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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Saturday, June 21, 2014

Changing a Tire

I am surprised how many drivers have never changed a tire.   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 usually 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 they had 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.  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.  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!  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.

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.  Cover alls protect your clothing.l  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) out from 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.  This 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 force 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 in it to give it some shape first.  Then dust it talc or baby powder so it doesn't stick to the rim or the tire.  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 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 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!

Monday, April 28, 2014

Off Highway Vehicles

There are many kinds of vehicles that are considered off highway vehicles  (OHVs).  The term most often is used regarding dirt bikes, ATVs, ATCs, side-by-sides (Utility Task Vehicles orUTVs), and 4x4s but could also be used to describe snowmobiles and personal watercraft. Technically, mountain bikes could be considered OHVs, but the term is usually applied to motor powered vehicles.  You ride dirt bikes, ATVs, ATCs, Jetskis, and Snowmobiles, straddling a seat or saddle and using handlebars.  You drive UTVs or side-by-sides, sitting in a seat (with seat belts) and using a steering wheel.  In most places you must be licensed driver at least 16 years of age to drive a UTV.

Dirt bikes are off-road motorcycles.  They have two wheels.  The are rated by engine size and typically range from 50cc to 600cc.  Dirt bikes are the most difficult land based OHVs to ride.  Like riding a bicycle, you must learn to balance the motorcycle to keep it upright but the engine provides some gyroscopic effect that gives some assistance.  They are popular for riding single track trails and have the capability to ride on trails that cross slopes without falling over (unless the rider is careless or incompetent).  And advanced form of dirt bike is the motocross bike.  These are specially equipped and tuned for racing on motocross and Supercross tracks but you will often see them ridden by recreational riders on the trails.  They are fast and powerful and capable of performing many stunts, such as wheelies and jumps in the hands of an experienced rider.  Dirt bikes are usually designed to carry only one rider but some are or can be configured to carry an additional passenger.  The first dirt bikes were custom made by riders themselves from Triumph and Rickman street motorcycles.  Then, seeing a potentially profitable market, Japanese companies like Honda, Yamaha, Suzuki, and Kawasaki started manufacturing them for retail sale.  Other prominent brands include KTM (Austria), Husqvarna (Sweden), and ATK (United States).

ATVs are All Terrain Vehicles.  They have 4 wheels and may be either 2 wheel or 4 wheel drive.  ATVs are often used as utility vehicles on farms, ranches, and by other outdoor professions.  They are sometimes used by Search and Rescue teams because of the combination of their relatively small size, which allows them to go places larger 4x4s can't, and their load carrying capacities, which allows them to carry equipment and to transport victims out of difficult terrain. They come in configurations to carry one or two people. They can be equipped with large luggage/cargo racks, enclosed cargo trunks, tow hitches to tow small trailers, and even snowplows for clearing your driveway in the winter.   ATVs are manufactured by the same companies that have built dirt bikes for years plus a some others such as Polaris, Bombadier, and Arctic Cat.    ATVs provide great traction in mud, snow, and sand, but are somewhat unstable crossing hillsides.  I've seen more than one topple over and roll sideways all the way to the bottom of the hill!  You ride an ATV like you would a motorcycle, straddling the saddle and steering with handlebars.

ATCs (All Terrain Cycles) were predecessors of the ATV and have 3 wheels.  They were only manufactured and sold for a few years due to purported dangers associated with them.  It is often thought they were banned in the United States by Federal law.  In reality, the threat of a Federal ban caused the manufacturers to impose their own moratorium in accordance with a consent decree during which they turned their attention to 4-wheel ATVs.  You can still find a few pre-owned ATCs around, but new ones have not been sold  in the United States since the mid 1980s.  There were some inherent design features that were blamed for a number of accidents, some of them fatal.  Some notable examples are:  running over your own foot with one of the rear wheels (I NEVER did that with my dirt bike!) and the perception that their 3-wheeled tricycle format made them easy to ride.  The latter often drew novice riders who quickly exceeded their personal limits and found themselves in trouble.  Another anomaly that gave inexperienced ATC riders problems was that, unlike bicycles and motorcycles, leaning into a turn could cause you to turn the opposite way!  For example, leaning left would transfer extra weight onto the left rear wheel, giving it more traction and causing it to move forward faster than the right rear wheel, forcing the ATC to turn right regardless of which way the front wheel was turned.  Manufacturers steadfastly denied that ATCs were inherently more dangerous than dirt bikes, but the public perception of their faults led to government investigations and ultimately to the demise of their production. By the time the moratorium had expired, manufacturers had replaced their 3-wheeled ATCs with 4-wheeled ATVs and had no interest in reviving the much-aligned three-wheelers.

