Saturday, December 27, 2014

Living in a Small RV - My Florida Winter Plan


I'm about to try something new - staying put for an extended time living in my small RV.  Living in an RV is not something new or novel.  Lots of folks do it.  Full timers do it all the time.  I’ve done a fair amount of traveling in RV’s.  Over the past few years, I've spent the equivalent of several months away from home living on the road in my RV.  But its been living on the road, which involves a lot of traveling, sightseeing, and moving to a new campsite every few days.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Siesta Key Revisited



After all the driving and two days of getting the RV serviced, we finally made it to Siesta Key.  Our short stay was at Turtle Beach Campground at the southern end of Siesta Key near Midnight Pass.  We’ve stayed at this small municipal campground before.  It has only 40 sites and can’t accommodate big rigs or 5th wheels, but it’s perfect for small trailers and motor homes.  It’s also perfect because it’s right on the beach.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

My Snowbird Journey South

This is the first time I've left for Florida in December.  In prior years, I've always waited until after Christmas.  But last year, the waiting around really got to us so we decided to bolt early this year.  I'm so glad we did.

Prior to leaving, we had only one major snow storm.  Before we left, we still had snow on the ground but just 30 miles south of us it was all bare ground.  And all the roads on our route were clear.  I remember last year having to snow blow the driveway the morning of our departure and there was still snow on the ground until we got to Maryland.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Florida Bound - This Snowbird Takes Flight

It's mid December, and this snowbird is about to take flight.  I'm taking off earlier this year.  Why wait?  An adversity to the cold and wanting to avoid the useless waiting in the tundra is reason enough for me to get to a warmer climate.  My snowbird migration takes several weeks of planning and there's always lots of preparation to get done.

This fall I've been busy with doctors appointments, dentist appointments, vehicle maintenance, house maintenance, yard clean up, winterizing tasks, and resupply tasks that all need to get done before this bird "Dawg" can take flight.  Its a lot of work to get ready for a 3 month sojourn, but I'm so glad I can still do it.  Here's my flight route to get to my roosting destination.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Rx for RVing with a Chronic Illness

If you are healthy, living pain free and disease free, you are one lucky person.  I just read a statistic that almost 50% of adults in the US have at least one chronic illness and it gets worse for older adults.  Over 70% of us over age 50 have at least one chronic illness.  A chronic illness is one for which there's usually no cure and requires constant treatment.  These illnesses are things like high blood pressure, high cholesterol, pulmonary conditions, diabetes, autoimmune illness, chronic pain, heart disease, depression, etc.  The good news is that, due to new treatments and therapies, these illnesses aren't killing us like they used to.  The bad news, more of us are getting afflicted with them.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

The RV Lifestyle - Spending the Winter in Florida

When the leaves start falling and the furnace starts running, I start counting the days until I'll leave for Florida.  One of the reasons I bought my current RV was so I could use it to escape New England winters.  I love summers in New England and I love traveling across the country in the spring and fall.  But, I really look forward to going to Florida for the winter.  I don't do winter activities and I'd much rather be sitting on the beach in January instead of the being stuck inside and complaining about the cold for three months.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

A Couple Good RVing Books

This is just a short post to give a referral for a couple of very good RVing books.  I read these recently and have been meaning to pass along a referral.  I'm not the type to advertise or plug products, but these are a couple of really good reads that I bought and have read.  Given the season, they might be good book gifts for that RVer (or wannabe RVer) in your family.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

My RV Travel Checklist

Getting an RV ready for a trip.  I'm sure everyone has their own routine that they follow to get an RV ready to roll.  Some may have a very detailed and documented list and others might just wing it.  I'm in between with some repetitive actions that are now built into my memory based on years of practice.  But, I'm also an old Boy Scout and the "Be Prepared" motto has stuck with me, so my RV travel prep is broad based.  I figured it might to be good to write this down and share it so others might benefit from it.  So, here it is.  Its in the sequence that I do them. 

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

How I Drive Through the New York City Area

Web photo
If you're in New England and want to get south or if you're in the south and want to get to New England, you most likely have to pass somewhere near the New York City area.  If you have an RV, it's inevitable that someday you'll have to drive through this area on some journey.  Its a congested and confusing area to drive through with a maze of highways that crisscross each other.  It can be very stressful and intimidating for someone driving for the first time through this area.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Assateague Island - Wind, Waves, and Wild Horses

Assateague Island web photo
Assateague Island is a barrier island on Maryland's eastern sea shore. Its one of ten protected National Seashores in the US.  Its got miles and miles of unspoiled beaches.  Its also known for its wild feral horses that roam the island.  The horses have their origins back to colonial times when colonists released horses for grazing on the island. Its also a great destination to visit and camp by the ocean.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Ocean City, MD - Worth a Return Visit

I really like taking a seashore RV trip during the fall.  In most places, there's still summer weather without the summer crowds.  This years fall trip took us down the tip of the Delmarva peninsula to the Maryland seashore.  From our home, its about 300 miles down the I-95 corridor to Wilmington, DE and then south on Rt 1 for another 100 miles through Delaware to the ocean.  We arrived at Rehoboth Beach and then followed Rt 1 along the coast going through Dewey Beach, Bethany Beach, Fenwick Island, and then to Ocean City, MD.

