2017 Trip 9: the boys weekend...redux

Trip 9: Bonnechere PP

It's that time again...the boys weekend. Although it does coincide with Dale's girls weekend, Barley and I have come to think of it as our little get-away. If you are going to be hanging out, why not snag a favourite site in the park. One advantage of post Labour Day camping is that it is much easier to  get sites, as the demand really drops off.

his constant state

2017 Trip 8: chillin' in the Adirondacks

Trip 8: Rollins Pond

Another extra long weekend, and another trip to a favourite, Rollins Pond. Headed out Wed after work, and our first stop was the Ogdensburg Walmart. It makes so much sense in so many ways. Gives us a head start on the travel, loading up on supplies there, and at the grocery store across the street. There is generally a trip to the UPS store as well, to pick up some online ordered goodies.

The parking lot was busy with a couple of semi's, a class B, and a big DuPont transport with some sort of chemical hauling trailer. We had a quick chat with the guy driving the rig, and he inquired whether it was a safe spot to stop. We told him our experiences, and he thanked us for the info. Soon afterwards he was joined by two other identical haulers, and it was the three of them and little ole us, all side by side.

By the time we rose in the morning, they were gone. We must have been deep into la la land, as we did not hear those three big Peterbilts start up and pull away. Coffee was made and then we headed out as well. Groceries were gotten, parcels picked up, and we were off. Very overcast Thursday, but no rain. After our usual stops in the town of Tupper Lake, one an 'old school' hardware store, we got to our site around 1:00pm.

Our site sucks...but we knew that going in. Once again last fall we got totally discombobulated by the longer NY State reservation window, and this site was all we could grab. It is one of those run off sites, where all the rain water flows through to get to the lake. We ended up closer to the road, trading off some partial sun which would have benefited our solar panels, for the only bit of level ground on the site.


2017 Trip 7: back on the water feels great

Trip 7: Bonnechere P.P.

Could be another rainy weekend, but our modus operandi means we head out regardless. Shame to miss a weekend camping based on a forecast from what generally seems to be an inaccurate science. On the drive up we ran into some showers, but the way the clouds were moving, we ended up scooting in between the worst of them. Just before the park entrance, the dark heavies blew through and left a huge swath of blue sky.

On a new river site this time, and it is a dandy. Tucked in off the road, wide and sandy, with a good view of the river. Got set up, boats off the car ready for tomorrow, then we settled in for some  quality lounging.




Barley continues to enjoy his new outside abode

A bit of rain overnight, and the morning sky was full of low fluffy clouds, a few of them just itching to rain on something, it never did though. Around noon we headed out for a paddle, aiming to go out to the lake and along the cottage shoreline. There is an abundance of sandy shoreline on Round Lake, and it is not only at the waters edge, but extends inland. Some cottages look like they are built right on the beach, which gives them a very summer "feel". Lots of pine trees as well, which are a staple in sandy conditions.


this guy seemed old...but in pretty good shape



One thing very noticeable is the sheer number of cottages, and how close they are. The whole shoreline has a tract housing look. Perhaps this was intended, so as many people as possible could access such a great stretch of beach. Keep in mind too, that this was probably done many decades ago, when huge frontages were most likely the norm. There is also a small township park, which no doubt occurred because of a little foresight on the part of a local councillor way back when.

leaves turning...say it ain't so



Just past the cottages there was another little outlet, the Sherwood River, and although a little paddle upstream would have been nice, an approaching black cloud had us thinking otherwise. Made it back without a drop of rain falling, but that was short lived. A steady rain drove us inside around dinner time.

Burgers for dinner, and a bit of an experiment. We picked up one of those flexible grilling sheets, mostly just to see if it would be a good addition to the camp gear. They seem to be all the rage now, and I was definitely curious how it would affect the classic BBQ flavour.

The instructions say to not cover the entire grill area, so I cut it a bit narrower at the sides, and then followed the curve of the grill along the front. Fired up the Q, then on went the burgers. Once they started to sizzle, it quickly became apparent that what you have done is turned the Q into a big frying pan. Those grill marks that they advertise on the box, well of course that is going to happen, the material is thin, so the hottest areas will be the grills, and thus the marks.

