Wecome To RVs and OHVs

This blog is all about RVs (recreational vehicles) and OHVs (Off Highway Vehicles), camping, sailing, and survival
and how they work together to provide wholesome family fun and great learning opportunities.
Many posts are intended to familiarize novice campers and RVers with RV systems and basic camping and survival
skills. But even experienced RVers and campers will enjoy the anecdotes and may even benefit from a new
perspective. Comments, questions, and suggestions are encouraged. The organization is pretty much by date of publication. Please use the SEARCH option below to find what you are looking for.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Camp Menus

I should really have my wife writing this post.  Much of what goes into this article comes directly from her thoughtful meal planning of our outings.  Your camp menu will change depending on the type of camping you're doing.  When you're in an RV or "car camping" in a tent, you can pretty much eat much like you would at home but you need a little more planning.  After all, you can't usually just run to the store if you're out of something once you get to camp.  RV cooking facilities are a scaled down version of your home range and oven, so you may need to adjust portions and allow extra time for preparing multiple courses.  The big Thanksgiving turkey you roast at home probably won't fit it in your RV oven so you might have to cut it in half or cook two smaller birds.   Microwaves in big RVs are often full size and even the smaller ones are good for whipping up instant oatmeal or hot cocoa in the mornings.

Camp menu basics.  Camp menus should be a useful tool, not a rigid rule.  Some people like things to be spontaneous, but you still need to plan ahead enough to make sure you have enough ingredients to cover all the meals.  Use the KISS priciple: Keep It Simple Stupid.  Unless you REALLY have a need or desire for a particularly fancy meal, stick to simple foods that are fun, easy to prepare and easy to clean up after.   Plan meals that use standard, simple ingredients to avoid having to bring along too much stuff.  tandard, simple ingredients can be combined to make a variety of meals, keeping your camp menu interesting, easy, and healthy.

Menu planning.   In order to prepare for our desert dirt-bike trips, I set up a spreadsheet for planning the menu.  I set it up day by day and meal by meal.  I estimate the quantity of each item or ingredient per person and use a multiplier for the number of people on the trip to generate a shopping list via the spreadsheet.   That makes it effective for different trips with different numbers of people . Even without the generated shopping list, setting up a daily meal planner makes it easier to figure out what to eat and what provisions you'll need.  Menu planning doesn't mean you are OCD and using a spreadsheet  is not over kill -- it is simply a useful and flexible tool that makes planning and shopping easier.  We try to avoid duplication so meals don't get boring, but, on longer trips, repeating the same meals can conserve resources and preparation time.  Having the menu prepared in advance eliminates the "what do I fix for this meal" quandry and avoids unnecessary delays.  But having a pre-set menu doesn't have to be restrictive.  Use it as a guideline.   You can always swap meals around as circumstances change.   A sudden storm might dictate swapping the planned burgers or steak dinner prepared on the outdoor grill or campfire for hot chili from the microwave planned for another night.

Breakfast is said to be the most important meal of the day.  When camping, it is often all too easy to skip or skimp because we like to sleep in and we're anxious to get to our planned activities.   We usually compromised nutrition the first morning of a dirt bike outing in favor of convenience and fun, bringing donuts and either milk or orange juice for a quick start.  Try to plan on "real" breakfasts for other days.  Bacon and eggs is a pretty easy meal to fix and provides the protein you need for participating in activities that may be more strenuous than your daily grind.  The fragrance of bacon sizzling on a campfire is a good way to wake up and start the day.  Cold cereal is quick and easy. Instant oatmeal is nice on cooler mornings, even if you have to boil water over a campfire.   The microwave in your RV really makes it "instant", with each serving ready in about 1 minute.   Oatmeal especially hits the spot on cold or stormy days and it seems to "stick to your ribs" and satisfy your hunger and nutritional needs for several hours.  For camping I especially like the single serving envelopes which provide convenience and variety and don't spill.  They're a little more expensive than bulk packages but are a nice format for camping.   I've even found boxes of 3 packets at Dollar Tree so they don't have to be expensive -- 33 cents a serving is pretty darn cheap!   Pancakes are another camp favorite but they take a little more preparation and cleanup time.  You can cook them on your RV or camp stove or on a griddle on your BBQ or camp fire.  Waffles are a bit more of a challenge but are certainly doable.   If you have 120-volt power available, you can use an electric waffle baker like you do at home.  Or you might look for an old fashioned cast iron waffle maker you can use in the campfire or on your stove.  We've had success with both options.  You'd better really like waffles, because the electric waffle maker takes up a lot of room and that cast iron waffle baker is going to be heavy!  Cornmeal mush is an interesting alternative to ordinary breakfast cereals and lends a pioneer kind of ambiance.  Nothing special here. Just cook ordinary cornmeal like you would oatmeal and serve it with plenty of butter and honey.  If you're backpacking, you'll be more limited in your choices and will probably lean toward dehydrated meals to minimize weight.  Sometimes you might be able to supplement your packaged meals with fresh caught fish.  Powdered eggs and powdered milk have come a long way since the tasteless versions made infamous in World War II movies.  You don't have to have electricity to enjoy toast at breakfast.  There are simple and inexpensive campfire/camp stove toasters.  They usually consist of a metal frame that holds the bread. For campfire use you should set them up on a cast iron grill or skillet.  You might get away with using them directly over the burners on a camp stove, but to avoid adding the taste of burning gas to your toast, it is better to use a pan there too.   In any case, putting them in some kind of pan helps to avoid having your toast burst into flames if you aren't keeping a constant eye on them.  For a more rustic approach, put your bread on a stick and toast it over the campfire like you would hotdogs or marshmallows.

Lunch in camp should be fast, easy, and fairly light.  You don't want to tank up on a lot of heavy food before embarking on your afternoon adventure.   For summer, focus on cool lunches.  Cold cuts and other deli type sandwiches are quick and easy.  For cooler outings you might want some hot lunch.   Hot dogs are quick and easy.  Hot dogs are best when roasted over the campfire but can be done on your BBQ, fried up on your camp or RV stove, microwaved, or boiled.  I prefer mine roasted so I usually only use boiling when I have to feed a large group because I can get a lot of dogs ready all at one time.  Add some chips, some canned beans, and some potato or macaroni salad, and you've got a pretty complete meal in minutes.   Green salads are a light and nutritious meal but often require a lot of extra provisions and/or preparation time.  To jump start the process, buy pre-packaged salad greens at the grocery store.  Then all you have to do is dump some in a bowl and add dressing.  I recall the punch line of an old TV commercial for salad dressing: "Without Wishbone, a salad is just a bowl of wet vegetables", but I've found salads without dressing are pretty sweet tasting as well as healthier.  If you're planning salads, bring along a variety of dressings (if you have room) to satisfy the tastes all your eaters.  Lunches in camp lend themselves well to paper plates and buffet-style serving, further minimizing setup and cleanup time.   It is a good time to relax in your favorite camp chair under your awning and rest up for the afternoon's activities.  The less time you spend preparing and cleaning up, the more time you have to relax or enjoy your scheduled activities.  Small, plastic containers are the most convenient for camping. For long-term savings, buy larger sizes you can store at home and refill your smaller plastic containers for each trip.

Dinner is usually the heaviest and most formal meal of the day.  We like a good hot meal at the end of the day, even in summer time.  But it doesn't have to be fancy. Hamburgers are one of the staples of our desert outings.  For colder evenings, my wife makes a wonderfully sweet chili we call "Marilyn's Marvelous Mojave Mild Chili".  We often make it with ground turkey instead of ground beef for a lighter and maybe healthier version.  Top it with shredded cheese and serve it with "Scoops" corn chips or French bread.   Our preferred beverage with chili is milk.  A nice feature of home made chili is you can season it to your particular taste.   We like ours with a healthy dose of brown sugar in it!  Canned chili is convenient, but I find it often has a bit of a metallic taste I don't particularly care for.  Beef stew is another good choice for cooler nights. It is easy to prepare and tastes great after a day of vigorous activity. I usually cheat and use canned stew, but home-made stew simmered over the campfire is an especially delicious treat -- if you have time to put it together.  A Dutch oven is also a good way to simmer stew or chili or prepare other main courses and even deserts.  I like to think of the Dutch oven as the pioneer version of a crock pot. Sometimes we like to splurge and have steak and baked potatoes.  Such a meal makes you feel like royalty.   Both the steaks and the potatoes can be cooked using your camp or RV stove, BBQ, or campfire.  While broiling steaks on the campfire can be fun and provide a rewarding challenge, I like to use a portable propane powered BBQ, just because it is easy and usually faster and I have more control.  The potatoes can be done in foil in the campfire or on the BBQ or in your RV or camp stove oven or microwave (without the foil!).  Coleman makes an oven that fits on their camp stoves that works pretty well for most baking tasks.   It folds flat for storage and transport so it takes up little space and is a good option when car camping.  Hobo stew is another perennial favorite.  Wrap your favorite meat and vegetables in foil, season to taste, and cook them in the campfire or on the BBQ. When RV camping we like to pre-cook the meat and potatoes in the microwave to speed up the process. For tent outings we often pre-cook the meat and potatoes at home before preparing the foil packets to take along.  Pre-cooking the other veggies usually makes them mushy so, unless you LIKE mushy vegetables, just let them cook in the campfire.

Grilled veggies are not common fare the U.S., but it is an easy and healthy way to fix them.  Go easy on the oil and don't over cook them.   Unless there is some reason you need or like them mushy, they should remain crisp.   Sometimes this is a fun way to get kids to eat their vegetables when they turn up their noses at traditional canned or frozen versions.  I have never like canned peas very well.

