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.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Portable Canopies

Some, but certainly not all, campgrounds have canopies or pavilions to provide shade and maybe some rain protection.  Some have small canopies at each site shading the picnic table, some have large, group pavilions.  Having a big patio awning on your RV is convenient and provides instant shade and protection from light rain. For tent camping, or RVs without awnings, a standalone or portable canopy can offer some of the same advantages at a fraction of the cost. A stand alone canopy can also be set up over your picnic table or other convenient places, so you might want one even if you do have a nice patio awning on your RV. Canopies provide shade and even protection from light rain. Sometimes you might even set them up over your tent to provide extra protection against both sun and rain.

Standard canopies come in a variety of sizes. They are essentially like tents without walls. They usually have at least one center pole plus 4 corner poles and require guy ropes at each corner to hold them in place. I recently found one made like dome tent with a 10x10 open area with no center poles. A "dining fly" is a kind of special version of a canopy. Typically about 12x12 or 16x16, they are designed to be used over picnic tables -- hence the name "dining fly". They are light weight, inexpensive and pretty easy to set up and take down. They work well for shade and can provide some protection from light rain but usually aren't well suited to stormier weather, like wind and heavy rain or snow. About the only other disadvantage to them are the guy ropes, which can be a tripping hazard. You might want to tie bright colored ribbons onto the ropes to make them easier to see and minimize people tripping over them, which can damage both the canopy and the tripee!  I sometimes slip a foam "swim noodle" over the poles and/or guy ropes to make them more visible and provide cushion if someone still bumps into them.

EZ-ups are self contained canopies with the fabric often attached to the folding framework. They are free-standing and only require ropes in windy conditions. They usually don't have any kind of center poles so they're ideal for use where you need the interior free of obstructions. They can be set up by one person but it is usually easier if you have two or more people to lift them into position so all sides come up at the same time. They use a folding framework like those on scissor-lift to create a rigid frame. Be careful not to get your fingers caught in any of the moving parts! The legs telescope to adjust the height. This style canopy is usually pretty sturdy and will stand up to more use and more weather than light weight canopies and dining flies. Because of the added infrastructure, you can expect to pay more for them than simple canopies and they'll be heavier and bulkier to transport. EZ-ups make excellent booths for organizations or vendors and can be imprinted with club/family/company names.  Despite their name and reputation, the size and weight are sometimes a deterrent to casual use if you're moving your site daily but are really nice and sturdy for several day's use at a single location when car camping.

Sidewalls are available or can be fabricated for use with almost any canopy, turning it into an outdoor room. Custom made panels will fit and look the best but ordinary, inexpensive tarps can often be used as privacy panels and as extra weather protection. Netting can be used to keep out insects or to provide for partial shade without completely blocking the view or the breeze. For one-time or occasional use, simply tie the tarp to the framework of the canopy or string a rope from pole to pole to anchor the tarp to. If you use it frequently you may want to add straps or hooks or eyelets or velcro fasteners to make is easier and faster to install and remove the side walls. Make sure the poles supporting your canopy are strong enough to handle the extra weight and wind force on side panels.

Fires or cooking under canopies is generally not a good idea.  Indians had fires in their wigwams, but their unique design is what made it feasible.  The very high center, with a "smoke hole" functioned like chimney to safely vent heat and smoke without setting the covering on fire or suffocating the occupants.  Even using your camp stove or BBQ can generate enough heat under a low canopy to damage it or create a fire hazard if there isn't enough clearance and ventilation. Smoke and other cooking fumes may stain or otherwise cling to the inside of the canopy, creating ugly stains and unpleasant smells. If you REALLY need to cook under a canopy to get out of the weather, stay close to the edge and make sure you have adequate overhead and lateral clearance between the cooking appliance and any fabric to avoid a fire hazard. Try to set up so any prevailing breezes will carry smoke out from under the canopy and not back into your protected living area. I've seen campfires under large tarps for large groups in cooler weather. The tarp was hoisted high above the fire and they left an opening for campfire smoke to escape. It was a welcome respite from rainy afternoons for a large group as long a a shift in the wind didn't blow rain in through the "chimney" hole. It also required some monitoring and dumping of pooling to make sure the weight of accumulated water didn't bring the whole thing crashing down on the occupants or drenching them if one side let loose.

