Our upcoming trip to the southwest will be our longest stretch yet living out of our Roadtrek 190 Popular camper van: three to four weeks. Prior to this, our record was back in December of 2015 when we bought our previous van (also a Roadtrek 190 Popular) down in San Diego and clocked twelve days to make the 1,300 mile trip up Highway 101, through Big Sur, Santa Cruz, the Bay Area, the Redwoods, and eventually inland through Portland and home to Seattle.
The added wrinkle with our latest adventure, a 2,600 mile trek from Albuquerque to Seattle, via Colorado, Utah, Arizona and Nevada, is that we’re going to be spending the bulk of our time in the American southwest in late June and early July, when temperatures average around 90° and can often climb above 100°.
All this means we spent a little extra time dialing things in to help ensure a happy experience.
weBoost Drive Sleek
The reason I’m able to take so much time on the road is that I work while I travel. When I’m staying in Airbnbs or traveling in cities, that’s easy to pull off, since wifi is pretty much like hot and cold running water these days. Most days, I’ll set up office in a a comfortable coffeeshop or in the couch of our apartment and keep the wheels spinning. Some days, I’ll just tether my iPhone to my computer and use my cellular phone’s data connection to check email, chat with people on Slack and even take video calls.
But, like hot and cold running water, strong Internet isn’t something you can count on in the hinterlands. I don’t expect to get 4G LTE data coverage in Utah’s Canyonlands, no matter what T-Mobile’s coverage map might promise, and I just can’t stomach the prospect of Michelle dropping me off at a coffee shop in town for the day while she and Zevin gambol Goblin Valley’s hoodoos.
So I invested in a cellular signal booster, in this case the weBoost Drive Sleek. The booster itself plugs into a cigarette lighter in the van, and I ran the antenna wire out through the ceiling fan opening in the roof. The device comes with a cellphone cradle that then acts as a highly focused antenna for the phone.
According the literature, it won’t materialize a signal out of nothing, but it can turn a weak signal into a strong signal, which, if you’re trying to talk to someone (or have a video chat), can make all the difference.
Glass Water Jug
Our van has about 30 gallons of water tank storage, but the taste alone is reason enough to reserve that for dishwashing and toilet flushing. Our usual MO is to take some plastic water bottles we’ve kept and fill them from the tap or a filter. But that’s not going to cut it for this trip: whatever health risks might come from storing water in plastic can only be exacerbated by storing hot water in plastic water bottles.
So we invested in this two gallon glass water jug with tap and secured it with bungie conveniently next to our sink and stove. Since it’s so easily removed, we can even bring it into the grocery store, many of which have BYO-container filtered water filling stations.
Two gallons will go quick if we have to use it for cooking, as well, so we’ll still have a few gallons of plastic water jugs as backup, but the glass jug should be an improvement. Who knows, maybe we’ll get frou and try floating some mint leaves, cut limes or cucumbers in there.
Setting aside the question of what the heat will do to our water, let’s face the issue of what the 90° – 100° heat is going to do to our spirits. That sort of wilting assault takes a multipronged tactical response.
Our most important weapon in the War on Heat is Reflectix. A quarter inch thick and reflective silver, this insulating material snips easily with scissors, so Michelle bought a huge roll of it and cut out inserts for all our windows, front, back and sides. The pieces fit snugly into the window frames, creating a virtual blackout inside the van when they’re all in place. Because they’re pretty thin, they’re easy to store when not in use: we just crafted a small shelf out of cardboard under the bed, above where we usually slip our camp chairs and other tuckables.
The van comes with a ceiling fan built that draws out through a vent in the roof, and that’s proven invaluable in the past. Hot air rises and goes right out the top, and cooler air is drawn in through the windows to replace it. To get a breeze directly on us, though, we also invested in a small, 12v clip-on oscillating fan.
Finally, because we don’t plan on holing up in our van the whole time we’re exploring the great outdoor wonderland that is the American Southwest, we also spent some time rigging a decent shade structure outside. Photos of this will have to wait until we’re in situ, but the short of it is that we got several 8′ x 10′ tarps made of Aluminet, a metallic material that is reflects heat well but also allows airflow through (which is important both for the comforting breeze but also to prevent your shade structure from turning into a sail structure.) I’ve seen this used to good effect at Burning Man, so I made some wire lines to hang them from around our van’s built-in awning.
Will it work? We’ll see next week, I reckon.