Boondocking, The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly Continued…Part 2: The Bad:

The title of this post is long enough (just like the post itself), but I would like to add to it: “…But Not Really That Bad, And Trending Toward The Good Nearly Every Day”.

1)      Noise: So far in our boondocking experience we’ve had reasonable peace and quiet. First, at Buckeye Hills, understand we chose that location specifically because it was close to Phoenix, and therefore one would expect some noise. With that said, I’d be happy to say we scored in that location! There were three sources of regular noise and one rare case I experienced prior to Emily’s arrival. The three regular sources consisted of 1) fighter jets and other planes flying over the area at fairly consistent intervals. It wasn’t like we were in the flight path of LAX or anything, just the training grounds (or sky) for the nearby Air Force Base and a local airport with a couple of planes and a helicopter that I’m guessing were flying lessons. Big deal. 2) There was a typical Arizona fixture located at Buckeye Hills, a shooting range. In this case, again I didn’t feel like the noise was considerably excessive, especially when I hiked up part of a mountain nearby and looked down on the shooting range, or ranges, as I also found the local sheriff’s office had two of their own there as well. All three of them were quite large, in fact the public one had some 40 positions from which to shoot. When I saw that, I was happy with the little bit of noise coming from there. Last, 3) a fairly generous quantity of tractor trailer traffic running up and down Hwy 85, which was probably about 1-2 miles away. It was most noticeable in the morning, which is part of the reason for going behind some hills to meditate. It helped some. Emily and I later found what looked to be a Wal-Mart distribution center on Hwy 85, and it made sense for it to be located there because this thoroughfare connects two major freeways, I-10 and I-8 with a short uncongested connector. Oh, the one noise for which I was thankful ended early or that somehow wasn’t enough to affect my sleep was a rave that someone was having in the middle of the week somewhere at a campsite. The sound of the bass was cutting right through the thin walls of the trailer and polluting the somber quiet! Oh well, if I wasn’t an old curmudgeon I might have followed the sound and got my groove on! Seriously, beyond that, noise has not been a factor while boondocking. In fact, I’m not sure I’ve ever been anywhere so devoid of sound as where we last parked (Las Cienegas National Recreation Area. If it wasn’t for the wind, I think I could almost say I now know what total silence is! For example, the sounds of a bird’s wings are something I never even thought to listen for, but something we heard daily. Oh, I almost forgot about the sounds of Emily’s loud chewing while wearing her noise canceling headphones. I guess when you have those things on you think even your sounds are canceled out, right?! 😊

2)      Tight space/bathroom: 

I struggle with this more than Emily. I have a really tough time dealing with tight spaces, and specifically where I’m regularly banging my elbows, knees, head or some other body part. It really pushes me to my limit. It’s not like a claustorphobia thing, but more like a serious annoyance. It brings out the whiny baby in me, literally! This topic may help lead me to a future blog called “Discomfort” or maybe “Uncomfortable”, as living in this small space can hopefully help me work through and face the core irritability at the root of this matter. When I’m already irritable about something, and I bang my elbow or head, it really sets me off. I’m sure it’s funny to somebody! Well, I’ve already gotten better with this matter. Specifically, the shower and bathroom was the main thing, because wow, it’s small! Emily’s made some minor changes in there to make it more functional, and simply more time getting used to it has made considerable improvement to my feelings about it.

3)      Minimal counter space: 

Yes, this is on a messy day! Along the same lines of the above, minimal counterspace coupled with a small (and I’ll go even so far as to say DANGEROUS) oven makes up a large part of it. It would help to have a pair of mouse paws in lieu of extra-large size hands inserted in an oven mitt to retrieve items from it, and if something else is cooking on the range top, where the heck is there to set something hot??? If you have anything sitting on the counter, you have almost certainly lost out on a major portion thereof. There is a handy-dandy plastic cutting board cover that goes atop the larger sink bowl, but it’s conveniently cut to not quite fit just right, causing it to slide around when cutting. Oh, there is a “folding” side table that sits over our trash can by the door at the end of the counter, but trying to fold it back down makes me want to lay open one of my wrists. Oh, and the trash can is about 1” too high causing us to pull out the trash can to close it. I know, big deal, right? So it seems unless you’re neurotic! My world revolves around efficiency, so when anything is taking more effort than it should, well it eats at me. More aptly, it irritates me!

