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.

Tuesday, December 29, 2020

Fire Pits for Camping and RVing

Campfires are one of the best and most popular camping traditions.  Most places you will camp may already have a fire pit.  Developed campgrounds almost always one and many times you will find left over fire pits in dispersed camping areas built by previous users. It is almost always advantageous to use a previously used site when doing dispersed camping and is more friendly to the environment.  Having a ready-built fire pit in a previously used site saves a lot of time and effort and often you may see where other vehicles have already been parked on the most level part of the site.  Many campers bring their own portable fire pit with them for use where ever they go.

The rock ring fire pit is one of the most common forms of fire pit.   Easily constructed from loose rocks they are not only popular in dispersed camping but you will often find them in developed campgrounds.  If you need to build your own the process is a little tedious but well worth the effort.  Begin by clearing the ground where you will build your fire all the way down to the dirt.  Remove all flammable material such as twigs, branches, weeds, and roots.  Collect enough rocks to make a circle the size of the fire you want to build.  A fire pit with a 3' diameter is usually about right for most family or small group campfires.  If you are solo camping you might want a smaller one or, if you will have a large group around the campfire, make it bigger.  Usually something about 5-6' across is adequate for most groups.  Beyond that you're moving into the area of bonfires instead of campfires!  You can use just about any size rocks that you can move by yourself.  I find that those 8" to 12" are about the right size for most fire pits.  If you use smaller rocks you may have to pile them up to form a little rock wall about 8" to 12" high.  Then scoop out the dirt from the middle of the fire pit to build a little embankment against the inside of the rocks to block drafts.  Before you light your fire be sure to clear the ground outside the rock ring of all flammable material for at least 5 all around.  Stack your fire wood outside the cleared area.  The cleared area helps prevent an accidental spreading of your fire and gives you a good place to sit to enjoy your fire.

If there are no rocks around, dig down a little bit and build a berm to make a fire pit.  You need something to define the fire area and contain and control the spread of hot ashes once the fire gets going.   A rock ring or berm also helps mitigate ground-level breezes that might have an adverse affect on your fire like making it hard to light or blowing embers that might ignite surrounding materials.

Metal fire rings are found in some developed campgrounds.  Sometimes they are as simple and mundane as a section cut from a 55 gallon steel drum.  Other, more decorative ones are formed from sturdy sheet metal and often have woodland or wildlife scenes cut into them so you can watch the flames dance behind the cutouts.  Watching the campfire is always enjoyable and the cutouts make it even more so.  You can purchase metal fire rings to bring along when boondocking, if you have room to carry them.  Some are even collapsible for easy storage and transport.

My favorite portable fire pit is an old washing machine tub.  We call it R2D2 (because of its squat round shape and the way the fire sparkles through the perforations like R2D2's lights) and have used them for decades after being introduced to one by a fellow dirt biker.  With their porcelain finish they are both easy to clean and very durable.  In fact, we've been using the same one in my dirt bike trailer for more than 40 years!  Most washing machine tubs have center tube where the agitator used to be.  Sometimes that gets in the way of putting wood in the fire but if you cut your wood the right size that isn't a problem.  I make use of the center tube by sliding it down onto a cut-off RV table post and using a 3-pronged portable table base.  I cut the table post so the top of the tub is a comfortable height for cooking.  It also makes a nice space beneath the tub to warm toes on cold nights.   I bolted a pipe flange to a wire grill from an old BBQ to install the grill on the fire pit using the top of the agitator tube.  The perforations in the tub protect the fire from wind gusts yet allow sufficient circulation for a good burning fire.  At the end of the night I put a trash can lid on top.  When its time to pack up it is easy to dump out the ashes.  The holes in the washing machine tub flicker enchantingly when with the flames.   It is a bit large to haul around in the family car but it fits well along with our dirt bikes in our motorcycle trailer.  We like our R2D2 so well we put one in the fire pit in our picnic area by our house and anchored a second one in a little cove for a fire pit down by the McKenzie River behind our house.

If transportation space is an issue you can find collapsible fire pits.  They are often made of metal panels, sometimes wire and sometimes solid sheet metal and can be folded flat so they take up little space in your car trunk or RV cabinet.

Gas fire pits are becoming more popular, especially with RVers.  They are clean, easy to transport, set up and light, and you only need a small propane cylinder to run them,  They may lack the fragrance of a wood fire but still provide the same warmth and ambiance.  To put out the fire simply turn off the propane supply.  You can buy wood chips to sprinkle on some gas fire pits to add fragrance to the smoke and flavor to anything you cook over it.  You can run them off the propane tank on your RV using an Extend-A-Flow kit that taps into your RV propane system near the tank.  Sometimes you may still be able to use a gas fire pit during early stages of fire restrictions where real campfires are prohibited.

As mentioned in the first paragraph, clear the ground of flammable material for 5' all around ANY campfire as a safety measure to make sure your campfire doesn't spread.  You should still clear the area around gas fire pits to prevent burning material dropped from items cooked over the campfire from igniting fire outside the fire pit.  Marshmallows seem to have a wondrous way of flaming up even when you are going for golden brown!

It can be fun in these pits!

