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#1: The Long Road

I sometimes think that the size of our happiness is inversely proportional to the size of our house.

— Shantaram, by Gregory David Roberts

I started this blog as a sort of diary of my adventures with my husband, Chris, our one year old son, and our dog, Devon.  

In about June of 2019 our lease on our rental house was approaching expiry and so we had to make a decision whether to renew or go somewhere else.  We HATE moving and are NOT good at it.  We also didn’t really know where we wanted to go.  Though we had a baby, I wasn’t ready to settle down in one place yet and still craved adventure.  It’s hard to adventure, however, when you exist on one income, you barely cover rent and bills every month, and you have a baby and a dog.  It was hard for us even to visit my family in England and Canada, or even his family in Tennessee. The perpetual need for childcare, dog sitting, and money made it a bloody nightmare every time we wanted to even take a weekend away. Not to mention the need to cover bills while we were away which, on one income derived from self employment meant that any time away always left us frantically scraping for weeks afterwards just to get by.  

In November of 2018 we had bought a 1969 slide-in truck bed camper. This started as a search for a camper shell to transport the dogs and the baby stuff to make visits to Tennessee possible in one vehicle. Anyone with a new baby knows that you can’t go anywhere for a weekend without packing your entire house.

The camper was very basic with one light, 3 power sockets, a small bed and dinette (which turned into a second bed), and a 5 gallon water jug which could be placed over a sink which drained outside the camper in place of running water.  It was very dated so Chris, a carpenter by trade, worked tirelessly for 2 days and nights to replace rotten wood, paint, and put new floor in.  I recovered the original mustard yellow and brown dinette cushions and together we breathed new life into that camper.  We took it to Tennessee and stayed in it for a few nights.  It was so much fun and we really loved the whole experience.  The two of us, a baby, and a dog (Chris’ dog stayed in the house with Chris’ parents’ dogs, my dog is socially retarded so stayed with us) crammed into that thing and loved every minute.  We decided then that something bigger would be more practical so we sold it for more than double what we had put into it.

Then we got Miss Daisy.  She was a 1968 Frolic 16ft pull-behind camper with bad leaks and a horrible hot-pink paint job inside and out.  Chris gutted it, repainted the outside with my choice of white and soft yellow, and I recovered the cushions.  We sold it, still gutted, for a good profit and bought our current camper just 8 weeks before our lease was up.

We decided in June, before we sold Miss Daisy, that we were not satisfied with our current life.  Chris was working long hours to make rent which meant I was stuck at home with the baby on my own a LOT and it was taking its toll on us.  We realized that we were working so hard to afford a life that we didn’t actually even like.  We hated the city, we hated that house, and we hated not spending time together.  So I did a little research and pitched the idea to him that we live in a camper full time. It just made sense to me – we could travel and bring our home with us. No more having to worry about what to do with the dog, or how we would deal with a baby who refuses to sleep in a bedroom with which he is unfamiliar. 

Chris looked at me like I was crazy the first time I brought it up.  But I told him that there was this “campground host” program where we could live for free in state parks (of which there are several within the area in which Chris works) so long as I volunteered at the park.  In this way, Chris wouldn’t have to work all the time to fork out for rent and we would be able to be back out in the country where we belonged.  We could actually enjoy weekends together and be able to afford to spend a little money here and there to do fun things as a family.  He considered it and said “ok, if that’s what you want (yes, I have a wonderful husband who often responds to my wild ideas in that manner).

I spent every waking moment looking for a camper.  I watched facebook marketplace for months to see what kind of used campers were out there and what price they were going for. I researched floor plans and style to get a good idea of what would work for us and what was a definite no-go.  Finally I found a 30ft 2006 Jayco Jayflight 29BHS at an absolute steal of $6,000 and it was immaculate.  It has a master bedroom at the front, a full kitchen with fridge/freezer, oven and stove, microwave, and a little Belfast style double sink.  The couch slides out when parked to give an extra 18-24 inches or so of floor space in the living area, and the couch and dinette both fold down to make 2 extra double beds.  The best part was that it had bunks at the back with the bottom bunk being a double. I planned to convert the bottom bunk into Junior’s own little bedroom and take the mattress off the top bunk so that we could put plastic totes up there for storage.  It also has a full bathroom with a perfect little tub for bathing the kid.

So we JUMPED on it as quickly as we could, with a little (actually a lot) of help from my family and a close friend.  That weekend we brought our new home back to our rental house and parked it in the driveway.  We were smiling ear to ear that night and spent about an hour just sitting in the camper and looking around talking about all the things we could do in it.

The following weeks were spent selling all our furniture and much of our stuff, organizing a storage unit for what we wanted to keep but couldn’t take on the camper, and, of course, finding our first hosting placement.  Finding a placement proved a little more difficult than anticipated and I spent a lot of time calling various parks and playing phone tag with others.  Eventually, with just a couple weeks to go before our lease was up, we found a placement from October 31 – December 31 at Vogel state park near Blairsville, GA.  It actually worked out perfectly because it allowed us to spend a few weeks in the camper just as paying guests at state parks while we got used to living in it and got Junior and Devon both adjusted to all the new sights, noises, and routines of a living in a camper.  

Finally, on September 24th, a day later than originally planned, we set off from our old rental at around 8pm and headed for Tugaloo state park for our first 2 week stay in our new little home on wheels.  The weeks of frantically packing, selling and organizing had become more chaotic until the last few days was filled with constant packing and moving, and very little sleep.  It was EXTREMELY stressful and I had more than a few dread-filled sleepless nights of thinking “I don’t think we’re gonna make it”.  Thankfully we ended up with another day at the house to finish getting our stuff out and into storage or the camper, and get the house cleaned up.  When it was finally time to pull out and hit the road it was past the baby’s bedtime so he was devoid of all patience which made working out the last few technical hiccups with the trailer hitch all the more stressful as he wailed at us from the back seat of the truck.

We arrived at the campground, in typical Rachael-fashion, at 9:45pm – just 15 minutes before they closed the gate for the night and locked us out.  We backed the camper into our campsite in the dark which was, surprisingly, not disastrous.  The very second that we put the camper in park it was like all the stress had completely melted away and I was overcome with relief and sheer joy.  The sense of accomplishment was overwhelming and we were grinning like children on Christmas morning all night.  Then was the fun part (for me). We set the camper, lowered the jacks, plugged in the power, turned some lights on, put the slide out, hooked up the water, got beds set up, moved stuff in – all with excited chatter and frequent hugs and “we did it!”  Junior had gone from screaming bloody murder to running back and forth in the camper, squealing and giggling with delight at his new home as he chased Devon around. We couldn’t help but laugh too, and the four of us jumped and rolled around laughing for a while as we basked in the moment.

Much to our delight and EXTREME surprise, when we finally put Junior down in his new bed for the first time – the kid who hates disruption to his routine and will not sleep anywhere but his bedroom – with ease and he went straight to sleep and slept through the night until around 8am.  We went to sleep with smiles on our faces and warmth in our hearts that night.  We deserved that moment.  We worked our butts off for it.  We stressed and worried and researched and planned and sacrificed our way to that moment. It was a long and brutal road to the campsite but the view of our future that night as we sat exhausted in our chairs by the empty fire ring was gloriously bright, full of hope, and tasted so much sweeter than I had even dared to imagine.

#25: A Place to Rest

We’ve been at Black Rock a few days now and had a chance to settle in.  We’ve met some folks, explored a little, and the place is quickly feeling like home.

Junior and Devon have really made themselves at home.  They have spent hours frolicking on the grass, running through (or away from, in Devon’s case) the sprinkler, digging in the gravel, and laying in the sun.

Being on the side of a the mountain with no surrounding peaks, there tends to be a more steady, cooling breeze here – this has been a welcome addition on these hot spring days.  The lack of tree cover is both a blessing and a curse.  While we are safe from falling limbs in the spring storms, we have no shade cover for the camper which means we will be using the a/c a lot in the coming months.  

The people here all seem very friendly and the place has a generally more relaxed vibe.  The park is generally quieter than Vogel which eases some anxiety related to the current coronavirus pandemic.  I expressed concerns about cleaning bathrooms with the rangers and they were understanding and have been very accommodating.

The sense of urgency that Vogel is shrouded in because of its popularity seems a distant notion here.  When we went to run some errands on our second day here, we discovered the gate to the complex was closed and we had been locked in.  I called the ranger to come and let us out and he said he’d be down soon but that “nobody was in a hurry here”.  I found this to be comforting.  Everyone seems laid back and easy going which certainly eases my anxiety about juggling life as a host with being a mother to a very busy little boy.

Black Rock Mountain State Park is the highest (elevation) park in Georgia and sits at 3,640 ft straddling the Eastern Continental Divide.  With no higher peaks surrounding it, there are impressive vistas and panoramic views throughout the park.  The majority of the park sits atop the narrow ridge of Black Rock Mountain meaning the trails are challenging but the scenery is spectacular.  On a clear day, a short hike up to the scenic overlook at Tennessee Rock provides views across four states: North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, and, of course, Georgia.  Established in 1952, what the park lacks in history it makes up for in stunning scenery.

The view from Cowee Overlook en route to the visitors center.
A little further up the mountain at Blue Ridge Overlook.

The park encompasses over 1700 acres across Black Rock Mountain and the 4 surrounding peaks and includes the 17 acre Black Rock Lake.  The lack of higher peaks surrounding it means that the majority of the park is exposed to the weather.  This coupled with the sheer rock faces and giant boulders gives the landscape a particular rugged beauty.

