The Oregon Trail-Camper series pt II

When I was around ten, my mom bought our family a tiny Apple IIe computer. It was an odd beige-ish olive color and it was shaped like a cinder block. I looked on Wikipedia and it said that the IIe cost $1,995, which is equivalent to $5,121 in today money. That little computer was super dope. It had a joystick and a printer and we played games on it and I’m sure my mom used it for something too. Maybe she wrote letters and printed them out with the little dot printer and the paper with tiny holes all along the side.

A vintage Apple IIe from EBay

The games we had were all on floppy disks. We had Pac Man, Q-Bert, some money game where snakes try to bite you, Castle Wolfenstein, Lemonade Stand, and Oregon Trail. I preferred the games that required planning things, because I was never very good at chasing games like Pac Man. I got stressed out and started smashing every button as fast as I could and I then I died. 

Oregon Trail was my favorite. Castle Wolfenstien was fun too, but when the SS troopers marched into the castle rooms where I was looting for keys and secret war plans they screamed at me in German and tried to shoot me and I always pooped in my pants and started stabbing the keys like I had woodpeckers for hands trying (unsuccessfully) to escape. Oregon Trail was different. You had to use your wits and your frontier skills to survive. I loved buying all the stuff for the journey-twenty pound sacks of sugar, bullets, flour, coffee. You could decide to be a banker and have more money but not be able to fix a wagon wheel or you could be a carpenter and have less money but DIY it all over the place. I liked to be a carpenter.

I’d start off in Independence, MO and make my way along the trail day by day, shooting green pixelated squirrels (I didn’t like to shoot the bears because it was such a waste of life for only 100 pounds of meat) and watching my family drown or die of typhoid. It was always such a thrill to arrive in a new town along the trail-Chimney Rock, Fort Laramie, Snake River, and the Dalles. At the end, which I rarely made it to, you had to decide whether you wanted to float the Columbia River where you might capsize and die a terrible death, or try your luck on Barlow Road, hoping that you wouldn’t get snake bit. 

I think it’s just a coincidence that when I set off to start my life away from Michigan, I chose to start it in Oregon. But I do remember looking at the paper map (no smart phones back then) and deciding which route to take into Eugene. I felt the old Apple IIe thrill as I chose to come down through the Columbia River Gorge. I did not get any snake bites, but a bee did fly through the truck window on I-5 and stung me on my forehead. I had to take a Benadryl and by the time I got to Eugene I was very groggy. I guess they didn’t have Benadryl on the Oregon Trail. 

It was here in Eugene where I met my life partner Marika and she loved traveling the state of Oregon. Honestly when we first got together, I preferred sitting in front of a computer pretending to travel Oregon over actually traveling Oregon. There are real snakes and bears and cliffs to fall off of out there. When you’re doing it on the computer you don’t really have to worry about that. If you die, you can just go make a sandwich and watch Little House on the Prairie. It took me a while to really get into the true adventure in real time. One thing that really got me excited about heading out into the wild was Campy.

About fifteen years ago, Marika found a little camper on Craigslist. It was a 1978 Toyota EZ Rider. It had two beds, a working stove, and it’s own little potty all in a quaint 17 foot floor plan. The man wanted $2,500 for it, which seemed reasonable, so we drove out to Jasper Mountain to take a look at the tiny rig. 

Do you remember those miniature toys that were made to look like mouse sized Campbell’s soup cans and Saltine cracker boxes and tins of anchovies? They were just tiny bits of plastic, but shrunken down things are just so mesmerizing. I found a tiny cream of mushroom soup can once and kept it in my pocket for weeks because I loved it so much. 

That’s how this camper was. It had all the things a big RV camper has (minus a LOT of storage space and an exhaust system that works properly. Oh and a radio. And air conditioning. And a working refrigerator. Everything else, yes) but it’s all shrunken down into this tiny little rendering, just like the cream of mushroom soup can. 

