Monday, January 21, 2019

Day 13 - Quartzite, AZ

The first talk of Quartzfest was this morning. There was a vendor providing free coffee, which was nice as it is a bit breezy this morning. This first session was mostly about portable power systems and PowerPole connectors which are somewhat standardized within the amateur radio community.

Last night was a total lunar eclipse and even though there were high cirrus clouds for most of the day, it was clear enough to get some photos. Challenging as manual exposure and manual focus was required to get any photos at all.

Today, Dom came by with his rig. He worked on the Ural some. After all, watching someone else work on their motorcycle qualifies as a spectator sport. Tom, the neighbor from across the wash, came over. He is here at Quartzfest with his 2013 Ural Gear Up that he brought out in an enclosed trailer along with his radio equipment. 

Sunday, January 20, 2019

Day 12 - Quartzite, AZ

This morning, we met one of the YouTube RVers that I regularly watch. Dan & Jen Nevada. They were in the LTVA camping area down the road. They have some of the more entertaining videos along with campground reviews including Thousand Trails. It was fun to meet them and they are as friendly in-person as in their videos.

We also met Matt aka Nomadic Native on YouTube but he was pretty busy upgrading from 6xCG2 flooded batteries to four Lithium Iron batteries. Probably 1/4 the weight and 50% more useable battery capacity.

BTW, Verizon throughput is pretty minimal so not many pictures. It’s been high cirrus clouds for most of the day so the battery bank didn’t recharge completely. I have the generator running now to try and get us to over 90%. It takes a while with the stock converter. 

Saturday, January 19, 2019

Day 11 - Quartzite, AZ

We are in Quartzite in the Roadrunner BLM area about five miles south of Quartzite. There was quite the traffic jam in Quartzite due to the RV show that started up yesterday. I knew that it was going to be crowded as there have been a number of YouTube videos showing all the crowds for RTR and the RV show setup. But I am here for Quartzfest, an AARL amateur radio convention which starts up tomorrow afternoon. This is our first real boondocking experience for multiple days. In the past, we’ve stayed without hookups for one or two days but never for more than that. We had plumbing issues that I believe have all been resolved.

We’ll see how it goes. Since we’ve been here, two cups of coffee with the Keurig and homemade chicken noodle soup in the Instant Pot. Batteries are still at 92%. I’m curious as to how much power we use on a typical night with temperatures down into the mid-40s (°F). If you go outside now, there are a lot of generators running. I’m glad that there are none around us.

Update - All of the generators were off by 8pm. 

Friday, January 18, 2019

Day 10 - Benson, AZ - TT

Today was our last full day at the Valley Vista RV Resort. Tomorrow, we pack up and head west. Most of the day was clear, sunny and windy with highs of 23 mph. It was rocking the trailer pretty good for most of the afternoon. Hopefully, it'll be less tomorrow and that's what the forecast claims.

By 6 pm, the wind has pretty much died down. Enough to get some packing done outside. The chairs and front mat are packed away, the tanks are empty and flushed out, and we have 60 gallons of water between the built-in fresh water tank, hot water heater, and the water jugs. Because of the full water tank, I went ahead and aired up the trailer tires to 80 psi (cold) and since I had the compressor out, I aired up the rear tires on the truck back to 90 psi. They were both a little different but I never bothered to fix it as they were still well within their load capacity. At 90 psi, they are rated at 3890 lbs per tire or 7780 lbs for the rear axle in a single rear wheel (per side, obviously) configuration. At 80 psi, you need to subtract about 250 lbs/tire. That is still over the rear axle weight with the trailer connected but not with a full tank of water.

I ended up going to a local clinic here in Benson. The PA gave me some antibiotics and some stuff to help with a never-ending cough. I think it was starting to bother Bridget. Anyway, it turns out that the local clinic, which is attached to the hospital, doesn't accept Aetna. I wonder how much of that we are going to run into.

