Monday, December 17, 2012

Cold is relative!

You would not BELIEVE the ridiculous amount (and caliber) of people that stalk me in my little Toyota motor home.  I’ve had people approach me in coffee shops, grocery stores, bathrooms (you heard it right, bathrooms), restaurants, bars, and even park outside my rig at 1:30a.m. waiting for my return.   Most of them ask “Do you have a wood stove in there???”  And I say… “Oh shit! My house is on FIRE???? HELP!!!!.......................... just kidding!!!”  All jokes aside, yes, I do “have a wood stove in there” and that tiny wood stove is the primary reason I’m surviving my first Alaskan winter in an RV.  Oh, I didn't have a chance to take any good winter pictures yet, I'll get on that!

Quantifying the efficiency of my Kimberly wood stove by weighing & measuring firewood.
 I’ve had a lot of requests for an update on this blog… wish granted.  Many folks have emailed and asked if I have abandoned the motor home and fled to the warmth and creature comforts an apartment or house… and I say to them… “Nay, here I hold my mobile ground!”  The recent temperatures in Alaska have been unseasonably cold, hovering between -10 and 0 degrees F in the Anchorage area over the past few months. Not only have I made it this far into the winter and been put to the test by the extremely cold temperatures, I have actually enjoyed myself, and have become addicted to the un-conventionalism that has become a way life!  To tell the truth, I can’t see myself renting or purchasing a house anytime soon.  The way of life on the road is just too much fun and has led me to unique opportunities, people, and experiences, that I otherwise never would have known if I lived in conventional housing.

 So… how can I sum up my experience of living full-time, completely off-grid in an RV the past 9 months, through the 1st half of the Alaskan winter??? MOST EXCELLENT!  Sure, it’s cold as hell when I wake up in the morning (if I don’t keep my tiny wood stove stoked with firewood all night).  Yes, I have to thaw out the ice on the INSIDE of the windows every morning.  No, I no longer have running water because I have no reasonable means of keeping my pipes thawed out.  And sometimes I get scared in bed and hit my head on the roof at 3:30a.m. when a shotgun randomly goes off inside my camper… except it’s not a shotgun, it’s an exploding can of soda because it’s SO cold that pressurized cans explode.

Tobias the wolf dog joining his human counterparts on a backcountry ski session in Turnagain Pass, AK.
Here’s a quick list of my recent (significant) challenges:

1)    No running water?
“How does he wash himself and not smell like a dead skunk?”
Solution: Purchase a membership to a local gym.  I simply take showers at the gym every day and fill my 4 gallon drinking/cooking/dish water jug there once a week.  Yes, I only use 4 gallons of water a week.  Embarrassing? No way… I feel good about it.  People don’t realize the resources they waste when they take those resources for granted every day.

2)    What about a bathroom?
Solution: After my RV’s blackwater tank (toilet wastewater holding tank) froze solid with a 15 gallon poop-sickle (despite heat tape & a heat pad, -50F antifreeze, and rock salt in the tank), I removed the RV toilet and purchased and installed a miniature flushing porta-potty (Camco 5.3 gallon from Sportsmans Warehouse) in the RV toilets place.  It holds 5 gallons of waste, the tank won’t freeze because it’s completely inside the RV and I flush with RV antifreeze, and the porta-potty can be dumped very easily.

My new & improved winter throne.

3)    How do you stay warm?
Solution: My Kimberly wood stove! With these cold temperatures, I would quite literally be dead (or preserved if you believe in cryogenic freezing), however this little wood stove provides all of my life-giving heat.  Sure, I have to keep the tiny firebox stoked with miniature pieces of firewood every 3 hours, but it burns a relatively miniscule amount of wood, it eliminates the condensation from cooking and breathing, and it provides a cozy 80 degree temperature difference (it was -10 F outside and 70 F inside one night).  I do have a propane furnace, but propane produces too much condensation inside the camper and it is expensive, whereas I split and collected my firewood for free.  Not to mention, since I am completely off-grid with no electrical plug-in, the propane furnace would drain my 12 volt battery within 8 hours of use.  My Kimberly wood stove will run non-stop, 24-7, as long as I clean out the ash from the firewood every 14 hours.

