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.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Redecorating Your RV

Why would anyone want to redecorate an RV?  Well, if you simply can't stand the way it looks, you might want to make some changes.  You might also want to redecorate an older unit due to age, normal wear and tear, or deterioration.  Sometimes people just want to customize their environment to make it more comfortable and make it really theirs.

You may have choices of interior decor when purchasing a new RV. Your choices will be limited if you buy from in stock inventory but if you order your unit you usually have several interior options to choose from. On used units you're pretty much stuck with what it is there -- at least to start with. But if you do buy a previously owned unit you don't have to live with an undesirable decor forever. It is possible to redecorate an RV. You probably won't want to paint the outside of your RV, although that is sometimes an option. Full body paint can be very expensive.   Original interiors aren't usually painted, but painting the inside is certainly a possibility.   If the cabinetry is very dark and you don't like it, you may be able to paint it to lighten things up. Keep in mind that some cabinetry surfaces are synthetic and may require special preparation before they can be painted. Check with a professional painter or qualified RV technician before beginning if you have any doubts about the composition of the cabinet surfaces, how to prep them, or your ability to access the situation. The same applies to wall surfaces. Some wood paneled interiors are natural wood, some are synthetic. Natural wood surfaces can sometimes be stripped and refinished. Synthetics usually can not. With synthetics you'll probably have to settle for painting them or covering them with wall paper or Contact paper or paneling over them.

Major exterior upgrades can be expensive.  Repainting an RV or replacing all the faded graphics or doing a vehicle wrap are options, but they tend to be kind of pricey.  You may be able to change the color of highlight stripes on and RV or add some simple stock graphics to enhance the exterior appearance without too much expense.  I've repainted the stripes on trailers and truck campers and redone vinyls striping several times with good results.  Remember that proper preparation is absolutely essential to professional looking results whether you're repainting stripes or adding graphics.  Sometimes you can have custom graphics made to match faded originals.  I was able to some badly faded name stickers on a motorhome by taking a digital photo of a sticker in good condition and having a local sign shop make me a pair of new ones for my motorhome.  Be sure to take accurate measurements and give them to the sign shop so you get the right size.  I might be good to make the new ones just slightly larger than the old ones so they completely cover where the old ones were and don't leave a "shadow" of faded (or unfaded) paint around the new ones.

Bedrooms. One of the easiest places to upgrade the interior appearance of your RV is the bedroom. You can replace worn, faded, outdated bedspread and pillow shams at low lost and little effort. It doesn't require any special tools or special skills beyond making a bed and can make a big difference in how it looks. If you coordinate the new accessories with existing curtains and valances its as easy as changing the sheets and bedspread and making the bed. For a more complete update, replace the curtains or blinds and valances to match the new bedspread.  While you're at it, it might be a good time to upgrade the bedspread to a heavier comforter if you have had any trouble staying warm at night.

Upgrading the faucets in the kitchen and/or bathroom is another fairly inexpensive and easy way to modernize an older RV.  Replacing a standard kitchen faucet with a high rise bar type faucet adds flexibility for filling hydration packs, canteens etc as well as makes it easier to wash and rinse large pots and pans.  A new, more modern faucet is highly visible and adds a touch of elegance.  This update is particularly appealing if the old faucet is leaking or has gotten clogged with hard water deposits.  Replacing sink faucets is usually within the capabilities of the average do-it-yourselfer but if you aren't comfortable doing it yourself, have it done by a qualified RV technician or a plumber.  Many shower faucets can only be replaced from behind the shower enclosure and, unless you know how to get back there, you will either have to have it done by a professional who does or cut a hole in the shower enclosure to reach them (then you have to figure out how to repair the hole you made).

Another fairly easy upgrade to add functionality as well as modernize the appearance, is to add a tile backsplash to the kitchen or bathroom sink.  You will need to measure the area and purchase enough tile, adhesive, and grout to do the job.  Be sure to clean the old wall surface well so the adhesive will stick and make sure to line up the pieces of tile so they are straight.

Wall paper. Most RVs have a lot of natural wood finished paneling. It is easy to clean and compatible with most upholstery and flooring choices as well as having a rich and durable appearance. Some have one or more wall papered surfaces. These are the most common candidates for updating as they become faded, soiled, torn, or the design simply doesn't appeal to the owner. Old wall paper may be stripped or you may have to prepare the surface and apply new wall paper over the old. Check with a paint or hardware store to select appropriate tools and solvents to remove old wallpaper and a proper adhesive for use in your RV.  A solution of a cap full of liquid fabric softener in about a quart of water is often an effective way to soften wallpaper so it can be removed more easily. RVs are subjected to environmental extremes beyond normal residential limits. At the very least, use a wallpaper paste made for use in bathrooms throughout your RV. It is more resistant to the changes in humidity and temperature that may occur in your RV. If you must install new wallpaper over old, check for any special preparation that may be necessary to ensure a smooth and durable installation and make sure the adhesive you use is compatible with the old surface.  Self adhesive products like Contact paper come a variety of patterns and can sometimes be used to resurface damaged paneling.  Since Contact paper usually has a plastic coating it is particularly good for use where the surface is exposed to water, such as on the walls around the bathroom sink.  Of course, for a really professional repair of these areas, you could apply FRP (fiber reinforced plastic) panels over or in place of  damaged walls.  FRP is highly resistant to moisture.  It is often used in commercial bathrooms and kitchens where the walls have to be water resistant and scrubable.  FRP is available in home centers and is usually white or off white.  It has a kind of pebble surface.  There are a number of moldings available to join sheets or finish the edges for a very professional looking installation.

Wallpaper borders are an easy and fairly inexpensive way to add highlights to your RV. They are available in a variety of patterns to match just about any decor, taste, or hobby. My truck camper came with a fishing motif  all around the cab over bed and I opted to replace it with a motocross pattern that matches our OHV activities better. Borders can be used to highlight any wall, not just wallpapered walls. In my camper they cover the valance over the tops of the windows surrounding the cab-over bed. Everything else is natural wood paneling. Wallpaper borders are typically installed at the top of the wall, just below the ceiling but are also sometimes used as a highlight at other heights. You probably don't want to use them where there will be high impact, like where the back of a chair hits the wall. Better to install an attractive wooden "chair rail" in places like that.

Upholstery. RV upholstery is generally pretty durable and will last for many years. Areas exposed to a lot of sunlight are likely to become faded or sun-rotted. Other places it usually becomes outdated long before it wears out. So you may want to change the upholstery even if it isn't damaged. Unless you have the experience and heavy-duty sewing machine needed, this is a job best left to professionals. Updating upholstery can greatly improve the appearance and sometimes the comfort of your RV seating.  If seating surfaces have broken down, it is a good time to replace the damaged foam and/or padding when you change the upholstery.   It will be more enjoyable for you to use and can boost resale/trade-in value. You may be able to achieve temporary updates using throw-covers and accessory cushions or pillows. If you reupholster your RV choose a sturdy, Scotchguard protected fabric or spray the new upholstery with Scotchguard before using the RV. Sometimes you can purchase replacement cushions (new or used) to fit your existing dinette and/or sofa.  The chances of finding an exact match are probably slim, but you may be able to find something that complements the existing decor.  Replacing cushions can solve problems of sagging and breakdown as well as improving appearance.

Slip covers and/or seat covers aren't usually used in RVs but it might be a quick, inexpensive, and easy way to overcome worn seating.  You can probably buy ready made seat covers for the driver's and passenger seats in a motorhome.  If you aren't comfortable with your skill to install them, have it done at an upholstery shop for best results.  If you do it yourself, take plenty of time and make sure you align the seams properly and pull the covers tight before securing them in place with hog rings.  Some temporary seat covers are secured with elastic straps and you should be able to do those without professional help.  You may have to make, alter, or have made custom slip covers for other furniture.  Because of the movement and frequent breezes in an RV, slip covers may not stay in place unless they are well secure with velcro or elastic straps.  For a quick an easy cover up for a worn sofa, drape a colorful blanket like an Indian blanket or a serapi over it.

Vinyl surfaces. Many RVs, especially motorhomes, have large vinyl covered areas, including dashboards, side panels, and seats. If they are faded and need to be refreshed or you just want to change color, you may be able to use special vinyl spray paint available in auto parts stores. You will need to clean and prepare the surface according to the requirements of the product you will be using. Be sure to open the windows to make sure you have adequate ventilation since the fumes from solvents and paint can be toxic. Mask off any areas you aren't coloring to prevent over spray from settling on them. You may be able to restore luster and shine to moderately faded surfaces using a detail spray like SC-1.  I have found the silicone based SC-1 to be more satisfactory than water-based automotive products like Armorall, but Armorall is still a good option.

