Sunday, April 5, 2020

Day 59, 60 - New Project - TT

Saturday (59) - A YouTube video came out today talking about RV automation. This one was done by Jason of the Getaway Couple and was decent. Not very in-depth but he was making the video for a non-technical audience. He mentioned that he was using open-source software called Home Assistant which runs on a Raspberry Pi for overall control and display. I just happen to have a Pi model 2 (which is older than they recommend) lying around but I think it'll do as a learning platform.

After downloading the package for the Raspberry Pi 2, I uncompressed the file into the Downloads directory. After inserting a 32 GB microSD card, OS X mounts the volume automatically.
diskutil unmountDisk /dev/disk2
unmounts the volume but the SD card is still recognized by the system. To copy the disk image to the SD card:
sudo dd bs=1m if=./hassos_rpi2-3.12.img of=/dev/rdisk2 conv=sync
Which returns:
2048+0 records in
2048+0 records out
2147483648 bytes transferred in 138.992654 secs (15450339 bytes/sec)

The logical volume(s) on the SD card aren't mounted automatically since OS X doesn't recognize the file system.

Now I put the SD card in the Raspberry Pi, provide power and an ethernet cord. It powers up, gets an IP address via DHCP and downloads the current version of the software. Now, I just have to wait for the slow Internet.

After a few hours, the configuration screen came up. I'm downloading a few add-ons for more flexible use such as SSH and a web-based editor.

This may take a while as this coach doesn’t have much that would qualify as IOT (Internet of Things).

Sunday (60) - Overcast but I don’t think it’s supposed to rain today. I checked the propane today and over just the last two days, we used about 1/8th of a tank. The front furnace runs a lot but doesn’t seem to put out very much heat or air. Maybe I need to remove it to clean the blower. The SeeLevel II display shows 57% but the system has not been calibrated for propane yet. I’ll do that the next time I fill the tank.

Since we are staying put for a while, I went ahead and put our mat and chairs out again and pulled the e-bikes out. If we had to be stuck somewhere this isn’t too bad of a spot. The trees have really filled in with leaves while we’ve been here. They finally locked up most of the bathrooms here in the campground. I think it’s because they were cleaning them almost hourly for the last week or so. A lot of additional work for the staff. I think they left one of them still open. They also changed the rules somewhat by only allowing fully self-contained RVs. This is a new rule as of Friday when they cancelled all new reservations for anyone arriving at any park in April. I think it was to allow anyone already in a park a spot for the rest of the month.

I finally swung out the TV that’s mounted on an arm in one of the storage bays. It’s not mounted very well as is an old Visio flat screen. I’m not sure I’ll keep it as it kind of takes up most of the compartment. This was the first time we even bothered to see it it works (it does). It was a pretty slow day.

One of the times we went to Walmart, most of the beef was sold out. In the discount bin was a package of two small steaks. Graded “prime” but marked half off. I repackaged them in a vacuum sealed bag with seasoning and a couple of pats of butter. Pulled them out, cooked them with the sous vide (they were still frozen) at 131°F for 90 minutes. Finished them off in a frying pan for about a minute on each side. They came out better than any steak I’ve had at any restaurant, ever. The sous vide is a fabulous way to cook…

Friday, April 3, 2020

Day 58 - Change of Plans - TT

If you read my post from yesterday, you would have seen the notice that Thousand Trails posted on their FB page. It's interesting that they opted for that method of communicating as their webpage still has not been updated. I contacted the office here at the park to ask about extending our stay through the end of April. They were flooded with phone calls this morning so after an hour or so, I walked down to pick up the paperwork and pay the 50amp surcharge. Now that I got confirmation on the extension, I changed our reservation in AZ into May and will cancel our reservation in Nevada. When I hear from the glass place, I will reschedule the appointment for May.

I really commend TT for stepping up and doing this. Some of the TT parks, such as those in Riverside County in California are being forced by local government to close along with anyone else offering short-term housing such as hotels/motels, AirBnB, RV parks, and campgrounds. We stayed at two of the four parks in Riverside County last year and I remember that the majority of the residents were annual and seasonal. The actual number of short-term guests was small. It'll be interesting to hear what happens. If all those people need to move out, they would essentially become homeless as their RV is their home.

As you can see, a cold front seems to be moving through the area. But according to the weather forecast, it is supposed to be warming up tonight. Not that it really matters as we have absolutely no plans to go anywhere or do anything. We just refilled all of our prescriptions and picked up groceries. I am still looking for a ladder but that really isn't in the essential category. Maybe the next time we go to Walmart.

Forty-four days. This will be the longest that we've ever stayed at one campground. I wasn’t too worried about the 1100 mile drive in these social-distancing days as we were planning to dry camp and only needed to stop for fuel twice. And with the Love’s app and the TSD fuel card, there is no reason to talk to anyone. But being able to shelter-in-place is probably a better choice these days.

BTW, I filled up the Prius yesterday. Regular unleaded gas was $1.259/gallon and the EFS app was reporting diesel prices around $1.40/gallon. Why are fuel prices dropping?

