Tuesday, December 30, 2014


This is something of an experiment.  I'm sitting in the Beast, parked in the storage lot.  Two things going on:  I hooked the solar panel up to the starter battery up front.  Although it was able to start the engine pretty easily, I haven't taken the rig on the road for a long time.  So I figured that giving its battery a boost wouldn't hurt.  It was easy to hook up, and the readouts on the solar panel were exactly right:

"PV" stands for photovoltaic array, which sound all high-tech and cool, huh?   The 5+ amps coming out of the unit is close to its maximum rated output, which isn't bad for mid-winter low sun angles!  

I gotta admit that the idea of using real electricity from sunlight like this really pleases me.  And of course it tickles my gadget-loving fancies as well.

Experiment #2 is the RV furnace.  I've never used the furnace to, you know, heat the thing.  It was pretty chilly when I arrived -- we've been having cold nights -- and I wondered how long it would take to warm it up to livable.  Not long.  I had to start the generator to provide AC for the furnace fan motor, which was noisy and uses gas, of course.  And I had to start the truck to provide enough oomph for the generator to start up ( it hadn't been run in forever, either.)  But it all fired up, and the RV body was cozy warm in something like 15-20 minutes.   I plan to get a little catalytic heater, but it's nice to know that I can get the place habitable pretty quick with the big guns, and then maybe use the little heater to keep it comfy where I'm sitting and working.

After running the generator for about 30 minutes, I shut it down, and thus also the furnace.  After maybe another 30 minutes, I tried starting the generator again on just the RV batteries, and it started right up... as happily as it ever does.  Small gasoline engines are just plain cranky!

Experiment # 3 is setting up the laptop with the inverter.  It's crude right now: lots of wires running around exposed.  But it works like a champ.  I'm writing this, and will upload it, from the dining table. The weak link is the very low signal strength from T-Mobile here.  That's been a problem pretty much everywhere I've gone; it looks like I made a mistake not getting a Verizon hot spot, since their service is much better almost everywhere.

-- break --

I just moved the solar panel so it could connect to the RV batteries, and all the readouts are good -- if I'm reading them right, I'm running the laptop completely on solar ... which would be really cool if that's right. 

The other other experiment isn't really an experiment.  I'd been concerned that the sub-freezing nights we've had (down to 28 or so) might be a problem for the RV plumbing -- like burst pipes or something.  Apparently not: I have running water from all my faucets. I haven't fired up the (gas) hot water heater or the fridge, but I have no reason to think they won't work.  The only question would be whether the solar would provide enough power to keep the batteries topped up when they're running. Although the both run on LP gas, they require DC power for their control circuits.  

So the Beast seems to survive not being run for a while without much fuss.  And it's stayed perfectly comfortable once it got warmed up -- albeit on a sunny day and as warm as it gets around here in the winter: 68F.  Maybe some winter trips are feasible... 

I'm going to upload this and then pack things up and go get lunch. 

Monday, December 15, 2014

Making things

One of the activities which has given me pleasure in the late summer and fall has been preparing presentations.  One on the history of the "leather" subculture in the US, another on pre-exposure prophylaxis to prevent the spread of HIV.  These have involved research, writing, and what I'll somewhat pretentiously call "visual production:" slides and short videos for group talks.  

This is re-visiting some old territory for me: I once taught video documentary production, and have done a little off- and on-camera narration for non-fiction projects like documentaries and industrial videos.  I'd forgotten how much I liked it.  Not just the story-telling part but playing with images and sequences.

Of course, I'm not the first person to be intrigued by the forms of natural "objects." O'Keefe and Mapplethorpe come to mind. This short clip was pure play, rewarding for its own sake, and with absolutely no purpose.

So part of what I want to do is take the show on the road.  Take pictures, and videos.  Maybe talk to people, maybe listen to flowers and trees and grasses.  Put those together and upload them so people can see them.  On blogs, YouTube, maybe Vimeo... it's now possible to make images, still and moving, with relatively inexpensive equipment, and edit it carefully on a good laptop.

That's why the inverter and solar and extra battery in the RV: not just to have light, but to play with images and share them.

I have no idea how this will work.  Maybe it'll turn out not to hold my attention.  But for now, I'm thinking of the Beast as the Mobile Media Wagon.  We'll see.

That was then ...

With a few short trips and one longer trip under my belt, what's next?  I told myself that I'd give the whole RV thing a year.  Would I keep the thing or not?  More trips? What kind?

Here's the reasons I haven't used it more, and expense isn't really high on the list.

Emma.  She's hard to travel with.  The drugs take the edge off her anxiety while we're on the move, but she's not real happy.  I think this would decrease with time, so it may just be a matter of putting in the miles.  She's fine in camp... as long as I'm there with her.  But if I leave her, to go for a walk or a bike ride, she gets whiney and obnoxious.  This is a problem for what neighbors there are ... and I'm not sure whether this behavior would decrease with time.  It did at home ... as it is, though, I feel pretty much tethered to the dog.  As in, almost literally.  Visit someone and park on the street by their house, or in their yard/drive?  Not really an option unless they want to host an anxious dog along with me.  She's not relaxed in ANY new place,  so being a guest in someone else's home is a little iffy. More drugs?  I don't like that much ...

