Lined up in candy-colored clusters, more than 120 vintage travel trailers decorated the grounds of the Bend-Sisters Garden RV Resort last weekend for the annual trek of Sisters On The Fly. The nationwide women’s organization gathered on the rain-drenched High Desert in their retro trailers for a little fishing, a little fellowship and a whopper of a good time.
These restored, moveable masterpieces came themed to the hilt in neon pink paint, cowgirl cool, western weird and tiki-torched beauty from all over the country. The vagabond ladies come from various walks of life and professions, some single, married, lesbian, widowed or divorced, in jobs as varied as nurses, wives, teachers and mothers, all to share in a fish tale or two, offer empowerment through their outdoor adventures and celebrate the abundance of their lives and every summer.
Each mini monument to freedom was outfitted with colorful graphics, funny signs, picnic tables, welcome mats and trinkets and treasures from previous trips or memorable congregations.
Artist and SOTF member Mig Whitt brought her whimsical Hawaiian-themed trailer on the nine-hour drive from northern Idaho and tidied up on a stormy Saturday afternoon as several of her sisters were off to lunch.
“There’s about 2,800 members total right now and it’s still growing,” said Whitt, sporting a pair of wildly painted cowboy boots. “We meet in a different place every year. This time we chose Sisters and next year we’re going to Long Beach, Washington. I save my money all year to come. We do all sorts of fun things, a dance with a dj, an apron contest, a cowgirl prom and go take dips in the swimming pool or hot tub. We’re all just a bunch of fun gals who want to get away and go fishing.”
Sisters On The Fly was started in 1999 by real-life sisters Maurrie Sussman and Becky Clarke and while sipping wine and fishing in beautiful Montana. They had so much fun they decided to invite more girlfriends and the event exploded from there, with members dragging classic trailers all decorated to suit their owners’ eclectic personalities. The women drawn to the crazy camping club range in age from 28 to 93 and hail from the United States, Canada, England and even Australia.
Member Sheran Montgomery of Idaho believes her times with the women is great therapy and relaxation. She’s been a member since 2010 and looks forward to the rowdy, rewarding get-togethers each year. Her blue and white 1955 Southland Canned Ham-style travel trailer was purchased off Craigslist from a man in the greater Seattle area.
Montgomery’s husband drove out from Boise and brought it back a month after she joined Sisters On The Fly.
“It took a year to restore it but we had it ready for the first event, the Northwest gathering in 2010,” she said. “Flyfishing is not a pre-requisite to belong and I’m just getting into it now. The camaraderie is amazing. We’re truly like a family and there’s an attitude and view of life these women share I was so drawn to. It’s not a man bashing organization by any means but there is a certain empowerment that happens. To hook up a trailer and drive cross-country is for many of these women the most independent and scary thing they’ve ever done.”
The previous night a fundraising event was held for Healing Reins, a non-profit therapeutic riding center in Sisters working with troubled youth and recovering adults.
“We raised a lot of money last night, this group goes all out to help,” Whitt said. “We’ve all been here since Monday and got to go fishing on the Metolius River. I didn’t catch anything but got a few good bites.”
Most of the girls didn’t seem to mind the unseasonably cool and wet weather, focusing more on their trailers and trying to figure out how to spend the hours of the day, choosing from a multitude of local activities.
A few wanna-be members always tag along with the caravan, opting to first come out and check out what it’s like in rented trailers or cabins, calling themselves the “Sisters On The Try.”
“Sometimes we see a lot of the same girls but this year I’ve met many new ones,” said Whitt. “And we all get along and each have our own little home to go back to. It’s an incredibly diverse group, you can tell by the trailers. Look at them… you’ve got artsy trailers and movie-themed trailers, cowgirl rodeo trailers and Polynesian trailers.”
Whitt’s sassy Hawaiian trailer she calls “Island Girl” is a 1971 Shasta model, decorated inside and out with a kaleidoscope of vintage island postcards, tiki glassware and hula pillows.
“I painted it myself with auto paint I picked out from a 1950 Chevy auto book. I found the little trailer at a Boy Scout camp in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho three years ago. I saw it and bought it on the spot for nine hundred dollars. The first thing I thought was that I wanted to paint it turquoise. It came with two Coleman lanterns, a set of jacks, an ax, a hose and some firewood. It was like the trailer was free. The Scouts had used it as an office. I could hardly wait to get it home.”
Enjoying this newfound freedom and fellowship with the group has changed Whitt’s life for the better, even her marriage. Not bad for an investment less than a thousand dollars.
“My kids love it too,” she said, laughing, as more summer sprinkles came down across the campground in the pines. “They take a nap in it and watch television and eat up all my M&Ms.”
Back home in Idaho, Montgomery reflected on the past week with a smile.
“Living life and not letting life live you is what it’s about,” she said. “Whoever you are and whatever you bring to the table is accepted and valued. Our Idaho group has events planned just about every month, we do parties and holidays and luncheons. There’s a freedom that happens at these events that lets the little girl in all of us come out and play.“