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.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Spring Cleaning

OK, it still being February, we may be jumping the gun a little to talk about spring cleaning, but it isn't really that far away. And the sooner you discover any needed repairs, the more time you'll have to take care of them before your first outing. Of course, if you are still experiencing below-freezing temperatures you won't want to de-winterize your fresh water and holding tanks just yet. Wait until the freezing weather is over. But you can get a head start on a lot of other tasks.

General Exterior Cleaning. After sitting all winter, your RV is going to be in need of a good bath, even if its been kept under cover or in a garage or shed. Begin by carefully sweeping dirt and any accumulated debris from the roof. If your RV has been stored outside, especially if it was parked under trees, inspect the roof for damage from falling branches and bird droppings. Check the caulking of all seams and around all vents and fixtures on the roof. If the caulking is cracked, it should be removed and replaced. Then, if it isn't still below freezing outside, wash the roof and the rest of the RV as described in a previous post (Maintaining Your RVs Exterior Appearance). Remember that when you are washing your RV is good time to check for leaks. Run a little extra clean rinse water around vents, air conditioners, windows and doors and check inside for any evidence of leakage.

Roof repairs. One of the most common roof problems will be dried and cracked caulk. Carefully remove all the old caulk. A plastic putty knife usually works pretty well with less risk of damaging the surface below than a steel scraper. Rubber coated roofs are especially susceptible to damage when removing old caulk so be extra careful. Then apply a generous coating of new caulk over all screws and rivets and along the edges of all attachments. Punctures: punctures should be repaired as soon as possible. Small punctures, say up to the size of a dime, can be sealed with silicone or another sealer compatible with the roofing on most roof surfaces. Larger holes, such as might be made by a falling tree branch, will need to be patched first. Really big holes will require major roof repairs, better left to a professional as it involves removing and replacing an entire roof section. For manageable sized holes, up to perhaps 4" across, you may be able to get by with external patches. First obtain some suitable patching material, such as sheet aluminum or tin. I have successfully used commercial dry-wall patches from my local home center on 2-3" holes. They may be made of aluminum or fiberglass mesh and some are even self-adhesive. If you use tin or steel you will have to worry about rust. Aluminum, plastic, or fiberglass won't rust. Cut a piece about 2" larger than the hole. Sop up any water that may be in the hole and carefully use heat gun or hair dryer to dry it out before covering it over.  Apply a generous amount of caulk around the hole and press the patch in place, making sure the patch overlaps the hole all around and the caulk extends out beyond the edges of the patch. Large patches may need to screwed down to make sure they are secure. Use short screws to reduce the risk of penetrating wiring or even punching through the ceiling or hitting wiring inside. Then coat the entire patch, including any screws and all edges with caulk to form a completely waterproof seal. It may not look pretty, but it will keep out the weather, and, hey!, who's gonna see it up there anyway? Whenever using any caulk or sealant, make sure it is compatible with your roof. You should not use any petroleum-based sealants on rubber roofs.

Check all the lights, including clearance lights. Replace any burned out bulbs and correct any bad grounds or loose wiring or blown fuses. Loose or corroded ground connections are a very frequent cause of lighting problems on all kinds of RVs. Problems may occur at fixtures or elsewhere, such as where a ground wire is connected to the vehicle ground. Replace or repair any damaged lenses. Be sure to check any auxiliary lights, such as porch lights or work lights, step lights, and exterior cabinet lights.

Clean wheels and tires and check lug nuts and tire inflation, wear, and condition. You can use a penny to measure tire tread depth. Hold the penny so you can put the edge with the top of Lincoln's head into the tread. If the top if his head is covered, your tread is OK. If is not, you need a new tire.  And don't forget to check the date codes on your tires.  Many RVs get little use so tires will usually time out long before they wear out.  Out-dated tires can fail unexpectedly, not only causing a lot of inconvenience, but can often cause serious and expensive accidents.  Tires aren't cheap, but accidents and the damage a blow tire can do to an RV is a LOT more expensive!

Before your first trip you'll want to get a full service lube and oil change. And don't forget the generator. It also needs an oil and filter change and an air filter and fuel filter check.

Belts and hoses. Belts and hoses on motorhomes and tow vehicles are highly susceptible to environmental deterioration and should be checked frequently. They are usually fairly inexpensive to replace and can often be taken care of by the average do-it-yourself mechanic. Even if you have to pay a professional, the cost of replacing an old radiator or heater hose is far less expensive than replacing an engine if you lose coolant and the engine overheats. Another rubber part to check frequently are windshield wipers. It is easy to forget about them until you need them and find they are cracked, tattered or brittle and leave streaks or don't work at all. Again, they are pretty cheap and easy to replace. You can buy covers to protect them from the sun or just use a length of foam pipe insulation or slice foam swim "noodles" to fit over them.   Either way can extend the life of wipers considerably. Sometimes you can buy wiper dressing at your auto parts store.   You put some on a cloth and wipe it on the rubber edge of the wipers.  You will usually see a black streak on your cloth as it  removes oxidized rubber.  Not only does the dressing clean the wipers, it helps condition the rubber to restore or retain flexibility.  In a pinch, try gently wiping the edge that contacts the glass, even if you don't have any dressing.  Often that is enough to remove debris and smooth out some of the rough spots to improve performance so you can get by until you can replace the wipers.

General Interior Cleaning. There are two good times each year to perform deep annual interior cleaning: winterizing and spring cleaning. It may seem redundant to do major cleaning without any use in between, but it really isn't. Even in storage, things can happen which require a thorough cleaning and inspection. Rodents and insects love our RVs about as much as we do, especially as safe winter homes. Our absence during the winter enhances their opportunities to make themselves at home. Transient dust can make its way inside a closed RV and soil counter tops, carpets, bedding, and upholstery. Just being all closed up for the winter can make it smell stale or somewhat musty.  Go through your unit from end to end, wiping down hard surfaces (counters, cabinets, sinks, tile or vinyl floors) and vacuuming and shampooing carpets and upholstery. Use a good fabric freshener like Fabreze on cloth upholstery, drapes, rugs, and carpets. Vacuum the mattress too. You will be more comfortable and it will be healthier sleeping on a clean mattress than one that smells dusty or musty from months of storage. Clean all your windows and mirrors, inside and out using any good glass cleaner. I like the kind that also contains an anti-fog ingredient. I usually use residential aerosol furniture polish to clean cabinet faces and my favorite detail spray, SC-1, to restore luster and protection to vinyl surfaces, like the acres of dashboard in my motorhome. If you are fortunate enough to have leather seating, invest the time and a couple of extra bucks to clean and condition it with a saddle soap and a good leather cleaner such as Leather Balm. Good old fashioned saddle soap does a good job cleaning badly soiled leather seats.  You can give any special woodwork (such as hand rails) extra attention using a beeswax based polish.

Take inventory of your on board utensils, cooking supplies, cleaning supplies, linens, and clothing. Now is a good time to replace any missing or damaged items and get rid of redundant, outdated, or unused stuff. It is also helpful to make sure everything is stored in its proper place. Socks in the silverware drawer and spatulas in the shoe drawer won't be of much use when it comes time to get up, get dressed, and prepare breakfast in camp!

Check out all appliances. You will want to make sure all appliances are functioning normally. Turn on the water and make sure you get water to all fixtures. Run the fridge for a day or so to make sure it is working right. Fire up the furnace and water heater. Light the burners and oven on the stove. Run your generator and test roof A/C units and microwave oven. I unplug my motorhome from shore power and run the generator to power the microwave to boil a cup of water, testing both systems at once. Test all your electronics (radios, TVs, VCRs, DVDs, satellite receivers). Now is a good time to replace the batteries in your remote controls, smoke detectors, and test gas detectors too. Check furnace vents, refrigerator cooling coils, and refrigerator and hot water heater burners and remove any debris or insect infestation.

De-winterizing. When weather permits, you will want to de-winterize your plumbing systems and make them ready for use. First, run the water pump and allow any antifreeze in the lines and fixtures to drain out. Then add some water to your fresh water tank so you can flush the lines and fixtures. You may want to sanitize your fresh water system as described in a previous post ( Post Trip Procedures) to ensure odor free, good tasting water. When you have finished sanitizing your fresh water system, refill the fresh water tank. Take your RV to a dump station and dump and flush the holding tanks and add the proper amount of appropriate holding tank chemicals.

Chassis Preparation. Your motorhome chassis or your tow vehicle needs a little TCL before you start out on your first trip of the year. In addition to a full service oil and lube, check all the belts and hoses. Replace any hoses that are cracked, leaking or feel spongy when you squeeze them or have become brittle. Belts that squeal or are glazed or frayed should be replaced. There are sprays to renew fan belts and it is probably a good idea to carry a can in case of emergencies. However, don't try to substitute a quick fix for replacing seriously worn or stretched out belts. Belts will stretch over time, so you may need to adjust them. Many newer engines have belt tensioners that automatically take up the slack of normal expansion as the belts heat up in operation and stretch over time but the only solution for older models is to adjust or replace the belt. Loose belts can cause serious problems, such as over heating and loss of output from the alternator. Keeping your fan and serpentine belts in good condition is a very wise investment that can save you hours of frustration on the road and tons of money in repairs.

