Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Living in the Roadtrek: CHECKLISTS

During these winter months when it is to cold to travel in the Roadtrek, I will write some more articles about what it is like to live in the Roadtrek on a trip. This article is about Checklists.

Most RVers use some form of checklist to make sure that things that need to be stowed away, shut down, closed up or not be left behind are put away and accounted for. There are a variety of methods that are used. Some use a paper checklist. Some use some type of reminder device. Airplanes have the same thing and use a red cloth tag that says "REMOVE BEFORE TAKE OFF" or "REMOVE BEFORE FLIGHT" that is hung from strategic parts of the plane and each must be taken off and accounted for before the plane takes off showing that the ground crew inspected and did whatever needs to be done at those points before the planes takes off. It is important for RVers to do the same thing before they get into their RV and go off on the road.

Now, you are going to say, "What is the big deal?" What do you have to check for anyway?" Well, the big deal comes when you have been in a campground for the night and you are hooked up to the water or electric box - drive away without remembering to dis-attach those connections and you have problems. Go off driving down the road with your TV antenna still upright, and you have problems. These and other similar problems are ones that you don't want to have and can be avoided with a simple and routine check - that must be done every time you are about to get in and start to drive off.

I thought about how to do this in our Roadtrek from before the day we picked it up. I had read about several things that others have done. I really want to use those red ribbon tags like the airplanes use - you can purchase smaller versions of them as souvenirs at air history museums, but I realized that this was going to be hard to attach to the places that they would need to be attached to and that it could get rather expensive. I liked the idea of something physical that had to be accounted for. Meryl, on the other hand, likes paper lists. One RVer uses large center spring hair clips and labels each one representing something that must be accounted for - sticks each on the steering wheel when the attachment is made or the night before leaving for items that must be checked. In this way, it is rather hard to drive with these large hair clips on the steering wheel and anyone still remaining is an obvious reminder that something has been forgotten. I could see, with all of the things that I foresaw needing to be checked and accounted for that there was not that much room on the steering wheel. Another RVer uses a sock to remind him that his TV antenna is still up. The sock is kept on the antenna crank handle which is on the inside on the ceiling of the Roadtrek when the antenna is down, when the antenna is up, the sock is moved to the gearshift handle of the van. It is hard to drive with a sock on the gearshift - so again, you are going to know that the antenna has not been put down. (Antennas are a common thing to be forgotten.) I liked all of the ideas and we decided to make a combination of them in our own way.

What is worth checking, is worth checking twice. Our two systems are a double check and believe me, even with these there have been a few almost forgotten things that we were forgetting on several occasions. I liked the sock idea so much that it is a third check on the antenna being down. Drive with the antenna up and you can damage the antenna, hit what should be an OK height overpass unless the antenna is sticking up, and get a lot of laughs from everyone in the campground that you pass - who will all be shouting that your antenna is up!

Here is Meryl's paper checklist:

This was created with Excel. Any spreadsheet software will work and there are some free office packages legitimately available on the Internet. Creating one this way makes it easy to modify and easy to print out. We print out copies for more than the number of days that we plan to be away. You need one every morning. What you see included on the list is fairly obvious -and you will notice what comes first on the list. You might want to copy all of this or modify it to your own needs of things to absolutely remember The rear curtain refers to un-attaching a security curtain that Meryl made for the Roadtrek. I will talk about that specifically in another article to come. Return the bench refers to a small stool that we have if we need to sit instead of bending down to do something. That gets stored inside the rear cargo doors and is easy to forget. Secure the TV is to make sure the TV is locked down on its brackets so that it will not move while the Roadtrek is in motion. We added several items after our first winter trip because when we made up the list it was during the summer and the furnace never crossed our minds.

Before we take off each morning Meryl goes through this list and checks things off as we do them - unhook the electric cable from the campground outlet box - check, turn the water pump off - check, and all the way down the list until everything has a check mark next to it.

This is Meryl's system. I have my own and pretty much mine duplicates hers. While it is possible that we could drive off if something was missed on the paper list, with my system, there is an physical reminder.

As one of my many creative talents (self-plug - hey, if you don't compliment yourself, who is going to do it?), I am a leather worker. I decided to take the idea of the hair clips and the red airplane ribbons and create leather straps that go on the steering wheel. Each leather strap has a snap button to secure it to the steering wheel and each is labeled with something that has to be checked. I must admit that I do not have all of the things in my system that Meryl has in hers - for example, I don't have a strap that says "bench" but I have all of the crucial items. When the item is accounted for the strap comes off the steering wheel. When we end the day at night and hook up at the campground each strap of something that is in use or connected goes onto the steering wheel. You can't drive away the next morning without seeing a strap that you forgot. Here is a photo of one of my straps:

Not my neatest work, but since they are for me and done in a bit of a rush before our first trip, they have well served their purpose and will continue to do so. It snaps easily on the steering wheel and they pretty much fill up the wheel when all are on. Of course, you only put the ones needed during that trip on - so some do stay in their Ziploc bag in the overhead drawer in the front of the Roadtrek. Those that are being used are kept in the front tray behind the cup holders. They go there when they come off to make it easier that night to have what will be needed close at hand. The easier you make this for yourself to do, the more you are likely to do it.

I take off the ones for the things that I have secured and checked in the morning and then ask Meryl one by one about the things that she has checked and secured. So how long does this all take. It becomes part of the process of unhooking in the morning so it is hard to say how long the double checking takes, but the whole unhooking process takes just ten or fifteen minutes at the most. The final checks inside do add about two minutes to the whole process. Of course, on some mornings when I am anxious to get underway, these two minutes can seem like forever. But in the end, the process is very worthwhile. It is best not to start to feel that the checklist is not necessary any longer because unhooking and hooking up has become routine. It is when something is routine that things are forgotten.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Finally Comfortable...

As we went through our last trip in the year 2011 - and our last trip for the RV camping "season" - we both commented to each other that we finally feel comfortable inside the Roadtrek. I have talked along in these articles that my relationship with the Roadtrek was one of a love/hate, getting to know you relationship. There were moments when I loved the Roadtrek, and then there were moments - when things went wrong - that I was, let's say, not happy. With that final trip, I realized that I love our Roadtrek 190 Popular!

It took awhile - the whole season for this to happen. There were sleepless nights in the beginning and those first few nights I wondered if I would ever be able to fall asleep inside it. There was a good amount of time devoted to making riding in it a relatively quiet experience - and we almost have all of the rattles and shakes inside as we drive under control. There were the little things and larger things that went wrong. There was the weather, which cannot be blamed on the Roadtrek in anyway, but would not have mattered as much if we were traveling in a regular vehicle and staying in a hotel, but matter a great deal when you need to be aware of ground clearance for unanticipated, October snow storms, and what a hurricane might do to you and the Roadtrek if you decide to weather out the storm inside of it. Yes, there was an adjustment period. That is a good term for it - a better term perhaps than "honeymoon" which should denote only pleasantries. It also takes some time to learn to drive the Roadtrek. It is a large vehicle with VERY limited sight as to what is behind you and on each side of you. I will write about driving and parking the Roadtrek in another article, but for now, while I will tell you right away, that it is not hard to drive - and anyone with driving experience can drive it - it takes some learning, and getting used to, to drive it.

I am not looking forward to the Spring and our next trip out. One of our first trips is going to have to be back to dealer service, because the grey tank handle is popping out again. I had hoped that the first time that I brought this in, the handle mechanism would have been replaced, which I understand is an easy and quick job, but rather than replace it, the mechanism was adjusted. That adjustment did not last long - one trip - and when we were completing the winterizing when we were home - running anti-freeze through the macerator - we found the handle popping out again, not as far as before, but definitely in the open position. I contacted the service center right then, and it is scheduled for replacement when we can come in the Spring. But the important thing is that I am looking forward to our next trip in the Roadtrek.

While we were away in December in the Roadtrek I realized how much I was comfortable in the bed. There is a bit of a cocoon feeling with the walls and ceiling close by but I enjoyed sleeping in it. Once we started to get a routine down inside at night, coming back into the campground, hooking up, closing the curtains, and getting the front seats into lounge chair positions, we were better able to relax. I have pretty much learned to stay out of Meryl's way and let here get the inside set up - she has been able to do that better than I have.

Now, don't think that the Roadtrek stays closed up and untouched until the winter has passed. The Roadtrek needs to be driven - like any car, truck, or van, it cannot just sit idle for several months - unless you do a great deal of preparation to the engine and remove the batteries. No, we will be taking it out semi-regularly, if for nothing more than a drive. The generator has to be run for two hours every month under load, so we will be starting the generator with a space heater on inside for the necessary electric load to keep the generator properly maintained. We also will be hooking it up every so often to our house electricity to keep the batteries charged - the vehicle and coach batteries will be kept charged this way. No, the Roadtrek will be very much a part of us for the winter. And that is OK. There are a couple of things that I want to modify inside before the new season starts.

