Hey there, internet! This blog has been slumbering for years but with the advent of our new internet connectivity solution called Starlink I finally have something to say!
I thought I would create a running list of locations where we’ve used Starlink and what our experience was like so others may benefit from our journeys. Enjoy!
Pack Creek Campground, Moab Utah
Pack Creek Campground is a sleepy RV park in central Moab that we’ve been visiting for years. They offer fair rates and full hookups and it’s conveniently located for all things Moab, especially mountain biking. The park has pleasant trees and a meandering creek in the back that often draws deer and other wildlife.
Our Starlink connection here has been very good, averaging ~100Mbps down and ~9Mbps up. It’s early April at the time of this writing so the trees are bare and we’ve experienced no obstructions.
Sinkhole Campground, Payson Arizona
Sinkhole Campground is a small national forest campground located about two hours west of Phoenix and a half hour west of Payson. This campground is perched on the Mogollon Rim at 7,500′ and easily characterized by a gorgeous flow of tall ponderosa pine that carpet the mountains in all directions.
Awesome features of this campground include access to a wide range of recreation activities including kayaking on the nearby Willow Springs Lake, hiking in and around the titular sinkhole and, most importantly, its access to an extensive mountain bilking trail system. Sites are paved, level, and generously long. The bathrooms are clean and there is potable water at the entrance.
Not so awesome features of this campground include proximity to the AZ 260 highway, which is remarkably noisy. Additionally, some of the driveways immediately abut one another in doubles, leading to startlingly intimate camping with neighbors. It isn’t obvious to me on the booking site how to identify sites like this but fortunately for us we met some great people so the intimacy wasn’t a problem.
Our Starlink connection here has averaged 85Mbps down and 5Mbps up. For some reason our dish shows a bias to pointing north, which is fortunate because site 17 points north directly into a break in the trees. Starlink does not like obstructions but the system performed beautifully here.
Santa Fe KOA Journey, Santa Fe New Mexico
The Santa Fe KOA Journey is either the best or second best KOA I’ve ever stayed at, maybe only behind the Filmore KOA Journey in Utah. The entire campground is populated with low Juniper making for a clear unobstructed view of the sky while still offering shade and that invigorating Juniper aroma. Bathrooms are clean, the staff is friendly and the full hookups are well maintained.
Santa Fe proper is mere minutes away offering access to the culture, cuisine, and ambiance of the Southwest. And as always, there’s a nice mountain biking network here. Starlink operated unobstructed, and was especially appreciated since this is a Verizon dead zone. We saw an average of 70Mbps down 13Mbps up.
It’s been a pretty rough time for the country and the world during the Coronavirus pandemic. Airstream is affected just like everyone else, and sadly our Airstream Customer Council finale has been cancelled due to the personal exposure risks. This is of course terribly disappointing for me since the past year has been an awesome experience meeting with Airstream and telling them what I think of their products. Our final get-together was supposed to include face-to-face meetings with all the ACC members and a tour of the new factory. At least Airstream does suggests the Terra Port may be online later in the year.
In the meantime, Airstream is getting creative and they have released a nice shelter-in-place-helper called Portable Park. It’s a nice IMAX style page where you can look out your virtual Airstream widow and fantasize about your next adventure when the lock-down madness ends.
I know crazy right? They said 800 folks applied, so pretty crazy odds. Remember in my snarky videos I bobbled my head and said, “Airstream, if you’re listening.” Imagine my surprise when they were listening!
We can’t discuss the details of these meetings but I can say that Airstream has shown an extraordinary interest in understanding what drove each of us to buy an Airstream and I am giving them candid and honest feedback. I am deeply honored to have this opportunity to help improve a product I already think is awesome.
If I haven’t actually said it, if you don’t have an Airstream I highly recommend picking one up ;o)
Now a moment of shameless plugs, here are some recent videos we’ve released for your adventuring pleasure! Peace out my friends, and Silverton, CO videos soon to come!
Other people’s problems can be funny, and I think RV problems are right up there. So I thought I would give you a peek at what we’ve been dealing with on this trip. Not a particularly deep topic I know, but maybe this will help you address issues while on the road or at the least give you a chuckle.
Immediately after arriving in Crested Butte we discovered the furnace was having trouble lighting – again. Our particular model is a propane furnace so the blower would come on, then run for minutes as the furnace tried to light. Even after lighting the furnace would often go out restarting the process all over again.
Kudos to Airstream of Scottsdale for walking me through the diagnostics process. The culprit was a ridiculous component called a “sail switch”.
The purpose of this switch is to inform the furnace control circuit that the blower is on before lighting the burner. It’s called a “sail” switch because it’s designed to sense air flow by catching the air like a sail.
