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How we broke our lockdown monotony in a rented Airstream trailer

Writer Starshine Roshell and her husband John camping in an Airstream at See Canyon Fruit Ranch near Avila Beach. Writer Starshine Roshell and her husband, John, camping in an Airstream at See Canyon Fruit Ranch, near Avila Beach, California.

Back when I spent most of my week in an office, there was something delicious—something refreshingly different—about indulging in domestic rituals on the weekend. I’d wake up, start the coffeemaker, empty the dishwasher, and sip my java on the couch. I could spend the whole day puttering from room to room, relishing the fond familiarity of my custom castle.

It’s safe to say I am now quite sick of said castle. I’ve been working at home since March, and with all social outings, public performances, and other reasons to wear attractive shoes canceled for the foreseeable forever, my once-comforting home rituals have become a monotonous loop. Eager to experience a dose of different—and safe—my husband, John, and I happily accepted an invitation to spend a weekend in a 20-foot Airstream trailer. We picked it up, stocked it with bare essentials and hauled it to a charming campsite on a farm near Avila Beach for two nights.

The rising popularity of RVs 

Recreational vehicles have been wildly popular during the pandemic because they let you travel in your own bubble—without setting foot in an airport, a public restroom, or even an Uber. RVShare, a site that connects RV owners with RV renters, reported three times more bookings this summer than last, and, according to the RV Industry Association, RV sales hit records over the summer. Lower fuel prices also drove the boon.

The surge in interest means many public campgrounds have been booked months in advance, but by using Hipcamp, an online hub for bookable outdoor spaces, we were able to nab a spot at the idyllic See Canyon Fruit Ranch, located just 90 minutes from our home, for $65 a night.

See Canyon Fruit Ranch.

See Canyon Fruit Ranch.

RV novices behind the wheel

Rolling into the canyon before dusk, we noticed the coastline’s golden light peeking over the hills and fanning out over the ranch. We rumbled past the four other campsites, occupied with tents, trailers, and car campers, to our spot on the end, nestled against an apple orchard dotted with red, green, and gold fruit.

Apples located See Canyon Fruit Ranch, near Avila Beach, California.

See Canyon Fruit Ranch sells apples, cider, and honey.

It took some doing for us novices to back a trailer into our campsite. “No, this way,” I hollered, standing at the back, flailing my arms. “But … I can’t see you … like, at all!” John yawped back. We may or may not have scraped the shiny silver beast up against an apple tree, twice. When we finally settled in, lowered the stabilizer jacks, and wedged wood blocks against the wheels, we found that initially we couldn’t enter or exit the trailer door without knocking apples from low-hanging branches. Oops.

Don't want to tow?  

Book a stay at places that offer stationary Airstreams. 

Fortunately, proprietor Susie Kenny is generous with the Golden Delicious and other varietals grown on the ranch. She and her husband, Paul, who own and live on the ranch and raised their eight grown kids there, sell their fruit, cider, and honey at a farm stand in autumn. “Help yourself to apples!” Susie called to us from her porch, with a welcoming wave.

Strolling the orchard at See Canyon Fruit Ranch.

A walk in the orchard at See Canyon Fruit Ranch provides a relaxing way to wind down the day.

John and I snuck in a stroll through the orchard before sunset, the leaves twinkling like tiny green and yellow fish against a blue sky. We heard a quiet, persistent hum and looked up to see a spectacular honeybee highway above the treetops carrying thousands of buzzers back toward their hives before dark. Now that’s something we couldn’t have seen in our backyard.

Starshine enjoys a cup of coffee while John plays his guitar outside the Airstream.

Relaxing with French press coffee and ‘80s tunes in the evening.

Waking to a new view

For the first time in ages, we awoke to a fresh view: fog rolling over the mountain beside us and settling on the fruit trees like cupcake frosting. And a strange new sound: the squawk song of feeding chickens. Even our coffee routine was altered here: We left the trusty drip coffeemaker at home and instead brought a French press for simplicity. We boiled water on the tiny stovetop. Pour, steep, plunge, and soon we were slurping tasty joe while wandering the grounds, gravel crunching under our feet, and befriending a goat who was sitting contentedly in a bucket.

One of the resident goats at See Canyon Fruit Ranch.

One of the resident goats at See Canyon Fruit Ranch.

RV life: eat, snooze, repeat

See Canyon doesn’t have RV hookups; we dry camped, or “boondocked,” using only the water stored in our trailer’s tank and the power from its solar-charged battery, which is designed to be plenty for a weekend away. The interior of our Basecamp 20 trailer, Airstream’s newest model, was like a brilliantly appointed submarine with tables that become beds, a galley kitchen, and a compact bathroom and shower.

