Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Tow Vehicle Shopping the Old-fashioned Way

There must be people out there who are ten times better than me at internet searching. I don't even like buying things on the internet, other than music. 

Today I dropped in on the local car dealer in Gunnison CO just to kick some tires. I was suspicious that my internet searches were at a dead end. As luck would have it, this dealer had recent models of all the categories I polemicized about, last post. It was uncanny.

What an amazing difference there is between seeing something real and merely reading about it. Just think how good those reviewers made the Dodge Durango and Chevy Traverse sound. One glance at them and I chopped them off the list. They had those annoyingly low plastic front-bumper skirts that hang down to about 4 inches from the ground. Ridiculous! You couldn't even get close to a concrete curbstone with one of those suburban mommie-mobiles.

The Subaru Outback had a high and clean undercarriage, but it didn't look like a real hitch could be attached anywhere. The Toyota 4Runner and Nissan Xterra impressed me the most.

Perhaps I should start using Ask.com to do searches, and actually ask questions in the search. But does this search engine actually look at the logical thought-content of your question, or does it just pick off keywords? If the latter, the question-like approach is a gimmick to differentiate it in the marketplace.

Today was a powerful example of the internet's limitations. It is fully justified to roll your eyes or sigh in resignation when you ask a human being just about any question these days, and their pat answer is, 'Oh just google it. It's on the internet somewhere.'


A good primer on four-wheeling at jalopnik.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Taking Nominations for a Lightweight Tow Vehicle

It is easy to overlook things when you think alone, so I might benefit from readers' ideas about choosing a tow vehicle to pull my converted cargo trailer: 2900 pounds loaded, 6 foot wide, 350 pounds of tongue weight.

But before getting concrete, let's reflect on the temptations in thinking that I can tow this trailer with 'almost anything.' Wasn't it Oscar Wilde who said something like 'A cynic is someone who knows the price of everything, but the value of nothing?' Well, 'brevity is the soul of wit' and that aphorism is brief, pithy, and easy to remember. But is it actually informative about what makes a cynic? I think not.

A cynic is not a "negative" person. Rather, he is someone who has been undisciplined with his expectations about new situations and people. He has the bad habit of expecting too much, and therefore, he is usually disappointed, if not completely disillusioned, by how things turn out. He then reacts to that disappointment by throwing mud at new things that come along; it's his way of protecting himself from yet another disappointment.

And that is my situation with selecting a new tow vehicle for a lightweight trailer. I'm being sucked into exciting fantasies about all the new choices open to me: no more 15 mpg unhitched, impossible parking, difficulty in getting turned around, and taking up the entire width of a dirt road with a whale of a tow vehicle. No more am I enslaved to 3/4 ton pickups or vans, with gas-sucking V8 engines. Now I can at least open my mind to:

1.  Half-ton pickups or vans that ride smoother and get better fuel economy unhitched. Most of my miles are driven unhitched. They are still too large in dimensions though, but I would choose a regular cab with a 6.5 foot bed.

2.  Midsize pickups like the Toyota Tacoma or Nissan Frontier. (They don't come in regular cabs, though.) In 2015 Chevy is bringing back a completely redesigned midsize "Colorado."  Too bad that Ford sells Rangers all over most of the world, but not in North America. And why doesn't anybody make a mid-size van like the old Astro?

3. Truck-based SUVs like the Nissan Xterra, Toyota 4Runner, or Jeep Wrangler.

4. Car-based crossover SUVs (Dodge Durango, Subaru Outback, Toyota Highlander, Ford Escape, or Chevy Traverse) as long as they have V6 engines and tow packages.

And what about the Ford Econoline van's successor, the 2015 Transit full-size van? I would get the half-ton, short wheelbase, V6 model. But I have yet to see one! Ford has worn out my patience on this. Also I'm skeptical about the ground clearance. Ideally I prefer a used vehicle with low mileage; vehicles that are new in 2015 kill that option.

My new tow vehicle needs ground clearance "noticeably" better than a passenger car. That kills the Ford Transit Connect and mini-vans. But what about crossover SUVs? I have ridden in Subarus and been very impressed with their ground clearance. I had another fantasy when riding in my friend's Honda Odyssey minivan. How nice it would serve if it just had more ground clearance! But how do you "lift" a front-wheel-drive minivan? Growl. 

