An Unusual Weekend
It was the best of times. It was the worst of times.
This year’s Overland Expo West was the largest ever, (130,000 attendees total, I was told) with enough acreage of gewgaws to exhaust anyone but a marathon runner. Honestly, just about every permutation of any concept or product was there in enough profusion to eventually numb the mind. Each of the many aisle lengths appeared to be a quarter-mile long.
The traffic stack-up to get in a day early (on Thursday) was over 45 minutes, since I arrived just when the gates opened at 1 PM. The check-in procedure itself was painless, since there was no need to even get out of the vehicle. Then it was on to the dispersed camping area, and I counted myself fortunate to wedge the Intrepid in under the trees next to an Australian off-road trailer that I’ll show in the next post. Its proprietors were a likable couple.
The next day, the official start of the festivities, was of concern since my batteries, with the refrigerator/freezer empty and turned off, showed a discharge of about 40% (the standard limit being 50%) with solar replenishment reaching a mere high of 13.1 volts the next morning due to the expansive tree shade. And that’s with the ground panels deployed. This would never do, since a hold of 14.7 volts for an hour and a half would be needed to survive another cold night. So before catching a shuttle ride to the display area, I walked around and found a few slots open in full sun, next to a nearby horse corral. I quickly packed up and re-parked to see the voltage work its way up toward where it should be. Then it was off to the show. I was hoping to catch a presentation by BF Goodrich on “Vehicle Dynamics for Overlanding”, but hadn’t been able get to their display in time, and it was too far away to hoof it in a timely manner. No matter, I’d catch it on Saturday.
I was hoping to avoid replacing my batteries on this leg of the trip, but they seem to be giving out right on the predicted lifespan schedule for the amount of drawdown that I’ve typically used over the last six years. There’s no official guide for when to replace batteries, the best advice being, “replace them when they no longer do their job adequately”. That’s often cited as 80% of their original capacity, but that’s just numbers that don’t take into account any shortfall or surplus capacity built into the installation. For AGM’s, the recommended measure is to look for a variance of 0.3V-0.5V between batteries 8 hours or more after a recharge, depending on the manufacturer’s guidelines. That doesn’t indicate wear, but merely identifies a battery that’s fading faster than the others. I noticed a 0.2V variance some months ago when the batteries were out, so one of them appeared to be a little worse off than the rest.
I went the distance, shuffling up and down row upon row of vendor displays before finding the Four Wheel Campers display, this year manned by factory personnel instead of dealers. This was significant, because despite being installed twice, the Grandby is still shifting around in the bed, most likely due to the optional spring packages on the Mighty Furd, options not often ordered on most F-250s. They were genuinely interested, because such a calamity is a rarity, and they don’t like to see customers – particularly highly influential customers (that’s a joke) – having ongoing difficulties that don’t normally exist. They asked many questions, showed me a “secret” new cargo strap replacement for the turnbuckles used since the days of yore, and suggested that a common rubber bed mat should positively stop the shifting on the Line-X urethane liner I have. (The cargo straps are something they’re mainly goofing with to keep campers from backing out of certain truck models where the owners ignore periodically checking mount tension. The Mighty Furd throws its loads forward.) At the mention of a bed mat, I immediately had silent visions of having to backtrack to Prescott to find a mat and have the dealer unmount the camper for a third time. Oh my. They did the second installation gratis, but I had my doubts about this go-around.
What surprised me was their instinctive offer to reinstall the camper themselves, on Monday morning after the close of the show. All I’d have to do would be to somehow scare up a mat in Flagstaff for a 10-year-old truck, which they feared would be pretty unlikely. A couple of the guys there have installed more campers than they could count, so it seemed like no big deal to them. On my end, if I somehow succeeded in finding a mat, I’d of course have to once more disembowel the Intrepid, removing the cargo box, batteries, ground panel storage rack and fishing rod tube to both allow safely raising it and making the jack mounts available. So I’d need to trundle the Intrepid there about an hour early to give me enough time to strip it out right there at their site.
So, after talking with them, all thoughts of staying in the display area disappeared, and I made my way back to camp to use the marginal cell signal to contact some auto parts places. No one stocked any bed mats at all, but miracle of miracles, one Autozone dealer should be able to get whatever I ordered in by the next day, Saturday, via UPS. If the delivery didn’t make it in time, the whole scheme would collapse like a house of cards, but if it did arrive…Nirvana!
