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.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

C.E.R.T. -- Community Emergency Response Team

This may not be directly related to RVs and OHVs but it does pertain to emergency preparedness, and our RVs, if properly equipped and maintained, can serve as DRVs: Disaster Recovery Vehicles and our camping equipment can serve as emergency survival equipment -- if we know what to do and how to prepare. Camping, RVing, and OHVing may place us in situations where we need to be able to deal with emergencies without immediate professional help. Camping provides a wonderful opportunity to practice emergency preparedness and survival skills we may need in case of a natural or man made disaster in our neighborhoods.

Preparing yourself, your family, and your RV for emergencies. To be prepared you need to seek to develop skills and obtain training you may need in the event of an emergency -- a natural disaster in your neighborhood or getting lost or stranded while camping. A good place to start is by joining your local Community Emergency Response Team (C.E.R.T.). Smaller communities or places with transient populations like areas where vacation cabins are located probably won't have a C.E.R.T. program but may have their own emergency preparedness programs and you may be able to become part of the local volunteer fire department. Volunteer fire fighter training is also a good way to develop skills you might need during an emergency.  It has been said "You are the only first responder you can really count on."  That is especially true when you are camping or participating in outdoor recreational activities in remote areas but it could well apply to a disaster situation at home.  In any major incident, standard Emergency Services are going to be overwhelmed for some time.  Figure 3 days to 2 weeks before things will start getting back to anything approaching normal.

As a First Responder your own safety is always your first priority.   While that may not seem very heroic, it is essential.  The last thing you need to do is become another victim.  Looking out for yourself and your fellow C.E.R.T. team members first ensures you do not add to the victim pool but remain available to help victims of the original incident.  Taking care of yourself is NOT a selfish act.  Did you know more would-be rescuers are injured or killed than initial victims of a disaster?  That is mostly due to well-intentioned but poorly executed rescue attempts by untrained people.

Community Emergency Response Teams are comprised of volunteers who are trained by local fire departments to provide first responder emergency services in a disaster situation. In a major disaster, such as an earthquake, tornado, widespread flooding, or winter storm, local emergency services agencies are going to be overwhelmed. It could be a couple of weeks before anything resembling normal services can be restored. What are YOU going to do if response to a 911 call -- if you can even make one! -- is two days or even two weeks out? Community Emergency Response Teams are designed to provide first responder services in their neighborhoods and then where ever they might be assigned by local emergency services professionals. I present a pitch for C.E.R.T. here on my RVs and OHVs blog to encourage campers to avail themselves of this valuable training. As previously mentioned in my post on Camping and Survival Skills, the worst possible thing you can do in an emergency situation is panic. Preparation, including C.E.R.T. training, is a key to avoiding panic. I have taken C.E.R.T. training from fire departments in large metropolitan cities and in small rural communities and, since the program has been standardized under FEMA, the training is consistent and effective and easily adapted to the unique threats individual areas might face.

The training one receives as a member of a Community Emergency Response Team can be invaluable in a disaster. C.E.R.T. members are trained in emergency response procedures, fire suppression, first aid and medical triage, disaster psychology, and light search and rescue. The mission of C.E.R.T. is "to do the most good for the most people". A C.E.R.T. member's first priority is their own safety and the safety of other team members. C.E.R.T. members are not authorized to enter heavily damaged buildings nor engage in any rescue attempt that would put themselves or others, including well-meaning volunteers, in further danger.  One of the hardest things a C.E.R.T. volunteer might have to do is try restrain someone who is intent on putting themselves and others in danger in an attempt rescue a loved one. C.E.R.T. volunteers are not authorized to physically restrain people but are trained to guide and direct people away from hazardous situations.  If someone is hell bent to enter a burning or collapsing structure against your advice, you can't stop them. 

C.E.R.T. training is usually provided by the local fire department. The C.E.R.T. program originated in earthquake-prone southern California but has been adopted by FEMA and adapted for all kinds of disaster situations. Contact your local fire department to learn if they have a C.E.R.T. program and when the next class is scheduled. Classes are usually quite inexpensive, sometimes even free. Make sure any class you take is legitimate and that the credentials you receive are valid. I have heard of well-meaning folks creating their own C.E.R.T. classes. They made up their own manuals, instead of using the FEMA-approved training materials. They charged about twice the normal cost of fire department sponsored classes (many times community sponsored courses are free!) and conducted them on just 2 Saturdays instead of the regular 2 nights a week for 10 weeks an authorized C.E.R.T. course requires. I expect the training they delivered was potentially better than no training at all, but their graduates may be lacking in critical skills and hands on practice and their credentials are not recognized by official C.E.R.T. programs or other emergency response organizations.  C.E.R.T. folks are usually recognized by EMS organizations as valuable resources and not just ordinary citizens to be kept at bay.  One of our C.E.R.T. instructors reported being allowed though a police roadblock during a local emergency because of the C.E.R.T. sticker on his windhshield and the C.E.R.T. ID card in his wallet.

