OUR RIG AND VIRGIN TRIP
THE IDEA OF AN AIRSTREAM UNFOLDS
Let’s face it. Airstreams are just plain cool. There’s a comradery that exists between Airstream owners that is unrivaled among other brands of recreational vehicles. But to be honest, owning an Airstream never entered my mind as a potential option when I was searching for just the right fit for us.
When we initially started thinking about the RV we would travel in, I was convinced that the only way to go was to purchase a fifth wheel. Everything I read indicated these types of RV’s had advantages over other types of rigs: easy to tow and maneuver, many options for size and slide-outs, and also for cost. Some models even claimed to be have 4-season certification. I was planning on living and working in this RV for an extended period of time so it was really important to weigh all the options comparing advantages and disadvantages.
In order to thoroughly compare all the choices, I traveled from Vermont to the RV show in Hershey, PA in preparation for the big purchase. Now, my reason for choosing this particular show was simple. It was relatively close to where my mom lived! So I could combine my trip to the show with a visit to mom’s. My husband backed out of the trip just days before the show (partly because he was still not totally on board with the whole idea and partly due to work demands), but I kept my plans and enlisted the help of mom. She’s game for anything and was more than willing to be my traveling partner from her place near Lancaster to the Hershey RV show. We covered some serious territory while at the show. Wishing I had worn my pedometer! I cannot even begin to count the number of rigs we toured. They began to all look the same after two days! We even attended a number of workshops and visited many, many vendor displays.
We did not discriminate – we scrutinized all sizes and shapes of trailers and fifth wheels. We became experts on construction, features, and the pros and cons of all types of models. We could enter a rig and immediately know that it was cheaply constructed, or conversely, that it was built with the utmost quality. I narrowed down my choices to two possible selections – Heartland’s Big Horn and Keystone’s Montana. Both of these seemed well-built and similar in quality – with the Big Horn having a slight edge. I had their brochure’s in hand when I left the show to share with my husband when I got home. I was an expert on all the specifications, models, options – you name it! I was a walking encyclopedia on all things RV. I had pared down the choices and it felt good!
At some point towards the end of the show, we strolled through the Airstream dealer section. I’m not even sure what steered us in that direction. I was totally not interested in a trailer, especially an Airstream, after seeing the fifth wheels. We even toured one of the models they had on display. I thought they seemed cramped compared to the fifth-wheels, too space-age and modern in appearance, and they were out of my price range. But, for some subliminal reason, I grabbed a couple of their brochures. They did have a certain charm, but I was not even remotely interested in an Airstream when I left that show.
When I got home, I was all excited to showcase my research to my husband and at least solidify our decision as to what to buy. He browsed through the brochures asking questions, but was not showing the same level of enthusiasm that I was exhibiting until he noticed the Airstream brochures. His uncle had owned an Airstream motorhome in his retirement years, and Jim remembered this from one of his trips north. He read through all the Airstream specs – made comparisons with the other fifth wheels and proclaimed that if he was to get on board with this whole idea, then he wanted to travel in an Airstream.
This was the beginning of my love affair with Airstreams. If that was all it was going to take to get Jim on board with the RV lifestyle thing, then I would find a way to be happy in an Airstream. In a way, it was a relief. Now I had a definite focus. Of course, we could not buy a new Airstream. That was totally out of the question. I started researching, and found an incredible network of Airstream enthusiasts and along with that – the Airstream Classifieds. I lived and breathed Airstreams for almost a year – researched models and floor plans, found the Forum, and learned everything I could about this trailer. I settled on a specific year range, model and floor plan and started looking for our next home away from home.
Airstreams are not really that popular in New England and the used Airstream market was tight for anything within driving distance for us to check out. After nine months of searching the Airstream Classifieds, and not finding the one we wanted within close proximity, I took out a *wanted* ad in the Classifieds. Bingo! Within a day someone saw my ad. This guy from Oregon was thinking of trading in his 25’ Classic 2002 with a rear Queen bed for a 30’ model and contacted me. It was the exact model and year range that I wanted. He preferred not to advertise and my timing was perfect. They were getting ready to retire, wanted to spend more time traveling, and wanted to upgrade to a 30’ Classic.
We made a deal. I think perhaps I made him somewhat nervous. From all my research, I had generated an exhaustive checklist of all the things to look for and ask questions about when purchasing a used Airstream. I was relentless with questions, asked for a million pictures of the unit (since it was in Oregon), and despite my persistence in getting everything answered to my satisfaction, he hung in there with me and even made some repairs to the shell that I did not ask for. At the last minute, I inquired about the wear on the tires, and he agreed to have them checked and replaced if necessary. Oddly enough, he only replaced 3 tires, claiming the 4th was recently replaced and okay. (This proved to be an unwise decision!) Anyway, we started planning our trip to Oregon to pick up the trailer!
