Friday, April 30, 2021

Day 46, 47 - Acton, CA - TT

Thursday (46)
 - A much shorter driving day than yesterday. Only 150 miles. We went on the north side of the San Gabriel Mtns. through Victorville and Palmdale into a TT park in Acton, CA. The reviews said that it was a horrible TT park. I disagree. It’s not that bad. The sites are a bit tighter than some but the Las Vegas one is much more cramped. The WiFi is $15/week but there is barely any Verizon signal so there isn’t a lot of choice. I haven’t checked out the pool yet. It was 90°F this afternoon so I simply stayed inside the RV. 

Friday (47)
 - We got the third solar panel installed today. I still need to Dicor the screw heads as I used four screws in addition to the Sikaflex. Call me paranoid. After wiring things up, I checked the voltage from the panels at the switch and got 67VDC which is about what I was expecting. I switched the panels on and checked things out on the charge controller through the Raspberry Pi. Since the battery is already fully charged from earlier in the morning, the charge controller was already in absorption mode. Now, it's in float. For some reason, I can't connect to the charge controller over BT. 

I tugged on the other panels and they are still very solidly stuck to the roof. So this upgrade project is almost done. :-)

I did the morning test session while sitting outside but by 11am, it was 86°F already. Needless to say, I'm doing the afternoon session inside the RV. It's now 88°F. I think I may need to visit the pool this afternoon...

Wednesday, April 28, 2021

Day 44, 45 - Benson, AZ - TT

Tuesday (44) - I turned off the battery charger last night to see how the additional solar panel helps. This morning, we were down to 92% on our batteries as we didn't really use that much power overnight. But, even with a lot of cloud cover, we were back up to 100% by 9am. The upper blue line on the graph is the battery state-of-charge (soc). Pink-ish is DC consumption and orange-ish is solar. This screen clip is from the Victron portal. 

This is a screen capture from the touch screen. It is showing max power and current. This is better info than I was getting from the Raspberry Pi setup on the 5th wheel. And, I’m able to access the local screen through the portal. Pretty slick. I can see why the Victron stuff is so popular. 

Tomorrow, we leave this park and plan on dry camping on our way to the next park north of Los Angeles. 

Oh, now I’m officially “senior citizen”. Social Security called to let me know that I’m all signed up effective April 1, 2021. Oh joy…

Wednesday (45)
 - A long driving day today. Benson, AZ, to Twentynine Palms, CA. Google says 436 miles but I took the Phoenix bypass which adds a few more miles. To me, it’s worth the detour. We are lot-docking at Tortoise Rock Casino, a small casino that we found on the AllStays app. Free parking for up to 72 hours. Nice to just go inside and order food after a long day on the road. The parking lot is slightly tilted but it’ll be fine for one night. We had the generator running while driving for about five hours with both of the roof A/Cs running. It got warmer as we dropped in elevation to a high of over 90°F. 

The RV ran fine. Even on the long grades with 90°+ air temperatures, the engine temperature never exceeded 206°F. So that was a win. We are near the northern entrance to Joshua Tree National Park but we aren’t planning to visit. Tomorrow is another travel day. 

Monday, April 26, 2021

Day 41, 42, 43 - Benson, AZ - TT

Saturday (41) - We got our second Covid shot in Sierra Vista, AZ. We went there through Tombstone along a nice scenic, winding road. They were less organized than where we got our first shot in Tucson but eventually, we got through the paperwork. No problems (so far) from the shot beyond a sore arm. 

After the shot, we headed further into Sierra Vista to get the oil changed in the Prius. It’s hard for me to believe but we put almost 25k miles on this car since I drove it out of AK back in August 2019. This doesn’t include towed miles. Completely reliable. 

No update on the other two solar panels. The status hasn’t changed since Thursday afternoon where the package was listed as “Amarillo, TX, In transit”. 

