Monday, 29 May 2017

Van Damp Mk 2 - and a Physics Lesson...

Apologies for not blogging much lately!  We've been struggling with Van Damp again over the past week.  Ugh, it's such a pain!  We spent a couple of days last week getting everything out of the van again and drilling a heap of ventilation holes to allow air to circulate in our underbed storage.  Whilst our clothes and possessions hadn't gone mouldy - yet - they were damp to the point of being wet and the metal over the wheel arches were running with water and covered in mould.  The four containers of 'Damp Rid' that we had put in each corner hadn't done a darn thing, except become mouldy on the outside themselves!

Winter has arrived early in Gore!

Worst of all however was the underside of the mattresses.  Foam is notorious for holding moisture and although we were snug and warm at night, every time we went to flip the mattresses over we just about had kittens at how soaking wet they were on the undersides.  Not only that, the moisture in turn sits on the top of the timber bed frame and in turn that was becoming wet and mouldy.  It's not all bad; the bubble wrap on the windows has done a sterling job at keeping condensation at bay, and the best thing we ever did was get the foil windscreen visors to go on top of these.  You wouldn't believe what a difference they make at keeping us warm and dry!  If only we could say the same for the window sills, which are already becoming covered in rust spots after only a couple of weeks of colder weather.

As an extra preventative measure we packed all our clothing and belongings into large sealable storage bags from the Warehouse, a steal at just $4 each!  We were really hopeful that the new ventilation holes would go a long way in stopping both them and our mattress from going damp any further, helped along nicely by the dehumidifier.  So we were far from happy when we flipped everything over yesterday and found that all our efforts had made little or no difference.  In fact we were really, really pissed off.  At least we knew we weren't alone.  Pretty much every traveller, whether in a 12 metre bus or large motorhome or a van like ours has problems with damp at some stage through the year.  At least Ken didn't have any leaks, which a lot of the motor homers we come across have issues with.  And we didn't have freezing cold water dripping on our heads while we slept from having no insulation, like a lovely young English couple from Devon we met a few days earlier had been struggling with.  In comparison to a lot of people, we lived in relative luxury!

The ever-changing sky here is beautiful no matter how bleak!

Disheartened as we were, one thing was for certain - we were NOT giving up.  We love Southland, we love van life and we love the people.  No way was this setback going to force us out!  Besides, it doesn't matter where you are in NZ over winter, if you live in a van you will still get damp.  Gore might get a tad chilly but according to the many locals we have spoken to, we don't get anywhere near the rain here that a lot of other, warmer areas do.  Speaking from experience so far we'll take the cold over the wet any time!  Even so, what were we going to do in order to make things more bearable?

By now Bevin the caretaker and our fellow campers Brian and Evelyn were used to seeing us turf everything out of the van on a regular basis in a vain attempt to try and air it.  'It won't make any difference now, the air outside is just too cold at this time of year, nothing dries', said Evelyn.  She was right, we knew it was a futile exercise.  We had already blown up a cheap hairdryer in two minutes flat the week before from trying to use it to dry the mattress!  'You need a heater', said Brian.  'Yep, you've got to have a heater', agreed Evelyn.  We already had a dehumidifier but it obviously wasn't enough, not to mention the fact that it automatically cut off when the temperature hit below zero degrees, which was pretty much daily now.  Having already spent the past two years living in their bus in Gore, we trusted their judgement and traipsed off to town to get a heater.

Off to town to get a heater.  Am dressed from head to toe in kids' clothes,
saving myself over $70 on getting decked out for winter!

