2014 Trip 9: another season closes...and, more rain!

Cedar Cove Resort, White Lake, Oct 2014

It seems that a Cedar Cove weekend represents two opposite emotions for us...the excitement of the start of another new Alto season, or the sadness that another Alto season is drawing to a close.

Recently we have been communicating with a number of new or soon to be Alto owners, some in the southern States and California, and it made us realize how much longer their Alto seasons are. Makes us look forward to our retirement, when we will be able to hitch up and follow the Canada geese south to warmer climes and extended travels. We just can't wait.

Beautiful, warm sunny evening driving in but it is forecasted to be another weekend of rain, which is getting to be pretty funny. Last weekend was fabulous, but of course, we were not camping, this weekend, rain while camping. Luck of the draw I guess. Fortunately White Lake is only an hour away, as at this time of year the sun sets so early now, you are guaranteed of setting up after dusk. Sure enough, it was dark by the time we got checked in and were backing on to the site. It is a favourite site facing the water and no one around us.  The site is great but when dark it is a tad difficult to back into. Got nicely set up, services all attached, just in time for a sprinkling of rain to start...naturally.
nestled in...

2014 Trip 8: exciting times at the dumping station...

Sept 2014: McLaren Campground

This weekend is truly a get away. We felt because we have been away on our Seattle trip we wanted to catch up a bit on time in the Alto. This campground is a short drive from Ottawa, a perfect distance for a quick trip. It is just an hour away, a nice drive down Hwy 31 south.

We came here at the beginning of the season, and liked the park for its simplicity. Although pretty open grassy sites and exposed to your fellow camper, it does have a casual relaxed feel and as a bonus most sites have good views of the St. Lawrence river.

Rolled in just before dark and got set up. Nice site, with a gravel drive and 2 services. Our back end is facing the water, which is nice. Quite a few campers here, which is a bit surprising given the time of year, and that it has been a little cooler than normal this fall. Cranked up the heat pump and the Alto was toasty in no time. A vid and a beer and that was the evening.

2014 Trip 7: dare I say more rain...

Sept 2014: Murphy's Point

The weather this week has turned a tad chilly, and as per usual the forecast is calling for rain Saturday. Camping at this time of the season is less about the weather and is about to getting out of the city and relaxing.

We were in the city last weekend since we had just arrived back from our flying trip out West (to Seattle & Edmonton visiting family) so last weekend was our time spent catching up around the house. My initial thought of just washing some of the grime off the Santa Fe eventually turned into a wash and quick wax of anything on wheels, including the Alto. Next thing you know, weekend was over and then back to work. There in lies the true benefit of the Alto, get away from the house and just relax for the weekend. There is only so much that even I can get into with this small footprint. Forced relaxation.

Not sure if we have mentioned it previously, but we are going to change the upholstery in the Alto? When we purchased our trailer 5 years ago the fabric selection was pretty basic, and we selected a hardy darker material. It has served us well, but now that our cat travels with us most trips, we have discovered it is also is a cat hair magnet. Thinking it is time for a change, we found a real nice lighter patterned fabric, at the ridiculous low price of only $4.00 a metre that should help conceal some of the cat hairs.  We always vacuum the upholstery after all trips but while we are camping, we prefer to have cat hair a little less visible. All our cats tend to be tan and ginger coloured, so the lighter tan background upholstery colour should do the job much better. We then needed to find someone to do the sewing, as it is a bit of a job that we do not want to tackle. We found a lady with a home business, and to tie it into this weekends blog entry, on this trip out we stopped by to see her in Kanata. We wanted her to see the Alto with the cushions inside, to give her a frame of reference of the cushion layout. After talking to her, we were very impressed and just know she will do an awesome job and she has all winter to sew them.  Next season the Alto will have a whole new look.

Pulled in a little after dark to our site, but we have been on this site before and knew just where to place the Alto. It was definitely cooling off and nippy, so it was nice to get set up and inside, where we cranked the heat pump to get nice and toasty.

Cool overnight, but we left our little occilating heater going and it kept the chill at bay. Woke to an overcast day, which we expected, and it was only a short time later that the rain started. Rained pretty much all day, although around dinner time it stopped, the sun came out, and we were able to get in a nice walk around the park. There is a good park store here, so we headed in that direction. Picked up a couple of treats for dessert, then headed back to camp. Watched a vid, and that was the evening.

2014 Trip 6: really...more weekend rain!!!

Bonnechere P.P.

Let's just start off by saying the weather is going to be crappy this weekend. The forecast and radar shows precipitation covering a huge area, right over where we are heading. This is the weekend we had planned for our friend Sandra to camp with us, however given the weather predicted and that she would be tenting, we all agreed that it would not be a good weekend for her to join us. It would not be much fun if it is raining the whole time.

It does not look to be a swimming or sit around the campfire type of weekend. We made the decision to try to camp together another weekend.

