The Final Weeks of Our Glamping Host Gig at Lake Powhatan

Between last summer/fall and this spring we have worked at Lake Powhatan as glamping hosts for five months, significantly longer than we ever anticipated work camping before COVID, but as we have mentioned multiple times, the cancellation of markets (and later our own unwillingness to participate until we were vaccinated) pushed us into finding alternative income to bolster our existing retirement. By the first week of May, however, we had received our second Pfizer shot, and were eager to return to our regularly scheduled program of travelling the country and selling at craft fairs and related venues.

One of our Blue Ridge Parkway drives.

So with just over two weeks remaining on our glamping gig, May gave us the opportunity to prepare for our travels while doing as many of the things in the area we could, especially seeing friends and family. For Mothers Day my mom and stepdad drove over from Wilmington and stayed for a couple of days, allowing us to have a few get togethers. Last fall they stayed in the glamping tents, and let’s just say having checked that box they opted for a traditional hotel for both of this year’s visits. Crazy right? I mean who wouldn’t want to pay $150 a night for a tent in the woods? (No seriously, it sounds expensive to me, but people love it. Aside from the lack of bath facilities in your tent, it’s pretty close to having a hotel room right in the woods.)

Hunting a geocache along the Blue Ridge.

When they came back in March, Rosemarie was laid up following her dental surgery, so it was great that they were able to make another trip to Western North Carolina. We were able to give them a more thorough tour of the campground this time, and enjoyed a Mothers Day brunch at our site complete with mimosas and local cured country ham biscuits. We met up again at brother Jason and Emmie’s home in nearby Black Mountain, allowing us to spend a little more time with Olivia Jane.

We managed to get together one more time with our RV friends Jen and Dees, who gave up their full time RV life for a home in Asheville last year, though they still plan on being on the road part time for the foreseeable future. They picked our spot for Cinco de Mayo: Zia Taqueria, which sports a large covered outdoor seating area, credible tacos, and a nice assortment of local craft beer.

In our last week in town we met up with Judith, one of Rosemarie’s friends from Miami Beach going way back. Judith recently moved to Greenville, South Carolina, and we all agreed to meet roughly half way between us. Judith picked The Purple Onion in the cute town of Saluda, which turned out to be an excellent choice all around. It was great listening to them catch up on each other as well as many mutual friends from their Miami Beach era.

Aside from friends and family, we aimed for more outdoor activity away from the city proper, and for much of that we allowed geocaching to define some some of our days. Thus we took the Blue Ridge Parkway both north and south of town in search of a few older or rarer caches. Other than some fantastic views, these outings gave us several short hikes to either interesting locations or amusing caches. 6

We’ve been busy with the caches these last two months. (The yellow circles are all of the ones we found.)

Likewise, we explored areas of the North Carolina Arboretum that we had skipped during our visits last year. Lake Powhatan Recreation Area has several trails that lead to the Arboretum property, and hikers and bicyclists are allowed in free of charge (cars typically pay $16 for the day.) It wasn’t just geocaching that we enjoyed along the way, Rosemarie added to her survivalist cred by finding wild onions as well. They are quite small but rather intense in flavor, and the stems taste quite like scallions. She has now found three edible species of mushrooms and these, though she really was hoping to find ramps, a particular type of wild onion with a very strong garlic.

Having covered all of our favorite Asheville food and drink spots last post, I want to mention one final place: Los Tienda Los Nenos, a bodega/bakery/take out taco joint/butcher shop in a West Asheville strip mall behind an Aldi’s. It felt like true and authentic piece of Central America dropped into Appalachia. We can highly recommend the fresh made chicharrons (pork rinds) and only wish we had not discovered them so late in our Asheville stay. Word is their tacos are fantastic, and the carnitas (pulled pork) even better.

We started this season at Lake Powhatan with dramas, so perhaps it is appropriate, or rather, inevitable, that we ended with a bit more. You may recall that back in March management instituted policies that resulted in multiple employees quitting or not showing up for the season. Things appeared on the road to a new normal as they hired replacements, and back tracked a bit on one policy by hiring a new on site manager couple. The day before we left they fired them, asked them to leave the property within days, and promoted the most recently hired (and arguably least “camp host” experienced) couple. They’ll be fine; they are young, computer literate, and work motivated.

