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.
The Leisurely Great Lakers Fall Rally will be held September 20-23 at Oak Grove Resort, Holland, MI. We have a block of sites reserved and you must call 616-399-9230 before August 31st. to be included in the reserved sites. After Aug 31st you will most likely be able to get a site but it might not be with the group.
Sites are $45/night and include full hookup, cable TV, paved pad, and patio. Bike trail right at the campground. Bike rentals available. There is a bike trail right at the campground, 6 miles to town and 1 mile to the beach.
Call 616-399-9230 to make your reservation, tell them you are with the Leisurely Great Lakers to get a site with the group.
We were facing a problem! It was a problem the geographical size of the entire state of South Carolina. It was a voluminous problem, one that could hold as much water as all of the Great Lakes combined! It was certainly an uncrossable problem, one so large that if we stood on the pebble strewn shores of one end, we surely wouldn’t see land where her blue horizon meets a similarly coloured sky, on the other end. It was a numerically large problem, at approximately 350 miles (560 km) long and 160 miles (260 km) wide. It was a problem that was angled rather awkwardly between the four Cardinal points of the Compass. It was a problem that was going to force us to make a choice of a Route.
We were in Toronto mapping ourselves a driveable, yet hopefully somewhat adventurous route Westwards, to the LTV Rally scheduled in Winkler (MB) on the 6th of September. We had a couple of extra days between now and then to… Adventure! The problem that lay in our path was forcing us to choose between a Northwards direction before going West all the while staying in Canada, or cross American Borders as we headed Southwestwards before going North & West. The problem that lay in our way was Gichi-Gami.
Gichi-Gami is the Ojibwa name for Lake Superior, the largest of the Five Great Lakes and translated means Upper Lake, or Great Sea. The Canadian Province of Ontario sits to her Northern shores, and the states of Minnesota (on her West side) and Michigan (South side) envelop her on the American side.
“So, do you want to drive the North of Lake Superior route?” asked Dave, as we were enjoying our morning cup of coffee. “Or should we explore the Southern route? The one below the Lake?”
“Let’s go the Southern route” I suggested, “we’ve never been that way before!” The excitement of the unknown just the Adrenaline we were looking for. Or maybe it was that double shot of Expresso pulsing through our veins that had us Excited to be on the road again.
We crossed the border into the USA at Sarnia and once in Michigan checked our trusty RV Parky App, double checked with Allstays, and the end result had us pulling into Lakeport State Park.
Our neighbour who’d been eyeing us since our arrival, sauntered over with a friendly wave once he noticed we were comfortably settled.
“Howdy,” he said, “How long you folks here for?”
“Oh, just overnight” responded Dave.
“I knew it!” he chuckled, “your spot has been full of one-night-ers all week. I can’t figure out where everyone is going? Maybe they don’t like the way I talk!”
He laughed, and we too, along with him.
“Where you headed?” he asked. We told him that our destination was Manitoba, and that we had a couple of days to spend exploring, and that we didn’t know which route to take. “Well…” he said, holding up his hand interrupting our passage ponderings, “…you need to go to the U.P.!”
Dave and I looked at each other quizzically, hoping the other could clarify what we weren’t sure we’d heard right, then looked back at him, hoping for an answer.
He took a moment and looked down at his right hand, changed his mind with a shake of his head, and then raised his left hand instead, bending his fingers down at the top joints and with his thumb kind of sticking outwards, making it all look curiously like…
“This is the State of Michigan” he explained, “which really looks like Da Mitten.” I nodded in agreement as his right-hand pointer finger aimed at the bottom. “This is us” and he traced his finger upwards as he continued, “Head up here. Cross the MightyMac and you’ll be in the U.P. Visit the waterfalls at the Qu’M’Non. And them Pictured Rocks are God’s gift,” he stopped for a moment before adding “and stop at the Lake in the Clouds in the Porkies.”
