Plan? I don’t need no stinkin’ plan…

Okay, so here’s the plan (Plan? Bwahahahaha I don’t need no stinkin’ plan). It is, of course, subject to change at any moment whether at the drop of a hat, a whim, whatever.


I hope to depart from the swamp here off the Saint Johns River in DeBary, Central Florida, this coming Thursday headed to Wilkesboro, NC where a nephew owns a five-acre menagerie of critters both two and four legged. Nick is a total gearhead and has done some amazing things with vehicles over the years. He has welding equipment, or at least access to same, and we’re going to modify the bed that’s taking up most of the interior of the Montero Sport. My youngest brother, Mark, is driving out from Raliegh for the weekend.


There will be a stop overnight on Thursday. At 79 I’m not inclined to pushing nine or more hours behind the wheel anymore. Did as many as 10 and 12 hour stints at the tiller on my boat cruising along Florida’s Gulf Coast a couple of times but that’s a lot different than being on the highway. It is my contention that EVERY other vehicle on the road has evil intent and is out to kill me, or at least hospitalize me.


I’m inclined to stay off the Interstates and travel the back roads as much as possible. Going that way the trip to NC is over 12 hours. Can chop nearly 4 hours off that going the Interstate way. I may do that for this first leg of the journey.


A FB friend, Tom Doherty, who I’ve spent time with in person, lives in New Jersey, not far from the coast. Tom’s a boater and has come up with some novel craft in his time. He’s offered me a place to camp for a while. At first I was inclined to take a pass because it’s a bit of a diversion from a direct route from my nephew’s farm up to the Lake Ontario region. But I’m going to need a couple of days to further get the Sport in shape for living in the next couple of months. Jersey would be a good place to stop over to do that.


I think I’ll trend over towards the Chesapeake and lay up for the night since the trip to visit Tom isn’t doable, for me at least, in a single day. Interstate routing is the shortest at close to 590 miles and 9 or 10 hours. But I’m much more inclined to take a longer, slower, and more scenic trip up through the Delmarva Peninsula instead. Travel time according to Google maps would be a total of about 13 hours. Back in ’86 when I left Louisiana and was headed up to Cape Cod I visited a friend in Manteo on the Outer Banks and then took that route across the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel. That’s an experience in itself. I’ve been UNDER the bridge part more than a half dozen times but over it but once.


Then it would be up to Lake Ontario and get on a boat, even very briefly, to add the fourth Great Lake to my list of places I’ve been boating. Maybe there only a couple of days.


Next is headed westward. Trying to get in touch with a friend I’d met in Panama who’s now living somewhere in Ohio. Be nice to visit. Haven’t heard from her yet. I’ll continue down to vist another FB friend I’ve met who lives in Indiana. Rest up a day or so before heading to Minnesota to get on Lake Superior and complete the Great Lakes lineup.


Having completed the boating part of the adventure I need to swing north of Duluth to visit Hibbing, Bob Dylan’s hometown. Then down to Wyoming, Minn. to start down Highway 61. Dylan’s iconic song and album “Highway 61 Revisited” is the inspiration for this segment. As I’ve written before I actually LIVED right on the route when I was going to college in Canton, MO.


I plan to stop off there for a couple of days to visit Culver-Stockton College then swing out for a diversion to Kirksville to visit yet another FB friend, Chris Shelton. Chris used to have a boat tied up in Tampa and we got together about three years ago for a nice visit and lunch. Chris went back to Missouri for the summer but his health issues have kept him there since then and he’s sadly sold his boat.
A day or two there and it’s back to Canton to return to Hwy 61 and about 30 miles down the road I hope to swing off and cross the Mississippi to visit an old college friend, Cecil Williamson, (that’s Cecilia). Haven’t seen Cecil since Chicago back in the mid ’60s.


After that it will be keep on truckin’ down “The Blues Highway” to New Orleans. No particular places I want to stop, but of course I will. I won’t stop off in Hannibal. Been there bunches of times when I was going to college. Here’s the interesting thing about Hannibal. Everything there is Tom Sawyer this, Huck Finn that with an occasional Becky Thatcher or Injun Joe thrown in. But in all the times I visited Twain’s hometown I never could find the “Nigger Jim Mall.”