Friday, October 10, 2014

RV Travel Tips - J. Dawg's Not-To-Do List

Yoda, the Jedi Master, once said - "Always pass on what you have learned".  I've read a few RV blog articles that attempt to do this.  They've got titles such as - "Lessons From the Road", "Things I Learned Along the Way", and "RV Travel Tips".  Some offer very practical advice.  I believe we can all learn something from each other.  It's in that spirit that I share some of my learned RVing wisdom  But its not on what to do or how to do, but instead on what not to do.  These are things that I do to keep me from RVing's "dark side" (e.g., being in a hurry or being afraid).  It's J. Dawg channeling my inner Yoda.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Historic St. Augustine

One of my favorite places in Florida is St. Augustine.  Its a very historic place.  Its a compact city that's easy to get around either by walking or biking  Its got several historical attractions and is very close to some great beaches and coastal waterfronts.  But, I really love all the history.  It was originally founded in 1565 by the Spanish and remained mostly under Spanish control until 1821.  For almost 250 years it was a Spanish city.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

What To Do With All Those Travel Photos

You've probably got thousands of them stored on your computer, just sitting there, filed away.  They're your travel photos and the images contain your fun moments, great experiences, and good memories. 

Your parents probably used to paste them into albums or had slides made and showed them on special occasions.  I used to do that up until about 15 years ago when digital photography made things so much easier.  And now with technology, there's so much more you can do with your photographs to preserve and enjoy them. So, in this post I'll share some of the things I do with my travel photos. The links are there to show the products I use, not to try and sell anything.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Back to the Breachway - The Endless Summer

It was a spur of the moment decision.  The decision ingredients - a perfect weekend forecast and an RV that needed to have a test run.  The alternative was to stay home and paint the pool house.  I hate to paint.  And, its not too often that you get warm summer weather at the end of September, so I said the heck with painting.  Also, my RV was just back from the dealer and I wanted take it on a long drive to make sure all was working properly. 

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

The RV Breakdown Blues - Paralyzed by the Dashboard Lights

Breakdowns are the part of RVing that most of us would just soon forget.  These marvelous wonders of modern engineering provide such joy when they take us on journeys to outstanding places.  But, these mechanical beasts can bring us frustration, delays, and budget busting expenses when a problem occurs miles from home. 

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Pedaling Across Hog Heaven - The RAGBRAI Experience

RAGBRAI – Registers Annual Great Bike Ride Across Iowa.  It's a bike ride that crosses Iowa from the Missouri to the Mississippi. It's the largest organized bike ride in the US, typically drawing over 10,000 riders each year. It started over 30 years ago. It’s so large, riders/participants are selected by lottery. For serious bikers, it a right of passage. I rode it for the first time in 2006, doing  471 miles on one of the hilliest routes they've ever had.  As a serious cyclist, it was a bucket list item for me.  I was in great shape for the ride, but little did I know about what I was to experience with such a large group riding 70 mile days in the Iowa summer heat. What follows is my daily journal about the ride and the RAGBRAI experience.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

My Winnebago View Profile - Living Large in a Small RV

*** Update - May 2015 ***
Thanks so much for finding my blog and reading.  You are welcome to keep reading here.  I've moved all the content, including this entry, to my new site at: jdawgjourneys.com.  All new articles about my RV and travels are being posted there.  Thanks for reading and following J. Dawg.
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I'm guilty of some RV adulation here, but I wanted to write an entry about my 2014 Winnebago View motor home.  I bought it new in January, when I traded up from my Class B Roadtrek.  I wanted something a little bigger than a camper van that would be more comfortable for stay put camping, but still had the nimbleness of a small vehicle.  And, after 17,000 miles and 140 days of traveling, its met all my expectations.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Allons Danser! - The Rhythm & Roots Music Festival

Yeah!!!!  I made it back for my 15th year attending the Rhythm & Roots Music Festival in Charlestown, RI.  This is an annual festival of roots music with a heavy leaning towards music from Louisiana.  I attended last year but was not feeling all that well.  At that time, I was anemic, had no stamina, had lost a lot of weight, and my colitis was flaring.  In car terms, I was a wreck, tore up.  But a year later, the anemia was gone, I got my weight back, and I had lots more energy.  The colitis was still acting up on some days and I know when my "witching hours" are, but I was determined to come to the festival and have a good time.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Charlestown Breachway - A One Star Campgound at a Five Star Location

The Breachway
The Charlestown Breachway sits on sort of a barrier island on the coast in Charlestown, RI.  It’s at the end of a beachfront road that terminates at the man-made breach cut into the barrier island to facilitate drainage.  Hence the name “Breachway”.

I camped here for one night prior to attending the Rhythm and Roots Music Festival in Charlestown over Labor Day Weekend.  I had a beautiful weather forecast and I wanted to get in a beach day before the end of the summer, so I decided to try out the campground at Charlestown Breachway.

Monday, August 25, 2014

The RV Lifestyle - Adding Purpose to Your RV Travel

"Jim, you've got to do something more than just play when you retire.  If all you do is play, then your play will become like work and you'll dread it."  Those were the words of advice my retired friend, JP gave me when I asked him about his retirement.  It was good advice and I often reflect back on it as I undertake my travels.

