Wednesday was another work day for me and it was a long one since I was preparing to take off Thursday and Friday. The campground was really quiet though because most people either went to see the Biltmore estate near Asheville or took drives on the Blue Ridge Parkway. It is a beautiful place for a drive. Since Lee and I were here in November we don’t feel like we are missing too much staying close to the campground, but we are both looking forward to a few days off so we can do come activities in the area. Well, I am looking forward to a few days off. Lee’s schedule is getting pretty full. He volunteered to put together a video for Howard and Linda from Monday’s game day and when he went to load the editing software he has used for many many years, he realized he would need to download the newest edition to make it work on this computer. As you all know, software upgrades are a pain, so something that would normally only take him a few hours has stretched into many. He’s having fun with it though. He hasn’t edited video since we started full timing 6 months ago and I know he has missed it. Watching Lee edit video is like watching a musician compose music. He’s intensely focused and will spend hours on a few seconds of the video just like a musician will spend hours on a few notes of a song.
Lee’s also working on video interviews and testimonials of couples who have had solar installs done by Greg and Cori of RV Solar Solutions. Lee offered to help them weeks ago but since we were having such a good time in OBX those interviews kept getting pushed. Now with only a few days left together, they need to get done, plus there are some people here at the rally that Greg did solar installs for and Lee is getting those interviews as well. He’s also working as an RV Tech, completing a window replacement and fixing a leaking air conditioner this week as well as talking to many others about issues they have been having on their RV’s. Initially we didn’t think Lee would work this week, since the Tom Johnson Campground sits next to their service center and they have obviously prefer all work repairs to come to them, but they are booked out three weeks, so many people here who have had problems they have been living with for several months are talking to Lee about how to resolve them. In some cases he talked them through a Do It Yourself solution, or recommended they wait until they are near their home base to take care of the issue, but when he could this week he went ahead and fixed the problem for them. We’ve spent a lot of time over the last couple of weeks talking about how this business will work for us on the road, and although we never want to turn down work, Lee has realized that sometimes a job can be too complex to handle in the time we have left before we leave for our next destination. But even in these cases he can give people advice on how we would handle, or in some cases, provide a temporary fix for the problem. It’s good to see him so busy though and simultaneously juggling work using his varied skill set. Our plan has always been to make money using multiple revenue streams, but in my head I guess I thought Lee would be focusing on one thing at a time. It’s great to realize that in the right set of circumstances he can be an RV Tech and a Videographer.
Wednesday was a full work day for both of us and after catered dinner with the RV-Dreams group I tried to go to bed early. The only activity I signed up for was a full day whitewater rafting trip. The day started very early, so I knew I was getting up at 5am…not a huge deal for me since I am an early riser by nature, but there were many groans from the folks who like to sleep in a bit. I was so excited I didn’t sleep much and was more than ready to go when the our group of 13 took of in the morning. The drive to High Mountain Expeditions took longer than I expected, but it was a beautiful drive high up into the mountains.
Once everyone got suited up in the jackets they provided we took a ride on their converted school bus down the mountain and into Tennessee for another hour. Since High Mountain offers equipment for both skiers in the winter and rafting in the summer it makes sense they are located on the mountain but the inefficiency of driving up just to drive back down was not lost on me. I can’t help it. So it took a little while to get to our site and get the boats in the water, but I understood why this particular trip was scheduled for the entire day. Everyone divided into groups with two foursomes and two threesomes. Since I was a single, I ended up in a boat with Rick and Mike, two RV-Dreamers that I didn’t know very well. It was Mike’s first time and my second, but Rick has white water rafted many times, and our river guide was the Jason who had ridden on the bus with us and provided our initial orientation. Jason was outstanding!! He is a professional musician at night and river guide by day and who moved to the area a month ago from California with his wife and two baby girls (ages 1 and 2) so they could be nearer to his wife’s parents. There was lots of time to talk on the ride, and I love hearing people’s stories…I can’t help that either. We put on our gear and all of our helmets had names on the back. I was one of the last to put my helmet on and ended up with Esther. These river names do serve a purpose though, because in an emergency situation the guide will call you by the river name on the back of your helmet. Smart way to handle it really, because in the heat of the moment you don’t want the guide forgetting someone’s name. Jason is an experienced rafter but newly qualified on this river (it takes 10 practice runs and 1 run with customers and another guide to get certified on each river), and we were his first group to take solo on the Nolichucky.
