Friday, February 28, 2020

Day 23 - Back to South Padre Island

We headed back to South Padre Island to visit the sea turtle rescue center. This was right next to the bird and nature center that we visited on Monday. There are five species of sea turtles that can be found around South Padre Island and they are all endangered. Until to 1960s, sea turtles were harvested for a variety of reasons (remember turtle soup?). But that has pretty much been stopped. Now the very slow process of increasing the population is going on.

A lot of injuries still occur from props, fishing line and the turtles eating plastic trash. The hospital here gets new arrivals on almost a daily basis. What is depicted in the mural is a prosthetic device being developed allowing the turtle to swim after the loss of limbs. The next picture is the device attached to a large turtle. Most, but not all, of the turtles get released back into the wild but the loss of limbs make them easy targets as their only defense is speed.

They had a good talk as part of their education program and this facility has been going for a number of years.

I’m relaxing here on one of their benches looking towards the water. Sunny, 64°F, a light breeze. Doesn’t get much better than this (weather-wise). The forecast is for more wind through the weekend. Not looking forward to that.

We then headed a bit down the road to the Laguna Madre Nature Trail. It was a boardwalk the starts at the convention center. It simply runs to two bird blinds (or that’s what they were labeled). Basically a wooden structure with seats to look for birds. Not a blind that hides the viewers like I would have expected. The next photo is an iPhone snapshot with way too much digital zoom from one of the blinds.

The walkway itself sort of parallels the walkways from the bird center but it looks much older and could use some maintenance. All of the planks you walk on are an older generation of recycled plastic kind of like Trex. It actually looks like the same material I used on our back deck almost 20 years ago. I’m kind of happy to see that it holds up this well in a much harsher environment.

Time to head back and hold down one of the chaise lounges. After all, you don’t really want them to float away…. ;-)

Thursday, February 27, 2020

Day 20, 21, 22 - Harlingen, TX - TT

Tuesday (20) - Sitting outside the RV again enjoying the warmer temperatures but the 85% humidity seems a bit high. Rain is in the forecast again so I’ll wait until a little later in the week before working on the roof seams again. I picked up a couple more tubes of Dicor self-leveling sealant in El Paso but then realized that I didn’t have a caulk gun with me. I assumed that I had packed it but didn’t. Anyway, they are cheap and I picked one up in Walmart. Now, I’m just waiting for a warm, dry day with no rain in the forecast for a couple of days.

The picture is of the Mardi Gras golf cart parade. Maybe a dozen carts suitably decorated and they threw out beads and candy. Other than that, just worked on a couple of maintenance tasks. Nothing critical or difficult. More just stuff I’ve been putting off. To the right is the Port Isabel Lighthouse that we saw yesterday on our way back from South Padre Island. There used to be a string of lighthouses along the gulf coast but this is apparently the last one standing.

Wednesday (21) - Windy! Enough that I brought in two of the slides due to the flapping of the slide toppers. Last night, the wind was from NNE but now it’s NNW. Slight difference, plus the forecast is for the wind to start decreasing by this afternoon. Last night, I went outside to see how windy it really was versus what it sounded like. It really was pretty windy.

I took the bike out and with very little effort, 30 mph when going with the wind. Riding into the wind, pedaling plus battery will get 15 mph. Sure beats just pedaling.

Sous vide salmon fillet today. 128°F for 40 minutes with lemon and thyme. This is one of the best ways to cook salmon (imho). After dinner, I’m now sitting in the jacuzzi now that the wind has died down. It’s only 57°F now and it never did get very warm today. Tonight’s low is forecast to be above freezing but still going to be cold...

Thursday (22) - Last nights (or more accurately this mornings) low temperature was 37°F. It was the first time we’ve used the propane furnace since we arrived here. Up until now we’ve been able to just use the heat pump. Cheaper for us since electricity is no additional charge. And, since this Encore park is part of our TT membership. It warmed up nicely and was a very comfortable 67°F by late afternoon.

I was finally able to order the SeeLevel II tank sensors. Delivery to a TX address is free. Delivery in Fairbanks was $54. And, since it is not Prime, I couldn’t use an Amazon locker. We are having them delivered to a friends home north of Austin. On Monday, we head north to another TT campground south of Dallas but we are breaking up the trip into two driving days. The SeeLevel II system has a resolution of ⅜” and the sensors are mounted outside of the tank. I’ll probably try to install the system at the next RV park as we’ll be there for a bit over two weeks.

Today’s project was fixing the step light and making butter chicken in the Instant Pot. And cooking the jasmine brown rice at the same time in a separate container (pot in pot). In this picture, the glass bowl with the rice is on top of the tomatoes, chicken and carrots. The rest of the seasonings get added after the chicken is cooked. 

