31 January 2014 – ‘Big Lap’ Trip Preparations

Trip preparation is smooth (in so far as much as a corrugated road is smooth), and I feel as if perched on a precipice, that as soon as I start to slip, the avalanche will be unstoppable. The avalanche of information, the preparation, and the sheer amount of work necessary to do our Big Lap in 2015.  I hope that the Cruiser is the right vehicle and is as reliable as its track record suggests.  The upgradeitis is in full swing.

The internal dome and map lights have all been replaced with LED’s, as were the rear reversing and indicator lights (although I just recently refitted the original incandescent globes after Kris mentioned she could hardly see the LED’s in bright light following me home one day). The LED’s are cheap (generally $1 each) and very bright. I have also made use of the Sahara loom in the GXL body – installing door courtesy lights behind the blank red door diffusers.

The winch (complete with four new solenoids, a full rebuild and new fairleads) was finally fitted on the 11th February – which was a saga in itself. It was promised as part of the sale price back on 30th October 2013. So in essence a 15 week semi-nervous wait based on a verbal ‘yeah mate, I’ll throw in a winch too. Oh don’t worry, it’s a good one, it’s a Warn’. Anyway, all I had to pay was $60 for it to be fitted (needed the bull bar to be completely removed, and a new fairlead purcashed). Then $90 for new 2 gauge cabling (to relocate the solenoid box up under the grille), and $40 for a 500 Amp battery isolator. A bargain really (a new Warn XD9000 is roughly $1400 not including installation).

Next (there’s never a ‘lastly’ when it comes to upgrades), I’ve fitted an Anderson plug (with 8 gauge wiring), a permanent wired high capacity 12 volt socket for our Waeco 45 litre fridge in the boot (the factory socket has power on only with ignition, and likely has excessive voltage drop), and a USB hub for the tablets we are proposing for the boys. I’ve also bought a small air compressor, car seat covers, rubber 4WD floor deep-dish matts. I can see the need for recovery gear and potentially, a high lift sand jack. I’ve also seen an ebay add for groovy under seat lighting for the front and back seats, so I might try to trace the wiring for that and whack in some nice blue LEDs.  As luck would have it, James was home today with a head injury from school, I checked emails and a watched item popped up on eBay. A ‘Rola’ full alloy roof rack today and mounting system – all for $400. Apparently worth $1400 new.

After looking in every nook and cranny in the car, I simply could not find the Toyota spare tyre socket removal tool for the underslung spare, so after a considerable amount of time and hassle, the car seller sent me a complete replacement kit. I replaced the specially keyed ferule tool, only to find two unused removal tools in the glove box! How on earth did I miss that?  At least I worked out a relatively easy way to remove the spare in an emergency (take the weight off the spare tyre with a car jack).

I am now in the throws of looking very seriously for a van – the Jayco Expanda Outback 14.44-4 Outback is the preferred weapon of choice at this stage. I think we should be able to pick one up second hand for around $33,000 – the question is where?  I saw one for sale in Melbourne, and it looked perfect until we realised it only had the smaller 90 litre fridge – Kris reminded me why I had been so keen to get the biggest fridge available: – for extended free camping and Kris’s medicines.  My concern is that if we leave it too late, we’ll be potentially stuck with a higher priced, or compromised choice, or both. The plan is to find one with the larger 150 litre fridge, Alko drop jacks, end covers, bike rack etc – basically as much extra gear as we can find already fitted on a second hand van. This would leave just solar panels, a TV, stereo, an Anderson plug and Alko ESC (Electronic Stability Control) to fit. The Expanda option replaces the initial heart-set choice, which was a Jayco Swan windup – Camper Trailer Style. I scribbled down a likes/dislikes table, which can be summarised thus:

Jayco Swan outback:Likes:

  • Light towing weight
  • Assumed improvement in towing visibility
  • Feeling of openness when set up – no cupboards at head height
  • Two areas to relax in (Jayco Swan)
  • Offroad features (shocks, bigger wheels, dedicated 12v system voltage)

Dislikes:

  • Low bench height
  • Can’t use the bench or fridge unless the roof is partially or fully wound up
  • Kids have to share a bed
  • Very small fridge and freezer
  • Setup time (5 minutes for the roof, 40 minutes for the lot)
  • Can’t park and sleep (bed extends into tow vehicle), unless extended draw bar is used
  • Can’t easily store bikes
  • Poor insulation with extensive canvas area
  • More difficult to leave a campsite quickly
  • Cant cook greasy food inside (no range hood)
  • More difficult to mount a TV

 

Jayco Expander Outback:Likes:

  • Kids get their own dedicated bunk
  • Minimum setup time
  • Can park and sleep (tow vehicle still attached to van)
  • Improved bike storage options
  • Increased internal storage space
  • Proper bench height
  • Option to have up to 150 l fridge
  • Option of A/C (only with powered site or generator)
  • Improved thermal and sound insulation
  • Improved ventilation – especially when wet
  • Better wet weather packup
  • Reduced wet bedding in the rain
  • Permanent mount for a TV (can also be used as a laptop monitor)
  • Can leave a campsite quickly
  • Can stop mid-trip and use the benches, stove, fridge, table (lunch or a cuppa)
  • Reduced maintenance with reduced canvas area
  • Offroad features
  • Clothing permanently in the van rather than the tow vehicle

Dislikes:

  • Reduced visibility with head height cupboards when camped
  • Reduced on-road visibility when towing
  • Higher cost and potentially higher depreciation
  • Higher fuel use (taller and heavier than a windup)

A few months ago, I downloaded a ‘free’ budgeting spreadsheet from a guy called Steve Baile. A minor catch was registering with an email. He obviously compiled a mailing list to advertise a $30, 3 DVD set of 10 travel videos of his Big Lap – a 16 month, 46,000 km trip completed in 2007 with his wife and two young daughters. The DVD set arrived just before Christmas and we had a great time over the Chrissy holidays, watching one or two a night. Nothing ground breaking, but interesting, relatively well shot and edited and certainly worth the price. I have contacted Steve, and asked him technical questions about his camera gear, his editing software and what he would do differently if he had his chance again. He has replied in great detail, and I think his response may be even more useful that his videos! Nevertheless, I’ll definitely watch them again before our trip.

Kris hit the library the other day, bringing home a few excellent travel books – ‘Travelling for Grey Nomads’ and ‘Gregory’s Caravan Survival Guide’. My reading of the latter as my in flight ‘entertainment’ caused both mirth and derision from my very well healed client during a short business trip to India in January 2014. Still, better to be educated than not.