Fortunately this wasn't a big expense; oil column heaters are pretty cheap to buy these days and it's not as though we needed a large one.  But did we really need to run both a dehumidifier AND a heater in such a small space?  I said no, Gareth said yes.  Being the physicist out of the two of us and having the most logical mind by far, I Googled to see what was the best option and found the answer was very surprising.  Gareth was indeed right; to get the best results at combating damp you need to run both a heater and a dehumidifier hand in hand, preferably at opposite ends of the room to one another.  But get this - a dehumidifier is designed to operate AT ABOVE 20ºC.  By the time a room gets down to 15ºC they do a pretty shoddy job and at 10ºC they are downright awful.  One of the main reasons for this is as the temperature drops, the dehumidifier has to turn the water into ice in order to remove it from the air.

At least we're prepared for the great outdoors!

But wait, there's more!  According to statistics, the average bedroom temperature in NZ is 10ºC.  Yet manufacturers only test dehumidifier capacity down to a temperature of 18.3ºC.  Over a quarter of NZ homes run a dehumidifier, yet most people run them without a heater because they think (like I did) that drying the air out is enough.  However if you do not also run a heater to bring the air up to temperature for the dehumidifier to do its job properly, you're basically throwing money away by running it.  Especially if you live in Otago or Southland, according to Otago University's head physicist.  When I think of all the years I ran a dehumidifier in all the bedrooms, thinking they were doing the job of both heating and drying the atmosphere I want to slap myself!  Honestly though, considering around 45,000 dehumidifiers are sold to NZ consumers every winter, don't you think it would be nice if manufacturers also informed people that they should be used in conjunction with a heater, rather than as a single magic solution to cold and damp problems?  I'll get off my soapbox now but it was a very interesting lesson and we now run both appliances together.  It's too early to say how much of a difference it is making, we can only hope; however we woke up for the first time this morning with a dry wall behind us and neither of us slept with blankets on last night despite it being -2ºC outside!

Somehow this couple of hippy metal heads have wound up in
NZ's country music capital!

Damp problems aside, it's been a good week and we've met some lovely people.  They deserve a blog of their own so will tell you all about them next time, however I imagine by then there will be a lot more to tell you about too!  This weekend marks the annual Gold Guitars festival and awards in Gore. It's the biggest event the town hosts and our campground is no exception.  Instead of it just being us and Brian and Evelyn, another 50 - 80 motor homes are about to arrive in our backyard for the long weekend, eek!  It's the nearest we have been to a motor home convention and it starts this evening with a pot luck dinner.  Our visitors all have another thing in common as well as owning homes on wheels; they are all country music fans, which is what the Gold Guitars festival is all about.  Gareth and I on the other hand are most definitely NOT country music fans!  But we are big fans of meeting other travellers, no matter their taste in music.  Should be a very interesting few days!

Saturday, 20 May 2017

The Golden Rules of Van Life

There's snow in them thar hills!

I'm a bit of a pain in that, if you tell me that I won't be able to do something, I'll try my darnedest to prove you wrong.  Like surviving Southland in sub-zero temperatures.  Well as of yesterday, we already did!  And it was the most brilliant, exhilarating day.  For me it was reminiscent of Christmas in England and I absolutely loved every minute.  To wake up and see snow outside my window for the first time in over 25 years was indescribable.  I can't remember the last time I was so excited to get out of bed!  I couldn't wait to show Minnie either.  She's never seen snow in her whole life and the look on her face as her paws hit the frozen, crunchy ground was priceless.  After the initial shock she decided that it was fabulous stuff and couldn't get enough of exploring in it, tiny tail wagging madly, although despite trying to eat it several times proved largely fruitless.

'What the heck is this weird stuff under my feet?!'  Minnie becomes frozen
(quite literally!) at her new discovery

'Hmm, doesn't taste all that flash either'...

The only thing which dampened our excitement was that Gareth was unwell.  Such rotten timing! Still, at least he was nice and warm in the van.  Despite my fear that the impending freezing temperatures were going to be unbearable, we actually didn't notice a thing, it was no worse than usual and we slept snug and warm.  Mind you, when you live in a small space it's pretty easy to heat and hot water bottles are truly wonderful things.  It was down to me to walk into town to pick up supplies of a necessary wintry and medical nature and I didn't need any encouragement, I couldn't wait to get out there!

