After about a month at the beach, one thing has become very clear.
I’m a mountain girl.
Sunbathing in the sand with a great book is still one of my favorite ways to relax. But the mountains call to me and this weekend I answered their call in the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina.
The Pisgah National Forest between Asheville and Boone came highly recommended by many friends and acquaintances. Most touted the booming craft beer scene and abundance of outdoor activities. We needed no convincing.
After finishing some work at our home base in Conway, South Carolina, on Wednesday we loaded up our camping gear and headed about five and a half hours northwest. The tin can is staying put in Conway for much of the summer since hauling it is a bit of a hassle for only a couple of nights away.
In four days we visited five craft breweries, attended a wine and beer festival at a mountain winery and sipped the best hazelnut truffle latte in the world at The Local Lion.
My top five:
• Best bartender – Rex at Asheville’s Green Man Brewery
• Best space/most unique flavor combos – Asheville’s Burial Beer Company
• Best overall brewery – Boone’s Appalachian Mountain Brewery
• Best beer – Black chai cider, Appalachian Mountain Brewery
• Best wine – Cab sav, Linville Falls Winery
Between breweries we took three hikes, made it to two waterfalls and gushed over views along Blue Ridge Parkway. The scenery and cool mountain air confirmed my suspicions that the mountains are my place. I’m already making a list of activities for our next visit, which includes hiking Mount Mitchell the tallest point east of the Mississippi at 6,684 feet.
We enjoyed some camping luxuries like restrooms with running water and hot showers at the Linville Falls Campground while sleeping on an air mattress in the bed of our truck. We toasted our campsite neighbors who told us their story about getting engaged one rainy night at that very campground and recommended some new locations to explore.
Needless to say, this was my favorite place so far and it’s going to be hard to beat but I’m up for the challenge.
Asheville, Avery County Wine and Beer Fest, blue ridge mountains, Boone, breweries, camping, craft beer, Linville Falls, mountains, north carolina, waterfalls
It’s official, we are off!
I guess it couldn’t have started out any differently than it did…unforeseen circumstances! We were waiting on a package from the post office, which never arrived and after spending hours on the phone finally had to give up and depart.
We got on the road and once we crossed into Arkansas I had the bright idea to text my buddy from high school and stop by for an unannounced short visit to see him and his precious little baby girl. When did we get old enough to have kids?!?!
Since it was day one of pulling the camper and dusk was setting in I wanted to triple check the lights and of course they weren’t working properly. Only one tail light was working and when I turned on the right blinker the left one was coming on. This was when I knew the adventure was really just getting started.
Luckily the tail light was a simple bulb that went out and a cheap fix after a stop at AutoZone.
Once that was resolved it was on to Memphis.
After stopping at the visitor center and driving over to the craziest Bass Pro I think I’ve ever seen – yes that pyramid you see is actually a Bass Pro – we walked a few blocks to go to a walking tour of Pinch district in Memphis.
Later that afternoon it was off to find some BBQ! And what better place to find it than an entrance in an alley. Seriously you can’t make this stuff up! After some delicious ribs at Rendevous we took a brief walk over to Beale Street to catch some music and grab a pint. Although there was a torrential downpour, it also emptied the street completely and made for some nice views of the neon lights bouncing off the waterlogged streets.
After a night of Boondocking (stopping for the night in a parking lot) in the Bass Pro parking lot we pulled out to head to Nashville. We didn’t make it far until the breaks were hit and we whipped around to check out a winery that we just happened to pass. The Century Farm Winery. It was an old piece of property that has been in the same family since the mid 1800s. The old guy – he was 92 – was a hoot. They let him drive from his house to the farm and that was it which was about .2 miles round trip. Pretty impressive if you ask me.
Since boondocking doesn’t always allow for the full amenities of a campground, especially when you don’t actually have all three holding tanks, we decided to stop at Montgomery Bell State Park outside of Nashville for a night and there we had all the luxuries one could ever ask for and by that I mean we got to take a shower. There were some great trails to do some trail running as well.
When we got to Nashville I got to see a friend and her husband as they became our official tour guides of Nashville. It’s always great getting some local perspective on where to go. That evening we went to The Station Inn, which is the definition of dive bar and saw a great Bluegrass band. Interestingly enough the mandolin player was from Conway, SC our final stop for the summer.
The next day we had the unexpected surprise of grabbing a drink with someone else from my high school. When you come from a small school it isn’t often you just happen to bump into people in random places, but thank goodness for Facebook.
Our next adventure was Louisville where we stayed at a KOA and by a KOA I mean we stayed in a parking lot about a foot from the next camp site with a train track running 10 feet from our camper. Quite possibly the best part however was the ashtrays under the No Smoking sign in the Pepto-Bismol pink bathrooms. But it was conveniently situated to do some exploring.
We went downtown and saw the Louisville Slugger factory and yet again met someone whose family lived in the Conway, SC area. Small world right?
And you can’t go to Louisville without going to Churchill Downs. It also helps when your horse wins but I guess Whitney wouldn’t know anything about that.
