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A Memorable Beginning in Georgia

August 4, 2014
Sometimes last minute decisions bring about the most amazing, unplanned experiences. This was definitely the case stumbling upon Dahlonega, Georgia. I don’t think we could have dreamed of a better first week to start things off.  Funny how things work out.  We changed our plans literally one day before leaving, because the weather looked to be cold and miserable in our original destination in the North Carolina mountains. We veered south for some much warmer, sunnier weather. (This is one of the advantages of having your home on wheels.)  We picked “R Ranch in the Mountains” for our campground as a fairly quick decision, and only because it was part of Passport America, which is an RV club we recently joined. Driving up we realized we fell onto something special. This resort style campground nestled in the foothills of the Appalachian Trail literally takes your breath away. This ranch has over 830 acres of mostly undeveloped land with miles and miles of horse trails to ride. Along with the charm of horses roaming the hills, it has all the luxuries one could ask for like an Olympic size pool, tennis courts, basketball courts, mini golf, playgrounds spread throughout and even an adorable, little white chapel on the hill.
Before arriving, we had e-mailed the city manager, Bruce, regarding coming to town and our “Not So” Random Acts of Kindness Project. We had long-wondered exactly how this project would unfold.  When planning our journey, we all knew we wanted to make this trip around the country something bigger than sightseeing America. It was time to lend our hands and reach out to the communities we encountered. It was time to challenge ourselves to give back. After some discussion, much like taking our trip, you jump in with both feet and hope things happen.  We didn’t hear back right away from our e-mail, but when we arrived to the campsite we were told by the staff that someone had stopped by and left a note. Turns out Bruce had made a special trip out to R Ranch in the Mountains to meet us and welcome us! Wow. The note he left, left us with smiles on our faces and much anticipation for the week. Unfortunately, we never had a chance to meet him due to his conflicting vacation, but he set us up with Joel and Becca, from the city of Dahlonega, who met us the very next day at the Farmer’s Market downtown.
They were excited about what we were doing and had the perfect project for us. We were given the job to spruce up Hancock Park for an upcoming outdoor music event. Dahlonega is a charming, quaint little town, but we could tell that they could use some fresh planted flowers and some attention in the park. What great timing!
We shopped downtown and had some ice cream cones at Connie’s to enjoy the perfect summer day.  We stocked up on our fresh-picked veggies from the Farmer’s Market, including a new one we had never seen before called “patty pan” squash. Delicious! Then Tom and I couldn’t resist sampling the local muscadine wine from Habersham Winery and Tasting Room.  We went with Belle Blush. The description states it is “perfect for sipping on the patio on a summer afternoon,” and that, is exactly what we did.
Next morning we stopped in at Home Depot before arriving in the park, and bought a couple of trays of fresh flowers to plant around the outdoor stage. We spent the day enjoying cleaning the park, planting flowers and mingling with the locals. None of us could get the smiles off of our faces.
This was so much fun for our family.  What started to happen was unbelievable. It was a chain reaction of events.  People from the community started to take notice.
They thanked us, shared their stories, invited us to their homes, bought us lunch, gave us fudge and made us wonder what we had started!  We met an incredible woman, Michelle, who told us the story of “Nugget.”
This dog had been taken care of by the locals in the city, but Nugget was completely unapproachable. After some unfortunate events, Michelle was given the opportunity to take Nugget in before the dog was impounded.  Michelle found us as she was on the way to take Nugget and her other two dogs, Luke and Cooper, to the vet. She was immediately moved by our story and the fact we were helping in her town.  This led her to bringing us lunch (and blizzards) from Dairy Queen later that day.  Soon she was introducing us to her friend Joe and we were all gathered around with great conversation in the park.
Our family was left humbled and in the presence of something so much bigger than our “kind act.” All this was overwhelming. We knew God was going to do something big with this project and this was only the beginning. When you give of yourself, your time and your money, somehow you are never with less.  It ripples to everyone around you and fills you with more in every possible way. We might have inspired some people that day but their kindness and reaction to our small contribution inspired us beyond words.  There is nothing quite like getting out in the world and doing something.  I don’t know where this project will go, or how things will unfold, but I do know that somehow the good we think we are doing for others will leave us the changed ones in the end.  
Outside of our community project, we had several firsts as a family.  Well, who goes to a horse ranch and doesn’t saddle up? 
This was the first time for both Tyler and Haley and the first time in years for Tom and myself.  To quote Haley, she “is a natural,” and now aspires to volunteer at a ranch in a few years. We were each fitted with horses specifically for us. Tyler rode the gentle giant Frodo, Tom rode Scout the “character” of them all, Haley rode Pretty Girl who was petite and sweet and I rode Juliet the only blue-eyed horse I have ever seen.
Tom’s horse, Scout, decided to start bucking midway up the hill, which resulted in first panic and then laughs from all of us following quickly thereafter. What a way to start the day!
There was also a river nearby and it was calling all of our names.  This would be another first for our family, taking a trip down a river with our newly acquired kayaks.
Thanks to the guys at Appalachian Outfitters, and their shuttle service, we were able to get our kayaks in the Chestatee River in no time.  What a relaxing experience mixed with a few class one rapids to make it fun. This left Tyler aching for more and looking up class six rapids when we got back…maybe we will stick with class two rapids next.
We had the perfect end to the perfect first week on the road.  R Ranch let us extend our stay one night, which allowed us to attend the First Friday Concert Night. 
We brought our dog, Bless, with us and felt like locals in our “new town.” 
We grabbed a bite at Chestatee Garden and Tavern and then off to see the Kurt Thomas band play in Hancock Park.
It was nice to see everyone having a great time. The feeling soon hit us that we were a part of this whole experience.
The next morning, we collected ourselves and our things and made one last tiny mark—we finished our laundry, but left money in the washer with our little card explaining our project. 
I hope this little act brings a smile to someone’s face and they pay it forward in some small fashion. This project isn’t about what little things we can do as a family, because that isn’t much, but if everyone does one act—that is truly amazing. As we drove off, we all felt sad knowing we would be leaving our little town, but our visit will always be remembered. Dahlonega couldn’t have been a better place to start a new chapter in our lives and make us realize that this new life on the road is going to be more unbelievable than we ever dreamed.

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