If you are towing a trailer
, check the receiver, hitch, and electrical connections. The tiny screws that hold the wiring inside of trailer connectors have been known to work loose due to vibration and cause shorts within the connector. You can test the functionality of the connector on the tow vehicle using a test light. Be sure to test running lights, left and right turn signals, and brake lights.  Clearance lights are on the same circuit as park lights.  If you have a trailer brake or a trailer battery charging lead, be sure to test these as well. If any lead fails to light up, take the connector apart and check the screws inside and test the wiring directly. If there is power at the wires but not in the connector, the contacts in the connector are probably corroded. You may be able to clean them, but the best long term solution is to replace the connector. Examine the receiver and the hitch for any signs of wear or cracking. I've seen hitches fail where the ball mount is welded to the tube that fits into the receiver, dropping the trailer tongue smack into the dirt! Far better to discover failing parts and replace them now than have them fall apart on the road! Be sure to test your trailer brakes. You don't want to learn they aren't working when you have to make an emergency stop or negotiate a long downhill.  By then it is too late!

Tools and Supplies. Spring Cleaning is a good time to take inventory of your on board tools and supplies. Over time we all tend to "borrow" tools and supplies from our RVs for home use and they don't always get put back. I usually take advantage of this time to clean and re-organize my tools and supplies too. I find taking them out and wiping them down is one of the best ways to check condition and verify inventory. Not only do I make sure nothing is missing, it helps remind me what I have and where to find it when I need it. I like to keep my tools well organized. I use socket rails and wrench holders so I find the right sizes quickly and can tell at a glance if something is missing.   You might ask why bother cleaning tools when they'll just get dirty or grease again the next time you use them?   Well, clean tools are safer and more pleasant to use than dirty ones. It will also be easier to detect any damage when they are clean so they can be repaired or replaced before you need them.   Supplies, such as lubricants and cleaners, can develop leaks or, in the case of aerosol products, loose their propellant and/or become clogged, so check them carefully to make sure you aren't carrying around empty or useless cans.

OHV Equipment and Gear
. Just like your RV, your OHVs will need to be cleaned and serviced. Follow the manufacturer's recommendations for annual servicing. Clean and lubricate your vehicles. Inspect your personal gear to make sure it is clean and in good repair and that nothing is missing. You don't want to get 150 miles from home and discover you left your riding boots at home! I've seen riders wrap duct tape around their flip-flops when they've left their boots at home, but I CANNOT recommend that solution. The resulting injuries were not pleasant for them or for anyone who observed them! USE YOUR CHECKLIST. Make sure you have everything you need and it is ready to do its job.

Spring into action!

Friday, February 25, 2011

Summer RVing and Camping

For the most part, summer camping is almost a no-brainer. Summer is when most of us do most of our camping so that is where most people already have some experience. Spring and fall offer mild weather, summers can be HOT!  But summer usually means more opportunities to get away, especially if you have kids still in school.  Moderate summer temperatures don't usually require a lot of special preparation.  Even so, there are things to be considered to get the most enjoyment out of summer camping.

Hot weather preparations. Summer usually means hot weather.  Sometimes we go camping at the beach or mountains to escape hot suburban summers, but there will still be plenty of hot air between you and your cool escape.  Hot weather demands a certain amount of preparation for you, your vehicles, and your equipment. The cooling system on all your vehicles needs to be in good condition and properly filled with appropriate coolant. Antifreeze does more than protect your radiator from freezing. It also helps prevent corrosion and improves the ability of the coolant to carry heat away from the engine to be dissipated through the radiator. Check radiator caps and hoses and make sure the radiators are clean and not clogged or contaminated with dirt, dust, oil, insects, or debris. Bring along some extra coolant in case you should spring a leak in a hose. Make sure it is the right kind of coolant for each vehicle. Some OHVs use special, "environmentally friendly" coolants that are not compatible with the ethylene glycol normally used in automobiles. Different types of coolant are different colors. Ethylene glycol is usually green. Recent multi-purpose automobile coolants are orange. Some specialized OHV coolants are blue. You can add ordinary water to most cooling systems in an emergency (distilled water is better), but maintaining the proper mixture provides the best protection and performance. Proper coolant not only protects against freezing, it conditions the cooling system and improves cooling efficiency so maintaining the correct antifreeze mix is important year round.  The normal mix for most antifreeze/coolant solutions is 50/50 -- 50% coolant, 50% water.  You will often find both concentrated and pre-diluted versions of antifreeze so make sure you know what you're buying.  Pre-diluted is ready to use, but usually costs about the same as an equal amount of concentrated antifreeze, which would give you twice as much to use for the same amount of money.  You just have to mix it with an equal amount of water.

Personal preparation. Prepare yourself for hot weather activities by pre-hydrating your body. Drink extra water or drinks with electrolytes the day before beginning hot weather activities. Dress appropriately in loose fitting clothing that will aid cooling. Wear a hat to keep the sun off your head and shade your face and eyes. Wear eye protection (sun glasses) that limit UV rays.   Wear sun-block on exposed skin. Avoid over-exposure to direct sunlight. Drink plenty of water during your activities. Carry a water bottle or canteen or wear a hydration pack and take frequent sips to compensate for loss of fluids through perspiration and breathing. Plan your activities to allow time to get out of the sun and cool off and replenish your bodily fluids. You can cool your body using a simple spray bottle. A spritz now and then is unbelievable refreshing.

Keeping your shelter (tent or RV) cool. One of the best ways to keep a tent cool and to reduce the load on RV generators, is to keep them out of the sun. Parking your RV or setting up your tent in the shade may be an option in some locations, but if thunderstorms are likely, you want to avoid tall trees or being near any tall object that could attract lightning. Also avoid camping in a depression or along a stream bed that might be subject to flash flooding. To keep your tent cooler, make sure you install the rain fly, if it has one. In addition to keeping rain off, it also provides built-in shade with a few inches of air above your tent fabric, which gets rid of a lot of heat that would transfer directly to the interior of your tent if it were in direct sunlight. For extra protection, set up a dining fly over your tent or cover it with a tarp. A white tarp will reflect more heat than a dark colored rain fly. For both tents and RVs without A/C keep the windows open and the screens closed. Try to open windows on opposite sides to create a cross breeze and open windows on the windward side to take advantage of breezes if there are any. Open the roof vents on RVs to allow hot air to escape and open windows on the shaded side to allow cooler air to come in. If you have an A/C on your RV, keep all windows closed. If you RV has an evaporative cooler you will need to keep one or more windows slightly open for proper operation.  Make use of window and patio awnings to shade windows from direct sunlight when possible and/or place reflective foam insulation panels in the windows to keep the sunlight and heat out.

Outdoor options. To keep cool outdoors, seek shade. If there aren't trees or canopies around, use your RV awning or set up an umbrella, awning, or dining fly -- or stretch a tarp out between trees and/or vehicles to provide shade. I found the days in the Mojave Desert too hot to enjoy even sitting the shade of my RV awning so I added a mist system to the awning that greatly improved the comfort level. An easier and less expensive solution is to just use a spray bottle to create your own personal mist.  I prefer to buy new spray bottles to use for mist.  Re-using one that previously contained cleaning solutions risks spraying residual cleaning chemicals on your skin that could result it irritations and discomfort, especially if you happen to have sensitive skin or allergies. You can buy new spray bottles at "dollar" stores.  You may be able to plumb a mist system into the existing cold water lines on an RV but I prefer to set up a separate water tank and pump so I don't risk using up my culinary water supply just to run the misters.  We ran misters under the awning on our motorhome during summer dirt bike outings in the Mojave Desert and the were very effective.

Summer activities. Popular summer activities include swimming, boating, fishing, hiking, bicycling and riding OHVs and horses. Swimming, boating, and fishing usually provide plenty of opportunities to cool off in the water, but the water also reflects sunlight and increases the risk of sunburn. Hiking, bicycling, and riding OHVs and horses will require participants to provide their own cooling methods and plenty of drinking water. Many people enjoy a variety of sports such as baseball, football, basketball, and volleyball, all of which make significant demands on our bodies and require that we pay attention to staying hydrated and avoiding becoming over-heated and getting sunburned. Usually sunburn is a minor inconvenience but it is possible to even get third degree burns from the sun that can be life threatening. It is all too common for people to get so involved in an activity that they don't notice the effect of the sun until it is too late. Pay attention to your own situation and keep an eye on your friends and family and everyone in  your group and let them know if they seem to be getting burned or too hot.

Cool treats are always going to be a hit when its hot out.   RV refrigerators or really good ice chests may let you bring along ice cream and popcicles.  We found snow cones to be especially refreshing when desert camping.  I found a couple of different devices to prepare the "snow".  One used its own specially frozen ice disks and created very fine shaved ice.  The other one grinds ordinary ice cubes.  The result is a little coarser than the shaved ice, but you can dump in bagged ice or cubes made in trays in your RV fridge.  Cold drinks are also always very popular.  Some people may tout some health issues with drinking ice cold beverages, but few people doubt the enjoyment and immediate refreshment they deliver when its hot out.  You will also want to plan your meals to avoid hot, heavy entree's and things that require a lot of cooking.

