“Some national parks have long waiting lists for camping reservations. When you have to wait a year to sleep next to a tree, something is wrong.”– George Carlin
The time finally arrived; my wife and I took a trip away from home for the first time in over a year. We took a two-night venture to Falmouth, Massachusetts, and stayed in an Airstream at AutoCamp Cape Cod. I am not much of a camper. Even so, staying in an Airstream seemed a perfect way to spend a couple of nights but still enjoying all the luxuries of travel. We would be outside, away from others, and could bring our dog, Mr. Tuttles. It seemed a perfect way to reacclimate to the outside world. If I have learned anything recently, it is that in a pandemic experienced world, anything is possible.
But was it a trip I would do again? Did sleeping in an Airstream help me see the outdoors as a viable alternative to resort amenities? Keep reading to see, but here is a hint; this anti-camper not only recalled memories of childhood but could also not stop quoting a ‘88 John Candy film. Sure, while I do not consider myself “obnoxious,” I am slightly more the Roman character played by Dan Aykroyd in The Great Outdoors than Chet played by Candy. A classic comedy from 1988 written by John Hughes, the outdoors always makes me think of this film. So, buckle up, get the fire pit ready, and dust off the VHS player. We are talking camping, travel, and a classic cinematic comedy.
Background: A Life Lacking Camping
Let me start by saying that I am not an outdoorsy person and, by nature, do not like “ruffing it.” I do like being outside. I love being amongst nature, but as you have learned previously, I am more at home beside the ocean and staying at resorts with amenities. As a character, I would have survived the first season of Lost since it centered around the airplane crash, beach living, and coming together to follow Jack. Yet, as they moved inland, I would have died before the middle of season two! This fact recently became apparent. Visiting my wife’s aunt Lisa and uncle Larry in Vermont, we sat outside by a bonfire, which Larry is an expert constructing, and played a survival game. We answered questions about what we would do in specific situations, and our answers gaged whether we would survive our “wilderness” predicament. I did not do well, but it was fun and made me think.
Even though being in Vermont, eating grilled chicken and salmon, playing corn hole, and hanging out by a bonfire, are all outside events and created new “mems” or memories, I, unlike Larry, am not at home in the woods. True, I have camped before. When I was a child who didn’t know any better, my family took trips to Jefferson, New Hampshire, and visited land we owned. I have fond recollections of these trips, but we only attempted to camp on the land once or twice. I mean, bless my parents, three boys/one girl bursting with 1980s childhood energy. I remember one camping venture pretty clearly. We slept in sleeping bags, in terrible mesh tents, on a shoddily built wooden platform, and under the bright stars—parts of that sound fantastic. In a world of bright lights, the bustle of everyday life, that environment sounds majestic. But I think about it with a nostalgic gloss since my parents sold the land, and those carefree days of childhood are gone.
My family owned that land in New Hampshire for decades. We often took trips to see it, walk the property with no care about ticks, or jumped in the cold brook, but I did so with excitement about “the great outdoors” I have not had since then. My family built a beautiful log cabin on that property years later, and when visiting my parents, I could see the exact spot where we camped that one night in the late ‘80s. Of course, I observed the location of a long-fermented memory while enjoying a roof, shower, and the splendor of being in a chic cabin. Maybe that made the memory more sentimental. I could participate with it by observing its context without any of the icky parts. I ended up camping once more, in my early twenties, and I wouldn’t say I liked it.
In the early 2000’s several friends, at the time, planned a camping trip to a campsite in Northern New Hampshire, very close to my parent’s home in Jefferson. Attempting to participate while keeping a toe in both worlds, I camped for one night and stayed at the cabin the other night. This way, I could easily escape to shower and eat foods that were not hotdogs and sausages on a stick. Once I arrived at the campsite, I knew it wasn’t for me. I was sharing a tent with three others in a very uncomfortable sleeping bag and in the middle of a New England August, which is freaking hot. I tried to make the best of it, went swimming in a lake, jumped off a very high bridge to the river below, and cooked food over an open pit, and had the best time I could. If that sounds like the premise of an ‘80s or early ‘90s film, good, I tell myself that to make it sound wicked cool.
