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.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Survival -- Make Do

Surviving  the effects of a natural or man made disaster or being lost or stranded in the wilderness often means making best use of available resources, whatever they may be.  Les Stroud (Suvivorman) frequently touts the value of examining your environment to see what you can find that you can use.  While Les often bewails the presence of man-made trash in the wilderness, he has found it is almost everywhere, and often yields things that can be used.  Explore both the natural resources and man made debris.  What is normally considered trash can be extremely valuable in a survival situation.  Most of us throw out tin cans without giving them a second thought, but tin cans can be very useful and valuable in a survival situation.  You can make a very efficient rocket stove from a single one-gallon can and a few soup cans.  Tin cans can be used as cooking pots or to boil water to purify it for drinking, washing, or medical use.  They can be flattened to patch holes in roofs or other shelters.  They can be used to collect and store food when foraging. You might even use a tin can to dig a latrine if you don't have a shovel.  In a dire emergency you might be able to use the ragged edge of a tin can as a substitute for a knife. The bottom of an aluminum beer or soda can can be polished (a little fine sand and a chocolate bar or tooth paste makes a good rubbing compound) and used as a parabolic reflector to focus sunlight to light a fire.  Sometimes a plastic water bottle (with clean water or even urine inside) can be used to focus sun's rays to start a fire.  Plastic bottles are always handy for storing and transporting water.

Les Stround (Survivorman) often laments the fact that just about anywhere you go, no matter how remote, you will find trash left behind by previous visitors.  In a survival situation that is both bad news and good news.  Bad news because trash is unsightly and may harm native plants and animals.  Good news because it may provide useful resources.  Trash can be a surprisingly good resource for survival tools.  Discarded tin cans from food make good pots for cooking or boiling water.  Larger cans might be used to build stoves that make cooking easier and more efficient or allow you to bring heat into a shelter where open fire would be too dangerous.  They might be used as digging tools or flattened to cover holes in your shelter.  You might be able to use them to make traps for edible insects and small animals.  Even those loathsome plastic bags that take hundreds of years to decay in landfills can be useful in a survival situation.  Discarded wire may be used as lashing to create shelter or furniture or snares.  You can sometimes find fishing line complete with hooks snagged in lakes and rivers or along the banks.

It wouldn't be possible or even feasible to list all of the ways you might use trash.  The most important lesson to learn is to examine everything with an eye to how it might be used.  Ask yourself "what can I do with this?"  Some things are fairly obvious: tarps and plastic sheeting (or plastic bags) for shelter, paper, cardboard, and scrap wood for fuel for warmth and cooking, corrugated sheet metal for shelter but there are many other resources you might make use of in a survival situation.  Tin cans have many, many uses.  There are many components of disabled or abandoned vehicles that might be salvaged.  Doors, hoods, etc., might be re-purposed for shelter; lubricants like transmission fluid and motor oil can be drained and used to lubricate other machinery or burned as fuel; upholstery and padding from seat cushions can be used for padding or insulation or sometimes to make shoes or clothing; wiring may be ripped out and used as cordage for building shelters; batteries, if they still have any charge, might be used with 0000 steel wool or with wires to create sparks for starting your fire.  In a long term scenario, you might devise a way to use wind, water, or pedal power (like a bicycle) to turn a salvaged vehicle alternator to produce electricity and charge batteries.  Pieces of glass headlight lenses might be used like a magnifying glass to concentrate sun's rays to light your fire or as scraping tools for cooking or preparing animal hides to make shelter or clothing.   Even old newspapers can be used  as insulation for a shelter or under your clothes or in your bed.  Old newspaper makes surprisingly good insulation for both shelters and for your body.  The only insulation in the walls of my grandfather's house in Idaho when I was growing up was old newspapers -- and winter temps got down as low as -26° but we never froze (and neither did the pipes in the house).  They sure made interesting reading when we remodeled the old place.

Not long ago, a young Boy Scout survived being separated from his troop in freezing overnight temperatures in the Utah mountains by building a debris hut.   A debris hut is very simple to build:  just pile up a bunch of leaves and grass or pine needles and burrow into the pile or just lay down and cover yourself over with them.   It will be a lot scratchier than a feather bed, but it could keep you warm enough to save your life.  Also, make sure the debris is dry and free from insects.  Hey, even a squirrel can build a debris hut!  A large cardboard box can provide a surprising amount of protection as long as it doesn't get wet.  I've seen winter survival sleeping bags made from trash bags and bubble wrap.
 
