Denise and I have been camping together and separately for much of our lives, most recently in our Unity MB, which makes being on the road, including our latest eight-plus week adventure across the northern U.S and all Canadian provinces west of Toronto, easy. We’ll write about those adventures in a series of articles very soon.
Along the way, we’ve discovered some neat little things that we’ve not only heard about, but many of which we’ve also tried, and wanted to pass them along so you can not only plan to bring a few along next trip, but which would make great holiday gifts, or to put in your RV permanently.
Some items I’m sure will have you thinking, “now why would I need that?,” but others might just have you heading to Amazon or even your local dollar store. Either way, we hope you consider them. Here we go!
Racquet-style insect zapper—We’ve had one stored away in the back of our Unity for a while, but our visit to Banff National Park’s great campgrounds was the first time we’ve used it. Now we won’t let it out of our sight, and wished we’d remembered we had it aboard earlier. Powered with two AA batteries in the handle, just push the button and wave it towards a stinging wasp (I’m seriously allergic) or a pesky mosquito and seek revenge or a pre-emptive strike. They’re available at many dollar stores and other outlets and are inexpensive. We’re still on our first set of batteries, and will switch to rechargeables when these go.
Another mosquito wars weapon we won’t be without is our Thermacell Patio Shield. Screw in the butane cartridge, put in a repellent pad, and give it a click. Check the small window to make sure it’s lit and the butane will heat the pad to give off enough repellent to cover a 15-by-15-foot zone, depending of course on the wind (try putting it upwind if there’s a breeze).
The pad lasts about four hours and when it turns white, you know you need to replace. Thermacell also makes personal skeeter’ repellers you wear on your belt or elsewhere, as well as ones that are placed on a post that also acts as a lamp. Great products. In fact, I used a Patio Shield at Banff’s Johnston Creek Canyon campground. Since I fired it up, I’ve not had to use our electric swatter. The unit, new pads and butane are available in many big box, some hardware, and other stores.
Newest from Thermacell is a Lithium battery operated system, providing up to 40 hours of protection. No more butane cartridges. Cool!
Ready to spend some big bucks? How about an electric assist bike? There are a lot of makes out there these days and more will be joining the fleet. One e-bike version is called a cargo bike, and one type is the Electric Boda Boda by Yuba (around $3,000). This type of electric pedal assist bike is extremely useful as it can haul up to 220 lbs—hence the name—excluding the driver, for trips to the local market or brewpub, or to haul up to two young passengers.
One LTV owner reports that while boondocking in a Walmart recently, their electric bike was stolen right off their rear bike rack. Here’s one maker with a built-in anti-theft system: It’s the Vanmoof. The rear wheel locks using your phone, will sound a piercing built-in alarm, and the company will replace or find it if it is stolen. Lights are even integrated into the frame. Around $3,400.
Another compromise is the Copenhagen Wheel, developed by MIT, which retrofits an existing bike into an e-bike. The company also makes entire bikes. It also has some anti-theft capability.
Best advice, however, is like purchasing your Leisure Travel Van, do your research. Try several at e-bike stores, and read reviews of the various styles.
And of course, decide whether you need, or just want, an e-bike, and what you’ll use it for. After all, one of the biggest reasons for riding a clunky old-fashioned 27-speed carbon-framed mountain bike, or your 27-speed carbon frame road bike, that only cost $2,000 each rather than $3K and up is, E-X-E-R-C-I-S-E.
Our own human-powered bikes work just fine. They’re not flashy. My Trek 4500 is nearly 20 years old, therefore not thief-attracting! And only recently have I changed the tubes due to run-ins with goatheads, aka puncture vines, in Denver. They’re named that for good reason. Hope you never find out why. Especially with these expensive—and heavy, up to 50lbs—e-systems.
Along with that bike, also buy a big “U” lock and chain to secure your expensive rides to the rack. Then lock that bike rack to the hitch with a locking hitch pin, available at most hardware stores.
Once you settle on your bike, get brimmed. With cancer from sun exposure an increasing concern for many, here’s one more way to mitigate your risk. Da Brim fits over your bike helmet to provide a wide area of shade while you ride. Recumbent users can add an accessory to keep the brim from riding up on your ride. Brims come in three different shapes and range from $35 to about $45.
Whether you’re an urban or forest hiker, you may be using hiking poles on your treks. These modified ski poles not only provide balance the way a stick does but on both sides of your body. They also provide an extra workout benefit as you swing your arms. The best we’ve found are made by a Michigan-based company, skiwalking.com. Available in models from aluminum to carbon, these poles are custom-fitted to your height. Unlike cheap import poles that often collapse when you don’t want them to–yup, we’ve got those too, the main reason we went with ski walkers–these are one piece. We use these instead.
When we travel to Florida for our mid-February break, we bring our bikes, and by the time we reach warmth, they’re covered in crude and have been bombarded by everything from slush to salt.
Here’s the ultimate in bicycle maintenance kits. Muc-Off comes in its own storage container and is just about the most complete kit I’ve seen. There are four crud-removing brushes including a specialized “claw” to reach every hard-to-reach spot on your bike after a day on the trail, or on the back of your rig. Also included is a one-liter spray bottle of biodegradable general cleaner, and a half-liter of protectant spray, for about $70.
A lot of folks have asked us about our Luci Light when they see it in action, so I’m also including it in this collection. It’s been around a few years but remains one of the coolest lighting products I’ve seen, and it has a bonus impact when you buy one. It’s a compact, inflatable solar-powered LED light that we use all the time. There are three light settings including a blinking mode, and now the makers have even included a charging station for your phone if you’re boondocking.
They offer up to 12 hours of light before needing recharging, which involves simply putting it on your dash. Now here’s the bonus: buy one Give a Luci Light at its website for $10 when you purchase yours, and its partners will send it to someone with no electricity access. Since the program began in 2012, the company has sent lights to more than 100 countries, positively affecting more than three million lives across the world.
Here’s another. The Button Lamp is a quick LED mini-light with an adhesive back that attaches anywhere and lights up those dark places in your LTV, such as the under-sink cabinet. These little guys are waterproof, about the size of a quarter, have a battery life of 17 hours, and cost $9.99 for a six-pack. They come off easily, too. Just gently pull it off, says the maker. They’re available at lots of stores including Walmart.
We’ve all got our favorite backpacks. One I’ve got is so well-used the straps are beginning to fray. Here’s one to consider if you’re in the same situation as me: the Xpedition by Bag Smart is modular so you can even build your own for whatever your needs, be it photography equipment, carrying electronics, or day hiker.
Here’s a great–albeit pretty expensive for a pair of pants–way to keep your valuables secure from pickpockets when you’re traveling. These “Pickpocket Proof” pants are lightweight and have multiple layers of protection, from button closers over zippers, to hidden zippered pockets within zippered pockets, so if you’re in close company in a city, you’re armored. Both mens and womens sizes are available.
You may have a favorite style of water bottle. Mine is a stainless Contigo, purchased at Costco. I’ve not seen this style anywhere else. These bottles usually appear in late winter or spring in our area, and aren’t around long. They’re stainless with a positive “click” seal. By pushing a button on the side, and it keeps my water cold all day, and inside the bottle regardless of position. But here’s another.
Rootblue’s bottles feature double-wall vacuum style and say it keeps cold items cold for 24 hours, and hot liquids hot for 12. The Nevada-based company sends 10 percent of its profits to the Tahoe Fund to help protect and preserve the Truckee River and Truckee meadows near its headquarters.
Don’t want to use the inside shower (ours is usually storage), or too shy to use your Leisure’s outside shower (I’m not)? Check out the new Geyser portable shower system.
Ok, you’ve just emptied your tanks, and although you’ve used your gloves, you still need to clean your hands. Clean Trek is what we use. It comes in a pump foaming dispenser that cleans without water and contains aloe and vitamin E.
You may have heard the tip to drain out your home water heater every so often from the bottom spigot to get rid of the crusty hard water scale deposits that often form, and reduce the life of your heater as a result. Well, the same could be said of your LTV water heater if you have the older tank style system. There’s a solution from Camco, the company with literally myriad solutions to issues from water hoses to sewer hose supports to lots more. It’s a water-pic-style hose attachment that reaches inside your heater to give it a high-pressure rinse. I just bought one. It makes sense.
Here’s a product to try for anyone affected by motion sickness. The Relief Band is a watch-like affair that delivers pulses to the median nerve on your wrist. It’s a mite pricey at $175, but if you’re constantly worrying about getting sick and aren’t able to enjoy the scenery going by outside your LTV, it may be for you.
The Instant Pot has become a go-to staple for many who now cook with the six-quart version at home, including us. However, try stuffing one into your LTV storage area. Fortunately, we’ve found that the three-quart version fits in our back closet and is very handy for cooking under pressure when plugged into shore power. Each pot comes with a recipe book, and there are more online, along with accessories.
