Cold Weather RVing

COLD Weather RVing in Oregon and California

Note – sorry for the long post, but this is a story that’s best told all together.  Our thoughts about COLD weather RVing for the most part is WHY?  We have had various camping methods since the early 80’s, and I have to admit that we have been warm weather campers.  However, this past Thanksgiving we decided to take Lola up to Oregon because we wanted to sleep in our own bed!  Oh Yeah!

During the weeks leading up to our 500 mile trip to Eugene I watched the weather forecasts over the Siskiyou Pass (I-5) and Willamette Pass (Highway 97 & Highway 58).  Weather looks good even from the forecast on Accuweather 45 days before the holiday.  Every couple of days I checked the weather for the weekend before Thanksgiving and the Friday-Saturday immediately following.  Everything looks GOOD!

We arranged to park Lola at the American Legion in North Eugene – at $10 a night it’s a bargain!

No Snow – but what about COLD – A few days before leaving…

Then I just happened to think about checking the weather in Mt. Shasta City (our half-way layover point both ways).  Argh!  29 Degrees going up and Eugene with 3 nights dropping down to the LOW 20’s.  OH MY GOSH!  I didn’t even think about COLD weather!  I was so focused on not wanting to drive Lola in the snow, I completely forgot about checking the low temps.

Suddenly I am overwhelmed with questions.  At what temperature can the diesel engine start?  Do we have winter diesel blend?  How do we use the engine block heater?  How do we keep the lithium batteries warm?  I couldn’t seem to find the answers that would make me comfortable driving up to Oregon and dealing with 4 days of (to us) very cold weather.

Time to cancel.  After getting very little Sleep Wednesday night I get up at 1:30 a.m. and log in to cancel our KOA reservation at Mt. Shasta City.  NO-GO.  I have to call them directly to cancel.  FINE.  I’ll go to work and call them at lunch.

In the meantime…

One of Christine’s co-workers’ husband drives trucks, and they live up in Colfax, California where it regularly gets down into the teens during the winter.  Christine asked her co-worker about starting diesel trucks in the cold weather and found out that they never use a block heater at that temp.  And I get out our owner’s manual and find the section on the block heater… it’s right there in our house control panel.  Of course Christine said… ‘I told you that, but you were so panicked you didn’t listen.’  Yeah, OK.  🙂

I’m feeling better.  We have an engine block heater, I order a couple of desktop fans from Amazon to put in the water and battery bays.  We should be fine!

There are a couple of great articles in FMCA magazine about using your RV in the winter too.   Gone With the Wynns have a great article too about having fun How to Winterize your RV.

Suggestions include…

  • Make sure you have plenty of Propane… CHECK (we have 1/4 tank; and we are still on our original tank from when we purchased the RV in August 2014).  Plenty! (More on this later).
  • Have a backup heater… CHECK (we have a Dyson Blade, and we’ll have some electricity at the American Legion).  Good to go! (More on this later)
  • Have a heated water hose… Nope – We are only sleeping in Lola and spending the days at my dad’s house, we are not using very much water.  We don’t need to worry about a heated water hose.
  • Extra heat in the bays… CHECK – as long as the two desktop heaters arrive at my dad’s before the cold weather starts our water and battery bays will stay warm (I hope!):


See?  This isn’t hard-core cold weather camping.  Just a few days of warm rain, then a few more days of chilly weather – still warming up to the high 30’s during the day.  Is this really Cold Weather RVing?

I feel better.

The Trip Up North – Saturday November 21 2015

We got everything together Saturday morning, bring Lola back from storage and get her loaded up at the house –  back to storage to hook up the Pilot.  We got the Pilot connected then can’t find the RVI Brake.  I opened just about every basement compartment on the driver’s side where I always put the towing and tools stuff.  Finally, I go through the passenger side basement and find the RVI Brake.  WHEW!  We leave Sacramento at 10:30.  About an hour behind schedule, but still OK.

20 miles up I-5, just before the Airport traffic stops.  Garmin reports a 60 minute delay and suggests we go up 99 through Chico and then on to Red Bluff.  That should save us about 40 minutes, so off we go.  We have taken the 99 from Roseville, California to Eugene via Chico and Red Bluff many times, and it is a good road that takes us through miles and miles of orchards and farmlands.

California does not have fall colors like New England, but we saw a good amount of bright orange and yellows.  It was a nice drive, and we stopped about every 90 minutes or so to give my hip a break and let the dogs stretch.

