Saturday, September 26th, 2009
I keep hearing the voice of my good friend Ken: “systems are everything”. Those words have never rung more true for me. I’m still trying to get all of my “systems” in place – slowly things are coming together, and I am getting a sense of what needs to be done each day to be able to make things run somewhat smoother. I have to say here that I had no idea how much this all was going to take. Between navigating, tending to the time-lapse camera (and back-tracking after every wrong turn to pick it up again at the right spot – I’ll describe more about all that in another post), stopping to take photos, finding places to stay, making sure there is enough battery power and water in the trailer, setting up camp, making food, cleaning up, writing the blog, editing pictures, answering emails, tearing down camp… it’s really nuts. I’m not complaining, don’t get me wrong – it’s fine. I’m just sharing how it is. Not all fun and games and hard to do it all myself.
I’ve been thinking and talking a lot about batteries today. Last night I had shore power (AC I could plug into), so I plugged the trailer in to charge up its battery, which runs the lights, water pump, furnace, and anything else that requires AC power through my power inverter – most importantly, the laptop! I went to check the battery charge level after a few hours and was hit in the face with an intense smell of… well, I didn’t know what it was. It smelled like some sort of gas, but nothing I recognized. I opened the trailer windows immediately and plugged in my gas leak detector. The detector had never read anything other than zero so far. As soon as it powered up, the reading went way over 300. I was alarmed – this should mean that there is a dangerous level of carbon monoxide present. Eventually with enough venting the reading went down. After a half hour call with someone from home and many facebook advice posts, I learn about gassing off. Batteries give off some mean gas when they are charging (especially when it’s a faster-than-trickle charge, apparently) and it’s important to seal them and vent them to the outside as best you can. And evidently, gas detectors have frequently given false CO readings to people charging batteries. I also learn that my Jeep isn’t going to be enough to keep the battery fully charged. I had been counting on that, since I wasn’t planning on camping much in places with shore power – but now I know that the Jeep will just help maintain a charge it already has –it likely won’t actually be able to bump the charge up like a good AC power charge will. This, and the gassing off issue, puts a crimp in my boondocking plans. (“Boondocking” means staying at places for free, where there are usually no water or electricity hookups. These Wal-Mart and Flying-J stays are boondocking.)
Now, the time-lapse camera. As I mentioned earlier, the AC adaptor I was going to power the dashboard camera with stopped working on the first day. I have been using batteries the last 2 days and they are starting to die – and those are the more long-lasting CR-V batteries, not just the AA ones. Those batteries are really expensive – and I haven’t had good luck with rechargeables in the past in this sort of situation… so I had stocked up on AA batteries outside of Chicago, to get me though the next while. When I saw today how fast the CR-Vs were depleting, I realized I needed to get another adaptor, pronto. I stopped at a Radio Shack in Springfield to get one. The helpful manager only had one that put out 6 V and my camera needed 6.5 V. We plugged it in and it seemed to work. Yay. So I go to the car and test it out to be sure. It was acting all weird and finicky – the PClix would fire the shutter a couple of times, but the camera would stop responding to its commands…. This certainly wasn’t going to work. Walk back into Radio Shack and describe the problem. Manager apologizes, says it’s probably the extra half volt that it wants but isn’t getting… anyway, I get a refund and plan to just use the AA batteries that I purchased earlier. Go back out to car. Put 4 x AA batteries in the camera. No power. Odd. Change around configuration of batteries (they’re new – they totally should work!). No power. Take out 4 more batteries and put in camera. Nothing. Swear at camera a few times and put batteries in a different configuration – sometimes it’s just finicky. Nothing. Growl a lot then walk back into Radio Shack. “You again. Problems?” “Yes but now I have other issues…” Helpful manager checks my batteries, yes – they are good and should be working fine. He says that sometimes certain devices need alkaline batteries – they won’t respond to other types of batteries. “What sort of batteries are these?” he asks. “…uhhh, AA s from Walgreen’s. What do you mean, what kind?” “Are they alkaline?” “ dude, I don’t even know what alkaline means…” He takes four alkaline batteries out of a package and puts them in the camera. Powers up just fine. Apparently I need alkaline batteries! Who knew? So now I need to buy a ton of alkaline batteries, even though I already purchased a crapload of the other ones, just to be sure that my camera keeps on clicking! I’m peeved, but what are you going to do? I buy a package of 40 AA alkaline batteries.
…anyway! Flash forward to spotting a Best Buy store. Yes: they have this universal charger thing that looks like it might work. And I totally scored: one of them was an “open package”, missing some parts (none that I need), and it was marked down to almost half-price. Thing works like a dream – hooray! Then I found another Radio Shack just so I could return the batteries that I won’t be using after all. That’s four trips to Radio Shack. I also upgraded the firmware on the camera so that it can handle high-capacity SD cards (HC cards), and found an 8GB HC card at WalMart. So now I shouldn’t need to worry about the camera or the power running out on that. I’ll run the adaptor off of my battery in the Jeep, via an inverter. Getting this camera issue resolved is a big relief.
Water is another thing. If you’re not at someone’s house or camping, where do you get your water tank filled up with fresh water? And it empties out really fast, especially if you cook and do dishes! After stopping to photograph the third of the giant “brothers” along Route 66 in Illinois, I asked the guys at Brahler Lube Center if I could get some water from them, and they were just great about it. No problem at all, filled it right up for me. Justin wanted me to mention him, so there: I just did. Actually he made me laugh when, after seeing me haul out a bunch of tools from the trailer side compartment, he said, “wow, you’ve got everything in there! Are a bunch of clowns coming out next?”
Without breaking anonymity or opening a can of worms on the subject, a very warm thank you to those who wanted to help with the gas tanks!!
…why is it so damn late already, again?? zzzzzzzzzzzzzz