Camping Misadventures 2012 The Final Chapter And Wrapup

After all the various adventures in the first and second posts about our adventures in owning a camper (actually, a trailer), I wasn’t sure how many more adventures we could take.

Luckily, things by and large settled down after that.  We did a couple of more trips, but everything went….smooth.

A little too smooth.

So, I knew there would be a big bomb at some point, and there was.  Just turns out it was a bomb to the pocketbook.

Having never had it looked at professionally, I wanted to take it in to get winteriezed, and also asked them to check everything over to make sure that there were no glaring problems that I would miss but that the pros would catch.

I had a hunch about one of the items that I worry about anyways: The roof.  The roof is pretty much the first thing to go in most campers, because its the point where water can get in, and water is pretty much the death knell for campers.  Every time it rains, a little piece of me wonders what is going on with our camper, and wondering if there’s dripping going on anywhere.

That’s the joy of not using the camper for such long periods of time, is that you have no idea what’s actually going on with it.

Beep

So, I went to pick up the camper from it’s storage lot.  It was the last time it would be in that spot, as it would be going from there to the service center, and from the service center over to my in-laws, where it will live until next spring.

When I pulled up and opened the door to get out of the car, I heard a high-pitched beeping noise.  It sounded suspiciously like it was coming from the RV.  As I walked up, it was.

I opened the door and found that the propane sensor inside the camper was going off.  First, I did a quick sniff test to verify that there was not actually a propane leak.  There wasn’t.  Second, I confirmed my suspicions that it was actually beeping due to low voltage in the battery. When I flipped one of the lights on and it dimly came on, that pretty much confirmed my suspicion.  See, we have a deep cycle marine battery hooked up to run the 12 volt system, and I never bothered unhooking it between trips.  Given that it was just 2-3 weeks, this never presented a problem, but since it had been nearly two months since we last used it, I guess that answered my question about how long a battery could go.  Lesson learned: Unhook the battery between uses.

The Good News And The Bad News

Next, I took it over for service.  After they had it a couple of days, they called me.  When he said, “Well, we need to talk about a couple of things” I knew I wasn’t getting away with just the winterizing.

He gave me some good news in that everything looked good from the tests they ran on the plumbing, the electrical, the awning, and most of the seals.  The bad news, however, came with the roof.

Actually, the roof wasn’t leaking.  But, they determined that the seals had never been re-done and that it likely would start cracking pretty soon.  The manufacturer and their experience say that it should be done every five years or so.  Given that this is a 2004 model, it was time.

He also indicated that our particular brand suffered from a manufacturer defect regarding the air conditioner unit.  Some of the bolts that hold the air conditioner unit to the frame tend to loosen over time (or may never have been tightened fully from the factory).  This causes the air conditioner unit to sink ever so slightly, and over the years, has actually caused the roof to sag slightly, creating a low spot.  In fact, he confirmed that at some point, there had been minor leaking, which explained why there was a tiny bit of waviness in one of the spots on the ceiling.  The good news was that the leak had been very minor and there was no rotting anywhere.  The good news was also that it could be tightened.  The bad news was that there would always be a low spot there, but they suggested that anytime it is being stored, to keep it off level to encourage run-off.

They also recommended re-sealing around all the doors and windows, as there was some cracking which was normal.

All in all, it set me back around $700.  I had figured that it would need about $500 in repairs and maintenence this year, so that wasn’t too bad.  Plus, it’s good knowing that the roof, my major source of worry, is ‘safe’ for another few years.

One last misadventure

After picking it up, all that needed to be done was the trip to my in-laws, which was about 20 miles away.  I hooked it up and got going with no problem.  Or so I thought.  About four miles in, just after having gotten on the freeway, someone pulled up next to me and was waving.  Uh-oh.

I pulled over and so did the person and he told me that something looking like a vent or cover of some kind, had come off a ways back.  I looked around the best I could without a ladder, and the big things were intact, meaning the bathroom skylight and the air conditioner unit, so I kept going to my in-laws.  I discovered that a vent that covers the refrigerator unit exhaust was no longer there.

I called the service center and they claimed that they never had to do anything to loosen that, and that it must have ‘come off on it’s own’.  I politely expressed my thoughts that the timing was just too coincidental.  They agreed to give me a replacement at no cost.  I went back and picked up the replacement unit, then I actually went back on the freeway, found the old one that was sitting intact on the shoulder, and picked that one up too.

So, now I have a spare 🙂

Lesson learned there, is to always take a peek at the top of the camper.  I probably honestly would not have realized that part was missing, and it likely would have caused significant problems (water damage and probably ruined the fridge) had water and snow gotten in there all winter long.  One more thing to add to next years checklist!

