Stuck at 90% load

Jacqui and I are really eager to start sharing stories of our adventures on the road, but… we’re still not done fixing the Dolphin! Just like that stubborn download that speeds along then suddenly takes forever to complete the last 10%, so our rebuild progresses.

During the heavy construction, each day ended with a sort of instant gratification. When we put the tools away we could stare in pride at how much was accomplished. Progress was so apparent to the naked eye it seemed like things would come to a conclusion in no time. Now it’s the filthy finishing work that consumes our days and makes it obvious that this is no quick project.

Crawling under the car to install a sheet of plastic to line the wheel well is necessary, and will leave you washing mud out of your hair, but it’s not the sort of work that you sit back and admire at the end of the day. The same is true with taping, priming, electrical and plumbing. All these tasks rob hours of time but never are seen when completed. So…I hope you find it in your hearts to forgive us for our lack of zealousness in photo taking this past week.

Despite the snails pace things have taken on, after another week of work, the old girl’s insides are really starting to look like our home again. We even had another creature encounter. After finding a small plumbing leak, the decision was made that the heater would need to be removed to access it. A couple screws and a quick tug later a mummified rat was discovered. At least it was already dead, unlike a certain series of previous spider encounters.

Outside of construction, life in Tres Amigos RV Park is slowing considerably as many of our new friends are leaving to head north. Goodbyes are never a happy affair.

Don’t let my construction and goodbye complaints mislead you though. Jacqui and I, when not filthy and tired, are still happy to be where we are. After all, when we complete a long day of work we can get clean with a boogie board in the ocean, or sit on the beach watching the horses being led on their twice-daily walk. We’re in a place people pay tons of money to come visit just for a day, the prime example of that being the cruise ships that pull in every Wednesday. Jacqui and I always manage to get second looks from the cruisers when they realize not every gringo on Stone Island came on their boat. This is especially true if we’re carrying construction materials.

So now I will make a cautious attempt at a prediction. If things continue forward with minimal hiccups, we should be hitting the road again by next weekend! 

These are the shackles that hold the rear suspension in alignment. They seem to be a little bent from the accident.

It looks nasty, but it's nothing that can't be repaired with a torch and an "encourager" (hammer)..

Big man in a little tub...! Also you'll note the very masculine black diamond plate flooring picked by Jacqui.

Spackle and paintable silicone applied to hide the major gaps, ready for paint in the morning! Somehow this picture feels strangely familiar.

Flooring is installed, scraping, spackle-ing and taping is underway.

Fresh paint and our kitchen table is back! Squint really hard and it actually looks done.

Cleaning up after another hard day's work.

The Dolphin is looking good after a bath.

So shiny!

One step closer to completion.

Horses being led on one of their daily walks, when they're not carrying tourists.

The Norwegian Star leaving port, as seen from Stone Island, looking towards Mazatlan.

Incredible sunset at Tres Amigos.


Dolphin hits the home stretch

It’s been nearly three weeks since the car accident outside Tepic. Jacqui and I have been working hard everyday to put our beloved home back together. Today we reached a major milestone! With the installation of all exterior paneling and the door, it's excited to see how close we are to getting back on the road.

We have tried to recycle as much as possible, but have still gone far beyond throwing her back together. I can happily say, even unfinished as she is, the Dolphin is much sturdier than the day we bought her, or the day we embarked on this journey. So now, a bit of review is in order.

When we first started disassembly on the Dolphin, it was very disheartening. The further we tried to remove things damaged by the accident, the more rot and corruption we were finding that had already been there.

Even rolling off the factory floor in 1985, the Dolphin was essentially made of toothpicks and staples (yes, literally staples), which is true of almost all RV’s, even today. They’re naturally flimsy things, and with good reason. The vehicles they are built upon have limitations, and every extra pound puts stress on the suspension, engine and robs fuel mileage. So when your RV gets to…let’s say, 29 years old, there is bound to be a combination of problems that you’d find in poorly constructed homes AND in old cars.

When we finally gutted enough out of the Dolphin to make sure we were going to have a solid foundation to work upon, this is the sight we saw:

Some construction was already complete in this photo. Namely the box and structure around the wheel.

