Sunday, May 24, 2009

Modern Camping Technology

I’ve been getting some complaints that I haven’t been updating my blog regularly. I’ve been camping in the Yukon. I haven’t been eaten by a bear. I just haven’t had any internet access or cell phone service. It’s almost primitive.

For those people who know me, you know I am not a camper. I really like technological advances that have led to modern comforts and conveniences. I’m a true booster for industrialization. I like things like beds and walls and central heat when it is negative 7 degrees Celsius. Turns out my dog doesn’t like camping either. Emmeline was shivering so much that I ended up sharing my sleeping bag with her. I don’t know which is stranger: sharing a sleeping bag with an English Mastiff or the fact that we were both snuggled under a toasty electric blanket.

That latter statement might give you pause considering we were “camping.” Just to be clear, we do not have an RV. We are simply driving a Ford F-250, standard stock around here. But it is a truck with character, and perhaps it is time to give it a proper introduction.

My dad started modifying the truck in anticipation of this trip. He started off with seemingly obvious and necessary modifications, such as the clamshell storage bins for our clothes, but somewhere – and I’m not entirely sure where – he crossed a line. Now, anytime we stop for a bite to eat or to fuel up, we always attract onlookers who are puzzled by some aspect of the truck.

He started with an extra gas tank. That isn’t too unusual on a truck. It’s a very smart idea when traveling long distances between gas stations in northern Canada and Alaska to have a spare 80 gallons of fuel. We can also hedge diesel prices a bit. Best price so far $0.71/liter (Alberta); worst: $1.32 (Yukon).

Then he added the sleeping platform across the back seat for my dog. Emmeline is an old dog with arthritis and the truck is high off the ground, so the steps were a good addition too.

He added two 110-pound, deep discharge, lead-acid batteries that hook into the truck’s electrical system for recharging. The batteries drive an inverter mounted under the dog’s platform with a quad receptacle. This is extremely convenient. We can charge our cell phones. I can work on my laptop while on the road. I’ve already mentioned the electric blanket. It also powers our mini-refrigerator and our satellite radio. The easy access to electricity makes me very happy.

On the trip my dad and I do want to get out and explore the wilderness a bit, but my dad has a bad heart and can’t do too much hiking. So about a year ago he bought his latest toy: a Segway. This may start pushing us over the limit to craziness, but Dad claims it as a qualifying medical expense. Most of the people we encounter haven’t seen a Segway in real life, especially one with all-terrain tires.

Dad built a special spring-loaded rack for the Segway that attaches to the trailer hitch for easy loading and unloading. Unfortunately he spring balanced the rack instead of mass balancing it. The bumpy unpaved roads have been a bit rough on the contraption, leading to idle conversation about free body diagrams and how it could be re-engineered to be better. For the record, the Segway doesn’t like the cold any better than Emmeline or I do. Its electrical system starts complaining when the temperature approaches freezing.

I can’t keep up with his 12 mph Segway, so I had to bring my bike, but bikes are commonplace along the Alaskan highway. Everyone has bike racks on the back of their SUVs. Mine is only distinguishable because it is on the second story of the truck rack. That’s right, Dad built a steel tube framed second story for the truck. Not everyone has a 2 x 2, 14-gauge square steel tubing upper deck.

The upper deck allows for two additional storage bin (one for camping equipment and one for tools). It also allows for four, half barrel beer kegs, now filled with potable water, two dedicated to cold water and two to hot water. The hot water is created by circulating the water through a braised plate, Alfa Laval heat exchanger with the truck’s coolant pump circulating radiator fluid tapped from the heater hoses through the other side of the heat exchanger. The hot water runs at approximately 70 degrees Celsius, that is, the running temperature of the engine. A design review of the system should note that significant sub-freezing temperatures were not anticipated (our water lines have been freezing at night). It’s been a very cold spring. Even the Canadians are complaining.

The water system is pressurized with compressed air coming from our 12 Volt, DC, 150 psi air compressor, reduced via a pressure regulator to standard residential pressure of 40 psi. In short, my dad built a shower.

Additional air sockets are included in the system for powering tools, such as an impact wrench if needed for an emergency tire change (good idea). The air compressor also energizes the horns (less good idea). These are not your normal horns. Purchased off of eBay, they came from a CSX locomotive. They are loud, and we have encountered numerous train enthusiasts who want a demonstration.

Finally there are the propane tanks. Is it cheating to start your camp fire with a propane torch? It definitely makes cooking easier.


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