Screen rooms are a nice variation of a canopy, providing protection against marauding insects. They can make an afternoon or evening in the outdoors more pleasant and make a good hot weather bedroom, protected from dew and insects, but with plenty of fresh air. You can find back yard gazebos at home centers but they will probably be to big and heavy to easily transport for camping. Canopies and screen rooms designed for camping will be lighter weight and easier to transport. You can buy -- or make -- panels to convert your RV awning into a screen room. Commercial screen panels often are designed to provide some sun protection as well, creating a cooler space under the awning without completely blocking the view.

You might even set up a canopy over your tent. Why would you do that? A good tent, properly set up, shouldn't need a canopy, but there are times you may want to use one. First of all, it will provide shade so your tent doesn't get as hot during the day in the sun. It may also help keep things drier in light rain and will reduce morning dew. If there are street lights or parking lot lights or a full moon or if you want to take an afternoon nap, it can help reduce unwanted light.

Portable canopies are excellent for setting up booths at outdoor events. Done right they not only provide protection for displays and occupants from sun and rain, they can be in and of themselves a billboard for the organization and the products and services offered. Canopies with custom imprinted logos and signage can be fairly expensive, but if you're artistic, you might stencil on your own designs or hang banners on a standard canopy for branding. Some typical uses include sign up tables, information booths, and marketing of merchandise. Of course, they are excellent for family gatherings, especially if a sudden rain catches you by surprise!  Lacking a branded canopy you can usually hang vinyl banners to advertise your presence.

You may be able to stretch an ordinary tarp between RVs or trees or use some extra tent poles to create your own canopy. One advantage to this approach is you can create a custom canopy of whatever size you need. I've seen several large tarps used to cover almost an entire camp site for family activities, stretched between trees and vehicles.  Getting them to work for shade is pretty easy. Making them effective in rain requires more consideration. You need to be concerned about drainage and runoff. Overlapping seams that are perfectly adequate for shade may allow rain through, so you'll have to make sure the slope of each section is adequate and the overlap is in the right direction to prevent water puddling and intrusion.

Lighting may be needed for evening and night time use. Many times you can just hang your Coleman or other lantern from the center of the canopy to do the trick. Make sure it isn't too close to the fabric and check it from time to time as the accumulated heat given off by any flame-powered lantern can be substantial. For a more festive and decorative approach use patio lights along the edges or valances. You can attach them to the fabric using awning hanger clamps or even ID card holders.

Umbrellas are another handy form of canopy for camping use. Personal sized umbrellas are available that clamp to your camp chair to give you your own private shade. If you can't find some with clamps, you might zip-tie them to the backrest.  If you want or need more shade, golf umbrellas are usually bigger than standard rain umbrellas.  Larger beach umbrellas might be used to accommodate more than one person. Even bigger patio umbrellas can shade your picnic table. I've seen patio umbrellas set up on flatbed trailers and in pickup beds to transform the platforms used to haul ATVs and dirt bikes into shady decks.  Most umbrellas are circular, but there are also square and rectangular umbrellas with offset bases that have the advantage of easy, portable setup and use while providing more effective shade for picnic tables and beside RVs.  Like canopies, umbrellas can also provide protection against light rain, but they are difficult to manage in strong winds.

Portable privacy walls may provide additional privacy and protections against wind and other weather in camp.   They usually install using pipes driven into the ground to hold the uprights and then are secured with guy-ropes to hold them in place.  They can be used with or without a canopy.

Any way you cut it, canopies add comfort and convenience to just about any camping activity. Even though I have permanently mounted awnings on both my motorhome and my enclosed motorcycle trailer, I carry a light weight awning for additional flexibility and extra shade when needed. Since we did a lot of dirt biking in the Mojave Desert, extra shade was ALWAYS welcome and, on the rare occasions when we got a little rain it was good to have a place to get us and our dirt bikes under cover.

Cover up!

