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Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Field Tests

Nothing puts your camping stuff to the test like a camping trip that lasts for months. In general I was pretty happy with most of our stuff. After all, it's not like this is the first time we've ever gone camping.

The biggest upgrade we made was getting rid of the cheap thermocouple type cooler to a compressor type. We bought a Alpicool C15 portable compressor fridge freezer. The difference in power usage was amazing. In previous years we made the thermocouple one work by being at campgrounds that had grid power. The times we weren't we used ice. It wasn't an ideal solution but it sorta worked. This year we were off-grid most of the time and the compressor type made all the difference.

One of my blog readers gave me a couple of Exponent multi-fuel campstoves. They were used almost every day, and used a lot. One nice thing about them is that they can be turned down to a low simmer. A lot of campstoves have two settings; blast furnace or off. With fairly heavy use they consumed about a gallon of fuel each month.

The dehydrated foods worked out well, both Mountain House and Wise Company. I will buy more. The price isn't too bad on Amazon buying them by the bucket. The combination of compactness, quality, light weight, easy of preparation, and long term storage makes them very valuable. Often we stayed out in the woods longer because we didn't have to go into town for food. When I really didn't feel like spending a lot of time cooking, I'd just boil some water and make an instant meal. That was better for us than eating out or filling up on snack food.

My Coleman propane lantern was a disappointment. It would have been fine for weekend camping, but did not stand up well long term. Fuel consumption was significant and those one pound bottles get expensive. The most annoying thing was having to replace the mantles often. No matter how carefully the lantern was packed away, the mantles almost always broke. When it did work, however, it put out a lot of light.

What did work well was our LED lanterns and headlights. They got heavy use. A bigger LED lantern that took 4 D sized batteries was our main van lighting. The batteries were changed once during our trip. The headlamp batteries were changed more often, but I'd gotten a large package of really cheap AAA batteries. The batteries weren't of very high quality, but they lasted long enough that it wasn't worth paying a premium for really good ones.

Those are a few things that stuck out about our camping set up.


Monday, April 23, 2018

Inevitable Payment Snafus

It happens at least once every time I travel. I set up on-line bill payment and banking. I get everything working ahead of time so any kinks can be worked out. My information is backed up on paper in case my laptop computer dies along the way.

Every single time there has been a snafu with on-line life. There are digital gypsies out there who claim it's easy to live a virtual financial life. That's true -until something screws up.

This year it wasn't too bad. There's the normal hassle of having to go through a whole list of security questions because you are connecting from a remote location. Make sure you really know your answers. Sure, things your mother's maiden name are easy to remember. It's some of the others that can be tricky. Questions like “What is my favorite movie,” can be tough as I've got a lot of favorites. Those answers I really have to write down.

One annoying thing this year was that one of my banks decided to completely redesign their website. It took me forever to figure out how to do a simple funds transfer. The link used to be right on the front page. Now it's buried about four layers down in vaguely named categories. It wasn't something I wanted to deal with when I was tired, and had an iffy Internet connection.

A few years back my local bank decided to shut down my debit card. Three times they said the problem was fixed, but it kept getting rejected. In the end we used my lovely wife's card from the same account. That had no problem at all.

The best thing you can do is to simplify your life so that there's a minimum of financial things you need to deal with. However, not matter how often I streamline my financial life, circumstances conspire to complicate them again. Dealing with on-line life is just part of the cost of being able to travel.


Sunday, April 22, 2018

Living Outside

A lot of people have commented that our van doesn't have a lot of living space. That's true. The bed is comfortable. There's room to sit and play cards, but that's about it. The thing is, we didn't really live in the van. We lived outside. There's plenty of headroom when you don't have a roof.

We didn't have very many rainy days, so it was pretty easy to live outside. It wasn't a big deal to spend the occasional inclement day reading books or working on the computer. There was the option of a good sized tarp for rain cover. We only set it up once in three and a half months.

That's also how we can live on small boats. The cabin might be small, but we could always go outside in the cockpit. Of course, we weren't crossing oceans. We are coastal cruisers. The dog is pretty insistent on heading to shore a couple of times each day. That gives us a lot of time on the beach and seaside trails.

I think our outdoor life helped keep us in generally good health. During northern winters people get sick when they are living in close quarters. The cold dry air doesn't help either. A lot of my friends and family got sick during this past winter. Many have lingering coughs that still haven't gone away.

We also got plenty of natural vitamin D from that southern sunshine. That couldn't have hurt. On the downside, we had to remove a couple of ticks. I hate those little buggers and they often carry disease. So far we haven't had any ill effects, so we probably caught them in time. Tick checks are important.

Now we are back in our house. I hope we keep spending a lot of time outside as it has proven to be a healthy way to live. Not only was I healthy all winter, I even lost 35 pounds without even really trying.


Saturday, April 21, 2018

Success and Failure

The way to success is the ability to do all the things you'd rather not do.

You might hate school, but stick to it and get that degree. You want to go to the club with you friends, but you stay home and save your money. Instead of driving a nicer car you put together investment funds. Rather than go on nice vacations you save money for retirement. Work might suck, but you put your nose to the grindstone and stick with it. By putting off immediate gratification, you can have more later.

Eventually these techniques and strategies become second nature and automatic.

The problem is that they become second nature and automatic. The next thing you know you are old and forgot to have that fun you were putting off until later.

The amazing thing about instant gratification is that it pays off right away. Talk about living in the present. Isn't that supposed to be some sort of virtue?

Of course, there should be some sort of balance. For example: brush your teeth. It's something you'd rather not do, but do it anyway. Health maintenance in general is one of those things you really should do, even if it sucks.

As for the rest, the balance is up to you. One word of advice: ask yourself if what you are doing is still working for you. Maybe you should play more to be happy. Then again maybe you should work more to have more security in your life. A little self-reflection goes a long way.


Friday, April 20, 2018

Sitting by the Woodstove

I'm sitting by the woodstove, looking out at a frozen lake. Funny how that's what I was doing in early January before our trip. Of course, back then it was -27 degrees. While it's still not exactly spring weather, it's 60 degrees warmer. Progress, of a sort.

Normally by this time the ice has either left the lake or is well in the process of doing so. Currently there is only a little bit of open water near the inlet. This might be one of those years where we don't have an actual spring, just a quick transition from winter to summer.

A lot has happened in the three and half months on the road. We covered a lot of miles, saw a lot of things and met a lot of people. One of the neat things is meeting strangers in a coffee shop and having a very animated conversation for over an hour. That sort of thing happened to us all the time. Of course, you have to be open to it.

Opening up the house after being shut down for the winter can be hit or miss. My big concern this year was if I'd be able to use the water line. It froze four days before we left. The line was still frozen when we got back. Fortunately, it was only frozen for about six inches from the basement side. I snaked a smaller diameter hose down the supply line and ran hot water through it. The hot water slowly thawed out the blockage. Every time it would melt an inch or so I'd snake the line a little further.

The first day I was able to restore cold water to the downstairs sinks and toilet. There was a frost damaged valve on the hot water side that's for the washing machine. Currently it's plugged off and we'll just have to wash in cold water. My lovely wife has been asking me to move the washing machine to another room. That's on the schedule for early next month, so we can just do without hot water clothes washing until then.

Outside of that, the water is up and running, electric power, heat, the Internet and phones are back in operation. It cost me about $17 to get the water system squared away. Well worth shutting down the house and not paying for heat for those months.

My lovely wife and I are not sure exactly what we'll do next fall and winter, but we have a lot of ideas. We'll figure it out. Part of the process is checking out conditions before we head out. For example, this past year hurricane damage in Florida changed our plans from sailing and camping to just camping. While I missed sailing, I'm glad we didn't put the boat at risk.

Well, time to get back to cleaning and unpacking.


Thursday, April 19, 2018

Snow Country

Tuesday my lovely wife and I made it to my daughter's in New Hampshire. I knew the state had snow, but didn't realize it started at the Massachusetts border. We drove up in a mix of rain and snow. A good friend met us in North Conway for coffee and lunch. Great to be back in touch.

I left the van at my daughter's and drove my wife's car to the lake and started the furnace. I figured it would have time to warm up over night. Wednesday morning I drove up and started the process of getting the house up and running.

It took some doing, but I was able to thaw the water supply line where it entered the house. One my hot water lines had seperated at the basement shut off. I wasn't sure what I was going to do with it, so I just shut down the hot water side.

