Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Day 15, 16, 17 - Visiting Friends and Solar

Monday (15) - After the morning test session, we drove into Tucson to visit friends at the KOA RV park. The place is huge. We have a reservation at this park in a week and a half for our week out of the Encore system. After a week, we can return to any Encore park including Benson. I believe that is the plan.

Yesterday, we replaced the Fan-Tastic fan in the kitchen/living room with a MaxxAir fan. This one has a built-in rain cover as well as a remote control and thermostat. The removed Fan-Tastic fan will be replacing the vent fan in the bathroom. I believe that is tomorrow’s project. I will cover the screws and the edges with Dicor and maybe re-install Eternabond tape over the Dicor.

Tuesday (16) - We re-installed the Fan-Tastic vent fan in the bathroom. It is much quieter and has a temperature sensor but does not have the motorized lid like the new one. Still an improvement. We were done before lunch and I’m relaxing in the pool since it is a warm 81°F right now. I have a test session starting in an hour or so but for now, relax. 

A few more solar pieces arrived. The DC shutoff from the panels to the charge controller. Since the max DC voltage with the three panels in series will be almost 80VDC, it was difficult to find a reasonably priced switch or breaker rated for that DC voltage. The current is only 10amps. I found a four-pole switch rated at 1000VDC and 36amps. Serious overkill. Other items include a circuit breaker for the charge controller to the batteries. I needed 60amps and up to 16VDC. I found 80amps at 48VDC. That’ll work. The next item is the Victron battery temperature sensor. It turns out that our friend, Garrett, had ordered one that he didn’t need. I could’ve bought it from him. The temperature sensor is needed for lead-acid batteries. Not needed for lithium. Only a few more parts and pieces.

Wednesday (17) - Sitting outside on a sunny morning. It's only 63°F but there is no wind. The test session starts in a little under an hour so I usually join early to talk with some of the others. A little socializing.

My afternoon project was installing the charge controller and going through the configuration. The solar panel shutdown switch is to the right and it will disconnect both positive and negative cables. 

The charge controller breaker is in the battery compartment, the next compartment to the right. It is wired before the main DC power switch as you need to remove the input from the panels before turning off the battery power. I plan on printing instructions for powering up/down the charge controller. 

I’ll be installing one of the 8266 microprocessors in the compartment with the charge controller to monitor the heat sink temperature and the ambient temperature of the compartment. 

Sunday, March 28, 2021

Day 14 - Solar Overview

I had been procrastinating installing solar on the motor home for a number of reasons. The rig seems unsuitable for any real boondocking but dry camping is another story. It has a 7.5kw diesel generator which, while useful, is rather noisy especially when at some Harvest Host locations. And lastly, I really didn't want to drive screws into the fiberglass roof. Based on my experience, there is a chance for cracks to form when screws are driven in.

I procrastinated ordering the panels themselves and they are now on backorder for about three weeks. They are being shipped to a friend's home in the PNW. Over the next month, I’ll be able to install everything except the panels themselves including the wiring onto the roof.

  • 3x 210-watt Hi-Tec monocrystalline panels
  • Victron Energy SmartSolar MPPT 100/50 charge controller (3rd picture)
  • 100’ 10AWG UV resistant solar cable. This will run from the panels to the shutoff 
  • 2x Solar Cable waterproof entry gland (only need one)  (3rd picture)
  • 8x MC4 connector set for 10AWG solar cable  (3rd picture)
  • 2x 10’ 6AWG welding cable w/10 lug connectors and shrink tubing  (3rd picture)
  • 3x corner and side mounts to be glued to the roof (2nd picture)
  • Sikaflex-259, a 1 component, moisture-cured, polyurethane adhesive?(2nd picture)
  • Solar DC isolator switch. 1000v/32amp
  • 80amp circuit breaker
  • Victron battery temperature sensor
The corner and side mounts will be screwed into the sides of the panels using SS hardware. The mounts will be fastened to the fiberglass roof using the Sikaflex. No drilling required. Two of the panels will be in front of the A/C starting on the drivers side of the roof and the third will be right behind to the left of the A/C. 

