Considering we parked in a Walmart car park just off an interstate, I surprisingly slept quite well. I don’t think the same can be said about Willow however, she is the fussiest sleeper I have ever met.
That morning, I popped into the Subway located in Walmart to download the latest Apprentice and Great British Bake Off episodes. Although we are away from England, we gotta keep up-to-date with our shows!
Files downloaded, we had one more job to complete before leaving Charlotte. Whilst we were in Indian Head, we enquired at a post office about forwarding on post. We were told that we could redirect post to another post office using ‘general delivery’ if we didn’t have a permanent address.
To give you more of an understanding of mine and Willow’s relationship. 99.9% of the time, she is responsible for researching about things we need to do. This suits me, as I am a ‘see what happens’ kind of guy. For once, I decided to take responsibility for the forwarding of the replacement front bushing part and bits for the new kitten. How hard could it be right?
I had identified a post office on the outskirts of Charlotte, that we were supposed to have stopped off at the afternoon before, but missed due to buying my new bike. It was in the opposite direction to where we were heading, but we were clever and had drove closer to it the night before.
Following the sat nav, we arrived at a University campus, full of excitable teenagers still settling in to their independence. Google said that the post office was located in a fairly new looking building without parking, so we drove a minute down the road and pulled over in some professors parking spot.
As the postage was in my name, I followed Google maps back towards the modern campus building, past a group of kids asking me to vote for them in student elections. It was at this point that I was starting to mistrust Google.
Inside the building, it became very apparent that this was a student union building and not a public post office. I could feel the suspicious eyes staring at me as I fumbled with my phone trying to figure out where we’d gone wrong.
With the actual post office located, I walked back through the campus. As I walked down some stairs past the student cafeteria, I couldn’t help wonder how easy it was for me to walk around the campus unquestioned, especially after all of the school shootings that have happened over the years.
When it was my turn to be served, I explained that I had ordered some items to be collected to the lady at the counter. Sternly she informed me that it was a campus facility and that wasn’t possible.
Well obviously it was a student facility, but that was no good to me now!
I asked her if she could check whether it had arrived anyway and so she asked for my name.
Her response was.
“No shit, you’re the mysterious Lee Hodges! I was about to send your shit back!”
After showing her my I.D and the package references, she went to fetch my packages, whilst another member of staff lectured me about the safe guarding issues of me sending post to a university post office.
“Trust me mate,” I replied. “I don’t want to be here anymore than you want me here!”
The experience didn’t get any better. The replacment bushing we had ordered for the van still hadn’t arrived. The lady serving me informed me that she would return any further packages that arrived to the campus.
After a lot of pleading, she agreed to forward the package to a post office near Asheville, a future destination of ours. After moaning about my handwriting (which she was able to read perfectly) I left, leaving with the most sarcastic comment I could must through my anger. I understand safeguarding concerns at school, but there was nothing listed online to state that it was a student office, so I didn’t appreciate being spoken to like I was a criminal who purposefully send the items knowing what it was. I headed back to the van not completely reassured that the packages would ever make it to Charlotte.
I returned to Willow just as campus security arrived, not wanting to spend another second there, he hastily made a move.
Disappointed that the van part hadn’t arrived, we had at least received Aimee’s travel backpack and harness, so soon we could start training her to join us on walks.
Neither of us wanted to risk travelling with the broken linkage bushing, and as luck would have it, we wouldn’t have to for much longer as there was a classic VW garage in Charlotte.
We were greeted at the garage by multiple vans and beetles. After hardly seeing a single VW on the road so far, it was strangle to see them all parked in a yard.
Inside we met David, he was working in his friends garage for the day. The good news for us was that he had one part left in stock. The bad news was that the part seemed to be old, and had begun to harden. Not having much choice, as ours at this point had completely cracked, we tried boiling the bushing to soften it up.
Eventually we did get the part to fit, but not surprisingly it split as well. At least this one wasn’t as bad as ours, and David let us have the part for free, so we left in better condition that when we arrived. At some point, we would have to try and pick up the part again when we next see a VW garage.
Finally it was time to leave Charlotte and continue heading west towards the Great Smoky Mountains region as Willow was desperate to see the changing leaves and she had located some spots to check out which were supposed to have magnificent colours at this time of year. We had identified a cozy looking free campsite on a new website I had found, and so set off on a fairly big drive, craving a camp spot that wasn’t a Walmart car park!
After a couple of hours of boring interstate driving, we could start to seeing the hard rock of the mountains rise up out of the horizon.
From this point, the drive became a lot more serene, as we drove through the tranquil mountain roads up towards our destination. It had seemed like ages since we last stayed in a mountainous region, but in truth it had only been a couple of months since we had taken Ruby to the Pyrenees in southern France.
We were quickly starting to lose the light, as were drove down the last single track road that led to the Blue Valley campsite. It wasn’t entirely clear from the website where the pitches were and so arriving at night wasn’t ideal. We drove down a couple of minutes in hope of finding an isolated spot away from the main spots, but our drive turned out to be fruitless.
After a tricky reverse on a single track road, in the dark and up a mountain which led to a bit of bickering between me and Willow as we tried to turn around safely, we eventually found a spot a lovely spot, surrounded by only one other camper.
