Sunday, December 23, 2018

Joe Omundson

BB011: Sebustian

In early October I left Portland for Moab.

The bus is basically gutted with my stuff thrown in.

Bonneville Salt Flats:

Fall in Moab was 20 degrees colder that normal, and now it's winter. A friend is watching my plants for a while.

There are metal strips that run the length of the ceiling, embedded in the fiberglass, and I attached some 2"x2" strips to them.

I picked up some sheets of 2" foam board to insulate the ceiling. I'm using "Great Stuff" spray foam as an adhesive. (did not research this idea thoroughly so don't copy me)

After several hours of bracing they are adhered well.

Rear section of the bus almost done:

I built a bed, which gave me a lot of storage space and raised my mattress into warmer air. I may get a narrower mattress and adjust the width of the bed.

I did finally replace these snowflake sheets.

My stove needed to be cleaned:

Cleaned it

Bookshelf speakers: thrift store, $50 total ($30 pictured)
Pioneer speaker: craigslist this summer, $70(?)
Deep cycle battery: a local sold me his old boat battery, $40

This system of machines has granted me access to sound waves which are significantly greater in amplitude, equalization, precision, and (most notably) frequency range!

I installed a fan which can replace the air in my bus in less than a minute. It's located above my kitchen.
10 efficient speeds can run in forward or reverse, with the vent open or closed. Rain doesn't get in. There's also a thermostat feature. It was $200, but I think it will be worth it.

This pressure cooker kicks ass

I'll do a little bit more work before I leave for my trip starting in January.

The main thing that's kept me from finishing the ceiling is that I want to get the solar panels

If you were wondering about why I named it Sebustian: my friend thought of it, and I liked it better than anything I could think of.

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Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Joe Omundson

It's been a year: remembering the eclipse

Today is the 1-year anniversary of the solar eclipse that many of us in the US got to experience, and my story about it has been sitting as a draft this whole time. Time to dust it off and share it!

I first read about the solar eclipse years ago, when 2017 was a distantly abstract number, and I knew that I wanted to plan a trip to see it no matter what else was going on in my life. I've been interested in astronomy and space forever and I couldn't imagine missing the rare opportunity to watch the moon block out the sun.

Earlier in the year I studied a map of the path of totality. From Moab, the closest place to see it would be in Wyoming; it was passing over Jackson. But I didn't want to be in a choked, noisy town, I wanted to be up on some peak somewhere with a broad view of the land, so I could see the shadow approaching and all the effects. I traced the centerline east and noticed that Union Peak was directly on it. A bit more research revealed that Union Peak was reasonably accessible and that it was an isolated peak with a sweeping view of the Wind River Range and the Tetons. Well. That was all I needed, grizzly bears be damned.

The eclipse was to happen on Monday; I left Grand Junction on Thursday morning to ensure that I found a campsite, and to have a few days of reflection to prepare for the cosmic event. I spent Thursday night in Dubois, a small town east of Jackson, where I scrounged up some quarters to afford a beer at the Outlaw Saloon. Wyoming seems to be stuck in 1995 -- you can still smoke in bars. The vibe was conservative and I knew I was out of place with my leggings-under-shorts, technical merino longsleeve shirt, beanie with longer hair, and gauged ears. I noticed a couple playing pool nearby, and they apparently noticed me too, as the guy asked me if I smoked and I said "not cigarettes" and he said "yeah I know" and gave me half of a joint. I sat at a table in the corner and used the wi-fi for a couple hours.

In the morning I drove 25 mile drive to my camping area. I'd noticed a lake near Union Pass on and that was my destination. There were already a number of people camped here, and I probed around until I found a site at about 9AM. I lounged all day. I realized that I'd lost my hammock a few weeks prior at my birhday party. I hoped someone was getting good use out of it now.

