Two Women and a Chinook: Erin & Caroline On The Road

Erin: We met in the winter of 2015. I was on break (I used to teach middle school) and had driven south along the coast and then inward a little to visit a friend who lived in Raleigh. I was restless though and didn’t stay but one night. I felt called to the mountains and so the next day, I pointed my car west and headed to Asheville where I spent the day on the trails and then ended up downtown at Jack of the Wood drinking a beer and eating a burger. Caroline and I ‘met’ that night on Tinder – we just so happened to be in one another’s range. We didn’t actually meet that night though; that wouldn’t happen for a few months later after a long winter of correspondence the old-fashioned way, through long e-mails and letters. I wouldn’t change it for the world.

Caroline: I was in the middle of a road trip with my parents, from Louisiana to Chattanooga and back to Asheville, just a few days after Christmas. A couple of my friends had found success with Tinder, so I was nervously and excitedly about a week into ‘connecting online.’ I was riding in the back seat on a very windy stretch thru the Great Smoky Mountains as I looked again at the options of the moment. The first face that popped up was Erin’s! The fist sized muscle in my chest felt like it was running the 50-yard dash. I quickly flipped through her photos and then back again. She was spontaneous, quirky as hell, and beautiful. Yes, YES I said to Tinder. I traded a very short term, finicky relationship with the app for a long distance, long-term relationship with Ms. McGrady!

Erin: We moved quickly but when you know, you know! I decided to make the leap and move here at the end of the school year. Life is short!

Caroline: I couldn’t agree with her more. After all, if we live to be a hundred we are already more than a third of the way there.

Erin: Because we started out in a long-distance relationship, in some ways it feels like we’ve been traveling since the day we met. Luckily, both of us really value new experiences and exploring new places because though we live together now, we’re still very much making it a priority in our lives.

Caroline: In the year that I’ve known Erin, I’ve explored more of Western North Carolina’s mountains than I have in the 15+ years I’ve lived here. Her tenacity for travel has been infectious to me.

Erin: Some of the things we’ve learned from traveling together… definitely DO make time for unplanned stops when you see something that catches your eye. We both love to take photographs and so we’re always open to taking an alley or making a U-turn.

Caroline: We’ve learned a lot in a small amount of time together about being openly gay. Erin and I instinctively hold hands. Everywhere. Traveling together to Charlotte, Charleston, and Beijing has brought us unsolicited, unapproving glances from locals there. Sometimes it has made us question our safety. Sometimes it has made us feel unwelcome. Sometimes it has just plain ruined the mood. And it has made us stronger to develop a thicker skin. I have to say: I have often felt safer as a single woman in the world than as a partner in a same gendered relationship out in the world. Especially, if you choose to make it obvious by the sweet and simple gesture of holding hands.

Erin: Yeah, I felt that too but am thankful we haven’t let it stop us doing what we love.

Caroline: We are currently outfitting a 1977 Toyota Chinook house car so we can take to the open road! Erin has a squealing obsession with VW vans and I have a lifelong affliction with anything old; vehicles included. Over the course of figuring out what would best suit us for the road, we discovered the Chinook! She reminds me of Erin… beautiful and quirky as hell.

Erin: This is actually the second motor home that we bought together. The first one, a 1978 Sunline, made it a grand total of three miles on the first trip before it needed a tow.

Caroline: When we realized by the third tow on that Sunline that even being broken down didn’t keep us from finding a way to laugh about the situation, we knew we were suitable travel companions. We also put that piece of junk up for sale. We then bought a vehicle that was actually a year older, but with fewer issues to work out.

Erin: (Or so we hope. My fingers are crossed!) I’m learning so much from Caroline about fixing up old vehicles!

Caroline: We want to be as self-reliant as we can be, so this has been the focus of the work we are doing. We want our vehicle to be efficient with space and with minimal components that will require maintenance.

Erin: We have high hopes for our Chinook! Even without it, though, we’ve been having some fun adventures. We went to Beijing, China for work in December (we’re web designers, photographers, and writers) and it taught us so much about ourselves and each other.

Caroline: Beijing was the most uncomfortable traveling experience I’ve had, of which I am grateful. It was freezing the entire two weeks we were there and we were outside in the elements 12-15 hours a day. The language was completely foreign to me as well as much of the cuisine. And yet, everyday we got up excited to go for a run on a new route and peek around every corner, get lost in every hutong, and take as many photos as our memory cards could hold. That trip stretched me to keep my eyes open and not make assumptions prior to experience. It also taught us how to make many decisions everyday together.

Erin: We’d heard people say that traveling with someone is one of the ways you can tell if your relationship is meant to be and we’re happy to say that we came home intact. We actually tied the knot in February! Since Beijing we’ve been to Charleston, South Carolina and are getting ready to head further south to Austin and New Orleans.

Caroline: I can’t wait to share New Orleans with her and we will be experiencing Austin together for the first time. She’s given me the chance to explore Maryland, Delaware, and Virginia while we were traveling back and forth while dating.

Erin: We’re really looking forward to this next round of travel!

Want to follow along on Caroline and Erin’s adventures to Austin, New Orleans, and beyond? You can find them on instagram at @authenticasheville, @carolineperdue and @e.mcgrady. If you’d like to meet them in-person, head on out to the free photography event they host every other month in Asheville. Use the hashtag #AshevilleInstameet to find out more.

Sandi Tomlin-Sutker
Written by Sandi Tomlin-Sutker