Eight Days at Blackwell Island

Kaliento Behind A Short Tree

Two great friends, their laptops, and Splash, the Wonder Dog, in an RV (that’s us, above) parked in northern Idaho for more than a week… What could possibly happen? For the action/adventure crowd, there probably wasn’t much. But, if you’re someone who considers napping, writing, walking, talking, and eating, to be legitimate “things,” as I do, there was plenty going on. And that was the whole point.

Bets–my fine, refined, elegant, and all-around lovely and beloved friend–has been a “full-timer” in her rig for more than fourteen months, traveling around North America with her sweetie and her dog, staying as long as she wants, anywhere she likes, considering the weather, and barring medical emergencies and/or necessities, which have cropped up–and more of those than any of them had anticipated. Her decision to do this, her success in doing it, and her love of doing it, are a source of fascination and wonder to me, since my own current journey has been pretty much physically situated at home. But we are similar pilgrims, and it was wonderful to have time together as our voyages continue.

She drives a 2010 Ford 350 pickup truck, hauling a thirty-four-foot fifth wheel trailer. And that’s a BIG TRUCK. As it happens, she found her Big Truck while visiting me in western Connecticut. There we were, two seriously middle-aged women, walking into Colonial Ford, Truck Division. The sales people looked slightly bemused; finally, one of them, with an audible sigh, rose from behind his desk, and asked if he could help us. “Yes,” said Bets, in her most elegant and refined voice, “I’m looking for a truck–a really big truck.” That got their attention. And, thanks to Sal, a salesman who obviously takes both trucks and women very seriously, Bets got her truck. A few months later, she was on her way.

It was only eight days that I was a visiting “RVer,” almost three thousand miles from home, and, although we didn’t actually GO anywhere, I think I got a little taste of it. (No; it wasn’t the “Thelma and Louise” thing, and I knew it wouldn’t be. Those days are well behind both of us.) As an RV Tourist, I observed a number of interesting things:

First, it should be noted that all RVs are painted with grand swoopy designs, often including a “sunrise over the mountains” motif, sometimes with an added eagle or the occasional coyote head, in no more than three of four colors: black, grey, taupe, and beige–all on a white background. You will never see azure, or celadon, or burgundy, or–god forbid–coral. No political statements, not even this time of this year. No advertisements. No refrigerator art by the grandkids. Occasionally, you may see the names of the owners, and their pets, on the front doors. (“On the Road With Ralph and Anna, the Switzers, and Little Coco,” for example.) Many of the trailers themselves have names, such as “Adventurer,” or “Cimmaron,” or “Montana.” I saw nothing called “Key West,” or  “South Philadelphia.” Evidently, they are named for the dream, not the origin. My personal favorite was “Luxor”… As in the temple, I presume.

Somewhere out there I imagine a single graphic designer charged with trying to make large, horizontal, refrigerator-like objects look like they are NOT large, horizontal, refrigerator-like objects. In my personal opinion, that individual has been far from successful. The whole idea of “RV camouflage” I consider to be an exercise in futility. In comparison, the trailers of most eighteen-wheelers, commercial buses, and even rental U-Hauls, are an exhilarating symphony of graphic imagination and capitalist exhortation. Twelve-foot-high ice cream cones! Forty-foot-long, exquisitely rendered, fields of fresh produce and smiling children holding glasses of milk. Little Debbie, bigger than life. Peter Pan! A real missed opportunity for self-expression (or at least the making of a few bucks for travel expenses), it seemed to me.

The rigs arrive and depart very slowly, almost as if they’re trying to sneak in or out without being noticed–which seems silly, given than they are sized from large to enormous, and that the attempts at camouflage have been so unsuccessful. There is a lot of attaching and detaching involved in both arriving and departing. Anything detached upon arrival must be re-attached upon departure, and vice-versa. These things are too many, and the execution of them too complicated, for a first-time visitor to really comprehend.

Often a rig would pull in, and a couple of people would jump out to do all that detaching and attaching. Then they would disappear into their rig, and not be seen again for days. Lights would go on in the evenings, and off again in the mornings, but nary a living soul could be spotted. (I was assured that things are much more communal in warmer weather.) These people evidently do not have dogs. It fascinated me to think what they might be doing in there, hour after hour. But I was a visitor, and curious about all kinds of activities that are probably none of my business.

On the other hand, those who do have dogs are out at least twice a day, and are a very convivial lot. Sometimes four or five will clump up together for a pup-fest. All dogs are discussed according to their breeds (small white dogs are especially popular), their behaviors, and their barking frequency. The dog walkers are big on waving hello, and don’t mind being seen in the mornings, out unashamedly in their pajamas and slippers, carrying the obligatory plastic bags. My impression was that, as a group, RVers, in their fluid and ever-changing communities, are often more cordial and responsible neighbors to one another than are some in my absolutely stationary one.