Monday, February 24, 2020

Day 19 - South Padre Island

Social life at an RV park. Yesterday evening, there was an ice cream social. $2 for a large bowl of decent ice cream with a choice of seven flavors. And there was live entertainment. He was actually pretty good and sang a wide variety of music. Maybe there is something to the idea that we all like the music we grew up with. I’m finding that even the canned music at the pool is mostly music that enjoyed while in high school and college. Interesting…

I actually spotted another Mandalay coach here at the park. It is a newer model but many things look similar. Including the location and size of the slides. It is branded as a Presidio but that is the model name used by Thor Industries for the Mandalay from 2006 until around 2009 when the brand was discontinued. Some notable differences are the rear radiator and the kitchen and bedroom slides are on the opposite side. This is the first one we’ve seen since starting this trip.

It’s 74°F and I’m sitting outside in my folding, rocking chair watching the palm trees. Sure couldn’t do that at home today. At -26°F in Fairbanks, there is a 100°F difference.

We drove to South Padre Island to the Birding and Nature Center. It was very slow going due to road construction and way too many signal lights. We stopped for lunch at a very small place called Ceviche. And that is exactly what was on the menu. I had the mahi-mahi and shrimp mixed with jicama, mango, tomatoes, celery, and olives. Finished off with plenty of lime juice. Very tasty…

We then continued on to the Birding Center. Originally, we were going to the Turtle Park, which is next door, but they are closed on Mondays. There was quite a bit to see and they had an observation tower where the last two pictures were taken.

South Padre Island is a pretty touristy location. Tons of hotels and restaurants. They mentioned that with rising sea levels, this island only has another century at the outside. A very cool lace to visit.

Oh yeah, they had plenty of alligators including some “in the wild”. These were a bunch of juveniles in a pen. The largest they had in captivity was around 12’ and named Big Padre.

Sunday, February 23, 2020

Day 16, 17, 18 - Harlingen, TX - TT

Friday (16) - Another cold day at the southern tip of Texas. I guess we must’ve brought it with us from Arizona. The temperature really isn’t that bad but the 20+ mph wind is what really makes it feel colder. Originally, we were planning to go out to South Padre Island today but with the wind, maybe we’ll wait until next week.

So, not much going on. I had picked up corned beef and more out of curiosity than anything else, I’m trying out the sous vide. The recipe says 24-48 hours at 135-140°F. I settled at 138°F for 48 hours. It’ll be done on Sunday evening. I’ll report on the results at that time.

Saturday (17) - The task of the day was defrosting the refrigerator. The cooling fins on the refrigerator were half coated with ice (not just frost) and the freezer had a thick sheet of ice on the bottom from a frozen drain. The heat gun worked to thaw things out but it still took quite a while. The ice was pretty thick. It was overdue…

One remaining task for the day is disconnecting the chassis batteries and running an equalization cycle on the Magnum inverter/charger. I disconnected the ground wire from the chassis batteries before starting the equalization. The voltage climbed to 15.58VDC when I started the cycle at 5pm. It should run for several hours. Then, I just need to check water levels again and hook the chassis batteries back up. This is something that needs to be done regularly with the flooded lead-acid house batteries. I have never done it so it seems like it’s time. The chassis batteries are AGM and could be damaged by the high voltage of the equalization cycle.

I’m relaxing by the pool again. Just a light breeze but overcast. Not ideal but at least it’s not raining.

Sunday (18) - It's 79°F, overcast and humid. There must be a hundred people over at the bocce ball courts. Bridget thought that it was a tournament. The equalization cycle ran for four hours and there was acid splashed on top of the batteries from bubbles in the cells. After checking the fluid level and putting the caps back on, I sprinkled baking soda on top of the batteries to neutralize the acid before rinsing the batteries off with plenty of water. The four batteries on the left are the 6 volt flooded golf cart batteries hooked up in series-parallel and the two on the right are the 12 volt AGM chassis batteries hooked up in parallel.

The purpose of the equalization cycle is to de-sulphate the battery plates using a controlled overcharge. The sulphate coating builds up with use and I believe that deep discharge tends to cause more buildup. I’ve been very careful to not exceed 50% depth of discharge but who knows about the previous owners.

Time to hit the pool!

