...and we're not talking about beer...or wine...or...
In a recent 10-day stretch, we threw caution to the wind and decided last minute to join in on the Escapee's Xscapers Quartzsite Convergence we learned about through our networking with fellow RVers (Xscapers is a fairly new branch of the Escapees; younger RVers who work on the road). Approximately 70+ Campers and RV'ers rounded up in one location on the BLM land (Bureau of Land Management) near Quartzsite, Arizona. Thinking we were well prepared, we've actually faced one of our toughest challenges not only as RV'ers but also as a married couple, and it all came down to one word:
Did you know that 71% of the Earth's surface is covered by water; 5 oceans, 117 million lakes, 165 major rivers, and countless streams, springs, and ponds. We can see that simply looking at a satellite image of our planet. The oceans alone hold 97% of all of the Earth's waters which is undrinkable without desalinization and treatment. Only about .3% of our Earth's fresh water is found on the earth's surface in rivers, lakes, swamps and ponds. Over 68 percent of the fresh water on Earth is found in icecaps and glaciers, and just over 30 percent is found in ground water. Of all the water on Earth, more than 99% is unusable for consumption. Think about that a moment...
So, what does Earth Science have to do with our RVing?
Three years ago, when we purchased our first Heartland fifth wheel, we never really gave much thought about our holding tanks because we didn't really entertain the thought of living off the grid aka 'boondocking' except for an occasional stop-over at a Casino, Cabela's or Home Depot parking lot for the night. Our dream just three short years ago was we would travel and stay in some posh park or resort and tether our coach to utilities; water, electric and sewer aka 'FHU' (Full Hook Ups). Now, we have become interested in going the other way…boondocking. As we have learned, boondocking is not for everybody and let us tell you why.
When you purchase a camper or RV, you have three tanks; fresh water tank (potable drinking water), gray tank (used water in your system from doing dishes, showering, washing hands, etc.) and black tank (human waste). Depending on size of your camper or RV will dictate size of your tanks; the bigger your RV, the bigger your tanks are. But make no mistake, even the largest of RV's certainly have their limits. If you've never boondocked or plan to, this is a must-read.
Our 42' Heartland Landmark 5th wheel's fresh water tank is 80 gallons, gray tank is 90 gallons and our black tank is 45 gallons.
First things first. Your black tank (human waste) is going to need water for dilution. So, of that 45 gallons, it's safe to say at least ¼ of that will be actual water. Normally, you are going to procure that water to flush from your fresh water tank or from a campground, park, or resort water hookup and if you are on sewer hookup, once every few days or so, depending on use, you're simply going to pull the valve to flush it down into the premises' holding tanks or sewer. Each tank has a gauge (control panel inside) that is 'supposed to' alert you their levels but in our experience as well as others, they aren't all that accurate.
When boondocking for extended time periods, you are completely reliant on all of your tanks and your systems' efficiencies. Prior to pulling in and unhooking to boondock, you need to completely fill your water tank and empty both your gray and black tanks and treat your black tank as usual. Along with filling and emptying the water/sewage, you're also going to fill your propane (for heat, stove, oven and refrigeration) and fill your generator fuel tank(s) which is used to power your coach's electric. Having an extra water bladder and extra fuel tanks for your generator needs is a plus. Now, you are considered 'self-contained'. This is where the fun begins. This is a critical time where it's all about water conservation and energy management. You are going to come to realization of how precious every drop of H2O, fuel and propane is…and your willingness of patience and adaptability.
When we (collectively speaking) live in our S&B's, we never think twice about running the faucet in the kitchen until it gets really hot for doing dishes or really cold for a drink of water. Many will let it run while rinsing dishes or brushing our teeth. We really never appreciate how spoiled and yet, wasteful we are with water.
…you become boondocking or off-the-grid RVers. Now, you plan and measure until your head hurts. Every ounce counts!!
So, now that we've told you about the science and engineering, now comes our perspective and experience.
