Several Ways to Die Trying

“Ever tried. Ever Failed. No matter. Fail Again.”

“Fail Better”

People ask where we are going more often than where do we come from, one is a liquid and the other is a solid. One is an easier question to answer than the other, here is the easier story to tell.

In December of 2006 my Mom, older brother, younger sister, and even younger brother and I (dad mostly stayed behind) moved to Crystal River, Florida- Home of the Manatee. This was in the middle of my sophomore year of high school and I had just made the morning show cast so my world might as well have been over, I had a Daria level of teen angst (if you haven’t seen the show, just know that I was brooding and one foot into the goth phase.). I made a Handful of friends and was pretty devoted to the new Emo persona that I carefully crafted, the early 2000’s were a weird time, it was post 9/11 but pre iPhone and facebook. FCAT standardized testing was all the rage in Florida and it was my last year of having to submit myself to it. The morning of FCAT I sharpened my #2 pencils, applied my heavy eyeliner with the style and precision of a toddler with a sharpie, and yanked my best hoodie over my Avril Lavigne inspired belt. We were shepherded into different classrooms and seated alphabetically. My last name was Ireland and I am thankful to this day that there were no Howards, or Hudsons, or Ingrams in the classroom that day, if there were I would have never been seated behind Jesse Hammond. Let me describe Jesse, he had on cut off jean shorts, impressive sideburns, and the name of his pop-punk band “So She Says” shaved neatly into his leg hair. Needless to say Jesse was every socially awkward misunderstood 16 year old girl’s dream. I fell in love with Jesse the way you fall asleep, slowly and then all at once.

Crystal River High School class of 2008

We both got part time jobs, Jesse as an usher at the local movie theatre and me as a photo clerk at CVS, when we still developed film and digital cameras were the new “thing” ( there are still images I can’t forget burned into my young retinas). When I was 17 home life became interesting, my younger sister had trouble with girls at school and was beaten up in a viral video at a sleepover. Once the video gained national attention she appeared on various news stations and was even a guest on Montel. This unfortunately led to a lot of behavioral issues for her and a hostile living environment for me. One evening after a night shift at CVS I arrived at home only to find my few belongings neatly piled on the front porch of my home. My mom could not cope with two teenage girls and I could not help her. I quietly gathered my meager possessions and drove the 25 minutes to Jesse’s house. If his mom was upset or surprised to see a 17 year old girl show up at her house uninvited in the middle of the night she hid it well. Nancy did not flinch or bat an eye as she welcomed me home, and I never looked back.

Jesse had a mullet and I won a cash scholarship

Jesse and I graduated and dabbled in community college but stopped going when our scholarships were cut due to funding. We continued working at our high school jobs and climbing the ladder diligently. When we were 21 we got married and bought a house and at this point in our careers were both shift supervisors in our companies. Five years later Jesse was the general manager for Regal Cinemas and I found myself holding the position of store manager for a CVS pharmacy. We still were not 100% happy and thought maybe more money would solve it. Jesse got promoted to a busier theatre and we sold our small home in exchange for a large two story home on five acres of land just outside of Gainesville Florida. It did not take long to realize that this was not the solution to our problems. We were stuck, stuck in jobs we did not like, stuck in a house that was too big, stuck living lives that weren’t for us. We had years of work experience but what of life experience? It was time to get unstuck.

We were married surrounded by friends 05/21/2011
Our home in Archer, Fl
Three of the hardest things to say goodbye to.  They now live with Grandma
The rule was if it doesn’t fit in the box we have to get rid of it.

We wanted to explore, we wanted to travel, we wanted to run away. We discovered workamping. A huge community of people (mainly retirees) who travel and live in their RV’s full time and work at parks and facilities in exchange for a full hook up site and wages. Goodbye mortgage hello Winnebago. Once the idea was in our heads there was no getting it out. We put in our notice, we sold our things, we sold our home, and we packed the drum set into our VW bus and put it in storage, there was no going back.

