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The Golden Caravan

Background: Lazy Daze, Inc. of Montclair, CA has been building RVs since 1956—longer than anyone in the business except Airstream. But unlike Airstream, which has been sold and resold, undergone massive changes in both management and philosophy, and suffered from uneven quality, Lazy Daze is still in the hands of the family that founded the company fifty years ago. Ed Newton and his brother Paul (d. 2005) went on to build the world's first class C motorhome in 1966, starting a whole industry segment.

Ed, his son Steve and a small team continue to hand-assemble about two hundred coaches a year, putting four times as many man-hours into each coach as industry giants like Fleetwood do—and earning the independent RV Consumer Group's highest rating in the class-C category.

It was natural that the company's fiftieth year would be cause for celebration, and a "Golden Caravan" was planned for this summer, to which all Lazy Daze owners, old and new, would be invited. This is the story of that event as I experienced it. Sound pompous? OK, how about this: This is about how I went to a big RV rally and had a good time in spite of myself.

Lazy Daze

July 1, 2006—Well, the Caravan is over, and I'm breathing a sigh of relief. It was fun, but stressful.

The truth is, I would never have gone to this event if it weren't for the fact that as moderator of the Yahoo Lazy Daze discussion group, I was expected to show up. I don't do well in big crowds, especially big crowds where everybody knows me. When I was growing up, I remember telling my friends that the worst thing that could ever happen to me would be to become famous and have people recognize me wherever I went. But now, 2,600+ Lazy Daze owners know me, thanks to the Yahoo group and this website... and yes, I do get recognized. It's all my own fault, I know ...

So I was already feeling kind of spooked when our little group of LDs pulled out of Chatfield State Park and headed north to Cheyenne. We had trouble coordinating our mini-caravan... and then when we were almost there, Gertie's belts started squealing again (a chronic problem with old Chevys), and I had to drop out of the group, pull over and spray them with belt dressing.

When I caught up with the others, they were lined up waiting to be weighed by representatives of the RV Safety and Education Foundation (RVSEF), and I joined the queue. I already knew that Gertie was seriously overweight—I have her weighed every few months at truck stops—but RVSEF weighs wheel by wheel, so you get a really precise snapshot of loading and balance. Two years ago I'd had Gertie weighed by RVSEF at an Escapade in Ohio, and she was several hundred pounds underweight and perfectly balanced side to side... but that was before I went full time. The news this time around was bad: although well within the tires' weight ratings, Gertie is 1,000 pounds over her rear axle rating. (That's with water, propane and gas tanks full and holding tanks empty.) So instead of worrying about blowouts, now I get to think about suspension failure. Not good.

Of course I've been trying to shed weight for the past year. I have postal receipts to prove that I've mailed over a hundred pounds of "stuff I can get along without" back to NJ for storage, and I've given away a lot too. It's discouraging to see that I'm still far over what my weight ought to be. But there just aren't another thousand pounds of items I don't need. I'm not carrying a rock collection like Lucille Ball's in "The Long, Long Trailer." About all I can do now is travel with partially full tanks to save a few hundred pounds.

After the weigh-in, we drove over to the Caravan area in Pioneer Park. This is where the scary realization hit me that almost every person there knew me. It wasn't just my imagination: as I drove to my assigned parking place, groups of people successively pointed, waved and shouted "Look, there's Andy and Gertie! Hi, Andy!" If I were an egomaniac, I would have eaten this up. As it was, I felt like crawling under a rock. Dumb, I know, but I couldn't help it. I smiled and waved back, feeling very awkward. Once I got parked, everyone I met seemed to want to shake my hand, and that too was a bit scary.

I later found out that the event's organizers had set aside some kind of "special" parking place for me, but fortunately I was allowed to park with my friends Kate & Terry. Being singled out for even more attention would have been more than I could take! I went to bed that night swearing that I'd never go to another big event like this. Then I realized that there won't be another event like this in my lifetime—not one attended by six hundred Lazy Dazers who all know me.

Dry camping was the order of the day at the Caravan: no electricity and no water or sewer hookups. I can normally "do without" for about ten days, because I'm pretty good at water conservation and I have 589W of solar panels plus four house batteries. So dry camping for a week wasn't going to be a problem... but the one thing I can't do on solar power is run my air conditioner, and Gertie lacks a generator that could power the A/C. And it did get warmer as the days went by.

