Errands and Batteries

FedEx delivered my new lithium batteries yesterday, exactly as promised. Unfortunately, it was late in the afternoon, after BCM closed, so I wasn’t able to pick them up until this morning. I had an inconveniently timed work meeting, then packed up for travel to run several errands, including fetching water for myself and Yellow Wolf. I did that, brought it back to camp, then headed into town, dumping trash and emptying my grey water jug on the way.

My first stop was Main Street Laundromat. It was time, and I could continue working while I did my laundry. Last year I’d also take a shower while I was here, but now I have my own.

While getting my laundry started, someone asked me, “Are you Smokey Da Van?” I told her yes, and she introduced herself as @wyrd_adventures on Instagram. We’ve followed each other for a while and randomly ran into each other at the laundromat. It’s not the first time I’ve been spotted “in the wild” like this before, but I don’t think being known for my van life online presence is something I’ll ever get used to. It was great to meet her, though! And she’s right, Lister was very upset that I wouldn’t allow him to free roam a busy parking lot. It’s almost like she knows us.

After laundry, I picked up a few groceries across the street at Roadrunner Market. I didn’t need much, but since I was right there anyway it made sense to stock up on fresh salad and a couple of other things on the same trip. Next was the most important stop — picking up my new batteries from BCM. Wisely, they didn’t even bring them into the office, just left them on the covered porch. They even offered a hand cart to wheel them down to my van, which I gladly used. They were well-packed and made the trip just fine, but they did take up a lot of space in my van. I’d have to do something about that.

But first, I hit the highway for a drive to nearby Ehrenberg. A neighbor had printed out the Florida title request forms I needed because their online system is broken, and I wanted to mail them from anywhere but the Quartzsite post office. From the stories people tell, they hate snowbirds and break postal laws regularly without consequence. I trust them to not lose my mail about as far as I can throw my van. Meanwhile, the Ehrenberg post office gave me one of the most pleasant experiences I’ve ever had at one.

Then it was back to camp. Lister finally got his outside time, and I figured out what to do next. The heat had kicked in, and at first, I decided I wasn’t going to install the new batteries until the weather cooled off in a day or two. But we’re supposed to get storms tomorrow, and I wanted my van at 100% before that happened, so I slowly went through the process of swapping out my house batteries despite the oppressive heat.

I started with a supporting modification, installing my 20-amp battery charger to use with my generator and shore power hookups. I wanted it outside the bed frame, mainly so I could see the screen and monitor my charging without having to go under the bed. The zip ties are temporary but will work until I can get something better.

Next, I propped open the front half of the bed and disconnected the thick power cords going to the old batteries. Once again, because I designed and built my electrical system, I knew exactly what I needed to do. The hardest part was lifting the old batteries out. They weigh 125 lbs. each. I put them in the van before we built the interior, so I’ve never had to seriously lift these out before. Even worse, when I disconnected the batteries, I lost all of my house power, which meant my fans shut off. I grabbed my Jackery 240, plugged my new USB fans into it, and cranked them to full speed. You never know when a little battery pack like that will turn out to be a lifesaver. It took all I had, especially in the heat, but I got those batteries out.

That was the hardest part of the whole job. (Yes, I covered the positive terminals to prevent shorting.) At 50 lbs. each, the new lithium batteries were easy to heft in comparison. Two of them take up less space than even one of my old AGM batteries. While I don’t need more under-bed storage, I got some anyway. My Renogy charger was still active on solar power alone, so I changed its settings from AGM to lithium batteries while neither was connected. It was interesting to note that up to this point, I’ve generated half a megawatt of power since installing this system. I may be forced to replace my batteries earlier than I’d hoped, but they did serve me well.

Then I hooked up the power cables to my new batteries. As I’d hoped, it was plug-and-play. Two batteries out, two batteries in, and I’m cooking with gas — er, lithium. I didn’t take any pictures of the end result. It was too hot to tidy up my wiring, so it looks messy. Plus, after making a point to install my 20-amp charger at the same time to make things easier, I forgot to cut off the alligator clips, install ring terminals, and bolt them to the batteries along with the other wiring. Since it wasn’t critical, it was too hot to bother. I’ll get to it in a day or two. As it is, this process took me all afternoon. I had to take frequent breaks to drink tons of water and Gatorade, as well as just rest. The heat sucked the energy right out of me. But I got it done.

So far, things are pretty much back to normal with my power situation. My voltages are back up where they should be, or even a bit higher since that’s how lithium runs. Running Starlink is once again an option and not a problem. I’m not sure exactly how charged, or not, the new batteries are at this point. It’ll take some charging and discharging cycles to determine that. But they’re working great, and I don’t have to stress about making it through the night before the low-voltage alarm goes off anymore. There’s still some work and testing to do, but the important part is done. They’re in.

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