Sunday, March 27, 2016

Mom is Alone in the Desert

I'm in Denver Colorado now for an anime convention.  I'm a guest at shows like this sometimes in conjunction with my writing.  It was a great show, and the first show I've done as a full-time RVer.

The RV stayed in Yuma Arizona because I was not going to drive it up in the snow!  They flew me up.  That meant leaving my mom alone for four days with no hook-ups.

First thing I did was empty our black and gray tanks even when they didn't need it.  I also filled our water to make sure she'd have plenty.  Then I got her lots of food that was easy to prepare since she really can't cook for herself.  We also don't have the microwave when we boondock so that made it tricky.  Here's what I got her for the four days:

I called her every day and she was fine.  She has friends in the campground and coffee mornings at the Christian service center.  Maybe it was good for her to have me out of her hair for a while.  :p

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Life Minutia on the Campground

When I was researching becoming a camper I literally wanted the blow-by-blow of daily life.  I wanted to know what I was getting into, and what was going to be different than what I knew.  But you come to take things for granted so fast.  You learn the the language so fast.  You start forgetting how life was back when you were in sticks and bricks.  This becomes your normal, and it also becomes boring to you.  You expect it to be boring to everyone else too.

Well...we've been full-time RVing for close to a year now.  (It will be one year next month).  However, we've just started full-time boondocking.  So here's some boring blow-by-blow of this new life.  Incidentally, it's the life I always thought we'd have when I decided to full-time RV.  I just didn't realize how difficult boondocking full-time is with a gigantic travel trailer.  I couldn't boondock much at all with the old rig.  Now, with this easy-to-drive beauty I can do anything. 

Last Friday we had some perceived problem with our water tank, which was actually just my newbie-ness and arrogance, insisting the thing was broken when it was just my mistake.  I'm not going to go into it, except to say that when you're filling your fresh water tank and water starts spraying back at you from the back-flow channel--THAT DOESN'T MEAN YOUR TANK IS FULL.  Check your levels.  Tilt the hose downward.  -_-  So many stupid mistakes to make...I swear.

At the dealership our tanks were emptied and our water filled.  Friday.  Saturday.  Sunday.  Monday.  By Tuesday morning:  Our 60 gallon fresh water tank was almost empty.  Our 35 gallon black tank (poop) was half full.  Our 35 gallon grey tank (sink water) was completely full.  This morning (Tuesday) we needed to dump/fill.

So we are barely getting four days between dumps.  Ugh.  What a pain in the ass.  People made me think you could go a really long time between dumps.  I don't see what the heck they're doing different from me. 

1.  Neither my mother nor I had showered from Friday to Tuesday.  Our grey tank still filled up.  Yeah.  I know.  We were taking towel baths because we didn't want to fill the grey tank.  We might have risked filling it if the weather wasn't so bad.  We had horrendous wind storms for two days that kept us locked down.  I didn't want to drive or be outside dumping/filling in the weather.  We're a high profile vehicle.  Driving in winds is dangerous.

2.  We are being cautious with our water use.  No more running water non-stop over a pan to get it clean.  Wet.  Soap.  Scrub.  Then rinse.  It's like military showers for dishes. 

The only thing I will cop to is that our black tank will fill much faster than anyone else's because I don't have a large intestine (lost a battle with ulcerative colitis).  I go nine times a day.  That's my normal.

Still...I have to dump every 4 fricking days?  What a pain. 

The pain isn't going to the dump station and doing the dumping.  The pain is getting the RV ready to be mobile.  Here's the check-list:

  1. Close the windows
  2. Close the skylights (all four)
  3. Make sure all the cupboards are closed (one is always half-assedly closed and will fling open, dropping bombs on my poor cats).
  4. Get stuff out of the way so the slides can close.
  5. Secure the laptops.  (My mom's and mine).
  6. Clear off tables. (We have two dinettes now).
  7. Clear off counters (kitchen and bathroom).
  8. Move aside the step I use to climb to my bunk over the cab.
  9. Secure the small table my mom uses for her computer.
  10.  Move our washing machine out of the way of the RV.  It sits outside close enough to be hooked to the inverter with extension cords.  There's a chair with it and a table for me to put it on when I need to drain between cycles.  A path must be cleared for the behemoth.
  11. Disconnect the satellite cable.
  12. Unchain the satellite from the grill.
  13. Chain the satellite to the SUV.  (Or just hang the chain to pretend like it's locked to deter lazy thieves who will not come for a closer inspection).
  14. Move the satellite out of the way so we can drive.
  15. Remove the wheel chocks.
  16. Turn on the RV.  
  17. Climb out of the cab into the RV to close the slides.  I close them little by little so if a cat has crawled into the slide mechanism they can wake up and make a run for it.  (It's happened once so far).
Okay.  Now we start driving to the dump station.  And as we're pulling out on to the road something falls.  Something always falls.  -_-

I've velcroed down stuff to try to make moving as easy as possible.  There's only so much you can do.  I got my mom a tiny table for her laptop that wouldn't be as much of a blockage as her old one.  It's base was supposed to tuck under the sofa so we wouldn't have to move it when we closed the slide.  It doesn't fit.  Nothing will.

This concludes the point I'm making about how it's a pain in the ass to move this RV.

So now we get to the dump station.  First stop?  The dumpsters.  We have to get rid of our trash.

Next we pull into one of the four dump station bays.  A dump station is a fancy name for a hole in the ground.  Seriously.  That's all you need to qualify as a dump station.  Most also have non-potable water available via hanging hoses that you can pull down to use.  The hanging hoses at this dump station do not have connectors on the end that you can use to connect to your black tank flush.  (My RV, like many others, allow you to spray water into the black tank to help clean it out).  I can't use the potable water presented at this dump station for that purpose.  I assume the hoses are there just to clean up spillage...which happens.

I put on my rubber gloves and go to my tank compartment.  Now I set one side of my sewer tube thing (far too large to be called a hose--often called a 'stinky slinky') into the hole in the ground and  attach the other end my to the dump tube on my RV.  It's facing down and kind of a pain to connect to, but I'm connecting no problem lately.  You unscrew the cap on your 4" wide pipe with one twist and screw your stinky slinky to it. 

To digress...there is no toilet paper in our black tank.  In theory you can buy marine toilet paper and chemicals to dissolve it.  We tried that on our first camping trip to Morro Bay with our first 28' KC Sportsman trailer (in the header picture up there) and we clogged our tank.  Never again.  We throw the TP in a little bathroom trash now.

Getting back to the dump--I open the panel to release the turds.  Loud gushing is heard for over five minutes.  I don't know why it takes so long.  It keeps going and going.  After most of it is gone I open the panel for the grey tank so that most of the crap is washed out of my sewer tube by the relatively cleaner bathroom and kitchen sink water.  The sewer tube is going to live in that compartment we just accessed for our dump and the less stinky it is the better.

Okay, everything is dumped.  I close both the black and grey tanks and unscrew my sewer tube.  Now I hold it up high and hope all the turds have swum into the hole.  I cap the end of it that was connected to my pipe.  The other end never had a cap.  It's an L shaped connection.  I turn it open-side-up so nothing spills and secure it into the compartment.  The compartment gets closed but not locked.  I get back into the driver's seat and drive over to the potable water stations.

Not every campground has such amenities, but this one does.  Free drinking water--yay!  One side of my fresh water hose is screwed to the spigot.  The other end is placed into the hole where my drinking water gets filled.  For some reason this compartment is locked in the new RV.  ??  Whatever.  It means I have to turn off the rig and take my keys with me.

I fill this even after water is spraying back at me from the back-fill screened hole.  I just tilt the hose downward to keep filling.  I've learned it takes a long time to fill a 60 gallon tank. 

When I think it's full I turn off the water but I don't unscrew the hose.  I go to the residential door of the coach and check my levels just inside:  Black Tank-Empty, Grey Tank-Empty, Fresh Tank-Full.  That's what we want!  I head back.

My goal is to get propane now, but the fence that would let me drive up to the propane tank by the Christian Service Center is locked.  -_-  It's after 12pm and is now closed.  Arizona is a place of reverse vampires.  The get up early and close things early.  Feh.