Monday, February 18, 2013

RV, OHV, and Camping Events

You may find it fun and interesting to attend various organized RV, OHV, and camping events. There are many types of events you can choose from. Some are industry based events to showcase (and sell) new products. Some are consumer based "camporees" that are just for fun. There are numerous trade shows throughout the country. State and federal agencies sometimes sponsor events to promote parks and other attractions.  You may get invited to a "free" weekend at a commercial campground. These are usually tied to a mandatory presentation about their membership camping organization. If you're already considering membership camping, it is a good way to get information about the resources and costs for the sponsoring organization and begin comparing offerings. In my experience the presentations are usually well done but too often I've found the sales pitch afterwards to be pretty pushy, usually hitting you with a "buy it now or never get another chance" scenario.  To me that is an immediate turn off and my queue to head for the door!  Other events may be sponsored by local communities, pubic agencies, camping organizations, etc. Many are free or low cost. Look for outings sponsored by local Good Sam chapters or other camping or OHV clubs for fun social activities with fellow campers. Some events may require membership, but others may be open to visitors. Camping with other folks with the same brand of RV or with the same interests as you adds a measure of fun, sharing, and education and can help you develop a network for assistance if needed.

Trade shows, put on by industry organizations, manufacturers, and dealers usually provide access to a variety of new products and services and are an excellent way to get some close up experience with new equipment. It can be a lot of fun to wander from vendor to vendor and learn about new options. Many times they will offer special show pricing on products and services. Sometimes you will see new products being introduced that aren't in the stores yet and it is a good time to snatch them up while you can. Not all the good ideas you'll see at trade shows will make it into full productions and distribution. Trade shows usually include some workshops that are often very well attended. Some are free or included in your admission. Some premium workshops may charge an extra fee but they are usually well worth it if you are interested in the topic. Some workshops are designed to demonstrate new products and, of course, they will want to sell you those products before you leave the area. Cooking classes often have a lot of good ideas for camp menus and preparation but are sometimes a thinly veiled pitch for cookware or specialized camping food. They may be sponsored by dealers of cook sets, utensils, or food products so expect them to include a sales pitch.  A big turn off for me is when they use the "you only get this one chance" line.  I figure if they have a good product but I'm not ready to buy it right now, there is no legitimate justification for such limitations.  In fact, even if I may have had some interest in making a purchase I may walk out when they start with the arm twisting tactics.  I don't think it is ever a good idea to reward bad behavior.

Forest Service, BLM, and State Parks agencies sometimes have open houses at various places to familiarize potential patrons with the facilities.  Or they may have booths at other RV/Camping/OHV events where you can learn about their offerings. 

Pubic celebrations, local holidays, and festivals, are all good excuses for an RV/OHV/camping experience. Even if you only "camp" in your RV for the day in the parking lot or along the street, your RV will make a good base of operations to explore the activities. Watch for events sponsored by the US Forest Service, National Parks, your local county and state parks, and the Bureau of Land Management. These events will usually be free and loaded with good information about local destinations for your outdoor exploration. Sometimes commercial campgrounds will have an "open house" where you have an opportunity to explore their facility. National parks may require a fee for some destinations and activities.

Camping clubs such as the RVer's Good Sam Club or local outdoor organizations based on specific interests such as hiking, fishing, bird watching, horseback, or OHV riding, are an excellent opportunity to socialize with fellow campers with similar interests. Many RV brands have their own clubs where you can share experiences and tips about your RV and your camping experiences. Look for local organizations for your favorite activity too and check with rangers at county, state, and federal recreation areas to identify clubs that might be of interest to you and your family.  A good example is Tin Can Tourists, an all make and model vintage trailer and camper club. 

OHV clubs can often be found at the local and state levels and each may offer unique opportunities for group activities. Events may include rides, service projects, and educational activities. Sometimes an event may combine multiple functions. Here in Utah we have the Utah Trail Machine Association (UTMA).  California has the California Off Road Vehicle Association (CORVA).  You can find similar organizations in almost every state.  Our Utah Trail Machine Association sponsors "High Five", a clean-up day at Five Mile Pass every spring. In addition to being a service project where we pick up trash and clean out and rebuild fire pits throughout the Five Mile Pass Recreation Area, we provide rider education through literature and presentations by relevant organizations, then wrap up the day with a family ride to a local point of interest. The stated goals of High Five are: public service, rider education, and family fun. Many OHV or campground service projects follow a similar pattern. Even without the family ride, doing a service project as a family can be a lot of fun as well as making a nice contribution toward supporting our outdoor resources. Here is a link to television coverage of one our events on local Utah outdoor TV show At Your Leisure: High Five AYL Episode

