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.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Some ebay tips for campers

Several times in this blog I have suggested using ebay as a source for RV or OHV accessories and camping equipment. I have personally even purchased two motorhomes through ebay. As I mentioned in another post, keep in mind in order to "win" an auction on ebay, you have to be willing to pay more for your item than anyone else in the world will pay. That's not entirely true. If your maximum bid turns out to be the most anyone else will pay, you will win the auction if your maximum bid was recorded before anyone else bid that amount. However, if anyone is willing to pay more than your maximum bid, you could lose the auction at the last second.  There are even computer programs that do last second bidding so it can be difficult to guard against it.

Buyers don't pay any fees to ebay.   It is free to register and there is no fee for bidding or winning.  All buyers pay is their bid amount plus designated shipping and handling.  Sellers, on the other hand, do pay a fee.  Payment methods depend on the seller's preferences.  Most sellers accept Paypal, on line payment service.  Some sellers accept ONLY Paypal.  Once you have registered with Paypal you can make payments without having to share your bank account numbers with sellers.  Paypal payments are almost instanteous so sellers can ship right away.  If you pay by check or money order the seller will most likely wait until your payment has been received and has cleared the bank before shipping your merchandise.  It is unwise to send cash through the mail system.

Check the auctions regularly.   There are some ebay sellers who operate virtual online stores that maintain stock but many auctions are one-of-a-kind items by people getting rid of stuff they no longer need.  You never now what you'll find on ebay.  It has been described as "the world's largest garage sale" and it is a well-earned reputation.  You can save your searches to make it easy to re-check things you're interested in.  You can even choose an option to have ebay send you an email when a new item is added that matches a given search.

Searching versus browsing are the two main ways of finding things on ebay.  Searching allows you to enter specific terms to locate a particular item you are interested in.  Browsing lets you discover unique items you might never have even thought about.  I have found both methods to be useful.  When I need a particular part or piece of gear I use a search to see what's available but sometimes I've found interesting and useful items I'd never even known existed just by browsing a category of interest (like vintage tools, camping or motorcycles).

Know the value of what you're buying.  Do a little price comparison before placing a bid.  I've seen ebay bids on some simple items go way beyond what the items could be purchased for at a local Walmart.  Of course, if you don't have a local Walmart, it may be worth paying more, but usually you can buy from Walmart.com.  Sometimes you will find truly unique items on ebay and it will be difficult if not impossible to find any comparative prices.  In that case, think about how much the item is worth to you before placing your bid.  It is really easy to get into a "bidding war" and over bid.  People sometimes get emotional about their potential purchase, lose sight of the real value, and get caught up in the competition.  On the other hand, I have lost auctions I could have won by simply making one more bid (an extra $.50 or $1.00) and that too can be frustrating.

Bid early or bid late. There are ebayers who swear by each method and insist it is the ONLY way to go. I have tried both methods and honestly can't say I have found a distinct advantage of one over the other. It does seem to me that bidding early on small, inexpensive items works pretty well. If nothing else, it forces other bidders to bid more but often an early bid will prevail if the item is not in hot demand or if the minimum bid is already near the market value of the item. Bidding near the end of an auction can minimize the time and opportunity other bidders have to out bid you. There are even software programs that can monitor your bids and programmatically place your bid just seconds before the auction closes. It is nearly impossible to guard against these programs to protect your manual bid without entering a ridiculously high maximum bid. Early bidding on popular items will probably not be successful. Expect to get out bid. Late bidding, especially if you use one of the automated bidding services is a good way to prevail -- if you are willing to outbid everyone else who has placed their bids ahead of you.  Depends on how badly you want an item and how much you are willing and able to pay.

Reserve Price is a device used by sellers to protect themselves against selling their merchandise for less than they need to get for it.   Sellers are not obligated to sell anything that doesn't reach the Reserve Price, but on auctions without Reserve Price they have to accept the highest bid, no matter how low it may be.  Reserve Prices are most commonly associated with more expensive items like vehicles, but a seller can set a Reserve Price on any auction.  Items with a "No Reserve" notation ensure there is no hidden minimum you have to meet.

The "Buy It Now" option allows you to bypass the bidding process and buy your item immediately.   The "Buy It Now" price is usually higher than the minimum bid so you might have chance of getting for less if you go through the bid process.  Of course that will take longer (until the expiration of bidding) and you run the risk of being outbid.  You avoid having to compete with other bidders and the seller will usually ship your purchase right away, especially if you pay using Paypal.  If you pay by check or money order most sellers will, understandably,  hold your merchandise until your payment clears before shipping it.  "But It Now" is an especially good choice if you need something right away because you don't have to wait for the end of the auction.

Choose a realistic Maximum Bid. Your Maximum Bid is only used if other bidders enter amounts higher than your current bid. When you enter a bid, the amount you enter is your Maximum Bid. The ebay web site will create an initial bid that is the minimum needed up to your Maximum that is enough to beat the any existing maximum bids. If someone enters another bid that is less than your Maximum Bid, ebay will automatically increase your bid until you reach your Maximum Bid. If you are outbid, ebay will send you an email so you can increase your Maximum Bid if you are interested in doing so. It is important to research the value of items you are bidding on and set a Maximum Bid that you are comfortable with. You want to enter a Maximum Bid that represents the most you are willing to pay for the item and then stick to it -- unless you have good reason to pay more.