The most important concept is to take a careful inventory of ALL the resources you might have in a survival situation.  They might be discarded items (trash) that you can make use of or natural resources that can be adapted for food, clothing, shelter, medicine, and fuel.  You never know what might come in handy if you use your imagination and seek ways to make good use of anything you have available.  In winter even snow can be a valuable resource.  Not only can you melt it to get drinking water (as long as it isn't yellow or otherwise contaminated snow!), you can use it to build shelters to protect you from the elements.  Be creative.  You might even make snowballs to defend yourself from animals or other unwelcome intruders and perhaps you could even use them as weapon for hunting small game.  Practice looking at discarded items and asking your self  "What could I do with that?" instead of just turning away in revulsion thinking, "Ugh!  Trash!"  You will want to exercise some discretion.  Partially filled beer and soda bottles found along roadsides might deliver an unpleasant surprise.  Truckers have been know to use them as urinals to avoid stopping for a restroom break so that residual golden liquid in the Bud Light bottle might not be the left over brew you hope it is!

Use it up, wear it out, make do, or do without!

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Sharpening Your Skills

No matter how long you've been a camper, you can still benefit from sharpening your skills.  I doubt if any of us get to go camping as often as we'd like, and, unlike cutting tools, which can become dull with use, our skills will become dull with non-use.  No matter how good you once were at making camp or starting a fire, if you haven't practiced it lately, you'll probably find you've lost your edge if you haven't done it for a while.  That can be frustrating and embarrassing and may delay dinner or getting warm.

The best way to sharpen or maintain your skills is to be actively using them.  For many years my family went dirt biking and camping in the Mojave Desert just about every holiday weekend.  That meant going out about once a month and that gave us a pretty good opportunity to stay in practice.  Now that my wife and I are semi-retired and have moved to Utah, our outings are much fewer and farther between.  That means that when we do get a chance to take our RV out, we have to invest some time remembering all the routine preparations we used to take for granted.   Our old check lists come in very handy, but each time we discover a few things we used to do almost automatically and thus weren't on the written checklist that we don't think about now until it's too late. 

It is also good for machines (RVs and OHVs) to be exercised regularly.  Even if you can't schedule vacation time or even a weekend away, try to take a short trip or two at least once a month.  Seals in engines and running gear can dry out and crack.  Regular use keeps them functioning.  Driving also flexes the rubber in tires to bring out compounds that guard against cracking and sun-checking.  A simple overnight trip to a nearby campground now and then can help keep both you and your equipment in better shape.  If that doesn't work, take a drive around the block or at least start the engine and let it run for 20 minutes or so about once a month.  If your vehicle has an automatic transmission, set the brake securely and shift through all the gears a few times so the fluid circulates if you can't drive it.

Tent campers can hone their camp making skills in the back yard. Set up your tent to refresh your skills and verify its condition between camping trips.  Spend a night or two in your tent now and then to preserve your familiarity and comfort level with sleeping on the ground.

Fire starting skills can be practiced lighting fires in your home fireplace as well as lighting campfires.  If you don't have a fireplace, maybe you can build a campfire in your back yard.  Don't have a fire pit or anyplace to make one?  Locate an old washing machine tub.  They make excellent portable fire pits.  The perforations allow ample ventilation and air flow yet restrict sparks.  You can set the tub on some bricks or concrete blocks to minimize any damage to lawns or patios and allow good air flow through the bottom for efficient burning.  The raised fire box also makes for a good "toe toaster" to warm your feet on chilly evenings.

Practice your outdoor cooking skills on your home BBQ.  They may come in really handy if there is a disaster that takes out utilities.  We once had a power outage hit right at dinner time.  Since we have an all electric house with an electric range, that pretty much took out our normal cooking facilities until power was restored.  I went out to the back yard, brushed the snow off the BBQ, and transferred the meal in progress outside.  We barely lost a couple of minutes.  Your BBQ is good for much more than cooking burgers, chicken, or steaks.  You can heat water for hot drinks and cleanup.  You can prepare soups and stews.  With the addition of a campstove oven, you can even bake on your BBQ or camp stove.

Dutch oven cooking is a fun and easy way to prepare wholesome and tasty meals, for both camping and everyday eating.  You can put your Dutch oven on a BBQ or set it directly on coals on the ground, then put the appropriate number of lighted briquettes on top for even cooking.  If you line your Dutch oven with aluminum foil, cleanup of even sticky things like "dump cakes" is really quick and easy.  It takes a little practice to get the heat and the timing down to produce the best results, so frequent practice is highly recommended.

If you enjoy shooting (guns or archery), you need practice to maintain your skills.

Keeping your skills tuned up can be lots of fun too!   The best way, of course, is to go camping as often as you can, but even camping at home between trips can be interesting and helpful.

If you simply CAN'T get out, do some "fantasy camping" in your mind.   Not only is it fun, but some studies have shown that mentally practicing a skill improves performance.  This has even been shown with athletes such as basketball players.

Look sharp!

