It was Sunday afternoon in Mobile, Alabama, and we’d just walked “home” after a wonderful brunch at Wintzell’s Oyster House when Georges noticed the red warning light was on indicating our Casita battery was low.
At first, we weren’t too alarmed. We’d been boondocking (parked without any hookups) on a quiet neighborhood street just north of downtown since Friday evening. We usually have enough solar-charged battery power to last for days, if not weeks, and we still had a good half-tank of water left for showers and cooking. What’s to worry about?
Then we thought about it. It had been overcast all day Saturday and Sunday, depriving our rooftop solar panels the sunlight needed to recharge the 27C battery that keeps our Casita lights, water pump and “Fantastic” fan running. On Friday, we thought we’d found the perfect spot, shaded by a lovely oak tree. In Texas, camping spots with shade are a premium. But maybe parking in the shade here wasn’t such a good idea.
Georges started the car, which we’d left attached to the Casita all weekend as we walked and biked around Mobile. He let it run. Theoretically, the car battery should recharge the Casita battery. But after an hour, the reading on the Casita battery creeped barely from 10 volts to 11.4 volts. We need a reading at least 12 on our 12V battery for things to work as they should, and we’re more accustomed with Texas sunshine to see readings in the 13V and 14V range.
Maybe our running of the fan and all that recharging of our iPhones and iPads amid those cloudy weekend days took a toll? Oh well, the toilet still flushed. We went to sleep.
But when I woke just before 6 – G was already wide-eyed – the battery charge had plummeted back into the red. The water pump groaned; we didn’t dare turn on any lights. Instead, we got up, threw on our clothes, pulled out of our lovely “home away from home in Mobile” boondock site and headed to the nearest Walmart Supercenter to get our battery tested.
Georges went to the auto department. Somebody was ahead of him so it would be an hour before we could have the battery tested to determine if it was just low or if it was dead and wouldn’t hold a charge. I went grocery shopping.
I never realized what a joy it is to shop in a nearly empty Walmart at this hour on a Monday. The only other people in the food aisles were Walmart workers stocking the shelves and a few men and women in hospital togs, probably stopping for staples as they headed home from the graveyard shift.
An hour later we learned the battery was indeed dead, defunct, defeated. It was past its two-year warranty (of course). We decided it probably would have faltered whether we’d parked in the shade on an overcast weekend and charged all our Apple toys or not.
We spent $99 for a new battery. But we had a hard time fitting it into the battery space; it seemed bigger than the other battery. But with a little elbow grease – and brute force to bend a few metal edges – we got the battery and its requisite hookups into its compartment on the side of the Casita.
But then came the retainer. There was no way to screw the retainer in to hold the battery in place. This piece is important. It’s what keeps the battery from jiggling out of its compartment and onto the roadway. The new battery was just too big for the retainer to fit.
So now we had to pull the overlarge battery out of the compartment we had forced it into. Easier said than done. We had to physically pry the damn thing out. Thank goodness for elbow grease and G’s ingenuity. It took some time, a few swear words and a bit of brute force, but finally we got out what we had shoved in.
G took it back to Walmart – we were still in the parking lot after all – and tried to exchange it for the smaller battery. But this particular Walmart had none of the smaller batteries in stock.
But wait, there’s one in the display. Let’s use that one. And so we did. Twenty dollars cheaper and it installed easily. G fastened the connectors to the battery, pushed it into its tight little battery space, screwed in the retainer and locked the compartment. Voila.
MacGyver in action!
We’re off to Dauphin Island to take the ferry to Fort Morgan and then continue our perimeter drive across Alabama into Florida and we’re just a couple of hours behind schedule. But who has a schedule? We’re just puttering our way around the perimeter of the United States.
Here’s hoping we have battery power tomorrow when we boondock at a Walmart in Pensacola.
(We did; all good!)