Thursday, February 20, 2020

Day 13, 14, 15 - Harlingen, TX - TT

Tuesday (13) - Warm and sunny today. We had the RV washed and waxed today by a mobile wash company. They just drive around the park looking for business. We looked like prime candidates. Lots of road grime from the last couple of months. They did a good job. It hasn’t looked this clean since I picked it up in Georgia. It’s still windy but I don’t hear the slide toppers flapping wildly like they do in Arizona. This is a small pond within the RV park. Just on the other side is a bird sanctuary. We rode the bikes over to the other side of the park and took a look at their amenities. Nice pool and a huge jacuzzi. I tried the WiFi here at the park. It is provided by JabbaWiFi out of Arizona. I ended up talking to their support four times until I just cancelled the service. Slower than dialup.

 It’s 2pm and 87° so I’m at the pool (big surprise). A nice, gentle breeze at the pool. It’s actually around 22mph but the pool area is kind of sheltered.

Wednesday (14) - It looks like we brought some of the “cold” with us. At least for the rest of the week. By Sunday, the forecasted high will be back in the 80s (°F).

The dogs went to PetSmart and I walked to a Bass Pro Shop. I hadn’t been to one in a while and Bridget thought that she hadn’t been to one before. Then realized that it was the same as Cabella’s. It was fun to walk around the store looking at the displays. The aquarium caught my eye as did the weird mailboxes.

After exploring Bass Pro, we had lunch at Cracker Barrel then stopped to pick up a few more groceries.

Kind of interesting that the free WiFi at PetSmart triggered a bunch of security certificate warning messages on my phone. And it wouldn’t allow a VPN connection. Hmmm. Disabled WiFi.

Thursday (15) - This may seem silly but I’ve been looking for a small shelf to put things like my coffee cup ever since we picked up this RV. Every Home Depot, Lowe’s, Walmart, ACE, Michael’s, and Hobby Lobby we went into. I finally found one that fits and is functional. Most shelves we found were too wide, too heavy, or not very functional. This one works and the mounting screws are into the aluminum frame of the slide. Very sturdy. Maybe some Velcro for the remotes…

It’s 55°F and breezy with a little light rain all day. That means the pool is probably deserted. It’s a pretty nice setup. The jacuzzi must be 15’ in diameter with seats in the middle as well as the perimeter. And it was completely empty as predicted. I guess people don’t like the pool when it’s raining. The only downside is that it’s a little far to walk. Especially on a day like today. And, it isn’t that much nicer than the other smaller pool that I don’t need to drive to.

Monday, February 17, 2020

Day 12 - Harlingen, TX - TT

Today started out foggy which turned into light rain. The GPS took us right through downtown San Antonio on our way south. Odd routing. We filled up again using the TDS Logistics fuel card and saved another $30 on 60 gallons of diesel. I can’t complain about that. Once we got near Corpus Christi, it really started to warm up. It hit 92°F this afternoon. I think we found “warm”.

Just out of curiosity, I turned on the dash A/C. I hadn’t worked in the past so I didn’t expect it to work now but it did! I guess when the cleaned the radiator they also cleaned the condenser since it was also in the stack. It didn’t get 40°F cold but definitely was cooler than the ambient temperature.

This park has two swimming pools both with jacuzzis. We are at the small one right now enjoying the warm breeze. And it’s 8:30pm. Not at all like Medina Lake where it got cold as soon as the sun set. Tonight’s low is 70°F!

This RV park is an Encore resort that we have access to from our Thousand Trails membership. We can stay at Encore parks for up to two weeks at a time then be out of their network for a week. 

Sunday, February 16, 2020

Day 11 - Grid Heater

This is the ground side of the grid heater on the bottom of the intake manifold. The grid heater is an electric heating element inside the intake manifold that is used to preheat the air before enters the engine. It is used when the engine is cold. It is supposed to continue cycling after the engine starts. There is a relay that is controlled by the engine computer to operate the heater. I initially checked to make sure there was 12vdc on one side of the relay. From the other side of the relay to ground, there should have been a very small resistance from the heating element. But it was an open circuit which either meant the element failed or the element ground was broken. Closer inspection of the ground side showed a short ground strap that ran from a bolt and back to the same bolt instead of to the ground bus bar. When I measured the resistance from the relay to the bus bar, it measured very low but non-zero resistance so the element was good!

You can see the ground strap in the second picture. Sometime, someone worked on the engine and forgot to reinstall the ground strap. So, for as long as we’ve owned this coach, the grid heater was non-functional. No wonder it’s been so hard to start when cold. I couldn’t get to the bolt with the ground strap without removing part of the intake manifold so I picked up a battery cable from ACE and ran another ground from the bus bar to the engine block. Now, when measuring resistance, I get about 0.3 ohms. This is pretty approximate as it’s near the limit of the meter but that is about 50 amps when energized. (E/R=I Ohms Law) When the “Wait to Start” light is lit, the battery voltage slowly drops as it should. It still smoked when started but it did start without the block heater. But Bridget pointed out that it wasn’t that cold.