Side-by-sides or UTVs are kind of like a larger ATV or a small 4x4, depending on your perspective.  They get their name from the seating configuration that puts at least 2 people sitting side-by-side as they would in a Jeep or a sports car.  Larger units may have 4-6 seats.  You steer them with a steering wheel, just like a car.  All side-by-sides have 4 wheel drive.  They usually provide a quite comfortable ride, with wheel travel that rivals dirt bikes.  The larger units are sometimes prohibited on ATV trails because of  their additional width.  Being larger and more complex, they can be significantly more expensive than dirt bikes and ATVs, but if some of your party is happy riding as a passenger instead of operating the vehicle themselves, they might be cost effective.  For example, one UTV can could carry 4 people and may cost less than 4 dirt bikes, depending on the model and optional features.  Some popular examples of side-by-sides are the Yamaha Rhino, the Kawasaki Mule, and the Polaris RZR.  Like ATVs, side-by-sides are often used as utility vehicles for farm and ranch work.  In fact, the Kawasaki Mule was at first a farm and ranch utility vehicle that users adapted for recreational use.

4x4s typically used for off road recreational purposes include the venerable Jeep, which found its first service as a general purpose military vehicle in World War II and many 4 wheel drive pickups.  Many of todays SUVs also come in a 4 wheel drive configuration that is sometimes used for off roading.  Because of the size of these vehicles they are unable to travel on designated dirt bike or ATV trails but are excellent for riding fire roads and other unimproved roads.  Some 4x4s are modified to be "rock crawlers", who compete in rigorous events challenging the ability of machine and driver to climb over large boulder and ascend steep, rocky slopes.  A popular option on many 4x4s (especially rock crawlers) is a power winch, which can be used to pull the vehicle through especially difficult terrain and pull it out if it gets stuck.

Snowmobiles are an off highway vehicle for winter use.  You ride them kind of like an ATV, sitting on the saddle and steering with handlebars connected to skis up front.  The drive is provided by a tank type rubber tread that gives excellent traction in the snow.  Snowmobiles come in at least two major categories:  trail machines and powder machines.  Trails machines are ideal for use on groomed snowmobile trails and roads but if you want to go cross country and make your own trails, you'll probably want a powder machine.  Powder machines are usually bigger and more powerful so trail rated machines are best for beginners.  Beginners would do well to seek out groomed snowmobile trails until they gain sufficient skills to venture off the trail.

Jet skis and other personal watercraft are sometimes included in the category of OHVs, but in common usage OHV usually pertains to land toys.  Jet skis are sometimes called "wet bikes", connoting that they are similar to dirt bikes for the water.  They are, in fact, ridden like a motorcycle, straddling the saddle or seat and steering with handlebars.

Tracked OHVs.  Some years ago there was a cute little tracked OHV called a Trackster.  It was manufactured by Cushman, who is better known for their motor scooters.  Tracksters are no longer manufactured buy there are still a few around if you search for them.  The tank-like tracks give them incredibly off road capabilities -- in dirt, sand, mud, and snow  There are a few specialized ATVs or specially modified ATVs  and side-by-sides that ride on tracks and you can even by track kits for larger 4x4s.  These kits usually replace each wheel with a triangular track that has its own 3 wheels.  For normal driving the track rotates around all three of its wheels but when climbing over an obstacle the whole assembly may rotate, giving the vehicle ability to climb over things like rocks and logss.  Track kits are relatively expensive so you will probably need a very good reason for converting your 4x4.

Personal safety is an important consideration for all OHV activities.  First of all, make sure your machine is in good condition and that none of its factory installed safety features have been removed or disabled.  Second, get appropriate training and practice to ensure you can safely operate the machine.  This means more than just being able to move in a straight line and negotiate turns.  You need to understand the capabilities and the limitations of your equipment as well as your ability to control the machine.  Last but certainly not least, wear appropriate Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and correct use of safety devices (such as seat belts on UTVs).  The PPE you need will depend on the type of vehicle you're riding.  I strongly recommend full body armor for riding dirt bikes, ATCs, and ATVs, and at least helmets and goggles when riding  UTVs and 4x4s.  Personal water craft require appropriate, US Coast Guard approved flotation devices.  One final bit of advice:  those cool tricks you see in the Supercross or during televised off-road events, are performed by professional riders with years and years of special training and their equipment usually includes significant modifications to enhance both performance and safety.  Don't try to imitate their antics!  Performing an incredible stunt may look like fun, but without proper training, experience, and equipment, it is likely to have painful and expensive results.

Have fun off road!

Saturday, April 26, 2014


Bicycles are a good match for both tent and RV camping.  They are light weight and provide economical transportation around camp and for local shopping and sightseeing trips.  They are environmentally friendly and provide good exercise to help you keep in shape.  Bicycle riding is a fun activity for families, couples, and even solo.

