This quarantine has been weird for everyone. I think that a lot of people are going to come away from this pretty scarred and scared of social interactions, and maybe even with weakened immune systems from sitting at home for two months. Quarantine for us hasn’t really been that different. We’ve been living in a box now for a year and a half. We’re already pretty used to living with our quarantine buddy in a small space, and we prefer getting away from big cities, and never try to camp within sight of another camper. So I guess we’ve already been mastering this social distance thing. Actually, with all of our film gigs canceled until the summer, this quarantine has really been a good excuse to actually get out and camp like we always want to, without having to worry about where our next gig is. That’s the nature of our job as independent cinematographers; one weeks notice is pretty typical for our next job. We have so often ended up camping on the streets in Los Angeles because we’re waiting to hear back about a gig, or aren’t sure if we should start driving a certain direction if we’ll just have to backtrack in a couple days. Who knew it would take a global pandemic for us to actually accomplish some of the items on our camping bucket list.
Even though National Parks and many state parks and popular trails are closed, we normally try to go to public lands far away from everybody anyway. A lot of BLM and forest lands are still open during this time, and since we don’t have a physical house to go quarantine in, public lands have been the safest place for us to be right now. We can carry 36 gallons of fresh water in the rig, plus 2 additional 5 gallon collapsible water jugs. We stocked up on as much food as we could, filled our two 5 gallon propane tanks, and with our 400 watts of solar and 2000 watt inverter, we’re able to live off the land for a good 10 days before stocking up again.
However, our quarantine got off to a rough start because we were already on a project in Wyoming without the camper when the Shelter-in-Place orders started going into effect. We had flown into Salt Lake and driven to Alpine Wyoming for a snowmobile project in early March. Then our client drove us to Steamboat the next week for the final film days. Since we were already so close to home, we felt like we had to stop and see family for a couple days in Denver, right before Denver enacted Stay at Home orders. (We stayed 6 feet away, of course.) We eventually had to get back to the camper at the Orange Country airport before any risk of domestic travel restrictions. Our flight back to California had 20 people. Everyone took their own row. The airports were totally dead, zero lines for security, and the pilots were talking to us about how unsustainable this is. We flew from Denver to the OC for $45 dollars total for the two of us, with 4 checked bags. Insane. The parking lot we had left the camper said they were waiting for all the remaining cars to clear out so they could close.
Even though our goal was to leave California as quick as possible and go self quarantine in the dessert, the next problem was that before going to Wyoming, we had left both dirt bikes in a friend’s shop, in the middle of several planned upgrades. Blake was putting in a new starter motor, electric start, working headlight, taillight and turn signals in my bike, and we were waiting on a couple parts to arrive in order to finish the job, load the bikes and get out of town. We wanted no excuse to have to come back to the city once we left town, and having a shop to work in for dirt bike maintenance is pretty valuable when the alternative is just having to work on it outside in a campground. Once we’d leave our friend’s shop, we wouldn’t have an address to get the parts shipped, so we made the decision to stick around Anaheim until the parts arrived. But then, one of our truck tires went completely flat. It was about time for us to get new rear tires anyway, and our open country rugged terrain tires are never in stock, so we had to wait several days to get the new tires shipped to the nearest Discount Tire. We literally parked on an industrial street in Anaheim outside of the shop for about 9 days until we could get this all fixed. There were no parking restrictions, but most of those businesses on that block were considered essential, so people were still driving by. Luckily our friends at the shop let us keep refilling water, and we had stocked up on food, so we didn’t have to go anywhere til all these chores got done. We went on a couple walks around the industrial area, and did some theraband workouts in the camper, but this was definitely a strange time and not the most fun place to spend a week.
