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.

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Organization of This Blog

Unfortunately, the articles in this blog are organized only by posting date.  I have made some attempt to group related articles, but it is not 100% consistent.  If you have a particular topic you are looking for, use the SEARCH function.  Articles include RV purchasing and maintenance tips, camping equipment shopping tips, OHV tips, camping tips, and wilderness survival tips.  You will also find a scattering of emergency preparedness information.  Once you find a particular article you will often find related articles nearby.  For example, there are a bunch of camping articles near each other on things like desert camping, forest camping, mountain camping, beach camping, and even urban camping.  Another grouping includes the Who, What, Why, Where, and When of camping. Early articles near the beginning explain the purpose of the blog and define various kinds of recreational vehicles.

The blog has evolved as the author has been prompted by events in his own life, learning from others, or requests from readers have inspired specific items.  It did not begin with an overall outline or structure.  Thankfully the SEARCH feature provided by BlogSpot.com works pretty darn well and you should be able to find articles containing your search terms.

I am open to questions and to suggestions for additional articles.

Thanks for reading my blog.  And a special thanks to those who take the time to comment.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Fire Starters

I'm not talking about people with the pyro kinesis capabilities of Drew Barrymore's character in the 1984 move "Fire Starter", although such a skill would definitely be useful and enviable in a survival situation.  Imagine being able to start a fire just by looking at it!  I'm sure most of us have experienced hot stares from our companions from time to time but unfortunately, combustible materials don't feel that heat the same way we do.

Much is written on ways to start fires without matches or lighters.  And those skills can be very useful and important when you're in survival mode.  But most of the time we want fires will be in a controlled camping environment where we can have a choice of useful tools and methods.  So, unless you frequently put yourself in a survival situation or have a tendency to get lost often, you can usually take advantage of easier ways to get warm.  You can start a fire with ordinary tinder and kindling cut from your firewood, but prepared fire starters usually may make it easier.  You want your fire starters to burn long enough to get your fire going.   Fire starters are not a substitute for proper fire building techniques.  When I was managing a resort I saw a guest use up an entire box of fire starters without getting his fireplace lit. I could usually get one started with about 1/2 of a fire starter.  Normally you'll still need to start with tinder and kindling and then work your way up to logs but fire starters are a good way to get things going without burning your fingers. As I mentioned before, I've seen inept campers go through an entire box of big fire starters without getting a fire going.  With just a minimum amount of proper preparation I've seen people start fires using only part of one of the same fire starters.

I don't have a lot of hands on experience with commercial fire starters.  I usually rely on traditional, proper techniques of building my fire in stages, starting with tinder, then kindling, then adding larger pieces of wood until it sustains full size pieces of fire wood and logs.   I have tried a few of the commercial wax and sawdust fire starters and found they worked very well.   It took only one match to start the fire starter and only one fire starter to light my fire and the smallest pieces of firewood were about 2-3" in diameter (dry, well-seasoned pine).   Handy if you don't have any readily available kindling or an axe to make some.  However I've seen people who wasted a whole box or more of these excellent fire starters without ever getting their fires going.   No matter what you use to get your fire started, you still need to use some common sense in constructing the fuel pile correctly. Don't waste your time or fire starters trying to ignite large pieces of wood.  Start small, with split kindling or twigs and work your way up.

You may see people using accelerants , like charcoal starter or gasoline, to start a campfire. There is no doubt that is a quick and effective way to start a fire, but sometimes it is TOO quick and TOO effective.  It is a dangerous practice.  I've seen more than one camper go home without his eyebrows or any hair on his arms after being caught in the flare up trying to start a fire with gasoline -- and those were the lucky ones.   Second degree burns are also quite common.  The sudden "whoomp!" when a gasoline soaked pile of wood bursts into life is dramatic and even kind of fun but it can scatter flaming wood in all directions.   If you think you must use an accelerant, exercise caution.   Do not pour on too much and don't wait too long before lighting it.  The fumes become explosive and the longer you wait the more fumes there will be.   Don't strike a match on one of the rocks surrounding your fire pit.   I've seen guys light a match and toss it onto a gasoline soaked pile of wood with amazing and sometimes frightening results.  A safer way is to light the end of a long stick or attach a match to a hot dog cooking wand and use that to ignite the fire from a safer distance.  Even "log lighter" style lighters will put you too close if there are fumes present and I don't know of anyone whose reflexes are quick enough to get back out of the way when an accelerant bursts into flames

You can buy commercial fire starter kits and they usually work very well.  I like the looks of the Coleman "Strike-a-fire" and have added a package of them to my camping supplies. It is a sawdust and wax fire starter with a built in source of ignition similar to a road flare.  Just strike it on the box like a match or a road flare.  They come 8 in a package for around $5.00.   Speaking of road flares, they are quite effective as fire starters (in fact we use them to start "burn to learn" fires at the fire department) but are probably overkill and quite a bit more expensive than commercial fire starters ($2-3.00 each) -- and WAY more expensive than home-made fire starters! Road flares will probably burn much longer than you need for a fire starter, typically at least a half an hour.  You can definitely make your fire starters, often at little or no cost, that work just as well (without the self-striker unless you want to try to embed matches in them) and you have the satisfaction, often, of having recycled some otherwise wasted materials. 

A very good natural fire starter is something "fat wood".  You can buy "fat wood" in camping stores but sometimes you can find it in the forest.  It is found in rotten pine trees.  Dig away the crusty, brown, "alligatored" rotten wood until to find a hard solid core.  It should smell like turpentine.  That heartwood is impregnated with resin that has settled and been concentrated in the core.  It prevents the core from rotting and makes it highly flammable.  Fat wood shavings make excellent tinder to get your fire going.  Often the fat wood will still be dry even if the rotten wood around it is soaked by rain.

The type of fire starters you choose will depend on where you plan to use them.  Home-made egg carton fire starters (described below) are handy for starting fires around your base camp or in the fireplace at home, but they can be kind of bulky.  Commercial fire starters for hunters come in a pocket-sized pouch that is easy to carry.  A package of 4 is under $3.00 at Walmart.   I haven't tried them yet and the only review I saw on them wasn't very favorable.   It is a good idea to try out your chosen fire starters BEFORE you have to depend on them.   Try them out at home when you have plenty of time to seek alternatives if they don't work to your satisfaction.  Another option that is particularly good for starting fires in wet weather are magnesium shavings.   Magnesium burns very hot and very bright (even when wet) so always exercise caution when using magnesium.  It is what made old fashioned flash bulbs so bright.  You can buy shavings  online in little plastic bags.  You might even get some shavings for free or little cost from a local machine or metal shop.  Magnesium rods or blocks are often part of flint and steel fire starter kits.  You simply shave off some of the block and ignite it with sparks from the flint and steel.  Unlike many kinds of ordinary tinder that won't light when wet (cotton, lint, paper, wood shavings) magnesium WILL still burn when it is wet.  Which also means it is hard to put out with water.  For that you need a Class D fire extinguisher or cover it with sand or dirt.

One of the advantages to making your own fire starters is that they can usually made from materials that are otherwise discarded.  Save the stubs of old candles to be melted down.  Save some old cardboard (not foam) egg cartons.  Save dryer lint.  Save some sawdust.   None of these are much good for anything else.   It is good to recycle them to make fire starters.   I like the old adage: "Use it up, wear it out, make do, or do without."  Making your own fire starters is good way to "use it up" productively.