Worried about your non-stick pans when they begin peeling? We are too. We’re now refitting with ceramic-lined pans that fit above and under the sink. We found ours at an outlet mall kitchen store, and they’re also available online and stores like Target.
One more item. Many at the LTV owner’s Facebook site have recommended various sleep sacks rather than normal sheets, which we still use. Here’s another alternative from braveera.com. Its silk sleep sack also features an attached pillow.
On our travels, many people love wearing flip-flops even while hiking. Well, I like my boots, but if you still like flips and can do without the slips, then FlipRocks could be for you. These flips have lug soles and grippers to help you stay on the trail instead of flipin’ and slippin’ off. They also could be the answer for your canoe/kayak needs.
Here are two ideas we picked up at our most recent Leisurely Great Lakers fall rally, from owner Willis Gray of Concord, North Carolina, who stopped by our event in Holland, MI.
He’s had one robin with nest and eggs found in his engine air cleaner and is taking no chances. Using large-mesh screens so it won’t impede airflow, and perhaps a bit of metal duct tape, he fashioned and installed a guard at the front of the engine air intake behind the driver side grill, and at the cabin air filter box to keep critters out. He also put one across the “intake” of his Truma hot water heater for wasps. Great idea!
That’s it for this edition of Gotta Have It. We’ll have more soon.
Note: The recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and are not necessarily those of Leisure Travel Vans.
In 1890 somewhere in the Great Canadian Rocky Mountain range of Banff (Alberta) where Mount Whitlock and Mount Nibley tower majestically over Lake Agnes, Mr J.W. Astley noticed two rather odd shaped mountains. Thinking they looked a little like giant Beehives, he named them, rather appropriately but perhaps a little uncreatively: The Big Beehive and The Little Beehive. We were unaware of either their existence or their names as we stood on the well manicured grounds of the Fairmont’s Chateau Lake Louise that morning. Sometimes it’s better not to know what mountains might appear in your path, right?
We’d been watching the weather and knew that today was forecasted to be rain free and beautiful. As we parked our MoHo in the RV parking area, we looked up at the skies. It was still too early to tell but we promised ourselves to remain vigilant; one never knows how the winds will blow round these mountain bends.
Once upon a time the Chateau grounds were just a wild outpost at the end of the Canadian Pacific Railway. Today the Fairmont’s Chateau Lake Louise reflects a luxurious profile over the waters, the area around the hotel is part of Banff National Park, a World Heritage Site. The informative billboard by the Lake depicted many trails emanating from the ubiquitous YouAreHere circle. From a 2 km circumnavigation of Lake Louise to multi-day backcountry excursions. We were hemming and hawing when the couple next to us interrupted our reading,
“Hike to the Lake Agnes Tea House” they suggested. “It’s fantastic. We did it a few days ago, and it had us buzzed!”
“Tea House? Up here in the mountains” I asked a little curiously, and perhaps rather incredulously.
With the promise of sweet somethings as an end reward, it was easy to talk ourselves into the described 7.2 km’s (or 4-5 hours) return. We’d dressed in layers, had plenty of water in our backpacks, and had even thought to bring our hiking poles. We were ready for anything, but not without first stopping to note the clear blue skies, and admire the view.
The sign for Lake Agnes pointed that-a-way and we eagerly veered, that-a-way. The wide path sloped slightly uphill, just enough for us to note the change in grade,
but otherwise easy to walk, and we were pleased we’d left early in the morning. We breathed in the cool piney smell of forest, stopping often simply in awe of our surroundings,
But mostly to catch our breath.
“I can’t believe I’m this out of shape” I gasped!
“I think it’s because of the higher altitude,” Dave replied. “We’re well over 5700 feet high here, and still heading up”.
We had to stop to get a few photos of this unusual rock formation behind us. Perhaps you can even hear the foreshadowing type of music that was buzzing all around us.
The path got a little narrower, and a whole lot steeper. The buzz here was that you could go the long way around using the switch-back route, or take the shortcut up the wooden stairs.
We moved aside for the fellow adventurers taking an easier route down.
Then we found ourselves by Mirror Lake and then a waterfall.
We caught our breath for a moment (or ten) before starting the climb up the wooden staircase looming ahead of us.
