Archive for the ‘The Great Outdoors’ Category

Starlink Update

Saturday, July 23rd, 2022

People have been asking for an update on how I like the Starlink system. It will probably take a year to get all the data to make an educated report, but I’ll talk about the pros and cons that I’ve noticed so far. 

The biggest pro is the high speed unlimited data. I get speeds close to 100 Mbps whenever I do a test. That’s better than some home broadband connections. It’s pretty easy to setup and booting only takes a few minutes. If I turn it off at night it start back up in just a couple minutes.  I like that all my devices can be connected at once. The hotspot on my phone  seemed to be problematic to connect devices, but the Starlink works great with phone, tv, computer, and PlayStation all at once if I want. I like the idea I can stream HD video too, something my Visible cellular won’t allow. 

The major con is the fact you have to have an open sky for it to work well. I’ve been camping up in the National Forest in northern AZ, and finding an open sky is almost impossible. I found that a few trees scattered around my campsite will still let me get a pretty good signal most of the time. When a satellite is blocked by a tall mountain or trees, I get skips in video where the picture will hang for a few seconds. 

The second major con is the cost. Starlink started out charging $99/month, then they raised it to $110 as it cost more in fuel to launch satellites, then they added another $25 a month if you wanted the ability to roam around the country. With my cellular plan still in affect, I’m shelling out $160 every month to stay connected. It takes a big chunk of my fixed income. I still subscribe to two streaming services and I may have to decide if it’s worth keeping them. 

Starlink won’t work while in motion but that’s not a big deal to me. It takes about 35 to 40 watts to power the router and dish but I have enough solar and battery that that’s not a problem for me either. Some people with small solar and battery might have a problem powering it. 

As with all new data systems, the more people jump on board and the more the bandwidth gets shared, slowdowns in speed are sure to happen. Slowdown are most likely to happen in metro areas and near big cities. I’m usually in a rural area so I’m hoping I won’t get throttled much. 

I should get good service this winter. I spend a lot of time in southern AZ where tall trees are fairly scarce. Before I purchased Starlink, I used the App to check a place in Quartzsite for obstructions. The App announced that this would be a good place to set up Starlink. I’ll let you know. 

Look Away

Thursday, July 21st, 2022

Everyone knows that I tinker in homemade devices.  I could spend a lot of money to buy things that are built for the purpose, but it’s not my style. I may be a little redneck. I built an evaporate cooler, solar water heater, and a trailer to move my solar panels to the sun, all from parts at the hardware store. Every project has been fun and all have worked well for their purpose. This post is mainly to document another project that I have been thinking about for a while now. The subject may be too gross for some, and this is warning to turn away if that’s the case. The topic for this post  is a composting toilet. 

My toilet has always had an odor whenever I drive to my next location. I have changed sealing rings and tried vent diverters to stop the smell but it hasn’t helped. I thought once of replacing it, but I’m not sure the smell is coming from the toilet itself and not the tank, so I just deal with it. As long as I’m parked there is no odor. 

Any nomad can tell you that finding water and dumps are a big hassle when you live in a motorhome. That’s what got me to exploring the idea of a composting toilet.   Composting toilets use no water and they can last a month or more before they have to be emptied. The waste mixes with a composting material like peat moss and can be disposed legally in dumpsters or used as fertilizer on non-edible plants. The urine is separate and sterile and can be dumped in the woods or vault toilets. 

YouTube is great for exploring devices and teaching how to build or fix any project, and I have to admit I surfed many videos to learn about composting toilets. The only thing holding me back from buying a new toilet is the price tag. Natures Head the best name in composting toilets is just over $1000. 

Installation is simple and there is no smell once they are in use. They are designed to separate the solid from liquid, and a small fan dries the waste and moves any odor out of the house through a vent tube. The biggest problem with composting toilets is separating the liquid from solids. Too much liquid in the compost waste material will not break down the bacteria and turn it inert. Because men and women are built differently, there has to be build in diverters to separate chambers. 

After studying toilet designs for a while, I realized that the composting chamber is nothing more that a bucket with a vent tube and a rod to stir the composting material. I purchased a 5 gallon plastic pail, cut a hole in the side near the top for a vent hose, and built a padded seat with a computer fan to remove moisture and odor.  All the parts have not arrived yet and I’m still experimenting with the rod to stir the mixture. For now I set the bucket outside until I get the vent hose. It seems to be working well, but like everything else I make, a work in progress. 

This part is a little embarrassing but I want to answer this question- how do I separate my urine from solids? The answer is: part of a man can remain outside the bucket where there is a bottle to collect that part separately.  Anytime number one is required, the bottle is used. I hope I didn’t gross you all out with my potty talk.  I still plan to use my water toilet. This is just a way to extend and experiment other options.

this is where a picture would go of a bucket.

Update to my location. After camping at Walnut Canyon near Flagstaff, I moved to a place near Hutch Mountain on the Lake Mary road. I’m now in the Sitgraves forest near Forest Lakes. There is a lake near here called Willow Springs where I will try to launch my kayak soon. There have been some heavy monsoon thunderstorms in the last couple weeks. We really need the rain.


Tuesday, April 26th, 2022

Over the last few years I have chosen campsites that meet certain criteria. I like a level, quiet spot, close to town for supplies, and plenty of sun to run my solar system. Sometimes I have to compromise on these things. I can’t always find a level campsite, and parking in forests, though beautiful, can block out solar.   I have camped in very rugged, isolated places over the years, but there is one thing I now look for in a new camp more than any other, and that’s cell signal. 

Cell signal is my entertainment, my communication with family, and my safety if something goes wrong. I use it to navigate, bank, check what’s going on in the world, and get the latest weather. I’m sure parts of it are an addiction, but it provides a lot of positive good in my life, too. 

When I changed my cellular service to Visible, it improved my lifestyle greatly. Visible offers unlimited data and unlimited hotspot all on the Verizon network. When I’m in a strong cell area I was happy with the way it performed. Even though the hotspot was limited I was still able to stream video in many locations. I thought it would be the answer to all my data needs, and at only $25 a month, a bargain to boot. 

After a year with Visible I realize it has several limitations for me. I camp in Quartzsite a lot in the winter and so do thousand or other people. With that many people hitting the Verizon tower, the service is spotty at best and nothing most of the time. Many of my favorites summer camps up on the Mongolian Rim are out of cell range and so are other places along the way north. When Donna and I tried to get a campsite around Payson, we explored many spots and couldn’t find a good signal anywhere near there. 

When I started reading about RVers switching to Starlink satellite internet, I couldn’t resist pulling the trigger and jumping on board. I’m hoping I didn’t shoot myself in the foot or jump on a sinking ship!  The reason RVers are turning to Starlink is because they opened up roaming connections. Before this you had to have a service address to activate the satellite. If you changed your location it was a hassle to find another open area and move your address to it.  Now the satellite antenna finds where you are and automatically moves you there. The one drawback is if the area is full of people that have already bought service in that area, you are put below them in priority and may get slower speeds. 


It’s expensive. The system you have to purchase up front is $600 and the monthly service is $110. The only way I can justify the expense is that I don’t travel as much now and I save way more than that filling this motorhome with gas. The other drawback is that you have to have an open sky to find satellites. I traveled with a Directv satellite dish for a few years but that connected to geostationary satellites and as long as you had a hole through the trees it would lock on to the signal. Starlink uses low earth orbit satellites that are always moving across the sky. The antenna has to find them as they pass overhead and lock on to the signal.

The Starlink antenna and router arrived at Daryl’s on Sunday and the whole family met there on Monday to see it set up. Even though we were in an area that is not open to new customers, we were still seeing speeds over 100 Mbps downloads. That’s enough to do anything I ever want to do. 

Today I traveled north from Tempe in search of cooler weather. It is 86° here in Rye where I’m camped and the Phoenix area is 100°.   I’ll move even high in the coming days because it will get hot here too. The satellite antenna was easy to set up and I’m getting very good speeds. I’ll post an update later after I have used the system and become more familiar with it. 

Cooling from the Sun

Friday, November 5th, 2021

Over the last few years, in order to stay in a comfortable climate, I have moved to higher elevations in the summer and lower ones in the winter.  When I was doing a lot of traveling, I roamed around in the northern states to escape the heat of summer, and returned to the desert southwest to escape the cold of winter. This method works well most of the time , but as any nomad can tell you, sometimes you can’t always escape some hot weather or chilly days. As a general rule migration will help you stay in a good climate, but Mother Nature can fool you now and then. 

Staying warm is easy in an RV. We always have furnaces or heaters for cold snaps and chilly mornings. My catalytic heater works well in my little RV and it only sips a little propane. Staying cool when the temperatures unexpectedly rise into the 90’s is another problem altogether. The only way to cool an RV is with air conditioning and that usually involves running a generator or plugging into shore power. I don’t stay in RV parks with hookups and I detest running a generator all afternoon. With all that said I started to think of ways to power an air conditioner from the sun. 

The rooftop AC on my rig does a good job of cooling my motorhome even when temperatures get up to 100°. If not plugged into shore power it requires a good size generator to run. I try to avoid ever being in 100 degree places for very long, but sometimes need a little AC for a rogue 90 degree day where I’m staying. After researching power requirements for small air conditioners and reading about Boondocker that have built systems, I decided to build a solar system to power an air conditioner. 

