To love me is to love my Airstream

I think the aspect of Airstreaming that I love most is that it cannot truly be defined. Life aboard the Airstream is whatever you choose to make of it: an almost overwhelming array of choices enabled and even encouraged by the simple idea of bringing your home to your interests rather than waiting for them to come to you.

I have seen people in their Airstreams thrilled by the prospect of hiking a glacier, while others are thrilled by the prospect of a trying out an interesting donut shop followed by a good double espresso. The size of the adventure does not matter; both are valid. It only matters what you desire to achieve. If it’s important to you, the Airstream is ready to facilitate your journey.

I’ve seen people crying away the pain of recently-lost love, and others striking out with quivering anticipation in search of a new life partner. But it doesn’t have to be a choice, because you can load your Airstream with memories of your life while building fantastic new ones. The Airstream does not care if you are sad or elated, it will cosset you with warm blankets and familiar foods at the end of the day regardless.

This season of travel has been unlike any other for me. On the surface, the Airstream has done what it always does. It has been my home away from home base since mid-May, allowing me to visit close friends in the Gulf Coast states, then to participate in Alumapalooza in Ohio, explore more of New York state beauty, and finally hang out with family in Vermont. It has carried the material to run a pop-up store, and the accessories needed for long-distance bicycle touring, urban explorations, motorcycling, hiking, and more.

Beneath that practical layer the Airstream has opened doors I did not expect. I’ve often said that that the Airstream is excellent lock-pick (it opens doors everywhere it goes) because people are often attracted to the dream of running off to adventure and thus are eager to share their world in exchange for a few hours of vicarious living.

While that’s still true, this spring I realized that the Airstream also helps me meet people by virtue of what it is not. Isn’t it true that there’s an instant bond with someone who says, “You have an Airstream? That’s so cool!” You can tell instantly that person is destined to be a compadre, an appreciator of the traveling lifestyle, like-minded and ready to hear more about your travels.

The flip side of that is the person who hears “Airstream” and calls it a “camper” or “mobile home”—or worse, avoids mention of it at all, treating the core of your living situation as a dank secret best swept under the rug. I think some of those people feel that they are somehow doing a favor, as if the Airstream were a facial blemish that everyone can see but nobody in polite society would dare to point out. If it’s not a traditional house or apartment (so the logic goes) choosing to live in a “camper” for part of the year must be a symbol of your reduced circumstances. Given the price of Airstreams nowadays this is not logical but it is surprisingly common thinking.

Sometimes those people can be taught to appreciate what the Airstream represents. It’s worth a try. After all, you wouldn’t want to miss out on a potential friend (or even the love of your life) just because she cluelessly called it a “camper” a few too many times. I’ve heard of and experienced this phenomenon myself. But I actually appreciate that a certain category of individual will permanently avert their eyes, and thus reveal that they are not very open-minded. It saves time.

Pet-owning friends of mine have said, “to love me is to love my animals” and similar platitudes. I get that—whether it’s your children, your dogs, cats, or budgies. To love me is to love my Airstream. You don’t have to live in it. But you do have to understand that it is the floor that I walk on. Without it, a huge part of my life would vanish. I wouldn’t be able to have the experiences I’ve had, my family would never have seen the 48 states, and I wouldn’t be the person I am. The people destined to be friends and partners know that instinctively and they embrace it.

Rich Jef EricaColin BrendaAustin R V

This spring and summer I’ve met and reunited with a few such people, which I regard as the biggest win of the entire year. Long after the travel memories have faded, I hope to have them in my life. For me, this season, the Airstream has facilitated the beginning and the furtherance of wonderful relationships. It brought me to my interests and it will continue to do so in the future. You gotta love that.

Rich Laura SteveAtlanta R C

Pittsburgh logistics

GAP sample mapAfter arriving in Vermont with the Airstream, I figured life would get less complicated and I’d be free of the logistical challenges that accompany organizing a major event and a traveling store. I was right, for a while. But now it’s time to start thinking about the next steps of this summer, because it’s going to get tricky soon.

The big challenge of the day is the bike ride from Pittsburgh PA to Washington DC in early September. I’m meeting Bert Gildart, and our friends Adam and Susan, and the four of us will take ten days to ride 333 miles together, then shuttle together back to the starting point.

Those of you who are longtime readers of Airstream Life might recognize Bert as a regular contributor to the magazine. He has been writing destination articles illustrated with his own beautiful photography for Airstream Life for 15 years.

