4000 Rivets

We are Mike & Kristin Ryan! We are photographers, wanderers, parents, grandparents, writers, hikers, travelers, paddle-boarders, beach lovers, explorers, adventurers...and we are full-timing throughout North America, indefinitely, in our 27 foot Airstream, named Gracie!

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Monday, December 18, 2017

Dirt Orcas

We were contacted a few weeks ago to do an email interview with Paul Strubell over at Dirt Orcas.

"Dirt Orcas is a site that celebrates the people who share a love of overland travel, the vehicles that they depend on to transport them to adventurous places, and the shared love of wildlife and nature that drive that adventurous spirit. In addition to essays, interviews, and fun videos, Dirt Orcas offers everything from overland related product reviews to trip planning, guided trips, and field advice.
The name Dirt Orcas comes from the pod dynamic of orca whales. A group that travels in highly sophisticated ways. They communicate and relate to each other. Passing down information through generations and to other pods. The vast community of overlanders and adventure motorcyclists are similar in this respect. We all share and exchange information, helping one another as we travel and learn ourselves. We just happen to do this travel over land (dirt) instead of by sea."

I love the analogy of the communication amongst whales...an exchange of like-minded travelers...which is one of the reasons we are on Instagram, Facebook and we blog! 
The site features lots of interesting 'overlanders'; explorers, bikers and wanderers and this time he featured us!  He asked really great questions too, not just about the mechanics of travel but the ever-elusive "why"!  

Check out the interview and his site!

Check out our interview at Dirt Orcas!

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Sunday, December 17, 2017

Death Valley

We left Trona Pinnacles on Monday and drove a couple of hours along a lonely road to enter the West side of Death Valley, near Panamint Springs.  As per our normal routine, we didn't really know where we were going, as far as camp sites...we just headed into the heart of the park to check things out.  

We decided to dry camp in Furnace Creek for at least a couple of days while we did some further exploring. "Surely there is more to this park than what we have seen thus far," is what we were thinking.  And, while Death Valley is very unique, and photographically speaking would be kind of amazing in inclimate conditions, we thought of it more as "she has a good personality" this time around!  Lots and lots of flat, dry, colorless and oftentimes lifeless land!  It is the lowest and hottest and driest place in the United States...and those superlatives were fairly unremarkable on our first visit here.  

Fortunately, it wasn't the hottest, it was, in fact, quite lovely.  And it was low...we visited the lowest spot, Badwater, at 282 feet below sea level.  And it was dry...so dry that we found our way to the only source of water in the area, the Furnace Creek Inn's warm mineral pool, several times during our stay!

We also visited Artist Palette and though it wasn't overwhelmingly colorful, the muted tones did provide me with some inspiration.

Artist Palette...this would be remarkable with a little bit of rain...

Artist Palette

Mike went out to Zabriskie Point for sunrise, and again for this beautiful sunset...

Zabriskie Point

 We hiked around out at Mesquite Flats (ironically named tall, rolling sand dunes)...

Love the rim lighting on the front edge of that dune...

Mike, doing his thing!

I love the geometry of this image...

And we did a fun, moderate hike up Golden Canyon (and into some tight, twisty canyons) to Red Cathedral for a pretty cool panoramic view...

Plenty of sunshine!

Twisty, up and down canyons!

These loose rocks were not my favorite hiking surface, but the canyons were pretty cool!

We thought it was a whale!  Do you see it!

The view from Red Cathedral

 And we enjoyed our campsite, the bike paths, using our smokeless firepit, sunsets out our screen-free window...and the starry night skies...

Tilted up solar panels in order to maximize the low sun.

We took out the screen in the back to optimize the view (and also took out one from the side)!

We had fun creating this image...me on the inside with alternating lights and Mike on the outside taking the shot!

We didn't write Death Valley National Park off...it certainly had it's charms (we ended up staying for 6 nights!)...next time we will likely find a good boondocking spot (look for the Pads on Campendium), hang out at the pool again, do a little more hiking and simply enjoy the quiet.
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Our solar set up!

Several people have asked about our solar set up and the equipment we have so I thought a blog post about our system would be helpful.

