Advocates of motorhomes, Class A to Class C, also pop-up campers, fifth-wheel trailers, pull-behinds and pickup campers often refer to the RV "lifestyle,'' vaguely defined as life on the road in this modern age.
This week, with my two boys, I headed south, first, on I-35, before hooking a right on I-90 and booking it west through Jackson and Worthingto in Minnesota, then Sioux Falls, Mitchell and Rapid City, S.D., and into Wyoming, crossing circuitously through that state to, eventually, land in Jackson, Wyo.
My RV, such at is, is a pickup camper, vintage early 1990s, a Caribou, made once by Fleetwood, but no longer in production.
Outside and in, it's in pretty good shape, everything works. Or does now.
When I found it alongside a blacktop road in northwest Wisconsin some years back, I bought it after only brief consideration. They guy wanted $2,500 or so for it, a bargain, assuming it turned out to be as described, meaning needing little or no work.
That didn't prove to be quite accurate. The roof leaked — not an easy problem to solve in an RV, because many are made so cheaply. A leaky roof can quickly become squishy framework or plywood, and the whole thing can quite rapidly can dissolve into a pile of tin and rubble.
So, rather than just re-roof with a rubber roof, I tore the whole thing off, re-roofed with 3/4-inch marine grade plywood and covered that it with a solid piece of rolled aluminum.
This and a few other fixes, some cheaper than others, but none that broke the bank, put me on the road on multiple occasions over the past few years.
On this Western trip, my two boys and I left the Twin Cities area about 7:30 one evening, making it to Jackson, Minn., before we pulled into a motel parking lot to sleep. The next day we crossed South Dakota, on the road with thousands of bikers heading to (but mostly heading out of) Sturgis, as bike week there was just ending.
We slept the second night in a motel lot in Casper, Wyo., before making the final sprint into Jackson, where we have friends, all with Minnesota connections, some of whom live in the Jackson Hole area seasonally, others permanently.
A note here about traveling west in either an RV, or with a tent (we had both along). Be sure you make reservations well in advance. Yes, there are some first-come first-serve campsites in state and federal campgrounds — Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks, for instance — but those fill up quickly, as do commercial campgrounds.
In Jackson — actually, just outside — we stayed at a KOA.The alternatives in the area aren't many, and this campground is located along the Snake, so I knew the boys could be easily distracted, if I got busy working on the RV or otherwise earning my keep.
At the Jackson KOA, a lot of bikers who had been at Sturgis were now in the mountains, some touring, others headed home to places on the West Coast. One night, we were nearly surrounded by their small pup tents, and I struck up conversations with a handful of them. Each was on the road individually, and, like us, was thrown together for the night (or a few nights) by happenstance.
Long ago, I had a Harley and rode it one summer from Michigan to San Francisco, then down to L.A., over to Las Vegas, down to Texas and into Mexico before heading back north. This was in the days of kick starters and carburetor re-calibrations when traveling in the mountains, a far cry from the fuel-injected cruise-control scooters that are common today.
Additionally, I had no windshield, my fork was mildly extended and raked, my rear shocks were shorties, and the sleepiing bag my mom had bought me for the trip only extended to my chest (she apparently forgot how tall I am). And I had no tent.
A great time, however, and one I'd like to repeat someday.
A note here: It's best to keep your expectations in check when planning to camp at a commercial RV campground most anyplace in the U.S. I've found. At many of these establishments — Jackson is a good example — rigs are squeezed in as tightly as possible to one another. Wilderness ambiance isn't something that readily abounds.
That said, what you're typically paying for is a place to hook up to water and electricity (and sewer, in some cases), and to headquarter while you make side trips in the area. So, usually, you're not in the campground except at night.
Additionally, being squeezed together with other campers often makes meeting them easy. And everyone out and about in this manner, or at least the vast majority, is pleasant, and usually interesting, as well.
More later from the road.