Mt Shasta with SnowWe arrived in Mt. Shasta city about 30 minutes before sunset.  It gets dark early there because the city is between Mt. Shasta on the east and the coast range on the west.

Enough time to get set up and have dinner.

Dinner?  Oops, we forgot the Mediterranean humus wraps, so we don’t have anything to eat.  Downtown Mt. Shasta is about 1/2 mile from the campground (or less) so we decide to check out places we could get a veggie burger or something like that.  We found a quaint Indian restaurant Maurti’s , ordered take-out and had a wonderful meal back in Lola.  Things are looking up!  We brought our winter down comforter and are so exhausted we hit they hay early and snuggle for a few minutes before falling asleep.

Battery Issues – Sunday November 22, 2015

Mt Shasta City Lola

12 Degrees!

About 1:30 a.m  (what is it about 1:30?) Christine realizes that we didn’t turn the ignition key off on the Pilot.  In order for the RVI brake to work, it connects to the 12V accessory, and when we stop we turn the car on and let it run for a few minutes.  We usually do this while we are getting Lola set up for camp.  Then shut the car off.  That’s enough to maintain the battery.

Oops.

Well, CRAP!  I mean really.

I get up and just for grins, check the Pilot.  Dead.  Deader than a door nail as the saying goes.  And 0f course I then realize that the charger I bought just for this possibility is sitting on a shelf in our house in Sacramento.  Hah!  Just perfect.

I go to bed.  Just a bit ticked off (at myself).

When we get up, the lithium battery looks good.  It’s 29 degrees outside, and the battery is 38 degrees.  We should be fine at 22 then.  We have breakfast, then hitch up the dogs and walk 1 1/4 miles to O’Reilly’s in Mt. Shasta City to find a charger.  They have a really nice one – same brand as the one sitting in our garage back in Sacramento, but it can also jump start a car. Perfecto!

We walk back to Lola, hook up the charger and in an hour it charges up the battery on the Pilot and Lola is ready to go!  Smiling, we are back on the road.  Another learning… well, maybe a couple.

We took Highway 97 up central Oregon through Klamath Falls to highway 58.  Again, the fall colors going over the Willamette pass were spectacular.  Great drive.  We really prefer Highway 97 – Highway 58 over I-5 because the grades are more gradual and there are fewer 6 percent grades to deal with.  Overall it’s about 20 miles shorter and 20 minutes longer.

As we were heading into Dexter just before reaching Eugene we decide to start looking for fuel.  Our low fuel message came on.  We started to pull into a Texaco, but we were going too fast to make the turn and had to swerve back onto highway 58.  Fortunately there was a space in the traffic for me to slide back in after getting in the turn-out lane.  Even after driving Lola with the Pilot for almost 1500 miles, I’m still having problems judging speed and stopping distance.  Another learning…

We drive through a Chevron station that ends up not having diesel, then stopped at Station 58 at Pleasant Hill.  Talk about full service!  The two guys working there offered to take the dogs for a walk, they put in our diesel additive and were really really nice.  The diesel price was also just about the lowest around – the same at Fred Meyer where I was originally going to fuel up.  Whoo – Hoo!  We are ready to party.

We finish the drive by going to my dad’s house, disconnecting the Pilot and unloading a few things, then driving to the American Legion Post 83 and hooking up to electricity.

Rain – Monday and Tuesday November 22 and 23

It was a good thing that besides ordering the desktop heaters from Amazon, we also picked up a two rain ponchos for Kadie and Sam (Danny already had an Oregon Ducks jacket).

Christine put in some time at work in the RV while I worked on our retirement financial plans.

My dad is 96 and is slowing down – physically and mentally.  My sister is 9 years older than me and it was a wonderful surprise to us when we found out she would be in Eugene for Thanksgiving a few days earlier.  She has Alzheimer’s.  It was heart-wrenching to be with the two of them, but fortunately they both still have a great sense of humor, although I could tell my dad was very sad about the condition of my sister.

I made Ginger Snap cookies and that kept everyone happy.

We started preparing for cold weather.  I positioned the 2 amp desk heaters in the water and battery bays.  Once I looked at the battery bay though I realized that there was a huge opening where the slide came out that opened up the battery bay to the outside.  That heater wasn’t going to help much!