The goal of this leg is to stand on the corner of Baronne and Gravier streets where I used to wait for the streetcar to go home. There is a marker there indicating that it’s the end of Hwy 61. I used to catch the streetcar (NOT the trolley. The “trolley” is the pole that connects the streetcar to the overhead electric cables) here rather than down on Canal Street for a simple reason…The Canal street stop is usually filled with tourists our of the French Quarter wanting to ride on the historic Saint Charles Streetcar. Passengers unload at Canal Street and then the tourists board and often take up all the seats. Hey, I LIVE HERE. I shouldn’t have to stand up to go home! But by going to the stop BEFORE Canal I get on and may have to stand, but when the crowd disembarks at Canal all the seats empty out and Voilà!


After that it will be a slow meander back to the swamp. I’ll stop at some of the spots I hit, and missed, when I was boating up along the coast 4 years ago…like Apalachicola, Suwannee, Steinhatchee, and maybe Wikee Watchee.

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Got A Name…Elsa

I had a vague departure date for my next adventure of departing the swamp here off the Saint Johns River in DeBary, central Florida shortly after the 4th of July weekend madness. But it’s early in hurricane season and we’re already up to the fifth named storm…Elsa. I have the National Hurricane Center web site pinned to the top of my web browser and this is what I found today…

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Creature Feature

The variety of wildlife that inhabits the swamp on the Saint Johns River here in DeBary, Florida, is outrageous. There are ospreys and wading birds like the great blue herons fish the still, barely moving waters of the Saint Johns. Owls hoot away in the night. Bullfrogs croak after the sunsets. My neighbor Capt’n Natural Lee scatters corn around his yard and the wild hen and tom turkeys come to feast along with squirrels and racoons. Manatees mosey serenely along the canal from time to time. Mosquitoes thrive here.

But there are bigger, more sinister things lurking in the depths and shadows. There are two of these signs on the routes I travel here in DeBary and vicinity…

About a month ago my neighbor snapped this pic of a beast not 20 feet from my boat. Thankfully I didn’t see it…

Then there are the ubiquitous alligators swimming close by.

The bottom of the picture is the side of my boat so you can see how close we were in this staring contest.

Turtles climb up on the remnants of a nearby fallen tree to soak in the sun.

The other day as I was headed to the nearest paved road, three miles away from my boat, I cam across this guy. Gal? It’s a Florida softshell turtle. About 20 inches long. They come out of the water to bask and lay eggs. This one was just hanging out in the sunshine. Love its snorkel nose.

And from time to time my neighbor’s dogs come by to see that I’m all right. Polly is the black pittie and Sarah is the Jack Russell mix. Good company.

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New Doc…New Meds…New Life (sorta)

Followers of these pages know I suffer from severe COPD. To combat the breathing problems when I was living in Panama I used a Ventolin Inhaler which is an Over The Counter purchase. I also had another prescription for something I can’t remember the name of now. It gave me horrible leg cramps. I’d wake up in the middle of the night with my calf muscles in a painful knot. I discontinued taking whatever that was. 

When I returned to the states I was still using the Ventolin. A LOT. More than I felt comfortable doing, but simple tasks left me gasping for air. When I landed a physician on Anna Maria Island he prescribed a once-a-day med called Breo Ellipta. It changed my life. Before the Breo I couldn’t walk 100 yards without spending 10 minutes afterwards truing to catch my breath again. My Ventolin use went from a couple of inhalers a month to one about every month and a half to two months. A great improvement. 

The last few months, though, haven’t been so good on the respiration front. I get terribly winded when I’ve been shopping. I get back to my car and sometimes if takes me more than 5 minutes to get my breathing back to what passes for normal these days. Nearly every time I’m out in public and gasping someone asks me, “Are you all right” My stock answer is “Sixty years of smoking wasn’t a real good idea.” In case you’re wondering, I went cold turkey about 7 years ago and haven’t smoked anything since then.

