Summer trip 2014 is completeLive tracking is has been turned off (but can still be seen)

In specs we trust

A few days ago I made a USB charger for my bike.

Today I made another using the same model charger as the base of my charger. This was a bit different.

While last time I just potted the where the leads attached to the main PCB, this time I potted the whole thing in the kneadable epoxy.

Why? It’s even more stable than the silicon tape I used to hold things together.

Aren’t I afraid that the unit will short out or overheat?

No. Because the specs say so.

I looked up the technical data sheet for the epoxy I was using from Henkel and got the low-down on it.

The resistivity of the epoxy is measured in Tera-Ohms. TΩ. This means it’s effectively not conductive. The oils from your skin lead to larger leakage currents.

The thermal conductivity is also pretty good. At 1.016 W/(m•K) it’s far better than that of free air. Not only that but the charger was designed to sit in the cigarette lighter socket and it’s fully enclosed in plastic itself. By potting it in the epoxy I’m doing it a favor!

Otherwise, the procedure I followed last time is the same here. Strip off the outer case. Solder the pairs of positive and negative terminals together (not to each other!). Solder on the leads that go to the SAE connector. Make a light pipe.

The only thing I had to do was use some card stock as a shield to prevent the epoxy from interfering with the grounding fingers of the USB socket.

Now I have, essentially, a rock that is a USB charger.  :-)

Work mode

I’ve had two weeks off.

Tomorrow I get to go back to work again for the first time in 16 days.

The last time I had this much time off was back when I came to Seattle when I had a month “off” but most of that was work in its own right.

Before that it was the trip down the Blue Ridge Parkway back in 2010 when I was off for a real two weeks as well.

In the end I’m glad that I managed to get home last Tuesday night. It took most of the balance of the time to get back into the swing of things. Wednesday I was just in a daze. Thursday I was ornery. Friday I got a long massage and started to feel a bit more like myself. The weekend finally felt like a weekend.

And tomorrow I get to go on call. heh.

I think I’m ready. I do feel a lot more relaxed and good to go.

Trip 2014 by the numbers

Distance: 2428 miles

Gas used: Wasn’t counting… probably around 60 gallons

Maximum elevation: 9970 (grrr — so close!)

Minimum elevation: Sea level

Cops seen: 9

  • Biker cop who waved
  • Bottom of hill
  • Pacific setting up a speed trap
  • On Wards Ferry
  • After Lassen
  • Near Mono Lake
  • Ranger next to Bodie
  • Ranger after Lava Beds
  • I5 coming home

Tickets: 0

Number of times I could have gotten a ticket: bunches

Animals:

  • Birds (various)
  • Deer
  • Mouse
  • Squirrels
  • Chipmunks (bunches became friends with me at Lassen)
  • Jackrabbit (one whole, one parts)
  • Frogs

Dirt roads of note: 5

  • Old Briceland Road
  • Usal Road
  • Cemetery Road near Mono Lake
  • Cottonwood Canyon Road (x2) – To and from Bodie
  • Medicine Road (to Lava Beds)

Other oddities: 2x  F-15 playing and practicing landings

Biker gangs outrun: 1

Cans of spam: 1

Cans of beef stew: 1

Cans of soup: 1

Cans of beans: 0

Days camping: 7

  • Barview Jetty State Park
  • Humboldt Redwoods State Park
  • Salt Point State Park
  • Yosemite National Park
  • Oh Ridge, Inyo National Forest
  • Lassen National Park
  • Lava Beds National Monument

Crashes: 1 (more of a tip)

Ankles twisted: 1

Anything else you want to know?

A USB charger for my motorcycle

A long while back I bodged together a USB charger.

One of these charger outputs failed on the last day of my trip.

In this case the one on the left died. I did a quick diagnostic on it but nothing obvious seemed to be amiss with it. Honestly even if something was buggered up I doubt that I would fix it since it’s cheaper to replace.

I built that back in 2011. Things have moved on since then. I used two discrete packages since at the time since there wasn’t any high current chargers at the time.

This time around I picked up a Scosche 2x12W charger that I figured would require less hacking.

Before I voided the warrantee I made sure things worked.

Sure enough it does.

Warrantee: voided.

A quick search on the K34AB part number turned up nothing. From looking at the parts though it looks like a standard buck downconverter with a bit of decoupling on the front-end. There’s a big tantalum cap next to the brains, and on the other side there’s a massive SMD inductor.

Quickly I chopped off the input connections. I didn’t trace the circuit all the way out, but both positive and negative went to two different connections. Odd. I made sure to keep that and just spin them together.

I checked this and it worked fine. (check out the glowing blue led)

This seemed fragile though. I had an old stick of Loctite Magic Steel kneadable epoxy. I checked the spec sheet for the stuff and it’s an insulator. Score.

I molded some up as a strain relief for the connection. I know that a simple solder joint isn’t enough to hold up to actual stress.

I took some random tubing I had in the shop to make up a light pipe for the led:

Wrapped up in some silicon tape and Bob’s your uncle!

