Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Summer Road Trip Dreams

This summer we will embark on a month-long, cross-country Vanagon road trip.  We're in the earliest planning stages right now, but a few things seem certain:

  1. It will be awesome.  A four-week vacation to hang out all over the country?  It's a no-brainer.
  2. We will take a northern route west from Boston to the far reaches of Washington state, and hopefully--time permitting--explore Vancouver-area British Columbia.
  3. We'll head south along the coast to San Francisco, where our trip will turn to the east. We've never been through wine country. If I enjoy the wine tastings as much as I imagine, the Vanagon may spend the night parked at a vineyard or two.
That's about all we've decided thus far.  Travelling west, we'll be joined by some adventurous friends in Chicago, who will accompany us through the wilds of the Badlands, Tetons and as far as they can tolerate the confines of the van...and Parker.
Parker, first hearing about the trip...

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Coleman Camping Products for Vanagon

Disclaimer: While this may sound like a Coleman promotion, I swear we have no stake in the company. In fact, I have never before owned a Coleman product.  I would, however, gladly accept a Coleman sponsorship of our summer road trip. If you're listening, Coleman, we will shamelessly peddle your goods from Boston to Seattle and back if you help defer some of the road trip costs.

Without help from the Coleman Corporation, the holidays were good to us this year.  Our excitement over the Vanagon was contagious and the family was eager to support our summer plans with some vital road trip supplies.  My parents ticked two major items off our wish list: cooler and stove.

Since we don't have a full camper Vanagon, a quality cooler will be essential for long stretches of summer travel.  We opted for the Coleman 62-quart Xtreme chest cooler.  It fits perfectly behind the passenger seat of the van (we obviously won't be traveling with the rear-facing jump seat) and it will also provide a nice work surface for cooking and prep.

I'm used to the limitations of a compact backpacking stove, so our new Coleman PerfectFlow InstaStart Grill Stove truly seems like a luxury range.  I know we'd quickly tire of pan frying or boiling all meals, so this has the added advantage of a quality gas grilling surface.

My sister came through with a great gift that I hadn't considered. Surprise, surprise: a Coleman. It's the Coleman QuickPack InstaStart Lantern, also available on Amazon.  It easily collapses into a hard case for storage and transportation, hopefully preventing us from breaking the glass.  This will be great for hanging out at campsites.

Consider this entry a preliminary report.  Road trip testing and reviews will follow!

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

The Wheels on the Bus....

I quickly learned that there's infinite opportunity to upgrade these vans in every conceivable way, but unfortunately our budget is very much finite. We'll be keeping upgrades and add-ons to what I consider essential (for safety and utility).  

After completing some front-end, steering, and alignment work on the van, it was time to toss the dry-rotted, unevenly worn Continentals. While some Vanagon enthusiasts suggest upgrading the wheels to 15" or 16", I decided to stick with the stock 14" alloys and replace the tires only. I had no baseline for comparison, and I knew that anything would be an improvement from what I'd been driving on. And $400 versus $1200 investment was also a major factor.

Options for C-rated, all-season, 14" tires are limited.  Reviews of the Hankook RA08 (185 r14 C) were all positive. The Bus Depot offers a convincing sales pitch (though purchase and installation ended up being cheaper through my local Sears):
The Hankook RA08 185R14 All Season Radial handles well and has excellent wear characteristics. This tire has a ten year track record, and is the only all-season tire in its price range to be made by an O.E.M. supplier to VW. Although the RA08 is about 40% cheaper than the Michelin Agilis, in a recent track test comparison in the German magazine ProMobil-Extra it outperformed the Michelin in every single handling test they performed (wet and dry handling, wet and dry braking, and aquaplaning). It is an excellent value and we recommend it highly.  
They are definitely a huge upgrade over the aged Contis, but we have yet to put any serious road trip miles on them. They are much quieter, and it's nice to know that I'm not riding on half-bald asymmetrical time bombs.

Winter has been a lonely season for our van.  Over 60" of snow has fallen in the Boston area so far. Even with fresh treads, we'll stick to the confident handling of our all-wheel-drive Subaru during these blizzards. If only I had opted for a Syncro (just kidding, that mechanic upkeep would definitely break the bank)...