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, April 28, 2014

Off Highway Vehicles

There are many kinds of vehicles that are considered off highway vehicles  (OHVs).  The term most often is used regarding dirt bikes, ATVs, ATCs, side-by-sides (Utility Task Vehicles or UTVs), dune buggies, and 4x4s but could also be used to describe  snowmobiles and personal watercraft. Technically, mountain bikes and even off-road skateboards could be considered OHVs, but the term is usually applied to motor powered vehicles.  You ride dirt bikes, ATVs, ATCs, Jetskis, and Snowmobiles, straddling a seat or saddle and using handlebars.  You drive UTVs or side-by-sides, dune buggies, and 4x4s, sitting in a seat (with seat belts) and using a steering wheel.  In most places you must be licensed driver at least 16 years of age to drive a UTV, dune buggie, or 4x4.

Dirt bikes are off-road motorcycles.  They have two wheels.  They are rated by engine size and typically range from 50cc to 650cc.  Dirt bikes are the most difficult land based motorized OHVs to ride.  Like riding a bicycle, you must learn to balance the motorcycle to keep it upright but the engine provides a gyroscopic effect that gives some assistance.  They are popular for riding single track trails and have the capability to ride on trails that cross slopes without falling over (unless the rider is careless or incompetent).  An advanced form of dirt bike is the motocross bike.  These are specially equipped and tuned for racing on motocross and Supercross tracks but you will often see them ridden by recreational riders on the trails.  They are fast and powerful and capable of performing many stunts, such as wheelies and jumps in the hands of an experienced rider.  Dirt bikes are usually designed to carry only one rider but some are or can be configured to carry an additional passenger with the addition of a second set of foot pegs.  Early motorcycles were, by necessity, off road machines, or, more correctly using today's language, dual sport machines.  The lack of developed roads in the early 20th Century meant most vehicles had to be capable of at least some off road operation.  The first dirt bikes specifically for off road riding and racing were custom made by riders themselves from Triumph and Rickman street motorcycle components starting in the 1940s.  Then, seeing a potentially profitable market, Japanese companies like Honda, Yamaha, Suzuki, and Kawasaki started manufacturing factory dirt bikes for retail sale.  A friend of mine bought the 2nd Yamaha IT 400 sold in the United States.  Other prominent brands include KTM (Austria), Husqvarna (Sweden), and ATK (United States).  Dirt bikes are made for riding in the the dirt.  If you must ride on pavement, exercise extra caution.  The knobby tires are not designed for use on pavement and could cause an accident.  Dirt bikes are normally not legal to be ridden on paved roads but can sometimes be "dual sported" to qualify for occasional street use.  There are special "D.O.T." knobbies that are street legal, but as with most compromises, they aren't as good on the street as normal highway tires nor as good in the dirt as off road tires.

ATVs are All Terrain Vehicles.  They have 4 wheels and may be either 2 wheel or 4 wheel drive.  ATVs are often used as utility vehicles on farms, ranches, and by other outdoor professions.  They are sometimes used by Search and Rescue teams because of the combination of their relatively small size, which allows them to go places larger 4x4s can't, and their load carrying capacities, which allows them to carry equipment and to transport victims out of difficult terrain. They come in configurations to carry one or two people. They can be equipped with large luggage/cargo racks, enclosed cargo trunks, tow hitches to tow small trailers, and even snowplows for clearing your driveway in the winter.   ATVs are manufactured by the same companies that have built dirt bikes for years plus a some others such as Polaris, Bombadier, and Arctic Cat.    ATVs provide great traction in mud, snow, and sand, but are somewhat unstable crossing hillsides.  I've seen more than one topple over and roll sideways all the way to the bottom of the hill!  You ride an ATV like you would a motorcycle, straddling the saddle and steering with handlebars.  Although you may often see ATVs ridden on paved roads, especially in rural areas where they're used on farms and ranches, it is a dangerous practice.  The tires are designed for traction in off-road conditions and may react unpredictably on pavement.  I have seen reports that most ATV accidents occur on paved roads and some of them have been fatal.

ATCs (All Terrain Cycles) were predecessors of the ATV and have 3 wheels.  They were only manufactured and sold for a few years due to purported dangers associated with them.  It is often thought they were banned in the United States by Federal law.  In reality, the threat of a Federal ban caused the manufacturers to impose their own moratorium in accordance with a consent decree during which they turned their attention to 4-wheel ATVs.  You can still find a few pre-owned ATCs around, but new ones have not been sold  in the United States since the mid 1980s.  There were some inherent design features that were blamed for a number of accidents, some of them fatal.  Some notable examples are:  running over your own foot with one of the rear wheels (I NEVER did that with my dirt bike!) and the perception that their 3-wheeled tricycle format made them easy to ride.  The latter often drew novice riders who quickly exceeded their personal limits and found themselves in serious trouble.  Another anomaly that gave inexperienced ATC riders problems was that, unlike bicycles and motorcycles, leaning into a turn could cause you to turn the opposite way!  For example, leaning left would transfer extra weight onto the left rear wheel, giving it more traction and causing it to move forward faster than the right rear wheel, forcing the ATC to turn right regardless of which way the front wheel was turned.  Manufacturers steadfastly denied that ATCs were inherently more dangerous than dirt bikes, but the public perception of their faults led to government investigations and ultimately to the demise of their production. Contrary to popular belief, they were never outlawed.  Rather, a voluntary moritorium was implemented by the manufacturers to avoid legal restrictions.  By the time the moratorium had expired, manufacturers had replaced their 3-wheeled ATCs with 4-wheeled ATVs, which were much more stable, and had no interest in reviving the much-maligned three-wheelers.