Thanksgiving Prep Day – Wednesday November 24th

Christine and I made Vegan Green Bean casserole, Rosemary Mashed potatoes, Steamed peas and carrots, carrots and Raisin salad, German Red Cabbage and Beulah Salad – a family favorite that is similar to Tomato Aspic.

GO DUCKS!

GO DUCKS! At Matt Court

In the evening we went out to the Oregon – Arkansas State basketball game.  Whoo Hoo! The Ducks won.

We finished off the day at the American Legion.  I had a couple of Porters and Christine a Rum and Coke. We had a great time talking with Johnna and Tom and the rest of the crew.  One of the guys there has a Winnebago gasser, with a basement furnace like Lola, and he doesn’t worry about freezing weather as long as the furnace is set to 72 degrees.  I set the furnace at 72 and that seemed to keep the Lithium batteries warm all night – even without the desk heater and the temps at 22.

Thanksgiving Day – November 25th

J & C in EugeneHad a great Thanksgiving feast with family and friends.  This was the 3rd day in a row it was expected to be down in the low 20s by morning.  We left the gas furnace on and the Dyson blade running while we were gone and it was nice and warm when we got back to Lola after Thanksgiving.

Travel Day – and freezing our buns off – Friday November 26th

What is it about waking up at 1:30 in the  morning on this trip?  Well, it happened again.  Woke up at 1:30 with a chill on my cheeks (no… not THOSE cheeks!).  The furnace was blowing COLD air, it’s 22 degrees already outside.  WHAT THE HECK?  Furnace is on, but no heat.  Thank goodness the Dyson was working – that kept the coach at 59.  I got the furnace manual out – not much to check there.  Switched it to Electric Heat… still blowing cold air.

I figured out later that the furnace in Elec Heat mode is a heat pump, and only works at temperatures above 55 degrees.  Hah!  Fat chance that would work at 22.

The propane level on the console shows empty, but it showed low before.  I couldn’t have used 1/4 tank of propane could I? The gauge on the tank still showed just under 1/4 full, but I barely got a tiny flame from the stove when I tried that. Yup. Out of propane.  Not much to do now.  Lithium batteries are still in the mid 30s so I leave everything as is and try to get a little more sleep.

Up at 6 and at Fred Meyer at 7 to fight the ice and crowds for Black Friday and picked up a portable propane heater.  Finally some HEAT!

We had to run some errands with my brother before we left, so we got on the road after 9:30.  When we stopped in Cottage Grove the propane tank 23 gallons.  That’s empty for a 28 gallon tank.

We had a nice trip down I-5 to Mt. Shasta city.  The KOA still had snow on the ground from earlier in the week.  We remembered to start the Pilot while setting up camp and we turned it off when done!  Forecast was for the temps to get down to the low teens, so I set up the 2 amp heaters in the water bay and the battery bay after rigging up a shield for the heater to keep the lithium battery warm.

Mt. Shasta City – Saturday November 28th – 11.7 degrees outside

Mt Shasta City KOASlept great and woke up WARM!  Whoo hoo!  I checked the thermometer and it’s 11.7 degrees outside. There is ice on the inside of the front windshield.  Lithium battery was 38.  It worked!!!  Furnace and Dyson worked so good we had to turn it down about midnight.

The Pilot started (a little sluggish), and got the RVI Brake connected and disconnected from the KOA power – all the usual breaking down camp duties while Christine walked the dogs.   I was going to dump the black tank, but the sewer cap had over an inch of ice on it in a pool about 2 feet in diameter.  That can wait until we get to storage.

As soon as we pulled out of our spot at KOA and had not even gone 50 feet the Jacks Down light started flashing and beeping then the automatic jack console started flashing and whistling.  What the heck (again)? Stopped and double checked the jacks.  Yup, they are still up.  Went forward again to the edge of the campground, and the same thing happened again!  Jacks Down light’s flashing & beeping and the automatic jack console is flashing & whistling.  We stop again, check that the jacks are up.  They are!  Plus the stairs are not retracting all the way due to some ice.  We decide they are up enough they will not interfere with our driving – thank goodness for small favors!

We decide to drive to a nearby grocery store where we can park in the sun.  I get the hammer out while Christine walks the dogs (again).  I tap the jacks to see if I can possibly break loose anything.  I don’t see any ice and they are parked solid.

We start up again, and as we are getting on I-5 we get the same routine.  But this time it only lasts a minute then the warning lights go out and the buzzers and whistles quiet down.  We had an uneventful trip home after that.

We have since found out that this is fairly typical for jacks in the cold weather.  I still want to lubricate the jacks and see if I can blow out the area where the sensor is.  More research required there.  If anyone has any advice – please let us know.

Ok, we had lots of STUFF happen on this trip, but really nothing major.  It’s a learning process – and most were things I already knew or had read about (like how to deal with cold weather – FILL UP THE PROPANE TANKS!)

We are laughing about it now  and planning to stay in FLORIDA this next winter.

Happy Trails!

JC

 

 

Solar For Lola!

We have Solar for Lola!

It’s been a long time coming, we have solar for Lola.  AM Solar came through, and we installed 4 160 watt solar panels on the Roof.  Originally we were looking at 6 100 watt panels because AM Solar was  having issues with the 160 watt panels they were receiving.  But the latest panels tested good, and we opted for the 4 160s.    The square footage of the panels are the same for 4 160s vs 6 100s.  Because there is only room for two rows of panels, the 160 watt installation actually takes up less roof space.  This gives us more room to expand in the future.

We checked in Monday morning.  The evaluation took a bit longer because of some electrical problems we created when we shorted out a battery while insulating the battery box.  Simple mistake not following my diagram of the cables and batteries.  The solar panels and batteries got installed over the next 4 days, and we tested Lola Thursday night, leaving for home Friday Morning.  AM Solar was great to work with.  They came in under-budget and on time.  Roger was great to work with during the ordering and scheduling process and Cody went through the systems one at a time in detail.  We have all the system documentation including diagrams specific to our installation.  Thanks to the entire crew at AM Solar!

160 Watt Solar Panel and Christine

160 Watt Solar Panel and Christine

The actual setup now includes:

 

 

 

We upgraded our batteries to a 300 amp-hour lithium pack built by AM Solar replacing a 300 amp-hour wet cell battery pack (3 batteries).  We also replaced the chassis batteries with AGM batteries in case we decided to insulate the entire battery compartment.  Since lithium batteries should be charged when the interior battery temperature is 32 degrees or warmer, we insulated the lithium battery itself – we tested it to 22 degrees without a heater and to 12 degrees using a little desk heater.  The lithium batteries give us twice the capacity because they can drop down to 10-15% of capacity vs. 50-60% on a wet cell.  Plus, lithium-ion batteries charge up in a fraction of the time.  Of course this requires a new inverter/battery charger that supports the fast charging and different charge strategy (lithium-ion batteries don’t like constant trickle charging).   With our new charger we can actually fast-charge the batteries while we are driving using solar+alternator, or while boondocking using solar+generator, or while connected to the grid using shore solar+shore power or just solar.  We are looking forward to doing more tests of the solar charging options once we are full-timers.

Room to Expand

We have room for 4 more 150/160 watt solar panels on the roof, and additional lithium batteries in the battery bay.  Over the next year we will be recording our power usage to see how the setup meets our needs.

Benefits Summarized

Our 640 watts of solar panels and 300 Amp Hours of Lithium provides several benefits:

  • Faster battery charging:  Lithium batteries charge much faster than wet-cell batteries and can utilize combinations of solar, engine alternator, generator and shore power
  • Weigh less:  Lithium batteries weigh less – more than making up the weight of the solar panels
  • Less maintenance and longer life: Lithium batteries require virtually no maintenance and last longer than wet-cell batteries
  • More usable energy: Lithium batteries can be drawn down to 10% of their capacity without damaging the battery
  • Silent Charging:  Solar charging makes no sound so you don’t have to worry about ‘quiet hours’
  • Charge Anywhere there is sun:  We can charge our batteries anywhere there is sun.  Even on cloudy days you get some charge reducing the amount of shore power or generator usage

We are looking forward to tracking our solar usage and the related conditions as we travels.

Gone with the Wynn’s

We just missed seeing Nikki and Jason Wynn of Gone With the Wynns as they were busy editing video, but we managed to snap a ‘proof’ picture that we were there!  They have provided us with inspiration and real-world RV know-how, and of course of few things NOT to do.

Gone with the Wynns - Almost metUntil next time…

 

JC

RV Solar, Lithium Battery Upgrades and a Fix-it Day

RV Solar, Lithium Battery Upgrades and a Fix-it Day

The RV has a Name and a “Fix-it” day

Our 2008 Winnebago Journey has a Name

Naming a vehicle may seem silly. It is another one of the ‘human nature’ things that I mention from time to time.  For thousands of years humans routinely name their rides – whether they be ancient sailing ships, horses or Recreational Vehicles. Naming our ‘ride’ has been difficult.  Nothing seemed to fit the persona she is going to play in our lives.  For us, and “her” time’s are a’changin.

