Monthly Archives: May 2017

The 5 Most Embarrassing Mistakes

The 5 most embarrassing mistakes you can make with an Airstream that your family will not let you forget:

  1. Leave anything open or extended on the roof while you drive down the interstate at 70 mph. Your TV antenna will initially take flight then lose control and crash into your trailer roof in a twisted jumble of metal. Open rooftop vents create a vacuum inside your trailer that lift your flooring like a bounce house.
  2. Forget to empty the refrigerator before putting your trailer in storage.  This is especially important in South Mississippi during summer shrimp season. Just saying.
  3. Fail to block the wheels while parked on a hill before unhitching.  You can only hope that your trailer will make a soft landing against a tree somewhere downhill from your campsite.
  4. Forget that you are towing an eight-foot-wide by nine-foot-tall trailer when you pass the campground gatehouse.  I am sure this is some type of sick joke when they build the roof of the gatehouse to overhang the entrance lane, enticing a collision.
  5. Hook up the tap water supply to the black water tank rinse connector.  Airstream has, for some unknown reason, placed the outside hose connection for the sewage tank rinse system right next to the hose connection for the trailer tap water system.  By the time you figure out why you have no water pressure in your faucets, your black water tank will overflow, filling your trailer with raw sewage.

If anyone asks me if I have personal experience with any of these scenarios, I am “taking the fifth.”

Sticker Wars

It all started innocently.  We had left our Airstream trailer at Bryce Canyon National Park and drove the truck over to Zion for the day.  After risking our lives traversing “trails” chiseled into the side of sheer cliffs, we stopped at the visitor center to poke around.  There we found for sale – the object that has led to endless debate between Marcia and I – a three-inch vinyl window sticker.  This was a reproduction of a vintage Zion N.P. entrance decal from the early park era.  A Google search revealed that Ranger Doug Enterprises has reproduced dozens of these stickers from many of the national parks and monuments; I could collect the whole set.

I bought the sticker for Zion and found one for Bryce as well.  I was about to proudly create my “trophy wall” on the inside of our trailer door when Marcia asked the question, “can you really put the Zion sticker up if the trailer has not actually been to Zion?”  At that time, I realized we were in uncharted waters.  There were no known rules of RV etiquette that governed the proper display of location stickers. I don’t own one of those large maps of the United States that come with stickers for each state visited. If the map does come with “rules of display,” I doubt they would allow putting up a Georgia sticker if you just drove 20 miles in Georgia up I-59 from Alabama to Tennessee. Or that you could display the Hawaii state sticker without actually putting your rig on a freighter.

Not fully understanding the ramifications of my actions, I ordered the whole set of historic National Park stickers.  I figured that I would keep them in the trailer and apply them as we visited the parks and monuments.  Now, before we owned the trailer, we had been to Arches N.P., could I put this one up? How close does the trailer really need to be to the Statue of Liberty to “earn” this sticker?  We had a sticker for Platt National Park in Oklahoma, which hasn’t existed since 1976, could I ever use this one?

The Continental Congress could not have had a more livelier debate than Marcia and I over the “proper display of park stickers.” We have differing opinions on when a sticker can be displayed, but we share the same trailer door.  After many rewrites, we have come up with the following rules:

1. A sticker could be displayed if the trailer actually enters the park.

2. It is acceptable to display a sticker if either Marcia or I visit the park while traveling with the trailer, even if the trailer does not.

3. Merely passing close to a park does not constitute a visit.

4. If they ever design a sticker for the underwater Key Biscayne National Park, it would be inappropriate to claim a visit with our non-amphibious trailer.

5. The grinning Teddy Roosevelt sticker (father of the National Park Service) can always be displayed.

6. Amending rules 1-5 and ending debate requires a simple majority.

Marcia and I, being the only two participants, are thus hopelessly deadlocked in an epic battle of sticker rules.

Boondocking

The saleswoman said that our new Airstream trailer was good for boondocking .  Being a newbie to the RV community, I had no idea what she was talking about.  Not wanting to look ignorant as I was taking command of my new land yacht – and not really knowing if boondocking was a topic that Southern decorum would allow us to discuss in mixed company – I naively responded with, “Yeah, Marcia and I are going to do a lot of boondocking.” Thankfully, the conversation moved on to other topics such as tire inflation, battery maintenance, proper towing, and sewer dumping.

My curiosity caught up with me.

Wiktionary defines boondocking as the present participle of boondock (big help). Noun: Boondock (chiefly in the plural) A brushy rural area or location. Verb: Boondock 1) To camp in a dry brush location, 2) To stay in a recreational vehicle in a remote location, without connections to water, power, or sewer services.