Side-by-sides or UTVs are kind of like a large ATV or a small 4x4, depending on your perspective.  They get their name from the seating configuration that puts at least 2 people sitting side-by-side as they would in a Jeep or a sports car.  Larger units may have 4-6 seats.  You steer them with a steering wheel, just like a car.  All side-by-sides I've seen have 4 wheel drive.  They usually provide a quite comfortable ride, with wheel travel that rivals dirt bikes.  The larger units are sometimes prohibited on ATV trails because of  their additional width.  Being larger and more complex, they can be significantly more expensive than dirt bikes and ATVs, but if some of your party is happy riding as a passenger instead of operating the vehicle themselves, they might be cost effective.  For example, one UTV can could carry 4 people and may cost less than 4 dirt bikes, depending on the model and optional features.  Some popular examples of side-by-sides are the Yamaha Rhino, the Kawasaki Mule, the Polaris RZR, and the Arctic Cat Wildcat.  Like ATVs, side-by-sides are often used as utility vehicles for farm and ranch work.  In fact, the Kawasaki Mule was at first a farm and ranch utility vehicle that users adapted for recreational use.  UTVs are fairly stable on pavement but driving them on paved roads for any distance will cause premature tire wear.  They are not typically licensed for on road operation.

4x4s typically used for off road recreational purposes include the venerable Jeep, which found its first service as a general purpose military vehicle in World War II and many 4 wheel drive pickups.  Many of todays SUVs also come in a 4 wheel drive configuration that is sometimes used for off roading.  Because of the size of these vehicles they are unable to travel on designated dirt bike or ATV trails but are excellent for riding fire roads and other unimproved roads.  Some 4x4s are modified to be "rock crawlers", who compete in rigorous events challenging the ability of machine and driver to climb over large boulder and ascend steep, rocky slopes.  A popular option on many 4x4s (especially rock crawlers) is a power winch, which can be used to pull the vehicle through especially difficult terrain and pull it out if it gets stuck.  Since many 4x4s are modified highway vehicles they often are street licensed.

Mountain bikes are sometimes considered off road vehicles and are banned from designated wilderness areas.  Properly equipped mountain bikes in the hands of a competent rider can handle remarkably difficult terrain. Forest and desert trails are popular venues for mountain biking.  The "slick rock" area around Moab in south eastern Utah is one of the most famous places for mountain biking but mountain bikes often share dirt bike trails in many other locations.

Snowmobiles are an off highway vehicle for winter use.  You ride them kind of like an ATV, sitting on the saddle and steering with handlebars connected to skis up front.  The drive is provided by a tank type rubber track that gives excellent traction in the snow.  Snowmobiles come in at least two major categories:  trail machines and powder machines.  Trails machines are ideal for use on groomed snowmobile trails and roads but if you want to go cross country and make your own trails, you'll probably want a powder machine.  Powder machines are usually bigger and more powerful so trail rated machines are best for beginners.  Beginners would do well to seek out groomed snowmobile trails until they gain sufficient skills to venture off the trail.

Jet skis and other personal watercraft are sometimes included in the category of OHVs, but in common usage OHV usually pertains to land toys.  Jet skis are sometimes called "wet bikes", connoting that they are similar to dirt bikes for the water.  They are, in fact, ridden like a motorcycle, straddling the saddle or seat and steering with handlebars.

Tracked OHVs.  Some years ago there was a cute little tracked OHV called a Trackster.  It was manufactured by Cushman, who is better known for their motor scooters.  Tracksters are no longer manufactured but there are still a few around if you search for them.  The tank-like tracks give them incredibly off road capabilities -- in dirt, sand, mud, and snow  Tracksters can go just about anywhere.  My uncle, who was a dealer for them when I was in my teens, took us for a ride up a steep set of concrete steps to the top of one of the benches near his home.  There are a few specialized ATVs or specially modified ATVs  and side-by-sides that ride on tracks and you can even by track kits for larger 4x4s.  These kits usually replace each wheel with a triangular track that has its own 3 wheels.  For normal driving the track rotates around all three of its wheels but when climbing over an obstacle the whole assembly may rotate, giving the vehicle ability to climb over things like rocks and logs.  Track kits are relatively expensive so you will probably need a very good reason for converting your 4x4.

Personal safety is an important consideration for all OHV activities.  First of all, make sure your machine is in good condition and that none of its factory installed safety features have been removed or disabled.  Second, get appropriate training and practice to ensure you can safely operate the machine.  This means more than just being able to move in a straight line and negotiate turns.  You need to understand the capabilities and the limitations of your equipment as well as your ability to control the machine.  Last but certainly not least, wear appropriate Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and correct use of safety devices (such as seat belts on UTVs).  The PPE you need will depend on the type of vehicle you're riding.  I strongly recommend full body armor for riding dirt bikes, ATCs, and ATVs, and at least helmets and goggles when riding  UTVs and 4x4s.  Personal water craft require appropriate, US Coast Guard approved flotation devices.  One final bit of advice:  those cool tricks you see in the Supercross, X-games, or during other televised off-road events, are performed by professional riders with years and years of special training and their equipment usually includes significant modifications to enhance both performance and safety.  Don't try to imitate their antics!  Performing an incredible stunt may look like fun, but without proper training, experience, and equipment, it is likely to have extremely painful (possibly fatal) and very expensive results.

Have fun off road!

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Bicycles

Bicycles are a good match for both tent and RV camping.  They are light weight and provide economical transportation around camp and for local shopping and sightseeing trips.  They are environmentally friendly and provide good exercise to help you keep in shape.  Bicycle riding is a fun activity for families, couples, and even solo.

Bicycles can be carried on an RV, a tow vehicle, or the family car.  They are light weight and take up little room.  Some even fold up so they fit in your trunk or an RV outside cabinet. They require few tools or spare parts.  New bicycles may range in price from under $100 to more than $10,000.  You'll probably want something in between.  Cheap bicycles are, well, cheap.  They are usually not as light and may not function as smoothly or be as durable or reliable as more expensive models. You can usually get a pretty good bike for a few hundred dollars.  If you have the budget for it, there are amazingly light racing bikes made of leading edge materials that are very durable and fun to ride. 

