So Now What?

Those who know me know that I am a planner. Always have been.

Once I had started to settle into this RV lifestyle, I thought I had gotten over this penchant for planning, at least to some extent. I think I’ve even mentioned that in one or another of these blog posts. I have on a number of occasions woken up in the morning and just decided that I’m going to go somewhere. I remember waking up one Saturday morning at Telephone Cove in Nevada and deciding I was going to Oregon, and the next morning I was on my way.

And then 2020 happened.

I was in Mexico with the caravan I had been traveling with since early January when the news about the Coronavirus was ramping up. It’s a bit of a story, but by the end of March we had basically abandoned our itinerary and were heading north for the border as quickly as was reasonable.

If you think back, there was a lot of uncertainty and a lot of unknowns about the whole situation. States were starting to shut down non-essential businesses, and in a lot of states that included state park and private campgrounds. For full-timers, where to go became a huge question.

I already had a reservation at Rainbow’s End in Livingston for 2 weeks in April, as I had made appointments with my GP and with my ophthalmologist, and I needed to get the annual inspection on both vehicles done. So I emailed them and moved my reservation up, and extended it to one month. So I was lucky enough to have a place to go, and for the time being I had a plan; get back to the States and make my way east to Livingston.

So I did that, and I got to Livingston. And I settled in here and my doctors both canceled all routine appointments with no idea when they would be able to reschedule. And more and more of the world shut down. The end of my month was up and I extended another month. And I had no idea how long I was going to be here, or where I was going to go when I left.

And holy crap, all the not knowing drove me crazy! I had trouble sleeping. I’d think about things I had to do, and then I’d think “Nah, tomorrow is just as good as today.” I discovered that while I am perfectly happy changing my plans on the fly, I really need to have a plan to change. I need to have activities and deadlines on my calendar.

The original plan for this summer had me in upstate New York in early May and working at Six Flags Darien Lake until the end of September or maybe into October. They still haven’t opened yet, and even if/when they do, working with thousands of random people every day doesn’t seem the smartest thing to do in The Age of Covid, so that’s not going to happen for me.

So I’ve spent many hours staring at maps and thinking of this or that possibility of what to do with the rest of the year. The first thing I nailed down is my return to Death Valley for the end of the year. I will be a volunteer camphost again for the mid-October to mid-January season, at Furnace Creek Campground.

After considering and discarding a number of possibilities for the summer, I settled on heading to Vermont. It’s been a while since I’ve been back in New England. Vermont is close enough that I’ll be able to visit my daughter Anju and my brothers and their families in Connecticut. There’s tons of hiking and cycling. The biggest hurdle is how expensive campgrounds and RV parks are in the Northeast, but I found a small campground with a reasonable monthly rate, so that was settled. The only question was exactly how long I’d stay in Vermont.

As of now I have a likely, but not definitely confirmed, stint as a volunteer camphost at Colorado National Monument which would start at the end of August and finish when I need to leave to head to Death Valley. So if that does work out, I’ll spend 2 months in Vermont and leave there mid-August to head for Colorado.

I think that makes a good balance. I’m avoiding frequent travel around the country, but still getting to experience a variety of locations.

I haven’t been completely idle here. I’ve had both of my doctor appointments. I’ve gotten both vehicles inspected. I’ve had a number of repairs done to the RV. I bought a motorcycle. I took the MSF course, and once DPS opened up again by appointment, I got the motorcycle endorsement on my license. And right now I’m working hard on getting out of here. Today is Sunday, June 7. My plan is to leave here on Wednesday, the 10th. The last RV repairs should be done, hopefully, tomorrow. When I took the motorhome to get the annual inspection done I noticed the check engine light is on. So I’m trying to find a place to check that out for me without having to wait weeks for an appointment.

And then… I’ll be back on the road at last!

Getting Myself Into Hot Water

Some days ago I suddenly lost hot water. I turned the hot water faucet on and nothing happened. I don’t mean that there was water but it wasn’t hot. I mean that nothing happened. No water at all.

After indulging in a moment of WTF, I did a bit of troubleshooting. Is it the faucet? Nope, it’s the same at all of the hot water faucets, yet all of the cold taps work. So, the problem is somewhere in the hot water supply, after it separates from the cold water input. That happens at the water heater. (An aside, I really, really, really hate when people say “hot water heater”. You don’t heat hot water. You heat cold water to make it hot.)

Either there is no water coming out of the water heater, or there is a block in the line after the water heater but before it splits to feed the various sinks. That split is actually right after the hot water exits the water heater, where there is a split with one side feeding the kitchen sink and another going to the rear of the AdventureMobile to feed the bathroom sinks and shower.

The back side of the water heater. It looks really busy but if we study it for a minute it starts to make sense.
– First, you can see that there are two openings into the water heater tank. The bottom one is where cold water goes into the tank. The top one is where hot water comes out. Hot water rises so the hottest water is at the top.
– Those two black hoses come from and return to the engine cooling system. While driving down the road hot water circulates from the engine and passes through that little heat exchanger where it warms the water in the tank, so I have hot water for washing my hands and such while traveling. My ex even tried taking a shower while we were going down the road once.
– That vertical piece of pex in the center is the water heater bypass. You can see the handle for the ball valve where it joins the cold water feed at the bottom. There is no ball valve at the top because there is a check valve screwed into the hot water outlet to prevent water flowing into the water heater. Water can only flow out. Unfortunately, I didn’t know this when this all started.

In an RV, there is a way to isolate and bypass the water heater. This is mainly used when winterizing the water system for storage. So I turned the bypass valve and sure enough, I had cold water at all the hot water taps. This confirmed that the issue was at the water heater. The only thing I could think of is that somehow the outlet of the water heater was being blocked with sediment.

Now folks with experience dealing with RV water systems are all screaming at their computer screens right now. “No! No! It’s the…” But at the time, that’s all I could think of.

So I shut off the water heater, let it cool down, and went outside where I removed the plug and flushed the water heater out. And I did indeed remove a lot of sediment. A surprising amount of sediment, since I had last flushed it last summer. And sure enough, once I reinstalled the plug and refilled the water heater, I had water at all of the hot water faucets. Pleased with myself for this demonstration of troubleshooting prowess and repair abilities, I went about my day.

Some of the sediment I flushed from the water heater

But of course that wasn’t the end of it. A few days later I turned the hot water on to fill the sink to do dishes and… nothing! Really? Another WTF moment. I heated water on the stove to do the dishes, and while doing that chore I thought about what was going on. There is a ball valve to divert the cold water going into the water heater to go around it instead, but there is no ball valve on the output from the water heater. Well, there has to be something to prevent water from simply filling the water heater from the outlet, so there must be a check valve.

After finishing the dishes I did quick search on — a great resource for RVers — and sure enough there is a check valve, aka a back-flow preventer, on the output of the water heater, and these valves are apparently a frequent failure point. By this time the hot water was working again, so obviously this check valve is sticking sometimes and working other times. I ordered 2 new valves from Amazon, since it’s always good to have a spare, and they’re cheap.

The next day I got to work. After shutting off the water heater and letting it cool, again I went outside and removed the drain plug to drain the water heater. Then I removed the fitting that attaches the pex to the water heater output, and that left me facing the check valve. This is the part I was worried about, as I had read several tales of these being really difficult to break loose. Somebody even said they broke one trying to remove it and had to pull the entire water heater out in order to work on it and remove the broken piece. But I was lucky. I put a long wrench on it and gave it a couple of good tugs and it broke loose. Soon I had it out. And then I had my first set-back. The replacement valves I had ordered were male/female thread, and the one I had just removed was male/male. Oh crap!

My replacement valve is threaded wrong

The water in the RV was completely shut off, so I needed a solution. So I looked at the valve I had just removed. Sticking my finger inside, the little plastic valve popped right out and left me with a straight through piece. Sorted!

So, I put some teflon tape on the threads and reinstalled the old valve, reconnected the water line, reinstalled the outside drain plug, and refilled the water heater. After checking for leaks, I buttoned everything back up.

