Tag Archives: kentucky

Renfro Valley Dual Sport – 2017 Edition

Hat’s off to the organizer’s of the 2017 Renfro Valley Dual Sport once again! I’ve only done this three years now, and each time, I’ve been amazed at how well they mark the route. If you pay attention, you could probably do the whole thing without a roll chart. It’s marked that well. The sign-up process is a breeze and flows quite smoothly. Make sure to get it on your calendar when they announce the 2018 dates. Typically, it is held the first weekend in May.

Day 1

I’d been talking up the dual sport all year long with some guys I normally ride with. Some had never done it before, and others hadn’t done it for many years. I was actually kinda worried that the group would be too big, but it all worked out just fine. In the end, there were five of us riding together on Saturday. Greg, Bo, Kyle, Travis and I all headed out on the route just before 9am. Ideally, 8:45am would have been a bit better but this crew is fairly quick and I didn’t expect us to have to wait very long on anyone.

The Crew

Just like in 2016, there was a fairly strong possibility of rain on Saturday. Argh! I’ve never ridden the event when it was even somewhat dry. Well the forecast gods made a good call as it started coming down about an hour or so into the route. Luckily, I’d suited up in my Klim Traverse jacket with the d3o pads in the shoulders and elbows. This setup over my regular riding layers was the ticket. The vent zippers on the Traverse made it easy adjust to the conditions they changed throughout the day.

What are you looking at?
What are you looking at?

We’d hit all of the Green Arrow (Hero) sections that morning and folks were getting stuck all over the place. None of the crew had any issues with the hills or ruts and we tractored up, over, and around everyone and made good time as well. About 3 miles from lunch, we came out onto a paved road. It was in the mid-40’s, pouring down rain, and we were all ready for some shelter and food. Especially Bo. Evidently he was in dire need of nourishment. Everyone was in much better spirits after a good lunch and some “so-so” hot coffee.

The Hungry Man!
The Hungry Man!

They had gas for sale at the Sand Gap Community Center where we had lunch for $4/gallon. A bit steep in price, but it meant you didn’t have to head over to the store and wait in line behind 50 bikes to get gas. The guys on smokers mixed their gas accordingly and shook it up in the supplied milk jugs. I’ll do that again next year!

Travis at Lunch
Travis at Lunch

The rain was subsiding a bit as we pulled out for the second half of the day. There was some great riding ahead but it was going to be wet and sloppy for sure. Trail conditions were deteriorating quickly as the crew moved forward. Some sections had water running down the ruts in the trails. When we got to the 2nd afternoon Hero section, Greg indicated that the potato salad at lunch was not working out very well. I think he was getting a little green. Not good, as we had over 40 miles left to go. He and Bo skipped that Hero section and promised to meet us at the junction.

The Court Jester
The Court Jester

In the end, Bo and Greg had to wait over 30 minutes for us. It was not good. This was the only section where I had to hit a hill twice. Travis, Kyle and I were challenged for sure! Tiring to say the least. Things were just plain sloppy and it was hard to keep forward motion at times. For the first time ever, my “WR250” got a little warm. I never remember this happening to the bike before. We stopped for about 4-5 minutes so it could cool off. Not good. Bo and Greg had made a good call not running that section.

Sloppy Conditions
Sloppy Conditions – But the Captain America Boots are Clean!

The next Hero section was the cool stuff at Big Hill. I rode that last year (in the rain) and it was OK, but this year it was wetter. Kyle was pumped to try it so we let him head his own way. I knew of one really steep downhill that I just wasn’t willing to tackle in these conditions. It just wasn’t wise, at least not for me. At this point we were less than 30 miles from the staging area and the rain was still coming down but you could see the clearing skies in the distance.

The Hungry Man!
The Hungry Man!

In a short while, we popped out onto the pavement and there was no precipitation. Excellent! A combination of pavement, gravel, quad trails, and jeep roads lead us to the final section of cool single track. Very, very nice to say the least. A wonderful way to wrap up the day. It flowed well and now that it wasn’t pouring, it was actually enjoyable! We came off the single track and dropped onto an old road that descended down a creek bed back to the final section of pavement. I’d say 4 miles later, and we were back at the staging area. It was nice to start loading up without the rain as an annoyance. Special thanks to Greg for being our leader for the day. I greatly appreciated not having to ride in the front for a change.

Our Fearless Leader!
Our Fearless Leader!

Bo, Kyle and Travis had other obligations so they headed back north. Charlie came by and said his shoulders were hammered from fighting the little Husky he was riding so he pointed his van northward to Indy. With the mass exodus underway, the plan was to seek out Jeff and John and see if we could tag along on Sunday.

Charlie in the Ky Woods
Charlie in the Ky Woods

Greg and I stayed for the evening. We got a good meal there in Mt. Vernon and went to our hotels to get some rest and recover for the following day. The forecast for Sunday promised to be awesome, cool in the morning with a high around 61 degrees and plenty of sunshine. Good deal!

Day 2

Onward! Woke up to a light coating of frost on Sunday morning with clear skies. Things were damp, no doubt about it, but at least the sun was shining. I met Greg at the staging area around 7:30am. He’d had a rough time with leg cramps that evening and throughout the night. I’ve dealt with that before and it is not fun. Makes me cringe to just think about it. Wisely, he headed north as well, not wanting to chance getting 40 miles in and have to deal with the leg cramps. Plus, he had a 5+ hour drive ahead of him. Smart decision.

So I got in touch with Jeff and John and they were fine with me tagging along. Their friend Justin was there too. He was a good rider for someone that had only been on a bike for 3 seasons. Being young and tough benefited him as well. He kept up a good pace and dealt with most obstacles very well.

John pulled up in his Sprinter beside the MotoVan and everyone got their gear on and bikes ready. A group of four is a good size for this type of outing. The first part of the day was a bit too much pavement for me but as soon as we turned onto some natural terrain I got really interested. The lack of precipitation made it much easier to take in the surroundings. Mountain laurel were in full bloom and the  ferns were popping out of the forest floor. Sandstone rocks and the associate reddish dirt were prevalent at certain elevations on the route. Neat stuff!

Unfortunately we encountered lots of bottlenecks on the route that morning. Some of the more challenging hills were making it tough on many of the riders. Luckily, our little crew was able to get around these sections with little effort and kept a great pace.

There was one particular Hero section that I really enjoyed. It traversed a hillside with sandstone cliffs towering on the ridge above. Evidently, this is part of the “Sand Springs” area where Travis rides frequently. Jeff said that he’d ridden there with Travis the year before. Some of that section had burned last fall and that made it easy to see through the trees. The steep hills and off-camber trail layout made it fun to navigate.

Just before lunch we went under I-75 and ended up in “downtown” Livingston, Kentucky at the local fire station. They were grilling hot dogs and hamburgers and had all the fixins’ laid out to embellish them accordingly. Just like, Saturday, the fire fighters had gas available for purchase, but this time for $3 per gallon. Good deal. We all gassed up after eating and headed back out for some more fun.

We saw a couple groups that were bypassing the main route and taking the road back to the staging area. Boy they really missed some awesome riding. The Hero sections after lunch on Sunday were some of the best we encountered all weekend. So glad I stayed for Sunday this year!

Jeff, John, & Justin checking out the Sandstone
Jeff, John, & Justin checking out the Sandstone

My favorite landscape feature of the whole event was a sandstone outcropping that had eroded into a series of passages that were 30′-50′ deep. As we approach this area, I noted what looked like pea gravel on the trail. My first thought was, “How in the world did they haul this pea gravel into here?” Hmmmm. When the sandstone became visible you could literally see the little pieces of gravel embedded in the geologic structure. These little pieces had eroded away and washed down the hillside, thus the appearance that someone had spread the gravel on the trail.

