Wecome To RVs and OHVs

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

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Surviving A Winter Storm

Unless you're lucky enough to live in the sun belt, winter storms can catch you at home or out camping.  Either way, you're going to need to know what to do when a winter storm hits.   I was even caught in snow a couple of times while camping in the Mojave Desert in southern California.  Some of the things you need to do no matter where you are, some may be unique to the location. Your concerns in camp will probably be somewhat different from the problems you'll experience at home, but some will also be the same.

Snow loads are going to be a problem no matter whether you are home or in camp if it snows.  We recently got more than a foot of snow at home, which adds up to about 15 lbs per square foot.  That means close to 1400 lbs of snow on the top of an 8 x 11 1/2 camper!  By the time I cleared off the roof of my slide-in camper, the damage was already done.  The metal roofing had caved in enough between the rafters to separate the metal sheets and damage some of the plywood sheeting underneath.  Its going to be a major repair project next spring.  Whether you're in camp or at home when the snow hits, if your RV is outside, you'll want to monitor how much snow is accumulating and sweep it off before it damages your vehicle.  Snow can quickly get heavy enough to collapse tents if you're tent camping.  Even though some snow can provide insulation against the cold, you'll be much worse off if it collapses your tent.  If your RV is stored in a shed or carport at home, you will want to monitor the snow accumulation on the roof of the structure and clear it off before it gets heavy enough to cave in the roof or collapse the structure. I've heard reports of snow accumulation in mountain areas that were enough to pop tires on stationery travel trailers.  Imagine the stress that put on the infrastructure too!  Popped tires are easy to replace.  Cracked or broken supports inside walls, roofs, and floors will be an expensive, major repair job.

Snow shoveling is probably something you'll do more of at home than in camp, but you may need to shovel walkways between your RV and any trailer or to the fire pit, picnic table, or the restrooms or to adjacent camp sites. Take care when shoveling snow.  Wet snow can be very heavy, about 12-15 lbs per shovelful.  At a rate of 12 shovelfuls per minute you'll move about 2,000 lbs (1 ton) of snow in 10 minutes!  That's probably a lot more than your normal upper body workout at the gym and tons more work than lifting the TV remote control -- as well as a lot of unusual movement.  Exercise caution, especially if yours is normally a rather sedentary lifestyle.  If you're tossing snow and not just pushing it, avoid twisting, just toss it straight ahead.  Twisting puts extra strain on your whole body, especially your back, shoulders, and arms.  The exertion is more than most people are used to. About 1200 Americans die from heart attacks while shoveling snow every year.  Emergency room visits for heart attacks jump about 22% for about a week after a big storm.  If you must shovel snow, be sure to do it right!  You will find it easier to keep up with it if you shovel right after each storm, even if another one is on the way.  Shoveling 2" twice is a lot easier than shoveling 4" all at once. Sometimes you can use a snow shovel like a human-powered snowplow and push the snow out of the way without having to lift and toss it.  For light, fluffy snow or snow that is not too deep, you can probably just push the end of the shovel handle with your hand(s).  For heavier work, rest the shovel handle against your thighs or abdomen (depending on how tall you are and  how long the shovel handle is) and push with your legs.  Check out these Fifteen Cardinal Rules for Snow Shoveling. You'll also find lots of videos with snow shoveling tips on You Tube. Lifting and throwing snow puts a strain on all sorts of muscles in your arms, legs, neck, and back and sometime contributes to heart attacks among people who aren't in shape for that much strenuous activity.  For one thing, in cold weather, your body constricts blood vessels to conserve core heat, so it pushes blood pressure up and reduces the oxygen supply to the heart.  Those especially at risk are smokers and people who have had a previous heart attack, other heart disease, high blood pressure, or a sedentary life style. If you're a perennial couch potato, don't jump into shoveling tons of snow without some preparation.  Even if you are healthy and fit, do some warmups and stretches before tackling the snow shovel.  Shoveling snow can be more strenuous than exercising full throttle on a treadmill.  Even pushing a heavy motorized snow blower can put enough load on your heart to be dangerous, especially if you're out of shape.  When shoveling, drink plenty of water and take plenty of breaks.  Like it or not, the snow probably isn't going anywhere while you stop for a hot cup of cocoa.  At least one study showed the rate of heart attacks to be 50% higher in winter than in summer and they were more likely to be fatal.

Heat and light are essential to our comfort, convenience, health, and safety. Winter storms, or unlucky drivers in winter storms, often knock down power lines, leaving us without power at home or in a campground with hookups.  If you've maintained your RV properly, you should be able to survive several days without outside power.   With a propane furnace and an onboard generator you should be able to be comfortable for many days.  Make sure the generator exhaust doesn't get blocked with snow or being redirected up into your RV.  At home you may have to rely on heating your house with a wood burning fireplace or a wood stove to keep your pipes from freezing.  If you don't already have a working fireplace or wood stove and you live in an area prone to winter storms, it might be worth investing in one.  Such upgrades are not cheap, but then, neither is repairing the damage and replacing broken pipes when the pipes freeze to say nothing of the comfort of having a heated home to stay in!  A fireplace is a nice addition to any home, but it can be a very expensive and difficult job adding one to an existing structure.  Wood burning stoves are easier to install and are actually much more efficient than fireplaces.  In fact, one report I read, said using your fireplace during cold weather can actually increase your heating bills significantly because of heat lost up the chimney.  Your camping lanterns, flashlights, and candles can serve you well at home, in your RV or your tent during a storm-induced power outage.  Just keeping the cabin of your RV above freezing may not be enough to protect the on board plumbing systems.  Sewer dump valves will almost certainly be exposed to extreme temperatures outside unless they are inside a heated cabinet and even some fresh water lines may be at risk. It is too late to prepare your RV for winter camping if you're already in camp when winter hits.  You need to know how and take steps to protect exposed fixtures ahead of time.  At least carry a gallon or so of Marine/RV antifreeze to protect your dump valves if you get an unexpected cold snap.  To protect pipes from freezing you only need to keep them above 32°F.  Let's say you keep your home or RV at 40°F.  That will protect your pipes, but YOU aren't going to be very comfortable since human beings prefer a temperature around 72°F.  Dress in layers to preserve your own body heat.  Wear a hat, even indoors, to reduce heat loss through your head.  Wear extra socks and change your socks often.  People often forget that feet sweat, and as they do, damp socks will make sure you feel cold all over.  Do everything you can to stop drafts and to provide extra insulation over windows.  Multiple layers are best for windows, just like they are for you.  You might be surprised how much heat the human body generates.  Some estimates put it about the same as a 100 watt incandescent bulb.  When our family came to visit at Christmas in Utah one year we had about 20 people in the living room, and even without the heat on and no fire in the fireplace and with sub-freezing temperatures outside, it got so warm we had to open some windows.

Concentrate on limiting your activities to the smallest space you can.  It will be easier to keep a small room warm for your comfort than trying to heat a whole house.  If you have room you might even set up a dome tent indoors to give you an even smaller space to heat to keep you warm at night.  Block any unnecessary places heat can escape.  Put rolled towels against the bottom of doors, hang blankets over windows, and tape up any obvious gaps in weather stripping.

Cooking is likely going to require some adjustments too.  As utilities are affected by winter storms, you may have to fall back to your RV, BBQ, camp stove, or campfire at home to get by until your residential appliances are back on line.  During a recent blackout that struck our area about dinner time, we simply shifted to cooking on the BBQ outside in the snow.  Yes, it was cold and we had to cook by flashlight, but at least we had dinner on time.  In a long-term situation, we would probably move into our motorhome and do most of the cooking there.  Blackouts usually have less of an impact if you're in an RV since you can fall back on your on board systems like you would boondocking.  Just remember to conserve resources.  You never know how long you'll be without power. NEVER try using your BBQ or even small hibachi indoors, not even in your garage.  Between the fumes and the oxygen depletion, it is a sure recipe for disaster, not to mention the fire hazard.  Fire will be far better at getting the limited oxygen out of the air than your lungs will be!  Also be cautious using an auxiliary generator.  Keep them -- or at least their exhaust -- outside, at least 25 feet from doors and windows or you will surely suffer from carbon monoxide poisoning.  There were a lot of generator related problems (illness and even deaths) during hurricane Sandy, mostly because of the ignorance of the owners about proper ventilation.

