Outdoors/Adventure

After years of being a ‘tent person,’ owning an Airstream trailer means a new identity

Airstream trailers

In 2020, with the closure of an art studio I’d operated from downtown Palmer, I started dreaming about building and operating a mobile art studio. The idea was I’d take the mobile studio directly to beautiful outdoor places and paint, meeting people along the way. I settled on an Airstream as my trailer of choice and got to work designing and financing it.

What I understood on paper but didn’t comprehend in reality was that this vision of mine required me to own and operate a trailer.

Several months out from pickup I had a casual cocktail hour conversation with friends eager to hear all of the details. They asked me about the make, model, interior design, and I readily answered the questions based on the detailed mockups I’d studied. But then they started getting more specific in their line of questioning. When they learned I’d never actually set foot in an Airstream, they didn’t disguise the alarm on their faces quickly enough for it to go unnoticed. I continued on with the conversation, ever-confident in my idea.

It did dawn on me that I should probably learn how to drive a trailer prior to picking mine up in Ohio and driving it back to Alaska. With help from friends, I did.

Still, what I wasn’t prepared for was that I am now a trailer person.

Me.

I’m someone who grew up as a tent person, starting with the comically giant two-room tent my dad bought our family in the ’90s, which took two hours to set up, and eventually graduating to a three-season REI tent that has now seen better days. I even own a secondhand all-season tent right now! With a cold-weather vestibule!

I think I’ve set foot in two RVs, tops, never mind camped in one.

Until now, that is. Now, I own a trailer. I tow it around, back it up, straighten it out, empty it, fill it, hitch it, stow it, winterize it, etc.

I remember running into a guy at a dump station in Tonopah, Nevada, last year. He had this coiled tube affixed from his trailer to a hole in the concrete ground, which I now recognize as the unglamorous process of “dumping.” His trailer was so large it blocked out the sun.

“Money pit,” he declared, as my husband and I filled up our rinky-dink dollar-store purchased water jugs from the potable spigot at the station — at the time we were demo-ing van life to see if it was actually something we enjoyed; spoiler, we did. “It’s never-ending. The fixing, the filling, all the maintenance.”

Even at the time, with the Airstream on the horizon, I wondered vaguely: is this really something I want? Do I also want to lug around a giant home on wheels and source dump stations, where I need to hook up a gnarly hose and flush wastewater from my rig into the ground? I didn’t really ever let myself complete the thought, because I was already sold on my concept, but it hovered just below the surface.

Here’s the thing: Yes, this trailer is a lot of work. There are the things nobody told me, like somehow I would need to become a wizard of backing up to the point of aligning the truck hitch with the trailer with great precision. How is this a thing humans are expected to do?! There’s also the dumping of the black and gray water, which is just as disgusting as I suspected it would be.

But it’s also incredibly comfortable, and comforting. I’m basically indoors and outdoors at the same time, two of my favorite places separated by only one very thin wall. If I’m sun-tired or it’s raining, I can go into the trailer and open the windows for a breeze and a view while still enjoying a couch and respite from the elements. I can eat my dinner with a sunset view.

Unlike tenting, if I have noisy neighbors at a campsite, I can retreat. The fan inside makes noise. If it’s pouring rain, I’m not as worried about a puddle forming where I sleep.

I still look around, at the inevitable trailer parks I end up in for their easily available hookups, dump station, Wi-Fi and laundry, and marvel that I am now, too, a trailer person and not exclusively a tent camper. It’s a funny identity to try on, probably because I fancied myself somehow hardier and therefore above everyone in their fancier, sturdier rigs.

I will still go tent camping, and backpack.

But I love this trailer. I love the different experience afforded me in being outdoors with it in tow. I’m open and embracing this new part of my identity, which came as a surprise in pursuing my dream.

Alli Harvey

Alli Harvey lives in Palmer and plays in Southcentral Alaska.

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