Monday, June 29, 2015

Catching Up

Yes, it's true. I suck at blogging. I am going to make an effort to try to keep up with it from now on and to go back and fill in some of the blanks with photos as I get a chance.  I am now happily cruising the Oregon coast. Where the pace is moderate, the chowder excellent, and the temperature perfect. 

Friday morning I woke at craters of the moon national monument in Idaho, and realize that at 8 AM it was already too hot to hike or do any sightseeing.  Looking at the forecast, it looked like for the next for five days almost all of the northwest would be unbearable, except for a small strip of pleasant temperatures along the Oregon coast. I decided that if I was going to be trapped in a small air condition box for a couple days, that it would be moving, and set off on a bonsai run for the Oregon coast.

The day got off to a miserable start as I turned on the tire pressure monitor and saw that the right outside rear was critically low, at 20 pounds below what I wanted.  A couple others were a few pounds low as well. So I dragged out the compressor, hooked it up, turned it on, and was greeted by a muted pop and no compression.  It appeared to be a blown fuse, but I had no spares. I shook my head and decided to get air at the nearest gas station, about 20 miles down the road. 

(Have I mentioned recently how much I've grown to hate my iPhone? The more I use it the more I hate it.  And trying to do this blog using it is pure torture.)

I turned west out of the park and set off on route 20. Unfortunately not far down the road I hit construction. After a 12 minute wait, pilot car finally showed up to guide us through the construction.  As we trundled along at 35 mph, a dump truck came flying opposite direction spraying gravel everywhere. Including a chunk that put a giant crack in my windshield.  If anyone knows anyone at Snake River Construction, tell them I said they only on windshield. I got a phone number, but I am sure I will get nothing from them. And Geico does not offer glass coverage on RVs. Awesome.

After all of that, I rolled into the first gas station. No air. And that theme continued for the next hundred miles. At that point, I decided Boise was my best bet. I made it there and picked up some fuses.  I managed to get air into the low tire, but I couldn't do the others as it was just too hot. The tire sensor said 131° at the pavement.  I have some friends in the area and I thought about trying to get in touch with them, but after such a miserable day I knew I would not be good company.  I continued West, crossing into Oregon and driving through some really desert terrain. It took me by surprise.

As the miles rolled along, I begin to think I might make Portland Oregon. But after the sunset I knew that wasn't going to happen as I was still 60 miles away. I saw a sign for Koburg Beach rest area – no trucks, and I thought that sounded pretty promising. When I got off the highway though I was not so thrilled. There were some sketchy characters in the lot, and it was signed no overnight parking though the sketchy folk looked like they were set up for the night.  I sat there for about an hour, and I realized I was not going to be able to sleep there. So I threw in the towel, got back in the driver seat and headed west.  I didn't go far, as as soon as I started driving I realized I was too tired to keep going. I saw a sign for Cascade Locks business district and I decided what the heck, let's see if there somewhere I can park. I got off the highway, and as I approached downtown, there was parking along both sides of the main drag alongside the road. I pulled over in front of an 18 wheeler and called it good.  I folded in the mirrors just in case, and then had to reposition as the curb was walking the step from opening.  There was noise from the cars passing by, but it wasn't horrible. There were also a couple of trains.  I don't think I fell asleep until 3 AM. It was a combination of overtiredness, stress, and it just being too damn hot to comfortably sleep.  I woke up around 8 AM, profoundly grateful that no one bothered me. I had been afraid of the cops knocking on the door, but it didn't happen.  I got some coffee and some ridiculously overpriced smoke fish from a street side stand, and looked at the weather forecast for the day. 103 for the high. No, I don't think so.

I had originally planned to head for Newport Oregon. But I kind of rethought the idea and headed for Astoria.  I knew I liked it there, and I thought sightseeing along 101 would be a lot easier headed south due to all the pullouts being on the right.  

After the Garman took me on a little detour through Washington, I got back on the road to Astoria. Along the way I got some ridiculously overpriced gas, and a growler full of kombucha.  5 miles from Astoria traffic ground to a halt. We crept along at 2 to 5 mph for a good long time. I was at the end of my rope.  I turned in at Rogue Ales and found a place to park near an apartment building.  I had dinner and some beer, which was excellent. I think I could have probably spent the night where I was, but it was still too hot.