Road hazards during a winter storm are usually pretty well known and obvious:  deep snow, slick roads, black ice, and poor visibility.  But also consider that snowplows and even ordinary traffic may present additional problems.   Snow plows may inadvertently block your driveway as they clear the road. If you are parked near a road that is being plowed or cleared with a snow-blower, snow may be tossed onto your vehicle.  If you have to abandon a vehicle by the side of the road, it may "disappear" into the snow and be inadvertently struck by a snowplow or other passing vehicle.  Other drivers attempting unwisely to continue to travel may lose control and run into your vehicle.  Be especially aware of heightened road hazards if you are moving about on foot!  Not only might you be hit by passing traffic, you may encounter unexpected dangers beneath the snow as you walk (or struggle) through the snow.  Simple things like fire plugs and curbs can trip you up and you could step into hole or ditch that has been filled with snow.  We were rather dismayed when a Fed Ex deliveryman showed up at our door with snow clinging to his clothes up to his waist.  He had tried to walk from his truck on the street to our front door, not realizing there was a deep irrigation ditch hidden beneath the snow drift along the road.  It looked flat and safe -- until he stepped into the ditch and went in up to his waist!   We have since installed a bridge and with reflective markers to designate a route of safe passage.  Be particularly cautious if you are in an unfamiliar area where you may not be aware of the potential hazards lurking beneath that peaceful, white blanket of snow.  If snow catches you after you arrive in camp, be aware that getting out may be impaired by slippery or muddy conditions resulting from the storm.

Conserving resources during a winter storm is a wise and essential thing to do whether you're at home or camping.  You can never tell how long you may have to stick it out before utilities are restored or things warm up and you can travel again.  Do whatever you can to reduce heat loss through windows and to seal up drafts around doors and windows and other fixtures that penetrate the exterior of your structure.  Use consumable commodities such as fuel, battery power, water and food only as needed.  If you experience a long term power outage, use the food in your fridge first, then the freezer, and then the canned goods from the pantry.  That way you can make use of perishable foods before they spoil.

♫Let is snow, let it snow, let it snow!♫

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Riding an OHV on Forest Trails

Forest trails are beautiful places to ride an OHV.   Unfortunately, they are becoming more and more scarce as time goes by.  Development and environmental closures have eliminated thousands of miles of trails over the years.  We lost about 400 miles of trails in the Sequoia National Forest to Wilderness Area designations a few years ago.  Proponents cited concerns that OHVs would cause forest fires, even though there were zero fires in more than 40 years of OHV use.  In the first year of closure, a card-carrying Sierra Club member burning her toilet paper (why the heck was she doing that?) started a fire that burned 55,000 acres of their brand new wilderness to a crisp!  There were at least 4 more fires in the area in the next 10 years or so (none caused by OHVs), and sometimes the Forest Service requested dirt bikers camped nearby to ride into their precious wilderness and rescue trapped hikers, which they gladly did in spite of political differences.  We, unlike many so-called environmentalists, value human life, even those who disagree with us, more than we value trees and bugs or politics.  Guess we should have just told them to file another frivolous law suit!

Forest trails often wind through cool, damp stands of trees, so heat and dust are usually not a big problem.  The scenery can be outstanding. Before moving to Utah most of my riding was in the Mojave Desert.  It was quite thrilling to ride a legal canyon single track trail in Utah and find myself up to my handlebars in grass crossing some meadows.

When I lived in southern California, forest outings were our answer to extremely hot desert summers.  We'd drive hundreds of extra miles to get up out of the hot desert and into some cool forests.  On one trip we pulled over to rest before leaving the desert floor.  Even at 5:00 am it was too hot to sleep in our RV (over 100°F outside), even on top of the covers down in the desert.  A few hours later we had climbed from the 4,000' desert elevation to around 9,000' in the mountains and it was time for parkas.  Forest camps and trails offered respite from the sizzling desert heat plus beautiful scenery.  We enjoyed a good relationship with the local rangers, who created new loops to reconnect some trails cut off by the wilderness boundaries, which zigzagged with an obvious intent to deliberately cut off looping trails.

Riding forest trails requires a commitment to following the rules as well as some special riding skills.  Most places where there are forest trails you are restricted to riding the trails and not permitted to cut corners or do ANY cross country riding.  If you are caught you can get stiff fines.  Even if you don't get caught, the damage you leave behind may result in additional closures and loss of riding areas.  Many forest areas are quite fragile.  Be considerate.  Many forest areas restrict camping to designated campgrounds.  Blatant disregard for camping and riding rules will result in further loss of RV and OHV areas.  You might have to drive a little further to reach a designated campground or go out of your way a little to stay on the trails, but it is well worth it.

Forest riding doesn't usually involve extreme temperatures, but hydration on the trail is still very important.  Even when riding a shady trail, you'll still lose water from your body through respiration and perspiration.  Always carry a canteen or wear a hydration pack.  There may be streams in some forest areas, but unless you are certain the water is clean or can safely purify it, don't drink it!  Many forest streams in North America are infected with giardia, which can cause a lot of problems like vomiting and diarhhea, which will quickly put the skids on any outing.  Clear, fast-moving streams are often said to be safe, but even they can be contaminated.  Before drinking any natural occurring water, check for potential contamination, such as animal feces or carcasses in or near the water.

All off highway vehicles should be equipped with spark arrestors.  These are especially important in forest areas where there is a lot of combustible material on or near the trails.  Never remove or disable the spark arrestor on your machine.  If it gets clogged, service it according to the manufacturer's instructions to restore performance.  If you believe the factory spark arrestor is too restrictive, check out after-market models that may improve performance without losing protection. Operating your vehicle with a missing or disabled spark arrestor is dangerous and could result in a fire and/or substantial fine.  That being said, I was once part of a group of dirt bikers who were unfairly (and illegally) cited for excessive noise.  It was never clear whether it was ignorance or malicious intent and it would be very hard to prove either assumption, but it left an indelible impression on everyone involved.

Many forests have well defined noise restrictions so make sure your exhaust system on your OHV is up to par.  In some places OHV trails are shared by non-motorized users.  If you encounter hikers, mountain bikes, or horse back riders, slow down and minimize revving of your engine.  When you resume speed, don't goose it and throw up a rooster tail.

Keep track of where you are and where you're going.  Unlike desert riding where you can often see major landmarks from great distances, you may not be able to see more than a few yards in any direction from the trail.  You need to pay attention to intersections and which way you turned in case you need to find your way back the way you came.  Some trails are signed, some are not.  When you are riding unsigned trails, stop at each intersection and make sure everyone in the group knows and can help remember which way you turned so you can find your way back if necessary.

Determine the difficulty of a trail before starting on it and only ride trails that are suitable for the skills and equipment of everyone in your party.  If the trails are marked, look for green circles (easy trails), blue squares (intermediate trails) and black diamonds (more difficult trails) [Sample Trail Signs].  The challenge of riding a black diamond trail may appeal to macho riders and there may be a temptation to give it a try, even if it is beyond your current skill level.  It is essential to talk with someone who has ridden the trail before embarking on it yourself.  If no one in your riding group is familiar with the trail, seek out a local ranger to gain information about the specific technical aspects that make it a black diamond trail.  Knowing what to expect can help you make wiser decisions and help prepare you for what's ahead if you chose to proceed.  Riding beyond your current skill level or the capability of your machine is likely to yield very unpleasant results, ranging from getting stranded to burning up your machine or incurring serious, even lethal injuries.  Keep in mind the limits of other riders in your group.  Even if you know you can handle a certain trail without any problems, don't lead a group there unless you can be sure everyone can handle it.  You don't want to end up carrying an injured rider and/or broken equipment back out, especially if it is a difficult trail to start with!

Trail riding is most comfortable on a fairly light-weight and nimble machine.  When I moved from southern California where I mostly rode in the desert, I exchanged my big KTM 520/EXC for a Honda CRF 250X. Forest and canyon trails are often narrow and tight, with hairpin switchbacks. They often cut across steep slopes, so if you go off the trail you're either facing a steep climb that sometimes flips the front wheel off the ground or heading off a downhill so steep you may be hundreds of feet below the trail before you can stop rolling or tumbling.  Getting you and your machine back up to the trail is no easy task.  Speed is NOT the main goal of trail riding.  Take it easy and enjoy the scenery. A rider friend of mine and former desert racer once said "if a trail isn't fun at 25MPH, it isn't a fun trail".  You'd be surprised how fast 25 MPH feels on some trails, and if you must go fast to have fun, you probably picked the wrong trail!   There are lots of places to ride where speed isn't required for it to be fun.

Some forest trails are "single track", which means they are only about a foot wide and suitable only for hiking, mountain biking, horseback riding, or dirt bikes.  Three wheel ATCs and four wheel vehicles are too wide.  Riding larger vehicles on single track trails will damage the trails and the adjacent environment and can be quite dangerous.  ATVs and side-by-sides are unstable when driving across slopes and can roll over fairly easily.  I've seen it happen many times.  A dirt bike or a mountain bike can negotiate a narrow, single track trail across a steep slope in relative safety, while wider vehicles may easily end up tumbling down the mountain.  Sometimes the trail head will have a gate that restricts the width of vehicles that can access it or it may be posted prohibiting ATVs or 4x4s.  Going around a gate or ignoring a posted sign may not only damage the trail but could put you in a dangerous situation and subject you to stiff fines if caught.

