Tag: Texas

Texas Busfest 2016

Rearview window.
Rearview window.

For the second year in a row, I attended Texas Busfest, although sadly without Melina as she was under the weather. Which was too bad, because the weather during the campout was, in fact, perfect. Temperatures were mild, skies were mostly clear, and nights were cool. It was a bit windy on Friday night, but that’s why you always bring a jacket.

It was good to see some familiar faces from the VW, and in particular Texas Vanagon communities. Word is that in total there were 85 VW vans, including a record 32 Vanagons in attendance. It wasn’t as big as last year overall, but still very well attended.

Olly ran great, and with his freshly painted bumpers, he looked pretty sharp as well. I used Rustoleum Bumper and Trim Paint, which is darker than the stock charcoal gray, but it has a satin trim that looks good. We’ll see how long it lasts. A number of other Vanagons had their lower rockers painted with Rustoleum Bed Liner Paint, and I think I’m going to go that route. I need to clean up some of the lower body seams, and then that should provide a pretty durable finish. Also on my mind are new seats. Sludge had some installed, and they are quite comfy. And leather! Shooftie has a write up, and if I can get the brackets made, it should be an economical option. I’m not crazy about black, but I could live with it for more comfortable seats.

I picked up some of Abel’s bug screens, and they’re quite nice. Very compact, and I think they’ll do a good job of keeping critters out when the front windows are open. Also, although  designed to be placed on the outside of the van, they’ll work on the inside as well, to deter theft. Now if I can get a three panel canvas for the pop top, and some darker curtains, we’ll be traveling in cool comfortable style.

Maybe you’d like to see some pictures?

 

Texas Busfest 2015

Last weekend Melina and I loaded up Olly and headed to the Busfest, a gathering of presumably like-minded Vanagonauts and Busnuts in central Texas. It was our first time joining the throng, and we were part of a crowd of over a hundred buses, 27 of which were Vanagons. I’ve honestly never see so many VW vans in Texas, and it was actually encouraging to discover it’s not all Chevy and Ford in the Lone Star State. Not that I have anything against Ford, what with Olly being Bostig’d and all. And for what it’s worth, there was even a Chevy-converted Vanagon present. It was quite impressive.

We took the canoe, and this was also the first time we’ve gone a significant distance with the canoe on the Yakima rack, and the whole thing worked wonderfully. I was able to load and unload the canoe by myself thanks to the Boat Loader extension bar, and strapping it down securely was easy. Only bad thing was that once tied down, the back hatch was inaccessible due to interference with the straps, but if I absolutely had to get in there, it would just mean unhitching the one rear strap.

Olly fared well otherwise, as he does. I kept the speed around 65 mph out of deference to the canoe, but we had the power to go faster. Unfortunately, with the van loaded down, the aging springs and suspension were made very apparent, and I’ve decided to elevate that to the next project. Definitely not something I’m looking forward to tackling.

Two upgrades bear mention.  The first was a new mattress pad for the lower bunk, bought on Amazon. The pad fits perfectly, and added so much comfort to the bed. Also, although it takes up a lot of space when we’re not using it, it’s much more compact than other memory foam type toppers I’ve seen some Vanagon campers travel with.

The second addition to the Vanagon kit is the Rear Hatch Shelter by Bus Depot, and it also impressed us. Having the rear hatch fully open kept the van much cooler both day and night, and it was an exceptionally handy place to change clothes, providing room with fewer obstructions than the main cabin. We need to get a better mat for the ground, but otherwise it’s great.

Of course the best part of the whole trip was meeting fellow Veedubers, who on the whole are a welcoming lot. In particular, it was great to meet the growing faction of Texas Vanagon owners, who have their own Facebook page. Visiting with others I learned a few things, although not most people’s names. Sorry if I can’t remember yours the next time we meet. Probably will remember your dog’s name, though.

I enjoyed, but didn’t record the symphony of boxers I heard during the weekend. Here instead are a few pictures:

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Palmetto State Park and the Luling Zedler Mill Paddling Trail

Last weekend the clinic was closed and Melina had off on Friday due to the county fair, so we were able to take advantage and get a couple quiet nights at Palmetto State Park. We left home on Thursday evening with the goal of paddling the Luling Zedler Mill Paddling Trail on Friday. I’d never carried the canoe on Olly before, so this was a bit of a learning experience for me.

