Friday, February 22, 2013

National Park lover? Take Action Today!

Wild Goose Island - Glacier Natl Park
Wild Goose Island, Glacier National Park

Friends:  regardless of how our political leanings might differ from one another, I would bet there’s one thing we can all agree on—that our National Park lands (that we all own) are America’s finest treasure, and something we’d like our future generations to experience as fully as we have.

In recent years, funding for the National Park Service (NPS) has been cut to just 1/14th of 1% of the federal budget.  Now, as of March 1st, that funding is slated to be cut even further (due to “sequestration”) unless Congress acts to stop it.  Maybe it’s already too late and we don’t have a snowball’s chance in hell of stopping it, but I guess we’ll never know unless we try, right?

The National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA) has organized a quick and easy online petition to make your voice heard in Washington.  Please add your name today!

So, what will it mean if sequestration actually happens & what can you do about it?  Read these links:

If you have a blog (or are on Facebook, Twitter, Google+,etc),  I hope you can re-post and share this online petition link above today.   Thanks!

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Every RVer Needs a Crash Plan



Ok, lets be honest.  If a survey were taken today, I bet the number of people who backup their computers daily would be about the same number as those who floss…and, likely, the exact same individuals do both! Open-mouthed smile 

Most of us are the “sometimers” – we backup (and floss) when we think about it, or before/after a major event.  Those among us who also maintain off-site backups of their data are an even more elite crowd (the exceptional Eagle scouts among us who exemplify the motto “be prepared”).

Every year we hear those horror stories of RVers coming back from a day hike only to find their RV reduced to a smoldering pile of rubble. And, stories of RVs being burglarized while parked at a tourist attraction or shopping mall.  Lets face it—the risks of losing both your laptop and your external backup drive are greater in an RV than they are with a stationary house

So, offsite backup copies of your electronic data are absolutely critical for RVers!!! 

This is something that most full-time RVers continuously struggle with--  they can’t usually rely on “cloud-based” backup services due to internet bandwidth limitations (either via a capped cellular data plan or an over-crowded campground wifi network).  They also can’t easily rotate a spare backup drive for safe keeping to a friend or relative’s house every week (because they’re likely to be on the road to their next destination).

Chris Dunphy of Technomadia wrote an excellent article last year about backup strategies and online security for full-time RVers (his advice is solid for non-fulltimers as well!).  But, in the end, there were no easy solutions for maintaining offsite backups.

Until now!CrashPlan1Meet Crashplan.  This “next generation” backup software has been getting great reviews this past year.

Unlike early pioneers such as Mozy and Carbonite (that seemed to always want to sync your full hard drive to the cloud 100% of the time), Crashplan offers the user a number of features that align well to full-time RVer needs:

  • A free version of the software not only backs up to local external drives, but you can back up to friends or family’s computers as well.  All backup archives are fully encrypted (thus reducing the risk of Aunt Edna snooping through your old bank statements).
  • For a modest annual subscription fee ($33 for 10GB or $60 for unlimited storage, per computer per year), you can additionally backup to Crashplan’s cloud-based servers, and create multiple backup “sets” to fine-tune exactly what files get backed up, and how often. 

Still skeptical?  These added features might convince you:

  • One aspect of the robust backup settings is that you can define what specific networks the backup can and cannot use (for instance, excluding your cellular modem’s WiFi, while allowing the campground’s free WiFi instead).
  • With multiple backup sets, you could create a large data set for “cold storage” – those files that you are unlikely to change or delete (for instance, raw photo or video files, or scanned PDF documents), back that up to the cloud server initially and then keep future syncing turned off.   Meanwhile, you could create a much smaller second backup set of for more commonly-edited files (that you would back up regularly to your local external drive, and also to the cloud whenever you’re on a network that could support the bandwidth)..
  • To minimize the huge bandwidth and time demands of an initial full-computer backup (or a later full restore) to the cloud, Crashplan offers roundtrip shipping “seed” services that send you an encrypted hard drive to copy your files locally.  This service costs between $125-165, but when you consider it includes roundtrip FedEx shipping charges, the costs aren’t that unreasonable (especially compared to what Verizon would charge you to transfer 1 terabyte of data across their network….yikes!)

Still not comfortable with the idea of backing up to a cloud server?  Well, lets explore the “storing a spare drive at a friend’s house” approach further.