We agreed to meet in a city campground in Eugene, Oregon to make the exchange – $$ for Airstream! I sensed that he was somewhat apprehensive when we met. He seemed a tad nervous and on edge. But, let’s face it – we had just traveled from Vermont to Oregon to pick up the trailer. One we had only seen in pictures, and during the negotiations I was a bit obsessive about details on my thorough checklist. I definitely had him worried that I was picky enough to walk away from the deal if the machine was not to my liking. He need not have worried. I was leaving with that Airstream no matter what! And it turned out just fine. The Airstream was exactly as he described. He was honest about a few small dings on the exterior, and the somewhat worn carpet. Everything was as I expected. The owner and his wife gave us a quick tour of the workings, we handed over the cashier’s check and we were on our own! Very, very COOL! I was psyched to say the least!
OUR VIRGIN TRIP
We had planned to spend two nights in the city campground just to get familiar with the Airstream, but it was not an ideal spot and we had a deadline to get to Colorado in time to pick Leif and Jeannie up at the Denver airport. We were clueless how many miles we could do in a day pulling this new trailer, so we wanted to allow enough time. We spent one night in Eugene, packed up and left a day early for Colorado. We more or less planned our route on the fly and wanted to take some backroads. We had met a couple when driving through the Three Sisters area of Oregon on our way out who insisted we could not leave Oregon without a stop at Crater Lake National Park. So, the first leg of our journey involved a drive through Crater Lake on the loop road. We were just under the allowable limit for trailers on this road. It was a good test of Jim’s driving ability and he passed with a Gold Star. And Crater Lake was breathtaking! Glad we made this detour!
We had really enjoyed the ride out through eastern Oregon on Route 20 west. So, we decided to go through Klamath Falls and pick up Route 140 east to get a sense of the southern part of the state. By dusk, we were approaching the town of Bly and had been looking for a campground for miles with no luck. Jim was getting tired and we were worried about driving past dark on this back road. Mostly, we were concerned with hitting a deer! We come from a small town in Vermont. But, Bly is a seriously small town with a population of under 400. We stopped at a convenience store gas station to fill up and inquire about nearby campgrounds. The store was just about to close for the night. The guy working at the counter was a young man in his early 20’s and very congenial. He told us the closest place to camp was more than 50 miles down the road. He could tell we were tired and did not want to travel that far.
As we were about to leave, he came running over and kindly offered his father’s garage across the street as a place we could pull into and spend the night. He said he’s often done this for folks traveling through the area. We were amazed. What absolute hospitality in this little corner of the world! We confirmed this would be okay with his dad, and he assured us it would as long as we were out of the way before he opened in the morning. We planned on getting back on the road at dawn, and said that would not be a problem. For my benefit, since we would be right next to the main road, Jim inquired about safety. Would anyone else bother us? The candid young man answered quite honestly, “Oh, no – you’ll be perfectly safe. We haven’t had a shootin’ in town since last week. And she’s in jail”. That really put our minds at rest!
Well, the night was uneventful. Our second night on the road and we were boon-docking and improvising. Our mode of camping may have changed over the years, but our haphazard way of traveling continues to endure! We got up at the crack of dawn just as the convenience store was opening. That same young man was staffing the counter. He asked us how our evening was, we thanked him again, grabbed some coffee and headed on down the road.
Route 140 through southern Oregon is a must drive for anyone interested in back country travel. We passed a lot of farming activity including gigantic fields of strawberries, and entered into desert before heading into Nevada. East of Lakeview, OR, we drove past an interesting sign on our way up a pass that read: Doherty Hang Gliding Launch. Apparently, we were traveling through Bureau of Land Management property and Lakeview is known as the Hang Gliding Capital of the West. You never know what you will come across on roads less traveled! We continued on and skirted the Sheldon National Wildlife Refuge as soon as we entered Nevada. The rest of the day was just pure driving. We hit Interstate 80 and put the pedal to the metal towards Salt Lake City.
We traveled past the Bonneville Salt Flats, and I got my first ever look at Salt Lake City. I was impressed with the towering mountains offering a picturesque backdrop to the city. I understand now the attraction people have for this desert city. As navigator, I decided we would head south from Salt Lake City, pick up Route 6 and take this to Interstate 70.
Our destination the next day was Leadville, CO and we needed to get down to I70. I thought Route 6 would be a good choice to see some scenery and get us off the interstate system for a while. We wanted to get out of the metropolitan area before we stopped for the night, so we headed east on Rt. 6 up into what appeared to be a canyon. It was once again getting dark. Well, let’s be honest – it WAS dark. There was construction on the road and Jim found himself driving in the dark, with concrete construction barriers framing the road. You can imagine his mood! By this time, he was very tired and we were desperate for a place to pull off. The map indicated there was a rest area up ahead, so we made that our destination. (I should mention that this trip was taken before I got a smartphone. We were relying on print maps exclusively for travel.)
