One of the RV parks we stayed at is the San Juan de Lago RV Park. In order to get there you need to drive through the village of San Juan Benito Juarez, and then once you’ve reached the gate of the RV Park property you have to climb a ridiculously steep hill. I grabbed the footage from my dash-cam and put it on YouTube to share with you all. Yes, the video is rather long, but I think you’ll find it interesting. I left it in real-time except for a few spots where I sat still for a few minutes, and I cut those out.
Here are some not-so-random facts:
– I have never traveled with an RV caravan before
– I have never traveled in Mexico before, other than walking across the border to Los Algodones to visit my dentist
– I am a hardcore introvert with a fair bit of social anxiety. A classic misanthrope
These things all being true, I didn’t have much of an idea what it would be like traveling in a new country with a rather large group of people I didn’t know, other than “interesting”. I was rather sure it would be interesting, and I was right.
While it’s all still new to me and fresh in my mind, I think I should write about a few random topics. These are in no particular order as I’m simply writing about things as they come into my head.
I was really concerned I wouldn’t be able to function as part of the group. I can easily be overwhelmed by social interaction. I remember attending the Xscapers Convergence in Quartzsite in January of 2018 and being so overwhelmed I had to spend 10 days alone out in the desert at Mohave National Preserve to recover. Fortunately I haven’t had that experience here. The people in the group are all friendly and easy to talk with, but not pushy. At the end of a day of sightseeing I am often really tired from the social aspect of it, but a few hours of alone time in the evening allows me to process everything and get back to normal.
I am really glad I wasn’t crossing the border by myself. I found the whole process of getting the FMM, the Forma Migratoria Múltiple, aka my “tourist card”, and the TIP, or Temporary Import Permit for the motorhome, very confusing. All of the officials at the border crossing were friendly and helpful enough, but my Spanish doesn’t go much further than “hola” and “no comprendo”, so without someone there to tell me where to go and what to do, the whole experience would have been a nightmare.
The roads haven’t been a surprise, since I had read plenty about how bad some of the roads are, about all the topes (speed bumps), that one should use the toll roads rather than the Libres, and about driving half on the shoulder. But all of that still took a bit of getting used to. The toll roads seem to have a lot of toll booths. At one of the first toll booths we went through I went to the right-most lane, and that turned out to be for Carga (Cargo, or trucks) only, and didn’t go back onto the highway. The toll collector was trying really hard to make me understand what I had done wrong, but I couldn’t understand him. Finally I realized I needed to back out of the toll, and a couple of official guys stopped traffic behind me so I could back out and move over to the proper toll lane.
Most things in Mexico are less expensive than in the US, but gas isn’t one of them. Gas runs in the area of $4 USD per gallon. You don’t pump your own gas in Mexico; there are attendants. These attendants don’t get paid a wage, they work strictly for tips. Depending on how much gas I’m buying, and thus how much of the attendant’s time I take, I tip them 20 or 30 pesos.
When you eat in a restaurant there is no pressure to leave as soon as you’re done eating, you are expected to linger and chat and sip your drinks for as long as you like. The waiter or waitress will not bring you the check until you ask for it.
There are a lot of topes (speed bumps) on the road. They come in all kinds of profiles, and some of them are absolutely insane! I’ve actually kind of gotten hung-up getting the rear wheels over them and had to back up a bit and have another go.
Umm, I’m sure there are other things I should mention, but I can’t think of them at the moment. This will do for now.
A month from today, if all goes as planned, I will be crossing the border from Mission, Texas to Reynosa, Tamaulipas, Mexico.
I don’t remember exactly when I came up with the idea of spending part of the winter in Mexico. It was a number of months ago. At first I thought I might just go down to Baja for a couple of weeks. A lot of RVers do that, and the Mexican government makes it especially easy to do as they waive some of the paperwork requirements so long as you don’t continue farther into Mexico.
But then I decided no, I really want to get a more comprehensive overview of the country, so I decided to join a commercial caravan and see as much of Mexico as I could. The idea is to get an overview of the country, learn the practical ins and outs of traveling there, and see if there are regions or specific places I might like to return to in the future.
After some research, I settled on Caravanas De Mexico. Every other year they offer their Yucatan – All Mexico Loop which goes for 3 months and makes a circuit of the whole country, and since they are offering that loop for 2020, I signed up.
