Family camping at Sleeping Bear Dunes

2017 Family camping trip-12The first big stop of our family camping trip in 2017 was to Sleeping Bear Dunes in Michigan. I remember hearing about massive sand dunes in Michigan decades ago, and had always wanted to see them, so I figured that this was the trip to make it happen. We didn’t have a specific place to camp at the Dunes, but that never worries me, as every time we look for a place to camp, we always wind up with stunning locations.

It’s about an 8-hour drive from our home near Akron, OH to the Dunes. Because of unexpected delays with our departure with Sammy and his type 1 diabetes, we wound up leaving near sunset, which wasn’t at all what I wanted to do. I’m a morning person, and driving late at night is always a challenge for me. However, my lovely wife Elicia wanted to get on the road and put some miles behind us, as we were already a day behind and we hadn’t even pulled out of the driveway.

We got dinner at a Sheetz and let the kids order subs there, which turned out to be a mistake with them costing us nearly $60 for that one gas station meal. I drove on and around 1:00am I decided that I needed to get some sleep, so I found a rest area that was mostly empty and stopped for the night. However, sleeping 12 people in a van overnight, one of them being 2 years old, is never fun, and it didn’t help that it was a hot night, so there was much complaining and whining and kids complaining, so I finally decided enough was enough, grabbed a pathetic little kid-sized blanket, and walked into the fields surrounding the rest area to find a dark place to get some sleep on the ground under the open sky.

Turns out that was the right move, as nobody else got much sleep at all and I got about 4-5 hours of slumber, and got up around dusk. When I got back to the AdventureVan, all the windows were all fogged up, everybody was laying on top of everybody else, there was much snoring and, and I was happy I had slept on the ground alone and content.

On the road, everybody slept the morning away until we were about 5 miles from Sleeping Bear Dunes at around 10am. The first thing I did was drove to the D. H. Day Campground which was right up the road from the big dunes and booked us a nice double site, with space for the van, camper, and two tents. We then went to the dunes.

The kids immediately started running up the huge sand bank, not understanding how massive it really is. Its size is deceiving and the were worn out before getting to the top. They also didn’t bring any water, just some pop, and were soon very sad about that decision, as they were thirsty quickly. I had the joy of dealing with a cranky two year old who just woke up, and also a sick ten year old who drank too much pop and ate chocolate before climbing the dunes. It all added up to me spending nearly no time climbing the dune before everybody was ready to go back to the campground.

We got back to the campground, we set up the popup camper, set up the tents and let the kids run off and explore the campground. Sadly, there was excellent cell phone coverage up there, so the kids spent more time on their phones than we wanted, but we knew it would end soon enough when we got into the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.

D. H. Day campground was super nice and exactly what we hoped for. It wasn’t overbooked, and had clean toilets. The sites are quite large, with most of them being large enough to handle an RV plus a tent with room to spare. There was no electric, which was fine with me, as the idea of the trip is to connect with each other and nature, not the online world. At the north end of the campground is a beautiful little boardwalk that takes you to a sandy beach on Lake Michigan, where I got to live out a childhood dream of mine and had a fire on the beach at night. It was all I hoped it would be!

There was a nice little town close by where we were able to do a little shopping and guy ice and some touristy things. I wish we had more time to spend in the area, but two nights were all we could afford and we packed up, poison ivy covered kids and all and headed into the UP.

Dreaming about adventures in 2018

Its been a little bit since I posted on our blog, simply because winter had finally decided to come, and I winterized Kanga (the RV). Being our first year owning such an amazing machine, we hadn’t really thought about using it during the winter for travel, but I read about other people using their RV year ’round, and I see other people driving their RVs down the road, no matter how cold it is, so I have to re-think the idea of putting Kanga in stasis for 5 months.

I’ve decided to list out some of the ideas for trips I plan to take in 2018, some of which are probably not going to happen, but hey, I’m gonna throw all of them against the wall and see what sticks.

Trip 1: RV trip with some of the family to Ohayocon

Ohayocon is in Columbus, Oh January 26th-28th http://ohayocon.org/. This isn’t a super long trip, with Columbus being only 2 hours away. Sometimes I drive there in the morning, work a gig, and drive home that evening, but some of the kids want to do this 3-day con, and there’s no way I’ll do that three days in a row. I’m also not going to pay for a hotel, as that would be expensive and silly, as we could just take Kanga there and sleep in her! Parking was going to be the biggest issue though, as the con is right in downtown Columbus, however, the nice people at the Columbus Convention Center were super helpful to me on the phone and told me about a 24-hour per day parking lot just down the road that would accommodate Kanga, and we are simply planning on dry camping there. Because its winter, it might get cold at night, so we will have to bundle up while sleeping, and we might run the furnace in the mornings to get warm as we get ready, but we will largely just use that as a base of operations and go back there to get food and sleep. I’m going to do everything I can to keep things inexpensive, including cooking dinner in Kanga to avoid the super expensive con food.

