Thursday, 30 August 2012

Rest & Recovery

“Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul.”
― John Muir
I’ve just finished a run of night shifts at work, and I’m pretty tired, on top of that I’ve managed to catch a nasty cold. So not to be deterred I found a great place to park up until I’m recovered:

It’s so peaceful up here, and it’s been pleasantly sunny all afternoon. I’ve just been wandering around here, and relaxing, watching the giant dragonflies which are in abundance here.

Walk a short way in one direction and there is a view over the valley and out to the Irish sea, and in the other the rocky mountain summits can be seen.

I think I’ll just lay here and watch the sun go down through the trees… A good evening to all!
If you’d like something interesting to watch, there is a great documentary on iplayer about John Muir hosted by none other than the noble Scotsman, Neil Oliver. Saw it last night. Enjoy!

Wednesday, 29 August 2012

90's New Age Travellers documentary

A reminder of what happened in the UK in the 90′s when more and more people started to form mobile communities:
Unless there are places to go, and move between, living in community on the road is going to lead to trouble. 

I think the main issue with the peace convoy was that it grew so large, and the vehicles became bigger and more elaborate. Where could there possibly be to park and live in a sustainable way with such a group on the road? Especially in the UK where the land is so overpopulated to begin with and almost all rural land is privately owned.

Its a very different story if you are a single person, or a couple travelling. Of course the economics of the situation are always questionable - even if those questions are only asked when a large community starts to cause problems for the existing settled communities. It was a fascinating time, looking back, and raised many questions for society about the meaning of freedom.

Thanks for visiting!

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Tuesday, 28 August 2012

Toyota Hiace overdrive solenoid bypass mod | Overdrive not working automatic gearbox

Today the van underwent surgery – in fact it turned out to be like a trip to the dentists..
Recently my o/d (overdrive, top gear) stopped working, and I have been stuck with four gears, and a safe top speed of around 45mph without too much over revving of the engine.
The automatic Hiace has a ‘o/d off’ button on the gear stick. You might use this if you wanted to hold 4th gear, for example when towing a heavy load downhill, to take advantage of engine braking, or to stop the engine jumping in and out of top gear on a gentle climb.
The ability for the gearbox to shift into top gear is governed by a solenoid mounted on the rear transmission casing. It can be controlled by this switch, but is also governed by certain other conditions being met in the circuit controlled by an o/d ECU. (for example temp, and speed sensors can play a part in this).
To try and repair my van, initially the transmission fluid had been changed, and the filter cleaned, and the engine temp sensor bypassed neither of which cured the problem. Then I had an auto electrician check the circuits for response – it appeared that it was unlikely the problem lay there.
If it were possible to mechanically (hydraulically) bypass the o/d solenoid that would eliminate all electrics from the system, and mean that the gearbox will always shift into o/d at the appropriate speed. It is possible!

Here is how I did it:
Tools needed:
Spanners, 12mm & 10mm
Philips screwdriver
Large G-clamp
Hi speed drill with grinding bits
Inspection lamp
Oil pan – (clean)
Masking tape
One of the girlfriends stockings
Small funnel
Bench vice with soft grips
1. Go under the van on the passenger side (RHD van) and remove the rear driveshaft protection shield – 3x 12mm bolts.
2. Using inspection lamp to get a clear view, locate the o/d solenoid on the side of the transmission case. Clean the area as well as possible – you don’t want to get any dirt into the transmission. Remove the cable clamps with appropriate spanners and then locate the solenoid plug and unplug it. Its located here: (bottom right of pic with cable attached, you don’t need to remove the gearbox – just an example pic)
3. Remove the rubber cap from the sensor beside the solenoid and remove the earth cable with Philips screw.

Earth cable and solenoid plug
4. Now you can either drain the transmission fluid from the gearbox, or as I did, put an oil pan in position, remove the two 12mm bolts from the solenoid and quickly position a clean g-clamp over the hole when you remove the solenoid (make sure the outer o-ring remains in place to seal the hole, and the clamp can grip onto the trans pan – don’t over tighten) Catch leaking oil, which will spurt out, in the oil pan.
5. Now you have the solenoid in your hand:

Remove the small rubber o-ring, and clean the solenoid well with a clean cloth, removing any loose particles, and as much trans oil as you can from the holes. You can now connect the solenoid to a 12v battery to test it – in the case of mine it did not operate. This means that the fluid never gets a chance to flow freely through the solenoid via these holes and allow the o/d gear to engage. To bypass this we must grind a channel to the depth of the small o-ring groove, between the holes.

