One cold evening, at about 8:00 PM, I was having a pleasant telephone conversation with my squeeze Erik, when a loud noise pierced my ears. The beeping noise came from the RV refrigerator, which ran on LP gas, as we were not connected to electricity. Because of the obnoxious noise, it was impossible to continue our conversation, so I hung up the phone and entered into my best PI worthy investigation mode.
A few years as a system test engineer taught me basic troubleshooting skills. Now I had the perfect opportunity to show off in front of my dad by putting these skills into practice. Since I am a better supervisor than an engineer, I asked my dad to light the gas stove but the stove did not light. I proudly announced that we have found the problem for which we have an easy fix: we simply needed to change the gas tank. As a couple of recent but totally serious RVers, we had a spare tank with us and changing the tanks was a snap. Once the fresh full tank was connected, the refrigerator started to operate again. We were pleased with our accomplishment and settled for a relaxing evening. At about midnight, the refrigerator started to beep again. However this time, the noise was not intermittent but constant, making it impossible to sleep. In the midnight panic I turned off the refrigerator; but quickly realized that we cannot allow our food to spoil. From a drawer I pulled a wad of RV manuals, and turned to the refrigerator troubleshooting section.
As I read through the list, I figured that we could be experiencing one of the two potential troubles:
(1) Condensation on the door latch sensor and the internal refrigerator light. A common problem, fixed by taking off the sensor and drying the leads.
(2) The battery power was out and the refrigerator running on gas could not use the electrical ignition to generate a spark to make things run.
I flipped on a light inside of the camper which should draw power from the battery, but the camper remained dark. In my expert test engineer opinion, I concluded that the battery had no charge.
Fortunately, our camper was in proximity to the bathrooms that had a 120V electric outlet by the sink. Above the outlet a sticker read: “For personal grooming devices only, do not leave anything unattended.”
this was not our first electric rodeo. In our extensive camping adventures, we’ve been known to run obscenely long electrical cords to an available electric outlet to operate our lights, charge my laptop, or to microwave some food. So, at 12:30 AM, we pulled the extension cords and dragged them to the outlet in the bathroom about 75 feet away. All the lights in the camper went on, and the fridge stopped beeping. As a bonus, we were able to charge our phones, both showing low battery percentage. As far as I was concerned, our marine-grade RV battery should now be charging. I read a few more pages of the manual and learned that there are three charging modes:
(1) Lightning mode — which we needed now because we were totally drained. This mode works for about four hours or until the battery reaches somewhat above 13 amps.
(2) Intermediate mode — lasts for about 44 hours and provides slower charge and
(3) Drip charge mode — that pretty much is always on when the RV is plugged to AC power.
With the RV plugged in, we happily went back to sleep – our intention was to unplug and hide the extension cords by 5:00 AM, giving us the four hours of the lightning mode that would hopefully charge the battery full.
In the morning, while we were drinking our coffee, I asked my father to check the rating on our marine-grade battery, specifically looking for amp-hour (Ah) rating. I figured that we could estimate how much battery power we were using by multiplying current requirements of our appliances by the time that they normally run. On average, the refrigerator uses 1.5 – 2:00 amps and by my calculation, we had it running for six days, so 6 days * 24 hours * 2 amps = 288 Ah. To this we should add the current used to operate the RV sliders, the awning above the door, and some small items that we occasionally used such as lights and the fan above the cooking range. I wasn’t sure about the rating of our RV marine-grade battery but I wanted to know. Camping life flows at a slow pace, there is time to smell the roses and time to calculate ampere-hours of the appliances. My dad opened the battery compartment and reported, “I do not see the amp-hour rating.”
I asked, “Are there any other numbers that you can be seen?”
I figured the other numbers could help us google the answer.
My dad replied, “Yes, but I think that I might have found the problem, come and look.”
When I went out of the trailer and looked at the battery, my dad showed me a loose connection. It was the connection on the positive side of the battery post where we previously connected an electric jack that currently was not working for us.
My dad tightened the connection and now we had a dilemma. While we believed that the battery was good, questions remained, did the battery discharge because it was not charging when it was connected or did the fridge stop working because of the loose connection and the battery not supplying enough power? At the end we decided that tonight at midnight, we would wake up like a couple vampires, and once more drag the electric cord to the bathroom and poach four or five more hours of electricity. We would make sure that the lightning charge fill-ups the battery and makes us good for the rest of our stay without having to resort to “borrowing” electricity again.
