Sundogs

We have gone solar.  Finding the parts in Anchorage was a challenge, but the installation went without a hitch and the system appears to be working beautifully.  We haven’t seen any solar panels on Alaskan RVs and debated waiting until we got Outside for the install. But we decided to see if we could get it done in Anchorage and are glad we did. Everyone involved was enthusiastic and helpful and the work was completed faster than we expected.  How sweet is that?

We have three panels running down one side of the trailer roof.  The roof is rounded, giving the panels a slight natural tilt.  We did not want to have to manually tilt the panels (the less chores the better), but the permanent tilt means that we will have to keep the sun direction in mind when picking campsites.  We originally sized the system for two panels but decided to add a third so we could avoid the hassle of climbing a ladder to adjust the panel angles

panels

The wiring from the panels runs into the interior through the refrigerator vent and then along the underside to the MPPT charge controller.  The charge controller is neatly tucked into a panel under a closet on one side of our bed.  It regulates the voltage to keep the batteries from overcharging and lets us know the amount of power produced by the panels and the state of battery charge. On a sunny day it provides up to 15 amps for several hours, which is more than enough to charge the batteries.

controller

controller

A 600 watt pure sine wave inverter is installed in the matching panel on the other side of our bed. It takes 12 volt DC from the batteries and converts it to 120 volt AC, allowing us to keep our electronics charged and to power the TV while dry camping during football season.

inverter

inverter

Finally, we upgraded the batteries to two 6 volt AGMs wired in series, which are mounted on the same battery mounts as the previous ones, with an added custom cover to keep water from pooling.

George did a tremendous amount of research to see what would work best for our needs without breaking the bank.  It looks like the research paid off.  So far, we are impressed with how fast the panels charge the batteries, even without full sun.  Of course, it is way too early to tell how everything will work in the long run.  But, for now, I’m tickled with the idea that we can get our electric needs from the sun.  We are already plotting a home solar system for when we come in off the road.

 

Decisions

It is final sorting time. Throw away, give away, sell, keep.  Decision, decision, decision, for every thing we own, down to scissors, pens, and shampoo bottles.  It is cathartic to shed so much accumulated stuff. We have done it several times in moves to and from Alaska.  It always feels good.

There are space and weight limitations in the trailer, of course, so deciding what to bring is an exercise in speculation and imagination.  Will we use this pan more than this one? How many pairs of pants do I really need? Some things are easy–my insulated, spiked running shoes will not be going with us.

I am perplexed about what to do with my Chaga.  It is a birch fungus harvested from a tree that we had to cut down behind our house.

Chaga chunks

Chaga chunks

It is supposed to have all kinds of health-giving properties because it is loaded with antioxidants.  And Chaga from really cold regions like Alaska is especially prized. Whether it’s truly beneficial or not, I don’t know, but I do like to make tea with it.  I would like to bring it with us, but it is never pleasant to receive unusual scrutiny at border crossings.  The crumbly texture and yellowish-brown color of my Chaga pieces suggest that they could be anything from dried animal parts to some sort of hallucinogen.  They scream out for extra scrutiny.  “What is this, ma’am?  A fungus?  And you use it for what?”  Best to leave the Chaga behind.

We have also been pondering our route through Canada.  We have driven the Alcan several times over the years, so are pretty familiar with the traditional route.  I have never driven the Cassiar Highway and would like to try it for a change, but that means that we would miss Liard Hot Springs–a tough call.  We will wait to see what the road conditions are like and how many campgrounds are open this early before we make a decision.

Our favorite Alcan trip was one we took with the kids in 1983 from Fairbanks to the East Coast in our yellow van.  That trip planted the seeds for this one.  Here are some pictures.

George at our campsite somewhere in Montana or Wyoming.

George at our campsite somewhere in Montana or Wyoming.

At Yellowstone

At Yellowstone

It was a good trip.

It was a good trip.

 

Who leaves Alaska in the summer?