The reason I really wanted to not use the cigarette connector is twofold:

  1. The connection is pretty dodgy in my tank bag.
  2. The socket for the connector is huge when looked at in the tank bag. It looks small in your car’s dashboard, but out by itself it’s pretty big. Especially in a limited space environment.

The other side of the wire in a standard SAE connector. It’s the same one that I can use to hook up my air compressor or my Battery Tender. It’s wired in through a 10A fuse straight to the battery.

The nice thing about the SAE connector is that it’s built for a lot more reliability than the cigarette lighter. In the end the original design was just to heat up something to light a cigarette — reliability wasn’t a concern at all.

I think the end result looks pretty good.

And it’s smaller than the old one it’s replacing!

When electrical attacks

When I got home on Tuesday I learned from En that the dishwasher had stopped working.

She’d done the standard cleaning and stuff to it but it just seemed to not do anything on the front panel. No lights, nothing.

My first instinct was that this was a power issue, not specifically a dishwasher issue.

Step one: take off the kick plate and verify that the circuit was live.

Here’s what I saw:

Oy.

That’s a bit melty.

I checked with my non-contact electrical tester and sure enough the now bare wire was hot. The black stranded wire from the dishwasher was obviously not hot since it wasn’t attached any more.

A bit of guessing with the breaker box I found the circuit for the dishwasher (unlabeled of course). I had enough extra from the wall drop that I just chopped off the entire end and started fresh. Sure enough things worked fine.

My guess is there was a bad connection at the wire nut that led to some arcing and heating that melted off the insulation of the hot wire from the wall.

The offending wire nut wasn’t even attached any more. And a bit charred and melty.

The remnants of the wires. You could tell a lot of heat had been injected into that box. It’s good that the entire thing is enclosed in a metal box otherwise I’m sure this could have easily started a fire! :-O

Adventure Hangover

This happens every time.

When I get home I’m just really disoriented.

When for more than a week you’re primate goal is to go and survive (or is that survive and go) you get to point of routine.

My days consisted of:

  • Break camp
  • Make instant coffee
  • Batten down the bike
  • Head to the next location (and tour around in the process)
  • Find some internet to post (more later)
  • Get some lunch
  • Go some more
  • Get gas and something to eat
  • Find a camp
  • Set up camp
  • Make dinner
  • Blog
  • Clean up and make the camp bear safe
  • Figure out where to go the next day
  • Read
  • Sleep

This gets to be comforting in a Stockholm Syndrome type of way.

Break the routine and things just are strange.

I guess you have to ask why I do this, but I’ve already answered it.

It doesn’t change the result though.

All I could wind up doing today was ingest all the media I took on the trip. Perhaps 300-400GB or so. I’m trying to come up with a narrative for my movie now.

I use the term movie in a loose way, by the way.  :-)

Lassen to Lava Beds – or – who needs a left ankle, you have two anyway

I had a fun ride to the Lava Beds today. It was mostly “normal” as one would expect in an unvisited portion northern California.

I started off with a good start — my neighbor in Lassen, Kristen (or however she spells it) offered me a hard-boiled egg for breakfast. I’m guessing this is in repayment for me giving her fire in the form of matches the night before.

It’s hard to describe most of it as anything other than fun.

Then I went the “adventurous” route (as specced on Lava Beds’ web site). This brought me next to Medicine Lake. It seemed to be a cold, overcast Monday so only a few folks were even there. The ride there was more than entertaining though. A shoddily maintained, seldom traveled, 1.5 – 2 lane road. The potholes were only occasional and even when I hit them the GS soaked them up like a sponge.

Once past Medicine Lake (which, honestly I expected a town around) the road shrunk to a real one laner with an occasional turn-off for the non-existent traffic.

Then it went to gravel. No worries… I had set things up for dirt before I got there. It was just a bit twitchy — even with the steering damper. God knows what it would be like without it.

Then it went to crap.

I later learned that there were a few stretches of “pavement.” Scare quotes since this road looked like it was bombed. Well, after that they ripped up the pavement and threw down some soft silty dirt and applied some gravel on top for good measure. I had some pucker moments, but all was well.

Until I tried to stop for the requisite photo-op of the bike with the sign.

A dabbed a tad more front brake than the surface could handle at < 5mph. I was unceremoniously dumped off the right side in the effectively 0-mph tip-over. And I have it on video! Joy! ;-) I even have the righting of the bike on the same clip. What fun.

Nothing damaged except my ego. That’s later.

I get to the visitor center to register. The ranger behind the desk, Jesse if memory serves, “you did that on a bike?!” :-)

No worries. I asked about what there was to do in the park. There’s lava caves or “you could hike the three sisters trail, it’s an easy hike with no real elevation gain.”

So I did.

Maybe going out in the desert alone wasn’t a good idea. (Full disclosure, I also brought along the Spot messenger in case something really bad happened. Ennie was tracking me so it was obviously working)

What if you twist an ankle?

