I woke up to my one-year-old son puking at 3 a.m. He hurled all over me as I gathered him in my arms and ran to the bathroom. A few minutes later he was settled into a warm bath when a wave of nausea rose in my own belly. I kneeled in front of the toilet bowl, heaving for all I was worth. My son started giggling. Not a titter, but a full on laugh. At least he thought it was funny.

After I rinsed my mouth and wiped my face, I started smiling too. I was a single mom raising my son far away from family and friends while trying to work full time to support us. There were nights when I wasn’t sure how I would make it – I was tired, alone and stressed. I felt stuck in Asheville, an area then unfamiliar to me, far away from my beloved California where I had spent a decade kayaking, skiing, and climbing, where the rivers and mountains felt like family. But in the wee hours of the morning, still smelling like puke and feeling sick, Tobin’s laugh was contagious.

That weekend I decided to embrace living in Western North Carolina with an infant. Leaving stacks of dirty dishes and mounds of laundry behind, I threw camping gear into the truck and buckled Tobin in his car seat.

I heard of a place called the Cherohala Skyway connecting North Carolina to Tennessee. Beyond its beauty, I couldn’t find much information about it. Tobin, my friend Meghan and I decided to take a look. We pulled into a campground that night and a dozen motorcycles were propped alongside the check-in building. Men with long grey beards and bandannas sat on the porch.

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I climbed out of the pickup in a sundress and flip flops, hoisting Tobin on my hip. Meghan got out of the car in a pair of shorts and a tank top.

“Wherein’ your fellas?” one of the guys asked.

My reply that it was just us was met with a round of applause.

We spent the evening with them, sampling their moonshine, while they took turns jostling Tobin on their laps. They pulled out their wallets and showed us photos of their grandkids. The next day when we say them on a pull-out along the Cherohala Skyway, we posed on their bikes.

Taking my son along meant that we traveled at a slower pace, but we managed to find adventure wherever we went.  Slowing down allowed me to look around and the more I looked, the more I noticed. I started jotting down notes that turned into an idea for an article. I submitted a pitch for an article about the Cherohala Skyway over a dozen times before the editor of Blue Ridge Outdoors responded.

After I’d written a few feature articles, we talked about an advice column and proposed a few alter egos, eventually settling on Mountain Mama.

There are still days when I take Tobin hiking or canoeing and he has temper tantrum two hours from the truck. Sometimes his meltdowns come at the end of a long work week when we’re supposed to be having fun. That’s when it’s nice to channel Mountain Mama. She never loses her sense of humor, she’s never too tired to swoop up an exhausted kid.

In the process of writing and exploring the area, I’ve fallen in love with Western North Carolina and consider it home. The curve of the mountains on the horizon, the gradations of green in the river’s swirling currents, the first dogwood blooms in the spring, it all tugs at my heart.

My life isn’t perfect, not by a long shot. I’m not happy all the time, but I do live as close to my truth as I know how. Writing has helped a lot. So has getting outside and doing uncomfortable things, talking to people I normally wouldn’t and showing up exactly as I am – sometimes messy, sometimes scared, sometimes tired, but always willing to laugh.