Friday, January 1, 2016

Hiccups...2015 in the rear view

I don't care who you are. Seeing that light come on will make your stomach drop, and that feeling only amplifies when you're out on a trip. 

So that is how my 2015 camping season started. 

I'm going to remember 2015 as our most ambitious season ever. We covered the most miles (by a lot), the most nights camped, the most frustrating, the most expensive (!!!), and by far the best season we've had.  

Not one of our outings went smoothly. Not one. While the hiccups varied in intensity, we never missed a destination, and despite all the issues, we only lost out on one planned day of camping.

It started out with that check engine light. We were climbing a hill in Alabama when that came on. The truck didn't hesitate or anything, just that dang light. We continued on and reached our beautiful beach-front destination without incident. The next morning when I fired the truck up to go get the code read, the light was gone. Not wanting to rest on that, I contacted a local diesel shop who was gracious enough to get me in right away and pull the code with their more capable scan tool.  The code was EGR related (diesel owners know and love that acronym) - the shop owner said not a big deal even if it comes back, but he doubted it would come back.  He was right.  For a few months.

So that's where it started.  See, nothing serious, just a nagging concern.

Fast forward to Memorial day weekend.  Here's a hiccup of my own doing.  I know better than to hit a certain stretch of interstate during certain times of day - especially on certain days of the year.  Nevertheless, I took off towards the Indianapolis 500 with some friends, planning to rendezvous with another down the road when I hit Chicago traffic near the Indiana line.  So that put us behind by about 3 hours.  Then we got there, in the dark, and were directed to the wrong campground by a track attendant.  Not going to lie, that might have been my shining example of backing the rig up in some serious tight quarters.  But we got to the right spot eventually, and the weekend was a pure blast.

Then came another race weekend that turned into an absolute monsoon.  We couldn't occupy our usual site because I would have been axle deep in mud within a foot of the road.  We actually got moved to a pretty sweet alternative spot and had a fun couple days, but then about 30 minutes before the main event was to start mother nature UNLOADED.  Again.  So that got cancelled and I had to get out of there the following morning.  We had fun inside during the storm.  But I like the races.  So missing one was a bummer. 

I had to get out of there because the next day was our big trip.  3000 some-odd miles out west and back over a couple weeks.

I had a bad feeling about that trip a month before we started.  I woke up in the middle of the night before we left and felt sick, I think the universe was talking to me, but I pressed on.  The first day was a long drive to an overnight location in nowhere South Dakota.  There was an odd moment on that drive, but I chalked it up to a vicious headwind.  I pulled over another time because a door to one of my propane tanks vibrated open and was whipping in the wind, but otherwise.  No problems.

The next day the light came back.  This time it brought it's limp mode friend.  That wasn't fun, but fortunately it was within 10 miles of our destination.  I won't go into tremendous detail because it's boring.  But our next leg of that trip was the most unpleasant 14+ hours of my life.  Basically in the middle of nowhere with no option but to really keep going, we did reach our destination near Yellowstone.  I remember seeing 170 miles to our destination on GPS.  It took forever.

The rest of that story involves throwing a wad of money at the truck at a very accommodating shop in Idaho, followed by one more big day where the problems resurfaced once, only to go away again with no trace from then on.  

I don't have that truck any more...

So off we go with the nice, shiny new rig!  Our favorite trip of the year!  "Check trailer wiring" pops up on the dash 20 minutes into the drive and I lose trailer brakes. Ugh.

Figured that one out and "fixed" it with a strategically placed bungie cord.

Then another race track changed their traditional schedule and kicked us out to have to drive through the night.

Then it rained buckets again and the same track it did earlier that summer.

Then we had to cut the last trip of the year short due to the death of my Grandfather.  Oh, and the family we went with on that trip got sick.  All of them.  While we were there.  Sigh.