These day's I'm spending a lot of my time in retirement traveling the country in my RV.  Being able to travel was my dream for when I retired and it has become one of the main ways of how I spend my time.  Some might label it as "playing", but I try to add purpose to my travels, to enhance the overall experience.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Maine’s Sebago Lake State Park – Lakeside Camping at its Best


Sebago Lake State Park is one of Maine's premier state parks.  It sits on the north shore of Maine’s largest fresh water lake.  Only 30 miles from Portland, Sebago Lake covers over 45 square miles and has over 100 miles of shore line.

The state park is also huge.  It consists of 1,400 acres on the northern shore of the lake right outside the town of Naples.  It has a day use area for picnicking and swimming, a boat ramp, and two camping areas.

Monday, August 4, 2014

The RV Lifestyle - A Chronic Disease Therapy

Everyday, I try to remind myself how fortunate I am.  I'm safe and secure.  I'm not in want of food or shelter.  I'm mobile and can travel.  I have a great supportive family.  But, I also struggle living with an incurable disease that at times causes me a certain amount of suffering.

Four years ago, I got diagnosed with ulcerative colitis.  Its a disease of the large intestine that causes frequent and urgent loose bowel movements, cramping, discomfort, and bloody diarrhea.  Its a disease that has no known cause and has no cure.  About 2/3 of the people with colitis can manage the symptoms with a life long regiment of drugs.  For the other 1/3, things never settle down.  I'm in between these two groups - most of the mainstream drugs haven't worked for me.  But most of the time my symptoms are moderate and at times, if I'm really strict with my diet, things settle down on their own for a short time.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Where the Grass is Blue - The Grey Fox Bluegrass Festival

J. Dawg playing his Gibson F-5G
If you're a music fan, chances are there's a music festival for your type of music.  Attending a festival is a chance to see several artists performing up close and immerse yourself into the music for a few days.  Camping at one is way to deepen your involvement with the artists, music, and other fans.

I'm a relative newcomer to Bluegrass music.  I got interested in my early 40's when I heard Ricky Skaggs and his band Kentucky Thunder on an NPR radio program singing some old bluegrass tunes.  I got hooked immediately.  The high lonesome harmonies and string melodies hit a receptor in my body that made me crave to hear more.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Juneless Jim's Road Trip Summary and Observations

Honey, I'm Home!  Again!  So far in 2014, I've spent 7 weeks at home.  For the other 19 weeks, I've been traveling.  About 18,000 miles so far this year and its only July 1st.  The June Road Trip was 28 days and 6,500 miles.  This Blog Entry  shows where I went.  Some of the trip stats are as follows.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Southern Colorado's Varied Landscape

I’ve heard it said that if you don’t want to see anything interesting along the road, then take the interstate.  On this trip thru Colorado, we avoided the interstates and instead traversed southern Colorado taking the “blue highways” – the scenic back roads.  While we didn’t linger long at any one place, we got to see some of the beautiful scenery that makes Colorado so spectacular.

On our westerly trek, we traveled on Routes 50, 10, and 160 crossing the most southern parts of Colorado.  From the Kansas border to Walsenburg, it’s gently rolling treeless grass land.  It’s cattle country, much like southwest Kansas.  Passing thru Lamar to La Junta, we saw several small feed lots. It’s also a very Hispanic area.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Moab Revisited

In 1997, I took my family on a week long vacation to Moab.  At that time, it was the mountain biking capital of the world and we came to bike, hike, and visit the National Parks.  It was a very memorable vacation and a place that I wanted to return to.

Today, Cav and I returned as the last stop on our Grand Circle tour.  The town's changed a little. Its got a little more sprawl, but it still has its small town charm.  The outdoors sports have also expanded to include ATV's, Jeep touring, zip lines, rock climbing, and even road biking.  Back in the 90's mountain bikers where everywhere.  Now there appears to be as many ATV's as mountain bikes.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Capital Reef National Park - A Hidden Gem


As we left Ruby’s Campground at Bruce Canyon, Helga (that’s what I call my GPS because she’s part of my German built RV) wanted me to turn left and take Rt 89 (a faster route) over to Capital Reef National Park.  But, I wanted to turn right and take Rt 12, one of Utah’s scenic byways.   Most of the time I get my way as it was this time.  Helga readily adjusted to the change and routed me over Rt 12 which was technically shorter but slower because of the terrain.  Rt 12 is one of Utah's scenic byways and it did not disappoint.  What a lovely road.  

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Bryce Canyon - On the Grand Circle Tour

We've continued our trip now following the Grand Circle tour of National Parks.  Its a route starting in Utah where you drive in a big counter clockwise circle seeing several National Parks including Arches, Canyonlands, Mesa Verde, Monument Valley, Grand Canyon, Zion, Bryce, and Capital Reef.  Its a very popular route especially for an RV trip.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Page, Arizona - Highly Recommended

RT 98 on the way to Page
Continuing our westward trek, Cav and I left Monument Valley and headed west to Page, AZ.  Page is on the northern border of Arizona above the Grand Canyon. It never held any interest to me other that several of my blog readers highly recommended it as a place to see.  The things recommended were Antelope Canyon, Horseshoe Bend, Marble Canyon, Navajo Bridge, Rainbow Bridge, and Lake Powell.


Monday, June 16, 2014

Monument Valley - An Awesome Place


We left the green mesas of Colorado and drove southwest into Arizona.  It was quite a dramatic landscape change.  We left green topped mesa's and some green valley's to almost desert like conditions outside of Cortez, CO.  It's a pretty desolate road to Four Corners. We had to stop at the Navajo Tribal Park and do a photo op. Where else can you place your body in four states simultaneously?

