Wecome To RVs and OHVs

This blog is all about RVs (recreational vehicles) and OHVs (Off Highway Vehicles), camping, sailing, 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. The organization is pretty much by date of publication. Please use the SEARCH option below to find what you are looking for.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Handy Gizmos and Gadgets

Check out any RV or camping oriented store, catalog, trade show, or website and you will find dozens of clever gizmos and gadgets. Some are actually useful and may enhance your camping experience. Many are simply cute and clever and their greatest function is to make the seller rich -- to transfer your hard earned money into their pockets!  No matter how many neat gizmos and gadgets you buy, there will always be new ones competing for your attention -- and your $$$!   The 2012 Camping World Catalog had 5 pages of kitchen gadgets and 9 pages of grill accessories alone.  There are hundreds of other items which claim to enhance your RVing or camping experience.   Here are some of the things we've found actually useful:

Navigational aids. I like having a large, Roadmaster compass mounted on the dash of my motorhome. It is quite helpful when navigating unfamiliar roads. Unfortunately, I haven't been able to find any current retailers who sell them but you might find one on ebay.  There are other compasses you can get to use in your vehicle.  Many vehicles these days have built in compasses if not sophisticated navigation systems.  Of course these days, a GPS is even better but they cost a LOT more. I also found an altimeter useful on trips to higher elevations and have tried various forms of "clinometers" (devices that show the vehicle orientation side to side and front to back).  They are something like the artificial horizon used in aircraft.  They are usually not sensitive enough for final leveling but are very useful in finding the most nearly level spot in a remote camp site and I find them easier to read than bubble levels at a glance. Bubble levels are, of course, good for final leveling. Clinometers are sometimes used in Jeeps and other larger off-highway vehicles to measure roll-over potential when crossing side-hills.  They show both front to back and side to side degree of level.

Trash bag holders. These are plastic gadgets that attach to a wall or the inside of a cabinet door and hold a standard plastic grocery bag. Since most RVs are sadly lacking in providing any space for trash, these can be quite helpful. Since they use standard grocery bags, they are economical to use and even provide a way to recycle those pesky grocery bags that tend to accumulate under the sink. These have been one of the best additions we've made to our RVs.  For larger trash bags in camp, I modified a standard bag style (quad) camp chair into a trash bag holder.  I removed the seat and the backrest leaving a 4-post frame.  It takes up little room in an outside cabinet while traveling but can hold a large, heavy duty trash bag for use in camp.  You can buy "leaf baggers" intended for yard use to hold large contractor sized bags too.

Paper towel holders. As essential and useful as paper towels are in and around an RV or campsite, I am surprised that RV manufacturers don't include them as standard equipment.  I guess they might leave for consumer installation because people may prefer to have them in different locations.  Fortunately, they are inexpensive and easy to install. Ordinary residential holders can be made to work in an RV, but there are some that are especially made for RVs that will help keep the paper towels from unwinding due to the motion and air movement when traveling. There are tricks that can be used with ordinary holders, such as attaching a mini-bungee cord or ordinary rubber band across the roll or using an empty 2-liter soda bottle to confine the roll. We had an entire roll of paper towels pile up on the counter and the floor on more than one occasion while traveling before we learned some of the tricks.  To use a soda bottle, rinse it out and let it dry thoroughly, then cut off both the top and bottom and split it down one side.  You can now open it up and clip it over your paper towel roll.  Then simply open it at the cut when you need to pull off some towels or keep the edge of the roll sticking out through the cut.  The see-through plastic lets you monitor paper towel usage without having to remove the cover.  I prefer using a clear bottle because it is easier to see how much of the roll remains.

"Pop-it" Products: These are a series of plastic holders designed to hold various commonly used paper camping products. Pop-a-plate holds paper plates; Pop-a-napkin holds paper napkins; Pop-a-bag stores standard grocery bags for easy use. The plate and napkin holders are typically installed beneath kitchen cabinets for convenient access and to avoid taking up valuable space inside the cabinet.  Pop-a-bag makes it convenient to stuff new bags into the top and to pull out what you need from a slot in the bottom.  The retrieval slot is designed to deliver one bag at time.

Bathroom organizers. The limited space in most RV bathrooms dictates that you make the best possible use of every bit of it. The most convenient bathroom organizer I've found combines toothbrush storage with a paper cup dispenser. The hinged top keeps dust out of the paper cups and off the toothbrushes. The mounting bracket attaches easily with screws or double-sticky tape, then the unit slides onto the mounting bracket. At first I was skeptical about the slide on mount staying in place on bumpy roads, but it is very long and well designed and I've never had the holder fall off, even on washboard desert roads.

Blender bottles. Light weight, break resistant, and require no electric power, these are plastic bottles with a kind of a spring ball inside. Fill with water or milk and add your favorite flavoring and shake about 40 times. Most useful for car or tent camping where you don't have power, but can be a convenient way to make single serving beverages in your RV without an electric blender.  Shake up a serving of Tang for breakfast without the need to fire up the generator to run the blender.

Awning clamps. Awnings tend to be quite susceptible to wind. Consider the design and function of sails on sailing ships. Awnings, if caught by the wind, quickly become rather efficient sails if they are not properly secured. Awning deflapper clamps dampen the annoying flapping noise and help reduce the potential of having your expensive awning damaged by reasonable winds. You will still want to roll up your awning prior to any strong winds, but awning clamps, properly securing both ends of the awning fabric to the rafters, will help prevent damage by unexpected lesser winds. And they reduce the annoying flapping noise that often accompanies even light breezes. I have tried out two different styles: one that clamps rigidly to the awning arms and one attaches via velcro straps. The rigid clamps seem to be a little better at reducing flapping but the velcro strops are much easier to put on and take off. Another type of awning clamp is used for additional security while the vehicle is in motion. They attach to the side of the RV and clamp around the rolled up awning. You open and close them with your regular awning wand. They are not needed on awnings that roll up into a metal box. Having personally experienced having an awning unroll on the freeway in high winds, I can attest to their value.  It is always a good idea to listen for unusual noises (like an awning flapping against the side of your RV) and to keep an eye in the rear view mirror so you can detect an awning coming loose when it first starts and before it causes any serious damage.  Left uncontrolled, it can destroy the fabric and the hardware, damage the sides of the RV, break windows, and possibly damage other vehicle on the road, all of which tend to be rather expensive to deal with.

Awnbrella awning rafters.  Another really useful awning accessory is the "Awnbrella" awning rafter.  They fit between the roller and the wall of the RV and bow up, giving the awning a shape that sheds water instead of sinking down and collecting it when it rains.  They also give you a little more head room, in case your awning is low, like they sometimes are on smaller RVs.

Awning lights.  You can buy both 120 volt ant 12 volt lighting systems for your RV awning.  The ones I find most appealing are still kind of pricey (over $100):  they are multicolored LED rope lights.  They usually come with a remote control so you can select the color and flash pattern from the comfort of y our favorite chair.   However, I have found solar powered LED rope lights (just in white, and no flash patterns) on sale at Harbor Freight for around $10 and they do a good job of proving even and comfortable illumination under your awning.   Both are designed to fit in the accessory slot on your awning roller.  You can also attach regular patio light  strings using clips that slide into the accessory slot, giving you a lot of choices to match your mood or party theme.  Whenever you use awning lights, be considerate of your fellow campers.  If your light intrudes into their space you should turn it off.

"Multi-tools". There are many different types of "multi-tools" or multi-function tools on the market. One of the most common is the Leatherman brand. The original leatherman is a cross between pliers and a Swiss army knife. Some have more than a dozen functions. They take up little space and can be used for many common tasks around your RV and OHV. I found that "fencing pliers" is a good multi-use tool that can be used as a hammer, pliers, and wire cutters. I have seen 8" pliers with screwdriver tips on the ends of the handles (flat on one, #2 phillips on the other), and a hammer-like disk on one of side of the working end of the pliers. Tools like this take up little room and can reduce clutter and weight in your RV or camp tool box without sacrificing functionality. Another tool I have found convenient, though not usually advertised as a "multi-tool" is a roofer's or framer's hatchet-style hammer. The heads of these tools have a hammer on one side and an axe-blade on the other. Rather than carrying a large hammer AND an axe or hatchet, one of these covers both functions in a single tool. It is surprising how many times you need a fairly heavy hammer when camping. Driving tent pegs or stakes to hold down your awning mat or awning strap are among the most common.

Kitchen gadgets. There must be literally hundreds if not thousands of RV kitchen gadgets out there (at least 5 pages in the 2012 Camping World catalog alone). Before buying one, think through whether or not you will actually use it. The last thing you need is to fill up your precious drawer space with useless junk. If you have a taste for peeled apples, a tricky apple-peeler might be appropriate for you and fun to use, but for most of us, a simple paring knife or hand peeler will suffice -- for this and many other tasks -- and is light weight, takes up little room, and is versatile and inexpensive. Powered kitchen tools, like blenders and mixers are common in our homes and can be nice additions to your RV kitchen -- if you have room for them. For the most convenience and least impact on space and weight, choose compact appliances. Unless you do a lot of baking, a hand mixer is probably adequate for most RV cooking tasks. We found a single beater plastic mixer that operates like a push drill at our local Dollar Tree. It is light weight, takes up little more space than a manual whisk, and is not only fun to use it is quite effective for light mixing. And look in to the hand-held "Ninja" blenders. They are small and light weight and very effective. A pop-up toaster is a nice addition, unless you LIKE burning your toast over a campfire.  You might even re-purpose and old toaster you retired when you upgraded at home.  There are also campfire toasters which consist of little metal frames that hold the bread over a camp stove burner or campfire that will do the job, but lack the convenience and precision of an electric toaster (if you have power available to operate them). Another option is toasting bread in your RV oven. I sometimes resort to that if I'm making breakfast for a large number of people and need lots of toast in a hurry, but for regular family breakfasts, it takes a long time and wastes a lot of propane compared to using a toaster but it can get a lot of toast ready at the same time. By the way, the campfire toasters work really well on RV and camp stoves and they're really inexpensive, less that $5.00.  You may need to experiment and practice with them to get proficient at getting your toast just the way you and/or your family members like it.  Built-in blenders are popular in some of the more expensive luxury RVs.  We've had Nutone systems in several of our RVs.  There are many different attachments available for them.  Some of the options include blenders, mixers, ice crushers, and knife sharpeners.  Of course you need 120 volt power to run them (shore power, generator, or inverter).

Table cloth clamps.   Table cloths on picnic tables tend to flap and curl up or blow away with the slightest breeze.  These springy clamps slip over the edge of most picnic tables and keep your table cloth from becoming a kite.

Cleaning appliances are another category to be considered. Hand-held, 12-volt "car vacuums" simplify many cleaning tasks in your RV. For more heavy-duty applications, a compact canister vacuum is a good option (assuming you have a generator or shore power to run it). Look for one that will fit in one of the cabinets under the dinette so it doesn't take up valuable closet space. Some larger RVs have central vacuum cleaner systems. If you are so lucky, take advantage of it. If not, look for an appropriate canister vacuum. Uprights clean well, but take up a lot of room in an RV and don't fit in limited cabinet space like a canister model. Canisters will usually fit in the small spaces under dinettes or beds.  Adding a central vacuum is sometimes a possibility, albeit a fairly expensive one. The difficulty in running pipes and wiring combined with needing to sacrifice cabinet space often makes after market installation less than appealing.

Leveling blocks. Unless your RV is equipped with a leveling system, you are probably going to need leveling blocks sooner or later. Even if you only camp in developed campgrounds, the sites aren't always perfectly level. And if you prefer boondocking, you will almost never find a level site. There are many commercial leveling block systems or you can make your own from 2x6 or 2x8 lumber. Homemade wooden leveling blocks tend to be heavy and cumbersome, but are fairly inexpensive, especially if you have scrap lumber lying around and they are very sturdy. Some of the fancier commercial leveling blocks fit together much like giant Legos and allow you to easily create various heights as needed for the occasion. There are also chock kits available to prevent you from driving past the blocks when positioning your RV. When choosing leveling blocks, consider the weight of your vehicle versus the capacity of the blocks, the size and weight of the system and whether you have an appropriate place to carry it, and the expense. Purchasing low-cost blocks only to find out the hard way that they can't support the weight of your vehicle can be a lot more expensive than buying proper blocks in the first place. For one thing, inadequate blocks will probably be crushed if you vehicle exceeds their rated capacity and you have to replace them right away. For another, your vehicle may be damaged or you or someone else nearby may be injured when they fail.

Battery Chargers: the charger circuits on most RV converters are woefully inadequate. Converters are primarily designed to convert 120-volt AC current in to 12-volt DC current. Charger circuits are an afterthought, and usually not a very good one. Over the years I've upgrade the converters in several motorhomes to Intellicharger converters with the Charge Wizard option. This configuration monitors battery condition and adjusts the charge rate to more effectively charge and maintain RV batteries. This is a convenient and effective, but relatively expensive option. A cheaper alternative is to install a separate battery charger. This option was, in fact, suggested to me by an engineer at on of the converter companies when I called with some technical questions about upgrading the battery charger circuit on my convert. If you choose this option you have a couple of choices. One is a "maintenance" charger that supplies a constant low charge to compensate for normal loss during storage. These are usually fairly inexpensive. A better option is a good multi-stage charger that will sense the state of the batter and adjust the charge accordingly. Multi-stage chargers usually include a mode that supplies a high voltage to "de-sulfate" the plates in the battery periodically. If you are going to leave your RV in storage for more than a week or so at a time without using it, it is a good idea to add a multi-stage battery charger to maintain the batteries. Allowing batteries to become fully discharged shortens battery life and diminishes performance. Exercise caution when connecting multiple battery chargers as they may tend to cancel each other out and you won't get the benefits you expect.