I had the privilege of getting my initial C.E.R.T. training from two premier southern California fire departments, both of which are leaders in C.E.R.T.. C.E.R.T. was invented by the Ventura County Fire Department and refined and formalized by the Los Angeles City Fire Department, who is often credited with having invented it. It has since been adopted by FEMA as a nationwide program. I have since re-certified in a more rural environment where local trainers have included helpful survival tips that are specific to our location and the kinds of recreational activities folks engage in around here. As far as I'm concerned, you can never get too much training! One of our local C.E.R.T. leaders has participated in at last a dozen mock disaster training classes, was one of the responders to the 9/11 disaster at the Pentagon, and yet still claims he learns more from being part of local C.E.R.T. classes than any of the other, more expensive professional (and military) courses he has attended-- and he learns something new from each iteration.

I urge everyone whose health will permit it, to seek C.E.R.T. training. Then, if/when a disaster strikes (natural or man-made, at home, at work, in camp, or on the trail) you'll be better equipped to take care of yourself, your family, your companions, and your neighbors. It will also provide you with fundamental skills for handling any emergency situation.

When a disaster strikes, your first responsibility is to yourself. You must take care of yourself first. This is NOT a selfish concept. If you are injured in the initial disaster or allow yourself to be injured attempting to help others, you will become part of the problem instead of part of the solution. In order to be an effective rescuer, you must first tend to your own needs -- physical, emotional, and spiritual. Your next responsibility is to take care of your immediate family. Only then are you emotionally able to move on to help your neighbors or lend assistance to professional emergency service personnel. If you rush out to help others before taking care of yourself and our family, you are likely to lose focus for the task at hand as you dwell on the status of your family. Once you have all your ducks in order, you can help others. If you don't take time to care for your own needs, you will not be as effective as you need to be in taking care of others. When conducting search and rescue operations, your primary responsibility is the safety of your team (including yourself). You won't be any good to anyone if you become injured or trapped along with the victims you are trying to help. Your priorities are: 1 your personal safety, 2 your family safety, 3, safety of fellow team members, 4 safety of the community. The first thing you will do when you respond to an emergency situation is do a size up to determine the nature and extent of the circumstances and whether it is within the scope of C.E.R.T. to attempt rescues or if you should simply control the perimeter to prevent further injures.  Remember, you are the only first responder you can really count on.

What does C.E.R.T. cover?  Major topics include disaster medical services, light search and rescue, disaster psychology, fire prevention and suppression, and terrorism.  Medical services and fire suppression are probably the topics that will be most applicable to camping and RVing but even disaster psychology will be useful and you may even find applications for light search and rescue techniques, so pretty much the whole course will be well worth your time.

C.E.R.T. is not for the weak of stomach or the timid. but just about anyone can be C.E.R.T. trained.  If you can't handle the thought of dealing with seriously injured victims you will need to work on your attitude. You must prepare yourself for what could be unpleasant tasks. As a C.E.R.T. member you may be called upon to perform emotionally charged tasks as you deal with trapped and/or injured or even dead people. Disasters can create gruesome injuries which you may or may not be able to treat. And no matter how good your treatment is, seriously injured people may still die. You have to prepare yourself to deal with it. In C.E.R.T. training you will be taught how to perform medical triage -- to identify and treat the most severe injuries first. Our tendency as compassionate human beings is to provide assistance to injured people right away, but that isn't always the best approach. While splinting a broken arm or bandaging a non-life threatening wound, another victim, who could have been saved by timely treatment, may die. Therefore, it is essential to understand the full scope of all injuries among all victims before beginning treatment -- except for obvious life threatening injuries. You will also be taught how to do a "sixty second assessment" to evaluate the medical status of victims in 60 seconds or less. You will be given training in first aid and CPR and taught how to identify and provide appropriate immediate treatment for life-threatening injuries and conditions. One of the hardest things you may have to do in a real disaster situation is identify and process people who didn't -- or won't -- survive. You may also find it difficult to inform highly vocal but lightly injured victims that they'll have to wait while you deal with folks with life-threatening injuries. One of my C.E.R.T. instructors insists duct tape is an invaluable resource when dealing with such people! Yes, it may be necessary to restrain some victims, both for their own good and to prevent them from injuring others or interfering in critical tasks. Another handy device for restraining potentially dangerous people are plastic cable ties. Even law enforcement sometimes uses them in lieu of handcuffs. While C.E.R.T. volunteers do not have law enforcement training or authority, sometimes you must simply use common sense to ensure the safety of you, your team, and your victims.   In one of our C.E.R.T. exercises we had a victim who, due to a confused sate of mind caused my a head injury, kept wandering off. One solution is to assign another "walking wounded" to keep an eye on such people. Lacking that you may have to restrain them for their own safety and the safety of other victims and rescuers. By the way, giving people something useful to do is a very good way of helping them as well as helping you as a rescuer. 