  • Without Crashplan, you’d probably just make a simple, unencrypted copy of your files to an external hard drive, take that to your friend’s house, and leave it there for months until you rolled thru town again to refresh the drive with updated data.
  • If your computer crashed in the meantime, you’d ask your friend to physically ship you the spare hard drive (hoping those un-encrypted files wouldn’t land into the wrong hands if the package got lost).
  • However, with Crashplan, you’d first backup your data to a local external hard drive (the archive would be automatically encrypted) and then give that drive to your friend.  Assuming they’d be willing to install the free Crashplan app on their computer, and periodically attach your drive to it for updates,  they would read you a short “key code” which you would enter into your copy of Crashplan (so the 2 apps could “find each other” over the internet). Your offsite drive would now be accessible to you wherever you happen to be in the world.
  • Even in the event  that you’d need the full hard drive shipped back to you for a full restore, chances are your backup archive would be more up-to-date (and certainly more secure via encryption) than if you were not using Crashplan.

Crashplan offers a free 30-day trial of their premium cloud-based services so you can fully “kick the tires” and try it out before buying a subscription.   So, give it a spin and let me know what you think!


If you’re interested in seeing my full list of favorite mobile technology solutions, I’ve just added a new link to the top of my blog called Mobile Tech Favs.

I’ve also moved my list of RV mods and upgrades to it’s own page (linked at the top of my blog as well) called RV Gadget Favs.


Saturday, February 2, 2013

A Girl’s Guide to RVing: Self-Defense

My camp at LBL

About 10 years ago, when I was still new to RV camping, I found this awesome campsite right on the waterfront at Land Between the Lakes in Kentucky.  It was a gorgeous autumn weekend, and I couldn’t believe my luck.  I was not only able to get this site, but had the entire campground completely to myself!
I went about setting up my popup camper and parked my "girly" Lexus SUV in front of it.   No dog with me back then-- just me, myself, and I all alone...30 miles from the nearest town…in the backwoods of rural Kentucky.  (cue up the banjo and guitar… do you hear them playing Deliverance yet?!!)

After enjoying a nice dinner and campfire, I gazed at the stars and couldn’t believe how bright they were.  It was a moonless night and absolutely pitch-black. I headed off to bed enjoying the final whiffs of campfire smoke drifting thru the canvas tent walls, and hearing the crickets lull me to sleep.  It didn’t take long as I was completely exhausted from the long day’s drive to get there.

Around midnight, I thought I was dreaming of distant lights in the woods.  As I began to awake, I realized that was no dream—there WERE flashlights approaching my camper from the woods behind…and the sounds of mens' voices.  They were still a ways off, but closing in fast and heading straight towards my camper! 

In an instant, my idyllic camp site had suddenly become terrifying.  And, it was only then that I realized how incredibly naïve I had been to put myself into such a vulnerable position...only camper in a very remote campground?  DUMB.   Camping in an RV without hard-walls or a locking door?  DUMB.  Tow car that screams "Girl camping here!" DUMB.  No self-defense weapons onboard of any kind (other than a couple of dull, cheapo steak knives)?  DUMB, DUMB, DUMB! 

As the men and flashlights continued to approach, I could tell by their shadows that they also had shotguns… “oh shit, this is it!”  I rolled out of bed onto the floor and reached into the drawer for a dull steak knife, preparing myself for the inevitable violence to come.

Just as the men got within10 feet of my camper (and could now clearly see it), they suddenly turned and continued walking to the parking lot of the campground.  I had failed to notice previously that there were a couple of pickup trucks parked there.  Nor had I realized there was trail behind my camper into the woods.  Nor was I aware that It was hunting season, and these would-be armed assailants were simply a couple of good ‘ol boys returning from a long evening of hunting. 

Much to my relief, they were not the least bit interested in terrorizing a single girl all alone in her pop-up camper!

The topic of self-defense has come up recently in a few RV forums I follow.  It seems that some women are absolutely TERRIFIED to camp in an RV and feel the need to carry all sorts of protection—mace, baseball bats, a tire iron, and of course the most controversial….guns.

After my terrifying experience, you’d assume I’d now be armed to the hilt, right?  Well, I honestly thought about it, for sure.  But then I started thinking about it rationally:

  • Would it have helped to carry mace, bear spray, or even hair spray (yes, some lady RVers consider this a weapon!)?  Probably not.  There was a breeze that night, and there were multiple men with guns.  I would have never been able to spray them all, so more likely would have just disabled myself.
  • How about a tire iron, baseball bat, or fire extinguisher?  Again, not a great idea.  They outnumbered and would easily have over-powered me (and likely would have used that weapon against me).
  • Ok, then you should have had a gun! Well, I will admit, that would have been the most effective option here.  Trouble is, it would have been too irreversibly effective.  I was scared out of my wits seeing shadows of armed men right outside my camper.  So scared that I honestly might have shot right through the canvas to stop them that night.  And what would that have accomplished?  My shots likely missing them?  Them shooting back at me? Or me getting “lucky” enough to shoot one or two of them? And what if I had killed them, only to then learn they were just innocently hiking back to their car?

