Wecome To RVs and OHVs

This blog is all about RVs (recreational vehicles) and OHVs (Off Highway Vehicles), camping, and survival
and how they work together to provide wholesome family fun and great learning opportunities.
Many posts are intended to familiarize novice campers and RVers with RV systems and basic camping and survival
skills. But even experienced RVers and campers will enjoy the anecdotes and may even benefit from a new
perspective. Comments, questions, and suggestions are encouraged.

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Wednesday, September 17, 2014

End of Season

It is the middle of September and camping season is winding down.  It is likely that end of season sales on camping equipment already started back in August, but there might still be some bargains to be found.

Its just about time to be thinking about winter storage.  Tent campers probably already have their stuff safely tucked away after the last trip but it might be worth doing a quick inventory to make sure everything is clean and in good repair.  Leaving things dirty while in storage for long periods invites additional damage.  If tents, canopies, or sleeping bags aren't thoroughly dry when put into storage they can be ruined by the time you get them out again.  Any cooking residue left on stoves, grills, pots and pans, and utensils will attract bugs, rodents, and bacteria that will make a real mess to be dealt with next spring.

You may not need or want to put everything in storage just yet, but it is still a good time to start thinking about it and planning for it so that when the times does come, you'll be ready.  For example, if you need to winterize the fresh water system on your RV you can start looking for good prices on Marine/RV antifreeze (the pink stuff).

RVs and OHVs that won't be used for several months should be winterized and properly stored.  The degree of winterization required will depend on the climate where the vehicles are stored.  Water systems MUST be freeze protected in cold climates.  Any provisions that may be damaged by freezing should be removed and stored in a warm place.  Holding tanks on RVs should be dumped and thoroughly flushed before storage so foul odors don't permeate the furnishings during storage.  Batteries should be kept on a maintenance charger or removed and stored where they won't freeze.  If possible, store RVs and OHVs in a garage or shed so they'll be out of the winter weather.  Lacking a suitable structure, consider purchasing an RV cover.  They cost a few hundred dollars and are likely to pay for themselves in just a single season by protecting paint, decals, curtains, and exposed upholstery.  You may see people using ordinary cheap tarps to cover their RVs.  While this does block sunlight and usually protects against precipitation, they also trap moisture and are sometimes abrasive enough to damage the finish.  RV covers are made of  soft breathable fabrics that avoid these problems and are usually designed so they fit better.  Because they are designed to fit they are usually easier to install and their built-in anchor systems keep them in place during windy weather better than attaching a tarp with ropes or bungee cords.  By the way, if you MUST use a tarp, one simple way of anchoring it without damaging the vehicle is to fill empty bleach jugs with water (or, even better, old antifreeze) and hang them from the grommets on the tarp.  Be careful if you just fill them with water if the vehicle will be exposed to freezing temperatures.  The jugs may crack and then the water will all leak out and your weights will become useless.  You may come out to find your tarp blown off or blown away.  Any crumbs or spills should be thoroughly cleaned up to avoid attracting pests.  You might even want to place some mouse bait in strategic locations to discourage the nasty little critters from taking up residence in your mobile residence.  I prefer using bait over traps.  Products like D-con not only kill rodents, but also contain a desiccant that causes their bodies to dry out instead of decaying and creating bad odors.

You will need to protect OHVs with liquid cooled engines with the proper antifreeze.  It is also a good idea to drain the fuel tanks and the fuel lines and carburetors before storage.  If, for any reason, you choose to leave fuel in the tank, treat it with a fuel additive to minimize deterioration during storage. 

Gas powered camping stoves and lanterns usually only need to be cleaned before storage.  Battery powered lanterns with removable batteries should have the batteries removed.  Rechargeable lanterns should be plugged in periodically to keep the batteries charged.   A convenient trick to to plug them into a timer so they aren't always being charged, which can sometimes damage the batteries.

Proper storage will avoid unnecessary damage during the off season and make getting ready for your first out next season a lot easier.

Rest easy!

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Road Trips

Road trips are traditional ways for many people, including families, to visit relatives and tour different parts of the country.  The high cost of gasoline has put a damper on some road trips, but they can still be a comparatively economical way to travel, especially for families.  While traveling in a large RV may large consume amounts of fuel at ridiculously high prices, leveraging the cost across several family members makes it fairly reasonable.  Say you have an RV that gets 7 mpg and you have a family of four.  That calculates to 28 passenger miles per gallon.  Another advantage of traveling by RV or making camping part of our trip is savings on food and lodging.  Instead of constantly forking out big bucks for over-priced food and hotel/motel rooms, you can stay in campgrounds and cook in camp, usually saving  a lot of money.  For example, a family of four is likely to pay around $30-40 for meal even in a fast food restaurant and closer to $60-80 in a nicer sit-down establishment.  Four people will probably need at least 2 rooms each night at a conservative estimate of $50/room per night or $100 a night.  A week on the road could easily cost a family of four $700 in lodging and $900 in food.  Compare that to staying in campgrounds at under $40 per night (for all four people) and preparing most meals in camp and probably spending about the same you would for food at home and the cost comes way down.  We found a small private campground on a recent trip where we were able to get tent site for just $7.00 when the cheapest motels in the same area were more than $50 a night.

