Friday, February 17, 2017

Solar on wheels

Here's a look at the small solar setup on our travel trailer.  It doesn't provide gobs of power, but it has made a huge difference in our ability to live without hookups for days at a time.  We are now usually water-limited, and with good water conservation (and showers somewhere else) we have dry camped for up to 2 weeks at a time.  That wasn't possible without the solar system.

It doesn't give us enough power to run the air conditioner, but it easily keeps the lights on, the fridge running, the phones charged, and the water pump available.  Slightly more power is required to run the heater (electric fan/propane heat) and to turn on the inverter for AC plug power for the laptops, printer, etc.  Depending on the amount of daily sunshine, we can also use the microwave.

We have a propane generator as a backup system, which we did resort to using during one week at Rainier National Park with mostly-shaded sites and several days of rain.  With our inverter/charger, we don't need to run the generator very long to recharge the batteries.

The solar panel seemed large when we bought it, but nowadays it might be considered old-fashioned.  It's 205 watts and fits nicely on the roof of the trailer:


Another view, with a shout-out to TREE (Texas Responsible Energy and Efficiency) in the background:


The two lead-acid batteries that ride on the front hitch - better than the batteries that came with the trailer originally, but still only 220 Ah capacity:


John did several modifications to the trailer in order to install and wire this system, and I will be forever grateful for his solar and carpentry skills.  The side compartment that John added for installing the electronics:


The largest component is the inverter/charger which is used to convert DC from the battery to AC electricity.  Or AC from the grid to DC to equalize and charge the batteries.  It's a MagnaSine with true sine wave inverting for the "cleanest" AC power that works best with electronics like computers.


We have learned a great deal about the various electrical systems within the trailer.  The biggest detail is where DC vs. AC power is being used.  A normal house runs almost strictly on AC power, but an RV or travel trailer has a combination system.

For example, things that run with DC power include:
The refrigerator (can choose DC + propane or AC power)
Lights (all LED now)
The motor that drops the bed down for sleeping and lifts it for storage
The water pump (when using tank water instead of a city water connection)
Controller for the water heater (for burning propane)
A DC power plug that John installed so we can USB-charge our cell phones and iPod
Water/sewer tank level monitor
Propane detection system

AC is used for:
Heating water (can choose to use AC electricity instead of burning propane)
AC outlets for anything you plug in, with the exception of the DC plug noted above
The refrigerator (when switched to AC power)
Microwave
Air conditioner

When we're off-grid, the inverter takes DC power from the batteries and changes it to AC for the second set of items listed above.  The inverter itself uses power to run, so we generally leave it turned off unless we want to use the microwave or charge the laptops.  DC power is always available for the first set of items listed above, as long as the batteries have some charge remaining.

When we're plugged in, e.g. at an RV park, none of these details matter too much.  But we can still use the solar system to charge the batteries and supply DC power, depending on the sun situation.  Our current spot has a little too much shade.

With all that in mind, John designed a flexible system that we can configure depending on the situation.  The black box in the middle is the disconnect to the solar panel.  The white TriStar is the charge controller which regulates the flow of current from the solar panel to the batteries.  The red switch turns DC power on and off to the inverter.  And the gray box on the left allows us choose between using the inverter and bypassing it to use AC shore or generator power directly.


We started with a gasoline-powered generator, but found that it was hard to maintain.  If we didn't use it fairly often, it would gunk up and eventually require a rebuild.  Plus we had to keep gas in the tank.  The new generator is plumbed to the propane line, it doesn't need to be exercised, and it has been very reliable.  Our only question is whether we really need it at all, or if we should be using this space for a larger battery bank:


The displays inside the trailer aren't super high-tech but they do the job.  The "100" on the top left is the charge status of the batteries (100%) and this display will also show amps charging/being used along with the voltage at the batteries.  The middle buttons are for the ramp light and activating the bed lift.  The Magnum on the right is the controller for the inverter.

