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.
Travel has always been a part of my life. My first major adventure on the road was in the early 1970s when I planned a road trip to Nova Scotia from southwest Missouri in a 1966 Volvo 1800S with two kids (just over one and almost four), mostly by writing for information. The basis of my research was a listing of state and provincial tourism agencies I found in the travel section of the local newspaper. I wrote letters to each state and province we anticipated visiting and it took several weeks for all of the information to arrive. Long distance telephoning was quite expensive and virtually everything was done by mail. I took the maps and planned routes that looked logical. The process took a lot of time but the effort was worthwhile as we thoroughly enjoyed the experience.
Planning a major adventure on the road today has evolved significantly over the last several decades. While the Internet has revolutionized how we plan travel, there is still an important place for some of the traditional resources. My wife and I have talked about a trip to Alaska for many years, but two years ago I started planning what an actual road trip to Alaska might look like. The conveyance is to be our 2013 Leisure Travel Vans Unity U24IB.
The resources at our disposal are almost limitless. This article is based on the process I went through in planning our own Alaska adventure that is planned for July 2015 and I will share some of the resources I found most helpful. One more word of caution: it is important to recognize that individual travel styles vary significantly. Some prefer group travel and others prefer experiencing travel adventure alone. There is no right or wrong unless you find yourself doing a trip with someone else’s travel style. Personally, my wife and I lean toward solo road adventures and the flexibility (and, yes, sometimes challenges) that the style presents so my planning is from that perspective.
No effort to plan a trip to Alaska is complete without a current copy of Milepost, billed as “Legendary Alaska trip planner and Alaska travel guide to the highways, roads, ferries, lodgings, recreation, sightseeing attractions and services along the Alaska Highway to and within Alaska, including Alberta, British Columbia, Northwest Territories and the Yukon.” That’s quite a mouthful, but in truth it is that and more. The “more” is their website – what a resource. Here’s a brief list of what you’ll find:
In the printed Milepost:
On the Milepost website:
The resources in this category are virtually limitless, but all searches should start with the official state of Alaska vacation and travel information website at www.travelalaska.com. Here you’ll find photos and videos, things to do, places to stay, tips on both travel to and within Alaska, and numerous planning helps.
Find a road or point of interest that looks interesting, just do a search on Google (or your favorite search engine) and you will find all kinds of interesting information, often posted by independent travelers who share their experiences.
There are numerous guide books on Alaska. One of my favorites is Lonely Planet’s “Alaska.” The style is casual, frank, and a bit irreverent, but it cuts through the normal fluff you find in similar guides and gives you a perspective on what you might enjoy and what you might not.
Members get free maps and guide books which can be helpful, but the roadside assistance that is part of “RV Premier” with 200 miles of free towing and assistance offer peace of mind when you are traveling not only far from home but, often, far from anywhere. Now all you need is a cell signal so you can call them.
You need to somehow keep track of small resources you come across that pertain to destinations you might like to visit. In this case, the file would be labeled Alaska. Tangent to this would be a bookmark file for Alaska on your computer. Keep articles you find in your paper file and bookmark websites you find helpful for later reference on your computer.
Listening to the tales of Alaska travel of friends and others you meet can be invaluable, especially if you share interests and perspectives. Their information can give you a feel for what to expect and may give you a reality check on any number of questions you might have. An example is our meeting, quite by chance, of another couple who own a Unity almost identical to ours. We met in the parking lot of a restaurant we were both about to go to for lunch. Over lunch together, we found that they had driven the Alcan Highway dozens of times and had a wealth of experience which they later shared with us in detail, including seven pages of hand-written notes on a legal size pad. Their notes are an invaluable resource.
Yes, there are numerous free mapping services available online but a map program on your laptop like Microsoft Streets and Trips (which was discontinued in 2014) gives the flexibility of route planning when you have no Internet access.
I don’t use GPS when planning, but when I’m on the road it is quite helpful. For instance, I can force the driving route to the route I’ve planned and let the GPS keep us on track. If you are looking for an address in an area you are unfamiliar with the GPS is very helpful. If you travel with a destination in mind for the end of the day, a GPS will give you an ETA based on real world conditions that can be most helpful in timing stops along the way. Not long ago our GPS helped us realize that staying on Hwy 1 north of San Francisco would place our target destination in Arcata near midnight and our hosts were looking for us for supper. The GPS then found a route through the mountains from Hwy 1 back to Hwy 101 that proved to be spectacular and we were in Arcata in plenty of time.