I called Fort Stevens State Park and found out they still had sites available, so I headed there.  After a little snafu at registration, where they put me in a host site that had a host in it, I parked and plugged in for a little while.  My site was right next door to the bathroom and showers, which would normally be a good thing. But there was some youth group there with like 200 kids, and they all kept cutting right through my campsite, in some cases between my chair and my door, and it was driving me mad.  I told a couple not to do it and maybe the word spread. I also heard a couple adult yelling at them. But it was still aggravating.  

Around 7 PM I unplugged and went to dinner at Dooger's Seafood. I am on a mission to find the best chowder on the Oregon coast. So far, I have been somewhat underwhelmed.  After dinner I went to the beach watch the sunset at the wreck of the Peter Iredale. It was incredible. And I was embarrassed to say, with the wind whipping off the waves, I was cold. ;-) 

I headed back to my site and debated about a fire for a bit, but decided it was too much effort. I fell asleep early and slept like the dead.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Westward (well, first Northward) Ho!

I left Florida on Thursday afternoon, 5/7, after an oil change. I headed north, mulling whether or not I would visit Dismals Canyon in AL and Crater of Diamonds State Park in AR. I drove till sundown as I knew it would be too hot to sleep otherwise.  I ended up in Walmart in Clanton Alabama. This Walmart had the nicest produce I think I had ever seen so I stocked up. It was a cool, quiet and uneventful night, except for the freight train that blasted off a horn that sounded like it was right outside the window. For all I know, it might have been.

I woke up reasonably early for me on Friday the 8th. I looked at the Roadtrippers app and saw a train museum called the Heart of Dixie Museum about 20 mi up the road. I headed there and it was very nice. It seems like more of a weekends-only place though. A gal in the gift shop had to unlock the museum and escort me through, which was a bit of a buzzkill. I wandered around the trains for a while, but was beginning to melt, so I had to leave. I'm just not acclimated to 80's & 80% humidity, and I burn to a crisp. Looking at the forecast for Crater of Diamonds had me cross it off the list for just that reason. I am not up for digging in a field in the sun in 90 deg weather. It just would not be enjoyable.

I got back on the road, and somehow screwed up the GPS. I had planned to turn northwest at Montgomery and possibly stop at Dismals Canyon, then on through Memphis and up that way. When I was a fair piece north of Montgomery and seeing signs for Nashville, I realized I had made an error. However, I saw that continuing on the present course would take me through the Kentucky Lakes area, which I had enjoyed last time, so I carried on. Unfortunately, just like last time, I hit Nashville at rush hour. Unlike last time, it was horrendous and took well over an hour to get through. Sigh.....  I stopped for the night at a Cracker Barrel in Cadiz KY, having put about 350 miles in.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Highlights of Charleston

After the closing on the house in Virginia was done, I headed to my friend's house in Charleston SC and parked there for a few weeks.  It's such a photogenic are a couple highlights.

Buck Hall WMA

Buck Hall WMA

Buck Hall WMA

Lacey checking out the rig.

Edisto Island road

Chestnut Orchard on Edisto

Edisto Beach

Edisto Beach

Edisto Beach

Edisto Beach

Edisto Beach

Edisto Beach

Edisto Beach

Edisto Beach

Edisto Beach

Edisto Beach


McClellanville-Deer Head Oak. 1000 years old

McClellanville-Deer Head Oak. 1000 years old

Hampton Plantation

Hampton Plantation

Hampton Plantation

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

My Solar Setup (again)

I get asked about this a lot on FB and in the forums so I think I'll type it once here.  :-)  I've updated this post as I've changed equipment and preferences over the past year and the post was buried. If you click on links in here, in theory Amazon throws me a couple bucks if you buy.

I am a very light electrical user.  I don't watch much TV, I try to camp in climates where I don't use heat or ac and I use led lights as much as possible.
Speaking of LED, this lantern right here is the greatest thing since sliced bread.  It is perfect for me. I have a few of them.

