During the past fifteen years, as a weekly outdoor humor columnist, I’ve written, from time to time, about people who think traveling around in a motor home is camping. These people, to me, have always been fictional characters, like Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny or personable Jehovah’s Witness adherents. They’ve never seemed real to me, since I never really believed they existed.
Not that I didn’t know people who traveled in motor homes. I’ve known quite a few of those. I’ve actually been one of them a few times, although I’ve never owned a motor home of my own. Most motor home travelers are very nice folks, but they are not to be confused with campers. And they know it. The ones I’ve known realize the difference between camping and living in a rolling motel room.
And, truthfully, doing the motor home thing is fun. It’s convenient and pleasant and comfortable. It’s a great way to travel, if you happen to have an aversion to bugs and dirt and campfire smoke and mosquitoes and being rained on. It’s not cheap, but then neither was westward expansion, and I’m glad that happened.
But calling traveling in a motor home ‘camping’ is like calling sitting in a box blind and shooting deer at a corn feeder ‘hunting.’ The two aren’t related in the least. Your cat might have kittens in your sock drawer, but you don’t try to put your foot in one of them.
And then, last weekend, I actually met a couple of these people I didn’t think existed. My wife and I were visiting with some folks, a husband and wife, whom we had just met, and we were exchanging information about one another’s lives, the way people do. The woman asked me, “Do you go camping?”
Obviously, this couple was not familiar with any of my writing. Normally, in a situation like that, I make something up. I might say, “Well, we used to, until we lost little Tommy to the coyotes on that one trip.” You’d be surprised how funny peoples’ faces look when you tell them something like that.
But we were trying not to offend these people, for some reason, so when the woman asked me if we go camping, I just said yes. So she turned to her husband and said, “Do you want to tell them about our camping trip?”
Not “our last camping trip” or “that memorable camping trip” or “that really fun camping trip” or “that camping trip in Bhutan.” She said “our camping trip,” indicating they had been on exactly one camping trip. Total.
Normally, when a family goes on one, and only one, camping trip, it’s because something horrible happened, something so painful that no one of sound mind would consider tempting fate by camping again. With your average city person, this hideous experience might be as benign as having a mosquito in their tent, or being rained on, or forgetting the Gray Poupon for the filet mignons. Or it might be something really bad, like forgetting the filet mignons.
So I was prepared to hear that these folks had had a flat, or that the sun had been uncooperative, or some such normal inconvenience we all experience. I was not prepared to hear what this man told me happened on their trip. Which was . . . nothing.
Seriously. Nothing happened. The guy started the story with, “At a charity auction, I won the bid for the use of a motor home for a week.” I thought, ‘So, it wasn’t a camping trip, but a motor home trip,’ but I didn’t say anything. I’ve found it’s best to allow folks to maintain their illusions, no matter how inaccurate.
The family, it turns out, spent their week driving the motor home from East Texas to West Virginia and back. They had no flats, no wrecks, no breakdowns. They never drove the ten-foot-tall RV under a nine-foot-tall awning or bridge. The trip, as near as I could tell, went about as perfectly as a motor home trip can go. Maybe better.
The only problems encountered, evidently, arose from the fact that this family consisted of a dad, a mom, and six children, all of them girls. The hardships they encountered were not floods, fires, tornadoes, pestilence, or the ravages of war. Their troubles were trying to fit seven Samsonite makeup cases onto RV park restroom counters that only had room for two, and, as near as I could tell, a severe shortage of vanity mirrors in the motor home.
Granted, driving 2700 miles in an RV is somewhat more taxing than sitting on the couch and trying to scoot the ottoman with one foot, but still.
This couple told us their story, or what there was of it, with firm assurance that we spoke the same language, and could relate to their incredible foray into the world of outdoorspersonship. My wife and I looked at each other and smiled. Our camping trips have involved brushfires, being stranded in Missouri, being eaten alive by bugs you could enter in a rodeo, and sleeping in tents leaky enough that we’ve had to prop the children’s heads up to keep them from drowning. Literally. We’ve had tents blow away and backpacks melt in campfires. We’ve alternately frozen and roasted, on the same trip. Bears have often been a worry, but so far we’ve never actually lost anyone. Well, not permanently.
This couple related their story with impressive exuberance, and no little wonder that they had managed to survive. They seemed to actually believe their cushy trip was an arduous trek in the dangerous wildlands of America.
But then, for them, I guess maybe it was . . .
Kendal Hemphill is an outdoor humor columnist who has never drowned more than once on a camping trip. Write to him at PO Box 1600, Mason, Tx 76856 or firstname.lastname@example.org