Monday, December 28, 2020

PPE -- Personal Protective Equipment ( YES, again)

I have written about Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) before.   I bring it up again because I see way too many people failing to use appropriate PPE for the recreational activities in which they are involved.  And now, with the COVID-19 situation, EVERYONE needs to be aware of and make use of appropriate PPE on a daily basis!  Also, as a volunteer firefighter, I am continually reminded of the absolute need to wear appropriate PPE for ANY activity.  It is way to easy to ignore proper PPE precautions when performing many routine tasks, like chopping firewood.  I've seen too many dirt bike riders injured for lack of proper body armor and, quite honestly, have to admit having been guilty of it myself.  I once rode in just my jeans instead of my riding pants and knee pads and ended up with one leg bruised from ankle to knee for several weeks,  It wasn't supposed to be any kind of vigorous ride and I was in a bit of a hurry.  Bad mistake!  I came up over the crest of a little rise, the back wheel hit a rock and kicked out from under me and the motorcycle landed on my unprotected knee.  If I had a been wearing the knee braces I normally wear when riding, it would have been no big deal.  Since I had left them off, I ended up getting an injury that took weeks to heal. Never again!

 Many vocations and avocations have Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) that is peculiar to their specific needs.  Doctors and other heath care professionals wear face masks and latex gloves.  Firefighters wear heavy, fire-resistant "turn outs".  Football players wear helmets and pads.  Race car drivers wear helmets and fire-resistant suits.  OHV riders wear helmets, goggles, and other "body armor".  Boaters need personal flotation devices (life vests or belts).

Some Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) is required by law or by regulations in a particular sport.  Some PPE is matter of choice.  Anyone involved in any activity that requires PPE MUST wear the designated equipment.  Anyone involved in any kind of activity that has any risk of personal injury should wear proper PPE.  A thought that puts it in perspective for me:  when riding a dirt bike, is OK to put your head in a $10 helmet -- IF you have a $10 head!   Yes, some PPE can be expensive, but always consider how expensive it might be NOT having proper PPE!

There are laws in many jurisdictions that require OHV riders (at least those below a certain age) to wear helmets.   Use of other PPE by OHV riders is usually at the discretion of the rider.  Having been a dirt bike rider for about 40 years I can personally attest to the value of proper PPE on EVERY ride.  In addition to a helmet, every rider should wear goggles.  Other useful items include proper riding boots, jerseys, pants, gloves, knee pads, elbow pads, kidney belts, and chest protectors.  You might limit what PPE you wear while riding in a UTV or side-by-side to a helmet and goggles, but I strongly advise anyone riding a dirt bike or ATV to wear full body armor.  When you part company with your ride and enter into a durability contest with the dirt and rocks I guaranty you the dirt and rocks are going to win!  Wearing proper body armor will mitigate many of the injuries you might experience.  I have some rather deep and nasty scratches on the back of my chest protector that would have sliced deep into my back had I not been wearing it when I fell into a rock pile or skidded on the pavement.

I have provided other posts that describe specific types of PPE for OHV riders.  Check out the follwing links:

     OHV Helmets and Goggles 

     OHV Riding Boots 

     OHV Riding Pants and Jerseys 

     Additional OHV Body Armor

Water sports have their own unique PPE.  For the most part this consists of a Coast Guard Approved Personal Flotation Device (PFD), usually in the form of a life vest or life belt.  Most boats are also required to carry throwable floatation devices, such as a life preserver or throwable cushion.  If you are involved in boating on cold water, a wet suit or even a dry suit may be needed to protect you against hypothermia should you fall overboard.  You may not see regulations dictating cold water protection, but a little research into deaths from hypothermia for professional racers who fell in the water should quickly convince you of the true need. Standard boating rules require every boat to carry a life jacket or vest  for every person on board,  The law does not mandate they be worn at all times but common sense certainly does.  In some sailboat races, all crew are required to wear PFDs  all the time when the winds are above a certain speed  Some folks are campaigning for a similar rule for wearing wet or dry suits when the water is below a certain temperature.   Exposure to cancer-causing UV radiation in sunlight requires proper hats and sunscreen plus good sunglasses.  In my mind, wearing appropriate PPE for any situation is ALWAYS mandatory, if not by the rules, by common sense!

PPE for some common outdoor activities may be a little less well defined.   But that doesn't mean you should ignore proper safety measures.  For hiking, properly fitted boots are a basic requirement.  A lot of folks opt for lighter weight running shoes, but they lack the ankle support often needed when hiking.  A strong, correctly sized hiking stick is also a good idea.  Even a good hat and appropriate sunglasses could be better thought of as PPE than a fashion statement.  Sturdy leather gloves and eye protection are needed for cutting and handling firewood.  A proper hat for protection from the sun, along with sunscreen, could be considered PPE for almost any outdoor activity.  Oven mitts or other sturdy hand protection should always be worn when cooking on a campfire.  Hey, even a swimsuit could be considered proper PPE for some aquatic activities!

Of course we are currently required by law in most places to wear a face mask due to COVID-19.   Anyone working with COVID patients, such as first responders and medical professionals, also wear latex gloves, goggles, and often a protective gown.  To some the precautions may seem excessive, but given the risks associated with COVID-19, they are appropriate.  I know a doctor who has personally treated more than 2000 COVID patients and remained free from infection, due to proper PPE and proper protocols, such as hand washing.

And yes, I realize this is a second post on PPE.  But it is a topic that too many people tend to ignore and an occasional reminder is often worthwhile.

Be protected!

Tuesday, December 22, 2020

Log Splitting -- A Basic Camping Skill

Log splitting is a very useful skill for campers.  Even if you don't cut your own firewood you will probably need to split some pieces of commercial firewood to make kindling.  If you do cut your own firewood, split logs dry more quickly and are easier to ignite in a campfire than whole logs.