Currently there's cold water in the downstairs bathroom and kitchen. Later today I hope to have the hot water situation sorted out. However, you never know what problems will crop up.

The Internet and phone got turned on a few hours after I called them. Can't beat that kind of service.

The house is going to need a good cleaning when we move it. The water had frozen four days before or trip so we left it in a bit of a mess. Turns out the house cleaning fairy didn't come in while we were gone.

All in all, it still is good to make it home, even though the lake is still frozen and snow is on the ground.


Tuesday, April 17, 2018

One More Night

With freezing rain in the forecast it made a lot of sense to put off my trip north one more day. Even so, we may have some light snow to deal with. While that's not great, it beats the heck out of driving in freezing rain.


Monday, April 16, 2018

The Never Ending Winter

Okay winter, I give up. You win. It snowed back home on Sunday. I can't wait any longer. I'm going to make the final push to the north. Should be at my daughter's late Monday. She's letting us stay with her until we can open up the house.

We plan on camping out in the van in her driveway for a couple days. I'm buying a new electric heater on the way home. We burned out the last one on the way south. Once we made it to Florida, we really didn't need a heater. I was hoping we wouldn't need one now, but so it goes.

In a few days we should have a warming trend up north. That's not to say it's going to be warm, just warmer. It's all relative.

By the way, a friend of mine just put away his snowshoes for the season. Other friends are still hitting the ski slopes. That's not unusual as local ski areas have been known to run Mother's Day specials.

Oh yeah, even down here in Massachusetts, I'm freezing. Yep, winter wins.


Sunday, April 15, 2018

Hunkering Down and Family Time

My lovely wife and I are hunkering down at my daugher's place. Good to see her and her family after all these months. That's the one big downside of long term travel: grandkids grow fast.

We got here Friday night after a day of 70+ degree temperatures. Sunday it's supposed to snow. We'll probably try and stay until sometime on Monday. There's supposed to be freezing rain in the morning back home Monday. By the afternoon it's supposed to be just rain. That I can deal with. If we time it right, we'll avoid the ice part and just have rain.

There's one more leg of travel before we get home. Actually, we won't move into the house right off. We'll be staying with another daughter and her family in the town next to where we live for a bit. That will give me time to get the house opened up. I'd like to install a new water heater before starting up the water.

I have a lot to reflect on about this trip. We are kicking around a number of different ideas about the near future, next winter, and beyond. In the next few months there are a lot of home projects to attend to. That will keep me busy. My lovely wife and I have yet to figure out what we'll be doing next winter, but we have some ideas. More research is needed. Beyond that, we could end up doing anything.

Of course, like anyone else, we are subject to outside influences. We aren't immune to the turmoil in the rest of the world. Even simple things like minor changes in our health can make a big difference on what we do.

Enjoying our visits, but looking forward to being under our own roof again.


Thursday, April 12, 2018

Us Wandering Gypsies

We've been in rural Eastern Virginia. My cell phone and Internet connection has been spotty. Of course, if you are reading this, I was able to make a connection.

I was able to meet up with my cousin and her family. Last time I saw her she had two children. Now it's up to five. Just to make life interesting, she's homeschooling. Personally, I think she was delighted to have adult visitors and conversation.

There's a lot of tiny towns out here. The GPS sends us on some narrow back roads with lots of twists and turns. My cousin lives down the end of a half mile dirt road, but her place is right on the bay. She's almost surrounded by water. Every day she's greated with some pretty amazing views.

This will probably be the last campground on this trip. As it is, the place is nearly empty. Almost looks like everyone was abducted by aliens or the zombie apocalypse happened. In reality it's a weekday and the weather is cool.

I may not be able to connect again for a day or two. If all goes well, that's when we'll connect with my daughter and her family in Massachusetts.


Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Northward, mostly

Really taking my time heading north. Only drove 230 miles before stopping for the night. Since I normally consider 500 miles a moderate day, this wasn't a long drive.

It was cool and wet, so I decided to check into a cheap hotel. We've paid almost as much for one of the campgrounds we stayed in recently. The hotel gave me a 10% discount for being over 60. I'm going to use the heck out of my old man privileges. The place isn't fancy, but all I need is a clean room, a good bed and a hot shower.

The weather turned cool and wet, so I decided not to spend another night in the campground. It is supposed to warm up,so we are looking forward to the next two nights camping in Virginia. Normally I'd take a more inland route, but we are exploring new things this year.

I also happen to have a cousin who lives along the Virgina coast. It's been years since we had a chance to ge together. At one time most of my relatives were within a day's easy drive. Now we are scattered all over the planet. Social media is not a substitue for being together in person.

I got a bit of shock this year to discover one of my uncles had passed away and it was months before I found out about it. At one time we used to see each other at least several times a year. Then life happens and people never get together. With that in mind, I think it's worth taking a different route north to see family. My cousin and her husband have children I've yet to meet. It's time they found out about their crazy cousin.


Monday, April 9, 2018

Camping Along The ICW

My lovely wife and I booked a night at the Buck Hall Campground in South Carolina. We can watch boats going up and down the waterway from our campsite. I must admit, I get excited to see sailboats on the water. Miss being on one too!

One of the things we've done this trip is to check out conditions along the waterways. I'm still seriously considering doing a trip down the ICW (Intra Coastal Waterway) this fall. It's one thing to look at charts, maps and satellite photos. It's something else entirely to stand on the bank of a canal and see what it really looks like.

Looks like the fall sailing trip will be a solo one. With that in mind, I'm looking for ways to avoid staying in marinas. Finding places along the route that has free access to services is a big part of making that happen. Even simple things like free places to fill water jugs and dispose of trash is a big deal. Occasionally, I find places where I could pull in for a free shower. Nice.

The only way to squeeze in the fall trip is do it on a tight budget. Our little scouting missions this winter and spring encouraged me. It should be possible to do the trip like a true sea gypsy. My extensive testing of dehydrated foods has shown me they are good thing to have on a boat. They don't take up a lot of room, are easy to prepare, and taste pretty good. Having a lot of food on the boat means I don't have to stress about resupply.

One of the things I'm doing on this trip is using my down time to prepare for the next adventures. My notebook is full of written ideas and sketches. Some of my trip plans never happen, but if you don't plan, nothing ever happens. A surprisingly number of my adventures do take place, so that's pretty amazing.


Sunday, April 8, 2018

Metal Match

A metal match or fire steel, is a collection metals designed to throw off sparks when scraped with a piece of steel. Often they are formed into rods and come with a small steel striker. That's the type I've been using for years now. They are not to be confused with a flint and steel.

A metal match is what I use to start my Coleman gas stoves and propane grill 99% of the time. There are a couple of advantages to using one. They throw a good shower of sparks a good distance. Sure beats using a Bic lighter and getting the hair burned off the back of my hand. They also work when soaking wet. That's one of the things that make them so useful as a survival tool.

While they start stoves and grills instantly, it takes a bit more work to start a campfire with one. Sure, they throw a lot of hot sparks, but you need something to catch those sparks. Crumpled up paper works, if you've got it. The key is to get those sparks to land into the folds of the paper where their heat can do some good. I've also used very dry pine needles or thin strips of birch bark. I recommend practicing with one to find what works for you. A char cloth cloth would be ideal. However, I always thought that if you had the foresight to prepare a char cloth, you'd have the foresight to bring a regular lighter. That's why I practice with stuff I happen to have with me or things I find in the woods.

Right now I travel with two metal matches. One is on my key chain It was a smaller size. Over the years it's shrunk to less than half its original length. My second one is bigger and bulkier and is kept with my camp stoves.

The metal match is one of those “survival tools” that I use all the time. Even at home I'll sometimes use one to start the woodstove. If you use one all the time you get good with it. Should a true survival situation come up you'll be able to make a fire while wet and with half frozen fingers.


Friday, April 6, 2018

Trials of Travel

A major breakdown is always worse when living on the road. Not only do we lose our vehicle, we lose our house.

Then there is the stress of finding someone who'll do the job. There's added stress from not knowing if the cost of the repairs will break the bank. We talked to a lot of different garages who did not want to attempt our brake line repairs. One kinda shady sounding guy hinted that the job could grow to over $3000. I backed away from him slowly and drove down the road. (pouring in containers of brake fluid every few miles)

Long story short, the van was ready on Friday morning. We were able to hit the road before noon. The cost? Just under $450. I thought that was reasonable for the amount of work that had to be done. The funny thing is, I'd just set aside $500, hoping to catch up on our savings. Oh well, at least I had it.

