Today marks the eleven-month anniversary of the day we moved out of our sticks-and-bricks house and into our little RV to start our new life as full-time RVers. It’s hard to believe that we’ve been out here for almost a year–time just seems to fly by. But we’re still having the time of our lives, and have no inclination to even remotely consider settling down somewhere.
Over the next month, I’m going to be working on a retrospective of our first year on the road. Not sure if it will be a YouTube video or just a blog post, but I’m putting some ideas together, so stay tuned to see what we come up with!
We are still camped in the Coconino National Forest just northwest of Flagstaff. I’m sure you’ve heard about the Museum Fire, a wildfire that started last Sunday, July 21, just north of Flagstaff. The fire grew quickly on Sunday and Monday in the dry timber and steep terrain just about a mile outside the Flagstaff city limits. On Monday, the smoke was drifting to the west, so the air outside our RV was very smoky and hazy. In fact, it was so thick that I didn’t even attempt to do my daily hike that morning.
Fortunately, on Tuesday, the monsoon rains finally arrived, bringing cooler temperatures, higher humidity, and much needed moisture to the Flagstaff area. There was more rain on Wednesday (and fortunately not a lot of lightning) which allowed the firefighters to begin getting a handle on the blaze. The amount of smoke was greatly reduced, and with the shift in wind direction, we no longer had any smoke in our area.
We’ve driven into Flagstaff a couple of times for grocery shopping and dumping the tanks, and while we’ve seen a lot of firefighting activity, including helitankers slurping up water from the reservoirs and dumping it on the hotspots, the residents of Flagstaff for the most part seem to be taking things in stride. Businesses are open, tourists are still flocking in, and things look pretty normal except for the wisps of smoke that continue to rise over the mountains to the north.
Right now they say just under 2,000 acres have burned and that the fire is 12% contained. The emphasis is starting to shift to flood control as the monsoon rains are expected to continue for another month or two. There are a couple of watersheds on the mountains that will funnel water, debris and ash down into some of the neighborhoods, so there are huge sandbagging operations going on right now. The athletic teams from the local high schools and Northern Arizona University have been volunteering to fill sandbags to help protect their communities. On one single day, they distributed over 100,000 of them.
We, of course, have been keeping a close eye on the fire as well as the weather. We are far enough away from the Museum Fire that we’ve never been endangered by anything other than heavy smoke for one day. But the monsoon clouds can bring lightning, even when there’s no rain, and lightning is the primary cause of wildfires in Arizona. There is a very good early warning system in this area that pushes out alerts to every cellphone connected to cell towers in the affected area. The alarms are very loud, and it’s actually pretty funny when you’re in a restaurant or Walmart, and everyone’s phone starts blaring at the same time! But the alerts do serve an important function, letting people know when they need to move out of the area due to fire or other hazardous conditions. If a fire should start somewhere near us, we would be alerted both by the phone system as well as by personnel from the local authorities who fan out into the forests, looking for campers and hikers.
If you would like to get the latest information on the Museum Fire, you can get the official updates on Inciweb – Incident Information System or you can follow Coconino National Forest on Twitter @CoconinoNF. If you like the gossip around the fire, just get on Twitter and do a search for the hashtag #museumfire and you’ll get the official stuff and the posts from some frustrated people.
Unfortunately for the fire suppression effort, the forecast for the weekend is calling for drier, warmer conditions before more rain moves into the area next week. We’re keeping our fingers crossed that the containment efforts of the past few days will allow them to hold the line until more moisture arrives.
A big “Thank You” to all the first responders, incident teams, firefighters, hotshots, and support personnel who are putting it all on the line at this fire and every other fire that is currently burning. You folks rock!!
So, in other news, we just made a major upgrade to our rig. Back in early December, we visited Camping World in Tucson, even spending the night in their parking lot, to have our house batteries replaced. Being the naive RV newbies that we were, we took their word that the new batteries would provide us with 150 amp hours of power, which should have been plenty for our needs. We soon found out that something was definitely lacking in the power situation. As long as we had the solar panels hooked up on a sunny day, we had all the power we needed during the daytime, but at night the charge would rapidly deplete as the sun went down. The deep cycle batteries that we were using can only be drawn down to about 50% capacity without damaging them, so we had to be super careful at night not to use too many lights or let the fan run overnight. In the mornings, the first thing that I would do upon rising would be to check the charge controller to see if there was enough battery life available to turn on the furnace (it’s propane but the furnace fan runs off of 12V battery power).
We finally took a closer look at the batteries which are stored under the entryway steps, and were able to determine that they were actually only 25 amp hours each, and since you can only draw them down to 50% charge, we only had a total of 25 amp hours between the two batteries. We were getting by, but just barely. Fortunately we have been in Arizona where it’s sunny most of the time, but with the monsoon clouds moving in, we were ready to make a change.