So yeah, the place is still a bit in transition, and while we are curious in the gossipy sense to know how things progressed after our departure, we realize that we are not likely to work their again, so it’s really none of our concern. But if your are looking for a camp host position in the Western North Carolina region, we know a place with openings.

Next up: we begin our westward run as we develop plans for the summer along the way.

76 Months Full Time RVing: April 2021 Report

The Distance: 0 miles, of course, as we entered the middle stretch of our two month work camping gig in Asheville. Our total for the year remains 1,352 miles. Next month that mileage shoots up.

We were here the whole month, so no route map this time.

The Places:  The entire month of April we stayed at Lake Powhatan National Recreation Area. That’s 30 days at a public (federal) park with 50 amp full hook up services.

Our new niece, Olivia Jane Chalupa Batman. That’s right, a totally real, not at all half made up name.

The Money: 47% under budget, which is a big deal given how badly the year started (with both January and February way over budget.) Having worked at Lake Powhatan since mid March our paychecks kicked in, giving us a big boost, while our daily campsite fee of $15 was well below our $30 target. Though we did not implement a true austerity plan, we were reasonably frugal; I know the focus on restaurants and breweries from last post makes it seem like we live high on the hog, but we went to a brewery only once a week and dined out all of seven times this month, and some of those were just pizza or a split entrée. The real budget saver, however, was not having any major unplanned expenses: no major appliance broke, the car received only minor work, and neither of us needed medical or dental care.

PKM helping out with prepping a tent for guests.

The Drama & Improvements: Having broken my phone last month, it was Rosemarie’s turn to damage something technical and thus continue our unofficial electronic upgrade plan. Her relatively new iPad fell off the bed while charging, and broke off the charging connector inside the port. Luckily I had purchased the extended insurance from Best Buy, so it only cost us the $49 fee to get an entirely new one, though it took nearly a week for them to get it to us. Other than that, we started the basic maintenance stuff associated with a major road trip, in this case oil changes for both Loki and Serenity and other related things.

April in Asheville

Yes, there was a bit of drama surrounding this season’s opening at Lake Powhatan in the wake of recently hired senior management’s implementation of fresh and exciting new policies, which resulted in a nearly immediate employee exodus. As local management struggled to keep everything running with the remaining crew while urgently seeking camp host replacements, we calmly adapted; the limited impact of the changes on our specific responsibilities and compensation affording us a sanguine attitude. In short, the money was the same, and they mostly left us alone to run things as we saw fit up in the glamping area.

Three tents from the glamping loop.

And so we observed with casual interest the at times chaotic adjustment at the front gate and other camping loops, with a couple of new couples hired on as hosts or new on site managers, while we lived out a routine largely similar to our previous three month gig here. We did our work, stayed ahead of the glamping tent turnover, and settled into a pattern that saw us doing most of our prep work in the late morning, then taking off for a couple of hours for errands and enjoyment of the local area, before returning in time for our afternoon and evening check ins.

Inside one of the tents.

One of the reasons we were excited to get back to Asheville was to meet the newest member of the family, my brother Jason and Emmie’s newborn, Olivia Jane Chalupa Batman, which we were able to do just a few weeks after her birth. She is a beautiful study in contrasts: gave her mother hell during a 40 hour labor, but seems to be an incredibly well behaved infant, sleeping even more than our cat.

The Chalupa.

During our first couple of weeks in the area we of course visited our favorite pizza place in all the land, Pizza Mind, for the roasted beet and cauliflower pizza with balsamic. In April we were able to return to a few other Asheville faves while discovering a couple of new places. In the former category, we made several appearances at our go-to brewery, Archetype (conveniently located next door to Pizza Mind) especially once we learned of their Tuesday $4 pour specials. Also high on our list: Asheville Sushi & Hibachi, an unassuming storefront place half way to Hendersonville, that surprised us last season with their freshness, service, and cute presentation, all at a very competitive price.