It’s been nearly two decades, and those are my only camping experiences. Some reading this might scoff. I probably haven’t given it a chance. This inadequacy might be why my wife and I decided to stay in an Airstream for a couple of days. An Airstream stay at AutoCamp on Cape Cod is not camping. I won’t pretend that it is, but it’s not like staying at The Nantucket Resort & Spa. Still, you can’t compare them. They offer different experiences. I always thought Airstreams looked hip, classic, and, well, unique. It seemed an excellent opportunity to “glamp,” or camp, with the luxury I seek when traveling. I had no idea this existed, let alone, was less than an hour away from home, and in an area of the Cape, I knew well. After realizing that the campsite was pet-friendly, we booked it for the end of April. Upon doing so, I instantly remembered The Great Outdoors.
The Great Outdoors (1988)
John Candy was, and still is, a treasure. I spoke of my praise for Candy when I posted about a disastrous travel experience and included a discussion about Planes, Trains & Automobiles, a comedy classic. Directed by Howard Deutch, who helmed Pretty in Pink, written by the legend John Hughes and starring Candy and Dan Aykroyd, The Great Outdoors is not the best comedy of the ‘80s, but it does many things well. In so doing, the film showcases solid comedic moments. When selecting a Candy film, I love Summer Rental, Armed & Dangerous with Eugene Levy, Spaceballs, and probably my two favorites, after Planes, Trains & Automobiles, Uncle Buck, and Cool Runnings. Is The Great Outdoors situated amongst that group; absolutely!
Premiering in 1988, The Great Outdoors is a smooth and quick film with a respectable 6.6 score on IMDb. It has a Rotten Tomatoes score of 44% Rotten by critics, but 70% Fresh by fans. Here is the overall premise: “It’s vacation time for outdoorsy Chicago man Chet Ripley (John Candy), along with his wife, Connie (Stephanie Faracy), and their two kids, Buck (Chris Young) and Ben (Ian Giatti). But a quiet weekend of fishing at a Wisconsin lakeside cabin gets crashed by Connie’s obnoxious brother-in-law, Roman Craig (Dan Aykroyd), his wife, Kate (Annette Bening), and the couple’s two daughters. As the excursion wears on, the Ripleys find themselves at odds with the stuffy Craig family.” A simple yet entertaining premise and one filled with iconic John Candy moments and examples of why I’m not fond of camping.
The Great Outdoors is a perfect example of a film that critics disliked, performed adequately at the box office, making just north of $43 Million on a $24 Million budget, but had a wonderful life on VHS, becoming a cult classic and seasonal watch in my home in the ‘90s. It was the 25th highest grossing film of 1988, which either says a lot about the movies made that year, or this is a film that requires more attention. I mean, this was an era when John Hughes films were hitting home runs every time, so, at least to me, it had a well-developed screenplay and good plot with funny moments. I mean, putting John Candy and Dan Aykroyd together in headlining roles might not have produced Planes, Trains and Automobiles level of success, but let’s be honest, you’re not getting garbage. You will laugh and enjoy the value of entertainment these actors provide.
I will not discuss the entire film, but rather a couple of moments that stood out to me and act in conjunction with my overall camping outlook. I love the brilliant cinematic moment on the porch, where Roman and Chet discuss what they see, sitting on wooden rocking chairs and observing the beautiful lake and forests directly in front of them. I feel I am more Chet than Roman at this moment. Roman’s ignorance or inconceivable nature blocks him from seeing Chet’s perspective. And true, some of Romans feelings about the outdoors, I somewhat jokingly share, like why camp; when you don’t have to. Roman asks Chet why, since he has an excellent job, as if that matters, he wanted to vacation for a few weeks in a cabin and enjoy “the great outdoors.” Roman endeavors to understand Chet, even if it comes across as an attack, mainly because of his mannerisms, as he lights up a cigar, puts on cologne, and speaks with a pompous tone. For Chet, “outdoors” was a reminder of his youth, his father, and memories of enjoyments he wanted to hand down to his children and share with them.
As I said earlier, my strolls in the wooded areas of the land in Jefferson, NH, did that to me, as does my return to the waters of Buzzards Bay. I understand Chet’s vision entirely, even if the outdoors is not my warm center, as it is to him. Roman is a cynic, quick to cut down, and pessimistic in his vision and outlook. But, after he explains that he cannot see the beautiful water of the lake, the trees, the blue sky, but relatively untapped resources, a thirst for money, and production, he credits Chet for seeing it for what it is, which may be an insult, but I feel that’s a misread. Roman can’t see it that way but, sadly, wishes he could. He can’t turn off the part of his brain that is “competitively” wired, faced paced, and looks for an opportunity in every interaction. It’s a short, maybe two-minute, scene offering different visions of the great outdoors, but in a gentle yet somber and poetic manner.