Dressing for summer.  For the most part, you already know how to dress for warm summer weather.  However, there are a couple of things to consider that might not be obvious.  Loose fitting long sleeved shirts and pants are usually cooler than T-shirts, tank tops, and shorts and they will protect  your arms and legs against sunburn.   Think about how the a Bedouins and other desert nomads dress -- loose, flowing robes that cover their entire bodies.  An appropriate hat or sun shade is necessary to keep you cool.  Sunglasses should be more than a fashion statement and should do more than darken your view.  Good sunglasses should also provide UV protection to avoid damaging your eyes.

Hot August Night was a cool song by Neil Diamond, but it isn't something very comfortable to try to sleep through. If you're tent camping or can't run your A/C at night, you may have to find ways to survive a Hot August Night or two. Begin by cooling your tent or RV as much as possible before you retire. You may have to sleep on top of your covers or sleeping bag or with only a sheet over you and shed some night clothes to stay cooler. I found it helped make my tent and my RV more comfortable if I sprayed a mist on the window screens to create a sort of limited evaporative cooler. Sometimes it will help to hang a damp cloth in front of a window where a breeze is coming in. Fans, either in your RV or portable, battery powered units, can add to your comfort. They don't actually cool the air, but they make you feel cooler by moving air that speeds the evaporation of perspiration and removal of heat from your skin. They can also help expel hot air and/or draw in cooler air from outside. In a pinch you can make a hand-fan by folding paper or cardboard or just using a paper plate for momentary personal cooling. Avoid hot drinks, hot heavy meals, and even spicy food, which can elevate your body temperature and add to your discomfort. Hot summer days are a good time for sandwiches, salads and cold cuts.  And keep a spray bottle filled with clean water handy as a personal cooling system.

Summer evening/nighttime activities. Summer evenings are perfect for campfire activities. Cook your dinner over the campfire. It is fun and avoids adding heat inside your RV.  S'mores and just roasting marshmallows are traditional favorites. These days there and super-sized marshmallows that make it even more fun. Another fun treat we've enjoyed are individual pies. They are easy to make, using clam-shell type pie cookers. You just put a piece of bread in each side, spoon in your favorite pie-filling, close the cooker, and put it in the coals. In a few minutes you have a hot, tasty pie. Sing-alongs and storytelling are long-time campfire hits, so bring along your instrument or favorite tall tale to entertain your companions. Later, when it gets dark, take a little time to explore and enjoy the night skies. Many of us live in urban environments where the night skies are obscured by ambient light from street lights, homes, traffic, and shopping centers. Getting out away from the city gives us a chance to observe the beauty of the universe. Many city-dwellers have never seen the Milky Way. A simple telescope or even ordinary binoculars can enhance our view of the moon and stars. Be careful looking at the moon. It is much brighter than you think when it is magnified! After all, it is reflected sunlight. Even a modest telescope should let you view the rings of Saturn and detect the red color of Mars and perhaps even see the famous red spot on Jupiter. Get a star map so you can recognize the major constellations and share some fun facts about them. Did you know that there are only 6 stars in the constellation known as the Seven Sisters or that the Great Pyramids of Egypt area arranged to match the stars in Orion's belt? When the Sphinx, which has the body of a lion, was originally built, the constellation Leo (the Lion) rose directly behind it. Another fun think to watch for in the night sky are shooting stars and even artificial satellites. There are specific times of the year, such as the Perseids Meteor Shower in early August, when shooting stars are especially plentiful.  It is fun to take a moonlight stroll when there is enough moonlight and not a lot of clouds to block it.  Other fun things to to at night might include identifying night creatures, such as owls and coyotes. The list is endless, limited only by your imagination. Kids have a natural fascination with fire and often have a tendency to play with burning sticks, creating a unsafe conditions for themselves and for anyone -- or any thing -- around them. I found giving them chemical light sticks to play with to be a less threatening alternative.

Keep cool!

Winter Rving and Camping

Having lived in southern California until a few years ago, I haven't done a lot of winter RVing but I have been out in the snow more than once. Somehow, at least for most of us "snow camping" just doesn't have the same appeal as enjoying the sunshine and green grass or beaches, but some people do find it attractive. Your RV can be your mobile ski chalet or hunting lodge -- if it is properly equipped and you are prepared for winter driving.

You can go RV or tent camping in the winter. You just have to make the right preparations. RV camping will usually be more warmer and comfortable, but with the right clothing and gear tent camping can be fun, safe, and enjoyable too.

Most RVs made in the US do not come from the factory equipped for winter use. A few do have enclosed and heated underbellies.  Those manufactured in Canada are more likely to come from the factory prepared for four season use.  If yours is not 'winter hardened' and you want to do some winter camping, you will need to add heat tape to the holding tanks and exposed plumbing to prevent them from freezing. Heat tape usually requires 120 volt electricity so you'll need to run you generator while on the road as well as in camp unless you are connected to shore power. However, some heat pads and tape will also work on 12 volt DC -- if you have sufficient battery capacity.  Heating elements draw a lot of current.  Some factory-winterized units heat the holding tanks and plumbing using ducts from the furnace but that kind of after the sale modifcations are usually cost prohibitive if they are even possible.  Sometimes just adding a 100 watt incandescent light bulb to an exterior compartment will be enough to provide freeze protection -- if  you have 120 volt power to run it as needed.

Many newer RVs feature double-pane windows which help reduce heat loss to maintain a comfortable temperature inside your RV in summer and winter. For older models, you can apply heat-shrink plastic storm windows (available at hardware stores and home centers). Other easier, more flexible options include reflective foam interior insulating panels, similar to windshield sun blockers. These can be used in the summer to keep the heat out and in the winter to help keep it in. Keep the curtains, drapes, or blinds closed as much as possible to further reduce heat loss.  If you use your RV a lot in the winter or find it is difficult to keep it warm, you might try replacing the curtains or drapes with heavier, insulated drapes.

Drafts. You can loose a surprising amount of heat through small openings around where plumbing and electrical wiring passes through RV walls. Seal these openings with spray foam or silicone caulk. Ordinary foam weatherstripping can often be used to reduce drafts around pedals and control cables that pass through the firewall of your vehicle. Spray foam can also be used to insulate the inside of exterior cabinet doors and provide some protection for exposed plumbing, reducing the amount of energy required for heat tape to do its job. You may find drafts around windows and doors or even where interior walls meet exterior walls or where ceilings or floors meet exterior walls. These may be more likely on older units that have been subjected to years of road vibration and twisting of the coach in normal (or abnormal!) use. Careful and judicious use of spray foam can seal these cracks if adjustment of the doors and windows doesn't solve the problem.

Roof vents. Roof vents provide welcome ventilation in warm weather, but can be a conduit for heat loss in cold weather. Heat rises, so the warmest air in your RV is going to be up near the ceiling, right where it can escape or be cooled by unprotected roof vents. The plastic or acrylic domes or even metal lids provide little insulation. Some permanent skylights have double domes that do provide better protection, but ordinary pop-open roof vents usually do not. RV stores sell pillow-like pads that can be pushed into the vent opening or you can make your own from styrofoam sheets or foam rubber. Or just stuff a throw pillow into the opening. You can also purchase vinyl covers that fasten over the vent using snaps or velcro. The pillow types provide more insulation, but the snap-on covers block a lot of heat loss through air flow and take up less storage room. Another option is to cut foam insulation like Reflectix to fit the roof vent openings as well as covering your windows.   If you bought a roll to make your window covers you may very well have some left over to cut to fit your roof vents.  Be sure to cut it slightly larger than the opening so it will fit tight and stay put.

RV furnaces aren't always able to keep up with freezing winter tempeatures.   If you find that your furnace runs constantly and your RV is  still cold, you may need a bigger furnace -- or a second furnace or other source of heat to keep  your RV comfortable.  Sometimes a good tune up may solve the problem, but unless your find heat runs that are blocked or the flame isn't adjusted properly, it probably just isn't big enough.  Sometimes you can buy a more powerful furnace that will fit in the same place as the old one, but quite often a larger furnace will require a bigger space and might need larger ducting.  Of course you want to make sure you have solved any heat loss problems (drafts, unprotected windows, etc) before you invest in a new furnace.

