Yesterday we packed up Patsy and left Tugaloo. The packing up part went smoother than our previous attempts and we were ready to roll out by 12. Unfortunately a large storm system was also ready to roll in and 30 minutes after we left the park we hit rain.
Because we need 2 vehicles – one for Chris for work and one for Junior and me to run errands etc while Chris is at work – it means we have to drive separately when moving the camper. Chris drove our Ram 1500 with Junior and Devon pulling our camper while I drove my old Chevy that Chris now uses as a work truck with his utility trailer in tow. We use 2 way radios to communicate back and forth while we are on the road; it allows us to communicate easily even when there is no cell service. As I am riding in front, it also allows me to call in any sharp turns, low limbs, or treacherous road ahead.
This turned out to be a good system as, about 15 minutes before we hit rain, I noticed that one of the skylights on the camper was open. We had just pulled out on the highway so we were able to pull over before any damage was done by the wind and the rain.
The route to Vogel from Tugaloo was mostly an easy route. It took us along mostly highways that were easy to navigate with a big rig. Looking at the route, however, we could see that after Cleveland it became winding mountain roads with steep inclines that would prove tricky under good weather conditions, let alone what we were facing. The trip was forecast to take about 1.5hrs but we decided to stop at a Walmart (now our trusty road friend when traveling with the camper) for a breather and to check the weather.
As we got out the rain was really picking up and the peaks around us disappeared into dark clouds. We looked at the forecast and found that there was a window in the storm for the next hour. The forecast showed wind gusts of up to 60mph. This is not good when you have a large rig in tow that catches the strong cross winds on the high mountain roads.
It was time for a judgement call. Do we press on in the hopes of beating the next wave of the storm that would bring heavier rain and stronger winds, or do we hold tight for a couple of hours with a boisterous 1 year old in a Walmart parking lot and hope that the storm blows through quickly. Chris deferred to my judgement – a move I’m never usually fond of. But the GPS was saying that we had 35 minutes left to go and the weather forecast said we had an hour to do it. So I decided that we should push on.
So we jumped into our trucks, turned our radios on and headed out. From Cleveland onwards we knew we were leaving the highways behind and traveling only on byways and mountain roads from there out. It was pretty smooth going until we turned a corner and found blue flashing lights and the road was blocked off. Detour.
Detours are dangerous on byways because they are not necessarily safe for big rigs. There could be tunnels, narrow roads, or sharp corners. But there was no way of turning around now so we pushed on ready to face whatever might lay ahead.
Thankfully it was an easy detour that lasted a few minutes and took us back onto our intended route quickly Having looked at the route ahead though, I knew that the worst was yet to come. The closer we got to Vogel the steeper the climb and sharper the bends got around the mountains.
Sure enough we began our ascent within 5 minutes of getting back on the byway. Gradually the road began to curve and snake through the foothills. Though the weather was dreary the landscape was breathtaking. Thankfully there were only a few other cars on the road as it was hard to take my eyes off the rusty red, copper oranges, and golden yellows of the leaves dancing in the wind on the mountainside. As Chris and I talked back and forth on the radio the running theme was “WOW, look how BEAUTIFUL this place is!” I could hear in his voice that the excitement and anticipation was bubbling up in him too and the storm’s threat seemed less and less significant as we drove on.
The last few miles were filled with steep climbs, sharp hair pin bends and winding S-curves. I knew that Chris couldn’t wait to get his motorcycle out and ride these roads and I had to remind him a couple of times to just focus on the road ahead for now. Things, surprisingly, went pretty smoothly with me calling out sharp curves ahead on the radio and counting down the miles until we got there.
Then we arrived.
The park itself is nestled in a valley on the edge of a lake high up in the mountains, 2500 ft to be exact. As you enter the park on the narrow lane that winds through a tunnel of trees you reach a curve and small wooden bridge over wolf creek which spills into the lake on your right. The clouds cleared for a moment and the trees gave way to the towering peaks surrounding us and the vibrant fall colors caught the sun and exploded with life and beauty. It’s the kind of moment where forces converge and everything comes together perfectly to create an unforgettable moment that makes it impossible not to smile ear to ear and say “woah” out loud, even when no one is around to hear you.
We stopped in at the visitors center and checked in with the ranger to let them know that we made it and get directions to the site that would be our home for the next two months. Driving to our site we followed the road around to the left of the visitor’s center, away from the lake and up the creek. The campsite was heavily wooded and signs posted everywhere reminded us that this was “bear country”. The giddiness in Chris’ voice spilled through the radio.
We passed a couple of children’s play parks at the very base of the narrow valley, a mini golf course, and some cottages for visitors to rent. As we pulled into the campsite itself we found our site which was one of the first on the right. I pulled up ahead out of the way and served as Chris’ backup camera to help him navigate the tricky turn into the site. Setting up went surprisingly smoothly and we set the camper level just as the rain began to set in again. Junior and I danced around in the camper as Chris, our hero, braved the weather to finish setting up.
I had left Tugaloo in short leggings and a T-shirt but another glance at the weather forecast suggested I should change. As is common in the mountains, we were expecting a 30 degree temperature drop by sundown and a further 20 degrees by dawn. This is a concept that, especially after months of 100 degree heat, is very difficult to fathom. So I changed into jeans and a long sleeved shirt while I went about setting up inside the camper. The next time I stepped out of the camper a couple of hours later I was met with a bitter whip of the icy wind and quickly retreated back inside to find several more layers.
After setting up we decided to head out to Walmart (yes, again) to stock up on a few supplies for the cooler weather. The Walmart was in Blairsville, a short 15 minute drive through utterly breathtaking landscapes. Looking out the window on the drive I watched as picturesque farms nestled into the hills passed by with luscious green rolling hills and perfect white fences holding the rugged forest back.