My efforts concluded late in the afternoon, so that day was pretty well shot by then. The walk and heat of the full sun had taken enough starch out of me to make me forget about catching one of the many overlanding documentaries presented each evening. Unfortunately, a young couple who had taken the open spot beside me in a converted Sprint felt it necessary to start up their built-in generator after 10 PM (which is a no-no here), then thought better of it and idled the main diesel engine for an hour or so. This was slightly quieter than the generator, which apparently had a suspect muffler. Overall, it reminded me of being parked at a truck stop instead of a campground. About 6 AM, the engine restarted and ran for several hours.
My daily functionality each day these days is highly dependent on ample sleep and naps, so I didn’t get ambulatory until noonish. but ambulatory I was, and headed for the show again to try to catch what I’d missed the day before. Predictably, a snafu with the shuttle on this incredibly packed day got me to the Goodrich site too late again, but I did see a lot more stuff. The call of a successful shipment arrival at Autozone in town motivated me to break camp once again at mid-afternoon in order to pick up the mat, a simple 4’x8’ “universal” rectangle that should do the job. When clean, it’s almost sticky. I also stopped at a bike dealer in town who would hopefully order and receive a second Serfas “Drifter” tire and an extra-thick Slime self-sealing tube I wanted before I’d need to depart this area. I’ve given up horsing around with what’s continued to be problematic on the front wheel of the e-bike. They would call me Monday with how that ordering situation would probably unfold.
On my return from town, I scouted around for a camping slot with any semblance of sun exposure, and found a fairly promising one. Along the way, I stopped by my former Aussie-hardware neighbor to explain my sudden disappearance while he was down at the show. He’d wondered what he’d said to drive me off. Good times. My new neighbor down the way was a guy pulling a rental teardrop trailer variant, and he had just arrived in order to camp one night and then see what he liked on Sunday.
One added challenge at the new site was that the laptop was inexplicably unable to connect with either my old Verizon cellular modem or the iPhone as a hotspot, so I was unable to research batteries, check email, or post to the blog. Usually, when the Internet signal is poor, you can connect to the Wifi hotspot but not pull anything down from the Internet. This time around, the laptop was not giving me anything more than very quick refusals to connect at all. This was worrisome, since a busted laptop is not something I need right now. The iPhone itself was able to connect to the Verizon modem, but my ancient Model 1 iPad (that I use only for interactive MVUM maps) was not. The iPad was able to connect to the iPhone as a hotspot, though not the Internet, since the signal was miserably weak.
When so much money and time is at stake, I’m not one for half-hearted troubleshooting. I wanted to assure myself that the laptop could connect to something, whether it could get to the Internet or not. So I broke out my Hawking WiFi repeater than can serve as a signal-boosted hotspot when it’s aimed toward any kind of WiFI source. You use it when you’re too far away from, say, a motel in order to mooch their WiFi signal. So I aimed its antenna toward the iPhone and then the Verizon modem, in turn. It had no issues connecting with either, though the Internet was obviously still out of reach. The laptop recognized and connected with the Hawking just fine, removing my fear of a busted WiFi gizmo in it. It then saw the Internet, but the speed was so slow as to be useless. So, odds are, the laptop is fine, the other two devices are fine, and there’s something decidedly funky going on at this particular location. I hoped. That would need to be checked out immediately once the camper was reassembled, but before I left the showgrounds, because the results directly affected that day’s itinerary of who I visit, and for what. The other check before leaving would be a voltage test on each of four AGM batteries before they are reconnected, to look for one lower than the others. That’s merely to be able to say, “Yup, that one’s pulling the whole pack down”. Doesn’t make much difference as to whether it’s one or all going bad, though. They’re not performing even close to what they used to, and it’s getting ridiculous. You can’t replace only the “bad” one(s). Reassembling the camper should eat up the rest of the morning. Big day.
Saturday night was only regrettable for a solid bout of family pet noise, with it sounding for all the world like I’d parked a hundred yards away from a commercial kennel. I’ve done that a few times, and know what it sounds like at night when nobody’s there. Fortunately, it didn’t last too long.