We fell in love immediately and so failed to notice the fact that the ceiling was sort of falling down in one corner. And the tires were so old they were bulging in the center. And that the engine sounded like a World War II airplane that’s been shot multiple times. The man told us, unsolicited I’ll add, that the camper didn’t have a leak anywhere in it. “It’s totally water tight!” he told us, eyes bulging. “I’d take it to the coast in a rainstorm tomorrow! I really would!” His aggressive insistence should have jangled the red flag producing section of my brain, but alas, the camper was all so shrunken and cute, my brain had completely melted. And so Marika haggled him down to $2,250 and we left with a rickety old miniature RV with a sagging roof and tires that were probably installed by Jesus or maybe one of his disciples. 

Once we got her into town, we took her to a camper repairman. He brought out a ladder and looked at the roof and just shook his head. “See here?” he pointed, even though I was still on the ground. “These are holes in the roof. Whoever sealed it before used the wrong materials. It’s all gotta come off. And it’s going to be rotten inside there. And every seam is bad. The whole thing needs to be redone. It’s going to leak like a sieve.” Unperturbed, we bought a million cans of sealant and drove on to the tire store. The man there acted like it was a miracle we’d arrived without exploding. “I’ve never seen such old tires on a working vehicle!!” he told us. “No wonder it felt like driving a boat, floating all over the road!” we said, laughing like people who have no idea what they are doing. We bought her six used tires and drove her home. I got on top and scraped and scraped and scraped for three days. Then I sealed everything up tight for another three days. And then she was perfect. And she was named Campy. 

Campy at a rest stop near Fossil

On our maiden voyage, we (Marika, Maya, my St. Bernard Bridget, our chihuahua Ziggy, and me) went to the Oregon coast. Bridget wanted shotgun the whole time, even if someone was already up there, so I had to sit in back with her behind a board. She slobbered like a slimy shoestring factory the whole way there, shaking her head and slapping me in the face with oozing tentacles. We got near Yachats, found a nook to park, and set up shop. We played on the beach, we made spaghetti on the propane stove and we settled in once the sun went down. We noticed that another rig had pulled into our nook while we were on the beach. It was a big, shiny one. We laughed at the difference between our janky old Campy and that sleek land yacht. 

Maya in Campy on our maiden voyage to the coast.
This has nothing to do with campers, it’s just adorable af.

About that time it started raining. I felt like I’d done a fairly good job at sealing the thing, but water started pouring in from a window seam, right over our bed. We couldn’t get it to stop and we couldn’t catch the water before it soaked into our mattress. I wondered out loud if the people in the big rig might have a little something for leaks. I decided to go ask them. 

I ran across the nook through the pouring rain and knocked on their door. A woman, looking slightly confused and slightly more concerned, opened the door and looked down at me, drenched in rain. Kenny G was playing softly behind her and a warm golden cloud scented of freshly buttered popcorn wafted down the stairs into the dark, cold night. “Hi there! I’m in the rig next door and it’s our first night out and we have a leak and rain is coming in and I wondered if you might have something we could use to plug it up?” I asked, all in one nattery breath. She looked totally puzzled. “A leak?” she asked, as if she’d never heard of such a thing in her life. She turned back into her mansion and called to her husband. “Honey, do we have anything that might fix a rain leak?” I heard some rummaging and a bodyless hand thrust something to her. “This is all we’ve got. Tell her she can keep it,” said Honey. She gave me a radiant smile, handed me a tube of Shoe Goo, and slammed the door. So here I am to tell you that Shoe Goo will seal an RV window leak in the rain, just in case you ever need to know.

Marika at Lake Abert

Over the past fifteen years we’ve taken Campy to many beautiful and strange and dangerous places. I’m in charge of planning the meals and buying the dry goods we bring, a fitting job for someone trained up in Oregon Trail. And I’ve learned to love the bliss that comes with waking up under a giant monolithic stone column in the middle of the desert. Or eating spaghetti with the setting sun reflecting off of Painted Hills. Or sitting in a folding chair in the pitch black, coyotes barking closer than I’d like, watching an asteroid shower on the land where the Rajneeshees danced hysterically and planned to poison hundreds of people with Salmonella enterica.

We’ve nearly died in Campy more times than I can count on one hand. But that’s a story for the next installment of this camper series.

Wee bitty Campy on Steens Mountain
Campy at on off-road campsite in Eastern Oregon.

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