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Olly wears a hat.

The park was, of course, pleasant as always. Since it’s so close to home, it really provides a nice quick getaway. I can’t really recommend anyone go out of their way to visit the park, although the CCC building on the river is lovely. The main attraction of the park for us is that it is familiar and easy. Also, I’m not certain, but a high point along the park road might provide some interesting sunset photographic opportunity. Olly’s new cabin lights performed perfectly, and I want to install at least one more in the cockpit area. The only trouble we experienced was a bit of intermittent behavior from the fresh water pump. I fussed with the fuse and got things working again, so I suspect that I need to give the fuse receptacles a good cleaning. And of course the blower fan is still out, but other than that, the van ran fine.

With Melina’s help I managed to load the canoe on top the van, strapping it down fore and aft. I threw a midline strap on as well, strapping it to the pop top just to keep the boat from shifting. Using a set of foam blocks I was able to keep the boat off the roof and get the boat snugged down quite well. I’m confident I could travel across country that way, and keeping speeds to about 65 mph, I didn’t really take a hit to the fuel economy (about 18 mpg). Nevertheless, it was somewhat inconvenient. First off, loading the boat isn’t easy to do with a 5’4″ assistant, and I scuffed the roof a bit. Secondly, there’s absolutely no way to pop the top with the boat up there short of removing the canoe. So I’ve purchased some Yakima towers and the Boat Loader extension bar. I’ll need to add some struts to the poptop facilitate the lifting, but in the long run, it’ll be a better system if we want to take the canoe with any regularity. Plus, I will be able to throw the basket up there if I want to carry other things as well.

The paddling trail is a 6 mile stretch of typical central Texas flat water on the San Marcos River outside Luling. Luling City Parks operates a shuttle service, which ported our boat and us from the take-out to the put-in. I arranged the shuttle by calling 512-227-1724 a few days before to confirm the staff would be around, and then when we actually arrived at the Mill. We had the river to ourselves, and the water level was high enough to provide decent paddling. We enjoyed some peanut butter and honey tortillas for lunch, and returned to camp afterwards for a leisurely afternoon.

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Melina wears a hat.

1600 Miles

A year ago I put the Bostig conversion in Olly. It has run spectacularly pretty much from day one, but it’s taken a bit longer to develop unwavering confidence in the engine conversion and my handiwork. A few weeks ago I made a lengthy solo trip from Texas to Nebraska, and I can now say that I’d take this beast anywhere.

Just before the trip, I got around to installing the HC oil pan. It’s yet another lovely piece of work by the Bostig boys and improves the clearance and (more importantly, in my opinion) the departure angle significantly. If you go Bostig, you’ll want one eventually. It has an oil level sensor (simple float type) built in, which connects to an idiot light you can install in the dash. It’s a great touch, but is hyper-sensitive. On brisk acceleration and strong (particularly rightward) turns, there’s enough movement of oil in the pan to cause the float to drop and trigger the light to flicker. I think I may be able to design a bit of circuitry which can dampen that “signal noise.” I don’t want to become so accustomed to tuning out the indicator lights that I don’t pay attention when something drastic happens. But that’s another project for yet another time. Everything works.

At any rate, I took care of a few loose ends here in Seguin, and drove northwards. I took SH-130 to I-35, allowing me to bypass the traffic-jam known as Austin entirely. As far as pieces of divided pavement go, it’s wonderful. There’s next to no traffic, the road is smooth and wide open, and even though the speed limit is 85, most people drive in the 70-80mph range. I kept to about 65-70, and never felt overly outgunned.

Once on I-35, it was pretty much on and off construction up through Fort Worth. That meant it was more congested, but on the plus side, kept the speeds down to 60, which is where the van really likes to ride. Combined with a bit of a tailwind, I managed to get 22.3 mpg through this stretch, my best tank ever in the Bostig. And the van, for that matter. (I broke that record the next day on a back-highways stretch through Kansas).