Christine suggests Lola (jokingly), and it stuck.

We purchased Lola August of last year, 6 years young – but with only 17,000 miles on her. For us – we will be Full Timing SOON, traveling from coast to coast and who knows where else. Lola’s and our “lives” are changing.

Lola’s on the big screen have often been seductive, earning the phrase… “what Lola wants… Lola gets.”  And check out the excerpt from the Urban Dictionary on Lola:

Our Lola

Our Lola

This is the type of girl that once she’s in your heart she’ll stay there for ever; she’s everything a guy could ever want/need. She fascinates you by her stunning looks and great personality, her voice creates a sense of happiness, every time you hear that voice it leaves you speechless, astounded and most of all so so happy. She has these most magnificent pair of sky blue eyes which gleam out and shine, making your heart warm and feeling very much in love. You’ll find yourself on your toes with this girl, she’s full of excitement and surprise, she’s a challenge but not a bad one. This girl is hard to come by, if you’ve got this girl you’re the luckiest guy in the world, as she’s truly perfect. Once in love with her consider yourself locked, her superlative qualities and personality will put you off all other girls for life, as there is no one else like Lola.
Lola Once in love with her you’re in love forever.
by mattloveslola4ever October 19, 2011

Yeah, I can see Lola fits.

Meeting with AM Solar – Time to get Serious about our Solar Upgrade

In November of last year we met with AM Solar located in Springfield, Oregon to discuss installing solar panels.  We came away with a list of items to research. First, we needed to estimate how much power do we consume while boondocking.  Secondly, what are our goals for the Solar and Lithium battery upgrade.  We  spent the next few months figuring out data we needed to collect, and then collecting it.  Then, this past June we met with them again for a final consultation before scheduling the install.

Change of format for this post

The format of this post has changed so that most of the information we want to share is in our VLog that you can watch here:

(Split into smaller segments 8/12/15)

 

[unitegallery VideoGalAug2015]

 

Resources for Solar

Solar allows us to live in our RV in places that are more remote than a traditional RV campground.  In addition, it allows us to consume less non-renewable energy.  Some of the resources we found useful are listed here.  This is by no means a comprehensive list, but it was the top places we used.

Along with the book:

And the tool:

And for the ‘Fix-it’ day Screen Door repair, we purchased:

And for the ‘Fix-it’ day Chair Repair, we purchased:

The bottom Line for our Solar Installation

Luckily our Journey has a side house A/C unit, so the only competition for roof space are 2 vents, the TV antenna and a satellite dish (that we will probably not use) along with a few other small vents and wire antennas.

Since the 160 watt solar panels that we want are not available right now, we are going with 6 100 watt panels kits (with all the hardware). The latest word we have from AM Solar is the 160 watt panels could be available by the time our panels get installed.  With the tilt-bars the solar panels will be about $1800. Then the 300 Amp Hour lithium battery pack runs about $2600.  We also opted to get a 40 Amp 700 watt solar controller/battery charger & monitor that runs $1000  and an upgraded Magnum MS-2000 inverter for $1600 that finishes the major hardware items for this upgrade.  Installation will of course vary depending on your rig’s setup.

Our primary objective was to get Lola set up and running for boondocking when we retire, and not have any conflicts or issues spending several days ‘off the grid’.  You may not need to upgrade as many items as we are if you are sticking with deep cycle batteries and if your existing electrical equipment is newer. Here Technomadia writes about their 3 1/2 years of using Lithium batteries in their bus and Gone with the Wynns blog about their major RV upgrades including Lithium batteries.

Thanks for reading and listening.  Feedback is welcome – especially as we explore balancing the blog and v-log formats.  Soon we will be sharing the installation experience with you!

Sidenote

Our trip to Thousand Trails Russian River that was scheduled for the end of July is postponed because “Trippin’ Jeff” fell and broke his hip.  Yes, I guess there is a reason for the theme of our journey to be Trippin’ With The Engles.  No, I was not texting.  I didn’t even have my phone with me.  Things happen.

We have some more upgrades planned for Lola before the solar installation, so stay tuned!  The pace is picking up as we get closer to full timing!