Snacks are perhaps more important than you realize.  Most of us extend ourselves a bit more than usual when we're camping and that requires more calories and you'll probably get the munchies long before dinner.  So snacks are more than just a luxury or indulgence.  Appropriate snacks will stave off hunger and help prevent you from over-eating at mealtime while providing timely energy for your activities.  They should be a part of your planned nutrition for outdoor activities.   In warm weather or for any kind of strenuous activities you'll need extra fluids and electrolytes so include plenty of sports drinks.   It is best to get your calories at regular intervals rather than wait several hours between meals.   As long as you don't pig out, you can probably enjoy just about any favorite snack without too much impact on your waistline.  After all, you're probably burning more calories than usual.  Of course to maintain a healthier approach, have some fresh fruit, but a few cookies and a glass of milk or a favorite candy bar or granola bar can fill that empty spot without completely ruining your diet. On hot summer days you may want to go for Popsicles or snow cones.   Not a lot of nutrition there, but they're cool and refreshing and have plenty of sugar for quick energy.  They will also provide some fluid too, but you'll still need to supplement it with sport drinks and plenty of water.   Ice cream treats are nice on warm days -- if you have a working freezer in you RV fridge or a really good ice chest.   On cooler afternoons a cup of hot cocoa or other hot beverage might be more appealing, but remember caffeine accelerates dehydration which can still be a problem in cool or cold weather.  We also enjoy a warm dip made from chili and cream cheese and served with Scoops or tortilla chips around the campfire on cool evenings.   Individually packaged pies and snack cakes are a convenient and tasty treat.  Keep an eye out for special sales at your local grocery store or stock up when McDonalds has pies 2 for $1.00.  You might freeze them to keep them fresh and then either microwave them or set them out in the sun to warm them up when you get to camp. You might even heat them over the campfire.  We also like to make fresh pies using campfire pie cookers. All you need is some bread and pie filling (and the pie cookers!).   Everyone can have their individual pies with their favorite filling and cooked just the way they like them.  These warm, home made treats are especially welcome when its cold outside.

Basic provisions.  In addition to specific ingredients for planned meals, it is good to have some basic provisions in your RV or camp kit. Ours includes flour, sugar, salt, pepper, cinnamon, season salt, pancake mix, syrup, cooking oil, honey, and a variety of favorite spices.  Add whatever other spices your use regularly.  Having basic provisions on hand allows you to add variety to your planned menu and could provide extra meals if your stay gets extended or you have unexpected guests.  I keep a variety of canned goods on board for emergencies -- soups, stew, chili, and tuna, but be careful that you don't end up carrying around a whole lot of extra weight you don't need and never use.

MREs and dehydrated food.  Military Meals Read To Eat (MREs) and dehydrated foods are often marketed for camping.   Dehydrated foods are a pretty good option for back packing where you want to minimize the amount of weight you are carrying and where you expect to have plenty of water along the way to reconstitute the meals.  MREs are just plain pricey, but they're convenient and have a long shelf life.   I don't think you'll save much weight carrying dehydrated foods in your RV.  You'll have to bring along enough water to prepare them.  Dehydrated foods are kind of expensive and, for most people, not all that appetizing.  They taste pretty darn good after a day's hiking, but in your RV or even when car camping, you'll probably enjoy canned or frozen foods more.

Sample Camp Menu.  Here is a sample menu typical of our 3-day dirt biking trips to the Mojave Desert.

Day 1 Breakfast       Donuts, milk                                                                                                                            Lunch           Hot Dogs, chips, soda                                                                                                                Dinner           Beef Stew

Day 2 Breakfast       Cold ceeral, milk, orange juice                                                                                   

           Lunch             Cold cut sandwiches, chips, soda

          Dinner            Chili

Day 3 Breakfast       Pankcakes, eggs orange juice

          Lunch            Tuna sandwiches, chips, soda

          Dinner           Hamburgers,chips, soda

This gives us some options yet is built around a minimum of supplies and ingredients.

In summary, plan your menu ahead of time and keep it simple.  Focus on meals and snacks appropriate to the season and the activity.

Bon appetite!

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Spring Cleaning

Today is March 21 -- the official First Day of Spring in the northern hemisphere.  Most places with 4 distinct seasons are (hopefully) shaking off winter.   Signs of spring are popping up.  The grass is getting green, leaves are budding out on trees, robins have returned.  That also means it is time to start preparing your RV and camping equipment for a new season of family fun.  I find getting my equipment ready for camping is welcome outlet from months of being cooped up inside during winter weather.   Its not as much fun as camping, but the anticipation of what is coming creates a lot of excitement -- and a fair amount of stress release.