Bicycles can be carried on an RV, a tow vehicle, or the family car.  They are light weight and take up little room.  They require few tools or spare parts.  New bicycles may ranger in price from under $100 to more than $10,000.  You'll probably want something in between.  Cheap bicycles are, well, cheap.  They are usually not as light and may not function as smoothly or be as durable or reliable as more expensive models. 

Choose a bike that fits your needs.  There are several different general types of bicycles, each designed for a different riding style.  Road bikes are the fastest and usually the lightest weight.  They have very thin tires and drop down handle bars.  The thin tires minimize rolling resistance and are designed for riding on smooth pavement.  The drop down handlebars make the rider crouch into a low profile that reduces wind drag.  These are the style of bike used in high speed, long distance road races.  The bent over riding position may be uncomfortable to some riders.  A fitness or hybrid bike is much like a road bike but doesn't have the drop down handlebars.  These are very popular bikes for recreational and fitness use.  City bikes have high handlebars and seats designed for upright riding.  Cruisers are designed for short comfortable rides.  They have larger seats, wide handlebars, and fatter tires. They often called "beach cruisers" because of their popularity for riding in the sand.  Mountain bikes are designed for off road use, with heavier, knobby tires for traction and sturdy frames.  Consider the weight when purchasing a bike.  Lighter bikes will take less effort to ride but because of the more costly materials (carbon fiber, titanium, aluminum) will usually be more expensive. Weight is a more important consideration for racing or for off-road riding than it would be for recreational riding on city streets.

Bikes come in single or multiple speed versions.  Cruisers are often single speed bikes with a "coaster brake".  To stop the bike, pedal backwards to engage the brake within the hub of the rear wheel.  Multiple speed bikes use different sized sprockets on the pedals and on the rear wheels to provide a variety of gear ratios for different riding conditions.  Low gear ratios make it easier to pedal up inclines while high gear rations yield faster travel.  Road bikes, mountain bikes, and most fitness bikes are multiple speed bikes.  Multiple speed bikes have hand brakes.  These normally have pads that grip the edge of the wheel but more effective, more durable, and more expensive disc brakes are becoming more popular.

For many years bicycles had no suspension at all.  The wheels were mounted directly to the frame.  This made for a rather stiff and bumpy ride.  I can feel every pebble in the pavement when I ride my mountain bike on the road.  Today there are many suspension options.  Front suspension reduces hammering  of your hands, arms and shoulders.  Rear suspension makes the ride softer.  As you would expect, the more sophisticated the suspension, the more costly the bike.  If you're mostly just riding around the campground or over smooth paved roads, suspension will probably not be necessary.  But if you are riding trails or going on long rides or encounter rough roads, suspension will be very desirable.  My first bicycle, many years ago, had a simple front suspension called "knee action".  The front wheel was mounted on a secondary fork that was hinged and had a spring at the top to absorb the bumps.  Modern suspension usually includes shock absorbers that dampen movement and absorb impact.  Some bikes may have only front suspension to lessen the stress on your arms and shoulders.  Bikes with rear suspension will be more comfortable to ride, especially on rough roads or off-road trails, but they will be more expensive.  When riding a standard bike without any suspension you will feel every bump, even the very texture of the gravel in asphalt pavement and that can be quite tiring.

Motor powered bicycles are available but not commonly seen.  They may be powered by a small gasoline engine or by a battery powered electric motor.  Motor driven cycles reduce the effort needed to get around but also reduce the exercise component of cycling.  Motor driven cycles may be prohibited on some trails.  Motor driven bicycles usually do not meet the standards for motor vehicles and riding them on public thoroughfares may be illegal.

Folding bicycles are designed to fit into the storage compartment of RVs or the trunk of your car. They are usually single speed bikes designed primarily for cruising around the campground or short trips to the store.

There are even all wheel drive bicycles.  These have an option to engage a second chain that connects to the front wheel.  As you can imagine, the linkage is somewhat complicated.  Just like 4-wheel drive vehicles, the all wheel drive bicycle is designed for added traction in off-road conditions.  I owned one for a while and found that the added weight and friction of the front wheel drive made it less appealing than I thought it would be.  Perhaps if I'd been riding on muddy or otherwise slippery trails the extra front wheel traction may have been more noticeable and appreciated, but I found my regular mountain bike more comfortable and easier to ride on the hard-packed desert trails I normal rode.

Used bicycles can be a real bargain.  Check your local bike shop, classified ads, garage sales, thrift stores, and online sites like craigslist and ebay.  You will want to acquire some knowledge about brands and prices to ensure you recognize a good deal when  you find one and to avoid getting ripped off.  Thrift stores often offer the best values.  Because of their low overhead they can afford to sell at lower prices and often the bikes have been reconditioned by knowledgeable thrift store employees.  As you would purchasing any used equipment, inspect it carefully to make sure everything is there and in good working order.  A bike that needs work can be an excellent value IF you have the resources to make the necessary adjustments and repairs.

