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1 couple, 3 dogs and a vintage camper named Chanice: How to travel during a pandemic

  • September 17, 2020

Those of us with a penchant for wanderlusting have suffered in our own unique way these past months. Penned in by not only our four walls, we feel hemmed in by the invisible boundaries on the map that COVID-19 has drawn for us, dictating where we can – and where we mostly cannot – explore, experience, trailblaze. Airplanes? Hotels? Europe? Forget it.

Jenna and Adam Mueller of Cincinnati found a solution to pandemic travel challenges (along with a lot of other people), and they call her Chanice the Shasta, reports the Cincinnati Enquirer, which is a part of the USA TODAY Network.

Dressed in turquoise and white, Chanice is a 19-foot-long replica 1961 Shasta Airflyte camper, carbon-copied from the 1961 blueprints. Only 1,941 were made (to honor the year initial production began on the camper), and the Muellers managed to track one down for sale in Dayton this spring. She’s a dead ringer for the true vintage model, and the Muellers often get compliments from folks who are certain of her age. 

And it’s not just them:More turn to RVs, motor homes to escape COVID-19 – and get away from it all

“We’ve had so many people stop and just, like, randomly taking pictures of it. ‘Oh we’re sorry we’re not being weird, but, like, we grew up with one of these things, like exactly the same color,'” Adam said.

There are updates, of course, like air-conditioning (“Thank God,” Adam says).

(Oh and Chanice? It’s taken from one of the couple’s favorite movies, “Uncle Buck,” which happens to be the nickname they’ve given the truck that pulls her.)

Chanice parked at a winery in Cleveland called Barrel Run Crossing that is part of the Harvest Host membership.

Jenna took inspiration from her love of tiny-home shows to organize and deck out the wood-paneled interior in fitting retro fashion. Adam took his love of tinkering and sunk it into the new hobby of owning and maintaining a camper. Plus, he grew up camping. She did not. A camper, they’re discovering, is a wonderful compromise.

Chanice is a means to go on the adventures Jenna and Adam miss during the pandemic. Traveling is a big part of what makes them happy. But it’s something that became a near impossibility during these times due to Jenna’s multiple sclerosis diagnosis. Chanice helps them avoid crowds and having to touch public surfaces, but still travel.

“This was a way for us to get on the road and travel in a self-contained way,” Jenna said. “And it’s my tiny house dream, too, getting to live tiny a little bit at a time.”

And then there’s one of the biggest reasons they bought the camper: so their dogs Margot, Gus and Dewey can accompany them on their journeys.

Dewey looks out the window of Chanice, a 2015 Shasta Airflyte Reissue camper.

Working on the road will be an added bonus since both Jenna, a copywriter, and Adam, self-employed in digital marketing, are working from home due to the pandemic, trading between conference calls and caring for the dogs. They’ve tested it by taking the occasional conference call in the camper, or working inside it while it’s parked at home.

The real test comes during their weeks-long adventure this month to Vermont and the Adirondacks in New York, a spot full of childhood memories for Adam, whose grandfather grew up nearby. Now, Adam says, Jenna loves it even more than he does.

“What difference does it make where you work from as long as you have an internet connection? It’s the big experiment if we can do it. Hopefully, the weather is nice and I’ll be working from a picnic table outside,” Adam said. He’s planning to build a desk in the camper that pulls down from the wall to further equip it for on-the-road work.

This will be their longest trip yet, inching farther from home each time, starting with a few in-state excursions to Cowan Lake and Hueston Woods north of Cincinnati; then a state park near Cleveland; then Petoskey, Michigan, before the big drive to New England.

They’ve also joined Harvest Hosts, a network of more than 1,100 farms, wineries, breweries and museums that offer free stays on their grounds in exchange for the purchase of some of their goods. And most of these places are dog-friendly – perfect for Gus, Margot and Dewey to get some zoomies..

The Muellers used those early trips to work out the kinks. As they’re discovering, camper ownership can be … fiddly. Jenna recounted the misadventures of their first camping trip on her blog, where she gives an honest account of an activity social media has glamorized.

Jenna Beall Mueller and Adam Mueller's 2015 Shasta Airflyte Reissue camper features a full size bed, a three burner cooktop, microwave, refrigerator with freezer, sink, and storage.

“If you look at a lot of people that do the glamping kind of thing, everything they put on Instagram is always those highly stylized best moments of things,” Adam said. “I think Jenna’s blog certainly has some stylized moments, but it also talks about those things that people don’t expect the first time they buy one of these things.

“She’s really good at documenting. Like the first day, we pulled it back in the driveway here. That was pretty comical.”

Jenna Beall Mueller and Adam Mueller make Skyline at the campground for dinner.

Their narrow Pleasant Ridge street and driveway has been one of the big anxieties of owning a camper, Jenna said. Adam adds: “Neighbors watch.” 

Towing? Adam’s not as nervous about that: “I’m more nervous if the electrical fuse goes wrong.”

It’s one of the reasons the Muellers went with a new camper with vintage looks: no vintage mechanics.

“It’s a steep learning curve with camper camping. It feels like a hobby you have to learn and practice,” Jenna said. Thankfully, they’ve found RV campers to be friendly and super helpful.

Everything is a little smaller, and nothing is fast with owning a camper, either, Adam said: “Whether it’s taking it down, cleaning it out, setting it up, fixing something, driving in it. You’ve got to go slower, you’ve got to be more patient with your surroundings. But once you’re there, wherever the heck you’re going, it’s really relaxing.”

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