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CuriousTires

Full-Timing RV Family with 2 Pups and a 2 Year Old – Traveling Coast to Coast

Jagged Beauty

Driving down the highway I Look Up out the window of the RV and I got to witness the beauty that Mother Nature has created.  It’s fascinating that Mother Nature can create such beauty by using furious and forceful power to push the jagged gnarly mountain top up from earth.  This was seen on the drive to Denali National Park.  Shortly after you leave the town of Cantwell, look up to on the right to spot the natural beauty that will present itself, unless it cloudy and raining:)

Beautiful – Whittier, Alaska

I have always thought of Whittier as always being raining and windy, but we found that to be an untrue statement…I’m sorry Whittier for having such negative opinions about you my whole life.

To get to Whittier you have to travel through the Anton Anderson Memorial Tunnel, which is the longest tunnel in North America, running 2.5 miles long.  Both trains and vehicles drive through the tunnel on a schedule so its good to show up a few minutes early as to not miss your opening.  Cars travel through the tunnel to Whittier on the half hour starting at 5:30 am till 10:30pm.  Cars leaving Whittier leave on the hour from 6am till 11pm.  The tunnel is only open for 15 mins going both ways so if you don’t make that cut off, you have to wait a whole hour till it opens again.

 We stayed at the campground at the end of Camp Rd.  It is the first left after you exit the tunnel, right after the bathrooms.  Once on Camp Rd. keep right, the road sort-a y’s, I think the left is commercial, government or private property. The campground is at the end of the road within the “designated area”, as the sign states:)  There are some front row RV spots, some smaller spots for tents, and a couple of corner spots that have more grassy areas for larger parties and people with dogs or kids.  Campground was set up like a parking lot but the view in the front row was amazing.  A smaller euro van had parked in one of the front row spots sideways giving them a more secluded campsite. 

We rode our bikes along the main road, (only road), into town and back many times.  On the main drag is where found the donut shop.    Once you see the Wild Catch Cafe turn right onto Whittier St, behind the boat parking lot is the other campground in town.   Spots are kinda close but there a few trees between most spots, it’s next to a river and there is a really nice view of three waterfalls behind the campground.  Moving on, if you continue to the stop sign and then go straight on to Blackstone Rd.  There you will find the Buckner Building.  This is an abandoned military building that was used to house everyone who lived in Whittier.  The building was built-in 1953, survived the 64 earthquake and was used up until 1966 when the government moved the military base out of Whittier.  the building held everything for town including a mess hall, sleeping quarters, medical facility, bowling ally, barber and a small shooting range. 

If  you take the first right after the building onto Shotgun Cove Rd you will discover some breathtaking views. All along this road we found berries, raspberries and salmon berries.  Both of which went very well with some vanilla bean ice cream from there general store.  This is also where Matt flew the drone a few times down along the coast.  

We loved it there.  We never had a neighbor for more than a night.  There are tons of places to go hiking.  It was a quiet place for the most part.  Ryder got to watch the train go into and back from town every few hours and even made a few new friends.  To sum it up we would definitely go back and suggest the seaside town is worth the time to check out!P1230785

Major RV Solar & Lithium Install – Part 2

If you haven’t read our first post on the Solar Install – read this and come back here!

Before actually starting this ginormous installation, we had to decide where to place all of this stuff.  The RV comes from the factory with a small ~700W inverter and a separate charger to charge those batteries.  Both were in the storage door immediately behind the front passenger wheel.  Being that it was already wired, I chose to use this cabinet for the solar controller and inverter and misc. electronics.

 

However that left the Lithium batteries.  The original house batteries were located behind the grill in the front engine compartment – great for lead acid but not so great for Lithium.  LiFePO4 Lithium batteries just don’t like to charge or drain or be subjected to extreme temperatures.  They love to charge at 70 some degrees and even plus or minus 20 degrees during charging can impact the overall lifetime charge cycles that the battery exhibits.  Being these were certainly an investment, we wanted to ensure we got the maximum amount of life out of them.