But it was an awesome year!  Western South Dakota and Idaho are about the most beautiful country I've ever seen.  We found the most gorgeous, quaint, beach-front campground.  We travelled with friends and family.  I got to see some great racing a couple times.  And I quickly got over "having" to get a new truck.  

So here I am looking forward to another great year in 2016.  I'd just like it to go a little smoother....


Saturday, October 17, 2015

Gear Review - Yeti tumbler

Talk about first world problems...

The perfectly good coffee cup I carry in the camper just doesn't fit in the cup holders in my truck. This is only a problem on getaway days when we head out early in the morning. But it is a problem. So I fixed it. 

Now, I admit to being a bit of a gear junkie. I could have solved this issue with any number of cheap travel mugs. That's just not my style. 

For one, my cup must be insulated. From the time the coffee is made, to the time I actually get into the truck to leave, I don't want my joe to get cold.  The boss is usually cleaning the inside of the rig which includes the coffee maker. So often some considerable time passes between that fresh, hot pour to the time I can enjoy it. 

So, I sprung for a Yeti tumbler. 

I know Yeti has a bit of a cult following in regard to their coolers. Most reading I did about them has made them sound legit.  Of course you never know and their premium price tag is a lot to swallow for advertising hype. So even a $30 coffee cup is a bit of a stretch. Nonetheless, I gave it a go. 

For this review I'm just going to let some pictures do the talking. 

To test my cup, I filled it as full as I could with ice and left it sitting on my kitchen table with the lid on. Ambient temps ranged from 63 to 70 degrees. Here's the results. 

Here's the initial fill and moment I set it on the table. 

After 1 hour:

After 2 hours:

After 3 hours:

This is the next morning, roughly 12 hours after the original picture:

This is later that night. Roughly 28 hours after the initial picture - hard to see, but it's still a considerable clump of ice. 

This is the following morning. Roughly 38 hours after the initial picture, there is still ice in the cup. The lid was removed for this picture:

This final picture is 46 hours after the original. And all that's left is the slightest sliver of ice, but still, it's ice - 46 hours later!

For my money, that's an impressive test. Now I just need to find a trip to take so I can test that coffee on the drive home.  The only part of this purchase I'm not happy I want a cooler. Santa, I hope you read this!

Thursday, September 24, 2015

A little roof maintenance

I try to wash my roof twice per season. I can't say I'm 100% diligent on that, but I try. upside to my race going adventures throughout a year is that I'm up on the roof quite a bit, and while I'm there I try to take a look around.

Most recently I found a roof staple starting to pop up a bit. Here is the offender:

Step one is to knock that staple back down. I try to put my weight as close to it as possible, and then I rest a punch over the staple and gently tap it back down.  I've also just used two ball peen hammers to do this - rest one on the staple, and tap it back home. 

Now...I take another step here. I cover the area where the staple was pushing up with a bit of eternabond tape. If you don't know what this stuff is...go look it up when you're done reading this. It is the cats meow. 

Eternabond requires a very clean surface to stick to. While you'll see a lot about acetone, etc...I use non-chlorinated brake cleaner. Makes quick work of any grime, and I've never had a section of eternabond lift up on me. 

Just spray and wipe - and repeat a few times. 

Next comes the eternabond reinforcement. Pressure needs to be applied in order to release the "micro sealant" in the tape. I use an old wall paper roller and lean on it good and hard. 

And that's it!

Now...I should note. I've done this before and in doing so the staple ripped the rubber membrane when I tapped it down. My fix for that scenario is to drive the staple back in. Then add a dab of lap sealant. I let that dry. Then I come back with eternabond. That's a belt and suspenders repair should you encounter such a scenario. 

Hope someone out there finds that useful. Thanks for reading!


Tuesday, September 8, 2015

To park, or not to park...that is the question

I'm having a serious, but as yet hypothetical, debate with myself.

Is there anyone more serious to debate with than oneself?

The topic is getting a seasonal spot.

For now I'm just probing the concept.  As a family we still enjoy going out and seeing new places - we're not giving that up at all.  The debate about plopping down for a seasonal spot are for all the other times.

