The Good, the Bad and the Ugly!

Darla Jean, Duwayne and Princess went on their second trip this July and it was a mixed bag.

The Good.

We hitched up and hauled Gumbo all the way from Poulsbo to La Push, Washington without incident. New tires on the 5th wheel added to our sense of security and the dreaded drive around Lake Crescent turned out to be a piece of cake – we rarely had to decrease our speed to slower than the speed limit. When we arrived in La Push, we were more than happy to park in a long, wide pull-through site that made maneuvering quite easy.

Gumbo

And what made the trip special was the arrival of four long-time friends with their trailers. Doug & Sooz (along with “the boys” – Wally and Tyler) arrived shortly after us with their 21′ Escape “Toto”. And later in the evening Beau & Blanche (along with Cass) showed up with the 19′ Escape that they had just taken delivery of earlier that morning in British Columbia!

Escape_1

Beau and Doug checking out the new “19”.

A couple great dinners, more than a few wonderful beach-walks and some very pleasant campfires made for a memorable gathering with these fine folk.

Apple

Princess enjoying a beach run.

The Bad.

Well, it wasn’t THAT bad. But Duwayne is learning the hard way (by making constant mistakes) about dealing with 5th wheels. Just when he finally started to understand BOATS! The first mistake he made was when, after disconnecting the truck from the RV, he decided that the RV wasn’t level enough. So, rather than lifting the rear stabilizer pads ALL the way up before hitching back up and levelling the rig, he just lifted them a few inches. He then forgot that, when hitched to the truck, the rear of the RV tilts DOWN a few inches, meaning that, when he backed the rig up, it drove the pads into the ground and bent the brackets!

Stabilizer

Notice the bent bracket on the right.

Luckily, a big vice, a big wrench and a big piece of pipe made straightening the brackets not too big of a problem.

The second, and more embarrasing screw-up was when Duwayne attempted his first ever pumping of the black water (sewage) tank. He methodically hooked up the drain hose to the RV and put the other end into the sewage dump hole. Then he confidentally pulled the handle that releases the contents of the tank into the hose, listening to the gurgling of flowing sewage. But, much to his surprise, nothing came out the other end of the hose! He KNEW that the hose was clear because he had used it to drain grey water once before. Then it dawned on him: he had put a plug in the end of the hose that attaches to the holding tank! That meant that, when he had pulled the drain handle, raw sewage had exited the tank, entered the pipe that attaches to the hose, but then couldn’t get into the hose! And the only way to rectify the situation was to unhook the hose to remove the plug. But, of course that meant that the raw sewage that was backed up would exit onto the ground (or Duwayne’s feet!). We’ll spare you the details by not posting any photos. We’ll leave it that a fresh water hose and some nitrile gloves (and no audience) made the chore a little stinky but not too messy.

The Ugly.

What we DIDN’T know, when scheduling this trip, was that La Push (usually a sleepy little First Nation fishing village) was going to be celebrating Quileute Days on the weekend that we were visiting. This is basically the Tribe’s version of July 4th, with all the celebrations, partying and FIREWORKS that that entails. Since the RV sites were situated about 100 yards from where the fireworks were being set off, this made our doggy pals VERY unhappy. Which, in turn, made their humans very unhappy! What is usually an almost deserted beach looked like this near sunset:

People

Cars

And the cars arriving at sunset to watch the fireworks.

Needless to say, a good night’s sleep was NOT had by all on Saturday night. (The Totos made the wise decision to pack up and leave earlier that afternoon).

But, to leave on a positive note, the trip was still deemed a success by Darla Jean and Princess. As always, the beach walks were incredible and we’ll be back – just not during Quileute Days!

Dogs

A Wally (the dog) birthday meant treats for everyone!

Gumbo_2

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The Need for Speed.

The Gumbos like the internet. We’d venture to say that the Gumbos NEED the internet. Darla Jean wouldn’t feel right without her daily (and sometimes HOURLY) FaceBook viewing. And Duwayne likes to stream Netflix videos and sometimes even needs to do consulting work that requires the upload and download of large files.

