One of our stories just came out in the Summer issue of National Parks Magazine. Hats off to the publishers, the folks at the National Parks Conservation Association who work tirelessly to preserve our open spaces — as well as to the hundreds of thousands of refugees and immigrants who have risked and are currently risking their lives to try to fill basic human needs and find a safe place to live with their loved ones. Read on to find out secrets about Dry Tortugas National Park as well.
A Bit of Bhutan at the Tipping Point
In the Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan, they decorate their cargo trucks with bright colors, and often paint wild faces on the differentials. I am not sure all of the symbolism behind that, but certainly warding off ill-meaning spirits and keeping the driver safe are part of it. Yesterday I got the fun job of painting the gas tank, axle and differential with a protective bright orange paint Steve had picked out. We won’t be able to see much of it once it’s back together, which is good, since my painting skills are lacking, but I do hope the festive color will serve a similar purpose. I may just need to sneak back in there and add a couple of eyes.
Yesterday we also passed a milestone on the motorhome — instead of taking it apart, we finally put the first few pieces back together. The amazing Calvin nestled the engine back where it goes under the hood. It has a lot of shiny new parts on it, and no longer are there mystery hoses and wires flapping in the breeze. Meanwhile, the intrepid Steve welded a new bracket to hold the gray water tank, which we moved from the very back to a bit farther forward for better weight distribution. He also welded much needed aluminum bracing to reinforce the floor.
The reanimation of our adventure mobile; recap, perspective, and moving forward
Just a little while back, we dove into this adventure of gutting and remodeling a 1984 Dolphin motor home that had served as a temporary house for hurricane Irma victims. We spotted her in the parking lot of one of our local grocery stores, where one of the over one thousand families that lost their home were living. They had received a FEMA trailer, and were selling their dolphin to recoup their purchase monies.
Gutting became rebuilding, and we undertook the task of fabricating a new body; upgraded to lightweight and waterproof aluminum with a 2″ wall thickness. We also purchased nearly every engine part needed to perform a complete and “deep” tune up to awake our Toy power plant. (haha) We knew it would be a while until we could address the mechanical maintenance due mostly to the fact that we need to get the interior dried in to prevent water damage to the cab. The framework for the body is coming along well and is teaching me first hand that this undertaking is quite a bit more complicated than initially meets the eye. Windows, openings, weight distribution, roof vent placement and arrangement along with wiring considerations are all part of the fun. It is coming along well, and the learning aspect of this process has been fantastic. As you read in our previous post, (if you haven’t then you should read it), we have been incredibly fortunate and are immensely thankful for our luck in meeting our new friends, Erica and Calvin Rowley. Calvin is a Toyota 22R wizard in my opinion and with his knowledge and love for these die hard power plants; ours is getting a new lease on life. (check out Erica and Calvin’s blog: http://chasingbootyadventures.com/
After asking Calvin and Erica if they would be interested in helping us out with the engine work; we took a look at the condition. Well, more accurately, Calvin took a pretty deep look. The doctors’ findings were not great, or even good for that matter. Coolant in the oil, several of the systems under the hood were incorrectly connected, or not properly operating at the least. He gave it to us straight and pretty much informed us that this project would require a top to bottom renovation as well. Out came the engine, and apart came most everything else under the hood. The engine has been inspected internally, and any questionable parts are being replaced.
Engine work and engine bay upgrades:
All new gaskets, including the head gasket; new oil and water pumps; upgrade to double row timing chain; Weber 34/36 with jet kit for economy/ power fine tuning; fuel regulator; new fuel pump; valve job; complete and proper de-smog; upgrade to heavy duty gm brake master cylinder, upgrade to 160 amp heavy duty Gm alternator, upgrade to electric fan kit with thermostat control; eliminate smog air pump; eliminate in cab air conditioner and compressor; ceramic coated equal length headers; stainless steel low restriction muffler and aluminum exhaust pipe; (2.25 inches diameter).
Suspension work and upgrades:
New front and rear shocks; new rear inner and outer bearings; change rear dif oil, new rear brakes, inspect and repack front bearings, new upper and lower ball joints, new steering stabilizer, new air lift rear system with in cab air controls, inspect and check front brakes.
