On the Road Again

I imagine every road trip begins with the playing or singing of “on the Road Again,” by Willie Nelson, at least those four words repeating in one’s memory. It is good to be on the road again, perhaps it is the illusion of having accomplished something significant. “Today I drove 400 miles, what did you do?” “Ah, not much, went to work, raised my kids, cared for my parents, ….”

My first stop was, just for the night, Knoxville. Lots of good trails nearby, close to the Smokies, I might have to spend a month there some year.

I’ll be spending the next month near Chattanooga, where it is a bit warmer. I’ve always wanted to climb Lookout Mountain. After seven months in flat Michigan, I am overweight and out-of-shape, relatively speaking, and my footwork needs refreshing. I had forgotten about the heavy spring layers of leaves on the ground, slippery after rain, in Appalachia. I have not fallen yet, but it’s early in the season.

Two days and I’ve settled into my routine: hike on good days, hit a brew-pub, distillery or restaurant on rainy days. Ruby Falls was spectacular, all 100+feet, at the end of a 2,600 foot guided tour under Lookout Mountain. I walked with a family originally from Michigan. They hope to hike the Appalachian Trail, so we talked about that and other hikes. I am envious of their youth, but wish them well on their adventures. The falls are lit with a mixture of alternating lights of blue, red, and white. Every picture I took turned out red, blue, purple, or spotted by droplets floating in air.

I should talk about wintering in Michigan in an Airstream. The lowest temp was minus 8 or minus 11, doesn’t matter at that level. The advantages of the Airstream: heated tanks, -my tanks didn’t seem to freeze, no slide-outs that leak heat. Disadvantages: poor insulation quality of aluminum and the windows leak wind.

I hadn’t planned on staying in Michigan into February, so I didn’t skirt. One neighbor who didn’t skirt had her black water tank freeze. Others had water lines freeze, flooding their trailers, five I knew. It’s bad when you wake up to water running out of your underbelly, worse when ice-cycles are forming, probably worst when you are away when this happens. Always remember to turn off the water when you leave. Two had their refrigerators freeze – too cold to work and when they try, well, it can be dangerous I’m told. I had been told to block off some of vents outside the refrigerator. Either that worked or it was just that the Airstream leaks heat so quickly.

Many of my neighbors did skirt. It was educational. There are two types of skirts: tarps/curtains and solids made from plywood and sheets of insulation. The tarp skirts made with snap-on buttons can be difficult to unsnap, unfortunately breaking fiberglass, leaving holes to be plugged as well as gaps in the continuity of the skirting to be taped. Taping heavy tarps depends on the quality of the tape. A 3M product appeared to hold up the best. All tarps need to be weighed down by heavy blocks due to the strong winter winds lifting them. There are more expensive commercial products which I have not seen in operation. In my opinion, the best method of skirting appeared to be sheets of insulation held in place by wooden structures built behind and underneath the trailer. These are expensive, also time consuming to construct and set up. Moreover, when you move to a new site, the skirt might need to be adjusted due to different slopes, etc. which means trimming or replacing the insulation/plywood sheets or augmenting them with some foil or something along the top.

Because I didn’t skirt, my floor was very cold when temperatures were low and winds blowing, with an over 30 degree difference between the ceiling and the floor temperatures until I carpeted the galley running from front to back. Underneath I put an electric radiant heating pad made specifically to be used under carpet. I left that pad turned on all the time and it worked wonders at keeping the floor warm. The pad put out almost 30,000 BTU in a day or the equivalent of .4 gallons of propane. It took a while to take effect, but the longer it is on, the more the floor warms. The price-efficiency multiplier for electricity versus propane is around 22. At 14.9 cents per KWH, electricity is more expensive to run than propane less than 22*.149 = $3.28. The price was 2.49 but it went up to 2.97. However, heating the floor actually increased cabin comfort, allowing me to lower the thermostat and reducing propane consumption from about two 30-pound tanks a week to about 10-11 days. I spend less in total and am more comfortable.

To handle the life-sucking radiant heat-sink aluminum walls inside the Airstream, I ended up insulating inside with reflexive foil. It is not the best insulation to use, but the curvature of the Airstream renders other insulation impractical. I blocked off the stove fan vent as well. I have yet to use my stove or oven. Microwave and crock pot rules!

Condensation on windows was my greatest problem until the coldest temperatures arrived. The best solution I found was to mimic the pillows made to insulate the ceiling fans openings. Actually I got the idea online from a young man whom I cannot find now. Whoever you are, please accept my anonymous acknowledgement. Anyways, reflective Mylar foil covers a pillow of soft material cut to wedge tightly into the fan opening. For the Airstream, I removed the window screens. Then I constructed pillows for windows. First, I cut reflexive foil to fit the window. This is a little tricky because the Airstream window hardware prevents a perfectly flat and complete fit. The curvature of the corner windows is even trickier. Buy extra materials. Then using the mildew resistant padding sold at Hobby Lobby, I cut a piece to fit the window. I did not attach the padding to the foil and I’m glad I didn’t because condensation occurred at their interface. Daily I reverse the padding to allow the damp side of the padding to dry out. There is still some condensation on the glass, but I can wipe that off, and leave the pillow out for the glass to dry. And of course, daily I leave the door open for a while to remove moisture or run the ceiling fan.

Also, I found condensation in the overhead ducting for the air conditioning. Thus, I blocked off the vents using a plastic storm window kit. This helped to keep the cabin warmer by keeping the cooler air in the duct-work. I check for condensation periodically.

Lastly, I insulated the screen door with a double layer of heavy duty plastic window film and hung a blanket over the doorway to cut the chill.

At night I sleep barefoot, in regular pajamas between two surplus Italian military wool blankets that I acquired years ago. No longer available, they were a favorite among prepers. On the coldest nights, I might add a flannel blanket. Since installing the floor heating pad, I no longer need a down quilt that I used earlier in the winter season. On all but the coldest days, I go barefoot, thanks to the radiant floor heating system.

Since arriving in Chattanooga, although it gets down between 20 and 30 at night, I haven’t heard the furnace kick on. So I think my solutions appear to be working.

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