Set-up and takedown.   If I could just park the thing in the side yard ... as it is, getting it out of storage, shuttling back and forth with the car, parking it next to my place to pack it up and getting glared at by neighbors who drive by... parking it in a lot here in the complex overnight.  All of this is a matter of getting better routines down.  This will get better with more trips.

Local travel.  Even without Emma, this is a problem. It's why people tow their cars behind their RV's.  Say, I go visit friends in Palm Springs and park in their yard.  I want to go into town for dinner.  Putting the rig in "travel" mode just for a few hours, not to mention the adventure of parking it somewhere near where I want to go, doesn't sound like fun.  The bike is great for exploring the local area... but at night, on the roads, coming back from dinner ... I don't think so.

So the kind of travel which makes sense in the RV is where the destination is the destination, and Emma can sniff around outside happily.  I've been reading several blogs from "full-timers."  One which caught my eye was from a guy who spends summers on Forest Service land near Flagstaff.  In the winter, he heads south.  What he does is nature photography... he went over to New Mexico to the Sandhill Cranes reservation.  He's also a "van dweller."  His writing makes it clear he's on a major "simplification" mission ... as in Thoreau's preface to Walden:  "I came to the woods not to rough it but to smooth it."  This is not really my motivation.  Couldn't be, with my love of gadgets.  But solitude and quiet are motivating.  I have a lot of that right where I am, of course... and the question is how it would be to go someplace like, say, Quartzite AZ, and live in the RV for a week or so parked on public lands.  I've been taking a lot of pictures of flowers and plants on my Tucson patio... I have ideas of doing that in different places.  Would the travel cost and tsuris be worth it?   Would I be just as happy at home?

I've gotten some gear to help with boondocking.  I just got a small solar panel --

which may, in sunny southern climes, keep my two 12V batteries in good shape for quite a while. I also got a small PSW (pure sine-wave) inverter so I have a source of quality AC power from the batteries.  I have the generator, of course, but it's noisy and smelly and uses gasoline.  I'm hoping that I can use the generator as a backup rather than a primary source of power.

This strategy depends on a certain simplicity in living.  Not all the way to Thoreau, but on that road. I'm not looking to have all the comforts of home while camped in the desert in the middle of nowhere.  I'm hoping that I can stay places where I won't be miserable without a/c.  And that I won't feel deprived not using the microwave.  Camping, in other words, in an uber-tent.  I'm OK with camping as long as I don't have to sleep on the ground.  :-)

Next post -- after I take Emma out for her morning jaunt -- is about making stuff.

Excuses, and the Dolores report

Yup.  Me again.  It's been a while.  I do have a problem with blogs -- eventually I just get tired of talking to myself.  Some new directions here, maybe, so I'll try again to stay with a program.

Last post I was on my way to a group camp-out in the Four Corners area, near Dolores CO.  Two days' travel from Boulder.  Lotta up and down over the Rockies.  Funny how I never really notice that in the little car!  The truck makes such heavy weather of climbing hills; it gets very very loud, and if I don't stay right on top of it, and let my speed get too low, it just won't accelerate until I get on the flat again.  I guess I'll get used to it.  And regardless of all the ups and downs, the think gets a pretty constant 10 mpg, which all things considered isn't that bad.  Particularly now that gas prices have nose-dived... last summer it cost me about $0.35 per mile for gas, right now it looks more like $0.25.

My idea with the blog was that as I travelled, I'd sit down and write about the day's adventures and upload pictures.  What happened was that internet access was pretty spotty.   The hot spot works like a champ, but T-Mobile has a long ways to go to catch up with, say, Verizon, in coverage.  Plus, I'm drawn to more out-of-the-way places to stay.  The dedicated RV bloggers and vloggers park outside a MacDonald's or a Starbucks are use the free wi-fi to upload.  If I'm staying a few days off the grid, I'm, well, off the grid.  The solution is to write daily and upload when possible.  Obviously.

The event at Dolores was interesting, but I'm not sure I'll go again.  I have a few pictures which will give an impression of the place --

Emma loved it.  It was the first time that I could just let her wander around off-leash; there were lots of other dogs, and her social skills from Doggy Day Care came to the fore.  

I was less enthralled.  My appetite for the human equivalent of sniffing butt is pretty limited, and sitting around in a circle exchanging small talk isn't my idea of a good time for long.  This group was largely composed of people who know each other, and I felt very much the outsider.  Not because they were unfriendly, I hasten to add.  If I were a more aggressively gregarious person it might have been very different. 

At any rate -- from Dolores I pretty much hightailed it home.  Took a couple of days.  And that was the last Summer trip in the Beast. I'll ruminate on why, and what I might do next, in my next post.