Showing posts with label camping. Show all posts
Showing posts with label camping. Show all posts

Friday, January 6, 2017

George Orwell Camps in Quartzsite

Rereading some essays of George Orwell, I really appreciate how much the world lost when he died so young. Why has it been so enjoyable to read him?  It isn't just for his opinions.

Much of the credit goes to his adventuresome life of poverty, suffering, war, and wide travel. He is like Jack London in that sense. There is a manliness to a writer who hasn't spent all of his life in a parlor, drinking tea with dowagers and maiden aunts; in the bubble of a college town, writing research grants to the Ministry of Culture; or at a desk job, stamping paper with "Approved!" Such a life is necessary in order to write about life instead of books, and things (processes and actions) instead of words.

The refreshment that the reader feels may result from the healthy balance in Orwell's writing. Although he aims his pen at interesting experiences in the real world, he never drowns in the minutiae of concreteness. Each observation seems well-chosen and pregnant with a wider significance. His writing is at its best when he holds back from explicitly pounding at this wider significance, but instead, unselfishly allows the reader to finish the job. 

Let's take an apparent digression from Orwell, before returning to him. Currently I am camping in a lightly regulated area. All in all, I love this feature. But of course it means the accretion of an unsavory clientele.

At such a place once, a fellow camper and I had a laugh at how prejudiced a camper can be against a rig different from their own. The prejudice works in both directions, but it is especially aimed at a less expensive rig. 

For instance, I feel "creepie" every time I drive by two car-campers in my area, despite them being quiet and unobtrusive. Seldom does it occur to me that people in expensive motorhomes feel the same when they see my converted cargo trailer!

Orwell wrote about an experience he had as a young man, staying at a Salvation Army-like mission with a bunch of smelly bums. ("The Spike", 1931.)

To occupy the time I talked with a rather superior tramp, a young carpenter who wore a collar and tie, and was on the road, he said, for lack of a set of tools. He kept a little aloof from the other tramps, and held himself more like a free man than a casual. He had literary tastes, too, and carried one of Scott's novels on all his wanderings. He told me he never entered a spike [a shelter for the bums] unless driven there by hunger, sleeping under hedges and behind ricks in preference.
This is exactly what I was experiencing, so it gave me a good laugh. It also brought to mind the odd rigs and 'rubber tramps' who hang out in Quartzsite at this time of year.
We talked of life on the road. He criticized the system which makes a tramp spend fourteen hours a day in the spike, and the other ten in walking and dodging the police...

...and at that he changed his tune immediately. I saw that I had awakened the pew-renter who sleeps in every English workman. Though he had been famished, along with the rest, he at once saw reasons why the food should have been thrown away rather than given to the tramps. He admonished me quite severely.
'You don't want to have any pity on these tramps--scum, they are. You don't want to judge them by the same standards as men like you and me. They're scum, just scum.'

It was interesting to see how subtly he disassociated himself from his fellow tramps. He has been on the road six months, but in the sight of God, he seemed to imply, he was not a tramp. His body might be in the spike, but his spirit soared far away, in the pure aether of the middle classes.
I cackled with glee when I read this. Here I was, a genteel tramp living in a converted cargo trailer, turning up his nose at 'van tramps' and car-campers! It is delightful to read a classic book and then get lucky at applying it to my own life. 

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

UPDATE: Hope for the Generator Ghettoes During Winter

There is a tendency to be discouraged by the noise pollution when camping in the winter. Don't be. Things are improving. Solar panels and high quality generators are becoming more common.

And yet some people still buy one of those yellow P.o.S generators from China just to save $600. What fraction is that of their total rig expense? For many RVers, it is less than 1%. Hell, that's round-off error.

For those who are burdened by the $600, consider the alternative I posted about in the tab "Almost Needing a Generator," at the top of the screen.

Regardless of the noisiness of your neighbor's generator, most of its 'on-hours' would simply disappear if he put $200 into a proper "three stage" charger, such as Iota, Xantrex, Blue Sea, Samlex, etc.

But instead, your neighbor simply pulls the electrical power cord out of the hole in the side of the RV, just as he would in an RV park, sticks an adapter on the end, and plugs it into his generator.