The view looking from the visitors center over Clayton below and South Carolina beyond.
Junior at the Visitors Center overlook musing at the buzzards flying overhead.

Because of its location on the top of a narrow ridge, the park facilities are rather spread out. The campground, significantly smaller than Vogel, features 44 campsites for tents, trailers, and RVs split into 2 loops (each with its own bathhouse). There are a further 12 “walk-in” sites on a separate loop for tent campers only. Virtually every campsite at the park boasts views across Northeast Georgia, South Carolina, and North Carolina, with some having up to 240 degree views.

The view from Nantahala Overlook in the campground.

Black Rock is a little less family-friendly than Vogel, however. The steep drop offs on either side of the campground, the lack of any play park, and the level of experience required for most of the trails means that it can be difficult to keep kids entertained in the park. While fishing and paddling (canoes, kayaks, and trolling motors) are allowed in the lake, swimming is prohibited.

Sunset over Black Rock Lake.

For the truly outdoorsy family, couples, or friends looking for a somewhat wilderness adventure packed with beauty and just a 10 minute drive to local eateries and boutiques – Black Rock State Park is an excellent choice.

We’ve been fortunate in our first few days here.  Although the current pandemic has caused some cancellations to some of Chris’ jobs giving way to some financial woe for us, the silver lining is that Junior and I get to have him home with us for a few days.  As far as I’m concerned, there’s nothing better in life.  Throw in some warm, sunny days and that’s a recipe for some Seeley family adventures.

On our first sunny day at the park Chris was itching to go fishing for the first time in a while.  So he loaded his fishing poles in the truck, I got the backpack carrier, and we all headed down to the lake.  

While Chris wet a line, Junior and I took ourselves on a little hike to explore the area.  We took the short lake trail to begin with.  This trail hugs the banks of the vibrant blue-green water for approximately 0.85 miles.  Junior had a great time giggling at the ducks and mimicking their quacking.  He got a real kick out of it when they began diving and their little feathered butts were sticking up in the air.

Next we decided to explore a little bit of the James E. Edmonds trail.  This is the park’s backcountry trail and, though it is only an approximately 7.2 mile loop, it features challenging terrain and some pretty steep inclines.  One section of the trail includes a particularly gruesome 1000 ft elevation gain in one short mile.  

A Southern Woodland Violet marks the trail to the lake and mountains beyond.
A Native Violet dancing in the gentle lake breeze.
These Philadelphia Fleabanes are popping up all around the lake.

Signs of spring were everywhere.  The Christmas Ferns, some of the coolest little sprouts in spring, are abundant on the forest floor.  This time of year they resemble little green, furry worms curled up and protruding from the ground as they slowly stretch and come to life like everything else in the spring.  

A Christmas Fern getting ready to spring into life.

For obvious reasons, we didn’t attempt the entire trail, but did manage to do about a couple of miles of exploration.  The cool mountain air made it a great day for a hike through the woods.  The rugged landscape was littered with mossy rocks and dry leaves with specks of the blue, purple, yellow and white wildflowers beginning to push their way through the forest floor.  Underground streams created some small – and some very large – tunnels and caves throughout the mountainside, filled with moss and dripping with natural spring water.  In other places the water poured over the gigantic boulders and veins of biotite gneiss, the dark colored rock that runs through the Blue Ridge Mountains and gives the park its name.  

The trail passing over one of the many mountain streams.
More mountain streams.

We followed the trail, crossing the many trickling streams, until we heard the distant sound of rushing water enticing us further.  We rounded a ridge to find a 10 ft waterfall cascading down the face of the smooth, black rock and spilling into a small, sandy pool at its base; the perfect secluded swimming hole for Junior on a hot spring or summer day. 

The rays of sunlight piercing through the canopy glimmered on the water. The lush greens of the wild magnolias gently draping over the stream, the many forest ferns and the moss that seemed to slowly claim every inch of nearby rock made this spot feel like something created in a dream.  We sat for a minute and rested, listening to the chirp of the forest birds and the water running over the rock.  

The waterfall and sandy pool – a place we’ll return to better prepared and with more time for Junior to play.

Before long it was time to head back to find Chris and get some dinner for the kid.  I snapped my pictures and we set off back down the mountain toward the lake, satisfied with a few good shots and the promise to return with more time.  

There are more trails to explore here, and the taste I’ve had of them so far makes me restless for a chance to get back out.  With all the madness going on in the world right now it seems almost to be divine providence that we have found such a perfect place to take life a little slower.  Our escape from the hustle and bustle of Vogel has landed us in a place of beauty and peace and we couldn’t be happier for it.

#24: Here We Go Again

Our time at Vogel has come finally come to a close.  Leaving Vogel was full of mixed feelings.

The long, cold, wet winter had us dreaming of a change and looking forward to new adventures at Black Rock.  But in the last week or two the sun had begun to shine more, the flowers were beginning to bloom, the weather was getting warmer, and we were reminded of why we loved the place so much.  Winter has a way of dulling the shine of a beautiful landscape and, though the snow and frost provided a fresh perspective of the beautiful landscape some days, Vogel was not immune to harshness of a long, grey winter.  

Now that spring is upon us, we found ourselves a little saddened to leave our home of almost 6 months.  The staff at Vogel have become like family to us and made us feel so welcome.  There were even mornings where I couldn’t get Junior to get into the golf cart for our morning ride to the Visitor’s center until I said “wanna go see Miss Terri or Mikayla?”  At this he would grin, nod, and climb in eagerly.  We’ll miss our catch ups with the friendly maintenance crew and passing the time with them just shooting the breeze.  I’ll miss strapping Junior into the backpack carrier and taking long walks around the lake and through the many trails.  

Vogel in bloom.
Vogel in bloom.
The first wildflowers beginning to bloom at Vogel.

But all good things must come to an end, and though we are saddened to leave, we are also anxious to leave behind the throngs of city folks ignorantly endangering the area. We’re excited for what’s ahead.

Friday night we sat by the fire talking about our plans to leave the next day – a venture which has not exactly gone smoothly or to plan for us in the past.  Moving always brings a certain level of anxiety.  Will we forget anything?  Will we be able to time it all right with Junior’s schedule?  Will we forget to close something or do something to the camper before we leave that will result in disaster?

Don’t even get me started on the drive to Black Rock.  The narrow, winding, STEEP road up was enough to give me a panic attack on our last visit there a couple of weeks ago.  Luckily, we are staying at the maintenance unit, which is nearer to the bottom of the mountain.  This means we don’t even have to attempt about 60% of the hellacious drive up the mountain, a fact that makes it easier to remain calm about the move.

Saturday morning was moving day and, against all the odds and expectations of my husband, I managed to rise at 7:30am.  Neither of us are morning people.  In fact, our marriage is based on a firm understanding that we just shouldn’t communicate with each other before I’ve had coffee and Chris has had an energy drink.  Life is just better that way.  But on Saturday we managed a very not unpleasant morning with no arguments or stress.  We put Home Alone on for the kid and set about our duties – I packed up and cleaned inside while Chris packed up outside.

Miraculously, and again against the expectations of my dear husband, we pulled out of Vogel at 11:52am – bang on schedule.  It was just in time, too, as the hoards of vacationers who refuse to stay at home during the pandemic were pouring in by the dozens.  We said a quick goodbye to the rangers who were out directing traffic, and went on our way.

As mentioned in previous posts, when we travel we use two way radios.  Chris drives the Ram with the camper in tow, and I drive my old Chevy that Chris uses for a work truck with his small utility trailer in tow.  I led the way to warn of any obstructions, sharp curves, or steep grade ahead.

This all went remarkably well.  It was a clear, sunny day with a gentle breeze but no strong cross winds.  We chose our timing and route based on avoiding traffic and it went to plan.  Until we got about 100 years from our destination, that is.

The road to the maintenance complex at Black Rock is a mostly gravel road about 300 yards long.  Being ahead of Chris, I pulled into the complex first and breathed a sigh of relief and allowed the excitement of setting up at our new home to set in.  Then Chris, still coming up the road behind me, came over the radio, “I’m stuck.”

Shit. 

“Ok, I’m coming.  What’s up?”  I parked the truck, jumped out, and went running back down the road to assist him.  Radio silence.  “Talk to me, are you ok?”

“I’m sliding.”

Double shit.

The small loose gravel on the road, the steep gradient, and the 6,500 lbs trailer with a steep drop off to one side and a ditch on the other created a very bad situation.  I ran as fast as I could in crocs with no socks on, cussing my horrible choice of footwear (in general, but particularly for this undertaking).  I turned the corner to see the truck, wheels cocked to one side, slowly sliding back down the hill.  The road curved gently to the left behind Chris and gently to the right in front of him.  Sliding straight back with no control meant sliding straight off the side of the road into the 100 ft drop off.  

I dug deep to find the calmest voice I could and assessed the situation quickly.  

“Ok, just stop for a second.”  Sound advice, Rachael.

“My foot is on the brake, I’m sliding, I can’t stop, there’s no traction!”  

“Right.  Ok.”