So now you have a frying pan, and fat coming out of the burgs, so guess where it's heading, with no pan sides to keep it contained. This was easily handled with a bit of paper towel dabbing it up, but that is now an extra step to deal with. The burgers were tasty, and the cleanup afterwards was a snap. I can see it being useful for messy BBQ sauces, or one time quick use where you would want to minimize the cleanup. Bottom line...will it see regular use, no. Will it be handy for some occasions, absolutely.


a perfect trifecta...beer, peanuts & a picnic table


The brief evening sun was followed by off and on showers. By this time though, darkness was quickly descending, and we just as quickly headed inside.

Sunday brought clear skies and the sun, so once we were fuelled up with coffee and a bite to eat, the kayaks hit the water.

quite surprised I was able to get so close to this guy


a B&W just seems to suit this crusty looking creature


We paddled in the opposite direction, and a little further along the shore, we discovered a nice little campground...on a fabulous stretch of beach. All the sites were right on the beach, and what a beach it was! Very few people were camping, so we pulled on to shore and had a look around. A short time later a car circled around and stopped beside us.

We knew right way it was the owner, an older gentleman looking very laid back and cool in his mirrored RayBans. He just oozed 'old school'.  After I explained our interest in camping here next summer, he immediately started what felt like an interview. Subtle like, but he was definitely checking us out. He flat out said that he runs a tight ship, no party types, likes to keep it very quiet and relaxed. I dropped a few tidbits about having had a family cottage over on Golden Lake, and that I knew the area well. This perked him up, and he got quite chatty. He is now in his mid eighties, and we had a very interesting chat about how running a campground has changed over the years, you guessed it...not for the better.  We will see what happens next year, but it would be a nice spot to check out, if possible.

We pulled out just before 2:00, eking out as much time as possible on site. It was a real nice laid back weekend, and great to get back on the water with the kayaks. The boats will stay on the roof, as next up is Rollins Pond...and we can't wait!

2017 Trip 6: a County catch-up

Trip 6: Sandbanks PP

Our annual jaunt to the beach mecca that is the Sandbanks. There is just no way that a summer will go by without us spending time in "The County". We have been heading here every summer for over thirty years, it is that fabulous an area.

Lots has changed over the years. The area has evolved from having Sandbanks as the main destination, to one that now offers multitudes of possibilities for all sorts of interests. From wineries, to restaurants, to artsy shops, there is something for most everyone. All three towns have changed due to the influx of new money and investment, a lot of it seems from the Toronto area. Naturally, there are two sides to all this growth, and I'm sure both sides could hotly debate the pros and cons. For us, it's still all about enjoying whatever the area has to offer.

We reserved Sandbanks many moons ago, and this year we are in the Woodlands campground. We managed to nab a nice site, with a good combo of sun and shade. The site has power, so Barley will have A/C should it get too hot for him. Not surprisingly, the campground is full, as Sandbanks is a very popular park.




Our fellow Alto friends, Mark & Angela are a few sites over from us, so we had them over for dinner and a visit. It was only a few years ago that they happened to bike by our site in another area of the park, and we gave them a tour of our Alto. They soon placed an order and are now owners of a 1743. Meeting them at Sandbanks seems to have become a nice yearly event.

A touch of rain overnight, as large black clouds were always cruising by throughout the day. We got in some nice beach time Friday afternoon, then we headed over to see our friend's new home on the east side of the County. Lee & Howard bought a nice century home and plan to eventually retire here. We had a nice visit and a great tour of their place. They have been coming to the area for many years as well, and getting a place here is a dream come true.



the high water levels in the lake this year has really impacted the beach width


Saturday we wandered the shops of Bloomfield and Wellington with Helen & Paul. We grabbed a bit of lunch in a nice little restaurant called Pomodoro Trattoria in Wellington that certainly hit the spot. In the evening we had dinner at the Waupoos Pub, where we met our friend Geoff. We always get together with Joey & Geoff for a yearly catchup, but unfortunately this year Joey was not feeling well, and she figured it was best to stay home and take it easy. Also there was Debbie, of Jack & Debbie, people we have met through Geoff. Jack was out of town, and is was very nice that Deb joined us regardless.

Sunday was another busy socializing day...a visit in the afternoon from Helen & Paul, followed by dinner at Sonny & Jane's in the evening. They have the Nap n' Nosh B&B in Bloomfield, where we have stayed many times ourselves. They laid on a wonderful summer BBQ...the dry rub ribs that Sonny cooked were finger lickin tasty!

Dale works on an afternoon campfire




When we got back to the Alto, there was a note on the door for us to come over for breakfast with Mark & Angela. What a nice idea.

After our breakfast visit, we slowly packed up the site to head home.
So as you can tell, this was very much a socializing sort of weekend...and we loved every minute!

Water Heater Indicator Light

I have always thought that the switch for the Suburban water heater should have an indicator light to provide a clear signal whether the heater is on or not. What I find adds to this confusion is the massive red light that is right beside the switch. I imagine the first assumption that ones mind makes when seeing that light, and it is not illuminated, the heater is off. Wrong. That light, for the most part, is an ignition cycle lockout indicator, and rarely illuminated. It would have been far more informative to make the switch illuminated, and perhaps have a smaller led for an error condition. Perhaps I'm nit-picking.

Tired of needing to look closely at the switch to determine the status, I decided to add an led into the power circuit. When the heater is on, so will be the led. I'm not the only one to have these thoughts, as a quick Google found a number of people have already made this same mod.

My local electronic supply store had a variety of 12v led lights available, so I picked some up in a variety of colours. We ended up using an amber led, which seemed to provide the best visibility. The plate incorporates the Off/On switch, and the previously described error lamp. A small hole was drilled between the two components, to allow the led to be press fit into place. There is about 1/2 inch to work with here, so a variety of small led lights could be used.



The wiring is super simple. As always, confirm everything first with your voltmeter, as sometimes things may not be wired as you believe, based on a visual inspection. Attach the positive wire from the led to the output spade of the switch, and the negative wire to the negative spade of the error lamp. It is very easy to follow that negative wire all the way to a grounding point, just to confirm things.



When the switch is moved to On, the output spade is energized, providing power to the heater, and your new led indicator. Unlike the big lamp that is there, the new little guy will stay illuminated until you turn off the heater.



A small mod to make a big difference.

2017 Trip 5: a "cottage" weekend

Trip 5: Sharbot Lake PP - July 2017

A "cottage" weekend. Our term for a Friday & Saturday night away. Where some will hop in the car and head to the lake, we hitch up the cottage and head out. We went to Sharbot Lake, a close hour and a bit drive, and were soon set up on one of our favourite sites. We really like the sites that have direct access to the water, making a quick cooling dip or beer by the shore that much easier.

Full house this weekend, not surprising given the weather has been fabulous. We had an early evening swim, which was wonderfully refreshing. We sat out until the stars came out, then called it a day.

Our kayaks were not with us this weekend, but we had a desire to get on the water just the same. We planned to rent a canoe for a few hours, so we threw in our life jackets and I took along my old school wood paddle. That paddle has seen many a mile through Algonquin Park, and is very comfortable to use. Hard not to keep it around, even if now it only touches water a few times a decade!

Saturday was another great weather day, and once coffee and breakfast were taken care of, we headed to the Park Store to rent a canoe. Paperwork taken care of, we got the key and walked to the beach. The rental canoes are very scow like, but based on the abuse they need to take, there are generally no Kevlar models on offer. It did its job admirably, gliding us around the lake in a peaceful, relaxing manner. Just like riding a bike, the J stroke came back effortlessly, as did a few other little paddling tricks learned so many years ago. As nice as it was, it did not come near to equalling the enjoyment we both get from our kayaks. It was though, a rare treat.







Helen & Paul have a cottage close to the Park, so they came over in the afternoon for a visit and dinner. The bugs were cooperative, and allowed us to sit outside and enjoy the nice temps. We made chicken quesedilas on the Q, and they were quite tasty with some of Dale's guacamole on the side. A nice evening.

a comfy little set up

Around six in the morning we heard the pitter patter of raindrops on the roof. As much as we enjoy that sound, and it would have been very easy to just roll over and go back to sleep, the thought of packing up soaked chairs and a ground mat was not very appealing. I headed out and threw a few things in the back of the car, where they remained until we actually did pack up.