Thursday, April 2, 2020

Day 56, 57 - Gordonville, TX - TT

Wednesday (56) - I'm not sure why I'm still bothering to put the day count in the blog post titles anymore. The travel restrictions will probably mean that I won't be able to make it back to Alaska within the 90 day period. I heard that Alaska Airlines has dramatically reduced the number of flights overall and there are no longer direct flights to Fairbanks anymore. I don't see much change in the next 30 days.

But, it's really nice out today so I shouldn't complain about things I have no control over. I just called our next RV park and they said no problem. Call the office as soon as we arrive and they will show us to our site with their golf cart. We picked this location due to its proximity to Phoenix (within an hour) in the hope that our windshield problem could be fixed. I will call the mobile RV glass company early next week to re-confirm our appointment.

The forecast from today on is for occasional showers but no really warm days so I may pack the bikes away. Besides the one ride to the Dollar General store, a couple of trips to the lake, and riding around the RV park, they haven't gotten a whole lot of use. This picture of the foot of our leveling jack may demonstrate how wet the ground has been while we were here. I never realized how wet Texas could be.

Thursday (57) - This morning, I went into the small town of Whiteside, which is about 11 miles south of here, to pick up some groceries. I wanted to have enough for our travels to Arizona in a few days. While we have power and time, I am preparing dinners for the trip as there is no real plan for the trip. All we know is that we are leaving here on Sunday and arriving at another RV park on Wednesday.

I also figured that the inside drivers' side rear tire probably could use more air. I started up the coach engine and used the air pressure from the engine-driven compressor to top off the tire. It was 96psi and I aired it up to 108psi. There wasn’t anyone on either side of us so I figured it would be okay to have the engine running while I added air. The last time I filled the tire was in Harlingen, TX, so it doesn’t lose the air that quickly. I suspect that it is the valve extension.

A notice from the Thousand Trails FB page makes me think about staying put…
To our valued members,
As we continue to navigate the evolving situation surrounding COVID-19, we are committed to working with our members and employees to maintain a healthy environment.
In light of recommendations by the CDC and local health authorities to limit unnecessary travel as well as the shelter in place guidance in effect in many areas, we are making extensions available upon request to those members currently staying at our Thousand Trails campgrounds. Members may stay in place beyond the limits allowed by their membership contracts, without additional/new fees or charges, through Thursday, April 30, 2020.
For those members who elect to extend your reservations at your current location, we are requesting that you login to the membership portal at to cancel any upcoming reservations previously made. This will help our teams accommodate members that are impacted by the shelter in place guidance throughout the Thousand Trails campground network.
… (I deleted the rest of the notice as the only relevant section is in blue above)

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Day 54, 55 - Lake Texoma, TX - TT

Monday (54) - This post is sort of a followup from the video I posted on the my last blog post. After the video uploaded, I started to wonder about some of the missing locations. It took me a while to remember where all of these places were. And these are just those since we picked up this coach in Georgia. Not the ones from the last trip which ended in Alaska last May.

  1. Clarksville, TN - Cracker Barrel free RV parking - 1
  2. Kearney, NB - Cabella's free RV parking - 1
  3. Laramie, WY - Private RV park - 1
  4. Snowville, UT - Private RV park - 1
  5. Baker City, OR - Private RV park - 1
  6. McMinnville, OR - Harvest Host - 1
  7. Corvallis, OR - County Fairgrounds - 5
  8. Sunriver, OR - Thousand Trails RV park - 7
  9. Redmond, OR - Freightliner Parking lot - 2
  10. Sand Hollow, ID - Private RV Park - 1
  11. Springville, UT - Walmart free RV parking - 1
  12. Payson, UT - Walmart free RV parking - 1
  13. Santaquin, UT - Harvest Host farm - 1
  14. Milford, UT - City Park free RV parking - 1
  15. Leeds, UT - Private RV park - 5
  16. Las Vegas, NV - Thousand Trails RV park - 6
  17. Virgin, UT - Private RV park - 3
  18. Page, AZ - Private RV park (no picture) - 2
  19. Cameron, AZ - Private RV park (no picture) - 2
  20. Black Canyon City, AZ - Harvest Host cafe - 1
  21. Casa Grande, AZ - Encore/Thousand Trails RV park - 7
  22. Tucson, AZ - County Fairgrounds - 7
  23. Benson, AZ - Encore/Thousand Trails RV park - 14
  24. Tucson, AZ - County Fairgrounds - 1
  25. Tucson, AZ - Casino free RV parking - 1
  26. Ajo, AZ - Private RV park (no picture) - 2
  27. Quartzsite, AZ - BLM LTVA - 7
  28. Casa Grande, AZ - Encore/Thousand Trails RV park - 14
  29. Needles, CA - Private RV park - 31
  30. Picacho Peak, AZ - BLM - 1
  31. Benson, AZ - Encore/Thousand Trails RV park - 4
  32. Deming, NM - Harvest Host winery - 1
  33. Anthony, NM - Harvest Host winery - 1
  34. El Paso, TX - Private RV park - 4
  35. San Elizario, TX - Harvest Host farm - 1
  36. Marfa, TX - Roadside turnout (no picture) - 1
  37. Big Bend Natl Park, TX - Private RV concession - 4
  38. Kernville, TX - Cracker Barrel free RV parking (no picture) - 1
  39. Lakeville, TX - Thousand Trails RV park - 14
  40. Harlingen, TX - Encore/Thousand Trails RV park - 14
  41. Del Valle, TX - Harvest Host farm (no picture) - 1
  42. Whitney, TX - Thousand Trails RV park - 15
  43. Gordonville, TX - Thousand Trails RV park - 18
Lot-docking: 10
Harvest Host: 6
Encore/Thousand Trails: 113
BLM: 8
Other RV parks: 69