We had been interested in upgrading to lithium batteries for some time. While they are much more expensive, they require no maintenance (no need to add water), and best of all, they don’t have the 50% limit on how far they can be drawn down. You can pretty much use them to their full capacity. In addition, they have a much longer lifespan. The only drawback is that they will shut down if the temperatures get into the 20’s and stay there for awhile. We try to avoid any place that gets that cold at night anyway.
As it happened, on Monday of this week, the local solar system supplier in Flagstaff, Northern Arizona Wind & Sun, announced a 10% off sale on their Battle Born lithium batteries. Battle Born is the top of the line in RV lithium batteries, and so we decided it was time to do the upgrade. Andy called them to ask a few questions, and then told them to hold two batteries for us and he would drive into town to pick them up (the same day that all the smoke was blowing over our campsite). We were hoping to get the batteries installed quickly so that we could make a quick exit from the area if the fire started moving our way. In fact, while he was in town, I stayed at the rig with my maps, trying to plan where we might want to go next if we needed to make a quick escape.
Unfortunately, when Andy got to NAzW&S, they told him they didn’t have the batteries in stock, and it would be Wednesday or Thursday before they arrived. He went ahead and paid for them, so at that point we were committed to staying in the Flagstaff area for at least a few more days. As it turned out, the fire moved away from us and the smoke cleared out of our area, so the sense of urgency was greatly diminished.
When Andy took the rig to town on Thursday (yesterday) to dump the tanks and get water, he called NAzW&S to check on the order, and found out that the batteries had arrived. He drove by to pick them up, and got back to our campsite around noon. We ate a quick lunch of PB&J sandwiches and then got started on the installation project.
Everybody knows that projects always take longer than first estimated, and this was no different. Pulling the old batteries out was no problem. But the new Battle Born lithium batteries are slightly larger (although lighter), and it was a tight squeeze to drop them both into the battery compartment under the entryway step. Once they were seated in the compartment, the battery terminals on each end were difficult to reach under the upper lip of the compartment, so attaching those stiff battery cables was a real BEAR! But Handy Andy persevered, and an hour or so later, they were all hooked up.
The next step was to reconfigure the solar charge controller with the appropriate settings for the lithium batteries (as opposed to our old deep cycle lead acid batteries). After changing the eight DIP switches, we just got general FAULT errors on the display, and I couldn’t even get the appropriate menu items to appear so I could make the rest of the changes. After reading through the manual, I determined that we needed to disconnect the charge controller at the fusebox to let it reboot, so that the changes in the DIP switches would be accepted. After we did that, the correct menu items were available, and I made the rest of the changes, and then we had to reboot it again.
Finally, the setup was complete, and we marveled at how much power we had available, just from the amount of charge the batteries had straight out of the box. By then the sun was going down so we didn’t have much time to charge them from the solar panels, but even so, we were able to use all the lights we wanted, as well as run the fan overnight. And this morning, there was hardly a dent in the amount of power used overnight.
YES, that’s what I’m talkin’ about!!
Today we had plenty of sunshine (along with a few small showers), so the batteries have been fully charged from the sun. At this point, we could probably go three or four days without having to charge them again if we needed to. This opens up a lot more possibilities for boondocking in cloudy places like the Pacific Northwest, where I’d really like to visit in the future. Another successful upgrade for our full-time RV life!
This afternoon we had a quick chat with an investment advisor from Fidelity, where we have the majority of our investment funds. Of course he was trying to up-sell us to a managed fund, but I told him I wasn’t interested. He did a quick review of our holdings and told us we looked to be in good shape, although he did advise me that my portfolio might be a little too aggressive since most financial mangers are expecting a downturn in the next year or so. I told him I’d had the same thoughts, and that I’d probably make some adjustments on my own in the next few months if it looks like the prudent thing to do. Fortunately, we haven’t yet had to dip into any of our investment holdings, but it’s nice to know that we have that cushion if needed.
So for now, we’re still just hanging out in the Flagstaff area, enjoying the alpine weather. High temperatures remain in the high 70’s and low 80’s, with lows in the 50’s at night. The humidity levels have risen some this week (right now it’s 73° with 35% humidity outside), but I doubt you’d find any more pleasant weather anywhere in the country right now. We’re going to enjoy it as long as we can.
I’m still doing a lot of hiking–I’m usually gone for an hour and a half to two hours each morning while Andy has his breakfast and starts his day. I’ve been participating in some Fitbit challenges with some of my friends, and that helps keep me motivated when my feet and knees start to ache. There are just so many roads and trails around here, and so much natural beauty, it really isn’t that hard to get motivated to wander in the woods each morning.
That’s pretty much it for now. Life is good!
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