Ideally "the spot" would be within a couple hours of home.  Three hours if I REALLY like the place.  As of today there's only one place I'd seriously consider.  But it's on the pricy side (and thats a good thing - it's a pretty high-end joint).  The second place place I wrote about in another post.  As I said, that place doesn't have the exact set up I'd need to satisfy my need to be able to take the rig in and out when I did want to travel.  So, as of now - the place doesn't really matter.  Back to the concept.

Sometimes I think it'd be nice to have a nearby retreat to run to.  Maybe a weekend free's up.  Perhaps an unexpected run of nice weather is forecast.  Maybe I just need to get away to do work alone.  The ladies could have their girls-getaway.  The allure of having the rig "ready" at all times is the draw.  Don't have to set up to tow, don't necessarily have to reprovision, just...go.  Sounds nice to me.

We definitely don't feel cheated in regards to the number of nights we camp per year.  We've been hovering in the 30's for several seasons, and this year we should establish a new high when all is said and done.  But I think with a parked rig, we'd use it even more.

But I have to be able to get out too!  I still want to go to races with the guys.  I still want to get back to the beach in Florida!  I'd love to be camping for Christmas some year.  I'd like another stab at the West with less stress (I'm still going to write about that at some point...).  Oregon.  The northeast.  My mountain in Asheville.  I still want to be able to go there too.

To park or not to park...that's still my question!

Monday, August 17, 2015

A follow-up to a past campground review...Holiday Shores - Wisconsin Dells

We recently completed our favorite trip of the year - to Wisconsin Dells.  Specifically, to Holiday Shores Campground and resort.  I reviewed the campground last year here.  It deserves a follow-up.

In that review I mentioned accessing the back gate if you had a bigger rig and how getting through to the front desk to get someone to come open it for you was sketchy due to spotty cell service.  I also mentioned some sort of intercom would be good.  Well, I'm happy to report that they installed just that.  An intercom that goes to the front desk where they can now remotely open the back gate for you.  As an aside, the same intercom made it much faster and easier to get out of the campground as well!

I'm certain I dont deserve credit for this idea.  However, on the off-chance that someone from Holiday Shores reads this blog, I say "THANK YOU!"

And if someone from Holiday Shores re-reads this blog and see's my thank's my next suggestion:

A more "transient" version of your seasonal campsite rental.

What I mean by that is, should you ever open up a newer section of the campground, copy a version of your "100" (full-hookup) sites and make them eligible for seasonal purchase.  Allow the same site improvements/personalization that you do for your park-model sites (I could grasp and understand a restriction on decks), maybe make the spots just a wee-bit larger than your existing 100 sites, and run hookups just like you have for the 100's.  The only difference would be make the sites easy enough that if someone wants to take their camper out for a trip somewhere else, that they could.  Pull-thrus would be good.  Accessibility is the key.  We are a young family, we still like taking the occasional trip to other parts of the country (especially in winter!), but your campground is our favorite.  If we could seasonal there, but still take other trips, you'd have a hard time keeping me away.  Heck, if we vacated the site for a while, we could communicate that with you and you could rent it out just like you do the other campsites.  Maybe we could split the site rental fee in that instance?  50/50?  60/40?  You get more revenue on a site you already sold, and we get to recoup some of our costs.  That's a win win! That big field out behind where we stay looks awfully inviting!  Your marina/boat shop would also gain a new customer...

A guy can hope, right?

Happy camping all!

Saturday, August 15, 2015

What's your limit?

Sorry for the lack of posts lately.  It's been a busy summer.  We took the longer western trip I mentioned before, and we are also remodeling our kitchen.  Add in a couple short trips and the last few weeks have gotten away from me.

I was talking to a group around the campfire a couple weeks ago about our big western swing at the end of June.  The discussion turned to the drive(s).  Lots of drives...

