By Ghislaine Pedican
My vagabond lifestyle began at retirement. I suspect that many of us retirees, especially those on a tight budget as I am, who are drawn to adventure or yearning for an uncomplicated lifestyle, take up RV’ing full-time. My primary motivation was seeing all the natural sites that I had wanted to visit but had not been able to in my working life. This meant a steady life on the road but I had been looking forward to it. I suppose that I suffered from the ultimate “ants in the pants” syndrome.
Research on the internet for all kinds of tips on the lifestyle led me to camping sites that were different from those frequented on the well-traveled paths. I wanted to embrace solitude, a more meditative way of life away from RV parks with the full hook-ups, the recreation hall, the pool, the playground, the organized activities, and the many regulations. Actually, it was almost essential since I was traveling with my two dogs, one a Rottweiler and the other an Alsatian mix. I had found out that sometimes my little menagerie would be viewed with a bit of a jaundiced eye.
The sites that looked best suited for my purpose were advertised as free or next to free on the internet and in book form. The list is way too long to put it up here. A Google search will lead you to them. I had discovered, to my delight, that many consumer outlets such as Wal-Mart, Flying J, Cracker Barrel, etc. allowed free overnight parking. That took care of the getting there and overnight parking safety. Destinations were an altogether different kettle of fish. Finding out where potable water, dumping, propane, trash were available meant more research and I didn’t have the internet when I started out. Plus I considered my RV as a house on wheels and had to figure out how to secure a minimum of amenities. I read books and articles, my head swimming in a stew of overload information. Picking up full-timers’ brains turned out to be the best school for learning. Please bear in mind that my technical know-how is quite rudimentary. As a translator, I dealt with words, not technology. Books that explained boondocking necessities were, for the most part, way beyond my comprehension. My needs were immediate, my learning curve was taking much longer. . .
My 28 foot Class C Minnie Winnie had been designed to accommodate up to six people. Clearly, I had to redesign it as living quarters for a single woman rather than a recreational vehicle for a family. The details of my handiwork are explained on my blog, at http://www.boondockingblogger.blogspot.com.
The amenities I wanted for myself were a source of electrical power that would allow me to use my computer and printer, watch the occasional TV show, heating when and where required, and minimizing the trips to get water, propane, dump, and get rid of the trash.
Here is how I tackled these one by one. First, the ELECTRICAL. I got two solar panels installed on the RV roof for a total of 200 watts. A regulator monitors and regulates the amount of voltage that charges the four 6 volt deep-cycle batteries, which in turn are connected to a power inverter (1200 watts was enough for my needs). The inverter converts the DC to AC and that lets me use the PC and TV, a food processor or blender, even a juice extractor. But it is NOT sufficient for any appliance that produces heat, such as an electric coffee maker, a microwave, a hair dryer, a toaster oven, or even an ordinary toaster. I tried to use a stick vacuum cleaner off the inverter but it was too much of a load. So I use my generator, an older 3600W Honda that starts at the push of a button installed inside. Gas is drawn directly from the tank; the generator also has its own exhaust and conforms to National Parks noise standards. The generator is a multi-tasking gizmo. It lets me use the vacuum, the air conditioner or a quickie run of the microwave, all the while charging the coach batteries, even the one used for driving. It’s very convenient on severely overcast days. I also use it when I run the hair dryer for a fast defrosting of the refrigerator and freezer.
The refrigerator can run on either electricity or propane. I leave it on propane at all times when I am stationary. When driving, I switch it to electrical as the batteries are being constantly charged from the engine and the solar panels. It eliminates the risk of fire. Also, I fire up the water heater only when stationary. Now, speaking of PROPANE.