Frame work and upgrades:
We have completely removed the camper from the frame. We also removed the floor from the frame chassis. There were spots in the floor that were “spongy” and since we were faced with the choice of replacing the floor we chose to take advantage of the extra work space. (the space to install the air bags, reinforce the floor support, and re-wire the vehicle tail light wiring.)
This past weekend we have painted the frame and we are in the process of installing floor supports. Calvin is in the assembly phase of the engine and is preparing to re-install the engine in the coming days. For the floor frame system, we are using aluminum for weight savings to fabricate the bracing. We are also going to try a composite floor to save weight and increase interior comfort. We are fabricating the floor using a 1/2″ sheet of marine plywood, 3/4″ thick rigid foam insulation with 3/4″ x 3/4″ aluminum support stiffeners, and sandwiched with another 1/2″ sheet of marine plywood on top. We plan on gluing the floor panels together. The exterior bottom of the floor panels will have .040 aluminum sheeting to protect the floor from water and deterioration. Hopefully the result will be a well insulated, strong and light floor system.
An End, a Start, and a Double Trinity
It was with some nostalgia that we waved farewell to Steve’s 2004 WRX wagon this afternoon. Even before the hurricane, we knew she was a goner. Her name was Trinity, and her frame was nearly rotted through. Since being partially submerged in the storm surge, she was now even worse for wear. It took a good deal of hammering and a small bit of cursing to get her onto the tow dolly, then break the e-brake free so the back wheel would spin, but she finally agreed to disembark on her final voyage up to the scrap yard on the mainland. It’s always hard to say goodbye to an old friend. After all, the first time I saw Steve was when he pulled up to our date driving Trin. And, well, since we both drove Subarus in a land where they are scarce, we had a feeling we might just get along pretty well. She went to a good cause, though, a hardworking local who can use some spare cash. Her parting also made room for a new set of friends, who showed up just an hour later.
Enter Calvin, Erica and Booty the cat, a trinity from Utah who happened to be visiting the Keys in their ’86 Dolphin. Calvin is an intrepid Toyota mechanic, among many other talents, and Erica an inspiring writer, filmmaker and photographer. They arrived with impeccable timing, and will be camping out for a bit to help us get everything under our Toyota’s the hood working well. Steve and Calvin didn’t waste any time opening the new parts, like kids at Christmas. I’ll let Steve detail the plethora of fixes and upgrades that are being made under the hood. And check out our new friends’ blog www.chasingbootyadventures.com. They’ve been living on the road for almost a year; happy and lucky souls.
Below Biscayne & Sunken Pirate Ships
Nearly 200 years ago, the Spanish slave ship Guerrero ran aground in the Florida Keys. Today, archaeologists are searching for this historic shipwreck in order to illuminate the stories of the 561 prisoners aboard the pirate vessel, and to bring understanding to a dark period of human history.
The story is one filled with intrigue, adventure, and most of all hope. It is one that we have had the privilege of sharing in various outlets for the last 15 years. I’m proud to announce that National Parks magazine recently published a bit of it, along with Keys Style magazine. The award-winning documentary is available on amazon prime.
Thank you to everyone whose research and wisdom made it possible, including historian Gail Swanson, Dinizulu Gene Tinnie, Biscayne National Park, the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, and the tireless enthusiasm of the volunteers at Diving with a Purpose. Diving Photo courtesy Matt Lawrence, FKNMS. Guerrero pirate Captain Gomez illustration by Sam Turner. Historical ship’s log of the warship HMS Nimble (which was chasing the Guerrero) courtesy theguerreroproject.org.
The big flatbed came to a halt in front of our house amidst some chaos. Steve’s son had been visiting and we were saying our goodbyes as the landlord wandered over to discuss a few things. He had been out of town, so had not yet been informed about our new project, and looked at it with a hint of confusion. To top it off, the road is clogged with hurricane debris and construction trucks. Right at that moment the garbage truck was also trying to squeeze by.
It was all hands on deck to move the long pieces off of the truck so it could clear the road. Our roommate Fritz jumped in to help. It took a bit for the driver to turn around by backing into the empty lot next door, especially because we had placed the guts of the Toyota in the precise location that was easiest for him to occupy. But he is a skilled driver, and the truck had very tough tires that were able to roll over the old cabinetry, ripped up carpet, and part of the refrigerator without fear of puncture. Luckily, our landlord also did not puncture. He seems tentatively supportive, or at least not terribly irritated. He lives in Ohio most of the time, so he’s pretty easy going about what happens here as long as we pay the bills.
Now Steve and I are staring at the shiny lengths that will soon become our new frame, and counting the hours until the day-job quitting-time whistle blows and we can start phase two of the build and see what we’ve really gotten ourselves into.
Smaller, Sweeter, Cheaper
We were pushing a shopping cart full of Thanksgiving ingredients through the Winn-Dixie shopping center on Big Pine Key last night when we noticed something had changed. The ’84 Toyota Dolphin motor home that had been parked there for a month was suddenly sporting a brand new “for sale” sign. Its owner agreed to meet us at the uncomfortable hour of 8:30 this morning. This is a time of day most people do not enjoy in the Keys.
He and his wife had been living in the Dolphin since they lost their house to hurricane Irma. They had bought it up in the bizarre failed-development community of Lehigh Acres on the mainland. A few days ago FEMA finally came through with a brand new trailer for them. They decided to ditch the Dolphin to pay for a new roof. Despite a number of people eyeing it from afar while we examined it, he gave us a few days to decide. We only needed an hour.
It has just 81,000 miles and measures about 18 feet. It mostly fits in a standard parking space, and set us back $3,600. The frame is solid. It needs a little TLC under the hood, but it runs well. We had considered a bigger model, but the simplicity of the Toyota and the much smaller price tag won. Steve will surely want to add more on the technical side of the blog. Signing off to go begin the renovation. Woohoo!
Every fall these fierce little flyers come back to the Keys, where they spend the winter, or just stop off for a meal before heading to locations further south. This one’s been hanging around for a week or so now, often pausing for a lookout on the Jamaican dogwood tree (the leaves are sparse, but returning nicely after hurricane Irma). Merlins eat the cute little songbirds mostly, and sometimes dragonflies. A reality check, but such is the cycle of life. When they are not here, they’re generally up in Canada for mating season.
Irma Update to the Travel Guide
An update for our award-winning Quixotic Key West & the Lower Keys Travel Guide is now available for download. It includes changes to attractions, hotels and businesses as a result of Irma. If you are planning on visiting the Keys, this is a great time to do it as lodging rates are at an all-time low, plus all visitors help immensely in the economic recovery here. Download the update at: http://www.quixotictravelguides.com/update—irma.html
If you have not yet purchased our guide, we think now would be an especially good time to do so. Any sales will help us put our home back together. Available on amazon. https://www.amazon.com/West-Lower-Keys-Travel-Guide/dp/0998858900/ref=sr_1_9?ie=UTF8&qid=1505761777&sr=8-9&keywords=key+west+travel+guide
Photo: the Jamaican dogwood and shefflera trees are greening up again after Hurricane Irma — as are the rest of the Keys.
Hurricane Irma, Tales from the Lower Keys
Photo: Radar of Hurricane Irma making landfall over the Florida Keys. The red pin is our house on Cudjoe Key. Phone screenshot was taken from our evacuation site in Sebring.
The trip odometer read 6,965 miles when we pulled into our driveway on Cudjoe Key. It was Sunday. We had just returned from an epic road trip that included traveling to Wyoming to witness the solar eclipse. Three days later, we pulled out of our driveway as evacuees. We never imagined that our tiny Key would soon be infamous as the epicenter of one of the most powerful storms on record.
The eye made landfall over our house, and 12 hours later hurricane Irma centered her eye over our evacuation site in Sebring, Florida. The aftermath is an experience to behold: the largest evacuation in our country’s history, millions without power, a swath of destruction, and a coming together of kindness and resilience.
We were fortunate to be able to return just a few days after the hurricane had passed, reporting for local media. Over the coming days, we will post some of these experiences, and the tales of those we meet along the way, as well as recovery resources for those living in the Keys. If you’re interested, please follow the blog and feel free to contact us: email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org.
We expect to have little to no source of income for at least the next few months, as we rebuild our lives and those of our friends and neighbors in the Lower Keys. We encourage donations to emergency nonprofits first. We have fared much better than many. But, in case you also enjoy our posts, your donation here is much appreciated and will help us keep the news coming, as well as defray costs of our Keys guide update. *Donations are not tax deductible.