C.E.R.T. Organization. C.E.R.T. operates under the authority and direction of the local emergency services team. C.E.R.T. may be called into service by the local emergency services professionals but may also, by design, voluntarily take charge of their own neighborhoods until professional help arrives. C.E.R.T. does not replace professional emergency services personnel, but acts to provide care and mitigate circumstances until emergency service can arrive. In the event of a large-scale disaster professional services may be unavailable for weeks and you may be the only help around. By convention and direction, the first C.E.R.T. member to arrive at a scene becomes the Incident Commander and remains in charge of the scene until professional rescuers arrive or he voluntarily turns over command to someone else -- which he should do before he becomes too exhausted to function effectively. That means the C.E.R.T. trained teenager next door could be your Incident Commander, even if you are a paramedic or a doctor! If that happens, your job is to support him any way you can, not try to usurp his authority! It is likely that an inexperienced Incident Commander will voluntarily turn the job over to more seasoned personnel when they arrive, but if he/she doesn't, do your best to be supportive. The Incident Commander is responsible to identify and organize resources available to assist people in his immediate area. Resources may include people, equipment, tools, medical supplies, transportation, shelter, food and water. The first priority for the Incident Commander is the safety of team members. Next is the safety of other people within his jurisdiction. He will be responsible for designating team members to take charge of specific C.E.R.T. tasks such as logistics (collecting, inventorying, and managing resources), medical treatment, morgue, fire suppression, search and rescue, transportation, and communication. Depending on the circumstances and resources available he may organize search and rescue teams to extricate victims from lightly damaged buildings. In the case of heavily damaged buildings or events involving hazardous materials, C.E.R.T. is charged with establishing a safe perimeter and keeping unauthorized people away from the scene. Since C.E.R.T. personnel have no law enforcement authority and do not carry weapons, keeping unauthorized people out of a hazardous area largely consists of monitoring the perimeter and informing would-be intruders of the danger.  You can usually let them know that professional rescurers have been called and are on their way to assist victims in the restricted area.   In most disaster scenarios, more would-be rescuers are injured or die than there are initial victims. Well-intentioned but untrained citizens rush to the aid of their friends and neighbors and even strangers, without regard for their own safety or an understanding of the additional risk their actions may pose for themselves and for existing victims. YOU do not want to be one of those people! By getting C.E.R.T training, you will know what you can and can't do to assist and be prepared to fulfill the C.E.R.T. mission to do the most good for the most people. Sometimes doing the most good may mean keeping people from entering a heavily damaged building or away from hazardous materials.

In a disaster situation, the general public will be seeking leadership and instruction. Most people will not be adequately prepared to deal with loss of utilities and emergency services. They won't have a clue what to do when they can't just call 911. That is where having C.E.R.T. training comes in. The more people who get trained, the better any neighborhood is able to handle its own needs in a disaster. You may find yourself the ONLY C.E.R.T. trained individual on your block or at your place of employment and people are going to look to you for guidance. Following the Northridge Earthquake in California in 1994 I donned my C.E.R.T. gear (hard hat and safety vest) and began checking on some of my friends and neighbors. Everywhere I went people came out of their homes all around anxiously seeking information and direction. Fortunately we were far enough from the epicenter that there was not a lot of heavy damage in our neighborhood, but I was at least able to provide some assurance of that to worried people and give them some basic instructions regarding their immediate safety and what they could do to prepare for aftershocks and, perhaps, how to deal with extended loss of utilities.

Becoming C.E.R.T. trained will give you confidence and peace of mind that you will know what to do if/when disaster strikes. That makes it well worth the few weeks and modest cost (if any) of training.

C.E.R.T Rules!

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Shopping for an RV

Shopping for an RV can be fun! There are lots of different types and models to choose from, each with its own unique features and capabilities. Exploring the various options can provide many hours of interesting and educational entertainment. Shopping for an RV can be similar to shopping for any other vehicle in some ways. You will want to consider brand, condition, features, mileage and price. However, there are other things to consider. You will want to do your homework before you venture out to start looking. The Internet is an excellent resource. You can read presentations by manufacturers and reviews by owners. You can compare prices at different dealers and among for sale by owner used units. You can check for recalls. The main difference between shopping for a new or used family car and an RV will be checking the condition of the coach and its appliances. Of course, if you've decided on purchasing a new unit, condition will not be of major concern since everything will be new and will come with manufacturer's warranties. The reputation of the dealer and the manufacturer will be things to consider.

