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, July 24, 2013

Staying Awake When You Need To

Staying awake can be extremely important when you're driving. Doesn't matter if you're in traveling in your economy car or a behemoth motorhome, you need to be alert on the road. Driving sometimes tends to kind of lull one to sleep and long trips can be very boring as well as tiring. Staying alert is critical to safe travel. You may also need to stay awake in a survival situation to watch for rescuers or to ward off animals during the night.

Many people depend on caffeinated beverages (coffee, colas, and energy drinks) to stay awake. They work pretty well for a lot of people. The very act of sipping your drink from time to time is helpful plus the caffeine will boost your energy level and help you stay awake. Some folks rely on over the counter remedies like "No Doz". I tried that driving in a National Guard convoy one time (using NoDoz) and for about 200 miles I hallucinated that I was following the taillights of a 1940 Ford coupe that wasn't really there.

I find that chewing gum or eating sunflower seeds helps me stay alert. Regular salted sunflower seeds make my mouth sore before too long but I've found that dill flavored seeds are about as tasty without hurting my mouth. I don't think there is anything chemical involved, just physical action of eating or chewing helps keep me awake. You might substitute your favorite snacks. You don't want anything too filling. A full stomach often makes you drowsy and too many extra calories is never a good thing.  Sometimes just sipping a cup of water will help you stay more alert.  By the way, you will fell very lethargic if you allow yourself to get dehydrated.

There are anti-snooze devices designed for over-the-road truck drivers. They attach to your head and when you start to nod they sound an alarm to awaken you. I haven't tried any of these personally, but they might be worth looking into. The one's I've seen on the Internet hook over your ear and cost $5.99 - $19.98. Personally, I'd rather STAY alert than wait until I'm sleepy enough to start to nod off. By then I could drift into on coming traffic or off the road!

The route you drive will have an impact on how alert you are. Long, straight, flat stretches of highway are boring and tend to lull drivers into a state of reduced alertness. Interesting routes with attractive scenery will help you stay awake, but often these roads are also more dangerous in the first place. Freeways are designed to carry large amounts of vehicles at high speeds and are usually protected by fences that minimize (but do not eliminate) animal crossings. The more scenic roads through forests and deserts demand drivers stay more alert and provide interesting views that can help hold your attention. Just make sure you don't pay so much attention to the scene that you don't watch the road! You can sometimes improve your alertness on boring drives by creating your own goals along the way. Pick out a landmark (natural or manmade) and mentally measure your progress against it. Even going from freeway over crossing to over crossing or from billboard to billboard can add some interest to an otherwise featureless highway.  Well designed highways provide interesting views to help keep drivers interested and alert,but it isn't always possible.  I-5 through the Central Valley of California is about as interesting as watching paint dry -- flat and straight and not even many landmarks.

Standing watch in camp has its own set of challenges when it comes to staying awake. Fortunately, most campgrounds are relatively safe and don't require an active sentinel all night.  But sometimes you may have reason to stay up and keep watch (waiting for late arrivals, for instance).  Chances are you'll be pretty tired from the day's activities and very prone to nod off. Caffeine based drinks or pills can help, but there are sometimes undesirable side effects. Staying active is one way to stay alert. Walk around, stoke the fire, study your surroundings. Sing songs. Eat some snacks or chew gum like you would when driving. If you have any companions, schedule them to take some watches so you can get some rest. The person standing watch doesn't have to be the strongest defender among the group. You just need someone who can sound an alarm if needed.  If you've had a campfire, it is usually a good practice to have someone stand "fire watch" to make sure it doesn't flare up during the night.  Fire watch is a standard practice at many Boy Scout campouts.  I've even seen buried campfires that started smoldering and smoking during the night, so fire watch isn't a "make work" thing.  You probably don't need a fire watch at desert campsites where there is little if any flamable vegetation nearby but it might be a good idea when camping in the forest -- or make sure you drown your fire so it is DEAD OUT!

Stay alert!

