Living full-time in a Lance Camper, Maggie Karam explores the United States and Canada, visits family and friends, and relentlessly pursues her adventure bucket list. All by herself.
Almost everyone reading this article would go out of their minds if all they had left to do was stay home and watch television. So why is it that some folks retire to a comfy sofa and remote, while others are compelled to hit the road and explore? Is there an adventure travel gene?
If there is, surely Maggie Karam has it. As a textbook example of someone with itchy feet, Maggie has an insatiable urge to travel. For as long as she can remember, Maggie has been escaping the confines of traditional house to hitchhike, drive, and RV the world before her.
With her Energizer Bunny-like wanderlust, it’s incredible that it took decades for Maggie to discover the freedom and versatility of a truck camper rig. Once she did, it was a match made in heaven. As she explains, her Lance Camper might be the closest thing she’s ever had to a home.
What follows is Maggie’s amazing story; from leaving home at 16 to discover America, to living full-time in fifth-wheels, to finally getting a truck and camper. Along the way it becomes perfectly clear why she is known as Wonder Woman.
Above: Maggie at the Beatles sculpture in downtown Walnut Ridge, Arkansas
TCM: Tell us about your camping experiences over the years and what brought you to truck campers.
Maggie: I did not camp at all in my childhood. I remember a boy sharing with the fifth grade class that he had gone to camp over the summer. I didn’t know or understand what that meant. I cornered him later to ask for clarification and all he said was, “It was like any other summer camp. Everyone knows what summer camp is!”
I left home after graduating high school and hitch-hiked across the country. First, I went to Washington, then back to California, then to Florida, and ended in Michigan in the middle of winter, which I was not prepared for. After my life in downtown Los Angeles, the wide open spaces I found were exciting, enchanting, seductive and awe inspiring.
I spent some months on Catalina Island off the coast of Los Angeles and explored the whole island by foot, boat, and bicycle. I danced in the storms raging from the otherwise calm Pacific side of the Island.
My first RV was a 1960 Volkswagen cargo van that had been set up as a camper. Then I had a 17-foot Shasta trailer. Then I had a Class C, my least favorite. Fast forward 20 years and there were a series of fifth wheels that my then husband and I traveled in. The fifth wheels were my first true introduction to the classic full-timing set up.
Above: Rock hounding in the New Mexico desert
One year we would focus on finding all the hot springs to soak in, in both commercial and little known pools. One pool we found had tropical fish (like you would see in a household aquarium) swimming around in this tepid water, while there was snow all around. Another year we would focus on free off-road sites to boondock. Then we started rock hounding and focused on locating the best spots to find semi-precious stones.
Eventually, I set my sites on Alaska. My friends, Jerry and Judy Funk, said, “The best way to do Alaska is in a truck camper”. After much research and discussion, we had to agree.
Above: Maggie’s first trip with her Lance 1130
With some further research, we located the perfect used truck camper. My son bought the best truck to carry the camper as he was concerned for our safety, and wanted us to have a trouble-free adventure to The Last Frontier.
Truck campers have everything you could want or need in a home (except interior space). I felt like I had found my place. I had been looking for my perfect home for 68 years and, as soon as I stepped inside our camper, I knew I found it.
TCM: That’s quite a journey to truck camping. When we met you at the in North-East Truck Camping Jamboree in Lake George, New York, you were traveling alone.
Maggie: That’s right. When my husband and I divorced, I gave him the house and kept the truck and 2002 Lance 1130. As of now my residency is in Wisconsin, my home base is in Texas, and my mailing address is in New Mexico. I’ve been an off and on full-time RVer for the past thirty years.
My home base is a lot that I purchased at an Escapees campground in Texas three years ago. The entire time I have owned/leased this lot have been there maybe four months total. I don’t have to pay anything extra to be there, and I have a support network of friends in the Escapees park.
Above: Spring in the Florida Mountains, New Mexico desert
TCM: Let’s back up. You have residency is in Wisconsin, a home base in Texas, and a mailing address is in New Mexico?
Maggie: Doesn’t that show where I want to be? Every once in a while I think about consolidating, but having to change everything is a hassle.
I drive through New Mexico a lot because I like to rock hound there, and I love the Florida Mountains in the New Mexico desert. I know great places to go boondocking and they have amazing petroglyphs in the area. So, having my mail in New Mexico, I find it easy to check with the service.
Above: Petroglyphs in Deming, New Mexico
On my lot in Texas, I have a storage shed with my photographs, shop, and things I’ve made. I can store stuff in the shed that I don’t have room for in the rig. We all have some junk that we carry with us. That is the main reason for having a place at the Escapees Park in Texas. When my knee went out, I had a place to be and I didn’t have to worry about anything while it healed. I always have a place there.
