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Blog Entries posted by Roadtrekingmike

  1. Roadtrekingmike
    The bitter cold of the north keeps many RVers from using their motorhomes all year round. For many, their coaches sit in driveways, winterized and waiting for the thaw.
    I plan on taking my Class B to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula in mid-February. I’ll probably go alone as my wife doesn’t like the idea of having to forgo showers while using it in the winter. While you can use it in the winter, you have to carry bottled water. And if you use the toilet, you have to”chase” it with antifreeze.
    No doubt about it. Winter RVing in the frozen north can be quite a hassle.
    I suspect lots of RVers are like me. They’d like to use their motorhomes if their units weren’t in danger of freezing up one they put water into it.
    Leisure Travel Vans and Triple E of Canada has an answer for those who want to RV year round. They’ve just introduced the 2013 Regency GT24MB that solves the problem of winter RVing.
    Fully insulated with thermal break walls, enclosed, insulated and heated tanks and dual thermopane windows the unit has a slide, a queen-sized Murphy bed, a 35K propane furnace and a stand up enclosed shower. It is a gas powered Type C built on a F450 Ford chassis and 24 feet long.
    Price for the base Regency GT in the U.S. ranges from $119,763 – $130,193.
    Dean Corrigal, LTV’s spokesman, does a detailed walk around in the video above. If I heard him right, there’s even a solar option.
  2. Roadtrekingmike
    There’s a real battle going on out there in the RV world and it pits some powerful interests against those who resent paying for services they don’t need and only want to take advantage of the generous offers of places like Wal-Mart, Cabella’s, Cracker Barrel and other businesses that not only allow but welcome brief overnight stays by traveling RVers.
    But for more than a decade now, campground owners and their national association have quietly been working behind the scenes to convince local governments to enact anti-RV ordinances that ban overnight camping in anything but a campground.
    As a result, thousands of places around North America have passed such ordinances. And more do so everyday.
    Now before I go any further, I need to point out something. I am NOT anti-campground. Neither is Campskunk or Jim Hammill or any of the other writers on my http://roadtreking.com/ blog. I use campgrounds all the time. Jennifer and I will be in one in Cape Cod next week. We have reservations over the summer at others in Ontario, Nebraska, Oregon and will likely make more. Most of the time, our experiences have been great. But it is no secret to the RVing public that many campgrounds need a lot of work. I’ve written about this before and I will continue to do so, believing exposure is the best way to force them to clean up or go away.
    What so many of us object to are discriminatory laws and local ordinances that prohibit traveling RVers from overnighting in places like rest areas, Wal-Mart parking lots and other places. I’m not talking about setting up camp, putting out the chairs, starting a campfire. I’m talking about spending a few hours sleeping overnight before hitting the road again as we are on our way somewhere. Often, we’re on our way to a campground where we’ll stay for several days. Overnight Parking is not camping, it’s parking.
    Lots of paces welcome us. Wal-mart company policy, for examke, is to allow overnight RV parking. Sam Walton, the founder, was an RVer. But astutely, we realized that the RVers who overnighted in his lot bought groceries and supplies from his store.
    But corporate policy is trumped when a local ordinance bans overnight parking.
    As we’ve dug into this, we’ve encountered some pretty powerful players aligned against free RV overnighting and behind the anti-RV laws. The biggest is the 3,000-member National Association of RV Campgrounds (ARVC). Here’s a 2011 blog report from a site that at one point reported on a database of such places, even posting the accompanying map up above.
    “One of the stated missions of ARVC is to influence legislators to institute and/or enforce parking bans in public places where RV’s are otherwise welcome. ARVC actively urges and assists members to pressure their towns to prohibit parking at public places so that RV’ers have no choice but to stay at a nearby … campground. Such parking bans extend to temporary streetside parking in some cities and towns. Not only has this has resulted in the denial of the right of private property owners to determine who shall have the use and enjoyment of their property but it has eroded our basic freedom to choose!”
    Prodded by Jim Hammill, I was going to try and develop a listing here on Roadtreking.com of all such RV unfriendly places that prohibited overnight camping.
    Turns out, I don’t have to reinvent the wheel on this.
    There already is a resource that to help you find free or very low cost places to stay while traveling in your RV. It’s called OvernightRVParking.com and it’s a labor of love for a guy named Jim O’Briant, of Gilroy, CA, who started the site in 2008. As of today, it has a database of nearly 12,000 places around North America that can be searched, listing places that allow and prohibit overnight RV parking.
    Campskunk, whose recent post on anti-RV laws in Ontario started this whole controversy on my http://roadtreking.com/ blog, has been a user of OvernightRVParking.com for years.
    The site is a subscription service – $24.95 a year.
    Plug in a city and you’ll get a map listing where you can or where you can’t overnight free or for a very low fee. O’Briant himself tries to verify every report and there are easy ways for subscribers to add to the information. He also has individual state and province pdf files that members can download to their computers if they don’t have Internet service on the road. He doesn’t recommend printing them out, as some are over 100 pages long.
    The website is tablet and mobile device friendly, so you really don’t need a special app.
    I had a great conversation with O’Briant and he has made a nice offer to readers of this blog. If you decide to subscribe to his service, he will extend your membership from 12 months to 15 months. That works out to a pretty nice discount. To get it, when you sign up and the form asks how you heard of him, type in roadtreking.com and he will automatically extend your membership.
    O’Briant is no stranger to the overnight parking ban we’ve been writing about here recently.
    “As of about 5 years ago, the ARVC website had a page discussing their ‘model legislation’ (i.e., pre-written laws that RV Park owners could take to their local city councils) and about all the support that ARVC would give to local campground owners who were working to get these laws passed in their communities,” he told me in an email. “After this became public knowledge, that part of their website disappeared (or perhaps it moved to a ‘members only’ accessible area of their site).”
    On the ARVC site now is this description of what it offers its members:
    “Powerful legislative and regulatory advocacy programs that protect your business interests. We monitor state and national policy issues that affect our industry and take action on your behalf. These efforts ensure that all of our members have a powerful voice and strong representation on the issues that matter.”
    Other big names have been lined to the controversial anti-RV parking bans based on their support of ARVC.
    “Good Sam was barraged with questions about it, as they were also accused of promoting these laws,” said O’Briant. “Their official reply was that they don’t do it. But Good Sam is (or at that time was) the largest financial supporter of ARVC.”
    Another prominent RV industry name involved in the association’s efforts is KOA. The corporate organization seems to have taken a hands -off stance on the anti-RV parking laws but individual KOA owners have and still hold leadership roles in the group.
    I signed up for OvernightRVParking.com (I paid full price, by the way) and plan to use it Friday and Saturday night as we head to Cape Cod. We’ll be in a campground Sunday-Thursday. I’ll also use it on the way back.
    Meantime, share under comments here your experiences with RV unfriendly towns. Let’s make sure we don’t spend a dime in any of them.