Choose a bike that fits your needs.  There are several different general types of bicycles, each designed for a different riding style.  Road bikes are the fastest and usually the lightest weight.  They have very thin, high pressure tires and drop down handle bars.  The thin, hard tires minimize rolling resistance and are designed for riding on smooth pavement.  The drop down handlebars make the rider crouch into a low profile that reduces wind drag.  These are the style of bike used in high speed, long distance road races.  The bent over riding position may be uncomfortable to some riders.  A fitness or hybrid bike is much like a road bike but doesn't have the drop down handlebars.  These are very popular bikes for recreational and fitness use.  City bikes have high handlebars and seats designed for upright riding.  Cruisers are designed for short comfortable rides.  They have larger seats, wide handlebars, and fatter tires. They often called "beach cruisers" because of their popularity for riding in the sand.  Mountain bikes are designed for off road use, with heavier, softer, knobby tires for traction and sturdy frames.  Consider the weight when purchasing a bike.  Lighter bikes will take less effort to ride but because of the more costly materials (carbon fiber, titanium, aluminum) will usually be more expensive. Weight is a more important consideration for racing or for off-road riding than it would be for recreational riding on city streets.  Pretty much any bike that is comfortable for you to ride will be suitable for campgrounds and local excursions.  If you expect to do any trail riding or other off-road riding, consider a mountain bike.  If you find bending over hard on your back you can usually change the handlebar stem to a high rise model that lets you sit more upright.  I did that on my mountain bike and it made riding a LOT more comfortable.  Some bikes have active suspension systems that absorb he bumps in the road or trail.  Of course springs, shock absorbers, and linkages add weight but it is often well worth it for the added comfort.

Bikes come in single or multiple speed versions.  Cruisers are usually single speed bikes with a "coaster brake".  To stop the bike, pedal backwards to engage the brake within the hub of the rear wheel.  Multiple speed bikes use different sized sprockets on the pedals and on the rear wheels to provide a variety of gear ratios for different riding conditions.  Low gear ratios make it easier to pedal up inclines while high gear rations yield faster travel.  Road bikes, mountain bikes, and most fitness bikes are multiple speed bikes.  Multiple speed bikes have hand brakes.  These normally have pads that grip the edge of the wheel but more effective, more durable, and more expensive disc brakes are becoming more popular.  Disc brakes may be a little safer because they are less affected by moisture you might get on the rims riding in wet condtions.

For many years bicycles had no suspension at all.  The wheels were mounted directly to the frame.  This made for a rather stiff and bumpy ride.  I can feel every pebble in the pavement when I ride my mountain bike on the road.  Today there are many suspension options.  Front suspension reduces hammering  of your hands, arms and shoulders.  Rear suspension makes the ride softer.  As you would expect, the more sophisticated the suspension, the more costly the bike.  If you're mostly just riding around the campground or over smooth paved roads, suspension will probably not be necessary.  But if you are riding trails or going on long rides or encounter rough roads, suspension will be very desirable.  My first bicycle, many years ago, had a simple front suspension called "knee action".  The front wheel was mounted on a secondary fork that was hinged and had a spring at the top of one set of forks to absorb the bumps.  Modern suspension usually includes shock absorbers that dampen movement and absorb impact as well as springs.  Some bikes may have only front suspension to lessen the stress on your arms and shoulders.  Bikes with rear suspension will be more comfortable to ride, especially on rough roads or off-road trails, but they will be more expensive.  When riding a standard bike without any suspension you will feel every bump, even the very texture of the gravel in asphalt pavement and that can be quite tiring.   You can usually  even feel the difference between riding on the white line at the edge of the road compared to riding on bare asphalt.  Of course suspension components will add a little weight to the bike too.

Motor powered bicycles are available but not commonly seen.  They may be powered by a small gasoline engine or by a battery powered electric motor.  Motor driven cycles minimize the effort needed to get around but also reduce the exercise component of cycling.  Motor driven cycles may be prohibited on some trails.  Motor driven bicycles usually do not meet the standards for motor vehicles and riding them on public thoroughfares may be illegal.

Folding bicycles are designed to fit into the storage compartment of RVs or the trunk of your car. They are usually single speed bikes designed primarily for cruising around the campground or short trips to the store.

There are even all wheel drive bicycles.  These have an option to engage a second chain that connects to the front wheel.  As you can imagine, the linkage is somewhat complicated.  Just like 4-wheel drive vehicles, the all wheel drive bicycle is designed for added traction in off-road conditions.  I owned one for a while and found that the added weight and friction of the front wheel drive made it less appealing than I thought it would be.  Perhaps if I'd been riding on muddy or otherwise slippery trails the extra front wheel traction may have been more noticeable and appreciated, but I found my regular mountain bike more comfortable and easier to ride on the hard-packed desert trails I normal rode.

If you have any problem maintaining balance you might to for a three-wheeled bike.   With full sized wheels and other modern innovations they are a far cry from the tricycle you rode as a toddler.

Bicycle racks are a good way to transport your bicycles.  Or you can transport them in the bed of your pickup or in your trailer.  Bike racks can be found to fit just about any vehicle.  There are some that slide into the trailer hitch receiver, some that clamp over a rear-mounted spare tire, some that attach to the trunk and bumper of a car.  There are roof racks that can carry your bikes on top of your vehicle.  I often see bike racks on top of tent trailers.  I had an 8-bike rack custom built to fit the trailer hitch on my motorhome to accommodate full size bikes for my family of 8.  It carried 4 bikes on each of two levels.  Whenever using any bike rack, be sure to tie down the bikes securely.  You want to restrict movement to avoid chafing that can damage paint or other components as well as make sure they don't fall of en route.  Look for a rack that has padding to protect the parts of the bike that come in contact with the carrier.  You can use ratchet tie down straps to limit movement and ensure your bikes and rack remain secure.

