Ninety-one. That’s how many days my parents spent in their motor home in 2004.

Ellen McGarrity

My dad often likes to remind me of this fact — and his goal of surpassing it by the end of this year.

My parents retired just after I entered college, and like most older folks, have found an activity that makes them happy. In their case, it’s traveling and camping in their RV.

Part of my parents’ winter routine now includes two months of travel around the state of Florida from campground to campground.

So when they invited me to spend Spring Break with them this year, I knew the trip was going to be far from ordinary. Let me walk you through just 24 hours of the experience, and I think you’ll see what I mean …

 

When I arrived on Saturday afternoon at the Orlando airport, my parents rushed me back to the Rock Crusher Canyon RV Park near Crystal River, FL. We would be spending our first three nights of the trip at a Roadtrek rally.

OK, I know. I need to explain a few things. Technically, my parents’ RV brand is called a Roadtrek — and don’t confuse it with a Winnebago or a Prevost. RVers are very brand loyal. And yes, I said a rally. Most every RV company throws rallies all over the country. It’s when a group of 25 to as many as 300 units (aka RVs) get together for a few days at a certain campground. The rally coordinators arrange for meals, entertainment and sightseeing for whatever place the rally is held in. And the most exciting part — the showing of new models, complete with RV experts who give tours of these models and demonstrations about how to use and fix all the new features in them.

Luckily, nothing was scheduled for that first night, and I was looking forward to a quiet evening catching up with my parents.

But my mother — clad in her tie-dyed “Bash at the Big House” T-shirt — thought it’d be more fun to practice piano.

Wait, a piano? In an RV? Yes, again. My parents have a small trailer they pull behind our RV (it’s outfitted with the same decals as the main unit and has “trek it” painted on the side). It houses two lawn chairs and my mother’s giant professional keyboard.

After my dad hauled the keyboard out and set it up next to our campfire, my mom began to play. I sat there mortified and thanking God that no other 20-somethings were nearby to see this peculiar sight when an older couple walked up.

“Nice music,” the man said, “Mind if my wife and I join you?”

Over the next half hour, several more couples were lured to our campsite by my mom’s music — which I must admit is quite good. And before long, we had ourselves an all-out sing-a-along, complete with requests being taken and “guest” pianists taking their turn at the keyboard.

While my mom entertained our new “friends,” I sat apart from the campfire circle and played games on my laptop.

“Writin’ a letter to your boyfriend on the internet?!” one of the men asked, looking back at me and giving a little wink.

“Oh, no. Just playing games,” I countered and tried hard to stifle a laugh. Honestly, who else from Michigan was getting hit on by an 80-year old man at that very moment?

At about 10 p.m., everyone had left to walk back to their own RVs. For us, it was (of course) time for bed, and I was looking forward to a quiet night’s sleep … except that our RV only has one bed. My mom, my dad and I looked like sardines next to one another as we dozed off on that king-sized mattress. I woke up once having to use the bathroom … but on second thought decided that maneuvering out of and back into the bed wouldn’t be worth the trouble.

The next morning, memories of chilly wake-ups while camping with my parents in high school suddenly came back to me as I shivered in my sleeping bag. It was 6:30 a.m. and my mother was already asking me to move so she could set up the table for breakfast.

My parents’ RV is a smaller model, and even though it has a bed, kitchen, toilet and wardrobe, many things serve a dual purpose — in this case, the bed turns into a table or a couch, depending on what you need at the moment.

“Why don’t you go take a shower?” my mom suggested. So I grabbed a towel and bravely set out to find the bath house.

Unfortunately, the nearest facilities were about a quarter mile from where our campsite was. I’ve always hated this part of camping. The last thing I want to do when I wake up is walk along a dirt road, freezing my butt off, in my pajamas, knowing anyone could be staring at me, at the very moment of the day I look my worst.

But somehow I made it through and after a ten minute wait, finally claimed one of the showers in the girls’ bathroom.

When I got back to the RV a half hour later, my dad was deep in conversation with a man I assumed was camped right next to us.

“Just how do you go about winterizing your water system?” I heard him ask. And my dad gave some equally cryptic answer.

“Hi,” I managed quickly, and practically jumped back into the RV.

“He wants a tour in a few minutes,” my mom said. “You’d better get dressed.”

If there’s one thing I’ve learned from years of camping, it’s that RVers are extremely friendly, perhaps even on the verge of nosiness. No one hesitates to approach your campsite — or your vehicle. As my parents have sometimes put it: If you’re outside your RV, you’re fair game.

After breakfast, my parents (who let me add, were each wearing beaded necklace nametags to identify them as part of the rally) set up our screen room, an item that many RVers invest in. The screen room is just what it sounds like – a room that attaches to the RV’s awning and creates a bug-free extra room.

Before long, it was lunchtime, and my parents and I joined the hundreds of other RV owners who were participating in this rally. After a quick scan of the crowd, I realized that I was — by at least an average of 50 years — the youngest person in attendance.

As we ate buffet-style food at the campgrounds enormous picnic site, the Oakridge Boys — a country and western band that’s been popular for at least a half century — provided our entertainment. Some of the women (who clearly were once big fans) were screaming and dancing near the stage.

Meanwhile, I sat and chatted with an 80-year-old Southern belle from Mississippi. And even though I felt awestruck by this curious little world my parents are part of, it hit me that maybe it wouldn’t be such a bad reality someday.

 

Ellen fully appreciates Ann Arbor’s student ghetto after her week in an RV and can be reached at emcgarri@umich.edu.

 

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