4)      Getting water and filling the trailer’s fresh water tank: Well, this one has evolved somewhat, but to this day is still quite labor-intensive. Back in Denver, as Emily and I prepared for this new life, we made a trip to REI to acquire some things we knew we’d need. In so doing, we grabbed some containers to get water for transporting it to the campsite when we’re dry camping. Not knowing how much space we would have and due to the minimalist (small) nature of our future accommodations, we based our purchase largely on space accommodation. By this I mean we elected to purchase 5-gallon “collapsible” containers so they would be easier to store when not in use. As I found out, and I say “I” in this case purely because handling the water is one of my duties.  Mainly because each container weighs 40+ pounds, and it wouldn’t make sense or be very chivalrous to expect Emily to throw that kind of weight around regularly. Never before having handled fresh water in such large quantities before and never having researched anyone else’s experience, I was simply making a blind effort here. I say large quantities because we have (had) five of these containers, making the equivalent of 200+ pounds of water. 

This quantity is enough to fill ½ of our 50 gallon fresh water tank, but enough currently to sustain us for 3-4 days based on our current level of “comfortable” conservation. Fresh water is more effectively added via a “special” white garden hose that is part of our standard equipment, but when boondocking, after the initial tank is expended, additional water is added through the same fill spout on the trailer…somehow. Now in a short time I’ve learned what some of the seasoned veteran boondockers like our new friend Dennis do to accomplish this task with minimal effort. You know “work smarter, not harder”. It involves a pump specifically designed to draw water from the transport containers directly into the fill spout on the trailer. My first attempt involved my brilliant plan to set up our special telescoping ladder to a height above roof level (about 10 feet), huck each of those containers up there one at a time, and let them drain through the small pour spout into the fill spout through a sweet beer bong I made. Well, it worked! But, so did I, and arduously! 

What I found was 1) hauling these things anywhere, much less up 10’ of ladder, was probably on par with Laurel and Hardy moving a piano, and had I been able to watch myself doing this, I’m sure tears would be rolling down my face for one reason or another. Imagine an IV bag the size of a 18” by 18” cube with a handle like you find on a milk jug. Now imagine trying to manhandle it at 40+ pounds, then up a ladder onto the roof. Then, as it drains, it comes to life and deforms itself and the spout now becomes a moving target. Suffice it to say, this system was high maintenance, and quite honestly wouldn’t have been considered “OSHA Compliant”. As time went on, I made adjustments, first cutting the (bong) tube to a short 18” section and setting the ladder just above the fill spout. Now, I reduced the effort of getting the containers to the roof, but added effort in holding the containers on my shoulder until they drained entirely. And, since they compress as they drain, there really was no way to take off the spout on them so they could drain faster without a major spill. At some point I realized it was time to get some rigid containers. We now knew we had room for them, so why not get them? Emily reminded me that since I bought them at REI, I could return them. My next trip to Phoenix included a trip to REI to return the originals and replace them with rigid containers. In this case, the new ones are 7 gallons instead of 5, so another 16+ pounds of water weight per container, 56ish pounds each. Ugh! On the plus side, the fill and empty spouts are both considerably larger and easier to work, plus there is a vacuum relief valve at the top to help it empty faster. So that’s where I am now, lugging the heavier 56 pound rigid containers from the truck to the ladder which now only supports the funnel, and balancing it as it empties into the holding tank. They are heavier, but easier too, just because they maintain their shape, and I’ve since learned to slide them off the tailgate onto my shoulder for an easy lift. 

Next up, maybe I buy a pump like Dennis and Linda’s…but first I have to figure out the “geyser effect” I am getting from our fresh water tank. One day I was filling the tank, and it was likely my first time in excess of ½ a tank, and the water started backing up. Hmmm, I thought, can’t be full. What the heck? So I pull the bong tube out of the trailer’s fill spout, and pfffttt!!! An explosive blast of water blew against me from head to toe. Consider also that I shouldn’t have had to be adding water this way in this case because we were at a campground with a fresh water fill station that we failed to access on the way into the park. So people were already wondering why on earth I was adding water in this way to begin with, much less to make sense of my filling “technique”. Since our neighbors were well within viewing distance, I’m sure someone got a good laugh on account of me!

