Coming in hot

By the time you read this, well, I hope to gawd we’ve gotten our vacation shit together. Currently, at the completion of day two, not so much. I’m not even sure how it happened, other than it definitely was not my fault. Which is really the most important fact, right? In the re-telling of our vacation stories past there is a common low drone about vacation being too much go here, go there, let’s do this, let’s do that. Guilty. What can I say? I like adventures. Or really, I’m not that great at sitting still. Truthfully, adventure was just a word I dropped in the mix on our first big RV trip years ago – destination, Canada. I was quite the nervous wreck as it was our first family vacation that didn’t involve being with other members of our extended families. It was my first time being Organizer in Chief, void of advice from parents or siblings. Did I mention we were in a brand new RV? Heading to Canada?

The trip had a few bumps right out of the gate, the most distressing of which was a non-functioning generator, desperately needed as we hadn’t yet become tow vehicle people. That meant our stops would necessitate said generator in order to use the AC and keep the fridge cold. We also had a two day campout planned next to my aunt’s pond – meaning two full days of relying on said generator to power our lights and water pump. Instead, we spent one of those days sitting in a service station waiting room, outside Hershey, Pennsylvania, trying to convince two pre-teens what it meant to bend with the ever changing wind. As I don’t typically bend with the ever changing wind, it was a jaw clenching challenge. We did eventually arrive in Ontario. The results of the delay may have caused my brain to go a bit nuts in scooping up and paying for all the entertainment options available at the campground office while checking us in. When I arrived back to our site, I had an armful of passes and badges and wristbands – oh, and the local bus schedule. Three pairs of eyes stared at me while I listed off all sorts of coming adventures. And so, the word adventure has landed in nearly every vacation from that moment on. Sometimes it is said with excitement, sometimes it is said with an eye roll. Most times it is said at the beginning of a great story.

For decades, we’ve always had a family vacation just after the week that school let out. This started well before I became a Barlow and continued as my immediate family began picking up applicants to join. It was the trip that Rich and the kids came on for their first introductions to my tribe and our need to sit lakeside and chatter. It was the trip on which my brother brought his girlfriend (now wife). It was trial by mosquito and tick bite in a casual exploration of how we would all fit together. This year, during the planning stages, we opted to shift our trip west in answer to my brother/sister-in-law’s move to Texas. We picked Tennessee as the halfway point and booked three sites in Nashville, though it was always a question as to whether our parents would join us. When Mom and Dad did declare the drive too long, they also urged us to carry on and go do young people things. Which is how we ended up, last week, with one cabin, two rigs, two kids, four adults, and five dogs backed up to a beautiful lake at Nashville Shores RV Resort.

When we told the kids we were going to Nashville, both almost immediately began to list the things they wanted to do. Which was only one thing. Which was to eat authentic Nashville Hot Chicken. I shouldn’t have been surprised at the odd request – when we did our Ontario trip their only ask was that we went to to Tim Horton’s. Odd, but, sure, we could drive hundreds of miles away to hit the Canadian version of Wawa. Hot chicken? Again, sure. I like spicy food, why not? I did some research and found that the place to go for the real thing was Hattie B’s. This seemed too easy – anyone I asked gave me the same answer. Because of my tendency to over schedule adventures, I stopped at two. The day after our arrival, the group would do a back stage tour at the Grand Old Opry followed by a trip to Hattie B’s.

I’d been informed that there would be a line at Hattie B’s – and there was – located in the blazing Tennessee sun. That was my first red flag… I just didn’t realize this was the restaurant’s way of warming you up – that their mode of operations was to burn you from the outside prior to burning you from the inside. As we roasted in line, we explored the menu via Yelp. Was that another missed read flag? Yelp?!?! The menu was dedicated to chicken offered at five different temperatures…Mild, Medium, Hot, Damn Hot, and Shut the Cluck Up. I love a challenge but still approached with the wisdom of a fifty year old who forgot her Tums at home. I’d heard that this hot chicken was no joke – and also assumed that that red flag was likely for amateur eaters. I went with three tenders at Damn Hot and one at Shut the Cluck Up.

What could go wrong?

That was Thursday. As of this Sunday writing, I am still sporting a ring of fire. So there’s that.

