Monday, September 25, 2017

Why A (Ikea Hacked) Class C?

Our Class C Renovation! 

But first, let's answer the burning question people ask us - why a Class C? You have a motorcycle, so why didn't you just buy a toyhauler?
Well, when we started looking at RVs, we had four 'must-haves':

A walk around bed. When we lived in our itty bitty efficiency, we built a loft bed to make the space more efficient. This means we know first hand what a pain it is to have to make a bed you can't walk around, as well as added fun of going to the bathroom in the middle of the night. We spent nearly five years climbing over each other and fumbling for steps in the dark, and we really didn't want to go back to that!

An RV around 30 feet. We want to be able to stay at public and local campgrounds. Most of these campgrounds have length limits, generally around 30-35 feet.

Must work for an 1100 Shadow. Our bike's wet weight (weight of bike plus gas) is 650 pounds, so this means we need a system that makes it easy to load and carry a fairly heavy bike. (The number refers to engine size - the bigger the number, the bigger the engine and the bike)

Storage. Motorcycles are like babies, they require stuff. Rain gear, jackets, chaps, helmets, boots, tools - the list goes on and on. We also need to carry animal chow and pet supplies for the dog and the cats. 

Fortunately, we live (lived?) in Central Texas, where there a lot of RV dealers. We also were able to check out three RV shows. We kept running into two BIG issues with toyhaulers.

First, there seems to be a running competition among RV manufacturers to see who can make the most shoddily built small toyhauler. (Our personal favorite was the Thor Outlaw that had glops of glue and visible staples holding together the kitchen cabinets) 

Second, most small toyhaulers clearly are not designed for bikers. We saw gear cupboards that weren't deep enough to fit helmets, tie down systems that seemed purposely designed to let a bike fall, and ludicrously steep loading ramps. We even stood at a dealership and watched a guy and his buddy struggling to load his motorcycle. The problem was the too steep pitch of the ramp - and he had a smaller 750.

After looking at - and giving up on - toyhaulers, we began checking out Class C's. We quickly were drawn to Winnebagos. Not only are their Class C's well built and reasonably priced, but the schematics and manuals for all their RVs are available online. We knew we would be doing some remodeling, so having these available was a big plus!
Eventually, after a year and half of looking, we lucked into buying the Otterbee,  a 30 foot 1999 Itasca Sundancer. Winnebago built the Sundancer for a little over 10 years, and designed the model to be a true all season coach. This means the Sundancer is taller than Winnebago's normal Class C, and has a full basement.  Yep, we have a lot more storage than most Class C's. 

It also means the water pipes are completely enclosed, and turning on the propane furnace heats the basement, ensuring stuff doesn't freeze (which is kind of important if you are going to be living in th RV all the time). The Sundancer also has insulated bay doors, insulated sides, an insulated ceiling, and the A/C system has ductwork, just like a house. It's really too bad that Winnebago stopped making the Sundancer, because it's ideal for full timers.
Of course, there were a few things we didn't like about our 'new' RV, and a few upgrades that needed to happen.

 Let's start with a floor plan. The top schematic is the original floor plan of the Otterbee, and under it is the new floor plan. Just a couple of small changes, but oh what a difference!
Before. Yep, the 80's hotel look had to go. More importantly, the couch and the dinette were not very comfortable, and made the space feel very cramped. 
The very first thing we did was scour the hardware stores for more modern handles. We eventually found a bulk pack of very simple nickle-plated handles for under $2 a handle. Woohoo!  Getting rid of the old brass handles that seemed to be everywhere instantly updated the entire coach.

Next, we tackled making the coach more cat friendly (priorities - we have them!).  We bought an inexpensive rug from Ikea, cut it to fit the 'shelf' over the cab and removed the fussy side curtains.  Our cats now have a comfy, warm place to sit and watch the world go by. 

We also replaced the front and back ceiling fans with Maxxair fans, with rain guards. We bought Maxxair instead of Fantastic because they were on sale, but we're really happy with our fans. They're quiet, energy efficient, and the screens pop off for easy cleaning.
Before. We (happily!) removed the very floral couch and the dinette, and replaced the old (blue-green!) carpet with Stainmaster Oyster Travertine. This is a good quality vinyl which should hold up to biker boots and dog pawsWe opted to lay the vinyl in a 'L' pattern. This required us to buy a little bit more vinyl, but we love our new floors.
We painted the walls in the living room and the bathroom with Sherwin Williams Rainwashed, which is a great color and changes beautifully in different lighting.  Not pictured is the tiny recliner we found, which just fits on the slide. 

We also bought an inexpensive Ikea chair, which we move around to wherever we need it. If we watched a lot of TV, we would've probably put in two recliners, but we just don't sit down that much!
Oh look, it's  an Ikea hack! We measured the space where the dinette had been, and discovered two Ikea Galant cabinets fit perfectly. These cabinets have soft close hinges, so the doors stay shut even when we are rolling. 

We had initially considered putting a narrow breakfast bar here, but we're glad we decided to go with additional storage instead. We can still pull a chair up and use the cabinets as either a desk or a table. (Like I'm doing right now😄)
Here's our updated Class C!  Even with the slide in, there is now plenty of room for two people, a husky, and the cats. We also upgraded all the old light bulbs to energy efficient LED lights. We bought two packs, one was soft white LEDs and one was bright white LEDs. This worked great, letting us tailor the light needed for each space.
Before. The bedroom when we bought it. Winnebago makes good RVs, but their decor choices are, um, questionable.
Here is the updated bedroom, before we bought the mattress. We hung light blue wallpaper on the back wall, painted the walls, and recovered all the valances. We stalked Joanne's for a sale, used a coupon, and nabbed a free shipping deal, so all the fabric for the valances only cost us $50!

OK, Confession time. We couldn't see spending obscene amounts of money to replace an RV 'short queen' mattress, so we just bought an inexpensive double bed mattress from Ikea. We've always slept in a double bed anyway, so we figure we'll never miss the extra 5 inches of mattress.
Before. Yep, more fussy floral. Under this atrocity is a hidden feature that really sold us on this model. Most of the time, manufacturers have mechanical stuff hidden under the beds, but the entire space under this bed? Is dedicated storage! 

The wooden platform under the mattress is even on gas struts, and lifts easily. This gives us plenty of room to store extra motorcycle gear, boots, and animal chow. Oh, and those cupboards above the bed? Deep enough to store helmets and still squeeze in some clothes. Yes!!
Here is our updated bedroom. The pillows are from Ikea and we found the bedspread at a thrift store. 

We think the paint color is Behr's Practical Tan. We had a paint color picked out for the bedroom, but then found a gallon of oops paint at the hardware store that was one shade darker. It was cheap and also Behr Ultra, which is our absolute favorite paint. We painted our kitchen cabinets with Behr Ultra, back when we didn't have a clue about painting stuff correctly, and the paint job still held up for eleven years.
Before. Seriously, who at Winnebago though that florals AND pleats were necessary? We had a weird challenge in the bedroom. It's a tiny room with three big windows, so there was actually too much light.  We also needed to match the walls and valances, so the room would feel bigger and the blue wallpaper behind the bed would be the room's only focal point. 

We've never been big fans of taupe, but it really worked for this room. The taupe fabric and taupe paint blend perfectly together, while toning down the extra glare from the windows. 
You're probably wondering about that white cabinet. It's an Ikea media cabinet that we found in the clearance section of our Ikea store. We turned it sideways and bolted it to the floor, next to our power outlet (it's also got soft close hinges so stays shut while we're in motion). We use it to store jeans and shorts. On a hot night, we can also set a fan there to blow across the bed. There's a Maxxair fan directly above the bed as well, so its easy to keep the bedroom cool at night.

Now the big question. Are we happy with our Class C? Absolutely! In fact, we kept finding reasons to have to go and hang out in the Otterbee even before we hit the road!  It's roomy, even when the slide is in, and the new layout works perfectly for us.

To be perfectly honest, though, there are two cons and one maybe. The first con is a large Class C like ours is already pushing the weight limit of chassis. Then we add on upgrades, pets, pet chow, two people, and the tongue weight of the motorcycle trailer. This leaves us only able to carry about 1000 pounds of other stuff.

Our Otterbee is also built on the old Ford 450, which is a gas hog. We average around 7-8 miles to a gallon, with trailer. Finally, there is the maybe. A 30 foot class C is perfect for us right now, but we keep looking at even smaller RVs and wondering. Maybe, someday, could we downsize even more?  Hmmmmm.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Big Four Bridge and Jug Band Festival (Free!)

But First, a Stop at the Outlook Mall in Simpsonville 

With three days off, we were able to squeeze in some errands and some more free stuff. The Biker needed new shoes for work, so on Friday, we zipped up to the Outlook Mall in Simpsonville.  We love outlet malls and this place didn't disappoint; it had plenty of name-brand stores and we found a good deal on much-needed work shoes. 

Important Note: We didn't eat at the food court, but we did check it out, and were surprised at the lack of options. We'd recommend planning to eat elsewhere, unless you have a sudden craving for typical fast food fare.
The Mall also currently has 5 painted horses on display. celebrating Kentuky. There seemed to be a running theme of painting horses on these horses (yes, pun totally intended)
On Saturday, we drove to downtown Jeffersonville, and parked at the free public parking at Chestnut and Market.
Then we walked over to Big Four Burgers, where The Biker ordered the Four Burger, and I ordered a club wrap.
The burger was good, perfectly cooked, and the aged cheese was a nice touch. The wrap was enormous, with carved turkey, and thick slices of aged cheese. The wrap was very tasty, but I did substitute the garlic aoli for the mayo. We were not impressed with their fries, which needed a bit more seasoning.

Well fed, we headed to the Big Four Bridge to walk to Louisville. The bridge was completed in 1895 for a cost of $3.5 million. You can see photos of the first bridge and the construction here.  Thirty-seven workers died in three separate accidents during the building of the bridge. In 1928, a bigger bridge was built on the original bridge's foundation. It was decommissioned in the 60s, then re-opened in 2014. 
The ramp on each side is a quarter of mile. We got lucky and ended up following a group of skateboarders and inline skaters up the ramp. They were clearly having a great time, and looking forward to a race to the bottom on the other side!
The bridge itself is one mile long, so the entire round trip is two miles.
The walk provides a great view of the Ohio River and Louisville,
including steam boats
and barges!
The ramps on both sides of the river swoop down into parks. On the Louisville side, you can also rent bicycles and pedal-powered carts  - if you have the stamina to peddle up the ramp!
The Louisville Waterfront Park includes several terraces to sit and watch the river, as well as playgrounds, swings, and splash pads. 
This Saturday, there was an added treat - the Jug Band Jubilee! Louisville considers itself to be the birthplace of jug band music. Louisville hosts the jubilee in mid-September. It's free and runs from noon to 11pm.
Which brings us to a small quibble we had with one of the bands, the Cincinatti Dancing PigsThere's a common misconception that a jug band is just a musical group that plays country or old-timey sort of music using novelty instruments, such as washboards and jugs. This band obviously took that route, and while their music was fun and very entertaining, it didn't really sound like jug band music.
So, what's the difference? A better description of a jug band would be a group playing contemporary music, but on handmade and American folk instruments. (and nope, we're not even going to touch what is now a century-old debate of whether a jug band has to actually have a jug!)

Jug band music really came into it's own at the turn of the century, when African-American musicians began mixing blues, jass (early jazz), and ragtime. Jug bands continued to evolve, generally playing a fusion of jazz, and rhythm and blues, well into the 60s. In fact, a great deal of 60's rock was influenced directly or indirectly by jug bands.

If you are interested in hearing the difference, here are three youtube videos, comparing the Dancing Pigs to two of the most well-known jug bands; the Dixieland Jug Blowers (which played in the Louisville style) and the Memphis Jug Band (which played in the Memphis/New Orleans style).

 And yes, we have now completely digressed from travel blog to random music genre history. To make it up to y'all, here - have a dog playing in a splash pad! 

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Downtown Jeffersonsville (Free!)

We're Now On An Odd Schedule 

The Biker is now working a night shift at Amazon for their holiday season. The dog and the cats are completely confused and we haven't quite synced our sleeping schedules to his new work schedule. Or our blog posts, which are a wee bit behind (again.)

We took advantage of one of his days (nights?) off to amble through downtown Jeffersonville. In the nineteenth century, Jeffersonville had one of the deepest ports on the Ohio river, and also the Howard's Shipyard, the biggest inland shipyard in America. Jeffersonville does have a Steamboat Musuem, but it has an admission fee, so we skip it. There's plenty of free stuff to see and do!
The Big Four Bridge is a historic railroad bridge that now serves as a pedestrian bridge between Louisville and Jeffersonville. It took a few minutes to get this shot, because there is a constant stream of people walking to and from downtown Jeffersonville over the Big Four Bridge.
One thing that really stands out about the green spaces at the Big Four Station is just accessible the space is. We saw several people enjoying barrier-free access  - a young couple enjoying a picnic at one one of the tables, and a family heading up the ramp to the bridge to enjoy the view. 

Parking is currently free at the Big Four Station, but we understand that the city is seriously considering changing that in the future. 
The city began a urban revitalization project in 1987. The first step was to create a historic district, to protect and preserve the many nineteenth century homes and businesses in the downtown area. This is Willey-Allhands House (the yellow building), with the Grisamore House (red brick) next door.
Parlour Pizzeria bought and restored the gray house on the corner. This is the second house the owners of Parlour have bought, renovated, and turned into a restaurant.
Glossbrenner Park is a small pocket garden on Chestnut Street, whimsically decorated with found treasures and folk art.
The city is now working with a local group, City Pride, to create other pocket parks. We certainly hope the city will find a way to plant more of these cute teacup trees!
Each intersection in downtown Jeffersonville has artwork instead of a more traditional crosswalk. This crosswalk was a nod to Escher, with an abstract bird pattern. Across the street, you can see the Red Yeti, a popular brew pub.
The black and gray building in the middle is easily our favorite building.
It used to be the old Elk Lodge! 
Next door is Fern Hill, a florist with beautiful displays of flowers both inside and out.
Can you spot what's wrong with this picture? This is the Preservation Station. The depot was moved to this park many years ago, to save it from demolition. Not only is this depot no where near a train track, the caboose is an NE6 Caboose, so it's been painted the wrong color! Oh well, the red is definitely more eye catching than blue.
Of course, you can't visit Jeffersonville without visiting Schimpff's, which has been in business since 1891. Since it was late in the day, we didn't check out their candy museum, but we did take home some very tasty peanut butter fudge and white chocolate blueberry truffles. 
Oh and one white chocolate rat. Their Halloween treats were already out - how could we posssibly resist?
The building on the right used to be a floating restaurant. Jeffersonville bought the building after it closed, and then repurposed it into the River Stage. You can't see it from here, but the lawn in front has been terraced, so the city can host free concerts in the summer. 
After all that walking, we were ready to eat! We back tracked to a diner we had seen called Ann's.
The Biker choose the fried chicken, and I choose the fried catfish. The servings were large, the prices were reasonable, and the waitress was extremely friendly.  Both the chicken and catfish were nicely breaded and flavorful, but because the food is served cafeteria-style, the entrees could've definitely hotter. The pecan pie was just as good as our favorite diner back in Texas, with a light homemade crust, and we certainly couldn't quibble about the complimentary extra biscuits and rolls we were served! 

Know Before You Go: There is free parking at both the Big Four Station, and at the corner of Chestnut and Market. You can find an entire map of downtown Jeffersonville on the city's Main Street website here.  

During the summer, the county historian offers a couple of walking tours, and the city has  free concerts on Friday evenings. There is also a Farmer Market on Saturdays and Wednesdays. Other events are listed on the sidebar of the city's website.

Safety Note: Yes, you can walk to downtown Jeffersonville from the Louisville North Campground, but the most direct route (about a mile) will take you down Montgomery Street/9th Street, which is a very sketchy warehouse area. If you want to walk instead of drive from the campground, we recommend taking a longer walk (1.5 miles)  through the nearby neighborhood to South Sherwood Street, and then down to Riverside Drive. You can then take Riverside Drive east to downtown Jeffersonville.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

An Update and Visiting Falls of Ohio State Park (Free!)

Clarksville, The Good...

And the not so good. While it's great that Amazon is paying for our lot, it also means we have to stay at one of the three parks that Amazon has picked for its workcampers. One of those 'parks' is actually a mobile home park with a very long commute to Amazon's fulfillment center in Sheperdsville. Another park is White's in Bardsville, which has an unfriendly driveway for motorcycles. 
Which means we are sitting in Louisville North Campground. As you can tell from this photo, the spots are ridiculously close together. There is also a train track along the back of the park and while we generally love the sound of trains, this line is apparently where old trains go to fall apart. Seriously, some of the trains barreling through here sound like they are going to self-destruct at any moment. 
Here's another shot from our window. Yep, we can practically touch both of the neighbors' trailers in front of us. Sigh. Oh well, it's free, right? So let's focus on the positive. The one good thing this park has going for it is location. 

I-65 runs through Indiana, heads south across the Ohio River, and then goes straight through downtown Louisville. Clarksville sits on the east side of I-65 and Jeffersonville sits on the west side of the highway. This means it's only a fifteen minute walk to most everything in Jeffersonville, including the Big Four Bridge.

The Biker spent last week in training, but we did carve out some time to see the Falls of Ohio State Park, which is another easy fifteen minute walk, through a cute and older neighborhood. 
The park is free if you walk in, but parking is $2, and there is also an admission charge for the Interpretive Center.

Clarksville is one of the oldest towns in this area, and was founded in 1783 whe General George Roberts Clark was awarded a land grant for his service. The General not only single-handly led the Continental Army to winning the Northwest Frontier during the Revolutionary war, but he also took on a ton of debt to keep his soldiers clothed and fed and armed. 

The United States never bothered to help the General with his debts while he was alive, but they did give him a LOT of really cheap land.  As in 8,000 acres. (The United States finally began making payments to his estate after his death-  the last one was made in 1913!)
William Clark was the General's youngest son. In the fall of 1803, William Clark and Meriwether Lewis set out from Clarksville on what would become one of the most famous expeditions ever.
Three years later, the expedition would end at the Falls of Ohio. Since we were just out for a leisurely stroll, we didn't go looking for the Clark homestead site, which is also in the park. 
The Falls were a serious problem for early travelers, and in the 19th century, a series of canals and locks were built to help boats navigate the falls. The first dam was built in the 1880s and the current McAlpine dam was built in 1964.

Much of the original falls were flooded by the damming of the river, but there are still 300 million old fossil beds that can be explored. Since this is a wildlife conservation area and a state park, taking fossils home is not permitted!

 You can also view the Big Four Bridge from the park. The Big Four Bridge was a railroad bridge, built in 1895 and later closed in the 60s. In 2013 the bridge was re-opened as a pedestrian bridge. We're looking forward to walking across the bridge to downtown Louisville sometime soon. We've heard the view of the river is fantastic and of course, it's free!

Know Before You Go: The park is part of the Falls of Ohio National Wildlife Conservation Area, and is sandwiched between the Ohio River and Riverview Drive. The eastern end of the conservation area is Ashland Park, and across from Ashland is a popular ice cream shop, the Widow's Walk. If you want to continue walking, Riverview Drive will take you to Jefferson's riverfront restaurant row (map available here) and Warder Park, where free concerts are held on Fridays in the summer.