SUN☼ Finds a Home Base

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Published on The Doomstead Diner July 5, 2017

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This article is a continuation of a long running series of articles I have written on Gypsy-style, on the road living.  It actually began in the earliest years of the Diner with my Over the Road series, which chronicled my years as an OTR Trucker.  In that case, I was travelling all over the Lower 48 plus some Mejico and Canada and living in my Freightliner tractor, pulling 20 tons of some shit for Konsumers to buy at some store somewhere.

In this new iteration, it began a month or two ago with the purchase of my Stealth Van (now Christened SaVANnah), a 1999 Conversion Van on a Ford Chassis which I got for the bargain price of $5000.  It's in great shape, and after several Tests already, I am quite confident on its mechanics for long trips OTR.  The goal now for next year is to bring Brother RE's Travelling Collapse Salvation Show to the Sheeple in the Lower 48 who don't frequent internet collapse websites.  Not sure I will actually be able to pull that one off given my health issues, but it provides a goal for me that is within reason.  Living life without some goal in mind, while possible, is not very rewarding IMHO.  I know that some philosophies of life stress only living in the here and now, but I am not built that way and do not agree with such philosophy.

Since procuring SaVANnah on the used market off Craig's List, I already took her on one Adventure I chronicled here on the Diner to Talkeetna, where I was scoping out some Land for a possible purchase for SUN☼ as a Home Base.  That chronicle is the 4 part Alaska Sustainability series which directly precedes this article written over the last month.  However, that trip did not turn out to be even a one night stay overnight in SaVANnah, I drove home the same day.  At that point I hadn't even equipped her with what I needed to make her a viable living arrangement for myself.  For instance, I couldn't even get in and out of the cabin area from the side or back doors, I needed footstools for this purpose.  My legs just won't make that big step up anymore.

So over the last couple of weeks I have been Prepping Up SaVANnah to serve as a Road Worthy Stealth Van providing good accomodations while at the same time looking from the outside like just a normal family conversion van that Soccer Moms drive around if they have big families.  Most of the important stuff I did not already have arrived by last week, so over the July 4th Holiday Weekend, I decided impromptu to take SaVANnah on her Maiden Voyage, a Shakedown camping expedition of 3 nights/4 days at a favorite campground of mine.  It's a very family-friendly campground, right next to one of our major rivers, nicely wooded with big old-growth Cottonwood trees and with lots of bike trails and a playground for the kids.  There are flush toilets available and you can buy a shower for $2.  Campsites with no electric go for $15/night, with electric $25/night.  I took a primitive site, it's much nicer with woods all around.  The electric sites are built for big ass RV diesel pushers with the slideouts, a McMansion on wheels.  These crates are the vehicle of choice for many financially successful Amerikan retirees who cruise the North American continent visiting the grandkids and touring the Natural Wonders of the National Park system set up by Teddy Roosevelt.  They are the ultimate fusion of the Happy Motoring culture and McMansion living brought to us by the Age of Oil.

SaVANnah however is much more modest, at least by those standards, and can fit anywhere the typical car will fit for car camping.  The primitive part of the camp doesn't recommend anyone with a vehicle 30' or more try to negotiate the dirt road in, although a few assholes do try that.  I also don't really need the grid electric power for what I am doing right now, I have my own on board electric systems that take care of those needs, which I will describe further down in the article.

Smarter Tools 2000W Parallel Capable Inverter Generator with Yamaha Engine The first step was loading SaVANnah with all the preps I wanted for this trip, and any trip up to a length of time about a month in duration.  For longer/more permanent road living there are a few other things I will include, like for instance my Yamaha 2000W portable generator.  However, for this length of trip I was pretty much right on with what I would need/want to have along.  The thing is, on loading SaVANnah with the preps, I just pretty much threw them into the cabin willy-nilly, and the cabin was a cluttered mess you couldn't really easily sleep in or move around in to do stuff like getting dressed in the morning or even working at the indoor computer workstation I wanted to set up.  I figured that my main project for the stay at the campsite would be to get all the preps properly organized and stowed so the interior would be livable.

Upon arrival, I chose one of the larger sites with good open space to set up camp and get organized.  Despite the fact it was a Holiday Weekend, the campground was less than half full up when I arrived on Saturday, and never got more than about 3/4 full through Monday so I had my choice of sites.  It's not a well known campground, and many of the big RV people don't use it because it doesn't sport FULL hookups including water and sewer, just electricity.  There is however water on site as well as a dump station for your humanure collecting in the tank of the behemoth.