The three panels will be wired in series. Panel specifications, Voc=24.9VDC, Isc=9.85amps. So max voltage and current into the Victron charge controller would be 74.7VDC and 9.85amps. The maximum charge current to the batteries would be 50A limited by the charge controller.

The 10AWG cable will be run from the MC4 connectors on the panels to the DC isolator switch. The estimated distance is 25’. Counting both positive and negative runs, the voltage drop over the 50’ of cable is under 1VDC. Reasonable considering the panel output voltage is around 75VDC. 

The 6AWG cable will be run from the output of the charge controller, through the 80amp circuit breaker to the batteries. The voltage drop would be about 0.7VDC if the charge controller was 10’ from the batteries. 6AWG is the largest cable that the Victron 100/50 supports so the controller could be closer to the batteries. The temperature sensor replaces the power cable on the 500amp shunt for the BMV-512 battery monitor that I had installed over a year ago. The temperature and battery voltage is fed up to the battery monitor and relayed to the charge controller via Bluetooth. This allows the charge controller to modify its charging parameters depending on the battery temperature and the actual voltage at the battery terminals.

On the “average” dry camping day, we use about 240 amp-hours. These panels should keep up on most days. But we always have the diesel generator for cloudy days. At our last HH overnight, we used 175 amp-hours including some microwave and Keurig use. The majority of the power was used by the two propane furnaces with temperatures in the high 30s (°F). So we use much more power than we did with the 5th wheel RV. For now, we will continue to use the 4x flooded, 6V golf cart batteries which give us 210 amp-hours of useable capacity. 

Saturday, March 27, 2021

Day 11, 12, 13 - Benson, AZ - TT

Thursday (11) - Today was stressful for me. We drove into Tucson to the convection center for their walk-up COVID vaccination. Tons of traffic and lots of road construction plus the uncertainty of parking at the convention center. At least I was stressed. Moderna dose 1 is now done and a follow-up appointment has been set up a little bit over a month from now. We will be in the southern AZ area for longer than planned but at least the vaccine will be done. 

Friday (12) - The weather has been really nice though it has been getting windy every afternoon. I'm guessing that this is the normal weather pattern for this part of the southwest. Extremely clear skies especially when looking straight up. I was looking at the moon the other evening and it hasn't looked that sharp in a while.

I have two test sessions for today and we need to pick up some groceries as well. Just a normal day. I met another couple whom we parked next to in Harlingen. They both work full time on the road and were getting ready to head out on the road. And had conference calls scheduled for later this morning. Not a bad way to work full-time.

Saturday (13) - After the first test session, I went for a walk through all of the streets in this RV park as well as the next two to the south. The goal was to walk at least 5K. I then uploaded the info to the RunDisney website. I must admit that I do like these virtual events as they motivate me to get out and about. I fell several days ago onto the pavement at a gas station and my right knee has been pretty sore. I really needed to get out walking. Time to visit the jacuzzi again. I think I've been there twice a day since we arrived on Wednesday.

I've started accumulating all the bits and pieces to install some solar on the motor home. Especially since we plan to store it over the summer in a humid climate. I want to have enough battery power to provide ventilation for the interior. I'll have more information in tomorrow's post.

Right now, I'm waiting for the next test session to start.

Wednesday, March 24, 2021

Day 10 - Benson, AZ - TT

A relatively short driving day though it was into a headwind for just about the whole trip. It had rained a bit starting last night which was a good thing. We drive across multiple dry lake beds and it could get extremely dusty with zero visibility. The rain eliminated that possibility. We arrived at the RV park early but they accommodated us and we are here for the next couple of weeks. Fortunately, the hot tub is open! One of the best features of this park. I believe that this is our fourth time here  

The video is dash cam footage showing the Guadalupe Mountains. 

