Friday, August 18, 2017

Meeting up With Mike

This morning, I had another opportunity to meet up with Mike Saunders. an intrepid Ruckus traveller. I had originally met Mike several years ago when he was near the beginning of his last trip. Since then, Mike has crisscrossed the country multiple times from Key West to Prudhoe Bay and Baja to Labrador. After being in Fairbanks for the last couple of months, it is now time to venture south again before the snow flies. This time the Ruckus was mostly unladen before he heads south to Wasilla before heading towards Canada and points south.

I think that this may be a good time to start tearing into the Ural. I usually don't ride when the snow starts to fly. The weather is pretty nice in September but without third gear, the Ural isn't really very rideable. When hitting a hill, you are relegated to 30 mph unless you can make it up at least 50 mph. 

Monday, August 14, 2017

Road Trip Summary (Cont.)

The question has come up on what, if anything, we would do differently. There are a few things. Traveling through the desert in the summer was silly. But one of Bridget's must see destinations were the Utah national parks. And one of the things that I had scheduled was the MOA rally in Salt Lake City. Given the MOA history of having the rally in some miserably hot areas, I won't have the rally as a destination again unless it is really convenient and somewhere cooler.

I would've scheduled our travel days differently. Maybe travel for a day or two then stay put for several days. We wouldn't cover as much ground but that was never the goal. We used a planner/calendar put out by a full time RV couple on this trip to keep track of where we stayed each night and how many miles we traveled each day. It was useful information as I had pre-filled in the campground reservations as I made them. This allowed us to see how far we needed to travel between those reservations. And reservations were only needed if we wanted to stay in popular areas such as near national parks especially if it was the weekend. We were generally unable to camp in the national park campgrounds as most of them could not accommodate an RV longer than 30'.

Making reservations the day before worked well enough especially when we could use an app to look for a campground. Many times, the campgrounds would fill up by early evening so it's better to arrive at your destination by mid-afternoon. Most of the Walmarts no longer allow overnight parking. Mostly due to local ordinances. Many of these local ordinances were put in place due to pressure from private RV parks and campground organizations such as Good Sam's. Another reason is there are many that abuse the free RV parking. Examples of abuse are using it like a campground (lawn furniture, awnings, etc), sleeping in your car (no RV), or staying multiple days to months instead of simply overnight.

To us, the only useful time when overnight parking made sense was when we simply needed a place to stop when we were traveling between locations. We used Harvest Hosts for some of these and a casino for another. Walmart or a rest area would've been a last resort.

It would have been really convenient to have some sort of motorbike on the trip. I saw a number of RVs with rear mounted carriers with modest sized bikes and scooters. I wouldn't use a carrier that only fit into the receiver hitch but would reinforce it with some attachments to the trailer frame unlike the one pictured.

I think this post will be continued later. Including a list of apps that we used.

On the maintenance front, I pulled out the anode rod from the RV water heater today as I suspected that it was in pretty poor shape. I had no idea how poor it was. On the right is what a new anode rod looks like. This is a picture from Amazon. Below is what the anode rod from our water heater looks like. Quite a difference. It's essentially completely consumed.

The purpose of the anode rod is to protect the steel parts of the water heater from rusting away. It is made from a magnesium alloy that will corrode faster than the steel components in the water heater. All that is left of this rod is a thin layer of metal on the steel rod in the center which provides mechanical support. If the water heater tank starts to rust away now I know why. Fortunately, it isn't leaking but I should plan on replacing it in the near future. As part of the winterizing process, the water heater is usually drained by removing the anode rod. It's an opportunity to check its condition. Last October, I had asked the previous owner about draining the water heater and he said that he had never done it. I didn't have a 1⅛" socket with me at the time. I had brought one with me on the trip but I had forgotten to check the water heater.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Road Trip Summary

Some basic trip stats:
  • 92 days on the road
  • 89 days outside of Alaska
  • 12 days in Canada
One of the limiting factors for our trip was I couldn't be out of the state for more than 90 days according to the state retirement system.

Here are some camping statistics.
  • 50 nights in private RV parks
  • 17 nights in public campgrounds with and without hookups
  • 6 Nights in family/friends home (Whitehorse, Woodland, Corvallis)
  • 6 nights driveway surfing (Helena, Sun River)
  • 4 nights using Harvest Hosts
  • 3 nights in motels (Fort Nelson, Prince George, Merrit)
  • 2 nights at Walmart
  • 1 night camping w/tent (Hood River)
  • 1 night casino camping
Most of the camping had some sort of hookup including one of the Harvest Host sites. The hot temperatures forced us to look for campsites with power so we could run the air conditioner. I only used the generators once at one of the Harvest Host sites to run the air conditioner for a couple of hours. Most of the public campgrounds had generator restrictions as does Walmart.

The leaking black tank valve really limited our ability to boondock. The fresh water tank overflow was not connected to the overflow on the fill so anytime we were off camber, such as at a rest area, we would lose water from the fresh water tank. Even if we started out full in the morning, by the afternoon we lost some percentage of our fresh water. We ran out of water once after only 2 days of dry camping. It should've lasted much longer than that since we weren't using it for cooking or showers.

The battery bank and solar panels worked great. No issues. The lowest we ran the batteries down was 65% of capacity or about 150 amp-hours. We never had a day when the batteries weren't at 100% by evening. The converter was never used to charge the batteries. We never had to "ration" the power and regularly used the induction cooktop, rice cooker, Keurig coffee maker, electric fans, computers, microwave, TV, furnace, CPAP machine, etc. all off of the battery bank. We did have to try and remember to switch the refrigerator from "auto" to "gas" when the inverter is on. Otherwise, the refrigerator would be a continuous 350 watt load on the battery bank. It may be an idea to add four more solar panels just to power the refrigerator while traveling. I think that 90% or our cooking was on the induction burner and only 10% was on the stove. The oven was only used to store frying pans.

The Ubiquity network setup worked well. I needed to downgrade the Ubiquity firmware at the one campground that was still using WEP. Having the Nano allowed us to connect to almost all of the campground wifi including the Google wifi available at one of the Starbucks next to the Rock Springs Walmart. Where campground wifi wasn't available, I could connect the Ubiquity to either my AT&T iPhone or Verizon iPad. The iPad service was more for emergency use only as I only have 1GB of capacity available. We did not use a cellular booster.

The Berkey water purifier was probably the best addition we made. We were never out of great tasting water and we never bothered to sanitize the fresh water tank as we did not use it of cooking or drinking. I do have to come up with a way to secure the Berkey for travel in the trailer. For this trip, we always moved it onto the floor of the back seat of the truck for travel.

The air conditioner was nice to have since it was so hot. But it struggled to keep the temperature in the trailer much more than 10°F cooler than the outside temperature. An option is to rewire the trailer for 50 amp service (new electrical panel, new cord, new surge protector) and add a second air conditioner. In Moab, we picked up some Reflectix bubble pack insulation and put it on some of the windows. It really did help. We needed to add some to the other windows especially the picture window on the rear of the trailer. For moderate temperatures, a second fan for the living room vent would help. Though, due to the height of the ceiling, the model with the remote control would be needed.

One addition needed before the next trip are new tank level sensors. The SeeLevel II system can be retrofitted without drilling into the tanks and uses the existing wiring.

We used five 30# tanks of propane during the trip. The furnace is, by far, the largest consumer of propane. During the +100°F days, one tank would last a month. On the way back through Canada, maybe 10 days. 

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Fair Time

Now that we are back from the trip, there is just the normal running around town. On Tuesday afternoon, we stopped at Pioneer Park aka Alaskaland, as Bridget wanted to look for something at the museum. I just enjoyed looking around since I really don't stop there very often. This is the sternwheeler Nenana that has been under renovation for longer than I lived in Alaska.

Wednesday was "Senior Day" at the fair. I'm not going to pass up free admission. As you can see in the picture, attendance seems to be really down. At least from what it used to be. One of the vendors mentioned that next year they were going to raise the rate for a booth and reduce the number of days. Not what you want to do where there are already a lot of empty booth spaces. Back when a family pass was reasonable, we used to go to the fair almost daily. Not so anymore.

The normal "senior rate" is only $5 so I went to the fair again today. Partly to exchange an iPhone charge cable that I had purchased last year at the fair. The claim was that it was extremely sturdy and should last a lifetime. It lasted a month. I brought it back and the vendor happily exchanged it for a new one.

On Monday, the Ural wouldn't accelerate in 3rd gear. It felt like it was running out of fuel or something. After a search on SovietSteeds, a Ural forum, I found a description of exactly what I was seeing. There was no followup post with a solution so I sent a message to the original poster. He told me that he tore into the transmission and replaced a slightly worn 3rd gear. That fixed the problem. So I guess that I will be digging into the transmission shortly. Today, I had some errands to run and just drove the Ural in 1st, 2nd and 4th gear. It has a full tank of gas so I need to use some of it up. Skipping 3rd means that it runs up to 5k rpm in 2nd before shifting into 4th. This works fine on flat ground.

Monday, August 7, 2017

Back Home

A huge thank you to Ian for getting the trailer into the driveway and to our neighbors for letting us park it in their driveway for the weekend. Due to the steepness at the top of our driveway, the bed of my truck hit the overhang of the trailer. Ian has a flatbed with the same gooseneck hitch so the 5th wheel hitch just popped right in. The flatbed has no bedsides so there nothing to hit. Since the flatbed was longer, the back corners were watched and they cleared by only a couple of inches. This does mean I that I may be looking for either a used flatbed or possibly building one on the truck before the trailer can leave the driveway. I may also lower the hitch on the front of the trailer a couple of inches further increasing the distance between the overhang and the truck bed.