On Saturday I decided to hike up to Union Peak to make sure I knew how to get there, and also to scout out a campsite that might be closer. I walked up the dirt road, past many campers pulled off to the side, until I reached a broad meadow with nobody camped in it. I realized I liked this site better and so I immediately turned around to get my van and bring it there; I could hike farther, later. On my way back, I met a guy named Randy looking at the information board and we had a quick conversation. He pointed out his camper and invited me to stop by for a beer later.

I moved my van, stopping along the way at Randy's camper for the beer he'd promised. I met his wife Althee (not sure how to spell that -- short for Althea) and they gave me an Alaskan Amber. We got to talking and I mentioned my heart condition, and it turned out Randy, one of those 63 year old active Coloradans who seems 46, had had an aortic aneurism and also required an open heart surgery w/ aortic valve reconstruction and a partially replaced aorta. They live in Carbondale. They were expecting 3 more couples to join them, longtime camping friends of theirs. They gave me another beer for the road as I headed up.

I'd paid attention to the road as I walked it the first time, to make sure it was passable in my FWD minivan, but apparently it's easy to be optimistic when walking. I made it to the meadow, but not without a whole lot of careful steering, bouncing about, a couple of loud clunks on the undercarriage, and almost getting stuck on a particularly tricky bit. The Rabbit actually did better on this kind of stuff -- just as much clearance, and the tight wheelbase made it easy to dodge and weave. I do enjoy the challenge of picking a passable route on hairy roads. People with 4WD trucks might have it too easy and miss out on the fun.

From there I walked up toward the peak, just far enough to make sure I understood what route would be the best to get me up there, then returned to my camp. I made a plan to hike up during the day Sunday and camp out for the eclipse Monday morning.

Sunday morning was lazy, I read a book, meditated, and ate food. Around noon I started packing my bag for an overnight trip up the mountain. The usual stuff -- sleeping pad, food bag, tent, plus both of my down quilts, because I expected it to get cold.

I started hiking up the hill and walked for maybe 15 minutes. The first vehicle that was going my direction was a Jeep and I turned around to stick out my thumb and grin at them. They stopped, thinking I might be joking, but I was serious, I wanted a ride. It was a male/female couple in their 30s and the guy driving jumped out to make space for me in the back seat. I said if it was a hassle not to worry about it, but he said no and enthusiastically got the seat ready. Their dog got out of the car and came around to say hi to me, which apparently she has only done to 4 people in the 7 years they've had her. We started bouncing up the hill. The road was strewn with bumps and boulders and the Jeep was necessary. They were from Albuquerque, had done some climbing in the previous days and were now going up to see the eclipse. They had the most benevolent energy, toward me and each other, and I was almost sad to say goodbye to them when I got to my dropoff point.

I hiked my way up to Union Peak, 11,491', a gentle hill really and no trail was necessary. At the top were 3 or 4 guys taking pictures and looking around; once they left I had the peak to myself. Three more pairs came up that night. Mike and Leon, a father/son duo: Leon was probably 15 and very interested in my gear and the general fact that I was camping right by the summit that night. He was all wide-eyed and grinning and full of questions, and you could tell his father enjoyed being his mentor and friend. Next two guys my age in green jackets from Minneapolis came to the top and asked me to take photos of them, and they returned the favor, and they also had a very kind attitude. Lastly was another father/son pair, the son was my age and they were from Dallas but had a ranch 4 hours away from where we were in Wyoming. They asked me to take their photo too.

I kept reading my book and I wandered around the meadow near the summit to keep warm, finding some rose quartz which I kept as a souvenir. Finally it was sunset and I went to bed after finding the most level and flat spot I could, building it flatter with some pancake rocks, on the downwind side of some big rock formations. I wrapped myself in both quilts and left my glasses on to catch a few shooting stars before drifting off. I slept well other than my pad going flat and needing to be blown up a couple times.

See my sleeping pad?

I woke up and stared at a stretched out dawn of orange and pink clouds, not wanting to get up to pee or reinflate my mattress, just stare and absorb it. 

