Posted on January 31, 2018
This past October our family traveled to Virginia so I could run an Ultra Marathon. We knew it was going to require us to be without shore power in our RV for at least 3 nights (we ended up 4 nights without shore power), so I decided to research solar power. Because the last time we boondocked for several nights we used a generator and even on a fully charged factory installed battery we couldn’t make it through one night without COMPLETELY draining the battery, which I now know is a huge no-no.
I won’t bore you with all of the details about all the solar setups that are possible and cut straight to the chase and let you know about the simplest setup anybody can possibly have. (Renogy 100 Watts 12 Volts Monocrystalline Foldable Solar Suitcase, affiliate link to Amazon)
The first thing you need has nothing to do with solar panels. It’s a battery bank. The battery your RV came with isn’t going to cut it. You need to upgrade to two 6volt deep cycle batteries. Commonly known as golf cart batteries.
You need two of them run in series because your RV runs on a 12 volt system when on battery, and two 6volt batteries make 12 volts. It’s simple math. (click here for information about wiring two 6 volt batteries in series)
You will want to look at the amp hours on the battery too. Mine are rated at 210 amp hours. Which means I essentially have 105 usable “amp hours” because you don’t want to let your batteries fall below 50% capacity. (More detail about this below)
So simply put: let’s say your RV lights draw 5 amps and you ran those for 10 hours straight you will have used 50 amp hours of your 105 amp hours (this is assuming nothing else is drawing off the battery) So this is where a solar panel comes in. The solar panel keeps the battery charged so you always have usable amps.
Solar panels don’t “power” your RV. They simply keep the battery charged. We use a Renogy 100 Watts 12 Volts Monocrystalline Foldable Solar Suitcase. We decided on the “ground deploy” method because we wanted simplicity and did not want to deal with installing panels on the roof or running wiring through the RV.
This 100watt panel connects to our battery setup with alligator clamps and the line from the panel has a 10amp fuse installed in it. We also purchased a model that came with a charge controller which is another essential component of a solar setup. Without a charge controller the panel can’t regulate and put “juice” into the batteries.
So, out little system now looks like this: solar panel & charge controller, battery bank (and wiring the that runs from the charge controller to the batteries)
The higher the wattage panel you get the more amp hours it can pump back into the batteries. Our little 100watt panel puts in about 5 amps per hour in full direct sun. So, if we used 20 amps of power during the night running lights and fans, it would take 4 hours to fully charge the battery.
So far, this simple setup has been great for us. So much so we temporarily disconnect from shore here in Austin (we went back onto shore power because the cost of propane offset any energy savings).
So that’s it, a super simple way to go solar.
- Purchase at least two 6 volt deep cycle batteries and wire then in series (this replaces your existing 12 volt marine battery), connecting them to your RV. If you want more usable amp hours go ahead and wire up four 6 volt deep cycles in series. Just make sure they are all the same make/model and amp hour rating
- Purchase a briefcase style solar panel WITH charge controller.
- Connect the charge controller via alligator clamps to the battery, or your RV’s solar ready port if compatible (note, most of the solar ready ports are useless without a special plug that the manufacturer doesn’t even know much about)
- Go off grid!
Important things to note when going solar.
- This simple system will not power air conditioning, AC outlets or microwaves.
- The more batteries you have the more usable amp hours are available and the longer you can go without having to charge them. This is helpful for cloudy days.
- When on solar you are running on DC only. You will need propane to keep your fridge running.
- Consider wiring 12 volt ports into the RV. This is easiest done by connecting existing wiring such as lights and your water pump (anything that runs on DC power)
- Use small 12 volt adapter inverters for charging laptops, batteries, and televisions (I will say though we don’t have a TV in our rig so have never attempted to power one). You can hard wire them to the battery or use the 12 volt outlets you installed. Going directly off the battery is always best.
- Never let your battery capacity fall below 50%…or 12volts. This can be measure with a voltmeter, or usage meters that connect to the battery.