Flooring. Floors can take a real beating and may become worn or discolored faster than any other part of the interior. Sometimes, if the flooring is not badly damaged, the appearance can be revived by a good detailing--stripping and re-waxing hard surfaces and shampooing carpets. You may be even able to dye faded carpets or if you just want to change the color or disguise stained or faded areas. If none of those solutions work or appeal to you, replacing RV flooring is not a terribly difficult task. Remove the old flooring. You may have to cut it where it goes under cabinets (many times the cabinets are installed on top of the original flooring). Inspect the sub-floor for damage or weak spots. You will want to repair any damage before installing your new floor covering. Any areas that have had water damage should definitely be replaced. You may have to cut the sub-floor to remove the damaged portion. Try to make the cuts over or near structural members (look for nail or screw lines or tap on the floor to find the joists). You will need to be able to secure the new piece of sub-floor to the joists. While you have the floor covering removed, check for squeaks or movement. These can often be corrected by adding screws into the joists. I prefer "Grabber" type screws like those used for drywall. I'd start with 1 1/4" screws to avoid over-penetration that might damage plumbing or wiring that runs beneath the sub-frame. You may want to change the type of flooring in some parts of your RV. Many older units are carpeted everywhere, but it might be useful to switch to vinyl or tile flooring in the galley and/or bathroom areas and retain the carpet in the bedroom. Updating the flooring will give new life to your RVs interior, adding both visual appeal and durability. A new, hard-surface in the galley area may make it easier to keep it clean. In some cases you may be able to apply new flooring over old, but in doing so you lose the opportunity to check for and repair any underlying damage and defects in the old surface may soon show through the replacement. You may be able to put new vinyl or tile or even carpet over old vinyl, or tile surfaces. If you want to change from carpet to vinyl or tile you MUST remove the old carpet. You will almost always have better results if you remove the old flooring first. If you remove the old floor covering carefully, in one piece, it might serve as a pattern for the new material.

Window treatments. Window treatments vary from unit to unit. Some have curtains or drapes, some have mini-blinds, some have roller shades, some have day/night shades. Some have a combination, even on the same windows. Over time any window covering is going to succumb to the ravages of sunlight and need to be replaced. In some ways, window coverings are designed to be sacrificial, taking the brunt of sunlight and saving more expensive components such as upholstery and carpets. Many RVs have upholstered valances that you may want to update along with other interior changes. Replacing faded, ragged, or non-functional window treatments can greatly improve the appearance, functionality, and comfort of your RV. Most updates are well within the capabilities of do-it-yourselfers. If you have basic tools and fundamental carpentry skills, you should be able to replace curtains, drapes, blinds, and shades and re-cover valances. Many times your upgrades (depending on what you choose) will provide better light control and increase insulation to make it easier to maintain desired temperatures inside your RV and reduce ambient light for sleeping in and improved afternoon naps.

For a novel wall treatment that is functional as well as decorative, consider carpet or tapestry. Carpeting all or part of a wall will add insulation and sound deadening qualities as well as covering up damage and improving the looks. Carpet is especially helpful where there might be things that swing against the wall. I used indoor-outdoor carpeting on the wall where I hang my tie downs in my motorcycle trailer so the hooks don't leave nasty rub marks on the painted wall. Use tapestries or Persian rugs for a more colorful, elegant, and decorative touch in your RV.  Carpeted walls might be especially useful in the bedroom to both improve insulating qualities and control sound.  You may even be able to glue a favorite fabric over paneling or existing wallpaper for a truly unique look.  Fake brick is another fairly easy way to upgrade a wall.  It is light weight, thin (usually about 1/2" or less), and easy to install.  I can be used as a highlight or to cover up unsightly repairs just about anywhere you like or, use it in place of ceramic or glass tile splash guards in the kitchen and bathroom.  One place it might be particularly attractive would be around an electric fireplace.

Lighting. Another fairly easy and relatively inexpensive upgrade that pays great dividends in usability and appearance is to upgrade lighting fixtures. As fixtures age, the plastic lenses become discolored, unsightly, and restrict light. Often you can just replace the lenses, making the fixtures look better and provide better light. Some older fixtures had opaque lenses that created a yellowish light. New replacement lenses are sometimes available in clear plastic the greatly increases the brightness as well as improving the appearance. If you choose to update the entire fixture, it isn't a particularly difficult task. Carefully remove the old fixture, noting the wiring connections. Clean the area around and behind it. Then install the new fixture, making sure you attach the wiring correctly. The 12 volt DC systems in RV usually have black wires for ground and red for the hot lead. Fixtures often have black ground and white hot leads. If you have any doubt about the fixture, trace the wires. The hot lead will go to the base of bulb, the ground will go to the socket. To verify the supply wiring you will need a test light connected to a known ground. When you touch the probe of the test light to the hot wire, the light will light up. Touching the ground will not cause the light to glow. Incandescent fixtures will still work even if they are wired backwards, but they may create a fire hazard, so check your wires carefully. Florescent or LED fixtures may not light up if wired backwards. When installing new fixtures, pay attention to any special warnings about clearances. Some fixtures generate more heat than others so a new fixture may be dangerous in the same place an old one was safe. Your choice of lighting fixtures will depend on your personal taste and your need for illumination. Adjustable "aircraft style" lights are popular additions where you need direct illumination for reading etc. Other lights may be purely decorative or cosmetic. I have a small fixture we've moved from RV to RV for years and years. It is about 4-5" square. It has white lights on each of two sides and deep blue lens on the main part of the fixture. The blue light is a nice night light for just relaxing or providing enough illumination to safely negotiate your way to the bathroom in the middle of the night without waking your companions. Rope lights are sometimes used to provide soft illumination near the floor or to create high lights on the ceiling or around cabinets. I try to avoid any fixture that sticks out very far from the wall or ceiling. Some look very nice, but given the restricted space inside most RVs, they tend to get bumped into a lot resulting in either damage to the fixture or the body parts that come in contact with it. LED conversions and fixtures are still relatively expensive, but not only will you enjoy aesthetic gains, you will conserve battery power and LED bulbs last a lot longer than regular bulbs.

Appliances. Upgrading appliances tends to be a little pricey, but if they are not functioning, are badly damaged, or are REALLY UGLY, you may want to go that route. Sometimes you can change the cover on the door of RV refrigerators to replace damaged or stained surfaces to simply update the look. If you can't replace it, you might try covering it with Contact paper for at least a temporary improvement. Replacing an RV range/oven or cook top can greatly improve the appearance of and modernize the galley.  By dad stripped the synthetic damaged surface off a refrigerator door panel and refinished the underlying wood paneling with clear polyurethane.  It looked great!   If your appliances are working OK, you might repaint them to give them new life and improve their appearance. Be sure to use appliance paint, not ordinary general purpose spray paint. Water heaters and furnaces are usually out of sight and would only need replacement if they have failed and cannot reasonably be repaired or if you need/want to increase efficiency or capacity. Completely replacing appliances is expensive and often requires professional installation. You sure don't want any loose gas connections on stoves, furnaces, hot water heaters, or refrigerators! One way to save money on appliance is to locate some good used ones. I have had very good luck buying both furnaces and roof air conditioners from a local self-service junk yard. The prices were very good and the appliances worked very well. Like any other purchase of used equipment, inspect it carefully before concluding the sale. The seller plugged in the a/c unit for me to test it before I bought it.  I couldn't test the furnace, but since it was only $25 I was willing to chance it, and it paid off.  It worked perfectly.  You may be able to change the look and/or color or cover stained or damage surfaces of an RV range using appliance paint. Be sure to follow the manufacturer's instructions carefully for best results.  If you have stainless steel appliances they can usually be cleaned with stainless steel polish or carefully polished with 0000 steel wool to clean and renew the appearance.  These days you can replace the standard 6 or 10 gallon tank style water heaters with on demand units so you'll never run out of hot water -- as long as you don't run out of water!  While some of these are designed to fit right into the same space as the original water heater, they are something 3-4 times as expensive, but it is a nice option to consider if you have the budget for it.

Mattresses/bedding. The original equipment mattresses that come in most RVs are usually NOT top-of-the-line. And in many cases, they are a custom size that is difficult to replace. If the mattress is structurally sound and not contaminated with odors, insects, or other pollutants, you may be able to have it re-covered or just fit it with a fitted mattress cover. Custom replacements can also be purchased. Today there are many good upgrades for RV mattresses to improve your sleeping comfort, including memory-foam mattresses and even "Sleep Number" beds. Replacing the comforter and shams will update the appearance of your bedroom quickly, easily, and fairly inexpensively.  If the mattress has begun to break down you may extend its useful life with a mattress pad or mattress topper without the expense of replacing the mattress.  I used a 4"memory foam mattress topper to augment a thin foam mattress in one of our RVs and it was very comfortable.

Rugs. An inexpensive way to deal with damaged or discolored floors is to add throw rugs. This is also a good way to prevent damage to permanent floors. These sometimes come in sets that include a long runner for the main aisle and mats for the entry and galley. Sets designed for RVs usually have non-slip backings that make them safer than their ordinary residential counterparts. If you find residential rugs you would like to use in your RV and they don't have non-slip backings, you use add-on non-slip pads to secure them in your RV. If your RV has vinyl or tile floors, rugs can add comfort on cold nights and help reduce heat loss through the floor. A thick fluffy bath mat is nice addition to almost any RV bathroom, regardless of what kind of flooring it has. It is a lot easier to remove for cleaning than permanently installed carpet!

Pictures/posters, etc. Most RVs have little wall space for pictures or posters, but if you do have blank wall space, there is no reason you can't add favorite pictures, photos, posters, or wall-hangings. Just make sure they are securely fastened to the wall. You will need extra screws or double-sticky tape or some florist's clay to prevent them from swinging around or falling off when the vehicle is in motion. If they are allowed to swing they will make ugly scars on the wall around them and could fall off and get broken or become dangerous projectiles during a fast stop or collision.

Potted plants and vases. I have seen potted plants and beautiful flower arrangements in RVs at RV shows and magazine ads. I've even seen them accent the patio area under the awning with potted trees. All these items add a nice, beautiful and homey touch for the display models, but I don't think they are very practical for use in any vehicle that spends any time at all on the road. If you happen to like that kind of decor, be sure you can secure all items safely during travel and only display them while you are camped. Consider whether you have room to carry them while traveling and whether they will be safe where they will neither get damaged or cause damage to you or your RV on the road. Personally, I prefer to allocate the weight to more useful items, but do what makes you (and your co-pilot) happy.