    There used to be a website called rvunfriendly.com. It vanished from the net, sometime in late 2011 or early 2012. But this is the map they had that shows places with RV unfriendly laws.
  3. Roadtrekingmike
    One of the biggest controversies in the RV world these days has to do with the fine line between tax avoidance and tax evasion.
    I’m talking about the practice of setting up an LLC business in Montana to purchase a motorhome, thus avoiding sales and use tax and often stiff registration fees in the owner’s home state. Thousands of RV owners around the country do this and dozens of Montana legal firms specialize in making it happen.
    I live in a state that has very high taxes. As I am shopping around to upgrade my 2006 RV to a new model I have come face-to-face with the huge tax burden my state (Michigan) imposes. When I bought the 2006 RV in April, I paid some $5,000 in sales tax and registration fees. Gulp.
    If I trade in that unit and buy a new motorhome, Michigan will hit me again. And unlike many other states which tax only the difference between the trade-in and the new model, Michigan will tax the entire value of the sale. Unfair? Absolutely. Outrageous? Yes. Legal? Unfortunately, it is legal for a state to be a tax gouger. And I live in such a state.
    So this Montana scheme is very appealing. Essentially, it works like this: You form an LLC business in Montana. It costs you about $1,000 to have one of the Montana law firms set up your LLC and do the registration and titling paperwork and send you back the Montana license plates. Because Montana has no sale tax on an RV, your only cost is the $1,000 to set up the business that technically owns the RV, a Montana corporation, and the $150 or so the law firm charges every year to renew your registration and LLC charter.
    All this is perfectly legal in Montana. Indeed, forming LLCs and registering RVs like this is a big business out there.
    The rub comes in your home state.
    The high tax states that do impose use and sales taxes and high registration fees on RVs quickly took steps to counter the scheme by writing laws and regulations that make it very difficult to take advantage of the plan. In my state, for example, Michigan Compiled Law sections 257.215, 257.216, and 257.217 require that “a nonresident owner of a pleasure vehicle otherwise subject to registration under this act shall not operate the vehicle for a period exceeding 90 days without securing registration in this state.”
    Is there a loophole there? Some Montana law firms say there is. They say if you take the motorhome out of your home state once every three months, you’re legal. They interpret that as keeping the motorhome in your home state for 90 consecutive days, So, if you head out of state after 89 days, they claim, you’re good. When you return, you can stay another 89 days before you have to take an out state trip. Naturally, they caution the RV owner to keep detailed records that establish the motorhome’s whereabouts.
    That’s how the Montana law firms insist you can avoid high registration fees.
    The biggest bite in buying an RV in one of the high tax states like Michigan comes in the form of a use tax, or sales tax, currently 6% in Michigan. And because Michigan and other states have agreements to collect each other’s sales taxes, buying out of state alone is not the solution. As far as sales and use taxes on an RV, my home state has two provisions – one for non-residents, one for residents.
    For non-residents, which the Montana LLC that “owns” the motorhome would technically be, an exemption to the tax would be allowed provided the motorhome is “purchased by a person who is not a resident of this state at the time of purchase and is brought into this state more than 90 days after the date of purchase.” An LLC is considered a legal entity, able to buy and sell property. In other words, to avoid the Michigan taxes you would buy the RV out of state through the LLC and keep it out of state for three months. The issue here, though, is what would a court decide? If the LLC is in Montana but the owner of that LLC is in Michigan. what is the reasonable assumption here? Pretty obvious, don’t you think? The LLC in Montana is owned by a Michigan resident.
    In that case, if the property is owned by a resident, Michigan says you must pay the tax unless the motorhome “is brought into this state more than 360 days after the date of purchase.” That means buy it out of state and travel anywhere but your home state for a year.
    You can clearly see by these legal restrictions that the other states don’t take kindly to Montana’s proffered loophole to potential RV owners. Just do a Google search on Montana LLCs and you’ll see how they are trying to drum up business by touting LLCs that allow you to buy “no sales tax motorhomes” or “tax free.”
    That sort of exploitation only fuels the resolve of the high tax states to shut down the loophole.
    Thus, Michigan, Colorado, California and a number of other states are very aggressive in hunting down RVs with Montana license plates and suing the owners for taxes and penalties. Some of the RV forums claim they have set up tip-lines with rewards for people who spot RVs with Montana plates parked in storage yards or driveways for long periods of time. Others say inspectors check out RV repair facilities and look for vehicles with Montana plates.
    A very evenhanded and comprehensive review of all this can be found on the RV Dreams website,
    I need to say here that a great many RVers have taken advantage of the Montana law with no issues. For fulltimers, who are gone for very long periods from their home states, it appears to be very workable, especially if those fulltimers have established residency in a low tax state like, say, Florida.
    But for me, as I look at buying a brand new RV, I’m not going to go the Montana route.
    I admit, the benefits of saving thousands of dollars in sales and use taxes are very tempting.
    But as states scramble to shore up sinking deficits, I think we can be sure that pursuing RV owners with Montana plates is going to increase, not decrease. Even if you should be sued and won, I can guarantee the legal costs of defending yourself would far exceed what you saved on the taxes you avoided. Besides this, many insurers frown at covering an RV that is titled in Montana.
    The big reason I am not going to go the Montana route should I buy a new RV is because, I think, it borders on the unethical. It’s clearly a tax dodge. As long as I live in Michigan, I am subject to its laws. And Michigan laws demand I pay a sales tax on my RV. I know, I know, some will say the Montana LLC is the legal owner. But I am the legal owner of the LLC. That means, in effect, I own the RV with Montana plates. And I live in high taxing Michigan. I may not like those laws, but my conscience just won’t let me do something that – to me – seems questionable.
    Again, I understand that others see this differently and have and will decide otherwise. They very well may never be sued or have an issue. They may see no ethical dilemma. I don’t criticize them for their decision.
    I just know my new RV – if and when I get it – will have Michigan plates.
    The hassle of always looking over my shoulder just isn’t worth the tax savings.
    There’s got to be another way. But that will have to be the subject of another post.
  4. Roadtrekingmike
    It was 3 AM and we were deep in the woods, camped on a friend’s 200 acres of fenced and posted private property off an obscure fire trail more than two miles from the nearest paved road.
    I jolted awake. I heard a vehicle with a slightly knocking engine. bumping and scraping on the underbrush of the trail. Then I saw its headlights, slowly making its way down the trail towards us.
    Jennifer was still asleep. So was my Norweigian Elkhound, Tai. Fine watchdog he was.
    There was no reason for the other vehicle to be out there. In fact, whoever was in that vehicle was breaking the law as the property was clearly marked with “No trespassing” signs.
    What do I do? We were extremely vulnerable out there. My cell phone coverage was iffy, at best.
    I wished I had a gun.
    Think I’m paranoid? Maybe. That’s what decades of being an investigative reporter does for you. For many years, I carried a handgun pretty much everywhere I went. I worked the drug beat in the city of Detroit for many years. Twice, having a gun kept bad guys from getting to me.
    But whwn I switched to the technology beat years ago, I let my concealed carry permit expired.
    But that tense early morning in the Michigan woods this past summer got me thinking about weapons and RVing. As that incident turned out, the vehicle never made it to our spot. It eventually turned around and left. But burglars who break into summer cottages, meth addicts, marijuana growers and all sorts of other unsavory characters are just as prevalent in rural areas of the U.S. as are the bad guys who endanger urban areas.
    The whole subject of carrying a gun in an RV is a hot topic among RVers. Some of the experts I talked to say think that well over half of them do. In Canada, it’s different. Canada has very strict gun laws and few people even own, let alone carry, handguns.
    On my http://facebook.com/roadtreking page, I posed the issue to the 1,800 folks who “like” our page there and got some opinions on both sides.
    Said a Kiki: “I carry a firearm in my camper, since I am a woman who camps in remote areas alone. I have a license to carry, but only 29 states reciprocate my license. I try to avoid driving through states where legal issues could occur, but if I can’t, then I ship my gun ahead to a UPS office.”
    A reader named David wrote:
    “Used to have a Class A and missed a turn in Greensboro, NC and had to turn around in a gasoline/fast shop station. Before I could get out of there I was stopped twice by people wanting money. Because it was a Class A they thought I had money. Too bad, because of the Class A I didn’t have any money!! I will not let my wife be harmed because of a bunch of bleeding hearts!! And that’s all I have to say!!!!!”
    Jude, a Canadian, offered:
    “I’ve never been pro firearm and 40 years of living in Canada has reinforced that. However, I lived alone very far out in the country at one point where cougars and bears roam and I must admit I really understood why country folk at least want a shotgun handy. My RV is currently parked for the winter but if I do extensive traveling alone I will probably get a big dog. Legal in all states and Canada and keeps your feet warm at night to boot."
    But the fact is, in the U.S. bringing a handgun in an RV for protection is a lot more common than most people think. Most RVers don’t talk about it because the legality of doing so is dependent on where you are. Some states allow it, some recognize another state’s carry permit, some don’t. As armed RVers travel from state to state, you can be sure, though, that at some point in their journeys they are violating some state’s gun laws.
    Shotguns and rifles are a different matter in most states and usually acceptable. For Big Type A motorhomes and fifth wheels, a shotgun may be the best choice. For Type Bs, there’s often not enough storage room for a long gun.
    Is bringing a gun along a good idea? A lot of RVers believe it is better to have a firearm and not need it than to need a firearm and not have one. A lot of others think it’s not necessary or too dangerous.
    The website handgunlaw.us offers an excellent guide to the various laws. Same with the usacarry.com site. Perhaps the best resourse is put out by the National Rifle Association, the Traveler’s Guide to the Firearm Laws of the Fifty States.
    If guns are not your thing, there are other ways to protect yourself.
    Many RVers say a big, or at least a mean-sounding dog is a good deterrent. My Tai obviously isn’t the watchdog type, but others have had more success. One woman RVer I know has a tape recorder she brings along that has a recording of a mean dog barking. If she hears someone outside her RV at night, she hits play and turns up the volume. Others say the only self defense item they have is a can of bear spray or wasp spray.
    Carrying guns in RVs is a very controversial subject. But my research has convinced me it is done a lot, especially by fulltimers and those who like to boondock.
  5. Roadtrekingmike
    There are fulltime RVers and then there is Campskunk.
    Most fulltimers travel in Type A motorhomes or Fifth Wheels. They also tow a car. And though their RVs are as long as many a subdivision house, they are still a rare breed, disposing of only what they can put in storage or pack in their 36, 40 or 43 foot long RV. They’re generally celebrated by the RV community, looked up to and envied for their independence and vagabond freedom.
    But imagine doing it in a 22-foot long Class B campervan. That’s what Campskunk has been doing for the past three years. With wife, Sharon and their Ragdoll cat, “Fiona the Fearless,” they live 24-x-7, 365 days a year in their 2003 Roadtrek Type B motorhome.
    Campskunk, of course, is not his real name. But he’s known to thousands in the RV community by that moniker, which comes from part of the couple’s joint email address that blends the first part of Sharon’s maiden name with his old nickname from the days he held a high profile state government job that had him doing a lot of quality control work that made him more than his share of enemies.
    That was before he retired in 2010, let his hair grow down to his waist, mothballed his sportcoats and literally burned his ties to set off on the road, living life a day at a time in the most beautiful places he could find.
    “I wore a coat and tie everyday,” he says of his former working life. “I was burning yard trash getting ready to leave the house and begin fulltiming in late July 2010, so I just took my ties and draped them over the burning pile, one by one. It was intensely satisfying to leave that part of my life behind.”
    He does keep one tie, one sportcoat and one pair of dress slacks in his RV for funerals, weddings and special occasions. But his typical wear is a T-shirt, jeans or shorts. That’s because he is always somewhere warm. Always. It’s his hard and fast traveling rule.”I consider it operator error if we end up in a place colder than 70 degrees,” he says.

    Full time living in such a small motorhome is not nearly as difficult as it sounds, he says. “It a matter of priorities and planning, Most of us just don’t need all the stuff we have. The more stuff, the less free we are to live the way we want to.”
    Campskunk is a regular on RV forums on Facebook and Yahoo!. He’s well respected as an expert tinkerer, someone who can fix anything, build anything and modify an RV for years of use. His Chevy-based Roadtrek has 120,000 miles. He thinks he can get another ten years of use out of it and hopes to take it to Europe after several more years of traveling across the U.S.
    Money is admittedly tight. He and Sharon meticulously budget.
    “Leaving aside all the regular non-fulltiming-related expenditures like car insurance and health insurance, etc, we originally budgeted $50 a day, or $1500 a month: $500 for fuel, $500 for groceries and spending money, and $500 for lodging/campground fees,” he says. ”Since we started fulltiming, fuel costs have averaged $346 per month and our campground costs have gone down to $1,776 for the last year, or $148 a month.”
    That’s because whenever possible, he chooses to boondock, staying in free or reduced rate non-commercial campgrounds, typically in state and national forests, coastal areas or pubic land.
    “In one memorable month the summer before last, we only spent $600 – camping was free and town was only 5 miles away, so no fuel costs. And there was nothing else to spend money on. We were up at 9,800 feet near Silverton, CO,” he says.

    Campskunk has become amazingly adept at finding spectacular boondocking spots.
    “I Google around,” he says, “The national forest service’s website is very hard to find stuff on, But there’s a book of all the national forest campsites in a book put out by Coleman. Find the ranger station, stop in and talk to them about dispersed camping – that’s the best. I also keep my eyes open when driving, and have literally stumbled into many great places. Know the state laws where you travel – you can park along the pacific coastal highway anywhere There are no local ordinances or signs prohibiting it for 8 hours in California and 12 hours in Oregon. I think you can stay for longer in Washington state – nobody’s ever up there. The best way to find overnight spots when you’re just traveling through and want to overnight near the highway is http://www.overnightrvparking.com/ It costs $25 a year for a subscription but you make your money back the first campground you avoid. It has up-to-date information on 10,000 free or very cheap overnight parking spots nationwide.”
    He’s totally wired with satellite Internet and commercial TV. “Sharon insisted that if we were going to really do this, she’d have her TV,” he says. “I needed the Internet. So we have two dishes.”

    He is solar powered and has a wind turbine that also helped top off the coach batteries in his RV. He did it all himself thanks to skills he honed in the 70′s when he worked as an automotive mechanic befofe heading back to school for the specialized education that got him his government job.
    There are unique challenges to fulltime RV living, he admits.
    “Challenges are anything that you can’t do electronically – get a prescription filled, get your new credit cards when the old ones expire, getting your new insurance cards, etc. We now have east and west coast dentists. The other doctor stuff is harder- we had to go to Mexico once to get one prescription filled when the logistics of getting it filled by regular means failed. There’s no ‘see you in three months’ when you’re a fulltimer. One really annoying thing is going into a different grocery store every week – you never learn where they put things, and the next place is always different.”
    Campskunk turned 60 last fall. He travels about 15,000 miles each year, making non-rushed loops around the country.
    Fulltime RVing is not for everyone, he is quick to point out. But it is doable. His best advice?
    “Just get out there and do it. You’ll get better at it after a year or two. We are still learning as we go. We’re poor but happy.”
  6. Roadtrekingmike
    It has happened again. This time in Alabama at a campground near the Talladega Speedway. Craig Franklin Morgan, 46, of Murfreesboro, Tenn., died from carbon monoxide poisoning. Morgan and his wife, Jami Allison Morgan, 38, were discovered unresponsive by friends who went into their RV at the South Campground outside the track.
    Jami Morgan was unconscious and was airlifted to a nearby Hospital, where she remained in critical condition and unconscious Monday morning.
    Police said the carbon monoxide apparently leaked from the exhaust system of the family’s RV.
    Talladega County Sheriff Jimmy Kilgore told myfoxal.com that the couple’s RV had a broken exhaust pipe on its generator, which ran all night Friday. When the Morgans didn’t come out Saturday morning, friends went looking for them.
    Carbon Monoxide is an invisible, odorless, and deadly gas, produced by the partial combustion of solid, liquid and gaseous fuels. Carbon monoxide is the number one cause of poisoning deaths each year.
    Almost all of today’s RVs come with carbon monoxide monitors. But they can, and do malfunction. Thus, as a matter of routine, you should test the carbon monoxide detector every time you use the RV If they have batteries, replace them at least once a year, twice if the unit is exposed to extreme cold. A good tip is to change the batteries when when you change clocks for daylight savings time.
    The sad thing is that many deaths occur when the victim is asleep. If their detection monitor is not working, or if they don’t have one, they just stop breathing.
    There are symptoms that are noticeable when awake. They are similar to the flu, but without a fever. They also may include.
    Muscular twitching
    Intense headache
    Throbbing in the temples
    Weakness and sleepiness
    Inability to think coherently

    Here is some more advice specific to RVs, as suggested by the website Carbon Monoxide Kills:
    Inspect your RV’s chassis and generator exhaust system regularly, at least before each outing and after bottoming out or any other incident that could cause damage.

    Inspect the RV for openings in the floor or sidewalls. If you locate a hole, seal it with a silicone adhesive or have it repaired before using your generator again.