Beware of shipping costs. Most ebay sellers strive to maintain reasonable shipping and handling charges but there are a few who sell for ridiculously low prices and make it up by charging ridiculously high shipping and handling charges. What they are doing is not illegal or even necessarily unethical, but it can be misleading if you're not paying attention. So always look for the shipping charges before you bid. Even reasonable shipping might affect how much you're willing to pay for an item. I try to make it a rule to never bid on an item if I can buy the item somewhere else for an amount less than or equal to the sum of the price plus shipping.

Read the ads closely. Make sure you understand what you are bidding on and what condition it is in. Verify sizes. You can't try things on over the Internet and sometimes returns may not be allowed. Of course you can always re-sell unwanted items on ebay but remember, you already paid more for it than anyone else was willing to pay so don't expect to make all your money back.  I saw a coupon listed in such a way as it appeared you were bidding on the actual item unless you read the listing closely. Again, such listings are not illegal but they can be deceptive, so "read the fine print" before bidding.  Once you have placed a bid you are committed to buy the item if you are the winning bidder.  Ebay only allows bid retractions under certain, very limited conditions.

Problem resolution. I have had very few problems with ebay purchases, but resolving problems is usually pretty easy. Ebay provides you a way to contact the seller if there is a problem with your purchase. Ebay offers The Ebay buyer protection plan that covers the cost of an item plus original shipping. Most times a missing or damaged item will be quickly replaced or refunded by the seller. In the many years I've been using Ebay I've only had one unsatisfactory experience. I ordered pickup a bed liner kit and never got it. The seller never returned my emails but finally through a phone call I found out his supplier had stiffed him. Unfortunately this was before Ebay offered their buyer protection plan, so I was just out of luck. I never got my product nor received a refund. In another recent case I received a torn and empty package very quickly after the close of the auction; with just a couple of emails the seller quickly shipped me another one at no additional cost. If you have a problem, first contact the seller and give him/her a chance to resolve it. Businesses or sellers making a business of selling on Ebay will be anxious to maintain their reputation. Unique items listed by private sellers may be impossible to replace if they are lost or damaged. In that case you may have to rely the seller's personal integrity or on EBay's buyer protection plan for a refund. For relatively costly items it is probably a good idea to purchase shipping insurance if it is offered.

How to find what you want on ebay. There are two basic ways to find things on ebay: browse or search. When you browse you will select the ebay category that is relevant to what you're looking for. Then page through all the listings. Sometimes you will find things you wouldn't have even thought about. I sometimes browse the CAMPING category but mostly I like to use specific searches and once you have developed a search that gives you satisfactory results you can save it for future use. In building a search you can search all of ebay or restrict the search to certain categories. Then you use keywords to find the items you're looking for. There are excellent guidelines and help right on ebay to point you in the right direction for building your search terms. You can even have ebay send you an email when new items are posted that match your search criteria. I have used searches with email notification to find good deals on dirt bike parts and riding gear.

Items on ebay may be new or used.  You may see things tagged "NOS", which stands for New Old Stock.  These are brand new items that have been on someone's shelf long enough to become obsolete.  You will want to exercise some caution buying used items.  Sellers will usually provide a pretty good description of the condition of the item, including any defects.  Expect normal wear and tear on any used stuff you buy.  Sometimes buying used is your only option, if, for example,the item you are interested in is no longer in production.

How to pay for purchases on ebay. Some sellers may accept personal checks, but they will probably not ship your items until your check clears. Some may require a certified check or money order. Most will not ship the item until your payment has cleared. The easiest, fastest, and safest way I've found is to use Paypal. You sign up with Paypal once and give them permission to withdrawn funds from your checking account or a credit card. Then you can pay for ebay purchases without having to share your personal banking information with anyone else. Most sellers will ship immediately upon receipt of a Paypal payment. Ebay even offers a search option to select only sellers who accept Paypal, an option I almost always employ. Paypal payments are easy and secure and ensure fastest possible delivery of my items. Its also a lot easier and faster than mailing checks.  Sellers pay a modest fee to Paypal but it is free for buyers. 

Tracking ebay purchases. Your ebay account will keep track of your activity, including bids, items won and items lost. You can also "watch" items without bidding on them. Then you receive emails about activity on that particular auction and you have an easy reference back to items you may have seen but weren't quite ready to bid on yet. I also keep a spreadsheet of all my online purchases, including ebay. I record a description of the item, the ebay item number, the date of purchase, the price, shipping, and tax amounts. When it arrives I record the date it was received. I also like to enter an estimated value, often the normal retail price, so I can track how well I'm doing at getting bargains. The spreadsheet lets me tell at a glance if there are any items that are missing or late arriving so I can take appropriate action with the seller or with ebay to make sure I get what I've paid for. So far I estimate that over the years I've been using ebay I've saved an average of about 50% over retail, even when I add in the shipping costs.

What can you find on ebay? There are literally thousands of camping related items on ebay at any given time. Tents (both new and used), sleeping bags, lanterns, camp stoves and hundreds of different tools and gadgets. I've bought camp stoves and lanterns, plus parts and accessories for them. It is also a good source for RV and OHV parts and accessories.  I've also found it convenient to stock up on small parts -- like cord locks for your sleeping bags. As always, do your homework before you bid. Know what you can get the items for locally so you don't over pay. Most items sold on ebay are sold "as is" and many sellers do not accept returns. Careful shopping can yield some great bargains. For example, I recently had to replace a broken cord lock on one of our sleeping bags. I paid about $1.50 for 2 of them at a sporting goods store. Then I found 50 of them on ebay for $3.45 -- and free shipping! Next time I need a cord lock, I'll have one on hand! I use ebay to stock up on other camping supplies like tent repair kits and parts for my lanterns and camp stoves.

