Monday, September 16, 2013

Getting Back to Nature...or Die Trying

“We know that God is everywhere; but certainly we feel His presence most when His works are on the grandest scale spread before us; and it is in the unclouded night-sky, where His worlds wheel their silent course, that we read clearest His infinitude, His omnipotence, His omnipresence.”
                                                                      ― Charlotte Brontë, Jane Eyre

I had a brilliant idea last Thursday:  I should pack up all articles for survival and take the hoodlums and the four-legged beasts into nature.  They will LOVE camping this weekend...out in the fresh air with the birds and the bees and the cool start of autumn.  This will be GREAT.

I am nothing if not an optimist.

Day 1

So, I requested a half-day of vacation on Friday and proceeded to spend the next 16-18 hours madly making lists and planning and packing. I found an open campsite at the last minute and I hurriedly squeezed and shoved our gear into the car.  I patiently waited for Thing 1 and Thing 2 to return from school and then we hit the road less than 10 minutes after they arrived home.

We are fortunate to live in North Carolina.  From our home centrally located in the state, we can be at the beach in about three-ish hours and the mountains in less than that.  We arrived at Stone Mountain State Park before dark with plenty of time to set up camp and get a campfire going.

Things 1 and 2 are accustomed to my Great Adventures and have become fairly proficient at setting up a tent and getting a camp vibe going.  Sparky is also a willing participant and Mr. McDougal was a like a tiny crack dog, barking at everyone and everything in sight as if to say, "Ya'll gonna MESS with me?  No?  I didn't THINK so!"
Night 1 at the camp site.  The dogs are still (relatively) clean.

That first night, my campfire never really did get to raging and the temperature had plummeted so we all decided to get to bed.  Did I mention that technology is not allowed during our Great Camping Adventures?  We go old school...funny how the hoodlums are ready for bed SO MUCH EARLIER when no technology is present. 

At about midnight, I woke with a start.  I remember thinking that I was being suffocated by a ghost.  I batted around my face and felt the tent fabric all around my head.  "What the....???"  In a few seconds, it popped back into place.  And that's when I noticed the wind.

We had started our adventure on the sharp edge of a cold front moving through the area.  Our tent was positioned just so and the wind was slamming into the broad edge and basically collapsing half of it with each gust. 

The wind whipped and slashed through the little valley where our band of misfits had made camp.  The force of the wind was collapsing half of the tent ON TOP OF ME.  The boys, finks that they are, ABANDONED me to go to the car to sleep in relative peace and comfort while I battled the elements with the dogs.  Around 1 a.m., I had had enough.  I put on my flip flops and, waving the dogs back into the tent with one hand, managed to slip out through the zippered door into the raging wind.  I unfastened the fly from the tent poles while managing (somehow) to keep the whole thing from flying away.  Once one side was unfastened, the entire fly billowed out into the air like a makeshift parachute.  I struggled with the stakes, the pole and Velcro ties and finally balled the entire thing up, tucked it under my arm and, while keeping the dogs at bay with one hand inside the tent, managed to unzip and re-zip the tent door with the other hand.

I collapsed, panting and exhausted, onto my air mattress and THEN...oh, THEN...I looked up.  Up above me in the most intricate of nature's designs was the night sky.  Unmarked by light pollution, the stars had to number in the millions.  I stared into that sky and immediately said a prayer of gratitude for the gift of all that beauty.  I smiled.  The work and the wind and the cold faded away as I stared up into that velvety blanket of stars and I drifted into sleep...


Mr. McDougal woke up in some sort of doggie panic attack around 3 a.m.  I don't know WHAT he heard or what he thought he saw (because now, of course, he was able to see EVERYTHING without the tent fly on) but he did a mini-doggie-flip-out and barked his way frantically around the tent.  He raced around and barked completely immune to my efforts to calm him.  Finally, in a last-ditch desperate effort to get some sleep, I pulled him INTO my sleeping bag with me.  I spoke in a low soothing "It's OK" voice and petted his trembling body until he finally relaxed against me.  And sleep came again.

Day 2

We woke to a crisp, clear morning in the mountains.  After a hearty bacon-and-egg-cooked-out-in-the-open-air breakfast, we decided to hit the trail.  A 4.5 mile trail, to be exact.  Marked "strenuous" on the map.

I'm not only an optimist.  I'm also hardcore.

I am not going to go into the details of this hike, mainly because I think you should try it if you ever happen to visit Stone Mountain State Park.  I will say that arthritic knees will suffer on this loop.  Greatly.  Severely.  And, two days later, I STILL can't really walk comfortably.  But, the hike was beautiful.  And magical.  And it was an amazing workout.  And Mr. McDougal, tiny trooper that he was, never gave up in spite of the fact that his legs are approximately four inches long.  He DID stop and sit on the trail at one point, panting and refusing to budge.  I think, in his doggie mind, he may have been cursing my existence.

Thing 1 and Thing 2 at the Summit of Stone Mountain

Boys and dogs at the summit.  Note Mr. McDougal is hiding his face.
Hours later, we emerged from the trail, victorious.  Hungry and thirsty, we all piled into the car and made our way back to the camp site where I figured out pretty quickly that I had forgotten ALL of our sandwich supplies in the refrigerator back home.  We opted to use our handy GPS and found out Sparta, NC was only a 12 mile drive "down the road a piece."  Grateful for the air-conditioned, seated comfort, we drove to a Burger King and loaded up on protein.

Back at the campsite, I dragged my air mattress out of the tent and found a shady spot under the tree.  Exhausted both from the night before AND from the long hike, my body and mind quickly shut down and I slept.  I woke almost two hours later with a boy propped up on each side of the mattress, reading.  The dogs were sprawled out beside them...and the view was beautiful.

My post-nap view from my air mattress.

One of my OTHER post-nap views of Sparky and Thing 1.

Yet another post-nap view of Thing 2 and Mr. McDougal

Day 3

We woke up to a heavy dew, ate breakfast and packed our gear back into the car.  At home, we unloaded and I spent the next eight hours cleaning the car, mowing the lawn, unpacking the gear, washing everything, setting the tent up in the yard to dry, giving both dogs a bath, drying everything and then repacking it all into containers for the NEXT Great Camping Adventure... 

...which will take place as soon as I forget how much work camping really is.

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  1. Enjoy the finks while you can. Mine stay home now. Although I must admit finkless, tentless camping can be glorious.

    1. Read YOUR blog from your weekend adventure. Heaven! :)

    2. Even more heavenly--it wasn't a weekend. I left spontaneously on Tuesday and got back on Friday. Just in time for the weekend! Self-employment. You would love it. And so would the doggies. Think of the adventures you could make.