Categories
Vanlife

Offroading in a Sprinter Van

Going offroad in a Sprinter van is possible, but is different than offroading in a truck or Jeep. Many of those vehicles are designed for offroading and the Sprinter is meant for.. well.. delivering things. However, the they are surprisingly capable for a giant, tall awkwardly-shaped delivery van! (The photo in the snow above is a 2WD van with chains on.)

A Caveat/disclaimer: Be sensible and safe. If you have little to no offroad experience, start slow, take a trails course, consult the experts. These tips below are just what has worked for me.

Avoid places where you will get stuck

  1. Obvious right? But the first rule is to avoid places where you will likely get (seriously) stuck. You can do this by pre-walking questionable trail sections.
  2. Be constantly considering a back up plan and where you can turn around or bail if things get worse than expected.
  3. Get comfortable with the capabilities/limits of your Sprinter before you get into trouble. I did this by heading out just outside of town with a friend in another 4×4 to try some different terrain. He stood by to pull me out (but didn’t need, as I was able to self-recover!)

How to prevent getting stuck:

  1. Lower your tire pressure. This is easy and cheap! Many Sprinters spec a tire pressure of 70+PSI. That’s great for handling highway corners at 100km/h but not so great off-road. Airing down the tires to 30PSI or even 25PSI can give you a extra traction for FREE! It lets the tires “wrap” around things like rocks and provides more flotation in mud and snow. With the stiffness of the Sprinter’s suspension, airing down the tires helps with the suspension flex problem too. Warning: going too low will increase the chances of your tire coming off the rims. (This is only likely if you go below 25PSI and push your tires up against rocks or stumps.)
  2. Turn off ASR (Anti-slip regulation). This is the button in the middle of the console near the emergency flashers (on a NCV3). ASR is great on the road, but when your tires start spinning, it kills the throttle (and your forward momentum). This usually happens at the exact wrong time, resulting in you slowing down right when you most need momentum, and becoming stuck.
  3. Put your tire chains on before you need them. Seriously, nothings sucks more than having to chain up on an icy hill with the van tilted precariously (speaking from experience here). If it feels like things are getting dodgy or if you have any doubt, chain up.

Things to help you get unstuck.

Winches are highly over-rated. These two things below will cost you under $200 but will get you out of almost all questionable scenarios:

  1. Chains. Seriously. Chains will work everywhere unlike a winch which requires an anchor (tree, other vehicle, etc). I’ve kept up to 4WD trucks in the snow in my 2WD Sprinter with tire chains on. I use the Peerless AutoTrac which are great off road and ridiculously easy to put on and take off. These have saved my butt SO many times and are super easy to put on (which is the important part as I mentioned above). They are amazing for ice, but work great in mud/snow too. I also carry a set of V-bar chains for if things get really sketchy but have yet to use them.
  2. Traction blocks (I use the “truck version of the TracGrabber). Seriously. I thought these were an “as seen on TV” gimmick until I tried them. They have ALSO saved my butt many times and are super easy to put on. They act like “paddles” in deep snow/sand and give you a crazy amount of traction in those cases. They do not work on ice, but that’s where the chains excel.

How to stay unstuck once you’re free.

  • Don’t stop forward momentum if you can help it. Keep moving until you reach ground that is level and firm.
  • Sprinters typically benefit from a fairly amount of throttle when going through mud and snow. (Obviously be safe & sensible about this). They don’t “crawl” as well through obstacles due to the lack of suspension flex. I typically have to take a pretty good run at things and “drive it like I stole it”
  • If you feel yourself slowing down, but the RPM is staying the same, turn the steering wheel side to side to give the tires something to bite into
  • If you’re tires are just spinning forward, and backward and you are just “digging” downwards, STOP! Air down, put chains on, get out your shovel. The more your tires dig down, the bigger the hole they need to come out of
  • Make sure ASR is turned off. (it turns back on every time you turn the key off, and is easy to forget to check if you are getting in and out of your vehicle a lot)
  • Avoid putting branches, rocks, etc under the tires. This often doesn’t help and they just become hazards (Spinning tires will often just launch them out at high speed)

Other things to consider:

  • Winches are over-rated in my opinion. I used them extensively in my years of offroading in Land Cruisers, but they are expensive, often problematic and IMO not really needed for the types pf places Sprinters will go. But they are the cool bling that everyone puts on the front of their Jeeps ( and LED light bars, and $2000 bumpers, etc.) Maybe if you like spending money and go into really dodgy places by yourself, they are a good idea.
  • Sprinter’s do not have much suspension travel. Thankfully the traction control does make up for this ( somewhat ) by directing power to the other tires when one loses traction. It takes a while to get used to this behavior so practice ahead of time.
  • Not all 4×4 Sprinters have Low Range (Downhill assist). This is helpful when trying to navigate undulating terrain or maintaining slow control around obstacles
  • If you air down, don’t forget to air back up as soon as you can. I carry an portable Viair compressor for this task
Slow and steady down the hill.

Have fun and be safe out there! Have any other tips? Share them below!

Categories
Intentional Living

Morning People vs Night People

Morning People: you know that feeling you get after completing a task before everyone else has woken up? Night people get that too after everyone has gone to bed.

Night people: That aversion you have to setting your alarm to 6am? Morning people get that when invited to a dinner party starting at 8pm

Different flows for different people. It can even change for people as they move through life.

Ignore those “10 things all successful people do” lists. It’s just noise.

Sunrise on the Camino in Portugal. Especially ironic, since this was taken after running overnight (starting at 8pm) as part of the UCMT Ultramarathon
Categories
Intentional Living

Unapologetically unfollow

Don’t be afraid to unfollow people who no longer bring you value. This not only applies to social media, but to all aspects in life. I don’t view this as being “disloyal.” In fact I think it actually means being more loyal to those who you do include in your life. It gives you more time and attention to focus on those who matter most.

So less guilt-follows and more genuine follows.

Image courtesy of oliverdb
Categories
Vanlife

A stealthy solar setup

For DoubleOhSevan, keeping things low-key is essential. I had originally considered mounting rigid panels on the roof rails, but decided that was still too conspicuous for my liking. A bit more research led to flexible Renogy panels that would fit between the roof rails. These would make efficient use of the roof space and take minimal vertical space. In fact, the roof ridges on either side are actually higher than the panels.

The tradeoff with flexible panels is efficiency (mounting to the roof decreases the circulation and increases the heat. Heat is the enemy of efficiency with Solar modules).

Flexible Panels mounted directly to the roof:

Advantages:

  • More aerodynamic
  • Less conspicuous

Disadvantages

  • More expensive (perhaps not if you include mounting hardware for rigid panels)
  • More permanent (glued to the roof)

The Renogy 100W flexible panels are 48″ wide, and the distance between the roof rails on a high-roof Sprinter is 52″

Flexible panels attached directly to the roof

The components

  • 4 x Renogy 100W Flexible Panels
  • 4 pairs MC4 connectors
  • 25ft of Red/Black 10AWG PV cable
  • 1 pair of MC 4 Y connectors
  • 1 waterproof cable entry
  • 1/2″ grommet to protect PV cable
  • Sixaflex construction adhesive
  • 1 40A MPPT Trace Charge controller with MT50 monitor

Total cost (CAD): $1000

Install

  1. Laid out panels on roof to check spacing (I edned up overlapping them by 1/2 to fit 4)
  2. Cleaned “ribs” on roof with rubbing alcohol
  3. Applied liberal Sikaflex to the the ribs and pressed the panels down onto it
  4. Used scrap lumber to hold the panels down agains the curve of the roof
  5. Wired in the panels as two parallel groups of two panels in series. Panels run at ~20V so that makes a 40V input the controller.
  6. Drilled a hole at the front above the drivers side and installed the grommet into it
  7. Ran the wire from the final Y connector into the cable entry and through the grommet in the roof
  8. Attached the cable entry to the roof with SIkaflex
  9. Connected the PV wire to the controller and then plugged in the Y connector on the roof to test.
  10. Secured the wires/Connectors to the rail using zip ties
2kWh consumed/generated in just a few days

Categories
Intentional Living

Perspective

Remember the scene from Wall-E with all the overweight peopl watching screens and drinking/eating while being moved along in chairs on a conveyor ? And how we laughed and thought it was a funny prediction of how lazy people really could be?

