I'm quite fond of nature, but I wouldn't call myself an outdoor enthusiast. I didn't spend my childhood Kumbaya-ing at summer camp or portaging to remote campgrounds in Ontario's Algonquin Provincial Park. I can count the number of times I've slept in a tent on one hand.
My husband Chris, on the other hand, is the rugged type: He spent his summers planting trees in Northern Ontario, picking apples in B.C.'s Okanagan Valley and working on a fishing boat, which means the great outdoors course through his blood.
So what happens when a newly married couple who enjoy the outdoors to varying degrees decide they want to go camping for a mini-moon? They compromise. We took a two-day trip to Tobermory, Ont., in a recreational vehicle.
After throwing a few camping essentials into a duffel bag, we drove to Bolton, Ont., to pick up our RV at Motor Home Travel Inc. We met president David Sammut, who quickly informed us that despite our best intentions to be cool, unique and ironic, RV honeymooning was pretty common: roughly a dozen couples rent one from his shop each year.
As an RV amateur, I became increasingly aware of my ignorance: I had no idea Canadians embarked on nearly eight million RV trips a year, and according to stats from GoRving Canada – a non-profit organization that promotes the RV lifestyle – about 14 per cent of households own a motor home. I was also surprised by the demographic of RV drivers. It’s not all white-haired, retired seniors living out their glory years on the road. Forty five per cent of RVers in Canada have children and 67 per cent are under the age of 55.
Once we had filled out the paperwork and paid the rental fees, plus a $2,500 security deposit, a staff member gave us a 20-minute instructional tour.
We learned the vehicle we were renting, a 2013 Coachmen Leprechaun, wasn’t the property of Motor Home Travel. The company markets and services the motorhome on behalf of an owner, who generates income by renting it out during low season to people like me.
In my mind, RV nomenclature is based on two systems: forces of nature (Sunseeker or Four Winds) or big mountain cats (Cougar or Lynx). So when I found out our RV was called the Leprechaun – a mythical fairy in Irish folklore who hides his pot of gold at the end of a rainbow – I was confused.
Was it named after the Jennifer Aniston movie from 1993, about a leprechaun who goes on a murder spree in North Dakota? No, I thought, that’s not rational (plus, the Leprechaun RV has been around since 1973). Maybe it’s derived from the fact that everything in an RV – fridge, cupboards, beds – are miniature, like a leprechaun?
When I shared my theory with Mr. Sammut, he gave me a puzzled look and changed the subject.
(By the way, for those of you who may be interested, there’s an entire industry devoted to graphics, decals and murals for RV -- although a disproportionate number of designs feature bald eagles wearing star-spangled bandanas).
The Coachmen Leprechaun 220QB Class C motor home measures 24-feet long and stands 10-feet tall. It retails for approximately $84,000 (before tax), and it sits on a Ford E350 chassis. With a bunk over the cab area, a queen-size bed and a table that converts into a double bed, the vehicle, unlike our 600-square-foot condo in Toronto, sleeps six comfortably.
It also included corner bathroom with shower, toilet and vanity, shirt closet, refrigerator, three-burner range, microwave, round kitchen sink, and wardrobe/pantry slide out. The fuel capacity is 55 gallons and it holds 50 gallons of fresh water, 29 gallons of grey and 22 of black.
Rental rates are $127 a day in low season (May and October), rising to $153 a day in June and September, and $200 a day in high season in July and August, which also requires a seven-day minimum booking.
In the same way a pre-flight safety demonstration is necessary, if slightly tedious, so is an RV lesson. We listened attentively as Michelle Short, a member of the reservation staff, told us how to operate the vehicle. She pointed out all the knobs, buttons, hoses and general doo-dads of our temporary home.
While I have no doubt Motor Home Travel trusted us completely with the vehicle, it was also wise to provide us with a how-to booklet and its phone number, just in case something went wrong.
One of the neat things about driving an RV? You don’t need a special licence, a G-class will do. It’s pretty straightforward to drive, and Chris said he got used to it after about 20 minutes on the road.
The vehicle is obviously wider than a car – poking out about a foot on each side. But it’s armed with a fleet of back-up cameras, so every time you flick the turn signal or pop the RV into reverse, a video appears on the console. Super handy.
