Breaking Camp

Photo of our current RV by Margie Johnson

By Mike Johnson

A fantasy always exceeds reality.
Perhaps that excess is needed to get us off the couch to chase.
But the dose of reality that arrives after capture, always brings the accounts back into balance.

This is my third RV.

The first was a pop-up camper. It never left my driveway.
I bought it because it was cheap, even though my car was too small to tow it.
So we driveway-camped a few times before selling it even cheaper to someone else.

The second RV was bought when we were flush with money, energy and entrepreneurial momentum.
It was the short Winnebago Brave I’d coveted since childhood.

About 1970, my buddy had come along with my brothers and dad for a smelting trip near Two Harbors, Minnesota.
Smelt are 6-inch fish that leave Lake Superior to swim up tributaries to spawn.
When the smelt are “running,” they travel in schools so large you can fill dipnets with them.

Minnesotans are all about fishing and the outdoors. If you add beer, campfires and dozens of friends, you can picture the streamside circus involved here.

The big joke was to yell, “The Smelt Are Running!” and watch everyone pile into the river and start scooping dipnets.

As kids, we weren’t valuable enough to deserve rubber waders. So we just waded in wearing jeans.
This was April, just after the lake thawed, so it was borderline child abuse.
Parents got off the hook because the kids begged to do it.
On this night, nothing was running except water down the dipnet handles, freezing our hands as we checked each dip.

Dave & I finally had enough and dripped and squished our way back to the station wagon to warm up.
We fired it up and had to wait for the “cold” light to extinguish before heat would come out the vents.
Measured by our shivering, this took about four days.

Next door, a group was stepping out of waders to enter their fully lit motorhome. We could hear the music, see the card game, smell the coffee and imagine the warmth right through our closed windows.
Rich, lucky schmoes.
It was a Winnebago Brave.

Now you know why it branded me so deeply.

It would've been much cheaper to fixate on the waders.

But we bought the used Winnebago in 2003 (pictured). We crossed the country in it. Drove to Canada. Escaped for overnights in Yellowstone.
It was perfection except for the 5-miles-per-gallon.
When we sold our storage building in 2011, we sold the Winnebago.

We bought the third RV a few years ago. It’s a slightly larger used class C than the Winnebago.
Haven’t taken it farther than the Black Hills.
A few times 30 miles up the road to Yellowstone.
But I still enjoy the thought of it being tucked in the barn. It’s a second home that is portable.

But it turns out the fantasy has REALLY eclipsed reality for me.

Planning, preparing and packing is just too damn much work for the payoff.
I agree it's still fun to drive a house down the road. You have your own bathroom, kitchen and a bed to nap. No doubt, you travel well.
And it’s great to pull over and eat lunch from the best table in the place. The view changes with every meal.

But finding a campground, checking in, setting camp, assembling bedding, fiddling with water, propane and HVAC systems, dealing with pets in small spaces, and breaking camp in the morning, is a long list of chores.
As I age, I am absolutely over chores.
So it mostly sits in the barn.

These days, I occasionally step into it, close my eyes and remember favorite lunch stops and campsites.
I sometimes take a nap.
Or read a comic book.
Sip a warm coffee.

And remember that soaking wet, freezing night, desperately trying to warm from that icy smelt stream.


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