This is looking at the passenger side of the vehicle after quite a bit of work. A whole new wheel well arch was cut out of plywood. Rotted beams were replaced and held together with screws instead of flimsy staples. All wood that would be exposed to road conditions received a rubber coating to protect from rot.

This is post construction on the driver's rear corner of the Dolphin. The accident jarred the old girl so hard that this area, which was already weakened by dry rot, split and bulged out. Luckily this area didn't require excessive amounts of work since the rot hadn't spread too far.

This is a good look at how much floor we replaced. The entire structural integrity of the Dolphin depends upon anchoring everything to the floor, so this was a necessity. The bottom of the floor was sealed against water and double layered with plastic to make sure we won't get any rot. Finally, we reinstalled the bathroom wall, you can see its structure in the middle of the floor.

The walls of the Dolphin were dislodged and moved left during the accident. We used a come-along attached to the frame to pull the entire structure into alignment. Once everything was situated where it belonged, our new floor became the anchor point for all the walls. Heavy duty brackets, screws and bolts now make sure everything is as sturdy as can be. 

You can see the ratcheting wench (come-along) pulling everything to the right. Under the umbrella is John, a retired cabinet maker, who has been instrumental in repairing the Dolphin.

With everything bolted in place, all exposed wood under the vehicle was coated for weatherproofing, then the siding went back on.

Even with the driver's side of the Dolphin looking nice, there was quite a project left just around the corner. The door and its frame were mangled so lot's of hammering and creativity went into straightening the door, siding and trim pieces. At the same time a new entry step was constructed, and the combination dining seat/entry cabinet was reconstructed trying to reuse as much of the original as possible.

Hard working couple.

The project was definitely drawing the attention of fellow RV'ers. This is also known as RV TV.

Entry step built and entry cabinet reinstalled/repaired. 

The back side of the entry cabinet, which doubles as the dining seat backrest, which sits on top of the wheel well and also serves as a cabinet. Everything multitasks in an RV.

The professional sider hard at work reinstalling all the Dolphin's skin.

Doorjamb finally going into place after hours of straightening.

All of the exterior siding that could be salvaged was installed. But a few pieces were mangled beyond repair, and some were just outright missing. So we made a trip into Mazatlan to buy raw sheet metal, cut it to shape, and primed it for installation. 

The wood around the wheel well was coated with a rubberized spray before the metal was installed. Then our new metal was wrapped around the inside of the wheel well with a little finesse and persuasion from a mallet.

Freshly cut piece of sheet metal receiving some primer for rust protection.

Finessing it into place, then sealing it with silicone. 

With a block of wood, a pair of pliers and a hammer I could shape the metal around the contour of the wheel well. 

All wrapped in place and the wood underneath received a rubberized coating to protect from water.

At last the Dolphin takes shape again. While still being far from done, she looks full of promise.

You can still see the tire mark from the other car on the door.

After a hard day's work we got ourselves some Licuados (Mexican milkshakes) to go. Of course in Mexico they have special 'to go' cups.

Nothing like a milkshake in a plastic bag.

Somebody is relaxed after a hard day's work.

And an extra special thanks to John. He managed to escape from most photos, but he's been out there every day helping us rebuild the Dolphin. As a retired professional cabinet maker and carpenter, he's brought on a level of professionalism to our Dolphin construction that neither Jacqui or I could have ever done by ourselves.

Demon Spider of Tres Amigos

I’m sure plenty of people are interested to know how construction is moving forward on the Dolphin, but a break must be taken to discuss the Demon Spider of Tres Amigos. As the deconstruction of mangled parts on our rig continued, I found myself crawling on the ground under the Dolphin. When my eyes looked mere feet ahead, they settled upon something too grotesque for my mind to fully conceive.

After rotating from back to stomach, my vision came around and I was able to understand I was gazing upon the giant carcass of a dead spider. Realizing such a creature had once lived under our Dolphin, a chill ran down my spine. Going back to my childhood, I’d always been particularly terrified by critters of the eight legged variety, but this was something I’d grown out of with age. Now, a simple household spider could easily be ignored, swatted or moved. Looking at this spider, that had easily spanned six inches, some fears crept back. Even dead, I wasn’t about to get closer than necessary.

I resumed the task at hand, gave the water tank a big tug to break it free, and BAM! The assumed dead monster took to sprinting!