Sunday (42) - Last night around 2am, I had a reaction to the shot. Fever, headache, sore muscles, and very thirsty. But by morning I was feeling better except for being tired. We went to a birthday party, had blackberry ice cream at the Benson ice cream parlor, then sat in the pool and jacuzzi until late afternoon. All in all, a good day. Still kinda sore but nothing like last night. 

I finally got an update on the solar panel shipment. The FedEx site now shows that it left Phoenix this afternoon. Who knows where it’s headed next. They say that delivery is expected on Tuesday. Hopefully, since we plan on leaving on Wednesday. 

Monday (43) - A long-ish testing session this morning as the candidate had DSL internet issues. But we eventually finished. The second two solar panels arrived in the early afternoon. There were enough calm periods (less wind) for me to get a second panel installed. Now, the panel voltage is 44 volts so the voltage drop in the 10AWG wire of 0.8VDC is less significant. Still, 2% which is right on the edge of reasonable. With the third panel, the loss will be 1.2% which is a good number. Any higher and I should go to larger cable. 

Since rain is in the forecast, I applied Dicor to all of the screw heads and fastened down the cable with cable ties. At our next stop, I’ll see how things are holding up. I used the remaining Dicor around the Eternabond tape on the roof vents. 

Right now, I’m relaxing at the jacuzzi. It looks like it shouldn’t rain until tomorrow afternoon. By the time I got the second panel connected, we were already getting clouds. I ran out of screws so I can't get the brackets mounted to the panel. Maybe tomorrow morning I'll work on the brackets.

Friday, April 23, 2021

Day 39, 40 - Benson, AZ - TT

Thursday (39) - It's a windy morning so I'm doing the ham radio testing thing from inside the RV. By windy, there are gusts into the mid-30s (mph). This generally means that I can't have the awning out so it gets a bit warm in addition to the wind noise over the Zoom session. It turns out that there is only one candidate but 8 VEs. A bit overkill but it's still nice to be able to visit with the others.

This may be defined as the point of no return. That is a ¾" hole in the roof. I then fed the photovoltaic wires through the hole and ran them through a bulkhead fitting with two gland connectors. I filled the hole with expanding foam before glueing the bulkhead fitting down. 

Rubber inside the connectors compress around the wire when tightened. To ensure a tight fit, I filled the gland fitting with silicone caulk before tightening down on the wires. I will go over the edges and the screw heads with self-leveling Dicor after installing the panels. 

Another Apple virtual award for Earth Day. I thought the design looked kind of cool. 

Friday (40) - One of the panels arrived on Thursday afternoon. It seems huge. I screwed in the ABS mounts on the four corners of the panel and the middle of the long dimension. I applied Sikaflex 252 after scuffing the mount with 80 grit sandpaper and cleaning the roof with acetone. They seem pretty solid but in addition, I used a stud sensor to locate the aluminum roof “beams”. I put one screw through each bracket into a beam to hold while the glue dries. 

Here is panel one of three. After the Sikaflex cures for a few days, I’ll cover the screws with Dicor. I went ahead and terminated the photovoltaic cable with MC4 connectors and added the 15amp fuse to the positive side. I then verified polarity at the switch before feeding the charge controller. 

This is the screen on the Victron phone app showing panel and battery voltage and current. With only one panel, the resistive loss in the 82’ of cable from the roof to the charge controller is significant. With two more panels in series, the resistive loss will be less significant. 

Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Day 38 - Madera Canyon

Today’s adventure was a hike at Madera Canyon. It is about a half hour south of Tucson and we met up with Garrett, Carolyn, and their family for the hike. The elevation was 4430’ to 5600’ so it is cooler than Tucson or Benson at 73°F. 

We went on a couple of hikes. The first to a dry waterfall. Not enough rain in recent days. The second climbed up into the hills with some wonderful views. But like many activities, it’s as much visiting friends as seeing new places. 

