Caterpillar Olympics

John-Hilton had previously worked with a solar company in the state of Maryland. He lived there for about a year, before taking his dreams to the road. His year spent in Maryland enabled him to save up to pursue his van life passion, and also gifted him with several great friends. I was fortunate enough to be able to meet a couple of these fellows during the course of our journey.

After leaving Assateague Island, we headed to the Eastern Shore of Maryland. One of John-Hilton’s solar buddies, Jimmy, was staying in the area at his girlfriend, Brittany’s, and invited us to come by. They were throwing a big Memorial Day party, complete with any crab snack you could think of, steamed crabs, crab pizzas, crab dips, crab tater tots, it was delicious! We took Bella out on a paddleboard, played corn hole, some good ole fashioned beer pong, and chatted with all the new people we were getting to meet. Everyone was so friendly, and Brittany’s family was incredibly welcoming and generous. Bella even found herself a friend who did not stop following her around from the second we got there to the second we left. It was pure puppy love. We stayed the evening there so that we could get an early start on our drive upwards through Delaware.

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It only took us a few hours to drive through the entire state of Delaware. We were getting up into the area of our country where you can drive through multiple states in the same amount of time it takes to get halfway across some of our western and southern states. We were catching a trailing piece of the tropical storm that had hit Florida a couple days earlier, so our drive through Delaware was pretty dreary. We did take some time to drive through Dover and saw the state house located there. That was pretty cool, I mean Delaware was our nation’s first state.

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We eventually made it into Philadelphia where we would be staying with our friend, Jessica. I’ve known Jessica and her family for a number of years now, but John-Hilton had grown up with her and her younger brother, Miller, down in Florida. Hilton and I went to college with Miller as well and their family has graciously opened their home to us on numerous occasions throughout the years. It was comforting to see a familiar face so far from home, and we enjoyed a night of dinner, Total Wine shopping, Moscow mules, and movies. In the morning, Jessica had to leave for work so John-Hilton and I packed up the van before heading to check out downtown. Since we had Bella, we were unable to enter into the museums, but we peaked in at the Liberty Bell through the window, walked around Independence Hall, Carpenter’s Hall, and the banks. The sun was beating down on the streets, driving us to seek shady shelters, so we took a stroll through Washington Square and Franklin Square, where we got to see the Chinese Lanterns they had set up as part of the Chinese Lantern Festival. We ended our downtown excursion with a stop at Sonny’s Famous Steaks for a Philly cheesesteak, provolone wit style. This girl doesn’t do cheese whiz. Time had escaped us a bit at this point, causing us to hit the road out of Philadelphia a little later than we had intended.

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I don’t have too many negative things to say about most of the places we visited during this trip, but I might venture to say that New Jersey was not my favorite. I know it wasn’t John-Hilton’s. It wasn’t that either of us can point to a particular moment or event that made us feel this way, I think it was just the vibes. Traffic was a nightmare, there were police everywhere (which is a little odd to see as it makes you wonder what is going on to need that much law enforcement around), and it was so difficult to find affordable, dog friendly camping. Not a single state forest campground was open to dogs, and we couldn’t get a hold of a dog friendly, family campground after 6 pm. Oh and I guess people in New Jersey don’t know that van life is a thing? I’ll get to that in a minute. So, somehow, John-Hilton found a campground called Mahlon Dickerson Reservation that only cost 15-20$ depending on whether you wanted to camp on the RV side which had electrical outlets at each site and bathrooms, or the primitive tent sites. We were arriving at dark, which is always a nerve racking experience, not to mention there were bear warnings everywhere. After making a loop through both grounds, we opted for the well lit, safer looking RV sites. We also decided it would be nice to have flushing toilets, and the electrical outlets so that we could easily make dinner and breakfast. Did I mention flushing toilets?

