Sharon Hagen went with a flamingo theme.
A flock of hot pink lawn flamingos marked the campsite, flamingo solar lights held the tablecloth (pink, of course) on the picnic table and hanging on the side of Hagen’s 15-foot Ameri-Lite travel trailer was a flamingo-decorated placard that read: “Stand tall and be fabulous.”
“This year it kind of got a little more flamboyant,” admitted Hagen, who lives in Minneapolis. But as the host for a recent rally of women RV enthusiasts, she wanted to make sure her site at William O’Brien State Park was hard to miss.
For the second year in a row, Hagen was hosting the summer rally for the Lyte Hearts, the local chapter of RVing Women.
Hagen, 70 and single, has long been a fan of RV camping. She fondly remembers taking vacations in the family camper when she was a girl. (A 1941 photo of her parents and their trailer hangs inside the rig she has filled with kitschy camper-themed decor and dubbed “Little Miss MP,” short for Money Pit.)
So when she retired, she wanted to hit the road. But she was worried about the safety of traveling alone and had no experience pulling, parking or leveling a trailer. Just towing Little Miss MP for the first time was a nerve-racking experience, she said.
“I white-knuckled all the way home. It took several of the neighbors to get me back in my driveway.”
That’s why she was happy to have found the RVing Women website.
Initially called Women on Wheels, the national organization was founded in 1991 to empower women in a pastime that has been long dominated by men. It helps its 2,000 female members connect and share information about RV life — from advice about fulltiming (living year-round in an RV) and boondocking (parking without an RV hookup) to how to park your rig without getting offers of help from random men. It also hosts a driving school and a yearly convention.
The group draws lesbian couples as well as single women — straight, gay, widowed, divorced, never married or a combination of the above — who decide to RV on their own. It’s just one of many targeted clubs that have sprung up for RV enthusiasts, including Loners on Wheels (for singles), Rainbow RV (for LGBT RVers) and Boondockers Welcome (which matches travelers with hosts who provide a place to park).
For Hagen, the Lyte Hearts members, who range in age from mid-50s to mid-80s, have been a source of information and community.
“There’s a good support system among the women here. We’ve had trailers with problems, and someone will have tools,” Hagen said.
Rallies often include open “houses,” where members give tours of their rigs, and gadget meetings, where members discuss new and necessary gear, such as inflatable solar lanterns, leveling blocks and sewer hose supplies.
Lyte Hearts also provides safety in numbers.
“So far I haven’t felt in danger but I always try to do things safely,” Hagen said. “I don’t go out walking alone when it’s dark. I also walk trails close to the campground. I really try to be aware of things around me. Camping with the group is not only great fun, but I feel safer.”
Home on wheels
At the July rally at William O’Brien in Marine on St. Croix, 26 sites were filled by RVing Women members’ rigs — from a pop-up camper called an Aliner (“Home is where we unfold it,” read the lawn flag) to a Class A Windsport motor home that spanned more than 36 feet and boasted theater seating in front of the big-screen television.
A “Happy Campers” lawn sign, hand-decorated by Hagen, marked every site.
The five-day rally was part family reunion, part gear convention.
Inside some of the rigs, crockpots were bubbling with vegetarian lasagna and meatballs for that evening’s potluck. Hagen walked through the campground, greeting other members and reminding them about afternoon art class.
Outside their pop-up camper, Polly West and Janna Geurts of Roseville were preparing the potato salad they were bringing. West chopped green onions on a cutting board cleverly attached to the side of the camper. For the couple, who have towed the camper all the way around Lake Superior, the group has been a welcoming introduction to life on the road.
“They scooped us up,” said Geurts. “We realized, ‘We aren’t crazy to do this.’ ”
Nearby was the Rev. Ramona Scarpace, a priest at St. Mary’s Episcopal Church in St. Paul. Her cheerful red and white trailer camper, just 6 by 9 feet and painted with the phrase “Happy Trails,” drew lots of admiring comments from fellow RVers.
“If you’re a novice, you learn things just watching people,” said Scarpace. “Everyone is so welcoming and so fun.”
Before the dinner began, the group gathered under the pavilion, setting out their picnic plates and plugging in as many fans as possible to move the thick, muggy air. There were announcements about the upcoming RVing Women national convention in Tucson, Ariz., and the local chapter’s fall rally in Lanesboro, Minn.
Then Hagen asked for a show of hands to see who was interested in returning to William O’Brien for the Lyte Hearts’ rally next summer.
“Can you guarantee better weather?” someone joked. Then everyone’s hands went up.
“Thank you, Sharon!” someone called.
She encouraged the women to start dishing up their plates with a phrase that could sum up her attitude toward life: “Go for it!” she said.