We knew starting out that we would be doing some boondocking and plenty of dry camping so solar was always going to be part of the modifications we would add to the Airstream. We considered, briefly, using a generator for battery charging and those times when there may be some high electrical needs but liked the idea of solar for its simplicity, clean energy and quiet operation. Not having a generator also means no extra fuel to carry around and less equipment to haul in the bed of the pickup. You can get propane powered generators that can run off of the same propane tanks on the Airstream but the idea of the extra equipment and the noise that they generate didn’t really appeal to us.

We had a simple solar set up on our Sportsmobile, prior to buying the Airstream, so we had a little knowledge about panels and batteries but knew we needed someone with a lot more expertise than we had. Our research on Airstream Forums led us to make a call to Lew Farber. From the Forum we could tell that Lew had the knowledge and experience and that he would do a first class job. 

We contacted Lew in November 2016 to start the discussions knowing he would be in Hood River, OR for the summer and we planned to be making our first extended trip with the Airstream at the end of May as we would be heading for the Oregon Coast. We thought that if he had a time slot open, we could drop the Airstream off with Lew while we were at the coast for two weeks and then pick it up after our stay. As it turned out, that’s exactly how it worked out.

We had several conversations with Lew over the first few months about panels, batteries and whether we needed to upgrade the inverter. Our Airstream, a 2017 27FB International Signature, came with the standard Interstate batteries located in the box on the tongue, a 1000 watt inverter, and a simple converter for charging the batteries. We also discussed the advantages and disadvantages of AGM batteries vs Lithium and the size and number of solar panels that we needed, and could expand to, given the roof area we had. Lew put together several options and what each would cost. It didn’t take long to know that we had made the right choice to have an expert like Lew design our system and educate us on our options.

Lew works with AM Solar out of Springfield, OR for all of the equipment and does the installation himself at his shop across the River from Hood River in Bingen, WA. (Lew is an authorized installer for AM Solar)

In January of 2017, we sent Lew a small deposit to assure a spot on his calendar for June 1st. The plan was for Lew to purchase and install the following major pieces of equipment:

4 - 100 watt SP100 high effeciency monocrystalline solar panels with mounting feet and tilt bars

1 - 300 amp hour Victron LiFePO4 (Lithium) battery

1 - Magnum MS2000 Inverter/Charger

1 - Victron Bluesolar MPPT charge controller

1 – 200 amp Victron Battery Monitor

1 - Soft start on our rear air conditioner

1 – weBoost cellular booster/amplifier with larger, enhanced antenna

Having the 300 ah Lithium batteries and the soft start allows us to run the air conditioner for 1 to 2 hours on the battery bank without being plugged in to shore power or a generator. 
We also have a blue tooth monitoring system that runs through an app on our iPhones which allows us to monitor our panels and batteries.

The battery, battery monitor, charge controller and inverter/charger are all located under the bed. The panels, of course, are on the roof. All the wiring is run down through the refrigerator vent so no penetrations were made in the roof, including the weBoost wiring. The panels and weboost antenna are mounted with double stick tape and Dicor sealant, also assuring that no mounting holes were made in the roof.

I won’t go into details about the equipment and the specifications. If you are interested, AM Solar (amsolar.com) has a great web site and discusses equipment options, specifications and advantages and disadvantages of each component. Lew at Solar Tech Energy Systems has been in the RV and Marine solar installation business for many years and is recognized as one of the top providers/installers in the United States. He spends his winters in Naples, FL and summers in Hood River, OR. You can contact Lew, if you are interested in working with him on a solar setup, for your RV or boat at 4rvsolar@gmail.com.

We have been on the road for 7 months and have relied on our solar many times. It has never failed us and we know that if issues arise, Lew is just a phone call away!


A drone shot of our new panels, right after the install.

MacKerricher State Park, panels tilted to better capture to the sun.

Trona Pinnacles


I know this is too far away to see the solar panels, but what a cool shot, huh?!!!

Parkdale, OR...we didn't see a lot of sun in these trees, but we sure enjoyed this spot.

Walmart in Butte, Montana

Trona Pinnacles

Death Valley, Furnace Creek

Mounting of the tilt bars

Battery, inverter/charger, charge controller and battery monitoring system under the bed.

If we can help answer any further questions, please don't hesitate to send us an email or give us a call!
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