Americans have always been a gun-loving (and overly fearful) society.  Thirty beautiful little 1st graders get shot just before Christmas by an apocalyptic lunatic, and we jump to the conclusion that the only effective prevention must now be to put a loaded pistol in ever kid’s book bag next to their sippy cup!

Washington Post, Dec, 2012: What Makes America's Gun Culture Unique in the World
The U.S. far, far exceeds every other nation on earth in it’s number guns per capita (at 88.8 guns per 100 people, we have almost twice as many guns as violence-riddled Yemen in 2nd place).  We get shot going to the movie theater, get shot at the supermarket, get shot going to school, even get shot just playing in the front yard outside our homes.   So, good heavens, maybe the NRA is finally right….maybe those of us who have yet to take up arms, should now finally do so!

One lady RV blogger recently excitedly announced that she was preparing to head out on her first extended solo RVing trip.  She then casually mentioned some of the items she’ll be bringing along with her (and sadly, I’m not making this up):  she will keep a gun in her camper, another gun in her truck, and conceal-carry yet another loaded gun on her body at all times.

What is it about camping that terrifies women (and men) so much?  Have we, as a society, really devolved to such levels of fear that we must arm ourselves to the hilt just to enjoy a simple evening beneath the stars?   The statistics would certainly seem to suggest that.

If anyone would have had justification to arm themselves up the wazoo, after my Kentucky backwoods experience, it would have been me.

But I didn’t.

I decided that if I were to ever get shot to death by some crazed idiot one night while out camping and enjoying beauty of nature, so be it.   If a mama bear were so starved that she felt the need to attack me to feed herself and her cubs, so be it.

All I could would do is to try and reduce the odds of that happening to me.  I refused to cave in to the “culture of fear.”

So, how did I improve my self-defense?  What were my “lessons learned” from that night? 
  • I traded the popup and vowed to now only camp in hard-walled vehicles (with locking doors). 
    • A motorhome or van are exceptionally safe choices for solo female RVers—if necessary, you never need to leave your locked vehicle when you park for the night (so onlookers are unlikely to notice that you’re alone).  And, if anything starts to make you fearful, you can easily drive away, again without leaving your locked vehicle.
  • I got a dog.  Burglars would rather target that quiet RV out at the edge of the campground, rather than mess with my stern-barking Millie (of course, if they ever reached to pet her, she’d lick them and wag her tail!).
  • I avoid camping spots where I’m completely alone.  Even if I’m boondocking out in the desert, I’ll still try to park where there’s at least one or two other RVs in the distance.  If I do happen to break this rule, I’ll at least be sure to have good cell phone coverage and have good familiarity with the area.
  • For overnight spots, I stick to well-lit, well-patrolled businesses (preferably open 24 hours) such as Flying J or WalMart, and avoid spending the night at dark, isolated highway rest stops.
  • I try to blend in with the crowd.  As much as I loved my Lexus SUV, or little, cute T@B trailer, neither were very common sights in a campground.  I now stick with more common RVs and vehicles (even though I do sometimes wish my bright yellow Tracker was boring green or blue, it’s still an aging cheapo SUV compared to a newer luxury model).
  • Now that I’m a vegan, I no longer bring along the dull steak knives.  But we plant-eaters do tend to brandish sets of really sharp cutlery…so watch out for the vegan girl with the Ginsu knives!  You’ve been warned!!!
Seriously though, the best self-defense I’ve found (in addition to the above changes)  is to simply stay more aware of my surroundings at all times, and not put myself into places where fear would ever limit my ability to enjoy and be part of nature.  It’s as simple as that!

Maybe one day, I’ll no longer find relatively safety in my surroundings and my comfort level will now require more potent weapons to defend myself.  But I hope for my sake, the sake of those around me, and the general sake of our nation, that it never has to come to that. 

I’d hope that there would always be one or two RVers nearby who were much more skilled and capable than me to protect us all (an armed off-duty police officer, ex-military, or skilled marksman would give me much more comfort than being surrounded by 100 other pistol-toting grannies with equally failing eyesight!).

A few years ago, I returned to this very same campground at LBL.  It was still pretty deserted, but I now had my hard-walled locking RV, my dog, my less-fancy SUV, my cell phone, and my sharp cutlery.  And I now felt perfectly safe. 

So, I’m hopeful that my fears (and yours) related to personal safety continue to stay manageable. That we take a few sensible precautions to prevent dangerous situations, but don’t let fear ruin the magic of experiencing the natural world around us. 

For now, the odds of being harmed out in the woods are far less than even the local shopping mall, so just relax, take a deep breath…and enjoy the view!

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