To Solar or not to Solar

That makes more sense…

I have lots of favorite upgraded in the FJ Cruiser and one of the many bests is the ARB Fridge in the back that keeps the water, sodas, and beers cold. I have been tuning it for years and made it a full-time item over two years ago. I ran into problems with battery fatigue caused by too many discharges. It turned out that the battery was not being adequately charged with the solenoid circuit and the alternator. So instead of purchasing another battery, I added in a RedArc BCDC2525D charging system. It conditions the AGM battery properly and during the Alaska trip, as long as I didn’t keep the 300W inverter running overnight, the battery would never go below 12.3V. However, now that I live in Mesa, Arizona and it is F****NG hot here, the fridge has a hard time keeping things cold. In its valiant efforts in a 150 degree vehicle, it sucks current from the battery and in less than a day can decimate the battery.

Since the RedArc charger has a solar circuit, I bought a 100W solar panel on Amazon Prime days and hooked it up. It puts out 4-6A of current consistently during the day and since the fridge should not take more than 1-2 Amps, It should not suck the battery dry. The problem, however is that it seems to maintain 12.2V when charging, but when I am driving, it ignores the alternator input and just uses solar. This would be OK if the system would boost charge at 14V, but it will not. I decided to send a note to RedArc and ask for some advice.

To RedArc: I have a yellow-top battery as a secondary in my FJ Cruiser. It is isolated from the main and I use a BCDC2525D system to charge it. The battery is only 55AH, but its primary job is to power USB and an ARB 60L fridge. It has worked great so far on a 7 week overlanding trip. However, I have noticed that if the temperature outside is in the 80’sF (26C), the battery will last up to 2 days with the fridge and the truck off. It has so far charged the battery perfectly with daily driving.

However, I recently moved to Phoenix Arizona, which has temperatures outside above 100 deg F (38C). This makes the truck interior hot and the fridge has to work extremely hard to keep the temperatures down. I generally keep the windows cracked, but basically the fridge will drain the battery in less than 12 hours in this heat. So I purchased a 100W solar panel and in full sun it puts out 4-6 Amps of current throughout the day, so I thought this would keep the battery charged. It seemed to work the first two days with the truck sitting. But the battery was down to 12.0 V about mid day today so I drove it around for an hour on errands and I noticed an issue: the solar keeps the charging voltage to 12.2 to 12.4 V rather than the normal 13.5-14.3V that it was charging from the alternator input alone (through the BCDC2525D). Is this how it is supposed to work? Tonight the battery was at 11.7V and I shut the fridge off to keep it from draining the battery to cutoff.

I understand the temperatures are hot here this time of year, but I would expect the RedArc charger to kick charging up to max 14V when the truck is operating, especially if the solar is only putting out 4-6A.

Should I rig up an isolator that disconnects the solar circuit when the truck is running so the BCDC2525D will use only the vehicle alternator charging circuit?

I will see what they say.

Day 41 – Nevada, Las Vegas, and Home

Before turning in last night, we shared some good laughs, reminisced on some of the great parts of the adventure, and celebrated with a deep glass of Middleton Whisky. I awoke as the sky began to become bright experienced one of those amazing desert sunrises. The temperature was a cool 61 degrees and the silence was broken by a distant rumble of a lone Harley Davidson rider as he rode across the deserted desert road.

Morning view of our last campsite

I made coffee, packed up the tent for the last time, and prepared for the 4 hour drive to Las Vegas. Carl was flying back to San Antonio today to get situated a couple of days before normal life starts again. His best flight options were from Vegas so I would finish the last leg of the journey to Mesa solo.

Mining claims are staked in all over the Nevada desert

It was 102 degrees when I dropped Carl off at the airport. It was a contrast to the 60 degrees in Colorado Springs at the beginning and the 30 degrees and snow in the Arctic 12 days into the trip. I fueled up the truck, picked up some quick food, and drove down the newer Interstate 11 towards Phoenix. The views along the road are dynamic and contrasting and completely different than the majority of the journey. A beauty all of its own.

Snow capped mountains in the distance.

I stopped at a small campground about half way through when I saw the sign that it had water. It had been a couple of days and I wanted to clean up a bit before home. The pools looked inviting for a swim and after a quick dip, I used my bucket and the campsite water for a makeshift shower. The desert water source was about 80 degrees and comfortable, another contrast from the glacial pools.