The specific group I will be traveling with will consist of 13 rigs including the leaders. There will be 8 couples and 5 solos, for a total of 21 people. I’m very happy I won’t be the only solo, as I feared that would be awkward.
Since both RVing in Mexico and RVing with a group will be new experiences for me, I expect that I will be blogging more frequently during the trip. I am looking forward to seeing what it’s like and sharing it all with you.
This time last year, when I was in Louisiana at Black Bayou Lake and looking ahead to the summer of 2019, my plan was to work and earn some money. In fact, my plan was to again work as a camphost for the same company I worked for last summer, but in a different location.
Then I saw something online about an upcoming WIN circuit that would travel across the country stopping to ride various bike trails, and that caught my imagination. I rather instantly decided that that was how I would spend the summer, and dropped my plan to work. This whole spontaneous plan making thing is new for me; it’s never been part of my personality, and I think is a facet of this mobile RV life that has most surprised me.
But even that simple plan didn’t work out quite as expected. I had to be back in East Texas in early February to see my doctor and my ophthalmologist, and then I was going to head west to Quartzsite to finish the electrical upgrades I had started the year before by having a larger inverter installed and the inside wiring modified. And while I was there I also made a quick detour south so I could cross the border into Los Algodones and see my dentist.
The plan after this was to start heading east and meet up with the WIN group in April at the start of the circuit down in the southeast. But instead I had to be back in Livingston at the beginning of April to deal with some more medical stuff, and then, happily, Aoife had a chance to fly in for a week and we decided to explore New Mexico, so when I left Livingston I headed for Albuquerque where Aoife was flying into. Long story short, I didn’t catch up to the WINS until May 1 in Jefferson City, Missouri.
But wait, there’s more! When Aoife and I arrived at Bandelier NM and I put the slides out, the full wall slide made some unpleasant noises. I think I put the slide out one or two more times after this, and the noise got worse and worse, so by the time I had arrived in Jefferson City I was leaving the full wall slide in. Living with it in got old really fast, and after a week or so with the WINS in Jefferson City, I left the group and headed up to the Winnebago Factory Service Center in Iowa to get the slide dealt with and to have them check out an issue I’d been having with the hydraulic leveling jacks.
It takes months to get a service appointment with Winnebago, so instead I showed up without an appointment and was a “walk in” service customer. This means they worked on my rig as time allowed, so it took several weeks to get things taken care of. By the time I caught up with the WINS again, in South Dakota, it was the end of May. I stayed with the WIN circuit as we explored the Black Hills of South Dakota and then on to Grand Teton National Park, in the middle of June.
In Grand Teton the cycling circuit met up with another circuit spending the summer touring the northwest. The combined circuit was big, far too many people for me to comfortably deal with, so it was time for me to head out on my own again. Since it was only the middle of June I decided I would spend the rest of the summer touring some of the National Parks in the region, so I spent the next 3 weeks in Yellowstone, the movesd up to Glacier National Park for 12 days, then crossed into Canada to visit Banff for a week before coming back to the states and visiting Craters Of The Moon. From here I visited some state parks in Idaho, then headed west to visit North Cascades National Park.
This brought me to Labor Day, and not having made reservations 6 months in advance, there was no way I was going to get into any park anywhere so I sat out the weekend in a casino parking lot just outside of Olympic National Park. After the holiday crush I moved to another boondocking spot while I checked out Olympic NP, then made my way toward Crater Lake and another free spot for a week.
In mid-September Aoife had another vacation week. Whenever she comes for a visit the conversation always turns on where she should fly into. This time I said “fly into San Francisco and we’ll go visit Yosemite!” Now the Bay Area is an expensive place, and RV park prices hover around $100 per night. Not being a fan of RV parks or of paying that much money, I managed to find a county park in San Mateo, Coyote Point Recreation Area, that had 4 RV sites along the edge of a parking lot on San Francisco Bay, and only a 15 minute drive from the airport!
We made a day trip from here down to Monterey, and explored a couple of beaches along the coast on the drive home, then the next day we headed east and up to a Thousand Trails park just outside the west gate of Yosemite. Yosemite is amazing and we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves until it was time to get Aoife back to San Jose to catch her flight home.
This left me with just over a week before I had to be in Death Valley for the start of my time here as a volunteer camphost, so I headed to Lone Pine to hang out and explore that area.
