My Girl: Gettin' After It!!

My Girl: Gettin' After It!!
My truck on her maiden voyage in Moab 2012

Sunday, June 7, 2015

The Maiden Voyage of the Family Wagon

The truck has transitioned into part station wagon from the days of yore.

This past week was the trial run of outfitting the truck to support an extended stay away from home for me, the wife, the kid, and the dog. All four ecosystems and the accompanying...'stuff'... needed to be accommodated by the truck over the course of a full work week spent away from home in the Outer Banks of North Carolina.

As always, I was not afforded nearly sufficient opportunity to test fit and dry run any of the arrangements prior to departure. So the trip itself became a shakedown run after I hurriedly through together the components as best I could the night before while Junior was sleeping and during the two hours or so once my wife returned home from work that morning prior to leaving.

This is how it all went down:

 Although I wasn't sure whether or not we would seek to obtain an OHV permit to drive in the Hatteras and Ocracoke OHV Management areas, I thought it was prudent to ensure that I had the minimum requirements covered: Full size Spare, Jack and offroad base, recovery straps, fire extinguisher, first aid kit, and shovel. As you can see, most of those items just ended up in the bed as I didn't have a chance to fabricate any brackets for this new configuration. The shovel got bungee strapped to the roof rack.
 Our first stop was actually Wilson, NC to spend an afternoon and the next morning with my wife's parents and brother. In the morning, I got up and actually did some exercise for a change while on vacation. I brought Maddy with me and we went to a nearby shopping center and ran a couple of laps around the parking lot. There weren't really any sidewalks in their part of town and the shoulders were minimal at best.
 Maddy was all tuckered out and sought the shade of the truck. The cap throws an even larger shade profile for her to lounge in than what we had before.

 That morning we didn't really have an itinerary or a plan for what we'd do at the beach; so, I was game to make any interesting stops along the way. This was one of them.

 I've had my son alone with me and also with the dog; this was the first time for all four of us in the truck. The good thing of having the Mrs. here was that I didn't really need to fire up the bottle warmer setup at all, and if he got cranky, she could take the lead with him. I was pretty much the designated Maddy caretaker. Here we were getting some grub at a Wendy's. He had solid food at the table.

The truck was arranged as such:

My wife bought more bags than I ever could have imagined. I was able to get most of them into the back under the cap. The kid's stuff was largely tucked in what became his own personal row. He had like 4 bags despite being only like 25 lbs. Although Maddy had to share the rear bed area with some baggage, she got her own ventilated section that I carved out using her crate and a fan that I wired up that morning from West Marine. The side windows opened to vent and provide fresh air. And anytime we were stopped or travelling less than 25 mph, I opened the rear hatch. For the first leg down, we stopped every hour to make sure it wasn't getting too hot despite the fan and the open rear windows. Maddy got treated to ice cubes and ice water on each of those breaks.

Daddy got a small duffel bag and a backpack for my computer and camera gear. Woe is the lowly Daddy.
This is the land of the lifted truck
 It would prove to largely be a rainy and overcast week. I didn't mind that though, as it meant that the temperatures would largely be cool enough to allow Maddy to chill in the cap with the fan running while we went inside to eat.
We stopped here really just because this is my father-in-law's name.

I just thought this slogan was funny

 So since it was shaping up to be such a rainy dreary week, I thought that maybe we could spend the time driving around to various sights instead of being cooped up inside of a pet-friendly hotel room.

The area is renown for its lighthouses. I decided we would travel to the areas lighthouses if the weather was inclement, and if we got a break in the weather, we could carve out some beach time. It was also an opportunity to test out how long the harmony of wife, baby, dog would last at any given length of time needed to make these short day trips.
 The closest launch was the Bodie Island lighthouse which was about 13 miles away from where we stayed in Kill Devil Hills. We arrived after closing and really just went for the photo opps. A couple of other families were doing the same. The Dad of another family warned of the presence of the biting flies that his family had fled from as they neared the actual structure. I noticed a few where we were, and thanked the other father for his diligence in shepherding his family to safety and forewarning another of the potential calamity. (I am really embracing the Dad-mode. Other Dads are acknowledging my Dad-ness).

