Friday, October 19, 2012

Alaskan winter is here, off-grid survival begins!

Boiling water for coffee... only took 9 minutes to reach a rolling boil!

It's finally COLD & winter is officially here!  In Anchorage, Alaska, the temperatures are dropping into the single digits at night and the snow is beginning to fall.  In the past, I never paid too much attention to this fall-to-winter transition... but now I am!  Why? Because when you live in a traveling motorhome with no where to "plug-in", you are forced to find off-grid solutions to keep yourself alive in the cold.

34 F outside, but 81 F inside!

   I was forced to think "outside-of-the-box" to keep myself alive this winter, and my solutions are working really well right now!  There is one reason I am going to survive this winter in my little motorhome... the life-blood of my off-grid lifestyle, otherwise known as the "Kimberly wood stove."  This little gem provides all of my heat and does an incredible job at keeping my little home toasty warm.  I have also been doing the majority of my cooking on this Kimberly to avoid using my counter top propane stove (which causes excessive condensation in cold climates).

   Pretty soon I will have an add-on oven that will sit on top of the Kimberly, which will allow me to bake pizza, casseroles, pies, and all kinds of goodness.  I also will have a thermo-electric generator soon, which will sit on top of the oven and produce electricty from the fire's heat, this way I'll be able to charge my laptop/cell phone, power my lights, a fan, a vacuum, or charge the RV battery.  The owner is also creating a hot water coil system, where I can hook my sink & shower's plumbing directly to the little wood stove, start a fire, and take hot showers... pretty cool!

Wiring my solar panels (I actually electrocuted myself because the solar panels were in the sun!)
   The Kimberly stove is obviously my centerpiece, and I can't rave enough about it!  To help charge the batteries, I have two 30 watt solar panels (60 watts combined) that work very well, even with the minimal sunlight we receive up here in Alaska.  I basically try to park facing the sun every day (they are up on my roof and tilted towards the front of the Toyota.  Since the motorhome is my daily driver, the alternator on the engine actually charges my batteries after a few errands around town.

My home for the night, overlooking Cook Inlet with the Alaska Range in the far horizon.
   The one downside to living off-grid in a motorhome in a cold, winter climate... frozen pipes.  It just isn't feasible to keep my water "running" through the winter, as it will cause the water pump, pipes, and tanks to expand and crack open.  To avoid that carnage, I drained my drinking water and grey water (sink/shower) tanks completely.  I flushed the pipes with RV antifreeze (they say it's safe to drink, but I don't want to test that hypothesis) and shut the shower & sink down for the winter.  I just take showers wherever opportunities arise.

Practical functionality ain't got nothin' on attitude.
   For drinking/cooking water, I simply carry a 4 gallon jug and refill it about once a week (the water won't freeze this way).  I rigged my sink plumbing where my dish water in the sink falls directly into a 5 gallon bucket beneath the sink, & I can easily dump out the 5 gallon bucket as it gets full.  It's shocking how much fresh water people waste every day, and how little water you truly need to survive.  I connected my toilet plumbing to my waterpump, which flushes RV antifreeze down the toilet every time you flush (instead of water).  This allows me to still have a bathroom for the winter.  I also took toilet freeze-proofing precautions by applying a 12 volt heat pad and heat tape on my blackwater tank and piping, which I can thaw out if the RV antifreeze doesn't live up to its -50 F expectations.
Releasing thesis work stress via banjo.
Thesis work: Collecting data & modeling Alaskan Rivers. Gulp...
     It seems like there is no time to get "bored" these days.  I search for interesting new places to park my home every night (usually with an awesome view), and I have yet to experience getting kicked out of my parking spot for the night.  Alaska truly is a laissez-faire state.  Moving around is pretty fun, I almost feel like a modern-day nomad.  Whitewater kayaking season is wrapping up, so it's about time to stash the kayaks for the season.  Finishing off my master's thesis (creating a hydraulic isoscape for Southcentral Alaska) and playing the banjo currently fill my time up in the RV, at least until ski/speed-fly/snowmachine season come knocking at my front door.  That's the update, more soon enough...



  1. Nice rig. Great job on it. I look forward to following your adventures this winter.

  2. This is so awesome. Antifreeze in the toilet. . .that is some crazy stuff right there. Make sure it doesn't get on your bum! :) Jack will be up there soon enough spending some time with Uncle Tim in his RV! Love you!

  3. You're a hoot! I love the RV and the blog. :) You're as crazy as I am!

  4. Fantastic blog! I am planning to visit Alaska, infact I want to visit Anchorage, Port Alsworth and then Twin Lakes to see the Legend's cabin Mr Richard (Dick) Proenneke! Problem is I live in the UK but cudos to me I live fulltime in a motorhome! You can see some of my adventures on and learn tons about Renewable Energy, Self Sufficiency and Frugal Living. Now you can see why I found your website / Blog. Would love to hear from you and all about your travels!

  5. Great post! I’m really impressed with the engine performance of Toyota vehicle for it can survived at any season.

  6. Just found your blog and love it! I have a little Toyota Winnebago myself and am unreasonably attached to her! She can go and park places that the big rigs just can't. We even drove her all the way up the Haul Road to Prudhoe Bay a few years back, though she grunted a bit climbing Atigun Pass! I'll be checking in and reading more of your adventures for sure!

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