Used RVs. Used or "previously owned" RVs can be an exceptional value, especially in today's slow economy. RVs don't typically log mileage quickly like cars and trucks and you can find units with very low miles at good prices. I recently saw a 21 year old motorhome with less than 26,000 miles on it and a 30 year old unit with only 42,000 miles.  However, low mileage is only one consideration. You may find serious problems even with a low mileage vehicle if it has not been properly stored and regularly maintained. On ANY used vehicle, check the tires and all mechanical components carefully. If you don't feel qualified to do so, hire a mechanic to go over the vehicle for you. Considering the large investment we make in RVs, the amount you pay a mechanic is a cheap way to avoid large, unexpected expenses.  These days even a simple carburetor overhaul will run about $500, so investing a $100 in having a mechanic check things out could save you plenty.  You will also want to inspect the condition of the exterior paint and roof and the interior and verify that all appliances are operating correctly. Some stale odors are normal but a strong musty or foul odor inside an RV is usually a sign of water damage such as dry rot that can be very expensive to repair.  Stains and soft spots in the floor, walls, or ceiling are another indicator of water damage. You may find RVs with cosmetic water stains on the ceiling or wall, but if the underlying structure is solid and the leak has been repaired, it is mostly an aesthetics problem. Short term leaks can leave stains but usually don't cause serious damage. Long term leaks usually result in dry rot, which can present serious structural problems even if they don't leave stains. Long term leaks don't always show up as stains inside an RV. The damage may all be inside the ceiling or wall. I always thought it interesting that dry rot occurs in wet wood! You'll find air fresheners hanging in a lot of RVs. Mostly that is just because people enjoy the fragrance and it mitigates cooking odors and normal stuffiness from storage. However, if the air fresheners or smell of cleaning products are overpowering, the seller may be attempting to cover up the foul odors from water damage. Examine the roof and look for damage to the surface and cracking of caulk around vents and other accessories attached to the roof. Dried out and cracked caulk will allow water to penetrate the vehicle. Don't be shy about testing appliances. RV appliances can be pricey to repair or replace so you want to know what you're getting into. Non-working appliances can help reduce the price, but you'd better know what it is going to take to get them fixed or replaced. Run the generator and test the microwave. Run the air conditioner(s) and the furnace. Test the hot water heater and the stove. Inspect the refrigerator. If it is moldy or stained or smells bad you may have trouble getting it clean enough to be comfortable using it. Turn it on. The cooling fins should get cold to the touch in a few minutes. Turn on the water pump and ensure that water flows freely at all faucets and the toilet flushes properly. Listen to see if the pump continues to cycle after all faucets have been turned off or for any hissing sound that may indicate a leak. Any un-repaired tears in carpets, curtains, or upholstery should be noted. You may be able to use that to help negotiate a lower price, considering you will bear the expense of making the necessary repairs. Un-repaired tears or other damage are often an indicator of poor maintenance habits in general so I am always suspicious when I find any lack of routine maintenance. On the other hand, accidents can happen to anyone, so unless the damage is excessive, I wouldn't worry too much about light damage that has been successfully repaired. Inspect the dump valves for any signs of damage or leakage. They often hang low enough to be damaged going in and out of driveways or traveling on rough roads. Repairs are usually not terribly expensive and can often be done by owners, but a leaking sewer system could delay your first trip.  Be sure to distinguish between worn or damaged valves and damaged holding tanks.  Valves are easily replaced;  holding tanks repairs can be costly and time consuming.

One kind of hidden value to pre-owned RVs is that they will often have a number of nice additions courtesy of the previous owner(s), things that were not part of the standard equipment but do add to convenience and comfort.   A few additions, such as power levelers might add to the Blue Book value but most accessories won't increase the price so its like you're getting them for free.

Timing. When is the best time to buy an RV? That depends on your priorities and your needs. If you need an RV now, NOW is the best time to buy. If you are flexible, you may want to time your purchase to take advantage of market conditions that favor your needs. You will usually find more units available in spring and early summer giving you a better choice, but prices may be higher because more people want to buy an RV for their summer vacation. On the other hand, if you are looking for the best price, look for end of season reductions in late summer, fall and winter, on both used and new units. Local RV shows frequently offer special "show prices" at RV shows, which are usually well below market or sticker price. Some RV shows include previously owned units as well as new ones.  It is fairly common to encounter high-pressure sales techniques at shows, encouraging you to "take advantage of the show price" before someone else grabs up the unit or the show is over and the price goes back up.   Personally I find such tactics repulsive and feel that reputable dealers don't have to stoop to strong arm tactics.  Their products and reputation should make the sale for them.  Fortunately, I've found salesmen at RV shows to less pushy than those on the lot and a lot less pushy than typical than used car salesman!

Dealers and salesman. RV dealers and salesman can be a valuable resource when you're looking to buy an RV. Good salesmen are often very knowledgeable and can help guide you to the right RV for you. A really good salesman will realize it is more valuable to help you find the right RV than it is to make a quick sale. Don't succumb to high pressure tactics. There are enough units and enough dealers out there so you don't have to give in to over-zealous salesmen. I generally walk off the lot if I'm hit with the "this offer is only good today" or "I have another buyer, but if you act now...." approach. In some cases there may be legitimate special advertised pricing that does expire, but frequently it is nothing more than attempt to force you to make a quick decision and you end up buying something you didn't want. If you find a unit you really like, make sure you know what its book value is, then make a reasonable offer. If you are willing to negotiate and accept some compromises, you can usually reach an acceptable arrangement.

