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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.

-Sixbears


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.

-Sixbears

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.

-Sixbears

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.

-Sixbears

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.

-Sixbears

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.

-Sixbears

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.

-Sixbears

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.

-Sixbears

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.

-Sixbears

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.

-Sixbears

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.

-Sixbears

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.

-Sixbears

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.

-Sixbears

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?)

-Sixbears

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.

-Sixbears

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.

-Sixbears

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.

-Sixbears