CROSSLAKE, Minn. – Here in Up North territory the heat was hot the other day but not as hot as in the Twin Cities. Still in midafternoon beneath an unveiled sun I put-put-putted the boat into the middle of Rush Lake and took a leap from the starboard side. I stayed as deep as I could, as long as I could, cocooned in cool water. Summertime at a lake. Any lake.
This would be a fishing trip, kind of. Before jumping into the lake, I tied a popper onto a leader attached to a fly line and cast the small lure from a dock that stretches in front of my wife’s parents’ cabin. Grandpa is gone now and Grandma is 94, and when they bought a small bungalow on the Whitefish Chain after World War II they coughed up a pittance for the place, $1,500, no typo.
My wife was along. But we weren’t staying in the cabin. Instead we were housed alongside the cabin in our pickup camper, practicing our skills as Recreational Vehicle Owners. Plumbing. Electrical. Refrigeration. Air conditioning. Blowing oneself to kingdom come in a propane gas inferno. These are the “issues” RV owners routinely confront, and the greater one’s aptitude for their resolution, the more suited one is to wheel-borne homeownership.
I myself took the RV leap some years ago while returning from deer hunting with my then two young boys, both of whom were zonked out in the truck’s back seat, angels in blaze orange. In retrospect, the antlers that arose from the head of the buck that lay sprawled in the back of my pickup’s bed had me higher than a kite, rendering me incapable of sound decisions. Or it could have been the mini-flasks of 5-Hour Energy I had consumed, two for $5. Whatever. When I saw a vintage pickup camper alongside the road with a “For Sale” sign in one window, I hit the brakes. The price was chump change, even for me, and I had the camper bought and loaded before the boys woke up, my precious buck, blood oozing, now splayed between its stove and refrigerator.
We had a few good years’ use of that camper before heavy snow a few winters back collapsed the roof of the pole barn where we stored it. By then we had about seven grand into it, accounting for the new roof and other flaws I missed in my initial appraisal. When the insurance guy instead sharpened his pencil in the direction of $2,500, I said, “Figures” and took the check.
Now we have a newer used pickup camper — still nothing made this century — and everything works. Jan, my wife, is the unit’s chief engineer, and she can tell you which must-have gadgets are available from which RV websites that make life on the road easier. My job on the other hand is to back the rig into campsites without hitting stuff. Also, because our camper is 11 feet long and extends over the rear bumper of our one-ton pickup, rigging an extended trailer hitch to pull our boat or horse trailer behind the truck is my responsibility. This involves air bags, heavy gauge steel, welding and other manly stuff, all of which is fuel for combat bragging among recreational vehicle owners over campfires and beer.
Thus it was this week that my wife and I made the trip to Crosslake and the Whitefish Chain to visit Grandpa and Grandma’s cabin, also to fish and to practice recreational vehicle ownership in advance of a longer trip we’ll take out West later this month to the Tetons and parts thereabouts.
One summer years ago I rode a Harley to San Francisco, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Albuquerque, El Paso and San Antonio before turning toward home. Traveling by RV is both different from and similar to that. Neither Peter Fonda in “The Wild Angels,” the 1966 cult classic in which society is the enemy, nor Albert Brooks in “Lost in America,” in which a Winnebago is both an escape from the rat race and a ticket to nowhere, voyaging in a wheeled home is instead a means, simply, by which people can sate their twin desires for wanderlust and comfort, both of which are as red, white and blue as burgers on a grill.
So. The refrigerator’s working, ditto the air conditioning and plumbing. Plus, I have an app on my phone listing every dump station in the good old USA, state by state, county by county. What a country. Let’s go.