Auxiliary heaters. Hopefully, if you've weather-proofed your RV, your furnace will provide adequate heat to keep you warm and toasty through cold winter nights. If it does not, you should first make sure it is operating optimally. Blocked heat vents, kinked, looped, or excessively long heat runs, weak fan motors, blocked combustion vents, and improper gas pressure can all have a detrimental effect on furnace performance. If everything is working correctly and you still can't stay warm your furnace may just be too small for your rig and conditions and you may want upgrade the furnace or add an auxiliary heater. A few RVs have more than one furnace.  If yours has only one you may be able to add a second one if there is some convenient cabinet space you can sacrifice.  If you choose this route, have it installed by a qualified professional or make sure it is properly vented and the gas line is leak free.  If you will be mostly staying in campgrounds with shore power or able to run your generator all night (not recommended since exhaust fumes could enter your RV and make you ill or even kill you), you may be able to use an electric heater. This is usually the easiest and most convenient solution if you have 120 volt power available. Many people find this suitable since they only need extra heat while sitting around in the evening and not while snugly tucked in for the night.  Warm bedding is one of  the easiest, least expensive, and most comfortable ways of staying warm at night.  One of the most innovative, appealing and attractive options I've seen for electric heat is a compact electric fireplace. Not only does it provide heat like any other electric heater, it adds a nice, cabin-like ambiance to your RV. However, the ones I've see only have 750W/1500W heat so if you need a lot more heat, get a 3000W or 3500W portable heater. Another popular solution comes in the form of catalytic heaters. These can be permanently mounted and plumbed into your RVs propane system or are available as portable units (often used as tent heaters). In either case, you will need to keep a window or two slightly open to ensure you have an adequate supply of fresh air.  Although some of  these heaters, even the white-gas and propane catalytic heaters, do not give off smoke or toxic fumes they do consume oxygen, so you must make sure you have fresh air coming in at all times so you won't suffocate! I found the white-gas powered Coleman tent heater kept our 16' Smuggler warm all night for the kids to sleep in, even with two windows left open about an inch or so for ventilation. Permanently mounted heaters are safer than portable heaters since they aren't in danger of being tipped over onto a flammable surface. However, take care to keep the area around ALL catalytic heaters clear. They get VERY hot and anything coming into contact with them (clothing, curtains, flesh) will be badly damaged in an instant. If you must run your generator at night, consider an add-on exhaust vent such as a Genturi Exhaust. These attach to the generator exhaust and extend above the roof of your RV to carry exhaust gases up where they are more likely to be dissipated without contaminating the air you are breathing. They cannot be left attached while the vehicle is in motion so you'll need someplace to store the pipes during travel. Be sure to let them cool before disassembling them and storing them.  Unless the extra pipes are sealed at each joint there is still a chance of exhaust fumes leaking where they could pose a problem so it is always best not to run you generator while you're sleeping.

Winter Camp issues. Winter camping brings some new situations you will have to learn to deal with. You will want to have an aggressive exterior welcome mat to help remove snow and keep it from being tracked inside your RV. You may want to bring along a snow shovel to remove snow from pathways from your RV to places you need to go frequently or to clean off the concrete pad around the campground picnic table or from around the fire pit. Even in winter weather you may find it pleasant to sit or stand around a campfire. If you are staying in a campground with hookups, you will need to protect your fresh water line and sewer dump lines from freezing. Heat tape is the most effective way of doing this. You can also wrap your fresh water hose with foam pipe insulation to keep the heat in and minimize how much you have to use the heat tape but insulation alone will not prevent freezing. Ideally you will have a thermostat on heat tape and each device so that it will automatically maintain a temperature above freezing. Remember, you don't need holding tanks, plumbing, or water lines to be kept "warm", just above freezing, which is 32°F. A typical target temperature to prevent freezing is 40°F. That way, if there is a sudden drop in ambient temperature, the heat tape or heater will have time to react before the contents freeze. Water expands when it freezes and generates enough force to shatter pipes and split water tanks and water heaters wide open.  Keep an eye on bottled or canned liquids like water or soda pop too.  They can also freeze if left out or if the ice chest they are in is left out in sub-freezing weather.  

Winter activities. If your OHVs include snowmobiles, your activities will likely center around their use. ATVs, especially those with 4WD, are also popular for winter rides. Dirt bikes can be used in the snow, but are not as stable and may need special studded winter tires to get traction. I've seen dirt bikes with a track installed in place of the rear wheel giving them almost the kind of traction snowmobiles  have in snow, but these modifications are expensive.  Beyond the vehicular activities, all the old standard winter activities are readily available: skiing, snowboarding, sledding, ice skating, snowball fights, ice fishing, and building snowmen and snow forts. We've even made ice cream from fresh snow (make sure it isn't contaminated -- as they say, "don't eat yellow snow"), but personally, I prefer a nice cup of hot chocolate in cold weather!  I find frozen treats much more appealing when its hot outside.  BTW, you may have seen the beer commercial where an avid beer fan is seen eating yellow snow as he follows someone carrying a leaking keg.  Trust me.  Most times you find yellow snow it won't be beer, unless its already been cycled through someones kidneys!

When you go out for an activity, leave your RV furnace running  -- unless you are on an extended outing and are concerned about conserving fuel. Then you might want to just turn it down a bit.   DO NOT turn it off completely since you may expose the interior and contents to freezing temperatures that will damage plumbing and freeze provisions. Shoot for around 40° to conserve propane and yet protect interior components from freezing.  If you're not worried about using propane or you won't be gone long, set it to a comfortable temperature.   It is really nice to come back to camp and have a warm place waiting for you. You will find this particularly convenient if your are traveling with children or elderly companions whose tolerance for being cold may be limited. And, should someone get chilled to the point of hypothermia, it could be life-saving. Set the thermostat at 40° if you want to protect your RV against freezing yet conserve propane when you're not "at home". To come back to a comfortably warm unit, a setting of 65 or 70 degrees should be about right. While 65 is bit cool when you're sitting around doing nothing, it is usually a lot warmer than it is outside and will feel really good when you come in from the cold. A setting of 65° will use less propane than 70° but if you have enough propane and really like to be warm, crank it back up to 70° when you come in.  At 65° you may still need a sweater and some warm socks or fuzzy slippers.

Some newer luxury RVs have Hydronic heating systems.    These systems are usually more compatible with cold weather camping.  They use a central boiler that circulates a heated antifreeze solution to distribute heat throughout the coach.  In many cases they also heat holding tanks in enclosed cabinets so they're protected against freezing as long as you don't run out of fuel.  The original Hydronic systems were only available on diesel pushers because they used diesel fuel but a propane version has recently been introduced that will allow their use in gasoline powered motorhomes and even trailers.   Because of the extensive plumbing required it is not practical to retrofit hydronic systems into existing units but it might be a feature to look for if you find yourself in the market for a winterized RV.  The even heat distribution and warm floors are definitely appealing features on cold outings.

Snow accumulation. Watching it snow can be very pleasant, if you are warm and cozy inside your tent or RV. However, the accumulation of snow on flat surfaces -- awnings, RV roofs, and tents should be monitored and the snow removed before it becomes heavy enough to cause structural damage. You can usually just drop an awning all the way down and sweep or brush the snow off of it. If you are tent camping, sweep the snow off the tent frequently to avoid weight build up and to avoid the snow from freezing to the tent. Warmer temperatures inside the tent will melt the snow against the fabric, then the cold snow above it and cold temperatures outside will re-freeze it, making the whole mess very hard to remove.  If  your tent is sturdy enough you might let some snow accumulate for insulation, like an igloo.  12" of snow has about the same insulation "R" factor as the fiberglass bats in the walls of your fixed residence.  But be aware that snow can be heavy.  Light, fluffy snow can still add up to a 14 lbs/sq ft, which can be quite a load on a tent or RV roof.  Wet snow is even heavier.  Take care if you need to remove the snow from the roof of your RV. RV roofs can be very slippery and its a long way down if you fall off. Also, you may not be able to see obstacles on the roof that you may trip over or inadvertently damage slogging through deep snow. If at all possible, use a ladder alongside your RV and sweep or brush the snow off the roof. Although it may seem like a good idea to park under trees for protection from winter weather, it really isn't. Snow can accumulate in the branches of the trees and then fall with surprising force onto the roof of your RV. It can easily crush vent and A/C covers and other accessories and may even cause structural damage to the roof itself. If you MUST park under trees, monitor the snow accumulation in the trees above your RV and be prepared to move if the buildup appears to be reaching dangerous levels. What are dangerous levels? Well, if large clumps are starting to fall from the branches or deep accumulations are forming on the branches (approaching 6" or more), you are looking at a catastrophe in the making.

Winter driving. Hopefully, if you live in an area where you will be doing winter RVing, you already have some experience with winter driving. If not, it probably is not a good idea to make a "snow trip" in the first place! If you have never had any experience with winter driving, you DON'T want you first crack at it to take place behind the wheel of a motorhome or a tow vehicle! Winter driving is difficult enough without adding the extra burden of an over-sized rig. If you are new to winter driving, try to take a few trips in your car or truck by itself before you venture out with a motorhome or travel trailer. You will want to be confident in your winter driving capabilities before adding the extra concerns of a heavy RV.  If possible, practice driving in an empty, snow-covered field or parking lot to get a feel for how your vehicle handles in the snow.

Winter driving brings many hazards. Slick roads are probably the first to come to mind. They may be covered with snow or with "black ice". Another serious consideration is snow accumulation, which will make progress and maneuvering difficult. Appropriate tire chains and 4WD provide some defense against these problems, although tire chains are not very effective against black ice and few RVs are equipped with 4WD. In many higher elevations you will encounter sections where snow chains or 4WD are required. Be sure you have chains that properly fit your RV and practice putting them on and taking them off before you leave home. You won't want to be rolling around in the snow or slush at the side of the road while you learn how to hook them up. Bring along a tarp or use a sleeping pad to lay on to hook up your chains and keep you out of the wet and cold. Chains will give you added traction in snow but you will not be able to drive as fast as you would on clear, dry pavement. However, driving too slow will make you an obstacle for other vehicles and can create its own safety hazards, so you must use common sense and try to maintain a safe speed. Turning and stopping an RV in snow or icy conditions requires a LOT more room than normal, so give yourself time and space. Look ahead and plan and execute your moves carefully. Slow down for all turns. Turning your vehicle depends on there being sufficient friction between your front tires and the road to overcome vehicle momentum and change its direction of travel. Snow and ice reduce friction to where it doesn't matter what direction the wheels are pointing, the vehicle will keep going straight! It is difficult, if not impossible, to discern traffic lanes and edges of the highway on snow-covered roads. In places that get a lot of winter snow there should be tall reflective poles along the edge of the road that can give you some idea of where the road goes, but unless you are on a divided highway there will be no indication of even where your direction of travel is, let alone differentiation between lanes.