Auxiliary heaters may be a necessary option if you camp in colder weather. Some RV furnaces are not adequate to keep up with the demands of colder outside temperatures. I think many RVs are designed primarily for fair weather camping and fall short when used in cold, winter weather.  One of the simplest ways to add more heat, if you have a generator or shore power, is via electric heaters. They are small, lightweight, and can be easily moved around to warm cold spots as needed. We have a small "electric fireplace" that delivers 1500 watts of heat and adds a nice cabin-like ambiance. Another option, that is especially good for camping off the grid, are catalytic heaters. They run on propane, and unlike a furnace, do not require 12-volt power since there are no fans. You can choose from wall-mounted units that attach permanently to your RV propane system or portable units that run off standard propane bottles. There are also catalytic heaters that run on white gas. White gas is less convenient and can be more more hazardous to store and messy to transfer. When using any catalytic heater be sure to read and follow the manufacturer's instructions for lighting, clearances, and ventilation. They don't usually give off toxic fumes but they do consume oxygen and you can suffocate if you don't have an adequate supply of fresh air. I read of an experienced camper and professional camping writer who died when he forgot to leave sufficient ventilation using a catalytic heater. It is tempting to skimp on ventilation when you're trying to get warm and want to keep the cold out, but DON'T!  It can be a fatal mistake.

Campfire accessories. Most of us have burned a few marshmallows on sticks or wire coat-hanger cookers but there are lots of other tools to enhance your campfire experience. You might want to try out some of the fancy marshmallow and wiener cookers that have nice wood handles. Some even have the tines pointed back toward the handle to reduce the chance of injuring your fellow campers.  Telescoping versions are easy to store and yet let you maintain a safe distance from the fire.  Pie cookers are a handy way to fix a tasty, hot desert. Just put in a couple of slices of white bread, add your favorite pie filling, and in a few minutes in the fire you'll have fresh, not, individual pies.  Wire pop-corn poppers let you pop corn over your stove or campfire. Wire grills, both with and without attached legs make campfire cooking easier. A "potdangler" suspends your coffee pot or dutch oven over your campfire at whatever height you chose. Cast iron skillets, dutch ovens, and griddles are great for campfire cooking.  Portable fire rings help confine and control campfires.  We us a portable fire pit we call R2D2. It is an old washing machine tub.  One without a center tube makes adding firewood easier but one with a center tube can provide a place to insert a cut-down RV table leg in the bottom to put a base on it and a place to fasten a grill on top to use it for cooking.  Raising R2D2 a few inches off the ground gives room to warm cold toes on especially chilly evenings.

Instruments and Electronics.   There are dozens of electronic gadgets to enhance your RV experience.  Many RVs include entertainments systems (radios and/or TVs).  One of most popular, fun to use, and useful add-ons, is a GPS or a computer with a GPS app.  Great maps and vocal turn-by-turn instructions make navigating easy.  The only down side is they're a little pricey, but getting more affordable all the time.  Electronic compasses are not as expensive but can assist navigating with a paper map.  Some other useful instruments are an altimeter and a clinometer. The altimeter displays your elevation above sea level. useful when negotiating mountain passes and a clinometer, which shows the orientation of your vehicle relative to level, which is helpful in finding the most level spot in a remote campsite.  Electronic thermometers are a handy way to find out both indoor and outdoor temperatures.  You can even get one with up to 3 remote transmitters so you monitor the temperature in your fridge and/or in outside compartments as well as normal indoor/outdoor temps.  Knowing the temperature inside your RV, in the outside storage cabinets, and outside your RV can be critical in protecting your investment during winter camping and a useful aide to summer comfort.   A clear plastic thermometer that sticks to the outside of a window is inexpensive way of easily monitoring outside temperature.  Barometers measure air pressure and if you learn to recognize trends can be a fairly good predictor of impending weather changes.   Fancier weather stations are available if you're really into weather details.  Some even connect to your computer to record trends and provide data for future analysis.  LED rope lights are a neat way to light up your awning for patio parties.  Some even have multiple colors and a variety of patterns that put on quite a light show.

Modern smart phones provide wonderful technology for communication, navigation, and picture taking.  Apps are available for nearly any recreational activity you may want to try.

Shopping for and experimenting with various gizmos and gadgets can add an extra measure of fun to your RV or tent camping experience. Just checking them out at trade shows, RV stores, camp stores, and in catalogs and sharing them with fellow campers can be fun. Using them is the ultimate test of their value. If you don't like using or get bored with certain items or find a better solution, leave them home or put them in your next garage sale.  I like to take advantages of year end sales to check out new gadgets so I don't have a lot of money tied up in them if they don't work out.

Gadgets designed particularly for RV use will be found in RV stores and catalogs, but you may find useful items in other places, ranging from Internet web sites to your local grocery store and even travel stores. I frequently scan the wall of kitchen utensils when I visit our local dollar store. If I see something interesting, we try it. If is doesn't work out, we haven't lost much if we just throw it out, donate it to charity, or toss it into our next garage sale. I also like to check out the bargain and closeout tools at my local hardware and home stores. You never know what you'll find there.

Watch for sales.   Most of us like to get bargains, and I am certainly no exception.  In fact, I almost hate it when I have to pay full retail price for something.  I especially hate it if it is an unproven gadget that I'm not sure I am going to like or use regularly.  I'm OK with paying full retail for something I have either personally tried and like, have seen it used and like, or has been recommended by a trusted associate.  Picking up gadgets on clearance to try them out is a good way to explore your options without breaking your budget.  If it turns out you don't like them, you're not out so much and have a better chance of recouping part of your cost if you resell the item on ebay or at your garage sale.

More to come...there are always new gizmos and gadgets popping up.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

OHV Community Service

The OHV sport is too often the subject of unflattering and even ficticious attacks by the media and environmental groups.  Many of these groups are well funded even if they are misdirected making it very expensive and difficult to respond to their accusations.  One easy and direct way to combat negative impressions is by participating in service projects.  Service projects often directly maintain, improve, or enhance OHV facilities but volunteering to help land managers (BLM and Forest Service Rangers) with non OHV areas is also an effective way to demonstrate our civic spirit.  You will seldom find the opposition working on any kind of OHV facility unless it is to close it down.  I did, however, have an environmental group from a local college work on one of my OHV clean up projects at Searle Station near Ridgecrest, California.  It was very interesting to see OHV enthusiasts and environmental zealots working elbow to elbow and actually getting along.  I think both groups leaned important things about each other that day.  I am sad to report the invitations for environmental groups to join other service projects were universally ignored.  The media tends to portray off road  users in a negative way, often depicting them as lawless and even criminal.  The Bureau of Land Management in southern California fought futilely to correct misinformation about environmental damage near some popular riding areas.  Once the original off road slamming article which was badly distorted had been widely published it tended to override all official communications from the BLM.  It had shown photos of some over-used trails near a popular staging area and represented them as typical of wide-spread damage through a large area.  In reality the damage was very limited and restricted to a few trails where environmental closures had unnaturally concentrated traffic from many trails into one or two paths.

There are usually many opportunities to get involved in OHV related community service projects. Check with your local BLM, Forest Service, or state parks OHV representatives to find projects in your area. Common projects include trail maintenance, signage, and general cleanup and maintenance of camping and staging areas. Get involved with a local RV, OHV. or camping club. They will keep you informed of volunteer service projects and provide you with contacts to develop relationships with other riders. Most organizations sponsor various rides or other events each year that are fun and often educational. Most of the OHV service projects I've worked on included a ride at the end of all the work.

No one enjoys camping, hiking, or riding in an area that is filled with trash.  Poor citizenship by previous users -- or abusers -- often leaves an area covered with trash and fire pits filled with nails, broken glass, and other non-combustibles. By exercising good citizenship and common sense we can make sure we aren't contributing to the problem. We once camped in a remote desert area where there had previously been a "Rave" with a huge bonfire. Apparently they had burned a giant pile of pallets. We dragged magnets through the campsite and picked up about 10 lbs (by actual weighing) of rusty nails that otherwise could have ended up in our RV or OHV tires. We can't put all the blame on raves -- we have found plenty of nails left behind in camp sites frequented almost exclusively by OHV riders. However, most of the service projects I'm aware of collect far more trash that was illegally dumped by nearby residents than could have been hauled in by OHVs -- stuff like sofas, TVs, and toilets!  Yeah, just try hauling something like that on a dirt bike or ATV!  SO...first of all, don't become part of the problem by leaving trash behind. And secondly, volunteer whenever you can for OHV community service projects. Keeping our riding areas clean makes them more enjoyable for everyone and shows the land managers (BLM, forest service, state parks) that we CARE and we are good citizens.  There are certainly more than enough "environmentalists" campaigning to do away with OHV activities.  It is important that we show the land managers -- and the public -- that we are responsible and caring users of our great outdoor resources.  I firmly believe a dedicated off road user is actually more environmentally responsible than some arm-chair activist hundreds of miles away who has no personal connection with the site.

Many service projects are family oriented. Participating as a family allows you to set a good example and allows your children to learn the value of volunteer service. Well-planned service projects will include rider education and opportunities for some family OHV fun. One of our recent projects included kids so young they still had training wheels on their dirt bikes and at least one family with three generations participating.  Working together as a family is also FUN!

Participating in service projects is critical to maintaining and preserving our riding and camping areas. Volunteering for service projects demonstrates good citizenship and shows land managers we care about our facilities. It also helps us as individuals and organizations to develop good working relationships with the land managers and that is critical to preserving our riding and camping areas. There are many well-organized and well-financed groups who oppose all forms of OHV activity and spend millions of dollars every year campaigning against and filing law suits against our sport. In more than 30 years of dirt biking I have found OHV users, in general, to be responsible users who leave an area better than they found it. Of course, just as there are people who show poor judgment in other walks of life you will find a few bad apples in our own OHV community who tend to spoil things for everyone. When you encounter one of these types, try, diplomatically, to educate them to the damage they are doing, not only to the environment but to the future of our sport. Those who rebel against closed trails by riding on them anyway only give the opposition more fuel for their arguments. There are ways to legally appeal trail closures. Some are successful, some are not, but blatantly ignoring signage almost always leads to further limits. In some cases, closures of certain trails may actually be a way to keep others open. I have personally worked on signage programs designed to direct riders to approved trails to avoid having an entire area totally closed to OHV travel.   When we encountered riders violating the signage they were actually grateful when we stopped them and explained the situation and pointed them to legal alternatives they could safely enjoy.  Working with land managers (BLM, state parks, US Forest Service) instead of fighting them produces much better results when it comes to preserving our OHV riding areas. Confrontation and so-called "civil disobedience" only aggravates already hostile situations. Instead, contact your local land managers and ask what you can do to help!

Setting up you own service project. If you can't find a project to your liking, organize your own. I once started promoting an advertised service project to my Desert Rat group for a riding area we occasionally used. The feedback I got was they'd rather put their efforts into areas we used more frequently so I contacted the BLM, who managed the areas we frequented, and worked with them to put together our own clean up project. We didn't have as many people as I had hoped but the hundred or so that showed up were very effectgive.  We did have a good mix of both dirt bikers and environmentalists participate! I was very pleased with the great support from the BLM. I was somewhat intimidated when I learned my contact with the BLM carried a title that included environmental oversight as well as recreation. He turned out be an wonderful asset and our project went well. If you organize your own clean up project you'll need to arrange for a dumpster, trash bags, and toilet facilities. Sometimes the BLM or other responsible agency can help with these basic necessities. I like to solicit support and contributions from local OHV dealers for a free raffle to reward participants. I've also been able to arrange for a free lunch. Funding for service projects can sometimes be obtained through grants from government agencies like your State Parks. Some grants are also available through the OHV industry. You may be able to get local OHV dealers to pony up a few bucks to help with lunch and promotional expenses. We budget some of our UTMA funds to cover our annual High Five cleanup day at Five Mile Pass, in case we aren't able to get outside funding.

In short, service projects are fun as well as productive and rewarding and are critical to continued OHV access to public lands.

Pitch in!

Friday, January 21, 2011

First Aid

In my mind, first aid training should be a pre-requisite for purchasing or renting an RV or an Off Highway Vehicle or just going camping. The very nature of OHV and camping activities mean you will often be in remote locations doing things you don't normally do with few, if any, readily available medical facilities. Operating equipment or even just hiking in various kinds of terrains offers its own challenges and potential for injury. Knowing how to treat various kinds of injuries you or your companions may sustain can, quite literally, save a live. At the very least, having sufficient knowledge and supplies can reduce the affects of many injuries, reduce the suffering, minimize injuries, and add to the comfort of the injured. Knowing when and how to evacuate a seriously injured victim is a critical skill.  Proper first aid can prevent minor injuries from becoming major problems.  Lack of treatment or inappropriate treatment can lead to serious infection and/or additional an unnecessary injuries.

Always familiarize yourself with readily available emergency services near your destination, such as rangers and  local law enforcement.  Also know where to find the nearest Emergency Room or Urgent Care facility.   Even after you've done all you can do with first aid,  you or your patient may need professional medical attention.

There are two critical components of proper first aid:  adequate supplies and proper training.   All the supplies in the world won't do you any good if you don't know how to use them, how to assess injuries, and what to do to aid your victims and knowing what to do won't do you much good if you don't have anything to work with.  A completely equipped emergency room would be of little use to someone with no medical training.  And even a doctor will need certain equipment and supplies to be effective in the wilderness.  There is a special program called "Advance Wilderness Life Support" to teach medical professionals how to handle situations outside the hospital.  Of course, with the right knowledge you can often improvise if you're short  on supplies.  In this article we will focus on some basic and  useful first aid skills and procedures.  Another article (First Aid Kits and Training) will give more detail about first aid supplies and training options.

The Red Cross offers first aid and CPR classes in most most communities. Often these classes are often free or have very nominal costs. Check with a local hospital, fire department, sheriff or police department to find out about available classes.  Schools and churches, community groups, and even some employers often sponsor first aid and CPR classes.  Some basic knowledge of life-saving techniques could, quite literally, determine whether a family member or friend lives or dies following an OHV or other outdoor accident. First aid and CPR classes are usually not expensive.  In many cases the classes will be free although there might a charge for processing your certification.