I have to say that being in Panama helped. Those first couple of weeks were rough. I’d head out to the Romero or Rey Supermarkets to do my regular shopping and tell myself that I didn’t care, I was going to buy some cigarettes while I was there. Next thing I’d know I’d be outside waiting for the bus and no cigarettes. Not a conscious decision. But in Panama they are not allowed to display cigarettes. Used to when I first arrived. They had racks right over the cash registers. But that was discontinued. Out of sight out of mind. Then I return to the “Land of the Free” and you go into Walgreens, Circle K, CVS, 7/11 and behind the cash registers there’s thirty feet of nicotine delivery devices on display. (Yes,, I KNOW, it’s not like that at Walgreens and CVS anymore, but it was when I repatriated.)

Moving over here to the swamp in the central part of the state of Florida put me in another “network” as far as my insurance was concerned. They cancelled my policy without notifying me. Without the insurance the price of the Breo jumped from a co-pay of $45 to a flat out $385! I didn’t buy it. I had to wait nearly a month for the new insurance to kick in and I could buy the Breo at a reasonable price. Man was it ever rough not having the stuff. Just the Albuterol in the Ventolin. I was glad when I could start my daily dose again. 

While the new insurance kicked in on the first of June I had to wait nearly three weeks before I got to see my new doctor. Christ it was like an oriental Doogie Howser walked into the exam room. Either that of being just a couple weeks shy of hitting the 79th anniversary of my birth makes things seem odd. 

The new doc questioned me about my Ventolin use and said he was going to put me on something different…Trelegy. Where Breo has two different meds in each puff Trelegy has three. He gave me two, two-week samples and phoned in the scrip to the pharmacy. With the insurance this stuff is $2 more expensive than the Breo…$47 instead of $45.

I took my first hit of the Trelegy on the morning of the 19th. A while later I walked down to visit with my neighbor. His table and chair setup is about 75 yards or so away. Normally when I get down there I have to sit for a while and take a hit or two off the Ventolin until I’m “normal” again. This time, though,, the Ventolin stayed in the pocket of my jeans. I said I hoped it wasn’t some kind of “placebo” effect.

This morning I went down again. My neighbor wasn’t around and I returned to my boat without sitting in one of his chairs for a rest. Now, when I got back to my boat I was puffing. But I wasn’t gasping if you catch the subtle difference. I didn’t use the Ventolin. Using my breathing exercises I was fine in a couple of minutes 

Once more “Better Living Through Chemistry” has changed the way I’m able to go about my daily life.

 

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Death In The Afternoon

I live DEEP in the swamp off the Saint Johns River in DeBary, central Florida. When I say DEEP I mean my boat is tied to the bank of a canal more than three miles to the nearest paved road. There are, needless to say, LOTS of critters wandering around out here. My neighbor tosses dried corn around his area and wild turkeys, both hens and toms, wander by my boat every day to go scratch out a meal at Lee’s place. Of course there are racoons and white tail deer are in no danger of being labeled an “endangered species” here. When I go to civilization I see them all the time. Last Friday I saw three of them on the way out of the swamp and four on my way back home. Granted, some of those could have been among the first I saw that day, but I saw seven does nonetheless. 

THIS guy was within 20 feet of my boat about a month ago…151927758_175997260677543_3779922185343288497_n

 

There are also tons of alligators swimming nearby. 

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More Power To Ya…

One of the features on the Bluetti EB70 that I recently acquired is its wireless charging feature. Put your smartphone on the top of the unit and voilà, it will charge without plugging it into anything.

This is a feature the ubiquitous Jackery 500 lacks. You can buy a special pad for those that plugs into the unit and then lay your phone on THAT to get wireless charging. Sort of, no? Wireless charging played no part in my decision to purchase the Bluetti. Price, size and other features did, though. I DON’T HAVE a smartphone and I’m not running out and plunking down a grand’s worth of greenbacks to get one, either. No, I have a plain old dumbphone. When I went to Verizon I asked for the least expensive phone they had. I use it primarily for the mobile hotspot so I can stay connected to the virtual world. My phone contact list is very small. 

This morning I discovered there are special doo hickies you can purchase that plug into your phone to allow it to charge wirelessly. 

You plug this into your phone and then just lay the whole thing on the top of the Bluetti. This jobber doo cost a whopping $19.99 so I saved hundreds of dollars by not buying an iPhone.