Ridgeline trails offer great views of the surrounding terrain.  When riding a ridgeline, don't get so enthralled with the view that you forget to look where you're going!  The drop off on both sides is often very steep, and even if you and your machine survive without serious damage, you'll have a tough time getting back up on the trail.  I've ridden some ridgeline trails where you could almost reach out and touch the tops of tall pine trees growing from way down the slope.  Going off the trail in places like that is about like riding off a cliff.

Switchbacks are common on many forest trails as they wind their way up or down a mountain.  Some lazy riders cut across switchbacks when they are relatively open and level, but that is a good way to get the whole trail permanently closed.  I've ridden trails with tight switchbacks that follow the contour of little ravines along a hillside.  These can be challenging and dangerous.  Often the uphill side is a steep slope with no place to go and it often continues on the downhill side leaving you with no place to put a foot down to steady yourself around the turn.  Look ahead so you can slow to an appropriate speed to negotiate the turn, then maintain a smooth steady speed through the turn.  You need enough momentum to maintain balance and carry you through until you can comfortably get back on the gas.

Forest trails necessarily wind between trees and sometimes the clearances are narrower than the handlebars on OHVs.  That means developing a technique for angling the bars so you don't hit the opening head on.  Hand guards, such as the aptly branded "Bark Busters" can save your hands from being scraped or smashed on not so friendly trees.  There is sometimes a debate among riders whether they may "trap" your hands and create injury hazard but I've used them for decades without having a problem and they've saved be from breaking my fingers and levers more times than I can count.

"Barkbusters" are a good addition to protect your hands riding forest trails.   Barkbusters are metal hand guards that attach to your handlebars and wrap around your levers.  The clearance between the trees on some forest trails is so tight you sometimes have to angle your bars to fit between them.  Close tolerances often means banged knuckles and damaged levers.  Metal hand guards like Barkbusters can save both hands and levers.  I use them on my dirt bikes all the time, even when riding open desert trails.  They protect my hands against passing bushes and protect the levers if/when I go down and with optional plastic covers, provide some protection against wind and rain.

Trail riding demands staying alert and having good control of your machine.  Watch as far ahead as you can and always be prepared to slow, stop, or change direction quickly.  Visibility is often severely restricted, so don't go flying around blind corners.  Forest trails are best enjoyed at moderate speeds so you can actually see the scenery as you whiz through it.  High speed riding on forest trails is not recommended and is, in a word, foolisth.  The risk of encountering animals or tree roots or other riders makes it too risky.  That fun, fast ride may come to a sudden, painful, and expensive end if you encounter unexpected obstacles or meet another rider coming toward you on a narrow trail.  The general concept, that, if a trail isn't fun at 25 mph, it isn't a fund trail, definitely applies to forest trails.  Take time to smell the forest!  We had an inexperienced rider on one forest trip (HE didn't consider himself inexperienced, but his actions certainly proved it).  There was a really nice little creek crossing where the trail on the other side turned left rather abruptly.  He wasn't watching ahead and managed to run straight into the vertical creek bank on the other side, hitting so hard it literally knocked the crap out of him.  I think it may have been the same trip and it was definitely the same rider who clipped a rock with the bottom case of his engine and left a streak of oil down the trail and would have destroyed the bike if someone hadn't noticed the oil on the trail and flagged him down.  Both of his mishaps would have been avoided by simply paying attention to the trail.

Ride cool!

Desert OHV Riding

Desert areas are frequently used for OHV riding areas in the western United States. The remote, desolate, and often inhospitable nature of many deserts reduces the opposition to OHV use, although it doesn't eliminate it.  California's two "lady" senators finally managed to pass the so-called California Desert Protection Act, which had been stalled for more than 7 years due to opposition by just about everyone but the Sierra Club. Opponents included the US Army , US Air Force, US Navy, the Good Sam Club, and even the BLM!  The act effectively closed more than 8 million acres to any vehicular activity, making most of it totally inaccessible for any purpose.

Desert riding requires a certain amount of preparation and attention to safety.  Deserts tend to be hot and dry and often home to poisonous insects and snakes.  Don't traipse around your campground barefoot or in flip flops.  You never know what is waiting to bite you.  Keep your eyes open and watch where you step and reach.  More than once we've had rattlesnakes crawl out right under the step of our motorhome.  The hot, dry climate together with increased physical activity also tends to accelerate dehydration.  To avoid dehydration and those painful and annoying heat cramps that come with it, drink plenty of water before, during, and after a ride.  Start hydrating yourself the night before, then carry plenty of water with you.  Hydration packs such as Camelbaks are ideal for desert OHV riding.  They are carried on your back, out of the way and where the weight is easy to manage.  The tube and bite-valve allows you to get a drink without having to stop and fumble with a canteen.  I put Velcro on my bite-valve and a mating patch on the center of my chest protector to keep the bite-valve handy and prevent if from whipping in the breeze or getting caught in a bush and ripped off.  Taking frequent sips of water is better than waiting until you feel thirsty and gulping it down.  Drinking large amounts at once can cause stomach pain and distress and isn't nearly as effective at staving off dehydration as continual sipping.  By the way, you are already well on your way to being dehydrated by the time you begin to feel thirsty.  Sports drinks like Gatorade and Powerade will help replenish necessary electrolytes, but caffeinated drinks like coffee and colas will speed dehydration.  The best drink to carry in  your hydration pack or canteen is water.  It won't fizz, stain, or leave a sticky residue and it is what you body needs most.

Your machine will suffer from the heat too.  If you're riding a vehicle with an air cooled engine, make sure the cooling fins are clean.  Dirt and oil accumulation will restrict heat transfer.  Don't let your engine idle for long periods of time.  It needs the movement of air for cooling and it doesn't get it when you're standing still.  Don't ride for long stretches at a constant throttle setting.  The extra splash of fuel delivered by the accelerator pump when you turn on the gas actually helps cool the engine and supplies much needed lubricant.  An experienced fellow rider seized his 2-stoke dirt bike cruising across a dry lake bed.  He wasn't going unusually fast, but it was a very hot day and the heat coming off the sun-baked lake bed made it even hotter.  Without the extra cooling of raw fuel from time to time, engine heat built up until it seized.  If your ride is liquid cooled, make sure the coolant is full and you have no signs of leaks before you begin the ride.  Make sure your radiator cap is tight and that the radiator fins are not clogged with oil, dirt, or debris.  Liquid cooled engines are a little less sensitive to idling but they still need to be moving to get a good air flow through the radiator even if they have electric fans to assist cooling.

Seat and hand grips exposed to the sun can get VERY hot!  You might want to cover them a rag or towel when your OHV or bike is parked in camp and be sure to test them before grabbing hot grips or plopping your fanny down on a hot seat.  Dark vinyl seats can get hot enough to deliver 2nd degree burns.

Desert riding areas often include both designated trails and open areas.  Limited or Restricted Use Areas require riders to use existing trails.  Although you may object to those irritating "CLOSED" signs, ignoring them will only result in further loss of riding area.  In open riding areas you can ride anywhere you like.  But just because you can ride anywhere, doesn't mean you should. When riding in open areas, be careful.  There can be many obstacles out there and you might be the first one to find them, with very unpleasant consequences.  Watch for things like sand washes, rain ruts, rocks, and old fencing.  Unthinking,uncaring, or malicious people often dump household trash in the desert.  Car parts, old appliances, furniture, and broken bathroom fixtures can be found littering almost any unattended remote space.  Although I've listened to anti-OHV interests try to blame all the trash on OHV riders I've never seen anyone carrying an old TV, sofa, or toilet on a dirt bike or ATV!  You may find piles of dirt that look like attractive takeoff ramps for jumping. NEVER jump over one without checking to see what's on the other side.  That big pile of dirt had to come from somewhere and often its right on the other side of the pile.  Jumping it without looking could have you landing in a deep hole.  The teenage daughter of an acquaintance was killed when she rode her ATV over a big sand dune without checking it out.  The wind had hollowed out the back side of the dune and the drop was more than 40'.   She was killed instantly.  One of my sons jumped a tailings pile in the Mojave Desert and glanced down as he went past it to find himself staring into a deep mineshaft.  Fortunately he cleared the shaft -- just barely!  His rear wheel hit right on the far edge of the shaft and his momentum bounced him to safety.  If he'd been going a little slower he would have ended up in the bottom of the mine!  When riding open areas you may think those bushes in your way are no match for your ATV or dirt bike, and you may be right.  However, very often the reason the bush is growing there is that its seed was trapped and protected by a large rock -- and your dirt bike or ATV is NO MATCH for big rocks!  Hitting one will probably seriously damage your machine and probably send you over the bars.  While flying through the air like a bird can be a lot of fun, the sudden stop at the end is usually very painful -- and often expensive.  Mining isn't the only human activity that creates hazards.  Just digging for foundations, making a rain catch basin for livestock, or digging a well can create dangerous situations for unwary riders.  I've also encountered deteriorating fences with lots of wire to get tangled up in your wheels.  In at least one case I found wire that had been deliberately strung out along and on the trails by so-called environmentalists to sabotage OHVs.  Strange how some people will put the well being of bugs, lizards, or trees above that of human beings.

