Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Geeks on Peaks

Our current mode of travel is minimalist in many respects – we have enough clothes for about a week between laundromat visits, most of our camping gear deflates, rolls up, or compresses, and it all fits in the back of a standard Toyota pickup truck. But since we plan to travel this way for several months, there are some modern trappings that we have become accustomed to that we carry with us….here is a list.

Laptop Computer – A month or so before we left we bought a Dell Inspiron 6000, with lots of hard disk space and 1 GB RAM. Besides being used to compose this blog ( I don’t know about you, but I find it difficult to write anything of great length or detail anymore without a computer), we also track all our expenses using Quicken, download and store our digital photos, and most important, connect to any wireless Internet connection we can find. So far, our luck has been good – the campground at Washoe Lake had a wireless signal – where it came from we don’t know, since there were no homes or other buildings that appeared to be in range. We would also like to thank the person in Carson City that named their wireless network with their street address – we were able to park right across the street for the strongest signal. And the public library in Mammoth Lakes provides free fast wireless, with tables and outlets to plug in, besides being quiet, warm, and with extended hours. We put a dollar in the fund for their new library every time we stop in. John (business manager) does all our bill payments and banking online, so we need to connect on a regular basis. We have two battery packs (one 3-hour and the other 6-hour), so we have lots of computing time between recharges. Many a blog is written while tucked in the sleeping bag, with light from the monitor illuminating the tent.

Hard Disk Backup – We have an external 160 GB USB hard drive we use to backup our system regularly – I feel way too uncomfortable having all our documents and photos only in one place. Then again, if they steal the truck, they get both copies…

iPod – This is John’s baby – not only does it store 5,400 of the best progressive rock songs from the 1970’s (ok, there are other musical genres on there, too), we also download podcasts, including our favorite NPR programs which we update using iTunes whenever we get connected to the Internet. We can connect the iPod to our radio in the car and listen while we drive. John also has a docking station with two mini speakers, so we can set it up while stationary in camp and listen while chopping vegetables for dinner.

XM Radio – My parents turned us on to satellite radio about a year ago, and it is the best thing in remote areas where there is no radio reception. If you don’t like what you are listening to, just switch to one of the other 150 channels.

Digital Camera – We sold all our film cameras and equipment on eBay before we left, and have gone totally digital. Our camera is a Canon S60, which is the only compact digital camera with a wide-angle (28 mm equivalent). We think it takes great pictures, but the best thing is the video capability – we have a collection of 30-second snippets – if I can figure out how to post them to the blog, I will do it. Another reason we needed the laptop.

Cell Phone – We are now true Americans, and carry the thing around with us everywhere. Just before we left we cancelled our land line and transferred the number to the cell phone. It is now a game to carry it around and see where we get reception. We have carried it on hikes, and made phone call from the tops of peaks – something that bugged the hell out of us when we saw other people do it. I still can’t get over calling my Mom while sitting in my sleeping bag miles from civilization.

PDA – My Palm Zire 31 has become a fifth appendage for me – it stores all my lists, syncs with our contacts and calendar on the computer, and stores my food and exercise diary. It also has games, which are good for killing time while waiting for John to finish washing the dishes.

Refrigerator – No ice for us, thank you. We bought a 1.5 cubic foot 12V cooler on eBay, and it is fantastic. Fresh veggies, cheese, yogurt, etc., all kept at a perfect temperature. My parents have one, too --- they use it to keep their beer cold.

So, all this cool stuff needs power, so we have a whole box full of cords, adaptors, etc. We also have a solar panel – yeah, baby, 80 watts of sun-sucking power -- that charges an extra 12V battery that is mounted in the truck. With an inverter, we can convert 12V to 110V, and plug in any of our toys for charging. The panel rides in the back of the truck, and when we stop or are in camp, John brings it out and points it towards the sun for maximum charging. John rarely gets as excited as when the amp meter registers 9 amps (see photo of the day – expression of contentment on John’s face is not just because of the great view of Mono Lake – the panel is probably putting out pretty good, too). Unfortunately, we don’t have a meter that tells us how charged the battery is, so if we don’t get the panel out because we are parked in the ski area all day with the fridge running, we get worried. In fact, I would say John is a bit preoccupied (obsessive is perhaps too strong a word) about putting the panel out – he can often be seen face pointing skyward gauging the direction and intensity of the sun.

Needless to say, we make sure to lock the truck whenever we park somewhere. But we are not too worried -- the back of the truck is packed so tightly it would be a job for someone to find the goods anyway.
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Anonymous said...

John & Doris, you definitely have everything all the gear to make it fun. Enjoy! I'm very envious and someday will be there too. In the mean time I hope we can meet for a few turns. The pics at Virginia Lakes look sweet!

Jim Luick

Anonymous said...

Nice idea with this site its better than most of the rubbish I come across.

Anonymous said...

Cool writings...nice detail on your gadgets. Interested to know more about the solar panel. Is it keeping up with your equipment?


Doris said...

Ali -- so far so good. The real power hog is the computer. Generally when we have the solar panel in full sun with the fridge running, we still get positive 3 to 5 amps, which means it is charging despite the power draw. With the computer plugged it, it goes negative and stays negative, sometimes off the scale of -10 amps. We have two batteries for our laptop -- a 4-hour and a 2-hour, so we can go quite a while between charges. We find that we need to schedule our computing around when we know we can either plug in or are stationary long enough to recharge. We can recharge while driving, but it is a maze of cords and perched equipment on top of all our gear, so we kind of avoid the hassle.

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