Monday, February 16, 2015

Learning curves.....

As with most things in life there is a learning curve when it comes to 'boondocking', or living without the convenience of full hookups, if you will.  When you decide to live off the grid you must change your mindset, and be vigilant about your use of your on board resources (water, electric and sewer).  Being 'plugged in' requires no thought, and no real change in the way you live, but disconnecting those water, electrical and sewer umbilical cords changes everything.  

Prior to our launch into this nomadic lifestyle in February of 2012 we spent a lot of time discussing, and thinking what our nomadic experience would look like.  There is something somewhat romantic about the concept of living off the grid......especially being energy independent, however, there are some upfront costs involved.   I contacted a number of people who were already doing what we wanted to do for recommendations on whom to use for our solar installation.  Everyone we contacted recommended AM Solar out of Springfield, OR.  I went to their website and found they had a certified mobile installer who spent part of the year in SoCal near Temecula, CA, so I contacted Mike and Lisa Sylvester of The RV Guy, Inc.  They came to visit us at Rancho Jurupa Regional Park on December 19, 2011 to inspect our coach, determine how to run the cabling, and finally, how many watts we would need for our application.  Mike recommended starting out with two 150 watt panels with the possibility of adding one, or two more at a later date depending on our needs.  On February 1st, our first official day as nomads we journeyed down to Mike and Lisa's location near Temecula, CA and the installation began (I wrote about that experience here).  Our total costs for panels, cabling, charge controllers/monitors and labor came to just under $2,600.  The labor was about half that cost.  Could we have done it ourselves.....probably.....but it would have taken a couple of weeks, and a lot of knowledge we did not have at the time.

Just after the completion of the installation

It took the better part of two days for them to complete the installation, but by February 3rd we had solar power.  That was the easy part.

For the next two years we rarely relied upon our solar installation as we spent a lot of that time on the east coast where access to consistent sun, and 'boondocking' opportunities are more difficult to come across.  We used the solar panels mostly when we were dry camping in Walmart, Lowes, or Cracker Barrel parking lots for one, or two days at at time.  It really wasn't until last year in March that we purposefully decided to 'boondock' at the same location we find ourselves at this February.

Our first night  of REAL 'boondocking' almost a year ago

When we chose our 'boondock' site almost a year ago we chose to park the coach facing due west, and then tilted the solar panels to face due south.  We figured we we get the most sun exposure on our solar panels as the sun moved across the sky from east to west, and it worked pretty well, so when we returned this year we found a site which gave us the same ability to have the front of the coach facing due west.  In addition to giving us maximum sun exposure, facing west also keeps the sun off the passenger side of the coach, which is where our refrigerator is located, thus making it easier to regulate the internal temperature.  A final bonus is we really have no sun blasting in the front windshield until late, late afternoon.

As with every RV (coach, travel trailer, 5th wheel, etc) you have a number of 12 volt 'things' that draw power all the time.....some I can 'turn off', some I can' our case our 12 volt 'draw' is about 4.5 amps to 5 amps, which is distributed as follows: radio memory, refrigerator led display, black tank ionizer, Norcold refer, temperature gauge (gives fridge temp, Norcold refer temp, inside temp, outside temp, water bay temp), analog battery status, 5 separate volt/amp gauges over the driving area, the trailer if it is plugged into the coach, and a hardwired CO2 detector (very important).  We cannot turn off the temp gauge, the radio memory, the CO2 detector, the analog battery status gauge, or the volt/amp meters, but we can disconnect the trailer, turn off the Norcold refer, and turn off the black tank ionizer thereby reducing that draw down to 3.5 amps, so, essentially, my solar system has to be putting a minimum of 3.5 amps into the battery bank to negate the passive draw before it begins to charge the batteries.  With our current setup it takes until about 9:30 in the morning before we reach zero discharge and begin to see a charge going back into the batteries.  With a couple more 150 watt panels we would get to that point earlier, and be putting maximum amps back into the system earlier in the morning, and longer into the afternoon.  Those extra panels will be installed this fall after we finish our sojourn at Cape Blanco.

Tomorrow I'll write more about water conservation tips we have gradually come to embrace.  Many of them are obvious, but you still have to decide to use them.

Mid afternoon I got my mountain bike out and rode the dirt road down to the Verde River, which is about 1 mile, thereby making the return trip 1 mile up a pretty steep hill.  I did the ride down and back twice getting my heart rate and breathing rates up, and getting my legs in shape for riding some Sedona trails later this week when my mountain bike friends from SoCal drive up for the weekend.  In all the two round trips took just over 30 minutes, and I burned a little over 300 calories.

We both spent part of the afternoon reading outside......TLE also worked on her tan.......she says her legs are getting toooo white.  Once the sun dips behind the mountains around 5 pm the temp drops quickly, so we were back inside shortly thereafter.

TLE made 'stir fry' for dinner, and as usual it was exceptional!

Thanks for stopping by!


  1. Clarke, I began reading your blog when you started at Amazon in 2014, around the same time that I met Cherie and Chris. You inspired me to get cranking on my own blog, and I thank you for that. But I have missed meeting you in person a couple of times now, and for that I am bummed. Do you post your rough travel itinerary for future travels?

    1. Hey! Our rough itinerary is to spend a couple more weeks in this area then move up to Page , AZ for a couple of weeks, then up to Bluff, UT until late April.


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