The day we left the comforts of FHU's (full hookups), we took long hot showers. The night before, we did the last bit of laundry. We were squeaky clean. The first days of our boondocking experience were 'ops normal'. It was then, we really had to sit down together and do some math, learn to adapt and improvise. We planned on boondocking a week but because we were having such a great time networking with the Xscapers here's what we came up with and learned from:
- We saved our fresh water tank for "sea showers", occasional short rinsing and toilet flushing.
- We took 'sea showers' every other or every two days depending on our activity; just like on ships we served on in the Coast Guard. Step in…turn water on to rinse…shut water off…soap lather…turn water on to rinse and done. We used approximately only 3 gallons each. When we sponge-bathed days in between, we only used a third to a half gallon of water each.
- Instead of washing our hands with soap/water, we bought Lysol Antibacterial wipes ($6 for 2 containers for water closet and kitchen)
- We purchased 15 individual gallon jugs of fresh drinking water ($15) for drinking and cooking
- We washed and rinsed our dishes in two dishpans. Our rinse water became our wash water the next time we did dishes.
- We heated water we needed instead of allowing it to wastefully run through our water heater.
- Because our electric induction cooktop put a strain on our generators, we improvised by purchasing a 2-burner propane Coleman Classic Camp Stove ($42) to set on top. We've only used one small green propane cylinder can in the ten days.
- We washed each other's hair in the sink every other day using only jug water. Again, we heated water on the camp stove and mixed it in a bowl with the room temperature water from our jugs.
- We (I know this sounds gross) did not flush our toilet paper down the black tank because toilet paper fills your tank up faster. We won't go into specifics but it is no different than wrapping used feminine hygiene products for refuse.
- Instead of using paper plates for simple sammiches and dry meals, we used our little red baskets with parchment paper liners. Much less refuse and waste to either throw away or burn in the campfire.
- We wiped our glass plates and bowls after meals with our used napkins; made easier washing and conserved water for rinsing.
- We used small Walmart plastic bags for our trash. They are easier to dispose of at the fuel station's trash receptacles when filling our fuel tanks. We were good stewards; we never just 'unloaded' for free. We always made a purchase.
- Our RV besties, Tim and Emily at Ownlessdomore lent us their coffee press. We used it for about 5 days. It made incredibly rich and delicious coffee, however, it took a considerable amount of water just to clean it. So, while we've mitigated the need of running two generators to operate our Keurig, we ended up using more water than necessary for two cups of coffee each morning. We traded one issue for another.
Things we will do differently, add or modify:
- We are going to purchase a Coffee Cone Dripper with paper cone filters. Easier to clean and less water waste than using a coffee press and less electric power than operating Keurig Coffee Maker.
- Purchase a water bladder and RV fittings to be able to get larger quantity of water.
- Install a more efficient tank monitor system
- Look into getting one or two solar panels for electric power
- Install DC plug outlet in berthing area so we can run a CPAP machine on Liberty's battery bank/inverter instead of running generator at night.
- Purchase a larger amp hour battery bank for charging cellphones and tablets and operate a USB essential oil diffuser when not on generator power.
- Prepare and freeze more ready-made meals so we are just reheating or warming up.
- Buy more beer. We didn't. It saves on water consumption...and all this math stuff...well, we needed more beer! Oh and stock up on our favorite Bourbon. Campfires and Bourbon are just a given...to us.
So, as you've just read, boondocking takes a whole lot of science, math, sacrifice, and tons of love and understanding. We are still married. We did not run out of water nor did we starve. In fact, we're kind of proud of ourselves knowing we could do it if we had to.
I guess our main complaint is the weather was not kind to us. It was cold and windy; not a nice time to have a good old fashioned campfire or just lounge outside. But we did get to 'embrace the suck' in the Arizona Desert through riding our dual sport motorcycles with Xscaper friends. The ironic thing of it all is even though we were stuck inside most days and nights, we never turned our television on except movie night with two other couples. It's like camping but because we live in a big luxury 5th wheel RV, it's GLAMPING!