It’s hard being new parents. You bring home your new acquisition, stare at it incredulously with doe-eyed wonder, with equal parts joy and intimidation.
“We got it home and said, ‘What have we done?! We don’t even know how to use it!'” Laureen Blakemore of Blacksburg offers, thinking back to the days when they hadn’t yet figured out how to get their brand-new bundle-of-camper up their steep driveway.
Laureen and her husband, Mike, purchased the 2018 Thor Motor Coach Four Winds close to quitting time during a St. Patrick’s Day sale. The salesman, anxious to clock out, took all of five minutes to explain operations. The two drove it to an interstate RV park, and actually paid for a spot, just to practice using the sewer system.
Since settling into life with a camper, the Blakemores have enjoyed galivants up and down the eastern seaboard and as far west as Texas, mostly targeting state parks for the peacefulness and facilities. They’ve taken it to family reunions, to visit kids in college and currently, to annual escapes with friends to Gatewood Park in Pulaski. But their favorite destination is Carrabelle, Fla., where they belly right up to the sea.
“It’s a little bit of home that comes with us,” Mike states. “And you don’t have to worry about how much you pack,” Laureen adds.
Now “Spudnik,” named as a clever twist on the Russian word “Sputnik” meaning “traveling companion” and the couples’ love of potatoes, sports 30,000 rental miles. “It’s been back and forth across the country twice. Just not with us,” Mike explains.
The idea sparked when they were pricing out what it would cost to fly to California and rent an RV for the trip back. In the process, they discovered, a company that aggregates available RV, camper van and travel trailer rentals internationally. Outdoorsy takes care of vetting of renter driving history and insurance. Rentable units are showcased on profile pages like those found on Airbnb or Vrbo.
“It was sitting in the driveway a lot and we’re paying every month for it. It might as well be doing something. Now it pays for itself,” Mike says.
“Spudnik” runs on a Ford E-350 chassis and is licensed for five passengers. There are two queen beds, one full bed, a large refrigerator and freezer, a 3-burner gas cooktop and a microwave. A 40-gallon freshwater tank services the full bath. Linens are provided as well as basic cookware and cleaning supplies. After a 90-minute orientation – required by Outdoorsy, that includes a driving (and parking) lesson – it is ready to roll. When the Blakemores’ profile went live, it was booked within two days.
“We set it up how we would want to rent it, we didn’t want it to be a math exam. Being able to say “Off you go!’ is what’s helped with some of the bookings.” The camper rents for daily, weekly and monthly rates which include unlimited miles and use of the generator.
“Spudnik” once hosted four cousins who arrived in Blacksburg from all over the country to tour the Blue Ridge Parkway. This year there is a booking for Virginia Tech graduation where it will simply be enjoyed in a local driveway. (Do you best not to think of “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.”) “Spudnik” might even go to Floyd Fest this year. Outdoorsy lets renters set allowable travel and destination parameters.
At just 23 feet in length, the Blakemores have established a niche corner of the market because they offer a small, easy-to-drive camper and one that allows pets. Mike and Laureen took their cats to Gatewood Park once, though it comically proved to be less than a pleasurable experience.
Laureen and Mike met when they were 13 in Banbury, England, and were married in 1989. In 1995, they embarked on three months of tent camping in the U.S. from Canada to Florida with their 2-year-old daughter and 4-year-old son. They eventually arrived in Blacksburg to visit a cousin of Laureen’s. In 1996, they relocated to Blacksburg permanently, halfway between family members in New York and Florida.
Each year the couple looks ahead at the calendar year to block out times they want to use the camper. They add in buffer days for maintenance, which Mike takes care of, plus professional cleaning.
As they set their sights on eventual retirement and a bigger RV, Mike and Laureen have mapped out a lengthy bucket list trip to explore the American West. They thought about living in a camper full time, but they want to bring their cats, which causes pause. “We’d need to pull a cattery,” Mike laughs, recalling their previous cat conundrum. “We could even have extra storage underneath it!” After all, with camper life, it’s all about the nooks and crannies of where to tuck things. Apparently, even cats.


Text by Nancy S. Moseley
Photos by Christy Wallace

Nancy S. Moseley is a freelance writer from Blacksburg. She once rented a camper to travel out west and learned the importance of securing everything in the refrigerator the hard way. Especially glass bottles, like the kind that hold beer. Or not.