Our Lithium batteries don’t vent.  This means, and even some manufacturers recommend, placing these batteries directly in the living space itself – as the temperature inside the “house” is significantly more climate controlled than outside or in a closed cabinet underneath the rig.  Though I was thinking about saying screw it, and just mounting the things underneath in the basement, observations from Technomadia regarding their battery longevity in a closed compartment concerned me.  While I could certainly easily enough heat the space in cold spots we visit with a 40W lightbulb, I could not easily and cheaply (money or energy-wise) install an air conditioner down there to keep the batteries cool (or maybe I could and I’m just not smart enough to engineer a solution!).

Thus, my father-in-law and I were sitting in the coach looking for places to install the batteries.  Under the bed? Nope-  on a slide…  Under the dining room table seats?  Nope- on a slide…  Under the fridge in place of the large drawer?  Nope- no way we can give up a cabinet of storage!  In the bunk bed against the wall?  Nope- no place to secure them…  In the back closet like Nina from Wheelingit?  Nope- too far from where I wanted to place the inverter and solar controller.   Then my father-in-law Mike looked under the swivel seat behind the passenger seat and said- “Why not there?”  I said brilliant!

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And thus- the spare seat behind the passenger seat was removed, the men went to Home Depot, and this rough frame is what we came up with!

Now that we had our locations picked out for the equipment – it was time to, gulp, install it all.  No problem!  First we just have to figure out exactly what we are doing and what is what inside the RV.  Being this is our first RV and the first time I have ever worked on one – it was certainly an experience, but really in the end is just a comical combination of home and vehicle electrical “standards” meshed together – so it didn’t take long to figure out.

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With experts like this in charge-  I wasn’t concerned at all with how it would turn out!

Since we were still waiting on some of the installation parts to arrive – we did what anyone do in our shoes – started doing the painful and hard stuff we were equipped to handle.

Step #1 : Install Solar Cables from Roof to Equipment Bay.

Was nervous about this at first but quickly came to realize this was relatively painless.  After deciding on what type of cable to run (I settled on 1/0 from the roof down – primarily because we are running 18V panels wired in parallel – roughly 55A over 32 feet).  For those that don’t know 1/0 is big cable – and there are a lot of bends and crazy confined spaces to get it through!  We chose to route down the refrigerator vent (as most do), then through the interior (behind the cabinets), down through the floor into the basement, to the underside of the chassis and then up through the storage compartment housing the solar controller.  Really the toughest part of running this stuff was ensuring the cable didn’t smack something and scratch it all up (cabinets, paint, flooring, etc).  We routed the cables (pos and neg) into the equipment bay and through the refrigerator vent with some waterproof liquid-tight connector fittings we got from Home Depot.

Step #2: Run upgraded electrical wiring for Inverter.

Our original equipment Magnum inverter that came from the factory was powering (from what I can tell), three outlets – one in the passenger foot well and one behind each TV (and now that I think about it probably also the outlet in the AV cabinet over the driver’s head).  It was also only rated for 700W, and since we were installing a 3000W inverter, it was painfully obvious we needed to upgrade the AC wiring to accommodate the larger equipment and loads we’d place on it.

This is where things became a little complicated and it’s when I did a lot of head scratching and more research.  We have a 50A service panel and are using a 30A inverter.  Remember when I mentioned we wanted to power *most* of the loads in the RV off the inverter?  To do this, we needed to do some panel rewiring.  Now, most folks and the installation manual recommend getting a subpanel and running the inverter loads off of that.   However, I didn’t have room for a subpanel, and even if I made the room, I would have to figure out how to fish a very large electrical cable up the wall to feed it.  Thus, I went for option B and to “Split the panel.”

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This is what splitting the panel looks like in an RV.  This is the junction box we are using to make the necessary connections on the Live AC side of things.

