In my 20s, there were several evenings when I had to tent camp near an RV with all its bells and whistles. We’d arrive late and set up camp to the blue light that their 65” TV cast over our campsite like an alien invasion. Unnatural. Invasive. Upon waking the next morning, I’d be greeted by a middle aged dad frying up bacon and eggs on his full height grill that collapsed into the size of my purse. Children and dogs popped in and out of the enormous vehicle as the screen door smacked behind them. I observed all of this from my old, crusty camp chair I received as a birthday gift approximately 10 years ago. The scent of bacon wafting through the air caused my mouth to water and stomach to rumble while I waited for my instant oatmeal water to boil. His campfire blazed from the extensive pile of wood and fire starter stored in the many lower compartments of the fancy giant. My fire was barely hanging on as the prior evening’s rain made all prospective firewood just damp enough to smoke out the campground. I attempted not to make eye contact with “happy dad,” for I was content with my current real camping situation. Yet, I found myself slightly envious.
Years passed, children were born and now my husband and I proudly teach the backcountry and car camping ways to our young’ uns. We actually owned a pop-up camper for a while, which wound up not being used as often as we thought due to the extra work required. We mostly tent camped and occasionally, we’d camp near an RV or fifth wheel when all sought-after backcountry camping spots were full or too far of a drive. “Why do those people have a bus for camping?” asks my then 7-year-old.
“Well, they are older people and it’s more comfortable for them,” I respond as a 10-year-old comes bounding out of the camper door with powdered donut in hand and all over his lips. I attempted to distract my daughter’s curiosity with a cold bowl of Cheerios.
“Oh,” she responded with a mouthful of cereal while her eyes coveted the camper and donut. Tent life was all she knew and I did not want her to even be lured by the whole “Glamping” world, which, in my eyes, was not real camping. My children became accustomed to “roughing it,” and then it happened—COVID-19 plagued our world.
The coronavirus chaos inspired my family to try something different. Something I never thought I’d agree to. Something I told my child only old people do: we rented a 32-foot bells-and-whistles RV. Just before I clicked the rental agreement, I had to honestly stuff down the feelings of “giving in” and growing older.
While there is something so beautiful and pure about sleeping on the earth, I have to admit, each year I’ve circled around the sun, the need for cushion between my body and the ground has increased to avoid waking up like the Hunchback of Notre Dame. I went from my original, paper thin Thermarest, to a thicker one, to a practical air mattress. This RV took it over the top with its queen size bed and excessive, even decorative, pillows, comforters and sheets. It was a huge difference from my rolled up sweatshirt pillow and sleek mummy bag, which dared me to try to roll over in the night. My body loved the new comfort and I began to wonder if objectively… I was enjoying the new “camping” luxuries.
Need a bathroom? No need to stop; there’s one only 5 feet away with a mirror, medicine cabinet, sink and soap. Considering a shower? Go ahead—there’s about 100,000 gallons of water in this puppy—might as well use it. And who doesn’t love ice cubes in their lemonade or a little nibble of hummus and carrots from the fridge? I was able to bake cookies in the teeny oven, blend up a serious piña colada and make three-course meals using the stovetop range. We lived like the turtle for 10 days, traveling slowly through the world with everything we needed on our backs.
It is tough to admit how very much I enjoyed RV life, maybe even a little more than my husband did, who was the designated driver for the beast. As the constant driver/captain, he never sat in the back with feet up while cruising the open highway. Instead, he was behind the wheel for hours a day, and I am sincerely grateful for that.
While we saw geysers, wildlife and spectacular scenery in Yellowstone and The Grand Tetons, I felt this trip was more about the journey. My teenagers were able to roam about the cabin, grab a drink, stretch their legs, listen to music and play games. When that got boring, they chose a DVD to watch on the 40” TV. There were plenty of humorous moments we’ll laugh about for years to come. There were fewer fights and complaints compared to the days of being squeezed into the back seat with dogs on laps and fear of asking for another bathroom break.
I learned much about the RV world. Interestingly, there’s a whole community of people out there who are die hard RV-ers. Some live in their favorite parks for whole seasons or years. We were in a few camps where people built decks around their motor homes. Parks varied from the strange, off-the-side-of-a-highway parking lot to the granddaddy KOA, which is like a romper room for the family. My kids shot hoops with other teens who were dragged onto their RV for a “fun family experience.” We swam in an indoor, well maintained pool and enjoyed a few rounds of mini golf before we sat outside for a BBQ dinner cooked up by the campground host. If we woke before 9 am, there was a pancake breakfast with bacon, sausage and eggs! We never woke early enough, but it sounded wonderful!
I thought I was going to feel uncomfortable being so close to people because in most parks, you set up within 20 feet of each other. However, it rarely felt crowded as our setup never faced neighbors and everyone mostly kept to themselves and waved. If you wanted to make friends, you could easily do so. We were often forced to interact due to our wily dogs. Unfortunately, I have one dog who loves everyone and another who doesn’t. You just never know how he’s going to react to others, so each encounter was quite the kerfuffle.
All in all, this RV trip (warts and all) was one of my favorite life experiences. It took some getting used to, but I can see myself going this route full time someday. This is coming from a lifelong backcountry tent camper who thoroughly enjoys space away from others, dehydrated food meals, and sipping whiskey while tending to a raging fire. I can (and will) still do all of this, sometimes near a tent, other times outside a rented (or purchased?) wheeled behemoth. It just might be that RV camping is my new jam.
I hate myself for loving you…
—Joan Jett & The Blackhearts