Well, let me tell you from experience: you keep walking.

It was awfully pretty for the first four or five miles. So much to see. Lava tubes (more on that hopefully tomorrow), wildlife including a deer and a jackrabbit. Just the awesome desolation of the desert. And how it really is alive, though not ver hospitable to humans. Lots of pictures were taken.

Then, as the trail did a loop outside the boundaries of the park, the trail became almost non-existent. I was walking on a what looked like a Jeep trail from the 50′s — overgrown and barely able to make out the tire tracks. I got worried enough to mark the last known good point on my phone before trekking on.

I was expecting this to be a three hour walk. I was already two hours in and I wasn’t even to the half-way point. And I was half through with the water I brought with me. :-O

It turns out I was able to follow the trail back into the park. Thankfully.

Then I rolled my left ankle.

Ach.

Nothing to do but keep walking. For another five or so miles I trudged onward.

Eventually I made it back to my camp — just in time for it to start raining. I suppose some deity was smiling on me because the rain held off until I was back “home.”

Wait. I’m in the desert. Rain? Wazzat?

Remember… that which does not kill you makes you stronger.

Heh… and no bellyaching either.

Update from the next morning — the ankle is still sore, but not dreadfully painful. I also woke up to an absolutely beautiful clear blue sky with some hazy clouds in the distance. This was one of the first nights that I didn’t at all feel cold. I guess that’s what you get with lower elevations.

Today: Heading to Crater Lake — maybe further.

Endgame

Traveling north I’m starting to think of home. While moving away from my life in Seattle there’s the feeling of fear and uncertainty that kept nagging. (Why? Don’t really know.)

On the way back north I’m thinking more and more about spending time with En and sleeping in my own bed.

The plan going into this was to come home on Saturday. The way things are feeling right now I might cut that short a few days. Thinking about being only a few (four or five) hours away from my home and peeps makes it all the harder to put in all the work to set up camp, do the chores, sleep in the tent, break camp, and move on.

Yeah, I know, that’s what I’m doing… but so much internal conflict.

I know… first world problems.

Truckee to Lassen (Sunday)

Inexplicably I woke up early in the morning — before the alarm on my phone went off.

I decided instead of trying to force the issue and try to get more sleep I would actually just get up out of bed. I quickly got myself presentable and headed off to get some breakfast. Some eggs and bacon a waffle was what I called breakfast.

All the while I was browsing my iPad just catching up with stuff.

Then I looked at the weather. It didn’t look concerning with a blob to the east of where I’m staying. Hitting the “play” button to animate the radar image I suddenly panicked. I’m used weather going east. Nope. Not today. Today the purple blob was just about to hit Truckee and moving northwest.

Shit.

I hurriedly gather up my stuff, loaded up my bike and drove off as the first few drops were starting to fall.

Picking up some speed I outran the storm! :-D

The drive to Lassen was an entertaining one. Not a lot of people on the road early on a Sunday morning made for a nice ride. Even as I got closer to the national park the traffic stayed light.

THe previous night I had scoped out where I was going to stay so finding a campground wasn’t hard at all. I was to stay in a non-reservable loop in the South Summit Lake campground. Since I left so early I wasn’t at all concerned with finding a spot.

And I found a perfect one.

I set up my site early and commenced chilling well before 2 PM. :-D

What got me even happier was when I said “hi” to someone walking by…

“I’m just looking to see where I can pull in my big rig…”

“This is a tent only loop.”

“Thanks.”

:-)

Yep… no fucking generators tonight! I can actually hear the sounds of nature!

My camp site already had a pile of dead wood lying by the fire ring. It was too big, so my saw came in handy to resize the logs to be fuel-sized. Nice.

I built a quick and relatively low fire to add some warmth to the quickly chilling evening. Boiling some water for the freeze-dried dinner took no time (well, five minutes). While the bag was rehydrating I fed the fire to grow it from kindling to bigger logs.

I sat there reading by the fire sipping a bit of Scotch until I started to hear peels of thunder from behind me. I took that as the signal for me to put out the fire and crawl into my sleeping bag to finish the chapter.

The next morning was warm, dry, and sunny. Another perfect morning on this trip.

Camping with all the comforts of home

This isn’t about me. It’s about many of my neighbors with whom which I’ve camped in the past couple of days.

Next to me in Yosemite was a German couple (maybe with a kid, it was hard to tell). They pulled into the camp at around 8:30. Went to the bathroom and did nothing but stay in their rented RV. Their generator was immediately fired up and was on until they weren’t allowed to by camp rules.

In the morning, as soon as they could fire up the generator… you know it… it was chugging away. They thankfully left soon after that. They wound up being my rolling chicane after I had caught up to them.

My neighbors here at Oh Ridge have their generator going as well. Not just that, but they’ve even set up a little Dish Network receiver.

If your TV shows and air conditioning from home are so important, why don’t you just stay home?!

Is to too much to ask to not camp without wearing the earplugs I wear during the ride?

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