“What’s your name?”
A little girl, probably no older than five or six, is standing beside my setup at the Southwest Virginia Outdoor Expo. She has her neck craned back, her dark brown eyes taking in every stitch and zipper on the Go.
“Ada,” she says quietly, whipping her head around to meet my gaze, blushing as if she’d just been caught in an act of mischief.
“Ada. That’s a cool name. What do you think of this? Pretty wild lookin’ right?”
She nods furiously and runs around the camper, weaving in and out of the crowds of people that file down the vendor corridor. She reappears at the door to the camper, bolts inside, then jets right back out to me.
“What is it?” she asks.
I tell her about the camper, despite the fact that I had been answering that same question all day, despite the fact that I had just given my 30-minute presentation on Blue Ridge Outdoors, Live Outside and Play, and all of our affiliated sponsors. I tell her what it is and what I’m doing, and she continues asking questions, staring at me with those big brown eyes, never looking away but never revealing how she feels about it all.
“So you really live out of that thing?” she says, finally taking her gaze from mine back over to the Go. “Whoa.”
Without another word she dissolves into the crowd again and I’m immediately pulled aside by a curious passerby who peppers me with the same questions Ada just asked, except this time throwing in the technical, “Well, how much does it weigh,” and “Is that powder-coated aluminum or carbon fiber?”
Those type of questions exhaust me. But Ada’s inquiries, born from an innate curiosity, fuel me. She doesn’t care at what weight the bed of the trailer maxes out, what type of car can pull the rig, how much it all costs or even what my real job is. She sees a girl with a bunch of cool toys living out of something that’s probably not unlike her treehouse, her secret hideaway, the tent her family uses to go camping.
A steady stream of people keeps me occupied for the next few hours, but eventually, there’s a lull in the flow. I scamper into the Go to get off my feet for a few. Not a minute passes before Ada reappears in the doorway, this time accompanied by two little boys with flat bill hats and the same dark hair and big brown eyes as Ada.
“These are my brothers,” she tells me, in case I had any doubt. “They think this is pretty cool, too.”
We sit there and chat for what feels like 30 minutes or so. Talking to these kids comes pretty naturally to me. I don’t have to put on a front and they don’t expect me to. Sometimes we wouldn’t even talk at all but just sit there together in our lime green bubble, listening to the music playing outside and the people talking in the nearby vendor tents. I’m impressed with how affable these kids are. They ask me questions, I ask them questions. It’s a two-way conversation, not the one-sided question-hounding I’m used to.
“Alright. Give it to me straight. What’s the price tag on this beast?”
An older gentleman in a weathered tan fedora sticks his head into the Go, breaking up our little pow-wow. I step outside to find that yet another crowd of people has formed around the camper and I spend the remainder of the event answering inquiries back to back to back to back.
Eventually 4 o’clock comes around and the festival grounds empty out. As I start taking down the camper, I glance over at my camera bag and see, sitting on top, a small plastic baggie with two beanies tucked neatly inside. I walk over to the bag and take out the hats, which are embroidered with the words Chief Hat Co. on the front. I look around, wondering if someone sat them down and accidentally walked away without retrieving them.
For the first time that day, I look around at the vendor tents surrounding mine. There’s a local search and rescue squad across the way, my alma mater’s outdoor program tent beside me, and behind – the Chief Hat Co. I walk over to the guy who looks to be in charge.
“Hi there,” I say, showing him the hats in my hand. “Did someone for–”
“You can thank my daughter for that,” he says before I can even finish. “You’re the one living out of the camper, right?”
I nod, starting to scan around the booth for Ada and the boys.
“She told me you’ll need something to help keep warm in the winter,” he says, smiling. “She wouldn’t let us pack up without giving you a couple hats.”
Speechless, entirely caught off guard by that little girl’s thoughtfulness, I stand there dumbfounded while they pack up their booth, thanking them time and again but insisting I pay.
“Absolutely not,” he says. “This is Ada’s doing, and she did this out of the kindness of her heart.”
I ask him about the company, where they’re from, what their story is. Originally from California, the couple decided to move their roots to Bristol, Tenn./Va., and explore a new business endeavor – making hats.
“My father called his father ‘chief’ because he was the head of the family,” he explains. “He was the leader, and that’s who we strive to create our products for.We represent those driven individuals, the leaders of today, the people who lead a lifestyle that answers to no one.”
As I drove out of the festival grounds, I saw Ada running down the road ahead of her brothers. I thought how boldly that girl was living. Fearless, confident, she was the leader of the pack, a little chief. She wasn’t afraid to ask questions, take chances, or “lead a lifestyle that answers to no one.”
And then I thought, perhaps that’s what she saw in me.