Posted on January 20, 2018
Well, what can we say, life has been crazy. A lot has been going on in our lives, so we thought we would take some time to update you.
Since our last update we had just returned from spending a couple months in Red River, New Mexico: and we absolutely loved it there. We definitely plan on going back sometime in the near future.
Following our trip to New Mexico, we returned to Austin for a few weeks before hitting the road again and heading up to Virginia for Caleb to run the Grindstone 100. During that portion of the trip we also visited friends in Winchester, VA, and Chattanooga, TN on the way back to Texas.
Over the entire summer we had traveled well over 5,500 miles. Since then though we had been nestled in our RV site in Austin, but a couple weeks ago we went to Hill Country State Natural Area for Caleb to run the Bandera 100k. After that we spent a week on Kristy’s mom’s property and did some improvements to the RV. Pictures below.
The past few months have been a whirlwind though. Caleb has been working hard on Bearded Brothers, and Kristy started up her own business as well that will set us up for future success when we start traveling more. The new business is an MLM opportunity selling Monat haircare products.
We have also started attending a new Church, Grace and Peace, and have really been enjoying it. We also recently received news that our RV park has sold, and is under new ownership, and the current rumor is everybody has to be out by the end of the year. We aren’t sure if their plans are to do improvements, or just turn the property into another development, but either way we are excited about the new opportunities it will bring, and love the idea of not having to pay for a site in the park while we are gone. We will just find a new home upon returning from our summer travels.
2018 is certain to hold a lot of exciting things. Sometime in March or April we plan on taking another trip out to the Guadalupe Mountains. This time we pray that it will be problem free. We also plan on traveling this summer again as well. We will be in Durango, CO in July and Caleb will be volunteering for the Hard Rock 100, and will for sure be in Steamboat Springs area around September, 15: Caleb is running the Run Rabbit Run 100 miler.
With the growth of both our businesses, and all the travel we are certainly in for a wild ride this year, but we are looking forward to it.
What travel plans do you have in store for 2018? What big goals do you have? Comment below.
Posted on September 21, 2017
Earlier this summer, our family went on a two-mile hike that took us more than two hours to complete. Yep, that’s right, we were walking slower than one mile per hour. I’m pretty sure snails were slithering faster than us. All this got me thinking about why we even bother dragging our kids out on the trail when doing it alone would be much faster and usually more enjoyable. Simmering on this question, I came up with three reasons why we keep hiking with our kids.
Hiking is our family way. Sharing the outdoors with our kids is part of our family culture, our identity. When we spend time outside we are showing our kids that nature is important, that we are a part of God’s glorious creation. They are learning respect, stewardship and conservation. Not because we preach it to them, but because they see us live it out on the trail. Along the way we are building beautiful memories together that I hope will remain in their hearts as a wellspring of joy that they may draw from their whole life through.
Tip: Let your kids see you enjoying nature and they will follow. Bend down to examine a flower. Let them see you picking up trash along the trail. Model good trail etiquette. Talk about what you see and hear. More is caught than taught!
Hiking is education. Every time we go on a hike, my kids and I learn something valuable. Because they are hiking slowly (did I mention the snail’s pace?) they notice so much more than I do. They are always bringing me berries, flowers or bugs to identify. On this particular hike, Josh found six different types of mushrooms, some of which were edible. I love that my kids are becoming nature-literate, learning how the world works by touching, tasting and enjoying it’s creatures.
Tip: Resist the urge to lecture your kids. Let them point out what piques their interest and allow them to ask questions. I encourage our kids to take samples or photos of any plants or animals they find interesting so we can identify them at home. They remember so much more when they do the leg-work.
Hiking is perseverance. There are no short-cuts out on the trail. If we want to see the waterfall, alpine lake or wildflower meadow, we have to keep going. Hiking is a golden opportunity to teach little ones the value of setting a goal and sticking to it, even when he journey is difficult. Of course, we keep our hikes within their capability, but that doesn’t mean there won’t be a fair amount of complaining and feet-dragging along the way. Our hope is that by slowly stretching their abilities they will become more resilient and confident.
Tip: Have patience. If possible, let your kids take the lead and set the pace. I try to remind myself that my goal is to foster a love of nature, not set any personal records for fastest hike.
Yes, hiking with little ones is not the same as going alone; It’s a lot slower, louder and generally more painful… Like most every part of parenting. I like to imagine our family in ten years, hiking the Pacific Crest Trail together. I know they won’t be little forever, so I try to savor these “training” hikes, where we lay the foundation for what we hope becomes a life-long love of nature.
Posted on September 5, 2017
We thought it would be several more years before we owned a new RV, but ol’ Thistle just keep falling apart. Upon arriving in Red River, New Mexico, she practically gave up the ghost, so we began looking for new RV’s that could still be towed with our current truck.
We landed on a 2018 Crossroads Volante, made by Keystone. The rig is a 35’ fifth wheel, has two slide-outs, and extra room in the master bedroom. This wasn’t our dream rig, it was just one step down, but still gave us much more breathing room for our now family of five.
Thistle, though she provided us lots of great memories had LOTS of problems too. The new RV is night and day difference. Below are just a “few” things I love about our new home on wheels.
For faster reading I have italicized my favorites.
- Window treatments – For the past two years we have been covering our bedroom windows with towels and/or foil bubble wrap. We finally have pull down blinds!
- A light above my bed – Simple, yet extremely satisfying. I will now be able to read in my bed without having to strain my eyes. We were never able to get the light above our bed to work.
- A place to stand up and change clothes – in both our bedroom and the bathroom. The “Master Bedroom” has standing room to change, as well as the bathroom. This means more privacy for all!
- Not having to wake Kristy by clothing pulling bins down at 5:30am – In our old RV we stored most of our clothing in whicker baskets above the bed. If I forgot to get my running cloths ready the night before I would make a lot of noise early in the morning pulling down bins, but we now have dresser drawers across from the bed to store our clothes!
- Bluetooth stereo! – No more tiny bluetooth speaker. We now have speakers inside and outside the rig that pair directly to our phone an iPads!
- High ceilings – Simple, but you won’t believe how much more roomy it makes the RV feel.
- Kids will have more room – I mean a LOT more room. Ever since we got the rig they have been pretty much playing in their room that has a slide out. This gives us more privacy and keeps our shoeless kids from dirtying up our bed (this used to be where they played)
- Perfect sized fridge – Upgraded from six cubit feet to eight. It makes a huge difference, plus the outdoor kitchen has a mini fridge as well. No more playing Tetris to fit items into the fridge.
- Outdoor kitchen for cooking on warmer days – Summer’s in Texas are miserable. The last thing you want to do is heat up your oven and stove top on a 95 degree day. The outside kitchen will be a welcomed addition on hot days.
- No more leaks (at least we hope). It’s been raining every afternoon since we got back to Red River. And so for, no leaks.
- Power awning – This was even better than I thought. It will withstand up to 25mph winds, previous model started rattling your nerves with 12-14 MPH winds, and on top of that it has a DUMP feature that empties water that collects on top.
- Comfy couch and sleeping area for guests – The couch and seating in the dinette area are SUPER comfy. Ol’ thistle poked you in the rear with metal rods, even our 5 year old daughter preferred a pillow under her bottom when sitting. Even today she commented on how she didn’t have to use a pillow on the new seats.
- Drawers under seating – We now have drawer access to the storage under the dinette seating. It’s now the location we store pots and pans…rather than inside the oven.
- Cupboard storage – Not just the cupboard storage….it’s ALL the storage. We have so much more of it now. SO MUCH!!!
- Bathtub that doesn’t drain down the side – In ol’ Thistle water would just run down the front side of the tub straight down onto the floor. So far it seems that isn’t happening in the new RV.