We were in the Jacksonville Florida area. My lovely wife has a sister and brother-in-law there. For years we've been avoiding the brother-in-law, meeting my sister-in-law without her husband. Long story. However, in recent years, the rift has slowly been repaired. When we first came down in January we actually checked up on him as he'd been hospitalized. More recently, being in the area, we got together with them again. He said we were welcome to stay anytime.

Then we broke down and took him up on his offer of hospitality. My lovely wife and I stayed two nights and it was a good visit. The universe works in funny ways. I've learned to roll with it and see where life takes us.

It certainly feels good to be back on the road and meandering our way homeward. (slowly, as it just snowed again up there. Will the winter ever end?)


Thursday, April 5, 2018

Where I've Been

I haven't posted for a few days. We've been dealing with a problem. The brakes on the van let go. Fortunately, it happened on a sparsely traveled 25 mph road. We did not crash. I had some spare brake fluid in the van. That was enough to get me to a nearby garage where I bought a lot more brake fluid.

I made a lot of phone calls and stopped in at every garage in a couple of small rural towns. It took an afternoon and a morning before I was able to find a garage that would agree to take the job. The garage who took it refused to give me an estimate as they claim they've no idea how much will need to be replaced. I had found the main leak, but they put it on a lift and showed me places where it was also seeping fluid. Needless to say, that had me worried. Still won't know how much until it's done later this morning. (assuming no other problems come up.)

This has been stressful. Not only is our van in the shop, it's our home away from home. Basically, our house is in the shop. We were fairly close to my wife's sister's place. Unfortunately, she works late and my brother-in-law doesn't drive. There was no public transportation available, plus we had some luggage and our dog.

That's when I went on-line with my cell phone and downloaded the Uber app. I know it's getting a lot of criticism lately, but it sure was a handy service for me. The Uber driver got there in less than 15 minutes and took us and our junk over to my in-laws. They've been graciously hosting us.

We've lost a couple nights of camping as it was too late to cancel and get refunds. If the van is ready before noon, we should be able to make our next camping spot in Georgia. Fingers crossed.

Hopefully the brake repairs won't break the bank. We have limits. Just to make things interesting, we've gotten conflicting local information about the garage. Some claim they are very good. Other say they are crooks. Not too reassuring.

With any luck, my next post will be from Georgia.


Monday, April 2, 2018

Grid Vs Off-Grid Camping

My lovely wife and I just spent over a week camping in an off-grid campground. Juniper Springs in Florida's Ocala National Florida is a great campground. Like most of the Federal Campgrounds in the Ocala, it doesn't have power at the campsites.

We don't have a generator as I find them noisy and smelly. When trying to enjoy nature that's the last thing I need. Instead of a generator I'm using solar. Frankly, I'd probably not bother with electricity at all if it wasn't for a couple of things. The most important is that I have sleep apnea and use a c-pap machine while sleeping. The second is the fact that I like to us a small computer for writing and to connect to the Internet.

There's a 105 watt solar panel mounted on the van, connected to a heavy duty deep discharge 12 volt battery. I also have a seperate 50 watt panel with another 12 volt battery. The smaller panel is portable and can be moved to sunnier parts of the campsite.

Out campsite was partially shaded. Even with moving the 50 watt panel to a better spot, my solar harvest was probably about half off what it could have been. Then there were the occasional cloudy days to reduce solar gain even more. In spite of that there was no difficulty running my c-pap, computer, hotspot, refrigerator/cooler, fan, and cell phone.

So what does being on-grid get me? Microwave popcorn. My microwave doesn't work very well on my 1000 watt inverter. When off-grid the micorwave's does duty as a bread box.

There's been some trial and error getting the electrical systems running the way I wanted them to run. My c-pap and fan run directionly on DC, eliminating the inefficiencies of the inverter. The compressor type cooler is the biggest power savings. The old DC cooler with a Pelitier system could kill my battery in a day or two.

Most of what I leaned through field testing my equipment can be transferred to sailing. Now I have a pretty fair idea how much solar and battery storage I'll need for my boat. Since “on-grid” with a boat means being in an expensive marina, being able to be electrically independent is a huge savings. I'll be able to anchor out as much as I'd like.


Sunday, April 1, 2018

Happy Easter!

Happy Easter everybody!

Easter used to be the most important day of the Christian calendar. Christmas was considered a minor holiday. It makes sense to me. Being born is no big deal. Everybody here did it. Coming back from the dead, now that's a great trick!

But seriously, have a good holiday. Outside of some candy, cards and eggs, it hasn't been commercialized as badly as other holidays. Hope that doesn't change.


Saturday, March 31, 2018

Tools and Projects

I did not think it possible, but it's happened. I've actually started to miss home construction products. There aren't enough tools and materials in the van to keep me occupied. There's a lot of stuff to do back home: water heater, deck, flooring, furnace repair, chimney cleaning -and so on and so on. There's a broken buried water line that needs attending. The trail to the beach needs to be totally redone, maybe even rerouted. I'm going to make some trips to the dump and haul a lot of stuff away. Over the last few months my lovely wife and I have put together quite a list.

There are also a lot of boat upgrades I want to do. Last year I started to race the snow to get my boat trailer repaired. As it turned out, we decided not to trailer the boat this winter. All that last minute hustle wasn't necessary. On the bright side, that's one less thing for me to deal with.

Of course, we are still actively looking for a bigger trailer sailor. If we buy one, no doubt there will be things that need repair and upgrades. Even new boats have issues. Older ones, ones in my price range, certainly do.

Then there's a 1974 KZ-900 motorcycle sitting in my basement in pieces. I've all the parts I need to put it back together. The project came to a screeching halt when my leg got injured.

With so much on my “to do” list, I'd better hit the ground running when we get home. It sure will feel good to put some of those projects behind me. Vacation has been fun, but fixing and building stuff is fun too.

Then we've got to find some time to play. All work and no play makes Sixbears a dull lad.


Friday, March 30, 2018

Hotspot Usage

A dedicated hotspot is a fairly expensive way to get connected to the Internet. This trip I've been using a Straight Talk Hotspot. It can be a bit convoluted to set up, but if you follow the instructions it gets done. It's worth getting their phone app as it's free and recently improved. It had been nearly useless.

So what has it cost me in real world usage? Between $120 and $150 month. That allows me to keep in touch using e-mail and Facebook. My blog gets posted most days. Bills get paid on-line. We do a lot of campground research and trip planning using the various campground booking sites. I check the weather and news.

What we don't do is watch very many YouTube videos. I miss them. Netflix is right out of the question.

In addition to using a hotspot, we sometimes connect using campground wifi. Other times we'll connect at a McDonald's or a Panera Bread. While the wifi might be free, we end up buying meals there. One time we had excellent wifi service at a laundromat, of all places.

My lovely wife suggested before we left that maybe we could get by without a hotspot this year. She thought that we could connect at libraries, restaurants and other places often enough to get by. It is possible to connect through my phone, but my phone plan has very limited data.

Even though it's been fairly expensive, I'm glad we got the hotspot. We've often camped way out in the woods. Right now it's about 7 miles to a library that has Internet access. Campgrounds with free Internet sometimes have terrible service or service limited to a tiny area. Often I do my computer stuff in the evening, when libraries are closed. A lot of time and fuel is saved by not driving all over the place looking for an open wifi connection.

Then there is the convenience factor. It's nice to be able to do things right from the comfort of the van.

The most surprsing thing about the Straight Talk Hotspot is how well it works. We've gotten service in the wilds of the Ocala and rural East Texas. There have been times when my phone had no connection but the hotspot did. My phone can make calls using wifi, so we were able to stay in touch. Where we are right now at Juniper Springs, a lot of people have no cell connection, but the hotspot does just fine.

I guess I can accept the cost because it has allowed us to stay connected and do business. When we get home we'll go back to our normal Internet provider. The hotspot will get tossed in a drawer until the next time we travel.


Thursday, March 29, 2018


The GPS on my phone has been getting pretty wonky at times. There are been a number of puzzling errors. One time it let me drive past my street. Then it had me take the next exit, where it literally sent me around in circles. There are a number of things that can cause GPS glitches, everything from the military detuning it, to solar storms, to problems with the device itself.