We’ll see if this fix does anything. In the meantime, I’ll enjoy my new rocking chair from Camping World while watching a 45’ class A trying to fit into the spot next to us. Interesting watching them as the wheels on the tag axle steer. Kinda cool! I didn’t know they did that.

I had thought that we may need propane before checkout tomorrow but tonight’s low temperature is forecast to be 55°F so the heat pump should be fine. We are down to ⅛.

Saturday, February 15, 2020

Day 8, 9, 10 - Medina Lake, TX - TT

It’s been almost half a year since I left Fairbanks in the Prius. I’ve been through twenty one states, Canadian provinces and Territories during those 181 days.
Alaska, Yukon Territory, British Columbia, Washington, Oregon, Georgia, Tennessee, Kentucky, Illinois, Missouri, Iowa, Nebraska, Wyoming, Utah, Idaho, Oregon, Arizona, Nevada, California, New Mexico, and Texas. 
Granted, some of those I just passed through.

Thursday (8) - Some maintenance today. I checked the water level in the house batteries. All cells had plenty of water. I added maybe an ounce of distilled water to each cell. The Magnum inverter/charger has an equalization mode but it applies to the chassis batteries as well which are AGM. I’ll need to disconnect the chassis battery cable before running the equalization cycle. It was already late afternoon when I looked into this.

I had stopped at an ACE hardware store and picked up a small hose clamp to fix the small 12vdc air compressor. I know that the left inner rear tire needs air but I don’t have a long enough 12vdc power cable. I need to move the coach first. Or start the engine and use the chassis air.

I found the procedure to test the grid heater on a Cat 3100 series engine. This is what the C7 used to be so I’m hoping the procedure still applies. There is a real shortage of information on this engine on the Internet.

Friday (9) - We visited the Guadalupe River State Park which is northwest of San Antonio. There was a nice loop trail that was about four miles and modest hills. I guess this area is referred to as “Texas Hill Country” so some hills are expected. After the hike, we went to the end of the road where this picture was taken. Then on to the Discovery Center. It was sunny but not very warm with a high of 52°F.

The trail walking might be my favorite activity these days. On the sections with no mud or loose rocks, I even got in a little jogging to try and raise my heart rate a bit. The good thing is that my knees and ankles no longer hurt when running. Since I’ve lost some weight, it helps.

This info graphic made from Apple Watch data does show what can be collected. I’ve found that unless I can get my heart rate above about 145, it doesn’t feel like I’m getting any exercise. This is from the HeartWatch iPhon app from AppleWatch data. After arriving back at the campground, I sat in the jacuzzi for a while enjoying the 60°F temperature and sun. There was a full-time couple and family at the pool. Interesting conversations.

Saturday (10) - This morning, we headed to New Braunfels, which is east and a little north of San Antonio, to meet an acquaintance from Fairbanks. We also stopped at the Camping World to pick up a new latch for the medicine cabinet. One of the hinges is bent so I’ll fix that as well. Hopefully, I’ll have time to check out the grid heater circuit on the engine. This preheats the intake air when the engine is cold both before trying to start as well as after starting. The grid heater draws a lot of current so the chassis battery voltage should drop quite a bit during the preheat cycle (Wait to Start) and I’m not seeing the drop. On the Dodge truck, the battery voltage drops to about 11 volts before starting.

Right now, we are at a boba tea shop and I’m having a delicious Vietnamese coffee. It’s been a while since I’ve had one. I don’t think there is anything planned for tomorrow besides getting ready to leave. We’ve been really conservative on propane usage as I didn’t want to need more until we leave on Monday...

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Day 7 - San Antonio, TX

By late morning, the weather has cleared enough that we went into San Antonio to see some of the sights. I had not realized that San Antonio is the 7th largest city in the U.S. and is rapidly catching up with number 6, Philadelphia. At 46°F it’s not warm but at least the heavy rain and thunderstorms went through last night. Still colder than I expected given our latitude (29°35’ N) and elevation (1110ft).

The first stop was the Alamo. San Antonio’s most well known tourist attraction. The last time I had been here, the line to enter the church building was really long. Today, no line at all. No pictures are allowed inside the building.

We then cut through the Hyatt to the Riverwalk. Some nice waterfalls along the way. This particular grotto looked cool. This is using the long-exposure iPhone setting. I think it does a good job with waterfalls. They did a good job on this waterfall. The water along the Riverwalk looked pretty grungy.