Desert obstacles.  Some riders get careless when riding in the open desert.  They think it is mostly flat and smooth.  They are wrong, sometimes dead wrong!  Deserts are often littered with rocks, gullies, and man-made debris that pose serious hazards to riders.  You can sometimes jump over narrow gullies, but wider and deeper ones may be unavoidable if you aren't riding defensively and endo-ing into one of them won't be fun.  Rocks and junk hidden in the bushes will put a quick end to a fun day if you slam into them.  Small bushes are no match for your OHV, but very often they are there because seeds were caught in the wind-shadow of rock, which can do serious damage to you and your ride!

When riding desert trails keep any eye open for other riders.  The easy terrain often encourages riders to go fast, sometimes faster than they should be going.  Stand up on the foot pegs so you can both see and be seen better, especially when approaching intersecting trails.  In addition for looking for clear images of other riders, watch for dust trails or movement through the bushes so you can estimate potential intersections and avoid collisions.  Sometimes dune buggies and ATVs have a pennant flying from the back of the vehicle to make them easier to see.  If you ride a dune buggy or ATV I strongly recommend flying a pennant.  In some places they are required by law or park rules.  No matter what you're riding, watch for those pennants.  Pennants are not usually used on dirt bikes. You just have to make YOURSELF visible to other riders.   If you have a headlight on your bike, it may be a good idea to turn it on even the the daytime to make yourself and your machine more visible to other riders.

Eye protection is essential for desert riding.  You're likely to encounter a lot of dust and other stuff kicked up by other riders ahead of you.  You also need to protect your eyes against glare.  It is painful and makes it difficult to see where you're going, especially if you're riding in the dust.  Think sunburned cheeks are bad?  Imagine having a sunburned retina!  You've no doubt heard of snowblindness caused by sun reflecting off fields of snow.  The same thing can happen around areas of light colored sand or soil.  Sunglasses or tinted goggles are the order of the day.  You can even by light-sensitive goggle lenses that get darker in bright light and lighter in low light so you don't have to carry multiple pairs of goggles with you.  Those dark shaded goggles that are so useful in the bright afternoon sun quickly become a serious hazard if you're caught out after the sun goes down.  Light sensitive lenses are more expensive than plain ones, but the extra convenience and safety are more than worth the extra cost.

Speaking of dust, your OHV won't like breathing it any better than you do.  When you are riding in dusty conditions check and clean your air filters frequently.  Using a "pre-filter" can help your filter last longer and make it easier to keep your filter clean.  You can buy custom-made pre-filters to fit most OHV air filters.  They consist of an elasticized mesh sleeve that fits over the filter. You usually soak them in filter oil and they can be quickly rinsed out, re-oiled, and re-used. Or you can make your own from an old pair of nylons or pantyhose.  A clogged air filter will rob you of power, performance, and mileage and could lead to premature engine failure.  Pre-filters can usually be removed, rinsed out, quickly dried, and reinstalled faster than cleaning the OEM air filter.  In a pinch on the trail you could simply remove a  dirty pre-filter to get your ride going well enough to get back to camp.  If you're riding in extremely dusty conditions, sacrifice a little fuel to rinse out the pre-filter and re-install it.

Avoid riding in the hottest parts of the day.  Plan your rides for early morning and late afternoon.  It will be easier on you and on your equipment!  Then go back to camp and have a light lunch and cold drink and relax in the shade for a while.  Sometimes we even brought a plastic kiddie wading pool to cool off in.  It was pretty humorous to see big, burly bikers vying for their turn in the kiddie pool.  Plan your rides to avoid riding into a rising or setting sun.  It's really hard to see where you're going if the sun is right in front of you early in the morning or late in the afternoon.  Because we all like to sleep in, mornings are not usually much of a problem, but trying to get in as much riding time as possible in the afternoon often leaves you headed back to camp with the sun right on the horizon. It is too low to benefit from any kind of visor so you may be stuck with that blinding light square in your face for miles!  With that in mind, try to plan your route so you'll won't be riding west back to camp at the end of the day.   IT is SO much nicer if the sun is at your back on the way home!

Keep an eye on the weather.  Weather can change quickly and dramatically in the desert.  Even a distant rain storm can create flash floods that sweep down sand washes with enough force to carry away large RVs.  Smaller flows can erode stream banks and sand washes and create hazards that weren't there before the rain.  Light rain can cool things off, settle dust and improve traction.  Heavy rain makes the trails sloppy and slick.  If you get caught in the rain, you can get dangerously hypothermic from riding in wet clothes, even though the air temperature is fairly mild.  You loose heat about 25 times faster through wet clothing.  The wind chill factor of riding in wet clothes will chill you even faster!  Thunderstorms can present the threat of lightning too.  If you're riding in the open desert YOU may very well the highest point around and become, essentially, a lightning rod. And, NO, the rubber tires on your vehicle won't protect you.  Do you really think lightning arcing through 10,000 feet of air from cloud to ground is going to care about 3" of rubber between your wheel and the trail?  The protection that comes with enclosed vehicles is from the steel frame that conducts the charge around you instead of through your body,  not from the rubber tires!

Sunburn is a definite possibility in the desert.  You can get burned from sunlight reflecting off sand and light colored soil as well as from direct exposure.  Reflection isn't as much of a problem as it is on the water, but you should still be aware of it.  If you are dressed in proper riding gear, most of your body will be protected, but you'll still need some sunblock on your face and neck.  I like to wear a bandana around my neck.  It helps keep the sun off bare skin between my jersey and my helmet and, by keeping it wet, it helps keep me cooler.  You can buy neckware that contains pellets that retain water and keep cooling you longer than a wet neckerchief, but in many years of desert riding, I've found bandanas to be the most convenient and the most effective.  They're inexpensive and they can be used for bandages and slings if someone gets hurt.  I have tried passive "cooling vests" but found I was usually better off just dampening my riding jersey.  Active cooling vests may work better, but the added weight of batteries, pumps, and coolant plus the high cost, don't make them very attractive options in my opinion.  While the passive vests feel pretty good at the start of a ride, if you're out long enough for most of the water to evaporate, they soon become insulators that trap heat instead of cooling you.

Snakes and poisonous insects are often plentiful in the desert.  You probably aren't in much danger when riding, but as soon as you stop you could become a target.  I once saw a rattlesnake coiled in the middle of a desert road, striking (unsuccessfully, thankfully) toward every rider who passed it but scarier situations are having the rascals slither right through your campsite.  More than once I've seen them lying right under the step of a motorhome or trailer.  On occasion that led to rattlesnake for dinner but usually we just try to scare them away or relocate them so they're no longer a threat.  After all, it is their home that we're invading.  One snake that persisted in coming back ended up as dinner and a hatband.  Waste not, want not.  And, yes, it does taste like chicken.

Desert riding is fun!

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Power Outages

We are ever increasingly depend on electrical power in today's world.  What would you do if you were without power for a day? a week? a month? a year or more?   We mostly take electricity for granted.   Its always there when we flip the switch or plug in an appliance.  But what if it weren't?   Camping is a good time to explore our options for living "off the grid".  Unless you always go to a campground with full hookups you'll be without commercial power in most camping situations.

Power outages are mostly of concern at home but you might experience a power outage while camping.  If you are staying in a full hook-up campground the campground may lose power like you sometimes do at home.  If you are boondocking, you might lose power if your generator conks out or you run out of fuel.

2013 brings a forecast for some the most powerful solar activity ever recorded.   Fortunately, we seem to have made it through that one, but solar storms can occur anytime.  A solar storm in 1859 pretty much knocked out the US telegraph system. The electromagentism was so strong some stations were able to still communicate after disconnecting their batteries and using only the ambient energy on the lines created by the electromagnetic storm.  A similar size event today would disable the electric grid world wide.  Transformers everywhere would be overloaded and burn up.  It would take months or even years before replacements could be installed.  The largest transformers aren't even made in the U.S. anymore and the places they are made only build about 7-8 per year.  With 1200 in use, it would take years to get replacements if a significant number were damaged by a solar storm.  There are increasing warnings that a terrorist organization might set off one or more EMP devices to disable the electrical grid and computer networks.

