Old Diary, Travel

Serendipity Strikes Today

2014101314543952Today is moving day.  Our 6 nights at Rend Lake are over.  But a moment-of-whimsy drive on Monday (before all the rainfall) changed our plans for the next few days. 10-15 route

Crab Orchard National Wildlife Refuge is one of the few, if not the only, NWR that has it’s own public campground.  There are Refuges that have campgrounds for longterm volunteers; but a public campground is a rarity indeed.  We took our drive out of frustration with the continuing rain and when we realized that the forecast at the refuge was for several days of sun, or at least mostly sun it was an easy decision to say, let’s stay here for a few more days.

Crab Orchard signI have been dithering about how to handle the remaining 630 +/- miles to Bayou Segnette and I think I just found my answer.  Why go somewhere with unknown qualities when there is someplace near by that is looking gorgeous.  The pelicans are hanging out down there (they disappeared here for most of the time we’ve been here)  and it looks like a nice place to hang out for a few days.Crab Orchard lake  Also, there are more goods and services nearby, including a used book store!

We finally found a replacement space heater for the one we burnt out last year.  When we have shore power we use electric heat far more than propane.  Last Spring we burnt out one of our heaters at the end of the season  By that time all the heaters were off the shelf and all we could learn is that they would get their single shipment of heaters in August.  August came and went  and no matter where we stopped we weren’t finding heaters.  September mostly came and went and still not heaters.  Finally, in October we started finding them.  But guess what?

It seems that manufacturers no longer want to tell you how much current the heater will draw on LOW temp.  They tell you the current draw on HI, but not on low.  So, instead of going to the store and picking out one I ended up having to go online to the manufacturer’s website and try discerning the low heat setting directly from the horses mouth — and too often I still found nothing.

Lasko space heaterI finally settled on this one.  It’s made by Lasko; it’s part of their ceramic digital  “warm air motion’ line.  We’ll see how it goes.  We’re making the move to a different style of heater. The old ones we had were not calibrated in degrees.  space heater controlThey had those ‘old fashioned’ variable heat dials, and a couple fan speed selectors and that was all.  The result was that a heater that seemed to run and run and run and still the temperature was quite variable.  It often seemed that the same setting did not produce the same warmth from day to day.  So, we decided to try heaters with thermostatic settings by degree.  The new one has a stronger fan that will move a lot more air. I’m curious to see how this will cope with the larger size of our lounge.

Heating and cooling was one thing I did not think much about when we traded coaches.  Not until a cold day in April, not long after we bought the new coach, did we stop to think that the coach not only was LONGER, it was also wider and there were a lot more cubic feet of air to keep warm or cool  The A/C works fine.  and the heat pump works fine.  But both heat pumps draw more power — enough so that we can’t run both heat pumps on HEAT while plugged into 30 amp power.  I just want to make sure my sweetie is comfortable in most varieties of weather.  I stay comfortable over a much wider range of temperatures; she gets cold quite easily.

Ok — that’s it for today!  Thanks for stopping by and I’ll talk with you tomorrow.

Old Diary, Travel

Killing Your Power Pig

There’s an angry monster beneath the floors of your RV!

Meet the Power Pig

Meet the Power Pig

Meet the Power Pig!  He’s with you every where you go and some RV’ers don’t even know he travels with them.  Most of the time he’s pretty quiet until you here his universal anger call:  “Click” — heard right at the time he bites into your power cable and trips the breaker when you’ve been using too much electricity.

Ok — if you always pull into posh RV campgrounds you may never have met him.  But if you mooch-dock in the driveways of friends and family, so that you have to live with 15 amps of electric service then you have surely met him/her — I have never been sure whether power pigs reproduce asexually, or not.  Anyway….