    Inspect windows, door seals, and weather strips to ensure that they are sealing properly.

    Yellow flames in propane-burning appliances such as coach heaters, stoves, ovens, and water heaters usually indicate a lack of oxygen. Determine the cause of this condition and correct it immediately.

    If applicable, have your built-in vacuum cleaner checked to make sure it does not exhaust under the underside of your RV. Have the system changed if it does.

    Do not operate your generator if the exhaust system is damaged in any way or if an unusual noise is present.

    Park your RV so that the exhaust may easily dissipate away from the vehicle. Do not park next to high grass or weeds, snowbanks, buildings, or other obstructions that might prevent exhaust gases from dissipating as they should.

    Keep in mind that shifting winds may cause exhaust to blow away from the coach one moment and under the coach the next.

    When stopping for long periods of time, be aware of other vehicles around you, such as tractor-trailers at rest stops, that may have their engines and refrigerators running.

    Do not sleep with the generator operating.

    Leave a roof vent open anytime the generator is running, even during the winter.

    If you do not feel well, do not be fooled into thinking that it is because you have been driving too long, you ate too much, or you are suffering from motion sickness. Shut off the generator and step outside for some fresh air just to be sure.

  7. Roadtrekingmike
    The Florida Caverns State Park is one of those perfect half-a-day side trips, offering a guided tour of a fascinating geologic wonder, some nice hikes and an opportunity to kayak and explore a wilderness river that offers up a blue hole as a bonus.
    And at the end of the exploring, there’s a nice campground available, too, if you’re in need of a place to overnight.
    Located near the town of Marianna in Florida’s panhandle just off I-10, the underground tour offers inspiring vews of limestone stalactites, stalagmites, soda straws, flowstones and draperies.
    Formed about 38 million years ago when sea levels were much higher and the southeastern coastal plain of the United States was submerged. Shells, coral and sediments gradually accumulated on the sea floor. As sea levels fell, these materials hardened into limestone. During the last million years, acidic groundwater dissolved crevices just below the surface creating cave passages large enough to walk through.
    You can still see some of those fossilized shells, as well as fish skeletons embedded in the limestone throughout the subterranean system . On the ceiling of one of the underground rooms our guide used his flashlight to show off what he says is an ancient shark’s tooth.
    The tour lasts about 45 minutes and reminded us a lot of the Mammoth Cave National Park in Kentucky. Developed in 1935 during the height of the depression by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) and the Works Projects Administration. Both groups emerged from President Roosevelt’s New Deal, established in 1933 to provide jobs to men during the Great Depression.
    Using not much more than pickaxes, shovels, wheelbarrows and a flatbed pickup truck, it took nearly a decade to carve out an underground path that wanders between “rooms” of the caverns. Most of the tunnels and caverns are about 25 feet beneath the surface, Subdued lighting runs throughout the system and, like any good cave tour, there will come a moment when the guide will turn off all lighting to show how totally dark it is underground.
    Although the tour is not strenuous, there are places where the passages are very narrow and low, meaning you need to be flexible enough to be able to duck down and walk under spots that are no higher than four feet or so.
    A welcome bonus in visiting the caverns during the hot and steamy Florida summer is the constant year-round temperature of 65 degrees in the caverns.
    Hiking trails run throughout the 1,319-acre park and kayaks can be rented to paddle the Chipola River, which has a deep blue spring – named the Jackson Blue Spring to differentiate between the Florida’s Blue Springs State Park near Orlando – flows at an average rate of 76 million gallons of water a day. With five other smaller springs, it feeds Merritts Mill Pond, a major scenic and recreation area.
    Click the image to enlarge:

    You enter the caverns through a door that takes you 25 feet beneath the surface.

    Some of the rooms are quite large.

    A statue out front honors the nearly 10 years it took for CCC workers to excavate the path through the caverns.

    They call this the “Wedding Cake.”

    It requires you to stoop to navigate through some of the spots.

    A ranger explains how caverns and caves are made.

    More beautiful formations
  8. Roadtrekingmike
    No matter what kind of RV we have, one thing that we are all interested in is the weather. Nothing affects traveling more. Across North America, the cold weather is coming fast and that means snow and ice and dicey weather conditions. Thanks to apps, tablets and the Web, you never again need to wonder what its going to be like out there.
    I’m always installing and uninstalling weather apps. I’ve tried dozens of them and I’m sure I’ll try dozens more in the months ahead. But for now, here’s a roundup of my favorite weather apps.
    When bad weather threatens we want to know when and where it will start. And that’s where the new Forecast.io website comes in. It accesses the radar data available from the U.S. government, crunches and analyzes it all and then predicts rainfall and snow for your exact area by the hour and lays it out on a very elegant website. You can get global, regional and local views with just a mouseclick. The tools that the website uses to compile the reports and predictions then are spun off into two apps for smartphones and tablets, one for the Apple platform, the other for Andoid devices. They, too are, pretty slick.
    The iPhone app is called Dark Sky. It costs $3.99.
    The Andoid app is Arcus Weather. Its free right now, though they ask for a donation.
    Here are some other weather apps I use:
    When we’re setting out on an RV trip, I really like the Road Trip Weather App for the iPhone. It costs $1.99 but is very handy. It provides a personalized weather forecast for your drive based on WHERE you will be and WHEN you will be there. Enter your route & departure time and weather data populates on the map, showing potentially hazardous conditions.
    If you want to know everything there is to know about the weather, WeatherBug is the what you want. When you launch the app, it immediately displays current local weather, including temperature, dew point, humidity, sunrise, sunset, wind, pressure and any active weather alerts for the area. This is good as you are traveling as it always updates your current weather. A toolbar along the top lets you switch from the current forecast to a more detailed forecast, hourly forecast, or 7-day forecast. A toolbar along the bottom lets you access weather radar, live webcams in your area, lightning strike information and the pollen count.
    The WeatherBug app has a great radar link but sometimes we want just radar and as much of it as we can get. For Android users, I like RadarNow!. It gives directly to instant radar from your current position.
    For the iPad and iPhone, try the MyRadar app.
    There are no shortage of weather apps. Those are my favorites.
  9. Roadtrekingmike
    "How lucky I am to have known someone who was so hard to say goodbye to.” – Anonymous
    I write this with tears steaming down my face. Our noble friend and companion, Tai, has crossed the Rainbow Bridge – that sappy, mythical but nevertheless comforting place where much-loved pets go to await their masters. He would have been 12 this December.
    I debated whether I should do a blog post about this. But Tai was so well known by the Roadtreking community that he was a celebrity in and of himself, often being recognized as we camped across North America. People would come up to meet him and get that awesome Elkhound wag of the tail in return. He even got regular fan mail.
    So it’s fitting that I tell the Roadtreking community.
    We first learned that Tai had serious health issues about two weeks ago when he was found panting and having great difficulty breathing one morning. Rushed to an emergency vet clinic, a huge tumor was found around his aortic valve. It was inoperable. His heart sac was filling with blood and he was very near death. The fluid was drained, the tumor measured and a terminal diagnosis was given.
    We haven’t shared that publicly but our hope was for a few more months. That wasn’t to be. He began having seizures last night and, though he seemed to rally, they continued today. It was obvious his heart sac was again filling up. Tai took his last ride in the Roadtrek about 1:50 pm today (July 23, 2015). Jennifer and I were both by his side as he peacefully drifted off.
    Now, we are in a house that seems so empty.
    I drove home in the Roadtrek without him, a few tufts of his thick beautiful grey and black coat on the floor still between the two front seats where he loved to sit and be petted as we drove across the country. Unashamedly, I admit to crying the whole way home. His spirit and our Roadtreking lifestyle are so intertwined it’s absolutely gut-wrenching to realize he wont be with us anymore.
    To those who never had a dog, I’m sure all this grief seems misplaced. But to those who have been blessed to have a dog, you know how we feel.
    Tai loved Roadtreking. When we were home, he’d sit next to it in the driveway, anxiously awaiting the next adventure.
    And adventure he had. I have hundreds of photos of him. Hiking riverbanks and forests, mountain tops and canyons, beaches and meadows. He barked at bison, sniffed bears, chased elk and deer, mixed it up with raccoons, got sprayed by a skunk and made friends across the country.
    He had a good, full life. But now ours is so empty.
    Like our house. Like the Roadtrek.
    This will pass. Tai was our third dog, all of them Elkhounds. We’ve been through this before.
    Some say the only way to get over the loss of a dog is to get a new one. That may happen. But not for a while. That new one wouldn’t be Tai.

    I thought you should know.
    I want to end this with another quote, sent me by a reader:
    “It came to me that every time I lose a dog they take a piece of my heart with them.
    And every new dog who comes into my life gifts me with a piece of their heart.
    If I live long enough, all the components of my heart will be dog,
    and I will become as generous and loving as they are.”
    – Anonymous
  10. Roadtrekingmike
    One of the most confusing aspects of buying an RV is the vast differences paid in sales tax and various licensing fees.
    And many states do what is called “double dipping,” charging full sales tax when you buy the vehicle, and then again charging you tax on the full purchase price of a new one when you you trade it in, ignoring the trade-in price.
    It doesn’t take a genius to know that it is patently unfair.
    In Michigan at least, that double dip tax is about to go away. State lawmakers are getting ready to send a big change in vehicle taxes to Governor Rick Snyder’s desk. The bills would cut the amount of sales tax people pay on cars, boats and recreational vehicles when they trade in another.
    Right now, the full purchase price is taxed. The legislation would gradually change that to eliminate the value of the trade-in from the full purchase price for taxes.
    But the taxing differences and inequities still abound, state-to-state.
    Montana, for example, is a state with no sales tax. And Montana law allows for a Montana corporation to register vehicles in the state. Thus, a whole cottage industry has built up that allows RV owners to avoid sales and use tax and often stiff registration fees in the owner’s home state. Thousands of RV owners around the country do this and dozens of Montana legal firms specialize in making it happen.
    Some states have sales taxes, others don’t. So what if you live in a state that does have an RV sales tax, but buy in one that doesn’t? That’s called a cross-state sale. And each state has different rules about cross-state sales. Sales on the trade-in differences also vary from place to place. Some states charge on the difference between the trade-in value and the original purchase price. Some on the full trade-in.
    But what if you full-time? At least a million RVers do full-time. But for taxation purposes, everyone has to have a legal domicile. But where? Many RVers choose a state with no income taxes and low taxes and fees on licensing and registration like South Dakota. Alas, that state has recently stated scrutinizing those who are RV full-timers – they call them “nomads” – but the process is still available. Here’s a site with some detailed info.
    All this is to say that given the cost of today’s RVs and the wide discrepancies on taxation and licensing fees, there’s a lot to consider when investing in an RV and the RV lifestyle.
    I’d love to hear how you have handled the domicile, tax and fee issues in your RVing life. Use comments below.

  11. Roadtrekingmike
    Type Bs and Cs, the smaller versions of the rapidly growing motorhome market, are leading the way in the dramatic turnaround in the RV industry thanks to the ever growing number of Baby Boomer retirees used to active, mobile lifestyles.
    I’ve spent much of the past week here at the Recreational Vehicle Industry Association’s annual trade show in Louisville, Ky., talking to leading recreational vehicle industry experts, trade association officials, manufacturers and dealers and all agreed that sales for 2014 were going to continue spiking up. Jim Hammill, president of Roadtrek Motorhomes, North America’s best-selling Type B maker, said he is projecting 20% growth next year.
    Dean Corrigal, from Type B and B-plus maker Leisure Travel Vans, showed me their latest models and said his company was also seeing a huge growth in sales as well, also attributing it to the growing number of Baby Boomer retirees and the better fuel economy and the ease in driving offered by small motorhomes.
    Even Airstream, which targets only the high income luxury Type B market, said demand for B’s had never been higher.

    The above video showcases why Type B and C RVs are so hot and gives you a look at some of the latest features.
    The RVIA trade show in Louisville ends Thursday.