Dryer lint is often recommended as tinder to start a fire.  It is plentiful and cheap (free!). However, not all dryer lint is the same.  Lint from cotton, such as men's underwear, towels, and denim, works very well.   Lint from synthetics, such a nylon, rayon, and polyester, not so well.  The synthetics often have a tendency to melt rather than ignite.  Mixing lint with wax creates a sure fire solution that might overcome the problem with synthetics.  In this case the lint simply acts as a wick to burn the wax so its own ignition point isn't a major factor.  Spread lint out on foil or a cookie sheet and coat it with melted wax from some old candles making a slab about 1/4" or so thick.   When it cools, cut it into little squares and use them to start your next fire.  For easier lighting, try to leave a little "fuse" of lint at one corner of each square.  Lint can also be used in egg carton firestarters (see below).

My favorite tinder for flint and steel is 100% cotton balls.  They are cheap, light weight, easy to ignite and make great fire starters.  If you saturate them with petroleum jelly they'll burn even longer, giving you more time to get your kindling ignited.   Do not confuse them with synthetic cosmetic puffs.  They look the same but they are likely to melt instead of catching fire.

Egg cartons (the old cardboard ones, not Styrofoam), can be filled with wax or a wax/sawdust a wax/lint  mixture to make good fire starters.   Fill each cell with wax or wax and sawdust or lint, let the wax cool, then cut the carton into individual cells.  Leave a point or tag of carton material for a fuse on each cell as a lighting point.  You can light it with one match and each cell will probably burn about 10 minutes to get your fire going.  You will probably only need one for each fire.  You can also use paper towels, crumpled newspaper, cotton balls, or wood chips mixed with wax to fill the egg carton. If you want to see which materials work best, use just one type of fill mixed with wax in each cell. Otherwise you can mix stuff together to fill the cells.   Make sure your wax soaks into the egg carton for each cell.   Note: Styrofoam gives off nasty fumes and tends to melt rather than burn so DO NOT use Styrofoam cartons to make fire starters.  Styrofoam cartons won't soak up the wax the way cardboard does so they don't function as well.  They might also melt when you try to pour hot wax into them and might put out a little bit of undesirable chemicals when they burn.

Pine cones dipped in wax provide a fun and fragrant way to get your fire going.  Collect some small pine cones from your yard or on your next camping trip, unless it is against the rules.   Drip the wax from old candle stubs into the crevices or melt the candles in a double-boiler and dip the pine cones in the melted wax.  You might add a bit of cotton cloth as a wick for an initial lighting point for added convenience.

Store your fire starters safely.   Because they can be easily ignited and burn well (both good things for fire starters!), you need to protect them from accidental ignition.   The best place to store them is in air-tight metal containers.   My next choice would be air-tight plastic food storage containers.   In any case, keep them away from any sources of ignition.   DO NOT store them in places like your furnace or water heater compartments and keep them away from your stoves and ovens.   Because the paper from the egg cartons may absorb moisture, they also need to be protected from getting damp, so keeping them in a tightly sealed steel or plastic container is a good idea. One of my motorhomes had a nice drawer above the furnace.  NOT a good place to store waxy fire starters because they would all, at the very least, melt, and, if it got hot enough, perhaps even ignite.  I found that drawer was perfect for socks and underwear, especially when getting dressed on cold mornings!

Fire starters are NOT a substitute for good fire building practices, just a convenience.  You still need to have appropriate tinder and indling for the fire starters to light.  If you try to light logs with your fire starters you are destined to fail.  It takes a lot more heat and flame to get a log going than you'll get from even the best fire starters.  Fire starters will help you get your fire going quicker and easier than lighting it with a match and often avoid the burned fingers that can result from holding a match too long or in the wrong position trying to get your fire going.  Build your proper fire around a fire starter leaving access to light the fire starter.  You should be able to get a good fire going with just one match.

Fire up!

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Sleeping Bags

Sleeping bags come in a variety of styles and temperature ranges -- and prices, ranging from inexpensive flannel bags ("slumber bags") that are good for watching TV and sleepovers at home to high tech, sub-zero bags used by mountain climbers.  You will probably want something in between for most family camping ventures.  And you will probably want to resist the temptation to buy the warmest, most expensive sleeping bag you can find and afford.  You will undoubtedly find it TOO warm during most "good" camping weather.

The flannel "slumber" bags with cute Mickey Mouse or Winnie The Pooh prints are fun for the kids at home, but are probably not warm enough or durable enough for camp use.   Something with a tougher shell that is more resistant to dirt and easier to clean and warmer will be better for use in a tent or even an RV.  That having been said, you could add a sleeping bag cover to your kid's favorite slumber bags if that makes them feel more at home.

Sleeping bags are usually given temperature ratings.  How are those ratings derived?   It probably isn't as scientific as you might think it should be.  Manufacturers gives bags to employees or other "testers" and rate them based on the reports they get back.  Whether a bag will keep YOU warm down to the rated temperature will depend on many factors other than the bag.  First of all, are you a "Hot Sleeper" or a "Cold Sleeper"?   If you kick the blankets off most of the time or your sleeping partner complains you make the bed too hot, you're probably a "Hot Sleeper".   On the other hand, if you pile on the blankets, even in summer, you're most likely a "Cold Sleeper".   "Hot Sleepers" will probably be comfortable down to the rated temperature, all other things being even . "Cold Sleepers" will need a bag with 10-15 degrees colder temperature rating to stay warm.

There are several other factors that significantly affect how warm you will feel in your sleeping bag.  How easily you adjust to temperature changes is one.  If you're slow to adjust, get a bag 5 or 10 degrees colder than the temperatures you expect.  If you're not eating enough or drinking enough water during your outing, again adjust down 5 - 10 degrees.  Can you sleep in a close-fitting (mummy style) bag?  If not, get a rectangular bag 5-10 degrees colder.   If you thrash around when you sleep you will expel warm air; get a bag 10-20 degrees colder.  If  you expect your bag to get damp or the weather is damp, go down 10-20 degrees to be comfortable.  In windy conditions, you may need an extra 5-10 degrees in order to stay warm, depending on the density of the shell and the composition of the fill and your exposure to the breeze.  If you're sleeping in a good tent or an RV wind will probably not be a significant factor.

Sleeping bags come in rectangular and form-fitting shapes.   Rectangular bags can usually be unzipped and zipped together to form 2-person bags. I sometimes unzip a couple of old rectangular bags and use one under our sleeping bags and the second one on top like a comforter on especially cold outings.   Form-fitting bags, often called "mummy bags" are narrow at the feet and wider at the shoulders.   Form-fitting mummy bags are usually warmer for solo use because they have less air gap for your body to heat, but some people feel confined by them. 

Be aware that form-fitting bags are gender specific.   Bags designed for men are usually a littler longer and a lot wider at the shoulders and hips than those designed for women.  A man will find sleeping in a bag designed for women a tight, almost claustrophobic fit.  A woman sleeping in a bag designed for men will lose heat because the bag will be too loose on her.  Bags may also come in different lengths for different height people.  If the bag is too short the sleeper will have to bend their knees or part of their upper body will stick out.  If the bag is too long, the sleeper will have excess air gap to keep warm.   For best results and maximum comfort, choose a sleeping bag that fits you well.  My personal preference is a bag that is a little long so that I have room to put my clothes at my feet so they won't be cold when I put them on in the morning.  Extra tip:  don't put wet or damp clothes in your sleeping bag!

 Here are some general guidelines to use as a starting point for choosing a sleeping bag, then adjust as needed according to your personal and environmental needs:

Bag Type                           Temperature Rating (°F)
Summer Season                          +35° and higher
3-Season Bag                              +10° to +35°
Cold Weather                              -10° to +10°
Winter/Extreme                          -10° and lower

A good 3-season bag is probably the most versatile choice for most people.  You can probably get by with a summer bag during warm summer months, but it won't keep you warm enough during early (Spring) or late (Fall) outings.  You might need a Cold Weather or even Winter/Extreme sleeping bag for winter/snow camping, but you would end up unzipping it or getting completely out of it in the summer and maybe even during Spring and Fall outings.  You can probably unzip a 3-season bag to stay cool enough to use it during summer outings.