Lately as I’m driving I plug the phone into the SUV’s cigarette lighter socket and get a charge going as I listen to my latest Audible download. I’ll use this when I’m spending a few sedentary days camped somewhere during my upcoming trek.

This is kinda cool. I found this while looking for something else about the Bluetti. Here are the guts of the device…

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I’ve Got The Power…

Even with the most casual scanning of the van living/camping groups on Facebook you’ll soon see someone gushing about how much they love their Jackery portable power station.

What are those, you might ask? Basically they’re just a Lithium battery with a built-in dc to ac inverter and some 12 volt USB outlets all wrapped up in a small, portable package. I hated them and the people who sang their praises to the sky almost instantly. The things are also outrageously expensive. About a buck a watt. In other words a 500-watt unit will set you back $500 and the 1000-watter a grand! I swore I’d never get one. Instead, I’d move the set up I’ve been using on the boat for the past three years to the van…

I already own a pair of deep-cycle batteries, a 2000 watt dc to ac inverter, and three Renogy solar panels. I started out with a 50-watt rigid panel.

That wasn’t quite enough. Then I added a 100-watt panel.

This setup kept my stuff running while I was anchored off of Anna Maria Island, FL, a bit south of Tampa Bay. It was a bit iffy when there were two or three days of heavy overcast skies. You still get some energy from the ambient light but by the end of the second day I had to keep a close eye on the battery power of my notebook computer, my iPad and phone which has a mobile hotspot to keep me connected to the internet.

In order to compensate for that I added a Renogy 160-watt flexible panel to the array. I chose this panel because there is limited deck space on a 22-foot boat and I needed to leave a clear passage from the cockpit to the bow so I could tend to my anchors. The rigid panels are quite heavy. The 50-watt panel weighs nearly 9 pounds. The 100-watt tips the scales at almost 20 pounds. The only place where I could possibly mount a panel would be on my flimsy Bimini top…

So I coughed up the dough to purchase a Renogy 160-watt flexible panel. It only weighs just a hair over 6 pounds.

With everything hooked up I haven’t had a bit of worry. And I’ve even added a 12-volt refrigerator/freezer to the mix.

I got to pondering how I’d transfer a system from the boat to the SUV. I’d need to lug at least one of the batteries off the boat and find a place to secure it in the SUV. Then remove at least the 160-watt panel, the solar charge controller, the attendant wiring, the inverter, et al and then build up a panel with electric wiring bus, blah, blah, blah. Ya know, I just didn’t feel like doing that.

So I began looking further into the portable power stations, especially alternatives to the ubiquitous Jackery. There are quite a few, and they’re all fairly expensive. One brand that caught my attention was the Bluetti. They make a 750-watt unit which is, obviously, 250 watts larger than the Jackery.

Amazon was offering a $100 off coupon so I could get one for the same price as the 500-watt Jackery. Gulp, only $495.

Here, look at what Bob Wells has to say about this unit. If you don’t know, Bob runs a website called “Cheap RV Living” and is the guru of mobile living and the inspiration of much of the recent Academy Award-winning film “Nomadland.”

I DO have two generators. One is a 2 stroke the other a 4 stroke that smokes pretty heavily. Both as quite loud, especially the two stroke which would make either one fairly irritating in a camp setting. They are only marginally more powerful than the Bluetti…1,000 watts vs 750. In addition they also need gasoline to work which cost money I’m not willing to spend.

I brought my unit back to the boat about an hour ago. It had an 80% battery charge in it and right now it’s set up on shore power to top it off. I plugged it into the 160-watt solar panel and even though it’s heavily overcast right now the digital display showed it was receiving limited power from the panel. Plugged a couple of things that need charging into the unit and it works just fine.

Though I’d like the red one and was delivered the puke green I’m happy having it never the less.

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All’s Well That Ends Well…

If you’ve been reading along you know that the delivery of the Rubbermaid cargo bin I ordered from Amazon has been a colossal cluster coitus with the USPS handling things. I now believe that if you want to be a driver for FedEx (another recent bad experience) or the postal service you’re required to take an intelligence test. If you fail, you’re hired.

