It All Started With A Dog – Our First RV Adventure – Great Smoky Mountains

Hello everyone!

We are Kyle And Julia Ganze: Husband and wife, father and mother, and partners on this crazy journey called life.  We have a one year old daughter (Ellie), two large dogs (Radar and Lily), and one crazy cat (Henry), and we LOVE to camp/travel.

How it all began…

Back in 2012, Julia was working at the local animal rescue in our hometown of Belvidere, IL.  We had two adopted dogs, Radar and Lily, and a cat, Henry.

It was Christmas morning 2012, and Julia had to go in early to help clean the dog cages out and give them all food and water.  I went in that morning with her to walk each dog outside as his or her cage got cleaned.

A few dogs in, Julia brought out this little red dog who appeared to be afraid of everything, including his own shadow.  She told me “He doesn’t normally get walked, but it’s Christmas, so here you go”.  His name was Jack. He was 5 months old, he couldn’t see very well, and his back legs didn’t work quite right. He would cower in fear with almost every move I made.

It turns out that the person who was in charge of the animal rescue had already made the decision that Jack would be put down due to his obvious medical issues.  That is why he wasn’t supposed to be taken out of his cage and walked.

It was also at that moment that I knew we would be adopting another dog.

A few days later, we filled out the adoption paperwork, and Jack was part of our family.  Within a few weeks, our dogs had brought him out of his shell, and he was running (wobbling) around with them, playing like a puppy should.

In the coming months, Jack developed other severe medical issues.  The local vet determined that his hind leg issues were a neurological issue along with his poor vision.  We were referred to the University of Wisconsin-Madison where he was diagnosed with Megaesophagus (which is a generalized enlargement of the esophagus, resulting is us having to hand feed him every meal and holding him upright for 30-40 minutes after eating every meal so he wouldn’t vomit), and GM1 Gangliosidoses (an inherited disorder that progressively destroys nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord).  9-12 months was the normal life expectancy, but he MIGHT live to be a year old, we were told.

Well, on Jack’s 2nd birthday, we decided that we wanted to go on vacation.  My parents live 5 minutes away, and are always more than happy to watch our animals.  We just didn’t feel right leaving our other two dogs, our cat, and Jack with them for a whole week.

So we made a decision that would change our lives forever.

We bought our first RV!  We figured, if we were going to take a special needs dog with us on vacation, we might as well bring home with us.

After we made up our minds that we were going to buy an RV and go on vacation, the first thing we did was hop on Craigslist.  We searched for about 20 minutes, then I made a phone call regarding a 1984 Ford E-350 Rockwood Class C motorhome. Neither of us had ever been inside and RV, let alone owned one, so we were so excited to go look at it.

We then proceeded to make the rookie mistake of buying the first RV we looked at.

We spent the next 4 months repairing large roof leaks, replacing rotten walls and floors, replacing tires, and whole other list of things that we had no idea to look for in a used rig. Lesson learned.

Nonetheless, by mid October of 2014, we were ready to hit the road!  We dropped off the other animals at my parents house, and Julia, Jack, and I headed south.

The Great Smoky Mountains were our destination, but we did not plan a route.  We put Gatlinburg, TN in our GPS and just started driving.  That first night we had our first boondocking experience.  It was around 1 A.M., and I had been driving for about 6 hours.  Our “new” RV had just started leaking oil profusely, so the decision to stop for the night wasn’t exactly mine to make.

I saw a TA truck stop near by and we pulled in.  We did not know if RVs were even allowed to park overnight.  However, we were both so tired that we didn’t really care.  We grabbed the dog and the three of us climbed into the bed and fell asleep for the night.

The next morning, I located a Ford Dealership in the town that we were staying at (Lebanon, IN).  They had the oil filter adapter gasket that had blown out causing the serious oil leak.  I am a mechanic by trade, so obviously I had an extensive tool kit with me.  Changing the gasket took about 20 minutes in the parking lot, and we were back on our way.

Next stop: Frankfurt, KY.

Having owned an RV for over 4 months, we had never stayed in a campground or RV park.  Our driveway was our rigs home while we rebuilt it.  Setting up camp for the first time was very exciting!

The next day, we rolled into Bear Cove RV park in Pigeon Forge, TN.  We had called ahead to see if they had and open spots.  They told us yes, they had some full hook-up spots available for the three nights we would be there.  At 5 PM we pulled up and we very surprised.  I think the oldest camping unit in this park was maybe a 2010.  And here we are, in our 1984 Ford with loud exhaust and squeaking leaf springs.

We felt so out of place, but we had prepaid, so we weren’t going to leave.  That was the first time my wife and I experienced the true hospitality that we have come to expect from fellow RV’ers.  We were outside grilling our dinner, when this middle aged couple pulled up next to us in their 3 year old class A, with a car in tow. We were thinking “oh my, these people are going to be so upset by having to park next to our ugly thing!”. However, to our surprise, they parked and came over to talk to us.  They ended up being some of the nicest people we have ever met, they even complimented us on our RV!  They asked us where we were from, and we talked for a while about our dogs (they had two small dogs).   Then they happily went inside to make dinner of their own.

It was that night, we realized that we were camper people.  We loved everything about being on the road, seeing new places, and being around people who felt the same way.

But the trip wasn’t over yet!  We drove all the way to west Tennessee three days later, and stayed at Piney Campground in Land Between the Lakes Recreation Area for two days.  What a beautiful place!  Our site was right on Kentucky lake, and they even had a Halloween golf cart parade, where all the kids rode on decorated golf carts around the campground.

Sadly, Jack passed away 2 months later, on January 5th, 2015.  Julia and I like to think of that trip as his going away party.  His one last crazy experience in his awesome life.

We are married now, and have a baby girl. Her name is Ellie. We have also upgraded to a 2007 Keystone Outback travel trailer.  Our plan is to take our daughter to see all 59 of the U.S. National Parks before she turns 18.  In her first year, we visited Rocky Mountain National Park, in Colorado.  We have plans to visit Badlands and Wind Cave  National Parks in SD this May/June.

We will definitely keep you updated!


-Kyle G




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