Like any mechanical device, bicycles require a certain amount of maintenance to keep the working well.    Most maintenance can be done by the owner/rider.  Even changing tires or brake pads (on bikes equipped with hand brakes) is usually within the capabilities of the average owner/rider.  Regular lubrication is necessary to maintain smooth operation and reduce wear.  Lubrication points include axle bearings, crank bearings, and head bearings (where the handle bars turn in the frame).  Bikes with suspension will have additional moving parts that need to be regularly inspected and lubricated.  Chain adjustment is also part of routine maintenance.  A loose chain may come off.  A tight chain may cause excessive wear.  Multiple speed bikes also required adjustment of the shifter.  This is a little more technical and many owners take their bikes to a professional for a "tuneup" periodically.  Owner riders can usually learn to adjust hand brakes.  Frequently check the wheels for loose spokes.  If you over-tighten spokes you can "tweak" the wheel so it doesn't run true.  Unless you have the skills and proper tools for truing the wheel, you'll need to take it to a bike shop if the wheels begin to wobble or the spokes get excessively loose.

Always wear protective gear when riding a bicycle.  Many cities and states have laws requiring riders under a certain age to wear helmets but it is ALWAYS a good idea to wear a helmet, regardless of your age or local laws.  Other apparel to make you more comfortable may include riding shorts, which have a padded crotch to reduce irritation from the seat.  Speaking of the seat, if you find the one on your bike isn't comfortable, there are many aftermarket seats to choose from so you can probably find one that fits your body and your riding style better.  Gloves will keep your hands from chafing on the hand grips and will significantly reduce the chance of blisters.  Riding jerseys are designed to provide flexible movement and keep your comfortable but many riders wear ordinary T-shirts or polo shirts.  In warm weather you want something that will wick away your sweat.  In cooler weather you may need to add a windbreaker.  Professional cyclists wear special shoes but I've found light weight running shoes to be very comfortable for my needs.  Avoid wearing pants with loose legs as they can get caught in the chain.  If you don't wear fitted pants, tie up the leg on the side where the chain is to keep it from getting caught.  When I was a kid we used to use metal spring clamps that fit around our pant legs just above the ankle but I haven't seen them in years.  A large rubber band or a small bungee will do the job.  Wearing gaiters or leggings may also help, weather permitting.  Rear view mirrors, either helmet mounted or handlebar mounted, will let you see traffic approaching from behind you and to keep track of other riders when you're out front.

Riding a bicycle requires a fair ammont of exertion.  Even on cooler days you're going to lose moisture through sweat and through breathing.  It is essential that you maintain adequate hydration when riding to avoid heat related illness.  A Camelbak style hydration pack is one of the most convenient ways to stay hydrated while riding.  You can sip from the mouthpiece anytime without having to stop your ride.  Most bikes are or can be equipped with brackets on the front part of the frame to hold water bottle.  Regardless of the method you use, always carry water and drink frequently to avoid dehydration.  If you're just starting out riding after a sedentary life style, you may want to consult your doctor before you begin to ensure you are fit enough to ride.  You may need to start with an easy regimen and work your way up in order to avoid health problems.  If you normally lead a fairly sedentary lifestyle it would be a good idea to check with your doctor before beginning a rigorous riding routine.

Bicycling can be a great family activity.  You may be able to spend more quality time and enjoy a closer look as you explore the sights and sounds around you with far greater intensity than you get flying by in an air conditioned vehicle.  With a little planning you can stop along the way for a picnic lunch or pedal to the local burger joint or ice cream parlor for a special treat.  Bicycling allows you to travel farther and faster and easier than walking but still lets you get significant exercise and have full access to the sights and sound.  Plus you have the option to easily alter your course to explore interesting places along the way.

Security may be a concern. Bicycles are very popular and are fairly easy to steal and to sell.  Always lock up your bike when you aren't using it, both in camp and when you stop along your ride.  My youngest son learned this lesson the hard way when his brand new bike was stolen just days after he received it for his birthday.  Ironically it was stolen while he was  in the store buying a bike lock!  He came out with a really nice bike lock only find that his bike was gone.

Bicycle safety involves more than wearing a helmet and keeping your balance.  In most jurisdictions, bicycles are bound by the same laws as motor vehicles. although all too often you will see bicyclists disregard stop signs and stop lights and lane usage.  And, yes, you can get a speeding ticket on a bicycle.  Some bicyclists prefer to ride against traffic, but that is usually illegal and is actually quite dangerous.  True, you have a better view of on-coming traffic, but motorists won't be looking for you to be coming down the wrong lane, which can be disasterous if they're pulling out of a driveway or parking space and watching for traffic coming up from behind them where motor vehicles would normally be.   Take advantage of bicycle lanes when they exist but be aware that they often end with little or no warning.  When riding on public roads, ride single file and stay near the right hand edge of the pavement.  Riding on sidewalks or in crosswalks is usually prohibited but you will see a lot of riders ignoring that law.  Remember, you are required to obey the same traffic laws on your bicycle as you have to obey driving a motorcycle, car, or RV.  Laws typically require motor vehicles to maintain at least 3 feet between them and bicycles when passing them.  To maintain maximum safety, always ride as close to the edge of the road as you safely can.

