Adventures Awaiting Solar Panels

With three weeks under our belt off grid (not plugged into electric) our next site was quite the change of pace. Along with electric hook-ups we would have neighbors nearby. Although we were lucky during our say and only had a couple of neighbors a few sites down from ours. Van Riper State Park is located about 35-40 minutes outside of Marquette, MI. This spot was our first plug in site in the last few weeks and would be our home for a week as we awaited the delivery of our solar panels.

If you’ve been following along with the blog you know we made the decision back at our first stay in the UP to become more self sufficient with our inverter purchase. Solar panels were the next logical step. However, deliveries up here can be challenging. With a population just over 21,000 (as of the 2010 census), Marquette is the largest city in the UP. There are not a lot of options for Amazon deliveries, especially without a physical address with being on the road. For example to receive our inverter we actually met up with the UPS driver in the middle of nowhere during his route to receive our package. I’ll do a blog post later addressing how to receive packages (specifically Amazon packages) while on the road. We have found some tricks along the way.

However, our solar panels were delayed by a week. With the Labor Day holiday fast approaching we had to make some decisions (Van Riper was booked for the holiday weekend). Our delivery was scheduled for Wednesday but we certainly did not want to be traveling and looking for a site on Thursday before the last big summer fling weekend of the year. So we found a spot nearby in Michigamme about 10 minutes away (our shortest travel day for sure). This spot happened to be on the opposite side of Lake Michigamme from the state park and it was completely free! And to top things off we were the only ones there in this open place for camping directly across the road from the lake. It was like winning the RVing lottery.

An extra week near the Marquette area proved to be worth it as our solar panels arrived at the UPS customer center ready for installation. We were excited to be adding this important piece to our set up. Shane was like a kid in a candy store when we brought them back to Ralphie in the early evening. Yes he set them up right away and exclaimed, “our lily pads are soaking up the sun”. Let me explain. While kayaking we have commented on how lily pads are nature’s solar panels, with a long “cord – stem” attaching to the “panel – lily pad” and soaking up that sun for energy. I’ll admit it was cool to see the panels charging our house batteries in real time. Even Josie was intrigued, briefly.

For those interested, I’ll give a simplified version. (If not skip ahead to the next section). Basically the inverter allows us to harness the energy of our house batteries and use our outlets much like we would if we were plugged in, with a few exceptions. We have a 1500 Watt inverter so it’s not powerful enough to run the AC or the fridge. But otherwise everything else works. Side note: the fridge runs off of propane or electric so no biggie there. As for the AC, we are chasing 70 degree weather so we hardly use it but if we have to – generator to the rescue. Prior to the solar panels we had three ways to charge the batteries and in turn use the inverter. Plug into electric (no need to use the inverter in that case); run the generator for a bit; or run the truck for a bit (less noisy and disruptive to neighbors). The last two options use some gas to charge the system. Put simply the solar panels are another way of charging the house batteries but harnessing the energy of the sun. We started with two 100-watt solar panels which is plenty for us to run what we need to. The last piece of the puzzle will come later, lithium batteries. They are expensive but much more efficient. But for now our solar panels charge our lead-acid house batteries like a champ!

With some time to “kill” with our extended stay we got some work done and ventured out to explore. On the advice from a local we met at a Mexican restaurant, we went for a hike at Hogback Mountain. Just a few minutes north of Marquette this hike was both challenging and exhilarating. The view from the top, words and photos do not do it justice. And we only passed a few people on our hike. I was surprised with it being the Friday of the holiday weekend. Wow and wow is all I can say! This hike meanders through forest for the first half than comes the steep second half. It takes some endurance but we made it just fine. It does require 4 points of contact at the very top as you have to scramble up a rock face. No special gear is needed and Josie, our Boxer had no trouble making it to the top. You are rewarded with 360 degrees of breathtaking views. I’ll let the photos speak for themselves.

Shane snapped some photos of me enjoying myself up top. The photographer becomes the subject. (If only I had my gear, this would be a kickass spot to film a yoga class.)

I tried to capture just how steep it was on the way back down but of course photos never quite get it. (Shane is the speck in the last photo – click to view a larger version)

It was an incredible hike! Glad we had the chance to experience Hogback Mountain and admire Lake Superior from up top.

Before leaving we worked in another hike near our campsite in Michigamme. This one is known as the River Trail and is actually part of Van Riper State Park. It is a few miles up the road from the campground at the state park or in our case a few miles down the road from camp. My expectations were not high thinking it was a simple hike along the river. Instead I was treated to more UP beauty that surprised me at every turn.

Our two weeks spent here was filled with regular days of working, installing solar, and exploring the beauty of this part of the UP. I feel grateful for our free spot near the quiet town of Michigamme. A side story, we visited the local pizza place called the Moose Drop Inn to give a little something back to this gracious community for letting us park it for a week. The pizza was fantastic and we were there on their second to last day before closing for the season. While there we met Joe. Turns out he is from Mooresville, IN (near where we used to live). While talking we found out we met him 10 years earlier when he owned the bicycle shop in Fountain Square (just south of downtown Indianapolis). Small world indeed!


2 responses to “Adventures Awaiting Solar Panels”

  1. Donald (Don) Cummings Avatar
    Donald (Don) Cummings

    You’ll love Copper Harbor!

    Pro-tip whenever going into town for pizza (or tacos); discipline yourself to SAVE anything that drops onto your plate. Instead of nibbling on it, take it back to camp to mix into your eggs the next morning!


    1. Love that tip! And we loved Copper Harbor, absolutely gorgeous up there.


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