Even with its limitations, GPS is a useful tool. It's a lot easier to find everything you need on the road. I'm also a huge fan of paper maps, just in case.

One the more useful tools for mariners has been Active Captain. Their website has charts, maps and satellite views. That's nice, but its most useful feature is all the crowd sourced information. There are icons all over the charts noting things like marinas, channels, boat launches, hazards, anchorages -a cornucopia of navigation aids. A number of different apps use the Active Captain overlays.

A major concern is that about a year ago the service was sold to Garmin. Many of Garmin's competitors use Active Captain. Right now there are some apps that no longer function. Garmin has been pretty silent about users concerns. There are rumors that they've run afoul of European rules and are working to fix that. It would be nice if Garmin keep its users up to date. The real value of the service is the thousands of comments and reviews that uses have contributed to the site. A lot of those users are now uneasy, not knowing what will happen to the service.

While I still will use GPS, both terrestrial and marine, I'm going to trust it a lot less. The same goes for Active Captain. Because of that I'm getting more chart books, keeping my compasses in good order, using my binoculars and night sailing a lot less.


Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Campground Rules

Camping rules vary by campground. Even here in the Ocala National Forest, the campgrounds are not run all the same. They aren't even run by the same private vendor. Personally, I think they should all be run by rangers instead of contractors, but I'm not in charge.

A lot of the “rules” are the same, on paper anyway. In reality, there's a huge difference on how they are enforced. For example, no campground in the Ocala allows dogs in the swimming areas. One campground we stayed at never enforced that rule, so there were always dogs at the beach. That's just one example.

Another good one is the rules concerning how long you can stay at a particular campground. The official rules may differ between campgrounds, but the unwritten rules differ even more. Some places will basically let you camp for as long as you want -unless someone complains. These rules and the enforcement of them are always in flux.

There are people who basically live in campgrounds. Campground rules and their enforcement are major issues in their lives. It's not like they can just pack up and go home. Home is where they park it. The vast majority of these people are on limited income. They also belong to one of the programs where they can camp in Federal campgrounds for half price.

In past years we barely noticed the long term campers. Sure, we knew they were there, but we usually spent only a few days a campground before moving on. This year we've been staying at campgrounds longer. That cuts down on a lot of travel time and burned fuel. We are also watching the budget more this year. With that in mind we are taking advantage of my lovely wife's Access Pass that gives us Federal camping discounts. Because of that, we've had more opportunity to get to know the long term campers.

Some of these campers are super invested in the places they are staying. They get involved with the campground management. They suck up every bit of news and rumors. Close attention is paid to management and rule changes. It causes a fair amount of stress in their lives. Sometimes there are serious personal conflicts. Campers have gotten campground managers fired. Campers have also been thrown out of campgrounds. Such drama!

Personally, I know I'm going to be moving on. While camping, I'm enjoying the natural wonders the different places have to offer. If a campground starts to have a weird vibe, we fire up the van and move on down the road. There is also some comfort in having an actual home to go back to. We don't even know for sure what we'll be doing next winter. Maybe we'll be living on a boat and won't even spend a single night at any of these campgrounds.


Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Off Road Camping

Over the weekend the campground filled up with a group of off-road 4X4 enthusiasts. They had some pretty serious Jeeps and similar vehicles. Most towed trailers with high ground clearances. Some of those trailer rigs were tear drop campers or had tents built in. A lot of vehicles had tent rigs mounted on the roof. All it all, it a pretty amazing collection of off-road equipment.

Of course, they were staying in a campground that you could access in a Prius.

They did run some backwoods roads and even found mud to play in. The roof mounted tent rigs caused some problems as they got hung up on low hanging branches. I couldn't help but wonder how far and for how long they actually camp in the real backwoods.

Of course, for all their technology, they can't access places a humble backpacker can get into. The backpacker will have a lot less gear, but won't lack for the essentials. He also won't have to get a second mortgage on the house to purchase his stuff.

All those off-road vehicles and camping rigs look amazing. That might be half the attraction. They have a vibe that's a cross between military and Mad Max. I suppose there are worse hobbies out there. While it was neat to check out their gear, it's not something I'd want to invest my time, money and energy in.


Monday, March 26, 2018

Dead Car Batteries

This campground has no grid power. Some people bring generators. Others use solar panels. A few use a combination of both. For quite a few people they just use the electricity from their cars.

A lot of people don't realize that car batteries are a poor choice to power things. Car batteries have one job, to start a car engine. The are designed to give a quick burst of power to turn the engine over. Once the engine is running, the battery is quickly charged up again. Batteries designed to start vehicles have thin plates. Batteries designed to power things, like trolling motor batteries, have thicker plates. They are designed to discharge smaller amounts of power over a longer period of time.

The woman camping across from me left the hatch up on her van all night. The hatch light, over time, killed the battery stone cold dead. The park workers are used to jumping cars, as people kill their starting batteries all the time in this park. He was unable to start her car with his jumper.

I carry a 700 amp jumper battery and that usually starts up just about anything. It was fully charged, but couldn't do the job. The addition of one of my big deep discharge batteries was able to do the trick. My guess is that the battery in her car is on its last legs.

Up in the frozen north, car batteries are changed fairly often. It takes a battery in good condition to start a car on a cold morning. People don't mess around with half dead batteries. Here in the warm south it's different. Because it's warm, even half dead batteries on their last legs can start a car. Don't expect those batteries to do anything extra, as they can barely do their main job.

If you plan on bugging out, make sure your car battery is in top condition. The same goes for the whole charging system. It's a common failure point in vehicles. Nothing worse than a dead battery as you try to escape from the zombie hordes.


Sunday, March 25, 2018

Weekend Camping

The campgrounds fill up on the weekends. All the locals come out to play. That's nice in a way. I get tired of seeing only retired people. A lot of folks take the kids camping and that's a great way to build memories. My parents took me camping when I was little and my lovely wife and I did the same with out kids.

One the downside, the campgrounds fill right up. We were unable to book the weekend here are Juniper Springs. However, there's a trick to that too. While we couldn't get in for Saturday, we did have reservations that included Friday. Saturday morning we hustled right up to the office and put our name in for any openings. They were able to squeeze us in on a different site.

As luck would have it, we are in exactly the same campsite that we stayed at back in January. It's like coming home.

I drove my lovely wife into the big city of Ocala. She was running low on crafting supplies. Can't let that happen. When in the “big” city, we had a late lunch at Panera Bread. My lovely wife did a lot of searching on the 'net, planning our next camping adventures. We are looking into staying at different places on the way north. We'll probably stay in Florida the rest of the month though. No matter what the calendar says, it's still winter in northern New Hampshire.


Saturday, March 24, 2018

Hot Showers

One of the best things about camping in an actual campground is hot showers. The Federal campgrounds we've been staying in the Ocala don't have a lot of things, but they have decent bath houses. For me, that makes it worth the price of admission.

Sure, the picnic tables and fire rings are nice too. The lantern hooks are handy. Having water within easy waking distance is nice. If, however, I had none of things and hot showers, I'd be pretty content. In fact, one campground we stayed at had noting at all in the primitive sites, but did have hot showers.

It's not that hard to hook up solar hot showers if camping way in the back country. More water has to be packed and it's one more thing to deal with. I haven't bothered with it this trip.

Getting by without grid power hasn't been too hard. The new refrigerator/cooler makes it even easier. It's nice to have cold stuff without hunting for ice all the time. We've stayed places without picnic tables but we've good folding chairs. I've even used to tailgate of the van as a seat while cooking on top of a wooden storage box. No problem.

There are times we've had to make do without showers or much water. Unscented baby wipes are a pretty good stop gap measure. At least I'm not afraid to be in public after a good wipe down. Still, a good hot shower is hard to beat.


Friday, March 23, 2018

Medical Miscalculation

Okay, I can admit when I'm wrong. I thought this whole healthcare mess would be straightened out by now.

Sure, Obamacare was a mess. New legislation usually is. Over time things get sorted out. The obviously bad stuff gets tossed out. Improvements are made. That's how it works in a functioning democracy. I thought that something as important as healthcare would force Republicans and Democrats to work together. Legislation that affected just about everybody in major ways should have demanded serious attention.

