Saturday, March 27, 2010

What have we gotten ourselves into?

We made the move to Southern California a little earlier than planned so Dianna could be here when her Dad has some more surgery for skin cancer.  The original plan was to be here the first of April, but we made the move on the 19th of March instead so she could help with pre-op appointments.  Finding a reasonably priced place to stay in Southern California is always a challenge, and since are not spending the summer volunteering at San Onofre this year we had to find a different place.  Our plan is to stay around here until early June, then begin our trip toward the east coast.

After considerable searching we found a mobile home park that looked like it would be a good choice.  It is located in Frazier Park, a mountain community about 45 miles north of Dianna's parents.  It is half as far to her folks house as we were in San Onofre, and the price on a monthly basis is quite reasonable.  The mobile home park itself is located at 5,200 feet in a pretty valley.   We arrived during the early afternoon and finally found a site that had a 50 amp power plug, which our rig requires if we are going to use our heat pumps for heating.  Heat pumps are about three to four times as efficient as using propane or resistance type electric heaters, and we knew we were going to need heat.  What we didn't know is how much.

The mobile home park is actually located between Frazier Park and the little community of Lake of the Woods.  It is only about two miles up the road and 600 feet higher than Frazier Park (whose weather we had been watching and using for planning) but it turns out that because of the bowl it is located in, the night time temperatures are about 10 degrees colder.  The very first night the temperature dropped to 24 and it has been well below freezing every night since!  Daytime temperatures have rarely exceeded 60.

Freezing temperatures cause several issues.   First of all, I can't leave the water line hooked up, so we are having to fill the tank on the trailer and use our own pump.  That's not a big issue, but just a hassle.  Second, our heat pumps only work down to about 34 degrees.  This means that we will have to use a lot of propane to keep warm.  Propane here costs $3.75 a gallon compared to $2.50 a gallon in Yuma and Quartzsite, and we will burn  at least $35 dollars worth a week when the heat pumps can't be used.  Then there's the hassle and cost of taking propane bottles several miles down the road to be filled every few days.  The less often we have to do that, the better.

After plugging the trailer in and firing up the heat pumps, we immediately discovered we had another issue.  The power in our site is very poor.  We have a power monitoring system installed in our rig to check for things like high and low voltage, and for wiring problems.  It immediately became apparent that we had a low voltage problem.  In fact, the voltage was so low that the monitoring system cut the power off so we would not cause damage to our heat pumps.  We had the park electrician check it out, and he did find some problems that improved the power a bit, but not enough.  I think the park is just too old and has wiring that was not sized for today's RV's.

I felt I had no choice but to purchase a special transformer that monitors for low voltage, and automatically steps it up.  These transformers are used by many full time RV'ers because this problem is not that uncommon.  In fact, I already have such a transformer and have used it previously, but it is only a 30 amp model.  We need a 50 amp model for the amount of power we will be using here.  I found one on sale on line, and ordered it Thursday morning.  FedEx delivered it Friday afternoon.  I installed it and problem solved.  Unfortunately, these things are not cheap.  $550 is a lot of money, but still much cheaper than replacing a heat pump with a burned out motor.

Meanwhile, as soon as we arrived we discovered that cell phone service here is almost non-existent.  We were able to connect very briefly at times, and soon found that only those of us on the highest row in the park were even able to do that.  We have had spotty cell service in other locations where we stay, so we decided it was time to do something about it.

I checked with several other RV'ers and learned about external cell phone antenna's and amplifiers.  Sometimes only an external antenna is needed, but usually an amplifier is also required.  And, only certain cell phones have the RF port where an external antenna can be plugged in.  I ordered the best antenna I could find, along with the adapter to attach it to our Motorola RAZR phones.  Fortunately our phones were on the list of those with RF ports.  Unfortunately, it turns out that the RF port is the most delicate and poorly designed of any phone out there.  It is really more of a test port used during manufacture.  After playing with the phone and antenna adapter for several hours it was apparent that it was not going to work, and even when it was attached the signal strength was no better.  After consulting with some experts I came to the conclusion that the only option was to order an amplifier and get different phones.

Yesterday we made the trip to Bakersfield, a little closer than the LA area, and a whole lot easier drive.  It is only about 45 minutes to a shopping area with all the stores we care about, including a Super Wal-Mart and a Costco.  We went to the Verizon store to find new phones.  We were eligible for our "free every two years" phones, but finding phones that met our needs was not easy.  Although we have thought about getting fancy phones, like a Droid, we just can't justify them.  Not only do they cost a lot more to purchase, they also would require us to add data services and increase our monthly cost as well.  While they would be a fun toy, it just does not make sense in our situation, especially when none of them will meet the external antenna support requirement we have.  So, we purchased (got for free) new Samsung flip phones that essentially do nothing different from our RAZR's.  In fact, they are even less capable in some ways.  For example, they do not take videos like our RAZR's did.  Of course, that's something neither of us ever did, but it is a little discouraging getting a new phone that is no better than the one you are replacing.  Also, they will also need new car chargers and Dianna will want a new carrying case.  Oh well, they will meet our needs for communications, and that is the important issue.

So, here we are, sitting in a place where the temperatures will require us to spend far more on heating than we anticipated, where it is too cold to be outside much of the time doing things like geocaching, where we have had to spend $550 for equipment to clean up their electricity, where we have had to replace our cell phones and spend over $350 to make them work, and where when I checked the weather forecast this morning, I discovered we have a winter storm warning for the last half of next week.  Six inches or more of snow is predicted for here!  What have we gotten ourselves into?

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Mid Winter Update

There is not a lot going on, but it seems people still want to hear about it.  Surprisingly, time passes quickly here in the desert, and we manage to keep busy.  We have been doing a fair amount of Geocaching, which is fun and good exercise.  We logged 12 caches one day and 11 another.  I think we have over 70 caches now.

We went to Lake Havasu City for my birthday and Valentines Day.  We spent the night in a hotel there and had a nice dinner in a restaurant overlooking London Bridge.  While there we stocked up on groceries at the Super Wal-Mart, and we checked out a boondocking area in a narrow valley just north of town.  It might be a good place to spend a little time, except that the valley is so narrow that our solar panels would not get as much sun as in more open places.  Still, it might work.

Daryl, Gisele and Angela stopped by for a quick visit the afternoon we returned from Lake Havasu City.  We are always happy to have guests, especially when they come bearing gifts of kettle corn!

This past Monday we moved from the desert near Quartzsite to the desert near Imperial Dam.  We are located along the Colorado River about 29 miles north of Yuma and next to the Yuma Proving Ground Army base.  It is nice being closer to a larger city because shopping is definitely more convenient. We also enjoy the ride into town on the scooter since it travels through agricultural fields and date orchards.  Unfortunately, the roads here in this remote section of California have been allowed to decay terribly, and they are all potholed and quite rough.  It does make riding the scooter a lot less enjoyable.  I think we are going to start taking the long way around through Arizona (8 miles further) just to avoid the bad roads.

Yesterday we made our semi-annual trek to Algadones, Mexico to have our dental checkups and cleanings.  We have been to the same dentist three times now, and are pleased with her work.  Cleanings are $25, and that is all each of us required this visit.  If everyone had access to Mexican dentists, dental insurance in the US would cease to exist.

That's about it.  A weekly routine of exploring on the scooter, geocaching, hauling water and waste on laundry day, TV, Internet surfing, hiking and enjoying the temperatures in the low 70's.  We still plan to be here until about the first of April when we will move to the mountains between Los Angeles and Bakersfield.  Probably.