Use of appropriate Personal Protective Equipment is always a good idea for any activity.  Log splitting is no exception.  You should wear heavy leather gloves to protect your hands and googles or safety glasses to protect your eyes against flying chips.  If you use a chainsaw to cut your firewood, you should wear protective chaps and ear plugs.  Note, chainsaw chaps don't shut down electric chain saws like they do gasoline powered saws.  The chaps are designed to clog the chain and stop the engine.  Electric motors don't stop as long as there is power and the switch is on but chainsaw chaps might provide some reduction in the movement of the chain.

For splitting kindling you may only need an axe or hatchet.  Place one end of the piece of wood you want to split on a stable solid surface (rock, wood, concrete, hard ground),  Use a small stick to hold the top end of the piece you're are splitting steady while your swing your axe or hatchet with the other hand to split it.  If you should miss and cut the end off the little stick you can easily replace it, unlike replacing your fingers if you should cut one or more off while holding the wood with them!  

I have seen wall-mounted kindling splitters that use leverage instead of pounding it with a big axe or hammer.  That might be less effort but I haven't found a good place to mount one on any of my RVs.  Might be nice for a cabin or country house!

Just came across another great way to split kindling.  It is called the kindling cracker.  You can buy them at Amazon, Home Depot, and many other places.  Just GOOGLE "Kindling Cracker".   You put the piece of wood you want to split in the top and hit it with a big hammer or back of an axe to drive it down onto the splitting wedge inside.  It is safer, faster, and easier than using an axe or hatchet.  It is probably too bulky to carry around when tent camping but you might find room for it in your RV.  Here is what it looks like:


Kindling Cracker King Firewood Kindling Splitter - XL Size

When using it make sure your log will fit through the top ring.  If it has knots or flares out or is simply too tight it may get caught before it splits.

Another handy tool for splitting kindling is a wood splitting auger.   They fit into your drill so you can use them in a cordless drill in camp.  The one I saw demonstrated had a reverse thread so you had to run the drill in reverse to get it to work.  A wood splitting auger and a cordless drill can make splitting kindling quick and easy.  It isn't recommended for splitting larger logs but can be a fast and safe way to split kindling.

For splitting larger logs a wedge is a useful addition to your tool set.   Wedges aren't usually as sharp as axes and they usually have a fatter head and they don't have handles.  The larger head both makes it easier to drive them with the back of an axe or a large hammer (sledge hammer) and also spreads the wood faster for better splitting.  Some wedges are a flat tapered shape similar to an axe head.  Others are conical.  Flat wedges will split wood along the point of the wedge.  Conical splitters are used in the center of logs to try to spit them into multiple pieces at once.  However, every log WILL split along the lines of least resistance so you won't always get multiple splits with one placement nor will the pieces be of equal size.  I have seen people use a large single-bladed axe as a wedge, but the taper isn't really optimal for splitting and you might damage the axe head pounding on it.

A wooden glut is a fairly good substitute for an iron wedge.  A wooden glut is a wedge-shaped piece of wood.  Sometimes they are used to split rocks but can also be used to split logs that are too large o split with a hatchet or an axe alone.  Start with a short piece of wood about 3" in diameter.  Sharpen one end to make a flat, wedge-shaped point.  The other end should be square and flat.  Prepare the piece of wood you want to split by scoring a line all across it using your axe or hatchet.  Then drive the axe or hatchet blade into the scored line at one edge of the log so it begins to spread the log along the scored line.  Place the sharpened edge of the glut into the crack and drive it in as far is you can.  Then remove the axe or hatchet and move it to the other side of the glut.  Drive it in as far as you can and hammer the glut down again.  The log should start to split.  If not, keep repeating the process until it does.  Sometimes it is helpful to have more than one glut so you can use them side-by-side to speed splitting of the log.  Knowing this little trick might be helpful if you find yourself in a survival situation or if you simply forgot to bring your steel wedge with you on a camping trip.  Or if you need a bigger wedge than the one you brought along.

Whenever splitting, with a wedge (or glut), axe, or hatchet, try to take advantage of any existing cracks in the log.  Line up the pointed end of the wedge with the crack.  This makes splitting easier and can save you a bunch of work.  When working with large logs with no existing splits I usually try to make the first split about in the middle, then split each half in the middle again and again until I have them split down to the size I want.

A hydraulic log makes splitting a lot easier, especially if you are working with large logs or have a lot lots to split.  Make sure the pieces you want to split will fit into the log splitter between the wedge and the head of the hydraulic jack.  Sometimes, if they aren't TOO much longer than will fit you can notch the end that goes on the wedge to make room to get the log in place.  The hand operated log splitters I have used have two handles.  One moves the jack a small distance but increases the pressure.  This is useful for starting almost any split and pretty much essential for splitting pieces that are difficult to split.  The second handle doesn't apply as much force but mores the jack further with each stroke, speeding up the splitting process.  I often work both together to maximize splitting force and speed once it begins to split.  You will usually hear a distinct "crack" when the wood begins to split and will definitely notice a decrease of resistance on the handles.  I have found I usually need to go about 10 pumps on the handles after the initial split to push the pieces far enough apart that I can fully separate them when taken out of the splitter.  Hand operated log splitters can be purchased for a few hundred dollars.  I believe I bought mine at Harbor Freight several years ago.  They are probably too big and heavy to cart along on camping trips, but very useful for preparing your fire wood at home.  If you have extra room in your vehicle you could take them camping but I wouldn't unless I expected to do a LOT of splitting!