RVs have often been idle all winter and need preparation for the upcoming camping season.  Start by inspecting the outside of your unit.  If it has been outdoors, be sure to check the roof for any damage that might have been caused by falling limbs or other airborne debris during storms.  Give it a good washing and check for loose panels or fasteners.  Check for leaks in the roof and around doors and windows.  Check your tires.  If they are more than a few years old, they may have developed sidewall cracks.  Check the inflation pressure.  Some loss of pressure over time is normal so you'll probably need to inflate them to the proper pressure before driving.  Check the vehicle specifications. If not available, inflate to the maximum pressure shown on the sidewall.  Never exceed the maximum sidewall pressure, even if the tire looks low. T emperature swings during the winter months cause flexing of body panels and windows which can sometimes lead to cracks or separations and you'll want to identify and correct any such problems before you hit the road.  Be sure to check your batteries, propane system, and belts and hoses.  Rubber components can dry out and weaken or crack during storage.   Test them NOW so you don't have an unfortunate incident out on the road or get stranded in some remote camp ground.  Check radiator and heater hoses visually and by squeezing them.  Hoses should be flexible but not squishy.  Tighten all hose clamps.  In addition for looking for leaks or cracks, squeeze the hoses.  Hoses should be pliable.  Hoses that are brittle or squishy should be replaced.  You can test exposed portions of the propane system for leaks by spraying a solution of soapy water on any connections you can see.   If bubbles appear, there is a leak that needs to be fixed before lighting any appliances.  The size and speed with which the bubbles form is an indicator of the size of the leak.  You may be able to tighten loose connections, but take care not to over-tighten them, which can cause further damage.  Other leaks will need professional repairs.   Propane systems sometimes accumulate moisture which can lead to freeze damage in cold climates.  Be sure to test all your appliances to make sure they are functioning properly.  Problems with individual appliances may be debris or incest webs or nests in burners or vents that need to cleaned out or failure of a component, such as the computer control board or the thermocouple.  Winter temperature changes may tweak components out of alignment so make sure the burner is adjusted properly. I f nothing works right, you may be out of propane or lines or the regulator may be damaged.  Moisture in the system sometimes condenses and freezes in the regulator or in low-lying loops of the lines.  Of course you'll want to make sure the main valve is turned on and you have propane in the tank before calling a technician.

Clean all the outside lights and check them for proper operation.   It is not unusual for the ground connections on lights to corrode over the winter.  You may need to clean the ground connections. Look for black wires, usually about #12 guage, that are connected to some metal frame component. The screws may be loose or the connector may be corroded.  Sometimes the base of the bulbs also corrode.  Cleaning them may get them working.   If not, you may have to replace the bulbs.   Corroded sockets or fixtures may need to replaced.  Replace any missing or damaged lenses.   Proper functioning of lights is essential for safety -- and may avoid a "fix it" ticket.

Awnings should be unrolled and examined.  Clean any dirt or mildew that has accumulated over the winter.  Even if you made sure it was dry when you last rolled it up, humidity may have condensed on the fabric during temperature swings over the winter.  If any of the mechanism is stiff or sticky, clean and lubricate it.  If any of the arms or supports are bent you might try to gently straighten them.   To do this successfully you may have to remove them and lay them out on a flat surface.  If they can't be straightened successfully, replace them as soon as possible.  Bent arms will lead to further problems that will be a lot more expensive than just replacing the initial damaged component.   If cleaning and lubricating all moving parts doesn't get things moving right, have it checked out by an RV technician.   Damaged components will interfere with normal operation and may lead to serious malfunctions and permanent damage to the awning and/or the RV itself if the awning comes loose during travel.

Interior preparations.   RVs in storage are attractive homes for insects and vermin during winter months, so check inside your exterior storage cabinets and throughout the interior for any evidence of their presence.  Remove spider webs, brush or vacuum dust and debris from the refrigerator vents, inspect and, if necessary clear and clean furnace vents and the burners in refrigerators and water heaters.  If you find rodent droppings in your RV, clean them up right away and set some traps.   To prevent rodents from taking up residence I usually put some D-con poison in my RV over the winter. Remove bedding and vacuum the mattress.  Wash the bedding before reinstalling it.  Even if you haven't used the beds, dust will have accumulated and humidity may have infiltrated below the surface and provided an environment for bacteria growth that may not be obvious.   Having fresh bedding will make slipping between the sheets a real pleasure that first night in camp.  Even if the bedding appears clean and smells OK, it may not remain so pleasant to use.   Sweat may release dormant odors that accumulated over the winter.  Check all your interior lights and 12-volt appliances (like fans and radios) for proper operation and make repairs as necessary.  This is also a good time to clean all of the lenses on the lights.   Check the batteries in clocks and smoke detectors.  Replace any that are weak.

Provisions need to be checked.  Anything that froze over the winter will probably need to be tossed out and replaced.  Be sure to check the expiration dates on all edibles and medicines as well and get rid of outdated items.  Any containers that are bulging or leaking should be discarded and replaced. Things like lotions, shampoos and liquid soaps may have separated.  Sometimes you can reclaim them by shaking them, but if they have an unusual odor or will not regain their original consistency and color, replace them.   Far better to spend a few extra $ and be confident of your supplies when you need them.   Things like sun screens and insect repellants will lose much of their effectiveness if they've been frozen or are too old so you should get fresh ones each season.

