This #vanlife is not all it is cracked up to be

Oh, the joys of #vanlife!

I was checking up on my Vanagon yesterday and noticed the coolant was low. Missing coolant is very bad in a Vanagon for many, many reasons.

I looked for a leak.

I could not find a leak. It was possible the car had just burped an air bubble and swallowed a cup or two of coolant from the reserve. I was not in a panic.

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Via my sister

A post shared by Jason Weisberger (@jlw) on Jul 25, 2017 at 4:09pm PDT

I also knew my power steering belt was looking really ragged. I decided to call the local shop I've been working with and see if they could swap the belt and pressure test the system today.

They said bring the bus in at 7am.

I drove the 10-15 miles to my mechanic with no problems at all. I had given myself an extra hour in the event something terrible went wrong with the cooling system, or the v-belt decided to trash my day on the way to being replaced.

It is a Vanagon, these things happen.

I got to the shop uneventfully. I love my bus. I take good care of it.

See, things work out!

I decided to park about 3 blocks away and get a cup of pretty terrible coffee from a Starbucks.

Starbucks had terrible coffee.

I, and Pretzel my faithful Cavalier King Charles companion, returned to the van. I turned the key in the ignition. Read the rest

Stranded family saved by message in a bottle

This summer, Curtis Whitson, his girlfriend, and 13-year-old son were hiking in Central California when they became stranded in a canyon near a waterfall with no way out. According to KSBW, "Whitson said he had rope to rappel down, but the river was running too swift and deep due to spring runoff. Backtracking was also not an option." Whitson found a green plastic water bottle, carved "HELP" in the side, put in a note, and tossed it over the waterfall. From CNN:

Some time after midnight the trio was awakened by the sound of a California Highway Patrol helicopter overhead.

"This is Search and Rescue. You have been found," someone said over the loudspeaker.

Whitson said he was told two men found the bottle with the family's note, floated down to the trailhead, then hiked a couple of miles and reached the campground where they alerted the camp host.

That host told Whitson about the hikers, but added the two left before the rescue without giving their names.

Read the rest

#Vanlife: Camping California's coast -- Gaviota State Beach

This is post is part of a series of reviews of Federal, State, and County provided campsites along California's amazing coastline.

I mistakenly thought Gaviota State Beach was Refugio State Beach. It is not.

Another parking lot style campsite adjacent to a fairly lovely California beach! Gaviota features a lot of bunnies, all of whom appear to have massive ticks in their ears, cold showers, and an all-night party. This is my least favorite style CA campsite, but my daughter really loved it.

Located 33 miles north of Santa Barbara, Gaviota is very popular with RV campers. The site I was in had no RV hookups and was your typical CA picnic table and shitty fire ring. There was no shade to be found and somewhat, unfortunately, a large group of RV campers had decided to leave open spots between their family of trailers when they booked in. This had several folks, not in their party, trapped inside of their large group free for all.

Aside from toddlers wandering around a field of open fire pits, and the occasional off-leash pitbull, we had a lovely overnight stop. I was glad I did not book a second night and we simply continued down the coast. I had thought this site was Refugio, which similarly is right on a beach with a very mild break, perfect for kids to boogie board or body surf.

There are a few really great beachside camping spots in the Santa Barbara area. I am looking forward to El Capitan and Jalama. Read the rest

#Vanlife: Camping California's coast -- the Pismo Beach Oceano Campground

This is post is part of a series of reviews of Federal, State, and County provided campsites along California's amazing coastline.

I've visited the Oceano Campgrounds at Pismo State Beach several times this summer. Conveniently located right off the 101 highway along the central coast of California, Pismo is a great place to take a break.

There are other State-run campsites at Pismo, Oceano is not 'Oceano Dunes,' nor is it 'the Pismo North Campground.' Oceano sits on a lovely, bird-filled lagoon about 2 short blocks from the State beach. The sites are very typical of Cal State camping, picnic tables and fire rings. I've stayed in both sites with RV hookups and tent camping sites. I felt situated a little closer to other campers than I'd have liked for a several-day visit, but as a convenient overnight place to stop, cook and shower? Oceano kicks ass.

