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.
If you’ve ever shied away from visiting a large city because you want to avoid navigating, parking and driving within, shy no longer. A resort-like campground with a convenient shuttle service to Savannah, Georgia’s fifth largest city, just opened and is ready to serve a 5-star resort-quality stay.
So, first I’ll take you to the campground, and then move in and on to the city once gifted to a president, and where Forest Gump sat on a bench waiting for that bus with his box of chocolates.
CreekFire Motor Ranch, a 105-acre facility, boasts roomy full-hookup sites, a clubhouse, pool pavilion, a 35-acre lake and more. You can choose from 103 level, back-in, pull-through, gravel and paved pad sites. Just opened in October 2017, this multi-million dollar facility is so new that we could still see the newly-laid turf patterns in the grass. An Airstream trailer serves as a food truck, currently open for events, weekends and holidays. Their shuttle service, at $10, takes you to the Savannah, a service to be appreciated as the Savannah Visitor Center recently changed its policy and no longer allows RVs to park in their lot past 6:30 p.m., or overnight. Bill is pretty comfortable driving our 2015.5 Leisure Unity MB in crowded cities, but this shuttle service lessened our work.
“This campground was designed with the guest experience in mind – and we can’t wait for visitors to create lasting memories here,” said Matthew Lipman, owner, and president. “CreekFire’s location is one of the elements that make it so special,” added Lipman. “Guests have easy access to Savannah, but at the same time, our amenities make the campground a destination in itself.”
And, there is more yet to come at CreekFire. A grill and bar for the pool area and will be open for Memorial Day weekend. Under development is a Lake House to open summer 2018. Phase II will start construction next year and will include a driving range and golf putting area as well as a lazy river around the pool house.
Now, about Savannah. The oldest city in Georgia, founded in 1733 on the Savannah River, it’s the place where low country boils (I’ll explain later), hand-made pralines (depending on your region, pronounced prawlines or praylines), and southern hospitality are served with a smile, and just a hint of a drawl. It’s the place known for its ghost tours and hauntings. Some say it’s one of the top 10 haunted cities in America, and it is certainly up for boasting rights for #1. And, it’s the place with museums, period architecture, those picturesque city squares seemingly on every block, art galleries and more. The city’s downtown area, including the Savannah Historic District and Savannah Victorian Historic District, is one of the largest National Historic Landmark districts in the country.
Foodies will want to sample handmade pralines made with pecans, butter and sugar and other ingredients found at several candy stores. And, even if you’re not a sweets lover, you’ve gotta try’em. Savannah’s diverse cuisine includes locally sourced seafood, fried chicken, barbeque, grits and more. But if you’re coming here for food, make sure ‘sea’ is the prefix, as you’re on the Atlantic, and close also to the Gulf.
Let’s pause for a bit of history here. In 1864, Union General William Tecumseh Sherman “gave” Savannah as a Christmas present to President Abraham Lincoln, rather than burn it all down. It thus remains as one of the few cities in the South that escaped the Civil War’s carnage. You can research several stories on how the city was saved, and decide which story sounds most plausible. There are several. It’s also a place where slaves were sold, and sadly, in 1859, was the site of the largest auction of slaves ever, known as “The Weeping Time.”
On to our visit. We arrived at CreekFire Motor Ranch on a Thursday afternoon, settled in and grabbed the 6 p.m. shuttle to the city. Dropped off at City Market, from there we strolled toward River Street, stepping down one of several historic flights of steep stone steps, remnants of the 1800s, onto the old cobblestone streets. You can practically breathe in the history here as you imagine a time when horse-drawn carriages, riverboats, and smoke-belching steam trains were the modes of transport.
The refurbished warehouses, once home to King Cotton, nowadays are filled with hotels, shops and spots for dinner. Fiddler’s Crab House, set in a historic 1850’s cotton warehouse, was our choice. We dove into a Low Country Boil for two, with oysters raw and steamed, littleneck clams, crawfish, shrimp, and crab legs, plus our pick of sides, including cheesy grits, Caesar salad and redskins, for about $26 each.
After dinner we walked along River Street, tasting a sample of fresh-made pralines at Savannah’s Candy Kitchen, buying one chocolate and one regular of these pecan delights to savor later in our trip. We then sauntered back to City Market, with just enough time to share a dish of ice cream and listen to live music from the Tree House Savannah restaurant. The shuttle picked us up as scheduled at 9 p.m. and brought us back to CreekFire.
The next morning we took the 9 a.m. shuttle back to the city. After walking through City Market again, we wandered toward Forsyth Park, a little more than a one-mile walk, admiring the turrets, towers and decorative trim of the historic homes and churches, and tree-lined E. Oglethorpe Avenue, one of the city’s most famous sights, that trademark live oak-canopied street the city is known for. We stopped at several city squares, including Chippewa, where Tom Hanks, aka Forrest Gump, sat on a bench in that movie (the bench was placed there only for the movie and is now in the Savannah History Museum).
Another 10 blocks and three city squares down, we arrived at Forsyth Park, with its live oak-lined walkway beckoning us to Forsyth Fountain, modeled after a few other fountains found around the world, including fountains in Paris and Peru.
In the park, we watched a “plein air” artist painting the way Monet would have, and young mothers exercising together. Tourists posed for photos at the fountain, named for Georgia’s Governor John Forsyth, who led the state during the city’s expansion in 1851.
Continuing our walk back to Market Street, we stopped to ask about lunch at Belford’s because of its inviting outdoor patio. With accolades from Bon Appétit, Southern Living and The New York Times, this is one of THE places to eat in the city. Sitting outside to watch the passersby, we each chose a Low-Country tradition, She-Crab soup, and shared an order of fried green tomatoes and baby kale salad with bourbon-soaked peaches. We missed the crab cakes, which were described by all we met as “the best in the world.” Next time.