Tuesday (55) - I think I counted the days about right, though I may be a couple of days short. They were probably in Thousand Trails (TT) parks. In December, we upgraded from the TT Camping Pass with two zones to the Basic Elite membership. The upgrade had a pretty steep one time upgrade fee but the annual fee is about $700 which includes access to the Encore RV parks. In the last seven months, we used our TT membership for 55% of our nightly stays and stayed in RV parks for 87.5% of the time. So far, the TT nightly cost is $6.19/night. Compared to the average RV park at ~$30/night or even the bargain Needles monthly rate at $10.60/night (+electricity). What the membership gets us are three week stays, 120 day reservation window, and being able to go park to park within their system. This was nice here in Texas and we think it’ll be really nice when we venture to Florida and the east coast. We made a slew of reservations starting in June for parks along the OR coast just in case we opt to not return to AK this summer.

Along with the TT membership, we have an Resort Parks International (RPI) membership. These parks aren’t free though the nightly cost is heavily discounted. We have yet to try them out. And this is not a very good time with all of the uncertainty. Hopefully things will improve by the middle of May.

BTW, the Apple Watch virtual badge for the March challenge- was for walking 58.6 miles. I was 3.75 miles short today so guess how long my walk was today. Just over 3.75 miles. What to do in an RV park when everything is shut down. 

Sunday, March 29, 2020

Day 51, 52, 53 - Lake Texoma, TX - TT

Friday (51) - We are still here at Lake Texoma Thousand Trails and I really don’t have much to complain about. It's nice to at least have somewhere to be during all this uncertainty. Sure, it would've been great to be here without it as their facilities do look pretty nice. Maybe next year. I did hear that TT was only extending people up to April 7th. I wonder what is magical about that date?

It did continue to warm up throughout the afternoon but nowhere near as warm as yesterday. I dug out the Baofeng BF-F8HP and needed to re-download Chirp, an open source tool to program radios, to the MacBook Pro as well as install Python which is used by Chirp. It turns out that there are only three repeaters in the area. But having the NOAA weather broadcasts could be handy.

Here was today’s “project”. Chicken pot pie with chicken made using the sous vide. This may be something many grew up with but it’s new for me. It looks good though Bridget gave me a hard time since there is no bottom crust. Sigh.…

Saturday (52) - Rain and thunderstorm last night but it's nice and cool right now. At 64°F with a light breeze, it is almost perfect weather. One of the neighbors was here for maybe one day then left. Maybe he came by to make sure everything was alright. He was kind of grumpy.

We have no plans for today. I picked up a frozen turkey something. It turned out to be the front half complete with bones. After it defrosted in the refrigerator for a couple of days, I deboned it and have most of the meat in the sous vide (133°F for 26 hours) and the rest simmering on the stove. Turkey noodle soup I believe. That's actually enough for about 5 days so most of it will be going into the freezer in vacuum sealed bags.

We heard on YouTube that the Orlando TT park had the same policy of extending peoples reservations until April 7th. Then they need to move on. Again, why April 7th?

Saturday evening - Some googling on April 7th brought up a lot of stories of state and county shelter in place decrees that listed April 7th as the end date. Some examples I found were California, New York, and Illinois. I will be surprised if the end date isn’t extended.

Sunday (53) - Bored. Made a video of most of our campsites since I picked up the coach in September. Thousand Trails or Encore is “TT” and Harvest Hosts are “HH”. Just an observation but I don’t think we’ve had to pay for an RV space since the end of January.

Thursday, March 26, 2020

Day 50 - North Texas - TT

This morning we ventured out to the Petco in Sherman, TX, pick up some essentials such as dog food, cat food, kitty litter, cat treats… Do you see a trend here? We also went to Walmart to pick up a few more groceries. I was shocked when I saw Bridget carrying a package of TP. I didn’t ask how many people she had to fight off to get it. Actually, the store wasn't sold out of everything like the place I went to last week and there were a lot of signs limiting the number of any item you were permitted to purchase. It seemed like most (but not all) people were following the rules. I did not see a single heavily loaded grocery cart. Bridget did encounter a senior trying to run off with a bunch of TP. Apparently, he didn’t get far. Some things were still in short supply such as chicken, cold cuts, dry beans, rice, paper products, and some cleaning supplies. I did find just about everything on my list.

We forgot a few things and the Dollar General store down the street had them in stock. Even though it’s 87°F outside, I thought it would be a good idea to make a batch of brownies in the convection-microwave. Really going to test out that A/C today. I don’t think it’s shut itself off in the last couple of hours.

Well, at least it’s not raining. And look at all the propane we’re not using… Fairbanks has gotten a lot of snow over the last couple of days.