The absurdity of this switch is the design – that large protruding piece of aluminum fin has to be bent, prodded and coaxed to barely fit against the furnace squirrel cage to pick up the breeze. It’s vulnerable to hair, obstructions, catching on the blower fins and evidently spontaneous self-deforming.
In diagnosing my switch I found that the switch was not actually defective, but instead the fin simply needed to be re-shaped to catch air better – until I broke the switch in earnest trying to bend the sail. DOHH!
$30 for a new sail switch shipped from Airstream of Scottsdale, my time and a little duct tape. Yes, duct tape – the new sail switch only had a tiny little fin at the very end and it wasn’t big enough to pick up the blower air. I had to increase the area of the fin with guerrilla tape and then spend an hour finessing the new switch into a shape that would work. This was a new switch. We’ll see how long this fix lasts.
Had I designed this furnace, I would have used an optical solution which has no moving parts, like a Photodarlington. But that would cost $0.000000001 more so that’s probably why they don’t do it.
We have a Wineguard DirectTV (now AT&T) satellite system mounted on the Airstream. This system offers a self-locating dish that pops up, spins around and hunts for satellites all automatically. It’s a remarkable product that works with exceptional reliability.
The LNB (Low Noise Block downconverter), which is the part that actually receives satellite signal, seems to lose SD (standard definition) satellite reception about every 2 years. No idea why – could be a slowly corroding circuit, a split in the unit’s environmental seal – who knows.
The symptoms are the DirectTV (now AT&T) receiver will quite happily show you your HD (high definition) content but it insists on showing you a warning that a channel you aren’t watching is missing.
The fix for this problem is to replace the LNB.
We’re going to wait on this fix until we’re back in Phoenix since this is essentially an annoyance and not an outright failure. Additionally this fix involves ladders and getting on top of the Airstream; something I do not want to do in the field.
The cost can run in the hundreds.
Our Airstream experiences fairly routine rivet pops and this trip popped two of them on the small toggle that holds the front visor down. I actually popped those rivets on the first few weeks we owned the Airstream and I think it’s because the rubber toggles are incredibly tight and literally rip the rivets out over time.
I also noticed some of the casual weather stripping on the front visor was coming loose, almost certainly from storage in the heat.
I drilled out the rivets and replaced them here in the field.
I always bring spare rivets and tools, which we describe in one of our YouTube videos. The weather stripping was easy to push back with a flat-head screwdriver.
$0 and about 15 minutes of my time.
Though we have shore power in the Crested Butte RV Resort our next destination in Silverton will be dry camping. I’ve been periodically running the generator to circulate oil and keep the battery charged. On the last generator start I discovered the battery was dead and after some diagnostics found it would no longer charge. Considering the battery is over three years old it’s time to replace it.
I made a quick trip down to an auto parts store in Gunnison. The part is a standard motorcycle battery called a YTZ14S. It was easily located and replaced with nothing more than a #2 phillips screwdriver.
$100 for a new battery and recycling fee and about 15 minutes of my time.
Our Sierra Denali pickup experienced a failure in the DEF (Diesel Exhaust Fluid) tank temperature sensor two days before departure. I knew this was the DEF tank because I hooked up our ODB scanner which gave me a code I could look up on the internet. If you don’t have an ODB reader get one, they’re cheap and can save your butt on the road!
Also in a separate incident the passenger side spherical mirror popped out. I quickly discovered how critical that mirror had become to towing the Airstream.
My Phoenix Chevrolet dealer was able to replace the DEF tank in a few hours and incredibly the tank was covered as part of the drive train warranty. I’m also most grateful we were able to fix this before departure.
AS For the mirror we were able to order a replacement at the Chevrolet dealer in Gunnison.
Because the DEF tank was covered under warranty cost to me was $0 though I did spend several hours at the dealer. No biggie. The mirror, however, was a whopping $150.
By now you all know my job is software, and to do it I have to remote into my office over the internet. Because of this I have multiple redundant systems to connect to the internet:
This device amplifies a WiFi (wireless fidelity) signal and presents it in the Airstream as my own strong personal WiFi hotspot.
A WiFi booster is useful when you have WiFi available from your campground but the source is weak or spotty. The down side to the WiFi booster is, honestly, most campground WiFi sucks even when you can get a clear signal. Because of this I rarely use the WiFi booster though the Crested Butte RV Resort WiFi is exceptional so I’ve been using it extensively.
This device amplifies cellular LTE signals for any cellular device placed next to the booster’s patch antenna. As long as I have one bar of LTE service without the booster I can usually achieve a workable connection with the booster.