The ABCs of first aid -- Airway, Breathing, Circulation, are key things to remember. Airways: if the airway is blocked, a person cannot breath, and will quickly suffocate -- in about 3 minutes. First aid and CPR classes teach you how to quickly check to see if the airway is blocked and how to clear a blocked airway. Sometime this alone is all that is needed to save a life. Breathing is the second critical function to be checked. If a person is not breathing, they will soon die. If the airway is clear and they are still unable to breath CPR (Cardio-pulmonary resuscitation) may be required until they can breathe on their own again. Circulation refers to the circulation of blood throughout the body. Blood carries lift-sustaining oxygen to the organs and hauls away waste products. Lack of circulation may be due to heart stoppage or to pinched, blocked, or severed arteries and veins. Another life-threatening circulation problem is arterial bleeding. This occurs when an artery has been sliced, ruptured, or punctured. This can be identified by blood spurting from the wound as the heart beats. You may see copious blood flow from other wounds but if it isn't spurting, it isn't arterial. Arterial bleeding and any other severe bleeding must be stopped or the patient will quickly bleed to death.  A person will "bleed out" and die in just a few minutes from a damaged femoral artery.  First aid classes will teach you how to stop bleeding. The preferred method is direct pressure on the wound. Tourniquets should only be used as a last resort and often lead to the loss of the body parts beyond the tourniquet.   Still is is better to lose a limb than a life. Internal bleeding is harder to identify and usually life threatening.  If the abdomen is hard when you press on it, it could be filled with blood from internal bleeding.  Shock, pale skin, and rapid or erratic heart beat may also accompany internal injuries.  Don't underestimate the danger of internal injuries.  I know of a dirt biker who crashed, picked up his bike, insisted he was all right, and finished the ride only to die of a ruptured spleen sitting around camp a few hours later, still claiming he was "fine" until it was too late.

However, a more up to date procedure is MARCH Massive Bleeding, Airway, Respiration, Circulation and Hypothermia or Head injury.   A recent presentation during our fire fighter training strongly urged us to use MARCH instead of ABC when dealing with mass casualties.

The most important thing is to have a plan of action and to follow it.   Every incident  you  might encounter requires first of all, some kind of assessment (what happened?  Is the scene safe?  Is it safe to attempt to treat victims?  What are the major injuries?  How can you best help?)  An initial assessment might  determine the scene isn't safe, in which case you should do nothing until the scene can be stabilized by qualified personnel.   Traditional treatment scenarios usually begin with some kind of triage, e.g., sorting the victims by severity of their injuries.  A simplified approach to dealing with mass casualties uses a 2 point system.  As the victim a question.  If you get a reasonable answer, they score 1 point.  If they are conscious and they have a heartbeat, they get a point.  Anyone with 2 points is categories "delayed".  Anyone with 1 point is categories "immediate".  Anyone with 0 points is probably dead or at least beyond help.  Focus medical treatment first on those classified as "immediate", then re-assess the delayed group to see if the status of anyone there  has changed and respond appropriately.  Don't waste time on delayed patients until all of the immediate patients have been taken care of.

Broken bones are not uncommon in outdoor activities. Broken ankles occur often among hikers. OHV and horseback riders can break just about anything when they part company with their mounts and land harshly on rocks and other unforgiving objects.  A simple fracture is one in which a bone is cracked or broken but does not protrude through the skin.  A compound fracture is one in which the broken bone is exposed.  Simple fractures can be identified by pain, discoloration (bruising), and misshapen body parts, like a forearm that is bent in the middle.  Broken bones should be splinted to reduce the chance of additional injury and for the comfort of the patient.  Compound fracture should be washed off with clean water (no antiseptic),  then dressed and bandaged.   The exposed bone should be kept moist if possible.  Splints should be rigid and should be snugly secured above and below the break.  Also immobilize the joints on either size of a break to minimize discomfort and chance of further injury.  DO NOT attempt to set or straighten a broken bone unless you have the proper medical training to do so.  Immobilize the broken bones and transport the victim to a hospital or other emergency medical facility as soon as possible.  Dislocations are also fairly common, with a shoulder being among the most frequent.  Other frequent possibilities include hips and elbows.  The best treatment for a dislocation is to immobilize the joint and get the victim to an appropriate medical facility. However, if the dislocation is causing severe pain, is affecting nerves or circulation, you may need to reduce (put back in place) the dislocated joint to prevent long term damage.  If, for example, a victim with a shoulder dislocation is experiencing numbness in their fingers, they likely have a pinched nerve.   Check capillary refill to test circulation.  Press on a finger nail or toe nail.  The color should return quickly.  If it doesn't, the dislocation is constricting a blood vessel.   Nerve or circulation problems warrant an immediate attempt to reduce the dislocation.   While putting a joint back in place can be momentarily painful, the patient usually experiences almost immediate relief of pain from the original injury.  I have learned techniques for dealing with dislocations but would only use them if there were no other reasonable options.  Field methods usually involve yanking on an arm or leg to pull the shoulder or hip joint back into place. You should not attempt to reduce a dislocation unless you have been properly trained.  Improper attempts to reduce a dislocation can result in additional injuries.  We had a rider in our group who had had a bad shoulder  (I think it occurred during a desert race years before).  He wore a leather brace, but his shoulder would still pop out from time to time and we had to help him put it back on more than one occasion.  It wasn't fun, but it was less distressing (for him and for us to watch) than seeing him slam himself into a tree or other solid object to put it back himself or seeing him in pain.

Treatment of less serious injuries is still important. Proper treatment will avoid unnecessary complications such as infection, reduce pain and comfort the patient, and help prevent further injuries. For example, splinting a broken bone may prevent it from become a compound fracture (where the bone is sticking out of the flesh) or prevent additional splintering or fracturing of the damaged bones. Immobilizing a broken bone usually reduces the pain and suffering of the patient right away as well. Proper treatment for cuts and contusions is needed to prevent infection and speed healing. Large, and especially deep cuts, may need to be surgically repaired by a trained physician. Superficial cuts may be cleaned and treated with anti-biotic ointments. Sometimes a "butterfly" bandage or even superglue may be used to close small cuts. If blood is spurting, not just oozing, from the cut, it likely to have penetrated an artery and should be considered very serious and will require professional treatment as soon as possible. A victim with arterial bleeding will probably bleed out and die within a matter of minutes if they don't receive appropriate treatment.  Premature closing (suturing, stapling, or gluing) of wounds that have not been properly cleaned may result in serious infection and improper healing.

Superglue can be a handy way to close small wounds.  There is a pharmaceutical grade version of it known as "Dermabond" made specially for medical uses.  Superglue is a lot cheaper (you can even usually find it at your local dollar store).  It may sting a bit more than real Dermabond, but it will do the job.  Hold the wound tightly together and lay a small bead of Superglue across it.  Wait for it to dry before releasing the wound.  It bonds instantly to skin but it will need a few moments to dry enough for the bead to tie the two pieces of the wound together.  Try not to get it too far down into the wound.  I have used Superglue successfully on cuts on my own fingers.

Recommended treatment of burns has changed over my lifetime. When I was a child we were told never to put burns into cold water.  I soon learned different.  A close friend of mine in high school ignored that rule when his little sister spilled a pot of boiling water all down her arm. He plunged her arm immediately into a bucket of cold water that happened to be nearby. When her arm healed, there was no scarring where her arm had been submerged, but there was significant scarring above the "water line" where her flesh continued to cook from the heat absorbed from the boiling water. Today cooling a burn is the first and perhaps most important thing you can do. Cooling a burn quickly may reduce the amount of long term damage. The folk medicine of my childhood said to put butter on a burn. Another fallacy.  That is NOT recommended today.   Carefully remove any loose debris and gently clean the wound with clean, preferably sterile water.  Burns are common in camping and other off highway activities. They can come from camp fires, cooking stoves, radiators, or hot exhausts. Technically a burn is caused by dry heat. A heat-related injury caused by hot liquid is called a scald. In either case, the first treatment is to cool the affected area dousing it with copious amounts of cook, clean (preferably sterile) liquid. Thorough cooling may take 10 minutes or more. A patient with severe burns is likely to go into shock. Superficial (first degree) burns only penetrate outer layers of skin, kind of like a mild sunburn and usually do not require professional medical treatment. The deeper the tissue damage, the more serious the burns. "Partial thickness" (second degree) burns penetrate several layers of skin and form blisters. Burns of this type larger than the victims hand require immediate professional medical treatment. Smaller burns might need delayed treatment but should be watch carefully.  Partial thickness burns covering 50% of an adult's body may be fatal. "Full thickness" burns (third degree burns) damage all layers of the skin and may extend into nerves, muscle, and fat or even bone. Full thickness burns require hospitalization. Anyone with full thickness burns should be transported to a hospital or other emergency medical facility as quickly as possible after administering immediate first aid.

First, move the damaged area away from the source of the burn and cool the affected area.  People usually remove themselves quickly from the source of a burn, but a severely injured or unconscious victim may need assistance.  Burned clothing may continue to smolder and do additional damage if it isn't removed.   Quickly cut or tear burning clothing away, but don't attempt to remove the remnants that have already seared into the burned skin.

Cover the burn with sterile, non-fluffy burn sheet. A sterile plastic bag or even kitchen plastic wrap may be used in an emergency. The covering is to keep out debris and to prevent infection.

DO NOT apply ointments, lotions, or fat or butter to the injury.

DO NOT apply adhesive bandages to the area. Use only non-stick dressings.

DO NOT break blisters.

DO carefully remove jewelry, watches, and restrictive clothing from the area before it begins to swell.

Watch for signs of shock and be prepared to begin immediate treatment for shock.

Shock.  First you need to be able to recognize the symptoms of shock.  The victim may experience or exhibit one or more of the following symptoms:

  • decrease in blood pressure.
  • rapid, weak, or absent pulse.
  • irregular heart rate.
  • confusion.
  • cool, clammy skin.
  • rapid and shallow breathing.
  • anxiety.
  • light headedness.
A primary cause of shock is low blood pressure, which results in many of these symptoms.  A victim with multiple symptoms is almost surely going into shock.

Treatment for shock.  Treating shock can be life saving.  Without treatment, your victim may die.  Unless you suspect the victim has a spinal injury, have them lie on their back with their feet elevated to increase blood flow to the brain and vital organs. DO NOT raise their head.  If they have leg or back injuries or if raising the legs causes pain, let them lay flat.  Loosen any tight clothing and cover them with blanket to keep them warm.  Administer first aid for any wounds or obvious injuries.  Do not give them liquids by mouth, even if they complain of thirst because there is a risk of choking if they experience a sudden loss of consciousness, which is not uncommon in cases of shock.

Minor injuries such as contusions or bug bites can usually be adequately treated using good first aid practices. Clean the wound with clean water. Avoid harsh antiseptics like alcohol and hydrogen peroxide. While they are effective in killing germs they are also effective in killing skin cells in addition to being painful. Here is a rather unusual tip: if you have no sterile water to clean a wound, you can use urine! Unless the donor has a urinary infection, urine is sterile. Someone asked the nurse in a first aid class I attended about using soda pop and she told them absolutely not -- it would be much better to use urine! Club soda would be OK, but it would not be good to use any of the sugar-rich flavored sodas or fruit juices. Quickly taking care of small wounds or bites can reduce the chances of infection and prevent them from become large sores.  Some bites benefit from an application of alcohol, ammonia, or baking soda.  Ammonia is the active ingredient in many "bite sticks".  Tooth paste and even ordinary mud can help take the sting out of insect bites, but you run the risk of infection from germs in the mud.  Stopping the itch is more than a comfort issue.  Itching causes the victim to scratch, usually creating a larger wound and introducing infection.  Even if mud might contain germs, using it to stop the itch is probably safer than letting them scratch and make things worse as well as making them more comfortable.

A critical component of first aid is being first.   What you do in the first few minutes after an injury can be a significant factor in making the victim comfortable and avoiding further injury or infection.  Simply being there with proper skills and confidence will help calm victims, making it easier to treat them and take care of their needs.  Knowing what to do first is essential.  Too may would-be rescuers skip the first and often most important step:  size up or assessment.  Before beginning any kind of first aid treatment you need to assess the situation.  First of all, is it safe for you to approach and treat the victim?  Next, if it is safe, assess their situation and their injuries.  If they are trapped in a burning car your first priority is to either put out the fire or get them out of the flaming vehicle.   If they're hanging off the edge of a cliff,  you obviously need to pull them to safety or find a way to support them so they don't fall any further.   Once you have accessed their situation and determined you can safely assist them without putting them or yourself in further danger, then you can approach them to begin treatment.  If they are conscious, you should obtain their permission.  If they are unconscious, you can usually assume "implied consent".  One of my C.E.R.T. classes proposed addressing conscious victims as follows:  "Hi.  I'm (your name) and I'm medically trained.  It is OK with you if I treat your injuries?".  This simple statement helps you assess your patient's mental status based on their answer as well as obtaining their permission to treat them.  Note that you are not claiming to be a doctor or nurse, just "medically trained".  First aid certification qualifies as "medically trained".  If you lack first aid certification, don't claim being trained.  It can be comforting and reassuring to an injured person that the one offering to provide treatment has proper training.  In an emergency, people are anxious for knowledgeable help.  I donned my C.E.R.T. vest and hard hat following the Northridge Earthquake in California to check on some friends and neighbors and everywhere I went I was immediately thronged by people looking for assistance and information.

Be FIRST in first aid!

Never Ride Alone!