Cabinets, closets, drawers, and storage tubs all need to be inspected, cleaned and organized. Inventory and inspect contents.  Repair or replace damaged items.   Discard and replace outdated medical supplies and food items.  Remove unnecessary clutter, and put things back where they belong so you'll be able to find them when you need them on your outings.

Camp clothing you may have stored in your RV or or tent camping tubs should be inventoried. It may need to be cleaned or repaired.   Consider the appropriateness of your wardrobe.  You may have accumulated heavy winter clothing you won't need again for many months and may need to substitute articles more suitable for spring and summer activities before you venture out.

De-winterize your water systems.   You should delay this step until you are certain you won't get any more freezing weather.   However, I would try to schedule it at least a week before any planned outings.  That will give you time to make an repairs that may be need and for any residual chlorine from sanitizing the fresh water tank to dissipate.  When it is time to de-winterize your fresh water system, fill the fresh water tank about half full and flush all the lines until all the pink RV antifreeze has cleared.  Re-set the bypass valves on the water heater and fill the water heater and test it.    If the water has an unpleasant odor, add about a half cup of ordinary household bleach to the fresh water tank and then either drive the unit to mix it in or add more water to stir things up.  Then flush the lines until you can smell the chlorine at each fixture.   Let it sit for a few hours, then drain the tank completely, re-fill and flush the lines with clean water until the chlorine smell is gone.   If you have trouble getting rid of the chlorine smell, you may have used too much bleach.   Add about cup of baking soda to the fresh water tank, drive your RV to mix it up, then flush it through all lines and fixtures and let it sit for a few hours.  You should then be able to drain the tank and flush the lines and have fresh, clean-smelling water throughout your RV.   If you have any doubts about water quality purchase some fresh water treatment from your favorite RV supply store and add it to perk things up a bit before your next trip.  Be sure to inspect your water system for leaks or any unexpected freeze damage.  Even though I meticulously winterize my RVs, I've twice had the outside shower controls freeze up and crack.   Obviously I didn't get enough antifreeze into them.  Water won't care about your good intentions.   It will simply obey the laws of physics and expand when it freezes, often breaking pipes or fixtures.  Depending on how much water you flushed into the holding tanks you may need to add more be be able to flush them.  They should be at least half full for proper flushing. Dump and flush the tanks and add chemicals as usual.  Clean and service the air conditioners.   Older roof air conditioners may need lubrication.   Newer models have sealed bearings that can't be lubricated.  For older unis, a few drops of motor oil in the oil ports on the motor should do the trick.  Clean the fins on the condenser (outside) and the filters (inside).  Most filters are made of foam and can be easily removed and hand washed with soap and water.  Rinse them thoroughly and squeeze out any excess water.  You may want to lay them on a paper towel to dry before re-installing them.

Appliances.  Check all your appliances to ensure they are proper working order and adjusted correctly.   Propane attracts certain spiders so burners on furnaces, water heaters, and refrigerators may have accumulated webs and nests that will interfere with proper operation.  Don't forget your portable BBQ, camp stove, and lanterns.  Fire up your generator and test the microwave.   Test all your electronic equipment (radios, TVs, media players, etc).

Tent camping may not have all the complex systems of an RV for winterizing and spring cleaning, but there are certain tasks you should do in preparation for the new season.  Insects and vermin may have found their way into your stored equipment, even into plastic tubs, so take everything out and clean and inspect it.  This is also a good time to make an repairs that might have been missed when the equipment was stored.  Take inventory of your tools and supplies.  Repair or replace any damaged or missing equipment and get rid of exhausted or outdated supplies.  Winter temperatures or just age may have affected foods, medicine, and cleaning supplies, so check them carefully and replace anything that looks or smells suspicious.  Sharpen axes and knives.  Make sure all tools and utensils are clean and properly stored where you'll need them.  Sometimes moisture may have made its way into stored tents or sleeping bags.   They may be just damp, but often they may have begun to mildew.   At the very least you'll need to hang them out to dry.   Mildew can be treated with anti-mildew sprays.   If they are badly soiled, stained, or smelly, take the to the dry cleaners to be cleaned. When the items are thoroughly dry and any needed repairs have been made they can be rolled back up.   Be sure to inspect tent pegs and poles.  Replace any damaged items.  Your tent pegs should have been cleaned before they were put away.  If they were not, clean them now and check for corrosion that might have weakened them over the winter.   Replace any that have been weakened by rust, corrosion, or other damage.  Even clean metal pegs may rust due to humidity, so make sure none are weakened.  They won't do you much good if they bend when you try to pound them in or snap off and let your tent blow over.  Fire up your camp stove and lantern and make sure they are adjusted correctly and functioning properly.  If they're not, now is the time to make repairs and adjustments. Service your camp stove and lantern.  Make sure the pump seals are soft and working.  Test them to see if the generators need to be replaced.  Be sure to clean all the openings in the stove burners.  They do tend to get clogged up from spills during normal use. If you use a portable 120-volt generator, give it a complete checkout -- change the oil and oil, fuel, and air filters. Give it a test run to make sure it is adjusted right.