This is along the approach to the Riverwalk from the Alamo. Lots of restaurants but very little else. I guess the property along the Riverwalk must be pretty expensive. It’s a nice walk and worth doing. We stopped at an Irish pub when we finished for happy hour. The staff was all in kilts.

We were originally planning on having dinner along the Riverwalk but ended up leaving and having dinner at a Mexican restaurant on the way back to the campground. Not quite as much atmosphere but decent food and probably better prices.

I’m not sure what is on the schedule for tomorrow but we will be here through the weekend. 

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Day 6 - Streaming Services

Something a little different, video streaming services we use while on the road. There is a series on Apple’s streaming service, Apple TV+, that I just finished watching called For All Mankind. It shows an alternate  reality where the Soviets landed on the moon before Apollo 11. It was pretty good though the streaming service itself could be better. YouTube will scale back resolution and frame rate when there is a lot of network congestion. Apple TV+ just stops working rather than deliver a less than HD video. I prefer the YouTube method. When I was at the Seattle airport using WiFi in the Alaska Air Lounge (very fast) I downloaded a couple of the last episodes of this season to my phone. The app refused to play them over an HDMI cable to the TV claiming not allowed probably due to copyright. Annoying.

I got the Apple TV+ subscription free for one year with our Apple TV purchase. We also have a year of Disney+ courtesy of Verizon. We pay for Netflix and Amazon Prime. But all of these streaming services require Internet bandwidth which is sort of iffy within most campgrounds. Netflix and Amazon Prime downloads play on the TV without a problem. Disney+ downloads seem to have the same restriction as Apple TV+. But, they all work fine when I use the Apple TV appliance. But that needs WiFi to work. I occasionally connect our router to the Internet using the iPad as a hotspot but there is a 10gig limit from Verizon.

Some of the other programs that I’ve watched recently are Imagineering on Disney+, two seasons of Mars on Netflix, Snoopy in Space on Apple TV+, Aeronauts on Prime, Mandalorian on Disney+, and I started watching The Expanse on Prime. Hmmm, lots of space videos. Maybe I’m in a rut…

Monday, February 10, 2020

Day 3, 4, 5 - Medina Lake, TX - TT

Saturday (3) - We rode the e-bikes down to the lake today before the predicted rain. And since rain is in the forecast for a while, I went ahead and packed up the bikes afterward. It was only 51°F so it is still not warm. If it continues to be cold at night, I may have to pick up some more propane. This campground is broken up into two sections located about ½ mile apart. One is next to the lake and the other is near the entrance. We are near the entrance.

All of the non-functional power pedestals are painted red and I think that maybe as many as half of the sites. Quite a few of the sites don’t have sewer connections and most only have 30 amp power. This must be one of the older parks that a lot of people complain about within the Thousand Trails system.

Sunday (4) - Very humid today and kind of warm at 77°F. Too cold, too hot, too humid, too sunny, too much rain... Some people are never happy. The forecast is for thunderstorms for the next couple of days and the forecasted low for tonight is 64°F! We went into town to pick up some stuff this morning. The RV supply store was closed as I guess state law in Texas prohibits you to show or shop for vehicles. No kidding! That’s what the sign said at the RV dealer. We stopped at H-E-B, which seems to be the dominant grocery store chain around here. Good prices. Fresh shrimp was cheaper than frozen and less than half the price of Fairbanks. Regular gas seems to average about $1.85/gal.

Monday (5) - The Spettel Riverside House is on the campground property right next to the pool. It was moved here from its previous location next to the river before the dam was finished. Medina Lake is a man-made reservoir. Some others told us that the lake was almost dry last year with shrubs growing where there is currently water. People were driving in the bottom of the lake. Medina Lake is privately owned and not a Corp of Engineer project. The dam needed repair and, I was told, that it has been turned over to Corp so it would be repaired. Since it now holds water I’m assuming that it was repaired.

The Riverside House isn’t restored or open in any way. There is just the sign. The house kind of fits in with the feel of the campground. I thought about moving to a different site this morning as there were a couple of them around us that were more open. Plus they had sewer connections that were in better condition.

Bridget is thinking about going into San Antonio tomorrow so, hopefully, I’ll have more content. 

Friday, February 7, 2020

Day 2 - Medina Lake, TX - TT

Below freezing last night but 74°F this afternoon. The pool here is too cold to use and the jacuzzi is all right. It felt great after the long flight. And it’s warmer than Fairbanks. We had lunch at Bob’s Burger Barn with a couple that we first met in Palm Desert, then again in Fairbanks. They are living full time on the road. We showed them the electric bikes and now they are looking for pedal assist bikes.