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, November 27, 2012

Weird (and not so weird) Camping Tips

Here are some weird and some not-so-weird tips I came across that I thought I would share. Some are actually helpful; some are just fun -- or funny.

Stop the Itch. You can stop the itch of mosquito and other insect bites using a variety of common things you probably already have on board your RV or in your camping kit. The one that surprised me the most was toothpaste. It needs to be paste, not gel. Just dab some on a bite and, presto! Instant relief from sting and itch. Another dental based solution: Oragel or a similar toothache medication will kill the sting AND numb the bite. Another odd one is automobile starting fluid. Just a quick spray on the affected area quickly takes out the itch and burn in an instant. The active ingredient in many "bite sticks" and anti-itch medications is ammonia. Instead of paying several dollars for a pen-sized stick dispenser, pick up a whole bottle of ammonia at your local dollar store to refill your bite stick or use directly. It can also be used for a number of household cleaning tasks. Another way to kill the itch and burn of bee stings is with a plain old aspirin tablet. Wet the sting and rub the aspirin on it. Baking soda is also a familiar folk remedy that actually works on many insect bites.  In a survival situation, plain old mud will help stop the stinging and itching.  No mud?  Spit in the dirt to make some.  Other bodily fluids might be used, but are less appealing.

Some more weird sting/bite remedies. A paste made from meat tenderizer and water will quickly take the "ouch" out of bee stings. As mentioned above, a little bit of ordinary mud will usually ease the itch and swelling of mosquito and other insect bites. It is said the relief is instant.

Don't be a sap. Or at least don't stay sappy once you get that way. Getting sap on your hands is a common problem when camping and handling firewood. Rub it with some mayonnaise and the sap will come right off. It might also work to get sap off tent fabric and window screens. Then all you have to do is find a way to get rid of the mayonnaise (but its not nearly as sticky).

I'm am told that peanut butter will get chewing gum out of your hair. Of course, if you spit it out your gum before you go to bed you probably won't get it in your hair in the first place.

Camp clothespins. Save the plastic clips from bread bags and use them to secure your clothes, towels, etc to your clothesline in camp. They are small and very light weight so they won't take up much room. You can probably get about 50 of them into a 35mm film can.

Waterproof your matches. Some folks suggest dipping stick matches in wax to waterproof them. Others say that over time the wood will still absorb moisture that will be trapped by the wax and render the matches useless, even when they haven't gotten wet. You can also try dipping the tips in fingernail polish. The idea behind both of these suggestions is to try to seal the head of the match against moisture. However, to really be sure your matches will work in wet weather, keep them in a waterproof container -- not just a plastic sandwich bag, but a waterproof match case designed for the purpose. They aren't expensive and don't take up much room. Match cases are usually about 3/4" in diameter and 2 1/2" long. They come in plastic or stainless steel. Both have a rubber O-ring to seal out moisture when the lid is screwed down tight. While you're at it, make sure you stock "strike anywhere" matches for camping. The "strike on box" versions are a little safer around small children, but not very convenient for starting campfires if you don't have the box handy. Be careful where you strike them. Do NOT strike them on the rocks in your fire ring if you have doused your wood with an

accelerant like charcoal starter or gasoline. I've seen people strike matches using their thumbnail while holding the match firmly in the same hand. My grandfather used to do that all the time. While that works, it is also a good way to burn your hand, especially if your fingers are stiff from the cold and you can't move the burning match quickly, which may be a problem if your hands are cold or if you have arthritis -- or if you simply aren't used to doing it.  This reminds me of a trick in the movie Lawrence of Arabia where Lawrence holds a burning match between his thumb and finger until it goes out. When a soldier tries to duplicate the trick he quickly burns his fingers, curses, drops the match and tells Lawrence "That hurts!  There is some trick to it". Lawrence replies "The trick,by dear fellow, is not minding that it hurts!". Another questionable trick I've seen is striking them on your zipper or even along the leg of your jeans. Seems like a good way to get your pants on fire.  When people talk about "hot pants" I don't think that is what they have in mind!


Ordinary cooking oil works well to remove the residue from many adhesive stickers. WD40 is also a pretty good solvent for removing grease and oil from hands and clothes and many other surfaces.  My favorite goo remover is a product called "Goo Gone".

When camping, always wear a long-sleeved shirt. It gives you something to wipe your nose on. On the more serious side, it will protect you from sunburn and insect bites and you'll probably be cooler in a loose fitting long-sleeved shirt than in a t-shirt or tank top on hot days. Direct sunlight on skin can be excruciating.  Long sleeved, loose fitting clothing allows a shady place for perspiration to evaporate and cool you down.

Laundry (dryer) lint makes good tinder/fire starter. You'll see this suggestion in lots of places. Unfortunately, it is only partially true. Cotton lint (from blue jeans or cotton t-shirts) WILL make good fire starter. Lint from synthetic fabrics WON'T. Synthetic lint tends to melt rather than burn. A sure-fire tinder (pun intended) that works well with matches or even flint and steel is 100% cotton balls. Again, avoid the synthetic "cosmetic puffs". Someone suggested using naval lint as tinder -- just be sure to remove it from your naval before igniting it! I think you'll need a pretty big navel -- or lots of them -- to get enough to be of much use for anything but a fire piston. In a survival situation you might find enough lint in your pockets to serve as tinder, but I'd a lot rather have a couple of cotton balls in my pack or pocket.  Navel lint might be useful in a fire piston,which uses only a tiny bit of tinder.

Rubbing the inside of an orange peel on your exposed skin is said to keep mosquitoes away. And it usually smells better than chemical repelants and its free if you already have oranges to eat.

A potato baked in the coals for one hour makes an excellent side dish. A potato baked in the coals for three hours makes an excellent hockey puck.  I can personally attest to the former; I haven't tried the latter but I'm betting it too is true.

A frisbee makes a pretty good make-shift paper plate holder. Plates may not fit quite as securely as they do in holders designed for the purpose, but a frisbee is just about the right size to add much needed support when you have heavy food on a flimsy plate. And you can have fun with it after your meal. Just don't toss it into the fire along with your paper plate. And make sure your dog doesn't try to grab it out of your hand before you finish eating or its "bye-bye" dinner!

To keep batteries from running down if the switch on a flashlight in storage gets bumped and turned on, put one of the batteries in backwards. That keeps the batteries with the flashlight and it won't come on as long as one of the batteries is reversed. Chances are an ordinary incandescent flashlight will still work -- and run down the batteries -- if you put ALL the batteries in backwards. LED lights are often more sensitive to polarity. They usually only work when the batteries are installed with correct polarity within the flashlight.

More or less unrelated question: why is it the people you see in lingerie stores are people you wouldn't want to see in lingerie? Apply that to camping and you may understand another reason to stick with loose fitting, long sleeved shirts and pants instead of tank tops and shorts!

Tip off!

Monday, November 26, 2012

Physical Fitness and Camping

Camping can create both a demand for and a way to improve your physical fitness. First of all, you'll want to be in fairly good physical condition to even go camping to start with. That doesn't mean you have to have to bench press 450 lbs or do 100 chin ups, but if you have any existing problems (shortness of breath, muscle/tendon/ligament damage, morbid obesity, heart problems etc, you'll want to get them under control and obtain the approval of your physician before you set out into the wild. Putting yourself in a potentially stressful situation under poor health conditions is a sure recipe for trouble. On the other hand, some of the activities associated with camping can actually be pretty good exercise -- if you're up to it and do it right. I found that my first day dirt biking after a month or so of no riding left me with the conclusion that I should either be doing a lot less of it -- or a lot more! I'd sure rather be doing a lot more.  After a few days on my dirt bike I was feeling pretty good -- and even had to take my belt in a few notches.  Hiking is another popular companion activity to camping.  It is good exercise and you can usually control how vigorous you want to be.  One general rule:  don't over do it!  No matter what your choice of activities might be, you'll probably be tempted to over extend yourself, especially the first day or two out, and that can be dangerous.  Over doing it is one of the most common causes of injury.  You may strain muscles or may simply lose focus and get yourself in trouble.  Ease into it so you can enjoy it without unnecessary risk of injury.  Regardless of what kind of physical activity you choose, you will  usually benefit from doing some warm up stretches before getting started.  The more rigorous the activity, the more important warmups are.  If you're going to be involved in physically demanding activities, such has hiking, horseback riding, or OHV riding, ease into it.  Most of us don't get to participate in our favorite activities as much was we'd like so when we do get to go out we can usually benefit from easing into it.  It both helps you to warm up, to rebuild you confidence, and refresh muscle memory.

Many times, the activities associated with camping provide exercise that exceeds what we get at home. That is a two-edged sword. Extra activity can help us build muscle and burn calories. Both good things. But embarking on extra strenuous adventures if we aren't physically up to it can lead to further problems, ranging from delayed healing of existing injuries to making things a lot worse, sometimes even to the point of serious injuries or even death! Don't jump into any kind of physically demanding activities without proper preparation and, if you have any existing health problems, check with your doctor before beginning too.  Then ease into activity.  If your goal is to climb a mountain, start by climbing a few smaller hills until you build up your strength and stamina.  If you're badly out of shape, start by taking some short walks on level ground and work your way up until you can reach your goal.  If you ride OHVs and haven't been out for a while, spend the first day or so taking some fairly easy rides to reacquaint your body (and your mind) with the demands of trail riding.  Yeah, it can be a lot like riding a bicycle, but you'll still be glad you took some time to get used to it again.  Most activities require good flexibility,  balance, and control as well as strength.