The bugs were awful, so thick through the forested trees that it sounded like it was raining. The only time we cracked the van doors was to brush our teeth before jumping into bed. John-Hilton got an X-Files episode going, and we settled in for the night. We awoke to the sun peeking through the green leaves of this very beautiful campsite we had so luckily found. There was a patch of soft, green grass between two trees of which Hilton hung his slack line around. I played fetch with Bella as he practiced his acrobatic skills. All was well. Eventually we got to cooking breakfast, laughing and enjoying the morning, when a large, black SUV started to creep by us. It slowly passed, and John-Hilton and I shrugged our shoulders, not giving the incident much mind until the SUV looped back around and stopped in front of our campsite. Two police officers emerged and walked up to where we were sitting, our grill plugged into the electrical outlet as we chugged along with our cooking. I got up and put Bella in the van, thinking they were going to scold me for not having her leashed, but they started questioning our motives and reasonings for being at the campground. We stated simply that we were on a roadtrip up the East Coast. This didn’t seem to register this as normal as they thought it was weird we were in a van. “Usually only RV’s stay over here,” the officers continued, “why would you stay here in a van?” We stated that we felt safer on this side of the road, that we weren’t very familiar with the town or area and liked the fact that there were other campers on this side of the road. I threw in the fact about electricity and flushing toilets, how in the world is this a weird thing?! The officers proceeded to ask for our information and ran our tags, the whole ordeal lasting about 25 minutes. They came back with our ID’s, made a joke about eating our breakfast, and drove off. It was so bizarre.

After that morning interruption, we were ready to get the heck out of there. The experience made us feel uneasy, not to mention about 20 minutes down the highway we saw a vehicle that had been pulled over by 6 police cars. Again, what is going on in New Jersey?! Just another moment of shrugging and brushing off our shoulders. We were heading to Buttermilk Falls in the Delaware Water Gap for a quick hike before heading to Rhode Island. The falls lie across the street from the parking lot, so we hiked up past them to connect with the Appalachian Trail. It still sounded like it was raining, even though the sun was very high in the cloudless sky. We started feeling things falling on us, and quickly learned that there were thousands of caterpillars falling from the trees. We were picking caterpillar after caterpillar off of us. They were in our hair, our clothing, our backpacks, our shoes, and on Bella! Some would be hanging in the middle of the trail by their threads, dangling precariously in front of our faces, testing out our best ninja moves. Even after we had turned back to the car and picked ourselves free of caterpillars, we found them crawling inside the van. John-Hilton and I decided the caterpillars were competing in a form of insect olympics, and that each caterpillar had to inch its way up to the tallest point of the tree it was on to get the gold. Only a few would make this treacherous climb to the top, as most would find themselves plunging to the leafy ground below or onto an unsuspecting passerby. We wished the caterpillars good luck, and took the first road we found out of New Jersey.

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Vanlifers of Chincoteague

I have always been an animal lover, through and through, since before I can even remember. My Nana used to love to tell me the stories from my Great Uncle and Great Aunt’s farm. These stories would span from when I was only about 1 to 3 years old. She would smile and reminisce on how I would help collect the chicken eggs, how I would lie with the dogs, and follow the cat around. The most remarkable story of which was how I had a special connection with the horses. There was one horse in particular and he was no ordinary animal. He was a beautiful, solid white gelding and his name was Prince. He was the horse that liked nobody; the biting, stomping, grumpy, throw you off his back horse. He loved my Great Aunt and only her. Apparently, he may have loved me too. Nana would laugh and exclaim how I could just walk right under his belly, around those strong legs that would remain so carefully still in my presence, and around his powerful jaws that would never dare to snap in my direction. My innocent, loving spirit would just waltz right up to this grazing horse, grab his halter, and smile from ear to ear as he lifted me up into the air. Prince would then gently lower me back to the ground, and this became our game.

I share this memory because I feel it gives an insight into the desire, developed at such an early age, that pulled me to our next destination: Assateague Island to see the Chincoteague ponies. There are a few novels from my childhood that have left an impact on my heart and branded themselves into my memory. Misty of Chincoteague and its sequel, Stormy, Misty’s Foal are two of them. These childhood favorites, written by Margueritte Henry, describe the account of two children acquiring Misty and her mother from the Chincoteague roundup, and the subsequent exciting drama behind grown Misty’s birth of her own foal. So these tales, combined with my natural affinity towards these beautiful creatures meant I had to see a Chincoteague pony.

