Wecome To RVs and OHVs
and how they work together to provide wholesome family fun and great learning opportunities.
Many posts are intended to familiarize novice campers and RVers with RV systems and basic camping and survival
skills. But even experienced RVers and campers will enjoy the anecdotes and may even benefit from a new
perspective. Comments, questions, and suggestions are encouraged. The organization is pretty much by date of publication. Please use the SEARCH option below to find what you are looking for.
Tuesday, April 30, 2013
There are a few other companies, like Cracker Barrel and Home Depot, who are known to cater to RVers too. Most of the advice given here regarding Walmart will apply to any commercial location that might allow RVs.
A shooting incident involving a alleged RVer at a Walmart in Arizona may alter Walmart's corporate policy. The perpetrator was killed and a police officer injured. Many people fear it will cause Walmart officials to retract their RV friendly status. As is often the case, just one bad apple can spoil things for everyone. Initial reports claimed the shooter was an RVer. Turns out no RVers were actually involved, but he negative publicity was widespread.
There are, however, some Walmarts where overnight RV parking is prohibited. Don't try to use one of these or make a fuss. You can check the list here (No Overnight Parking At Walmart) to see if a Walmart you want to use is one of them to avoid problems. While it may be a manager's decision more often they are complying with local laws or zoning or insurance regulations.
Walmart's generosity is a privilege, not a right. All users must respect that fact and be courteous. Most RVers behave appropriately, but I've seen some who, if Walmart judged all RVers by them, would result in loss of access. On a recent trip to my local Walmart I saw a large, Class A motorhome with an SUV dingy behind it and a motorcycle on a rack on the back of the dingy. The driver had pulled into a double row so he was only occupying two parking places... BUT ... the front of the RV was about 4' out into one driveway and the entire SUV and motorcycle blocked more than half the other one. I drive a 40' Class A and usually pull a 18' enclosed motorcycle trailer so I usually need lots of room. When there isn't room to park in the lot without blocking the roadways, we should go back out and park on the street. In the case described above there was plenty of easy curb parking that would not have been much further from the front door than where the offender had ensconced his rig. It may seem more thoughtful to try to only use up 2 parking spaces instead of parking crosswise over several spots -- but not if your rig then blocks the driveways! There is usually plenty of open areas at the edges of the parking lots. And street parking, when available, especially for short shopping visits, is even more preferable. Very often it is a lot easier to get going again from curb parking than negotiating a tight parking lot with a big rig. Yes, you may have to walk a little further, but its a small price to pay (and perhaps even an investment in better health) to be courteous and to preserve the privilege.
Be careful and considerate where you park. Don't pull right up close to the doors and block multiple parking places with your RV. Stay out in the less popular parts of the parking lot. Most of us can use the exercise anyway! I saw an RV who tried to take up only two spaces by pulling through two columns of parking, only to leave his dingy vehicle with a large motorcycle on a rack on the back sticking out blocking the aisle! It would have been a lot more considerate and far less impact on other customers if he had parked crossways over several remote parking spots!
Pack it in, pack it out. This is usually the mantra of back packers and environmental activists, but it applies equally well to RVers stopping in a rest area or a Walmart parking lot or anywhere we camp for that matter. Make sure your dump valves are closed and the cap tightly in place so you don't leave foul deposits on the pavement. If you should happen to have a leak, put a pan under it so you don't contaminate the parking lot. Keep track of your garbage and don't let it blow around the neighborhood. If you see trash anywhere near your rig, pick it up, even if it isn't yours. We should make this a habit where ever we go, but it is particularly offensive to leave a mess behind when accepting the free parking at Walmart or other friendly companies or in rest areas.
Patronize the store. Very often we need supplies by the time we stop for the night, so give your business to Walmart while you're there. Chances are you'll find all but the most esoteric items on your shopping list at Walmart. I always like to stroll through the RV supplies and camping accessories every time I'm in Walmart, even if I've only come for groceries or auto parts. You may well find something useful. And don't forget to check out the CLEARANCE sections! Even though our travel budget usually doesn't include a category for this kind of shopping, I've found it very helpful and satisfying to take advantage of purchasing interesting items when I see them. All too often I've not been able to find them again if I decide to wait until I get home. And you'll never have a better frame of reference for whether something will be useful than during an actual trip.
Put your shopping cart in the corral when you're finished with it. Walmart typically has cart return stations within a few steps of every parking place in the lot. There is NO excuse for leaving a cart loose to block a parking space or get blown into someone's vehicle! I once had the plastic grill on my pickup destroyed by an errant shopping cart and I've seen them cave in car doors on more than one occasion.
Don't over stay your welcome. I'm sure Walmart and their neighboring businesses would not appreciate some one camping in the parking lot for an extended period of time. Their generosity is aimed toward travel-weary drivers who need to get off the road and get a few hours rest before they have an accident and people just passing through. Normally you should only stay overnight and be gone by mid-morning. If you need someplace to stay longer than just overnight, seek out a public or private campground or a primitive camping area on BLM or forest service land. If you stay too long you can likely expect a visit from local law enforcement. If that happens, you can't automatically assume someone at Walmart called them. They may have just noticed the vehicle on a routine patrol or, perhaps, some neighbor (business or resident) may have called in the report. No matter who may have called it in, the only one to blame is the unwelcome visitor for over-staying their welcome and abusing camping privileges.
Welcome to Walmart!