If, your regular routine tends to lean toward the couch potato or your job forces you into sitting all day long, you are probably not be getting enough daily exercise. Camping can provide an opportunity for exercise, but be careful to ease into it so you don't strain muscles or become injured. A common quote among exercise enthusiasts is "no pain, no gain". While there may be some truth to that, too much pain is definitely not good for you! Pain is your body's way of saying "whoa!" Too much pain will ultimately result in a loss of strength, flexibility, and weight control as it forces you to be even less active. Pain is a warning that you are doing something you shouldn't be doing. A little discomfort after physical exercise may substantiate the "no pain, no gain" theory, but acute or chronic pain signals something is wrong! Continuing to "work through it" may result in more damage.  Pain can also cause you to be over cautious or distract you, either one of which can result in making your situation worse.  It is normal to experience a little muscle fatigue when doing  unfamiliar tasks, but if the pain becomes acute, take a break before you break something!

If you continue to enjoy a more sedentary lifestyle in camp, you may still benefit from some gentle exercises during your stay. You don't have to go mountain climbing, mountain biking, horseback riding, hiking, or riding an OHV. Some easy activity around camp will help. Exercise helps maintain energy. Walking (or perhaps some easy hiking) is usually a good way to get some exercise without the potential negative impact of running or other strenuous acts.  If you find yourself getting out of breath quickly during any exercise or activity you should probably back off.  Shortness of breath is likely a symptom that you're out of shape or have a condition that should be treated by a doctor before continuing.  I once began a regimen of jogging. At first I couldn't go more than 20-30 yards before I started getting winded but within a couple of weeks I was doing twice around the block without having to slow down.

Altitude can have a significant affect on physical performance. The amount of oxygen available in your bloodstream decreases as you climb higher and higher. Symptoms of altitude sickness include dizziness, nausea, feeling tired, and general weakness. You can combat altitude sickness by acclimating yourself on your way to your destination. Stop for a day or two at a location between your home and significantly different destination elevations. Going directly from sea level to 9,000 feet is a pretty sure cause for altitude sickness. If you live at, say 4000 feet, climbing from 4,000 to 9,000 won't be as bad. Getting from sea level to 4,000 feet probably won't even produce any symptoms in most healthy people. A little preparation along the way can save a lot of suffering. Stop overnight at intermediate elevations if you can. Once you reach your destination, some easy exercises may help you adjust more quickly before you launch into any full blown extreme sports. Many people don't realize that any change in altitude can have a negative effect on your whole body. While it is most commonly associated with moving to higher altitudes, going to lower altitudes where the ambient air pressure is higher can also cause problems. I grew up at an altitude of about 4,000 feet and for many years I could tell almost immediately when I returned to that altitude. I just felt better and could even breathe easier than I did near sea level.

Stretching exercises and other warmups are a good way to prepare for just about any active endeavors. Doing some easy stretches before mountain biking, dirt biking, hiking, or horseback riding will warm up your muscles and reduce the potential for injury. Stretching helps improve flexibility and give you a greater range of motion, both of which are very helpful when engaged in strenuous activities. Proper preparation is even more important if you're not normally used to doing those activities. I've also found that doing warm ups helps reduce fatigue. Not going to be biking, hiking, or riding? You may still benefit from doing some warmups before tackling routine tasks around camp. Chopping wood is probably more demanding than the things most of us do at home. Even climbing RV ladders to retrieve camp chairs from the roof pod or bending over to get them out of your car or from under your vehicles could strain cold muscles. That said, I recently read an article that listed stretching as a myth that wasn't really necessary. However, relying on the anecdotal evidence of personal experience, I find some light stretching prior to things like riding my dirt bike, hiking, climbing, or chopping wood, makes me feel more comfortable, I'm slower to get tired, and less likely to have aching muscles afterwards.

Staying hydrated is a very important part of preparing for physical activities.   We tend to think more about staying hydrated during hot weather, but it is also important when it is cooler, even when participating in winter sports.  Even in cold weather, respiration and perspiration will deplete necessary body fluids and electrolytes.  If you find yourself unusually tired and "wiped out", it could be a sign of dehydration.  Drink plenty of water.  You may also find it helpful to supplement your fluid intake with sports drinks like Gatorade and Powerade, which contain electrolytes to replace those you lose through perspiration, but be aware, many of these contain significant amounts of sugar too.  You will also need to maintain proper hydration during your activities so bring water with you.  I like to use a Camelbak  hydration pack for dirt biking, hiking, and horseback riding.  It is a convenient way to take frequent sips of water as needed to stay hydrated.

Be fit!

Emergency Preparedness

What does emergency preparedness have to do with RVs, OHVs, and camping? First of all, you could experience a breakdown or get lost or stranded while camping and that could put you in an emergency survival mode.  In fact, being in an unfamiliar location and involved in activities outside of your normal routine will increase your chances of having a mishap. Secondly, as I've mentioned in other posts, our RVs and camping equipment and training can come in very useful during an emergency at home. I consider my motorhome more than just an RV (Recreational Vehicle), it is a "DRV" -- Disaster Recovery Vehicle. Tents and other camping equipment could literally be life-saving during an emergency. OHVs may be your only way to escape from a dangerous situation near your home. Earthquakes, fires, tornadoes and other storm related problems may make roads impassable to ordinary passenger cars. Many types of large scale disasters disable utilities. There could be no water, no electricity, no natural gas, for days, weeks, or even months. What are you going to do if that happens to you? Every camping trip is an opportunity to practice one or more of your survival skills. Take advantage of them. Choose at least one skill to exercise each time you go out.  Perhaps make it a habit to start your campfire with flint and steel instead of matches or a lighter.  You also need to be prepared for emergencies in camp and on the trail when access to normal emergency services may be limited or delayed.

Emergency Preparedness takes many forms. We usually think of it as related to getting ready for some kind of potential natural disaster such as an earthquake, hurricane, or tornado, but could be needed for other, man-made situations as well. Those who take it to the extreme are sometimes known as "preppers" and go to great lengths to prepare for TEOTWAWKI -- The End Of The World As We Know It and are usually considered extremists or wackos. On the other hand, taking reasonable precautions to protect yourself and your family from likely emergencies just makes good sense.  A retired Navy seal said "Destiny favors the prepared in mind, body, and spirit." 

"You are the only First Responder you can really count on." I found this quote on offgridsurvival.com and I couldn't agree more. When something bad happens, your emergency services organizations, like police, fire department, ambulances, and hospitals, are going to be overwhelmed. You WILL be on your own for at least the first 1-3 days, perhaps even for a couple of weeks or longer, depending on where you live and how bad the disaster is. You might have good neighbors who can help you out, but as for me, I would rather be the helpful neighbor than one who is struggling.  Our neighborhood was without electricity for about a day after the 1994 Northridge earthquake in California. Some areas of New York were without power for many days following hurricane Sandy.  In southern California, being without power was inconvenient and a lot of people lost food in their inoperative refrigerators and freezers.  We were able to use our RV generator to keep our refrigerator and freezer working.  A long term power failure in northern climates could result it frozen pipes, a lot of expensive repairs, and even the possibility of freezing to death.  You need to know what to do NOW when a disaster strikes. Your life and those of your family and neighbors may literally depend on what you do in the first hours after a disaster. Most people will be hopelessly unprepared and are likely to panic. You will see a couple of different responses to panic in your associates (or yourself): random, aimless, useless actions (running around like a chicken with its head cut off) or freezing (being unable to to do anything.) Neither of these responses is in any way productive. One of the first natural human reactions is denial ("This can't be happening!"). You have to get past the denial -- and get your associates past it -- before you can move on with productive actions to deal with the situation. Once you have accepted that it IS happening, you can begin to plan what to do about it.  One of the best programs I have seen to prepare people to be their own first responders -- and first responders for their neighbors -- is the Community Emergency Response Team (C.E.R.T.) program.  Helping your neighbors is a good way to improve your own mental state in a disaster situation in addition to providing much needed aid to them.

The Community Emergency Response Team (C.E.R.T.) concept originated in earthquake prone southern California but has been adopted by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) for use nationwide in any community disaster situation. C.E.R.T. training prepares you to handle most emergencies in your neighborhood or workplace during the critical initial hours or days when normal emergency service will be overwhelmed or even completely disabled. Local C.E.R.T. programs usually focus on the kinds of events that are most likely to occur in your area, with general training that can be applied in almost any disaster situation.  The overall mental preparation will also be valuable in wilderness survival situations should you get lost or your vehicle breaks down and leaves you stranded.

Camping emergencies. Some people consider it an "emergency" when they run out of ice, beer or potato chips, but the real camping emergencies you need may have to deal with are more likely to involve illness or injuries or an accident or a vehicle failure or unusual weather that leaves you lost, stranded, injured, or isolated. Many activities associated with camping take us out of our normal routines, which is why we go camping in the first place. But in doing so, it makes us vulnerable to illness and injuries we might not normally experience at home. Having proper first aid training and supplies can mitigate a lot of these situations. Another potential problem could be getting stranded if your OHV or RV breaks down. Can you effect temporary repairs? Do you have enough supplies in camp to last an extra day or two while you wait for assistance? Can you handle minor emergencies on the trail or in camp? Do you know when and how to call for professional help? Are you prepared to deal with unusual weather? Can you make on-the-spot emergency repairs to camping equipment and vehicles?