But cost savings are not the only reason for taking road trips and camping along the way.  The experience itself is the major factor.  You and your traveling companions will share many sights and activities along the way -- if you plan properly.  If you hit the road with little or no planning you may still have a fun and spontaneous trip, but even that means a certain amount of preparation.  There are many attractions along our major highways, and even more a short distance off the main routes if you take time to look for them.   A lot of the preparation for a spontaneous road trip is mental.  Give yourselves permission to explore things along the way.  Plan to stop for ice cream or visit a road side fruit stand or just take time to stop and read some of the historical markers along the way.  In today's world our focus is often so much on the destination that we fail to enjoy the journey.

Not all highways or even sections of the same highway are the same.  Some places are overflowing with areas of historic and/or geologic interest.  In these sections you may have trouble allocating enough time on a trip to accommodate all the things you want to do and see.  Yet there may also be long stretches of road with little or nothing to see or do.  I have driven I-5 through the Central Valley of California many times and while there are interesting side trips available if you plan ahead or watch for them, cruising for hundreds of miles along a mostly flat, mostly straight freeway is going to tax the attention span of even the most intense observer.  I once drove across Iowa.  Miles and miles of cornfields and flat as a table as far as the eye could see.  Having grown up in the Rocky Mountains, driving across Iowa reminded of the old song "Too Much of Nothing".  My apologies to fans of Iowa.  The drive from Salt Lake City, Utah to Portland, Oregon follows much of the old Oregon Trail and while there are occasional historic markers along the way, it has been said that modern travelers will find much of it just about as lonely as did the pioneers in the 19th Century.  When you encounter stretches of road like this it will behoove you to have planned for it.  You may need in-vehicle activities, especially if you're traveling with children and you need to schedule regular rest stops for relief and to stay alert.  The options today far exceed those we had when I was a kid or when we were raising our kids.  We were pretty much limited to reading (which doesn't work for some people as it makes them car sick), playing games (like I Spy, the Alphabet Game, and counting license plates), singing songs, and telling stories.  Card games could be fun for everyone but the driver.  Today you have additional electronic options like books on tape, live Internet access, and portable DVD players.   Something that is usually fun for everyone is watching the information signs and billboards along the highway to find interesting places to stop for meals, snacks, or short visits.  Some billboards can be quite entertaining.  When I was a teenager we took several trips across southern Idaho and the highlight of the trips were the Stinker Service Station signs.  The front side had  picture of a skunk and typically advertized the location of the next Stinker gas station but it was the back side we always focused on.  Each one had a unique and amusing saying on it.  For example, in the middle of nowhere was one that said "Lonely Hearts Club Picnic Grounds"; another said "Just think: If you lived here you'd be home now"; yet another in a lonely stretch of road proclaimed "Its uncanny; there are no restrooms in this area".

Access to services is another consideration along lonely sections of highway.  Know how far you can go on a tank of gas and plan to stop for gas  to make sure you don't run out in the middle of nowhere.  If you're vehicle has a tripmeter you can reset it at each gas stop so you know at a glance how far you've gone to help you gauge when to get more fuel.  Lacking a tripmeter you'll need to jot down the odometer reading and do a little math to keep track of when you'll need gas next.  Gas stops usually come up fairly frequently along Interstate highways, but you can go for 50 or 100 miles between gas stations on some of the older highways.  In today's economy, many stations have gone out of business so even if you've been able to buy gas at roadside stops or small towns before, they might not still be in business. 

Napping in the car is sometimes a fairly good way to help the time go more quickly in boring sections of the trip. Some people enjoy napping in the car; others can't get comfortable.  Of course it is NOT an option for the current driver!  If you begin to feel tired or sleepy, pull over at the next safe opportunity; get some fresh air and stretch your legs.  An occasional stop like this will take a lot less time than recovering from an accident!  Passengers will want to reserve nap times for uninteresting sections of the highway.  On most long trips there are plenty of them, so staying awake when there is something beautiful or interesting to see makes a lot of sense.

Hotels, motels, and campgrounds along the way can provide a welcome respite from driving.  In a pinch you can pull into a freeway rest area and snooze for a bit if you get really tired, but having an actual bed, even if its a sleeping bag in a tent, will be more restful and overnight stops give you something to look forward to.  Sometimes you can choose places with several amenities to enhance your stay (pool, wi-fi, hot tub, sauna, restaurant, even golf).  Even if there is not a restaurant in the hotel there will usually be a number of eating establishments nearby offering you a choice.  We like to seek out small, local cafes where the "home cooked" meals are often superb and reasonably priced.  "Country" breakfasts seem to be especially good values.

Road trips can also be educational in ways that are a lot more fun and personal than reading it in school or watching it on the History Channel.  One time we chose to take Highway 49 instead of I-5 up through central California.  Highway 49 follows the route of the "49ers', early California gold prospectors, and there are dozens of historic sites along they way where you can get hands on exposure to how the miners worked and lived.  There are many such routes in different parts of the country that highlight local history.  It will take you a little longer than zipping up the freeways, but we've found such variations to be well worth the extra time. Not only are they interesting and educational, we found the trip to be less stressful and a log more fun.

