First Time Boondocking with a Remote Job

It’s been a long time since we have camped without power and several things have changed for us since then. First and foremost I am working fulltime as a remote worker now and since I am on zoom video calls most of the day I need to be somewhat presentable for work. A second big factor is we now own a residential fridge and although many people upgrade to six batteries at this point we chose to keep it at four AGM batteries. In retrospect I am not sure why we made that choice when we were with friends who could help us upgrade but we did and this is where we are at.

Because we knew there would be some downsides we decided to stack the deck in our favor and pick a gorgeous spot in a National Park for our first attempt. Despite the difficulty in getting into the site (tight turns and unlevel site) as of this writing we are in a gorgeous spot in Grand Basin National Park at 7500 feet elevation. The weather is practically perfect and the campground is quiet and the site is beautiful. It’s exactly the sort of space we imagined ourselves in when we started this journey in 2014 and one that, through choice, we rarely have been able to experience.

All that being said at this particular moment I have to say I am not feeling it is worth it. Aside from the stress of getting into the site, even pulling in with full batteries left us with minimal juice at all at 4am. I had to get up at 4 am because I am working eastern time even though I am in Nevada and I have an all day meeting starting in about 45 minutes. The propane furnace is working well so we are warm enough and a quick shower is in my near future but we don’t have enough power for even a light strip and my computer battery says I have 1 hour and 47 seconds remaining. The good news is I am not presenting in this scenario so I can use my work phone as a backup until we hit 8am and the generator hours start. I hate to run a generator in this beautiful spot so early in the morning but although the fridge will probably keep until we get power I have to have enough to charge my laptop.

In all fairness to Lee he wanted to do a practice run while we were in West Yellowstone, but I fiddle dee dee’d the idea and here is where we are at. We were smart enough to pick a place with full hookup campgrounds relatively close by, but it was no small feat getting ourselves in this spot and I don’t want to leave unless we absolutely have to. For those who are curious by the way the fridge was pulling roughly 12 amps at rest and it would pop up a bit when the ice machine was running…off to take a navy shower.

Ok I am back. That was refreshing. A navy shower by the way is when you run the water a little to wet your hair and body, turn the water off to soap and shampoo up, and then turn the water back on to rinse off. I absolutely hate them, but it’s part of stretching water and since the alternative is wetted hair and wet wipes I try the best I can to keep them short. I’ve always been able to take a quick shower but these are accomplished in less than 5 minutes although Lee can do it even quicker than that. The good news is I am clean and we still have enough power to run our 12 volt lights which is good since it is pitch black outside and I have killer AT&T service.

My next thought is breakfast which usually consists of two egg whites and two pieces of precooked bacon which requires 2 minutes in the microwave. I can decide to fry them in a pan, skip them and have cold cereal, or wait until 8am (roughly 2 hours from now) and eat then. Decisions, decisions. My six hour conference call starts in about 15 minutes so for now I think I will hold off. I’ll pop back into this post as events warrant. It’s been a while since I have written a stream of consciousness post, but I think it’s the best way to capture the reality of this experience.

Overall by the way I am feeling pretty calm. I generally don’t get too upset when my own choices put me in a situation and we made the choices that put us here. Just need to play out the day and see what we can do to improve it. At least the coffee is hot! We have carried a stovetop percolator for just such occasions for years and it’s working just fine on the propane stove. Oh, one quick point. When we think about boondocking or remote camping we often think of it as free. The reality is nothing is really free. Every time we run the propane burners or furnace or propane water heater, it costs money. When we turn the generator on that costs money as well and these particular spots are $20 a night. All together it is less expensive than many full hookup campsites but really it’s all about the views.

Ok I’m back and the good news its a super clear day and our solar is really cooking. Bad news is I lost battery in my laptop prior to the 8am generator time so had to use my phone during the last 40 minutes. This only worked because I wasn’t presenting so definitely not a solution. The refrigerator also was up to 60 degrees ( freezer at 13 degrees) which again is not great because it is cold here. The good news is now that the solar is going the refrigerator is back on and working. Obviously this is not great so Lee has decided to drive 2 hours (each way) to St. George and pick up a Honda generator.

When we chose a generator with the RV buildout we picked propane because we wouldn’t need a separate energy source. What we didn’t know was that cost for running a propane generator is much higher than a diesel one (conventional wisdom at the time was it was a wash) and we didn’t really understand that the small hand held generators were an option. For years we have talked about buying one but $1K for something we rarely would use seemed excessive. Well we are definitely here now and we are going to purchase one and see what kind of difference that makes. We hear good things about them from people we know but we will see.