I am at the same park as the Funks and Bakers. You’ve interviewed them both in Truck Camper Magazine. Most people with truck campers also have fifth wheels or pull behind trailers at the park. That’s their alternate home while they’re at the park. I think I am the only one there who lives full time in a truck camper.
Above: Cosby Creek Campground in Great Smoky Mountain National Park
TCM: Was going truck camping by yourself a hard decision to make?
Maggie: Whenever anyone who is not an RVer asks me what I do, I say that I’m a full-time RVer. I don’t have a husband or pet. People ask if I’m scared and tell me that I’m brave.
I don’t have any fear about being by myself or traveling by myself. I was in a state park awhile back and they told me that no one was in the park that night and that I would be by myself. I said, “It is awesome that I have the entire park to myself”. I’ll go out for walks and look at what nature has to offer. Then, I’ll have a campfire. To me, that is the best. There is never a moment of being afraid.
I don’t get distracted by what-ifs. I am aware of my environment so that I don’t put myself at unnecessary risk.
TCM: How do you plan where to go and what you do?
Maggie: I take living in the now to a ridiculous level. I rarely plan a trip beyond setting a destination some 1,000 or so miles away. Then I give myself a month or so to find an interesting way to get there. I like to travel off the main interstates whenever possible. Of course there are those times that I will do a crazy 2,000 to 3,000 mile adventure in a few weeks.
Above: Maggie prefers camping off-the-grid
TCM: What a free way to live your life. Earlier you described boondocking in New Mexico. Do you often dry camp?
Maggie: I prefer to camp off-the-grid as much as possible. I have gone months off-the-grid. I stay away from large groups of people as much as possible.
In Quartzsite, Arizona, I explored out of the way dirt roads and parked with acres separating me from other campers. There are a few places in New Mexico, Arizona, California, Washington, and South Carolina that I go back to again and again. I also camped off-grid in Alaska more often than not.
Above: Boondocking in Alaska
I found a lonely dirt road in Canada that looked like a good place to camp for a while. The next day I was surprised to see rig after rig pull up and park in every available space. My private little Eden was thoroughly invaded by a large group of wonderfully wild and friendly Canadians.
They introduced me to their version of Roman candles; a half dozen 6-foot tall logs placed like a wall around the main camp. These logs were prepared with slits made with a chainsaw down their length with air holes down at the bottom. They were all lit off at the same time with the excitement building with the flames and heat.
I’ve gone down dirt roads, through an unlocked a gate, which tells me it is leased BLM land, and been surrounded by cows in the morning. The cows are just interested in finding a shady spot or getting some heat from my water heater. Then a cowboy came trotting up wanting to know what I was doing with his cows. Ranchers lease BLM land and we can stay on BLM land, so it’s okay.
I have also been known to overnight in church parking lots and vacant strip malls. I will park for the night at a truck stop before a Walmart. Truckers are another form of RVer as far as I’m concerned. If you carry fear and are scared, you will draw that kind of energy to you.
Above: Exploring in Arizona
TCM: It sounds like you’re very dialed into your lifestyle, but have you had any challenges truck camping by yourself?
Maggie: Yes, in some ways everything is a challenge. Entertaining myself while I travel is a challenge. Where am I going to stay that night is a challenge. I hate researching where I am going to stop.
How many miles to drive in a day is a challenge. I mostly limit myself to 300 miles a day, or less. I prefer 200 to 250 miles a day. Fortunately, I have never had a breakdown. I don’t worry about that because if it’s going to happen, it’s going happen whether you worry about it or not. I maintain my truck, especially the tires and brakes.
Another challenge is finding good medical care while I’m on the road. I also find it hard to find good reliable and inexpensive RV maintenance and service facilities.
Above: With her truck camper, Maggie is able to visit her son and grandson in Milwaukee
TCM: That can be a challenge for anyone, no matter how many folks are with you. You told us that you go back to some places again and again. Do you have a cross-country circuit you do each year?
Maggie: I have commitments. I want to visit my son and grandson in Milwaukee. I go and spend time with them because I don’t have a spare bedroom to offer them to come visit me. My grandson is almost two. By next summer he may join me in the camper somewhere, like a state park.
Above: Parking at her sister’s house in South Carolina
I have a sister in South Carolina. I was there for Thanksgiving to be with family. Between places, I have the freedom to go where I choose, and I try to find a different route every time.
Above: Staying in a friend’s driveway in Nevada County, California
San Diego is where the rest of my family resides. I don’t necessary see all of my family every year, except for my grandson and son. I do go back and forth across the continent every year visiting friends and family, criss-crossing the lower 40 in a whimsical manner.