Construction Daze

Flash Forward to 150 days of living in our small rv with the few things that we chose to save and looking back I know that we made the right decision. Had we not brought the idea into a reality we would most likely still be stuck, worst of all we would be stuck and asking “remember that time we talked about running away?”. Instead we say “remember that time we changed everything?”. It’s so easy to talk but so hard to act, sometimes the most impossible thing may be the only possible thing you can do for yourself. As for the question of where are we going I’ll let you know when we do. I can promise it will be somewhere we would’ve never dreamt to find ourselves a year ago, living a life I never thought we were capable of. Here’s to the wanderers, the lost ones, the explorers, and the travelers, live your life and live it well fuck the rest just give them hell.

Advertisements

It’s Raining Cats and Dogs

With the rain from hurricane Florence closing in on the park our main concern is not for our food and shelter but for finding food and shelter for the animals who are abandoned here. We live in a 21 ft RV yet somehow find ourselves fostering one emaciated young pit bull, 7 kittens fresh out of the oven, and a stubborn Tom cat we call Carrot. This is on top of our own pets who are feeling exceptionally neglected at this time. Coming here I thought that we took everything into account and had full understanding of what our jobs would entail. I never thought for a second that we would be opening an animal shelter on wheels.

The problem is the fact that being on a reservation animals are treated differently here. Where I view them as family, they look at them as possessions who they may or may not feed depending on their moods. The hardest part of our jobs hasn’t been the work, it’s been witnessing these animals treated cruelly and wasting away before our eyes. Luckily for me, Jesse shares my passion for helping animals and supports the hastily constructed dog houses, late night rescues, and extra money spent on food and supplies. If anyone reading this is interested in a beautiful year old Pitt Bull mix let me know and we will bring her there, my heart may be big but unfortunately my home is not. We will also gladly accept any advice given for finding these beautiful animals deserving homes.

RV Gonna Make It?

“You said you liked storms.

So I let you in.

Turns out you can only handle a little rain,

and I am a hurricane”

This time last year we were in the middle of hurricane Irma and made the decision to buy an RV and hit the road so it’s only fitting that a year later we would be sitting in our RV preparing for another hurricane. Hurricane Florence is taking aim at the east coast and is expected to bring catastrophic rainfall to our area. Every workamper in the park has been directed to pack up our RV’s and head to higher ground because of the potential for flooding. We learned from Irma not to take these things lightly so we filled up the car and the RV with gas and found a new spot to ride out the storm. The park hugs the Ravenfork river and if the river runneth over we will be running as well. This is not our first hurricane but it is our first time going through a major storm in our compact Winnebago so we will be hanging on to anything that’s tied down.

It’s a gloomy day and the rain has started, we find ourselves taking inventory of our supplies; “Beer check, wine check, raviolis check, water check, flashlights check, first aid check…”. I’m sure there are things that we are missing and things that we have not taken into account but we are ready, mostly, sort of. One couple has already abandoned ship and another’s 5th wheel is currently sitting in the middle of the road due to a hitch malfunction. It is every man for themselves when it comes to finding a new spot and getting situated and a lot of people are showing their teeth. Luckily for us having a 21 ft rv means that we can fit anywhere and has granted us a spot that’s level and conveniently close to the showers (there are not a lot of things that a hot shower can’t fix). It is Wednesday and 81 degrees in the mountains of NC with 100% humidity, we will not know until Saturday whether we chose the right spot or made the right decision by not fleeing today.

The hurricane is expected to decimate the coast and for every guest that calls to cancel their reservation there are two more calls from evacuees looking for a spot. I find some comfort in this and the knowledge that to these people we are in a “safe place” although the more I watch the news the more my confidence begins to waiver. In a fight or flight situation I definitely lean towards flight and am nobody’s hero. Our biggest fears in the mountains are flooding and landslides, there is one road that goes in and out of the mountain and if that road goes we will all be trapped here.

Potential for loss of life aside, here are some of the other less glamorous sides of workamping. Cat bites, mysterious rashes, feuding neighbors, broken water lines, and rising tensions. This past weekend the park was over-run with overly spiritual and intoxicatingly sober guests who gather twice a year and hold a “Pow-wow”, picture Native American dancing along to popular AA sayings. The entire park was smudged by a 13% Cherokee Indian and three workampers including myself have been inflicted with a mysterious rash as a result. There is strong belief that since it was not a full blooded Cherokee who smudged the park that in lieu of spreading good vibes as was intended the power rebounded and cursed us instead. I am not a believer of curses but it does make a good story to tell.