The hosts and rangers are also very nice people here and are super helpful.

There is a Mexican restaurant right outside the very modern and nice Visitor Center, however I have not tried it. The hamburger shack about 1 block towards the beach, Adam's Burgers, is fantastic. Enjoyed by both my daughter and I. There is also a small market, and a coffee shack that'll sell you t-shirts and stickers as well.

There were a lot of RVs set up for lengthier stays. Most folks had dune buggy type cars, but nothing as cool as Wonderbuggy. Oceano Dunes is one of the last places folks can hoon around in the sand. Read the rest

This portable fire pit is pretty nice to have around

I was absolutely thrilled with this hot burning, nearly smoke-free portable fire pit.

If you are dispersed camping and you do not want to dig a fire pit everywhere you go, or you just want to enjoy a wood-burning fire in your backyard without scorching your pavement or yard, this fire pit has me convinced.

A friend joined me at the coastal camping site I've enjoyed this week. When he asked whe he could bring I told him firewood would be awesome, as the camp hosts were selling stuff that just wouldn't burn. I'd tried lighting some charcoal and using it as a base to start my fires, but they were still just smokey and unfun. I had given up on reading by the fire with my whiskey and had taken to going to bed early.

Lo and behold my friend arrived with the Solo Stove 'Ranger' -- a portable firepit that is designed to maximize airflow to the fuel, burn hot, radiate heat but thrown off almost no smoke. It is 'lightweight' for car camping uses and only weighs in around 15lbs. He took the Ranger out of its bag, threw some wood in it and then set the fire off with a tablespoon or two of the white gas I keep around for my Coleman Stove (we've both know White Gas as 'LBS' or liquid boy scout since our teens.) Instantly the fire was started and within a few moments it was roaring along!

The Solo Stove only put off smoke when there was wood fuel above the top line of the stove. Read the rest

#Vanlife: Camping California's coast -- Morro Strand

This is the first in a series of reviews of Federal, State and County provided campsites along California's amazing coastline.

I started my summer of #vanlife at the Californa State Park campsite of Morro Strand. It was pretty depressing to sit there, but you can leave and see wonderful things.

Morro Strand is a cement parking lot next to the beach along California's beautiful central coast. You can see Morro Rock, and easily drive to San Simeon, Cambria, Los Osos or Montaña de Oro. Hearst Castle is also close by.

The campsite has solid support by rangers, the camp host is very nice. There is no shade at most of the campsite. State-provided wifi is sufficient and will allow you to run a VPN. The site is so nestled into a residential area along the coast that it appears pizza and other forms of local food delivery are available to campers.

There is drinking water available and there are restrooms, however no showers! If you'd like to shower however, you are allowed to take your camping pass and drive to Morro Bay State Park and use theirs. The showers at the Morro Bay Campground have long been amongst the best in the Californa system.

Morro Bay was so crowded in late June, however, it looked like a refugee camp.

Morro Strand was mostly RV campers, and mostly groups of 2-3 campers who situated next to one another who were throwing multi-day beach parties. The camphost and rangers kept things well under control and life was always family friendly, clean and relatively quiet. Read the rest

Recycled polypropylene rug helps my dog look GOOD

This Mad Mats rug keeps sticks, dirt, burrs and other garbage out of my dog's fur and out of my camper!

6'x9' and awfully stylish, I've had this rug since 2013 and it looks as good as new. Excellent for throwing down just outside the door of my VW Vanagon, under our pop-up shade, or right next to the picnic table where I am cooking and working.

When you spend a lot of time with your dogs in the outdoors, anything that helps keep them a little cleaner, and make life seem a little more luxuriant, is welcome. Like getting nice furniture in your prison cell!

There are other styles, pick the one you love!

Mad Mats Oriental Turkish Indoor/Outdoor Floor Mat, 6 by 9-Feet, Rust via Amazon Read the rest

I can quickly set up this easy-up canopy all by myself

This easy to set-up canopy is cheap AND actually easy to set up.

I am spending most of my summer camping with my dogs. Shade became very important on day 2 when I realized that not having shade on day 1 toasted the back of my neck. Despite liberal smearing of 60 SPF broadspectrum sunscreen, I had to find a solution that'd work for me.