Why not just buy the warmest bag possible? Sleeping in a Winter/Extreme bag in summer temperatures will be too warm. You may sweat and then get cold or unzip the bag and get cold. You need to match your sleeping bag to the climate. If I had to choose one bag to meet most of my needs, I would go with a 3-season bag. As the name implies, it will probably be comfortable in three seasons -- spring, summer, and fall, but inadequate for severe winter camping. On the other hand, if you're doing most of your camping in the sun belt in the summer, you'll probably want Summer Season bag; even a 3-season bag may be too warm then.

A military surplus "mummy bag" is often a good buy, especially if it comes with a sleeping bag cover. Just make sure you won't be claustrophobic in the close-fitting bag.   Not all military surplus bags are the same so be sure to check the temperature rating or season specification.  Some military bags, when used with the optional cover, are rated down to -20° F.  So-called "mountain" bags are thought to be among the warmest military sleeping bags.  Military sleeping bags are often really a "sleep system", consisting of a sleeping bag, a liner, and a cover.  The cover is usually more or less waterproof for use without a tent.  Depending on your requirements and the weather you may need all three components.

Storage can affect how well a bag will perform.   If you leave your bag tightly rolled up in storage for extended periods of time it will loose "loft" and will no longer keep you warm down to the rated temperature.  It is best to unpack sleeping bags and hang them up for storage. This allows any dampness remaining in the fabric to dry out and it prevents the fill from getting packed tight.   If you hang your bags in a garage, shed, or basement where they may get dusty, cover them with a suit bag or a large trash bag.  If the bag is damp, let it dry out for a few days before zipping it into a closed bag for extended storage.  I once had a really nice10° mummy bag I ignorantly left rolled tight for many months in storage and it was completely ruined.  The filling was so compacted in most places it was like there wasn't any at all.  I found myself freezing in it when the temperature was in the high 30s!  When it was new it easily kept me comfortable down to the rated +10° F.

Prices will vary depending on the quality, size, and temperature rating.   Rugged, high tech, low temperature bags, like those used by mountain climbing expeditions, may run $900-$1000 each!  You might pick up summer bags for kids at Walmart for under $20.   Expect to pay $50-$100 for good 3-season adult bags.  Those with tougher outer coverings will probably cost a little more but are also likely to last longer.

Sleeping bag accessories include liners, covers, pads, and pillows.  Liners are light weight, intended mostly to capture sweat and dead skin to keep it from contaminating the inside of your bag. Liners can be easily washed without worrying about compacting the fill since they are very much like sheets for sleeping bags.  Covers are usually made of a sturdy, water-repellant or water-proof material, designed to keep sleeping bags dry when they are used outdoors in rain, fog, snow or heavy dew.  Sleeping pads are essential for insulating YOU from the cold ground and for providing some padding between you and hard soil, rocks, sticks, etc.   Pillows for use in sleeping bags are often inflatable so they don't take up much room when not in use.  You can often stuff clothing in the sleeping bag bag for use as a makeshift pillow and not have to carry anything extra.  Be sure to remove all the hard items (keys, cell phone, knife, wallet, etc) from your clothing if you chose this option.  Liners, covers, and pads can all make you more comfortable in colder weather.  Liners can sometimes be used by themselves on hot nights.  Both liners and covers add extra insulation to keep you warmer on cold nights.  Liners and covers function something like dressing in layers for cold weather, giving you more options to adjust to maintain comfort.  Liners protect the inside of your sleeping bag from body oils.  Covers protect the outside of your sleeping bag from dirt and weather.

Cleaning sleeping bags.   First of all, minimize how often you need to clean them by using a sheet or a sleeping bag liner.  When you must clean them, the best way is to send them to a dry cleaner.  Some may have washing instructions on them, but personal experience with washing sleeping bags and fluffy parkas has not been good.  One prevalent suggestion that is reported to be helpful is to dry the item in a tumble dryer with 2-3 clean tennis balls to dry to keep the "fluff" from clumping.   If you have already washed an item and it is clumpy, try putting it back in the dryer with tennis balls for about 20 minutes.  If that doesn't work, you will probably have to replace the item.

Used sleeping bags.   Some people are adverse to using a sleeping bag that has been used by someone else, almost as bad as wearing somebody else's underwear!  However, if it has been properly cleaned, it should be fine, and you can probably save a bundle of money.  Make sure the filling still has plenty of "loft" and that there are no major rips, tears, or stains and that the zipper(s) work properly.

Ultimately you should think more in terms a "sleep system" than a sleeping bag.  A complete sleep system would include sleeping pad, sleeping bag, sleeping bag liner, and sleeping bag cover.  Together they will provide you with the best comfort, convenience, and protection.   Each has its own function to perform.  The sleeping pad insulates you from cold, bumpy ground.  The sleeping bag provides the primary insulation against cold.  The sleeping bag liner adds a little more insulation and protects the sleeping bag from sweat etc.  The sleeping bag cover provides weather protection and adds an extra layer of insulation.  They are usually wind and water proof or at least wind and water resistant to help retain heat.  Some sleeping bags can be used without a cover and that might be an advantage on warmer nights when you actaully need to shed some extra body heat.

Sleep well!

Friday, August 23, 2013

Fire Restrictions for Campers and RVers

Fire Restrictions may be imposed in many camping areas when low humidity and high temperatures create a high fire danger.  Fire worries are usually associated with forests, but restrictions may be imposed in other areas as needed.   Fire danger levels will usually be posted on large colorful signs along the roads leading into the area.  Prohibition of open fires is usually the first level of restriction.  Under this restriction fires MAY still be permitted only in "approved" fire pits. Approved fire pits are usually found in campgrounds or at permanent cabins where the owners have constructed fire pits according to specific forest service/fire department guidelines and have had them inspected and approved.  Fires in rock fire rings or shallow, portable fire rings are prohibited. Charcoal BBQs are normally also prohibited when there is a restriction on open fires.  Gas BBQs and camp stoves are usually OK during open fire restrictions but always check to be sure.  Smoking outside of an enclosed building or vehicle is also usually prohibited during elevated fire danger. 

Just because it rained recently doesn't mean the fire restrictions will be lifted.   Although the ground may be wet on the surface, the fire danger may still be high because of the low level of moisture in the trees and other vegetation.  It takes a lot more than a couple of rainy days for trees to absorb enough moisture to reduce the fire danger.

As the fire danger increases, even the use of gas fired BBQs and stoves may be prohibited.   Fire danger is carefully monitored and measured by rangers and local fire departments and restrictions are not issued lightly and are usually rigorously enforced.  All it takes is one careless, thoughtless,or ignorant camper to turn loose a wildfire that may destroy thousands of acres of property, including any homes within it.  The fines and penalties for violating fire restrictions can be very high.  Sometimes you may be found liable for damages, which include property damage and cost of fighting the fire running into millions of dollars!

Open fires and cigarettes are not the only man-made cause of wildfires.  Sparks from equipment (chain saws, motorcycles, ATVs, lawnmowers, etc) and hot exhaust systems, especially catalytic converters, on cars and trucks can ignite dry grass.  As fire danger increases, off-road travel by any vehicles may be prohibited.  Embers escaping through improperly constructed chimneys on indoor fireplaces and wood burning stoves can also be a hazard so it is important to make sure spark arrestors on chimneys are properly installed and in good repair.

