Tuesday, February 16, 2016

California Dreamin’ & What’s Up Next

I know, that's a pretty cliche title. The truth is, I've never dreamed of California, at least that I’m aware of. So it surprises me that, after a year and a half on the road, we've spent a fair amount of time in the Golden State.

In our travels we've visited 15 states so far and yet, for some reason, we keep returning to California. Last fall we spent a month in San Diego so we could be near Tara. We took a lot of day trips during that time and discovered the Palm Springs and Borrego Springs areas. We liked it there so much that we returned to camp with friends after spending the holidays at the ranch. And now we're sitting right next to the Pacific Ocean. Who knew there was such diversity for RVers?

The story so far… maybe four or five more in 2016?

I lived in California when I was a child; in Davis, Bakersfield, Wasco and Long Beach but I don't remember much at all. So there's that and lots more for us to see when we return. It's going to be a while, though, because we've got big plans and it's time to hit the road!

I'm always a little hesitant to write about future plans, as if putting it out there will somehow set our plans into stone or jinx them. RVers are fond of saying that traveling plans are made in Jell-O. That's kind of goofy and cliche, but it's just so true! No matter how much planning and intent goes into the future, it's still all wiggly and jiggly and prone to falling apart at the slightest provocation.

We certainly experienced the Jell-O phenomenon last year when, at the last minute, we changed our direction of travel in the fall from Maine to California. And yet, that's one of the great things about this lifestyle. We can literally make a U-turn and head the other direction if we suddenly have a change of heart. We can go places that weren't even on our radar a month ago… or last week! On the way to California we detoured into the Colorado mountains to join a group of friends for a while before continuing our travels south. This is true freedom!

Anyway, tomorrow we'll be packing up and leaving our oceanside spot to begin our slow mosey north on Highway 101. We've got nothing in particular planned for the next few weeks except a few stops to visit friends. We'll spend a few days in Seattle and Bellingham to see Zoe and Zac (yay!!) and get ourselves prepared for our next big adventure: Alaska!

2016 is gonna be epic, well over 10,000 miles. Go Scoopy!

I can't even get my head around this trip to Alaska because it's just so epic and kind of scary. There are, you know, giant mosquitos and bears and maybe some earthquakes and stuff. And road signs written in Canadian. I don't know what all there is to be nervous about, but we're just going to dive headlong into it and hope for the best. In other words, exactly what we've been doing. :)

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Scary stuff!

We'll spend four months or so on this incredible journey before heading south to the ranch in Texas for the holidays. In between Thanksgiving and Christmas we'll travel to Ireland to visit Steven's family, and while we're there we decided why not hop a two-hour flight to Norway and poke around for a few days? Maybe drive the Atlanterhavs Road? Maybe see the Northern Lights? Who knows?!

Atlanterhavs Road – I would drive Scoopy on this road. LOL!

So that's it. That's our big plans for 2016. Unless, of course, we make a U-turn. 

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Behind the Scenes of Perfection

I read a funny headline in The New York Times today, it said, "Forget the cold, it's always sunny on Instagram". That made me laugh because Steven and I had just had a conversation about the posts we put on Facebook. Do we overshare? Make things seem, I don't know, a little too perfect?

There is no denying that when you travel with an awesome photographer, it may not always be sunny, but it's sure gonna look fabulous. Of course, that's never the whole story.

Scoopy tucked into her spot on the Rincon Parkway.

Steven and I have moved on from our "perfect" spot in the desert to the coast where we are set up on the Rincon Parkway, a Ventura County park right on the Pacific Ocean. Here the sun is either shining high in the sky warming the days into the 80s or setting on the ocean horizon in a fiery blaze of glory. The wind is calm, the waves are rolling in one after the other crashing on the rocks below our site. There are dolphins jumping and splashing and surfers paddling around waiting for just the right wave to ride to shore. There's just an embarrassment of photographic riches, so, kind of perfect, right? Well, not exactly.

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We had plenty of evening entertainment during our happy hour. Perfect!

Indeed we do have a fantastic view of the Pacific Ocean, but only on the right side of Scoopy. Directly out our front windows we look at the butt end of a travel trailer and our neighbor's awesome set-up, so mostly we keep our front curtains closed. Behind us is another travel trailer. Both have industrial generators they run periodically throughout the day. Outside the left windows, about eight feet away is the old Pacific Coast Highway, a very busy two-lane road. Across that road is a train track, and a few hundred yards from that is the six-lane Highway 101. (I think the folks on the Amtrak are looking at all of the RVs thinking "How fun!" and all of us RVers are looking at the Amtrak thinking, "How fun!")

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There’s not much between us and the Amtrak, or our neighbors outdoor set-up.

Between the road traffic, the trains and the neighbors, it is really loud here. Sounds awful, doesn't it? But you know what else is deafening? The ocean. With its crashing, thunderous, beautiful, booming waves it drowns out almost everything else. Perspective is everything.

I took this photo from Highway 101. Scoopy is somewhere in that line of RVs.

Steven and I are pretty well synced on what "perfection" means to us. As we travel, we've gotten fairly adept at filtering out the distractions around us so that we can hone in on our Happy Place. Sometimes it's obvious, like where we are now. Regardless of all that is around us, you really can't beat that ocean view and those amazing Pacific sunsets.

Our Happy Place!

Other times the view has nothing to do with it. We once pulled into a butt ugly campsite where our view was of a dumpster, a metal building and a Port-a-Potty. We'd had a long, hard day of travel and we literally high-fived when we got a spot. We just closed our curtains, happy to be off the road and settled, our immediate needs having been met. Did we post a photo of that view on Facebook? Actually, we did.

Not the best view we’ve ever had, but it’s memorable.

Ultimately, perfection is a state of mind and mostly a choice. Steven and I choose to see that which makes us the most happy and content. It would be so easy to focus on all that is imperfect, because believe me, even if we don't post a photo on Facebook, there's always something. But that's just not how we roll.

Friday, February 5, 2016

The Solar System for Dummies

Every time I say that my next post will be about solar, I set myself up for another four-month hiatus from blogging. My eyes glaze over just thinking about trying to write that kind of post because to get it all technically correct and informative, I would have to do a ton of research. Unlike Matt Damon, I can't just "science the shit" out of stuff, ya know? So I'm just going to tell you what I think I know and write about how it's working for us. Then I can get on with my life and maybe do some other posts that don't bog me down. M'kay?

We have seven solar panels -- you've all seen one of those, right? Little black squares inside a big rectangle? Yeah, that thing. We have seven. Together they total 840 watts, which is meaningless to me, because who cares? I don't know a watt from an amp from a volt, and frankly I really don't need to know. Anyway, 840 watts is what we've got and apparently that's a pretty good amount so I'm happy about that.

Scoopy’s awesome solar panels!

The panels are attached to metal frames bolted to the top of Scoopy. They lay flat when we travel (duh) and when we're parked and the sun is high in the sky, like, say, summer. Or we can tilt them when the sun is low in the sky, like in winter. Now, when I say "we" tilt them, I mean that in the royal sense. Steven does all the climbing on Scoopy's roof. It would be awesome if tilting was as easy as simply pushing a button, but it's not, tilting is a manual process. The panels can tilt either way, but our best direction is to the left, or the driver's side. Panels don't work so well if there is a shadow over them and our AC units can throw some shade if the panels are pointed to the right. So ideally, in the winter, we want to orient Scoopy to the west (which means our panels are tilted south) and in the summer, it doesn't really matter as long as there is open sky. Got all that? It took me a while. In fact, the very first time we parked to test out our solar in Colorado, the first place we picked out had a ton of shade. Once we realized our mistake, we had to move. What noobs!

The “Royal We” tilting our solar panels.

If we have managed to park away from any obstructions and point ourselves in the right direction, on a good day the sun shines brightly on those panels and they absorb all the little sunbeams they possibly can. Probably 840 sunbeams, which is why 840 of panels is better than 340. (I'm guessing here, but it sounds logical.) Those panels are connected to a bunch of big fat wires and those little sunbeams swim down those wires through a couple of twists and turns and a metal box (no idea what that is for) and flow down into our batteries. The more batteries we have, the more little sunbeams we can store for later use. We only have four, which is okay, but more would be better. We tried to get more, but fitting them into Scoopy was too costly and complicated. Our batteries are AGMs, which stands for something but is mostly unimportant. All I know is that those suckers are expensive, but require no maintenance, so worth it as far as I am concerned.

