Hello everyone,

Today is a good day to talk about dry runs. I will also talk about some great Facebook connections you can take advantage of, as well as a very interesting RV blog I think you’ll love.

I was thinking a lot about a family that decides to go full-time but has never gone camping before they decide to do it. I was thinking about the past 4 years of RVing as vacations and how much we have learned in that time. That time has been so critical to the future.

We finally got to take our RV out after fixing almost everything the dealer left broken. Our trip for a 3 day weekend was the first of several dry runs we plan to take this summer before we start full-timing permanently.

Why are we waiting before setting out on the road permanently? We started selling our house in May of this year, and the market in Alaska is a little slower and more competitive than usual. It has normally been a seller’s market in the past, (we’ve bought and sold houses here 3 different times before this) so it is taking a little bit longer than we expected.

However, this has turned out to be an advantage in many ways. It has given me a lot of time to really “discover” everything that our RV is about, and it has allowed me to plan things a lot better.

I think it is best for a family to try some dry runs so you can get used to everything. An RV is a complex machine, way more complex than we imagined before we bought our first one. We spent about a month reading the manuals before going out our first time because there was still snow on the ground. It is a good thing we had some time to study them.

There are several important systems you will want to understand. The most important ones in your dry runs are the hot water heater (you will probably have one like ours that heats up either with electric or propane). The best way to use your hot water heater is to heat it up just about 10 minutes before you decide to take a shower. Some RV parks frown on you keeping your water hot all the time, while others don’t mind because they charge a lot per day for renting a camping spot with full service. Nevertheless, your hot water heater will last a lot longer if you only turn it on when you need it.

Another system you will want to understand really well is your refrigerator. To avoid putting undue stress on it, I would suggest you only turn it on the night before or the morning of the day you’re planning to leave.

The septic system is another system you will want to learn a lot about. We always empty our septic on the way home from a camping trip, but we were told by a man we met in Tok, Alaska that the best way to use your septic is to keep it closed even when you are at a full service campground. Then, you empty it just before you leave. He said he also likes to drive it around and get it sloshed around good before emptying. This gets all the toilet paper and such “unstuck” from the sides of the tank. One thing you don’t want to do is to go on a camping trip, come back and think you’ll dump it before you go on your next trip. I’ve stood at septic dump sites next to RVs whose owners obviously do this. The smell is so bad, I cannot hardly stand it! To keep your system from getting dried up toilet paper and other unmentionables stuck to the sides, empty it when it is almost full and always flush it.

How to empty your septic: (put on vinyl or rubber gloves before you start)

Hook up your hose to the opening where the septic comes out. Make sure you snap it into place well before opening the valves. If you unscrew the cap to the gate and get a leak before you open the valves, make sure the valves are completely closed before continuing. Our RV, while we were struggling with the dealer to get everything fixed, had an annoying problem of dripping yucky septic drool on your hands after you open the cap and before you pull to open the gate valves. YUCK. We finally got that fixed after a year of complaining about it. It usually means the gate is faulty or the seal is bad.

To empty your septic with the least amount of hassles, open the black gate valve first, then open the grey water gate valve. Black water is your toilet, and grey water is your shower, sinks, etc..Opening the grey valve second allows it to flush any solids out of your drain hose as it is emptying.

Another part of this system that is important is the flushing out of your septic tank. You will want to do this every single time you empty your tanks. I’ve also had some luck with just a few drops of dish soap (not a lot or it will foam up too much) and about a 1/2 cup of vinegar added to your tanks while they are in use. I also use the little packets you drop into your toilet to keep the smell down, but I’m not particular about what kind I use. I usually just use whatever is sold by my RV service center, and not what I can buy at Walmart. The price is a little bit more, but the quality is much higher.

Ok, so back to flushing your septic tank. Our system control panel has a place where you can hook up a garden hose to a connection to flush the septic. The other end, you connect to the water hose connection you usually find at a dump site. IMPORTANT: do not turn on the water until you make sure you have a drain hose connected to your septic and the valves are open. The best way to make sure of this is to hook the flush hose up at the same time you hook the drain hose. Then, just leave the water turned off until after you have emptied both tanks. Then, slowly turn on the water to your flush hose and have someone inside close the toilet lid just to make sure. The flush hose you use for this purpose should be labeled and never used to make a city water connection when you are at a RV campsite. This hose usually doesn’t need to be more than about 15 feet long at the most.