Thursday, January 17, 2019

Day 9 - Benson, AZ - TT

This morning, we went to the Sierra Vista farmers market. It was a very nice day and the high temperature is forecast to be 69°F. This musical group was performing at the farmers market so I enjoyed their music while Bridget was looking for produce. When we were in Sierra Vista a couple of days ago, I noticed that there was quite a difference in fuel prices from Benson. So today, we filled up in Sierra Vista for fifty cents per gallon less than the Love's truck stop near Benson. I had heard that the stations along the Interstates were more expensive.

I filled up the propane tank that we have been using for the last week so we will be heading to Quartzite with two full tanks. When we were in Bend with similar overnight temperatures, one propane tank only lasted about four days. We have been on this tank for eight and it was about ⅔ used. I think the electric heater really makes a difference. I also filled up the gasoline container for the generator and I picked up two five-gallon water jugs from Tractor Supply. After filling up the plastic gasoline container, it looked like it was leaking from the cap. This was a container that I had brought from home and had just assumed that it was in good shape. So back to Tractor Supply for a plastic gas jug.

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Day 8 - Benson, AZ - TT

We've been here at the Valley Vista RV Resort in Benson, AZ, for a week. Today, they had a barbecue chicken lunch with all the food provided by the campground. It wasn't bad but it was a free lunch. It has been partial overcast for most of the time that we've been here but surprisingly, the solar panels have been almost able to keep the batteries charged. By almost, I mean that it completes the bulk charge phase but doesn't complete the absorption phase. I'm thinking that with the lower sun angle, I may need a couple of hundred watts of additional solar panels in addition to the four hundred currently on the roof. I had sized the whole system to support eight hundred watts. We'll see how things go while boondocking in Quartzite next week. It's common to tilt the panels to compensate for the lower incidence angle of the sun but the loss is about 35% relative to the summer solstice. In my opinion, if you have the roof area, just add more panels and not mess with tilting. If you don’t have the roof area, tilting is your only option.

Even though it has been partial overcast, it still doesn't prevent me from taking advantage of the jacuzzi. The water temperature is around 104°F so pretty nice. Today, I was asked if I was from Canada as they seem to be the only ones who take advantage of the pool. They were from Quebec and travel around the U.S. in their Mercedes chassis class B motorhome. Another nice, relaxing day.

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Day 7 - Benson, AZ - TT

Not much exciting today. I filled up the fresh water tank and due to the long fill hose from the side of the RV to the water tank, it took 35 min. That’s only like 1 1/2 gal per minute. I think that I’ll pick up a couple of 5 gal jugs and use them to fill the freshwater tank while we boondocks. That’s just too slow if refilling at a business. I’m trying to come up with a way to fill the tank with a pressurized line and have the existing fill hose be the air escape from the tank and overflow.

We drove into Tucson to pick up some items that aren’t available in Benson. Then we stopped in Benson to look at some of the murals. And get some ice cream at the shop on the Main Street. A huge selection of soft ice cream. Something like fifty flavors. Then back to Safeway for more groceries. I’m trying to pre-cook some meals to minimize water usage. We’ll see if we can last nine days boondocking. I think it’ll be a challenge for us. 

Monday, January 14, 2019

Day 6 - Benson, AZ - TT

This is the shot of the installation of the dual-band radio in the truck. The support is a gizmo that fits into the pretty much-unused CD slot on the stock radio. It has a magnet on it to hold a cell phone with a metal plate glued on. I found a lightweight steel angle at Ace Hardware and drilled a new hole for the 1/4-20 screw on the head unit. It looks fine though I don't know how much it'll vibrate. This unit supports cross-band repeat. Directions are on YouTube since they aren't in the owners manual. Cross-band repeat allows you to communicate with this mobile unit using a low power handheld and it repeats your audio out on the higher power 2M radio.