Anyway, the little sunbeams are bouncing around in the batteries just waiting to be called up inside to do something awesome like charge my computer or run my vacuum cleaner. Of course, we all know that stuff doesn't run on actual sunbeams, right? So before they are sent upstairs, the sunbeams have to pass through a big, powerful box called an inverter that changes them into little electric thunderbolts, you know, the stuff that comes out of a household plug. Pretty cool, huh?

Our inverter, a 2800 Magnum, turns sunbeams into electric thunderbolts!

There are times that the sun is so bright and high in the sky that our panels absorb more sunbeams than our batteries can possibly store, which is why more batteries would be good. Our battery capacity is 440 amp hours (again, eyes glazing over . . . ) and so that's why we have a ton of sunbeams that are essentially swimming around waiting for space.

Anyhow, I think that's about how it works. This time of excess usually starts around noon and can last until four or five o'clock. This is my favorite time of day. I can use thunderbolts to my heart's content. We can plug in All The Things!! and there is not much we can do that will take our batteries below 100% because the batteries fill right up again. If we are home, we tend to use this time to cook, clean, watch TV, excessively use our computers. It does kind of blow my mind that I can vacuum Scoopy using solar power.

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Actual inverter display                                    Inverter display for Dummies

But once the sun begins to set, we go back into conservation mode. What does that mean? Well, we'll use our LED lights instead of regular household ones. We might unplug our computers and run them off their batteries. We unplug things we don't need, like the microwave clock and other phantom draws. But that's about it, really. In reality, Steven and I are not the ones hogging all the power, no, that would be our residential refrigerator. If we had a regular RV fridge that we could run on propane, 840 watts would most likely be overkill. But we got rid of our RV fridge and put in a big lovely residential style that frankly I don't ever want to be without. Even though it uses great wads of thunderbolts I don't even care, I love it so much.

There are a few things in Scoopy that we cannot run on solar power at all. The microwave, for example. It's amazing how much we rely on that thing, but we're making progress weaning ourselves off it. We've ditched our drip coffeemaker for a pour over. My hairdryer doesn't run on solar. The air conditioners won't run on solar, so if we are going to be in a place where it's hot enough that we need to run them, we either pay for full hook ups or we move. But, when we're out boondocking and need to run any of these things, like, when we are too lazy to heat up leftovers on the stovetop, we have a powerful generator on board that will run them all.

We try not to run the generator much, but sometimes solar isn't enough. This is especially true on a cloudy or rainy day, or if we've just stayed in all day being power hogs. Since running the generator also charges our batteries, we usually run it in the evening for an hour or so to top off the batteries before bedtime. We like them to be at least 85% or higher when we go to bed.

Because here's a funky thing about our batteries that I don't even understand - they can't go below 50% before they have to be charged up again, otherwise they will die! How lame is that? Most of the time we don't let ours go below 60% "just in case". In case of what, I don't know, but that's how we roll. I think the lowest ours have ever been is 59% and we freaked out a little.  Our system is wired to shut down if the batteries ever get close to 50%. That's a nice feature, I guess.

We might watch a bit of TV after going to bed, but usually not for long. Steven has to get up and unplug the TVs, DirecTV, speakers, and so on to limit the power draw overnight. (That's kind of a pain, so I never suggest watching TV. I am too lazy to get up). When we wake up in the morning, the batteries will typically read between 63-70%. In other words, our residential refrigerator uses about 20-22% of our batteries overnight. It would use a ton more power if not for a little feature that allows us to put it in "E-Saver" mode.

In the morning, unless it's cloudy out, we will usually let the panels do their job and by early afternoon we are back to 100%. If it's cloudy, we will run the generator just to give the batteries a morning boost. Here in the SoCal desert, we have way more sunshine than rain, or even clouds, so we've only minimally used our generator.

Elk Creek in Colorado. See that tree? That’s where we parked the first time. NOOBS!

So there you have it, my brain dump on our solar system. It's awesome and we love it. If you're even thinking about getting solar, do it. (Jodee, Bill . . . )

Up next: Where we’ve been and where we’re going.