Look closely behind the bigger hole, there’s a gap behind it – you don’t want to get any dirt or filings in here when you start grinding – it would not be easy to flush out, so block up the holes with little pieces of cloth and tape it up:

6. Now, clamp the solenoid in a vice with soft grips and use the grinding bits in the drill to grind the channel. Bringing back all your memories of trips to the dentists. You want it to end up looking like this:

I used an air line to blast away any filings before removing the tape and the cloth. Make sure its as clean as possible prior to re-assembly.
7. Now fit the solenoid back on the transmission case using the outer o-ring only this time. If you didn’t drain the transmission and used a g-clamp this will be messy, make sure and catch the oil that spills out.
8. You could just cut the wires off. I connected mine all back up (except the plug) in case I want to replace the solenoid in the future – I will have all the parts in the right places.
9. Filter the oil you caught through a stocking for example, to make sure its clean, and then using a funnel pour it back into the transmission through the transmission dip stick hole. (Or change your transmission oil if you drained the gearbox. Good idea to do this if it hasn’t been done in a while.) I recommend a full drain of the ATF oil to do this job, and a clean refill of oil afterward. Especially if it hasn't been changed in a while.
10. When everything is properly reassembled go for a test drive – you should now have your overdrive back again! (only now you cannot switch it off from the button on the gear stick). Mine changes super smooth at 45 mph – it always feels like it changes at the appropriate point for the driving conditions, revs etc.
11. Check for leaks around the solenoid when you get back, and over the next few days to make sure the seal is intact.
12. Remember to check the transmission fluid level after a day or two. I discovered that mine was a bit too high (possibly some had been trapped in the overdrive and released when the solenoid was freed up) as it had been last done with the solenoid out of action.

Do leave your thoughts and experiences in the comments section and we can build up an additional resource for the future SC Hiace owners..

If this post helped you get your van back on the road, you have saved yourself a lot of money! If you can afford it, please consider making me a reasonable donation (the button is on the right side-bar) - I could certainly use it! Thanks!

Take care, and see you soon! 

Sunday, 26 August 2012

Quiet Sunday Spot

I parked in a quiet place to sleep after working night shift and did a bit of 4WD on the way there:
Finally ran out of propane after 5 months ; )

Wednesday, 22 August 2012

August Zen Sesshin

At the weekend I attended BMZCs August sesshin with Paul Haller, at Benburb priory near Armagh. I was unable to attend the whole retreat (from tues to Sunday) due to other commitments, but know from past experience that a weekend can be a great opportunity to settle the body/mind and reconnect with a deeper more connected way of living. Also I have the comfort of my own bed in the van each night, and the option to prepare my own meals when I prefer to.

I arrived on Friday evening and decided to give my full and best effort to the weekends sitting and walking meditation. There are two hours of zazen/kinhin (sitting/walking) and I endeavoured to be alert and present with all my energy. This is usually possible at the beginning of a retreat, before the body and mind rebel, and it becomes much more of a challenge over the following day.

I had an amazingly peaceful and restful nights sleeping Friday night, which is not always to be expected on sesshin. Often intense dreams and restlessness can be the case as one settles in. The first sit of Saturday was at 6:20am and the day proceeded to be a mix of times of clarity, times of sleepiness, troubles invading my mind, and the perception of time taking different shapes and forms at different periods of the day.

There is always the option to find encouragement through a personal encounter with the teacher (Dokusan) but previous experience has taught me that if I give my full attention to the morning dharma talk, and find inspiration and some feeling of the way on a deeper than words level from that, then simply making the best effort to sit with and through whatever bodily, emotional, mental weather I encounter, leads to a growing spaciousness and freedom after a day or so of storms coming and going.

So this was just what happened. Expanding the circle of acceptance to just bear witness to whatever arose, and even my judgements and reactions to it brought me through the dense woods into a peaceful forest clearing where birds sang and butterflies coloured the sun dappled greens and yellows of a warm breeze, the hints of dark clouds dispersing, nourishing the lushness with its gentle humidity.

Of course life is not perfect now, then, and never will be but it is ok to be alive and if you watch & listen carefully, you know, you just might enjoy it.

I was inspired to make these photos on Saturday night as I lay on my couch in the van on that humid evening listening to the Benburb crow colony, settling down for their night among the treetops, perched high above my house, side door open, listening to the life of the night..
A student doing some night walking meditation
View through my scarf curtain on the main house at Benburb Priory

Tuesday, 21 August 2012

VW Westfalia camper van fridge repair

So for a while now, my fridge has been a bit temperamental running on propane, sometimes it won’t spark to light, and it doesn’t get that cold on gas. I’ve just discovered a few Youtube videos on how to fix it and I have the fridge service manual pdf as well. It seems that the ignition needs the gap adjusted, and the burner just needs a good clean out. Here is a great video on the subject:
I’ll add this to my list of jobs to do soon.
Update: 9th May 2013 - I've now had the fridge repaired a week or so by following these instructions. Its very simple and less cleaning out was needed than in the video. My fridge is now ice-cold running on propane gas.