4)  How do you keep your batteries charged?
Solution: I simply use my RV as my daily driver… driving to and from school, work, running errands, weekend adventures with friends, and looking for a “parking spot” for the night.  This daily driving habit charges my battery by utilizing the Toyota engine's alternator (it typically takes about 30 minutes to 1 hour of driving to fully charge my battery).  I also have two 30-watt solar panels (for a total of 60 watts) that provide a good bit of charge to my batteries on days that I don’t drive.  For instance, my 19” flat screen TV consumes 35 watts and my LED light bulbs consume 4 watts, so I can basically watch a movie and run all of my lights strictly from the power provided from the sun.  Pretty cool.  I will soon have a thermo-electric generator that uses the heat from the wood stove to create an additional 50 watts of electricity.

How hot does the Kimberly stove get on "full throttle?" How about this hot...
Advice for the curious or those wanting to live off-grid in an RV throughout a cold winter…

1)    Get a Kimberly wood stove! Check out the link at the top of my webpage for more information!
2)    Buy imitation (or real if you can afford it) sheepskin blankets to use instead of sheets.  These fur blankets do not get cold like cotton sheets and make your bed much more inviting;^)
3)    Get a small 12 volt fan to recirculate the warm air from the ceiling down to the floor of your RV… if not, your floor area will cooler by 20 degrees F or more than your ceiling area.  I placed my 12 volt fan directly above my wood stove and blow the hot air directly back towards the floor to circulate heat.
4)    Drain your water and live in a “dry home” to avoid major tank freezing, pipe-bursting problems…  Get a gym membership to take showers and fill your drinking water jugs there.  Get a flushable porta-potty to use as a bathroom (because you DON’T want to go outside or try to find a bathroom at 3:00a.m. when it’s -10 F outside), and you sure as hell don’t want a 15 gallon frozen block of piss & poo stuck inside your blackwater tank.
5)    Purchase solar panels to help recharge your batteries! Despite the lack of daylight hours in the winter, my solar panels significantly contribute to keeping my batteries charged every day.
6)    Replace all of your lights and appliances with extremely efficient, low-draw products! Replace your incandescent light bulbs with 4 watt LED light bulbs and use a fan to recirculate air that has a low amp draw (hopefully 4.0 amps per hour or less).  For instance, most deep cycle RV batteries have about 80 amp hours, so if you have a fan that draws 4.0 amps per hour, you have about 12 hours of battery time before you’ll need to recharge (because you don’t want your battery to get much below 50% depleted to lengthen battery life).

Besides the RV life, what have I been up to?  Maybe you don’t care, but I’ll speak a bit for those who do care or might be bored at this moment… I've been talking with an executive film producer from National Geographic and I’ll be applying to be on a new and upcoming reality TV show where 10 contestants are placed in the Alaska bush and have to survive with absolutely nothing for several weeks… it’s due to be filmed this coming spring… keeping my fingers crossed!  I’ll be heading to New Zealand to go whitewater kayaking in a few months with three good Alaskan kayaking buddies, so that will be a horribly good time.

 In attempt to serenade people with my tone-deaf voice, a motion has been made to start up a band (of an un-defined genre of music) with a mutual banjo-playin’ & singin' companion, this should be SO good!  My master’s thesis work (where I’m creating a river and lake water isoscape for Southcentral Alaska) is rolling along fairly well, and I expect to graduate this coming April.  Lots of skiing and speed flying (with new videos) are soon to come… and maybe, just maybe, some sleep would be nice!  Someone once said “There’s no one but yourself to blame,” and this quote holds true for how busy I feel right now, but busy ain’t bad when you're enjoyin' yo self!!!  Rock on and happy holidays to all you folks…