Another winter driving hazard is visibility. Snow, whether falling from the sky or being blown from ground sources, can literally reduce visibility to zero. Even without snow there are other winter conditions that make it very difficult to see where you're going, such as fog, especially freezing or frozen fog. You can encounter what is called a "white out", where the only thing you can see is snow and/or fog, leaving you NO landmarks or references to steer by. You can't distinguish any horizon.  In fact, sometimes you can't even tell which way is up! If you encounter white-out conditions, pull off the road and STOP! Put on your emergency flashers, and wait for the white-out to clear. Try to get to clear off the road if you can so no one runs into you but take care not to go so far as to get stuck!

The best defense against winter driving is to avoid it! Check the weather before you leave home and monitor weather stations frequently while you are out. If severe weather is headed your way, take appropriate actions to either get out of the area or find a safe place to wait out the storm. Far better to spend a few hours in a rest area or campground or even a Walmart parking lot than have to pull over along the highway and risk getting rear-ended by a big rig trying to make up time or even a snow-plow trying to clear the road for you! If a snowplow happens to go past you while you're parked, you may find yourself behind a berm of snow thrown up by the plow, making it difficult to get back on the road. You may have to get out and dig yourself out.  Always carry at least a folding shovel when driving in winter.

Walmart parking lots. Speaking of Walmart parking lots, it is well-known among RVers that most Walmarts are RV-friendly. As RVers we need to show our appreciation for their generosity by demonstrating good behavior when stopping in a Walmart lot and by patronizing their stores. Try to park way out away from the entry doors and take up as few parking spaces as you can. NEVER block driveways or fire lanes. ALWAYS make sure your holding tank valves are tightly closed and the caps securely in place. Police the area around your rig before you leave. Even if the trash was there before you arrived, it is polite and appropriate to leave the area in better condition than it was when you found it.  And if its a mess when  you leave, you may get blamed even it was already a mess when you got there.  The use of Walmart parking lots is a not a right, it is a privilege, one we may lose if we aren't good citizens. I've seen thoughtless folks take up twice as many parking places as they really need, block access ways, driveways, and even fire lanes. Obviously these people are NOT thinking or are completely self-centered. This kind of abuse could very easily lead to Walmart posting "NO RVs" signs if they continue. Note:  not all Walmarts allow overnight RV parking.  Some are restrained by local ordinances, some by manager decision.  Either way it is incumbent upon RVers to obey the rules.   Some other businesses also cater to RVers.  One I know of is Cracker Barrel.

If you plan to do any winter camping in a tent, you will want to obtain a good four season tent. Summer tents won't keep you warm in snow and freezing temperatures or stand up to snow loads. The fly should come as far down as possible. Some people even sew an extra skirt on the rain fly so it nearly reaches the ground all around. Short flys will allow snow to blow up onto the walls and sometimes even through the vents into the tent. If  you want to extend the fly, purchase some nylon fabric that closely matches or complements the existing rain fly and sew it securely to the bottom of the original rain fly.  Be sure to hem the new bottom edge and add grommets as needed to properly anchor the whole configuration.  Adequate ventilation is required to avoid condensation which will quickly destroy insulation values. An attached vestibule is a good way to keep snow from coming in the door. Tent heaters are desirable in cold weather but be sure to read and follow the instructions religiously. In addition to the potential to set the tent on fire, they may give off toxic fumes and will always consume oxygen unless they obtain their combustion air from the outside. Traditional catalytic tent heaters require ventilation to avoid suffocation. You may be inclined to keep all the windows and vents closed when its cold outside, but doing so could be fatal! I read of an experienced camper who died using a tent heater without sufficient ventilation.  The good old Coleman lantern gives off a lot of heat and will often be sufficient to warm a small tent if it isn't TOO cold outside.  Just be sure to exercise extreme caution to avoid fire or suffocation.

Sleeping warm in a tent in winter takes some preparation. Start with a good sleeping bag that is rated for the temperatures you are expecting. When I did some snow camping, I used a heavy tarp as a ground cloth beneath my tent, a second tarp covering the floor inside the tent, then opened up an old sleeping bag and laid it out inside before rolling out our regular sleeping bags. That gave us extra padding and extra insulation between us and the snow. After rolling out our regular winter sleeping bags, I laid another opened up bag over both bags. The outside temperature was well below freezing that night, but we stayed warm and cozy.  Couples who are used to sleeping together can benefit from having sleeping bags they can zip together to share their warmth with each other.

Protecting your provisions during winter outings. During warm months you need an ice chest to maintain foods at 40° or less to avoid spoilage. During winter months you might use an ice chest to help keep your provisions from freezing! You will need to balance the need to protect your food from animals (by storing it in your vehicle) against freezing (by storing it in your tent). Since bears hibernate during winter months, you probably won't have to deal with them, but many other animals (wolves, coyotes, and raccoons for example) are likely to become bolder as limited winter food supplies boosts their hunger.

Dress for winter weather.   You can handle colder, nastier weather than you might think IF you are properly dressed for it.  Consider skiers and snowmobilers who regularly brave sub-zero temperatures and blizzards in relative comfort.  The secret is dressing in layers.  Not only do multiple layers give added insulation to preserve body heat, they allow you to adjust as circumstances (temperatures, level of activity) change.  The air between layers can also be a factor in added insulation.  Start with a warm, comfortable base layer.  You want this layer to be fairly form fitting.  It should be made a material that will both insulate and wick away perspiration.  Cotton has long been the fundamental fabric but there are some excellent synthetics with exceptional performance these days.  Though not what you're probably used to wearing as underwear, you will want these garments to be long legged and long sleeved.  Next comes a layer of comfortable clothing (pants, shirts).  Generally the pants should be fairly thick material and ideally somewhat waterproof unless you plan to wear a waterproof layer over them.  Shirts should be fairly loose and comfortable.  Flannel and fleece are popular options for warm shirts.  In really cold weather you might need to add a sweater or sweatshirt.  For OHV riding, you can buy "Windchill" jerseys that are warmer than regular jerseys.  Next you will need a warm coat.  One with a hood is good to keep your head and neck warm.  In really cold weather you will want an additional pair of pants.  Ideally they should be wind and water proof.  Depending on just how cold it is you might opt for insulated pants for extra warmth.  Or  you could substitute a snowmobile suit for jacket and pants.  A warm hat is essential.  My grandmother taught us "if your feet are cold, put on  your hat".  There is actually something  scientific behind this old folk saying.  You can lose a lot of heat through your head. Wearing a warm hat will help keep your blood warm which in turn helps keep your extremities warm.  You may also want to wear a baclacava or ski mask to keep your face warm.  I was surprised how much warmer my face was even with a thin nylon face mask that I can wear under my helmet when dirt biking.  My favorite cold weather hat is a Russian Ushanka but even a good stocking cap will help keep your ears and head warm and can be comfortably worn under the hood of most coats and jackets.  And, speaking of feet, they, too, need proper sock systems to ensure comfort. Start with a pair of well fitting light socks that will protect your feet against chafing and blisters and wick away perspiration.  Then add some warm socks.  Wool socks are the traditional standard and retrain their insulating properties even when wet.  You can purchase battery powered heated socks if your really need extra help keeping your feet warm or use chemical toe warmers.  Finally, some waterproof insulated boots such as snow boots to keep your feet warm and dry.  You will need warm gloves or mittens for your hands.  Mittens will keep your hands warmer but you sacrifice some dexterity.  You can use chemical hand warmers in either mittens or gloves for added comfort.  Using soft glove liners can add extra protection and adapt regular OHV gloves for winter use.  Well insulated, waterproof gloves should keep  your hands warm.  Why waterproof gloves and other clothing?  In most cold climates you will encounter snow and as snow melts you need your outer layer to be waterproof to ensure your other layers stay dry.  One final piece of useful gear is a baclacava or face mask to keep your face warm.  Knitted ski masks or military bacalcavas will be warmest, but even a thin nylon face mask, which can be worn under an OHV helmet, will help a lot.  Wear sunglasses to protect your eyes.  The glare off snow can be brutal!

Winter campfires. Cozying up to a nice, warm, crackling fire on a cold day is certainly appealing. There are some special considerations when building campfires in winter. First, try to scrape away the snow down to the ground. A fire built on snow will sink into the snow and be drowned by snow melt. If you can't scrape down to the ground, build a platform of green logs or large, flat stones on which to build your fire to keep it away from the snow.  A piece of sheet metal might keep your fire out of the snow, but the heat transferred through it will melt the snow underneath and you could still have a problem with flooding from snow melt around and into your fire.  You also need to be aware of what is overhead. Building a fire under snow-laden trees is a catastrophe waiting to happen. Heat from the fire may loosen snow on the branches and it will come crashing down and put out your fire. It could also cause injuries to anyone it falls on and, at the very least, would be a quite unpleasant, unwanted, and unproductive surprise to be pummeled with snow when you're trying to warm up around the fire.