Angrily, uncooperatively, posing with the headband Rosemarie made for her.

All three of these places figure high on our list of free wifi locations, which are critical to our digital happiness while working in the nearly off the grid Lake Powhatan. If we returned to a restaurant or brewery in Asheville, chances are it was not simply for the food and drink on offer, but for the fast guest internet access as well.

A nice bridge during one of our geocache outings.

As for new places, we enjoyed half a dozen or so this month. We can’t always splurge on Pizza Mind, so we were happy to stumble across Galactic Pizza so close to the campground. They offer surprisingly low priced New Yorkish style pizza. After having had one or two just so-so local BBQ experiences, we followed the recommendation of fellow camp hosts and drove out to Brevard for lunch at Hawg Wild. We enjoyed a very moist but not over done brisket sandwich. I would have liked to explore both the menu and the town a bit more.

One of the things I liked about this place was how it teased out yet another regional BBQ battle. In this case, North Carolina style BBQ has an Eastern variant, characterized by use of the entire hog and a minimalist, vinegar based sauce, and a Western version, using mainly pork shoulder and with a sweeter, tomato based sauce. Hawg Wild offers both types.

While I am mostly satisfied with the typical fast food burger joints, I do enjoy truly fresh made burgers at something slightly more upscale, i.e., a diner or fast casual mom & pop type place. We quite liked Juicy Lucy’s, which features their namesake burger, with the cheese embedded within layers of the patty before cooking, which I am learning only now as I research (google) things for this post is a well established style of burger that appears to have made a comeback in the last decade.

We also finally managed to get to Oyster House Brewing Company, yet another West Asheville restaurant that had been on our radar since last summer. It seemed like the timing was always wrong for us; they were closed when we were in the area, open when we weren’t hungry, outdoor seating was full during peak COVID, or something. After such near misses we were glad to hit them this April, enjoying an assortment of three different raw oyster variants, and something from their interesting in house beer menu.

Its 2021 and we aren’t on the Apalachicola Coast, so the days of 50 cent oysters are long gone for us, but it was nice to splurge a bit on an old favorite.

Our most significant experience of the month, however, must be our initial COVID vaccination. It was a welcome surprise to find North Carolina well ahead of Florida in making it so readily available. We made an appointment through Ingles Grocery as soon as our state designated age/employment category came open, and had the first of our Pfizer doses shortly there after. Quite a relief.

We also expanded our farmers market options beyond the weekly West Asheville Tailgate Market and the permanent barn-style Western North Carolina Farmers Market, venturing to the River Arts District Wednesday afternoon event a few times. While the vendors there are not drastically different than those at the West Asheville market, River Arts has the advantage of several on site dining and drinking establishments. Wedge Brewing has one of their two locations there. As we keep on the lookout for a future, possibly seasonal home, at least one thriving local farmers market is a priority.

Outdoors at Wedge.

Next up: another monthly report and then our final weeks in Asheville before beginning our westward run.

75 Months Full Time RVing: March 2021 Report

The Distance: 701 miles from Central Florida to Asheville., which brings us to 1,352 for the year. We will be stationary in April, but by late May we expect the mileage to ramp up dramatically. Foreshadowing!

The Places: We started the month with ten days at Wekiva Springs State Park, then headed north to Lake Powhatan in Asheville. We stopped at cousin Robb’s in Gainesville, cousin Marissa’s in Atlanta, and one night in South Carolina along the way. These were all places we have stayed before, unlike last month when we explored several new campgrounds.

PKM in her standard travel position on Rosemarie’s lap. She is clearly pretty stressed by the whole “leaving Florida” thing.

We were in public campgrounds for 26 days (10 state, 16 national,) in families’ driveways for 4, and at a private RV park for 1. We had full hook ups for 19 days, partial for 11, and dry camped 1 night.

Rey & Marissa’s newest creation, baby Elishia.