All 50A service panels have two phases – A & B – denoted as L1 and L2 inside the RV.  In our RV, L1 feeds all of the loads that I really wanted powered by the inverter; and L2 feeds the electric water heater and rear air conditioner.    I needed to splice into L1 to feed it from the inverter – and essentially leave L2 alone so that when we plug into 50A service at a campground we will energize that circuit and use the additional appliances.

So to get the panel “split,” we installed a junction box immediately to the left of the transfer switch in the back.  The transfer switch takes the outputs from the generator and shorepower and safely passes the voltage to the electrical panel without allowing “backfeeding” to occur.   We took the wires that leave the transfer switch and go to the electrical panel and removed them from the transfer switch.  We then placed those wires in the new junction box to be mated with the new wires going to inverter and the wires coming from the transfer switch.

We then ran two large diameter 6AWG –3 Conductor wires from the junction box to the inverter cabinet in some big blue conduit tubin.  These wires take Phase A (L1) route it all the way to the front and into the inverter, then from the inverter back to the junction box.  Since the inverter is rated for at least a 50A pass-through, and the cables are sized for the same, this is an allowable interface that won’t damage anything.

The other “gotcha” is the inverter input and output neutrals must not be bussed together anywhere in the coach.   This necessitated running a 6AWG neutral cable from the junction box (where it mates with the returning neutral coming from the inverter) and to the electrical panel – and installing an isolated neutral bar for all of the Phase A (L1) breaker loads.

Now, we have four usage scenarios that should all be automatic:

  1. Generator Running: Sends 50A from generator, through transfer switch and junction box – through inverter (since it allows pass-through voltage), to electrical panel. This energizes both Phase A and B (L1) and (L2).
  2. Shorepower: 15/20/30A: From pole, through transfer switch and junction box – through inverter pass-through – to electrical panel. This will energize only Phase A (L1) – however the “Hybrid” portion of our inverter will utilize both 15/20A service and “steal” battery power to power up to a 30A load off of a 15A circuit.  Awesome!
  3. Showerpower: 50A: Since 50A supports both Phases, L1 will get passed through the inverter and back to the panel and L2 will go directly from pole to the transfer switch to the panel.
  4. Only Inverter / Battery (no AC sources): Inverter will pull power from batteries and send the 30A of 120V back to the electrical panel Phase A (L1).

 

Step #3 : Trace / Fish / Remove / Add Cables to original DC Loads in the Coach.

Now that we had the A/C wiring taken care of – as well as the solar wiring, it was time to determine what wires that were hooked up to the original inverter and house battery that we should keep.  Since the house batteries were originally in the front of the Coach “under the hood,” we had all sorts of cables up there that we had to deal with – since the new batteries and electrical system wasn’t in the same location as before.

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The big copper busbar on the right side of the picture was combining the charge & load circuits before.
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Busbar – Removed!  Let’s hope with all that weight reduction we’ll get more MPG!

 

First up – determining which cable was the alternator cable.   There were lots of big gauge cables that needed to be interfaced- and we needed to determine what was what.  First cable we tackled was the alternator cable.  We quickly found that a single cable was attached to the original house batteries and did three functions: 1) DC Loads in the Coach 2) Alternator Power to batteries 3) Battery boost function.  Since our Battery Management System wants “charging” loads and “usage” loads on different busbars and behind separate shutoff solenoids, we had to split the cables up.  So, we removed the ginormous busbar that was installed in the electrical box under the hood that combined the house and coach batteries automatically.  It was no longer necessary as the usage and charge cables would be separate. We then ran two 1/0 AWG cables from the electrical box back to the electrical cabinet.  One for charge from the alternator, one to power the DC loads in the coach.

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Hmmm.  No need for this stuff!

Next, we had a handful of other cables that were originally hooked up and needed to be either interfaced or removed.  Original inverter cables – removed.  Original grounding cables – removed.  Original alternator and load cable – removed.  8AWG wire that feeds the distribution panel in back of coach – altered.

 

Stay Tuned for the next segment!