Then I did my morning chores and I meditated for a little while, and not too long after that I heard rocks clattering up top and a voice mildly celebrating the summit. It was maybe 7:30 and my first visitor had arrived. He was Ty, from Texas, about 36 I believe, and we were instant friends. We talked for quite a while about our lives and the eclipse. Other people started arriving and soon there were a couple dozen people waiting for the celestial bodies to align. I mistakenly thought that we'd see a shadow scoot across the world when the moon first began to occlude the sun, but that was bad logic, as the darkening is quite a gradual thing at first.

I won't pretend to know all the ranges and peaks that are visible from Union Peak, but we had a view of many miles in many directions. On the horizon to the west were the Tetons, past Jackson, and since the shadow would be coming from that direction, that's where most of our attention was focused. The Wind River Range was to the south, including the highest peak in Wyoming, Mt. Gannett, but most of that was obscured by snowy formations in the foreground. East was a long valley of ridges and hills, north past the highway were interesting buttes and other peaks.

We used our eclipse viewing devices to track the progress of the occlusion. First there was a tiny notch where the moon was just beginning to impose. Then a small bite, then a bigger bite, then the sun started to look like a crescent. We were amazed that despite 75% of the sun being covered, it didn't seem any less bright to us, and it was only just starting to feel a bit cooler. I guess this is because human vision works on a logarithmic scale rather than linear; for something to appear half as bright, it actually has to decrease in luminosity by a factor of 10, or something along those lines. Night may seem 1/50th as bright as daytime to us, when in fact it is a factor of many thousands, as a linear sensor like a digital camera will reveal. The crescent got smaller, the air continued to cool, and gradually it started feeling more like twilight as the crescent got quite thin. By this point there were roughly 60 of us on the peak.

Then the crescent became a tiny sliver and totality was almost upon us. We looked toward the west. There was a general haze due to Montana forest fires, and as the Tetons dimmed, they were lost to our sight; but when totality fell upon them, they turned into stark black silhouettes against a smoky red backdrop. As the blackness rolled toward us over the hills and ridges, we moaned our amazement and looked back at the tiny speck of sun shining past the edge of the moon -- and then it was gone. No need for eye protection anymore, we looked at the gaping black hole where the sun should be, and the atmosphere projecting out around it, and several planets shining. This lasted for two minutes which passed unbelievably quickly.

Several airplanes flew overhead along the eclipse path. Someone in the crowd confidently announced that one of them was a NASA research plane. Others were likely private parties of people who wanted to maximize their time spent in totality, crazy expensive things that crazy rich people do.

In the minutes before totality I moved to a different position on the peak to get a better view, and I noticed a guy with a long beard in a down jacket who had that wild knowingness in his eyes. He noticed me too but we didn't say anything. Later, I approached him and said "Hey, are you a thru-hiker by any chance?" Was he ever. He was hiking the CDT at the time, and had traveled down from Montana to see the eclipse; he had five or six hundred more miles to get to the end. He'd hiked the AT in 2015, the PCT in 2016, and a number of other trails in between -- hiking almost nonstop, over 15,000 miles in 2.5 years. His trail name was Attrition because he was going to keep hiking as long as his resources lasted. We hung out for a while and then I started the walk back down the hill. He said maybe he'd catch up.

Sure enough, a mile or two later I looked behind me and he was approaching rapidly, obviously in excellent shape from hiking. I struggled to keep up once he caught up to me, but I didn't have to try for long -- I tried hitching a ride with a jeep, but it was too full of stuff; so we kept walking but then a guy in a 4Runner who had seen us talking to the jeep offered to give us a ride down, which we accepted. This guy was kind of a trip, he worked as some kind of environmental analyst who helps put a dollar value on natural systems to provide perspective for economic-minded people who would destroy it. He'd been an engineer before but quit that life to have more freedom; he was all about finding cheap solutions that met his needs, like a $28,000 house bought during the recession, travel rigs that can go anywhere and fit a bed in the back, work that can be done from anywhere. We bounced down the road again and he let me off at my minivan.