We were leaving Laurel Falls, Tennessee early in the afternoon and knew we would not have time to make it over to the island that sits off the eastern shore of Virginia and Maryland. I had previously spoken with an old college buddy and neighbor, JP, who told me he would love for John-Hilton, Bella, and me to come visit. He has a Weimaraner named Ziggy whom Bella used to play with all the time when we lived in Gainesville. We were so fortunate to live in an awesome, close knit, dog friendly community which I honestly don’t know what I would have done without at the time. So, JP lives in Richmond with his girlfriend, Claire, in a beautiful, older, historic looking home. They were incredibly welcoming, letting us stay in their extra room, grilling out for us, and taking us on a walk down to the river the next day. It was a blisteringly hot day, which made the river all the more rewarding once we got there. We hung out in the calm pools created by slabs of large rock, which created a boundary and protected us from the river’s rushing rapids. I experienced one gut wrenching moment when Bella saw a tennis ball floating in a swirling circle of doom at the edge of the rapids. I could tell it was taking all of her inner self control to keep her from chasing it, and thankfully some brave soul swam down to grab it. After walking back home, showering, napping, and rearranging the van, we said our goodbyes and continued on down the road. Our stay in Richmond had been wonderful. JP had said something to me that really made me smile, something along the lines of, “Look at us now, who would have thought we’d be doing so well!” It truly is a blessing in life to have friends you haven’t seen in years and to feel like a day has not passed. The moments have gone by, we have all grown, but the laughter and happiness and comfort in friends still remains.

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Walking through the art corridor:

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The drive to Chincoteague Island was uneventful and peaceful. Driving on the bridges over the Chesapeake Bay was particularly beautiful, although the $15 toll fee came as a bit of a shock. Assateague Island was where we had preferred to camp, but camping was full there as we had unfortunately arrived on Memorial Day Weekend. For those who are unfamiliar, the Chincoteague ponies are wild ponies that live on both islands. They are typically easier to spot and will actually walk through your campsite on Assateague Island, not to mention the park side of Assateague Island is dog friendly while Chincoteague Island’s is not. So, we were able to snag a spot at Maddox Family Campground, which was pretty lucky as most of the campgrounds were fully booked on both islands. It was like arriving to a music festival, there were cars parked wherever they could fit and tapestries hanging to separate the tents from each other. A lighthouse spun its guiding lamp in a timely, repetitive circle as we cooked ourselves dinner and settled in for the night.

In the morning, a fog covered most of our immediate visual area. AKA zero visibility. Well, we thought, fingers crossed that by the time we get to Assateague the sun will heat up and drive the fog away. It did, but only by a little. Upon arriving at the National Seashore, we asked every park ranger we could find, “Have you seen the ponies today?!” We finally were told to check out the ocean side campsites, that they may be over there harassing campers for food. I sighed, I wanted to be the camper being harassed for food. A few more loops in the van around the beach side and we spotted two chestnut ponies grazing by some bathrooms. I felt like a little kid again! John-Hilton was being so painfully slow in my impatient, excited, childlike state. “Come on! Come on! Look, they’re right there, let’s go! Hurry up!” I pleaded, waving my hands at him, beckoning him in my direction. “Oh wait,” I reminded myself, “I’m an adult human being.” So I walked over there, excitement in check, and started snapping pictures of the ponies. We let Bella take a look at them, but having been scarred by her last interaction with horses which left her in a death defying chase, we kept her at a distance.

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We all climbed back into the van and John-Hilton said, “Well we can’t leave after only seeing two ponies!” Yay, he was sharing my excitement, I smiled in agreement. We looked for slow moving vehicles that would give away the location of more ponies. We found some! And the ponies really were harassing campers at their campsites! They were eating food off picnic tables, rolling in the campsite lawns, and intimidating people back into their campers. I laughed, it was awesome. Bella stole my passenger seat to hang her head out the window in order to sniff a pony who had walked right by the van window. I had stepped out take more pictures, keeping the van between myself and said pony. Thankfully so, after talking to the park ranger on site, she told us how that pony was the most aggressive on the island and had pinned a lady against her car for an apple recently. We saw one more pony walking along the side of the road on our drive out, and I was totally satisfied.

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A Lesson From a Waterfall

A little bit of excitement, a little bit of nervous energy, a little bit of stress. Those were the feelings going into our frantic day of packing and loading up the van in preparation for our journey up the East Coast. Did we forget anything? Do we really need this? Do we have too much, do we have enough? Thankfully John-Hilton and I had a bit of a deadline to get to Jacksonville or we might have been at it, sorting and rechecking things all night. Besides at some point you have to chalk it up to faith that you’ve got the essentials.

We chose the city of Jacksonville, Florida as the first stop in our journey for several reasons. A. It was relatively close to Tallahassee, where we were departing from; B. I used to live there and my brother, Andrew, still does, so we would get to hang out with him and have a place to stay; and C. a good friend of ours, Lukasz, had just accepted a job in New Orleans and we would get to see him before the big move. Plus, while I had been living in Jacksonville, Lukasz, our other buddy Mitch, and I had perfected a delicious recipe for surf and turf tacos, so I always jump at a chance to recreate these culinary masterpieces. Needless to say, Taco Tuesday and a game night of Mario Kart and pool was the perfect way to start our trip.