Looking the picture of class in my kids' snowboots.  So glad I got these just in time!

The walk in to town was lovely.  The sun shone and the hills were a picture, all covered in snow. Everyone was rugged up just like me and the supermarket was crazy busy.  It seemed we were all buying the same things, winter vegies and stuff to make soup!  Everybody was in good spirits though. So was I, until it was time to begin the long walk home with my six shopping bags.  Despite trying to shop carefully so as not to weigh myself down too much, it wasn't long before I was pushed to my physical limit.  However I couldn't believe the number of offers of help I had on the journey home. At least three people stopped to ask if I would like a ride to wherever I was going, and a couple more on foot.  Even a young boy asked if I would like him to help by carrying my bags on his bike.  I was truly touched - but this is Gore.  This is how people are here.  We grow to love this place more every day.

After getting through Friday night, and the days leading up to it with the rain, thunder and bitter cold, I'm feeling a bit more confident that we'll be fine.  Cold is actually not a problem, we don't mind the cold because we're prepared for it and it's beautiful when the sun shines. It's rain which makes things the most challenging.  It really, really sucks when everything is wet - you're wet, everything you're wearing is wet, every towel you own is wet, you're trying not to get the bedding wet and you don't have any way of getting anything dry.  But such is life when you live in a van.  At the end of the day you still get to tuck up in a warm bed and be happy and content.

My secret to good health.  I hope!

The main thing when you live on the road is to always remember the Golden Rules.  The first rule is that you need to stay healthy, especially during the colder months.  It's absolutely vital that you take good care of yourself.  I've taken to drinking a large concoction every morning consisting of lemon juice, honey and organic apple cider vinegar dissolved in a large glass of hot(tish) water.  I never in a million years thought I would be drinking this stuff, I always hated honey and cider vinegar for starters!  But it's amazing what you get used to and I have really noticed the difference.  I have so much more energy now!  It will be interesting to see how much difference it makes to my immune system, which is notoriously rubbish.

Our diet has also had a big overhaul the last couple of months.  I think when you live in a van, or on the road, you think at first that you can't do things.  You think that you are constrained by your limitations.  In our case, this meant food.  Despite being two people who could cook perfectly well and had always cooked from scratch, rather than processed foods, we soon found ourselves living out of tins, packets and jars.  Neither of us felt good about it but it was the way we felt it had to be.  What happened after a few months was that we felt absolutely awful.  Sluggish, no energy, our digestive systems didn't feel good - you name it.  We decided that we had to introduce more fresh vegetables back into our diet and start eating decent meat.  We felt the improvement from day one and would never go back to eating rubbish again!

There's no excuse for not eating right, no matter how small the kitchen!

We also invested in a tiny crockpot for $25 from the Warehouse.  This thing is great!  It enables us to cook so many delicious and nutritious meals, as well as so many things you wouldn't think you would be able to cook in a crockpot.  As another bonus it also saves on dishes but there's no nicer feeling on a freezing cold or wet day to know that you can just relax and dinner is taken care of.  We've just polished off the last of yesterday's chicken and vegetable soup for lunch and are looking forward to beef casserole for dinner with baby potatoes.  Too easy!

Golden Rule No.2 is that you HAVE to keep moving.  This was a surprise and something that we would never have thought of but of course it makes perfect sense.  Still, you would not believe the aches and pains you get from living in a confined space.  I swear to God, some days you feel like you're 100!  It was never an issue in the summer and autumn months but now the weather is worse and we are confined to the van more, it's very noticeable and can be a real problem if you let it. The longer you sit in one position, the more likely you are to seize up.  Knees, elbows, neck and shoulders...  There's only one thing you can do to avoid it and that's to keep moving as much as possible, so that's what I do.  That's why even though we have a vehicle, we leave it behind and walk everywhere as much as possible; it's really important that we do.

