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Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Camping at Salt Springs



My lovely wife and I moved to the other side of the Ocala National Forest to Salt Springs. It's an amazing natural spring. Due to its salt content there are salt water fish in the middle of the Ocala. Looking forward to snorkeling the springs.

Before we left Clearwater Lake a guy came over and practically begged me to look over his trailer's solar electric system. He'd bought a small home built trailer. It was a neat little rig, well put together. Unfortunately, the new owner had no idea how the solar electric stuff was supposed to work.

His wife was particularly worried about it. It was a small system, but pretty well installed. It had a weird little charge controller/DC power center that took me a moment to sort out. Outside of that it was very straight forward. In fact, for a small system it had a couple of safety shut offs. That was part of the problem. The new owner would actually disconnect the solar panel from the battery because he had figured the switches wrong.

I assured the guy's wife that the system was very safe. She made her husband write down all my instructions. While I was at it I suggested a couple of easy upgrades if he was so inclined. It was fun to figure out the electrical set up. It really only took me about 10 minutes to sort it all out.

We've been having a great time and meeting people. I think we meet more people at the campgrounds without electric power. That gets people out of their campers more. They seek out conversation instead of watching TV or surfing the net.

That being said, we are staying at the section of Salt Springs that does have electric power. I'm using the opportunity to top off my off-grid batteries. Also, I can run my power hog of an electric cooler. With that in mind I picked up some fresh food. Even with fresh food, we decided to have a Mountain House meal for dinner due to the ease of preparation.

-Sixbears

Monday, February 19, 2018

Late Night Around the Campfire



It was a good day. We started with good coffee then moved on to a kayak trip around the lake. By evening we had some wonderful conversations with interesting people. The best part of travel is all the fascinating people along the way.

However, we are moving on to a new campground today. New things to see. New people to meet.

One of the fun things about staying at campgrounds that don't have electric power is checking out the way people deal with that. For a certain number, they just get a gas generator and continue with business as usual. Others have cobbled together some clever alternative energy systems. It is pretty funny to see some redneck looking guy complain about “getting his a** kicked by Ohm's Law.”

I've seen a lot of home brewed power systems out here in the National Forest. Also go some good leads on a more economical way to replace my home's battery bank. This has been a very good stop for me.

-Sixbears

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Wise Strogonoff



My neighbor at the campground said he's been eating vegetarian a lot more. None of the meals in the package I got from Wise have real meat in them. I asked him if he wouldn't mind trying a package of Wise brand strogonoff and telling me what he thought.

He said he followed the directions exactly. He found the meal was a little too soupy. After an additional five minutes on the stove, it was perfect. According to his tastes, the meal needed a little extra salt. That's better than having too much salt, as you can always add salt to taste.

What was his verdict? Overall, he thought it was pretty good. As a former military man, he claimed to like it much better than an MRE. So there you have it, one more opinion on dehydrated foods.

Speaking about dehydrated foods, I've been pretty happy with Harmony House Soup Mix, Dried Vegetable. I got the 12 ounce quart sized jar through Amazon. Sure, it works good in soups, but sometimes I rehydrate it and use it as a vegetable side dish. My lovely wife and I had those veggies, rice and some cheese as a light lunch.

Ease of preparation, food quality, no need for refrigeration and compact storage makes dehydrated foods a winner. I definitely will buy more of them in the future.

-Sixbears

Saturday, February 17, 2018

The Traveling Lifestyle



There are big differences between traveling as a lifestyle and traveling on vacation. The first thing about vacations is that they are much shorter, a week or two, usually. My lovely wife and I have been on the road for a month and half already. We have many more weeks to go.

Living on the road, eventually you have to do the laundry. That's not the sort of thing people on vacation tend to do. Laundry can wait until they get home. With us, it doesn't matter if we are in a vacation spot or not, the laundry still needs to get done. As I write this I'm wearing dress pants and a paint stained shirt. Yep, it's laundry day!

Budget is an issue. On vacation, blowing the budget is almost part of the tradition. After all, when is the next time you'll ever get to do what you are doing? If it takes more money to experience everything, what the heck? When living on the road, we do catch some special things, but the budget matters. We are going to need enough money to go the distance.

We also tend to avoid the big tourist traps. As often as we've been to Florida, we've only been to Disney World once. That's back when the kids were little -and we were on vacation.