Seated in the captain chairs, the drive was smooth, although an RV is not the most aerodynamic thing on the road. It’s like driving a house, so it can be quite noisy. On bumpier terrain, the cabin shakes and the hinges squeak, which combined with wind noise meant we had to crank the radio at times to hear it.
Word to the wise: make sure everything is strapped down before you put the pedal to the metal. We were warned about this – but at one point a few bottles of water fell on Chris’ head while we were driving. We had a good laugh about it, but it was slightly alarming to consider what might have happened if it been a stack of firewood.
The drive from Bolton to Tobermory isn’t exactly scenic. You pass a succession of dreary motels, body shops, consignment stores, gas stations, restaurants with names like Country Cooking and Super Burger, and outposts like Rae’s Honey House dot the muted landscape.
The RV hummed along, winding its way through small, unfussy towns. It wheezed ever so slightly up larger hills, but otherwise the ride was pleasant and relatively uneventful. After about 60 kilometres, Chris said he was “entirely comfortable driving the RV” though he admitted his right leg got a bit sore, perhaps because the pedals are set higher off the ground.
With only one stop in Owen Sound for lunch, we arrived at Lands’ End campground in Tobermory after about three-and-a-half hours of driving.
There are more than 5,100 campgrounds in Canada and of those, approximately 3,000 are independently owned and operated. I chose Lands End, a family owned business, because of its favourable reviews on TripAdvisor and its proximity to downtown.
As it happens, when we entered the tuck shop, there were two travelers speaking German to the woman at the desk – Vivien – who helps run the campground with her husband Dale Sheppard, who bought the business 22 years ago.
We paid for our two-night stay on a premium lot, which include 15/30 amp electric and water hookup ($43 a night) and also purchased two stacks of firewood and some supplies we had forgotten in our hasty morning packing job.
I had exchanged a few e-mails with Vivien prior to our visit, requesting the ‘best’ site – it was a honeymoon, after all. She suggested site No. 58, “in part because it is next to a wetland and American bitterns, pileated woodpeckers, numerous other birds and even beavers have been known to hang out there. The site is spacious and very deep, so it’s almost like being in your own little world. It’s probably my pick for nicest RV site.”
She was right. It was beautiful and unlike any other campground I had stayed on.
Our site had a picnic table, a firepit and it overlooked a pond filled with wildlife. This proved a double-edged sword as spring peers were in mating season and they kept us up at night. One bonus was a direct hookup to water and power, which meant we didn’t need to use the generator while we were there.
In the evening, we took an exploratory walk to the lake, where our dog Lola took a frigid dip in Georgian Bay. Following the walk, exhausted, we wandered back to our site for a classic camping dinner.
On the menu: hot dogs with stadium-style buns, classic dill pickles and potato chips. And, of course, a few tallboys.
One of the perks of camping in an RV, besides the obvious fact you don’t have to sleep on damp ground, is that you have a kitchen on wheels. I relished the fact that our refreshments stayed cold the entire trip. No cooler. No heavy awkward bags of ice. And if for some reason you wanted to do it up a bit fancier, the RV was equipped with a microwave, stove and oven.
That night, Chris wanted a hot shower, so we spent some time trying to figure out how to make it happen. After consulting the how-to guide, we learned it’s as simple as flicking a blue switch marked ‘hot water.’ Right.
After patiently waiting a half hour for the electric heater to do its magic, he had what he described as a “glorious” shower: consistent heat, pressure, and although the small bathroom got steamy real fast, the fan on the ceiling made a huge difference.
Exhausted from the four-hour drive (and the wedding, in general), we turned in early. The queen mattress was fairly comfy, and because we brought our own duvet, sheets and pillows, we felt right at home. The overhead reading light and picture window on the right side of the bed were nice touches. We also appreciated that the thermostat was within arm’s reach, as the temperature outside dropped from five degrees to a cool one degree.
We slept for about nine hours, but it was restless: Lola, still damp from her evening swim and bundled in a blanket, managed to squeeze herself in between us like a cement hot dog. (I know what you’re thinking: how romantic.)
In the morning, we dutifully remembered to close the pop-out extension (the RV won’t run if you don’t), unplugged the water and electric lines, and rolled into town for coffee.