Then what happens?! The AC power goes from the generator to his rig's "converter/charger", which powers the DC circuits and slowly charges the rig's battery at 13.5 Volts. You can't charge a battery quickly unless you get up to 14.4--14.8 Volts, which is what would happen with a proper three stage charger. Thus most of his generator hours are wasted. 

Does anyone know what fraction of RVs come from the factory with crappy "converter/chargers" that only put out 13.5 Volts DC to the batteries? After writing this post, I bumped into an answer. See the Epilogue below.

For instance I bought a 30 Amp charger from Samlex for $200. I charge my two 6-volt GC2 "golf cart" batteries this way, on a cloudy day.  I will run it 30 minutes, and be optimistic that the solar panels will get lucky later in the day.


Epilogue. Quartzsite is a good place to learn about these things. I was pleased to learn that the standard RV supplier of converter/chargers, Progressive Dynamics, sells a $30 optional module, with a cable and connector, that upgrades the Intelli-power 9100 series into a 4 stage charger. You just mount the little "Charge Wizard" module to a hole in a wooden panel, connect it, and push the button to go into 4 stage charging.

Hooray for them! This would be a good way for your neighbor to cut down on his hours of generator usage.

Check out the Series 9200 of Intellipower converter/chargers. It might have the Charge Wizard already built into it.   

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Finally Appreciating the Female Camper

Permission to speak freely? I have never envied men who camped with women. It's not that I don't appreciate women, it's just that the female camper usually seems like a proverbial 'fish out of water.' When I camped with a small band of RV campers this past summer, it really hit me that I had never considered this topic before, despite its importance to the human condition.

Imagine the poor devil camping in the desert in winter, and having to listen to the lawnmower-like scream of a vacuum cleaner for hours a day. Think of all the electricity it wastes. And yet, the crazed woman never thinks things are clean enough. She fancies herself a nature-lover (aka, a scenery snacker). Yet she thinks dust blowing in the desert wind is unnatural. This is one of the many examples of a woman-camper being a liability to the poor fellow. But who wants to give up on half the human race that easily?

Last summer my best conclusions about why women disliked camping were:
  1. They lack sports and activities that are done outdoors. Many of these primal satisfactions are enjoyed by the mighty male hunter/warriors of the tribe, but not by them.
  2. Their crucial importance in the cycle of life and physical survival has been downgraded as we have developed a cash economy. The home doesn't produce anything anymore. Now it's all about running to the store to satisfy one's needs, and the camper is usually far away from decent shopping. 
Well, it was just my first stab at it. So what should women-campers do? Let us put that aside, and go back to world of experience and observation before coming back to this issue.

These days I have switched over to watching "Wagon Train" DVDs. Now how is that for a classic television western, aimed at the RV lifestyle?

In the first season, an episode started off with a woman in the wagon train singing a child to sleep. It may have been an old spiritual song, but she sang it like a lullaby, and with no accompaniment. (The actress was Shelley Winters, who sang well enough for roles in Broadway musicals.) This had a powerful effect on me.

Many people have vague memories from their childhood of a woman's voice, humming or singing around the house. It is the sort of primal satisfaction that I like to experience, or at least be reminded of, when camping.

This experience gave me what I was looking for: a way to appreciate a woman-camper above and beyond mere existence and survival. She has a way of creating a 'reality distortion field' around her house, which makes life for everybody seem better than what it actually is, if 'is' just refers to material conditions.

Those conditions have been austere and grim for most people of our species for virtually all of its lifespan. Isn't it incredible that evolution has equipped women with the hardware and firmware to make life not just possible, but also worth living?

Saturday, November 26, 2016

How to Raise an RV Grasshopper

One of black squares in my checkered past is a brief stint at teaching. I say "black" because I was aware I wasn't very good at it. This seemed unfair, because my father was an excellent teacher. Perhaps that is why I am enjoying mentoring Grasshopper as he hooks up the solar panels, battery charger, and inverter on his new Nash trailer.

When he called up on the phone to buy my first trailer a couple years ago, I didn't think he showed much promise. He said that he had no house-handyman or technical experience. Worse yet, he didn't seem to desire overcoming that handicap. Any RVer who intends to camp outside RV parks and their hookups has to be a little bit willing to get involved with their RV.

Buying my boondocking trailer from me was a deft move by him, because all that solar/battery/charger/inverter stuff was done. Even better, it was visible, because I treated the trailer as a cargo trailer wannabee. And he asked questions from time to time.