The Nolichucky River is absolutely gorgeous and one of the big water scenes from Last of the Mohicans was filmed here. There is quite a bit of argument about what the name means. It is a distortion of a Cherokee word and has been interpreted to mean Spruce-Tree Place, Rushing Waters, or Black Swirling waters. The river guides like to call it the River of Death..I think I like Spruce-Tree Place better! We started out going through some Class 3 and Class 4 rapids and getting used to working together as a team. I white water rafted years ago in the mountains of Honduras and I will say initially compared to that experience I was disappointed. Rafting is different depending on the various water levels, and my prior experience was with “big water” and 7 people in the boat. The big water here happens in March and April so the Class 3 and 4 rapids were much easier than the Class 3’s I experienced before. But it was a beautiful day, the company was great, and there’s nothing better than floating down a river and watching the beautiful scenery.
One interesting fact our guide shared with us is the Tennessee Valley Authority wanted to build a dam here at one point, but because the train route (shown below) was extremely important, they had to leave this area open. As the guide put it, the train is the only reason we still have the gorge today and this gorge is one of the deepest in the country.
Things were going great and our boat was getting into a groove when it happened. We hit a rock unexpectedly and Rick (who was sitting directly in front of me) went over the side. It was fast and we were just entering Quarter-Mile rapids…which are a particularly long stretch of rapids. We only had 3 people in our boat and we just missed grabbing Rick to pull him back in. Since we were the lead boat no one panicked and Rick did exactly as he had been told in orientation and stayed calm; facing forward with his feet up in case he came upon a rock. The second boat maneuvered over to him and as they were trying to grab him the boat tipped up and Jo fell of the back side. I saw it clearly and there was nothing she could do it happened so fast. The second boat guide followed protocol and stopped trying to get Rick and took care of his own boat member first. I have to say I was extremely impressed by how professional the guides were. Jason told us they practice swift water rescue and obviously that training paid off. Craig grabbed Jo with one very strong-arm but she was behind him and in between the boat and a large rock. The guide told Craig to let her go and to his credit he did as asked. It must have been very hard for him to let her go in that situation, but as a retired fireman he knew that he had to. Jo drifted back a bit and their guide plucked her out of the water. Jo said later it happened so fast she wasn’t really aware of what happened, but she did swallow a lot of water and saw the huge rock which was scary for her. Unfortunately this tied up the second boat (the third and fourth were too far behind to be of assistance) and Rick was still in the water. Jason, who had been very matter-of-fact to this point spoke to Mike and I with a greater urgency. He said, “We have to get him into this boat NOW” and maneuvered us over to a ledge where Mike and I could hold the boat still with our hands. This was not easy to do, but I could tell by the tone of Jason’s voice we were running out of time. Later Jason told us we were approaching another rapid that had a ledge that could be dangerous to a “swimmer” as they call someone who falls out of the boat and as we held the bouncing boat he stood and threw his rope. During orientation he had talked us through what to do if a rope was thrown to you in the water and then added in 15 years he had never had to throw his rope. Well apparently he tempted fate, but he stood and threw it and Rick to his credit did exactly what he was supposed to. Things got hairy though when Rick got to our boat and for a brief moment was under it. Rick kept his head though and put his hand up as taught and quickly resurfaced at the back of the boat. Jason said he needed help and I came to the back, but honestly I felt incredibly helpless. Rick is a big guy, the boat was rocking up and down, and all I could think was the worst thing I could do was fall into the water also. Two people in the water would have been a big deal so I focused on staying in and Jason gave one big heave and got Rick half onto the boat where I could help a little getting him all the way in. It was scary, but Jason told us later he was really proud of us because no one panicked and apparently Rick gets huge bragging rights for “swimming” the quarter-mile rapid and everyone thinks they should rename it Rick’s Run.