Half of the reason I make trips like this is for personal curiosity and satisfaction, but the other half is to meet like-minded people. I firmly believe that the best way to connect with people is to find an activity or event that exudes "you"ness and see who else is there. By going to that place at that time, I was applying a filter on humanity: selecting for people who care somewhat about astronomy and unique opportunities, who are willing to put in the effort to climb a summit for an optimal experience, who have time in their lives to plan trips like that, who enjoy the outdoors and wild spaces. Even then, 60 people showed up and I only had memorable interactions with two.

Reunited with my minivan, I scraped my way down the gnarly road, forded the creek at the bottom and was back on a smooth gravel road. I drove to Dubois to spend the night in the empty lot again. I got Wi-Fi and a couple beers at the saloon, then walked to a food shack where a couple guys were selling "Indian tacos" for $10 and quesadillas for $5. They were hardass, mean looking white guys. But I told him I couldn't afford the $10 option, and when I said I didn't have any cash and they also didn't take cards, he said "don't worry, just go sit down, I'll hook you up." They brought me a quesadilla for free. After I threw away the plate I warmly said thank you and asked if I could help with dishes or anything, but he just smiled and said "don't worry about it, enjoy your meal." It goes to show how useless my assumptions are about hardass looking guys.

I took it easy the next day, driving less than 300 miles south to camp in Irish Canyon in NW Colorado. A BLM campground, tables and fire rings and a pit toilet, all completely free; BLM areas are my favorite. Never crowded, usually free, still beautiful. Who needs national parks? BLM camping is where it's at. I got a bit drunk and wrote this story.

Now a year later I'm sitting in my bus in a parking lot in Hillsboro, having made a only few changes to the original story, and it seems as though the eclipse was another life. It's hard to believe that was only one year ago. I'm grateful to live a lifestyle where I'm doing new things with enough regularity that my memories of life aren't a featureless blur.
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Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Joe Omundson

BB010: I moved into the bus

The Transfer

Three days ago, on Saturday 7/28, I emptied everything out of my minivan and into my bus.

I was stuck for a while because I felt I couldn't move into the bus until the minivan was sold because otherwise I'd have two vehicles to juggle on the streets and that's a headache; so I listed it for sale, but obviously I couldn't sell it until I emptied it of myself and all my stuff, which required moving into the bus. Something had to give so I moved into the bus and drove the minivan to my mom's house, where it's parked now as I try to sell it.

(Want to buy a minivan? Nudge nudge. I promise it'll be perfect for everything you could ever imagine...)

It wasn't pretty that first day. Well, it still isn't, but it was even more disorganized then.

 After my first sort: at least there's some room to walk around

I found one potential place to park the bus out in NE Portland, the people seem really nice and are flexible with things, but there isn't much shade for the bus and it's a bit farther out than I'd like to be ideally. It's good to have that option but I'm still looking around for other options.

Today I'm in St. Johns and I've got the bus parked under the bridge while I'm at a coffeeshop.

I did more sorting today and set up my kitchen where I think I'd like it to go permanently. I ziptied the table to the wall and velcroed my stove, cutting board, and "important items" bowl (wallet keys etc) to the table.

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Sunday, July 15, 2018

Joe Omundson

BB009: Subfloors are done! Also, goats

In seach of a place to park and work on my bus, I came across a guy named Dan on craigslist who has a shop in the rural area between Hillsboro and Newberg. People pay him a weekly fee to work on their buses there. It costs more than I can afford long-term, but I figured I'd pay for 7 days and get as much work done as I could in that time.

Aside from being a genuinely kind dude and making me feel very welcome in his space, Dan and his wife have a whole herd of goats that I was allowed to play with. They have about 50 total, 19 of which are babies. Every day I'd take some time to go sit with them because they were so funny, friendly, and therapeutic.

