Friday, January 30, 2015

In ABQ

Long day.  Got in about 3:15. Note to self: don't plan driving days which start at 5:30 and end about 10 hours later.  In rain and high winds. And crazy urban traffic for dessert.

Nap.  Presentation at 6. Then,

Dinner!  Scotch!

R

Wind!

Cloudy, rainy, and very very windy. Windy enough that it blew off the cover on one of the roof vents. I wondered why it was so cold in here all of a sudden. Temporary fix achieved with a plastic bag and gorilla tape. Making good time, approaching Deming New Mexico. I should get into Albuquerque at somewhere between one and 2 o'clock in the afternoon

Trucks as neighbors

Are very noisy all night long.  I assume it's generators powering reefer units.  It would be one thing if it was a constant drone, but the intermittent start-up noises are hard to sleep through. But I managed, and got up at my usual unGodly hour.  Having coffee now.

It's been raining on and off all night; may be mixed with snow as I get up into Albuquerque.

The Beastly furnace heats the place up really well, but I'm leery of just leaving it on the thermostat.  It's not the propane consumption that concerns me, it's the battery drain from the fan.

When I got up I cracked a window and lit up the Little Buddy catalytic heater -- works really well to heat the end of the coach I inhabit when I'm on the laptop. And it's quiet... no fan.

Long day today.  But I'm pretty psyched for it all.

Granola time ...

Thursday, January 29, 2015

On the road ...

finally!  I got the RV from Buck at about 5, drove it home, loaded it up and took off.  I went about 1:30 down the road -- enough so that I'm confident I can get to ABQ in time without undue haste.

I'm parked with at least 100 trucks in the lot behind a T/A truck stop.  Had a nasty dinner -- figured that breakfast would always be safe.  Powdered eggs, limp greasy bacon. Half-cooked home fries.

Back to the security of the Beast.

I'll sip some scotch, read a bit, and lights (my new super-efficient LEDs) out.

Oh yeah -- the furnace fired right up. In a couple of minutes it took the chill off.

Oh yeah again:  Emma's staying with neighbor Steve Springer, and he reports she's calm and happy.

Yessss!


Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Weekend travel plans

Since I mentioned this earlier, I'll follow up.  The Albuquerque trip is still on, but I'll be driving all the way on Friday.  It makes for a long day, and I have a presentation to give in the evening.  And the long-range forecast is showing rain shading into snow in The Land of Enchantment.  (That would be New Mexico, folks!)

At least part of the enormous repair bill for the RV includes new windshield wipers!


Monday, January 26, 2015

How far is far?

I'm playing.

If I took three months this summer and headed North, and did some kind of circle, how far would I travel? (Talk about unstructured questions!)

Well ... try this:


4400 miles.  66 hours driving.   Gas cost roughly $770.  But what a lot of wandering!  What opportunities for boondocking in all that western US public lands!  Wow!

I'm getting really excited!

The best-laid plans

Well, well, well.  

Damn.

I took the RV in to get checked over for travel and to have done some stuff which had been scheduled: repack wheel bearings was the biggest item.  It turns out that it needs what may add up to $2500 of work.  I'll spare you the details for now.

Other than what's in front of me now, the rest of the (1999) vehicle looks "pristine," in Buck's words. 

In addition to the cost, this means that I'll have to re-think and probably re-schedule the trip to ABQ, which means the people over there who've arranged the presentations I'm giving will have to scramble to cancel/reschedule.

Bummer. All around.

Film at 11.  


More communities ... and me

I keep running across people who have dropped out.  Back in the 60's, dropping out was a very hippie thing to do.  It had heavy political implications, and in many cases was part of a counter-culture movement that involved a lot of drugs.  

The full-time RV people -- all over the map. Literally and figuratively.  "Virtual" communities held together by the shared idea of being a high-tech nomad... and by the internet.

Here's a link to a web site for "Nü" RV'ers.   This is not the "occupy" crowd of economic rebels who want to overthrow the system. (How 60's, right?)  These are people finding a way to live in the world they live in...