My current situation is high on Benadryl and googling my symptoms, I have confidently diagnosed myself as suffering from testicular cancer with a dash of Typhoid fever. Lack of testicles aside, every symptom googled eventually leads to cancer on the internet. With oven mitts taped to my hands and a smile glued to my face we sit and patiently wait for the sky to open up and swallow us whole.

I Think You Need an Altitude Adjustment

“If you’re going to try, go all the way otherwise don’t even start.  This could mean losing girlfriends, wives, relatives, and maybe even your mind. It could mean not eating for three or four days. It could mean freezing on a park bench.  It could mean jail. It could mean derision. It could mean mockery-isolation.  Isolation is the gift.  All others are a test of your endurance, of how much you really want to do it.  And you’ll do it, despite rejection and the worst odds.  And it will be better than anything else you can imagine.  If you’re going to try, go all the way.  There is no other feeling like that. You will be alone with the Gods, and the nights will flame with fire.  You will ride life straight to perfect laughter.  It’s the only good fight there is”

-Charles Bukowski

I left off on a looming trip to Florida.  We piled into our hatchback with two cats, a miniature poodle, and full sized dreams.  Florida was conveniently located right where we had left it, south of Georgia and sitting at 95 degrees with 100% humidity, the air so thick you could choke on it.  The purpose of our journey was this, to view a home in our hometown of Crystal River.  The hoimg_5667use had miles of character but unfortunately also had miles of cardboard DIY duct work and a slight lean to it,  the character I spoke of would be a down on his luck part time astronaut with a glass eye that never really aims in the right direction.  We decided that this was not the house for us and that we needed a new plan.  A building plan to be exact and a plot of land to build on. No ordinary home would do though, the plan was “Quonset hut or bust” because there’s something to be said for rounded walls and a blank canvas.  We arrived with nothing but left with a plan.  We waved goodbye to our family and headed back to the mountains eager to shake off the mosquitos and the lingering Florida heat.

In the meantime in between time..

    Excerpt from Adventure Journal- Today we are going to Maggie Valley.  Today we are going on a road trip.  First we need fuel- 2 redbulls and 10 gallons of gas (only the best for our 2007 Ford Focus). We will pass Harrah’s Casino where the Thunder Down Under recently performed in all their Australian Glory and continue over the mountain…

To Maggie Valley we went and stumbled into a Christmas themed store where the air hung heavy with incense and premature holiday cheer.  Jesse crossed his arms and with a huff loudly proclaimed that he was having “zero fun”.  Upon leaving Jesse’s personal Hell we headed to Waynesville which is basically a tiny version of Asheville NC.  In Waynesville I purchased a snake bite kit for $1 and Jesse a leather bag containing two thermoses and a lunchbox.  Alcohol was consumed and there was football on TV.  We smiled a lot and though we may not have realized it at the time it was a perfect day.

As park life goes.. well it goes.  We have had a multitude of minor battles but thankfully no major wars amongst the staff.  These range from Dee the “newbie” eyeing sweet Caroline’s Husband Jim, to the great housekeeping fiasco of 2018 and the mystery of who is stealing the toilet paper.  Don’t even get me started on Mean Gene the maintenance man who has a heart full of dirty old socks which is two sizes too small.  I’ve worked in every position in the park, from rolling my eyes in reservations to rolling around in the dirt in grounds.   Housekeeping has been the most interesting hat we have worn so far as we have found a tooth under a pillow,  fried fish in the bathroom, and when we’re lucky beer in the fridge.  You truly do not realize what goes into a job until you actually do it.

From Rattlesnake wrangling to domestic dispute untangling we have seen a lot, included but not limited to..

  • Heavy petting in the pool “I think he licked her ear”
  • Missing child in the park “Hide and Seek champion”
  • Drunk female guest who mistook a campsite for a driveway and took out a water line “I only sleep in hammocks, and do you mind if I pee outside?”  We did mind
  • November will be here before we know it and with it the closing of the park and the great RV exodus.  We have been offered to stay the winter but who wants to spend the holidays stuck on witch mountain?  In preparation we have updated our resumes and started looking for our next adventure, we are considering everything from a llama rescue in the Texas hill country to a start-up farm in the middle of Georgia.  Wherever we go we will have our home, our pets, our sense of adventure, and most importantly our sense of humor.
  • Ariel somehow broke her pinky toe at the park