I'm happy to say that my goals turned out to be pretty realistic and I finished the two main things I went there to accomplish: installing the new subfloor, and making window covers out of reflectix.

When I started my week I had already cut most of the boards I needed for my floor, but I had two more I needed to cut at the front of the bus, so I started working on that on day 1. These were the trickiest ones to cut to shape, so I used cardboard to make a template, and I was glad I did because it took a few iterations to get it right.

On day 2 I cut those boards and was satisfied that they fit well enough.

The next thing to do was waterproof the underside of the boards I hadn't done yet, so I took all the wood out of the bus; with all the floors out for one last time, it was a good time to deal with the rusty seat tracks along the side of the bus. I decided that since they will be covered with insulation anyway, they didn't need to be cleaned as thoroughly with a grinder like I did with the metal beneath the subfloor.

So I wiped down the tracks and scraped the rust where it was deep and flaky and went ahead and coated them with rust converter and a green rustoleum enamel coating, just to hopefully keep them from rusting any further (I'm not sure how they got so rusty in the first place?).

Day 3 was my paint day. Each board needed 3 coats of Redgard, and some time to dry in between coats, so this took several hours to complete. I coated the entire undersides and also made a stripe along the outside edges of the tops.

I didn't get too much done on day 4 but I did decide to borrow one of Dan's ideas and use a layer of plastic sheeting underneath the subfloors. It may be overkill seeing as I already waterproofed the boards, but since they're in direct exposure to the road, I figured for another $10 it's an easy and effective way to make my subfloors quite a bit more water resistant from beneath. I tested the drilling/screwing process to make sure it was feasible before calling it a night.

On day 5 I screwed in a good section of my floor and got the process down. I found it best to pre-drill a hole with a 5/32" bit that was as long as the screw I was putting in (#14, 2 3/4") because then I could test what was underneath before committing to anything. It took a pretty big impact driver sometimes when there were a couple layers of steel to get the screw into, so I was glad I'd pre-drilled.

Day 6 was exciting because I got almost all the floors installed. Actually, I got everything screwed down that I was planning to screw down, and then I was going to work on a hinge system for a couple of boards on the sides of the bus so that I can open them from above.

(This was one of the friendliest and shirt-bitingest goats around:)

On the morning of day 7 I decided to scrap the hinge idea, because I didn't think my plan would create a robust, effective seal. So I decided to screw these boards down like the other ones. I realized that I can always back the screws out if I want to pull up those boards to make it easier to install utilities below them. So it's still good that I cut those pieces individually. I can rework the hinge thing later if I want to.

I made a new friend this week (actually on day 1 of my time here) and she helped me on day 7 by driving me to the property so I could drive the bus away at the end of the day, and she helped with screwing down the last 2 boards and cleaning everything up and also installing the reflectix window covers. So nice to have the help! It was a relatively quick job, I'd bought a roll of 4'x25' reflectix and cut it into two pieces that covered both of the side rows of windows. I then bought a roll of outdoor-grade velcro and we made 6 velcro attachment points for each of the window covers, which seems to be sufficient to hold them up; I'll probably create a more elaborate system later, but for now, this is easy enough and keeps the sunlight out.

as a side benefit, my bus looks like the international space station now

I drove my bus back to the RV storage place where I'm renting a spot, and cooked (reheated) my first meal inside the bus... and tried to imagine what it'll be like to cook in there when everything's done.

So the subfloors are 100% installed! And my windows have covers (well, most of them). I had no idea it was going to take this long, but it's a relief to have the floors done now. It means I can essentially start living in there whenever I please, and I won't have to empty it out to do any of the work that needs to happen next.

Speaking of what needs to happen next: My plan is to sell my minivan sometime in the next 2 weeks and move into the bus. My car insurance plan expires July 27, and my RV space rent is finished July 31, so it seems like good timing. Onto the next phase: bus dwelling around Portland and looking for good places to park it.

And because everyone likes baby goats (or should, at least), here are some more pictures of baby goats.

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