Let me give a brief overview of how I integrated these resources in planning our upcoming trip to Alaska.
As we started a serious planning process I found articles in my paper file about RV tour companies taking groups to Alaska. I looked carefully at their itineraries to see where they went and what they did, making notes of things that appeared to be of interest. A friend in Victoria, British Columbia, sent me an article on ten places to see in northern British Columbia and the Yukon and I read it carefully. I reviewed the notes from my new friend who has driven the Alcan so many times. I browsed my Milepost guide and visited milepost.com, making notes of places I wanted to be sure to include. I looked at the state of Alaska website and did several searches to learn more about some points of interest I had found. I stopped by AAA and got their tour guides for Alaska and Canada and nice maps for both.
Armed with this information and a lengthy list of points of interest, I entered the RV tour itineraries and the ten places from my friend’s article into Microsoft Streets and Trips. Using the “optimize stops” button I turned all of these random points of interest into one sequenced tour.
I copied the sequenced points of interest into Microsoft Word and made one vast itinerary which I started cutting into daily segments based on what I had found to see and do. Some days the itinerary called for little or no travel because there was a lot to see and do. Denali National Park, for instance, has several days allocated. In a few cases, the itinerary has travel days of a couple hundred miles.
The itinerary for each day identifies what there is to see and do and where it is. If we find that we are fascinated by a location, we simply look for a place to park for the night and slip the itinerary back a day since we travel without reservations. In cases where reservations are essential (perhaps a ferry that is seasonally busy), we know how to pace ourselves just by looking at the itinerary. The GPS can be helpful when a ferry is the next stop as it can give you the ETA for the ferry dock.
This may sound quite structured, but actually it is quite loose. The itinerary is thought of as a guide, not a master, and simply helps us focus on what we found that we thought would be of interest. Sometimes we find things that aren’t in any of the literature and, conversely, find things we thought would be interesting but aren’t.
The map with this article includes everything I found rolled into one grand tour. The total mileage according to Streets and Trips is 9,932 miles from Bellingham, WA and back. Since we developed the initial plan, we signed up to volunteer for three weeks with NOMADS at Birchwood Camp about 20 miles north of Anchorage so we will adjust our real world travel accordingly.
We plan to leave for our Alaska adventure on July 1 with all of our resources onboard. Obviously, we don’t have time in July and August to drive it all. A friend of mine who has driven to Alaska many times says that the first trip will only set us up to crave another!
Our new plan is to follow the itinerary to Anchorage and use weekends while we are at Birchwood Camp to explore the Kenai Peninsula. Before we leave Birchwood Camp on July 30, we will make an assessment of what we would most like to see during the month we plan to take to get home and choose the parts of our prepared itinerary that fascinate us most.
I will report on the outcome of this planning effort in September after we return home. A special part of that report will be how we packed our Unity IB with four tool boxes, a 7′ ladder, two bicycles, and my wife’s cello … and, yes, two spare tires … all stashed inside and out of the way!
The weather has been terrific, the places we have visited have all been exciting and, of course, the Roadrunners we’ve traveled with have been wonderful. As chapter heads, we can’t thank all of our participants enough for these memorable experiences. It truly makes the effort in coordinating these rallies personally very worthwhile. We encourage members of all LTV RV clubs to support their clubs by “pitching in” to volunteer as “wagon masters” or “assis- tant wagon masters” on rallies to favorite places of interest.
Yosemite (May 18th -21st)/Bass Lake Rally (May 22nd to 25th) – Mary and Bill Harsh “pitched in” by organizing a rally of 8 rvs, 14 rvers from OR, CA, NV and AZ. We had a good time camping at Mariposa Fairgrounds where we visited the Califor- nia State Mining and Mineral Museum actually located inside the campground right next to our rv sites. A tour guide and his van provided a convenient way to tour and enjoy the beauty of Yosemite National Park without having to worry about parking during the beginning of the park’s heavy tourist season. We also chartered Mariposa’s Red Trolley to tour historic places in the town and to stop briefly for a bite to eat at Happy Burger Diner. The last evening of our stay we carpooled in our RVs to the Sugar Pine Railroad station for some tips on how to pan for gold and to have a really good BBQ dinner before catching a night-time steam engine train ride, with our dogs, to somewhere deep in the forest to gather around a campfire and listen to entertainers sing familiar folk songs. Next, it was on to dry camp three days at nearby Bass Lake where we enjoyed the beauty and solitude of the lake by chartered boat. While there, we were fortunate the weather had warmed up enough so the road was finally open for our trek home over Tioga Pass and through Tuolumne Meadows to Mono Lake in Lee Vining, CA. The views and photo ops along the way were really spectacular. Be sure to include this drive sometime in your adventures out west. A special thanks goes out to Mary and Bill Harsh for coordinating this wonderful rally adventure.
