Saturday, July 26, 2014

First EPIC Road Trip With My Son!

Jack looking back on southwest Colorado

First things first: the map below is not quite right.  In point of fact, we traveled closer to 3,500 miles on our two week trip.  What the map doesn't show is the crisscrossing of the desert in the lower southwest corner of Colorado.  We spent nearly a day looking for our final destination, Mission Wolf.  It was worth it!  The map below was created using a fun new app and website called Road Trippers.  It was a lot of fun planning the trip because I put in my start and end point and then started exploring all the really interesting places to stop in between.  You can explore the map and see some of the fun places we stopped along the way.  
Colorado Trip with Jack | My new trip on!

Colorado Trip with Jack | My new trip on!

Being almost thirteen can be tough.  The prospect of spending two weeks within mere feet of your father might not be the first choice of most almost 'teenagers.'  My son was no different.  He might not have said it, but I am pretty sure he was excited about the trip.  It did, however, put a significant crimp in his style.  After a bit of reticence while preparing, getting him out onto the road changed everything.  Every once in a while I would remind him of the importance of a good attitude.

"The difference between an ordeal and an adventure is attitude."
-Bob Bitchin

By the end of the trip, this had become our mantra.  Some days I needed it; other days he needed it.  Thankfully there were no days when we both needed it!

  As the miles piled up, I finally saw him relax.  He became my expert navigator.  He was soon giving me distances between rest stops, cities and gas stations.  Our new road atlas became his best friend!

Both Jack and I kept a daily journal that we filled with our reflections and captured tiny moments that we otherwise would have lost.  Now that we are home, we've added bits and pieces of park maps, stickers, photos, and more.  Taken together, these truly help us remember.  I hope someday he'll look back on them and remember what a terrific time we had.

The trip truly was epic and to truly cover all the activities and experiences would take far more than a few posts here.  So, I thought we would each pick a favorite memory and share them with you here.  I hope you don't mind that we've gone a little over our typical 500 words per post.  Let's start with Jack:

So, you wanted to hear about my dad and I's experience of traveling to Colorado. It was a wonderful experience that I will forever remember. Sure not all of the parts were fun such as the driving and the times where we both had bad headaches, but I think that the good outweighed the bad. Today I'll share some of my side of the story. I want to tell you about our trip up a mountain to see the wonderful Mission: Wolf. 

Jack catching a Rainbow Trout near Frasier, Colorado

It all started the day after we had just climbed The Great Sand Dunes (An entirely different story)...

(Midnight at The Great Sand Dunes National Park)

We started our journey to see the wolf preserve at Mission Wolf and they had told us not to use Google Maps or any other kind of GPS system. So, my dad had printed out some directions that "supposedly" took us to the preserve. (Fast forward one hour...) After this time we had found a tiny town called Gardner and we thought this was just about as deserted you could ever see. But still the directions told us to to forge ahead so of course we followed the directions. (Another hour later.) We found ourselves on a dirt road that was unnamed and we hadn't seen a car for a while. By this time we were very frustrated at the directions. We decided to just try to follow the road and maybe it would take us somewhere... (ANOTHER hour later!) We were so frustrated and mad that we decided we would finally just ask Siri to take us there and guess what happened? Siri took us exactly to the preserve and we were just straight up dumbfounded.  But, we were happy to be there!

We had a little problem turning off the incredibly steep driveway.  Let's just say the teardrop was temporarily parked on a mud know there's a whole other story there!

When we arrived at the wolf preserve we were taken on a tour by a nice lady named Astrid from the Netherlands.  She was there volunteering for a couple of months. (Almost all the people that work here are volunteer) And we saw some pretty cool wolves.  (Personally wolves are my favorite animal so this was pretty cool.) 

 Many of the staff live in tipis

But another strange/amazing thing is that all of the buildings in the preserve were made from recyclable material. The neatest thing to see was the wolves howling because I had never been that close to actually see a wolf howl. 

 The night we stayed at the preserve it rained all night...more mud!

We camped just down the hill from Mission Wolf.  We heard the wolves howl many times in the night. The next day was even more interesting....

 This is an awesome video about Mission Wolf:

The next day we "were" going to leave at like 9:00am but then they told us we could meet the wolves at like 11:30am so we couldn't pass up that chance so of course we stayed the extra time. Then finally at 11:30 we went into the wolves cage and we got to meet them. 