A power log splitter is the ultimate tool if you are splitting lots of wood.  Power log splitters are hydraulic splitters powered by gasoline engines or electric motors instead of being hand operated.  Just put the log in place and press a button or pull the handle and the machine basically does the rest.  I've seen some commercial grade splitters that have an X shaped wedge that splits logs into 4 pieces at once, greatly reducing splitting time and increasing productivity, but they are very, very expensive -- like around $18,000!  I've seen simpler, gasoline powered simple log splitters for home use starting around $1,000 plus or minus a hundred bucks or so at home centers.  They are fairly big and heavy and usually have wheels and are designed to be towed like a trailer.

Like many other jobs, proper preparation is the key to success.   The main thing to do is to make sure your logs are cut to the right length before you begin.  Also trim off any branches or stubs that might interfere with their placement or movement on the splitter.  I have a piece of PVC pipe I have cut to proper length for my log splitter and (usually) use it to measure my cuts so the pieces are the right length.  If I forget to measure or somehow end up with some that are too long, I set them aside and trim them all at once after I've split the ones that fit.  Also, sometimes you will run into logs that are really hard to split.  I once watched my Dad try to split some old Madrone Pine with an axe and it just bounced off!  If you else all else fails you might try boring some holes in one end and lining up the edge of the wedge with the holes to get things started.  One large hole might be enough if you're using a conical wedge.

Some really knotty pieces of wood may be extremely difficult to split.  Avoid them if you can but if that is all you have, you might have to cut it into smaller pieces, making cuts where the knots are so you can split between the knots.  Sometimes a combination of strong steel wedges and fatter wooden gluts can be used in conjunction to coerce a particularly tough log to split.  Having a really big hammer may also help.  My dad had two "hammer"rules I really found useful:  1.  If it can't be fixed with a hammer it can't be fixed and 2.  Don't get mad at it, just get a bigger hammer!  Lacking a large hammer in a camp you might use a big piece of firewood or even a big rock.  Make sure to keep your fingers clear of where the log or rock strikes your target!

Split up!

Wednesday, December 9, 2020

NOAA Weather Radios

 This is a second post on NOAA Weather Radios.  Don't mean to be redundant, but it is a topic that, in my experience, is underrated.  I've met too many people who dont even know about NOAA weather radios, let alone use them!

NOAA Weather radio is a service of the National Weather Service (NWS), which, in turn, is part to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration of the United States of America.  The following Mission and Vision are taken directly from the National Weather Service website:

NWS Mission

Provide weather, water, and climate data, forecasts and warnings for the protection of life and property and enhancement of the national economy.

NWS Vision

A Weather-Ready Nation: Society is prepared for and responds to weather, water, and climate-dependent events.

Although the mission statement doesn't specifically mention recreation, the forecasts are of great value to campers, hikers, hunters, and fisherman.  Or to anyone who is going to working or playing outdoors.  I believe we qualify under protection for life and property when involved in our outdoor recreational pursuits.

NOAA weather forecasts are available for almost all  geographic parts of the United States.  Speical NOAA radios will automatically pick up the local forecast just about anywhere you are. 

I've seen NOAA weather channels on a few car radios but usually you have to buy a special NOAA radio.  NOAA forecasts are updated frequently and give a fairly accurate prediction of regional weather.  The 7 day forecast is usually accurate about 80% of the time; the 5 day forecast is good about 90% of the time; but the 10 day forecast is only correct about 50% of the time.

Be aware that some camping venues are located in areas that kind of make their own weather.  This is especially of mountains but large bodies of water and sometimes even deserts can also make their own weather.  Therefore, regional weather forecasts from NOAA or your local radio station may not always be a good predictor of what you will actually experience but it is good place to start!

You can purchase NOAA weather radios at many places that sell camping equipment.  Some places that I've confirmed sell NOAA radios are Walmart, Amazon, Target, Cabellas and even Big Lots.  You can often find them on ebay too.  Some models include hand crank chargers so you never have to worry about running out of power.

Be weather wise!

Tuesday, December 8, 2020

Thanks to all my readers!


I have been reviewing some of the stats on my blog and wanted to say "thank you" to everyone who has visited rvsandohvs.blogspot.com.  I enjoy writing the articles and am pleased when I get comments.  I am especially glad some of you are finding my information useful.

As I live in the Western United States, a lot of my perspective is biased by my personal experiences in my geographical area.  I see that I get viewers from other places and have been pleasantly surprised at the variety of countries represented in the stats.  If my apparent bias toward my own environment has offended anyone I sincerely apologize.  A lot of the technical information is independent of geographical or political domains but I'm afraid that some of the outdoor experiences and activities are limited to places I've been and things I've done.   I would welcome guest posts from viewers in other countries.

I acknowledge the contributions that people outside the United States make to outdoor recreation.   I have thoroughly enjoyed a number of Youtube survival videos from diverse places such as Russia.

Thank you one and all!

Monday, December 7, 2020

Some (Rare) Contraindications for Camping,,

There are very few reasons to prevent you from camping if you want to do itI suggest your personal health and family obligations should be high on that list.  Another one that all too often holds us back is finances.  We either don't have the money to go camping or can't afford to take the time off to go camping.  If that is the case, it is time to try hard to make time for camping because the personal release and family bonding we will miss can never be replaced.  In most cases the hours you spend camping will make you more productive when you get back to work.