I largely travel without human companionship, and when I do it tends to be of the 12-year old variety (less-than-helpful.) I needed a canopy that'd easily go up, and I wanted to be able to quickly tear the thing down if wind unexpectedly kicked up. I am trying to stay to beaches and coastal campsites, where wind can be an enemy.

This EzyFast 6x6 shade does the job! It is fairly light, the manufacturer says 17lbs, and very simple to put up by my ownself. The frame is a single unit that practically expanded itself when I took it out of the bag the very first time. Once the frame is out and locked into place with handy built-on locks, you put the cover on and then extend the legs. You can weigh it down by putting stuff in the weight pockets built into the cover.

The cover material is a bit thin, but it'll do. The stakes the unit came with are nearly useless, but with additional weigh in the cover it seems to stay in place just fine. If it gets windy out, however, I will lower the legs, remove the cover and go hide in the camper. Read the rest

This leakproof, double walled water bottle really keeps stuff cold

The Hydroflask kept my daughter's water super cold during a baking hot road trip. I had a recyclable plastic water bottle and drank warm to hot water.

I usually don't buy into my daughter's fancy waterbottle addiction and stick with refilling empties. The Hydroflask stainless steel, double-walled, slip-proof water flask with a leak-proof lid is worth having! My kid put water and a few ice cubes in her lovely flask before we hit the road while I had frozen a Daisani waterbottle overnight. By noon I had hot water, and she still had cold water.

Then someone dropped a camera bag on my water bottle and a lot of my warm water escaped onto our camper van's floor.

I made my kid share her cold with the dogs.

I'm getting the 40oz version. She has a 64.

Hydro Flask 40 oz Water Bottle - Stainless Steel & Vacuum Insulated via Amazon Read the rest

Stove top pressure cookers are still awesome

The classic pressure cooker was the instant pot before there was an instant pot.

Want to turn shoe-leather style brisket into a wonderful pulled-beef sandwich filling in 25 minutes? Get out the pressure cooker. Simply throw food in the pot, make sure you've got a good seal, and let it cook.

This pressure cooker easily stores with your pots and pans. It is simple to clean, easy to use and I haven't found anything that makes me wish for an instant pot.

A pressure cooker has been a fantastic addition to my car camping kit.

T-fal P2614634 Secure Aluminum Initiatives 12-PSI Pressure Cooker Cookware, 6-Quart, Siver via Amazon Read the rest

I love this MSR Alpine kitchen knife

This lightweight, durable MSR kitchen knife comes sharp and stays sharp.

You can also sharpen it quite easily.

I used to buy camping kitchen knives at the dollar store. I'd use them for a season, or part of a season, and then throw them away. They were cheap but unfortunately also disposable. Years ago this MSR Alpine Kitchen Knife came with a set of cooking kit. I have not needed a new knife since.

Good for chopping, paring, slicing and spreading -- this knife will do it all if I'm camping alone and not feeling like taking out silverware. Sure, I'll eat with the kitchen knife.

I have gotten a lot of use out of this blade and only had to sharpen it once. It holds an edge very well.

The Alpine Kitchen Knife is lightweight and has a bit of flex, but is a pleasure to work with. The knife comes with a lightweight plastic sheath for the storaging, as well.

MSR Alpine Kitchen Knife via Amazon Read the rest

My On-the-go gaming set-up

Mostly for use during extended camping trips in my Volkswagen camper, I'm running a docked Nintendo Switch and 13.3" 1080p IPS monitor all off of power banks.

Spare me the horseshit about how awful it is I or my kid might play video games inside our camper van while camping. We like to play video games and we're spending a lot of time in our Westy this summer. I wanted my kid and her cousins to be able to play Mario Kart. I like to play Fortnite. This system is getting us hours and hours of playtime.

Nintendo is sensitive to the order in which these devices are plugged together. Failure to follow the correct order frequently results in starting over. I plug a stock Nintendo power supply into this 20,000 mAh AC Outlet bearing power bank. The power bank is rated to 100W and has some internal fans to cool down if it gets too hot. Thus far the Nintendo doesn't force it to cool very often. The Nintendo USB-C power supply evidently will draw a max of 39W and this battery should be more than capable of providing hours and hours of power. Playtesting has shown it to run down about 10% in an hour.

