the happy camper

February 17, 2007

in Cars, Stories

A few years back we thought, maybe we should buy an RV.

Contrary to what you are thinking we have neither taken leave of our senses nor have we suddenly aged 40 years. We have no intentions of retiring early, selling the house, and spending the rest of our lives driving between the Koa Kampgrounds.

But we are the sort of people for whom there is no better vacation than to just point the car in some random direction and go out and explore for a couple weeks. A big stack of AAA maps and a full tank of gas: all we really need for big fun. An RV would mean we could go farther out without having to think, OK, time to go look for a motel room. We would be carrying our motel room with us.

We’re also the sort of people who occasionally load up the truck with bicycles or motorcycles and drive out to events or gatherings where typically there is camping. We can camp, sort of, in our current car, if you fold the seats down and don’t mind getting jabbed in the back by a tie-down. But its kind of tight. Not in the good kind of way. More in the ow you’re on my arm kind of way. There’s not a lot of room for both people and stuff in the car, and definitely not people and stuff and bicycles, or people and stuff and motorcycles and friends.

So we thought, hey, an RV.

But there are problems with RVs and other travel-type vehicles. Trailers of all sorts are difficult to maneuver and you have to go tediously slow on the highway when you drive them. Campers are top-heavy and hard to get on and off the truck. Full RVs are usable and comfortable but they’re expensive and…well, full RVs are just ugly. Insanely ugly. Good lord, are they ugly.

RV designers seem to be trapped in this strange sort of time warp, a sort of eisenhower-meets-nixon design sensibility. Not the midcentury design that is cool and retro these days; its more the decor and panelling and textures you find in the suburban homes of old people who die alone and who are eaten by their cat. RV design gives me the willies.

And then there are the exteriors. In addition to a general barge-like shape, RVs all seem to be decorated on the outside with some kind of inexplicable ocean theme, with blues and aquas and waves and names with “wind” and “foam” and “surf” in them. I’m not quite sure of the point of this is. When I think of driving an RV I imagine other marine themes, for example, “I am driving a humpback whale,” or “the tide comes in faster than this vehicle climbs this hill.”

They do make a sort of RV called a Fun Mover which is not so bad, and happens to be an appropriate RV for our chosen lifestyle. With the Fun Mover instead of the normal RV back full of bathroom or bed or widescreen TV they have an empty space and a big panel door that folds down into a ramp. They make them that way so that you can load up your ATVs or your motorcycles and go out with your RV into the unspoiled wilderness and, um, spoil it. And the RV manufactures are, indeed, much better at designing the interiors of Fun Movers for people not on social security, or at least designing them for people like us — solvent and spoiled GenXers who seem to believe we have fun we need to move. They are less mobile suburban ranch homes than they are mobile garages. “Look,” said Eric, thrusting an RV magazine at me. In the magazine there was a picture of a Fun Mover, open in the back. “They’ve covered the ENTIRE INTERIOR WITH DIAMOND PLATE.” Now that was one cool RV. Alas, Fun Mover exteriors still bear a strong resemblance to large oceangoing mammals.

At this point you will brightly point out the Airstream. Airstreams do have the significant advantage of being wholly not ugly. I actually know a few people who own Airstreams enough that it almost qualifies as an Airstream community. My sister Sharon has an airstream she actually lives in and drives black and forth to school. It is fabulous. She bought it for like $150, it is totally original, and for that we hate her. Jacob has an airstream he is restoring. Dori and Kathy have Airstreams they use as offices. I will point out however that airstreams are trailers and thus crossed off the list, and it would be tough to stuff a motorcycle through the door of an airstream.

After dithering about it for a while we were eventually dissuaded from the RV idea by a few significant issues besides the ugly part. First of all, we own way too many vehicles already. We have kind of a vehicle problem. There’s this thing? Where you have a big garage and a barn? Suddenly you find this really great deal on, well, anything, on craigslist? Cars, trucks, motorcycles, farm equipment, former soviet weaponry, submarines, space stations, its just too cool and its cheap so you have to have it? We have this problem. Junk fills up the available space. It just happens. I can’t explain it.

Second of all, although we drive a whole lot, we don’t actually camp very much at all. Not often. Maybe once or sometimes twice a year. Most of the time we just find a motel at the end of the day. For a while we had this theory that if we bought a camper, we would go camping more often. This is the same sort of magical thinking that leads one to believe that if you sign up for a gym membership, you will go to the gym. Or, really, that if you own a space station, you will of course instantly become an astronaut.

Then there is the RV gallons-per-mile problem which needs no further explanation.

But then in the last year so things changed. Eric has been doing more bicycle racing, and we’ve been travelling a lot more to farther away places. And we’ve been thinking in general of downsizing our vehicle collection, trading down the big vehicles from the cheap-gas-large-car-dotcom-exuberance era and getting smaller cars and fewer of them. So the thought of some kind of vehicle we could travel and camp in was becoming more appealing. Maybe not an RV. Maybe something smaller, maybe a camper or a trailer or…or…

A bus. A VW bus.

big blue camper van

(see Part 2)

{ 6 comments }

1 Sharon February 17, 2007 at 12:36 pm

While I do think everyone needs an Airstream, there is a fundamental fact that goes with them: A big truck. Which will serve no other purpose except to take up space and haul the trailer. For the other 362 days a year you’re not on the road, it will sit, quietly, and eat gas, tires, and leave you large gifts of motor oil on the ground.

In addition to looking like whales, RVs handle as well as whales do. That is to say: You need four lanes to turn and three to stop, and my god, I’ve been on that road you live on, are you NUTS? There’s a reason mine stays parked in Hattiesburg instead of coming home every weekend.

The bus is nice. I could do the bus.

2 Stan February 17, 2007 at 6:24 pm

But speaking of Airstreams, have you seen this?

http://www.flickr.com/photos/bredlo/sets/72157594189653390/

3 Jeffrey McManus February 18, 2007 at 12:43 pm

Okay, I am now going to require much more information, such as: does VW even make these anymore? Where do you get one? And by “you” of course I mean “me”.

4 Paul February 18, 2007 at 4:31 pm

Congratulations! Interior layout looks very much like our ’90 except we have a little closet in the rear (apparently there’s also an engine back there somewhere). Even the cupholders are the same! Those are very cool when camping, BTW, because you can fold down the restraining hoop and just use the little tray.

A multipurpose vehicle is great — I commute in mine some days, we’ve survived camping in multi-day downpours, and today we bought two bureaus and a mirror at the flea market.

5 DurocShark February 18, 2007 at 5:10 pm

Umm… That’s not a bus.

6 Jacob Davies July 11, 2007 at 3:52 pm

Hey! Here I am google-stalking myself, and you linked to my neverending Airstream project photos.

Yes, Airstreams are lovely, but I would not recommend one to anyone without serious time to work on it, money to spend, and a desire to use it for more than just a few weeks a year (the truck issue, along with routine maintenance). It’s a commitment. Buying a brand-new one solves some of those problems for a while – maintenance, renovation – but is stupendously expensive and still needs a truck to tow it. For people more interested just in camping, the VW bus is the shit. We had several growing up, and if I actually liked “camping” per se, I’d buy one now.

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