- Shower sprayer – The new shower sprayer has a cut-off feature on it that allows you to soap up your dirty bod so you don’t use all your hot water.
- Solar ready! – We haven’t been much for boon docking yet, have only done it once, but with a solar ready unit we just might start. All we need to do is purchase a portable solar panel, plug it in, and our battery will stay charged.
- Ease the fear of “what will go wrong next” – Thistle, as much as we loved her, just kept having problem after problem. According to the dealer the roof was also falling apart and they were going to have to send it to auction. This makes us even more glad we made the decision to get a new rig.
- Doors that don’t slam open or shut – The new RV has friction hinges, so the doors stay right where you place them. Whether that is fully open or just half way open. So you don’t have to worry about the door hitting you on the back side as you walk into your home.
- No more super noisy vent hood – cooking is such a joy…except when the noise of the vent hood drowns out your loved ones voices (although this can be nice when the kids are unruly). The new vent hood is much quieter and you can still carry on a conversation while coking.
Posted on August 25, 2017
Sometimes saying goodby is hard, but here it goes…..
Goodbye, Thistle, our thirty-foot rolling home.You’ve served us well for two years,
Bringing comfort wherever we roam.
Together we’ve seen seven states,
And many a mountain peak.
Through blazing heat and pouring rain,
You never sprang a leak.
In your shelter our family grew,
From a foursome to a party of five.
You helped us stay close and save money,
When we weren’t sure we could survive.
You’ve had your share of troubles:
Blow-outs, rot and pests.
But we choose to remember the good times,
And to heck with all the rest.
Thank you for being our teacher,
Patiently enduring while we learn
The rules of towing, backing-up,
And not hitting trees when you turn.
We hope the next family who owns you
Will be kinder to you than we.
Know you will always hold a place in our hearts
And a mark on my step-father’s tree.
Goodbye, Thistle, old friend.
You’ve been a most helpful abode.
Maybe we’ll see you again,
Down that long and winding road,
Stay tuned for posts about our brand new fifth wheel and why we decided to spring for a brand new rig (and finance it).
Posted on August 6, 2017
We have now been living in our 30’ Four Winds RV for over two years. Thistle, as we like to call our home, was our first home on wheels, and we are about to get a HUGE upgrade.
We have been longing for a new RV ever since our first RV show in spring of 2016. But the $56k sticker prices made our dream seem impossible. Our dream RV has 4 slide outs, two bathrooms, and a residential sized bathtub (high on the “must have list” for Kristy).
The dream of upgraded RV status is about to become a reality though. After two frustrating years of constant repairs on Thistle, we decided to start looking at RV’s again just to see what was out there.
One of the most important search parameters we were basing off of, was that we needed something our current Ford F-250 Diesel could tow. The search turned up an awesome Fifth Wheel RV that is very similar to our “dream RV” but just a few steps down.
We figured that the step up in space, but not such a huge jump would be worth it for us. The new rig can be towed with our current truck, and is only 35’ long as compared to 40’ long, which makes maneuvering the rig around much easier, and has a sticker price of $35k. The rig is the Crossroads Volante!
The new rig only has two slides, it doesn’t have a residential tub, or an extra bathroom, but it does give us more room, extra storage, and fewer headaches when it comes to repairs (as this rig is brand new). We get a lot of the upgrades we wanted in our “dream RV” without paying an astronomical price…. and our family gains a bit of sanity from gaining a bit of extra living space.
Below is a list of our favorite upgrades we get with purchasing this new rig:
- Enough space in the master bedroom area to standup and change clothes (this was a big must have in a new rig)
- Lots of extra space in the kids room for them to have space to play
- Roomier bathroom, now with enough space to change clothes
- A stereo system with indoor and outdoor speakers, that is also Bluetooth capable…no more dinky portable speaker
- An outside kitchen. This will get lots of use during the hot Texas summers (that is if we even stick around for them)
- 8 cubic foot fridge (upgraded from 6) and we also have the outside fridge to use as well.
