CROSSLAKE, MINN. – Here on the shores of Cross Lake, Minnesotans’ desire to leave their homes, apartments and other abodes after a monthslong lockdown is fully displayed.
The federal campground here is chockablock or nearly so, and sleeping arrangements run the gamut: tents of all colors and shapes, travel trailers, pickup campers, motor homes, fifth-wheels and camper trailers.
Among these, no perfect choice exists. Tents are portable and inexpensive. Tent trailers are a step up from these, some even pulled by motorcycles. At the top of the heap, depending on one’s needs, viewpoint and amount of disposable income, are motor homes, the range of which extends from the converted school bus popularized by Ken Kesey’s drug-fueled trans-America hippie scamper chronicled in 1968 by Tom Wolfe’s “The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test,’’ to million-dollar Prevost opulence mobiles.
All of which intrigues me because behind every camper’s shelter selection is a story.
Years ago, for instance, while riding my motorcycle in a rainy Santa Barbara, Calif., I met a guy at an all-night hamburger joint who said I could crash in the VW bus he had in his backyard, a vehicle that was up on blocks but otherwise appeared more or less habitable.
This would be my first RV experience, kind of, and I cabled my bike to the bus’ axle, unrolled my sleeping bag and was out like a light until being awakened by two squad cars, four spotlights and a big dog. The charge — allegation, from my viewpoint — was trespassing. My new friend, it turned out, didn’t own the VW, the home or the backyard.
Here in Crosslake last week, Nancy and Richard Becker weren’t trespassing. Instead the couple from Princeton, Minn., was ensconced comfortably in the Cross Lake Recreation Area Campground — its formal handle — and as such were representative of a new and growing breed of RV camper: the minimalist.
“In addition to the various RVs we’ve owned, we’ve also stayed in hotels while traveling,” Nancy said. “We have four kids and when they were young we camped every summer in Minnesota and around the country. Now it’s just the two of us.”
Relaxing in camp chairs, their bikes (the pedaling kind) nearby, Nancy, 70, and Richard, 72, regularly leave home on Mondays and return on Thursdays or Fridays. Usually this travel routine begins in May, but this year, because of the pandemic, it started only last Monday, when state, federal and other campgrounds opened.
For transportation, the Beckers own a four-banger SUV, behind which for the past four years they’ve pulled a 5x9-foot teardrop-shaped trailer in which they sleep and even recharge their phones and other, as Nancy describes them, “anti-social devices.’’
“When the coronavirus hit, our kids said, ‘Mom, you and Dad have to stay home.’ I told them I’d rather die than stay home,” she said.
Built by TCteardrops in Wausau, Wis., the trailer was purchased new in 2016 with a base price of about $7,500.
Richard, a retired plumber, said the trailer pulls straight and true. “You don’t even know it’s back there,” he said, adding that their SUV’s mileage is hardly affected. “With the trailer behind, we get 26 or 28 miles a gallon, something like that.”
Parked a short distance from the Beckers was another example of RV minimalism. Again, the featured vehicle was a compact SUV.
This outfit, owned by a woman who lives in Uptown Minneapolis, featured a rooftop tent that has many advantages. One is price: less than $1,000. Another is ease of setup and takedown. Also, by placing her sleeping quarters in the air, the owner — she wanted only her first named used, Tammy — forgoes the possibility of rainwater soaking through a tent bottom.
“I really like it,’’ she said. “It’s comfortable, and being up high I can feel the breezes.’’
A server at one of Minneapolis’ high-end restaurants, Tammy, 55, camped a lot as a kid and also tent camped in her 20s while traveling through Mexico and Central America on a motorcycle.
She first became aware of rooftop tents when she rented a Jeep outfitted with one while vacationing in Hawaii.
“I work in a really loud environment and I crave the quiet,’’ she said. “Before our restaurant closed due to the pandemic, in summer I would work, camp, work, camp, work, camp. I love nature. I love the night sounds. And I like being alone.”
In fact, the Cross Lake Recreation Area Campground, nice as it is, and clean and wooded as it is, is a little more civilized than Tammy prefers.
National forest campgrounds such as those in Superior and Chippewa national forests, and Minnesota state forest campgrounds are among her favorites, particularly those with nearby bike trails.
Which is another advantage of RV minimalism. Rigs that are too big, such as some motor homes and fifth-wheels, can’t fit in some smaller camping areas.
Said Nancy Becker: “We bought our teardrop camper because we wanted to sleep up off the ground and we wanted to keep things simple.
“Some years ago, Richard and I were on the North Shore looking for a tent site on the Temperance River when I saw my first teardrop camper.
“I said, ‘Stop the car!’ I went to take a look, and I was hooked.”