#32: Westward Bound

On Wednesday, July 1st, we packed up and set off for a month-long trip to Tennessee. We have some affairs to get in order there and both wanted a break from the stresses of work so we could have some time together as a family. We get few family days to enjoy together as Chris has been working so much and I usually have volunteer obligations at the park, so this was a good way to kill two birds with one stone.

We got packed up on Tuesday night for the most part. By 10am on Wednesday we were loaded up and ready to head down the mountain. This part of the drive turned into a bit of a skiing adventure momentarily and we skied down the gravel service road from the maintenance complex. Thankfully, Chris managed to maintain enough control to get us safely to the bottom and away we went. Junior spent the drive either napping or watching Home Alone on his new DVD player – a kind gift from his Tronny (my mother) and now our most treasured possession. We owe our peaceful drive entirely to her.

Though storms were forecast for the day we actually got remarkably lucky with the weather.  As we drew closer to Alabama the moving day jitters melted away and we arrived at our destination at around 2pm CST having gained an hour when we crossed the Alabama line.

Cheaha State Park was our home for the night and it was a fine choice, if I may say so myself.  The park is the highest point in Alabama.  Though the elevation is only 2,407 ft, it was a good transition point for us and still boasted the cooler mountain breezes we’ve grown so accustomed to, and some pretty stunning vistas.

Our reservation was for the lower campground which was toward the bottom of the mountain nestled in a valley next to Cheaha Lake. Arriving and setting up in the heat of the day put us in the mood for a dip so we promptly changed into our swimming gear and headed back out.

The lake was beautiful and the water was perfectly tepid.  The rocky peak of the mountain towered above us and we had the whole lake to ourselves.  We splashed around for an hour or so and Junior had a blast throwing big rocks into the lake and watching them sink to the sandy bottom.  It felt like our first real little family getaway – just us, no stress or worry, surrounded by wild nature.  I sat on the sand and listened to Junior cackling with delight as he splashed around with his Papa.  I think we all felt in that moment that we could have stayed there for an eternity.

But alas, dinnertime beckoned us back to the camper for some roasted veggies and smoked sausage.  After dinner we headed to the top of the mountain to Bald Rock for a walk.  The drive was stunning and we weaved through magnificent boulder fields and passed a few deer on our way to the top.

The short 1 mile trail consisted of a boardwalk elevated a few feet above the forest floor. It wound through the rugged ridge-top forest surrounded by lichen-covered boulders and twisted, gnarled trees. Chris and I remarked how we’d never seen so much lichen and that the landscape had a sort of eerie and ominous sense to it that was strikingly beautiful. “Cheaha” is derived from the Creek Indians who named the mountain “Cheaha” meaning high place. Roaming the landscape here and taking in its mysterious vibe, I was struck by what the Native American People must have seen in this land.

Of course, Junior had no time to notice this and he spent the entire walk charging up and down the boardwalk at full speed, only stopping momentarily here and there to gawp upwards at the towering tree tops. 

The trail ended at Bald Rock which provided a sweeping view to the West across the lower, flatter 400,000 acres of Talladega National Forest. We soaked in that breeze for a short while before heading back down the trail to the truck and we vowed to come back on our way home.

Chris and I indulged in a glass of wine for me and a beer for him that evening. We sat outside talking into the night and critically analyzing a Sturgill Simpson album. Though it’s the sort of thing we do regularly, the absence of the stresses and frustrations of everyday life as well as the change of scenery made it feel special. It was the perfect end to our mini family vacation.

The next morning we got packed up and, once again, managed to get on the road by 10am. Junior never made a peep for the whole 6 hour drive and was content with Home Alone and snacks. We got so lucky with the weather again, in fact we got lucky in just about every way with our trip. Every traffic light seemed to be green and every stop sign seemed to be clear.

That is, except for one heart-stopping moment. Coming out of the park there was a large dump truck in the middle of the road which forced us over and into the steep verge. This left the camper sliding down the bank off the road. Chris stepped on the accelerator and pulled us out in the nick of time. It was otherwise a very pleasant trip.

Around 2pm we stopped in Tupelo, MS at Veterans Memorial Park to stretch our legs. We thought it was a good, open space to let the boys run around and get some fresh air before the final stretch of our journey. But as we opened the doors and stepped out, the thick, heavy heat belted me in the face and about took me off my feet. I immediately began reconsidering my decision.

Junior had fun giggling at the ducks on the lake and Devon rolled happily in the grass as Chris and I tried our best not to collapse from the heat exhaustion. It wasn’t long before we were retreating back to the cramped quarters of the truck for the solace of the air conditioning.

Another 2 hours later and we finally made it to Chris’ parents’ house. As I stepped out of the truck the heat just about made me pass out. My head was immediately pounding and the sweat dripped from every inch of my body. 94 degrees (35 Celsius), 90% humidity, no trees for shade and not a lick of a breeze. Welcome to Tennessee. You’re not in the mountains now.

As Chris stepped out of the truck we looked at each other and said, with a shake of the head and a defeated grin, “shit, it’s gonna be a long month.”