We are still going to head up, as we can be quite comfortable and cozy just staying inside. Heavy overcast sky when we left on Friday night, and as usual, the traffic getting out of the city is crazy. It is quite clear that the Queensway, the major highway that bisects east to west right through the centre of the city, can no longer keep pace with the growing size of the population. On an average Friday evening in the summer, with people heading home from work and leaving the city, it can take around 40 minutes to travel from the downtown core to the west side of Kanata. From there, it moves relatively smoothly. We drove into periods of rain all the way there...and of course, it was raining when we pulled into the park. 

We have been on this particular site many times, so setting up is a breeze. This is our first time using the newly installed front stabilizer jacks, and they are much easier to set up than the screw jacks we had been using before. Once lowered onto the Lynx Levellor pads, they make the Alto quite stable. The new jacks are mounted at the front outside corners of the trailer, so it gives a wider stance for support. It is important to also use some sort of pad on the ground below the jack leg, as without, I think the narrow tip of the jack leg would just work its way into the ground. The pad spreads out the pressure and provides a firm resting spot. Very pleased with this new addition. Further details and pictures of this latest project can be found on the Mods page.

After we got set up it was into the Alto right away to get out of the rain. It picked up a bit as the evening went on. We have electricity on the site, so the heat pump was able to get the Alto nice and toasty. Although it is just a bit chilly, the dampness makes it feel worse. Relaxed the rest of the evening and hit the pit early.

Steady rain now, and it looks like it will stay all day. Serious hibernating today, although I do have a little project to work on. Pretty quiet around the park as everyone is hunkered down inside. Coffee and breakfast then on to my project. We are changing out all the flourescent bulbs in the Alto. Our version came with these, but later production models now use a number of the LED puck lights. The fixtures we have use 2 tubes, except the ones at the back of the Alto which contain 1 each. The LED replacements use considerably less battery energy than the flourescents (drawing only a third of the energy), an important savings when you are off the grid.

A bit of work rewiring the fixtures, but it went quite smoothly. We ordered the warm white versions of the LED tubes, as the flourescents we have now have a cold harsh colour temperature. We rarely use them because of this, the cooler light is just not pleasant to be in. The new bulbs are quite good. The colour is nice and they are an excellent replacement and well worth it.

The rain subsided a bit in the early afternoon, so we wandered out for a bit of a walk, mostly in the direction of the park store. We have always made it to this park in September, and the store has always been closed for the season. We enjoy the park stores as there is always something interesting to be found, and guaranteed a tasty treat is available. We stopped and chatted with a nice lady who is here with her husband for 23 days, a nice little vacation. They live in Pembroke, and she is 84 years old, although she looks like she is in her 70's. We had a nice visit, then it started to rain again so we continued our walk. The park store has been renovated and looks quite nice. Typical of a park store, it has a great selection of camping neccesities. Not all parks have a little store, but they are always handy when there is one.

Back into the Alto as the rain has started again and is coming down somewhat harder. Had a little nap in the afternoon, as there is something about a dull rainy day and the sound of the drops on the roof that makes having a nap a foregone conclusion. Dinner this evening will be beef fajitas. We found a nice simple recipe, so I made up the marinade before we left, cut up the meat into strips this morning, and fired them into a ziplock with the marinade, to sit all day and get nice and flavourful. Sliced up the peppers and onions, quick stir fry, then the meat went into the pan. Once these were rolled into the tortilla, with guacamole, salsa and cheese, and sour cream on the side it made a nice filling meal. The meat was quite tasty, so I think we will be making this recipe again.
It is still raining, so no opportunity to get outside after dinner. We watched a movie, taking advantage of the electricity hookup. If we do not have have a hookup, using the TV is now out of the question, based on our experience last fall where we had a similar rainy weekend, and we pretty much drained our battery watching episodes of Mad Men. What were we thinking??? No concerns this evening though. We watched a movie called 'Broken Flowers', with Bill Murray and a few popular female actresses like Sharon Stone and Jessica Lange. An interesting movie and not a main stream type which is the type Dale enjoys, but I found it a little plodding. Bill Murray can act quiet and contemplative quite well, which is a good thing, as that is pretty much the whole movie.  Dale does not agree and enjoyed it for it's overall understated and realistic acting.

No rain this morning, but still overcast and dull and not inspired to stay long. Then at 9:00am the sun came streaming through the trees and our outlook instantly changed. Campers suddenly appeared and were scurrying around doing regular camper things. We took a walk around the park as it was real nice to get outside and move around a bit. We want to camp on the river side at some point, so we had a close look for some prime sites. It will be great to follow the river inland in our kayaks, the Bonnechere runs a long way.

We pulled out around 1:00 and made our way home. Although a cool and rainy weekend, it is always nice to get out of the city regardless. There is not much that will keep us at home if we have an Alto weekend planned!

A Nifty Illuminating Idea

When we are just sitting around a night, we don't really want to have even one of the flourescent light fixtures turned on, as we do find they give off a lot of light, and they are in the cooler blue colour spectrum. We came up with the idea of using one of those battery operated rings of LED light, sitting on top of the microwave cabinet, which being relatively close to the ceiling, allows the light to reflect off the aluminum interior. It is a much nicer lighting effect, and easier on the eyes.