Monday, April 29, 2013
One of the most important pieces of equipment for hiking is proper footwear. You need sturdy shoes or boots, preferably with high tops to provide ankle support and protection from snakes and insects and an appropriate sock system. Yes, I said "sock system". You might get by wearing one good pair of socks, but for best results you may need multiple layers, even in warm weather. In cold weather you need to keep your feet warm. In warm weather, you need material close to your skin that will quickly wick away perspiration to keep your feet dry. Sock systems often include layers to control chafing. If you're going to be doing a lot of hiking it is worth investing the time and money to get good boots/shoes and socks. Bruised or blistered feet will put a very quick and painful end to any hike -- but the pain may last for days. I learned to wear a pair of light dress socks under my thick motocross socks for dirt biking, even in hot summer months to avoid chafing and blisters. You need to make sure your boots fit well and are broken in. Ill fitting boots or shoes will cause extreme discomfort.
Access to many trail heads often involves hiking or walking along narrow rural roads where there are no sidewalks or pedestrian lanes. Sometimes this is the most dangerous part of the hike. When walking along a road with no pedestrian lanes, always walk facing traffic. That way you can see approaching vehicles and jump out of the way if they don't see you -- or don't have room to move over due to oncoming traffic. We have had two serious accidents in our rural neighbor hood in the last few years involving youth who were walking along a rural highway at night. One of our neighbors, a 14 year old boy, died at the scene of the first accident. He and his friend were walking along the right hand side of the road with their backs to traffic on their side of the road and didn't see the approaching car and the driver didn't see them (dressed in dark clothing) until it was too late.
On the trails, watch where you're stepping. Avoid stepping over rocks or logs without knowing what is on the other side. Snakes and poisonous insects often hide under such obstacles and they can also mask dangerous holes that could cause you to sprain or break an ankle. Watch out for loose rocks or logs that may give way and cause you to fall or twist an ankle. Also be aware that prey travels on trails, predators travel beside trails. Hiking on a trail may make you look like prey to wild animals. That is not to say you should hike off the trail, just pay attention to your surroundings. Watch and listen for nearby movement that might indicate you are being stalked by a predator. Most wild animals are normally frightened of humans and will stay out of your way if you give them a chance. Let them know you're there by making some noise. Injured, starving, or sick animals may behave more aggressively, as will mothers with young if you appear to be a threat to their cubs. You should also be aware that running tells a predator that you are prey. In most, but not all cases, your best action if faced with a predator is to make yourself appear as large as possible and make as much noise as you can. Check with local rangers to find out what kind of predators, if any, you might encounter on the trails you hike and how best to deal with them.
One of the best ways to ensure your safety on the trails is to check in with the local ranger before striking out. From them you can learn about especially difficult sections of the trail you may need to watch out for and find out about recent animal activity. Rangers can give you excellent advice about choosing trails that match your skills, physical condition, and desired level of adventure. They can tell you how long it should take to hike a particular route so you can plan your day(s) appropriately. You don't want to start out on a 16 hour trek if you're only planning a half day hike. On the other hand, back packing with overnight stays can a wonderful adventure -- if you're properly prepared, plan to do it, and are equipped appropriately for it.
Know your surroundings. Be able to identify major landmarks. Know in what direction you would need to go to find your way back to civilization if you wander off the trail. It is WAY too easy to loose track of your route when hiking in unfamiliar forests. Believe me, all the trees look alike, especially when it starts to get dark! Add a measure of panic and you're really in trouble! Check out maps of the area before you start out. Just finding a road, power line, or railroad track won't do you much good if you don't know which direction to go once you find it. Civilization and safety may be just around the next bend -- if you go the right direction -- but could be hundreds of miles if you make the wrong choice.
Proper hiking equipment is essential for a safe and comfortable outing. While people do a lot of trekking in canvas shoes, sturdy leather hiking boots (as mentioned above) are a better option. They protect your ankles from sprains and protect your feet from injury from sharp objects, snakes, and insects. Your boots should fit properly and be broken in BEFORE you begin your hike. Wear them around home for a while to break them in. Make sure you check them out on the terrain you'll be hiking. It won't do you much good to just walk around on level concrete sidewalks when you'll be hiking up and down hills on sometimes rocky or sandy ground. If you can't walk at least a couple of miles around your neighborhood in your boots without discomfort you have no business wearing them out on the trail. The right socks will make a world of difference in your hiking comfort. Sometimes you need a "sock system" -- multiple layers that protect from blisters, cushion your step, maintain the right temperature, and keep your feet dry. In warm weather you will want to avoid sweaty feet. Wear socks that will wick moisture away to help keep your feet dry. In cold weather you'll want to keep your feet warm. Wear insulated socks or even heated socks or add chemical "toe warmers" Dress appropriately for the weather. If it is cool when you start out, dress in layers so you can lighten up when either sun or exertion raises your body temperature. A light, long-sleeved shirt and long pants will protect you from sunburn and from scratches from bushes and branches. A broad-brimmed hat will help protect your head, face, and neck from sunburn and help keep you cool in hot weather. A walking stick can add stability in difficult sections and ease the overall effort, reducing fatigue. Given that any physical activity like hiking, horseback riding, or even riding an OHV will raise your body temperature, you should probably dress to you feel just a little cool (not cold or chilled) before starting out. In cold weather, be sure to wear or bring along waterproof rain gear if there is any chance of rain. Nice, warm, cozy winter coats that work great in cold and snow are not always water resistant and you'll quickly find yourself freezing if your clothing gets wet from rain or melting snow.