So that was a long recounting of “I went here and then I went there.” What’s my point? What is to be concluded from all this?
One one hand, I’m glad I did what I did this summer. These northern parks aren’t places I would go with my RV in the winter, so the only reasonable time to visit is in the summer. And I had a wonderful time and have memories of some amazing hikes.
So am I going to do something similar next summer? Nope. I’m going to find a seasonal job and settle in to one place and earn some money and avoid the summer crush of RV travelers. There are far too many RVs on the road in the summer. Everything is crowded and it’s hard to find places to stay. I experienced some epic traffic jams in Yellowstone, on the Going to the Sun Road in Glacier, and I shudder at the memory of trying to get to Lake Louise in Banff (I went back the next day, before dawn). I enjoyed some amazing hikes in the parks, but in order to do so I was getting up at 3 or 4 AM to get to the trail-head at daybreak to beat the crowds.
It’s okay to go on vacation in the summer, where you’ve planned everything out months ahead of time and made reservations, but that’s — maybe surprisingly to those who know me — not the way I travel. The bottom line is that winging it in the summer is rather a hassle.
For the last several years I’ve pretty much always had what is often referred to as a National Parks Pass or an Annual Pass. The government being the government, of course, they have a rather unwieldy name for it: America The Beautiful The National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Pass.
But whatever you call it, it’s a bargain! For $80, it covers the entrance fee to any federal recreation lands. National Parks and Monuments. National Forest and National Grasslands fee areas. COE. BLM. And I’m sure there are some I’m not thinking of at the moment.
I bought my current pass in October of 2018. After spending the first half of October in Connecticut I was heading south down the east coast and decided to spend a few days in Shenandoah National Park. The pass I had at the time had expired over the summer, so when I entered the park I purchased a new one.
This afternoon I went back through my calendar and tried to note all of the parks I’ve visited since that purchase, along with a couple I expect to visit in the next few weeks. Here’s the list, in chronological order:
- Shenandoah National Park
- Mammoth Cave National Park
- Gulf Islands National Seashore
- Petroglyph National Monument
- Valley of Fires National Recreation Area
- White Sands National Monument
- Carlsbad Caverns National Park
- Bandelier National Monument
- Mount Rushmore National Memorial
- Grand Teton National Park
- Yellowstone National Park
- Glacier National Park
- Craters Of The Moon National Monument
- North Cascades National Park
- Olympic National Park
- Crater Lake National Park
- Lassen Volcanic National Park
- Yosemite National Park
- Manzanar National Historic Site
- Death Valley National Park
Not bad for $80!
Getting mail on the road is rather straightforward. I pay a yearly fee for the Escapees mail forwarding service. That gets me a permanent address in Livingston, Texas, which is also my legal domicile. Whenever I want them to forward my mail I go online and let them know where to send it, and they bundle up whatever mail has accumulated and send it off to me.
But packages are a whole other thing. I could have them sent to Livingston, but then I’d have to pay the postage to have them forwarded to me wherever I am. That would get expensive fast. And there would also be the time delay to deal with.
I buy a lot of things from Amazon. It’s pretty amazing the wide variety of specialized things you can get at Amazon that you just can’t get in your average small town. The Nitrile gloves I wear when dumping the holding tanks, size XL, are just a bit over $10 for a box of 100 at Amazon. The closest I’ve found when I’ve run out in a small town hardware store is a package of one-size-fits-all painters disposable gloves that tore like tissue and cost 4 times as much per glove. LED light bulbs. Replacement propane detector. Low-flow shower faucet. Refill kit for 16 oz. propane canisters. Replacement valves for my RV-specific shower controls. Boeshield T-9, which I use on pretty much everything, including the cylinders for the automatic leveling jacks. I’ve bought all of these and dozens more things from Amazon.
But it’s not always easy actually receiving packages from Amazon. You do not get to choose the carrier when you order from Amazon. If that were possible, I could simply choose USPS, the good old postal service, and have my packages sent to the closest post office that accepts General Delivery.
There are a few things I’ve learned through trial and error. Amazon’s system does understand what a PO Box is, and if you specify a PO Box as your shipping address, the system will automatically recalculate your shipping times knowing it must be delivered to a post office. Basically, your order will either be shipped via USPS (rarely) or via UPS SurePost, where UPS handles the bulk of the transportation but hands the package over to USPS for final delivery.
But even here there is a catch. Some items simply aren’t eligible to be delivered to a PO Box and if you enter one as your delivery address the system will tell you that you must choose a different address.
How did I learn all this? I had a PO Box in Meeker, Colorado for the four months I was working at North Fork Campground last summer.
As sophisticated as Amazon’s system is, it does not understand that a General Delivery address must also be delivered to a post office. The first time I ordered something with a General Delivery address I was surprised to see that it shipped via UPS Ground. Eventually I saw in the tracking that it had a Delivery Exception error and it was held at the local UPS office, so I went there and collected it. That strategy works okay, mostly. I tried that when I was in Anza Borrego in February of 2018, and Amazon shipped it via one of their contracted delivery services that they are using more and more. They simply said they couldn’t deliver it and sent it back to Amazon.
I’ve tried various things, and I’ve discovered that I can address a package to PO Box GENERAL DELIVERY, and the “PO Box” will trigger Amazon’s system to understand it is going to a post office and it will assign the carrier appropriately, while the humans that handle the package at the post office will understand “GENERAL DELIVERY.”
But still, things don’t always work. When I was in Glacier National Park I placed an order with Amazon to be delivered to me at:
PO Box GENERAL DELIVERY
West Glacier, MT 59936-9999
Amazon split this order into three shipments, and all three were sent via UPS SurePost. Only one of them ever made it to the post office in West Glacier. The other two were held up at the UPS facility in Kalispell and eventually sent back to Amazon. Neither Amazon nor UPS could explain why that happened, but it did.
And then sometimes I run into that issue where the thing I’ve ordered is one of the things Amazon won’t ship to a post office. That happened this last week, so the shipping address I used was GENERAL DELIVERY to the post office here in Glenns Ferry. I had 4 packages coming to GENERAL DELIVERY; 1 non-Amazon package was sent via USPS, another non-Amazon package was sent via FedEx, and the two Amazon packages were sent via UPS Ground.
I expected the UPS packages to end up at the UPS facility in Mountain Home, about a half hour drive from here, and I’d go get them. But when I went to the post office to collect the package sent via USPS. to my surprise the clerk told me I in fact had 4 packages waiting. UPS had delivered the packages to the post office, and the post office had accepted them!
Finally, I should point out that if I used commercial campgrounds more frequently I could avoid a lot of this hassle, as many campgrounds will accept packages for their guests. But I rarely stay in private campgrounds so that solution isn’t available to me.
As I write this I am sitting in the AdventureMobile parked in Apgar Campground in Glacier National Park. Over the last month or so I’ve spent 8 days in Grand Teton National Park, 3 weeks exploring Yellowstone, and now Glacier.
I know there are people who plan their trips a year in advance and make reservations for every stop. I don’t do that. My plans change frequently. At one point I was planning to work this summer and had a job lined up, then changed my mind and decided to spend the summer traveling with the WINs. Then that plan got delayed when I was stuck in Livingston dealing with some medical stuff. Once I finally caught up with the WINs in Missouri, I was with them for less than a week when I left to head up to Forest City, Iowa to get some things fixed at the Winnebago Factory Service Center.
I finally got back with the WINs in South Dakota and stayed with them until Grand Teton. It wasn’t until Grand Teton that I realized Yellowstone is just up the road and decided to go there.
So, how do you get a site in one of the most iconic and heavily visited National Parks, in the summer, without a reservation?
The first thing to know is that most National Park campgrounds do not take reservations, they are first come, first served. For example, there are 13 campgrounds in Glacier National Park. Two of those campgrounds are 100% reservable, and in one other, half of the sites can be reserved. And those reservable sites are solidly booked right through the summer season. You could go online and get a night here or there, but that’s about it.
It is also important to know that NPS campgrounds are not RV parks! The typical National Park campground was designed for tenters. Sites are small, and typically there are no hookups. There may or may not be a dump station. Some do not allow RVs at all. Others only allow RVs up to a certain length; say 25 feet. Still others allow RVs but have only a limited number of sites which can accommodate larger rigs. So you have to do your research. Check the NPS website for information about the campgrounds in the park you want to visit. I also check campgroundreviews.com, as people often list specific sites and the size of their rig.