 Jack ended up adopting Zephir.  His sponsorship helps provide food and medical care for this beautiful wolf for one year...something he hopes to be able to renew each year!

The interesting thing about wolves is that they will smell you (they actually smell your teeth!) and then they walk away. Its like shaking hands a human wouldnt shake hands wit a person more than once without getting some strange looks. But, a wolf came back near me and the founder of the preserve said I could give him a belly rub. That was really awesome when I did, I will never forget that!

Yeah, so thats MY favorite memory but you should also check out my dad's favorite memory as well.

Jack Burleson

The memory I most want to share with you is of a nearly perfect afternoon.  We had been on the road about a week when we entered Rocky Mountain National Park.  After spending our first night on the west side of the park, we were heading up and over the Trail Ridge Road.  For some reason I didn't sleep the night before; that coupled with the altitude caused me to suffer from a severe headache.  That didn't stop us though.

  This amazing road travels the 48 miles from Grand Lake on the west to Estes Park on the east.  You can see from the section of the map above that it is quite curvy, especially at the beginning!  My favorite memory takes place just past Milner Pass at a tiny lake called Poudre Lake.  The pull out identified the Continental Divide where all the precipitation that falls to the right makes its way to the Atlantic Ocean all that falls to the left goes to the Pacific Ocean. 

The sun was incredibly intense.  Even with sunscreen on, we could feel the sun's rays heating our skin.

To call it a lake is not quite fair.  Actually, the tiny pond was being fed by the run off from the snow on the mountains.  
(Jack on Pouder Lake)


                                                      The snow actually felt pretty good.  So much so that Jack decided to make some snow angels!
 It didn't phase me however.  I had been reading about these high alpine lakes and the beautiful Brook Trout that live in them for years.  The trout, due to the altitude, are tiny, but nonetheless beautiful and fun to catch; or so I had read. 

Jack and I studied the water.  It was a pretty calm afternoon.  There was some evidence of fish in the water.  We could see the occasional rise.  Soon we made our way down to the crystal clear waters.  That's when we saw the trout.  They were plentiful and easily spooked.  We retreated to the snow and set up our gear.  As we continued to study the water, we noticed that a hatch had begun.  

Here is our best attempt at matching the 'hatch.' 

The teeny tiny insects were making the journey from the bottom of the tiny lake to the surface of the water.  There, they dry their wings and fly off to mate and die.  This happens several times a day in every pond, lake, river on the planet during the spring, summer and fall.  

 Jack and I on the Pike River in WI earlier this spring

Fly fishing is part detective, part dance.  You have to try to 'match the hatch' in order to get the incredibly smart little fish to strike your 'fly' and not one of the 'real' ones.  It's not just a matter of slinging it out there either.  You have to try to 'match' the movements of the flies that are rising as well.  This is where the 'dance' comes in.  Unlike spin casting, where you use the weight of the lure or bait to 'sling' your line out into the water, fly fishing uses the weight of the line to slingshot out your incredibly tiny fly.

Anyway, we carefully made our way back up to the edge of the water; it's soggy banks engulfed our boots in quicksand.  Gently, we began casting.  We could see the beautiful trout.  They watched our flies with distrust.  I moved on down and around the edge of the lake and continued casting.  Each movement allowing me to send my fly further out into the lake.  Eventually it was so far that I could no longer see the trout.  On the retrieve from about thirty feet out I felt a 'bump.'  Fishermen know the 'bump.'  Something had ever so slightly attempted to nibble on my fly.  I quickly set up and fired the fly back out onto the exact same spot and waited.  I let the fly settle and then slowly twitched it back toward me.  After less than a second, I felt another bump and this time I was ready.  I grasped the line in my left hand and gently set the hook.  Immediately I saw a mesmerizing flash of irridesence that could only be the belly of a trout.  The trout spun away from the sting of the hook and I slowly reeled the tiny jewel into me.  I shouted for Jack to grab my net and soon, we had in our hands one of the most beautiful creatures I had ever seen: an Alpine Brook Trout.

After a few moments and several pictures, we put him back into his crystalline waters.

For about ten minutes I forgot all about my headache and how tired I was.  I had just done something I had been dreaming of for years.  To add to that, it was with my son.  I had just had one of the best days of my life.

What a terrific two weeks!  It makes me SO happy to read my own son's words and to mix them with the photos from the trip.  I hope this is only the first of many father/son trips we take!