Private party sales. When negotiating with private parties, it is good to know the book value of the vehicle you are considering. You might luck out and find a desperate or ignorant seller who will take your low-ball offer, but most likely the seller has done his own research and knows what his vehicle is worth. You can expect to pay somewhere between the trade-in value and the retail value when buying from a private party. Some specialty vehicles (4WD motorhomes, for example or other rare units like refurbished GMC front-wheel drive models) may command full "blue book" retail or even more from a private party, but that would be very unusual. The official "book" retail price includes the dealer profit, sales commission, and a margin for warranty services, none  of which a private party has to be concerned with. In most cases it will be a waste of effort and even offensive to offer less than the trade-in value, although I have seen deals where low offers have been successful. But those I've seen involve peculiar circumstances. Be wary of unusually low prices. In most cases, if a price seems too good to be true, it is. Very low prices often indicate hidden problems, but sometimes there are good reasons. In one case I know of, the seller and his wife both had health issues and needed a quick sale and they lived hundreds of miles from any dealer where they could wholesale their motorhome. He didn't have the time or money to deliver the unit to a dealer and was willing to let an interested buyer reap the benefits rather than going out of his way to add to the high profits of a not particularly helpful dealer. Some sellers just need to get out from under their payments and will transfer ownership for little or no money down just to get relief from hefty payments. Don't be afraid to ask the seller about his maintenance practices and if he has any maintenance records you can review. Some sellers will willingly share how they used their RVs. That can be useful information too. A unit that has only been used in full-hookup campgrounds and driven only on paved roads may be in better shape than one that has seen a lot of off-highway driving to primitive camp sites. But sometimes things can be deceiving. A unit with very low mileage may have only been used for short trips, like to local campgrounds or tailgating at sporting events. Lots of short trips are much harder on the engine and drive train than highway miles and appliances and other components may have endured unusual wear. High miles may be due to long distance usage. Lots of "highway miles" is usually a good thing. Highway miles are much easier on vehicles than stop-and-go city driving.  An RV that has been used for touring may have higher miles than one primarily used for tailgating at local sports events, but the touring use may yield less wear and tear.

Trade-offs.  As you compare RVs within your price range you're likely to find some older, high end units at about the same price as some newer, "normal" rigs.  Only you can decide if an older or higher mileage unit is more desirable than a newer one with fewer miles and fewer features.  An older unit may be an excellent value if it has been well-taken care of and may give you luxury options that aren't within your budget on newer vehicles.  You may have to decide between higher power and better fuel economy.  Class A motorhomes are usually more luxurious and have more features and larger holding tanks than Class C rigs, but Class C rigs,ironically, can usually sleep more people.

Ebay and other online sites can make shopping easier and save a lot of driving. I have purchased 2 motorhomes through Ebay. One I bought from a dealer and I should have been more careful. In spite of the dealer's frequent claims of having recently serviced the vehicle, I found it 3 quarts low on oil at my first fuel stop. The damage already done led to a early and expensive engine failure. Had it been a private party sale I would have been more thorough in my inspection prior to completing the deal. Most dealers are completely trustworthy. I just happened to get one who either by design or by accident, misrepresented the unit. The one I bought from a private party turned out to be a good buy. It served us for several years and then I passed it along to one of my sons who continued to use if for several more years. In the case of the problem RV, it was a kind of impulse buy when I wasn't actively looking for a "new" RV. I saw it on Ebay at a really good price and really liked the brand and the features. In fact, I kept that motorhome for many years and, after installing a rebuilt engine, it  served us very well. I had been actively looking for an upgrade when I bought the private party unit and had inspected quite a number of coaches for sale before settling on that one. That gave me a pretty good idea of features, condition, and price.  I should also mention that the one I bought from the dealer was an excellent value, even with having to replace the engine.  It was a Holiday Rambler and was top of the line in its day advertised to be the most luxurious motorhome ever.

Test drive. Always ask to test drive the vehicle. It should start easily. Listen for unusual noises and vibration and observe the exhaust. Wind noise may indicate loose or ill-fitting windows, vents, or doors. Blue smoke out the exhaust is usually an indication of excessive oil consumption. White smoke may indicate a coolant leak into the combustion system. Black smoke usually indicates the fuel mixture is too rich. Any of these conditions may require significant engine work, but an incorrect fuel mixture is usually pretty easy to remedy. Listen to the engine. It should run smoothly, with no knocks or pings. Diesel engines may produce more smoke normally than gasoline engines and often have louder engine noises. Squealing belts may not be very expensive to replace, but could indicate a lack of routine maintenance by the previous owner. Try to include various types of terrain on your test drive. Don't just drive it once around the block. You will want to see how it performs on hills and on rough roads. You will want to know how it handles on the freeway when passing or being passed by 18-wheelers. Excessive body roll from passing vehicles may indicate weak or worn suspension, which can be very costly to repair and can make handling the vehicle difficult or even unsafe. The transmission should shift smoothly and without the engine reaching high RPMs. It should downshift easily when climbing hills or when you kick down the accelerator such as when passing or entering a freeway on-ramp -- depending on your speed. Carefully monitor all the gauges. For one thing, you want to know if they're all working properly. For another, they may give you indications of potential problems if they are not within normal readings. This is also a good time to see if you are comfortable driving the vehicle. If you are not, perhaps you should keep looking until you find something you are comfortable driving. Are all the controls within easy reach? Do the mirrors provide adequate coverage for safety? Are you OK with the size? Be especially careful negotiating corners until you are completely comfortable with the way the unit handles. Hitting a curb or clipping a street sign or tree could create damage you would be responsible for and you sure don't want to be spending your RV budget to repair damage to someone else's RV or messing up your new rig! While driving on rough roads, listen for excessive rattles or creaking. You can expect some noise, but it shouldn't sound like its falling apart around you! Check all the lights, including clearance markers.  In some states you will have to repair any broken or burned out lights before it will pass a required safety inspection to get it registered.  Non-functioning lights, especially if widespread, may indicate serious wiring problems. If it has awnings, open them and inspect the condition of the fabric and the hardware.  The fabric should pull taught when the awning is open and shouldn't have any tears or bad stains.  All the hardware should work smoothly, with no unusual noises or binding.   Look inside all cabinets and exterior compartments. Watch for hidden water damage or damage from insects or rodents. Be very wary if you find water in exterior compartments. It may indicate a plumbing problem or defective seals on the doors.