Contact CreekFire Motor Ranch at www.creekfirerv.com, [email protected], or 912-897-2855 to make your reservation. If you are a Leisure Travel Van owner, mention this blog when booking and use promo code VANS20 to be eligible for a 20% discount within the month of April 2018. Rally groups can also be accommodated. CreekFire Motor Ranch, 275 Fort Argyle Road, Savannah, GA is just one-quarter mile west of I-95 exit 94. Discounts are given for Good Sam Club, Family Motor Coach, and military veterans. One discount per visit.
Get acquainted with Savannah by taking a Hop-on, hop-off trolley tour or a horse-drawn carriage ride. There are several trolley lines, and our favorite is Old Town Trolley Tours, where people in character come aboard to give you a bit of first-person fun, or history. If you’re lucky, Forrest Gump and other characters might join you on the tour.
After visiting Savannah, consider head south along the coast, to St. Augustine, Florida, the oldest city in the nation. But, someday, you must visit Savannah.
What’s your idea of a perfect day on the road? Is it the day you venture to a new place? A day you discover something unexpected? Or is it a day spent traveling along familiar paths to familiar places in your home state, a day in which you take the time to savor one of last, and best, days of summer, a day when Mother Nature teases you into thinking the season isn’t really ending. Bill and I had such a day this past September, just a few days before the calendar told us that autumn was arriving.
We started our morning waking up at the Platte River State Forest Campground near Honor, Michigan. It’s a forested spot where towering pines provide such a thick canopy in the sky that not much grows underfoot except mounds of moss covering long-ago fallen trees. The Platte River meanders along this place, and Bill hoped he might catch a few salmon, either chinook or coho.
He donned his waders and walked to the river, while I readied for the day and prepped a fresh tomato-feta-spinach-mushroom omelet. I fed our cats, Muka and Sadie. “No feesh,” Bill declared upon his return, stating that we are either a week late or a week early to see any fish in the river.
Breakfast and cleanup completed, we set off for St. Ambrose Cellars, Beulah. Just a scant four miles down the road, this meadery and winery makes draft meads, beer, red wine and white wine. Mead, a honey-based wine, is a trending beverage, and St. Ambrose’s innovative meads combine their own honey with unique flavors for gold, delicious beverages, either “still” or carbonated (draft).
Located along a rural road, the tasting room features 12-foot tall church windows from the Traverse City Playhouse, a former church, and a 17-foot long cypress plank table created by local craftsmen from a single tree hundreds of years old. Bees are the decor here and can be found on the carved bar and on the wall art and at a bee-friendly flower garden. The patio hosts outdoor seating, and an adjacent 1800’s post and beam red barn is available for events. Nearby sister business Sleeping Bear Farms beekeepers maintain more than 6,000 hives for pollination and honey.
After tasting stills and on-tap drafts like Razzmatazz, John Lemon, Black Madonna and a few more, we bought six bottles (only $6 each, what a deal) and set off for Frankfort, one of many “up north” beach towns that dot Michigan’s West Coast.
With its Victorian homes, tree-lined streets, specialty shops and galleries, pristine dunes, and steelhead and salmon fishing, we chose Frankfort for lunch as it has some great eateries and is also the starting point of the Betsie Valley Trail.
The Fusion, with its Pan-Asian cuisine and patio seating overlooking the marina looked like a good choice. We did not sample their sake or small plates; I instead selected yummy Honey Sesame Chicken and Bill went for his go-to, General’s Chicken. A light egg drop soup started our meal.
After lunch, we set off on our bikes east on the Betsie Valley Trail. This 22-mile pathway curves around Betsie Lake toward Elberta, and then crosses M-22 east to Beulah and then southeast to Thompsonville.
Starting in Frankfort, we peddled over two pedestrian bridges with picturesque views over Lake Betsie, with Frankfort to the west and muskrat lodges in the wetlands to the east. Goldenrod and other wildflowers brought along colors of autumn, and the spent milkweed pods reminded us of summer’s passing.
We followed the trail another mile or so, and returning back, we cycled past the Cabbage Patch restaurant, where I dined several years ago. We rode a bit further west to Elberta’s Railroad Point Park, a tribute to the influence of the Ann Arbor Railroad and Steamship lines, which once provided rail service from Toledo, linking the East and Midwest to the West, as goods were shipped to Milwaukee and Kewanee, Wisconsin and beyond. Bill, ever the Michigan historian, mused about the Pet-Ritz factory located in Frankfort, and the frozen pies and cobblers made there before it shut down in 1991. George Petritz also was active in founding nearby Crystal Mountain resort.
As we rode back to Frankfort, Bill noticed two women standing near our Leisure Unity MB parked on the main street. We soon met and shared stories with Buff Bumford, another LTV owner, about her Serenity and our Unity.
Ready to leave town, we took M-22 down to Orchard Beach State Park. M-22, one of Michigan’s most beautiful byways, offers Lake Michigan beachfront views and stunning canopied tunnels of trees, along with great restaurants nestled therein, or nearby along the way. This gently winding road, with its scenic overlooks is definitely worth the trip. If you go on the same tour, anytime you see on a map something called Scenic Drive, take it. Because it will be.
At Orchard Beach, we chose a site with a view of Lake Michigan; we dined with a bottle of red wine and shared a steak as we watched the sunset from our campsite.
A few hours later, we walked in the darkness to the bluff overlooking Lake Michigan. The warm air, stars above and gentle waves below provided the perfect end to our perfect day. Many more are yet to come.