I was wrong. My first bad assumption was that something affecting everybody would be important to legislators. Nope. Insurance companies and the pharmaceutical industry have more clout. By the way, politicians have really good healthcare. It's not their problem. Money and political influence are more important that the life and death of Joe Public.

Don't believe me? Just look at the opioid epidemic. It was started by pharmaceutical companies pushing drugs, doctors writing prescriptions, and insurance companies paying for them. We can't blame the shady guys in back alleys. Nope, it's people in lab coats and those in nice suits in shiny buildings. The system did not protect patients. It endangered and killed them. It's still going on, in spite of some minor cosmetic changes and lip service.

When Obamacare first started I bought insurance through the program. I hadn't had any insurance for a few years as prices had gotten out of hand. Obamacare prices were about half of what I had been paying. By year three, however, insurance had once again become unaffordable. I had to drop it once again.

There's obviously no interest in fixing the system. Sure, there's still political posturing, but no one is rolling up their sleeves and getting serious work done.

Like many Americans, I'm living uninsured. That's not as scary to me as it should be. If something major happened to me, I would be bankrupted. However, that happened to my parents and they had what was considered good insurance. It does make me more responsible for my own healthcare. I can't rely on the system to watch over me. I'm not really in the system, and it doesn't always work for patients best interests anyway.


Thursday, March 22, 2018

Living Space

It's funny. Back home my lovely wife and I share a fairly good sized house. It was the right size when we were raising three daughters. Now, it seems a bit excessive. It's kinda a relief that my niece will be moving in with us when we get back. The house won't seem so empty. There are times when I think I just have all those rooms so I can keep my books in them.

For a few months now my lovely wife and I have been living in a converted ambulance. It's basically just a bed on wheels. I'm got a bit more space by using my old cooler as a seat. There is enough room for our basic needs. Living on our last sailboat was similar to living in the van. We've been blessed with a lot of good weather, so a lot of our living is done outside.

When my lovely wife and I first got together, we did a lot of backpacking. Everything since has seemed like an upgrade. Even canoe camping seemed posh, as we brought bigger tents and extras like folding chairs. Car camping was another upgrade. You could drive right up to your campsite. Luxury. In fact, even though we've got this perfectly comfortable camper van, we still occasionally tent camp.

I understand the tiny house movement. There's something to be said for having just enough space to meet your needs and no more. As some point we don't own things; things own us. If we were building a place to live in now we'd probably live in a 20 foot diameter yurt. That's big enough to do everything that needs to be done.

Of course, you've really got to love the person you are with to be able to live so close.


Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Storms and Tornadoes

We had a mostly quiet day at the campground. There were high winds, thunderstorm and tornado warnings. All we got was light rain and a little more wind. The worse of the storms passed on either side of us. We were on constant watch, but had we been ignorant of the danger the result would have been the same.

Once the danger was past my lovely wife and I drove into town for dinner. Afterwards we drove around the waterfront, checking out marinas and boats.

We have some days booked back in the Ocala. I love camping at those natural springs. The weather is supposed to be cooler but sunny. Of course, cooler is relative. Temperatures in the 60s beats the heck out of snowstorms back home.

The fourth Northeaster of the month has moved in. Travel up I-95 looks horrible. Good thing we don't have to be back there right now. Easter is on April Fools Day this year. That's not good. I guess we'd have to be fools to go home for Easter.

After our stint in the Ocala, we aren't sure where we'll be. Maybe we'll extend our stay out in the woods. That helps the budget as Federal campgrounds are less expensive. There's also the fact that there's not much to spend money on out there.

The new DC cooler/refrigerator seems to be working fine. Right now we are running mostly on grid power. It's handled a couple days off-grid. The real test of its efficiency will be when we are in the Federal campgrounds without grip power for a longer period of time.

All in all, things continue to go well. I'm glad my lovely wife has fully recovered from whatever it was that ailed her.


Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Back on Track

My lovely wife is pretty much back to her old self. That seems to indicate to me it was probably something she ate. Glad to see it wasn't the flu. The flu season has been nasty this winter.

There's always something to do. In this case it was laundry. We've also been reorganizing the van. Now and then we sit down and figure out what's working for us and what isn't. For example, I've moved the new refrigerator/cooler to a more easily accessible location. While it fit fine where I first had it, getting into it was more awkward than I'd hoped.

This part of Florida is now getting some much needed rain. Fortunately, the rain came after we were done with our beach time. We have access to grid power at this campground. The big difference with having grid power is that I use the microwave more. It's perfect for heating leftovers. Occasionally we indulge in a bag of microwave popcorn. While on grid power I make sure my deep discharge batteries are fully topped off. Nothing shortens the life of lead acid batteries like keeping them with a low charge for a long period of time.

We keep meeting a lot of people from New England. People who normally would not have come down decided they had enough of the endless snowstorms. Can't say I blame them. My house is so buried in snow right now that it'll take a good long warm spell before I can get back to it.

In the mean time, there's always beach days.


Monday, March 19, 2018

Sixbears at the Beach

We are back to the East Coast. Here I am wadding in the surf at Anastasia Island.

My lovely wife is doing a lot better. Still not 100%, but she's on the mend.

While walking to to beach I got a call on the cell phone. One of my lovely wife's friends from back home was calling. She said it was -6, which is not exactly beach weather. She told my lovely wife that the snowplow got stuck and he had to get a bucket loader to free him from the snow. That doesn't sound like a good time.

The campgrounds are still full of northern folk fleeing the cold and snow. Personally, I think I need some more Florida time.


Sunday, March 18, 2018

One Extreme to the Other

You never know what you'll get booking campsites on-line. We knew the place was remote, but we didn't know how remote. The park gate houses were unmanned. The road in looked so sketchy that we turned around.

My lovely wife spent 45 minutes trying to get hold of a human being who could tell us the road conditions. We were not even sure we were on the right road. It didn't help that the website said not to follow the GPS in certain areas of the park. Eventually, I decided to see if we could make it.

The road was rough in places, narrow, overgrown, and spots with deep soft sand. We made it to the campsite. It was out there. It had a large composting toilet and no showers. We've camped in worse areas. This site had a picnic table, raised tent area, graveled parking, and a fire ring. There was plenty of dry firewood lying around.

We were booked in for two nights. Unfortunately, my lovely wife woke up feeling ill. She suspects she might have gotten something bad at the restaurant we ate at the day before. Being sick out in the deep forest is not a fun thing. I made the command decision to book us into a hotel. The road out was worse than the road in. Good think I grew up driving on dirt roads. The van has good ground clearance and I needed every inch.

A little over an hour later we were booked into a decent hotel. My lovely wife took some meds and I tucked her into bed. Hopefully, she'll be feeling better in the morning.


Friday, March 16, 2018

Somewhere Near Tallahassee

We are spending Thursday night somewhere near Tallahassee Florida. Another night of parking lot camping. Wednesday night we stayed at the rest area off Rt. 10 in Mississippi near Louisiana. The security guard directed us to a nice area “reserved” for RV parking. That was great, but sometime in the night tractor trailer rigs moved in all around us. We woke to the sound of their diesels running all night.

I don't really blame them. They have to spend the night somewhere. Long distance trucking keeps the country running, but drivers are under appreciated. It's a hard and lonely life on the road.

Thursday I stopped into a sporting goods store and got a 100 count container of soft disposable ear plugs. Those diesels aren't going to keep me awake another night.

Friday and Saturday night we are booked into a State Forest near Jacksonville Florida. We've never been there before. There aren't a lot of reviews on the campground, but cell phone service is supposed to be bad. If I don't post for a couple days it's probably due to lack of service. Sunday night we'll be in a different place, one that wifi service near the office.

Recently I turned 60 while on the road. It's just a number . . . a pretty big number. While I feel pretty good, it's a reminder that the clock is running. There are so many adventures to have yet, so I'd better not put them off much longer.

Life is good.


Thursday, March 15, 2018

Breaking Points

The Northeast is getting hit with blizzard conditions. That will probably take down power for a lot of people. At the same time there's a solar storm going on that could affect power and communications in the higher latitudes.

That got me thinking. It's often a combination of things that take down a civilization. Robust societies can handle more disruptions than fragile ones. It also matters how many problems and how often they arrive that stresses a population.