Orphaned RVs can deliver exceptional value.  What is an orphaned RV?  It is one whose manufacturer has gone out of business.  Since the drive train and appliances are usually brand names that are still in business the only downside to owning an orphan RV might be getting body parts if they are damaged.  However, you may still be able to get parts in an RV junk yard and since many RVs are made of fiberglass or fairly standard aluminum panels a good body shop may be able to make good repairs even without factory replacement parts.  Being orphaned usually causes the resale price to drop, making them a good buy if the are in reasonable condition.  The price reduction works to your advantage when you're buying but could bite you if you happen to own an RV at the time its manufacturer goes belly up.  I have owned one or two orphaned RVs and they always delivered extremely good value.  The purchase prices were reasonable and I had no problem maintaining the mechanical components and appliances.  Fortunately I didn't have any need of body work, but, as I said before, I am confident a competent body shop could handle just about anything needed.

Happy buying!

Friday, April 8, 2011

Family Teaching Moments In Camping

RVing, OHVing, and camping provide many family"teaching moments".  I often took advantage of the clear, desert skies for impromptu astronomy lessons for my kids. They all soon knew how to find the north star using the Big Dipper and to recognize Orion, Cassiopeia, and the Seven Sisters. None of that would have been possible back in our suburban home where city lights completely obscure the Milky Way.  By the way, did you know there are only six stars in the Seven Sisters?   Or that it is the logo for Subaru?  I have a small telescope we use for star gazing.  It is big enough that we can see the rings of Saturn and the red spot on Jupiter.  Having a few esoteric facts about things you might encounter during an outing provides both entertainment and education.  There are many good books on astronomy. I think the best ones are also the simplest. I have a thick volume on astronomy that seldom gets used, but I keep one about the size of a Readers Digest Magazine handy to get quick answers to most of the questions that come up around the campfire.  And you never know when your knowledge might be challenged.  I once made a comment about "basking in the glow of a hydrogen fusion furnace 93 millions miles away"  (the Sun) only to have a fellow camper challenge the distance.  He thought it was only about 3 million miles, which would put us so close our oceans and even our atmosphere would evaporate and burn away.  I pulled out one of my astronomy books to prove my facts and he promptly refused to believe what was right there in front of his face in black and white!  He said he'd look it up on the Internet when he got home!  Yeah, like everything you read on the Internet is true! For what its worth, I do strive to avoid spreading any falsehoods through this blog. You really don't need to know the details of celestial mechanics or the chemistry of stars to appreciate the beauty and the mythology associated with the major constellations. Teaching moments can be impromptu or planned. Usually the best ones, the ones that make lasting impressions, are ones that at least seem to just happen, even if you've planned ahead for them (like my astronomy lessons). Keep your eyes open and pay attention to opportunities to share experiences with your kids and grand kids while you're out camping. Weather and nature will present many chances for discussion and scientific learning. The geology of many regions is often evident and illustrates the history of our planet better than any book. The route from our home to our favorite dirt bike riding areas in he Mojave Desert took us across the San Andreas fault and the swirls created by its movement were clearly visible where the freeway cut deep across the fault, showing up as a big "S" in the layers of the rock. Who knew rock could bend?  You will find interesting geology just about everywhere you go. 

Life lessons. I have found some excellent parables in dirt biking to help my kids maintain their perspective on life. For example, focusing on obstacles in your way turns them into "magnetic rocks" that seem to attract your front wheel. You always want to look where you want to go, not at what you want to avoid. Similarly, when climbing a hill, look over the top, not at the obstacles part way up. If you concentrate on the obstacles or difficult section, that's as far as you're going to get, but if your focus is over the top of the hill, that is where you are going to go. These techniques have direct applications in everyday life. If you focus on your problems, they tend to dominate you while focusing on the path through them or beyond them yields a much more productive course. Along the same lines, it is really important to keep things in perspective. Consider the following exercise.  Hold a penny by the edge between your thumb and forefinger and hold it up close to your eye so you're looking right at Honest Abe. You will notice that, first of all, the penny nearly blocks your entire view and secondly, that you cannot see the penny clearly. The same thing happens when we focus too intently on our problems. They block out everything else and we can't even see the problems clearly. Think what happens when you hold the penny out at arms length and see it in perspective with the rest of your surroundings. It no longer blocks out everything and not only can you see it more clearly, you can see it in relationship to everything else and recognize its relative size and value. Similarly, when we view our problems correctly and in perspective we can see them more clearly and measure more effectively their significance -- or insignificance.  If it won't make any difference 300 years from now, don't worry about it, especially if you can't do anything about it right now anyway.