We began setting the camper and getting things set up as quickly as possible, but ran into a snag. The outlet Chris’ Dad had gotten installed in the garage was the wrong one – we couldn’t plug our camper in. No power means no air conditioning. This was devastating news to me.

I was born in Canada and raised in England – I am biologically not cut out for these temperatures.  Chris laughs at me for my inability to handle the heat here.  I’m truly in awe of how anyone can actually function in these conditions.  It’s crippling to me, both physically and mentally.  In the last few years in the south I have found that summers often bring on dizzy spells and light headedness that has left me very close to passing out.  I get dehydrated quickly and I struggle to think straight.  No amount of water seems to help and I spend the height of the summer mostly inside – at least in the middle of the day.

So the lack of air conditioning was a deal breaker and I was close to suggesting we just find a nearby park to go to. Chris jumped in the truck and went out looking for a replacement receptacle to fix the problem. Meanwhile, I waited for his return outside. Devon doesn’t get along with other dogs at all so he couldn’t be in the house with my in-laws’ 2 dogs. He couldn’t go in the camper as it was close to 100 degrees (38 Celsius) in there even with the windows open. So I had to hang out with him in the front yard and wait for my husband to come to the rescue.

As Chris always does, he fixed it up and just before I completely melted in the heat, we finally had the a/c back on. Of course, by this point, I looked like I had just stepped out of a shower fully clothed.

I had hoped that the evening would bring cooler temperatures but alas it was not to be. The evening air was only mildly less stifling. As Chris and I laid down in bed that night with the a/c set as low as possible, we realized that we were in for a long, uncomfortable month with minimal outdoor activity. It was certainly a big shock to the system – one that we logically knew would occur but still knocked me sideways when we arrived. I’m hoping we get lucky with the weather and that there’ll be some rainy and overcast days so we can get out and go for some walks by the Mississippi river. But until this weather changes I’ll be in the camper hiding from the sun. Come hang out, but bring me something cold ✌️❤️

#6: Farewell to Tugaloo

In 2 days’ time we will be leaving our home of the last month and 3 days (excluding our 9 day Tennessee disaster – see previous post “…And When They Don’t”).  Our time at Tugaloo has, very sadly, come to an end.  On Thursday we pack up and leave for our 2 month stay at Vogel State Park.  This has prompted us to look back on the last few weeks.

When we arrived on September 24th it was chaos, but an exciting chaos.  It was the final push to close the last grim chapter of our lives.  We said goodbye to living in the city; to a damp, moldy rental house; to everlasting rush hours; to, hopefully, living paycheck to paycheck.

We arrived toward the end, but still in the midst of, the endless sweltering summer.  Our first few days were spent indoors after lunchtime until after sundown because of the intense heat.  Once we returned from The Trip That Shall Not Be Mentioned (see “…And When it Doesn’t”) the heat had died down and the days were mildly warm and cool enough at night to have fires outside, thanks to the free fire wood from the maintenance guys.  

Our friends, Betty and Clyde who hosted at the Yurts, kindly covered us while we were gone and took over all our hosting duties.  Clyde is a retired Sheriff’s deputy and was bored with the minimal duties over at the yurts so was actually grateful for the extra work.  When we got back we invited them over for some of my vegan Chilli which has become Chris’ most favorite meal lately.  They came and hung out by the fire and drank wine with us.  We chatted and laughed into the wee hours and Betty and I even (apparently) ended up dancing together by the fire.  It was a LOT of fun.

One of the many things we love about this lifestyle is the feeling of being in the country but, if you can get lucky and have other hosts or guests that you gel with, then you’re just a short walk or golf cart ride away at the end of the night so it’s conducive to socializing.  

In our last couple of weeks at Tugaloo we probably hung out with Betty and Clyde 8-10 times.  They cooked for us and always sent us home with bags of chocolate, candy and leftover dinner.  They dropped by one day to give us a brand new TV that they didn’t need so we would have one to hang on the outside of our camper for Chris to watch football on.  They have been so kind and hospitable, they offered to babysit Junior for us numerous times, and they offered to help with the bathrooms whenever I needed it.  Betty gave us homemade fire starters when I let her borrow my sewing machine for a couple of hours one night.  They are just wonderful people and we had a blast with them.

We didn’t get as much time as we had hoped to go fishing or take long hikes together.  I did manage to get in my first 5km run in in a very long time.  I took Devon with me and it felt just like old times when I used to run with him every day in Athens.  We ran along the Sassafrass trail which winds around the whole park through woods and along the shoreline.  It’s beautifully peaceful with no people in sight and the cheerful chirp of birds to accompany us.  

At one point while we were running along the shoreline, Devon ran down to the water to get a drink and I carried on knowing he would catch me up.  Just then I saw a herd of deer.  They saw me and, being unafraid of my painfully slow pace, merely slowly trotted away while still keeping an eye on me.  Just then I turned to see Devon The Deer Fiend sprinting full-speed ahead after the deer.  The trouble with Dev is that he is too good at being stealthy in the forest so the deer didn’t see him or hear him until he was a matter of feet behind them.  They startled and launched into full speed gracefully leaping through the woods making a b-line right for me.  I halted in my tracks and they bolted past me.  It was exhilarating and a beautiful reminder of how majestic those creatures are – and how sneaky Dev can be.

