More than likely, there are rules

“Enjoy the world outside.”

“Escape the routine life.”

Enticing slogans combined with pictures of happy campers, smiling faces and lovely families enjoying the great outdoors camping in travel trailers. Sales brochures like these reminded me of the pleasure my parents derived from years of camping experiences, and kept the thought of owning a travel trailer on my bucket list.

A rented trailer for a camping trip to Beaver’s Bend in Oklahoma, about 1961 or 1962. Back row left to right: Mom, dad, and yours truly. Standing between my parents, my sister Leslie. Missing, for reasons lost to time, is my youngest sister, Sylvia.

So, it seemed funny to me that none of those alluring thoughts came to mind recently after a half-dozen failed attempts at successfully backing my newly acquired 30-foot get away-on-wheels into my 31-foot driveway while concurrently attempting to negotiate a 90-degree turn. The huge white RV filling my rear-view mirrors at the moment really didn’t look all that big when it was just sitting there before I bought it—calling my name, whispering seductive things like, “Buy me, run away with me, fulfill your dreams spending quality time camping in the wilderness just like mom and dad used to do.”

In fact, trying to get my brain around the elusive relationship that turning the steering wheel one direction guaranteed said trailer out back would go where you think it should go was anything but seductive … actually closer to grounds for divorce. But, it was enough to make one think that surely, just as there are rules for successful relationships, there are more than likely rules one should first consider when contemplating fulfilment of any lifelong dream to develop a relationship with an RV. That was the exact moment I was also pretty sure I knew what the first rule should be.

Rule number one: Make sure you have a place to keep the thing. You can’t park an RV, especially a big one, just anywhere—more particularly if putting it somewhere requires rear view mirrors combined with a brain that “gets it” about the whole steering wheel, trailer direction backing up thing.

Recalling how mom and dad enjoyed their camping excursions really did have a large influence on crossing “buy a travel trailer” off my bucket list. They genuinely enjoyed camping, opting to vacation camp year after year, seldom traveling to any of the traditional destinations using motels or hotels. Enjoying the outdoors was never very far from where they lived in Mount Pleasant, Texas. Memories dated by my school years places them at setting up camp at Beaver’s Bend in Oklahoma until about my junior high era in the early 60s. My high school tenure in the mid-60s and into college years, they ventured over to Camp Albert’s Pike in Southwest Arkansas, eventually making that their go-to camp site for as long as they continued the life of happy camping. Both of these meccas in the natural wilderness were within a half-day’s drive of home. Their stays were typically a week.

Good memories are the recollection of times I would join them at Albert’s Pike for a weekend-long brief taste of the outdoors, complete with campfire smoke, long hikes, S’mores and cold Arkansas river water.

Their first choice of camping gear in the early 1950s was a trailer, home-crafted from the rear section of an old pickup truck and pulled by the family car, a 1950 Studebaker Starlight Coupe. My father fashioned a wooden A-frame roof structure on the pickup bed turned trailer and covered it with an Army surplus tarpaulin. It looked for all the world like a refugee from a WWII convoy, perhaps more than coincidence since dad was less than five years post discharge from the Army Corp of Engineers with service in that war. What it looked like notwithstanding, it served them well for a few years including one trip I remember as a pre-schooler when we traveled from East Texas to Colorado, camping within site of the Royal Gorge, sleeping in the homemade camper.

Sometime in the late 50s to early sixties, renting a small travel trailer for their annual summer treks replaced the old Army trailer clone. Trailer renting was replaced when they invested in a large tent. Over the years, they graduated from tents to a cab-over pickup camper before finishing their years of making camping memories with a travel trailer they purchased. A small one. A lot smaller than the 30-footer I was still trying to plant in my driveway. That’s when the next potential rule for buying an RV came into clear focus.

Rule number two: Start small and work your way up.

Neighbor’s some years ago in Center, Texas, Kenneth and Theron Sanders, were also campers for a time. Jumping right into it, they bought a nice, reasonably-sized (a.k.a. smaller than 30-f00t) travel trailer, loaded it up and headed south for Galveston and the Texas Gulf Coast beaches. “Keep an eye on the house while we’re gone,” Kenneth said. “I will,” I told him, smiling and waving while watching them roll out of the driveway.

Didn’t think much about it at first when our family feline, “Kitty,” (no sense in getting too creative with naming a cat—they’re genetically engineered not to respond to anything else any way) didn’t make role call the next morning for breakfast. She was a hunter, independent as cats tend to be, and not one to keep a schedule. But, a day or so later, when I had not seen hide nor fur of her, concern began to nest in my mind. Then after several days, I silently and sadly began to think that she must have, in some unfortunate way, used up all of her nine lives. I knew she didn’t have many left because five or six of them had already been spent living through my children’s toddler years.

After a week or so, the Sanders returned from their coastal excursion, smiling and happy as they arrived home. They looked good, tanned and relaxed, all three of them. Kenneth, Theron … and Kitty?

As Kitty hit the ground, appearing genuinely happy to be back on home turf, Theron related as how somewhere past the point of no return, they made their first fuel stop. “Imagine my surprise,” she said. “When I glanced at the trailer window and saw this wide-eyed cat staring back at me from inside.” While curiosity failed to kill the cat, it evidently played a pivotal part in enticing the critter to sneak inside the trailer’s open door as our neighbors busily prepared for the trip.

Deciding to make the best of entertaining the stow away, they bought a litter box, stocked up on Fancy Feast, and treated Kitty to a week’s all expense paid vacation on the coast. Which brought to mind another rule—or maybe we’ll call this one an option if you’re still struggling with numbers one and two.

Rule number three (optional): Consider skipping ownership entirely and just stow away in the neighbor’s RV. Don’t laugh, my cat made it work.

Salient points not to be overlooked in the photo: The distance (or lack thereof) between the rear of the trailer and the eave of the house. Then, the distance (or again, the lack thereof) from the trailer hitch to the street running 90-degrees to the driveway.

No doubt, the list of rules for considering RV ownership are long, far exceeding the accepted length of this missive. Also no doubt, I will learn more of them as I go, accumulating my own list pretty much like everyone else has done, from experience.

That, of course, is necessarily preceded by ending the spectacle of this novice attempting to get his first trailer in the driveway with a minimum of dents and dings on it, structural damage to the house, decimated landscaping, or all of the above. Hopefully, we can do that soon so we can experience the most important rule for being a happy camper.

Most important rule: “Enjoy the world outside—escape the routine life.” Go camping.

— Leon Aldridge

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