"This is not your GrandDad's RV-ing community."  Well, I could be their Grand-Dad.  And a lot of what I see of the communities they're talking about doesn't appeal to me either.

I'm much more drawn to the guy who's in his 50s or 60s who spends summers up near Flagstaff and winters down in the far southwest corner of Arizona.  Boondocking on public land.  Drawn enough to go do it?  Not really.  Not yet.  But playing with these ideas gives me a sense that there's still a future.  That life could be more than sitting in a very comfortable place waiting to die.

When I got the RV I sensed that it could be an important moment.  More than just spending a scary amount of money.  But I didn't know what that moment might mean.  I still don't.

But... huh?!


Sunday, January 25, 2015

Communities

Theres's been a progression in my RV-related thinking.

I started with my love of gadgets.  That'll be obvious, and I make no apologies.  Gear freaks, unite! That even carries over into this blog:  I'm fiddling with the layout, the background, discovering how to install widgets and maps and stuff. All that was predictable, if you know me even a little, and it's all good.

What I hadn't expected was the discovery of communities.

I discovered blogs and YouTube channels.  I knew about blogs, even tried a few times to maintain one.  But YouTube!  I now know that if I want to figure out how to do something, someone out there has probably made a video showing how.   That's been true for the video editing software I use, Apple's Final Cut Pro X, and for various other tech-y questions.  But starting with a kid named Eric from Olympia, WA, and branching out in all directions as far as the eye can see, I discovered  people writing and making videos about themselves.  Telling their stories.  Reaching out.  Intersecting  conversations on Facebook and YouTube and WordPress and Blogger.

Lots of different kinds of people; lots of life styles, linked by the desire to spend time "on the road."  All, to some degree or another, rejecting the standard narrative of houses and jobs.

There's Eric and his band of younger, somewhat scruffy cyber-friends who sometimes meet up in person (or would they say "IRL?")  Selfies on steroids, talking into GoPro's on sticks.

There's folks who make a living working from home -- except home is an RV, and moves around.  Lots of these folks are tech types or writers or editors of one or another description, who can seemingly do their thing from almost anywhere and know a lot about cell phone signal boosters.  These folks tend to be younger, hip, and able to afford big Class A rigs. They stop off for wine-tasting at California vineyards, rather than join Eric and his pals at Dick's bar in Panama City, FL, where "they treat you like a dick."

There's retired folks of all descriptions and economic situations.

Some huddle in crowded commercial "parks" and "resorts" in places like Yuma and Palm Springs.  Some get as far away from that as they can in "dry camps."

These folks gather for events like the "rubber tramp rendezvous" over near Quartzite,  and then disperse, some of them deciding to travel together for a while.  (There's an event here in Tucson in March.)  Communities glued together by motor vehicles and petroleum, by internet connectedness.  Sharing lore, learning from elders, mentoring the newbs and the younguns.  Some loners, some almost conventionally social by nature.  In touch even when physically separate.  Some couples, some single.  Lots of pets.

All of these people reaching out ... posting words and pictures and videos.  Often very much in the original mold of "web logs:" Here's what I did today. But more often than not, Here's how I installed my solar system, or Here's a great recipe for X that I can cook in my little RV kitchen. Here's a great book I'm reading.  Lots of reviews and advice on where to go: Boondocking locations on Western BLM land,  Walmart parking lots and other ways to spend a night for free while going from here to there, roadside rest stops which permit overnight parking but where safety might be a little sketchy.   Some blogs are full of misspelled words, some are carefully written.  Some videos almost professional, some hard to watch.  Bottles cast into the ocean of contemporary chaos, from little beaches of private sanity.

It's more interesting, more diverse than I thought. It's fascinating, and a little scary.  It's -- an adventure! See you on the road!





Friday, January 23, 2015

Mom and Pop RV service at Merrigan's

I went to pick up the RV at Merrigan's. There was one part of the job where they thought they had a better idea than I did. They didn't. They're getting the parts to do it right and gave me a ride to the nearest Starbucks while they got 'er done. Not ideal but a graceful recovery.