Hiking or walking sticks or trekking poles aren't essential but will had a lot of comfort and stability when hiking. Walking sticks are a single staff used mostly on fairly level trails. Trekking poles come in pairs, like ski poles, and can be used to good advantage in any kind of terrain. Some folks even use old ski poles as trekking poles for summer hikes. To get the right size, stand in your hiking boots on level ground and hold the stick or poles in front of you. Your arm should form a 90° angle at the elbow. Sometimes you can pick up a dead branch and trim it to the right size for a temporary walking stick but bringing your own assures you will have one and that it will be the right size and will already have a comfortable grip. Commercial versions are available include some that telescope to make them easy to carry when you're not using them, can be adjusted easily to just the right height. Some that have internal springs that act as shock absorbers, and some that are adjustable so you can shorten them when going up hill and lengthen them when going down hill. Walking sticks and trekking poles won't reduce the total amount of energy you'll use when hiking but they will help improve endurance by distributing the effort over more muscles and relieving some of the strain on your legs and back. They might even be used as a weapon to defend yourself against an animal attack. Hand made wooden walking sticks can sometimes be found for around $10. Adjustable, shock absorbing commercial models can run $150-200 but you can also find adjustable aluminum models at Walmart for around $25-30. I have hiked without a hiking stick and with both fixed wooden and telescoping aluminum models. I can assure you hiking with a hiking stick feels easier than hiking without one, regardless of what kind you use. I did find the telescoping aluminum stick handy because I could easily store it on or in my pack if when I wasn't using it. I've managed to leave more than one wooden walking stick leaning against a tree after stopping.
Hydration is essential. Always wear a hydration pack like a Camelbak or carry a canteen or water bottle. Don't wait until you feel thirsty to take a drink. It is better to take frequent sips of water than to gulp down a whole bunch at once. You can begin hydrating yourself the day or evening before a hike by drinking plenty of water or sports drinks with a balanced electrolyte mix. Drinking copious amounts of water alone can lead to a condition sometimes known as water intoxification. Technically it is called hypnotatremia. What happens when you drink too much water is you flush out all the electrolytes (the chemicals your body needs) and then what you drink just ends up in your urine without doing you any good. Dark urine is usually a sign of dehydration telling you you need to drink more. Pale urine is what you normally want to maintain. However, hypnoatremia is one time pale urine isn't a good sign and could be misleading. If you're drinking plenty of water and still feel symptoms of heat illness, you need to balance your electrolytes so your body and make use of the water you're drinking. Sports drinks like Gatorade and Powerade are designed to provided balanced electrolytes. If you don't have access to sports drinks, take some salt tablets or drink a little salt water or pickle brine to replace some of the basics.
Routine hazards are usually more of a nuisance than a danger, but you still want to avoid unnecessary discomfort and some minor problems, if left unattended, can lead to serious problems. Some typical examples are sunburn, splinters, and insect bites. Minor sunburn is painful but really bad sunburns can deliver 2nd and even 3rd degree burns. Splinters are painful and often cause infection. Often the human body is allergic to some of the natural chemicals in some woods (redwood, for example) and will cause adverse reactions. I once had a redwood splinter that required surgery because of such a reaction. The inflammation was so severe that Novacaine injects for the surgery wore off in just a few minutes. Insect bites are mostly annoying, with minor pain and itching, but some insects carry disease. Those pesky mosquitoes sometimes carry West Nile disease. Ticks can be a problem in many areas with brush and they can carry Lyme Disease and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever. Wear long sleeved shirts and long pants and use a good insect repellent to deter all the little beasties you can. Avoid perfume and cologne that might attract insects."Bite sticks" and anti-itch creams can help relieve your suffering and some contain antiseptics to kill germs. Forget to bring some along? Ordinary household ammonia is the active ingredient in many insect bite products. Plain old tooth paste (not gel) can also help with the itch. Blisters on your hands and feet are quite common. Wear light weight gloves to protect your hands. Heavy gloves may be too warm and might cause blisters. Gloves should be soft with smooth seams and should fit, well, like a glove! Make sure your boots fit properly and wear the right "sock system" for the weather. Have some "moleskin" in your first aid kit to cover blisters if still get them. Moleskin is particularly effective if you apply it to tender spots before they turn into blisters. Carry at least a small (pocket size) first aid kit and treat all injuries, even minor ones, quickly to avoid infection. Make sure you have a needle in your first aid kit to remove splinters. Another handy tool for splinters, according to a surgeon friend of mine, is a pair of ordinary fingernail clippers. The jaws can grip a splinter and pull it out or can be used to cut tough skin away so you can remove the splinter. It would be a good idea to sterilize them with alcohol before using them. A pocket sized hand sanitizer should do the job.
Back packs are handy for carrying supplies, clothing, etc. but don't over load them. A pack that is too heavy will dig into your shoulders and put a strain on your back and legs. Take care in how you arrange things in your pack. Put soft things like towels and clothing next to your back and hard things like camp stoves and flashlights on the out side. Having a pack with ample outside pockets will allow you to organize things to avoid losing track of small items while keeping frequently used gadgets close at hand. The basic rule I was taught was your pack should never exceed half your body weight but recent research strongly recommends the lighter the pack, the better. They defined 4 categories, ranging from minimalist (under 12 lbs) to plush/deluxe (over 30 lbs) and pointed out that soldiers carry 40-90 lbs on military missions. When I was hiking with my sons in Boy Scouts, I weighed around 160 lbs and my pack was about 75 lbs. My hip joints felt like there were on fire the first hundred yards or so of my first hike with that pack but I eventually got used to it and was fairly comfortable by the time we reached our camp site for the night. But also very grateful to be able to take the pack off!