Above: Parked at Rainbow Falls Provincial Park, Ontario
TCM: That is one of our favorite parts about truck camping; visiting friends and family, but avoiding being house guests by staying in the camper. You went on a truck camping caravan across Canada. What was that like?
Maggie: The cross-Canada trip was something that popped up in Truck Camper Magazine and I thought that would be cool, especially having a Canadian as a guide. I had never done a caravan before and it turned out to be a dynamite trip!
On my trip to Alaska, I had to cross Canada and fell in love with it, spending more time there than I had thought I would.
Above: Camping in Calgary, Alberta with the Truck Camper Caravan Group
Two years later, the friends that I made on the cross-Canada caravan trip encouraged me to go to the Lake George Jamboree. I had never been to a rally and I thought I’d try it out. It wasn’t that far away, so I decided to try it. I enjoyed myself, but it turns out that rallies aren’t my thing.
TCM: Do you belong to any other clubs other than Escapees?
Maggie: I have been a member of Escapees off and on for almost 30 years. Escapees has many Birds of a Feather groups, including groups for singles, and single women, and many other groups for those with common interests. I don’t belong to any Birds of a Feather groups myself, but it is nice to know they are there if I ever wanted to join. Escapees is a great organization.
One of the organizations I belong to is Loners on Wheels (LOW), a group for single RVers. It’s a great group that has get togethers, plans trips, and has other events. I don’t participate in the trips or events, but I like that their home park is outside Deming, New Mexico. When I want to go into Mexico, I can leave my rig there.
Above: Edisto Island, South Carolina right after Hurricane Matthew
TCM: Do you see yourself going back to a regular house?
Maggie: My son keeps asking me that question. As much as he accepts me being a full-time truck camper, he says, “How long are you going to do this for?” My answer is that I will continue traveling as long as I can continue to drive safely.
I left home at 16. By the time I was 18, I had criss-crossed the United States. Not long after that I took a four month trip into the heart of Mexico. I will have a hard time when I can no longer travel. I don’t know if I will always be in a truck camper because of climbing up into the bed. Hopefully, I’ve got at least the next ten years. I’ll be 83 then.
Above: The Lance 1130 in Big Springs, Nebraska
TCM: What led you to choose your specific truck camper?
Maggie: When I did my research, Lance emerged as the brand of choice for quality and features. My budget obviously played a major role in my options.
A dry bath was a must, as was adequate storage for food and clothes. Food preparation space was another requirement as I do most of my own cooking. I eat about 99-percent of the time in my camper.
A used 2002 Lance 1130 was offered for sale by owner, and we decided it was the one for us if everything turned out to be as advertised. It had been gently used for the ten years prior to our purchase. It was perfect! I moved in all the basic supplies we had brought with us as the deal was being finalized.
Above: Sliding shelves were added in the hanging closet for food and utensils
TCM: We started our truck camping life in a 2004 Lance 1030, very similar to your 1130. We loved that camper. Have you made any modifications to your camper to make it better fit your needs?
Maggie: I have added LED lights where possible, a 120-watt solar panel (it already had a 50-watt panel), a wall-mounted catalytic heater, and sliding shelves in the hanging closet for food and utensils.
Other less significant additions that work well for me were two additional spice racks, an indoor/outdoor thermometer, a kitchen sink faucet with a shut off button to conserve water, and a high neck bathroom sink faucet for washing hands.
Above: The kitchen and bathroom faucets were both upgraded
I also added a device to open the screen door without sliding the panel.
I have decorated the camper to suit my own expression. I am not so much into decor as I am into usefulness. Although I have to say I am ready to give my “house” a face lift.
Above: Parked next to a glacier in Canada
TCM: You mentioned visiting friends and family, and rock hounding. What else do you enjoy doing while truck camping?
Maggie: The list of what I like to do while truck camping is always changing. Since I full-time in my camper, it is not something I do that is separate from my real life.
I like to be isolated. Quiet and dark locations are better to see and hear night life and the stars. I love being immersed in nature with all its flora and fauna. I have embraced mountains and hills covered in spring bloom, dry rocky facades blanketed with conifers, fall colors of deciduous trees, and others strung with hanging moss. I have crossed from coast-to-coast, and from the southern to the northern borders of our country.
I travel because I have places I want to see, because I like to drive, because the air tastes different wherever I go. I also like finding rocks, sea shells, and contorted woody growths.
Above: Maggie rappelling for the first time in Cave City, Kentucky
I like doing things I have never done before. In the last five years I have learned to shoot a rifle and hunt Ibex in the Florida Mountains of New Mexico. I have learned how to fish with bait in San Luis Pass, Texas, fished during the sockeye salmon run in Alaska, done a three-day canoe trip down a canyon in the Big Bend National Park, rappelled down a baby wall, and zip-lined. There is so much more to do!