Go over your regular pre-trip checklist to be sure everything is ship shape for your first outing. Even though that first outing may be a few weeks away, checking everything out now will give you time to take care of any repairs, replacements, or additions you need to make.

Tools.   Go through all your tools.  Make sure nothing is missing or out of place.   Clean every item so it is free from grease, dirt, and rust.  Repair or replace any damaged tools.  Take inventory and see if you need to add any items.  Was there anything you needed last season that you didn't have?  Did any of your fellow campers have new tools last year you don't have that would be of benefit to you? As you put them away, make sure they are neatly organized and easy to access.   Just dumping everything into a canvas bag isn't very useful.  You'd probably be better off leaving it all at home and reducing your rolling weight than having a jumble of stuff you won't be able to conveniently use and probably won't be able to find what you need when you need it.

If you are an OHV or personal water craft rider, now is also the time to get your ride and gear ready for the upcoming season.  After a winter in storage, your equipment will need a good cleaning and you'll want to perform routine lubrication and adjustments to make sure everything is ready to go.  You may want to drain and replace the fuel, especially if you didn't add any preservatives before storage.  Oil and filters should be changed.  Even without use, the winter temperature changes and humidity may have introduced moisture or caused additives to breakdown. An oil and filter change is a lot less expensive than rebuilding an engine damage by poor lubrication! Check out your gear to make sure insects or vermin haven't taken up residence or otherwise damaged it.   Inventory and inspect your tools and supplies.  Replace any used up, damaged, or missing items.

Inventory time.   Now is a good time to go through your camping bins or your RV closets, cabinets, and drawers, and do a complete inventory.   Check to see if anything is missing or out of place.  Check expiration dates on foodstuffs and medical supplies.  Examine gear and equipment for any needed repairs.  You want everything to be in A-number-one condition when you hit the road soon.

If you've spent a lot of time "hibernating" you may need to do some personal tuneup as well.   Between the Holiday feasting and  being confined to the sofa or computer desk for several months, your body probably needs a little exercise to get you prepared for the upcoming camping season.  Start off easy and work your way to to more strenuous sessions to avoid unnecessary pain and possible injury.

Clean up!

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

RV Dealers

RV Dealers are sometimes rolled into the same category as used car salesmen.  However, any really reputable dealer is going to be more interested in helping you find the right RV at the right price than in making a fast sale.  You may encounter high pressure tactics in some places.  After all, most salesmen work on commission and need the sales to make a living.  But a good salesman will know he's better off helping you make the right decision than pushing you into something you'll regret just to pad his next paycheck.  He or she will be focused on the long term instead of the short term.   If you're happy with your purchase, you're likely to return when you outgrow your RV or are ready for an upgrade and you'll probably tell your friends and bring him more business.   If he pushes you to buy something you won't be happy with, you are likely to go elsewhere for your next purchase and will probably not refer your friends if not dissuade your friends from ever coming in.  To me, high pressure tactics are an immediate indicator to look somewhere else.   Reputable dealers can be a tremendous help when you're looking to buy an RV.  They know the market and can guide you in finding the unit that fits your needs and your budget.  You may pay a little more from a dealer because he has to pay his salesmen, cover any reconditioning he has done and set aside an allowance for any needed warranty work.  In many cases, meeting his price is well worth it.  It can add peace of mind and may actually save you money in he long run.

Finding a really reputable dealer involves more than just checking out the Yellow Pages or doing a simple Google search.  Check the Internet for any feedback from other customers.  Check your local Better Business Bureau.  Any business may get complaints, but a very strong indicator of the character of the business and the owner is how they handle problems.  Briefly check out the used inventory.  It should be clean and attractively displayed.  A good dealer is going to wholesale unusable units and detail good ones so they show well.  Check out the service department if you can. Mechanics should be properly certified.  Certifications are usually clearly displayed in an area where customers can easily view them.  The service bays should be clean and well organized.  You might get a low price buying an RV from a used car lot, but if they don't specialize in used RVs, it is unlikely they have the experience or knowledge to provide good advice, proper inspection and reconditioning, or adequate warranty service.

Beware of unusually low prices.   I remember a sign at one store that read "We have no problem with those who sell for less. They know what their products are worth."  You can expect to pay more for a used RV from a dealer than from a private party, but it may very well be worth it.  The dealer's price includes the salesman's commission, any re-conditioning that was required, and an allowance for any warranty offered.  In most states, any vehicle must pass minimum safety requirements before a dealer can offer it for sale.   Other re-conditioning may reduce the amount of repairs, upgrades, or other TLC the dealer has done that otherwise you may have to do when you get it home.  Private parties are not bound by the laws affecting retailers so you could end up with serious safety issues if you don't have any private party purchase checked by a competent mechanic and/or technician before you buy.   For your own comfort you may want to have your mechanic check out ANY used vehicle, even if you are buying it from a dealer.  If you find an exceptionally good price on a unit you are interested in buying, don't be afraid to ask why the price is so low.  Perhaps it is a consignment vehicle and the owner needs a quick sale due to a medical or financial emergency.  Perhaps the dealer obtained it at at good price through an estate sale or as a repossession.  Perhaps it was advertised as a "loss leader" -- merchants will sometimes offer certain products below their cost just to lure customers into the store, hoping to make it up on sales of other items.   If there is no legitimate reason for the reduced price, it may be because there is some hidden underlying problem that is too expensive for the dealer to repair.  Sometimes you can make out on such a unit, IF you are aware or the issue(s) and you are prepared to take care of the repairs yourself and the price leaves you enough to compensate for the work that needs to be done.