    Leisure Travel Van’s Type B-Plus Unity 2B
  12. Roadtrekingmike
    Yellowstone National Park is America’s first national park, a national treasure and a must visit for every RVer. A place so big it lies in part of two states, Montana and Wyoming.
    We just finished our second trip to Yellowstone in less than a year. I was warned before the first that the place will get in your blood and you will keep coming back, again and again.
    So if you haven’t been there yet, I pass along the same warning.
    It’s that spectacular for those who love the wilderness and getting up close and very personal with it.
    We did lots of hiking.
    There are 12 campgrounds in Yellowstone. They all fill up nightly. Only five - Bridge Bay, Canyon, Fishing Bridge RV Park, Grant Village, and Madison – take reservations. Those are the sites with hookups. They’re okay, but tend to be very crowded. The other seven - Indian Creek, Lewis Lake, Mammoth, Norris, Pebble Creek, Slough Creek, and Tower Fall – are first come, first serve and have fewer amenities. People tend to line up at 8 AM during the season in hopes of getting a spot. Most are filled by 11 a.m.
    Our first night there, we found no room at any of the campgrounds. So we went a few miles outside the northeaste gate and found a beautifully secluded spot at the Fox Creek Campground in the Shoshone National Forest. Then we reentered the park early in the morning and got a spot at Pebble Creek, which has no hookups or plugins, vault toilets and no showers.
    No problem. In our Roadtrek eTrek with solar power, we had our own power and running water.
    We love Pebble Creek. Also Slough Creek, another no frills camping spot few miles down the road. Here’s a hint for those of you on the northeastern part of the park: You can get cell phone coverage at Slough Creek. Take the two-and-a-half-mile washboard road leading to the campground down a few hundred yards to the first pullout and, voila, for some strange reason, the signals make their way around and through the mountains and you can get a great three-bar Verizon signal. I don’t know about AT&T and other providers.
    We love this northeast section of the park because it is home to the Lamar Valley, a popular wolf and grizzly watching area.
    We saw no wolves this trip but did spot several grizzly females with cubs, as well as elk,antelope, mule deer, coyotes, black bear and of course, lots of bison. We had bison wandering through the campground all day and a curious black bear came very close. A lone bull moose also traipsed through the campground one morning.
    The folks who camped at Pebble Creek were also interesting. One guy, Bill, spends from April through August and loves to find and watch grizzlies. Debi Dixon is a professional photographer and a fulltime RVer. She stores a 22-foot travel trailer in nearby Sheridan, MT and is spending the summer at Pebble Creek in a tent. Check out her stunning wildlife photos at flickr.com/photos/seasideshooter. There were two wolf researchers from the University of Washington also tenting at Pebble Creek.
    Every morning, at first light, usually around 5 or 5:30, you’d hear this group head out, separately, in search of wildlife. They’d usually not return after dark.
    What do we do at Yellowstone?
    We also watched animals. But we also hiked, a lot. Every day we did at least two trails. We sat in meadows and breathed clean air. We took afternoon naps. Gazed at the mountains and used a pair of binoculars to spot the big horn sheep. We explored the thermal areas that are everywhere, like at Old Faithful.
    The sad thing for most of Yellowstone’s visitors is people rarely get off the loop roads that circle the park. Some don’t even get out of their cars. With three million visitors a year, those roads can get pretty congested, especially with critter jams, the traffic tie-ups that frequently occur when animals are on the road or along its edges. But Yellowstone encompasses 2.2 million acres, and the loop road is just a tiny part of the park. Yellowstone is one of America’s premier wilderness areas. Most of the park is backcountry and managed as wilderness. Over 1,100 miles of trails are available for hiking.
    That’s where we like to be.
    We loved every moment of it and can’t wait to return.
    Yellowstone really does get in your blood.
    The above video gives you a idea. Come along with us ....
  13. Roadtrekingmike
    One of the most asked questions Jennifer and I receive from readers deals with how we sleep in our Roadtrek eTrek Class B motorthome. Our answer is … great!
    Seriously, we both agree we sleep better in the Roadtrek than we do in our king-sized Sleep Number bed at home.
    And that has to do with that we sleep on and in while camping out in the Roadtrek.
    In this edition of How We Roll in our RV, we answer two reader questions about where we store our bedding.

    We make the eTrek sofa up into a king sized bed at night and use a four inch Wamsutta Fresh and Cool mattress topper that we picked up last year at a Bed Bath & Beyond store while traveling through South Dakota. Jennifer shows how we store in in the overhead cabinet at the rear of the bed. It takes up every inch of space up there but it fits in just fine.
    On top of the topper, we use an RV Superbag. It’s a king sized bag with a summer and winter side and very comfortable sheets Velcroed inside. I show how we roll it up and put in in the armoire that we have installed in place of the seat that normally is behind the driver. Here’s a link to the RV Superbag video review Jennifer did last year.
    Yes, I know those bags are expensive. But we really like it, so much that we also invested in two individual RV Superbags.
    I use a single when I travel alone or bring a grandkid or buddy with me on a hunting or fishing trip.
    Got a questions you’d like us to answer? Send an e-mail to openmike@fmca.com.
  14. Roadtrekingmike
    Inevitably, if you do a lot of wilderness camping in your RV, you’re going to find yourself in bear country. It’s a sad fact of life that there are camping fatalities and injuries every year because of bear attacks and, during peak season, it's rare that at least one bear every week is not put down by game officials somewhere in North America because it strayed into a campground, usually because of irresponsible humans who left food out.
    When we were in Yellowstone National Park this summer, that’s what happened to a black bear drawn to a campsite by watermelon.
    If you travel with dogs, there can be other problems. Dogs antagonize bears, especially mother bears with cubs. You need to have your dog on a leash all the time its outside while you are in bear country.
    But despite the headlines and all the warning signs, bear incidents are really rare and hundreds of thousands of campers and RVers enjoy wilderness camping deep in bear country without even seeing a bear. But that doesn’t mean precautions should not be taken.
    Essentially, the bears most RVers will be near while wilderness camping are black bears and grizzlies. In Alaska and parts of far northern Canada, there are brown bears and, way north, polar bears. All bears must be considered dangerous. They are very powerful animals.
    Black bears are most common. Grizzlies will be found in the west and northwest. Many of our western national parks have both. We’ve encountered black bears in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, Tennessee, Montana and Wyoming. We’ve seen grizzlies in Wyoming and Montana.
    We have never had an incident. But we take the rules very seriously.
    When you camp in bear country, you will almost always see campground signs advising you that bears are in the area. Most national and state forest campgrounds also provide bear proof steel boxes for food storage. Same with garbage disposal – there’s usually bear proof containers. If your are boondocking in true wilderness or backcountry, you need to be extra careful in storing food and trash.
    On our recent trip to Yellowstone, we had a black bear roaming about a meadow a hundred feet from where we were camped, Park workers were quick to arrive and began their normal hazing techniques, hollering and shouting and making a lot of noise to get the bear to move off. Wildlife managers told me they were worried the bear, who had been around for a couple of weeks, was becoming “habituated,” a term used used for a bear that had gotten used to being around people and does not respond to the presence of humans—they essentially ignore people but come closer and closer.
    This, the hazing, called “aversive conditioning,” is aimed at making it uncomfortable for the bear to get too close to people. Habituated bears are more likely to learn that human structures, automobiles, campsites, and populated areas are possible sources of food, thereby becoming “food conditioned.” Getting into improperly stored human “food” (trash, etc) even just once can start a bear down this path.
    Hazing makes a lot of noise. Sometimes, rangers will fire “poppers,” essentially loud firecrackers. They also can shoot the bear with “thumpers,” little beanbags that do no harm to an animal except startle them. Here’s a video shot at Yellowstone when a grizzly got too close to a group of people. You’ll hear the rangers tell everyone to get in their cars. Then they start yelling and firing poppers. The ‘griz ignored all of that. But the beanbag thumpers sent bim running.
    As explained by the Sierra Club, a bear that has grown accustomed to human food may become aggressive toward people. If aversive conditioning techniques don’t work to break this cycle, and a bear continues to demonstrate aggressive behavior, resource managers are left no choice but to euthanize the bear. This cycle invariably begins with the unfortunate bear getting food from a careless or unknowing person.
    We don’t want to see bears get put down. And we don’t want bears to put people in danger. From the National Parks Service and the Colorado Parks and Wildlife department, I’ve compiled the following rules and suggestions for RVing in bear country.
    So here are the rules for camping in bear country:
    Never store food in or near your RV. After cooking and eating put all food inside.
    Keep the area clean. Be sure to wash dishes, dispose of garbage, and wipe down tables.
    Keep all items with strong odors (ie, toothpaste, bug repellent, soap, etc.) inside the RV and out of reach of bears or the bear-proof containers avialble at most campsites in bear country.
    Keep your dog on a leash or rope at all times. Never leave your dog outside at night while you sleep in the RV
    Close windows and lock your vehicle and RV when you leave your camp site and at night before you go to sleep.
    If a bear does come near your campsite and no rangers are around, get in your RV or vehicle, Yell at the bear. Honk the horn. Play loud music, bang pots and pans. Do not try to approach it.
    If you will be spending time in bear country, get a can of bear spray. Bear spray is a super-concentrated, highly irritating pepper spray proven to be more effective than firearms at deterring bears.

    Most bear encounters do not happen in campgrounds. They happen in the backcountry while people are hiking.
    You should never hike alone. Two or three people are best.
    Bears will usually move out of the way if they hear people approaching, so make noise. Most bells are not enough. Calling out and clapping hands loudly at regular intervals are better ways to make your presence known. Hiking quietly endangers you, the bear, and other hikers. A bear constantly surprised by quiet hikers may become habituated to close human contact and less likely to avoid people. This sets up a dangerous situation for both visitors and bears.
    General hiking precautions in bear country:
    Tracks, bear scat, and shredded logs are all signs you’re in bear country.
    Be alert at all times, and leave your headphones at home. Be extra cautious at dawn and dusk, when the wind is in your face, visibility is limited or you’re walking by a noisy stream. A firm clap or quick shout warns bears that humans are in the area.
    In late summer and fall, bears need to forage up to 20 hours a day, so avoid trails that go through berry patches, oak brush and other natural food sources.
    Keep dogs leashed; explor­ing canines can surprise a bear. Your dog could be injured, or come run­ning back to you with an irritated bear on its heels. Many National and State Parls prohibit dogs i=on hiking trails.
    Keep chil­dren between adults, and teach them what to do if they see a bear. Don’t let them run ahead or fall behind.
    Double bag food, and never leave any trash or leftovers behind. Finding treats teaches bears to as­sociate trails with food.
    Never approach bears or offer food. If you’re lucky enough to see a bear, watch from a safe distance and enjoy this very special experience. If your presence causes the bear to look up or change its behavior in any way, you’re too close.

    If you do encounter a bear:
    Stand still, stay calm and quietly back away leave. Do not make aggressive eye contact. Talk in a normal tone of voice. Be sure the bear has an escape route.
    Never run or climb a tree.
    If you see cubs, their mother is usually close by. Leave the area immediately.
    If a bear stands up, it is just trying to identify what you are by getting a better look and smell.
    Wave your arms slowly overhead and talk calmly. If the bear huffs, pops it jaws or stomps a paw, it wants you to give it space.
    Step off the trail to the downhill side, keep looking at the bear and slowly back away until the bear is out of sight.

    If the bear approaches:
    A bear knowingly approaching a person could be a food-conditioned bear looking for a handout or, very rarely, an aggressive bear. Stand your ground. Yell or throw small rocks in the direction of the bear.
    Get out your bear spray and use it when the bear is about 40 feet away.
    If you’re attacked, don’t play dead. Fight back with anything available. People have successfully defended them­selves with pen knives, trekking poles, and even bare hands.