Taking this idea a bit further, I thought of using one of the extra LED strips we got for our sink light project, and somehow incorporating it as a permanent fixture. After some thought, I mounted the LED strip to a short piece of aluminum angle stock. Then this was screwed to the very back of the microwave cabinet. One end of the angle was tapered so it would not contact the ceiling when the roof was lowered. I wired the light and placed the switch right beside the one for the sink. It gives off more light than the battery unit, and reflected off the ceiling, provides a perfect amount of indirect illumination. The colour temperature is warm white, which is more pleasing to the eye.  

A Moose???

We found this really cute aluminum cutout of a moose in a funky design shop called Kikoto in Bloomfield. We just knew we would be able to find a spot for it in the Alto, and it became our new place to hang keys.

LED Fluorescent Replacement

After our weekend where we drained the battery, we have become more conscious of our power consumption. Now to be fair, we really caused the issue by overusing the TV when not connected to power, and not realizing that the solar panels were not generating any power as the weather was rainy and overcast.

I decided to look into replacement tubes for the fluorescent fixtures, not only because they draw considerably less power, but they also are available in different colour temperatures. The tubes in the Alto are the common bright white temperature. This produces a light that we find is too bright, and harsh to look at. We have found over the years that we sort of avoid turning them on, relying on little AA battery powered lamps we picked up from Lee Valley. The newer versions of the Alto now use LED lights, with 12 volt applications, this is the way to go.

There are lots of options out there to find LED fluorescents, with just as many quality options. I settled on a company called Marinebeam (www.marinebeam.com). Their web site was very informative, with tons of technical details that really explained how these tubes work, and the best components to use. They are on the pricey side, but for our long term use of the Alto, it will be good value. We purchased the warm white 12" tubes and waited for them to arrive.

Installation was pretty easy, although the fixture needed to be rewired to take the existing ballast out of the circuit. This was as easy as identifying the wires, using the provided instructions from Marinebeam, snipping out the ballast, and reconnecting the power feeds to both ends of the tubes. Probably a 10 minute job for each fixture. 

As I have said before here in this blog, before tackling any sort of modification or maintenance job, you need to have a good understanding of what is involved, and your own knowledge and comfort level with doing the work yourself. If in doubt, get it done at your dealer.

The bulbs work great. They are bright and give off a very pleasing light. It is quite noticeable how different the light is. The harsh brightness is gone, replaced by a pleasing warm glow. Really amazing the difference this can make. The front fixtures have 2 tubes inside, but we have found that in this area, 1 tube gives off just the right amount of light. This has turned out to be an excellent modification. 
the little ballast that was yanked out
lots of little LED's all in a row
these photos above show the colour of the fluorescents
fluorescent on the left, LED on the right.
notice the different colour
LED light, much warmer, notice the overall colour

Front Stabilizers

There is now an option on the Altos for the addition of front stabilizer jacks. I took a number of photos of the installation at the last RV show, and I knew I would be able to retrofit them to ours. I ordered the same jacks online, and headed over to my favourite metal supply store to find some stock to create the mounting plates I needed. This store is a great spot, and I have been there many times. They have a large section of scrap material which you can just hunt through all sorts of various pieces to find just what you need. I needed to make a couple of flat pates and a couple of angled plates for the jacks to be bolted to.

The plates are riveted to the underside of  the trailer, and the angle bracket is glued to the frame, as there is no drilling of the frame allowed. The glue recommended by the factory is automobile windshield adhesive. I was a bit intrigued when I heard this, but found out it is a very durable glue that is strong, yet remains a little flexible. Makes sense, given how it is used. Once the plates were in place, the holes were drilled for the bolts and the jacks installed.

These are more convienient to use. We were using a couple of screw jack stands under the frame, which did work well, but this is a better solution. We do use a couple of Lynx Levelors, which prevents the arm from sinking into the ground. 

the jacks in use. they make a huge difference from not using anything at all

2014 Day 16: Saturday

We have decided to leave today instead of tomorrow, we would like the extra day at home to get everything to rights before heading back to work on Monday.  The sky looks good but the forecast does say a high probability of rain this afternoon. Our plan is good to get out before the rain comes.
a hardy camp breakfast
a Brum's chocolate milk...an Ottawa Valley classic taste
So the two weeks of boondocking without services was quite manageable. The solar panels kept the battery charged up, and in full sun, generated more than enough power to run the roof fan and charge any devices. In the evening, we used our AA powered LED camp lights, which were excellent at providing lots of light inside the Alto. Watching the use of the waste tanks was also not a problem as in a campground there is generally lots of facilities round to utilize.

All and all it was a relaxing week for us....

2014 Day 15: Friday

As we awoke we were greeted again by the sounds of the wind and the surf. Seems the wind has returned, but not nearly as strong as previous days. Another slow relaxing day, which is nice to have when you are on holidays.

Went for another walk, we have discovered a nice circular route which has us climbing the long hill in one direction, then heading back towards the public beach, then cutting through a trail in the woods to come out at the far end of our road. A nice little bit of exercise. 

The water is rough enough to have us wondering about getting out in the kayaks. Dale is not really a big fan of rough water. Sitting on the beach will be the alternative, as at least the sun is cooperating. Dale did get in for a bit of a float, I just waded a bit. Overall, the water has been chilly everywhere this summer.