Some parts of the world are more susceptible to natural disasters than others. California, with its San Andreas Fault, is famous for earthquakes. Kansas, Oklahoma, and other plains states are in Tornado Alley. Hurricanes pound the east and gulf coasts of the United States several times every year. Winter storms plague northern parts of the United States and other countries in the northern hemisphere. Typhoons strike in the Pacific. It would be difficult to identify an area that could be considered totally safe from all natural disasters. Add to that the propensity for man-made catastrophes and no one is safe! Any railroad or highway could be considered a hazardous materials route. An incident on board a passing freighter could jeopardize even the most remote island. Fortunately, modern safety regulations and precautions allow hazardous loads to pass through our communities every day without incident. But all it would take is one mechanical failure or one human error to release tons of hazardous materials into our neighborhoods. I once had to evacuate my suburban home due to a chlorine gas cloud. A fork lift operator in a supply center had accidentally clipped the valve on a very large chlorine tank. Thousands of people had to be evacuated because of the leak. Remember that sharp smell at the community swimming pool?  In the higher concentration of the chlorine gas cloud it was deadly! So, even if you live in a location that has very few natural concerns you could still be downwind or downstream from a chemical or biological disaster in a local factory or on a highway or railway. Following the dramatic explosion of a fertilizer plant in Texas a few years ago we learned there was a similar fertilizer plant in our own neighborhood we didn't even know was there before and that it was close enough that an event there could easily shatter the windows in our homes. Did you know that the main ingredient in commercial fertilizers (nitrogen) is also the main ingredient in high explosives?   I'll bet the people in Texas know that -- now!  You never know what you might have to deal with.  BTW, our atmosphere is about 78% nitrogen -- so why doesn't it blow up?  It is because certain the basic nitrogen molecule (N2) is "unusually stable" while compounds containing nitrogen together with potassium or sodium are hghly unstable.

How do you prepare for emergencies? First you need to figure out what kind of emergencies you are most likely to strike your location. How you prepare your home for earthquakes is different from what is needed to protect you from tornadoes. Once you have identified the most likely scenario or scenarios, learn everything you can about mitigating damage from those events. In earthquake zones you need to anchor heavy furniture and hot water heaters so they don't tip over. In tornado country you need a safe haven that can resist the unbelievably powerful winds. Under ground is best. If no underground shelter is available move to an inside bathroom or closet with no windows to wait out the storm. In hurricane territory you may need to stock materials to board up your house against the winds and ensure the roof is connected with hurricane-proof straps. In addition to attempting to mitigate damage to your home, you should be planning on how YOU will survive, possibly for several weeks, without an outside source of food, water, fuel, and medical services. That is where your RV and camping experience and equipment and training comes in. Your OHVs may also play an important role should you be forced to evacuate or could be used to transport messages between your family and emergency services agencies. ATVs and UTVs are often used by search and rescue teams to locate and transport victims to safety.

I strongly urge EVERYONE to get C.E.R.T. training. Over the years I've taken the course more than eight times to maintain my certification and improve my skills. Each time I learn something new. I don't know of any other program that will give you so much preparation in such a short time. C.E.R.T. classes usually consist of about 8-10 weeks of 4-hour classes one night a week, including a realistic exercise at the end of the course where you get a chance to practice what you've learned. Contact your local fire department to get into their next class. Sometimes the class is free. Sometimes they charge a nominal fee to cover the costs of all or part of your basic personal C.E.R.T. equipment (manual, hard hat, safety vest, goggles, gloves).  You might see commercially offered  "expedited" C.E.R.T. classes, sometimes offered on a single Saturday.  Be aware such courses cannot possibly  cover everything you would get from the approved program and are often not recognized by community emergency agencies.  While you might get some benefit from the condensed course, you will be short-changing yourself and anyone you attempt to aid by not doing it right!

Take an inventory of supplies you have on hand and estimate how long you and your family could survive on just what you have on hand. If it would last less than 3 days, you'll be in serious trouble and completely dependent on government emergency services that may not arrive for weeks! Make building your own "72 hour kit" a priority, then expand your preparations. Create step-by-step goals to reach a 1 week, 2 weeks, 3 weeks, 1 month, 2 months, 3 months, etc. It is unlikely you could ever be TOO prepared. Understand the shelf life of everything you store, especially foods, medicines, and fuel. Have a plan to rotate your supply to keep it fresh. Don't store large quantities of things you don't know how to use or will never use. I had friend who didn't like peanut butter and insisted a single jar of peanut butter would last him a VERY long time because he wouldn't eat it. I know people you have stored hundreds of pounds of raw wheat but would still probably starve in a disaster scenario because they don't know what to do with it.   An emergency generator can be a wonderful asset when the power goes off -- but only if you know how to use it and it is working properly and you have sufficient fuel for it on hand. Emergency equipment should be tested regularly, perhaps as often as once a month. And you have to have fuel. Gas stations will be inoperable in many disaster situations, especially if the power goes out. Even if they still have power, they'll probably sell out quickly. Take care storing fuel. It can be very dangerous and storing more than a few gallons may require a special permit from your local government. Fuel on board RVs is usually acceptable, but having a big propane, diesel, or gasoline storage tank on your property may be prohibited or at least closely regulated in many jurisdictions.  Make sure you only operate an emergency generator where there is plenty of ventilation and where the fumes won't come back into your living space.   Many people got ill from generator fumes following Hurricane Sandy because they set them up to close to their homes.   Maintain at least 20' between the generator and an occupied space.

If you live in an area susceptible to winter weather, you may need to arrange for an alternate source of fuel for heating your home. You may be able to survive in your RV or even in your tent, but without minimal heat, the pipes in your buildings may freeze and cause significant damage if the structure is left unheated for very long. You might want to consider an auxiliary wood burning fireplace or wood stove for emergency heat if utilities are out. Of course then you need to store enough wood to last as long as you might be without heat.  Keep propane tanks for your RVs filled in case you need to use your RV for emergency shelter.  You can use an "Extend-a-stay" kit attached to the propane system on your RV to allow you to use an external propane tank (like the one from you home BBQ) if you run out.  This will work for propane RV appliances but since propane powered RV generators need liquid propane, not gas, they won't supply your generator.

For camping and other recreational activity emergencies, consider the situations you might experience. Your potential problems will depend on the locations where you travel and the kinds of activities you engage in. If you pretty much limit your outings to camping in your tent or RV in developed campgrounds, you may encounter mechanical problems with your vehicle or you could become lost and stranded negotiating unfamiliar roads. You could be involved in a traffic accident or encounter bad weather, flooding, or wildfires at your camp site. Remote camping or boondocking enhances the risk and further limits your options since you won't have a camp host or facilities to assist you. If you venture out from your campsite hiking or riding a horse or an OHV you may become lost or stranded by bad weather, flooding, accidents, wildfires, or mechanical breakdowns. You might become ill or get injured. This is where wilderness survival techniques will come in handy. Keep up on your first aid. Know how to navigate in the wilderness. Know how to build a shelter, start a fire, and find food and water.

Water may quickly become a priority if utilities are gone. Even if you're on your own well, you'll need electricity to run the pump unless you have a windmill. A back up generator or even the one in your RV might be able to provide power for your pump during an emergency. If your well isn't too deep, a hand-operated pump could be useful. How deep is too deep? A hand pump can only lift water about 25' at most. Below that you need a pump down in the well to push the water. Lacking a continuing source of fresh water you may have to rely on what you have stored in your home or can collect locally. Some folks fill a 55 gallon barrel and keep it in a heated area of their domicile. Smaller water jugs or even re-cycled 1-gallon bleach jugs can be used to squirrel away water in any available heated space, like under the bed. Empty soda or juice bottles can also be used. Milk cartons are an option if they have been thoroughly cleaned. Just rinsing them out may leave a residue that will have very unpleasant consequences over time. In an emergency you can drain water from your hot water heater or dip it out of the toilet tank (not the bowl!). Make sure there aren't any cleaning tablets in the tank. Besides turning your mouth blue like they do the water, they'll probably give you serious digestive system problems and some may prove fatal! As a rule of thumb you should plan for about 3-4 gallons of water per person per day, about 10 times more if you want to take baths or showers. In winter you may be able to melt snow for cooking drinking, and flushing toilets. Just remember, don't eat yellow snow!  You can use contaminated water from streams, ponds, and puddles to flush your toilet.  And, yes, you could use melted yellow snow to flush your toilet.  Just dump a bucket of water into the tank to refill it before or after each flush.  Don't waste potable drinking water for flushing toilets!

Food will become a problem in a few days, but you can survive for several weeks with little or no food if you have to, although you will begin to feel the physical and mental affects of a lack of nutrition within a few days. To ensure health and comfort, store enough food to last at least 3 days, then work your way up to at least 2 weeks. Storing even more is better, but, in most circumstances, some semblance of normality will be restored within a couple of weeks. There is a frightening and unbelievable proposal in Federal government these days to prohibit storing large amounts of food. Instead of recognizing it as prudent and "being prepared", politicians label it "hoarding" and seek to make it illegal. For long term survival, such as you might face in a "TEOTWAWKI" (The End Of The World As We Know It) scenario, you will want to develop hunting, fishing, gathering, and/or gardening skills and strategies.