Trip out!

Wednesday, August 20, 2014


Lightning can present a marvelous light show, and sometimes scare the heck out of people!  It can be exciting and fun to watch -- as long as it doesn't get too close and if you are in a safe and comfortable place.  Being in an RV is generally pretty safe.  Even if lightning should strike your RV or even close to it YOU should be protected by the vehicle structure.  By the way, it is NOT the rubber tires that protect you.  Think about it.  Lightning is arcing through 20-30,000' feet of air.  Do you really think it can't jump the 6" or so from your steel wheel to the ground?  It is the steel structure around you that protects you.  If lightning does strike the vehicle it travels through the structure instead of through your body.  Of course, you could get a charge and even be injured if you are touching the structure at the time, so avoid touching window and door frames during an electrical storm.  That's also why your mother told you stay off the phone during an electrical storm.  Lightning striking a telephone pole somewhere miles away could send high voltage down the phone line.  The other risk to you inside your RV is if you are parked under or near a tall object that may attract lightning and part or all of the object may explode  or topple and damage your RV.  If you are camped the kind of campgrounds most people prefer, with lots of trees, you probably don't have worry too much unless you happen to be parked near the tallest tree. 

Lightning, like any other severe weather, is going to present a bigger problem for tent campers than for RVers.  Your tent simply isn't going to provide you as much protection against any weather as an RV will.  Should lightning strike nearby you could be peppered with shrapnel or flaming debris, neither of which is going to be much affected by tent fabrics.  Once again, if your tent is set up in a campground with lots of trees about the same height your probability of a near lightning strike will be reduced  However, if you're near a tall light post or radio tower, they could "attract" lightning.  In reality, objects don't attract lightning.  Simply being the tallest object around makes them the location of the shortest distance for the lightning to jump from clouds to ground.  Lightning rods are used to protect structures from lightning strikes.  They reach higher than the structure an are grounded so the charge is conduced directly into the ground without damaging the structure.

Lightning can be a definite hazard for hikers, climbers, skiers (yes, lightning does sometimes strike in winter), equestrian and OHV riders.   If you happen to get caught on a hill top our out in the open  in a flat area, YOU could very well be the highest object around!  You will usually get some warning of an approaching electrical storm from the sound of thunder.  You can tell how close the lightning is by counting the seconds between when you see the lightning flash and when you see the thunder.  I was once within about 100' of a lightning strike.  Instead of "thunder" I heard an explosion simultaneous with the lightning.  I thought someone had bombed the computer center where I worked!  To estimate how far away lightning is, count the seconds between the flash and when you hear the thunder and divide by 3 to get the distance in kilometers or by 5 to get the distance in miles.  If it is closer than 25 seconds, take immediate steps to protect yourself.  Get off that hill top or out of that flat clearing and seek protection in a cluster of trees all about the same height.  If there are no trees around, try to get down into some kind of depression like a sand wash or creek bed.  Lacking any of these, lay down flat on the ground to minimize your height.  Don't stay too close to an OHV as it may become the tallest object around the the most likely target of lightning.  If lightning strikes it, it could send shrapnel or flaming projectiles in your direction if you are too close.  When entering any low lying area during a storm always be aware of and watch out for flash floods.  Even if the rain is several miles away, flash floods can sweep down creek beds and washes with amazing speed and devastating, even deadly, force.

One way to avoid being subjected to possible lightning strikes is to monitor the weather forecast and stay out of areas where thunderstorms are likely.  Lacking access to weather reports (shame on you!  Portable radios are small and inexpensive so you should always take one with you when camping) keep an eye on the sky.  Learn to discern he types of clouds that are prone to produce lightning and observe from which direction approaching weather comes and watch for early lightning strikes and take cover before it comes anywhere near you.  When observing clouds you will want to look for shape, color, and movement. Massive, dark, roiling clouds are often home to thunderstorms. 

Lightning isn't usually a direct threat to highway driving, at least not to the occupants inside vehicles.  If the vehicle is struck by lightning it will be conducted around the occupants by the steel body of the vehicle without injuring them.  The vehicle itself may not fare as well.  Modern, computer-controlled vehicles are likely to suffer severe damage to the electronic components but the electrical systems in older vehicles are not completely immune to lightning damage.  Lightning may pose an indirect threat as well.  A lightning strike may fell trees, street lights, or power poles across the road to knock out traffic lights.  The heavy rain that often accompanies electrical storms may make visibility difficult and make roads slick.  Heavy rain or runoff can flood roadways and even a fairly thin layer of water on the pavement can seriously reduce traction.  Wet pavement has a co-efficient of friction about half that of dry pavement.  As water accumulates vehicles traveling at high speeds can being to "hydroplane", riding on top of the water instead of the tires actually touching the pavement, causing the driver to lose control..  Whenever you are driving in rain, turn off your cruise control. If the cruise control is on and your car begins to hydroplane - when your tires loose contact with the pavement your car will accelerate to a higher rate of speed and you take off like an airplane.  Read more at Snopes report on using cruise control in the rain.   Flooded roadways can also conceal dangerous pot holes, washouts, and debris.  If you drive into a low spot, it may even be deep enough to cause your care temporarily float, reducing traction and steering to zero and you'll go where ever the water chooses to take you.