The power center in our Winnebago (note the gauge second from the top)


The power panel in our Holiday Rambler (note the top gauge)

Taking time to learn about your (a.) power consumption and (b.) what each circuit breaker in your RV controls is good for anyone who RV’s.  Sometimes it’s easier  to know how much power you’re consuming if you pay attention to the power panel in your RV.  If yours is like ours when you are on anything but 50 amp service you’ll get a readout of how much power you are using.  If you note the amount of draw before turning on another appliance and then note the amount of power being consumed AFTER turning it on you can subtract one from the other and determine the electric draw of that appliance.  If you have NOTHING turned on you can determine your parasitic draw — those things that are always on:  fridge, CO monitor, clocks, pilot lights, etc..

The Kill-a-Watt will help you determine your power usage.

The Kill-a-Watt will help you determine your power usage.

Another, slightly more accurate and boys-toyishly elegant is to use something like a Kill-a-Watt meter.  These are available from the likes of The Home Depot and Lowes, as well as Amazon.com and hardware stores across the land.

These handheld size meters plug into the wall receptacle on the back side, and you plug your appliance into the front plug and voila — instant usage info.

Those of us who boondock — whether it’s just overnights en route with Wallyworld or Uncle Cabela’s, or weeks at a time on BLM property — pay a little bit more attention to how much power we’re pulling.  Even though it’s rude and impolite to be extending leveling jacks and slide-outs when you’re overnighting at Uncle Cabela’s , or at Wallyworld,  it’s no fun to awaken in the morning and discover that you’re worn and old batteries gave up their last gasp during the night and now you can’t retract those slides that you shouldn’t have extended in the first place because you’ve got no battery juice left.    Or, even worse, you’ve been boondocking for 5 days, you’re ready to leave and you haven’t got enough power even with your Momentary switch thrown to crank up the generator or your engine.   If talking about the ‘momentary’ switch throws you for a loop — look around on your dashboard — a lot of us have a switch up there somewhere that is designed just for those weak battery days.  The switch is spring loaded — you don’t want to leave it on very long — and it couples your house and chassis batteries together long enough to give your starter motor an extra kick and get your engine started.

Take some time to learn about your usage!

You may not always be able to find a 50 amp plug in.  Sometimes — we’ve discovered this at Corps of Engineer campgrounds out there in more remote locations — those 50 amp power posts aren’t really delivering 50 amps.  Sometimes they are delivering only 30 amps even though they are labeled 50 amps.  Knowing what you can run on limited power is key to enjoying your RV time to the max.EMS-PT50C

We use an RV 50 amp line monitor.  In the first place, the monitor checks the power before it ever allows juice into the RV — for 126 seconds it simply monitors what’s happening to the delivered power, checking volts, ground, differential between the two power legs, etc.  If the power is too dirty it won’t open the valve to the coach.  If the power is within parameters in 2 minutes.  The box will also cut power to the coach if something happens on the supply side, and there’s a little readout that tell you the voltage on each leg (your 50 amp 220V power supply is sort of like two different 110 volt power supplies hooked together — simplified), and how much current you are drawing on each leg, as well as monitoring for various faults.

don't use this one

We were NOT happy with this one. When it failed prematurely, we did not replace it with like kind.

We used to have a different power protector.  I don’t recommend this one.  We bought it while we were in Oregon.  It lasted a few months and failed.  We might have been able to get it replaced but we realized there were some serious design issues that made it impractical for us.

This less than satisfactory device is LONG — longer than several of the power stands were high off the ground, meaning that your plug to the coach was always lying on the ground; down there where it gets damp.  (Specially in Oregon)  Secondly, the device says it wants to operate vertically.  Don’t support it so that it’s laying horizontally.  Once it failed I found what we think is a better solution; the one I first mentioned.  power regulator

There is another model that I almost tried.  Now, I almost wish I had gone with this one instead.  It has a longer cord to attach to the power post, it has feet to raise it off the ground, in case of little puddles, and it’s supposed to actually REGULATE power, instead of just turning off dirty power.