I’ve ordered the correct replacement valve and at some point I’ll have to do the job again to have a correctly functioning check valve in place, but for now it’s all working and I once again have hot water.

Roadside Assistance, Mexican Style

Yesterday, on our way from San Juan Teotihuacan to Patzcuaro, we made a gas stop as usual. Not so much as usual, when I had finished fueling and hopped back in the AdventureMobile and tried to start her up, nothing happened.

Fortunately I’m not traveling alone and so the collective wisdom of the group, including a couple of decent shade tree mechanics, was brought to bear. After some futzing with this and that it was determined that the starter was the likely culprit.

Now if I were in the States and this happened, I would call my roadside assistance plan and spend a few minutes filling them in on the problem and my location, and then they’d go off and start calling service providers and in a few minutes, or maybe more, they’d call me back and tell me they had arranged with so-and-so to come to me and give me an estimated time which might be a couple of hours or might be many hours. And when they came they’d do a cursory check and agree that yes, the starter was likely dead. And then they’d tow me to a garage somewhere, and hopefully one that could and would actually work on a motorhome, and that day or maybe the next they’d look at it and determine that I needed a new starter, and maybe they’d have to order said starter before they could install it. So all of this could easily take a couple of days and cost a fair bit of money, even though the tow would be covered by my roadside assistance plan.

But we weren’t in the states; we were in Mexico. And I was really lucky. Firstly, I was lucky that one of the members of our caravan speaks Spanish fluently. That’s an immense help when things go awry and we need to communicate to find a solution. And secondly, I was really lucky that there was a taller mec├ínico (a mechanic) located just across the road from the gas station.

While I was settling up with the gas station attendant, our wagon master Michel and G Ron our Spanish speaking caravan member walked across the street and talked to the mechanic and he agreed to come over and take a look. He did say, though, that we had to move the motorhome away from the gas pumps as he wouldn’t work on electrical issues with it parked there, so we pushed her out of the way.

A few minutes later the mechanic showed up carrying a small tool bag, and through our volunteer interpreter G Ron we discussed the symptoms, he listened to the starter, and agreed that indeed that was the culprit. Then he crawled under the AdventureMobile in the dust and removed the starter, then took it back across the road to his shop to disassemble it and figure out what was wrong.

Pulling The Starter

A while later we walked over to his shop to check on the progress and he was just finishing up reassembling the starter after putting on a new solenoid and lubricating everything.

The Shop
The Taller Mecánico With My Newly Rebuilt Starter

It took the mechanic only a few minutes to reinstall the starter, and then it was time to put it to the test. I hopped behind the wheel and turned the key, and she started right up.

From beginning to end the repair took about an hour and a half. I was charged $1300 pesos for the parts and labor, which is about $65 USD. I tipped the mechanic an extra $200 pesos, so my total cost was about $75 USD. $75 and an hour and a half and I was back on the road. Awesome!

South Of The Border

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.

Planned route of the Yucatan – All Mexico Loop

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.

Summertime, And The Living Is… Easy?

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.

Grand Prismatic Spring, Yellowstone National Park

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.

Tuolumne Meadows from the summit of Lembert Dome, Yosemite 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.

What A Bargain! A Year Of Parks

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!

Working Amazon

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:
Allen Freeman
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.


Independence Day.

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.

My boondocking site in Island Park, ID
My boondocking site in Island Park, ID

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.

My site at Mammoth Campground

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.”

I’ve Got The Power, And Now I know How To Use It

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…

In one of my storage bays are two of the four batteries, the Blue Sky solar charge controller, and up on the shelf the new Xantrex 2000 watt PSW inverter.
That big fat red cable is the positive DC feed to the inverter, with a fuse block inline just in case something goes awry.
The Blue Sky remote for the solar charge controller, and the Xantrex remote for the inverter
Here’s a closer look at the inverter remote. Currently the inverter is running, creating AC power from the DC batteries. The batteries are at 14.5 volts, and the AC load is 49 watts.