See that picture? You better believe there's no electric hookups down the end of that two-track.
No problem. I bring my own energy.
Jennifer and I just finished an extensive, 6,000-mile, 15-state trip in our new Roadtrek CS Adventurous XL. The trip took us nearly two months and, as I promised, this is an account on how well our unit performed with all the experimental solar and lithium batteries we have board.
Bottom line is, we're about as close to being energy independent as possible.
We plugged in to a pedestal electric hookup exactly twice on the trip.
Once, early on, because it was available at the campground and I figured, hey, I'm paying for it, I might as well plug in. The second time was because the tripod from my satellite system was improperly stowed and accidentally bumped a switch on the inverter and stopped the charging process for my batteries.
The first time was unnecessary. The second time was operator error.
Between the rooftop of solar panels (650 watts worth) and the 32 lithium-ion batteries we are testing out on our unit, we have so much power that I just don't worry about running out.
What does that mean in practical terms?
It means I can go anywhere and run everything I need for as long as I need it. That means that, while at Zion National Park and the temperature outside reached over 100 degrees, we ran the air conditioning all day long – from about 11 am until around 10 pm – and kept the inside of our Roadtrek a cool 75 degrees.
That means that while I was hanging out with a bunch of folks at the Montana Mountains Photo Safari, the AC was on from dawn till dark, offering a nice cool place for Tai.
That means while boondocking in Arizona, Utah, Wyoming, North Dakota and Missouri, we always had power for the microwave, to charge my computers, run my wi-fi network, satellite modem and router. There was always power to make my coffee each morning.
The batteries I have – installed experimentally for our testing by Roadtrek and not yet available on production models – are constantly being charged (during daytime hours, of course) by all the solar panels. I'm able to have the entire roof of our vehicle devoted to solar because the AC has been moved from the rooftop to underneath the vehicle.
This, too, is experimental. As far as I know, only our unit and a near identical setup in the unit used by Campskunk, has such a system at this time. Soon, lithium ion batteries will be offered by Roadtrek as options on new units in various configurations. I'm not sure how or even if they will be able to be retrofitted.
But besides solar, the batteries are also charged by Roadtrek's engine generator. That amazing generator is offered now on most Roadtrek models.
If I was in one place for a long time and the batteries eventually ran down, all I would have to do is start up the engine and they would soon be charged up again.
I never had to do that, not once in almost two months of travel. The longest we sat in one place without being plugged in or moving was three and a half days at Zion. I ran the air conditioning pretty much all day each of those days. At night, as always in the desert, it cooled down so you didn't need AC.
In the desert around Tucson, Arizona, we also ran the AC all day. But there, I also drove the Roadtrek each day, visiting the Saguaro National Park, driving into town to shop and sightsee and for a great Mexican dinner. So besides the solar under those cloudless Arizona skies, we had the engine generator filling up the batteries during those drives.
The capabilities of this system are truly amazing. I don't have to stay in a campground. If I do, I don't have to buy the most expensive sites with hookups.
Our preferred choice is to boondock, away from commercial campgrounds and all by ourselves in the mountains, in national forests or BLM land. That means no annoying noise from inconsiderate neighbors. No campfire smoke. No tiny campsites hemmed in by skyscraper-sized Class As on both sides.
Not four miles from the Grand Canyon's North Rim, we boondocked for two nights in a national forest. The only neighbors we had were a pair of elk that kept walking past looking for sweet grass. We had all the electric power we needed. We prepared dinner using the microwave, convection oven and the little electric grill we like for cooking chicken, potatoes and veggies.
Coming home at the end of the trip, we made a spontaneous decision to spend one last night in the woods in Ogemaw County, Michigan, a mile off the nearest road down a two-track (the picture at the top of this post) that leads to a small clearing and a view overlooking the Rifle River. The weather was rainy and stormy. We read books inside the Roadtrek, watched a movie on Netflix, made a cup of hot chocolate, cooked dinner and looked out at the forest, dripping from the rain in that beautiful soft green light that comes from a late spring storm.
As swarms of mosquitoes tried, without success, to get into the Roadtrek, we were snug, secure and at peace inside, looking out at the wilderness and energy efficient with enough power to stay right there as long as we wanted.
It's so much better than a campground.
Energy independence. It's a very good thing.