FALL CREEK FALLS, TENNESSEE – Two nights ago, we camped on a woman’s property in North Carolina. We found it through an app called Hipcamp.
Hipcamp is like Airbnb but for connecting campers and landowners.
This woman – Sherry – lost her waitressing job in the lockdowns. She was trying to make a little side money by hosting campers on her property for $14 a night. We were her first customers.
“I applied for unemployment benefits,” Sherry said. “It took me three weeks just to get onto the site. It was a dead link for all that time. Then one day, I finally got in and it rejected me. I didn’t qualify because I hadn’t worked enough last year. You needed to have worked for at least six months last year to qualify… or something like that. And I hadn’t.
“But I’ve got job applications all over the place now. The problem is that all these restaurants are run by 20- or 30-year-olds. They don’t want to hire anyone who is older. And I don’t have a lot of experience. I mean, I’ve been cooking for 40 years, but not in restaurants.
“This area is tough. For my last job – the one I got fired from – I had to drive for 40 minutes just to make $13 an hour. I was very grateful to have that job.
“I haven’t got any call backs yet, but I can do anything – prep work… I can work the ‘to-go’ section. Right now, I’m working one day a week at a dirt racetrack, in the concession stand, flipping burgers, frying potatoes and cheese sticks… It’s ridiculous. A 5-year-old could do it, but I’ll take anything at this point…”
Here’s Sherry’s 150-year-old house…
(I don’t have a portrait picture of Sherry yet. I’ve asked her to send me a selfie, which I can hopefully share with you in one of my next Postcards.)
Exploring Rural America
Greetings from somewhere in Central Tennessee…
Four weeks ago, my family and I packed a suitcase, hitched an old pop-up camper to our car, and hit the road to explore rural America for a few months.
We’re sleeping in campgrounds and Walmart parking lots for the most part. Sometimes, when we’re lucky, we camp on the properties of the people we meet along the way, like Dale (who put us up in a barn a couple of weeks ago) and Sherry…
We had a very scenic drive today. We left Black Stone Mountain in the morning.
First, we crossed some forested mountains. The road twisted and turned as we went over the mountain range.
We spent the rest of the day in farmland. Rusty mailboxes lined the road. We saw junk cars in people’s yards, next to beautiful rolling fields.
There were big hay rolls in the fields, and we got stuck behind several tractors.
The little towns we passed all seemed lifeless and left for dead. “Who lives in these towns?” we wondered.
Our camp for tonight is a campground called Sunrise Christian Camp. We’re next to a cow pasture. We smell the manure, and I hear the cows mooing. Our site costs $26 a night.
Here’s a seven-second video of the cow pasture. That’s Miles (10) playing with our camper’s spare tire in the foreground…
Kate cooked corn, rice, and beans on the camping stove. We’re eating avocado, tomato, and strawberries on the side, which we bought at a farmer’s stand on the side of the road earlier.
No beer or wine tonight. This campground has a strict no-alcohol policy.
Tomorrow, we’ll hit the road again, heading west…
– Tom Dyson
P.S. Here’s our camp in Sherry’s backyard. That’s Miles eating his breakfast…
Breakfast in Sherry’s backyard
P.P.S. I’m going to do more of these “human profiles” or “portraits” of the people we meet along the way, like Sherry. We’re meeting so many interesting people as we meander through rural America. And these are interesting times.
Readers are encouraged by the Postcards, and the Dysons’ travel experiences…
Reader comment: Great to receive a detailed update from the Traveling Dysons! We can’t believe how tall the kids are getting.
Reader comment: As someone wrote to you yesterday, you’ve had a big impact on me as well. Your story about “being frogmarched to the psychiatrist” really hit home. I wasn’t in the exact position as you, but my mental state had deteriorated due to stress – some of which was real and some of it was self-induced.
It must be really hard to share some of the stuff you’ve put out there. You touch on it from time to time, voicing your fears of being wrong about gold, getting dumped by Kate, ruining the kids’ chances of going to college, etc. But voicing these fears and sharing your experience gave me the strength to get help… ultimately realizing there are more important things than success/money, etc., and to really examine how I ended up in that mental state for so long.
Your stories are great proof that all of us have doubts and times of real struggle – they’re part of life. And if we’re lucky, they’re also what helps us grow into better people and value what is truly important.
Reader comment: Love seeing your photos and seeing that you have not got travel fatigue yet! We have been in a curfew here in LA. They are still imposing nightly curfew so your adventures make me long desperately for the open road!
Reader comment: You, Tom, had the good fortune to be born into a family with great abilities, which you inherited, and are now using to help others. Until your most recent letter, I found it difficult to understand why you would travel with an “ex-wife.” This is now clear and fills my heart. May you continue to grow the love you still have for each other, and must be such a blessing for your children. May I send my love to all of you. You must have a sweet wife to have put up with you. If you ever come out this way, just drop us a line on the e-mail.
Tom’s note: Please keep sending us your comments, questions, and notes of encouragement at [email protected]. We love receiving your letters. I read them to Kate and the kids out loud and they keep us going during the hard stretches… As always, I’ll keep you anonymous and delete any potentially identifying details from your messages if I publish them.