The guests and our work weren’t much trouble during our time there.  We had a couple of incidents of guests being a little unruly.  On the day we were leaving for Tennessee I went in to give the bathrooms a quick wipe down before we left and found that someone had had diarrhea all over the wall of one of the stalls in the men’s bathroom.  HOW DOES THAT HAPPEN??  Needless to say it was not my favorite moment to be a host.

The park was mostly quiet except for a little more bubble and pop at the weekends when there would be an influx of visitors.  Little did we know when we signed up, however, that Halloween weekend (celebrated on the 26th this year in Tugaloo) was the busiest weekend of the year here.  They have a “trunk or treat” event at the park that draws visitors from all over.  The campsite was completely full for the weekend so we were instructed to be on hand and do our best to maintain the cleanliness of the bathrooms for the hoards of visiting children.  

That Saturday was one to remember.  The morning started with a steady stream of campers rolling in and the air was abuzz with campers setting up their rigs and excited children running around.  The “trunk or treat” event was designed as a safe place for kids to come and trick or treat.  Unlike a neighborhood, all the doors for children to knock on are highly and easily visible and they are close together making for less walking and more time to get candy.  Furthermore, the presence of Park Rangers, Georgia State Patrol, and low speed limits make it a safe destination for trick or treaters.  Then there’s the decorations.  There is a competition between the campers to see who can deck their campsite out in the best decorations.  So riding through the site that night there were ghosts and skeletons sitting in camping chairs or hanging from trees, 20ft inflatable monsters, and lights everywhere.

We went to Betty and Clyde’s for dinner and began our ride back home around 6pm – we had only been gone an hour or so.  The previously deserted state road through the park was now lined with cars about 3/4 of a mile back.  These were cars of trick or treaters that were not campers, just visitors to the park for the night.  By 7pm the place was crawling with kids jacked up on candy running back and forth yelling “happy halloween”, golf carts zooming around also decked out in lights with orange and black tinsel or ghosts or other halloween decorations, and the hay ride tractor slowly putting around making loop after loop.  It was certainly a spectacle and it was wonderful to sit by the fire in the middle of it all and listen to the children laughing maniacally and comparing their hauls from each camper they visited.  It is definitely a place that we will be visiting in the future when Junior is old enough to enjoy it.

Junior has had a ball at Tugaloo.  In the few short weeks we have been here he has already changed so much.  He runs more confidently and can navigate much more rocky and uneven landscapes.  He’s taken a few tumbles and learned the value of caution when in the woods.  He’s shown a keen interest in the wildlife, much to his father’s delight, and squeals with amusement at each deer sighting.

I took him down to the lake one day (or rather he took me).  I had planned to just walk around the campsite following him wherever he stumbled to.  He happened to notice the lake itself and, before I could rein him in, he was already running down the bank toward the lake jabbering away happily.  Realizing there was no way that I could now pull him away from his one true love (water) without him having an almighty meltdown I succumbed and helped him strip off so he could have a splash.  He spent 45 minutes picking up rocks, sticks, weeds and handfuls of mud from the lake bed and handing them to me as if he were doing me a favor.  It occurred to me after about 30 minutes that I really had no way of getting him back to the camper on my own with Dev on the leash (Junior does NOT like to be carried right now – especially away from water).  So I was stranded there until Chris came home from work and came to rescue us on the golf cart like a night in shining armor on a battery powered steed with a scratched up plexiglass windshield.  

Our last night at the campsite will likely be filled with cleaning, organizing and preparing for the move.  My anxiety level is higher than normal because we are moving on Halloween on roads that wind through Blood Mountain on a day where there are expected be bad storms with heavy rain, strong winds, and possible tornadoes.  I’m not generally a superstitious person but this still doesn’t fill me with confidence following our last attempt to move the camper.  

But we are looking forward to it.  Tugaloo has been a lot of fun and we’ve learned a lot of lessons here.  It’s a beautiful place with some fun things to do and we’ve made great friends in Betty and Clyde and hope to host here again with them in the spring.  

But Vogel is in the heart of the mountains – a special place for us.  It has more rugged and secluded scenery that inspires adventure in both of us.  I feel positively giddy at the idea of a real white Christmas and Chris grins with anticipation at the idea of a bear sighting.  Not to mention that the extended summer this year means that the leaves are changing late this year so we are hopeful for that stunning mountain scenery painted with the beautiful yellows, oranges and reds of fall.

The park itself is one the two original state parks opened in Georgia in the 1930s so has a bit of history to it.  It’s also surrounded by old Indian country which means there are museums and places to explore on rainy days too.  But our start to hosting at Tugaloo has set the bar high and now Vogel has a lot to live up to.

It’s one of the many reasons why we chose this life – the ability to pick up and go somewhere new and never have time to get bored of our surroundings.  Though we are nervous about the move, it is the kind of trepidation you feel when you’re about to go on stage and do something exhilarating.  It’s the kind of anticipation we felt when we loaded up the camper and drove to Tugaloo.  Though it’s scary, it’s the rush that we craved and we hope to feel again and again.