2011-07-29_GAEtonNationalForestVandwellers_WalkingStickFromSandra

2011-07-29_GAEtonNationalForestVandwellers_WalkingStickFromSandra

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2011-07-18 – Many months ago, I joined a Yahoo Group called “Vandwellers”. It is a group of several thousand people who send emails to each other. I read it for many months before posting anything to the group. (This is called ‘lurking’). I subscribe to a Daily Digest form of messages, so I don’t receive a large number of emails each day. A moderator for the group requires that the posts be ‘trimmed’, i.e., cut much of the words so that only the conversation topic appears on a reply and in that way, the amount of reading required is condensed. (Note: this is requested because many members have smart phones to read email messages and are charged by the line for transmission. If messages are clipped, then the cost of messaging should be reduced.) The purpose of the group is to share ideas about living in a van, or converting vans to be compatible for travel. There is a section for posting both messages and another area for pictures. While working on Vanna White, I looked at many pictures to see what others had done to transform their vehicle and I read many messages – such as ideas on having electrical installed. It was a vandweller who recommended taking the van to an audio installation shop a nd have two marine-‘slow discharge’ batteries connected to the van alternator, so that as you drive, the living-area (house) batteries are charged.

So, after months of learning what worked for others, I tried to adapt many ideas to help with ‘fixing-up’ Vanna White. Several months ago, David (from Dalton, Georgia) sent a message to the group asking if anyone wanted to camp in the North Georgia mountains. I returned a reply that I was interested and a few days later, he posted a date “to come” and a place “to camp” (with travel directions). The dates of the “Get-ToGether” (GTG) spanned a couple of weeks starting on 7/18. I decided to go as soon as I could because I was excited about the trip and ready to try camping in Vanna White for a second time. Many days before leaving, I worked on building a storage shelf and I wired a 12-volt fan and 12-volt light to the interior. I packed the items that I thought I would both need and use. I charged batteries for the flashlights, and I bought an outdoor stairway solar-light for trial. I put the solar light on the van dash to charge during the day, and at night, pushed the button to turn it on and used it as an interior light. I had organized some pots and pans to take but I decided that I really didn’t want to cook on this trip – so, I planned to take convenience food. As the date for camping approached, I put 8 gallons of water into plastic milk jugs and I filled a couple of plastic crates with food from the kitchen = peanut butter, cereal for breakfast, boxes of rice-krispie bars, trail-mix, a can of tuna for lunch, in addition to several one-serving plastic containers of peaches and pears. The morning of starting the trip, I shopped at Wal-Mart for ice and a large sandwich, some soy milk and some cheese. For utensils, I had a camping metal knife, fork, spoon (that hook together) and a metal soup cup. I bought four inexpensive plastic plates from a store so that I wouldn’t be burdened with disposable styrofoam or paper. Of course, I packed some paper towels and toilet paper, but – I wanted to minimize trash whenever possible.
I packed enough clothes for six days and planned to arrive on Monday and return on Sunday. After getting there, the plans changed. Originally, I planned the trip so that I would arrive home in order to pay end-of-month bills. Once I got there and decided to lengthen my stay, I borrowed a cell phone to call my son and ask him to make the house payment for me. I told him that I would pay the remainder of the bills when I returned. He had told me before I left that if I needed him to pay bills, he would do it for me. By making that phone call, I was able to stay three more nights.
The National Forest is an area of Georgia that has no houses. It is there to preserve the trees and our native land. The National Forest Service employs rangers to manage this area. A few miles outside of the town of Eton, in north Georgia is a management area called the Chattahoochie National Forest. It is a mountainous area and has no paved roads. The forest service roads are gravel and maintained by them. Previouly, I had been with another group to the forest service area over 10 years ago. It was for an overnight of camping in tents and group meals, such as pancakes for breakfast. That area was a grassy area near a river that had nothing to support anyone camping.
The area that we visited was similar in many ways but much improved for sanitation and convenience than my first trip. This are supported camping by having
-railroad ties around a level area for tents and gravel base for road and tent base,
-a post-base-type picnic table,
-tall post for hanging a light or other items (we used it for helping tie tarps and for trash bags), a
– large fire-ring with grate.
In addition, there were 2 bear-resistant trash cans in the camp and a pit toilet. A pickup-truck pulling a trailer would come on Tuesday and Friday. The man driving the truck would empty the trash cans and put the plastic bag liner full of trash into the trailer and haul it away. A woman would travel with him and mop the pit-toilet floor while he emptied the trash cans. She would also ensure that there was sufficient chemical to retard any smell. I was truly amazed at how great the camping area was. Our area contained 5 tent sites and they are available on a ‘first-come, first-served’ basis. Often, other people would drive through the area to see if there were any available sites. We had a group of people there and sometimes we would talk with the passer-by and tell them that we would be there until Sunday. The forest service rules require that campers move sites every 14 days. In addition to our 5-tent site area, there are dispersed camping sites along the national forest road. Also, at Lake Conasauga, a hosted-camp, about 8 miles further on the gravel road. It has 40 camp sites and electricity provided with a cost of $10 a night. Also, I was told, that there was potable water available there – but, it was not at every campsite. There were several spigots available with the water. Our camp had a really nice creek flowing by many of the sites. The constant water-flowing sound that the creek made was perfect for making everything peaceful.