Never, never, NEVER go off alone on an Off Highway Vehicle. You may be an excellent, even professional level, rider, but accidents can still happen. If you are injured and unable to ride out you may easily die before anyone even knows you're missing. And even if you don't die, you could find yourself in a world of hurt.  I have an adult friend who is a a very experienced and excellent rider. One day he took an "easy ride" alone on some familiar desert roads. He was very much enjoying his ride and the solitude -- until he crashed:  just hit some rain ruts on an easy desert road that grabbed the front wheel. The bike went down, he went over the bars. He broke an ankle, a collar bone, and a couple of ribs. How would you like to try to pick up a 300# motorcycle with your body in that condition? Somehow, in spite of great pain, he managed to get the bike up, get it started (no electric starter, just a kickstarter), and ride back to camp, load up his bike, and then drive himself 100 miles or so to ER for treatment. The closest I have come to a similar situation was when I was riding with this same friend I broke my collar bone when I crashed about a half mile from camp. I didn't have to worry about getting my bike up alone since I had help, but just riding it back to camp and then driving the RV home from the desert with a broken collar bone was definitely not the kind of fun I'd come out for! I cringe when I think about the pain my friend went through picking up his bike and loading it by himself with the additional injuries he had sustained.

My grown son went riding his dirt bike in one of the canyons in Utah near his home. He is an excellent rider. He was very familiar and comfortable with the trails -- perhaps TOO comfortable, since he set out alone. He was on his way back down the mountain after a wonderful ride. He was crossing a rock slide where trail skirted a large boulder in the middle. There had been a light rain so the rocks were slick. He approached the boulder with more caution than usual and that was a mistake. His bike stalled right next to the boulder, leaving him with no place to go uphill and about 15 feet between his downhill foot and the ground! The bike fell over downhill and rider and bike went sliding down the steep slope. Fortunately he was not seriously injured (thanks to proper riding gear and some skill in getting off the bike before it fell on him). He was also lucky that there was a clump of brush growing up through the scree that arrested their descent. After catching his breath, he wrestled the bike up and tried walking it across the rock slide toward the trees -- not an easy task! The slope was too steep to make his way back up to the trail pushing a 300# bike. It was probably too steep to even climb back up in riding boots! So he had to look for a way down hill and an alternate route back to his truck. He felt relieved when he entered the trees but that presented a new problem: twisting the bars and tweaking the bike through the tight thicket. He was relieved when he came to a little clearing and thought he could make some quick headway. He pushed off into the clearing with great zeal, only to find the tall grass covered a nasty nest of fallen trees that ensnared his feet and the wheels of his bike. Crossing the clearing was NOT the easy relief he expected, but one he started he had no other choice and managed eventually to reach the other side. He found a little game trail heading downhill that finally intersected with a fire road that led back to the main road. It was quite an adventure and, while makes a good story now, it isn't something he wants to ever repeat. The rain had picked up again on his way down and the effort to get off the rock slide and down the mountain and delayed him until it was headed quickly toward dark. He had no lights on his dirt bike and was afraid he might have to spend the night on the mountain in the cold rain. Violating another cardinal rule, he hadn't told anyone where he was going, so we no one would have known his was missing or where to come looking for him. He pretty much learned his lesson and always finds someone to ride with him now. And his experience has been a lesson to his siblings as well. He was very lucky it turned out as well as it did. A situation like this could have had disastrous results. If he had been seriously injured when he fell (he missed a good chance!), or if his bike had been disabled, or if hadn't been able to get it off the rock slide, or if he'd gotten stuck in the log jam in the clearing, he might have been stuck for who knows how long and might have even died before anyone found him.  Even summer nights in the Utah mountains can get pretty cold and add rain, hypothermia within 2-3 hours is almost a given.

It isn't just riding dirt bikes and other OHVs that will benefit from not riding alone.  Horseback riding and even fishing, hunting, and hiking should always be done in groups too.  There may have been a time, glamorized by Western movies, when your horse would bring an injured rider home safely, but now, with having to trailer horses many miles to riding areas and with fences and roads and other development to contend with, there are few places even the most loyal and capable horse would be able to succeed.

Always ride with a buddy. Or even two buddies. If there are two of you and one gets injured, the other can provide first aid and then go for help. Of course, it is even better if you have more than one companion so someone can stay with the injured rider while someone else goes for help. If you have enough riders in the group, send at least two riders to get help. Remember NEVER ride alone! Someone hurrying to get help is likely to be distracted and could easily be injured themselves.

Always let someone know where you are going and when you expect to be back, Even when you ride with a group, Even groups can get into trouble in difficult terrain and may need to be rescued. But who will know to come looking for you if you haven't told someone where you're going and when you should be back? Let someone know where you are going and about when you expect to be back. Try not to significantly change your planned route once you set out. You don't have to over-limit your choices on the trail and take the fun out a ride, but stick to your plans when you can -- just in case someone has to come looking for you. And, unless you take off in a completely different direction that you told people you were going, they',ll at least have some idea where to start looking for you if you don't return.  Letting someone know where you're going applies not only to overall camping trips but to individual excursions out of camp.

Riding with others is not only safer, it is a lot of fun and presents opportunities to learn --or teach -- useful riding and navigation skills. In any group there will always be someone with either more or less expertise than you have (often there are both!) so you an either learn or share your skills and tips. Both learning and teaching new skills are personally satisfying and help build friendships with your fellow riders. Who doesn't like learning a new skill -- or showing off what you already know by teaching others? Not that teaching others has to be showing off. Mostly it is just sharing experience and expertise for another's benefit so, unless you are deliberately showing off for the sake of showing off, don't feel guilty about it.

Never ride alone!

What to do if you get lost

It is fairly easy for anyone venturing into unfamiliar territory to get lost. It happens all the time. We often read of hikers and skiers you have "gone missing", sometimes in areas they frequently visit and should be familiar with. And, while sometimes drivers get lost even in their own city (especially if they're guys and won't stop to ask directions), getting lost out on the trails is a whole different matter. Negotiating unfamiliar forest, mountain, or desert roads is not easy.  There are often no road signs so you have to rely on landmarks and knowing where you are and where you are going and navigating using a compass, your vehicle odometer, and dead reckoning --or a high tech GPS.  Unmarked trails are even more challenging.  Hikers and riders who lag behind often get separated from their companions and can become disoriented. The risk of getting lost, or at least separated from your riding companions is even greater given the distances and speeds involved in OHV activities. It is very easy to become disoriented while focusing on keeping up with the vehicle in front of you or staying right side up instead of observing your surroundings as you zip along some fun trail so, if you do get separated, it may be difficult to find your way back to camp. Try to train yourself to pay attention to your surroundings as you travel. Whenever you stop for a break, see if you can point the way back to camp.  Remember major intersections or changes in direction.  Watch for landmarks as you go, large, unique and relatively permanent geological, landscape, or man-made objects that you can recognize again. Livestock do not make good landmarks! Pay special attention at every trail intersection so you will know which way to go if you have to come back that way and always wait for the person behind you to make the turn before you rush off to catch up with the group.   I know of at least one Enduro rider who made it a practice to mark each turn with his boot, but almost any subsequent traffic could wipe out any markings and if everyone tried to do that it would be even more  useless!  In my Desert Rat group of off road riders we tried to make it habit to stop now and then and make sure everyone in the group knew where we were and which direction it was back to camp.  Also, make sure that each rider or hiker in a group knows he or she is responsible for the person behind them, and making sure they see where the group has gone at every intersection.  Teaching young or novice riders these skills can be challenging and takes a lot of patience but it is well worth the investment.

If you get lost while driving to your camp ground it can be frustrating and time consuming,  but you can usually stop for directions if you aren't already way out in the boonies.  Theses days, hand held GPS systems have become affordable so you can avoid getting lost even if you are a macho type who won't stop for directions.  My sister bought one for our folks and they call it their "Never Lost".  If you get lost hiking, horseback riding, or driving an OHV on unfamiliar trails, you could be in a world of hurt.  A good topgraphcial map and some map reading skills could save your day.  GPS systems don't typically track off road trails but they may be able to point you back to camp or back to civilization.   It is a good idea to record the coordinates of your base camp in your GPS in case you need help finding you way back sometime.  Depending on the climate and season, being lost in the wild can even be life threatening!  That's where basic survival skills will come in really handy.  Even in the desert overnight temperatures can drop low enough to cause life threatening hypothermia.

When you are driving, or leading a ride or a hike, you will probably maintain a pretty good sense of direction.  But when you're following a caravan or are #8 in a gaggle of 12 riders or hikers on the trail, you'll probably be focusing on the person in front of you and making sure you follow them.  On the trail you may have to force yourself to observe landmarks so retain a sense of where you are and how to get back to base camp, especially when you're not leading the group.  You've probably hiked or ridden with folks who seem to have a built in GPS in their heads.  Part of that is a matter of natural brain function and partly a function of experience, observation, and focus.  I've heard of riders who try to mark each turn so they can retrace their steps if necessary.  Personally I haven't found that to be a very productive method for a couple of reasons.  First of all, with many riders on a trail, your marks may be confused or obliterated by someone else's marks or by other traffic, secondly, you may forget to mark a turn or two.  You really need to focus on observing and remembering landmarks and trying to maintain an overall sense of direction -- where you're going, where you've been, and where camp is from where you are.  When riding desert and sometimes mountain terrain, you can often use major peaks as a key point of reference for knowing where your camp is.   In forested areas the trees may block your view of major landmarks so you may have head to a high point or climb a tree to get your bearings.

So, what do you do if you do become separated from your group? First and foremost, DON'T PANIC! Your buddies will eventually notice you're missing and come looking for you -- that is, unless they have deliberately ditched you  (what the heck did you do to deserve that?) or unless you have been stupid enough to go off somewhere alone -- a fundamental NO-NO! Avoid getting separated by keeping up and keeping an eye on the rider in front of you and pay attention to your surroundings as you go. If the rider in front of you is doing HIS job, he should make sure you follow every time the group makes a turn or takes a branching trail, but not all riders remember to do this. If you do fall behind, stop and survey your surroundings. You may want to ride or hike up to the top of a nearby hill for a better view, but keep track of where you are now and where you came from. Just don't go too far from the trail and make sure you can get back. Can you see your group anywhere around you -- or, a dust trail that might indicate where they have gone? If there is no sign of them, begin slowly backtracking to the last fork or intersection where they might have gone a different direction and examine the tracks. If you are still not CERTAIN where they have gone, stay where you are. The closer you stay to a known location the better the chances you will be found. You don't know if they took a different route or just got way ahead of you. If you take off looking for them you will make it more difficult for them to find you. If you don't see where your group goes at an intersection, slow down and check the tracks so you can follow them instead of taking the wrong trail. If you have to stop and wait for someone to come back for you, you want to make yourself visible, but you will also need to keep your equipment and your body out of the way of other riders who may be coming down the trail. If you fall behind your group, stop when you come to a fork or intersection and wait for someone to come back for you. Don't arbitrarily take off down some trail if you're not sure that's where your group went. Sometimes you can tell by the tracks which way they went. If no one comes back for you in a reasonable amount of time and you can't locate which way they went, head back to camp if you know your way. If you've been paying attention as you ride, you should be able to identify some landmarks that will help guide you back to camp.  If you're leading a ride or a group of hikers, make sure you know how many there are in your group and stop periodically to take count. If someone is missing send a knowledgeable person -- or two -- back to check on them. They may have had mechanical problems, gotten hurt, or missed a turn. The sooner you know they're missing, the less time you'll lose finding them and the faster you can get help if they are injured or need other assistance. Each person in a group is responsible for keeping track of the person behind him. Every time you change trails or turn off a trail, wait to make sure the person behind you makes the turn before rushing off to catch up with the group. A few extra seconds at each turn can save you hours of searching for a lost companion and a lot of anxiety.

If you get lost or separated from your group at night, break out your light stick or start a small fire. Make sure your machine and its fuel are a safe distance from any fire and follow good fire safety procedures. Many of you may have seen the movie "On Any Sunday" where the rider inadvertently sets his own bike on fire and can do nothing but stand and watch it burn. In the sequel, "On Any Sunday II", the lost rider carefully and deliberately moves his bike a safe distance before lighting his fire. However, he had loosened his fuel line and dripped fuel onto his little pile of wood to make starting the fire easier and then he forgot to turn the fuel off before moving the bike. His fire blazes into life and quickly follows the trail of gasoline to his bike and once again it goes up in flames. These two staged events are amusing to watch, but certainly wouldn't be in real life. They probably willingly sacrificed a junk bike for the sake of cinema. Watching our own investment go up in flames wouldn't be so entertaining. But seriously, make sure you park your bike up wind and away from your fire. Embers or sparks carried by the wind could ignite fuel or lubricants and turn your ride into a bright magnesium torch! Magnesium is what gives flash bulbs their incredible brilliance and once ignited is very hard to put out. Because the strength to weight ratio is very favorable, many OHV components are made of magnesium. Burning magnesium may make a good signal fire, but most us won't want to sacrifice our OHVs just to be seen and then have to walk back once found and fork out a lot of money for a new ride.

Avoid getting lost in the first place. Easy to say, and not all that hard to do, if you follow some simple guidelines. First, try to keep up with your group. If still end up getting lost, you'll be lost all together and can help each other, but it is unlikely you will all get lost. Second, keep track of where you are, where you've been, and where you're going. Identify some significant landmarks that can lead you back to familiar territory. For example, know where your base camp is relative to easily recognized major features such as mountain peaks, power lines, highways, lakes, streams, or even man-made structures such as radio towers, highways, and rail roads. We make it a practice to quiz our younger riders about which direction camp is every time we stop. Sometimes, if we haven't been stopping for stragglers or taking rest stops we'll stop specifically to do a "where are we" check. Given the complexity of some off-road trail systems, whether they be in the desert or the forest, the many twists and turns can be very confusing if you can't -- or simply don't -- keep track of significant landmarks. Knowing how to get back to camp from anywhere you go can mean the difference between being late for supper and spending the night alone and cold and hungry in the sticks. A lot of trails look the same so it is very easy to loose track of where you've been if you don't make mental notes of landmarks. And make sure the landmarks don't move! Grazing livestock or wildlife do not make good landmarks.

