Friday, February 3, 2006

A day of downtime

We are at the Cedar Point campground in the Croatan National Forest (map), near the town of Cape Carteret, NC. This is our second night at this spot, after a day of downtime for maintenance.

Yesterday we had a fabulous ferry ride from Ocracoke to Cedar Island. The weather was perfect, with sunny skies, calm seas, and temperatures in the 70's. A very relaxing couple of hours, just watching the scenery go by. What a stark contrast to the ride to Ocracoke Island, where the winds were so fierce and the seas so rough that the pilot managed to slam the ferry broadside into one of the guide pilings during docking, startling all the pets as Odyssey rocked violently from side to side.

The ride was so pleasant that we found ourselves wishing for fewer bridges and more ferries: The 23-mile ferry ride cost us $30, and we relaxed for two hours with our engine off, enjoying a leisurely brunch while the scenery rolled by. In contrast, the Chesapeake Bay Bridge/Tunnel spans 20 miles, and cost us $21 in tolls, but also another $8 in diesel alone, plus $2 or so in oil, not to mention wear and tear. In other words, the ferry cost less per mile, and allowed us both the luxury of relaxing and enjoying the scenery. (The shorter Hatteras/Ocracoke ferry, incidentally, is free.)

After debarking the ferry, we proceeded down Cedar Island on NC12, which joins up with the very beginning (or end, depending on how you look at it) of US70, which we followed into Smyrna. There we made a brief detour to Harker's Island, to stop at the visitor center for the Cape Lookout National Seashore. From the visitor center is visible the distinctive Cape Lookout lighthouse. Access to the seashore, which is on yet another barrier island, is by private boat service, and we opted to pass it by this time, since we were not up to walking very far on the island. The lighthouse is only open four times a year, by reservation, and the "ferry" which can accommodate sand-capable vehicles (such as ATV's and 4x4's, though I think our SV650's would do just fine too) does not run in the off season.

After the visitor center we backtracked to US70 and headed south, detouring again onto NC58 in Morehead City. 58 crosses the Intracoastal Waterway and runs south along the island of Cedar Hammock, and we passed through the towns of Atlantic Beach, Salter Path, and Emerald Isle. This hammock provided a sharp counterpoint to the Outer Banks. The later is mostly undeveloped park land, protected forever by act of Congress, dotted with only a handful of small towns that pre-date park status. Cedar Hammock is end-to-end development, a constant background of beach houses, condos, resort hotels, and cheesy "seashore" gift shops, t-shirt and swimwear boutiques, and mini-golf emporia. The endless development is interrupted briefly by a minuscule "preserve" donated to the state by some land-owner ages ago. (Luckily, we turned into the parking for this area while looking for a place to stop and eat our lunch, and we had a nice walk on the beach.)

NC58 returned us back across the Intracoastal at Cape Carteret, by which time we were ready to stop for the day. Instead of turning left onto NC24 to continue our journey south, we proceeded another mile or two inland to this spot. While dispersed camping is permitted here in the Croatan forest, we wanted the ease of a paved entry road, and we expected the campground to be fairly empty (it is: there are only about five rigs in this 40-site campground, and two of those are camp hosts). At $17, it's pricey for a FS campground, but that includes 30 amps of electricity (an uncommon luxury for the Forest Service).

We had intended to be here only one night. Checkout is at 2:00pm, and I thought I would get a few projects done around the coach, taking advantage of the late checkout. As 1:00 rolled around, the projects were still underway, and we decided to take the pressure off and just extend a day.

The big project, which has been hanging over us for a few days because the materials have been stacked in the living room, was to insulate the bay doors for the wet bay. This is something that really should have been done before Odyssey even rolled out of the conversion shop, but it wasn't for a variety of schedule reasons (as it stood, we we eager to take delivery and hit the road, and Infinity was eager to move on to other projects, so this and a small handful of other items were dropped from the acceptance checklist). We haven't bothered to undertake the project for the last eighteen months, even though it has been on our to-do list, because the logistics are tricky on the road, and, frankly, it just has not been necessary in the (mostly) temperate climates we have traversed.

Our experience in multi-day sub-freezing temperatures in NY and NJ last month brought the issue to the fore. Generally, Odyssey performed very well in these conditions. However, we had to run the Webasto pretty much full-time, even when we were asleep or away from the coach, in part to keep the plumbing and tankage from freezing. The effects on the cold water supply were quite noticeable, and the hydronic system was clearly working hard with the heat losses in the bays (the living area, though, is quite well insulated and always remained comfortable). Also, between the batteries themselves being cold, and the constant moderately heavy draw of the hydronic pumps, Webasto blower, and fan-coil blowers, the genny was auto-starting twice a day due to battery voltage. In all, parking in the extreme cold was a very diesel-intensive experience -- I would estimate ten gallons per day when it was below freezing (five or six gallons for the Webasto, and four or five gallons for the genset).

Of course, we were too caught up with family issues and visits to actually do anything about this while we were in the chilly northeast (and, you may recall, our visit to the area was on short notice), but I was determined not to let the issue get away from me again, So on our way out of Virginia a few days ago, we stopped at a Home Depot and picked up two 4' by 8' sheets of 1" thick polystyrene insulation (AKA Styrofoam™, foam board, or pink board). Of course, having no way to transport such large pieces of material, we measured the two large areas (one on each wet bay door, in between the latch mechanisms and the vertical braces), cut the two sheets down into six more manageable pieces, and put them inside, against the couch.

Since then, as luck would have it, the weather has been too crummy to actually do the installation. I don't want to work in the rain, and any sort of wind over a light breeze makes it impossible to wield large pieces of foam board. Finally, today, conditions were perfect, and I set to work with a utility knife and a roll of special pink tape that Owens Corning sells to seal gaps in the product, and I insulated both wet bay doors, as well as both of the doors to the shallow tag axle bay that houses the cat potty and some storage. It is unlikely that we will actually need said insulation as we move further south into warmer climes, but the insulation will also help keep our fresh water supply cooler in the hot weather, and an added bonus is that it is also attenuating the noise made by our auxiliary air compressor, at least as heard outside the coach.

Tomorrow, if the rain that has moved in tonight lets up, I will try to finish installing some weatherstripping on the slideout tool drawers, and maybe even pressure-wash the coach before we pull up stakes.

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