Lightning is also a common cause of forest fires.  Active thunderstorms may spark spot fires, which, if not quickly doused, can spread out of control.  While naturally occurring fires are healthy and even essential for the survival of some forests, land managers still monitor and manage fires to avoid destruction of buildings, ensure the safety of local residents and visitors, and prevent excessive destruction of wildlife habitat and watershed.  If a ranger or law enforcement tells you to evacuate, DO IT NOW!

High winds increase fire danger, especially hot, dry wind.  The wind draws moisture out of vegetation and can blow down limbs that knock down power lines that can ignite fires.  Since this often happens in remote locations it is often the start of large forest fires.  Even though the fire started close to the highway and the Upper McKenzie Fire Department responded quickly and in force, high winds blew the fire down the river valley like a blow torch, destroying nearly 800 structures and completely wiping out the little town of Blue River, Oregon.  Eventually the fire consumed more than 173,000 acres.

Penalties for starting a wildfire can be very severe.   A 15 year old who deliberately started a 25,000 acre fire in Malibu, California some years ago using a cigarette and book of matches was sentenced to retention by the California Youth Authority until his 21st birthday.  A couple pulling a trailer with flat tire that set several fires across multiple Western states were sued by the State of Idaho for $2 million and ordered to pay extensive additional damages for the cost of fighting the fires and the loss of property.  Clearly the couple did not intentionally set the fires but were still held responsible for reckless behavior when they failed to notice the flat tire and continued to drive with pieces of flaming rubber being thrown into dry grass along the highway for hundreds of miles.   When lives are lost in wildfires, the person(s) responsible for the fire may be charged with manslaughter.

Fire Danger signs are usually a colored half circle with various colors indicating different levels. An arrow indicates the current fire danger.   Always watch for these signs and pay close attention to the indicated fire danger.  It may save your life!

                                                     Fire Danger Warning Sign, Queensland, Australia - FramedArt.com                                                                                                      

Another variation is simple text or electronic sign that says "FIRE DANGER LOW", "FIRE DANGER MODERATE", "FIRE DANGER HIGH", or "FIRE DANGER EXTREME".  If you don't understand what each of these means and what restrictions apply, stop at a local ranger station and find out.   Basically, the higher the danger, the more restrictions.  HIGH fire danger usually means campfires only in approved campground fire pits.  EXTREME means NO CAMPFIRES ANYWHERE!  There will also be restrictions on off road vehicle travel and use of chain saws and other equipment.  You don't want to learn the meaning from a ranger or deputy who issues a ticket or from the judge who sets your fine!   Be assured:   ignorance is not a valid excuse!

And, as always, make sure your fire is DEAD OUT before you leave your campsite.  That doesn't just mean it has burned down.  Residual heat in the coals under the ashes can be blown around or be fanned into flames.  Drown your campfire and stir the ashes until they are cool to the touch.  The gray water from an RV is a good source of water to drown your campfire so you don't waste drinking water.  But don't try using what comes out of your black water tank.  It is illegal and I promise the consequences will be very unpleasant and you won't enjoy them at all.  I remember when a group of Boy Scouts decided to pee on a fire to put it out.  You wouldn't believe how nasty the odors were!  Imagine what it would be if you dumped black water on your fire.  Covering a fire with dirt or sand can help prevent it from erupting and spreading but it also traps heat and can smolder for days, sometimes breaking out and spreading long after it has been abandoned so it is always best to drown your fire before leaving it.

Stay cool!

Camp Stores

Camp stores usually refers to small stores within a campground or resort.  Camping stores (like Camping World, L.L. Bean, and REI) would usually designate larger facilities that specialize in camping equipment.  Camp stores typically cater to the immediate needs of their guests.   Their offerings may be limited to a few frequently forgotten sundries, basic groceries and some tent and RV supplies.  They are usually a relatively small portion of the campground office but may sometimes occupy their own separate space at larger campgrounds.

There is no standard for what you'll find at a camp store.  I've seen some where merchandise was limited to 3-4 short shelves of sundries (toiletries, first aid supplies, batteries, etc.) and others that exceed what you typically find at the convenience store in travel centers.   It just depends on local demand, available space, store budget, and the merchandising skills and attitude of the manager.

I was partly responsible for stocking our little camp store during my summer job at a resort and it can be more complicated than you might think.   Suppliers often have minimum order requirements that make it difficult or even impossible for small stores to carry some items.  What that means for guests is, things you might expect to be there aren't because the purchase price is too high or the minimum order size would leave tons of costly merchandise sitting around until it expires and has to be thrown out.   Sometimes we would just buy commonly requested items at a retail store in town and resell them with little if any markup just to have them available for our guest's needs.   In our case, our small store was more for the convenience of our guests than for profit. but it did pay for itself.

I like to spend a few minutes checking out the camp store when I check in so I'll know where it is and have some idea of what is available.   It is sometimes nice to know if there are OTC pain killers and shaving supplies nearby.  It is also good to know if they have RV supplies or if I need to look elsewhere if something comes up.   If they don't have what you need one of the clerks can usually tell you where you can get it -- even it if means driving 25-30 miles or more to the nearest city.   Also check on the hours of operation.   Nothing quite so frustrating as arriving at the camp store at 8:15 pm with a major headache and finding they closed at 8:00!

Camp store prices are often, but not always, somewhat higher than you would pay in larger stores in town.  While profit can be a legitimate motive, higher prices doesn't mean they are trying to rip you off.   Their delivery costs are often much higher due to their remote location and small volume.  You must also consider the convenience.   Sure, you may be able to buy milk for under $3.00/gallon at Walmart in town and they may charge close to $5.00 in a resort market.   But when that Walmart is 30 miles or more away, the extra couple of bucks makes it a bargain to be able to get it when you need it right where you are.   After all, if you go to the camp store, you probably need it NOW!  And driving into town would undoubtedly cost more than the extra couple of bucks, especially at today's escalating fuel prices!  Of course, supply and demand is always a factor in pricing.  If there are alternative places nearby where you can purchase goods, prices may be lower.  Always consider the convenience and the value of having what you need when you need it.  If you don't like the price and can wait until you get to town, by all means, wait.

Making use of camp stores can save you time and, when you consider fuel costs and driving time, save you money as well.  To minimize the cost of supplies, plan on stocking up on major items before you leave home or stopping in the nearest city for major purchases before you venture out into less populated areas.  You may often find limited stock in remote locations.   Sometimes they simply don't carry everything you want at all or, because their supplies are limited and deliveries infrequent, they may often  be sold out of popular items.  Remote locations are likely to be sold out on busy holiday weekends.   Basic grocery items like milk, bread, and butter and popular camping specialties like the makings of S'mores (graham crackers, Hershey bars and marshmallows) are among the things that sell out quickly.

If they don't have what you need or you don't like the prices, it is certainly OK to provide feedback to the clerk or the manager.   Just remember, the poor guy or gal at the register probably has little to do with the choice of merchandise or setting prices.  Yelling at him or her isn't going to get you what you want.  A polite word or note to the manager is more likely to get results, probably not in time to help you this trip, but it may assist future travelers  (including yourself).  If they get enough requests for certain items or enough complaints about prices, it could make a difference.

Camp stores sometimes carry arts and crafts by local artists.   These may be unique, even one of a kind, items you won't find anywhere else.  If you come across something that interests you, you should probably buy it while you can.  Chances are you won't find it anyplace else and, given the limited supply of many hand-made items, the one you want might easily be sold out if you wait even a day or two.   Items might include custom made camping related goodies as well as local arts and crafts.

Happy shopping!

Monday, August 19, 2013

Roadside Repairs

fRoadside repairs are not something most of us enjoy doing, but sometimes we have little or no choice.  The most common problem is probably a flat tire.   Changing a tire on a passenger car, pickup truck, or SUV is something most of us can probably handle.  Changing a tire on a motorhome or trailer may require some specialized tools most of us don't have.  The higher weight of the vehicle and higher torque of the lug nuts can present significant problems for the average driver.