Always bring along your first aid kit and basic survival tools. You never know what might happen and it is always better to have resources and not use them than to need them and not have them. You don't have to go overboard. A pocket first aid kit, a BIC lighter, and a good hunting knife should be adequate for most situations. I like to toss in a survival blanket, one of those aluminized mylar things that fold up to about the size of a handkerchief and I like to have a flint and steel in case my Bic gives out.
Always let someone (family member, neighbor, park ranger, local sheriff) know where you are going and when you expect to return. That way, if something should happen to you out on the trail someone will know where to come looking for you when you don't return. Even the most experienced hikers can have accidents or even become disoriented and lost. Leaving your plans with someone is not the sign of a a wimp, it is a sign of wisdom. Even Survivorman has a safety crew that will come looking for him if he doesn't show up at the designated rendezvous on time. If you change your plans, let your contact know! It isn't going to do you any good at all if they come looking for you where you aren't.
Saturday, April 20, 2013
Our "all-knowing" government in Washington, D.C., has implemented steps to prevent what they have labeled "hoarding". New emails come along almost every week warning of expected government seizure of emergency food supplies and the illegalization of stockpiling emergency supplies. Many of us have, for many years, used the term "emergency preparedness" to describe the practice of stockpiling some extra food, clothing, medical supplies and other necessities against times of need. Such preparations have been crucial for many people I know during the recent recession. Now Washington, D.C., having repeatedly failed to anticipate needs for emergency support adequately themselves (think Katrina and Sandy), has decided to possibly criminalize those of us who have had the foresight to prepare to take care of ourselves. Already they have made it illegal to stock pile extra prescription drugs (even to the extent that there are shortages in some hospitals and pharmacies) and rumors that they are actively buying up ammunition to prevent law abiding citizens from obtaining it have sparked panic buying that is creating an actual artificial shortage of ammunition. Severe restrictions on stockpiling food are also underway. It seems "they" want to make sure that "we" are completely and forever dependent on "them". Be aware that the time may come when the food you keep in your RV or camping supplies for convenience and for potential emergencies may be considered illegal "hoarding". Some of this concern about hoarding is based on Executive Order 10998 issued by John F Kennedy way back in 1962, so it isn't necessarily anything new! However, the current concerns focus on how this order is being interpreted and enforced by the Obama administration. There are rumors that suggest they may seek to prohibit "hoarding" of basic supplies. Even current FEMA guidelines suggest maintaining a 2 weeks supply of food so you should be safe at that level -- at least for a while. But that could change by Executive Order on a moment's notice. Beyond that you may want to keep things pretty much to yourself, which you should do to prevent becoming a target of looting during a disaster anyway. I've seen strong warnings as recently as February 2015, repeated again in March 2016 about pending Federal action to criminalize hoarding of food and other survival supplies.
What can you do about it? Are you willing to risk breaking the law to stockpile a little food and other supplies to handle an emergency? Even FEMA recommends storing enough to last you 2 weeks.
If you still want to store some extra food against times of need (man-made or natural disaster, loss of employment, societal collapse) start purchasing a little extra each week and setting it aside. Be sure to rotate your supplies so you use up the oldest stock first. Most budgets can accommodate an extra can or two of beans or tuna each week. Assuming you do your grocery shopping once a week, in a year you could have 50-100 cans of emergency food saved up, without creating any red flags or unwanted attention that bulk buying might generate or spending a huge amount of money all at once. And, by the way, buy foods you will actually eat. Stocking up on rice cakes if you never eat them wouldn't do you much good. In fact, significant changes in diet can create extreme digestive and health issues as well as have psychological consequences, neither of which is desirable during a emergency. I know of one survivalist who insisted 1 jar of peanut butter would last him a year or more -- because he hated peanut butter and wouldn't eat it -- even if he were starving!
Medicines are another major issue. With legal limits on prescriptions, stocking up for extended emergencies is becoming problematic. Even hospitals, that have a very legitimate need to store medications, are facing shortages. One suggestion I've seen is to examine veterinary medications as alternatives. A lot of medications people depend on (insulin, blood thinners, etc) may be really hard to obtain and keep in sufficient quantities for long term emergencies, but some things that may offer life-saving treatments in a disaster, like antibiotics, are often available as animal medications. Veterinary penicillin can usually be purchased at farm and ranch stores without a prescription and could be better than nothing in long term disaster situation. Fish antibiotics are available without a prescription and in many cases exactly match human dosages. For example, Fish Mox is available, without prescription, in the same 250mg dosage used for human beings. It is even the same red and pink capsule and bears the same WC 731 identification. Several other aquatic antibiotics also have matching human counterparts. Be sure to examine the ingredients of any alternative medication to be sure it doesn't contain fillers or other contaminates that could be dangerous. Single-ingredient items are usually OK, but having not been certified by the FDA, might not have been manufactured under the same strict conditions as those considered fit for human consumption. If you are planning to be prepared for any long-term emergency having some antibiotics on hand may be critical. Note: antibiotics should ONLY be administered when there are clear signs of infection. Overuse will damage "good" bacteria needed to sustain good health and will promote the development of strains of "super bugs" that are resistant to antibiotics. Another thing to consider is expiration dates. Army testing has shown that about 90% of medications are safe and effective for 15 years beyond their stated expiration date! That means, you don't always have to toss out our old meds the day they expire. However, watch for signs of deterioration, such as changes in color or texture, separation of components in liquids, chalking or flaking of pills, or unusual odors. When ordinary aspirin gets old it begins to give off a vinegar like smell. Personally, if aspirin that smelled like vinegar was the only pain killer I had, I'd still use it (and have done so with good results and no noticeable side effects) but it is better to replace it whenever it begins to go bad -- while you have access to replace it. So-called "folk medicine" is another valuable source of help in disaster situation. Some natural substances may be far easier to come by. For example, willow bark as an aspirin substitute. I've tried it and it works. If I find myself in desperate need of antibiotics and had none available, I have considered looking favorably on moldy bread. Bread molds is where penicillin was originally discovered and the bacteria that makes it is virtually everywhere, except perhaps in freezing climates. Even there, it will probably become active anytime you create a reasonably warm and comfortable environment for yourself -- and your bread. However, bread mold may contain other types of bacteria that create toxic chemicals that could make you sick. So, speaking of penicillin, you may be able to purchase veterinary penicillin at a farm and ranch store without a prescription for your emergency kit.
Ammunition is not something that is easy to find substitutes for. If you're into re-loading you may be able to extend your capacity, but that would mean stockpiling hazardous materials. If not, take advantage of availability and make periodic small purchases as you can. If you are finding the particular ammunition you need in short supply, you might consider buying alternate firearms with better availability. In a long term TEOTWAWKI (The End Of The World As We Know It) scenario you may find yourself dependent on hunting for food. It may be a good idea to develop alternate skills, such as archery and trapping. Archery can be a good, fun activity to complement your RV and camping outings. It would be a good idea to develop some skills BEFORE you need them for survival. It takes some instruction and practice to become proficient. You can probably find a field archery club somewhere near you home where you can enjoy the sport and gain valuable skills. You can find lots of web sites that describe how to make simple deadfall or Paiute traps, but it takes some practice to get it down. Here is one instructional video for making deadfall traps. Even Les Stroud (Survivorman), with all his experience, sometimes has trouble with the delicate adjustments necessary to make them work. And more than once he has come back to find a trap tripped but empty -- and the bait all gone. Unfortunately, in a disaster situation, people who are prepared may become targets of looters and others who failed to make proper preparations and you may have to defend yourself and your family from attack. Will you know how and will you have appropriate tools and mental attitude to do so? Knowing what to do and being ready to do it aren't always the same thing.
Dangers of being prepared. The dangers of not being prepared are pretty obvious: lack of food, medicine, and fuel in a disaster situation could be life threatening. Unfortunately, being prepared could become life threatening too. If you are prepared -- and those around you who aren't know of it -- things could quickly reach the point where the unprepared will do ANYTHING to get what you have and they don't. You will either need to be prepared to share your emergency supplies and knowledge or defend them. Keeping a low profile -- security by obscurity -- is one way to minimize potential problems But if your neighbors see you thriving when they are starving, sooner or later they're going to come knocking. A friend of mine once told me what he would do if/when that happened. He would get out is rifle and shoot over their heads. He had not desire to shoot anyone. If the warning shots worked, great! If the didn't work and the mob returned fire, he figured his problems would be over quickly. Not sure I agree, but it is something to think about.
This topic was originally posted in 2013 but emails and news briefs continue to pop up warning against imminent government seizure of your survival supplies. I don't understand the logic behind anyone campaigning against being prepared. Perhaps they are reacting out of fear or jealousy or they clearly don't understand the potential or actual threats we may face. The persistence of rumors of government seizure of personal preparedness supplies is disconcerting. If a lie is told often enough, some people begin to believe it -- or believe in it!
Illegal hoarding or wise preparedness? You decide!
Friday, April 5, 2013
Here are some things we've run into during our camping adventures that you might not think you'll ever encounter. They are not planned or even common happenings that you would normally associate with camping. However, given the remote locations we all enjoy for our outdoor activities, you might run into one or more of these situations and it would be good to be at least mentally prepared and have some idea what do do.
Wildfires can happen in just about any remote area. Whether ignited by lightning, careless campers, or inconsiderate smokers, fire can quickly get out of hand. One large fire in southern California was started by a cigarette thrown from a car on the 101 Freeway. It happened smack in front of a fire station and one of the firefighters witnessed the act. By the time they could get their equipment to the other side of the freeway the fire was already out of control. It then burned all the way through the mountains to the ocean, blackening more than 25,000 acres near Malibu. If you had been among the campers in the area near the fire, you would have either been evacuated or conscripted to help fight the fire. Conscription is not a frequent thing, but in an emergency, campers and even passing motorists have been known to to be "invited" to join the fire lines in some places. What would you do if you found yourself in a wildfire situation? Do you have any fire fighting skills? Having served as a volunteer firefighter I have had the privilege of being trained in fighting wildland fires and I can tell you there is a lot more to it than you might think!
On more than one occasion our dirt bike group was asked by rangers to ride into a normally off-limits wilderness area to help rescue hikers who had set the wilderness on fire! It is ironic that the wilderness designation was promoted by environmentalists to protect the area from the (unjustified) threat of dirt bikes starting fires and then it was set ablaze again and again by bonafide environmentalists themselves. In one case, the area had been used regularly by dirt bikers for more than 40 years without an incident. Then, the first year it after it was declared wilderness, a card-carrying Sierra club member, burning her toilet paper, set it on fire and burned 55,000 acres of their brand new wilderness to a crisp! There were at least 4 more occasions om the next few years when the hikers set it on fire when we were camping nearby.