“Goddamnit!Sonofa$#@!% &#@*%#!!!”

Suddenly the only vocabulary I knew was what I’d learned working on tugboats and in mechanic shops. How I got out from under the car with that kind of speed, I can’t tell you. With my newfound safety in open air, I crouched down at a strategic distance to get a look at my unwanted visitor. There he was tucked up against the frame of the car, staring at me with six inches of mass, and a dozen eyes of evil. I stared him down, he stared back. I stared a little longer….he continued to stare back. I was in a full-blown Mexican standoff with what I had to assume was a Mexican spider.

“Jacquuiii! Bring me the fire extinguisher!”

Damned if I was going to crawl under there for full blown hand-to-hand combat. I was busting out the heavy artillery. With careful aim and a quick squeeze, he was blasted out of the car and, from the corner of my eye, appeared to sprint away on the gravel. Mission accomplished! I resumed duties as before. A few minutes passed and I found myself working on the opposite side of the vehicle. I ripped out an old hunk of wood around the right wheel well when...

“Jesus@#$%% (%@#$.”

There he was again!

“Jacquuuiii!!! Shovel! It’s him again! If I look away he might move!”

During our first battle Jacqui hadn’t been able to get a proper look at the monster, but as she came around the car her eyes fixed on him as he stretched out to show his full size and fury. She gasped. Never removing my eyes from my new arch nemesis, I felt the shovel’s handle touch my fingertips. I grasped it, aimed, and fired my attack. MISS!!

He darted into a corner and disappeared.

“Where’d he go? Where’d he go?!” Jacqui blurted in fear.

But there was nothing to be done. He was a master of shadows, and wouldn’t be discovered against his will. We resumed work with little conversation and a cautious alertness, always scanning our surroundings with each step. Knowing that the evil villain was detained to the outside of the vehicle, Jacqui opted for interior work, while I resumed my exterior duties.

Suddenly I heard a scream from within the Dolphin! The ninja demon spider had gotten in and was above the bed, half concealed by the curtains. Jacqui grabbed the camera and attempted for a photo, but like all photographs of mystical evil creatures, it was impossible to get him in any kind of focus. As he crawled behind the curtain his sheer size allowed you to hear his footsteps. At this point, my nerves were shot and our friend John had to take over. Armed with a can of WD-40 he sprayed the beast and it took to sprinting towards me. For the second time since arriving at Tres Amigos, I let out my warrior cry, then leapt from the vehicle. Seconds later John emerged, victorious, the WD-40 in one hand, and a paper towel in the other, the legs of the spider hanging from the towel menacingly.

Like the Loch Ness Monster or Big Foot, no clear photo can ever be taken of this creature.

At last we were safe from the beast beneath the Dolphin. We talked with John for a while and he informed us he’d never seen a spider like that in the six years he’d been coming to Tres Amigos. He speculated that it must have traveled with us. We went to bed that night in our temporary RV doing our best to research exactly what kind of spider it was. To no avail, whatever he was, it was beyond us to find out. As we lay in bed the hour grew late and suddenly I heard.


I looked at Jacqui and saw her eyes fixated on the ceiling. My eyes followed her line of sight and right there, right above us, he was there! The same spider no one had ever seen before in Tres Amigos! The same spider we’d killed! We fled the bed and armed ourselves how we could. The spider took to sprinting; you could hear his footsteps scurrying across the ceiling. My back lost its rigidity and took to doing that noodley wiggle that only comes out when you’re completely disgusted by the thing in front of you. This time there was no one to help us. Jacqui armed with household spray cleaners like a gunslinger, me with a Swiffer discovered in a closet. The Demon Spider was killed again.

An entire day and night passed in peace. Our nerves calmed, we were finally safe. The daily Dolphin duties continued with great progress and, on the second day, it was finally time to go to Home Depot. Yes…there is a Home Depot in Mexico.

Jacqui was already inside our temporary RV when I stepped in. As I approached the bedroom at the rear, I saw Jacqui had her legs in a warrior’s stance, clutching a bottle of cleaner in one hand and a Swiffer in the other. The spider was back! Again! As in again, again!