Home made Beef Stroganoff - 
washed down with a nice glass of Golden Rule No.3!

As for Golden Rule No.3?  We learned this from some of the first travellers we met - a couple named Colin and Mara, back in December.  They've been living on the road more than five years now and we learned heaps from them.  Their motto is 'Never Run Out of Wine' and as time has gone by, we have discovered they are right!  No matter how much we love our life on the road, we do go without many luxuries compared to the average person living in a normal house.  A lot of the things people take for granted, we simply don't or can't have.  Whilst we don't miss any of those things, everybody needs something to wind down and we're no different.  It's a simple pleasure at the end of the day to be able to enjoy a drink together.  Or three.

Before I go, I must share a happy update on Miss Minnie!  You may remember a few weeks ago she was far from well; in fact we were close to losing her.  Fortunately we happened upon the most excellent emergency vet in Cassie from VetSouth Tapanui.  After suffering from ill health for more than half her life, Cassie picked up that Minnie had an underactive thyroid, which tests later confirmed.  She has been on her medication for almost two weeks now and the difference in her is incredible.  Our little sloth of a spaniel appears to have been replaced by the Energizer bunny!  Rather than persuading her to come out for painfully slow walks which she really struggled with, these days she doesn't want to stop.  She's the one dragging me out for a couple of hours a day!  It's wonderful to see and we are so grateful to Cassie that she picked up what no other vet has ever done all these years.  We can't wait to show her the difference.  I just wish we had met her earlier on in our travels!

Wednesday, 10 May 2017

The Secret to Happiness

Happiness is playing in the Autumn leaves!

I have to chuckle to myself every time I see articles come up on news websites which encourage readers to click on them for 'The Key to a Blissful Life' or 'Three Secrets to Happiness'. Apparently taking up yoga is one of them - at least that's what they're saying this week but considering they churn stuff like this out every day there must be a hell of a lot of secrets to happiness.  It's just another way society puts pressure on people of course.  If you don't do what everyone else is doing (even though they're actually not), then you're not living your life right and you'll never find happiness.  I don't think there are any real secrets to happiness - I mean, surely they are different for everyone?  I read 'Eat Pray Love' and wanted to go and live with the monks.  I watched 'Under the Tuscan Sun' and wanted to go and buy a tumbledown villa in Italy.  But even if I had done any of those things, who is to say they would have made me as happy as Elizabeth Gilbert or Frances Mayes?  What makes one person happy can be downright hellish for another.  The secret to happiness is something you have to discover for yourself.

Six months stuck in a van with me!  This man deserves a medal

As it turns out, my own secret to happiness seems to be living on the road; Gareth's too.  We celebrated six months of travelling yesterday and as we sat on a wooden bench at the top of a hill in Croydon Bush looking out over Southland we both agreed that life is pretty darn brilliant.  I have learned more about people and about life this past six months than in the rest of my life put together. I think most of us go through life thinking that everyone lives in a basically similar way; in a normal house with a 9 to 5 job, which we work at to pay for the house and all the stuff we want to put in it. But our months on the road have shown us that for many people it's not like that at all.  There are thousands of motorhomers living on the road, I've mentioned that several times and motorhomes really are a home away from home.  They have many of the home comforts of a house, just smaller and they have the freedom to live wherever the heck they like.  Just like we do - isn't that awesome?

But then there are people like Tom and Michelle, the couple who are currently next to us.  They live in a Mitsubishi Pajero.  All the time.  Day after day, they sit in their car and if the weather is bad, they don't get out.  You would never know to look at them that they live in a car.  They're a good looking young couple, well presented, she always has her long blonde hair nicely brushed (which is more than I can say for me most of the time!) They've been staying here as long as we have and goodness knows how long they've been living in their car before that.  Then there's the middle aged man who was here for a couple of weeks who lives in his old saloon car.  He goes out to work every day and you always see him writing stuff on a clipboard.  We don't know how any of them do it - we sure as hell don't know how they sleep in there, along with all their worldly goods piled up to the ceiling and taking up every bit of available space but the saloon man always seems content, sitting outside reading his book.  He may not have much but life is simple I guess.  And Tom and Michelle always seem happy, chattering away to one another and walking everywhere hand in hand, just like Gareth and me.  Couples on the road always seem extra happy, even those in their seventies like Brian and Mrs Brian (whose name we have finally learned is Evelyn).  Makes sense considering we have all the time in the world for one another and get to see and enjoy so much.

