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 23, 2014

Road Trips

Road trips are traditional ways for many people, including families, to visit relatives and tour different parts of the country.  Some people take road trips just for the fun of it too.  The high cost of gasoline has put a damper on some road trips, but they can still be a comparatively economical way to travel, especially for families.  While traveling in a large RV may consume lots of fuel at ridiculously high prices, leveraging the cost across several family members makes it fairly reasonable.  Say you have an RV that gets 7 mpg and you have a family of four.  That calculates to 28 passenger miles per gallon.  Another advantage of traveling by RV or making camping part of our trip is savings on food and lodging.  Instead of constantly forking out big bucks for over-priced food and hotel/motel rooms, you can stay in campgrounds and cook in camp, usually saving  a lot of money.  For example, a family of four is likely to pay around $30-40 for a meal even in a fast food restaurant and closer to $60-80 or more in a nicer sit-down establishment.  Four people will probably need at least 2 rooms each night at a very conservative estimate of $50/room per night or $100 a night.  A week on the road could easily cost a family of four $700 in lodging and $900 in food.  Compare that to staying in campgrounds at under $40 per night (for all four people) and preparing most meals in camp and probably spending about the same you would for food at home and the cost comes way down.  We found a small private campground on a recent trip where we were able to get tent site for just $7.00 when the cheapest motels in the same area were more than $50 a night.

But cost savings are not the only reason for taking road trips and camping along the way.  The experience itself is the major factor.  You and your traveling companions will share many sights and activities along the way -- if you plan properly.  If you hit the road with little or no planning you may still have a fun and spontaneous trip, but even that means a certain amount of preparation.  There are many attractions along our major highways, and even more a short distance off the main routes if you take time to look for them.   A lot of the preparation for a spontaneous road trip is mental.  Give yourselves permission and allow time to explore things along the way.  Plan to stop for ice cream or visit a road side fruit stand or just take time to stop and read some of the historical markers along the way.  In today's world our focus is often so much on the destination that we fail to enjoy the journey.

While RVs are often the most convenient way to take a road trip, you can take one in your family car or by motorcycle.   You will have to plan on finding gas stations or rest areas for necessary rest stops but fuel costs will most likely be substantially reduced.  You will want to pack your car so that you have convenient access to drinks and snacks along the way.  You will probably want to keep sweaters and jackets handy too, in case you run into inclement weather.  Sunglasses are essential for bright days.  You'll probably want to have a camera ready to capture special sites and outstanding views along the way.

Not all highways or even sections of the same highway are the same.  Some places are overflowing with areas of historic, scenic, and/or geologic interest.  In these sections you may have trouble allocating enough time on a trip to accommodate all the things you want to do and see.  Yet there may also be long stretches of road with little or nothing to see or do.  I have driven I-5 through the Central Valley of California many times and while there are interesting side trips available if you plan ahead or watch for them, cruising for hundreds of miles along a mostly flat, mostly straight freeway is going to tax the attention span of even the most intense observer.  I once drove across Iowa.  Miles and miles of cornfields and flat as a table as far as the eye could see.  Having grown up in the Rocky Mountains, driving across Iowa reminded of the old song "Too Much of Nothing".  My apologies to fans of Iowa.  The drive from Salt Lake City, Utah to Portland, Oregon follows much of the old Oregon Trail and while there are occasional historic markers along the way, it has been said that modern travelers will find much of it just about as lonely as did the pioneers in the 19th Century and I found that to be true.  I also found gas stations to be few and far between!  When you encounter stretches of road like this it will behoove you to have planned for it.  You may need in-vehicle activities, especially if you're traveling with children and you need to schedule regular rest stops for relief and to stay alert.  The options today far exceed those we had when I was a kid or when we were raising our kids.  We were pretty much limited to reading (which doesn't work for some people as it makes them car sick), playing games (like I Spy, the Alphabet Game, and counting license plates), singing songs, and telling stories.  Card games could be fun for everyone but the driver.  Today you have additional electronic options like books on tape, live Internet access, and portable DVD players.   Something that is usually fun for everyone is watching the information signs and billboards along the highway to find interesting places to stop for meals, snacks, or short visits.  Some billboards can be quite entertaining.  When I was a teenager we took several trips across southern Idaho and the highlight of the trips were the Stinker Service Station signs.  The front side had  picture of a skunk and typically advertised the location of the next Stinker gas station but it was the back side we always focused on.  Each one had a unique and amusing saying on it.  For example, in the middle of nowhere was one that said "Lonely Hearts Club Picnic Grounds"; another said "Just think: If you lived here you'd be home now"; yet another in a lonely stretch of road proclaimed "Its uncanny; there are no restrooms in this area".  They were always fun and apropos.

Access to services is another consideration along lonely sections of highway.  Know how far you can go on a tank of gas and plan to stop for gas  to make sure you don't run out in the middle of nowhere.  If your vehicle has a trip meter you can reset it at each gas stop so you know at a glance how far you've gone to help you gauge when to get more fuel.  Lacking a trip meter you'll need to jot down the odometer reading and do a little math to keep track of when you'll need gas next.  Gas stations usually come up fairly frequently along Interstate highways, but you can go for 50 or 100 miles or more between gas stations on some of the older highways.  In today's economy and with a lot of travelers sticking to the freeway system, many remote stations have gone out of business so even if you've been able to buy gas at roadside stops or small towns before, they might not still be there.  And, of course, expect to pay extra for fuel in remote locations.  Certainly supply and demand pay an important part of setting the price, but consider the transportation costs and other overhead are probably higher, forcing a higher price.  Food services may also be thinly scattered along lonely roads, so plan your meals and bring along plenty of snacks to tide you over.  And don't forget to bring PLENTY of drinking water.  Some folks like to limit fluid intake to minimize restroom stops, but that isn't really a very good idea.  Dehydration can cause some rather unpleasant consequences, including fatigue and grogginess, not good things when you're driving.  You may also want to toss in a gallon or so of extra water (or antifreeze) in case you spring a leak in your vehicle cooling system in the middle of nowhere.  Speaking of cooling system repairs, it is a good idea to carry some radiator hose repair tape.  It is in no way a permanent solution but it may help slow leaks long enough for you to reach civilization where you can get real repairs.  Pay attention to the signs that let you know how are it is to the next rest area so you don't end up trying to "hold it" too long, which has painful and sometimes very unpleasant and embarrassing results.  You might be tempted to pull over along a rural stretch of road and take advantage of some convenient trees or bushes in an emergency, but in most places it is illegal and is always unsanitary.  Much better to plan your stops to take advantage of the many very well equipped rest stops you'll find along most highways.  Also, make use of restrooms whenever you stop for gas or food.  Adapting one of the "old men's rules" from the movie "As Good As It Gets", never pass up a chance to use the restroom!  Remember the days when you reminded the kids to go to the bathroom before getting in the car?  Might be a good time to re-implement that rule -- for kids of ALL ages.

Most of us are accustomed to purchasing fuel with credit or debit cards but you may very well find remote locations that only accept cash, so be sure you carry a little with you for emergencies.  The same thing may apply to buying food.

Napping in the car is sometimes a fairly good way to help the time go more quickly in boring sections of the trip.  Some people enjoy napping in the car; others can't get comfortable.  Of course it is NOT an option for the current driver so trade off every couple of  hours or so!  If you begin to feel tired or sleepy, pull over at the next safe opportunity; get some fresh air and stretch your legs.  An occasional stop like this will take a lot less time than recovering from an accident!  Passengers will want to reserve nap times for uninteresting sections of the highway.  On most long trips there are plenty of them, so staying awake when there is something beautiful or interesting to see makes a lot of sense.

Hotels, motels, and campgrounds along the way can provide a welcome respite from driving.  In a pinch you can pull into a freeway rest area and snooze for a bit in your vehicle if you get really tired, but having an actual bed, even if its a sleeping bag in a tent, will be more restful and overnight stops give you something to look forward to.  Sometimes you can choose places with several amenities to enhance your stay (pool, wi-fi, hot tub, sauna, restaurant, even golf).  Even if there is not a restaurant in the hotel there will usually be a number of eating establishments nearby offering you a choice.  We like to seek out small, local cafes where the "home cooked" meals are often superb and reasonably priced.  "Country" breakfasts seem to be especially good values and are sometimes offered all day long.

Road trips can also be educational in ways that are a lot more fun and personal than reading it in school or watching it on the History Channel.  One time we chose to take Highway 49 instead of I-5 up through central California.  Highway 49 follows the route of the "49ers", early California gold prospectors, and there are dozens of historic sites along they way where you can get hands on exposure to how the miners worked and lived.  There are many such routes in different parts of the country that highlight local history or geology.  It will take you a little longer than zipping up the freeways, but we've found such variations to be well worth the extra time.  Not only are they interesting and educational, we found the trip to be less stressful and a lot more fun.

Trip out!

Wednesday, August 20, 2014


Thundersnow?  Say what?  What the heck is that?  Well, it is thunder during a snow storm.  It doesn't happen as often as regular thunderstorms, but it DOES happen occasionally.  Because it is rather rare, and because we normally don't go camping in winter weather, it is unlikely you will encounter it during an outing.  But you might and it would be good to know what -- if anything --- to do when it happens.  One good thing about thundersnow, besides being rare, is that it usually doesn't last very long.   The meteorological conditions that create thunder don't usually occur in really cold weather.

