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Solar on the roof

December 9, 2018 Leave a comment

Way back in 2005 or so, we bought a 30 watt solar panel and controller to feed our 2nd battery in our VW Westfalia. I did ‘engineer’ an aluminum mount so that we could point it towards the sun. It worked, very well, and life continued.

We sold the Westfalia in 2013, but we wanted to continue camping and bought a Nissan Xterra. We acquired a Koolatron Kool Wheeler 12VDC cooler, and a 100 watt Grape solar panel from Home Despot, with controller. We discovered that, after adding gizmos to allow us to point the panel at the sun, we could keep that cooler cool, all day long.

Then we bought the Lance trailer in late 2013 and we’ve been using these two panels in various ways to keep its ‘house’ battery up to snuff. We also bought a flexible 100 watt panel to aid in this, as the Grape 100 watt solar panel was kind of heavy to deploy.

Latest addition is a Nissan NV van, and a second ‘house’ battery in it. The collection of ‘portable’ solar panels was building up, and what we had was all tactics and no strategy.

Blinding flash – put some solar on the roof of the trailer. Yep, without being able to angle it towards the sun, it wouldn’t be as efficient, but solar panels are getting relatively cheap, so we could add, as necessary.

So, that’s what I completed today. The original 30 watt panel from 2005, the Grape solar 100 watt monocrystalline panel from 2013 and a polycrystalline 100 watt Grape solar panel are now on the roof of the Lance trailer, combined in parallel, feeding a 20 amp PWM solar controller, which, in turn, feeds our Group 29 (110 amp hour) ‘house’ battery.

Experience from our last trip, when we had no power connection (and without the second Grape 100 watt panel), has led us to believe that this 230 watt solar configuration will be more than we will need. In the trailer, the fridge and furnace will run on propane, you just can’t run the a/c or microwave without 120VAC/generator, so most of the needed 12 VDC current requirement is pretty limited.

Here they are:


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Van awning

August 14, 2018 Comments off

After a day in the baking sun with no  shade, we decided that we wanted an awning for the van. Looked at Fiamma, but they were heckish expensive, so I trolled around Google and came across the Rhino Rack Sunseeker 2.5 meter awning. It’s made in the land of Oz, which is only worth pointing out because I don’t think I’ve ever bought anything made in Australia, except when I was physically on the continent.

The supplied fittings couldn’t be made to work with our van’s roof, so I got a local metal fabricator to make up some brackets that could.

And here it is:


And here it is unfurled (but not tied down):


It has a channel running along the front edge where we plan to hang screen material.

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2018 Rocky Mountain Trip Part 2

July 7, 2018 Comments off

In the last post to this blog, we left you cliff-hanging in Estes Park, CO, and the Rocky Mountain National Park. In truth, the sheer drops got the better of my heights phobia, and we turned around before getting to the top of the road. Awesome, anyhow.

Next day we set off to tour south east on hwy 36 and then back up the valley of the interestingly named ‘Big Thompson River’. Here be anglers (whilst we ate packed lunch):


Off we set, back down hwy 34, and then headed north, for a quick stop in Rawlins, WY. Rawlins has a pretty nasty history, exemplified by its state penitentiary. It also has two outstanding things:

A museum, which, amazingly, is pretty darn well curated.  It has an old covered wagon in the back – like an early RV…


and Rawlins has, surprisingly, a most excellent Thai restaurant.

Next up was Lander, WY. At a nice clean RV park with wifi that actually worked, for a change.

Almost by chance, we went to Sinks Canyon State Park, which is along a stretch of the ‘Popo Agie’ river. (pronunciation impossible)

When the river is at normal levels, it ‘sinks’ under the rocks, but when it is in full flood, it rushes down the canyon above ground. Which is what it was like when we arrived:

This is where it is supposed to disappear under ground.


This is just a picture of water.

There’s a trout pool a little downstream, and my, those trout are huge!


Dubois, WY was next. It is apparently pronounced ‘DUboys’, apparently as a protest at having a fancy french name imposed upon the town. Whilst we were there, everywhere was closed, but the Longhorn Ranch RV park was pretty nice, right along the river.