First of all, be vigilant. You always want to monitor the weather. If there is lightning in the area, it could start a fire. Watch the skies for excessive smoke. Brush fires usually put out copious amounts of white smoke. The smoke from some forest fires may be darker, depending on the type of trees and other foliage and how dry they are. If you see a lot of smoke (of any color), start making preparations to evacuate. If you wait until law enforcement comes around telling you to clear out, you may not have time to pack up and get out safely. Always have an evacuation route in mind. Pay attention to access roads and alternate routes as you approach your campground. Consider where you will go if the primary access road is blocked.
Park for easy exit. The parking on camp sites in many forest campgrounds is often narrow and deep. If you have a trailer it is often tempting to pull straight into the camp site when you get there and worry about backing out when the time comes. However, if, when the time comes, it is an emergency evacuation, getting out will be easier if you are already headed out. Taking the time to back into your spot when you arrive takes some discipline and commitment but will pay off if you need a quick get away. Having the curb side of your RV facing the fire pit and picnic table may trump easy departure. Wildfire and flood are two of the most frequent local emergencies that would trigger evacuation, but other, personal emergencies may also dictate a quick exit. Illness or injury of someone in your party or some kind of problem at home may dictate a speedy escape.
If you are camped in an area threatened by wildfire, take precautions to protect yourself, your companions, and your equipment. Blowing embers from a nearby fire can ignite or at least damage even "flame resistant" tents and canopies. Pack up any flammable items before the fire gets close and begin planning your escape routes. Gather in any members of your group or pets and seek a safe refuge from approaching flames. RVs provide some protection but are still susceptible to catching fire if the flames get close enough.
If you do get involved with a fire fighting effort, will you know what to do? THE most important thing to keep in mind is your own safety. Placing yourself in danger only adds to the problem, so pay close attention to the instructions of rangers, law enforcement, and firefighters and do exactly what you are told to do. Fire needs three things to burn: fuel, oxygen, and heat. Take away any one of those and the fire will stop. Cutting fire breaks is one way firefighters control wildfires -- it removes the fuel. Small fires, like spot fires from blowing embers, can sometimes be put out by shoveling dirt on them. That smothers the flames (removes the oxygen). Fire often behaves in unpredictable ways, but experienced firefighters know how to recognize certain conditions that sometimes give them some indication of what the fire is about to do. Watch and listen to them! Don't try to just guess. Changes in the color of smoke and the direction the fire is moving can be significant but unless you are an experienced firefighter you won't be able to recognize the signs and know what is happening. If you do notice a sudden change in the color, volume, or direction of smoke, bring it to the attention of one of the firefighters.
Many of the precautions described for wildfires also apply to flash floods. Flash floods can occur even if it hasn't been raining where you are. Flash floods can rush down dry canyons from rain in the mountains many miles away and the results can be devastating. Avoid camping in low-lying areas or sand washes that may be subjected to flooding. Make sure you have a clear escape route in mind. Watch the weather and pack up ahead of time.
Loose livestock have surprised more than one camper. Some of the public lands where we camp are also grazing lands for sheep and cattle. Try to avoid disturbing grazing animals. If they stampede they can be very dangerous, causing a lot of destruction and serious injuries. NEVER chase them with your OHV! Grazing livestock is someone's livelihood and chasing them may cause injury or stress that is harmful and expensive. The act of chasing them may also damage critical grasslands on which they depend for food. Stay on designated trails. If livestock wanders into your campsite you may be able to shoo them away safely if there aren't too many of them. Never approach them closely or make threatening moves that may cause them to charge you. Even something as small as a sheep is surprisingly strong and can do a lot of damage. You may recall the scene in City Slickers where Billy Crystal ropes a cow and then asks the old cowboy "what is wrong with that?" The cowboy shoots off his gun and the cow takes off, dragging Billy Crystal behind him as the old cowboy grins and says "That!" It is best to have multiple people working together to chase livestock back where they belong. To encourage them to go where you want them to go, try to get in front of them or to the side opposite of where you are trying to direct them. Wave your arms or a branch or rope and shout. They should move away from you. Don't worry about wearing red. The old myth is that bulls charge red flags. Turns out bulls are color blind, so the color doesn't matter, the movement does. BTW, running from an animal usually encourages it to chase you. Sometimes making an aggressive move toward them will scare them off but it could also incite them to attack! In most cases standing still or moving slowly and deliberately in a safe direction away from the animal is a better tactic. You are unlike to be able to outrun anything that decides to chase you.