Winnebago designed my “rig” for a family and relatively short stays. The propane tank has an approximate volume of one and a half to two 20 pound bottles. And it can be filled only at 80% capacity. I have failed to find out its exact capacity, so my estimate is based on eye-balling the tank. Again, full-timers had an answer for that, the Extend-a-Stay connection. A hose such as those used on barbecues connected to a 20-pound bottle is installed on a brass fitting that sits between the valve and the regulator on the rig tank. I alternate between two 20 pound bottles, using the rig’s propane when I switch from the empty bottle to the full one. Therefore, I use the rig’s propane only if I run out of bottled propane, I seldom let this happen, or during overnight stays. I do, however, make sure that my portable bottles are empty when I travel.
The heating was from a forced-air furnace run via a thermostat. When nights got cold, I would be awakened by the noise of the furnace and fan located right next to my bedroom. Besides, since it ran mostly at night, the charge in my batteries would plunge to an extremely low point. Since I spend months in the Desert Southwest, a heater is a must as the temperature drops suddenly and drastically when the sun goes down. I got a propane heater that has two settings for its ceramic plates, Low or High. It is totally silent. Also, it is connected to the main propane network and was installed by a certified technician –this to conform to insurance policies and for safety. I could have had a heater with a thermostat but it would not work properly at higher elevations in the Rockies. My, my, the things one must learn to live as a boondocking vagabond!
Water, water. It seems that everything that deals with water, either getting it or disposing of it, is the constant that is totally dependent on how many people live in the rig, how close water can be found, and how far one must drive to dump. There are a few shortcuts but not too many. A little creativity is necessary here. The grey water tank (water from dishwashing, shower, etc.) has a capacity of 45 US gallons. So does the sewage (or black water) tank. The fresh water tank’s capacity is only 36 US gallons. (A US gallon is about 3,75 liters, an Imperial gallon is approximately 4,56 liters). Although the fresh water tank is filled with potable water, I do get my drinking water in 5-gallon bottles, mostly through Reverse Osmosis. When I’m on the road for a few days, just overnighting on the way, I buy smaller disposable bottles to save time and frequent stops for a drink of water. Many experts advise dumping only when the tanks are full. Problem is that the fullness does not always coincide with a dumpsite. For my part, regardless of whether my tanks are full, I dump at the same time as I get my fresh water tank filled. Usually, where potable water is available, so are dumping facilities. I avoid washing more dishes than necessary. I find that I can extend my fresh water tank load to a good 10 days by using paper plates and bowls. These in turn are a good way to start a campfire at night. I wash and rinse pots, pans, and utensils in square bowls that fit nicely in my kitchen sink. I had to buy tall containers and trim them to size. No proper dishwashing bowl would fit in my small sinks. I dump the soapy dishwater in the kitchen sink and the one used for rinsing in the toilet. This makes for my tanks filling at a more equal rate and saves me a dumping trip.
Lastly, I do recognize that all this extra equipment needed for my rig costs money. But the initial outlay paid off handsomely. In the end, it is really a choice of how the money will be spent (it will be!) and how this will have a direct bearing upon one’s lifestyle. RV campground fees can run quite high. Some require reservations. All must make maximum use of the land and limit space used for each camping site. For me, the choice was a non-debatable issue. When I turned 65, I knew that I wanted freedom and independence over any other consideration. And the great outdoors. And a dog.
Sadly my two dogs passed away two years ago and the grief was so intense that I could not take to the road for many months. But in the spring of 2008, I adopted a 6-year-old English Mastiff and was ready to hit the road again. Even in the Desert Southwest, one can get broadband internet. A Verizon air card and monthly fee later, I have been able to set up my blog, send an email, surf the net, and view videos on my PC.
I use Skype on my internet connection for $2.95 a month. My expenses for communications are eminently reasonable. Primitive sites in National Parks, State Parks, Forestry roads, National Forests, BLM, Corps of Engineers, and too many more to list here are accessible in comfort. Again, I suggest a Google search. Answers will be either available on websites or in books. I am quite satisfied with my choice. I get to enjoy the great outdoors and its many wild creatures in delicious freedom, at a more than reasonable cost, and last but not least, the comfort of home and all in one spot. Basically, home is where I am at any given time. I turned 70 years old on April 2, I am self-sufficient and independent on a minimal pension income. Life is sweet.