All in all, it was a great camping year.  I’m very proud with how far I came.  I was even joking that when we went on our first trip, I wouldn’t even let my wife speak to me or turn on the radio, I was so nervous about driving it and such, but by the end, I was just fine.

Looking forward to next year.  Hopefully with slightly fewer misadventures!

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I Hate Spending Money On Sunglasses

Every time we need a new pair of sunglasses, it annoys me.  Instantly. It seems that someone is needing a pair all the time.

We generally buy pretty cheap sunglasses.  So, you can tell me that we get what we pay for, and I’m not going to argue, but it’s still dreadfully annoying when you are faced with:

  • A screw falling out of them for no apparent reason meaning that something is likely ready to fall off.
  • The pads that cover the thingies that rest on the bridge of your nose start falling to pieces, leaving exposed metal.  Which hurts.
  • The top of the glasses just randomly develops a crack, meaning that of the lenses is able to pop loose.

These are all things that have happened to sunglasses owned by either me or my wife, just this summer alone!

One answer is to buy more expensive sunglasses.

Sorry, not going to happen.

Not when we’ve also encountered these situations:

  • A one-year old girl who loves sunglasses and will find any that are sitting out and will do what one-year olds do to things that they play with, leaving them bent or broken.
  • Get dropped and scratched.  I always drop sunglasses on the cement at least once a year.  This doesn’t seem like a lot, but it does usually result in the lenses getting scratched (since sunglasses always work on their own version of the ‘buttered side of toast landing face down’ theory) to where it would really annoy me if I had a $100+ pair.
  • Ditto for sitting on them accidentally.
  • Spending lots of time in sandy campgrounds and beaches simply doesn’t lend itself to being able to keep sunglasses in tip-top shape.
  • Or dropping them in a lake.  True story.  A couple of years ago my wife and I were swimming at a nearby lake.  Somehow, my glasses fell off and ended up on the bottom of the lake.  I called her over and we started searching for them.  Miraculously, she hit it with her foot.  She went under to grab them, and was successful in doing so, only to have hers fall off in the process.  We couldn’t find hers.  I’m not making this story up, I swear.
  • I once dropped them in the street where they stayed for an entire day without getting scratched.

I’m smart enough to realize that spending more than $20 on sunglasses is foolish.  I’m also wise enough to realize that we do get our use out of them.  But, I wish I could buy the darn things in bulk or something, because every time we plop down that money, it’s almost as if we should start planning on exactly when we’ll need to buy the next pair.

Guaranteed, it won’t be long!

What kind of sunglasses do you own?  How often do you replace yours?

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Camping Misadventures 2012 Part 2

The first installment of Camping Misadventures saw me deal with a whole host of items which are probably new to someone dealing with a camper for the first time:  Hooking Up, Backing In, and selecting the proper campsite were the first orders of business.

As I suspected, there would be others.

And so we start the second installment of 2012 Camping Misadventures.

Ghosts

This one actually goes back to our first trip, but an experience which had slipped my mind.  For our first trip, we visited a campground that was only an hour or so away, so that I could get used to driving it and wouldn’t be far away if any issues happened.  This was a good idea, and it also allowed that our families could come visit, and that worked out really good since we went on Father’s Day weekend.  This let us celebrate together as well as let everybody see the new campers in action.

Our parents visited for the day and left after dinner and s’mores.  My sister-in-law and her boyfriend spent the night, setting up their own tent on a corner of the campsite.

After the kids went to bed, the four of us sat by the fire for awhile, but it wasn’t long before Mrs. Beagle and I (tired out from setting up plus camping with the kids) were ready for bed.  Sister-in-law and boyfriend wanted to stay out for awhile.

It wasn’t long before Mrs. Beagle and I fell asleep.  After a few hours I woke up to pay the bathroom a quick visit.  I got out of the bed and, on my way, noticed that a couple of the cabinet doors were open.  Which was weird, because they were where Mrs. Beagle kept her clothes, and she’s usually really good about keeping things neat and organized.  I closed them up, went about my business and went back to bed, never giving it a second look.

I found out the next morning that with darkness and being sleepy, I’d only noticed a couple of cabinet doors open.  My wife found out the next morning that they were ALL open.

Yikes.  Did we have a ghost?

Nope.  Turns out we just had a sister-in-law who was looking for a deck of cards.  Not wanting to wake us, she snuck in and started looking through the cabinets.  She realized that the cabinet doors make a very loud click when they close (they have a big latch so that they stay closed during travel), so she just left them all open.

And here I had visions of Paranormal Activity: The Camper .