Trip 2: April 2018: Spring canoe/kayak trip on the Great Lakes with my brothers and Jesse.

My brothers and I have a tradition of going on a springtime kayak trip each year for three days and two nights. Thus far we have only gone down rivers with individual kayaks, and camped on the shoreline whenever we get tired of paddling for the day. Its been great, but this year we are planning an expedition to Hudson Bay for a week-long canoe expedition, and we think it might be a good idea to get some open-water canoeing experience before canoeing in the Arctic Ocean (Hudson Bay is part of the Arctic Ocean, and is salt water. We’ve also decided to include me 21-year old son Jesse in the crew, so this allows us to use two canoes instead of kayaks, which will greatly increase the ease of carrying camping gear and supplies. My brother Mark wants to go to Lake Superior, but that’s a long drive, and I don’t think its feasible. My idea is to head east on Lake Erie above Pennsylvania, as there’s plenty of State Parks along the shoreline to camp in. We would use the AdventureVan to haul the canoes and gear up, so Kanga will stay home for that trip.

Trip 3: June 2018: Two weeks in Ohio with Kanga

Because we have such big plans for our 2019 Disney trip (see below), we decided to stay in Ohio for our summer vacation in 2018. We haven’t really explored Ohio’s natural beauty with the kids in any depth, and this seems like a great opportunity. We plan on taking Kanga to plenty of state parks like Salt Fork, Wayne National Forest (where you can dry camp for free and overnight camp in the forest for free too), Hocking Hills state park to see the incredible rock caves and formations, Rocky Fork state park so we can go see Serpent Mound and Wright Patterson Air Force Museum in Dayton. This trip will help us sort out extended travel in Kanga (the RV), and will hopefully expose any mechanical problems with her (of which we know there are some already). Because we are saving for our big Disney trip in Januray 2019, we need to keep the trip cost low, so we will focus on free or super cheap lodging and free and low-cost adventures.

Trip 4: July 2018: A week long expedition to Hudson Bay, Ontario

This is a big one. I’ve been dreaming about traveling to Hudson Bay for decades ever since I heard about the James Bay Road when I was in my early 20’s. Technically we are planning to travel to James Bay, but its part of Hudson Bay, so I call it by that name. We are planning on taking the AdventureVan loaded with two canoes to Canada, going up the James Bay Road to the Cree Nation of Chisasibi then heading west to put into Hudson Bay for 5 days of canoeing and camping in the wilderness. Hopefully with the experience we obtain in our spring canoe trip we will have a really memorable time in the Great White North, and one of our big hopes is that we will get to see the Northern Lights which is a bucket list item for us all.

Trip 5: Decemer 2018-January 2019: Our three-week trip to Disney with the entire family.

Too large a trip to list in this post. This trip deserves its own page on the site. We want that trip to include Destin, Disney and the other parks around the area (Unversal, etc), the Florida Keys, Kennedy Space Center, and more. It’s going to cost a fortune and we are trying very hard to plan and save for it all year.

I’m sure we will do other, smaller local camping trips trips here and there with Kanga as we gear up for our 3-week trek to Disney in January 2019. Having Kanga has really opened up what we are able to dream about with our family, and we are trying very hard to take advantage of the few years we have left with the kids before they all grow up and move ahead with adult life.

Repairing a leaking RV window easily

When we bought Kanga (the RV), we knew it had suffered from some water issues in the past, as evidenced by the delaminating walls in some places and the peeling wallpaper in others. The previous owner told us that the problems had been fixed, and the RV was again watertight. Well, as to be expected, that wasn’t the case and when the rains of fall moved in recently, I saw a nice puddle on the floor directly under the dining window.

I felt the wall and could feel the moisture in the paneling, so I knew it wasn’t just leaking in through the window, but it was leaking inside of the walls. I don’t think theres any serious structural damage to the wall because when I hit it, everything seems good and solid, although I’ll probably at least cut a hole in the wall sometime in the spring to make sure all the woodwork is solid and not rotted.

All of that lead up to me trying to figure out where the water was coming from. The design of the window allows water to drain out of the channels to the outside of the window casing, so I seriously doubt that water is just running underneath the window glass, which leads me to believe that water is getting in from the top and/or the sides of the window casing itself. I got up on a ladder and examined the condition of the caulking and discovered that it was cracked and had peeled away from the RV body in some places, which would easily allow rain water to seep into the wall behind the casing.

Time to re-caulk the window.

Firstly I removed most of the old caulk using a utility knife and my fingernails. In the past, someone had done a pretty good job caulking this window, but it just failed with age and sun damage. The caulk came away with about 20 minutes of work and left me with a pretty clean surface to work with. I also removed the old caulk along both sides and the bottom corners of the window casing just in case water was running along the edge of the window and getting in that way.