Family events lend themselves very well to RV and camping activities. Family reunions make excellent camping activities. An extended family may include people from many walks of life having various camping lifestyles. An ideal location for a family event in cases like this would be a resort that includes cabins or motel rooms, RV spaces, and tent camping spaces. That way, everyone can be comfortable and enjoy the family associations and activities rather than have to focus on adapting to an unfamiliar lifestyle. In some cases you might have an extended family that all are RV/OHV fans. In that case, you can have your event in a remote, primitive camping area where you can all take advantage of your OHVs. Some things that will enhance the event and make it more convenient and fun for everyone might include staking out an area large enough to "circle the wagons" in the tradition of the Old West wagon trains, with a central campfire for shared activities. If you have a large group, having an easily identified event headquarters, such as a labeled EZ-up and a portable PA system can help facilitate coordination of activities. Schedule various activities to appeal to different age groups and interests. A fun tradition at our family reunions was a gift exchange. Each family was requested to bring a home-made craft gift to share with other families. You can be creative on how the gifts are distributed. Sometimes you might use them for prizes for the winners of certain games or you might just put all the names in a hat and use a raffle format. I still have in my motorhome the crocheted napkin holder we got at one family reunion and we use it regularly. Family reunions are particularly good places to share family history and exchange information with people you may not see very often.

Sports events, such as auto racing and football, have become magnets for "tailgate parties". These are social gatherings in the parking lot or at a nearby park before or after the event itself. RVs are convenient for these gatherings since you have built in cooking, sanitation, and entertainment facilities, but you can have a fun tailgate party from the back of your pick up or even from the trunk of your car. You will usually find you'll be more comfortable if you have some form of shade (RV awning or free-standing canopy) and comfortable chairs in addition to a supply of your favorite foods, snacks, and beverages. Beer and wine are often favored at tailgate parties but be sure to check with local rules and regulations to avoid unpleasant consequences and always drink responsibly. After all, you'll be hitting the road soon after the party is over.

We found our RV was a good base of operations for attending our kids weekend soccer games.   Not only did it allow us to comfortably transport our family of 8, we had ready access to first aid supplies, snacks, and clean or warmer/cooler clothes as needed.  Many of the recreational soccer venues lacked restrooms so having the RV nearby during a full day of going from game to game was a godsend.

Public shows are often presented by rangers at local parks. They usually focus on the history, geology, or ecology of the local environment and are usually quite informative, educational, and entertaining. Its a good way to become familiar with your local resources.

Public service projects can be fun for the whole family as well as productive. These are good opportunities to teach our children respect for our public lands and demonstrate our appreciation to the land managers. Service projects help us maintain our camping facilities and prove their value to the government organizations that control them. Seldom used areas or often abused areas are likely to be eliminated during difficult economic times while frequently used facilities where users take an active interest in preserving and maintaining them have a better chance of survival or even improvement. Most service projects involve simple tasks, like trash clean up, that the whole family can participate in. If you have the skills and interest, trail maintenance projects are a lot of fun and often take you into some beautiful and more remote locations than you might ordinarily visit. Many service projects include some recreational and educational activities where you can have fun and learn more about the local facilities and their history. Can't find a project to suit you? Organize your own! Perhaps your family can volunteer to work with a local park ranger to perform needed maintenance and cleaning. For larger areas, recruit your camping buddies or extended family to join you. You'll need to coordinate your plans with the land managers in charge of where you want to work. You will usually find they are grateful for your assistance and happy to work with you.