I used my tripod to setup this shot. 

 We actually passed this day-use area for Coquina beach along the way to Bodie Island lighthouse. We stopped in on the return leg as there was also a sign indicating that this is where one could purchase the OHV weekly or seasonal passes. I made use of the potty in this area.

 As if I could resist taking some sunset shots. Of course I couldn't.

 I think the next day, we set out for Currituck Island Lighthouse. This one is in the Corolla area of the Outer Banks. I knew this day would entail an opportunity to again find the wild horses and do some beach driving and puddle splashing as we last had done with Bruce and his family back in '13.
 I don't think any of these trucks actually wheel, but man do they make some pretty good, menacing builds down here.
 For $10 per adult, you can earn the privilege of hiking up some 200+ stairs in humid air to get to see viewpoints such as these. I strapped the kid to my chest and continued up. After the prior day's workout, my legs were SCREAMING. I couldn't really let on though, because there were some of those eternally spry old people who were making the climb and subsequent descent with relative ease. I had a baby sitting on my diaphragm though. Anyway, we did it and it was fine. We weren't going to climb anymore daggone lighthouse steps though.

 From there we set out to Corolla to drive on the beach and see the wild horses.

I got some video of us encountering some hapless Jersey-ans in a Land Rover who believed that the recommendation to air down did not apply to them...unless they got stuck. Well they got stuck, and as we happened upon them, they were like, "We might not need any help. Just gonna air down and see."

I kindly advised that their truck would not suddenly float out of the ruts they had created, and that I didn't mind winching them back to more firmly packed sand so they make another go at the exit ramp with properly deflated tires.

(It was so foggy/misty that a lot of the lens was obscured by condensation that had accumulated; so, it isn't particularly good video.)
 We drove for a while and were passed by a great deal more tour service vehicles than we encountered when were last here. We saw one enter the beach from one of the upcoming exit points and decided we should jump off there to recreate our own tour. There actually was a tour vehicle ahead that had stopped maybe 300 yards from the beach. And that's where we encountered...Nature.

 We were well beyond the legally required 50 foot distance. The kid showed no excitement.

 Truck amongst the waves shots #1 and #2.

 And I guess #3
 There were a few things I forgot while hastily packing the truck. One of those items was a stroller. We had two. One was a conventional stroller that receives his car seat. The other is a jogging stroller that also connects to the car seat. I had intended to bring the jogging stroller, but as you can see, I'd have been hard pressed to fit it back there. And this is AFTER having deposited the luggage at the hotel. What we ended up doing was purchasing a cheap-o stroller from Target back in Wilson, NC. It collapses down to basically nothing. We only used it once as a chair for the kid while we broke here for lunch. This will be the standard for travel though if I am bringing the full family. It was a fortunate oversight. An unfortunate oversight was that I also failed to bring any of the 45 camp chair that we presently own. Because we already have so many, neither of us thought it worthwhile to pick up any more.

We decided that we should make a series of checklists depending on the type of excursion to make sure we have the items we intend to bring with us accounted for. Like a pre-flight checklist. It was actually the wife's idea and I instantly gravitated to it. It is a very basic consideration, but as it turned out, the mental exercise of planning for 3 other beings was more than what I have been able to do in the back of my head while prepping for an offroad weekend. I keep a lot of that stuff in the truck anyway, and there are only a few more items that I add just prior to leaving. I need to take a more formal approach for the family outings.

 They use Nissan Titans for the Sheriffs' vehicles. I had to pose.
 Doing my best to wrangle baby and dog.

We did get to spend a little time on the beach when we got back to our hotel that evening. The dog hates the water. The baby is fearless and has a propensity for getting copious amounts of sand near his eyes and mouth, which pretty much made us decide to end the beach time. But it was really cute seeing him crawl around and try to interact with Maddy on the beach.
 The following day was the longest.