And here’s the other issue that was holding us back from our goal to go self quarantine in the desert. Right before we went to Wyoming, we had decided to cut out our solar panels from the roof and re-tape them with a wider piece of roofing tape because we felt like water was getting stuck underneath the panels. We’ve always been so sensitive to leaks in our roof after our first camper had so many leaks, so we thought this would be a good preventative task. We had already taped one panel back down with this wider tape when we discovered that one of the other panels had shorted and burned a small hole in our roof! When we discovered this, we went straight to the manufacturer, Renogy, based in Ontario, CA, and they claimed it was a manufacturer’s defect in a batch of panels where a laminate layer hadn’t been removed before being shipped to the customer, and did not include instructions for the customer to remove the layer. The laminate had effectively been cemented to the panel and caused the panel to overheat. So Renogy replaced all four of our panels, and offered to fix our roof. This was great, they had their engineers identify the problem, and they were standing behind their product. The next problem was that the quote we received to fix the roof from Lance Campers was for $7,000. Lance claims they don’t put “band-aids” on the roof, and they would need to do a full roof replacement. Long story short, Renogy back-pedaled when they saw that quote and started claiming that it was actually an installation error due to that wider tape we used. Apparently if the tape covers any bit of the cells, it can cause one panel to be “shaded”, which can cause the others to overheat and short. We reminded Reonogy that we hadn’t actually had the system plugged in using that wider roofing tape, because we started laying the wide tape on the same day we discovered the burn hole! Previously, we had only used two inch wide tape, and it barely touched the cells of the panel. Renogy back-pedaled again and said it still was the laminate issue, but taping your panels down in general is considered an installation error, so they wouldn’t cover any repair on the roof. It was pretty shocking of them to completely backtrack on their promise to cover the roof repair. They didn’t even offer any kind of alternative repair, and when we went to visit them, their engineer was completely un-knowledgeable about how to properly install these panels. When we explained our thought process to them that led to this discovery, their engineer told us that he’d never even thought about how to prevent moisture getting underneath. The truth is that the panel could’ve burnt our house down, and clearly their engineers have varying reports of what the problem was, so we’re no longer in a position to recommend Renogy to anyone. They replaced all of our flexible panels with a new version that has holes on the side that you can bolt through, so clearly there have been some design changes. When we first got these almost two years ago, a lot of installation resources used roofing tape, but we’re going to be re-installing our new panels using a different method to prevent any further damage. Anyway, we weren’t sure yet of whether we’d be trying to get the roof repaired by Lance in Lancaster, CA, (which would’ve taken a month), or if we were on the hook ourselves. In the end we ended up filling the hole with silicone and using roofing tape to cover it up. The hole is also covered by the panel, so we’re hoping this won’t cause any leaks down the road.
We finally left California the first day of April, and headed to safer public lands in Nevada, Utah, and Arizona. As if living in a camper isn’t minimalist enough, now we’re living in a camper during quarantine, with shortages of toilet paper, cleaning products and now maybe even meat products. The hard part for us is that we don’t physically have enough space to stock up on a lot of products like people living in a house. We’ve definitely been getting creative with storage space. Our freezer actually works really well and will keep food frozen, so we were able to fit probably 10 packages of chicken and pork sausages, ground beef, and other frozen meals. However, our entire fridge/freezer unit can be finicky when running on propane, and often has trouble lighting and staying on for long periods of time. So we have to be careful to make sure all our frozen food doesn’t thaw and food doesn’t go bad. We’ve had extra bags of dry goods sitting on our floor under the fridge too. Luckily we grabbed a big pack of toilet paper right before the shortages started. One bummer of the cleaning product shortage is that we really depend on lysol and gloves when we have to dump our black/grey water tanks. You would not want to be doing that without gloves, and if we don’t find some soon, we’ll have to get creative with that too. I’m glad that I’ve still been able to find plenty of paper towels. Not having a garbage disposal in our sink means I’m constantly wiping food off our plates and out of the sink, and since we don’t do laundry very frequently, using rags is hard for us.
I was definitely more scared of COVID in the beginning, especially because we were stuck in the city, and we don’t have as much room as other people to spread out in our home. I was sanitizing everything all day while we were still in L.A. But now that we’ve been able to escape the city and pretty much camp by ourselves for a month, we’ve been able to forget about it for days at a time and feel like we’re just living normally. Our opinion of this whole quarantine is that there is nothing wrong with responsible recreation during this time. We’re still hiking, dirt biking, and pack rafting almost every day, because the sunshine and exercise is what’s going to get us through this. Without a typical 9-5 job, what else would we be doing during this time? But we’re making sure we’re not taking any unnecessary risks with our recreation right now. So no wheelies for Blake, and nothing too crazy right now. We always over-prepare for our hikes and rides anyway, always bringing lots of water, food, emergency supplies, and our Garmin GPS. We wouldn’t want to risk needing medical attention right now. We spent the month of April getting to explore Lake Mead Recreation Area, Glen Canyon Recreation area, BLM lands outside of St. George, and the Escalante National Monument (more on this in the next posts).