Your own camping events can be customized to fit the needs of you and your family. If you still have kids in school, you'll probably want to plan your outings around holiday weekends or other times the kids are out of school. Choose locations that are convenient and inexpensive and provide adequate facilities for your chosen activities. Our family dirt bike outings in southern California eventually grew into a group we called Desert Rats. We were an unofficial, family-oriented group of recreational riders who shared common riding and camping interests and schedules. On some occasions only a few families showed up. One time we counted at least 175 people! The more people you are expecting, the better organized you need to be. For two or three families we could change our location easily if we wanted to and could choose the trails and times we wanted to ride together. For larger groups, we needed to ensure we staked out sufficient camping space for our group and usually posted signs along the highway and access roads guiding people to camp. The signs don't have to be fancy. A lot of times I see directions scribbled on paper plates with Magic Markers. I once had some very nice reflective, aluminum signs made for my Desert Rat group. The first time I used them half of them were stolen! You will find it helpful to be consistent. Whether it is just your own family planning and especially if you are sharing activities with other people, maintaining a recognizable and consistent pattern will usually make things easier. For instance, you might want to use the same camping/staging location for a particular holiday every year so everyone knows where to go. We also took advantage of electronic communications to send out announcements and maps for events via email and posted activities on our our web site (www.desertrat.org).

Have fun!

Monday, February 4, 2013

Tool Safety

Tools are absolutely necessary for some tasks and make many other tasks easier. Tools are used to extend your reach or multiply your strength or protect body parts. Any task can be almost fun using the right tools. Conversely, almost any task, no matter how simple or easy, can be onerous, a pain in the neck -- or about 2' lower -- and even dangerous, using the wrong tools.  Using tools correctly is usually pretty safe, but misuse or abuse can be dangerous, resulting in damage to tools abd equipment and personal injury.

Use the right tool for the job. Banging on something with the end of a wrench instead of going back to your tool box for a hammer may sometimes seem like it will save time, but in the long run, damage to the item and/or to the tool will end up costing you time, money, and frustration and increases the chances of you hurting yourself. And when you do use a hammer, use the right hammer. A claw hammer is designed for driving and pulling nails. A ball peen hammer is designed for pounding metal. Claw hammers may chip when used to pound metal and ball peen hammers may slip or ricochet when driving nails. It is tempting to use large screwdrivers for prying, but they aren't built for that and may bend or break, often damaging parts -- both on your equipment and on your own body -- as well as ruining the screwdriver. Use a pry bar instead. Using a wrench or socket that "almost" fits a nut or bolt will probably result in rounding off the nut or bolt or strippping the tool, usually resulting in skinned and bruised knuckles too. Make sure you have the right type of tools (SAE or metric) and are using the right size. Some metric sizes are good matches for some SAE sizes; some are not. For example, a 14mm metric and a 9/16" SAE are pretty much interchangeable, but a 1/2" SAE is smack in the middle between a 12mm and 13 mm metric. A 1/2" wrench will sort of fit a 12mm nut or bolt and a 13mm tool will almost fit a 1/2" fastener. Either combination is recipe for stripping the fastener and/or the tool -- and bloodying some knuckles along with filling the air with expletives! Screwdrivers come in different sizes to fit different sized and shaped slots in screws. Using the wrong size or shape often doesn't work at all and significantly increases the chances of stripping the head or breaking the screwdriver. Damaged fasteners, broken tools, and bloody knuckles are never a good thing and can usually be avoided or at least minimized by simply using the right tool in the first place.

Keep your tools clean and in good repair. Dirty, rusty, greasy, dull, bent, or broken tools are dangerous to use. Your hand may slip, usually resulting in the very common problem of bloody knuckles and a string of expletives you surely don't want your kids to hear. Dirty, rusty, or damaged tools may not fit properly, further increasing the risk of breaking the tool or damaging the fastener -- or other parts of the equipment or you. You are more likely to be cut by dull tools than sharp ones. You will find yourself using excessive force to compensate for dull tools, often leading to bouncing tools, loss of control,and serious injury.  If you do scrape your knuckles, take care of it right away. Clean the wound, apply antiseptic, and bandage it properly. Hand tools can easily become contaminated with germs that you don't want in your bloodstream!  A bleeding hand will also be slippery, increasing your chance of further injury and a proper bandage will help control bleeding as well as protecting the wound.