Used bicycles can be a real bargain.  Check your local bike shop, classified ads, garage sales, thrift stores, and online sites like craigslist and ebay.  You will want to acquire some knowledge about brands and prices to ensure you recognize a good deal when  you find one and to avoid getting ripped off.  Thrift stores often offer the best values.  Because of their low overhead they can afford to sell at lower prices and often the bikes have been reconditioned by knowledgeable thrift store employees.  As you would purchasing any used equipment, inspect it carefully to make sure everything is there and in good working order.  A bike that needs minor work can be an excellent value IF you have the resources to make the necessary adjustments and repairs but one that only needs a flat tire fixed won't do you any good if you can't fix it.

Like any mechanical device, bicycles require a certain amount of maintenance to keep the working well.    Most maintenance can be done by the owner/rider.  Even changing tires or brake pads (on bikes equipped with hand brakes) is usually within the capabilities of the average owner/rider.  Regular lubrication is necessary to maintain smooth operation and reduce wear.  Lubrication points include axle bearings, crank bearings, and head bearings (where the stem that holds handle bars turn in the frame).  Bikes with suspension will have additional moving parts that need to be regularly inspected and lubricated.  Chain adjustment is also part of routine maintenance.  A loose chain may come off.  A tight chain may cause excessive wear or make shifting difficult.  Multiple speed bikes also required adjustment of the shifter.  This is a little more technical and many owners take their bikes to a professional for a "tuneup" periodically.  Owner riders can usually learn to adjust hand brakes.  Frequently check the wheels for loose spokes.  If you over-tighten spokes you can "tweak" the wheel so it doesn't run true.  Unless you have the skills and proper tools for truing the wheel, you'll need to take it to a bike shop if the wheels begin to wobble or the spokes get excessively loose.

Always wear protective gear when riding a bicycle.  Many cities and states have laws requiring riders under a certain age to wear helmets but it is ALWAYS a good idea to wear a helmet, regardless of your age or local laws and it doesn't matter whether you're riding on the road or off road.  Other apparel to make you more comfortable may include riding shorts, which have a padded crotch to reduce irritation from the seat.  Speaking of the seat, if you find the one on your bike isn't comfortable, there are many aftermarket seats to choose from so you can probably find one that fits your body and your riding style better.  Gloves will keep your hands from chafing on the hand grips and will significantly reduce the chance of blisters.  They will also keep your hands warmer in cool weather while light weight gloves usually are still comfortable in hot weather.  Cycling gloves are specially designed for riding comfort.  Heavy work gloves will be cumbersome and could cause blisters.  Off road motorcycle gloves would also be a good option.  Riding jerseys are designed to provide flexible movement and keep you comfortable but many riders wear ordinary T-shirts or polo shirts.  In warm weather you want something that will wick away your sweat.  In cooler weather you may need to add a windbreaker or other cold weather clothing.  Rain gear is essential for comfort in wet weather.   Professional cyclists wear special shoes but I've found light weight running shoes to be very comfortable for my needs and wearing my cowboy boots prevents my pant legs from getting caught in the chain.  Avoid wearing pants with loose legs as they can get caught in the chain.  If you don't wear fitted pants, tie up the leg on the side where the chain is to keep it from getting caught.  When I was a kid we used to use metal spring clamps that fit around our pant legs just above the ankle but I haven't seen them in years.  A large rubber band or a small bungee will do the job.  Wearing gaiters or leggings may also help, weather permitting.  Rear view mirrors, either helmet mounted or handlebar mounted, will let you see traffic approaching from behind you and to keep track of other riders when you're out front.

Riding a bicycle requires a fair amont of exertion.  Even on cooler days you're going to lose moisture through sweat and through breathing.  It is essential that you maintain adequate hydration when riding to avoid heat related illness.  A Camelbak style hydration pack is one of the most convenient ways to stay hydrated while riding.  You can sip from the mouthpiece anytime without having to stop your ride.  Most bikes are or can be equipped with brackets or a least a place to mount brackets on the front part of the lower frame to hold a water bottle.  Regardless of the method you use, always carry water and drink frequently to avoid dehydration.  If you're just starting out riding after a sedentary life style, you may want to consult your doctor before you begin to ensure you are fit enough to ride.  You may need to start with an easy regimen and work your way up in order to avoid discomfort and health problems. 

Bicycling can be a great family activity.  You may be able to spend more quality time and enjoy a closer look as you explore the sights and sounds around you with far greater intensity than you get flying by in an air conditioned vehicle.  With a little planning you can stop along the way for a picnic lunch or pedal to the local burger joint or ice cream parlor for a special treat.  Bicycling allows you to travel farther and faster and easier than walking but still lets you get significant exercise and have full access to the sights and sound.  Plus you have the option to easily alter your course to explore interesting places along the way.

Security may be a concern. Bicycles are very popular and are fairly easy to steal and to sell.  Always lock up your bike when you aren't using it, both in camp and when you stop along your ride.  My youngest son learned this lesson the hard way when his brand new bike was stolen just days after he received it for his birthday.  Ironically it was stolen while he was in the store buying a bike lock!  He came out with a really nice bike lock only find that his bike was gone.  Be sure to record the serial number of your bike if it has one so you can give it to law enforcement if it is stolen.  It is also a good idea to engrave your own ID number somewhere on the frame where it won't be easily seen.