The next day was one of those you could describe as comically disastrous. Firstly, I hadn’t had to give Bella flea medicine since being in Colorado, and my parents don’t have fleas at their house, so it wasn’t on my list of priorities. Well, poor Bella picked up some fleas around my brothers house. And by some, I mean she was infested. In just 12 hours she had scratched and clawed open scrapes across her armpits and belly and was downright miserable. I immediately gave her the flea meds, which thankfully is very powerful stuff that would have the fleas gone in a couple hours. So there we were headed north up I-95 with a flea infested pup, dripping with sweat from the excruciatingly hot Florida heat, trying to decide where to stay that upcoming night, feeling just slightly overwhelmed. A couple hours into the drive, we had mellowed out. John-Hilton was jamming out, and I was diligently picking the dead fleas that were falling off of Bella as she lied between our seats. I kept at it for a bit but it was warm and sunny, the perfect environment for drifting off into a light slumber.

I awoke maybe 30 minutes later, looking over to see my happy and content traveling companions still where I had left them, not like they had anywhere to go. I leaned down to pick a dead flea off Bella and *BOOM!!* The van shook, we lurched forward, our belongings went flying forward off of our storage shelving. “What the?!? What was that?!” I exclaimed. “Someone just hit us! That guy there!” yelled Hilton. I was so confused, I could see the bumper hanging in the side mirror, but we were still driving, there were no cars spinning out or cars careening into the ditch. We pulled to the side of the interstate, and watched helplessly as the guy who hit us threw his hand out the window and kept driving. Hilton was shaking, I was infuriated, I could feel the heat of my anger rising through my body. We could have been killed, Bella would have been seriously injured if not killed had she been lying in the back where she had been at the start of the drive. Imagining that 7 gallon water jug flinging down on top of her made me cringe. Not to mention this was my second hit in run within the past 2 months, and third accident (none of which I was at fault for) within the past 4 months. My hit and run in Denver involved a bus driver so she was easy to identify and I was able to get the license plate. It was a lengthy settlement process to get my car fixed, but it worked out. This was a different story. Thankfully for us in this scenario we had each other and a police officer drove by right after it happened. I had to wait 2 hours in Denver for an officer, completely alone sitting on the side of the road.

The officers were so kind and helpful. There was not much they could do about the driver who left us there, broken on the side of the simmering, congested, and dangerous highway but they did what they could, helping John-Hilton pull the bumper siding off so we could keep driving. We were thankful we were safe and that’s all that really mattered. The whole ordeal had set us back in time so we decided to meet up with my parents who were in Columbia, South Carolina for the night. They were on their way to visit Johnson City, Tennessee where had lived for a little bit of time growing up. We met up with them at an Irish pub for whiskey shots and dinner, before heading off to sleep at a friend’s of Hilton’s who lived nearby.

In the morning, we decided to go explore my family’s property in Winnsboro before heading up into the Appalachian mountains. It was a steamy morning, so we didn’t stay too long, but it is always a good time getting to show our friends around and giving them the history behind our land. Afterwards we headed northwest to Johnson City, Tennessee (FYI the Cumberland Gap is west of the city, making it impossible to be “heading west from the Cumberland Gap to Johnson City,” as the song so wrongly details). Here, we went with my parents to a barbecue dinner with old family friends who gave us several great tips on things to do and see in Acadia National Park up in Maine.

We parked the van at my parents hotel and parking lot camped for the night. I unknowingly sat in an ant pile before climbing into bed. My back started to itch and then burn, and I began apprehensively begging John-Hilton to look at my back. We discovered all the ant bites and started laughing. Sheesh, who would have thought to worry about the wilderness in a parking lot. In the morning, we were able to sneak some hotel breakfast and headed to our first hiking destination of the trip.

I wanted to take John-Hilton to this incredible waterfall I used to hike with my family when I was younger. It is called Laurel Falls and it sits just off the Appalachian Trail. There are two trails you can take to get to the falls; we opted for the shorter 3 mile trail over the 6 mile trail since we needed to drive to Richmond, Virginia later that day. After descending the steep, stone steps down to the cool, fast flowing water we became so excited. This is what we had come on this trip to do, to immerse ourselves in the natural beauty of our country, to get lost in the woods and reconnect with our inner selves. Something John-Hilton and I both readily agree on is that we are not city folk, we love the places that take us away from the hustle and bustle. The ebb and flow of rippling waves and the rushing sounds created by this waterfall were so calming and relaxing, and that’s what we want to mold our lives around; a sense of peaceful movement and stability that cultivates growth in our hearts and souls, and brings life to our surroundings. I am a sucker for a beautifully written verse or poem, and a quote by Bruce Lee really resonated with me during this hike to the falls,

“You must be shapeless, formless like water. When you pour water in a cup, it becomes the cup. When you pour water in a bottle, it becomes the bottle. When you pour water in a teapot, it becomes the teapot. Water can drip and it can crash, become like water my friend.”