Cav wanted to ride along Rt 160 down into Arizona.  This was the route Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper rode in the movie Easy Rider. Its sparse, lonesome, and beautiful.

At Kayenta, we took Rt 163 northeast up to Monument Valley. All I can say is wow.  Just north of Monument Valley towards Mexican Hat on Rt 163, is where Forrest Gump stopped running ("I'm awful tired, I think I'll go home").

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Mesa Verde National Park - Where the Ancient Ones Lived


Green mesa's
About 40 miles west of Durango is Mesa Verde National Park.  Mesa Verde means green mesa and it is very aptly named.  This is a huge national park encompassing 81 square miles.  Its main attractions are archaeological sites.  There are over 4,500 sites and about 600 cliff dwellings.  

We arrived in the late morning and were able to spend the afternoon visiting several sites.   The park encompasses several mesas that pitch up abruptly from Rt 160.  The mesas gently slope south with several deep canyon cutting thru the mesas.  It’s in these canyons where the cliff dwellings are.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Durango, Colorado - Rocky Mountain High

After all the RV issues and long drives to dealerships, I decided to settle in for a couple of days and enjoy Durango.  What a nice western town.   Its nestled in the narrow Animas Valley at the foot of the San Juan Mountains. This is an out of the way place that's several hundred miles from any big city. An old mining town that got started in the late 1800's, it's now a hip laid back place to live with a college and a big tourist destination.

The center of town has many of the historic buildings restored with boutiques, eateries, bars, hotels, and souvenir shops.  The town has done well managing the tourist demands.  All the franchise chains are on the outskirts and the main road skirts around the town center, so the central town maintains its historic charm.  Its got a nice mostly free transit system for getting around and central parking area.  Rafting, mountain biking, 4 wheeling, skiing and the Durango-Silverton Railroad are the big draws.  Here are some pictures of the down town area,

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Making the Best of the Unexpected



A rotten tooth, severe t-storms, tornado warnings, high winds, and now the RV’s check engine light keeps coming on.  I’m beginning to think this trip might be cursed.   So far, we’ve had to delay the trip and change our route to dodge storms.  Now the RV is acting up.  

My rig is a brand new 2014 Winnebago built on the Mercedes Benz chassis.  It’s got 11,000 incident free miles, up until Friday when the Check Engine Light (CEL) came on.  I’ve worked on gas cars and trucks most of my life but this diesel is new to me.  I’m 2,000 miles from home, so this light puts a knot in my stomach.   The manual says it could be something with the emission system malfunctioning and that I’ve got 500 miles before the vehicle may start to shut things down.  Great. I’m in the middle of “nowhere” Kansas, 200-300 miles to the nearest dealer.  That’s the thing about a Benz, it’s got a unique diagnostic system and codes that can only be worked on by a service dealer with the proper computer system.  Local repair shops can’t work on it.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Dodge City - Queen of the Cowtowns

"It's nice to have some good weather", I said to my son, Cav at mid day.  "Yeah we didn't have to dodge any twisters today", was his response.  We're in Dodge City, Kansas and last night was a little scarier than the prior nights with severe storm warnings.  Tornado warnings came out at 4:30 pm with reports of golf ball sized hail and 80 mph winds just a couple of towns away.  NOAA was telling people in mobile homes to seek shelter.  The wind came up and the trees were leaning sideways.  I got the bug out bag ready.

A very low green gray fast moving shelf cloud came down the road near the RV park going about 30 mph.  A shelf cloud is a low wedge shaped cloud that plows thru the air and the eddy's formed in its wake are what help form tornado's.  Seeing that cloud was enough to send Cav running to the camp office for shelter (said he was responsible for preserving the family name as a lone survivor).  I hung with the camper, rain coat on and ready to bolt, looking for a funnel cloud.  Luckily it did not happen and the storm passed in about 15 mins.  But it was enough to make a soul need a drink to calm the nerves.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Following the Sante Fe Trail



The Sante Fe Trail was one of the major travel routes between Mexico and the United States.  The southern part of the trail was pioneered by a Frenchman named Pedro Vial in 1792.  The full trail was established in 1821 and it stretched from Franklin, MO to Sante Fe, NM.  Unlike the other western trails, the Sante Fe trail was a two way trail carrying goods between Mexico and Missouri.  It was used for almost 60 years until the railroad made it obsolete.

A significant portion of the trail traverses Kansas and there’s a highway route that lets you follow much of it across Kansas.  We got off the Interstate at Emporia, KS and took Routes 50, 150, and 56 to connect with the trail outside the town of McPherson.  Before we got there, we made a stop at the Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve.  This is a 10,000 acre preserve established by the National Park Service in 1996 that preserves one of the last undeveloped stands of tallgrass prairie in the US.  It looks just like it did from prehistoric times.  It even has a buffalo herd.  Prairie grass stretched from Kansas to Colorado and the entire width of the US.  Tallgrass started on the eastern most edge of the area to central Kansas.  From there to Colorado, the shortgrass took over.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Sleepless in Missouri


Cav at Finger Lakes State Park, Missouri
This is a footnote to my last post.  We spent day three driving across Missouri.  We spent the night at a nice state park campground (Finger Lakes State Park).  That night we had severe thunderstorm warnings prior to going to bed.  Like I do most nights, I got woken up in the middle of the night to go to the bath room because of my colitis.  It’s become a routine and part of that routine has me sitting on the toilet reading the news and weather on my cell phone.   

