Next I bicycle seven miles up the road to Woodstock, where I am time-warped to 1969. The shops are the same: the Tibetan Emporium, Candlestock, Dharmaware, Annie’s Down Home Stitchin’. You can still buy “Make Love Not War” T-shirts. I park the bike outside a coffeehouse. A table of eco-types are impressed I have pedaled my fat body up from Saugerties, but their smiles turn to horror when I reveal I am traveling in an RV. I am now Shiva, destroyer of worlds. I may as well have clubbed a baby harp seal in front of them.
Next stop, LeRoy, New York, near Rochester, and the Lei-Ti, Too! campground, a place the desk man tells me is “nobody’s destination,” just a convenient stop on the way to somewhere else. We are right next to the New York Thruway, and the constant vibration of tractor-trailers keeps my kidneys free of stones.
LeRoy is a destination for me. It is the birthplace of Jell-O and home to the Jell-O Museum. I bicycle to the museum, where longtime company spokesperson Bill Cosby is worshiped as a god, then take the tour with the Irondequoit chapter of the Red Hat Society and a troop of sullen, slutty-looking Girl Scouts from Rochester. We learn that Jell-O is not made of horse hooves but rather from collagen from the hides of cows and pigs, and that lime Jell-O emits the same EEGs as the human brain.
I head south, 300 miles to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, to a KOA near the Civil War battlefield. I was last here back in the ’50s for a Boy Scout Jamboree. Camping in the Roadtrek is more comfortable, and the battlefield is better viewed by bike than by foot. I make friends with a couple in another Roadtrek, Fred and Lorraine, from LaFayette, New York. We discuss eating out on the road, and Fred, an RVer for more than 30 years, confirms my suspicion: there is very little good local cooking in America. The rap on RVers is that they never leave home, cuisine-wise, instead eating at chains—McDonald’s, Denny’s, KFC, and the like. I had promised myself that I would eat at least one meal per day in a local, nonfranchised restaurant. In Bar Harbor I splurged on a $20 lunch, a “lobster roll,” which turned out to be lobster detritus served on a cold, stale hot dog bun. I had a western omelet in LeRoy that should have moved west long ago. A frittata somewhere in New York State actually frightened me. So now when I see a McDonald’s or a Friendly’s, I hit the brakes. Fred says one of the joys of RVing when he started was “trying food that was different.” No more.
Two bikers in the adjoining campsite, Mike and Jim, arrive in an unusual RV built by Jim: a converted box trailer with minimal living quarters that leaves room for their two V-twin motorcycles. Mike and Jim say that RVers and bikers are much the same: friendly, open. Mike’s brother died on a motorcycle, so Mike hides his bike from his aging mother. He enjoys the RV for camping and the V-twin for its freedom. “All your life you basically do what your wife wants you to do,” he says. “Go where she wants to go. Socialize with friends she approves of. She tells me I am going to die on this bike. Well, so be it.”
Mike and Jim are typical of many RVers I meet. In better physical shape than most Americans, and with old-economy, skilled blue-collar jobs. Jim is a pipeline troubleshooter; Mike used to drive a fuel truck with 13,000 gallons of gas onboard. Fred maintained jet engines. Then there’s Bill, who came out of retirement last year to operate a snowplow for New York State because there weren’t enough employees who knew how to operate heavy equipment. The people I meet are not day traders. But you could probably borrow a miter saw from any of them.