2400 Miles West

So we bought an RV. My boyfriend basically grew up in one, traveling all over the East and Midwest growing up. My background is in car camping and backpacking. RV camping didn’t look like real camping to me. This new RV changed all that.

Adam and I went with a 24 foot Class C RV, a used 2017 Winnebago 24j to be specific. It’s not what we thought we were going to get. It was expensive, had a small primary bed that isn’t on a slide-out, no real bedroom space, a sink outside the bathroom… But the more we looked, the more we fell in love with the idea of a Winnebago. They feel livable, even with the slide in. The finishes are immaculate and actually designed to be on something that moves. The build process is fascinating, and we felt confident we’d be able to keep our rig in good shape for a long time (it has a serial number and Winnebago keeps copies of every part on file for decades). We love the size, the finishes, the drivability, and that technically it fits in a single regular non-compact parking spot (if you have room for the butt to hang over somewhere).

We bought in Ohio, 2400 miles from our home in Seattle. It was way cheaper and offered Adam lots of awesome excuses to do RV stuff with his mom, who has a 40 foot Class A she basically lives in during racing season. Then we started making lists. We’re spreadsheet people, and made sheets of shopping lists, dream camping spots, every Good Sam park we were staying in (plus reservations, notes, costs, addresses…).

Months of prep went into this trip. When I finally got to Ohio to pick it up with Adam, it dawned on me we were doing this massive road trip, our first as a couple. We were leaving our puppy for the first time, and I had never slept in an RV before, much less driven one.

After fiddling with the water tank and quieting the awful door latch that plagues every single RV ever (pro tip: electrical tape makes it quiet), we got on the road. We started out slow, driving only a couple dozen miles (turns out it was 131, according to the spreadsheet) to an old-timey campground in NE Ohio called Sauder Village. Set up, learned how to level and hook up hoses and make sure the stairs stayed out when the door was closed. Made the bed for the first time. Got concerned about how loud the AC unit is. Went to dinner at an onsite theme restaurant. We were so tired from the red-eye to Ohio and all the errands and list checking that I think we were asleep by 9pm. God, is anything better than the gentle rocking of an RV in Midwest wind with the little tap tippity tap of rain on the roof? Especially on fresh linens and new blankets?

Yeah, I was hooked. Even after the 385 miles the next day and the constant toll stops (seriously, I know we have a serious gas tax but at least we don’t have to stop constantly and scramble for change) and the one terrible toll taker (“oh, he’s letting you drive, huh?” Yeah, and letting me vote and wear jeans and have a job, too! I’m just the luckiest.) We spent a few days camping in Wisconsin at a KOA (the best beginner camping) with the most prepared campers we could think of. Adam’s brother, sister-in-law, and nieces taught me my stuff when it comes to what to keep in the camper, how to set up the site, dessert options that aren’t s'mores (pudgie pies), how to prep food, where you’re allowed to poop (all the girls hold to a self-imposed no poop rule; the boys disagree).

After a few days in Wisconsin, we were off to knock off the rest of the trip. We mostly stuck to restaurants (or delivery in one case), spare some road trip snacks and in-motion turkey sandwiches. We passed so much farmland, which was new for me. It struck me while driving through Iowa and Minnesota how flat everything is. I’d really only seen these images in movies or TV and I’m not sure I really believed it looked like that. I found myself growing more empathetic of people who vote with their acres. We happened to be listening to a podcast or NPR story on the reality and history of lynching, and it made driving through these fields feel like driving through a time machine.

In South Dakota, I saw my first lightning storm, which was also something I never quite realized was real somehow. We laughed at Wall Drug signs and then (probably just I) got weirdly sad the next day when we stopped in Wall and the signs stopped with the Jackalope. We ate lunch at a Midwest-only wings place and sent a photo home to the coworker who demanded we eat there (Buffalo Wings & Rings, Rapid City, totally legit).

We stopped at Mt. Rushmore, but also stopped at Crazy Horse because I felt weird engaging in the history of one and not the other. We found our first Alpine Coaster, a thing Adam and I have both been dying to try since we first learned about them (Rush Mountain was amazing, but make sure you let the faster person go first).

We golfed in two states. We camped in four states. We found a chain restaurant Adam hadn’t been to since he was in college (it hadn’t changed). We took a Winnebago tour (the only thing to do in Iowa) and bought a key chain and a steel camper puzzle thing. We took photos of every state crossing (except Iowa, because Rand McNally didn’t take us past a sign). We laughed and read and treasured having a working satellite radio (it’s foiled by trees and mountains, so doesn’t work so good in the Cascades or Olympics or basically the whole Pacific Northwest). We saw bunnies and deer and about a million miles of road construction.

By the time we were in Missoula, I was ready to be home and back to my dear puppy. That last 475 miles felt like the longest, in large part because Eastern Washington is very snoozy. It was time to get back to laundry and cooking and work and doggie and exercise. I wanted to clean out the camper and start planning the next trip. I wanted to take advantage of my newfound RV prowess.

And I didn’t want to kill my boyfriend. That feels weird to type but I know people who can’t travel together. I know people who could never live in the 130ish square feet of the View for any amount of time. I know people who would be scared to let their partner drive, or that would bicker over a rough restaurant pick. I’ve been part of a couple that can’t travel together. Adam and I got home from 2400 miles together and all I really wanted was to plan 2400 more.

We’ve planned 33 days of camping this season, including these eight. Those take us to three states with our puppy and with friends. I’ll be writing about those trips and the ones we want to plan after that. They’ll be about our attempts to find dog-friendly accommodations, stuff to do in places we’d never been, cooking in the camper, fixing the RV, basically everything that happens when two people and a puppy decide to spend every possible moment camping.