So my propane is at 1/4th right now.  I need to keep on top of this tank because this is what powers my refrigerator when I'm boondocking.  Hopefully we won't run out.  I don't want to do a special run for propane.  As I described above it's a pain in the ass to move the RV.

When we get back we go though the ritual of getting slides open and stuff reconnected and moved back into place. 

Then we fill our shower bags and get into the SUV.  We drive to a nearby BLM campground where you can buy tokens to take a hot shower.  We so desperately needed this!  I use two 7 minute tokens which cost $1 each.  My mom only uses one.  Yay!  We're clean! 

Next step:  We need to do laundry.  So I set up the machine and start filling my 8 gallon jug of water to fill it.  This is a light-duty portable washer.  It's meant to do ten pounds of clothes per load.  We have three loads.  This means a lot of filling and draining.  One fill for the wash cycle, then I drain it into a jug.  Another fill for the rinse cycle.  I use the left over water from the rinse for the next load.  Half of the washer is a spin cycle machine.  We spin cycle and then hang the clothes to dry on the ladder on the back of the RV.  It takes a while, but we get all three loads done.  (It would have been one load at a landromat probably).  Yay!  No more dirty laundry!

Our washing machine pulled a lot of electricity.  We're down to 12.6 on the charge controller.  No TV tonight, but computer use should be fine.

There is a landromat at the military base next to us.  Civilians are allowed to go there and use their facilities.  We're not going to do that, however.  Not only because I have this spiffy washing machine, but...

The guys at the solar place said the restaurant on the base was cheap and good.  So we went there to get something to eat.  We had to pull up to a gatehouse and give our driver's licenses, insurance, and registrations.  Then we were told to park.  We didn't know what was going on.  The guy was getting passes for us.  No big deal.  But when my mom spoke with her Puerto Rican accent he asked for the last four digits of her social security.  Not mine.  Just hers.  This bugged us.  We didn't feel welcome.  We won't go back.

There's a megalopolis RV resort with a nice store and a restaurant.  To get into this place we just stop at the gate and ask for a pass.  They don't check IDs.  They're friendly.  We're going to go there for any snack or eating out needs. 

Monday, March 7, 2016

Rocking and Rolling

We've been having windstorms at our boondock in Winterhaven, CA (I think that's where we are).  All our windows are closed because it's too cold and the RV is rocking enough to make me sea-sick.

We got solar installed on our new RV!  This was finished on Saturday and we haven't had to run our generator since! 

The system:

Two 160 Watt Solar Panels (320 Watts Total)
Four 6 Volt batteries
A Sunforce Charge Controller with Readout Screen
A 600 Watt Modified Sine Inverter connected to the batteries for most of our AC (plug in outlet) needs
A 300 Watt Modified Sine Inverter in the cigarette lighter in the back of the coach to run my laptop and charge cell phones.

The inverters aren't ideal, but they're what were available at the store when we first started boondocking and needed a quick off-the-shelf solution, so that's what we're sticking with for now. If the 600 modified sine ends up being too much trouble I have it set up on cables that can handle a 1000 watt inverter.  I can swap it out myself by just unscrewing the leads and screwing new ones in.  We did this on purpose just in case.

The inverters both have fans that go all the time.  I'm fine with that.  We're talking very few amps and the ambient noise helps drown out background noise.

I did not get a tilt system for the panels.  I'm not going to climb up on the roof anymore.  x_x It's just too hard for me.  They're fixed in place. 

The price for everything was $2,100.

Right now with clouds and wind we're at 13.1 on the charge controller.  I'm good for as low as 12.1 according to the installers.  So far it hasn't gone below 12.3.

We got our solar done at the 'Solar' place by the Christian Service Center on Ferguson Rd., Winterhaven CA.  I highly recommend them.  If you call the places in Yuma during winter you're probably going to have a few week wait.  These guys saw us right away.

We're staying put to wait out this wind, but it looks like tomorrow I'm going to need to dump.  Our gray tank is so small!  It's kind of annoying actually.

