Another road trip approaching, another round of “improvements” to our 2001 Volkswagen Eurovan Camper. We’re up to 71,400 miles on this baby and we love it more each time we get to use it. During each road trip, we think of things we can do to it to make the next trip better. Thus, the never-ending modifications…
Since my last post about this (Eurovan Obsession, November 12, 2009) we did the GoWesty Lift and Level Kit, which made a big difference in stability and ride. Plus, it’s cool having Mercedes Benz wheels on the van as well as a little more clearance.
Yesterday, I added:
- Yakima 8B Side Rails (Kwik Loaders) so I could put my old crossbars on top and use our Thule Spaceboost or whatever it’s called. We also might put the canoe on top if the mood strikes us to do a float down Big Springs next week (the origin of the Henry’s Fork of the Snake River, in Island Park, Idaho). The hardest part of installing the Side Rails was figuring out where they should go. I tried finding pictures of late model Eurovans with them installed, but could not, so I thought I’d document it in case anyone else wants another user’s input on it. Here in a nutshell, is how I did it:
- I wanted the biggest spread between bars I could get and still easily add the rooftop box I have, which turned out to be about 40″. Then I checked the overall length of the box (ours is 90″) and made sure it wouldn’t interfere with the rear door or roof vent. This put the center of the front bar about 25″ from the front of the poptop.
I used the Side Loader as a template to mark the two 5/16″ drill holes for the front rail. The elevation location of the loader rail – at least on this poptop – must rest on the bottom of the curve just above the lower part of the poptop that holds the gasket. Any higher and the inside mounting plate will not fit. I was concerned that the plastic-coated clips on my Yakima towers (which clamp onto the bottom of the Kwik Rail) wouldn’t have enough clearance because of the protruding lip just below the rail, but it just barely clears it when fully tightened (the instructions refer – briefly and vaguely – to this, but since they’re not vehicle-specific you just have to check it on your particular ride).
- Then I measured 40″ back to find the rear location, and marked the drill holes there.
Then I checked the inside of each location to make sure the mounting plate would fit; there are structural ribs located inside the poptop ever 12″ or so, which could interfere with your fore-aft location. I had to move my original spot about an inch in the front to avoid hitting one of those ribs.
- Once I had the locations marked and double-checked the measurements to make sure I had the rails set up exactly in the same place on both sides, I started drilling the first two holes. I learned quickly that it is much easier to line up the holes by starting the drill actually through the rail holes. The first two holes I just drilled through my pencil marks, and the bolts were about 1mm too far apart for the inside mounting plate to fit over the bolts. It took some pounding and re-drilling to get the two holes in the mounting plate to slide over the bolts. The tolerances are fairly tight, so it’s much better to get the holes started through the actual holes in the Kwik Rail. I had no trouble with the other three once I figured this out.
- When drilling each hole, I made sure to keep the tent material safely out of the way in case the drill bit flew too far through the poptop. Access on both the front and rear spots was fairly good, but I had to raise and lower the poptop several times for each rail; to avoid having to go inside the van each time I dropped the poptop down and release the latches, I put a 2×6 scrap at the front to keep the lid from going all the way down. This saved a bit of time and energy.
After testing the fit of the bolts with the gasket and the inside plate, I removed the assembly and added a small bead of Goo (clear poly auto adhesive/sealant) to the part of the bolt just up against the inside of the gasket.
- Fully gooed, I put the assembly back into the holes, added the lock-washer and nut, and tightened it all up with a 1/2″ socket and ratchet. I checked for tightness on each one, and noticed a small amount of Goo oozed above and below each bolt, as well as a little rubber-squishing of the gasket. Since the poptop is just a huge piece of molded plastic with no insulation or anything to crush, I tightened the bolts fairly tight without worrying too much about damaging the poptop.
Overall, it went pretty smoothly. One thing I added to the setup was a home-made bolt cover for the inside of poptop to protect the tent fabric from getting cut up with the bolts protruding from the nut. I cut two synthetic wine corks into four equal pieces each (total of eight), and then used a 1/4″ drill bit by hand to ream out enough material to be able to “screw” the cork piece onto the end of each bolt. It would have been nice of Yakima to include those flexible plastic caps to cover the bolts and nuts, but in a pinch I hope my method will keep my tent from getting torn… Time will tell.
Front dash utility rack: I spent some quality time at Target and found a small organizer to hold our cell phones and other doodads safely out of the way. I used a couple small metal brackets (which I had to modify a little) and the existing screws in the upper part of the lower dash cover to secure this gizmo.
- Two 12-volt outlets – just tapped into the existing outlet. Got these at Radio Shack pretty cheap.
- An iPod/MP3 player cable – tapped through the lower dash cover and held in place with a rubber grommet. If I want to use it I can pull it out at least a couple feet.
- Rear medicine chest cabinet shelf: also from Target, a little organizer tray that I snipped up and screwed in at a slight angle to make the cabinet a bit more user-friendly. Would it have added much more to Winnebago’s conversion to put a little shelf in there? Anyway, I’m thinking this will be a good spot for my toilet bag, which on previous trips was just lumped in there with Windex, paper towels, dog treats, licorice, hand-cuffs, Kim Chee, and an old dog-eared copy of Pride and Prejudice.
With my new schedule and Leslie’s more flexible schedule, we occasionally get a batch of days with no particular requirements. Last week was the latest, and we blasted out of Boise on Wednesday headed to the Oregon coast in the Eurovan. Leslie and I were both eager to introduce Angus to the ocean, and to reacquaint Glenna with the salty water.
We made it to Bend in time to go to Trader Joe’s for “supplies.” Within minutes we were fighting over bran muffins, which I wanted for breakfast and Leslie did not. This made the rest of our shopping experience feel a bit awkward, and I was glad when we got out of there. Then we navigated our way to dinner at Deschutes Brewery where tempers calmed over a yummy CDA (Cascadia Dark Ale, also known as a “black IPA”) and a pilsener for Leslie. I forget what we ate as it didn’t really matter with that kind of beer. Then we headed toward Sisters, hoping to cross the Cascades on the windy Mackenzie Pass road, which I’d ridden up on our honeymoon seven years earlier. Closed because of the snow, we took the Santiam Highway past Suttle Lake (really), and turned up a Forest Service road looking for a “primitive” camping opportunity so the dogs could run unfettered and we could relax.
After some hunting and pecking we found a great spot, and the dogs began their high-speed, long-running exploration of the area, checking back in occasionally for water since we were on a mountain and not near any stream so far as we could tell. On one of Angus’s check-ins, I noticed he pooped something liquiddy and went over to look. Blood! A few minutes later, he did it again, and it was more profuse. Since I have a Ph.D. (not in science) I found a ziplock bag and obtained a sample of the bloody mucus so I could show it to a vet. Leslie and I both worried Angus was seriously ill and contemplated heading right home, but since he seemed normal otherwise we decided to try to find a vet in the morning somewhere on our way toward the coast.
Which we did in Lebanon. The nice vet at Lebanon Animal Hospital determined it was giardia, gave us some medication, and we made it to the ocean by lunch-time. Angus followed Glenna to the surf and romped in the sand, drinking only occasional mouthfuls of seawater as if to check again if it really tasted that bad. At one point he stopped to piss, and tasted his urine as if conducting a taste test. Glenna seemed right at home even though it was only her second time on the coast. Although it was gorgeous, the experience was mitigated severely by howling wind and Angus’ insistence on trying to eat every piece of flotsam and jetsam he could get in his mouth, which gave Leslie and me the willies, imagining more rectal expulsion of blood by the little guy we still affectionately call “Braindamage.”
At Pacific City we stopped at Pelican Pub & Brewery for a pint, where I got into an argument with our waitress about the date it was founded. I swore I was there in 1988 on my trip around the country, but she insisted it didn’t open until 1996. So I slayed them all, and we left without paying. Leslie mentioned something on the way back to the van that I might reconsider getting off the Efexxor.
We targeted Manzanita for dinner, and chose a pub that had good food and better beer. Manzanita is where Leslie’s dear friend Allan owns some property on which he plans to build a beach house soon, so she wanted to check out the town. It was quaint, clean, and not over-run with tourists or businesses. The pub’s clientele seemed pretty diverse but all fairly well-to-do, many probably weekenders from Portland (it’s only a couple hours from the big city but feels like several days away). Everyone including the employees were very friendly.
Heading north after dinner we stopped in Cannon Beach as dusk faded and found a nice RV campground, which, as with all non-primitive campgrounds, we had to keep the mutts on their leashes. This one was on a creek just a ways off the beach, and featured numerous rabbits who seemed to delight in taunting Glenna and Angus.
After our EVC breakfast (coffee and instant oatmeal), we took the dogs to Cannon Beach to run free on the massive stretches of flatflat sand, and both pooches took full advantage of their unfetteredness. It was a joy to watch. I took more “Taisie” modeling shots of Leslie, thinking some of the pix might end up on her website (stay tuned for a post on that in the near future).
Astoria was next, where we could not for the life of us remember which street we bombed down to the dock at the end of our first Cycle Oregon several years ago (2007 I think?). Soon we were fighting, once again, over how to get to IKEA, which was “near” Portland International Airport. Finally inside, the miraculously huge selection of quality, reasonably priced household items calmed us both and we made it out of there alive. We stopped for a brief visit with my dear friend Joan in southeast Portland before heading off to Maupin, along the Deschutes River, to camp.
The salmon flies had just hatched, and filled the dusk sky with their huge (for insects) silhouettes. I found lots of mating pairs on the grass leaves along the river, accompanied by lots of large stoneflies. This has got to be the favorite mealtime for trout because of the comparative enormity of the food unit these insects represent. A fish would have to eat 100 times the number of small mayflies to get the same bang that one salmonfly provides. I felt happy for the fish, and a bit sad that I didn’t have my fly rod with me.
I was also sad I did not bring my bagpipes when a man named Steve Hughes from Portland stopped by our campsite. He saw the “McMichael Piping” sign on the van and asked if I was the piper. It turned out that Steve was a fairly new piper also, at about 65 years of age, from Portland. We chatted for a while and I showed him my electronic chanter (good for practicing when you don’t want to bother anyone because you use earphones). Note to self: bring pipes on all road trips from now on.
After a decent night of sleep, we headed back toward Boise, driving through Fossil and along the John Day River to Unity, and Leslie and I reminisced about the Columbia Plateau and Elkhorn Classic stage races we’d done years ago. Gorgeous country, no traffic, good (Oregon) roads (Idaho roads, by contrast, are horrible as a rule). 1300 some-odd miles, lots of looking (not enough doing stuff outside the car, we both agreed), and several more ideas on how to configure the Eurovan camper for a more comfortable living/traveling experience. I hope to have time to add a post about those details soon.