There are a lot of myths about lightning.  Some are just that, but some have an element of truth behind them.

Lightning doesn't strike twice in the same place.  FALSE!  This a a common misconception, probably based on the fact that a lightning strike often damages what it hits so that it is no longer the tallest point around.  For example, lightning strikes the Empire State Building in New York City more than 100 times a year.  Why isn't it damaged?  It has a big lightning rod on the top that is wired all the way down through the building into the ground so all the energy is safely conducted into the earth without actually passing through the structure itself.

Being struck by lightning is always fatal.  FALSE.  In fact, the mortality rate is only 10-20%, although the 80% who survive often suffer long term effects.  It is often thought it causes severed burns, but unless the victim is in contact with something like metal object that "concentrates" to current, the brief surge doesn't usually last long enough to heat up the tissue.  The damage is usually due to something called "electroporation" in which the high voltage actually makes holes in your cell membranes, seriously damaging nerves and muscles.  Another common casualty is hearing.  Lightning always produces thunder, although when lighting is close it sounds more like an explosion, so at least temporary hearing loss is a fairly common result of being near a lightning strike.

The "30/30 Rule".  Definitely a kernel of truth here.  This rule says if there is less than 30 seconds between when you see the lightning flash and hear the thunder, take cover and then stay inside at least 30 minutes after the storm has passed. 

Someone struck by lightning becomes electrically charged.  FALSE.  The actual contact with lightning is very brief and it does not leave behind a residual charge that would be dangerous to rescuers.  This is significantly different from the circumstances surrounding accidental electrocution from power lines.  A victim may still be in contact with a live line so it is essential that would be rescuers make sure the power is turned off or the wire is no longer in contact with the victim before touching them.  Since lightning strikes are momentary, you would only be in danger if you were touching the victim at the exact time they were struck.

In the United States your odds of being struck by lightning in any given year are about 1 in 500,000 or about 1 in 6250 in a 80-year lifetime.  Your probability of being injured in a vehicle accident on the way to or from your camp site is much higher, in fact about 10-20 in 100,000, about a hundred times more likely!

Enjoy the light show!

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Portable BBQs

Portable BBQs add a lot of convenience for camping.   There are a large number of options to choose from, ranging from small, disposble, table-top charcoal units to fancy gas powered grills designed primarily for residential use.  Some RVs have BBQs built in to an outside compartment.  They are all  fairly simple in design but they do require a certain amount of maintenance to keep them in optimum working order.  Charcoal grills only need to be cleaned periodically.  And that means removing the ashes and burned on grease from the bottom as well as brushing and cleaning the grill itself.  Gas BBQs have burners that also need to be cleaned when you clean out the debris.  Usually all this takes is a good brushing along the sides of the burners where the perforations for the gas are using a wire brush.  Sometimes you may still have problems getting adequate gas flow after cleaning the burners.  This is often caused by spider webs inside the gas lines and fittings.  For some reason spiders seem drawn to these locations.   It may be the physical configurations but some theories say they are attracted by something in the gas itself.  Regardless of why they do it, their webs and nests will restrict gas flow.  Tubing can be cleaned using a special brush usually available where ever BBQs are sold.  It looks like a screen door spring, about 1/4" in diameter and 12-18" long with a small patch of bristles about the size of a dime at one end and a handle on the other.  In addition to cleaning the tubes you may have to clean or replace the orifices.  These are brass fittings with the right sized opening for proper gas metering.  If they get plugged or even partially closed off with spider webs, grease, or debris, they will not function properly.  The best way to clean them is with compressed air.  Using a metal probe often damages them and makes them unusable.   If you distort or enlarge the hole, you will have the replace the orifice.  If you must use more than compressed air to clear a clog, use a piece of soft wire, not a hardened tool like an awl or an ice pick.

Most portable gas BBQs are designed to run off the small, 1-lb propane cylinders.  They are light weight, easy to transport, and easy to attach to the BBQ.  You can get adapters to run your portable BBQ of the large tanks like are used for residential units or to connect to the propane tanks on your motorhome or trailer.  Having a larger tank reduces the chances of running out of gas while cooking a meal.  Portable gas grills are typically about 1' x 1 1/2' and about 10-12" tall  with the legs extended.  You can also buy single charcoal grills for camping.  They usually include the charcoal in an heavy aluminum foil tray.  They are very convenient but as is often the case, convenience comes at a price.  But it might be worth it to avoid hauling around a bulky BBQ and a bag of charcoal.  They are intended to be disposable -- used once and tossed.

Charcoal is favored by many camp chefs for the smokey flavor it adds to foods.   EZ light charcoal contains an accelerant which may affect the taste.  Likewise, charcoal lighter fluids can affect the taste so use them sparingly.  To be completely safe, use standard charcoal briquets and light them using crumpled newspaper or kindling.  Hickory, cherry, and other wood chips may be added to enhance flavors.  Wood chips may even be used with gas BBQs, but be sure to check manufacturers limitations.  Charcoal is also the best fuel for dutch oven cooking.