  15. Roadtrekingmike
    Seven minutes is all it took for our RV to be burglarized, to lose $12,000 and counting worth of equipment – just about everything of value inside the motorhome except the dog.
    Yes, just seven minutes.
    That’s all it took for the bad guys to come into our space, take our stuff.
    We know it was only seven minutes, too, from our dash cam recording most of it.
    But as Jennifer points out, what they physically took are only things. The stuff is just that – stuff.
    And, yes, it isn’t fun, but it is life and when things like this happen, you have two choices: bury your head in the sand or learn from it and move on.
    So we move on.
    We WILL continue with our trip out west along Route 66. We WILL continue with our Roadtreking podcasts.
    First Things First: Roadtreking RV Burglarized in Illinois
    It happened just across the Mississippi River – from St. Louis in Collinsville, Ill. – when we stopped for dinner about 6:15 p.m. at a restaurant in a busy shopping mall off Interstate-55. It was a pretty upscale mall too, with lots of well known stores and restaurants and traffic.
    While we were inside eating, at least two thieves somehow gained entry to our Roadtrek CS Adventurous XL and, in about seven minutes took more than $12,000 worth of electronic gear from our rig – including all of the video and still cameras and most of the mobile podcasting studio gear I had taken for the trip.
    Police blamed gangs from nearby East St. Louis. A guy towing a U-Haul who also stopped for dinner and parked a few spaces down was also hit. They smashed a window out to gain entry to his vehicle and also took a computer.
    It turns out, though, that my dash cam may have captured an image of one of the thieves who looked to be casing our RV. A “person of interest” can be clearly seen on the dash cam peering in the front.
    Seconds before he walked out of sight, someone entered from the side and was joined by an accomplice. I’ve given the evidence over to police. They would like to identify and talk to the person seen here.

    The video showed this man walking back and forth, peering inside and then disappearing off to the left, seconds after someone entered the vehicle from that direction. Under his left arm he is carrying what appears to be a hammer or some sort of burglary tool.
    Alas, because the dash cam pointed outward, we did not get an image of the thieves who were inside. The dash cam did record some of their audio. They can be heard talking nicely to Tai, who, knowing him, was probably delighted by the company.
    The inside was totally ransacked. Every cupboard was opened and all the contents strewn about. You can hear the thieves delighting over the laptops. “What’s this,” one of them asked, followed by the sounds of things falling to the floor.
    I can’t begin to describe how incredibly sad it is to hear these lowlifes talking so casually about the things they were finding and stealing. They laughed and sounded totally at ease. In Jennifer’s tote bag were some personal items, things of absolutely no value or meaning to the thieves, but things that were meaningful to her.
    Both of our laptops, an iPad, chargers, my professional video camera, my high end Canon 5D Mark III DSLR camera with a memory card full of Route 66 photos, my multichannel podcast mixing board, a Rand McNally GPS, a portable printer and all sorts of cables and stuff like a backpack, Jennifer’s tote bag and even my shower soap, shampoo and deodorant were taken.
    When we came back out from the restaurant about 7:03 PM, the thieves were gone and Tai looked stressed. He knew stuff wasn’t supposed to be tossed all over the RV. Fortunately, the thieves did not hurt him. As I mentioned, they can be heard talking soothingly to him as they stole our stuff.
    After police took our report, I went to a nearby Best Buy and bought a replacement computer. I stayed up all night, first configuring it and then, account by account, changing passwords on my email accounts, my credit card companies, my bank and other personally sensitive information. Then I did it all for Jennifer. Then we called our accountant and bank to alert them to be on the alert for suspicious activity.
    Fortunately, all my computer info was encrypted and backed up with strong security measures. But it’s better to take no chances, hence an all-nighter. I am too old to pull an all-nighter.
    I also am glad I have a Mac. I used Apple’s”Find My Mac” service to first see if I could locate the stolen laptop. It didn’t show but I clicked the “notify me if found” box, which, as soon as it goes online, will send me a map of its location. I also send an erase command which will wipe the had disk and lock the machine so it can not be used. This is a great service and well worth the cost of buying Apple.
    Tips: Lessons Learned from the Roadtreking RV Break-In
    We suspect that thieves are using technology to transmit radio signals that mimic the unlock signals transmitted by key fobs.
    If so, that would explain why there was no sign of forced entry. Because as we left the vehicle, as normal, Jennifer asked if I had locked it. I distinctly remember walking to the side passenger window, pushing the lock button on the key fob, and seeing and hearing the inside locks depress.
    Almost as frustrating an experience of being robbed is the runaround I’m now getting from my insurance carrier. The claims investigator who called me back said because there was no forced entry evidence, they probably won’t pay.
    The company I used specializes in insuring recreational vehicles. But if they deny my claim, they are going to literally have a very unhappy camper on their case.
    The rationale suggested by the claims agent is simply unacceptable. These thieves illegally entered our home. The RV is our home. They violated that home and stole from us. Now, the insurance agency is hinting it will do the same thing by not paying.
    We’ll see what happens as the claim works its way up, but I urge all of you to carefully check your policies.
    Inventory the items you take with you and make sure you are adequately covered by a reputable agency.
  16. Roadtrekingmike
    We RVers love to share modifications we’ve done to our vehicles to make they fit our personal style. So it is with delight that a share a series of photos that show some very unique customizations done by blog reader Alan Shafer from Rockford, Mich., to his Roadtrek 2006 RS Adventurous.
    His photos are included. Here is his account:
    As you can see by the pics, it had four captain’s chairs. I removed the rear chairs and started from there. I have detailed pics of the whole process. The good thing is that I did not drill any new holes in the existing cabinets, etc. when doing the cabinets. I used all existing holes. The cabinets are made of 1×2 and 1×3 solid maple for the rails and stiles. The sides and doors are recessed panels made with maple veneer 1/4″ plywood. There was no stain used. They were finished with satin finish polyurathane. (Minwax)
    I was able to get a towel bar and electrical outlet on the side of the cabinet on the driver’s side. (Again, no new holes made in the existing cabinetry.) I also still have access to the storage area under where the seat on the driver’s side was located. The reason for not wanting to not make any new holes was that if we should decide to sell this Roadtrek down the line, I wanted to be able to put everything back to original in case the new buyer would want the van the original way it was. This can be accomplished in less that two hours. . . . maybe less.
    As for the screens, I made a frame for the screen which is mounted above the cabinet on the passenger side to cover that part of the door area. The rest is a magnetic closing screen (Magna Screen) that was purchased at Menards. The sides are held in place with self-adhesive and sew on velcro. The top is held in place by a dowel rod used as a curtain rod. To add some weight to the bottom of the panels, I did use lead weighted rope purchased at local fabric stores. (Field’s Fabrics) (Joann’s Fabrics)
    For the rear doors, I purchased two additional Magna Screens. This gave me four panels. I removed the magnets and sewed the panels together where the magnets were originally located. This gave me two panels. Then with self-adhesive and sew on velcro, I finished the project. I did loosen (or remove) some of the interior trim panels so the velcro along the sides would be hidden and also have the panels over the velcro to hold better.
    For all of the screens, I did have to sew a pocket at the top to go over the “curtain rods”. I also did have to shorten all of the panels and sew on a hem made from bias tape from the local fabric store.
  17. Roadtrekingmike
    One of the most discussed how-to threads on the blog and our Facebook Group has to do with the latches and hinges used on the cabinets on new Roadtrek Sprinter models like the RS Adventurous, the eTrek and the CS Adventurous. The same push button latches are on some of the recent Chevy-based models like the 40th Anniversary Special. They are sold by a Montreal-based speciality hardware import firm called Richelieu.
    The issue is, depending on a lot of load and environmental factors, the latches and the cabinets can get stuck and, too often, as owners try to get them open, they pull too hard the wrong way and break the mechanism.
    Been there done that.
    Several times.

    While I was recently visiting the Roadtrek factory in Kitchener, I ran into my friend and Roadtreking Reporter Campskunk, who also happened to be at the factory that day. We got to talking, the subject of hinges came out and so we marched out to the parking lot and my eTrek to do the above video.
    If you have a different hinge and locking mechanism, the same general principles should apply, though, obviously, what you adjust and where it is may be different than it was on my eTrek.
    But the thing to remember is the locking mechanisms and hinges do need to be adjusted from time to time because of the load you put on the cabinet, humidity and the way the vehicle is parked, such as on an angle.
    Adjusting them is a pretty simple procedure, as you can see, easily done with a small Phillips head screwdriver. The adjust point if on the door to cabinet attachment hinge. The screw you turn is the one closest to the door. You can see the door rise or lower depending on the direction you turn.
    Also, to keep those latches from breaking, don’t just yank or force those stuck cabinets open. As you see in the video, we just did some gentle pushing from the bottom to get one of my stuck cabinets open.
    Hope this little video helps.
  18. Roadtrekingmike
    Yuck. Nothing tastes worse that the first sip of water through a just de-winterized RV’s plumbing system on the first trip of the year. That’s why it is important to sanitize that fresh water tank. And for that, there are lots of different approaches.
    Everybody seems to have their favorite way of sanitizing the fresh water system.
    Roadtrek Motorhomes has a suggested way, though. Here it is, lifted from the instruction manual for the eTrek we use. There are similar instructions for all Roadtrek models. Find yours by clicking to roadtrek.com/manuals.aspx and then reading the section on de-winterizing.
    Some people will disagree with this and think it overkill. Others will say it’s not enough. But for me, this is what I plan to do.
    Note: If you follow this completely, it takes a lot of time, ideally a couple of days at least. And this is for the fresh water system. Your hot water system also needs to be de-winterized. But since there are so many differences in the way the different models heat water, you can look up your recommendations in the manual specific to your vehicle.
    Roadtrek suggests a two step fresh water sensitization process:
    First step
    You will need 2 gallons of water and 1 cup of fresh bleach. (Bleach loses its potency over time; always start with bleach that is less than 6 months old.)
    Mix up two gallons of water and one cup of chlorine bleach. Add to the fresh water fill. Allow a few minutes to drain into exterior tank.
    This is a good time to get some stuff for spring cleaning of your Roadtrek, so drive around for an hour. Let it sit for a couple more hours. The driving sloshes it around in the tank. That is good.
    When you get home again, open the drain valve and drain both tanks. This kills any bacteria in the tanks before you distribute them through the entire water system.

    Second step
    Mix 1/2 cup of chlorine with 2 gallons of water and pour into fresh water fill.
    Fill fresh water tank about 1/2 full.
    Add 1/2 cup of chlorine and fill fresh water tank about 3/4 full.
    Turn on water pump, circulate through entire system.
    Run water out of every faucet and shower head until you smell chlorine.
    With the water pump on, open the city water valve, and let the pump push water through the fill line for a minute or so.
    Run the galley faucet for several minutes. If you smell chlorine, your system is safe to use. If you do not smell chlorine or your water is foamy, or has a pungent odor, repeat this step.
    Drain completely, fill fresh water tank with clean water, run all faucets for 2 to 3 minutes each.
    To help get rid of the residual chlorine smell, pour a cup of vinegar into the fresh water tank, fill, let sit for a few hours, run the faucets for a minute or so apiece, drain the tank to ground, and refill with fresh water.

    There you go. Let us know how it works for you or what your process of sanitizing happens to be.
  19. Roadtrekingmike
    If you are a regular reader, you know Jennifer and I love to RV across Michigan’s pristine Upper Peninsula – the UP – where big towns simply aren’t, and the scenery is jaw-dropping gorgeous with lots of forests, lakes and streams and, of course, the Big Lake, Superior, which some say is the coldest, deepest fresh water lake in the world.
    Superior borders the UP to the north. The south coast of the UP is bordered by Lakes Michigan and Huron.
    We visit the every time we can, in all seasons. If you’ve never been or would like to spend more time there, here’s my suggestion for the RV Tour of the UP.
    I suggest to budget 10 days for this.
    And the first thing I suggest is that you try to avoid black fly season which usually starts in mid June and runs through mid-July. The black flies are most prevalent along the lake Superior shoreline but you’ll find them, and giant mosquitoes, most active during that time.
    Just to show you how bad they are, check this video I did last summer.

    Don’t believe it? Then check this one from the year before.