Before getting back to Grasshopper, I must pontificate on how bad most RV 'how to' blogs are. Sure, they mean well. And they are pretty knowledgeable. But I suspect one eye is always on their link-bait or Google income. Sometimes they bury the newbie under mountains of extraneous details. Why so? Their game can be guessed at -- but let's skip it.

Whatever happened to the old proverb about 'give a man a fish and you feed him for one day...teach him how to fish, and you feed him for life?' It is astonishing to see these blowhards on the internet spoon-feeding newbies with endless snippets of 'practical' details.

I am here to tell you that solarizing a rig is not rocket science. Rather than going on and on about minutiae, the newbies' main challenge is to simply adjust their attitude: stop thinking like a wasteful and conventional suburbanite. 

How many RVers think that the only way to heat a cup of tea is to turn on a 2000 Watt microwave oven [*]? 

Don't they know how well an old-fashioned pressure cooker works -- on a propane stove -- for cooking a variety of foods?

No, they don't need a 1000 Watt Mr. Coffee gadget for making a cup of coffee. Can't they see that their thinking-patterns are merely inherited from their shameful past in a stick-and-brick house?! If they try real hard, they might convince themselves that water in a metal pan can be heated on a propane stove.

Pulled into a morass of details, the newbies aren't even taught the basic ideas and principles and categories: you use propane for high-power devices, and electricity for low-power devices.

There are other examples of "technical" problems that really just show an unwillingness to adjust mentally: 
  1. Why are they using a 50" television in a van? 
  2. Why are they still using an obsolete 17" laptop instead of something that uses lower power? 
  3. Would it kill them not to have toast for breakfast? How much electricity does a WASA cracker take? 
  4. Why do they waste propane on a water heater that runs 24 hours a day, when they could just heat water in a pan on the propane stove, and take a navy shower?
  5. Why do they dress the same way they used to, in their stick-and-brick house, instead of adopting a practical style for winter weather?

Well, this rant has pulled me away from my original mentoring story. Later.

[*] Most people who have just bought a $60,000 pickup to pull a $70,000 16,000 pound fifth-wheel can probably afford a $25 Kill-a-Watt meter to measure their energy hogs.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

The Longest Frog Hollow

It is quite something how popular 24-hour races have become over the last few years. But why should that matter to anybody other than extreme athletes? 

That was the challenge before me, as I camped in "Frogtown" and volunteered at the "longest 24 hour race in the world," so called because it goes from 10 am Saturday to 10 am Sunday, over the end of Daylight Savings Time. Thus it is 25 hours long in real time, and Frog-Time.

Some "typical" scenery, mountain biking in central Utah.

Practical benefit: I learned how some 29 inch mountain bikes will accommodate the 27.5 inch (aka, '650') wheels with 'plus' sized (wide) tires.  I was leaning to the 650 Plus bikes for my next mountain bike.

Additional benefit: having my nose rubbed in the obsolete-ness of my 26 inch mountain bike. Will I even be able to buy tires for it five years from now?

When roaming free range over a wide group of people, it is so easy to begin categorizing creatures. Otherwise the human mind drowns in minute and fractured details. Here is a list of my favorite categories, stepping down to least favorite:

1. Dogs. Surprisingly my favorite was an uncropped male Doberman pinscher. I praised the owner to his face for allowing his friendly pooch to remain au naturel. 

2. Cute little girls.

3. Pretty young mothers.

Then there is a huge gap in the likability ranking.

Negative infinity plus 2. Old crones who cackle.

Negative infinity plus 1. Young boy monsters. (These may be promoted one notch, depending on the upcoming election)

Negative infinity. Males 16--30, who speak half-intelligible English, composed of the latest slang; and who wear their testosterone-crazed egos on their shirt sleeve. My goodness, how did young women ever put up with us, back then?

The difficulty of riding all night cannot be fully appreciated until you remember how deeply a younger person sleeps. They are really affected by sleep patterns that are disturbed.

Although mountain biking at night sounds semi-suicidal, remember that all riders had two powerful headlights. These have become remarkably good the last couple years.

Perhaps this experience is like that of soldiers in combat. Visualizing it thusly, and trying to put yourself into the shoes of the participants, may be the trick to making the experience interesting for a non-extreme athlete, who would otherwise laugh off the race as useless. Perhaps William James himself would have appreciated races like this as the "moral equivalent of war."

