Chanel lives in Chicago, IL, where she enjoys quiet Sundays, reading books, and planning trips to visit as many national parks as she can. The RV featured in this story is a Jayco Jay Flight.
My First RV Camping Trip with My Sister
“The beauty of any first time is that it leads to a thousand others...” That’s one of my favorite quotes. Experiencing something for the first time has a kind of innocence that can change your perspective and shape the world around you.
In August 2016, I had my very first travel experience in the heart of nature. Although I was already well into adulthood and a proficient solo traveler, I’d never spent much time immersed in nature. A group of friends invited me to go hiking in the Canadian Rockies, and I accepted. I had zero expectations of the trip; as a self-described “city girl,” the idea of vacationing in the middle of nowhere without cell service or WiFi was a little terrifying. I had never hiked a day in my life.
But the minute we entered Jasper National Park, I fell in love. The wide open spaces, beautiful views and sounds of nature overwhelmed and excited me, and I became enamored with this new rustic experience. For the first time in a long time, I felt free. All that fresh air and walking was just what I’d needed in my life.
Back home, explaining my experience to friends and family was challenging. My words failed me; my pictures didn’t do justice to the serenity and awe I felt surrounded by the Canadian Rocky Mountains. I wanted to share my experience first-hand.
So I talked to my sister, Brittany, about the trip. Growing up, we shared many firsts: our first concert without chaperones, our first heartbreaks. We shared such a close bond that I was eager for her to experience nature in the same way I had, both for someone to share it with and just to spark her own joy.
Camping was something we’d never done growing up, so we both had the same level of experience–none. We decided together, we’d have the courage to try RV camping.
We had no clue what to expect.
After a long work week, we hit the road out of Chicago. Like true camping amateurs, we packed everything we could think of: food, utensils, toilet paper, seasoning, trash bags, speakers–everything but our own beds. The drive from Chicago to northern Michigan was peaceful and nostalgic. As kids, we’d spent summers in Michigan visiting family, even living there for a few years, before we relocated to the South. As we drove, we reminisced about our childhood memories, pointed out familiar places we passed, sang songs and reveled in the sense of freedom we felt getting out of the city.
We made our way to our campground near Fife Lake. The RV, a 2018 Jayco Jay Flight, had been delivered and set-up at the campsite for us. It was bigger than I imagined. When we went inside, we were delighted at the comfortable and roomy interior. We ooh-ed and ahh-ed at the master bed, bunks, refrigerator, shower, and what felt like an endless amount of cabinet storage. And although we’d overpacked, everything we brought along fit inside with space to spare.
We made ourselves at home right away. Together, we prepped for dinner and cooked over an open fire, watched the night creep in and the Milky Way come to life against the pitch black sky. Under so many glittering stars, we felt like we were right where we should be.
The next morning, we made coffee in the RV, then took it down to a river to journal and wake up. After breakfast, we noticed that the bathroom tub wasn’t draining. Between prepping a feast of produce for dinner, doing dishes and taking our morning’s showers, we’d lost sight of the limited capacity for waste water in the RV and had to empty the tank. Whoops!
With that taken care of, we began a day of adventure, including hiking, fishing and kayaking. Although neither of us had been camping, my sister had somehow managed to both kayak and fish without me in the past, but I was eager to try two things I’d never done before.
On the North County Trail, we hiked into lush green forest, damp with a gentle rain that had begun to fall. The trail was so serene and magical; we stopped to look at storybook mushrooms growing along the path, listen to the sounds of wildlife nearby and take pictures to commemorate our experience together. The sound of thunder rumbling in the distance began to grow louder, cutting our hike short. We made it back to the car just as the skies opened.
“The beauty of any first time is that it leads to a thousand others...”
As the summer storm blew over, we made our way toward Fife Lake, where we planned to put our borrowed kayaks in the water. I’ve never been totally comfortable navigating the water, but with Brittany with me, I was open to the challenge. Soon, the sun came out and the rain moved on, leaving us with a brilliant blue sky over the lake. As we dropped our boats in the water and climbed in, I felt a little uncertain. It’s awkward to step into a boat so low to the water and the waves made it feel unsteady. But as we pushed off and paddled over calm waters, Brittany noticed I was nervous and assured me it would all be okay. She distracted me with some much-needed girl talk and I began to relax.
Then it hit me. In that moment, I was living my truth and having the epitome of a first-time experience. I was fully present, even though I’d stepped outside my comfort zone. Doing something for the first time means taking a leap of faith, letting go of expectations for any specific outcome. But if you allow yourself to embrace that uncertainty, you’re guaranteed to change to your life, just by leaving yourself open to the new and potentially wonderful results. It was so liberating.
On the way to our campground the day before, we’d purchased one-day fishing permits, and the clock was ticking on our 24 hours. So, we headed into shore and packed up our gear, driving to a nearby spot locals said was good for fishing.
As a fishing rookie, it took me a while to get a squirming warm on my hook, and a few tries to cast a good line into the water. We were on the bank of a river with a quick-moving current, which made me feel optimistic about catching something. I cast into the water and we waited.
Bugs swarmed around us on the damp, weedy banks of the river, and I adjusted my own expectations, little by little. I told myself we were there for the experience, not necessarily to catch a fish successfully. I told myself to be patient, wait a few minutes longer. And then I felt my hope peter out.
As soon as I thought I wouldn’t get lucky, I felt a tug on the line. It moved upstream, pulling against my fishing rod. I’d caught something! We screamed and Brittany cheered me on as I clumsily reeled in my first-ever catch. I fought against the fish and against the pull of the current, bug-eyed and excited to see what was on my hook.
As I lifted my trophy out of the river, it broke the surface of the water. I held my breath, feeling triumphant.
On the end of my hook dangled a thick, juicy catch of...tree bark.
My mouth fell open.
The slab of bark dangled and twisted at the end of my line. And then we began to laugh. We laughed at the bait and switch the river gave us. We laughed at the thick tapestry of bugs buzzing around our heads, driving us nuts. We laughed at the fat drops of rain that began to come down again, and kept on laughing until we heard the familiar roll of thunder in the near distance.
The moment couldn’t have been more unexpected–or genuine. Despite the lackluster outcome, it became the highlight of our day. As a new storm rolled in, we were ready to get back to the RV and reflect on the amazing day we’d had together in nature.
Get ready to learn something. You don’t know what you don’t know, but life always has a lesson planned. We learned the hard way about filling up the grey water tank, but we also learned how to empty it. Problem solved!
Plan for the unexpected. Before our hike, we geared up in our hiking attire and packed water and light snacks. But we forgot to check the weather and we were rained on. That’s okay! If you go with no expectations and enjoy the unexpected, you’ll have a great time anyway.
Get excited about (scary) new things. Kayaking wasn’t the easiest thing for me try. I’m not the strongest swimmer and I was nervous about getting on the water. I pushed through my nerves and we wound up finding a shallow place to kayak. I knew if I tipped, I could stand in chest high water and get back in my boat. Always honor your limits–but don’t be afraid to get excited even as you push through any intimidation.
Savor the process. Fishing is not for everyone. As we got the proper gear together, bought bait and made sure we had a permit, it took a lot of patience. And we hadn’t even cast off yet! As you can imagine, handling a squirming worm to bait, fighting mosquitoes, then waiting to catch a fish–it could’ve been stressful. But I chose to be calm and savor the journey. Even though all I caught was a chunk of tree bark, the excitement of reeling it in was real and at the end of the day, created a memory I’ll always treasure sharing with my sister.