The campground I am in now, Apgar Campground, has 194 sites but only 25 that can accommodate RVs “up to 40 feet.” And on some of those 25 sites, it will be next to impossible to get level.
With all those imitations, you might wonder why one would even bother with NPS campgrounds. The most important reason to me is that they put you living inside the park. You don’t have to go through the hassle of driving to the park each day and waiting in line at the entrance gate. You also get to enjoy the evening ranger programs, which are a really wonderful tradition in the National Parks. And finally, NPS campgrounds are not RV parks! I’m not a big fan of RV parks. I don’t enjoy being packed in like sardines, or sitting outside looking at my neighbors sewer hose. Oh, and one more: NPS campgrounds are a bargain! Apgar Campground costs $20 per night. I think I can remember paying fees ranging from $14 to about $23 per night.
So how do you get a site in one of these perpetually full National Park campgrounds? There are 2 cardinal rules: 1) Don’t arrive on a Friday or Saturday, and 2) Arrive early!
I left Yellowstone on Monday and drove north towards Glacier, arriving in the town of Columbia Falls mid-afternoon. I parked in the parking lot at the Super 1 Foods store, which allows RVs to park overnight. While there I restocked the pantry and settled in for the night.
I was up at 5:30 Tuesday morning, and by 6:30 I had unhooked the car and, leaving the motorhome parked there, was driving to Glacier. By 7:15 I was in Apgar Campground, cruising the loops looking for an empty site that I could maneuver the AdventureMobile into. It took a few laps of each of the loops, but by 8 o’clock I had found a site someone had just pulled out of that would work. I set up a couple of folding chairs I had brought with me to mark the site as taken, and filled out the self-registration form, paid the nightly fee, and clipped the receipt to the campsite post. It was a lot easier driving around and around the campground with just the car rather than my personal little road train of motorhome plus car.
Site secured, I drove back into town and hooked the car to the motorhome. While at the campground I had noticed that the dump station was quite tight, and also very busy. So I paid $5 to dump my tanks at the Conoco station in town, then drove back into the park to the campground. There was a long traffic delay due to chip sealing work going on, but since I had a site secured I could relax and not worry. Well before noon I was all set up in my site and sitting outside relaxing.
The Fabulous Fourth.
4th of July.
Whatever you call it, it’s coming next week. It’s a summer holiday, and it’s going to seem like the whole world decided to go camping.
I just finished 8 days boondocking in Island Park, Idaho, about 15 minutes from the West Entrance to Yellowstone National Park. This morning I got up at 4 AM and was outside hooking up the car as dawn broke so I could go dump and fill and make the drive up to Mammoth Campground just inside the North Entrance and get here early enough to get a site.
Mammoth is a first come/first serve campground so there are no reservations. When I got here I paid for two nights, as I still haven’t figured out how long I want to stay here.
Whenever I leave Yellowstone my plan is to head north toward Glacier National Park. With the holiday next week, I figure my options are:
- Leave here on Thursday and find some place before the weekend.
- Stay here through the weekend and leave on Monday and hopefully I’ll be able to find some place to stay through next week.
- Stay here for the next couple of weeks and get through the 4th and the weekend following.
I’ve still not decided what I’m going to do, but I’m leaning towards the last option. The weather is finally warming up and there is certainly plenty to see and do in Yellowstone. But just in case I change my mind and decide to go with the second option, I think I’ll extend my stay here just until Monday for now.
Well, at least I remembered that there is a holiday coming up. Sometimes they catch me totally unawares. I know there are people that plan a year in advance and make their reservations, but I didn’t even know I was going to come to Yellowstone until I was at Grand Teton National Park with the WINs the week before last, and I didn’t figure out that I wanted to go to Glacier next until a few days ago.
Where is home? Where do you live?
This is a recurring topic in my thoughts. Not that I think about it a lot or that it bothers me, just that I find it interesting to sort of watch how my thinking and feeling about it is evolving.
For me, for the most part, the AdventureMobile is home. Even in casual conversation I’ll say “when I get home” and I mean when I get back to the RV. So wherever the RV is parked is home. Whether I’m parked in one of the western deserts or the forests of New England or along the Carolina shore or beside a Louisiana bayou, when I step inside the motorhome I’m home. All my stuff is there. I sit in my favorite spot on the couch. I sleep in my bed with my head on my pillow. It is totally familiar and I can walk around in the dark and never stub a toe. It’s all comfortable and familiar and mine. Though sometimes when I wake up in the morning and open the shade I get momentarily disoriented. Wasn’t there a tree outside my window yesterday? Why is it a lake today? It’s always the same house but the view changes frequently.