After everyone calmed down things were largely uneventful. We stopped at one spot because the water was low and had to hike through while our guides brought the boats around, and not that long later we stopped at a spot and had a picnic lunch. By the way I had obsessed about what to wear (cotton was not recommended because it holds water) and wore my one running suit. IT worked beautifully for both in the boat and the hike through the woods and I highly recommend something similar if you ever do this. I wore my bathing suit underneath, but never was so hot I felt I need to strip down the layers. On a side note and this may be TMI but it’s been years since I peed in the outdoors and I will say I haven’t been missing anything. Luckily there was a large rock and Kelly stood watch for me.
After lunch the paddle was much easier, with only a few areas where we had to be careful because the water was low. Towards the end there was one big rapid though and our boat was third in the line. I guess by that point I was feeling overconfident because when I saw Howard with the camera I stopped paying attention to what I was doing and waved to my friends…yep, I flipped over backwards and was in the water. I came up laughing though and right by the boat, and Jason was grinning as he pulled me in. Pat who saw the whole thing said it was an awesome back flip and for me it was the funnest part of the whole day. Since it was a totally safe area at the bottom of this rapid, it was one of the best places to fall in and poor Jason was a good sport about having to fish another of his crew out of the water. Heavens knows what he told his wife that night, but at least we all gave him nice tip!! The guides did something really fun on that last rapid where the team paddles hard to face it and the guide holds the boat in the stream and they “surf” the wave. Pam’s boat put her in the front middle for “ballast” and she got a huge face full of water. It was very fun and we all loved the day. So glad I picked this excursion and got to experience it with this great group of people.
Thursday night when we got back from the rafting a bunch of us ordered Chinese takeout and ate it together. I don’t think anyone wanted to cook and Lee had mentioned he hadn’t had Chinese food in the 6 months we have been on the road. That is definitely an adult record for him and I know his friends that are reading this will be shocked. The food was so-so but it was reasonably priced and the company was as always excellent. We called it an early night though when the storm (pictured below) rolled in. It was beautiful, but I was too nervous to stay outside once the lightning started. We have surge protection for the electrical system in our rigs so I don’t worry about the lightning very much, but I am not a fan of standing outside in storms.
Friday we went on a long-awaited hike with Nancy and Bill. We met Nancy and Bill at the Sevierville rally and were so excited when we saw they would be attending the reunion rally. They have been full timing for many years but really bonded with the group they attended their first RV Dreams rally with back in 2010. It’s nice to see that those friendships still exist 4 years later and our Class of 2014 really looks up to that group. Nancy and Bill love to hike so they organized a few trips that were free and anyone could attend. Our group really wanted to see Linville Falls and we were really excited to get to hang out with Nancy and Bill some more. The hike was just my speed, with moderate difficulty levels and lots of cool places to stop and get views of the falls. Nancy and Bill made sure everyone was accounted for throughout the hike, but in an unobtrusive way that didn’t make you feel rushed. Lee and I like to hang back in group hikes and Nancy is the same, and we had a very pleasant chat with her. She also knows quite a bit about the flowers in the area and I really enjoyed getting to know her a bit better. She reminds me so much of my Grandmother Pat who just passed away and I really feel an affinity to her. It was a great day and as I will let the pictures speak for themselves.