Anywho...we had some visitors last night and they were TOTAL JACKASSES!

Beautiful ones!  We saw them out the window and I thought I'd throw out some romaine someone gave us for them to find it later.  The second I opened the RV door though the whole herd (of three) came over.  They obviously had no fear of humans! 

Such beautiful creatures.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Getting Solar for the New RV

Tonight we are parked beside the 'Solar' place near the Christian Service Center by the Imperial Dam in Winterhaven, CA.  Apparently we've been boondocking in California all this time.  Who knew?  (I did...kinda).

This is a little ways from our boondock in the LTVA on BLM land by Squaw Lake.  We like this boondock because there is free water with several large bays to pull up to and free dumping at another row of bays a short distance from the free water.

I say 'free' but it's actually included in our $40 14 day permit.  This means a little over $80 for a month of camping.  For February we paid $350 plus an exorbitant $75 for electricity.  Total was $450.  Not cool.

Either Arizona has astronomical electrical rates or this RV park we were at was taking a cut with every kilowatt.  And then they look at me like I have two heads and say '$75 for a whole month of electricity seems pretty cheap to me.'  Um, srsly?  Dude, my house in Pahrump, 1,200 sq ft averaged $120/mo and that was basically because of the high cost of summer use.  I regularly saw a bill of $60 to $80 in the winter.  Whatever...

Boondocking is saving me money, no doubt, but we were relying on our gas generator to charge our weak inefficient 'auxiliary' batteries.  The guys at this solar place say we got the cheapest/weakest 12 volts you can get.  26DC I think, but might have been 24.  At any rate, they were draining fast with a tiny load and freaking us out.

Regarding this Solar place:  I called around Yuma to get solar installed and everyone was booked for weeks out.  This awesome little place was ready to get us in ASAP.  The owner lives on site and I think they're a retiree who just does this in their spare time.  They seem like a nice crew.  It's really cool that they let us move the rig beside their place for the night.  Even cooler: they hooked me up to their shore power.  No struggling with our batteries tonight!

I have a $2,500 quote for solar installation that the moms is paying for with some excess money she took from her retirement account when we were coming up with our down payment for the rig.  I have already robbed her retirement account of $15,000 ($10,000 for the down payment, $5,000 for taxes) and feel like crud.  On the other hand...I just don't have the money to get an extravagant solar set-up for this rig.

My mom likes to watch TV.  She's also a prepper.  So told me before that having solar panels made her feel secure.  She doesn't want to rely on fossil fuels for our electricity.  Gas is cheap now, $1.50/gal in this area, but can and will go up. My mom pushed for solar.

I agree with the decision.  Our batteries were draining way too fast.  The inverter connected to the cigarette lighter was iffy.

We had two scares so far  -

1. I accidentally drained the engine battery because I thought all the batteries were banked and that it didn't matter if I hooked into the cigarette lighters in the cockpit or if I hooked in the one in the back TV.  Well...we drained the engine battery with the TV/receiver.  I had to use the emergency jump button to get the rig started.  (Yeah.  I screwed up.  Sorry.  I'm new to this.)

2.  I accidentally drained the house batteries because I went to sleep when they were reading 3/4th full and thought that would be fine to run the receiver/satellite all night so any programs we had scheduled could be recorded by the built in DVR.  At 7am the inverter alarm went off.  I saw the batteries were drained.  I went to turn on the generator.  It wouldn't start.  I had to turn on the engine for a while until the house batteries were charged enough to turn on the generator.  (Again...I screwed up.  I'm new to this).

So, yeah, I'm majorly screwing up right out of the gate.  Fortunately this RV is backed up one way or the other, so I could save myself and not look like a complete idiot to my mother.  The fact that I even know *this* much is impressive to me, but I'm sure a lot of you are shaking your heads at my stupidity.

If you recall, my solar set-up for the old travel trailer was $1,456 all-in.  It was pretty weak and resulted in beeping batteries by the 2nd night of a boondock.  :/

The old system was two 128 watt panels, a cheapy charge controller, and a 1000 watt pure sine inverter.