Dinner this evening is naan based pesto pizzas with leftover chicken, done on the Q. We set them on the grill tray this time and it really seemed to help warm them up nicely, rather than burning the bottom before the cheese has melted. A good plan for the future.

2014 Day 14: Thursday

Still quite windy today, but a little warmer. Power walk again in the morning, and pretty much hung around our site all day. The wind is just enough to make the water a little rough for paddling and sitting around outside only for the very hardy.

2014 Day 13: Wednesday

Lots of activity during the night, I could hear someone outside next door. The wind was really howling, and from what I could see, all the campers were outside tightening down their awnings and tarps. It was pretty chilly as well, with the temp dropping into the low 50'sF.

The windy was still real strong in the morning, and we decided to pull down our awning as it was under quite the strain. We also moved the Santa Fe in front of the Alto to provide a bit of a block from the winds off the water. It was so windy the Alto was literally being buffeted. Everyone around us were doing the same thing, making sure things were well fastened down.

Another power walk up the hill, with the added benefit of the winds keeping the bugs away. Further from shore the wind was not as bad, but still very present. The day remained mostly overcast, so we hopped in the car and headed into Deep River to pick up a few things for the coming days. Deep River is a small little town, and a lot of the older housing here looks like a military base. This type of housing was probably built because a lot of people who work at the nuclear power plant up at Chaulk River live in Deep River. While in Deep River we wandered through an interesting store called Freddie's Trading Post, a combination of convenience/camp store and a consignment shop. Lots of local goods there and a great selection of a little of everything. Picked up a jar of homemade pickled eggs, an impulse purchase at the counter...reminds me of my Uncle Pat's big pickled egg jar that was always sitting on the bar at his Golden Lake Hotel.  
taste tested...and excellent

2014 Day 12: Tuesday

Awesome day today, the temp was very hot. Power walk this morning got us going. There is quite the hill up from the water sites, so this made for a good leg workout. Walked over to the upper campsite section in the woods. We are so glad to be in the lower beach area, not only for the water, but because it is so much brighter. The wooded section can be dark and gloomy.

We went for swim and float, then headed out in the kayaks to paddle along the shoreline. We paddled west on the river up to a private campground. It was busy too, a large number of families on their beach. Chatted with a guy who owned a Cessna 170 float plane. It was in great shape for being a 1953 model. He maintains it well, replacing the motor and keeping it well serviced. Only a short time later we saw him taking off for a little flight around the area and back. 
Fried up some fish on the BBQ griddle for dinner, along with potatoes and yellow wax beans. Grilling outside was great as it kept the frying smoke and fish smell out of the trailer. We coated the fish with a light breading mixture called Fish Fry, which was quite tasty.

2014 Day 11: Monday

Although feeling Riley's loss we decided to continue onto Driftwood as planned a day later since staying home the week would only make it worse and not bring our little guy back. Also by being away from the house out of his regular routine for a week may help Barley transition to now not having his buddy.

We were able to reserve one of our favourite sites, right on the beach. Being right on the beach is fabulous, the water is only a few steps away.

2014 Day 10: Sunday

A very sad day today. Our plan was to head home early this morning to pick up the boys and bring them with us to Driftwood for the second week. Shortly after we arrived home, our little guy Riley suffered (what our Vet and we believe to be) a heart attack and passed away very suddenly. Riley was only a year and a half old, far too young to expect something like this to happen to him. Poor little guy, we and Barley will miss his enthusiastic and happy presence in our lives.
Riley. Looking very handsome.
Riley out camping with us. He idolized Barley and loved playing with his tail...being his fun mischievous self.

2014 Day 9: Saturday

Another fine day shaping up, which is great as it is our last day here. Hard to believe it has been eight days since we arrived. The boondocking experiment has so far gone quite well. There are a few things to be mindful of when you are without services for an extended period, the key ones being electricity and waste water.

2014 Day 8: Friday

The wind has calmed down this morning, as well as the breakers. Not a cloud in the sky, so it should shape up to be a great day. No plans today, just see where the day goes. Biked up to the park store and picked up a paper, so reading it was our morning's activity.

A nice treat to be able to buy a newspaper from a campground store, most do not have them and here there is a good selection...probably due to Sandbanks being one of the largest (if not the largest PP in Ontario). Being big readers of the daily paper and with endless time to read it, is especially nice.  

We noticed a car go by, stop, then back up to our site. A guy hops out and heads towards us. We knew what was next as this occurs all the time. He introduces himself, and tells us he has been eyeballing the Alto every time he drives by, and decided this time to stop and talk to us. He and his wife and two little children and are contemplating getting a trailer, as they are tired of using a tent. He has a keen interest in good design and said that after seeing ours had surfed the Safari Condo web site the previous night to find out all about it. Nothing like seeing the real thing though. We told him about our experience with the Alto and answered his questions. He kept remarking about the design and the expanse of windows. Turns out he is in the furniture design and sales business, which kind of explains his keen interest in the unusual design of the Alto. Later in the day he and his wife and children came back again. Camping is about meeting and talking to people like them who share the same enjoyment of being outdoors and camping with smaller trailers. They also live in Ottawa and were lovely people to talk to, and are very keen on camping in a light and compact way.