Campground and Resort Reservations

If you are planning to stay in a popular campground or resort or visit on a busy weekend, reservations are a must. What constitutes a "busy weekend". Most holiday weekends will be busy but many destinations have local holidays or special events that may also cause unusually heavy bookings for a particular date or some unrelated group activity, like a family reunion, may fill it up. You need to check with the camp host or ranger beforehand to be sure you can get the days you want. Some places take reservations more than year in advance and it is not unusual for regular customers to book an entire summer in an RV park a year ahead of time.

When making reservations, expect to pay a deposit. The usual way to do this is via credit or debit card but some places will accept checks if the reservations are far enough in the future to receive and process the check. When you make a reservation your host is removing your reserved room or RV spot from their available inventory and are turning down other potential guests who would have booked it. They need some guarantee that you are going to show up. If you have to cancel expect to forfeit all or at least part of your deposit.  Minimum deposits are often the first night's fee and is normally forfeited on cancellation.  Cancellations on short notice may be billed for the entire reservation.

Here is what you need to have to make your reservation: Name, Address, Phone Number, Email address, Number of people in your party, size of your RV, when you want to stay (check in date and number of nights), credit card information (account number, expiration date, and security code). Also whether you will be bringing any pets or extra vehicles.  There may be an extra charge for pets or extra vehicles or extra people.

Cancellations. Be sure to ask about the cancellation policy. It is normal to have to pay some cancellation fee. The business had to pay credit card fees to accept your deposit and has to pay additional fees to process your refund. It also costs them time, not to mention the possible lost revenue of having withdrawn your request from available inventory. The closer you get to the date of your reservation, the higher your cancellation cost is likely to be. For example, I know of one resort where 30 days or more notice only pays a $20 cancellation fee and the rest of any deposit is refunded. Less than 30 days notice forfeits the entire deposit, which is usually the cost of the first night's stay, including taxes. With less than 7 days notice the guest is expected to pay for the entire booked stay whether they show up or not. That may seem kind of onerous or heavy handed, but remember, the business has guaranteed you access to those resources and has rejected other offers in favor or your reservation. If you cancel on short notice, you are costing them the full amount of your cancelled stay if they don't charge you. Some establishments will allow you to "roll over" your deposit to a future reservation without any penalty. Most businesses will work with you if you have to cancel, but remember, your cancellation is costing them revenue. Make sure you understand and accept the cancellation policy BEFORE you make your reservation!

Extenuating circumstances. Sometimes there are legitimate reasons beyond your control that a resort or campground host may take into consideration. Most will try to work with you as best they can but realize they have probably already heard every excuse in the book. It is pathetic the stories people will make up to try to avoid paying realistic cancellation fees. If you experience real personal or family emergency that makes it impossible to keep your reservation, share it with the manager and offer to provide documentation if necessary. But consider this: if you fake an emergency just to get out of your reservations, it is the same as stealing. The business has taken your reserved resources out of the their inventory and most likely lost the income from the days you reserved. Finding a cheaper place to stay or one closer to where you want to be does not constitute an emergency. It is your responsibility to research your alternatives BEFORE making a decision and placing a reservation.

Reservations are not usually required or even accepted for open or dispersed camping areas in BLM and Forest Service properties, but it is still a good idea to call the local ranger station to determine if you will find things congested and get their advice about the best places to go to find open space and be comfortable. Often it is advantageous to arrive a day or two ahead of any busy weekend or holiday so you can have the best selection of sites.  Rangers can also fill you in on things like fishing holes and hiking and OHV trails.  Some Forest Service campgrounds do take and even require reservations, so it is always a good idea to call  ahead just to be sure.

Are you reserved?

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Changing A Dirt Bike or ATV Tire

Flat tires are an all too common problem when riding OHVs. The sometimes rough terrain tends to take its toll on tires and tubes. I've seen riders land hard enough doing jumps to pop a tube or just blow the air out of their tires and there are plenty of nails, sticks, thorns, and sharp rocks out on the trails or around camp to poke holes in things. We once used a magnet to pick up more than 10 # of nails around one camp site where previous users had apparently burned stacks and stacks of pallets.