We spotted the rest area, pulled in and found it deserted and eerie-looking. But, the restrooms and visitor center oddly enough were open, and we pulled into an RV parking spot and spent the night. When we woke up the next morning, we were surrounded by several other RV’s and some tractor-trailers.
Leaving the rest area the next morning, we drove up and over Soldier Summit. I will comment that at the top of this pass is a convenience store, a campground, and the cleanest restrooms in all of Utah. So, if you find yourself needing a rest stop on this route I highly recommend this place.
We had some serious mileage to make this day. Our destination was Lakeview Campground in the San Isabelle National Forest located between Leadville and Buena Vista, CO. This is where we would hopefully set up camp for a week. I had camped here a couple of summer’s before with my nieces and I knew it was a beautiful spot.
The one thing I forgot to mention is that this was July 4th weekend and we were heading to Lakeview CG without reservations. Yeah, we are nothing short of crazy to think that we would get a spot here. Oh, and it was Friday, too. And we were going to arrive in the early evening if we were lucky.
We pulled into the campground predictably around 7pm. Being mid-summer, there was still plenty of light. The camp host site was readily visible and we stopped there since, of course, the campground full sign was posted at the entrance. The wife of the couple came to the door, and told us there were no sites. I remember her being somewhat rude as a matter of fact. We asked about any overflow, or open handicapped spots as we knew that after a certain time of day these sites could be rented to us. Again, no. How about any suggestions on nearby campgrounds? No. We turned to leave and heard another voice from inside their fifth wheel calling to us.
The husband of the pair came to the door, contradicted his wife, and said they did indeed have one site. Someone had checked out early due to illness. We could have that site for two nights as it had a reservation coming in on Sunday. He continued to describe to us the first come, first serve loops and said there was a good chance we could move to another site on Sunday. And, he had the perfect site in mind for us and would show it to us over the weekend. The stars had aligned perfectly for us! I must say in the week that we stayed there, the “husband” camp host often stopped and chatted with us. We never saw the wife again. He was clearly the people person of that duo and a perfect Camp Host!
We settled in to the site, feeling very good about our luck. We needed to drive to Denver to pick up Leif and Jeannie the next day. They were flying into Denver on the late night flight that day to spend the rest of the trip with us, and were staying the night near the airport. As we were preparing for bed, I went outside to do the last review of the campsite for anything left out, and to lock up the truck. I went around locking all the doors, and just as I was shutting the last door – driver’s side door – I hear Jim yell “the keys are still in the truck!” Too late. The door slammed shut and I was outside the truck looking in at the keys in the ignition. My heart sank.
Now, we had been meaning to get a duplicate key for the truck for a while. Had talked about how we should not leave on this trip without another key. We never quite followed through on this conversation. Here we were in the middle of nowhere, and had to leave for Denver in the morning. I was feeling very, very sheepish and did not get much sleep that night. Thank goodness my cellphone was in the trailer and we had service. Now, we still have no cell service at our home in Vermont, but in the middle of the Rockies in Colorado we had excellent service. What’s up with that Vermont? Anyway, AAA to the rescue. Someone responded within an hour when we called the next morning, and we were good to go 15 minutes later. AAA would serve us well this trip!
We spent the better part of a week in Colorado with Leif and Jeannie. We visited the Red Rocks Amphitheatre, did some medium length hikes to get acclimated, took a road trip to Aspen over Independence Pass, cooked up some good campfire meals, and had a fantastic time.
The highlight of the trip was the trek up the tallest peak in Colorado. We summited Mt. Elbert and it felt good!! This was especially gratifying for me. Two years earlier I had attempted to hike the mountain with my nieces and sister-in-law. I hiked mostly by myself that trip, as they went on ahead of me early on the trail. My hiking pace was slower. I was not really acclimated enough before the hike, and I only made it to the false summit. So close! But, a storm blew in and it started to hail. So, I turned around disappointed. To make the summit this time around with my husband, son and future daughter-in-law was very rewarding and memorable!!
Leif and Jeannie accompanied us on the road trip home from Colorado as well. It was quite an adventure fraught with danger and excitement. Thank goodness for Jeannie’s smartphone. We found ourselves in trouble with tornado warnings on several occasions, blew a tire on the trailer going through Nebraska (yes, the very tire the previous owner had not replaced!), lost the cover to the front Fantastic Fan, and along the way found a great campground in Iowa to rest for a night, take a swim, and watch a beautiful sunset.
We were now seasoned Airstream owners and life is good!