Technological aids. Today we have many technological devices to keep us from getting lost -- if we have them and know how to use them. For hundreds of years man has navigated using maps and a compass -- or by using the sun and the stars. Not many modern men have learned those skills. Some have learned map reading in boy scouts or in the military and may find those skills helpful if they have an adequate map with them, but few riders or hikers carry detailed maps on the trail. If you are doing a lot of riding or hiking in unfamiliar territory, especially, without a knowledgeable guide, you may want to invest in some detailed topographical maps and learn how to read them. Today we tend to rely on GPS devices that can pinpoint our location -- or the location of our camp site or other destination and provide detailed directions to get there. I'm not suggesting everyone run out and buy an expensive hand held GPS, but if you already have one or do chose to get one, make sure you know how to use it. And be sure to record the location of your base camp before you go out on any rides. Even the most expensive and capable GPS will be of little value if you don't know the coordinates of where you want to go. Some of the more advanced GPS units can record your travels and you can play them back in reverse to return to your point of departure. If you plan to go exploring without a guide, you may want to make this a priority feature if you buy a GPS.   At the very least be sure to record the coordinates for you base camp in your GPS before you hit the trails.  There are emergency electronic beacons that can monitor your position and even report it periodically to designated recipients on the Internet.  These devices usually also have a "panic button" that will send out a call for immediate help, along with GPS coordinates to assist rescuers in locating you. Many modern "smart phones" have some built in GPS functions.

If you find yourself lost for an extended period of time, you should go into survival mode: seek appropriate shelter, conserve water and physical energy, inventory your provisions and available resources. Gather wood for a fire before it gets dark and cold. Find a water source if possible. In hot weather seek shade. In cold weather seek protection from the wind and weather and look for ways to keep warm (hollow log, cave, leaves/pine needles). In wet weather seek shelter from the rain before you get soaked and risk hypothermia. If you don't know for sure what direction to go to return to camp or get help, stay where you are unless it is obviously unsafe! If you're lost, it is better not to keep moving unless 1) your current location is unsafe or 2) you KNOW for sure where you can seek help, even if you don't know your way back to camp.

Don't be lost!

OHV Trip Preparation

Preparing for an OHV outing requires a lot more planning than for a simple RV camping or sightseeing weekend. You still need all the normal preparations for a camping trip -- fuel, food, clothing, fire wood, fill fresh water tanks, empty holding tanks, check tires, plan routes, etc, but you also need to prepare your OHV toys. You will need to consider the kind of riding and the types of terrain. If you are headed into remote locations you will need to bring along enough fuel to last the entire outing. On one long dirt bike ride we went on in southern California, the ride leader had cached fuel along the trail ahead of time, knowing the gas tanks on most dirt bikes weren't big enough to make the whole ride without additional fuel. One option to consider if you do a lot of remote riding is to upgrade your fuel tank to a "desert tank". On my old KX 500 that boosted the capacity from less than 2 gallons to more than 3 gallons, more than 50% more fuel.  Before I got the desert tank I carried an extra quart of gasoline in an old motor oil bottle zip-tied to the number plate in case I needed a little extra to make it back to camp and more than once it saved the day.

First, check your toys. Well maintained equipment will provide years of reliable enjoyment. Poorly maintained equipment is likely to leave you stuck just when you least tolerate it. There is nothing like a breakdown to spoil a ride -- for you and everyone with you! So check each piece of equipment to make sure it is ready to ride. Tires, fuel, and other fluids (oil, coolant) are obvious items, but loose fasteners are often overlooked -- until it is too late and they've fallen off out on the trail. Some things coming loose are just a nuisance, but others can be dangerous so check all the fasteners regularly.  If your ride is equipped with lights, check them before you leave home and before every ride. Even if you are not planning any night riding, sometimes things come up and you find yourself in need of them. I was on a ride with 18 riders, ranging from about 8 years old to 65 in the California desert. It was supposed to be an easy afternoon ride, nothing too difficult since we had a number of young, novice riders on small bikes among us. However, for what ever reason (now lost in the well of years, I blame it on an over ambitious and over confident ride leader) we went further than planned and the ride lasted long into the night and we didn't get back to camp until well after 10:30 pm. Among the 18 riders there were only 4 bikes with headlights so we spaced the non-lighted units judiciously between them to provide some ability to see the trail and slowly made our way back to camp. It was a good thing we had those 4 bikes with working headlights! Do you know how dark the desert is on a moonless night? You quite literally cannot see your hand in front of your face, let along see the trail without illumination.  After a few hours of staring into the dark your eyes begin to feel like burned holes in a blanket.

While we're on the subject of lights, I have found it is helpful to keep a small flashlight like a Minimag in my fanny pack or in my fender bag. Cheap plastic flashlights are better than nothing -- until a crash or just tools bouncing around destroys them. These days you can get inexpensive LED aluminum flashlights that are sturdy, light weight, and the batteries will last a long time. Equipment can break down at night just as easily as it can in the day time, and, if you subscribe to variations of Murphy's Law, it may even be more likely to happen when you can't see to fix it. Even if you break down during the day, repairs might hold you up until after dark. I also include a chemical light stick in my trail tool kit. Although these are not as helpful as a good flashlight for illuminating repairs, they are really good for making yourself visible to searchers and they last a long time. Plus, having some light is soothing when you find yourself in total darkness in a strange place. And, believe me, nothing is stranger than some unfamiliar remote location in total darkness! Every sound, every shadow soon becomes an unseen monster about to devour you. Think that's just a scary story for kids? Talk to any survival expert and they'll tell you how easily the mind plays unkind tricks on you -- and how important a little bit of light (from a light stick or a small fire) is to your comfort and mental health. To protect the fragile light stick from damage in my pack, I cut a length of 3/4" PVC just slightly longer than the package and pushed end caps on both ends. Be sure to monitor the expiration date or condition of your light stick. I've observed that once the "puffiness" of the packaging is gone, the light sticks are useless. I have some that are WAY past their expiration dates that still worked, but not if the package had already gone flat.  Keeping them in the sealed PVC pipe seems to help delay them from going flat as well as protecting them from impact damage.

Back to trip preparations. Next to maintaining your rides, the most important thing is checking your riding gear. No knight would go into battle without his armor and you don't want to hit the trails without your body armor. Sometimes it is tempting to leave at least some parts of it behind, but as sure as you do, you're going to need it. While it sometimes feels cumbersome and too hot on summer days, it is well worth the inconvenience if you go down in a rock pile, cactus, or on pavement -- or even in the soft sand for that matter! Even soft soil is usually much harder than tender skin!  I keep a checklist for each member of my family and we religiously go down the checklist to make sure we have everything on board and in good condition before we leave home. Prior to the checklist, we occasionally left something behind and that always threw a monkey wrench into the works. In some places, California for instance, it is illegal for anyone to ride an OHV without a helmet. This is in addition to and pre-dates the infamous California helmet law for street motorcycles. Riding off-road without a helmet is an invitation to disaster. Even a low speed crash can result in serious or even fatal injuries if you hit your head on a rock, and there are usually plenty of rocks in most OHV riding areas. While other safety gear may not be legally required by law, it is still just good common sense to wear it -- EVERY time you ride. I once took a short ride in jeans without my riding pants and knee pads and soon regretted it. I jumped a small mound of dirt and the back tire kicked out unexpectedly to the right.  The bike twisted under me and dragged me to the ground with one leg still under the bike. My leg was purple from mid-thigh to ankle for weeks! Had I been wearing my regular riding pants and knee pads, much of the injuries would have been reduced or eliminated.

Now that you've got your rides and your gear together, what next? Next on my list are tools and spare parts. I have an enclosed motorcycle trailer that I keep stocked with appropriate tools and spare parts. Clearly you can't keep every possible part for every machine on hand, but you can stock those that are most frequently lost or damaged. A good supply of metric fasteners (bolts, nuts, washers) is good to have since the constant vibration and pounding OHVs take can loosen fasteners on a regular basis.   BTW, judicious use of Locktite can help keep fasteners from vibrating loose in the first place.  Just don't use in on anything you may have change frequently, like levers or the sidecovers over your air filter.  Small fasteners also easy to loose in the dirt or sand if dropped when making repairs. Clutch and brake levers are easily damaged on the trail. They are relatively inexpensive, take up little space in your trailer, and are easy to replace. For chain-driven vehicles, carry a few extra master-links for emergency chain repairs. Shift levers are not quite as vulnerable as brake and clutch levers, but a broken one can leave you stranded. Again, like brake and clutch levers, they are fairly inexpensive, easy to store, and easy to replace. While we're on the subject, I carry a small pair of vice grips in my fanny back or fender bag. Not only are they versatile for many repair jobs, in an emergency they can be clamped to the shifter shaft and serve as a make-shift shifter that will get you back to camp if you break or strip a shift lever.

When choosing tools, see if any of your equipment requires special tools. I found that some of our bikes required special spark plug wrenches. Universal automotive and even specialized motorcycle spark plug wrenches would not fit. Changing the spark plugs on our Honda CRX 250Fs is not just cumbersome without the special wrench, it is literally impossible. So we added the special wrenches required by our Hondas to our tool kits. It is a good idea to have at least one in your basic tool kit at camp and another one in your trail kit.

The key to stocking spare parts is to keep track of what breaks most often. Then, when you buy a replacement to repair your ride, get an extra one for your spare parts supply. And when you use items from you spare parts, remember to replenish them when you get home. Don't be stingy about sharing your spare parts with your riding buddies. Not only will you save their day, you can pretty much expect that some day you'll be in their place and need their help. Sure, by sharing you may give away something you need, but it is the right thing to do and will usually pay back many dividends.  Brake and clutch levers are among the most frequently broken parts on a dirt bike. I found equipping my bike with "Bark Busters" (sturdy metal hand guards) that I don't break levers as often as I used too. I also mount big plastic hand guards on the Bark Busters so my hands are well protected from brush and it cuts down the wind, a real benefit on cool or wet days. I get teased about my "flower pot" hand guards, but it is a small price to pay for the added comfort and security and for protecting my levers (and hands!).

Many OHVs require special fuel, often because they are powered by 2-stroke engines that require oil to be mixed with the gasoline. Some other, high-performance machines require high-octane gasoline  such as racing fuel or aviation gas. Make sure you follow your manufacturers' recommendations. Failure to do so can cause permanent damage to your engine while using the proper fuel will enhance performance, reliability, and long life. Your checklist should include fuel and essential lubricants to keep your equipment in top shape. Again, follow your manufacturers' recommendations for lubricants and lubrication schedules. A few drops of oil in the right place at the right time eliminates a lot of problems and ensures smooth and reliable performance, while lack of maintenance can literally mean disaster. You sure don't want your throttle cable to stick when you're half way up a very steep, very rocky, very technical trail. Stalling in this situation may send you racing or tumbling out of control down a steep drop off into a nasty canyon and spoil your whole day or your whole weekend -- or maybe even your whole life!  And, if  your ride is liquid cooled, don't forget to bring along extra coolant and check the coolant level before each ride!

A final word about checklists. Yeah, some may think they're for sissies or for old men with dementia or Alzheimer’s. In reality, they are useful tools used in many highly respected professions. Airline pilots and astronauts come immediately to mind. And those guys are definitely not sissies or old men! I use several detailed checklists: one for the RV, one for the trailer, one for each of our bikes, and one each for our personal protective gear. The few minutes it takes to review checklists before departing on a trip will save hours of frustration on your outings, not to mention saving money since virtually everything is more expensive "out there" (wherever that may be) than it is at home -- if  you can get it at all. The last thing you want to do is arrive in camp 150 miles from home, start getting ready for the that long anticipated ride, and realize your riding boots are still sitting on the garage floor or in the basement at home. It has happened to people in my family when they neglected the checklist. I've seen people resort to duct tape and flip-flops in such cases and I strongly advise against it. The chance of serious injuries is just too great! Your Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) is critical to having a safe and comfortable ride.  I've seen riders injure their feet (in riding boots) enough that their toes turned black for weeks afterward.  Without boots their toes would have been brutally and painfully amputated by the original injury.

You will need to check your ride and your gear before each ride too.  You'll be surprised how many things can happen to your equipment in just a short ride.  Check fuel, oil and coolant levels.  Check tires.  Check for loose accessories or fasteners.  On chain drive vehicles make sure the chain is properly adjusted and oiled.  Check your lights and your brakes.  Check clutch adjustment.  Check your lights.  Check your tool kit.  Making  sure everything is shipshape can prevent a lot of problems.  More than once I've seen a loose chain get "stacked" and pushed the shaft of the sprocket right  down through the transmission case.  Not a pretty sight nor an easy or inexpensive repair!  Make sure your tool bag is properly closed, is securely anchored, and doesn't have any holes.  I once picked up nearly a completed set of dirt bike tools strewn along a trail by  an careless or  unlucky rider.

Prepare your own body too.  Make sure you drink plenty of healthy liquids before venturing out on the trail.  Water and sports drinks that replenish electrolytes are best.  Drinks with caffeine or alcohol are definitely not recommended.  Both contribute to dehydration and alcohol contributes to poor judgement, accidents, and expensive tickets.  If you really have to have a cold beer on a hot day, wait until you get back from your ride and can safely enjoy that tall cool one in camp where the only likely accident is falling out of your camp chair!

Be prepared!

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Emergency RV Repairs

If you go RV-ing, you can count on having some technical problems sooner or later. If you only camp in commercial campgrounds with full hookups and near civilization you may have mobile RV services readily available to assist you. Sometimes there are mechanics on staff at large resorts and sometimes the manager or other member of the staff may have some helpful skills.  If you do a lot of “boondocking” – camping in primitive campgrounds in remote locations, you will likely have to fend for yourself – at least for a time. Some mobile RV repair services are able to come to remote locations, but don’t count on it and expect to pay a premium for the service if you can get it. Check your Emergency Road Service (ERS) too. Some will not provide service in remote locations or even off paved highways.  And ERS programs are typically designed to provide assistance with mechanical problems with your vehicle, such as a dead starting battery, flat tire, or out of gas.  Problems with other RV systems are usually beyond the scope of ERS policies.

