Thursday, September 10, 2015

RV Boondocking the Next Generation: McMansion


      We have had our RV nearly 12 years now and would like to say that we would have kept it at least several more years, but Mother Nature has a way of putting things in perspective.  We have been to Alaska among other destinations totaling over 60,000 miles. We certainly got our money's worth as well as years of enjoyment out of "Doc Cougar".   Necessity (and a storm directed tree) dictated we shop for a new rig in order to continue our retirement travels. 
      Not having shopped seriously for a new RV for a dozen years provided surprises as well as piqued our interest for the newer units.  In the end we decided on a Forest River Rockwood Windjammer.  At 35 feet this trailer is 4 foot longer than our previous unit, but nearly 1000 pounds lighter.  I found the weight difference due to the same aluminum frame although coupled with lighter construction of some of the interior cupboards and drawers.  There is plenty of storage space so spreading out the weight should not be a problem.  Additionally, the tires are only 'C' series tires with maximum air pressure of 50 psi, obviously to support the lighter weight.  The unit is spacious with nearly the same floor plan as our previous rig, but with an additional slide out for a sideways bedroom (Barb's deal breaker).       
      The interior is laced with many amenities including leather Lazy Boy recliners, laminate wood floors, Corian countertops and trim, free standing dining room table and chairs as well as big flat screen TVs in both the living room and bedroom. 

     Additionally, this unit has a 'wedge front' which results in a large front end bedroom and walk in closet with another wardrobe and drawers as well. The unit is Polar Package prepped which provides layers of insulation and heaters in all tanks (fresh, grey, and black) in case of unexpected 'Arctic weather' or camping in the winter (yeah, that's gonna happen). 

       Some of the better 'off grid' features include coming already ZAMP SAE wired hookups for solar panels as well as satellite hookups.  This will allow our 130W suitcase panels to be set up and hooked integrally to the unit in our absence.  The main hitch jack as well as leveling jacks and awning are all electric in addition to the twin slides add a much larger power requirement.  The standard on board battery is a 24 series which is a bit small, but coupled with our battery bank will not be a problem.  We did have the dealer add two additional 12v outlets. There is also a standard mounted battery disconnect switch; another nice feature.  Water tanks are 48 gallons (fresh), and 38 (both gray and black water). 

      There are external hookups for fresh water and city water for in park use.  There are also hookups for winterization anti-freeze reverse 'pump in' and black tank flush and purging, a nice feature where you don't have to drag a hose through the interior of your RV to flush the black tank.     
      After taking a couple of weeks to repack, restock, and adding our on board safe and door alarm system we headed out for a 'shakedown cruise' in the Upper Peninsula.  It was also the 2nd trip to acclimate the furbabies for winter.  Roux and Bones did so much better on this trip.  We didn't feed the pup prior to leaving, but did give her Milk Bones as treats later on.  Roux was much calmer, maybe due to the company of her older brother.  We made plenty of rest stops just to be sure. 
      Our first destination was Agate Beach on the Keweenaw Peninsula near Toivola, MI.  A long drive, but a beautiful, simple campground with plenty of beach to exercise the pup and look for agates.  Stanton Park offers electric hookups for only $15/night.  There is a hand pump well.  Beauty at the western edge of the UP on Lake Superior in the fall....towing was easy and fairly uneventful averaging about 14.2 mpg
      We stayed about a week, enjoying comforts and near seclusion at a reasonable price.  There was no need for solar, but we did enjoy the new, large 48 gallon fresh water tank fill up at Twin Lakes State Park on the way in.  It should be noted that Stanton Park Campground will usually contain several rigs left for periods of time as the locals tend to bring them out much earlier or even leave them there nearly all summer, yet only pay when they are actually there.  The park management doesn't seem to care.  Although thousands of $$ were granted to improve the park prior to last year's Finnfest, not much work has been done.  The foundation to the new Community Center is poured, but nothing has been built to date.  All the vault toilets were removed and replaced with Port-a-Potties and a new Handicap Parking area next to them.  They are kept very clean.  Cell phone service is 'spotty' at best, but there is a new 'one way' 911 phone in case of emergencies.       
      From here we ventured back SE to Bay Furnace, a USFS campground one the coast of Lake Superior in the village of Christmas, MI.   There is water with threaded spigots, but no electricity here and with our Golden Age Passports the cost is only $7/night.  We qualify this as boondocking, using our solar system/battery bank for power.  We stayed here for 6 more nights to cruise the beaches for Amethyst and be within walking distance of the Christmas Kewadin Casino.  We found no agates, but lots of beautiful 'slag' which are the waste remnants from the old iron smelter at Bay Furnace.  They are technically not 'rocks', but the byproduct of the melted rock and ore used to produce iron.  They have beautiful swirl patterns of blue, purple, green and light grey.  They can be cut and polished into some very nice pieces. 

