Give a cheer for Winnebagoes

  This is America: You can drive just about any kind of gas-guzzling, hydrocarbon-spewing, rust exhibit you want -- unless you drive a recreational vehicle, otherwise disdained as an "RV." Among the pundits of political correctness, driving an RV puts you one social notch above suspected terrorist.

Sure, RVs are big, ugly, get notoriously poor mileage and are often driven by those with declining driving skills. But do they deserve the scorn we give them? Do RVs pollute more, destroy more wildlife, roads or riparian areas? Do they further deplete the world’s ozone or the president’s public-approval rating?

Many dubious vehicles ride the roads: triple-trailer semi-trucks to blow us off interstates, 1967 Volkswagen buses go from zero to 60 in a month, and plenty of BOACs (otherwise known as Big Ol’ American Cars) barely get 10 miles per gallon, never mind what they get when they’re hauling a chemical toilet or refrigerator.

But let somebody drive a lumbering behemoth sporting a slogan like "Born to be wild" on its flanks, and both eco-warriors and muscle-car drivers unite in a cry of shared misery.

Have a little compassion. Look at who's driving these paved-road porkers. They are our parents and grandparents who lived through the Depression, never watched their cholesterol, burned coal in their furnaces, ate eggs fried in butter with a side of sausage every day, fought in two World Wars, never used sun block and were told by an actor who went on to be president that smoking was good for them.

These same people put up with my generation’s boycotting cleanliness and short hair, streaking through public places, burning flags, draft cards and marijuana, eating seaweed, tofu and bean sprouts, voting Democrat "for a change," dodging the draft, staying in college way too long and generally growing up to be bratty, ungrateful adult children. But now, we’ve spawned the syndrome that could be called "Winnebagophobia," a fear of monster homes on wheels containing chemical toilets, propane stoves and floppy kitchen tables that convert into beds.

People who think RVs are the root of all evil are the same people who think that the world’s problems can be solved by putting Linux on all computers and growing more agricultural hemp. These people don’t drive RVs, but most of them drive AVs -- Adventure Vehicles -- also known as all-terrain vehicles.

Which is better for the environment, an AV or and an RV?

AV: Gets 12-18 mpg or less with all those toys on the roof rack. RV: Gets 5-10 mpg or a little better if you get in the slipstream of a tractor-trailer truck.

AV: Can cost $50,000 plus the cost of all those toys on the roof rack.

RV: Can cost $150,000 or whatever is left of the inheritance.

AV: Carries four people plus gear or two passengers plus two dogs.

RV: Sleeps eight.

AV: Hits a new trail or river every weekend.

RV: Stays in campgrounds or children’s driveways for weeks at a time.

AV: Passengers poop in the woods, by the stream and in the desert.

RV: Occupants repair to a chemical toilet.

AV: Passengers build campfires or cook with exotic, $200 five-ounce stoves.

RV: Occupants push buttons on the microwave oven.

AV: Passengers hike on trails, pooping along the way.

RV: Occupants pop in a video and make microwave popcorn.

AV: Recreationists wear grooves in Utah’s Slick Rock Trail.

RV: Travelers go shopping in Moab.

AV: Recreationists hammer bolts into mountainsides.

RV: Travelers go shopping in Boulder.

AV: Climbers say, "Go for it" a lot.

RV: Travelers ask, "Where is the KOA?"

AV: Owners keep REI and Patagonia in business.

RV: Owners keep Exxon in business.

AV: Owners drive their parents crazy.

RV: Owners drive like crazy to get away from the kids.

AV: Hikers heat up overpriced freeze-dried camp food.

RV: Occupants microwave pizzas.

AV: Owners wear Birkenstocks.

RV: Owners wear Birkenstocks.

Let’s learn to love RVs. They help free up the backcountry and force everyone to drive at a snail’s pace and enjoy the scenery.

Dennis Hinkamp is a contributor to Writers on the Range, a service of High Country News (hcn.org). He lives in Logan, Utah, where he is the proud owner of a 1965 Airstream Globetrotter with a chemical toilet.

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