Safety is a primary concern when riding a bicycle --enough so that it bears a second mention.  You have little protection if you collide with anything -- a car, a tree, another rider, a pedestrian, or even the ground so you want to avoid dangerous situations.  Even soft grass can be a painful place the land.  In most places, bicycles are required to obey the same laws as motor vehicles.  That means coming to a complete stop at stop signs, signaling your turns, and avoiding impeding traffic.  Some riders like to ride against traffic so they can see cars approaching.  In most places this is illegal as well as unsafe.  I nearly hit a bicyclist riding against traffic on the wrong side of the road as I pulled out from a parking space.  I was concerned about traffic approaching from the rear and, like most people, never expected a bicycle to be riding the wrong way right next to the parked cars. so he nearly ran into the front of my car when I began to pull out.  When riding in a group, ride single file whenever there is traffic present to minimize your impact on traffic and reduce the chances of one of you being struck or forced off the road.  Normally bicyclists don't ride fast enough to exceed posted speed limits,but be aware that you are subject to posted speed limits when riding a bicycle.

Bicycling is a great family activity and unless you have physical limitations can be a great way to do some sight seeing and get some exercise.  Bikes let you move faster and easier than walking, but slow enough to enjoy the scenery and you can stop to check things out any time you like.  Add a basket or cargo rack and you can use your bike for quick trips to pick up supplies or to carry your picnic.  In a pinch you might just hang a couple of plastic grocery bags on the handlebars to carry your stuff.

Nighttime riding requires some special preparation.  First of all, you will need to make you and your bike visible to other traffic.  Most bikes are equipped with front (white) and rear (red) reflectors.  You can add a headlight and taillight to help you see where you're going and make your bike even more visible at night.  Most headlight systems use a generator that is driven by one of the tires, but that means you only have light when you are moving.  Battery powered lights solve this problem, but batteries can run down fairly quickly.  New LED based lighting reduces power requirements.  Do not wear dark colored clothing.  For best results, wear something reflective.  If you don't have any reflective bike apparel, a simple safety vest like those used by construction workers and road crews is pretty inexpensive and well worth the investment.

Pedal power!

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Sharpening Your Skills

No matter what your preferences for camping or other recreational activities, you will get more pleasure out of your efforts as your skills develop and improve.  Regardless of how good you may be at a particular task, you can almost always find room for improvement and without regular practice and exercise, even the best experts begin to experience diminished ability.

Every camping, hunting, fishing, hiking, horseback riding, or OHV trip is an opportunity to hone your  existing skills and perhaps develop new ones.  Every trip requires and pre-and post trip acitivites  that, as you practice them, will improve.  Preparations will become easier and take less time as you refine your checklists and your procedures.   You'll get better and better at hooking up the trailer or getting the RV on the road.  Every trip is a chance to observe and refine your driving skills.  Driving a motorhome or pulling a trailer takes skills most drivers don't experience in their daily lives.  The more your drive your rig, the more comfortable you will become and the more fun it will be.  Setting up camp, building campfires, and camp cooking are routine activities that also get easier with practice.  

Experienced campers may want to choose specific survival techniques to practice on each outing.   You may feel comfortable with routine camp tasks, but might benefit from practicing starting your campfire using flint and steel or perhaps even creating emergency shelters or hunting or foraging for food.  Be sure to check local rules and regulations before doing anything that might have an environmental impact, such as cutting trees for a shelter or hunting or fishing or gathering edible plants.  Hunting and fishing usually require a license and are governed by scheduled "seasons" for specific types of game.

Just about every outdoor activity can benefit from regular practice.  Whether you're just camping or out hunting, fishing, hiking, dirt biking, or enjoying your personal watercraft, there are always skills you can improve upon.  Some skills you can practice during routine activities but others may require some special preparations.  The availability of online guides and instructional videos can provide answers to many questions and give you entertaining ways to learn new skills.  When I say "entertaining", I mean entertaining to YOU, rather than turn your novice attempts at new skills into entertainment for your fellow campers and humiliation for you, which happens all too frequently when we jump into something without proper preparation.

Just like sharpening our tools makes them safer and easier to use, sharpening out skills will make our activities safer and more more fun.  And don't be afraid to draw on the expertise of other more experience campers.  They're likely to have had their share of embarrassing moments and may be able to divert you away from potential disasters.  Of course you will probably want to avoid seeking help from the resident practical joker, who may be likely to take advantage of your naivety to amuse himself or entertain others at your expense.

Look sharp, be sharp!

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Family Activities

Camping, RVing, and OHV riding are excellent wholesome family activities that complement each other.  Camping by itself offers a variety of places to go and things to do that can keep a family entertained and provide opportunities for bonding and teaching moments.  We found that dirt biking was perfect for our family.  We have 6 children, 4 boys and 2 girls, with a 14 year age spread.  Just try finding something that will hold the interest both boys and girls from 4 to 18 over several years!  Our RV made an ideal base camp for dirt bike rides, providing air conditioned comfort on hot desert days and a warm haven from bad weather.  Coming "home" to a  shower and a comfortable bed is something to look forward to after a long, hot dusty, desert ride.

Camping, in either a tent or an RV, brings a family together in ways you probably won't have at home.  First of all, you will be in closer physical proximity than you normally are in a permanent residence (how can you not in such confined spaces?) but more importantly, you will be sharing experiences.  Even routine tasks like fixing meals that are typically taken for granted at home can be opportunities for shared activities and family bonding way beyond what is available in our electronically centered lives these days.  Camping helps get both couch potatoes and video game addicts out of their ruts.  Of course it may take some planning and organization to take advantage of these opportuntities.  You may have to convince your teenagers to leave their video games at home or at least impose -- and enforce -- some limits on their use.  It will help if you have planned interesting meals that they can be involved in.  Campfire cooking is usually a unique and entertaining enough experience to provide incentives for most kids but even cooking in the RV on on the camp stove can be fun, especially if it involves making special treats!  Plan your outings to go where there are fun things to do.  Do a little research to find out if the activities are suitable for your family.  Some ranger-led nature hikes are really fun for younger visitors but may not hold the interest of your older teens.  A visit to an antique car museum will probably be fun for everyone, particularly the boys, but your boys might not be so thrilled with spending an afternoon in a doll house.   You might even find it good to spend some time learning to share video games with your electronically addicted children.

RVing is often easier for a famiy than tent camping.  There is usually less setup time and effort required when you get to camp so you can spend more time on non work-like activities.  An RV gives you flexibility in travel.  Even with a trailer you can pull over into a rest area or onto a safe spot along side the road when someone needs to use the bathroom instead of having to scurry to find a service station.  With a motorhome the on board facilities are conveniently available anytime to everyone but the driver.  Traveling by RV often lets you choose optional side-trips along the way.

We found OHV (dirt bike) riding to be a perfect complement for RVing for our family.  Everyone very much enjoyed riding and even found some fun in maintaining their bikes and riding gear.  There were frequently new areas to visit or new trails to ride and re-visiting favorite trails was always a fun adventure. We found riding offered an unexpected balance of opportuntities to build both individual confidence and teamwork.  We went riding with our "Desert Rat" group (www.desertrat.org) almost every holiday weekend while the kids were growing up, forming friendships that endure to this day for both adults and kids.

Options for in camp activities are virtually endless.  There are many sports and hundreds of games you can play in camp.  Bring along a football or a volleyball or a softball or a frisbee.  Lawn darts is popular game among many campers, but make sure you keep the playing area clear.  They can deliver very painful and even lethal injuries.  Card games and board games are essential for indoor distractions during bad weather but can be fun around the campfire or picnic table any time.  Various forms of tag and "capture the flag" can create hours of more physical activities if you need to burn off some calories or use up some of that extra energy kids always seem to have, especially when you're ready to take it easy!

Like most things, you'll only get something out of an activity if you put something into it.  Camping, RVing, and OHVing provide opportunities for building character and for family bonding, but it is up to you to make use of those opportuntities.  You'll need to select appropriate destinations for you family and plan relevant activities.  You'll need to watch for -- or create -- "teaching moments" when you can use activities to help kids learn important life lessons.  Sometimes you can offer hands-on experience to augment book learning in things like science, biology, first aid, mechanics, astronomy, and survival.  Sometimes your activities will provide good examples of personal interaction and the natural consequences that result from life choices.  Little, if any, of it will happen automtically.  You'll need to pay attention to what is going on and make use of the circumstances and situations you encounter.

Family togetherness.  Try it!

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Starting Fires Without Matches

Being able to start a fire in a survival situation could literally mean the difference between life and death and certainly adds considerably to your comfort.  There is much folk lore and much is written about starting fires without matches.  Of course the easiest way to start a fire without matches is with a Bic-style lighter.  Many survivalists strongly recommend you include a lighter in your survival kit.  They are inexpensive, light weight, and easy to use.  Even after they run out of fuel the spark may be used to ignite tinder.

One of the most commonly considered ways of starting a fire without matches is rubbing two sticks together.  I don't know about you, but the only way I want to start a fire by rubbing two sticks together is if one of them is a match!  Otherwise, rubbing two sticks together is a time-proven technique but is is very tedious and takes a lot of effort.  The most efficient way is to make a bow drill.  For this you will need a a curved stick or a green stick that is flexible enough to be bent into a bow, a piece of string or other cordage long enough to form the bow, a dry stick about a foot and a half long (I'm told softwood works best), a wooden base plate, and a bearing block or hand piece.  The hand piece should fit comfortably in your hand and will serve as the upper pivot point for the drill.  It may be made of wood or stone or just about anything that will protect your hand from the top of the spinning drill.  The hand piece could be made of stone, bone, sea shell, or hardwood.  It needs be thick enough to protect your hand from heat. The base or hearth plate should be hardwood and you'll want to carve a small depression in the middle to hold the tip of the drill. Round the top of the spindle and lubrication it with oil (from your face, sometimes called "beak oil" off your nose,if you don't have anything else, drop of oil from a vehicle dipstick works really well if you have a vehicle nearby).  Sharpen the end that will drill into the hearth or base place.  Loop the bow string around the middle of the spindle (drill stick).  Place the bottom (sharp) end into the depression in the base plate and put some dry tinder near the point of contact.  Hold the hand piece in one hand (left hand if you're right handed, right hand if you're left handed) and put it on the top of the drill.  Then move the bow back in forth in a sawing motion to rotate the drill, using the hand guard to keep pressure on the drill so there is significant friction between the drill and the base plate.  When you start to generate smoke look for a glowing coal and be ready to put the tinder on the coal.  Blow gently to increase the temperature of the coal to ignite the tinder.  Take care not to blow so hard as to blow out the flames when the tinder begins to burn. If you don't have materials to make a bow, you can turn the drill by rubbing it between your hands.  Start with both hands at the top of the drill and rub them back and forth to rotate the drill, all the time pushing or pressing down to keep pressure on the drill.  This also helps reduce injuring your hands.   You can practice the "Isty Bitsy Spider" hand movement to get a feel for how your hands should work.  This "hand drill" technique an be really hard on your hands and can easily produce blisters.  Les Stroud (Survivorman) recommends slapping your hands together frequently hard enough so it hurts to stimulate blood flow and minimize blisters. Another way of starting a fire rubbing two sticks together is called a "fire plow".  In this case, instead of rotating a stick to generate friction, you simply push the point of one stick along a groove the base plate rapidly and repeatedly until you create enough heat to get your fire going. You might also use a vine or rope as if you were trying to saw through a piece of wood to create enough friction to light a fire.

Flint and steel are another age-old method for starting fires.  If you have  flint and steel or can find stones that make sparks when struck together or against iron or steel, you can use the sparks to ignite your tinder.  I find this a LOT easier than rubbing two ticks together!   My first attempt at using flint and steel was very frustrating.  I didn't realize the brand new "flint" had a coating on it that I had to scrape away before I could get sparks.  But once it was gone, Wa-lah!  Nice big sparks --with the right angle and the right pressure. I like to use 100% cotton balls for tinder.  Add a little Vaseline if you have it to encourage ignition and make the cotton ball burn longer, giving you more time to use it to get your fire going.  In the wild you can use punky wood, char cloth, or finely ground dry grass or bark for tinder.

Sunlight can be used to ignite tinder if you have a way to concentrate it.  The stereotypical tool is a magnifying glass, but you may be able to use spectacles or broken headlight lenses.  I've even seen demonstrations of using a piece of ice, but most ice contains too many contaminates that cloud it so that it doesn't focus the sunlight as well as it needs to be.  An alternative is to polish the bottom of an aluminum can.  Soda and beer cans are often all to commonly found among the trash strewn in even surprisingly remote places.  Polish  the bottom of the can using some kind of rubbing compound (chocolate bars and tooth paste are two fairly common sources) until you can see your teeth or the whites of your eyes reflected in the parabolic surface of the bottom of the can.  When you aim the polished surface directly at the sun it will focus the suns rays at a point a few inches in front of the can.  Use a pice of wire or a stick to hold your tinder right at the focal point.  Here is a demonstration of how to do this.

