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

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.


The home stretch

For me, there are several key stages to Alumapalooza. Because it’s nearly a two-week endurance trial, it’s helpful to break it up with milestones. First is the pre-event stage, where all the staff are organizing, I’m collecting shipments, and Super Terry comes to do trailer maintenance.

Then there’s the “Hump Day” milestone, which is Wednesday of the event. By then, all the attendees have arrived, registration is done, and we’ve managed to sort out the parking of 200+ rigs. This year parking was the toughest job because of all the rain that softened the ground before we got here. On Hump Day everyone starts to relax and suddenly all the little quibbles & questions that were pervasive on Tuesday magically vanish.

APZ10 Eleanor Brett culinary seminar
Brett and Eleanor prepping for her second culinary demonstration, “Small Plates, Big Finish”.
APZ10 Eleanor culinary seminar
We auctioned off rights to eat what Eleanor made in her culinary demo (for charity). JJ and Sandy Johnjulio, and Dave and Anne-Marie McKeever enjoyed 7 courses with wine pairings.

And the final milestone is today, Saturday, when all of the seminars are done and there’s not much to think about except the Swap Meet and a day of entertainment. This year we have three musical acts performing and one mentalist/magician, plus a car show, a police K-9 demo, and catered dinner. So this is a definite day to chill, even for those who are working in orange shirts. This is the home stretch.

APZ10 Airstream Life pop-up store staff
Rich, Suzie, and friend guarding the Airstream Life Pop-Up Store.
APZ10 pop-up store
A few of the items in the Airstream Life Pop-Up Store. Wood sink cover/cutting boards were a popular item.
APZ10 Airstream Supply Company
Airstream announced its new online store, “Airstream Supply Company”

For me, this is a particularly significant “home stretch”, because it’s my last one. I’ve organized Alumapalooza for ten years. I’ve also run two Vintage Trailer Jams in NY, two Palm Springs Modernism Week Vintage Trailer Shows, two Tucson Modernism Week Vintage Trailer Shows, four Alumafandangos (CO, OR, CA), three Alumafiestas (AZ), and three Alumaflamingos (FL). That’s 26 major events in 12 years.

So it may not be a surprise to you that I’m stepping back from organizing more events. I need to switch to a new path before I become a bobble-head. I’ve got other things that I want to do, new projects (like books to write) and new adventures, in different places. I want to sit in the gazebo in the early morning and listen to the birds cooing, and let my brain wander for a few months. Having a little time off over next winter—when I would normally be organizing the next Palooza—will make that possible.

Don’t worry about Alumapalooza. Brett is going to carry on the tradition, with other people helping him. I’ll still have some input and offer help where I can but it won’t be my event in the future. Airstream Life magazine will continue to be an official sponsor, and we may have another pop-up store next year (I’m not sure yet). If I’m at Alumapalooza 11, you might even see me on stage with Brett at Happy Hour doing our usual goofball routine.

I’m glad to be wrapping up on a high note. This year was challenging because of weather but in all other ways a huge success. At 220+ rigs it was easily the largest event we’ve ever run. Everyone seems to be having a great time (as always) and already they are eagerly signing up for next year. It’s a great feeling to have originated Alumapalooza with Brett ten years ago, to have worked with him in close partnership to make it a cornerstone of the Airstream community, and to leave it in his extremely capable hands to continue for the future. I couldn’t ask for a better outcome.

APZ10 sunset window view

All the little things

If you’re looking for lots of travel excitement or Alumapalooza news, you might want to come back on Tuesday, because right now we’re still in the lead-up to the event. These last few days are dedicated to setting the stage (literally and figuratively) so that we’re ready to host 450 people for most of a week. It’s a lot of work.

APZ10 setting chairsAPZ10 parking trailer

Lisa and Beth were busy getting all the registration materials set up on Thursday, Matt and his parking crew were figuring out how to park early arrivals without losing them in soft clay starting on Friday, Brett has been everywhere with his walkie-talkie dealing with a thousand details, a bunch of us pitched in to set tables and chairs for 400 people, I have been working out hassles related to shipments for the new Airstream Life Pop-Up Store and checking on important little things back in Tucson, and Eleanor has been prepping for a lot of cooking. In addition to her two culinary seminars and Dirty Orange laundry duties, she also committed to making dinner for the Pop-Up Store staff (mostly Suzie and me) nightly.

APZ10 Super Terry water pump

Traditionally on the Sunday before Alumapalooza, Super Terry and I take care of a list of maintenance items on the Airstream. We do this mostly because Sunday is a relatively quiet day before the event gets going, and because it’s the first full day Super Terry can be on site. It might seem easier to just schedule a maintenance appointment with Airstream’s Service Center but as an organizer it’s a huge problem to lose my trailer for a day during the event, so I haven’t tried that since 2010.

APZ10 free toiletThis year my list was fairly benign: replace the toilet (for a leaking seal & general wear), flush the disc brake fluid, adjust one window, replace the water pump, replace a worn-out lift arm on a Fantastic Vent. Nothing major. As always, Super Terry is so competent that I was basically redundant, just there to answer questions and fetch things, and even with a trip to the hardware store it was all done in a couple of hours. The Airstream is back to 100% operational status, which is a relief since I’ll be logging some serious miles and a lot of nights in the next 90 days.

There has been a lot of noise on Facebook about the wet conditions here in Jackson Center. I can only assume people who are raising the issue have not been to Alumapalooza before. It’s usually wet in the weeks before the event, and thunderstorms are a near-daily occurrence. It seems that every year someone raises the alarm and starts a rumor that the event is going to be cancelled, or that everyone will get stuck in the mud. Trust me, we’ve never left an Airstream behind and we’ve never cancelled. It always works out.

In the first year of Alumapalooza it rained every day and by Saturday we’d had enough with the mud and damp, so we downloaded Jimi Hendrix playing his twisted version of the National Anthem during the rain at Woodstock, turned the speakers up to 11 and blasted the field in the early morning. It was a good “what the hell” moment, and it worked. People popped out of their trailers like gophers, looked for the source of the sound, and then generally gave us a big thumbs up. Half of them were probably at Woodstock originally, so they got it.

APZ10 Coleman happy hour

Of course the early arrivals see little of this. They are here to chill, and they are experts at it. By Saturday night little gatherings and happy hours were popping up all over the field. My friend Rhonda Coleman, who drove out from Oregon in her new Interstate motorhome, is a bit of a party animal and immediately hosted a mai tai party. Rhonda knows how to socialize, and everyone who knows her knows her Airstream is the first place to stop.

In a way, this is the best time to relax at Alumapalooza. Nothing’s happening right now. On Tuesday the factory will re-open and the roads will be flowing with trucks, tractors, and forklifts. The giant air-cleaning system for the wood shop will get fired up (and it runs two shifts so you’d better get used to the roar of it day and night). All the Airstreamers will be here and the local restaurants and stores will be maxed out. You won’t be able to go 50 feet without running into someone you know, or someone who wants to get to know you.

And the schedule! I spend a lot of time each winter working on the program. You can download a copy of the 2010 Survival Guide here. I try to keep it as full as possible. This year we have seminars, music, and workshops happening all day in two tents for five days, plus outdoor stuff like bike rides and Dutch Oven cooking. So once the event gets going, there’s little downtime. By Tuesday night I’ll be thinking fondly of this quiet period.