For better tasting food as well as for health reasons, you will want to keep the grill surfaces clean.  Most of the time you can use a BBQ brush to clean away the burned, greasy deposits left behind by the last use.  Fire up the grill and let it get hot to loosen the deposits, then brush them away.  For more complete removal of residue, rub the grill with a wad of old newspaper.  Just make sure it isn't so hot the paper catches on fire!  An occasional cleaning with a commercial grill cleaner will help keep it in tip top shape, but be sure to wipe it down well before using it so your hamburgers or steaks don't taste like grill cleaner.  You can use cooking spray on the grill or brush it with cooking oil to help keep food from sticking.

BBQs are mostly used for cooking hamburgers, hot dogs, steaks, and chicken but you can also roast corn and bake potatoes on them quite easily.  With the addition of a griddle you can do pancakes. You could use them like a stove to prepare other foods in pots and pans but your trusty Coleman stove is usually a better choice for that with burners that are designed to apply heat directly to pots and pans and with more precise controls for setting the best cooking temperature.

BBQs can be difficult to use in windy conditions.  I've experienced situations where even with a wind screen around the cooking surface, the breeze through the burner compartment prevented sufficient heat from reaching the grill.  Typical wind screens attach to the top of the BBQ to block wind from the cooking surface and the food thereon.  You may have to improvise to block the wind from whipping through the burner compartment -- or give up and cook in your RV or over the campfire until the wind dies down.

Throw another shrimp on the barby, mate!

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Is There Anyone Who SHOULDN'T Go RVing or Camping?

There are few reasons anyone who wants to shouldn't be able to go RVing or camping.  There may be some restrictions on certain activities or locations based on diagnosed medical conditions, but for the most part, the only people who shouldn't go RVing or camping are those who don't want to.

If you have a medical condition where you are told to avoid flying or other high altitudes, you will want to restrict your RVing and camping to elevations that are safe for you, but it doesn't mean you have to sit at home!  There are plenty of beach venues that literally put you at sea level so elevation would not be a problem.  Allergies may be sometimes used as an excuse to not go camping but with modern medicine and careful choice of destinations, most allergy related problems can be mitigated.  If you or someone in your group have been given restrictions on physical activities due to injuries or illness, avoid strenuous tasks like hiking, cycling, or chopping firewood.  There are still many beneficial things you can do around camp.

If you have zero experience RVing or camping, seek out experienced companions to get you started.  I would not recommend taking off on an unassisted camping trip if you've never been camping before.  There are certain activities that can be dangerous if you don't know what you're doing or ignore proscribed safety precautions.  My father-in-law singed off his eyebrows trying to light a furnace in his micro-mini motorhome by not following the lighting instructions properly.  Lighting camp stoves and lanterns is generally a pretty safe procedure, but it can sometimes be a problem for the novice.  Even building a simple campfire safely requires some knowledge.

Does advancing age mean you've got to give up camping?  I sure hope not!  I've seen plenty of active retirees in their 70s and 80s and 90s enjoy the RVing and camping experience.  My own grandmother traveled with my Mom and Dad and younger sister in their mini-motorhome until she was in her 90s.  She found it quite comfortable and a lot less stressful than being left at home.  It helped that they involved her in  tasks around camp that made her feel useful was well as welcome.  You may reach an age where it would be a good idea to leave the driving to someone else, but that applies to other activities too, like routine grocery shopping.  My Mom just turned 90 and although she still holds a valid driver's license and keeps it up to date she has voluntarily stopped driving.  Although she passes her driving tests with flying colors, she is uncomfortable that her eye sight and reaction time aren't what they used to be and would rather not take any chances. But she still enjoys trips to the beach or the forest with other family members.

Physical disabilities may impose some restrictions on what you can do, but just falling under ADA rules doesn't mean you have to stay home.  I saw an OHV activist climb out of a wheelchair to ride his ATV in a pro-OHV parade.  And no, it wasn't an ATV accident that put him in the wheelchair.  Tow vehicles and motorhomes can be equipped with wheelchair lifts and other adaptations to make them accessible to disabled persons.  The aisle space in older RVs may not accommodate wheel chairs, but in newer models with slide-outs it will be less of a problem, although unless the unit was designed with wheelchair access in mind you may still encounter tight spots.  In a pinch (pun intended) you might be able to buy a narrow wheelchair like those used on airlines that may be able to negotiate the tight spaces inside an RV.

Some people view pregnancy as imposing many restrictions on mothers to be.  But it certainly doesn't have to be that way and it doesn't have to put a moratorium on your camping!  My wife continued RVing and camping with the family and even riding her dirt bike through most her her pregnancies, until just a few weeks before delivery.  Of course you don't want to take an unreasonable risks for either the baby or the mother, but routine camping shouldn't be a problem unless there are already extenuating circumstances that limit the mother's activities.  As a kind of extension of camping during pregnancy, you don't have to stop camping when the baby comes.  Bring him/her along!  We did, and all our kids LOVE RVing, OHVing, and camping to this day.  Be aware that you will need to attend to the special needs of baby.  Make proper preparations and allow adequate time for addressing their needs and you'll --  and they'll -- be fine.