But in another sense I do have a geographic home. My mailing address is in Livingston, Texas. True, it’s just a Private Mail Box (PMB) number in a building where they accept and sort and forward thousands of pieces of mail every day. The USPS actually sends a tractor trailer there every day to drop off and pick up mail. When I first joined Escapees and signed up for their Mail Forwarding Service, that’s all it was to me.
I buy my health insurance via the ACA exchange. On the exchange the choice of insurance you get depends on where you live. I believe it’s organized by county. And the only plans available in Polk County, Texas are HMO’s, so I only have access to doctors (other than emergencies) in that area. I also, of course, have my vehicles registered in Texas.
I left Texas mid-January in 2018 and wasn’t back in the state until November. Both of my registrations expire in November. I hadn’t had a physical in 2018 as that got lost in the shuffle when Jodi and I split up and I lost my home and my job and my Dad died and life was just a bit turbulent for a while. So I figured I better see my doctor in Livingston and get that physical, and at the same time I’d get both vehicles inspected and renew the registrations.
All this is just a rather long way of saying that I now have certain ties to Livingston. It’s the place I go back to when I need to take care of certain things. I’ve been there 4 times now, for a total of probably 8 or 9 weeks. Three of those times I stayed at Rainbow’s End RV Park, which is where the headquarters for the Escapees RV Club is located. The other time I couldn’t get a reservation there and stayed at Lake Livingston State Park instead.
I’ve been in Livingston enough now that I’ve started to learn my way around the town. I have a favorite barber there. I even know the layout of the grocery store reasonably well! These things help make it feel like home.
And then there are the Escapees. Not so much the club organization, but the people who belong to the club. RVers in general tend to be a friendly and helpful lot, and Escapees seem to take that to the next level. For a painfully introverted person it’s a really good thing to have people strike up random conversations with me, though I’ll admit that it doesn’t always feel that way at the time.
Last week I had a minor out-patient surgery. One of those procedures you have done in the doctor’s office. But when I first saw the doctor for the initial consultation a few weeks ago he was adamant that I had to have someone to drive me home after the procedure. Now this was a dilemma. The doctor doing the surgery is located an hour+ from Livingston. An Uber would be something like $80 each way, assuming I could even get one. There are only a few in the area and they won’t always go out of town like that. And getting one back afterwards was not a sure thing. So what to do?
That night I posted on the Escapees Facebook group explaining my dilemma and within a few hours I had an offer from someone to drive me to my appointment (thanks Steve!) and back, and a backup offer from someone else not even staying at Rainbow’s End who said they’d come and drive me if for any reason the first offer fell through. Phew! That solved that logistical problem.
So Livingston. It’s where I go when I have to take care of stuff. It’s where my mail gets forwarded from. It’s where I vote. It’s where I find people to help me out when I need it. It’s where I know my way around and don’t have to use GPS every time I drive anywhere.
I still consider home to be wherever the motorhome is parked. But Livingston is also starting to feel like home to me. It’s interesting how this is all evolving. I am not a person that feels a need for roots. That’s not what it’s all about. But it’s home in the sense that I think things like “I’ll have to get back to Livingston to take care of that.”
Last year I wrote about having the solar panels and solar charge controller installed on the AdventureMobile, as well as expanding the battery storage. (Go ahead and click that link if you like. I’ll wait…)
At the time I said that this was the first half of the project as I still needed to have some modifications made to the electrical system so that I could take advantage of all that power I was producing.
Well, after a stop-off in Yuma so I could cross the border to Los Algodones to see the dentist, I was back in Quartzsite the week before last just so I could have that done.
I’m going to talk about how the motorhome was equipped from the factory, and then the modifications I made to it. But first a bit of background on the components involved.
There are two electrical systems in an RV. There is the 12-volt DC system which runs directly off the house batteries, This includes the lighting, the water pump, the propane leak detector, and the control boards for the furnace, water heater and the refrigerator. Then there is the 120-volt AC system. This includes the microwave/convection oven, the electric heating element in the refrigerator, the electric heating element in the water heater, the two AC/heat pump units, the three TVs, and all of the electrical outlets throughout the RV. The AC system uses a breaker box with circuit breakers just like the panel in a home, fed by the “shore power” plug when plugged in at an RV park or campground, or by the generator.