Happy Camper, Not So Much Traveler

Our longest trip was for a week.  It was also the furthest trip away of the summer.  We wanted to camp at Ludington State Park, which is the most popular campground in Michigan.  It’s right on Lake Michigan, has lots of biking trails, has great activities around, a beautiful campground, and books quickly.  Michigan lets you book six months in advance.  Last winter, six months from when we wanted to go we were armed with the sites we wanted.  At 8am they became available.  At 8:01 we were disappointed as we had nothing.   My wife spent every morning looking until something opened up, and she nabbed it (she actually had to call in).

It was a long drive, about 240 miles, only half of which was expressway, the rest was country roads.  So it was a long drive.  We thought we’d be fine by starting off when Baby Girl Beagle normally napped.  We had it all planned out: She’d nap.  Little Boy Beagle would watch a DVD.  It would knock off a big chunk of the trip.

But things never work like they should.  She refused to sleep.  She cried.  She wailed.  She didn’t want a bottle.  Finally she dozed on and off.

Until she woke up, looked around, and threw up.  And then did it again.

Luckily, we were only half a mile from a rest stop we were planning on stopping at anyways for lunch, so we were able to get her out, do our best to clean up, and hit the road (nobody felt like lunch after that).   The great thing, after that she was great.  She went right to sleep, and when we did find somewhere to pull off a bit later down the road, she was a perfect angel.  She ate everything in site.

Just wasn’t much fun cleaning that car seat!

Awning

This one stung.

On the same trip, it was hot.  As I mentioned above, we had the very last site available, and unfortunately, it was in full sun.  The Air Conditioning was running non-stop.  Still, we did lots of outdoor things and even went to see the fireworks on the night of the 4th.  It was a good show right over the harbor in Lake Michigan.

With that hot weather, we had no breeze.  For four days, there was barely a breeze and this kept up.  Until about 12:30am.  We were just getting ready to drift off when, out of nowhere, a gust rocked the camper, shaking it from side to side.  I went outside to see what was happening, and noticed that the wind had come out of nowhere, likely a storm blowing in off the lake.

Our awning was down and I was just getting ready to go put it back up, when suddenly an even stronger gust came through, and I watched helplessly as one side of the awning ripped completely away from the camper.  My wife stuck her head out, she had no idea what had just happened when I pointed up and yelled that the awning had just ripped off.

Camping gives you many things, and you’ll find that one of them is that fellow campers are generally a friendly and helpful bunch.  This was proven to me when a large group of people, having heard the banging and yelling, ran over, and helped me out.  The wind was picking up even stronger, and without their help, the other half of the awning would have likely ripped off.  Four or five people were holding on for dear life to hold it down, while I went across, got the bars and support systems loosened up, and we put it back the best we could against the awning.

I was sickened.  My wife was just happy that I hadn’t gotten hit when the awning came loose.

The next morning, I went out and talked to one of the rangers.  He gave me the name of a place in town that did RV repairs, and I was there the moment that the store opened.  Turns out they had a mobile repair unit, and they were hopeful that they could get out that afternoon to repair the unit.  I bought the necessary parts and headed back to the campsite.

It was another scorcher and now we had no awning.  I was dismayed when the afternoon came and went and they never showed up.  I called right after five and she said that they were running behind and that they’d likely be out the next morning.  At this point, we only had a couple of days left, and I was starting to worry about what we’d do if they didn’t make it, because the awning was in no position to make a 250 mile ride home.

The next morning came and went, still no repair people.  I called back, and luckily I did, because they’d lost my service order.  I wasn’t even on the docket.

I explained what had happened, and the service manager agreed to get me on, even if he had to do it personally, whether it be that afternoon or the following morning.

Good thing I called.

A couple of hours later, a van showed up and the repair guy did his magic.

I learned that I probably should have had additional re-inforcements.  Subsequent to that trip, I bought a set of awning de-flappers, which prevents the canvas from flapping around when it’s windy, which, having witnessed the problem, definitely occurred moments before it came loose.  We went camping a couple of weeks later, and there was a day where it was sustained wind of over 20MPH, and the canvas barely moved.

Those de-flappers cost $18.  I wish I would have known about them beforehand, as it might have saved me the $220 that the repairs cost.  Though that wind was so strong, I’m really not sure it would have mattered.

It could have been worse, I can’t imagine what would have happened had those great and kind people not come and prevented the entire awning from coming down.    Not only that, they even left me their leftover firewood after they broke camp a day before we did!

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Camping Misadventures 2012 Part One

We bought ourselves a camper last fall, but didn’t use it until this year, as it was past the time where camping usually takes place.  Still, getting it in the fall allowed us to get it a little cheaper and also meant we didn’t fight with others interested in purchasing it since demand was low in the off-season.

It’s been an adventure learning all the ins and outs of our camper (or technically, a trailer, since it’s a 23′ travel trailer).

