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Chilhowee Camping, Day 1

Early this afternoon, JD and I set out for the Chilhowee Recreation Area in the Cherokee National Forest.

Chilhowee is near the Ocoee River complex, about an hour east of Chattanooga, TN, and about two and a half hours from home for us. We've been looking forward to exploring this campground since spring. It is rarely crowded during the week, and the sites are only $12/night even though there are clean bathrooms with hot showers and flush toilets.

Something notable about this trip is that I had my gallbladder removed a week ago. However, the surgery was uneventful, and I have been healing well. Thanks to Betsy's help, we were able to set us up to camp in a way that doesn't require me to exceed my 15-pound lift limit. I pulled our trailer (with the livestock cage removed and after a good scrub) so I can easily access the heavy stuff (think cooler and water and our supply bin) without having to move it out of the car. I discovered that Primo makes a pump for their five-gallon water cooler jugs, and I can just leave the jugs on the trailer, which is backed into our site beside the picnic table.

I mentioned in my previous essay that I sometimes face accessibility challenges as an overweight person seeking to enjoy outdoor recreation. Camping is one of the activities that can be a challenge and require careful planning. It turns out that many of the things I do to make camping accessible for me also make it easier to be out camping a week out of surgery.

For this trip, JD and I are in our North Face 6-person tent (too old for a link!) and we are sleeping on a new Coleman GuestRest air bed that I picked up during Coleman's Memorial Day gear sale. It was only $30 with any purchase over $50, which is about a third of its retail value. It's 18" tall, and feels about equivalent in height to JD's bed, which is a mattress and box springs on the floor. This is the most comfortable air bed I've ever slept on, and I can get up easily, even with four healing incisions in my abdomen. I also brought my Big Kahuna Travel Chair inside tonight, and it can offer some extra leverage to grab onto while standing up. It's also a great and solid seat both inside the tent and out, and has a weight limit that is substantially more than my own weight. I recommend it for anyone who wants a stable camping chair, and I picked mine up on for a lot less than ordinary retail. Between the air bed and the chair, inside a tent with plenty of height, I feel comfortable both as a big guy and as someone recovering from surgery.

For dinner tonight, we had our first-night standard: Mountain House freeze dried meals. JD had the chicken noodle casserole, and I had yellow curry with chicken. I'm a big fan of Mountain House for a lot of reasons, chief among them that JD really loves them, and anything that can get him packing in calories after a long day of adventuring is a win for me.

If you wince at the phrase "freeze dried meals," be assured that this is not your standard museum astronaut ice cream or stale MRE. Mountain House is the brand I'm most familiar with because it's the first one I tried and I haven't ever had a bad entree. I have tried some others, but for the price, Mountain House is reliable and tasty. There are some pricier freeze dried entrees that feel more gourmet, but if I want gourmet, I'll cook it myself. I bring along a Coleman stove and plenty of cookware, so it isn't as if I don't have access to what I need to cook delicious meals. I just can't top Mountain House on a day full of travel and camp setup. All I have to do is boil water and stir it in, and wait about ten minutes for most meals, with a stir at five minutes. Then voila. A delicious hot meal that is relatively balanced and filling and hits the spot.

Tomorrow, we are planning to hike over to the lake and a nearby waterfall, and JD has asked to stay up late tomorrow to stargaze.


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