The Great Outdoors is a film filled with hilarious comedic moments. There is a scene when Chet and Roman try to get a bat out of the house, which reminds me of when my brother Bobby and I did the same thing, but with less humor. Animal-based comedic moments are plenty in this film, with a group of raccoons, or trash antagonists going through the garbage, which reminds me of Linda from Bob’s Burgers, and her fascination with raccoon politics in the alley behind the eatery. Bears make an appearance as local legends ready to give chase and bust down doors. Still, in terms of reminding me of my ill feelings about camping, it covers other camping activities, like waterskiing down at the lake, which Chet engages in, but to his turmoil and the viewer’s amusement.
In the end, it’s a movie about the “great outdoors,” yet packaged in a film with storylines of young love, family dynamics, and seeking respite from city life, but bear legends, lightning strikes, and a substantial 96-ounce prime-aged beef steak make it memorable. When Chet attempts to eat the wicked massive piece of meat, the entire scene is one of the most iconic of the film. The music is sublime, the transitions designed to perfection, and John Candy is the only person who could sell both the excitement, the fear, and the agony of this eating enterprise. What does this have to do with camping? Come on, don’t you have brutally meaty meals for those of you who do camp? You might not have tackled the “96er,” but you get what the scene attempted!
The movie illustrated a family ready to tear itself apart and came together during hardship. By slowing things down, getting away from the mundane is essential to reimagining life. It was about Chet connecting with his memories in an attempt to reshape his next steps. Sometimes, looking back as we move ahead is necessary. I have always felt that way. After a year of isolation, retooling my understanding of what life is, what it’s about, and what I wish for it to be, seems impossible to deny. Similar to Chet, and maybe to an extent Roman, I sought a unique terrain to reclaim “life.” Sure, no bears appeared, no massive steaks, and, well, no major disasters at all. Even so, “glamping” is a far cry from camping, but like Chet, I needed to gain a deeper perspective of my own life by removing myself from it, even briefly, and then invest in it completely.
Airstream Cape Cod: Day One
My wife and I agreed that we would book our trip to Falmouth, Massachusetts, and to AutoCamp Cape Cod once we were fully vaccinated. Booking our stay was relatively easy. Even though the camp was opened less than a month, there were clear instructions about our lodging options. They had Airstreams, tents, and hip retrofitted storage containers, several of which had ramps promoting handicap accessibility. We, from the get-go, wanted an Airstream, which had a bathroom, kitchen stocked with mini-fridge, utensils, and plates and cups, as well as a coffee maker. We knew what we wanted, but there were several types of Airstreams, with price points from $309 per night to $409 (off-season prices). We choose the cheaper option, as the price was reflective of location, and we were happy being close to the clubhouse.
With our Airstream reserved online and an extra pet fee of $75 paid, we were excited at the prospect of bringing Mr. Tuttles. It had been nearly a year since his major surgery, and with the pandemic, we were rarely away from him. A couple of days before our trip, we got an email with all the information we needed. It informed us of the rules, stipulations, and expectations. The message provided a link to a few YouTube tutorial videos and explained the COVID protocols. Everything was self-explanatory, but we appreciated the attention to detail. When our trip arrived, we were ready, and with steady rain, we departed for Cape Cod.
With check-in at 3 PM, we arrived in Falmouth a few hours early. We wanted to survey the town and get some goodies to bring to the camp. So we drove, with Mr. Tuttles snoring on the backseat, and arrived in Falmouth not 45 minutes later and proceeded to the town center. I am no novice in visiting Cape Cod. I grew up off the Cape and often cruised Route 6 with friends in a time when that seemed entertaining. I rarely visited Falmouth, so this was somewhat new to me, and I liked the town. Corinne explored Maison Villate, which is a “French bakery” offering delicious “breads, croissants & pastries in cozy & rustic digs.” She purchased several pastries and a couple of freshly baked breads, including a sourdough loaf, my favorite! Then we drove to a fish market that sold fresh local favorites that I had not procured in some time, like New Bedford scallops. The Clam Man is the perfect place to get all your fresh fish and shellfish while staying in the Falmouth area. The proximity to Woods Hole and the port of New Bedford is incredible. You can’t beat the quality of the seafood on the South Coast of Massachusetts and Cape Cod.
