Are we there yet? (3 states in 3 weeks)

20141029_132605As many of you know, we’ve been traveling full-time (also known as “living in a camper”) for the past 375 days – a little over 1 year. By now we realize that there really is no “there,” especially when our hope is to experience more of life and show the love of Christ to people who aren’t normally found on church doorsteps. Normally we volunteer as workcampers for state parks for a few months at a time and have a pretty easy time meeting people from all over the country. But when we decided to take the opportunity to join the Amazon Camperforce in central Kentucky this November, we thought we might have more of an adventure and meet more people if we launched out a little early and took the long way up. (We were also hoping this would alleviate the stress of a 7+ hour drive if we had done it all in one go.) We had no set agenda or itinerary other than arriving in central Kentucky by November 9. So with a little over 3 weeks to get there, we knew we were in for at least a few surprises. Thankfully they were good ones.

 

 

IMG_20141019_163043Our first stop was the Top of Georgia Airstream Park in Helen, Georgia where we immediately met several veteran travelers giving us valuable travel tips, old camping equipment, and road stories. We met an accomplished Minnie Pearl impersonator and were given 3 antique campfire sandwich makers from her friend who said they’d been in his family for years. We also met a man who had been airstreaming for something like 30 years and heard stories about his travels all over the country. Our favorite thing about this park was the beautiful mountain setting and all of the perks – tether ball, horseshoes, playground, hiking trails, and a beautiful mountain stream running right through – as well as the low price, even for us non-club members. Our only regret is that we didn’t have the opportunity to do some of the bigger mountain hikes and waterfall views. With this being our first experience at an exclusive Airstream park though, we definitely plan to try another one soon – or maybe even this one again!

20141018_151739After leaving Helen, we traveled to Ellijay, Georgia to experience the Apple Festival goodies and worship with The Orchard Church, staying in their parking lot for a couple of nights, sharing our story with their church body, and getting to know their pastor and his wife. This was quite a treat since they knew nothing about us other than we were traveling in the area and wanted to worship with them but needed to know if our 30′ RV would fit in their parking lot, which we told them by email. As always, we so appreciate the overnight parking and power they lent us, but more than that, we so enjoyed connecting with a body of believers whose main mission is to “Make Disciples.” We are so thankful to have met these people and been encouraged by them, and we hope that we might somehow have encouraged them as well.

 

20141021_142034IMG_20141021_160823Afterwards, we traveled to Rising Fawn, Georgia and spent several nights at Cloudland Canyon State Park where we were able to experience the beauty of north Georgia and the people who either call it home or camp there. Amazingly enough, that week just happened to be Fall Break for surrounding schools, so we had the opportunity to meet other families, which the kids loved. This park absolutely blew us away, not just for its waterfalls, canyon views, adventurous (exhausting) hiking trails, and majestic sunsets, but also for the people who were there. Just one example is that as we were coming up the 600 or so stairs from the bottom of the canyon taking a few minutes to catch our breath (okay, Mama was the only one really struggling), a guy walked up and started telling us all about the canyon and the best places to go for the most beautiful sights. It was only after we introduced ourselves that he told us he was the park ranger on his day off walking around the canyon to take photos and explore. He probably spent 30 minutes or more with us before heading down the canyon. We also enjoyed getting to know a family of four from Alabama – the Sharps. We had probably only been on our site for an hour or so when a cute little girl walked up and asked, “Can your kids come play with us?” What followed was several days of secret hideouts, campfires, and all kinds of fun for both kids and parents.

We thenIMG_20141025_101325 spent a couple of days in Pikeville, Tennessee at Mountain Glen RV Park, which as it turns out was right beside an Amish farm! This was a huge surprise and learning opportunity for the kids – seeing a community of people who dressed alike and rode horse and buggy or bicycles only. Although we didn’t actually get to meet any of the Amish people while we were there (nor did we have the pleasure of eating their delicious homemade food), we did have the opportunity to meet an older couple at the campground and spend a couple of days getting to know them. Although this park was a little smaller than the state parks we usually frequent, we really enjoyed the laid-back feel and the free air hockey in the game room.

After leaving Pikeville, we headed to Cookeville, TN to break up some of the driving and enjoy a free night at the Walmart parking lot, which it turns out, is the happening place to be if you’re a teenager with a truck in that town (such a loud night – don’t plan to going back). I just kept telling myself all night long while I wasn’t sleeping very well that this must be a very safe place to be since the parents in town send their teenagers to hang out there. Thankfully, it was. There’s nothing like experiencing different cultures!

20141028_091544We then landed at Seven Points Corp of Engineers Park in Nashville, Tennessee for the better part of a week where we had the opportunity to meet heaps of people and enjoy an afternoon downtown. The park was nearly full, but we ended up on a site with a lake view directly across from the rather large playground, which would have been our first choice anyway. Several people came by just to ask us about our Airstream, but one of my favorite encounters was with a man who walked around the park with his red macaw named Fruit Loop. We always love talking to the people we meet on the road, but our favorite encounters are definitely with those who tell their story right up front. This man had such a heart for his family and his bird, and his story inspired us to take more time with the people we love. We also really enjoyed taking a field trip to the Nashville Public Library and the Bicentennial Mall Park directly behind Nashville’s capitol building.

Cabelas After that, we crossed into Kentucky to overnight at Cabela’s in Bowling Green. This was a much better spot to boondock (camp without hookups) than our Walmart experience, mainly because the store was super fun for our family of hunting and fishing loving boys (all 3 of them) and for the fact that they normally provide sewer dumps and fresh water fill-up in the parking lot, although this one didn’t. Also, we were happy to find that Bowling Green is a pretty neat city with great shops and really nice people. Just in Cabela’s alone we spent over 45 minutes talking to store associates (they were helping us figure out a table we were interested in purchasing, but we also got to share our story and hear a little about them in the process too).