What we're getting installed tomorrow:  Two 160 watt panels, a pricier charge controller with a read-out screen, and we're trading in our two piece of crap 12 volt house batteries to get four 6 volt batteries.  6 volts are better than 12.  Everyone seems to know this, even if it seems a little counter intuitive.

What about an inverter?  Well...when I thought we were just going to run off the generator a while I went ahead and bought two inverters from an RV store.  I didn't know what I was getting and I regret it now.  But since we bought them, we're going to try to get by with the larger one.  It's a 600 modified sine wave.  (I also got a 300 watt to use in the back cigarette lighter to run my laptop).

Modified sine is not as good as pure sine and is screwing up our TV picture sometimes.  600 watts is not as good as 1000 watts and means no more coffee maker or toaster.

That said...we had this 600 watt inverter hooked into a cigarette lighter (yeah, I should know better, I had to cut the metal eyelets on the leads just to get the cigarette lighter cord to fit on it's connectors) and it was able to run two laptops, the 26" plasma, and the receiver/satellite.  It works.  We're keeping it.  The only alternative this solar place has in stock is a 2000 watt pure sine for $900.  We're already spending enough!!!

They are upgrading the cables they use to attach the inverter to the batteries (apparently hooking something that huge into the cigarette lighter was a no-no) to big-ass cables so that if I want to upgrade to a better inverter in the future I can just unscrew the cables from the back of this 600 modified sine and get a 1200 pure sine.  We'll see if that's necessary.  As I said, we've been spending enough money lately.

This solar set up will pay for itself in 7 months if we continue to boondock exclusively.  That's the plan...but...after three days of our initial boondock we were out of water and the grey and black tanks were full.

Ugh.  WTF.  I read about other boondockers going for a month without dumping.  With my medical condition I figured the black tank was going to be our biggest problem.  I let it fill up when we were still at the RV park to see how long we could go.  The answer:  5 days.  So I expected to have to dump and take on water ever 5 days.  Not *too* much of a hassle at the BLM LTVA (did I mention this stands for Bureau of Land Management Long Term Vistor's Area?) where the dump station and potable water are included with the permit and easily accessed.

The problem is, we filled up tanks and ran out of water in 3 days.  Closing the slides, battoning down the sunlights and windows, and getting everything tied down for movement is a hassle.  I also want to deal with poo as little as possible.  I am not okay with having to dump/fill every three fricking days.

But here's the twist:  While we're parked here at the solar place my mom and I both took showers.  The grey tank is reading 1/4th full (we dumped right before here).  If we filled it in 3 days without showers I would think two showers would at least get us half full.  Now I'm thinking the readings were wrong because we weren't level.

Now that we are level the fresh water only read 1/2 full!  What's that about?  I filled it until the water was spraying out of the back fill.  Why are we only 1/2 full?  I don't get that.  I think the water level sensor is whacked on this thing.  However, we did literally see the water not come out of the tap when it read empty before.

I'm going to do another dump and fill when we leave here tomorrow.  I'm going to make sure the RV is as level as possible with wheel blocks.  Then I'm going to hope we truly can get *at least* 5 days between dumps with *at least* one shower for each of us.  In between showers we do wash clothe baths.

I don't want to go back to RV parks.  Boondocking full time is going to take some serious forethought.  I must have dump stations within reach where ever we land, and access to water.  We can't stay where we are come April.  This LTVA closes April 15th (more or less) and it's just way too hot to stay here anyway.  We have to go north.

I want to go north where we can camp for free or very little.  I have a huge RV payment.  The rig cost $80,300 *AFTER* the $10,000 deposit.  Ugh.  My goal is to pay it off in 5 years.  That means $1500/month.  I've been hustling hard-core with my writing to get to where I can afford it.

In January I had a great month (hence the decision to buy this at the end of January--we got it delivered in February).  The royalties for January come in April.  December was pretty meh...not bad but not stupendous.  The December royalties were paid to me now, in March.  With them I was able to pay $1000 on this RV.  Next month I will be able to pay $2000.  This averages me out to $1500 and gets me on the right track.  February just closed and I know I will have enough to pay $1500 in May.  So far so good.  First 3 payments average $1500/mo.  If I can keep this up I'll make my goal of paying this off in 5 years.  Right now I'm working to make sure I make enough money for June.  I have to get out a new story, and it has to be a success.  x_x  Time to get to work.