It was scheduled to be delivered last Thursday. In fact, at 9 a.m. it was at a postal facility in Orange City that was only 3.5 miles away from the delivery address. But it didn’t make it to my mail drop and 9.5 hours later, according to the USPS package tracking app, it was in Stuart, FL which is about 175 miles away from the delivery address. From there it went to Orlando and Orlando shipped it off to Jacksonville. It languished there for a bit before being trekked off to a place called Lady Lake.

On Sunday, the 13th of June, Amazon offered me the option of getting a refund. I did because there was no telling how many more places the bin might visit. I got a message from Amazon saying that the refund was being processed and would be in my account in about 5 working days. 

Monday, I went to the local Lowes and purchased a Commander 40 gallon bin…

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It’s not as sturdy as the Rubbermaid. I’ve seen a smaller version of the Rubbermaid chest which is well constructed and that’s why I wanted it. But I figured this will do. Then, as I was driving near the maildrop on the way back to the swamp I stopped in. And THERE IT WAS! Well, I ordered it, I want it, and I put it in the back of the SUV. No sense trying to send it back via USPS, who knows WHAT would happen to it? I then spent two hours on line trying to get in touch with someone at Amazon to see how we can rectify the situation. Of course it isn’t easy and I’ll just blame, for now, the extremely ugly weather situation as being responsible for the poor internet connection. There’s thunder and lightning all around.

See the source image

Finally got through to a, believe it or not, competent customer service rep, and I got the bin paid for. I know there are lots of people who wouldn’t have done that and just said they made a huge “score.” But I’m not like that. Shame on me, huh?

So now I have to go back to Lowes and return that bin I just bought. Like with Home Depot I’ll have it reimbursed to me as store credit that I can use anywhere in the country. I don’t like to go out in traffic until rush hour’s over. Hopefully the rain will have stopped by then. This is the third day in a row or liquid sunshine but we’ve needed it here, deep in the swamp/

I thought the bin might be a bit oversized reading the description on Amazon and looking at the dimensions listed on the carrier itself. Ya just never know how accurate those things are, but there’s room to spare. I put the carrier in the hitch and as you can see it’s not so big that it obscures the license plate which could cause me to get pulled over. And it’s far enough from the back of the SUV that it doesn’t interfere with opening the tailgate. It’s all going to work out just fine.

I have a locking hitch pin to keep the carrier from being removed by bad guys, and the bin itself can be locked. I have ratchet tie-downs to keep the bin from bouncing and sliding around. I also have a Yeti lock set up that I used when I had my Yeti living in the cockpit of my boat.

I’m going to buy a substantial eye bolt, drill a hole in the bin and then run the cable through that and under the lower rails of the carrier. None of those precautions are going to stop really dedicated thieves but we all know locks are just intended to keep the good guys out anyways.

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Some Assembly Required

The biggest constraint with living/traveling/camping in an SUV is where do you keep everything you need/want? You can take minimalism only so far. I met a guy back in ’92 on the Rio Dulce in Guatemala who was an extremist like that. He was a pretty famous multi-hull designer. You know catamarans and trimarans. They attribute a lot of their speed to keeping weight low. To that end Peter kept his interiors bare. He used bean bag furniture to reduce weight. He was so dedicated to keeping everything light that used to remove the covers of his paperback books.  He even cut his toothbrush handles down to stubs! Keeping weight down in an SUV isn’t that extreme but the more payload in the vehicle the more fuel it takes to lug it around. And volume of gear is important.

My bed frame is 14″ off the deck in most places and another 4″ to that in the forward part of the bed. So there’s plenty of room to stuff stuff under there. That’s where the tent will live, for one. Clothes, food stuffs and the like will also fit in containers beneath the bed. But there are other things that need additional storage space…like the 11 lb. propane tank for one. 

There are several ways of gaining extra storage space. One is to drag along a small trailer. I’m not going to do that. Trailers restrict where you can go to park overnight or longer. The next alternative is a rooftop carrier. We’ve all seen them. 

