Tuesday, February 24, 2015

RV lifestyle voodoo economics

Dear Dr. R.V. Shrink:
We just stayed for one night at a Louisiana State Park. We went in without a reservation. Dry camping was $14 per night. When I looked at my credit card receipt I noticed I was charge $20. My receipt said the $6 was a reservation fee. When I questioned it I was told everyone is charged $6 the first night to pay for the Reserve America system they use for keeping track of their state campgrounds. I have never heard of this before. There is nothing on their park websites that explains this in advance. The park attendant never explained it when I paid, and she was even a bit huffy when I questioned it.

Have you ever heard of this before? Am I the only one that thinks this is a bit strange? My wife says, “Get over it!” Should I?
 --Nailed in New Orleans

Dear Nailed:
Your wife is right, get over it. Does it make sense? Not really. I questioned it as much as you did the first time I experienced it. To be honest I took it a few steps further. I was so curious I called the Louisiana State Park office and asked for more of an explanation. I was told they have tried running their own software and found it much more expensive than paying Reserve America six bucks for every paid camper night in their parks annually.

What they couldn’t tell me is what that number is. They have 22 State Parks and everyone pays, reservation or not. What I found most unusual was that they had no reference to this charge on their website or their Fees and Facilities Guide. When I questioned this, I was told I just missed it. I asked to be directed to where it is on their site. What I found was a reservation fee for six bucks. It states nowhere that everyone is charged this fee. Strange but true.

That said, Louisiana is priced fairly and competitively when compared to other states. Every state seems to have a different management vision. Texas, for example, charges 7 bucks per person per night for an entrance fee on top of camping. If you do not have an annual pass, you pay this fee every night. A couple would have to stay in Texas State Parks at least five times a year to break even on the annual pass. If you are just passing through it is often not the most economical camping. Other states tax campground fees, which add up quickly.

Louisiana does recognize seniors with half-priced camping. This is good for not only Louisiana residents, but any state that honors the senior passport the same as Louisiana. Unfortunately, that is only Arkansas, Delaware and Maryland. It takes some time to become familiar with all the various state and federal campground fees, rules and regulations. To the mix you can now add concessioners. They seem to be taking control of public lands.

I still have a hard time grasping the voodoo economics of public tax dollars subsidizing corporate managed state, federal and national park campgrounds, run by volunteers. In Louisiana it seems state government can’t manage a website and the Federal Government is finding it harder all the time to manage a simple campground.

A government bean counter recently figured out that the legacy costs of Smokey the Bear could be enormous, because bears are now living much longer. If Smokey retires and refuses to take a buyout his pension costs could become a fiscal anchor on the Forest Service. Smokey the Bear could soon be put on the endangered species list, replaced by a volunteer in a Yogi suit.
--Keep Smilin’, Dr. R.V. Shrink

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

RV sail

Dear Dr. R.V. Shrink:
My wife is mad, I'm sad, the dog is glad. Let me explain. We had the dog tied to the awning support. My wife walked several sites over to talk to another couple.

It was a breezy morning and the awning was making some noise, but nothing too serious. Before my wife left she said we should roll it up, but I pooh-poohed the idea saying, "It's fine!"

Well, we must have had a microburst of wind, because we heard the dog yelp, metal crinkle, plastic crack and neighbors screaming. In the blink of an eye, the awning blew over the motorhome. It snapped the dog leash, broke the TV antenna, cracked two ceiling vent covers, and trashed a thousand dollar awning.

 The dog was traumatized. He looked at me like, "I swear I didn't do a thing. I was just lying here sleeping!" I was conveying the same thing to my wife, but she wasn't buying it. I have been getting the hot tongue and cold shoulder ever since.

 Is it my fault? Shouldn't these things be engineered to take a wind blast? Should I have to roll it up every time I think there might be a wind event? My wife says we shouldn't even replace it. I think it comes in handy on occasion. Will this scare me for life? Will I always be gun-shy about deploying my awning?

Please tell me there is therapy for a guy and his dog who were just trying to enjoy an afternoon siesta.
--Bob and Goober in "The Doghouse"

Dear Bob and Goober:
Bad things happen to good people and dogs. You have to let it go, move on, and learn from your experiences. You have learned some valuable lessons in this one event. First, always listen to your wife. Second, never second-guess an RV awning. Third, get a sturdier leash and a heavier dog.

Seriously, you cannot fight Mother Nature. Physics teaches us just how powerful wind in a sail can be. Your RV awning is basically a horizontal sail. You can tie them down, stake them down, even hold them down, but the right wind will still rip them apart.