5)      Weather: 

This is actually more of a good one. I just thought I should talk about this one now due to the fact that I am lacking sleep today due to a long night of continuously waking up. Since we’re down in a wide, flat valley between two sizeable mountain ranges, and if you understand weather patterns, you might know we are subject to fairly regular windy weather. And not just windy, gusty as heck. In part due to me being a cyclist, and in part for no specific reason at all, as a rule I’m not a huge fan of wind. Light breeze, yes, wind no. This I’m pretty sure is the case for Emily, too, not a fan. With this said, and given the fact that we now live in a small trailer, the outdoors is our living room. A windy living room unfortunately does not bring us joy, but rather it often forces us into the trailer. Worse is what happens on windy nights like last night, extreme persistent winds above 20mph and gusts up to the 40mph range. In a trailer like ours, we experience life as campers. The sound of the wind against the trailer and anything that may not have been thought to be “loose” becomes so as things bang and tap and rumble. And there’s the rocking. Yes, it’s akin to being in the hull of a boat, but inconsistent. In my sleep-drunk state, I have an unreasonable fear of the trailer tipping over or anything that is outside being redistributed amongst our natural surroundings. It was enough wind  last night that I climbed onto the roof and dropped the solar panels flat to ensure they weren’t pulled loose from the roof, or the expensive dual-tilt brackets rendered bent or broken. The first experience similar to this one was perched high above Lake Pleasant before Emily joined Kitty and me. Only in that case the wind was howling the entire night at an average of 30mph, so the trailer was like a boat and the sound of it was crazy. I can comprehend the description of the train which tornado or hurricane victims mentioned in their experiences. Kitty was even frightened by that first one, as cuddling up next to me seemed to indicate. Being that we have been in the desert nearly all of our time since embarking on this adventure, you would assume rain wouldn’t be anything of concern, but it is/was winter, and winter is the rainy season. Also, given weather patterns like to move west to east, and since California is finally quenching it’s insatiable thirst for the first time in six years of drought, the same weather has made its way to Arizona, though in significantly smaller doses. The few rains I’ve experienced, including a brief one this morning, have made for considerably difficult sleeping conditions, maybe in some cases worse than the wind. If you don’t mind rain on a metal roof, you wouldn’t mind too much, but just know it’s loud and there’s not much space or insulation between the roof and the ceiling to do much sound deadening. These experiences really just bring us more in touch with nature and make us realize we have to be flexible, innovative, and learn to commune more closely with Mother Earth. Emily was more successful sleeping last night because she makes a point of wearing ear plugs at night to prevent Kitty’s late night stirring and my early morning awakenings from affecting her too much. I will try that next time the wind or rain are expected. I don’t want to leave the impression that the weather has been bad, as we are really happy to be here and enjoy so much of the amazing and warm sunny weather that has made the vast majority of our days here. 

And the crazy gorgeous sunrises and sunsets definitely rival California’s wintertime Pacific Ocean sunsets. 

We did have a week or week and a half of 90 to 100 degree hot sunny days prior to moving further south. During that time we elected to hide out at an RV Park so we could enjoy the benefits of our air conditioning. When we boondock, we do not have the benefit of our air conditioning, simply because the electrical load is too much for our solar and batteries. This is not just the case for us, but rather is an understanding of “how it is” for boondockers. Roving around based on weather appears to be a large part of this way of life. Honestly, it has been for us too, but I feel that week of hot weather scared many snow birds away from where we are now. Since then the temp’s have been perfect, if not slightly cold, but guess what, we are nearly alone out here. Yay! UPDATE: I am now wearing ear plugs every night, and I am sleeping better. We haven’t since had a wind or rain storm to test them under those conditions, but in due time, no hurry!