 

20141031_171604Then, on October 31 with costumed kids salivating for candy, we checked in to Singing Hills RV Park in Cave City, Kentucky pretty close to Mammoth Cave National Park, and asked the owners if the boys could trick-or-treat that evening. To our delight, they invited us to their church for a soup dinner and “trunk-or-treat” instead. So, we set up the camper, took a little rest, and headed out to the trunk-or-treat and then some trick-or-treating in the neighborhood. This was super fun, and also super cold since we actually had a few snow flurries! Over the course of 3 nights at this park we got to know the owners and were impacted by their story. Missionaries themselves who served in Africa for years, they started this park as a way to be close to their aging parents, and they ended up becoming a light in the Cave City community. Beth even wrote a book about parenting that came out of her experience leading parenting workshops, so of course I purchased a copy, and I think it’s a great resource Parenting is Rocket Science.

20141102_115205DripstoneAlthough we did not camp there, I have to highlight Mammoth Cave National Park. Our first real experience with a tried and true national park, this one was a great place to start! Not only was the park in itself colossal, but the Visitor’s Center and walking tour were fantastic, the rangers were top notch, the gift shop was quite fun even if we didn’t purchase anything, and the cave itself – I’m still speechless. We did the Domes and Dripstones Tour, a 2-hour excursion beneath the surface of the earth (a little frightening if you think about it too hard), where we were able to see several very different parts of the caves, too many stalagmites and stalactites to count, and the famous Frozen Niagra. It was no doubt one of the most fantastic excursions of our lives – truly magical – so, we decided to return the next day so that our little guys could spend a school day earning their first ever National Park Junior Ranger badges! It took hours, but they learned so much (and so did their parents)! The program even took us on a hiking trail down to the Green River where the steamboats use to travel years and years ago. Truly this National Park is an American treasure, and we are so blessed to have been able to be there.

 

20141105_16173620141104_150329Afterwards, we drove up to Louisville, KY and stayed overnight at another Cabela’sFinding no low-cost campground or educational excursion options in town, we headed southwest toward Fort Knox and stayed at a beautiful Corp of Engineers Park called Laurel Branch COE on Rough River Lake that happened to be 75% closed for the off-season. Although it was a little disconcerting to drive out into the boonies in the middle of Kentucky not completely knowing where we were or practically anything about the park, all of our fears were chased away once we saw the lake view and the quiet surroundings. Since there were no other campers around, we landed ourselves in a site overlooking the best part of the lake and spent 3 lovely days resting and being a family before heading to meet the Amazon crowd.

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Finally, we set our GPS to take us to Campbellsville, Kentucky – our Amazon destination for the next month and 1/2, but we just couldn’t go directly there. We had an appointment with a very important former President first. Ever since we first learned that we were going to be staying in Abraham Lincoln’s birth state, we have been reading about his life and studying the effects of his presidency, so we could not pass up the opportunity to swing through the town where he was born Hodgenville, Kentucky and visit the Abraham Lincoln Birthplace National Historic Park. Here we learned so much more about America’s greatest President, and the boys were able to earn their second Junior Ranger badge in a week!

 

 

PART95141556565457195Image1415565654566Then today, after 3 weeks of driving, we finally arrived at our destination – a lovely campground in Campbellsville, Kentucky where almost every spot is full and hundreds of people are staying while they workcamp for Amazon from now until Christmas (most of which have been here for 6 weeks already). We will definitely post more about this campground and the people we meet here later this month, but tonight as I reflect on our first day here I can’t help but smile at the blessing of it. The owner Darrell is the nicest person you may ever meet, and just a few hours after we parked and set up, he bridled up his horses for carriage rides and we jumped aboard (twice)! I can’t even begin to count the number of people we met today or the stories that were shared with us, and I know that over the next month and 1/2 we will develop relationships here that we will never forget. Although I know this isn’t the ultimate “there” we’re longing for, I have to say it’s a pretty amazing “here” to be planted for now.

I know some of you are thinking that all this sounds like quite a lot of activity, chaos, and moving around to pack into only a few weeks on the road (much faster than our normal pace of 2+ months in one spot), but we can’t even begin to tell you how blessed we’ve been to be able to use this time to let the Holy Spirit direct our feet and take us to the people who need to see and experience His love the most. Some of the people we meet just need a little inspiration to go after what God is calling them to do, but many of them seem to either be running from God, struggling to find a life-giving church, or pretty disconnected from God’s plan for their lives. We are so thankful to be part of what God is doing to meet them right where they are. We are also learning that every single day, every single encounter, every single conversation, is a gift from Him, completely undeserved, and we are so thankful to have the grace and opportunity to take those gifts and make them count for His Kingdom. “If you see that the job is too big for you, that it’s something only God can do, and you trust Him to do it – you could never do it for yourself no matter how hard and long you worked – well, that trusting-Him-to-do-it is what gets you set right with God, by God. Sheer gift.” (Romans 3, MSG)

IMG_20141020_183931In closing, I just have to share one of the best things that happened this month – seeing our two little boys become missionaries in their own way. Several times during our travels in the last few weeks, someone would walk up to our campsite and strike up a conversation. Then, before we knew it, we were making friends with them and their family (or wife or kids or dogs), which in some cases would span over several days, and on departure day the boys would run back to us from saying their goodbyes and playing, shouting, “Guess what? I gave them our website so we can keep talking to them!” What a huge blessing that even when opportunities sometimes seem to be short, the Lord uses our two little guys to reach out to people too! Sheer gift!

 

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