Hart of the Issue: Legal Lore from the Great Outdoors

Ever since I was a little kid, I was fascinated, actually virtually obsessed, with camping. Being outdoors, particularly camping overnight, is an incredible experience.  

There’s no arguing that I love the finer things in life.  I pay close attention to detail in so many things, often to my wife’s chagrin.  I worry about how I plate dinner every night and immediately grab a towel when I spill a drop of sauce on the plate where it clearly doesn’t belong.  But at the same time, there’s a lot to be said about surrendering yourself to the outdoors and forgetting about all the amenities that you are accustomed to (besides collecting some awesome gear that you just have to have.)

I have vivid memories of sitting in science class in seventh grade, just planning a camping trip in my head.  The impending trip outdoors consumed me.  Even then, I knew I wanted to be an attorney, so my level of attention to seventh grade science was… well… minimally sufficient.  I used to sneak Cabela’s magazines into class to look at the latest gear the big outfitters had to offer.  

But a typical camping trip back then went as follows: Big time hype to get out there, live off the land, essentially recreate My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George, (a favorite book of mine during my childhood), and at the start of the trip, it would live up to the hype.  

Then nighttime came and you suddenly realized that you were underprepared for the inexplicable frigid night that ensued.  By sunrise–and the sun is what woke you up regardless of whether you had other plans in mind–you were so cold, you dreaded the thought of leaving your tent to… umm… relieve yourself.  

But I tend to remember only the good and have a unique capability of forgetting the bad.  So, as I grew older, my love for camping remained and I continued to camp.  Mind you, as a child, we only dreamed of someday owning a camper. That was essentially a major goal in life. I continued to camp and continued to wake up miserable and often full of regret.  It was a tent-camping trip up to Maine in 2018 that was the last straw.

I went to visit my wife’s extended family for the first time, and we stayed at a campground close to their homes. I had a tent I could’ve only dreamed of owning back in seventh grade.  I learned the benefits of a cot over an air mattress (highly recommended) and was well equipped.  

And then I experienced rainfall overnight that I never knew was possible. I figured I was safe from the elements but even with the cots, I woke up soaked. Why? Because my dogs were on the tent floor, apparently sitting in an impromptu river that formed straight through the base of the tent.  The dogs kept jumping up onto the cot, and I couldn’t blame them.  

To make matters worse, the temperatures of rural northern Maine defied all logic and were scorching.  At the time, I had my old trusty Suburban which I thought would outlive me.  Unfortunately, the AC didn’t outlive that trip.  So, I couldn’t even find reprieve in the truck while waiting for the tent to dry out the next day in the blazing sun.

That was my last camping trip in a tent because my wife agreed it was time to make my childhood dreams come true.  So, just months after that fateful camping trip, we treated ourselves to a camper–a travel trailer to be exact.  And my love for camping has never been stronger. 

I estimate that I spent a solid six weeks researching the world of recreational vehicles, including travel trailers, coaches, 5th wheels, and pop-ups.  I researched so much that my wife had no questions when we started looking through Facebook marketplace for the one.  And sure enough, we found our home on wheels just weeks before we got married.  

I often heard that buying an RV was like buying a motorcycle.  First you will get something small and then you’ll never be satisfied and will want to keep upgrading.  That adage held true for a motorcycle and that whole experience is for a different article.  But I learned from that mistake and wanted to get a camper that I was just slightly uneasy with towing behind my ol’ trusty Suburban.  

And so began our vacations on wheels. But before our inaugural voyage, which was our minimoon to the Finger lakes after our wedding, we decided it would be best to give it a test run to work out the kinks.  (If you ever need reassurance that you found the right woman to marry, take her camping and have her assist you with the sewage pipes. And my beautiful bride slid right under the camper no questions asked to hook up our plumbing… a real keeper.) 

So, our test run was unique in that we learned that there’s a whole different community of people out there–camper people.  I believe this holds true with any hobby you get involved in, which is why I enjoy numerous hobbies.  I find it fascinating to see the diversity in culture throughout hobby enthusiasts. 

When you start a new hobby, like camping, you get to experience a whole new echelon of individuals, and you obtain another view on life.  But meeting new people is the driving force of this culture.  When you walk around a campground after backing a camper into your spot (on the first try), there’s a sense of comradery without the awkward “getting to know you phase” because you’re all on the same page.  You’re all there for the same reason.

So, after setting up our camper for the first time, a couple directly to the right of us invited us over for dinner.  They didn’t even know our names yet, but immediately provided hospitality with open arms.  And aside from having a great burger, I inadvertently got new clients.  They had mentioned how they purchased a vacant property at tax sale to ultimately be used to park their camper.  They figured it was a done deal because the county sold them the property.  And I had to be the bearer of bad news to inform them that the county only sells the interest in the property that the county holds, and nothing more. 

As my wife and I kept using our camper for subsequent trips, we met numerous people along the way.  And through these encounters, there were countless legal issues that I was able to assist fellow campers with.  And given that I am a general practitioner, the range of legal issues that can be implicated with a camper spread throughout all areas of my practice, such as real estate, (should I sell my house and tour the country in an RV?), estate planning (who gets my RV when I go?), contract disputes (I bought a camper that wasn’t what I paid for), criminal law (I was a struggling high school chemistry teacher who discovered that I had a knack for cooking narcotics in my RV but the cops came a knockin’!), and personal injury, which has a whole area of legal implications, particularly involving unique insurance issues, catastrophic collisions, and even contentious property damage disputes. 

Owning a camper is a seventh grader’s dream come true.  It’s a wonderful way to get away from it all.  It’s an incredible way to create memories with your family and RV sales are at an all-time high.  If you find yourself about to start this new hobby and join this culture, remember that there can be a plethora of associated legal issues, and Hart Law can handle just about all of them.

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