Owning a tent or RV often makes it possible spontaneous outings.  However, whether your outing is planned or spontaneous, there are some circumstances where you might want to (read that SHOULD) change your plans.

One of the most common things that can force us to change our plans is weather.  Sometimes we can endure a little rain or even snow, but it is usually best to avoid camping in bad storms.  I, for one, would gladly postpone a trip if it would take me into a hailstorm, blizzard or flood!  We also need to stay home from forest camping when hot, dry winds create EXTREME fire danger.  In all these cases the risks are just too great!  We did have to change our destination for a winter dirt bike outing in the Mojave Desert when we arrived at the turn off to our scheduled site and found the road clogged with more than a foot of fresh snow!

Traffic problems might also cause a change in plans.  A bad accident, fire, or landslide along a planned route could mean hours of delay, seriously impacting the time left for our anticipated activities.  Road damage or even planned construction might create unexpected problems on roads we know and use regularly.

Health issues can pop up unexpectedly,  Sometimes we, or one of our immediate family or companions gets ill at the last minute.   Traveling when sick or with someone who is can put a real damper on plans.  In some cases it might even be life threatening!  Sometimes the illness might be outside our immediate group but has happened to someone important to us and we need to alter our plans to assist or support them.

Health issues may also be chronic, forcing us to abandon or adjust our preferred life style.   No matter how much we love our outdoor activities we should avoid them if they pose a risk to our health or the health of anyone close to us.  Age often introduces health issues that may limit our activities, but age itself is usually NOT a valid reason not to go camping!  I have seen many people way past retirement age who are still active in RVing, camping, and OHVing.

Destination Problems can crop  up without warning.  Fires, floods, snow, other natural disasters, power outages, equipment failures, and structural defects are just a few of the many things that might happen to a much anticipated destination that would put it off limits for a time.

 If a good reason to stay home comes up, stay home!  Chances are you will regret going a whole lot more than you would ever regret postponing the outing.  Most outings can be rescheduled and safely enjoyed some other time.

There is, however, some good news!  The very nature of our camping and RVing lifestyle is that we can usually be flexible.  Just about any planned excursion can be rescheduled when the problems have been mitigated.

Chronic health issues might force one to permanently retire from their preferred outdoor activities.  I, for one, would want to explore all the possible alternatives before resigning myself to that fate.  The time may come when I can no longer drive my own RV.  If/when that happens I hope I an recruit a family member or friend to do the driving so we can still enjoy outings together.  I hope if the time comes when I can no longer ride my dirt bike that I can switch to a side-by-side and still enjoy off road activities.

Financial problems might limit travel plans.  Unemployment or might significantly reduce our disposable income.  In that case, we may have to decide if our outings are optional or essential to our mental health.  Even outings we deem to be essential might have to be rationed or postponed if we can't afford it.

Family obligations are another valid reason to cancel or postpone a camping trip.  Significant family events should always take priority over recreational pursuits.  Fortunately we usually have advance notice of important family events and can plan our outings around them, but if one comes up rather unexpectedly, you might have to change your plans.

In short, don't go camping if:

  • You are sick
  • You are seriously injured
  • Someone close to you is sick or seriously injured
  • You have important family events that conflict with your outing
  • The destination or the route is unsafe
  • The destination venue is closed (sometimes due to COVID-19 restrictions these days)
  • The weather forecast includes dangerous conditions

Don't give up, reschedule!

Camping and Pit Toilets

Pit toilets are, to but it bluntly and accurately, the pits!  Many pit toilets turn out to be far from pleasant to use.  Lots of  people only resort to them as a last resort, often with good reason!  They are too often badly abused and poorly maintained.  Even so, they are usually a big improvement over the old-fashioned outhouses our ancestors used to have to deal every day of their lives and are a whole lot easier, more convenient, and safer than digging your own latrine!

Pit toilets are both a boon and a curse for campers.   They are certainly a boon when you got to go and there is no place else to do it but we have all experienced the curse of badly maintained pit toilets. When tent camping they are pretty much essential but may be optional if you are camping in any kind of an RV with its own sanitary facilities,  However, it is always a good idea when RV camping to take advantage of campground toilets whenever you can to minimize filling up your black water tank.  You think a pit toilet is foul?  Wait until you get a black water back up in your RV!  You can walk away from a nasty pit toilet when you are done, but an overflow in your RV will stay with you for months!  Once the overflow saturates flooring and other construction materials it is almost impossible to get rid of the bad odor.

The biggest problem with pit toilets is usually the odor.  Badly abused or poorly maintained facilities will develop a really nasty smell.    Bad odors are, of course, very unpleasant but do not necessarily contribute to transmission of diseases.  Unfortunately, abuse and lousy maintenance does frequently contribute to contamination that spreads disease.  You may be able to mitigate odor problems by ventilating the facility before you use it -- make sure the toilet lid is down and open the door for a while.  Lazy or unthinking users often leave the lid up which allows odors to accumulate in the room instead of being vented out through a correctly installed vent pipe that most facilities have.   Aerosol air fresheners may also help if you happen to have some with you. To defend against disease, limit your contact with anything inside structure, use seat protectors when available (or strips of toilet paper when there are no seat protectors), then thoroughly wash your hands or at least use hand sanitizer after you are done. When possible, report bad facilities to the appropriate manager or owner so they can schedule additional cleaning and maintenance.  If you are really paranoid or just want to be extra safe, wear latex gloves.