Winter camping is cool!

Camping With Pets

Many of us have furry, four-footed friends that are a big part of our lives. With proper training and preparation, they can be part of our camping and RVing lifestyle. You need to always be aware of two important aspects of camping with pets: 1) your pets' safety and comfort and 2) avoiding subjecting fellow campers to unwanted exposure to your pets. Just like you and your human family, your pets will need some time to adjust to camping or RVing and you need to provide for their safety and comfort. NEVER leave your pets unattended in your camp or RV. Bring along their favorite food and water dishes and a few favorite toys. NEVER let you pets roam free. They may get in trouble with other campers or other campers' pets, they may leave unwanted deposits, and they may become attractive meals or other targets for local predators. Most of our pets won't have the experience to adequately defend themselves against wild animals. I had a friend who brought their cat with them and no one ever really knew the cat was around. She stayed in their trailer all the time and never made a sound. I didn't even know he liked cats. The license plate frame on his big pickup truck said "Cats Flattened While You Wait". Some other members of our group had dogs. Most were well-behaved, quiet, and friendly and quickly became beloved camp mascots. On the other hand, I tried taking our dogs on an outing or two and quickly learned they weren't the camping types! I found them noisy and difficult to control so we opted to leave them home after that. They were generally well-behaved at home, but the novelty of camping threw them for a loop. Perhaps I could have trained them to be better campers if I had had more patience, but it was easier just to leave them at home.  We brought our cat along when we spent the summer living in our RV while we worked at a resort.  She was pretty scared to begin with, but adapted to life in camp surprisingly quickly and since she was basically an indoor cat she was safe and never a problem to anyone around us.  One unexpected thing we learned from that experience was how many hiding places there were in our RV!

Medical needs. Just like us, our pets sometimes have special medical needs that will need attention during an outing. Be sure to bring along any medications that are currently in use. If you're traveling any significant distance from home, bring along vaccination records. Specific pet first aid kits are available for dogs and cats to give you convenient supplies to deal with common injuries and ailments.  When traveling and/or staying away from home, research available veterinary services along your route and near your destination.  One of my daughters was bitten by a dog during one of our outings.  Since the owners couldn't provide vaccination records, local law enforcement quarantined the dog for two weeks at the owner's expense and I had to foot the bill  for my daughter's examination and treatment.

Noisy pets. Noisy pets will quickly bring the wrath of fellow campers. Either find a way to keep them quiet or leave them home! That may seem harsh, but it is reality. You may find yourself in a dangerous physical confrontation with angry campers or they may seek to harm your pets in order to shut them up. Far better to leave them with a friend or in a kennel than risk the physical harm that could come to them -- or you! And though kennels can be expensive, they're not nearly as expensive as law suits if your pet injures someone or the cost of repairs if they tear up things in your RV or the vet costs if your pet is injured or gets ill.  As mentioned above, one of my daughters was bitten in the face by an unrestrained dog.  In addition to medical expenses, the owner had to deal with a costly two week quarantine of their beloved pet because they couldn't prove rabies shots.  Fortunately my daughter was not seriously injured and healed quickly.

Pet sanitation. Developed campgrounds and many road side rest areas will have specially marked pet areas where you can take your pets to "do their business". If your pet soils the grass in or around your camp or anyone else's, clean it up immediately. If you are boondocking where there is no designated pet area, take your pets far from any other campers and avoid letting them soil trails, roads, or public areas where people or vehicles may pass.   If there is any doubt about using an appropriate pet area, carry a plastic bag with you and clean up after them.  No, it isn't fun, but IS your responsibility.

Pet Provisions. Of course you will need to bring along food for your pets sufficient to last the length of your trip. You should also pack a pet first aid kit. Check with your veterinarian to determine what to bring along. If your pets require any special medication, make sure you bring it along. Where will your pet sleep? If they normally sleep with you at home, you should probably try to let them sleep with you when camping. If they have a bed of their own, bring it along if it is practical to do so. The last thing you or your fellow campers need is a restless pet running around or whining all night long.

Some people rely on their pets for additional security in camp.   Clearly a 100 lb snarling Rottweiler will deter all but the most determined burglars, but even a yapping Pekinese may be enough to attract enough attention to send them looking for safer pickings.

Regulations. Be sure to check local laws and regulations. Call ahead to developed campgrounds to find out if they are pet friendly. Check with the land managers (rangers) for BLM and Forest Service areas to see if pets are allowed and if there are any special threats or considerations you need to plan for. Pets are discouraged in many areas where predators are prevalent. Better to leave Fluffy at home than have her become a snack for a coyote, mountain lion, bear, or a raccoon!

Wild animals may present a threat to your pets, especially if  you are boondocking.   You pets probably haven't had experience with wild animals and their natural curiosity may lead them to unpleasant or even dangerous encounters with local wildlife.  I grew up in a rural environment and even with dogs who were raised there we usually had to pull porcupine quills from their noses at least once or twice each summer and more than once they came home with the unmistakable proof of an encounter with a skunk!  Raccoons are kind of cute but they can be very ferocious and often carry rabies so you don't want to mess around -- or let your pets -- mess around with them.
Don't show up at a resort or campground with a pet if you haven't confirmed a pet-friendly reservation.   You may be turned away or have to pay higher than expected fees.  Indoor accommodations sometimes need to be kept free to meet the needs of customers with allergies.  Properly cleaning a non-pet room so it is usable again after a pet intrusion is time consuming and expensive process, which YOU will be held legitimately liable for if you violate pet rules.

Have a purr-fectly good trip!

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Camping With Kids

Throughout our lives, we've found camping, RVing and OHVing with our kids to be a fantastic family activity. Our oldest son was 14 when his youngest brother was born. There were two girls and two more boys in between. Just try to find activities that appeal equally to girls and boys from 4 to 18! Most of our kids played soccer, and that was a productive and rewarding time for them individually -- and our RV often served as both transportation and support vehicle to their practices and games. But camping and dirt biking as a family gave us true quality time together and presented hundreds if not thousands of learning and teaching moments. We maintained our camping and dirt biking during most of the time my wife was pregnant. Towards the end of each pregnancy she avoided the more strenuous rides, but still came on every outing. Our infants were never left out so they were exposed to camping, RVing, and OHV outings right from the start. It is a little more work caring for infants in an RV than at home, but it was well worth the effort. Our youngest son started riding before he was 4 and all the little ones were accomplished and responsible riders by the time they were in kindergarten.  Our oldest daughter went on to race Women's Desert Expert, earning sponsorships from dealers and manufacturers and bringing home a Number 1 plate for Women's Motocross in Los Angeles in 2001.

Camping with kids provides many stimulating and pleasurable adventures.   Obviously it is a fun experience for them, but it  is also quite rewarding for the adults involved.  Sharing your camping and other recreational activities with them and seeing them learn and grow is incredible!  Often we will learn (or relearn) things as we teach them.  Their enthusiasm can be infectious and help us regain some of the youthful feelings we might have thought we had out grown. 

Don't have any kids or grandkids of your own? Borrow some! How about nieces and nephews or neighbors? You will find renewed excitement in exploring the great outdoors through the eyes of youngsters. We had an older bachelor in our riding group who liked to lead the little kids on skill builder rides around camp. He was often quite gruff, even abrasive, with adults, but with the kids he was really kind and patient. It was a real thrill to see "Uncle Phil" on his massive dirt bike leading a half dozen or so youngsters on little 50 cc machines around the desert.  BTW, he hated to be called "Uncle Phil".

We began camping and dirt biking long before the advent of DVD players and in-car entertainment systems. Eventually we did have a motorhome with a TV and VCR that allowed the kids to watch movies during long drives, but until then we had to make do the "old fashioned" way, playing games like "I Spy" and the "Alphabet Game" and singing songs (a favorite was "Beep Beep" about a Rambler and a Cadillac -- always a favorite since my Dad was a Rambler mechanic). Once in camp, we kept a variety of entertaining games in the motorhome for inclement weather. Yahtzee and Uno come to mind, along with various wooden and wire puzzles and ordinary picture puzzles. And don't forget books! Even our least academically motivated son learned to enjoy reading when he couldn't be riding.

