Her first word was, for a toddler, a bit unusual. Not an affectionate “Mama” or “Dada,” but a two-letter command with an exclamation point. “GO!” Later in life, her husband, who adored her free spirit, would tell her she had “the soul of a gypsy.”
Full disclosure: Lynda Hallmark Gammage, the GO! girl, is a friend, someone I’ve reconnected with after working together in our twenties in Texas politics. Maybe it’s the Texan in her: fierce self-reliance and wanderlust are part of her genetic makeup. These days they’re on full display as she hooks up her Airstream trailer and sets off on a camping adventure alone, or with her national community of “trailer girls.”
It’s about women figuring out how to do things themselves, and being independent in that moment.
Stopping is just not in her vocabulary; she doesn’t like “burning daylight.” This 70-something grandma with a wild streak (including a streak of hot pink in her silver hair) grew up in Llano, Texas, a tiny town in the hill country northwest of Austin. Lynda was always an outdoor kid, with a dad who built houses, commercial properties, and furniture; a mom who cooked and gardened and sewed; a twin brother and 5 other siblings. While her schoolmates played with toy guns and fashion dolls, she filled her playtime exploring among the rocks in her yard and along the river. “I’ve just always loved being outside, in nature,” she says. “Daddy had to remind me to put on some shoes whenever I went out.”
Hitting the Road
In her twenties, she got into politics. She opened the first checking account for Jimmy Carter’s presidential campaign in 1975. A political organizer, scheduler, and fundraiser, Lynda also managed statewide campaigns. After she married former Congressman and Texas State Senator Bob Gammage, she ran his campaigns for judgeships, culminating in his winning a seat on the Texas Supreme Court.
A fine arts major at UT Austin, Lynda also found solace at her pottery wheel or sewing, or working on an art project. “It was my zen in life,” she says “to get away from the chaotic life of politics.”
When Bob died suddenly in 2012, Lynda says it took her “three or four years” to “regroup and figure out my next adventure in life.” One day she cruised by an RV dealership and decided to drive onto the lot. She bought an Airstream that day.
Her first trailer trip was a visit to the birthplace of her new Basecamp, the Airstream factory (known as the Mother Ship) in Jackson Center, Ohio. That was soon followed by a trip to New York for the 50th anniversary of Woodstock with old friends, and new ones she’d made through a group known as Sisters on the Fly (SOTF).
What is Sisters on the Fly?
This group of nature girls–single and married women from 18 to 80 plus–has a calendar full of events all over the US, most organized by the members themselves. Curious women who may not be ready for membership right away can accompany a member to a camping event as a “Sister on the Try.” Politics is not on the menu at their gatherings, but women of all political leanings have found other like-minded sisters to travel or camp with on their journeys.
Sisters on the Fly was dreamed up around a campfire by two sisters on a fly fishing trip who wanted a way for women to connect with other women while enjoying the outdoors. With more than 8,000 active members, there’s always someplace to go to meet other “sisters” (or a parking spot in a member’s driveway or on their ranch through Sisters on the Curb).
They are drawn to the wide open spaces of the West, to small towns and rural areas.
In addition to building a community of nature-loving women, SOTF encourages campers to give back to the communities they visit. Sometimes they decorate their trailers and charge for Trailer Tours, donating the proceeds to a local charity. Members of the sub-group Sister Corps, have carried chainsaws, hammers, drills and rakes to help clean up after natural disasters in Port Aransas, Louisiana, and Kentucky, among other places.
Sometimes men and children are allowed to attend events, but only if the organizer allows it. These Sister-Mister events are “not why I joined,” says trailer owner Adrienne Zell. “For me it’s about women figuring out how to do things themselves, and being independent in that moment. It doesn’t mean we’re all independent all of the time, but it’s just a different atmosphere when the men are around.”
Adrienne and Lynda also belong to a group called Girl Camper. This group has chapters around the country, a magazine, and a robust website for the camper-curious. Not all of the women (in either group) own Airstreams, and some start out in tents or vans. Unlike Frances McDormand in Nomadland, most of the women in these groups still have “sticks and bricks” homes. But, like McDormand’s character and other #vanlifers, they are drawn to the wide open spaces of the West, to small towns and rural areas, and to the East and South. Lynda and friends just returned from to Florida where they kayaked and swam with the manatees.
This summer she’ll be traveling with Solo Women with Airstreams, heading to Maine for an international Airstream rally, and to Nova Scotia. Who knows? You might find yourself behind her on the road through Ohio, Michigan, Delaware, Pennsylvania, and beyond.
I’ve loved all the nice hotels I’ve stayed in in Paris and New York and elsewhere, but…
“It’s funny. We’ll be sitting around the campfire at night, and there’s always someone backing a trailer in, and they obviously need help. Sometimes the men come over to try to help, but we end up helping them,” she says. “Some women may not feel empowered enough to go out and camp, but this is a great and supportive community, and we always welcome new women.”
Adrienne just spent a few days in Burnet, Texas, at Girl Camper college, where she learned how to do maintenance and repairs. “It was great,” says Adrienne. “The things that we learned are not just camping skills, they’re life skills: electrical, plumbing, hot water heater, tires. Who ever learned this even in college? Plus there was no mansplaining. Women taught us how to do these things,” says Adrienne. She added, “When you get to middle age it’s challenging to find new ways to make friends and meet new people. This is a national network and everywhere you go there will be trailer girls there to welcome you.”
“Sometimes I ask myself why I enjoy camping in my Airstream,” Lynda told me. “Then I’ll see an amazing sunset or sunrise, feel the rain or snow or heat. I’ve loved all the nice hotels I’ve stayed in in Paris and New York and elsewhere. But now I realize I missed out on so much nature: seeing an eagle in flight, or a bear, or just sitting around a fire eating s’mores with your girlfriends. There’s just nothing better.”
Top photo courtesy of Sisters on the Fly.