Tag Archives: Glacier National Park

Series: 5 Lessons I learned from boondocking: Part 2 of 5

RV boondocking or dry campingLesson 2: Not using electricity can make you tent camper Enemy #1

Using a Generator next to tent campers; or how we became evil trolls to tent campers

Zoom in of view of a lake surrounded by mountains with with some snow on their peaks.
We camped at the edge of St. Mary, Montana. Generator use is limited in nearby campgrounds, causing a multitude of issues. Animated gif credit: Christina Goebel. If reused, please credit me and my website, rvbycampfire.com

I need to share my lessons so you don’t go through the hassles I went through, but also for you to know if boondocking is for you. I think you can handle it, if you know what to expect!

In Montana, we were dry camping with the RV, and since we didn’t have electricity at our site, we used our generator to produce power.

Our motorhome’s Onan generator, supposedly a great brand, is Not Quiet. It operates on gasoline and has a smell, like many things that operate on gasoline, such as your lawnmower, maybe.

Though generators can be quieter when they’re regularly used, I learned that , yeah, it’s never gonna be quiet.

I surmised that tent campers hated the smell and the noise at our campground in St. Mary, Montana, near the east side of Glacier National Park.

After a while, we realized that to cool the RV into the mid 60’s that we like to sleep at, and to charge our batteries sufficiently for the evenings without generator use, we had to leave camp.

People who have allergies can't just open the windows to cool down the RV. They have to be creative! photo credit: The Continuing Saga of Kitteh Comics: But I'm An Indoor Allergy! via photopin (license)
People who have allergies can’t just open the windows to cool down the RV. They have to be creative! photo credit: The Continuing Saga of Kitteh Comics: But I’m An Indoor Allergy! via photopin (license)

I can’t open all the windows in the RV and let in the cooler air because I’m allergic to a lot of trees, grass, and maybe just plain air. That ‘s why I travel with air purifiers, which we only had enough power to run during generator-use time.

Took us a few days to learn we could go to the nearest visitor center parking lot and let our generator run and charge our batteries as long as we needed.

Before we did that, sometimes we’d wake in the morning and the coach batteries were dead. My husband Gerald tried using the battery boost button, but it didn’t work well.

Every device plugged into the RV keeps the generator from recharging the coach batteries faster. photo credit: iPhone 3G won't charge anymore via photopin (license)
Every device plugged into the RV keeps the generator from recharging the coach batteries faster. photo credit: iPhone 3G won’t charge anymore via photopin (license)

He realized he could use our jumper cables to jump start the coach batteries, which are housed under our steps.

We weren’t doing this from car to car, but from battery to battery, an advantage to having more than one 12-volt battery. Yep, memorable  tip.

I now believe that the only people who truly understand RVs from the moment of their first purchase are: mechanics, engineers, truckers, and people who grew up RVing. Engineers practically skip around RV parks, so happy and at ease with all the modifications they can make to their home machine, while watching non-engineers
curse at their RVs at random intervals.

At first, we parked at a hotel parking lot most evenings to run our generator more time. It took until 11 p.m. or midnight to cool the RV like we liked it.

Here we come rolling in to camp at midnight, and tent campers are next to us.

Poor them, but it wasn’t our fault the National Park Service decided they could make more money having all campsites open to whoever books, which results in campers surrounded by RVs running generators. This causes discomfort all the way around.

Tents pitched in front of mountains.
The last thing these campers want is an RV or two next to them, using loud generators that have fumes. I agree. Campgrounds should have sections for tents and RVs, not mix them together. photo credit: Tent Pad via photopin (license)

This isn’t a good idea. Generators can put off carbon monoxide and they make noise. We could start using our generator at 8 a.m., so if they weren’t up already, they would be if they were noise-sensitive.

Worse, a generator puts off gas fumes and it depends on the direction it flows as to the effect. RVs should be equipped with carbon monoxide detectors, and ours it, but tents aren’t, so they have no way of knowing if they’re in danger.

While campsites aren’t cramped in the East Glacier area—we stayed around St. Mary’s—there is potential for the fumes to travel.

Best-case scenario is that tent campers have their own area, RVs with electricity another (paying more), and RVs using generators in another.

But, it was not to be, and one evening at 11:30 p.m. or midnight when we drove into our campsite, a tent camper accosted us.

As soon as we parked, Bam! Bam! Bam! Someone pounded on our RV door.

We hadn’t had a chance to level the RV (this is for the refrigerator to function properly, but also can affect your sleeping comfort because jacks stabilize the RV and keep it from swaying while you sleep).

My husband opened the door.

We woke them up, she said, could we turn off the engine?!

She’s so lucky my husband opened the door because I realized we had rights too, and one of those was that—as adults—we could come and go as we please.