We still have big patches of lingering snow in Anchorage, but the days feel like spring. Here’s the trailer, still snowbound last weekend.

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She (he? it? I’m not sure of the trailer’s gender) is plowed out now and getting ready for a solar panel install.

We are tentatively planning to leave on May 5.  But if we don’t leave then, eh, who cares?  It may be the most difficult time of year to leave Alaska.  Winter is finally over, everything is budding out, huge skeins of honking birds are migrating overhead, the woods have a spicy smell that I’ve only experienced up here, the days are getting long, and summer is about to hit full-force. We would normally be planning our summer hikes and camping trips now.

Here’s a sampling of some of our favorite hikes.

Lost Lake

Lost Lake

Crow Pass Trail near Raven Glacier

Crow Pass Trail near Raven Glacier

Resurrection Pass

Resurrection Pass

Tidal patterns on Turnagain Arm from Bird Ridge

Tidal patterns on Turnagain Arm from Bird Ridge

George and Zoe at Rabbit Lake on chilly day

George and Zoe at Rabbit Lake on chilly mid-summer day

Turnagain Arm from the Porcupine Campground in Hope

Turnagain Arm from the Porcupine Campground in Hope, start of Gull Rock Trail

We are probably crazy to leave this time of year.  But but we are ready and looking forward to the sweet pleasures of a New England summer for a change–corn straight from the field, really ripe tomatoes, fried clams with bellies, fresh lobster, and (on a non-food note) fireflies.  It’s countdown time.

 

It’s in the genes

Apparently my grandparents were part of the travel trailer boom of the 1950’s.  I was oblivious to this fact until a few months ago when I found these photos during a visit with my mother.

old_edited-1

This was in 1952. Beautiful trailer.

 

Living the good life

Living the good life.  I suspect they were enjoying a crossword in the sun.

I have no memory of their trailer days and was startled to see that sixty-two years ago they were setting out with their trailer just as George and I are now.

I guess wanderlust is in the genes. George’s father, Ed, had it.  He would pack the kids in the car for spur-of-the-moment trips to places such as Niagara Falls and took the younger kids on road trips out West.

Likewise, my mother, Lynne, will travel anywhere.  Even now, at age 90 and having suffered a stroke, she can out-travel me.  I was the beneficiary of my mother’s wanderlust, becoming her road-trip travel companion for a few trips in high school.  The most memorable was in Europe when I was 15, with two women and two teenagers in a rented Volkswagon camper.

Getting ready for a day of sightseeing, 1970.  It looks like an advertisement for a fun camping holiday gone bad.

Getting ready for a day of sightseeing. It looks like an advertisement for a fun camping holiday gone bad.

The underwear in the window is a nice touch.

The underwear in the window is a nice touch.

Both George and I came to Alaska originally because of a love of travel and new experiences.  Now we are setting out on the road for the same reason.  Thanks Hazel, John, Ed, Lynne, and host of other unknown ancestors for passing the wanderlust gene on to us.

Unleashed and unmuzzled

George and I have incurable wanderlust. We have kept it under wraps during our incarnation as career-folks, but have always dreamed of taking a really long road trip. Last fall we bought a 22-foot travel trailer and, after a couple of in-state shakedown cruises, put it to bed for the long Anchorage winter.

Spring (aka break-up) is approaching and we are plowing out the trailer. We retired from our jobs and are about to embark on a year-long (more or less) road trip through the Lower-48.  Because our lives have been constrained by schedules and deadlines for so many years, we want to keep this trip as flexible as possible.  Aside from my desire to sample all the best local potato chips in the country, we have no agenda and our itinerary is fluid.

Are we living in this thing?

Are we living in this thing?

Zoe is concerned about the packing, but will follow us anywhere.

We are waiting for the snow to melt so that we can get solar panels installed on our trailer.  After that, it’s final packing up and we should be leaving in early May.

We are almost unleashed and unmuzzled, but not there yet.