I will continue to write these articles throughout the winter. I plan to write about some of the how to's about the Roadtrek similar to the how to make the bed article. So I hope that you all will keep reading!

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

My Roadtrek Christmas Gift

Meryl is an award winning embroiderer. She has won numerous awards for pieces she has embroidered, has had her work on exhibition, has been published in magazines, and was in a museum exhibition in Washington, DC. Over the years of our marriage she has recognized some of our very special occasions by creating an embroidered Christmas ornament. I had not really thought about it - it has been awhile since she last made one. Every year they do come out and adorn our tree.

Christmas morning there was a gift under the Christmas tree for me that completely took me by surprise. Meryl had made an ornament in recognition of our getting the Roadtrek in 2011. She tried to include every detail as best as she could. Here are some photos of the ornament that she made -

Now look at the detail that she got into the picture of our Roadtrek. You can see the lower side compartments with their locks, the vent for the furnace, the refrigerator vent, and the compartment and vent for the hot water heater! You can even see one of the windshield wipers. This is one of her best!

I am just so happy with this and it will be a great addition to our Christmas tree every year!

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Grand Illumination at Colonial Williamsburg

The main attraction for our trip in our Roadtrek to Colonial Williamsburg in December 2011 was to return to Colonial Williamsburg's annual event - Grand Illumination. It was a British custom to celebrate significant events with an Illumination - the lighting and display of candles in the windows of homes and public buildings. Very special events would be accompanied by fireworks. Among the events that would receive such honor was the celebration of the King's birthday. And since the early days of the Colonial Williamsburg restoration, the historic area of the city has celebrated the birthday of the "King of Kings" with an Illumination - accompanied by the decoration of the homes and buildings in Colonial Williamsburg with elaborate wreathes and greens.

Grand Illumination takes place on the Sunday of the first full weekend in December. The historic area is decked out in natural decorations - you won't see a plastic Santa Claus anywhere. The decorations must be made and represent only things that would have existed in the 18th Century. Now, it is important to understand that the decorations that you see are not historically correct to the 18th Century - when, if any decorations at all were put up, they would have been simple greens hung inside on a window or wall. What you are seeing are decorations that are a traditional Southern style. These are wreathes of greens and fruits and other natural things. But it is lavish and very much what one would like for a traditional Christmas celebration. It attracts tens of thousands every year and the high point is the actual Grand Illumination with fireworks at three locations in the historic area that are set off simultaneously. It is possible to stand in one place and see the same fireworks in the sky in three directions! To say the least, it is very impressive.

We have been going to Grand Illumination since 1996, but this was interrupted for two years when our traveling stopped. With the Roadtrek, we knew we were going back again! Read the last two articles for the details of the trip itself.

The colonial city begins to be decorated just before Thanksgiving and the decorations stay up until after Christmas and New Years Day. The day of the Grand Illumination is always a Sunday and as I said, is the first full weekend in the month of December. That day at about 3 pm things start happening on the street. Colonial performers move up and down Duke of Gloucester Street playing music. You encounter colonial citizens of the city as they walk about. You may see acrobats. Everything is a delight and great fun! Since the morning the number of tourists increase exponentially. Thousands come in for this event. Since everything takes place outside no ticket is required to come, watch, and enjoy. Parking gets to be difficult as the day progresses so this is a day to come early and plan to stay late. There are stages set up at four locations around the city - one on two sides of the Capitol, one at the Palace Green directly in front of the Governor's Palace, and one on Market Square at the Magazine. At around 5:30 pm entertainment is presented on each stage. The acts this year moved from stage to stage so you saw the same entertainment no matter where you were. Years past the acts varied from stage to stage. The fireworks go off when it is dark - and they are spectacular! After the fireworks, things get a bit crazy as you are in a crowd of over 30,000. It is a time to hold onto your family and make your way to the center of Duke of Gloucester Street where two marching fife and drum corps will come from two directions and meet in the middle - all lit by carried torches. This signifies the end of the ceremonies for the day.

Now, I want to share with y0u some of the things that we saw and I will do that through the photos that I took on this trip. What you are seeing are the decorations, the main street in Colonial Williamsburg - Duke of Gloucester Street, and some of the people who work at Colonial Williamsburg who come out in 18th Century persona to bring history to life as it was just before the American Revolution during the Christmas season.