The term boondock first entered the English language with U.S. servicemen during the Philippine–American War (1899-1902).  The word comes from the native Tagalog bundok for “mountain.” Most of the population in the Philippines live along the coasts. The interior bundok was a wild and remote place, sparsely inhabited by headhunting tribes engaged in guerrilla warfare. Returning servicemen and women from WWII added boondocks to our domestic lexicon to refer to rural, unsophisticated, and backwater locations (boonies).

Our Airstream turns out to be pretty good for boondocking – in the present participle fashion.  It has a 39-gallon freshwater tank, dual deep cell batteries, 60 pounds of propane, and a 150 watt rooftop solar panel.  In fact, we can be self-sufficient for weeks.  However, after four or five days in the bundok, I tend to start to assume native habits such as carrying a spear and adorning myself with shells and body art. Behavior that is tolerated by my wife until I sport a loincloth, which prompts her to insist we move to a “civilized campsite” with city water and 30-amp service.

Rain

It had been raining hard in our campsite for the past 24 hours at Paul B. Johnson State Park in South Mississippi. My son Andrew and I had taken the trailer out for the weekend to dust off the cobwebs and make sure all systems were working. The Airstream kept us warm and dry. We were finishing up our second cup of coffee on Sunday morning, when we noticed a pickup truck coming from the group camp area towing a red trailer. “Boy Scout Troop 73″ was stenciled in yellow on the trailer side. A 15-passenger van followed; the windows were so steamed up, we could hardly make out its undoubtedly drenched occupants.

We were Boy Scouts once (or is it “Once a Boy Scout, always a Boy Scout”?). Andrew and I had spent many weekends huddled under the dining tarp, eating lukewarm oatmeal out of aluminum cups, while torrential rains pelted the tents and caused rivulets to snake their way into our gear. Tent camping in the rain was, in some ways, a rite of passage for young boys. We knew exactly what Troop 73 had just experienced.

When I was a young Scout in California at the age of 13 or so, our troop was invited to camp on a large cattle ranch in the coastal mountains. It was February or March when we drove up one Friday afternoon to camp in a flat meadow. Just after our tents were pitched and the “cow pies” cleared, it started to rain. And rain. A deluge so long, it was hard to believe that we were living then at a time of a “California drought.” By Saturday afternoon we were completely drenched, but we were Scouts, and we could not leave (couldn’t get dry either). All attempts to start a fire with wet wood had fizzled hours before.

We must have been a sorry sight to the ranch hand who, on his day off, was asked by the property manager to check on us. He drove up in a rugged flatbed truck to find a dozen ponchos just standing around in puddles. The weathered cowboy pulled a stack of split cord wood from his truck and piled it high where we had previously tried to light a fire. He doused the stack with kerosene, flicked a lit match, and left without saying a word. “Damn Boy Scouts,” is what he probably said under his breath as he climbed back in his truck.

In my adolescent mind, this registered as a lesson on “Be Prepared.” No longer do I stand around camp soaked to the bone. Some lessons are best taught this way, as I am sure the Scouts of Troop 73 learned this weekend.

Pepé Le Pew

The Class A motor home entered the campground at dusk, raking our little campsite with its high beams as we were just finishing up dinner. The burgundy big rig with matching car in-tow, slowed in front of our site then continued down the campground road into the darkness of the trees, leaving only a faint whiff of diesel to linger. We were temporarily spared an unwanted intrusion into the tranquility we had found these past several days in the San Juan National Forest, just north of Pagosa Springs, Colorado.

This was a time before our Airstream and before our tent trailer, when the summer camping trip entailed loading the family tent, boxes of food and gear, children, and a healthy dose of patience into the SUV and driving several hours to the mountains to try to jettison the accumulated stresses of everyday life in two weeks or less. Our campground was rather large and primitive. An outhouse was situated just down the road and downwind. We had the place virtually to ourselves.

As the sun was setting on our first night, they came, little cat-like critters, following their noses into our camp, under the picnic table, into the cooler, and around the fire ring. A family of skunks, three in all, let us know that this was their home and they were entitled to any scraps of food we had carelessly dropped. Their black coat with white racing stripe was a clear reminder to us that if we were not polite it would be at our peril.

Pepé Le Pew and his little family came back to our camp the next night and the next. I became increasingly concerned that our luck would run out and these diabolic weasels would eventually decide that we were not polite enough and would be summarily sprayed. So I devised a plan. Knowing that skunks possessed a keen sense of smell I planned a odoriferous preemptive strike. I added a bottle of Tabasco hot sauce to a bucket of water and then dribbled my concoction around the perimeter of our camp creating a veritable olfactory moat. It worked and we were bothered no more. Until that is when the burgundy motor home reappeared after its short trip around the campground loop, passing dozens of unoccupied campsites, to claim the space directly across the drive from ours.