The time that I was there seemed to fly by. We had great weather and the escape from the heat of the city was incredible. (In Atlanta, daily temperatures in the high-90’s was constant. In the forest, we had some low-80’s in the day, but it was humid and comfortable after getting wet in the creek or spraying water from a bottle on arms and legs. Note: the general rule of Georgia is that the mountains are about 10 degrees cooler than the city.) The tall trees and the creek provided a very nice temperature for just hanging out under the tarps that David and Dick had put up. We had an occasional rain cloud overhead, and we would wait for it to pass over under a tarp or in a van. Afterward, the creek level would rise significantly and add more noise to the forest. We enjoyed watching the butterflies around a firering and seeing the sunflowers bloom near the pit toilet and along the road. We watched the mushrooms grow (but, didn’t eat any) and we listened and watched for rain. Since we were so deep in the forest with mountains around us, a rain shower would sneak up on us because we couldn’t see it coming. There weren’t many mosquitoes, but there were a few flies and a couple of pesky horse-flies. When going on a picnic, I’ve always encountered many ants. At this place in the forest – I saw an occasional large black ant, but none of the small brown ones that invade houses.
We did had a problem with mice. One day after an afternoon shower, David was looking around the picnic table and happened to see some paper inside the Coleman 2-burner propane camp stove on the edge of the table. He picked the stove up and began picking out the paper and wondered how paper got inside the stove. Then, he saw something move and decided that a mouse was inside. I was sitting in a nearby chair and saw a small brown head look out a round hole in the bottom of the stove. I told David that “I saw it”. “There’s a mouse inside the stove bottom.” David had the stove in his hand and put it back on the table. He pulled the last of the paper out of the bottom and the mouse realized that he was discovered. The stove bottom had holes in it and VERY QUICKLY, the mouse jumped through a hole, off the picnic table top and onto the ground. He scurried quickly to a nearby pile of wood and there was no way to find him after that. Well, my mother always told me that you never find one mouse – they come in pairs. I said something like that to David and in a few seconds, I saw another small, brown head in the stove bottom. I told David that another mouse was inside and a few seconds later, that mouse jumped through the stove hole and onto the right of the table, jumped to the ground and scurried into the hole of a nearby tree. David wanted to prevent the mouse from returning so he tried to find it in the tree. He said that the hole went up inside the tree and there was no place down the trunk for the mouse to hide. Sandra said that she had noticed mouse droppings on the table in the morning when she made coffee. She brushed them off and didn’t have any idea that they had made a nest inside the stove. Dick is the owner of the stove, and he got several paper towels, and some liquid cleaner and wiped the stove part-by-part until he was satisfied that any mouse remnants were removed.
I arrived on Monday, David, Dick, and Sandra were there to greet me. I was excited to be there and happy to have found the group. I had read their email posts, but now I had a name and a face to match. The vandweller posts are very helpful. Where is a good place to park? What is a good type of inverter to buy? ya-da ya-da. An answer to a question gives information and ideas to help set direction for travel or investment. The vandweller list has a mandate to not ‘flame’ or criticize others and to help one another. The list contains many people who are considering the possibilities of vandwelling as well as people who have experience. I was still a ‘wanna-be’ since I had the van, but I had no experience. I soon learned that both David (the organizer), and Dick had a LOT of experience.
David had gotten an email that a van from Dallas with several people were coming. Since it was such a long trip, we weren’t sure when to expect them. We thought that they may arrive Tuesday evening, but – to the best of my memory (the days melted together) the actual arrival was Wednesday. We met Christine, van owner, with her travelling companions, Ben, Chris and Soren. She had recently purchased her Scooby-Chevy van and had a mechanic look it over and install several new components. As I understand it, this was the maiden voyage. They came without food and were tired from driving so far. They had used a GPS and tried to input the latitude/longitude of the campsite into the directions. It didn’t work. They had to use the directions that David sent. They had a cooler with food that they used for travel, but it was almost empty and they needed more food and ice. Well, …. , here’s the thing. We were about 7 miles from Eton, BUT – on a gravel road, you have to drive very slow due to the rain putting ruts in the gravel. I measured that it took me about 45 minutes to travel the 7 miles. Items stored in the van rock back and forth when driving. Also, if you speed up and go too fast, you may encounter a large rock and damage the underside of the van. The group decided that they would return to town for food the next day and ‘make-do’ with what they had for the night. They put-up a tent on site 2 and set-up camp. The back seat of the van folded down so that 2 slept in the tent and 2 slept in the van.
