An Unplanned Dry Camping Test

With our extended stay at the marina in the dry camping area, we had an opportunity to test living off of our solar panels while we were still on the coast and before we moved inland. We still have two more dry camping reservations to go this trip, but our seven days of dry camping at the marina were perfect for seeing just what our solar possibilities are.

We had nice coastal weather the first few days. A typical day was foggy or cloudy in the morning, mostly sunny by late morning, and then clouding up in the evening. That meant that we generally had sun during the most important hours of the day, but we didn’t have perfect solar conditions of sunny and clear all day.

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Off To The Marina With No Brakes?

I started booking camp sites along the Oregon coast in March. And in March, when I tried to book a state park, on the coast, for the 3rd and 4th of July, everything was already booked. Oh no! What to do? We had been traveling along the coast from south to north; so after having spent a week at South Beach SP near Newport, ideally, I would have liked to head north. I also want to stay as near to the water as possible. I searched and searched and finally came upon the idea of staying at a marina. Why not? I found a couple of possibilities, checked all the reviews, and settled for one 14 miles south of South Beach SP, where we had been staying. I was able to reserve a lovely waterfront spot with full hook ups for the two nights at McKinley’s Marina near Waldport. Then the plan was to move north again to Nehalem Bay SP, where I was able to get reservations for the 5th through 9th.

The coast near Waldport
The coast near Waldport

We left South Beach SP excited about our new adventure. What will it be like staying at a marina? It was going to be a nice easy short trip. I was jumpy thinking something had to go wrong. Would they have lost our reservations and not had our spot for us on this crazy busy holiday weekend? We were driving through Waldport about 2 miles from our destination, and another truck pulled up next to ours at the red light and the driver says, “I think your trailer brakes are on. They’re making a loud noise.” And, boy, did it stink!

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Back to the Coast

We went inland to Eugene for a few days to add solar panels to Annie. Solar AM was very accommodating in that while they worked on Annie during the day, we were able to stay in a very comfortable waiting room, filled with books and dvd’s, candy, beverages, and with a patio door that overlooked a river and some lovely landscaping including flowers. At night, we were able to pull Annie back out of the garage, into their lot, hook up to electricity, and make dinner, sleep, and shower in our own RV home. The owners and all of the staff were extremely nice and helpful in every way. And we made lots of new friends with other clients there and even those dropping in for information. It was actually a great stay. But it was HOT inland with temps in the low 90’s and going up.

We got done just in time to escape the worst heat and headed back to the coast trying to pick up from where we left off. Our new destination was South Beach SP near Newport. We returned to lovely views of the ocean on our drive. I’m addicted and just can’t get enough of it!

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Here Comes the Sun, Part 3

The install

Our instructions were to arrive Monday afternoon so that we could plan the installation. Installation was to happen Tuesday and Wednesday. Monday and Wednesday nights we could stay in Annie at AM Solar, but Tuesday we needed a hotel room.

Our roof before solar panels, looking down from AM Solar's upstairs window
Our roof before solar panels, looking down from AM Solar’s upstairs window

We arrived Monday early afternoon for the inspection and planning. Mitch, our installer, verified that everything on our electrical system worked, and after waiting for two other rigs, I pulled Annie into the larger of the two shop bays. We planned out the locations of the six solar panels using cardboard templates – one of their guys was on our roof moving the cardboard templates around while Mitch and I worked with him from their upstairs window that looks down on the shop. Plan in hand, I pulled the rig out for the night and we camped behind the shop.

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Here Comes the Sun, Part 2

If your eyes glaze over when you read about Watts, Amps, Amp-hours and math of any kind, you may want to skip to Part 3. That said, this section is not very technical and the nasty arithmetic can be skimmed over. If you really want to learn about RV solar, two places to start your education are Jack Mayer’s overview of RV electrical and solar and AM Solar’s education section.


Because of our residential (electric only) refrigerator, we need a fair amount of electrical power each day. The rest of our trailer actually is pretty efficient. The lighting is entirely LED and uses little power. The water pump, furnace and hydraulic system are all standard for RVs, although if we needed heat frequently while off grid we’d consider supplementing the furnace with a portable propane heater that does not require electricity. We do have some parasitic loads, but the battery monitor shows them as only a few amps (@ 12V). We can use propane to heat water and cook with. The 42″ TV is pretty energy efficient (compared to TVs of yesteryear) and we don’t have to turn it on if we’re short on power. Appliances like the convection oven and air conditioner just aren’t an option when running on solar, so we do have to live a little differently if we’re not connected to “the grid.”