    But don’t let them deter you. Just be prepared. Bring long pants, jackets and sweatshirts, too, as even in summer, it can get chilly up there.
    Getting there
    From the west, find US 2 from Wisconsin and just keep driving east.
    From the south, Cross from Michigan’s Lower Peninsula on I-75 and the five-mile long Mackinaw Bridge.
    Here are our five top suggestions about the places you should visit.
    1) The Soo Locks
    I’d start at the very northern end of I-75 in Sault Ste Marie, Michigan and a visit to the famed Soo Locks (Sault is pronounced “Soo”). The locks are a set of parallel locks which enable ships to travel between Lake Superior and the Lower Great Lakes. Here you will see a parade of giant lake freighters, barges, tugboats and more traverse the 21-foot drop between Lake Superior and Lake Huron every day. The Soo Locks are the busiest locks in the world, and include the largest lock in the Western Hemisphere, completed in 1968.
    The two active Locks, the MacArthur and the Poe, handle an average of 10,000 vessel passages per year, which means visitors are almost certain to get a glimpse of one or more of the many ships that ply the Great Lakes. From viewing stands situated at the Lock’s edge, enjoy an up-close-and-personal glimpse of life aboard freshwater and ocean-going freighters, some of which can carry as much as 72,000 tons of cargo in a single pass.
    There is something really majestic about spending a few hours watching the boats make their way through the locks. You can get so close to them you can even exchange greetings with the crewmen who toil on the big freighters.
    The best place to stay if you want to watch the freighters is the city’s Aune-Osborn Campground, which lies along 20 acres of waterfront property on the lower St. Mary’s River. The western end of the park houses the camp sites. The eastern end of the park is undeveloped and is used for special events and sightseeing on the St. Mary’s River. The campground features 100 water and electric sites. It opens in mid-May. Some sites are right on the river bank but most sites offer views of the maritime traffic headed to or from the locks. This park fills up most summer nights.
    A half hour west is Brimley State Park, a modern 237 site campground with electric on site and a dump station for taking on water. Located at the Southern end of Whitefish Bay, it also has a swimming beach.
    2) Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore
    Move west along the lake Superior Shoreline to the tiny little lakefront town of Grand Marais and the heart of the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore.
    Here’s a video.

    Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore is a U.S. National Lakeshore on the shore of Lake Superior in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, United States. It extends for 42 miles along the Superior shore and covers 73,236 acres.
    Unlike any other place on Lake Superior, Pictured Rocks offers the opportunity to explore miles of pristine beaches, hike over 100 miles of trails, and experience the serenity of the northern hardwood forest. The best way to see thee cliffs is by kayak, though the shoreline hiking trails offer very impressive views, too.
    Sandstone cliffs, beaches, sand dunes, waterfalls, lakes and forest will treat your eyes as you hike, paddle, camp and explore. From Munising, at the western end of the park, there are glass bottomed boat excursions that are worth taking. They usually start operation for the summer around Memorial Day.
    There are National Forest campgrounds, state forest campgrounds all along the shoreline. In the tiny harbor town of Grand Marais is the Woodland Park Campground, right along the shore. It offers great beach walking and agate hunting. The campground does not take reserrvations.
    Our favorite camping spots, though, are the federal campgrounds on the lakeshore. The lakeshore’s federal campgrounds are rustic and do not have electric, telephone, water, or sewer hookups. Typically there is no cell phone reception. In our Roadtrek eTrek with solar, that is no problem. The campgrounds have generator-free zones.
    First choice for us is always the Twelvemile Beach Campground, about 12 miles west of Grand Marais off Alger County Road H-58. The campground’s 37 sites are located on a sandy bluff above Lake Superior’s Twelvemile Beach. The entrance road winds through a picturesque stand of white birch. Twelvemile Beach Campground also features a 2.0 mile self-guiding interpretive trail. This place fills up most summer nights so arrive mid morning.
    We also like the two Hurricane River campgrounds, the Upper and Lower. They are located off Alger County road H-58 three miles east of Twelvemile Beach campground where the Hurricane River flows into Lake Superior. Eleven campsites are available in the lower campground loop, and ten in the upper loop. A level 1.5 mile walk on the North Country Trail east from the lower campground leads past shipwreck remnants to the historic Au Sable Light Station.
    If you need hookups, try Muskallonge Lake State Park. located 15 miles east of Grand Marais on H-58; 28 miles northwest of Newberry in Luce County. The 217-acre park is situated between the shores of Lake Superior and Muskallonge Lake and the area is well known for its forests, lakes, and streams. The park has 170 modern campsites that feature electricity and two shower and toilet buildings.
    3) Copper Harbor
    Copper Harbor is located at the tip of the Keweenaw Peninsula hat just up from the western end of the UP. Hold your left hand sideways with your thumb pointing up. That’s the Keweenaw. You can’t go any further north without falling in Lake Superior. In fact, Lake Superior borders the little town of Copper Harbor on three sides. A mountain, Brockway Mountain, hems it in from the South. It is so remote that you can’t even get cell phone coverage in town. There’s one way in, US 41, which dead ends about two miles out of town.
    It is one of the best spots we’ve found to take our RV anywhere in North America. Copper Harbor, with a year-round population of 90, prides itself on being far away, But what it lacks in big city amenities, it more than makes up for in outdoors fun.
    Start out at the Historic Fort Wilkins State Park, tucked along the shoreline of Lake Fannie Hooe, a long inland lake loaded with trout that is just across US 41 from the pounding surf of Lake Superior. There are two loops to the park, the west unit with paved pads for big rigs, and the east unit with flat but grassy spots a half mile away. Separating the two campgrounds is Fort Wilkins, a wonderfully restored 1844 military outpost.
    There is, across from the Fort a quarter mile out into the Big Lake, a lighthouse, first constructed in 1846. It, too has been restored and tours are available all day. You need to board a boat in Copper Harbor for a short ride to the lighthouse.
    he town has become a mountain biking mecca, with world class trails abounding in the hilly forests that surround the town. We found mountain bikers gathered from across the country. Many are very hardcore and the trails are technical. But there are also easy rides and a great place to rent bikes right downtown. At the end of the day, the bikers all congregate at the Brickside Brewery, a very friendly microbrewry that hand crafts artisan brews.
    Copper Harbor is also a center for kite surfing. We watched a half dozen wetsuit clad kite surfers scoot across the frigid waters and always roiling waves of the lake.
    Also in town and well worth a hike is the Estivant Pines, a 500 acre stand of virgin white pines. Michigan, in the mid to late 1800′s was the land of white pines and the entire state was practically clear cut by thousands of rough and tumble lumberjacks. The white pine, which grows 150 feet tall, were used for sailing masts and its lumber built many a frontier town as the nation expanded west.
    4) Porcupine Mountains
    The Porcupine Mountains, or Porkies, as the locals call them, are a group of small mountains spanning the northwestern Upper Peninsula of Michigan in Ontonagon and Gogebic counties, near the shore of Lake Superior.
    The Porcupine Mountain Wilderness State Park consists of over 60,000 acres and s contain the largest tract of old-growth hardwood forests west of the Adirondacks and is home to black bear, deer, wolves, river otters and even moose, as well as rare woodland plants that depend on the old-growth forest habitat that abounds here.
    Visiting the virgin forests, free-flowing rivers and undisturbed beaches of the Porcupine Mountains Wilderness is like taking a step back in time. There are great hiking and mountain bike trails here and hundreds of waterfalls, secluded lakes, wild rivers and streams.
    Our favorite spot is the Presque Isle River Campground, on the western end of the park.
    It has 50 sites and about half are generator free. This is quiet. You can sometimes hear wolves howl at night and most of your neighbors are in tents, campers or small RVs.
    If you must have power, then try the Union Bay Campground, located at the opposite end of the park. Union Bay campground is the largest campground in Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park. It offers modern bathrooms and showers. The campground borders a rocky and scenic section of Lake Superior in the eastern portion of the park on the way to Lake of the Clouds on county road 107.
    But don’t expect a wilderness experience at Union Bay. It is a busy, noisy and crowded state park. This where where the Big Class A RVs seem to go.
    5) Tahquamenon Falls
    At 50,000 acres, the Tahquamenn Falls State Park stretches for over 13 miles and is centered around the Tahquamenon River and its waterfalls. The Upper Falls, one of the largest waterfalls east of the Mississippi has a drop of nearly 50 feet, more than 200 feet across and a water flow of more than 50,000 gallons per second. Four miles downstream is the Lower Falls, a series of five smaller falls cascading around an island. Although not as dramatic as the Upper Falls, they are equally magnificent. The falls can be viewed from the river bank or from the island, which can be reached by rowboat rented from a park concession. The island walk affords a view of the falls in the south channel.
    This is the land of Longfellow’s Hiawatha – “by the rushing Tahquamenaw” Hiawatha built his canoe. Long before the white man set eyes on the river, the abundance of fish in its waters and animals along its shores attracted the Ojibwa Indians, who camped, farmed, fished and trapped along its banks. In the late 1800′s came the lumber barons and the river carried their logs by the millions to the mills. Lumberjacks, who harvested the tall timber, were among the first permanent white settlers in the area.
    Rising from springs north of McMillan, the Tahquamenon River drains the watershed of an area of more than 790 square miles. From its source, it meanders 94 miles before emptying into Whitefish Bay. The amber color of the water is caused by tannins leached from the Cedar, Spruce and Hemlock in the swamps drained by the river. The extremely soft water churned by the action of the falls causes the large amounts of foam, which has been the trademark of the Tahquamenon since the days of the voyager.
    There are two excellent campgrounds here, one at the Lower Falls, and one at the mouth of the Tahquamenon River where it empties onto Lake Superior, east of the tiny UP town of Paradise. The Lower Falls campground has two loops with 90 spots in each. The Rivermouth campground has 36 spots. Electricity s available and flush toilets in the restrooms.
    Our favorite time to camp here is winter. The state plows out a good number of sites and although the water is out in the winter, the solitude and beauty make it absolutely spectacular.
    There is snowshowing and cross country skiing in the winter and a four mile trail runs from the Upper to the Lower falls.
    This park gets crowded on the summer. The state does take reservations, without which, you’l be lucky to get in during peak time on weekends and holidays.
    So much more
    There is so much more to see and experience by RV in the UP.
    The Les Cheneaux Islands. The Lake Michigan shoreline. The Seney National Wildlife Area. Whitefish Point. The Huron Mountains.
    But I promised to share my top five suggestions. Maybe I’ll do a follow up report later on my next five.
    See why I suggest 10 days as a minimum time for your visit?
  20. Roadtrekingmike
    With more and more RVers heading to the great outdoors this time of year, it’s time to sound two warnings. Depending on where you are, it’s now either snake season or tick season.
    For some parts of the U.S., it’s both.
    Both creatures post particular problems with pets. And humans, too, if they get bit. And both are very active right now.
    And RVers, who are out there camping in the woods and wilds and deserts and fields, could very easily come into contact with them. RVers with pets need to be particularly vigilant.
    My son, who lives in West Michigan, took his dog for their usual walk the other night, when they returned home, he found two ticks on him and seven ticks on the dog. In March, on an RV trip to Florida, we stopped on a nice spring day at the I-75 rest area near Jellico, TN. I took Tai out of the RV for a short walk on the dog run. He came back with two ticks.

    Ticks survive by eating blood from their hosts. They burrow deep under the skin and gorge themselves.
    At the University of Tennessee Institute of Agriculture, ecological researchers are engaged in a four-year, National Science Foundation-funded study of ticks, and the risks they pose for transmitting several diseases. While investigating disease risks, their work is also yielding practical tips regarding ticks and tick bites.
    These tips include the following.
    Machine washing and drying of your clothes after being in the woods is a good idea, because tiny immature ticks can be almost impossible to spot. UT undergraduate John Norris found that ticks can survive the water and detergent in a washing machine, but are often killed by being pounded against jeans and other bulky clothes. Putting the wet clothes through the dryer is even more deadly and will quickly kill all the ticks.
    If you discover a tick attached to your body, don't trust the folk remedies of matches, lighters or petroleum jelly. Instead use tweezers. Grasp the tick as close to its mouthparts as you can and remove it by pulling straight out. Be sure to remove the mouthparts, if you don't get them on the first pull.