Bears and other wild animals are frequent visitors in many popular campgrounds. I'm sure we all remember Yogi Bear and his obsession with picnic baskets. He was always amusing but unfortunately, unthinking people who feed the bears, create problems for the rest of us and for the bears. In the first place, table scraps are not proper nutrition for bears, so their health is compromised. Secondly, feeding them tends to make them dependent on human handouts. When the handouts get scarce, the bears starve -- and get sick or become dangerous. Bears have been known to even break into cars to get to food inside. Other wild animals, like raccoons, because they are smaller, are usually thought to be less dangerous, but they can still do a lot of damage when threatened and often carry diseases (like rabies) that you DON'T want to get. Raccoons tend to be rather aggressive. Mountain lions get a lot of bad press when one wanders into a campground or suburban area, but they are usually rather shy creatures. If one does approach human beings, it is an indication of desperation and they are likely to be dangerous. Give ALL wild animals wide berth, especially a mother and her young. There is a lot written about the proper response to coming face to face with wild animals. Should you run? Should you make a lot of noise? Should you remain still? Depending on the type of animal, the situation, and who is giving the advice, you will see all of these actions recommended. To KNOW what to do, research the kinds of animals that inhabit areas you will be visiting and how to deal with them. Check with local rangers about the level of threat and best response if you should encounter unexpected 4-legged guests. You're on your own for 2-legged trespassers. Usually, but certainly not always, making yourself appear as large and ferocious as possible will intimidate wild animals. I've heard that works with grizzlies but playing dead works better with black bears. Sometimes aggressive action just angers or frightens animals and makes the situation worse. When hiking making plenty of noise will give animals warning and many if not most of them will get out of your way before you even know they are there. It is good to know that prey usually follows trails and predators usually parallel the trails off somewhere in the bush. Since you will likely be hiking on the trails, you may appear to some animals as prey. Some predators may follow you for a while out of curiosity to find out who/what you are and then drop back when they don't identify you as one of their normal meals but if they seem to be consistently stalking you they have probably decided you would be a tasty snack. Avoid carrying foods whose odors might attract carnivores.
Dust storms are fairly common in desert areas or even areas near farms or construction sites where winds can pick up loose dirt from plowed ground. It is a good idea to know what to do if you are caught in a dust storm. First of all, if you're traveling, the best action is to seek shelter. As the dust reduces visibility your risk of an accident increased dramatically, whether you're on the highway or on the trails on your OHV. At least slow down. If you can't see where you're going, find a safe place to pull over out of traffic and wait it out. Don't stop in the road or trail or you'll just become an obstacle for other (less careful) travelers to run into. Use a bandana or other piece of clothing to cover your nose and mouth to filter as much dust as you can out of the air you're breathing. If you're in camp, close all the windows in your tent or RV and go inside. Make sure all your equipment is secured so it doesn't blow away. Cover any sensitive equipment with tarps and protect the air intake on vehicles to prevent clogging air filters.
Obnoxious neighbors. First of all, make sure YOU are not an obnoxious neighbor. The most frequent camper complaints are noise and trespassing. Keep your stuff, including sounds, smoke, and cooking odors from intruding into someone else's space whenever you can. If smoke from your campfire is blowing smack into someone else's space, minimize or douse your fire and avoid fuel that will create more smoke. If you are experiencing problems with another camper you have three choices: 1) endure it 2) report them to the campground host or manager or 3) confront the offenders yourself. Enduring it not a comfortable solution but is often the one with the least risk. Reporting them to the host can sometimes solve the immediate problem but all too often creates hard feelings that continue to generate issues. No one likes a tattle tail. Diplomatically confronting the offenders is usually your best bet. Sometimes they simply didn't realize they were causing a problem and are willing to make adjustments . I once had a bunch of teenagers arrive at primitive camp ground (no host) about 3:00 am. They set up right next to my motorhome, car doors wide open and stereos blaring at full volume while they blithely deployed bright lights and began setting up their camp. After about a half an hour of enduring the situation I finally go up and got dressed and approached them. Though by then I was fuming, I did my best to use a diplomatic approach. When I explained, as politely as my anger would allow, that they were disturbing me and my family they apologized, turned down the music, and redirected their lights. I think I was lucky. Loud groups often have already begun to form a kind of mob mentality that has a life of its own, independent of the normal behavior of the individuals. On rare occasions we had some loud party types join one of our family-oriented Desert Rat outings in the Mojave Desert. We would usually ask whoever invited them to ask them to hold it down and usually that worked pretty well without causing hard feelings. In most cases people who really wanted to party all night long found other groups to go out in the future with without us having to say anything.
Sewing was once a basic skill familiar to both girls and boys. Girls sewed clothes and household items, boys learned to sew leather to make harnesses, saddles, chaps, and shoes. Today, with so few people making their own clothes, it is nearly a lost art. But it can have a lot of benefits when camping. Being able to mend torn clothes and repair tents and sleeping bags can prevent a minor accident from having major consequences. Sewing is not difficult to learn but you should learn which types of stitches are best for various applications and have some knowledge of how to match thread size and material and needle to fabric and use for best results. And, of course, you'll need to bring along a sewing kit with proper needles and a selection of threads. A few extra buttons may also come in handy. The kind of thread and style of needle you will differ depending on the repair. You might use the same needle and thead to repair a tear in your shirt or sew on a button, but you'll need a bigger needle and heavier thread to fix a torn tent.
Knot tying and use of twine can be handy skill around camp. Ordinary binder's twine is cheap, easy to carry, and can be used for a myriad of tasks around camp. If your belt breaks you can even use it to hold up your pants. Enterprising campers can make camp furniture from firewood or other sticks. lashing them together with twine or natural cordage. Some folks like to "rope off" all or parts of their camp sites to control unwanted traffic or create designated areas for specific activities. It might be a good idea to refresh those knot-tying skills you may have learned in scouts when you were a kid. Forgotten how? There are lots of helpful instructions, many with videos, to be found on the Internet. Knowing the right kind of knot to use for various situations can save a lot of time and frustration and avoid failure.