Now — I’m not an electrician.  In fact, electricity scares the heeby-jeebies out of me.  But I’m big on protection.  We have been in parks where power surges have burnt out electrical systems in multiple RV’s in short order.  We have heard of power posts wired wrong,  and on the Forest (while in Oregon) we lived with some serious line voltage problems — so from here on we’re taking the attitude that a pound of prevention is better than a kilogram of cure!

So, there you have my wanderings for Tuesday.  Thanks for stopping by, and I’ll talk with you tomorrow.

Old Diary, Travel

That OTHER Circuit Breaker

The other day I commented about the fact that when our friend Debbie and her dad came to visit that we had electrical problems.

Circuit Breakers

It’s a cute little breaker box, isn’t it!

I’m contemplating the vagaries of motorhome design.  Our new-to-us coach has a very conveniently located electrical panel. The panel is in a covered overhead storage bay on the curbside of the coach just forward of the back wall.  That makes sense because the batteries and inverter live directly below — in the rear two curbside storage bays.  In our Winnebago the electrical panel was on the end of the bed, down on the floor, behind a metal cover hinged at the top which kept trying to close while you were laying on the ground trying to see the circuit breakers.  [mumble, mumble, mumble]Our Electrical Cabinets

And the question comes to mind:
Given the fact that there is a perfectly nice electrical panel with excess space to the right, why did the engineers put all of the lounge outlets onto a circuit that terminates not in the electrical panel, but in a separate sub-panel on the side of the Inverter?

Magnum-InverterThe  inverter is a nice enough piece of electronics.  The original one (before our addition of solar panels) was a modified sine wave inverter, our new one is a true sine wave inverter but both of them had the same external circuit breaker setup.  And why they would put that OUTSIDE the coach is beyond me.

pure sine_mod sineI know some of you who are (like me) not terribly savvy about electronics may not know a lot about RV electric power.  If you have batteries in your RV and you want to run regular household appliances you need to convert that 12 VDC power into 110-120 VAC current.  The inverter is the machinery that does that work for you.  So, seeing as the inverter’s job is to change one kind of electricity into another — just why they put a 110 V circuit breaker down there on the the equipment that converts one kind of power into another is an obscure mystery.

The difference between the two forms of electrical waves is that the modified sine wave is cheaper to produce (cost of original equipment) but it gives you a voltage with … for the lack of a better term …. sudden jolts.  The power goes from zero volts to +110 volts instantly, then instantly back to zero volts and then instantly to  -110 volts.  A Pure Sine Wave inverter gives you the same 0 to 110 to 0 to -110 to 0 pattern, but in a smooth wave form, and not that jarring form that can be hard on different kinds of electrical power.  The more electronics you run the more susceptible you may be to problems.  Many machines will work just fine with modified sine wave; and as the modified sine wave inverters are developed and electronics are improved the problems seem to be lessened but they can still result in premature appliance failure.

The long and the short of it is that we found where our extra two circuit breakers are.  And now if we trip a breaker and we can’t find a tripped breaker INSIDE the coach we just go OUTSIDE and sure enough — there’s the little troublemaker!

And thus endeth our dissertation on strangely placed circuit breakers.  Thanks for stopping by and I’ll talk with you tomorrow.

Old Diary, Travel

The way you were told

“Once in a while it really hits people that they don’t have to experience the world in the way they have been told to.”
– Alan Keightley

I’m in a specially mellow mood this morning2014101108141401.  There are more campers here at the moment, and more leaves on the ground to make it feel really like autumn this morning.

I love the cloudy days because colors seem more saturated.  Back in the day when I shot photos for $$$$ I used to love shooting on damp, drizzly days for just that reason — the color saturation was always superior.  But now I’m lazy and I’d rather take those drizzly shots out the RV window!

I was reading a blog this morning about the tiffs and arguments that RV’ing couples get into when one party wants one kind of RV-lifestyle and the other party wants something quite different.  And the quotation above flashed back into my memory.

