Four years ago, John Upchurch and Samantha Crowder met and bonded over a COVID mishap. While working together, John contracted COVID, possibly from Samantha’s husband while on the job. They bonded over that shared experience. Even their children share a special bond. So much so, that in the last four years, they’ve camped and vacationed together. And now several years later, they’ve created lasting memories to look back on.

Their story is simple, but important to note. It shows the importance and power of family, why fostering human connections is food for our soul, and the simplicity of unplugging and being in nature to recover from everyday stresses. Their story may inspire you to go out and purchase an RV. Read their interview below.

AMSG: How long have you guys known each other and how did you meet?

John Upchurch (JU): We met about four years ago.

Samantha Crowder (SC): Yeah, it was during right before the pandemic because we always joke that my husband, Colyn, gave John COVID.

JU: That was our bonding moment. (Laughs) We shared the virus.

SC: Colyn started at the job with John. They were working side-by-side while John was training Colyn. Colyn got sick, but this was before we could name it COVID. So that’s the running joke: that Colyn gave John COVID, so they just had to become friends and the rest is history.

AMSG: How did it come to be that your families started camping together?

SC: My husband used to go to Lake Raystown Resort as a kid. Then, when we got our family camper, Raystown was our first camping trip as a family. While we were there, we kept telling each other, “We need to tell our friends about this. We need to get another family out here with us.” We just enjoyed it that much. And at the time, when we bought our camper, John was working with Colyn, and they just bonded. John and his wife came out to our house, and from there, we ended up planning our first camping trip.

We pretty much camp together with John, his wife Jean, and their son Jensen. This last trip is now the fourth time we’ve been to this campground as a group. Their son plays with our kids, and everyone has a good time.

JU: And it works because we’re like family. There’s always that love, connection, respect, and trust that we have with one another.

AMSG: This is so American! It sounds like such an American favorite pastime.

SC: That’s exactly what it is. I call it my therapy. Because you’re out there and looking at God’s creation. And the pace is not rushing to get to the next thing. I’m slowing down to make connections with friends and family. It’s something I feel I would never give up. I would probably live in our camper if I could. Just travel for the summer and go around to different campsites. It’s truly our favorite spot.

AMSG: What makes camping so fun for you and your family?

SC: It’s super relaxing. We put our phones down and sit around a fire every night together. We cook our own meals and have our own family time, but then everyone naturally comes together throughout the day and evening, and to make plans.

This last time we were on the lake, so there were a lot of water activities. (Laughs) We got out our inner tubes. We went on bike rides. We hiked a few trails. We went fishing. Then there are other times when we just take it easy and enjoy each other’s company. Jean and I will start talking, then Colyn and John will join in while the kids are playing and riding their bikes around everywhere.

It’s just a suspended moment in time when it’s a slower pace, and there are no distractions. We’re not meeting in a loud restaurant where it’s hard to carry on a conversation. This is just designated time to hang out with one another and have fun.

AMSG: What’s the dynamic like between your children?

SC: The kids stay up late after dark playing, and first thing in the morning [they are planning] what they’re going to do together. When my youngest William wakes up, the first thing he says is, “I’m gonna go see Jensen. “It’s fun watching our kids’ dynamic because although there are only three of them and it’s an odd number, all three of them play together. Then the boys have their time together and then Jensen and my oldest, Brooklyn, will play together.

AMSG: What’d you guys do? How long were you guys there for? The week? What’s it like planning a trip like this?

JU: There are a lot of things we plan that we intend to do, but then sometimes we’re like, it’s a nice day, let’s scrap this and do something different. It’s not like we have a schedule to keep. There are some things we enjoy doing, but it’s more about being present with where we are and who we’re with than what we’re doing. As long as we’re doing it together, that makes it more fun. Seeing the kids’ faces when they catch a fish or go down the water slide is so special.

SC: It’s those moments when giving them a different experience truly makes my heart smile. And my oldest, who’s quiet and more reserved, seeing her pop out of her shell is special. It feels special to create these memories and for them to have these memories as well. It feels like they’re not going to forget these experiences.

AMSG: What do you think was most memorable about the trip?

JU: It’s funny because this morning I asked Jensen what his favorite memory was, and he said “all of it.” And I said, “Well if it’s just one thing, what would it be?” And he said, “To just go to that place with Brooklyn and William.” It was very sweet that it wasn’t any one thing that he picked out, but instead, the entire time there with his friends.

AMSG: How does that make you feel as a parent?

JU: That we picked good friends to be with.

SC: I’m gonna cry! Ours is one of those friendships where the connection immediately took root and we’re watching it grow. There are just things that have overlapped and happened in our personal lives and being able to share it with them, especially friends who have children and understand that balance of having adult friends whose kids all get along and are able to vacation together. It has to work. There might be people you vacation with and by the end you’re like, ‟Eh, won’t do that again!”

JU: Absolutely, totally different environment.