It wasn't so much myself I was worried about as Marie. At age 17, she probably can't take much heat stress. Fortunately, I had just discovered an excellent small fan, the O2Cool 10" portable fan, in Wal-Mart's sporting goods department. This under-$13 gem runs on either batteries, 120VAC or (with a Radio Shack cable) on 12VDC... so I can plug it right into a 12V outlet. I kept one on the floor near Marie's bed, and she soon learned to snuggle up to it just as she snuggles up to the heater in wintertime.

Marie keeps cool

By the second day of the Caravan I was feeling a lot better. Once people started asking me for help with projects (like Mimi and Jonna's multicolored satellite dish light), I got over my initial anxiety attack and began to feel as if I fit in. I'm always happiest when my hands are doing something constructive.

Parked as I was, surrounded by members of the Yahoo LD group, I got to meet many people whom I had previously known only by cryptic Yahoo pseudonyms like 'aq433' and 'olderfossil.' Without exception they proved to be even more gracious and interesting to talk to in person than on the internet.

The Golden Caravan was heavily scheduled: there seemed to be something going on just about every minute of every day. I guess that's a necessity when you have a group this large, but I'm not much for regimentation, so I skipped most of the formal events, with one exception.

I myself was scheduled to give a presentation to Yahoo group members on Monday. This could have been another anxiety-provoking occasion... but I kept my talk very short, and pretty much let the meeting run itself. I introduced myself, and pointed out eight or ten of the group's most helpful contributors. Then I opened the floor for questions, most of which got answered by other people there—which was just what I'd hoped for. Things went very smoothly, and I just... moderated.

For the rest of the week, I mostly just relaxed and chatted with old and new friends. We toured each other's rigs and traded good ideas. We sat and chatted about where we'd been and where we hoped to go. I always learn a lot from the stories of more experienced RVers like my friend Jonna Harlan, seen here sitting with me in front of her rig "Tortuga." Notice the maps on the door? Jonna and her partner Mimi haven't just been around the US—they've traveled through most of Central America too. (Photo by Stan Wolf)

Jonna and Andy

We shook our heads at the antics of the overly zealous volunteers who patrolled the rows, issuing stern lectures to anyone whose rig was even a few inches out of line. They wanted everyone in military-style formation for an official aerial photo. Unfortunately, the photo turned out pretty much as I'd expected: rows and rows of white roofs that could have belonged to any RV brand. There isn't a recognizable Lazy Daze in the shot, which is why I didn't bother to link to it here.

This photo taken from a lower angle (standing on a roof) gives you a better idea of what it was like to be surrounded by 300+ Lazy Dazes. The folks here are members of the Yahoo contingent, enjoying one of our nightly potluck suppers. We had a good, sociable time. We also had the highest concentration of HughesNet satellite internet dishes in the Caravan! You can see three in this photo, and there were three more within twenty feet of where I stood.

Yahoo potluck

Of course I gave lots of Gertie tours—that's a given wherever she goes, because people who've read this website are often curious to see the real thing. So I showed her off many times a day, with all her little improvements and add-ons, and that was fun.

And we watched the C-130 cargo planes from the Air Force base across the street practice landings ("touch and go's"), crossing our parking area at low altitude. Noisy, but fun! We even had a C-5 Galaxy—one of the world's largest planes—come over once. Now that was a thunderous event!

C-130 overflight One day Kate and I went door to door on a "fix-up" mission. There's a simple modification you can make to an RV's stove cover that allows it to be used as a very handy "warming shelf"—all it takes is a couple of lengths of chain or coathanger wire and drilling four holes. So we offered our services to everybody in the neighborhood, and working as a team, we upgraded a bunch of peoples' stoves before it got too hot to work. A friend, Stan Wolf, took this photo of us with our tools at the ready.
The Fixers

Several of us, including Jonna & Mimi and Kate & Terry, decided to skip the closing ceremonies and leave a day early to avoid the crowds. We planned to drive to a little-known dry-camping area about 75 miles away: Grayrocks Reservoir. But before leaving, I got to watch a demonstration by the amazingly talented Larry Wade of his slick system for carrying two sea kayaks atop his rig. His folding davits make it easy to hoist the canoes into place, and they're mounted so as not to place any stress at all on the roof—all weight is supported by the LD's sturdy sidewalls, which have proven to be capable of remaining intact even through a rollover accident. (In case you didn't know this, the majority of RVs will disintegrate into a pile of kindling if you roll them. Not Lazy Daze.)

Larry's kayak hoist

And so we pulled out of Cheyenne. It had been a mixed experience for me—stressful at first, but enjoyable and rewarding in the long run. I wish I weren't so painfully shy! But since I am, I know there'll be no repeat. Small groups suit me best.

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