Keep learning new skills!
Wednesday, April 3, 2013
Tents, sleeping bags, and other camping equipment that has been stored needs to be unpacked and inspected. Even in the cleanest residential environments, vermin, mold, and insects can take their toll on stored gear. If there was a little moisture left in tent or sleeping bag fabric when it was rolled up there is a good chance it will have developed the most interesting (and unpleasant) smell. Unroll your tents, awnings, canopies, sleeping bags, and patio mats and make sure they are clean and free from foul stains and odors. Most fabrics can be cleaned with mild household cleaner, but take care not to over soak them. A fabric freshener like Fabreze may help eliminate stale odors. Have your sleeping bags dry cleaned. Even if they may say they can be machine washed, dry cleaning will be less likely to cause the filling to mat and clump. Tents may need to be re-waterproofed after cleaning with detergents. Spray on waterproofing like "Camp Dry" is the easiest way to do this but liquids that are brushed on may provide heavier protection. Pay special attention to the seams. You may need to use a wax sealer stick on the seams to fill needle tracks that could leak.
Stoves, lanterns, and heaters need to be inspected and cleaned. Check all fuel connections to make sure there are no leaks. Clean both the inside and the outside of the glass globe on your lanterns. Clean the fuel ports around the burners on your stoves. Pumps on liquid fuel may need to be serviced. Supply lines for propane appliances may have accumulated spider webs. Spiders seem to like propane and are prone to build webs in the plumbing of stoves, lanterns, and BBQs. You would think the pressure would simply blow the webs away, but they are surprisingly strong and adhere very well to the plumbing. Take care cleaning the orifices in propane burners. Avoid shoving needles into them as they can damage the metal and alter the size and shape of the orifice. Better to remove them and soak them in hot soapy water or vinegar and blow them out with a blast of compressed air. If you can't clean them, replace them.
If you have any kind of RV you will need to de-winterize it -- unless you are fortunate enough to live in the sun belt where winterization isn't necessary. Flush the RV antifreeze from all plumbing lines and fixtures. You may need to clean the system with a diluted bleach solution to remove residual antifreeze tastes and any other odors that may have developed in storage. Follow up this cleansing by rinsing with a baking soda solution and you're system will be ready to deliver great tasting water -- if you fill it with good,clean, filtered water to begin with. If you have a portable hot water system you use tent camping, you'll need to de-winterize in a similar fashion. Other post-storage tasks include inspecting the unit for any winter damage from elements, insects, or vermin. Check all tires, belts, and hoses and verify proper fluid levels. Now is a good time to do a thorough cleaning and detailing inside and out. Not only will your rig look nicer for the upcoming season, you will have a better chance of detecting any problems that might have gotten started so you can deal with them BEFORE you hit the road. Be suspicious of unusual odors, stains, or softspots that might signify leakage and dry rot. Be sure to inspect all the exterior seams and joints around windows and doors where temperature changes may have damaged the sealants. Clean and service the air conditioners. This includes cleaning the fins on the condensers outside and the filters inside. Check and clean the refrigerator cooling coils and the burner. Insects, rodents, and birds often find those places and use them for comfortable winter homes.
Provisions need to be inspected, inventoried, and replenished. Check for and replace damaged or leaking containers, outdated, stale, or used up items. Be sure to check basic food items, cleaning supplies, medical supplies, and personal hygiene items. Temperature swings over the winter months can take their toll on many products. I've seen unopened bottles of hand lotion that had separated, spoiled and become unusable and foul smelling during winter storage. Hot summer storage temperatures can do the same thing. Check to make sure you aren't hauling around empty or near-empty containers that won't do you any good. You will want to establish a "low re-order point" in your mind for each item. Stuff that gets used a lot will need to be replaced when the container gets below about 25% while stuff that gets little use won't need to be replaced until is is nearly empty.
Tools and utensils need to be inspected and inventoried. Missing or damaged items should be replaced. Make sure all cutting tools (knives, axes, saws) are clean and sharp. Check your kitchen drawers and your tool box to make sure anything you might have used last season or may have borrowed over the winter has been returned to is rightful place.
Inspect your camping wardrobe. Look for old tears or stains or new damage that needs to be taken care of. Insects may have found a home in your clothing over the winter. Clothing that has been in storage over the winter, in your RV or your camp bins, may need to be laundered or at least freshened before use. Sometimes all it needs is a session in a clothes dryer with some pleasant smelling dryer cloths and/or a shot of Fabreze.
Check your checklists. Use existing checklists to go over your equipment to ensure you are ready for the new camping season. Now is also a good time to review and update your checklists. You may find you have things on the list that are no longer needed or that you found things during last year's activities that were missing from the checklist. Hopefully you took care of the "to do" list from your last outing when you got home or over the winter, but if it is still hanging around waiting for attention, go down THAT list and make sure you bring everything up to date. Re-creating the same list again this year will be very frustrating and waste a lot of time and energy.
Review your plans for this season. Will you be repeating many or even all of last year's trips? If not, are there any items related to deleted trips you can take out and leave home? Are there new places or events or activities you want to include that may require additional equipment or supplies? Did you have everything you needed for all of your trips last year? Will any of this year's planned activities require additional planning, equipment, or preparation?
Investing a little time now will ensure a much more enjoyable and frustration-free season. Making sure everything is ready to go will give you confidence and allow you to enjoy your outdoor time instead of spending it worrying, making repairs or "making do".