Thursday, 16 August 2012

Travels and Camping

Just back from a trip to Cavan, Leitrim and Down visiting friends and generally having a great time camping. Here’s a photo taken at my friends place, off the grid in Cavan.
This picture is taken from a mobile home on his land, looking down into the forestry land where I was set up with the van. The mobile has a wood burning stove for winter heat as well as cooking, hot water etc. His cottage also has solar power (3 x 70 watt panels) and there is a compost toilet in the woods. It’s always been one of my favourite destinations to get away from city life.
I set up my awning when camping in the woods now, and it’s been great for hanging out wet clothes to dry. It rained quite a bit there and it was like having another room – the plastic awning extends out, doubling the width of the van. I have plans to use tarps to close in the ends too now – lets see how that goes…

Wednesday, 8 August 2012


Chilling in the sunshine after a swim..
Let’s go for a Chinese – I can’t think of a better idea :)

Tuesday, 7 August 2012

Delica off road - looks like fun

I just came across this on YouTube during my lunch break – looks like a lot of fun…
Delica off-road camping trip..

Monday, 6 August 2012

Van Zendo - Zen meditation in a Hiace Camper Van

Sometimes people ask me, ‘How do you meditate in there? There doesn’t seem to be much room to sit.’ Well the answer is typically a camper van solution – the space is converted into whichever room you need:
Living room, dining room, bedroom, or.. Zendo: 
As you can see there is plenty of room for a zafu, and zabuton, a blank surface to face, and I can even sit on a raised platform – something I could never do in a real house. It is also very peaceful and comfortable to sit there, and if you want a city zendo, you have a city zendo, if you want a forest zendo you have a forest zendo, the same applies to coastal zendo, mountain zendo, seaside living room, mountain restaurant etc ;) It also feels very much that you are connected to your surrounding environment in a more intimate way – the feeling is a bit like camping, but without the cold and wet when its raining, and with just enough extra comfort.
So I hope my answer has enlightened you!

Sunday, 5 August 2012

Testing the roof rack on the Hiace camper van Hitop

Yesterday evening a friend helped me load a boat onto the roof to test the set-up and experiment with ways of loading/unloading and securing the boat on the roof. We also took it for a test drive, and everything was solid. (click to enlarge)
It is very high up to load however and a ladder is needed, as well as two people, though I am working on a way of doing it single-handedly that I’m confident will work out. I also think the addition of some kayak cradles on the roof bars would add to my confidence, especially on longer journeys. Something like this is the usual solution:
Although I think that this is an interesting idea, and would be easy to make up from a piece of foam:
Its good to have this job done as I’ve been thinking about the best way to do it for a long time. I’ll get the things I need to make loading easier next week hopefully.

Saturday, 4 August 2012

Fitting roof bars to a Hiace Hitop camper van / Solar power update

I finally got my roof bars fitted for the kayaks! (and routed the solar panel cable through the roof). I ended up doing it all myself, as the guy I had tried to organise to do it didn’t come through in the end. I actually think I have done a better job though, and my roof bar solution looks much more in keeping with the van than the one that had been suggested:
To get there I first had to find a set of bars that have flat feet and holes for roof mounting. This turned out not to be so easy, as most roof racks are vehicle specific these days, and have all manner of clamps and devices to mount them. After a bit of investigation it turned out that a Renault Kangoo van has threaded holes in its roof, and so I was able to get the bars and feet made for it.
After removing the head cloth and plywood ceiling, I mounted two alloy channels on the inside of the glass fibre roof to give support and strength, placing them above the roof bulkheads for extra support:
Here you can also see the roof insulation which explains why it stays so toasty up there on cold nights.
The feet where then mounted on the roof, having drilled right through the roof and the alloy channels, sealed with marine silicone sealant, and bolted in place with 3/8 fasteners:
You can also see the solar panel cable going through the roof here too, through a rubber grommet, and also sealed in. It was great to get it all finally finished and a neat job well done!
All I have to do now is test it out with the boats – hopefully this sunday will be the day. Obviously its quite high up, but with the use of a ladder it will be possible to secure the boats up there. Using a trailer may be easier to load, but makes it more difficult to manoeuvre, and also increases the cost of ferry crossings quite a bit. I am already thinking up a solution to loading a kayak single handed – lets see how that goes!
I’ve been using the solar panel for about a month now, and its surpassing my expectations. If I use lights and the computer in the evening for a few hours, it always reaches full charge again in a couple of hours in the morning with the battery monitor flashing. I have also fitted a battery voltage gauge to show me the battery condition:
The solar charge controller: