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Review: Swagman Upgright Bike Rack

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Last summer I was looking for a roof top bike rack that I could use to carry the kids bikes when we went out East.    I discovered the Swagman at MEC (Canada’s equivelant to REI).  It was about $100 per bike (sold separately) so I bought 2.  The install was quite easy and only took a few minutes.  It is actually so easy, I take them off in the winter, just to make it easier to clear the snow off the roof of the car.  The description said they were universal mount on most types of cross bars.  They fit perfectly on our Hyundai with stock cross bars.  Once installed I found that mounting the bikes was quick and easy.  The hardest part, as with any roof top bike carrier, was getting the bikes up to the roof.  Leaving the back doors open, I could easily step up and lift them to the roof.  Securing the bikes was quite easy with 2 straps securing the tires in place and the cross bar to hold them upright.  We have used them for two summers and gone camping over 10,000km with the bikes on the roof.

One day I may pickup a Swagman Mighty Rack- Around the Spare Bike Rack so I can put the bikes on the back of the trailer and still carry the Canoe or one day purchase a Standup Paddleboard.

Swagman Upright Bike Rack

Secrets to Restringing RV Roman Blinds

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Did you know that when the string in an RV blind breaks, it is actually quite easy to restring them?  I recently did one of mine in 15 minutes, including the time to take it down and put it back up.  You can buy restringing kits online or at your RV dealer for quite a bit of money, in my case the best price I could find was about $50CAD.  These kits come with replacement string, tension springs, grommets and everything you could need.  However in most cases you do not need the springs or grommets, you just need the string, as it is the common fail point.  The string just wears out from friction of the blinds going up and down.

There is an important tip about RV Roman blinds however, if all you need is the string, there are lots of other sources.  You may be able to find window blind restringing kits meant for home blinds at home improvement stores or home decor stores.  This will save you some money but still have a markup.  What most people do not realize is that the string used in most RV Roman Blinds is Paracord.  Yes that same stuff used for parachutes, and those neat woven survival bracelets.  However the trick is that there are many different grades of paracord, from the thickest, best made, with highest drop weight used for parachutes right down to the stuff used for window blinds.  Window blinds use Type 1, 95lbs drop rated, 1.85mm Paracord.  The good news is when you shop for Paracord in bulk on Amazon or other sites, you can get a per foot price that can be 10x or more cheaper than the per foot price of getting it in a RV Restringing Kit.  So next time you need to restring a blind, just buy 25′, 50′ or 100′ of Type 1 paracord for a few dollars and if you are really creative, why not try it in reflective flourescent green…  In my case I was able to match the color almost exactly, and only needed about 15′ to do the one small blind in my trailer, however the cost went down significantly as you bought more, it was only a couple of dollars more to go up from the 50′ spool to the 100′ spool.  Now I have enough cord to do both blinds a half dozen times and it cost me less that $10CAD.

Type 1 95lbs 1.85mm Paracord

The actual job of restringing is quite easy:

  1. remove valance screws to get blind and valance off the wall, usually hidden behind the blind
  2. remove blind screws from valance to get blind off valance
  3. remove tension screws below blinds on the wall
  4. spread the blind on the floor or other large flat surface
  5. with a pair of pliers remove the end cap on the top and the bottom of the blind, it is easiest to do both caps on the same side (ie top left and bottom left)
  6. slide off the plastic cover from the top and bottom of the blind to expose blind cord
  7. cut out old cord and keep all parts laid out in an orderly fasion so you can get them together again.  It may be a good idea to take a photo so you remember the exact path the cords take
  8. try to get one cord off mostly in tact, this will give you a good guide for how long the new cords need to be, I cut the new ones about 1-2′ longer than the original just to have some room to play
  9. restring blind one pleat at a time, making sure you tie good nots on the spring at the top and on the tension screws at the bottom.  Make note that when restringing, the cord crosses over at the bottom before going thru the end caps and attacing to the tension screws
  10. reassemble, remount and trim excess cord from tension screw

Review: Bar Harbor Campground ME

Bar Harbor Campground

Photo from Campmaine.com (unfortunately I did not get any good pictures of the campground)

The Bar Harbor campground is in an excellent location, right off the main strip (Highway 3) into Bar Harbor and has a view of the water.  The campground itself is well run and has all the facilities, like a pool (with a view of the water), laundry, confort stations etc.  There are forested sites and grass sites along with full hookup, electric and no hookup.  There is also an excellent Lobster Pound/bar/ice cream stand just outside the gate of the park.

The one catch to this campground that concerns people is that they do not take reservations and you have to pay in cash.  With that out of the way it is easy to work around this and it is worth it because the park is excellent, especially if you get a water view site.  When we went we had a backup reservation at the National Park for the first night.  When we got to the park there was a few sites left so we did not need the other reservation.  You can also move into a new site as someone vacates it and notify the office.

Must have books for your RV bookshelf

There are a number of books that I like to carry when RVing.  Although there are piles of apps available and you can often find free WIFI, or get cell service in most places, there is always the chance you will not have service when you need it the most.  For this reason I like to have the following in paper copy just in case:

Good Sam RV Travel Guide:  If you are travelling without reservations and just planning day by day, it is always good to have a book that will tell you where you can stop that night.

KOA Directory:  The KOA guide is small and a good suppliment to the GoodSam guide

Jellystone Campground Directory:  This is also small and another good suppliment to the Goodsam guilde

Camping World catalog:  The Camping World catalog is a must have even if you do not plan on shopping with them.  There may be times when you have phone service but no internet and need to order a replacement part to be delivered at your next stop.  There may also be times when you need to go to a local RV dealer but are not sure exactly what the part is called.

A decent Trucker Road Atlas:  GPS is great weather you have a Garmin or rely on your iPhone to get you there, but what happens when you drop your iPhone in the toilet at a gas station on the Alcan highway?

The Next Exit:  This is a good guide to the exits of every Interstate just in case you are looking for gas or coffee in the Nevada Desert

Along I75:  This is an outstanding guide when travelling down the I75 to Florida

My Favorite Geeky Gadgets for the RV

This is my personal list of must have geeky gadgets and items to have in the RV:

Cellular Hotspot– A great way to share one data plan and give all your WIFI devices access to the internet via the cellular network.  They also work great when combined with a Cellular Amp to increase the range and speed of the cellular service.  Most cell carriers offer one, but there are also universal unlocked devices that you can swap SIM’s and will cover nearly all the cellular bands without the need to carry a separate hotspot for AT&T and Verizon to ensure coverage, all you need is the one hotspot and the 2 SIM’s.

Wilson Sleek Cellular Amp– Great when camping in more isloated areas.  They work with both a cell phone for calling and data as well as a cellular hotspot for data use.  They will not create Cellular service where it does not exist, but will give you a strong stable signal in those areas where you have to find “just the right spot” to be able to get one bar on the campground.

Multi Function magnetic LED Flashlight–  I love the multi function magnetic flashlight/lantern combinations.  They are great when outside, or as a backup plan.

LED Headlamp– Another necessary item when camping.  Flashlights are great but when working on something, it is difficult to hold a flashlight as well.  I LED headlamp allows the use of both hands.

2 Way Radios–  Sometimes Cellular is not available or reliable in some campgrounds.  Having a pair of 2 WAY FM or FRS radios is a good way to keep in contact.

Microsoft Surface Tablet–  This is my favorite laptop/tablet hybrid.  With the limited space of a trailer, it is nice to have the features of a tablet but also have a full keyboard without needing to carry both an iPad and a Macbook.  With Windows on it as well you can install most applications you would need as well in such a small footprint.

Kobo Glo Ebook reader–  There are lots of choices for ebook readers from the basic to full color ones that you can install applications on.  My preference is in the middle.  I like eInk for easy to read text and the battery life(weeks).  I like the Glo screen for night time reading, it gives off jut enough light to read but not enough to wake up a sleeping partner.

Bluetooth Speaker–  If you are a music lover, this is an absolute must.  Everyone should have a bluetooth speaker and there are so many options to choose from, from cheap $20 ones to multiple hundred dollar ones by well known speaker makers.  They allow you to extend your music listening to beyond the trailer or tow vehicle so you can enjoy your music at the beach, on a picnic etc with a small speaker and your iPhone or Android.

