Dry Camping 12.0… Oh no!

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I have a few observations on dry camping (known more romantically as boon docking) before I return to state parks and electrical hookups.  Being of a totally non-techical ilk, many of my points are related to comfort and lifestyle.  When I attempt technical explanations, reader be warned, it can be a bit of a convoluted mess, but I’ll do my best to keep it concise and accurate.

First, my hat’s off to all those boon dockers who are equipped and smart enough to handle the challenge.  There are RV’ers out there who have installed additional house batteries, plenty of solar panels, and perhaps even a windmill here and there.  They venture into the wilds with their little houses, secure in their self-sufficiency.  Should the zombie apocalypse befall us, they will likely be among the last survivors, able to pick up their little houses and run like the wind to the next safe location of their choosing.

My set-up is fairly complete, but modest compared to what a serious dry camper would need.  Basically, to truly do justice to living off-the-grid, you need to have plenty of house battery power and a reliable means to replenish those batteries.  I have two 6-volt golf cart batteries–fairly typical for this size motor home–a 4000-kw on-board generator, and a 150-watt solar panel.

I am discovering that this set-up allows me to dry-camp just fine, but only if I keep those batteries juiced up.  And there’s the rub.  It means I must run the generator at least once a day to top the batteries off.  And that’s noisy.  And unpleasant for neighbors who may be in tents.  And uses gas, which, to be fair, should be added to the cost of boon docking.  I do like running it in the late afternoon/evening, though, since that is the only way I can use my microwave and air conditioner (if needed) when not plugged in to shore power.

If it is a wonderfully sunny day, I can count on the sunshine to help restore and maintain my batteries via the solar panel, a much more neighborly approach than the generator.  But in hot weather, you have to balance the need for sunshine to replenish the batteries with the need for shade to ensure comfort.  Also, in the greater scheme of things, 150 watts isn’t really all that much, so…

Let’s talk about the underrated side of this equation, power conservation.  You have to be very conscious of your power usage when dry camping.  I can run that generator for two hours, watch the display panel on my inverter or solar charger show the battery voltage of 13.5 or more, and then when I turn the generator off, it drops almost immediately down to 12.8 volts… and quickly drops from there, especially if I have anything drawing power.

In fact, even if everything is turned off overnight, the batteries can still drop from 12.5 at bedtime to 12.2 volts by morning since there is a certain amount of electrical draw going on behind the scenes.  My refrigerator can be set for propane when boon docking, for example, but it still requires electricity for the display.  And there are other technical critters nibbling away, unseen, at the power 24/7.

On cold nights, I can use my propane furnace, thinking that will be easy on the battery, but no, the blower takes a fair amount of electric power.  If it is a really warm night after a really hot day, using my ceiling vent fan and a small portable fan will eat up a chunk of power overnight.

And forget having the TV on as constant background noise, which is how I tend to operate when hooked up to shore power.  There is one thing that can help mitigate the TV power draw, though.   If you are near a major metropolitan area and the station signals are strong, you can turn off the antenna power booster, if you have one, to conserve some electricity.

Since the TV is taking a backseat (probably a really good thing anyways), my portable transistor radio has been getting a great workout.  I am enjoying listening to classic rock, a smattering of country, and whenever possible, NPR.  Heck, when a good song comes on, poor Dawny has to watch me dance!  I also have found the local news to be so much more palatable on the radio than on TV–refreshingly succinct, with far less sensationalism and silliness.

Without the distraction of the TV, my needlepoint project is getting more attention, as is my reading list.  Speaking of reading, using an e-reader with a backlit page allows you to read with no lights on after dark.

Having a personal computer with a long battery life is also wonderful when dry camping.  A point worth noting:  If you plug your computer into the outlet when you are operating off of battery power, be aware that there is an inverter that turns the 12-volt battery power into the 120-volts needed for the outlets.  Many (maybe most?) RV inverters are modified sine wave inverters, which can damage sensitive electronics.  Therefore, I use my computer on its own battery and don’t plug it in to recharge (same with the cell phone) until I crank up the generator, since generator power (shore power, as well) provides pure sine wave power.

It is a cloudy, chilly morning here in southern Alabama and, as I type away with an eye on my battery voltage as reported on the inverter panel…  Oh no!  It has slipped yet another notch to 12.0 (that’s what I get for watching the morning news, despite what I said earlier).  12.0 technically shouldn’t set off loud alarm bells, just soft ones, since it shouldn’t fall much lower than that before recharging back to full.  Plus I want to be sure to always have enough juice to roll in my awning, pull up my jacks, and make a quick getaway before the next apocalypse!  Thank goodness the very act of driving is a highly efficient way to regenerate those house batteries before our next stop.

Jiggety Jig

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Sopchoppy!  What a great name for a town.  It just so happens to belong to a little town in the southern part of the Apalachicola National Forest of the Florida Panhandle.

