We were at the family beach house two days ago. Now we are in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. Tonight will be our third night of real camping in the Conqueror, and what a tale of contrasts these three nights have been.
Night one: Uwharrie National Forest, central NC
This was our first destination from the beach, and we chose it for two reasons: 1) it sat right at our arbitrarily-chosen daily driving limit of four hours from the beach, and 2) it is NC’s premier destination for off-roading trails outside of the mountains. How could we say nay?
I had done a touch of research into what trails we could do, and where we could camp for the night. I had my eye on the easiest trail, and a vague sense of how to get there. We had used up all of our high-speed data on our phones, so all I had was a map on the phone that kinda lined up with the map online that was not drawn to scale. Being as prepared as we ever are, we set out on our four hour ride.
Six hours later, we found ourselves rumbling down some heavily corrugated dirt roads, deep in the heart of Uwharrie, being passed by jacked-up Jeeps full of raucous twenty-somethings, vehicles and bodies caked in thick layers of rust-red North Carolina clay. Here we were in our stock 4runner, hauling our spaceship trailer, completely clueless of the regulations, customs and trail conditions of the area. Oh well.
We found our way to a trail with an available campsite that looked promising. The trail turned out to be Dickey Bell, a moderately difficult trail for which we were not equipped. Of course, we didn’t know that until later.
We bounded over a few rutty humps until we found our spot for the night. A collective of nearby hippies and mud addicts helped spot me as I weaved between the trees and parked the trailer at the only level spot around. We got out to set up for our first night in the wild.
The kids were at meltdown stage, which means the wife was at stress/aggression stage to match. I laid out the ground mats, in a fruitless attempt to keep the kids on them and out of the straight red mud puddles a few feet away while we set up everything else. It actually almost kinda worked. They didn’t get NC clay stains on very much of their clothes. After a hastily prepared meal, we put the kids through their nighttime routine as best we could manage, and threw them in bed.
It should be mentioned that the humidity that day was 1000%, with a temperature of 90. We were as sticky and sweaty as it gets. That tends to raise the ambient stress levels as well. Thankfully, we had a shower. We stripped the kids down buck nekkid and hosed them down good just before chucking them in bed.
Things looked tense, and they were. But life wasn’t done conspiring to inflict a hard time on us. Right after we put the kids down, we heard a mean crack of thunder just overhead. Of course it had to rain. It wasn’t humid or muddy enough already. We had just calmed the youths down, and managed to get our malfunctioning generator to work well enough to run the aircon for the night. As soon as we heard the noise of doom, we jumped right to work, sheltering the generator, putting up the rain fly, and folding up all the chairs and chucking them in the car. I got fairly soaked, but I guess it could have been worse.
The next morning, we again had to juggle three boundless filth magnet children with infinite curiosity, and packing up the car and trailer. We managed to do it, and on the way out, passed by a hippy lady who had helped us the previous day. Upon talking to her, we came to appreciate our magnificent trailer all the more. The lot of them had their tents flooded that night. We could have been them. If we wanted to stay in Uwharrie, our options are a tent, or our mechanical monster trailer, with a shower, fridge, and air conditioning. No other rig can make it. Our trailer rules.
I elected not to do any of the trails on the way out. Just didn’t feel like it. Though I can say that technically, our trailer can handle Dickey Bell. At least a little. From Uwharrie, we headed due west, our eyes on Asheville. It was a day of pretty much just driving. We stopped at REI to pick up some shoes that Trish wanted, as well as to check out a rooftop box to replace the roof bag that broke a zipper that morning, because of course it did. By the time we were done with that, it came time to find a parking spot for the night. With the witching hour fast approaching, and local options being few, we decided on an old fall-back option.
Night two: Wal-Mart parking lot, Asheville, NC
Wal-Mart is notorious in the overlanding/RV community as a relatively safe spot for a free night. They are packed to the brim with security cameras, and many have 24 hour parking lot security. It is not uncommon at all to see an RV or two at the back of a Wal-Mart parking lot. And Wal-Mart doesn’t care, because those people come in to buy things. It’s a nice little relationship.
We posted up in a flat spot at the far corner, let the kids ride their bikes for a bit, and ate at the illustrious Wal-Mart Subway for dinner. Once I got our generator to work right, we settled in for a less chaotic night, leeching parking space off of a gracious giant multinational corporation. It’s probably not the last night we’ll spend in a Wal-Mart prking lot on this trip.
When we woke up this morning, we had one thing on our minds: gemstone panning. Having spent plenty of time in the mountains as a kid, I knew I wanted to share one of my favorite experiences with my young ‘uns; especially since Shiloh has a fixation on gems. We thought we would let her find some real ones. There are scores of mining places all throughout the mountains of NC, and the one we found was tiny, but it did the job just fine. We got an enriched bucket, and set to work. Shiloh found plenty of gems, and Judah found mud. They both had a great time. Simple joys.
From there we headed right through the most visited national park in the country: Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Vistas a-plenty and beautiful as ever.
By now, the kids, especially Norah, were bloody sick of being in the car, and let us know as much. We had to find a place soon, and Pigeon Forge, TN was the place to find it. We weren’t going to make it to Knoxville for some Wal-Mart time, though we wouldn’t have anyway, since we all desperately needed a good shower. And wild camping spots are super hard to come by here. Which led us to our current sleeping arrangement:
Night three: an RV park in Pigeon Forge, TN
With such a rugged trailer, we deigned to put her up in an RV park, next to the behemoth motorhomes piloted by rich retirees from all over. Our baby belongs out in the wild. But alas, options are limited, and so we bit the bullet and found a spot for the night, with a pool and small splash pad for the kids. And a power source that is not a malfunctioning generator that we have to get fixed tomorrow in Knoxville. I even managed to cook a full meal.
Judah and Shiloh could not have been happier to get out of the car for an hour and splash around in a pool. It’s been a while since I have seen such grins on their faces. As expensive as it is for a night here, we’re glad we did it this once.
All throughout this trip so far, we have been getting a crazy amount of attention for our bizarre, futuristic trailer. Just tonight, no fewer than five couples have commented on our trailer to us. As cars pass us on the highway, we get our share of nods of approval from passersby. This thing is an attention magnet, and we love bragging about it. No one knows quite what to think of it, and we’re all too happy to go on about all the features it has that they didn’t ever think it would. This trailer has been a saving grace for us, enabling us to travel with three small children in surprising comfort. The kids just think it’s an awesome play fort, and are loving the experience. We look forward to many more weeks of travel in this thing.
Check out www.conqueror4x4usa.com to get more details on these beauties.