Pit toilets are essentially old fashioned out houses.   In "the old days" they would dig a new pit and move the outhouse when the old one filled up.  In today's world they are stationary and usually pumped out and sanitized periodically.  However, sometimes the cleaning isn't done nearly often enough and they get really foul smelling.  Most modern pit toilets are treated with holding tank chemicals similar to those used in RVs, porta-pottis, and portable toilets.  While that does a lot to control odors, hot weather, unusually heavy use, abuse, or a poor maintenance schedule can still make them nasty between cleanings.

Portable toilets are kind of like an outhouse on wheels.  Usually they are made of plastic and have a self-contained holding tank beneath the seat.  They  function just like an outhouse or pit toilet.  They are frequently used on construction sites and are often pressed into service at camp grounds and other venues when the expected attendance exceeds to capacity of more permanent facilities.   Portable toilets usually don''t have any fresh water for washing your hands or flushing.  The holding tanks beneath the seat are usually partially filled with chemically treated water that captures the waste and allows pumping it out.   Portable toilets are usually pumped out, cleaned, and sanitized on a regular schedule, but abuse, hot weather, or excessive use might make them unpleasant between cleanings.  Many portable toilets these days have a dispenser for hand sanitizer to make them a little safer to use.   To be on the safe side, bring your own along.

Developed campgrounds sometimes have fully functional bathrooms with flush toilets.   Unfortunately, abuse or poor maintenance often makes them nearly as unpleasant as pit toilets.  If you encounter poorly maintained restrooms you should report them to the campground host or manager.  When I worked at a resort one summer I had the unpleasant task of unstopping one of our public toilets.  Apparently someone had stolen the toilet paper (an all too frequent occurrence!) and someone had used paper towels and they REALLY jammed up the plumbing!  Kind of a combination of abuse and failed maintenance, although theft of toilet paper isn't really failed maintenance so it might all be attributed to abuse.  BTW, NEVER EVER put paper towels or sanitary napkins in any toilet!  They will jam flush toilets and compromise pumping or dumping of portable toilets and holding tanks.

Enduring the unpleasantness of a poorly maintained campground toilet may be a lot easier to handle than managing with the consequences of the overflow in an RV holding tank or of having to try to "hold it" or dealing with not being able to "hold it".  In most cases even the most unpleasant toilet beats digging and using your own latrine pit!

Bring your own hand sanitizer when using toilets in campgrounds.  It won't spare you from the unpleasant smell, but it will help protect you from germs.  You might find hand sanitizer dispenser in some facilities, but not always.  Wearing a bandana or bringing along a can of air freshner are some ways to help mitigate the odor problem.  Sometimes odors result from people leaving the lid up.  Closing the lid will help contain odors and allow them to escape through vents that usually extend up through the roof instead of permeating the building interior.   Sometimes closing the lid and leaving the door open for a while will purge odors enough to make your own 'stay' more pleasant, or at least tolerable.  Then be sure to put the lid down when you leave.

If you encounter campground toilets that need cleaning, be sure to report it to the camp host.   They may be able to schedule an extra cleaning.

Far out!

Sunday, December 6, 2020

RV and Camping Equipment at Garage Sales and Yard Sales

Can you really get good camping equipment at garage and yard sales?  Isn't a yard sale just a bunch of junk other people want to get rid of?  Well, yes and no.  But remember:  One man's junk is another man's treasure.  Sometimes it is just junk but you might be surprised how often you can find nearly new or even brand new camping equipment at garage sales.  Many times people accumulate duplicates or things they don't use and will give them up for surprisingly reasonable prices at garage sales.  Because none of us ever get to go camping as much as we would like to, much of the camping equipment at garage sales is gently if at all used and can usually be had for a fraction of its original retail price.  That being said, it is your responsibility to inspect the things you buy and make sure they are in satisfactory condition.  Satisfactory doesn't have to mean perfect, just that you can make use of them as is or can reasonably make any needed repairs -- or can use parts to repair other equipment you have or may acquire.

Garage sales (including ebay, "the world's biggest garage sale") and yard sales can be excellent sources of camping and RV equipment at very good prices.  But you might have to shop around a bit if you are looking for a particular piece of equipment.  Commercial camping stores usually stock a variety of items or can order things for you but garage and yard sales are purely what you see is what you get.  Sometimes garage sales are advertised in the classified ads in your local newspaper and occasionally such ads will include a partial list of items or at least categories for sale that can sometimes help focus your efforts.  Your other option is to simply keep your eyes open for garage sales and garage sale signs when you're driving around town.  Some of the best purchases I've ever made at garage sales came from just stopping to see what they had when I passed a garage sale sign on my way someplace else.

To get the best selection at garage sales and yard sales, shop early.  Try to get there early on the first day so you can look things over before they get picked over.  The best things area likely to go first, but sometimes your wants or needs might be different than other shoppers so you might still find something you like toward the end of the sale.

To get the best price at garage sales and yard sales, shop close to closing.  As things wind down and people still have stuff they want to get rid of they may be more willing to negotiate a lower price than they were originally asking.  There are professional garage sale people who go around and buy up everything left at the end of the day and resell it in their own flea market booth or garage sale.  Of course they will want to pay the lowest possible price so even if a seller is planning to wholesale whatever is left, just about any offer you make on individual items will be higher than the wholesaler will give him.

