Don’t call my awesome ride an RV

  • Sitting on the steps of The Epic Van in Texas's Palo Duro Canyon with our folding bikes and Pippi, our 16-year-old cat, who traveled with us until she went to the road trip in the sky.

This may be totally stupid, but I have a hostile reaction when people say, “Oh, you’re driving around in an RV. Cool. My grandmother does that.”

This usually happens after I’ve told them of our totally awesome, unconventional, fearless life on the road. After I’ve specifically told them that I live in a big camper van. (Which, OK, technically is an RV but, in my world, is my free-spirit house on wheels.)

I remember, as a kid, visiting my grandparents when they parked their travel trailer in Colorado’s Big Thompson Canyon, where my grandfather would fish, and all the friends who met there yearly would play cards late into the evening. I loved it. But that’s not what we’re doing.

So, I’m put off that people don’t get it, don’t understand me or my ride.

First, there’s the grandma thing which, even though I am of an age, I am not. Trust me, I love babies, (and grandmas) and would happily welcome one into the family. But lumping me in with the gray hairs smacks of ageism. OK, my hair is white, I’m retired, although early, and when I turned 62 this year, I did a happy dance, because I qualified for my lifetime senior pass for the national parks. But aren’t I “youthful”? In my mind, I’m in my second adolescence, this time with money and wisdom. And I feel like a teenager on permanent summer vacation.

Then, there’s the term RV, which conjures up lumbering behemoths, packed to the gills with toys, heading to RV “resorts” where neighbors are an arm’s length away. Using this term to describe our awesome rig stirs my grandmotherly protective instincts. Our Roadtrek RS Adventurous, which we have named The Epic Van, is a lean, mean exploring machine.

When my husband, Tom, and I decided to sell our house and live on the road, we thought about the essential hippie home: a Volkswagen Westfalia. Or even better, a converted school bus. We looked at camper shells on pickup trucks. We considered, briefly, small trailers.

Each fell off the list for one reason or another: VW engines were said to balk on mountain roads, camper shells felt claustrophobic, I was terrified to haul a trailer of any size. And we certainly didn’t have the engineering chops to convert a bus.

When I saw a Roadtrek online, I fell in love at first sight. It was beautiful, would fit in a parking spot, and had a beast of an engine, a big, strong diesel that would take us wherever we wanted to go.

After months and months of research, long drives to see Roadtreks in person, and a two-week rental trip from Salt Lake City to our family reunion in Illinois and back, we bought one.

I love everything about The Epic Van: its king-sized bed, its bathroom, complete with shower, its kitchen, where Tom cooks epic meals, and its huge windshield, a movie-screen-sized view of the path we’re traveling. Not to mention that it’s completely self-contained, allowing us to stop and sleep anywhere: national and state parks, boondocking spots on Bureau of Land Management areas, Walmart parking lots, even next to the courthouse, firehouse, or brewery in friendly rural towns.

We’ve taken The Epic Van from coast to coast, canoeing with alligators in the Everglades, hiking down from the 10,450-summit of the Aerial Tram at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort in Grand Teton National Park, biking the Hiawatha Rail-Trail 15 miles over trestles and through tunnels in the stunning Bitterroot Mountains, and volunteering for three months at Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park, where we helped visitors learn about the majestic redwoods.

It’s an adventure every day.

In the three-plus years we’ve been on the road, we’ve parked at an RV camp only a handful of times, when we were in very crowded areas with unfriendly overnight parking regulations.

So, it stings when I have to check the RV box on camp registrations, because it seems to tarnish The Epic Van’s epicness. To me, it feels like a big, old hard-sided tent, sort of like the tent Harry Potter uses, and Tom and I are backpacking our way through life, like we did in Europe a few (gulp) decades ago.

Maybe it’s totally delusional, but don’t slap me with reality. Let me live in my happy fantasy.

Looking for other van people to commune with, I joined some Facebook groups. But it was not all love and flowers. I was shocked when a member of one group went on a rant about people in fancy vans, saying they were posers. I think he even called out Mercedes vans, in particular.

According to this hater, you couldn’t really say you lived in a van unless you “pooped in a bucket” (and he didn’t say “poop.”) He was publicly shamed by the group for being intolerant, and was never heard from again, but it left a picture in my mind.

Yes, we have the luxury of plumbing. And built-in cabinets. And an awning to keep the rain and sun off my delicate head.

But I’m still a wanderer. A bad-ass adventuress. A free spirit seeking new vistas and experiences.

Just don’t call me a geezer, or call The Epic Van an RV. It will hurt our feelings.

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