22 Jul 2016
|56th Escapade is this year’s annual rally for the Escapees RV Club. It’s been on my agenda for more than a year, since it was too far out of my route to visit the 55th Escapade last year in Arizona.
As with other RV Rallies, we would be parked in an open field using rally-style parking, that is, we would be parked in the order in which we arrived. Just prior to this rally, I made arrangements to rendezvous with two couples who are also DOVEs. We met at a rest area on the Interstate near the Essex Junction, Vermont. Our three RVs were parked side-by-side near the convention rooms of the Champlain Valley Exposition.
There were over 2,000 attendees who arrived in about 1,000 RVs. Most but not all of them are full-timers and are members of Escapees RV Club. Most Escapees live in the southeast of the United States. Southern California and Arizona are very popular with RVers. This is due partly to the great winter weather but also to the vast stretches of open land with low cost (or free) camping opportunities. This year’s Escapade is the farthest east that it’s ever been held. As a result, attendance by long-term members was very low but first-time attendance was very high.
The scheduled activities lasted 6 days but I opted for “early arrival” and “late departure” which amounted to 9 days. I spent most of the extra time with my DOVE friends.
The main focus of the rally was four days of presentations, meetings, vendors, and entertainment. Most days, there were four sessions with five simultaneous presentations in each session. Thus, it was physically impossible to attend all of them. I managed to attend eleven, including topics like “Health Emergencies on the Road”, “Free Camping on Your Public Lands”, and “Living the RV Dream”.
The “Market” building was filled with vendors. Many of them sold specific products, like satellite antennas, safety equipment and electronics for RVs. Most of the rest sold insurance, travel services, and publications for RVers. I bought several small items but resisted the temptation to add significant weight to the RV.
The “Outdoor Market” was a disappointment for me personally. The advance advertising listed it an RV Show. Unfortunately, the location in northern Vermont prevented all but one vendor from showing up. That one vendor only brought very large, very expensive “bus-style” motorhomes. I avoided checking out the prices but imagine that all of them cost over ½ million dollars. Even if I was interested in a motorhome, I couldn’t afford one of these. So, I never went inside any of them.
Another feature of Escapade is “The Row”. This is where various Escapee groups have their booths.
Some of the booths on The Row are for Escapee chapters. I haven’t joined any regional chapters, since I never stay in any one place very long. However, Chapter 8 has the unique mission of serving Americans who plan to travel to Mexico in an RV. They’re having a rally in February 2017 in Baja California (Pacific coast of Mexico). This is perfect for me! I’m leery of traveling in Mexico alone since my Spanish is pitiful. I don’t want to travel with a professional tour company since they charge thousands of dollars and insist on a rigid schedule. Chapter 8 leads a “caravan” of RVs to and from their rally at minimal cost. I quickly joined Chapter 8 and will sign up for their rally as soon as registration for it opens.
Some of the booths are for “co-ops”. These are campgrounds owned by Escapees that are only open to other Escapees. There are very few co-ops in the East. Almost all of them are in the Southwest. Since I’m planning on spending this winter in the Southwest, I visited all of their booths. One offers “first night free”; others offer very low rates. I collected their literature and plan to stay at several of them.
Lastly, there are the BoF (Birds-of-a-feather) booths. These are sub-groups within Escapees for members with similar interests.
On “The Row”, the DOVE booth featured sign-ups for a Red Cross Blood Drive being held in conjunction with Escapade. I’ve been a member of DOVE (Disaster Operations Volunteer Escapees) for more than a year. There were about 20 DOVEs in attendance at this rally. Since none of the other DOVEs at this rally were able to park together, our three sites became the central meeting point. During the week, we had two pot-luck dinners and several “happy-hour” gatherings. Following the “DOVE 101” presentation, we enlisted five new DOVE members!
Another BoF of which I’m a member is SOLOS. As the name implies, these are RVers who travel alone. For my dating options, the female SOLOS come pre-qualified! They already like RVing and several of them are full-timers. There are about 100 SOLOS in Escapees. Of these, only about 16 members attended this rally, roughly equal between men and women. In the evening on the first full day of the rally, the entertainment was provided by a family of four very-talented brothers, who performed a wide variety of popular music. When the bandleader made a casual invitation to dance, some of the women SOLOS took him up on the offer. Not wanting to miss the opportunity to dance, I joined in. I was the only male to dance. Once the women noticed this, I never had to wait more than a few seconds to find a dance partner no matter what style of music the band played. Sometimes, female SOLOS used the old-school dance tradition of tapping someone of the shoulder and cutting in! Every evening at 4:30, the SOLOS held a “Happy Hour”. This was a BYOB (Bring Your Own Beverage) event. We each brought a chair and a snack to share. Unfortunately, there were generally three or four simultaneous discussions going on. With my poor hearing, I had difficulty following any of them. But, I did manage to get involved in several interesting dialogs.
Did I make new friends? Many! Did I have fun? Absolutely! I’ve already registered for the 57th Escapade to be held in Tucson, Arizona in March of 2017.