Upon my arriving, while taking no pleasure in it, the Swiffer was handed to me. I pulled back the desk where he was hiding, and heard his footsteps as he ran out. All at once I was in the air, I’d leapt, though I never felt it happen. With a giant thrust the spider was smashed between the wall and the Swiffer, which, as it turns out, is an excellent Demon Spider hunting tool. For the third time, ‘the never before seen’ massive spider of Tres Amigos had appeared, and for the third time, he’d been slain.

It’s been days since the Demon Spider of Tres Amigos has been seen, but tension around our RV’s is still felt. So hopefully….there’s no ‘to be continued’ in this story.

By the way, Dolphin construction is coming along nicely. Here are some pictures!  

Cutting the new wheel well

Filthy Jacqui

Old and new coming together

Waterproofing the new floor

Cut, waterproofed and lined with two layers of plastic, the floor goes in.

Lookin' good!

A pinch of progress

With the welder arriving today we tore out the entire bathroom and entry floor in preparation. There was some hidden dry rot under the tub so it was time to realize, if we wanted to complete the job with any level of quality, the whole thing had to come out. After all, the day may come when Jacqui and I may want to sell the Dolphin to some other couple with grandiose dreams of adventure, and the last thing I want to do is give them a lemon.

With the floor out it was easy to see that even brand new there was some inadequate engineering in the Dolphin. So we had the welder put in a whole extra steel beam, as well as replace a damaged one, so that the old girl will be sturdier than ever. Also the new floor will serve as an anchor point for the walls. This is definitely a large project, and I have had a few fantasies of bulldozing the whole thing into a flat bed truck and buying a cab-over camper, but it’s becoming more obvious that we’ve made the right decision.

Oh ya, one more thing. All the work and materials today cost a massive $50USD.

Whole rear floor cut out and removed

Prepping a steel beam to be welded into the Dolphin

Measured, cut, mocked in place and ready to be welded.

He's standing where the toilet should be.

Trimming the steel so the holding tanks will fit in place.

Jacqui is standing where the dining area should  be.

Replacement beam for the damaged one installed.

Hope for the Dolphin

As Jacqui and I woke that morning in 3 Amigos RV Park, there was hope in the air. We crawled around our belongings to emerge out the front, still functional doors of the cab, where so many friendly faces greeted us. Taking our first shower in days seemed to wash away many of our troubles and doubts. Clean and refreshed our friends Debra and John treated us to breakfast. Having gone to bed with no dinner, a hot breakfast and good company was building us up to deal with what had to come…making a decision about the Dolphin.

With the help of our friends we investigated and probed until the decision was made: we will breathe new life into the Dolphin. There are significant amounts of damage, but at the end of the day, the Dolphin is just made of plywood and sheet metal. If you have the time and energy to dedicate, which we do, the materials really aren’t that expensive. So the re-remodel moves forward while Jacqui and I do our best to stay positive.

I won’t lead you to believe every aspect of this project is smiles and positive attitudes. While we tear out entire walls, gut the interior we worked so hard to put together, and discover problems that were long hidden even before the crash, emotions definitely run high. It all seems so extremely overwhelming, and it’s hard to visualize this project ever coming to a conclusion. One moment Jacqui and I are working as a team, the next our frustrations with the project can leave us fed up with each other. We frequently have to take a breath and remember that it’s only a hiccup in the grand scheme of things. It’s humbling moments like this that remind us we are human. We fight, we love, we argue, we agree, we work, we play, but most importantly, in the end, we’re a team. We both know we’ll push through this small hurdle and love our trip even more. After all, the harder you work for something, the more rewarding it is in the end.

But all of the credit can’t be given to Jacqui and I. The rebuilding of the Dolphin wouldn’t be possible without the wonderful people we are surrounded with. I’ll leave out names, but I’d really like to share their actions.

Happy hour outside our temporary home.

Currently Jacqui and I are staying in a beautiful, giant RV parked directly on the beach at no cost to us. Honestly, it is larger than many apartments I’ve lived in. The couple who own this beauty had to fly home for an emergency, and even though they’ve only known us for a week, when learning of our situation, they offered us to stay here without hesitation. But even that wouldn’t be possible without our current next-door neighbors who were responsible for arranging everything. Despite having only known us for a week, they have gone above and beyond kindness to help us. They’ve connected us with skilled workers in the area, left groceries outside our door when we woke, treated us out to breakfast, arranged storage for our Dolphin and altogether have been amazing, supportive and wonderful people to be around. The ability to ever repay them is truly beyond our grasp.