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Day 47, 48, 49 - Lake Texoma, TX - TT

Monday (47) - Slight change of plans this morning. Originally, we were planning to leave this campground next week and head for a small RV park in Oklahoma so Bridget could visit her brother and niece. Instead, I extended our current reservation for several days and she is planning to drive into Oklahoma and visit for the day. There are reports of some Thousand Trails campgrounds being forced to close by the local government ostensibly to keep outsiders out of their towns. Just in case that happens in this town, I wanted the flexibility to just leave and head west without needing to look for another place to stay in the area.

Fortunately, it wasn’t a problem changing our reservation using the online system. I stopped by the office to pick up new cards for the RV and the car with the new reservation information.

These are just a couple of pictures taken in the campground while walking back from the front office. The bright pink flowers in the tree don’t show up very well.

Tuesday (48) -It’s 76°F and sunny right now. Finally decent bike riding weather. I rode around the park and out to the highway along the back roads. I found out that the Dollar General store has been rationing out their inventory and they are open for seniors only from 8am to 9am. That’s a pretty good policy.

According to the Apple “stalking app”, Bridget is at her brother’s home in Oklahoma right now. I believe that her niece is also there taking care of her dad. At least for now. I just noticed when looking at the map that GA was 200 miles closer than Arizona. I didn’t realize that we were that far east!

We are here for another week and a half before heading west. According to Google Maps, it’s 1,069 miles to our next reservation in Arizona and we have four driving days. That seems reasonable. At least that’s the plan for now. But like anything these days, it’s subject to change by factors outside of our control.

Wednesday (49) - Another nice, sunny morning. Perfect day for a bike ride down to the lake. I was curious if the color would change with the blue sky. It didn’t look quite a mud-colored but still not really blue. This picture is taken next to one of several boat ramps which are not part of the TT park. We passed a dead (run over by a vehicle) snake on the way back. At that point, Bridget decided to not walk in the woods.

Both of our neighbors have returned here at the campground. And the place seems to be filling up. TT has even been willing to allow people to extend their stays beyond what the rules normally allow. We didn't opt to extend past our limit as we could've stayed for up to 3 weeks.

This is the temperature at 6pm today. Definitely on the warm side (some people are never happy). This was forecast to be the warmest day of the week. The air conditioners are running fine and we are in the afternoon shade. Especially when we can have the awning out.

Sunday, March 22, 2020

Day 45, 46 - Lake Texoma, TX - TT

Saturday (45) - We needed to run the furnace last night for the first time in quite a while. It hit 39°F last night but hopefully, we’ll see warmer temperatures for the rest of our stay here in northern TX. This morning, we went to a Walmart in Madill, OK, a small town of about 3800 people. Bridget wanted to pick up some office supplies. I did find some eggs and a few other grocery items but there were a lot of empty shelves. The cashier said that the store was inundated earlier in the week by a lot of people from cities in Oklahoma and Texas.

We crossed over Lake Texoma and the water was the same shade of brown as the dirt. I’m thinking that the runoff from the heavy rain must carry a lot of soil. There are a lot of pictures of the lake with nice blue water. The one thing I'm not sure I like about Texas is the lack of terrain. There are hills but not really any mountains.

By late afternoon, it had cleared up but only warmed up to the upper 50s. The forecast is for more rain tonight but it's not supposed to be windy or cold. That's a step in the right direction. We walked to the entrance of the park as I needed to get out of the RV and get at least a little exercise. It was about 1½ miles round trip so it was a least something.

Sunday (46) - BTW, I don't know if I had mentioned it but Bridget took this MacBook Pro to the Apple tech at the university. He had changed the logic board but had forgotten to re-serialize the new board. I.e. Embed the serial number of the laptop into the firmware of the logic board. He took care of it and Bridget brought the laptop back with her. Now everything works. The lack of serialization broke odd things such as the ability to unlock the laptop with my Apple Watch. A feature that I had really gotten used to. It wasn't essential as the laptop does have a fingerprint reader which works fine. Another oddity was that I couldn't open the support website. And it wouldn't let me delete the old instance of the logic board on iCloud. So some software wouldn't run due to licensing issues. Anyway, it's fixed now. This laptop is so much nicer to use than the MacBook (non-Pro) that I've been using since August.

It didn't quite hit 60°F today but was close. More significant is that there was no wind. I walked down to the office to browse their ice cream selection. There was a discussion between the staff and another camper regarding the seven days out of the system requirement. The staffer thought that TT may make an exception but they (office staff) weren't able to do it. The camper needed to call the 800 number. She wasn't very happy. I hear that there are a lot of RVs on the road right now as people are trying to make their way back home. Not really an option for us. But I did pick up a pint of Nestles Toll House ice cream.

Friday, March 20, 2020

Day 44 - Planning...

Too cold today to spend outside! The wind is making it feel much colder than the temperature suggests. And, it’s pretty wet. I didn’t realize that Texas gets a lot of rain.

So, we spent a good part of our day trying to plan what to do next. I had only reserved sites through this park near the Oklahoma border back in January. After that it was pretty open. Bridget wants to visit her brother in OK. We head northeast from here and after a few days east of Oklahoma City, we head west towards southern Arizona. I made another reservation at an Encore Park allowing us about four long travel days to get there. According to Google Maps, it’s 1,168 miles so they will be long days. Since I hear that Texas is  “RV friendly”, we plan to dry camp all the way to Arizona. We’ll see how that goes. Fortunately, we don’t really need to interact with many people as we can travel over 500 miles before even needing to consider filling up. But, the low fuel prices here in the Midwest are going to be missed. According to the TSD Logistics app, they are down to $1.45/gal in OK.