Saturday, June 28, 2014

Orange Crush

I love the color orange.  It's my highlight color on the inside of the cabin and in the galley of the teardrop.  I've had plans to paint the rims and even add a stripe of color to the side of the teardrop for as long as I've been working on this project. 

There were always more important items to complete.  Well, today I decided to go ahead and paint the rims.  I had them off the trailer so that made it much simpler.  I didn't have any masking tape, but duct tape seemed to work just fine.

I put about four coats of paint on the rims and then set them in the sun to 'bake.' 

I'm not sure how I feel about the orange yet.  It seems a little 'loud' right now.  I think I'll live with it for a while and if I like it enough, I might tape out some lines on the side.

Now, I need to hook up the trailer to the Civic and test out all the wiring.  That is going to be tomorrow's task.

Trailer Time!

It took two days, but I managed to pull the wires up through my conduit and back into the electrical box in the back of the trailer.  It took a lot of manipulating and maneuvering, but I managed to get all the right wires into the right spots. 

I ended up taking the wheels off; something I thought would be a lot harder than to do. 

Thankfully I had bought a lug nut wrench that had the four typical sizes.  The lug nut wrench from the Honda did not fit the teardrop's.  With the wheels popped off, I could wiggle my arm up into the well and fish the wiring through. 

The lug nut wrench I bought from Harbor Freight folds up so that it can fit in the storage bin of the teardrop.  What a genius design!

This time, I decided to 'fix' some of my mistakes from wiring the trailer the first time.  I had used butt joint connectors, which worked fine, but did not keep out moisture if it worked its way up and under the electrical tape.  So, I purchased butt connectors that were 'heat shrinkable.'  When the joints are connected, heating them with a lighter 'seals' them and makes a water-tight connection.  I should have done it this way the first time.  There are a few connections on the trailer that still need to be 'switched,' but they were good enough at this time.

I also used zip ties to snug all the wires into place.  I must say, they look particularly nice and neat. You can see in the image that there is now a two-stage battery charger that is 'in-line.'  This is to keep the battery from 'over charging' when on the road. 

The piece of this puzzle that I'll need to keep in mind is that whenever the teardrop is connected to the Honda Civic, I'm essentially sharing the charge of the tow vehicle.  The battery charger will stop the charge when the battery is full, but I'll have to be careful of leaving the car plugged in because even the tiny LED battery meter will draw some power and could possibly pull down the car's battery too.  I'll just have to either disconnect the charging circuit or use the master kill switch.

Friday, June 27, 2014

I'm Glad I'm Not An Electrician All The Time...

I spent a couple of days crawling around under both the car and the trailer.  I spent an hour on the phone over the course of a couple of days debating different approaches to wiring the Civic for the trailer and the charger. 

I was directed to find a circuit that was 'only on' when the ignition was keyed.  I didn't even know that there was a fuse box under the hood, but it turns out there are two fuse boxes.  I tested each of the circuits under the hood to see if one of them was 'switchable.'  No dice.  So, I learned that I was going to have to tap into the interior fuse box and drill a hole through the firewall.  I was very anxious about doing that.  So, I decided on another approach.

 I was going to use a fuse tap to avoid having to splice into the actual wiring in the car.  This was a pretty cool device that I had never seen before.  You just insert the pulled fuse with another fuse of the same amperage.  The wire that went out of the tap was your 'hot' wire.  This wire would then go out to the teardrop in order to 'charge' the battery when on the road.  The only problem would be that the 'always on' circuit has the potential to draw down the battery of the tow vehicle when the trailer is connected.

 Here was my solution for getting into the watertight fuse box.  I was going to drill a tiny hole and insert a rubber grommet which would secure the hole and allow the hot wire to pass through.

Here is the wire and the rubber grommet.  This worked pretty well.

I learned that there are at least three different size fuses of the same amperage.  All three of these fuses are 15 amp fuses.  However, only the middle one would fit in the fuse tap so I needed to run to the hardware store and get some extras.

Here is the fuse tap with the two 15 amp fuses in place. I pulled the wire through the grommet and then snapped the fuse box lid into place.  Next I ran 12 gauge wire down past the engine and back along the bottom of the vehicle and out to the hitch.  That was all I could do today

Wiring Nuts

The hitch went on without a 'hitch!'  However, the electrical was quite another story.  I didn't know what exactly I needed and so I relied a bit too fervently on to help me decide.  In hindsight, I should have spoken with a person rather than using their automated online services.  I ordered a wiring kit for my Honda Civic, but ended up ordering one that required splicing into the car's electrical system.  I thought I ordered this:

So, I spoke with the very helpful staff at and purchased the above wire harness that has 'clips' that connect directly into the manufacturers connections.  This means I do not have to splice or interfere with the vehicle's stock wiring.  To me, an electrical novice, there was no question which I preferred.