Tuesday, March 23, 2021

Day 9 - Deming, NM - HH

A windy drive today from Carlsbad, NM, to Deming, NM. We did have to go through the outskirts of El Paso including an 8% grade. Tonight, we are in the parking lot of a winery located through a membership program called Harvest Hosts. In case you are interested, here is an affiliate link that will get you a 15% discount and give us a credit. 

On the way, we passed Guadalupe Mountains National Park. I hadn’t ever heard of it before. We stopped at the Visitor Center to see what it was about. The park is mostly wilderness area to the north with a couple of popular trails. And Guadalupe Peak is the highest in Texas at 8,751 feet. 

Tomorrow, is a 180 mile day to an RV park in Benson, AZ, where we will be for a couple of weeks. 

Monday, March 22, 2021

Day 8 - Carlsbad Caverns National Park

We headed for Carlsbad Caverns this morning for our 9:30 reservation. The reservation charge was $2/person. This would be on top of admission but the senior pass got us in for free. There were a number of unhappy people at the front desk of the visitor's center complaining about the need for reservations. Especially since the next available slot was several days away. But we had ours and picked up our tickets.

The natural entrance to the caverns is near the visitor's center and after showing our ticket three times, we were allowed onto the trail. It is quite a descent into the caverns. About 1½ miles descending about 800ft to the "Big Room". It was a nice, relaxing walk down. Very few people and no large groups. A handful of people were walking up the path as it is now permitted. The last time I was here, the path was one-way only. 

Like most places like this, I return with too many pictures and no real idea why I took the shot. I just thought it looked interesting. 

These were mostly taken in the "Big Room" at the bottom of the descent. All of the lighting was warm so I'm not really sure what color the formations should be so no color corrections even attempted. There used to be names assigned to many of these features but the park removed the signage to allow visitors to use their own imaginations.

At the end of the path, there was a nice, long elevator ride back to the visitor's center. I was thinking of walking up the path but having to walk uphill with a mask on would not be pleasant. Though I would've enjoyed the walk. The elevator numbers show feet below ground level. Social distancing requirements meant that only one family group per elevator ride. So Bridget and I got the huge elevator to ourselves. This did mean that there was a line to get on the elevator.

The last time I was here you could get snacks such as hot dogs and ice cream before riding the elevator back up. But the snack bar is closed. At least for now.

Sunday, March 21, 2021

Day 6, 7 - Carlsbad, NM

Saturday (6) - Today was a short driving day though NM seems to have some of the worst roads anywhere. Narrow, potholes, tons of construction zones with no activity. 

We are staying at what used to be a work camp north of town. It’s more challenging to find places to stay during a weekend especially one that borders on Spring Break. After finding a place to stay in the Carlsbad area, Bridget looked up the caverns. To visit Carlsbad Caverns, you need to make a reservation for a specific date and time. Sunday was already sold out so our appointment is on Monday morning. 

The road into the RV park was pretty dusty and it shows it on the car. We haven’t washed it in a while. Maybe tomorrow before the ham radio test session. 

Sunday (7)
 - The "project of the day" was defrosting the refrigerator so I could install this fan unit. It blows into the fins to both circulate the air in the refrigerator for more even cooling and help minimize frost buildup. The last couple of months in the humidity of southern Texas caused the fins to build up ice and frost much faster than normal. The fans run off of 12VDC which I got from the interior light. The air circulation was really needed. Produce wasn't lasting as long as it had in the past and there was occasionally water in the produce drawers.

The picture is the cooling fins at the back of the absorption refrigerator. The get cold and this cools the inside of the refrigerator. The freezer doesn’t have similar fins but the entire back wall of the freezer is a metal plate that gets cold. Typically under 10°F. And, after this defrosting exercise, the ice maker works again. Not that essential in an RV but I do like ice in my drinks. 