We set out to get to the Cape Hatteras lighthouse which was like 40 miles from us and then continue to Ocracoke Lighthouse which was another 30 miles, plus a ferry, and maybe 13 more miles from the landing point. Along the way, we stopped in the OHV Management trailer, I watched the video, paid the $50, and obtained my weekly permit in the event we had the chance to get out on the sand again. (In Hatteras and Ocracoke, one needs a permit. In Corolla, there is no permit requirement).

 We actually made pretty short time to the Hatteras lighthouse. This one was a bit more isolated than Currituck and the fee was only $8 for adults to climb. Again, the screaming of the legs had both of us decline another such excursion to the top.

 From here it was a longish drive to reach the ferry, which runs surprisingly often, and, even more surprisingly, is FREE. The kid got cranky this day. He had been a trooper up to this point. But at 9 months, and spending quite a good chunk of the past couple of days in the truck, you couldn't really blame him.
 After this photo was taken, he came over to ride up front with me and calmed down a great deal.
 Obligatory 'truck on the ferry shot'.

 Maddy's fan runs constantly when she's in the truck, even when the truck is powered off. It is fed from an auxiliary battery that is also supported by a 160 watt solar panel. The motor would burn out before it ran out of juice.

I had tried to get a fan with a cage, but the $22 one was so cheaply made that I returned it on my first opportunity that morning before we departed to obtain a similar unshielded model the same as the one I have mounted in the cab that previously circulated air up there for Maddy. The next best shielded fan was upwards of $90. So I got the $50 one again. We actually had both fans going since we were required to shut the engine after parking.
 So the Ocracoke lighthouse is a little bit underwhelming. It is only 65 feet tall, and will require a minimum 5 hour round trip investment to get to it from any of the popular OBX destinations. I was glad to have gotten down here. We both agreed that if one's vacation plans allowed for a longer stay in Ocracoke, the trip to see the lighthouse would also be rewarded by the opportunity to peruse the many eclectic shops, bars, and restaurants that make up the marina and village areas of the town. We stopped at a bar towards the outskirts of Ocracoke that seemed to be popular amongst the locals and tourists alike.

 This is the bar.
 We got a bit of a late start to this day. So by the time we got down here, saw the lighthouse, and ate, it was already 6pm. During this time of year, you have to be off of the beaches by 9pm with a vehicle in many of the areas due to the concern for nesting sea turtles or hatchlings which might be trying to emerge.

You can see my wife in the truck looking visibly bored with the sand driving at this point. I told her when I got back in the truck, "Try not to look so unenthused."
"Oh, you could see me in the picture?"

The answer, dear, is "Yes". Ha ha.

Because of the seasonal closures of many of the sections, it ended up being a little bit of hopscotch of where you could enter and then had to exit the beach line. We first took ramp 72 and had to exit around ramp 70. Then maybe 68 was open, but you couldn't continue northward, you had to backtrack southward. As we were trying to reach the ferry before dusk, we didn't venture very far back southward. I negotiated for one more quick jaunt at whatever proved to be the next open ramp. That was ramp 59. It too was a short section.
 Unfortunately, by the time we got off the ferry on the Hatteras side, it was well after 9pm, and I didn't get to drive on any of the beachfront on that same. I imagine it would have been the same as what we saw on Ocracoke: Dunes to your left, Ocean to the right.

Still, it was worth the expense for the experience and to have had the opportunity to do so. The truck performed very well as was expected. I explained to my wife that much of the painstaking time I spend either tweaking things on the truck or reading things on forums is so that I know that the truck will perform predictably when needed when my family is onboard.