For those of you who may not have been introduced to "travel games" in your own youth, "I Spy" works like this: one person chooses an object within view and chants "I spy. I spy. I spy something _________." Fill in the blank with the appropriate adjective, such as color (most commonly used) or other significant characteristic (tall, short, big, small, close, far, beautiful, ugly, etc). Then the other participants try to guess what the object is. The winner gets to choose the next target. The object of the "Alphabet Game" is to be the first to find all the letters of the alphabet on signs, vehicles, or license plates outside of your own vehicle. Both of these games have the advantage of sharpening awareness of the countryside you are traveling through and sometimes the kids will discover a sign for an interesting side trip or attraction you might want to consider visiting. Letting them choose some of the attractions along the way will help them feel more like it is their trip as well as yours. If they do spot something and you don't have time to stop on this trip, jot it down so you can make time for a future visit. Identifying license plates from as many states as possible is another fun and easy travel game and (don't tell the kids), educational. Singing songs is also a good way to pass the time and keep kids occupied. One of our family favorites was "Beep Beep", a song about Rambler passing a Cadillac.  It had special meaning for our family because my Dad was an American Motors (Rambler) mechanic for many years.  If you don't remember that old 60's song, the Rambler outruns the Cadillac!  Another time-proven travel game is the license plate game:  see how many different states you can identify on passing license plates -- only one person gets to claim a particular sighting.

With today's technology, kids can bring along their favorite tunes on their Ipods or smart phones or watch their favorite movies on in-car entertainment systems, greatly reducing the incessant plaintive cries of "Are we there yet?".  But if they get really involved in a movie the plea may change to "Are we there already?".

Trip planning can also go a long way toward making the journey more enjoyable for everyone. Build in or leave time for some interesting stops along the way. Even a few minutes strolling around a road side rest area will rejuvenate the driver and get rid of some of the wiggles of the younger set. Many rest areas include kiosks with information about local history and attractions that are both fun and educational. Involve the kids in planning the trip. The more they are invested in what is going on, the better their attention span.  Watch for historical sites, which are often identified by signs before you get there so you can plan your stop.  Almost without exception you will find nice views and interesting information to share with your young wards.

We often made the long trip from our home in southern California to visit grandparents in Oregon. Quite frequently we were on a fairly tight schedule and simply "flew" up I-5. There are few roads as boring as I-5 through the Central Valley of California (it is flat and straight and not much to look at) but you can make great time! One year we allowed ourselves more time and took an alternate route that included the 49er Trail on Highway 49, through much of the Gold Rush country, stopping for mine and museum tours and enjoying plenty of local foods. Small cafes in small towns tend to serve up some of the biggest and best breakfasts I've ever eaten -- and at reasonable prices. That trip was one of the least stressful we ever took with the kids. It was a lot of fun and everyone learned a great deal about the California Gold Rush and what life was like in a mining camp or laboring in the mines. Another year we chose to travel the Coast Route home from Oregon, which took us through the redwoods and provided many miles of fantastic beach and mountain scenery. We could make it to Grandma and Grandpa's house in one day if we drove straight through on I-5, arriving tired and sometimes with cranky kids (and adults!). Taking the more scenic routes required two or more days of travel time each way, but everyone was in better shape when we got there and got a lot more out of the time spent on the road and created a lot more memories.  Being better rested and in a move convivial frame of mind frame of mind from a less stressful trip let us enjoy our time with our family even more, making up for some of the extra time spent enroute.

Take a few minutes, before you leave home, to look over historic, cultural, or entertainment opportunities along the route to your next destination. And remember to watch for those "Historical Marker" signs along the way.  You'll likely find plenty of interesting side trips along the way. Not all of them will fit your interests or your schedule, but you can usually find several that do. There have been few side trips that ever left us wishing we hadn't spent the time. When we first started out it took a trip to the library or the local BLM, Forest Service, or Parks department to get information. Now you can get more information than you can use in just a few minutes right from home using the Internet. Taking a wifi enabled laptop or Smart Phone along will allow you to look up information along the way and answer unexpected questions from curious youngsters. You can find free wifi at many truck stops and restaurants these days.  Even some McDonalds have it.  If you can't find wifi you should be able to use a "hot spot" app on your Smart Phone.  Some GPS systems offer local attractions on the map or the ability to search for things by category. 

Making kids comfortable. Traveling by RV will be a new experience for many children, at least at first. Encourage them bring along favorite books, games, small toys, and, if you have the technology, CDs and movies. Find room to bring their bicycles along if you can.  And bring your own too! Bikes provide hours of wholesome exercise and a freedom to explore that stimulates young imaginations. Plan on serving some of their favorite foods and treats. Over the years we developed several snack traditions that our kids and even our grandkids still enjoy. A camping trip is probably not a good place to experiment with exotic recipes that even YOU may not like. However, it is often a good opportunity to explore some basic pioneer cooking, which keeps things simple and is a good fit for camping activities. Make sure they bring clothing that is appropriate to the climate, weather, and activities. And don't be afraid to let them get dirty! It will wash off -- eventually. But the memories will last a lifetime.  Invite the kids to bring along a favorite pillow, blanket, or teddy bear to make sleeping more familiar.  The excitement and novelty of travel and camping often translates into difficulty sleeping so making things as familiar as possible will help them (and you) get through the night.  Encourage them to bring their teddy bears and favorite blankets.

Educate yourselves. Kids are naturally curious. You can expect dozens of questions along the way, ranging from traffic, vehicle, and location inquiries to probing questions about the human or geologic history of various sites you encounter. I'm sure you will find it interesting and entertaining to learn more about all these things too. Just how do lava caves form? How long do redwoods live? How tall is the tallest redwood?  What was that truck hauling? What is that building for? How high is that mountain? How deep is that lake? How cold/fast is that river? The questions are endless, providing infinite opportunities to share your knowledge and experience with your kids and grandkids. Of course, some questions may require a more immediate response than others. "Why does this spider have a red hour glass on its tummy?" will probably prompt a quick stop to prevent a black widow spider bite! "Where does that road go?" or "What is the name of that mountain?" might be something you can answer together with the help of a map the next time you stop -- and take a moment to give a little map-reading instruction.  Or it might give you an excuse to do some unscheduled exploring. Questions like that are good reminders that it may be time to pull over and stretch your legs -- and your imaginations.

Maps. While we're on the subject of maps, maps can be a great tool to keep kids entertained on a long trip. Before you leave home, give each child his or her own map and show them how to identify landmarks along the route. Give them a marker to trace your progress. For younger kids you might want to make sure it is a washable marker or you'll end up with permanent artwork on your table or your upholstery. You may need to call out significant landmarks, especially for younger kids. "We just crossed the Mississippi River." "We are now entering Cheyenne." "We are climbing up the Siskiyou Pass". Letting them chart progress on their own maps helps them get a feel for where they are and helps them develop map-reading skills they may find useful when someday, they are doing the planning and driving. Modern hand-held GPSs can add a level of accuracy and detail that can be educational as well as fun.

In camp activities. If your outing includes OHV activities, you will have lots of in camp things to do. Make the kids part of setting up your camp. They can help get out camp chairs and firewood, connect power cords and hoses (if you're in a campground with hookups), even help set up awnings and tents and rolling out awning mats. If you have OHVs, they can help unload and prep them to ride as well as get out and prepare their own personal gear. OHVs always need some attention:  fuel, lubricants, cleaning, checking adjustments, tightening fasteners, etc.  They need to learn to take the time to get things set up before simply riding off in search of their own excitement and pleasure. Sooner or later, you will all return to camp and having everything organized and ready will make things easier and more enjoyable. Neither you nor your kids are gonna feel much like doing all those routine setup chores after 3 or 4 hours out on the trails! Let the kids know what they're doing isn't punishment or just "busy work", but real jobs that you NEED their help with. Even two- and three-year olds can carry a stick or two of firewood or toss their own paper plates etc into the trash or the fire.  Yeah, I know, sometimes it is faster and easier to just do things yourself, but the long term  rewards of sharing responsibilities and teaching skills and good habits to your young companions will pay dividends for them -- and for  you -- for  years to come.

If OHVs are part of your regular outings, be prepared to include children in at least some of the rides.  Modern side-by-sides make that easy.  Carrying a small child on an ATV or dirt bike takes some extra care, skill, and planning but it can be done very successfully.  As the kids approach kindergarten age you might consider getting them their own rides if its in your budget.  Small (50cc) dirt bikes and ATVs are designed for little kids, with simple controls.  They often have adult-controlled methods such as exhaust restrictors to limit power and acceleration, allowing you to tailor the power of the machine to the capabilities and developing skills of the child.

If OHVs are not part of your current curriculum, plan appropriate activities for you and the kids long before you arrive in camp. Nature hikes, fishing, swimming, and lawn games are all quick, easy, and popular activities. If the weather isn't cooperating you may need some indoor activities to pass the time. Being cooped up in a small space with one or more energetic youngsters will soon try the patience of even the calmest parent or grandparent. Once again, games, books, puzzles, and movies are the traditional solutions to this problem. More innovative adults might involve the kids in preparing the next meal or, although the kids may not like it, in performing routine cleaning tasks inside the RV. With the right attitude and proper instruction, even cleaning can be fun and is often necessary by the time you reach camp. It also provides a source of satisfaction when a job has been done well.