Our first week out

So, I didn’t get to post this when it was written, due to lack of internet, because of a cruise ship that docked in the bay, but here it is.
It’s a beautiful Saturday afternoon.  I’m sitting in the sun warmed passenger chair…more like a recliner… with my coffee looking at the boats come and go into the harbor of Whittier, Alaska.  Both of my boys and both of my dogs are napping, giving me a little time to tell you how it has been going.  We have now been out of our house and living in the RV (which we are thinking about calling Bussy:) for four nights and five days and it has been fabulous.
When we first got here it was overcast and a little windy and it only got worse.  It rained on us the next day, all day, but we all did just fine inside, except for the part where Ki our older dog decided to roll in and on either a dead salmon or dead shark.  Ki, Matt and the leash and collar all smelled like rotten fish guts.  We got to try the outdoor shower in the rain.  But after the bath and a little purification essential oil, life was not so smelly.
We have been bike riding, beach combing, drone flying, stopped to eat some 20160709_204400fresh made Whittier donuts, working, writing, playing and the list goes on.  I have yet to feel cramped 20160710_102005within our space.  I think we have a made the right choice to go full-time RVing.  When we were waiting in line
to go through the tunnel to Whittier, Alaska, if you had asked how I felt, I would have said, “Its a weird feeling…part of me feels like this is just another weekend
trip”, probably because it was only Tuesday.  It was surreal mopping my way out of my house, hooking the CR-V to the RV, leaving our house and Anchorage.  It will feel more real when we drive through Anchorage next week without going back to the house.
I believe20160708_125932 that we are all enjoying ourselves.  Relaxing a little, to relieve the stress of downsizing and leaving the security of our home.  My biggest fear was just the fact that we were leaving a perfectly good home that we loved and the security of knowing how our week was going to be lived.  As of now, I say it was worth it.  It was worth the stress and the little bit of heartbreak of letting my stuff go.  I’m not sure why I felt attached to my things but I still feel good with what I have with me.  The days have flown by, leading me to believe that the next couple of years living this way will fly by too.  Our first full-timers we met, who were from Florida, said they had planned on RV’ing for two years, they have now been on the road for seventeen years.  Its nice to meet people that are living like us, they always have great stories.  We are just 20160708_223951starting our story and I’m sure these curioustires are going to take us on a grand adventure.
Good-bye Whittier, Alaska.  Until next time, thanks for letting us soak up your beauty, it was great visiting.

Wishing I Was Sky Watching

Clouds, clouds, everywhere.

Clouds, clouds, time to stare.

Right now I would love to lay my favorite grey fuzzy blanket out on the green grass and rest my head on the soft ground.  Stare up at the vibrant cobalt blue sky and discover what the animated white clouds will show me.  But I’m not.  We are busy cleaning out our house and moving into our RV.  Our goal is be out of the house and in the RV by TOMORROW night.  That way this weekend we can patch holes and do some paint touchups.  Then after 4th of July, we will be leaving our house for the foreseeable future.  

Nerves are setting in.  

In all reality the RV has really been turned into a dumping place for everything we are taking.  Perhaps this weekend Matt will be house fixin and I’ll be finding a home for everything that has landed in the RV.  I have a feeling there will be a couple of boxes that will get filled with stuff for donation that had originally had the intention to be taken.  

So, for now the clouds will have to wait.  Wait for us to move out and move in:)

Trial Run

Thought we would take a test run.  Ha, I say “Test Run” like we have another choice.  We already have the RV, we’re committed and there is no turning back now!  We have been super busy in the last few months and have not had a chance to go camping this year, so this is our chance.  Our chance to go camping and still have the ability to go home and take a hot shower until the water turns cold:)  There is tons we have to do to our place before we vacate.  For instance moving all the furniture out, along with all the odds and ins that are left, oh ya, and the worst, cleaning.  We all have been enjoying ourselves while making lists of stuff still needed and things to fix, research or to be tweaked.