Bluetooth Headphones–  Most speaker purests would tell you that you cannot get good quality sound from bluetooth because there is just not enough bandwidth.  However in a market where price does not dictate quality when it comes to headphones, there are too many brands by Rap stars which are mid range quality but top shelf price confusing buyers.  Yes you can get top quality headphones from Bose or Kiplsch and you can get cheap crappy headphones at the dollar store or shipping with your new iPhone or Android but Bluetooth headphones are cord free which is a big plus and they still end up in the middle of the market for sound quality.  If you would normally spend $40-$100 for headphones, bluetooth still will fall in your sound quality range anyway, which is still well above the quality the headphones that shipped with your phone get anyway.

USB Hard Drive– Every traveller should have one of these, perhaps two if you full time.  The small portable hard drives like the Wester Digital Passport are cheap, small, have huge amounts of space and do not require a separate power supply.  They can be used for backup, for storing large files like videos and photos or to move files between laptops.

LED Light Strip–  This is a great addition to an RV if you can find a way to permenently mount it to the rig.  My pet peeve was having to setup the patio lanterns, string them across the awning, get an extension cord, plug them in, and unplug every night at the end of the night.  Having them hardwired directly to the light switch and permenently mounted adds a lot of low power light to the campsite.

Oil Heater– This is a must for camping in cooler areas, like near the ocean or in shoulder season.  Oil heaters are safer, draw less power, and make no noise as there is no fan.  We will usually have a Micro Furnace and Oil heater on hand, but the micro furnace only gets used when we are in the trailer and awake.  Otherwise we use the Oil heater to keep the rig warm.  They do not generate as much heat as a Micro Furnace, but they will keep the rig from freezing and keep some warmth overnight without worrying about an electrical fire or without needing to use all our propane to run the furnace.

Micro Furnace–  These are a great way to add a lot of heat fast.  They will warm up a trailer quickly and keep in confortable.  They however make a lot of noise and are not something I would leave unattended.

Oxygenics Shower Head–  This is a great invention that will improve your shower from the crappy stock shower head that comes with most rigs.  They are supposed to also use less water, which is always a plus as well as generate much more flow.  They definately generate more flow, but I suspect the water usage claims are not quite as good as they say.  Still any improvement in water usage is welcome and getting a decent shower is a huge benefit.

Linksys WIFI Router with external antenna–  This is a more geeky solution as opposed to one single product, but was one of my favourite builds.  It is a very cheap way to add a cellular repeater/ signal booster to an RV.  If done with an old LInksys WRT54G and a 5-8db external antenna, it can signficantly improve your WIFI range.

Smart Watches and Fitness Bands

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With the trends of wearable tech like smart watches and fit bands there are so many options to choose from, but what are they and what is the difference?  The whole industry of wrist based wearable tech can be traced back to a single device, the Pebble.  The Pebble was really the first smart watch on the market and it was funded thru an online crowd funding campaign.

Wearable tech that is worn on your wrist can be broken down into to two main categories, and there is no solid line, there is a lot of overlap.

  1. Fit Bands generally are designed track health, have limited watch functionality and any apps are generally fitness based.
  2. Smart Watches generally are designed to be a watch replacement with the focus on apps and watch like functionality.

There are really a lot of options on the market to choose from depending on your wants and needs.  Generally if your looking for fitness related features, a fitness band may be better suited.  If you are looking for a fashion accessory then a smart watch may be your better option.  There are a lot of devices that really do not fit well into either category as they do everything, they are a decent time piece, they have apps, they integrate to the phone for alerts (facebook, text, email etc), they have fitness features like running, cycling and workout tracking, and they are armed with a bunch of sensors like heart rate, GPS etc.  Many of these all in one devices get complaints of their battery life, size and rigidity.