My own hope for Sunday was to catch the last stinking presentation at the Goodrich stand, but I awoke with some kind of recurring sinus issue that does a pretty fair imitation of a dripping faucet, so I saw that opportunity come and go. Instead, I used the downtime to work out what I could do that day to reduce the time taken at Four Wheel’s site, maybe allowing me to arrive there at a slightly less ungodly hour. Stripping down the Intrepid is a fairly orderly series of specific steps, and forgetting something in the proper order – or at all – is potentially time-consuming to reverse. So I noted down each step on a long list, which would have been handy to put in the Cloud for reference on my iPhone. Since that couldn’t happen, I unpacked the Primera Trio to print out the steps. I also worked out an initial Monday itinerary which would include a stop at Northern Arizona Wind & Sun to see whether what I would need is in stock, which is unlikely, or at least see how long they would take to get, and place my order. That one promised to hurt, since I must use AGMs. The rest of the Sunday was squandered on removing from the camper what could be removed without affecting function that night, or disabling it for transport in the morning. I grouped every hand tool that would be needed together in the rear basket, so no archeological dig for tools from the truck cab would be necessary on-site.
Monday morning went like clockwork, as the gentlemen from Four Wheel were able to overcome too-tight mounts, raise the camper off the bed, and simply slide the new bed mat into place in the gap without having to move the truck clear. The boon for time and effort was that one of them was sure that the 250 pounds of AGM batteries could stay hooked up and in the front bench storage bins without threatening the integrity of the floor structure when raised. That was a huge relief for me, because disconnecting and reconnecting the batteries is a tedious and time-consuming task, worse than any other step. Once the camper was lowered again, they shoved it to get it centered, then the four of us pushed it forward as far as it could go. They offered to reinstall the four mounts, but I didn’t want to keep them from breakfast in town and the rest of their long trip back to the factory in northern California. After I got a detailed explanation of exactly how to adjust tension properly, they took off and I spent the next three hours reassembling the Intrepid. To top it off, they left me with 3/4 of a bottle of red wine served at their dinner (I drank Gatorade to offset the heat and sun of the day), which I packed carefully. Wine is good for the heart, you know. Yeah. That’s my story, and I’m sticking with it. Before departing, I broke out the laptop and Verizon modem to check connectivity, and all was suddenly well. Go figure. But I’m adaptable that way.
From there, it now being afternoon, I sought refuge at a pizza place to restore my perseverance before continuing on to Northern Arizona Wind & Sun for batteries. It’s an online order processing center more than a retail store, and they actually don’t stock much there, but a clerk ordered four Fullriver AGMs for me that will take 10 days to arrive. That will allow me to camp in the area and then show up with my spent batteries in hand when I go in to pick up the new ones in the afternoon. I’ll install those out in the street in front of their place. No, I have no shame.
I then headed to Cinder Hill OHV Area north of town to overnight, with a resupply run the next day in mind. Late in the day however, the ordering manager from Absolute Bike called to discuss my desired tire and tube choices, and we worked out an order that will likely show up in a few days. So I may as well stay here until those parts show up, then once more camp south of Flagstaff until the batteries arrive. I may have a mildly interesting diet this week, as I was not fully provisioned for the Expo plus four more days, but hey, one does what one can to avoid breaking camp unnecessarily.
How did I like the show? Well, I don’t know. I wasn’t really there, in a way. My prior plans unraveled the first day of the show. Saturday was absolutely jammed with cars and people, and except for the three shuttles getting overwhelmed by campers as well as people tramming in from a parking lot in Flagstaff, there was certainly plenty to see and enjoy. But I missed the documentaries, demonstrations and educational seminars this go-around. In a sense, the Overland Expo has grown too big for my taste, as it’s now less of a gathering of the faithful as it is an extravaganza offering more than you could take in, assuming you could get to where you need to be to take it in. That said, if you want to see and feel whatever equipment or rig style you’re considering, this is the place to do it. And you’ll certainly see rig types and devices that you weren’t aware existed. Boosted entry costs aside this year, and pricing at the food vendors rivaling that of baseball parks, I think I’ve been at this event enough times to hold me for awhile.
However, I have to say that the trade-off of having another opportunity to take positive steps to stabilize the camper in the Mighty Furd’s bed is worth the loss of the show for me. Will the rubber mat make the difference? I don’t know, but being able to have it installed for me right at the show makes me feel that Four Wheel’s commitment level to their customers is pretty high. They even left me with a pair of cargo straps “just in case you want to add them in” to the turnbuckle mount system. One other FWC owner who showed up to watch me thrash during the button-up told me that he’d had a plastic door part and something else break at the three-year mark (well out of warranty), and his dealer took care of it at no charge. I just might become a brand fan.
But what about all those gewgaws, huh? A massive pile of photos with commentary are coming up next. It takes awhile to sort through them all.