2017 Summer Trip Countdown

The 2017 Summer Trip is just around the corner. I feel a bit more prepared this year compared to the past. Attempting to learn and improve, I have made the following changes with the preparation this year:

(1) Not waiting until the last minute to pack. My clothes duffel is practically complete. I’ve picked through the large storage areas under the main bed and the bunks, getting rid of items not needed. Hitch up and ready to go.

(2) Doing campsite research ahead of time and then being ready to make reservations when sites are first available. Camping at a national park campground is almost always preferable. The price is right and the location puts you near where you want to be. When making a campground reservation you need to know what sites can fit your RV (the smaller the RV, the more sites that are available). Using Google Maps for a bit of reconnaissance helps me take the campground map and figure out which site will work best. Come reservation time, you need to be ready. Most national park’s book their campsites 6 months out… to the day. Usually the reservation window opens at 10am eastern and if you want that dream campsite on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, then you need to click the book button at exactly 10am.

(3) I took a course in how to offroad using my 4 wheel drive. I have an offroad capable vehicle but have been hesitant to go on the national park’s 4×4 roads because of my lack of knowledge. A few weeks back, Sarah and I headed to a offroad park for a 4×4 101 class. I was able to learn about all the capabilities of my vehicle as well as my limitations as a driver. I was amazed at the terrain that my vehicle could handle and feel much more confident in adventuring on 4×4 roads in the national parks.

(4) Pre-execution checks. Maintenance at the RV dealership where I purchased my travel trailer is becoming problematic. They have proved themselves untrustworthy with their ability to do basic tasks, despite my willingness to pay for it. I have to start doing most the maintenance myself. Before the big trip, I was able to take the trailer on a few weekend camping trips to make sure everything is working.

(5) Less books. I read all the time. On past trips, I’ve packed a milk crate worth of hardcover books. Piles of guide books had surround my bed. Christa said, “Why don’t you use your Kindle?” Besides the fact that I prefer the advantages of a hardcover book (no power required, easy to bookmark, highly portable). Well, I’m going Kindle for this summer. That should easily save about 25lbs of weight and space.

(6) Bluetooth adapter for travel trailer sound system. I saw a recommendations for a bluetooth adapter to connect an iPod to a trailer’s sound system. In the past I have used a simple patch cable. That was often a pain due to the case my iPod is in, it was hard to get the plug seated properly. Then I relied on a playlist shuffle and preset volume to carry the day. Now with the bluetooth adapter I can keep the iPod with me and adjust what is playing on the fly. The only downside is the battery life of the bluetooth adapter. When it runs out of juice, your done.

(7) Practice cooking. Easily one of my biggest summer trip failings is my inability to throw together decent dinners. Usually it will not take much to convince me to make dinner plans at the national park’s dining concessions. I consistently underestimate the time involved in dinner meal preparation. Therefore, I have been trying to practice cooking some basic dinner meals that I will be able to reproduce while at the campsite.

Shipshape & Bristol Fashion

Last week the Tundra got a make over. Besides the normal oil change, tire rotation, and alignment I had the drive belt replaced, repairs made to the front axle seal, a CV boot, the top brake light, and one of the license plate lights. The brakes are good. The vibration in the driver’s side mirror is fixed. The Tundra is up to 111k miles but is still going strong.

The travel trailer is done with it’s (second) service. The leak behind the toilet (a bad valve) is fixed. A bad stabilizer jack has been replaced. Brakes adjusted.

Tomorrow we will start packing her up for this weekend.

Bananas Foster

I got my Coleman stove out to (1) make sure it works, as we are (knock on wood) going camping this weekend and (2) try out more aluminum foil recipes.

Tonight I took a square of foil, added butter, sliced up a banana, and sprinkled (liberally) with brown sugar and a bit of cinnamon.

I cooked it on high for 10 minutes. The Coleman heats up quick. If I am unable to be successful at the campsite with getting a fire suitable for aluminum foil cooking, I know my Coleman will do the trick. After 10 minutes, I put on my thermal gloves and scooped off the aluminum packet.

The smell was promising. I opened it up and it looked great. Four bowls were quickly produced and the family enjoyed the bananas with a bit of vanilla ice cream. I think we found a winner.

I was thinking of a possible variation where I add some Pillsbury dough and make it into some type of a banana fritter. We will see.