"Special sale prices" are often worth checking out.  Dealers may offer one or more units as "loss leaders" to bring people into the dealership.  They will, of course, try to steer you to higher priced vehicles, but once they have advertised a certain vehicle at a certain price, they are legally obligated to honor the offer.  They may try to up sell you on something better, but if you are satisfied with the sale unit, you may indeed get a good deal if you insist on buying it.  Some shady dealers may offer a sub-standard unit at ridiculously low prices knowing no one will want to buy it.   If you repeatedly find the specially priced unit has been sold before your get there or the "special" is just a piece of junk, the dealer might be running a false ad, which is worthy of both reporting to the Better Business Bureau and your Attorney General.   Legitimate dealers won't play those games.

Let's Make A Deal!

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Camp Dinnerware

Camp dinnerware?  Yeah, right!   As if there is anything really to be said about it.  Well, actually, there is.  My all time favorite is paper plates, bowls, and cups.   I hate doing dishes when camping, either in my RV or in a tent.  While some eco-freaks will complain about the waste of natural resources, it isn't really as bad as they like to make it seem.  Using paper does consume some renewable resources, but consider the eco-impact of manufacturing, warehousing, shipping, and selling permanent dishes along with heating water and making and using detergents and disposing of the waste water.   The overall ecological footprint of disposable goods is actually rather favorable -- and it's more convenient and saves time, which are both significant advantages when camping .   A few years ago we had an eco-freak where I worked who was boycotting styrofoam cups and campaigning mightily for management to discontinue using them at the coffee machine -- until someone posted an article that described -- in accurate scientific detail -- the eco-impact of paper cups versus styrofoam.   While styrofoam cups are slow to deteriorate in land fills, it's manufacture and use has a LOT less impact on the environment and smaller overall carbon footprint than paper cups.  Net result: styrofoam wins!  Using disposable items is not frivolous or irresponsible.  It adds a great deal of convenience and saves a lot of time when camping, conserves propane and water, and reduces filling holding tanks,.

There may be times when paper plates won't cut it.  Sometimes they're too flimsy for hot, heavy foods like steaks and baked potatoes or maybe you just feel like being a little fancier.   Buffet style potluck dinners may demand larger and sturdier items. Y ou may be able to solve the flimsy problem by using plastic or wicker paper plate holders.  I like the plastic ones that have a built in groove on the bottom that grips the rim of a soda can, making the can a convenient handle to hold the plate and keep track of my drink.   The brand is Loc-a-plate but I think they are no longer being manufactured.  If  you happen to come on some anywhere, snag them up while you can!  My favorite permanent camp dinnerware is the blue enameled "speckleware" or graniteware.  It adds a kind of pioneer or Old West ambiance and it is easy to clean and pretty darn sturdy.  If you want REALLY sturdy, go for stainless steel plates or even cafeteria trays.  We've tried both stainless steel and plastic cafeteria trays.  I like the stainless steel ones best -- they're stronger and don't flex or break.  The cafeteria trays are especially handy for potluck dinners and make a good platform for eating around the campfire.   Resting a wide tray on your lap is a lot easier than balancing a skinny plate.   Again, they are easy to clean and practically indestructable.  I have cups and bowls to match both my speckleware and stainless steel plates and trays.  A speckleware coffee pot is a good way to heat water on the campfire for hot beverages.

Fancy dinnerware usually isn't necessary or even desirable for camping activities, but you may have a special occasion now like an anniversary or special birthday when you want to dress things up a bit.   China plates, bowls, and cups may not survive the vibration and bouncing in RV cupboards or tent camping transport tubs without special packing. Variations of plastic or Melmac dinnerware can be quite attractive and aren't as heavy or as+ fragile as china. Personally, I'll stick with my favorite speckleware or stainless steel dinnerware, but I do have some fancy acrylic glasses that can really dress up a table when wanted and yet are nearly unbreakable.  Some of them look almost as good as real crystal, even though they lack the resonance.  And, compared to paper cups, they're down right elegant!

Disposable plastic flatware also helps avoid the need for doing dishes.   If you want dressy stuff for a special occasion, there are really nice clear plastic and even shiny silver versions that are almost as nice as sterling silver, but for everyday use, ordinary plastic is cheaper and just as functional.  Even so, I do keep a set of stainless steel flatware in my RV in case I run out of plastic or want something sturdier for a nice steak dinner.  I find plastic flatware totally inadequate for steaks.  Of course, there are different grades (and prices) of plasticware.  I've seen forks so flimsy they melt when used on anything hot enough to eat but they're OK for baked beans, potato salad, and cake and ice cream at picnics.

Regardless of what kind of dinnerware you choose, you only need to bring along as much as you need for the number of people on that trip.   No sense hauling around complete service for 8 when there is only two of you.  When we camped regularly with 6 kids the service for 8 was necessary but now that we're retired, 3/4 of that stuff can stay at home most of the time, reducing weight and freeing up valuable space.

Paper table cloths, especially red and white checkered ones, are traditional on picnic tables.  For a fancier dinner, use a lacy white paper or plastic table covering.  Real cloth table cloths take up a lot of room and have to be taken home and laundered.  Paper or plastic create an attractive, sanitary surface and can be disposed of after use.  Plastic coated table cloths provide an easy to clean surface that invites multiple uses.  Table cloths tend to blow up or even blow away when the breeze kicks up.  Pick up a set of table cloth clamps or table cloth weights to secure your table cloth -- or make sure it is anchored by ice chests and "Round-a-bouts" or rocks.

Of course, if you REALLY want real china, crystal, and sterling silver for a special event, go ahead.   Just take appropriate precautions packing it to survive the bumpy ride and allow enough time to wash it properly and re-pack it when you're done using it.  You might even use real cloth table cloths and napkins to pack and pad the fragile items.  Hey, you could even bring along some silver candlesticks to highlight the meal and add a romantic touch for special occasions.  You might recall the elegant setting in the movie Hildalgo when the English lady invites Frank to tea in her tent.   It rivaled service in any royal court.   Of course she had servants to do all the heavy lifting.

Serving.  At home you probably don't serve your meals right out of the pan, but when camping that makes perfect sense -- takes less time and there are fewer dishes to do.  Condiments are most convenient served right out of the original containers.  Lest you think that is too crass, that's the way they were served at Hearst Castle in its hay day entertaining high level politicians and celebrities. Have your dinner guests bring their plates to the camp fire or BBQ for their burgers or steaks instead of dirtying an extra plate just to bring them to the table.  I like over-sized serving spoons.  I found some speckleware serving spoons and forks I like to use.  Of course, stainless steel utensils are sturdy and easy to clean and are ideal for camp use.   Plastic versions may be less expensive, but might melt if used around the campfire and they don't stand up to the rather rambunctious use they often get around camp.  You can usually find both plastic and stainless steel utensils at your local dollar store so they don't have to be expensive.  Of course you can get professional grade utensils at a restaurant supply store that will most likely last forever -- if you don't lose them.   Really nice ones sometimes have a tendency to be "acquired" by envious campers.   I've found the dollar store versions quite adequate for camping and they're inexpensive to replace if they get lost or damaged..

Glassware is often too fragile for camping, but there are lots of acrylic and plastic options that are quite attractive and will survive travel better.  You can also serve soft drinks and other beverages right out of the can or bottle, unless you need or prefer them over ice.   Then you might use paper or plastic cups, which are convenient and save water and time you would spend washing permanent items.  If you prefer something sturdier, plastic tumblers are lighter weight and less fragile than glass.  Porcelain cups are often preferred for hot beverage, but again, they are fairly breakable.  If you must use porcelain cups, be sure to store them safely where the sometimes violent maneuvers of travel won't break them.  Stainless steel, tin, or enameled cups are sturdy and stand up better to the rigors of camping while adding a pioneer ambiance.  They are sturdy and are easy to clean and store.

Sometimes you can avoid using any dinnerware at all.   Simple hot dogs can be cooked over the campfire on a stick or wire coat hanger then slipped directly into a bun and garnished with your favorite condiments with out dirtying a single plate.  Pre-packaged meals, like MREs and TV dinners, can be eaten directly from the disposable containers they come in which can then be disposed of in the trash or the campfire.

Some camp cook sets include plates, bowls, and cups.  The plastic plates and cups are usually kind of light weight, sometimes even bordering on flimsy, but they are convenient and get the job done.  These camp cook sets can conserve weight and space in your RV or camp set.  They are usually designed so everything stacks together for storage and transport and usually come in a carry bag.

Military mess kits are designed for field use and so are ideal for camping.  Boy Scout and other camp mess kits are usually lighter weight and less durable but quite convenient, functional, and reasonably priced.  You can get mess kits at military surplus stores and in most camping departments.  A one-person mess kit is usually well under $10.   Military kits are usually made of stainless steel while camping kits are often made of aluminum.   The stainless steel will hold up better but will be heavier if you are back packing or have to carry it very far.

The right dinnerware will be fun and easy to use, durable, and easy to clean and store.   It may even be festive, like the cowboy themed enameled set I inherited from my Grandfather.

Eat up!