The Route
The Route

Not too far on down the trail from the sandstone outcroppings we came upon an overlook. It wasn’t a natural overlook, but rather a sheer drop off into what was an old mine. You could see the large shafts from the edge and the old railway that serviced the mine many years ago.

Jeff & John at the Mine Overlook
Jeff & John at the Mine Overlook

When we reached the end of that trail and hit the gravel road, Jeff turned right off the route and we headed down to the mine shaft entrances. There you could see 3-shafts and it was then obvious that the railway actually went through the mountain via a tunnel that we’d just ridden over a few minutes beforehand. Justin and I followed Jeff and John into the mine shafts. Kinda eery.

In The Mine
In The Mine

I didn’t think about it at the time, but what if the vibration caused by our bike engines had made pieces of the roof come down? Not good. I might not go in there again. I’ll just wait outside and take pictures!

The route had one more Hero section and then some old road beds, quad trail, gravel and so forth before the end of day. We saw a dual set of train tunnels a few miles before the end and actually road down the gravel beside a railroad bed for about 1/2 mile. The sun was still shining, everyone’s bikes were in good working order, and no one got injured! A great way to end the day.

If it isn’t obvious, this is now permanently on my “To Do” riding list for every year. I certainly wished that I knew about this event many years ago. I recall folks not coming to KORHS races because they didn’t want to miss the dual sport. Now I understand! Don’t miss it next year!

See you on the trail!

KyMotoVan Travel Report

It was about this time last year when we decided to get either a 3/4-ton Diesel truck or a Sprinter. I didn’t know much about them then, but by September we were test driving one and by October a brand new 4×4 Sprinter was in our driveway.

Side View
Side View

One of the primary reasons for the Sprinter purchase is that it really suited our type of traveling. It secures the load (motorcycles and sewing machines), it is NOT a trailer (which I hate to tow), and it is one awesome and comfortable ride! Our recent westward trip confirmed all of this and taught us several things about the van.

I am honestly surprised at how comfortable the Sprinter is from a driving perspective. The seating position is great for long periods of time, it has every adjustment you can imagine, and the seat foam is firm but comfortable and provides excellent support. Power seats would be nice but the adjustability is still there.

KyMotoVan
KyMotoVan

Seems like so many folks get a Sprinter and immediately get upset at how it rides. Well think about it . . . it was designed to have a load. One motorcycle and associated riding gear makes a noticeable difference but having a full traveling load makes it ride like a dream! Once again I was pleasantly surprised with this big monster and how it behaved on the interstate. Cruising along at 75mph to 80mph was not a problem and the steep inclines were clobbered by the little turbo-charged V6. It would just pull and pull with no abandon!

A Full Travel Load
A Full Travel Load

Kim learned that it was easy to just stand up and walk to the back and sit on that bench seat. She could stretch out, get something from the cooler, our luggage or just enjoy a different view with no great effort. The spaciousness is second to none! Something about the additional space that makes traveling less tiring. I guess you don’t feel quite as confined as you’d be in a car or truck.

When traveling in our trucks, the whole back seat area would be crammed full of stuff. There was barely enough room and everything was wedged into place making it hard to get to things in the middle or on the bottom. We “kinda” had a system but nothing was efficient about it at all. With the Sprinter, all of our luggage, Kim’s sewing machine, and my gear bag all fit between the rear bench seat and the partition. Plenty of room. Very nice for a change!

Luggage Loaded with Room to Spare!
Luggage Loaded with Room to Spare!

One negative point regarding the Sprinter is its sheer size and how that impacts driving in strong winds. It does have the new Cross Wind Assist but nothing can prepare you for driving across Wyoming! Going out, it was hitting us in the front and on the driver’s side. I’d say there was about 5 hours of driving, where both hands needed to be on the wheel. Basically, you just didn’t know when it would hit, so you had to be ready with a dual-handed grip on the wheel. On the return trip we encountered similar conditions but it was not as long in duration.

We took the big rig on several Forest Service roads and it did very well. Our trip up towards Basin Butte Lookout was a good climb with several newly graded water bars to test the clearance. I started out in 2WD to see how it would do and in the end we never needed 4WD. The BFGs and manual shifting made it very easy. Really learned to love the manual shifting option on those dirt roads. I can think of many situations where it will be an advantage.

KyMotoVan at a Trailhead on the Basin Butte FS Road
KyMotoVan at a Trailhead on the Basin Butte FS Road

Most would think that fuel economy would be terrible in such a large, high-profile vehicle. Well, I’m very pleased! I’d been getting 13.8mpg -17.6mpg around the house which mainly included trips to Casey County to ride and maybe once every two weeks I’d drive it to work. On the trip, the worst I got was 14.6mpg and that was during the windy portion of Wyoming on the way out. Interestingly enough, the best I got on the way home was 18.9mpg and that was when the wind was working in our favor. Plus, there is a lot more downhill driving on the way back! There was no way I could achieve this type of fuel mileage in a 1/2 or 3/4 ton pickup truck. Especially if there was some type of trailer involved!

You know how folks that ride motorcycles on the street always do that “low wave” at each other when the pass on the roadways. Well for some reason, Sprinter folks seem to be that way too. I don’t know how many times we’d see someone approaching in their Sprinter and they’d be waving with enthusiasm. Didn’t see that one coming!

KyMotoVan near Craters of the Moon
KyMotoVan near Craters of the Moon

One evening I was standing out on the deck enjoying the view and a couple pulled up and parked out front. They jumped out of their Honda Element and ran towards the Sprinter. The guy got down on his hands and knees to look at the drivetrain and his better-half was just taking pictures like crazy. He jumps up and says, “It is a 4×4!” and she pointed at the emblem on the rear door. I never said a word and just took it all in. They were pumped they’d seen a 4×4 Sprinter to say the least! Gotta love it!

A couple weeks before the trip I was all torn up about the “biodiesel” availability between here and Stanley. I researched all sorts of things and studied Google Maps for appropriate fueling locations. Geez . . . that was all just a waste of time. We had no problems at all finding B5 or better . . . non-issue. I will know next time . . . having the diesel rotopax containers as a backup is still a good idea though.

Rotopax Diesel Containers
Rotopax Diesel Containers

One more note. The BF Goodrich KO2 tires are simply awesome. The ride is great, they did wonderfully on the forest service roads, there is no doubt they improve the look of the vehicle, and they are yet to show any wear after over 8,000 miles! If you have 4×4 Sprinter get some and make sure that you MB Dealer does the install and balancing. If you don’t, they will wear out sooner and will not give you the wonderful ride that I’ve enjoyed.

BFGs on the KyMotoVan
BFGs on the KyMotoVan

Bottom line . . . we’re hooked. There are lots of other cool things about the Sprinter but I don’t have enough “free cycles” to commit at this time. If you have a Sprinter, then Congratulations . . . if you don’t . .  then maybe you should?!

See you on the trail!