Ken, our beloved home on wheels.  Quite a lot bigger than a Pajero
and a heck of a lot smaller than a bus.  But he's perfect for us!

As all these people show, there is no right or wrong way to travel.  Your home on wheels can be as big or small as you like, it doesn't matter as long as it works for you. I think a lot of people think you have to fork out thousands of dollars for a motor home to be able to hit the road and see the country but you really don't.  Getting out there and doing it - that's the main thing!  We're living proof that you don't need to go big to be happy.  I've also learned - both from other travellers and from staying put - that just because you live on the road permanently you don't need to be travelling constantly. It's OK to stop! A lot of people travel for a few months and then park up for a few months; others have a few weeks on and a few weeks off.  It's another one of the many joys of having no fixed abode, you get to choose where you live and for how long.  When we first realised we were going to be staying in Gore for a while I felt like a failure as a traveller.  I've since learned from the many people I've encountered here that in fact it's what most of them do.  Besides, it's nice to feel part of the community and have familiar faces in the shops asking us how Minnie is doing or how our insulation is working out!

Walk your own path.  Particularly if there might be whisky at the end of it

The biggest thing I have learned however from the past amazing six months, is that it's OK to walk your own path.  There are no rules in the invisible book of life which state that you have to live a certain way, follow the same timeline or do what everyone else is doing.  And the most important thing I have learned is not to waste a single minute of life chasing meaningless stuff.  No matter how much we strive to own in our time on this earth, no matter how successful we may think it makes us, we all leave this world with nothing, in the same wooden box.  Better to spend our days harnessing moments, gathering experiences and committing breathtaking views and feelings to memory than collecting possessions, because at the end of the day, those are all we have.

Our spectacular Southland view

Gareth at Poppelwell's Lookout

So with this in mind, we spent the most perfect day yesterday doing just that.  We went to Dolamore Park just out of Gore and spent the afternoon walking Whisky Creek, the Fantail Track and the Croydon Bush trail. Whisky Creek was named after the moonshiners who used to hide their stills in the area and we soon realised how Fantail Track got its name from all the dear little chaps who kept us company on the walk, merrily squeaking away to us and catching insects we helpfully disturbed for them with our footsteps.  The weather was perfect, warm and sunny and we climbed higher and higher for over an hour until eventually we reached the top of Poppelwell's Lookout.  Puffed as we were, it was well worth the hike to see the panoramic view of Southland laid out before us.  On a clear day you can see the landmark hill in Bluff almost 100 kilometres away and Stewart Island out to sea beyond that.  I still don't know what the secret to happiness is, but there was a whole lot of it in our little world yesterday.  We couldn't have chosen a better way to mark our half a year on the road!

Thursday, 4 May 2017

The rules are... there are no rules!

We have lots of interesting conversations, Gareth and me.  We've got plenty of time to I suppose! Before we met, he spent a few months travelling around Canada.  Too busy having a good time in the early days, he soon found himself out of money and at times unsure of where his next meal was coming from.  Sleeping on the street was a very real and fearful possibility.  Fortunately it never came to that, but despite all the hard times and challenges, despite having next to nothing to call his own, those times were some of the happiest of his life.

Mountains, forest, rocks and rivers make Gareth a happy chappy!