We relished lounging in our cozy mobile castle. Though I never nap at home—can’t nap, don’t nap, not a napper—I flopped onto a cushion in the afternoon and conked out as canyon breezes rustled through one screen door and out the other. With no Internet, we got to spend a phone-free evening eating slices of cake from the mini-fridge (what? cake is a bare essential) and wailing hits of the ’80s while John played his acoustic guitar. We hope our enthusiastic rendition of The Go-Go’s “Vacation” didn’t give the neighboring campers nightmares.

Taking a walk at Hazard Reef.

Taking a walk at Hazard Reef.

Off-site adventures

Wanting to explore the surrounding coast, we unhitched our trailer and ventured off the campsite—first to a stunning spot in Montaña de Oro State Park, the “mountain of gold.” A hike through a thicket of eucalyptus trees led us down a sandy, narrow trail to Hazard Reef. Here, the Pacific Ocean meets craggy slabs of Miguelito shale jutting out of the earth. Five to six million years old, the rocks were once ancient sea floor and now house tide pools of starfish, hermit crabs, and mussels in their nooks and crannies above the surf.

Watching the sea creatures in the tide pools.

Stopping to see the sea creatures in tide pools.

Tide pool denizens are exceptionally adaptable creatures, coping with frequent fluctuations in their environment. I stared in admiration as the waves washed over them again and again, vowing to adopt Roll With It Like an Anemone as my new pandemic motto.

Cruising Morro Bay's Embarcadero on electric bikes.

Cruising Morro Bay's Embarcadero on electric bikes.

Later that day, we zipped down the road to Morro Bay and rented electric bikes at Cal Coast Adventures. The bikes’ motors assisted us as we pedaled; just one or two good pumps sent us whooshing off with ease. “I feel superhuman!” John cackled as we cruised the bay-hugging Embarcadero. I felt goose bumps both from the brisk sea air and the exhilaration of something we hadn’t felt all year: unfettered freedom.

Otters play in the surf near Morro Bay.

Otters play in the surf near Morro Bay.

We rode out to Coleman Park, past a dozen sea otters floating and flip-flopping in the bay, to the far side of Morro Rock, where we came across a cairn quarry. Over time, people have fashioned the pebbles and stones that form Morro Rock’s north jetty into hundreds of small, carefully balanced towers.

Cairns built from pebbles and stones decorate the jetty.

Cairns built from pebbles and stones decorate the jetty.

It is a marvel to behold, hidden as it is, and visitors add new cairns as they step gingerly through the landscape. For me, the stone spires were a much-needed reminder of humanity’s potential to surprise, to delight, and to create order out of chaos.

I won’t say our getaway was perfect. I forgot to pack a blanket (hey, I remembered the cake), a random trailer battery alarm awoke us in the middle of the night, and it turns out you really need an electric keyboard—and forgiving neighbors—to nail the hits of the ’80s.

But the trip was nothing like the previous six months, and that alone made it magnificent.

No tow? Stay in a stationary Airstream

Airstreams are uber cool, but towing is not for everyone. If you’ve always wanted to stay in one of the classic silver capsules but don’t want to, er, get hitched, consider booking one of these trailers, which stay put.

Kate’s Lazy Desert, Mojave Desert

This resort, owned by singer Kate Pierson of the B-52’s, offers six kitschy trailers with themes like Tiki, Lava, and Tinkerbell, “perfect for the more adventurous traveler” and tricked out with space heaters and charcoal barbecues. Just 20 minutes from Joshua Tree. From $175 a night.

Caravan Outpost, Ojai

Ten trailers with names like Earl, Audrey, and Diego encircle a community fire pit in the boho-chic town of Ojai. Some caravans are pet-friendly, and some come with outdoor hammocks. Guests can rent bikes for $5 per hour, or $25 for the day. From $194 a night.

Flying Flags RV Resort & Campground, Buellton

Refurbished Airstreams up to 28 feet long are mixed in with cabins, cottages, lodges, and RV campsites. The property boasts lounges, cafés, pools, and playgrounds for all guests. From $129 a night.

Wellspring Ranch, Cayucos

This couples-only retreat has rooms, yurts, and one International series Airstream that has never traveled anywhere except to its present spot amid 160 acres of natural land. Meals are included. $450 a night.

Autocamp, Russian River and Yosemite

The 31-foot custom-designed premium Airstream suites feature memory foam mattresses, TVs with cable, a spa-inspired bathroom, plush robes, and tableware. You can even add in a s’mores kit to go with your fire pit. From $249 a night.

Starshine Roshell is a journalist, author, and editor in Santa Barbara. Her award-winning columns are collected in her latest book, Lather, Rage, Repeat.

AAA Travel Alert: Many travel destinations have implemented COVID-19–related restrictions. Before making travel plans, check to see if hotels, attractions, cruise lines, tour operators, restaurants, and local authorities have issued health and safety-related restrictions or entry requirements. The local tourism board is a good resource for updated information.

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