But then how many of us after the movie or in the days or weeks after, got back into our cars for a short ride home? Its almost the same thing, but slightly less futuristic in that we actually have to press pedals and turn the steering wheel.

When I first moved into my place in Vernon, I was driving the 1.8km trip to and from work. The thought of walking or biking didn’t even occur to me, because I was so used to driving everywhere.But then I started walking and biking, initially as a way to get more exercise. But now for short trips, especially to work, I feel like it would be _crazy_ to get in my car

When I drop my vehicle off for servicing, and decline the shuttle because I say I’m walking or taking the bus, I’m met with a look of surprise. In fact, its almost disbelief, and I’m usually askied “are you sure” several times. I realize some of this is just them trying maintain a high level of helpfulness and service but its an echo of our society that walking or getting somewhere without hoping into a car is just a CRAZY idea.

And then you stop and think about it and realize. Is it really that crazy to have to spend 10 minutes to walk somewhere?

Categories
Intentional Living

Breaking free from the Guilt-Distraction Feedback loop

It comes up gradually. You are trying to work through something, and face some distractions. Then there are more distractions. Instagram, email and oh look, I should really clean up the kitchen.

It gets to the point where you are hours behind in your progress. What should have been done today stretched into tomorrow. Then, oh look, its next week and you really should have had that all wrapped up last week.

Then Guilt shows up. Its Saturday but you didn’t get the thing finished so instead of going out with friends or to the ski hill, you stay at home to “work.” But you never do, distractions and lack of motivation hits again, and oh, there’s more guilt coming on top of it. And it cycles like this until you are feeling worse and worse and getting less and less done.

But how do you break free from it?

Start small

The worst thing you can do is try and hit the entire task head on. i.e “tonight is definitely the night I finish “. At best you’ll get through 1/3 of it (and still feel crappy about yourself when it’s not done). But lesser outcomes are much more likely.

So instead break something off that is both short in duration and easy to complete. The motivation is much easier to overcome when you know it will just take a few minutes.

Some examples:

  • Write one page of a book (instead of trying for multiple chapters)
  • Commit to running for 1km instead of going for the full 10km
  • Write one function of code in a module (instead of trying to write an entire feature)

When you break down the larger effort, the motivation hill gets smaller and easier to get over. And once you gain some traction and have a tiny win, the momentum often builds. You will end up writing much more code than just the single function. You will probably power through the entire chapter. And once you’ve run 1km, well, you’re already sweating so you might as well keep going.

One other mistake to avoid is starting off by breaking the task up into a complex bunch of parts or map it all out (over-planning is just a “meta” version distraction. You need less distractions, not more.) Have you ever been planning a project and find yourself hours into selecting the best project management tool? (I have.)

Make a deal with yourself

If you’ve broken the task own into a small piece but still can’t seem to get through it without finding something else to do, make a deal with yourself. “I can’t go get another coffee until I write a page of the book.” “I’ve been avoiding that proposal all day, but if I proofread it one last time and send it, I can meet up with my friends for a beer.” It doesn’t take much, bu t like the above tip once you get some movement, the momentum builds. This is a version of Habit Stacking that James Clear talks about in Atomic Habits which I highly recommend.

Just do the fun thing

Keep your routine. Don’t keep putting off the other things in your life to spend time on the task (I.e. outside your work day, etc.) Don’t work in the evenings or on a Saturday if you don’t normally do. If you have a trip or fun event planned, GO! (And be as guilt free as possible.) These are the things that will fill you back up with energy to make over the motivation hump. This doesn’t mean you should take off in the middle of your work day or fit in distractions that are out of place. But if the depression and self-loathing is starting to pile on, this is a great way to break free of it.

There you have it. What techniques do you use when you’re stuck? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

Additional reading: Related to “start small” is a motivation technique called No More Zero Days ( read about it here ).

*Note. In the middle of writing this post, I got sidetracked on Flickr for half an hour trying to find the perfect photo 🙂 Cover photo (c) David Fulmer

Categories
Intentional Living

Re-resolutions

You signed up for that Yoga class. You bought a (lightly used!) treadmill. You got the brochures for that trip you always wanted to take. But two month later, you’ve gone to one yoga class, have logged 5k on the treadmill and who knows where the brochures went.

Oh well, there’s always next year, right? Wrong.

Here’s a secret: You can set a resolution anytime, not just at an arbitrary day of the year where the earth happens to be in the same spot as it was 365.25 days prior.

This might surprise you, but those successful people you read about actually fail a lot. They probably have 10x the amount of failures as the  do successful things. The difference though, is that they don’t get discouraged, they keep going. They take lessons from the failure and say “Okay, oops, I won’t do it that way again” and then use that to get better.

Maybe yoga just isn’t your thing. Or maybe you need to try a different variation (Bikram, Yin, Hatha, etc.). I like running now, but I used to hate it (but I’d do it twice a month anyway.) It was a task, a chore, something that needed to be done, something that I did to lose weight. Then last year I discovered trail running. Everything switched. Being outdoors and on the trails was what I needed for it to resonate with me. Now I can run 4 hours on the trail like it’s no big deal.  I’m out in nature, seeing things, relaxing.. but also happen to be jogging at the same time. It no longer feels like work, but rather something I can’t not do. I run 2-3 times a week now.

Start things often. Fail at things often. The key to this though is that you have to start. Making excuses like “hmm, better luck next year” is the easy way out. Try something different, make more realistic goals, and set new “resolutions” for yourself continuously throughout your life, not just once a year.

Categories
Intentional Living

2 years of car ownership data

I drive a lot.

I have the typical North American mindset about car ownership: I never really think about how much it costs, I approach driving as a “necessity” and that “it costs what it costs”. But a recent post by Chad Kohalyk on his 2 years of OGO Carshare data made me stop and think: “wait, what DOES driving cost me? I’ve always heard that car ownership costs Canadians $9000+ a year. Thats a lot of money. There’s no way I’m spending that, am I? I drive a small economical car but it can’t cost that much, can it? Can it!?”

Well lets ask the data.

Before going into that, I need to explain what a majority of my driving is. Very little of my driving is work-related since I work remotely. Most of my driving aside from the basics like grocery shopping, etc would be considered “recreational”. I drive to things like running clinics and community events in the evenings. I spend a lot of my weekends at places like the ski hill or on hiking trails. Its not unusual for me to drive 5 hours round-trip on a Saturday for a backcountry ski day or epic hike in the rockies. I drive to visit my family in Edmonton a couple of times a year, a round-trip trip of 2000km. In short, I log a lot of recreational highway distance.  I also live ~20km out of town so even going to a coffee shop is a round trip of 40km.  Also: I just like to drive. I like the freedom. If there’s a group of us going somewhere, I’m usually the one to drive.

So back to the data.

Luckily I track all of my fuel-ups in Fuelly so it’s pretty easy to extract cost data. In 2014 I drove 30,821km for a total spend of $6462. In 2015 I upped the distance to almost 39,000km for a cost of $7443. Holy crap, that’s a lot of money! However, its still within the range that Canadians spend on a car of similar size.

 

mileage

 

*Routine maintenance is oil changes, batteries, tires. Unexpected maintenance is the sudden failure of a part or anything outside of the expected life of a part. Depreciation is an estimate based on Kelly Black book and CanadaTrader values.

Going forward

I need to drive less. It’s that simple. Thats pretty much the only cost left for me top optimize. I’m pretty diligent about my driving technique to keep fuel mileage as high as possible. I do a lot of the car maintenance myself. My car is paid off and is one of the most economical AWD small cars on the road There’s not much to optimize aside from distance

On that note, I hope to move into the city within the next year and that should cut down a lot on the distance to the grocery store, errands and coffee shops. Being within walking/biking distance will be huge. I hope this will reduce my mileage by 5-10,000km per year. Aside from that, I do find a lot of joy in weekend trips,  but maybe I could optimize by having others drive or taking advantage of closer options. And one day I hope to become a member of a service like OGO Carshare to eliminate the need for a car for the “20km radius from home” trips.