Some of the common Smart watch brands for 2016 were:

  1. Pebble
  2. Apple
  3. Samsung

Some of the common fitness band brands for 2016 were:

  1. Fitbit
  2. Mischief
  3. Microsoft Band
  4. Garmin

 

Controversial Practices in the RV Park Industry

The narrow long roads

It has become more and more common for private RV parks to have rules about the age of your RV, the size of your RV or the length of your stay.  There are two sides to this coin.  One is the right for free enterprise to do what they think is best for their business.  This rule is fundamental to free market economy and Tripadvisor, Yelp and other rating services will ensure that “survival of the fittest” will decide which campgrounds will live and which will die.  The key is the right of the customer to be properly informed in advance.  One should not be expected to know that a campground has an arbitrary rule and that you will understand their interpretation of it before making a reservation.  This information should be clearly and fairly explained online, by the reservation staff and in their literature prior to the reservation process.

Age of RV or trailer

This is one of the most common forms of RV discrimination.  Typically an RV park sets a rule that no RV’s beyond a particular age are allowed to stay at their park.  This is typically to keep the “riff raff” out.  Imagine cousin Eddie from Christmas Vacation pulling into the site next to you.  They simply want to avoid a vacation destination becoming a “trailer park”.  The rule itself is somewhat arbitrary, typically any RV or trailer older than 10 years old would be refused service.  This is because age is the only quantitative value they can set for every customer.  However this does not allow for the old guy in your neighborhood who is outside every Saturday washing and waxing his 15 year old Winnibago which other than age itself, it looks brand new.  Or how about Airstreams?  Airstreams were made to last forever, and many have.  There is a huge industry of people who will rebuild 40 year old Airstreams into fantastic antiques with modern furnishings inside and some rebuilds look better than the units coming off the line today.    What makes this rule more complicated is often RV parks will make exceptions.  The problem is how do you know if you will be an exception until you arrive?  What if the stay is in the busy season and you are refused because the owner is having a bad day or does not like you.  That is their choice but you may be out of luck finding a replacement campsite in the area if it is during busy season.

Length of stay- Minimum stay

Many RV parks will set rules that discourage overnight stopovers and set minimum stays.   Many campgrounds have these rules in place and set a minimum stay to 2-3 nights on the weekends.  This does not recognize that many RV’rs start their long distance trips to the coast or to Florida on the weekend and need a place to stay Saturday night when they make their first stop after 8 hours of hard driving.  This rule is even more inconsistent due to the fact that in some cases you will be told during the reservation process online that a 1 night stay may be OK but live staff at the park will say that it is not.  The inverse is also possible by trying to reserve online and being refuesed but then calling the campground and them saying “no problem we will take your reservation anyway”.

Length of stay- Maximum stay

Many RV parks will set rules that discourage short term campers over seasonal campers.  For this reason they will often save the best spots for the long term visitors and will as an after thought save a few swampy spots in the back corner of the campground in case some weekenders or people on their way thru need a spot for the night.

Size of RV

Many RV parks will put the more expensive sites near all the ammenities like the pool.  This is true of almost any RV park.  The problem with this is that some people with smaller rigs are willing to pay the extra money to have a premium site (that they do not really need) so they can have a better location, a paved pad to park on, a swing, a BBQ etc but are refused or moved to a less desirable site when they arrive to free up the premium site for a bigger rig.

Price

There are a number of RV parks that will allow you to reserve a site well in advance, often 6 months to a year before your arrival.  They will allow you to book the stay, and pay a deposit for the whole amount at the time of booking but will not guarantee the price upon arrival.  You arrive at the campground to check in and the staff informs you that you owe more money.  You explain that you paid in full online, but they explain that when you booked  a year ago it was at last years rate, and the rate has since gone up, so you now owe additional money even though they took your money a year ago and have been making interest on it.

So should RV Parks be allowed to discriminate?  Sure they are allowed to, we live in a free market, what should be required is rules that force them to be honest, upfront and clear about the rules before you make a reservation.  These rules should be clearly stated during the reservation process in easy to understand language, not burried in some acceptable use policy on page 73 in 4 point font at the bottom of the confirmation email that you receive.  The Ontario Provincial Parks Reservation system for example has several check boxes that you must click on to Confirm various rules and policies as you go thru the checkout process for example they have wording similar to “I acknowlege that the site I have choosen is a Radio Free site”.  There is no reason why you could not have a similar “I acknowlege that if my RV is over 10 years I may be refused entry in the park”.  Lets not worry about the rights of the RV park owner vs the rights of the RV owner, lets just be honest and no one will get hurt.

 

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