(Note: While returning from a trip to town, the van developed mechanical problems. Probably, since the road was so rough, a wire worked itself loose from a connection and the group reported that the radio ‘went-out’ and the turn signals didin’t work. David looked under the hood and found a wire loose from the alternator. Eventually, he removed the dog-house van interior cowl and took out the alternator. On a trip to town, he knew a shop that would diagnose any problems for him. He returned with the necessary parts and fixed the electrical issues with the van, knowing that the alternator diaode test was successful. I was amazed that he was able to do this for the group.)
There was a small waterfall at a short distance from camp – and a medium waterfall further, then a large waterfall and swimming hold even further. The longer you hiked down the trail, the steeper the rocks got and the harder it was to get there. I went ‘swimming’ in the sauna area once (it was the closest waterfall). (Note: it is called the sauna because of the size of the area to stand in to a waist depth.) The water was cold (to me) and getting in-and-out of the area required me crawling on hands-and-knees. Others seemed to climb up faster because they are younger and more agile. Both David and I were in the sauna while the others built a rock-funnel for the water to trickle down the big rock to the area known as ‘the shower’. If you went under the waterfall, everyone said that it felt like taking a shower. While the funnel was under construction, David found a rock hole that was deeper than his elbow and about the double the size of his arm. He felt to the bottom of the hole and started pulling up pebbles. The pebbles were rounded by the water tumbling over them many years and were smaller than the size of the palm of your hand – and slim. I stacked the pebbles up on the side and Sandra helped me carry them back to camp. I had a coffee cup filled with them when I returned. (Note: there will be an additional story about the pebbles later.) The rocks to the sauna-area were very steep and on the ledge of the waterfall, the rocks were wet a lot of time. A couple of the Dallas group and Sandra had slipped on the rocks (but, no one was seriously hurt, bruises were the result). Duke-the Pitbull slipped into the sauna and Ben picked him up and carried him to the edge so that he could return to Sandra (he had his leash on the whole time we were there – a park requirement). I didn’t want to take a chance of falling. At the end of the outing, I crawled back to the waterfall bottom. I had enjoyed the ‘swimming’ – but, I after that trip, I didn’t have the energy to return.
A few days later, Sandra, Christine, Ben, Soren, and Chris went further down the trail to the waterfall area known as the “swimming pool”. I was told that it had a rope down the rock slope to help lower you to the swim area. In addition, there was a rope tied to a tree and used to swing and fall into the “swimming pool”. Sandra said that Duke didn’t like her being on the rope at all. He also didn’t like to see Ben swinging and falling in. Soren took his camera and showed us pictures of the area. Sandra said that getting there was so dangerous, she wasn’t sure that she wanted to return. David had been to the “swimming pool” in his younger years. Now, as an adult, he had hurt his knee and often wore a brace to keep it from twisting. He wasn’t willing to take a chance of getting hurt and going back to that area.
Many of the locals knew the area and there was a special parking place for ‘day-use’ at the top of the hill. We saw many people walk pass the camping area to go ‘swimming’. Other water activity was that the Dallas gang went ‘creek walking’ several times – it was only ankle deep most of the time.
The creek water needs to be treated before drinking it. David had a 25-gallon tank with spigot that we used for community water. If anyone went to town, we requested that they return with drinkable water. We tried to be conservative when washing dishes.
The group continued to grow when the week-end came. Les had been working in Ringgold as a handyman repair person for the tornado damage. He had a converted prison van that he used as both his work and camping needs. He is in-process of moving his family from the northern US to the Georgia/Alabama border area. He only stayed a one night – but, I couldn’t have made this trip without his help: On Wednesday after I arrived, I moved my van from Site 2 – the Dallas gang camping spot, to near Site 3. After I parked, Dick said that he thought my passenger front tire was low. I looked at it and he was right. David looked at it and found a nail in my tire! UG! What am I going to do now? Deep in the Woods – 45 minute drive on a mountain, gravel road to civilization. By the way, auto companies have it written in their contract, that they don’t come off-road to fix tires and start batteries. Well, … , David needed to return to Dalton to fix his air-conditioner (his wife had called him that it was broken). He offered to stop at an auto store and buy a tire-plug repair kit while in town. I jumped at the offer and told him that I would be happy to pay him back for the kit. Well, he got the kit on Friday, and Les came to visit on Saturday. David and Les had talked and Les said that he knew how to plug-a-tire and David said that he had a compressor and would help. So, late in the afternoon, after supper, we went to Vanna White parking near Site 3. David started the compressor, Les found a Leatherman type tool and with a lot of strength, he pulled the nail out of the tire. He used a handle-tool with a pointer to hold the air in the tire as he prepared to insert the plug. Another handle-tool had an inverted tip for the plug and the plug was a sticky-black-rubber 4-inch long piece that was pushed into the hole after quickly removing the air-holder-tool. Les really knew what he was doing – and was strong enough to get-it-done. The tire was plugged in a few minutes. I told him many times how much I appreciated him fixing my tire for me. I kept wondering, where I had driven that the tire would pick-up a nail. One of those mysteries that will never be solved. I felt that when I left, I would be much safer. David, Dick and Les all said that the plug was much safer for holding air in the tire than leaving the nail. It was obvious that the tire had a air-leak and Les said that when driving, the tire flexes (especially on gravel, rutted-road) and the nail would drive farther into the tire and do more damage as well as let out a lot of air. Anyway, now the problem was solved. I was very grateful to both David and Les for repairing the nail in my tire.