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Juneless Jim’s Road Trip is Underway



After much planning and some unanticipated delays, the June road trip now underway.  I had to push off the start of the trip by about a week due to an unforeseen dental issue that couldn’t wait.  At my regular 6 month check-up (which was 3 days before the start of my trip) an x-ray showed some serious decay below the gum and bone in one of my upper molars.  My dentist was doubtful that tooth could be saved and was concerned it could cause me problems.  He suggested I have the tooth extracted before my trip so it wouldn't cause me any problems and it would have time to heal while I was away until I could have either a bridge or implant put in.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Juneless Jim's Four Corners Roadtrip

I've been home from our winter road trip for about 5 weeks now.  It's felt good to be stationary for awhile and get back to my home routine.  It took a couple of weeks to get unpacked, get the house resupplied, and things caught up.  Then the work started.  Getting the homestead de-winterized and ready for the summer is a lot of work.  There were vehicles that needed maintenance, the yard had to be cleaned up, lawn furniture had to be cleaned and put back out, yard machines put back in service, flower beads cleaned, mulch to be spread, and the pool opened.  This used to be manageable but at age 60 its now a chore and I'm exhausted.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

DIY Solar Install

******** Update 9/2015 ********
I upgraded my solar setup in 2015.  You can read more about the system and see a video on it at this link:  My Low Cost RV Solar Install.
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I've read a few articles and blogs about solar installs on RV's and it's always intrigued me.  But I had never talked to anyone first hand about their set-up/experience.  This past spring I had the chance to do that and it was vary helpful.  While in Arizona this past spring, I met a fellow RVer who had a 200 watt solar set up on the roof of his Leisure Travel Unity class B+ (very similar to my Winnebago View).  When I asked him about it, he told me he had been able to go 2 weeks on two 12V batteries without having to run his generator or be plugged in.  This sounded real appealing. 

My Winnebago View has two 12V batteries and I can easily go a day or maybe two without having to recharge them.  When traveling each day the recharge is not an issue because driving recharges them from the vehicles alternator.  But when stay put camping without hookups, I have to run my generator for about 60-90 minutes each day to rech  arge them.  My generator runs on propane and it will go thru about .6 gallons an hour.  My 13 gallon propane tank would carry me for about 2 weeks if it was full and I wasn't using anything else.  But, its never always full and when parked I use propane for the frig, hot water, sometime heat, and cooking so my 2 weeks is not realistic.  Its more like a week.

But the biggest drawback is the noise.  The generator is noisy and you can't always run it in some places.  I get a little self conscious when running it especially when in a pristine nature setting with camping neighbors.  Who wants to listen to a noisy generator.

So after talking with the guy in Arizona about his setup, I began to feel that a solar set up would be a good thing to add to my RV.   However, there are no RV solar installers near where I live.  But I'm a pretty handy guy, so I began researching it to see if I could do it myself.

The Internet has a ton of info and vendors selling solar setups for RVs.  And the prices for the equipment are all over the place.  But thank God for YouTube, blogs, discussion groups, and user groups.  I got to benefit from a lot of other peoples experiences and could ask them questions.  So, here's what I figured out for my rig.  The figures I use a ball park estimates, but good enough for me to design a setup.
  • A general rule of thumb is to install 100 watts of solar for every 100 amp hrs of battery capacity.  A 12V or 6V battery can delivery around 85-100 amp hrs (some do more, some do less) so for my two 12V batteries, 200 watts of solar should be sufficient.
  • Daily DC usage is key to sizing what you need for batteries and solar.  Every one's usage is different.  My daily usage for lighting, the water pump, frig panel, alarms, and heater fan is about 50-75 amp hrs per day.  This means that I go thru about 25-40% of my battery capacity each day when I'm parked.  Add some TV watching, radio listening, phone charging, a compressor frig, and you'll go thru more.
  • A 100 watt solar panel will produce around 5 amps of power per hour in perfect conditions.  Plan on 5-6 good hours of sun and you're looking at getting 25-30 amps hrs from a 100 watt panel.  Two 100 watt panels will double that to 50-60 amps hrs.
  • You need a charge controller to use with solar panels to safely and effectively charge the batteries.  Controllers are sized based on how many amps they can handle.  For two 100 watt panels, a 20 amp controller is sufficient.  Also, there are two types;  MPPT and PWM.  MPPT controllers are "smarter" and more effective in larger installs (over 400 watts).  They are also more expensive (around $200).  PWM controllers are simple and very effective for smaller installs (under 400 watts).  They are also less expensive (under $100).
  • You need to know the size of everything and figure out where everything will go before you order anything or start.  Where on the roof, how to secure, where to run the cables, where to install the controller?
  • Other things you need to install solar - mounts for putting the solar panel(s) on the roof, a way to attach the panels to the roof (screws or adhesive), caulking to plug and waterproof any holes, cable and connectors to connect the panels to each other and to the controller, cables and connectors to connect the controller to the battery, cable ties and tie bases to secure the cables, and fuse links to put on the cables for safety.
A key dilemma that influenced how I planned my install and what I ended up acquiring was how to run the cables from the solar panels down to the charge controller.  I have a fiberglass roof on my RV and no entry point that I could use on the roof to run a cable.  I really didn't want to drill a hole in the roof.  I also had read that a properly pointed panel is much more efficient than a flat horizontal panel. My intended use for the solar is when I dry camp at music festivals - which is about 3-4 times per year.  I decided to install everything to support two 100 watt panels, but to start out with one free standing panel that I could build a stand for and point it properly.  I'd permanently install the charge controller and wire it to the battery and build a pig tail so I could plug a portable panel into it when I wanted to use solar charging.  I knew that one panel probably wouldn't fully recharge my batteries, but it might buy me an extra day.  Also, I figured this was way of minimizing cost, I could see how it works, and for another $150 I could always add another panel and mount them on the roof at a later time.

