Saturday, 14 June 2014

Camp in comfort

Small yet stylish: A teardrop trailer parked in a campsite, blending into its wild surrounds without overwhelming them, as a bigger RV might. -MCT photo

Small yet stylish: A teardrop trailer parked in a campsite, blending into its wild surrounds without overwhelming them, as a bigger RV might. -MCT photo

Teardrop-shaped, light campers are a cozy outdoor option for two snuggly people.

THERE’S something about sugary snacks, ghost stories and canvas tents that taps into our deepest collective subconscious.

Camping speaks to America’s frontier past, the days of wagon trains and wilderness encampments. So when Airstream designer Wally Byam began sketching out plans for his first DIY travel trailers in the 1920s, the concept took off like wildfire. By the 1950s, his company’s silver, capsule-shaped Airstreams were one of America’s most iconic products, with big caravan rallies popping up in the United States and abroad.

The Airstream has made a major comeback in recent years – and whether the comeback has fuelled a vintage camping trend or it’s the other way around, one thing’s for sure: it has become increasingly easy to rent a retro trailer for a weekend, whether it’s an Airstream, a teardrop camper or a refurbished vintage VW bus. Ready-to-rent on-site Airstreams are popping up in campgrounds nationwide. And the Autocamp, a “boutique Airstream lodging” concept from Santa Barbara, California – a downtown pod of five fully decked-out trailers – is expanding to San Francisco, Los Angeles and Ventura Beach this year.

So it was only fitting that when we took a retro teardrop camper out for a recent weekend spin, what should we run into but an Airstream rally with more than 80 silvery campers – vintage models from the 1960s, as well as up to the present – glinting in the sun, smack dab in the middle of our Russian River campground.

A close up showing the trailer's clever use of space.
The trailers are light enough to be moved manually after they are unhooked from its vehicle, as Cayford Burrell demonstrates. -MCT photo

We’d picked up an adorable teardrop in Penngrove, near Petaluma, where Vacation in a Can’s Joe and Leslie Kosareff refurbish, build and rent out these tiny retro trailers. Joe grew up camping in Oregon and at Lake Tahoe; Martinez native Leslie spent her childhood vacations at Lake Shasta.

But sleeping on the ground becomes less comfortable as one ages – and yes, some people would say it was never very comfortable in the first place. So Joe set out to find a middle ground, something small and non-RV- like, but with an actual bed. He found it in that darling of the Great Depression, the teardrop-shaped camper.

Popular from the 1930s to the 1960s, these little trailers are about 1m to 2m wide, 2.5m to 3m long and light enough that you can park your car, unhook the camper and just pull it into place. The campers are making a big comeback now, so much so that the Kosareffs can barely keep up with the demand, and other teardrop manufacturers are springing up across the country.

Teardrops are a cozy camping option for two snuggly people. There’s plenty of room to sit up inside, space for stashing some clothes and gear, and the foam mattresses range from 124cm to 187cm long. If you, like me, have issues with elevators and claustrophobic spaces, it’s helpful to leave one of the little doors ajar during the night.

The best part, besides the ease of getting up in the morning, is the tidy camp kitchen in back, which Joe and Leslie have equipped with everything from really good knives to pots, pans and tableware, and counter-height work surfaces.

Even the family pets can have their own space!
Even the family pets can have their own space!

If you thought the pictures of teardrops were cute, wait until you see one in person. Campers kept wandering into our site, eager to take a peek inside the adorable trailer – and we kept wandering over to the Airstream encampment to chat with the most sociable assortment of people we’ve ever encountered. They meet twice a year at rallies like this – a throwback to the 1950s, when Byam’s caravan club gathered in spots all over the world. Byam took one such caravan from Cape Town, South Africa, to Cairo, Egypt.

This particular group was eager to offer peeks inside their trailers, which ranged from meticulously redone Flower Power-era models to land yachts with glass shower doors and flat-screen TVs. In fact, Airstream-hopping is de rigueur. Everyone was peeking inside everyone else’s. By nightfall, the trailer awnings were slung with retro twinkle lights – some with tiny Airstream covers – and a massive cocktail party was in full swing.

We meandered back to our own quiet campsite, tucked among the trees, for a camping cocktail party of our own. — Contra Costa Times/McClatchy-Tribune Information Services

Tags / Keywords: Lifestyle , Camping , outdoors , retro campers , Bay Area , United States


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