With about a week left before we had to report to Conway we departed Louisville for Gettysburg, PA. I’ll confess I’m a bit of a history nerd and was really excited to visit this place. We spent the next two days reading and looking at as many of the statues and plaques as possible. So much history and so many stories of courage and I’m certain so many smaller stories in the mix of the big story that will forever be lost and never told. I can picture a soldier pushing his buddy out of the way of cannon fire and multiple other acts of heroism that we will never hear about.
After a brief stop in Charlottesville, VA we began to make our way to Conway. Side note – I wouldn’t recommend taking your camper in downtown Charlottesville while it is pouring rain. Now we were on the home stretch, we would soon be in our destination and everything would be golden.
But don’t get ahead of yourself just yet, the road doesn’t always have the same plans as we do. As the truck next to us started honking I could see the smoke billowing from the camper. After rapidly exiting the highway onto the shoulder I jumped out to see what looked like the tire smoldering. My first thought was my breaks were locked up. I grabbed the fire extinguisher as I saw little flames and quickly got the propane tanks off the camper and grabbed a few items from the camper in case it decided to turn into a torch. After getting a tow we discovered that the axle had been bent for some time and the miles we had put on it had exasperated the issue, blew the bearings, and caught the grease on fire. Luckily we were safe and the camper was still whole.
We were stuck in some town, if you can call it that, 4 hours from our destination. After a repair we were back on the road and finally arrived. We got set up and ready to start relaxing when we found not one, not two but 4 yes 4 leaks. If anyone tells you that you can’t fix a leak with a bike tube you can direct them my way. After a week of fixing leaks we finally got to enjoy some downtime and relaxation. Needless to say, I think we are starting off exactly on the right foot.
For the next year (or until James gets tired of fixing leaks), we will be calling our tin can home.
She is a 23-foot, 1968 Silver Streak. She remains unnamed at the moment but we’re taking suggestions.
For a 48-year-old camper, she wasn’t in bad shape. The previous owners had given her a lot of love but she wasn’t set up for full-timers.
Twin beds aren’t exactly what we had in mind.
And the Hawaiian-shirt curtain ruffles, sticky cushion covers and pink accessories didn’t make it feel much like home.
Not to mention the green paint. It was everywhere. And I mean everywhere. The ceiling, the walls, the trim, the black water tank, the door, the tile…. Everything was green. So we went to work.
First things first, storage.
We needed a closet and food pantry to get us through several weeks at a time. Since we didn’t need both beds we asked a family friend, who also happens to build custom cabinets, to work some magic.
Viola! We still can’t believe how much storage we gained. A huge thanks to Terry for our beautiful cabinets. This addition has been a life saver.
Across the “hall,” the remaining twin bed was transformed into a couch that morphs into a bed big enough for two.
On to paint.
We went with white hoping to brighten up our tiny home, which is approximately 140 square feet. And it was a huge success.Remnants of green remain sprinkled throughout the camper, like on the kitchen backsplash, adding a little color to the space.
Next up, flooring.
We landed on vinyl panels with a warm, wood finish. It’s flexible for when we’re hauling the camper and durable enough to handle the mud, dirt, water and whatever else we track in.
The cushions were made from a textured nylon that was uncomfortable to sit on. And the curtains were dingy and dated.
We picked out a thick cotton fabric for the cushions and another for the curtains, which aunt Vickie turned into slip covers and new curtains.Add a few pillows and a lantern or two and it’s starting to feel like ours.
I’m sure we will find new projects as we would with any home but we are thrilled with how our renovation has turned out so far. And we could not have done it without the help of several family members who took pity on us and pitched in. Thanks so much!
Have you been working on a vintage camper renovation of your own? Or maybe you have the perfect name for our tin can? If so, drop us a comment below. We’d love to hear from you.
Disclaimer: This post is a bit long because we have four weeks on the road to catch up on so bare with me. I promise they won’t be this long every week.
This week marks one month on the road.
Four weeks ago we hopped in the truck with the tin can in tow and started driving. We had two weeks to make it to South Carolina where we will spend the summer volunteering at a national wildlife refuge in exchange for a free campsite. Until then, no plans.
If there is one thing that James and I have in common it’s planning. We love itineraries. We spend months researching vacation spots. Now, here we were on the road to nowhere. It was scary and exhilarating. I was determined to fight my planner instinct and improve on my improv.
As we jumped out of the car to search for the “Welcome to Arkansas” sign at our first state line, it occurred to us that a good friend lived in Little Rock. Our first detour. Success!
We spent a night in Memphis listening to blues on Beale Street after chowing on some phenomenal ribs at Rendevous. Outside of town, we stopped at Century Farm Winery on what turned out to be National Wine Day and met a man who’s family has owned the beautiful property for 150 years.
Turns out, we’re better at spontaneity than I thought.
Next up, a stop at a state park for our first night of hookups before meeting up with some friends in Nashville the next day. Our half day in Nash-Vegas, as our friend calls it, turned into two days. Bluegrass and country music ruled much of our stay but a quick beer with James’ friend from high school was a nice surprise. I love that city.
Why not go to Louisville and check out a distillery or two? And, hey, Churchill Downs is there so add a horse race to the list.