Changing a tire out on the trail is not something you usually want to tackle, but it can be done if you have the right tools and repair materials with you. Dirt bike tires are usually stiff enough that you can limp back to camp on a flat and change it there. ATVs are much harder to drive with flat tires. When I worked as an ATV mechanic at a resort we would install a spare on site or trailer rentals with flat tires back to the shop to fix flats. Sometimes you can temporarily fix a tire using "Slime", that sticky green stuff, or some other "Instant flat repair" if you have some in your pack. If you choose to carry flat repair, make sure it is the pressurized cans to refill the tire as well as seal the leak. On the trail you may be able to stand your machine on a rock or log to support it while you remove and work on the tire. Make sure it is stable or have someone hold onto it so it doesn't fall off and get damaged or hurt you.

The procedures for changing a tire in camp or on the trail are pretty much the same. However you may have better facilities in camp to make the task easier. First, raise the flat tire off the ground using a jack, jack stand, or blocks. Make sure the machine is well balanced and stable so it doesn't fall on you while you're working on it. Loosen the axle nut and pull the axle out, then remove the wheel and tire. Lay the tire down on the sprocket side. This reduces the potential for bloody knuckles as you remove the tire. If you have disc brakes you'll have to slide the pads off the rotor to remove the wheel from the machine. If there is any air left in the tire, remove the valve stem and let all the air out. Remove the nut from the rim lock and push on the rim lock bolt to push the rim lock into the tire and away from the bead. This is most easily done by standing the tire up with the rim lock on the bottom and putting the flat side of a tire iron through the spokes and over the rim lock bolt and pushing down with both hands. Then lay the tire back down and prepare to break the bead loose from the rim. This can be difficult if you don't have special tools. Sometimes you can just step on the tire but most often it will require significantly more force.  Tire shops use pneumatic presses to separate the bead from the wheel.  You can buy a manual bead breaker that just uses leverage.  In camp I use a small sledge hammer to loosen the bead. Be VERY careful not to hit the rim! When the bead is free from the rim, insert a tire iron between the bead and the rim and lever the bead out over the rim. Hold the first tire iron and insert a second one a few inches from the first and again lever the bead over the rim. You CAN make it work alternating two tire irons, but I find it easier if I have three so I can hold the tire in place while I get another bite with the third iron. Keep working your way around until the whole bead is on the outside of the rim.  Having a helper to hold at least one of the tires irons makes it a little easier.  From here you can remove the tube and repair or replace it without having to completely remove the tire. Of course, it the tire itself needs to be replaces you'll have to remove the tire. Align the wheel so the other edge is outside both beads, then use essentially the same procedure with the tire irons to work the tire off the wheel. I found a tool that makes getting both beads off easier. It is a cylinder with a notch in one end that slips over the rim between the tire and the rim. You then hold the other end with one hand and use a hammer to drive the engaged end around the rim to lift the bead off the rim. Another handy tool is a "Bead Buddy". These clamp to the rim and serve as kind of a "third hand" to hold the tire in place while moving the tire irons.  There are even small, plastic clips you enough you can carry in your fanny pack or fender bag for this purpose.

Inner tubes are a lot more expensive than tire patches and many times a patch is all you need to get back on the road. If the valve stem is damaged or torn loose from the body of the tube you'll have to replace the tube, but simple punctures can usually be successfully patched. I prefer to use "hot vulcanizing" patches instead of the flimsy little, self adhesive,m bicycle tire type patches. I believe they make a stronger and more permanent repair, but I've also used the "peel and stick" patches on the trail in an emergency. Hot vulcanizing patches are attached to a little diamond shaped metal pan that contains a combustible material. You peel the protective film off the patch, put the patch over the hole in the tube, then clamp the metal dish to the tube using a special clamp. Then you light the material in the dish and let it burn until it goes out. Wait a few minutes for the metal to cool, then remove the clamp and carefully pull the metal dish away from the patch. Your patch should be securely sealed in place.