It weighs nothing, and is bright enough to read by.  The hanging hook is a bit flimsy but c'est la vie. Be gentle with it.  I have a small bungee (I have a lot of bungees) that I use to hang it from the AC unit sometimes, or from the overhead cabinet knob above me when reading.  The dimming feature is sweet.  I'm working on converting all the house lights to LED but it's going slower than I'd like.

I have a Phoenix Cruiser 21' motorhome with 2 group 24 batteries that I replaced in April 2014.  The big things I need power for are the fridge, which uses electricity even when on propane, and charging laptops, phones, tablets and camera.  If I'm driving, I plug everything in and try to charge as much as possible while the engine is running anyway.  When I'm camped I have the most basic portable solar setup imaginable.  I started out with the 45watt Harbor Freight kit because I didn't know any better.  The panels work but they're old technology and they're heavier and less efficient than new ones.  And not sturdy.  The plastic frame cracked the first tie I used them and the hardware all rusted that first weekend too.  Back they went.  However, they did work, and I went looking for a better option.

I ended up with a Renogy 100watt panel from Amazon.

This kit puts out over twice the power for the same price as the Harbor Freight one, and weighs half as much.  This panel weighs 16 pounds so it's no problem to move.
I actually bought the panel, cables, connectors, and controller separately but this is a better deal.  I also screwed up and bought a 10A controller which left no room for expansion.  The kit above has a 30A which will allow another panel or two down the road.

***Update: in April 2014 I upgraded the controller to this one:
 RioRand 30A Controller

Having the display is nice.

I chose to not mount my panel on the roof.
First, I didn't want to climb up there.
Second, I like shade.  Solar panels like sun.  We each need our own space.  :-)

I can park in the shade and put the panel in the sun.  Yes, there's a possibility of theft.  If I ever decide that's a real concern I'll use a cable lock to attach it to whatever I'm leaning it up against. Or I'll move.  Who wants to park somewhere where you're worried about theft?  Right now I just use a bungee so an errant gust of wind won't blow it over. In this case I got to this CG in the afternoon and just set the panel up against the grill.  At sundown I turned it the other way and propped it up against the picnic table since the rig would be in the shade at sunrise.  Yeah, it's a bit more difficult than set-it-and-forget-it on the roof, but I sooo much prefer being in shade if it's available that it's worth it.  I plan to eventually mount one permanently on the roof at some point too.  Then if there's no shade I can just use that, or use both if I need more juice.

I bought all my components separately, which meant installing MC4 connectors on my cables and controller since that's what's on the solar panel.  This was a pain for someone like me who is new to all this. But even I did it.  Just buy the kit though, it's less than buying the parts and no screwing around.  :-)

(As noted above, I recently replaced this SunForce controller)

The panel connects to the controller with cables and MC4 connectors.  These connectors are made to NOT come apart easily, and they don't.  In fact, you need a special tool to disconnect them.  It's cheap but it's one more thing to carry, store and lose so that didn't work for me.  I filed off most of the barbs on the male ends that lock the connectors together, and  made sure what was left was rounded.  They still lock but a good pull will disconnect them.  Like any connection, pull on the connectors, not the wire.  If you try this and don't file enough and they won't disconnect, two thin bladed screwdrives will probably get the tabs depressed enough to get them apart.  I attached the alligator clips you see above to the output of the controller and just clip them to the battery for now. One of theses days I'll install that permanently but for now it works just fine.  I had the clips left over from another charger or some other 12v thingy but you can get them at any auto parts store or from Amazon as well.
The controller is not waterproof so it sits in the battery compartment with the batteries.

I keep the panels on the ladder rack and leave it connected to the batteries.  This kept them fully charged even in the Virginia miserable winters, and I had battery power when I went there to work on it or take it out for a day or whatever.

I would keep it behind the seat at first but no longer do that.

I went back to carrying the panels on the ladder.  I attached keyrings to the back of the panel which makes attaching the bungees a LOT easier than trying to force the hooks through the holes in the frame.  And I'm down to 3 bungees.  It takes 2 minutes now and I'm not dragging sand & spiders inside.