As always, prevention is the best approach.  Its always better to find any problems before you leave home or before you break camp and take care of them then.  Of course, some things, like flat tires, happen anyway, so it is important to know how to handle roadside issues when you do breakdown on the highway.

First and foremost:  make sure you and your vehicle are safe.  Pull completely off the road before beginning any repairs.  Sometimes drivers are tempted to pull over where there isn't enough room to do so safely in an attempt to avoid additional tire damage.  But is the cost of a tire really worth risking your life?  You need a wide enough level spot to get your rig completely out of traffic lanes and, if the flat is on the driver's side, give yourself enough room to change the tire without getting hit by passing traffic.   Put out emergency markers behind the vehicle to warn approaching drivers so they can adjust their speed and direction to pass you safely.  At night use flares or reflective triangles. During the day, traffic cones may be adequate.   Even simple things like checking your oil can be dangerous if your hind end (or your vehicle's) is sticking out in traffic.  Night stops are even more dangerous.  People just can't see as well at night, especially if you're wearing dark colored clothing. You want to make yourself visible!   Using your flashers is generally a good idea, day or night, because it alerts other driver's that there is a problem.  There is one situation where flashers are sometimes not good -- sometimes drunk drivers fixate on the flashing lights and plow into the stalled vehicle.  Fortunately most drivers aren't drunk so the flashing lights will usually help protect you. Bottom line:  get as far out of traffic as you can and turn on your flashers.  You may have to try to limp along to find a suitable place to pull over.

Changing a tire on a large vehicle usually requires heavy tools that most of us don't carry around with us.  First of all, you need a jack sufficient to lift the wheel off the ground.   On a heavy Class A motorhome that might mean a capacity of at last 10 tons!   Always set the brakes AND chock the wheels before starting to jack up a vehicle.  Next you will need a lug wrench to fit the lug nuts and you'll need enough leverage to loosen the nuts.  This is not a trivial task. I've even seen road service mechanics who couldn't loosen the lug nuts on my motorhome.  We had to limp it into his shop on a flat tire where he had a 3/4" drive air impact wrench.  Some RVs don't even have spare tires.   If yours does, check it before each trip to make sure it is serviceable.  If you don't have a spare, consider getting one -- if you can find an appropriate place on your rig to haul it.  I've seen people put them on the roof of their motorhomes or trailers in desperation.  This is not a good idea! You really don't want to put 100 plus lbs of spare tire up that high and you don't want the rubber exposed to the sunlight. Just getting it up there and retrieving it will be a real chore, fraught with danger for potential injuries.  Gravity will help you get it down, but a big tire bouncing from that height can do a lot of damage, cause injuries, and may ruin the tire.  Don't drop it off the roof.  Use a rope to lower it to the ground.  Better yet, don't put it up there in the first place!

Other typical roadside repairs may include changing fan belts or repairing or replacing radiator or heater hoses.  Heater hoses most often fail right where they are stretched over a connection.   When this happens, you can often make temporary repairs by removing the hose from the fitting nearest the break,  cutting an inch or two off to get past the damage, and stretching and reinstalling the hose.   Most, but certainly not all of the time, there is enough slack in the hose to make this work.  Of course, if the hose is already stretched tight, this won't work.  Damaged radiator hoses can sometimes be temporarily repaired using radiator hose repair tape (best choice), duct tape, or electrical tape.  The damaged hose should be replaced as soon as possible but patching it might get you to where you can get a new hose.  Wrapping a radiator hose with tape probably won't stop the leak but it should slow it down so you can limp into town for proper repairs.  Keep an eye on the engine temperature and stop to refill the radiator as necessary to avoid overheating and serious engine damage. For the best results, carry spare radiator and heater hoses so you can replace damaged hoses on the spot.  A few spare  hose clamps, both heater hose and radiator hose sizes, are also a good idea.   As always, be careful to stay out of and away from traffic as much as possible while working on your vehicle.  Although you are probably in a hurry to get to your destination, it is wise to let the coolant cool down before attempting repairs.  Otherwise, you may get 3rd degree burns or worse from scalding coolant.  Liquid cooled engines normally operate around 200F but if they are low on coolant the temperatures may go MUCH higher!

If you run low on coolant, keep the engine running when you add coolant to the system.  Dumping cold water or coolant into a hot engine can cause overheated metal components to crack. Keeping the engine running allows the cold liquid being added to mix with existing hot material and warm up more slowly, avoiding the shock that can cause cracking.

There are other mechanical failures you might encounter, but these are the ones that are most likely to happen.  I once had a spark plug shatter while driving on the freeway!  Other than having to find a way to get to an autoparts store, it was a fairly simple repair.  I've also seen radiator fans break, even shooting the broken fin through the hood!  The broken fan caused a lot of vibration and, of course, didn't do a proper job of cooling.

 Roadside service is available as an option on many auto insurance policies or from auto clubs like AAA.  The Good Sam Club has its own RV Emergency Roadside Service.   These plans usually cover towing, tire changing, jump starts, and fuel delivery but not other types of mechanical repairs.   You will likely get back the annual cost if you only use them once in a year.  They can save you a lot of hassle, time, and money.  Try to maintain your vehicle properly and avoid having to call roadside assistance.  If you use it too many times in a year they may refuse to renew it the next year or raise  your premiums.  Some road side assistance programs won't service vehicles that are not on paved highways.  Not all services have contracts that cover all areas.  I once had to pay almost $400 to have a non-contract provider come fix a flat on my motorhome.  I was subsequently reimbursed by my road side assistance company but I had to pay for the call when the service was performed.  It worked out in the long run and the company that came was actually someone I had personally dealt with before.  It could have been a really difficult situation if I hadn't been able to pay for the call at the time.

In some locations you may find mobile mechanics who can assist with road side repairs that are beyond your skills or available resources.  Road side mechanics for semi trucks might be a good choice for help with an RV but they probably won't respond to problems with ordinary vehicles that can be easily towed to a repair facility.

 Fix it up!

Friday, August 16, 2013

End of Season Camping Sales

I love End of Season Sales!  End of Season and Year End sales can be good opportunities to get great bargains on brand new camping equipment.  Stores need to clear out seasonal summer merchandise to make room for winter products.  Expect markdowns of 25-50%, except on big ticket items like RVs.  But you can still save thousands of dollars on RVs during year end sales.  Who doesn't like to get a bargain?   It may seem early, but some stores are already starting to markdown their camping items in July and August!  I've been keeping an eye on the markdowns on camping stuff at a local farm and ranch store and have snagged several good finds.  I'm seeing half price on many different items, ranging from fishing lures to huge family tents.  Getting a $330 tent for $165 definitely qualifies as a bargain in my book!  Some other good buys included pot danglers and other campfire cooking accessories, camp stoves, lanterns, fishing lures, sleeping bags, and first aid kits.  I picked up several first aid kits.  Its always good to have them for vehicles and home use as well as for camping.

But bargains are not bargains, no matter how low the price, if it isn't something you need or will use.  I left that $165 tent on the shelf because I already have all the family tents I need, at least for now.  On the other hand, getting a pot dangler for half price was too good to pass up.  What the heck is a pot dangler you might ask?  It is a support system to dangle your coffee pot or dutch oven over your campfire at a different height than your grill -- or without using a grill.   Basically it consists of a steel post you drive into the ground and a cross member you can set at different heights and different extensions out over the fire.   Pretty clever and handy device!  Since it is optional and not absolutely necessary, I never bought one at full price, but at half price it is a nice addition to my campfire accessories and something I look forward to trying out.