Oklahoma was easy going, and I was able to stop off in Ponca City to meet fellow Vanagonauts Maggie Dew and Larry Chase. We swapped some Vanagon and home improvement tales, and in the morning, showered and coffeed, I was able to continue northward. I stuck to US 77, since that ends up in Lincoln, Nebraska, my destination. Kansas was a pleasant drive, and I arrived in mid-afternoon. In total, I got 21.2 mpg for this northbound trip.

During my time in Lincoln, my brother got to see the Bostig conversion firsthand, and was really impressed with it. He tends towards the “keep it stock” school of automotive restoration, and generally dislikes mechanical and aesthetic modifications. He thought the

power got a comfortable boost from the Zetec, and he even agreed that while it doesn’t sound like a WBX, it sounds right for a Vanagon. So victory on those counts!

Nebraska Storm

After the weekend, I headed back home. The southbound journey cut directly through a Great Plains storm front and into headwinds through Kansas that killed my gas mileage. The worst tank was at 15.7mpg, and overall I got 17.8. Still, once I got into Oklahoma I was able to draft off of the semi trucks and that put me back into the 20+ range per tank, even despite the headwinds. The best part of the southbound trip was that I drove straight through, and the van kept going strong through the entire hot day, with temps hitting the upper 90’s in Texas.

This may not have been the most grueling road-trip for a van to undertake, but it was two 800+ mile trips in hot weather without incident. Okay, there was the moment where the driver’s windshield wiper worked itself loose in the Nebraska storm, but a quick stop under an overpass and things were set aright. That’s not an incident. That’s just flavor. During the trip, I never checked the oil, never worried about coolant or overheating, never worried if the van was going to get me there or back. And never was I stuck.

I just drove. And driving felt good.

Deep in the Heart of Texas

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This year we returned to Big Bend National Park for a few days of camping in Olly. On the way out we stopped over in Del Rio to visit Melina’s parents. The trip was uneventful with the exception of picking up a speeding ticket in Bracketville. Yes, a speeding ticket in a VW Vanagon.

We arrived in the park the next day to find it full because, for whatever reason, the entire state of Texas has Spring Break all in the same week. Since both Plan A (campground campsite) and Plan B (backcountry roadside campsite) fell through, we were forced to look outside the park. I wasn’t terribly worried since there’s a number of RV parks in neighboring areas, plus there’s the State Park nearby as well.

Ultimately we settled in a bare bones RV park just east of Study Butte. That’s the nice thing about camping in the Vanagon: close the curtains and you can grab a night’s sleep just about anywhere. At any rate, staying outside the park turned out to be a good thing. Since we were so close to Terlingua, we decided to hop over to the Starlight Theatre for dinner. Performing on the night we were there were Markley and Balmer, a singer-songwriter duo with a flair for jazzy chordings. The food was delicious, and the music was a treat. When we were done, we went back to our campsite, popped the top, and settled in for the night.

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We had decided to try our luck at getting a campsite in Big Bend, so the next morning we got up early and headed to the Cottonwood campground. As luck had it, a couple spots had opened up as we arrived, so we pulled in and staked our claim for the next few days. The campground was quiet (generators not allowed!) and spacious. It also has limited water resources, but fortunately we had filled Olly’s freshwater tank up at the Chisos Basin campground the previous day. After setting up our new Bus Depot Ezy Awning we dug in and did absolutely nothing. Well, Melina turned a few pages in a book, but for me even closing my eyes was too much work, so I did it once and then kept them shut.

IMG_9194That night the stars were proverbially big and bright. I tried to do a bit of astronomical photography on a dying camera battery. Sadly, the 40D isn’t cut out for night time photography, but it was fun nonetheless. The moon sank early and the sky was clear. It is always wonderful to see the Milky Way be the dominant feature of the sky.

IMG_9253The next day we were much more ambitious. After a brief bike ride to the nearby concessions store for a bag of ice, we took a longer ride from the campground down to the Santa Elena Canyon River Access where we had a picnic lunch. The Rio Grande was very low, and neither grand nor much of a river, to be honest. On the way back to the campground, Melina decided to try out not one, but two flat tires on her bike. I had one spare tube, and switched out her rear wheel for my good one so that she could ride home with relative ease. Never let it be said that chivalry is dead. Although after pedaling about four hilly miles on a flat tire I nearly was.