When I was happy with the amount of old caulk I had removed, I used some Windex to clean up the casing and the fiberglass RV body. While I was at it, I went around and cleaned all the windows in the RV because they were pretty gross, to be honest.

Using 100% silicone caulk, I laid down a nice fat bead all around the window casing.

Now, some people use a special tool to flatten out caulking, but I like to use my finger because it allows me to control how much caulk I lay down in areas. Its also kinda fun! Like finger painting.IMG_1617

I made sure that there were no breaks or gaps in the caulk when I was finished, and figure this is a finished problem. It isn’t perfectly smooth because there were little bits of old caulk still attached to the RV, but it doesn’t matter and would have required way more time to remove every tiny scrap of caulk than I wanted to spend. In the end, it doesn’t matter because the new silicone caulk is unbroken and the unevenness of the job is hidden above the window, out of view.

Now that I did this window, I know that all the other ones need the same job done. The caulk on the bathroom window is complete garbage, and so are other ones.

Aurora and I went on a hike today at Rogues Hollow Park. 

It was a cold, rainy, and blustery day but I had to get outside and I wanted Aurora to hang out with me. We went just a few miles down the road to the Rogues Hollow Preserve. I thought about pushing her around in the stroller but I figured that she’d love to run instead, which she did. We hiked and ran for about and hour before she was freezing, her hands were bright red, and she wanted carried back to the car. 

Winterizing the RV part 2

Oh man, this wasn’t the easy job I had hoped it would be.

A few days ago when I drained the system I had hoped it would go perfectly smooth and quickly like I saw in the YouTube videos I had been watching. In them, they just open some valves to drain the tanks, put a tube into the bottle of antifreeze, open a valve and run the faucets. Done!

Nothing ever happens quickly. Nothing is ever, ever easy. Most of all, nothing ever goes perfectly according to plan.

 

Yeah… It didn’t work out that way for me.

Firstly, when I hooked up the antifreeze to pump kit, I installed the bypass valve backward.

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The water pump showing the bypass valve installed. Backward.

I’m sure it was on the instructions somewhere, but I didn’t see it and the flow wasn’t on the valve. I spent about 35 minutes not understanding why the heck the pump was running, valves were open, but the antifreeze wasn’t being drawn into the pump. I even poured water and antifreeze down the tube to help prime the pump, and when I saw that wasn’t even being drawn into the pump at all, is when I suspected the valve was at fault.

I disassembled the unit, flipped the valve around and the pump drew antifreeze into the system, much faster than I would have anticipated. Within 20 seconds the bottle was nearly empty and no antifreeze was flowing out of the faucets, so it was going somewhere else.

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The utility basement showing the main water drains and also the shore water hookup.

I walked around and finally noticed that the shore water hookup was open and the antifreeze was gushing all over the place in the basement. Great. I closed that up and started the pump again. This now caused antifreeze to flow in the faucet but something else was amiss.I heard sounds of fluid running into the hot water tank, which shouldn’t happen because I switched the valve to bypass the tank. Well, apparently the valve is junk, and I had to disconnect the cold water line from the tank and let the fluid flow into a bowl on the floor, but not before I managed to spray antifreeze all over the wall of the bathroom.

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Our hot water tank with the lines disconnected.

With that finally taken care of, I was able to run antifreeze through the cold water system, but not the hot water systems because the water heater lacked the proper valves. I hope that doesn’t cause issues in the spring! The hot water system is drained at least.

Finally, after running antifreeze though the water system I poured some down all the taps and into the toilet. Job finished. Only when spring rolls around and I fill the system with water and pressurize it will I know if I did the job properly. I’ll have to flush out the water heater for the little bit of antifreeze that made its way in there, but it wasn’t much, so I don’t think it’ll be an issue (I hope).

All in all, I saved about $150 over taking it to the RV stealer.

Care and use of an old-fashioned kerosene lantern.

Here’s a short video I made showing you how to care for your lantern. I had always wanted one of these lanterns, so I found one on clearance a few years ago for $8 and learned how to use it. Around the campsite, its much nicer to have this lantern running at night than a LED light or some other battery or electric light because of its warm glow.

Another advantage to using a kerosene lantern is the fuel lasts and lasts. One filled tank will last for nearly a week of use.

The big disadvantages of a kerosene lamp is that if you adjust the wick incorrectly you’ll soot up the globe pretty badly, which will make it super dim, and you have to wait until the globe is cool again to clean it. They’re not super bright either, but for ambient campsite lighting and a nostalgic way to light the way around a campground, they’re hard to beat.

Winterizing the RV

After our trip to Nimisila Reservoir this past weekend, the temps are supposed to drop below freezing this week. The water lines were full and I wanted no part of burst lines and broken fittings in Kanga, so I drained the lines as soon as I got home. I also watched a good YouTube video on how to winterize the RV.

I went to the local RV dealership and bought the kit needed to pull up the antifreeze into the water lines and two gallons of antifreeze. All said and done, I spent $21.