Hooking Up

I remember when we were purchasing the camper, my father-in-law was helping (in other words, doing everything) and I was watching all the steps involved with hooking it up and thought I’ll never be able to do this.  Well, after a couple of tries with everything I got it right.  Now, I have a checklist that I work from but from hitch to hooking up the brakes, it works.

Bonus cool: The first few times I hooked it up to the SUV, I had my wife help guide the SUV to the camper so that everything lined up, but I’ve actually been able to accomplish this by myself the last few times!

Backing In

Attaching something to the back of your automobile and then backing it in is terrifying if you’ve never done it before.  My father-in-law had helped season me to many of the ins and outs, but for whatever reason, I never actually practiced backing the thing in anywhere.  So the first time I brought it home and tried to get it into our driveway, it was a colossal nightmare.  For those who aren’t familiar with the process, you have to essentially point your car the opposite way you want to go in order for the camper to go where you want it, then pinpoint the right time to have your car start going the right way without screwing up the path you’re on and without jackknifing the trailer.

As mentioned, the first time I did this was into my driveway.  It was late in the evening so I didn’t have much time with daylight left.  I was nervous. Well, there’s a kid around 13 years old or so down that lives down the end of the street.  He’s developmentally disabled, but for the five years we lived in the house prior to ‘Backing In For The First Time’ day, I just saw him and his family from time to time.  But on this day, he was having some sort of issue, and was essentially on the front yard of the next door neighbor screaming and resisting his parents, who just wanted to get him back home.  I stayed in our house for awhile, hoping the issue would resolve itself, but when it was clear that this was going to drag out, I had to go out and try the camper back-in.  I tried to be respectful (i.e. no staring or looking) but all the yelling and such was definitely increasing my nervousness and I’m sure my presence with the big trailer wasn’t helping.  For about 20 minutes I tried backing in, but would either go the wrong way, jackknife, end up on my lawn or be aimed completely wrong.  Finally, it just clicked and I got it on the slab.

After that, i took it out once to a deserted church parking lot and spent about an hour with my wife getting the hang of it.  Why I didn’t do that in the first place, I don’t know.

Battery

Hooking up the battery for the season turned out to be a big whoops.  The battery is there so that you can run the lights and such at times while you’re plugged in, and it also serves to run a few things while you travel.  Like helping the fridge.

I hooked the battery up not really knowing that it wasn’t working.  The lights never came on when it was unhooked from A/C power (the garage) but I didn’t think anything of it.  We went on our first trip and were planning on running the fridge via propane during the trip.  I had tested this while we had it plugged in, but as soon as I pulled the plug, everything stopped working. Everybody was already in the car, so it was too late to troubleshoot.  We ended up driving the trip without the fridge.  Which wasn’t so bad.  But, as it turns out, when I got back, I had hooked up the battery the wrong way.  There was a fuse right next to one of the wires that was designed to protect against such idiocy and protect all of your more expensive stuff.  And it did a great job.

One new fuse and a cable swap later, and it became obvious what a working battery actually will do for a camper.  The lights and most of the electrical stuff worked!  As did the fridge.  Turns out the fridge cools on propane but it needs some electricity (from the battery) to run the control panel and thermometer.

Shade and Cords

The first trip we went on was sort of a trial run. It was only about an hour and a half away and was designed so that I could get used to driving it, and that we wouldn’t be far away if there were any issues.  Driving actually went well, but without the working fridge, we hoped to get right in and situated so that we could plug in and get the fridge working.  We found the perfect spot on the irregular shape campsite, but the problem: the cord wasn’t long enough to reach.  We tried a few other spots (taking valuable time) but the fire pit was in the way of the next couple spots that would have worked, so we ended up with the camper in a position that we weren’t happy with, and that blared down the afternoon sun right on us, even with the awning extended.

Lesson learned: Take the shade more into consideration.  And have an extension cord (which I now do….a very heavy duty, very expensive but well worth it extension cord).

These are just a few of the things I’ve learned so far.  As much as it seems I don’t know what I’m doing, I actually know that I’ve learned a ton.  I remember back when I was buying it looking at all the connections and hookups on the side and thinking I’ll never know what all of this stuff does.  Before putting it back in storage after our last trip, I looked over the side and realized that I know exactly what every plug, drain, valve, or otherwise on the side of the camper does.

I’m getting there.

But stay tuned, as I’m sure there will be more parts to this series!  As you read this, we’re out on a weeklong trip to the other side of Michigan that’s about 240 miles away. I suspect that ‘Dealing With a Screaming 3 Year Old And/Or 1 Year Old on a Long Car Ride’ will be first and foremost on the list for the next (mis)adventure!

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