Thursday, May 3, 2018
We left Council Bluffs this morning and drove 193 miles to Brandon, South Dakota, a suburb of Sioux Falls. We’re staying at Big Sioux Recreation Area, a state park and campground on the Big Sioux River. Due to the deluge the area has received in the past few days, flood warnings were issued for several cities on the Big Sioux, including Brandon. The river was roughly two feet above flood stage. Normal flood stage is 12.0 feet. I called the park to verify if the campground was affected by flooding, but was told everything was fine, other than some of the hiking trails, which were under water.
We are dry camping at Big Sioux (no water or sewer hookups) for two nights. This is our first foray into camping for more than one night in a row without a water connection. Our soul source of water is our 100-gallon fresh water tank, which we filled up before leaving Council Bluffs. We have camped at a Corp of Engineers park without sewer hookups lots of times, but having no water connection for two successive nights is as close to true boondocking as we have ever come.
The jury is still out on how I feel about boondocking. On the plus side, we save an average of $40.00 each night we spend somewhere other than a RV Park. However, running our generator for long periods of time offsets some of the savings. On the plus side, if you tow a vehicle four-down, you can leave your toad attached at many businesses that allow overnight parking. On the down side, you cannot level up and extend your slides, which means one of us (read: Jan) has to climb over the other person to get into and out of bed. It is considered bad camping etiquette to lower your leveling jacks and extend your slides in places such as Walmart and Cabela’s, but that doesn’t stop some people from doing it. The idea is to “park” overnight, not camp. The third issue I have with boondocking is that one of my pantries is on our big slide, so I can only open the door a few inches. I have to feel around inside one of the four shelves in search of the item I’m looking for. Sometimes I end up emptying an entire shelf, one item at a time, until I hit pay dirt.
Harry has wanted to boondock for years, so we are going to give it a try next week for three nights at Badlands Overlook Buffalo Gap National Grasslands, which overlooks Badlands National Park.
So how can we live off the grid for three days? It’s a little complicated, so bear with me. If you are an experienced RVer, feel free to skip the rest of this post.
Our motorhome has four house batteries, which provide power to our 1800-watt inverter. The inverter converts DC to AC power, which in turns allows our residential refrigerator to operate, as well as several outlets in our motorhome when we are off the grid. We can charge our house batteries one of four ways: when our engine is running; when we are connected to shore power; when our generator is running, or with solar power. We have two solar panels on the roof of our motorhome, which provides a total of 300 watts of power to help charge the batteries. In addition to running our refrigerator, we will be able to charge our electronics and use the lights in the motorhome. We’ve changed out all our interior bulbs to LED, which use far less power than incandescent or CFL bulbs.
In order to conserve water, we’ll be taking Navy showers. The term originated on naval ships, where fresh water was often scare. In laymen’s terms, it basically means you turn off the water while lathering up to save as much fresh water as possible. In our case, taking a Navy shower will also decrease the amount of wastewater running into our gray water tank, the tank where all wastewater that drains from our shower, and the kitchen and bathroom sinks goes, as well as the water from our washer/dryer combo. Most RV’s have three water tanks: a fresh water tank, a gray water tank, and a black water tank. I think the black water tank is self-explanatory. The sizes of the tanks vary from RV to RV. In our motorhome, in addition to our 100-gallon fresh water tank, we have two 40-gallon gray tanks, one for the sinks and shower, the other for the washer/dryer combo, and a 40-gallon black tank. By practicing water conservation, we believe the water in our fresh water tank will easily last us three days. Obviously, we will not be washing clothes when we boondock. We’ve made it eight days on the black water tank numerous times at our local Corp of Engineers campground, so we are not concerned about that one.
I did a test run of a Navy shower before we left home to find out exactly how much water it takes for one person to bathe in this manner. All of our tanks were empty when I conducted my experiment. Harry attached a fresh water hose (yes, there are special water hoses that meet potable water standards) to a spigot at home and connected the other end to the motorhome’s city water inlet. Conversely, when we are not connected to city water, we have a water pump that pumps the water from the fresh water tank to the faucets inside the motorhome. The shower in our motorhome has a handheld spray nozzle with an on/off switch. I put the spray nozzle in a clean bucket with water level indicators before I turned on the water. It took roughly ten to fifteen seconds for the water to get warm enough to bathe, which amounted to almost three quarts of wastewater. Without the bucket, that water would have drained into the gray water tank. Bathing and shampooing my hair took less than three minutes. I skipped using conditioner to avoid having to rinse my hair a second time, opting for spray-on leave-in spray conditioner instead. After conducting my test, Harry emptied the gray water tank into a separate bucket with water level indicators. The output from the gray water tank measured right at two gallons, making the final tally 2.75 gallons of fresh water used. The three quarts of water wasted while I waited for the water to get warm enough to bathe can be used to flush the toilet when we’re boondocking, helping us further conserve our fresh water supply. We plan to rely on paper plates and plastic utensils to eliminate washing dishing when we boondock, but we will still have to wash some pots, pans, and cooking utensils.
If it gets too hot during our three-day stay in the boonies, we can start our generator. That may sound contradictory to living off the grid, but our goal isn’t to suffer, but rather to be out in the wild and away from the crowds.
Conserving water and keeping our gray water tank from filling up will be our biggest challenges during our three-day sojourn in the boondocks. Well, that and staying out of the way of the bison and elk who frequent the area to graze. Stay tuned to find out how we did.