After our stint in Shipshewana we make it to Charlotte, North Carolina in two and a half days; and fairly uneventful days at that.
Our first day finds us driving to Winchester, Kentucky (picked by me for it’s a twin of my home city in England) – chugging through flat countryside which eventually gives way to more greenery and hills. We pass through a number of small towns which interestingly and sadly show the clear rich/poor divide that can happen – driving through leafy neighbourhoods with large houses, gardens and porches; to then cross some unspoken dividing line and then be faced with run down mobile homes, closed up business fronts, fly tipping in the front gardens and streets. In the evening we basically trip over Ohio state line (a new state!) to pass by Cincinnati on the I-74, the skyline lit up like a Christmas tree as we fly by at night, before jumping the border again into Kentucky.
We arrive at our destination, an Elks Lodge, around 10pm only to find in order to get into the car park where we plan to stay we would have to cross a miniature bridge over a drainage ditch. Said bridge looks more ornamental than practical and certainly not up to the test of supporting the weight of Belle. As we feel we’ve had our fill of getting stuck for the year, we opt instead to simply park in an access road right next to the lodge, which houses the entrance to what looks like the county school bus depot. With tomorrow being a Sunday, we feel we shouldn’t be in anyone’s way (and if they make kids round here go to school on a weekend in the summer holidays, I figure we’d be doing them a favour blocking them in).
The following day is a monotonous motorway drive all the way to Waynesville, North Carolina, broken only briefly by a stop at the Kentucky Artisan Centre at Berea, just of the I-75. We stretched our legs and spent a pleasant half hour perusing crafts, paintings, food items, clothing and art at this unique rest area. While not much, I supported the local arts by buying a postcard for my sister with horses on it.
Once again we pull into our camping spot, yet another Elks Lodge car park, in the early evening; Loops is rather unsettled by the location and decides to call the local police station to enquire about the safety of the area for the night. Great, this fills me with joy and security, but we end up staying, so the report can’t have been all bad.
So much for the glamourous RV lifestyle – this is the reality; we spend a fair amount of our time camping in car parks!
Upon reaching Charlotte, we had already planned on a two week stay here in the south, and opted for a standard RV park with full hook up for electricity, water and sewage to make life as easy as possible while focusing our attention on Loops’ house. I’m glad we did, especially after we saw the condition the tenants had left the place in.
And here comes the moaning…
Why, oh why do people feel it is perfectly acceptable to be presented with a clean, tidy, pretty home for them to rent, only to then spend their rental time ensuring that when they leave it looks like a pack of wild animals have broken in and been living in it?
In this case all of the cream carpets had been stained in a variety of bright multi-coloured spots where very obviously a child had been allowed to drop things on or colour parts of the carpet, and no attempt had been made to clean up after them. In the living room was a vibrant blue drawing on the wall where said child had scribbled and then continued the graffiti over a white window blind – stained beyond repair.
The kitchen. Oh my god, the kitchen. It fell to me to spend several days cleaning a layer of grease about an inch thick off of every single surface in the kitchen. Had I wanted to, I could have signed my name in the scum. It pretty much looked like the tenants had made no attempt to clean anything in the kitchen in the four years they resided there. It made my skin crawl. And why, why, was there hair frozen in the bottom of the freezer?
And dust – dust everywhere.
So for two weeks solidly, Loops and I cleaned and repaired. I spent the whole time on my hands and knees scrubbing and breathing in fumes of 409, Scrubbing Bubbles, Bleach and Lysol; I’m pretty sure I now have a lung condition. We hand washed twenty window blinds outside in a kid’s pool filled with Oxyclean (I now have the world’s most stain free hands) in 106oF heat. My knees were so red raw they hurt to look at. Finally, after having all of the carpets replaced and every room repainted, the house was done.
But I did learn several things during these two weeks – first, I dislike tenants (but really, I knew that already); second, after eating another Indian curry at Godavari Restaurant in Charlotte, I learned thanks to our waiter that the reason why I keep eating really hot chicken korma over here is that there is in fact a regional difference in the heat and spice of Indian food. Restaurants serving southern Indian cuisine will be noticeably hotter than those serving northern food, and it appears I keep visiting curry houses with owners using recipes from the south! I’m guessing all of the northern people emigrated to England then, because I’ve not ever eaten a single hot korma before in my life.
Additionally, I learned rather a lot about the housing market here in the USA, the differences between buying and selling here vs. the UK – for instance I know now why you would pay a 6% commission fee here, when in England you would rightfully laugh in the face of an estate agent who asked for that. I also learned the difference between a realtor and an estate agent, what the term escrow means and that selling a house here in the US moves a hell of a lot quicker than in the UK.
I also had the opportunity to take some time to work on my soul a bit. These two weeks were a fairly tense time for Loops and I, and really brought home the trials and tribulations of living and working side by side with someone for 24 hours a day. While Loops and I are not strangers to spending vast amounts of time together, given our relationship beginning on the trail, I think I had forgotten actually how much space and independence we both still had when hiking. I could very easily choose my own hiking time and rhythm, if I wanted to leave camp early or late, with or without Loops, I could do that. If I wanted to stop somewhere different from him for lunch, I was free to make that choice. If I wanted to spend all day hiking alone, or with a different hiking buddy, I was able to make that happen.