He had hoped to get a fire going and BBQ a pizza, but we were struggling to find any decent firewood that we could use to get a fire going quickly and were so ravenous that we cheated and cooked the pizza in the van. Sometime you just have to prioritise speed over fancy!
We were both shattered after another big drive where we arrived to the site late at night. With plenty of nights to have fires we ‘hit the sack’ ready to enjoy nature some more in the morning.
It was now Friday, and we’d had Aimee for 4 days now and you could really see that she was enjoying being apart of the adventure.
Now that we had her backpack, Willow was chomping at the bits to take her out on a walk with us. We had left the bag open in the bag of the van since yesterday, allowing Aimee to go in and out of it in her own time.
We didn’t want to traumatise her, so we decided to take her out for a short walk around the woods.
It was all a bit much for a little kitten who can barely keep still for more than a couple of minutes, so in the end we walked her to the end of the drive and then returned her to the safety of the van.
We set off on foot to see one of the many waterfalls surrounding our camp spot. The reviews about the autumnal colours were spot on. The woods was alive with vibrant colours, as greens mingled with oranges and red to resemble an artist’s pallette.
I imagine the waterfall we walked to would look quite spectacular if you saw it after heavy rainfall, sadly it had been fairly dry recently, so it only offered us a pathetic trickle. Nevertheless, we were both just happy to be back in the wild surrounded by the changing leaves.
Back at the van, with the sun still shining we decided to make use of our recently purchased Walmart camping kit. I’m not gonna lie, I really got into chopping at trees with my mini axe. Hacking at thin long dead trunks that would easily provide a night’s worth of fuel.
All I needed now was some local law enforcement to try and move me on and I felt all set to chase them through the woods with my machete!
As you can see from the neatly thickness arranged wood stacks, Willow took charge of wood ordering. A job she took very seriously.
We got the fire much easier than the previous night’s attempt. It is so much easier to get a hot fire when the wood has not been lying on the damp leaf-littered floor.
With some peaceful music playing, we chilled out around the fire, Me catching up with this blog and Willow finally using the sketch book I bought her last month to finish designing the second half of my tattoo. I’d only been waiting about 2 years and was half hoping I could actually have it finished before the end of our trip.
After trying to introduce Aimee to her backpack earlier, we decided to let her out of the van to have a quick explore, our spot wasn’t near any traffic, and apart from some bushes, there wasn’t really anywhere for her to wander off to. Although, this didn’t prevent either of us watching her like a hawk the entire time she was out of the van.
Soon enough, the sun set behind the mountain. Aimee was back in the van and we sat and watched the fire. The camp site was lit only by the flames of the fire. Flames twirled and danced along with the music, illuminating the woods around us. Everything was perfect at that point until one of us popped to the van and couldn’t find Aimee. We both searched the van, desperately double checking all of her favourite places to squeeze herself into, but she wasn’t in any of them.
At this point we were both trying to recall the last time we had seen her. A paralysing fear was quickly spreading through both of us. Had she snuck out the door when one of us had popped into the van. She was still incredibly small and we had yet to buy her a collar with a bell on, so hearing her was almost impossible. Neither of us could bare the thought of losing another kitten so soon after Molly.
Deciding we had exhausted all possible hiding places in the van, we extended our search outside of Ruby. Searching the nearby overgrowth whilst calling out and whistling in the desperate hope that she would suddenly come darting out from a out of a nearby bush.
Almost ten minutes had passed and there was still no sign of our little girl. Neither of us could quite understand what was going on. She showed no sign of wanting to run away from the van when she was out earlier. In fact the van was her safety net, she would hide underneath it until she had mustered up enough courage to explore a tree that was closely, before quickly retreating back once more to safety.
We both knew that we were being over precautious with her as a result of Molly, and if she had gotten out, the chances of her wandering off to far were very slim, but that did nothing to numb the irrational fear of losing her.
Still causing quite a commotion, the couple in the van camped next to us came over to see what the fuss was about, after Willow had explained, they both kindly joined us on our hunt for Aimee.
Not keeping track of time, it felt lime we had been searching for hours, when in reality it had probably only been about half an hour.
We started to explore further away from the van, just incase she had run off, scared by something and wasn’t sure how to find her way back.
At this point I was feeling physically sick. I couldn’t believe we had lost our second cat in under 2 weeks. I was mentally punishing myself, preparing to spend days in the woods searching for her if it came to it. Knowing that if we didn’t find her then it would be the end of our van kitty dream.
Almost an hour had to have passed when I heard Willow’s call. She had popped back to the van to see if there was somewhere we had missed… Apparently there was!
Whilst in the van, Willow apparently heard scrambling up behind our bed boards, somehow, she had managed to work her way up and behind the boards and was apparently quite comfortable and happy looking when Willow eventually found her.
I had never felt such relief to know that she had been found safely in the van, but I also felt incredibly stupid for spending the last our searching for a cat that wasn’t even lost. After informing the American couple who were helping us that she was fine, we shut our selves in the van, relieved that she was alright.
If anything, the experience probably strengthened our confidence in her not running a way. We had left the van door open the majority of the time we were searching for her, in the hope that she might return and put herself away. But not once did she feel the need to come outside and see why we were climbing through overgrowth outside screaming her name.
After the night’s excitement, we made a mental note to pick her up a collar the next chance we got