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Real and Imaginary Loneliness When Camping

Yesterday I had a nice visit with the fellow who bought my first trailer from me. He bought my trailer for $1800, camped full time in it for two years, and then sold it for $20oo. The bastard!

I tend to treat him as my "grasshopper." So when the topic of loneliness came up, I was a bit disappointed to hear him endorse the "sacred solitude" paradigm of RV boondocking. But he didn't outright deny experiencing loneliness as some solitary campers do.

Let's take an indirect approach to this issue of the loneliness of campers, by experiencing the human tribe at its best, during a festival. Currently I am camping near, and volunteering for, a mountain bike race in southwestern Utah.

1. Racing. The festival is predicated on the idea that racing is supposed to be exciting. Observing the crowd's behavior, this appears to be true. But it is strange how any human endeavor must be turned into a competition.

Consider the expense of these bicycles, let alone the risk of injury.

Is there nothing about the activity itself that is intrinsically interesting and rewarding? Must everything be about ego-gratification?

2. The sardine can. Consider the automatic tendency of many people to deliberately choose to camp unnecessarily close to other people, despite having the freedom to do otherwise.

3. The "beam." There are people who are like the two dogs I've had: they can easily and quickly win over just about any new acquaintance. They have a "charm-beam" like a bright LED flashlight: all they have to do is point it at their next conquest to light them up.

But calm people don't get noticed too much. Even worse are serious-looking people, who look nerdy and scholarly. Lepers would be more popular.

It is easy to observe people's impatience with other people.   

4. Mis-managed expansiveness. Watch people roll in to camp in their cars. After turning off the engines, they pop all the doors open and spew music all over the camping area. What is going through their heads? 

Give them a little freedom, and they instantly convert it into noise pollution. Paraphrasing the classic speech about television in the original "Manchurian Candidate," we could say that 'there are two distinct types of people in the world: people who go to the Great Outdoors to get away from noise, and a second group that goes there to make noise.'

But from their point of view they are doing something harmless or even positive that expresses a momentary feeling of expansiveness. The same might be said of dog owners whose expansiveness takes the form of giving their dog freedom around other people. 

It's a good thing, is it not?, for freedom, cheerfulness, and expansiveness to be linked. Both the music-sharers and the dog-sharers are not evil; they are just forgetting to look at it from other people's perspective.

But the reader might say that I could try harder to 'think positive' about human behavior. They're right. But one could also try harder to think positive about solitude. Therefore, how positive or negative one wants to be, cancels out of both sides of the equation.

The point here is not to force yourself into a deliberately positive or negative attitude, but rather, to observe human behavior as it really is -- not as you want it to be. The result is an ambivalence about being around human beings. This ambivalence should keep your annoyances mild when around people, and your loneliness mild when alone.

Anybody who says that solitary camping can't get lonely is simply in denial. Rather than deny, let's manage loneliness, instead. This consists largely of restraining yourself from exacerbating loneliness by fantasizing about ideal human beings. 

Secondly, it involves going back and forth between solitude and group events of whatever kind, in order to restore your ambivalence and equipoise. Notice I did not say 'indifference.'

Monday, October 3, 2016

Busting My First Campers?

Some observations from my campround:

1. It is pleasant to talk to anyone who has some special interest and knowledge. They are rare. One camper was a serious jeeper. He taught me about the "pull-pal," a type of land anchor. It is a steel plow that digs its way into the ground when you pull on it with a winch. Perhaps even a "come-along" hand winch. Then it collapses/folds so that you can store it in your vehicle. Made in Carbondale, CO.

2. Had our first bicyclist from the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route. (Adventure Cycling, Missoula, Montana.) Wish we had more of them. Maybe we aren't on their map.

I have to admit that doing nothing but cycling all day and camping in a tent don't really appeal to me as a mode of travel.  Still, their stamina is certainly impressive. 

3. One campsite had a large number of kids sitting on rocks, waiting for their meal. They looked so enchanted by the campfire. It would be fun to be invisible and hang out there and watch them. Personally I don't remember any campground experiences from childhood, because my family didn't camp. So it was hard to imagine what the kiddies were thinking.