Don't be afraid to negotiate, but be reasonable.  Many times sellers at garage sales expect buyers to bicker over prices so don't be afraid to make an offer.  However, if  you are really interested in an item, be sure your offer is realistic.  Try to have a good idea of what the item is actually worth before you come up with a price.   It won't help you get what you want if you insult or anger the seller with a ridiculously low offer.  You might consider the original retail price as a starting point.  If you have seen other similar used items you can use that in your calculations.  Sometimes you can research sold items on ebay to see what similar items are selling for.  Having a solid idea of the value of an item can help you negotiate a fair price with a seller and be sure you are getting a fair deal yourself.  One common guideline for pricing pre-owned goods is about 50% of retail.  Of course condition, popularity,  and supply and demand will also factor into the price.  Well worn goods should be pretty cheap, like-new ones might command a higher price.  Expect to pay more for rare items and items in high demand.

You can sometimes find garage sales and yard sales listed in the classified sections of local newspapers but more often than not you will just come across them during your normal travels.  You may see signs posted on power poles or maybe just see a driveway or yard full of merchandise.  Hopefully the sellers will have displayed their available merchandise in a way that you can see at least in general what they have to offer, but stopping and walking through and looking things over is the only way to really be sure you don' overlook a spectacular bargain.  You won't always find something but on average it will be worth your time to check out any sale that looks interesting.  I once found a set of 4 frame-mount manual leveling jacks for a travel trailer or small motorhome for $25 in disorganized pile of miscellaneous tools at a garage sale.  There was nothing visible from the street that indicated any kind of RV or camping accessories.

Rummage sales put on by schools, churches and other charitable organizations can also be a good place to look for bargains.  They are like huge, multi-family garage sales.  Here again you may be able to negotiate your own prices, especially if you are buying a lot of stuff or shopping close to the end of the sale.  Since all the goods at a rummage sale were donated, any price they sell for is essentially "profit" for the seller so you can often get exceptionally good deals at rummage sales.  If you don''t like the asking price you might be able to negotiate.  If so, be fair about what you are willing to pay.  Every item as a legitimate value and some will be willing to pay that.   And you are usually helping fund important community or charity services.

Thrift stores are kind of like permanent rummage sales.  Their merchandise was donated so whatever they get for it is profit, unless they have invested heavily in reconditioning.  You may be able to negotiate a better price at thrift stores but usually they have had enough experience selling similar products to know that the going price should be and will stick to the marked price.  Most of the thrift store prices I have seen make for pretty good bargains, even without any additional negotiation.  Where I did see high prices they were not amenable to negotiation.

Sometimes you might be able to leverage lower prices by purchasing a number of items.  You might make a reasonable cash offer for a bunch of stuff instead of adding up the individual prices.  Here again, the key to success is offering enough to make it attractive to the seller.  If he rejects your offer, and you don't want to spend what he is asking consider putting some of the items back to reduce your cost.  It might make him rethink taking your bulk offer rather than waiting around to see if anyone else is going to buy what you put back.   Unless something is verifiably popular sellers would rather take less than have it not sell at all.

Whenever you purchase used gear or equipment you likely do so at your own risk.   There are usually no warranties or refunds.  You can get some excellent bargains, but you may sometimes get things that don't work or require more repair than you are prepared to do.  It is a good idea to carefully inspect each item and make sure you know what, if any, defects it has and if you are willing to work with them.  The more complicated and expensive a piece of equipment is, the more you will be at risk if it has any problems.  You're usually pretty safe with standard camping items such as tents, stoves, lanterns, and sleeping bags, but your risk goes up exponentially when you move up into electronics, power tools, or motorized toys such as motorcycles, boats, and RVs.  Of course, if it doesn't work out you can always offer it for sale in your garage sale!  Someone else may have the resources to make it work for them.

Get it while you can!  If you see something you want at one of these sales you should probably snag it while you can.  Chances are if you wait, someone else will grab it, often even you leave it for a minute while continuing your shopping.  Most often when folks wait, hoping to come back and get something at a lower price, they will be disappointed to find the item(s) gone when they return.  

Make sure you have a way to get it home before you commit to buying something.  You should always consider purchases at garage sales as final.  Don't pay for a large piece of equipment if you don't have truck to haul it away.  You certainly don't want to damage your daily driver trying to strap something big and heavy to the roof or the deck lid of your compact car!  The cost of repairs -- or traffic tickets for unsafe loads -- could quickly turn your bargain into an unacceptable expense!  With online shopping and home delivery these days, you never have to risk hauling an unsafe load.  Even the cost of buying things new will likely be less than repairs.

Good luck and have fun!

Thursday, December 3, 2020

RV Vacuum Cleaners

Keeping RV floors clean is essential to aesthetics, comfort, and preventing premature wear.  Both hard surface floors and carpet are damaged when grit is allowed to accumulate and get ground in.  It cuts through wax, scratches and dulls hard surfaces, and severs carpet fibers.  Hard surfaces can be cleaned pretty well by just sweeping them with a broom or dust mop and occasional wet mopping, but carpets need a good vacuuming with an aggressive roller brush to really get the dirt out of the fibers along with annual or as needed deep shampooing.  Walking on dirty floors can be uncomfortable and even painful.