When we visited, Tobermory was just coming out of its six-month hibernation. The fishing village is known as the fresh water SCUBA-diving capital of the world because of the shipwrecks that lie in the surrounding waters. In its low season, Tobermory – situated at the tip of the Bruce Peninsula – is home to about 1,200 people. But like any popular summer town, its population swells following Victoria Day long weekend – in this case to as high as 20,000.
Most of the shops hugging the harbour were still closed, and those that were open weren’t 100 per cent ready to go.
It would be another week until the famous glass-bottom boat tours or Flowerpot Island cruises started running, for example; not even the visitor centre had opened its doors.
The village will be in full swing in July, but there was something serene about seeing the town coming to life on a crisp spring morning.
Since Crow’s Nest – the local hot spot – was pretty much the only place open we decided to give it a try. It was newer than I expected: grey-blue painted walls, fresh pine booths, modern light fixtures and sails dangling from the ceiling. The space was large and bright, overlooking the harbour. I could see why students would flock to it as the local watering hole.
With the wedding in our rear-view mirror and the need for me to squeeze into my dress behind me, we ordered our go-to comfort food: nachos, wings and beer.
After lunch we drove out to Bruce Peninsula National Park to do some hiking. We drove along Highway 6 and took a left at Cyprus Lake Road, where we parked the RV and set out along the Georgian Bay trail toward the Grotto.
The park comprises 156 square kilometres and it is one of the largest protected areas in southern Ontario, forming the core of UNESCO’s Niagara Escarpment World Biosphere Reserve. The hike to Upper Bruce Peninsula, which featured rugged cliffs inhabited by 1,000-year-old cedar trees, took about 30 minutes.
The water, like so many people will tell you, was Caribbean clear and the rockscapes were magnificent. Being in the Grotto was analogous to the shores of Tofino, B.C., with the accompanying disbelief that this sublime environment was indeed a part of Canada – let alone four hours from Toronto.
That evening, we returned to our campsite for our final night. You’d think with a full stove, oven and microwave, we’d step it up a bit, but instead we McGyvered some metal skewers to heat frozen pizzas over the campfire. This proved more challenging that initially expected. The crusts were completely black (really not fit for human consumption), but they tasted delicious.
For dessert we whipped up the best tasting s’mores you could dream of – the kind of s’mores that have you asking, “Why aren’t s’mores a more regular part of my everyday life?”
During our trip into town earlier that day, I had picked up Case 39 starring Renee Zellweger on DVD for $8.99. How cool is it to watch a movie on a flatscreen while you’re camping? (Now imagining the eye rolls.)
The movie – which scored a dismal 22 per cent on Rotten Tomatoes – was terrible, and it may have led to the demise of Ms. Zellweger’s acting career. But the experience of watching, tucked into bed, was well worth it.
The next morning, we packed, made sure there were no loose items, and headed to our final destination: the dumping station. Not the most glorious event but fairly straightforward, if smelly.
TOTAL COST FOR A TRIP OF THIS NATURE
- Gas $240
- Rental fee $127 a day, plus HST
- Campsite $43 a day, plus HST
- Food $100
- Total $877
It wasn’t an inexpensive trip, but because of the electrical and water hookup, we didn’t need to use the generator while parked. And, frankly, the novelty of the trip made it worthwhile.
Wth the comforts of home, camping was more than tolerable, it was enjoyable. Would I rent an RV again? Yes, likely when I have small children who will appreciate how cool it is to camp with a flat-screen.
COOLEST UNEXPECTED FEATURES
1. Vehicle cameras. They certainly came in handy when we made a wrong turn at the campground and had to back out through a (very) narrow drive.
2. The dinette slideout. If only we could have this glorious feature in Toronto condos. Push a button and presto, you have several more square feet of space.
3. Outdoor shower feature at the side of the RV. “Good for dogs and small children,” said Michelle Short at Motor Home. Also good for hand-washing following a visit to the dumping station.
4. Thoughtful storage. Everywhere. Again, if only a condo had this much extra space: There were 18 cupboards, not to mention a cargo bay that could easily hold four large suitcases.
5. Well-designed cupholders. As someone who enjoys a handle on a travel mug, it was much appreciated that the cupholders had a little groove for it.
6. Overhead lighting. It may not be romantic, but it’s ample and in all the right spots (eight, to be exact), including a reading light in bed.
The writer had her rental costs covered by the company.
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