I have an appointment to get the windshield repaired in Arizona as we will be there for a couple of weeks. Then another couple of travel days gets us to Pahrump, Nevada where I just received confirmation for a month long stay at another RV park. This will take us through most of May. We are hoping that this gets us through this round of craziness. The Arizona and Nevada parks are so we can get a 50amp site to run both A/C units. It may be starting to warm up.

Thursday, March 19, 2020

Day 43 - Lake Texoma, TX - TT

I heard last night from what I consider a reliable source, that recreational and other non-essential travel into Canada is blocked for at least the next 30 days. This applies to all non-Canadians. Since we were not even thinking of driving through Canada in the next month or two, it’s not an issue. We are sort of wait-and-see right now.

This is only the second time that we’ve used the tire covers. Since a couple of the tires see full sun during the day, it seemed like a good idea. These are made by MagnaShade and they pack pretty small. If you know how to fold a bicycle tire, you know how to fold these. I have to remember to put them on ass soon as we stop as once the leveling system dumps air pressure from the air bags, there isn’t enough room to get the elastic cords over the tire.

I went to pick up groceries today and there were a lot of empty shelves and signs limiting how many of some items you are allowed. The only items they didn’t have in stock that I had on my list were eggs and dried beans. I dug out the bike and rode down to the boat ramp. It was really windy at the lake but not at our site. So the electric motor got a workout even when going downhill.

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Day 42 - Lake Texoma, TX - TT

Today was an average travel day. About 3½ hours. We filled up the coach again at a Love’s truck stop. Only $1.61 per gallon using the TSD Logistics service. A discount of 72¢/gallon! I think that’s about the least I’ve paid for diesel in a long time. I used the Love’s iPhone app. When we pulled up, I just entered the pump number and the control number for the card and the pump was on. Pretty painless and I didn’t need to talk to anyone. We are at another TT park and it really seems pretty nice. Too bad that everything is closed but it’s still a nice place to park ourselves for a couple of weeks. It looks like the occupants of the rigs on both sides of us are gone. At least for now. In fact, there are quite a few rigs with no vehicles. Maybe people went home...

This is a small inlet near where we are camped. It doesn’t look too nice but it is really overcast. There were a couple of people fishing but not having much luck. Warm temperatures and very humid. I’m glad that we were able to get a 50amp site. This is significant to us as we are then able to run both A/C units. We were originally given a site suggestion by the office but when we started to unload the car, someone stopped by and suggested a couple of other sites that were much more level. After our site at Lake Whitney, level sounded good. The office wasn’t aware that these sites were empty. I guess people are leaving before their reservations are up. I’ve talked to a number of Canadians who are heading back north ahead of schedule.

Three leveling blocks were still needed under the front wheels so they wouldn’t be in the air but it’s nice to be level. For now, it’s calm enough to have the awning out. It shades the refrigerator so it stays colder.

“Social distancing” is pretty easy in these RV parks especially after they close the activity centers and cancel any group activity. Even the front office has a sign that says only one person at a time at the counter. There is probably 50’ minimum between rigs.

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Day 41 - Georgetown, TX

This morning, we went back to Georgetown, TX, to visit with Fairbanks friends Barb and Wayne. After lunch, we headed onto the extensive network of trails near their home. Even though subdivision housing was barely a stones throw away, it was very quiet. Most of the trails were easy walking like in this picture.

We stopped at a cairn garden where Wayne added another stone to a memorial to one his college advisors. The rocks here look volcanic so some of the cairns had a lot of “character” due to the unusual shapes of some of the stones. According to the trail rules, this is the only place you are allowed to build cairns.

There are several dry washes running along and across the trail system and they fill up during heavy rain. This gully must look pretty spectacular when filled with water.

These markers are throughout the trail system. Roughly every tenth of a mile. Since this is a senior community, the markers are to help emergency services locate an injured hiker. You would just let them know the number on the last marker you passed. At least, I think that’s how it was explained to me.

It was great to see Barb and Wayne again. Thank you for the wonderful afternoon. 

Monday, March 16, 2020

Day 40 - Whitney, TX - TT

I think that this meets the definition of spring equinox i.e. 12 hours of daylight. Not really sunny but not raining either. Even with spring break here the campground is still pretty empty again. A few people showed up just for the weekend. The site next to us has been occupied the entire time but there hasn’t been anyone there. Maybe they are one of the seasonal occupants.

Tomorrow, we are driving back to Georgetown for the day to visit friends again who used to live in Fairbanks. After that, we are headed north to another Thousand Trails (TT) park near the Oklahoma border. It’s supposed to be the nicest TT park in TX. So I’ve the

The local grocery store was advertising a daily special of “chicken and pickles on a stick”. Of course, I had to try one. I asked the clerk if it was good. The reply was a non-committal “some people really like ‘em”. It was pretty good though a bit salty between the spicy batter and the dill pickle chips. It needed some blue cheese or ranch dressing.

