Thursday, December 20, 2012

A Day in the Life Of...

Finally - we arrive in the land of palm trees and cacti.  Brad has ordered some LED bulbs to replace those in our trailer and we pick them up at an RV dealer in Phoenix.  He has ordered only two to test to ensure they are bright enough, which they are, so we order the rest.  Now we have to wait over the weekend for the second order to arrive.

Campsite on Vulture Peak Road, Wickenburg, AZ
As readers of my blog, you know we like to camp for free and not in an RV park, and there are not a lot of free opportunities near Phoenix, but we do find a place in the "mountains" 1/2 hour away near Wickenburg.  It's a beautiful area with jagged peaks just over 3,000 feet, and a variety of cactus and small trees surrounding dispersed camping sites on BLM land.  Unfortunately, it's a rainy weekend so we catch up on indoor stuff.

Since I have nothing else to write about, I thought I would describe what it's like to "boondock" or dry camp - live in our trailer without hookups provided in RV parks.  We do it because we enjoy being in remote areas without neighbours even though there are limitations.  When we started out in our first year, we weren't fully equipped to dry camp, but we've since upgraded everything and the LED lights are the last step in the process.  Of course, Brad's always finding new toys from other RVers.  So, here's a day in the life of Brad and Marilyn ...

Today is moving day.  Grady hates it.  After we do our usual morning routine of coffee, one episode of the Red Green Show (which we record daily, can you believe it!), breakfast and personal grooming, we pack up the trailer.  Brad does the outside jobs (putting down the solar panels, hooking up the truck, lifting the landing gear), I do the inside jobs (packing away loose items, repositioning furniture to allow us to slide in the sides, locking down and closing all doors and cupboards, pushing the magic buttons that close the three slide-outs).  Time to pack up the trailer - up to 30 minutes although we can do it in about 10 minutes if we have to.

Our first stop is to dump our used water and fill with fresh water.  Our trailer is equipped with an 85 gallon fresh water tank which will last us about 8 days (we use this water for drinking as well as washing dishes and ourselves).  Our two grey water tanks are 35 gallons each and the black water tank is, I think 20 or 30 gallons.  When we arrive at a new location, we investigate where to dump and fill.  Because RVing seems to be so common in the areas where we travel, it is not as difficult as you might think to find water.  Many gas stations provide these services, some for free, others for about $5.  Many RV parks and state or federal campgrounds allow us to dump and fill for a small fee.  When we are boondocking, we are very conservative with our water, to the point of using paper plates and bowls which can be burned in campfires.  Time spent to dump and fill - about 30 minutes.

Disposing of garbage is typically the most problematic issue.  BLM land (federally-owned land for recreational use by the general public) typically does not have a garbage bin.  They have a "carry in/carry out" policy.  Some BLM field offices have given us permission to use their bins behind the office, gas stations occasionally give us permission, or we wait until we get to a developed campground.

Next stop is to fuel:  diesel for the truck, gas for the generator, propane for appliances (fridge, stove, hot water heater and 20,000 BTU portable propane heater).  Let me rant for a moment - when you're pulling a 35-foot fifth-wheel trailer that requires a large turning radius and wide laneways, you can't drive around a gas station looking for the diesel pump.  99.9% of all gas stations we have been to do NOT make the diesel pump obvious, and I often have to get out of the truck at the gas station street entrance and walk around the pumps to find the green handle which signifies diesel then Brad has to figure out how to get in and out of that pump.  You would think it would be easy, but it isn't always.  Interstate gas stations are better than those in cities; but we usually travel on small state highways using the Interstates only for our trip to our first destination and our trip home.  We also have to find propane stations which will fill tanks (not a tank exchange).  A lot of gas stations provide this service, but a trained staffer must be available to pump it.  Time at the gas station - up to 30 minutes.

Next stop is food.  We usually grocery shop on moving day.  After we purchase the food, we have to open part of the trailer (open the kitchen slideout) and put the groceries away.  Time spent grocery shopping and putting everything away - about 1 hour.

When we get to or near our next destination, we always stop at the local BLM office or Visitor Center to investigate campsites and hiking spots.  It's here we also find out where to get fresh water and dump our dirty water, and where to get propane.  Sometimes we also have to ask where to grocery shop as we are often in very remote, rural areas and we may have to drive to another town.  Time at a Visitor Center - 30 minutes to one hour.