They also have a small city park located on the Sopchoppy River and for $15 a night, you can camp there (including full hookup if you want that). I chose a lovely spot right on the river.

When I pulled in, the park manager ambled over in his pickup truck and told me to pick any site I liked.  His name was Frank.  He reminded me mightily of good ole St. Nick, minus the hair.

As usual when I pull into a new place, I asked about the wildlife.  Any problems with bears?  alligators?  off-leash dogs?  Nope.  St. Frank hadn’t seen but one alligator and that was from afar.  It ran off real quick once people started making a racket.  No bears, neither.  Dogs?  Nah, no problem there.  Although I had heard a gaggle of tales about the overabundance of bears in the Panhandle while staying in Central Florida–one stalked a girl walking her dog and her dog saved her when the bear tried to drag her off!–I chose to believe St. Frank.

The next day an excited little boy, out swimming with his buddy and their moms, came over to pet Dawny.  He asked me if I saw the bear yesterday.

Ummmm… no… What bear?

The little bear that was washed up on the sandbar!  It had a big chunk taken out of it, probably by an alligator!

Ahhhhh… ya…  Musta been carted off before I arrived….

Then there was the sweet young Mom who visited with me awhile as her boys swam and goofed off.  She reminded me of myself back in the days of trying to find ways to wear my boy out without wearing myself out first.  We talked about our dogs, then she warned me that sometimes on weekends locals show up here with their pit bulls… not always leashed.

The next morning I awoke and saw two off-leash dogs wandering around the park barely after the sunrise.  Ok, so they weighed all of 10 pounds each, if that.  Still.  What was it with St. Frank?  Did he have a short memory?  Maybe he just enjoyed pulling a tourist’s leg.

Suffice it to say, I moseyed along after just a two-night stay.  Onward to another park run by my RV mail service/club.  And what do I find a mere ten minutes into our first dog walk?  Four people that I had made friends with at the park we wintered at for three-plus months.  By the end of the evening, I met four more.

New park.  New state (Alabama).  Old friends.  Well, not that old.  But in this transient lifestyle, it feels like magic when you happen upon familiar, friendly faces.  Yup.  Home again, home again.  Jiggety Jig!

(Photo is of the shoreline at the City Park outside of Sopchoppy.  Despite my experience noted in this post, it really is a sweet little park.  I highly recommend it, as long as you go in with your eyes wide open.)

In the Jungle… Arrroooooooo!

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I’m Ba-aaack!  (Cue BIGdoggyGRIN)

Mom’s too busy to write anything today so she gave me the job.  We are leaving our Winter home tomorrow, and she’s been running around the last couple of days finding people to hug and doing laundry and hugging more people and checking oil and battery water levels and hugging even more people and … yaaawwwwwnnnnn.

Anyhow, tomorrow is a big road trip day (as opposed to all the little road trip days we have had where I have to stay inside our house, all alone, while she gets to “shop.”)  I’ll miss the lizards around this place and the nice people, especially the ones who feed me special super grass that helps me to feel better.

Hey!  I have some awesome news.  My mouth feels like a million doggie bones!  I haven’t been feeling the best in that part of my beautiful self for quite some time.  Mom took me to a vet and left me there the whole day.  I had a really long, strange sleep, and when I woke up it felt like a squirrel or two had gotten the better part of my face.  Mom said they took six of my teeth out (the vet, not the squirrel), and while they were at it, they cleaned everything left in there really good.  I am sooooo kissable now.  I hope when I see my boy again that he will be eager for some big sloppy mouth kisses and will be impressed with my puppy breath.

We moved our little house to the back of the campground these last few days here.  Mom says we need to practice dry camping so we can do more of it.  It has something to do with not hooking our house’s scrawny yellow tail up to the electric post and instead operating off of our batteries and generator and solar and stuff.  Hey, that’s cool.  Carry on, old girl.  As long as I get my cookies and my walkin’ and my lovin’, I be good.

FullSizeRender-286All I know is this is some sweet view we have now.  We are on the edge of a jungle and when we sit outside we hear millions of critters instead of dozens of trucks (we were close to the road in the front of the park before).  We can sit outside in the cool, shady breeze, and when she’s not looking I can work on the hole I started behind our house.  I wonder why she didn’t move us back here sooner.  Silly thing.

Oh, before I go, I want to announce that I have a new middle name.  It was granted to me by our friend Joyce, who appreciates my spirit and doesn’t freak out when I freak out at a big dog (unlike my Mom, who still does her best to shut me up).  I am now Dawny Virgil Prewash SASSY…  I love it.  And I love my Mom.  So, I gotta go.  I need to keep a close eye on her today and make sure she remembers to fit all my walks in there between all those hugs.  See ya on the open road!