Some of them can cost over $1,500! Price and the fact that my Mitsubishi doesn’t have roof rails on which to mount such a thing save me from going that route. There are some real downsides to these things, too. They can restrict where you can go because of the added height. You’d hit certain drive-thru signs in many cases and have problems with multi-storied parking garages. People who have them admit they do have “drag” through the air which has a negative effect on gas mileage. In some cases rather significant, and with petrol prices on the rise this summer that certainly has to be considered.

Since the Mitsubishi has a trailer hitch I decided to get a hitch-mounted cargo carrier. I bought a MaxxHaul 49″ x 22.5″ Hitch Mount Aluminum Cargo Carrier With High Side Rails. I went with aluminum for the no-rust feature. I saw similar, and less expensive at Harbor Freight, but the one they had at the store nearby was just a floor model and I would have to have one delivered. Looking at YouTube vids the assembly of those is a piece of cake.

This thing, on the other hand, should have said “Some Assembly Required.” It didn’t, but I got up and at ’em before it started to get hot here deep in the swamp off the Saint Johns River in DeBary, central Florida.

This thing came in a ton of parts.

Putting it together was really simple. Overall it took me about an hour to put the frame together.

A few more nuts and bolts secured the frame to the tongue and this is how it looks attached to the SUV…

These kinds of carriers don’t have any air drag to mess with mileage.

Tomorrow, Monday, I’ll go to Lowes to buy a bin to fit in the carrier. The one I ordered from Amazon

was handed over to morons at the USPS and after days and days of them screwing around I just cancelled the order and asked for a refund. Amazon customer service said I’ll have it in about three days.

It has been a total cluster coitus since the end of the week. It was delivered to the post office in Orange City. That facility is 3.6 miles from my shipping address. They didn’t get there before 5 p.m. when the maildrop closes for the day but instead of returning it to Orange City they sent it to effin’ Stuart! Over 160 miles away! Well, next it went to Orlando and, again the driver didn’t get there while the store was open so they sent this box to effin’ Jacksonville! Next it went to Lady Lake and who the hell knows where it is now? Oh, well. I can get something similar to this at Lowes and for about a third the price, too.

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This Could Work

I was just looking back over the past couple of days worth of posts about my no-build SUV camper buildout and an idea hit me as I was looking at this picture…

bed made

My original idea was to put the bed frame over the wheel hump on the passenger side. Well, former passenger side since I took the passenger seat out the other day. The bed frame takes up the entire space in the back of the vehicle with the forward end butted up against the seat back. I’ve had to move the driver’s seat one click forward to obtain the space needed. It’s a bit close to the steering wheel but shouldn’t be to terrible for a few hundred miles until I can get to my nephew’s place in western North Carolina. As you can see in the picture the curvature of the tailgate opening won’t allow the frame to be moved to the starboard wall (salty talk makes my winkie tingle…) So there it sits. I’m able to close the tailgate without any problem. Also, the middle leg on the outboard side sticks right down in the middle of the well arc. So that keeps the frame from being moved, too.

I contacted my nephew by email and asked if he had welding equipment. I was thinking if I cut two inches off the side rails between the slats it would give me enough room so the frame doesn’t rub up against the back of the seat. THEN, looking at the picture above I’m thinking why not cut out one entire section between the slats and rewelding there? It would reduce the length by about five inches. It makes the frame shorter than the mattress, but if that overhang is at what will be the foot of the bed it shouldn’t be noticeable when I’m sleeping. Shortening it that much would also bring those aft legs inside the curvature of the tailgate opening.

Then, I could cut the outboard middle leg down enough so it sits on the top of the wheel hump and the whole unit can move over nearly a foot and a half! That will create a nice open area between the seat back, the door, and the wheel hump. More easily accessible stowage space becomes instantly available.


The cargo are is 55″ wide. The bed is 38 inches wide so the way things are now there’s only about 8″ clearance outboard of either edge of the frame. Moving it over against the starboard side creates nearly a foot and a half of clearance on the port side.

It would be nice if I could move it over to the driver’s side, but the hump is totally different. If it could sit comfortably over on that side, with the passenger seat gone it would open up a HUGE space on the starboard side of the SUV. It wouldn’t be a problem to flip the frame end-for-end and see which side works best. I have a feeling it will be the passenger side though. We’ll see.

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