The reason it had to be done twice was that I wasn't as confident as I could have been about what I wanted done, and let them talk me into something different.  Understandable, given my status as a true newbie, perhaps. So as I go on, this should happen less.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

How did we live without the internet?

So I'm headed to Albuquerque next weekend.  Living in Tucson, "winter" is an elusive concept, and it has slowly dawned on me that Albuquerque is at 5300+ feet elevation and it gets cold and snowy there. So I started paying attention to the long-range weather forecasts to see what I could see.

First, my favorite weather source: Weather Underground. Stunningly effective graphic displays,  a lot of local crowd-sourced data, and great forecasts.  The link is to the Albuquerque display for whenever you read this.

About road conditions and all.  Turns out the state of New Mexico has some great online information about road conditions ranging from weather to construction delays:

This is a screen shot from this morning.

If you want to see the current dope for whenever you're reading this, the link is here.

It turns out that some states permit overnight parking at rest stops: Arizona and New Mexico are both in this category.  I'm wondering about safety in these situations, but it's good to know it's an option.

There's similar info, presented differently, for other states, too.  The whole thing is mind-boggling if your early travel planning experiences involved ordering printed "TripTiks" from AAA several weeks before your departure date.


Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Building a motorhome

One of the bloggers I follow (Life Rebooted) posted a pointer to their motorhome being built.  I'm fascinated by this... this is a much bigger and more luxe rig than The Beast, but seeing how these things get put together is fascinating.  Here's a link to the slide show. If I ever decided to pull up stakes and full-time, I'm not sure if I'd go with something like this. It would surely require a Toad, and we know how I feel about pulling something behind an already enormous box.

Still ...

One of the pleasures of the blogs I list over on the right is seeing the maps of places people have been and reading their descriptions of what it's like there.  The posts from Nina of Wheeling It are always interesting and professionally produced.  And she just posted what looks like a killer gluten-free chocolate cookie recipe!


Monday, January 19, 2015

Maps and communications

If you look to the right on this page, up on top, you'll see an experiment -- following breadcrumbs from one of the folks whose blog I list at the right, I found uMap, which is an open source mapping tool developed in France.  It's WAY complex and I'm only cracking the surface of what's possible, but it seems promising.

Being able to put up maps of where I've been and where I'm headed is a part of the general project of staying in touch while I'm on the road.  This is a simple map of where I am right now.

UPDATE:  It's no longer there, so you're not doing anything wrong. I took down the static map and replaced it with a weather widget. I'll be putting together a large map with records of trips, when there are more trips.

Today I tackled the issue of internet service.  Last year I made a mistake.   I bought a T-Mobile HotSpot so I could have internet access on the road if I wasn't staying in an RV resort or parked outside a Starbucks. T-Mobile has many attractive features, but their network just isn't built out enough.  So today I cancelled that and activated a Verizon "Jetpack" "Mifi" hot spot.  It's as spiffy as a little box the size of a deck of playing cards can be... and has the added feature of a monster battery, which can be used to charge other devices via USB.  Yesterday I charged the JetPack up to 100%, and then used it to recharge an iPhone from53% to 100%.  That took the Jetpack down to 78%, still plenty of juice to run some brief upload/download sessions from my laptop or iPad.

Did I mention I'm looking into ham radio for when there's no cell service at all? :-)

R


Sunday, January 18, 2015

Hitting the road!

Folks over in Albuquerque have asked me to give presentations over there the last weekend in January.  It turns out that with the currently-low cost of gas, it's cheaper for me to drive the RV than the little Hyundai -- IF I park overnight in a Walmart parking lot along the way.  I've never done this, so that'll be part of the adventure.

That's spurred me to get some of my current RV projects completed sooner rather than later. I have an appointment with my RV service place on Monday morning; they'll keep it a couple of days and do the following:

Fix the cut-over switch which make it possible to start the vehicle if the starter battery is run down and the coach batteries have juice.  This isn't so critical for a trip like this where AAA will never be far away, but for later trips to more remote places...

Drill some holes and put in fittings so the solar panel can be plugged into the coach battery bank without removing one of the entrance steps.