We then decided on a paddle, so we got the boats and gear down to the beach and headed out. Although the wind has gone down a bit, the surf is still pretty active. We headed towards the river outlet (off the Sandbanks beach), the start of a short connection between Lake Ontario and East Lake. East and West Lake are two small lakes that were formed long ago when the shifting sands and winds created a massive sand dune stretching between two long peninsulas. As we headed to the river opening, a large bull mastif dog came bounding our way. This is the dog beach area as well, so there were lots of dogs around. This guy was running and leaping circles around us, we were guessing he wanted to play with us but were not sure?  His owner who was watching and trying to call him back seemed to think that perhaps the dog thought we were giant dog toys. He literally towered over us as he bounded around, clearly enjoying himself, and we laughed once we realized he was friendly.

We continued on and it was a nice paddle right through a part of the park, then under two road bridges. To our surprise we came across a graceful white swan floating in the breeze.  On the river past the park on private land, there is a trailer park on one side and numerous cottages on the other. The river ends at East Lake which is surprisingly large when you finally reach it. Paddled a bit more, then headed back to the Sandbanks beach for a swim and a sit on the beach. Lots of people out today, taking advantage of the less windy conditions. 

2014 Day 7: Thursday

This is the day that we all planned for Helen and Paul to come out to our campsite and spend the afternoon on the beach and later on dinner. The day is still windy, but lots of full sun and blue sky and the waves have calmed down a bit, perfect for swimming or floating.

2014 Day 6: Wednesday

Still quite windy this morning, and from the sound, the breakers are huge. As a result of the high winds along the road there are now numerous miniature sand dunes, formed by the constant wind overnight. The beach had all sorts of new dunes as well, and the entire surface was rippled from the wind.

The shapes created was pretty cool, and easy for your mind to imagine how it would be like with those massive sandstorms that happen in the desert. 

2014 Day 5: Tuesday

Rain started around 6:00am this morning, not heavy, but very steady. Weather report calls for it to clear, but right now it looks doubtful. No power walk this morning, but we did head up early to the comfort station to freshen up. Had the place to ourselves, given the weather. Sat around most of the morning, but it did start to get a little brighter around 11:00.

We decided to go for a paddle as the water was like glass and we seemed to be getting good breaks of sun. Used the new kayak cart that I made to drag the boats across the road and over the dune to get to the beach. It worked like a charm, easily adapting and righting itself over the rough terrain. Such as simple yet effective design, using golf cart wheels, an aluminum rod axle, a boat trailer bow roller, plastic conduit and rubber water hose. Lots of examples on the internet, but the simplicity of this one appealed to me the most. Very pleased with the results.
crazy simple, crazy effective

2014 Day 4: Monday

Overcast this morning, those low clouds that don't seem to hold rain, but blanket the sky with drearyness. The wind is still up, but not as strong as last night. Temps have been hovering around 74F, comfortable, but not summer beach temps. There is no end to the clouds, so it looks like a bit of a dull day.

No rain, so this allowed us to get in a good power walk around the campsite. Up by the beach there is a guy with a nifty remote control plane, which is buzzing the now deserted shoreline. He can control it pretty good. It is almost silent, so it must have an electric engine. It has a bit of a hard time when it turns into the wind, slowing almost to a halt.

Headed into Picton again, as it is certainly not beach or paddling weather, but fine for wandering around town. We dropped into Miss Lilly's, the coffee shop we were at yesterday, and logged onto the wifi and posted a few blog entries. Back at camp we got a nice little fire going to cook our dinner over. We have some smoked salmon, which is amazing when warmed up over a fire. We also have some chorizio sausage, which takes on a whole new flavour when roasted. These will be combined with cream cheese or boursin, and crackers. A very casual cobbled together bite to eat.

2014 Day 3: Sunday

Woke up early morning (4:30am) to the sound of raindrops on the roof. We scrambled out of bed, put on our head lamps and went out to put away the mats, folding chairs and items we had hung out to dry, then we crawled back to bed. So glad we did because the rain did not stop and everything would have been soaked.

After our morning campground power walk in the warm drizzle, we went into the town of Picton to check it out and pick up a few groceries and odds and sods. A great way to spend a rainy afternoon. Picton is a lovely little town, with a few small museums, lots of little galleries and a nice assortment of shops.

2014 Day 2: Saturday

Another beautiful day ahead, not a cloud in the sky.  Put the coffee on, read a little, then went for a power walk around the campground. Lots of campers in, only a few empty spots. Walking through the forested parts we again realized the benefits of being more in the open. Although you pay a bit of a price in terms of heat, this is more than made up for by having a site that just seems more alive and cheery.

We walked for about 40 minutes, then had a quick swim to cool off a bit. Dale read a bit, and I biked up to the park store to see what was there, mostly in the way of a paper. Sure enough, we scored a Globe & Mail. They get papers every day, so I suspect this may be a morning routine.
an innovative way to get water...by longboard

2014 Vacation: Sandbanks/Driftwood

Starting two weeks today. This year, rather than a big road trip, we have decided to spend a week in a couple of our favourite provincial parks. We are heading to Sandbanks first, followed by a second week at Driftwood. We have been road tripping the past four years, and although those are great holidays, we have yet to spend a longer time in two places.

Nice drive down, we took Hwy 7, then 41 which took us to a brief ride on the 401, then onto 'The County', as Prince Edward County is called here.  Being in the County is our ultimate favourite place to be, the dunes, the expansive long white sand beach, wineries, rural scenery and country roads,...can't be beat.  A nice plus to our yearly trip to the County is meeting up with long time Ottawa friends, Helen & Paul, who make yearly trips there to spend a few days together, and old friends (Geoff and Joey) who moved to the County a few years back.

Before we left I half-filled the black tank, to let the road movement give it a good clean. I noticed that the fluid level monitor was giving an incorrect reading, when it was definitely empty. That is a sure sign that a little extra cleaning was needed to clean up those sensors. Levels in tanks are determined by a series of vertical electrodes, which use the fluid to create electrical connections between them. The more sensor in the circuit, the fuller the tank. If those electrodes get "gummed" up, this can also create a circuit, and provide false readings. Some have suggested to dump a bag of ice cubes down the toilet before heading out, so the cubes can scrub the sides of the tanks. They then melt and get drained. Have not tried that yet.

Pulled into the dumping station and ahead of us was a newish looking R-Pod. The guy came over to speak to me as he was having trouble draining. This was only their second trip out, and he was clearly frustrated. I had a quick look and he was doing all the mechanics of the process correctly, but a look from the toilet view showed the tank was totally full. We had a similar problem last year, so I suggested he drive around a bit to try and loosen things up, then drain again. If that did not work, he would need to get a toilet snake a do it that way. This is how we fixed an earlier problem.

Pulled up to our site and it looks excellent. Did a quick walk around and decided where to situate the Alto. Backed it in exactly where we wanted it, bit of an angle to the road, looks great. The site is awesome. It is huge, has a bit of a driveway in from the road, and we are surrounded by tree and shrub covered dunes. It is the valley of some dunes. We have total privacy and literally can only see the very tops of our neighbours tents of trailers.

A Kayak Cart Build

Not really a mod of the Alto, but given the number of kayakers amongst our Alto friends, I figured sharing how to assemble your own kayak cart would be a nice little project to share. Even though kayaks are relatively easy to transport, sometimes you are faced with an extended haul to get them to the water. Take for instance our favourite site at Sandbanks. To get to the waters edge, we would either have to drive them to one of the beach parking lots and walk from there, or haul them up and over a sand dune, which is actually the shortest route, but there is the dune to deal with. Wanting a solution, retail or otherwise, I turned to the internet for a little research.

There are many retail options out there, but from what I saw, they tended to be a bit pricey. I then looked at homemade versions, knowing I would not be the only one looking for a cost effective alternative. Sure enough, lots of different styles were being offered up. Some more elegant than others. Most featured use of PVC piping to create a cart the kayak would ride on, with straps and wheels. Some of these it seemed the builder went a little crazy with the tubing, turning what should be a simple cart into a complex maze of pipes and joints. Not going down that road. The other disadvantage to a PVC solution was the storage. Just where do you put it in the car? A few had models that broke down into pieces...a few too many pieces in my mind.

Then I came upon it. A simple and elegant alternative. I first spotted the retail version, and soon discovered its rather lofty price point started at $150 bucks. That's some serious coin. I then discovered the home built knockoffs, and once you see what is involved to make one, you will understand the sticker shock.

The parts list consists of:
a length of rubber heater hose
2 PVC connectors, sized for the hose
1" electrical plastic conduit
1/2' aluminum rod
V shaped boat trailer keel roller
stainless steel washers and hitch pins (or cotter pins)
golf cart wheels

I went with the wide soft plastic golf cart wheels, as I figured these would be best to roll across sand. The first step is to determine how wide apart the wheels need to be to suit your kayak. this measurement is somewhat universal, as the design allows it to sit really anywhere towards the rear of the kayak. Assemble together the keel roller, axle and the wheels. sit the kayak on the keel roller in the position where you think you would like the kayak to ride. Move the wheels out along the axle, allowing enough room to clear the heater hose, which will eventually be sitting inboard of the wheels. This now becomes your axle length.

Find the spot on the axle which is straight down from the widest part of the kayak. This is where the heater hose will reside on the axle. Using the hose, hold one end against the axle on one side, then loop the hose up and over the kayak, to the matching axle position on the other side. You can see what I mean from the photos. It loops a little above the deck of the kayak. This becomes the length of the hose. It is not an exact science, and can be adjusted afterwards. The plastic conduit really only serves as spacers to keep all the parts in position on the axle. these can be fine tuned as well. A free tip for you! Buy a cheap PEX tubing cutter. These look like pliers, but have a knife edge on one side, and a pipe holder on the other. They cut through plastic pipe like butter, much faster and easier than a hacksaw.