I can totally understand that.  It's a bit like where we are at now, except this time it's by choice!  We have never owned or got by with less, yet we are so much happier for it.  Life is just so much simpler when you're not encumbered by stuff.  Just like Gareth found in Canada, you don't waste your days feeling sorry for yourself and wishing for all the things you don't have.  You don't covet or envy anyone else what they have - quite the opposite.  It is what it is, you accept your limitations and are grateful for everything you do have.  In our case, it's about simply not having the space or facilities to be able to acquire anything more - but the feeling of happiness and freedom is still the same.  No matter how hard some days can be, no matter how chaotic, messy, rainy, muddy, leafy everything is or how much we trip over one another or knock things over, at the end of each day we snuggle up in our spaceship, warm and fed and everything is well in our little world.

My favourite book right now!

That's really what it boils down to you know, that's the important stuff.  The basic things you need to survive - food, warmth and shelter.  Everything else is just luxury really.  I've just finished reading a book by Miriam Lancewood called 'Woman in the Wilderness'.  As you might expect from the title, she and her partner have been living in the NZ bush for more than seven years.  I couldn't put the book down and most of all loved the fact that almost all the places they had called their wilderness home over the years were places we have visited ourselves in the past six months: Takaka, Matakitaki, Marlborough and Cape Reinga to name a few. Obviously like most people, I can't imagine what it must be like living in complete isolation the way Miriam and her husband did.  The rest of the world could literally end tomorrow and they would be completely oblivious.  I also can't imagine what it would be like to share a rat infested hut, survive on eating possums and having to wash my hair in my own wee to keep dandruff at bay!  But by the same token there are also a great deal of similarities between us.

Whilst we may not live in complete isolation, we do have a rather unique existence.  One thing Miriam found and struggled with was the slowing down of the mind.  When you live an every day life, in a house, with other people, or children, or a job, or hobbies, you have a million things to do. Correction, you MAKE a million things to do.  I did it too.  Modern society feels that we have to justify our existence by constantly being busy, constantly doing, making, being productive and if we don't?  We're a failure as human beings.  We're lazy good for nothings and we've wasted our day. Consequently we also spend a good part of our time beating ourselves up for all of the things we haven't done.  When you live on the road, that no longer happens.  You accept that you can only do so much.  It's taken probably this whole six months for me to adjust and be comfortable with that; 'that' being the fact that taking care of the basics each day is enough.  I think it's probably been necessary to stop for a while and be stuck in one place for that shift to happen.  Before then, when we were travelling we still constantly put ourselves under pressure.  Prior to setting out we always agreed we would never spend more than three hours a day driving, when in reality it would often turn out to be twice as long as that in our efforts to cover more ground, see more things.  Always gotta do more, always gotta see more.

These days, we are a lot more relaxed.  It's a bit like the old fashioned days I guess - when everything you do from dishes to washing clothes is done by hand, everything takes a good deal longer and before you know it half the day is gone just doing stuff like that.  It used to matter to me, I used to feel as though I had run out of time and hadn't done enough but now I just feel content.   I know I've achieved all I need to in the daylight hours I've been given and if not?  Well there's always tomorrow or the next day.

If I was any more laid back these days, I'd fall over!

Another great thing about living life away from the norm is that you are not constantly confronted with what everyone else is doing.  This was another area where I realised I was very like Miriam. Why is it, us humans have this obsessions with goals and invisible rules?  Why is it that we base our success on trying to achieve the same milestones as everyone else?  To be successful you need to go to uni when you leave school at 18.  To be successful you have to graduate by age 23, be married by 25, have kids by 30 and be a home owner by 40, preferably mortgage free.  I've known people who have slogged their guts out for years at degrees they have hated and gone on to work in a career they detest just because they 'didn't want to be a failure' by changing direction and doing what made them happy.  Good grief, where is the sense in that?  I haven't met anyone living on the road yet who is miserable or complains, 'God I wish my life wasn't this way!'  I guess it comes down to the old adage that money buys you happiness.  It's only when you get away from everyday life and live on the road or in the bush that you realise that you don't need money at all to be truly happy.  You may be reading this and thinking 'Yeah, but it helps!'  But that depends what it is you want.  Me?  I don't want anything more than what I have right now.  I really don't need it; the last six months have proved that.