After observing the quality of the fresh seafood, we departed for our last stop before heading to the Airstream. We visited Aquatic Brewing. I have been to most breweries on the Cape & Islands, but this establishment is relativity new. The brewery was not allowing people to drink on-site due to COVID protocols, but I purchased a couple of “crawlers,” which are large 32-ounce cans filled with craft beer from the tap. I bought Corinne a Pie in the Sky Coffee Oatmeal Stout, and I went with my top choice, which is usually a Wheat or a Kolsch. They had the Alemã, which is a “hazy straw-colored wheat ale” and the “aroma of citrus zest and warming spices leads to a pleasantly hopped, citrusy beer with a dry finish.”
With our beer, bread, and of course, Mr. Tuttles, we called the AutoCamp and asked if our Airstream was ready. They told us it was and texted us all the information we needed. When we arrived, we pulled into a beautifully landscaped area. We drove straight to the clubhouse, a beautiful building resembling a ski lodge, with everything you need inside, including food, snacks, beer/wine, firewood, charcoal, seating, and a blazing fireplace. It was a well-decorated and uniquely designed building. The text instructed us to visit the clubhouse, and outside, staff attached an envelope to the wall marked with a “code word.” We needed to take that because inside was our electric key and map of the campsite. After collecting it, we drove to the parking lot and surveyed the envelope. Luckily, our Airstream was on a slight hill adjacent to the parking lot, closer to the main road. This location was great, and we’re pleased with the ease at which we parked, located our Airstream, and used a camp wagon to bring our luggage/supplies to our campsite.
While my wife walked Mr. Tuttles, I surveyed the silver camper. It was an incredible Airstream, absolutely hip, chic, and retro, but with modern amenities. First, though, let me tell you about the outside. Our site had a nice stone path to our wooden steps and front door to the Airstream and a fire pit, two lounge chairs, and a dining area with two benches, which was adequate for the two of us. We were about twenty feet away from the next Airstream. Still, no one was behind us, and the walking path was directly in front of us, so we had a tremendous amount of privacy, even without tons of mature trees but plenty of perfectly manicured shrubs. It was the first month of AutoCamp’s opening, so it was not at capacity. I would be curious to see what it’s like when all the Airstreams, tents, and retrofitted cabins are full.
The door to the Airstream opens by taping your electric card to the reader, and it unlocks. The inside was spectacular. The Airstream included a spacious living room area with a comfy couch, tons of large windows with privacy shades, a place for shoes/jackets, and a kitchen with everything we needed for a two-night stay. The bathroom was, to be honest, nearly as large as the bathroom of my current house and decorated perfectly and designed efficiently. The main bedroom had a queen-size bed, two nightstands, a television, skylight, and elevated parking lot side windows. I can honestly say there was not one negative feature of the Airstream. For a split second, this “anti-camper” contemplated selling everything and crisscrossing the country on an endless road trip, but it would have to be in an Airstream.
After settling in, Corinne grabbed firewood and ordered food from the clubhouse because they had a kitchen and offered what appeared to be gourmet options. Corinne selected a pizza, and I chose a sandwich. It was raining, and cooking outside was not be an option on night one, which we expected, so we were taking everything in stride. When Corinne returned, she had the firewood (a bag of easy-to-burn Goodwood). Still, the food took a half-hour to prepare, so we relaxed, had some of our delicious craft beer, and sat on the couch, proud that we finally, after a year of solitude, had this opportunity. After 30 minutes, I went to get our food. This 2-minute stroll to the clubhouse allowed me to walk around the site and observe other areas along the way.
When I arrived and inquired about the order, they told me it wasn’t ready, which did cause me a moment of pause, but I didn’t care. I waited by surveying the clubhouse and marveling at the inside and outside patio. It was a gorgeous area with spectacular views of Buzzards Bay, the bike trail, and on a clear day, I feel I could see my childhood town across Buzzards Bay. As I stood on the beautiful green common area outside the clubhouse, I felt at ease and even relaxed near the massive fire pit, which helped against the cold temperature. After about 25 minutes, they gave me my order, offered their apologies, and provided some mac and cheese bites “on the house.” Food in hand, I headed back, but the food was not exactly what we expected.
I will not say much about the food since my parents always taught me that you don’t say anything if you don’t have anything nice to say. Thank goodness for the mac and cheese bites! In the end, this meal was disappointing because we expected and believed we were getting something different, but it was the camp’s first month, so we let it go. It wasn’t enough to ruin our night, but with the rain starting to come down more and building a fire impossibility, we decided to go for a walk with Mr. Tuttles and relax in the Airstream sipping on more of our craft beer. With our first day/night completed, we went to sleep, for the first time in a long time, in bed other than our own and awoke eagerly for a full day at the campsite.