The generosity certainly doesn’t end there. We’ve received gifts including a new shade canopy and a collapsible 50ft hose. One of our friends is a retired cabinetmaker who has an amazing amount of carpentry tools he’s made available for our use, and so many other people are giving in ways that aren’t tangible. Advice, lending a hand or even knowing there’s good conversation, when the last thing you want to think about is the project at hand, goes a long way. It’s times like these Jacqui and I are reminded that we never travel alone.

As it currently stands the Dolphin is very much in pieces, but soon we can start rebuilding the old girl stronger than ever. Tomorrow a welder is coming to reinforce some areas that we’ve decided were never strong enough from the beginning. Jacqui and I both hope to share some rebuild progress with you soon.

Getting ready for disassembly 

The insides move outside

Pealing back the panels

The Dolphin grows naked

No end in sight

Our poor old bathroom

Destruction of the Dolphin

On a beautiful sunny morning we lazily packed camp and prepared ourselves for the goodbyes to come. We were finally leaving Mazatlan to continue south, and that meant we were going to drive back to 3 Amigos RV park to give all the hugs and handshakes our new friends deserved.

We set out on the road later than intended, smiling. We were in no rush, simply driving as far as we desired for the day. It felt so good to be driving again, and it seemed like our Dolphin also loved getting to stretch her legs. As we stumbled upon a quaint little town to have some lunch, we lingered a bit to snap photos. We wandered around amazed at how many beautiful places there are in Mexico, we couldn’t have been in better moods. There was no way to know how quickly things could change.

We continued driving on the windy, narrow roads, loosely hoping we could make it to Tepic before nightfall. We were absorbing the beauty of the changing scenery when Jacqui pointed to the left to show me where people were pulling over to see the view. Riding high on all the positive energy of the day I made the quick decision to pull over and try to snap a photo. A quick glance forward showed no one coming so I committed to making the turn. As our Dolphin came around full swing a flash of red caught the corner of my eye. A car!

It was too late to veer back into the lane, brakes were useless since we were already turned with our side exposed. My eyes widened, staring straight, my hands tightened on the wheel, time began to slow and I mashed my foot into the accelerator with everything I had. We couldn’t stop, we couldn’t turn, but if we could just go a little faster we could clear before he came. Feet moved, time slowed, inches moved, time slowed. Suddenly the inside of the car and my ears erupted with Jacqui’s scream, her scream could mean only one thing, we weren’t moving fast enough! Time slowed, millimeters now. Jacqui’s scream of terror was replaced with an even more terror infused scream, the scream of tires. The other driver was doing all he could to stop. My eyes widened, I stared ahead so hard I could almost will the Dolphin to move faster.

Then came the sound and impact as the car collided with the Dolphin. The whole vehicle began to swing around then she pitched. We were still moving forward, I was still staring forward, but the view in front of me was twisting. Time was moving so slow all I could do was think, ‘it’s going over, it’s flipping over.’ Further and further the Dolphin leaned onto her left tires as the crunching continued and cabinets flew open behind spewing their contents. ‘It’s going over, it’s going…’ Time skipped a beat to make up for how slow it had been moving and we were stopped….upright.

I looked Jacqui in the eyes, “Are you alright?”


Shifter thrown in park and e-brake pulled I rushed out to check on the other car. Three people were standing outside; two men and a boy no more than ten years old. The only Spanish word to flood my mind spilled out, “Enfermo, enfermo…. Are you enfermo?”’

They were alright, everyone was alright. Slamming on the gas trying to get clear of the accident had caused their car to run into the soft, sheet metal and plywood rear of the Dolphin. In fact, they hit the perfect spot, if such a term could be justly used while describing an accident. Any further back the Dolphin would be so soft she’d shear in half, and a pinch farther forward only exposed the gas tanks, in front of that the propane tank, then finally in front of that the most precious cargo of all...Jacqui. In the mad rush of duties and necessities that came after the crash, time skipped forward again.