You know, sometimes it really IS hard to realize that you don’t have to live the kind of life you were told you were supposed to live.  So many people struggle to live like their neighbors.  They have to have the same kind of car, similar clothes,  appropriate house, the right school.  But when they’re all done are they any the better for their striving or any the richer for their scheming.    Peg and I were lucky;  when people heard that we were going to go a-RV’ing most of the comments were supportive.  Perhaps that had to do with the fact that most of our friends were hard working citizens who would have loved to be away from Wisconsin for at least a couple months out of the year.


This is the chart I usually use to make plans


But this chart takes into consideration the hottest and coldest on record and shows a very different picture.

For Peggy and I,  our expectations are more along the lines of what will the weather be like where we intend on being. We know the place is some place we want to go; the only question is whether we’ll be visiting at a time that will be comfortable and enjoyable for both of us.   And I want to expand a little bit on our thinking on this point.

I talk about our climate / temperature-moisture graphs from time to time but what I usually don’t do is to show you the complete graph.  For my uses I don’t normally include the record highs or the record lows.  They happen but the likelihood of a record high or low in any given year when we intend on being there is quite low.  Instead I just save the normal highs and normal lows.

The Weatherman may have told us
what to expect, but sometimes
the weatherman lies 🙂

Last week our trip to the Virden IL homecoming parade was rained, and windy’d out.  The stats were right but the weather wasn’t.  We based our plans on climate not on weather.  We went, and we had a terrific time with our friends,  but we didn’t have a terrific time watching the parade.  We had temps in the lower 50’s and lots of wind, the parade lasted barely an hour.  Last year, per our dear friends whose memories I trust implicitly, they tell us that the watchers were sweltering in the sun and sun-umbrellas were more in demand than rain umbrellas;  it was a scorcher and the parade lasted for hours.

The reality of planning is you can’t plan for every contingency.  I’m not sure RV’ers always think about that.  In our experience, RV’ing is often more about chance than design:

  • The Summer of ’13 was really hot in Northern Wisconsin and we felt it.
  • The Winter of ’13/’14 was dry in Oregon — and we wondered when all the rains were coming.

We were prepared for the averages but we experienced closer to the extremes.  That will happen. Those who think that they can out-plan Mother Nature are surely doomed to disappointment.  And that is part of the reason we call our Blog, Life Unscripted — you simply never know exactly what you’re going to get.  Plan if you want — but be prepared to have your plans changed 1000 times — and be prepared for happenstance to be better than intent.

The last two autumns we weren’t on the road like we are this year.  By this time last year we were already at the Oregon Dunes.  We made that trip during September.  The previous year we had reservations along the Mississippi and we were debating whether we would be forced to return to Milwaukee to house-sit during the winter because we hadn’t gotten a real estate sales contract.  So, when it came time to organize our route South from Milwaukee this year we didn’t know how many open campsites might be available for a 40′ coach on a first-come basis.  We made reservations for 2 one week stays in Illinois and we thought seriously about making reservations further down on the trip but delayed because our Daughter’s plans were up in the air. This year were were joining the ranks of the Snowbirds without knowing when the Snowbirds started their migration.  🙂

This morning I was thinking — in light of the cool temps we’ve had — that next year if we’re in Milwaukee in September we’ll head south more quickly;  and then I remembered…. this is turning out to be a cooler than normal October.  And so… maybe I better not be thinking about what to do next YEAR!!!!!!  Just go with the flow today, and wait to see what happens next year.  The weatherman isn’t always right;  or wrong.

There are a lot of ways in which RV’ers face these kind of mental logical bubbles.  We meet a couple with a longer coach (or a shorter one) and it’s easy to wonder what it would be like to live in that coach.  We meet a couple who swear by their schedule of 6 months in Florida and six months in Illinois and we wonder whether they’re crazy or perhaps they have found Utopia?  [Utopia doesn’t exist] Before we retired, like a lot of people who struggle with their weight, we played with different diets (Pritikin, and hi-protein/low carb, Paleo and Vegetarian)  and there were people telling us that each of those was the right way to eat — and we decided that we liked our own way of eating better than theirs.   We don’t have to do things the way we were told.