Some luxury RVs have central vacuum cleaners.  If you are fortunate enough to have one of these you don't have to worry about choosing a vacuum cleaner.  You only need to allocate storage for what is usually a very long hose and be prepared to drag it out whenever you need to clean up.  Central vacuum systems often have more than one place to attach the hose and once you are done sweeping you can empty the bag and tuck the hose away.  Most central vacuum systems rely entirely on air movement for cleaning. so you may still want to drag out your upright vacuum at home and give it thorough cleaning periodically.  They can be quite convenient for clean ups while you are traveling.  Central vacs are usually vented so that they don't recirculate dust inside the unit as can happen with stand alone systems.

Upright vacuum cleaners typically to the best job of cleaning carpets.   They have roller brushes in the vacuum head to loosen ground in dirt and brush it up so the air flow can carry it through the hose to the bag.  Uprights can be used on hard surface floors but the brushes don't reach all the way to the edge so you might still have to clean next to cabinets and baseboards with a broom or dust mop.   Most uprights have an adjustable height to accommodate long and short carpets and even hard floors.  However, large uprights are kind of heavy and bulky to carry in most RVs.

Cordless uprights are often a viable solution for an RV, especially the smaller ones designed for quick cleanups.  They are light weight and take up a smaller storage footprint.  Not having to run the generator or drag a cord around is also a nice feature.  The only downside to them are they are usually less powerful than a standard upright but they can be really good for a quick cleanup.

Canister vacuums have the advantage of easy storage.  They can often be tucked away in the space under a dinette seat or bed.  They are fairly easy to move around and the attachments allow you to easily clean under the dashboard and around the food pedals of a motorhome and inside closets, cupboards, and cabinets.  They can also be used to clean upholstered seating and remove accumulated skin cells and dust mites from mattresses.  Most canister vacuums rely entirely on the movement of air to clean floors.  They work pretty well on hard floors but don't beat the dirt out of carpets as well as an upright.  I have an older Kenmore "Blue Magic" canister vacuum I've used in several motorhomes.  In addition to being easy to store, this particular model includes a powered vacuum head that contains a roller brush so it cleans almost as well as an upright, but without the storage hassles.  So far I've been able to continue to purchase new bags for it but some day I might have to find a way to adapt bags from a newer unit.

An economical solution for many people is to use a light weight canister vacuum while on the road and give the unit a good, deep cleaning with an upright when you get home.  When using a standard canister vac, be fairly aggressive moving the head rapidly over the carpet so it loosens the trapped soil.  Some folks go slowly, expecting the suction to work better, but in my experience (and confirmed by a vacuum cleaner salesman), rapid movement actually does the better job at loosening trapped dirt and flinging it up into the vacuum head to be carried away by the fast moving air.

Not really a vacuum but a simple way to clean carpets is a carpet sweeper. The are compact and light weight so take up little of your valuable storage space.  The wheels drive a roller brush that sweeps debris out of carpets into a storage area inside the unit.  They are handy for quick cleanups in a motorhome or trailer but won't do deep cleaning.  Getting the sand or dirt up before it gets ground into the carpet can help prevent premature carpet wear.

On  a side note, in my primary career as a computer programmer I heard it said that  '''If Microsoft every built a product that DIDN'T suck, it would be a vacuum cleaner!''

Vacuuming sucks! (and for once that's actually a good thing!)

Wednesday, December 2, 2020

An Attitude of Gratitude


We just celebrated Thanksgiving and for many families there is a tradition of recounting what we are thankful for. Not only is that a nice thing to do, it can actually increase your level of happiness according to several prominent studies.

As recreational enthusiasts (campers, RVers, OHVers, boaters) we have many things to be thankful for.  All of these are good, wholesome family activities that foster family bonding and promote individual health.  We can be thankful for the level of financial success we've enjoyed that has allowed us to acquire our recreational "toys"  We can be thankful for physical, emotional, and spiritual health that allows us to pursue our chosen avocations.  We can be thankful for beautiful natural resources that give us a variety of places to go and things to do.

Feeling and expressing gratitude has many benefits.   It improves physical and psychological health, helps your sleep better, and boosts self esteem.  It also enhances empathy and reduces aggression, which in turn can strengthen and improve relationships.  There are no known downsides to having an attitude of gratitude.

Just BEING thankful is only a first step in enjoying all the benefits of gratitude.  To fully appreciate the things we're thankful for we need to express our thanks.  With that in mind, I want to thank my viewers for taking time to read and comment on this blog.  Who do you have to thank?  For those of us with religious convictions, we can thank God.  All of us can thank our significant others and our families.  We can also thank the folks who make our lifestyles possible:  dealers, suppliers, park rangers, and our communities.  One way of showing our appreciation is by giving back to our communities.  Look for ways to volunteer in your community.  My wife and I are volunteer fire fighters and EMRs but I know that isn't something everyone can or would want to do.  There are many other ways to serve your community.  To find out more do an Internet search for "volunteer opportunities near me".

 Grateful for you all!

Blog Comments and Questions

I was recently reviewing comments and discovered some unanswered questions posted to my blog.  I apologize for not responding to each one right away.  I try to review comments periodically but if you have a question you need answered, please email me at desertrat@desertrat.org. I usually check my email several times a day.  I have had some problems with my computer this last year and, more recently, we have been without Internet since early September due to the Holiday Farm fire along the McKenzie River west of our home in McKenzie Bridge, Oregon so my access has been limited.

 Thank you for your comments and your questions!