Finally the sliding ceased for a moment and the truck and camper came to rest.  But ahead of the tires was several feet of deep, pea-sized gravel and there was no hope of gaining traction on it with that big of a load in tow.  So I told Chris he’d have to just give in to the slide a little and that a few feet behind his tires there was some more solid ground.  If he could get to that and bring the rig to a halt then he could try again to make a run up the hill.  I could see the frustration oozing out of him and he was trying not to panic.  He slid back another foot or two then tried again to no avail – the tires were spinning and he began sliding again, edging closer to the curve and drop-off behind him.

“Alright, I’m going to run back and guide you backwards.  Your only hope here is to go back about 10 feet and get behind these ruts.  Once you’re on solid ground you’re going to have to steer to the right and make another run up the hill.  You can do it if you stay to the right.”

Chris put his head in his hands.  Visibility from the drivers seat was minimal, so I was his only eyes and he had to not only trust me to guide him, but hope that when I said “stop” he could actually stop.

“Ok.” He sighed heavily.

I ran to the back of the camper and became abundantly aware of the fact that I was downhill from a large, heavy, out of control vehicle.  I swallowed hard, did a quick survey of area around me for a somewhat safe place to bail to in the event that the following maneuver went south, and gave Chris the OK to start coming backwards.

As soon as I did, the truck began sliding again.  I heard Chris’ voice come through the radio, “I’m sliding”, the anxiety was rising.  He had about 10 feet before he reached the edge of the road, and the edge of the mountain.

“It’s ok, you’re clear back here, just straighten the wheel and try your best to control it.”  More sound advice.

“I CAN’T CONTROL IT.  I CAN’T TURN THE WHEEL.  I’M STUCK.”  Right.  Of course.

8 feet now.

“OK, well your fine back here, plenty of room.”  That’s about the best I could muster for reassurance.  

6 feet.

“Yep, keep coming.”

4 feet.  

Should I tell him to stop now in case we need a couple of feet to allow for more sliding?

2 feet.

“Ok stop!”

The truck stopped and didn’t slide. We both let out a little breath.  He now had a few feet of solid ground ahead of him which would hopefully allow him to gain the traction and speed he needed to get up the hill.

I ran ahead and reminded him to stay to the right, and gave him some more stellar words of encouragement and advice that he had clearly now come to depend upon.  He rolled his eyes, swallowed hard, I gave him a nod, and off he went.  The truck slowly began to pull forward, groaning and creaking under the weight of the camper.  As the tires hit the gravel they began to spin.

“Keep going, keep going!”

The tires tried desperately to gain traction on the loose ground, spinning then rolling forward, then slipping again.  Inch by inch Chris managed to gain enough ground to get over the treacherous gravel ruts and finally onto the solid ground and up the hill.  I cheered and began running up the hill after him, again cursing my crocs and lack of fitness.  

We finally pulled safely into the maintenance complex around 2pm and, with a few minutes of wiggling, got the camper set and leveled, and hugged each other tightly.  We took a few minutes to celebrate and just breathe – both of which were well-deserved.

We looked around at our new home.  It was a modest site and significantly different from our site at Vogel.

The complex is about an acre in size with a chainlink fence wrapping all the way around.  There’s a large two-story metal warehouse building to the right, and a large open metal barn up the gentle, grassy slope to the left which houses tractors and other heavy machinery.  Behind the warehouse, near the fence line, is the 40x20ft gravel pad that we now call home.  While it may not be beautiful or picturesque, what our humble home base lacks in eye-candy, it makes up for in commodities and convenience.

The lack of neighbors is a beautiful thing.  With maintenance only working 3 days a week, there’s minimal interaction with other people at our new home unless we seek it out.  Furthermore, the fence provides security against runaway children or dogs, and extra security for our home when we leave.  The big bonus for me is the laundry facilities (no quarters required), full kitchen, and full bathroom just 10 feet from our camper inside the warehouse building for which we have access whenever we want.  This means free laundry with nor restrictions on when we can use it, and all the long, hot showers we can swing a cat at – a welcome break from the 7 minute military showers in the camper.

To top the list off, it has cable TV – something that we did pretty well without but are glad to have it back – is only a quick 5 minute drive into town, and is actually closer to the lake than the campground.  Plus, we’re only a short 3-4 minute drive up the mountain from the many trails and beautiful vistas from the top.

Numerous factors (which I will go into in greater detail in a later post) make this park much quieter than Vogel, so we hope to enjoy a somewhat easier time of managing the hosting duties.  It’s also located in the county that we hope to one day settle in, so it gives us a chance to explore it more closely – assuming that the pandemic issue will be somewhat under control by the end of June.

We are excited about our new set up.  Junior and Devon are perhaps the most excited.  With a grassy hill for them to play on and lay around on, both have found that there are major benefits to our new abode.  As for Chris and I, well we’re just glad we’re not retrieving all of our stuff from a smashed up camper at the bottom of a mountain. 

#23: A Plea for Action

The world has watched as, over the last few weeks, the outbreak of COVID-19 has grown to become a global pandemic.  For many like us, these are uncertain times that spark significant fear over what may be to come over the coming weeks.

We’ve all seen the warnings: wash your hands, distance yourself socially, stay home from work, schools and daycares are closed, and avoid all unnecessary travel.  For those who are adhering to those guidelines – I applaud you.  But unfortunately I’m not seeing that.

Here at Vogel State Park I watch everyday as more and more spring breakers pour into the campground.  I watch as children swarm the playground.  I watch as people line up outside the bath houses in the mornings.  I watch as people pour into the visitors center to check in, get maps, and buy firewood and souvenirs.  I am seeing car tags from Florida (by the dozens), Tennessee, North and South Carolina, nearby Georgia counties, and even from Wisconsin.  

I spoke to a camper this morning (from a safe distance) who said that they had planned to go to Disneyland for spring break but when Disneyland closed they decided to come here instead.

I think there is something that these people are fundamentally overlooking or ignoring.

Disneyland and other places are closing because we, as a country, need people to stay home right now.  That doesn’t mean that you should change your plans and find some other place to crowd.  It means that, if you have a home to stay at, then stay home.

For us, these crowds are extremely troubling.  We have no sticks and bricks home to go to.  We live in our camper – a <200 sq ft space in which we depend on campground hosting to have somewhere to stay.  To ensure our placement I must fulfill my daily hosting duties which includes cleaning the bathrooms that hundreds of campers are using daily.  I cannot opt out of this or we will lose our placement at this park and will have no other place to go.  Furthermore, with daycare closed, I am now required to do this with my 18 month old son with me full-time.

Sure, we are young and healthy and will likely overcome the illness should we contract it.  But if we do, in fact, contract COVID-19 we will be forced to self-isolate for 2 weeks.  I think (or I hope) it’s probable that the staff at the campground will be compassionate and allow us to stay during that time, if it should come to that.  But my husband is self-employed and if he doesn’t work then we have 0 income.  With little savings, a 2 week self-quarantine would leave us in significant financial turmoil.  We’re already facing significant financial turmoil as the markets continue to plummet and unemployment continues to rise as it is likely that, over the coming weeks, Chris’ customers will begin to cancel the home-improvement projects for which they had him scheduled.  So a 2 week quarantine would seriously diminish our chances of getting ahead of any future dry periods of work.

Aside from us, I worry about the other folks here at that park that are being placed at risk by the influx of spring breakers.  Most of the women in the visitor’s center are over 50 or 60 years old.  The other campground hosts here, and for the vast majority of state parks, are over 60 years old and therefore in the high-risk group.  The park cannot operate without us; as volunteers we are the only people responsible for maintaining the campground facilities and if we all decided to leave then it would place a massive burden on the park staff who have become like our family.

I understand that, particularly for families with young children, canceling spring break plans can be devastating. But I am urging people to consider the wider consequences of their actions. Overnight I watched the number of confirmed cases in Georgia jump from 197 to 287 and the death toll leap from 3 to 10; numbers which continue to grow by greater margins daily. I have watched the local stores empty of ALL toilet paper, canned goods, bread, meat, cleaning supplies, and now fresh produce.

I am NOT suggesting that this is a time to panic.  The stores will refill and officials are working to mitigate the effects of the shut downs on citizens.  There is simply no need to panic right now.

There is, however, a need to very strongly and carefully consider the impact that your actions will have on EVERYONE around you when you make the decision to leave your home.  Now is not a time to go on vacation, now is the time to collectively sacrifice for the most vulnerable in our society; the elderly, the immunocompromised, the low-income, and the self employed.  You may think that this is no big deal and that this will blow over – but that’s likely because you have little to lose in this situation.  For folks like us, there is so much at stake and we are surrounded by uncertainty.

So, while it may suck to have to abandon your spring break plans or let those cheap flight and hotel prices pass you by, please help your fellow humans who are dependent upon your responsible decision-making during such turbulent times.  By all means, get out and take a hike on a trail, or explore the great outdoors, but only if this can be done without visiting public areas where the risk of the spread of the virus is high.

We will all pull through this and one day look back on it and be glad that it’s over.  For now, though, let’s do what we can to help each other out.

Please share and encourage your friends, family, and neighbors to abandon all unessential travel plans.  Thanks!

#22: Camping with Corona?

You may not have heard, so let me catch you up; there’s a pandemic afoot.

The whole world has gone mad for toilet paper and handshaking is becoming an archaic greeting of days past.  Basketball and Baseball have been cancelled, and Tom Hanks is in quarantine with Wilson.  Schools are closed and workers everywhere are discovering the bliss of working from bed in their underwear.  Italy is a red zone and Europe has been effectively cut off from the USA.  Many Americans are now living in toilet paper forts with hand sanitizer moats.  What even is normal anymore?