Monday, March 17, 2014

Camping, Survival, and Emergency Sanitation

Dealing with human waste is usually not a topic for polite company, but it is essential to know what to do when camping, in a survival situation, or during an emergency at home.  Most people have no idea that cholera, is one of the leading causes of death in refugee camps worldwide, or that it is mostly caused by poor sanitation.   Many other diseases are also fomented by poor sanitation, especially when you are dealing with groups of people.  The larger the group, the greater the hazard!  Disease kills more people in a large scale disaster than all other causes combined.

If you're staying in campgrounds with toilet facilities when camping your needs are pretty much taken care of, as long as you take advantage of the facilities and exercise a reasonable amount of healthy precaution, such as thoroughly washing your hands or using hand sanitizer after using the toilet.  That doesn't mean just a quick rinse, but at lease 15-20 seconds of vigorous scrubbing or rubbing with soap and (preferably hot) water.  The primitive pit toilets in some remote campgrounds don't have water, so bring along some hand sanitizer.

If you're dry camping in an RV, you should be in pretty good shape as long  as you don't run out of water or overflow your holding tanks.  You will want to ration your water usage and filling of our holding tanks to ensure you can make it through the outing.  Be sure to use the right holding tank chemicals in the right amounts.  Then you must properly empty and flush your holding tanks at an approved facility.  Sloppy dumping can create a bio-hazard that could affect you directly and is likely to impact many subsequent users of the facility.  Make sure to flush any spillage in the dump basin into the drain.  Always do your best to avoid any spillage outside of the dump basin and should some occur, clean it up as quickly and thoroughly as possible.

When you're tent camping  in a remote location or in survival mode, you'll be dependent on more primitive methods.  You will want to locate or designate an area downwind and downhill from your camp site as the latrine area.  For short term camping you will probably just dig your own individual latrine pit for each need.  If you're staying in the same place for several days or have a large group of people you may want to dig a larger, multi-use latrine for convenience.  Either way, it must be at least 200' from any source of water (stream, well, spring, lake).  You will want to dig a deep enough pit so you can cover your deposits to prevent people from stepping in them and to discourage animals from digging them up.  Tent campers may take advantage of portable potty chairs for added convenience.  The are usually similar to folding camp stools or camp chairs that can be fitted with plastic bags to collect the waste for proper disposal.  What can you do if you don't have soap and water to wash with?   Bring along some hand sanitizer if you can.  It is inexpensive and comes in various sizes, including "travel" sizes that are suitable for pack, purse, or pocket.  I also suggest you explore the options that may be available in nature, especially to prepare for a survival situation.  For example, sagebrush has anti-bacterial properties.  Rub your hands with sage brush leaves or "wash" them in smoke from a sagebrush fire or boil some sagebrush leaves in water to make an effective cleaning solution.  Be sure to let it cool a bit before using it.  Dry sagebrush or sagebrush smoke won't remove dirt and grime but it will kill bacteria.  Some plants may make a suitable substitute for toilet paper, especially mullen, which is sometimes called "Desert Charmin".  Test any plants you plan to use on your arm and wait about an hour to check the results before using it on more sensitive parts of your body.

During a disaster or emergency situation at home normal utilities may be out for several days or more.  It may be possible to continue to use your residential toilet (as long as the sewer system is still in tact), even if your water is off, by manually filling the toilet tank.  You don't need potable water to fill the toilet tank.  Save that for drinking!  Even muddy or contaminated water from streams or lakes or even puddles will do.  By the way, this only works for gravity feed toilets.  You need good water pressure to operate below-grade toilets you find in some basements.  Lacking sufficient water to operate your toilet,  you'll have to make other arrangements like you might use for tent camping or in survival mode.  Some home survival kits include a toilet seat that fits on a 5 gallon bucket fitted with a plastic bag to create a fairly comfortable and reasonably sanitary toilet.  Just make sure to tightly seal and properly stow or dispose of the plastic bags after using them.  This is probably a more desirable solution than trying to dig a latrine in your back yard.   If you live in a rural area where you have plenty of raw land available, a pit latrine may be an option, but I wouldn't recommend it for an urban or suburban environment.  There is a product called "Wag Bags" that are designed for safe disposal of human waste.  These tough plastic bags have zip closures and are said to be puncture resistant.  They come with chemicals that convert the waste to a gel to minimize spillage and control odors.  You can buy a dozen for about $40 as places like REI, Camping World, and even Amazon.com.  In a pinch you can use ordinary heavy duty trash bags in a 5-gallon bucket as a makeshift toilet.  Be sure to tie them off tightly when you are done and be careful when moving them.

With a little knowledge, care, and planning, you should be able to manage human wastes without creating an unreasonable bio-hazard, whether you're camping for recreation, in a survival situation, or weathering out a disaster at home.

No crap!