Onwards we went – close to the Tetons:



through Jackson (tiresome tourist destination) over the Teton Pass (holy moly, this is darn steep), and down, down, down to flatland – Idaho Falls.



B started having a little cough here. Nothing much, but some breathlessness.

We thought it might be about spending so much time at high elevations, or maybe an infection.

After a couple of nights, we started out north again, and headed to Lima, MT. Funky little one horse town in the middle of beautiful nowhere. We trundled along the 30 mile dirt road to the Red Rock Lakes National Wildlife Preserve, but it was apparently too windy for any wildlife to come out, according to a ranger. To be fair, it would have been better if we had come here at dawn or dusk.

By this time, B was having problems walking any distance, and she asked me to drive her to the place where we had dinner – most strange indeed, as it was only a few yards away.

So, we talked about this, and resolved to visit an urgent care facility in Butte, MT, the next day.

4am the next morning, B wakes me up and says, ‘I’m not going to make it to Butte, call 911!’

Long story short. A volunteer emergency ambulance crew turned up 30 minutes later, and take B to the little hospital in Dillon, MT, 45 miles away at 95 mph. I, gamely, follow, at legal speeds.

First suspicion is infection, so B gets hooked up to antibiotic infusions. A CAT scan shows blood clots in her lungs, so the antibiotics are stopped and heparin started.

6 days later, she is discharged from hospital (Yay, Medicare and MediGap – not a single dime does it cost) and we run for home down Interstate 15 with our tails between our legs.

Here’s what it looked like out of her hospital room window.


B is now stabilised on warfarin, and is doing OK.

But, holy fucking shit.

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2018 Rocky Mountain Trip part 1

July 6, 2018 Comments off

Knowing what we know now, and looking back, this trip started out with so much promise, and delivered on much of that. It was only later that dark clouds loomed, metaphorically, at least.

But this episode covers the early, optimistic, part of the journey.

May 18, we set off east on Interstate 8 east towards Yuma, where we were set to spend the night with Lew, a retired San Diego motorcycle cop, who we’ve met a few times, and have grown to have warm affection. He has his yard set up to not only accommodate his own trailer, but that of visitors as well. We spent the extremely warm evening imbibing all sorts of weird alcoholic devices and eating great steaks and fixings. In the morning we took photos and made our gratefulness obvious (we hope!).

This is Lew with B…


And with me 🙂


Then we set off for White Tanks Regional Park near Phoenix, which was as hot as Hades. We stayed for a couple of nights, and researched our new hobby – finding CVS pharmacies which actually stock the Rx refills that B needs.

On and up (in elevation) to Fools Hollow campground in Show Low, AZ. Lovely location, but we hope they didn’t pay the folks who laid their roads. But at least it was relatively cool compared to Yuma and Phoenix.

Next was an amble through north eastern AZ and western New Mexico via El Malpais National Monument, to end up camping at a very utilitarian RV park in Milan, NM. The CVS pharmacy search continued.

From this point, we kinda followed the continental divide, and crossed it maybe 10 times, possibly more.

After a couple of nights in Milan, doing exceedingly interesting things like laundry, we set off north again, through extremely barren high country which seemed to have an extraordinarily high number of christian missions to first peoples.

Through Farmington, CO and Aztec, CO, we made our way to Vallecito Resort RV park, a little east of Durango. The wifi sucked mightily, but at least the owner was honest about it. But, this area is a delightful little out of the way place in Colorado, and we were happy to stay there.




We checked out Durango, especially to figure out whether it would be a good thing to take the train to Silverton, but the heat and ‘touristiness’ of the place made us feel less than enthusiastic.

So, after a couple of nights of Vallecitos Lake solitude, we set off on the ‘Million Dollar Highway’ north from Durango, through Silverton and Ouray, ending up in Montrose for a night. Oh my, what a trip! 5mph twisties, up and down and around and around.



Here’s the weird town of Ouray


We set off towards Denver, stopping at Elk Creek campground, which was great.