The 3.6 km walk had taken us a little over an hour and we’d gained about 400 feet in elevation. We were now at an altitude of over 7000 feet.
It wasn’t only the elevation that had taken our breath away. The view was doing a pretty good job of it as well. The majestic ice capped mountains loomed their rocky splendour over the alpine waters. We noted that like us, the arriving walkers came to a silent stop as the magic of Mother Earth enveloped us all with a serenity and a peacefulness that’s simply hard to describe.
Behind us, the family run, Lake Agnes Tea House was a noisy hub of activity. Originally built in 1901 by the CP Railway as a refuge for hikers, it started serving tea in 1905 and today boasts over 100 varieties of the beverage, served hot or cold. The Tea House was named after Lady Susan Agnes MacDonald, the wife of the first Prime Minister of Canada. Although rebuilt in 1981, it still looks quaint and rustic, probably from having used the original windows, tables and chairs.
“What can I get you?” Asked the young gal as we snagged the last available spot, right in the corner of the outdoor patio. She smiled warmly as she recited the memorized menu: “We have homemade soups, sandwiches and house made desserts”
“Chai Tea… ” I asked, “Hot, please”
“Me too” said Dave, “And how about one of those cookies” he added, as he pointed to the plate sized Chocolate Chip Cookie going by us, whose freshly baked sweet smells wafted tantalizingly in our direction.
“Could you take our photo?” we asked her, “when you get a minute?”
“Absolutely” she said, as she laid down her tray and asked us to smile. We started chatting, and we found out she was a student from Ontario here for a summer Job slash Adventure.
“You’re lucky you weren’t here yesterday” she announced.”We had a blizzard!”
We mentioned we hadn’t seen any snow on the trails. “We did sidestep a few pretty wet spots on our way up,” I remembered.
“I was getting the pails of water to do my laundry when the storm hit” she laughed. We learned that most of the staff are students here for the summer, experiencing the location of a lifetime and living a summer adventure. An adventure that includes life with no electricity or running water. One of their chores is walking the garbage down the route we’d just travelled up, but never coming back empty handed. They bring back fresh supplies to restock the kitchen pantry. Otherwise a helicopter hovers the delivery of flour, sugar, propane and dry goods of supplies when needed.
“Are you hiking to The Beehive?” She asked, as we paid our bill, cash only.
“The Beehive?” we questioned.
“Mm-hmm. Did you see that mountain when you were coming up here? The one that sticks up high? The one that sort of looks like a Beehive?”
“We did! You mean you can hike up there?” We asked with total disbelief.
“Absolutely! I haven’t done it yet, but the buzz is that it’s great!” She winked as she scurried away to greet the next table.
We checked the time as we gathered our stuff. It was still early. The sign for the The Little Beehive; only 1 km away.
“And look over there,” I pointed, “The Big Beehive is only 1.6 km’s away. ” read Dave.
“But just slightly up, right?” I winked.
There were no ominous clouds in the sky, and we must’ve been high on Tea and Sugar when we looked at each other, smiled and said: “Let’s Do It!”
We followed the trail along the shores of Lake Agnes until we reached the Northern End.
Here, at the foot of the glacier, the landscape changed dramatically.
The narrow, dirty grey coloured path of well trudged snow towards the mountain loomed ahead of us. It was slippery. It was cold. And it was wet.
When in snow, do what the snow calls to you to do. That meant a few snowballs went buzzing by Dave’s head. “You’re lucky I’m such a bad aim” I yelled, as I ducked one of his attempts to get me.
At the base of the Big Beehive the snow had melted to nothing but a distant memory. Ahead of us, a series of six switch-backs leading up the side of the mountain. We took a deep breath, gazed upwards and started walking, pausing every now and then to catch our breath, still our shaking legs, and always with the excuse of getting that perfect photo, which does nothing to describe the heights of where we were going.
“Don’t look down” said Dave, as he turned a little precariously sideways on a particularly narrow ledge. I stopped, and immediately looked… down. My hands clasped the boulders I was sidestepping with a white knuckled hold, as waves of fear of heights type of panic quickly settled over me. A few minutes of coaxing from Dave, a few minutes of relaxing deep breathing, and a sheer sense of “Hell no, I’m not going back down” finally had me emerge from the anxious sate, release my Death Grip on the boulder, and move on.
Two more switch-backs and we emerged at the top. Words alone cannot describe the euphoria of being up here: on the rocky flatness that is the odd shaped mountain called The Big Beehive.