Image result for toilet paper hoarding

Here in the mountains life is much the same, until the last few days.  With the spread of the virus taking over, the pandemic is even becoming evident in our tiny little community of Blairsville, GA.  All local schools have been shut down and parents seem to be bulk buying liquor and wine.  On a trip to Home Depot earlier this week to get some basic DIY supplies for the camper I was met in the parking lot with panic buyers toting supply carts piled high with mega packs of toilet paper – a behavior that is terribly puzzling to me.  

I left Home Depot to get some gas (now hovering around $2.00 to the gallon, the silver lining of all this) and get a couple of bits for dinner from the grocery store.  It seems people had lost their minds there, however, as upon arrival I found the parking lot slammed full of cars and a long line of cars waiting to get in.  The gas pumps were no different and I had to wait 10 minutes to get gas.  With a hungry baby in the back seat and lunch time fast approaching, I decided it was best to abandon the grocery run in the interest of not compromising the kid’s nap time, which I have come to hold dear to my sanity.

In the last few days I have watched as other full time RVers across the country have been posting about the eviction notices they’ve received from the RV parks who are closing due to the Corona virus and State parks have now shut down in several states.  This has been cause for concern for us, as we never factored such occurrences into our plan when we set out on this adventure 6 months ago.  While we do have options – mostly because the very nature of our existence is mobile and therefore we’re easily relocated – it’s still unsettling and would interfere with Chris’ business and our overall plan. 

But c’est la vie.  It could always be worse.

And for a while there it was worse.  After Christmas, as previously mentioned, Junior and I caught the flu.  This was a dark period in the history of our RVing adventure, and one which we hoped would pass quickly.  

But as the weeks went by I struggled to recover.  I suffered with significant congestion, blinding headaches, exhaustion, chest pain, and brief periods of losing my voice.  It was endless and relentless.  It made no sense.  Chris wasn’t getting sick, Junior had a runny nose but otherwise seemed ok.  I’m generally a healthy person – I eat well, I drink lots of water, and I’m usually pretty active.  But this thing was not shifting.

I won’t lie, there were moments where it had crossed my mind that this could be the infamous virus that was afflicting me. With the CDC having sent out faulty tests for COVID-19 for so long, there was no real way of telling where the virus had spread to, and there have been a number of confirmed cases in Georgia and recently one death from COVID-19.

Then one night Chris and I were lying in bed watching a movie.  I stretched up and ran my hand along the back of the mattress and a chill ran through my body.  I felt the blood rush through my belly and I sat up.  

“Get up” I said to Chris.  He looked a little puzzled.  “I mean it; get up.”

“What is it?” He said wearily pulling himself up out of bed.  

“Damp.”  I said flatly.

We stood up and pulled the mattress off the platform of the bed and there, clear as day, was the answer to that incessant question: why can’t I get well?

Mold.  Every RVer’s worst nightmare.

As mentioned in a previous post, moisture is the enemy of all RVs.  It destroys a rig fast and, as we learned the hard way, can destroy your health even quicker.  

Oh my god, I’ve been sleeping on it.  EVERY NIGHT.

Everything made sense.  I had been telling Chris that when I came outside I often felt a little better and the congestion would at least ease up.  But there were so many days where I woke up feeling so terrible that I didn’t feel up to even stepping outside for a cigarette.  Chris had even had to do the daycare run for me when I was really unwell.  Now it was clear that it was a vicious circle whereby the worse I felt and the more I rested to try and get better, the worse I would feel because I was resting on the very source of my illness.  Chris hadn’t been getting sick because he was allergic to mold like I am, and he wasn’t spending even half of the time in the RV that I was.

I felt nauseated looking at it.  But I felt relieved that now we knew and maybe I could finally, FINALLY get some relief.  

We spent the next few days and a few hundred bucks getting some supplies to tackle the issue.  We had naively believed that running the dehumidifier 24/7 would be enough to rid us of any chance of mold growing.  It turns out that was a costly mistake.

We scrubbed the mattress several times with rubbing alcohol and propped it up daily to dry with the windows open and fans running.  We ordered 3 vent covers for our roof vents (like plastic skylights).  The vent covers allowed us to crack the vents open, even in the rain, without the risk of rain coming in through the vent.  This seems to have made the biggest difference to the air quality inside the camper.  I spent an afternoon up on the roof, with the help of a maintenance guy from the park who is a friend of ours, installing these on the vents.  

We also got a Den Dry mattress underlay.  It’s about an inch thick, made of spun plastic, and sort of resembles bubble wrap in its shape.  The purpose of it is to lift the mattress off the platform and allow airflow between the two to prevent condensation from getting trapped and creating a breeding ground for mold.

Lastly we purchased an air purifier.  This filters out the mold spores, dust, pet dander, pollen, and all other yucky things from the air so I can breathe a little better and sleep a little easier.

It’s been about 2 weeks since all this happened and I am almost back to normal now, with only mild congestion and a lingering cough.  It feels wonderful to finally have my energy back and be able to do things with ease again.  It certainly makes life as Mom to Junior much more manageable – it takes a great deal of energy to keep up with that kid nowadays.  

Once again it seems we had to learn valuable lessons the hard way.  While the mold, the endless rain, and the looming threat of invasion from the corona virus has certainly placed a significant black cloud over the winter of 2019/2020 for us – our first winter in the camper – we have still managed to weather this storm intact as a family.  

Chris has worked hard through the winter and come home each night to take over baby duties and look after me.  We have addressed the issues within the camper and learned valuable lessons on how to proceed through the winter in a rig.  If COVID-19 does displace us then, even in the worst case scenario, we will embark on an adventure to Tennessee and take the opportunity to spend some time with family.  The beauty of our situation is that it allows us to adapt more readily to whatever life throws our way.  If things fall apart in Georgia we can fall back on Tennessee.  If things fall apart in the US then we’ll haul our home up to Canada.  With just a day’s notice we can relocate ourselves wherever necessary and make an adventure of it.

For now though, we’ll take a deep breath of clean air, stick with a normal amount of toilet paper, and proceed with business as usual until we hear otherwise.

Finally feeling better, at Brasstown Bald.

#21: I’m still alive

This winter has been the winter to which all future winters will be measured against. We have endured the flu, colds, sinus and ear infections, stomach bugs with some serious vomiting, a motorcycle accident, snow, then 70 degree sunshine, then torrential rain and flooding, tornado warnings, then more snow, and a dangerous lack of hiking and fireside time.

It’s been a rough go round, but we’ve survived this far and I’m fiercely clinging to the notion that spring time will bring brighter days.

We knew that putting Junior in daycare would result in exposure to more germs and thus lots of sick days, but this has been a real shock to the system from a kid who never had so much as a runny nose for the first 12 months of his life. But he has been a real trooper through it all and I’m delighted to say that he’s faced it all with a cheeky smile and an undying love for his dog whom he snuggles with daily.

Chris gave it a good old college try at scaring me half to death a couple of weeks ago. Junior went down for a nap one afternoon and Chris decided it was a good time to go for a ride on his motorcycle. I rolled my eyes and begrudgingly gave him a goodbye kiss. Not 20 mins later I got the call that I dread receiving every time he goes riding. But it wasn’t quite how I’d played it in my head 100 times before.

“Hey, what’s our permanent address?”

“Why?”

“Just give me the address!”

Oh god, he’s been pulled over for speeding. I’m gonna kill him. How many bloody times have I told him to be bloody careful on that bloody…

“Ok, I need you to come and pick me up, I’ve had an accident.”

I believe my heart may have actually stopped had he not been on the phone and talking to me. This one fact is about all that kept me together as I woke the baby from his nap, strapped him into his car seat, and tried to keep my hands from shaking as I drove down the mountain anxious to see what condition my husband was actually in.

As it turns out, Chris was downtown (thankfully) when the accident happened. An old man failed to look before pulling out right in front of Chris. With no time to react he slammed right into the side of the car and flipped over it. His hips and groin slammed into the handlebars and seem to have taken the brunt of the blow. Miraculously, however, he suffered relatively minor injuries compared to the many scenarios that had played in my mind before. Though badly bruised and barely able to walk, he suffered no broken bones and I cannot overstate how thankful I am that my husband came home that day.

Chris being Chris, he immediately started talking about getting another bike that night. We very rarely argue at all nowadays, but I sure felt one boiling up with that statement. Sure, I have compassion and empathy for the loss of his hobby and I understand that everyone needs a little escapism now and then. But it’s time to get a new hobby.

Despite emotions being high, we managed a calm and open discussion on the issue. We arrived at the compromise that Chris would use the insurance money to get a boat. This way he would have his “toy” to go and have some Papa time with, but this toy wouldn’t cause me extreme anxiety every time he wanted to use it. Though Chris is still grieving the loss of his dear machine (that we got married on), it’s a compromise that we both feel pretty good about. And I promised him that one day there would be a day, when Junior is much older, where I would definitely be on board with getting another motorcycle or two.

So all this to say: winter 2019/2020 has been a bugger. But we are all still here and all still together, so life isn’t so bad. The last couple of months have been very trying and admittedly has caused, at times, some resentment for living this lifestyle. But with spring around the corner and a new adventure at Black Rock Mountain on the horizon, I’m desperately hoping it’ll bring a renewed appreciation for our lifestyle.

Until then, here are a few snaps that I’ve managed to take on the odd days where I’ve felt somewhat human and been able to drag myself outside for some gentle hiking therapy.

Clouds rolling through Vogel at Lake Trahlyta.
Sunset over Lake Trahlyta
Foggy morning at Lake Trahlyta.
The same foggy morning at Lake Trahlyta.
If your eyes are open to it, there is beauty to be found even in the dreariest of times.
Lake Trahlyta.

#20: Fantastic Fire

Rain.  So much rain.  Endless rain.  The last few weeks have been filled with virtually non-stop rain and frigid temperatures.  Even on the days where there is no rain, it is so cold that nothing dries out before the next bout of rain comes in.

I can’t remember how long the rain has been sticking around now.  Maybe 2-3 weeks, maybe 5 or 6.  It feels like an eternity.

During rainy days I still manage to get outside with Junior, if only for 20-30 minutes or so at a time.  We both need the fresh air and to escape the confines of the camper each day to avoid going insane.  There is high value in quality rain gear when living in a camper for this very reason.

But the rain still presents insurmountable obstacles when it comes to evening activities.  Even when it isn’t actively raining, it is still more hassle than it is worth to try and get, and keep, a fire going in such conditions.  This coupled with the fact that we have nowhere that is truly dry to store our camping chairs, means that we are camper-bound until conditions improve.

This is doable for a few days at a time.  We usually rent a film or two and, after dinner, cuddle up in bed to watch it.  But after a couple of weeks of this it becomes monotonous and we long for the cozy fireside chats that I, for one, have come to depend on for my sanity.

Over time I have come to realize that conversation is an essential component to the success of our marriage.  This has taken various forms as our marriage and living situations have changed but has, nonetheless, remained reasonably constant.  

As mentioned in previous posts, Chris and I had a rather rocky start to our marriage.  The honeymoon period wore off quickly and we soon realized we had some fairly significant communication issues: we couldn’t.  Every time we tried to talk to each other it ended in knock-down, drag-out fights and this seriously took a toll on our marriage.

Around 3 or 4 months in, in attempt to better acclimate our dogs to each other, we began taking them on daily walks in the evening.  We lived on a dirt road that was always quiet, so we’d walk the 1.5 miles up to the stop sign at the paved road and back every day.  It wasn’t intentional, but this became one of the few things that saved our marriage from a tragically early death.  These walks began as a means of encouraging the dogs to feel like they were a part of the same pack, but it ended up having this effect on us too.

These walks became our time to check in with each other.  We talked about our days, things that were on our minds, issues with each other, hopes and dreams; whatever we wanted.  It became a chance for us to connect, and reconnect, every day.  It brought us infinitely closer.

When we moved to Lawrenceville, walking wasn’t much of an option in the evenings because Chris’ commute was so long that we didn’t have time before Junior went to bed.  Instead we would spend most evenings in our chairs in the carport chatting into the night.

The last few months, however, we have come to regard the fire pit as our sacred space.  Camp fires have always served as a hub for community, and ours is no different.  It’s a place that we have been fortunate enough to not just enjoy with each other, but also with new friends, old friends, and family.  It has become an essential part of our lives, and one that we have missed sorely in the last few dreary weeks.

The campfire is such a fantastic tool, one that I believe should have a place in every family.  Though many never consider a fire pit in their home or regular camping trips, I would strongly recommend that you do.  I believe in the power of a good campfire so strongly for many reasons.

There are many components to a successful fire.  The basic necessities for a fire are fuel, oxygen, and heat.  But a good fire requires so much more.  Much like a marriage or a friendship, it requires regular attention.  A fire must be carefully fed; too much and you’ll extinguish the heat and oxygen, not enough and it will die.  

To me, half the fun of the fire is the challenge of it.  Anyone can start a fire with kiln-dried wood and lighter fluid.  But the act of collecting kindling from the forest, splitting the logs with an axe, and carefully constructing a fire to burn optimally are all steps that shouldn’t be skipped over.  Building a fire in this way is the embodiment of one’s hard work paying off.  The more work you put in on the front end, the better the fire will be and the easier it will be to tend to.  

This is reflected in the relationships that are forged around a fire, and the poetry of it is something I ponder often.  When shortcuts are taken in building a fire it often is less-valued or enjoyed.  The feeling of working hard to get a fire going in wet conditions and then sitting back and enjoying the warmth of the roaring flames is spectacular.  The same is true for nurturing a relationship through the hard times and then feeling the strength of it in the easier times.

In a relationship like mine and Chris’, credit for every successful fire is lovingly and ruthlessly fought over.  The conversation often goes like this:

Me: “The fire is rolling.”

Chris: “You’re welcome.”

Me: “For what?? I built it and tended it.”

Chris: “But I collected the fat lighter.”

Me: “…Per my instructions. That’s just the lackey work. Besides, I’m the one that so expertly placed it within the fire for optimal burning.”

Chris: “But you wouldn’t have a fire without the fat lighter.”

Me: “I would, it just wouldn’t have gotten going as quickly.”

Chris: “Whatever dude.”

Me: “Whatever dude.”

Conversely, the blame for a poor fire is often placed on each other, despite the fact that it is usually just due to wet conditions.  This is a running joke that will likely go on for as long as we’re physically able to build a fire.  It’s funny because almost every fire we have is a team effort in which we each play an important role.  But we rarely miss a chance to criticize each other’s fire-tending skills.  It’s this competitiveness that I enjoy in our relationship so much because it pushes each of us to greater levels within ourselves through a desire to outdo the other.  It spills into almost every corner of our marriage and the campfire is no stranger to it.

We’ve had our share of calamities around the campfire too.  One evening Chris and I were having a typical dispute over the lighter.  No matter how many lighters we own, we always seem able to find only one and then good-natured bickering ensues over whose lighter it is and who stole it.  On this particular evening Chris had taken over with the fire-tending duties.  He stood up to poke at the fire for a minute before deciding that it need needed more wood.  He turned to walk to the wood pile and I turned my face away to listen to something that faintly resembled a crying baby.  In that second there was a small but mighty explosion in the fire.  Chris just about ‘hit the deck’ as if taking heavy fire, and my heart took a few seconds to restart.  Shrapnel flew from the fire and whizzed past my ear as I was sat a mere 3 feet from the explosion.  

Upon inspection we realized that Chris must have had the lighter in his lap as he stood up, knocking the lighter into the fire pit without him noticing.  After a few seconds of it heating up it exploded.  We were fortunate that neither of us sustained any injury from this, but Chris is no longer allowed flammable materials other than wood around the fire pit until his suspension is lifted.

I am also not allowed accelerants around a fire, but this is a self-imposed rule following a very close call some years ago.

At that time I spent much of my time at a friend’s house in Athens.  She had 6 acres on the river and I would spend much of my free time helping her clear the land burning the brush and trees that we cleared.  We would have proper country bonfires 10-20 feet in diameter with entire trees thrown on there, which would burn for days.

One such fire had been burning for several days until a heavy rainstorm moved through late one spring.  I got off work early after rain had cleared and, though my friend was out of town for the day, I went over to continue the burn as I often did.  Upon arrival I saw no smoke and felt no heat.  The burn pile was soaked, so I figured it was a safe assumption that the fire was truly out and would take some strong efforts to get it going again.  I grabbed the ancient metal 5 gallon gas can and doused the fire in gasoline.  As I did so, it became apparent that there were in fact embers still burning at the bottom of the pile and the stream of gasoline I was pouring ignited.  I quickly whipped my hand back and, unbeknownst to me in that moment, splashed gasoline all over my leg.  I looked down to find that some gasoline had splashed on the lip of the circular gas can that I was holding and was now on fire.

Shit.

I then had the dumbest knee-jerk reaction and launched the gas can in the air away from me.  Thankfully – and I still don’t know how – the gas can landed right way up.  When my heart began beating again I ran toward the house for the water hose.  As I turned it on I looked down to finally realize that I was on fire.  The gas I had splashed on my leg had ignited my athletic shorts and they were now melting to my leg.  I jumped about frantically beating at the flames with my hand making noises like a choking turkey and 100% forgetting all I had learned about “stop, drop, and roll”.

So with shorts melted to my leg, I jumped back into action with the water hose and ran furiously toward the burning gas can.  But alas, about 20 feet from the fire the water hose reached its end and pinged me backwards like a cartoon.  With too great a distance between the water hose and the burning gas can, I had no choice but to stand back and watch the gas can to see if it would explode.  Thankfully the flames slowly died and I escaped that day with only minor scarring, one less pair of athletic shorts, and a new understanding of what my Dad meant when he had told me as a child that “gasoline and fire don’t mix with Walshes.”

We have also enjoyed teaching others to collect wood and build fires.  I also like to people-watch and find it very telling to watch someone else tend to a fire when I can manage to relinquish control, that is).  A person’s approach to fire-building can reveal things about their own character, approaches to life, and their upbringing.

Then there’s the others who join us around the campfire.  Devon is terrified of the slightest loud noise or bang, and the pop and crackle of the fire spooks him into retreating back to the camper nightly.  But we have often enjoyed our fire with other critters.  I have looked up to find a majestic barred owl sitting but a few feet from our campsite watching us as we enjoy the fire.  We have been interrupted in conversation many times by the whooping and howling of coyotes in the night.  We have abandoned the fire entirely at times in search of whatever creature made some twigs snap in the woods behind us.  Chris has even hand fed a curious squirrel near the fire pit one afternoon.

Fire fulfills 3 basic necessities for man; warmth, light, and community.  It’s no new discovery, but even in the modern world full of social media and lightning-fast internet speeds I still believe that it will continue to serve an irreplaceable purpose.  Sure, one could obtain each of these three components from other more readily available and easily attainable means nowadays, but there’s still something undefinably unique about a campfire experience.  No one has fond memories of sitting around a radiator in their house enjoying good text conversation via social media.  Those types of memories are reserved for the magic of a campfire and the connection and sense of community that it brings.

In living this life we have gained a valuable insight into what really matters to us.  As it turns out, these long conversations by the fire are irreplaceable.  It is therefore imperative that we preserve and protect them.  Thus, when we buy our land in the mountains in the next couple of years, our first expense will be erecting a shelter under which to park the camper and place a chiminea. This way we will forever have a dry place to sit around the fire and talk until the conversation dries up and the last embers burn out.

#19: A 21st Century Redneck Fairytale

It was a beautiful weekend when Chris and I met, much like it is today here at Vogel.  Though it’s colder here today, the sun is warm and has a way of making everything look so much prettier.  This time of year makes me think of how Chris and I got our start 3 years ago, though it was a few months earlier than that when we first met.

As I said, it was a beautiful weekend – or at least in my mind it was.  Meeting my future husband was, most definitely the last thing on my mind that Friday when I opened the door to Chris.  

In 2016 I was living with my roommate in Athens.  We had a large house with 2 spare rooms and a spare bathroom.  We decided to capitalize on this and rent the spare rooms out through AirBnB.  This proved to be a very lucrative venture for, in case you’re unfamiliar with Athens, GA, it’s the home of the Georgia Bulldogs (American college football).  On game weekends the population of Athens almost doubles from ~125,000 to ~200,000.  Their stadium holds about 93,000 but many come just for the spectacle of the tailgating events where fans spill onto the streets to grill out from the back of their trucks and play various drinking games on any square inch of outdoor space they can find.  The place becomes a circus.

Hotels hike their prices way up and still sell out for these events forcing fans to find alternative places to stay.  By renting our 2 spare rooms, and eventually our large sun room at the back of the house, we would make enough money in one weekend to cover the rent for the month.  We had up to 13 people staying in the house at any one time before.

So when Georgia played their long-time rival, Tennessee, on the last weekend of September in 2016, it was no surprise when we were booked up months in advance.  One such booking was from two young men from Memphis, TN; Bo and Chris.

They arrived on the Friday and we immediately clicked.  I had two friends, Sharryn and James, visiting from the UK, so we all hung out together for the weekend.  After Chris and Bo arrived I showed them to their room to get settled and then they came downstairs to the den for some drinks with us.  We had a lot in common – including the same twisted sense of humor, and we all became old friends instantly.  The Memphians found it hysterical to hear us Brits cuss so we gave them a lesson in British swearing – in my opinion one is not a true Brit unless they can swear and drink like one.  They asked where the good bars were in Athens so I invited them out with us that night and they gladly accepted.

Bo on the left, me in the middle, and Chris scowling in the foreground. 2016

We ended up hanging out all weekend, tailgating together before the game and then meeting up afterwards to go home, get refreshed, and then head back out to the bars for commiserations (Georgia narrowly lost thanks to a hail mary from Tennessee in the final seconds of the game).  

Chris told me that weekend that he was going to marry me.  I laughed and rolled my eyes.  Yeah right, I thought, I’ll never see this guy again.

On Sunday it came time for them to go home.  We all exchanged numbers and social media info and said we’d stay in touch.  I remember thinking that I would love to see them again and hang out, but figured that it just probably wouldn’t happen given that they lived an 8 hour drive away.

Chris has told me numerous times that as he and Bo drove away that day that he reiterated his vow to marry me.  He’s not right often, but on this occasion he actually was.

A couple months went by and we had sent the odd message to each other and loosely stayed in touch but never mentioned any plans to hang out.

Then right after Christmas I took a trip to Memphis, TN with my Canadian parents.  

Making our way from Georgia to Tennessee through Alabama…

…and Mississippi…
… and finally to Tennessee.

I am fortunate enough to have many loving parents across the world.  My Mom, Tron, and Step Dad, Rob, live in England.  My Step Mom, Morgan, and Step Dad, Ara, divide their time (when they are not gallivanting around the world) between Washington State and Victoria, BC.  My in-laws, Ric and Cindy live in Tennessee.  And our Mountain Mama, Carol, lives in Cornelia, GA.

I spent a few days over New Years with Morgan and Ara staying at Bo’s in Memphis.  Being that we were all in our twenties we had planned to hit the bars again for drinks and maybe some pool.  That first evening of our trip on December 30th 2016, at a bar called Arcade on a chilly night in Memphis, Chris finally kissed me and started something that neither of us had any idea would change our lives forever.

The next few days we were inseparable.  We took a freezing cold motorcycle ride from Chris’ house in Titpton County to downtown Memphis and, though my legs were numb within minutes into the ride, I’d never felt so content as I was on the back of that bike with my arms around the man that I already knew I was quickly falling in love with.

By the end of the short trip my heart ached at the idea of saying goodbye.  There was one question lingering at the back of my mind that whole trip but I didn’t dare ask it for fear of the answer; am I ever going to see him again?  

We kissed goodbye and I tried to be happy for the time we had together and told myself that it was unforgettable few days, if nothing else.  But as we drove away I felt sick and couldn’t get that pesky Memphian out of my head.

In the weeks that followed we spent every waking (and sometimes sleeping) moment on the phone to each other, texting and snap chatting throughout the day, then talking for hours into the night.  We visited each other a few times in the following months, every couple of weeks.  He’d drive 8 hours after work on a Friday to visit me in Georgia, returning on Sunday.  Then a couple of weeks later I’d take a Friday off, leave on the Thursday night, and stay until Sunday.  We’d spend the ENTIRE drive there and back on the phone to each other.  

Then in February Chris came to visit me.  The weather was still pretty cold, but it was dry which made for good camping weather.  So we packed up on the Saturday and headed out to the mountains and hiked in to my favorite spot on the Chattooga River.  We sat by the fire talking, went exploring, took some pictures, and laughed a lot.  That night we told each other that we loved each other.  The next day Chris was supposed to leave to go home, but we both called in to our jobs and got the Monday off so we could stay another day.

Exploring the mountains around North Georgia and North Carolina
Chris enjoying the camp at the Chattooga River.
I don’t think I stopped smiling that whole weekend.

Over the next couple of weeks Chris kept reminding me of his vow to marry me.  I’d still laugh and brush it off.  But as we thought about our future together we realized we had a lot of figuring out to do as to whether he would move to Georgia or I would move to Tennessee.  But one thing was certain and never required a conversation: one of us would be moving, because the worst part, and only bad part about our relationship was having to say goodbye to each other for a couple of weeks each time we were together. 

So one Monday in March, after 3 months of long distance dating, we were one the phone late at night and we were making plans for my visit to Chris that coming weekend.  

“We could just go to the courthouse and get married.”  He said, not joking at all.  I had never cared for a lavish wedding.  Neither of us had the money for it and there was the logistical nightmare of having family in 2 different countries; which family will be subjected to the expense of flying over?  Then if we do it that way we’l have to wait a year or two for everyone to save up.  The more I thought about it, the more it became about planning a wedding for everyone else, not for us.  

“Ok, let’s do it.”  I said, not quite believing the words coming out of my mouth.

So on Thursday, March 16th 2017 I drove to Tipton County.  The next afternoon, on St. Patrick’s Day, we hopped on Chris’ motorcycle after he finished work and we rode to the house of a very nice woman named Patricia, whom we had never met, but whom had agreed to marry us for $100.  After a quick ceremony in our best jeans and helmet hair, we were officially married.

Marriage license in hand, off to Patricia’s house.
Newlyweds.

It may not be everybody’s cup of tea – but it suited us just fine.  We knew from the get go that we were committed to each other and had the same ideas for what we wanted in life.  It was actually a very easy decision to make, and one that neither of us regret in the slightest.  

While it was difficult to break the news to our families – our mothers, in particular, who were understandably rather hurt that they hadn’t even been told of the wedding – we still don’t regret doing it our way.  I think (and hope) that with some time they now understand why we did it the way we did it, and most importantly that we are happy.  Which is all that should matter.

We are risk takers.  It is who we are.  Sometimes those risks pay off and we have been very fortunate with the way some things turn out.  Sometimes those risks don’t pay off and we have certainly had more than our fair share of that.  But perhaps the biggest risk of all, and one that many people seriously doubted us for, is the best risk I’ve ever taken.  

I trusted my heart and, as cliche as it may sound, it steered me right.  That leap of faith has brought me to a man that I never thought I would be worthy of.  He is, in every way, my best friend and the love of my life.  3 years on and I still can’t ever spend too much time talking to him.  

So if there’s one thing that I wish for the people that I love going forward into this new year, it’s that they have the faith in themselves and their own hearts to take a risk this year.  Don’t put too much stock in playing it safe, life is boring that way.  Thinking of moving to a new place?  Do it.  New career ideas?  Do it.  Thinking of buying an RV and moving into it full time?  Do it.  Thinking of eloping with the person you love on a motorcycle?  Do it.  Make 2020 a year where you don’t overthink, you just do what makes you happy.

