This morning, I put on my big kid pants, and I didn't raise a fuss when we had to head home from our last camping trip of the season. Despite the many restrictions brought about by COVID-19 this year, Alan and I were still able to enjoy almost six weeks' worth of delightful days in the great outdoors, camping comfortably and safely in a number of carefully operated State Parks. Nature never fails to deliver a one-two punch of peace and pleasure that settles me down and soothes my soul no matter what's going on in the world around me. I hope all of you have found people, places and/or activities that soothe your soul, too, building resiliency and providing strength for whatever hardships lay ahead.
This is the story of The Little Rally That Could – and Did. It’s the tale of a small group of health-minded, safety-conscious individuals - loyal RV owners and dedicated campers – who braved a pandemic, in the safest ways possible, and came out winners. Alan and I hosted the 2020 Outdoors RV East Coast Owners Rally, an event that we weren’t even sure would be held right up until the very last minute. Before you envision a mob of hundreds gathering in close quarters for a myriad of seminars and activities (which would, understandably, send contact tracers into a full-blown panic), let me set you straight. Alan and I tend to be conservative with our health risks anyway, and the coronavirus had our safety antenna on full alert. The Rally brought together ORV owners from five different states in the east, but total attendance came in at under twenty – and that includes our two kids and our son’s girlfriend who were on a family camping trip with us. I have to admit, though, that the six months prior to the Rally seemed like one long, never-ending, heart-pounding roller coaster ride. Here’s the story . . .
Outdoors RV Manufacturing (ORV) is a small company in eastern Oregon that builds travel trailers and fifth wheels for camping enthusiasts who enjoy the great outdoors. ORV customers can often be found off the beaten path without the benefit of full hookups or even civilization. Whether because of its size or in spite of it, ORV provides an enormous amount of support to its customers in reference to both sales and service. During non-COVID times, factory tours are offered, allowing visitors a true behind the scenes experience specifically geared toward the interests of the tour group, and a number of owners rely on information, advice and actual service from the service department at the factory to maintain their rigs.
Because the bulk of the company’s customers are in the Pacific Northwest and western Canada, and the incoming production orders are solid and steady, ORV has not felt the need to expand its presence to the eastern half of the country. In fact, the last time I checked, the easternmost dealer was in Arkansas. Understandably, this means that there are fewer owners of ORV products here in the eastern United States and eastern Canada than there are out west. Some east coast owners were fortunate enough to find a pre-owned rig for sale online or in the classifieds, but many of us either traveled out west to buy our campers or brokered a deal over the phone and paid a transporter to bring the rig home. East coast owners may be small in number, but we’re no less enthusiastic about our trailers or any less loyal to the brand than our west coast counterparts.
About six years ago, Outdoors RV began holding an annual Summer Campout at the Park at the River, a private RV park in the Wallowa Mountains of eastern Oregon not too far from the ORV factory in La Grande. The event, which takes place over a weekend in June every year, starts off with a Meet & Greet on Friday evening so the attendees can meet new friends, re-connect with old ones and mingle with the ORV staff members. Actually, this small company holds its own miniature RV show, bringing in a number of new models for attendees to tour (drool over and lust after, too), presenting an RV-related talk on a topic such as RV maintenance and sponsoring lunch on Saturday for everyone who attends. My understanding is that reservations are accepted at the Park at the River a year in advance, and the sites sell out in record time every year. That, alone, speaks volumes. Overflow attendees often stay nearby at Wallowa Lake State Park, a real gem if ever I saw one and, so, not a bad second choice at all. While the annual ORV Campout definitely sounds like a good time just waiting to be had, the cross-country travel required for east coast owners to attend means that, although we’re all welcome, not many are able to participate.
In 2018, one couple here in the east who owned an ORV travel trailer took matters into their own hands and organized the inaugural Outdoors RV East Coast Owners Rally at a State Park campground in Pennsylvania. Had Alan and I not been in the midst of a major construction project at our rental property, we would definitely have attended – and we’re still sorry we missed it. Last fall, despite an eleventh-hour mechanical problem with our tow vehicle, we did attend the 2019 Rally which was organized by another couple with an ORV travel trailer and held at a private RV park in New Hampshire. We felt so comfortable with this group of ORV owners, and had such a good time over the course of that weekend, that Alan and I offered to host the 2020 East Coast Owners Rally. Yeah, imagine that – two introverts hosting a Rally. It boggles the mind, doesn’t it? Both of our kids looked at us like we went off the deep end, shook their heads and laughed (but they showed up, nonetheless).