The fuel gauge on the lower left is no longer being used since we removed the gas tank.  The white switch on the lower right is for remote start of the generator:


We have some thoughts on potential upgrades.  Ideally eventually we could remove all propane completely.  This will require increasing our solar and battery capacity:

- More/higher wattage panels

- Lithium batteries with way more capacity (which will likely allow us to sell the generator)

- Switching from propane to using more electricity:
Heating water strictly with electricity, using AC power for the fridge, leaving the inverter on most of the time, changing from a propane stovetop to an induction cooker, adding a crock pot and toaster oven, and using small electric space heaters instead of the propane heater

The heating elements especially can really burn through (as it were) electricity.

- If we could accomplish all that, we could remove the generator and propane tanks, which would reduce weight to help balance out the additional battery and solar panel weight, and eliminate that source of fossil fuel use.

- Oh, and convert the truck to electric...!  We can dream  :)

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Rocky Raccoon 100

I made a bet with myself that I could keep this short.  And... go!

I signed up for Rocky as a Western States qualifier.  I like the qualifying race list for WS, it's fun to try different events every year.  I figured I'd get one out of the way early this time.  Even though I swore I'd never run Rocky - every time I ran 50 miles here at Sunmart I couldn't imagine running those trails all night long.  Daytime is great!  Nighttime, not so much!

Then I couldn't help myself and signed up for Bandera, because I love Bandera.  That race went really well, and as a side benefit I got my Western States qualifier even earlier.

So... what to do with Rocky?  Try to set a PR, of course!  My PR is as old as my 100-miler history, way back in 2003 at our first Vermont 100, running with Kip and surprising the heck out of ourselves.  Ever since then, for various reasons I haven't come close to breaking that time of 22:41.

Run "fast," deal with the roots at night, try to set a PR - sure!  OK, this could be a challenge.

Lining up for the start:


I probably should get my watch set up:


It was quite a mass of runners funneling onto the singletrack.  Good for a fast walk and a nice warmup.  I passed people when it was easy.  Then all of a sudden I was alone in the dark, running by the lake and happy with the easy-feeling pace.

The weather was *perfect* all day and all night.  40's, 50's, maybe 60 degrees, overcast the whole time, slight sprinkles now and then to keep the dust down.  I didn't change clothes the whole time, only flipped my cap around to wear the headlamp at night.  Good for some time savings!

The course really is great, nice soft trails, very few rocks.  Yes, plenty of roots.  I knew that coming in, from the many Sunmart miles.  But it was better than I had remembered, at least for the daytime hours.  I counted the number of times I kicked a root during the day: twice in the first loop, 5x in loop 2, back to 2 times in loop 3.  Nothing too substantial.

John walked my drop bag out to the Dam Nation aid station - huge thank you to John!!  (We didn't get there until late on Friday, too late to send the bag with the race folks.)  He caught a glimpse of the lead runners coming through:


I enjoyed the curving trails, the road sections where I could stop concentrating for a while, the short ups and downs, only a couple kinda-steep sections, the beautiful gentle downhill on the far side, the quick views of the lake, the variety, the pine trees, the pleasant day.

I stopped at the Dam aid station going out and coming back in, drank some Spiz and refilled the bottle.  Each time through I got help from Tim, a super friendly and helpful volunteer.  Thank you Tim!

I skipped the other two aid stations except to use the bathroom.  The Park Road aid station had the cleanest porta-potties!  With a little candle burning in the corner.  Love it!

The long section of two-way traffic coming back to the start/finish and going out again was a bit of a pain, but most people understood that we all needed to work together and it was nice to greet people.  Especially people I knew - Hi Bryan!  Hi Joe!  Hi Bing!

Back at the start/finish, John helped me with the water refill, SPIZ drink, and some knee gel a couple times.  He also made sure I saw this sign, LOL:


I was really happy with my pacing and my effort during the day.  The first lap felt easy, 20 miles in 3:53, excellent.  My splits in the 2nd lap were mostly similar, with slightly more push on the pace for a 4:04 lap.  That was promising.  I upped the effort a bit more in lap 3, started passing people here and there (good bits of side motivation), endured a rather long 7-mile loop on the far end, but otherwise had excellent split times.  I was really happy to see lap 3 at 4:17, not far over 12 hours for 60 miles in the daylight.

It was a good day!

[Night falls]

I love my handheld Fenix light, but some roots are just invisible.  I hit one of those invisible ones coming into the Dam aid station and fell hard enough that someone came over to see if I was OK.  Yes, I'll be fine, the limping should quit in a couple minutes (it did).  It's now a colorful reminder, the only visible artifact from last weekend.  At least it was on my outer thigh, nothing that impeded forward progress (besides the brief pause for the actual spill).

One more time on the ground!  In the middle of the 7-mile loop I ended up with sand in my mouth, my water bottle hiding in a bush, my legs covered in dirt.  I spat out sand and obscenities for a few minutes after that one.

Nothing like a little adrenaline to get you moving again.  Albeit a little more carefully.

My legs were still moving well - not easily or painlessly, but with plenty of forward momentum.  My knees got sore but didn't slow me down.  Uphills, downhills, running on the road to make up time, speed walking as fast as I could, it all continued to go well.  It probably helped that I had the memory of last October's Big Dog Backyard as reference.  This was work, but still way easier.

Lap 4 = 4:49, most excellent for a dark lap.  Except I was worried that I would start giving away more time.  John was optimistic.  I was starting to wonder.  Everything could fall apart at any moment, after all that work.  It felt like I was getting close to the edge.

So I hurried back out onto the trail for one last lap.  And indeed, I did hit a problem that jeopardized the whole PR effort.  My stomach reached a limit in processing anything.  This has happened before and I'm finally starting to figure out the cause (strong effort over many hours, made worse if it's hot, thankfully not the case here), the symptoms (full stomach and never hungry/not wanting to drink, opposite from earlier in the race), and the bad side effects (inability to push the pace or go uphill strongly).  With better planning for situations when this might happen, I believe if I dial back the intake and maybe consider more simple sugars over the latter part of a hard-run race, I will hopefully reduce the effects next time.

For now - it was one more lap, I had to try to limit the damage.  I quit drinking SPIZ, drank only a tiny bit of water to keep my throat from getting dry, and decided to test the soda theory.  I drank a couple ounces of ginger ale and Coke at a couple aid stations, hoping to bring in just a little sugar to keep from bonking.  Also the fizz made me burp which was a relief (apologies to those of you who had to hear it).

It seemed to be enough to keep me going (not sustainable, but it didn't have to be).  With my stomach limiting my speed, I decided to start blaming my legs for being sore, although they probably weren't any worse than the prior lap.  I was also being super careful over the roots.  My obsession with my aid station splits grew.  I was so relieved to finish the 7-mile Dam loop and be done with that challenging section with some leeway remaining on the clock.

Stay in control, keep moving forward, walk it fast, focus on posture... one quick stop at the Park Road for some soda sips (probably shouldn't touch the Fireball, but thanks for the offer!)... one last steep uphill... one more time greeting runners going the other way (I'm so tired of headlamps in my face, at least that's almost over!), then there's John running with Joe!  Hi John!

He walked with me for the last half mile, I couldn't talk much with a dry/scratchy throat but it was wonderful to smile.  I think I might make it!

I made it!


The clock reads 22:20, a PR by 21 minutes.  That... was... a lot of work.

Chris helping me pick out a buckle.  Normally I don't take finisher awards, but I was offered a buckle from a previous year with a runner's name etched in it, and that seems pretty special.  Jean Cummings Perez, your buckle is going on our "trophy shelf" at the Beard farm, thank you!


Uhhhhhhhh.........