We looked at him, looked at each other, and quickly double checked our arrival beers, which were still rather full and certainly not the reason we weren’t understanding his lingo.
“Give me a minute,” he said, as he walked towards his campsite. “I’ve got some maps for you.” He returned moments later, his mitten hand full of the promised paperwork.
The next morning we drove the red line of GPS directions. Soon the silver cables and towers of a bridge appeared on the horizon and we found ourselves on the tolled Mackinac Bridge; five miles of four lanes of road that is the third longest suspension bridge in the world.
“The bridge opened on the first of November 1957 and it’s called the Mighty Mac or the Big Mac” I read out loud from the tourist pamphlet as Dave kept his eyes on the road ahead, “or the Troll Turnpike!”
“Why is it called the Troll Turnpike?” asked Dave.
“Well, Michigonians who live in the Lower Peninsula, South of the bridge, are called Trolls.”“And I suppose the U.P. the guy was talking about last night stands for the Upper Peninsula?”
“Yup” I laughed, “And the people who live there? They’re called Yoopers.”
We both laughed at the wordage, but truth be told we were intrigued and just slightly curious as to what kind of landscape this jargon was taking us to.
Our hungry bellies were growling their insistence for lunch just as we arrived at the Tahquamenon State Park campground. Thankfully it doesn’t take long to Park’N’Play!
“How about we hike the River Trail?” I asked as I mused over the potential edible contents of the fridge. “The trail entrance is right in this campsite loop. It’s only a couple of miles, and best of all it takes us to views of both the Upper and Lower Falls?”
“Sure, sounds great!”
Armed with water and an afternoon snack, we set a moderate pace as we followed the signs pointing the way to the Lower Falls. The afternoon sun shone brilliantly in the clear blue skies, and the sounds that are tall standing trees with no wind to whisper about their breezes was occasionally broken by the many chirping birds flitting about.
With ever increasing loudness we could hear the roar of rushing water before we actually saw the violent cascade of chocolate brown waters misting about and foaming on the shores.
From there, the River Trail started. For a while, we huffed and puffed uphill. We sidestepped the exposed tree roots, easily making our way over heeled wooden boardwalks.
We made our way down the hills and then counted the way too many stairs that led us back up. But, oh how the watery views here were calming and peaceful compared to the rushing waterfalls we witnessed earlier.
A little over two hours later we finally reached the Upper Falls and sat down on the first park bench we found. The banana we’d brought for a snack did nothing to convince our aching thighs to walk the extra mile to the Upper Falls, nor did drinking our now warm water help motivate our weary bodies towards the 116 step descent to the Gorge.
“Look dear, there’s a shuttle that can take us back,” said Dave as he read the sign out loud, and immediately frowned. “For $20!”
“Well, that sucks” I lamented, knowing full well we had brought Zero dollars with us.
“How was the trail?” asked the family group that sidled close to the same map we were reading.“It’s well worth the effort” we both agreed as we described the hike in greater detail adding, “It’s a linear 4 miles, so count on 8 miles if you’re hiking round trip. Should take you about 2 hours one way, or 4 if you’re going round trip.”
“It’s well worth the effort” we both agreed as we described the hike in greater detail adding, “It’s a linear 4 miles, so count on 8 miles if you’re hiking round trip. Should take you about 2 hours one way, or 4 if you’re going round trip.”
“Perhaps I won’t go,” said the elderly lady to her husband, “I’ll just drive down and wait for you, then you don’t have to walk back.” Then she looked over at us and asked: “Would you like a drive?” We accepted her generous offer and moments later arrived at our camp that was home for the night, where our chairs welcomed us with open arms and a perfect fire pit to rest our weary legs on.
Next day we figured we would stretch out our sore muscles with a flat, yet easy, 1.5 miles walk to the AuSable Lighthouse. We followed what was the old Coast Guard road along and soon an arrow pointed us down some stairs to the pebbled beach, where the mile-long shallow sandstone reef that extends out into Lake Superior was clearly visible to the eyes.
This lakeshore is known to be especially treacherous for voyaging vessels, especially in foggy or stormy conditions and the wrecks that made history are many, and famous, such as the Edmund Fitzgerald. How many tales would this weathered pile of jetsam tell if only the continuous ebb and flow of waters wouldn’t so constantly wash their stories away?
And as we climbed back up to the path and reached the Au Sable Lighthouse, we appreciated the many stories that this light could tell, and the lives it saved, as we toured about.
In Munising, we stopped at the Pictured Rocks National Park. Here we saw jaggedly picturesque sandstone cliffs emerging from Lake Superior’s waterline. Sculpted into the shoreline with a stunning palette of colours that appears when groundwater seeps through the cracks in the rocks and plays around with nature’s embedded minerals. Reds and oranges glow when iron is present, blues and greens shine where there is copper, browns and blacks develop where they find manganese and white arise from the limonite.
A small group of mountain ranges stand around here, their contour shaped rather like a porcupine. Or so the Ojibwa people thought, as they named them the Porcupine Mountains. Or Porkies for short.
It started raining when we arrived at Union Bay Campground, and we got a little wet as we waited for the Park Ranger to process our stay.
“On 11th of July 2016, we had the Storm of the Millenium. A whopping 11 inches of rain in only 4 hours! ” he said as he handed us our Windshield Paperwork and sent us on our rainy way. We hoped we weren’t going to break any new storm records that night as we navigated the large water puddles forming helter-skelter on the ground, and tampered with our ability to park all of our tires in relatively dry and level spots.
After all that Adventuring an early night was quite welcome. The pitter-patter song that is splattering raindrops on the roof lulled us to sleep, with no need to count raindrops, or porcupined mountain ranges, for that matter.
We woke up to the sun and clear blue skies and such a beautiful view from our site that it wasn’t difficult to talk ourselves into a second cup of coffee watching the morning mist retreat into the horizon.
It wasn’t far from our Campground to the Lake of the Clouds Overlook. The Park Ranger checked our pass and pointed the way to the parking lot, still rather empty in the early morning hours. We walked the short path to the Edges of the Escarpment and gasped.
“Look…” I whispered to Dave, getting my camera ready, and we both stared in mesmerizing fashion as the misty grey clouds played tag with the cliffs, and bounced towards the Lake below, singing “Tag! Play Along, Catch me if you can!” as they disappeared from view, and re-emerged with surprising haziness somewhere else.
It wasn’t difficult to understand why the lake was renamed from Carp Lake (originating from the French Term “Lac du Escarpe”) to Lake of the Clouds, for it truly was just that.
Three mountain ridges parallel Lake Superior’s shoreline. And Lake of the Clouds sits on one of them. We visited the other ridge, purported to be the tallest one, where we stopped at the Summit Peak trailhead. Given the impassably wet conditions we opted out of all the trail hikes, and chose the boardwalk type of uphill walk, that had way too many stairs to count but came with many benches where we could sit to catch our breath until we reached the base of the Observation Tower.
With heartbeats pumping out of our heaving chests, we exhaled loudly as we officially reached, at 1958 feet, the top of the Tower and the highest peak in the Porkies. Would this be what the world would look like if you were a bird soaring freely over the dense tree topped porcupine shaped mountain ranges?
And so this is the Story of how, thanks to the unusual lingo of a campsite neighbour, we came to adventure in a State that looks like Da Mitten. Where, for very special few days we visited a land abbreviated as the U.P. Where, for a while, we were Trolls, then continued on as Yoopers but only after we crossed the MightyMac, of course. This is the story of chocolate coloured waterfalls and lighthouses with shipwrecked history. Of where the Lake and the Clouds played a disappearing game of tag all in strangely shaped mountains called the Porkies.
And how, because of Gichi-Gami, our Adventures drove us through one Compass Tale of a Route!