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Old 01-07-2007, 08:34 AM   #1
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Post RV Show attracts those who love camping with the comforts of home

RV Show attracts those who love camping with the comforts of home

By Cara Solomon
Seattle Times staff reporter

You could have seen the colors from an airplane a blue field, then a yellow field, a quilt of pretty patches from the sky.

But as Peggy Muth recalls it, she had such a sweeter view from the ground, sitting beside her husband, driving their trailer past fields of flax and canola in Canada. They could stop to see the colors up close at any time. And they did.

"Just beautiful country," she sighed.

Muth, 71, stood among thousands of other RV lovers Saturday at the Tacoma Dome, describing the virtues of traveling the country by camper, trailer and motor home.

With its promise of affordability and freedom on the road, RV ownership has rocketed over the past few decades, according to a 2005 University of Michigan study commissioned by the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association. Nearly 8 million households in America now own a recreational vehicle.

The five-day Tacoma RV Show, which continues from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. today, drew all types of drivers, from the owners of red Ford trucks to the buyers of sleek, black, luxury sedans. They wandered through a range of RVs, climbing the narrow stairs of $10,000 trailers and stepping through the spacious living rooms of $501,000 motor homes.

It was a celebration of camping with the comforts of home. The priciest of 500 models came with conveniences big and small, from flat-screen televisions to frosted shower doors to garages for motorcycles, complete with fold-out ramps. Most had large, expandable "slide-outs," making bus-sized vehicles even bigger.

Merlin Muth, 75, calls them "spouse savers." In his 36-foot trailer, the slide-outs give his 52-year marriage room to breathe. The Muths, of Kent, have logged 250,000 miles in more than a decade, crisscrossing America and peeking into Canada on occasion.

As far as he can tell, the only real disadvantage to RVing is the price of the gas: about $180 to fill up.

"I put a glycerine pill under my tongue every time," Muth joked, referring to nitroglycerine tablets taken by heart patients.

Then again, some say it would cost even more to stay in hotels. And like so many RV owners on Saturday, the Muths said some small financial pain was worth the thrill of seeing the country and finding camaraderie wherever they went.

A more relaxed lifestyle, they call it so different from city dwelling.

In RV parks, owners said, strangers chat over barbecue pits. They swap tips about where to go and when. They introduce each other to their traditions, from trips to weeklong rodeos to outings to tractor-demolition contests.

Those long, leisurely trips are part of the fun. But, as the Ottarson family of Port Orchard said, they also are happy to drive their RV to a friend's party. They'll park in the driveway and settle in for a night of drinking, with a bed within walking distance.

Kathleen Ottarson, 62, started camping decades ago on a cross-country trip from California to Maine in a VW Squareback with two children. At some point, she upgraded to a motor home. Now, the RV she shares with her husband, Doyle, feels like luxury, with cabinet space and a queen-sized bed.

All around her, Ottarson noted, RV manufacturers had taken luxury to new heights. Top-of-the-line appliancs. Tiled floors. Spacious bedrooms.

But not all of the newfangled features made sense.

In one RV, she found a wall of windows facing the bathroom door.

"Why?" she asked.

Several RVs down, Ron Denison of Oregon and his twin brother, Don Denison of Tacoma, stood in the hallway of a $501,000 motor home.

Ron Denison praised it as a "condo on wheels." Don Denison said he could buy three houses for the price of it. Both men started camping as boys, recalling those simpler days with affection.

But with families of their own, they said the comforts of a RV are far superior to toughing it out in the woods.

"It's a rite of passage," said Ron Denison, 36, of outdoor camping. "But you shouldn't have to do it forever."
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