Our plans for the day were to go on a boat tour of Yellowstone Lake. We finished our breakfast coffee and got ready to head out to the Marina, but before we left, my dad showed me his phone, “What do you think this means?” he asked.
The phone screen displayed a text with a 202-area code. Someone from DC sent a message saying, “We got your dog Sara, found walking on 58.” My father’s dog is named Saba and when he is not around, she gets to run loose on his 84-acre farm and the surrounding lands belonging to his neighbors. The farm is a mile away from the Grayson State Park in Virginia where Mount Rogers presides as the highest peak in Virginia. During the summer many tourists come to the park to camp, hike, and admire the wild ponies that roam freely in the park. I texted the DC area-code number back with the information, “We are out of town, please text the second number of the dog tags (for convenience, I typed the number) and David or his wife will take care of Saba, the dog.”
I then texted David, my father’s neighbor asking, “Did you get a text about Saba?”
I was frustrated by the fact that I had to deal with a dog emergency in an area with a poor phone signal and right before we should be getting on a boat for a sightseeing cruise. My father was visibly worried about his dog, he said, “Highway 58 can be busy, Saba could get hit by a car.”
I replied, “Someone caught her, so she will not be hit by anything.”
Still concerned, my dad said, “Maybe it would be best to call them?”
I could text but there was not enough signal to make a call. Feeling helpless, I was getting more frustrated and texted my boyfriend, Erik with numerous messages. Being an industrious fellow, Erik sprinted to action and said that he will call the number. Just a few minutes later Erik reported via a text message, “No one answered — I left a message”
I said to my dad, “I think we are dealing with a case of overzealous out-of-towners from DC, or ‘tourons,’ as I like to call them.”
These city slickers spotted a dog that was walking freely minding her business and could not help themselves. They had to capture Saba who, being friendly enough, probably walked right up to them. Saba knows her way back but if they put her into their car and drove away, she might be out of luck.
My dad replied, “You might be right, a few years ago my friend’s dog was walking around and an over-enthusiastic couple from DC took the dog. Since they did not receive an immediate reply from my friend, they decided to take the dog with them to their home in DC, about six hours away. Three weeks later they drove back and returned the dog. They caught the dog about a hundred feet away from my friend’s house.”
He then added, “text them again and ask them to take Saba back to where they found her and release her. She will find her way home. City folks have no idea that animals can walk free and just like people when dogs get bored, they visit neighbors and, when the visit is finished, go back home.”
My dad’s town is not a big city where animals need to be caged, held on a leash, or are locked in small apartments.
I texted another message which said, “please release the dog close to such and such address, Saba knows her way home. Thank you very much for caring.”
I wanted to be nice about the interaction. Later in the evening we received a message from my father’s neighbor, David, “Saba is with us and safe.”
I replied, “Thank you, this will make my dad very happy. What happened? Must have been some dognapped from DC that got her.”
A little while later, I received a message from the dognapers, “I’m sorry for the late response, I have been traveling back home. I was able to get her to the top of the hill (Denny’s garage). My mom texted David’s wife and she said she she (double “she” in the text) was home safe. Thanks for following up.”
This text confirmed to us the “touron” status of the do-gooders, no local would ever catch a dog who was on a walking adventure. The local dogs are smart and know where they live and who they wish to visit. Likewise, the local people are smart enough not to disturb a dog on a mission. Luckily this incident ended well and my father could breathe an air of relief. This was neither the first time and most likely not the last time for this event to happen.
We boarded the sight-seeing tour, which was OK. The guide was doing his best to be funny and entertaining but his material was dry. Yellowstone lake covers 131.7 square miles, it is 430 feet deep at its deepest. During the winter it freezes up to three feet. In the past year USNPS (United States National Park Service) rangers would ski on the lake but that is no longer allowed because there are some soft spots.