Of course it's dark in this pic, but you can see the panel set up, poised to catch the rising sun.  I know it sounds like a giant hassle to set up but it really isn't.  After the first couple times where I was still figuring out where everything went, it takes only moments.  The longest process is untangling the cables if I was lazy stowing them.  It's quite the conversation starter too, as everyone who walks by will ask you about them.  This may or may not be a good thing.  :-)  All these campground photos were taken in Shenandoah National Park, Fall 2013.

In July 2014 I added 2 flexible 100w Renogy panels. They were $215 each. While I LOVE the weight, they are dirt magnets and the dust adheres to the the plastic like it's glued on.  It can't be easily brushed or blown off, I need to wash them. The glass panels are much easier to keep clean. Also, the plastic ones do not put out as much power. The technology still needs work.  However, you can get 4  or 5 of them for the same weight as one glass panel so for portable setups it is a great option.

When I was out west there was no shade and I just tried  to park so the panels were in the sun. It's not a great angle for maximum wattage but I was driving almost every other day so I didn't need it.

Now, to the usage.  I have a 2000w whole house inverter built into the rig that I seldom use.  It works great but draws a lot of amps just sitting there.  No bueno.  I use it for the TV and that's about it.  OR if I'm driving, I have that on & plug lots of stuff in to charge. When parked,  I have one 12v socket that is wired to the house batteries.  These are generally fused at 10A so one should not attempt to draw more than 100w.  I do NOT want to blow that fuse as god alone knows where it is but I guarantee it's a struggle to get to.  That said, I lived on the edge for a long and used this inverter:

Schumacher XI75DU 750 Watt DC to AC Digital Display Power Inverter

I've had it for a few years and used it in my car before I got the RV and never blew a fuse.  It claims less than 1A resting current draw.  It runs my laptop and Nikon battery charger just fine.  I have yet to draw over 60w with those.  You could certainly get a smaller one cheaper.  This one will power stuff like drills, etc, you just have to connect directly to a battery for that.  (As of 2/15 I plan to use this inverter to power some stuff on a lot I bought in FL and bought a smaller pure sine for the rig.)  I do plan to add another house 12v outlet at some point as well. They're handy.

I recently bought a pure sine inverter as, believe it or not, Sonicare toothbrushes require pure sine power. Who knew? :-)  This is the one I went with.
Wagan Elite Inverter

Hope this info helps.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

1/13/15 ATT Sucks. I know, shocker, right?

I might have been the only person in the Western Hemisphere who was mostly ok with my ATT phone.  Happy would be a stretch, but over the past few months I had noticed an increase in my ability to actually complete a call and an increase in data speeds. Well, that mystery is now solved, apparently it was because I wasn't really using ATT's network!  I got this bit of happy news today:

Please note the line, 

We've updated your device so you'll know when you're outside the AT&T network. Just check your home screen and when you're on another carrier's network, now you'll see "Off Network" instead of "AT&T" in the status bar.

They don't tell you you're off network until you've exceeded the limit! And PERMANENTLY disabled your roaming ability!  They gave me a warning when I was in Utah and I bought a Straight Talk Verizon phone. It worked so much better than my ATT phone that I was tempted to switch, but I was too lazy to go through the process of porting my number. Obviously, now I will be doing that. This is one of the Verizon ST phones, and is the one I bought.  Make sure it says CDMA-V.
Although, if you get one on the ATT network I think it would not be subject to this stupid policy as ST has its own set of rules.  But why go with ATT when you can get one on Verizon that might actually work most of the time?

Another line of note under Options is:
• Terminate your service with AT&T, with no early termination fee.
This would seem to be an excellent "Get out jail free card" for anyone who is looking to get out of an ATT contract without an ETF. (Early Termination Fee)  Just head to one of the spots on the ATT coverage map that are striped (3rd party provider) and burn up some data.  

As for me, I guess I'll be watching a LOT of Netflix on my phone until 1/27.  Oh, and updating a few gigs of maps, etc.  Consider it a parting gift.