4a. I considered busting my first camper. The first "opportunity" was a van-tramp (grin) who thought that he was going to park overnight for free in the day use area, despite the sign saying that that wasn't allowed. Then he would have used the toilets or dumped his offal and excrement in our trash cans, no doubt.

Listen to my prejudices! Good thing I didn't try to make a living as a cop. In fact, I gave him advice about all the free dispersed camping roads in the area, and it looks like he benefited.

Woe unto any "stealth" van tramp who invades my suzerainty and tries to camp for free! (grin)

4b. I came closer to busting a dog owner, of all things! I have no interest in being petty about dogs off-leash, as long as it is not causing a problem. That means somebody or their pet bleeding. 

But it also means 'being terrified.' One group had two dogs that charged my dog and me at full speed -- twice. Once again, my prejudices came out! I don't like German shepherds. 

The good news is that these two loudmouths just acted intimidating, rather than biting me or my dog. I am pretty good at not over-reacting to "problem" dogs. But if I had been a mother, walking her small child, with Fi-Fi alongside, these two off-leash dogs would have terrified me.

It is something to think about: one can read theoretical essays by philosophers, particularly of the libertarian stripe, and they seem to border on theology -- so disconnected from real people in the real world.

Where was the internal self-control on the part of those dog owners? At any rate, I am getting an education.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Selling Out to the (Camping) Establishment

What can you say about a camper who sells out to the Establishment, by flushing his principles and ideals down the toilet -- and a vault toilet at that!  Yes, reader, the unthinkable has happened: this old boy has become a campground host. I feel compelled to justify aberrant behavior of this type. 

If there is a better way to finish off a life than achieving Moral Perfection, go ahead and tell me what it is. Good ol' Ben (Franklin) would not have approved of this project if it were just a sterile sentimentalism. In order for Moral Perfection to be real and solid, there must be some way of objectifying and validating it.  Otherwise, a person would just fool themselves with feelings that bounce around in the echo chamber of their own skull.

One way of validating this project is to look at the effect we have on other people. That is why solitary camping needs to be abandoned.

In the tab at the top of the screen, entitled "Summiting: Ideals and Suffering," there are many juicy quotes from William James, explaining that significance and meaning in life result from chasing an ideal through struggle or even Suffering. The same idea can be applied to chasing Moral Perfection.

If left to your own choices, Other People could possibly be a source of pleasure and support to you, rather than the Suffering we are after. There are few better ways to be guaranteed of Suffering than in dealing with the general public, and one of the lowest levels of the general public is the tourist.

The conclusion of this chain of reasoning is that the pursuit of Moral Perfection benefits by overcoming the Suffering imposed on us by the lowest of the low, the tourist.

Granted, if I really lived up to this, I would have chosen to be a campground host in a national park; or a big state park centered around a motorboat-lake, an hour's drive from a burgeoning metropolis; or a campground near a plexus of motorhead trails.

Instead I have bitten off the modest Suffering that should come from a 15-unit campground in a non-motorized area whose clientele consists of mountain bikers, climbers, and a few hikers. Ya' gotta start somewhere!

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Should Camping Tough Guys Have Satellite Television and Internet?

Let no one confuse a retro-grouch with a human fossil. This retro-grouch made a giant leap forward when I bravely submitted to my first demonstration of Facebook. The fellow who gave the tutorial was quite good at giving demonstrations.

Actually, I was impressed with Facebook as a platform. It seemed useful for certain types of groups. It seemed well integrated with other platforms on the internet.

So then, if I was so impressed with it, why haven't I opened up an account? Two things are stopping me.

1. Won't I lose control of ad-blocking on Facebook? Please don't tell me that ads are not too obtrusive, so far. On an internet browser such as Firefox, you can use a free ad-blocking program that works 98% of the time. I am suspicious that most of the bandwagon towards smartphones and Facebook is ultimately motivated by the desire to get people addicted to a platform first, and then bury them under ads that they can't do anything about.

2. Thoreau's classic wise-crack about new technology as being 'pretty improved means to an unimproved end.' When you see all these assholes walking around with their smartphones, unable to live without scratching the itch for more than three minutes at a time, you have to wonder what the content is, of these messages. Pictures of their cat? Banal chit-chat about the weather? Whether they ate corn flakes or Cheerios for breakfast?

