extra seat and we often wanted to haul more than one extra person. Several times I (being the smallest) was the one who ended up sitting on the floor when we had extra people riding along. It was not very fun for me.

So now we have the Transit. We have named it Baymax since it is big and white and… fluffy?

“Hello, I am Baymax, your personal transportation assistant. Are you satisfied with your ride?”

Seriously though, it is much less scary to drive than I first assumed. There are lots of mirrors to alleviate blind spots, it accelerates surprisingly well, we had a backup camera installed shortly after we bought it, and I am really (surprisingly) enjoying being up higher. I can see so much more of the road and surrounding cars since I tower over most of the other vehicles now. Also, now I can always find Baymax in a busy parking lot as the roof is about 8′ tall instead of the average 6′ tall vehicles around it. I am, however, limited on the parking garages I can fit into now.

My kiddos really like it too. Though they do still fight over seats. Go figure. The kids have lots more room and there is a lot of room for storage in the back since the van was designed to accept yet another row of seats bringing the total to 15 seat. We looked at one of the 15-passenger vans, but it left ZERO room in the back for anything else, so we opted for the 12-person setup.

Notes from Kevin:

If we are going to use the Transit for the foreseeable future, we might as well make it the best fit for us. Therefore, I took no time at all to begin popping off trim pieces and drilling holes to customize it. Heather just shook her head as she looked over the array of plastic trim pieces laid out on the ground next to the van less than 24 hours after we purchased it. Everything went back together the way it came apart, but the Transit now has two extra 12-volt outlets, 2 sets of Anderson Power Pole connectors, a 500 watt power inverter, a VHF/UHF ham radio with antenna, and 2 lock boxes for firearms installed. We are now set to travel!

San Diego Zoo

By: Kevin

DSC_0799The San Diego Zoo….a massive sprawling zoo located not only in the middle of the city of San Diego, but also situated within Balboa Metro Park. The zoo has earned and kept quite a reputation for excellence, and for good reason. Not only are they a renowned zoo, they are also a full botanical garden with many species of plants and flowers.

My (Kevin’s) first visit to the San Diego Zoo was actually back in 2004 when I was on summer cruise with the US Navy, as part of the ROTC program at the Ohio State University. Some things have stayed the same since my visit in 2004, but much of the park I do not remember, so I was excited to explore it again.

Our family has been to the Columbus Zoo in Ohio, the home of (Jungle) Jack Hanna, a number of times over the years and we have been able to make it through the zoo in a full single day. San Diego Zoo would be a tough feat to make it through everything in a single day. We decided to get annual zoo passes, and we are glad we did. We have been to the zoo three times now, and have covered different sections of the zoo each time. After three visits we have completely covered all areas of the park. We most likely could have covered everything in two full days, but since we have season passes we felt less rushed to cover everything in three days instead of two.

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We have not yet taken the guided bus tour of the zoo to hear their insight and information about the zoo that we may not learn by just walking around ourselves.

Safari Park

As an added bonus to our annual passes, there is also a Zoo Safari Park at a separate location in the area that our passes allow free access to, and you can see how a single day just isn’t enough time.

The Safari park is located about 30 mins north of the main San Diego Zoo off of Interstate 15. Over half the acreage of the park still sits empty for possible expansion and as a sanctuary for native wildlife. There are multiple open areas that visitors can overlook as well as a drive-through tram ride that explores additional areas of the park. It took us two days to get through all the areas of this park, and we only did the free things that were included with our (free) admission. There are additional pay-to-play “safaris” such as a high ropes course, zip-line, Jeep tour, and overnight camping excursions. Even without these pay options the park was well worth our time and drive.