On the way home a few RVers continued their travels to some of the National Parks of Southern UT including Bryce Canyon, Cathedral Canyon and Zion. These parks are easily seen without worry for parking. Bryce has pullouts to accommodate
our size rvs and Zion has designated parking areas where travelers must park their cars or rvs and board sightseeing buses. If you are planning a trip to these areas, be sure to contact chapter heads Mary Jane Musser or George Ormsby for tips on places to stay and how you might want to plan your activities.
On June 10th George and Aileen Ormsby invited 23 LTV RVers, 12 rvs, in the greater Las Vegas area to the Roadrunners chapter’s first annual “meet and greet” at Vic’s Restaurant in Sun City Anthem in Henderson, NV. It was good meeting everyone, seeing some of their RVs and hearing about their travels. It was also an opportunity to meet John Chelist, General Manager of Wagon Trail RV in Las Vegas. He gave us an RV industry up date and commented about some of the dealer- ship’s exciting expansion plans. Wagon Trail is LTV’s leading dealer in the nation for the past three years in a row. Our special guests also included Mary Jane Musser and Tom Carter from Lake Oswego, OR who are Chapter Heads for LTV’s Evergreen Leisures RV Club in the northwest region. They’ve participated in numerous joint rallies with us.
Huck Finn Jubilee Festival Rally (June 13-15) – Participation was a little sparse with only 7 RVers, 4 rigs attending the Cu- camonga-Guasti Regional Park event in Ontario, CA. The blue-grass music was really good and those attending thought it would be worthwhile to add this to our Club’s list of annual get-away rallies providing we get reservations in early enough to stay on-site at the Guasti Park.
Oregon/Washington Scenic Wonders Rally (July 13th – 27th) – This year’s rendezvous location was in Canyonville, OR at the Seven Feathers RV Resort. 15 RVers, 9 rvs participated in the rally. If you haven’t stayed at this resort it is truly a must place visit and you’ll likely rank it among the finest places you will ever stay at in your RV. We used the resort as a hub taking day trips to Florence, OR for a group sand dune buggy ride and to Junction, OR to visit the Oregon Caves National Monument. We then continued our trek on north through Central Oregon staying at Diamond Lake which was the closest RV park to Crater Lake to take some of the early morning boat trips that are available. Recommend staying at the National Forest Campground since it is closer Diamond Lake’s shoreline.
Our travels continued to Bend, OR to take a short “Big Eddy Thriller” rafting trip along the Deschutes River and on to East Lake to spend three days dry camping and to rent a party boat to tour one of the most beautiful mountain lakes you’ll ever see. We also visited the High Desert Museum’s fascinating “Raptures of the Sky” program and dined in the Old Mill District in downtown Bend. Our travels continued on to Timberline Lodge on Mt. Hood and to the Pheasant Ridge RV Resort just south of Portland. We also used this resort as a hub during the second week of our rally taking day trips to the Blimp Hangar, Tillamook Cheese Factory and the city of Cannon Beach along the northern Oregon coast as well as to Mt. St. Helens and the many falls and places in the Columbia River Gorge including Crown Point aka the Vista House and Hood River a mecca for wind surfers from around the world.
One of the highlights this year was a day-long cruise on the scenic Willamette and Columbia Rivers aboard the ship Willamette Star with a guide commenting on the Lewis and Clark Expedition’s adventures when it reached this area in 1805. Another was when Mary Jane Musser’s and Tom Carter’s invited rally participants to their home for a fabulous BBQ salmon dinner. Our special thanks to them for their hospitality.
Our RV Club’s remaining rallies for the year include the joint Caravan Rally from the West Coast (August 22 to Sep- tember 2nd) with LTV’s Evergreen Leisures RV Club to the Factory Rally in Winkler, MB (September 3rd to 6th). Our route this year takes us through Icicle River, WA and Kelowna, Banff and Lake Louise, BC, Canada. The Albuquerque Balloon Festival Rally (October 9-12) is fully booked; and information about the 62nd California RV Show Rally (Octo- ber 10-19) in Pomona, CA. will be available soon.