    This is one of the worst tick seasons on record. Ticks spread Lyme Disease, a very nasty disease that can cause short term discomfort and long term problems if left untreated. New cases of Lyme disease are cropping up all across the country. Same with Ricky Mountain Fever, another potentially dangerous disease. In Tennessee last year, there were almost 700 cases of Rocky Mountain Fever, most believed to have been caught from ticks.
    Some of the areas where ticks like to congregate are fields with tall grass, wooded areas and the sand dunes.
    The Center for Disease Control says pets and humans need to be checked very closely for ticks after every excursion into tick territory. Here’s a list of what to do.
    Then there’s snakes. Late May and early June is when most snakes are on the move. In the deep south, where they’ve been out for some time, it’s about time for them to hatch young. Most snakes, of course, are harmless. Most snakes do good, as a matter of fact, eating insects and vermin.
    But in the U.S., there are several very dangerous snakes with deadly venom, particularly for dogs and cats.
    The three most commonly encountered venomous snakes in the U.S. are rattlesnakes, copperheads and cottonmouths, sometimes referred to as the water moccasin.
    Poisonous snakes often have a heavy triangular head tapering toward the mouth, with elliptical cat's-eye pupils. An exception is the small but very poisonous coral snake. Mostnonpoisonous species have smoothly curved, U-shaped heads.
    Here’s a quick guide with photos to help you spot the most dangerous ones in North America.

    The snake picture here was taken a couple days ago by my friend William Browne, who was camped in his RV in California and was surprised to see this Mohave rattlesnake slithering through his camp space.
    Snakes are particularly dangerous to pets, At a dog park not far from my Michigan house, several dogs are bitten each year by the diminutive Massasauga rattlesnake. A woman I know who has a large, 65 pound Weimerheimer said she was walking her dog on a leash when it stopped, stuck it’s nose in the grass and was bitten on the muzzle. By the time she returned to her car, her dog was stumbling. She rushed him to a 24 hour pet emergency hospital. Three days later and after $2,000 in vet bills, the dog was released.
    At the same park not long before, a man and his beagle were bitten. A local sheriff’s deputy told me that the snake attacked the dog, a beagle, while walking near the woods. The man tried to stop the reptile from inflicting any further harm and was then attacked by the snake. He was released from the hospital the next day, the dog a couple days later.
    The smaller the dog, the greater the danger but even a small rattlesnake like the Massasauga can kill if the pet is not quickly treated. Like humans, pets are given antivenom. It is extremely expensive, with treatment ranging between $900 and $1,200 for just the shots.
    In Georgia earlier this year, I saw a sign outside a veterinarian’s office saying “Snakes are everywhere: Vaccinate your pets!” That’s good advice. In the south and southwest, most vets do offer snake vaccine. Regular shots help build up an animal’s immunity to the poison.
    So be careful out there. Especially with your pets,
    About the Author: Mike Wendland is a veteran journalist who travels the country in a Roadtrek Type B motorhome, accompanied by his wife, Jennifer, and their Norweigian elkhound, Tai. Mike is an FMCA member (F426141) and is FMCA's official on-the-road reporter. He enjoys camping (obviously), hiking, biking, fitness, photography, video editing and all things dealing with technology. His "PC MIke" technology segments are distributed weekly to all 215 NBC-TV stations. More from this author. Reach mike at openmike@fmca.com.
  21. Roadtrekingmike
    No matter where or how you roll, the one thing all RVers have in common is the way the RV lifestyle seems to bring people together - literally and figuratively. For snowbirds, full-timers, near full-timers like Jennifer and me or weekend campers, it's the sheer joy of getting out and meeting new people or simply spending quality time with your spouse or friends.
    For families with younger children or grandchildren, it means bonding time away from the distractions of day-to-day living, TV, video games, and iPods.
    Take Stephanie and Jeremy Puglisi, for example. Together with their three children, the Puglisis spend almost 50 nights a year RVing with their children and say they have it down to a science by now. They document their adventures on the RV Family Travel Atlas blog and podcast and join us for episode 23 of the Roadtreking RV Lifestyle podcast with great lessons for parents and grandchildren who RV with childern.
    In this conversation we learn:
    How to have a balance between scheduled activities and “down time”
    Kids never get bored once they are out there, just introduce them to the outdoors
    Families/grandparents should splurge for kid-friendly campsites, with swimming pools, playgrounds and games
    Take your kids/grandkids on hikes, challenge them, use it to teach them about the nature and geography
    You are building amazing memories for your kids and grandkids that they will treasure their entire lives
    Have a campfire every night. It’s a great family bonding time
    Kids naturally will gravitate to outdoor activities over screen time in front of a TV or computer
    Recognize that things will go wrong but “we will get through this.” Learning that when things go wrong, we will solve the problem and then we’ll have great stories to tell makes for a well-adjusted kid.
    Each night at an RV park, a neighborhood springs up and kids need all of about five minutes to make friends with a pack of kids.

    Besides the interview with the Puglisis, we take questions and comments from listeners about:
    Recommended RV-related audiobooks
    The Roadtreking Song of the Week submitted by the band Swift Creek
    Talk about getting all of that salt - regardless of source - off of your RV

    Plus we have tech tips, a bucket list destination of the week and a whole lot more.
    First Things First: Prayers for Living the RV Dream's Kathy Huggins
    We kick off the show with a special call to action - pray for Kathy Huggins from Living the RV Dream. Kathy and John Huggins were on the show last week.
    Kathy began complaining about severe abdominal pain Friday night, and she was transported to Thomas Hospital in Fairhope, Ala. Doctors there discovered a hernia which impeded blood flow to her upper intestines. Surgeons removed 95 percent of her small intestines.
    John Huggins told our friend Greg Gerber of RV Daily Report that Kathy is in critical condition in the intensive care unit at Thomas Hospital, and on ventilator support. When she is awake, she can recognize those around her and squeeze their hands, which he said is encouraging. Although she is expected to recover, the road ahead will require major adjustment on her part, John explained.
    “I don’t think either Kathy or I realized just how many lives we have touched,” said John. “The outpouring of support has been humbling and highly encouraging. We really, really appreciate everyone’s prayers and concern.”
    Check-in of the Week: Roadtreking Fan Jose from Spain
    A listener named Jose calls from Spain to check-in and let us that our fans definitely are not limited to the United States and Canada. Any other international fans out there? Record a quick message by clicking the tab on the right. We would love to hear from you!
    Roadtreking Song of the Week: "Wake Me Up to Drive" by Swift Creek
    Listener and Musician Kevin Brown, of Raleigh, N.C., leaves us a message in response to our recent and ongoing discussion over best songs to listen to while RVing. You can hear it on the podcast.
    He sent us a solo acoustic version of the song "Wake Me Up To Drive," which is performed by Kevin and the rest of his band, Swift Creek, in live shows. More information about Swift Creek can be found at http://www.swiftcreekmusic.com
    Question: How to Remove Salt from My RV?
    David asks about keeping salt off rigs when camping on oceanfront - or driving in the northern parts of the country where salt seems to be extremely common these days. We have some suggestions. Listener Comment: I Love the Roadtrek CS Adventurous XL!
    Listener Wendy calls in to show some love for our new Roadtrek CS Adventurous XL and asks how - and if - we are doing any kind of modifications to our new ride. Jennifer and I give an update.
    Book Recommendations: Great RV Books
    We've been talking a lot about audibooks lately. A listener calls in to suggest the following books for RVers:
    Living the Simple RV Life - by Sunny Skye about her adventures as a campground host
    Blue Highways - By William Least Heat-Moon about a journey into America along the blue two lane highways
    A Walk for Sunshine by Jeff Alt is about a 2,100-mile walk along the Appalchian Trail

    We also have news on how you can get a FREE audiobook download and 30-day free trial at www.audibletrial.com/roadtreking. Audible offers over 150,000 titles to choose from for your iPhone, Android, Kindle or mp3 player. For listeners of the Roadtreking podcast, Audible is offering a free audiobook download with a free 30-day trial to give you the opportunity to check out their service. To download your free audiobook today, go to audibletrial.com/roadtreking.
    RV News of the Week: Trucker Rescues Girl in RV
    Trucker rescues girl in RV from sex slavery (Read more)
    Park Model Camping in Arizona –Roadtreking Reporter JG Van’s tells us about park model RV resort living (Read more)
    RV Tech Tip of the Week: How to Get to Inbox Zero
    E-mail is the bane of our existence. We all get too much and it is too easy to get too bogged down in it. That’s where we can help. Let me show you a couple of helpful ways to cut through the clutter and make your inbox an efficient thing of beauty.
    A service called Sanebox does some pretty amazing things with your email. It filters it and arranges it in folders making it easy to unsubscribe to unwanted mail and even easier to organize, defer and categorize your mail based on how important it is. It works on all platforms and devices and gives you a free two week trial. After that, it’s $59 a year.
    If too many subscription emails and updates and group mailings are clogging your inbox, try Unroll, a really handy tool for any email account that lets you unsubscribe from all of that group mail with a single click. Or you can combine all your favorite subscriptions into one single email sent weekly or monthly. I was amazed at how many junk mailing I got and Unroll helped me zap dozens of them. It’s free, but they make you share on social media after five unsubscribes.
    You can learn about other cool ways to use mobile tech at http://roadtreking.com/vzw
    RV Bucket Destination List: Lake Superior Shoreline
    I talk about one of my favorite destinations - the Lake Superior Shoreline (Read more)
    Interview: Stephanie and Jeremy Puglisi from RV Travel Family Atlas. Our conversation with Stephanie and Jeremy Puglisi, who publish the RV Travel Family Atlas blog and podcast that deals with traveling with children.
    And, of course, many listeners are asking how they can subscribe, review and rate the Roadtreking Podcast on iTunes. With a new podcast like this, those reviews and ratings are really important to be able to show well in the iTunes listings. So if you can, I’d sure appreciate it if you’d subscribe and leave me your review.
    Here’s how:

    First, open the iTunes app on your computer or mobile device. Click on Podcasts up on the top
    > From the iTunes Podcasts page, use the “Search Store” field up at the top right corner of the page. Type in Mike Wendland or Roadtreking RV Podcast.
    > Click on the logo image of the Roadtreking RV Podcast on the search return page
    > From there (see photo above), you can…
    1) Subscribe
    2) Choose and Click on a star (1-5) that reflects your rating. Five stars means you really like it, one star not so much.
    3) Leave a written review.
    Thanks to all for the kind reviews we’ve received so far. That got us noticed by Apple/iTunes as “New and Noteworthy.” I appreciate every review!
    And remember, you can appear in future episodes. Ask a question or voice your comments about RV topics by clicking the Leave Voicemail tab on the right side of this page here at Roadtreking.com. You can then use the microphone on your computer to record your words.
  22. Roadtrekingmike
    I know we’ve talked a lot about winterizing over the past few weeks. But here’s one more report, this one documenting my do-it-yourself winterizing of my Roadtrek eTrek.
    For the past two years, I’ve paid over $100 to have it winterized by RV service dealers.
    From the blog and our Facebook page, readers have told me that it’s no big deal and it it is something that even an unhandy handyman like me can do.
    So this year, I decided to see take their advice and do my own winterizing.