If you don’t have a flush connection on your septic flushing control panel, you can still do this by having a longer garden hose (about 25 feet long) connected to the water connection at the dump site. Run that garden hose through the bathroom window and hand it to someone helping you inside. Have them point the hose down into the toilet and signal to you to start turning the water on slowly. Run this for a good 5 minutes or more. Have whoever is outside touch the drain hose to make sure they feel cold water running through. They can also carefully lift the drain hose out of the hole in the ground to make sure flushing water is coming out of it.

Wash your hands and use a disinfectant like Purel on your hands afterwards.

You will also want to know how your electrical system works. If you are connected to an outlet, such as at home or at a campsite, you will have full power (usually 20 amp or 30 amp or 50 amp) throughout your RV. Your outlets should all operate just like a house, and all your appliances will operate correctly.

If you are at a place where there is no connection to electrical power, you may want to use either a portable Honda generator (or other brand) and connect your electrical cord to it, or you may want to start your generator. You can usually start your generator from inside your RV or go under the hood where it is located (usually in the front of your RV if it is a diesel pusher) and start it with the start button there. The advantage to starting it at the generator itself is to watch the indicator to make sure everything is operating properly. The generator will have blinking lights or a steady light, depending on if everything is ok or not.

You can also do what is called “boondocking,” where you are not connected to anything electrical and are running off your cabin batteries. You would enable your inverter, if you want to operate your TV and microwave and heating system and things like that. The outlets will not usually be hooked up when you operate this way, however. Kind of a pain, but if you have 12 volt connections for things you want to plug in, such as your Iphone or GPS, you can just use your 12 volt connections in the cabin.

You will also want to operate your water system to make sure it is working properly. Make sure you clean the water connections at a campsite or at your home before hooking up a water hose. We have a dedicated short water hose that we only use to do this. That way, it is always a clean connection and not something someone else has contaminated. These are sold pretty much everywhere, and they are usually a 15 foot white hose and designated for an RV water system. We then hook up whatever other hose we have that goes from our outside water connection to that hose. Or hook it up to a campsite connection, but only after cleaning the outside connection with a spray bottle containing water and a small amount of bleach or a safe disinfectant.

Ok, so those are the systems you will want to become really familiar with on short trips before you set off on a permanent vacation.

Some other great tips I recently read are on this blog. They talk about a pre-flight check before you hit the road. Very good information:

http://wheelingit.wordpress.com/2010/07/16/pre-flight-check-what-to-do-before-you-hit-the-road/

Recently on our trip to check out the RV after it had been sitting through the lemon law lawsuit we were embedded in for 2 years, we found the refrigerator would only operate on propane and not on electric. We had never had any problems with the fridge before, so this was something important to know before we set out on the road as fulltimers. It was good to go and test it all.

We also found out the television in the back was not digital and had been sitting through that whole digital conversion, so out it comes and in goes a digital one. This wasn’t the only reason (we don’t get satellite in our RVs up here in Alaska, so the antenna is often one of the few ways to watch TV) but the design had been so bad on that TV that is was way too heavy for the shelf it sits in and often comes flying open during driving. So, a lighter television (small flat screen) is a smarter option.

Ok, so let’s talk about Facebook connections really quickly. I’ve found some really awesome sites on Facebook for the avid RVer that you might enjoy being a part of. Usually, once you have a facebook account, you can visit these sites and click on either the “Become A Fan” or “Like”  button. Once you do that, your facebook feed will always let you know about new posts from these sites. Here are the two I really love:

http://www.facebook.com/TheGoodSamClub

http://www.facebook.com/MotorHomeMagazine

Oh, and here’s one more very cool blog from the gorving website:

http://www.gorving.org/blog

Mr. Herzog is a writer who takes his family every year all summer to see the U.S. And the results are very very interesting.

Ok. Well, I’ll be back soon with more stuff, and I hope you enjoyed this post. Have a great, RVing day.

Camping ROCKS!

I feel at peace when I am RVing. How about you?

Dan after a weekend of camping - so happy!

Driving the Seward Highway, Alaska

Cooper Creek South Campground, Alaska

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