Thursday, August 31, 2006

Camping US Style

Last Thursday we loaded up the 5th and set off downstate for a 4 night camping trip. Now to a Brit, a camping trip would probably conjour up images of "Carry On Camping" type movies from the late 60's and early 70's where the family would cram everything, including the kitchen sink, into their car and head off to some farmer's field to pitch a tent while curious cows look on.

Even today camping in the UK hasn't come far from those days and anyone who invests in a caravan (like a US travel trailer but much more basic) gets shouted and sworn at by those of us stuck behind them on narrow country roads. I think this is partly due to the fact that they are restricted by law on how fast they can go and also by the fact that the advanced age range of those who use caravans is directly related to the speed they travel. Caravans are mostly for older retired couples with time on their hands and who are in no rush to get where they're going.

So basically caravans and camping in general have a bad press in the UK. How different it is here and there are many reasons for this. For a start the summer weather is pretty much guaranteed to be awesome and so planning for a camping trip rarely involves checking for a few days when you won't be needing a brolly and wellies. Then there are the stunning variety of vehicles in which to go camping - the wide roads and multilane highways mean that length is limited only by what you can walk to the end of without needing a golf trolley !

Other factors are the camp sites. State park sites can be fairly basic but the price reflects this. Private sites vary from those with only electric and sewer hookups, rest rooms and not much else to those with full hookups (electric, sewer, cable tv, internet) and with facilities like swimming pools, shower and rest rooms, laundries and so on. Finally there are the camper vehicles themselves. Did I mention tents ? Yes you see people using tents and there will always be a need and wish to have them.

But most campers here have units starting with a simple popup which amazingly, given it's size, still has sleeping for two or four and an oven, hob and sink. Now this COULD be used on UK roads with ease. Then comes a travel trailer which can be any length up to 33 ft or so and depending on the model (many have 'sides' which slide out once the unit is parked up and this allows for even more space inside. A TT can sleep a soccer team and has a shower and toilet, full kitchen and dining room and is closely related to the static seaside trailer we'd rent in the UK.

Next up the line comes a 5th Wheel and I've no idea why they are so called. These are much more suited to long term living and although they actually sleep less numbers than a TT, the lucky occupants can be in home style luxury with reclining armchairs, entertainment areas, full kitchen and dining areas and up a level into the generous bedroom - usually with a 2nd tv in place. These last 2 units have plentiful closets and cabinets for clothing, cooking equipment and of course food. These 3 units are pulled by a vehicle of some sort, usually a truck.

The final unit is the full blown RV or motorhome which we've all seen on tv and used by everyone from rock stars on tour to working actors on location. It's obvious from all this that camping here is not the rough and ready recreation that we're used to at home in the UK. Once you've got set up at the site with your unit of choice, out comes the bbq, the chairs, the bikes, the inflatable cactus and the family pets. Those who spend the winter months in warmer states like California and Florida have set ups that most of us would class as a first home. They erect little picket fences and get out real or artificial shrubbery. Lights get strung up along the awnings and American flags get placed to remind God where to shine his blessings.

Reconditioned golf trolleys are parked outside the trailer door in case the owner needs to go to the pool or call on friends elsewhere in the park for a game of cards. This life can be so enjoyable that many go 'fulltime' by selling their homes and being on the road all year round. These would usually be retired couples who have no home ties and have the health and finances to tour the country during the warmer months and drop anchor whenever and wherever they please and then head for Florida during the winter. Sounds great to me !!

So with all that explained, I can go back to our camping trip last Thursday. We drove over 3 hours downstate and through Detroit to Harbortown RV Resort near Monroe. We backed the 5th onto the concrete bay, set it up and unhitched the truck, connected the power and tv cables, then the water hose and finally the sewer hose - remembering not to get them mixed up ! Nothing worse than chunky water.

Our two main excursions were to be to the Michigan State Fair and a trip to Toledo Zoo but we quickly knocked the fair on the head as we'd passed the location on the way down and it would've been a 90 minute return journey. The camp site was at Jn11 off I-75 which meant it was only 11 miles to the Ohio line and then a few more miles to the zoo which made it a better trip out.

I told part 1 of the Zoo trip in the previous post and will finish it another time......................

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