Scientists try to figure out what caused ancient civilizations to collapse. For example: an area may be prone to drought, but the civilization survives any number of them with no problems. Then one day a drought comes along and everything falls apart. What's the difference? It could be a number of things.

There may be some political unrest going on at the same time. Infrastructure that normally would lessen the impact of the drought (cisterns, canals, reservoirs, etc.) are not properly maintained. Maybe a recent disease outbreak caused problems. While normally any one of those problems could be dealt with, the added effects of them working together proves to be too much.

Now I don't expect any such disaster from a simple winter storm and a somewhat more energetic sun. Any solar caused outages would mostly like be dwarfed by snow storm effects. Of course, that's just two things, and not all that uncommon at that. Add in something like Yellowstone having a massive eruption, an EMP device denotation, plague, and that might do it. It might take less than that, or it might take more. Who knows? This is not an exact science.

So what's a civilization to do? There are plenty of things that cannot be done. We don't exactly have any control over the sun. However, by staying on top of what we can fix, we are in a better state to survive the stuff we have no control over.


Wednesday, March 14, 2018

The Money Trip

So how has the budget been working out while on the road?

Overall, it's been pretty good. January was a stretch as we'd just had Christmas, plus some unexpected expenses. Also,we were traveling, spending money on fuel and eating in restaurants. We didn't feel like cooking at rest areas when the temperature was below freezing and the wind howling. January was also when we went down to the Florida Keys -not the cheapest place to stay. To top it all off, my lovely wife's medications had a huge deductible that had to be paid.

Even so, we didn't too badly. Time spent in low cost Federal Campgrounds helped the budget. February was the month when we started to pay down debt. Even though we never felt a budgetary pinch, we spent a lot less than we took in.

Halfway though March we are doing well. Our side trip to Texas hurt the fuel budget, but we made up for it in other areas. Camping expenses haven't been bad, plus we've spent less eating out. I've paid down more debt this month. The month is only half over, so anything could happen.

Of course, something like a major mechanical breakdown on the van would be a strain, but vehicle problems happen anywhere. Driving in the cold and snow is rough on cars too. I've also been pretty healthy this winter. It's hard to put a price tag on that.


Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Travel Trash

One of the unreported issues with travel is taking out the trash. It can be an issue. Okay, for some people it's no problem. They toss their junk out on the side of the road or behind their campsite. Pretty disgusting, in my opinion.

For the rest of us, we have to deal with the trash we generate. Of course, the best way to limit the trash problem is avoid items with a lot of packaging in the first place. That's nice when you can do it. Another way is to bring along canvas bags for your groceries. I don't care if people think it's dorky. It reduces plastic litter and those canvas bags have a thousand other uses.

Even the most environmentally conscious people are going to generate at least some trash. It seems every campground has a different way of disposing of it. Many have a few central dumpsters and you have to learn where they are. Others have smaller barrels scattered all over the place. One campground even had daily pick up right from your site. The presence of bears makes a difference too, as trash in bear country has to be locked down. Usually their dumpsters are well latched and there are bear proof trash cans around.

We've even been camping places that have no trash containers at all. They seem to have the worse littering problems.

One way to keep trash from piling up while traveling is to use the trash containers at gas stations when fueling up. Even small items add up over time, so dumping that handful of junk when you can makes a difference.

Recycling is another thing entirely. We've noticed a lot of places don't deal with it. My lovely wife and I will hold onto our recyclables until we come to a place that recycles. We've been keeping them in a sealed bucket so they don't attract bugs.

There are two types of people out there. One group is concerned about the common good and takes care of public spaces. Others feel that common areas aren't their personal space so it doesn't matter what happens to it. I feel that those who litter probably have other personal faults, like a general disregard for their fellow man.


Monday, March 12, 2018

The Next 900 miles

My lovely wife and I will soon be planning our next 900 miles. We have some time booked in a campground in St. Augustine. We love that old city. How we get there could be interesting. Sure, we could drive straight through and be there in less than 24 hours. I've done that before.

The problem with a marathon drive is that I'm a zombie for the next day or two. Rather than enjoying our time in a nice area, I'd want to do nothing but sleep. So with that in mind we'll break the trip up into more manageable chunks. There are a lot of places to stop along that way -almost too many to choose from. However, we have a budget to consider, so our options are not unlimited. Finding places to stay can be surprisingly time consuming. It also eats up a lot of Internet data time. However, it's worth the effort.

This trip to Texas has given us a chance to connect with my lovely wife's family. I was able to sort out some other nagging issues. A big one was getting the 12 volt refrigerator/freezer. That should help us camp in a bit more comfort. Another issue was dealing with computer problems. Unfortunately, my little notebook computer cannot be easily converted over to Linux. That was a disappointment. Fortunately, I was able to resolve most of the problems that made Windows such a pain to use. Also picked up some memory sticks to back up the computer's memory.

In a few more days we should be resupplied and ready to hit the road.


Sunday, March 11, 2018

Lack of News

I truly regret the death of hard news. It's not dying, it's dead. Heck, it was in pretty rough shape back in the 90s. That's when I trained as journalist and got my degree in that lost art.

Back then you could take a “respected” newspaper, like the Washington Post or the NY Times. Yes, they used to be respected. Strip out all the opinion pieces. Cut away all the company press releases disguised as news. Take out the fluff stories that may make you feel good, but aren't news. Ignore the stories designed just for product placement. Cut out the articles designed to suck up to the rich and powerful.

What's left might actually be real news. Worse, the “real” news might just be a follow up story to something that happened earlier. If the follow up doesn't introduce anything new, it's not really news either.

That was back in the 90s and in newspapers, back when they still had robust news departments. Now it's 2018. There are no news departments, and most people tune into cable “news,” which always had a very low hard news ratio.

So now most news has very little information value. You still need information to make decisions. So what do you do?

First of all you keep your own eyes open. Learn some situational awareness towards the things around you. It could be anything from the sketchy new people down the block, to the sudden increase in the cost of tomato juice. The new neighbors may just coincide with the sudden disappearance of portable goods around the neighborhood. The increase in juice prices might be the forerunner to massive price inflation.

The Internet is good source of news, but not in the way most people think. Facebook is not a reliable news source, but it could alert you to problems. Same goes for all the major news sources. Heck, I check the Drudge Report most days, just to get a quick overview. Of course, it's always good to know the bias of the source.

If I want to find out what's going on in an area, I check blogs and vlogs. That's how I gathered information about Florida when making travel plans. While I did decide to go to Florida, I have no regrets leaving the sailboat home. The land based clean up and rebuild is going a lot faster than the water based.

For me, a huge amount of information comes from personal connections to people. I know folks who travel all over the world and people who live in different countries. It's hard to beat eyes on the ground for news.

If your main source of news is cable TV, you may be worse off than people who don't watch news at all.


Saturday, March 10, 2018

Power Boats

Believe it or no, my lovely wife did not grow up in sailboats. She grew up on power boats. Her dad would sometimes crew on sailboats, but he only owned power. He liked the idea of being able get somewhere in a reasonable amount of time.

Believe it or not, I'm not totally against power boats. For some trips they make perfect sense. For example, sailboats are not great boats in which to do the Great Loop. (A round trip that goes through the Great Lakes, down the Mississippi, and back up the Atlantic Coast.) For much of that trip, sailboats have their mast setting on the deck. There are too many low bridges. Might as well start out in a power boat and forget the hassle.

There's a false belief that travel on a sailboat is free. It's not. Never mind that most sailboats also have some sort of engine. Even if they don't, sails are not cheap. Rigging, both fixed and standing, winches, and all that take maintenance. Eventually they need replacement. Where sailboats really shine is on long passages. If you are river or coastal boating, power boats can often be just as cheap or cheaper to run. Okay, let's not say cheap, but no more expensive.

When he moved down to Texas, my father-in-law took one of his powerboats with him on a good sized trailer. It's sat for 25 years in a pole barn. He had a good friend with a bigger boat already in the water. My lovely wife's dad rather burn someone else's fuel any day.

So now there's this nice power boat just sitting there. He's hinted he might want to sell it. Actually, my mother-in-law really wants to see it gone. Personally, I don't think I'd want it if the boat was given to me. While the hull is nice, the motor hasn't run in decades. Even if it could be turned over, all the hoses, belts, electrical stuff, pumps, and maybe even the transmission would need work. I bet the lights and bearings on the trailer are shot too. Time takes its toll.