Medicines will be in short supply or even totally unavailable for some time following a disaster. Some medicines are quite perishable and require refrigeration. Try to stockpile what you can for you and your family. Common over-the-counter medications should be monitored and replaced when the expiration date is reached. Would I use expired medication in an emergency? You bet I would, especially if I didn't have anything else. Prescription medications may be more difficult -- and more expensive -- to stock up on, but your very life might depend on having enough on hand to get by until your local pharmacy is back up and running. Look into natural wilderness medicines. You might be surprised what you can find in your own back yard! For example, willow bark is a pretty good substitute for aspirin.  In fact, aspirin is a synthetic version of the active ingredient in willow bark.  Sometimes aquatic or veterinary medicines can be obtained and stored against an emergency. For example, Fish Mox is an antibiotic for tropical fish but chemically it is identical to that used for humans. During a long term emergency having antibiotics may be life saving.

In addition to C.E.R.T. you may be able to get more emergency preparedness training and guidance through the Red Cross and local church and government organizations. Some companies that sell emergency supplies also offer classes, often for free. And be sure to use your Internet resources to locate sources of supplies, information, and training. You'll find tons of stuff using your favorite search engine.  I also took a course in Advanced Wilderness Life Support from a local university.

Boy Scout training is another excellent source or emergency preparedness learning. Even if you've beyond scout age, pick up a Boy Scout Handbook and study the camping techniques therein. Merit badge training provides even more details and useful tips. A friend of mine, an Eagle Scout, found his Boy Scout training was his best asset during military survival exercises.

Survival kits may be the key to, well, your survival in a disaster. You probably need three: a home survival kit, a car survival kit, and a personal survival kit. Your home kit would be the largest and most comprehensive and, ideally, would sustain you and your family until the disaster is over and things get more or less back to normal. A car kit needs to have the things you might need if you get stranded away from home, things that would help you get home. Your personal survival kit should be small enough to fit in your fanny pack or pocket when you're hiking or engaged in other outdoor recreational activities but have essential tools to aid you in meeting your basic needs if you get lost or stranded. Ultimately, the best survival kits will be of no use whatsoever if you don't know how to use them, so training and knowledge is critical.

Panic is one of the worst things you can do in an emergency. Preparation is one of the best ways to avoid panic. You won't panic if you know what to do and are actively engaged in doing it. If you don't know what to do, fear will take over and you'll lose control, very likely significantly reducing your chances of survival. Panic can show itself as hand-wringing frustration, blindly running away, or inability to do anything. Freezing up is often not even recognized as panic but it is really quite common. When people don't know what to do, they sometimes do nothing, not even think! If you find yourself in a disaster situation and either feel like running or can't even move, try to hug another human being or even a tree until you stabilize your feelings and can focus on your situation.

If you are thriving in a disaster situation while those around you are struggling you will likely draw unwanted attention to yourself. You will want to minimize your exposure by NOT advertising your level of preparedness -- or be prepared to share your resources willingly or unwillingly. Explore options for protecting your resources. One of the best ideas I know is "security by obscurity", a kind of "out of sight, out of mind" approach. It is often better to have several small caches of emergency supplies than one large one. That way, if you are attacked, you have less chance of losing ALL your precious survival supplies. Some preppers go to great and expensive lengths for bunkers and security systems. To some extent this only calls unwanted attention. High, razor wire topped fence and elaborate electronic surveillance systems practically screams "there's valuable stuff here". Weapons may deter some would be thieves, but realistically, how many of us are sufficiently trained and prepared to use them? Would you really shoot your neighbors to prevent them from grabbing a few canned goods from your stash? What if you were attacked by a mob?  Do you really think you could hold of hoards of would be looters?  I read a report from a guy who was visiting his sister in Cairo during the revolt in 2013. At first they found it exciting to be so close to history in the making -- until looters began attacking their neighborhood. At first they sought refuge with a well-prepared neighbor who invited them into his high tech stronghold. That provided them a measure of safety for a short time, but all too soon the mobs broke through his fences, broke into his house, killed him and seized all of his supplies. They had smelled the goat he was BBQing in his compound.  The American brother and sister survived thanks to another neighbor whose preparations were less obvious but more effective. Instead of barbed wire he surrounded his house with briars. His modest abode did not appear to be of any particular value and even appeared to be run down. His supplies were stashed in several obscure places around his house where they were difficult for looters to find.

Be prepared!

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Holiday Meals In Camp

Camping is a fun way to enjoy holidays. Being out in your RV or tent doesn't mean you have to skip your traditional holiday eats. It may take a little more work -- or a different kind of work -- than cooking at home, but you can still enjoy festive and filling meals in camp. You might choose to maintain your regular holiday menus or sometimes its fun to try something different.

Some traditional meals, like Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners, tend to be somewhat over whelming and over done at home, so cutting back or scaling down on some items might be appropriate in camp without anyone even missing them. However, don't cut out family favorites! You might have reduce sizes or to cut back or cut out some dishes, but make sure you stick to the basics everyone loves. You might have to prepare some items at home and bring them along to re-heat or get creative in how you fix them, but it will be worth the effort. Family traditions are often the glue that holds families together.

Roasting a turkey in your RV or cooking it on your campfire probably means getting a smaller turkey than usual so it will fit in your oven or pot. It might be fun to try roasting in on a spit over an open fire and have a kind of pioneer experience. Other traditional dishes might also need to be scaled down but most everything we love can be cooked in camp -- or prepared ahead of time and just re-heated at the right time. Or try something really different. For our traditional Thanksgiving with our Desert Rat group of dirt bikers in southern California (aptly named Turkey In The Dirt) we dug a pit, filled it with coals, stuffed in the turkeys, buried them, and let them cook all day, like a pig at a Hawaiian luau.  The rest of the meal was rounded out with a fun pot luck dinner that was somewhat pre-planned to ensure proper distribution of foods.  Frozen dinners give you an easy out if you still want a Turkey Dinner for Thanksgiving without all the fuss.  As long as you have microwave or even a conventional oven you can have dinner ready in just a few minutes with only a little silverware to wash afterwards.  Or use plastic ware and just toss it for really labor-free meal.

Baking is often a big part of holiday meals at home. Baking in an RV oven or on a camp stove or campfire will be very different. Here again, you may have to scale back or make some substitutions to maintain holiday traditions as closely as possible. Cooking times may be longer due to differences in elevation or the capacity of the oven. We found it convenient to buy our Thanksgiving pies ahead of time instead of trying to bake them on site in camp. That allowed us to have all our family favorites without giving up our activity time to prepare them.  Be sure to take elevation into consideration.  Many times we camp at elevations much higher than at home and cakes and other goodies often have special modifications required to the recipes to be successful at higher elevations.

If cooking a big meal isn't your thing you might substitute frozen TV dinners or frozen entrees instead. Turkey TV dinners have graced the tables at many camp sites at Thanksgiving and I never heard anyone complain. You may not be able to stuff yourself the way you would at Grandma's house, but maybe that isn't such a bad thing. If continued munching is a big part of your family traditions, buy extra TV dinners you can nuke as needed like you would leftovers when appetites return.

Creative scheduling might allow you to have the best of both worlds. When we did Turkey In The Dirt, our annual Thanksgiving Desert Rat outing, we scheduled our big potluck for Friday night so those who did want to join in traditional family gatherings on Thursday could do so without missing Turkey In The Dirt. By the way, a potluck with lots of people (one year we had 175 show up) rivals even the largest family dinners for variety and quantity of food!  A little pre-planning and signup is needed so you don't end up with 150 bowls of mashed potatoes and nothing else to go with the turkey.

Eating out is sometimes a fun thing to do. Many restaurants feature holiday meal specials that are worth checking out. Eating out is probably not a very viable option if you're boondocking out in the sticks, but if you're staying in a full service campground you're probably not too far from quality eateries. Maybe it would be a good time to check out trucker hangouts along your route. Sometimes its kind of nice to enjoy a big, fancy meal without the tedious preparation and onerous cleanup.  Small, local "mom and pop" cafes can be an excellent value, often offering "home cooked" meals at modest prices.

Campground potluck dinners can be a fun way to expand your holiday celebrations beyond your immediate campsite. You might make some new friends and the companionship may help alleviate the longing for traditional family get-togethers that many of us became accustomed to growing up. Whether your organize in advance and have people sign up for certain types of dishes to ensure balance or just have a real, spontaneous potluck where everyone just brings what they have on hand, it can be a fun and exciting activity. You might end up with some very non-traditional foods to try out.

If alcohol is usually a  significant part of your celebrations, be sure to check the campground regulations so you don't run afoul of the law.  Getting arrested,  getting a citation, or being ejected will quickly dampen anyones' holiday spirits.

Eat up!

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Winterization -- Again!

Yes, there already is a post on winterization. So this is mostly just a reminder. If you live an area that gets freezing temperatures you'll need to winterize your RV and camping equipment BEFORE the freezing weather hits every year.  You should already be started on or planning for winterization by the time you get your first frost.  Chances are you'll still have little time before consistent freezing temperatures will cause damage in your RV, but don't wait too long!

Tent campers will probably have little winterization to do, unless you have a portable hot water system or a Porta-potti. These WILL need to be drained and winterized just like RV water systems or stored in a heated area where they won't freeze. Also check any food and medications you have in your camp kit and make sure they are safely stored so they won't freeze. Otherwise, if you properly stored your stuff after your last outing, you should be good to go. Make sure your sleeping bags aren't tightly rolled and that your tents and tarps are dry.  Store sleeping bags loosely in large stuff sacks or hang them up so the filling doesn't get compacted.

RV water systems and holding tanks will need to be drained and RV antifreeze added to protect critical components from freezing. Completely drain your fresh water tank and all the lines. Open all the faucets to allow water to drain back into the tank. Then either blow out the lines and fixtures with compressed air or pump RV antifreeze through the lines until it comes out every fixture.  You may want to pump antifreeze through the system after blowing it out just be sure you don't have any problems if there was any residual left after blowing it out.  Don't forget the toilet! Make sure you put at least a half cup of antifreeze in each sink or shower to protect the P-trap in the drain. Dump enough antifreeze into the black water tank through the toilet and down the gray water drains (sinks, shower) to protect the dump valves. Drain the hot water heater. If it has bypass valves, set them so the antifreeze will flow through the bypass instead of the water heater. That saves you about 6 gallons or more of antifreeze it would take to fill the hot water heater.

Use ONLY Marine/RV antifreeze in RVs and camping appliances. It is non-toxic and is usually pink in color. Automobile antifreeze (that green stuff) is usually ethylene glycol and is toxic. NEVER use it in an RV water system, not even in the holding tanks. The chemicals in automotive antifreeze are not compatible with septic systems.

Don't forget your fresh water fill hose. You should always drain the hose before storing it anyway, but for winter storage in freezing temperatures it is especially important to make sure there is no water left in the hose to freeze. Water expands when it changes to ice which can burst the hose.

Windshield washer fluid also needs to be changed. Summer formulas will freeze, most winter formulas are good down to at least -20°F. That should be good enough for must of us, unless you live in northern Alaska or plan to visit Antarctica!

If you plan to use your RV at all during the winter months, you'll need to switch to winter fuel blends. We usually don't think of fuel as being susceptible to freezing. But, have you ever seen the documentaries of Antarctic research stations where they had to build fires under the fuel tanks before they could get their equipment going? Winter diesel fuels have additives that prevent them from gelling. Summer blends do not and at temperatures below about 40F will start to gel and become unusable. The colder it gets, the worse the problem. Hard starting is an early symptom and as it gets colder the engine won't run at all. Propane has a similar problem. Although it vaporizes at -44F, the reduction in tank pressure at low temperatures will cause  problems. I have seen it recommended to keep your propane tanks full whenever the temperature drops below 40°F.  Partially empty tanks encourage condensation which can freeze.  The temperature inside the tanks drops dramatically as gas is drawn off. I could not light the furnace in my Class B at all one winter in Chicago when it was about -20°F outside. I've had similar problems with the furnace in my camper at temperatures below 10F° here in Utah. Freezing of pressure regulators can occur even when the outside temperature is above freezing due to the cooling effect of the propane itself on the regulator.

If you're not going to be using your RV during winter months you need to winterize the water systems and batteries and protect the vehicle from bad weather. Storing it in a garage, shed, or carport is best. Next best is using an RV cover. As a last resort you can protect them with tarps, but tarps can damage paint and other surfaces and may trap condensation. Use tire covers while the vehicle is in storage to reduce weather checking and prolong the useful life of your tires. You will also need to remove any provisions (food stuffs, medicines, cleaning supplies) that might freeze or be attacked by bugs or rodents while your vehicle is in storage.  For added protection against mice, put a Decon trap or two inside.  To prevent moisture from accumulating and contributing to mildew and odor problems, use some kind of de-humidifier in your RV while it is in storage.  There are electric de-humidifiers you can use if you have 120 volt power to your RV in storage and there are chemical types that work anywhere.  For the past several years I've been able to find them at my local Dollar Tree so they don't have be expensive.  Make sure you put the cap back on and remove them before you take your RV out next spring so the collected moisture doesn't spill.

If you do plan to use your RV in winter activities you will need to make sure the water system and holding tanks are protected against freezing. You may need to apply heat tape to exposed tanks and water lines. You can also buy heated potable water hoses for your city water connection. Be aware a heated hose may still leave the faucet unprotected and it could freeze, leaving you without water but with a hefty repair bill from the campground! Always wrap the exposed pipe for your water faucet with heat tape in freezing weather. You may need auxiliary heat to supplement your furnace. If you have shore power, portable electric heaters are a simple and convenience solution. Lacking shore power, you'll need catalytic heaters that run on white gas or propane. Keep in mind these heaters consume oxygen so they can only be used with adequate ventilation. That means keeping a couple of windows open enough to provide both you and the device with enough fresh air to breathe. To minimize heating needs, make sure your windows are insulated with heavy drapes or add bubble-foil insulating panels. Unless your RV has four wheel drive you may be required to have tire chains on certain mountain passes. Installing tire chains on a large RV is not fun! You may want to practice it a few times before you find yourself out alongside the road putting them on in a blizzard! A small tarp or section of bubble-foil insulation to lie on helps keep you out of the wet snow.

Batteries. Make sure your batteries are fully charged. If you have them on an automatic battery tender, you can leave them in the vehicle but if they aren't on a charger, take them out and store them where they won't freeze. Fully charged batteries are safe down to about -75°F; dead batteries will freeze around -10°F. Check the electrolyte level and top them off with distilled water BEFORE the temperature drops below 32°F. Water added in freezing weather will probably freeze before it gets mixed with the rest of the acid unless you drive a bit or take the batteries out and shake them. Also make sure all the connections are clean and tight.

No freeze-ups!

Monday, November 19, 2012

Personalizing Your RV

As human beings we like to put our personal mark on our things. We like custom homes, or seek to customize our tract homes to reflect our personal  preferences. We create gardens and landscaping to suit our taste. We customize our wardrobes and our appearance.  We trick out our rides. Our RVs are no different. They just require some alternate approaches than our homes and cars.

Personalizing your RV is more like personalizing your residence than personalizing the family car. Because of the high cost of exterior paint jobs on such big rigs, you will probably not want to change the color or paint scheme of your RV. But you might add some decals. stripes, or hand-painted graphics to express your preferences. I've seen a variety of beautiful wild animal decals and we chose an eagle to put on the spare tire cover on our Southwind Eagle 1 motorhome.   I've used ordinary colored (red/white.blue) vinyl electrical tape to add a patriotic highlight stripe so some of my RVs.  Its actually a bit heavier than vinyl striping tape and I was pleasantly surprised at how long lasting the adhesive was, even in sun and rain.  Professional vinyl striping tape is available in a variety of widths and colors to match, highlight, or complement existing color schemes..  A popular upgrade that is not TOO expensive is to switch from hub caps or wheel covers to wheel simulators, which look like custom rims and add a lot of class to older rigs. Awnings are a popular option, both large patio-style awnings and window awnings. You can add exterior lights to improve campsite illumination or light up other areas of activity. Some RV, OHV, and camping clubs have logos you can post on your vehicle or you may be able to have your own custom made signs for your club or family name. Be sure to check prices on-line. I found significant savings by buying my first "Desert Rat" decal on ebay compared to my local sign shop. My apologies to sign shop owners, but a difference of about 400% is significant! My cheap letters lasted about 10-12 years before I replaced them. This time I opted for a more elaborate design with a graphic desert background. It is made from the same material as commercial vehicle wraps and should last a very long time.

Internal personalization is a little more flexible. Once again, you probably won't like the cost of a complete internal make-over. New upholstery, cabinets, and carpets can be quite costly but can also be very satisfying. Same with changing out furniture and major appliances. If your RV interior is in really bad shape a complete make-over might be justified, but if most if it is in reaspmably good condition, I'd stick to less costly modifications, such as painting appliances instead of replacing them. Unless you are experienced in upholstery you'll probably want to enlist a professional for major repairs or upgrades to that part of your RV.  Few people have the skill or the heavy duty sewing machines required to to upholstery.  Slip covers are often used in homes to cover worn, outdated, or unsightly furniture.  You seldom see that in an RV but it might be worth a try.  I've seen people use colorful Indian or Mexican blankets to cover worn sofas or dinettes temporarily.  You might consider dyeing faded carpets to improve the appearance or change the color scheme. However, you can work wonders with new curtains or drapes or bedspreads and shams. You can add or change a shower curtain and mats in the bathroom. You could paint or wallpaper some interior walls. You might use wallpaper border to highlight your favorite activities. My truck camper came with a fishing motif all around the top of the cab over sleeping area. Since I'm not an avid fisherman, I opted to replace it with a dirt bike theme in keeping with my family's primary recreational pursuit. Wallpaper borders are pretty easy to work with. Just came across a new trick for removing old wallpaper: use a capful of fabric softener in a quart of water, spray the old wallpaper, and let it sit for a few minutes. It should peel right off. You can add accessories to meet your particular preferences for kitchen, recreation, and entertainment systems. Even little things like toothbrush, napkin, paper plate, and match/toothpick holders can make life on the road easier and more fun, keeping oft used things right at your fingertips. Adding or updating light fixtures is a neat way to make your living space more suitable for your particular activities. Magazine racks, spice racks, and other wire racks can be installed to help organize your goodies where they'll be easy to use. Maps, pamphlets, and diaries will get a lot more use when they're handy. If you're a computer buff, you may want to convert some table, cabinet, or counter space to a dedicated work station. 12-volt fans, both permanently mounted and portable can add cooling comfort on hot days and redistribute heat where you want it on colder ones. Entertainment options can range from a simple radio/cassette/CD player to complete home entertainment systems. An option I recommend for everyone is a NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) radio that gives constant weather updates and alerts. Adding an electric fireplace/heater is a customization that is becoming more and more popular with RV owners.  They are attractive and often make it more comfortable in cold weather.  You can find them for around $160, sometimes less. We got ours on sale at Harbor Freight for $59.99 and I've seen some at Walmart for $69.99. As long as you have sufficient 120 volt power (shore power or generator) you can enjoy 750 or 1500 watts of heat and a nice fireplace display complete with glowing logs and fake flames that are surprisingly realistic. This one bit of personalization that is functional as well as adding a nice cabin like ambiance.

Changing the faucets in the kitchen and/or bathroom is a fairly easy and inexpensive way to update the appearance and functionality of your RV.   I find a high "goose neck" bar faucet is handy for filling canteens and Camelbaks and for washing large pots and pans.  Be sure the spacing for your new faucet matches the holes in your sink.  Changing  faucets should be as easy as turning off the water supply, disconnecting the supply lines to the old faucet, removing the nut under the sink that secure the old faucet, then carefully lift it out.  Clean the surface that was under the old faucet.  The new one will probably be a different size or shape.  Slide the new faucet into place.  Install and hand tighten the nuts to secure the new faucet to the sink, then connect the supply lines.  Use teflon plumbers tape on the new faucet to help ensue a good seal.  Tighten the connects, turn on your water supply, and enjoy your new faucet!

You might want to customize the dash instruments.   I've seen modifications to change the color of the dash lights. Sometimes you can buy colored bulbs to replace the existing clear ones or get bulb-dye to color existing bulbs. Just make sure you don't darken them to where you can no longer read your instruments. There are a number of additional instruments you might like to try. I like the big "RoadRanger" compasses and have also found altimeters and clinometers useful. Some owners like to upgrade the "idiot light" oil pressure indicator to a real oil pressure gauge or add a tachometer. Thermometers that display both inside and outside temperatures are helpful. I've tried both automotive and residential style indoor/outdoor thermometers and found both to be satisfactory. The digital, automotive style are especially good if you want to be able to see them when driving. The residential styles are better installed in the living area to only be used in camp. Several of my motorhomes came with a simple "weather center" that displays inside temperature, humidity, and barometric pressure. It is pretty common to find these as part of the systems monitor panel in RVs.  If yours doesn't have one, they're fairly inexpensive and easy to install. More complete systems might include outside temperature and wind speed. I always like to have a NOAA weather radio available to monitor local forecasts and pick up storm warnings. These days you can also get instant weather information over the Internet if you are in a area where you have a wifi connection. I have used a program/service called "Weatherbug" at home, but my computer tech tells me it is considered "Malware" and may have a security risk. It displays current temperature on the status bar and will chime and flash the icon whenever there is a weather alert. Alerts and warnings include rain, wind, snow, freezing temperatures, winter storms, and high fire danger. Some easy decorator touches include the addition of throw pillows and carpet runners. Throw covers are an option, but I seldom see them used in RVs. Probably because they may not stay in place very well during travel. They are, however, extremely useful if you're engaged in activities that would soil your clothing and transfer the dirt to your upholstery. Throw covers can be removed and washed and its a whole lot easier than shampooing the upholstery. Sometimes we just wrap the sofa in an old blanket or beach towel if we're anticipating dirty conditions. Its a lot easier to throw it in the washer when we get home than it is to clean the upholstery and blankets and beach towels are a lot cheaper than new upholstery, especially when they're re-cycled  from home that almost made it into the Goodwill box before being adopted for camping.  Slip-on seat covers are helpful for rejuvenating the driver and co-pilot seats or mitigating the cold feel of vinyl or leather with sheepskin covers.

Toyhaulers and other enclosed recreational equipment trailers often benefit greatly from customization to meet your specific needs. Adding tool boxes, cabinets, racks, closet rods, tie downs, and peg boards can help you organize your tools, gear, equipment, and spare parts. You can decorate the interior to reflect your chosen sport or OHV lifestyle. I find functional customization to be the most satisfying but there is nothing wrong with purely cosmetic modifications. Part of the original decals on my motorhome included red, white, and blue stripes about 1/2" wide. I was able to add matching stripes to my motorcycle trailer using colored electrical tape. Sometimes you can also buy decals or striping tape to match those on your motorhome. Cosmetic changes like this don't add functionality but they are fun and many people find it pleasing to color coordinate their truck and camper, motorhome and trailer, or other tow vehicle and trailer. I even adopted the red-white-blue stripe pattern to tag my camp chairs, water jugs, and ice chests, making them easy to identify and keep track of around camp.

You may see motorhomes, trailers, and vans with elaborate murals on the sides or rear. Some of these are factory originals, like the wild animals that grace the rear of many "Safari" motorhomes. The most beautiful and complex murals I've seen have been on custom vans, but the same technique could be used on motorhomes and trailers -- if you have the budget for it. Those hand-painted, air-brushed works of art don't come cheap! Auto paint shops are skilled at painting flames and other geometric designs and may be able to create a custom decoration for your rig, but again, it will probably be relatively expensive. Unless you are a skilled auto painter you probably won't want to attempt doing any custom graphics yourself. "Rattle cans" can do a pretty good job repainting limited areas like the highlight stripes on campers and trailers but aren't so good on large areas. I suspect if I tried it the results would be less artistic than the graffiti on big city buildings, overpasses, and railroad cars.  Vehicle wraps are becoming popular, mostly for advertising, and that might be a way to enhance the exterior of your RV.  But unless it is subsidized somehow by advertising, it will probably be cost prohibitive.  I have a beautiful "Desert Rat" decal on the back of my motorcycle trailer made from the same stuff as vehicle wraps. It is about 3' wide and 1 1/2' tall and cost me under $100.    Wrapping an entire RV would cost thousands.  If you choose to repaint stripes, follow the instructions on the paint can carefully in both preparing the surface and applying the paint.  Mask off areas you don't want to be painted.  Try to keep your hand moving smoothly as you spray.   If you slow down you'll get thick spots.  If you should apply too much paint and it begins to run, I've found I can often gently dab away the runs with a clean soft cloth and repaint the area.  Don't hold the can too close to the surface.  It is better to apply several light coats than one heavy one.  Vinyl stripes are available in a variety of sizes and colors and are easy to apply in straight lines.  Narrow tapes (up to 1/4") can usually be applied to follow curves and, if you have the patience and the touch for it, you can even curve tapes as wide as 3/4" by very gently heating them with a heat gun or blow dryer.  Be very careful if you try this.  The tape will often stretch and become much narrower than its normal size if you pull too hard or too fast or apply too much heat.

Make it yours!

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Water Filters

Water filters will be of most concern to RVers, but even tent campers might benefit from portable water filters to free the water they are getting from campground faucets from sediment etc.

 Water filters will help keep your fresh water fresh. You can use an in-line filter connected between the faucet and your hose when you fill your tank or connect to city water or you might install an internal filter to clean water as it is used.  Filling your fresh water tank with filtered water helps prevent buildup of silt and other contaminants in your fresh water tank.  Some filters even help remove bacteria as well as sediment.  For camping and hiking you might choose a portable water filter.  Filters will remove sediment and some types of bacteria but usually won't remove chemical contaminants or all microbes.  Filtering out sediment will help keep your water clean and tasting pleasant.

Portable in-line filters are individually inexpensive but having to replace them fairly often drives up the overall cost. They are also very convenient to use. They require no permanent installation. You simply screw them onto the faucet, then screw your hose onto the filter and fill your tank or connect to your city water inlet. You could install the filter on the other end of your hose, but it gets in the way of putting the hose into the gravity fill spout on your RV and tends to stress the city water inlet and kink the hose on the side of your RV. If you fill your RV through the city water hookup the filter would stick out and you may risk breaking the plastic mounting plate for the connection.  In-line filters are fairly small (about the same size as the cartridge for a grease gun) and therefore get clogged or wear out rather quickly and have to be replaced, but is is an easy way to remove sediment from your water when filling your tanks or connected to city water with no difficult installation procedures.  It is often a small price to pay for convenience. When using an in line filter with your city water connection, still use a pressure regulator between the faucet and the filter.  As the filter begins to clog up you might want to move the pressure regulator to between the filter and the hose.  You always want the pressure regulator where it will protect your hose as well as your RV plumbing.

Whole system or internal filters will cost more initially and require some installation, but the filter elements usually last longer than in-line filters so you don't have to replace them as often and are usually less expensive to replace in the long run. And they are more convenient. Once installed you only need to check and replace the filter now and then. You can buy filter systems designed for RVs at RV supply stores but you can probably get suitable models for less at a home improvement store that can be adapted for RV use. You may have to purchase extra fittings to attach them to the water lines in your RV.   RV plumbing usually is different from residential plumbing and may require special tools or connections. If you have any worries about doing the installation, take it to a qualified RV technician. You will need to find a location where there is enough room for the filter, access to the water lines, and convenient access to replace the filter element. You want to install the filter where water from both the city water connection and the 12-volt pump will pass through it before being distributed to the fixtures in your RV.   Make sure it filters water that goes to the water heater too.  Consider the location when you purchase the filter. Some filters can be opened from the top to replace the element. Some have canisters that need to be unscrewed from the bottom. Make sure the one you buy will be convenient for you to service.  If you have a permanently installed water filter and live in an area where you get freezing winter weather, be sure to winterize your filter along with the rest of your system.  Depending on your personal taste and budget there are many different filter options, including fancy "reverse osmosis" filters, but standard filters, especially those with charcoal components, are usually adequate.  Typically, the more you are able or willing to spend, the cleaner your water will be.  However a basic filter will screen out most particulates and is usually adequate to provide acceptable water without the expense of fancy reverse osmosis filter systems.