Now we are finally ready to find our campsite.  Our GPS is usually useless when locating a free campsite, so I use a combination of sources - the internet, Frugal RV Travel Guides which I have purchased and which are an excellent source of information, BLM offices and Visitor Centers, and Benchmark map books which where public land is.  Finding a dispersed campsite on public land is not always easy.  Usually, they can be identified by a disturbed area with a fire ring indicating that someone has previously camped here.  BLM staff ask that you camp in a site that has previously been used to limit the impact to an area.  Time to find a campsite - anywhere from 10 minutes to 1 hour.

Once we have found that perfect campsite, we open up the trailer - Brad does the outside jobs and I do the inside jobs.  This takes about 30 minutes.

Excluding travel time, moving day activites consume 3 to 4 hours.  Movings days are long, and at every stop Grady is hopeful that it's the last one.  He's a very patient cat.  He much prefers non-moving days, when he plays in the morning, eats, sleeps, plays in the evening, eats and sleeps.  Well, who knows what Grady does when Brad and I are out hiking all day, but that's what he does on days we hang around the trailer.

When we boondock or dry camp, main considerations are power and water.  We are not tenters, so we need power.  We have two solar panel to produce power which is stored in our two large 6V batteries with 325 Amp Hours each, and an inverter that converts the DC power from the batteries into the AC power used in electrical outlets.  We also have a super-quiet 5,500 watt generator which we used for power-hungry appliances like the microwave/oven and my hair blower (c'mon, I still have to look good!), and to charge the batteries on the rare cloudy day.  Not only do we angle the trailer so that our big back window faces east to capture the morning sun for early radiant heating (Grady's cat tower is in the back window and he waits for that sun every morning) and our numerous living room windows face south to capture the afternoon sun, Brad also lifts the solar panels so they absorb the low, winter rays of the sun.  This specific trailer angle is another reason we like to boondock; in an RV park you have to park your trailer on a gravel or asphalt pad that may not suit our solar needs.  On a really sunny day, we can make up to 160 amp hours (that's a lot).

Heat is provided by a 20,000 BTU portable propane heater which we purchased during our first year after our furnace drained our old RV batteries overnight.  We typically use the heater only during the night and only cool, rainy days like today.  The trailer has an air conditioner, but we have rarely used it.  Because we travel in the winter, it is usually not too hot even in the southwest.  We also can't use it without electrical hookup (30 or 50 amp as provided at an RV park) as it draws too much power even for our generator.  We have only wanted to use it once during a heat wave in Big Bend National Park in southern Texas in February 2011, but we survived without it.

We are connected to the outside world via a satellite dish (for TV) and cell phones.  We always look for wide, open spaces in which to park the trailer for our satellite dish and solar panels, both of which need a clear sky view to the south.  We use our home satellite plan for our trailer.  Our cell phones are both American:  we have a TracFone for making and receiving calls (pay-as-you-go minutes) and a Palm Pixie with a cheap plan from Verizon for our internet signal.  We can also use our Verizon phone for calls, but at a much more expensive rate than the TracFone.  Of course, we need a cell tower in the vicinity for the phones to work, and coverage can be sparse especially in Utah and Arizona.  It is not unusual for us to drive into town to pick up milk and to take our cell phone and computer with us to download email or use the internet.

So it's cetainly a different lifestyle.  RVing and specifically boondocking has made me very aware of how much electricity and water each person consumes.  When I go back home and I run the kitchen tap just so the water gets hot so I can rinse or soak a pan, I am reminded of how I would NEVER do that in my trailer.  That pan would be wiped out with a paper towel until it's almost clean, then I would quickly wash it with soap and water trickling.  Too much effort?  Perhaps, but you do what you have to do.  And it's not that difficult once it becomes your norm.

For me, I love boondocking and RVing - I get to go some really beautiful places.  But I also love my time at home.  I am grateful to have the best of both (of my) worlds.

1 comment:

  1. Gosh, Marilyn, I LOVE this post. Perhaps because I can nod, commiserate and laugh right along with you. You've also provided lots of important info I can use. Good job.