Heather, the campground’s assistant manager, tells me that the number of tent and RV campers is split fifty-fifty at North Hero, and there’s generally no tension between the two groups. There is only “dry camping” for RVers, which means there are no electric, water, or sewer hookups, or other niceties such as TV/Internet cable. Gordon told me the Roadtrek can dry camp for three to five days, running off stored fresh water, battery power, propane, and large wastewater tanks.
I made a rule that I would not use the camper for local transportation. Instead I brought an old mountain bike, which on North Hero I rode the 19-mile roundtrip each morning to get coffee. On Monday I meet Ron, a Vermont retiree, whose 38-foot trailer is parked on North Hero Island, with a view of the Green Mountains, to the east across the lake he loves to fish. The economics make sense. Ron and his wife live most of the year in Middlebury, Vermont, then tow the trailer to King’s Bay Campground on North Hero for the summer. He tells me they get full hookups for four months for $950. A no-frills summer cabin on Lake Champlain runs from $300,000 to $600,000.
Special Toilet Paper—Who Knew?
After an easy 140-mile drive, I find myself in Twin Mountain, New Hampshire, in my first dedicated RV camp, Beech Hill Campground. This is the Live Free or Die state, but whoever came up with that motto never owned a recreational vehicle. It is here, while trying to hook up, that I find I’m missing several key items: special toilet paper that degrades easily, a cable wire for the TV, disinfectant for the toilet, a 30/15-amp electrical adapter. I buy these items at the campground store, which is handy but expensive.
I wrestle with my first RV hookup. Somehow I envisioned a high-tech console with fancy switches and fittings like the space shuttle. This is more like Barney Rubble’s car. The hookup is nothing but a stake in the ground with a water faucet attached, a cable wire, and a metal box with a 30-amp outlet. The sewer connection is a vertical pipe sticking out of the ground with a metal cover. You stick your black-water and gray-water hose into the pipe, hit the pump, and watch your business work its way through a white translucent hose. I have trouble hooking up everything but the poop hose, but eventually figure it out. I survey my work with pride and intone in my most somber voice: “Today I am a man.”
My fellow campers include Phil, a full-timer RVer from Minnesota (he lives only in his trailer, no house), and his wife, Joy, whose enormous Beanie Babiesandstuffed-animal collection fills their 37-foot trailer. It rains all night, so I stay in and watch About Schmidt on the flat-screen. It’s about a retired actuary on an RV journey. An RVer approaches Schmidt and says, “Ahoy, matie. Permission to come aboard, captain.” Roadtrek’s Gordon was right about the nautical vocabulary. Schmidt’s wife collects stuffed animals and other bric-a-brac.
A virgin RVer, I am besieged by veterans bearing tips. A guy named Ed tells me to put a tray of ice cubes down the toilet into the black-water tank after pumping out but before hitting the road. Seems the jiggling ice cleans up the tank.
The 225-mile drive to Bar Harbor, Maine, is harrowing. Route 2 through the White Mountains is beautiful, but I am buffeted by a rainstorm. The RV has automatic transmission, and I have never owned such a thing.
I am going up and down mountains freewheeling, with no stick to control this runaway 10,000 pounds. Semis are tailgating me, and the winds on overpasses sometimes throw me a third of a lane sideways. On the hills I hear my wastewater tanks sloshing. Is that the tinkling of ice cubes? Remember how your mom warned you to wear clean underpants in case you’re in an accident? No longer a worry. If my black-water tank bursts in a crash, no one is going to comment on my underwear.