For some reason, these two weeks really hit home that those freedoms from the trail aren’t an option in the lifestyle we currently have. We have a single vehicle to travel in, where one goes, the other must follow. I have a bicycle yes, but can only ride when the option presents itself, which can be limited on the roads here in the USA. We live together all the time, it’s not like I go off to work during the day or can simply go to my own home at the end of the day, nor spend time with my friends or family for a few days to take a break away from each other. And these are things I hadn’t thought about before traveling. I guess I’ve always taken my independence for granted a bit. So I took time out to really think about these things, and to help with this, managed to find a Quaker meeting to attend.
Now it might be fairly obvious to everyone who knows me that I am not a religious individual. In fact, religion and faith are a bit of a mystery to me. I am both confused and awed by people of faith. On one hand, I am a very practical, scientific individual – the sort who will say to see is to believe. On the other hand, I know many individuals of different faiths who have an amazing inner strength and courage when it comes to their beliefs that I envy; it endows them with some ‘thing’ I have never had, some ‘thing’ that appears to be missing from me. It also makes me both uncomfortable and yet amazed when people talk about their religious beliefs, as I just don’t have any.
Having said all of that, about a year ago I set out to try and explore some type of spiritualism, and randomly one Sunday I stumbled across a meeting for Quakers, otherwise known as the Religious Society of Friends.
Now, I’m not going to sit and give you a long lesson in Quakers, but basically it is a faith with groundings in Christianity, and with values of being peaceful, equal, truthful and living a simple life; all things I can get on board with. What I really like about Quakerism though is that people of this faith come together once a week and sit usually for an hour in silent worship. Basically it is a time to sit within a group of people, in silence and stillness, and to reflect and listen. What you’re hoping to get is a connection with people around you, yourself and, technically, God.
But really, all of this is open to your own interpretation. There aren’t actually any hard and fast rules if you are a Quaker, there are no sermons or ceremonies, if someone feels moved to stand and share something during meeting they can, otherwise the whole hour might pass silently.
I personally see it as a form of meditation I guess, but I really enjoy the sense of community you get by sharing the experience with other people in the room. There is a strength that I can take away from that. And actually that’s one of the things about meeting, you come to give your own good thoughts into the room but can also take some of that energy if you need it.
I had belonged to a group of Quakers in Winchester, a really lovely group of people (admittedly most were much older than myself), and I loved going to the meeting house, a large old Georgian building in the centre of town with a walled garden. The chairs were terribly uncomfortable but what was a comfort was coming and seeing faces I recognised, even though I didn’t really know the people at all. And you get a cup of tea and biscuit afterwards.
It wasn’t until I came to the US that I realised actually how much I missed the opportunity to go when I felt the need, apparently although Quakers are quite well established in the UK, finding any in the US is really quite a chore. Here in Charlotte it is the first time I have found a meeting group anywhere near where we have been travelling.
So in a fit of need and independence, I took the rental car we had been using and drove forty minutes, by myself (with a good old fashioned map) to the outskirts of the city to join the Charlotte Friends Meeting.
While a little nervous, I was actually not feeling too overwhelmed, Quakers by nature are welcoming and indeed so were these. I was greeted in the car park by a lady who immediately recognised I was new, and when I explained that I was coming to visit, she quite happily took me inside and gave me a name badge and showed me around the meeting house to ensure I knew where everything was. When I walked into the meeting room itself, I almost fell to the floor. Unlike the little room with two windows overlooking the gardens in Winchester, this room was almost fully open on three sides with floor to ceiling windows in oak frames looking out into the woodland which the building sits next to. It was just a visual feast of nature and incredibly relaxing.
I took a nicely comfortable seat (three cheers for padding!) and prepared for my hour of silence. What I didn’t expect, but thought was really delightful, was the fact that at this meeting children attend for the first ten minutes, before exiting and going to have their own activities and discussions in another room.
Now I don’t know if you have ever tried this, but I would thoroughly encourage everyone to give it a go – try taking ten minutes and sitting still and in silence. It doesn’t sound like much, but I bet you have a hard time achieving it. Now imagine a little 4 or 5 year old kid giving it a try. Yeah, not going to happen, right? Well, I tell you, not one of those kids that morning made a sound. Apart from a wiggle or two in their seats, they sat stock still, no jumping up or running about the room. No whispering how bored they were or asking when it was over. And then when it was time for them to leave, they did so in silence too. I was amazed.
After the meeting was over, drinks and biscuits were served and I had two or three people come over to talk to me and ask me where I was from and if I was just passing through town. It all felt really familiar and homely, and everyone was kind and welcoming.
And it was with that feeling that we ended our two week sojourn in North Carolina, jobs complete and souls cleansed a little. Now it’s just a small case of driving the 700 miles back to Michigan to re-start our travels.
U-turn again, anyone?