Airstream Cape Cod: Day Two
Corinne and I slept well in the Airstream, and even though each unit is equipped with heat/AC, we required neither with the windows open and cool breezes keeping Mr. Tuttles and us sleeping wonderfully. While we had a full day of beautiful Cape weather in April, meaning cool but sunny, we didn’t have anything planned. Although this was a Sunday night to Tuesday morning trip, I did have to teach my remote history course but to be honest, it was fun, and the students enjoyed seeing a new background! But, before teaching, I walked to the clubhouse to check out the complimentary breakfast options but didn’t see anything I wanted except delicious coffee. We brought breakfast staples with us, so we decided to eat those before my class, but while I was teaching, Corinne drove to a local bakery and picked up more coffee and sandwiches for lunch.
Once my class ended, Corinne returned with coffee and sandwiches from downtown Falmouth. For the coffee, she visited Coffee Obsession. This hip coffee shop has a beautiful vibe and excellent espressos, lattes, and your classic coffee combos. For the sandwiches, she went to Pie in the Sky Bakery & Cafe, who so happened to produce the coffee at the Auto Camp, which was complimentary for guests. Located in historic Woods Hole, this eatery had tons of “handmade croissants, pies, cookies, popovers, and bread, all baked from scratch on the premises” and “hearty, made to order sandwiches and…homemade soups, quiche, and salads make the perfect addition to any adventure, from a shore-side picnic to lunch at the office.” Overall, the sandwiches were stellar, and the coffee phenomenal!
After lunch, we took Mr. Tuttles and what was left of our coffee to go. We wanted to walk around the grounds since the weather was terrific. We strolled to the bike path, which runs through the campsite and stretches for several miles, and then walked around the common area, just outside the clubhouse, where we observed the ocean and took in the coastal air. It was a fun hour or so, walking around, talking, and feeling normal for the first time in a long time. But, as this was a trip to enjoy the Airstream, we headed back to relax and at points sat outside doing nothing except resting, with our feet up, and of course, Mr. Tuttles sleeping on several blankets near the Airstream entrance.
Later in the day, Corinne and I decided to drive to the neighboring town of Mashpee, MA. Mashpee is a town we know all too well from years of vacations. We decided to visit Cape Cod Coffee, an establishment with a new, hip, massive building/location and delicious coffee. Driving around in Mashpee, on the Cape, was terrific. We eventually visited Mashpee Commons, walked around, and ordered burritos to bring back to the Airstream and ate on the dining table outside. We returned to the Airstream soon after, enjoyed our burritos, and prepared our fire pit and our “Goodwood,” which are environmentally friendly compressed logs in a burlap bag that are easy to burn.
The AutoCamp does not allow you to burn anything else in your pits, for safety, of course. So, with our pit prepared, we sat down, s’more utensils in hand, lit the bags, and the burn began. The fire lasted for hours, and it was terrific. We sat outside, Mr. Tuttles included, and chatted as the fire continued to burn, and once it dies out, we threw another bag on and enjoyed this routine into the evening hours. Of course, we enjoyed our s’mores, the rest of our craft beer, leftover sourdough loaf, and our time outside, under a crisp sun and chilly moon. This time was by far my favorite moment of the weekend. How could it not be? The luxury of an Airstream, but the hip, fun, and outdoorsy thrill of a fire pit. Now dark and the fire out, we relaxed inside the Airstream, smelling of campfire, and decided to call it a night.
We had a fantastic night’s sleep that night, but we got up extra early to leave. We managed to visit the clubhouse one last time to get some complimentary coffee, but otherwise, we packed the car, made the bed, threw out the trash, and left with Cape Cod and Falmouth to our backs, but home towards our north. I am still not a fan of camping, but AutoCamp Cape Cod did provide a fantastic alternative. I was outside, enjoyed the fun of a camping trip, but receded into my Airstream to recharge. Doing so reminded me that while I may play yard games on the lawn outside the clubhouse or have a fire pit that can roast a marshmallow, or even see signs to not leave food out at night to avoid drawing in the wildlife, I was certainly not “ruffing” it. Would I go back? Sure! Would I maybe want to try camping in the wilderness, now that I took a baby step? Nope. If anything, this trip reassured me that I am more ocean than woods, even if AutoCamp Cape Cod successfully mixed both worlds. But I will hand it to AutoCamp Cape Cod; they made me think differently for a moment.