This holiday weekend the campground is full. People will be trying to squeeze as much activity in the few days allotted to them. By Tuesday, the campgrounds will be half empty again. The people left will be the long term travelers. Few of us are going to party hearty, as that's not sustainable on the long run. For us, it's all about the long run. Frankly, there's a lot less pressure when you don't have to experience everything in a few days. Sometimes just sitting together with new friends having great conversations is good enough.

-Sixbears

Friday, February 16, 2018

Lost Day



We lost a day somewhere along the way. My lovely wife and I discovered that it was nearly impossible to find a campsite in our area. We were supposed to check out of Clearwater Lake on Thursday. Our reservations had a four day gap. Not thinking, we forgot it was a holiday weekend and everything was booked up. Everything. We could not even get into wilderness sites. Finally, we checked to see if there was room in the campground we were already at.

As luck would have it, Clearwater Lake had exactly one last campsite available. We moved in immediately before someone else could take it. Now we are set with reservations until the end of the month. Looking good.

We've met some interesting people here in the campground. It's been my experience that the cheaper Federal places have more people who think outside the box. That's where you see the funky rigs and non-conventional people.

The more expensive places tend to have newer and more conventional rigs. They drive in, connect their water, electric and hook their TV dishes. Their stories aren't nearly as fun as the folks living in a converted utility trailer.

I had hoped to write a blog on Wednesday. Being Valentine's Day, I took my lovely wife out to dinner. That's after moving to our new site. We spent a good part of the morning burning up computer battery power looking for campsites on the Internet. After our dinner, the computer battery and the hotspot battery were both dead. When I moved, I hadn't hooked up the auxiliary solar electric system to the van yet. Charging the laptop and hotspot would have been a hassle. It was late. We were tired, and heck, it was Valentine's Day.

-Sixbears

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

The good and the bad of off-grid camping



This trip we've camped in areas lacking grid power a lot more than ever before. The van has a 100 watt panel mounted to the roof, feeding a 12 volt deep discharge battery. Tied into that is a dual 12 volt outlet jumper and 1000 watt inverter.

I use the 12 volt outlets a lot. One usually charges my cell phone. The other runs my c-pap directly on 12 volt. That's a huge power savings. The regular AC cord has a power converter that drops the voltage from 120 AC to 12 DC. Not only is the DC cord more efficient, it will run the c-pap even when the battery is too low to power the inverter.

Before I left home I snagged my small solar electric system out of my beach shed. It's a 50 watt panel, charge controller, and a 12 volt battery, plus a 400 watt inverter. Since it's all portable, the panel can be placed in the sunnier parts of our campsite.

I planned to mostly run my computer off that system. However, with the heat and humidity we've been getting, it's been powering a fan a lot too. That really puts the system to the test. It mostly keeps up. There's a third deep discharge available if the main two get too low. It's the battery that was running my sailboat.

Whenever we stay at a campground that provides electricity, I make sure to charge all my batteries to the max.

The ugly part? It's no surprise that it's the 12 volt cooler. Cheap thermometric coolers using a Pelitier circuit are known to be power hogs. Compressor types are more expensive, but a lot more efficient. I wanted one, but my lovely wife pointed out our budget constraints so we made do. The solar electric system does not keep up. It runs fine on grid power, but we've been off-grid a lot this winter. Sometimes we even use ice in the cooler, which is a big no no. However, if the cooler dies because of it, I'll happily throw it away.

We've stayed off grid a lot this season. That has allowed us a lot more camping options and saved us considerable money. (enough to pay for a compressor cooler, hint, hint)

-Sixbears

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Distance and Perspective



When we are home we make plans for traveling. When travelingwe make plans for home improvements. That's not quite as backwards as it sounds.

The home projects can seem overwhelming. It's easy to get distracted from one job to another. Being away from the house we have perspective. Somehow it's easier to set priorities. We also are more likely to considering changing major things that would not even occur to us back home.

For example, we've decided to change our water heater from a 40 gallon tank type to a tankless heater. Since the house is shut down and the plumbing drained, the job is partially done already. Rather than go through the trouble of hooking up the tank heater again, my efforts will go into installing a new heater. The old tank can be repurposed as a preheater running off the woodstove during cold months. That part of the project can wait until the end of summer.

Since the power is shut off, it will be a good time to do a couple annoying little electrical jobs before the power is turned on again.

My guess is that after four months or so living as road gypsies, we'll appreciate the house a bit more. Unless, of course, we decide we really don't need a house at all.

-Sixbears