TCM: What amazing experiences! It almost sounds like a bucket list.
Maggie: In a way, it is. I want to go up in a hot air balloon and parachute out of an air plane. Somewhere in the back of my mind I want to go down a glass bubble submarine. I can’t swim worth a dam, but there are beautiful underwater habitats I want to see.
There are a couple mountains I want to climb and trails I want to take. I want to do a three to ten day backpacking trip, but I don’t want to do that on my own. I want to go down the Colorado River on a raft and hike into the Grand Canyon. This year I want to go to as many National Parks as possible.
I don’t have these things written down, but they’re all on my list.
TCM: Where have you been with your truck camper that you would recommend to other truck campers?
Maggie: There is so much to see and do in Alaska, and so much to learn and discover about the people, wildlife, and fishing. They say there are no boondocking places in Alaska. That’s not so, especially if you have four wheel drive!
Denali gives you an opportunity to get up close to wildlife. Bears own the land and don’t seem to be concerned about big buses filled with tourists clicking cameras and speaking in hushed and awed voices.
The tours of native villages are a must. Take a sled ride across a glacier. My only disappointment was the dogs were not the big, white, fluffy dogs of old.
Fishing when the salmon are running is an exhilarating and delicious endeavor.
There are so many ways to get close to the wildlife and see them in their own habitat, doing their thing. I was fortunate enough to see white Kermode “spirit bears” bears on two different occasions. They are supposed to be good luck to see them as they are very rare. They are beautiful beasts that exude strength and calm in their lumbering meandering.
TCM: Does anyone ever travel with you?
Maggie: My granddaughter, Monica, and I took a twelve day, 2,800 mile, nine state, trip together this summer. Other than that, I have no pets, friends, relatives, or spouse that travel with me. Of course I have Facebook, so I have friends and family in my pocket at all times.
The trip with Monica was her first introduction to RVing. She learned her way around the requirements of small spaces and energy/water conservation like a duck takes to water.
She is also an avid sports fan. She spent five hours at the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. Not being a sports fan myself, I wandered through all the other museums in the area and found lots to do and see.
Along the way we stayed in state parks for the most part. She had no idea that there was so much land set aside to provide protection for natural habitats as well as for the enjoyment of us all.
TCM: What an amazing experience for your granddaughter. She will remember that for the rest of her life. What are your truck camping plans for the future?
Maggie: I rarely make plans. I have general ideas of what I want to do and then some piece of information comes into my awareness and I am off on to something altogether different.
Right now I am thinking I want to revisit the National Parks. I may make that the focus of this coming year. However, if they are all as busy as Great Smoky Mountain National Park that I just visited, I may change my mind!
TCM: You have a lot of readers green with envy about your seemingly endless freedom and sense of adventure. Where do you think that came from?
Maggie: I used to run away from home on a regular basis. The first time I was preschool aged. No, I’m not kidding. Looking back now, I think I wasn’t running away, I was compelled to explore. I have been doing it ever since. I never did settle down for very long.
It is a source of great amusement to many that I am geographically challenged, and that I can’t read maps – especially since I have traveled so much. GPS has changed my life. However, there are times when that little technological marvel has gotten me more lost than I ever managed on my own. But that’s just another adventure.
TCM: If someone asked you where home is, what’s your answer?
Maggie: The camper is my home. It happens to be on wheels. If I don’t know where I am, I just walk around the truck to my front door, and I’m home. If I don’t like where I am, I can just leave and go somewhere else.
I’m going to leave you with something I wrote in my journal:
“I want to tell you why I am called Wonder Woman. People seem to wonder why I travel by myself or wonder if I am scared to do so. They wonder where I have been, where I am going, or what I am doing next, and I wonder the same thing.
When I get there, my curiosity draws me out and about and I wonder where the path leads. Then I wonder if I’ll be able to find my way back. I rarely wonder what other people are doing, but I am fascinated by all critters big and small that fly, slither or go about on all fours. I wonder what they are doing, where they are going, and if I scare them. The trees and other growing or flowering things, often make me wonder what their names are.
Sometimes I wonder if I’ll make it to the gas station. Or if I’ll find a place to stop long enough to take care natures call and I wonder if I’ll make it in time!”
Maggie Karam’s Rig
Truck: 2011 Dodge Ram 3500 Extended Cab, 4×4, Diesel, Dual Rear Wheel, Long Bed
Camper: 2002 Lance 1130
Tie-Downs/Turnbuckles: Torklift Fastguns
Suspension: I want to upgrade to Bilsteins
Gear: Bike rack mounted on camper ladder