Over the many years I have spent in the RV industry, one thing has become apparent – and that is that the family or couple who camps together stays together. Many customers we have had have been married or together for decades. The longest that I am aware of is in the 65 year range. Amazing and heartwarming.
We were recently at the wedding of one of our camping club members’ daughter with a few other club members. There is a dance that they have now where all the married couples get on the dance floor and then get called out by how many years they have been married. My husband and I managed to make it to the over 30 year callout, and gladly sat down. Others in our group stayed out quite a while, and when one of them was declared the “winner” with the longest marriage, everyone cheered. Once we were all seated back at the table, talk started and one of them came up to me later with a huge smile on his face. He exclaimed that he added it all up, and at our table of campers, there were a combined number of 278 married years! Then he chuckled and said that camping must have been the secret all along.
Camping tends to imitate life. You experience the dramas, the traumas and the joys of camping. Rainy weekends are no problem for the camping family. Inevitably, they will pull out a good movie, a great board game, or just enjoy each other’s company.
In the movie The Lion King, the song Circle of Life reminds me of the camping lives of our customers. When they first get married, they are usually young and just starting out, and their first experience is usually a tent. This is a true test for many couples. If you can survive the tent phase of your lives, you can make it through almost anything. Cooking over an open fire, sleeping on the ground, folding the tent up wet or having it blow away in a storm are all rites of passage for these young couples. While it seems like a disaster at the time, years later, it becomes part of the lore of that couple. These memories are the ones that will come back usually with a smile when they see another young couple experiencing troubles that they have already conquered.
After a while, the romance of sleeping in a tent on the ground tends to get a little old, and the couple begins to look into their next phase of camping life – the fold down, or if they are lucky enough, the hybrid trailer. At this point, they still like the open air feeling, and may have started their family and have a baby or toddler to take care of. This is the point where you want to keep the baby dry as well as all the gear. New adventures wait. Longer trips, more frequent jaunts into the wilds, and vacations that will go down in the memory book for eventual scrapbooking. At this phase, they learn about the appliances in a camper, the plumbing in a camper, how to keep the camper cool (or warm) and the fine art of packing gear in a limited space. They learn that they don’t need nearly as much equipment as they did in the tent, and that they are really pretty resourceful. In a fold down, they find out that they can have hot water anytime just by plugging in a coffee pot or urn and using that water to wash dishes. They also figure out that the baby won’t die from accidentally swallowing a bug. They learn to relax into not only camping but also parenthood, and the relationship once again deepens. They meet like minded couples and compare notes, and find out that there is a whole community of families who camp.
Later in the marriage, there may be more children, and the body doesn’t move like it used to. Having a bathroom is now a necessity – not only for the kids, but for Mom (and Dad) as well. After camping all this time, they have seen other people’s campers and the amenities that they enjoy. They see floorplans designed for families, and the ease of setup with the travel trailers and fifth wheels. Now the fun really begins. The hunt for the next phase begins. Now however, the kids start adding their voice to the choice process. This can be a great help, but can quickly turn into chaos when one demands the top bunk or if another claims the gaming chairs. Negotiating with 8 and 10 year old kids is a fine art, and it is always fun to watch and listen to families and how they handle the decision making. Budgets come into play as do the tow vehicle and practicality. This phase of their camping life is to enjoy having the kids, letting them run around the campground without (much) worry. Fishing and bike riding, crafting and just hanging out.
As a side note, the kids who camp are some of the better adjusted kids I have met. They don’t have airs, aren’t demanding (for the most part), and can roll with the punches. These are really grounded and down to earth kids. They understand that sitting next to their dad on the banks of the lake in silence will trump playing computer games any day. The best part with these kids is that they never forget those times camping with the family, and when they get to their adulthood, they will prioritize getting a camper more than any other group. My 2nd (and a couple of 3rd ) generation campers are more educated about camping and don’t come in with unrealistic expectations for the most part. Their aim is to provide the wholesome life for their kids by camping and spending quality time together. It makes me feel like I made a small contribution to their lives (but it mostly makes me feel old).