I tried it out using the one watt setting on the UHF Baofeng handheld and connected to the repeater here in Benson. Again, not sure if anyone monitors the repeater but I did receive the identification morse code from the repeater so I believe it works.

We didn't go anywhere today. I wrestled with the cover on the cargo carrier so I could fit the bicycle on it again. The cover is still a little damp so I really should spread it out so it can dry.

Sunday, January 13, 2019

Day 5 - Benson, AZ - TT

It was sprinkling this morning but it quit by around 10. We headed into Sierra Vista, a town around 30 minutes south of Benson on hwy 90. Bridget had a few stops to make and this was the closest yarn shop. It is a town of about 45k and so it is much larger than Benson. The indoor shopping mall was pretty small though still larger than anything back home. On our way back to Benson, there was a border patrol check. They had cameras noting the license plate numbers followed by a 15 sec talk with the officer. He basically commented on the weather in AZ compared to AK.

No pictures from this trip as there really wasn’t anything noteable. Or at least, I didn’t find anything. The sunset this evening was blocked by clouds.  I did finish the dual-band radio with a metal bracket from Ace Hardware. This mounts to the detachable head unit and sticks to the magnet on the CD slot phone mount that I picked up from Amazon last Summer. I originally was using it for the Baofeng HT.

Saturday, January 12, 2019

Day 4 - Benson, AZ - TT

Feeling better today, especially after seeing the -40° temperature back in Fairbanks. I’m glad to not be there. It did get down to freezing last night but between the electric ceramic heater and the propane furnace, no problems. I am amazed that the electric heater puts out enough heat to keep the trailer warm until it drops below about the mid-40s (°F). Then the propane furnace kicks in. This morning, there was breakfast at the RV park clubhouse. I was a late arrival as most of the others there were finished and just about ready to leave when I arrived.

This morning, I went into town to pick up another cable to lock the bike replacing the one that was cut somehow. The one I found at Tractor Supply wasn’t quite as heavy as the old cable but it is longer making it easier to lock. BTW, Tractor Supply is a great store to wander around in. I found all sorts of stuff for projects.

I also picked up 10 awg wire, connectors and fuses to hook up the Icom radio. The wire gauge is slightly overkill for the 50 watt VHF/UHF rig but not for a 100 watt HF rig. The red and black connectors are Anderson Powerpoles. I had not used them before but had picked up a pack of 30 amp connectors and the crimp tool from Amazon. They are sort of a standard among the radio community. I followed the recommended norm of running both positive and ground directly to the battery terminals with a fuse installed in both the positive and negative leads. I’m not sure why they recommend two fuses.

This is the head unit for the gifted (thank you Andrew!) Icom 2800 dual-band (2m and 70cm) radio. I’m still reading the manual but I believe that I have it configured for the 2M repeater here in Benson. I can key the mic and get the morse code identifier from the repeater but no one answers. I’m not sure if that is due to a misconfiguration of the radio or just no traffic on the repeater. This project kept me busy all afternoon. To relax, I then hit the jacuzzi. There were four others there, one couple from southern MN recognized me from back in November when they first arrived.

Friday, January 11, 2019

Day 3 - Benson, AZ - TT

Even though 38°F was the low temperature this morning, I’ll still take it rather than the 74°F colder temperature back home. I turned up the furnace some as this trailer doesn’t seem to have much insulation especially in the floor. I think it relies on the trapped air in the heated underbelly to warm the floor. If we ever get a different RV, better insulation and double pane windows will be on the list. With the furnace running, the interior warms up fine though it doesn’t maintain the heat very well. Back in Sunriver, OR, we were going through about 30# of propane every 4 days. But it was getting to below freezing at night. The forecast for today is 60s (°F) and partly cloudy.

Lots of sunshine today but, unfortunately, not really feeling well enough to enjoy it. The cold/cough was getting a whole lot better until the flight down. I’ll blame it on fatigue. It’s 60°F right now and Bridget just came back from the jacuzzi. She said it was boring...