It took about 90 minutes to get across from the northwest entry into Phoenix to our home in eastern Mesa. Traffic was moving fast and I matched the music to the tempo. I backed the truck into the driveway at 6:20 PM. It has been a full 42 days, almost to the hour, since I left my previous home in Colorado Springs and camped my first night in the Bass Pro Shop parking lot.

The Overland trip lasted 42 days. We traversed over 10,966 miles on and off road. We crossed international borders 6 times between Canada and the USA. We traversed a total of 11 states: Colorado, Wyoming, Utah, Idaho, Montana, Alaska, Washington, Oregon, California, Nevada, and Arizona. We spent time in, walked on, and experienced the 4 of the 5 types of climate types on this planet; Dry, Temperate, Continental, and Polar, missing only the Tropical. Within these types, we drove through all of the 4 sub categories of the Dry type; one of the Polar types, 5 of the 9 Temperate climate sub types, and probably 6 of the 13 sub types of Continental. What a blessing.

Day 40 – Smith’s Rock to High Desert, NV

We got up from the dusty spot on the BLM land outside of Smith’s Rock and packed up. We did a swing by a local store and I stocked up on creamer and found a breakfast burrito and coffee. The first stop was a quick hike around Smith’s Rock State Park, a climber’s mecca. It was definitely formidable, and as Carl would say, terrifying. The rock had a beautiful stream running in front of it that worked great for photos.

We pushed down out of Oregon and into the northeastern part of California. The road took us along the eastern Sierra Nevadas through some ranching country, some beautiful lakes, and endless views of high desert. We stopped for lunch in a town called Janesville, which apparently is home to the county seat and two prisons. Nothing much to see here at the visitors center so we pushed forward with Carl at the helm.

We made it to Reno about 5 PM and filled up with gas. The trip meter had us at 588 miles and we still had a half of the main tank, which means another 100 miles. I am really pleased with the Long Range Automotive auxiliary tank for this trip. It has made it easier to travel and not be hitched to the passing gas stations.

We finished the night in another wild camp on the middle of the Nevada desert. We have mountain ranges all around and views of the sunsets and sunrises were astounding. The stars at night were bright, even with a half moon. The beauty of the deserts. The next leg is to drop Carl off in Vegas and then head onward to home in Mesa. I am grateful for this trip and the opportunities is opened. And I am so happy to be getting home to my wonderful wife.

Day 39. Vancouver, WA to Smith’s Rock

We decided to stay another day in Portland and cut the long day into two pieces.  Rich suggested Smith’s Rock state park north of Bend and so we packed up our stuff, left the truck, and headed back into Portland.  This time instead of the boroughs, we were in the city center. 

Carl is an angel

Our first stop was a huge bookstore called Powells.  Apparently it’s famous.  We had some coffee, chatted, looked at books and then left to find food or beer in some food trucks. We ran across the Deschutes Brewery and had some pretty good beer and then proceeded to the trucks.

Apparently Portland is filling itself in and building high-rise apartments in any place they can find.  One block was famous for the food trucks, but recently was cleared and re-appropriated.  We found some of the food trucks and had a pretty decent lunch before heading to our second stop at an outfitter store.  We looked around and bought a couple of things. 

Portland is the City of Bridges

Rich had to stop by a re-store to pick up some floor boards for his home (he’s re-doing the bathroom) so Carl and I waited for him across the street at The Mississippi Pizza Pub. Rich got his boards and then we headed back to the house, finished loading the truck and then Carl and I headed south-east.  

Some city art

We camped in a BLM area across from the state park.  The juniper and weeded forest smelled kind of strange and took a bit to get used to.  Something strange must have been blooming.  

Day 38. – Portland for a day.

I planned to meet with some friends of Kristina and mine for coffee at 9 AM.  I got up around 6 and got started on the repairs for the truck.  The high pressure AC line had been rubbed on the bumper for years, but the Dempster apparently was its demise.  The part had been sent to Rich’s house and after removing the grill and a support bracket, I got the old one out and the new one in by about 8 AM.   

I had a great visit with John and Linda at a local Starbucks for about 90 minutes.  They suggested a mechanic and I checked their availability and they could take the truck at 1PM.   I gassed up and headed back to Rich’s and we took both vehicles to drop it off.  (Kudos to Top Performance Automotive for a fast and rea$onable recharge).  We had lunch while it was in the shop and then dropped it back off at Rich’s before we headed into Portland for some guided tours.