Kenny also came for the week-end. He had converted a wider-type 10-passenger bus to a camper. This was also his first trip. He travelled with his two dogs and added excitement to the trip by providing many attendees with cigars. Both Kenny and Les left mid-Sunday afternoon. Kenny had a mechanical problem with his bus. Les had a diagnostic code reader and used it to re-set Kenny’s computer codes. His bus was better, but he still lacked power to drive up the steep hill to get to the main road. David had a tow rope and Les used the rope to tie to his van and pull Kenny up the hill. Once he got to the top of the hill, his bus was able to travel back to Eton because the remainder of the trip was downhill and the road to our camping area was the steepest of the journey. Again, Les with his knowledge and equipment to the rescue. After returning to Atlanta, Kenny sent David an email that he made it home without further incident.
After the week-end, the Dallas gang remained along with David, Dick, Sandra and me. During the course of the days together, we got to know each other pretty well. Thinking back, mostly I just sat around and enjoyed the company of others and being outside in the wonders of the forest. I especially enjoyed being around so much ‘nature’. In addition to sitting under a tarp during the rain, I walked around the campsites and marvelled at the mushrooms that sprang up after the rain. Also the flowers that bloomed along the roadside. After the ‘swim’ trip, Sandra and I went tramping through the forest hoping to find me a hiking stick. The forest was damp and I found a branch that was straight and the right size. But, the stick was wet. I ended up trading the forest stick for another one from the cooking woodpile. At the end of my stay, Sandra gave me a walking stick that she had. It is beautiful and has a really unique handle. (See pictures.)
I had planned to leave on Monday. But, the Dallas group would be around a few more days and I had enough food to stay a while more. David let me borrow his cell phone (he had a special magnet mount antenna and Razor cellphone that allows an external antenna) and I decided to stay until Friday. Our normal cell phones were not working. To use a cell tower, you have to have a line-of-sight signal. We were between mountains and far enough away from a tower, that only David’s phone worked because of the extra power of the antenna. He was so familiar with the forest and technology, he had designed a cellphone signal extender. We spent our time talking and exploring the world around us. I was less than 100 miles from home, but in an entirely different world. I borrowed a paperback book from Sandra, and when there wasn’t anyone around who wanted to talk, I read the book. It has been a long time since I’ve read a book. When in Atlanta, I have the internet, newspapers and magazines to read. I had become used to short articles and had developed a short attention-span. I found it hard to concentrate and read a long book. The book that she gave me wasn’t long, but – I’m not a fast reader and I just took my time going through it. Near the end, I told Sandra how I thought it would finish. She looked at me funny, but didn’t say anything. That night, I finished it and my prediction of the ending was completely wrong. I guess that’s the reason that I will never make a novel writer.
Our major cooks were Dick, Sandra, and Ben. We had several ‘community’ suppers where someone decided what to cook and others helped. I told everyone that I was not really familiar with cooking on propane, and I watched how they hooked up the propane canister to the stove and lighted it after turning it on. I don’t drink coffee – so, I didn’t have morning duty either. Anyway, I helped by washing dishes a couple of times, and cutting up vegetables a couple of times. Dick cooked potato soup one night and I helped cut the potatoes and onions. He had special spices that he used for more flavoring and he used some of the milk that was brought back when David went to town. I ate well, but I wasn’t just sitting around thinking of food, like I do when in Atlanta. I ate all of my chilled food in 5 days and I ate the tuna, fruit, and trail-mix the remainder of the time. Sandra was ‘bad’ when she asked David to bring back some Oreos and milk from town on one of his trips. I definitely was ‘there’ when the cookies were opened and disseminated.
It was really sad to leave on my last day. I felt like I had lived in wonderland for 10 days and didn’t want to leave. I knew that paying bills and cutting grass in the yard awaited. However, I had made some really great vandweller friends and had hope that we would reunite. Being retired means that you don’t take vacation anymore; you get to decide what you want to do with your time and then do it. A whole new world had opened to me on this trip – imagine it, a forest with none of the city conveniences and distractions that was only 100 miles away. In a few weeks, I may be ready to ‘do-ot-again’!
P.S. Besides the cellphone call to my son, my only touch with the outside world was when I listened to a Chattanooga radio station for about 30 minutes at night several times. The station played oldies-type music and only advertized a few businesses. I didn’t hear any news of what had happened in the world until I returned home. When I returned, I discovered that “the world still existed”.

