On the way to our Labor Day weekend campout in Steelville, Missouri, our cursed generator, the bane of my existence, performed flawlessly for the first time since we purchased our RV eighteen months ago. My theory that operating the power plant in extremely hot weather causes a vapor-lock issue within the fuel line was apparently confirmed, as the drive down to Crawford County took place on a lovely 75 degree evening rather than the 100 degree temperatures in which our generator is typically pressed into service.

Travis Naughton

Travis Naughton

Naturally, with the rooftop air conditioner and the in-dash A/C both running on such a cool evening, everyone in the camper was suddenly on the verge of freezing to death before we even reached Jefferson City. I was forced to switch the air and generator off, a decision that will doubtlessly haunt me for the rest of my camping days.

Basking in the glory of the cool air and the satisfaction of having accurately diagnosed the generator problem, my brief moment of euphoria ground to a screeching halt five miles north of the state capital. Our Hurricane-model motor home and approximately thirty thousand other vehicles got waylaid by the mother of all traffic jams. It was a Friday evening during a holiday weekend. It was rush hour. A Columbia high school and its many devotees were travelling to Jeff City for a football game. The Missouri River bridge was under construction. And the Naughtons were on an RV trip. It was the perfect storm. It took an hour and ten minutes to drive the next five miles.

Due to the long delay, we were due to arrive at the campground after dark, a nightmare for anyone charged with setting up camp. Nevertheless, with traffic moving I was able to maintain a positive outlook—until an owl struck the windshield as the camper barreled down the highway. Although I was thankful the glass did not shatter, I worried that the noble bird’s ignoble death might be a bad omen.

Mercifully, we eventually reached our destination, a campground called The Rafting Company. This summer marks the 25th anniversary since I was hired to work at TRC as a 19 year-old college student. I still remember my first day on the job all too well. A co-worker and I had been directed to tear down an old wooden fence, and I was eager to prove myself a hard worker. I ripped apart the fence with reckless abandon, no doubt impressing my new co-worker Clete. When I stepped on a board lying on the ground, one that had a three-inch nail protruding from it, I felt an excruciating pain as the sharp (and rusty) spike sank deep into my foot. Clete was no doubt very impressed with the blood-curdling scream I let out as I collapsed to the ground. Actually, he was terrified, and so was I.

After the initial shock wore off, I realized in order to make it into town to see a doctor, I would have to pull the nail (with an eight-foot long board attached to it) out of my foot. That, my friend, was not a pleasant experience. After a tetanus shot and two days of waiting for the swelling and pain to subside, I got back to work. I crawled behind the wheel of a truck pulling two canoe trailers and hastily turned down one of the one-lane gravel roads that criss-crossed the campground. Naturally, I picked the one and only dead-end road on the property, one that was tightly bordered on both sides by thick stands of forest. Backing two trailers down a narrow, one-lane road was beyond my skill set, and I was forced to radio for help, much to the delight of the entire staff listening in at headquarters. A quarter century later, while checking in at the general store last Friday night, TRC’s owner Paul greeted me by the nickname I earned back in 1991: “Wrong Way!”

Five minutes after Paul told me where my campsite was located, I followed his directions to the letter and nearly ended up driving into the Meramec River. Somehow, I managed to go the wrong way once again. Because of course I did. By the time I found our actual site, I was too tired and frazzled to care that the RV was listing badly to one side. With only enough energy to retrieve my well-stocked cooler and sit beneath the hail and wind-damaged awning that also listed badly to one side, I consoled myself with the knowledge that as long as I own an RV, I will never run out of writing material.