Normal thunderstorms are the product of very tall, narrow columns of clouds.  Rising warm air and falling cool air create an increasingly powerful cycle of wind within the column.  Static electricity builds up between opposing currents in the cloud until it has sufficient charge to arc to the ground or to other clouds.  Winter usually doesn't produce the right kind of temperature differences to spawn thunderstorms but it can happen on occasion.

Normal snow storms usually come from wide, flat cloud systems so they don't usually generate lightning and thunder.  But occasionally rising warm air will disrupt the normal cloud formation and create bulges or tall columns capable of creating lightning and thunder and thundersnow is born.

I have personally only seen a thundersnow once or twice, even though I grew up in southern Idaho where we had some rather severe winters (-26°F at least once and one February where the high never got above -6°F for two weeks).  The first thundersnow I saw was on Christmas Eve in Salt Lake City a couple of years ago.  At first I though the flashing of the lightning was just fluctuations in street lighting, but real thunder soon confirmed it was a rare thundersnow.  It was rather exciting and quite beautiful.  We experienced another brief bout this past winter in southern Utah County, a few miles south of Utah Lake. I suspect the proximity to reasonably large bodies of water may have had something to do with creating the temperature differences needed to generate thunder.

If you should get caught in a thundersnow in camp, you should take all the precautions you would for Camping In Snow and Camping In Thunderstorms.  You are very likely to encounter the potential risks -- and beauty -- of both.

Be safe!

Camping in Lightning

 No one except ardent storm chasers would deliberately go camping in a lightning storm.  However, weather being what it is, any of us could get caught in a lightning storm while camping.  Even if there are no storms in the regional forecast you might still get thunderstorm and lightning in the mountains.  Many mountains are large enough to create their own micro-climate and very local weather.  It doesn't have to mean the end of an outing.  We just need to take appropriate precautions and sit back and enjoy the show!

Lightning can present a marvelous light show, and sometimes scare the heck out of people!  It can be exciting and fun to watch -- as long as it doesn't get too close and if you are in a safe and comfortable place.  I like watching a good lightning show, as long as I'm in a safe place.  Being in an RV is generally pretty safe.  Even if lightning should strike your RV or even close to it YOU should be protected by the vehicle structure.  By the way, it is NOT the rubber tires that protect you.  Think about it.  Lightning easily arcs through 10,000-15,000' feet of air.  Do you really think it can't jump the 6" or so through rubber from your steel wheel to the ground?  The lightning WILL make its way to the ground, no matter what.  It is just a matter of the path it chooses.  It is the steel structure around you that protects you when you are in a vehicle.  If lightning does strike the vehicle it travels through the structure instead of through your body.  Of course, you could get zapped and even be injured if you are touching the structure at the time, so avoid touching window and door frames during an electrical storm.  That's also why your mother told you stay off the phone during an electrical storm.  Lightning striking a telephone pole somewhere miles away could send high voltage down the phone line.  Guess that gives cell phones one more advantage, although lightning may strike the cell towers and knock them out it won't travel back through your cell phone.  The other risk to you inside your RV is if you are parked under or near a tall object that may attract lightning and part or all of the object may explode or topple and damage your RV.  If you are camped in the kind of campgrounds most people prefer, with lots of trees, you probably don't have worry too much unless you happen to be parked near the tallest or some other high artificial structure like a flag pole, light standard, or antenna .   And although you may be safe inside your RV, it may suffer negative consequences from being struck or nearly struck by lightning.  Sensitive electronics may be damaged or a strike on a distant power pole might send surge of devastating voltage down the line and through your power cable if you're connected to campground power.  A surge protector is good way to protect your RV against this hazard.  They aren't cheap, but they are less expensive than repairing the damage from voltage surges.  Camping World offers a wide variety of surge protectors.  If you get one be sure to get one that corresponds to the power requirements of your RV.  BTW, if  you spend most of your time boondocking instead of connected to campground power, you probably don't need a surge protector.

Lightning, like any other severe weather, is going to present a bigger problem for tent campers than for RVers.  Your tent simply isn't going to provide you as much protection against any weather as an RV will.  Should lightning strike nearby you could be peppered with shrapnel or flaming debris, neither of which is going to be much deflected by tent fabrics.  Once again, if your tent is set up in a campground with lots of trees about the same height your probability of a near lightning strike will be reduced  However, if you're near a tall tree, light post or radio tower, they could "attract" lightning.  In reality, objects don't attract lightning.  Simply being the tallest object around makes them the location of the shortest distance for the lightning to jump from clouds to ground.  Lightning rods are used to protect structures from lightning strikes.  They reach higher than the structure an are grounded so the charge is conducted directly into the ground without damaging the structure.  The Empire State Building gets hit by lightning about 100 times every year.  So much for "lightning never strikes twice in the same place!".

