Life is a beach

It’s been a while. I could explain, but I won’t. At least I won’t/can’t today.

Oak Island collage - www.alliepottswrites.com

Oak Island, North Carolina

Taking a break from the heat (and maybe a few other things I am beginning to associate with June) I went to the beach with my family and my sisters’ families for some much-needed rest and relaxation (or as much rest and relaxation as you can expect when you are traveling with seven kids 10-years-old and under and three dogs).

We’d picked out the home shortly after the new year. That had been a whole stressful process in and of itself, requiring lengthy negotiations and more than a few compromises, but it checked the major boxes. It had beds for us all (or so the ad claimed) with a pool as well as an oceanfront view and beach access.

On paper it was perfect.

In reality, not quite. The beach access was not directly across the street as it had appeared in the photographs and at some point, the owners had replaced bunk beds with queen-size meaning several of the kids would have to enjoy even more cousin time, but it served its purpose.

We arrived in mass with cars loaded up like the opening credits of the old show Beverly Hillbillies. All that we were lacking was our family matriarch riding in a rocking chair up top (she’d wisely driven separately). We divided rooms and filled the cabinets with a week’s worth of groceries while the cousins darted around and attempted to keep watch of the various canines.

The first day went great, the second too (the nights on the other hand – not so much). However, storms rolled in mid-week and the combination of early-week sunburns, over-tired small people forced to share beds, a flare-up of a stubborn ear infection, and more than one instance of a pup bolting from the house very nearly become a decorative hood ornament on a passing car, caused my sisters to consider calling it a week early.

Sunset over the dunes - www.alliepottswrites.com

Sunset over the dunes

I chose to stay and volunteered to watch a couple of my nieces on the beach while their parents packed. Sunglasses on, book nearby, and beach chair out, I prepared the soak in the last rays of stress-free (or at least stress-lite) living. It didn’t last long.

A niece marched up to me crying. Her eyes stung. Hastily applied sunscreen had mixed with saltwater, rendering her blind, and in pain. She couldn’t see or swim. The sand was no fun. She wanted to go back to the house and she wanted to go now.

I looked over my shoulder. I could see the house over the dunes. We hadn’t been gone nearly long enough for my sister to pack their stuff away and clean. I did the only thing I could. I handed her a towel. She complained her eyes still hurt. I grabbed a bottle of freshwater and instructed her to tilt her head, while I splashed her face.

“Now dab,” I said.

“Dab?” she asked.

“Yeah dab,” I said again, gesturing at the towel in her hands.

“Okay…” she replied. But instead of drying her eyes, she lowered her face and swung both arms out, parallel to each other, in pure celebratory fashion.

In short, she dabbed.

I couldn’t help it. I cracked up. Leave it to the younger set to take a perfectly good simple instruction and interpret it in a way you’d never see coming.

It might have been the freshwater rinse. It might have been the trendy move, but in either event, the smile returned to my niece’s face. She turned and the others where they built sandcastles in the surf until noon.

It wasn’t a perfect trip, and it’s been far from the perfect summer, but moments like these prove that there are still plenty of reasons to laugh, even with things aren’t as expected.

chasing the tide - www.alliepottswrites.com

chasing the tide

It also illustrates one final universal truth, which is:

A day at the beach beats a day in the office almost every time.

 

The Outdoorsy App: A Non-Review Review

The best part about the kids being in a scouting program is the excuse it gives us to get out into the great outdoors. The worst part about scouting is then sleeping out there.

After a series of shivering through near-freezing nights and huddling under nothing but a thin piece of treated nylon during thunderstorms, I decided that as much as I enjoy hiking, it might be nice to actually stay under a real roof during our next trip to the mountains. Luckily for me, my other half mentioned he was thinking the same thing.

He told me about an app he’d found called Outdoorsy.

Think of it like Lyft/Uber meets Airbnb/HomeAway. Only, instead of it being a ride-sharing program or app to let you rent out an unused room, you can use it to turn that depreciating asset/eyesore you call a recreational vehicle parked out front into a potential profit center. It also gives a person like me, the chance to actually try to see if RVing is the way to travel.

1998 Coleman Mesa – our home away from home for the weekend

It may be the fact that I live in an urban area and am centrally located between the mountains and the sea, but there were more than a few options for us to choose from when planning our trip. In the end, we decided to go with a 1998 Coleman Mesa pop-up trailer, which, thanks to its low profile, would allow us to travel around the sharp turns of the Blue Ridge Parkway and under NC’s historic stone bridges with ease.