Friday, March 19, 2021

Day 5 - Fort Stockton, TX

A long driving day today. Around 360 miles. We arrived at a Walmart around 6pm and we did call ahead and ask if we were allowed to park overnight. This will be the longest driving day of this leg. Our next stop is only 150 miles. Carlsbad, NM. We have Carlsbad Cavern tickets for Monday morning so we will be at the RV park there through the weekend. I haven’t been to Carlsbad Caverns in over forty years. I’m sure it’ll be different especially with the COVID restrictions. 

Dinner was just wings from the Walmart deli. I did not feel like cooking anything. I’m amazed that we’ve been in Texas for 124 days so far. Longer than I expected. 

Thursday, March 18, 2021

Day 2, 3, 4 - Georgetown, TX

Tuesday (2) - It took us about 3 hours to drive northeast to an RV park near Georgetown, TX. We have good friends from Fairbanks who now live here. We had several Amazon boxes sent here so I now have a few projects that need doing. 

The largest project at this time will be replacing the Fan-Tastic roof vent in the kitchen with a Maxxair unit then installing the Fan-Tastic vent in the bathroom. The Maxxair vent has a built-in rain cover, thermostat, and 10 fan speeds, and remote control. The Fan-Tastic Vent has only 3 fan speeds, no rain cover, and no remote. I’ll probably wait until we are in Benson, AZ. 

Wednesday (3)
 - Right across the street from the campground is the Berry Springs Park & Preserve. This is the entrance. It has been pretty windy since we arrived with the Windy app showing gusts of 40mph for today. Needless to say, the awning isn't out.

Thursday (4) - We had lunch with Wayne and Barb at their home in Georgetown. We knew them when they lived in Fairbanks. I made my white bean, kielbasa, and kale soup and added some chunks of corned beef that I made yesterday. 

We planned our route west to our next long-ish stay in Benson, AZ, at another Encore/TT park. 

Monday, March 15, 2021

Day 1 - Enroute to San Antonio

I arrived in the Seattle airport at 5:15am. At least I got several hours of sleep during the flight. Breakfast was chicken pho at a Vietnamese place in the north concourse. Not a bad way to start the day. The AirPod Pro noise canceling earbuds worked great during the flight pretty much blocking out all sounds. 

Arrived at D3 departure from N13. Departure gate changed to D3. Departure gate changed to D2. I wonder if they’ll change it again before boarding… BTW, when this picture was taken from the Seattle terminal, it was snowing very lightly. Still winter around here. 

Tomorrow morning we leave Medina Lake TT. 

Sunday, March 14, 2021

Fairbanks, AK

Saturday - So why is it that we need to return to AK in the middle of the winter… This was the temperature this morning. One of the other volunteer examiners (VE) from Delta, mentioned that it was -42°F and windy down there and it was supposed to warm up to above 0°F by the afternoon. Quite the temperature swing. The 12knot wind would definitely make it not the place to be.

I happened to check the Carrot weather app on my watch and noticed this message from the app. 

In Texas, the test sessions don't start until around noon and again in the late afternoon. I actually had to set an alarm to make sure that I was up in time for the first session. Okay, 9:30 isn't that early but I wanted to make sure I had time to make some coffee and breakfast before joining Zoom. Last night, the Fairbanks radio club had their monthly meeting on Zoom. We had 28 people attending and my Zoom session didn't restart even once. It's amazing what a difference a real Internet connection makes.

We stopped at Ajimi, easily my favorite Japanese restaurant. This is the chirashi big bowl. It had more sashimi variety than usual including a couple of slices of scallop, clam, and otoro! They outdid themselves!

Sunday - It had warmed up considerably from yesterday morning. Only -11°F. I went to the mask-required service at our church and met quite a few people that I haven't seen for quite a while. I spent the afternoon relaxing, clicking out the golf cart batteries from the 5th wheel to see if they still work. When disconnected into 12VDC sets (each battery is 6VDC) the voltage measured alright. And the charger shows them at 100% charge. Hopefully, that's true. I don't have a functional voltmeter here as both of them here at the house need batteries.

I leave tonight on the red-eye arriving in San Antonio tomorrow afternoon.