The next step in the circle of life in camping is when the kids grow up, get involved with sports or activities, have summer jobs and/or boyfriends/girlfriends. The parents find themselves camping alone more often than not, and find that the huge bunkhouse that used to be a necessity is now a hindrance. The interior of the camper has more space dedicated to sleeping spots than it does to the kitchen or living area. The search begins once again. These couples are now looking for the finer things in life, and their needs are much different than they were. Theater seating, solid surface countertops, residential refrigerator, closet space, large shower, the list goes on and on. Many of these features are able to be found in a pre-owned unit, but many prefer a new one. This phase is one of the fun ones. This couple is more in tune with their wants and needs, and are looking to the future. Comfort is the biggest priority. I always love it when I show a couple a camper that is just right in this phase of their camping life, and the smiles just take over. Suddenly it is their time. They realize that life is really good.
A few years later, the kids move onto their own lives, graduating college (hopefully), getting jobs, and starting their own “circle”. The couple starts looking towards retirement. They turn a critical eye toward their mid-life camper, and see areas that they think are lacking – the washer/dryer, the new technology, the layout. Bunks for the grandkids? Toyhauler for the mid life motorcycle? Their dream of going south for the winter starts taking control. Here, they come to the crossroads of whether to stay with a fifth wheel, or go into a motorhome. Once the choice is made, they happily take off in the fall, head for the southern reaches of the U.S. to bask in the sun while laughing at those of us who aren’t able to escape the freezing temps, the occasional blizzard, and the gloomy days. These are good days for them. They meet new friends, see new places, have new adventures and avoid the snow blowing. With internet contact with their family and the ability to do most of their business online, they are able to spend many months there.
After many years of the snow bird experience, they start seeing their friends pass away, and attend more funerals than weddings. This is a sobering phase of life for the couple, and their priorities change once again. Physically, it is more difficult to handle the big rig, and they realize that all the bells and whistles aren’t as necessary as they used to be. This is what is called the downsize mentality. In making this part of the circle, they begin looking to repeat the simplicity of their younger days. Less is more. The tow vehicle gets smaller, and so does the camper. This is still a good time for them. Adventures are still waiting, roads still need to be travelled. More and more we have customers in their 70’s and 80’s who still get out nearly every week, and reminisce about the past while having that “away time” that so many crave. Now they can go out in the middle of the week and enjoy the solitude of a nearly empty campground, pick the best fishing spot, and just relax together.
Sadly, the last part of the circle begins. One of the spouses is debilitated by illness or passes away. The remaining partner still wants to go out, but the memories are overwhelming, and the new responsibilities are many. At this time, they need to spend a lot of time deciding whether to go on or not. For those widows and widowers, it is sometimes too much to bear to use their camper anymore, and they end putting it on the market. Whether for financial purposes or heartbreak, this is a very hard period to watch them go through.
With time and good health, the remaining partner finds themselves wanting to go out once again. They choose a camper that is easy for them to handle on their own. For widows, it many times is a small travel trailer or motorhome. For the widowers, the truck campers come into play so that they can take it fishing anywhere they want to go. When they visit the dealership, we talk about the memories and find out where the path next leads them. These hardy souls have the strength of a life well lived and intend to live it out the best way they know how – by camping.
The Circle of Camping Life goes on into the next generation and the adventure continues.
Postscript: Camping club marriages
I decided to poll the camping club affectionately known as the Lazy J Covey, and received a partial list of members and their length of marriage. Following is the roster:
There are still members who haven’t sent in their lengths of marriage, but you can see so much stability and love in just this small sampling with a current combined total of 572 years of wedded bliss. This is an average of 33.65 years per couple.
Attention all club members! Bill brought to my attention that our table at the wedding had a combined 278 years of marriage! I want to find out if we can tally up by couple how many years the club has combined. You inspired me to write a blog on this subject, and that is the last part of the information I want to add. Thanks!
Ishii Dave & I will be married for 40 years on 11/5.
Boomgaarden Irene and I will celebrate our 43rd on November 30.
Kleymann Doug and I are the newbies at just 12 years as of last September. House shopping just might mean we won’t hit 13
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This article was originally posted here.