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Alpaca Farm!! (LOTS of pics!)

(Charisse) Our getaways usually revolve around an outdoor activity: mountain biking, kayaking, snow sports, backpacking, etc. But sometimes, what you really need is to take a couple days to rest, breathe, and completely unplug. And, we hadn’t planned much to celebrate Tim’s birthday or our anniversary, so off to the Airbnb app we went to find the perfect mini vacay. We hit the jackpot with this one.

Tucked away in the hills of southwestern Wisconsin, is Griff Run, a tiny cottage on an alpaca farm.

Chips and Salsa

Have I mentioned I’m obsessed with alpacas?

Though everything was still brown from winter, this adorable farm couldn’t have been a happier, more peaceful, more colorful place to hang out for a couple of days. With four alpacas, three friendly dogs (2 huge Pyradors and a Goldendoodle), a big, sweet tomcat, and chickens, we got our animal fix like nobody’s business.

Marco the Pyrador
Polo the Pyrador (Marco’s brother)

Shawna and Matt were so welcoming and toured us around their property, telling us of the plans they have to expand on the Airbnb circuit. Thoughtful touches like fresh eggs in our fridge, locally-roasted coffee beans, and alpaca treats made us feel right at home. We read, played cards, drank wine, slept in, enjoyed a leisurely coffee and breakfast, played with the dogs, and giggled (mostly me) while we hung out with the chickens and alpacas.

We spent both nights doing this after dinner.

And we got to check out their cool old root cellar.

We did end up taking a hike the next day around the Kickapoo Valley Reserve, with a picnic at the end near an artesian well and THIS…

Thousands of chirping frogs

And now, please enjoy the ridiculous number of pics and videos below of my favorite animal on the planet. Maybe you’ll be obsessed with them, too.

Home, Vanlife Build

Vanlife Build: Awning and screen house

I hadn’t planned on getting an awning for the side of the van. For some reason, I mistakenly thought they all cost around $2000. I figured we’d just get one of those pop-up canopies, and put it next to the van when we stopped. But then I got word that a coworker’s brother might be selling one, so I decided to see what price he had in mind.

I’m really glad I did! He had a nearly new ARB 2500 Touring, which retails for around $350. It’s 8′ x 8′, and comes in a soft pouch that attaches to the top of the van. Included in the sale was the matching screen house, which retails for another $220. All this for the bargain price of $300!

ARB seems to be the leading manufacturer of a variety of canopies, and this seems very well built. It has a long aluminum frame that has channels for specially designed bolts to slide into. That’s really the only hardware it comes with. ARB realizes that the configurations to mount this to your roof are nearly endless, so their website has a couple of suggestions for accessories you can get. Plus, consulting “YouTube University” is always helpful.

I knew that I had to somehow tie this in with my existing Yakima roof system. I settled on these very beefy “L” brackets from ARB. They were $22 each, and I needed two (Amazon). I also realized that I was going to need yet another crossbar, this one near the side doors. Luckily, I still had a pair of used rain gutter risers from the purchase I made for the wind deflector. I purchased a pair of 66″ Yakima crossbars from REI (normally $100, but my REI dividend covered it. Love REI).

First, I attached the L brackets to the frame, using the existing hardware. I left them loose to slide them to fit.

The next thing was to drill three holes each in the two crossbars it would be hanging from. I wasn’t a big fan of doing that, but the alternative was using something like a hose clamp.

Charisse and I took the whole assembly outside, and bolted it to the underside of the crossbars. It looked great, but…, it sure was sticking out there a lot. There was a fairly wide gap between the roof of the van and the awning frame. At first, I didn’t think there was much I could do, because the L brackets were already tight up to the risers. But the more I looked at the L brackets, I realized they were so beefy, I could get away with hacking off a good 2-3″. This would move the whole assembly closer to the van. Where’s my saw?

So, back onto the van it went. MUCH better.

Now, it was time to play around with this thing. I will say that it is a lot easier to set this up with two people, only taking about two minutes to get the awning into place. With one person, it is incredibly awkward, but still doable. The screen house uses a clever channel system to attach to the front and back, with C clips and stakes to hold the rest into place. It seems very secure once it’s all staked. And there you have it!

Post script: You may have noticed that the entire assembly is positioned to cover the side “barn doors”. This was because we had this idea that maybe, with the screen up and keeping the bugs away, we could leave the doors open at night. It turns out the screen zipper doesn’t line up at all with the door. Plus the open doors really intrude into the awning space. So I will be repositioning the entire thing aft about 3 feet.