There have been several times over the last couple of months that we would arrive after a travel day and notice that the safety chains on the tow dolly have come loose. These are the safety chains that loop around the lower suspension arm to the tow dolly chassis not the ones that connect to the hitch. They just drop into a key shaped slot. We had stopped at a Tractor Supply store shortly after arriving at this campground and I picked up two 18” lengths of chain. After clipping it to the end of the existing safety chain, I not only ran it under the frame to prevent it from moving in the slot but ran it through again and fastened it back to itself and the existing chain. Maybe overkill but better safe than sorry. BTW, avoid using a tow dolly if you can.

What’s happening with our travels? Well, since we aren’t on vacation, the closures of places like theme parks, museums, and restaurants don’t really affect us much. It will limit activities but since April 15th is just around the corner, that’s probably a good thing. We are still planning to stay at another TT park in northern TX. They have probably canceled activities and closed the pool but that’s all right. After that, we plan to venture into OK for several days to visit family then head back to AZ to an Encore park south of Phoenix. That is where we hope to get the windshield taken care of. After that, plans are sort of fuzzy. We’ll just need to stop at truck stops a couple of times and plan to dry camp as we cross TX and NM.

We’ll be watching to see what happens with the Canadian border. Today, they closed the border except to residents and U.S. citizens. But there is a lot of discussion about clamping that down to just commercial traffic.

Sunday, March 15, 2020

Day 37, 38, 39 - Whitney, TX - TT

Friday (37) - After an early morning thunderstorm, I headed north to Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport. I started out using Waze until it put me on a toll highway. I turned off but I think I accumulated a toll of 32¢. I need to find the online site for Texas tolls. So much for Waze. I switched back to Google Maps combined with the built-in Toyota GPS. The flight was slightly delayed and Bridget said that the flights were only half full. I guess people are opting not to fly.

We stopped at Huddle House in Joshua, TX. I was expecting a copy of a Waffle House but the menu was much more extensive. The inside looked like the building used to be a Waffle House due to the layout of the tables. The food was decent.

There are significantly more RVs here today. I think that this is the beginning of spring break.

Saturday (38) - Not much happened today. I still have the tanks drain valves closed and I'm watching the levels. For all three tanks, the lower half is most of the capacity. For the holding tanks, the tanks are about 15” high and kind of "U" shaped (side profile) so my guess is that from 40% to 100% is maybe ¼ of the total capacity. With the water tank shape, the upper 50% is an even smaller percentage of the total tank capacity as it is an "L" shape and runs the entire width of the coach. Not knowing how full the holding tanks were was a big problem when we were boondocking. Less of a problem was not really knowing how much freshwater we still had in the tank.

I think that the tank monitor was only the 3rd major accessory that we added to the coach. The Progressive Industries EMS to monitor the incoming AC power, the Victron battery monitor to monitor DC power usage, and the SeeLevel II tank monitor. I'm thinking that I will still be adding some solar. I now have several ideas on how to do it without drilling holes in the roof. Unlike the 5th wheel with it's TPO roof membrane, this coach as a fiberglass shell for a roof. Drilling holes could cause cracks to form. I've come up with several solutions for mounting panels. One is a metal frame such as Unistrut that is anchored to the edges of the roof. By edge, I mean along the side and not the top. The other uses 3M VHB tape with panel mounts with a larger footprint. I'm skeptical but the spec for 3M VHB tape is 90 lbs/square inch in tension. Shear strength isn't specified.

It's 5pm now and the rain has started again.

Sunday (39) - It was 55°F this morning and it felt chilly. Since rain is in the forecast for the next couple of days, I went ahead and put the bikes away as well as the outside mat. Much easier to do it now than in the rain. Still playing with the SeeLevel II system to get an initial calibration. The black tank was at 75% which meant that the much smaller upper portion of the tank had about 3” left. That seems like a good number to consider as max. There may be enough room for two more flushes or so. The grey tank read 46%. That was  three loads of laundry, several showers, and half a dozen dish washing. We heard that the combo washer-dryer uses about 12 gal per load. So the grey tank was about 65% full.

In a few weeks we will be heading back towards AZ with 4 days of roadside dry camping along the way. It will be nice to have accurate water and waste tank levels.

Thursday, March 12, 2020

Day 36 - SeeLevel II Installation - Part 2

Black Tank
This morning, I pulled out the fiberglass panel for the wet bay. Actually, pulled out would be a generous term. I removed the screws and the door supports and was able to pull the panel out around 6". I reached behind the panel and removed the hot and cold water lines to the outdoor shower/faucet. This allowed me to pull the panel out around 6" further. This was enough room to clean the surface of the black tank and mount the sensor. Cleaning was done with Simple Green followed by rubbing alcohol. Enough to get rid of any grease. The 3M adhesive on the sensor strips is supposed to be pretty good. I used the awning rod to pull two wires from the other side of the bay and wired in this sensor. I didn't bother with the Gorilla tape on this sensor as I was confident that the sensor would work in this position. You may notice that the bottom of the sensor is around 2" above the bottom of the tank and about 1" from the top. This is due to the angled and curved corners of the tank but would provide us with the information we need. The level at the bottom doesn't really matter and if we are an inch from the top, that's full enough.