The day we left was just one of those days that won’t come fast enough but flies by once here.  We just wanted to go.  As adults our goal was to JUST GET ON THE ROAD ALREADY.  Giving no second thought to hunger pains, tiredness or any other human need.  The mind was set on one task and to get it done in a hurry.  Need least to say Ryder did not have a nap and it was about dinner time when we were ready to leave town.  He did fall asleep once we started driving, which gave us an hour or two, if lucky, to find a place to stay or at least eat.  

20160615_100738These curioustires were on the road, We were headed towards Hope, Alaska.  Thanks to
Gone with the Wynns, we already had a spot in mind.  Upon our arrival we found the place to be a little risky to
take our rig down onto the beach.  It was a beautiful spot and would be perfect for a van
or tent camping.  On the road we were again and ended up staying at
Granite Creek USFS campground.  Spot 8 fit the RV and CR-V perfectly.  It was sunny, quiet, beautiful and our only neighbor was the camp host staying on the opposite side of the campground.  20160615_100839

That next morning we woke up to another beautiful sunny day and headed down the road.  Seeing the 1st sign for Skilak Lake road we had decided to pass and keep driving,since neither of us had ventured down there before.  Stopping at lake after lake, searching for that free spot with cell phone service (so Matt could work) with absolutely no luck, when we saw the 2nd turn, we thought for sure we could find something down there.  Bad Mistake…Skilak Lake Road is washboarded and bumpier than you could imagine.  As we were driving along at 10 MPH sometimes slowing to 7 MPH I thought the RV was just going to shake all the screws out and make us fall apart at the seams.

We ended up driving the whole road, which was only 19 miles long and stopped almost half way to eat lunch at Lower Ohmer Lake Campground or what we thought was Lower Ohmer Lake.  During lunch I was browsing the Milepost to see what was further up the road.  We had actually only made it 5.3 miles down the road and not 10 miles like I thought.  With still no luck with finding camping, unless we wanted to stay in this big gravel overflow parking lot for the boat launch, with no views we deciding to keep going.  After pulling 2016-06-17-11-18-59into a dozen places where we couldn’t turn around with the car attached, we had finally made our new home at Bings Landing State Recreation Site…Spot #14.  (but Spot 31 looks awesome)  I think I’m a pro at unhooking and hooking up the car to the RV:)

After two days near the Kenai River with semi-decent internet we decided to head home to finish the house.  It was Friday Afternoon when we hit the road and we thought if we found a spot in the direction we were headed we stay out another night.  I am now jotting down these notes, while looking out the window into a mossy covered lush forest of birch and pine trees.

Were stopped off the road in Portage Valley…Whether we stay for lunch or go home tonight depends on the weather.  If it starts to get nasty outside we will head home, but it sure is pretty now.20160617_152053

I do have a new set of patience, toleration and acceptance for big rigs and the way they drive.  I have forever cursed them while driving anywhere within Alaska.  I blamed their slow driving on them being tourists and their sightseeing.  In all reality it’s just the way you have to drive a big rig.  

This trip has been eye opening.  I knew it was going to be different than being at home, but you really have to be in a different mindset.  Open to anything.  You have to love who you are with.  We were definitely tiny homin’ it up, bumping into each other in the kitchen while cooking.  The dogs did great and I think we will be fine once we get out on the road and establish a NEW daily routine.  It’s a good thing that we are planning on staying in each location we find for at least two weeks or so.  There is definitely a learning curve to what we’re about to do.  I know everything won’t be easy, but we are ready to go.  Ready to go explore the other 48 beautiful states in our country.  

Colorful Door of Dreams

Colorful Doors have endless opportunities.  This was taken in Paris, France on our recent travels abroad in April.  Doors in Europe are unique, beautiful and hold secrets behind them.  This one stands out to me.  I imagine that behind it holds a world made from an individual’s dreams.  Have you ever thought about it in the opposite view.  What kind of amazing things that the door is holding back, when inside.  The world can take you by surprise.  These curioustires are setting out on a journey to open the unopened doors of the US.  We want to explore whats our there and we want to inspire others to do the same.