Installing a new or repaired tube requires some care to ensure you don't pinch the tube with the tire or damage it with the tire irons. A little talcum powder or baby powder on the tube will help keep it from sticking inside the tire and allow you to more easily move it into place and align the valve stem with the hole in the rim. Put a little (but not too much!) air in the tube so it has shape before you begin to install it. Line up the valve stem with the hole in the rim, push it through and install the valve cap, then gently stuff the tube into the tire all the way around the rim. Next you'll need to get the outside bead back over the rim using tire irons. This is basically the reverse of removing the bead. Take care not to pinch the tube with the tire iron or you'll be doing the whole job over real soon! Make sure the tube is inside the rim lock and push the bolt for the rim lock through the matching hole in the rim. Start the nut on just enough to keep the bolt from falling back through the hole until you're ready to tighten the nut. Once everything is in place, inflate the tire until the bead snaps back onto the rim. Check to make sure the bead is evenly spaced all the way around the rim. If there are shallow spots you may need to add air and over-inflate the tire until the bead pops into place. You will usually hear a sharp "pop" when this happens. When you are satisfied that the bead is properly seated, tighten the nut on the rim lock, then adjust the tire pressure to where it should be for riding. That usually means letting out some of the air it took to seat the bead. Then reinstall the tire and wheel assembly, making sure the brake disc (if so equipped) is properly aligned and the chain is correctly installed on the sprocket. Adjust the axle aligning bolts equally until the chain has the proper tension, then tighten the axle bolt and nut and hit the trails again!

Pumping up your tire on the trail. There are two basic options: a hand pump or a CO2 powered inflation kit. Hand pumps are inexpensive but because of the limited size for carrying on the trail it is going to take a lot of pumping to inflate a tire. CO2 powered inflation kits make it easy, but those little cylinders, about the size of your thumb, aren't going to fill a lot of tires. Big, puffy ATV tires take a lot more air than narrow dirt bike tires. Back in camp you can use a regular manual tire pump or, if you have it available, compressed air.

A tire changing stand is not necessary but will make the job a lot easier and keep you from kneeling in the dirt and gravel. It keeps the wheel (and you) up out of the dirt and some models include a bar that can be used to remove the bead. Another handy tool is a bead breaker. This consists of a curved bar that fits along the bead next to the rim. The bar is attached to a lever which in turn is attached to a stand that also has a "foot" that goes under the tire. Pushing down on the lever once everything is aligned forces the lip of the bar between the tire and the rim and pushes the tire down off the rim, making it easier to get your tire irons in place to work the tire off the rim.  Of course you won't have these with you out on the trail, but they make the job in camp a lot easier.

Bicycle tires are handled about the same as dirt bike tires, but because of the smaller size, lighter weight, and softer rubber you will find the task easier.  Tire irons for bicycle tires are much smaller than regular tire irons and usually have a notch that fits onto the spokes to hold one in place while you move the other.

Happy patching!

Thursday, July 11, 2013

What is Punky Wood?

What is "punky wood" and why should you care? Punky wood is cited as a useful item in several articles on this blog and is frequently mentioned in survival articles and on shows like Survivorman. We're all familiar with pine, poplar, cedar, cottonwood and willow trees. But ever seen a punky tree? Didn't think so. So -- just what the heck is "punky wood"?

Punky wood is a the partially decayed wood you find in dead trees and logs (of any species). It is usually light in weight and quite dry. It usually appears checkered or alligatored and is soft so it can be easily scraped away for use. It makes good tinder for starting a fire and when a lot is used (like a whole log), creates a lot of smoke that purportedly has medicinal properties for treating foot fungus and for use as a "smoke shower" to kill bacteria on the skin. It should be dry and should be easily crumbled between your fingers. Sometimes you will find damp deposits on the bottom of a log. Don't dispair. You can scrape some off and set it aside to dry before you use it. You might use damp punky wood for smoke shower or signal fire as long as it isn't so wet it puts out your fire or just won't burn.

Punky wood is recommended as a target for sparks when using flint and steel and as one of the preferred substances for use as tinder in a fire piston. It would also make good tinder for optical fire starters like magnifying glasses. One of the advantages of punky wood is it is usually readily available in many wilderness situations. Look for a log laying on the ground or a broken off or hollow tree or dead branches and there is a good chance some of it will be partially decayed. Punky wood sources are usually not good for any kind of construction use. The decay will have weakened the wood and it may contain insects you wouldn't want crawling out of your walls or bed frame!

Punk up!

Monday, July 8, 2013

Fire Pistons

Fire pistons are another way of starting a fire without matches or a lighter. A fire piston works on the same basic principle as a diesel engine: heat is generated by compression. A fire piston consists of two pieces: a piston and a cylinder.

To use a fire piston you must first place tinder in the cylinder. Char cloth (partially burned cotton cloth) or a tiny piece of punky wood is the preferred tinder. The piston is then placed in the cylinder and slammed down quickly to compress the air in the cylinder. If the seal is tight, and the tinder is dry enough, and the stroke fast enough and forceful enough, the compression should generate enough heat to ignite the tinder. Don't expect flames when you dump out the tiny bit of tinder. At best you're going to get a glowing ember which you must blow or fan into life amid more dry tinder to create a flame. You'll need to place the ember in a bed of prepared tinder and nurse it along to get flames which you can then use to ignite your campfire.

Fire pistons are a little more difficult to use than flint and steel but they are very durable and can be used to light many fires if they are properly cared for. They should be able to be used indefinitely, as long as the seal is in tact. Damage to the seal will render them instantly useless. It also takes a fair amount of strength to strike them hard enough to make them work so they are not for the weak and you may bruise your hands long before you get a fire going. Unlike flint and steel, there are no consumable parts to use up, but the seal WILL wear and may have to be replaced periodically.

In my research, fire pistons are usually more expensive than flint and steel. Given the differences in cost and performance, I would rather carry flint and steel as an emergency fire starter. In fact, I can get several flint and steel sets for the price of one fire piston.  I think the likelihood of getting a fire going quickly are much higher, at least for me, using flint and steel. I routinely use flint and steel to start my campfires so I can stay in practice.

Fire up!

Using Flint and Steel Fire Starters

Flint and steel fire starters are pretty easy to use -- if you know how -- and if you use the right tinder. However, in order to be proficient at using them, you need a little practice. You don't want to spend precious time learning what to do or figuring out how to prepare tinder when you're in a survival situation and need a fire NOW. Using flint and steel every time you start your camp fire is a good habit to develop.

First of all, they sometimes have to be broken in before they will work right. The tool comes with a factory coating to protect it, and until that coating is scraped away you won't get good sparks. Some flint and steel systems include a magnesium bar that is intended to be shaved off to be used as the tinder to catch your sparks. You'll usually need a sharp pocket knife for this. Create a little pile at least the size of a dime (the size of a quarter is even better) so you'll have a good target for the sparks and enough fuel to give you time to light your fire. Some folks recommend making a pile about the size of a quarter so you have more time to transplant it to get your fire going, but if you have everything ready and can transfer the burning magnesium to your tinder quickly a dime size pile should be sufficient. Magnesium burns very hot and very bright (it is what makes old fashioned flashbulbs so bright) and will burn even when it is wet so it is an excellent way to get a fire going even in wet weather.

One of the first things you should do when you buy a flint and steel fire starter is practice with it. This will let you scrape off the protective coatings and learn the right pressure and speed to create good sparks and to see where the sparks are going to go so you'll know where to put your tinder. Be patient. It may take a number of strokes before the coating is gone and you get a good feel for how to create and control the sparks. Different styles of fire starters have different intensity and patterns of sparks. I've seen some that throw intense sparks 2-3 feet! Other may only travel a few inches.  You will want to experiment to find out what pressure and speed works best for you using the equipment you have.

One of the main keys to success using flint and steel is having the right tinder. As mentioned above, the magnesium shavings from commercial flint and steel systems work very well. Another excellent tinder is 100% cotton balls, with or without added Vaseline. Added Vaseline will make them burn longer, giving you more time to get your fire going, but just plain cotton balls usually ignite faster. DO NOT use synthetic "cosmetic puffs". They look the same as cotton balls, but the sparks will usually just melt through the synthetic fibers instead of igniting them. You'll see a lot of folks recommending dryer lint as tinder. If it is from cotton towels or underwear or denim it will probably work pretty well. If it has a high synthetic content (nylon, rayon, polyester), it will most likely just melt. In the wild, the fluff from mature cattails works really well. Or create some shavings from dry tree bark. Or crush some dry grass or weeds in your hands. The drier and finer your tinder, the easier it will accept a spark and ignite.  Often all you will get is a glowing ember you will need to fan into life to ignite your fire.

The next critical step is transferring your tinder into your fire. The key to this step is preparation. Put your tinder into some kind of container you will be able to move without burning yourself. Old time mountain men often used a piece of leather for this purpose. You might substitute green leaves (green so they don't easily catch fire in your hands) or a small piece of flat wood or stone -- or a flattened old tin can. Have your fire ready to go so all you have to do is place your burning tinder in place below the kindling. One neat trick is to prepare a tinder nest to receive your initial embers and use that to ignite your actual fire by putting the whole nest into the prepared fire pile.

An alternative method is to build your fire around your tinder start. Here again, the key is preparation. Have your fire pit prepared and all your fuel, especially kindling, sorted, stacked, and ready to go. Place the burning tinder in the center of your prepared fire pit, then gently add kindling, starting with very small sticks (diameter less than that of a pencil) and working your way up until you can add larger and larger pieces, eventually nice big logs. You might try adding dry grass or weeds before attempting to add wood. Don't put on too much at a time or you'll smother your fire. Wait until the pieces you add begin to burn well and flame up before adding more. As the small kindling begins to burn add larger pieces, say the diameter of your thumb, then, when those are burning well, add some about 1" - 2" or so across, then 4", then 6" etc until you have the size of fire you need.

Light 'em up!

Sunday, July 7, 2013

RV Park Etiquette

I've seen the behavior of RVers run from incredibly considerate to really horrible. What makes the difference? Mostly thoughtfulness -- and following the rules. Most RVers are considerate and good citizens but some RVers think they should have unrestricted access to the whole world and these folks often display a flagrant disregard for everyone else. They're perfectly happy as long as THEY have everything going THEIR WAY. You've probably seen the type. They build a big smoking fire that just about drives everyone else in the park away, they turn up their sound systems to near the threshold of pain, they let their pets -- and kids -- run wild, they run their generators or fuming diesel engines way before and way after "quiet hours", they and their guests park in the roadways, they show up after hours and expect personal service getting into their assigned site, they take off without checking out. I once saw a group take over the public pavilion as their private parking lot for their personal and unauthorized guests.  Did I miss anything? Having spent a summer as an assistant manager in a resort with about a dozen RV spaces, I've seen a lot of both good and bad examples.  I'm sure you all have your own pet peeves about fellow campers.

Being a good camper isn't difficult. It is mostly a matter of common sense -- and knowing and following the rules. Most campgrounds have posted rules or will provide written rules when you check in. Look them over and make sure you comply. Most rules aren't that onerous or restrictive. It is just common sense that good campers will do pretty much the opposite of the things listed in the paragraph above. It isn't rocket science to monitor whether your campfire smoke is blowing into someone else's space and keeping your music in YOUR campsite doesn't take a brain surgeon either. Simply following the Golden Rule is a good place to start, but even if YOU might think your actions are acceptable, you need to consider how other people might feel about them. Maybe you don't mind loud music, but not everyone has the same appreciation for country music, rock'n'roll, or Heavy Metal. I heard of one classic music lover who retaliated against loud rock music by playing the 1812 Overture at extremely high volume, especially the section with the cannons!

A few basic rules:

  1.     Keep all your stuff (smoke, music, noise, kids, pets, vehicles, trash, activities) in your campsite.
  2.     Learn and obey all the posted rules.
  3.     Plan your travels to arrive and depart according to scheduled check in and check out times set by the  campgrounds.
  4.     Leave your site AT LEAST as clean as you found it.
  5.     Pay special attention to fire restrictions.
  6.     Be courteous and friendly to your host and your fellow campers.
  7.     Report any violations of rules you observe.

Be nice! It doesn't cost anything and pays huge dividends.