My mind used to be closed against towing with a car-body (aka, a unibody, stamped sheet metal that is spot welded together.) All of the crossover SUVs are built this way. How could you attach a decent hitch to thin sheet metal?

Then I crawled underneath a Hyundai Santa Fe and saw that they had two heavy rectangular steel tubes affixed somehow to the rear of the car. The class 3 hitch was then attached to these two heavy steel tubes. So I am more optimistic about crossover SUVs now.

Four wheel drive is not necessary, nor is all-wheel-drive. I lean towards rear-wheel-drive. Remember that modern vehicles all have (brake-actuated) traction control systems.

I am used to the cargo-carrying capacity of a full-sized van, which is extraordinary! Obviously much of that stuff will have to be downsized; and I am already working on that. 

But it must be able to accommodate two bicycles standing up inside the cargo area. Obviously the front wheels will be removed and I could tolerate lowering the saddle. Storing bicycles inside a vehicle is not as hard as it sounds, because only one gets used in any given season. Therefore it is sensible to spend 10 minutes dismantling the out-of-season bicycle.  You just put them parallel, head to tail, with foam in between, and smoosh the whole thing tight with straps.

Please don't mention storing them outside the vehicle. Unacceptable. 

Update: I ran into an informative article that explained how the Dodge Durango is the only rear-wheel-drive crossover SUV. It comes with the Pentastar V6 engine standard, but the hemi V8 is an option. It is rare for a V8 to be offered as an option with crossovers. But even with the V6, the tow rating is a whopping 6400 pounds. 

With its standard 8-speed transmission, its EPA fuel economy rating is 25 mpg on the highway!

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Small Tribes and Sleepwalking up a Steep Hill

Yet another summer visit, sponging up the remarkable hospitality of a couple in Ouray, CO. In case I needed any more proof how important people were to an interesting travel lifestyle, I certainly got it. 

There is a real advantage to a migrational loop that is approximately the same every year: it seems necessary to help friendships get beyond the 'two ships passing in the night' syndrome that some people prefer. 

Short-term acquaintances seem uninteresting and frivolous to me. There is the tediousness and predictability of playing 20 Questions with them; the struggle to charm each other's socks off; adding another scalp to your belt, for whatever that is worth; and then you never see them again.

Then on to Gunnison CO to meet up with a friend from Patagonia AZ, and her friend. It was a real pleasure to talk around a campfire with other people. I gave up campfires years ago, partly because of the labor and fire safety, but mainly because you need a little tribe of people around the campfire to make it fun.

How on earth did my new camera focus/range-find through a glass and screen window? The cargo trailer now has a kitchen window, and yet the two women who have gotten a tour did not seem overly impressed.
My Barmah Australian breezer hat is sacrificed to the tribal god, a jealous god who only allows the pious to wear Henschel hats. Besides, a Barmah gets hotter than the dashboard of a car.

The dogs were part of that little tribe around the campfire. Back in Ouray I would take my dog to their dog park, right on the Uncompahgre river. Both she and I were starting to feel like the other customers there were a little tribe. 

Once I asked the silly question, 'How would dogs act if they were hypnotized?' Another man played with the idea the same way two dogs might tussle over a ball or frisbee. Actually I felt a little embarrassed at such a whimsical question. Apparently it was getting on to the heat of mid-day and my brain was getting sleepy and dreamy.

Later, we started walking home. But before climbing the steep hill back to the campsite, we hit downtown and ate a little. Now I was really sleepy.

I stretched out on a long bench, partly in the shade, and sagged into a siesta. I was aware of heat radiating from a nearby, south-facing, brick wall. But the air and shade were cool at the same time. Noisy traffic was 20 feet away, on a busy federal highway. I was vaguely aware of it, but simply didn't care. It seemed so strange that I had never done this before.

After reviving we started the steep climb home. The sun hit full force. I wanted to stay back on that comfortable and cool bench, and mentally I did. How could I sleepwalk up a hill like that?!

I was aware of danger in crossing the busy federal highway twice, so, with effort, I stayed conscious enough to do that. But the exercise seemed to have no stimulating effect until the very end of the climb. 

Don't ask me what any of this means. It was the first time it had ever happened, therefore I am writing about it. Relaxation is a wonderful thing; we probably can't ever get too good at it. 
Has nothing to do with the theme of this post except that I am still feeling whimsical. By the way, I always thought a box van like this was an excellent idea for a custom RV, except for the difficulty of finding one with low mileage.