Mechanical problems: consider this: a motorhome has all the same systems as both your car and your house and more so think about the problems you have with them and figure sooner or later you're going to have all the same problems -- and more -- that you have with them. Your motor home – or the vehicle you tow your trailer with, are subject to the same mechanical failures as any other motor vehicle. Your best defense against failure is proper maintenance. Rubber components such as tires, belts, and hoses, are among the most common points of failure if not properly maintained and should be checked frequently and replaced if showing signs of wear or deterioration. Other typical problems may include running out of fuel, dead batteries, and flat tires. Not all RVs come with spare tires. If yours did, make sure you check it regularly to ensure it is usable. If yours did not come with one, look into get getting one. A common reason some RVs don't have spare tires is a lack of anyplace to carry them.  You may have to get creative to find a place in yours.  I've heard of guys putting them on the luggage rack on the roof, but that is NOT a good idea.  Getting a heavy spare and and down from the rack will be difficult and you'll risk injury to yourself trying to manhandle it it up and down or damaging the tire if you drop it off the roof.  The added weight (usually around 100 lbs or so) at that height can affect handling.  Furthermore, leaving a tire exposed to sunlight on the roof will greatly shorten its useful life.  One of the major tire companies uses the the roof of their warehouse in southern California as an extreme UV testing facility.  Having a spare is just the beginning. Unless you are along a highway where auto club type tire service is readily available, you may have to change the tire yourself. For that you will need a jack that will fit under the frame and is large enough to lift the unit and lug wrenches that both fit the lug nuts and provide sufficient torque to remove them. Keep in mind, on large RVs, the lug nuts were likely tightened by very high-torque air impact wrenches and may be VERY difficult to break loose. I had a flat on the freeway and the auto club driver had to tow my RV back to his shop where he had a 3/4" air impact wrench to get the lugs loose. Always make sure you have adequately blocked the vehicle before attempting to jack up the corner with the damaged tire. And NEVER crawl under a vehicle that is supported on a jack alone! Keep people out of the vehicle while it is up in the air. Movement inside can cause it to fall off the jack, with potentially dire consequences to the vehicle and to anyone nearby! Hydraulic leveling jacks, if you are lucky enough to have them, can sometimes be used to safely lift the damaged tire off the ground for changing, saving a lot of effort.

If you do a lot of boondocking it is a good idea to carry spare fan belts and heater and radiator hoses. These are usually fairly easy to replace by the DIY mechanic and will quickly get you back on the road, but you will need some basic tools and at last some mechanic skill.  Sometimes you can affect temporary radiator hose or heater hose repairs using duct tape or electrical tape. There are special tapes made for radiator hose repairs that will stick even when wet, which is even better. Having a roll of this type of tape in your tool box may save you a lot of frustration and wasted time. If you are already a fair DIY mechanic, you can probably diagnose and repair many of the problems you may encounter – if you have brought along some basic tools and supplies. If you aren’t mechanically inclined, it may be worth your time to take a basic mechanics course at your local adult education school or community college. The modest fee and time spent will be a good investment that you may find helpful beyond your camping needs. You may be able to make very temporary emergency repairs to radiator hoses and heater hoses using duct tape. A special radiator hose tape that sticks when wet is even better. Heater hose damage often occurs near the ends where it has been stressed over the connections or is bent sharply. Quite often there is enough slack in the hose to simply cut off the damaged section and stretch the hose to reconnect it to temporarily get you back on the road.  You will want  to replace the hose as soon as it is practical to ensure reliability and avoid more problems in the near future.  Be sure to include some slack when you buy a new  hose so you'll have room for emergency repairs if needed later.

Battery problems: in many cases, battery problems can be traced to poor connections at the battery or at the other end of the cables where they connect to the vehicle components. Typically, RVs use a negative ground configuration, with the negative battery terminal connected to the vehicle chassis. The positive battery terminal is typically connected to the starter. Negative cables are usually, but not always, black; positive cables are usually, but not always, red. One of the first things to check if you are having battery problems are the connections at the battery. If they are corroded, you need to remove them, clean the battery terminals and the cable ends, then reconnect the cables. There are special battery cleaner sprays that help remove the corrosion but ordinary baking soda can also be used to nullify the acid causing the corrosion. Sprinkle a little baking soda on the corroded parts, then dribble a little water onto the soda. Wait a few minutes, then brush and rinse the corrosion away. Be sure to check the connection of the ground to the frame and engine too.  Corroded connections will prevent your vehicle charging system from doing its job to maintain the batteries so you may still have to jump start the vehicle from another battery in order to get it going. Some RVs have emergency starting switches that connect the coach batteries to the vehicle starting batteries temporarily to assist in starting the vehicle or the generator. In an emergency, you could remove the coach batteries and move them to where you could attach jumper cables in order to get your vehicle started. If the vehicle batteries have not been properly maintained, there is a good chance that the coach batteries are also in trouble and you may have to clean the terminals there as well. Once the vehicle is started it should charge both the starting batteries and the coach batteries using the engine alternator. Some late model motorhomes will only charge the coach batteries after the starting battery has been fully charged, so you'll need to carefully monitor the charge status. The engine alternator will provide a higher charging rate and faster charging than attempting to recharge low batteries running the generator and using the charger in the 12 volt converter. The charger circuits in most converters are only designed to maintain the charge while the unit is in storage. They are not intended to recharge discharged batteries. Some inverter/charger systems are designed to charge batteries. A fairly inexpensive solution is to purchase an automatic automotive battery charger you can run off the generator or shore power.  Automatic chargers sense the state of charge and adjust the voltage to prevent overcharging, which can damage the battery.  The better quality chargers will also have a “START” mode that can sometimes be used to assist in jump starting the vehicle. If all of your batteries are low, you may want to try connecting the starting battery to the coach batteries, then start the generator. It may take less power than trying to start the vehicle engine. Then hook your automotive battery charger to the starting batteries and run the generator for at least an hour or two with charger set on HIGH.  A friend of mine once ran down the starting battery in the truck hauling his camper.  It was a simple process to swap the coach and starting batteries, which were both under the hood so he could get it started to drive home.  He was somewhat mechanically challenged and had no idea the batteries could be swapped.  While it is NOT a good idea to permanently use a deep cycle battery as a starting battery or a starting battery as a deep cycle battery, there is nothing wrong with switching them to get home!

Out of fuel: it is all too easy to run out of fuel, especially if you are running your generator for extended periods of time during remote camping. Most RVs have the generator fuel pickup designed so the generator will run out of gas before completely emptying the vehicle gas tank, leaving you fuel to get to a service station -- hopefully. If you are in a remote location, monitor your fuel usage. The amount left in the tank when the generator runs out may not be enough to get you back to civilization! The generator fuel pickup will usually leave you about a quarter of a tank for the engine.  If you are doing a lot of remote camping, you should consider carrying extra fuel. If you have a gasoline powered vehicle and gasoline powered “toys”, you may be able to borrow fuel from your “toys” to get you to the nearest gas station. Even if your “toys” have 2-stroke engines and use mixed gasoline, you can use the mixed gasoline in your gasoline powered vehicle in an emergency. It may blow a little smoke and if too much is used for too long a time may foul spark plugs and plug catalytic converters, but it usually works well enough to get you to a gas station to save the day. 2-stroke engines are common on dirt bikes, ATVs, snowmobiles, chain saws, personal watercraft, and outboard motors.

Some diesel powered motor homes have propane powered generators. In this case you won't run the risk of using up all the fuel to run your vehicle, but excessive generator usage may leave you without propane for cooking, heating, and running the refrigerator and water heater. There are external tank kits ("Extend-a-stay") that can augment your on-board tanks for motor homes. For travel trailers, you may want to carry one or more extra propane tanks to make sure you don't run out prematurely. Note: generators tap into the liquid fuel in the propane tank. Extend-a-stay kits don't deliver liquid fuel into the RV system, only vapor. Monitor your propane usage and connect the Extend-a-stay long before you run out of fuel if your generator is propane powered. This will allow other appliances to use the vaporized fuel and conserve liquid fuel for use by the generator.
Coach Problems your coach (motor home, camper, or trailer) consists of many systems, any one or more of which have problems from time to time. The coach body itself is a “shelter system”. A common problem is water leakage. Leaks typically occur on the roof, especially around vents, antennas, or other roof-mounted components and around windows and doors. Once again, the best defense against leaks is proper maintenance. Periodically inspect the caulking around the windows and doors and all body seams and around components installed on the roof. If the caulking is missing or severely dried out, it should be completely removed and replaced BEFORE a noticeable leak shows up inside. Check your roof after any storm, especially if you've been parked under trees. Falling debris can puncture the roof with nasty results. By the time you notice a leak inside, there is already a lot of water soaking the ceiling and/or into wall panels and this will eventually lead to serious and expensive dry rot problems and unpleasant odors. If you do encounter a leak while on an outing, try to repair it as quickly as possible. There are a number of commercial products available including special repair tape (Eternabond is one popular brand) that will stick even underwater and sealants that typically come in tubes and can be squeezed out to seal the leak. In choosing a sealant, make sure you get one that is compatible with the roof material on your RV. Many sealants that are used for home applications contain petroleum distillates that can harm the rubber roofs on some RVs. On one of my motor homes I had a commercial roof coating installed to repair existing leaks and prevent new ones. It came with a 10 year guarantee and a real life-expectancy of 20 years. The cost was about the same as about 2 or 3 years worth of having an RV shop re-caulk the roof and I never had to worry about leaks as long as I owned the motorhome. The coating is pure white and both the color and the insulation value of the coating helps keep the RV cooler in hot summer months. The coating also helps avoid heat loss in cooler weather.  It even helped soften the noise of rain or hail or wind on the roof.

External panel separation: sometimes the “skin” of an RV will come loose. In many cases the ends of a panel are held in place where they extend into a shallow channel in the trim. Twisting of the body of the coach sometimes pulls the panels out of their channels, allowing wind and water to get behind the panel and pull it away from the underlying wall. Temporary repairs can often be made using duct tape to secure and seal the damaged seam until permanent repairs can be made. Catching and correction problems of this type early can prevent more extensive damage and expensive repairs. If you see a panel starting to separate, tape up the seam as soon as possible, before moisture or wind can cause further damage. An open seam may catch enough wind on the highway to rip the whole panel off, greatly increasing the damage and the expense of repairing it. I have had major structural problems with two travel trailers that required me to remove inside wall panels and replace broken or damaged structural components. It can be done by a dedicated do-it-yourself-er, but most such repairs are best left to professionals. In my own defense, I did have the advice of a professional motor home engineer to guide my efforts.  These were definitely not emergency repairs that could be done in camp, but I did use duct tape to hold things together until I could get the trailer home.  You may notice places where the skin of  your RV seems to be bubbling.  This is called "delamination" and happens when the glue that holds the skin to the underlying paneling deteriorates, usually due to water intervention.  As long as the skin is still secured adequately around the bubble this doesn't pose an immediate emergency, but it is something you should take care of as soon as possible.  An RV repair shop may be able to fix it for you or, if you want to try it yourself, you may be able to inject glue into the bubble to reattach the skin.  Be sure to seal the hole(s) you make to do the injection using a suitable silicone or RTV sealer.  If you can't find some that matches the color, use a clear sealer.

Some minor damage to exterior panels can be inexpensively disguised by covering them with a false vent. I found it would cost hundreds of dollars to replace a damaged panel on one of my coaches, even though the damage was purely cosmetic. At the suggestion of an "old timer", I sealed the cut in the RV skin with a permanent repair tape, then covered the whole thing with a residential furnace vent grill. You can find quite an assortment of sizes at most home supply stores. Often you can obtain a white or off-white one that can be used as is -- or can easily be painted to match the color scheme of your RV. It may not be the most elegant repair, but it is cost effective and, done right, doesn't look too bad. It prevents further damage and provides a fairly pleasing cosmetic appearance. When I found I could not match the skin on my custom-made enclosed motorcycle trailer, I sealed up the damaged surface with tape and silicone and installed a 2'x2' vent painted to match the trailer siding to disguise and protect the torn surface.

Broken windows can result from wind blown debris, accidents in camp, or even from twisting of the vehicle over uneven terrain. Tape up any cracks as soon as possible to prevent further deterioration and reduce the possibility of injuries from flying glass shards. A clear plastic shipping tape works well and doesn't interfere with the view as much as duct tape will, but duct tape works well in an emergency. You want to prevent dust or moisture from entering you vehicle and keep the broken glass from creating a hazard. Broken glass can damage upholstery and injure occupants.  Unless you carry spare windows (highly unlikely and impractical) any repairs you make will be temporary at best. You will need to get the windows replaced as soon as you can when you return home.  Windshield glass is laminated so it won't shatter.  Tempered glass, like those on automobiles, will shatter and crumble into chunks.  Some untempered RV windows may be more like residential windows and can break into jagged shards when broken, creating possible projectiles like dozens of knives or arrow heads.  RV windows should be tempered, but if you have a used coach you never know if a previous owner, being either ignorant or just cheap, replaced a broken window with ordinary glass.

