Thursday, November 24, 2005

Happy Thanksgiving

Today we have a much-needed day off. As we relax here, comfortable and well-fed in Odyssey, we are trying to keep it all in perspective -- so many around us here have so little, and we have so much. We do, indeed, give thanks for our many blessings.

We have been so busy, of late, that we have not even had time to make plans for our dinner this evening. We have a nice T-bone steak in the fridge, or we may try to find a nice restaurant here in Baton Rouge that is open. Perhaps even one of the casinos along the river, which most assuredly are.

We have no need of the traditional turkey dinner, as the Red Cross put on a spectacular spread last night at headquarters for all the volunteers. In addition to turkey with all the trimmings, there was some kind of beef roast, sliced ham, and some type of cajun jambalaya dish. It was all quite tasty, and there was a familial holiday feel to eating together at HQ. Since we have also been eating out almost nightly with coworkers, we are planning to have a quiet dinner alone tonight.

We did make an effort to find someplace we could volunteer to help serve dinner tonight, but southern Louisiana is crawling with volunteers, and very few people are still in shelters or in need of food, other than those being served by the Red Cross canteen routes. Apropos of that, the one millionth meal prepared by the Southern Baptists at the Red Cross kitchen in Kenner neatly coincides with Thanksgiving dinner, and Good Morning America this morning has been (I am told) covering the event. I should hasten to point out that this is the millionth meal from this one kitchen -- the total count of meals served in Louisiana by the Red Cross is posted daily at HQ, and the number was around 12 million the last time I looked.

It has been quite a while since I have posted here. Careful readers will have noticed that 13 of the last 14 entries were posted by Louise, who normally eschews posting large blocks of text here. For some reason, she has been much more motivated than I while we have been parked here at HQ, whereas I am usually more motivated when we are under way. I am sure there is some deep psychological insight that can be derived from that, which I will leave, as they say, as an exercise to the reader.

Since Louise has been doing an excellent job of keeping you all apprised of our daily lives as Red Cross volunteers, I will, instead, take a few moments to answer a question recently posed by one of our readers. This fellow RVer wants us to describe the rhythm of Odyssey's various systems, now that we have some real-world experience.

As it turns out, there are two distinct modes of daily life aboard Odyssey, one which I will call "under way" and one which I will call "parked," for lack of a better term. Under way includes moving from point A to point Z , camping along the way at any number of intermediate points for up to three or four nights, whether in campgrounds or "boondocking" in parking lots or on undeveloped land. Parked means camped in one location for some longer period of time, which, for us, usually means dry camping. It is only recently that we have come to fully understand this second mode, parked here, as we have now been, for nearly seven weeks straight.

While under way, we tend to carry about half a tank of fresh water. That gives us the ability to boondock for a few nights without worries, yet avoid the fuel burden of carrying a full tank weighing 1,125 pounds. We also tend to dump our waste tanks whenever we pass a free dump if they are at least 1/4 full, and we try hard not to let them go over about 2/3 full for reasons of both weight and flexibility to boondock for a few nights at any stop. In practice, these two policies mean that we dump and fill every five to seven days

Under way, we shower in the evening. We get plenty of "free" hot water made with waste heat from the main engine, and it is still hot enough for showering by bed time. In the morning, only luke-warm water remains, suitable only for hand washing. The main engine alternator also fully charges the house batteries while under way, and so we never run the generator except in the very rare circumstance that we need to run the air conditioning while camped.

Heat or A/C are similarly plentiful when under way, and only rarely do we need to fire up the diesel boiler, typically only for an hour or so in the chill of the morning in cold climates.

In contrast, when we are parked, we fill the fresh water tank to the very brim. By being conservative with showers and other water usage, we can easily go for two full weeks on one tank of water. We are in our seventh week here, and we have only filled (and dumped) three times.

With no access to commercial electricity (and, as yet, no solar panels on Odyssey), we have been averaging about two hours per day of generator run time to keep the batteries charged. This is exactly the amount of daily generator run-time we had anticipated for long-term boondocking when we designed the systems. Since the battery charger uses only a fraction of the generator output, we time the generator runs to get heat, A/C, or hot water as needed. When the climate is warm, we run the genny in the afternoon for A/C, and shower in the evening with the "free" hot water. When the climate is cool, as it is here now, we run the genny in the morning to produce both heat and hot water, and shower in the morning. The charger runs at full output each time, and the batteries stay in the 40%-80% range. Today we are charging them to 100% for the first time since our arrival, just to keep their life cycle up.

Some systems are unaffected by our parked versus under way status. We go through our two tanks (totaling less than five gallons) of propane every four months or so -- we have filled them four times since we left last August. Our 45 gallon drinking water tank will easily last three months, and we never let it go that long. I empty, purify, and refill it about every six weeks or so. The fridge holds two weeks of food, and we also need to find a laundromat every two weeks. We buy diesel based on what state we are in and whether prices are rising or falling.

So there you have it -- Odyssey's bodily needs (in a manner of speaking) in a nutshell. I hope that answers the question, and I wish all of our readers a joyous, safe, and comfortable Thanksgiving.

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