The connections couldn't have been simpler.  Click the different units.  It was even easier than I thought; the clips were made to ONLY fit on one particular wire harness; it would almost be impossible to do it incorrectly.  Almost.  We'll see when I plug it in to the trailer to test it. 

All the ground wires were secured to this ground post on the interior of the trunk.

That was about all I got accomplished today.  I plan to run the wiring on both the vehicle and the trailer in the next couple of days. 

Friday, June 20, 2014

Hitch: A Lot Easier Than I Thought!

Installing a hitch on my 2013 Civic was significantly easier than I thought it would be.  Somehow I had it in my mind that installing a hitch involved welding, hydraulic lifts and altering the underside of my brand new vehicle.  Turns out people like have created step by step instructional videos that walk you through each step.  Watching these videos gave me the confidence to go ahead and do it.  

 I ordered the hitch and what I thought was the correct wiring harness and waited.  The hitch arrived a few days later.  I borrowed some drive up ramps and asked a friend to help me lift the steel frame into place. 

I removed the plastic shroud and heat shield from the bottom of the vehicle, trimmed them accordingly and then re-installed them.  A few minutes later, we held the steel hitch into place and bolted it to the frame. included these special bolts with long tabs that allowed you to hold them into place while tightening them.  This made it much easier, as the tiny holes where the bolts were inserted were in awkward places.  

All in all, it took us two hours from start to finish.

You can see on the left that I had to trim the plastic shroud significantly more than planned.  This was mostly because the hitch needed to slide up and through the shroud.  I guess it's not too big of a deal because the instructions suggested that you could just leave it off if you wanted.  

It's kind of amazing that the hitch is only held into place with four bolts.  One on each side and two that mount to the tow hook.  Super simple and efficient.  Now to the wiring.

Friday, June 13, 2014 Success Story

I decided to put a hitch on my other vehicle.  It gets considerably better gas mileage than our CRV and I am planning to take it on my first really big road trip out west.  By all reports, it's pretty easy to install.  I'm looking at it as an adventure.

I ordered it and all the wiring I need from  The whole process was efficient and very pleasant.  I ended up ordering online, but realized I had forgotten a few key pieces, like the tow ball!  So, I needed to call and adjust my order.  The sales staff was incredibly helpful and knowledgeable.  They knew everything about what my vehicle needed.

Because my order was over $99, I earned free shipping, which would have been considerable since the hitch itself was quite heavy and large.  It arrived within a few days with no issues at all!

A few days later, I realized that I needed to come up with a solution for charging my teardrop's battery while on my upcoming road trip.  Most camping facilities in National Parks or Bureau of Land Management/National Forests out west do not have water or electric hook ups available.  So, I was going to need a way to charge the batteries while on the road to each new spot.

I had done a lot of reading on the Teardrops and Tiny Trailers Forum, but being a visual learner, none of those discussion threads really helped me visualize it.  That's when I came upon the Q & A on  Someone had the same situation and there was an excellent answer posted online.  This seemed like the solution I needed.  It was a battery isolator that cut off the power to the teardrop's battery when the ignition was switched off.  This would ensure that both batteries would not run down when using lights/fan/CPAP machines in the teardrop.

While this solved the charging situation, it did not prevent the teardrop's battery from overcharging.  I'm glad I thought of this because the potential for overcharging could be very possible on long road trips.  That's when the knowledgeable sales staff at came through for me again.  The salesperson queried me about what I was using the isolator for.  He had no idea what a teardrop was, but when I explained how the power system in the teardrop worked, he came up with a Tekonsha Two Stage 12 Volt DC Battery Charger.

This charger will prevent overcharging and is small enough to neatly fit into my electrical cabinet.  I plan to mount it opposite the AC charger I have for when I'm plugged into shore power.  I'm amazed at how 'complicated' the 'super simple' electrical system I've built has become.  Another way to do this would be to add a solar panel to the teardrop.  A solar panel would allow a trickle charge to the battery but would require a whole lot of other devices along the way; maybe at some point that will become a viable option.  For now, I think my system will work well.