I started with the Damn Hot and almost immediately questioned all of my life choices. Quick background: when I order Thai food, I ask for Thai hot, minimum. I’m not afraid to tell the cook to pretend he’s an ex-boyfriend that caught me cheating. Whomever was wearing the chef’s hat at Hattie B’s very obviously had a long standing, very personal grudge with me. I settled into the maybe it’s not so bad stage with a promise to make it through just one tender, lest I ding my cool mom rating. In fairness to myself – these tenders were huge. Like three times the size of normal tenders. I did make it through – alternating bites of chicken with a spoonful of pimento mac & cheese, fries, and chasing it all by drinking blue cheese dressing directly from the container. Because I’m not a quitter, I followed that up with the idea to just try a bite of Shut the Cluck Up.

Clearly, I was already further down the rabbit hole than sensible, why not just put the final nail in my palate’s coffin?

Which is why I was so surprised to not feel an immediate charring of my tongue buds. What? Wait. Had Hattie B’s done me wrong? Had my tenders order been swapped? Shut the Cluck Up did not even compare to the lower, Damn Hot level. This top-of-the-tier tender was, well, delicious. Almost sweet. Rich sat next to me, camera at the ready, awaiting a terrible reaction. None. I told him my theory with pride – that my orders must have been swapped, that this tender was really the lower fire level. I told him this while I passed him a bite for confirmation. He agreed. I felt like a total hero. I’d managed to make it through an entire Shut the Cluck Up (albeit by accident) – what a star!

With no need for recorded intervention, Rich wandered off to refill his drink and I began cut another piece of Shut the Cluck Up. Just as it reached my lips, I heard ringing in my ears and felt my sweat holes widen. What? What was happening? What I have since learned is that my Palatine Tonsils were enraged and turning into tiny, flaming charcoal nuggets. What was happening? Why were the people around me blurring? What was happening? Rich appeared next to me – it may have been minutes, it may have been hours – eyes bugged out and announcing that he could hear the colors around him. We made eye contact with a silent plea of we’ve made a mistake. The cluck in Shut the Cluck Up meant a delay in taste-bud destruction. It had given us a sense of arrogance and then slapped us directly across the face with a hot iron. What was happening?

Over the course of the next two days, that tender made its way south by announcing a stop at every internal organ. I spent most of the first night trying to convince myself that I had a stomach bug. Surely, a piece of chicken wouldn’t do me this wrong. I knew I’d feel better if I could just evacuate, but I was also terrified of permanently damaging my exit door. My brother and I walked our dogs together the next morning – him with tales of a long night perched and trembling outside the busy bathhouse. He had ordered Damn Hot. What was going to happen to me when I could no longer avoid the exodus?

Little did I know that, within hours, that pesky chicken would seem like torture child’s play.

Within the RV Resort, there was an activity called Treetop Adventures. As we’d already finished off the two me-planned adventures, we found ourselves with an immediate open afternoon so five out of six of us headed over to buy tickets. We figured it would be a good way to kill an hour and get some exercise in and enjoy a laugh or two. After signing numerous unread waivers and being fitted for harnesses, we were sent to training with a group of about thirty people. Again, no worries, our group of five silently assumed that the training was for the less agile among us. We learned how to clip-in and clip-out in multiple ways with multiple warnings to never, ever to become completely unclipped from the course. We also learned how to pull ourselves across the zip lines if one happened to get stuck – as if. We were assured that should we fall, our harnesses would catch us and, if necessary, a course guide would come to our aide. We were told that if a guide did come to our aide, we would be asked to leave the course for either a rest or for good, depending on how desperate we seemed.

DID I REALLY NOT SEE THE RED FLAGS HERE?

No.

Perhaps the chatter of all but nine people in our training group group telling each other not to worry, that they were just here for the zip line only course should have kicked something off in my sensible brain part.