And some other holes and fittings so I can run my inverter off the coach battery without -- you guessed it -- removing the entrance step.

There's also some little stuff which I may ask them to do while it's in the shop.   Arizona Road- Runner is the furthest thing from the big glossy RV sales/service outfits which are easy to find south of the city.  This is literally a Mom-and-Pop operation, which I've had good luck with before.  Plus, they're real close.  This is their web site

The end of next week or the first thing the following week, I'll take the Beast in to Buck's Auto for a general checkup and a few mechanic-type things which need attending to.  Buck's web site is here.

Doing this reminds me how different my situation is than some of the people whose blogs I'm reading.  I can afford (so far!) to have pro's look over and take care of the stuff which I can't.

I've been enjoying fiddling and fixing, but I'm looking forward to getting on the road again... as the Willie Nelson song says.

Yee-hah!

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

About that stuff...

As I said last time, I'm not into RV-ing as a Great Renunciation of Stuff.  One of the reasons I got a Class C was to have enough room for me and the things I want to use on the road.  I see pictures from  people with small rigs and they all seem to be overflowing with ... stuff!

It's probably very un-Green of me, but I'm a believer in plastic boxes, available pretty cheap from the likes of Target and (for heavier duty containers) Home Depot.   Like so:

The tool box moves between the RV and the car trunk. It's what I think I may need on the road, in any vehicle.  The small plastic box is an example of what I use to organize stuff which I may use either on the road or at home; this applies as much to shaving gear as it does to electronics.

The larger boxes contain stuff which will have a permanent home in the RV and not much relevance elsewhere.


One of my RV-related activities today (When the fog clears. Yes, fog in the desert!)  is to go measure the storage compartments under the coach and see what size boxes will fit where.  Is it a little twisted that I'm actually enjoying this part?







Friday, January 9, 2015

Cloudy and cool ...

The last couple of days here in Tucson haven't been really conducive to going out and doing much.  Nice to have a warm comfortable place. Which leads me to think about RV travel.  A few months back, I spent a long weekend with a couple of friends up in the White Mountains of northern Arizona.  They were in a tent.  I was in the RV.  It rained.  It was then I realized that the RV is pretty comfortable even in less-than-ideal situations: warm, dry, and with all the windows, fairly light even on a cloudy day.  I don't deal well with dark and gloomy.  In a way, it helped validate the decision I made not to get a van-style RV, in spite of the inconveniences of parking and navigating in traffic.

I've been watching a really first-rate documentary on the "RV lifestyle" on YouTube.  It's a fully professional product, technically and creatively.  It runs about an hour, but I recommend it highly:

"Without Bound"

There's a couple of themes here which don't describe the way I feel.  Many of these people seem to subscribe to beliefs which border on conspiracy theories.  "They" don't want "Us" to live free.  "They" want us to keep buying stuff so "They" can control us.   I do think that income inequality, or resource inequality, is one of the major issues of our day.  But I've never felt the need to stick it to the Man, possibly because I've always been The Man ... a middle-class white American male. And I'm well aware of the tension between neat new toys and simplifying life.   Thing is,  I'm not sure I need to simplify my life.  I'm retired, with  steady income. I don't need to buy economy brand dog food, although I do grumble at the cost of Eukanuba.  I've never really lived some of what the full time RV'ers are fleeing: the rat race of bigger houses and newer cars and classy clothes.  The height of my sartorial splendor for much of my life has come from LL Bean or (more recently) Carhartt.  I chose an academic career because it gave me some flexibility in my daily life and in its overall arc.  I drove a small pickup truck more or less into the ground, and I now drive the smallest hatchback Hyundai makes.   Oh yeah, and now I have the Beast ...

I've crunched the numbers six ways from Sunday.  My fixed housing expenses are something like 20% of my after-tax income.  I have no long-term debt other than the mortgage which is included in that figure.  I have good health insurance (Medicare plus supplement) which isn't tied to any one location or provider. I can afford to go on the road and maintain my "sticks and bricks" home in Tucson.  Moreover, if I need to, I can afford to spend the occasional night in a motel and eat out if I need a fix of conventional living.