I guess what scares me about RV’ing — not so much for Peg & I, but for others — is that we know lots of couples who are not nearly as like-minded as Peg and I.  To make this lifestyle work you have to have similar views on spending money, on what makes you happy, on what you enjoy.  The couple who spend all day long doing different things and only get together at night for dinner and …. well, you fill in the blank there … It’s hard to understand how after a lifetime of living like that they can ever be happy sharing the same tin can of a house in a series of continually changing locations !!!!!!  You have to have something in common other than not wanting a bricks & sticks house.  You have to be going TO someplace and not just fleeing FROM someplace.   And you have to be willing to live a life you decide upon and not one that someone else has told you about, or told you to live, or promised you will be better, or different, or cheaper, or anything….  When I hear a lot of RV’ers talk what they are talking about is what they left behind — not where they are going.  It’s good to be happy you have finally gotten to live your dream and left all that stuff behind; but its more important to know where you’re going, know why you want to leave that stuff behind because you have something else with which you want to fill your life.  RV’ing isn’t about a lack, it’s about an abundance.

Let me return for just a moment to those climate charts.  If you’re living in bricks & sticks and the weather turns ugly you have someplace to go — probably 1200 sq ft worth, or maybe 2700 sq ft worth,  or even 4500 sq ft worth of house.  You can get out of each other’s hair.  You can get away from the whine-y party or get alone to work out a compromise.  In an RV you have 100 sq ft, or 200 sq ft, or maybe 300 sq ft in which to hide from each other and that’s not much space — believe me.

We’re pretty lucky.  We seem to agree on most things and disagreements are all that common.  Besides we are both willing to let the other party have something they want for a season if that will make them happy — knowing that our time also comes and we get to do something that we really want to do.  I see couples who don’t know how to do that.  Heck — you don’t have to be close to a couple to see that:  sometimes just watching two people in the RV next to you over a weekend makes it pretty clear that one party is getting what they want and the other party is pretty unhappy about it.

“Once in a while it really hits people that they don’t have to experience the world in the way they have been told to.”

I sometimes wish that more people could get “hit”  — that they would wake up to the fact that they may have been sold a bill of goods that has nothing to do with their own personal happiness, contentment, or desires.

If you’re already an RV’er then I’m sure you know what I mean.  But if you are considering becoming an RV’er I hope you sort out what you really want; and how to get it; and find a way to insure that your partner [if you’re lucky enough to have one] can get the same pleasure as you do.  Life’s short — Eat Dessert First!

Thanks for stopping by, and I’ll talk with you tomorrow.

Old Diary, Travel

Autumn has to be the Best time to go Camping!

South Sandusky Campground

South Sandusky Campground

I state unequivocally: Autumn is the best time of year to go camping.

One is just as likely to get rained on in Spring as in Autumn.  The temps are usually less likely to be cold in the early autumn.  And most of all, people aren’t itching to get out for their first camping trip of the year and you get to enjoy the parks mostly by yourself!  I love autumn!


Look around and there’s a lot of gold on the ground!

Oddly enough — there are more leaves on the ground here than there were 120 miles further North.  We are here with a fairly mixed forest (Oaks, maple, pine, hickory, spruce, gum).

As Friday started we had no goals for the day.  Peg has been ‘talking’ about getting the laundry done while we are here.  It will be 2 weeks since our last batch and with the week after we leave Rend Lake being up in the air  we want to leave here with a full linen closet.  But, with no weekly routine it seems to be harder and harder for Peg to decide on when to do things.  The word may be that Laundry comes on Sunday — but that can change.

Do you like my temporary window hold-open?  A pencil sharpener.

Do you like my temporary window hold-open? A pencil sharpener.