Responsibility. Our modern world seems to have lost touch with the concept of personal responsibility. Liberal politicians and other "do-gooders" keep shifting personal responsibility away from individuals to "society". They blame "society" for the murderer, the gang-banger, the rapist, the alcoholic, and the drug-addict instead of holding people personally accountable for their own choices and actions. While society unfortunately does contribute to and sometimes fosters evil or criminal behavior, much of what goes on is completely due to poor choices made by individuals.   OHV activities provide many opportunities for riders to learn and exercise personal responsibility, starting with cleaning, organizing, and maintaining their equipment and extending to responsible riding behavior. I found dirt-biking gave my kids opportunities to develop both individual self esteem for their personal accomplishments on difficult trails and team work in assisting other riders -- or accepting assistance -- when needed. They also learned (sometimes quite painfully, physically and/or fiscally) that it pays to take proper care of their equipment. And it seldom took more than one time leaving something at home to teach them to make sure they packed everything.

Outdoor skills. There are many outdoor skills that are nurtured in RVing, OHVing, and camping that will serve you and your kids well. Building campfires, caring for the environment, cooking, and first aid are just a few of the fundamental outdoor activities to be exercised while camping. Almost everything we learn from camping helps give us skills that can be used in dealing with disasters where the normal facilities and conveniences we enjoy and take for granted may be interrupted.

Lesson plans? For the most part, you don't need any formal lesson plans. Just be prepared to recognize and take advantage of the opportunities that present themselves. Some things, such as astronomy, may require a little advance work (unless you're already a skilled astronomer and already know the constellations and the movement of the planets) so you'll be prepared when you get the chance, but many lessons are taught most effectively by example: cleaning up around your camp site; stopping to help another rider out on the trail; lending your tools and expertise to assist fellow campers; properly maintaining your RV, OHV, and camping equipment -- good examples in these areas will have more impact than hundreds of hours of lecturing. If you don't already have good campfire building skills, you may be able to learn together with you kids. Shared learning is an excellent bonding experience and doesn't necessarily mean your kids will think any less of you because you don't "know it all". The very example you set by admitting and overcoming your own limitations will give your kids life lessons that will help them better deal with the problems they will face throughout their lives. As my kids' riding abilities grew roles switched to where they were teaching me new riding tricks.

Science. Camping provides opportunities to examine many different kinds of science. Campfires demonstrate the "fire triangle" (fuel, heat, oxygen) and are a chance to teach basic fire safety principals. Clear night skies are natural laboratories for astronomy. Every day presents opportunities to explore weather patterns. Exploring stream beds can illustrate the effects of erosion and sometimes reveals geologic features of interest and sometimes even fossils. Observing local plants and animals offer lessons in biology. Maintaining your RV, OHV, and camping equipment teaches mechanical and maintenance skills. Even more cerebral subjects such as mathematics have applications in calculating food, water, fuel, and travel requirements. Map-reading and navigation can be practiced. Even domestic sciences, such as cooking, sewing, and housekeeping also have their place in outdoor recreational activities.

You're ALWAYS teaching. Unless you live the life of a hermit, you are always teaching someone around you, whether they are your spouse, kids, neighbors, or strangers. Sometimes all we teach is what idiots we are ("no one is totally worthless: they can always serve as a horrible example"), but with a little thought as to what we're doing and an awareness that we're "always on", we can make our lessons positive ones -- for ourselves as well as for those around us. For generations, moms have taught their kids to set a good example. We would all do well to remember and follow that lesson.

Remember: example, example, example! "What you are speaks so loudly I can't hear what you're saying!"

Camping Checklists

Why use checklists? I've mentioned checklists here and there in lots of other posts. I find them useful enough to dedicate an entire post to them. To some folks checklists may be the domain of overly obsessive campers or the weakminded.  Some people may consider them unnecessary, but if you've ever arrived at camp and discovered you left some significant item at home, you'll appreciate their value. I have created one for my motorhome, one for my dirt bike trailer, and one for each of us for our personal riding gear. Each one evolved after arriving in camp hundreds of miles away from home and finding we had left something behind. Now, by running through each checklist BEFORE we leave home, we almost never find ourselves leaving anything critical at home. I am not going to give you specific checklists here. You need to develop your own, ones that will meet YOUR specific needs. However, if you're stuck and need a starting place, I will be happy to share mine. Just send me your email and I'll send you a copy of the my Excel spreadsheets. What I do may well be too detailed for you, but it may at least give you a place to start. My email is desertrat@desertrat.org.

Lest you think checklists are for sissies, consider that some of the most sophisticated professions -- air line pilots, surgeons, and astronauts -- all use them religiously.