6)      Heating: This has been a fun one. The trailer really does have a good heating system, but two things cause us to limit our using it. Most importantly, it requires DC power to run the fan to distribute heat through a “ducted system” like most houses employ. On the plus side, it provides fast, even heat throughout the trailer. The down side is we are typically running it only at night, so it has to rely on our (improperly configured) battery storage capacity rather than the solar panels, in order to run. Further, the furnace also heats using propane, which in most cases is what you want. But in most RV furnaces including ours, they are only around 50-55% efficient. Compare this to most homes’ furnaces heating at 80-96% efficiency. Well, we already knew this from prior research, and Emily’s parents had bought us a “Mr Heater Little Buddy” heater for Christmas. We were so stoked when we got it! Unfortunately, due to our concern for the environment (recycling, etc) we’ve had challenges employing it like we’d hoped. Through a rather long process of trial and error, I’m finally nearing a solution as of today. Well, I hope so! The main issue is this heater is designed to use the little 1 pound bottles (you know, like the Coleman lanterns, stoves, or grills), and these things are intended to be pitched into the landfill after a single use. Well, thanks to our friends Dennis and Linda, who gave us one to try out, they will last one, maybe two nights max. This is not running the heater all night, mind you, just a couple of hours before bed and an hour or so in the morning. As you can imagine, we can’t feel good about the number of bottles we’ll go through. On the other hand, we’re not going to be uncomfortable either. This is one thing we agreed on prior to embarking on this adventure. Neither of like to be cold. We are weaklings with respect to cold and somewhat so with heat, too. So, this has got to be resolved! With some advice from Dennis, some on-line research, and some minor deliberation, we’d long ago made the decision to refill the bottles we have from our larger propane bottles on the trailer. The problem seems to have been finding the damn parts, and only today did I realize they can be purchased on Amazon by the same manufacturer as the heater! Yes, this is one of those times I feel really dumb…one of the many times since the prelude to this adventure. But, oh well, that’s how we grow, right? Parts are on order, so c’mon universe, see it through! On another note, during a hot stretch we researched the use of a product called “Reflectix” on the windows, skylights, and vents to reject incoming heat through one some of the most obvious weak points in the trailer’s thermal boundary. It did make a noticeably difference. We’ve since been putting them up at night to help retain heat, and I’d say it keeps us around 10 degrees warmer than without them. I consider this to be a great win and would highly recommend it to others in RV life. UDPATE: I have now filled my first set of 5 bottles with the parts I received through Amazon and from Ace Hardware. There is a thread compatibility issue, so some gas leaks out while I’m filling the tanks, but I’ll just remember not to smoke when filling them, LOL. This photo shows the little green tanks you’ve probably seen before that run our mini heater and the two tanks that are standard equipment on the travel trailer. These tanks hold 8 gallons of propane each. Compare that to the 5 gallons of a standard grill’s propane tank. 

7)      Everything Is A Specialty Item: I won’t go into this much. I’ll just say that in this world of RV’ing, the name of the game is space efficiency and utilization. There are some things out there for this, but I feel like everyone is different in how they choose to implement their own plan. In this, things can be found easily, but most things require something “special” or lots of trial and error. Consider also how cheaply RV’s are built, not just for cost savings, but also for weight savings. This means mounting anything to the walls isn’t as simple as every stud being 16” on center. And the walls being constructed of ¼” paneling doesn’t allow for very solid mounting without the proper anchors. We’ve made some great improvements so far with sticky back type hangers and such, but it doesn’t feel as quality as in a typical home, which for me is hard to stomach. This I believe will continue to be a work in process, but it can also be fun and challenging. Organization is a “big part” of tiny home living.