The beauty of Natural Curves

The Na’Pali Coast in Kauai, HI.  Kalalau Beach – Our favorite beach to camp at.  Sitting in this very spot shows many examples of what Mother Natures Curves can create.  From the lines in the sand created by the wind, the wet curves created by the water left on the beach, the roundness of beach lava rocks weathered by the oceans power, to the curves on the mountains that are proturding from the earth.  It’s where we would strive every year to make it to.  It’s secluded, quiet, unique and of course beautiful.  Its a destination that you have to work to get to.  An 11 mile hike in and out with all your supplies.  This is the place that gave us inspiration to make this change to full-time RV living.  It is taking a lot of work to get on the road, but the places we will get to see will be amazing.  The American Backcountry that most people are afraid of, is what these curioustires are seeking.

RV Upgrades : Major Solar & Lithum Battery Install Part 1

In all the multiple decisions that we have made as of late, none was easier than choosing to “properly” outfit our rig with a solar / electric system that we could rely on for years of reliable use.  Being that we are planning on working significantly at nearly all hours of the day (similar to our sticks / bricks lifestyle), I, from the get go, decided to design the ultimate solar and lithium battery storage system to make sure we would have juice whenever we needed it.

Though I am well versed in AC / DC and control circuits, I had next to zero experience dealing with solar or energy storage.  Good thing there is a tremendous amount of resources on the internet regarding these specific and peculiar installs – Gone with the Wynns, Technomadia, Wheelingit and more provided for a firm technical understanding of what we were getting into.

And before we get too far, it should be implicitly understood that I am an overachiever and a habitual researcher.  Before I dive into anything, I figure out seventeen ways to do the task and then typically choose the most complicated way.  No sense in doing something one way if you are going to have to re-engineer and reinstall it down the road!!

So literally within hour of picking the coach up from our dealer in the Lower 48, I started the Amazon hunt for best pricing on my equipment.  I had already chosen what type of equipment I would use based on my previous research, but putting it all on paper and ordering is another beast all together.

My requirements were:  A ton of solar, a ton of battery storage & the ability to run (nearly) the entire coach on battery / solar power.  Our big desire: Run the front AC and (dual electric / gas) fridge on battery power.  Not all the time, mind you, but if we do decide to leave the pup pups in the coach for an hour or two on our travels we’d like to leave without worrying whether the AC will kick on and cool them down.

For those unfamiliar with RV electrical systems – these “wants” are fairly over the top and require extensive equipment to power through the demand.  In fact, for the most part, these desires were relatively undocumumented – we (OK, I) wanted to nail it and share our knowledge with others.

First things first – Equipment.  Being that we we’re starting our journey from our “home” of Alaska, I needed to get equipment ordered and arranged.  Prices in AK are exorbitant for this type of equipment (if you can even find it), and thus Amazon Prime proved to be invaluable.  The one exception to this was the batteries – and we arranged with Starlight Solar and Elite Power Systems to pick the the lithium batteries up in route to Alaska.  It required some logistics, but the thought of saving thousands on shipping of batteries really simplified it!

After a 3,500 mile drive, some of the equipment I had ordered had beat me home.  Sweet!   Time to start reading the documentation and manuals that came with everything to determine the best way of getting this stuff installed (because you see, I’m a professional do-it-yourselfer and can learn anything from YouTube.  That combined with my extensive AC/ DC and control background allows me to feel confident doing this type of thing).

After significant amounts of reading owners manuals for the solar controller, batteries, inverter and miscellaneous accessories, I had enough knowledge to get started.   That new-found knowledge was somewhat contrary to the installation accessories I had purchased on Amazon, though (things like wire connectors, busbars, terminal blocks etc…)  – so IMPORTANT NOTE #1: Always purchase from vendors who have a great return policy!   The accessories I had selected were too small to handle the proposed amounts of amperage I was planning on running through it – and would have likely melted into puddles – IMPORTANT NOTE #2: Even if you are a man, read the manual.

Next Up: Installation Posts!

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