The only downside to the trip happened near the end when Don and Lee found a shirt, water bottle, and a cell phone on a small side trail off the beaten path. Lee was looking at the cell phone when it rang and the girl’s sister called. As soon as Lee explained why he was answering the phone her sister burst into tears. Apparently the girl had broken up with her boyfriend and her sister was concerned. Lee immediately took the phone to the ranger station and they called the police and Pat (a retired police officer) and Don searched the nearby trails. There was a steep drop off near where the phone was and I am afraid everyone was thinking the worst. Lee, Pat, and Dave had to wait for the police to arrive to tell them what they knew and the rest of the folks left because they were attending another event at 2pm. Several of us stayed and waited while the guys gave their report and we were all hoping for the best. Luckily the call came in that rangers had found her and they asked that we all wait until she came out of the park. She seemed a bit bewildered there had been such a fuss because according to her that trail was rarely used, but she was grateful to have her phone back. Lee explained we had daughters her age and were alarmed when she left her phone because people her age are rarely without their phone which got a smile from her. Everyone was hugely relived she was OK and we all headed back down the mountain to the campsite. Lee, Pam, and I were in the same car and we just had to stop off at a local farm that had a cheese stand only open on Friday’s and Saturday’s. The cows were in the front yard (my kind of place) and the cheese was absolutely delicious. Yes I know we are running over on our grocery budget this month but fresh from the cow cheese, plus you know stressful situation resolved so of course you need cheese!! It made us all feel better.
Saturday was the last full day and Linda had planned a luau for the evening. I should say that Linda handles the bulk of the logistics for these rally’s and she does an excellent job. She talks about herding cats and since I do quite a bit of that in my job I can totally relate 🙂 Everyone appreciated the reunion rally so much that we came up with an idea to do something special for them. We passed out 4×6 colored paper early in the week and asked everyone to use them to answer the question “What RV-Dreams means to me” on them. Sue and I worked on it together and brainstormed how to present the papers and came up with poster board to present on the last night. Then Sue came up with the idea of photo albums so they could take the papers with them wherever they went and she used greeting cards with special sayings on them to make the covers. At first they trickled in slowly, but soon they came in a flood. I read them all and was in tears from the sentiment expressed in them which made it very difficult to decide how to place them on the board. Thankfully Sue, Cori and Kelly came to the rescue and put it all together. We also discovered Cori has a hidden calligraphy talent and she did a great job with the writing How to present it was tricky though since we wanted to keep it a surprise until the last-minute. Since Lee was videotaping the luau for Linda, he came up with the idea to tell her he needed some establishing shots, keep her focused on the camera, and then Sue and Kelly carried the board up through the crowd and Cori came up with me to present the boards and the photo albums. I had practiced my very short speech at least 25 times that day, but when I got up to speak the emotions of the moment got the better of me for a moment. Everyone said I did good though which I appreciated. Essentially my speech was that they had changed everyone’s lives in the room, and although the cards were more eloquent than I could ever be, but the two words used most often were “Thank You.” Everyone gave them a standing ovation and I could tell they were truly touched. My favorite part of the present was it cost next to nothing. We spent $14 at the dollar store, everyone gave a little bit of time, and hopefully we created a memory they will carry with them forever.
After the present we all ate dinner which included a full roasted pig and numerous side dishes. The Linda organized some games which were absolutely hysterical. We had a wonderful time and it was a great way to finish up an amazing rally. They said they will definitely do it again and I know we will go to great lengths to be there.
My favorite game was when Linda dressed some guys up as warriors and had them use darts to “slay” a watermelon pig. One of the funniest moments was when she asked Lee to get a different angle shot facing the darts. The look on his face was priceless as she asked him to let the guys throw darts in his direction so he could get the shot. He must really like here though, because he did it and thankfully no cameramen were injured in the making of that video!! The warriors weren’t having much luck hitting the pig though and Linda said it was a million points if they hit the flower. She dressed Howard up then and the poor guy could barely see and on his first shot he not only hit the pig he hit the flower!!! Amazing and he was definitely as surprised as the rest of us. It was a really fun night, Linda obviously put a lot into it, and everyone had a really good time.
Sunday we had the final breakfast before we rolled out and finally got our group picture. I won’t say much other than there was a lot of tears and hugs. I truly feel connected to these people in a very special way and I am so happy we were all able to be together.
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