Kentucky’s Enterprise GIS Implementation – A Decennial Update

Background

A little over ten years ago an article entitled “GIS as a Utility: Kentucky’s Enterprise Implementation” appeared in Esri’s 2005 summer edition of ArcNews. The article provided an overview of Kentucky’s new Enterprise GIS implementation, discussed the challenges associated with making spatial data accessible in a networked environment, and highlighted how various agencies were beginning to leverage this new resource. It has been over a decade since that article’s publication, and the Commonwealth’s enterprise GIS has matured and become a critical component of business processes both within and outside State Government. This article outlines the efforts managed by the Kentucky Division of Geographic Information (DGI) that have made this implementation successful and sustainable throughout evolving technologies, tight budget cycles and changing policy directions.

The Keystone

One of the least desirable tasks in information technology is documentation. No one likes to document code, routine processes, or data for that matter. In the GIS world, creating “metadata” is the task that no one likes to see on their “to do” list but successful implementations require that it is completed on a layer-by-layer basis without exception. Like it or not, metadata is the keystone of Kentucky’s spatial data services. It has been tough at times to get agencies on this bandwagon, but once they’ve bought in, the value becomes more apparent. The policy states, “All spatial data resources shall have a complete metadata record in order to be included in the Commonwealth’s spatial data repository.” The existence of and strict adherence to this policy has had a positive impact on geospatial data integrity that carries on today.

Back in 2005, the Kentucky Geography Network (KyGeoNet) was based upon ArcIMS Metadata services, and there were less than 50 metadata records created by a half a dozen publishers. The whole concept of creating metadata was new and many just saw it as something else they had to do on top of everything else on their plate. For many GIS practitioners, it was a low priority until they realized that the Commonwealth’s spatial data repository would not grow if metadata was not created for the valuable resources scattered across the GIS community.

KyGeoNet Homepage
KyGeoNet Homepage

The value in making geospatial data accessible certainly outweighs the amount of effort required to complete a minimal metadata record and publish it to a repository. Essentially, this is a form of “cost avoidance” in that if users can find a resource, read the metadata to learn about its characteristics, and then download it for their use, they are less likely to call or e-mail with questions or requests. This becomes quite apparent once you’ve fielded 20+ calls about a given dataset and then realize that a published metadata record could have answered questions about the resource. Being asked the same question over and over again makes for grumpy GIS staff.

Fast forward to 2016 and there are now approximately 700 metadata records being actively managed by over two-dozen responsible publishers on what is known as the KyGeoPortal. The service is currently based upon a recent release of Esri’s open source product known as Geoportal Server. This solution includes the ability to search for and create metadata records associated with web mapping and image services, as well as downloadable datasets, static map images, standards documents and web mapping applications. It is a wonderful resource that is leveraged frequently by thousands of users on a monthly basis.

KyGeoPortal Search Page
KyGeoPortal Search Page

Average Monthly FTP Server Requests for 2016 (through July):
5.9 million requests/several thousand unique visitors

Enterprise Approach

As noted in the 2005 article, KyVector and KyRaster are the primary enterprise-based services that are accessible to the hundreds of ArcGIS Desktop and CAD users within Kentucky State Government. Each user is on the Wide Area Network (WAN) and enjoys fast, network-based access to these geospatial services hosted at the Commonwealth Computing Center in Frankfort, Kentucky. This level of service would not be possible without Commonwealth Office of Technology’s (COT) robust WAN and server infrastructure as the delivery mechanism.

Centralizing the data repository has reduced direct agency storage costs and eliminated the issue of outdated data residing on agency-based file servers. Agencies no longer have to expend resources on updating data that originates from external sources. All data is current, easily accessible, and includes associated metadata. This level of data availability and integrity promotes confidence in results when GIS technologies are utilized for inventory, planning, response, or business process decision support.

KyVector

KyVector, an ArcSDE-based server solution that runs in conjunction with Microsoft SQL Server is hosted on three separate physical boxes. One server (kysdewww) is dedicated to providing vector-based data to State Government agencies that host their own web mapping services and applications. Another server (kysdewan) is reserved for the hundreds of ArcGIS Desktop users on the WAN, while the third is used for staging and failover/outage scenarios. This proven configuration reduces contention for server resources and ensures that data delivery to users and applications is carried out in the most efficient and effective manner.

KyVector Layers in ArcMap
KyVector Layers in ArcMap

All data resources housed in KyVector have met the prerequisites of having a full metadata record and having been published to the KyGeoNet. In 2005, it was noted that 125 layers were in KyVector. Today, the number has more than doubled and stands at just over 300 layers. New layers are added periodically as they are created or if there is a need to share the resource across the enterprise.

Access to KyVector has been streamlined by using layerfiles that include connectivity properties, appropriate display scale thresholds, and suggested symbology settings. The organization, maintenance and distribution of the layerfiles is carried out by DGI. Users can start a new, or add to an existing, map document with ease by browsing a thematically organized folder of layerfiles.

Weekly data updates to KyVector, are fed from the agencies to the staging server then subsequently moved to production during the update procedure. Users access this resource with confidence knowing that it is the most current version available at any given time.

KyRaster

A decade ago, KyRaster was ArcSDE-based but newer technologies have prevailed. ArcGIS Image Server is now employed to provide users with access to raster-based data such as aerial photography, topographic maps, digital elevation models, and land cover. The primary benefit of ArcGIS Image Server over raster datasets stored in ArcSDE is the significant reduction in the time needed to process raster data so that it is accessible to end users. In the past, days or even weeks would be consumed just loading imagery into a raster dataset in ArcSDE. But now, with mosaic datasets and Image Server, we are able to get data out to the users in hours, or days at the very most.

KyRaster Layer in ArcMap
KyRaster Layer in ArcMap

Additionally, DGI’s raster storage footprint has been reduced by employing function chains within mosaic datasets. This functionality allows us to store the data once but serve it up in multiple projections, with different band combinations, or with special rendering options. For example, a function can be inserted into the chain of a digital elevation model (DEM) that allows it to be rendered as hillshade, shaded relief, or percent slope. The DEM is only stored once on disk, however the functions can be applied to each request on the fly.

As with KyVector, ArcGIS Desktop users connect to KyRaster using layerfiles that include connection properties, display scale thresholds, compression settings and custom rendering options. The performance of Image Server is on par with ArcSDE on the WAN, and those that aren’t on the State’s network have learned to change compression settings on the client-side to achieve better performance on slower networks. This approach has worked well in state field offices, at local governments, and by private sector users such as engineers, surveyors, and consultants.

Web Mapping Services

Both KyVector and KyRaster are the backbone of the Commonwealth’s publically accessible web mapping and image services. Dynamic and cached map services are hosted on kygisserver.ky.gov and provided in Web Mercator projection using ArcGIS Server. These services power hundreds of web mapping applications internal and external to State Government. The Commonwealth Base Map and the Commonwealth Street Base Map are the two primary cached services, but other statewide imagery and land cover layers have been cached as well.

The Commonwealth Base Map Cached Service
The Commonwealth Base Map Cached Service

The balance of the services are considered to be dynamic, as they pull data directly from KyVector to fulfill every single server request. Each time a user zooms in, zooms out, pans one direction or another, a request is made to the map server which in turn reaches out to KyVector for the data.

Average Monthly Map Server Requests for 2016 (through July):
9 million requests/several thousand unique visitors

Kentucky’s image and elevation services are hosted on kyraster.ky.gov in Kentucky Single Zone Projection using ArcGIS Server and the Image Server extension. Employees with ArcGIS Desktop in State Government are the primary users of this server, however there are a growing number of users outside the WAN. When ArcSDE was the server solution for imagery, only users on the WAN could gain access. Image Server now allows the Commonwealth to meet the needs of internal and external users with the same computing infrastructure yet still maintain a high level of performance and availability.

