Thursday, October 15, 2009

Road Rig Winter Upgrades

In preparation for my drive to -- and winter in -- Alaska, I've made a few upgrades to my "Road Rig."

Starting with the front end: I know from experience that it is almost always dark during the Alaskan winter, and that driving on the "highways" can be pretty treacherous because of it. Being able to see what's far down the road is essential for avoiding not only snow drifts, slicks, etc., but also moose. They are frequently on the roads because it is easier to walk on them than through the snow, so you have to really watch out for them. Hitting a moose will do serious damage to your vehicle -- maybe even total it and kill you -- and create quite a problem with wildlife laws, etc.

So, first thing, I ordered an array of auxiliary head lights. The large ones in the middle are long-distance spot lights. Out from those are wider and flatter beam fog lamps. On the outside are basic floodlights which are good for lighting up the sides of the road and illuminating broad areas such as dog yards, race prep areas, etc. They are all "HID" lights -- "high intensity discharge" -- and they are very, very bright.

The question of where and how to mount them on the truck melded with two other issues: Some front-end protection and some "get yourself out of trouble" assistance. The bumper complex you see has it all: A 15,000 pound winch and "brush guards" which probably won't protect against a hi-speed collision with a moose but will hopefully provide some protection. Overall, it's quite an installation which -- though I hope to not have to use it all -- gives me some confidence about being prepared.

The blue power cord you see hanging out is another significant upgrade. Everywhere you look in Alaska you see such cords hanging out of the from of vehicles. They are for plugging into electrical outlets that are available at practically every parking lot, garage and house. It gets so cold that your vehicle's systems can literally freeze up if left unheated. The solution is to add heating pads to your engine block, oil pan, battery and transmission. That's what I've done and I hope it will help me both to start in the cold and make winter life a little less damaging for Darth.

Something else I knew I wanted was a "truck box" for carrying tools, winch accessories, tow straps, jumper cables and even some spare fuel cans. I got one and fitted it out with everything I want to carry, and it rides perfectly in the bed of the truck. The problem, though, was what to do with it when the camper was in the truck bed!

The solution that occurred to me was to make a metal carrying frame for it that would mount into the hitch receiver in the back and let it ride behind the camper. My good friend Rob helped me design and fabricate just such a fixture, and it works perfectly. Besides carrying the box, it serves as a handy "back porch" for my camper! A few other truck/camper drivers have seen it and have asked where I got it, so I guess it makes sense to other folks as well.

That's about it for winter upgrades. To the best of my experience, thinking and anticipation, I'm as well prepared as I can be.

You can be sure that I'll let you know how it all works out!

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