Civilizational decline was, at one time, best exemplified by tabloid newspapers and the like. Then Decline added another layer, as society became addicted to the garbage dump of television. Then the internet spam started; remember when people were forwarding dumb jokes to their friends' and followers' email box? And now societal Decline has culminated in Facebook.

In order to honor the occasion, a neologism needs to be widely adopted: triviality, banality, and drivel need to be combined into one word. I was inspired by Merriam-Webster's etymology of the word, drivel: "Middle English, from Old English dreflian, perhaps akin to Old Norse draf, malt dregs, before the 12th century."

Combining these words, let us adopt the word, drivia (drivial, driviality), to describe the effluvia of Facebook and smartphones. 

The larger issue here is whether a real camper should be tied into satellite television or the internet at all? Doesn't it seem funny to you that there are all these blowhards [*] on the internet, rhapsodizing about 'boondocking', and the wonderful life of Adventure, natural Beauty, Harmony, Simplicity, sacred Solitude, etc., and yet they spend half the day staring at satellite television or internet drivia. 

Why do they pretend their lifestyle is superior to the average schmo in a stick-and-brick house? Couldn't they just as easily move to a low-cost-of-living town, and buy a premium package of fiber optic internet and television?

I will let the reader cogitate on that for a couple days. What we really need to do is come up with more constructive uses of time when camping.


[*] In case the reader can't tell, I am ranting against myself as much as anybody.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

A Shopping Orgy at the Best Outdoors Store

It is so strange going through small towns in the ranching country of the West. Especially shopping. You can not avoid the feeling that the purpose of life for these businesses is to be closed. No wonder there is a Dollar Store in the tiniest and most impoverished town.

Show Low, AZ, is one of the few shopping meccas for me, on my annual loop. As always, I visited a couple car dealerships. I come away shaking my head about how ignorant car salesmen are about the product itself. They only know about the process of selling: demographics, applied psychology, and filling out the paperwork. The average customer could not care less about the $60,000 pickup truck they just got suckered into. They only care about the monthly payment and whether it is huge and showy, and raises their self-esteem. Imagine that: a culture where people get a boost to their self-esteem by being a fool!

But this post has good news: I had a wonderful time at my favorite store for outdoor products. I didn't even know that that chain had a store in this town. 

Years ago my favorite store might have been REI. The last time I looked at their website, the prices appalled me. On top of that their greenie posturing is offensive to me. They have become a boutique for wealthy Blue-staters, living in metropolitan areas.

For awhile, some years back, my favorite store might have been Cabela's. But today, they are just a theme park for wealthy Red-staters. Their customer is the type who would spend $3000 on a puppy from a breeder because of its hunting pedigree; but then the guy goes hunting one weekend a year.

My favorite store is Sportsman's Warehouse. For the no-nonsense outdoorsman.

Monday, March 21, 2016

What Nomadism Really Means

Mid-February was so warm that I said goodbye to the hiking season and hello to the mountain biking season for the next 10 months or so. I was biking down a dirt/gravel road in southeastern Arizona. Suddenly I felt misty-eyed.

How strange! I am not one of those modern 'sensitive' men who acts weepie and huggie because he has been told to do so. In fact, in all the years (19) that I've been in this racket, this is the first time this happened.

(Long-suffering readers of this blog know the formula by now: observe something odd or experience something unusually affecting, and then try to explain it by walking my way to the general and timeless.)

Perhaps I was affected by southeastern Arizona having some of my favorite balanced scenery, that is, grasslands in the foreground and mountains in the background. And oak trees! In contrast I have little interest in the pine monocultures that cover most of the mountains in the West.

Or maybe it was the realization that I come here every year. Having a friend in town certainly helps. Better yet, the woman who introduced me to my long-term friend was also in town. I went to visit her.  It was pleasing to both of us to hear gratitude. I feel at home here.

Home? That may seem like a strange thing to say for a full-time RVer. After all, aren't they supposed to be moving all the time? But in fact, I have never praised the 'channel surfing with gasoline' lifestyle that is so over-praised by newbie travel blogs.

'Home' to me does not mean "finding that perfect undiscovered mountain town" to settle down some day. I don't want to live in one spot, with crappy weather most of the year. Nor do I want to be stuck with endless house repair and tax expenses. But more generally, I don't want the pettiness, the constraints that eventually oppress, and the cloying domesticity of living in one spot.