The ElectroMagnetic Pulse (EMP) associated with a major solar flare or Corona Mass Ejection on the sun could knock out anything with a computer or circuit board: cars and trucks with electronic ignition, phones, radios, TVs, the Internet.  Some nuclear devices also generate significant EMPs, so a terrorist attack or a nuclear accident might disable the electric grid.  The good news is that some testing indicates that "only" about 1/3 of cars with electronic ignition will be disabled.  To be on the safe side, have a pre-1980 vehicle with a carbureted engine available.  They should not be affected by an EMP.   It makes sense that many electronically controlled cars wouldn't be affected by an EMP.  One protection for an EMP is called a Faraday cage.   It is a metal box or wire cage that surrounds sensitive electronic equipment to shield it from an EMP.   Since most cars are made primarily of sheet metal, it seems to me that the body of the car should be a fairly effective Faraday cage, but those with significant plastic or fiberglass body components (Corvettes, Saturns, and RVs for example) would be more vulnerable.

There are rumors of threats of an EMP attack by both ISIS and Russia.   A single device detonated 20 miles over the middle of the United States would pretty much wipe out all electronics in North America.   That wold mean no Internet, no cell phones, no land lines, no TV, no radio, no electricity, and would probably affect many of the cars made since 1980.

How would you live for an extended time without electricity?  Food in refrigerators and freezers would go bad in a day or two.  Entertainment and information systems would be useless.  The fan for your furnace wouldn't work nor would there be power for its ignition system.  This is where having an RV would come in very handy.  Not only could you move into your RV with its self-contained systems temporarily, you may be able to power critical appliances in your home from your RV generator.  That's assuming your RV systems aren't disrupted by the EMP.   You may be able to connect your RV dump hose to a sewer cleanout at your home to avoid frequent trips to the dump station.  In order for this to be a practical solution you first need to know where such a cleanout is located and then make sure you can get close enough to it with your RV to use it -- and how to open it.   An alternative might be to purchase a macerator system to pump sewage through a 1" hose into your toilet or some other accessible drain opening.   Keeping your RV ready for use (full fuel (propane and motor fuel), empty holding tanks, full fresh water tank) gives you an immediate buffer against just about any emergency at home.  You may have to find an auxiliary source of fresh water if your residential water supply isn't working.  Some electronically controlled appliances(refrigerators, water heaters and furnaces) may be disabled by an EMP, so you may have to fall back to more primitive options.   We have experience extended power outages twice since moving to McKenzie Bridge -- one due to a severe winter storm and another due to a forest fire.  We used a portable generator to run the refrigerators several hours everyday and to operate a small room heater and the microwave on occasion.  We had an electrician hook up a large generator to my Mom's house during an extended power outage.  It ran the well pump so we had water and we could selectively optionally run things like the hot water heater, the heat pump, and the clothes dryer.

By the way, if you're going to be without power long enough for refrigerators and freezers to warm up, use the food from the refrigerator first, then the food from your freezer and save your canned goods for last.   Food in a fridge will be safe for about 4 hours before temperatures being to rise above a safe level.  A fully packed freezer might last 4 days.  Dry ice can be used to keep fridges and freezers cooler longer if you can get some.

If you don't have an RV or your RV is disabled or unavailable your tent camping skills may still be useful in an emergency situation.  You may have to use your tent for an emergency shelter.  You can use your camp stove for cooking.  If you've developed good "off-the grid" camping skills you should be able to survive camped in your own back yard for some time.  Even in cold weather you may be more comfortable in your tent than in your house because the volume of air you need to warm will be far less.  Camp cooking on a camp stove, BBQ, or campfire in your back yard may be your only way to fix hot meals.  NEVER try to use a camp stove or a BBQ indoors, not even in your garage.   We lost power one winter night just as we were fixing dinner.  We moved the partially cooked meal out to the BBQ on the deck (after sweeping the snow away!) and finished our meal.

Power outages can be caused by lots of other things besides EMPs.  Local power outages are often the result of a vehicle hitting a power pole or of a local transformer going bad or being hit by lightning.  These usually only last a few hours.  Wider-spread problems are created by strong winds, wildfires, floods, or ice storms that damage major power lines or by failures at power substations or even sometimes by planned maintenance.  Shorted out lines can cause transformers to overload and fail.  Regional failures are often attributed to mechanical problems within the electrical grid, such as a damaged generation station or substation or downed "feeder" lines from other power companies.  Power failures can even be caused by over-use during peak hours.  These most frequently occur in summer months when air conditioner use puts extreme loads on the grid. Sometimes the result is a "brown-out" when voltage drops and lights dim but in other cases the overloads can burn up transformers or other equipment.  When there is a major power outage, urban areas will probably be restored first because of the higher population and the concentration of emergency services facilities such as hospitals, fire and police stations, and municipal utilities.  The further you live from a large city, the longer it will probably be before your power is restored in a major outage.  You could be on your own for weeks or even months in some rural locations.  We were without power for two weeks following the Holiday Farm fire on the McKenzie River -- and without phone and Internet for months!

One hedge against a power outage is a home or portable generator.  If you choose this option, make sure you know how to use it safely.  You can't just wire it into your power panel.  You can run individual appliances off of it using adequate extension cords as long as you don't exceed the maximum rating of the generator or the extension cord.  Some sophisticated generator systems are designed to start automatically if commercial power goes out.  These have to be properly wired through an automatic transfer switch, which should only be done by a licensed electrician.  They are the most convenient -- and the most expensive.  Portable generators like those used on construction sites can be purchased for a few hundred dollars.  They tend to be somewhat noisy so you may not be able to use them 24 hours a day in a suburban environment.  An old-fashioned, pull-start generator with a carbureted engine might be handy to have around in case of an EMP that could disable some newer models with electronic ignition.  If you plan to use a portable generator to power part of your home during an emergency, be sure to check with a qualified electrician about how to hook it up correctly unless you just run extension cords to power critical appliances.  If you hook it up to your house it must be connected so it doesn't feed back onto the electric grid.  Not only would you be wasting your power, you would create a dangerous, even life-threatening situation for power company workers attempting to restore power.  Most likely you would have to disconnect your panel entirely from the power company feed and then connect your generator.  If you want to be able to do t that  you will need a generator big enough  to supply the same level of service you get from the power company -- or at least enough to run all the appliances you will need during a power outage.  A typical residence has a 100 or 200 amp service.  That would mean a 12,000 or 24,000 watt generator and they are large, expensive, and use a lot of fuel.  We got by at my Mom's house during the Holiday Farm fire using a 9,000 watt generator by using appliances selectively.

Uninterruptable Power Sources (UPS) are useful for protecting your computers and other sensitive electronic equipment.  They have a battery that provides power for a few minutes, usually enough for you to safely shut down your computers instead of having them crash when the power fails.  If the size of the UPS is sufficient for the equipment attached to it you should have time to reconnect to your portable generator if necessary before you run out of back up power.  In addition to providing back up power, UPS units also 'filter' the power to prevent spikes and short outages from affecting your equipment.

Wind and solar power is another option.  Permanently installed wind or solar electrical generation systems are highly technical and quite expensive.  Solar panels are sometimes a good option for maintaining RV batteries.  Anytime you generate your own power at home, special care and connections to the electric grid are needed to you don't feed power back onto the grid and possible kill someone when the power company is working on it.  I had a 10KW wind turbine in my back yard for several years in a previous residence.  In a major power outage it could have provided all the power I needed for my well and basic residential needs.  However, it had an interconnect switch that prevented it from powering my home or feeding back to the power company when the power company feed wasn't active.  To use it in an emergency I would have had to disconnect the feed from the power company and temporarily substitute power from a portable generator to power the switch. If you choose to install backup electrical generating systems for your home or vacation cabin be sure you understand how it is connected and how to use it safely.

What about power outages in camp?   If you're staying in a developed campground you might lose power due to a local problem, such as a car accident that takes out a power pole or a failed transformer or just a malfunction of the parks power distribution grid.  An all too common cause of loss of power in a campground is getting unplugged from the campground receptacle.   Sometimes, if the plug wasn't seated properly, it may work loose and fall out.  Or someone might trip over the power cable and yank it out.  Occasionally they are disconnected by person with mischevious or malicious intent.    Always check to make sure your power cord is correctly connected before assuming the power is out.  If the power is out you should be able to fall back on your on board generator, at least during daylight hours.  "Quiet time" generator restrictions might be lifted or modified during a power outage.  A power outage when boonbocking is likely to be one of your own making.  The most common problems are associated with either running out of fuel or poor generator maintenance.  Most generators are designed to shut down when the oil gets low instead of ruining the engine.  A clogged air filter or dirty or badly adjusted carburetor could also shut you down.  In that case you can probably survive on battery power for a day or so, hopefully giving you time to correct the mechanical problem.  Having solar panels to get power from the sun will give you an added buffer against generator problems in camp.