KyFromAbove Image Service Rendered Using an IR Function Chain
KyFromAbove Image Service Rendered Using an IR Function Chain

Average Monthly Image Server Requests for 2016 (through July):
7.5 million requests/several thousand unique visitors

KyGovMaps

Like many other users of geospatial technologies, DGI has incorporated ArcGIS Online (AGOL) into its solutions and workflows. AGOL is Esri’s scalable and secure software-as-a-service cloud-based mapping platform. It includes a rich collection of web mapping application templates, visualization and analytical tools, and ready-to-use data sources that make geospatial resources more accessible and user friendly. DGI’s organizational site on AGOL, KyGovMaps, showcases a wide variety of Kentucky-specific web maps, applications, and services. Data and maps that were once only usable by those with expensive GIS software are now available to most everyone. GIS isn’t just for propeller heads anymore!

KyGovMaps on AGOL
KyGovMaps on AGOL

A customized gallery page on the KyGeoNet makes it easy to locate featured web maps, mapping applications, and thematic galleries that interest a wide array of users. Lately, some of the most popular applications have been those in our collection of Story Maps. Recreational resources, imagery, historic landmarks, demographics, elevation data, and physiographic regions are a sampling of the topics covered using story map templates that we’ve customized.

Kentucky Weather Mapping Application
Kentucky Weather Mapping Application

All of the current web mapping applications hosted by DGI were built using a customizable Javascript-based template. These applications employ a responsive framework and thus can be used within any browser and on any platform. Find a trailhead at a State Park, check the weather, get the soil characteristics for where you are standing, or locate the closest place to put your boat in the water and do it using your desktop, tablet or phone!

Kentucky Bucket List Story Map
Kentucky Bucket List Story Map

The Next Decade

If the pattern continues, combined total server requests for the 2016 calendar year will easily exceed 250 million. This alone is a true testatment to the success of the Commonwealth’s Enterprise GIS implementation. The growth in adoption and usage of geospatial technologies during the past decade has been astounding, and Kentucky’s capabilities in this realm have kept up with the pace of advancement. It will be interesting to look back at this, and the preceding 2005 article, during the middle of the next decade to see where we stand. Live data feeds, UAV acquired imagery, and 3D visualization are just some of the new trends that will shape the makeup of the Kentucky’s Enterprise GIS down the line. Stay tuned!

KyMotoVan – Report #12

Lately, work has been slow on the Sprinter. But as we’ve geared up for our annual westward pilgrimage, I’ve been prompted to make some additional improvements that are going to be handy while traveling.

Previously I figured that I couldn’t have two fender well boxes as the one on the driver’s side would interfere with the motorcycle tie downs. After eyeing this situation for a couple months I came up with a solution. A short length of chain was run between the two D-rings towards the front on the driver’s side of the van. Then, rather than put the tie down hook in the D-ring, I placed it 8 links forward on the chain. This was effective at offsetting the tie down so that it would easily clear the front edge of a fender well box. Easy enough and quick to do.

With the chain fix in place for the tie downs, I proceeded with building another fender well box. All I had to buy was two hinges, some aluminum channel, and a small can of Minwax black poly stain. There was plenty of plywood left over from my other projects and even some with the good veneer for the top.

Two Fender Well Boxes!
Two Fender Well Boxes!

Luckily, I kept the piece of plywood that was left over when I cut out for the other fender well curve. Perfect! That was all I needed for a template. It took me over a week to get that other fender well cover built, but this one went together in 3-days or so. The majority of my time was spent painting it with the Olympic deck coating that I’ve used on other surfaces.

When completed, it dropped right into place with no issues. There were several items that had been stowed underneath the passenger seats that now have a new home in the fender well box. The front half has been dedicated to motorcycle parts and the rear half has chain saw stuff, hand trimmers and stuff that came from underneath the passenger seats. A little bit of room still remains in each half.

Fender Well Box
Fender Well Box

Three days before we got our van, Jesse came over to the house with his Fiskars tree trimmer device. It has a long extendable handle that has a clevis type trimming mechanism that is great for trimming branches. There is also a small saw blade attachment that can be used to saw bigger branches than the trimmer can tackle. We used this trimmer for about 30 minutes getting all the branches off the trees that line my driveway. I knew that if they weren’t trimmed back they’d be dragging on the new van. Not good.

Well guess what I got from Jesse for Christmas? A brand new trimmer complete with the saw blade attachment. He knew I’d need one again to trim the driveway and of course it will be handy while cruising the forest service roads out west or back here in Ky while finding a good place to park for riding.

For weeks I’d wondered how to haul this tool in the cargo area of the van. I’d seen some nice roof mounted options but then I’d need a ladder and with my luck I’d probably fall off the damn thing and hurt myself. Best to keep it inside the van and at a reasonable height.

The option I settled on was a 6′ piece of 4″ Schedule 40 PVC pipe with two clean out adaptors. Both my trimmer and my nice 6′ extendable handle wash brush would fit in it. A piece of 10″ poplar hardwood was stained with the black poly stain and the PVC components and 4 metal straps were all painted with Krylon SuperMaxx spray paint.

Mounting Hardware
Mounting Hardware

The pipe was secured to the wood using the metal straps and 1/4-20 SS hex head bolts with self anchoring T-nuts on the rear of the wood panel in countersunk holes. This whole assembly rests on a 1/8″ ledge that is the top of the black wooden rail that runs just below the large cargo area panels. Some #10 SS screws were used to secure it to those panels.

PVC on Stained Poplar Hardwood
PVC on Stained Poplar Hardwood

I’m now working on a way to strap the trimmer and the brush to the PVC or one of the straps. They need to be secure so they won’t slide out under acceleration. I’m going to look at some nice rubber straps to keep them from moving around. I have a piece of black foam rubber than I’m going to use to isolate them a bit so they won’t rattle.

Trimmer & Brush
Trimmer & Brush

Lastly, I acquired a little 12VDC fan that fits right behind one of the cargo area exhaust vents. There are four vents back there just inside the back doors that direct air out some one-way vents that are positioned behind the rear bumper corners. The little fan is currently wired up to an 8 pack of 1.5 volt AA batteries with one of those old 9V battery clips. It will run all night on a single charging of the batteries. Why do I need this? Well I’ve found that if I hook it up at night after loading my bike there is no gas smell in the van the next morning. How about that! Dad said all I needed was a slight negative pull on the space and it would work. He was right. Need to wire this up to the van but that can wait.

Cargo Area Vent Fan
Cargo Area Vent Fan

There are a couple more things I’d like to do within the cargo area but I’ll know more about how to handle that after our trip. Also, the passenger seat area will be totally reconfigured by this time next year. Looking forward to getting that all lined out with a comfy seat/bed and some cool storage options.

See you on the trail!

Renfro Valley Dual Sport – 2016 Edition

I’d heard about this event for many years, but honestly, I didn’t have a good idea of what it was all about. I mean, it is called a “dual sport” how much fun can that be? In 2014, Jeff,  a riding buddy of mine, encouraged me to attend the Renfro Valley “Dual Sport” the next year. He’d told me all about his adventures on this ride and evidently, he hasn’t missed one yet! Later on, I spoke with 2 or 3 other riders about it and they too had only great things to say.

Jeff @ a Renfro Valley River Crossing (2012)
Jeff @ a Renfro Valley River Crossing (2012)

With all these great recommendations, we just had to sign up. Jesse and I went and Travis tagged along on his DRZ400 (he did very well on it). You can read about the 2015 experience in this blog post. We had a great time and promised to return in 2016. It was on my calendar!