Let no adult put another on curfew unless it’s in the event of crisis.

Thus, we became the hated RV motorhome campers that dared enter camp late at night and awaken them.

Guess we should have asked their permission?

We would have more challenges ahead, when we had to babysit our generator!

Series: 5 Lessons I learned about boondocking: Part 1 of 5

Fiery sunset in the sky and reflected on water.
This portion of St. Mary, MT was right next to two area campgrounds where we boondocked, or dry camped with our RV.

RV boondocking or dry campingDo you know what boondocking is? Did you realize you can camp without being connected to electricity? This way of camping could save you money. Learn from my lessons so you get more enjoyment out of boondocking than I did.

While you may be an experienced RVer, boondocking throws us all for a loop now and then, so I hope every RVer can get something out of this.

According to RV bloggers the Wynns, boondocking is “camping or RV’ing without any hook ups (water, electric or sewer).”

So, here we were in Montana on the outskirts of Glacier National Park, and we also tried this experiment in West Yellowstone.

Campsites were cheaper if you went without electricity, dumping, and water. What awesome locations to explore boondocking, but…

So how did these factors affect us?

Picture of RV parking space with glaccier mountains in the distance.
St. Mary Campground, St. Mary, MT: For this view of Glacier National Park, we didn’t get to use our generator as long we needed to recharge our coach batteries. This caused problems.

Lesson 1. Not being allowed to use your generator as long as you need sucks

Limited Generator Use

When you aren’t connected to electricity, your RV uses a combination of its batteries and your generator.

We also have some solar power that trickle charges our batteries with the sun. At first my husband thought the trickle charge solar was crap. Since then, he’s changed his mind. It keeps the coach batteries from draining out completely.

I want to use newbie-friendly language, so the vehicle part of the RV is called the chassis (pronounced chass ee) and uses one battery, like a car.

The back part of our motorhome, called the coach, has two more of these 12-volt batteries that help run some systems. (When you’re looking into buying an RV, having more than one of these batteries in an out-of-the-way space for it would be a good thing. Ours are under our indoor steps, out of the way.)

Your 12-volt batteries power the light systems among other things and have to be recharged by the generator running and maybe a little bit by a solar charger, if you have one (worth having).

12-volt batteries are charged best by electricity. Since we’re talking about boondocking, that means no electricity, and using the generator, 12-volt batteries, and maybe solar.

One campground we were at limited generator use to a few hours, three times a day. This is the height of suckiness.

A generator takes hours, sometimes a whole day to fully charge your batteries, something that was never going to happen at the campground we were at with limited hours.

During the limited hours we could run our generator, we ran it.

Almost every night, at exactly 7:00 p.m., a ranger would knock loudly on our door and tell us generator use time was over. Maybe we were close to their office, but it was irritating.

Having been RVing full-time around the country for around 8 months, we’d had almost no one knock on our door—at least with bad news—so it was something new and yucky.

We ran the generator to the minute because it charged our batteries, which enabled us to have lights at night and watch some TV before bed.

Every morning, because of the various things that draw from the 12-volt batteries, their charge was gone.

My husband adds that since we used the generator to run the air conditioning because even in Montana during the day it was in the 80’s, that took away from the generator’s ability to charge our 12-volt batteries.

We didn’t get to run the generator long enough to give them juice. We knew this in our motorhome because we have a panel that lets us know how charged our batteries are.

The generator powers much more than our batteries, so we ran our air conditioning during the 6 hours a day we were permitted to use it.

In Montana, July days approached 80+ degrees, and sometimes the RV would get as hot or hotter inside than outside. It retained heat well after the evening cooled.

This problem was worse when we camped next to tent campers

How? Why? Where? RV?!

Let me answer some questions you might have about my RV journey, which is currently a two-year adventure across America. I know you probably want to do the same or are doing so. Either way, knowing my story helps you find yours.

How can you take off and RV that long?

First, I changed my mindset–and a lot of RV books begin with that. Thinking small, like the Tiny movie showed us on Netflix (this movie started a tiny house movement!).

One-story home with sidewalk.
Our former home in Pflugerville, Texas.

Our house wasn’t tiny. It had a 1,463 square foot Ranch home that was built in 1983. It had a five-car driveway and garage, 3 bedrooms and 2 bathrooms. One bedroom was for guests, the other was an office.

Roses along a garden path.
Belinda’s Dream is one of 25 types of roses I planted in our gardens.

 

The front and backyards had .26 acres that I’d landscaped and gardened extensively. Though I adore gardening, I battled city traffic during the last of the sunlight each day.

 

Hot tub with palm tree in background.
Meet our lonely deck and hot tub. We never had time.