#18: Merry Mountain Christmas

I love the Christmas season; the lights, the hustle and bustle, the excitement, the smells of Christmas spices like cinnamon, ginger, and cloves, the Christmas trees, and yes, even the Christmas music.  I love egg nog, I love the cozy, dark nights snuggled up to keep the cold away, I love the classic Christmas movies and all the wonderful things that come with this time of year.

But the last couple of Christmases have been a little derailed. On December 1st 2017, after 3 negative pregnancy tests, I stopped at the grocery store on my way home to pick up some egg nog. I called Chris on my way home and told him to be ready to go pick up some rum after I got home so we could get drunk on egg nog and listen to Christmas music all night. But I was still a week “late” so I figured I’d take another pregnancy test before we left to put my mind at ease. I figured it was the stress of the possibility that was disrupting my cycle. But as I washed my hands and turned back toward the pregnancy test that was sitting on the edge of the tub I saw a very distinct little pink line that would put an end to our rum and egg nog plans for the night and change our lives forever.

I walked out of the bathroom with one hand over my mouth and the other holding the pregnancy test outstretched toward Chris.  He rolled his eyes, thinking I was pulling his leg, and snatched the test from me with a smirk on his face.  It’s rather rare to witness the sudden genuine drop of someone’s jaw and the widening of their eyes as panic surges through them.  Had I not been experiencing that same emotion I probably would have found it much more amusing.  

We sat on the couch in silence for around 10 minutes before Chris finally piped up: “well, there goes my hunting room then.”  

That Christmas the pregnancy hit me so hard that I spent the entire day just as I did most others that winter; sleeping all afternoon, then waking for dinner before my eyes got so heavy that I was out cold for the night by 8pm.  It wasn’t much fun for either of us.

Christmas 2018 was mildly better, but much more stressful.  We had recently endured the most stressful and scary spell of our lives after I lost my visa, job and health insurance while 8 months pregnant (see my previous post …And When it Doesn’t). Immediately following that debacle, we had found a house to rent in Lawrenceville, GA which was far from ideal but at that time it was what we needed – a roof over our heads.  Unfortunately, shortly after we moved in in late September I began getting rather under the weather and it wasn’t until Chris took some boxes down to the basement that we discovered water and black mold all over the entire 1200 sq ft basement.  This was particularly distressing with our 2 month old baby breathing in that air.  We informed the management company, Progress Residential, who told us we’d have to move out while they were remediating.  This meant digging into what little savings we had to pay for somewhere to go, but the management company had agreed to reimburse us.

So we moved out into an AirBnB place.  Then a few days turned into a week, which turned into 2.  Before we knew it we had blown every last penny of our savings and were dangling by a financial thread before they finally completed the work and we moved back into the house in November.  What followed was a rather long and incredibly frustrating struggle with the management company as they withheld our reimbursement and threatened eviction if we refused to sign a document saying that we couldn’t sue them for anything related to the damp or mold issues.  My refusal was borne out of an unwillingness to be strong-armed into signing away any possibility to recover in case our infant son developed any health issues related to the exposure, and the fact that we had no health insurance.  But eventually we had no choice but to sign for fear of being evicted – which was the most pressing issue.

By the time Christmas came around we didn’t have a penny to our name as the “reimbursement” came in the form of a rent credit so we still had no money in the bank.  Lean as it was, we still managed to enjoy each other’s company and I cooked some very mediocre turkey breasts.  But the whole season was overshadowed by the dark cloud of being stuck in a house that I still didn’t feel comfortable in and being tied to a management company that was crooked and underhanded, not to mention the extreme financial turmoil.

So this year we finally have earned a good Christmas.  But living in a camper makes some of the aspects of a traditional Christmas rather difficult.  A tree, for example, is a little difficult to have when you’re in such a tight space.  While I’ve seen other folks that manage to pull this off, it just wasn’t an option for us in our rig with a toddler who loves to grab, climb and chew.  We also had no decorations in the rig which made me a little sad at times because I do love Christmas decorations.  

You can also go ahead and cross “traditional turkey dinner” off the list, as the oven in our rig (and most rigs) is marginally bigger than a shoe box.  Plus, for two of us it seemed like overkill and a royal headache of dirty dishes in a tiny kitchen.  

But a Christmas without those things made me a little blue, so I thought outside the box a little bit and searched around for something fun to do in the local area.  A few years ago, when I first arrived in the states, I had been to a conference at Brasstown Valley Resort and Spa, just a few miles down the road from Vogel at Young Harris, GA.  I remembered how beautifully they had decorated the place for Christmas, the huge stone fireplace, and the incredible views of the Blue Ridge Mountains from the Veranda.  So I had a look on their website and found that, as luck would have it, they did a Christmas Day buffet for $52.95 per adult and $10.95 for Junior so I called and booked the last available table for 3:20pm on Christmas Day.

Christmas morning I awoke, as always, at the crack of dawn and far too excited for someone my age.  I shook Chris awake who was displeased at this and told me to go back to sleep until the baby wakes up.  So I laid there impatiently staring at the clock until I decided that Junior needed to get up anyway or else he wouldn’t nap.

After Junior and I dragged Chris out of bed we FaceTimed with our families and opened our presents (technology sure is a wonderful thing for stuff like that when you live far away from everyone).  Chris then cooked us a scrumptious breakfast of scrambled eggs, sausage and bacon before Junior went down for his afternoon nap.  I took this opportunity to see to my hosting duties and gave the bathrooms a good clean.

Unfortunately Junior didn’t nap long as he was fighting off a cold that he had picked up from one of the kids at his new daycare.  So with a rather cranky baby we set off for Brasstown Valley for our Christmas Dinner.  

The view from the entrance of Brasstown Valley Resort.

The hotel is nestled in the valley just below Brasstown Bald, Georgia’s highest peak. The resort boasts an impressive 523 acres, stables, a championship golf course, a pool and spa, and unbeatable scenery. The lodge, where the main dining room is situated, is very grand with soaring ceilings, an incredible stone fireplace, and large windows that look out onto the veranda and the mountains beyond. The whole lodge is tastefully constructed to resemble a grand cabin in the woods, with sawn log bannisters, exposed beams, and exposed stonework throughout the building.

My favorite feature – the beautiful stone fireplace.
The dining hall at Brasstown Valley Resort.

The Christmas tree in the main lobby and bar area is about 20 feet high, lavishly decorated, and excites the inner child with a hand crafted wooden rocking horse, a giant nutcracker, a giant wooden Choo-choo train, and other antique toys that contribute to the overall magic and make for another beautiful backdrop for family photos.  

The gorgeous Christmas tree complete with antique toys and gifts.

Despite me talking the place up for the last week, Chris was still pretty impressed once we arrived.  We made our way to the dining room and got settled at our table before tucking into the delectable buffet.  

Buffet, for me, is a word that conjures images of greasy sub-par food that is even less appealing because it has been sat under hot lamps for hours. This, on the other hand, couldn’t be further from that image. On offer was a full Christmas carvery of roast turkey or beef, stuffing, gravy and all the trimmings. There was also a salad bar with actual fresh salad greens like rocket and arugula – no iceberg lettuce in sight. There were pasta salads, green beans roasted in cranberry sauce, roasted potatoes, and a seafood bar with peel and eat jumbo shrimp, seafood salad, and fresh oysters on the half shell.

Unfortunately we weren’t able to sit and savor the gluttonous offerings for too long, and didn’t even get a peek at the whole separate room they had for desserts, for our wee lad’s health was deteriorating into a full-blown cold and he was getting so fussy that we just couldn’t sit and let him ruin everyone else’s meal anymore.  We still got a pretty decent fill, however, so we took the chance at some fresh air on the balcony just in time for sunset.  

Drinks on the balcony.

The warm glow from the setting sun radiated across the mountains on the horizon and at about 68 degrees Fahrenheit (about 20 Celsius) with the gentle tickle of a warm breeze, it was a very romantic end to a pretty wonderful day. We took a walk down to the sunset veranda, and chatted about what a dream it’d be to come back without Junior and spend New Years Eve here. We stopped to snap some pictures and really take in the sunset before finally heading back to the truck to go home.

Junior getting a good look at the beautiful sunset.

That night we got Junior into bed and retired to the campfire with wine to reflect on the day and relax.  We had planned to play a new National Parks Trivia game that I had gotten for Chris, but the sound of a sick baby awoken with a fever beckoned us back into the camper for a night of snuggles on the couch and temperature readings every few minutes.

Despite the damper on the day with Junior being under the weather, it has still been the best Christmas we’ve had together yet and there was much to be thankful for; some kind of financial stability, a great marriage, a beautiful place to live in a glorious mountain setting, and one beautiful little boy.  Christmas 2019 was definitely one to remember.

#17: One for the Family Album

I wrote out an entire post about how we had the Christmas tree lighting event at the park, hiked up to Preachers Rock as a family, and checked out a nearby diamond in the rough. But I realized, upon proof reading it, that the events were best told in photos. So enjoy.