It would also mean we would have a regular sized vehicle during the long weekend for taking us from one trailhead to the next. We thought that extra vehicle would be our truck.

Unfortunately, the holiday weekend meant we weren’t the only ones to hit the road for the weekend. Unseasonable highs hadn’t helped either as people, like us, sought higher ground and cooler temperatures.

We’d been stuck in slow-moving traffic for more than a couple of hours when suddenly the check engine light appeared on the dash. The truck began to groan. If that wasn’t bad enough, we were at the base of the mountains by this point, meaning our cell reception had already begun to degrade.

My other half looked none-to-pleased. He’d just gotten the truck, which is still relatively brand new, checked out by a mechanic prior to our departure. We pushed on, but at a slower, more careful rate. What choice did we have?

Her Royal Highness Approves

We finally limped into the campgrounds where my mom and stepdad (who’d had the foresight to drive separately) sat waiting. The sun hung low in the sky–too low to worry about pesky details like how we were going get home. We sprang into action. One crank raised the roof. Another lowered stabilizing blocks. We sweated in the effort, but it made me glad our rental harkened from good old 1998 when vehicle systems were still more mechanical than computer driven.

The most challenging part about the setup was figuring out where the various poles needed to shape the more tent-like portion of the camper, especially as the sun had fully set by this point, but even that didn’t take too terribly long. Soon we were settling in for a much deserved night’s rest.

Did I sleep better than I might in my regular tent? You bet I did. Though the camper shook anytime someone tried to sneak outdoors to … er… commune with nature, I remained thankful for the mattress under my back and the solid walls that could protect us against any unexpected change in weather.

We spent the weekend hiking and enjoying food cooked over the open flames of a campfire. My kids spotted waterfalls and at least pretended to be interested when the park ranger regaled us with the story of how the river running beside us got its name. Spoiler – it was violent.

Then it was time to return home. Cranks were turned in the opposite direction and support bars were safely stowed. The truck even managed to get us back home. Then all we had to do was drop the keys and the camper back with its rightful owner.

Would I use the Outdoorsy app again? Absolutely. I only wish I could give our truck an equally high rating.


Here are some additional pictures from our trip, which I hope you will enjoy:

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The Early Flight – Don’t Blame Me, I’m Exhausted Poetry

The early flight and bad poetry - www.alliepottswrites.com
(Simon and Garfunkel’s Sound of Silence, for whatever reason, was stuck in my head this morning. That song is beautiful poetry. The following is not)
Hello airport lobby, my old friend
I’ve come to wait in you again
Because demands for security screening
Brought me here when I should be sleeping
And now I’m sitting, staring at the backs of empty chairs.
No one cares.
While I wait, for the early flight
I don’t know why I booked this flight
The sun hasn’t shone its light.
While I wish I could return to bed
I look for someplace I might rest my head
But then I cringe at the sound of the intercom
Calling Tom –
Please return, your flight’s departing
And then I glanced at the corridor
A dozen people, maybe more
People shuffling like walking dead
People moving like limbs are lead
People whose current style is a photo they’ll never share
No one dares
Make pre-flight contact
Sigh, I thought, it’s a look I too well know
As the crowd began to grow
I turned my gaze back to my gate
How I wished I’d left on a different date
But my wishes, like those for extra sleep
Were interrupted, by the speaker’s bleep
And the people yawned and swayed
As they continued on their way
And a sign flashed it was time for boarding
Then I saw a line quickly forming
And I knew, that the time for complaining was done…
…at least, this one
So began my day, with an early flight

Camping ahead of a subtropical depression – what’s the worst that could happen?

Camping ahead of a subtropical depression - what's the worst that could happen? - www.alliepottswrites.comThe crunch of gravel in between pelts of rainfall. That’s what woke me up. Dawn was still far away as evidenced by the lack of light that penetrated through the thin fabric of our tent.

Though the hour was late, my eyes were wide open and sleep would not be returning soon. Had the noise outside been only a dream? I strained my ears.

Crunch.

The sound of rocks being turned underfoot was unmistakable and could only mean one thing – our campsite had an uninvited visitor.