Blairsville itself is a town I’ve visited a few times before and loved. The square downtown is reminiscent of an old spaghetti western with its square-fronted buildings and a quaint red brick courthouse in the middle. We passed through downtown to the Walmart on the main highway. We both remarked how it was the most beautiful view from a Walmart parking lot we had ever seen with tall peaks rising all around us.
We loaded up on supplies and some $5 movies and headed back to camp. We continued getting settled, made ourselves some dinner and put Junior to bed. After trying to tune the TV we realized that we were too high in the mountains to get any service. This was not a problem for me – I can happily go without TV for a couple of months – but Chris had a moment of sadness to himself as he realized that this was going to present problems for him for the rest of the football season.
We put a movie on and I sat down to do some writing. The wind was now raging outside and the crisp cold made my teeth chatter when I went for a cigarette. About halfway through the movie the TV suddenly went black. Because our DVD player is also our radio it is hard wired into our rig so the movie kept playing through the surround sound. Chris looked at me and said “what happened?” As if I knew? We played around with the remote and the buttons on the TV. Nothing.
Then I had that, by now, very familiar sinking feeling as I looked up. The lights to the microwave were off and the fridge “check” light was flashing. Great.
The ceiling lights were all still on in the camper and the fan was still blowing. Chis checked the TV in the bedroom; dead.
“It must be a power surge” I said, clueless as to what else could have caused 4 major appliances to die at once. We checked the breaker and the fuses – all fine. Well that’s it, we thought. We officially CANNOT catch a break.
We can live without a TV, I thought, and we can make do fairly easily without a microwave, but no fridge leaves us severely up the proverbial creek. We stepped out for a cigarette together to cuss and gather our thoughts. As we stood there we noticed that the lights to the bath house were out.
Now I should point out that at this conjuncture it’s rather sad that it still didn’t click as to what was going on. But just remember that we are still new to this so it took us a minute.
“Well that’s weird, I guess the power surge blew the lights to the bath house too then”.
“We should have plugged in that damn surge protector” I said unhelpfully. “Do it now before it happens again and ALL the appliances get fried.”
So Chris went behind the camper, flipped the breaker, unplugged our rig, plugged the surge protector in, and plugged the rig into the surge protector. He came back and said “damn thing won’t work, the lights aren’t lighting up or anything”.
Wait a minute. Ok. Now I see what’s happened.
There was no power surge. Our appliances were not fried. The power to the entire campsite was down. The lights in the camper and the DVD player stayed on because we have a backup battery on our RV that automatically takes over when you lose power and continues to power the low-voltage appliances and outlets, hence the TV, fridge and microwave (higher powered appliances) were all off.
So I messaged the park ranger and the power came back on within 30 minutes. Luckily we had a taster of how easily storms can interfere with the power here and we won’t make the mistake of not using a surge protector again. We had a good laugh about it and thanked our lucky stars that it wasn’t worse.
The next morning was beautiful and sunny, although still very brisk. We decided to warm ourselves up with a walk around Lake Trahlyta trail, the trailhead of which was a short 5 minute walk away through the campsite. So we bundled ourselves and Junior up, put a leash on Devon, and headed out.
The lake itself is small but glorious. There are several trailheads near the lake edge, a boat dock with pedal boats and kayaks for rent, and a small beach area for the warmer months. The lake trail is about 3-4km around and very gentle, flat terrain.
The water was largely still and glassy with a fine mist that seemed to slip across it like ice. It drifted upwards to look like smoke rising from the reds and oranges of the forest which glinted in the sunlight. The rising mist from the lake rose above the fiery hillside to make the whole scene look like a silently blazing wildfire. The vibrant colors of the mountainside bounced off the water and danced in the occasional ripples from the feeding fish. We passed a couple of other hikers on our way round and we stopped frequently to take pictures.
About halfway around is the spillway which creates an extraordinary waterfall beneath it. We parked Junior’s stroller at the top and took the winding path and steep steps down to the base of the falls.
Trahlyta falls is approximately 75-100 feet tall from base to source and 10-15 feet wide. It’s surrounded by thick woodland with a narrow break in the tree canopy above. It’s a paradoxical setting; the water violently crashes and tumbles down the rocky mountainside with a roar while a thick mist rises at the base and drifts silently through the mossy trees and up through the canopy into the glimpses of daylight between the leaves. It was a stunning sight that we took a few minutes to drench ourselves in before getting back on the trail and back home.
We’re breathing a sigh of relief tonight as it seems that things may be calming down for us and that we have made it to the bottom of our waterfall safely. The trepidation I previously felt for leaving our paradise in Tugaloo and coming to Vogel has fallen away with the autumn leaves and I can feel myself relaxing into our new life already.
In a way this adventure is like getting to live new lives every few months. We get to change the landscape and the people when we decide it’s time and it’s not a terrible upheaval. Junior still has a safe place that he knows as home in our RV and Devon (who is an incredibly anxious dog who does not like change) still gets his familiar spot next to my side of the bed to retreat to when it all gets a bit much.
The key, it seems, to sticking with it is the acknowledgment that the next life will not be the same. The rangers, hosts, and guests will be different. There will be a different routine to the park; some require hosts to be on duty pretty much 24/7, whereas others will have a rotation schedule where you work a few days on and then have a few off. The landscape, the recreational opportunities, the weather, the whole vibe – they will all be different. This adventure lies somewhere between a traveling job and an extended vacation. It seems to marry the benefits of both and create it’s own genre of existence. It’s easier to appreciate what each life has to offer if your greet it with the knowledge that it is finite and should be savored while it’s here. And we intend to savor every drop of it.