So, here's what I purchased
  • From Renogy - a 30 amp PWM charge controller with a temp sensor, one 100 watt mono-crystalline panel, 20 ft of 10g wire, and a MC4 connector tool.
  • From Amazon - 25 ft split loom cable housing, cable ties and mounts.
  • From PowerWerx - four Anderson SB50 Powerpole connectors with dust covers, two in line fuses, and a crimper.
  • From Lowes - misc connectors, wire, grommets,
  • Total cost - $344.
I installed the charge controller in a storage compartment right near the coach batteries.  I ran two 10 gauge wires (about 4 feet) from the storage compartment to the battery bank with an in line fuse on the positive line and connected them with ring terminals.  I had to drill a 1/2 in hole in the storage compartment wall to get the wires out and used a rubber grommet to protect the wires.  I put a disconnect on these wires so I could easily disconnect from the batteries.  The charge controller has a parasitic draw of less than 30 mill. amps and I wanted to avoid this draw when I wasn't using the solar panel.  I wrapped these cables with heat resistant split loom and secured the cables with zip ties to an existing cable.  I made a short pig tail cable to connect to the solar connectors on the charge controller.  I put an in line fuse on this wire and used a Anderson SB50 power pole connector on the end. I used the 20 ft 10 ga cable from Renogy that had MC4 connectors on one end to connect to the solar panels and put another Anderson SB50 Powerpole on the end to connect to the pigtail cable on the controller.

Here are some pictures of the install.

Charge controller

100 watt solar panel (47 in x 21 in)

Home made easel to hold panel

And the $64,000 question - how does it work?

I first tested the set up on my 12V lawn tractor battery to make sure everything worked (i.e., that it would actually charge the battery and not "fry it").  Everything worked as advertised.  I then hooked it up to my RV batteries and it worked perfectly.  The charge controller accurately read my battery voltage and the panel was able to putout close to 20V and 5-6 amps is clear sun. It dropped down to  2-3 amps in party cloudy conditions.  When the batteries where fully charged it dropped down to float charging mode putting out .2 amps.

The solar panel fits in my rear storage compartment with all the other stuff so it will be easy carry with me when I need it.  The easel I made breaks down and that also fits in the storage compartment.


I had a chance to test this all out while dry camping at a recent music festival.  I had perfect sunny weather for 5 days.  My electrical usage was minimal - I only used some lights, radio, the water pump, and the normal alarms/monitors.  The panel kept my batteries fully charged during each day.  Since it was free standing, I could easily move it around and get full sun on the panel.  I only needed to run the generator when I wanted the use the microwave or run the A/C.

I am very pleased with my setup.  I like the flexibility of having it free standing so I can use it when I want and it's very cost effective.

A good reference site is Jack and Danielle Mayer's blog  He has a section on RV Electrical/Solar that is very thorough and helpful.  AM Solar's web page is also helpful.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Southwest Culture Road Trip Summary

I just got back from a very long road trip to the southwest.  It all started when we escaped New England in early January and spent two months "snow birding" in Florida.  Then, we embarked on a multi-state road trip heading west visiting places in the southwest.  It was a great trip and one that gave us many life long memories.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

The Sky Line Drive


Since leaving Memphis, our focus has been to get home and leave the sightseeing in Tennessee, North Carolina, Virginia, and Pennsylvania for future trips.  I would have loved to stop in Nashville for 2-3 days and see the Country Music Hall of Fame, the Ryman Theater, and the Grand Ole Opry.  Seeing a NASCAR race at Bristol Motor Speedway is on the bucket list.  The Biltmore Estate in Asheville is another place I want to see.  And I want to take the tour of the Martin Guitar factory in Nazareth, PA.  But they’ll all still be there for a future trips. 

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

All the Way To Memphis



"Well, it’s a mighty long way down the dusty trail."  Having just driven across the deserts of west Texas, Arizona, and New Mexico, I now appreciate that line by Ian Hunter (aka Mott the Hoople).   As I left Amarillo, my DEF alarm went off indicating I had driven another 3,600 miles.  It didn’t seem that long ago that I had just filled it up.  But, then again I had just got done driving across Texas, New Mexico, Arizona to Las Vegas and then back again.  It was a lot of miles and I thoroughly enjoyed the tree less desert terrain.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Palo Duro Canyon, TX



Continuing east from Tucumcari, NM the terrain remains open plains dotted with scrub junipers and small mesquite trees.  Distance mountains and mesas shrink from the horizon and it becomes flat with 20 mile vistas.  I-40 becomes a straight line running to the eastern horizon.   We see an occasional ranch, a few cattle, old wind mills, and a crumbling building every few miles.   It goes on like this for 100 miles.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Tucson to Tucumcari

Well, I've been from Tucson to Tucumcari.  Always wanted to use that line from Little Feat's song Willin, and now its a true statement.  Today was a travel day and the target destination was Tucumcari, NM.  Not because there's anything here (trust me there is NOTHING here), but it fit my mileage quota for the day traveling east on I-40.  And we made it without taking that left at Albuquerque!!! (you Bugs Bunny fans know what I mean).