Steel wool and batteries can be used to start a fire.  Steel wool comes in different grades of coarseness.  You want 0000 steel wool.  Use clean steel wool.  Soap pads like Brillo and SOS are usually too coarse and the soap interferes with ignition.  6 and 12 volt car batteries, even when somewhat run down, can usually produce enough current to get steel wool going but even flashlight batteries can do the trick.  I've seen people start a fire by carefully breaking the bulb of a flashlight (take care not to damage the filament) and using the hot filament to light a fire.  Incandescent bulbs are about 10% efficient producing light and about 90% efficient making heat.  Another way to use batteries to start a fire is simply to create a spark by touching wires connected to the hot and ground sides of the battery together.  To get a good spark, strike one wire against the other rather than simply pressing them together.  Once they are connected they will no longer create a spark -- but the wires may get very hot and are likely to burn you hands if they aren't protected.  If you have a vehicle battery, you might also have vehicle fuel that can be used as an accelerant to get your fire going.  Always be careful working with flammable liquids.  Avoid spilling them on your hands or clothing.  Remember, it is the fumes that burn, not the liquid.  Tossing a matching into a gallon can filled with gasoline will result in the match being doused by the gasoline.  Tossing one into a gallon can with a small amount of gasoline in the bottom (letting the remainder fill with fumes) will result in explosive ignition!

The key to starting any fire, and especially to getting a fire going without matches or a lighter, is having the right tinder.  Tinder must be easily ignited.  For my personal fire starting kit I carry some 100% cotton balls. And no, although the synthetic "cosmetic puff" may look the same, they don't work the same.   You may see many folks recommend dryer lint for tinder.  If its cotton lint, from towels or underwear, it will probably work well, but lint from synthetic fabrics like nylon, rayon, and polyester are more likely to be melted than ignited by sparks.  In the wild, you may have to make your own tinder.  Dry bark from tress like cedar and juniper, fluff from seed pots like milkweed or cattails, or even dry grass (rub it between your hands to grind it up and make it easier to light) can all be used as tinder.  Another option in the wild is "punky" wood.  This is the partially rotten wood you find in fallen logs, tree stumps, and hollow trees.  It is usually a redish brown color and has a kind of alligator skin pattern.  Pine needles are usually too course to be used as tinder unless you grind them down into small particles or dust.  A favorite of survivalists and outdoorsmen is "char cloth" -- charred cotton cloth.   It is easily ignited by sparks.  Essentially it is just charred cotton cloth.   Any old cotton, like an old T-shirt or denim will do, but a favorite is something called "monks cloth".  You can buy it at a fabric store by the yard.  It isn't expensive and a yard of monks cloth will most likely give you a enought char cloth for a lifetime.  You can see how to make your own here. Magnesium shavings are an excellent tinder and will light even when they are wet, but unless you have some in your survival kit, you're not going to find them in the wild.  In the old days you could break open a flash bulb and use the magnesium filaments but most modern flash cameras use LEDs these days.

After tinder, the next important step will be your kindling bundle or "birds nest".  Most likely you will want to use dry grass, pine needles, or loose, stringy bark for your birds nest.  You should have a bundle that is a good double handful, slightly larger than a softball.  Once you have your tinder started you insert it into the birds nest and soon you should have a pretty good ball of fire ready to start your campfire.  A real birds nest would work but will probably be soiled with excrement and may give off an unpleasant odor.

Always prepare your campfire before you start trying to ignite your tinder.  The last thing you want to be doing is running around looking for wood after you get your tinder started.  You can choose a teepee or log cabin style fire, depending on the size and quantity of fuel you have.  Make sure you leave a place to push your fire bundle or birds nest inside to get your fire going.  Build the fuel pile up starting with small sticks, the size of a pencil or less, then keep adding progressively larger fuel -- thumb sized sticks, then 1"-2" sticks, etc.  All the wood should be dry and well seasoned (not green!).  About the only green wood that burns well is sagebrush.  Most other trees and shrubs need to dry out before they will burn well, so gather dead wood rather than breaking branches off living plants.  Don't make your initial fuel pile too big.  You can always add more fuel if you need more heat, but getting too much going at once just wastes fuel.  Be sure to have a stack of fuel ready to use as you need it.

Of course you always want to properly prepare you fire site to avoid losing control.  In addition to normal precautions like clearing the ground and building a fire ring, make sure you don't have anything on our person that will iginite easier than your tinder!  If your clothing is contaminated by fuel or oils the fumes may flash into flames and light you up instead of your fire bundle!  You wouldn't want to be making sparks or creating open flames anywhere near fuel tanks or containers.  And be aware that some things you might not normally consider as flammable can be extremely so in the right concerntration.  Flour dust, for example, is so volatile a one cup can generate an explosion nearly equivalent to a stick of dynamite.  With that in mind, NEVER try to use flour to extinguish a kitchen fire!  Keep in mind that both flour and sugar are made of flammable carbon and hydrogen, which are also the primary components of gasoline!

Practice! Practice! Practice!  Starting a fire without matches isn't easy.  If it were, why did we invent matches?  If you find yourself in a survival situation, it is unlikely you'll have the time or inclination to spend hours trying to get a fire started.  You will want -- or need -- it NOW!  Even striking a spark with a flint and steel takes a little practice, so take advantage of your camping trips to try out and practice various methods of starting your campfire without matches.

Light 'em up!