Ok back to work and thankfully I have power because I have a big meeting with an executive in a couple of hours. Oh and I ended up frying a few eggs for breakfast. That worked out ok.

So things were going very well until the clouds rolled in and now we are not generating enough solar to keep up with the refrigerator and my laptop…nothing else is on. At noon the batteries are only at 57% and to be clear in our system things cut off when the batteries hit 50%. It’s also fair to say its only a lightly cloudy day so we are getting some intermittent light. To be clear this was rarely an issue when we didn’t have the fridge because we could sit with no output until the sun came back. It wasn’t pleasant but we could do it. I have to believe if we had 6 batteries, like most people with a fridge, this would be less of an issue but I don’t really know.

Lee ended up getting home around 5pm (it was three hours each way) and brought a handheld Honda 2200 generator. We have seen many people use handheld generators in our travels but the price of $1100 always slowed us down. Lee plugged it directly into our power supply using a 30 amp convertor and then 15 amp convertor from there and put oil in it and filled it with gas. Initially the generator belched a surprising amount of smoke but then eventually it calmed down. We ran it for roughly 1-1/2 hours and the battery went from 50% to 67%. We had to stop running it at 8pm when generator hours stopped and to be honest I felt bad for our neighbors. It was louder than expected and the gas smell was pretty strong all things considered.

The other issues was the generator was running and the output kept changing. We weren’t intentionally changing what was happening inside (can’t really control what the fridge does) but it was variable. We knew 67% wouldn’t get us through the night, it didn’t, and at some point when it hit 50% the fridge turned itself off. We learned in the morning that there was a change we needed to make on our solar control panel (changing the charge rate) and if that doesn’t work we may need to turn off the fridge when we are charging our batteries. Thanks Bill for giving us some ideas!

I think my point here is that you can’t just buy a generator and plug it in. You may need an adaptor, you will need to see what load it can handle, and if you have solar and an invertor you have to take that into account as well. It’s complicated and a bit of trial and error so keep that in mind when trying new things. Our biggest mistake was probably doing this so far from a city where we could easily get additional equipment as needed.

Location also matters because we seem to be in a little pocket where clouds gather. We will see what happens today but this would definitely be easier to test out if we were on full sun. Thankfully today has been mostly full sun and the combination of that and the generator running has moved us from 37% battery to 80% charge in 2-1/2 hours. That’s promising. The goal is to get us back to 100% and then see if we can make it through the night without hitting 50% and the fridge turning off. It really is all about experimentation. Update: When we turn the fridge off we only use 9% overnight. Huge difference. Can’t always do that depending on temperatures but nice to know its an option.

Well we figured it out. We went to bed with 91% and woke up with 62% so the refrigerator didn’t cut off. Hooray. To achieve this we had a nice full sun day and used the generator in the evening to top off and watch TV for a couple of hours. Lee felt a huge sense of relief that we have a workable solution and I did as well but I still feel kind of bad about running the generator so much. The good news though is it is very fuel efficient and if we put it in the back it is quieter in the RV. So win/win. If we were in a place where we had no neighbors it wouldn’t bother me at all so I am glad we bought the generator and figured this out. Next up we can actually explore Grand Basin which is what we came here for 🙂

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7 thoughts on “First Time Boondocking with a Remote Job

  1. Oh man, I feel for ya! We are still trying to figure out charge rate changes – think we have a similar issue in that area. My husband also turned off the rez fridge during our last charge cycle with our generator/cloudy weather day (we have onboard gas gen). The game changer & stress reducer for us has been the lithium batteries. So worth saving up for! Seriously consider them, you won’t regret it.

  2. We ditched our propane/electric fridge and bought a 12 volt only. It is really efficient and works off of our 300 amp hours of AGM batteries. I am pretty sure we can go two full days on a charge, and we don’t have solar. I hear you on the 2200….noisy! We have used ours a lot, especially when we boondocked on our property before the electric service went in. Great little generator, but it does have it’s limits.

  3. Definitely feel your pain, been there done that. We still have the RV fridge, with solar and 6 batteries and I rarely start work before 6 AM so that gives me a little more wiggle room and less stress.
    It does get easier, trust me, as you learn the limitations. The first time we boondocked for 2 weeks, I had the first week as vacation so we could test everything out and we were in Q where we had friends who could provide advice and support.
    We’ve had a Yamaha generator for years, bought it for the previous RV when we were doing more camping at art shows that offered free artist parking but no hookups. We had done a side by side comparison between Yamaha and Honda and found the Yamahas to be quieter and less smelly so that made the decision easy.

    In the end, so very worth it when you have great views or a huge site all to yourself without any neighbors, be patient, it will get less stressful!

  4. Pingback: Eight Year – By The Numbers – Camper Chronicles

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