So now I’m an RV owner. I’m kind of overwhelmed. I think, in the back of my mind and until very recently, I still thought I might become a camper and backpacker again. Then several years of trips that were supposed to be camping but where I defaulted to KOA Kozy Kabins finally made me face the hard truth: my days of sleeping on the ground and hauling my stuff on my back are clearly long over. With that Rubicon crossed, it was easy to jump into something I’d been toying with for several decades: getting an RV. Well, now I have to outfit it and figure out all the stowing techniques for the road. I’ve spent this week hauling loads of gear out to the RV in the driveway, stowing it, then doing a re-evaluation and hauling half of everything back into the house or returning it to the store. Even with very good advice from the Roadtrekking Facebook group, it’s still daunting.
So I moved to an easier task. Naming my rig. Anyone who knows me or reads this blog is aware that I name everything. My Priuses usually got Western cowboy names: Old Paint and Old Roany. My last Prius became Rainbow Dash which proved the jinx of not taking advantage of good Western juju. That Prius was such a magnet for accidents, it became known by the Ranch Guys as Rainbow Smash. So I have to think carefully before I move away from a Western name. That’s one of the reasons I rejected my first rig name: Gloria. I had just read Gloria Steinem’s recent autobiography, My Life on the Road. She’s been pretty much living out of a duffle bag since her peripatetic childhood with her restless father. So Gloria had good travel associations, and Steinem is a personal hero of mine. But I worried about the lack of Western cred. And, since I fully expect to meet the real Gloria one day, I wasn’t sure how she’d feel about having an RV named after her. I’d hate to have that get in the way of our potential girlfriend-hood.
So I definitely need a name with a traveling association, but I really wanted to go for the Western mojo. I thought about naming my rig after a Native American and immediately thought of Chief Joseph, whose trail I made the centerpiece of one of my road trips. But it occurred to me that Chief Joseph’s road trips were actually forced by dispossession and pursuit by the U.S. Cavalry. So not a good association. I ran through several other obvious Western and Country Music icons: Wayne, Hag, Willie, Calamity Jane or Annie for the woman Sitting Bull called “Little Miss Sure Shot”. Somehow none of them seemed right.
The missing ingredient is some sort of symbolic association specifically with traveling in the West. I wanted a name that related to the traveling I was going to do in my Agile. And I wanted someone who wasn’t just associated with one area of the West — like Ansel Adams in California or Edward Abbey in Utah — but someone who was associated with many areas of the West — preferably from the Dakotas to the Pacific, from Washington to the Mexican border (my natural range). There is Kit Carson, the Zelig of the Old West who managed to show up everywhere in the West where something decisive was happeningt. But I’m not much of a fan of Kit Carson, so that was out.
Then, as often happens, I received inspiration from Ken Burns. Before every road trip, I usually refresh myself with his series The West, The National Parks and Horatio’s Drive. I just happened to be rewatching The National Parks and was reminded again by Ken that the Buffalo Soldiers, the African American regiments, were the first guardians and rangers in the National Parks. They also traveled extensively throughout the West in their duties. So there’s that “distribution requirement” fulfilled. The choice also had the benefit of not honoring the expected Western icons. There were so many Buffalo Soldiers I could choose from but I focussed on the record of Colonel Charles Young. Born into slavery, Young rose to be the third African American graduate of West Point (another key association for me), then a highly decorated and distinguished officer who should have been made the first African American General in the First World War. Racism stopped him, but he mentored Benjamin O. Davis Sr. who did fulfill that dream. There were a lot of boxes ticked here: Western cred, travel, an icon, a positive model. In the end, instead of calling my rig Charles or Charles Young, I decided on Buffalo Soldier. That had the added advantage of giving me a Spirit Animal. And if you are traveling through the West, a buffalo is a pretty good spirit guide. Hey, have you ever seen a buffalo up close and staring at you? I did when two hiking buddies and I came around a corner in Yellowstone and were confronted by a lone male bison. We backed away quickly and Mr. Buffalo returned to his shady tree. But stand in front of a Roadtrek. It doesn’t look dissimilar in size and shape to a large buffalo.
I have to say, this name is not without controversy. Andy said, “Nobody knows the Buffalo Soldiers.” To which I replied, “But that gives me an opportunity to spread the word on some unfairly overlooked history.” My friends know this is something I’m always willing to do. Even when my friends want me to shut up.
The strongest pushback came from my seven year old Goddaughter. Amelia May’s take:
AM: No, you can’t name it Buffalo Soldier. That’s a bad name.
Me: Well, what should I call it?
AM: Call it “Girls Rule”. And decorate it with peace signs and tie-dye.
Tie-dye and peace signs? I don’t think my Agile is that kind of van and I’m not that kind of RVer. So until I’m convinced otherwise, Buffalo Soldier it is. Unless you have a better idea.