       We dined on Brats over the fire, Tomato Soup/GrilledCheese, Pitchfork Pork Steaks, Nachos, Fire Roasted Puerto Rican Pork Roast, Red Beans & Rice, Sloppy Jacks, Hot Dogs, Monster Green Chile Cheese Turkey Burgers, Pasties, and Nachos. 

      SHAKEDOWN CRUISE REPORT:  We left home with the rig fully loaded except for the water tanks.  The RV it is spacious with nearly all the new room the result of the added 'walk in' closet in the front.  All systems worked as advertised.  The shower water pressure is excellent, although our normal usage did drain the 48 gallon fresh water tank in about 4 days.  Our exterior 130W suitcase solar panels worked perfectly with the onboard ZAMP solar hookups.  The main panel for motor power, tank heaters, and light switches is a bit tricky as there is no light to illuminate them unless you hit the Aisle Master Switch which illuminates EVERYTHING.  We keep a small flashlight near this panel which helps.  The outside awning LED lights are quite nice and illuminate the entire 'outside patio' beautifully.  ALL interior/exterior lights are 12VDC although not all of them are LEDs.  These will be changed over this winter as well.  There are two faux pas I feel worth mentioning.  Whoever designed this rig should have thought a bit more about having both doors to the bathroom open to the inside, making it a bit tricky and procedural when passing from the bedroom to the bathroom or the living room to the bathroom.  Once inside everything is 'cool beans'.  The inside refrigerator LEDs have a blue filter which illuminates the inside of the fridge in cool blue.....a bit mind blowing.  These will be changed at my nearest convenience.  We found the counter top and dining table extensions to be quite valuable.  We averaged between 14.2 and 14.9 mpg for the two legs of our 1080 mile journey, very nice.  We did tow with all tanks empty.  Diesel gas in Houghton was $2.39 and $2.41 in Munising.   I do want to get this rig officially weighed once underway on our winter journey.  One side note:  due to the location of a very nice wide Corian counter window ledge next to the door Bones was able to figure out how to open the door in about 3 days!  Cats are problem solvers. 
      We head home now, ready to begin our final preparations for departure early in October to escape the winter of NW Michigan and resume our vagabond journeys once again. 
MAINTENANCE NOTE:  I do plan on replacing the onboard 24 series battery with a larger 29 series Trojan deep cycle and the 'C' series tires with 'D' series tires as they become worn or need replacing.  Stats justification as follows:
24 series 12 volt battery:  70 amp hours      INCREASED BATTERY POWER AND STAMINA
29 series 12 volt battery:  130 amp hours
C range tires load rating/psi:  2150/50        HIGHER WEIGHT VS. TOWING STABILITY 
D range tires load rating/psi:  2540/65        AND STRENGTH

Saturday, September 5, 2015

The SALAMMER! (Salami, Olive, Fried Egg Grilled Cheese Sandwich)

       This is another in the considerable library of grilled cheese recipes from the Tillamook Cheese (Oregon) Website.  Although this cheese is not available in many locations in Michigan, if you ever have the chance to sample some I highly recommend it.  We have sampled several of the sandwich recipes from this site and found all to be tasty as well a delightful change of pace. 
       This one is pretty straight forward and simple:  Since I could not find Olive bread I used small Bolillo bread loaves and sliced the largest Spanish Olives I could find.  Although you can layer this anyway you choose I brushed the inside of the bread with Olive Oil and then layered Genoa Salami, Olives, Fried Egg, and finally Provolone Cheese.  Simply fry the sandwich as you would any grilled cheese and then serve with soup of choice.  We chose tomato soup.  This has a delicious Italian herbal taste that compliments any choice of soup.  The grilled cheese sandwich our Grandmothers used to make is  boring!  This one isn't.  Viva la difference...enjoy!