Local pubs

Rich showed us one of the houses he recently sold and then we had some gelato and walked around the area that is strewn with shops, restaurants, homes, and interesting nooks and crannies.  Carl and I agreed we could hang out here for several days and still not see all of the cool stuff.  Rich took us to a mountain park in the city and we hiked around a bit.  We then went out and visited his sisters, one whom was visiting from Bend, OR, and enjoyed some great conversation and lemonchella.  

Brewery under the trees

Dennys for a late dinner and we headed back to his house for the night. 

Rich and Carl amongst the local artistry

Day 37. Olympic National Park and Vancouver, WA

We drove around the western part of the park and turned to the Hot National Rain Forest.  Carl got his Jr Ranger pin and patch and I took a small hike.  This is another place I really want to head back to and visit.  This park has a discovery trail for bikes and tons of hikes and overnight options.  One campground across from where we camped, is beneath ancient Cedar, Hemlock, and oaks covered in moss and mushrooms.  

A view into the lush rain forests in Olympic NP.

We stopped a couple of times along the road, first at a giant cedar tree and then at the beach.  We stayed at the beach for about an hour checking out the cool tide pool creatures, rocks and driftwood.  The Pacific is cold, but nothing like the Arctic Ocean.  

Sea creatures exposed by the low tide.

About an hour further down the road we stopped at a roadside diner called Dino’s Diner.  I got the special of fish, shrimp, and fries and it was great.  Carl loved his burger.  We checked out an interesting mercantile next door that had everything from food, beverages, fishing gear, to muffin baking pans.  The interesting thing was that it was built on a slope and one side was several feet higher than the other and the floor was sloped in the store.  

Dino’s Diner daily special. Cod, Shrimp and fries.

We decided to turn inland instead of continuing down the 101 and got to our friend. Rich’s, house about 6PM.  We talked for a while and caught up for many hours.  Rich fixed some light dinner and then we all headed to bed around midnight.  

Day 36 – Whistler to Olympic National Park.

We had a bit of time to get laundry done and stock up with some supplies before check out.  We left town about 10:30 AM and headed for the US border.  It was raining all the way down into Vancouver, BC and the fog and rain provided some amazing views of the coast.  We made our way though the city of Vancouver and then found the line to the US border.  

May these gates never close… USA

The wait was listed ad 70 minutes so we grabbed some beverages and made friends with the locals.  I learned some interesting things about Canadians in line; they are pleasant and polite when you meet them and are generally apologetic, but put them in a queue headed for the border and if you give them 5 fee of space in between you and the car in front and they will push and shove and cut right in without a hint of a wave, thank you, or sorry.  Interesting Canadian characteristic.  

The 70 minutes turned into 90 and we finally found ourselves at the border.  The agent decided to use me for some training and tried to show the other agent where you can hide cocaine in an FJ Cruiser.  Glad I was not transporting any.  

Campground at the ferry port.

We continued south into Washington and turned west to catch a ferry across the waterways at Port Townshend.  From there it was about 2 more hours of beautiful forest and coastal roads before entering Olympic National Park.  We drove around Crescent Lake, which was incredibly beautiful in the rainforest, and then found a great site deep in the rainforest on an old logging FS road.  The mosquitos are tiny here and not really a bother.  We hung out, drank some beer and good rum, and then turned in around midnight.   It actually gets dark here around 10:30.

Camping in the Olympic National Park

Day 35 – Whistler Bike Park

I woke up early and headed to the truck to pay for the parking. We could not park the truck un the hotel lot due to the height and the library parking around the corner was $30 per day. We found open parking for $10 per day in the main lots, so I parked there. Pay is only 8am – 5pm, so I had to get it paid. We moved the truck closer to the hotel in the process.

Lines for the park.

I replaced my rear brake pad since they were getting thin and I didn’t want those to be sketchy on the hill. We were going to get breakfast at a local shop, but the lines were incredibly long, so we headed back and just made oatmeal and coffee back at the truck. The bike park opened at 10 am so I moseyed on over about 9:30 to get my ticket and get started.

Whistler Mountain Bike Park is world renowned for its trails and fun. It also hosts a Crankworks event and a world cup race. I took the easy trail down the first time to get a feel for the mountain. It was really easy and pretty fun. THe next time I moved to the B-Line intermediate trail. Steeper, challenging, and lots of burms and jumps, this trail is really fun. The trail was washboarded a bit, but still was great.

