Maude's legacy lives on and was secretly, more fun
Worrying that they will soon be locking we old people in our houses — no Christmas, no Thanksgiving — until the pandemic is past, or we are dead, or there is vaccine, I am stretching camping season.
I spent last week, in what Julie disdainfully calls "my tin box," celebrating fall in the Columbia River Gorge.
So long as I have a furnace and propane to run it and it doesn't snow, camping season is extended. I was feeling pretty chipper when I pulled into the Deschutes River State Recreation Area at the confluence of the Deschutes and the Columbia. I give you this detail because there are other Deschutes campgrounds and if you make a reservation at the wrong Deschutes park, you will have a very long drive or end up boondocking in a gravel pit.
I found my reserved spot, but realized there was no forgiving slant to the site, it was a right angle back-in between two big trees, with little room to maneuver and two guys sitting opposite expecting a show.
That's fair. Watching people back in at an RV park is half the fun of camping. I cranked Rhoda into as much of an angle as I could achieve and then slowly backed her in checking one mirror or the other. Perfect the first time. The old guys were stoic. Not even a round of applause.
But when I climbed out, a woman came up and said, "Is your name Sharon?" I was camped in a nest of Gresham Outlook readers.
Their first question is always about Maude. Maude the Ancient Motor Home was the first rig Jean and I drove. We labored many thousands of miles, cosseting her big engine, her fussy carburetor and her tendency to break down in the most scenic of spots. We always knew what day we were going to leave on a trip, but we never knew when we would get back.
Maude was an 1978 American Clipper with an engine that extended to a doghouse in the cab and ran so hot it cooked your thighs. Jean and I drove it because we didn't know any better and it was all we had. We made friends with countless mechanics, tire guys and tow truck drivers along the way.
Years ago, we gave up Maude and I bought Rhoda which is decades newer and essentially a Ford box truck about the size of an ambulance. Instead of a red stripe and emergency lights, she has a pink flamingo on the back. She is comfy and warm and other than having a tendency to suck her batteries dry, pretty reliable.
People ask me what year Rhoda is and I make up a date because I don't remember numbers. (I keep a picture on my phone of my license plate number for checking into parks.)
Not long ago I made reservations at a snazzy park on the Columbia River in Washington and they wanted to know the year of my vehicle, a signal that they are weeding out undesirables like Maude.
I gave them a date that was likely within a decade of being correct and they gave me no problems. I won't go back, though. Nice enough, but lit like Folsom Prison at night. I don't go camping to sleep under search lights.
Every once in a while in Maude days, people would decline our presence because of her age — her orange and brown color scheme being a dead giveaway. Other parks regarded her as a classic and the guys clustered around, looked under the hood and gave us free drinks.
And one truly elegant place at the coast accepted Maude with a flat tire, a leak in the roof that called for the temporary application of a blue tarp and a flock of mice requiring us to gut and sanitize the interior.
People ask which rig was the most fun — the gleaming white one, or the orange and brown one. We all know the answer.
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