We had a good visit and an enjoyable hike in the cooler temperatures. If you want to see more of Garrett and Carolyn, their YouTube channel is Diary of a Family

Tuesday, April 20, 2021

Day 37 - Benson, AZ - TT

Tuesday (37) - Yesterday evening after returning from Bisbee, we went to a local Mexican restaurant called Mi Casa. It felt like a little hole-in-the-wall place but the food was fantastic. It had a solid five stars on Yelp so I suspected that it may be pretty good.

An additional advantage of setting up the Raspberry Pi with the Victron software is being able to use the VRM site. I think it stands for Victron Remote Management. After creating a free id on the site, I entered the unique code generated on the Pi and the data, including historical data, is viewable on the site. Of course, this relies on an always-available Internet connection from the RV.

Today's task is to string the USB cable extension from the rear bay to the wall near the refrigerator where I'm planning to install the Raspberry Pi. I don't look forward to that as the cable needs to run along the frame between the rear tires and the transmission/rear differential. Then needs to run through the bay with all of the water tanks before getting to the space under the refrigerator.

Later - Success! The USB cable is run and the hole has been cut into the wall of the RV to mount the touch screen. There are no solar panels but the Pi does see the charge controller and the battery monitor though there isn't much to report since we are still plugged into shore power. I still need to make some clips or something to physically hold the touch screen onto the wall. I was originally thinking of simply using double-sided tape. I may do that for now.

Monday, April 19, 2021

Day 35. 36 - Benson and Bisbee

Sunday (35) - Today’s project was running 10AWG photovoltaic rated wire from the charge controller in the passenger side rearmost bay towards the roof. After unspooling the cable, I taped the ends together to try and minimize tangles and knots. This 10AWG photovoltaic wire is rated for 600VDC, -40°C to +90°C, wet or dry, and the insulation is UV resistant since it is going to be exposed to the sun. It is stranded but no where near as flexible as finely stranded welding cable. Starting from the charge controller bay, I ran it into the engine compartment and through the floor into the bedroom closet. On the 5th wheel installation, I only used this type of cable on the roof as the vertical run was 4AWG to handle the higher current.

That’s as far as I got today. Trying to figure out “good” locations to drill holes is a challenge. The in-ceiling A/C ducts run all the way to the rear wall of the closet for some odd reason. So I needed to run the wires back to the passenger side before going through the roof. That’s tomorrow’s project. I started out with 100’ and I guesstimated that I would need about 55’. With the path through the engine compartment, I’m thinking that I may be closer to 70’. That means a little more voltage drop. I’ll recalculate once I know the actual lengths. I also picked up a 15amp fuse with MC4 connectors to go inline with the positive wire to the solar panels.

Monday (36) - We returned to Bisbee today. One of the things we wanted to do was the Queen Mine tour. It was $14 each and the tour lasted a bit over an hour. 

You straddle a seat on a small train leading into a horizontal tunnel. You enter at level 3 of 9 and travel into the mountain. The train stops several times and you walk or climb through tunnels. You end up about 800’ underground. 

The tour guide seemed very knowledgeable on the history of the mine and readily answered all questions. One of the more interesting discussions was on pay. Mining was a good way to build up a “grubstake” so you could venture off on your own. 

After the tour, we went east of town and took a look at an open pit mine. All in all, an interesting day in Bisbee. 

Saturday, April 17, 2021

Day 32, 33, 34 - Benson, AZ - TT

Thursday (32) - I'm doing the morning test session while sitting outside. It's a very pleasant 73°F with high cirrus. Very pleasant temperature. There is a wind advisory for this afternoon so I brought the awning in. So far, not a lot of wind.

It's now 2:00 and almost time for the afternoon test session. Since the awning is still in, it's too hot to sit outside. The errand of the day was just groceries at Safeway.

Friday (33) - The day started out on the cool side but had warmed up to 73°F by early afternoon. There is another session this afternoon but enough time to use the pool. The solar panels are supposed to be shipped out today from Indiana where they are manufactured. So I should get them next week. Hopefully, there will be enough time to install them while we are here especially since I want to give the Sikaflex plenty of time to dry. 