Grey Tank
When I had peeked behind the panel back in December, I had assumed that the black and grey tanks were roughly rectangular tanks sitting next to each other. Completely wrong. The black and grey tanks are some sort of Tetris arrangement which, I guess, is to distribute their weight as much as possible. I was able to find a vertical surface that was at least 12" high to attach the grey tank sensor. Unfortunately, it was in an almost inaccessible location on the passenger side adjacent to the frame rail. I could reach the top of the surface and maybe 6" down but couldn't see it at all. I cleaned the surface using a Swiffer floor cleaning tool then used rubbing alcohol on a couple of paper towels connected to the Swiffer.

After cleaning the surface, I trimmed off the "grey" tab on the sensor and attached a wire to the paper covering the 3M sticky surface. After positioning the sensor near the top of the tank, I used the wire to pull off the paper while pressing the sensor to the tank blindly. At least in the picture, it looks like it's pretty well lined up. And like the black tank, the bottom of the sensor is approximately 2-3" from the bottom of the tank. I then started filling the tank using the shower and the kitchen sink. After about 10 minutes, the display registered 6%. I believe that the bottom couple of inches is the largest part of the tank and probably holds maybe as much as a quarter of its capacity. After tying up the sensor wires, I bolted the access door and tested it one more time. It felt good to get this project done. I'll do a followup review in a couple of months but I think that the SeeLevel II is a worthwhile addition to the RV. No more guessing. I did finish installing the freshwater sensors (no more Gorilla Tape) and after more careful positioning, the display now reads 53%.

Rain is in the forecast for later today so I kind of wrapped things up including covering up the bikes and putting the awning away. It's been nice to be able to sit outside in the shade and spreading out tools and such on the picnic table.

Tomorrow morning, I head back to DFW to pick up Bridget. 

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

Day 35 - SeeLevel II installation - Part 1

I started the SeeLevel II installation this morning after yesterday’s internet searches. Step one was getting the water pump to work. There are two water pump switches. Power runs to the switch in the wet bay on the common contact. Wires from the other two contacts run up the second pump switch on the monitor panel above the door. The common contact on the second switch powers the water pump. Step two was running power and a ground wire to the panel. The pump indicator light has it’s own wire and I connected it to the common contact of the pump switch. This way the light is on when either pump switch is turned on. The old monitor panel is on the upper right hanging on a screw while I clip test, crimp, and heat shrink each connection.

The white/green wire on the original panel is the propane level sensor according to the document I found on the Internet. It connected to a green wire in the coach. I connected it to the green wire on the SeeLevel II panel which is for the propane sensor. At this point, the water pump works, the battery monitor shows the house battery voltage, and the LPG shows roughly the propane level (79%). It still needs to be calibrated. That will be done the next time the tank is filled. When the tank is full at 80%, the display will read 100%.

Only one blue wire remained to be connected. It goes to the blue wire on all of the tank sensors. I used the freshwater sensor wire, which is red on the coach. I assumed that it ran directly to the existing sensors on the freshwater tank. At the tank, the new sensors were connected to a red and white wire within the wire bundle The white wires on each sensor is connected to chassis ground which happens to be the white wire within the same bundle. The ES sensors are 12” long and are divided into 8 segments. The freshwater tank is 23” high so one segment needed to be cut off of each sensor. A small tab needed to be trimmed off of the top sensor to identify it. There are other tabs to identify the black and grey tanks. No tabs trimmed off is the lower water sensor. Since the total length of two stacked sensors is less than the height of the water tank, I positioned the bottom of the lower sensor about a half-inch above the bottom of the tank to account for the thickness of the tank material. The top is about 2” below the top but with the freshwater tank, the lower half is more important than the top as you want to know when the tank is almost empty. Due to the “L” shape of the tank, there isn’t a linear correlation between the tank percentage and gallons.

With the grey and black tank, the upper part of the tank is more important. I.e. It’s more important to know when they are almost full. You can see the water level in the upper picture and it’s right above where the two sensors meet. The display reads 50%. I have the sensors mounted with gorilla tape to test the system with the door closed. Once the final position has been determined, there is 3M adhesive tape on the sensors for mounting. The directions say to avoid metal within 2” of the face of the sensor. This is difficult with the water tank as there is metal on all of the surfaces of the bay containing the tank. In the picture, you can see that the sensor is not quite 2” away from where the door would contact the gasket. I have the door closed but not bolted shut to test as I still need to run at least one wire over the top of the tanks to the wet bay. That is where the black and grey tank sensors will be located. The minimal configuration needed for the system was to tell the system that I’m using two stacked sensors for the freshwater tank. There is also a diagnostic display that showed a signal level of 96% and 14 segments. The resolution of the system according to the manufacturer is ⅜".

To access the other two tanks, I need to partially disassemble the wet bay as the fiberglass panel blocks access to the tanks. It hit 85°F today I just worked on the freshwater tank as I was able to work under the shade of the awning. No awning on the other side. That will be part 2 of the SeeLevel II installation.

Tuesday, March 10, 2020

Day 33, 34 - Whitney, TX - TT

Monday (33) - We drove to the Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport (DFW), this morning as Bridget headed back to Fairbanks for a few days. DFW is located about half way between Dallas and Fort Worth. Lots of freeways, lots of traffic all moving very fast. Very stressful and it took just under two hours. The rain didn’t help. On the way back, I stopped at a Walmart to de-stress a bit and picked up some salsa and cheese for the “taco Tuesday” potluck tomorrow here at the park.