It is not enough to buy a fancy nameplate and assume that a brand's street cred will be enough to keep your vehicle and your family moving when you get off pavement. The occupants of the earlier Land Rover and another Jeep Cherokee we later encountered probably learned that lesson. The issue in both instances was clearly driver error as I know that both platforms, when operated by a knowledgeable driver, would have no such issues ordinarily.
The MANIMAL permit. Still good for another 2 days. Who wants to go?! :)
 Dad pose
 I didn't get to highlight these last minute additions earlier. Because the side toolbox shifted to the head of the bed and is under the cap, it meant that I would have encumbered access to the air compressor for tire inflation. I 'plumbed' an extension line and routed it to the end of the bed. I had intended to have this affixed to a bracket both for 'Air' and 'CO2', the latter anticipating the future purchase of a PowerTank for even more rapid tire inflation. Alas, time ran out and I just left this hanging and accessible behind the spare tire. I made use of it twice on this trip and it worked well.

 The other addition was the fan, which I did write about earlier. I had intended to mount it to the fiberglass, but I found that there was not enough clearance behind the fan to allow me to operate the switch. As a hasty compromise, I temporarily mounted it to the box lid. In practice, this was not good because it limited my comfort with being able to fully pack this side of the bed for fear that cargo might shift and interfere with the blade rotation, cause the motor to overheat, and then start a fire. I will need to look into an alternate location.

 I just like when the GPS shows the truck in the water.
 The kid helping me 'drive'. We were parked and on a boat. But don't tell him that.
Familiar blue hue, right? I got a $218 speeding ticket coming back from Ocracoke. Quite the bummer on the last full day of vacation, right?

I think I was doing 62 (which is legally speeding, I know) but the officer stated he had me at 68 in a 55. 

I have always driven between 5-10mph over any posted speed limit just to lessen the differential between my rate of travel and those who I think are the real offenders that blow past me even at that elevated speed. 

I think it really is all a gimmick for generating revenue though. Not sure why else there is the constant shifting up and down from 25-35-45-55, especially when we do not appear to be slowing down for a congested or residential section of the road. But oh well. I will have to pack some peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for a few weeks to offset this contribution to the local economy. 
We were at Duck Donuts the day prior and again on Friday, which so happened to be "National Donut Day", which I am certain is a made up thing only made known widely due to the advent of social media. The line was out the door.

We got back home without incident.

Somewhere in Virginia, my wife remarks to me that she'd like to see the old playset behind our house demolished. She further incentivized me with the offer of $100 if it rose to the top of my to-do list. When we got back Friday afternoon, I unpacked the truck, then went into the backyard and ripped the swing portion and monkey bars down with three mighty heaves. With one concerted deadlift, I hoisted the base tower and sliding board off of their supports and toppled that structure before striding confidently into the house. I was advised that the fee was only payable once the full structure had been removed from the premises. So that was my Saturday breaking it down and hauling it away.

 I looked into getting the cap fixed. I got keys for free from Truck 'N America in Waldorf. We were thinking that the mechanism had just oxidized some which causes the full assembly to spin instead of just the outer handle. But as it turned out, it appears someone intentionally sabotaged the lock to make it free spin instead of just making the appropriate adjustment. So the cap still needs a bit of work. I also sold 3 stock-sized tires to a used tire place.

 I busted @ss, literally and these pants were ruined.
 Sunday was a Mod Day at the house. Dave brought his Xterra by so we could confirm the parts that he received for his lift and to install his snorkel.
 After a couple of trips to the hardware store, we got underway. I thought we could use the same sized hole saw as was used for my kit, but there was a typo in the instructions which became apparent when we first went to affix the template (which had the correct size). I did not own this size; so, we had to go back out.

 The noted difference between the two kits was the requirement to remove the entire fender. I did not need to do this for the Frontier. The Xterra has most of the 'plumbing' running on the inside of the fender well though.
 So she got a bit of a face lift as a result.
 We didn't appear to be given the correct  hardware kit. The quantities of the bolts and studs was off (as were the types) and the bracket did not align at all with the nutserts on the body of the snorkel in any conceivable fashion. The install otherwise was without incident, and I modified a framing brace that I had lying around from some other contraption to serve as our improvised A-pillar bracket.

And now, we both got trucks that are ready to make a splash.