The Money: 26% under budget, which, given how bad January and February were for our finances, was a welcome relief. The down side is that without the final COVID stimulus checks we would have been significantly over budget. We had an extremely low average daily camping fee (because of the free camp hosting site at Lake Powhatan, free street parking with relatives, and a cheap Passport America night) but other expenses pushed the budget. Stocking up for travel and gas for the big rig were part of it, but most of our unexpected costs came from a couple of urgent “repairs” discussed below.

PKM loves Lake Powhatan. So many lizards and moles and other tasty things! She loves spending time outside, blending in with the natural surrounding.

The Drama & Improvements: Rosemarie had been nursing a tooth ache for some time, and once we were settled in Asheville it was time to deal with it. She had a bad abscess under a tooth she had root canaled in Mexico a few years back, and had to have the whole thing extracted. She experienced immediate relief, but because the removed tooth was a big molar, she really needs to have something other than a gap there. So as part of the process the dentist also did the prep work (bone grafting) for a future implant, which can’t be done until months later.

But also, its nice to have humans that prepare your sleeping accommodations properly.

Additionally, I managed to drop my phone out of the golf cart during a high speed turn and then run over it, which completely shattered the screen, rendering the entire device unusable. It is 2021, we can’t easily live without our phones, so an immediate replacement was needed. Fortunately I don’t need a top of the line, latest generation phone (such tech would be wasted on me) so I went with last year’s mid tier (A series) Samsung Galaxy, which is working quite well, thank you very much. While this was not an expense we needed or expected, I had been nursing the previous, six year old phone along for some time. The charging port was broken, the speed was heavily degraded, and the battery life was abysmal, but I had hoped to make it last through 2021. C’est la vie.

In Which We Encounter Drama Upon Our Return to Lake Powhatan Camp Hosting

Upon completion of our three month job as “glamping” camp hosts at Lake Powhatan National Recreation Area outside of Ashville last November, we departed on what we thought were excellent terms with both on site and regional management at Pisgah Adventure (the contractor concessionaire managing the property.) So much so that we believed we were not only shoe ins for a return engagement at Lake Powhatan in the spring, but also we were likely to be invited for part time camp host work at one of their sister properties in Ocala, Florida. We were… overly optimistic on both accounts.

One night stop at Lake Hartwell, a great Passport America park a few miles off of I-70.

Granted, we did not immediately contact Adventure Ocala to lock in positions. Honestly, we were waiting to see how the pandemic and eventual vaccine roll out went, with an eye towards returning to arts and crafts markets should we deem things safe. After all we have not been, traditionally, traditional work campers, having done but one short stint as lighthouse tour guides at Washington’s Cape Disappointment State Park back in 2015. This lack of work camp experience has not been because of a lack of financial need; oh no, we definitely live an RV lifestyle that benefits from an income boost to our military pension. It’s just that the markets have been a better proposition.

PKM barely tolerating her pig outfit.

Ever since participating in a few very small Key West yard sale type events back in 2016, and then a few months later in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula stumbling across a local event in Grand Marais, which in turn lead to the much larger Marquette market, we have expanded Rosemarie’s jewelry sales business such that, pre-pandemic, we were selling at venues all over the country as a regular part of our travels. Our success was such that we had even transitioned away from weekly markets into significantly more profitable special seasonal events. Because of all that we never felt the need for regular work camping, and doing both would be impractical because the obligations associated with such jobs, i.e., a multi-month commitment at one location with significant weekend hours, would likely interfere with our ability to participate in the more desirable market events.

An excellent gift from Dad and Marcia.

But the pandemic cancelled all of our planned events, which is what lead to us working at Lake Powhatan in the first place back in 2020, and while the vaccine roll out was fitfully underway, we were likely months away from a jab ourselves, and thus decided to wait until summer before returning to markets. Having made that decision we attempted to contact anyone with Adventure Ocala in the hope of working a few months, late winter into the spring, but never even received a return call or email. We got hold of the Adventure Pisgah people back in Asheville, who interceded such that we eventually received a perfunctory brush off from one of the Ocala properties.