Accessories. There are many accessories that can add to the comfort and convenience of your RV. Oscillating fans are fairly inexpensive and easy to install. RV fans run on 12 DC power and can be plugged in to cigarette lighter style power receptacles or permanently wired. A more luxurious (and expensive) update is a built-in food processor. These consist of a motor base or "power center" permanently mounted in an RV counter top and a set of attachments. Common attachments include blenders, mixers, ice crushers, can openers, and knife sharpeners. These appliances can provide substantial residential-style kitchen functionality without taking up a lot of room. Be sure to check out the handheld kitchen gadgets and appliances at your favorite RV or department store. You will find handy holders for napkins, paper towels, paper plates, paper cups, plastic bags, silverware, etc. A handy gadget that is inexpensive and easy to install is a trash bag holder that is made to use common grocery bags for trash bags. They can be attached just about anywhere, including on the inside of a cabinet door if there is space in the cabinet. They usually fold flat when not in use. Favorite bathroom accessories include a combination toothbrush/paper cup holder with a hinged lid that keeps dust out of the paper cups and off your tooth brushes. A hand-held mixer weighs less and takes up a lot less room than a full size mixer but is usually adequate for camp cooking.  Some RVs are equipped with a built in Nutone blender that has a variety of useful attachments.  It may be possible, though a bit pricey, to add one if you don't have one.  Be sure you have either an available outlet or a way of installing one to plug it into and enough counter space to mount the motor base -- and someplace to store the many attachments!

Form versus function. There is an old architectural adage that "form follows function". Generally that is true, but when it comes to decorating, we often choose things for their form more than their function. That is perfectly acceptable in a house on a fixed foundation where you don't have to be overly concerned about weight or the house moving (except in an earthquake!). When choosing items for your RV, it is wise to consider function and avoid packing around a lot of extra weight just for something to look at. Aunt Martha's beautiful gilded antique mirror may look good on blank wall of your RV and may even be somewhat useful, but there is probably something more useful you could bring along with the same or less weight. I strongly suggest you avoid purely decorative items and focus on things that will make your life on the road easier or more comfortable. Of course, if your spouse insists on bringing Aunt Martha's mirror (or any other purely decorative item), the peace of mind and investment in the relationship will be well worth the extra weight. Make sure it is securely mounted.

More extensive renovations may be dictated by individual circumstances. If for example, you have had a fire or your RV has been involved in an accident, you may have to remove and replace damaged sections. You may also choose to make major changes to improve living space or add features. Some of the easiest and least expensive of the major mods involve replacing the furniture in the main living space. If you want to open up the living area but don't need the extra sleeping capacity of a sofa bed you can replace the sofa with individual chairs. Conversely, if you need more sleeping capacity you might be able to replace the lounge chairs and table with another sofa bed. Be sure to take careful measurements before embarking on any project that involves swapping major furniture or appliance components. You don't want to buy something only to find won't fit or you can't get through the door when you get it home.

Looking good!

Monday, May 30, 2011

RV Entertainment Systems

Today's technology offers many electronic entertainment options for RVs and campers, ranging from portable radios and TVs you can use on your picnic table to complete home theater entertainment systems in RVs. Portable TVs can be used by just about any camper if you have power to operate them. Power could come from campground utilities, portable generators, or invertors and battery packs. A portable TV may be used to receive over-the-air broadcasts or display VHS and DVD movies. Some portable systems are even adaptable to tent camping. My son's new minivan has a built-in inverter and AC outlets that could power small 120 volt appliances in camp but it is necessary to keep an eye on the battery charge level.  Same with some of the pickup trucks equipped with 120 volt outlets to charge cordless tools.  Of course, battery powered radios and "boom boxes" can be used anywhere and I've even seen small battery powered TVs.   With access to campground WiFi or your own cell phone "hotspot", your laptop or tablet becomes a portable movie/TV system.

Permanently mounted systems in motorhomes and travel trailers are only limited by the owner's preferences and budget -- and available space to install them. Portable and permanent satellite systems are available, including automatic systems that can be used when the vehicle is in motion. Some luxury motorhomes have large LCD or Plasma TVs with VHS, DVD, BluRay players, video game systems, and elaborate Surround-sound systems just like a home theater. TVs and other electronic equipment can be added to just about any RV if you have some cabinet space you can sacrifice for the installation and an appropriate source of power. Many RV entertainment systems are just adapted residential systems and require 120-volt AC power but there are TVs, DVD and VHS players and receivers designed to run on 12 volts DC. If you need to run residential style units but don't have a generator, you may be able to use an inverter to convert 12-volt DC to 120-volt AC power -- IF you have a large enough battery bank.  Today's flat screen TVs take up a lot less space, aren't nearly ahs heavy, can be mounted in more places, and use a lot less energy than yesterday's old CRT models.  We recently picked up a pair of flat screens with built-in DVD players, paying only about $175 for the two of them!  The light weight means they can be mounted on thin RV walls that would have never supported a heavy CRT.  Since they only stick out a few inches they don't intrude so much into the usually very limited living space in an RV.  And the lower power requirements mean you will be less likely to run down your batteries if you power them using an inverter.  There are components especially designed for RV use.  They will usually have 12 volt DC power but often have dual power options.  They may offer a few other advantages over adapting residential equipment, such as reduced size or weight and specially "hardened" electronics to make them less vulnerable to the vibration and shock found in vehicles.

Wall-mount radio systems. In recent years there have been a number of wall-mount entertainment systems designed specifically for use in RVs and travel trailers. They are shallow so they can be mounted in a thin RV wall and usually include an AM/FM stereo receiver. Older units had a cassette player while more modern versions have a CD player. The older cassette style units can often be acquired at bargain prices on ebay and other web sites. Some of the newer and more expensive models even have DVD players but you'll need a conveniently placed monitor to view them. Of course you can use an under-dash automotive radio under or in an RV cabinet, but usually it is easier to find a more convenient place for a wall mount. These are fairly inexpensive ways to add basic entertainment systems to campers and older trailers. I even have one in my enclosed motorcycle trailer for weather updates and some music while doing routine maintenance and repairs.

Mobile versus residential technology. In many cases you can adapt ordinary residential equipment for use in an RV. However, residential units are not typically designed to endure the rigors of travel. You are better off if you can purchase units designed and "hardened" for mobile use. When mounting electronic equipment in an RV you have two diametrically opposed needs: secure mounting and isolation from vibration. Most residential units are designed to sit on a shelf so you'll have to engineer a way to secure them for RV travel. To further protect sensitive electronics from vibration, use rubber "isolation" mounts if you can. You need to anchor your equipment so it doesn't bounce around during transit yet so it is isolated from road vibration. Speaker systems need to be isolated so they don't transfer vibrations to the surrounding cabinetry which can distort the sound.

The speaker systems standard in many RVs tend to come from the low end. If you value rich sound from your CDs and movies you may want to upgrade your speakers. The easiest solution is to replace existing speakers with high quality units of the same size and shape. Alternatively you may be able to enlarge the existing space or install larger speakers or additional speakers in, on, or under cabinets. Since you're in a fairly small enclosed space you won't need a lot of sound to produce satisfactory performance.  A fairly inexpensive and easy solution is a "sound bar".  You won't get full home theater sound but you should see a significant improvement over what comes out of the tiny little TV speaker and all you have to do is plug them in and find a place to set them.  Some are designed to fit specific TV models.

Advanced sound systems. There are advanced sound systems on the market that have microphones that sense speaker performance and adjust output dynamically to maximize listening enjoyment. Given that RVs are not designed with acoustical superiority in mind, these systems can at least partially compensate for physical limitations. These systems are not cheap, but may be worth the investment if you value high quality sound and spend enough time using your RV entertainment system to justify the cost. Clearly, if you can't hear any difference, there is no point paying big bucks for a fancy sound system.

Outside Entertainment Systems are becoming more popular. It makes sense, because we spend so much of our camping time outside. They may range from a simple radio/casette/CD player mounted in an outside cabinet under the patio awning to complete home theater systems with flat panel TVs that swing out from outside cabinets. Of course, an old-fashioned "boom box" works too. Weatherproof speakers mounted in the outside wall provide audio, but due to the nature of their construction to resist the elements, the way they must be mounted, and the near total lack of acoustic control in the outdoors, the sound quality won't match interior systems. Even so, they can provide hours and hours of highly enjoyable entertainment. One note of caution: be considerate of your fellow campers when using outside entertainment systems. Your neighbors may not share your appreciation of bone-rattling bass or screeching heavy metal music. NEVER play at high volume during "quiet hours" and be mindful of the impact on nearby folks at all times. If your RV didn't come with an outside entertainment system you may be able to install one yourself in an available cabinet space. Since there won't be built-in compartments for the speakers you may have to use external box speakers that attach to the side of your RV. For safety you may want to use removable speakers so they don't get snagged by trees or signposts when you are driving -- or appropriated by thieves! And weather eventually takes its toll on even outdoor rated speakers.

Generator power for electronic equipment. RV generators usually supply appropriate power for electronic equipment, but they must be tuned to operate at the right speed to produce correct 60-cycle AC current. AC stands for Alternating Current. The positive and negative legs of the circuit switch or alternate 60 times a second. If you find that electric clocks run too fast or too slow when powered from your generator, the speed is off and needs to be adjusted. There are frequency meters you can buy that plug into an outlet and let you monitor the frequency, but they are a little pricey.  An incorrect frequency can seriously affect the performance or even damage sensitive electronic equipment. If you have any doubts about your generator's performance, have it checked and adjusted by an electrician or a qualified RV technician.

Battery and inverter power. Inverters are used to convert DC power from 12 volt batteries to 120 Volt AC to operate appliances and electronic equipment. Be sure you have sufficient battery capacity to furnish the power you need. Some electronic equipment requires clean, sine-wave AC power. Some cheaper inverters create a "modified sine wave" which is adequate for some appliances but will not usually work well with sensitive electronic equipment. What you really want is a an inverter with "true sine wave" technology.  Of course, such units are going to cost more.  You will need sufficient battery power to be able to use your inverter. You need to calculate the power needs of all the equipment (both your entertainment systems and other RV systems such as your furnace, light, and water pump) and ensure you have enough batteries to provide power for the length of time you expect to be using the inverter. When making your caclulations find out the overhead of the inverter and include its power usage in your requirements.  Unless you have a solar charging system you will need to run the vehicle engine or the generator periodically (or plug into shore power) to recharge the batteries.  Unless you need the generator for something else, like running the A/C, it is probably more efficient to charge the batteries using the vehicle alternator by running the vehicle engine.  Inverters are good for powering small 120 Volt appliances for a short time during quiet hours when you can't run the generator. Some of the big luxury motorhomes today use inverters (and huge battery banks) to power residential refrigerators and other high power appliances.

Trouble shooting. The more sophisticated your entertainment system is, the more there is to go wrong with it. Yet many of the most common problems are simple to diagnose and repair. Given the normal vibration and "tweaking" of RVs, loose connections are a prime source of poor performance. If you start having problems with sound quality or your system doesn't turn on, check all the connections before you call in a repairman. Of course, it it doesn't turn on, check to make sure you have power to the unit. Check the fuse(s) and make sure both the hot and ground wire connections are secure. Problems with sound on one side may indicate faulty wiring or a blown speaker, but make sure to check the balance control first to make sure it isn't just mis-adjusted. If you have access to the speaker wiring you can test for bad speakers or speaker wiring by switching the wires. Connect the wires for the good channel to the bad side speaker and the wires for the bad channel to the good side speaker.. If you still have poor sound on the same side, the problem is the speaker or the wiring to that speaker. If the problem moves to the other speaker, you have a problem inside the amplifier and that will probably require professional diagnosis and repair. Most components of today's entertainment systems are not designed to be repaired by the consumer in the field. Even the pros often have to remove them and take them back to the shop where they have proper diagnostic equipment to troubleshoot the problem.  Many electronic devices are designed to be disposable and to be replaced rather than repaired these days.  The main lesson here is to check all the connections before you fork out $$$ for professional help or new equipment. Loose connections can be easily fixed and are a very common cause of failures in mobile entertainment systems.

RV entertainment systems can provide many hours of pleasure and supply what is sometimes much-needed distraction in bad weather where our intended outdoor activities are thwarted by Mother Nature. Entertainment systems in motorhomes and tow vehicles can significantly reduce the incessant chorus of "are we there yet" that is inevitable when traveling with small children, or anyone with a similar mentality and attitude.  I envy the "back of seat" DVD players my kids use to entertain their kids on trips.  We had to improvise with lots of verbal games on the road.  With movies to watch, "Are we there yet?" might change to "Are we there already?".

Specialized radios that may be useful in an RV include two-way radios and weather radios. A weather radio is a radio with special channels that received NOAA weather broadcasts. Many have built in alarms that respond to severe weather alerts. Two-way radios can be useful in communicating between vehicles caravaning to or from a camp site, assisting a driver and spotter in backing a vehicle into a tight spot, or talking with companions who are out hiking or riding. Hand held "walkie talkies", including FRS (Family Radio Service) and GMRS (General Mobile Radio Service) radios, are among the most convenient for use around camp. FRS radios do not require a license. GMRS radios operated on GRMS frequencies require an FCC license, which costs $85.00! Channels 2-14 on most GRMS radios operat at FRS frequencies and require no license -- but they only operate at 1/2 watt and have limited range. The other channels on 22 channel GMRS radios typically operate at 1-5 watts but you need the GMRS license to use them. Special helmet-mounted units are really nice if you're out on an OHV, personal watercraft, or horse. A permanently installed CB (Citizens Band) radio is handy for talking with other drivers on the highway. Commercial truckers often use CB radios and you can learn a lot about traffic and road conditions just by listening to their chatter. When CBs first came out they required an FCC license but they no longer do.  You might even get some tips about the best diners to stop at -- and which ones to avoid. For more sophisticated two-way communications consider ham radios. These definitely require an FCC license but they have much greater range. Participation in a ham radio club may give you access to "repeaters" -- special unmanned stations that relay your signal -- for even greater coverage.

With so many Internet and computer options available these days, you may want to include a way to connect your laptop, tablet, or smart phone to your RV entertainment system

VHS tapes and DVDs can provide many hours of entertainment in camp if you have the equipment to play them. You will need to find a safe place to store them during travel. VHS tapes need to be kept away from sources of electromagnetic radiation. Do not store them near any 120-volt motor, your inverter or converter, or even electronic equipment such as TVs and movie players. DVDs aren't magnetic so they won't be affected by electricity but you do want them store away from heat, moisture, and dust. A tightly sealed plastic container, such as Tupperware, is a convenient way to organize movies and protect them from dust and moisture.  Online systems like Roku and expand your entertainment options if you have internet access.  You may be able to use a Wifi "Hot Spot" on your cell phone to power your Roku if you aren't in a campground with Wifi.

Analog versus digital TV signals.   The older, CRT style TVs in many older RVs may need to upgraded in order to receive current digital over-the-air signals.  This would require an analog-to-digital converter and switching the TV antenna to one designed for digital reception.  The older TVs should still be perfectly fine playing video tapes and DVDs.  Converting from an old CRT style to a modern LCD or Smart TV is always an option.  New TVs are surprisingly affordable.  You can often install a much larger flat screen TV in your RV, improving the picture quality and reducing weight.  Flat screen TVs will have a much different footprint and installation requirements than the old CRT models so you may have to modify the cabinets to get a professional looking conversion.  Flat screen TVs can often be wall mounted whereas older CRT based units needed deep cabinet spaces.  Installing a flat screen TV might even give you some additional storage or room for additional equipment like DVDs and audio systems.

For a movie-theater experience in camp, don't forget the popcorn! If you have an RV with electronic entertainment systems it probably has microwave oven so you can have popcorn ready in minutes. Lacking a microwave, Jiffy-pop is an easy way to do popcorn over a campfire or your RV or camp stove. For a more nostalgic approach, get a metal campfire popcorn cooker and popping the corn over the campfire may be almost as entertaining as the movie!  Actually, in some cases it might be a lot more entertaining!  For many of us, the candy counter at the movie theater is almost as important as the movie that's playing.  You can purchase many popular "theater sized" candies at places like Walmart and at the convenience stores at travel centers and truck stops to help make your experience even more fun.  Those of us from the Saturday matinee generation can find nostalgic candies online at places like OldTimeCandy.com and even at Amazon.com

Th-th-th-that's all folks!

Friday, May 27, 2011

Some Cool RV/Camping Links

You may notice a couple of new links at the top of the home page -- right below the SEARCH box. These were originally mostly links to Good Sam club pages but limitations of the page layout have pushed some of them  off the page.  Here are some of the "missing links" followed by some additional links  you may find helpful:

  "Discount Camping" " takes you to the Good Sam Club home page where you can learn about the benefits of joining the world's largest and oldest RV association. 

"RV Travel" takes you directly to a sign-up page and a discounted Good Sam Club membership offer. Good Sam is the largest recreational vehicle club in the world and one of the oldest. They enjoy an excellent reputation for providing services and information for RV owners. Good Sam members can contact "Sambassadors" in almost any region to obtain information on local attractions, traffic, and road conditions. In many cases they provide volunteer assistance to stranded travelers. The informative monthly magazine, Highways and the web site alone are worth the modest annual dues, to say nothing of the excellent discounts offered by many campgrounds and camping supply stores. Good Sam has many local chapters. Some focus on charitable causes, such as Dogs for the Deaf. Many focus on specific niches of campers: singles, retirees, pet owners, etc. You many find a nearby group that fits your lifestyle and needs.

Good Sam membership now includes membership in Camping World's President's Club, which gives you a 10% discount on all Camping World merchandise.

The Utah Trail Machine Association is the oldest and largest dirt bike club in Utah. Check out their web site www.utma.net for a good example of the benefits of joining an OHV club.

Desertrat.org is the web site for my old southern California riding group.  The Desert Rats are an unofficial group of family-oriented, recreational OHV riders.  Most are dirt bikers, but the group has been known to include ATVs, side-by-sides, dune buggies, Jeeps, and 4WD trucks.   They head out to selected staging areas in the Mojave Desert just about every holiday weekend.  There are no dues, no meetings, and no fees.  Just good clean fun.  This web site a good example of what you might create for your own group of recreationalists and the kind of thing that you might find that others have created for activities that interest you.

Everything About Rving is wonderful site for RVers.  Like this blog it is filled with useful information and they offer a free Ask An RV Question Page that makes it really easy to get answers to your questions.

Free Campsites its a web site that helps your find free campsites all over the United States.  You can search by location or use their map to find free camp grounds near you.

Check out these good links!

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Bath and Shower Options While Camping

Getting dirty is a part of camping. Whether you are back packing, roughing it in a makeshift tent or enjoying the conveniences of the most luxurious motorhome, your outdoor activities will subject you to dust and dirt and sweat and eventually you'll look forward to a bath or shower. And it is more than just a personal luxury. It can be essential to your health and comfort, especially if you are stranded in the wilderness. It is also critical to ensure you are pleasant to be around!  How, when, and where you bathe will depend on your situation and the facilities available to you. If you are staying in a commercial campground they will probably have public showers available for your use. Some people are reluctant to use them due to modesty concerns or fear of exposure to germs. Both of these issues can be overcome. If your concern is modesty, monitor the shower usage by other campers and choose a time when usage is low. In most cases there will be individual dressing areas and shower stalls that usually provide adequate privacy. Usually they are NOT like the old community shower rooms in junior high school but will have individual stalls! As for germs, wear shower shoes or "flipflops" to avoid walking on possibly contaminated floors and avoiding pain from hot sidewalks and gravel pathways getting there and back. Portable wooden shower platforms can keep your feet off any shower floor you find suspicious.  They can also usually double as carrying case to transport your shower supplies back and forth between your camp site and the showers.  If you're really worried about contamination, wash your feet again when you get back to your tent or RV or wipe them with hand sanitizer or wet wipes.

Of course, if you're in a fully-equipped, self-contained RV, you have your own shower and don't have to worry about exposure -- visually or microbe-ally. You just need to make sure you have sufficient hot water. RV water heaters are small compared to residential units. That means you'll run out of hot water much faster. To avoid running out, limit how long you run you shower before you get in, running it just enough for the water to get warm. Then shut it off while you're soaping, scrubbing, and shampooing and turn it on again to rinse. This technique, sometimes known as a "Navy shower", will conserve hot water, reduce consumption of fresh water when dry camping, and minimize filling of holding tanks. A shutoff on the shower head makes it more convenient to conserve water and avoids dousing yourself with hot or cold spurts while you readjust the temperature if you have to turn off the main faucets.  Don't try to do too many showers one after the other. You'll quickly run out of hot water -- unless your RV is equipped with an "instant", on demand hot water heater. One way to make sure you don't run out of hot water when you're staying in a campground with showers is to take advantage of the camp showers and save your on board hot water for washing dishes and hands.  Unless you have an on demand water heater you will want to schedule showers in your RV at different times so you don't try to go back-to-back which is usually a sure way to run out of hot water before you're done.

Sun Showers are a convenient way to get a warm shower when you are tent camping, don't have a shower in your RV, or just want to conserve resources. These are black plastic bags with attached tubes fitted with shower heads. Fill the bag with water and leave it out in the sun for a few hours. Laying it on the hood of your car or truck on on the picnic table are good options. Avoid laying it on cool grass as it take longer to heat up enough to use. Laying it on hot pavement may speed warming. When it is warm enough (let a little water out of the shower head to test it or just feel the bag), hang the shower from a tree branch, an awning or canopy, or from a roof rack on your vehicle. In a pinch you could attach it to the top of a car door. You might have to stoop a little, but it would work. Some folks use the sun shower in their RV shower to conserve and control water use and reduce hot water demand. There are some nice accessories you can use with Sun Showers -- or with the outside showers that are now featured on many RVs. They include enclosures and portable shower platforms. The enclosures are simple tent-like structures about 3 feet square. Some are self-supporting, some need to be hung from a tree or other overhead support or attached to a vehicle. They usually don't have a roof or floor, just walls.  Make sure you know what kind you're buying to get the one that will work for you. Portable shower platforms are small wooden or plastic affairs that are usually hinged so they can be folded to half their size for transport and storage. These give you something to stand on so you're not standing in mud or potentially contaminated floors while showering. They are typically about 3" tall and perhaps a foot square when folded up, giving you a 1' x 2' platform when open. Soap-on-a-rope is handy too. There also are also soap boxes on ropes to keep your soap out of the dirt. Keep an eye on the Sunshower bag to be sure you don't use up all your water before you rinse off the soap!   They are usually opaque so you can't see the water level, but  you can judge how much is left by the shape of the bag.  Plan ahead and hang your towel where it will be convenient but won't get wet. If you're boondocking and really worried about running out of water, allocate a gallon jug of water per person for showers instead of using up the supply in your fresh water tank.

A simple alternative to a sun shower is to use your hydration pack (Cambelbak). The amount of water is limited so you'll have to be frugal. The bladder for your hydration pack is probably a light color or nearly clear so it won't absorb heat as well as a Sun Shower.    You'll have to remove the bite valve to get water to flow.  Also, don't fill your hydration pack with non-potable water just to take a shower. You don't want to contaminate your drinking water container.

Wet wipes can be used for quick clean ups and cat bathes. They are convenient and usually include an antibacterial agent to ensure good sanitation. Sometimes you can get generic wet wipes or baby wipes at dollar stores to make them affordable.  The ones that are individually wrapped are particularly convenient for tent camping and back packing.  You might want to tuck a couple in your fanny pack or Enduro jacket when off-roading so you can clean your hands before any snack or meal out on the trail.

Natural bathing opportunities. If you are tent camping, back packing, or don't have a shower in your RV, you will need to seek other opportunities for bathing or showering. If you are near a lake or stream you may be able to use that. However, keep in mind that many recreational waterways are also sources of drinking water. In some cases entering the water at all may be prohibited. If there are no such posted prohibitions, use common sense and minimize your pollution contribution. If entry is prohibited you may be able to carry a bucket of water a safe distance (usually plan on about 200')  from the shore to bathe with so runoff doesn't contaminate the source. Just rinsing off the accumulated dust and sweat is refreshing. If you must use soap, use a bio-degradable soap (available where ever camping supplies are sold) and in any case, minimize what you do use. For modesty and privacy you are not likely to choose a place within sight of other campers, but if you are bathing in a stream, avoid doing so upstream of where other campers might draw water for cooking or drinking or where they are swimming.  Chances are very good these days that just about any body of water near enough to civilization to be a convenient camping destination will be a drinking water source, perhaps even YOUR drinking water source.  Think about that before abusing lakes and streams.

Air showers. If you have no water for bathing, as might happen in a survival situation, take an "air shower" every day or two while back packing or in survival mode. Strip down as far as you comfortably can given climate and fellow campers, hang your clothes out to dry, and let the sun and air dry your body and your clothes for a couple of hours every day or two. Be sure to avoid sunburn! Exposure to sun and air gets rid of excess sweat and the UV rays from sunlight kill germs. An air shower may not be as satisfying and effective as a real H2O shower, but it is better than nothing and, in survival mode, may help keep you healthy until you can be rescued. You'll feel better putting on clothes that have been sun-dried and freshened by the breeze -- and probably more pleasant to be around.

Smoke showers are similar to air showers but you use the smoke from a smouldering campfire to help kill bacteria. Punky wood from rotten stumps usually makes quite a bit of smoke. Smoke from juniper or pine boughs might lend a pleasant fragrance that will be refreshing. Sagebrush smoke contains antibacterial agents and makes a good smoke shower. Sagebrush smells much better than most body odors.   Killing odor-causing bacteria does more than make you more pleasant to be around. It can help keep you healthier in a survival situation.

Cat baths. If water is scarce, you can take "cat baths", using wet wipes or a washcloth and a bowl or pan of water. You can take a cat bath just about anywhere: in your tent, in your RV, or in the bushes.  Cats hate water but are very fastidious about keeping themselves clean -- without a lot of water.  A cat mostly uses its own saliva and its paws for bathing but that doesn't work too well for humans.  You will want to use a bowl or pan of water and a washcloth. Anything you can do to keep you body clean will make you more comfortable and will help prevent illness and infection. For added comfort, use warm water, heated over a campfire or by the sun.  You might set a clean, empty gallon juice jug or a rinsed out 2-liter soda bottle out in the sun to get it warm to conserve propane as well as water.  You can use an empty milk jug but be sure to wash it out thoroughly so there is no residue to go sour.

Keep clean. You will feel better, look better, and your companions will be grateful!

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Is RVing Really Camping?

There are some purists who would claim RVing isn't really camping.  After all, our RVs are designed to provide all the conveniences of home. How can staying in a climate controlled home on wheels with residential comforts be compare to "real" camping in a tent?  Detractors are certainly entitled to their opinions and to camp (or not) in the way that suits them. But for many people, RVing provides wonderful camping adventures. Admittedly, camping in an RV allows you to bring along many of the amenities of home, sort of "roughing it easy", but at the same time you share a lot of the aspects of all other forms of camping. For some people with physical limitations, tent camping may not be an option at all, but using an RV can provide them with the benefits of being able to enjoy visiting our beautiful parks, forests, and beaches and share in many camping activities. I had a friend whose wife was definitely not a camper and, until he purchased a small RV, she flat out refused to join him and their sons on any of their OHV outings.  She never was converted to riding a dirt bike, but at least she got to join them for camping.  My own family loves camping in an RV.  And yes, we've gotten a little spoiled by comfortable beds, a place to get in out of the weather when it gets cold, and an air conditioned sanctuary in hot climates.  The girls are especially grateful to have clean, private, on board sanitation facilities.

Many aspects of camping are not dependent on whether you're staying in a tent or an RV. Both share campfires and campground camaraderie. Both get you out of town and into the great outdoors. Both allow you to enjoy extended visits to some beautiful scenery and experience historical and geological features up close. Both get you closer to nature admittedly some versions get you closer than others. Not everyone appreciates having a close physical relationship with rocks under their sleeping bags.   Both offer opportunities to experiment with and practice survival skills and try out some primitive technologies. Both are filled with wonderful teaching moments and chances for truly quality family time. There is no excuse for one group to look down on the other. It doesn't matter if you're camping in a million dollar motorhome or a second-hand tent. After all, we have more in common than we have in differences and we're all seeking the same thing: fun -- and escape from our hectic, work-a-day lives.  And, I'm sure, we can all learn from each other.

Next time you find yourself sharing a campground with folks who chose a different style of camping then yours, be tolerant and appreciative. A young family camping in a beat up old tent may be doing the best they can with the resources they have available. Admire their commitment to do something with their families. The older couple camping in a big RV may have health issues or physical problems that would make tent camping impractical or impossible. They may have scrimped and saved for years to buy an RV. Acknowledge their courage to venture out at all and allow them to enjoy the spoils of a long and productive life.

Some people may choose tent camping for the adventure and a way to experience some pre-technology living in a kind of "back to nature" thing. It is also a way to practice survival skills that may come in handy during an emergency. You may be a lot warmer in a tent in your backyard than in your house if utilities are cut off for an extended period of time. And for sure your campfire and camp stove cooking skills will come in useful if the gas and electricity are off.

Some folks choose the RV lifestyle for its home-like comforts and conveniences. We found a motorhome was an ideal base camp for our dirt biking excursions. Our activities were focused on riding, not emulating traders, trappers, explorers or mountain men. The motorhome gave us a comfortable refuge from extreme weather, provided power to operate tools that made dirt bike maintenance faster and easier (old fashioned tire pumps do work, but they are slow and take a lot of effort!), and supplied sanitation facilities in remote desert environments that were especially appreciated by the females in my family. We were able to keep the motorhome stocked between trips so it was pretty much ready to go on a moment's notice, allowing us to take advantage of spontaneous outings to the beach or woods from time to time and to provide disaster recovery when needed. Even with the motorhome we had many opportunities to practice primitive skills building campfires and cooking outdoors. I've got to admit, having an air conditioned RV to escape the summer heat or a heated one to combat being out in the rain and snow, was definitely a significant advantage.

RVing would definitely have been considered camping and rather primitive to one of my friends, whose idea of "roughing it" is having to ring twice for room service.  But you might have trouble getting a Scoutmaster to sign off a camping merit badge if you did all your camping in a 45' luxury RV.

I have found RV camping to be ideal for my family, especially in support of our dirt biking adventures.  Admittedly, we enjoy the conveniences our comfortable RV offers us whether we're in the hot desert or the cool mountains, yet we also very much enjoy being out "in the wild" and appreciate evening campfires and star gazing -- and then having a comfortable bed to rest in at the end of the day.

Regardless of your current camping style, you may find yourself experiencing the other side of camping sooner or later. Tent campers may move up to RVs as their budgets and wants dictate. RV owners may some day find the lifestyle too expensive or may want to do something more primitive again. We fell back on tent camping this fall when our truck was broken down so we couldn't use our camper for a local trip to enjoy the exciting fall colors in a nearby canyon. The twisty, narrow roads weren't compatible with our large Class A motorhome. So we pulled out the tents and made the best of it. I suspect we'd have been more comfortable in our camper but even as long-term RVers, the tent outing was an enjoyable and memorable family experience.  So much so that we'll probably schedule another one soon, even though the truck/camper and motorhome are available.

So, whether you choose to camp in a teepee or a covered wagon, you can still enjoy some pioneer adventures and quality time with your loved ones. From my point of view, camping is camping, regardless of whether your abode rolls on wheels or rolls up!

Camp out!

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

When Should You Go Camping, RVing or OHVing?

When should you go camping, RVing, or OHVing?  Best answer:  as often as you can!  But when is the best time to start camping, RVing, and/or OHVing? How about NOW? Some people put it off until they think they can afford it or have the time for it and by doing so may never get around to it. Some people think they need to put it off "until the kids are older".  For the most part those are not valid reasons, they're just excuses.  My suggestion is start NOW and go as often as you can. You may dream of owning and using a luxurious Class A motorhome, but it might not be in your budget yet. Begin with what your budget can handle today and make the time. You may have to spend some of your savings, but money spent can usually be replaced. Time, once spent, is gone forever! I recall hearing about a young man who, long after he had left home, fondly remembered the vacations his family had taken together. He recalled that for most of his growing up years they had been trying to save money to add a second bathroom to their small house, but kept spending the building fund on family vacations. It is doubtful that he would have recalled the second bathroom with the same fond memories he had of family vacations. What if NOW is the dead of winter? Snow camping IS an option for some people but for those who aren't ready for that particular experience you can start researching, acquiring and preparing your gear, equipment, skills, and training.

What seasons are best for camping? You can camp in all seasons, but most people don't do a lot of camping in winter. In some areas, extremely hot summers may also be a deterrent to outdoor activities. July and August are not the best times to visit the Mojave Desert but is a good time to hit the beaches or the mountains to escape the heat! Late spring and early fall are usually quite comfortable in most areas. If it is winter and you have decided you want to become a camper, use the time now to research your options and acquire and prepare your equipment and to learn about necessary camping skills so you'll be ready when the first robin of spring shows up. By the time the snow melts you'll be chomping at the bit to get out and try out your new toys and skills.  If, per chance, you are REALLY anxious to get started, look into winter camping.  It takes some special preparations, but it can be well worth it.

Once you've decided to try camping, how do you get started? First, take inventory of the resources you may already have. Do you have an SUV or other vehicle you could sleep in or use to tow a trailer? If so, you might start your camping adventure using that as your "RV". Just pack up some blankets and pillows and some food. Since you'll have limited resources on board, it might be good to start out staying in developed campgrounds where you will have access to picnic tables, fire pits, and restrooms. You may have to add a camp stove or portable BBQ and a cooler if you don't already have them. To keep the cost down, check out local classified ads and Internet sources such as ebay and craigslist. Watch for sales a local sporting goods stores or other places that sell camping equipment. I once bought a brand new 7'x7' umbrella tent for $10 at a sidewalk sale at a hardware store. It was missing one piece of the frame that I was able to fabricate from thin wall conduit for a couple of bucks. Garage sales are another good resource for adding to your camping equipment. Many people have excess camping equipment they've accumulated over the years or things they no longer need as their camping lifestyle as evolved and you can sometimes get extraordinary bargains at garage sales. Many times it has seen little use and may even be brand new!  Do your homework before you go shopping so you'll know a good deal when you see one. I wouldn't pay much more than $25 for a used Coleman lantern at a garage sale because new ones aren't that much more expensive (around $40). But for $10 or $15 it might be worth having if it is pretty much complete. Tents are another good thing to look for at garage sales. You probably won't get the latest models, but you may get a good price on older units that can serve you well. I bought a 10x14 canvas cabin tent through a local classified newspaper for under $50. It had a few rips that needed repairing, but with just a little TLC it was perfectly serviceable. I originally bought it to use for a portable dirt bike garage when were were camping, but ended up also using it on some tent camping ventures. If you can, try out camp stoves and lanterns before buying them. By the time they get in garage sales they've often been in storage a long time and may need reconditioning before they can be used, even if they haven't been used much. But don't be afraid of making repairs if they are complete and appear to be in good overall condition. I would shy away from gas stoves or lanterns if the pressure tanks leak. The pumps that pressurize them dry out but can be rebuilt easily and inexpensively, so it isn't a big deal if the pump leaks;  Sometimes all it needs is a few drops of oil to soften and swell the leather washer inside.  But if the fuel tank is rusted through or the seams are leaking, it will have to be replaced. Other components are also easy and fairly cheap to replace: control valves and generators. The generator is a tube that converts liquid fuel to vapor to power the stove or lantern. Check out previous post "What Should You Have To Begin Camping, RVing, and/or OHVing?   for more equipment details.

Next steps. Once you have acquired the basic equipment, learn how to use it. I suggest setting up camp in your own back yard a few times before venturing out. That way, if you've forgotten anything or run into to any problems, you are where you can quickly and easily deal with them and where your comfort, safety, and survival aren't in jeopardy. Next I would suggest camping in developed campgrounds close to home where you will have access to support facilities and knowledgeable camp hosts. Once you're comfortable in that environment, you might might be ready to venture out to more primitive camp sites and more challenging adventures.

Getting started OHVing. As much fun as it would be to buy everyone in the family brand new OHVs, if you're anything like me, it isn't in the budget. We started out with just two dirt bikes, both Kawasakis: a KE 125 dual sport bike for my wife and I and a KD80M for the boys who were about 8 and 10 at the time. We didn't yet appreciate the appeal it would have for the younger kids. It didn't take long to figure out we needed more bikes for more riders so we started checking out the local classifieds for some good deals. Even the youngest children wanted their own bikes, and getting them was one of the best investments we ever made! You can usually save quite a bit of money buying from a private party but whenever you do the seller won't assume any liability so if the bike breaks down the next day, you're stuck with it. A reputable dealer will usually give at least a 30 day warranty on used vehicles but you will pay more than you will if you purchase from a private party. Be sure to ask for maintenance records when you buy from a private party. You will need to make your purchase plans based at least in part you your own skills and ability to recognize and take care of any problems that might come up. You don't have to start out on dirt bikes. If you and your family are more interested in ATVs, look for some good used ATVs. ATVs are somewhat more stable for novice riders, but we had really good luck putting our "younguns" on 50cc dirt bikes. Sometimes they needed training wheels for a while, sometimes their bicycle skills were already good enough to safely handle the little motorcycle. Remember, an OHV needs to feel good to the rider and be fun to ride. If you don't feel comfortable on it or it isn't fun to ride, look for another vehicle. Size, power, suspension, seat and handlebar design and setup all affect how a vehicle feels, so don't be afraid to try a variety of configurations. If a vehicle feels too big, try a smaller one. If it feels unstable or "squirrely", try a bigger one. If it is too powerful for your current skills and taste, get one with a smaller engine or just take it easy for a while. If the suspension and setup aren't right, see if they can be adjusted to your size and weight and riding ability. Even while looking to buy your first OHV, start developing a network of fellow riders you can go out with for the first few trips. Having experienced leaders to guide you will greatly enhance your enjoyment the first few times out and you'll learn a lot of good riding, maintenance, repair, and navigation tips. So pay attention!

Entering the RV lifestyle. You may someday want to explore the RV lifesytle as a more comfortable alternative to tent camping. Here you will need to do more homework to determine which type of RV is right for you and then to find one within your budget. I offer my own experience as one possible path. Yours may be different. My first "RV" was a 1951 Chevrolet Suburban. It began life as a utility vehicle for a school district. When I bought it, it had only a front seat and the back was completely open. I made curtains for the windows. My wife and I slept in sleeping bags on the floor. I fashioned supports to fit across the rear compartment, resting on the window sills. I put a "bunky board" from an old set of bunk beds on the supports to provide a second sleeping level for our two kids. A plastic basin and a couple of 5-gallon water jugs, an ice chest, a camp stove, a Coleman lantern, and a couple of camp chairs completed our equipment list. Our first trip was exciting and quite pleasant. It was so nice to roll into camp, roll out our sleeping bags, and be ready to rest while other people were still wrestling with setting up tents in the wind and the dark! The sturdy old Suburban was also much more comfortable in the wind and rain than a tent. No uncontrolled flapping and no leaks! And no rocks under our sleeping bags.

After several years of camping in the Suburban, I found a good deal on a Class B motorhome (van conversion) and we began to move up. It was fundamentally a 3/4 ton Ford van conversion. I learned it had been custom built for an engineer who was working and living in Israel. It was not fully self contained, but was definitely a step up from the Suburban. It had a small refrigerator that ran on propane or 12-volt electricity. We felt we were in the lap of luxury making ice cubes while driving down the road. It had a real sink and faucet and a propane stove and a tiny little propane heater with no fan. The rear dinette made down into a comfortable full size bed and the kids were once again relegated to the "penthouse". Their bunks were up in the "pop top" that gave stand-up headroom (a definite improvement over the old Suburban). It even had a porta-potti tucked away in one of the cabinets, a definite advantage for women and children.

Eventually our family outgrew the Class B van conversion. It worked really well for 2 adults and a couple of small kids, but by the time our kids started getting bigger and our brood had grown to 4 children, we needed more room. There was barely room for even 4 of us to stand in the little Class B, let alone perform routine functions such as cooking and setting the table or getting ready for bed without climbing over each other. Our next step was a 19' Class C motorhome. It was a "bunkhouse" model with tons of sleeping capacity -- designed for at least 6 adults. You could probably squeeze in 7 if you put three people in the cab-over sleeper, but I figure you'd better be pretty good friends -- or you certainly would be by morning! This was our first nearly self-contained motorhome. I say nearly because it didn't have a generator. But it did have a hot water heater and full bathroom facilities plus a stove and oven and a real, forced air furnace. It even had a swamp cooler for hot days. We soon learned one of the disadvantages of a swamp cooler when we tried to use it while traveling. Even a normal lane change would cause the water in the cooler to slosh over and spill into the interior of the coach, soaking anyone and anything beneath it! This little Class C became our base of operations for our first dirt bike trips. We hung a pair of basket carriers on the front and back and loaded up a couple of dirt bikes and headed out into the Mojave Desert for some good family fun. My older boys' previous BMX bike experience served them well and they were soon showing ME how to jump a dirt bike. They took to that dirt bike like they had been born to it! A 19' Class C doesn't provide much walking around room, but preparing and serving meals and getting ready for bed was much less cramped than in the little van conversion and sleeping accommodations were a lot better. Having access to full sanitation facilities was a real blessing while dry camping in the desert (especially with a wife and two daughters!) where the nearest restrooms were at least 12 miles away. It is amazing how good a nice shower feels after a day in the sun and dirt!

I won't bore you with the rest of the step-by-step migration to our current Class A diesel pusher. Suffice it to say, our needs and wants grew over time and we continued to upgrade as appropriate opportunities presented themselves. As we observed fellow campers and inspected other rigs we began to see the advantages of features we had previously considered unnecessary or frivolous. The front lounge we once considered a big waste of space became a necessity after a couple of trips with 6 kids in one without it! But you get the idea of how your camping experience can evolve over time. Your first RV might be a tent trailer or a truck camper or small travel trailer instead of an old Suburban. You need to do what is right for YOU, not blindly follow what I, or anyone else, has done or tells you to do. Most important of all, DO SOMETHING!

What about kids? There have been attempts by well-intentioned but ill-informed do-gooders to prevent youngsters from riding OHVs. No doubt other activities have also been targeted, ranging from rifle skills to little league baseball. For the most part, these folks are WAY off the mark. OHV riding, starting kids out young has its place in OHV riding and other camping activities. Of course it must be done responsibly. What is REALLY irresponsible is to deny youngsters the opportunity to learn early. Our youngest son began dirt biking when he was less than 4 years old. We were at Spring Fling, our annual spring vacation outing in the Mojave Desert in April when he began seriously asking to ride. We told him he'd have to learn to ride his bicycle without training wheels before he could try riding the little 50-cc bike his brothers and sisters learned on. When we got home from that trip he jumped out of the motorhome and ran to get his bike. He brought it back and laid it down on the parking strip as we were sill unloading our motorcycles and announced firmly "Take 'em off!", pointing to his training wheels. He spent the next month vigorously practicing and on the very next trip for Memorial Day, he rode 13 miles of a Poker Run on a little motorcycle with wheels about the size of a pie plate -- and wanted more! Our other kids didn't start out quite as young, but everyone of them was a competent rider before they hit first grade. I've seen plenty of teens get hurt trying to learn to ride later in their lives. By then they're beginning to feel the invincibility that comes with being a teenager and too often think they can do anything their friends can do, without admitting their friends have been riding and developing skills for years. One of my oldest son's friends even had to be air-lifted out of a remote area with a broken collar bone after failing to negotiate a sharp turn and going over the bars trying to keep up with his more experienced friends. We started our kids out sitting on the gas tank and giving them rides. It allowed them to experience the sights, sounds, and feel of riding and let us explain the function of throttle, brake, and clutch so it would all be familiar when they finally got to ride their own little bikes. The tiny 50-cc motorcycles they started on didn't have clutch levers, just a centrifugal clutch that helped reduce the number of simultaneous skills they had to master. These little bikes are often fitted with devices to restrict throttle movement and reduce power through exhaust restrictors to make them pretty mellow for novice riders and allow them to "grow" with the rider's skills. Our youngest daughter started out on a 50-cc Italjet when she was about 5. Eventually, by the time she was in about the 3rd grade, she had inherited a 60-cc Honda from an older brother and could keep up with anyone. The Honda was a "real" motorcycle, with clutch lever and 6-speed transmission. When she was about 12 or 13 she astonished mature riders as she stayed right on their back fenders through all kinds of difficult terrain on her 125cc Kawasaki. Upon returning from one ride, one of the very good adult riders commented that he "had a kid on his tail" the whole ride and couldn't shake him and when they got to the top of Government Peak the kid took off his helmet and the adult rider was blown away to discover "it was a chick!" Whenever you start riding -- or start your kids riding -- make sure to wear proper protective gear. NEVER ride without a helmet. Proper boots, gloves, goggles, and appropriate jersey and pants plus kidney belt knee guards and chest protectors should be worn for every ride. I also like elbow protectors that put a lot more between your funny bone and rocks or hard ground than the soft pads in your jersey. Believe me, hitting your funny bone on the rocks is NOT funny! NEVER ride in a T-shirt or tank top! You may think it looks and feels cools, but between sun and windburn and the road rash you'll pick up if you bail, it just isn't worth it and you'll actually feel cooler in a vented jersey that protects your arms from direct sunlight. Avoid dark colors that will absorb the heat and make you harder to see.

Weekends are the most common time for camping, RVing, and OHVing.   But they aren't the only time you can go, if you can get away from your daily grind.  Mid-week outings can be less crowded and less stressful and are good times to explore new places and activities.  Once you're comfortable with your outdoor routine you can go just about any time.  Summer vacations and 3-day weekends give you some extra time to enjoy the great out doors.

One you get started, get out as often as you can.  When our kids were growing up we went dirt biking almost every holiday weekend.  The timing was just about right, far enough apart to look forward to each outing and close enough together so we could retain our confidence and continue to learn and improve things on each trip.  I would suggest setting a goal of getting out once a month for the same reasons.

Start NOW!

Where Should You Go Camping, RVing, and OHVing?