Monday, March 3, 2014

Bug Out Vehicles

 Just what is a "bug out vehicle"?  The definition may differ depending on your strategy for dealing with emergency situations.  For some folks, who have ready access to stable roads, an RV may be a good bug out vehicle because it can be set up to contain everything you need for survival (food, shelter, water, first aid supplies, and sanitation facilities) just about anywhere.  But if you live where roads may become impassable during an emergency you may need something else, perhaps a 4WD or other off road vehicle -- or maybe even a horse or mule!  Your every day car might be used as a bug out vehicle if you don't have anything else available and the roads are useable.  In a rural area, you might even use a horse or other animal as your bug out "vehicle".

First of all, what does it mean to "bug out"?  "Bug out" is a popular term for abandoning your home in favor or a more viable location to survive a disaster.  Well prepared survivalists or "preppers" have usually pre-selected one or more possible destinations they could escape to if remaining at home were no longer safe.  In the most basic usage, you might "bug out" to a designated FEMA, Red Cross, or community emergency shelter, but is is usually used to describe traveling to a new personal safe haven for you and your family.  What kind of bug out vehicle you might need will depend entirely on what your bug out plans are.  If you're only going to be going to a local designated shelter, your family car or even a bicycle might be adequate, but if you have prepared a personal or family shelter in some remote location, you will need to consider a vehicle that is capable of getting you there even if roads are damaged or closed.  Fuel range is also a consideration.  In a disaster situation it is highly likely that gas stations will be inoperable or sold out.

The purpose of a "bug out vehicle" is to give you a way to evacuate your home during some kind of emergency.  If you have survival plans than include escaping to a remote mountain cabin or a cave, you need to have a vehicle capable of carrying you, your family, and your supplies to reach your bug out location.  That may mean adding extra fuel tanks or gas cans if your bug out location is far from home.  Since fuel is likely to be in high demand in a disaster, try to carry it where you don't advertise that it is there.  An alternative might be to cache fuel along the way if you can find  places where it will be safe until you need it.

You don't have to be heading to some secret, remote location for a bug out vehicle to be useful.  Even if you are only "bugging out" to to nearest Red Cross, FEMA, or other community relief shelter, having your own bug out vehicle can help you get there in relative comfort and with the supplies you need for your personal health, safety, and comfort.  Community shelters aren't likely to be stocked with your specific prescription medicines, preferred OTC medications, or any special dietary needs you or your family may have.  About all you can count on is having a roof over your head and basic protection from the elements.  If you're lucky you may get a cot or a least a blanket or two to sleep on and maybe some basic restroom facilities and some simple meals.  We had to evacuate our home in a suburban community in southern California when a careless forklift operator knocked the valve off a large chlorine bulk storage tank.  We used our 28' Class A motorhome.  One of the approved shelters a few miles upwind of the chlorine gas cloud was at a church we were familiar with.  We parked our motorhome in the church parking lot and had everything we needed to last out the time it took for the toxic cloud to dissipate, without the humiliation (or risk) of sharing living spaces with hundreds of strangers.

What is the "ultimate bug out vehicle?"  You may see manufacturers make claims that they have the ultimate bug out vehicle, but as mentioned in the opening paragraph, the kind of vehicle you need will depend on where you live and where you need to or plan to bug out to.  Sure, it might be nice to have a $600,000 all-terrain expedition vehicle built to military specs and equipped with solar panels, elaborate water filtration systems, and a multi-fuel engine, but few of us could afford it and most most of us would never need it.  And having it might make you a target during  an emergency situation.  Only YOU can determine what kind of vehicle is right for you.  I live in a rural area.  In addition to my motorhome I have an 11 1/2' camper and 1-ton 4WD pickup, plus dirt bikes.  My first preference for evacuating my home should it be necessary, would be my motorhome.  Next would be my truck and camper, whose smaller size and 4WD would give me more places I could go.  If roads were impassable, I could go lots of places with my dirt bike, with my bug-out bag on my back.  If you live near a navigable lake or stream (or think you'll be crossing same to reach your destination) you might want to include some kind of marine transportation like a foldable or inflatable boat or raft or even a simple canoe.  I knew a guy who kept small airplane at a private airfield and a sail boat in a marina in the Los Angeles area in case he couldn't get out of town any other way.  That was in addition to a 4WD Landcruiser and some OHVs in his garage.

Security by obscurity is a valid concept that may help keep you safe from marauders in disaster situation.   Having a 10' razor wire fence around your compound may seem like a good idea but when things get desparate it screams "there's good stuff here" and may attract a lot of unwanted attention.  Likewise, a big fancy bug out vehicle may draw more attention than a beat up looking old 4x4 pickup.

Do an Internet search for "bug out vehicle" and you'll get tons of results ranging from a 10 wheel, all wheel drive behemoth RV with military ancestry to tricked out Jeeps and various tracked vehicles.   If nothing else, just looking at them is educational and entertaining!

Bug out and be safe!