Going from a Class B to a Class C - A Small Motorhome Comparison

************  UPDATE  *************
J. Dawg Journeys has moved to a new home!. I'm now at http://jdawgjourneys.com/.  You can enjoy this writeup and lots of new articles about my travels at my new web site.
***********************************


I recently traded my Class B Roadtrek van for a Class C Winnebago View.   I owned my Roadtrek 190 Simplicity for 2 years and loved it.  I’ve now owned the Winnebago View Profile 24V for 2 months and also love it.  I've actually been on a road trip since buying it in January and have put over 5,000 miles on it.  With two months of living in it and driving it, I feel I can give a first hand comparison of the two vehicles.  I'm not trying to show how one is better than the other or give a detailed feature comparison since they are different vehicles.  I just thought it might be helpful to others to share my experiences with the two products.   

My 2012 Roadtrek 190 Simplicity
First, let me say that I have no axe to grind and have no affiliation with or compensation from either of the vendors of these motorhomes.  Also, I respect that there are folks who love their Class B and would never think of trading up and there are similar folks who love their Class C. The specs I quote were accurate at the time I wrote this article.

We're all different and have different needs and different uses for our RV's.  I'm more of a traveler versus a stay put camper, but I do some stay put camping during the year.  I'm also a minimalist camper.  I like small, simple, and tend to get by well with the bare essentials.

So, it all starts with the reason why I traded up.  I began traveling the country with my Roadtrek and logged over 33,000 miles with it.  It is a great road trip vehicle and I loved traveling in it.  But my reasons for trading were two fold.  First, I wanted to be able to live in an RV for two months parked in Florida for the winter.  I found that the living space within the Roadtrek did not suit me for that type of living.  This was the major drive for trading up.  Second, I wanted to stay with a small motorhome, but have just a little more space like a permanent bedroom.  The Mrs. and I at times like to take naps (its an age thing) and the permanent bedroom versus a fold down couch was much more preferable. 
  
2014 Winnebago View Profile
Expanding on the small motorhome requirement, I wanted something that I could drive pretty much anywhere. I liked the nimbleness of my Roadtrek (I used it to go grocery shopping at home) and didn’t want to give that up.  I wanted to still be able to pull into a McDonalds, get fuel a regular gas station, camp in all state and national parks, drive the scenic roads, and not have to bring a toad.

So why a Winnebago View?  It best fit our requirements.  I’ll give the specs below, but I think it’s still small, has the floor plan we liked, built on a very reliable chassis, is fuel efficient, is from a large reliable vendor with a large dealer network, and the model has a demand on the trade in market (lots of people own them).  I had also talked to several campers who owned them (either a View and Itasca Navion) and all were very pleased with them.  I also follow a few blog writers who have them and all have the same positive comments.  

So, now the comparison

Size

Roadtrek  - length 20' 5'', width 7', height 8' 9", GVWR 9,600 lbs, wheelbase 155"
Winnebago - length 25' 5", width 7' 6", height 11' 3", GVWR 11,030, wheelbase 170" 

The Winnebago is a larger vehicle. For me, the most noticeable difference is the height (its a higher profile).  You need to be more cognizant of trees and over hangs. The extra 3" on each side is negligible and I don't notice the extra 5 feet in length.  It fits in parking space if you back in and can overhang otherwise it takes 2 spaces.  So far, I have been able to go everywhere I went with my Roadtrek.  Here's a lousy picture that shows them side by side.  The Winnebago has the slide out and the door is open.  You can see that they're very close in width and the extra height on the Winnebago.



Features

The living features are very similar between both units.  Same type of appliances, heat, hot water A/C, inverter, entertainment, toilet, on board generator, swivel seats, and batteries.  The key differences - Winnebago has a 5.3 cu ft frig vs the 3.0 cu ft in my Roadtrek, 2 12V wet cell batteries in the Winnebago vs 2 6V AGM in Roadtrek, Winnebago has tank heaters, hot water heater is AC and propane, all lighting is LED, it has a shower stall, the beds are permanent (no fold out couch), a 16 ft power awning, and a separate range hood that vents outside. For me the biggest differences are the frig - it can hold a lot more food, the permanent beds, and the small slide out give more living space.

Cockpit - I liked the onboard computer on the Chevy Roadtrek.  The Sprinter has no TPMS, no fuel range estimate, and no MPG calculation.  But you can check the oil from the dash display on the Sprinter.  You can also use the coach batteries to help start the Sprinter if the chassis battery is weak. The cockpit on my Sprinter came with built in privacy shades on the windshield and door windows.  I like these better than curtains.

Handling

Very similar.  They both drive very easy.  The extra length of the Winnebago takes a little more looking when making a right hand turn. I found both the Roadtek and Winnebago will get a small push when being passed by a semi.  I drove the Winnebago recently in 25-35 mph cross winds.  It did want to drift more in the wind and gusts did shove/push it more than the Roadtrek but it was not an unsafe feeling.

