We had been staying at Tugaloo for about 5 days. I was sitting outside in my recliner with Junior happily bashing away at his toys in his playpen, both of us soaking in the warm sunshine on our quiet loop. A golf cart came riding by and the woman driving it gave a friendly wave. She was middle-aged with mousey-brown hair, small specs, and a kind smile. Like many people often do, she stopped to say hi to Junior who was now standing up in his playpen pointing and cooing at her. She commented on how adorable he is (and he is) and we exchanged pleasantries. I asked her about hosting; how long she had been doing it and what she made of it. She told me she was from Knoxville, TN and had been hosting a few years with her husband and that they loved it so much they were in the process of selling their apartment so they could live in their camper and host full-time. I told her that we had a hosting gig lined up in a few weeks and she immediately became very excited.
“You know, they need a host here on this loop right now – you should go down to the office and ask them about it in the morning. They’re desperate for someone, it’s perfect!”
That is perfect, I thought.
We had planned on spending our first few weeks paying to stay somewhere to give us all time to adapt to our new way of living before I had to take on the extra responsibility of the hosting duties and learn to balance them with raising Junior full-time. But after a few days we learned that we are all natural-born RVers and the learning curve was not as steep as we originally thought. The prospect of hosting a month earlier than expected would save us about $1,000 and was extremely attractive, so I jumped at this opportunity.
Sure enough I went to the office in the morning and they were delighted to have someone able to start the next day. I told them that we had another gig lined up for October 31 and that we had a trip to Tennessee planned for a week but they were happy to have us for the time we could spare. By Friday we had pulled our camper into the host site on our loop and I took up host duties that night by cleaning the bathrooms which took around 30 minutes.
The whole weekend we had other hosts, rangers, and maintenance workers dropping by to introduce themselves and check in on us. Everyone has been so incredibly friendly and welcoming, we have been totally overwhelmed with our reception. Happily, it seems that the last host on our loop was something of a slacker (which was evident by the state of the bathrooms on our arrival) so the bar had been set very low for us.
So there are 3 other sets of campsite hosts (each is a couple) and then there is one set of Yurt hosts (also a couple). Mike James and his wife, Vera were the first hosts to which I was introduced. Mike was in the forestry service for 20 years and did some other odd jobs after retiring. He’s 78 years old and it’s clear from the pristine appearance of his rig and site that he’s a stickler for detail and he likes to stay busy. He and Junior developed a special bond immediately and Mike just loves to make Junior smile and giggle. He calls Junior “spark plug”, which is pretty appropriate. I ride by Mike and Verna’s site now and then and Mike always gives Junior a graham cracker, much to the kid’s delight.
Jack and Rhonda have been coming to the lake for 20 years and host every summer for a few months. Jack is a thin, older gentleman with a thick southern accent and the hoarseness of a seasoned smoker, the combination of which makes it hard to understand him at the best of times, even with his thick slow southern drawl. He has sun bleached hair, callous hands, and well-worn clothes; the beacon of a man who has worked in construction for many years. He may look gruff, but his smile and soft tone soften him considerably. Rhonda is a high school teacher. She is shorter and stockier than Jack with short brown hair and a wicked sense of humor. When she introduced me to the maintenance worker, Burt, she said “we call him Turd”. It caught me by surprise and I laughed pretty hard. Burt said with a sneer “we like her husband, we tolerate her”. I immediately knew that these people were my people.
Betty, the woman who suggested that I inquire about hosting at Tugaloo in the first place, is married to Clyde. They are sweet, soft spoken, laid back people with a slow southern drawl and gentle voices. They are always warm, friendly and happy to help. They host at the yurt village where their site is secluded and not visible to anyone except people passing on the road on the way to the yurt village. It’s a hosting gig we have our eye on for the future.
We only briefly met the other host, George. He was an older gentleman, likely retired, and he seemed just as nice as everyone else. His wife doesn’t like to do the full-time thing and they live nearby so she joins him here at the lake on weekends leaving him to fish 5 days a week.