Now drill a hole in the aluminum rod for the hitch pin. You will need to find the centre of the axle for the keel roller, and mark both sides where it ends up on the axle. The heater hose needs a bit of work now. You can just drill a hole in the hose, but I figured it would be better to insert a hose connector first, then drill the axle hole through both the hose and the plastic joint residing inside. I cut the connector in half first, before installing it into the hose. This makes a tougher joint with the axle. The plastic conduit is cut to make up the spacers needed to position all the pieces in the right spots. The order of assembly is:

hitch pin
keel roller

Follow back up the list for the other side of the roller. Once the wheel is in place, you now have the assembled cart. A little fine tuning is possible if you do not make the final cut of the axle length. You can then sit the kayak on the cart and adjust as neccessary. I did a bit of this, shortening or creating new spacers as needed. Once satisfied, mark and cut the axle, drill the hole for the hitch pin, and you are DONE!

2014 Trip 4: hard to get any better than this...

Rollins Pond S.P. - June 2014

Off to one of favourite parks this long weekend, and it is a bonus weekend of 5 days. We mostly camp at Ontario provincial parks, but Rollins Pond NY State park is also a fave. Rollins is a great place, a quiet lake with most sites on the water, and no ski boats or jet skis. Perfect for paddling, which is exactly what most people do.

Nice drive here, only about 3 1/2 hours, through some nice country. We cross at Ogdensburg, make a standard stop at the Walmart which has more trailer gear than Walmarts do in Canada.  

We pick up our food in Tupper Lake, which saves having any hassles at the border with the customs food restrictions. There is also a great hardware store in Tupper, which we always wander through. Arrived around 3:00pm, the park is slowly filling up. We have a nice site on the water, and it looks like we will get some sun throughout the day, real important to get our solar panels recharging the battery. We are here 5 days, so it will be a good test for our upcoming vacation, which will be totally without power for 2 weeks. After slowly manoeuvering around some rocks, we were able to line up the Alto on the site to take full advantage of the lake views. We have come to the conclusion there there is nothing better than having a site right on the water. The weather is supposed to be excellent all weekend.

2014 Trip 3: a nice weekend away

Silver Lake P.P. - June 2014

Headed out after work, looks like the weather will be great this weekend. Nice to get out again, as it has been a couple of weekends since our last trip. Traffic is light, although getting past Kanata always eats up time.

Not many in the Park when we arrived, but a few trailers did roll in a little after dark. We have been on this site before, which is not surprising as we reserve sites based on our master list. Most campers develop a list of preferred sites, spending a little time each trip eyeballing sites and writing down numbers.

I was a little concerned with the braking of the Alto after our last trip. I noticed that the brakes did not seem to be adjusted correctly, after the wheel bearing job I did. Before heading out on this trip I jacked up the wheels and adjusted the brake shoes a little closer to the drums. This made a difference, with the brakes now engaging more like they used to. You can really feel the improvement, as last trip I sensed right away something was not working as well as it had in the past. Perhaps they needed one trip to re-seat themselves correctly, and then a fine tune adjustment. 

As I as backing in the Alto, a couple of the warning lights started to flash on the Santa Fe. The all wheel drive and the stability control lights were blinking, not something I have seen before. I checked the manual and will need to bring the car in for service. As luck would have it, we have an appointment on Monday at the dealership to have a leak looked into, so now they have a couple more items to investigate.

Quite evening, listened to a bit of radio then hit the pit early since tomorrow we will be up late tomorrow. We will be heading to Helen and Paul's cottage to spend the afternoon with them, probably doing some boating and a BBQ. Every year we try to see them while staying at this park, since their cottage road is only 5 min. down the highway.  A nice treat to camp and see good friends at the same time...

The boys were rambucious early this morning, especially Riley, who was up and about at 4:30. After being ignored for a while, he finally settled down again.

Why is the pump running???

We noticed late last season that the water pump would cycle on several times over a short period, for no reason. We kept an eye on this and it was a pretty regular event. It was like there was a small leak somewhere that was allowing the built up pressure to fall, and requiring the pump to come on. I checked all the lines and taps but all were good. After a little internet research, I discovered there is a tiny check valve inside the pump head, which prevent the water that is under presure from draining back into the fresh water tank. When this starts to wear, this is exactly what happens, the water hads back from where it came, and the pump starts up every so often. As this was becoming more regular, it was time to fix.

Individual parts for these Shurflo pumps are readily available, and I was first aiming to just get a new check valve and change it, until in my parts search I discovered a spot that was selling the entire pump head for only about $15 dollars more than what it would cost to get the check valve. So, I ordered the whole head, which would be easier to change.

Three screws hold the pump head, although as is usually the case, getting at these is the hardest part. The water lines need to be disconnected, and I needed to take the pump off the floor to allow it to swivel enough to remove those three simple screws. Off with the old and on with the new, problem solved.

While I was doing this, I took the opportunity to change the water filter. The stock version is pretty basic and not very friendly to clean the filter. I swapped this out with a model that is much easier to clean.