Next day we backtracked to Black Canyon of the Gunnison. I confess that my fear of heights overwhelmed me…



We mosied on over to Pagosa Springs, and holy moly there are some springs there…


On the way back, we spotted chimney rock, and spent a little time there:ChimneyRock2

After this we went way up high (12,000 feet) over the Rockies, north and east to an RV park in Wheatridge, near Denver, for the weekend to visit B’s brother.

Which was just wonderful.

So, then we broke loose and went north west to Estes Park. And Rocky Mountain National Park:




Next episode up in 3,2,1….

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bit as tri-state

May 10, 2018 Comments off

Everyone knows that a computery bit is a 2 state thing. It can be either 0 or 1.

Not sure about that. In SQL Server T-SQL, it can also be ‘NULL’. That makes it tri-state.

Which turned out very useful in an application I was working on.


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Van Mods part 3

April 28, 2018 Comments off

Well, after the freezing camping episode, I hied me to Home Depot and got some ‘batts’ of Rockwool insulation, persuaded pal Bruce to allow me to use his garage to empty out the van, take the shelves down, remove the side panels and install some insulation behind them.

Well, that is a huge improvement, if only in sound deadening, as we haven’t tried camping in it again, yet. There’s nothing to see, because the insulation is behind the panels, so no photos.

And yesterday, we took the van back to Commercial Van Interiors in Kearny Mesa, to have them install roof insulation and headlining.

They proposed using Reflectix Double Reflective Insulation, but when I dug down into the detail, it seemed that for this application, the insulation wasn’t too good, an ‘r’ value of just 2. Compromising, we had them install a double layer of the stuff.

So we got a double-double, as it were.

On top of, or under, that (depending on your perspective) they installed headlining, which is awesome.



Now, we’re almost ready to go camping in this van. What we’re waiting for is a roof access ladder to go on one of the rear doors. We already have a bike rack that will hang on the ladder.

So, come on So Cal Truck Accessories & Equipment in Santee, you’ve had our money for a while. Where’s our ladder! Grrrr!

Next up: a short trip to Rancho Jurupa Regional Park next week. After that, we’re ready to rock. AZ, CO, WY & MT, here we come.

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Van Shake Down Trip

March 30, 2018 1 comment

It was a bit like the curate’s egg – good in parts!

We took the trailer all of three miles from its storage to Dos Picos County Park and stayed for two nights.

The idea was to camp in the van and only enter the trailer if we had forgotten something or the van camping experience went pear-shaped.

We seem to have planned modestly well. We lacked a bread knife, decent corkscrew, enough pans to saute shrimp and prepare frijoles at the same time. Other than that, we were pretty self contained.

Oh, except it would be nice to have a ‘water thief’ and a short length of potable water hose to make filling our 5 gallon water container a little easier.

The power center worked well – charging up phones and such. We tested both hooking up a 110 VAC charger and the solar panel (not simultaneously, of course!) and both seemed to work as expected.

B reports that our ‘poor man’s’ porta-potti (a Home Depot-like 5 gallon bucket with a toilet seat atop it) worked OK and didn’t fall over.

We also discovered that the best way to keep the chiller connected whilst driving was to use the onboard inverter outlet in the rear of the van, which only supplies juice if the ignition key is on. This is safer than using one of the new 12 VDC outlets – which could draw the ‘house’ battery down if we forgot about it.

Now for the bad news. We haven’t yet insulated the van. The temps dropped to 39 degrees overnight. Despite having a 1500 watt electric fan heater working full blast, it was just. too. cold. for us California wimps. I (Simon) decamped to the trailer first, turned up the furnace to 11 and went ‘Aaaaaaaaah’ and slowly stopped shivering. B showed up a little later, cold to the marrow.

That said, the legacy inflatable mattress and new double sleeping bag was pretty comfortable, and I guess that if we’d thought about it, we did have extra blankets (one of them 12 VDC heated) which might have made things acceptable, but at 11 pm in the freezing-ish cold, and there’s a nice warm trailer right there 10 feet away…….

Anyway, that, right there is where the shakedown ended.

We need to insulate the van.

We need to make sure that we don’t stay in cold places with it until we have insulated it.

That’s not too big of a list, is it?

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