Near the top of James’ bucket list is Gettysburg. We still had more than a week before reporting to Conway, South Carolina, plenty of time to see some Civil War history. Northwest we went. The battlefield tour that is supposed to take about three hours turned into two days of gawking at incredible monuments and staring at the site where so much American history was made.
We had three days to go about 450 miles, so we made another pit stop in Charlottesville, Virginia. We found a killer cream soda stout at Starr Hill Brewery, stopped at a street festival for some food truck fun and spotted my name in the travel section of a local bookstore, twice.
Onward to Conway… wait, is that smoke? Yap. In the middle-of-nowhere Virginia on an interstate on-ram the wheel bearing on our tin can caught on fire. As in James got to practice using our fire extinguisher on the flames spewing from our tire. It was now two days before we were supposed to start our first volunteer job and we were stranded four hours away with no camper and no mechanics available until Monday.
After watching terrified as a tow truck hauled our home down the interstate on a flat bed, we got a hotel room and spent the weekend hunkered down in a comfy king bed binge watching “Blood Line” and anxiously awaiting news on the tin can.
Monday afternoon we paid $723 for a new axel and the tow and got back on the road to Conway where we arrived for work a day late to a very understanding boss who said, “everyone with a camper gets here late. There’s always a problem.”
We traveled more than 2,000 miles in 14 days and covered 10 states. I deem us experts at improv.
After settling into our site and hooking up the tin can, we discovered a new surprise. Our first leak. Yes, I said first. We’re up to four now. Three leaks (in the shower, kitchen sink and ceiling over our bed) have been fixed thanks to the redneck innovations of James Bryen involving a bike tube, FlexSeal and clamps. We don’t really need a bathroom sink right now so leak No. 4 will just have to wait.
So far, this trip has been a lot more exhausting than anticipated. I was imagining relaxing with a book on the beach. But 3 weeks in and I hadn’t made it to the beach or read a word.
Oh, and did I mention my birthday was in there somewhere?
We were fixing leaks and building a kiosk for the refuge. We did manage to make it to the beach just before sunset and then decided we were too exhausted to celebrate. Don’t worry. James planned a perfect birthday weekend the following week. Stay tuned for more on that or check out some photos from our weekend on Instagram.
Four weeks later, we are starting to settle into our site and our new lifestyle.
The camper seems to be in good shape (knock on wood). James finally got to go fishing. I even picked up a book the other day. Progress.
I’ve learned more in the last month than in the decade before.
The biggest lesson: it’s OK to be a planner.
I left Oklahoma last month with a goal to become more spontaneous and plan less. In my head that seemed like the way to maximize our experiences.
As it turns out, planning is just part of my personality. I like planning. I like researching places that we’re going and knowing that I’m getting everything out of the experience because I knew what to expect.
The new goal: be myself but be flexible.
James reminds me that we should embrace who we are, especially our strengths. If we are planners, let’s plan. But we also know that we need to be prepared for changes, detours and exciting adventures that we could never anticipate.
Moving forward, we’re making “potential plans.” We’re letting our instincts be in control until there’s a reason to deviate.
Stay tuned to see how our potential plans play out.
Are you a planner or spontaneous? Do you fight your instincts when it comes to travel plans? Join the conversation in the comments below.
Hi. I’m James. The “compass” of this operation.
While Whit can be seen jumping right off the cliff you will find me next to her with my fancy Excel spreadsheet making plans so that when I jump off after her we both land smoothly. Side note: if it can’t be planned, proven or perfected on Excel it simply can’t be done.
Although I love adventure, travel and pretty much anything that gets me outdoors, I usually approach things from a logical standpoint and if I had to guess that is what you will get from my portion of this blog – the planning and budgeting and everything else in between to make this dream a reality.
But really, your guess is as good as mine as we are embarking on an adventure that we have never attempted before and stepping into the unknown. Maybe my logical side will go right out the window and I will join Whit in her “Who gives a damn, let’s just do it!” attitude. It sure would be a lot easier.
Stay tuned to hear about our grand voyage and follow us from the East Coast to the West Coast and everywhere in between. Come along on this ride for our stops in Europe, Canada and who knows where else.
You can follow me on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram and check back weekly for new blog postings.
Hi. I’m Whitney. I bring the carefree to this adventure.
I’m the one who leaps right off the cliff with my arms spread wide, no hesitation. Thank goodness James keeps me grounded.
A little about me.
I’m a feisty, stubborn, passionate woman with high expectations of myself and others.
I’m a freelance journalist for hire with an emphasis in travel writing. Visit my Muckrack profile for some clips. I’m also a photographer and social media guru with a bachelor of Arts in online journalism from the University of Oklahoma — BOOMER!
I love craft beer, scenic hikes, all things vintage, art, travel, my family, books and reading (yes, those are different).
I recently bought a shirt that reads “dream, believe, do, repeat.” This is how I live my life.
What am I’m hoping to get out of our year of travel?
My goal for the year is to find a way to make this lifestyle permanent.
Priorities while traveling this year include, stepping out of my comfort zone and simplifying.
Follow me on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest for more from the road. And check back every week for insights from the tin can.