“OMG, look, that’s Lake Louise beneath us, and you can just barely see the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise there!”
“Look at that unusual green colour of the water!” said Dave.
“I read that it’s because as the glaciers melt, they carry in glacier silt, or rock flour…”
I paused, as I looked down, and marvelled. “This silt stays suspended in the water, and the sunlight reflects off it, which is what gives it this amazing hue of Minty Toothpaste Green”.
We chose to take another route back. Without switch-backs it was a little harder trudging downwards over rock and pebble and boulder, while simultaneously sidestepping the protruding tree roots. Our feet were getting tired and we were taking care to position our feet properly before stepping away. We saw the sign for the Plain of Six Glaciers Trail (and another Tea House) but as much as we were tempted, our common sense currently located in our grumbling hungry tummies prevailed. We kept on going: onwards, downwards and homewards.
The heat of the afternoon sun warmed us, and we sweated on, the tall trees providing not only shade but a protective tall barrier from the dropping cliff edges on the other side.
We eventually reached Lake Louise level.
The sand flats here seemed out of place. We stopped to marvel but knew better than to sit down. Knowing it would be harder to get back up and get walking again.
“Look how small The Chateau looks” I said with a sigh, “We’re still a long way away!”
Stepping away from the sandy shores we followed the path back.
“The last mile is always the longest isn’t it?” I moaned.
“Hmm, I lost count of our km’s a long time ago” said Dave, “I think we’re somewhere around 16 in total!” I nodded bravely as he added, “We’re almost there!”
I don’t know how we managed the last few steps into the lounge of the hotel, where around 6 hours after we’d started that morning, we sat down, red-faced with exertion, and sighed in total exhilarated exhaustion. The waitress brought our ice cold refreshments and our lunch, and knowingly smiled as she said.
“You just back from hiking? You sure look like you’ve got The Big Beehive Buzz!”
There were many great submissions for the 2015 Photo Calendar Contest that we’ve put together the top 20 runner up images for you to enjoy. Congratulations to our winners who will be featured on the 2015 Leisure Travel Vans Calendar and thank you to all who entered. Happy shooting!
Roadside view of the fall colors near Lake Saint Mary, Glacier National Park. Photo by Alan Lichty.
Road adventures in comfort – our shakedown cruise in our new Unity in-front of Bow Lake in Banff National Park. Photo by Freda Montague.
Through the Red Rock tunnel traveling to the Red Rock Amphitheater in Denver, Colorado. Photo by Tobey Cat.
The good life. Kicked back in Babcock State Park, West Virginia. Photo by Donna Johnston.In Northern Maine along the Chain of Ponds during our east coast trip in September. Photo by Dave Matthews.June wildflowers and the Teton Mountains in Grand Teton National Park. Photo by Franklyn Knox.Our Free Spirit in Grand Teton National Park. Photo by Leslie Eppstein.I took my 87 year old dad on a tour of the Columbia River Gorge. My first RV is a far cry from his first RV – a brand new 1976 Volkswagen Westfalia picked up in Wolfsburg. But they do share the same German heritage. Photo by Andrew Jansky.Sometime the sky offers a treat before a downpour…. it’s no problem in our Unity – we have all the confort inside!. Photo by Danny Grondin.Driving in Monument Valley, Arizona. Photo by Don Brueggeman.Admiring the scenery at Huron Lookout in the Gatineau Park. Photo by André Beaumier.This must be heaven! The clouds parted to display Nature’s finest – right outside our door, at the Icefield Centre near the Columbia Icefield in Jasper National Park, Alberta, Canada. Photo by Linda Planting.Enjoying our nightly campfire and star gazing at White River National Forest, Redstone Campground, Colorado. Photo by Marie Carole Aliotta.Wilson Arch on the way to Moab, Utah. Photo by Don Brueggeman.A little Serenity at the end of a perfect day! Photo by Chris Taylor.My 2014 Unity TB alongside a nice grove of old growth forest in Gifford Pinchot National Forest. Photo by Alan Lichty.For us, there’s a great deal of joy being part of an awesome sunrise or sunset. We really feel that, even if they only last for a little while, those moment are so precious. Life is good! Photo by Dany Grondin.On the open road on Hwy 395 in Oregon. Photo by Christian Massey.Devil’s Tower rises majestically over a mesa in Wyoming. Photo by Manuel De Lizarriturri.Exploring Zion National Park on mountain bikes. Photo by Robert Widinski.