SC: You can tell instantly by day one or two that this is not going to work. And I think that’s what’s nice too is that it’s just a calm environment. We’re not spending a ton of money on touristy things. The kids are just riding their bikes. We’re sitting around feeling like this is all we need because we’re not bombarded with a bunch of noise and entertainment. It’s the simplicity of it that’s more enjoyable. And then, being with good company makes it even better.

AMSG: I totally understand that. I feel like a lot of children have so much anxiety today because we’re so distracted by social media and ads and the latest gadgets.

SC: I agree. One thing our families agree on, is that there’s no screen time really when we go camping. You are just outside and you’re with family. You’re playing at the playground and you’re playing with friends. And when it gets dark and the older kids at the campgrounds are out riding their bikes, our kids come inside and watch a movie or play a game inside. So, we agree on not coming in and just sitting in front of a screen.

AMSG: Did your parents take you camping and hiking when you were younger?

SC: For me, not at all. My parents were very much resort vacationers, so I didn’t grow up camping or doing too much outdoors. But Colyn grew up camping, having multiple campers, and all of his siblings going out and meeting people across the country. They have these memories and stories about going out and going camping.

At first, I was like, I don’t know if I’m going to like it. But that first camping trip with just four of us was so nice. There was something about the simplicity of it. And being able to bring my own things with me. My own sheets and my own bed. Our dogs. It’s like your little home. And when you get there, you’re in the trees. You’re making fires. We didn’t need sparkly, spectacular things. There was peace to that. So ever since, I’ve been looking at different campgrounds and videos and what to do. I’ll send Jean a list or links to different places we can try together.

JU: I didn’t grow up camping either. I grew up in the country and being outdoors. As I got older, we moved further and further into the city, but I missed my outdoor activities. When I got older, I started going on camping trips. I’d go with church. I loved the camping atmosphere and enjoying God’s beauty, His creation.

Then my wife Jean and I would go. I loved that she was into the outdoors. And hearing there’s someone we could camp with, I figured this is a path we can take together as a family. I figured it would be really enjoyable and that maybe in the future we can travel the country and see more of what we wouldn’t otherwise be able to see because we’ve paid for our room already. We’re taking it with us.

SC: I think the part I get so excited about is that you could just travel the country and stay in the state parks. Like you could just go and all the stuff that you would need is with you.

AMSG: How do you think these experiences have changed you?

SC: For me, camping is a form of therapy and a check-in for myself. It’s being intentional in putting the phone down and having conversations. And if we’re just going on a walk, we’re just going on a walk. It’s not about having a to-do list or a ton of things to rush around doing, but just checking out from regular daily life. Sitting by the fire, watching the fire, and smelling the fire. For me, it’s made me slow down, turn my brain off, focus, and be intentionally focused on who I’m with.

JU: Yeah, I’ll second that. I definitely agree with Samantha. It is therapy. It’s being at peace, hearing the wind blow. It’s sitting together with your friends and not having to say anything. Just listening to the crackle of the fire and the kids giggling in the background. It takes the stress away and it helps get me back to myself.

Sometimes getting to and leaving the campground has a bit of stress to it, but while you’re there, you’re in the moment. And when we camp, I like to do all of the cooking. I don’t cook much at home, but when we go camping, I do. It’s one of my favorite things to do. It gives me something to do. I put a lot of effort into it. We cooked some really good things. This last time, we cooked salmon, and it was amazing.

SC: It’s almost like we’re in a bubble. But we’re in a nice bubble where everything is just simple and easy. We’re gonna eat today. We’re gonna relax today. We’re gonna sit by the fire and chat. And our random conversations turn into serious conversations about our values and opinions on things going on in the world. All of that happens organically and the time just passes. It’s just conversations and moments that may not happen in regular life or over the phone. It’s the quality of time that’s spent that feels important.

AMSG: Do you have anything else to share about these experiences?

JU: The RV experience sort of catches everybody. After we got our camper, and because of Sam and Colyn, my brother went and bought a camper. And it turns out a handful of his friends and family went out and got one not long after. They have a whole experience planned for the end of October. We’re also going with them this season. We camped with them only one time, but our schedule is pretty full with Sam and Colyn (laughs).

SC: (Laughs) I just put it out there and lock it in!

JU: It is such a community. Last year, we did Halloween there. Everyone has their trailers. They decorate them. Families are in costumes and the kids are running around playing. Everyone’s looking out for each other and the kids.

SC: Yeah, it’s that atmosphere where you feel so safe because there are other families doing the same thing. We’re also more inclined to talk to one another and have conversations we wouldn’t otherwise have. We live in a remote area where we don’t have access to the traditional trick-or-treating opportunities. So going camping makes that accessible for our family. We make a whole weekend out of going trick-or-treating and experiencing the campground activities with hayrides and carving out pumpkins. It’s like a mini vacation.

By: Juania Owens, Investment Analyst Lead