When swinging things like hammers, hatchets, and axes, make sure there no people or obstacles within range of your swing. Hold the tool by the head with handle extended and slowly swing it 360 degrees around you and over you head to be sure your working area is clear. Constantly monitor your work area to be sure no one enters the danger area or to make sure you haven't moved into danger. Be especially cautious when there are kids around. When we were kids, my younger brother got a nasty bash in the head when he leaned over my grandfather's shoulder to see what he was doing while he was driving nails. Grandpa swung his hammer back briskly to get a good whack on a 16d nail and it caught my poor brother smack in the face.

Dull tools will make your work harder. Ever try chopping a log with a dull axe? I hate the way it just bounces! I recall the story of an elderly volunteer hoeing weeds at a church garden. He worked slowly and steadily. He had a file in his back pocket and frequently stopped to dress the edge of his hoe. He was constantly teased by a young father and a teenager who both hacked away at the weeds with youthful vigor, but when the day was done, the old man with his slow, steady pace with a sharp hoe had  cleared twice as many rows as the energetic man and his teenage son had together!  And with a fraction of the sweat.

Keep your axes, hatchets, and knives sharp. A dull tool is more likely to ricochet or bounce, hurting you or a bystander. You also have to use more force when the tool is dull, further increasing the risk and extent of injuries in addition to wearing you out.

Shovels and rakes are handy for many campground tasks. Shovel edges become chipped, dull, or bent over time and occasionally need to be sharpened to maintain effectiveness. Bent edges should be pounded flat and dull ends sharpened with a file. The teeth on rakes sometimes need to be straightened.  Bent or pinched teeth aren't efficient or effective.  Long-handled tools like shovels, rakes, and brooms, should be stored in an upright position. Wooden  handles should be kept smooth and treated with lindseed oil to prevent splinters.  If you leave them lying on the ground they become trip hazards and, if you step on the blade, may flip the handle up, injuring you or someone else. Always store a rake with tines facing back away from you when you lean it against something. If you step on tines pointed your way, you'll get a nasty bump in the face when the handle snaps forward. Some good ways to store long-handled tools include drilling a hole in the handle to either hang the tool on a nail or insert a thong to hang it by or by using a length of large PVC or ABS pipe to slide the handles into to keep the tools upright and secure. If you use pipes for holders outdoors, make sure they can drain out the bottom so they don't fill up with water when it rains.

Power tools can make many tasks easier. A cordless drill-driver is probably one of the handiest power tools for RVing and camping. Be sure to store them properly in their original cases where they will not be exposed to water or extreme temperatures. Keep the batteries charged between trips. Organize your screwdriver and drill bits so you can easily find what you need when you need it. As always, keep the tool and its accessories clean. Be sure to follow your manufacturer's instructions for lubrication and other maintenance. Most drill-drivers have adjustable clutches to help you avoid over-driving screws. Take advantage of this feature to avoid stripping fasteners or countersinking them too far and damaging the material. Ordinary corded power tools can sometimes be used, but cordless tools are far more convenient and safer. Corded tools require shore power or a generator. Cordless just need to have been properly charged before you leave home. Most modern cordless batteries should easily last through a weekend campout. Take care not to use corded tools in the rain or other wet conditions. One of my son's has a cordless Snap On brand impact wench for his work  that makes many maintenance tasks on  dirt bikes a lot easier in camp but I find it too pricey for my recreational budget. I'm watching for a good coupon on a "Chicago Electric" cordless impact wrench at Harbor Freight.  It should hold up well enough for occasional use on dirt bike outings.

Wear proper personal protective equipment as needed. Rubber gloves and eye protection are "must haves" for battery work. Mechanics gloves will help protect your hands yet still give you good dexterity for most wrenching tasks. For most mechanical tasks, heavy work gloves will be more of a hazard than a help but they are essential for shoveling and axe work. Gloves not only protect your skin, but let you apply more force without pain and usually improve your grip. Wear eye protection when chopping, grinding, or using a chain saw. Wear ear plugs when using loud equipment.  Aprons are always a good idea for BBQing, other cooking tasks, and welding.  I like to keep a shop coat handy to protect my riding gear from dirt and grease when I have to stop to work on our bikes.

To summarize: use the right tool for every job. Use all tools correctly.  Keep your tools clean and in good repair. Store your tools logically and consistently:  "A place for everything and everything in its place".   Keep your work area is clean and safe. Wear proper personal protective equipment.

Tool up!