Water system problems: your RV will typically have 2 or 3 water systems: a city water system, for use when connected to campground water supply, 12-volt water system (fresh water tank and 12 volt pump for dry camping), and a sewer system. Most RVs have two different sewer holding tanks: gray water (sinks and shower) and black water (toilet). A few older, smaller units may have only one.   Like any plumbing system, those on your RV can be subject to leaks. In fact, the vibration and twisting of RV bodies subjects these plumbing systems to greater stresses than your home plumbing would normally encounter unless you live on top of an extremely active earthquake fault. For that reason most of the piping used in RV freshwater systems consists of flexible tubing. Although most of these systems have a very long life, failures can and do occur. One significant source of RV plumbing failures is damage due to freezing in cold climates. If you live in an area where it stays below freezing for more than a few hours at a time, you will need to “winterize” your RV plumbing systems. This consists of removing all the water from your holding tanks and water heater and either blowing all the water out of the lines and fixtures or filling the lines and fixtures with special RV antifreeze. DO NOT use regular automotive antifreeze as these solutions are poisonous! RV antifreeze is pink in color and is non-toxic. Be sure to empty the holding thanks, then add a cup or so of antifreeze through the toilet and into each drain to protect the P-traps in the drains and the dump valves in the holding tanks. Even though RV antifreeze isn't poisonous, it doesn't taste good, so you need to flush and sanitize the fresh water system completely before using it again

If you notice your water pump cycling when no water is being used, you probably have a leak somewhere -- or someone didn't turn a faucet off completely. If all the faucets are shut off you need to trace the water lines from the pump to each fixture (as best you can – a lot of the lines will be out of sight  in walls or floors). Also look for damp spots on the floor or walls or underneath your RV that would indicate the location of the leak. If the only sign you can see is water dripping underneath your RV you may have to open outside cabinets to trace where the water is coming from.  If you can locate the leak, you may be able to repair it if it is a loose connection. Carefully tighten any loose connections until the leak stops. DO NOT over-tighten as this can damage the seals and threads permanently and make the problem worse! If the leak is a damaged line, the only long term solution is to replace the damaged section, which, unless you are proficient in plumbing repairs, is best left to professionals who have the knowledge and the proper tools to do the job. Note: the plastic pipe used in most motorhomes uses crimp fittings that do require special tools. Sometimes you can purchase twist-on fittings to replace broken or damaged connectors or repair damaged pipes. I try to carry an assortment of elbows and in-line  twist-on connectors that fit my RV plumbing if I need to make on site repairs.  You might be able to make emergency repairs to get you through the weekend and back home by tightly wrapping the damaged line with tape. Waterproof repair tape would be best, but you might get lucky by turning off the water pump and drying the damaged section, then wrapping it tightly with plastic tape or electrical tape. If you can’t stop the leak entirely, try to place a container underneath it to capture the escaping water to prevent further damage to cabinets, walls, floors, and contents.  Also turn off your pump or turn off the city water faucet when you aren't actually using water to minimize the damage the leak may cause.

The 12-volt water system and the city water system usually share most of the plumbing in your RV. The only difference, being the source. City water is supplied from a hose fastened to a special connector on the side of your RV.  The source of water for your 12-volt water system is the fresh water tank through the 12-volt water pump. If you are using city water, the only indicators you may have of a leak are a hissing sound or the appearance of moisture on the floor or walls or inside cabinets.  Or you might hear water running at the outside faucet when no water is being used inside the RV.  The city water connector on your RV includes a one-way back flow valve (unless it is broken or someone  has removed it) that lets water in but not out.  There is a similar valve to prevent pressure from city water from entering and possibly damaging the 12-volt water pump.

Water pumps: Another common failure of on-board water systems is the water pump itself. Like any other mechanical device, they are subject to wear and tear (and freezing if not properly winterized). If you get no water to your fixtures, first check to make sure you have not run out of water. Most RVs have electric indicators showing E, ¼, ½, ¾, F. However, the sensors can give false readings if sediment or hard water residue has collected on them so always try to verify the water level visually or by pushing a length of hose or tubing into the gravity feed water fill opening. If you have water in the tank and still get no water at the fixtures, check to make sure the pump is turned on and that the fuse has not blown. Most RV water pumps have their own dedicated fuse on the 12 volt fuse block near the converter or in-line, near the switch or near the pump. Also check the connections, both 12-volt supply and ground. Sometimes there is a shutoff valve in the line between the tank the pump, so make sure that valve is open. That covers the most common causes of most on-board water supply failures. If the pump is found to be defective, the only real solution is to replace it. It is not a particularly difficult task, but is unlikely you’ll have a spare pump on board. Most RV water pumps can also be rebuilt or repaired. It might make sense to carry a repair kit for your particular make and model.

If you have water at some fixtures, but not others, the problem may be as simple as a clogged screen in the faucet at the offending fixtures. Gently unscrew the “difusser” screen from the end of the faucet. Inside you will usually find a screen or a plastic piece with many small holes in it. These holes sometimes get clogged by accumulations of small particles in the water. Remove the debris clogging the holes and re-install the diffuser. You might also want to try the faucet before reinstalling the diffuser to make sure that is the problem. If the faucet does not work at all with the diffuser removed, the problem could be a kinked or crushed line between the water source and the faucet or it could be debris or damaged seals clogging inside of the faucet itself. While you may be able to remove and clear a problem inside the faucet other than a clogged diffuser, there is just as good a chance that once you have taken it apart, the damage cannot be repaired on site. If the problem is a damaged internal seal, when you put the faucet back together you might not be able to turn it off, just making the situation worse. You might carry an assortment of faucet washers, available at any home center or hardware store, but RV faucets are often unique and many ordinary home faucet repair kits may not fit. If you REALLY want to be prepared, check with your local RV supply store to see if you can buy faucet repair kits specific the make and model of the fixtures in your RV.

City water systems are subject to variations in pressure and flow from the campground faucet.   High pressure can damage RV plumbing.  ALWAYS use a pressure regulator between the campground faucet and your potable water hose.  Delivery problems can often be traced to a kinked or flattened hose.  I've seen more than one RVer park his rig on his water hose and then complain he couldn't get any water.  Some remote locations are on private wells that may frequently pump up sediment that can clog screens in faucets, filters, and hoses.  If you aren't getting any water, first check to make sure the faucet is still turned on.  Vandals or pranksters have been known to turn them off just for kicks. Then turn off the faucet and disconnect the hose from the RV.  If water flows through the hose when you turn it back on, the problem is within the RV, perhaps a clogged inlet screen or a filter that needs replacing.  It could also be a clogged screen or aereator on the outlet side at each sink.  A clogged inlet screen can usually be pried out can cleaned.  Clogged screens or aereators on the faucets need to be unscrewed to be cleaned.  If you get no water through the hose, trace the hose and make sure it isn't kinked, flattened, or cut.  Disconnect the hose from the faucet.  If no water comes from the faucet, contact the campground manager.  If you have water at the faucet but not out of the hose and the hose isn't kinked or flattened, something must be lodged inside the hose that is blocking the water flow.  Clearing a blocked hose can be tricky and sometimes the best solution is to simply replace the hose.  If  you're using a pressure regulator (and you always should), make sure you are getting water through the regulator as they can also get clogged.  Sometimes incects build nests inside hoses while they are in storage.  You can usually blow them out just using the pressure from the faucet.  You might have to remove your pressure regulator temporarily to blow out the line.  I always like to run water through my hose for a few seconds after hooking it to the faucet via a pressure regulator but before connecting it to my RV to flush out any debris or stale water before hooking it up.

Sewer problems, thank goodness, are usually limited to odor problems but sometimes there are moer serious issues such as either backup (over-filling holding tanks) or leaking dump valves. Odors are usually due to inadequate or improper use of holding tank chemicals.  If you thoroughly flush your holding tanks each time you dump them and then add the right amount of the right chemicals you shouldn't have problems with excessive odors.  You may need to add extras chemicals during hot weather as the heats the chemicals to break down quicker.  Backups should always be avoided but sometimes occur unexpectedly. We once had a young relative who was unfamiliar with RV fixtures camping with us. He somehow left the toilet jammed partway open. As a result, the pump kept running, steadily converting our fresh water to sewage until the black water tank overflowed through the toilet into the interior of our motor home. Yccch! What a mess! There is little you can do to fix leaking dump valves until the tanks have been dumped. The first thing to check is to make sure the valves are completely closed. DO NOT attempt to pull them out and push them back in. You will get a very unpleasant burst of sewage. Simply push or tap on the handles to try to seat the valves more fully. If that doesn’t solve the problem, putting something under the valves to contain the drip may the best you can do until you can get somewhere to dump the tanks and rebuild or replace the valves. Make sure the cap is tight. Once again, maintenance is your best friend. Make sure the valves are clear before closing them after dumping the holding tanks. It is not uncommon for un-dissolved toilet tissue or other debris to get caught during dumping in the slot where the valve seats, preventing the valve from sealing. Inspect the valves before closing them. Any debris in the groove can be removed with a piece of stiff wire or a pointed instrument, but be gentle so you don't put deep gouges in the plastic or damage the seals which will cause the valves to leak. While we're on the subject of sewer systems, avoid putting things in the system that can't be easily broken down and flushed away. RV toilet tissue is specially designed to break down easily. Normal household tissue, and especially facial tissues, do not break down well and may cause holding tank problems. Do not put trash, paper towels, sanitary napkins, or disposable diapers down an RV toilet. You can limit foul odors from your gray water tank by wiping leftovers from dishes using paper towels instead of rinsing the yucky stuff down the drain -- and you'll save water and reduce filling your holding tank. You may able to reduce odors by adding some holding tank chemicals. Put maybe a half a cup of chemicals down one of the drains. Use the one where the odor is strongest. The odor may be coming from residue in the pipes themselves. If all the drains are uniformly smelly, use the one closest to the holding tanks to get as much of the chemicals as possible into the tanks. Add at least a quart of water to flush the chemicals out of the P-traps and through the pipes. There are gray water chemicals that are designed to freshen the gray water tank. In a pinch you might just add some diluted household bleach or vinegar down each drain. I like to use bleach with a "rain-fresh" scent to avoid the harsh chlorine smell. Do NOT use bleach in the black water tank. In some units the shower drains into the black water tank to distribute the loading and increase liquid in the black water tank to assist breaking down waste and dumping, so be cautious about using bleach in the shower drain. At best, bleach will interfere with the regular holding tank chemicals, at worst it may create a chemical reaction that could produce foul, possibly dangerous, even fatal fumes.

A common black water problem among novices is not using enough water when flushing the toilet.  We all try to conserve water, especially when boondocking, but not using enough water when flushing solids causes them to pile up below the toilet, making it difficult to flush it out and sometimes even piling up high enough to clog the toilet.   A residential toilet typically uses about 3.5 gallons of water for each flush so it carries the solid waste down into the sewer system.  RV toilets use a fraction of that amount.  I suggest that, after flush the solid wastes, let the valve close but keep your foot on the lever enough for the water to continue flowing until it fills the little well in the bottom of the toilet, then depress the foot valve all the way to let the water flush into the holding tank.   It is also recommended that you put about 1" of water in the bottom of the black water holding tank after emptying your holding tanks it to provide a buffer and some liquid so the chemicals can break down the solids to avoid buildup.

Another sewer-related problem is unpleasant odors seeping into the coach. The holding tanks are vented through the roof and normally odors are carried up and away. However, driving on the highway with windows open, can sometimes create low pressure inside the RV which sucks in vapors from the sewer vents or up through drains. Closing the windows may avoid this problem. There are a couple of styles of aftermarket roof vents that provide more positive venting and will often help dispel odors both on the road and in camp. On rare occasions a vent pipe may become dislodged from the top of the holding tank or otherwise damaged, allowing odors into the coach. These kinds of problems will likely require professional repairs and there is little you can do about them away from home. Sometimes installation of accessories will drill into a vent pipe. Take care when installing accessories and avoid areas below the roof plumbing vents if possible and always use the shortest fasteners that will do the job. Should you penetrate a vent pipe, remove the offending fastener and fill the hole with silicone or another sealant that is compatible with the ABS or PVC vent pipe. Sometimes you may get lucky and a broken vent pipe may be accessible through a cabinet. In this case, you may be able to affect temporary emergency repairs by duct-taping the damaged section. This should only be used as a temporary repair to get you through the outing until you can properly replace the broken section. Unfortunately, most vent pipes are routed up through interior walls where they are not accessible. If they become damaged, they may have to be removed through the roof and completely replaced, which may also entail dropping the holding tank to secure the bottom of the vent pipe to the top of the tank.

There is often (usually) a vacuum breaker device on the plumbing for the drains inside one or more cabinets. If the odors seem to be stronger inside a cabinet, this device may be stuck or broken. Its purpose is prevent the water in the P-traps in the drains from being siphoned into the holding tanks by normal drainage. If that that happens, holding tank odors can waft up through the open drains into the interior of the coach. Or, if the device itself is stuck open, it can become the source of odors. Tapping on the device might un-stick it, but take care. It is made of plastic and you DON'T want to crack it. If the device is faulty, it will ultimately have to be replaced. Though unpleasant, a sticking vacuum breaker is not likely to lead to further complications or damage, unless the holding tanks are over-filled enough to allow sewage to leak out into the cabinet. Fortunately, these devices are limited to sink drains and are not normally found on toilets and black water systems. However, if your RV has a single holding tank (very uncommon), the gray water is deposited into the same tank as raw sewage and there is the potential for really foul odors to escape through the vacuum breaker or seep up through the drains if it isn't doing its job.  Dry or empty "P" traps at sinks will allow odors from holding tanks into the living area through drains.  P-traps may dry out while an RV is in storage for an extended period or may have drained out during sharp turns.  To solve this problem simply run a cup or two of water in each offending drain. 

Proper use of holding tank chemicals will also help prevent odors. Follow the manufacturer's recommendations for how much and often to use them. Chemicals are always used in black water tanks but are usually optional in gray water tanks. The waste water from sinks and showers goes into the gray water tank and, usually, only sewage from the toilet goes into the black water tank. Chemicals help both to control odors and to break down and liquify the sewage so it can be flushed when dumping the tank. Inadequate or inappropriate chemicals will result in intensified odors and may cause solid wastes to remain in the holding tank causing further problems. Use the right amount of chemicals. Too little will be ineffective; too much just wastes chemicals (and money) and probably won't help anyway and sometimes creates their own problems with chemical odors. If the holding tank has been given the correct dosage you shouldn't need to add extra chemicals between dumpings. Usually doing so is like pouring perfume on a pig. Sometimes, in hot weather, extra chemicals are needed between dumpings, but premature odor problems are usually a symptom of poor or inadequate holding tank maintenance.