We had a hot tub that we never had time to use, and a gorgeous palm tree I had planted as a baby that we hardly ever saw.

 

 

Bedroom
We didn’t gain anything by having a spacious bedroom.

Though our house looked lovely by the time we sold it, we hadn’t made it that way until we were ready to sell, like many people. We were so tired from work that home updates were difficult to make.

Kitchen with island table in the middle of floor.
Cleaning was a major problem with busy work schedules.

I hired people to help me clean the house. A heavy workload as a conference planner left me tired and uninspired at home.

People at a conference
Planning this and other statewide conferences meant time was a commodity I was losing.

 

 

 

Finally, I made a big decision–to move on from my big conference planning job and regroup to find peace again.

Life isn’t about things–it’s about people and places.

I wasn’t sure how to do this, but I had some pension from teaching (I had to retire early from teaching due to hearing loss) and a great employer who allows me to work remotely and is supportive.

We also decided that since our house wasn’t where we wanted to live forever and we had no idea where that was, we could sell the house and find the place we want to live indefinitely.

RV and Jeep parked above a hillside.
We didn’t get this RV or this campsite by accident. It was cold, hard research.

Selling the house and buying a used RV, while saving money for a future down payment on a home in Anywhere, USA, provided the cash.

We set some money aside from the house sale (which sold for more than we bought it for) for my husband to adjust to RV living and maintenance.

Since I’m still working, I’ll learn RV systems more slowly because I don’t have the same amount of time. And, sigh, I’m not a techie.

Do you have to quit your job to RV? Maybe. More people are discovering remote work and you could perhaps do as I will do, and camp in your work’s home base town every few months.

There is also the option of work camping, which is working part-time at campgrounds to pay for your camp site, electricity, water, and sewer.

Living in an RV isn’t as expensive as a home, but has different costs that I’ll be covering in future posts.

Chances are, with planning, you can find a way to either live the RV life or purchase an RV for your vacations. One thing I have learned is how to make money on selling a house and save money on purchasing an RV, and I’ll share those tips with you in the future.

Why RVing? Why not just travel?

Like many of the new breed of RVers that some call Xscapers, we’re not retired and decided we don’t have to wait until we retire to live our dreams.

I had planned to retire and travel the country and stay everywhere I wanted without a deadline.  I’m just not waiting to do that anymore. I’m doing it now.

Woman standing in front of pyramid shaped mountain.
Signing I love you to Mt. Grinnell in Glacier National Park, Montana.

No more getting teary-eyed when leaving Glacier National Park or Alaska. Now we can stay there until we get our fill.

Where?

Now you’re asking a tougher question! We initially wanted to stay in Montana first, but we couldn’t sell the house in time, so the cold season had set in and serious snow. Then we thought perhaps Maine, but when I shared that with more experienced RVers and did more research, I learned that there are special considerations for RVs for cold weather. I’d rather arrive their in warmer weather and leave after the first snow.

We like mountains and water and sold our house in November, so I checked out Branson. It had family activities and we wanted family to come visit–my son and mother, alternately.

Our next stop will be Florida to spend Christmas season with my son. I lived in Florida for nine years, so I miss it sometimes, and I have some favorite places. I don’t want to live there forever, either, because I had to throw my coat away after I moved to Miami because I never used it. Going to a warm South Beach for Christmas can be depressing if you live there and it’s not your vacation. No fall, no winter, just spring and summer.

We aren’t quite certain the itinerary to Florida yet (update: it ended up being Pensacola Beach, Melbourne, and Destin, Florida), but will plan it out around 200 or so miles daily, camping en route, until we reach Orlando, spend some time there and then move on to a campsite for a few weeks or a month.

The nomadic life has its appeal, though it’s not a big drain on gas as everyone seems to think. If you drive somewhere and leave the RV parked at camp, and tow a regular vehicle behind, then you don’t have to pay that much for gas because you’re not driving the RV that often, just the car.

Having spontaneity back in our days is a welcome change for us both. There are problems and issues to be addressed too, but we’re happy doing what we’re doing and are finding it better than we imagined.

Well, are you tired of the way you’ve been living your life? Do you want more freedom? More time? More nature? If you’re thinking of an RV lifestyle, whether full or part-time, I can share our experiences so that you enjoy more, fret less.

What would you like to learn next?

Do you have some basic questions about RV’s? I wrote a FAQ with some of my first RV questions that I think will be useful to you!

About travels to Destin, Florida or Branson, Missouri?

Or how about camping with little electricity and water (boondocking) in Montana and Wyoming?

Maybe you’re in the mood for learning about how to make a campfire, how to build an upside-down campfire, or how to build a fire–even when the ground’s wet?