- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 8, 2001

When CMH Records producer Rex Quick needed to come up with an idea for a new album, he took a journey back in time to the road trips of his childhood.

"I remember as a kid going on long trips," the 26-year-old says. "I grew up in a family that did that fairly religiously, so I wanted to put together a group of songs for RVers."

In January, he released "RV Songs: Life on the American Road," a mostly bluegrass instrumental album with such favorites as "Born in the USA" and "All My Ex's Live In Texas."

With more than 8.6 million Americans owning recreational vehicles, and the average RVer spending more than 23 days on the road a year, the CD may have a huge market in a little-known pocket of American culture. One in 10 American vehicle owners owns an RV, the Reston, Va.-based Recreational Vehicle Industry Association reports.

Mr. Quick is marketing his CD through stores like Target and Wal-Mart, chiefly because of all the Wal-Mart parking lots he's seen filled with recreational vehicles stopped for the night.

"We wanted to make a fun road album that would be good for RVers," he says, "things that would appeal to people in their 50s, 60s and 70s."

But his assumption that most RVers are over the hill is a little off base, according to a recent University of Michigan survey that says RV owners ages 35-54 outnumber people over 55 on the road. The average RV owner is 48, owns his or her own home and makes $47,000 a year.

Five years ago, Brad and Amy Herzog, now 32 and 31, needed to do a year of research for a book he was writing. They let the lease run out on their Chicago apartment and traveled the country full time in a 36-foot Winnebago Adventurer.

"You don't have all the worries of other kinds of travel, whether it's canceled flights or crowded cars or bumpy buses," Mr. Herzog says.

They so loved RV travel, they now tour the country in a motor home two to three months out of the year. This year, they will bring their 5-month-old boy with them while Mr. Herzog does book signings for the paperback version of his book "States of Mind." The book details his quest to find values in small towns, like hope in Hope, Miss., and comfort in Comfort, Texas.

The RV lifestyle met his research needs perfectly.

"When you're in an RV, the journey is just as important as the destination," he says. "You never get bored, because there is literally a new adventure around every corner."

Mr. Herzog says RV travel has done wonders for their marriage.

"When you're on the road and you're free from all these big-city distractions, you have a chance to really talk and communicate and share things," he says.

Unlike the Herzogs, most younger people tend to be drawn to a cheaper RV, like a trailer pulled by a car, says Sheila Davis, spokeswoman for Winnebago Industries. A trailer's average cost is $14,000, says the RVIA.

People over 50 and retired people tend to buy motor homes, which are driven from the front. The average cost for a motor home is $64,000, but the price can soar over $200,000.

"We've seen a growing market for RVs in the last few years," Mrs. Davis says. "The baby boomers are now in our prime target market. They have a little bit more free time and are thinking about retirement. We should see continued growth."

The RV industry had its second-best year for sales in 2000, despite a downshifting economy and rising gas prices. In 1999, RV sales were at a 21-year high.

Though a typical RV's gas mileage is 10 to 12 miles per gallon, RVers don't typically feel angst about rising gas prices, says Greg Petri, president of RVUSA.com, a company that lists RV manufacturers on the Web and uses its Web site as a meeting place for RVers.

"It's a fairly expensive hobby, so people usually have a fairly large dispensable income," he says.

But Dan Becker, the Sierra Club's director of global warming and energy program, condemns such inefficient use of fuel.

"Gas guzzling is bad in the United States because it increases our reliance on OPEC oil," he says. "It raises our balance of the trade deficit, one third of which goes for oil; it increases pollution that causes the smog choking our cities; and it increases the existence of global warming."

Full-time RVers Bob and Barb Hofmeister, ages 68 and 63 and retired, say they don't consider themselves to be gas guzzlers as they travel only between 8,000 and 9,000 miles a year. That's fewer miles than many people put on their cars a year, Mrs. Hofmeister points out.

The Hofmeisters have been on the road 12 years after selling their Michigan house and everything in it to move into a 24-foot-long motor home. They now own a 40-foot home worth $209,000, complete with two computers, two TVs, Corian countertops and leather furniture.

It all started with Mr. Hofmeister's heart attack in the 1980s, which made him and his wife give up their sedentary lifestyle and start taking camping and hiking trips on the weekends. They used an RV, because the on-board kitchen meant they didn't have to pay for restaurant meals.

They liked the weekend adventures so much that after Mr. Hofmeister retired from his job in finance, they decided to tour the country full time for a few years. Eventually they sold their home in Lansing.

"It was just a glorious sense of freedom that we could go anywhere we wanted to go and do anything that we wanted to do," Mrs. Hofmeister says. "We didn't need to go back and see that the grass needed cutting."

One million Americans use RVs full time, the RVIA estimates.

The Hofmeisters travel only 200 to 300 miles at a time and stay at a site for weeks or months. They are currently in Mesa, Ariz., a popular spot for RVers in the winter.

In December, they discovered one disadvantage of living in a motor home. They were hit in a head-on collision in Texas, forcing them to rent a condo for six weeks while their RV was repaired. But the couple took the accident in stride and got to know the town of New Braunfels, near San Antonio.

Their book "Movin' On" and their Web site (www.movinon.net) explain the preparations needed for full-time RV travel, along with anecdotes about their adventures touring 48 states.

"The greatest advantage of this lifestyle is that we really have gotten to know our country a whole lot better," Mrs. Hofmeister says. "I think it would take a lifetime of vacations to see half of what we've seen."

Mr. Quick says he expects to use an RV once he is retired because his parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles use RVs.

"I didn't enjoy it as a kid, but now I look back, like so many things, and realize it was a neat experience," he says, adding, "It is something that is in my blood."


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