8)      Relocating/Moving the Trailer: This isn’t terrible, but it isn’t easy. Also for me, this has been a considerable point of stress and frustration. Since the trailer is small, we do have to make more “adjustments” to where things go during travel than anyone with a larger trailer or RV. We have a process of rearranging that we do in order to redistribute weight and to fit everything in a safe spot for transport. Also, there is a different process with water/wastewater depending on where you are leaving and where we are going. In our last move, it was the first time we traveled with a full fresh water tank, but in which case we were leaving our first place with a sewer connection. Prior to leaving, we had to dump our wastewater and fill up on freshwater. I would not have filled up in this particular move except that right after we left the RV park, we headed to a flat asphalt parking area to install a new “weight distribution” hitch, and we needed the trailer to be “typical weight”. If you recall having read my prior post “Finally, The Open Road”, I had some “fun with towing”. Well, it has improved greatly since the initial “Exodus from Denver”, but in more recent drives between camp spots my sweaty palms had still been causing me mild dehydration. We bucked up and bought a new hitch, and acquiring the tools to install it is another story in and of itself. That said, the install went well, and the drive to our next location allowed me to safely take one hand off the wheel and drive nearly as lazily as I would without the trailer in tow. There is still some weight distribution needed in the way we load the trailer, but the new hitch has alleviated a considerable amount of stress associated with our leaps from site to site. The other stress with moving is mainly in things that need to be considered anytime we are headed to a new location: Is the gas tank full? Did we hit the grocery store? Where do we get water? Where do we dump? Are we driving in rush hour? Silly question maybe, but we have somehow managed to do this regularly thus far. It’s not fun when pulling a trailer, but better now that we are towing more safely. Also, just the process of breaking down and moving itself has been a challenge simply because we are still learning and improving. It has gotten much better, in fact we can break down and ship out in just over an hour now, and we can set up at a new site in less than 45 minutes. At the new location, the biggest stressor is selecting a spot. There’s always sense of concern for selecting the best available spot. Big stressor, right? UPDATE: We’re looking at doing away with the bike rack. Since it hangs off the back of the trailer and has a total combined weight of about 100lbs, moving it into the truck bed or the front of the trailer made a difference in our last move. Also, the bike rack is 50lbs by itself, and cumbersome as heck. It is super nice when taking our bikes to town, but not sure it’s worth the penalty to keep it. 

Also, we were very afraid of leaving our last spot because it was absolutely awesome. We kind of knew we’d be taking a step down. What we found at our new place was 1) it was easy to find (no stress), 2) it’s equally beautiful in a different way, and 3) we do have a bit more noise, but we recognized that we are still sharing the earth with other humans, and in this case their home is permanent fixed, while ours is not.

9)      Solar issues: This matter is still a work in progress and one in which I have a high degree of frustration. Solar technology in an RV seems to be very well based in the subjective and very little in concrete black-and-white understanding. But in as much the same way with other “gray” areas, experts are everywhere who claim to know everything! The bottom line for us was we had a really tough time sorting through which system to get and how to get it installed. We ended up with a system that most installers have a disdain for, and for which we so far are very happy with. The installer we selected was not an RV solar specialist, or a solar specialist at all for that matter. They specialize in RV and boat remodels. They did however claim to know how to install the systems. I won’t dive back into the details of my prior post about my challenges in getting the system installed. Instead I’ll belabor the point that they were not solar (or RV solar) experts. The system we purchased through Amazon was (more or less) plug and play, but not being anything of an expert myself, I was counting on the installer to advise me on anything that I might want to consider or that the kit we purchased didn’t consider or include. To keep it as simple as possible for this post, the installers left the original trailer battery in place and “added” the two new (and very expensive) batteries that we instead intended to replace the original. The research I had done prior to initiating any of this suggested that we do as I intended, replace the original (and likely very old) battery entirely. When during the installation, the installer indicated that they were “able to keep” the old battery in place and give us more storage, I was in no position to question it. We only later found out 1) the battery was shot, 2) the two new batteries were not directly providing power for the DC power system in the RV (this includes most of the critical items like the furnace fan, lights, exhaust fan(s), water pump, really anything you can’t do without), and 3) since the old battery was completely shot, the new batteries were completely discharging in an attempt to charge the old battery (potentially detrimental for the longevity of our new expensive batteries). When the old battery completely went flat on us, in the short term I made the decision to replace it with one from Wal Mart until I can later figure out how to properly reconfigure the system. Since then, we really have been fine except when we had two days in a row of cloudy/rainy days. Now, we are at a higher altitude, and the sun is higher in the sky for more hours each day, so I think we are ok to limp along in the current configuration until I get the mojo to take further action. Most importantly, the experience I’ve had working with the manufacturer has been very positive, with great customer service. And, we’re living 100% off the sun!!! We don’t have and don’t plan to or want to utilize a noisy, costly, and gas-guzzling generator, so long as we can help it. I can see considering it only if we absolutely need it for air conditioning. In the meantime, we can feel really great about our decision.