Some stores start out right away with great markdowns to move inventory quickly.  Some take it in increments to maximize their profits.  Waiting for a great price sometimes means missing out on a fairly good price as clearance stock often sells quickly.  You'll want to decide for yourself whether a 25% savings is enough to warrant a purchase or if it is worth risking them all selling out before the next markdown.   In my personal experience, I find I usually regret waiting for a better price and finding items I'm interested in sold out.  My philosophy is "get them while you can". If I buy something and come back to find a significant additional markdown, I may by a second one, but, in case they sell out, at least I got the first one at a discount.  So, how can they afford to sell items at 50% or more off?   Well, I worked in retail several years ago and ultimately the store looks at things from a broader perspective than individual items.  For example, let's say they buy 100 RV widgets at $50 each and begin selling them for $90 each.  They paid $5000 for 100 of them. When they have sold 80 of them at $90 each they have brought in $7200 for a $2200 profit.   They don't have to make a profit on each and every individual item, just on the whole batch. So when they offer the remaining 20 products for 50% or even 90% off, they're not marking them down because they are defective or don't sell.   Let's say they sell the other 20 for 50% off or $45 each.   Now their total profit on the whole lot is another $900 so they made a total of $8100 on a $5000 investment for a $3100 profit. Ultimately, at the end of the year they will probably wholesale a bunch of outdated merchandise to a liquidator and get only pennies on the dollar, so selling them to you at 50% off is a good deal for both you and the store.  I used to feel a little guilty when I would go into a store and buy only sale merchandise, but now that I understand how it works, I can enjoy my savings -- over and over without feeling at all guilty or worrying that there is something wrong with the items I'm buying or that I am somehow taking unfair advantage of the seller.

Different stores have different clearance techniques.   Some take wide markdowns across whole categories of merchandise (e.g. 30% off all patio items) and then keep lowering prices until the clearance has done its job and the merchandise is gone.  Others may start off marking down only some items, then adding more items as the season progresses.   Either way, it pays to check back often to see either what else has been added or how much more the prices have been reduced.   Each time you check back you may find either new items that have been added or prices that have been further reduced, perhaps reaching your personal break point to purchase.   Remember that $330 family tent for $165?  If it comes down to, oh, say, $50, I might buy it as a backup or a gift for a family member or as an addition to my emergency preparedness cache.   I did snag an extra two-person tent for $10 which we've already found useful.   I suspect that in a disaster situation, there will be a lot more people needing help than I'll have supplies to take care of.  Having extras to share or use to barter for things I may need could be advantageous.  And with 6 kids and 17 grandkids, there's always someone who needs some additional camping gear.

Camping equipment is very seasonal, so year end closeouts are common.  Stores need to clear out summer camping merchandise that doesn't sell well in winter months to make room for stuff that does.   Even sporting goods stores will shift their inventory and display space from summer camping to winter sports.  It is a great time to upgrade your equipment or stock up on supplies for next year.  RV stores usually aren't as motivated to liquidate accessory items because a lot of their merchandise tends to sell year round, but they may still have seasonal sales on some items so watch for their ads and brochures and look for "manager specials" and clearance signs when you're in the store.  And, of course, year end is always a good time to get a good deal on a new or used RV.

Low end of season prices can also affect used gear and equipment.  You may find bargains on used stuff at thrift stores, in classified ads, and online sources like ebay and craigslist.  People sometimes dispose of duplicates or unwanted items so they don't have to store them again.  Prices on used equipment will probably be higher in the spring and early summer when demand will increase as people hit the road.  People may put their unused stuff up at the end of the season so they don't have to store it or they may have taken advantage of year end sales themselves to upgrade their equipment and are ready to liquidate what was replaced.  Often they need to dispose of old stuff to make room for their new stuff.

While you're at it, always look for CLEARANCE merchandise all year round.  There are often significant markdowns on a few remaining items in a product line.  CLEARANCE sales can occur any time of year.  I make it a practice to look for the clearance signs every time I visit Home Depot or Walmart.  Sometimes they'll be labeled "Manager Specials".  In any case you might be able to take advantage of markdowns to stock up.   CLEARANCE merchandise may include odds and ends, open packages, or "dent and scratch" items that have minor damage.  Inspect open items carefully to make sure you are OK with whatever damage there might be and check for missing pieces.  Missing pieces are not necessarily a serious problem.  You may be able to get or make the parts you need.  I picked up a 7' umbrella tent for $10 because the crosspiece that held all the poles together at the top was missing. I was able to make one out of 1/2" thin wall conduit for just a few dollars.   I once bought a Camp Chef 2-burner stove with a missing regulator.   Regulators are not very expensive so I took a chance and spent $25 for a $125 stove.   Then I was pleasantly surprised when I called Camp Chef to buy the correct regulator and they sent me one at no charge!  By the way, that Camp Chef stove works really well and I love the available accessories, like a BBQ box and grill/griddles. It is a great way to cook for a large family or other group. See the Camp Chef web site for more information about their great products.

Clearance merchandise may include overstock, end of run, one of a kind, or returned or damaged merchandise.   Overstock, end of run, and one of a kind items are normally brand new and in the original packaging.  You may get amazing bargains on "dent and scratch", returned, or damaged merchandise.  Sometimes the only thing that is damaged is the packaging.  Most "dent and scratch" items have minor imperfections similar to what is likely to occur the first time you use it.  Severely damaged merchandise usually doesn't make it into the "dent and scratch" category but is occasionally offered "for parts only" and you may be able to use some components to repair a similar piece of equipment or even repair it yourself if you are particularly handy at such things.   Returns may occur for many reasons.  Sometimes the item is damaged or has missing parts, but most returns are because the buyer decided they didn't want the item and it may still be in brand new condition.  Always check open packages for missing parts or damaged merchandise to decide if you can repair or live with the damage.  As I mentioned before, I picked up a 7' umbrella tent for just $10 because the "spider" fitting that connect all the poles at the top center was missing.   I was able to make one out of 1/2" rigid conduit for a few dollars and had a fully functional tent for a fraction of its original retail price.

Clearance sales may give you a chance to try out new gear.  It may be something that has been on your "wish list" or it might be something you've never even thought about, but getting it on sale may make it cost effective to check it out.   If it turns out you it doesn't live up to your expectations, put it in your next garage sale or sell it online and get part of your investment back.

End of Year sales can also be a good time to buy an RV.  You are likely to find significant markdowns on left over current year models as dealers need to make room for the new models coming in.   Year end sales can also prompt reductions on pre-owned units as the arrival of new year's models signals all existing units are now a year older.  For once, depreciation works FOR you!

Happy bargain hunting!

Monday, August 12, 2013

Types of OHVs

The kinds of off highway vehicles has grown over the years. There was a time when, if you wanted to ride off road, you could get a Jeep or you had to build your own off road motorcycle out of a road bike or a dune buggy out of a Volkswagen.  Triumphs and Rickmans were among the favorite motorcycles for conversion to dirt bikes.  Then, after about 30 years of home made off-road machines, the motorcycle industry began building factory off road bikes.  Soon Honda, Yamaha, Suzuki, and Kawasaki off road bikes were everywhere.   Before long there were sizes to fit just about any rider, from 50cc mini bikes to thundering open class 500cc monsters. Most dirt bikes are made in Japan. Only one, ATK, is manufactured in the United States.  KTMs come from Austria, Husqvarnas from Sweden.  BSA's are British.   Dirt bikes and off road riding spawned motocross, a kind of formalized dirt bike race course which then evolved into Supercross, with huge jumps, deep whoops, and strong competitors.  Motocross typically takes place on an outdoor track.   Sometimes there are motocross courses built within a sports stadium, dubbed 'stadium-cross'.  he granddaddy of all 'stadium-cross' races is Supercross.

