Sunday, August 11, 2013

Sleepless on the way to Seattle

We’d pulled the Airstream into one of the last available spots in a National Forest campground just outside of Hood River, Oregon so we could drop into town and see some friends. We’d left both Fantastic Fans on high to keep Gorilla cool while we were away, and when we’d returned, initiated our usual routine: put Wynne to bed and fire up the Apple TV for an episode of Downton Abbey.

Since we didn’t have an electrical connection in the campground, I unplugged the Belkin three outlet mini travel surge protector from the wall and connected it to the small inverter we keep under the TV for when we need to run on battery power. When I flicked the red switch on the inverter, the Apple TV and Airport Express whirred to life, and a light appeared by the power button on the LED TV. A few moments later, the theme music of Downton Abbey – if you listen closely, the only music that is used over and over throughout each episode – was coming through the speakers directly over our heads. While Airstream had enough forethought to route an RCA cable behind the silver interior skin from the TV location above the fridge to the stereo above the dinette so you could listen to the TV through the house speakers, we figured out that by using the headphone out instead of the AUX out, we could mute the speakers on the TV which were about 2 feet from Wynne’s crib. At first, we’d found a way to connect headphones to a convenient AUX input box tucked in behind the stereo, but we eventually realized that by fading everything to the front speakers just over our heads, Wynne couldn’t hear a thing at the other end of our small trailer anyway. As much as living in the trailer seems like “the simple life,” it still somehow takes three remote controls to turn on the TV.

Before the Crowley family had even sat down for luncheon, the inverter let out a solid alarm, warning of low voltage on the battery. I plugged in the portable voltmeter and sure enough, it read 11.53 volts. If the trailer was a Honda Accord, we’d be calling AAA, but these were deep cycle marine batteries that could handle a little dip in voltage. We silenced the alarm and tried again. Another long beep. Eventually, we unplugged everything but the laptop and finished out the extra long episode (Season 2 finale!) on the small netbook screen and went to bed. Whah, whah. Camping is HARD.

At about 4 am, we heard three loud beeps. It can be disorienting enough being startled out of sleep when you’re at home, but when you’re in the woods, your fight or flight instinct goes into overdrive. Where are we? Where’s the baby? Where are my pants? This time it was the propane detector, also complaining of low battery voltage, a useful feature since if it goes dead and there happens to be a propane leak, you’re pretty much… well… dead too. Again I checked the voltmeter and this time got a surprising 8.14! At that point, you’re not calling AAA, you’re walking home. I laid awake until sunrise, half convinced that somehow running out of battery would cause our expensive portable living capsule to lose cabin pressure and collapse in on itself like a tin can in the Mariana Trench and half running through what we might have done differently from so many other nights we’d camped without connections to kill our batteries this time.

I still for the life of me can’t figure out what caused the extra draw on the batteries… 


…but it could have just been running both fans on high for 5 or 6 hours, though I could swear we’ve done that before. And it wasn’t the stupidly placed light in the storage compartment that gets knocked on by shifting wheel chocks and leveling blocks. Or the exterior lights that sometimes get flicked on while searching for the overheads. Or some modest use of the furnace. We do that pretty much every night to keep the baby warm enough.

One thing’s for sure, glamping goes bad quickly without power. Coffee? Nope, water pump doesn’t work. Same for flushing the toilet. Cool off with fans. Not gonna happen. Best thing to do is just hitch up and get down the road. Wait, that’s going to be tricky when the electric jack doesn’t work. I figured I could use the jack from the truck to lift the tongue, but I still needed to retract the trailer jack so it wouldn’t drag down the road. I knew that I could take the battery out of the truck and use it to run the trailer jack, but then I’d have to switch it back and forth while I maneuvered into position - raising the tongue, backing the truck, lowering the tongue, adjusting the truck, etc. Thankfully, I got enough reception to figure out from the Airforums that you could manually operate the electric jack by taking off the top leveling coverplate and turning a square head with the female side of a ratchet extender. It worked, but not fun. Did I mention there was no coffee?