We sat in the glow of our campfire watching in disbelief as the rig rumbled into the pull-through site and came to a halt with a hiss of its air brakes. No occupants emerged as hydraulic levelers descended on to the pine straw detritus, a pull-out living room grew like a tumor from the vehicle’s flank, and the roof top satellite dish extended into the sky to receive the latest news from a world we were trying to escape. The constant din of the generator further shattered our quietude. Still, while the TV flickered blue light in the windshield, no one stepped out of this “recreational vehicle.”

“Welcome to our home” you could imagine the little skunk family saying as they scampered over to check out our new neighbors. They pushed their noses into the wheel wells and along the bottom of the exterior storage hatches, picking up scents from faraway places. The smell of a frozen dinner coming from the microwave of this impenetrable fortress must have been to them, a cruel tease.

Just as the skunks were losing interest and were about to leave, the front door opened and the owner/operator, with a broom in hand, jumped from the rig like a storm trooper. His obvious intent was to rid his campsite of the vermin he could have only seen through his tinted windows or back up camera. Pepé Le Pew had no hesitation in deciding that this broom-swinging intruder was not polite and quickly turned his back on the ingrate, tail high in the air, and delivered a punishing spray worthy of a Super Soaker.

The door closed, the blue hue of the TV quickly vanished, the generator coughed to a stop, the satellite dish descended to its roof top cradle, the living room receded, the levelers retracted into the belly of the beast, and off it went.

Tranquility was ours once more. We had the whole campground to ourselves again. However, as the diesel fumes dissipated from our pitch, we were left with the overwhelming stench of Mr. Skunk. A nauseating smell so strong and heavy that it lingered and permeated everything we owned. Packing up and leaving the campsite ourselves now was not an option because… I had already paid for two more nights.

The Road Begins

Welcome to our blog.  This is our first attempt to publish anything online – hampered primarily by our baby boomer status and abject lack of literary talent.  But we are retiring soon (I, from my profession and Marcia, from the daily care and feeding of her husband), so we plan to have more time on our hands to travel and write.  With this blog, we hope to chronical our American travel adventures over the next several years with our 25 foot Airstream trailer.

A few years ago, I was infected with the “I’ve got to have an Airstream” bug.  Marcia, however, remained disease-free. The only cure for my malady, as I saw it, was to buy one.  In 2011 we became the proud owners of a new trailer.  This was a sweet wagon with iconic polished aluminum exterior skin, blond euro-ply cabinetry, tandem aluminum wheels, tidy galley, and head (kitchen and bathroom for you landlubbers), shower, front dinette, and rear double bed.  The trailer came with two flat screen TVs (more than we had in our house at the time).  I was all about impressing Marcia on our first “glamping” adventure.

I had camped all my life.  I started off with only a Visqueen plastic sheet covering my sleeping bag but gradually upgraded to a real tent and eventually to a tent trailer.  So when I came home with an Airstream in-tow, I felt that I had reached the pinnacle of camping comfort and “impressibility”. This symbol of outdoor recreational status, however, was lost on my wife.  I knew then what it must feel like when you buy a $200 pair of designer jeans and nobody notices.  Despite my pointing out the air-frame construction, Dura-Torque axles, Fantastic Fan, Blu-ray media player, and dimmable LED cabin lights, Marcia remained unimpressed.  To her a camping trailer was a camping trailer.  My efforts to impress eventually paid off on our first extended trip when we were parked at an Alabama rest area in the “Trucks and Cars with Trailers” section, right next to two “good-ole-boys” in a decrepit Ford truck with mud splattered on the windshield and an ATV in the bed, who commented, “I reeeally like yooour Airstream”. It was then that Marcia first came to appreciate our little trailer named Seymour AmeriCan.

We have pulled Seymour on short summer vacations to Florida, to Michigan and Wisconsin, to Utah and the Rocky Mountains, and to South Dakota and Wyoming. But now that we are freeing ourselves of the bonds-of-employment, we plan to really “take to the open road.”  We’ll keep y’all posted.

 

Afoot and light-hearted, I take to the open road,
Healthy, free, the world before me,
The long brown path before me, leading wherever I choose.

Henceforth I ask not good-fortune—I myself am good fortune;
Henceforth I whimper no more, postpone no more, need nothing,
Strong and content, I travel the open road.

 -Walt Whitman