Friday, March 12, 2021

Welcome Home

I arrived back in Fairbanks a little after midnight and it was around -20°F. This morning, it’s a bit colder but the forecast is for warmer temperatures. Note that sunrise is at 7:18am. The last time I was here it was around 11am. Quite the change. 

By mid-afternoon, it had warmed up quite a bit. All the way to -5°F. Right now I’m at a coffee place in downtown Fairbanks where I’m meeting Scott, a fellow ham who I’ve talked to numerous times on dmr. He even had a dmr repeater running on UHF for a while in Fairbanks. I believe he took it offline due to lack of use. 

We had an enjoyable discussion and I think his wife was completely bored by the digital radio discussion.

Tonight, it's supposed to be cold again. John, another ham from Delta, mentioned that it's supposed to hit -45°F. Maybe I did bring some cold from TX.

Thursday, March 11, 2021

Day 88 - San Antonio Airport

Wednesday evening - I tried connecting to the campground WiFi and it actually works! Signal level is low at -85 dBm but actually getting reasonable throughput. I went ahead and had my MacBook start updating.

I also checked the Verizon throughput and got pretty reasonable numbers. The number in the campground must have gone down or those that were streaming a lot have left.

Thursday (88) - Now sitting in the San Antonio airport waiting for Bridget’s flight to arrive. I’m on the same plane heading back to Seattle where I switch flights to Fairbanks. I arrive around midnight. 


Wednesday, March 10, 2021

Day 85, 86, 87 - Lakehills, TX - TT

Monday (85) - Wow, eighty-five days since I was last in Fairbanks. The time seems to have gone by quickly. It's scattered clouds and 70°F this afternoon. Not too shabby. This morning, around twenty deer were wandering around around our campsite. They didn't hang around as I had just brought out the dogs for their morning walk. The dogs weren't paying attention as they didn't see any of the deer.

The new HomeAssistant automation I set up yesterday worked great. The awning light turned off at 9:30pm and the porch light turned on until 30 minutes before local sunrise. The porch light is also set to turn on 30 minutes after sunset unless the awning lights are on. Any of this can be overridden on the phone, the HomeAssistant dashboard, or the physical switches next to the door. 

Tuesday (86) - I drove partially into San Antonio this morning for my PCR Covid test that the State of Alaska is sort of requiring if you fly into the state. I say "sort of" as the original emergency order wasn't renewed but they didn't really change much on the web site. Maybe some of the language was changed to be "should" instead of "must". Anyway, since the Covid test is free, I don't see any reason to not get the test.

Wednesday (87)
 - It's only 10:30 in the morning and I already have the A/C running. This is the current setup for doing the testing. The iPad is running the Zoom session. The candidate has two cameras running. Usually, the laptop and phone. Both running Zoom. And, when there is horrible WiFi, my laptop is tethered to the iPhone via USB. The laptop has Discord chat session and the web page showing the candidates progression on their test.

I ended up putting the awning away last night when the wind picked up. This morning, I went ahead and packed up my outside chair and folding table since it was forecast to be overcast and windy today. So, no sitting outside during the test sessions. I received my PCR test results (negative) already. About 30 hours from testing to results. The results came through pretty quick. Not bad at all. 

Sunday, March 7, 2021

Day 81, 82, 83, 84 - Lakehills, TX - TT

Thursday (81) - After all those years in AK, it's nice to be able to pick up ripe avocados in the grocery store. Avocado toast is still a favorite for breakfast. All the fresh produce available around here is nice. 

Since Bridget is in AK. I went ahead and signed up for quite a few amateur radio test sessions all the way through next Wednesday. On Thursday, I'll be heading for the San Antonio airport for a short 3 days in AK. I'll need to get a Covid test on Tuesday morning. That will be well under 72 hours before my flight to AK starts. 

Right now, I'm between test sessions so I decided to try and make chicken adobo. I don't think I've made it before though I am doing a couple of substitutions within the recipe. Liquid aminos instead of soy sauce and apple cider vinegar instead of cane vinegar (I've never heard of this ingredient before). Plus, I added some dark soy sauce to the braising liquid for color. It's simmering away and with a wonderful aroma. I ended up tasting pretty good though I think I could've used more vinegar.