If this sounds like I'm trying to talk myself into something, I am.

A lot of my hesitation about just taking off and hitting the road comes from fear.  More fear of some kind of vehicle problem than medical emergencies or getting mugged.  I seem to be drawn to staying in places which are less "civilized" than the basic RV parks which are everywhere.  So what do I do if I have a flat tire driving into some relatively remote campsite on BLM land?  Maybe with no cell service?  Or if the RV has some kind of conniption fit and just won't go?   Well, I make sure I have the tools to change a tire if I need to.  And practice changing a tire in the comfort of the parking lot.  And I get a Verizon hot spot which will maximize my cell coverage.  And I maybe get an RV-centered road emergency policy which will tow the big guy to service.  And be prepared for some hellacious service costs.   And I make sure that people at home know where I'm headed, and check in on schedule. And I stop fretting and Just Do It.


Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Thinking ahead

This won't be about sorting out anything physical.  I'm still working on that project: Emma and I paid a quick visit to the RV to bring back all the tools that were there so I can organize what should go where.

No, what this is about is where I go when I do hit the road.  I've been reading a lot of video and other blogs (and blogs, I guess) from people who spend a LOT of time in their RV.  They like to call themselves nomads,  particularly the full-timers.  These folks, some of them, have decided live on the road.  They have various styles: some do it rather grandly, some in pretty frugal ways.   Some are constantly on the road, others settle in for a while at locations which please them.  Some are retired, some are restless kids.

I've provided pointers to some of the blogs these folks maintain, over on the right.

I'm pretty clear that full-time nomad just doesn't suit me right now.  I like having a "sticks and bricks" place to come home to.   But I'm edging toward a style of travel which would be new to me, and more than a little scary: Wandering.   Just taking off, say, northward in the summer, and winding up who knows where.  Maybe Canada, in the summer.  Maybe Mexico in the winter once I get over serious anxieties about travel where I don't speak the language. Maybe (gasp!) Florida?

The few trips I've done so far have been pretty closely planned: campground reservations made ahead, all that.  So just taking off and seeing where the road goes with no specific destination and no hard and fast schedule -- that's really scary stuff to the control freak here. But I'm getting more and more comfortable with the Beast: I think I understand its components and its (few) foibles.   And in the words of the immortal Dr Bronner: if not now, when?

The problem is, as it has been, the dog.





Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Sorting stuff out

The Brits have a wonderful expression about getting "sorted."  It translates, roughly, as "organized and understood" and can be applied to one's current overall life situation or to a specific problem.

Here's mine at the moment:


I've been going back and forth between the house and the RV storage lot getting stuff done.   It's my DIY side.  But the tools are often elsewhere.  Last week I needed something at the house which was at the RV, and yesterday the reverse.  No biggie here, with no fixed schedule and plenty of other things to do.  But when I take off for a while in the Beast, it'd be good to know I've got the right tools.

And not a lot of dead weight.

So I pulled everything out of the RV and most everything out of the closets here at the house, and I'm trying to get it all understood and organized.  Sorted.  How many sets of diagonal cutting pliers do I need?  End wrenches? Channel Locks?

Part of the problem is that some of this goes way back;  I can remember my father using THAT bulbous-handled screwdriver... But it's absurd to own this many duplicates of tools.  I think one outcome will be a big box of perfectly good tools which goes to Good Will.

Today's high is supposed to be in the mid-seventies.  It'll drop off to the mid-sixties in a few days, there's no expectation of an immediate return to the really cold temps of a few days ago.  You folks in the East and  Midwest are in for it, huh?


Sunday, January 4, 2015

Feeling smug -- ruh-roh!