I plug the Nintendo power supply into a Nintendo Switch dock. I then plug an HDMI Cable into the dock. The other end of the cable connects to my 13.3" 1080p IPS display. I use an HDMI to HDMI-mini cable that came included with the monitor. Read the rest

Easy to use, light to pack: Air Chairs for the beach or camping

These simple to inflate Air Chairs add a lot of fun to family trips. Read the rest

Cat-sized camping tents

If you've ever stood in the camping section of a big box store and wondered how you could snag one of those miniature display tents for your pet, wonder no longer. Enter Cat Camp, an Australian company that has created teeny tiny tents for indoor cats. Their Cat Tents ($59.95) pitch like a human-sized tent but, to be clear, these are for inside the house, not the great outdoors.

We set out to create the most unique, high-quality cat bed. This product is modeled on full-size tent and made to look just like the real thing. Cat Camp is a great addition to any house and a cozy hideaway for all cats.

Cats love small, dark and comfy places - this behavior is instinctive so they can hide from predators and they naturally feel safe when the walls of a box or tent come into contact with their little furry bodies.

The cute, it hurts!

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Comfy kitty in her cat camp hideaway. http://www.catcamp.co Order yours today. #comfycat #comfycats #catcampco #catcamp #catstagram #catsofinstagram #cozycat #cats

A post shared by Cat Camp - Tiny Tents for Cats (@catcampco) on Feb 4, 2016 at 10:43pm PST

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Such a great photo of Gus. One of the best. Www.catcamp.co #caycee #cats #catcampco #catcamp #catsofinstagram #kitten #cutecat #lookatmykitty #cosykitty #comfycats

A post shared by Cat Camp - Tiny Tents for Cats (@catcampco) on Feb 6, 2016 at 5:22am PST

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It's just like a camp site.

Read the rest

Nissan releases all-electric camper van model

Nissan electric cargo vans had become a favorite of people who wanted to convert them into electric campers, so Nissan has now come out with an official model. Read the rest

This device lets me work in mosquito-free bliss

For part of the year, my wife has a gig that brings us into northern Alberta. To save money and make the most out of being here, we live off the grid in our RV for weeks at a time, relying on our rig's power system, propane and water tanks to keep us going. I connect to the internet through my T-Mobile phone plan. It’s quiet, I have a beautiful view of the Rocky Mountains and, when I want to go for a hike in the woods, all I need to do is grab my bear spray and step outside. There’s just one thing I’d change about being out here.

The frigging mosquitoes.

They’re plentiful enough that I can’t step foot out of the RV without for more than a minute in the late afternoon without being chewed on, instantly. They’re small enough that, even when I haven’t opened the door in 24 hours, they still manage to find a way inside. Today’s been a bad mosquito day: we had some pretty heavy rain last week, which resulted in a lot of big puddles being created around where we camp. Mosquitoes breed in standing water. There’s thousands of the little bastards outside right now. Despite having stuffed paper towel into the space between all of my screens and windows to buttress the weather stripping that’s already there, I’ve killed 12 of the buggers since I sat down to work, just over an hour ago. On days like this, I break out my Thermacell and set it up inside. Read the rest

Jiffy Pop always did suck over a campfire

I have wonderful childhood memories of Jiffy Pop over a campfire. They are absolutely false.

Jiffy Pop is the hardest way to make popcorn I've seen. Even stove top preparation is a pain. If you pay a lot of attention, and keep the pan in constant motion, Jiffy Pop on a gas stove is still a pleasure. The spiral aluminum top is just heaven to watch fill up.

Cooking Jiffy Pop over a campfire results in upset children. Jiffy Pop really can not be popped over dancing flames and massively uneven temperatures. If you really want to make campfire Jiffy Pop I suggest you dig some coals out of the fire, make a small pile, and try with more even heat.

I'm going camping, and I take Jiffy Pop with me! I just use a gas stove I use to pop it.

Jiffy Pop Butter Popcorn via Amazon Read the rest

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