Careful to not make too much sound, I shifted while I recalled the grounds manager’s warning from earlier that day. “Make sure you put your foodstuffs in your car and lock them up at night,” she’d said. “A bear has been hanging out not too far away.”

Had we not secured it all?

The patter of rain on the tent’s rooftop increased, though a second tent frame, covered by a tarp, hung over the campsite’s picnic table. The storm wouldn’t be driving our uninvited guest away.

Or is it guests?

The view behind Moore Cove Falls, NC

The view from behind Moore Cove Falls, NC – If only I’d been listening to this

Her Royal Highness, who had rolled her body into a ball next to my knees snored. If something dangerous was out there, she’d know it, right?  I told myself, followed by Some guard dog she’s proven to be. Still, I was glad enough for her lack of consciousness at the moment having no desire to invite any more of the wildlife’s attention than we already had with an over defensive response.

The rain continued to fall. Thunder rolled in the distance. I held my breath – and listened.

Drip. Drip. Drop. The storm began to taper off without a recurrence of the gravel’s crunch. Had our guest moved on? I couldn’t tell.

Her Royal Highness woke and went to the edge of my sleeping mat where she began to cough and make a retching noise sure to wake the other sleepers. The mountain air must not be agreeing with her tummy.

I looked at the ceiling. Tap. Tap. Would this rain ever end? I looked at the window. I hadn’t dared unzip the flap before. My husband shifted – fast asleep – oblivious to it all.

Her Royal Highness’s retching continued.

Was I willing to risk taking her outside or was I willing to sleep in a tent one more night christened with her sick-up?

Her Royal Highness moved to the tent door, facing away from the picnic area, and touched the corner with her nose. She’d cleverly managed to figure out how its zippers worked earlier in the day to the delight of our children and appeared to be willing to do so again. Perhaps the choice wasn’t entirely mine to make after all.

Her Royal Highness Goes Camping - www.alliepottwrites.com

Her Royal Highness enjoys camping in style

Hoping to hope not to bump into our uninvited guest (who’d only grown larger in my imagination by the second), I ran out with her into the night’s storm, staying close enough to grab her shoulder and force her back inside if I so much as heard a twig snap from the area on the other side of the tent. Rain soaked my shirt as Her Royal Highness stopped coughing and began to sniff around.

I waited.

She took a few steps forward, squatted, turned around and ran back inside.

All that fuss for that?

I followed her in a flash and zipped the door and its flimsy protection closed once more. I huddled under my blanket as Her Royal Highness sprawled out across my legs.

Drip…Drip… The drops of water fell softer – lighter – and somehow sleep managed to find me once more.

Even so, I was the first to wake the following morning. I opened the flap and stepped toward the picnic table – sure and yet uncertain of what exactly I might find.

A box of pre-packaged brownies lay on its side with the corner of the box ripped open and much of its contents removed. While we had taken our cooler to the truck the night before when the rain began, we must have missed it under the table.

I heard my stepdad, who had camped with us, tell my boys the damage was from a raccoon. That was smart thinking on his part, I thought. The boys wouldn’t make us leave our vacation early for a raccoon. I whispered to my husband. “I heard it last night. Sounded big. Like a bear.”

I started picking up. A pile of paper plates, still in their plastic wrapper, had been turned upside down. Something had tried to open the package. I took the plates to my husband to show evidence of the visitor’s claw.

Except that’s when I noticed it was not one claw mark, but two.

Two tiny holes from claws attached to finger-shaped paws.

Paws belonging to creatures who like to wash their food.

Creatures who must like to eat their snacks on plates too and animals who had most likely experienced the fright of their night when Her Royal Highness and I suddenly appeared out of nowhere in the middle of a downpour. I guess my stepdad hadn’t told my kids a story after all.

We joked about the party those raccoons must have had that night while we spent the daylight hiking. When evening came, we made sure to do a better job of securing our belongings. We’d learned our lesson. If the raccoons did come back they would find their party hosts much less accommodating than their native surroundings.

We had a great time and thanks to all that rain the waterfalls were spectacular. Had the lack of sleep, the late night visitors, or storm put me off camping again like this in the future? Absolutely not – we’re not exactly backpacking. After all, what’s the worst that could happen?