I’m still thinking of the “best” route from the roof to the charge controller. Since the controller is in the rear-most bay, I’m thinking of just dropping the cables through the closet, into the engine compartment then over into the bay. The solar cables are only 10AWG so not very heavy at all. This is one of the advantages of serial connecting the panels. High voltage and low current. The cables are UV resistant and rated for 600VDC so my 76VDC and 10amps should be fine. 

Saturday (34)
 - A clear blue sky day and a very pleasant 70°F for the morning test session and 75°F for the afternoon session. We just spent the last hour or so at the pool. Hopefully, the wind doesn't pick up anymore so I don't need to pull in the awning. 

This is the view behind the RV site. No houses or other RVs so it's pretty quiet. 

This is my current project. I picked up a new Raspberry Pi3 B+ and a 7" touch screen. I installed the Victron Venus distribution and added the software to support the touch screen. I had previously ordered the Victron VE.Direct USB cable and have it plugged into the BMV-712 battery monitor and the Pi. To monitor the Victron charge controller, I just ordered another VE.Direct USB cable and a 20' USB extension cable. If that isn't long enough, I could add a powered USB hub. It should work as the limit, according to Victron is 10m. It's just serial communication so the speed isn't as important. To get the upper part of the graphic working, I'll need to replace the inverter which I plan on doing anyway.

Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Day 30, 31 - Tucson and Benson, AZ

Tuesday (30)
 - Today is our last full day here at the KOA in Tucson. It was fine though I’ll welcome the slightly cooler temperatures in Benson. We still have almost two weeks until our next vaccine appointment but I think there are a few activities planned for our time in Benson. It has been great to visit with Garrett and Carolyn from Diary of a Family who are only a couple of spaces down. We also met Kristen and her kids from No Ordinary Life, another YouTube RV channel. Multiple pools and hot tubs are nice if they aren’t crowded. Even on this 86°F afternoon, there is only one person in the pool. Several sitting around the pool but not in the water.

No test candidates for the afternoon session. Tomorrow is a short travel day. 

Wednesday (31)
 - We are back in Benson at the same Encore park. We’ve been here often enough such that it almost feels like we are returning home. This time, we are in a back-in site with a nice view out of the windshield since we are at a slightly higher elevation. After setting up, my first stop was the pool to cool off a bit. It is 10°F cooler here than it was in Tucson. Very nice. 

Monday, April 12, 2021

Day 28, 29 - Tucson, AZ and Biosphere 2

Sunday (28) - Another hot day at 90°F by mid-afternoon. The two A/C units did a passable job. There is still a lot of heat that gets into the RV as the insulation isn't that great. And without a lot of wind, I could have the awning out to shade the refrigerator. It's been doing good with freezer temperatures around 3°F if I don't have the ice maker running. The additional load of making ice will raise the temperature by about 10°F.

Monday (29) - Today, we visited the Biosphere 2 site being operated by the University of Arizona. It is located about twenty miles north of Tucson. The purpose of the experiment was to replicate the biological processes on earth and see if humans can survive. They grew all their own food and had no physical supplies except what they brought in with them when the experiment started.

This is the residential complex and the dome on top is the library. Apparently, it wasn't used much due to the long spiral staircase but from the pictures, the 360° view was pretty good. The glass pyramid structures are the different areas such as desert, rainforest, ocean, etc. They are full of vegetation all nicely labeled with the species and what part of the planet they were from. 

This is inside the desert area. It was a very pleasant temperature and humidity. It is connected to the ocean area which is higher in the structure. With all of the glass, temperature control was one of the biggest tasks. If the power for chillers went down for even 30 minutes, the temperature would rise enough inside to seriously damage everything. So they say.

