RVs R Us

 

Living in a western Colorado mountain town that panders to tourists, vacationers and white-knuckled early retirees driving Greyhound buses converted to homes nicer than I live in, I, too, have suffered. I have been damned, dammed behind these tin-can condos as they’ve labored up passes like mastodons running a marathon.

I’ve watched with a perverse mix of dread and lurid anticipation as they wobble uncertainly down switchbacks like poodles trying to run with the wolves. And I’ve displayed stunning restraint, dodging their weaving ways, as they negotiate our city’s streets like whales schooling with mackerel. I’ve seen them at the gas pump guzzling vats of gasoline. Especially now.

Yet here we be. We be RV.

We became RV because this past summer my wife and I decided to explore the spine of our beloved Rocky Mountains, as far as we could get (and back) over the summer, with our two kids, ages 10 and 12. Something of a last chance to spend two months in close quarters before puberty becomes the elephant in the proverbial room. Or in the proverbial 24-foot camper trailer.

You have to understand: My wife and I have long been outdoor purists. For the past few decades, we’ve been strictly backpackers, car campers and river runners. On those ventures we’ve always slept — and, for several summers, lived — either under the stars. The biggest "motor coach" we’ve employed has been a 1981 Jeep Wagoneer. We have raised our two children the same proudly primitive way.

But this summer, for the first time, an RV made sense. It would be four of us out on the road for eight weeks, covering a lot of miles and moving our camp a lot. We would be frequently and for long periods of time in grizzly habitat, so a hard shell around us was comforting.

It worked. Over two months and thousands of miles, we were always able to pull up to a spot — a state park, a side road, a pull out in the woods or along a river or on a grand overlook with a sweeping view of the Rockies — and immediately be there. Rain or shine, cold or hot, mosquitoes or blackflies, all we had to do was park, turn on the hot water and water pump, and we were home. Or at least at the cabin — same cabin, new cabin site each night.

The lodging was comfortable, but the driving was a revelation. It gave me a surprisingly elevated appreciation for the abilities of my fellow RV jockeys. Obviously, you don’t have to be a Ph.D. to pilot an RV, but it ain’t for sissies, either. For generating sheer fear, whitewater has nothing on hauling a small house on wheels over a mountain road. And even walking through grizzly country is less intimidating than sharing a winding and narrow northcountry road with careening tandem tanker semis and ancient overloaded logging trucks.

In the spirit of full disclosure, I also have to admit that I came to understand the allure and generosity of The Box Store That Must Not Be Named — let’s call it Valdemart — as that huge pavement harbor for throwing out anchor and resupplying in the midst of the chaos of an urban ocean.

I also have to say that I liked most of the fellow RVers we met on the road and in campgrounds up and down the Rocky Mountains. I found a deeper connection with these folks than I, in my mountain-man machismo, had been willing to admit before. Even though these were not people we would normally run into while camping the way we usually camp, they were still fun and friendly. They were interesting. They were … well, travelers, just like us.

Still, there are some places that my Thoreauvian conscience (and, lest we forget, Thoreau passed his Walden wilderness adventure in a cabin about the size of our RV) won’t let me go in my RV: No generator. No TV. No letting more than three vehicles stack up behind me on mountain passes. And, no matter how much sympathy and understanding I may now have for my RVing brothers and sisters, never, ever camping overnight in a Valdemart parking lot.

Hey, we haven’t changed that much.

Ken Wright is a contributor to Writers on the Range, a service of High Country News (hcn.org). He lives and writes in Durango, Colorado.

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