Now that it was in the driveway, we finished unloading it. The trailer really looks huge relative to the house. Tomorrow, I will be picking up several 2x10 pressure treated boards to put on the dirt behind the trailer. Then, I'll be able to back the trailer further into that area next to the garage and have it level.

Some initial stats for the road trip:

  • 13,478 miles
  • 1,035.05 gallons of #2 diesel
  • 13.02 miles/gallon
  • $3,224 for fuel 
Or about 24¢ per mile. Not too bad...

Actually, it's a bit less than that since I didn't adjust for the difference between U.S. and Canadian currencies. 

Friday, August 4, 2017

Day 91 - Tok, AK

Today was a long 386 miles (according to Google) but we had a time change in our favor. We stopped at Kluane Lake (photo below) for a late lunch before heading for Beaver Creek, the last gas station in Canada. We used the last of our Canadian Currency to get some diesel. No need to fill up since diesel would be (hopefully) cheaper in Tok. 

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Day 90 - Whitehorse, YT

Today was a lazy day in Whitehorse, YT. We switched sites at the RV park as the one that was reserved for today had full hookups. After lunch, we headed for the Copperbelt Railway & Mining Museum on the north end of town. It was a pretty small museum but the modest entrance fee included a ride around their grounds on a small train. By "small", we mean that the engine is one that is normally used inside of a mine.

This was a display of lanterns. Lots of equipment and pictures on display showing the mine in operation.
After the railway museum, we headed into Whitehorse to wander around town and look in the trinket shops. There were a lot of tourists wandering around town, almost too many. It gave the town a weird vibe. And something I haven't seen for a while, panhandlers.

We wandered down to the wharf to look at the Yukon River. It was moving pretty fast and I was amazed that all of this water was running through Miles Canyon.
The wharf area was also the end of the line for the Whitepass Railroad, which is a narrow gauge line that is mostly run as a tourist attraction.

The last photo is our campsite for the second night here in Whitehorse. For future reference, having the door neared the middle of the rig would be nicer...

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Day 89 - Whitehorse, YT

Today was a fairly short driving day. Just about 80 miles or so from Teslin Lake to Whitehorse, YT. We had a reservation for tomorrow but we went ahead and showed up a day early. They found a site for us and we will be switching sites tomorrow. I stayed at this RV park two years ago on the Ural trip and had no complaints. The sites have a lot of trees between the sites even though they are kind of close together. After getting set up, we headed for the visitors center to see what there is to do in Whitehorse. The main purpose for being there seems to be to use the free wifi. Everyone in the place was sitting around looking at their phones.

After the visitors center, we went to Miles Canyon about 8 miles from town. It is a steep walled, natural gorge that the Yukon River runs through. The water level now is about 10m higher than it used to be before a dam was constructed downstream. All of the pictures I've seen had a lot of white water. No longer after the dam was built.

I had wanted to visit Miles Canyon on other trips but it was always out of the way on a narrow windy road. Without any RV, no problem at all. We have been travelling everyday since leaving Oregon. No "down days". This is not really the way I prefer to travel. Heading east into Montana before heading north added quite a few additional miles to the trip. We are staying here an extra day as we are meeting up tomorrow with friends from Fairbanks who are just finishing hiking the Chilkoot Trail from Skagway to Lake Bennett.

Day 88 - Teslin Lake, YT

A short driving day today to Teslin Lake Government Campground. I think that in Canada a government campground is the same thing as a provincial campground since the Yukon is a territory instead of a province. We have a site with a limited view of Teslin Lake out the back window of the trailer. I've never camped here but I did camp at the now closed salmon bake restaurant next door often. If you were a restaurant customer, camping was free. They even took their customers out on the lake on a large pontoon boat.

We spent a bit of time at the heritage center where there were nice displays of wooden masks and beadwork. There was supposed to be a boathouse with some hand carved canoes. These weren't them as they were made of fiberglass. I think that they were part of a huge celebration the previous weekend. There were quite a few people straightening out the grounds and hauling away rented equipment. I think the boat house was locked as the staff was busy with the cleanup.

I believe that each of these carved poles represented a different group. At least that was our assumption based on some banners flying from the building. Not a lot of description.  The Heritage Center was well worth the $5 admission. 

We ran the microwave off of the inverter again. While running in defrost mode, it alternates between 100 amps and 5 amps DC draw off of the battery bank. I would think that the cycling may be a problem when running on a generator but I guess people do it all the time. I'm really liking the 12 volt setup. Currently, the microwave is on a separate 15 amp circuit in the fuse panel. So if I want to run it off the inverter, I need to use an extension cord. 

There is, obviously, no Internet at the Teslin campground. I think we will be at an RV park in Whitehorse for a couple of days. Some time to rest from the constant travel. So this will be posted a day late.