Here is the ocean. During the experiment, it was operated as a coral reef. The first use of the facility as a closed-system experiment was in 1991. The eight people were to live and work here for two years. The experiment was terminated early when they discovered that oxygen levels were dropping and, at the time, they couldn't determine the cause. The second run was only six months but they resolve the O2 problem and they achieved complete self-sufficiency for food production. 

This is in the rainforest region. Very hot and humid. There is an artificial mountain in the middle complete with a waterfall. Their food grown included coffee beans but the harvest and effort roasting the beans meant that everyone could have one cup of coffee every three weeks. Their diet was primarily plant-based even though they did raise some animals such as pigs and chickens. Their role was to process the vegetation that the people couldn't consume.

I remember hearing of this project and got the impression that it was only a partial success. The other side of this experiment was the human side. Could a small group of people survive in a confined area while raising all their food, recycling all water, and not hate everyone. These types of studies will be essential if people ever hope to be a multi-planetary species.

Not seen in my pictures are two domes listed as "lungs". These adjust the air pressure inside of the dome to match the ambient air pressure. Otherwise, the glass walls would blow out. Since the system is closed, the air needed to be collected and re-injected since no "new" air was permitted. At least initially. Additional oxygen was added when they couldn't figure out why the levels were dropping. It turned out to be a micro-organism population consuming the oxygen. 

I would recommend visiting the Biosphere 2 facility if you find yourself in Oracle, AZ. This is one of those places that I've wanted to visit for a number of years. I wasn't disappointed.

Saturday, April 10, 2021

Day 25, 26, 27 - Tucson, AZ

Thursday (25) - For the next week, we are at a KOA park in Tucson, AZ. It is a family-oriented park with a couple of pools. Kind of on the expensive side and definitely one of the most resort-y parks we've been in. There are even covered sites. The overhead roof is covered with solar panels which, supposedly, provide most of the power used in the park.

Right now, I'm sitting outside waiting for a morning test session to begin. It a very pleasant 72°F. Not a bad way to spend the morning. By mid-afternoon, it was 88°F so too hot to sit outside for the afternoon test session.

Friday (26) - It was a very warm 88°F this afternoon. This weekend is forecast to be even warmer. We did get some errands run but have a few more things to do. 

A new project showed up on my radar. Victron supports an open-source project for their Venus operating system, You can purchase their color controller to manage and monitor their products or you can run it on a Raspberry Pi. The Pi 3 B+ is recommended as it has built-in WiFi and Bluetooth. If the Victron products have Bluetooth, you can connect right in. If not, you can use their VE.Direct USB cable. Both the charge controller and the battery monitor support Bluetooth so this may be a great way to monitor the solar output. Since the "spare" Raspberry Pi I have with me is a Pi 2, I went ahead and ordered another Pi 3 B+ and the 7" touch screen display from Amazon. It should arrive at the RV park sometime next week. For comparison, the Victron color controller is over $1000 while the Raspberry Pi with the display is a bit over $100. If it works, it’s a bargain. Plus there are commands to display data without using the GUI. 

Saturday (27)
 -  It's a very pleasant 79°F this morning while I'm waiting for the morning test session to begin. I am planning to try using the campground WiFi as it seemed to be working pretty well. I've been watching YouTube this morning and some Amazon Prime last night. All in HD.

I went ahead and started the A/C in the RV since I am baking pie crust. There are tons of citrus fruit trees around the RV park and on Wednesday, some of the kids visiting our friends picked a lot of grapefruit. I found a recipe for a grapefruit curd pie. It sounds like it may be worth trying out.

 -  The WiFi seemed to work okay. Some audio artifacts but overall, it worked. That's good as I had run out of Verizon hot spot data last week and it won't renew for 5 more days.

This is one of two pools here at the park. I figured that it may be crowded as it’s already 86°F. No humidity to speak of. 