This is the 'wardrobe' Gareth and I share.  It's 70cm long and we
have two compartments each.  This is literally all the clothes we need to get
by.  I guess you could call it a capsule wardrobe!

Saying that, it no doubt helps when you are not surrounded by people to compare yourself to.  I know, comparing yourself to others is never a good idea but it's human nature isn't it?  I've been comfortable with myself for a long time - at least, I thought I was - but it's only now I'm away from everything and everyone I realise that I truly am my own yardstick.  There's nobody else around for me to worry about whether they are thinner than me, fitter than me, prettier than me, smarter than me, a better cook than me - all of those things and a dozen more.  Why in God's name do we put this ridiculous pressure on ourselves?  It's crazy!

All that is left of our old house in storage - 
we've done without it for six months, can't even tell you what's
in it any more!

Living on the road there is no pressure apart from the need to stay fed, warm and dry.  That in itself can be a real battle when the weather gods are against you and that is enough.  I really struggled with selling my house.  Even though it was my choice and I don't miss it for a second I still felt like a failure.  However I've since realised that it's OK.  It's OK not to own a house.  In fact it's OK if you NEVER own a house!  Who knew?!  I mean sheesh, when I think about it I know heaps of friends - 'successful' people you would probably say; business owners, really smart people who I thought had it all.  I never imagined for a moment they didn't own their own home, I just assumed they did and found out only recently they didn't.  Unless they win the lottery they probably never will. Do I think less of them for not owning their own home?  Do I wonder how much they earned or what they did with all their money?  Hell no!  Yet I worried what people thought of me.  These days I own less than I have ever owned in my whole life and I don't give a stuff!

Tuesday, 2 May 2017

From Camper Van to Spaceship!

Greetings from the SS Ken - Star Ship Ken, that is!  That's what it feels like anyway, cocooned away from the rest of the world in our thermally modified vehicle.  With less than a month to go until winter, the temperature is dropping fast and we are doing our best to be prepared for whatever Mother Nature throws at us here in Southland.  Gore is really weird weather wise!  Most of the time it's weird as in good - when everyone else is getting bombarded with storms and endless rain, Gore is blessed with clear skies and sunshine.  Even all the locals tell us that compared to the rest of Southland, winters in Gore are not that bad.  Still, we never know what each day is going to bring. One day the sun will be shining but the air feels arctic; the next the sky is dark.  All day.  Clear but dark, with the merest teasing hint of golden light underneath, far in the distance but it never makes it up to the surface.  Apparently that's quite common in Gore.

Here's Gore for you - golden and glorious one day!

Dark and dreary the next!

Today however it is raining.  A lot.  The ground outside is squelchy, the rain is clattering on the roof and the sky is a dismal grey.  We're going to be holed up here for a couple of days at least but thanks to my obsession with watching the weather we were well and truly ready for it.  We've spent the last two days installing extra insulation in Ken.  Whilst the dehumidifier works brilliantly, as the air has got colder and damper, our sleeping area was once again suffering from severe damp and condensation.  It makes us feel slightly better to know we're not alone here; even the biggest, flashest motor homes have all been driving past with 'crying windows'.  It's hardly surprising when your house is made of metal!  And in all honesty I did think that it was a little too good to be true to think that we were going to get away so lightly all year round.  When you live the way we do, you do what you can, you think outside the square and you do your best.  And if that doesn't work, well you just try and think of something else!