The iPhone can serve as an excellent personal hotspot. When combined with the cellular booster I can usually work anywhere that has at least one bar of LTE service. The booster gives the iPhone excellent connectivity to the cellular tower and then the iPhone gives me a strong personal WiFi hotspot in the Airstream.
The jetpack is a device sold by Verizon that presents a strong personal WiFi hotspot in the Airstream. Just like the iPhone the jetpack is combined with the cellular booster and I can usually work anywhere that has at least one bar of LTE service.
For reasons I can’t begin to explain, though, I have found that even when using the cellular booster the iPhone and jetpack achieve different results. Because of this, I have found that in areas where I am having trouble one of these two devices will usually work.
On this trip I have been experiencing a host of problems connecting to the internet, as I shall explain.
Canyons of Buses
I’m very happy for the owners of the Crested Butte RV Resort. Their resort has taken off and by my eyes they’re averaging near full capacity every day. The down side for us, though, is a new phenomenon I call “canyons of buses”. And by this I mean there seem to be an unusual number of excessively massive RVs here, usually bus-sized monsters that have been parked on either side of us for weeks now.
Because WiFi is a line-of-sight technology, it works best if you can see from the Airstream directly to the campground’s WiFi antenna. However, when these giant buses park next to us our WiFi coverage drops to near zero.
The traditional way to combat this problem is a WiFi booster. You mount up an antenna on a high point of the Airsteam, which usually gives the antenna line of site to the campground transmitter. Only this time, we’ve found that the buses are so massive, even the booster is struggling.
Cell Tower Overload
Given my WiFi trouble as of late I have been relying also on cellular. Sadly, even with the cellular booster I have experienced relatively poor performance from the cellular network. One of the leading causes of this problem is cell tower overload. Simply put, one lonely cell tower simply has too many devices to service.
The fix for internet access isn’t a catch-all. I haven’t taken any action yet, but here are some ideas I’m noodling.
The problems I’ve been experiencing with line-of-sight WiFi seem to be several fold. I spoke to the campground owner and they explained they’d just upgraded their systems but they’d been warned by the vendor they might need another transmitter in the center of the campground. So this might be a one-off.
Barring an actual fix to the campground transmitters, which is a non-starter in general, I’m noodling the idea of an external WiFi booster that I could raise on a mast.
Also I’ve been considering a new WiFi booster that would also have the nice side effect of giving the booster wireless wireless a/c band capability, which is supposed to handle multi-path and obstructions better. The down side is any kind of new booster will likely trigger new wiring and mounting which I can’t tackle in the field. Also an a/c band booster would of course only boost an a/c band transmitter at the campground, and a/c is still relatively new.
Cellular boosters don’t address cell tower overload so the only real way around this problem is to use an alternate means of communication. Specifically, some RVers subscribe to multiple cellular providers and often discover that when Verizon is jammed AT&T is just fine or vice versa. I already pay a hefty cost for a non-throttled Verizon service so I’m hesitant to pay for yet more cellular service.
Still, AT&T offers an “unlimited” Airstream Plan, which I may look into. That plan reduces your bandwidth under peak loads (throttling) which could effect my work connection but that may be better than no connection at all. The plan is very affordable though, about $400/year, but AT&T’s coverage isn’t as good as Verizon’s.
If I decide to buy one, a new WiFi booster runs around $500.
The AT&T Airstream cellular plan costs about $400/year.
So far I’m feeling great about the trip. I’ve been able to solve most of the issues that have come up or make strategic plans for the more complex ones like internet access. I hope this blog also demonstrates that as an RVer you really need to practical know-how to solve problems on the road and a willingness to perform at least basic diagnostics when problems arise.
With that, I’ll continue to blog about our trip and as always keep an eye on our YouTube channel. In fact, we just released a video about an avalanche!
A few weeks ago I announced we were heading out to Airstream Colorado for the summer – and strangely enough, here we are Airstreaming Colorado! With all the demands on my time, though – I’ve found it difficult to keep all our media outlets merged; YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and WordPress. Sadly the blog is no exception, and it has been somewhat ignored lately.
The reason is mostly this:
I’ve been spending a hell of a lot of time picking up Davinci Resolve, which is the extraordinary video editing software we use to produce our YouTube content. The edit above was my most complicated yet.
I call this software “extraordinary” because Fred and I previously had been using the very expensive Adobe Premier suite and we have come to find that the free version of Davinci Resolve outperforms Premier in nearly every way. Fred seemed to roll with the changes easily, but I’d never video edited before so the learning curve was higher for me.
In addition to learning Davinci Resolve, I’ve also been diving pretty deep to learn better photography techniques. For example, in the video above I used the GoPro 7’s nitelapse photo mode to achieve those beautiful streaky long-expose Airstream shots. And in a peculiarity of how GoPro chooses to assemble its shots, nitelapse yields a long sequence of JPEGs that then have to processed into a movie by Davinci Resolve.