We finished our training, which still seemed straight forward, and went off to the first of four courses. The first task was to climb a ladder to a platform far up in a very tall tree. It was very tall. High. I maybe should have trusted my sensible brain part right then and climbed right back down. I did not. I have this thing where I want my fifteen year old to think I’m willing to do anything. What happened over the next hour reminded me sometimes, that means getting in way over your head. Taken from the actual Treetops Adventure website: 100 exciting and challenging obstacles including suspended bridges, giant zip lines, cargo nets, Tarzan swings, and many thrilling other elements. 100? I believe I only saw 10 exciting and challenging obstacles before a course guide had to come pull me off a zip line that I’d gotten stuck in the middle of after flying ass first into a protective mat, bouncing off of it and zipping right back out to the center point. Couple of things here – you are not supposed to come in for your landing ass first. You are also not supposed to bounce off of it and create a spinning-like-a-top event. In my head, I was going to reach up and pull myself back to the landing platform just like we’d learning in training. However, as this happened after I had already dragged, pulled, pushed, wobbled, squatted, hung, stretched, swung, hopped, cried, and peed myself a little in order to get here, that was not possible. I could no longer feel my arm calves, my hands were stuck in a claw-like position, and I was one thousand percent sure (and a little hopeful) that this was where I would die. Like the angel that he is, Rich yelled out for a guide to come in for the save. The guide, probably all of twelve years old, pulled me all the way back to home base and then suggested I maybe take a quick break.

Which I did.

In the form of walking as quickly and as far away as possible from the hellish nightmare of a course while yelling over my shoulder, go on without me, love!

As mentioned before, I am not a quitter. This did not feel like quitting. This felt like removing myself from an adventure that only octopi could complete and only if they teamed up with aliens, ghosts and big foot. No surprise then that my teenage son arrived at Course Four (and next to the Gatorade cooler I was now draped across) within another twenty minutes, having finished the first three courses in the amount of time it took me to suffer through nearly all of one, get rescued, burn my harness, and come up with a casual I’m just here to take pictures statement explanation to the staff at check in (while hoping they didn’t notice the lack of camera). This fourth course had two guides monitoring it at all times, was listed as The Black Course, and looked absolutely terrifying from my vantage point far below. My brother and his wife arrived at course four next – both covered in sweat and dirt, but still going, albeit with some saucy language from the latter. Next was my husband, who had told me at obstacle one that this was the kind of thing they did at VMI all the time. I tried to tell him that VMI was thirty years ago and offer him an out in starting The Black Course, but evidently there is a strong code in not giving up in activities that involve brother-in-laws.

Three out of five of us finished all 100 exciting and challenging obstacles. I don’t even remember when Zack came down the final ladder – but I’m sure he had barely a drop of sweat on his teenaged brow. My brother and sister-in-law appeared exhausted and with some interesting adjectives flying through the air high above me as they rounded the final turn. Rich made it all the way through exciting and challenging obstacle 97 when he discovered that two different fights with cargo nets earlier in his trek had left his arms toasted (also bruised and bloodied). I’ve no doubt he would had finished obstacles 99 and 100 if it weren’t for the ask of 98 – which was traversing six inch rings hanging six feet from the guide line while hanging on for dear life. It was halfway through those rings that his body voted him off the island and a rescue was requested. Again, a barely whiskered guide appeared like Spiderman, climbed up the nearest tree and brought him down some three hours after we had started.

So yeah. It was a good way to kill some time and get some exercise and maybe a few laughs.

We paid for those laughs for days in the form of pounding Alleve, doing stretches, and serving as a warning to anyone in the campground who we heard mention maybe we should try to tree course. Rich will like have a scar across one of his tattoos where a rope/cable/branch dug in so deeply. Our next, most intelligent, move was to the water park adjacent to our campground. We spent the bulk of the two days floating through a lazy river while drifting in and out of the nap zone. We didn’t dare climb any of the stairs to the waterslides nor risk being pummeled in the wave pool. We only collected a few inner tubes, connected them into floating beds and went in circles for hours while we soaked away our attempt at adult athleticism. There may have been an occasional everything okay? look from the lifeguards as we reached a level of relaxation that prevented an ability to see the rise and fall of breathing. This was the type of exciting and challenging obstacle we were looking for.

However…not to be too deflated. We have discovered a Treetops Adventure course in our very own hometown and are now making plans to defeat it. The course travels through the Richmond Zoo – half of it crossing over a lake and half of it crossing over the primates exhibit. As the memory of Nashville fades, we have started convincing ourselves that this could be our redemption tour.

What could go wrong?

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