Good think the Great Loop is not on my bucket list. I'd be tempted more than I should be by this old boat.


Friday, March 9, 2018

New 12 Volt Cooler

Just got in an Alpicool C15 dc compressor cooler. The old thermoelectric cooler is going to land in the next dumpster I come across. Unlike the old cooler, this one is supposed to be a lot more efficient. I paid $199 on Amazon. Because I'm not sure about its long term durability, I spent a few dollars more and sprung for the four year warranty.

Actually, it's not just a 12 volt cooler. It runs on 24 volts too, plus comes with a regular 120 volt AC cord. My house solar electric battery bank is wired up for 24 volts, so I should be able to run it without using the inverter. That's a lot more efficient.

By the end of the month we'll be back to camping at campgrounds without electric power. The little cooler will get a good test then. On paper, my van's 100 watt solar electric system should run it just fine. It's fifteen liter sized. While that's not huge, it should be larger enough for some fresh veggies and meats. Unlike a normal ice chest cooler, all the space is usable as there's no ice crowding out the food.

Speaking of ice, it's not just a refrigerator. It can be turned down low enough to freeze. I was able to freeze a jug of water with it. Some people use these little machines with a normal ice chest. They freeze a block of ice and keep transferring it to the ice chest while keeping a few frozen foods too. Pretty clever, really.

One thing you should be prepared for is a poorly written manual. It's obviously written by someone with only a casual knowledge of English. Another problem for Americans is that everything is in metric, both manual instructions and the controls on the unit. I had to look up the conversion to figure out it needs about 8 inches of air clearance in the back and four inches on the side. Temperature settings on the cooler are in Centigrade. Just remember that zero is thirty-two in Fahrenheit and you'll know if you are setting it to freeze or cool.

The reviews I've been able to find have mostly been by people who've only tested it for a short while. I'm hoping to give a long term review after it gets a good field test.


Thursday, March 8, 2018

The Next Economic Collapse

It's inevitable. Economic collapse always happens. Here in the United States we haven't had a real collapse in most people's living memory. Sure, we've had downturns, but nothing like the Great Depression. Our little recessions, while tough on lots of people, hardly rises to the level of collapse.

Personally, I've been surprised we've gone this long. The oil shocks of the 70s could have done it. The stock market problems of '87 looked like the real thing. Later the tech collapse might have been the trigger. The 2008 real estate bubble looked like it could do it. One thing I've learned is to never underestimate the ability of the powers that be to kick the can down the road.

Eventually, collapse will happen. Right now it's all pretty much mathematically baked into the cake. One small example, the derivative market cannot be paid off with all the money in the world. It's highly unlikely that even something as simple as student loans can be made whole. Right now there's an increased risk of a trade war, and that could be a trigger. It doesn't help that regulations designed to keep financial institutions in check are being weakened and eliminated.

There are some tricks, like massive inflation, that can paper over the problems. However, at some point that becomes just another kind of collapse.

There are those who'll claim it will never happen. However, for the rest of us, it doesn't hurt to be prepared. No one can isolate themselves from the effects of full collapse. They can certainly reduce the negative effects. Focus on being able to provide for your basic needs: food, water, shelter, and security.

If you want some idea what collapse looks like, just check out the current situation in Venezuela. Collapse is here. It's just not evenly distributed . . . yet.


Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Keeping an Eye on the Weather

Just when I think it might be safe to head north early, a Northeaster storm moves in. Some years March is warm, but then the weather turns nasty in April.

I got fooled one year. My lovely wife and I went home during a warm March. We got home on a nice 60 degree day. That was the warmest day for the next six weeks or so. Not only did the lake stop thawing out, it refroze for a bit.

My daughter went over to my house to pick up a tool I had not had a chance to return to her husband. Felt a bit bad at that. She told me it looked like my house had been ransacked. Then, she said, she realized that's just how we left it. Thanks kid.

We left during nasty weather. Our water supply had frozen so for the last four days at home we had no cleaning water. That made everything harder. The house was not left in a neat and tidy manner. Frankly, we were glad to get out of there. It took four hours to start the diesel van.

On the bright side, the squirrels haven't moved in. That happened to us one year and they surely made a mess. They couldn't get into most of our food storage, but they ruined a lot of our spices.

I'm going to assume it's not going to be decent weather up north until sometime in April -not April first either, as I'm no fool.


Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Traveling with Tools

One of the guys camping next to us was in a small converted utility trailer pulled by his Jeep. That's where his girlfriend and him stayed. The trailer was a work in progress.

Next to the trailer was a good sized tent. That tent was packed with totes full of tools and materials. The guy was traveling with more tools and gear than most people have at their workshops at home. I knew that guy was going to be someone interesting to talk to. He certainly was. That man was always working on a big project.

I don't have anything like that tool collection with me, but I do have tools. Since I've been on the road I've been able to reconfigure a number of my van's systems. You can't do that with a single rusty screwdriver.

It's surprising how many people don't even have basic tools. They don't know how to change a light bulb in their taillight. Forget about having to replace a corroded wire or anything that needs screws and glue. Every time they have a problem the big RV goes into the shop.

Here's the dirty secret about RV dealerships. They have huge sales departments and tiny repair facilities. RVs don't have the same legal protections as cars. Each system has their own warranties. Those vehicles come with huge piles of paperwork. When something requires a lot of paperwork, it's never a good sign. Saying “Yep, we are going to cover everything,” doesn't require a lot of paper. That's only needed when companies are trying to avoid covering anything.

Generally, it takes long enough to get something fixed that the camping season is over. If you aren't prepared to do your own work, you are going to wait a long long time. Of course, since the warranties and repairs are so poor, you might just be ahead of the game building your own custom rig. At least you'll have tools and know how to fix it.


Monday, March 5, 2018

The Road to Texas

It was a long strange road to Texas. Our highways are getting weirder out there.

We decided not to spend a second night at the Swannee music place. Then we were too late to check into the campground we hoped to stay at. Instead, we kept on driving. Spent the night at a truck stop, then drove to Texas the next day.

It took an hour to go five miles on the LA, TX border. Rt. 10 is a mess down there. As soon as we could, we set off cross country over county roads. Ended up at my in-laws two days early.

Still need a good long shower, the laundry has backed up, and computer problems need to be sorted out.

One thing I did right off was order an efficient compressor type cooler. Should be here in a couple days. We should be better off when it's time to head out.


Saturday, March 3, 2018

Life at 60 knots

I always say life makes more sense at 6 knots -that's the speed of a smallish mono-hull sailboat. This winter we've been traveling at something more like 60 knots -down the highway in the van.

Last night we decided to “camp” at a truck stop. It actually worked out pretty well. I found a 12 volt fan for sale in the trucker's supply section. Being able to run a fan directly on 12 volts saved me from having to turn on the inverter. That conserved a fair amount of power.

Lots of people spend the night in truck stops, not just truckers. There was everything from some high end motor homes, to sedans, to a couple of hippy vans. It's all good. I actually slept better at the truck stop than at the last campground we were at.

Our spur of the moment travel brought us to the Swannee Fl state park where all the music festivals are held. I'm writing this in the afternoon. We'll be catching some live Southern Rock later this evening. I'd planned on driving about twice as far, but we saw the sign for the park and changed our minds. Our schedule has some leeway, just for such occurrences.

There was a nasty car accident on Rt. 75. I saw a huge plum of smoke way off in the distance. Soon after all traffic came to a halt. I didn't get a good look at the accident when we came along side. My attention was focused on getting through without causing another accident.

The driving appears to be getting worse over the years. Maybe I'm just getting old, or many it's that so many people are on their cell phones. All I know is that people are taking a lot more chances than they should. When I see a bad accident, it makes me want to be on the water.


Friday, March 2, 2018

Traveler's Tales

One of the real hassles of our traveling is trying to get my lovely wife's medications filled. Every time it takes a fax or two from her home doctor. Considering we are often in poor cell phone areas, it's not fun. Then we have to try to estimate where we will be when it's time for a refill. She cannot get refills in advance.

It took a lot of back and forth on the phone, but we were able to sort it out today. Also, we drove over 150 miles. She did get her refill, so we are good for 30 days -on that med at least. By the time that was sorted, it was too late to get checked into a campground.

That's not a problem; we drove up the road and pulled into a truck stop. There was already a funky looking older RV in the parking lot. We may have found our people. The guy seems pretty friendly and loves our ambulance conversion.