My pre-registration information came in the mail a few weeks ago and I immediately filled out the form and sent them a check for Day 1. It is a 2 day event but we only did the first day in 2015. My plan for 2016 was to sign up for one day and then go back on day 2 if I felt like it was doable. Physically, that is . . . I guess mentally too.

I started watching the weekend forecast everyday during the week leading up to the event. This was probably a bad idea. The forecast was horrible in terms of precipitation but OK in terms of temperature. Riding in the rain isn’t miserable if it is warm enough. Also having the right gear makes it much more comfortable (another post on this is forthcoming).

On Friday, the forecast finally improved in that the rain was probably not going to start off until 11am or so. Hooray! Like Charlie said, “It is really easy to call it day when it is raining at the start.” I pulled out my High Sierra Motorcycle Club jersey and took a picture, and sent it to a few folks. I was going regardless of the forecast! Ride or Die. No Snivelers.

Ride or Die
Ride or Die

Several people I know had planned on coming to the event, but for one reason or another, all of them bailed. I knew Jeff would be there as would Charlie. Michael also indicated he’d be with Charlie’s group and Travis was going to bring Taylor and ride along with a crew he’d been to Colorado with. Therefore, I had several options for “tagging along” with some fellow riders. Philip will regret not going but he had final exam stuff to prepare for this year.

I arrived around 7:55 am and found a good place to park the Sprinter. As I put it in park, I noticed an older model (pre-2007) coming down the road with “KTM” on the front above the windshield. It was a 3500 that was all blacked out. After unloading a couple things I headed over to the sign up. On the walk over I spotted a 2014 parked by Jeff and there were at least three more in the gravel lot at the sign up area. I don’t remember seeing any there last year so that was pretty cool. The new thing? Maybe so, but none of their’s were 4×4!

The sign-up line was short. The number of riders was down from last year. The forecast had kept them at home. It was a quick process as I had pre-registered for the event. I ran into several people I knew on the way back to gear up and finish unloading. All were more than gracious to offer to let me ride with their group. Appreciated!

Good to see Jeff G. as always. It had been exactly one year since I’d seen him. He was going to ride sweep with Harvey and Marty. I just couldn’t handle being out that late on a rainy day. Many thanks to them for doing what they do!

In the end, the “Indy” group was my choice. It would be good to ride with both Charlie and Michael. I saw their group prepping to leave so I rode over there to wait. Didn’t want to hold them up. There were a couple stragglers in the group so Charlie and another rider took off and waved for me to come along. The way it worked out, this was our group. Charlie, “Little Dave”, and I were it. Just three of us, and I could tell within a few miles that we were evenly paced and moving along very well.

Little Dave & Charlie
Little Dave & Charlie

We stopped at the first marker for a “Hero Section” to take a break. As we sat there, 3 or 4 groups came by. They’d head down the road with the Green Arrow (Hero) and within 5-7 minutes they’b be back. Each group indicated that there weren’t any markers. Someone had said that they’d taken them down because of all the rain. Up until this point, it had not rained. But, then it began, as a light downpour. With so many groups not finding the arrows ahead we just chose to take the main route. Onward!

Our little group made very good time and ended up being some of the very first people to make to the lunch stop. There couldn’t have been a dozen other riders already eating at the Sandgap Community Park shelter house. A quick bite to eat, a trip to the restroom and back out on the loop. There were a couple of groups rolling into the parking area as we were leaving. And yes, it is still raining at this point.

Our first stop after lunch was about as far away from the staging area as we’d get all day. Yes, I’ve studied our tracks. There is a very large sandstone cliff overhang that the trail runs underneath. A perfect place to take a break on a rainy day! There is a small lake about 100′ straight down to the left of our bikes. Beautiful!

Sandstone Cliff
Sandstone Cliff

Moving on, we spent the next 15 miles or so on very old dirt roads, some gravel and about 4 miles of pavement. This lead us to our gas stop at the “Fill Ups” Gas Stop along US421. We had another reprieve from the rain under the awning as we gassed up and added some premix to our fuel tanks.

Charlie went in and asked for a trash bag. The clerk gave him one and he told him he’d use it as a raincoat. Some other riders were coming in the door as Charlie walked out and he told them, “The sales clerk is selling rain coats for one dollar!” Very good.

The Trash Bag Raincoat
The Trash Bag Raincoat

I had driven past this gas station many times on our way to Earl and Marcella’s property where we used to host the “Big Hill” hare scrambles for the Kentucky Off Road Hare Scramble Series. My knowledge of this area was excellent. I knew from last year that we’d be riding on that property just up the road.

About 5 miles after leaving the gas station we were stopped at a Green Arrow at the very edge of the property. I knew exactly where we were. Cool! The neat thing was that not a single person had ridden this advanced section. All of the tracks, and there were very few, lead forward on the main loop. This was some of the best single track trail we road all day. It was slick, and one of the downhills was a bit hairy, but being the first to traverse it made it even better!

Green Arrow at Big Hill Advanced Section
Green Arrow at Big Hill Advanced Section

At one point during the “Big Hill” advanced loop it comes out and crosses the road but when we came back on the road we found the green arrow, but couldn’t find the next turn. We rode around for 20 minutes trying to find some orange marker tape or another arrow. Finally, Little Dave found a piece of tape and we were back on course! Actually, we went back onto Earl’s property and picked up some of the old hare scramble course and then made our way up a logging road and back to some pavement. Once again, this was all in the rain. Relentless.

The adventure continued as we made our way past the “Three Links” community marker and two miles down the road to a gravel farm road where a sign said “Welcome Riders”.  We sure didn’t expect to see that. About 3/4 mile down the gravel road we saw a sign that said, “Lemonade, Sweet Tea, Sodas, and Beer!” Really? Hmmm. Just around the bend in a yet to be completed pole barn sat a family selling exactly what they advertised. They invited us to pull our bikes under the barn and take a break. I wasn’t interested in a beer at that time of day but the lemonade was sure good. There was a fire and everything. A good rest.

At this point, I had 86 miles on my odometer and Little Dave determined we had 20 or so to go based on the route sheet. The next few sections were getting really nasty. The dirt roads were essentially mud, the trails were slick and nasty with greasy roots and rocks, the gravel was heavy and wet, and of course the roads were slick if you pushed it with the knobbies on. Things were a bit more sketchy than earlier in the ride. Prudence was necessary.

We passed up the last “Green Arrow” section as they’d been told at the morning Rider’s Meeting to not ride it if it had rained. Something about high water (Did you see the picture of Jeff at the top?). It didn’t appear that anyone had gone that way and it looked like one bike was parked where the old gravel road started. I guess to turn people around?

The bad part about this whole ride to me is the first and last 6 miles or so of straight up pavement. The other paved sections are much shorter and those aren’t too bad on the “WR” but those two extended sections of blacktop are tiring. I’m just not comfortable riding on the road. Never will be. However, I do realize that those road sections are what it takes to get you to the good riding!

When I pulled back into the staging area my odometer said 09.49 miles. That means “109.49” as my digital odometer has only two characters before the decimal point. I’d never seen it do that before!

109.49 Miles
109.49 Miles

I loaded up quickly, jumped out of my wet and thoroughly nasty gear, dried off a bit and got into something dry. Nice. I ran over to tell Charlie and Little Dave goodbye. Good to ride with good folks. Like Charlie said, “It’s a small world!” They were staying for the next day. Adios! All I wanted to do was get home to take a shower and get a good beer. Back to the Sprinter and northward towards Osage Hill.