- Remote control for the slide outs and awning. This wasn’t something I was ever even looking for, but it will be nice to be able to put the slides out while I watch them without having to get Kristy to do it for me.
And a few things we wanted, but didn’t get:
- A washer and dryer
- Residential bathtub
- An extra slide in the kitchen
- A kitchen island
- Extra seating in the living area
We never anticipated purchasing a rig so soon, but when we factored in all the repairs we have made, we thought we would rather put that towards a payment on a new rig. We should be picking up the new RV later this week. I will be sure to post pics once we get it, and will do another post about modifications we made.
Posted on July 31, 2017
I must admit, upon deciding to spend half our summer in Red River, New Mexico, I had no idea what I was really getting into. I just assumed that, as with any town, I would be able to go work remotely from a coffee shop, that buying groceries would be a breeze, and that I would have good cell phone reception.
I was wrong about all of that. Yes there are coffee shops here, and yes they have WiFi…sometimes, but the hours are sporadic. Usually the coffee shops close by 2 or 3pm, and opening at all is questionable. Cell phone service here is also very spotty, and you are lucky if you get any data right outside of town…if you do it’s usually 3G and VERY slow.
I have to admit, though, I like this slower paced lifestyle. On most days I have woken up early for a run or to read before the kids wake up, and then I go work for a few hours before joining the family for lunch. I then return to the RV Park community room or go back to town to get some more work done. Town, by the way, is only a mile from our RV park, and just one mile long, so I usually ride my bike into town.
I’m less distracted with things going on in the office too, so I’m able to do more work in less time, which has freed me to end my days early and spend more time with the family. It has been quite nice.
The whole family has been more relaxed here in the mountains. Our kids are calmer, they are even sleeping better, and both Kristy and I are just far more relaxed overall.
I don’t know if it’s the mountain air, the change in routine, the lack of oppressive heat, or just having fewer obligations, but everybody is happy here! We are definitely going to return to the mountains again next year. It does our family a lot of good.
2016 and early this year was pretty rough for our family. So, to be here in the mountains, slowing down, is a welcomed reprieve. Lately we have felt like our RV is falling apart (because it pretty much is) but despite all of that we are still calm and relaxed. A new RV might be in our future too. We just have to figure out how to make it happen.
Posted on July 19, 2017
We made it to Red River, New Mexico and woke up this morning to a wonderful 50 degree day. So far, I am in love with this place. The air is crisp, cool and smells like a mixture of campfire and pine trees, which happen to be my favorite smells.
The kids are much happier here than they were in Austin, mainly because they are not sweaty and there is plenty of new places to explore. Signs everywhere tell of bears and Josh is determined to find one and “fight him with his sword.”
Nate woke up at 5:40 AM because the one-hour time difference threw him off, but the other two kiddos slept until their normal 7:00 AM wake-up time. I was thankful for that because I was beat after two LONG days of travel.
Getting here was a little crazy. We broke the trip into two days and had flat tires both days. Thankfully, Caleb is now an expert tire-changer and we were able to get back on the road fairly quickly. I told him he could work in a pit crew now with all his experience. He didn’t think it was that funny, but I’m really very proud of him.
Caleb is planning on working in town most days, though finding an open coffee shop has been a challenge in this tiny little ski town. The population here is around 450 people and apparently there is only one barista in town and she just had a baby.
We will be here for six weeks and I have a stack of good books I’m hoping to devour in my down time. I’m also hoping to catch up on some writing too. Mainly I am hoping this trip will give our family time to relax and enjoy one another after the long season of grief and stress we have recently endured.
May the mountain air refresh us, mind, body and soul!
Posted on July 3, 2017
Before summer even started we began dreaming of traveling to Colorado for the summer again. We didn’t know how we could survive another summer in Austin…in an RV…with THREE kids.
There were several problems holding us back though: finances, my work, and the fact I’m running another 100 mile race in Virginia in early October. July isn’t even here yet and we have already have a couple days over 100 degrees. But even before the last 100-degree day we decided we HAD to get out of Texas (we have figured out the temperature threshold for keeping the inside of the RV cool is about 93 degrees…at best).