Once you've decided camping, RVing, or OHVing is something you want to try you need to decide where to go. I strongly recommend you first experience camping and RVing at home -- in your own backyard or driveway. Spend a few nights sleeping in your RV or set up your tent in your backyard and sleep in it for a few nights. This will give you a chance to practice getting your tent or RV ready when you have an immediate recovery plan (go back inside!) if anything goes wrong. It also lets you begin to acclimate to a new sleeping environment to minimize the variables you'll face on an actual camping trip. You can try out different bedding options to see what works best and have time to pick up a better sleeping pad if the one you have isn't doing the job (or if you don't have one). If you have a tall enough tent, you might want to try sleeping on a cot instead of on the ground.  Cook a few meals in your RV or on your camp stove. After you feel comfortable you can move on to an actual camping trip.

Some generic camping destinations to choose from.   Here are a few tried and true kind of places to go camping:

    State/County/Federal Parks
    Private campgrounds and resorts
    Forest Service and BLM camping areas

First outing. For your first outing I suggest you choose a campground close to home and go with someone who has some experience. That offers several advantages. It won't take long to get there so you should have plenty of set up time. You don't want to have to set up your first camp in the dark. It won't take long to get home again if something goes wrong. You should already be familiar with local facilities and shopping if you need medical or mechanical assistance or additional supplies. For comfort and convenience I would choose a developed campground rather than starting off boondocking or dry camping. Developed campgrounds typically have paved or graveled, level parking, picnic tables, fit pits, and restrooms. Many also have a small camp store where you can buy some RV supplies and basic provisions if you run short. The camp host can usually provide information about local attractions and activities and camping advice if you need it. Should you experience any mechanical breakdown or failure of RV systems you can probably call a mobile technician to come to your aid.  If you have family or friends that are already experienced campers, see if you can tag along with them for your first few outings.  Going with someone who knows what they're doing and is familiar with the area is especially helpful for maiden OHV trips.   Having someone to lead the way and set the pace can make your initiation more pleasant.  Our first dirt bike outing was based largely on hearsay and, while we found the right general area and basically had a good time, we missed out on some really great trails we could have enjoyed if we'd had someone knowledgable to lead us.

Venturing out. As you become more comfortable with your equipment and your own skills, you can venture out on more extensive trips and may even be ready to try boondocking or dry camping in a more primitive setting. The primary criteria for selecting such a destination should be your personal interests. Pick a camp ground at or near a location that appeals to you, perhaps someplace with historical or geological significance or someplace near an attraction that appeals to you and your family. If your plans include OHV activities, you'll want to pick an appropriate area where OHVs are permitted. For your first few OHV trips, it is a good idea to go with someone who already knows the area and can fill you in on the condition of trails and skill level required. Be sure to pay attention to your fellow campers: how they set up their camps, how they prep their OHVs, how they choose trails, how they ride. Watch for procedures and equipment that may improve and enhance your own experience. You can learn a lot from the "old timers". And "old timers" don't have to be grizzled veterans. A lot of teen-aged riders have been riding since before they were in kindergarten and can be the source of a lot of good riding and equipment maintenance tips and assistance. Don't discount them because of their youth. Many know exactly where they're going, what they're doing, and are very competent ride leaders and mechanics. I have 4 boys and 2 girls and even the girls were competent riders, leaders, and mechanics by the time they were in junior high. My oldest daughter went on to race Women's Desert Expert in southern California for several years, often totally on her own, setting up her own camp and doing her own maintenance and repairs on her race bike.

On your own. Eventually you'll feel confident going out on your own, picking your own campsites and choosing your own OHV trails. Make sure are properly prepared for whatever you choose to do. If you have developed your knowledge and skills as described above and taken advantage to learn from the experience of fellow campers, you should be able to organize a successful solo trip for your family. Even so, you may soon learn you miss the companionship of fellow campers. When you first choose to go out on your own, invest a little extra time checking your equipment and supplies to be sure you have everything you will need and that everything is in good condition. Make sure you know where the nearest emergency medical facilities are and the best way to get there -- just in case someone is injured or gets sick. Where practical, bring along more supplies than you think you'll need. Many people run out of water or fuel for their OHVs much sooner than they think they will, and, if you're boondocking, water and fuel will be some distance away. If your OHVs require mixed gas, make sure you bring along extra 2-stroke oil and something to measure and mix the fuel and oil. I've seen desperate riders just guess how much oil to add directly to their gas tanks, but that is a fabulously bad idea. Put in too much and you'll foul plugs. Put in too little and you'll seize your engine. Neither is very conducive to a fun ride. In my motorcycle trailer I carry an extra 1-gallon plastic gas can to mix fuel and use a device called a Ratio-Rite to measure the oil. The Ratio-Rite is a tapered, graduated cup that shows you exactly how much oil to add to various amounts of gasoline to achieve the required fuel mixture. You can buy them at motorcycle, marine, and other OHV shops. Sometimes they are available in hardware and home centers for use with chain saws and other 2-stroke equipment. Be sure you know what mixture your engine requires and avoid using anything but the designated mixture. Sometimes, in an emergency out on the trail, you may have to borrow fuel from another rider. If you have a choice, try to use fuel that is as close to your mixture as possible. In a pinch, it is better to use a richer mixture (higher oil content) than a leaner one. The richer mixture may cause your engine to blow smoke and may foul plugs, but a leaner mixture may not provide enough lubrication and the engine may seize and be permanently and expensively damaged. Fouled plugs are a nuisance and can spoil a ride, but they are cheap and easy to replace, even out on the trail (you should always carry spare plugs if you're riding a vehicle with a 2-stroke engine). Make sure you have the right spark plug wrench in your tool kit or fanny pack. It is impossible to change the spark plug on some engines without a special spark plug wrench. I had a friend whose bike fouled plugs so often that he wore a shotgun bandolier filled with spare plugs!

Where? Anywhere YOU like!

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Why Should You Begin Camping, RVing, and/or OHVing?

I recall a philosophy final exam with only one question:  WHY?  One of the acceptable answers that got high marks, was "Why not?".  Indeed, that might be an appropriate answer the the question "Why Should You Begin Camping, RVing, and/or OHVing?".

The biggest reason to start camping, RVing and/or OHVing is: IT IS FUN! There are many associated activities that are enjoyable and even educational, but the main thing is that going camping, RVing, and OHVing is just plain fun. All are an escape from our everyday lives and a chance to do something different, a potentially productive diversion that is badly needed in our hectic modern lives. They all offer great opportunities for quality time with our families and for developing long-lasting friendships. Camping gives us a tiny insight into how our pioneer ancestors might have lived along with a chance to practice and develop fundamental skills that may serve us well in case of a major natural or man-made disaster at home. Most camping, RV, and OHV activities also provide good physical exercise beyond our normal routine of pushing the buttons on the remote! If anyone tries to tell you riding a dirt bike, jet ski, snowmobile, or ATV isn't exercise, let them try it! I am often amused by folks who choose golfing for the exercise, then rent electric golf carts to haul their sagging bodies around the course. Riding a dirt bike or an ATV on rustic trails is a far cry from cruising the groomed paths of a golf course on the cushy seat of an electric golf cart.  Supercross, which is a stylized form of dirt biking, is said to be THE most physically demanding sport in the world!  Don't believe me?  Just try it!  If you don't get a good workout,  you're not doing it right!

Practice survival techniques. Camping and RVing are great ways to practice survival techniques that may be useful in case of a major disaster. A major disaster is likely to overwhelm local emergency services and you could be entirely on your own for a couple of weeks or more. No fire department, no police, no ambulance, no hospital, no grocery stores, no utilities, no operating gas stations. If you have good camping skills and/or know how to use your RV and are properly prepared, you will be able to take care of the needs of you and your family until normal services are restored. Think about what skills and equipment you would need to survive if your house were knocked down by an earthquake or destroyed by fire, wind, riots, or flood.

Educational opportunities -- teaching moments. Camping, RVing, and OHVing offer ways to teach many lessons to our kids and grandkids. Basic skills such as fire building or setting up an emergency shelter are usually a routine part of camping. Being out away from our homes also provides a setting for learning and teaching about the environment, including plants and animals, weather, and astronomy. RVing and OHVing can help kids learn responsibility and valuable mechanical skills as they help prepare for, conduct, and cleanup after outings. OHV activities can also boost kids' personal self esteem and at the same time teach teamwork and cooperation.

Having fun. I can't tell YOU how to have fun. I can only tell you what is fun for me and my family. You have to find out for yourself what is fun for you. We like dirt biking and the camping in our RV that goes with it. That includes riding, campfires, singalongs, pot-luck dinners, swapping tall-tales, and assisting our fellow riders. Sometimes it includes skeet shooting, horseshoes or tossing around a frisbee or football. Even mealtime should be fun. We try to have food we like that can be easily prepared at camp and usually bring along special treats according to the season. Hot chocolate and cookies for cold weather, snow-cones for desert summers. Impromptu pot-luck dinners with fellow campers are lots of fun. You may want to select a "signature" treat to share with your companions. A lady in our Desert Rat dirt bike group shared a great chili and cream cheese dip and corn chips. Another fellow camper likes to whip my elegant hors d'oeuvres like bacon-wrapped, stuffed jalepenos. The hot dip was particularly easy and so very welcome on chilly (pun intended) evenings in the desert. Snowcones and a special "Cucumber punch" were among our favorite contributions to our summer Desert Rat trips.

Why? Because it is fun!