Damp Buster 1: Installing thermal foil screens

The first thing we did was to install thermal bubble foil on the inside of the bedroom windows.  This we did relatively easily using those big foil thingys you put on the inside of your car windscreen to protect against the elements.  I know, makes perfect sense right!  Cheap too, as we bought them from the Warehouse when they were 50% off.  The most expensive part of this exercise was the industrial strength velcro tape we got from Mitre 10 for $27 to attach the screens securely to the windows, but even that we got twice as much use from, as Gareth realised the tape was wide enough for us to cut in half.  The result was we were super toasty that night!  It made the inside of the van so much warmer and although we woke up to a temperature of just two degrees, we weren't affected by the chilly air. We had also managed to stay nice and dry.  Excellent!

Damp Buster 2: Bubble wrapping the windows!
Might not be pretty but it works!

What wasn't excellent was when we peeked inside the foil and saw that the glass behind was still soaking wet - worse than before in fact.  The reason for this was that although the foil was protecting us from getting wet, it was only acting as a guard against condensation, not a preventative.  At that moment I knew exactly what we needed - something which would adhere right against the glass and stop the moisture from being able to form.  'We need to bubble wrap the windows!' I grinned to Gareth. I remembered seeing the tip on Simple Savings and indeed had tried it on our bedroom windows last winter in the old house with success.  So off we traipsed to town again and picked up a huge roll of bubble wrap from Mitre 10 for $16.  This gave us enough to not only wrap the windows but also enough to line our storage space under the bed too, where despite installing several 'Damp Rid' containers they held not a drop of moisture whilst in the weeks that followed our clothes had become actually wet.  

Despite getting really over this whole insulation business we both worked as a team, measuring, trimming and sticking until at last we were done.  It's one of the best things about living on the road, working together, finding solutions for stuff and above all, keeping on smiling.  Now we had an extra layer of protection to go underneath our foil screens AND had the thick blinds to roll down over the top!  You're probably wondering 'how the heck is she going to be able to see to drive with bubble wrap on the windows?!'  Simple - being the long windows down the side of the van you don't actually need to see out of them to drive anyway.  When you're in a van the size of Ken you have mirrors covering every available line of vision - boy, do we have a lot of mirrors!  

Job done, we once again tucked up for the night and again we were warm as toast as the rain belted down throughout the night.  We woke up late this morning (our sleeping area is rather darker now!) and Gareth tentatively pulled back the blind to assess the damp.  'Nothing.  It's dry!' he said.  Success!  At least for now.  We know it's going to get a lot colder and a lot wetter and who knows how that might affect us.  It may work for the whole winter, it may not but we'll cross that bridge when we come to it.  

Nothing we appreciate more than a free meal!

Our tiny crockpot, full to the brim with lamb stew.
You can see how dark it is today!

It's just another of several bridges we are trying to cross at the moment.  The main one being whether to try and survive the winter in Gore or whether to head north for a few months only to have to come all the way back down again to where we want to be.  We both really love Gore and we've grown really fond of our camping spot, it feels like home.  It's a bit like a tiny village really!  There's us, the 'young ones', then there's Brian and his wife (we still don't know her name, we just call her Mrs Brian!) and their little dog Brandy. They've been here around 18 months, doing up their big bus. There's also Bevin, the caretaker and his beautiful red setter Inca who are here every day.  Apart from that there's not too many people around these days, it's starting to get very quiet but it's always nice to meet new neighbours.  Only yesterday Bevin brought us some neck chops from one of his own sheep to make a lamb stew, which Gareth has thrown together in our tiny crockpot whilst I've been writing this.  There's never a day that goes by where we don't feel extremely lucky or blessed in some way.  Is it any wonder we struggle to leave!

For this month at least, we don't really have a choice but to stay, as Minnie is still receiving vet treatment.  She's been confirmed as having hypothyroidism and the vet is hopeful that her new medication will make the world of difference.  With a bit of luck after the end of the month we can move on properly but travelling will potentially be more difficult as winter progresses, particularly here in the South where the roads and conditions are unknown to us. Winter is going to suck at times, we're under no illusions there.  It's going to be hard and it's going to be challenging but we KNOW that.  We just have to get through it, in our shiny, silver foiled, bubbly spaceship!