So, unless you're under doctor's orders to avoid camping or you absolutely hate being in the outdoors or hate campfires, there is no reason why you shouldn't go camping.

Time for that getaway!

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Changing a Tire

I am surprised how many drivers I meet who have never changed a tire.   I suppose I shouldn't be.  With today's convenient road side assistance programs and cell phones it is easy to get professional help when you need it.  And many times it is prudent if not absolutely necessary, even for folks who are experienced and know how to do it.  But it still surprises me that any driver has never actually changed a tire themselves.  Flat tires are a common occurrence and certainly happen when you least expect it and often where you have little or no access to professional services.  Knowing how to change a tire may be especially important for campers and RVers who are frequently in remote areas where services may be very expensive if they are available at all.

Changing a tire on a tow vehicle or moderate sized RV is much like changing the tire on an ordinary car or truck.  In fact, many times the tow vehicle IS an ordinary car or truck.  It would be a good idea to practice changing a tire at home where you can choose a safe location that is out of traffic to learn the process and develop your skills so you'll be prepared out on the road.  Small to medium size travel trailers are pretty similar too, just be sure to block the unaffected wheel(s) to keep the vehicle from rolling when you jack it up.  Trailers may not have designated jacking spots like those found on most passenger cars.  You will want to place the jack under the frame (not the body).  Jacking under the axle is very stable but often doesn't allow the wheel and tire to drop down enough to be removed

Changing a tire on a large RV is more like changing the tire on a large truck or bus and is often best left to professionals.  I've seen the time when experienced professionals had trouble even loosening the lug nuts on a big Class A diesel pusher motorhome.  The owner ended up having drive several miles on a flat tire to the towing service shop where it took a 3/4" air impact wrench to loosen the lug nuts.

With today's road side assistance programs, why would you need to know how to change a tire yourself?  Good question.  First of all, many roadside assistance programs will not service locations that are off pavement and if you do any boondocking you may find yourself outside of service range.  And what if your roadside assistance has expired?  I've seen that happen to many people.  I had my own AAA service suspended for a year when my online banking service failed to deliver a scheduled payment.  Knowing I had scheduled the payment, I thought it was in full force and didn't find out it wasn't until my wife needed it one day and found it wasn't active!  Bad news!.

Safety is your biggest concern when changing a tire.   Your first order of business will be to find a safe place to pull off the road.  You need to get as far out of traffic as you can without getting into an unsafe position where your vehicle may lean or get stuck.  By the way, undesirable as it may be to drive on a flat tire, stopping in an unsafe location to try to save an already damaged tire is foolish.  Once your are safely stopped, it is always a good idea to put out a series of reflectors or flares behind your rig to warn approaching drivers.  To decide where to place the flares or other signal devices, the placement of the first flare (furthest from vehicle) use the posted speed limit - convert that to feet then multiply by a factor of 4 - (30 = 30 x 4 or 120 ft).  If the speed limit is over 50 mph, add 100 feet.  At 60 mph put the first flare 340 feet behind your vehicle.  Figure an average pace of about 2 1/2 feet.  Start off stepping out with your left foot.  Every time your right foot comes down will be about 5 feet.  You might want to measure your own stride for better precision.  Ideally divide the distance in thirds and place additional flares or signals at 1/3 and 2/3 the distance to the first flare.    Be aware that flares are essentially burning metal and can easily ignite spilled fuel, so do not light them near an accident where fuel spills have or may occur.  The next step is to make sure the vehicle won't roll.  Set the parking brake firmly AND chock the wheel kitty corner from where you'll be changing the tire.  It is especially important to chock the wheels when changing a rear tire since most emergency brakes operate on the rear wheels and lifting one of the ground and possibly reducing the weight on the other may allow the vehicle to roll.  Locate your lug wrench and jack and prepare them for use.  Use the lug wrench to "break loose" the lug nuts before you begin jacking the vehicle.   Otherwise the wheel may just spin when you try to loosen the lug nuts with the wheel off the ground.  If you have limited strength or the lug nuts are exceptionally tight you may need and extension on the handle of the lug wrench to get sufficient leverage to loosen them. You may have to remove a wheel cover or individual lug nut covers to reach the actual lug nuts.  Place the jack carefully according to the vehicle manufacturer's instructions.  Almost all vehicles have designated jacking points.  If you are using a different jack than the one supplied with the vehicle and it won't fit the designated jacking points, locate the jack under a strong suspension component such as a leaf spring mounting point or the vehicle frame.  Monitor the vehicle for unwanted movement as you begin jacking it up.  It if starts to lean too much, starts to roll, or the jack starts to tip, STOP immediately and correct the problem before proceeding.  Jack the vehicle high enough to remove the tire and install the spare.  You may be able to remove the flat tire long before the vehicle is high enough to install the fully inflated spare.  That's OK.  Go ahead and get the old one off and position the new one so you can see how much higher you have to go to install it.  Only jack the vehicle up just enough to get the new tire on without scraping it on the lug nuts or having to force it at the bottom.  About a half inch clearance below the tire is about right for normal installation.  Once you have the new tire in place, re-install the lug nuts.  Don't attempt to fully tighten them until you have the wheel back on the ground, but do tighten them enough to seat them in the holes in the wheel and cinch the wheel into place before lowering the vehicle.  When it is back on the ground, fully tighten the lug nuts.  Unless you are extraordinarily strong you should probably tighten them as much as you can with your hands and arms.  DO NOT jump on the lug wrench or use an extension on the handle as this may exert sufficient force to strip them!  If you are of diminutive build and strength, the use of an extension might we warranted, but take care not to over tighten and strip the nuts.  Then reinstall any wheel covers, hub caps, or lug nut covers, gather up and store your tools and flat tire, and you should be ready to go.  Be careful handling the flat tire.  Many times the steel wires inside may have been exposed and they can inflict serious injuries.  Wear sturdy work gloves.  They will also protect your hands from the grime you can expect on a flat tire.