Shower, sleep a couple hours, hobble back to the finish area.  It was great fun hanging out and watching finishers in the morning.  Happily John still had phone battery so he could get photos.

Congratulations Bing!


Nicely done, Joe!  Always an honor to be in the same race as you.


Thank you for a wonderful, well-run race, Chris!


Another pause - I think I was still tired:


Yep, still tired!  I can't quite believe John took this picture on the way home, but it makes me laugh so I guess I'll share it:


Was that short?  I think that was short!

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Family reunion running cruise!

It started as a "cruise marathon", a fun concept by the International Running Company.  Running a marathon while cruising on one of the largest ships in the world, on one of the best at-sea running tracks around?  Sounds like something we should try!

It morphed into a family reunion, with Mom and all 4 siblings together for the first time in over 20 years!  This turned out to be a huge highlight and the main reason for the trip.  It was a very special week, lots of fun, tons of reminiscing, reconnecting, and plenty of laughter.

So when the race got scaled back (due to things outside the race director's control), it hardly mattered.  The family reunion was the focus, and we are so glad things worked out the way they did.  We even got to run the marathon anyway, in a low-key kind of way.  On top of many other fun things!

Our week, in photos:

All excited to be getting on board finally!


Billi Jo looking absolutely lovely on formal night:


Kip demonstrating his prowess at creamie creation:


The first couple days were rather rough at sea, happily none of us were adversely affected.  The captain decided to outrun the storm that was chasing us, so we skipped the Bahamas in favor of an evening in San Juan, Puerto Rico.  Yes!

It was awesome seeing the city from the ship's vantage point as we sailed into the harbor:


We would have loved more time here (I was ready to Uber over to the Bacardi tour) but we had only a few evening hours.  We debarked to wander around town:


Nice view of our ship all lit up:


The next day we docked at St Thomas.  Kip went to try flyboarding, and Mom and John followed him over there.  They didn't quite get there in time to take photos, but they did see him in the air a couple times.  Here's another flyboarder I saw in St Martin the following day - go Ironman!


That afternoon Billi Jo, Jay, and I went on a snorkel tour, yay!


The yacht that Steve Jobs used to own, quite fittingly sleek and white and shiny:


Ready to go!


Snorkeling was awesome!  Billi Jo jumped in from the side of the boat (!) about 3 feet up.  Jay and I opted to slide off from a ladder.  We saw sea turtles, including one with 3 legs named Tripod, colorful fish, and a small coral reef.  Then we celebrated with a bit of rum punch:


Our second stop was at a beach where Jay lost his expensive sunglasses while cannonballing into the water, then eventually found them with the help of snorkel gear and half the folks on our boat, thank you all!  Billi Jo and I went to order food while that was going on, and she noticed this beautiful seashell on the counter:


Having a little too much fun!


Coming back to the ship after an entertaining afternoon:


Mom and John going for a drive on the Promenade:


Our third port was St Maarten, where John, Kip, and I entered "The Race" because we will never pass up a chance to do an urban race, anytime, anywhere!


Playing around with water, sand, a sponge, a cup, and trying not to get each other TOO wet in the process:


A fun little trip into the local museum looking for artifacts:


A more modern-day stop at the Guavaberry rum store, yes please!


Working on a distance challenge (way easier than last month's version):


Our attempt at an "interesting" photo with an old car along a side street:


Kip learning how to drive again:


Beach bowling!


And one final challenge that John gamely tackled, swimming in the ocean:


Thanks for taking one for the team, John!


Our winning "booty", yay!  That was super fun, highly recommend this shore excursion on St Maarten!


View of a tall ship - and a taller one:


Jay had one request - to go parasailing.  There weren't any shore excursions offered for this, but I found a place on the other side of St Martin, so we taxied over to the French side of the island.

Pumped up and ready to go!


Just getting out to the boat looked like fun:


Conquering his fear of heights and getting attached to a parasail:


Gentle lift-off!


