- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
A weekend getaway doesn’t have to mean leaving the comforts of home behind. A whole pack of Southern Marylanders takes home on the road in recreational vehicles. For RV enthusiasts, just about any trip can become a camping trip.
The only thing square is the dancing.
When Shirley and Wilson Master of Prince Frederick married in the early 1990s, camping was one of many of their common interests — that and dancing.
They recalled their first camping trip together as just a mattress thrown into the bed of a pickup truck. This makeshift camper was their home for a brief visit to Assateague Island near Ocean City. Over the years, the two have had a variety of RVs fancier than the pickup.
There are many types of RVs, including pop-up campers, tow-behind campers and fifth-wheel campers (that kind has a portion that slides over the back of a pickup).
The Masters managed to bring two of their interests together by joining the Wagon Wheelers, a camping group that travels within a 200-mile radius of Waldorf to various campsites where members spend the weekend square and round dancing.
The Wagon Wheelers require that each campsite they visit have a hall the group can dance in. Once there, the group plans activities on and off the campgrounds. They spend the evenings dancing and socializing, then wrap it up with a continental breakfast on Sunday before heading home.
The Wagon Wheelers have about 25 rigs, and Wilson Master said the group provides good friendship and exercise. Shirley Master said they discovered the Wagon Wheelers while they were dancing with a clogging group, also formed in Southern Maryland.
Bob Curran and his fiancee, Hatti Baker, of Waldorf didn’t dance their way into camping. The activity was something Curran was born into.
“My parents got me into it. Ever since I was a little kid, we camped,” he said.
Curran, a retired Smithsonian employee, said his earliest memory is of camping in a tent with his family when he was about 3 years old. The family purchased its first camper when he was a teenager, and RVs have been in the family ever since.
Curran is one of the founding members of the Blue Crab Fun Bunch, a branch of the Good Samaritan RV club. The Fun Bunch is based in Waldorf and has members from all over Southern Maryland.
Curran has a camper that tows behind his truck. He said he chose that type because of cost and maintenance. Because he only goes out about once a month, he said he couldn’t justify buying a motor home that would be parked most days of the year.
Fun Bunch members take camping trips each month from April to October and get together for meetings and dinners in the winter months.
Fun Bunch member Ken Wright of California, Md., said there is no exact science as to what type of RV a person gets and that people get different kinds for different reasons. He and his wife, Linda, have had several varieties of campers and these days have a tow-behind.
Many campers travel with pets. Curran and his wife travel with their two cats. Bo likes camping, Curran said. Ringo hates it. For now.
Curran said that when preparing for a trip, Bo will willingly get in his carrier, but it takes Ringo a bit of convincing once they find him.
Bo gets to the campsite and explores the camper, while Ringo “hides in the bathroom the whole time,” Curran said. He said Ringo is gradually getting better at taking the trips.
No need for a hotel
Fun Bunch member Mary Kinion of Hollywood, Md., said she has a stock answer when people ask why she prefers camping to staying in hotels: “You don’t know who slept in your bed last night. I do.”
Kinion and her husband, Frank, travel in a fifth-wheel camper. The couple lives in the camper for several months at a time. They consider themselves snowbirds, living at a campsite in Florida during the winter months.
Wright said campsites are much like neighborhood communities.
Wright said that 20 years ago, he wouldn’t have thought of himself as a camper. He recalled a trip to Ocean City with a group of people in his Optimist club when one of his friends took him to see a campsite at Frontier Town.
Wright took one look around a communal bathroom and thought his friend must be kidding. Why would he leave the comforts of his hotel with a private bathroom to try this camping thing? But after some thought, Wright said, he and his family rented a camper and caught the bug.
He said that by no means is it less expensive than renting a room at a hotel. For their 32-foot pull-behind rig, which weighs down his truck to the point of getting about 7 miles per gallon, it costs about $200 in gas for a camping trip three hours from home. “You’ve really got to like camping. It’s not about saving money,” he said.
Wilson Master said he spends about $300 in transportation costs for a 400-mile, round-trip weekend getaway.
The high costs of transportation may have the Masters looking to downsize their rig, but for now, they’re happy in their 36-foot tow-behind with a slide-out to make the living area more spacious once parked at a campsite, they said.
Roger Wood of Mechanicsville said that while it isn’t any cheaper to travel with an RV than it is to stay in a hotel, “you are bringing your own home with you.” He said that with an RV, “you are completely self-contained.”
He said RV parks often have more accommodations, too, including play areas, tennis courts and paddle boats, depending on the area. “There are all kinds of things to do,” he said.
Wood is a member of Capitol Chapter of the Family Motor Coach Association. The chapter was founded 45 years ago and has about 75 members. The club travels once a month, beginning in April and ending in December with a Christmas rally. The club travels all over Maryland, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Virginia and Delaware.
“You get to go to a lot of different places you’ve never been before,” Wood said.
He said that when he and his wife, Sally, bought their first RV, they looked for local clubs and stumbled upon the Capitol Chapter. With transportation costs, he said he has noticed that if the destination is far away, some campers are less likely to go.
More than just a place to hang your hat
At the different campsites, Wilson Master said, there are plenty of things to do aside from dancing. He said that there will often be workshops available on various topics, like RV maintenance.
Shirley Master said that sort of thing was geared toward the men in the group. When asked what the women did, Wilson chimed in jokingly, “have tea.”
Shirley Master said there are plenty of activities available for all campers at campsites, but she mainly likes to relax. As the activities director at the Calvert County Nursing Center, she said she tends to lead “a very rushed life.” When camping, “I get rid of stress.”
Linda Wright said she enjoys bringing her crafts to campsites and getting involved in activities. She and her family also enjoy traveling to Halloween-themed campsites in October. Her camper has won decorating contests in the past. She said she likes that camping “brings the family together,” especially around campfires.
When the going gets rough
The first family camping trip for the Wright family was in a small camper. At the time, the RV they selected was a perfect fit because it had a bunk bed for their small children.
But after their son fell off the bed in the middle of the night and split his lip badly enough to warrant an emergency room visit, the idea of the bunk beds didn’t seem all that great anymore.
“That’s camping,” Ken Wright said.
When traveling down the road with a camper in tow, Wright said, the last thing campers like to see is another vehicle pulling beside them and signaling for them to roll the window down.
This is not a good sign because it often means there is a flat tire — or something originally attached to the camper has escaped. He recalled that “three campers ago,” someone pulled next to him to shout out that “your bikes are on the road.”
Linda Wright remembered their first night in a pop-up camper. “At 2 a.m., the bed busted,” she said. In that camper, she said, the bed pulled out and was in front of the sofa, where their dog was sleeping. As the bed was falling, she recalled trying to convince the dog to get out of the way.
She said the bed did not completely fall to the ground, and with a quick trip to a hardware store the next day, the bed was fixed. “You go through these things, but you keep coming back,” Wright said of the RV life.