Around 200 people gathered at Vogel on Saturday for the annual Christmas Tree lighting event. It all went down at the ball field, less than 100 yards from our campsite which was wonderfully convenient.
Various tents gave away free baked treats, hot chocolates, and crafts for the kids.
Santa made an appearance. Assistant Park Manager Mikayla was much happier to visit with him than Junior was.
Live local music.
Junior had a blast puddle stomping.
The 30ft Christmas tree after the big lighting.
Junior stole the show with his adorably uncoordinated dancing and had the crowd eating out of the palm of his hand.
Sunday afternoon we took a hike up to Preachers Rock – it was much more fun as a family. Junior was quite mesmerized by the view and Chris was delighted that I insisted he ride his motorcycle to take advantage of the 20 miles of twisting and curving mountain roads.
Father and son against the world. Insert appropriate Lion King quote here.
Chris had a rare early day on Monday so we took the afternoon to explore a little spot up the road from us that we’ve been wanting to check out for weeks. Helton Creek Falls is a mile up the main road then 2 miles down a gravel road. It’s definitely a diamond in the rough.
It’s a beautiful spot that strikes a perfect balance between rugged wilderness and accessibility thanks to some minor man-made adaptations.
At the bottom of the first set of falls (a little over 30 feet). The swimming hole here looks like the perfect place to cool off in those scorching summer months.
The upper falls – about 60ft high. Also looks very inviting for summer swims.
We even found a Junior-sized waterfall (yes he got soaked but he had a BLAST).
We finished off the weekend with a great meal at Brother’s restaurant in Young Harris, GA.
Junior couldn’t believe they didn’t have breast milk on the menu. He wanted to complain to the manager but we convinced him to just go for grilled cheese and mashed potato instead.
Sharing his dinner with Papa. Great family weekend.

#16: Reflections on a Rock

Most days are much the same lately.  I get up with Junior, we hang out and have breakfast, then head out to work or go on a little walk around the park.  Around 11am we come back to the camper for elevensies, a little indoor play, then it’s nap time.  After his nap, it’s lunchtime, then more walking/outdoor play, then home for dinner, indoor play, Chris comes home, bath, and finally bedtime.  The “new car smell” of Vogel has all but dissipated, and while I still love it (especially compared to the city) I have explored much of the park and am no longer surrounded by the unknown.  This coupled with the monotony of the daily routine and Chris working hard, and often late, on his current job means that I’ve once again begun to thirst for adventure.

I love staying at home with my son and watching him grow, but a year and a half without any kind of break from him, except for a handful of times where family have stepped in for a few hours, has taken its toll on me.  When we lived in the city it wasn’t an option to pay for childcare – we simply didn’t have the money.  It was either have childcare for a day or eat for a few days, so there was no point even dreaming about it.  But our new lifestyle means there’s a little wiggle room in the budget for a day care a couple days a week.  My husband, being the supportive and loving old sod that he is, has been pushing for this for a few weeks now.

I really struggled with the idea of it at first.  I felt like I was failing at my job, because it is my job, after all, to care for my son.  So putting him in day care felt like admitting that I can’t handle motherhood.  But once Junior’s molars started pushing through I realized that it was time.  The lack of “me” time left me irritable, impatient, and not the most loving of people.  I was tired from getting up with the kid several times a night, I wasn’t eating most days because I didn’t have time, I wasn’t getting a shower during the day – my overall self care had gone down the drain and my family had begun to pay for it.

So it was time.

I found a day care in Blairsville, about 20 minutes down the mountain, and called them.  As luck would have it, though they had a long waiting list, they agreed to squeeze us in because we were flexible.  After a visit to check the place out and sign some papers we were all set for Junior’s first day of day care.

This morning I dropped him off shortly after 8am.  He seemed pretty happy, though a little confused and shy, but I didn’t stick around long for fear of making it harder to leave if and when he started to have a meltdown.  I slipped out while he was distracted and my heart broke just a little when he didn’t notice, even though I know it’s really what is best for us both.  As I walked out the door and got in the truck I took a deep breath and tried to shake it off and look at the day ahead.  What shall I do with my 9 hours of freedom?

It was an easy decision.  Hiking had been on my mind since the day we pulled into Vogel and I had a bucket list of local hikes that I was itching to try.  There was one in particular that I had my eye on: Preachers Rock on the Appalachian Trail.  It looked like a relatively short and easy hike – perfect for an out of shape Mom-bod that hasn’t seen any real trail action in years.

So I drove back home, trying very hard to not keep periodically glancing in my mirror at an empty baby seat out of habit.  I wasted no time at the camper, I made some coffee, grabbed a bite to eat, threw some supplies in a backpack (eager not to repeat my last hiking disaster), grabbed my camera, and jumped back in the truck.

The trailhead begins at Woody Gap, a roughly 25 minute drive up the mountain on very narrow and winding roads.  The sun was shining and, though it was a few degrees below freezing, it was a beautiful day for such a drive.  

Devon had spent the ride, as always, laying on the passenger floorboard trying not to fall asleep.  I watched as his heavy eyelids drooped making his grey face look even older.  It reminded me of the old days when he was a pup and we lived in Athens.  He was my faithful hiking buddy back then and would leap excitedly and nimbly into the truck every weekend, eager for our next adventure.  But the black markings on his face had since turned to grey and lately his leaps lacked the spring of his younger years.  I wondered if he would be as excited for a hike as he used to be.

I arrived at the trailhead around 9:30am.  The elevation at the trailhead was 3,160ft and the view was incredible.  I knew that the hike would involve a further climb from there so this little teaser was exciting.

Woody Gap – the trailhead.

As I put the truck in park, Devon’s little head perked up and his now wide brown eyes scanned the surroundings as his tail began to wag.  He leapt out of the truck with all the vigor of his younger self and he waited for me to give the command that would let him run free.

“OK!”

He sprinted ahead down the trail and I chuckled as he frantically zipped around from exciting smell to exciting smell.  It almost felt like old times.

It was a calm morning and though the air was crisp and cool, the sun felt warm on my face.  The lack of any breeze meant it was blissfully quiet and I relished the absence of a screaming child.  As we rounded the first corner we came to a mossy rock face about 20 feet high and 50 feet across with 10 inch icicles clinging to the protrusions in the rock.  I don’t know why but I love icicles – I just think they’re really cool – so I pulled out my camera for a few shots.  But as I turned it on I was greeted with the message “no memory card” on the viewfinder.

Come on.  Seriously??

I had remembered to charge my camera.  I had remembered my lens.  I had neglected to put the damn memory card in the camera.  Rookie mistake.  That’s two for two.  Frustrated, I took a minute to express my frustrations toward the rock face, which kindly echoed my profanities back at me, making it all the more satisfying.  But I didn’t want to let it ruin my day of freedom, so I resigned myself to the fact that I’d just have to snap some pictures with my phone and come back when I was better prepared.

My sub-par pictures of icicles with a mediocre camera.

We pressed on, Devon leading the way with his soft little ears happily flapping up and down as he bounced along. The trail was surprisingly flat and easy to start out and there were some pretty views to the left through the trees across the mountains. Then the trail wound around to the right between the two peaks and into the wind. The deceptive calm of the northwest side of the mountain had lulled me into a false sense of security and as I left the shelter of the first peak the wind arrived with an icy punch. I took a second to appreciate its force, zipped up my fleece and shoved my hands into my pockets.

This is going to get chilly.

And it did. The trail began a steep incline up the second peak. The last 1/3 mile or so had an elevation gain of 500 feet and my wobbly, unfit legs felt every step of the rocky climb. The wind roared with such force that every tree was creaking and squeaking as they swayed in the bitter breeze. The higher I climbed the more vicious the wind grew until it became impossible to keep my eyes open without them tearing up.

The climb.

Eventually we made it to the top.  As I rounded the crest of the mountain the view was spectacular.  Mountain peaks stretched for miles, and the clear day meant that I could see all the way to Stone Mountain, near Atlanta, on the horizon.  Both Devon and I stood on the rock face and soaked in the view.  It’s the kind of sight that is so spectacular that you are forced to contemplate the earth as a planet and are starkly reminded of your tiny insignificant existence on it.  I sat and pondered all the life beneath me at that moment and how unaware it was that I was there.  A wave of awe came over me and I had to sit down.  

Devon soaking in the view and contemplating the big questions in life.

We spend all our time so consumed in our little lives that when moments like this do come along, these big picture moments, it snaps you out of your little world for a second and makes you really look at life for the fleeting thing that it is and appreciate it all the more.

I wish Chris was here.  

I knew he would love it just as much as I did and I wondered what big picture thoughts he would have upon seeing the view.  So I called him for a quick FaceTime, but the view on a small screen with a lens that pales in comparison to the human eye meant that it just didn’t have the same effect.  

I wonder what Junior is doing.

Funny.  I’ve been dreaming of getting away from the kid for weeks now and having some time to myself.  I’ve cried as Chris held me and told him how I just need a break.  I’ve spent weeks thinking about all the wonderful things I would do with just one day to myself to do whatever I want on my own time without anyone else to worry about or work around.

But all I can do is wish that the two people I love most were with me.  I guess that’s my big picture moment.  I came for escapism, a chance at recapturing a simpler time when it was just my dog and me against the world – but wound up finding that I no longer wanted that.  I remembered how many times on those hikes in the old days that I wished I had someone to share it with, and I guess that hasn’t changed much.  Except now I had a husband and a son whose company enhanced every great moment – even if they annoyed the heck outta me sometimes too.  So I took a second to be thankful that I now had two wonderful people in my life that I wanted to share everything with.  And though I knew the hike would be better if shared with them, I was still grateful for the space to gain that perspective.

I sat for a while on that rock with Dev just thinking about life and all the incredible and beautiful things in it, including that spectacular view.  I was grateful to be able to do that, and grateful for the company of my old four-legged friend.  But as I set off back down the mountainside the only thought left in my head was how I can’t wait to come back with my family.