Thursday, May 10, 2007

Solar power and house sales

Since my last posting lots seems to have gone on, and although I’m enjoying all the planning; choosing new gear etc., it’s a little stressful at times.

Firstly, on the more practical front I’ve put a lot of thought into provision of the means to keep my Dell Axim PDA charged up (I’ll use this daily to write my blog), as well as the mobile phone, Bluetooth GPS receiver, torches etc., and decided that the centre piece of the system would be a 6.5 watt Sunlinq solar charger, which rolls up to the size of a paperback and is made of a tough but flexible material that can be laid almost anywhere and tied via the corner eyelets, and which I received last week. This is capable of charging between 2 and 10 AA batteries fitted into a ‘BattPack’ (a separate, sturdy plastic case which connects to the Sunlinq) on a typical sunny day. It has a nominal voltage of around 15 volts. I’ve bought the AA’s with highish power capacities (NiMH 2500 maH), and also a set of rechargeable AAA’s.

I have a bewildering array of connecting leads I can choose from. The system will be centred on a female 12 volt ‘cigar lighter’ plug on the BattPack. From this 12V point I can connect the usual leads supplied with mobile phones etc. I can of course remove charged batteries from the BattPack for use in torches, camera, a PDA battery extender etc. Although I’ll be cycling before dawn in the hotter areas I’ll be relying on the SON Hub Dynamo for the front light, however it’ll be good to have spare batteries for back-up purposes. I did consider utilising the power from the hub dynamo to charge batteries, but there’s no proprietary unit that I am aware of that’s made to do this, however I have a few electronic components that I might put together and experiment with this issue (hopefully without destroying the dynamo!). Extra back-up for battery power will be via a direct USB to PDA lead for while I’m on a PC (wherever I can find one) and possibly a mains rapid charger if I decide that's not overkill (they are on the heavy side.... I feel I’ve just about done this issue to death now but hopefully covered every angle.

Regarding lifestyle changes that these plans have triggered, a big decision was to sell my house prior to the trip, one reason was so that I wouldn’t have the hassle and worry of renting out my house; paying Council tax, insurance etc., and also because I am ready for a move to either build a new house or refurbish an old property up here in the far north of Scotland. Anyway the house went up for sale 3 weeks ago, and within a few days I’d had my first viewers, who promptly made me an offer I couldn’t refuse, and we shook on the deal there and then. Only proviso is that the offer is subject to survey, but hopefully that won’t hamper the sale, and I’ll be out of the house by the end of June. So far so good, and there seem to be plenty of properties for rent locally for the 3 months or so between moving out of here and flying to Oz.

The other big issue of the moment is what to do with my dog Prince, whom I’ve reared from a puppy these past 7 years. I thought I would get someone to mind him for the year I’m away, but the more I think about it the more I feel that this is a bit unfair to the person looking after him – they may well become attached to him, and visa versa, such that it will be a wrench for both to part again. Am I being selfish? I’ve been putting word around about fostering him, and last evening a lady called to ask about Prince; it appears they recently lost a black lab to illness, and they’re keen to get another. She sounds very genuine, but I think would prefer to take him on a permanent basis. I’m to introduce them at the weekend and we’ll take it from there.

I’ve managed to get a good deal on the air fare to Perth, at £687. I could not book a return flight for September 2008 though since the online booking system doesn’t allow this (it costs more to book via the phone), however I am allowed to rebook, say in February 2008, at which time the September return will be bookable. I’m flying Cathay Pacific who we flew with to Sydney last December, and am looking forward to getting well looked after as before – they were airline of the year last year I understand. To get to Heathrow I am going to cycle the 115 miles down to Inverness fully laden (to warm up!); catch the sleeper to Euston, then cycle to Heathrow (carefully) or if I chicken out of the London traffic, get a train to Heathrow.

Baggage is a bit of an issue as I have discussed in previous posts – the bike will pretty much swallow up my 20kg allowance, however I intend to make it 23 kg in the hope of getting away with that, carrying the maximum 7 kg in the biggest hand luggage holder I can get away with, and it there’s anything likely to be left I’ll post this to Poste Restante at the PO in Perth for collection on arrival. Although I’d prefer to take everything with me, I can see it makes sense to buy some stuff over in Oz – tent / footprint and Thermarest for example.

I’ve reading lots of Ozzie books, both fiction and factual, from ‘Capricornia’ (an excellent read and Australian classic about early settlers lives and loves) to the Lonely Planet guide. I am keeping notes on all the places I’d like to see and intend to mark these on the map in some way. I haven’t yet decided whether to opt for a GPS map system, a paper map system, or both. GPS seems quite complex, and expensive unless I can find free maps somewhere on the internet. I am also gathering tips and tricks and reading about survival techniques – I might need the latter especially if I decide to ride the 700km Gibb River track(!)

Well, that’s a summary of current events, hope you are still hanging in there! Thanks to those of you who’ve e-mailed me via this website, it is much appreciated and heartening.