2011-07-23_GAEtonNationalForest_Vandwellers_Les(FoldingStove)3

2011-07-23_GAEtonNationalForest_Vandwellers_Les(FoldingStove)3

2011-07-24_GAEtonNationalForest_Vandwellers_Ben,DukeThePitBull,Chris

2011-07-24_GAEtonNationalForest_Vandwellers_Ben,DukeThePitBull,Chris

2011-07-25_GAEtonNationaForest_Vandwellers_Dick,David

2011-07-25_GAEtonNationaForest_Vandwellers_Dick,David

2011-07-25_GAEtonNationalForest_Vandwellers_ButterfliesOutsideFirePit

2011-07-25_GAEtonNationalForest_Vandwellers_ButterfliesOutsideFirePit

2011-07-25_GAEtonNationalForest_Vandwellers_Camp2(DryingClothes)

2011-07-25_GAEtonNationalForest_Vandwellers_Camp2(DryingClothes)

2011-07-25_GAEtonNationalForest_Vandwellers_Creek(Left)

2011-07-25_GAEtonNationalForest_Vandwellers_Creek(Left)

2011-07-25_GAEtonNationalForest_Vandwellers_Creek(Right)

2011-07-25_GAEtonNationalForest_Vandwellers_Creek(Right)

2011-07-25_GAEtonNationalForest_Vandwellers_Mushroom

2011-07-25_GAEtonNationalForest_Vandwellers_Mushroom

2011-07-25_GAEtonNationalForest_Vandwellers_PitToilet

2011-07-25_GAEtonNationalForest_Vandwellers_PitToilet

2011-07-23_GAEtonNationalForest_Vandwellers_Kenny,Soren

2011-07-23_GAEtonNationalForest_Vandwellers_Kenny,Soren