Lately I've been reading about voyages of discovery, old-time trade routes, and nomads in North Africa and Eurasia. Some men are just not cut out to live the life of Cain, with its routine and sedentary drudgery. And the relentless over-concentration on such a small number of things!  They are meant for the life of Abel.

They need more variety, but that doesn't mean the geographical promiscuity of a first year RVer who begins to feel bored with any place before his engine even has a chance to cool off.

Awhile back I wrote about finding a better way to live without a generator that I seldom used: I fixed an inverter to run off my van's engine and battery, and sent that electricity to a battery charger in the trailer.

This is analogous to a pastoral nomad who learns to milk his herd, instead of just using them for transportation, clothing, cash, hides, bones, and meat. Seeing this analogy gave such a feeling of authenticity to my travel lifestyle -- it was much more pleasurable than, say, a free admission and camping ticket for 5 years to America's Top Ten national parks. 

A "pastor" from South America pursuing the lifestyle of Abel, in the high country of Utah'

Saturday, January 16, 2016

What If You ALMOST Need a Generator?

Long-suffering readers know that I like to poke fun -- gently I hope -- at campers who are Gandhi or Thoreau wannabees. They also know that I am not a solar purist. A rational and professional camper uses technology up to the point of diminishing returns. (Or more correctly, the point of diminishing marginal utility.)

And yet there are solar purists who make it work for them. People who have vans or motorhomes probably don't count, since they can always charge their house batteries from their engine battery on a cloudy day. So let's only discuss trailers.

A trailer-puller can connect their tow vehicle to the trailer, and run the engine. But that charges too slowly, perhaps 7 or 8 Amps.

So what do you do when you finally admit that even Arizona is not sunny every day, and that you occasionally park under trees, or near the perpetually cloudy Coast? Buy a windmill? Never heard anything good about them. Besides, you need to supplement a solar system with a secondary system that doesn't depend on the weather.

You could always suck it up and pay to camp at some place with electricity. But let's not give in to defeatism. We will remain loyal to the Cause.

What is so bad about good generators?, such as a quiet-running Honda 1000 watt inverter generator. Well of course, there is the $850 cost.
  1. You must put it inside at night, worry about it walking off, or increase your insurance. Lifting a 30 pound device into a vehicle is asking for a back injury. You must be careful.
  2. Do occasional maintenance, and drag a gasoline can around. Invariably you will forget to fill the gas can when you fill your vehicle.
  3. Find space for it. (probably in a plastic tub, that won't leak oil.)
You must also get a 30 amp, three-stage, battery charger. Of course you need one of them to plug into shore power, although it could cost less.

So I tried an experiment:
  1. Hook an inverter to the battery of the tow vehicle, and run the engine.
  2. Run the output of the inverter to a battery charger for charging the house battery.
Obviously I run the van's engine when the inverter is sending 500 Watts to the battery charger in the trailer. I use a common outdoor 25 foot long extension cord to connect to the charger in the trailer.

The furring strip screwed to the bottom of the plywood keeps the whole thing from sliding off. I added an external fuse to the positive line of the inverter and the charger.

So far, so good. Remember, this is only to be used occasionally, as an alternative to buying a generator. (About 20 days per year.)

I did learn not to take the nominal ratings literally [1].  So I downsized the battery charger to a Samlex 30 amp charger [2]. Initially it eats 500 Watts from the inverter. After 15 minutes it has charged four flooded golf cart batteries to the point that they are going into the second stage -- so called "absorption" stage -- of charging, and the power falls gradually. I plan on shutting everything down after 20 minutes total.

You might consider this solution a bit of an extravagance: the pure sine wave inverter did cost $250, after all. Perhaps a modified sine wave inverter would have sufficed, and cost $100 less. But I have had mixed with results with these. 

And the new inverter will be my backup inverter, and perhaps be able to power a 110 VAC tire inflator or powerful tools with it. If it were really necessary, you could get double duty out of your house inverter, if you made it easy to remove.

[1] A 45 amp IOTA battery charger was too big for a 1000 Watt pure sine wave inverter (Xantrex ProWatt SW 1000), even though the nominal ratings would suggest otherwise.

[2] I always buy electrical controllers, inverters, etc., from in Oregon.