So, I started doing some research on where we might be able to go to escape the heat, but not have to travel 1,600 miles and pay outrageous fees for campsites. At first it seemed a trip to the mountains wasn’t in the cards for us…that is until I discovered Red River, New Mexico.
We got a decent price on a lot at a local RV park for 5 weeks, and we have one week booked in a State Park nearby as well (for family vacation time). The travel distance is only about 1,400 miles round trip – nearly half the distance to our favorite Colorado destination. And the best part is; the average HIGH temperature is 77 degrees in the dead of summer. Thats even cooler than the Colorado front range.
Needless to say, we are excited to go wheels down in just two weeks. But before we roll out we have several things we have to take care of, such as repacking the bearings on the RV, rotating tires on the truck, and calling our bank to let them know we are traveling and to not freeze our debit cards (we have had this happen in the past at the worst possible time).
As with our past travels I will be able to work on the road….and some of my past concerns with being away from the office have subsided. I also came back with new vigor and rejuvenation after the last extended period of time away from the office.
On top of getting away from the heat, and getting some much needed rest for the family I will get to train for my next 100-mile race in the mountains! Which will put me at a good advantage going into the race in early October. Prior to knowing we would travel again I selected Grindstone 100 in Virginia as my 100 mile race of choice because I wasn’t going to get to the mountains, but now I will get to run a race at lower elevation after spending a good 6 weeks at higher elevations.
We are super excited to travel again and get the RV on the road. This was what we had hoped we would do from the very start of this journey…travel a lot. Life had more in store for us though…mostly our third child, but now that he is almost one we hope to be traveling a lot more.
Also, I plan on blogging a lot more here. I would love to know what full time RV related topics you might want to hear about.
Posted on June 4, 2017
For anybody that had been following our site, you may remember our last post was about expecting our third child. Well, a LOT has happned since then.
Baby Nathan is now eight months old, and surgical measures have been taken to ensure our family stays a family of five! Life has been pretty crazy since the birth of Nathan. Obviously…we haven’t posted here at all in nearly a year.
Things are finally starting to get back into a decent routine. Even though Nathan isn’t sleeping through the night yet, we are getting longer stretches, which makes life much easier. Life is much harder when you lack sleep, and have no motivation to start your mornings early because you are up two or three times a night.
We even have plans to travel again this summer. It won’t be a long 3-4 month trip like we started this adventure with, but we are sure to get away for 4-6 weeks. I have signed up for my second-ever 100-mile Ultramarathon. This one is in Virginia. I have never been to the east coast before, so I’m looking forward to experiencing mountains east of the Rockies.
The race is the Grindstone 100, and is in early October. Idealy I wanted to run a September race in Colorado, but my work schedule dictated a need for something later in the year. The only major down side to this is I will have to do most of my training in the Texas heat, but that will also better prepare me for the humid conditions of the eastern mountains.
We are still snugly tucked into our lot in East Austin. I keep giving Kristy a hard time because she insists on creating a sense of permanency here by purchasing large plants that grace our patio. The best part of living here in East Austin though is the proximity to Downtown, and recreational spots like Town Lake, The Greenbelt, and Secret Beach.
The simplicity (though cluttered and frustrating at times) that RV living brings is something we have grown to love. I honestly get stressed and overwhelmed when visiting friends with large houses. My mind races with how hard upkeep would be; mowing lawns, cleaning garages, and sweeping expansive floors, just to name a few time consuming tasks I would have to deal with if I owned a home. That is not to say we will never own a home, but we really do love this lifestyle.
Though we might not travel as much as some full time RV families, we look forward to the day my business provides more freedom to travel more. But for the time being we will enjoy the couple months out of the year we do get to travel, and the few weekend trips we take for my trail running adventures (such as our Guadalupe Mountains trip last year).