Dirt bikes.  Since I've been a dirt biker for more than 30 years I'll start with dirt bikes.  Dirt bikes are off-road motorcycles.  They come in a variety of sizes and configurations.  MX or motocross bikes are primarily built for use on motocross tracks but are often purchased by non-racers for general off-road use.  MX bikes don't have any lights.   Enduro bikes are designed for off-road trail riding.   They usually include basic lights so they can be ridden after dark.  Full Dual-Sport bikes are designed to be street legal and to be ridden off-road.  They have a complete set of lights, including turn signals and brake lights and a horn.  Trials bikes are specially designed for trials, which comprises a lot of highly technical skills.  The bikes have low, narrow seats.  Trials riders usually stand up all the time.  They lose points if their foot touches the ground.   One of the most impressive trials skills is rock climbing. They will often scale a boulder taller than the bike and once on top, do a 360° turn, and ride back down.  I have used both MX and Enduro bikes off-road and found both to be a lot of fun and to deliver good performance.   MX bikes are light and fast but may not take endure the pounding of off-road use as well as enduro or trail bikes.  Out of all the bikes I've owned, my favorite was a KTM 520/EXC that I "dual-sported" -- added street-legal lights, horn, license, etc.   My kids started riding on 50cc motorcycles when they were still in kindergarten.   My youngest son rode 13 miles on a Poker Run when he was a month shy of his fourth birthday -- and was ready for more.  Unfortunately, the second half of the poker run was far more technical, including trails where the rocks were bigger than the wheels on his little bike.

Did you know dirt bikes have been around as long as any motorcycles?  Given the lack of roads when motorcycle were first introduced, every early motorcycle was by necessity an off-road bike. Motorcycles then HAD to be capable of going off road.  As roads improved production motorcycles gravitated toward street machines and it wasn't until the late 1960s that specialized production dirt bikes became popular.

The next step in OHV evolution, the ATC, was fairly short lived.  The All Terrain Cycles, or ATCs were 3-wheelers, with fat tires and a tricycle configuration that made them seem deceptively easy to ride.  So many novice riders were injured on these machines that they were eventually banned.    Actually, the ban was a kind of self-imposed restriction by the manufactures to prevent legislation that would have made them illegal.  You can still pick up a used one here and there, but be aware that they have some handling idiosyncrasies that still make them unstable.  A common ATC accident was running over one's own foot with a back tire.  Never did THAT with my dirt bike!   A second common problem is that they behave strangely when turning.  With a bicycle or a motorcycle, you lean into a turn.  To turn left, you lean left.  To turn right, you lean right. With an ATC, when you lean left it puts extra weight on the left rear tire, giving it more traction, and causing the vehicle to turn right regardless of which way you turn the handlebars!   I found "Any ATC" on a list of the 10 Worst Dirt Bikes.

Next came the "quad" or ATV, a 4-wheel version of the ATC.   Like a motorcycle or an ATC, the quad has handlebars and a saddle and you ride it much like a motorcycle.  Quads eliminated the major safety problems found on ATCs.  Like ATCs, ATVs have fat tires which makes them particularly good on soft surfaces, such as mud, sand, and snow.  Quads or ATVs (All Terrain Vehicles) are still very popular and are often used as utility vehicles on farms and ranches as well as for sport riding.  Quads require a wider trail than a dirt bike and are somewhat unstable when crossing slopes.  Quads are often used by search and rescue operations because of their general stability and carrying capacity.  They can be configured to carry rescue litters. A TVs often have many accessories available, including snow plows, mowers, and weed sprayers, making them very versatile utility as well as recreational vehicles.

A new wave of OHVs are called UTVs or Utility Task Vehicles and are also called side-by-sides.  The term ROV (Recreational Off highway Vehicle) is another name for side-by-sides.  These began primarily as real utility vehicles for farm, ranch, and construction work.  Early models included the Kawasaki Mule and the Yamaha Rhino, both of which have small pickup like beds in back for hauling tools and cargo.  Their 4-wheel drive off road capability was quickly recognized for its recreational potential.  The popularity for off road sport riding spawned a whole new generation of sporty side-by-sides, many of which look like Baja racers and offer up to 13" of wheel travel for a surprisingly comfortable ride over rough terrain.  UTVs typically have bucket or bench seats, with seat belts and shoulder harnesses and roll cages.  Most still have at least a small cargo area in back, ideal for a cooler and/or picnic basket.  You drive them like a car, with a steering wheel and most have automatic transmissions and push-button selectable 4-wheel drive.  The side-by-side seating means they are usually wider than ATVs but it is much easier to share a conversation with your passenger than when they are sitting behind you.  Like ATVs, UTVs, no doubt because of their utility vehicle heritage, can be used with many different accessories or attachments, making them useful as work vehicles as well as fun for recreational use.

Another type of OHV popular in desert areas is the dune buggy.  These are usually custom built vehicles designed primarily for use in sand dunes but are often seen on other desert roads and trails. They are often based on a Volkswagen or Chevy Corvair chassis, taking advantage of the air cooled rear engine configuration for both cooling and traction.  Buggies usually have some kind of fiberglass body.  A variation called "sand rails" has the seats mounted directly on the frame and has no real body.

Various 4-wheel drive vehicles, especially Jeeps, are also used extensively off road.   Other prominent brands include the Toyota Landcruiser, the English Land Rover, and the large Humvee. For serious off road use they may be modified with lift kits, oversized tires, and winches to be able to negotiate especially difficult terrain.  A whole sub-category of these types of vehicles make up "rock crawlers" who compete over grueling courses of large boulders and steep cliffs.  I've seen Jeeps built for rock crawling that include an onboard electric welder for emergency trail side repairs.   Off-road pickups grew to create today's "Monster Trucks".  Monster trucks are seldom if ever used off-road and appear mostly in staged performances in stadiums where they race each other and often crush junk yard cars for the spectator's amusement.

Technically, snowmobiles and personal water craft like jet skis are also off highway vehicles, but because of their unique application on snow or waterways they are often considered to each be a class of their own, snow machines and PWC (Personal Water Craft).  Snow machines are a primary means of transportation in the Arctic regions of Alaska.  Personal water craft include Jet Skis (sometimes called "wet bikes"), Waverunners, and Sea Doos.  They usually look similar to snowmobiles.  The rider (and sometimes passengers) sit on a saddle and they are controlled via handlebars.  BTW, "Jet Ski" is a copyrighted brand name belonging to Kawasaki.

For a time there was a tracked OHV built by Cushman called a Trackster (see Trackster.com). They were very versatile all weather vehicles and could go just about anywhere anytime but because they were relatively expensive (about 4 times the cost of dirt bikes in their day) and they behaved like a tank or bulldozer and required some special driving skills they never gained the widespread popularity of dirt bikes and ATVs.  There are still a few used Tracksters around if you think you might want one.  I, for one, would love to add one to my stable of vehicles.


Saturday, August 10, 2013

Eye Protection for OHVing and Camping

You've only got one pair of eyes and you need to take good care of them.  Too often we take our eyes for granted.   We slather our skin with sun-block but don't realize that our eyes need UV protection too.  A good pair of UV-rated sunglasses or goggles is essential for many outdoor activities.   If you're riding an OHV you'll need protection against dust and dirt and even rocks that may be kicked up by the rider in front of you or sometimes even by your own front wheel(s) as well. Tinted lenses do more than make seeing more comfortable.  They should filter out harmful UV rays. Remember that sunburn on your cheeks , forearms, or shoulders?   Imagine what that would be like on your retina!