From the factory, my motorhome had a 1200 watt Modified Sine Wave inverter from Xantrex installed. This inverter could take DC input from the batteries and invert it to AC to power the one 15 amp circuit that powered all of the TVs, the TV antenna booster, the outlet where one would plug in a satellite TV receiver, and one outlet at the front of the motorhome next to the passenger seat. A common feature of inverters, including the one in the AdventureMobile, is that they have an input for the AC circuit and when that circuit is live they switch off the inverter function and simply pass through the AC power. So my coach was wired such that the 15 amp circuit from the AC panel goes to the inverter’s AC input. There is also a DC input from the batteries. When the inverter is turned off, it simply allows the AC power to pass through it. When the inverter is on, it “looks” at the AC circuit to check if there is power coming in. If so, it keeps the inverter function switched off and allows the AC to pass through. If the AC circuit is not live then it will use the DC power coming from the batteries, invert it to AC, and feed that AC down the AC circuit to power the TVs. This function of switching between the AC or DC input is called auto-switching.
The motorhome also has a converter. The converter takes AC power when plugged into shore power or plugged into the 5500 watt generator, and converts it to DC power to run the DC power system and to charge the batteries.
So, an inverter takes DC power and changes it to AC power, and a converter takes AC power and changes it to DC power.
After having the solar power system installed last year and expanding the battery storage, I could produce and store a decent amount of power but all I could do with it on the AC side was watch TV. If I wanted to use the toaster in the morning or heat something up in the microwave or use my little portable clothes washer, I had to run the generator.
So when I was back in Quartzsite I had Discount Solar (who did the solar install last March) install a Xantrex XC 2080, 2000 watt pure sine wave inverter with a built-in multi-stage charger, and I had them rewire the AC in the coach so I could power the TVs, the microwave, and all of the AC outlets in the coach from the inverter.
Typically when doing this you install an AC sub-panel, move the circuits you want to be able to power with the inverter from the main panel to the sub-panel, then run a 30 amp circuit from the main panel to the AC input of the inverter and the 30 amp AC output of the inverter would feed the sub-panel and thus power all of the circuits on the sub-panel.
In my case the installation was simplified a bit because I have a split panel. The motorhome I have could be ordered as either a 30 amp or a 50 amp coach. mine is 30 amp, so my shore power cord has three prongs: positive, neutral, and ground. If it had been ordered as a 50 amp coach the plug would have 4 prongs: 2 separate positives, neutral, and ground. A 50 amp RV has two 50 amp circuits feeding the main panel, and the panel is split into two main circuits with each of the circuits off of the panel connected to either Circuit A or Circuit B.
Since my coach could be ordered as a 50 amp coach I do have this split panel, but in my case both sides were fed by the single 30 amp input. So, the installers changed the wiring so that only Circuit A was fed by the 30 amp shore power cord. Then a 30 amp output was added to this side of the panel to feed the AC input of the new inverter. The AC output of the inverter then feeds the input of Circuit B on the split panel. In this way one side of the AC panel is live only when I am plugged in to power and the other side is live when plugged into power or when I switch the inverter on. From here the only thing necessary was the move the breakers around so each circuit was on the correct side of the split panel. So the two AC units, the electric element in the fridge, and the electric element in the water heater are on the side of the panel that is only powered when plugged into shore power or the generator. All of the other circuits are on the other side of the panel so can be fed from the inverter as well.
Since the inverter also has a smart multi-stage battery charger built-in, they disconnected the relatively “dumb” converter that used to charge the batteries when plugged into shore power or the generator. This multi-stage charger is much more efficient and will charge the batteries faster, which is a definite plus when I’m off-grid and I’m not getting enough solar to keep the batteries charged. Since it charges the batteries more efficiently, I don’t need to run the generator as long to get them charged up.
I’m loving the convenience of it all. Now in the morning I can switch the inverter on and make toast. At lunch time I can run the microwave to heat up some leftovers. I can even use my instant pot to cook dinner. I’ve also been able to run my little clothes washer.
Now if I could just solve the problem of running out of fresh water…