    “How wild it was, to let it be”

    Semi-Charmed Life

    “There’s probably a Third Eye Blind song that sums up our lives right now”

    The moment that I placed the tip of my pen to paper Jesse and I both simultaneously received text messages, it was a cacophony of sounds, a mix of the intro to Beastie Boy’s “Girls” and a combination of business-like computer generated tones. The message was from a campground in Texas boasting 350 acres of RV sites and needing help hosting and maintaining the park. I had expected a few spam emails and calls after posting a work-wanted ad on a popular work camping site but never anticipated any real opportunities to come of it. I should mention that we are currently sitting around a fire and knee-deep into a bottle of red wine so are in no form or shape to make life altering decisions, although it often seems (or at least feels at this moment) as if these times are when we make our best plans and also tell our best jokes.

    On a completely different note going in high speed in the opposite direction, I fear we may have accidentally purchased a home. The home in question is located in our home-town of Crystal River, Florida and is 600 square feet of work needing to be done. I’ll back-track a little to what led to this. We have been increasingly restless lately and indecisive as to where to invest our money and with Jesse’s lack of trust in the stock market and the success we have had selling previous homes real-estate seemed like a safe bet. That being said we found an affordable fixer-upper and made a cash backup offer as it was already under contract for purchase. Due to the fact that someone had already called dibs on it we were not fully expecting our meager offer to be considered, that is until we received a call 3 days later stating that our offer has been accepted and we have 10 days to get to Florida and perform a home inspection. Flash forward to now, lips stained red from wine planning an unexpected road trip to the bitter swamps of Western Central Florida.

    I find myself now scratching my head, striking the Classical Greek “Thinker pose” and asking the question “where do we go from here?”. Do we buy a home in Florida to fix up in the cooler months, do we head to Texas for a change of scenery, or do we stay in the Smokies until the chill in the air starts to bite? We get asked daily by fellow workampers about what our plan is and where we intend to go from here. The answer is always the same, a coy smile and a smooth response of “let us know when you figure it out”, because we honestly have no idea.

    We have a home, we have money, and we have food and I’ve dabbled in enough AP psychology to know that we have the basics covered to meet Maslow’s needs so all of these experiences are a bonus. Ask me a week from now, 3 days from now, 45 minutes later, and I can tell you with confidence that my mind has changed, the plan has evolved, I ate salad and decided to operate a farm instead. That is what life seems to be about the evolving, exploring, and randomness of it all.

    We’ve been gone three months now and in that time wars have waged, people have died, and life has moved on. That’s what this experiment is all about, living a life that we create outside of the boundaries that have been placed.

    And We’ll All Float On..

    Oh Darling, Let’s Be Adventurers

    In the past month a lot has happened and at the same time it feels as though nothing has happened at all. Being out here is like being in a completely different world, and both time and people seem to move differently in the mountains than the swamps of Florida. There is something about venturing to a new place, meeting new people, and experiencing different ways of life that you may have never knew existed, or if you did know, didn’t spend more than a second considering. It hit me like a ton of bricks, the billions of people living separate lives with their own hopes, dreams, goals, and ideas, just doing their best to make the best out of their own reality. There is a word for this; Sonder- “the realization that each random passerby is living a life as vivid and complex as your own.”

    We’ve been here a little over two months and it still blows my mind that what began as a dream and turned into an idea which morphed into a plan is now our reality. I once read longingly about people like us and lusted over the lives that they lived wondering how they got so lucky. In retrospect it wasn’t luck that got them there it was courage and faith, not faith in a higher power but faith in themselves and the will to succeed. Most work campers are not in it for the money (what money?) or prestige, the driving force is the opportunity to live. Apparently it takes most people decades to reach the decision and take the leap, decades of trying and failing, rising and falling, and decades of working but not fully living. We are the youngest work campers here so we either realized it sooner then most or just lost our minds at a conveniently young age. I’m leaning heavily on the latter.

    To anyone considering work camping here are some Pro’s and Cons:

    Pros

    • The opportunity to work together as a team. Nothing beats talking shit to someone who fully understands what your whining about and can relate 100%.
    • A much needed break from the real world “who dis, new number”
    • Learning new skills and meeting new people.
    • Discovering the type of life we want to live and where we fit in ( NC is a battle of who is the most conservative conservative)
    • The freedom to leave anytime we want, or when it stops being fun.