Rosemarie’s split pea soup with ham hock, sautéed farmers market chestnut mushrooms, and fresh made bread. We eatin’ right!

At a dead end there, we pursued two additional lines of inquiry: other camp host jobs in Florida, or an early return to Lake Powhatan. A lot of phone calls and emails produced but a couple of marginally promising leads for Florida, though nothing really jumped out at us, unless you count the very secretive campground owner (he would not even tell me the name of his place when he returned my call) who was looking for a like minded couple to bunker down and maintain his park/compound during the coming government collapse. That one did indeed jump out at us, but more in the horror movie manner rather than the promising offer sense.

Our site when we first get in…

As for Lake Powhatan, the problem was that they did not even open back up for the season until late March, and we were unwilling to commit to working there beyond late May. Management was frank about this limitation: though they would love to have us back, they were holding out for camp hosts willing to commit for much longer. We kept up the inquiries in Florida, but had mostly resigned ourselves to not having an additional source of income prior to our 2021 travel cycle, and sought to embrace that “freedom” while recognizing we might need to scale back a few things as a result.

…vs when we settle in.

But then, with a final inquiry, everything changed at Lake Powhatan. Having received no solid long term “Glamping Host” applications, Adventure Pisgah agreed to have us return for a two month stint, and wanted us there as soon as possible, ideally weeks before the official opening of Lake Powhatan in order to get everything ready for guests. Though we had made commitments that precluded their preferred arrival date for us, we did accelerate things and made the run north as detailed in our last posts. After a one night stop in South Carolina, we arrived at Lake Powhatan on March 15, whereupon we were informed that new senior management would be making a slew of significant employment related changes beginning within the week.

Now, pause for a minute and consider the wisdom of instituting major changes on a compressed timeline such that employees only learn of them upon arrival or, in the case of a couple of other camp hosts, during transit. With that skeptical perspective firmly in mind:

  1. All work campers would be shifted from a barter system, i.e., part time work in exchange for a free site, to an hourly pay scale, which would be at North Carolina minimum wage of $7.25 an hour for most of them. (As glamping hosts already receiving a combination of a free site and a pay check, under the new system we would earn a noticeably higher hourly wage.)
  2. Work campers would then pay for their actual camp sites at a discounted rate of $15 a night.
  3. There would be no onsite management at all, rather, Pisgah Adventure’s regional manager would assume all local responsibility for both Lake Powhatan and another nearby property.
  4. The existing on site managers and assistant managers were effectively demoted to regular camp hosts.

Finally received our center front marker light. Installing it here, along with other repairs.

Chaos ensued. Within a week the aforementioned assistant managers (who also did a lot of maintenance for the property) quit and took positions at a nearby private resort. Another couple turned around during transit and never showed up. A third couple already present put in their two week notice. The existing on site managers, who, let me tell you, did a lot for that place, handed off the reigns to the local regional manager, who also quit within two weeks, taking a position at a nearby forestry non-profit.

Kind of a farewell party for some of the people leaving after the changes at Lake Powhatan.

We did the math and calculated that the monetary effect would be a wash for us, i.e., we would be compensated about the same as under the old system based on our anticipated work hours. Plus, our glamping host job was somewhat insulated from the daily affairs of the rest of the park. The replacement for the replacement manager let us run our loop as if it were a private fiefdom, largely because she had enough on her plate running the campground and day use areas with fill in employees while urgently trying to hire new camp hosts. At one point senior management apparently realized they had gone too far, too fast, and attempted to reverse the demotion of the onsite managers, who refused the offer.

Back in Asheville, one of our first stops: Pizza Mind for their fantastic roasted cauliflower and golden beet pizza with balsamic. Fantastic.

Like the post title says: drama! We made do, adopting a Heraclitan “the only constant in life is change” attitude, though that was only possible due to our relative independence and the previously mentioned financially neutral effect of all the changes on us, personally. There would, however, be more drama during our stay. More in later posts.

Us, looking fabulous, mostly unperturbed by the changes and associated drama.