The sky was already darkening and Jacqui was sitting on a stone ledge in front of a half dozen memorials erected on that very corner. As I approached her she looked up at me, her eyes were glistening with the tears that were so close to coming out. In that moment a rush of guilt filled me. This accident was my fault. I may have been visibly clear to turn, but we were too close to a blind corner for it to have been a good decision to do so. As I looked in her eyes she didn’t have to say anything for me to know the questions that were locked at the tip of her tongue, they were all over her face. Is the Dolphin done? Is our trip done?

I have little experience with body work on cars, but I’ve spent enough time working on vehicles professionally to know what I was looking at. The Dolphin is a marriage between a Toyota Pickup and a camper body built by National RV. The Toyota itself had no condemning damage; it would take little to repair. The rear axle had been slammed into and was misaligned, but the frame was unbent. However, the amount of damage the camper had sustained left our home, by definition, totaled. In other words, the cost of repairs would far exceed the value of the vehicle. The door was mangled and fell off when I tried to open it. The entry step was missing and a large section of the floor was buckled. The bathroom was all but leveled, the impact had dislodged my bolted down toolbox that became a sledgehammer as it sailed through the air. The right and left walls on either rear side of the RV were separating and bulging; ready to spill the contents within. Our poor Dolphin was a sad, sorry sight.

The ruin of our bathroom

As I explained this to Jacqui we both agreed, no matter what the outcome of all this, we would not give up on our journey.

The police and an insurance adjuster came shortly. Everyone was kind, helpful and polite. Even the three others from the other car held no malice, and were far kinder than you’d expect anyone to be in their situation. When the tow truck came it was definitely a sight to see. The truck was not big enough to hold the Dolphin, but he loaded it on anyway with the front tires hanging off the back of the truck. If that wasn’t crazy enough, the other car was in tow behind with the three other people riding within. Only in Mexico was definitely ringing through our minds. That night we slept in the mechanics parking lot in the crippled remains of our Dolphin, with all our personal belongings littered around us. Our morale was low, but we were doing our best to keep our heads high. Very little sleep came to us that night.

All our belongings, including the door, piled in the living area with us.

When morning came we asked the mechanics to fix the suspension so our Dolphin would at least drive. After all, the work needed was more than I was going to be able to do alone. It was as we spent our day wandering Tepic that Jacqui and I discussed how lucky we are. We were safe. We were stranded in a beautiful warm place sipping coffee in our shorts and flip-flops. We had good friends and family everywhere who wouldn’t hesitate to help us. We realized, from the moment we began this journey, we may be the only two people in the Dolphin, but we’ve never been alone. On the road it would seem every other time I’d open the hood to check the oil someone would ask if I needed help. In Baja we had amazing friends who housed us, fed us, transported us, entertained us and helped us. And even now, we were a short drive from people we barely knew in Mazatlan, but they were already arranging, and doing everything they could to help us.

Discussing just how fortunate we are while we wait for the Dolphin.

The day wore on and the Dolphin was made road worthy. The three others from the crash came to us at the mechanic shop and asked if we could help them pay for bus fare home. They were out of money and thanks to me, car-less  After realizing just how expensive bus fare was, we offered them the best thing we could…a ride to Mazatlan and money for the remainder of the bus ride.

With a giant length of rope we made two passes around the entire rear of the Dolphin to keep her from splitting open in the rear. The last thing we needed was for the water heater to fall out on the freeway. I took her for a quick test drive and was surprised that the old girl felt the same as she always had. No noises, no rattles, and she even drove straight as an arrow despite the steering wheel being a bit off center. (Nothing a simple alignment can’t fix.)

Tying our Dolphin to keep her together for the drive

So we loaded up our belongings, our passenger’s belongings, and all people in question to make the slow trek back to Mazatlan. You really have to hand it to our new Mexican friends for their bravery. They loaded into the back of a car with a person they’d been in a car accident with, and joked, conversed or slept the whole ride there. When we finally dropped them off, they shook our hands, exchanged contact information and asked us to call them if we were ever in their hometowns to say hi.

Our passengers in transit to Mazatlan

When at last we pulled into 3 Amigos trailer park late that night, we felt as if we pulled into the safety of home. Sleeping in the ruin of our Dolphin came easier that night.

Decisions are in the works, another post coming soon.

To be continued…