You can adapt large, residential style filters for use as in-line filters to be used to either fill your fresh water tank or connect to your city water inlet. You need plumbing fittings to adapt the inlet and outlet of the filter (usually 1/2" pipe fittings) to hose fittings. This gives you the extra capacity and usually lower cost of the larger filters without the hassle of making a permanent installation. You will need a short piece of potable water hose in addition to your usual hose in order to connect the filter in line. Make sure the filter doesn't hang of the side of the RV or off the faucet. It needs to sit on the ground to avoid damage to the hose or connections. You may want to make some sort of cage or box to contain the filter and keep it from getting kicked or tipped over.  Always place the filter next to the campground pedestal or under your RV so it doesn't become a trip hazard.

And remember to always use hoses rated for potable water.   Ordinary garden hoses might do in a pinch, but they can leech plastic taste into your water -- especially when used as a city water hookup where the water may sit in the hose for long periods of time and may be exposed to sunlight.

Portable water filters are generally designed to provide clean drinking water for one person.  Typical design looks like a water bottle.  They usually have replaceable filters so they can be reused.  Each filter typically handles up to 300 gallons of filtration.  Personal water filters also come in the form of straws you can use to drink directly from a container or a stream.

For more information about RV water filters see http://www.rvwaterfilterstore.com/.

With proper filtration you can be sure of fresh, clean water wherever you go.

Drink up!

Fresh Water Tank Care

Fresh water tanks normally require little maintenance, unless you live in an area with freezing temperatures and have to winterize your water system or you fill them with contaminated water. You will want to flush and possibly sanitize your fresh water tanks after a season of storage or after contamination. Whether you leave them full, drain them, or winterize them, you may still want to flush and sanitize them before setting out again each year after they've been sitting all winter. Algae sometimes grows in full tanks and dust, insects, and mildew might accumulate in empty or near empty ones. You will want to clean out the antifreeze used for winterizing. It isn't toxic, but it does make the water look, smell, feel, and taste funny. In any case, flushing and sanitizing takes care of the problem. If you live where you don't have freezing temperatures, I suggest you store your RV with the fresh water tank full. That way it is ready if you need or want to use it and, at least in my experience, a full tank doesn't get stagnant as quickly as a partially full one.  Most of the organisms that might foul the water need air so a full tank limits growth by limiting air.

Avoid putting contaminated water into your fresh water tank.   Always fill your tank from a source that is known to be acceptable drinking water quality.  If you should put contaminated water into your fresh water tank, such as from an unprotected well or spring, flush and sanitize the system as soon as possible to remove any potential micro-organisms and other contaminants.  City water supplies are usually treated to be pretty safe and usually contains enough residual chlorine to protect the water in your tank, but untreated water from private wells or springs may not be.  You might not know if water from a campground is safe or not.  It should be, but an unreported or undetected problem could come up without warning.  If you find your water shows any unusual characteristics, such as being cloudy, muddy, or smelly, it may be contaminated.  You could take sample and have it tested or just empty, sanitize and refill your system from a known safe source.  Always use a hose rated for potable water to fill your fresh water tank.  Ordinary garden hoses may introduce a plastic taste into your water.  NEVER use the same hose you use to rinse your sewer drain hose to fill your fresh water tank!  Doing so is a sure way to contaminate your fresh water with traces of sewage!  I don't know about you, but I sure don't want to drink or wash my hands and face with water that has even a trace of sewage in it!

Sanitizing a fresh water tank consists of two major steps. First completely drain the tanks, then use a diluted solution of ordinary household bleach and water to kill any bacteria and remove any stagnant odors. I've seen recommendations anywhere from 1 teaspoon per 100 gallons up to 1/4 cup of bleach for each 15 gallons of tank capacity. An easy formula to remember is to add 1 cup of plain, unscented chlorine bleach to 1 gallon of water. Add the solution to your fresh water tank and fill it. Drive around a little to mix the solution and clean all the surfaces inside the tank. Pump it through the lines to all the fixtures.  You should be able to detect a light bleach odor at each fixture.  Then let it sit over night for best results. Lower concentrations are easier to flush out without leaving a nasty residue. Higher concentrations will be more reliable at killing offensive bacteria but don't go overboard on the bleach. The residue left when you empty a bottle of bleach is sufficient to treat a gallon of water, so it doesn't take a lot. Fill the tank. Turn on the pump and let water run from each faucet until you can smell the bleach at each one. If your solution is too weak to smell you may need to add some more bleach.  Driving the unit a few miles will help mix the solution and clean the walls of the tank.  Let it stand for at least 3 or 4 hours. Overnight is even better. Drain the diluted bleach solution and flush the tank with clean water. To ensure there is no bleach residue, fill the tank again with clean water and baking soda. Mix a 1/2 cup of baking soda in a gallon water, add it to a nearly full tank or, better yet, put it into an empty tank and fill it up. Drive around a bit to make sure the solution is thoroughly mixed and all the interior surfaces flushed. Run water through each faucet until the chlorine smell is gone to clean the plumbing. Driving around a bit will help make sure it reaches all interior surfaces (like to top!) of the tank. Drain the soda solution and re-fill and flush the tank with fresh water. If you have any concerns about the water quality you can drain the tank and refill and flush it again with clear water to be sure the soda solution has been thoroughly flushed out. Be sure to drain and flush your hot water heater as well as the fresh water tank, lines, pump, and fixtures. When you are satisfied that the water coming out of your faucets is acceptable, drain the tank one more time and refill it with fresh water, just to be sure you've gotten rid of all the bleach and soda.

Filling your fresh water tank. Always fill your fresh water tank from a safe source.  If you have any questions or concerns about sediment or hard water, be sure to use an in-line filter when filling your fresh water tank.  The faucets at dump stations are often contaminated by sewage, so avoid using them to fill your tank.   Most RVs have a gravity fill where you can insert a garden hose or dump in fresh water from containers to fill your tank. Some only have a city water connection and use a "Transfer" or "Fill" switch or valve to divert water to fill the tank. Either way, ALWAYS use a clean, potable water rated hose to fill your fresh water tank. Keep a separate hose of a different color (ordinary garden hose) for rinsing your dump hoses and flushing your holding tanks so they don't get mixed up. Different colors shouldn't be a problem. Most potable water hoses are white or light gray with a blue stripe or are light blue. The most common color for garden hoses is green. At any rate DO NOT use a hose to fill your fresh water tanks or jugs that has been used to rinse sewer hoses. Just the thought of the contamination that might be transferred into the fresh water supply is enough to make me want to throw up!  A fill attachment for your fill hose will make it easier.  It looks like a short piece of hose, usually clear plastic, with a female hose fitting on one end to connect to your hose.  The other end has no fitting and is usually cut at an angle.  There is usually a shutoff valve on the fitting end.  If not, you can get one at an RV store, hardware store or home and garden center. The open end of the hose is pushed down into the fill port on your RV so you don't have to stand there and hold the hose.  Make sure the filler tube is clean.  When sanitizing a tank with a gravity fill you can usually just dump the bleach or the soda solution into the fill port before adding water.  If your RV doesn't have a gravity fill, sanitizing the fresh water tank will be a little more difficult. Some folks just use a funnel to fill the fresh water hose with bleach and then hook it up to the faucet to push it through and get it into the tank. Others prefer a device that siphons the bleach or soda solution from a jug and mixes it with the water as you fill the tank. These gadgets are typically used to apply lawn and garden fertilizer so you'll probably have to buy them at nurseries or home and garden centers.  Buy one especially for sanitizing your tanks and never use it for applying fertilizer.  Some RVs have design limitations that force the plumbing from the gravity fill port to the fresh water tank to lack sufficient slope for water to flow easily.  If you get a lot of water spilling back out around the hose when filling the tank, this may be your problem.  You may be able to solve it by raising that side of the RV using leveling jacks or leveling blocks.  Another solution that sometimes works is to cut a piece of potable water hose long enough to reach through the filler tube all the way to the tank so you can deliver water directly into the tank.  Cut the piece to preserve the female hose fitting so you can connect it to your regular filler hose.  There should be a vent tube from the tank back to the gravity fill fixture.  Be sure to remove the plug from the vent line so air can escape from the tank as it fills.  If you fail to remove the plug or the vent tube is somehow kinked or blocked air will bubble back through the gravity fill port itself, interrupting the flow of water into the tank.

Fresh water tanks usually don't require any chemical treatments like waste water holding tanks always do but if your water supply is tainted or your tank develops offensive odors, there are products you can get from your RV store to freshen your fresh water tanks such as TastePURE Drinking Water Freshener. DO NOT use holding tank chemicals in your fresh water tank. They are toxic! Unless your water begins to smell or taste bad, it probably doesn't need to be treated or flushed and sanitized. If your water supply has lots of minerals in it, you may want to use a filter attached to the hose when filling your tanks or connecting to city water or add an internal filter to your system. Filtering out minerals and other particles will help keep your fresh water fresh and avoid buildup of junk in your hot water heater, fresh water tank, plumbing, and fixtures. Most city water supplies contain enough chlorine to keep your fresh water tank safe from bacteria but it may still need to be filtered. If you fill your tank with untreated well water, you may need to add a small amount of bleach to discourage bacteria growth. A little bleach added each time you fill the tank will help control bacteria growth. If you can smell chlorine at the fixtures, you've put in too much! Just the residue in a gallon bleach jug after its been emptied is enough to protect a gallon of water so it doesn't take a lot to protect a even a full tank of water -- just a few drops per gallon. A tablespoon full should be enough for a 100 gallon tank.

