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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Monday, September 29, 2014

Trading RVs

It is very likely that if you own an RV, sooner or later you will make a change -- up size, down size, or replace a worn out unit.  Changes in family size, camping interests, wants, and lifestyle may all contribute to the motivation to trade.  Should you get in an accident with your RV, you may be forced to make a trade.  Regardless of the reason for making a trade, there are several things to consider.  If your RV was damaged you might want to seek an exact replacement if you were happy with the unit.  Any other motivation for change will automatically dictate some of the parameters you will want to use in choosing your next unit.

Carefully consider what features you MUST have along with those options you would LIKE to have.  Must-haves are those features that are necessary for the RV to serve your needs.  Some typical examples are the number of beds, length, horsepower, generator, and holding tank capacity.  The length may be determined by how and where you plan to use your RV.  If you want to visit a lot of Forest Service campgrounds where there are size limitations you will need to have an RV that doesn't exceed those restrictions.  The number of beds needed will be determined by your family size, or the number of guest you plan to take camping with you regularly.  Occasional, short term guests, like grandkids, might accommodated on the floor or in an attached awning room or even a tent, but if you have family of 6, you'll want an RV with 6 beds.   Having already had some experience owning and driving an RV, you may have some thoughts on horsepower.  Was your old unit under powered?  A larger engine will likely decrease fuel economy but improve performance and increase towing capacity.  If you routinely tow a boat, a dingy, or an OHV trailer, you need to make sure your motorhome has sufficient towing capacity.  In improperly sized receiver would make towing dangerous and often illegal.  Too little power (torque is often a better measure of towing capacity that horsepower) can be frustrating and may also cause dangerous situations if you are unable to accelerate adequately when entering freeway on ramps or climbing hills.  Underpowered vehicle are also likely to experience premature drive train failures.  If you always stay in full hook-up campgrounds a generator may not be a must-have for you, but it will be if you do a lot of boondocking.  Even if you are frugal and avoid running the roof A/C you still need to run the generator enough each day to keep your batteries charged.  Holding tank capacity, likewise, won't be an issue if you camp only in campgrounds with hook ups, but is very critical when boondocking.  Your camping experiences will be frustrating or cut short if you don't have enough on board fresh water or enough room in your gray and black water holding tanks.  Fresh water and waste water tanks on Class A motorhomes are usually larger than you'll typically find on Class Cs.  While a Class C may be a desirable size for Forest Service and National Park campgrounds, it may lack sufficient holding tank reserves to keep you going for more than a few days.  We discovered that when we downsized to a Class C a few years ago and found the small, 25 gallon fresh water tank wasn't even enough to get even two of us through  3-day weekend camping in the Mojave Desert.

When it comes times to make a change it pays to do some research and shop around.  If you have the budget for brand new unit you can go to a dealer and order one to meet your specifications but a lot of folks are going to be buying pre-owned units.  The variety of makes, models, ages, mileage, and prices can be truly amazing and sometimes confusing.  Suffice it to say you can usually find many choices and can very likely find a very acceptable unit, with low miles, within your price range.  It may take a little time and perhaps even some travel, to explore your options, so give yourself plenty of time and don't rush to buy the first thing you see.  If you have done your planning correctly you will be able to focus on appropriate vehicles that will meet your minimum requirements so you don't waste time looking at stuff that you wouldn't even consider.  Be sure to do a thorough inspection and test drive each one you are considering.  Check maintenance records if they are available.  If you aren't knowledgeable or comfortable verifying mechanical condition, take it to a qualified mechanic to have it checked out.  Yeah, you'll have to fork over some dough for his services, but it could save you from making a VERY expensive mistake.

Whenever you change units you'll be faced with emptying your personal belongings out of your old RV and loading them into your "new" one.  This can often be a much larger task than you anticipate, especially if you've had your old RV for some time.  You might be surprised at how much stuff you've squirreled away over the years!  It provides you a good opportunity to lighten the load.  Transfer only what you need to the new unit and get rid of duplicates and excess clutter you never use.  I once found at least 4 12-volt work lights in the various compartments of my RV that I had accumulated over the years.  I'm sure I thought I had a good reason for buying each one, but I really don't think it is really necessary to haul that many around all the time.  This is also a good time to take inventory and refresh your memory of what you have and where it is so you CAN make use of it.  Anything that is buried in the back or bottom of a seldom used storage compartment where you a) can't get to it when you need and b) forget you even have it, is just excess baggage that adds to weight that can reduce performance and fuel economy -- and may take up room you could use for something that is actually useful.  Take time to think through how you can best organize things in you new unit so they'll be safe during travel and accessible when you want to use them.

Friday, September 26, 2014

What If You Wreck Your RV?

Traffic accidents involving RVs are relatively infrequent, but they can still happen.  In addition, some of the places we go in our RVs can subject them to unusual risks.  Misjudging vertical or horizontal clearance can result in the loss of a roof air conditioner or an awning.  Of course prevention is the best remedy, so always be sure of overhead and side-to-side clearances before proceeding.  Another frequent RV mishap occurs when backing into a campsite.  You back into or over an unseen obstacle and cause property damage or significant damage to your RV.  Look before you back and, if there is any risk, have someone stand behind your RV and guide you.   Your liability insurance will cover the property damage, but not damage to your RV.

Another protection against the affects of damage to your RV is to have the right insurance.  Liability insurance is required to operate your RV on public roads.  That protects the other driver or the owner of property you might run into, but it doesn't reimburse you for damage to your vehicle.  For that you need Full Collision and Comprehensive coverage.  Collision coverage covers just that:  collisions.  You may collide with another vehicle, a pedestrian, or an obstacle.  Comprehensive usually covers things like glass breakage and good policies will cover accessories like awnings and antennas.  You will pay higher premiums for full coverage, but it may be worth it.  Considering the cost of even vintage RVs, full insurance coverage usually makes good sense if you can get it and if you can afford it.  Most likely you won't be able to get full coverage on an RV with a salvage title, even if it has been completely repaired.

Insurance covered repairs for older RVs can sometimes be confusing or even problematic.  As units age it parts get harder to find, especially body parts.  A relatively minor accident might damage your RV so that is considered "totaled" by the insurance company.  That simply means that it will cost more to repair it than to replace it -- theoretically.  The question becomes, what is the value of your RV?  Some, but not all, can be found in the NADA Guides (www.nadaguides.com).  As units get older there aren't enough transactions to establish a NADA price.  When that happens the insurance company will have an appraiser set the value of your RV.  You will want to make sure the appraiser is aware of any special additions or modifications you've made that might affect the value.  If , for example, you recently installed a new engine are have made significant improvements or modifications that don't appear in the options list in the Nada Guide.  You may also find it very difficult or even impossible to find an exact replacement and will have to look for an alternative.  Before accepting that check from the insurance company, do some research of your own to determine the replacement cost of your vehicle.  If you can't find any exact replacements, get the cost of comparably sized and equipped units of the same age. You may be able to negotiate a better settlement from the insurance company.  Once you cash the check you absolve the insurance company from any further liability.

If  your vehicle is considered totaled there are several things  you can expect.  In most states the title will be marked "SALVAGE", which typically reduces the market and the price you could possibly get for the RV if you should choose to repair it.  Your insurance company will drop your full coverage and, even if you get it fully repaired, might not ever reinstate it, based on the fact that once totaled, it has no value, at least in their view.  You have the right to keep the vehicle and either have it repaired or dispose of it yourself.  If you do, the insurance company will deduct a "salvage value" from your payment.  You should find out what that deduction is before you decide to go that route.  You may want to keep the wrecked vehicle to scavenge accessories or parts to use on your replacement vehicle if the salvage value isn't too high.

Why would you want to keep a damaged vehicle?   Normally, people have little or no interest in hanging on to a totaled vehicle but there may be times when it makes sense.  A particularly unique RV might be worth fixing regardless of what the insurance company says.  You may also have accessories and features you added that you might want to transfer to a replacement vehicle.  In that case you need to compare the cost of new items to the salvage value.  And don't forget to include the labor cost for removing them from the wrecked vehicle and installing them on the replacement.  You may think you can find a buyer who will pay you more than the salvage value.  Be very careful here.  Most likely anyone willing to buy a salvage vehicle will have detailed knowledge about the salvage value and won't be likely to pay more.  Why should they?  Unless your vehicle is extremely rare and desirable, they can go buy another wreck somewhere else.

If your RV is truly unique and/or you REALLY like it, you might want try to get it repaired even if the insurance company decides it is a total loss.  You will want to be careful if you choose to consider this option.  Sometimes replacement parts are simply not available and you may have to wait years to find what you need in a junk yard.  Often the repair costs will be much higher than you might expect, so be sure to have a detailed, guaranteed estimate from a reliable shop so you know what it is going to cost.  You will have to live with a "SALVAGE" title, which will affect insurability and future resale value.  If you are unable to find replacement parts you may have to live with less-than-perfect repairs.

Sometimes having a vehicle declared a total loss is an opportunity for you to make some desired changes.  Chances are the insurance settlement will be higher than any trade-in value you might get from a dealer if you wanted to change units.  It may be chance for you to up-size or down-size, depending on your situation, or to get a unit with features you want that your old one didn't have or you can be rid of some features you didn't like on the old rig. 

Safe motoring!

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.  It won't  hurt to check around at your favorite retailers.  You may also see camping stuff showing up in garage sales as people wrap up their current seasons and dispose of unwanted gear before they have to find a place to store it.

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 and properly stored.  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.  Make sure you know where everything is so you don't have to go on a major hunt for it next season.  Now is also a good time to inventory your gear and supplies and make a list of any needed repairs, replacements, or additions.  That way you can spread the cost out over the winter months when there is no urgency.

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) even if freezing weather is still weeks or months away.

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.   Coolant should be checked to verify it contains enough antifreeze to protect the engines against expected temperatures.  Coach 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 like Sta-bil to minimize deterioration during storage. 

Gas powered camping stoves and lanterns usually only need to be cleaned before storage.   Gasoline should be drained or treated with Sta-bil.  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 zapped 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.  The Empire State Building gets hit by lightning about 100 times every year.

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!  When lightning strikes a tree, the rapid vaporization of sap and moisture may cause the tree to literally explode, sending wooden shrapnel and flming debris in all directions.  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 or 30 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.  Avoid contact with water, which can also increase conductivty and the likelihood of becoming the object of a lightning strike. 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.  That means its about twice as likely to loose traction and control.  As water accumulates vehicles traveling at high speeds can begin 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 car to 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" the 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 cozy physical configurations but some theories say they are attracted by the smell of 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 and bulk propane is usually cheaper than the small cyliders.  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.  The charcoal lighter will typically burn off long before you're ready to cook, but 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 soften and 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 other meats and vegetables like 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!