Our journey will be one of storms, of rainbows, of ocean waves, both trickling and crashing, of bends in the river, and curves in the bay; it will be one of endless flowing, cascading us over rocks and sandy shores, guiding us right to where we need to be, nourishing our bodies, minds, and souls every step of the way. Here’s to being like water my friends. Cheers!

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Van Life: The East Coast Edition

I am sitting in a blue, ’99 Chevy Astro van with my brown dog, Bella, on the side of a craggy shoreline in Rockport, Massachusetts. The sun has already set, and the van has decided to have a little engine trouble. John-Hilton, captain and van owner, is trying to mess with the battery to see if that will help the tired travel vessel. We are 1,300 miles from home, and have been on the road for about a week and a half. Go figure the van starts acting up right after an oil change. Oh well, such is life. Max (the van), did pick a hell of a spot to take a nap. I can hear the waves crashing on the jagged shore, and traffic is nearly nonexistent. A perfect opportunity to reflect on the trip thus far.

In an effort to see what this beautiful country has to offer, I packed up my room in Denver, rented it out for the time I’d be gone, and drove back to Florida. I’ve always wanted to do the van life thing, the idea of a minimalistic lifestyle has peeked my interest for some time. For the past few years I’ve downsized my belongings, clothing, kitchen stuff, house things, you name it. So here I am, with a suitcase, and some fun necessities, living out of a van, traveling up the East coast.

The essentials:

  • Van: ’99 Chevy Astro, fully equipped with a bed (so thankful for my dear friend, Rachel, who lent us her 3 inch memory foam topper), storage shelving, extra battery and inverter for running our electric stove and for charging our electronics.
  • Van Captain: John-Hilton, my fun loving, forward thinking, dream seeking, adventure partner. A kid at heart with a positive attitude so you can never have a bad day! Seriously, any expedition in life needs one! Did I mention he likes to cook?
  • Co-pilot: That’s me! I’m like the Google queen, I love to look things up and research them. Finding unique, fun, historically significant, or off the beaten path things to see or do is my forte. Plus I like to annoy the captain with amazing vocals to sing along classics, Sinead O’Connor anyone?
  • Dog: Pretty much a give in. I mean the blog is called Adventures of Kells ‘n Bells. I’m not sure how crazed the van captain is with my obsession of Bella, but he’s getting there. Besides why have a dog if you can’t show her the world too.
  • 7 Gallon Water Jug (BPA free): Seriously the most handy purchase I’ve ever made. We fill it up with some tasty fluoride free water, and we are good to go for a few days. Convenient, and much, much better for the environment.
  • Camera: I recently purchased a Sony A6000 so I can hone in on my picture taking skills. I love photography, and I can’t wait to see how this trip will help me define my style.
  • Miscellaneous:  Ice chest, to keep our beer cold of course. Kitchenware, hiking packs, dog toys, Eno hammocks (their lights are great too), and snacks. And lastly, a smile and an optimistic, flexible attitude!

We have been fortunate enough to stay with quite a few different people along the way, and I am so thankful for all of the great friends who have opened their homes to the three of us, and given us pointers on what to see in their beautiful cities. John-Hilton and I are very blessed to have made such close and loving friends throughout the years. However, I will say I am excited to ditch the cities and be surrounded by the wilderness, and the occasional quaint harbor town. Rockport is definitely one of those places; we got to enjoy the most incredible sunset at an old rock quarry earlier this evening. There is something so cleansing about sitting ocean side atop a large rock on a bouldered beach that has been smoothed by the constant repetition of salt watered waves.

I hope to be able to keep you all updated on the journey, and will reflect back on the places we have already been as well. In the short 10 days we have been on the road, one thing has remained constant: the air of wonderful uncertainty as to where we will be next! Tonight I will close my eyes at our Cape Ann camp site, tomorrow, who knows…. Perhaps New Hampshire?

 

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Please feel free to let us know about any stops you’d recommend! Especially in the Maine- Nova Scotia area!