Bicycle safety involves more than wearing a helmet and keeping your balance.  In most jurisdictions, bicycles are bound by the same laws as motor vehicles. although all too often you will see bicyclists disregard stop signs and stop lights and lane usage.  And, yes, you can get a speeding ticket or a ticket for running a stop sign on a bicycle.  Some bicyclists prefer to ride against traffic, but that is usually illegal and is actually quite dangerous.  True, you have a better view of on-coming traffic, but motorists won't be looking for you to be coming down the wrong lane, which can be disasterous if they're pulling out of a driveway or parking space and watching for traffic coming up from behind them where motor vehicles would normally be.   Take advantage of bicycle lanes when they exist but be aware that they often end with little or no warning.  When riding on public roads, ride single file and stay near the right hand edge of the pavement.  Riding on sidewalks or in crosswalks is usually prohibited but you will see a lot of riders ignoring that law.  Remember, you are required to obey the same traffic laws on your bicycle as you have to obey driving a motorcycle, car, or RV.  Laws typically require motor vehicles to maintain at least 3 feet between them and bicycles when passing them.  To maintain maximum safety, always ride as close to the edge of the road as you safely can.  Always ride single file when there is other traffic on the road.

Safety is a primary concern when riding a bicycle --enough so that it bears a second mention.  You have little protection if you collide with anything -- a car, a tree, another rider, a pedestrian, or even the ground so you want to avoid dangerous situations.  Even soft grass can be a painful place the land.  In most places, bicycles are required to obey the same laws as motor vehicles.  That means coming to a complete stop at stop signs, signaling your turns, and avoiding impeding traffic.  Some riders like to ride against traffic so they can see cars approaching.  In most places this is illegal as well as unsafe.  I nearly hit a bicyclist riding against traffic on the wrong side of the road as I pulled out from a parking space.  I was legitimately concerned about traffic approaching from the rear and, like most people, never expected a bicycle to be riding the wrong way right next to the parked cars. so he nearly ran into the front of my car when I began to pull out.  When riding in a group, ride single file whenever there is traffic present to minimize your impact on traffic and reduce the chances of one of you being struck or forced off the road.  Normally bicyclists don't ride fast enough to exceed posted speed limits,but be aware that you are subject to posted speed limits when riding a bicycle so think about that going down hill.  I've seen bikes easily exceed 50 mph coasting down hill on mountain roads.

Bicycling is a great family activity and unless you have physical limitations can be a great way to do some sight seeing and get some exercise.  Bikes let you move faster and easier than walking, but slow enough to enjoy the scenery and you can stop to check things out any time you like.  Add a basket or cargo rack and you can use your bike for quick trips to pick up supplies or to carry your picnic.  In a pinch you might just hang a couple of plastic grocery bags on the handlebars to carry your stuff.

Nighttime riding requires some special preparation.  First of all, you will need to make you and your bike visible to other traffic.  Most bikes are equipped with front (white) and rear (red) reflectors but not lights.  You can add a headlight and taillight to help you see where you're going and make your bike even more visible at night.  Most headlight systems use a generator that is driven by one of the tires, but that means you only have light when you are moving.  Battery powered lights solve this problem, but batteries can run down fairly quickly.  The best solution is a hybrid that uses batteries but charges them via a wheel-driven generator when moving.  New LED based lighting reduces power requirements.  I've seen inexpensive "flashers" you can clip to your clothing to make you more noticeable.  Do not wear dark colored clothing.  For best results, wear something reflective.  If you don't have any reflective bike apparel, a simple safety vest like those used by construction workers and road crews is pretty inexpensive and well worth the investment.  Class III safety vests are designed with extra reflective material for greater nighttime visibility and they aren't much more expensive than Class II  daytime vests.

Pedal power!

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

More On Sharpening Your Skills


 Why does sharpening your skills deserve a second post?   Well, it is unlikely you can ever get too much practice for essential skills.  We tend to be creatures of habit and if the habits we develop bypass regular exercise of our camping skills, they'll wane and eventually disappear.  So we need to be ever vigilant in using and improving our camping skills.
    
No matter what your preferences for camping or other recreational activities, you will get more pleasure out of your efforts as your skills develop and improve.  Regardless of how good you may be at a particular task, you can almost always find room for improvement and without regular practice and exercise, even the best experts begin to experience diminished ability.

Every camping, hunting, fishing, hiking, horseback riding, or OHV trip is an opportunity to hone your  existing skills and perhaps develop new ones.  Every trip requires pre- and post- trip activities  that, as you practice them, will improve.  Preparations will become easier and take less time as you refine your checklists and your procedures.   You'll get better and better at hooking up the trailer, loading up your tent gear, or getting the RV on the road.  Every trip is a chance to observe and refine your driving skills.  Driving a motorhome or pulling a trailer or even navigating unfamiliar roads to a campground takes skills most drivers don't experience in their daily lives.  The more you drive your rig, the more comfortable you will become and the more fun it will be.  If you only go once or twice a year, each trip will be an ordeal.  By the time you begin to get comfortable driving your rig again, your trip will probably be over.  Setting up camp, building campfires, and camp cooking are routine activities that also get easier with practice.  

Experienced campers may want to choose specific survival techniques to practice on each outing.  You may feel comfortable with routine camp tasks, but might benefit from practicing starting your campfire using flint and steel or perhaps even creating emergency shelters or hunting or foraging for food.  Be sure to check local rules and regulations before doing anything that might have an environmental impact, such as cutting trees for a shelter or hunting or fishing or gathering edible plants.  Hunting and fishing usually require a license and are governed by scheduled "seasons" for specific types of game.  Gathering edible plants and even picking wildflowers are often prohibited.