I'm down at the RV again, doing an inventory of the interior cubbies.  Lots to throw out and reorganize. I brought the new space heater, both because I wanted to play with the new toy and because I didn't see any reason to give it house room at 614.  It's warm in the sun today --- air temp near here is 59.2º near here.  But it was pretty chilly in the rig.  I revved the little heater up and put it on HI and in maybe 15 minutes it was comfortable.  I don't have a thermometer with me, but it's take-the-fleece-off warm in here.  I plugged a little fan I have into the inverter, and that sure helped... if I'm reading the info right from the solar panel, the panel is supplying what's running the fan and also changing up the little battery on a floor-sweeper I keep down here.  I am consuming propane to run the space heater, but still I'm feeling quite self-sufficient.  The laptop is running on battery and so is the TMO wifi hot spot.

Back to work, then home and late lunch.


Saturday, January 3, 2015

Saturday chores

It was really cold last night, so I think I probably did the right thing by putting antifreeze in the pipes.  In Tucson,  27.8º F qualifies as really cold!  We're done with that for a while; the daily highs are forecast to go up steadily and by next week we'll be in the low 70's!  It may flirt with freezing tonight, but that's about it.

(Side note) -- I have electric heater wires on the exposed pipes on my roof.  They turn on and off via a WEMO switched outlet, which in turn is controlled by an IFTT recipe.  I've wondered how much that's costing me -- less than a plumber to repair a burst pipe, which I did do one year when it got down to 17º when I was away.  Well, now I know.  Recently I got a gadget called a "Kilawatt" which tells me how much power a given circuit is using.  The roof system, it turns out, pulls about 13 amps. The Killawatt also has an elapsed time meter which records usage over time in Kilowatt-hours.  Using this and my electric bill, I now know that it costs me $1.26 to run the system overnight.  Cool!  Not as bad as I feared.

I bought the KW to see how much power various units consume if I take them on the road and run them through the inverter.  That's the connection with this blog, if I need one.

I got a new toy for the rig, as I said I would.  It's a catalytic heater which runs off the same small propane bottles that my traveling gas grill does.



You can gauge the size from the whiskey bottles nearby.  It really does crank out heat!  The deal with catalytic heaters is that they consume oxygen.  As long as you provide a little ventilation, they're safe in a closed space, at least one as big as a small cabin or a duck blind or an RV.  And the RV has a propane detector and a CO2 detector and a smoke alarm in case of Idunnowhat.

This arrived at the house while I was puttering around on the rig down at the storage yard.  So it hasn't yet been tested in situ. I hooked up the solar panel and put some more juice into the starter battery, took an inventory of all the storage cubbies, and re-organized them.  I'd more or less thrown stuff wherever it would fit last summer, and not surprisingly that resulted in not being able to find hardly anything.  There's only one cubby which is the right dimension to take the solar panel when it's folded up, so that's what started my housekeeping burst.

I think the next step is to look at how the interior storage is being used, and maybe to figure out why the kitchen drawers don't slide smoothly. It'll be even warmer tomorrow, so maybe I'll spend time down there a bit again.  I might also take it for a short spin and fill up the tank with $1.99 gas!

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Winterizing

This is my first winter with the Beast.  I'd thought rather vaguely about whether I ought to do something about freezing temperatures.  But I kept thinking I might take it out sometime soon.  So ... I managed to not do anything about winterizing.  It's gonna get down the 25 tonight, according to Weather Underground, so. Besides, it sounded hard.

Not so much.  I got three gallons of pink RV antifreeze at Pep Boys, watched a couple of YouTube videos, and went at it.  Oh, and I read the directions.  Yes, the Owner's Manual says what to do.

So I did it.  The hardest part was finding the backside of the hot water heater so I could bypass it when I filled the pipes with antifreeze.  Of course: behind the drawer underneath the closet in the bathroom.






Or maybe the hardest part was waiting an hour for the main water tank to drain (I swear that machine has prostate issues!)

video



But it's done.  Total cost $15 for the antifreeze, and I have enough left over for next winter.


Does this sh*t spoil?



The no-longer mysterious Water Department


The whole took a couple of hours, and engendered a bit of tension:  Frozen pipes in your RV toilet sounds messy and, well, expensive.  But it was simpler than I thought it would be (life lesson there, huh?) And now it's almost cocktail hour.

Oh yeah: Happy New Year -- if there's anyone out there.