The logistics of a trip like this are complicated enough (gear, accommodations, weather) but I’ve got an extra detail to figure out because I’m showing up with an Airstream. I’ve got to find a safe place to stash the Airstream and tow vehicle for 11-12 days, then get myself, Bert, and our two bikes to the start point in downtown Pittsburgh. You’d think this would be easy—just get a campground—but there are no campgrounds close to the city, and finding transportation that will work for us has proved difficult.

This is a high priority adventure. Bert and I have been talking about doing this ride for years, and I think Bert’s experience will eventually become another article for Airstream Life. So I’m making a rare call-out on the blog: Is there anyone in the Pittsburgh area who can suggest solutions (or best of all, offer courtesy parking)?

New York State Parks

When I get to New York on my big cross-country trips, I have to revise some expectations. For example, I have to forget what I paid for diesel fuel everywhere else and just grit my teeth at the considerably higher New York prices. But the really interesting change is the state parks. They are more abundant than in most other states and, for an RV traveler, sometimes a bit challenging.

The abundance is the part I like. As I travel through the center of the state along I-90 (NYS Thruway) there is a smorgasbord of great little state parks spread out along my path, and once I reach the Adirondack Park there are numerous smaller Dept of Conservation (DEC) parks tucked into the green woods and alongside lakes.

I’m always tempted to stay at every one that I can squeeze the Airstream into. That would mean spending weeks crossing the state, which would be impractical, so instead I pick one or two each trip through and hope that eventually I’ll have seen them all. So far: Darien Lakes, Letchworth, Hamlin Beach, Cayuga Lake, Delta Lake, Verona Beach, Fish Creek Pond, Mills-Norrie, Thompsons Lake, Watkins Glen, Point Comfort, and Eagle Point. There are dozens more, although many in the Adirondack region are tent-only.

The trick with many of these parks, especially upstate, is that they are old-school and hence have narrow roads and tight access for longer rigs. Verona Beach was a good example. I had to make an impossible 90-degree turn into the campsite from a single-lane road. If trees had been closer to the road there would be no way to get the Airstream in that site, but fortunately there was enough open grass that I could cut the corner.

Getting into a site like that is always a bit stressful but also gratifying once parked. “Ah,” I can say to myself, “Stand and tremble in awe at my magnificent Airstream backing skills!” It’s even better when there are onlookers who were wondering if the trailer would jackknife or hit a stump. The key is to completely ignore them as you are parking, and then step out of the truck with a bit of a swagger, so that all of the weekend campers can marvel at the skills of a full-time Airstreamer. At least, that’s what I tell myself is happening whenever I survive one of those episodes.

Eagle Point campground Pottersville NY Airstream1

But even the skills honed by camping in literally hundreds of different campsites can still be tested. On the next night I decided to try Eagle Point Campground in Pottersville NY. This DEC campground is perched atop a rise above Schroon Lake, and it is a lovely place that clearly was designed with tenters in mind, not 30-foot Airstream trailers. Most of the sites are un-level, irregularly shaped, and have impossible approach angles for anything larger than a pop-up trailer. Merely towing through the campground was an interesting test of skill to avoid the trees and rocks that lurked at every squiggle along the way.

There are a few spots designated for 30 and even 40 foot rigs but I think that is more of a theory than a guarantee. I took site #16, which can sort of be accessed as a pull-through by much shorter trailers, but for a 30-footer there’s no way. Once I had the Airstream pulled in enough to clear the very narrow road and a big tree, the car was trapped by a fence and another tree. Even squeezing forward as far as possible, the back of the Airstream was less than a foot from the root-strewn single-lane trail (I have trouble calling it a “road”). Thus I could not unhitch without the aid of a helicopter.

But I got it in, and it looked like a good possibility that I’d be able to get it back out in the morning as long as I was very careful, so I dug out every leveling block I had and made a pair of mountains to raise the right side of the trailer to approximately level. In this case, “approximately” means that full glasses of water would not spontaneously slide off the counter, but in all other respects it was going to be a rather slanted night.

Eagle Point campground Pottersville NY Airstream2

Ah, but so worth it. It is worth the risk (or a detour) to me in order to mingle with beauty for a night and wake up inspired for future adventures—although it would have been better if I was able to stay for more than one night.

From that stay to my final destination in Vermont was a short and uneventful trip through stunningly beautiful countryside. I’ve driven these roads many times before but when the Vermont summer is peaking there’s no beating it: vistas of gorgeous Adirondack and Green Mountains, deep blue Lake Champlain dotted with sailboats, fields mowed or planted, farm stands open … the air itself seems to carry a hint of a marvelous & active summer developing.