Friday (82) - I just finished the first testing session and it's starting to get a bit warm. I think that this is the high temperature for the day so I may not need the A/C. Being Friday, the place is starting to fill up with the weekenders complete with their outdoor speakers. The campground is incredibly quiet during the week.

Yesterday, I connected the Ubiquity radio in the RV to the campground WiFi. It really isn't that far away but the signal level was -85db. Very low. But it did connect and I was getting about 100kb/s of throughput. This turned out to be too low even for the dmr transmissions as there was about 20% packet loss. Since it's a digital signal, the audio sounds pretty poor.

Someone had asked about the range of the hot spot. I took the Anytone radio while walking around the campground. Using a hotspot service called "Parrot", I called the hot spot with a short message and the hot spot repeats your message. I needed to crank up the output power of the Anytone but was able to reach the hot spot from over ¼ mile away.

I made my Covid-19 PCR test appointment for 9:30am on Tuesday.

Saturday (83) - Two test sessions today. One at around noon and one around 4. This is the time the Zoom sessions usually start now when the tests start. 

After the session, there was a lengthy discussion about capabilities of the Anytone DMR radios. Even more RVs came in today. All looking for the mythical 50amp full-hookup site. 

Sunday (84) - A quiet day. I modified the 8266 circuit board in the right-front armrest to add in a relay to control the porch light. I then created an automation that turns on the porch light at sunset but only if the awning light is turned off. If the awning light is on, it turns on the porch light when it shuts off. In either case, the porch light is turned off at sunrise. I had changed the bulb in the porch light to an LED while we were in Harlingen. So leaving the light on all night doesn't seem to be an unreasonable thing to do.

Even more RVs came in today. Some had tags indicating that they were only staying for a couple of days but were intent on finding a sewer site. Doesn't make any sense.

Wednesday, March 3, 2021

Day 78, 79, 80 - Lakehills, TX - TT

Monday (78) - Today's "activity" was driving to the San Antonio airport for Bridget's trip to Fairbanks. As an experiment, I configured my Anytone 878 radio to beacon using analog APRS every 5 minutes during the drive. I was trying to find out if I had configured the analog APRS correctly. I got two position reports during the drive from the airport back to the RV park. For analog APRS, you just send out a message on a particular frequency and if there are any receivers within range, your position report gets forwarded to a server. It is tagged with your call sign.

There is plenty of Verizon signal here at the RV park but during the evening, the bandwidth is almost non-existent. I guess too many people on this tower watching Netflix. 

Tuesday (79)
 - It dropped to 39°F last night but I think that’s the lowest it’s going to get for a while. Right now, I’m sitting near the laundry room as there is free WiFi available. Not the fastest but considerably faster than daytime Verizon. This barn is one of several old buildings in the park that were moved when the dam was being built by the local ranchers. The dam and reservoir have been turned over to the Army Corp of Engineers as maintaining the dam was beyond the residents ability. 

While walking around the campground, I spotted this tow dolly. It was modified to carry a motorcycle in front of the car. I talked to the owner as he had just unloaded his bike and was tooling around the campground. He had picked it up used and it was custom and not something that was picked up off the shelf. 

Wednesday (80)
 - After another chilly night, it's supposed to hit 70°F by later this afternoon. I'm going to try and join the Zoom testing session this morning using Verizon on the IPad (with tethering turned off) and have the laptop tethered to the phone via USB. Verizon limits tethering on the phone to 400kb/s. The iPad has no bandwidth limit until you reach 15GB. If I'm tethering the RV through the iPad, we usually reach the limit within about 10 days. 

The Zoom session worked fine on the iPad even with the hotspot still running. Though the only things using the hotspot were the two Raspberry Pis and only one was actually passing data. So, I went ahead and signed up for more sessions into next week.