On a jaunt through Montana, one 20-something couple discovers that RVs are not just for retirees. In fact, they may be the perfect way to find a bit of adventure in any trip.
I WAS IN NO WAY qualified to be in the driver’s seat. As the 27-foot Thor motor home squeezed into rush-hour traffic outside Missoula, Montana, my knuckles whitened around the steering wheel; meanwhile, Caroline, my wife, braced for impact, clinging to the passenger door. I’ve never been a great driver, and, looking back, I’m unsure why I thought I could handle a vehicle equal in size to our New York apartment. As car after car buzzed past, I tried to keep the RV steady, fully expecting to lose control, plunge over the railing, and meet my end in the Blackfoot, one of the rivers we intended to fish that week. After driving for an hour, though, I stopped feeling as though death was inevitable. Perhaps I was overreacting. Time would tell, I guessed, and we both relaxed our grips.
Our goal for the next four days: fly-fish Missoula’s four iconic rivers—the Blackfoot, the Bitterroot, the Clark Fork, and Rock Creek. Neither Caroline nor I had fished Montana, the trout promised land, before, nor had either of us spent much time in a motor home. I’d long been fascinated by RVs, for reasons I can’t explain, so the trip was a chance to indulge the curiosity. Over the past decade or so, Airstream trailers have enjoyed a nostalgia-fueled resurgence, in no small part thanks to their Instagram-worthiness. The Thor, I admit, lacked the same sex appeal. But it was pretty nice. Roomy, well-designed, easy enough to operate. What more could you want?
Our first morning of fishing, we floated the Blackfoot with guide Ryan Steen. We wanted to start the trip strong, in the event that, left to our own devices, we couldn’t get on fish, a real possibility given our track record. We drifted dropper rigs and pulled one trout after the next from the cold, heavy current.
At the end the day, it was a relief to return to the air-conditioned RV, parked at a gas station where we’d met Steen. Motor homes represent something of a quandary, I realized. To travel in one is to reject both camping and sleeping indoors. You’re neither roughing it nor resigning yourself to the comforts of a house or hotel. You’re close to nature, but not too close. They’re easy to mock, sure. But it’s hard to hate the convenience, and the fact that most any public pull-off can become your campsite for the night. It was also fire season, with campfire restrictions in place, so we were still able to grill bratwursts and veggies in the RV’s kitchen.
Things did get a bit dicey on our third day, when I accidentally turned down a gravel road, and, with no place to reverse, had to follow it for 20 miles, until it finally looped back to the highway. But the motor home, and our relationship, was no worse for the wear.
The next couple days passed in a blur. We slung streamers after dark in the Bitterroot and hooked pike in the Clark Fork. At dusk under the Darby Bridge, we cast at rising rainbows, and hiked to a mountain stream after wildfires kept us off Rock Creek. We stayed a night at a KOA, where kids splashed in a pool and a guy crooned country songs on a makeshift stage. At the Square Dance Center & Campground, in Lolo, we watched as floral-clad couples twirled one another on the dance floor.
The trip ended where it had begun, on the Blackfoot, with us on the water again before having to catch our flight. The RV hadn’t been the most nimble way to travel, we discovered. But the moment I remember most from those days is not when I hooked a nice fish or made a perfect cast, but when we rumbled onto the highway and I glanced over at Caroline, still not entirely sure whether we were going to die but certain that we were about to have some fun.
This story appears in the print edition of the June 2018 issue, with the headline “Thrill Ride in the Big Rig.”
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