2014 Trip 2: it's a long weekend, that means rain!

McLaren's Campground, St Lawrence Parks - May 2014

Sure enough, nothing but rain leading up to the long weekend as is generally the case. It is sometimes a little odd heading out when the weather is less than great, but this is made easier by the fact that we know we will be snug as a bug, and the whole point is to get away.

We've never been to the St Lawrence Parks group of campgrounds, so we plan to check out the options while we are down there. If it turns out to be a good area, it will be real handy as it is only a little over an hour to get to.

Very overcast with spots of rain, as we are now heading towards the band of weather that is moving east. Nice drive, through some great looking farmland and some great looking farms on them. Some serious dairy and beef operations in this area, one place had a big herd of long horn bulls, all of them just laying around, as cows tend to do in the rain. Pretty impressive looking beasts, those massive curved horns just scream...'don't mess with me'.  Nice looking campground, at least what we can see through the rain. Pretty open, but lots of trees and it seems well laid out. Our site is nice, with a gravel entrance and trailer pad. We are surrounded by lush, well maintained grass. Campground is almost full, and we have seen that some of these site are definitely seasonal, but not in our true definition of what we call seasonal. There are no additional sheds and other such structures, just perhaps a simple deck.

Spotted a rare sight as we drove in...another Alto. We have only ever seen one other in a campground. This one is the bright yellow model, making it doubly noticeable, beyond its distinctive shape. We will no doubt be wandering over there tomorrow.

Drizzling as we got set up. We have 30 amp and water, so they both will be put to full use this weekend. When the weather is crappy and cool, having electricity is more important. It means you do not have to worry about the draining the battery while generating heat, and it gives you the option of both the heat pump and the little oscillating heater. After our dead battery weekend last year, we are now much more aware of our 12 volt consumption. Got the boys settled in, as usual they explored their new home and then relaxed a bit.

2014 Trip 1: our fifth season begins, time sure flys

Cedar Cove, White Lake - May 2014
The much anticipated first trip of the season. We think about getting back out in our Alto most of the long winter. Pulled it out of storage last weekend, and spent the week putting all our gear back into it.

Everything wintered well, although the only thing unexpected would have been mice, but we have never had those guys. The Alto is pretty well sealed, so I suspect it would be challenging for them to get in. The weather recently has been a little iffy. Fortunately we had a few breaks in the cloud and drizzle that allowed us to get backed in and set up no problem.

The boys are with us, Barley and our new guy Riley. We are most curious how Riley reacts to being in the Alto, as he wil be a bundle of energy in a confined space. We are going to be very careful with entering and exiting, as he has proven to be a bit of a door darter. We have even brought his leash with a harness for use on him inside, while we are both outside. This will make it much less stressful for us getting back into the trailer, knowing he is secured inside. 

No rain this evening, but very windy about 30 km winds. This is a great site by the water, but you can really feel the wind off the cold water. Inside, the heat pump easily took the chill off. Nice to have a variety of heat sources, the heat pump being just one of them.  

First pull of the trailer with the new tires on the Santa Fe. Needed to replace the original Bridgestones, after only 65,000 klm. Actually, not even that many klm considering it rides on winters for almost 6 months. Pretty poor longevity.  Settled on a set of Michelin LTX MS2. They got mostly good reviews and should have a treadwear lifespan of 115,000klm. We shall see. So far, so good, they run smooth, little road noise, and seem to track well over the pavement.

Nice evening, not cool at all. The boys were good last night, sleeping up on the bed with us. Sunny morning with a few clouds, but the wind is quite strong and white caps on the water. Sun always helps though. Coffee started the day, then a little reading. Nothing nicer than to just take the time and relax in the morning. The weekdays are busy enough, real important to take advantage of the opportunity to slow down a bit. 

Cleaned and bleached the water system in the morning, one of the startup tasks that should be done every spring. I also cleaned the windows then applied a treatment to all the rubber seals on the Alto, which cleans and keeps the rubber moisturized. Given the number of seals all over the place, it is an important activity to do a couple of times a year. I also checked all the propane connections with leak detector fluid and cleaned the burner areas. Like they do with bar-b-ques little spiders can have a habit of making homes in these parts, so a little extra attention is important.

Barley once again has discovered my clothing bin under the bench, and was well ensconced in there all afternoon. Dale walked around the campground in the afternoon. Being a campground primarily for seasonal trailers

As the wind was howling, we opted for a simple meal inside. I did walk over to the camp store for a couple of ice cream cones for dessert. Watched a couple more episodes of Mad Men, then that was the day. Sky was very clear, and the moon almost full, a nice evening.

Woke up to a beautiful morning, very clear, the wind has calmed down, should be a good day. With the wind calmer this morning, there are zillions of little tiny winged bugs around. Not sure what they are, not mosquitos or black flies,...could be noseeums?  They cover and stick  to everything, and are annoying in their own right. These little guys seem to fly right through our screens so going to look into changing the screen material in the trailer to something with a finer mesh.  

Dale's parents are heading out to visit us this morning and we are going to the park restaurant, Lakeside Grill for Mother's Day breakfast. Afterwards we then started to pack up and headed home. Nice to know the Alto is once again all ready for another season.