Ready for Clean Up!
Ready for Clean Up!

There is no doubt that I’ll be back next year. This is now a “must do” on my event list and I will encourage others to join in. The folks that host the event do a good job. They are a bit “old school” in terms of trail marking, and this pisses off a lot riders, but I totally understand. I’ve laid out a 12 mile hare scramble course, put up 500 arrows and 1/4 mile of marking tape and still been criticized for bad course markings. I can’t imagine marking 120 miles. Hats off to them for their efforts!

Don’t forget to add the 2017 Renfro Valley Dual Sport to your riding calendar!

See you on the trail!

Mail Order Weekend!

This year, an expanded Prince family made its southward pilgrimage for a Spring ride in the woods of South-Central, Kentucky. I say “expanded” as it was Ryan, Seth, and their father Greg. They’d been eyeing the first couple weekends of April and ended up that the first was nearly perfect. Greg said several times, “You couldn’t mail order a better day for riding!” We all concurred!

The weather was ideal on both Saturday and Sunday but the wind was whipping on Saturday afternoon (that’s another story). It was cool but also sunny which is certainly a great combination for trail riding! Ground conditions were slightly damp in the bottoms but dry on the ridges. Spring was just beginning to put on a show. The redbuds were on the upswing, the maples were pushing out deep red buds, the beeches and hickory were opening up and a variety of phlox, lilies, and violets were blooming on the south-facing slopes.

Blooming Redbud
Blooming Redbud

Unfortunately, I have no group photos to document our Spring event. However, I do have some video footage! Ryan wore the camera for a bit once Kyle got there but his had the small SD card so he didn’t get lots of footage. My camera had a bigger SD card however, my camera was not working well. Luckily, I did capture some decent footage, as did Ryan. Enjoy the clips and read on for an overview of our great outing!

They arrived before 1pm on Saturday and we were able to ride 26 miles that afternoon. The trails we rode were a good sampling of some of the best in these parts. We packed up and headed out around 4:15pm as they had to deal with a kick-starter issue and getting a spare tire for their trailer. They’d booked a room in Danville so there were lots of options for dinner and so forth.

Sunday morning’s rendezvous was at Cracker Barrel in Danville around 7:30am. The group grabbed a bite to eat and rolled on down to the Green River Valley. Kyle was to join us, but he was running about 50 minutes behind. That gave us ample time to gear up and make a little loop before he arrived. A warm up is always nice.

All was good as we rode back up to the parking area to find Kyle nearly ready to go. After some greetings, bike adjustments, and so forth we hit the trail ready for an adventure! Our loops on Sunday included the Razor’s Edge, Goat Trail, Cat Cave Hill, Pencil Ridge, and anything I could use to make a seamless loop. I made sure to stop at the best viewpoints and I tried to keep a decent pace that would keep my more “fast-paced” friends engaged.

The lunch break was brief and it allowed us all to chat a bit with Kyle. It was wonderful to have a such a great group of riders that really appreciate all the time and effort we’ve put into developing such a nice trail system. Riding with a group like that makes all of our efforts truly worthwhile. A special thanks to the landowners that make this all possible. It is sincerely appreciated!

The final loop of day ended back at the parking area with 37.40 miles on the odometer. We’d covered 64 miles in two days and I made sure to include some new trails that needed a bit more beating in along the off camber sections. All was good! Everyone was tired and they must have been dreading their northbound exodus to the land of cold, windy, and icy conditions. (I saw some photos on their phone. Brrrr!) Something tells me we’ll see them again next year or maybe this Fall. Onward!

See you on the trail!

The New Travel Machine (KyMotoVan) – Report #8

Fender Well Box: I found several references to fender well boxes or covers on the Sprinter-Source forum. After noting how my motorcycle tie downs were routed it appeared that I could have one, but maybe not two.

Luckily, I had plenty of 3/4″ plywood leftover from making my partition and rear wall panels. All I had to do was figure out how I was going to put it together and secure it to the floor and walls. Making a template for the curvature of the wheel well was easy and with a few key measurements in-hand I went to work.

Initially the plan was to cover all of the box with the same Olympic deck coating that I’d used on the lower partition panel and door. However, I ended up having enough of the very nice maple hardwood plywood for the box top so I stained it with some black stain – polyurethane made by Minwax. Three sides are wrapped with 3/4″ aluminum channel to make for a nice look.

Fender Well Box
Fender Well Box

RattleTrap was employed for insulation and sound damping (not dampening) on the surface of the wheel well. Wrapping something that is square and flat over a rounded surface is never fun. Cartographers faced this issue centuries and decades ago when trying to “map” our “round” globe with flat, paper maps! As a result, there were some compromises made in this process.

I cut 1.75″ lengths of 1″ x 1″ aluminum angle and used those along with some allen-head stainless steel bolts and nylon-based stainless lock nuts in each corner. This approach ensured that the box would be very square and solid. Both of the leading corners (front and back) were encased with 1″ x 1″ aluminum angle as I knew they’d endure some abuse while loading and unloading bike and such. Those were attached with some #6 stainless screws and a bit of caulk.

Fender Well Box
Fender Well Box

The hinges I used were Austrian-made and ended up being the perfect solution. They are fully-adjustable in all directions, have a zero-clearance factor on the back side, and are soft-closing. Some foam-based weatherstripping pieces were temporarily added on the two front corners until I can come up with a permanent solution that is both functional and appealing.

Fender Well Box
Fender Well Box

Attaching it to the van was easy just above the wheel well and two 1″ x 1″ aluminum angles attached it to the floor. Once again I used stainless hardware to secure everything. It is very solid. Actually nice to sit on.

I now have my tow chain, a cable, spare tie downs, garbage bags, rags, along with stuff that was previously under the passenger seats. This is good. I’ve cleared up space up front and have shifted a bit of weight towards the rear which will further improve the ride.

Fluids Box:  I’ve really been worried about carrying “fluids” in the back of the van. That wasn’t a big deal in the truck but having them “internal” to the van is a different story. About three weeks were spent trying to identify good options for holding things like antifreeze, motor oil, premix, filter oil, chain saw pre-mix, chain saw chain oil, and so forth. In the end, an aluminum tool box made by Better-Built was acquired and deployed (see photo below).

Fluids Box
Fluids Box

It fit perfectly on the floor where I’d planned but when the top was raised it rubbed my nice black panel rails. After some contemplation, I figured out how to space it out from side just enough so it would clear and not scratch anything at all. Very good. So far, I’ve been able to put all my “fluids” in here and with the top being sealed and only two small holes (caulked) on the bottom it should be good to go!

My next project is to mount a fire extinguisher, first-aid kit, tire pump, and come up with a great option for securing the partition door. I’m also going to place some small D-Rings on either side of where a rear tire is situated. Once that is done, I’m taking a break from all this and getting back to more riding and bike maintenance. Spring is just around the corner and I need to get some trail work done before it gets all hot and nasty!

See you on the trail!

Riding in the Snow!

When I was young, we’d ride each time it snowed. Sometimes it was just on a small plot of land next to our house, but we’d ride. I can remember my Father, my Uncle and me going around and around a large figure 8. Once you got the hang of it, you could drift around the corners. Good practice!

Sometime in the early 70’s we got a really big snow that shut down things for days. My Father rode his Suzuki TM-250 to a factory in town where he worked in Maintenance. I’d say he was one of the few people to show up for work!