By the way, if you get a bad odor when you turn on a faucet, be sure it is coming from the faucet and is not wafting up from the drain.   I have seen situations where it seemed like the water smelled bad, but it was really just odors in the drain being activated and atomized by water going down the drain.  A quick way to check to see if the fresh water is actually smelly, is to open the drain valve on the fresh water tank and check the water there.  If it is OK, the problem isn't in the fresh water tank.  But, even if the water in the tank isn't bad, water in the lines or hot water heater may be.  Try running each offending faucet for several minutes with the city water hooked up to flush the lines.  Another common source of fresh water odors is the hot water heater.  If the odor is only detected or is stronger when the hot water faucet is turned on, the problem is probably the hot water tank.  Warm temperatures create biological and chemical reactions that sometimes result in unpleasant odors, especially if there is any residual antifreeze left in the tank.  Shut off the water heater.  Then connect a hose to your city water inlet and open the drain on the hot water tank.  You'll probably smell bad water for 10-15 minutes before the tank has been cleared of odor causing materials.  Organics in water or left over antifreeze can turn foul from heating the water.  You shouldn't have any problems if you you properly flush the hot water heater and sanitize your fresh water system at the beginning of the season.  If simply flushing the hot water heater doesn't cure the problem you will need to sanitize it using a bleach solution to mitigate any residual odor causing materials.  You may want to follow it by rinsing it with a mixture of baking soda and water to clear away the bleach smell and finish freshening the tank.  While you're at it, check the condition of the anode rod on the drain plug.  These are designed to sacrificial.  That is, to be used up as they protect the exposed steel of the tank.  If there is less than 25% remaining, they need to be replaced.

Hoses for filling your fresh water tank. You should only use hoses designated for drinking water or potable water to fill you fresh water tank or connect your RV to city water. Ordinary garden hoses may leach a plastic taste into the water. Potable water hoses are made from compounds that won't contaminate your water supply and some have anti-microbial additives to help prevent grown of mold or mildew.  They are also reinforced to withstand the constant pressure of being used for a city water connection.  Potable water hoses are usually white with a blue stripe or light blue with a white stripe. The packaging will clearly identify it for use for "potable water" or "drinking water", but once it has been removed from the package, the only identifier is the color, which is usually sufficient for owners to tell their drinking water hose(s) from other hoses. Also NEVER NEVER NEVER use the same hose to fill your fresh water tank and to rinse your dump hose. Never fill your fresh water tank from the faucet at dump station that is used to rinse sewer hoses. Even if the water is clean and potable, the chance of the connection being contaminated by dirty hands handling sewer hoses or bad stuff being siphoned back up into the fixture is too great and you may risk getting sick.  Just the thought of ingesting sewage is enough to turn my stomach!   Try to drain all the water out of the hose before storing it back in your RV. Use end caps or connect the two ends together to prevent bugs from taking up residence in your hose while it is in storage. Be especially sure your hose is drained before you put your RV into winter storage if you live where you get freezing temperatures.  Water remaining in the hose will freeze and is likely to burst the hose.  When you get out your hose to fill your tanks or connect to campground hookups, connect the faucet end first, turn on the faucet, and let a little water run through to make sure it is clear of any debris or stagnant water before filling the fresh water tank or connecting to the city water connection on the RV.

A quick fill pigtail is a handy accessory for filling gravity fill fresh water tanks.  This consists of a short piece of potable water hose with a female fitting and a shutoff on one end and the other end usually cut at an angle.  Very often the hose is clear so you can watch water flowing through it as you fill the tank.    It goes about a foot down into the fill port and keeps the hose from falling out while filling.  The shutoff lets you turn it off quickly when the tank is full and water begins to overflow.

As briefly mentioned above, water filters are often a good idea. You can get a filter that connects in-line in the hose to filter water that is going either into your fresh water tanks or into the city water connection. Another convenient way to filter your water is to install a permanent filter so that both water pumped from the fresh water tank and water coming from the city water connection goes through the filter. That way you always have clean water at your fixtures. Specialized RV water filters are available at RV supply stores but many RVers have had good luck adapting residential filters and claim they are less expensive.  You can make up connections to put a large residential style filter in line  in your hose to filter water as you fill your tank or deliver water to your city water connection.  You may need some kind of crate or stand to protect it from tipping over and it would be a good idea to place it next to the campground pedestal or under your RV so it doesn't become a trip hazard.

Monitoring fresh water levels is usually done via a monitor panel that displays the status of many on board resources.  Most monitor panels include functions for fresh water, gray water, black water, battery, and propane.   Most of these systems use sensors installed through the wall of the tanks to measure the amount of liquid in the thank.  Sensors in fresh water tanks are less likely to become contaminated and fail or give false readings than those in holding tanks, but hard water deposits can eventually fowl them.  They can be difficult and expensive to repair or replace.  I recently read a review of new monitoring system that uses inductive panels installed on the outside of holding tanks to replace faulty sensors and improve the accuracy and reliability of tank readings.  It is called See Level II and retails for around $235.  Installation is fairly simple if you have access to the side of your tanks.  In a normal installation you would install the new panels near the existing sensors connect them to the old wires.  Then you connect the new panel to the other end of the wires at the original monitor panel.  Other techniques for measuring how much fresh water you have in your tank includes a visual inspection of the tank (if you have access to it) or a siphon based gauge that gives you an external visual representation of the water level by sticking a tube down into the gravity fill and viewing the water level in a tube on the outside of the RV.  If your monitoring panel fails to work, first check all the connections and any related fuses.  Then try to clean the sensors in he tanks.  One easy and safe way to clean a fresh water tank without introducing unsavory chemicals is to put some ice in the tank, then fill it about half way, and drive around a bit.  The ice will scour deposits from the inside of the tank (hopefully including the sensors) and will then melt so you can drain it out.  You will want to thoroughly drain and flush the tank before refilling it with fresh water to eliminate any residue the ice scraped from the tank.

If you don't have an electronic measuring system to check how much water is in the tank you can sometimes view the side of the tank to get an idea.  Lacking access you may be able to fabricate an external gauge from clear plastic tubing.  Insert it into the gravity fill hole far enough to reach to the bottom of the tank and then siphon water out of the tank to fill the tube.  Allow the tubing to hang down at least to the bottom of the tank and lift the open end of the tube above the filler, leaving a loop to the bottom of the tank.  You should then be able to see the water level in the tube.  I installed a light behind the translucent water tank in my enclosed motorcycle trailer, then cut a slot in the front of the paneling in front of the tank so I could easily view the water level whenever I turned on the light.  I used a momentary contact switch so I don't accidentally leave the light on and drain the battery.

Fresh water odors.   Occasionally fresh water systems will develop unpleasant odors. Sometimes you may get a bleach smell if you've sanitized the system and haven't flushed it adequately.  Fresh water can stagnate if left unused for a long time.  It may begin to host algae or mildew, giving the water a nasty taste.  If you get bad smelling water at a faucet, try opening the drain valve on the fresh water tank and check the water there before flushing the whole system.  I've seen cases where it appeared the water was bad but what was really happening was the water activated nasty odors in the sink drain.  Simply flushing the drain with a bleach solution solved the problem.  The hot water heater is another common source of odors.  The warm water is sometimes an ideal home for microbes that can make your water stink and taste bad.  Fresh water normally doesn't require any special additives.  If you use city water, the water you fill the tank with will already contain a certain amount of chlorine that should protect it against algae etc.  If you fill it from an untreated source, such as a well or spring, you may need to add a bit of bleach to protect it.  It doesn't take much.  The residual bleach in an empty 1 gallon bottle is enough to treat a gallon of water.  I wouldn't use more than about 1/4 cup for an 90-100 gallon water tank.  If you get a bleach smell when you turn on a faucet, you've used too much and will need to drain the tank and refill it.  If you have chronic problems with smelly water there are commercial fresh water treatments available most places RV supplies are sold, but I would only use them as a last resort.  Sanitizing and thoroughly flushing fresh water systems are usually all that is needed.

Damaged tanks can be difficult to repair.   They are often made of LDPE plastic, which is highly resistant to solvents and, therefore, cannot be easily patched using solvent based sealants.  LDPE can be welded using plastic welding techniques.  Fortunately fresh water tanks are usually well protected and, unless you allow them to freeze and split, seldom crack.  Unlike waste holding tanks, they are usually not an irregular shape and a tank of similar size and shape can often be found to replace them.  In addition to size and shape the position and style of openings or connections will also be a major concern.  There are usually at least three plumbing connections:  inlet, outlet to the pump, and drain.  Some may also have an overflow port. If you have or want to add a monitor system you will need to install sensors on the tank.  Old style sensors require drilling to install them through the wall of the tank but there are also sensor panels that are glued to the outside for either new installations or to replace failing sensors on existing tanks.

Drink up!