Good times in the Good Sam Club

Joining group of RV aficionados means camping, volunteering together

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Herb Heisel, vice president of the North Kootenai Good Sam chapter, by his rig at the Kootenai County Fairgrounds on Saturday. The fairgrounds hosted a meeting of statewide Good Sam members.

COEUR d'ALENE - Things were slow paced at the Kootenai County Fairgrounds on Saturday, though over 70 massive RVs were congregated on the grass.

In the shadow of an RV awning, a group of women played cards at a picnic table. By another rig, a pair of friends were lounging, listening for the air horn from another RV, signaling that Boise State had scored.

That's the whole point of RV-ing. To take things at your own pace.

And joining the Good Sam Club means setting that pace with some equally equipped, equally affable travelers.

"Camaraderie. That's the big word at the Good Sam Club," said Dan Malcolm of Coeur d'Alene, speaking of the club of RV owners who camp and volunteer together.

At least that's what he and his wife Carol have experienced in the North Kootenai Good Sam chapter, which organizes camping trips throughout the year. And so has their friend Herb Heisel, chapter vice president who parked his rig next to theirs at the fairgrounds, for the 2012 Roundup of Good Sam members from across the state.

Heisel has collected some stories about RV traveling, which the Coeur d'Alene resident has committed to for over 40 years.

It's no so much the destinations the retiree lingers on, but the feel of travel. Of throwing what he needs together and hopping behind the wheel to escape to Canada, Lewiston, Indio, Calif., wherever.

He brings out a new badge he has purchased, that reads: "Avoid tension. Go camping."

"You load up the stuff, get your family and away you go," he said.

Joining the Good Sam Club only enhanced the experience, he said. Now it's like someone has his back, he said, and he can return the favor.

He meets Good Sam members at most campgrounds he visits, he said. He even connected with members on a visit to Saskatchewan.

The common ground always sparks a conversation, he said.

"It'll go, 'you're with Good Sam? You're from Idaho? I've been to Idaho,'" Heisel said. "It's something to open the door. The Good Sam sticker on your vehicle, it's a drawing card."

And if he sees a fellow member having trouble, maybe setting up at a campground or having trouble on the highway, he'll be quick to help, he said.

"We're not afraid to get our hands dirty," he said. "If we can help, we do."

After their two children left home, the Malcolms picked up a 29-foot trailer, which later evolved into a 36-foot diesel motor home. They have a trailer again now.

The allure of the behemoth vehicle is "convenience," Dan said, adding that they have visited most state campgrounds and wintered in Indio, Calif., for years in the RV before buying a mobile home there.

"You unhook the electrical cord and go. You've got your clothes there, food there, bathroom and shower," Dan said. "A lot of our friends are still working, so this is a new adventure."

They tick off all their usual sites to visit, like the Coeur d'Alene River, the Silver Valley, Wallace, Bell Bay, Priest River, the Lochsa River.

The Good Sam Club ensures they don't have to do it alone, he said.

"When the kids go, it makes it more fun (to have other people)," Dan said, adding that several rigs usually head to destinations together.

The couple also touts the community service the chapter engages in. They raise funds to folks serving in the armed forces, as well as Dogs for the Deaf, and they clean up various camp sites.

"It makes you feel good," Carol said.

Wherever they head next, Heisel said, he's eager to meet fellow Good Sam members.

"Just a lot of great people," he said. "People not shy to get acquainted."

The North Kootenai Good Sam chapter meets at 7 p.m. on the first Wednesday of every month in the basement of Dalton City Hall.

Herb Heisel and Dan Malcolm, both members of the North Kootenai Good Sam chapter, laugh over a joke during a statewide club meeting at the Kootenai County Fairgrounds on Saturday.

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