I grew up tent camping in a hardcore way.
(If you’ve read Freckled: A Memoir of Growing Up Wild in Hawaii, you know that I lived with my family in a van and in tents for months at a time in the jungle on Kauai.)
That kind of camping is about establishing a home base, and potentially hiding from other people.
This kind of camping is about being able to come and go efficiently while traveling distances and seeing sights.
They don’t have anything in common.
But first…if you don’t know me, I’m a mystery, thriller, romance, and memoir writer from Hawaii, and you are here because you expressed an interest in my nonfiction writing by signing up for a newsletter about it!
So how did we come to the Mainland and begin this epic adventure?
A hankering, a longing, a restless, nomadic dream is where it all started.
We'd lived on Maui for 20 years, and as the kids grew up and moved away, I kept wanting to take a long road trip, even longer than the two, month-long ones I documented in Open Road: a Midlife Memoir of Travel Through the National Parks.
I would cut out pictures of teardrop trailers and glue them into vision boards, and playfully post pictures of whimsical trailers on Mike’s Facebook page; but there’s really no real road tripping on Maui. The island’s too small; you can only go around and around it so many times, and campgrounds are limited.
So the universe served us a curveball.
Mike’s mom in Northern California needed help with her care, and in 2017, we moved (temporarily, we thought) to a little red cabin on the Russian River to assist.
We saw her through her end of life…and then realized that we had a chance to do the Great Big Road Trip we’d been craving.
Sometimes God has a sideways way of delivering our hopes and dreams.
As I said in my first post, Of Trailers and Beanbags, we’ve been trailering for about three years since we moved to California, and we went through a series of stages with it.
At first, Mike and I were reluctant to commit to the size and bulk that would give us a comfortable trailer experience. We had a bit of an attitude towards folks with those giant buses and massive city block-sized RV’s.
“So noisy and ugly!” I grumbled. “How is that anything like camping?”
Turns out, trailering is still camping, and it absolutely ruins your fingernails.
Even in our rig, with every modern convenience including running water and the possibility of a shower, somehow one of the first things I notice is filthy fingernails.
Day one, grime begins to accumulate despite careful handwashing.
Day two, polish peels and cuticles dry out.
Day three, nails break or peel off entirely.
But I digress.
Our first camper was a sixteen-foot fiberglass Casita, purchased with money from our retirement accounts (not the best choice, FYI, we ended up being hammered by fees that year!)
The Casita was very efficient in terms of space, much like a game of Tetris on wheels.
Everything made into something else: the king-size bed made into a couch that also made into a table, etc.
Nifty as that was, we soon discovered that we didn’t like having to break down and set up for every activity, and the ceiling was so low that tall Mike was unable to stand up at all inside.
After a year taking weekend trips in the Casita, Mike told me he had always wanted to restore an old Airstream. “Now’s the time to do all of our dreams,” I agreed.
We sold the Casita, and for the price that we got for it, were able to buy a 1974 Globetrotter Land Yacht Airstream for Mike’s restoration project.
The thing was frozen in the ‘70’s inside, but still functional as it had not been used a lot. Mike, over the period of a year, rebuilt the Airstream inside and out. He tricked it with solid brass, old-growth burled woodwork, and a blue-and-white nautical theme. We had the battered aluminum exterior professionally polished to a mirror shine.
That vintage Airstream was beautiful, a traffic stopper.
The rig made people stare, comment, and come ask questions. They even wanted to take pictures beside it…and it turns out, neither of us liked being the center of attention at every campground. We aren’t that social, and we didn’t realize that until we were making conversation with strangers everywhere we went.
We had planned to do our big, long trip in the Airstream, but in addition to being attention-getting, the Land Yacht was still too small. We barely had room to function with both of us inside, and it was fragile as a silver Easter egg lined with delicate woodwork—something was always coming loose and needing repair.
One day the exterior door blew open on the road, a terrifying incident that could have killed someone, and another time the exterior battery cabinet hatch broke, dumping our power source onto the shoulder of Highway One thousands of feet above the ocean. (We drove for many, many miles without knowing the big, expensive battery was gone, then ended up pursuing a highway cleanup crew to reclaim it.)
Mike had satisfied his dream of restoration, and after another year, we decided something bigger and newer was in order.
By then, we really knew our needs and usage patterns.
We sadly sold the Airstream and with the money, we bought a 21’ Retro with a pop-out dining area and 1950’s styling. It even had a ceiling high enough for Mike to walk around inside.
We have been entirely happy with the Retro’s fun look, functionality, and comforts like a normal-sized shower and a queen-sized bed that doesn’t have to be remade into a couch every day.
However, we’ve discovered our new rig is an energy and water hog, and this time, as we head for Yellowstone, we’re doing what’s called boondocking.
Boondocking is when you stay at a park that has no hookups for outside electrical, sewage, or water supplementation. That means that everything needs to be self-contained within the trailer and carefully rationed.
So I took my shower by swimming in lovely Fallen Leaf Lake near Tahoe. I washed up with ye olde Dr. Bronner’s Pure Castile Soap, as minty-fresh now as it was in the 1970’s when it was our family’s staple while camp living on Kauai.
It gave me a chuckle and a headshake to be in my mid-fifties and still be swimming around au naturel, using Dr. Bronner’s to clean up; but trailering is still camping, after all.
Loved reading the evolution of road trip comfort!
Thank you Toby so much for sharing all your adventures, thoughts and beautiful photos.