Just about every outdoor activity can benefit from regular practice.  Whether you're just camping or out hunting, fishing, hiking, dirt biking, or enjoying your personal watercraft, there are always skills you can improve upon.  Some skills you can practice during routine activities but others may require some special preparations.  The availability of online guides and instructional videos can provide answers to many questions and give you entertaining ways to learn new skills.  When I say "entertaining", I mean entertaining to YOU, rather than turn your novice attempts at new skills into unintended entertainment for your fellow campers and humiliation for you, which happens all too frequently when we jump into something without proper preparation.   Seek out fellow campers with interests similar to yours and take advantage of their experience and expertise to enhance your own.  Just because experienced riders make something look easy doesn't mean it is!

Just like sharpening our tools makes them safer and easier to use, sharpening our skills will make our activities safer and more more fun.  And don't be afraid to draw on the expertise of other more experience campers.  They're likely to have had their share of embarrassing moments and may be able to divert you away from potential disasters.  Of course you will probably want to avoid seeking help from the resident practical joker, who may be likely to take advantage of your naivety to amuse himself or entertain others at your expense.

Use it or lose it!

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Family Activities

Camping, RVing, and OHV riding are excellent wholesome family activities that complement each other.  Camping by itself offers a variety of places to go and things to do that can keep a family entertained and provide opportunities for bonding and teaching moments.  Camping in an RV makes it more convenient and comfortable than camping in a tent.  We found that dirt biking was perfect for our family.  We have 6 children:  4 boys and 2 girls, with a 14 year age spread.  Just try finding something that will hold the interest both boys and girls from 4 to 18 over several years!  Our RV made an ideal base camp for dirt bike rides, providing air conditioned comfort on hot desert days and a warm haven from bad weather.  Coming "home" to a  shower and a comfortable bed is something to look forward to after a long, hot dusty, desert ride.  Likewise, a warm and cozy RV is invaluable when you get caught in bad weather.  Been there, done that, more than once!

Camping and dirt biking provide a natural high that at least one of our son's said helped keep him off drugs when his friends were all doing them in high school.

Camping, in either a tent or an RV, brings a family together in ways you probably won't have at home.  First of all, you will be in closer physical proximity than you normally are in a permanent residence (how can you not in such confined spaces?) but more importantly, you will be sharing experiences.  Even routine tasks like fixing meals that are typically taken for granted at home can be opportunities for shared activities and family bonding way beyond what is available in our electronically centered lives these days.  Camping helps get both couch potatoes and video game addicts off their butts and out of their ruts.  Of course it may take some planning and organization to take advantage of these opportunities.  You may have to convince your teenagers to leave their video games at home or at least impose -- and enforce -- some limits on their use.  Allowing them at least some access to their electronic companions will probably make things easier.  It will help if you have planned interesting meals and activities that they can be involved in.  Campfire cooking is usually a unique and entertaining enough experience to provide incentives for most kids but even cooking in the RV on on the camp stove can be fun, especially if it involves making special treats!  Preparing traditional pioneer or mountain man food can make an interesting evening.  Plan your outings to go where there are fun things to do.  Do a little research to find out if the activities are suitable for your family.  Some ranger-led nature hikes are really fun for younger visitors but may not hold the interest of your older teens.  A visit to an antique car museum will probably be fun for everyone, particularly the boys, but your boys might not be so thrilled with spending an afternoon in a doll house.   You might even find it good to spend some time learning to share video games with your electronically addicted children and even easier and more interesting to you than it is at home.

RVing is often easier for a family than tent camping.  There is usually less setup time and effort required when you get to camp so you can spend more time on non work-like activities.  An RV gives you flexibility in travel.  Even with a trailer you can pull over into a rest area or onto a safe spot along side the road when someone needs to use the bathroom instead of having to scurry to find a service station.  With a motorhome the on board facilities are conveniently available anytime to everyone but the driver.  And even the driver can benefit by sending the copilot for a refreshing drink or a snack.  Traveling by RV often lets you choose optional side-trips along the way and provides opportunities for spontaneous exploration.

We found OHV (dirt bike) riding to be a perfect complement for RVing for our family.  Everyone very much enjoyed riding and even found some fun in maintaining their bikes and riding gear.  There were frequently new areas to visit or new trails to ride and re-visiting favorite trails was always a fun adventure. We found riding offered an unexpected balance of opportunities to build both individual confidence and teamwork.  We went riding with our "Desert Rat" group (www.desertrat.org) almost every holiday weekend while the kids were growing up, forming friendships that endure to this day for both adults and kids.  Our oldest daughter even raced Women's Desert, advancing from Novice to Expert in her first season and bringing home many trophies.  She even won the #1 Women's Motocross plate in Los Angeles one year.

Options for in camp activities are virtually endless.  There are many sports and hundreds of games you can play in camp.  Bring along a football or a volleyball or a softball or a frisbee.  Lawn darts is popular game among many campers, but make sure you keep the playing area clear.  They can deliver very painful and even lethal injuries.  Card games and board games are essential for indoor distractions during bad weather but can be fun around the campfire or picnic table any time.  Card games are especially well-suited to camping since a deck of cards takes up very little space.  Various forms of tag and "capture the flag" can create hours of more physical activities if you need to burn off some calories or use up some of that extra energy kids always seem to have, especially when you're ready to take it easy!

Like most things, you'll only get something out of an activity if you put something into it.  Camping, RVing, and OHVing provide opportunities for building character and for family bonding, but it is up to you to make use of those opportunities.  You'll need to select appropriate destinations for you family and plan relevant activities.  You'll need to watch for -- or create -- "teaching moments" when you can use activities to help kids learn important life lessons.  Sometimes you can offer hands-on experience to augment book learning in things like science, biology, first aid, mechanics, astronomy, and survival.  Sometimes your activities will provide good examples of personal interaction and the natural consequences that result from life choices.  Little, if any, of it will happen automatically.  You'll need to pay attention to what is going on and make use of the circumstances and situations you encounter.  Sometimes it is painful but allowing your children to experience the natural consequences of their choices and actions is one of the best things you can do for them.

Family togetherness.  Try it!