Ebay can be a convenient way to search for out-of-production items you can't find in stores. I tried unsuccessfully to get a new "safe" for my Coleman lanterns in stores. These are shallow pans that clamp to the bottom of the lantern and hold a wrench, spare generator and spare mantles. I then began checking ebay and found several steel and plastic safes for sale, some with all the spare parts, some by themselves. Ebay can be a good source for obsolete items.   I prefer the older steel Coleman lantern cases over the newer plastic clamshell cases that have replaced them and you can sometimes find them on ebay, with or without lanterns.  It seems to me the metal cases can accomodate more different lantern models than their plastic counterparts and the square shape and flat top fits in my RV cabinets better.

Be sure you know the value of what you're bidding on -- at least to you.  I saw bidding on a marine 12-volt socket (like a cigarette lighter) soar over $17 when the exact same item could be purchased at my local Walmart for about $8.00.  Of course, if you don't have a reasonable local source paying more for an item may be worthwhile.

Avoid bidding wars.  Bidding wars occur when two or more people are adamant about winning an auction.  On one hand, you might only be outbid by $.50 or $1.00 so upping your bid might win you the item.  But if you and one or more other bidders keep playing that game, the price can quickly climb $10 or more!  The only time I recall getting into a bidding war was for a really heavy duty 12-volt air compressor I wanted for my motorcycle trailer.  It wasn't one of the those little toys that plug into the cigarette lighter.  The motor on it was he size of an automotive starter!  Because it was such a unique item, I kept bidding on it until I won it, going at least $40 over my original maximum bid, but I've never been sorry I bought it.  I've never seen another one like it anywhere.  I have lost auctions where I was only outbid by $.50 or $1.00 and wished I had at least tried one more time.  But be careful not to get so focused on winning that you lose sight of the value of the item and are drawn into over bidding!  When you get outbid, check to see if there are other listings for similar items that might not have gone so high before upping your bid. Its all too easy to get sucked into the "I'm gonna win this!" trap, and when you do, you will almost always overpay.  On the other hand, on occasion I have given up when a bid of only fifty cents more could have won the auction.  In many cases you will find identical items listed multiple times, sometimes by the same seller and you may be able to switch your bidding to one that hasn't gotten too high yet.  Always look for other listings before over-bidding.  I saw folks over bid a tent stove when they could have purchased an identical stove for less on a separate Buy It Now auction with free shipping!

Shipping. Be sure to check the shipping costs before you bid. Shipping and handling costs can sometimes be excessive. A few unscrupulous sellers offer products at very low starting bids, then tack on huge shipping and handling charges. Large, heavy items are going to be costly to ship, especially if they have to travel long distances. Many small camping articles are offered with free shipping so you know exactly what you're going to pay. Most others will either give you the fixed shipping and handling costs or let you put in your zip code to calculate the cost. You can sort your search results from lowest to highest price plus shipping to make it easier to check potential total cost.  Expect to be charged slightly more than actual shipping costs.  The seller has to box up your purchase and take it to the pick up point.  Just be sure to check the shipping costs and consider them in your valuation.  I've seen tricky sellers offer little items than can be sent in a letter size envelope for regular first class postage charge shipping of $15 or $16.  Since it costs them less then $.50 to send the letter, they're making most of their profit on shipping. 

Be sure to look for other listings for an item before you bid on it. I recently saw bidding for a tent stove go up to $91.00 plus shipping while the same item was offered at a Buy It Now price of $59.95 with free shipping! By the time the buyer with the $91.00 bid pays shipping he/she will be paying about twice as much for their stove as they would have if they'd exercised the Buy It Now option on the other listing.  Always scan all the listings before placing a bid, then chose the one that will give you the best results:  best chance of winning or lowest price.  You should also check other online sources before you bid.  You might find the same items offered at lower prices on Amazon.com or through other online retailers, especially if you find coupons or things on sale.

Many items on ebay are unique.  Sometimes it won't be easy or even possible to compare prices so you'll have to decide what things are worth to you.  I once got into a bidding war over a unique 12-volt air compressor.  It was powered by a motor the size of an automotive starter.  I've never seen one like it before or since so it was simply a matter of how much was it worth to me.  I decided the advantage of having such a powerful compressor for use in my dirt bike trailer in camp was worth paying at least two or three times what the little compressors that plug into your cigarette lighter go for.  Unfortunately, someone else shared my interest and we kept out bidding each other.  Foruntately, for me, I eventually won the auction and I've never regretted it.

Of course you can also sell stuff on ebay. If you happen to be an expert in any small collectibles (lunch boxes, cereal boxes, VHS tapes, books, toys, etc.) you can use your travels to locate potential merchandise. You might find items at garage sales, flea markets, and second hand stores where you visit. If you travel to remote locations and small towns chances are pretty good you may come across some really good finds. With a digital camera (even the one on your cell phone) and a laptop computer you can list the items on ebay even while you're traveling. Once posted, your listing works for you 24 hours a day.  Ebay charges modest fees to sellers so be sure to consider that when you set your minimum bid or reserve price.  By the way, having a low minimum bid can help get auctions started but unless you also set a reserve price you might be forced to let something go for much less than you would like.

Finding what you're looking for on ebay. The key to finding something is entering good search criteria. Doing a generic search such as camping may result in thousands and thousands of hits. While just searching "camping" returns more than 50,000 results, vintage camping tools brings up just a hundred or so possibilities. Much easier to review --IF you're interested in vintage items. Use the "advanced search" and help options to learn the syntax for narrowing and improving your searches. Placing a '"-" sign in front of term usually means 'NOT'. Hence a search for "pickup truck -Ford" means show all pick up trucks except Fords. A list enclosed in parenthesis means search for any of the terms in the list) For example, "motocross pants (red, Honda)" returns any listings for motocross pants listings that contain the words "red" or "Honda". You may also find it useful to browse related categories. As a starting place I like to search "camping" and see what comes up, usually thousands of items. I've found some interesting things that way that I didn't even know existed.  Ebay will usually give you a preview sidebar showing the number of items in various sub-categories to help you zero in on what you're looking for.

A word of caution: shopping on ebay can be addictive! Finding those bargains and having the packages arrive every day or two and trying out your finds can be very rewarding. Kind of like Christmas every day. I snagged a bunch of camping stuff and some vintage hand tools and had stuff being delivered just about every day. In fact, my oldest daughter finally told me I needed to get into a Twelve Step program for ebay!

Bid on!

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Organizing your RV and/or Camping Gear

First of all, organizing is not a one time task -- it is an ongoing exercise. Initial organization is a critical part of getting started, but you will soon discover there are always improvements that can be made. If you don't see anything that needs to change, just ask your spouse! Some of your organizational changes will evolve naturally as you discover what things you use frequently and need to have close at hand. Other developments may arise from observing fellow campers. You can often learn useful tips from experienced campers. I like the "Quick Tips" column in Motorhome Magazine.  These are reader supplied tips that are usually easy and inexpensive to apply.  You will naturally acquire new gadgets and tools as your gain experience and that alone will often necessitate reorganization to make room to keep your conveniences convenient!

If you have an RV, you can organize a lot of stuff more or less permanently. Think about the things you use most and how you can make them accessible. Put items that are similar in design or purpose in close proximity. It will help you remember where they are. Unfortunately, we only get to use our RVs occasionally, so it may be hard to remember where things are. You probably already have a pattern that works for organizing your kitchen  at home. You may find a modified or scaled down version that works well for your RV galley.  Remember that the vehicle will be moving -- turning corners, bouncing on on even roads, etc.  You may need to anchor some items in place to prevent them from knocking cabinet doors open and falling out while traveling.  Spring-loaded bars are available to fit most refrigerators and can often be adjusted to fit cabinets as well.  Bungee cords can be installed in almost any cabinet to hold items in place.  Load light weight items in the upper cabinets and canned goods and other heavy items down low.  This helps keep the center of gravity low and reduces the probability of things flying out of the cabinets while traveling-- and minimizes the chances of injury if things do turn into projectiles during particularly violent maneuvers.  I'd a lot rather be hit in the head by a bag of potato chips or a package of marshmallows than by a can of stew or chili!

Organizing provisions inside your RV is much like organizing them at home.  There are somethings that naturally belong in the galley, some in the bathroom, some in the bedroom.  The biggest difference is going to be that the space available in these locations is usually much smaller than you have at home.  Most RVs have storage in the main lounge or living area too, which you can take advantage of, but exercise caution so you don't overload overhead cabinets.

Major tools, spare parts, and automotive supplies like motor oil and antifreeze should be stored in outside compartments.  This is also a good place for portable BBQs and other items typically used outdoors.  Try to put the most frequently used items in the front or top of cabinets where than can be easily accessed.  Emergency supplies that are seldom used are candidates for the back or bottom of cabinets.  I keep my main tool boxes in outside compartments but also set up a small toolbox containing frequently used hand tools that I store behind one of the chairs inside my RV so  it is easily accessible as needed for simple repairs in camp or on the road.

Organizing for tent camping can be more challenging since you lack permanent cabinets. The use of plastic tubs or trunks can help give a little sense of permanence to your organization. Put like things or things that are used together in the same place. Once you've established a place for things, don't move them around unless there is a REALLY good reason to do so. For example, if you put all of your cooking utensils in a certain plastic tub, return them to the same tub each time you use them. If, out of convenience or rush, you dump them in a different tub, finding them the next time is going to be a problem. When you transfer your camping stuff from your car back into your garage or other storage location, create a logical pattern for where you put things and stick to it. That way, you'll know just what to grab and from where for the next trip. With your gear well-organized in tubs it will be easy to load up your vehicle for an outing, carry your stuff from your vehicle to your camp site, and keep your stuff clean and organized throughout your stay.

Re-organizing your stuff periodically gives you an opportunity to refresh your memory of what you have and and where it is. It is all too easy to accumulate lots of neat "stuff" and squirrel it away and forget you even have it if you don't use it. Take advantage of reorganizing to inventory what you have and perhaps eliminate items you seldom use or no longer need. It is always a good thing to lighten the load.  Refreshing your memory of what you have will let you take better advantage of some of those fun gadgets you've accumulated.

Be creative in making places to store your stuff. Always be looking for ways to make things easier to store and retrieve and better ways to keep things clean. I found that the wire coat hangers we used for cooking hot dogs and marshmallows over the campfire made a sticky mess in my RV cabinets and were constantly getting tangled in with other items sharing the same space. I solved the problem by keeping the wires in a piece of 3/4" PVC pipe. Now they stay together, don't get sticky or greasy stuff on other items, and are easy to locate, retrieve, and put back. You might even fasten the pipe to the top or side of a a cabinet for additional security.  Convenience and accessibility should always be guiding factors in where and how your store your stuff. A neat idea I saw in the Quick Tips column in Motorhome Magazine for storing cutting boards was cutting vertical slots in the front of under-sink cabinets. Make sure there is plenty of clearance for the boards inside the cabinets and for any supporting structure you might need to install before you start cutting!

A primary goal of reorganizing should be to improve access and convenience for frequently used items. You may find you have some useful gadgets that you seldom or never use because they are buried in some cabinet or drawer. You will want to put them where you can get to them. You may find stuff you never use, don't need and can get rid of to make room for better organizing what you do use. Just putting things in logical places so you will know where to look for them will make future outings more pleasant and convenient. However, moving things around too often just make them harder to find. Sometimes it is better to leave something "where its always been" rather than putting it "where it belongs". Being able to use some of that neat stuff you've accumulated will be fun.  If you're not using it nor likely to, leave it at home or get rid of it.  Make a pile of stuff for your next garage sale and perhaps you can turn unused stuff into cash to get things you want.

While RVers tend to accumulate more stuff than tent campers, tent campers can still benefit from going through their camping gear regularly. Go through each of your bins, back packs, or duffle bags. Check all pieces of equipment for proper operation, clean and inspect each piece of gear and make any needed repairs. Evaluate the usefulness and frequency of use of each item and remove things you don't need or seldom use. It will give you more room for necessary items and make it easier to find what you need when you need it. Organize your equipment using a pattern that is logical to you. A possible suggestion is to keep all cooking and kitchen items together, bathroom accessories and toiletries together, likewise for cleaning supplies, bedding, games, tools, etc. The main thing is to use a pattern or structure that is meaningful and useful TO YOU. Observe how other campers organize things and then pick and choose the techniques that you find helpful. You might want to consider separate bins for warm and cold weather camping. The clothes, tools, and supplies you need will be different for different climates and seasons. No sense carrying around your snow suit and mittens when its bikini weather!  On the flip side, bikinis don't take  up much room and you might get a chance to warm up in a heated spa during a winter outing.

Regular organizing of your OHV gear or equipment for other activities is also a good thing to do. OHV and watercraft tools, gear, and spare parts can accumulate into an unusable mess if not kept well organized. Hunting, fishing, and hiking equipment each requires its own special technique for proper and convenient storage. Your organizational skills will be especially challenged if you participate in more than one type of activity. In my family, our primary hobby is dirt biking but we also enjoy horseback riding, shooting, hiking, and fishing. Each activity has its own organizational and storage requirements to ensure safety and convenient access.

Organization for daily chores may be one of the best time savers. Proper organization of your galley or cooking facilities will simplify meal preparation and cleanup. Items needed for daily cleaning tasks should be easily accessible. It is way too easy to adopt the "I'm on vacation!" attitude and skip daily chores. However, you will soon discover adopting a good daily routine will actually give you more time for fun activities and make your outings more pleasurable. Sometimes having unique gadgets for specific tasks will make routine chores more fun. And having everything neat and clean will definitely contribute to a pleasant trip.

We recently had an unplanned and unexpected opportunity to reorganize our RV. We found summer jobs at a resort and lived in our motorhome for several months. My wife's schedule left her with many free afternoons and she thoroughly went through  every cabinet and cupboard. She rediscovered things we had forgotten we even had, cleaned out obsolete supplies, and put things back where we could find them. Its almost like Christmas finding fun things you've forgotten you have. Outdated provisions and medical supplies were discarded and replaced with up to date items. Rainy days may provide similar opportunities on weekend outings. Take advantage of "found time" to clean and organize your stuff to improve your camping experience.

A word of caution when reorganizing. Make sure your reorganization makes sense and that you'll be able to find things in their new places. Sometimes it is better to leave things where they are just because you are used to finding them there. It will be easier to remember the new location for things if you have an opportunity to use them soon after you've moved them so you get used to seeing them in their new location. If you do move something, make sure its new location is logical and appropriate.

Stay organized!

Monday, August 13, 2012

Rainy Days In Camp

A previous post (Camping In Rain) mainly dealt with how to set up your  camp (tent or RV) to deal with rain. This one deals with how to make the most of rainy days in camp -- how to make the time fun or productive or both. Getting caught out in the rain can really dampen your spirits as well as your hair and your clothing, but once you get back to camp you can change into dry clothing and warm up -- assuming you are properly prepared with appropriate changes of clothing in the first place.  And remember you will need to warm your spirits as well as your body.

If you do very much camping, you will encounter rainy days from time to time. Some mountain locations, which are often desirable camping destinations, may experience rain on an almost daily basis. Although my observations are based on limited personal experience as a teenager, it seems to me that we had thunderstorms every afternoon when my family was visiting Yellowstone Park. More recently, my wife and I were work camping at a mountain resort in southern Utah and had afternoon thunderstorms literally every day all summer. They experience a 'monsoon season', and the rain is almost like sprinklers on a timer -- only a lot more powerful! You could almost set your watch by when the rain started each afternoon.  Many mountains tend to create their own weather so you can get rained on when the rest of the region is dry and such specifically local activity doesn't usually make into the weather forecasts.

Rainy days have a reputation for spoiling parades and picnics, but they don't have to entirely spoil your camping adventures. You just need to make some preparations and appropriate adjustments in your schedule and your activities. If you are camping in an RV, you can enjoy indoor activities regardless of the weather outside (unless things get REALLY violent out there and you have to flee flash floods or mudslides!). Modern entertainment systems offer most of the options you would have at home and can keep kids of all ages amused for hours. Videos, over the air and satellite TV, and sometimes even Internet access afford a plethora of choices.  Old fashioned board and card games are a fun and convenient way to pass the time in either an RV or a tent and don't use any non-renewable energy. Reading a book or magazine can help pass the time productively.   In a pinch you can even read or re-read the instructions for your vehicles and/or equipment.  Heavy or consistent rain can create serious problems for tents if you haven't prepared adequately in advance, but if you have an adequate tent and have set it up correctly, including proper drainage, you should be able to weather most summer storms in comfort. If the rain isn't too heavy you might even enjoy watching the storm from under your awning or canopy. Just be sure to lower one corner to allow the rain to run off so it doesn't pool. Of course, if the storm brings high winds or hail you'll want to roll up your awning before it gets damaged. Sometimes it is fun to just sit in your tent or RV and watch and listen to the rain. Mother Nature can put on quite a sound and light show during a thunderstorm!  A summer storm can cool things off and bring a welcome relief from the heat.  It can be very pleasant to sit under the awning or inside a tent or RV and smell the rain, watch the clouds and lightning, and listen to the thunder.

If you get caught out in the rain you may very likely be soaked to the skin by the time you get back to camp. Of course you'll want to avoid this if you can, so keep an eye on the sky and head back to camp BEFORE it starts to rain and before you get wet. If you do get soaked, change into dry clothing as soon as possible to avoid hypothermia, which can set in even in mild summer weather when you get wet.   You will loose body heat 25 time as fast through wet clothing.  Having a comfortable place to change clothes out of the rain in your RV or tent may literally be life saving and can certainly improve your comfort. If, for any reason, you don't have dry clothes to change into,  remove your wet stuff, wrap up in towels, blankets, or sleeping bags until your clothing dries. A nice warm campfire will be tempting, but staying outside in wet cold clothes to get one going might not be worth the effort nor the risk of hypothermia. This is when the furnace in an RV is really nice to have. Just set the thermostat and get warm. A tent heater would be good to have on cold rainy days too. Just make sure you maintain sufficient ventilation to prevent suffocation.  Just getting in out of the rain and wind and out of wet clothes is a good start.  Keeping dry to start with is even better.  I keep a light weight nylon windbreaker and a  plastic poncho in my fanny pack when dirt biking.  If we run into rain I can pull it over my jersey to ward of most of the wetness.  There is almost always room for a compact plastic rain poncho.  They are inexpensive, take up little room, yet can provide a surprising amount of protection against unwanted precipitation.  Folded up they are about the size of a pocket handkerchief and can even fit in a shirt pocket.

Group activities are more of a challenge when it rains, but you don't have to give them up completely. On one camping trip with our daughter's in-laws, they set up a tarps that covered the whole HQ campsite, stretched from trailer to trailer to trees and enclosed with vertical tarps on the windward side. The center of the tarp was high enough and had an opening to permit a modest campfire and there was room for several picnic tables, serving tables, and camp chairs around the fire. There were occasional challenges to keep the rain from pooling in the tarps, but they soon became fun games for most of the youngsters (of all ages!) to find and dump them (sometimes on each other!) before they got heavy enough to pull the tarps down.

Rain sometimes puts a damper on OHV activities, but it doesn't have to shut them down entirely-- if you are prepared! Getting caught and soaked by an unexpected downpour can quickly dampen your spirits as well as your clothes. However, a light shower on a hot summer day can be enjoyable and, if you dress in appropriate rain gear to stay dry, riding in the rain can be a fun change of pace. I keep a plastic poncho in my fanny pack for some protection if I get caught in an unexpected shower.  I also keep a rain suit in my motorcycle trailer in case it is already raining at the beginning of a ride.  Light rain can sometimes improve traction and visibility in dry, dusty conditions.  Heavy rain can wreak havoc on trails.  Dashing through a mud puddle and roosting your buddies might seem like fun, but consider what might lie beneath the surface of that puddle! Hidden rocks, sticks, or an unusually deep hole can wreak havoc on machine and rider, so exercise caution. Besides, your buddies probably will not enjoy getting splashed as much as you enjoy splashing them!  And you might be the next target!  Riding in the rain is different than riding on dry ground. Mud and wet rocks and other obstacles are slippery. Water reduces the coefficient of friction between your tires and pavement by about 50%  and even more if you're on a muddy trail so you will experience a loss of traction and control.  However, you don't want to become over cautious.  Riding too slow, especially on a dirt bike or mountain bike, can be more treacherous than maintaining a reasonable speed.  Another problem with "puddle jumping" is that water may splash up onto electrical components of your OHV and cause problems. Avoid deep water and stay out of sand washes and gullies, which are subject to flash floods.  I saw a radiator fan shattered on one of our rental RZRs when the customer slammed into a deep puddle.  The broken fan pierced the radiator and soon the vehicle overheated and stalled.  It was an expensive repair that put a serious damper on his vacation.  Playing in the mud in your OHV may seem like fun, but eventually you'll have to clean it and that isn't so much fun, so keep that in mind. In some places, the mud is highly alkaline and can quickly cause corrosion of metal parts so you want to avoid accumulation when you can and wash if off as soon as possible. I carry an old water type fire extinguisher in my motorcycle trailer for just that purpose.  I can pump up the air pressure and spray off the bikes when necessary, kind of like a portable pressure washer.

Rainy days can be an opportunity to catch up on things you put off in favor of more fun activities when the weather is good. Clean and/or organize your RV, motorcycle trailer, backpack, or tent. Clean and repair equipment and riding gear. Study those maps and local interest pamphlets you've been accumulating. Read or re-read through your owner's manual for your RV and/or camping equipment. Write in your camping diary. Update your "wish list". Go to the store and do some shopping and replenish your provisions. Visit the local ranger station, forest service visitor's center, or museum.  Invite some of your camping buddies over for warm treats and fun games  or indoor entertainment and good conversation.  Watch a favorite movie or read a book.  Take a nap.

Rainy days may have an unexpected benefit: helping you to identify leaks in your RV or tent. If you keep up with routine maintenance, you shouldn't have any leaks, but they sometimes sneak up even on the most careful campers.  There usually isn't much you can do about them while it is raining, but be sure to make note of where they are or mark them so you can make appropriate repairs when the sun comes back out. There is a special RV repair tape (Eternabond) that will stick even in wet conditions. If you have some of that you may be able to seal leaks around seams, vents, and windows temporarily even while it is raining. The same tape might be used to repair tents but it probably won't stick as well to tent fabrics as it does to smooth RV surfaces. And it isn't cheap!  Duct tape can be used for temporary repairs after the area around the leak has dried so the tape will stick.  You might get duct tape to stick to wet surfaces but I wouldn't count on it.  I was surprised when the Mythbusters managed to slow the leaks on boat using only duct tape.  Place bowls or pans temporarily under drips to limit soaking of interior areas. Controlling accumulation of moisture will reduce permanent damage and accelerate drying time to avoid the build up of mold, mildew, and dry rot.  Its a lot easier to dump out a pan of water than to dry the carpet, upholstery, tent floor, or sleeping bags!

Rain can even be fun to watch, especially if you like thunder and lightning. Just be sure you chose a safe place for your observation post.  Rain runoff can be more powerful than you might expect.  Don't believe me?  What do you think carved the Grand Canyon?  Most people like the fresh smell that comes with rain so sitting under an awning or umbrella can be an enjoyable experience, if it doesn't get too cold or too windy, but you can probably mitigate a little weather with a sweater and/or jacket.  If you have appropriate rain gear and/or a good umbrella, you might even enjoy walking in the rain.  By the way, there is a specific term for the smell of rain:  petrichor.  Much of the smell comes from ozone created when lightning splits water molecules but some it comes from the release of oils created by plants during dry times or from bacteria in the soil, both of which may be activated by  rain.

Rainy days can be quite productive and enjoyable if you are prepared and take advantage of them. Rain usually brings at least temporary relief from sweltering summer heat, but sometimes it just creates humidity that makes the heat even worse. When that happens about your only respite is go somewhere that has air conditioning.

Let it pour!

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Work Camping

There is a whole sub-industry for work campers. Work camping may range from simply getting a free RV or tent space for managing a public campground to paid positions at commercial establishments. KOA has its own WorkKamper organization with classes and registration for opportunities within the KOA network.  For more information on work camping see Workamper News. It can be quite an interesting experience getting paid to spend the summer at a resort or campground. My wife and I worked at an ATV resort in southern Utah one summer. Sometimes the tasks are mundane, but the scenery is beautiful and the people we worked with were outstanding. 

Before you consider work camping, think about whether you would enjoy or even be able to tolerate living in your RV or tent for several weeks or months. It may take some adjustment so be prepared. For our first work camping experience, my wife and I were living in our Holiday Rambler Imperial Limited 38. It is an older motorhome (circa 1986) but is in good condition and is well equipped. We soon learned that the washer and dryer, that had seen little prior usage, both needed work, but for the most part we were very comfortable in our home on wheels and found the work camping experience very enjoyable.  As is often the case with recreational equipment, disuse can be more damaging than regular use.

Sometimes the prerequisites are minimal but the more desirable and lucrative positions will require relevant skills and experience. Volunteer positions for public campgrounds are usually the most lenient -- and offer the least compensation. Some positions may only offer a campsite discount. Commercial campgrounds will most likely be seeking experienced employees and will sometimes offer a free site plus a modest salary. Any experience in hospitality services (hotel/motel) may be helpful. Knowledge of RVs and camping equipment are always useful. In some places having good handy-man skills will be an asset. In almost all cases the ability to deal with the public in a helpful and friendly way will be essential. Special knowledge about local events, attractions, flora, fauna, history and geology is also useful.

If you are interested in developing opportunities for work camping, start by researching needs at local public campgrounds. Places that solicit volunteers are most likely to have the least demanding requirements and will let you log some history and experience. It will also let you find out if it is something you REALLY want to do. Most people have reasonable expectations going in but sometimes you might discover there are responsibilities or tasks you either don't have the proper training and experience to handle or things you simple don't want to do. Better to find out before you make any long-term commitments. Maintenance positions often involve all round handyman work and may include mundane and unpleasant tasks such as hauling garbage or unclogging stopped up toilets. Housekeeping jobs in resorts with rooms for rent will be more involved than those for campgrounds where the housekeeping focuses mainly on cleaning the restrooms and the office.

Personal specialties may make you an especially good candidate for certain jobs. If you happen to be a Civil War buff your expertise and passion may uniquely qualify you for certain historical sites. Having knowledge of other local events or geological or ecological aspects of an area will enhance your marketability and your appeal to potential employers. If you are into hiking, seek campgrounds that are near popular trail heads and familiarize yourself with the local trails. Expertise in fishing, boating, horseback riding, bicycling, and off road activities can also be leveraged by focusing on relevant locations. Make sure your application matches the needs of the location. For example, don't promote your off-road skills at hiking and backing packing locations where nature and survival skills would be more appreciated. Skill with computer and wifi networks often comes in handy, especially as more and more campgrounds offer Internet services to their guests.

Go to work!

Power Washing

Power washing is a convenient way to remove the mud and crud that accumulates on your RV and OHVs, especially during rainy weather. Power washers come in various strengths. My home unit is a 1300 psi electric powered unit and is usually adequate for my needs. For daily washing of ATVs and other rentals we used gasoline powered units ranging from 2400 psi to 3000 psi. The higher powered units are essential to quickly remove inches of mud from our rentals to prepare them for inspection and for the next customer.  Small electric pressure washers can be found for about $80-$150.  High pressure gasoline powered units will typically run $300-$600.  And, just because it is a brand name, doesn't necessarily mean it is commercial quality.  Many of the units sold by home centers are only rated for light duty, with the expectation that they will be normally purchased by home owners and used sparingly.  When I was working for a resort we made the mistake of buying one of these and it didn't last out the first season of daily use!

Owner's manuals for many OHVs discourage or prohibit the use of power washers, citing problems with damaging electrical components or penetrating seals. Take care if you choose to ignore your manufacturer's warning and use a power washer. It can be a real boon in removing mud from under fenders,wheels, and in the under carriage but avoid directing the stream directly at electrical components and connections and at lubricated parts such as axles and swing arms. Pressure washers can force water past the seals and cause rust and corrosion.

Anytime you are using a power washer, be careful of where you aim the nozzle. A 3000 psi stream can cut flesh and even my 1300 psi unit can create an unpleasant sting and leave a mark. There are some parts of your vehicle that you will want to avoid or at least minimize spraying with a power washer. Electrical parts and connections and suspension parts and anything equipped with a grease fitting can be damaged by high pressure water intrusion. Pressure washers can force water past the seals and into areas that should only contain grease. When that happens, it can cause rust and corrosion that can damage moving parts and result in excessive wear and premature failure. If you pressure wash your vehicle frequently, seriously consider accelerating your lubrication schedule. I'd do it at least twice as often as required by the maintenance schedule, more often if you see water being squeezed out of components when you grease them.  Clearance lights on RVs are suspectable to penetration by power washer and the water intrusion may corrode electrical connections.  Avoid direct or sustained contact on or near clearance lights.

Decals are another area that are susceptible to damage from a pressure washer. Try to avoid aiming the full strength of the stream at the edge of any decal unless you WANT to peel it off!

Make it easier. Using appropriate surface treatments can make cleaning easier. I like to use SC-1 brand detailing spray on my dirt bikes. It makes them look like new and the residual film helps keep dirt and grime from sticking in the first place. Because SC-1 is kind of expensive, I use a Mop and Glow type product on the under side of the fenders and skid plate. It helps give a clean bike some extra shine and crud doesn't stick to it as well as it would to the raw plastic. I was pleased to recently find a generic mop and shine product at my local Dollar store, making it even more economical for regular use.

Power washers usually include a device to siphon detergent  to aid in cleaning stubborn stains, but even just using clear water is amazingly effective.  If you do use detergent, be sure to turn it off or remove it before rinsing to make sure you don't leave a detergent residue on your equipment.

Power washing your RV will mostly focus on the body so you don't usually have the suspension concerns you may have on your OHV. Don't direct the spray into any seams in the body panels or joints where accessories (like windows, vents and lights) are attached. Power washers are really good for cleaning wheels and tires -- and the mud that accumulates in the wheel well. IF you do power wash your undercarriage and suspension, exercise the same caution described above for OHVs.

Power washing is often a good prelude to planned maintenance. Working on a clean vehicle is more pleasant and productive than constantly fighting the build up of grease, grime, dirt, and mud. Fasteners are easier to locate and to remove if they're clean. And when it comes time to put things back together, clean parts fit better than dirty ones.  However, inspect the unit for signs of leaks BEFORE you wash it and make notes as power washing may clean away any evidence.

Portable power washer?  It is unlikely you'll have a faucet to supply a power washer in your favorite OHV staging area.  If you did you could use a gas powered power washer or, if you have a generator a smaller electric power washer to clean off your toys after a ride -- if you could spare the space and the weight to transport the equipment.  I picked up an old pressurize water fire extinguisher that I use as a small power washer for quick cleanups in camp.  It doesn't have any where near the pressure of a real power washer but it can be pumped up to deliver a pretty good stream for cleaning mud off my dirt bike if do it before the mud dries.  Of course the fire extinguisher is also good for an Class A (normal combustibles) fire.

Power washing may be an aid to cleaning particularly dirty riding or work clothes before you put them in the washer. You may also be able to use one to carefully clean a badly soiled tent, but go easy. You don't want to wash away the waterproofing and some power washers may be powerful enough to rip seams or even tear the tent fabric! I would try using an ordinary garden hose first. Plastic riding gear, like chest protectors, can probably be safely power washed. If you need to power wash your helmet, protect the inside from direct spray and from getting wet, perhaps by stuffing it with a big bath towel before you wash it. You don't want to saturate the padding! Muddy riding boots might benefit from careful power washing. Take care not to get water inside and avoid direct spraying of seams. Your nylon enduro jacket and riding pants (even jeans) will probably stand up to power washing if needed, just don't get any more aggressive than necessary to remove the mud and grime.  And try not to make it a regular practice.  y the way, even running clothes through the washer wears them out faster.  I had a friend who double the lifetime of his shirts by wearing them for two days before washing them instead of washing them every day.  But that doesn't translate into further extending the life by not washing them at all.  Dirt and grit in clothing will grind down and weaken fibers if it isn't removed regularly.

Power up!