Fred and I have also been long lusting for drone to add that additional level of polish to our channel with aerial b-roll, but the $1000 price tag and the high level of drone banishment in almost everyplace where we ride/Airstream has put that idea on the back burner. The next best thing is Google Earth Studio. I applied for an invite and was approved so I’ve been learning to build “flights” and also render them in Davinci Resolve.
The video below was a much simpler edit. In this case, I’m experimenting with a “day in the…” format, trying to entice folks to enjoy mountain biking with us since our riding videos see the lowest view counts. This is ironic, of course, since this is mostly the kind of content we wanted to produce when we started the channel.
Lastly, we’re in Crested Butte right now and they’ve had an absolute bumper crop of alpine flowers this year. The featured image for this post was taken by the East River trail. Fields of Lupines (the purple flower) are all over this area right now. There are even some Aspen Sunflowers peeking in there.
Anyway, keep an eye on our YouTube channel if you haven’t already for more interesting content.
If you follow our YouTube channel you might have noticed we just released an episode about ice. As trivial as ice sounds, it’s not! Well…maybe a little. I’m lining up a few more luxuries for our travel to Colorado and one of the items on my checklist for a while has been a counter-top ice maker for the Airstream.
We used to make ice using trays of course, but certain people in my orbit have a habit of picking out one or two cubes at a time and not refilling the trays (you know who you are!!!). And the tyranny of the Airstream is you’re already so spoiled by the comforts of home like internet and satellite not having an automatic ice maker stands out. I did say we were spoiled.
So behold, my solution is presented thusly:
One thing I didn’t squeeze into the video though – searching Amazon for ice makers is a curious exercise. There seems to be a hard ceiling pinning virtually every unit at about $180. Price fixing?
Still, I landed on the Vremi counter-top ice maker, part number VRM010636N. Mostly I selected it for the the stylish looks, and their consistency with the Airstream. But I also looked at the reviews. This consumer nailed my one little gripe about this machine precisely.
Based on what I showed you in the video, is this honest advertising?
Guess where we’re going to Airstream this summer???!!! I have secured six weeks remote travel and we’re heading to Crested Butte in July and Silverton in August!
Think we’re excited?
Um… Y E S!
So seriously, I’m losing my mind with excitement. If y’all have any ideas for things you want us to post/vlog/record please comment on this post. One of the ideas we’ve got brewing is a scenic tour covering Colorado 92. We’re going to make a weekend drive through some of the best country the Rockies has to offer.
Obviously since I do enjoy this tiny little thing called mountain biking, I’ll also be bringing you plenty of content about the Evolution Bike Park. Plus I’m planning a ride on Teocalli Ridge, which is going to be bonkers.
In the meantime, if you’re from Colorado or you’ve been there and there’s something you really think we should do around Crested Butte and/or Silverton please comment on this post!
Several weeks before Fred and I made our 2019 Moab migration I began working in earnest to replace the Airstream’s stock stereo system; primarily because the Clarion head unit was near death. But I’ve also disliked the factory speakers for some time so this was the chance to finally make a fix. Mind you the Clarion speakers weren’t horrible, they’re just designed for a low power application and therefore come off dull and garbled. For me this was hard to swallow since my home system is Bowers & Wilkins speakers matched to Parasound amps; very high end stuff.
I think these guys should really advertise they do mobileaudio, as in – anything that moves on water or wheels. They put stereos in cars, trucks, boats, UTVs and yes, even Airstreams. So we took the Airstream down to Gilbert, a suburb of Phoenix, and got down to business.
I selected JL Audio for the sound equipment because I found the speakers bright, crisp and punchy. With a high-pass filter in place the mids only drive mid+high frequencies leaving out muddy bass. The mids also accommodate coaxial mounted tweeters which saves on space but makes no compromises on sound quality. The sub drives a really rich deep bass with no overtones. JL Audio also manufactures some of their equipment in the US, which is consistent with the rest of the Airstream’s Americana theme.
The final wiring diagram for this upgrade looks like this.
We’ll – I’ve gone and bought some new MTB shoes again, this time a set of springtime kicks from 45NRTH called the Ragnarök. Aaaaaaand, you’ll find our review below.
A small update, though. Since we made the video these shoes have relaxed in fit a little so I may have been a little unfair in my rating there. As you can see otherwise I am delighted with the brand. I feel the cost is totally fair for what you get, and the BOA system is holding up well. I do wish they offered other colors but so it goes.
Post any questions here or on the channel and we’ll answer ’em.