And no nice colors on the western horizon tonight. We are still getting things organized within the RV. I think the one item that I need to get moved is the bicycle. I was going to pick up a new lock over the last couple of months but, for some odd reason, no one in Fairbanks carried bicycle locks.

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Day 2 - Benson, AZ - TT

This morning after a decent "free breakfast" at the hotel, I packed up all of our stuff in the truck and we headed for the RV storage lot in Benson. Which was about 35 miles southeast of Tucson. No problems, we removed the cover, reconnected the ground wire to the battery bank, turned on the battery cutoff switches and breakers and we were on the road within an hour. The RV park isn't full so parking was straightforward even though the right angle back in spots are usually the most challenging. De-winterizing the water system took a bit of time and I still have a few more tasks but for now, it's time to relax.

Sunset from the RV roof
I must admit that I was a bit concerned about leaving the truck in Tucson as well as wondering what I was forgetting with the trailer. My reason for the concern is that some 35 years ago, someone broke into our work van in Tucson. In many hundred thousand of miles of travel, the only place a vehicle was broken into was here. But then again, the only thing taken was a case of beer from the ice chest.

But, now that we are set up again at the RV park, I feel like I can relax again. It would be great if it was clear and sunny but I'm not going to complain about the temperature. But we did pick up an electric heater from Walmart this afternoon so we can use campground power for heat instead of our propane. Since it’s not getting anywhere near freezing, it should be fine...

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Day 1 - We Made It!

Shirtsleeve weather when we were waiting for the shuttle. Pretty nice. The truck is fine, it started up without a problem. It looks like it survived storage here in Tucson. The hotel and room is a bit rough but good enough and you can’t beat the parking rate.

Ran into a lot of familiar faces on this trip most headed south but one couple headed back to visit a sick parent. Visiting in the Seattle airport made the time pass quickly. Tomorrow, we pick up the trailer and head back to Benson, AZ. 

Traveling Light?

Well, I never claimed that we were minimalist, ultra-light travelers. Oh, and this pile doesn't include all of the carry-on stuff. The green suitcase and the black/yellow tote are the additional items when compared to last November. Fortunately for us, Alaska Air has the 49er's club for Alaska residents. On any flight to/from Alaska, you get two checked bags for free per person. And if you are flying within the state, three bags free. This is a really nice perk. Thank you Alaska Airlines. The tote is the only item even close to the weight limit and the dogs are $100 each. And they don't get to accumulate mileage for their flights. We are heading south tomorrow morning...

Monday, January 7, 2019

Getting Ready to Go

The weather has turned grim as evidenced by the exhaust from the power plant (right center) not going straight up but flattening out and turning towards the ground. Normally the warm exhaust rises towards cooler and cooler air. But now the colder air is near the ground, the exhaust heads down. This is due to a temperature inversion.

The danger associated with a temperature inversion is all the smoke and other particulate exhaust gets trapped near the ground. Ice builds up on the particles and you have ice fog which you could breathe in and the soot particle is now in your lungs. Our home is barely high enough to be above the inversion. If you are above the inversion, the temperature can be considerably higher than the low areas such as near the airport or North Pole, AK. For example, right now it's -37°F in North Pole, -35°F at the Fairbanks International Airport and "only" -24°F here at the house. There is a reason to get a home in the hills around here...

It's now time to start packing for Arizona. Back in November, I brought back the ActionPacker on the left with some tools that I thought I would need. The bin on the right is full of gifts, faucets, filters, etc. for the RV. Also in the pile of stuff are two radios gifted to me from Andrew. They had belonged to his dad who was a ham radio operator before he passed away. I'm taking down a dual-band, Kenwood HT which is probably much better than the Baofeng HT that I had picked up last year and a 2M, 50 watt mobile. I've tried the Boafeng HT in AZ but it didn't have enough power to hit the repeater. This Icom mobile has ten times the power but I haven't been able to test it since I don't have an antenna here. The Icom also needs a little bit of repair and the tools are in AZ

Also in the pile are three Raspberry Pi 3's and one Pi 2 (spare). The Pi 3's are for charge controller monitoring, Kodi media server, and 70 cm DMR hotspot. I brought them back so I could update the software using the faster Internet at the house. I plan on bringing some food items down such as my homemade granola, that delicious ramen I found at Costco and some Chinese sausage that was on sale at the Asian food store on Aurora. Maybe I'll bake up another batch of cookies as well if there is room.