IMG_2287In the morning we tore down the campsite and took Olly up the Old Maverick Road to the ruins of Terlingua Abajo. The town was a small agricultural village inhabited in the first decades of the twentieth century. Now it is nothing more than the tumbled piles of stones and bricks where walls once stood, and a few graves to mark the lives that were spent there. We ate lunch at Cantina Abajo (wonderful views) and then climbed up the ridge that stands behind the town. Along the way we found lizards, butterflies, and blue bonnets. Later Olly took us back to the campsite. Melina made some tasty burritos (as always) and we lazed about through the afternoon.

On Friday we packed up our gear and headed back to civilization via a brief layover in Del Rio. Barring the flat tires on the bikes, the trip was without incident, which is pretty cool considering it was done in a vehicle that’s nearly a quarter century old. The Bostig engine plays no small part in that, and I can’t praise it highly enough. Our food was good and we received many waves and praises for our “cool van.” My only disappointment was that I didn’t see even one other Vanagon or Microbus on the road.

There’s more pictures. And video, too.

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Butterflies and Jellyfish

Mustang Island State Park, located on one of the Texas barrier islands in the Gulf of Mexico. According to propoganda provided by the TPWD, hundreds of wild horses once roamed the island. They are no more, but have been evolutionarily replaced by jellyfish and sand crabs, which we did observe in quantity.

The van drove wonderfully, despite the onslaught of a million butterflies bent on the complete obfuscation of our windshield. Once at the park we set up camp and ate leftover chili. Bedtime came early, but the strong breeze coming off the Gulf made for cool sleeping. Saturday saw us watching the sunrise, reading, napping, wandering, and dodging jellyfish. The breeze became more gusty as the day wore on, leaving a gritty film of salt on everything.

The park was nevertheless pleasant, largely because the human element was sparse. The campsites on either side of us, as well as many others throughout the campground, were vacant. I wouldn’t dare go to the park in July or August for fear of the herds of beach goers, but October is definitely acceptable. I suspect that January or February might be a bit cold temperature-wise, but would otherwise be delightful.

Perhaps you’d like to see some pictures.

Tubing on the River (Archive)

Edit: This article originally appeared on my Blogspot blog.

Hey folks… sorry there’s been no updates in a long time. We’ve been involved in a lengthy labor dispute with the elves who actually manufacture the pieces you read. Rest assured we’re in negotiations now, however, and we should be able to resume production shortly. We’ve got a lot of catching up to do, including tales of adventure from San Francisco and Costa Rica! In the meantime, please enjoy the following. We apologize for any inconvenience.

(Concan, Texas) This past weekend saw us engaged in death-defying watersport (see Melina above) on the raging Frio River in central Texas. We joined Kevin and Michele Glynn-Lopez (pictured at right, below) for a couple days of kayaking and tubing and general loafing-about.

Kevin and MicheleIn other news, the summer has been busy. Melina is almost done with her classes (wild cheering) and school will begin again shortly (booing and hissing). Hope all is well with you.

The Color of Fall (Archive)

Edit: This post originally appeared on my Blogspot blog.

Fall Leaves in Texas

In Texas, autumn lasts approximately forty-five minutes. In that moment, if you’re lucky, you’ll catch a flash of color before everything goes brown. One of the favorite spots of Texans to catch a glimpse of nature’s palette is at Lost Maples State Park, near Kerrville. Melina and I decided to get out of El Swampo (that’s Spanish for Houston) for the weekend and head for the hills. There we found many fascinating shades of green, but not a lot of what you’d call fall color. Still, it’s quite beautiful and we hope to get back sometime.

In any event, the break was needed, as life has been quite busy. Melina’s been buried under schoolwork, as usual. Just last week the search and rescue dogs found her beneath a landslide of young adult literature. For myself, the big news is that I’m passing on my Athletic Director and IT Director roles and am now the Dean of Students for the high school here. This is, of course, what happens when you arrive late for faculty meetings and all the long straws have been picked.

In any case, Happy Halloween!