I have a piece of wood in the car (that I bought a couple weeks ago) that I should cut into pieces, but if I’m going to get rained on while doing so I may wait for a break in the rain.  Our two bedside windows are narrow double hung windows.  Like all RV windows they require a hold-up to be kept open and in the autumn temps we sometimes don’t want the windows THAT far open as the supplied stay-opens would require. So, a little wooden block to rest between the top of the bottom frame and the bottom of the top frame will allow us to crack the window open for a little nighttime circulation.

“People don’t take trips – trips take people.”
– John Steinbeck

Ah… Mr Steinbeck,  you know me too well.  At the moment I feel as if this trip is taking me…

I have no plans for the day,  it’s drizzling and I guess I’m in a forward thinking mood at the moment, wanting to consider the next 600 miles.    Our set-in-jello plans give us 5 days and 4 nights to get to New Orleans.  mississippiWe decided that when we were just realized that we would not be meeting up with Kathryn and now I’m pondering whether I want to spend that much time.    At the moment I’m not feeling compelled by the state of Mississippi.  Don’t get me wrong,  I’ve nothing against MS, I simply don’t have a lot of experience of the state.  On  the negative side were lots of semi- trips through the state on Interstate; on the positive side was a wonderful trip up the Natchez Trace Parkway two years ago and a stop in a absolutely wonderful MS state park.  But at the moment I’m not sure how much I want to dawdle in MS.

It’s right there, for Pete’s sake.  It won’t take any extra effort to check out a few places along the way.  I just don’t know if I’m compelled to do so.  I don’t know if I still feel I haven’t recovered form the Forest and I don’t want to be bothered?  Or what it might be. It might happen that we just decide day by day.  Which is OK by me.  We don’t have to have a plan.

Our site here is not the most level site in the world.  Even with our leveling jacks we sometimes feel like we are walking slightly downhill.  We are level enough for the refrigerator to operate as designed but it’s funny the way even slightly uneven floors become noticeable after lifetime of living in bricks & sticks.

And there you have it.  Thanks for stopping by.  I’ll talk with you tomorrow.

Old Diary, Travel

Settled in South Sandusky


A cloudy dreary day — good for driving!

We got an earlier start on Thursday than we expected.  With bouts of significant rain in the forecast all day,  we wanted not to have to hook and unhook our tow in the rain — so at the first significant lull we got moving and had time between rain drops to dump, refill with water and hit the road for Rend Lake.  We are getting better about that dump/fill routine!

2014100914453909The route was only about 120 miles and we poked along at 50 mph.  At that speed our fuel mileage for the entire trip was 8.6.  I’ll take that!  That’s one of the nice features of Silverleaf; it alone is not worth the cost but knowing your actual mileage does make planning fuel stops easier.  I can now consult my “recent mileage” and by checking with GasBuddy.com I can plan on the cheapest fuel stops along my route — and skip states where fuel is altogether too expensive.

There are at least 4 Corps campgrounds plus a state campground and resort and several private campgrounds in the area.  We are at South Sandusky and it’s a lovely site.  There aren’t a lot of campers here at the moment — by the reservation tags I can see we’ll have a reasonable number of neighbors over the weekend but there are only a couple more weekends before this place closes for the season.

Our site

Our site

We’re the last campsite on a dead end road.  About 50 feet from the front of the coach is the lake and at mid afternoon we could see about 40 American Pelicans.  There are deer here too — we’ve seen them crossing in front of us, and just standing along the road watching the traffic go by.

There doesn’t appear to be ANY site here with a decent South view — so we and everyone else are without satellite TV — but hey, we get all of 5 TV stations – 3 of which are Public TV.  So, I guess we’ll learn a lot on Create TV! 🙂

My outdoor projects may have to wait until we get further South — there is rain in the forecast for the next 6 days.  After not getting around to reading a book for almost a year I have now finished 4 and I suspect I’ll have time for a couple more.  Feels good to have the TIME to enjoy reading; I missed that while we were volunteering.

Thanks for stopping by, and I’ll talk with you tomorrow.