Personal Protective Equipment for changing a tire may include gloves, coveralls, and a reflective vest.  Gloves are needed to protect your hands against not only dirt and grime but sharp edges you are likely encounter on a damaged tire.  Coveralls protect your clothing.  A Class II DOT safety vest will help make you more visible to passing motorists.  This is especially important if you are changing a tire on the left side of your vehicle, putting you next to traffic.  I prefer the Class III DOT vest which is designed with additional reflective material for extra nighttime visibility.  Both types of vests are fairly inexpensive and available at safety equipment shops.  You may also find them in auto parts and department stores like Walmart.

Changing a tire on a motorcycle or other OHV usually involves patching or replacing a damaged inner tube.   You will usually need some kind of stable stand to lift the vehicle up so the damaged tire is hanging free.  An ATV or side-by-side is much like changing the tire on a car -- if you have a spare to put on.  For a motorcycle, raise the vehicle and place it on a stable stand, then loosen the axle nut and remove the axle.  Carefully slide the disc brake (if so equipped) off of the caliper.  On rear wheels you may have to slide the whole wheel assembly forward to loosen and remove the chain.  Once you have the wheel and tire assembly removed, you will need to separate the tire from the wheel.  First, locate the rim lock and loosen the nut the holds it in place.  Then press down firmly on the top of the rim lock bolt to push it down inside the tire and away from the bead.  Removing the tire from the wheel requires special tools called tire irons. You will need at least two.  Three or a special tool called a "Bead Buddy" makes it easier.  When pushing the tire irons between the tire bead and the rim and leveraging the bead away from the rim, take care not to insert them in too  far and pinch the tube or you'll do more damage to the tube and may be forced to replace it when the tool rips a hole too big to patch.  Using two or three tire irons, work your away around the tire until the bead is entirely on the outside of the rim.  Make sure the bead opposite where you are working is down in the middle of the rim to give you the slack you need to lever the bead over the rim. You should now be able to pull out the inner tube to repair or replace it.  If you are going to replace the tire you will need to remove it entirely from the rim, working the second bead over the rim using the tire irons like you did the first one.  Remember, making sure the bead opposite where you are working is down in the middle of the rim will give you the slack you need to lever the bead over the rim.   Inner tubes can sometimes be patched using simple self-adhesive bicycle tire patches but I prefer to use hot-vulcanizing patches.  The patches in this system come attached to little diamond-shaped metal trays.  You position the patch where you want it and hold it in place with a special clamp that is part of the patching system, then light the material in the tray to heat the patch in place.  Allow the whole shebang to cool for a while after the tray stops burning, then carefully pull the tray away from the tube and the patch.  When installing an inner tube, either one you have patched or a brand new one, put a little air (but not too much) in it to give it some shape first.  Then dust it with talc or baby powder so it doesn't stick to the rim or the tire. I usually put the valve stem in first and reinstall the valve cap so it doesn't get pulled back inside the wheel while maneuvering the rest of the tube in place. Carefully work it inside the tire before levering the bead back over the rim.  Check to make sure the tube isn't pinched between the tire and the rim and then inflate the tire.  You will usually have to over-inflate it way above the operating pressure to get the bead to seat on the rim.  Usually you will hear the bead "pop" into place.  Inspect the entire circumference of the wheel to make sure the bead is fully seated before re-installing the wheel on the vehicle.  If there are still gaps, you might try bouncing the tire on the ground at that point to get the bead to pop into place or just keep applying more air pressure until it does go into place.  Then adjust the pressure to the desired operating pressure and re-install the wheel.  Be sure the line up the brake disc properly with the caliper and make sure it doesn't twist and bind as you slide the wheel into place.  On rear wheels you'll need to slide the wheel way forward of the proper operating position to get the chain back in place on the sprocket.  Then install the axle.  Once everything is in place, push the wheel back until the proper chain tension is achieved.  Lacking a specific measurement I look for about two fingers worth of movement in the middle of the chain.  Then tighten the axle bolts and you should be ready to ride.  Patching ATV or side-by-side tire requires much the same procedure, but you usually don't have sprockets or brake discs attached to the wheels.  The large tires used on these vehicles may be difficult to change using ordinary tire irons.  Sometimes it even requires professional pneumatic tire changing machines to remove and reinstall ATV and side-by-side tires.  Here is a link to a video claiming to be The Easy Way To Remove A Dirt Bike Tire.