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Starting Fires Without Matches

Being able to start a fire in a survival situation could literally mean the difference between life and death in a survival situation and certainly adds considerably to your comfort.  There is much folk lore and much is written about starting fires without matches.  Of course the easiest way to start a fire without matches is with a Bic-style lighter.  Many survivalists strongly recommend you include a lighter in your survival kit.  They are inexpensive, light weight, and easy to use.  Even after they run out of fuel the spark may be used to ignite tinder.

One of the most commonly promoted ways of starting a fire without matches is rubbing two sticks together.  I don't know about you, but the only way I want to start a fire by rubbing two sticks together is if one of them is a match!  Otherwise, rubbing two sticks together is a time-proven technique but is is very tedious and takes a lot of effort.   It has been said that when you cut your own wood it warms you twice.  The same might be said of starting a fire by rubbing two sticks together.  It takes a LOT of work!  The most efficient way is to make a bow drill.  For this you will need a a curved stick or a green stick that is flexible enough to be bent into a bow, a piece of string or other cordage long enough to string the bow, a dry stick about a foot and a half long for the "drill" (I'm told softwood works best), a wooden base plate, and a bearing block or hand piece.  The hand piece should fit comfortably in your hand and will serve as the upper pivot point for the drill.  It may be made of wood or stone or just about anything that will protect your hand from the top of the spinning drill.  The hand piece could be made of stone, bone, sea shell, or hardwood.  It needs be thick enough to protect your hand from heat as well as protecting you from direct abrasion. The base or hearth plate should be hardwood and you'll want to carve a small depression in the middle to hold the tip of the drill. Round the top of the spindle and lubricate it with oil (from your face, sometimes called "beak oil" off your nose, if you don't have anything else.  A drop of oil from a vehicle dipstick works really well if you have a vehicle nearby).  Sharpen the end that will drill into the hearth or base place.  Loop the bow string around the middle of the spindle (drill stick).  Place the bottom (sharp) end into the depression in the base plate and put some dry tinder near the point of contact.  Hold the hand piece in one hand (left hand if you're right handed, right hand if you're left handed) and put it on the top of the drill.  Then move the bow back in forth in a sawing motion to rotate the drill, using the hand guard to keep pressure on the drill so there is significant friction between the drill and the base plate.  When you start to generate smoke look for a glowing coal and be ready to put the tinder on the coal.  Blow gently to increase the temperature of the coal to ignite the tinder.  Take care not to blow so hard as to blow out the flames when the tinder begins to burn. If you don't have materials to make a bow, you can turn the drill by rubbing it between your hands.  Start with both hands at the top of the drill and rub them back and forth to rotate the drill, all the time pushing or pressing down to keep pressure on the drill.  This also helps reduce injuring your hands.   You can practice the "Isty Bitsy Spider" hand movement to get a feel for how your hands should work.  This "hand drill" technique an be really hard on your hands and can easily produce blisters.  Les Stroud (Survivorman) recommends slapping your hands together frequently hard enough so it hurts to stimulate blood flow and minimize blisters. Another way of starting a fire rubbing two sticks together is called a "fire plow".  In this case, instead of rotating a stick to generate friction, you simply push the point of one stick along a groove the base plate rapidly and repeatedly until you create enough heat to get your fire going. You might also use a vine or rope as if you were trying to saw through a piece of wood to create enough friction to light a fire.

Flint and steel is another age-old method for starting fires.  If you have  flint and steel or can find stones that make sparks when struck together or against iron or steel, you can use the sparks to ignite your tinder.  I find this a LOT easier than rubbing two ticks together!   My first attempt at using flint and steel was very frustrating.  I didn't realize the brand new "flint" had a coating on it that I had to scrape away before I could get sparks.  But once it was gone, Wa-lah!  Nice big sparks -- once I learned the right angle and the right pressure. I like to use 100% cotton balls for tinder.  Add a little Vaseline if you have it to encourage ignition and make the cotton ball burn longer, giving you more time to use it to get your fire going.  In the wild you can use punky wood, char cloth, or finely ground dry grass or bark for tinder.

Sunlight can be used to ignite tinder if you have a way to concentrate it.  The stereotypical tool is a magnifying glass, but you may be able to use spectacles or broken headlight lenses.  Sometimes the lens from a flashlight will work but many are flat.  If yours is completely flat don't waste you time.  I've even seen demonstrations of using a piece of ice, but most ice contains too many contaminates that cloud it so that it doesn't focus the sunlight as well as it needs to be.  An alternative is to polish the bottom of an aluminum can.  Soda and beer cans are often all too commonly found among the trash strewn in even surprisingly remote places.  Polish  the bottom of the can using some kind of rubbing compound (chocolate bars and tooth paste are two fairly common sources) until you can see your teeth or the whites of your eyes reflected in the parabolic surface of the bottom of the can.  When you aim the polished surface directly at the sun it will focus the suns rays at a point a few inches in front of the can.  Use a piece of wire or a stick to hold your tinder right at the focal point so you don' burn your fingers.  Here is a demonstration of how to do this.