Here is the empty site on arrival, before setting up camp:

The first order of bizness was getting all the CLUTTER of preps out of SaVANnah and getting them organized up and stowed in some Sterilite plastic drawers and containers, along with setting up my Big Brolly, a 9' Beach Umbrella I bought ON SALE at Walmart for $20, a price you normally will pay for a personal Totes umbrella.  This item was invaluable over the weekend, since after arrival there and a few hours of a sunny day the overcast rolled in and then we had basically non-stop rain for 2 days.  I set the brolly up over the picnic table, and this became the outdoor equivalent of my desk back at home in the digs, where I spent most of my time surfing the web for doom, writing and Admining the Doomstead Diner.  Without the brolly, I could not have sat with the computer getting rained on and me getting soaked, I would have had to spend the whole time inside the van.  That would not have been a pleasant 3 day holiday!

The ramp you see in this shot is how I get my Ewz Scooter in and out of SaVANnah & the folding step-stool allows me to get my crippled ass in and out of the cabin

Once the workstation was basically set up, it needed to be supplied with electricity and light sources to power my computers, which I used two different systems for because the Plan A system (one of my old laptops) just was not working too good.  So I had to go to Plan B on this one.  I also discovered after Day 1 that I would need some sort of Mosquito Defense, because while they mostly do not seem to like the taste of my blood and don't bite too often, they can be extremely annoying buzzing all around you and landing on your computer screen which is very attractive to them.  I purchased a couple of Citronella Candles for this, and they worked pretty good over the next 2 days.

Outdoor Office Plan A.  Crapped out because the laptop is now a piece of shit after 3 years of yeoman service to the Diner.

Outdoor Office Plan B – Lenovo 8" El Cheapo Android Tablet with Bluetooth keyboard & mouse

In this photo, you see the main supplies I brought along on this trip for electricity and for light & heat:

The inverter which converts D/C electricity to A/C in this photograph is the larger of the two units I brought with me, producing 500 Watts of A/C power.  However, I didn't need it, the smaller El Cheapo 120V inverter I bought ON SALE for $12 worked just fine over the 3 days to power my diode lights, my smart phone which served as a wireless router and my laptop one day and my Lenovo 8" Tablet the other 2 days.  Everything got recharged overnight by SaVANnah's starter battery, and it didn't put any dent in that battery's ability to start up SaVANnah the next day.  Then after doing a little of the day's necessary driving, that batt was once again fully charged.  Rinse and Repeat.  If you were parked in one location and did not do some driving every day, eventually you would drain the starter battery, so this is not a good solution for a longer term stay in one location.  To cover that situation, I have a much larger Deep Cycle Marine Batt, but I did not bring it along for this trip.  You could further up your electric resilience with some solar panels (which I have), but at the moment as long as fuel is available I don't see a necessity for having them installed, which would be fairly expensive.  I can just use my small generator to recharge the batts as necessary on longer expeditions.  It's much more fuel efficient than running the van engine if I don't have to.

Burning the Midnight Oil. From empirical evidence, I kerosene lantern burning overnight in a 1999 Conversion Van will not poison you with CO. However, this may not be true for your van, so test first with a CO detector for safety.

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES[/caption]The Heater you see pictured is a Propane fired one, but I also did not use that.  It didn't get THAT cold overnight (only down to the 50sF, around 10-13C), and in fact in my sleeping bag on the first night I was quite comfortable with the temps in the low 50sF.  It was on awakening in the morning to get dressed that it was annoyingly chilly.  On the first morning I fired up SaVANnah's engine to get the heat going, and ran it for around 20 minutes.  The following two nights I ran a Kerosene fired lantern inside the van to keep the heat up over 60, and this worked fine at this exterior temperature.  For REALLY cold temps, I have a catalytic Kero Heater which puts out a whopping 8000 BTUs, and would turn a smal space like the interior of SaVANnah into an OVEN if run continuously over any temperature over maybe -30F. lol.  I don't expect to be sleeping in SaVANnah at those type of temperatures, even here in Alaska.  It gets that fucking cold, I will take a Bates Motel room!

I did get warnings from fellow Diners about possible Carbon Monoxide (CO) poisoning by running the Kero Lamp inside a confined space, but I had discussions with another long term Gypsy, Van Dweller who has been doing this sort of living for 50 years, since the 1960s.  He never died from it, so I figured this was pretty safe even without a CO monitor.  Vans are not air tight, there is a lot of leakage through all the holes drilled to pass wires through, your gas and brake pedals etc even if you don't crack the windows.  Anyhow, this test worked out OK, I am still alive. lol.  However, I will buy a CO monitor for tests running more lamps or either the propane heater or the kero one to see what the numbers are for CO burning that much inside the van volume.