Power up!

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Building Your Own Survival Kits

Why should you build your own survival kits?   You can buy commercial survival kits from emergency preparedness companies and military surplus stores that provide the basics.   Military survival kits are usually designed for combat situations and assume a soldier already has certain basic equipment so you may have to buy additional components for it to be complete.  Commercial survival kits are usually general purpose, intended for home or office use.  All of these can be a good starting point, but ultimately you will want to customize even the most complete kit to meet your specific requirements.  You will also want to have more than one survival kit to fit different situations. Your home or office survival kit can contain a lot more tools and supplies that what you would take camping, hiking, or back packing.  I suggest most of us would benefit from at least three or four survival kits: a large, home or office kit for major disasters; a vehicle kit for problems on the road or at work; and a small, easily carried kit for camping and off highway activities. You might also want a personal kit at work, depending on what your employer might already have -- or not have. Popular Mechanics has nice set of printable instructions for  three main types of kits at PM Survival Checklist.

Commercial survival kits may offer convenience and often a savings over buying individual components.   However, carefully review the contents to be sure 1) you know what you're getting and 2) it is relevant for your needs.  Sometimes commercial kits may contain stuff you won't need or don't know how to use.  Sometimes they will include things you may not have thought of.  Often you can assemble your own survival kit for less cost by getting only what you need and watching for sales or other good prices on necessary items.  What you need in YOUR survival kit depends on where you are (or expect to go), what kind of activities you're involved in, and what kind of skills and experience you already have.   Decide what you need in your kit and stock up on non-perishable items when you get the chance.  When you build your own you also have a better chance of remembering what's in it too!  Make sure you know how to use everything you put into your kit.  The best water purification system isn't going to do you much good if you don't know how to use it.  Fancy field medical kits can be life-saving -- IF you know how to use them.  What good will sutures do you if you don't know how to sew up a wound, including how to properly clean and prepare it first?   Will you have the medicine and knowledge of how to anesthetize the wound so it can be sutured?  Do you even know enough to be able to tell when sutures are needed?

Home or office survival kit.  Your home survival kit may be a 5 gallon bucket filled with survival supplies, a trunk, a plastic tub, a duffle bag, or just a section of your closet or pantry, or even under your bed where you keep your survival supplies.  What you need will depend on where you live, how many people in your household (and their ages), any special physical or medical requirements, and what kind of threats there may be around you.  Your home kit may be needed to sustain you and your family for an extended period of time (weeks, months, or even years!) after some disasters.  Most emergency preparedness plans recommend you start with a 72 hour kit and build up to at least 2 weeks worth of supplies.  If you live in hurricane country, you may want to include a supply of 4x8' plywood or OSB (Oriented Strand Board, also know as "chip board") panels to board up your windows but you probably wouldn't need them as much in earthquake country -- at least until after the fact!   Likewise, the tools you might need will depend on where you are, the type of structure you are in, and what you need to shut off utilities in an emergency.  Natural gas can usually be shut off at the meter using a special wrench or just a pair of slip-joint pliers, an adjustable wrench, or a pipe wrench.  You should only shut your gas off if you smell or hear gas leaking.  One distinct advantage to specialized wrenches are they are made of non-sparking materials. Ordinary adjustable wrenches, pliers, and pipe wrenches are made of steel and could create a spark -- NOT a good thing if you have a gas leak!  To avoid a spark when using steel tools, tape the jaws or put a rag between them and the valve.  You usually don't need any special tools to shut off electricity, just know where your panel is and how to turn off the main switch. There may be more than one location, especially in older buildings.   City water supplies usually need a special, long tool, to reach down into the ground to the shutoff valve, especially if you live in an area that gets freezing temperatures.  Your home or office survival kit should include some heavy duty tools, like crowbars and hammers and some sturdy leather work gloves.  Dust masks would also be good to have since many kinds of structural damage will create dusty conditions.  You can get detailed guidelines for home survival kits at FEMA Build A Kit. Your kit should include enough food, water, and other basic supplies to take care of you and your family for at least 72 hours.  See Build a 72 Hour Kit for more information.  And don't forget your pets and/or livestock. You'll need emergency supplies for them too.

Basic supplies in a home or office survival kit should include at least the following:

     * Food
     * Water
     * First Aid Kit
     * Splints or material to make them
     * Prescription Medicines
     * OTC pain relievers
     * OTC stomach preparations
     * Flashlights and extra batteries
     * BIC lighter
     * Candles
     * Leather work gloves (at least one pair per person)
     * Latex or nitrile gloves (a whole box)
     * Hammer
     * Pliers
     * Adjustable wrench(es)
     * Axe or Hatchet
     * Hunting knife or multi-tool
     * Water purification kit
     * Extra clothing
     * Toilet paper
     * Paper towels
     * Trash bags
     * Portable radio and extra batteries
     * Emergency contact list
     * Sewing kit
     * Duct tape
     * Manual can opener
     * Feminine hygiene supplies
     * Paper and pencil
     * Pet and livestock food and supplies
     * Some cash and coins

Some additional tools you might need if your structure is damaged:

     * Sledge Hammer
     * Crow bar
     * Fire extinguisher

Exercise extreme caution working in or around a badly damaged structure.  Even C.E.R.T. teams are prohibited from entering badly damaged structures.  You may be strongly motivated to attempt a dangerous rescue if the victims are family or close friends, but chances are you will just make things worse, perhaps causing them further injury or hampering their rescue or becoming a victim yourself if you are not properly trained or don't have the proper equipment.

You will want to include a "Grab and Go" or "Bug Out" bag that contains essential items if you have to quickly evacuate your home.  Long term disaster supplies can be conveniently stored in the basement, garage, in closets or under beds.  Your "Grab and Go" or "Bug Out" bags should be readily accessible on the way out of the house.  I like to make my Bug Out bag and home supplies self contained.  That way, if I have to evacuate, I'll have everything I need in my Bug Out bag and when I return I'll have everything at need still in my home supplies -- if they haven't been looted.  To save money you could use your Bug Out bag as an integral part of your home survival kit.  Just remember to bring it back with you when you return!

Vehicle survival kits are intended to provide emergency supplies if something happens while you are "out and about" or at work and help you get home.  The goal is to have what you need to be able to take care of yourself long enough to get home safely.  Typical commercial kits include food bars, water packets and a first aid kit.  You will also want a flashlight and extra batteries and you should keep a pair of good walking shoes in your car.  Ladies' high heels are definitely not good for long walks and even men's dress shoes will be inadequate and uncomfortable after a few miles of roughing it.

Basic supplies in a vehicle survival kit should include at least the following:

     * Food bars
     * Water
     * First Aid Kit
     * Prescription Medicines
     * OTC pain relievers
     * Flashlights and extra batteries
     * BIC lighter
     * Candles
     * Leather work gloves
     * Latex or nitrile gloves
     * Hunting knife or multitool
     * Toilet paper
     * Sturdy, comfortable walking shoes

     * Jacket or sweatshirt
     * Paper and pencil
     * Sturdy walking shoes
     * Emergency blanket ("space" blanket)

In winter weather be sure to include:

     *Warm gloves
     *Kitty litter -- non clumping (aids traction on icy surfaces)

If you have room for it, you can certainly add other items from the home survival kit list.  The main difference between your home and vehicle kits will be size.  Stock a few food bars instead of the bulky foods you might use at home.  Your vehicle kit needs to fit easily in your vehicle and be fairly easy to carry with you if you have to abandon your vehicle.  When I lived in southern California I counted 133 freeway bridges between my house and my place of employment.  Any or all of them could fail in an earthquake and I would have had to walk 50 miles home.  I observed places near my home where the road had fallen 6-8" where it connected to a bridge after one earthquake.

Camping or personal survival kits should be light weight and compact so that you are comfortable carrying them during camping activities like hiking or riding an OHV.  It should fit in a fanny pack or small backpack.  A camping or personal survival kit should be designed to supply you with basic tools and supplies to facilitate wilderness survival.  It is not intended to be everything you need.  You usually won't carry a lot of food or water.  Keep in mind you should always have a canteen or hydration pack for hiking, dirt biking, horseback riding, etc.