Lightning can be a definite hazard for hikers, climbers, skiers (yes, lightning does sometimes strike in winter), boaters, and equestrian and OHV riders.   If you happen to get caught on a hill top or out in the open  in a flat area, YOU could very well be the highest object around!  You will usually get some warning of an approaching electrical storm from the sound of thunder.  You can tell how close the lightning is by counting the seconds between when you see the lightning flash and when you hear the thunder.  I was once within about 100' of a lightning strike.  Instead of "thunder" I heard an explosion simultaneous with the lightning.  I thought someone had bombed the computer center where I worked!  When lightning strikes a tree, the rapid vaporization of sap and moisture may cause the tree to literally explode, sending wooden shrapnel and flaming debris in all directions.  To estimate how far away lightning is, count the seconds between the flash and when you hear the thunder and divide by 3 to get the distance in kilometers or by 5 to get the distance in miles.  If it is closer than 25 or 30 seconds, take immediate steps to protect yourself.  Get off that hill top or out of that flat clearing and seek protection in a cluster of trees all about the same height.  If there are no trees around, try to get down into some kind of depression like a sand wash or creek bed.  Lacking any of these, lay down flat on the ground to minimize your height.  Don't stay too close to an OHV as it may become the tallest object around the the most likely target of lightning.  If lightning strikes it, it could send shrapnel or flaming projectiles in your direction if you are too close.  When entering any low lying area during a storm always be aware of and watch out for flash floods.  Avoid contact with water, which can also increase conductivity and the likelihood of becoming the object of a lightning strike. Even if the rain is several miles away, flash floods can sweep down creek beds and washes with amazing speed and devastating, even deadly, force.  When I worked in the construction industry we would shut down outdoor operations whenever lighting was within 2 miles of our work site as a safety precaution.

One way to avoid being subjected to possible lightning strikes is to monitor the weather forecast and stay out of areas where thunderstorms are likely.  Lacking access to weather reports (shame on you!  Portable radios are small and inexpensive so you should always take one with you when camping) keep an eye on the sky.  Learn to discern the types of clouds that are prone to produce lightning and observe from which direction approaching weather comes and watch for early lightning strikes and take cover before it comes anywhere near you.  When observing clouds you will want to look for shape, color, and movement. Massive, dark, roiling clouds are often home to thunderstorms. High altitude clouds, and white, wispy clouds might bring showers but lightning is unlikely.  Here is a link for Predicting the Weather With Clouds.

Lightning isn't usually a direct threat to highway driving, at least not to the occupants inside vehicles.  If the vehicle is struck by lightning it will be conducted around the occupants by the steel body of the vehicle without injuring them.  The vehicle itself may not fare as well.  Modern, computer-controlled vehicles are likely to suffer severe damage to the electronic components but the electrical systems in older vehicles are not completely immune to lightning damage.  Lightning may pose an indirect threat as well.  A lightning strike may fell trees, street lights, or power poles across the road to block traffic and knock out traffic lights.  The heavy rain that often accompanies electrical storms may make visibility difficult and make roads slick.  Heavy rain or runoff can flood roadways and even a fairly thin layer of water on the pavement can seriously reduce traction.  Wet pavement has a co-efficient of friction about half that of dry pavement.  That means its about twice as likely for you to loose traction and control and will take twice as long to stop.  As water accumulates on the roadway, vehicles traveling at high speeds can begin to "hydroplane", riding on top of the water instead of the tires actually touching the pavement, causing the driver to lose control.  Whenever you are driving in rain, turn off your cruise control. If the cruise control is on and your car begins to hydroplane - when your tires loose contact with the pavement your car will accelerate to a higher rate of speed and when they once again gain traction you take off like an airplane.  Read more at Snopes report on using cruise control in the rain.   Flooded roadways can also conceal dangerous pot holes, washouts, and debris.  If you drive into a low spot, it may even be deep enough to cause your car to temporarily float, reducing traction and steering to zero and you'll go where ever the water chooses to take you.  Submerged debris may damage tires, suspension, and oil pans.  Suddenly submerging a spinning radiator fan in deep water may cause it to break or bend and damage the radiator.  Metal fans are usually pretty sturdy but a lot of modern vehicles have plastic or fiberglass fans that will virtually disintegrate when suddenly striking water.  Water splashing up under the car is sometimes intrusive enough to interrupt power to the ignition system, causing the engine to stall. 

Lightning can strike distant power lines and send a dangerous surge through electric and phone lines.  If you usually camp with electric hookups it is a good idea to equip your RV with a good surge protector to prevent damage from power surges.  They aren't cheap, but they're a lot cheaper than replacing all the damaged wiring and electrical and electronic equipment that will be ruined without them. 

The thunderstorms that create lightning often generate hail as well.   Drops of rain are caught in the updraft, freeze, fall down only to be caught up again and again until they grow to heavy to rise again.  The higher the winds in the updrafts, the larger the hail grows before falling.  Hail the size of peas or smaller is fairly common and usually doesn't cause much damage.  Dime and even nickel sized hail is not unusual.  I once had the aluminum roof of my motorhome pelted by nickle sized hail and afterwards the texture resembled that of a golf ball.  Larger, golfball, baseball or even softball sized hail has been recorded.  Any ball-sized hail is very likely to do severe damage, especially to windshields and car tops.  Any hail large than peas is likely to be a problem for tents.

There are a lot of myths about lightning.  Some are just that, myths without any real merit, but some have an element of truth behind them.

Lightning doesn't strike twice in the same place.  FALSE!  This a a common misconception, probably based on the fact that a lightning strike often damages what it hits so that it is no longer there or at least no longer the tallest point around.   Thus, if lightning strikes a tall tree, the tree will probably be destroyed so it can't be struck again.  But for more permanent objects, multiple strikes are fairly common.   For example, lightning strikes the Empire State Building in New York City more than 100 times a year.  Why isn't it damaged?  It has a big lightning rod on the top that is wired all the way down through the building into the ground so all the energy is safely conducted into the earth without actually passing through the structure itself -- or the people inside.

Being struck by lightning is always fatal.  FALSE.  In fact, the mortality rate is only 10-20%, although the 80% who survive often suffer long term effects.  It is often thought it causes severe burns, but unless the victim is in contact with something like a metal object that "concentrates" the current, the brief surge doesn't usually last long enough to heat up the tissue.  The damage is usually due to something called "electroporation" in which the high voltage actually makes holes in your cell membranes, seriously damaging nerves and muscles.   Not that the technical difference makes any difference to the victims.  This could lead to pain, weakness, and bruising.  Another common casualty is hearing.  Lightning always produces thunder, although when lighting is close it sounds more like a violent explosion, so at least temporary hearing loss is a fairly common result of being near a lightning strike.  If you are struck by lightning, the thunder will occur simultaneously with the lightning flash, usually with sound something like a couple sticks of dynamite going off next to your ear!

The "30/30 Rule".  Definitely a kernel of truth here.  This rule says if there is less than 30 seconds between when you see the lightning flash and hear the thunder, take cover and then stay inside at least 30 minutes after the storm has passed and you stop hearing thunder.  While some folks may consider this overkill, it is generally good advice.  Better safe than sorry!

Someone struck by lightning becomes electrically charged and touching them can injure you.  FALSE.  The actual contact with lightning is very brief and it does not leave behind a residual charge that would be dangerous to rescuers.  The human body is not an effective electrical capacitor (a device that stores electrical energy).  This is significantly different from the circumstances surrounding accidental electrocution from power lines.  The human body does conduct electricity.  A victim may still be in contact with a live line so it is essential that would be rescuers make sure the power is turned off or the wire is no longer in contact with the victim before touching them.  Since lightning strikes are momentary, you would only be in danger if you were touching the victim at the exact time they were struck.  You are in no danger from residual electricity by touching them after the strike is over.

Rubber tires insulate you from being shocked by lightning.  FALSE.  The protection you enjoy being in a vehicle comes from the metal frame around you which conducts any charge past you instead of through your body.  That means when riding on a motorcycle or other rubber-tired vehicle you may still be a target for lightning if you happen to be the tallest point around.  Think about it.  Lightning can arc thousands of feet through the air, why not few inches through rubber tires?

In the United States your odds of being struck by lightning in any given year are about 1 in 500,000 or about 1 in 6250 in a 80-year lifetime.  Your probability of being injured in a vehicle accident on the way to or from your camp site is much higher, in fact about 10-20 in 100,000, about a hundred times more likely than being struck by lightning!

Enjoy the show!

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Portable BBQs

Portable BBQs add a lot of convenience for camping.   There are a large number of options to choose from, ranging from small, disposable, table-top charcoal units to fancy gas powered grills designed primarily for residential use.  Some RVs have BBQs built in to an outside compartment.  You can usually find a place (cabinet or roof pod) to bring along a small portable unit if it isn't built in.  You might be able to tote a home BBQ if you have space in the bed of a pickup or in a utility trailer but portable units can usually go just about anywhere in any vehicle.  Portable BBQs are modest in size and all fairly simple in design but they do require a certain amount of maintenance to keep them in optimum working order.  Charcoal grills only need to be cleaned periodically.  And that means removing the ashes and burned on grease from the bottom as well as brushing and cleaning the cooking surface itself.   Give your grill grid a good scrubbing with a BBQ brush, then rub it down with  a wad of newspaper for the finishing touch.  There are aerosol cleaners designed specifically for BBQ grills to help remove burned on grease.  Gas BBQs have burners that also need to be cleaned when you clean out the debris.  Usually all this takes is a good brushing along the sides of the burners where the perforations for the gas are using a wire brush.  Sometimes you may still have problems getting adequate gas flow after cleaning the burners.  This is often caused by spider webs inside the gas lines and fittings.  For some reason spiders seem drawn to these locations.   It may be the cozy physical configurations but some theories say they are attracted by the repulsive smell of the gas itself.  Regardless of why they do it, their webs and nests will restrict gas flow.  You would think the pressure of the gas would just blow it out, but it doesn't.  Tubing can be cleaned using a special brush usually available where ever BBQs are sold.  It looks like a screen door spring, about 1/4" in diameter and 12-18" long with a small patch of bristles about the size of a dime at one end and a handle on the other.  In addition to cleaning the tubes you may have to clean or replace the orifices.  These are brass fittings with the right sized opening for proper gas metering.  If they get plugged or even partially closed off with spider webs, grease, or debris, or enlarged by wear or abusive cleaning, they will not function properly.  The best way to clean them is with compressed air.  Using a metal probe often damages them and makes them unusable.   If you distort or enlarge the hole, you will have the replace the orifice.  If you must use more than compressed air to clear a clog, use a wooden toothpick or a piece of soft wire, not a hardened tool like an awl or an ice pick.  I've seen skilled folks use the RIGHT SIZE drill bit to clean an orifice.  If you resort to this procedure, anchor the orifice securely and squarely on the table of a drill press so you can drill straight and true.  Trying to drill it with a handheld drill is pretty much a recipe for failure.  A hand held drill will wobble slightly in even the steadiest of hands and it takes only a tiny wobble to ruin the orifice.   It may also introduce shavings into the piping and you run the risk of drilling into your hand!  Just trying to hold the orifice steady while you drill it will be difficult and very likely painful.  Sometimes soaking an orifice in vinegar will be enough to remove deposits.

Most portable BBQs are fueled by gas or charcoal.  Alternate heat sources include wood, electricity, and sunlight.  Contrary to some beliefs, gas BBQs actually emit less carbon dioxide than charcoal, so don't feel guilty if you choose gas over charcoal for convenience.  For really "green" grilling, choose a solar grill.  You can find plans on the Internet to build your own inexpensive grill or by one ready made. Some even "store" heat for after dark cooking, but for the most part you'll have to limit your cookouts to time with plenty of sunshine.  You will probably have to buy it on line and they aren't cheap.  Expect to pay $100 to $400, plus shipping.  Speaking of prices, better quality BBQ grills not only last longer but are more environmentally friendly than cheap ones and are less likely to leave undesired contaminates on your food.  Many people prefer the smoky taste of charcoal.  To ensure the best taste as well as minimize air pollution, avoid using charcoal that contains a lot of coal or other additives.  The best charcoal for grilling is natural wood charcoal.  By the way, did you know the famous Kingsford brand of charcoal was a byproduct of Henry Ford's early auto factories?  Ford collaborated with Kingsford to convert waste wood scraps from building Model T's and Model A's into a viable consumer product:  charcoal.  Together they promoted BBQs during outings using automobiles.

Most portable gas BBQs are designed to run off the small, 1-lb propane cylinders.  They are small, light weight, easy to transport, readily available, and easy to attach to the BBQ.  You can get adapters, such as so called "Extend-a-flow" kits for motorhomes, to run your portable BBQ off the large tanks on your motorhome.  Adapters also also available to connect portable BBQs and stoves to removable trailer tanks and standard portable propane tanks.  Having a larger tank reduces the chances of running out of gas while cooking a meal and bulk propane is usually cheaper per gallon than the small cylinders.  Portable gas grills are typically about 1' to 1 1/2' wide, about 1 foot deep, and about 10-12" tall  with the legs extended.  You can also buy single use charcoal grills for camping.  They usually include the charcoal in a heavy aluminum foil tray.  They are very convenient but as is often the case, convenience comes at a price.    They are intended to be disposable -- used once and tossed.  But it might be worth it to avoid hauling around a bulky BBQ and a bag of charcoal if your space is limited and you don't plan to grill multiple times in an outing.  Be careful where you set them.  The trays get very hot so they can damage wooden or plastic tables.  An ideal place to put them is on the grill of one of the permanent standup BBQs you sometimes see in parks and campgrounds.  Lacking one of those  you might have to put them on the ground.

Charcoal is favored by many camp chefs over gas for the smokey flavor it adds to foods.   EZ light charcoal contains an accelerant which may affect the taste, but usually it should burn off before you are ready to cook.  Likewise, charcoal lighter fluids can affect the taste so use them sparingly.  The charcoal lighter will typically burn off long before you're ready to cook, but to be completely safe, use standard charcoal briquets and light them using crumpled newspaper or kindling.  If you do use any accelerant, be sure to allow enough time for it to burn off before you start cooking.  Hickory, cherry, and other wood chips may be added to enhance flavors.  A "charcoal chimney" can be used to get your charcoal going faster without accelerants.  Put a wad of paper in the bottom (a good use of old newspaper), add the amount of charcoal you need, and light the paper.  In about 20-30 minutes your charcoal will be ready to cook with.  Wood chips may even be used with gas BBQs to enhance flavor but be sure to check grill manufacturers restrictions and the instructions that come with the chips.  Charcoal is also the preferred fuel for Dutch oven cooking but you can also use a dutch oven in a campfire or in the coals from a campfire.  And advantage to charcoal for Dutch ovens is it is easy to put glowing briquets on the lid.  Use about 1 briquet for each inch of diameter of the oven.  If  you are cooking on a campfire, use coals from the fire to approximate the number of briquets.

For better tasting food as well as for health reasons, you will want to keep the grill surfaces clean.  Most of the time you can use a BBQ brush to clean away the burned, greasy deposits left behind by the last use.  Fire up the grill and let it get hot to soften and loosen or burn off the deposits, then brush away the residue using a grill brush.  For more complete removal of greasy residue, rub the grill with a wad of old newspaper.  Just make sure the grill isn't too hot or the flames so high that the paper catches on fire!  An occasional cleaning with a commercial grill cleaner will help keep it in tip top shape, but be sure to wipe it down well before using it so your hamburgers or steaks don't taste like grill cleaner.  If you are particularly concerned about removing all the grill cleaner residue, wash it with warm soapy water and rinse and dry it thoroughly.  Avoid using ordinary household cleaners on the grill.  They may leave an unpleasant taste and sometimes even toxic chemicals!  You can use cooking spray on the grill or brush it with cooking oil to help keep food from sticking, although the grease that comes out of a lot meats will be enough by itself.  The grease that drips out of meats as they cook creates much of the smoke that gives that BBQ flavor whether using charcoal or gas.

Lighting your BBQ.   Gas BBQs can be lit using a match, a long handled lighter, or a built in igniter.  If your BBQ doesn't have an igniter or it is worn out or broken, you can usually buy a universal replacement igniter kit and install it yourself, eliminating the need to track down matches or lighters to get your grill going each time.  As mentioned above, the best way to light charcoal is using a "charcoal chimney", which uses some wadded up paper to get the charcoal started.  Charcoal lighter fluid is another popular way of lighting charcoal but personally I don't like the smell it adds to the charcoal (and my food).  "Matchlight" charcoal is pre-treated with charcoal lighter to make it ignite easily so you don't need to carry charcoal lighter.  Avoid using gasoline to start your charcoal.  It is more likely to create unpleasant odors and taste than approved charcoal lighter fluids which are supposedly designed to burn away cleanly.

BBQs are mostly used for cooking hamburgers, hot dogs, steaks, and chicken but you can also roast other meats and vegetables like corn and bake potatoes on them quite easily.  With the addition of a griddle you can do pancakes, eggs, or French toast. You could use them like a stove to prepare other foods in pots and pans but your trusty Coleman stove is usually a better choice for that with burners that are designed to apply heat directly to pots and pans and with more precise controls for setting the best cooking temperature.

BBQs can be difficult to use in windy conditions.  I've experienced situations where even with a wind screen around the cooking surface, the breeze through the burner compartment prevented sufficient heat from reaching the grill to cook hamburgers.  Typical wind screens attach to the top of the BBQ or stove to block wind from the cooking surface and the food thereon.  You may have to improvise to block the wind from whipping through the burner compartment -- or give up and cook on your RV stove or over the campfire until the wind dies down.  Sometimes just being on the leeward side of your RV or some other structure is enough to get you and your BBQ out of the wind.

We sometimes use our trusty R2D2 (washing machine tub fire pit) to cook burgers etc.  I fitted an old BBQ grill with a pipe I can slide into the center agitator tube of the R2D2 and we use regular firewood -- no treated wood -- for the cooking fire.

Throw another shrimp on the barby, mate!

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Is There Anyone Who SHOULDN'T Go RVing or Camping?

There are few reasons anyone who wants to shouldn't be able to go RVing or camping.  There may be some restrictions on certain activities or locations based on diagnosed medical conditions or physical disabilities, but for the most part, the only people who shouldn't go RVing or camping are those who don't want to.

If you have a medical condition where you are told to avoid flying or other high altitudes, you will want to restrict your RVing and camping to elevations that are safe for you, but it doesn't mean you have to sit at home!  There are plenty of beach venues that literally put you at sea level so elevation would not be a problem.  Allergies may be sometimes used as an excuse to not go camping but with modern medicine and careful choice of destinations, most allergy related problems can be mitigated.  If you or someone in your group have been given restrictions on physical activities due to injuries or illness, avoid strenuous tasks like hiking, cycling, or chopping firewood.  There are still many fun and beneficial things you can do around camp.  Anyone on dialysis will need to stay close enough to home or their dialysis center to maintain their schedule.  You may need adjust your plans or have special equipment to accommodate the needs of people in your party with physical disabilities.

If you have zero experience RVing or camping, seek out experienced companions to get you started.  I would not recommend taking off on an unassisted camping trip if you've never been camping before.  There are certain activities that can be dangerous if you don't know what you're doing or ignore prescribed safety precautions.  My father-in-law singed off his eyebrows trying to light a furnace in his micro-mini motorhome by not following the lighting instructions properly.  Lighting camp stoves and lanterns is generally a pretty safe procedure, but it can sometimes be a problem for the novice.  Even building a simple campfire safely requires some knowledge and practice.  Setting up tents and awnings requires a certain amount of skill.

Does advancing age mean you've got to give up camping?  I sure hope not!  I've seen plenty of active retirees in their 70s and 80s and 90s enjoy the RVing and camping experience.  My own grandmother traveled with my Mom and Dad and younger sister in their mini-motorhome until she was in her 80s.  She found it quite comfortable and a lot less stressful than being left at home.  It helped that they involved her in  tasks around camp that made her feel useful was well as welcome.   At 75 she enjoyed riding on the back of my enduro dirt bike (yes, it had footpegs to carry a passenger).  You may reach an age where it would be a good idea to leave the driving to someone else, but that applies to other activities too, like routine grocery shopping.  My Mom just turned 90 and although she still holds a valid driver's license and keeps it up to date she has voluntarily stopped driving.  Although she passes her driving tests with flying colors, she is uncomfortable that her eye sight and reaction time aren't what they used to be and would rather not take any chances. But she still enjoys trips to the beach or the forest with other family members at the wheel.  As avid dirt bikers, my wife and I strongly subscribe to the idea that "You don't stop riding (or camping) because you get old; you get old because you stop riding (or camping)."

Physical disabilities may impose some restrictions on what you can do, but just falling under ADA rules doesn't mean you have to stay home.  I saw an OHV activist climb out of a wheelchair to ride his ATV in a pro-OHV parade.  And no, it wasn't an ATV accident that put him in the wheelchair.  Tow vehicles and motorhomes can be equipped with wheelchair lifts and other adaptations to make them accessible to disabled persons.  The aisle space in older RVs may not accommodate wheel chairs, but in newer models with slide-outs it will be less of a problem, although unless the unit was designed with wheelchair access in mind you may still encounter tight spots.  In a pinch (pun intended) you might be able to buy a narrow wheelchair like those used on airlines that may be able to negotiate the tight spaces inside an RV.  Some folks find they can navigate inside an RV either using a walker or cane or just the cabinets and walls of the RV for support.  Assist handles might be installed to facilitate getting in and out of an RV and negotiating the aisle and bathroom.

Allergies may impose some restrictions on where you go, but they certainly don't have to shut down all camping activity.  While it would be unwise to knowingly plant yourself in the middle of batch of vegetation that triggers your allergies, there is enough variety in outdoor environments that just about everyone should be able to find a place where they can avoid severely unpleasant reactions.  If I were allergic to bees I wouldn't visit a honey farm!  Modern allergy medication used correctly can usually relieve most of the symptoms.

Some people view pregnancy as imposing many restrictions on mothers to be.  But it certainly doesn't have to be that way and it doesn't have to put a moratorium on your camping!  My wife continued RVing and camping with the family and even riding her dirt bike through most her her pregnancies, until just a few weeks before delivery.  Of course you don't want to take an unreasonable risks for either the baby or the mother, but routine camping shouldn't be a problem unless there are already extenuating circumstances that limit the mother's activities.  As a kind of extension of camping during pregnancy, you don't have to stop camping when the baby comes.  Bring him/her along!  We did, and all our kids LOVE RVing, OHVing, and camping to this day.  Be aware that you will need to attend to the special needs of baby.  Make proper preparations and allow adequate time for addressing their needs and you'll --  and they'll -- be fine.  Supercross star James "Bubba" Stewart got his first motorcycel ride on his dad's lap when he was only about 2 days old!

So, unless you're under doctor's orders to avoid camping or you absolutely hate being in the outdoors or hate traveling or hate campfires, there is no reason why you shouldn't go camping.  Even if you get car sick it doesn't mean you have to stay home.  Just take appropriate medication and avoid reading while riding and you should do fine.

Time for that getaway!