Wednesday, April 7, 2021

Day 22, 23, 24 - Benson, AZ - TT

Monday (22) - This morning, we headed back into Tucson for a birthday party. Bridget ordered a cake from Safeway and, I believe, she is picking up some pizza somewhere in Tucson. 

Tuesday (23) - A test session this morning and another this afternoon. I began to pack up stuff in preparation for leaving here tomorrow. I figured that this afternoon was going to be a bit too hot to sit outside so the table, chairs, and outdoor “rug” are now packed. 

The 5amp AC fuse on the refrigerator control board blew for the third time in 19 months. It just switches to propane when it blows so not a serious problem. I think it has something to do with direct sun on the outside wall and not enough airflow to keep the temperature down. Just a hunch…

Wednesday (24) - A short travel day today. Only 44 miles to the KOA in Tucson, AZ. We needed to be “out” of the Encore system for seven days. We will be returning here in Benson next week. There are other parks in Mesa and Casa Grande but we like this place. 

Sunday, April 4, 2021

Day 21 - Happy Easter!

Today, we watched a video prepared by our church in Fairbanks. They have been doing live streams for the past year but today’s service was outdoors. And if you follow the Fairbanks weather, you know that they were/are buried under a lot of snow. 16” to 20” and still coming down. This is pretty unusual for this time of year.

We had Easter dinner with several new friends. Rich and Hope whom we met last Thanksgiving. Sam and Diane who I just met yesterday when Rich and I went to work on their handicap ramp. And another couple who are work camping about 20 miles east of here who are friends of Rich and Hope. I made sous vide lamb, ham in the Instant Pot with a pineapple-honey sauce, mashed potatoes, broccoli, and brownies. 

It was a fabulous way to spend Easter. 

Friday, April 2, 2021

Day 18, 19, 20 - More Solar - Bisbee - Benson, AZ - TT

Thursday (18) - 84°F today!

With the charge controller in the passenger-side rearmost compartment, I need to re-think the placement of the solar panels. Instead of placing them towards the front of the RV, I will locate them all on the driver-side between the two A/C units. Hopefully, this will avoid shading from the A/C units. This will result in 55 ft of 10AWG wire between the panels and the charge controller. This includes both the positive and negative cables. From the chart and ohms law, we get a voltage drop of 0.515 volts or 0.76% loss with the panels wired in series. If I connect the panels in parallel, the resistance would be 3x higher but the loss would be almost 12% due to the lower voltage. This would require much heavier gauge wire from the roof to the charge controller. This is why I’m wiring the panels in series. 

After the morning test session, I put 4” wide Eternabond tape over the Dicor on both of the vent installations. Next week, I’ll put more Dicor on the edges of the tape. 

This picture also shows where I’m planning to install the solar panels. Since I try to have the driver's side of the RV facing south, putting the panels on this side minimizes the possibility of shadows on the panels. A shadow on even one panel could pretty much shut down all the panels in that series connection. But, that’s the trade-off between serial and parallel connection for your panels. The benefit is a higher voltage and lower current. I.e. cheaper wiring and you aren't so constrained by the distance between the panels and the charge controller.

Friday (19)
 - Today, we spent the day at Bisbee, AZ, an artsy town southeast of here. We went down with Rich and Hope who are staying at the Escapee park about a quarter of a mile down the road. We had met them last Thanksgiving near Lake Whitney, Texas. He is a fellow ham radio operator and they are full-time RV travelers. 

Lots of shops such as this honey store. It was not much wider than their front door. We had a tasty lunch at the Bisbee Coffee Company right on the main street. 

Saturday (20) - This morning, I went with Rich to another RV park in Benson and helped finish a handicap ramp up to a 5th wheel RV. Another couple, Garrett and Carolyn had started and finished much of the framing and most of the decking. We finished the decking, finished the handrail, and primed the raw wood on the handrail. 

Afterwards, Bridget and I headed into Tucson to color Easter eggs with Garrett and Carolyn’s three kids while they were doing their livestream. Their YouTube channel is Diary of a Family