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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.

Am I Still An Easterner?

When people ask me where I’m from I have several answers I might give depending on the context, and sometimes just my mood. I might say “Wherever I am, that’s where I’m from,” which is my I’m-a-full-time-vagabond-free-from-the-confines-of-everyday-life answer. Or I might say “I spent most of my life in New England,” which is my I’m-a-proud-New-Englander answer. Or sometimes if I just want to end this conversation I’ll say “Texas,” as Livingston, Texas is now my official residence.

For the most part I do still think of myself as an Easterner, and more specifically as a New Englander. I remember telling someone last year that while I loved being in the desert it was not my native habitat and to feel really at home I needed mountains and trees. I enjoyed my time in the Rockies of Colorado last summer, but of course those are different mountains and trees than those I grew up with in New England. In the West, everything is on a much grander scale.

When I left Colorado bound for Connecticut last September, I was quite excited about heading “home.” And I do remember the excitement I felt when I hit Pennsylvania and things started to feel like home. Even the heavy northeast traffic, and tolls, and constantly watching for low clearances, felt like home. For a while.

I spent three weeks in Connecticut. It rained. A lot. I enjoyed seeing family. I enjoyed showing Aoife around the places I grew up. And then I headed south. Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania. Four states in one day! The next day; Maryland, West Virginia, Virginia. Holy crap, it takes me four days to drive across Texas.

I spent a few days in Shenandoah National Park, and a few more at Carolina Beach down in North Carolina, then I headed west to Livingston, Texas. After a week or so there, I headed back east to Louisiana where I spent nearly three months at Black Bayou Lake NWR. It was all nice, but it started to feel so small and cramped.

I left Louisiana a couple of weeks ago. After stopping back in Livingston for a few days to take care of some medical appointments, I finally struck out for the West again. It took four full days of driving to cross Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and get just across the border into southern California. Big, wide open spaces. Desert sunsets. It feels good. It feels like home!

When I first chose Texas as my domicile and “moved” there, it felt pretty far west to me. But now Livingston, which is in the Piney Woods Region of eastern Texas, feels like the East to me. I want to be farther west. Maybe I should move my home base to Arizona. Well, that’s something to think about for a while.

I don’t think I feel like an Easterner anymore.

HodgePodge

Here are a few random thoughts/observations:

Over New Years Aoife and I spent three nights in New Orleans. These were nights two, three, and four that I’ve spent away from the AdventureMobile since I started full-timing about 16 months ago. Our room had a nice shower, as nice hotel rooms often do.

Now I’m not going to tell tales from the shower, so get your mind out of the gutter! What I do want to mention is Holy Flood Batman! that shower used a lot of water!

It’s not that our shower used an inordinate amount of water, as showers go. It was just a standard residential shower head. But compared to my RV it does.

According to the USGS the average American uses 80 – 100 gallons of water per day. 3 gallons every time you flush the toilet. 2 – 5 gallons per minute you are in the shower.

I spend a fair bit of time dry camping where I have to rely on the water in my fresh water tank. Winnebago says my fresh water capacity is 80 gallons, but that includes the 6 gallons in the water heater, which isn’t really usable once the 74 gallon fresh water tank is empty. So 74 is my number. I’ve gone 10 days and still had a bit of water in the fresh tank, so I can get by on something less than 7.4 gallons per day. That’s all my water for cooking, drinking, bathing, washing dishes, and flushing the toilets. And I’m no extraordinary boondocker. I know folks with much smaller fresh water tanks that go longer than me.

So when I find myself in an environment where water is used so profligately, it really makes an impression. Firstly, it’s luxurious as heck! I can stand in that shower as long as I want. And secondly, it seems so wasteful!

Okay, on to random observation number two. I’m leaving Louisiana in a couple of weeks and heading back to Livingston, TX. Livingston is my “home” and that’s where my doctors are. First I’ve got to revisit my PCP so he can give me the results of the lab work he ordered when I had my physical back at the beginning of November. Of course this is the digital age so I’ve already seen my lab results online, but it won’t hurt to talk with him. And a couple days later I’ll see my ophthalmologist.

The day after that I leave for West Texas. First I’m heading to Seminole Canyon State Park to check out the rock art there, then on to Big Bend National Park, assuming it’s open. But I just realized I didn’t leave any time in my schedule to get new glasses if the ophthalmologist changes my prescription. I’ll have to figure that out if necessary. After Big Bend I’m heading to Quartzsite to get some electrical upgrades done to the motorhome then down to Yuma so I can cross the border to Los Algodones to see the dentist. So maybe I could get glasses in Mexico as well.

I’ve been a resident volunteer here at Black Bayou Lake National Wildlife Refuge since the middle of November, but the USFWS is part of the Department of Interior, and as such it is affected by the partial government shutdown. So the refuge staff has been furloughed, with the exception of the one law enforcement officer who has to cover 5 refuges. The Visitor Center is closed and all of our public programs have been cancelled. Fortunately we’ve been allowed to stay here so I’ve still got my free site and utilities. Thank you US taxpayers! And if the shutdown ends I’ll be able to do some more work in exchange for these benefits. But if the shutdown drags on for a couple of more weeks then I’ll be leaving before things get rolling again.

I’ve got some chores to do before I leave here. I’ve got to change the oil in the motorhome and grease the front end. I’ve also got to fiddle around some with the valve extenders they installed when I had the new tires put on in September. And the car is in the shop right now getting the suspension checked and having the motor tuned up and the transmission serviced. I expect to be traveling right through the summer so wanted to get this all done while I’m in one place long enough to be able to ask around and find a good place.

Ch Ch Ch Changes

I thought I had the general outline of 2019 all figured out; or at least the summer. I was going to spend the season working as a campground host again. The only question in my mind was whether I wanted to stay east this summer or head west again. Well, I had also applied for a volunteer position in Yosemite, and if I had gotten that I would have foregone earning money this summer for the chance to spend the season in Yosemite. But I’m sure they get lots and lots of applicants so I didn’t expect that to happen, and it didn’t.

Eventually I decided I wanted to go to Oregon, so I applied to the company I worked for in Colorado last summer and told them I wanted to work one of their campgrounds in Oregon. After a phone conversation it basically came down to me picking which campground I wanted and letting them know.

And then I woke up the next morning and saw an email from WINs talking about the circuits they’re running in 2019 and one of them caught my eye. I’m going to spend my summer traveling the country with the WINs and cycling on a bunch of the best cycling paths we have.

So the adventure continues. Sometimes on 10 wheels. Sometimes on 4. Sometimes on 2.

 

On The Road Again

I finish my summer job on Saturday, and come Sunday morning I’ll be on the road again. And if Willie wants to come along and sing while I drive, he’s most welcome!

I have been busily attending to a seemingly never-ending list of chores, some large and some small, needed to get the rig ready to roll again after sitting still for 4 months. It’s been a wonderful summer but I am incredibly excited to be moving again. It feels like what I’m meant to do.

When I leave here I’ll head to Denver (actually, Auroroa) where I have an appointment to get six new tires on the motorhome on Monday morning. They’ll also be putting on new metal valve stems to support the sensors of the TPMS system I bought recently.

On Tuesday I’ll leave there and start making my way to Forest City, Iowa where I have an appointment at the Winnebago Factory Service Center to get a number of things worked on. My appointment isn’t until the 24th so I expect to have a few days to chill in Forest City beforehand.

From Iowa I’m heading for Connecticut; hopefully in time for Anju’s birthday on September 30th. I’ll be in Connecticut for a few weeks enjoying the fall weather, visiting family, doing some hiking, and generally getting back in touch with my New England roots. And Aoife will be flying in for a week while I’m there, so my family will get to meet her and I’ll get to show her around the places where I grew up.

Eventually I have to leave Connecticut and head “home” to Livingston, Texas where Ill see my doctor for my annual physical and get the vehicles inspected and the registrations renewed. Those stops in the Carolinas on the way are just one idea. I’ve not actually decided which route I’ll take to Texas. I may go via Memphis and visit my cousin there instead of going down the coast.

And finally, I’ll leave Livingston and backtrack a day into Louisiana where I will spend the winter volunteering at a National Wildlife Refuge in exchange for a free RV site and utilities.

As for next spring and summer, I have multiple ideas but none of them have coalesced yet. We’ll just have to wait and see.