    I’ve read all the various suggestions and methods of winterizing an RV and, especially, winterizing a Roadtrek motorhome. I’ve talked to three big service centers at Roadtrek dealerships and I’ve studied the “official” suggestions of Roadtrek.
    Based on those discussions and the suggestions I received, this is my DIY approach:
    It started with a firm decision NOT to put antifreeze in the fresh water tank. Some people do. The dealerships I consulted urged me not to do that for the simple reason that getting rid of that sickly sweet antifreeze taste come time to unwinterize in the spring is very difficult to do.
    Needless to say, I throughly drained my fresh water tank, even driving around with the drain valve opened on the trip home from my last outing. That, all three service shops insisted, was all I needed to do for the fresh water tank.
    My winterizing approach involved two special tools:
    1) The Camco 36153 RV Brass Blow Out Plug, available for just over $5 from Amazon or a bit more at my local RV dealer. This little plug screws into the city water hookup. I need to point out although all three Roadtrek dealers I consulted DO use compressed air, under 40 psi, to blow out the line, Roadtrek itself does NOT recommend forcing compressed air back through the lines. But I do see the wisdom of pushing what water may be in the lines back to through the faucets so I attached a bicycle pump. It did indeed push some water out the faucets and down the drain so I feel good about that, knowing I did not run air at high pressure and, as Roadtrek warns with compressed air, run the risk of damaging the plumbing.
    2) The Camco 36543 RV Pump Converter Winterizing Kit. This is a little valve that attaches at the water pump and allows you to siphon water directly from a bottle of antifreeze into the RV pipes and out the faucets, thereby protecting pipes and connections. This is very clean and neat and makes winterizing so easy, especially if, as I plan, I will probably have to winterize several times this season as I drive to warm climates and then return to the cold north. Cost is $12.65 through Amazon.
    I did the above video to show how it all works. Total time was bout 20 minutes, and that was with me doing the video as I went through each stage. I used just under three gallons of antifreeze, making sure it ran through all the faucets, flushed through the toilet and also flowed through the cold and hot water filters and my outdoor shower. I also removed the water filter, which will be replaced by a fresh one in the spring.
    After that, I put about a cup down each trap. I once again dumped the black and grey water tanks, running the macerator and making sure pink stuff came out. Finished with that, I dumped a half gallon of antifreeze down the black and grey tanks.
    These general steps will work with just about any RV.
    My eTrek has a special Webosto water heater and I followed Roadtrek’s suggestion to drain the tank of water. That’s pretty much all it needs. Your heater is probably much different and you should consult your instruction manual for specifics.
    Now I’m ready for cold weather. Jennifer and I will still use the eTrek during the cold months. We just won’t run water through the pipes in cold weather. We will use antifreeze to flush the toilet.
    But as the temperature drops, the eTrek is now ready for Old Man Winter. Bring it on.

    The blow out plug for the city water connection

    The winterizing kit for the water pump

    The winterizing kit siphons antifreeze directly into the RV plumbing system.
  23. Roadtrekingmike
    I’ve messed around with some low end flying helicopters before and found them to be lots of fun. But I’ve just, gulp, added a big ticket item to my photographic and video arsenal of tools to be used while Roadtreking: A Phantom 2 drone.
    I’ll be using it for AVC, or aerial video cinematography. It’s really a flying machine, a quadricopter, with four opposing blades sending it up and our as far as a kilometer (3,240 feet) from where I’m standing with the controller.

    The unit I bought carries with it a GoPro Hero 3 camera to record high definition video and stills. It transmits those images back to a monitor attached to the controller on the ground so I can see what the GoPro sees from way up there. It also has a gimbal, which holds the camera level in flight, allowing those spectacular images to be steady and clear.
    I posted a short blurb on Facebook the other day that I got one and I received all sorts of unexpected interest from readers. So I put together the accompanying video. If you’re not interested in the technical stuff, just fast forward to the last couple of minutes to see the aerial video. It was a very gray and cold day in Michigan and those specs of white you see when it was way up there are snow flurries. It wasn’t snowing at ground level. But it was up there.
    I plan to use my Phantom 2 to supplement the regular videos and photos I do for this blog as we travel around the country reporting about the interesting people and places we find on the road as part of the small motorhome RV lifestyle. Can’t wait until I get somewhere with blue skies and sunshine.
    There are lots of these kind of quadricopters out there and I looked at several, finally deciding on the Phantom because it seems to be the most popular and affordable among professional photographers and filmmakers. There are several different Phantom models, all made in China by an outfit known as DJI. They are available through a worldwide network of dealers and hobby shops and also on Amazon.
    The entry-level model is the Phantom 1, which comes with a holder for the camera and the controller. Amazon sells it for $479. You need your own GoPro.
    There is also the Phantom 2 Vision, which sells for $1,208 on Amazon. It comes with it’s own camera.
    The unit I bought is the brand new Phantom 2, which, at $869 is said to be ready to fly. You provide the Go Pro Hero 3 camera, but it has the customized DJI Zenmuse H3-2D gimbal to hold it steady. The Phantom 2 only works with the Go Pro Hero 3. Previous versions don’t connect to it or fit the Zenmuse.
    Besides the GoPro and the Zenmuse gimbal. I added an FPV (First Person Video) system that lets me see what the camera sees via a special seven-inch color monitor that attaches to the controller. When the drone is out there past 1,000 feet or so, it’s often pretty hard to see it with the naked eye. That’s where FPV comes in handy.
    I have to warn you, despite the manufacturer’s claim that the Phantom 2 is ready to fly out of the box, it really isn’t. Assembling all this and getting it synchronized and tuned is not for the faint hearted. I hired a guy named Zac Davis, who just opened a business called drone-works.com in New York, to assemble and build up my system. Zac builds drone systems for police and fire agencies and really knows his stuff. He put everything together for me, making sure it worked just right. Then he talked me through on the phone on how to assemble it, update the software and firmware and set up and follow the proper pre-flight check list The extra setup and assembly fee he charged to get everything right was well worth it to me. If Zac’s website is not up and running when you check (he was just setting it up when I bought from him), you can reach him through Facebook or the DJI Owners group on Facebook, which is a great resource for more information about drones and the Phantom system.
    This is going to be a lot of fun. Thought Jennifer just shook her head and said something like “Boys and their toys,” when I came gushing in from my first flight to tell her about it, I must stress that this is not a toy. It takes lots of practice to fly it well and with confidence and because it has such a long range, you need to be very aware of your surroundings and what may be in its flight path or what is on the ground below. Thus, it should not be flown over crowds.
    Flying time is advertised at about 20 minutes. In the cold, and with the FPV system and the Zenmuse gimbal adding extra weight and battery drain, I got a little over 15 minutes of flight time. I have an extra battery so it’s pretty easy to bring it down, change out the batteries and send it up again.
    Some very cool safety features are built in. For example, I prefer flying mine in GPS mode. That means it locks in to as many as eight different satellites orbiting the earth. The Phantom “talks” to those satellites and thus knows its exact GPS position at all time. If the battery fails or the connection between the controller and the drone is interrupted, it is programmed to automatically fly right back to my location and safely land. There are advanced modes it can fly in as well, that offer more precise control to those who are experienced in its operation. My skill set isn’t there yet. I’m sticking with GPS mode.
    Practice makes perfect will be my motto for a few weeks.
    Everything stows away snug and secure and fits in the ToughCase XR2 padded case I bought from a company named Tradecraft. The case was made for the Phantom 1 system but a sharp knife let me adjust the case openings to fit the Phantom 2 gear.
    I’ll be taking it everywhere, so look for some fun video as we head out Roadtreking in 2014.

    My DJI Phanom 2 drone

    The first flight…the view over my house
  24. Roadtrekingmike
    One of the nicest state parks we’ve found anywhere in the country is the 14,000 acre Letchworth State Park, 35 miles southwest of Rochester and about 60 miles south of Buffalo. Often dubbed as “the Grand Canyon of the East,” Letchworth offers easily accessible and spectacular views of a deep, 600-foot gorge carved out of the limestone and sandstone shale by the Genesee River.
    Suggested to us as we were making our way from Michigan to Cape Cod by Roadtreking regular W. Dan Hulchanski, Jennifer and I overnighted there and spent the evening and the morning of the next day hiking and photographing the amazing scenery during a picture postcard perfect June weekend.
    Besides the gorge, the park boasts a series of spectacular waterfalls, the three major ones called the Upper, Middle, and Lower Falls, located in Portage Canyon, the southern section of the park, about 10 miles from the 350-site campground.
    Millions of years of geological history can be observed in the rock formations exposed by erosion.
    The region’s rich heritage of the Seneca Indians is well-documented in the park with displays, a restored Seneca Council House and the grave of Mary Jemison, an American frontierswoman who was captured by the Seneca Indians while a teenager but later chose to remain a Seneca.
    Swimming pools, fishing areas, hiking trails, hot air ballooning, whitewater rafting and canoeing by permit are just some of the additional attractions at Letchworth. The trails are well maintained and parallel the gorge and take you right up close enough to the waterfalls that you are cooled by the fine mist.
    The biggest is the Middle Falls, which is 250 feet across and drops 107 feet.
    A full schedule of events is offered each year within the park. They range from festivals to lectures and guided walks, to the noted Fall Arts and Crafts Sale.
    Pets are welcome at the park, but are restricted to three loops of the campground. If you do bring a pet, make sure you have a copy of their rabies inoculation, as you won’t be allowed to register without. All sites have 30 amp hookups. Some have 50 amp for bigger RVs. The overnight rate for non-New York residents is $32.50, including park admission.

    Roads are canopied and take you right next to the gorge. That’s our Roadtrek Etrek going over a stone bridge.

    This is Inspiration Point, which offers a great view of the Upper Falls (at top of photo) and the Middle Falls.

    Well-maintained paths and trails get you right up close to the falls.

    Tai enjoying the clean night air outside our Etrek at Letchworth State Park’s campground.
  25. Roadtrekingmike
    I’ve switched smartphones and it’s all because of RVing.
    I now use the Samsung Galaxy S 4. I traded my iPhone 5 in at my local Verizon store and now am tasked with learning a new system. I feel a little guilty about it. I have been told that the iPhone I bought at 6PM EST on June 29, 2007 was the first one sold. It was part of a TV live shot I was doing and I had stood all night long, first in a long line. Working with the manager of at AT&T store, we arranged for me to be standing at the counter and my credit card was processed at 6:00:08.
    Regardless, I have loyally bought and used every iPhone since then. But over the past year, as innovation with the Android operating system began to ellipse Apple’s, I began to have smartphone envy as I saw some of the many features available on newer models. The Galaxy S 4, with it’s much larger screen and 13 megapixel camera (compared to the iPhone’s 8 megapixels), was an immediate draw. Add to that wireless charging, a much tougher glass display, 2GB of RAM (double the iPhone’s) and a faster CPU and slightly more apps than Apple has and the appeal was very strong.
    Probably the final straw for me was my iPhone battery was starting to fail. A full charge only lasted half a day. But the battery on the iPhone is not user accessible. I had to send to to Apple to be replaced. What a needless hassle. The battery on the Galaxy S 4 can be easily replaced by the user.
    Even though a new version of the iPhone will be coming by Christmas, it’s not here yet. The Galaxy S 4 has all these features I want now.
    The decision was made.
    I rely on my smartphone more than ever because of all the RV traveling I do.
    I especially like the Allstays Camp and RV – All Campgrounds app. Yes, I know, there is an iPhone version of it. But because I use this app so often to find Walmart’s, campgrounds, dump stations and the like, I found myself squinting at the iPhone screen a lot. It’s much easier to read on a Galaxy. I’ll write more about my favorite RV apps in a later post.
    I use my smartphone all the time. For email from readers of this blog. To update our Facebook Page and Facebook Group. To tweet updates on Twitter. To take and share photos and video and to stay in touch with news while traveling.
    I also travel with an iPad but, truthfully, it’s a bit too big for me while on the go. Jennifer may use it for checking maps but we prefer the smartphone for convenience.
    So my iPhone is gone.
    Jennifer still has hers.
    But I’m spending the next couple days getting used to the Galaxy and the Android operating system and enjoying the learning process. I love playing with tech gizmos.
    One of the coolest things is the way the Galaxy 4 lets you wave your hand at the screen to accept calls with Air Gesture, read content by tilting your head or phone with Smart Scroll and preview content by barely touching the screen with Air View. It can be touch free.
    I’ll put the new smartphone to good use starting next week when we head west on another RV adventure.
    Meantime, how do you use your smartphone?
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