The rain was off and on, and never really that heavy. We gathered our gear up between showers, then when it got brighter, we hitched up and were on our way. Our "cottage" weekend was simply that...some time in and on the water, some visiting and a few cold ones, and some tasty food on the Q. Exactly as planned.

Perfect!

2017 Trip 4: another great rally adventure

2017 Trip 4: Vacation

It's finally Friday and that means it is time for the vacation to start. We are heading south, ending up at Cape Hatteras, with stops along the way in Raleigh N.C., and the 2017 edition of the Alto rally. This is an east coast year, and it is being held at Stone Mountain S.P., near Roaring Gap N.C.. As has become somewhat of a tradition, our Friday night head start gets us to the Walmart in Ogdensburg, where we camp overnight, do a little shopping, then get our groceries the next morning. This little routine works quite well, and saves us a few hours of time.

Bit of a mishap right out of the gate. We were almost at the border when our cellphone rang, and it was Conor, one of Chris & Tammy's boys. He told us that he just noticed that the window in the Mini was down, and thought he should call us. We talked options, and soon realized that it would be best to swing around and head back to close up that window. It was unfortunate we did not have a set of keys at home, but we sure will now! Fortunately it was still early in the evening, and we were able to get across the border and to the Walmart by about 8:30. Definitely a pain, but good to have resolved and off our mind.  Conor saved the day big time, no worry of us coming back to a drenched or ransacked car.

Chris & Jenn, and their 1743 Alto were already parked in the lot. They are trying the Walmart routine this year as well. It was nice to have their company, we all wandered the Walmart, then had a quick visit and a cold one before turning in. We were serenaded to sleep by a street sweeper cleaning the parking lot, and a guy with an angle grinder fixing a broken down truck just across the way, sparks flying out into the darkness. Made us feel right at home, as if we we in Canada at a Canadian Tire parking lot!


Ambient Ground Lighting

We were camped at Sharbot Lake a couple of summers ago, and across from us was a nicely renovated Boler trailer. They had done a great job on it and it looked very cool. We were chatting with them one evening, and I noticed a glow coming from beneath the trailer. They had installed a short strip of blue LED tape near the doorway, and in the dark it provided a sutble lighting effect. This idea stuck in my head, and percolated to the surface this past winter.

We rarely turn on our outside light, as we find it way too bright, even after changing to an amber lense and an LED bulb. It is easy enough to turn on if needed, but I got to thinking about having something to cast a little glow near the step instead. At our local auto parts store, I happened upon a bunch of small LED grommet lights, about 1 inch round, in a variety of colours. A handful of them made the drive home with me.

I initially thought of drilling and insetting one or two of them into the underside of the Alto, but decided to go with a less invasive approach. I made some mounting blocks using the composite moulding material I used for the awning pole holders. Using a mounting block also allowed me to integrate a switch into the unit. A hole was drilled for the light, a smaller hole at a right angle intersected the main hole for the wiring, then a hole on the side to insert the switch. Some 3M mounting tape fastens the blocks in place. I went with the amber lenses, and made up two units, one with a switch that controls both lights. They have an extremely small 0.02 amp/hr draw, so they will not be a power consumption concern. I tapped power for them from the 12v television outlet that is tucked by the door side roof screw jack. The wire and protective wrap, exits the floor between the wheel shroud and the frame.

As always, be very careful when contemplating any sort of drilling within the Alto. Do your homework and think it out very well...then think it out again!



the buddy light on the front side of the step


had to re-position and modify the spray shield for the remote temp sensor

In use, the switch is easily within reach by the step, and they cast just the subtle glow I was hoping to achieve. What first appears to be a simple mod, the effort is always compounded when working in the smaller confines of the Alto. Sometimes it is the price you have to pay!

2 Way Fridge Switch-Over Issue

One time last summer, when I turned on the fridge, it immediately went to ignite the propane. This was unexpected, as we were on shore power in the driveway. I cycled through the on/off process, played with combinations of this including the gas button, but it still insisted on running on propane. A quick bit of troubleshooting with the manual lead me to think there might be an issue with one of the fuses, located inside the control box.

I pulled the lower vent cover and the black control box is sitting right there. A closer inspection though, soon revealed that it has been placed right up against an aluminum enclosure that covers a bunch of electrical cables as they travel through that area. Getting access to the cover screws, let alone getting the actual cover off, proved to be an onerous task. As we were soon heading out, my Plan B became a cycling of the switches again. Luckily enough, the electrics kicked in and we were OK. Not really sure why it worked, but we were OK...for now. It functioned fine all last summer, so getting to the root cause was happily deferred.