Saturday, January 5, 2019

Pursuing One's Dream

My middle son (30 years old) has been dreaming of moving to California for years. A few days ago, he asked for a ride to the airport which is where this picture was taken. He is waiting for the Delta counter to open. There has been a lot of discussion and concern about this move from many people but sees anyone suggesting potential problems is just trying to prevent him from pursuing his dream and keep him in Alaska. At this point, I haven't heard anything so I'll assume that he is on his way south. He has been on his own in Fairbanks for a while. We did manage to convince him that some things couldn't be carried on the plane or checked as baggage such as his unboxed television.

Update - We heard via Facebook Messenger that all was fine and he was in a house in Long Beach with ten other people. He also called and said the same thing. 

Winter Weather...

Yesterday morning (Thursday), it was a relatively moderate -2°F. By yesterday evening, it was -20°F. The trend continued today and by noon it was down to -24°F. I had an AARC (radio club) board meeting that evening and was originally planning to ride the Ural. That didn't happen. Not a good time to be in Fairbanks. The weather reports from Arizona have not been very uplifting either with lows below freezing and snow in Tucson. Fortunately, I do have my snow scraper and brush in the truck. I never expected to really need it in Arizona.

From the first picture, you may be able to tell that I replaced my Apple Watch. The display on the last one, known as Series 0, had almost completely died. I was kind of disappointed at its relatively short life but was intrigued by some of the new features of the new Series 4 such as heart monitoring, the electrocardiogram, and fall detection. And the new watch face with way too many options to keep one "informed". Plus, the simplistic fitness challenges were usually enough to keep me motivated. The screenshot on the right is showing activity with completed circles being the goal. As you can see, I have been keeping up even with my head cold.

I just picked up a burner phone for my middle son who is apparently moving to Los Angeles tomorrow. He asked for a ride to the airport tomorrow morning and was supposed to cancel his GCI phone today. I couldn't believe all of the steps needed to activate this phone. I don't see how they expect the average person to accomplish it. The ATT activation site wouldn't run on Chrome or Safari but did work on Edge. Handy to have this Windows 10 machine around I guess. Then you had to type in the SIM number, the IME number, and the service zip code. Then the site wouldn't accept the ATT prepaid number on the website but would accept it on the phone. What a pain. Anyway, he now has a phone with a Long Beach, CA, phone number and a few hundred minutes.

It's -29°F right now. Heading south is sounding pretty like a good idea...

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Ivory Jacks

I’m feeling much better today. Maybe, almost “normal”, The jury is still out on what “normal” may mean in my case. This evening, we went is search of a Alaska experience for visiting family and settled on Ivory Jacks. A bar and restaurant in the Goldstream Valley. It had tons of posters and dog sled paraphernalia on the wall. In fact, we saw a dog sled go by while walking out to the car. Unfortunately, no one had their phone ready for a picture.

That wasn’t the case while we were waiting for our dinner. Since I was the only one not messing with my phone, I stepped back and took a picture. After dinner, we went over to the Goldstream store as it sort of typified to me an Alaska rural store. Baskets of potatoes and onions next to bins of peanuts and dog food. Some local craft items and a small selection of groceries. For several years, this was my local grocery store as I had lived in the area. I don’t remember ever going into the old Ivory Jacks as that required money. As a graduate student, I didn’t have any to spare. The original building burned down around twenty years ago but was rebuilt within a few years.