Steel wool and batteries can be used to start a fire.  Steel wool comes in different grades of coarseness.  You want 0000 steel wool.  Use clean steel wool.  Soap pads like Brillo and SOS are usually too coarse and the soap interferes with ignition.  6 and 12 volt car batteries, even when somewhat run down, can usually produce enough current to get steel wool going but even flashlight batteries can do the trick.  I've seen people start a fire by carefully breaking the bulb of a flashlight (take care not to damage the filament) and using the hot filament to light a fire.  Incandescent bulbs are about 10% efficient producing light and about 90% efficient making heat.  Another way to use batteries to start a fire is simply to create a spark by touching wires connected to the hot and ground sides of the battery together.  To get a good spark, strike one wire against the other rather than simply pressing them together.  Once they are connected they will no longer create a spark -- but the wires may get very hot and are likely to burn your fingers if they aren't protected.  If you have a vehicle battery, you might also have vehicle fuel that can be used as an accelerant to help get your fire going.  Always be careful working with flammable liquids.  Avoid spilling them on your hands or clothing.  Remember, it is the fumes that burn, not the liquid itself.  Tossing a matching into a gallon can filled to the top with gasoline will result in the match being doused by the gasoline.  Tossing one into a gallon can with a small amount of gasoline in the bottom (letting the remainder fill with fumes) will result in explosive ignition!  Acclerants tend to be very fluid.  In either liquid or even gaseous form, they can find their way into places you didn't expect, sometimes with dramatic and/or dangerous results.  I read about a fellow who poured a little gasoline on his fire, then, walked back to his van to get his matches.  He returned just in time to see his fire burst into flames as the fumes from the gasoline had slithered downhill to another camper's fire and then the flames had snaked back up the vapor trail to ignite his fire.  Very impressive and dramatic, but it could have been disasterous.  Think what might have happened if he'd spilled gas near his van!

The key to starting any fire, and especially to getting a fire going without matches or a lighter, is having the right tinder.  Tinder must be easily ignited.  For my personal fire starting kit I carry some 100% cotton balls. And no, although the synthetic "cosmetic puff" may look the same, they don't work the same.   You may see many folks recommend dryer lint for tinder.  If its cotton lint, from towels or underwear, it will probably work well, but lint from synthetic fabrics like nylon, rayon, and polyester are more likely to be melted than ignited by sparks.  In the wild, you may have to make your own tinder.  Dry bark from tress like cedar and juniper, fluff from seed pots like milkweed or cattails, or even dry grass (rub it between your hands to grind it up and make it easier to light) can all be used as tinder.  Another option in the wild is "punky" wood.  This is the partially rotten wood you find in fallen logs, tree stumps, and hollow trees.  It is usually a redish brown color and has a kind of alligator skin pattern.  Pine needles are usually too course to be used as tinder unless you grind them down into small particles or dust.  A favorite of survivalists and outdoorsmen is "char cloth".   It is easily ignited by sparks.  Essentially it is just charred cotton cloth.   Any old cotton, like an old T-shirt or denim will do, but a favorite is something called "monks cloth".  You can buy it at a fabric store by the yard.  It isn't expensive and a yard of monks cloth will most likely give you a enough char cloth for a lifetime for you and your friends.  You can see how to make your own here. Magnesium shavings are an excellent tinder and will light even when they are wet, but unless you have some in your survival kit, you're not going to find them in the wild.  In the old days you could break open a flash bulb and use the magnesium filaments but most modern flash cameras use LEDs these days.  Some OHVs have magnesium components and in an emergency you might be able to scrape some shavings off them to use as a fire starter. 

After tinder, the next important step will be your kindling bundle or "birds nest".  Most likely you will want to use dry grass, pine needles, or loose, stringy bark for your birds nest.  You should have a bundle that is a good double handful, slightly larger than a softball.  Once you have your tinder started you insert it into the birds nest and soon you should have a pretty good ball of fire ready to start your campfire.  A real birds nest would work but will probably be soiled with excrement and may give off an unpleasant odor.  Because the tinder bundle will be on fire and will get very hot, it is a good idea to have something to protect your hands when you hold it.  Mountain men used a piece of heavy leather.  You might get away with cutting a piece of vinyl upholstery from a disabled vehicle but exercise caution as vinyl may melt or catch fire.  In a wilderness survival situation where you have only natural resources, you might be able use some heavy green (not dry) leaves.

Always prepare your campfire before you start trying to ignite your tinder.  The last thing you want to be doing is running around looking for wood after you get your tinder started.  You can choose a teepee or log cabin style fire, depending on the size and quantity of fuel you have.  Make sure you leave a place to push your fire bundle or birds nest inside to get your fire going.  Build the fuel pile up starting with small sticks, the size of a pencil or less, then keep adding progressively larger fuel -- thumb sized sticks, then 1"-2" sticks, etc.  All the wood should be dry and well seasoned (not green!).  About the only green wood that burns well is sagebrush.  Most other trees and shrubs need to dry out before they will burn well, so gather dead wood rather than breaking branches off living plants.  Don't make your initial fuel pile too big.  You can always add more fuel if you need more heat, but getting too much going at once just wastes fuel.  Be sure to have a stack of fuel ready to use as you need it.

Of course you always want to properly prepare your fire site to avoid losing control.  While having a fire could be essential to your survival, allowing one to get out of control could spell disaster!  In addition to normal precautions like clearing the ground and building a fire ring, make sure you don't have anything on our person that will ignite easier than your tinder!  If your clothing is contaminated by fuel or oils the fumes may flash into flames and light you up instead of your fire bundle!  You wouldn't want to be making sparks or creating open flames anywhere near fuel tanks or containers.  And be aware that some things you might not normally consider as flammable can be extremely so in the right concentration.  Flour dust, for example, is so volatile a one cup can generate an explosion nearly equivalent to a stick of dynamite.  With that in mind, NEVER try to use flour to extinguish a kitchen fire!  Keep in mind that both flour and sugar are made of flammable carbon and hydrogen, which are also the primary components of gasoline!

Practice! Practice! Practice!  Starting a fire without matches isn't always easy.  If it were, why did we invent matches?  If you find yourself in a survival situation, it is unlikely you'll have the time or inclination to spend hours trying to get a fire started.  You will want -- or need -- it NOW!  Even striking a spark with a flint and steel takes a little practice, so take advantage of your camping trips to try out and practice various methods of starting your campfire without matches.  You might even want to try finding natural materials that will create sparks in case you find yourself in a situation without ANY supplies whatsoever.

Light 'em up!