I won’t go into all the numbers I used to design my system but the basic build is this:  I bought a 5000 btu windows air conditioner that uses about 35 amps @ 13 volts. I increased my solar to a little over 800 watts. I already had a 300 AH lithium battery and 400 watts of solar panels on the roof. I also bought a larger Victron charge controller to basically run the process. It only took me a couple days to install and build the system. 

The magic of a solar powered air conditioner is in the fact that you need most of your cooling when the sun is shining. If I had to run an air conditioner with my battery, the battery would be depleted in a few hours. When I’m getting good solar power, the panels provide all the electricity I need to run the AC and actually will also charge the battery at the same time. As the sun gets lower in the sky my battery takes over and provides power until the night gets cooler. In the morning, the solar quickly chargers the battery back up before the day gets warm. 

One thing I did to increase my solar power is to build a frame that holds some of my panels at angle to the sun. I have four 100 watt panels that I can tilt and rotate to point at the sun. This method requires a little more attention to tracking the sun, but I found that I only have to move the panels about four times a day. It actually gives me something to do and I enjoy the little bit of effort it takes. Later on in the winter as the need for AC goes away, I wouldn’t have to move them at all. 

Right now I’m in Quartzsite at the LTVA. I have to drive back to Tempe for doctors appointment in a couple weeks. I’ll probably drift down to Yuma after that. The Arizona desert is a good place to spend the winter and enjoy the climate. 

My Little Car

Saturday, July 10th, 2021

Pecos Canyon campground

My little car was acting very sick so I found a place in Albuquerque that worked on them and decided to get an appointment. Smart cars are nice to tow, good on gas, and easy to park, but don’t try to get one fixed. Mercedes quit making the gas model a few years ago and most dealers don’t want anything to do with them.  In hindsight I should have bought a small Ford or Chevy or Toyota that any shop would fix. So began my adventure in an attempt to repair my Micro. 

While I was at Bluewater Lake, Micro had a service engine light come on and it wouldn’t run right. It kept losing power, misfiring and stalling. Jeanne had an OBD reader and the code showed up as a bad sensor. When I tow my little car I have to disconnect the battery so it doesn’t lock the doors at 10 mph. Of course when you disconnect the battery it resets the computer and erases it problem codes. 

My appointment was for early Wednesday so I left Bluewater on Tuesday and spent the night at Cabelas in Albuquerque. The next morning I towed the car to the repair shop and told them what it was doing. Of course when I started it up at the repair shop it ran fine. I explained all the symptoms I had experienced and left with a bad feeling they wouldn’t be able to fix it. 

Albuquerque this time of year can be hot. It was hot. Two days while I waited for word on my car it reached to almost to 100°.  The smart thing would have been to rent an RV spot where I could plug in and run AC. I’ve never been too smart. I figured I could do some shopping and eat in some air conditioned places and tough it out for a couple days. I spent three  uncomfortable nights at Cabelas, sweating into my pillow throughout the night. In the morning it was still 80°.  I ran my generator some, but as soon as I turned it off the heat would seep back in with a vengeance. 

After two days I received word from the repair shop that they couldn’t find anything wrong with the motor but other things needed attention. They wanted to change spark plugs, wipers, lights, hood latches, flush brake fluid and coolant, and a couple other ridiculous things. The estimate came to $2275. I told them the only thing I would let them do was the spark plugs. Everything else I could do myself or wasn’t necessary. 

They called this morning and said the car was ready. I talked to the mechanic and he said they really couldn’t do anything unless the diagnostic computer pointed to a fault. He also said he drove it for quite a drive to get the engine light to come on. I hitched up and headed out after dropping $300 to change three spark plugs. 

Tonight I’m at Pecos Canyon State Park, located 20 miles up a narrow, twisted road north of Santa Fe. Pecos Canyon is New Mexico’s newest park. They are still developing the campgrounds. 

There is no drinking water, picnic tables, or dump. The campground where I’m staying (the only first come first served site) has no level parking. I had to use all my blocks to get somewhat level. 

As soon as I headed up into the canyon I knew that cell service was going to be challenging. One look at my phone after I arrived confirmed the area was dead.  A park worker confirmed that I would have to drive back to Pecos to get word out. 

With all the missing amenities and cell service the area is actually quite beautiful. What draws most people to this canyon is the world class trout fishing in the Pecos River. I sometimes wish I was more into fishing like my Dad and my Son in Law. It would sure make places like this more fun. One nice thing is that the temperature is in the 70’s this afternoon. It was a little warm when I got here but a thunderstorm came through and cooled it off nice. 

I’ll explore the area tomorrow if Micro will run right. After the weekend I’ll probably head over to Storrie Lake.