Because we plan on being off-grid and sometimes parked in places with spotty cellular reception, we decided to install a cellular signal booster. This is a device that amplifies incoming and outgoing cellular signals, thus enbabling faster internet access that wouldn’t be possible without the device. We chose a Weboost Drive 4G-X RV signal booster, which consists of an outside antenna, a signal booster amplifier and a internal antenna (to send the boosted signal to our iDevices). The system looks like this:

full package

We attached the external antenna to the ladder at the tail end of Gumbo and ran the coaxial cable through a new hole that was drilled in the wall and into a cabinet inside the living area.Outside Antenna
Then we ran the coax down the wall and into the amplifier. Finally we ran a second coax cable to the interior antenna.

Inside

Finally, we tested the system. And it worked! Apparently, cell signals are measured in decibels, with a lower decibel reading be better than a higher reading. Here’s a chart that came with our device:

Decibels

Before we turned on the booster, we got a reading on our iPhones of -114db. According to the chart above, that put us in the “POOR” bracket. After turning the device on, we got a reading of -101 (putting us in the “GOOD” bracket) and giving us a boost of over 10 times the power! Woo hoo!!! Here comes uninterrupted viewing of “Better Call Saul”!

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Here Comes the Sun!!!

We are now officially Boondock-ready! After installing new batteries, a battery monitor and a solar charge controller, it was time for the final steps — adding solar panels and an inverter. The solar panels proved to be the more involved installation. We had learned, from our experience with solar panels on a boat, that the panels are MUCH more efficient when angled directly toward the sun (as opposed to just lying flat). On the boat we had an articulating arch built that allowed the panels to tilt 45˚ in two directions. And, because we were close to the Equator and the tradewinds kept the boat pointing either East or West, it was easy to follow the sun during the day by tilting the panels. With the RV, we decided to build aluminum tilting brackets that allow that same 45˚ tilt. We’ll have to park the RV in a way that allows pointing the panels in the general direction of the sun but, once situated, the tilting mechanism should make the panels much more efficient.

flat

Solar panels in flat position,

tilted

and in tilted position.

We now have 4 165-watt panels, giving us a total of 660 watts of power — enough to power all of our onboard electrical equipment when we’re not connected to shore power (which will be most of the time).

The final piece of the solar upgrade project was the addition of a 2000-watt pure sine inverter. An inverter is a device that converts 12 volt DC power into 110 volt AC power, thus allowing devices like microwave ovens and TVs to run off our battery system.

Inverter

We ran some initial testing and everything seems to work well! We unplugged the RV from our 110 volt shore power, turned on the panels and the inverter and, voilà, we had power to the microwave, TV, lighting, computers and music recording equipment.

Can’t wait to get out there and start using this stuff!

wiring

The final (?) battery compartment wiring.

 

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Maiden Voyage!

Well, we thought it would never happen. But after removing a tree, re-grading the driveway, adding new gravel and repairing The Dude, we finally ventured out on our first RV trip. A whopping 1 hour away to Fort Flagler State Park on Marrowstone Island (just a long stone’s throw from Port Townsend). It turns out that getting out of our driveway was no big deal and the drive to Fort Flagler was uneventful. We had booked a “pull-through” site (meaning that we didn’t have to back in) and were able to park and set up everything with no problems.

the rig

The campsites at Fort Flager are situated right above a long beach that, at low tide, presents the happy camper with wonderful opportunities for beach-walking. What we didn’t know was that from April 16 to May 16, kelp harvesting season was open! That meant that, by about 1 hour before low tide, HUNDREDS of people would arrive to gather their alloted 10lbs/person/day bounty of seaweed. It was quite fun watching the activities:

kelp 1

kelp 3

kelp 4

kelp 2

While Thursday’s weather was relatively, nice and Friday’s was absolutely BEAUTIFUL, Saturday and Sunday got pretty windy.

princess in wind

Did we mention that it was WINDY?

Afternoons were spent beach-walking and sitting by the campfire. Oh, and a bunch of reading and napping was also accomplished.

darla glass hunting

Hunting for beach glass.

darla at campfire

We love us some campfire!