The rangers are all very friendly and easy to talk to. One ranger, who we call Ned Flanders, is truly the real life park ranger version of his cartoon counterpart. He not only physically resembles him but also has a similar sing-songy disposition. He stops by now and then and is always good for a chat. He has some funny and interesting stories about the things that go on in the park and was happy to fill us in on the wildlife in the area and the things that we can expect. He also told us that a couple weeks before we arrived an RV caught on fire on our loop. It was some 30 minutes before a fire truck showed up but it wasn’t one that could pump water from the lake (there are no hydrants in state parks) so it was another 45 minutes before a water truck could arrive and by that time the entire rig had burned to ash. I guess that’s a lesson in fire safety on your rig.
People drop by from time to time for a quick hello or a long chat to pass the time. Time seems so much less valuable to people in the park and is happily frittered away on lake-gazing, idle chatter, long bimbles through the trails, or wildlife watching. No one seems to be in a hurry, and it is even discouraged with a park speed limit of 15mph. This all suits us to a tee.
We have been so incredibly lucky to have such a wonderfully welcoming and beautiful start to our hosting adventure. We’ve seen more wildlife in a week than we saw in a whole year of living in a city. We see deer everyday and they are so used to humans that they let you get within 15 feet of them sometimes without getting spooked. Junior shrieks with joy when he sees them and points with wide eyes and an awe-struck look that fills my heart with happiness. We had a family of 5 raccoons drop right in on us in our campsite one evening; they’re sweet little faces poking out of the trees as if they were just as curious about us as we were about them.
One morning, as I had junior on my hip, I was walking across the campsite to take the trash out and a beautiful red fox came trotting across towards us. His fur was a rusty red and his bushy tail slowly swished along behind him as he slipped silently across the clearing. He came within 15-20 feet of us but never seemed phased by our presence and merely went about his business.
Junior and I get up in the morning and check the bathrooms. This involves wiping down the countertops which accumulate a number of gnats and other creepy crawlies through the night. We check that there’s toilet paper and hand towels etc, then move on to a walk through the campsite with Devon just to check on things and say hi to all the happy campers. We then head home for some breakfast before we figure out what to fill the day with. Sometimes we clean out fire pits and check the campsites for trash, other days I just let Junior run through the woods picking up pinecones and rocks and stumbling over tree roots. He loves to wander through the forest and bring me little treasures along his adventures. The park is always so quiet and sleepy that I don’t have to worry about cars or strangers suddenly endangering him so he gets some of the independence that he demands daily now. He falls now and then and has taken a couple of face-plants to the pine needles, but he’s my little soldier and so he picks himself up and dusts himself off without so much as a whimper most of the time.
In the evenings when Chris gets home we sometimes go for another walk through the campsite or a golf cart ride. Once Junior is down to sleep for the night we deep clean the bathrooms when necessary and spend the rest of our evenings sitting by the fire discussing the day’s activities and competing to see who is better at keeping the fire going (it’s alway me).
The other night another host dropped by to invite us to a cookout at a neighboring rig. In the city this would have caused me a great deal of social anxiety. Here it seems effortless to stroll across the park as a family and stop by for a quick fish fry and some football.
Looking at our life now it seems like we have finally found our calling; a lifestyle that is bursting with all the things we have craved for so long – the outdoors, good people, and simple living. Living in the city, life seemed such a constant struggle and it was always difficult not to focus on what we didn’t have even when we had so much. Now it’s easy to see how rich our lives are even though we sold or gave away most of our possessions. Living this way allows us to live more in the moment. Living in this peace and quiet allows my mind to be quieter and more at peace. Though we had some pretty big and chaotic battles to fight to get here, and there were moments where life itself felt like an endlessly loud and violent storm, we have persevered to find our paradise. It may not be lavish or extravagant, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything.