Tuesday, May 27, 2008

RV- ruins vacations...

I'll say right at the outset of this little post that I am not at all disposed to dislike RVs, their owners, or anyone associated in the RV industry. Those of you so inclined- rest easy and stop reading right here.

For those of you who continue to read be aware that I'm not going to be too kind to this whole idea of the RV infesting the Alaskan countryside.

Spring finally arrived in the Far North and my faithful wife spurred the family into camping gear and we decided to head up past Fairbanks to do a little gold panning and basically turn some firewood into ash while our young son played his favorite camping game- "Will It Burn and Will It Float?"

Our weather was unusually cooperative over the Memorial Day weekend with the weather only cool enough to be enjoyable, clear skies and a suspicious absence of insects- perfect camping weather. We settled into the campsite out near the Chatanika River and as we took a little stroll to acquaint ourselves with some of our fellow campers we noticed they were conspicuously absent. Where could everyone be? Well, tucked safely into their spanking big RVs of course! No one out and about to enjoy the fine weather. My son was pretty disappointed no other kids were out and about to rampage around with and I was sort of put off by the apparent lack of human habitation in this rather scenic spot. I just figured that maybe everyone would come out after meal time or some other event. Well...I was wrong.

The longer we sat and wandered around and generally had a fine time we realized that we were pretty much the only folks actually "in" the Great Outdoors. So there we were surrounded by "road barns" and generator noise until well past my usual bedtime. What they were doing in these big boxes was beyond me but I simply couldn't imagine myself surrounded by that much closed door activity. At one point the constant humming and coughing of the generators caused me no shortage of angst and the quote went something like- "That damn thing better be plugged into a dialysis machine or I'm gonna be really torqued..." A continuation of 4 letter expletives was deleted to spare my more delicate readers.

A similar situation arose with the dawn when I (the early riser in the family) got up in the early chill and put my percolator to perking a stout pot of coffee, stoked the fire and settled into a camp chair to watch the sun pop up over the horizon. Birds were singing, the sun was climbing in its northern arc and a slightly chill breeze rolled off the bubbling river- By God this is what camping in Alaska is all about! I was just putting the mug of coffee- real coffee with a little Colombian oil slick swirling around the surface- to my lips when.... BRRRRRRRRRR! An ancient generator with an oil change as recently as the Reagan era erupts from beyond the brush screen my camping neighbor. I must have been time to make coffee in the automatic drip.

So I began to question myself and my motives. "How much fun can a guy have driving a 10,000lb RV into the wilderness and finding himself there- sit in it?" So a trip to the RV store convinced my wife and I that we really didn't know what sticker shock meant as the units were thereabouts in the $70000 and up range. I'm not sure I could even relax without pharmaceutical help knowing that I spent $70000 on something as seasonal as an RV in the first place but what the heck- everyone has their own rationale. I'm pretty convinced however that I was the only guy on that lot who smelled like smoke and knew how to pitch a tent.

What really astonished me was the lack of outdoor activity associated with this type of camping (and friends you don't realize what a stretch that term is for me...). Camping as an activity was pounded into my being during my formative years as a Boy Scout. We had to be able to pitch a tent (and I mean a real canvas tent) in the dark, in the rain, and under most other impossible circumstances. We had to know how to cut wood and even in this more environmentally sensitive age one must know how to "forage" dead falls! We had to have a pocketknife. We had to use an axe. We had to keep a camp ship shape and "policed" as my former Scoutmaster was found of screaming in booming decibels. We had to tie knots. We pooped in the woods. We had to (horror of horrors) cook upon a real fire made of burning wood- and guess how many of us burned ourselves? All of us. We got over it.

A visit in my mind back to that draconian era revealed a couple of things- first of which is that some of my fondest memories from childhood come from those experiences and the sense of accomplishment I felt from sometimes purely surviving them. The second is that I learned some real skills that I'll carry with me for the rest of my life.

For those folks who've hung in through the preceding rant I apologize. There must be some folks out there really enjoying those RVs and I'm sure there are a list of compelling reasons to own one but I guess I'm just not getting it. I just can't see leaving home to drag it with me.