RV Checklist. My RV checklist goes over routine safety checks like tires, belts and hoses, lights, fluids, brakes, fuel, and clean windows. Also making sure the antenna is down, the awnings are secured in travel position, and the step retracted. I also like to test all the interior lights and all the appliances, including TVs and other entertainment devices. My list also includes a verification of provisions -- edible, medical, tools, sundries,clothing, and recreational/entertainment items. Major kitchen utensils are also on the list as are sundries such as soap, shampoo, and shaving supplies. I have organized mine by "room" or area to save running around. It only takes a few minutes to run through the checklist and it has saved us from coming up short on things on more than one occasion. Checking off things like making sure antennas are down, awnings are secured, and the refrigerator door is latched prevent accidents and spills that quickly spoil a trip or cause expensive damage. You don't have to use my checklist. In fact, mine wouldn't probably be very helpful to you.  Make one of your own that meets your needs. For the first few trips it will be a work in progress as you figure out what else needs to be on it -- or what you thought you needed that you've since rejected. Once you have refined it it will be a very useful tool.

OHV Checklist. I use a separate checklist for each of our dirt bikes and the supplies in my dirt bike trailer. The list includes routine maintenance items and safety checks on each bike, fuel and (when appropriate) two-stroke oil, as well as making sure we have all the bikes (with 8 riders in the family, leaving one behind was a possibility). The list of tools and supplies can get quite complex so having a detailed checklist is important for making sure nothing is missing. It is also a good way to make sure you have replenished spare parts you may have used up on a previous trip. I keep things like goggle cleaning solutions and SC-1 detail spray in my dirt bike trailer for use as needed during an outing so those kinds of supplies are also on the checklist. Because fasteners tend to come loose and get lost on the trail, having an adequate supply of appropriate replacements is essential to keeping your rides rideable. Spare parts, like brake levers, master links, hand grips, spark plugs and and inner tubes are essential to keep things running without having to make trip to the nearest motorcycle shop, which, by the way, might be a considerable distance from camp.

Personal Riding Gear Checklist. It is really disappointing to get to camp and find out you've left some of your riding gear home -- or some of it is in need of repair before you can go riding. You shouldn't have to worry about the latter if you're performing your post-trip procedures properly because you will have already cleaned and repaired all your gear. However, the checklist is a good last-minute verification that all is well. I have a separate column for each member of the family and list each piece of riding gear. I encourage each rider to check his or her own gear. It not only saves me time, it helps instill a feeling of responsibility in the kids and helps them learn the value of doing routine cleaning and repairs in a timely manner. Then, if they come up missing something it is no one's fault but their own. I've seen desperate riders try to get by with flip-flops and duct tape when they left their boots at home and I never want to be one of them. Doesn't work very well, especially if you're kick-starting a big-bore bike!

Tent Camping Checklists. You don't have to be camping in an RV or riding OHVs to benefit from pre- and post- trip checklists. There are many pieces of equipment necessary for a comfortable and successful tent camping trip. You don't want to be setting up camp when you realize you didn't bring the tent stakes or tent poles or left your axe or mallet at home. Your checklist should include, at the very least, all the components of your tent, sleeping bags and pads, cots (if you choose to use them), stoves, utensils, pots and pans, tools, food, water, lighting (flashlights and lanterns) spare batteries, lantern and stove fuel, matches, paper towels and napkins, first aid kit, clothing, tools, and games and recreational equipment. Once again, you will find it useful to develop your personal list over a few trips until it fits your needs and eliminates the ordeal associated with having to "wing it".

Personal preparation. You may want to create a checklist for personal preparation. This may be most useful when you have small children or aging parents, but can be helpful for anyone. Personal preparation might include pre-trip hygiene, hydration, clothing, sundries, medications, and personal entertainment.

Checklists? Check 'em out!

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Recent/Ongoing Edits

I have said you can never get too much training. With that in mind, I follow my own advice and continually seek additional information. As I pick up new tips for camping, survival, RVing and OHVing relevant to exiting posts I update them. In April 2011 I invested many hours in going back over and editing previous posts and I do this every so often. Part of it is simply correcting typos and standardizing formats, but in many cases I add information, so, if you have time, you might want to peruse any old posts from time to time for topics that interest you. I may have added something and your experience may have changed so that you see things in a different light.  I have also made some changes to standardize the format as it has evolved over the past few months. In every post I've attempted to provide useful information in a format that is easy and fun to read. If you don't find what you're looking for, please feel free to comment or email me and I'll research and respond to your questions.  If I don't have personal experience related to your inquiry, I have a network of qualified experts I can draw on.

Editing is an ongoing process. I frequently review previous posts to check for typos and spelling and add content as I think of or come across additional relevant information.  So re-reading this blog from time to time may be useful for two reasons:  1) I may have added more content and 2) your experience may be different and you may pick up on things you didn't before.

I practice what I preach. Not only do I re-read my own blog and continue to update it, I frequently re-read trade publications and do additional research on the Internet.  I have Motorhome Magazines in a rack in the "library" going back several years and I periodically make a pass through all of them.  I subscribe to a number of Pinterest camping topics.  I am always on the lookout for new camping and RV gadgets. It drives my wife crazy when I take time to check out the camping section in EVERY store we go into, but I find it useful and enjoyable and I am often pleased when I find good bargains or unique items.

Never stop learning!