Capacities

Roadtrek - freshwater 36 gal, grey 23 gal, black 10 gal, water heater 6 gal
Winnebago freshwater 37 gal, grey 36 gal, black 36 gal, water heater 6 gal

For me, I really like having the larger black tank.  I had to dump the Roadtrek every 2-3 days.  I can go a week on the Winnebago.  The dump on the Winnebago is gravity for the black with a pump to push the grey to the dump hose.  I didn't mind the macerator on the Roadtrek.  It was easy to use.  The dump procedure on the Winnebago has a couple more steps.

Fuel Usage

Roadtrek - my Roadtrek had the 4.8L V8 gas engine.  My fuel mileage averaged between 16-18 mpg.
Winnebago - the Winnebago had a 3.0L V6 diesel. My fuel mileage is averaging 15-17 mpg.

Diesel fuel is about 15-20% more costly than gas so, I'm paying about 20% more for fuel with the Winnebago.

Maintenance

Roadtrek - I only had one incident where I needed to go to the dealer and that was to do a propane test.  My Roadtrek was super reliable.  The Chevy Roadtrek could be also be serviced just about anywhere.  I did all my own routine maintenance and the cost of supplies and parts were reasonable.
Winnebago - The frig was DOA when we first started it up but that got replaced before we left the lot.  Otherwise there's been no problems no far.  The maintenance for the Sprinter is not as available as the Chevy.  The cost (parts and labor) is also more.  An oil change takes 13 qts of oil and a filter you need to get from MB. The diesel needs a regular fuel filter replacement and DEF added every 3,600 miles. Everything from MB is expensive.  An extra key for the Sprinter cost almost $200.  For the Chevy it cost $50.

User Groups

Roadtrek - I found little value in the RT International Group.  The Yahoo group has 3,200 users and the Roadtreking FB group has almost 1,600.  Both are very active and responsive to questions.
Winnebago - There is a Winnebago Owners Club (WIT Club).  There's a small (160 members) FB group and there is a Yahoo group for Views/Navions owners with 6,500 users who are also very active and responsive.  There's also the Sprinter Forums group for Sprinter specific issues.

Costs

Roadtrek - My RT 190 Simplicity had a list price of $84K.  I paid $71K
Winnebago - My View Profile 24V with just about every available option listed for $122K (the paint job was a $6K option).  I paid $52K plus gave them my two year old Roadtrek.

So that's the comparison from my perspective.  The bottom line - They both are great vehicles.  Both are reliable.  They drive very similar and can pretty much go the same places.  I like having the extra space and for that I'm paying more for fuel and maintenance for the Winnebago.  But I made that decision so I would have something to live in while wintering in FL. 

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Gallup, NM



Another day on the south west culture tour and we made it back into New Mexico.  Gallup was a short 128 mile drive from Winslow.  There’s not much to see on this section of I-40 except trains going by heading west.  Also, it wasn’t as windy on the road as the day before.

We spent the night at the USA RV Park right in Gallup.  When we arrived, there was a line of  5-6 rigs pulling in all at the same time.  Everyone must have been on the same schedule.  It was a nice enough park at $30 for the night.  Basically, a pea stone lot with about 100 spaces with full hook-ups, cable, and free wifi.

We spent the next morning checking out downtown Gallup and listening to Navajo radio as we drove around. Yup, KYAT 94.5 fm, its all in Navajo - Yah-ta-hay!  The town is on the edge of the Navajo and Zuni reservations and it’s the Native America Jewelry Capital of the World.  At least it seemed so with all the retail and wholesale jewelry shops.

The Visitor Center was very helpful in directing us to right areas and shops.  We visited the Cultural Center which has a nice museum of the Navajo culture.  We visited a few jewelry shops.  It appears that retailers buy jewelry from the artists in the reservations.  Since Gallup is right off I-40 and near the reservations, it’s a good spot to market the jewelry.  Gallup is also known for its wall mural depicting Navajo events.  Here's a picture of one.


 
J. Dawg's new bolo ties
We were looking for Zuni jewelry and found the best place to be Joe Milo's Whitewater Trading Post which is about 17 miles south on Rt 602.  I like Zuni pieces because of their inlay and geometric designs.  I found a couple nice Zuni bolo ties made my local artists.  One's a Navajo rug design and the other is Rainbow Man, a Navajo Yei (sorta of a deity).

We drove thru Zuni Pueblo and then proceeded west on Rt 53 towards Grants.  Rt 53 is the road less traveled and it is a very scenic road thru the Zuni reservation.  A key point of interest is El Morro National Monument, also know as Inscription Rock.  Its a really big outcropping of sandstone and was a traveling stop for the Indians, Spanish, and US settlers because of its natural water spring.  Over the past 400 years, people left inscriptions on the rock.  Its a dramatic setting and a piece of living history to see the signatures and inscriptions going back to the 1600's.  Here are some pictures.

El Morro




This is a pretty area of New Mexico.  Its not heavily traveled and it was nice to get off the highway and do some exploring.  I read several Tony Hillerman novels that took place in this area and it was nice to see what I had visualized in his books. 

We ended up the day in Grants, NM.  The wind was blowing hard again with gust up to 50 mph.  Luckily we had a tail wind most of the way.  Next stop - I don't know.  We're seeing where the wind blows us :)