The call of the open road. Our big beautiful country has over 164,000 miles of highways in the National Highway System, and over 4 million miles of public roads. Beaches, canyons, forests, mountains, valleys, deserts, glaciers, plains, rivers, lakes – the United States holds all that scenic beauty and more. It’s all waiting for you and getting to it is as easy as hopping in your vehicle and driving. Deciding where to go, making plans, and driving to wherever you want on vacation is a national pastime for us Americans. The vast majority of our traveling in this country, 86%, is done on the highway.
And for all that driving, the bigger the vehicle, the better your comfort. If you’re going to spend hours and hours driving to get to someplace special, it helps if those hours are in a space that doesn’t have you arrive feeling like you just spent – with apologies to Pete Townshend -- 11 hours in a tin can. There's got to be another way, right?
For the average American, the height of full-size travel and comfort comes in the form of that wonderful, glorious, dream-inducing mode of transport called the recreational vehicle – RV for short. Many are those who have envisioned themselves cruising the byways of this country inside an RV that includes a kitchen, dining area, bathroom, bedroom and multiple entertainment options. Where the need for a frantic search for a highway exit with a clean restroom never occurs because there’s one right inside your vehicle.
Technically the term RV includes trailers that you pull behind your vehicle, otherwise known by names such as fifth wheels, travel trailers and pop-ups. However, the vehicles I’m talking about above are referred to as motorhomes – Class C, Class B and the tailgating favorite Class A – each a completely self-contained and drivable home on wheels. The Class A is the classic style most people think of when you use the term RV. Most are built from the ground up on a truck chassis. The highest-end ones are built using commercial bus frames and are often referred to by the more sophisticated sounding name motorcoach. Think a “tour bus” for celebrities or bands.
Almost exactly 11 years ago the call of the open road became so loud in our house that the only way to quiet it was to purchase an RV. So we did: a 36’ Class A with a queen bedroom in the rear and two bunkbeds for the kids near the middle, opposite the bathroom. It has three “slides” – portions of the RV that will slide-out on the sides to make the interior larger when you are parked. For comparison, a 36’ RV with three slides creates an interior space that is larger than some New York City apartments!
At the time we bought our RV both our daughter and son were homeschooled and my work allowed for flexible scheduling. We envisioned long family trips touring all over the country, especially during off-seasons and the school year when other families would not be able to travel. In addition, living in Happy Valley, the tailgating capital of the U.S., we knew we would always make good use of it eight times a year for home Penn State football games and the Blue/White game.
Over the years we had a number of great trips and good times in “Hurricane,” the model name that is painted on the front and back of the RV and easily became our family nickname for it.
One of our favorite trips was doing a clockwise tour through the upstate New York Finger Lakes region where we spent our last nights in the Ithaca area. Robert H. Treman State Park is just southwest of Ithaca and the park surrounds a gorge with scenic waterfalls, 9 miles of hiking trails and a swimming hole. This park was only open during specific hours and we woke up early in the morning to hike the gorge trails before the park opened up to other visitors. Standing at the 115-foot high Lucifer Falls in the early morning with not another human around is something everyone should experience.
One camping tip we learned early on is that state parks – especially those in Pennsylvania and upstate New York – are not only good deals but provide a better wilderness camping experience than many of the for-profit campgrounds we used. Although some local state parks – looking at you Poe Valley – are “off the beaten path” enough that your RV will need a good bath when you return from all the dirt-road wilderness travel.
Then there were the tailgates at Penn State home football games where access to heat and dry space are such huge bonuses on those days when the weather doesn’t cooperate that you wonder why everyone doesn’t have one. Not to mention a clean restroom that flushes. Plus you find out which visiting schools take their tailgating seriously when you decide to go in an RV. The sea of RVs spreading out from Beaver Stadium is something that is so common to Penn State football fans, yet is quite uncommon at many other schools. When we called the University of Virginia to ask where they had their RV parking, the response was, “What RV parking?”
But as with all good things, eventually they come to an end. Our daughter and son grew older. He chose to go to public school, and both went on new adventures, meaning our ability to travel as a family became less and less. As high school soccer games conflicted with Penn State games, and then college football games conflicted with and will continue to conflict with Penn State games, even tailgating became difficult. So, during these pandemic times we considered our options and with a heavy heart decided to sell our RV. Luckily a fellow Penn Stater found our listing and Hurricane will continue to attend Penn State football games in the future, as well as get back in the swing of camping.
The one thing about the call of the open road though is that you can quiet it down for a bit but eventually it comes back in some form. I wouldn’t be surprised to see us pulling a travel trailer behind our Honda Pilot sometime in the future. In the meantime, we’ll remember our RV travels fondly. The good memories are the best currency for life.