MARYSVALE -- If you are going to motor headlong into the RV life, taking everything from bed to bathroom on the open road, then you better be prepared for the ``black water" dump.
The first time I knelt by the sewage pipe of our rented motor home, it was a mellow May morning. The profile of Big Rock Candy Mountain loomed over my shoulder. Two burly men, one a campground host, chatted nearby.
They must have figured there would be some action when they saw our 25-foot motor home: It was covered in scenic photos and boasted a website and telephone number: ``1-800-RV4RENT."
I nodded lamely toward the men and pulled on my yellow dish washing gloves, feeling not unlike a city slicker about to be thrown from a horse.
Dumping toilet waste can be a tidy process. You attach one end of a ribbed hose to the RV drain pipe. You put the other into a sewer drain in the ground. I did that, and then pulled the release lever.
Talk about unbridling a bronco. The hose whipped and lunged and the open end bucked out of the sewer pipe. Black water, which it must be said is not all water, flew into the air. I wrestled the hose back into the ground sewer, another newcomer baptized.
Not that the RV faithful need any more converts. That seemingly ideal balance between movement and comfort -- leaving home, but not all of it -- has been popular for decades; lately, with aging baby boomers with time and money on their hands, it has become something of a craze. Stopping in luxury RV parks and ``boondock" spots in the rough of public lands, an estimated 30 million Americans travel each year in some sort of recreational vehicle.
Get behind the wheel of an RV, particularly in a scenic destination like southern Utah, and it seems they are everywhere: ``fifth-wheelers" towed by pickups, camper-vans, luxury coaches , and the ubiquitous Class C motor home, which I rented with my family for a week in May.
The Class C is set upon a truck chassis. A bunk bed protrudes above the driver's cab. Everything else, from table to toilet to kitchen sink, goes behind. As one web site describes it, the Class C is like ``a van with a large box in the back."
RV rental prices can vary depending on model, rental location, and time of year . Ours came to roughly $150 a day, including kitchen equipment, linens, and towels.
Gas, at $3 a gallon, can spike expenses: Our RV averaged about 12 miles per gallon.
The freedom of this limbo life -- always sleeping with wheels beneath your bed and rolling with your bed nearby -- does bring an unexpected challenge: When to stop? When to move on?
Consider this: You've cleaned up the dump mess and gotten the RV all ready to go. The cereal is put away. The kids are strapped in. The motor is running. Then a young Mormon father walks across the campground and invites your family to join his cowboy-hat - wearing kids for breakfast . Um, roll on.
That's what we did, because Bryce Canyon was only 80 miles away and the day, like those kids in cowboy hats, was young.
Or this: Another morning you wake to find that new neighbors, who just the evening before had shared roasted marshmallows over a campfire, had already headed out for a morning hike. Wait for them to return? Nope. We stuck a baggie of left over marshmallows in the handle of their trailer door, an unspoken good bye, and rolled on again, eager to score an overnight site at Kodachrome Basin State Park .
Or, a few evenings later: You think you can make it 100 miles to a valley of red-rock hoodoos, then realize that light is fading and campgrounds are few on the road between. You pull up short, like we did, in Capitol Reef National Park, and spend the night.
Instead of those hoodoos, you wander beneath the branches of fruit trees in Capitol Reef and meet the campground host, Arlene Spear . She is as nice as a person can be, all smile and eager eyes, and she sits in a chair on the makeshift patio outside her 36-foot motor coach. She is at home, which turns out to be surprising, because only six months earlier she didn't even own a motor coach, or expect that she would leave her farm in Oklahoma to live in one.
``I'm a middle - class girl from Chicago," said Spear, 63. ``Who ever thought I'd live on a farm, let alone a house on wheels ?"
But in January, she and her husband, Ed, went to visit relatives in southern Texas, which is real RV country. They talked with a cousin who has been RVing for years, then saw a too-good-to-pass-up deal for a used Holiday Rambler motor home while driving back north to Oklahoma on Highway 35. Three months later, they settled into Capitol Reef.
Across the campground, you meet a true veteran of the RV scene: Richard Berg , of Draper, Utah, is washing the windshield of his Monaco La Palma motor coach with a mop. Berg, retired after a career in construction, started out with a 15-foot trailer when his four kids were young; then came a 24-foot trailer, and a 27-foot trailer. Eight years ago, he bought his first motor coach, a home in a bus, essentially. That was only 32 feet long, and had no slide-outs, which allow more living space when the coach is parked. Then he bought a 36-foot coach, with one slide-out. After a year, he traded that for another edition, with two slide-outs. He and his wife, Nancy, have driven to Nova Scotia and back, down to Florida, too. They came down to Capitol Reef for the weekend.
``People will think we're crazy, getting only 7 miles per gallon," Berg said. ``Why not stay in a hotel? We've got a refrigerator, ice maker, you name it. The only thing it doesn't have is a hot tub."
Berg talks of the TV, DVD player, and surround-sound audio system, and adds a qualifier.
``We RV," he said . ``We don't camp."
Berg's distinction raised a question: Why is everybody out here, anyway?
Take the Mormon father, down to Big Rock Candy Mountain from Provo, only 100 miles north or so. He was joined by brothers, sisters, and cousins in a wagon train of four trailers. They brought along motor bikes for off-road riding during the day, and an outdoor stove and a big shaker of spice for cooking at night.
The marshmallow-roasting family in Bryce Canyon was of the ``see-it-all" variety: a family of five on the road for four months from Montreal. The youngest was Annie, only 4 months old. She had already been to Miami, Dallas, Monument Valley, and Canyon de Chelly on this inaugural road trip.
Spear described it as wanting to be around a lot of interesting people who like change.
``People who do this kind of thing, whether for a month, or from another country, they're different," Spear said. She talked about a guy in a camper who stayed a few sites down for weeks, playing Irish melodies on his flute. And another: ``This guy we met yesterday, he was a dog whisperer."
Still, each RVer is ultimately on his own journey. Why?
For that, stop by Slickrock Campground on the edge of Moab and climb into the glorious 40-foot Monaco with the 400- horsepower Cummings engine, home away from home to Ron and Susan Whitson .
The Whitsons are spending a few days on their way west from Colorado. Ron offers a tour of the premises -- a kitchen with cherry cabinets and a bedroom suite with his and hers sinks -- and Susan hands over a cold can of Bud Light. There are potatoes boiling on the stovetop.
``We've got a gorgeous home in Peoria, Arizona, and we get home and after two weeks we decide it ' s time to get back on the road," Susan said. ``You have people drive by flipping the bird because you're not conserving gasoline. What they don't realize is we spent 45 years working our butts off to do something, and this is what we decided to do."
Ron talked about how they didn't travel much until he brought in a partner to run his construction business. So he keeps in touch by cell phone and e - mail as they roll around the West. They will continue to Bryce Canyon ( four days), St. George ( four days) , and Las Vegas ( four days), then on to see family in California and back to Arizona. Ron, who is 64, figures he can drive the Monaco safely for at least five more years.
``They'll tell you," Ron said, ``that RVers are all the same, just looking to spend the last years of this life having fun."
True enough. But they still have to dump the black water. Not us, though. By the end of our week in the RV world, the toilet had clogged.
Contact Tom Haines at email@example.com.