The lines were getting long and I had to wait 20 minutes to get on the third run. It was starting to rain, so when I got to the top, I took the second lift to get to the second ridge 2500 feet higher. That lift is 2x longer and I decided at the top to take the intermediate trail called Blue Velvet. This trail was wider than the b-line below, but it was FAST and STEEP with some incredible jumps. I still was not ready to get my wheels too far off the ground so I did my best to keep the speed down. By now the trails were sufficiently wet that the mud rooster tails were thick.

Riding up the lift for the 3rd time.

It took me about an 40 minutes to get all the way down to the bottom. By then the lines were almost gone. I guess rain and mud thin out the tourist bikers. I made another run up to the mid level and took the Crank It Up trail. This was a bit more technical than B-Line but had a lot of great burms. At the bottom I decided to get lunch and headed to the truck to cook some soup.

Upper lift to the summit.

That afternoon I did probably another 8 runs down the hill on many trails. I managed to do a black diamond trail that Whistler is famous for, the A-Line. Now that trail is really good. It is wide, fast, has great and fast turns and tons of table-top jumps. I rode this trail several times and by the end I was jumping confidently, although not over a couple of feet high. There is one part that has a jump, and then cascades down a 10 story step drop into another jump. FUN.

Trees versus slope.

I quit about 6 PM and headed back to the hotel after washing my bike and myself in the public wash rack. It tool several washes and showers to get all the dirt from the hair and clothes. Carl bought some KFC and then baked a frittata. I made it to about 10 and then headed to bed. What a great day.

2010 Winter Olympic Mascot

Day 34 – Cow patch to Whistler

We are making our way south and getting closer to the Whistler. Today it should ge only about 6 hours of drive to Whistler. The plan is to get there and get some lift tickets and then start riding. The drive in southern BC is a lot of farming and forestry. We passed many locations where trees were being loaded into barges for sale southward or overseas (Stewart) or actually processed locally. In one location there was a whole valley filled with rows and rows of rough-cut lumber.

Farming and Timber are the industries in this part of BC

As we got farther south towards Whistler, we entered a steep mountain range with super steep 12-15% grades. It was so beautiful going in and out of the clouds above the crystal clear streams and old growth pines. At the other side was the town of Pemberton, and low and behold, a brewery sign. They were not open until 3, but were open enough to sell a couple of bottles and we sat on their patio and I enjoyed a great IPA.

We saw a brewery sign and decided to stop.

We arrived early into Whistler and attempted to get a camp spot but there was nothing available. After looking at the potential free roadside camping, we scored a great room at the Alpenglow hotel for $100 per night. It had a kitchen, fireplace, and balcony and 3 beds. Of course the shower was the best since it had been a couple of days for me and several more for Carl.

A happening tourist town, Whistler BC

We checked out the local shops and restaurants and then grabbed a drink and some food. I decided not to get on the lift due to the late hour and just do a whole day on July 5. The lift was only $52 (American) so I purchased online. We had a few more beers along our tour of the place, and then went back to the hotel for rest.

In for a burger for dinner in Whistler, BC

Day 33 – Marathon day across BC

There is not a lot that we want to see in this portion of the country and are making it a marathon day.  We left around 7 AM and then headed south east and then finally turned south.  We did stop in a couple of towns to get some repair parts for the tent and of course hot dogs at Costco in Prince George.

Woke up in Gravel Pit wild camping.

Some highlights of today was that we saw 4 black bears and one grizzly bear.  I kind of got a picture of the grizzly but he was not too ready to pose.  He already had a tag on his ear, and if I remember what one of the rangers told us, they get 1 tag when they are interacting badly with humans and have to be moved.  The second tag is more of a bad-bear danger warning, and if it happens a third time the bear is removed permanently.  I am not sure how much is true of that bear, but apparently he has been tagged for some reason.

This is a black bear even though he is brown.
This is the grizzly, but he didn’t wait around for a photo.

This is logging and lumber country here.  We have passed multiple processing plants as we traveled south.  There are stacks and stacks of rugs cut boards that go on for hundreds and hundreds of yards.   The biggest so far has been in Quesnel.  Very impressive.  

Throwing in a line at a road stop.

We ended the night after driving about 700 miles today and camped at another iOverlander suggested campsite.  It was a cow patch along the road near a ranch. The mosquitos were thick so we ate quickly and headed to bed.

We found the largest fly rod and reel in Canada.