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Here Comes the Sun, Part 1

We were able to order our fifth-wheel with almost everything we wanted already installed. We added a few other items when we picked up Annie in March, such as our battery monitor, and wifi and cell extenders. Solar panels were the last thing on our list that we wanted to add. I’m not aware of any solar installers with great reputations in Wisconsin (or even the midwest). Since we were heading to the Oregon coast, we decided to wait and take advantage of one of the most recommended solar installers in the country, AM Solar, located in Springfield, Oregon.

But let’s back up. Why did we want solar? Our fifth-wheel really likes 50A hookups, but we made sure that we could also camp comfortably if we don’t have hookups. For example, many national parks don’t have hookups, and we’ve seen plenty of places where the most scenic campsites (overlooking water, for example) also don’t have hookups. Also, hookups usually mean that you’re close to other RVs, and we prefer some distance from the neighbors, given a choice. Without electrical hookups, you can live off of your batteries for a while, depending on the size of your battery bank and how much electricity you use. In our case, we can survive on our four batteries for only about 24 hours before we have to start recharging them. We tried to ensure that we had hookups on this trip prior to reaching Oregon, but even so we still had three nights of no hookups.

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Bandon, OR and Bullard’s Beach SP

Our next stop on the coast was Bullard’s Beach State Park near the city of Bandon. Ok, I’m going to say it right now. I loved this place! I loved our campsite, I loved the city, and I loved the beach loop drive with its little scenic day use areas along the Bandon coast.

Walking along the beach at Bandon
Walking along the beach at Bandon

Bullard’s Beach SP had a great campground. We were able to get a site with full hook ups, a lot of space (enough for an extra tent, if we had one) and a lot of privacy. It was great. Our site was also close to the beach trail. The beach trail was 3/4 of a mile to the beach, one way, all on sand and up and down dunes. It was hard work. We took the dog and headed out. When we got to the beach, it seemed to go on forever (it’s 4 1/2 miles long) and was extremely windy. We spent some time strolling along the beach and letting Coda run. There were very few people around which gives you this wonderful feeling of owning your own beach. But the wind got to me after awhile and my stomach was growling, so it was time to head back to make dinner.

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Chilling on the Coast

We thought that the drive from Lassen Volcanic National Park to the Oregon coast was going to be a straight forward easy drive along I-5. Not so much! It may have been an interstate highway, but because it went over and around the mountains, it required our undivided attention. And in fact, when we left I-5 and drove on CA199, the road was closed for quite a while due to an accident. It’s times like that, that I am grateful that I have a toilet and refrigerator right behind me. Continue reading “Chilling on the Coast”

Opa’s reflections halfway through the trip

We’ve left California and are just short of the half-way point of our trip, so it seems like an appropriate time to look back a bit. This is now a longer trip than I’ve ever taken, and twice as long as Oma and I have ever managed together.

I’m happy being on the road. Annie is very comfortable, and really seems like home. This isn’t really surprising me – in many ways this is just a longer version of all of the traveling that Oma and I have done in the past.

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Mt. Lassen / Shingletown KOA

Our picnic table and the view from our site for most of our stay
Our picnic table and the view from our site for most of our stay. There were several tent sites behind us that were empty while we were there.

While exploring Mt. Lassen Volcanic National Park, we chose to stay at a nearby KOA. The Mt. Lassen / Shingletown KOA was conveniently 14 miles from the park entrance and about 5 miles from Shingletown, a small city where ample services were available.

Upon entering the KOA, the first thing you see are cabins under nice mature trees. The camp road leads you directly to the registration office and little store which had any kind of last minute camping supplies you might have forgotten, as well as a few groceries, sweatshirts, and souvenirs. We got registered and received a map to locate our site. The campsites were spread out nicely. They didn’t pile everyone into one spot for their convenience either. Although there were two tent sites located near our open site, the campground was not full, so they left them empty the entire time of our stay. There were lots of full grown trees, they were not needlessly cleared.

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