Thursday, July 23, 2015

Boondocking 201


      Barb and I have been home for a couple of months now, leaving only to rockhound in the Upper Peninsula last month.  We are going back out for a short 5 day stretch shortly as we attempt to assimilate our new puppy, Roux, into the camping lifestyle. 
     I have had several requests for information as to how we do it; boondocking in general I assume.  By definition boondocking camping off the grid, without access to electricity, water, or other amenities associated with RV parks and commercial campgrounds.  It can also apply to state forest primitive style campgrounds available in every state for a reduced rate, about $13 or less.  In British Columbia and the Yukon these campgrounds even provided free firewood!  My parents RVd for years, but they were always into RV parks and campgrounds that offered all the bells and whistles.  They liked the camaraderie of other senior citizens, the weekend potluck dinners, and groups getting together.   It may have been inexpensive at one time, but these days such campgrounds easily cost $30-35 nightly and those aren't the really nice ones either.  We will never be in to that lifestyle.  We do sometimes camp with other people or groups and this is not to say that every once in awhile we won't spend the $$ and hook up with everybody else, but this is mostly to have access to dumping, laundry, and groceries.  We are off grid an average of 70% of the time. 
      Home is where you make it and we enjoy the solitude of being by ourselves.  This is not 'Glamping'.  Let's face it, we're trying to get away from it all.  This is not without it's considerations.  You must be able to sustain yourself as well as your RV without hookups for up to days or weeks at a time.  You don't have to be in the middle of nowhere either; towns are often nearby requiring only a short commute to resupply.  Let's break it down one utility at a time:

1)  Power.....this means electricity.  You can run off your RV battery, but NOT for very long.  The average 25-27 series battery will only power your lights for about a day or two TOPS!  You can upgrade your current battery with one of the 29 series batteries that are very HEAVY DUTY DEEP CYCLE.  Interstate or Trojan are good examples, but they will not be cheap.  The easiest alternative to this is a small portable generator.  I use a Honda EU 3000 which supplies us with 3000 watts of power on 3 gallons of gas for up to 19 hours.  However, if we run the microwave or air conditioning for longer periods of time our duration is more like 8 hours.  YOU CANNOT RUN YOUR MICROWAVE OR A/C OFF A "STANDARD" BATTERY SETUP.  Honda does make generators in the 1000 and 2000 watt range as well for less money.  The last alternative is either solar power or a wind turbine to power your rig and recharge your battery.  We have a suitcase set of 130 watt solar panels we hook up to the on board RV battery during the day or when we're not home.  Additionally, in the back of the truck we have a 4-battery bank of 4 Trojan T-105RE 6 volt batteries that are wired series-parallel and hooked to the RV when in camp and at night.  This bank is powered by a 230 watt panel roof mounted (and tilt able) on our truck cap that can easily charge (on sunny days) and even when traveling down the road.  There are many companies that deal with portable and RV mounted solar panels; too many to list actually.  Research here pays off.  As for wind turbines I have no experience, but only cause I haven't purchased one yet.  Air-X is the brand I am researching. These systems can provide mounting challenges, but can also recharge your battery system. 

2)  Fresh water.....this is a pretty easy one.  Boondocking rarely provides fresh water opportunities.  Sometimes when in primitive campgrounds well-pump water will be available.....this is good, but requires patience and human horsepower to fill water jugs.  Most times I try to 'water up' at the closest town prior to camping, but I also have an extra 40 gallon water tank in the back of our truck that we can fill up and drain into the RV when needed.  Do be careful when watering up when hauling prior to camping as your truck may not appreciate the extra weight.  Water = 8 pounds per gallon.  Also, I carry a 120 volt Wayne Water Pump that I run through a system of 3 Culligan T-filters (30 micron-10 micron-.5 micron) with the last filter also utilizing Sodium Dichlor as a purification agent prior to entering the RV fresh water hookup.  This is a standard hot tub or spa chemical blend which is perfectly safe for washing dishes, cooking, or showering, but not drinking.  We carry bottled water for this.  The water pump is powered briefly from the Honda generator, taking only about 10 minutes to fill the 40 gallon tank. 

3)  Dumping.......this is the only weak link in the boondocking chain.  Grey water isn't such a big concern as it can be dumped into a freshly dug hole away from the RV and sometimes even recycled.  By this I mean when we boondock I fill 3 gallon jugs from the grey water dump and then use this as flush water in the toiled when needed.  This saves a gallon a day of fresh water easily, but is added to your black water tank.  Black water is the Achilles Heel of boondocking.  There is no safe or clean method of disposing of this without a visit to an approved dump.  This is where the occasional campground comes in.  However, many truck stops offer free dumping for RV's as does many RV dealers and even Cabela's.   In fact Cabela's offers an area set aside for RVs for overnight parking with horse corrals and dog kennels as well!  You can delay the black water issue as much as possible by using it only at night or for sudden impulse use.  Primitive campgrounds often offer vault style toilets and there is, of course, always the woods. 

4)  Camping......there are so many free or very reduced camping areas in American that you can't hardly believe it.  Yes, WalMart is one of them, but not all of them.  They are only designed for overnight use and it pays to ask inside first.  They are always polite and helpful.  We have found the rest of these by several apps on our IPhones as well as several websites that are extremely helpful.  There are MANY folks out there on the road that will help you find what you're looking for as well. 
I have found these websites very helpful for locating what I need when I need it.  Also, check out other blogs online cause there are so many of us out there doing this that the wealth of information grows daily.

      These sites not only provide off the grid camping info as well as free camping, but offer many tips and ideas which I have copied myself.  This is very large, sharing family....everyone just trying to rediscover America while sharing a buck or three!  There are no easy fixes or formulas.  I am constantly retuning or upgrading my system as we go.  As of today we have been off grid about 85 days this calendar year and saved upwards of $2150 dollars.  This includes deductions for generator gas and oil changes as needed. 
     My last real piece of valuable advice is to just GET OUT THERE AND EXPLORE THIS GREAT NATION.....the only mistake you can possibly make is to feel you will always have enough time. 

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