Practice cooking

A good part of camping is about cooking. While I was a Boy Scout, our troop mostly did overnight backpack trips. For dinner, we woul have the frozen plastic packet of a Lean Cuisine meal. All you had to do was throw it in a small pot of boiling water, wait, and yor done. In the Army, about as fancy as we got was adding Tobasco sauce to your MRE and heating it with this pouch chemical heater.

With two girls on a camping trip, I need to up my game. We started practicing here at home by making hobo-style meals and cooking them on the grill. A square of aluminum foil, a seasoned chick thigh, cut up onions, potatoes, peppers, mushrooms, and you wrap it up and toss it on the grill. Delicious!

Dessert? Another square of foil, apple slices, brown sugar, cinnamon, and I spread out a biscuit from a tube of Pilsbury dough. Real tasty and the girls liked it.

In The Midst of Preparation

The countdown is on and the Summer Trip awaits. I am in my second year of travel trailer ownership and am certainly still in learning mode. After a series of unfortunate events with an RV service center east of Kansas City, I have been able to add to my travel trailer fix-it knowledge.

Most of the actual planning for the Summer Trip is complete. I have almost all my campsite reservations and I have my National Park discount card. The route has been decided. The goal is NOT to put in any high mileage days. My highest mileage day looks like it will be the first at 361 miles. Not too bad and all interstate.

All the camping we are doing at Yellowstone and Glacier National Park is dry camping…. no electrical hook ups, no water hook ups. Not having electric for multiple days made me look into swapping out my trailers 12v battery for two deep cycle 6v batteries. I need to check the amp hour difference, but it is significant. Another action I took to conserve or limit the amount of power we will be consuming is to swap out the inside light bulbs with LED bulbs. These should draw considerably less power. Another advantage (when camping in warmer climbs) is that these bulbs also give off much less heat. But heat is another concern… heat for us inside the trailer at night. Temperatures may fall to the mid-30sF. The trailer has a propane furnace and I don’t imagine I will have a problem obtaining propane. I will also carry a spare 20lbs propane tank should the need arise. However, the rub with using the furnace is that it uses a blower fan, which does consume battery power. In order to help keep the 6v batteries nice and charged, I have a solar panel I can hook up. The trailer came equipped with an external plug that allows me to attach the solar panel and charge the batteries directly. I have not tested this out yet and look forward to doing it. The next step is to get a battery box that will fit both the 6v batteries together and secure it to A-frame trailer behind the propane tank. Easier said then done because it is a fairly narrow area.

I have gotten the bearings repacked on the trailer’s single axle, the brakes checked and adjusted, as well as replacing the stock tires with a pair that are a little more robust.

I replaced the plastic cover that goes over the controls for the refrigerator. The original was broken on one of last summer’s camping trips.

The (current) major problem is a leak in the water system. This weekend when I hooked up the city water connection, a small stream of water started to originate from the back of the trailer (behind the toilet) a was making its way towards the front. There was also a small amount of water that was coming out of the bottom of the trailer at a spot marked “low point drain”. I turned off the water and toweled up the water inside. It looked like it may be a problem with the connection to the back of the toilet. Water problems give me pause because I just imagine all the potential damage water could cause. I decided to call to make an appointment to take the travel trailer in to the dealership where I bought it. I just need to know without a shadow of a doubt that the trailer’s onboard water system works without flaw.

Unfortunately that means that the short camping trip to a nearby lake next weekend is off. However, that gives me a bit more breathing room to take care of the near-term To Do List: (1) come up with a battery box solution, get the two 6v batteries installed and working, (2) get the travel trailer and truck weighed to figure out the trailer weight, tongue weight, and truck weight to see how close I am to the recommended limits, and (3) get an onboard packing/storage plan.

The onboard packing/storage plan may end up being a fairly significant deal. The travel trailer’s GVWR is 3626 lbs which includes 791 lbs of “stuff” I can bring onboard. Right from the start, over 100 lbs is taken up by the two 6v batteries (those guys are HEAVY). I am going to avoid traveling with the water tanks full. Water could easily take up another 250 lbs. The rest of the weight is going to be a matter of nickel and dime computations… folding chairs, tables, fishing poles, clothes, food, dishes, pots, etc. I just get the feeling that 791 lbs of “stuff” will not be hard to accumulate into the confines of the trailer.