10)   Washing dishes: This really isn’t a big deal and only worth mentioning simply because it’s not the simple, lazy way we were accustomed to doing dishes. One thing worth mentioning is that we essentially let go of all of our dishes with the exception of Emily’s unicorn mug received from her Bestie, Heather. Goofy, right? No! I’m not afraid to say I would’ve kept it myself if she didn’t! It’s really amazing and unique. 

Anyway, the reason for ousting all our old stuff was mostly rooted in rational purpose: reducing weight and limiting breakage during transit. But, in reality, I do believe the deeper purpose was to let go of all of the crap Emily and I had accumulated prior to meeting, and which we had to this point chosen to keep based on 1) not really caring that much about them beyond functionality, and 2) our “under-earner” mentality. The latter part is an aspect our ourselves we work deeply on letting go of, and in letting go of things that really mean little to nothing to us, we are cleansing a part of this dysfunction in ourselves. Being an under-earner is essentially not valuing oneself highly and in turn always struggling in life with the elements that relate to this dysfunction. The seems to always boil down to (mostly subconsciously) choosing a lesser thing than the one we desire: acceptable income, an acceptable career, a comfortable relationship, a sensible car, etc, etc. Emily is less of this than I am, but she can relate to it in other ways. Anyway, back to the RV stuff, we went the route of buying our first set of “china” and “flatware” of the plastic(ish) variety. I say “ish” because I think the plates and bowls are plastic (recycled product found a Whole Foods), and I honestly think they are great. Nothing sticks to them, so cleaning with water conservation in mind is a snap. The cups are made of wheat straw, but they feel like plastic, and wheat straw is a byproduct of wheat and other crops. They are light and of the earth, but not the “made of oil, aka processed fossil fuels” of the earth. The “flatware” is not fancy silver, or even shiny cheap (and somehow oddly sized) Costco flatware like I had previously brought into our home, but rather fancy plastic camping utensils. They, like the plates and bowls, are like Teflon, nothing sticks to them, so again great for washing! 

So back to the dish washing, well thanks to the material of the dishes and utensils we bought, they clean easily, but the challenge is we do have to clean everything by hand. Yes, no dishwasher! And, with water conservation being a necessary evil of “dry camping”, it feels to me a lot like cleaning dishes camping style, though slightly better. I say slightly better because we do have a nice two-bowl sink, one smaller that I find to be a great way to conserve when washing. Also, due to the limited counterspace, I typically employ a wash-dry, wash-dry, wash-dry method of cleaning. Maybe a benefit is my hands don’t get all pruned up and they don’t crack and split like they used to 😉.

11)   Large item storage/Truck as part of house: I just brought this up because it’s felt like a thorn in my side for some time now. Specifically for the “truck as part of the house” part. In reality, it feels like it’s the garage and basement combined. The cab being enclosed and upholstered is the finished basement, and the enclosed bed the garage. Anything that doesn’t fit comfortably inside the trailer while parked or which can be safely stored outside or under the trailer ends up in the truck. It’s just frustrating to always have things in there to move around, take out, or sift through to find something or to make room for something else. And, for me, it’s just cluttered and uncomfortable. I do have faith this will be resolved shortly as we reach our previously discussed “3-Month Purge”, when we consolidate yet again after forcibly removing any nagging items that haven’t yet effectively justified their presence on this adventure, and which we don’t seriously imagine a need for in one calendar year’s time. UPDATE: Haven’t yet done the purge, but I did make a solid run to a handful of stores to return a whole lot of stuff we bought but couldn’t use. This was an arduous and long day, but it made a huge difference!

That’s it for now. I promise The Ugly will be much shorter. Then I can move onto some fun things!

3 thoughts on “Boondocking, The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly Continued…Part 2: The Bad:

  1. Great post Jeff! The bad doesn’t seem too bad! I think the hardest part would be the lack of “kitchen” space. I laughed out loud at the curmudgeon part and totally pictured you shaking your fist at the ravers. Happy adventures to you both 🙂


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