If I get rid of RV park feels paying for this RV becomes much more doable.  I really hope we can stick with that for the long term.  So far I've screwed up quite a bit and I'm running into problems.  I'm determined to figure this out.

Oh, another money saving thing is a little washing machine we bought.  You put the water in it, run it, drain it, then put more water to rinse.  It takes very small loads.  Granted, laundromats were $20/mo tops (I think...this has always been my mother's chore).  The bigger reason for the little washing machine is to prevent us from having to drive into town.  These BLM boondocks tend to be remote.  I want to get stocked up on groceries and then stay parked. does mean doing laundry far more often.  The big machine has to be stored under my mom's bed too, since I can't get it through the openings of any outside storage areas.

Our RV is parked beside this solar energy place.  We left our SUV at the boondock with our satellite chained to it.  The washing machine is sitting next to the car.  Someone can easily steal it. 

It's possible that I might want it to get stolen...I really should have gotten the smaller one without the spin cycle bucket.  This huge machine is a beast to haul in and out.  :/


Wednesday, March 2, 2016

I Don't Even Know Where to Begin

Well...we bought a new RV. 

We got it last month February, 2016

After we drove to Yuma in December and I hit a post with the trailer I never wanted to tow again.  I kept telling myself to just stay put, months at a time, and wait until the travel trailer was paid off before buying a new rig.

I mentioned before how I was stressing over the thought of a huge RV payment for the next 20 years.  I thought I could resist the lure of an $80,000 new motor home.

But I couldn't.  I never want to tow again.  NEVER!  I hate towing!  I HATE IT!  I hate trying to get gas at these gas stations meant for tiny cars.  I hated hitching up.  I hated not being able to boondock for extended periods because hooking and unhooking the trailer was such a pain in the ass.  I hated not being able to back into RV spaces and having to beg or bribe men to back in for me EVERY SINGLE TIME.

I don't hate living in the old RV, when we were parked, unhitched, and new we were staying put for a while.  The problem was that it was tough to write with all the distractions.  I needed more privacy and a better place to work besides a dinette where I was facing my mother.  Mostly though...I needed something that wasn't Hell to transport.

With this motor home and its generator we are going to be able to boondock on BLM land the way I'd always intended.  In fact, that's what we're doing right now.  We got out of Yuma to BLM in California and plan to stay here the month.  It's the LTVA near Senator's Wash.  If I have the energy (I've been lacking that lately) I will take pictures of our beautiful temporary home.

The new RV is awesome.  We already had a long trip in it when I went back to Nevada to register it.  I love driving this thing.  It handles like a dream.  I'm not stressing at the prospect of moving it here or there.  Getting gas is easy.  If I get in a corner it's easy to back up and turn around. 

It can incognito boondock in a parking lot too!  It only takes two spots.  The coach is fully accessible with the slides in!

 I have an office now.  Sadly the fricking table ripped off the wall, but I've put a new table in place. 

Here's how it was before.

I had to do a ghetto fix.  Yeah.  Making the $80k RV look dumpy already.
The table ripped out of the wall.  There just wasn't a good fix for that table.  It had one point of connection and the screws were in particle type wood.  I guess it wasn't meant to be in dinette form when we drove with it.  This is actually a bunk bed, but I keep it as a dinette to have as my office.  There's a curtain I can hang up for even more privacy.  I'm working here now.  I love it!

I also love my loft.  The cab over bunk is huge and I can sit up in there.  It's another place where I can use the computer.

Here it is before we moved in.

Here it is now.  My mom didn't want to be in the picture.
There's a bunch of other stuff to report on top of this.  We got a washing machine so we can truly stay off the grid.  We have solar getting installed on Friday.  We have new crappy inverters instead of my old mac-daddy one.  I will post about this stuff at another time.  I really need to get writing on the next book.  This $80k RV ain't gonna pay itself.  x_x  I also need to update the blog image.  Yargh.