Furnace problems: waking up in the middle of the night in a cold RV is, at the very least, uncomfortable and disappointing and could cause you or your family to become ill. If your furnace was working when you went to bed and in the middle of the night the fan is running and the furnace is blowing cold air, you may have run out of propane or it may be that your batteries are low. This is a fairly common problem. Shut off the furnace immediately so it doesn't continue to blow cold air and further drain the batteries.  If you are out of propane you'll need to refill your propane tank or connect an external tank using an "Extend-a-flow" system.   If the batteries are run down, you will need to recharge the batteries, run your generator, or connect to external power before your furnace will operate properly again. If your furnace cycles on and off without warming the coach, you may have one or more vents blocked. Check to make sure blankets or clothing or bags or boxes are not inadvertently blocking the furnace vents and make sure furnace ducts inside cabinets or under furniture have not been crushed or kinked. Blocked vents can cause air-flow problems that let hot air back up and shut down the furnace to avoid potential problems with fire. If the furnace has difficulty lighting or staying lit, check the outside vents to make sure the fresh air intake for the furnace and its exhaust ports are clear and protected from direct wind. These openings often attract insects or rodents during vehicle storage. If the fan doesn’t turn on, check the thermostat and any fuses for the furnace. Once again, the fuse may be on the fuse block or in-line near the furnace. Also check both 12-volt power and ground connections at the furnace. If the fan turns on but the furnace never ignites, the problem could be lack of fuel (check your propane level and make sure the propane supply valve is turned on), a damaged propane regulator, or a defective computer board. There is really nothing you can do about these kinds of problems while remote camping unless you have spare parts on board and the expertise and necessary tools to complete a correct diagnoses and make repairs. That is, of course, unless the problem is that your propane is turned off. To avoid embarrassment, ALWAYS check this before calling a technician or asking your fellow campers for help! Some older units may have convection furnaces that don't have fans. These usually have a pilot light that must be lit manually. Check inside the furnace compartment for a label with lighting instructions. Read and follow the instructions carefully to ensure success and avoid a fire or explosion! Convection furnaces won't run the battery down. The most common problems are loss of the pilot light, usually due to wind blowing in from outside. Try to block the wind but do not close up the vent. Low propane or a faulty regulator or a failed thermocouple can also cause the pilot light to go out. Thermocouples are inexpensive and easy to replace. I've saved more than one outing by having a spare thermocouple on board and replacing the faulty one. You can usually buy a universal thermocouple at your RV store and even a hardware store. The same thermocouple will often fit the furnace, hot water heater, and even the refrigerator, so having at least one spare on hand is a good idea.  More modern, computer controlled appliances use a sensor in conjunction with a computerized control board instead of a thermocouple.

Sometimes, if you are camping in unusually cold weather, your furnace may simply not be enough to keep your unit warm even if it is working properly. First, make sure you have eliminated any drafts around windows, doors, plumbing, etc. Spray foam insulation is a convenient way to seal many cracks and small openings around pipes or wires. If your unit does not have double-paned windows, storm window kits may help. These are plastic sheets than can be stretched over the windows and tightened using a hair dryer. The air gap between the plastic and the glass enhances the "R-value" to prevent heat loss. Another easy and effective alternative is to put foam window covers on the inside. Similar to the reflective windshield covers used in automobiles (and often adapted from them), these panels are light weight, easy to install and remove, and help keep the coach cooler in summer as well as warmer in winter. Ultimately. if all else fails, you may need auxiliary heat. There are a number of portable, catalytic heaters that can be used for this purpose. Be sure to read and follow the manufacturers instructions. Although catalytic heaters don't usually give off toxic fumes, they do consume oxygen, so proper ventilation is an absolute necessity. With proper furnace maintenance, adequate batteries, and careful protection against heat loss, you should be able to keep your RV warm and comfortable in the coldest weather. Electric heaters may be an option if you are camping with hook-ups or can run your generator, but remember, you shouldn't run the generator while you're sleeping because of the danger of carbon monoxide poisoning from the exhaust. The danger might be reduced by using an generator exhaust extension kit such as Genturi, that carries the exhaust above the roof of the RV. However, breezes could still blow dangerous levels of CO into your coach, so be very cautious. These systems, in order to be portable, often have slip joints that can leak, allowing CO to escape where it could enter the coach before it can exit above the roof as intended.

120 Volt generator: your on-board 120-volt generator consists of two major components: an engine and the electrical generator. Problems with either one can seriously affect performance. If the generator has been running for some time and shuts down by itself, it may have simply run out of fuel. Motorhome generators are usually tapped high into the fuel tank so you won’t use up all your vehicle fuel running the generator. Another common problem is low oil. Like any internal combustion engine, the motor that runs your generator requires lubrication. Most are equipped with a low oil pressure shut off. If your generator shuts off, check the oil and add oil if necessary. A less common, but possible problem, is shutdown due to over-heating. This might occur you have been running multiple air conditioners on a hot day. It can also occur to due to excessive wear on the engine or the generator itself or a short in the 120 volt wiring. As always, proper maintenance is the most important factor in getting long and reliable service from your gen-set. Change the oil at the manufacturer-recommend intervals. Perform regular tune-ups. Frequently check the air filter and replace it as needed. Check and replace fuel filters. The generator is subject to almost constant vibration, either from movement of the coach or from its own operation, so connections are prone to work loose over time. Check all 12-volt and 120-volt electrical connections and tighten them as necessary. The 12 volt connections are required to start and stop your gen-set, the 120 volt connects are required to deliver power to your coach. Most gasoline or diesel powered generators use an electric fuel pump to deliver fuel to the engine. The fuel for propane powered units is delivered by pressure from the propane tank. OEM fuel pumps can be expensive and difficult to come by, especially for older units. In a pinch you can use a universal auto electric fuel pump until you can get an OEM replacement. Be sure to check the specs to make sure the pressure and delivery is within the range required by your generator. Too little and it won't work, too much and it may damage the fuel system or flood the engine.

An all too common problem occurs on units not equipped with automatic transfer switches. Automatic transfer switches control whether AC power is taken from the shore power line or from the generator. The normal default is for power to come from the shore power line. Then, when the generator is activated, the transfer switch switches to route power from the generator. Note that most transfer switches include a time-delay to allow the generator engine to warm up and stabilize for about a half a minute before activating the transfer. On units not equipped with automatic transfer switches, the user must plug the shore power cord into a receptacle powered by the generator. This is often over looked, especially by new users, leaving them vulnerable to amuse their fellow campers when seeking assistance. So, always make sure your power cord is properly connected to the receptacle if you don't have an automatic transfer switch. Before I had an automatic transfer switch I made it a habit to immediately plug the power cord into the generator receptacle when storing the power cord after disconnecting it from shore power. The generator receptacle is usually located in the storage compartment for the shore power cord.  Checking to make sure you are properly connected before calling for help will save you time, money, and embarrassment.

Most generators have built-in circuit breakers. If you lose 120-volt power but the motor continues to run, check the circuit breakers, both on the unit and at the circuit breaker panel inside the coach. This panel is usually, but not always, located near the 12-volt converter and coach fuse panel. A tripped circuit breaker may indicate an overload or a short somewhere. Shut down all 120 volt appliances, including roof air conditioners, microwave overs, and, if so equipped, electric water heaters before resetting the circuit breakers. Then turn appliances back on one at a time. This should help you discover what appliance or combination of appliances is overloading the circuit. You may find that you have to shut down one of the air conditioners or disable the ice maker while using the microwave. Keep in mind that many RV refrigerators have an automatic mode that switches them to electric whenever there is 120-volt power available. If the fridge is involved in the overload, you might solve the problem temporarily by manually switching the refrigerator controls to “gas”. If you don't find an overload problem, be extra alert for any clues of an impending electrical fire -- smoldering insulation gives off pungent fumes that may alert you to developing problems before they become more serious.  When shutting down 120-volt systems, shut down the individual appliances and breakers first, then shut down the main breaker.  When restoring power, use the reverse procedure:  turn on the main breaker first, then turn on each individual breaker and appliance.  If you blow circuit breaker when you turn on a specific breaker or appliance you have most likely identified, at least somewhat, where the problem is and can then trouble shoot that circuit for loose connections, damaged wiring, a faulty appliance or an excessive load caused by too many devices plugged in to the same circuit.

12-volt electrical system: your 12 volt electrical system powers your lights, fans, and, sometimes, entertainment systems. 12-volt power comes from your converter when hooked to outside power or when running the generator, from the vehicle alternator when the motor is running, and from your coach batteries at other times. The most common problems in 12-volt systems are very simple and easy to fix. Most problems are burned out bulbs or blown fuses. If a light doesn’t work, first check the bulb. If it is blackened or excessively cloudy inside, it is probably burned out. Try replacing the bulb with one known to be good. You can check the continuity of the bulb with a multimeter and you can confirm power to the fixture using a voltmeter or a simple test light. Connect the ground clamp of the test light to a good ground and touch the positive terminals or the contact in the center of the socket with the point of the test light. If you don’t have any power at the fixture, it is likely there is a blown fuse or a loose connection. Check all the fuses in the 12 volt fuse block, usually located on or near the 12-volt converter. If you find yourself frequently running out of battery power while boondocking, you may want to upgrade your batteries. Some motor homes and trailers have only a single 12-volt deep cycle battery to supply power to the coach. Note that these deep cycle batteries are different than the normal staring batteries used in cars and trucks. A deep cycle battery is designed to withstand frequent discharges and recharging. An automotive type battery can be used in pinch, but such batteries will not last as long nor deliver as good as performance. Adding more coach batteries is one way to increase battery capacity – and keep the darn furnace running all night long on cold nights! If there is room for extra coach batteries, an alternate and often preferred solution is to use two 6-volt golf cart batteries wired in series instead of one or even two 12-volt deep cycle batteries. Two 6-volt golf cart batteries wired in series will provide more reserve power and longer life than two 12-volt deep cycle batteries. If you elect to use 2 12-volt deep cycle batteries, they must be wired in parallel. What is the difference? In wiring batteries in series, you hook the positive terminal of one to the negative terminal of the other, then connect the remaining negative terminal to the vehicle ground and the remaining positive terminal to the vehicle 12-volt power feed. When wiring batteries in parallel, connect the two batteries together, positive to positive and negative to negative, then connect the vehicle 12-volt power feed to either positive terminal and the ground to either negative terminal. Connecting batteries in series doubles the voltage. Hence, two 6-volt batteries connected in series deliver 12 volts. NEVER connect two 12-volt deep cycle batteries in series as this will generate 24 volts and fry your 12-volt system!

Most propane appliances utilize a thermocouple. This tube-like structure extends into the pilot light flame. As long as the flame is working, the thermocouple generates a small amount of electricity, which provides a signal that keeps the main gas valve open. If the pilot light goes out or the thermocouple fails, the main gas valve will shut off. Fortunately, thermocouples are pretty universal and easy to change. Purchase one or two and keep them in your tool box. They should fit older furnaces, hot water heaters, and refrigerators. Whenever working on propane appliances, close the main propane shutoff on the tank until you have everything safely reconnected. Leaking propane can create a serious explosion hazard. Test any new connections with soapy water before attempting to light the pilot. Many newer appliances with electronic ignition use a circuit board. If it fails, about the only way to fix it is to replace the board. A universal replacement, called a Dinosaur Board, can usually be used in furnaces, hot water heaters, and refrigerators. Because they cost upwards of $100 and are sometimes tricky to diagnose and install, I leave those repairs to the professionals. You sure don't want to hook up the new board wrong and fry $100 worth of new parts -- or waste a $100 board when it isn't even the source of the problem.

Fellow RVers are a valuable resource. It is very likely someone else in the camp ground has experienced the same problem you are having at some time in their RV careers or knows someone who has. They may provide invaluable insight into identifying the problem and devising a solution. Sometimes they may even have spare parts they are willing to share with you. Although you may be embarrassed by your apparent lack of expertise, you will find most RVers are non-judgmental and are happy and even anxious to share their own experience and expertise. One day you will be among the “sages” who help others. Even if no one has a solution, just knowing a problem will require a qualified RV technician can at least keep you from fretting over what you might be able to do.

Broken windows can allow weather inside your RV, which can create an uncomfortable climate and promote damage. Temporary repairs may be made using tape -- clear packing tape would be best since it would have minimal impact on being able to see out the window, but ordinary duct tape can also be used. Sealing up broken windows is especially important in bad weather -- rain or snow -- to prevent damage to interior components. In hot weather, a broken window allows cool air to escape, putting a greater load on the A/C unit.  If a window cannot be taped up, try cutting a piece of cardboard to fit the opening or tape plastic over the window until permanent repairs can be made.  Even an empty grocery bag or trash bag will do.

Awnings and tents can be easily damaged by winds, blowing embers, vermin, vandals, or falling debris. It is important to effect immediate temporary repairs to prevent further damage. Use duct tape to repair holes or tears in your awning or tent before wind can cause more damage. Apply long pieces of duct tape perpendicular to the tear to pull the edges together for extra strength before sealing the length of the tear with parallel strips. A severely damaged awning should be rolled up in travel mode until it can be permanently repaired. If your tent is your only shelter, you may have to find a way to "make do" until you can repair or replace the tent, but if you have an alternate shelter available, consider putting a damaged tent away until it can be properly repaired. If you find yourself in a situation with no tape for making repairs, you might be able to make small repairs using tree sap to secure a piece of material over the tear or puncture.

Gasoline stoves and lanterns depend on pressure for their fuel delivery. They usually have thumb-operated pumps to pressurize the fuel tanks. These usually use a leather "gasket" inside the pump to create an air-tight seal. When the gaskets get worn or dried out, they won't work right. If the pump doesn't work, try putting a few drop of oil down the pump shaft. There is usually a small hole in the cap around the shaft for this purpose. Any kind of oil can be used: motor oil, WD-40, even cooking oil. In a pinch, pull the dipstick from your generator or vehicle engine and drip a little oil into the pump opening. The goal is to soak the leather to make it soft and cause it to swell so it provides a better seal. Gasoline stoves and lanterns also rely on something called a "generator" to convert liquid fuel to vapor. There is really nothing you can do to repair these when they fail, but having a spare on board you can swap out, could save your outing.

You are going to need a pretty good tool kit if you're going to be able to handle your own repairs. You are also going to need some mechanic knowledge and skills. If you aren't comfortable diagnosing and repairing your own auto or home problems, you might want to seek some training at adult ed. It just might save your trip!

Keep it going!