I put the awning back out as the next couple of days are supposed to be sunny and warm. And, yes, I did plug the lights back it. They are currently set to seven colors, gradual changing colors about every 20 sec. I like them. Very relaxing…

Tuesday (34) - It’s 72°, sunny and dry. A nice day to relax outside the RV. Here is an unusual photo of actually using the Windows machine. The software for the RD-5R DMR radio only runs under Windows. I thought I'd check out the local repeaters. I can't reach the DMR repeater with my 5 watt HT and, so far, no traffic on the analog repeater.

The "task" for the morning was baking chocolate chip cookies in the convection oven. Most of them made it into the freezer. At noon, there was a very lightly attended "taco Tuesday" potluck. By lightly attended, I was the only non-staff person in attendance. But the tacos were good. I'm just about ready to start the SeeLevel II installation. Many steps involved to identify the different circuits plus fabricating an adapter for the panel. The new panel is smaller than the original panel but it turns out that the cutout behind is small enough to be covered by the new panel. Now, I just need to figure out the old wiring. Of course, there is no documentation with the RV.

One of the initial oddities were why does the water pump switch have three connections. That’s when I remembered that it is a two-way switch as there is also a pump switch in the wet bay. I found this diagram on the Winnebago site that explains the wiring and how the little indicator light for the pump get’s lit. Now to figure out the wiring for the sending units. The SeeLevel II only uses two wires signal and ground for all three sensors. Plus a third wire for the propane level sensor. I found another wiring diagram with a similar display unit that lists wire colors. Tomorrow, I’ll pull at least the water tank door and check the color of the wires and see if they match.

Sunday, March 8, 2020

Day 30, 31, 32 - Whitney, TX - TT

Friday (30) - There are a lot of closed campsites. These are campsites behind us (the back of our coach can be seen on the left) and the red bags circled are the closed sites. I think I count only 7-8 other RVs in our camping loop which has over ten times that many sites. Though it does make it really quiet.

Yesterday afternoon while enjoying the warm weather under the patio awning, I noticed that the led light strip on the awning tube had a tiny 4-pin connector on the end. I had seen wiring inside of the RV cabinet with the same connector but didn’t know where it plugged in. After testing the connector to measure the voltage and polarity, I plugged it in. It worked! There are no buttons other controls on the led control module. It cycles through seven colors. I googled the label on the module and found a picture of an RF remote which was also in the cabinet. No labels on the remote just buttons for “On/Off”, “S+”, “S-”,  “M+”,  “M-”,  “B+”,  “B-”, and “Pause”. Further googling I discovered directions. Speed, Mode, Brightness and the other two are self-explanatory. And it included a list of the 25 modes. Fortunately, one of the “strobe” wasn’t the one last selected as the battery in the remote is dead. It is an A23 alarm battery. Now, I just need to figure out how to get the wiring out to the awning tube (it rotates) so I don’t need to constantly plug and unplug the connector. Another project.

We went to Georgetown today to visit friends who used to live in Fairbanks. We stopped at a Buc-ee’s just north of Temple along the way. In case you hadn’t heard of Buc-ee’s before, they are ginormous travel centers, aka gas stations, with close to a hundred gas pumps and store the size of a large grocery store. Huge place. Lots of travel food, trinkets, and other stuff you may need/want while on a road trip.

BTW, Buc-ee’s had the A23 battery for the LED RF remote and it works great. So far, we settled for “mode - static cyan”.

Saturday (31) - Back to somewhat dreary weather. I think there is rain in the forecast for during the week. Not a good time to have the windshield worked on. The quote I received from a glass shop in Waco was 50% higher than it was in Arizona plus, they aren’t even mobile. I would have to bring the RV into their shop and leave it for 24 hours minimum. Not going to work.

After a bit more googling, I found the installation instructions for the led strip. If the led strip is installed on the roller, they say to remember to disconnect and remove the controller before retracting the awning. So there is no easy way to leave the controller plugged in. I would need to climb up on a ladder and plug the controller into the led strip each time we wanted to use it. Not very user-friendly. They suggested attaching the led strip to the side of the RV just under the awning and running the wire into the RV. Our awning extends over the kitchen slide so that isn’t going to work. Oh well, we may need to get a ladder sometime. I brought a ladder with us on the 5th wheel trips. It came in handy.

Sunday (32) - Another kind of dreary day though the sun did show through by early afternoon. This is Whitney Lake. It is a Corp of Engineers property and the Thousand Trails shoreline is undeveloped. It's still only 56°F but at least it isn't windy here as we are surrounded by trees. I dug out my laptop and am taking advantage of the purchased WiFi to do at least some of the pending updates. I'm sending the laptop with Bridget to Alaska so the tech at the university can add the serial number into the firmware. I guess you need special (Apple only) software to do it. The software updates are going to take forever as they are all of the Microsoft Office programs and their updates are huge.

Not much else going on today. I put the awning away since there is rain and wind in the forecast again. I know it may seem silly but seeing the led lights and not knowing how to turn them on was bugging me. For now, the wiring has been put away for now.