Night time activities. Night time in camp provides some unique opportunities you won't find at home. Teach the kids how to safely build a camp fire. Sit around the fire and tell family stories. Sing favorite songs or songs from a camp songs book. Look at the sky. Even without the aid of a telescope you can identify many constellations. A particularly useful one is the Big Dipper, since it can be used to locate the North Star, which provides an overhead landmark for navigation. Other popular and prominent constellations are the Little Dipper, Cassiopeia, and Orion. Not all constellations are visible at all times of the night or at all times of the year, so a pocket star-guide may be helpful. Many kids today have never seen the Milky Way, since city lights completely obscure it from view. They will be fascinated to learn that cloudy band across the sky is actually a view through the billions of stars that make up the disk of our Galaxy. I once baffled a fellow camper when I commented that we were "comfortably basking in the glow of a hydrogen-fusion furnace 93 million miles away." He questioned the accuracy of my reference to the distance from the Earth to the Sun, claiming an orbit that would have put us somewhere inside the orbit of Mercury where our oceans and even atmosphere would boil away.  Even after I provided written proof from an astronomy book I had on board he still didn't believe me and insisted he would have to look it up on the Internet when he got home. Guess that's a result of our modern, computer-focused society.  Speaking of the Internet, you might use it to research some the stories and legends associated with the constellations.  For example, the Big Dipper was also known as "The Drinking Gourd" and there is an old folk song called "Follow the Drinking Gourd" that tells how it was used to help slaves find their way north to freedom.  The Indian legends call the Big Dipper the Big Bear and explain that the long tail (the handle of the Bid Dipper) is the result of a chief grabbing a large bear by the tail and swinging it around and around so much that its tail stretched out before flinging it into the sky

A small celestial telescope, or even a pair of binoculars, can provide enhanced views of the moon and stars or even the Milky Way. With even a modest telescope you should be able to see the rings of Saturn, the red glow of Mars, and the red spot on Jupiter, something that always delights youngsters. Optically enhanced views of the Milky Way reveal that what looks like clouds are really billion of distant stars.  Seeing or reading about these features in science books is interesting, but seeing them for real takes on new meaning. Since planets are "wandering stars", you will need a sky-map to know where to look for them -- unless you are well-versed in astronomy. The most useful maps I've seen are a kind of night sky calculator, a disk with markings along the circumference that you use to set the date and time in order to align the disk with the night sky. Use a red filter on your flashlight when looking at your star maps to preserve your night vision for viewing celestial bodies. White light will make your irises constrict and limit your night vision. You may need filters to view the moon. While it is comfortable to view the moon with the naked eye, it is incredibly, even painfully and possibly dangerously, bright when viewed through a telescope or binoculars, so be cautious. By the way, a celestial telescope usually inverts the image so they aren't very useful for viewing objects on the ground. Knowing the image is inverted can help you when you need to align the telescope, because if you move it the direction that seems intuitive, it will probably go the wrong direction.

While on the subject of astronomy, how many planets are in our solar system?  If you said nine, you are a little out of date.  The correct answer is eight.  Recent discoveries of more planetoids in the Kuiper Belt (such as Huamea and Makemake), some larger than Pluto, have caused it to be designated a planetoid or dwarf planet.

Geocaching is a pretty popular activity for kids of all ages these days and kind of blends modern electronic technology with an old-fashioned treasure hunt.  It bills itself as the world's biggest treasure hunt. You'll need a good GPS and know how to use it.  You can get clues for where to find caches by signing up for free on Geocaching.com.  Usually you collect a souvenier (treasure) from each cache you locate and you are expected to contribute something of  your own to replace it.

Another fun night time activity is trying to identify night creatures in the area around you. Owls, coyotes, and raccoons are common inhabitants of the night in many places. Owls and coyotes can be identified by the sounds they make. Raccoons tend to be less vocal but are more likely to approach your camp, especially trash cans, in search of a meal. Various insects will be attracted to lights. Unless you have a particular interest in entomology you probably won't find viewing or naming them particularly appealing or useful, but just watching the variety and their interactions with the light and with each other can be fascinating, even if you don't know what to call them. We sometimes use a portable bug catcher light to control insects around our camp and RV. The kids get a kick out of the snapping sound when a hapless bug ventures too close to the light and gets zapped. You can tell the air temperature by counting cricket chirps. Count the number of chirps in 14 seconds and add 40 to get the Fahrenheit temperature. The Celsius formula is a little more complicated: count the chirps in 25 seconds, divide by 3 and add 4.

Which brings us to yet another topic: Insect Control. Just about anywhere you go camping you will encounter insects, many of which are benign, but some of which can cause discomfort or even serious dangers to human beings. I mention insects here in the section on Traveling With Kids because kids tend to be particularly susceptible to insect bites, probably because of their propensity to explore things, which brings them in contact with insect infestations. Hopefully, as we adults have grown older we've learned to avoid unnecessary contact with insects and limit our exposure.  If anyone in your party is allergic to bee stings, be sure to see your doctor for a prescription for an Epi-pen and learn how -- and when -- to use it.

Mosquitoes are one of the most common problems, especially around lakes and rivers, which are popular camping spots. Mosquitoes will be prevalent anywhere there is standing water, such as in an old quarry or near irrigation canals and ditches. Mosquitoes can be more than just an annoying

nuisance.  They can carry West Nile and other serious diseases.   Minimizing the amount of exposed skin is one of the basic ways to prevent mosquito bites. Wear long sleeved shirts and long pants. Avoid sandals and open shoes and wear socks. Hats with mosquito nets can protect the face and neck. For exposed skin, such as face, neck, ears, and hands, apply a good mosquito repellent such as Deep Woods OFF. It contains a chemical called DEET that is recognized as the best defense against mosquitoes. Most often mosquito bites cause itching and discomfort because humans are allergic to the solution injected by the mosquito to thin our blood making it easier for them to suck it. We make things worse by scratching them and often causing them to become infected which is why they bleed or become red and swollen. In some areas mosquitoes also carry the West Nile Virus, a serious, sometimes deadly, disease. So preventing mosquito bites is very important. There are a number of devices to repel mosquitoes from patios and camp sites. Citronella candles, lamps, or torches are helpful and they are a pleasant addition to picnic tables and camp sites, but they are not as effective as "mosquito coils", which are ignited and give off fumes that repel the nasty little critters over a surprisingly large area. There are also personal electronic devices and bracelets you can wear to keep them away. Check the effective range of any mosquito repellent device and use as many as necessary to provide an adequate defense of you, your family, and your camp site. Bite sticks will take the sting out of insect bites. The active ingredient is ammonia, so just a drop of ammonia on a bite will do the same thing. Another quick and easy treatment to ease the discomfort of insect bites is ordinary toothpaste (not gel).  A spritz with automotive starter fluid will quickly take away the sting too, if you happen to have some of that handy.

Always keep the screens on your RV or tent closed to prevent insects from entering YOUR space. OK, maybe it isn't YOUR space, it is THEIRS but you're borrowing it temporarily and you want exclusive use inside your RV or tent.  You won't get much sleep with a squadron of mosquitos buzzing around your bed!

Bees and other stinging insects can also be a problem in some areas, mostly during the day time. Insect repellents may be effective against some but not all of these threats. If you or any member of you group are allergic to bee stings, you should carry and "epi-pen" for immediate use in case of a sting. Avoid walking through flowering plants that will attract bees. You might want to keep a can of wasp spray in your RV in case you discover a wasp nest near your camp site or on your RV. Don't wear flowered shirts or blouses.  By the way, wasp spray is a pretty good (and legal) substitute for Mace or pepper spray.  They usually have a range of about 15-20' meaning you can keep threatening animals (both 2 and 4-legged varieties) at a safe distance.  You don't need the training or licensing that is sometimes required to purchase MACE or pepper spray.

Spiders are very common and can be a threat both day and night. At any given time there is probably a spider within 3 feet of you at home or in the wild. Fortunately there are only a few species in America that are dangerous. The black widow is perhaps the most famous, but the bite of the Brown Recluse can be more dangerous. The best defense is to avoid places where spiders can be found. Don't reach under logs or rocks or into holes in trees or in the ground. Wear gloves when handling firewood. Black widow bites are painful but usually heal without serious implications. If you observe a severe reaction (extended swelling and redness, extreme pain, vomiting, etc) see immediate medical help. Brown recluse bites inject a venom that destroys tissue and can lead to large scale damage. One web site recommends applying activated charcoal directly to the bite to absorb the poison. If you suspect a brown recluse bite, seek medical attention right away. People have lost entire limbs due to untreated brown recluse bites.  BTW, did you know spiders eyes are reflective?  Some dark night hold a flashlight at the end of you nose an point it at the grass or shrubbery in your yard or campsite.  Holding it  at the end of  your nose aligns it so reflected light will come back to your eyes.  Chances are you will see multiple pinpoints of bright light reflecting back at you from the eyes of resident spiders.  This can be a fun activity to share with kids.

Don't you or your kids run around camp in flipflops or bare feet. And don't sleep with your bare feet exposed. Doing any of these is an open invitation for bugs to bite.   While this is especially true in desert environments where scorpions abound, it is also important in less threatening places since you can encounter poisonous insects anywhere.

Camping with kids can be a lot of fun -- for you as well as for them, if you are properly prepared. It may even give you a chance to be a kid again yourself! By the way, just about everything that applies to camping with kids applies to camping with senior citizens. My grandmother traveled with my mom and dad in their motorhomes for many years, and from what I saw, it was a delight for everyone. Grandma was well past retirement age (her doctor described her as "about 15 years out of warranty") and had some  physical limitations but she was always a source of wisdom and humor and delight.

Have fun everyone!