Basic supplies in a camping or personal survival kit should include at least the following:

     * BIC lighter
     * Flashlight
     * Small pocket sized first aid kit
     * Knife and/or multi-tool
     * Flint and steel (and tinder)
     * Water purification tablets
     * Pocket packet of facial tissue
     * Space blanket or large plastic garbage bag
     * Prescription Medicines
     * OTC pain relievers
     * Whistle
     * Paper and pencil
     * Packets of honey

Creative and resourceful people have demonstrated that it is possible to survive without these preparations, but your chances of success and your level of comfort will be greatly improved if you are prepared.  Keep a BIC lighter and/or flint and steel fire starter in your pocket or fanny pack whenever you venture into the wilderness and you'll never face the frustration of trying to start a fire by rubbing two sticks together.  The only time I want to star a fire rubbing two sticks together is if one of them is a match!

No survival kit is going to be of any use to you if you don't have access to it when you need it.  Home survival kits won't do you much good if they're in the basement of a collapsed house.  Your vehicle survival kit must be in the vehicle you are using to be any good.  A personal survival kit you leave at home or in camp isn't going to help you much if you're injured or stranded out on the trail somewhere.  Store your home kit where it is safe and is likely to be accessible even if there is major damage to your house.  Put vehicle kits in EVERY vehicle.  Make sure you grab you personal survival kit whenever you venture into the outdoors.  You might put basic survival supplies in the tool bag on your OHV or watercraft and keep some in your saddlebags if you're into equestrian activities.  Your personal survival kit should be small and light weight.  Ideally it will fit in your pockets but you can carry it in a small backpack or fanny pack -- just remember to put it on!

Be a survivor!

Saturday, January 5, 2013

A Few Useful Plants for Wilderness Survival

Identifying useful plants can be a valuable survival skill.  While many plants are edible, some are not and in some cases, even a teaspoonful can be enough to kill you.  For example, wild onions are edible but the death camas, which grows in the same areas, appears almost identical -- but it doesn't have the onion odor -- lives up to its name and can kill you.   No doubt you have seen "Survivorman" Les Stroud find edible plants in most of his episodes.  Be aware that he has had the benefit of specialized training by local experts to know what to look for.  Memorizing a manual of exotic jungle plants isn't going to do you any good in a North American desert or forest.  In addition to being a possible source of emergency food, some plants have other uses.  You need to look into what grows where you live and camp and how you can use it.

DISCLAIMER:  I am not a doctor, pharmacist, or an herbalogist.   The suggestions given here are gleaned and summarized from public documents and personal experience.  I have tried to identify plants that are readily available in many places (at least in the Western United States) that might be useful in a survival situation and that don't require sophisticated processing.

I have lived in the Western United States all my life so I'm pretty familiar with some of the indigenous flora. Large parts of the West are covered with sagebrush deserts and juniper trees.  At higher elevations you'll find various kinds of pines, firs, cedar, aspen, and maple.  Willows grow along many lakes and streams.  All of these have potential in a survival situation.

Pine nuts are a safe and flavorful source of nutrition.  They can sometimes be difficult to harvest as they are locked in pine cones.  They can usually be harvested in September and October and sometimes later in the year.   Find a tree with lots of pine cones and shake it or use a long stick to knock down mature cones.  If the cones are already at least partially open, you may be able to simply pull out the nuts.  If they aren't open, you may need to lay the cone on a bed of coals to make it open up.   If the cone has been properly pollinated and the tree has gotten enough water, the nuts should be large and edible.  Lacking proper pollination or water they will be dried up, rotten, and inedible.  Pine nuts are an excellent source of protein so they can be especially desirable if you are unable to obtain meat or fish in the wilderness.  Pine and spruce needles contain significant amounts of Vitamin C and can be used to make a flavorful tea or chewed to freshen your breath.

Sagebrush is common in many of the semi-arid parts of the Western United States.  The wood lights easily and burns quickly, even when green.   The aromatic smoke from burning sagebrush is an effective anti-bacterial agent so it makes a good fuel for a "smoke shower".  Sagebrush leaves can be made into a poultice for disinfecting wounds.  When made into a tisane (a kind of herbal tea), it was used by Native Americans to treat internal bleeding, such as battle wounds and childbirth, but note that it is somewhat toxic to the human liver and digestive system and so it should be used sparingly and with caution.  Breathing sagebrush smoke is said to help relieve headaches.  An infusion (made by seeping leaves in water or alcohol) can be used to disinfect hands, walls and equipment.  The leaves were sometimes chewed to relieve stomach gas but may taste somewhat bitter.

Junipers, which also inhabit much of the same territory as sagebrush, have a number of uses. Juniper berries are used to give gin its characteristic flavor, but you'll probably not be making a lot of gin in survival mode.   More practically, Juniper is used for digestion problems including upset stomach, intestinal gas (flatulence), heartburn, bloating, and loss of appetite, as well as gastrointestinal (GI) infections and intestinal worms.  It is also used to treat urinary tract infections (UTIs) and kidney and bladder stones.  Other uses include treating snakebite, diabetes, and cancer.  Juniper is also traditionally used to treat a broad range of health conditions, including bronchitis, colds, fungal infections, hemorrhoids, gynecological diseases, and wounds.   It is reported to be effective as an anti-bacterial and anti-fungal agent.

Willows, poplars, and aspens all contain salicyn which is closely related to aspirin.   Aspirin is acetylsalicylic acid, a synthetic version of salicyn.  Salicyn is found in the inner bark of willows, poplars, and aspen trees.   Its use is recorded as far back as 400 B.C. and was extensively used among Native American tribes to treat headaches, other body pains, fever and to reduce inflammation.  To use it, extract the inner bark from twigs.  You can chew the bark or make it into a tea.  Anyone that is allergic to aspirin should avoid using salicyn.  I have personally tried using willow bark as an aspirin substitute and found it quite effective.  The inner bark of aspen can also be eaten, although it is often somewhat bitter. The white powder found on the outer bark of aspen makes an effective sunscreen and also contains a significant amount of a naturally occurring yeast that can be used in making bread, pancakes, etc.  Aspen buds can be soaked in olive oil to make a soothing salve for skin irritations and abrasions.  Aspen twigs can be chewed into fibers to make a good wilderness toothbrush.   It is said to be good for both the spindle and the fire board for the fire-bow or bow-drill method of fire starting.  The wood, being soft, even grained, and tasteless, works well for utensils, such as bowls, spoons, cups, and anytime you need a lightweight, moderately strong wood.  If you use aspen for making bowls, make sure the piece you select is completely dry and without checks, or it may crack after you have begun carving.  A bowl may be burned-out by placing a coal on top of the blank piece of wood, and blowing until the surrounding wood begins to burn.  After a time, scrape out this char, and continue burning.  When you have attained the shape and depth you desire, sand the bowl down with a piece of sandstone, and finish it with mineral oil.  Alternately, a good crooked knife makes short work of the soft, even-grained wood.   Many thanks to Paul J. Van Horn, in his Internet article, The Quaking Aspen.  As a firewood, it is on the low side in the amount of heat it produces but is easy to cut and burn.  It tends to be sparky, so loading your fire up with aspen wood and sleeping near it is NOT advised.   Aspen or birch bark from a large, mature trees (preferably dead trees) can also be used as shingles for your emergency shelter.   A nice feature if you get rained on in a survival situation.

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Wild onions, (shown above) are edible and can add flavor to survival foods, but, as mentioned above, the death camas (shown below) is easily confused with the wild onion.  Both have similar looking leaves and bulbs and are often found in the same places even growing side by side, but the death camas does not have an onion smell.  If you harvest wild onions, be sure to smell each one before eating it.  It it doesn't smell like an onion, get rid of it or feed it to your enemies.  Don't eat the bulb or the stem (leaves) of death camas.   As the name implies, it can be deadly.   Below is a picture of a death camas.

                                         Ranchers warned to be on the lookout for death camas | TSLN.com

As you can see, it  looks a lot like wild onion.  Always check for the onion smell so you don't mistake death camas for wild onions.

Blueberries and blackberries grow wild in some parts of the Pacific Northwest.  These are healthy, tasty, and safe to eat and a real treat if you an find them.

Other wild berries are also often thought of as wonderful survival treats, but some are poisonous. There are many different species depending on the climate so be sure to check the Internet or a good reference book specific to where you go on activities.  For a good primer on identifying and using wild berries see this article in Mother Earth News.

Wild grapes come in both edible and toxic versions.  Being able to sort them out is beyond the scope of this post.  You may need a good horticulture book about plants indigenous to your areas of concern to know which category yours falls into, if they even grow there.