Fast forward to this summer and all was good until the third time out. All my efforts with the switch cycling solution failed, so I figured I needed to get to those fuses. Knowing the task at hand, I wanted to get a look at how the cover was constructed, what held it in place, and how could free up some room to manoeuvre it off. A quick Google search showed me the inside of the cover, and from what I saw, there was only a small lip at the bottom that would prevent it from coming straight up and off. To get this extra room, I unscrewed the entire mounting plate that the control box sits on, from the back of the fridge. This then allowed me to wiggle the box around enough so that I could pull the cover a bit forward, then up to remove. I had to be very careful to ensure I was not also pulling any of the wiring connections and circuit board gizmos along with it.

A visual and continuity check of the fuses ruled them out as a cause. Perhaps it was the circuitry or the relay that controls the switch-over, but it was working just the previous weekend. Clearly one of those elusive to solve intermittent problems. Another cycle of the switches failed, but I did notice a brief flash from the Auto indicator light. When pushed in, the Auto selection circuit is engaged, and the light comes on. In Gas selection, the light remains off. I had first assumed this light was tied to the on/off switch, but this might not be the case. I now cycled this switch a number of times, and came to the conclusion that perhaps the Auto circuit was not being powered up and engaged. As the switch is rarely used, a little oxidation on the contacts may have occurred, impacting the circuit. Finally able to get the light to stay on, the switch-over occurred and the fridge was in electric mode. If you listen closely just after you push in the Auto switch, you can hear a tiny click of the relay that allows the A/C voltage to flow to the heating element. In gas mode, you will hear the gas solenoid valve engage, and the igniter going off.

I will be keeping an eye on this, now that I know where the real cause of the issue may well be. Now I had to put back on the cover I previously removed, but before I did, I took the opportunity to cut off the lip that was on the bottom. This will allow the cover to be removed a little easier, without having to remove the entire assembly bracket. Or so I hope.



Surge Protector

Every so often you come across a blog or forum post where a trailer owner describes a serious problem they have had with their electrical system, and usually it involves a problem with a campsite power post or electrical surge. Some of the stories are pretty wild, where a miswired electrical outlet or power surge has fried a bunch of gear in the trailer. These writers have then quickly become huge advocats of surge protection. We have run into a few dubious power posts ourselves, one time the entire 30amp outlet had been ripped out of the box and was just hanging there. That was an obvious problem, but how to protect against something that appears perfectly fine, or a surge that comes out of nowhere.

There are a couple of relatively inexpensive solutions that can be used to a least provide you with some information about the power post you are about to connect to. I have used a Kill-A-Watt meter and a polarity tester, connected to a 30 amp pigtail, that will give you an idea of the line voltage and polarity, but that's all it will do. It helps, but it's not the same as protection.

I started doing a little research into what is available for surge protection, and I soon discovered that anything listed as a surge protector, does just that, protect against surges. There are however, a number of other electrical issues that can cause you problems. To protect against these, you have to step up in features and look at electrical management systems (EMS). These cover surges, as well as low/high voltages, polarity, AC frequency, open neutral, etc. Naturally, this comes at a price, with these units easily topping $200. Some surge protectors will protect you from improper wiring, generally with a warning, but few will shut down the power completely. When you look at the investment made in a trailer, the cost difference between a basic surge protector and a more comprehensive EMS product seems pretty negligible.

The other consideration is between a portable unit or a hardwired one. A portable is just that, it plugs into the power source, and your cable plugs into it. It can then move with you when you change trailers, or also move with the thief who is looking to score a new one, or make a few bucks selling it. Need to keep this in mind when choosing the portable, and some manufacturers are now putting a locking loop on their devices. As we will never be changing trailers, I decided upon a hardwired model. The install would become an interesting little project.