Based on what we had learned about our fellow ORV owners’ camping preferences during our fireside conversations last fall, Alan and I had a feeling that this group would enjoy one of our family’s favorite campgrounds – Northampton Beach on the shores of Great Lake Sacandaga in central New York. So, when we closed out our 2019 camping season at Northampton Beach last fall, Alan and I spent a bit of time scouting around for a site that would provide a good home base for our 2020 Rally. Unfortunately, the site we thought would be the best (due to its size, its commanding view of the water and the availability of excellent sites around it for attendees to choose) is one of the campground’s most popular. As it turned out, the extra-large, circular area around the fire pit would prove to be a huge benefit that allowed our group to maintain proper social distancing while chatting around the campfire. Who would have thought?!
There are plenty of big, beautiful campsites at Northampton Beach. If we weren’t able to book our #1 choice, we had several others in our back pocket, but we were really hoping to go with Plan A. Fortunately, thanks to Alan’s quick work on the ReserveAmerica website one morning in November of last year, we snagged our first choice and subsequently announced that the 2020 East Coast Rally would be held the weekend of August 14th, 15th and 16th on the shores of Great Lake Sacandaga. Happily, a solid response followed, and, as we closed out 2019, Alan and I were looking forward to the third annual Outdoors RV East Coast Owners Rally.
Of course, none of us envisioned a world-wide pandemic, and the dangerous and widespread demon that COVID-19 would become. None of us thought interstate travel would be impacted or that we’d be monitoring New York’s list of restricted states on a daily basis, hoping and praying that none of the ORV owners who planned to attend would be affected. As it so happened, we did lose three couples to COVID-related cancellations, but the remaining seven reservations, including ours, held firm. Plus, one ORV couple, who had originally booked two sites until they could decide which they preferred, passed along their extra site to non-ORV-owning friends via some fancy finger work on ReserveAmerica. So, we actually ended up with eight sites booked.
Critical to the success of the event was adherence by all of the attendees to the New York State and Northampton Beach Campground COVID-related restrictions such as wearing masks in the restroom and shower buildings and maintaining a proper social distance from others. Despite the fact that potluck meals and cozy group photos fell by the wayside, I sincerely believe that a good time was had by all. With so many of us having travel plans canceled (either voluntarily or involuntarily) under the black cloud of COVID, the chance to get out and get camping was just too good of an opportunity to pass up.
Activities usually associated with camping (especially with a group of outdoor enthusiasts like this one) seem to be relatively safe ones for the trying times in which we find ourselves. The pleasures we often pursue – hiking, biking, kayaking – can easily accommodate social distancing. In fact, one member of our group even enjoyed the lake from her stand-up paddle board! Since all of our travel trailers and fifth wheels are self-contained with kitchens, bathrooms and showers on board, contact with anyone else could, in effect, be reduced to the time spent checking in with a staff member at the gate with face masks firmly in place. It’s already common practice among RVers to make use of disposable gloves, antibacterial wipes and/or hand sanitizer when emptying our holding tanks at the campground’s dump station, and Alan and I observed a campground staff member disinfecting the picnic table at a vacated campsite shortly after our arrival. Additionally, hand sanitizer was available for public use at numerous locations throughout the campground. Although Alan and I have been conservative with any coronavirus risk-taking, we truly believed that the Rally itself would be a relatively low risk adventure.
Even though the Rally was officially scheduled for Friday, Saturday and Sunday, ORV owners began arriving early in the week and, by the time Thursday evening rolled around, we were able to kick off the weekend with our own Meet & Greet with everyone present. As former attendees re-connected and new owners were welcomed into the group, plans for the weekend were formed that would allow attendees to participate in group activities, as well as enjoy personal pursuits at and around the lake.
It would have been fun to match the format of the ORV Summer Campout on the west coast but, due to the small size of this informal group, no speakers were scheduled and no seminars were planned. Had we not been under COVID-19 restrictions, I would have contacted the Park Rangers at Northampton Beach with the hope that one of them would be willing to talk with our group about the history of the lake, but that idea went the way of the potluck meals. (Great Sacandaga Lake is actually a reservoir that was created in 1930 in an effort to control flooding on the Hudson and Sacandaga Rivers. The goal was important, but the process was heartbreaking for the many families who lost their homes and livelihoods.) So, unlike the West Coast Summer Campout, no presentations were scheduled and we simply looked forward to a long weekend of camaraderie and low-key festivities. But then, fate intervened, and, just like that, we had ourselves a hands-on WORKSHOP!
One of our couples rolled in on the Thursday of our Rally weekend with an electrical problem in their ORV fifth wheel. As in, they had ice in the fridge to keep things cold, and no lights or running water either. Looking back, I’m thinking that we should have given them an award for “Most Dedicated” just for showing up in that condition. When they described their issue at the Meet & Greet on Thursday evening, several members of the group quickly volunteered to take a look the next morning, and the “workshop” was scheduled for immediately after coffee. (We do have our priorities.) All of the guys involved brought different ideas, experience and/or supplies to the table. By working together, the culprit was identified (I believe it was a 15-amp breaker residing in a place where there should have been a 40-amp breaker), a temporary fix was engineered, and the fifth wheel once again had power! When our friends returned home, the questionable breaker was replaced and, we’re happy to report, all is well.
The formal group activities – if you can call mini-golf and biking “formal” – were a ton of fun. Just outside the campground gate is a small, but deviously designed, 18 hole mini-golf course that overlooks the lake, a marina and the foothills of the Adirondack Mountains. The view is just gorgeous and, for me, quite distracting.
We split up into two teams and, with face masks on and lots of good-natured teasing, we engaged in a fierce and serious competition for the championship. Yeah, no. We all just played for fun and had ourselves an excellent time. There was no trophy involved; the only carrot dangling on a stick was the promise of a trip to the local ice cream stand after we all completed the course.
In case you’re wondering how we managed to maintain social distancing at the ice cream stand, it was easy-peasy. We just brought our camp chairs with us and spread out in a circle on the lawn. COVID-19 might have been responsible for adding another layer of planning and protection, but it certainly didn’t impact our ability to have a good time.
Biking a good stretch of the Fonda, Johnstown & Gloversville (FJ&G) Rail Trail proved to be another enjoyable activity for some of our attendees. Back in the day, the FJ&G railroad line connected these three older cities, and we found ourselves riding past former industrial facilities, city homes and suburban fields.
Most Rail Trails are
fairly level with a limited grade, but this one had us working on a couple of uphill
stretches. Without a doubt, this group
knew the best way to handle fatigue and celebrate a successful ride – the
adventure ended with a stop at another ice cream stand! Yum! (Despite the fact that the photo below is not great due to the camera facing almost directly into the sun, it was such an excellent photo opp I couldn't NOT share it!)
Those of you who are familiar with the camping lifestyle know that spending time around a campfire is a long-standing tradition in the camping community. “Reflections Around the Campfire” is not simply a randomly chosen title for this blog, but a nod to one of camping’s most revered and meaningful traditions.
Campfire talk covers just about any and every topic imaginable, and a lot of bonding takes place when camping enthusiasts who love the outdoors relax and unwind around a fire. Our campfire conversations throughout the Rally highlighted shared passions and favorite travel adventures, provided the opportunity to recount the details of our individual explorations in and around the lake, generated lots of teasing and laughter, deepened friendships and gave birth to new ones. Gathering around a campfire is an age-old, time-honored tradition for good reason – the physical and emotional warmth it provides deepens our sense of contentment and creates long-lasting ties that bind. It reassures us that life is, indeed, good.
Outdoors RV may be a small manufacturing company, but the owners of its products who attend the West Coast Summer Campout and the East Coast Owners Rally love their rigs and the freedom to enjoy the outdoors in the many ways that those rigs allow. Our east coast group may be small, but it’s mighty – mighty glad that we were able to get together, despite a pandemic, to continue our enthusiastic celebration of what has become – and we trust will remain - an annual tradition.
Sadly, one of our attendees wasn't present for our group photo, but we took a lovely pic of her and her husband by the lake the following day. If you’re wondering why
and how Alan and I decided on a travel trailer from Outdoors RV Manufacturing and traveled
all the way across the country to buy one, you’ll find the complete story in an
earlier post entitled “Today is Our First Anniversary!” (link HERE). If you’d like to learn more about Outdoors RV
Manufacturing, link HERE to reach the ORV website. Last, but not least, if you might be interested in visiting Northampton Beach Campground, hop on over to the ReserveAmerica website (link HERE) for more info.