There was much to learn: the difference between the “grey water” and “black water” tanks, and the requirements for the disposal of the contents of each. How to measure how much is left in your propane tanks by pouring hot water over a gauge on the exterior. The great advantage of a pull-through site–no backing up and maneuvering required. An entirely different meaning to the term “hook up” than the one currently in adolescent usage. The existence of “workcampers”–RVers who travel around and work temporarily, maintaining an RV park, in exchange for staying there. The fact that it’s perfectly reasonable to put your clean clothes next to the kitchen sink when you’re getting ready to take a shower. The fact that it’s possible to have a very full life with a daily infusion of mail, bills, and catalogs arriving at your door. And the amazing realization that exactly four plates, four cups, and four glasses, are all the dishware any two people ever really need.

Obviously, I was having a wonderful holiday with a dear friend, and so was only tangentially involved with some of the “real life” stuff that must inevitably be handled: haircuts, doctor’s appointments, dog grooming, truck repair, family responsibilities, itineraries, banking, and so on. But, with the ability to be clear about what you need (Bets has long been incredibly good at that), and with a cell phone, a laptop, and the absolute confidence that there are good and capable people everywhere, those things get handled.

I began to question the point of all the “stuff” we have at home in Connecticut. And, “coincidentally” enough, my husband had just ordered a dumpster (every woman’s secret desire, no matter what else you might hear), and had begun cleaning out the basement before I left. When I got home, I found he was also reading a book called “Clear Your Clutter With Feng Shui.” (And this is a man who has been absolutely fact-driven, as long as I have known and loved him.) Evidently, the Universe will have Her way with all of us, in Her own good time…

So I came back to Connecticut, and Bets headed down to Reno, to work full-time until the election with OFA, helping get out the vote. Guess that makes her a “workcamper” for Obama. Yay!

We won’t all make exactly the same kind of journey she’s making, but we can sure as hell get ourselves in the move, each in our own way, to live our lives exactly as we believe they are meant to be lived. And, while were at it, let’s put the pedal to the metal, and move FORWARD!

The celestial clock ticks ever onward, and we’re all on some highway or another.


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  1. Charlene

     /  October 25, 2012

    Appreciate the insight on the RV lifestyle. A lot of what you captured is what I thought it might be like. Although John and I have it in our future as a mode of transportation from Canada to wherever we live in the U.S. in a few years, it was enlightening all the same. Glad you are back safe and sound and I look forward to a detailed-filled conversation on your experience.

  2. pelican

     /  October 25, 2012

    Nice piece of writing, Carol. I learned a few things about a lifestyle I once considered for myself (briefly), although not the big truck variety. Something filled with privacy, solitude and freedom. Hah…those were the days. You’re taking me back…

  3. Hi Carol, Well, you certainly have begun a great reading blog. Your writing skills must be like your artistic/illustrative skills – your words paint pictures. It’s late and I’m tired, but your writing has entranced me – love it. Our breakfast with Betsey on the Spokane River was a total delight. I truly do hope that our paths will cross again……. Deanne

  4. I am filled with wanderlust (and RV-lust) in the reading of this. What a fun experience – and such great observations! Did you write this in situ or after-the-fact?

  5. Thanks for taking me “on the road”. The trips I’ve taken where we wander, stay as long as we like, and then move on to explore where our heart directs us next have been my favorite. You’ve got me thinking!

  6. sidney18511

     /  October 27, 2012

    Carol…it is wonderful to hear that you are learning the RV lifestyle from your good friend Bets. This lifestyle has always interested me, it seems to be a wonderful adventure and I have spent many hours at RV shows checking out the merchandise. Some, compact little homes on wheels are cute as a button. Just as I would love to parachute some day, but would be to scared shitless to actually try, RVing falls into the same category, but you explained the scarey bits as something that could be learned. Maybe someday I will have my adventure and travel our beautiful country, as soon as I overcome my fear of driving a big truck.

  7. Such a cool blog written by an even cooler person!!!!!!! Also, I did an rv trip to Maine a couple of months ago…. Wish I had you for company. DISASTROUS !!!!!!!

  8. Jc

     /  November 7, 2012

    My parents in law have spent the last several summers tooling around in their 5th wheel behind a 3/4 ton Chevy. They are contemplating the end of that road however, as both are 70+ now and Mum says the setting up and taking down get harder every trip! We still camp with coolers and a tent; gonna visit Arbuckle falls in OK on way to MO to see daughter! Looking forward to it…Glad you had fun, Gato, we always do! And u are right, RV people are by and large very nice!


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