Saturday was Duwayne and Darla Jean’s 45th (!) wedding anniversary, so we drove into Port Hadlock for a tasty dinner at Scampi and Halibut. On Sunday, we drove home and, after spending about 30 minutes practicing backing the rig at a local gravel parking lot, we somehow managed to re-park Gumbo in the driveway without breaking the 5th-wheel, truck or HOUSE! All-in-all, a great first trip!

princess in door

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Gumbo feels the heat!

As we mentioned in an earlier post, Duwayne and Darla Jean don’t plan on spending much time in RV parks or campgrounds. Instead, they hope to park their rig on government land and other off-grid sites. This means that, for the most part, they won’t be plugged into 110 volt power. And THAT means that running the onboard furnace (which uses a TON of electric power to force the propane-generated heat throughout the rig) will not be an option. So, a separate Blue Flame ventless 20,000 btu propane heater has been added to the mix.

Heater

The new heater.

Of course, this meant MANY trips to the hardware store to get the correct fittings to enable the installation of a propane line T-ed into the exisitng stove/refrigerator line. After ordering far too many incorrect parts online we finally got this heater to plug into a quick-release adapter that’s located in a nice central location so that we can point the heater either toward the seating area or back toward the sleeping area.

Heater hook-up

The hook-up.

Now if we could only figure out how to run air-conditioning off of solar panels!

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We’ve been graded. And we passed!!

As you may remember from an earlier post, Duwayne miscalculated when he measured the driveway before bringing Gumbo home from California. It seems that there was a mighty cedar tree preventing the proper backing of The Dude — meaning that the fifth wheel ended up being parked at an odd angle and, even more troubling, it was VERY difficult to hitch the truck to the trailer (due to the odd angles of the driveway surface).

un-graded driveway

The driveway before re-grading. The missing cedar used to be where the sand and bark is on the left.

So, TWO things happened. First, the cedar was taken down and the stump was ground down to about 10 inches below grade. Then, last week, we had the driveway re-graded and graveled.

unloading tractor

Unloading the tractor on the street.

We hired Dennis Komer Excavating to do the work. Dennis is a VERY knowledgeable and helpful guy, who gave Duwayne some great pointers on how to back a fifth wheel.

grading near stump

First, he graded near where the cedar had been.

unloading gravel

Then he had gravel delivered.

more spreading gravel

And finally, he spread out the new gravel.

And, voila!, our driveway is “relatively” level (at the top, where the RV resides). As Dennis says, we’re trying to do something that our lot is not really set up for. So, the big test will be next month, when we take Gumbo for her maiden voyage. We’ll either spend a few days up at Fort Flagler, near Port Townsend, or those SAME few days parked halfway in our driveway and halfway in the street. We’ll keep you posted.

finished driveway

Finished driveway.

 

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I Want My HGTV!

Even though Darla Jean and Duwayne plan on spending most of their RV time “boondocking” (living off the grid on free public land), that doesn’t mean they don’t want to watch TV! A day without House Hunters, Love It or List It and Flip or Flop would be like a day without beer. And let’s not even talk about Chopped, Master Chef and Beat Bobby Flay!

So, an adequate TV system is a requirement. When we purchased Gumbo, it came with a big ol’ CRT television that not only weighed close to 75lbs, but appeared to have had its cabinet built specifically for that TV. Since newer (and much lighter) flat screen TVs have a different aspect ratio than the old ones, a new TV would not fit the desired cabinet location.

We ended up buying a 32″ flat screen that was a little wider than the cabinet but big enough to view nicely from across the room where our recliners are. This meant fabricating a mounting system that allowed us to store the TV (when traveling) in a way that didn’t obstruct our movement through the rig and keeping it securely stowed. Luckily, our friend Beau came up with the idea of a pivoting mount that allowed us to deploy the TV in a landscape position (for viewing) and a portrait position (for travelling).

And so, here it is:

viewing

This is how the TV looks when deployed for viewing.

 

tilted

We can then rotate it . . .

 

stored

and stow it with Velcro straps when traveling.

Pretty damn cool! The next step is to purchase a satellite antenna and a DishTV account for remote viewing. Not ONE Seahawks game will be missed!

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