Keep rolling, rolling, rolling!

Monday, May 5, 2014

Pre-trip Route Checking

It may not always be possible, but when it is, try to check out your routes before you try to take your RVs on them.  When you can, take a drive in a car or 4WD vehicle to familiarize yourself with your planned route before you head down the road in your motorhome or towing your trailer.  Its a lot easier to avoid a bad situation -- or get out of one -- in a smaller vehicle and then plan another route or another trip for your "big rig" if you encounter difficult terrain.  If you can't pre-drive your route, be sure to talk to someone who knows it well enough to advise you if it is compatible with your rig.  Previewing your route is especially important if any segments will be in primitive areas where you may be exploring poorly maintained roads or even going off-road but it is still a good idea to checkout your planned on-road routes too.  Maps don't always identify weight, height, or length limitations or other situations, like road construction or repairs, that might make RV travel unadvisable.  When you can, check out the route via the Internet.  Any construction or even accidents along most major highways will usually be reported on state Department of Transportation (DOT) web sites, allowing you to make alternate plans to avoid lengthy delays.

Not long ago we fell into the unknown route trap and ended up with a lot of regrets.  We started down into a big sand wash to locate a group we were supposed to be camping and riding with based solely on some simple but incomplete directions from a fellow rider.  We soon found ourselves on a narrow, rocky, sandy road that promised great trials coming back out and delivered some rather nasty tweaking of our rig on the way down.  We did in fact get stuck in the deep sand trying to get back out.  Thanks to the skills of some good Samaritans from another nearby camp who happened to be experienced over-the-road truck drivers, we were able to get our rig (40' motorhome and 15' enclosed motorcycle trailer) backed down out of the sand so we could drive out another way.  Turns out there were at least three paths down the hill and none of them were very compatible with a rig our size.  By the time we got out, we had leaks near the water heater, both holding tanks were dripping, and the rather expensive electric tongue jack on our trailer was damaged beyond repair.  We could have saved ourselves a lot of aggravation and expense by walking or otherwise checking out the route prior to committing ourselves in our 40' motorhome and 15' enclosed motorcycle trailer.  We were lulled into a sense of security by the presence of many large rigs clustered in several groups on the valley floor, but they may have chosen a better route than we did.  The one we drove down appeared to be the "main road" but it quickly petered out to become inadequate for just about anything but a 4 wheel drive vehicle.  By then there was not place to turn around and backing back up the hill wasn't feasible.  In more the 30 years of desert camping in the Mojave Desert we never encountered so many problems, but in looking back, we were either following experienced campers or had become familiar with new areas via our dirt bikes before we attempted to drive our motorhome into previously unknown remote locations.

One thing to watch for even on level terrain, are diagonal ruts crossing the road.  They don't need to be extremely deep to cause rather severe rocking and tweaking of large rigs, with sometimes devastating results.    Ruts that are perpendicular to the road are less likely to tweak your RV, unless you hit them too fast, but diagonal ruts will twist the body severely, even at very low speeds.  Some of the least of the problems are the spilling of contents of cabinets.  Having a refrigerator pop open usually offers even more messy problems to deal with.  Tweaking of the body can crack the fiberglass or aluminum skin and even damage the framing.  It can also crack plumbing and holding tanks creating messy and expensive repairs.  If you encounter diagonal ruts that you can't avoid, be sure to ease through them as slowly as possible.  Shifting contents in cabinets, drawers, and tool boxes can occur even on normal roads and can be a really big problem on rough roads.  Take care opening cabinets after any kind of violent maneuvers to avoid getting a face full of the contents.  The stuff in drawers may shift to where the drawer can't even be opened.  In that case about all you can do is jiggle it as much as you can to try to get things to settle enough to get it open -- unless there is a way to reach into it from the side or back from a cabinet or by removing an adjacent drawer.  It is always a good idea to organize the contents of your drawers and cabinets in a way that will reduce the chances of jamming when you encounter rough roads or unusually violent maneuvers.  Try hard not to overfill drawers as that makes it very difficult to jostle contents down enough to get the drawer open once they've been scrambled by too much bouncing.

Of course if you only camp in developed campgrounds accessible by paved roads you aren't as likely to encounter these kinds of problems compared to off-roaders who by design are headed into remote areas where difficult terrain is to be expected.  But that doesn't mean you are entirely exempt from the need to pre-drive your route.  Checking things out ahead of time can alert you to potential obstacles, such as narrow roads or narrow bridges, low overpasses, especially steep grades, road construction, and size and weight restrictions.  Even when your plans included only paved roads you may sometimes encounter problems created by flash floods or mudslides that would create hazards to your travel, sometimes leaving ruts and other obstacles that are at least as formidable as bad off-road routes.  Mud and gravel accumulation from run-off can be deceiving.  It may look like you can get over it but often it hides eroded pavement and soft spots that can swallow entire rigs, or the weight of the rig may cause the already loosened ground to give way, toppling your rig. 

Always check it out!