The ambulance is always an attention getter. I'm hugely amused by that. Campers spend thousands and thousands of dollars on bran new RVs and nobody gives them a second look. They are just like all the other RVs out there. We pull in with an old ambulance conversion and loads of people have to check it out. Often it's people who wished they'd done something like that themselves. Instead, they went the conventional route. Their loss.

We are still having a good time, so what more could you want?


Thursday, March 1, 2018

Moving on down the road

My lovely wife and I are slowly making our way towards Texas. This phase of our journey is even less planned than normal.

For example, today we just pulled into a random county park to see if they had any sites available. Ended up getting one of the last two. No worries. Worse come to worst we could always pull into a Walmart or a truck stop for the night. However, it is kinda neat to check out new places to camp.

I can't help reflect on all the infrastructure that makes a trip like this possible. Everything from the roads and fuel to having places to resupply and spend the night. There's a huge number of things that have to go right to have this amazing freedom of travel.

Never forget that security is a huge factor. In general people can travel around the country in relative safety. While I employ some basic precautions, we go to bed at night with a reasonable expectation of waking up in the morning. There are no barbarians at the gate trying to steal our water jug and last package of crackers. Not every part of that world has these blessed conditions. My lovely wife and I don't sleep in shifts while the other one is armed and on guard.

Sometimes we forget how fortunate we are. It's easy to take all this for granted, but I try not to. In many ways this is a unique time in history. Few realize how fragile this happy state of affairs actually is.


Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Traveling Daze

I'm currently traveling and don't know when I'll get a lot of time to write. My lovely wife and I are fine, just having some long and busy days.


Drifting into Island Time

It doesn't take a remote island in the far Caribbean to slip into island time. Any island will do. (Except Manhattan, but it's a special case). In fact, it doesn't even take an island to slip into island time.

My lovely wife and I were supposed to meet with my daughter and her friends for ice-cream early in the afternoon. Then their lunch was pushed back and our ice-cream date did too. No problems. We were all set to meet up with them, but then some other stuff happened.

This time it was my lovely wife and I who slipped into island time. Our neighbor decided to wrangle the water snake hanging around his truck. That provided some entertainment -and a very angry snake. Finally, he got it loaded up in a bucket and hauled it to another part of the campground.

Of course, we started talking, and talking and talking. It's pretty common for long term campers to share information about different campgrounds. It's fun to hear about interesting places we've yet to go to. We also had the pleasure of sharing information they could use. By the time we got done talking, my lovely wife and I were the late ones.

Eventually, we all met up and had a great time. To make up for our late start, we hung together much later in the day. It's all good. There's always tomorrow.


Monday, February 26, 2018

From the Ocala to the Treasure Coast

It was a long hot drive down from Salt Springs down to Long Point Campground. We checked in with plenty of time to catch my daughter after she came out of class. We dined with her and her friend. It was great to catch up.

Later we ended up at a bonfire and drum circle at the beach. It was the last fire permit of the season as the turtles will be laying their eggs soon.

Looking forward to catching up with our daughter at least one more time before she has to fly north.

It won't be long before my lovely wife and I will slowly make our way to Texas. We will be visiting her parents and younger sister. Later we will be heading back to Florida and over to St. Augustine. Lots of miles to travel yet this season.


Sunday, February 25, 2018

The Difference a Year Makes

Last winter I was sick and injured. My lung problems were acting up, made worse by the cold dry air of a New Hampshire winter. Then I dropped a bundle of fire blocks on my leg which got badly infected. Lacking mobility, I hung around the house, getting no exercise and snacking too much.

Now I'm in Florida for the winter. My lungs feel good -like they were never injured. I'm physically active and eating less. My clothes fit a lot looser. The damage to my leg is slowly getting better. It swells up less and feels stronger. Hardly any pain lately too.

I really do miss my family and friends. However, I think they understand that this is something that I have to do for my health. I'm turning sixty in a couple weeks. While I firmly believe that age is just a number, it's getting to be a big number. I can only claim to be middle-age if I assume I'm going to live to 120. Maybe medical science will make that possible, but I don't even have basic medical insurance.

With that in mind, taking care of my heath is necessary. There are too many adventures I want to have yet.


Saturday, February 24, 2018

Things that work, things that don't

Okay . . . now that my lovely wife and I have been on road for a number of weeks, I have a few more observations.

I've already gone into some detail about my dissatisfaction with the thermoelectric cooler. It's fine if there's plenty of grid power, but too power hungry for off-grid use.

The Straight Talk hotspot works, and works in places with marginal cell phone coverage. That's the good part. The bad part is that it's nearly impossible to know how much data you are using. The cell phone app is nearly useless. The minutes aren't cheap either.

Right now one of my big pet peeves is with the Windows 10 operating system. When my back was turned, it did a massive update. That rendered the computer useless for hours, plus ate up a lot of my expensive data minutes. The icing on the cake is now my mouse doesn't quite work right. When I get some down time in Texas, I'm going to wipe Windows off the computer and install Linux.

My bike has been super useful and fun. The old Jamis Explorer is holding up. It got covered in road salt on the way down. The chain needed a lot of lube, plus the pedals started to squeak badly and also needed work. Now it's running well. Using it all the time.

One of my off-grid deep cycle batteries just failed. It's one that was badly abused, so I'm not too surprised. I had my doubts about it lasting when I loaded it up in the van.

The van itself is running Okay. I discovered the AC had failed when I got down here. That was annoying as I spent big bucks getting it fixed last summer.

The dehydrated foods have worked out well. Overall they've been pretty tasty. Often they've saved us having to make a trip into town for more food. Also, not needing refrigeration is nice since the cooler has been marginal.

The Sawyer water filter is working great. It really makes a big difference in the quality of our drinking water. Well worth the time and effort to filter all our drinking water.

The snorkel gear has been nice to have, especially when diving in the springs. I did not get a chance to use it down to Key Largo do to weather conditions, but the springs have been amazing.

Every year, after we've been on the road a number of weeks someone will make the assumption that we live in our van all time. I guess we do it well enough to look like full time gypsies.


Friday, February 23, 2018

Possible Solo Trip?

One of the adventures on my list is sailing trip down the ICW (Intra Coastal Waterway) from Virginia to southern Florida. Almost did it last year as we nearly bought a boat in Massachusetts. At the last minute I backed out. It was just as well as I would have run into the hurricane somewhere along the way.

My lovely wife isn't too keen on that particular trip. However, she doesn't mind if I did it on my own. To avoid most of the bad weather, the trip should be started no later than the month of October. A solo trip changes the logistics quite a bit. The first thing is that I could do the trip in our Oday 19. It's a small boat, but with just one person in it, it's big enough. The boat would not need a lot of upgrades for a solo adventure. In fact, the vast majority of the work needed for the trip is stuff we plan on doing anyway.

Some people claim the ICW can't be sailed, only motored. There are those who've done the whole trip without an engine, so it can be done. The Oday can sail with the smallest puff of wind, so it should be up to the task. Currently, it only has an electric trolling motor for an auxiliary engine. The motor can move the boat at about 3 knots, which is good enough. I would add more battery storage and a larger solar panel.

There's a number of ways the trip could work. One way is to have someone come with me as I tow the boat to Virginia. Then my driver can take the van and trailer back to New Hampshire while I sail south. At the end of my journey I'd find a safe place to anchor, moor or dock the boat. I'd fly home for the holidays. Afterwards my lovely wife and I would drive down with the trailer. We'd spend the winter doing a mix of camping and sailing.

The thing about adventures is that I'm always thinking about the next one -even while currently on an adventure.


Thursday, February 22, 2018

Shout Out to Spud

Hey Spud! Can't seem to find your contact info. Must have left it back home.

Please contact me at:


A day at the spring

Not much going on. Riding my bike a lot. Instead of taking the van to pick things up at the nearby stores, I've been using the bike.

My lovely wife and I did some snorkeling at the springs. Wonderful place with plenty to see. It's pretty amazing to dive right into where the water bubbles out of the rock.

Only big drawback to the park is that the free wifi is only near the office. My lovely wife and I walked up to use it after the office closed. There's a nice picnic table outside. Only problem is that the office doesn't get a breeze and the bugs ate us alive. I'll have to either post earlier or take the van up and hunker down inside away from the bugs.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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)


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.