We were gone for just under two weeks.  We hit the Black Hills (Mt. Rushmore area), Yellowstone, Colorado, and then back home.  A couple of overnighters sprinkled in as well.  Nestled in that journey were 3 drives of 12 hours-plus.  There were 2 legs just north of 8 hours, and one that came in around 7.

Thats a lot of driving.  And to be honest, by the end, I was wore out.  Now, there were a couple other issues sprinkled in that made the stress level increase - at some point I'll write about those (hint - it ends in a new truck), but the focus of this discussion was driving.

We've taken longer drives.  There was one haul to Asheville, NC that was about 14.  It didn't seem half as long as the drives on this trip!  I ultimately decided that my limit varies by the trip.  I would never do the western trip the way we did it again.  It was just too much.  I think I'm coming around on the idea of limiting the drives.  I could do a 12 hour trip - once.  If I knew all that stood between me and a beach was 12 hours, I'd do it right now.  What I WONT do is the same 12 hours back home.  I'd break that up for sure.  I'm also never going to "stack" those 12 hour jaunts into a single trip again.  It was just a pure nightmare.  I think a more realistic limit is in the 8-9 hour range, and the more of those that are required in a trip, the more I'd space them out, or shorten them.  I have memories of driving to my grandparents in Missouri as a kid - that was an 8 hour trip.  So I've been doing that all my life, it's kind of ingrained as a long, but easily doable trip.

So, whats your limit?  Where do you draw your line?  I'd love to hear your thinking on it.

Until next time!


Friday, July 17, 2015

Campground Review -RedRock RV and Camping Park

ID - Island Park - Red Rock RV and Camping Park (

Site - Unknown - not sure they're numbered?  See remarks under "office staff."

Site Composition - Most sites are gravel, as are the roads.  They are level despite the slight slope to the campground in general.  There are a handful of grass sites on the periphery of the park.  Most, but not all, sites have fire rings.  Sites also include picnic table.  Many sites are opposed to each other so you and your neighbor share utilities.

Site Surroundings - Gorgeous.  I mean gorgeous.  The campground is at the base of a tree covered mountain, and looks out to more, taller mountains in the distance.  You can't see it from camp, but to the north there is a large lake just over the small rise in the landscape

HookUps - Most sites are full hookup - Water/electric/sewer.   Location of hookups was where one would expect in relation to your rig.  There are a few sites that are W/E only.  

Amenities - WiFi is available.  I found it to work reasonably well most of the time.  During peak hours a drop off in service was noticeable.  There is a shower house, I did not see it.  Small playground for the kids.  Access to many off-road trails.  Some necessities available in the main office.  A phone is provided for convenience - our cell service was poor with Sprint.

Office Staff - A nicer group of people does not exist.  We had some truck problems and they helped us with recommendations of the local area, checked in on us to see how things were going, and provided us with the least taxing routes.  You will be escorted to your site upon arrival.  They'll help you park, make sure everything is up to snuff - and then they'll swing by later just to make sure everything is OK.

Location to town - The west-gate to Yellowstone is about 20-30 minutes away.  Idaho Park is about an hour and a half south.  

General Comments - The aforementioned truck problems meant my focus wasn't where it usually is while we were at this park.  I really only had 1 full day where my mind was right.  When I said that the owners of this park are top-notch people, I was probably under-stating it.  I owe them a debt of gratitude I won't be able to repay.  If I had to nitpick regarding the facility - there were a a small handful of sites that were very small and didn't have much of a "yard" to speak of - one of them was next to us.  Again, this is a very small handful of sites and they're forthcoming about this on their website.  These few sites probably could be removed and made up for by leveraging the grassy areas I mentioned before, but what do I know.  I don't mean for that to sound like I'm knocking the park, and it hurts me to say it.  The place is meticulously maintained and beautiful.  The area is just breathtaking.  Mountains, wildlife, lakes - nature at it's finest, and the location to Yellowstone is fast and easy.

Rating - 5 - we would stay here again.