    Cons

    • Conflicting personalities that you have to live with.
    • Underutilization of your skills due to over-qualifications (not necessarily bad)
    • General age range, being two decades younger than the youngest member of the staff makes it hard to relate.
    • Lack of personal space- Goodbye goats and chickens.
    • No anchor, the amount of freedom can be daunting.
    • Did I mention the conflicting personalities?

    Now that you have the pros and cons, here are a few reasons that work-campers have left so far this season:

    • Gina got a gig in activities, as it turns out, drinking on the job was her favorite activity.
    • Geno was afraid of snakes, the boss was not afraid of letting him go
    • Thomas fell off of a roof, stuck a feather in his hat and called himself an Indian, and ran his mouth straight to the KOA down the road.

    Since I’m listing things here is a helpful wiki article about tick removal

    As I am ending this post we are ankle deep into July and have three and a half months to decided where we want to go when the park closes for the season at the end of October. It is both terrifying and terribly exciting to have so many options and zero plans. We could buy a plot of land and resettle with the money that we have saved, we could take the winter off of working and travel up the west coast, or we can find a paying gig and work-camp for the winter. The only thing that we know for absolute certain is that whatever we do we’ll be doing it together and making the best of every step along the way.

    Travel isn’t always pretty. It isn’t always comfortable. Sometimes it hurts, it even breaks your heart. But that’s okay. The journey changes you; it should change you. It leaves marks on your memory, on your consciousness, on your heart, and on your body. You take something with you. Hopefully you leave something good behind.

    Anthony Bourdain

    Don’t Go Chasing Waterfalls

    Please stick to the rivers and the lakes that you’re used to.

    Memorial Day has come and gone, we were witness to 160 people setting up camp and then 2 days later breaking it down, 100 rv’s backing in and then backing out, 40 cabins unlocked and locked back up. The park has transformed from a bustling metropolis of over caffeinated children chasing small dogs being chased by exhausted adults, to a calm abandoned river village full of small reminders of what had transpired over the holiday weekend. A semi deflated soccer ball tucked behind an old picnic table (which we kicked back and forth all the way back to camp), a smoldering fire pit full of the whispers of expired ghost stories told and retold again, and an old abandoned loofah whom no one will miss, these are just a few of the memories left behind and strewn haphazardly across the park.

    Every now and then a grumble will rise above the the sounds of the raging river, a wayward sigh will escape pursed lips accompanied by a complaint uttered from the mouth of a disgruntled employee, this is usually pertaining to trash in a fire pit or a broken handle in cabin 3 most likely the result of a clumsy tourist and a late night. These complaints are always made under the breath after a quick but thorough survey of the surrounding area to ensure management isn’t present, and thus these complaints always go unheard.

    I had spent the weekend fielding complaints about the pool, photographing a pie-eating contest, and watching children create rainbows with muddy finger paints. Jesse spent it escorting guests in a precarious golf cart, delivering firewood, and riding on the “Hey-Hey Wagon” dressed as Yogi bear. You could say we had a productive weekend, you could also say that even though you’re an adult and you know better, you are still not a fan of spinach (this is a safe space).

    A “high” point that we had last week was zip-lining in the Smoky Mountains, see what I did there? Besides the extremely uncomfortable wedgies which were a result of hiking in the safety harness, I highly recommend it. Once you get the harness out of your soul where it undoubtedly has made a home it really is a liberating experience.

    As far as RV life goes we are adapting more and more every day. We have learned to accept that some days we will be a fucking mess, some days we will make pizza that tastes like lighter fluid (what doesn’t kill you..), some days we will turn our socks inside out (to wear them an extra day), and some days we will turn off our radios and our WiFi and spend the entire day in bed.

    Some days we are a fucking mess but I wouldn’t change these days for anything (or my socks either so it seems). We’re also learning to embrace the crockpot and breaking a few of our concrete rules (like no pooping in the rv, Jesse). From the middle of the night roof leaks, to those “does something smell like its burning?”, moments, and every little thing in between. We are for the first time fully embracing life and each other as well as every new experience that comes are way. Most importantly we are finding out that we are stronger than we ever realized.

    And did I mention the waterfalls?