Everyone has their own threshold of caution. I personally would not go to the store for an hour without putting the awning up. I have seen too many of them destroyed by just what you describe. The roll-up procedure takes about two minutes on a manual awning and thirty seconds on the new automatic models.

No matter how careful you are, a micro-burst like you experienced can catch anyone off-guard. Your insurance should replace it. Maybe you can upgrade to the newest awning technology while you are at it. That way you, your wife and Goober can be trained on the newest awning operations. It helps when the chain of command can reach the lowest rank. With a new automatic awning you should be able to blame it on Goober next time.
--Keep Smilin', Dr. R.V. Shrink

Sunday, February 8, 2015

RVing can be a beach

Dear Dr. R.V. Shrink:
We are at Padre Island National Park in Texas. It is permissible to drive out on the beach and camp. I can see other large RVs out there, but my husband refuses to go. I even saw a big oil tanker truck drive down the beach for miles. My husband thinks we will sink in the sand, have the tide come in on us and get our rig all salty. I think it would be an experience that isn't possible in too many other locations.

Do you think he is being over cautious, or am I being irresponsible insisting we try it?
--Wanting near the porpoise in Corpus

Dear Porpoise Corpus:
You are in an area where thousands of people drive for miles along the beach to fish, camp, beach-comb, go birding etc. There is a need to be cautious, but over-all it is perfectly safe if you use common sense.

 There are a few things to consider. If you do become stuck, a tow truck will be expensive. Once you are off the beach it would be a good idea to thoroughly wash down your rig. Treat it the same way you would an ocean going fishing boat and motor. Even if you camp in the National Park campground up in the dunes, you will still get salty sand invading your rig when the wind blows. It is no different than driving south along hundreds of miles of salt covered roads. It needs to be cleaned and rinsed.

You need to stay on the hard packed sand. You can see tire marks from other vehicles. There is plenty of wide area to drive, turn around, park parallel, or back in and have your biggest picture windows facing the ocean. The Park Service visitor center can help you with tide information. A clue to leave would be waves washing under your rig. Rangers patrol the beach and will advise campers to leave if they see possible problems.

As enchanting as the beach can be, it needs to be respected. You can enjoy wildlife right out your RV window, from coyotes to sea birds. Fantastic sunrises and great surf fishing are right out your door. You will save a few bucks, because beach camping is free. If you can come to some kind of compromise, you might want to slowly get your feet wet (pun intended). You can camp right at the bottom of the road ramp down to the beach. You will be less than a hundred yards onto the beach and get the full effect of beach camping, the feel of the wheel on the hard packed sand, and experience the wave and wind action that you need to monitor. Walk the beach and talk to other campers. Most are more than happy to share their collective experience with you. The beach can look pristine one day and have the feel of a landfill the next, depending on weather and tide. But overall it is a wonderful place and beach camping can create wonderful memories if done properly.
--Keep Smilin', Dr. R.V. Shrink

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

RV power to the people, or not

Dear Dr. R.V. Shrink:
We invested in a whole solar array on our 5th wheel. We then invested in all new LED bulbs, 12v appliances and small inverters for charging our computers and cameras. With all this investment we seldom need or want electric service.

In many cases we are forced to pay for it anyway as many private, state and federal parks do not offer a choice of dry camping. In the good ole days you couldn't find hook-ups and now it is just the opposite. Are we just getting too old for our own good? We want simple and cheap, yet the RV industry is going complicated and expensive.
--Sunny side up in Sedona

Dear Sunny:
Part of learning the RV lifestyle is understanding all the subtle nuances of finding what you are looking for. 1st, question everything. Many times things are not as they seem. For example: A park website may not offer dry camping, when in reality it is available. You just have to ask.

As more and more people are investing in solar, park managers realize there is a demand for sites not offering and charging for electricity. In many cases, management will give you a regular site and padlock the electric box. It can mean a substantial savings.

Many parks are now going to ala carte electric service. In that case you have the option of using it or not. Many state parks have found an extra income stream in offering overflow camping instead of turning people away. This usually entails camping in a parking lot with no utilities. Being solarized can come in very handy when this situation arises.

Depending on how you travel, a solar investment can pay for itself very quickly. The beauty of it is not having to give up any creature comforts if you are conservative with power usage. With enough mileage under your belt you eventually understand the various management styles of various state run parks. They all have different fee schedules, annual passes, senior discounts, etc. Many Federal parks are going to concessions and things change every year.

You will find a treasure trove of information online and from fellow travelers, but always check ahead of time with management for current information. When in doubt, ask. The worst thing that can happen is you will find you have no option in the matter. When it is cold or hot and you need heat or air conditioning, that A/C might look pretty good.
--Keep Smilin', Dr. R.V. Shrink