The guide told us a story of a man who bought a boat that he intended to use for commercial reasons, but he never got his commercial license. The boat was anchored by an island for a while but one day a strong storm came and grounded the boat on the nearby strip of land. Over the years the boat was used as a shelter by the Yellowstone rangers. During the prohibition the boat became a party drinking spot for the local workers. Then at some point it was burned, possibly intentionally but the reason was never understood. The remains of the boat can still be seen on the island’s shore — they have been classified as a historical artifact and cannot be removed.
We finished the tour and headed back to the campground. This was our shower-day, every campsite receives two passes per day to use the public campsite showers. I went “native” and had not showered for three days. Frankly, I didn’t feel a need to shower, but civilized human decency does come with certain requirements and going more than three days without a shower is simply uncivilized and maybe even indecent. My father is a better man than I am because he felt a strong urge to wash up and shave.
At midnight we woke up and I dragged the long skinny green snake of the electric extension cord to the ladies bathroom hoping that no one was around to see me. It was cold and I was wearing nothing but light pajamas and flip flops. I entered the bathroom and noticed a low hum of a buzzing electric heater; the air was nice and warm — I could stay there in the cozy warmth but I needed to go back and traverse the dark patch of woods to get back to our RV where my bed, probably no longer warm, was awaiting me. Resolutely, I plunged into the darkness, walking fast, trying to avoid the electrical cord – I didn’t want to trip on it. I stepped into the trailer and jumped into my bed, throwing the comforter over my head, hoping for a quick warm up.
“Did you connect it?” my dad asked.
“Yes, I did,” I spoke back with my teeth mildly chattering from the cold.
I pulled the covers over me knowing that this routine will once again be repeated at about 5:00 AM.
The fan in the electricity distribution box was buzzing politely telling us that it is doing its job and our battery is being charged.
I fell asleep, but it was not a deep sleep — I was worried that we would get discovered by the other campers; after all the sign above the electrical outlet clearly said, “For personal grooming devices only, do not leave anything unattended.”
Other more technologically advanced campers ran their generators during the day, some even had solar panels charging their batteries. We had neither and without battery power would not be able to pull our slider in. The RV slider offered additional living space and was sticking three feet out to the side and was about ten feet long. There was no way we could drive with it open and for us to pull out of here in a couple days, this electricity gig was truly a necessary move. Once on the road, the car’s alternator will charge the marine-grade RV battery.
I attempted to go back to sleep but knowing that we tapped into the bathroom electricity against the rules kept me awake. I feared that at any moment someone might follow the electrical cord and show up on our doorstep with a reasonable grievance. We got away with this gig once, but could we be so lucky two nights in a row? What’s the worst that could happen? Some rule-following camper would report us to the camp-host or the ranger; we were breaking minor rules, not laws – all they could do was to ask us to disconnect the cable. After hearing our dilemma with a dead battery and no way to pull in the RV slider any reasonable person, in my opinion, would allow us to draw just a few drops of power to make the RV work. Most likely that would even be to their advantage as it would enable us to leave the campsite on time and not cause issues for the next guest. All these thoughts were bouncing in my head – I was in a state of sleep, but not sleeping; awake, but not truly awake. My eyes opened and I checked the clock on my phone – it was 5:07 AM. The battery should be charged and it was time to drag myself out of the bed and go on a short, cold march to the bathroom. My dad was snoring and there was no need to wake him up. The other end of the cable was in the ladies bathroom, and unless my dad identified as a woman — perhaps he could identify as my mother — he did not need to get out from under his warm covers.
I slipped my flip-flops on and went out. As on the previous expedition, the inside of the bathroom felt warm, if only there was a couch — I would stay there for a while. But all there was were two commodes and a couple sinks. I pulled the cord out and started folding it like a wrangler’s lasso. I walked back slowly, continuing to roll the cord.
If I roll it up properly today there will be less work with it tomorrow, I thought and kept judiciously conducting the task. Finally, I reached the trailer and once again plunged into the warm bed; mission accomplished, now I could sleep as long as I wanted to.
My father asked, “Did you get the cord?”
“Yes, I did,” I replied.
The illicit electricity ritual was completed. My mind was now free of worries as I slipped into a deep sleep. This time I did not think about anything else, I simply slept satisfied that the technical failure was resolved and there was nothing else to worry about. In the background, I could hear the sound of my father’s satisfied snores.
Special Thanks goes to Bella, my editor for this piece.