Cattails are often found in wetlands, along lakes and streams.  It is sometimes known as the "supermarket of the swamp".   Mature cattail seed clusters are brown and fuzzy and about the size of a large frankfurter, growing on a long stem about the size of an arrow.  If they are mature and dry they are an excellent source of tinder for starting fires.   This soft fluffy stuff can also be use as padding in dressings or to pad splints or to add insulation to clothing or bedding.  You can make flour from the starch in the roots.  In a survival situation you may just want to eat the starch raw.  Other parts are also edible, depending on the time of year.   The fronds or long leaves can be used as cordage.  I've heard that different parts of a cattail can taste like cucumber (the young shoots) or corn (young spikes).  The seeded "hotdogs" make excellent torches, especially if dipped in tree sap and are said to be better at keeping bugs away than citronella.  Breaking them down into fluff makes excellent tinder to help you get your fire going. The jelly-like sap from sprouts in the spring is good for treating insect bites, scratches, and burns.   There are few, if any, poisonous plants that can be mistaken for cattails.   If you have cattails available, you shouldn't starve to death, but you may still need some protein, so consider catching some mammals, fish, or bugs (yccch!) to round out your diet.  If insects are your only option, roasting them might make them a little more palatable.


Milkweed actually describes a whole family of related plants.  It is characterized by a milky, sticky white sap.  The fluffy milkweed filaments from the follicles are hollow and coated with wax, and have good insulation qualities.   They are sometimes used commercially to create hypoallergenic fill for pillows.  This fluff is also a good source of tinder for starting fires too.  The sap is somewhat sweet and was used by Native Americans but it also contains small amounts of a toxin which can be harmful if you consume 10% or more of your body weight (good luck collecting and consuming that much!).   As light and fluffy as this stuff is, you'd have to eat a HUGE amount of it before you have anything to worry about. BTW, milkweed is also a critical habitat for monarch butterflies.

Birch trees inhabit many temperate climates and are mostly found in northern latitudes of North America.  Birch bark was used by Native Americans to make canoes.  In certain species the bark lends itself to being made into paper.  Birch tar is an effective glue.   Tea made from birch leaves is an effective diuretic, which can be helpful in flushing toxins from the body but also speeds dehydration.   Birch burns well without popping even when frozen or freshly hewn.   Birch bark can be soaked until moist in water, and then formed into a cast for a broken arm.  The inner bark can be safely ingested.  Pieces of birch bark can be used as shingles to help weatherproof an emergency shelter. Birch leaves can be boiled to make a cleaning solution.

Oleander is described as being poisonous to humans but there were only 3 reported deaths in the United States over 20 years -- all self-administered.  Oleander is an evergreen shrub with long narrow green leaves.  Flowers may be white or pink. It grows in tropical and subtropical areas.  You aren't likely to find it in mountainous regions or deserts, but it is sometimes planted there by people as decorative plants.  The State of California uses it a lot as median foliage on freeways.  The blossoms may be red,  pink, or white.  There are some obscure medicinal uses for Oleander covering a wide range of afflictions, but none have been scientifically documented.  Skin contact does not appear to be a problem but eating the leaves or drinking tea made from them would make you sick, causing nausea, vomiting, diahrrea and erratic heartbeat.  Some more severe results occur when it affects the central nervous system, producing symptoms such as drowsiness, tremors or shaking of the muscles, seizures, collapse, and even coma that can lead to death.  Macerated leaves of oleander have been applied topically for treatment of dermatitis, loss of hair, superficial tumors and syphilis.  A decoction of oleander leaves has been used for the treatment of gingivitis and as a nose drop for children.   Do not use oleander for cooking, either as a fuel or in contact with food such as a stirring stick.  Oleander may have flowers ranging from nearly red like those in the photo below to pink to white.
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Russian olive trees are not indigenous to the United States although they are now quite widespread and are often considered an invasive species since they have a tendency to take over.  Russian olives are often found along streams or near other sources of water in the Western United States. They have a narrow, silvery leaf and dark red bark -- and nasty thorns!  The thorns can be used as sewing awls and fish hooks.  You might even tie a large thorn onto a stick to make a spear for small game. The fruit is edible when fully ripe but quite astringent if eaten raw when not ripe.  It is used mostly to flavor soups.  Each fruit contains a single large seed which is also edible but quite fibrous. The fruit is dry, sweet, and mealy.  Oil from the fruits has been used with syrup for the treatment of bronchial infections and the juice of the flowers is used to treat malignant fevers.  The fruit is a good source of vitamins A, C, and E; also flavanoids.   It is high in fatty acids, which is unusual for any fruit.
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Prickly pear cactus is often found in arid or semi-arid regions. The fruit or cholla is edible, but you must first thoroughly remove the all hair-like spines or suffer great discomfort. In Mexican folk medicine, its pulp and juice have been used to treat numerous maladies, such as wounds and inflammations of the digestive and urinary tracts. The gel-like sap of prickly pears might be useful as a hair conditioner. The broad, flat, rounded "leaves" can also be eaten if properly prepared. Remove all the spines and cut away the edges, then peel back the skin. The inside can be consumed cooked or raw.

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Sego lilies grow about 6 - 18" tall and have beautiful white flowers with a yellow and purple (or magneta) centers. They are native to a number of Western states and are often found in the same ecosystems as junipers and sagebrush. Sego lily bulbs were roasted, boiled or made into a porridge by Native Americans and were also used as a food source by the Mormon pioneers in Utah. It is the state flower in Utah.

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Indian paintbrush is commonly found in Western America from Alaska to the Andes. It is characterized by spikey, bright red blossoms which give it its' name. The flowers were eaten by Native Americans as a condiment with other fresh greens. Selenimum is concentrated in the leaves and stems, making them quite toxic so eat the flowers only, save the leaves for your enemies.  Indian paintbrush has similar health benefits to consuming garlic if only the flowers are eaten in small amounts and in moderation. Feed the leaves and stems to your deadly enemies only!

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Dandelions are usually thought of as a pesky weed, but they can have many beneficial uses and they are plentiful in many places. The leaves have been used to treat liver problems and high blood pressure. Be aware it is a diuretic and will increase urine output. This may help flush out some unwanted substances but may also speed dehydration. Fresh or dried leaves is a mild appetite stimulant and settle an upset stomach. Some, but not all, studies have found dandelion helped normalize blood sugar. Dandelion greens can be added to or eaten as a salad. Martha Stewart was reported to have had inmates collect dandelion greens from the exercise yard to add to her salads in prison. Dandelion roots can be roasted and ground up to make a wilderness substitute for coffee. The dandelion flower has antioxidant properties and may help improve the immune system.

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Marigold circling a vegetable garden is said to keep rabbits out. In your medicine kit, it is a particularly good treatment for cuts, scrapes, bruises, insect bites and minor wounds. It is also antifungal. You can apply a poultice made from leaves and blossoms directly to wounds or boil them to make a tea and apply that to wounds. Mash some fresh marigolds and apply them to insect bites to take out the sting.  Marigolds may be yellow (as shown below) or orange.

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Honey, though not a plant, is a naturally occurring substance that has many wonderful wilderness and emergency survival uses. Besides being a tasty, high energy treat, it can be used to ease sore throats and as an antiseptic on wounds. It is said to prevent infection and speed healing. Collecting honey from wild bee hives can be tricky and you're very likely to get stung, so if you're allergic to bees, don't try it. One technique is to smoke out the bees before opening the hive. Hang onto a couple of packets of honey from a restaurant or fast food place to tuck in your survival kit.  Though honey may crystallize, it never spoils.  Archeologists have found viable (edible) honey in Egyptian tombs 3000 years old!  While honey is safe for adults, doctors advise against giving it to children under 1 year old whose immune systems may not be developed yet.  Even though honey has many antibacterial properties, there are indications it can lead to botulism in young children.  So don't coat the baby's pacifier with honey!


Spearmint is often used as a stomach soother as well as a flavoring. Chew a few mint leaves to freshen your breath too. Spearmint tea is calming, refreshing and soothing. Could be helpful reducing stress in an emergency situation.

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Peppermint contains menthol, a natural analgesic, good for aching joints and muscles. Menthol is the active ingredient in many sports cremes. Peppermint is also claimed to have healing properties. Crush leaves and apply them to aching joints and muscles. Like spearmint, peppermint leaves can be chewed to freshen breath. 
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Mullein is native to Europe and Asia, but has been transplanted to America too. It is also known as the "velvet plant" and "Desert Charmin" for its soft fuzzy leaves. And yes, the name "Desert Charmin" implies one of its handy uses as toilet paper in a survival situation.  However, be aware that many plants with fuzzy leaves are not so friendly and are likely to cause an allergic reaction, so exercise caution.  Stinging nettle is fuzzy and you definitely don't want to even touch it, let alone apply it to sensitive body parts!
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Forage on!