Jay flew all over the harbor, way up in the sky, woo hoo!


Very cool:


In the meantime, John had his own adventure exploring back on the Dutch side of the island - not many cruise ship passengers get to meet the mountain goats:


View of Philipsburg:


Our regal ship, the Oasis of the Seas:


Local scenery, including cactus (?)


Wow, what a day!  Hanging loose at the back of the running track and watching us sail away from port:


Time for some shows!  We loved them all, especially Cats, the Olympic divers, the comedians, the ice skaters, Come Fly With Me (way cool!), and Earl Turner the headliner.  OK, so all of them  :)  Also, I didn't get any photos but the tour of the Opal Theater was excellent.


Billi Jo got some great photos, including this one from the back of the ship:


Best towel animal I've seen yet:


Me attempting to learn a flash mob dance - I could totally get into this (if I got some practice time in first) - here we go, ole ole ole!


Another beautiful photo from Billi Jo:


OK, time for a marathon on the ship!  Mindy from the International Running Company set up a fat-ass style event, no awards or T-shirts, but she did provide bib numbers, lap counting, official measurement and timing, and lots of enthusiasm.  It was great!

Ready, set...


Go go go!


Kip and I tackled the marathon version - OK, that wasn't so easy!  The track is not as hard as concrete but not as soft as a normal track either.  Almost completely flat except two short ups/downs and the motion of the ship.  Great for shorter distances, especially with the long track length (2.4 laps to a mile) and it being mostly sheltered from the wind (it helped that we had a tailwind at the time).  After a while my legs started getting tight and it was clear that it would take some effort to finish.  At least it's "only" a marathon!


John and Mom tag-teamed to complete a half-marathon.  That is so cool that Mom was in the race too!


After a couple bathroom breaks (too much pre-race food!) I was able to pick up the pace in the second half.  Only 20 more laps to go!  (out of 63+)


And - done!  It wasn't fast, it wasn't pretty, but it sure was something exciting and different!  Thank you Mindy for the innovative double-phone timing technique:


Phew!


Kip recovered from some minor issues and finished with a solid last few laps:


That was more fun than we expected!  Special thanks to John for crewing for us:


The siblings celebrate being done:


Congratulations to the half marathon relay winners  :)


Last day on the ship... time for some mini golf:


We super enjoyed the Captain's Q&A talk - I love Captain Rob!  He started every announcement with "Good evening ladies...  (long pause)  ...and gentlemen."  Very informative and funny.  And he didn't mind us getting a photo with him  :)


We went from there straight to a selfie scavenger hunt event (yes please!), where one of the items was a photo with one of the ship's officers - let's see if Captain Rob is still there, why yes he is!  So we got a 2nd photo with him:


Sleeping in the elevator in the middle of the event, because that's how we roll:


An action shot at the ping pong table:


Running into the library to read a book (good thing John spent the time earlier to find the library - it's not on most of the maps!):


A couple strangers helping us make funny faces:


A picture with a grand piano, and actually this has a back story.  The guy just in the picture on the right (I think his name is Jose?) was hosting a trivia event when we ran into the bar.  I had previously embarrassed myself at an earlier trivia contest, in front of him, so it was fitting that we were crashing his party and making a scene (again) - thank you Jose!  :)


Another fun time running around the ship!  And we finally won something (side note - we still suck at trivia) - not a highlighter, but better - some flashy glasses!  They go great with a pina colada:


John tackling the speed climbing challenge on the rock climbing wall (this time for the win, congrats John!):


Jay demonstrating what happens when you take your Daily Planner into the hot tub:


One of our more innovative selfies - in an elevator with a mirror:


Slightly more normal group photo:


A sculpture of how we all felt on Sunday afternoon on the way home - by the way, if you're ever in the Orlando airport, check this guy out:


What a week!  Thank you to the whole family for the fun times, the company, the smiles and laughter, the hugs, and the joy in being together!