The other stuff in the photo are mostly candles, good for nice gentle light and a little bit of heat too if inside the van.  These candles however are not good for repelling Mosquitoes, for that you need Citronella spiked candles, so I bought a couple of those on a Prep Run done on Day 2 to Walmart.  This in conjunction with buying a new Laptop since the old one just would not operate properly and cooperate with me.  However, I elected not to get it set up while out on the road, as this would have burned up a lot of my bandwidth on 4G, so instead shifted over to using my Lenovo tablet instead, which worked well enough for the next two days but has its limitations.  I'll have the new laptop set up by the time I go on the next Adventure in this series, Boondocking around the Matanuska-Susitna River Valley of Alaska.  "Boondocking" for those of you who do not know the terminology of Gypsy Van Dwellers is parking and sleeping in public parking lots and off the road in public access areas where there is no charge attached.  In some cases it is legal, in some quasi-legal and others strictly illegal.  I will be sticking to the first two of these types during this Boondocking Adventure.

After the Boondocking Adventure, the next one is a trip down to the Kenai Peninsula for Dipnetting season on the Salmon Run.  I'm not fit for dipnetting anymore, especially considering all the pushing and shoving I am told occurs these days as the subsistence fishers here in Alaska vie for the best spots, but I have a potential fisher who will fish my quota for me, in return for half the catch.  I wouldn't be able to eat even half the catch in a year anyhow, so what I will do with it is smoke it, vaccuum seal it, freeze it and air ship it down to Diners as a part of the Diner Potlatch Economy of Gifting. 🙂  If you want in on this, tell me how you want the salmon smoked, as Salmon Jerky or Cold Smoked as Nova Lox.  If it is a reasonably successful expedition, I would expect to come home with 30-50lbs of salmon fillets to smoke.  That is a LOT to give away!

After the Dipnetting Adventure, the next one is not in SaVANnah, I will be flying down to the Lower 48 and renting a Dodge Grand Caravan Minivan to observe the TOTAL ECLIPSE OF THE SUN☼ on August 21st in Idaho.  So I won't have my full array of van dwelling preps available for that adventure.  However, I will make a Prep Run to a Walmart for some essentials down there, and leave the preps I buy with one of my friends when I head back to the Last Great Frontier after the trip.

In terms of what you need for "Car Camping" or "RV living", this varies widely between individuals in terms of how much of industrial civilization comfort they wish to bring with them out into the "wilderness", which really isn't wilderness at all anymore, just a facsimile of wilderness.  Even as a facsimile though, it is still a good deal better than Suburbia.

Accomodations in such an environment can go anywhere from Spartan to Luxurious, above you saw the penultimate of luxury in the Industrial Civilization camping paradigm, the Big Ass Diesel Pusher.  Here in decreasing order of Luxury you can choose to camp with at SUN☼ Headquarters are some possible choices:

Just below the level of the Big Ass Diesel Pusher are Class 2 RVs and Trailers.  Most folks who yank these around also want full hookups, so as you can see the SUNCampgrounds are pretty empty even over the 4th of July Holiday Weekend

Dropping down a bit further are the folks with smaller trailers and Pickup Truck Campers who will park in more primitive sites along with the Tenters.

The next level down are those who will just use a car/SUV/pickup and set up camp with tarps and tents.  This was my next door neighbor's set-up who I may meet with again down on the Kenai Peninsula for some dip netting fun.

Getting down to the bottom of Motorized Camping, you have a small cadre of people who do this with Motorcycles.  Because of limited towing or carrying capacity, they are pretty much limited to tenting, although they can carry bigger tents and tarps than hikers or cyclists.

The final stop on the journey here to Spartanville is the Backpack Tenter with no motorized vehicle at all.  These are usually interesting young people to meet, many of them coming over from Europe on the cheap.  Not too many locals will camp THIS Spartan.  They at least got a 10 year old Ford Escort to haul in some preps.

Now, is this "sustainable" living?  No, of course it is not.  However, it is ALTERNATIVE LIVING  to typical industrial living, and can be done quite a bit cheaper.  It is mostly limited to single people, young couples and retirees though.  Families with young kids need not apply for this style of living.  You would run into huge problems with the division of Child Protective Services if you tried to live this way with young kids.

For myself with SaVANnah, I could live this way basically in perpetuity, I know this to be true because I already did it for 7 years while I drove truck, and this would actually be easier.  Even though you are burning gas while driving around, it is actually more energy conservative than living full time in a McMansion, because your heat and electic requirements are so low.

Upon leaving the SUN☼ campsite after 4 days, this is what it looked like after I packed up and was ready to go:

There is no evidence that the Hominid RE ever inhabited this location or walked the earth in this spot.  Well, OK some of my hair probably fell out while I wuz there and left DNA traces,  For the most part though, I left that patch of the earth just as it was when I arrived.  If more people would commit to doing that, the earth would be in far better shape.

Although the lifestyle of the Van Dweller will disappear along with the disappearance of fossil fuels, the lifestyle of the wandering Nomad never will.  In fact it never did, Nomads walk among us to this day.  I am one of them.  I am always at my most comfortable when I am on the road and I have lived in a dozen different states and countries over the course of my life with at least as many different jobs.  For me, there is "no place like home" at all.  Everywhere and nowhere is home to me.

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