Basically, riding in the snow teaches you a lot about traction, momentum, and weight distribution. Anyone that rides a dirt bike should try it at least once! Like David said after riding last week, “That was mucho fun!” He’d never ridden in the snow before and thoroughly enjoyed it.

Single Track in the Snow at David's Place
Single Track in the Snow at David’s Place

I’m nearly 50 and at this point, I’ve probably ridden in the snow less than two dozen times. Sure, we get snow in Kentucky, but its occurrence is rare and in most instances there isn’t enough on the ground to justify loading up and heading out.

Out West, now that is a totally different story. Their riding season is so short that they take to the snow in the winter. They talk about snowmobiles with turbos, throttles on both side of the handlebars, and “boondocking” in the back country. Dwayne, out near Tahoe has a KTM fitted with a Timbersled and Gary in South Dakota has knobbies with spikes that are just plain gnarly. Obviously, the snow doesn’t keep them inside over the winter!

Gary's Studded Rear Tire
Gary’s Studded Rear Tire

To this day, one of my most memorable snow riding experiences occurred down near Duganville (bet you don’t know where that is). It was in the early-90s and I had a 1991 Honda XR600. There must have been 18″ or more on the ground and I went down to my friend Bob’s to ride. We had an established loop that was about 7 miles long around his three properties. Well I made the whole loop. I put that XR600 in fourth gear and held it at about 3/4 throttle and went everywhere. Up and down every hill, across every creek, and through each “cedar tunnel” . . . it was a blast! The snow was so deep in most places that I could just step off the bike and it would stand up in the snow with no support. I have yet to ride another bike in the snow that was better than that XR. Period.

The XR600
The XR600

Finally it happened. We got some snow a little over a week ago. Actually, we got a lot for Central Kentucky. There was about 12″ at the house with larger drifts here and there. At the end of the road, the drifts were over 2 feet deep. That was on Friday, and on Sunday, Jesse and I went to ride down in Casey County.

For some reason I expected there to be less snow on the ground down that way but when I hit the Lincoln-Casey line the road went to hell. I was driving the Motovan and it was not in 4WD so I eased on down the road noticing that everything “covered” with snow. I’d say there was 17″-19″ of snow on the ground where we parked. Never a dull moment!

Motovan in the Snow
Motovan in the Snow

I had spent 50 minutes or so putting sheet metal screws in my tires on Saturday evening and it paid some dividends. Regardless, forward motion was slow at times and a bit hard on the bike. A big-bore . . . that is a big-bore four-stroke would probably be the best for “big snow” riding but the YZ went ever place I pointed it.

On the Ridge
On the Ridge

We only covered about 4 miles and 50% of that was just logging roads. Towards the end of the ride, we came down this one hill and the snow was piled up almost 3 feet deep! I almost went over the bars getting to the bottom of that one.

Taking a Break
Taking a Break

The next Friday evening was spent removing the screws I’d installed the weekend before. It was going to be in the mid-50’s on Saturday and at our house, the snow was 95% gone. Mistake. Should have left the screws intact. Every North-North West slope was still covered with at least 6″ of snow. In most places it was more. Totally unexpected. Luckily it was heavier and not as light and fluffy as the previous weekend. We got around well but it was tricky and a bit tiring (see video below).

Bottom line. If you own a dirt bike and it snows at least 6 inches where you live, get out and ride in it. You don’t need to go far, just get out. Don’t be a “fair-weather” rider. You’ll be surprised what you’ll learn and fun will be had in the process!

See you on the trail!

The New Travel Machine – Report #2

Bike Hauling Stuff:  My first priority with the new Sprinter was to get it setup for hauling at least two bikes. You could fit 5 in there but one would have to remove the passenger seats. Not going to do that. I’d seen several options online for accomplishing this and in the end I used a modular approach that didn’t require me to drill holes through the primary metal floor of this brand new vehicle.

I’d picked up a piece of 4′ x 8′ plywood on the Friday I brought it home anticipating I’d need it for mounting some wheel chocks. I had a set of Pingel-brand chocks in the trailer and was really pleased with their mounting options, easy removal when not needed, and build quality. I ordered another chock from Lee’s and started studying the best way to secure it to the floor. By the way, there is a 1/2″ sheet of polymer-coated wood underneath the rubber floor mat that covers the entire cargo area. Thus, securing anything to the floor will be a breeze.

Wheel Chocks
Wheel Chocks

Knowing that the hauling surface would get dirty and wet at times I decided to coat the entire piece of plywood with some Olympic deck  paint that we got in a dark gray. It leaves a water-resistant, gritty type surface that won’t be slick when wet and should clean up well. I put two coats on the bottom and 4 coats on the top. The ends were covered with 4′ C-channel aluminum pieces and secured accordingly.

I laid it up in the van and then figured out where to place the wheel chocks. In the end, I staggered them just a bit and made sure there was ample room for the bars to not hit the walls (that’s another concern I’ll address later). Securing the chocks was easy with the 1/4-20 T-nuts on the bottom and stainless steel hardware.

A 1″ x 1″ piece of L-shaped aluminum was mounted to the floor just behind the existing aluminum strip at the transition from the passenger to the cargo area. Black automotive-type sheet metal screws with finish washers were used for mounting to the wooden floor.

Wheel Chock Board Mounting
Wheel Chock Board Mounting

The coated plywood was situated just behind the L-shaped aluminum strip and secured accordingly. Sheet metal screws of the appropriate length and stainless steel finish washers were evenly distributed along the edges and down the middle to bind it to the floor. It is solid and not going anywhere, especially with two bikes on it. One other good thing about this Sprinter is the abundance of factory D-rings in the floor. They are sturdy, placed very well, and made doing this job much easier.

Sound Proofing/Insulation:  Next on the agenda was sound proofing and insulation. Essentially, this thing is a 3/4-ton pickup with a big open box on the rear and there is no escaping the fact that it is cavernous and amplifies road and drivetrain noise. As with anything else, there are lots of options for addressing this on the internet. I was discussing this with my Dad and he said he had a 2′ wide roll of sound proofing material I could have. It is almost 1/4″ thick, has a foil-type aluminum coating on both sides, and a bubble wrap type interior. It is not the cheap stuff.

Upper Panel Sound Proofing
Upper Panel Sound Proofing

Luckily it fit perfectly within the channels on the upper panels and was very easy to secure to the side on the lower panels with some Gorilla tape and a hair dryer. Cutting it to fit with some heavy-duty scissors and one of Kim’s old rotary cutters for fabric was the trick. The results were immediately noticeable on the first drive after getting this stuff in place.

Lower Panel Sound Proofing
Lower Panel Sound Proofing

I also added some underneath the passenger seat and have enough left to do both of the rear doors. I’ve ordered some 80 mil FatMat to do the driver, passenger, and sliding door as well.

If you read any DIY stuff on the web or hit any forums (I like Sprinter-Source) dedicated to Sprinter conversions you’ll find that folks have used a wide variety of materials for insulation. However, I came across one option that insulates and absorbs sound: Recycled Denim Insulation. You don’t have to wear gloves, a mask or eye protection when working with it and it is the most “green” option out there. The bad part is that you cannot find it anywhere in Central Kentucky. I had to order it online from HomeDepot and it came out of their warehouses in Arizona.

Denim Insulation
Denim Insulation

Although some argue it isn’t necessary, I did cover all of the insulation with a vapor barrier. On the upper panels, it helped to hold it in place if nothing else and in the overall scheme of things it was cheap and didn’t consume much time. Once again I used Gorilla tape and a hair dryer to really activate the adhesive. I stuffed that insulation in every nook and cranny I could fine. There are 5 intact rolls remaining and my plan is to use those in the sliding door and rear doors. I might even put some in the front doors. Once again, there was a noticeable reduction in road and drivetrain noise once it was in place.