I’ll be in Vermont for five weeks, until it’s time to go to the International Rally in Virginia. It’s time for boat rides and bike rides, hiking and wakeboarding, creemees, cookouts, concerts on the grass, fireworks and farmer’s markets. Summer has begun!

What’s over the next hill?

Yesterday and today have been full of mixed emotions for me. Being at Alumapalooza temporarily brought me back to a routine that has been part of my life for a decade, and for a while it felt like nothing had changed. I did many of the same things, met many of my old friends, visited places I’ve been to dozens of times. But all along I’ve known that it was the last time for many things, and it’s time to look forward to what’s next.

Lagrange Airstream 2019-06

This is part of a tumultuous change that started for me when Emma turned 18. For the first time in 13 years there was Airstream travel without Emma. That changed a lot of things, as I documented in the blog last summer. Now everything is changing. It is the last Alumapalooza for me, at least as an organizer. This may be the last time I drive these roads and decompress (in the spot pictured above) with dear friends in early June. This year may be the last that I can be sure I will spend the whole summer in Vermont. I do not know what exactly the year 2020 will hold, but I am sure it will be very different.

For many people change is unsettling. They find comfort in routine and stability. I like a little routine but too much is dull and even scary to me. I suppose it might be considered a bit of FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) but I always want to know “what’s next?” In that way I share a philosophy with Wally Byam, the founder of Airstream, who wrote:

Don’t stop. Keep right on going. Hitch up your trailer and go to Canada or down to Old Mexico. Head for Europe, if you can afford it, or go to the Mardi Gras. Go someplace you’ve heard about, where you can fish or hunt or collect rocks or just look up at the sky. Find out what’s at the end of some country road. Go see what’s over the next hill, and the one after that, and the one after that.

I think of change and exploration as necessary for growth. If you own an Airstream you might share that philosophy. But the necessity of change is easy to acknowledge, and difficult to execute. To get there sometimes you have to prune away tradition and past commitments to make space for what’s yet to come—even when you don’t know exactly what’s going to happen.

So when people ask me (as several people have in the past few days) “What do you plan to do with your free time now that you’re not doing Alumapalooza?” I don’t have a ready answer. The pat answer is that I plan to do more writing, but of exactly what I don’t know. I plan to do more traveling, but exactly where I cannot say. Perhaps north, perhaps south, or around the world. Some travel will be with the Airstream, and some without. One must simply take a step at a time and see what happens. I think the unknown factor is the exciting part.

Verona Beach State Park

Today’s travel has brought me from the Cleveland area to Verona Beach State Park in upstate New York. The drive itself was uninteresting but I am at least one step closer to a new set of adventures. I’m taking one night here, and another night in the Adirondacks tomorrow. After that, Vermont for a few weeks, and then we’ll see what happens next.


Visiting America’s National Parks—lecture and book

I’m putting distance between myself and Jackson Center now, heading toward new and exciting adventures. At the moment the Airstream is parked near Cleveland at the home of the same dear friends who have offered post-palooza decompression services for ten years. Eleanor will be flying back to Tucson tomorrow and that will end our time in the Airstream together. I’m continuing on to upstate New York and Vermont for a few weeks.

I was able to obtain video of the talk I gave during Alumapalooza on “America’s National Parks.” The talk is nearly an hour long even though I was talking quickly. If you have the time to kill you can find it on YouTube here.

APZ10 Rich National Parks talk

Upon reviewing the video I was mortified to see how difficult conditions are for presenters at Alumapalooza. We are on the grounds of a working factory, so the audio is occasionally marred by the sounds of trucks going past the tent and beeping sounds from the factory. Dogs are always in the tent and often they will bark their opinions, and this time somebody brought a bird to the presentation which you can hear squawking a few times. At one point somebody cut through the tent and walked right in front of the camera. When it rains hard the noise on the tent can be deafening.

In addition to all the audio challenges, the slides tend to be washed out by the bright light (we can’t get the tent dark enough without also trapping in heat and humidity). Alumapalooza is a tough venue. I should have a talk with the bums who organized this.

And in this presentation I was talking way too fast for anyone not born in the northeast USA to understand, and saying “ummm” far too much. So fair warning: it’s amateur hour in this video. I’m going to have to up my game if I want to get tapped for a TED Talk …  (just kidding)

If my lecture didn’t put you to sleep and you want more inspiration for travels to national parks, check out my new book “EXPLORE: Enjoying America’s National Parks With Your RV” on the Airstream Life Store (free shipping) and on Do me a favor and post a review if you have a copy. Thanks!