Looking Glass Falls, NC - www.alliepottswrites.com

Can you imagine having this in your backyard? (Looking Glass Falls)

The AllTrails App: How one simple tool helped me discover hidden paths and secret trails in my backyard

How one simple tool helped me discover hidden paths and secret trails in my backyardThe temperature was a comfortable, albeit cool, 61 degrees F as we reached our destination – a log cabin located in North Carolina’s high country, which my dad and stepmom had rented for the week. The cabin’s interior was a gorgeous open floor plan featuring exposed wood from floor to ceiling. The exterior … well, the home’s exterior was fine, but the view? Not so much.

After driving on a dirt and gravel road around the mountainous hillside, we couldn’t for the life of us figure out why the cabin was built where it was. It wasn’t for the isolation. There were at least two other homes that shared the same drive with porches visible from any of the cabin’s windows. It wasn’t for the vistas. This was Christmas Tree country and rows upon unnaturally orderly rows of Fraser Firs filled much of the landscape, although even that view was blocked by the cabin’s position on the slope. It wasn’t for the late night dining either as we learned that most of the nearby restaurants closed between eight and eight thirty.

Still, it existed for some reason, so we figured we might as well utilize it the best we knew how – as a launching spot for the always memorable family waterfall hunt. The only problem was we also weren’t near some of the more well-known trails scattered throughout the Blue Ridge Mountains, but we were still in an area with a cell phone signal.

I discovered the AllTrails App.

AllTrails Review - www.alliepottswrites.com #hiking #appWhat I liked about this app (aside from the price) was the ability to filter out the trails to those that:

  1. contained a waterfall – as it wouldn’t be much of a waterfall hunt without that element
  2. allowed for dogs on the trail – as Her Royal Highness really hates to be left behind during royal tours of her kingdom
  3. are kid-friendly – okay let’s be honest – I needed the trail to be Allie-friendly

A few taps of the filter pane later several trails were suggested within a short drive away and there was even a map to the trail entry point as well as an elevation map of the trail itself and reviews by other hikers so I had a general idea how the hike might go before we found ourselves in the middle of the woods.

What I didn’t like? When I selected my filters, the list of resulting trails didn’t automatically refresh as one might think it should, but I realized the error as soon as I saw a trail marked as HARD still on the list, so it wasn’t too difficult to fix with a manual refresh.

I narrowed the list of options down to two potential trails – one moderate and one described as more of a wooded walking path than hike. We packed lunches, piled into the car, and soon were on our way.

Our first destination was the Crab Orchard Falls trail which begins behind a church and historic mission school near-ish to the North Carolina and Tennessee border. Thank goodness for the GPS with the app or we might never have found the trail’s entrance.

I’m glad we decided to do this one first as the entire first half of the trail was at a steep incline, which wrapped itself around the mountainside. But then, just as my calves were beginning to complain, we heard it. The unmistakable roar of water crashing.

Crab Orchard Falls NC - www.alliepottswrites.com #hiking #travelCrab Orchard Falls NC - www.alliepottswrites.com #hiking #travel

It is amazing how much easier it is to complete a difficult task once the goal is in sight.

We spent time among the moss-covered rocks at the base of the falls, snapping photos while ensuring that none of the younger set (including Her Royal Highness) decided to go for an impromptu swim while tossing leaves, rocks, and branches in the current if only to see how fast they can travel.

After returning to our car and eating our packed lunch we made our way to our second destination – the Cascades Trail located off the Blue Ridge Parkway. This time the path was easier to find as well as easier to walk, sloping gently away from one of the parkway’s scenic overlooks. A narrow creek babbled to our side. The creek widened. Water cascaded over the rocks creating tiny rapids. We stopped to take more pictures figuring this had to be the area that gave the trail its name.

It was beautiful to be sure, but hardly impressive after seeing Crab Orchard Falls. Still, we kept going knowing that the trail would loop around and eventually put us back out at the parking lot. We crossed a wooden bridge and saw stairs made out of stone. And that’s when we heard it again. The unmistakable roar of crashing water.

Cascades Falls NC - www.alliepottswrites.com #hiking #travelCascades Falls NC - www.alliepottswrites.com #hiking #travel

A thin but massive fall with a near vertical drop to the valley below. Gorgeous, wild, and a complete surprise to us all.

It may be easier to achieve a goal when you have it in sight, but it is even more rewarding when you still manage to reach it based on good-faith and follow-through alone.