When choosing eye protection for off road activities it is important to consider the composition of the lens.   You want something that will be shatter and scratch resistant as well as giving good UV and glare protection.   Polycarbonate or Lexan lenses are among the best.  Other types of plastic may be less expensive but won't be as durable or as safe.  What you spend on good lenses usually pays off by not having to replace them as often.  Goggles should fit fairly tightly on your face or helmet to prevent dust from getting inside, but they shouldn't be so tight as to be uncomfortable and they should be ventilated to prevent condensation.  When riding an OHV your goggle strap usually fits over your helmet but the googles are designed to fit inside the front opening of the helmet, against your face. The part of the goggles that comes in contact with your face should be soft, clean and well padded and yet allow some ventilation to allow perspiration vapors to escape instead of condensing on the inside of the lens.   Goggles are usually vented through foam to allow air movement without lettting excessive dust in.   Keep the padding clean to avoid chafing.  Clean the dust from the foam vents every time you clean the lens.  Wash the strap occasionally with warm soap and water.  Rinse it thoroughly and let dry before stretching it out.  If/when the strap does get stretched out, replace the strap or get new goggles.  Loose fitting goggles won't keep the dust out and are likely to fall down just when you need them most.  Light sensitive lenses will protect your eyes from bright sunlight during the day but automatically lighten up as it gets dark, which is a great advantage if you get stuck out on the trails later than planned.

Eye protection for less dusty activities can usually be accomplished using sun glasses.  Note that not all sun glasses are the same.  Some have UV protection, some do not.   Some have shatter resistant carbonate lenses, some plastic lenses are not shatter resistant.  Some have polarized lenses. Polarized lenses help reduce reflected glare from water, roads, and vehicle hoods.   Sun glasses come in many shapes, colors, and prices.   You can often find sun glasses at your local dollar store.   Be sure to watch for polycarbonate lenses with UV protection and polarization.  These might be adequate for many low impact activities, but for driving or more intense pursuits you may want to invest it better quality glasses that maintain optical clarity, resist scratching and last longer.  I've never felt the need to spend close to $100 for "designer" sun glasses. To me, just wearing some brand name isn't worth it and, quite frankly, I'm offended that they expect us to pay premium prices to advertise their products for them!  But some brands, such as RVMaxx for around $20 offer superior quality and functionality at a reasonable price.  I especially like their convertible goggles that come with both ear pieces (so they can be worn as sunglasses) and elastic straps (so they can be worn as goggles).

If, in spite of wearing good eye protection, you still get dust or dirt in your eyes, DON'T RUB THEM!  Rubbing them will do additional damage to the sensitive tissues and possible cause permanent damage to the lens.   Rinse them with clean water and blot them dry.   The use of eye drops can reduce the pain and redness and will help flush out contaminants and lubricate your eye balls.  If you scratch your eye, be sure to see your doctor for a prescription for a proper ointment to improve comfort and reduce the chances of infection.

You may need eye protection around campfires.  Certainly you should have eye protection when chopping wood since there is a strong possibility of flying wood chips.  Sometimes there is "popping" in a campfire that sends sparks flying out in all directions and that could be highly dangerous if one lands in your eye.

Eye protection is important for aquatic activities too.  In addition to the normal direct sunlight, you also have to deal with intense reflection off the water.  Even things like boating, water skiing, swimming, fishing or sailing subjects you to a lot of reflected sunlight.  If you're involved in things like water skiing, wake boarding, kayaking, or jet skiing, you may need to protect your eyes from stinging spray.   Water drops on goggles or sunglasses may inhibit your vision, but injuring your eyes will inhibit it even more, perhaps permanently!  Of course you need aquatic goggles if you are diving or snorkeling.  It may seem gross, but spitting on the inside of the lens and wiping it around will help inhibit fogging.

You may need eye protection for stargazing!   Looking at the moon through binoculars or a telescope can hurt your eyes so you may need filters on your optics to allow you a clear view without the pain or damage.   Remember, moonlight is reflected sunlight, so when you're looking at the moon you are indirectly looking at the sun.  Thought not as intense as direct sunlight, the light reflecting off the moon will contain most of the same frequencies and can still damage the sensitive cells of your retina.

See clear!

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Tent camping versus RV camping

An old fast food TV commercial used the line "parts is parts".  We might adapt that as "camping is camping" but some purists might disagree.  Camping in the luxury of a self contained RV in some ways is a far cry from camping in a tent.  Yet they both provide some of the same opportunities to get out into nature, explore our great nation, socialize with similar-minded people, and share campfire camaraderie.  Both tent camping and RVing can provide comfortable base camps for a variety of outdoor activities, from the beach to the mountains.  I submit that tent campers and RVers have a lot more in common than they have in differences and that indeed "camping is camping".

Tent camping can be more physically challenging and emulates a pioneer life more closely than camping in an RV.   Living in a tent is more primitive and successfully managing a tent outing can yield a great feeling of accomplishment, especially if you do your cooking over the campfire.  Tent camping has its drawbacks.  Tents don't offer as much protection against weather or wild animals as RVs do.  When it's hot outside, it is even hotter in a tent.  When its cold outside, it is only a little warmer in a tent. Most tents will do a pretty good job of keeping you out of the rain or snow -- up to a point.   As demonstrated by various nomadic tribes from Native Americans and their tipis to Bedouins and their elaborate, sometimes even palacial, tents, tents can be sufficient to sustain life and can even be made quite comfortable.  However, most of the tents we use for camping are pretty basic.

RVs provide even more comfort and convenience.  Most are equipped with nearly all the modern conveniences of home and many may even exceed residential facilities. They provide a very comfortable bed at the end of a long day, safe and convenient sanitation, and easy-to-use cooking facilities.  With an on board generator they even provide extensive electronic entertainment systems in the wild.  Food is less likely to go bad in an RV refrigerator than an ice chest.  An RV can be kept ready to go, making spontaneous outings easier -- and making the RV literally a Disaster Recovery Vehicle.  The sturdy, rigid-wall construction provides protection against weather and wild animals. Adequate air conditioners and furnaces allow occupants to usually maintain a comfortable inside temperature regardless of what the weather is like outside.  In spite of all the modern conveniences, RV camping is still camping -- being in a campground or primitive camping area, participating in robust outdoor recreational activities, enjoying the campfire, doing a little star gazing...

Tent campers and RVers share a love of the outdoors.   Their tents or RVs usually serve as base camps for common pursuits like hiking, fishing, boating, horseback riding, or riding OHVs.  They both enjoy evening campfires and just being out in the forest -- or mountains -- or desert -- or at the beach.   They share a fascination with trying out new gadgets and gear.  Any kind of camping, car camping, backpacking, or in an RV, means getting away from our everyday lives and doing something different.   Although for most of my life I have been an RVer, I still enjoy tent camping from time to time.   When my boys were growing up I got chances to do Boy Scout outings with them regularly.  Now that all the kids are grown and have families of their own, we still get together now and then for a weekend at the campground.  I prefer having my motorhome and trailer as a base camp for dirt bike outings, but spending a weekend in a tent has its own rewards and satisfaction.  For dirt bike outings the focus is on riding and having the comfort, convenience, and facilities of our motorhome and well-equipped motorcycle trailer makes it easier and more fun.  Out tent outings focus on sight seeing and the tenting experience itself:  setting up camp, camp cooking, and sleeping in the tent. The goals are different and it is good to have multiple options.

My family and I enjoy both RVing and tent camping.  They each have their special ways they contribute to a good time.  As I mentioned before, when we go dirt biking, we really like the comfort and convenience of our motorhome and enclosed motorcycle trailer.  It allows us to focus on riding and provides a safe and comfortable refuge from summer heat and bad weather. When we go tent camping, we are going purely for the experience of tent camping and enjoying the outdoors.  Both scenarios provide many opportunities for quality family time.  Some of the activities, like campfires and camp cooking and "getting away from it all" are very similar.

Camp out!