Of all the manufacturers out there, Progressive Industries kept popping up as one of the best. They have a variety of models with all sorts of features, at a variety of price points. It was though, their evident pride in the quality of the product that impressed me the most. They manufacture in America, using quality components, and they back up their lifetime warranty with superb service. Many reviews I read provided stories of how they have gone to great lengths to resolve any issues as quickly as possible. Always good to hear. Another interesting feature is the plug and play replacement of the internal parts. If there is a problem, or a component self sacrifices to protect the wiring, you contact their technical support, describe the issue, and if it is an option, they will send you the component needed to get you back up and running. This is a great idea, especially for those comfortable with swapping out internal pieces. I went with the EMS-HW30C, a 30 amp model, with a remote display panel.

Now is as good a time as any for my usual little disclaimer warning. If this sort of project is not right up your alley, do not attempt it. You are messing with the AC circuits of your expensive Alto...connect something wrong, dislodge a wire somewhere, and you could cause serious damage to yourself, or the Alto. Use a portable model instead, or find someone competent to install a hardwired version for you. If you also happen to be still under warranty, well, that is yet another consideration.

Where to put it? My goal was to just splice it into the main power line, to avoid running a new cable, but this means creating some extra slack to allow for the connections. Not many places where this would be easy to do, as a matter of fact, I think there is only one place you can do this, and that is the front wall, just inside the trunk compartment. Physically it fits nicely there, assuming of course that the area is not already occupied with a bunch of caravan mover gear. The main power cable passes by along the lower edge, but now I needed to find some wire slack. I removed the aluminum cover to the front cubby, home to all things electrical in the Alto. Before doing anything but eyeballing, make sure you are not plugged into shore power...safety first! I followed the orange cable and discovered that ours had a nice big loop before it enters the distribution box, and figured with a few little changes to the wiring harness, I would be able to free up more than enough to splice the EMS into the line. The front cubby is a mass of wiring, and one needs to plan and be very meticulous when working in this area. On top of this, #10 cable is a bear to work with, and requires a lot of slow patient moves and twists. I soon had a nice loop along the front wall.

Mounting the unit was the easy part, and as always, correct selection of screw length is essential. I tend now to use a punch to create a tiny pilot hole to start the screw, as a drill bit can plow through an Alto wall like butter...and that is a very bad thing. Once mounted, off came the cover, then the cutting of the wire. First confirm everything is as it should be before proceeding. It was then just a matter of feeding the wires and making the correct connections to the terminal blocks, nice and snug. The remote display plugs in using the provided cable, and this can be placed anywhere. Some mount it inside, but it does have a continuously scrolling display of information, which perhaps might be a little annoying after a while. I chose to mount it by the EMS box, visible with the trunk door open, so I can review the information once I plug in the shore power. After that, not really much need to monitor.





Time to power up and see if anything explodes...which I know full well is not going to happen. Pretty uneventful startup. The display comes to life, runs a quick self test, then starts its never ending scroll of info. It cycles through voltage, current, frequency, error codes and previous error codes. Much like the Trimetric, it is pretty cool to see these details, and definitely reassuring to know it is in place. With an EMS, the default behavior in the event of an issue is to cut the power completely off until the problem is resolved. There is though, a bypass switch on the remote display, which allows one to shut off all the advanced EMS protection, other than the surge. They explain that this can be used in the event that something goes wrong with the internals of the device, which presumably is displayed as an error code.

Jumping ahead a bit in time, it has been in use for a couple of trips where we have had services. It has performed flawlessly, its presence relatively unknown to us. I say relative because it does make a typical electrical hum. Loud enough to be noticed inside the Alto, a low grade sort of noise that is there, but not really there unless your mind looks for it...and my mind does. It would probably not bother most people, but it is there. So naturally I started to think about how to muffle the sound a bit, some sort of insulated cover that could be placed over the entire unit. I checked to see if it generated any heat while in use, and it really does not, so a cover is an option. Thinking about materials, I decided upon getting some high density foam, of the sort that is sometimes used for knee pads in kayaks. Our local camping outfitters sells this stuff in a variety of thicknesses, and by the square foot. Perfect. I soon had created a nice soundproof box, gluing the pieces together with contact cement. Perhaps not the most attractive of solutions, but it is out of sight, and most importantly, reduces the hum to a nice silence.


Nice to know it is there keeping an eye on things, if the need arises. As a project, it was certainly doable, but it was a fair amount of work to get it installed, mostly because of the contortions needed to work in that confined front space.