Panel Coverings:  Recommendations abound on what type of material is best for covering the interior panels. Plastic, plywood, tongue and groove flooring, and so forth. One idea that we were drawn to was the use of tongue and groove cedar paneling like you’d find in a closet. That seemed appealing but more reading revealed that over time, anything that was tongue and groove could start to squeak. That would drive me nuts. Regardless, the material needed to be tough in order to withstand an accidental tip over of a bike when loading or unloading. Denting your van’s panels from the inside out would not be a cool deal at all!

Although it was expensive, my final choice was 3/4″ cabinet grade maple plywood. I found it in 4′ x 10′ sheets so just one piece was needed for each side and the maple is lightly colored so it doesn’t darken the interior. I made a template out of cardboard of the curves and angles along the headliner and carefully cut into these fine pieces of plywood ending up with a nearly perfect fit. Very pleased.

I measured several times before deciding where to place the holes for the mounting hardware and finally ended up with 6 strategically placed holes. The entire panel was sanded with 80 grit sandpaper on the edges and 180 grit on the primary surface. I hand sanded the surface once again with 220 grit to make sure there were no marks from the orbital sander.

A single coat of Minwax Satin-finish polyurethane mixed 50/50 with mineral spirits was used as a seal coat. After it dried, it was then sanded again with 220 grit sandpaper. Afterwards, 3 full coats of poly were applied with a quick hand sanding between each coat. The upper panel covers look really good and are quite heavy duty.

After much contemplation, I ended up using #8 stainless steel sheet metal screws in both 1.25″ and 1.5″ lengths. Some nice stainless finish washers were used too. I figure if these holes ever strip out I can move up to a #10 screw.

The bottom panels were covered in our Sprinter with this tough looking gray plastic material. Knowing that the back will get dirty, I decided to leave that in place as it will be easy to clean up. It won’t be a big deal if I need to replace it at a later date with something else.

The finishing touch was a 1″ x 4″ piece of red oak that I stained black and placed at the juncture between the upper panel and lower panel covers. It actually provides a lip for the upper panel to rest upon and I can fasten items to it over time as needed. As with the upper panels, #8 stainless sheet metal screws with finish washers were used to secure them.

Panels in Place
Panels in Place

My focus in now shifting towards upgrading the sound system. I’m going to keep the stock head unit but do away with the cheap speakers and add some amps. Stay tuned for another update!

See you on the trail!

The New Travel Machine – Report #1

It was a hard decision to make but we sold the 2007 F-150 Crew Cab last month and drove away from the Mercedes-Benz dealer in Lexington (James Motor Company) with a brand new 2015 – 170 wheelbase, high-roof, 4×4 Sprinter Crew Van. There is a ton of room in the thing, it drives great at highway speeds, and will allow us to carry more “stuff” on our trips than ever before. No more trailers like last year. Done with that nonsense. Below are a couple photos.

Front View
Front View
Side View
Side View

Kim and I had seen lots of these out West over the past couple years, many of which had been customized for some specific tasks. Some were simply setup as a dedicated camper, others were deluxe mountain bike haulers, and a couple were actually dirt bike haulers that could hold 3-5 bikes. Tim and Becky, the owners of the Sawtooth Hotel where we stay in Stanley, had picked up a 2014 – 170WB, 2-wheel drive, Cargo/Crew Van that had no real interior improvements . . . a blank slate to work with! We got to check it out a couple times and realized how spacious and adaptable the Sprinter platform could be. It certainly got us both thinking.

Realizing that it was about time to get a new truck within a year or so, I started out by looking at 3/4-Ton Crew Cab Pickups. Pulling the trailer last summer with the F150 cost us bunch more in gas and I just hate dealing with a trailer. I figured a 3/4-ton truck would pull a trailer with ease and if we got a diesel it would last a lot longer. The next thing that happened was sticker shock! Have you priced a brand new 3/4-ton truck lately? I was appalled at the pricing. The Chevy/GMC 2500 option was right at $66K outfitted with options similar to our current F150 and the F250s were about $4k less. Sure, you could get a Dodge in the mid to upper $50K range, but most everyone I spoke with steered me away from those.

So just for kicks and giggles . . . I got on the Mercedes-Benz Sprinter website and started the “Build Your Own” process to see what one would cost. Now that 4×4 (new for 2015) was an option it would be something I could truly consider. I was amazed to learn that I could actually get a 4×4 in the size and with the options we’d want for less than the F250 options I’d been studying. For about six weeks I revisited that site dozens of times just checking out all the options. Below is an image of one option we’d built and really liked.

Sprinter Config Option
Sprinter Config Option

When proposed this to Philip his initial comment was, “Dad, no one will take you two seriously in that thing. No Way!” Jesse and Bo really liked the idea but as Jesse noted, “You need to drive one to make sure it is really what you think it is.” He was right . . . I’d never driven any type of “van” and moving forward in the decision making process hinged on knowing how it handled, especially at interstate speeds. Next step . . . schedule a test drive.

I’d been told that working with the Mercedes-Benz dealer in Lexington was easier than the one in Louisville. That works well for us as it is only about 35 minutes max from our house so I got in touch with their Sprinter sales guy, Dan, and scheduled a time for us to drop by and check one out. They only had one 4×4, 170″ wheelbase model on the lot and it was actually a Crew Van that was configured very similarly to what we’d been wanting.

On our initial visit we took a tape measure so I could get some measurements. I wanted to make sure at least two bikes, gear, tools, sewing machines, sewing tables, and all of our luggage would fit. Getting all that junk in the truck was like a puzzle and typically things were stacked from the floor to roof in the rear seat. It was always a chore to get to what you needed.

It was more than obvious that wasn’t going to be a problem with the Sprinter. You could stand up fully in the back and it was even possible to get right up from the passenger seat and walk to the rear row of seats or the back with ease. Very nice. Kim and I both asked lots of questions but one questions changed everything. I asked Dan how long it would take to get one if I ordered it that day. He said you might have by July of 2016. Really? He indicated that the build process wouldn’t even begin until April or May of 2016. Geez!!!

What we learned is that only 12,000 4×4 models were built for 2015 and a single oil company immediately ordered 10,000. That left only 2,000 units for all of the US market. We left shortly thereafter without even driving it. Needed to think this through a bit more.

Early the next week we called Dan and setup a time for a test drive. We made a little loop out the Interstate and then took an exit so we could return on some rural roads. About 20 miles or so round trip. It was comfortable and drove like it was on rails at highway speeds. Kim immediately noted how high it sits and how far and wide the view is from the front seats. Great for seeing the countryside!

The unit was not the color we wanted but it did have the roof-mount AC unit which is a $3,300 option. Also, it had the premium paint job, the 4×4 low range option, and the towing package already intact. We discussed the pricing a bit and surprisingly it was much cheaper than the “Build Your Own” options online. I sold my F150 that weekend, transferred it to the new owner on the following Wednesday and picked up the Sprinter that Friday. It was a done deal. We had the perfect travel machine! One magazine noted it was the “ultimate post-apocalyptic zombie avoidance vehicle” but honestly I hope we never have to use it for that sorta thing.

Stay tuned for more on my build process. It is going to take some work to get it setup just like we need it for bike hauling and so forth.

See you on the trail!