August 2, 2021
It’s been nearly two years since I saw my east coast family. It seems that long since I’ve seen rain. (Of course in reality it hasn’t been so very long since we were wondering if it would ever stop.) There is plenty of the stuff in western North Carolina. I wish it could be exported.
I lived in the southeast for thirty-six years—all of my adult life. (I can’t believe it’s been nine years since I returned to the PNW.) There are a few things I miss other than my family: fireflies, crepe myrtle, cardinals and titmice (I haven’t seen either of the birds on this trip, hmm).
Thunderstorms. But not when camping.
Max—who turned fifteen at the campground, and what the heck is up with that?—and I shared a large tent. Maybe the fly wasn’t pulled tight.
I was at SeaTac in plenty of time for my adventure latte and breakfast before my early flight, but spent it in the labyrinthine security line and had to depart without caffeine, and more importantly without the tradition. I barely had time to grab an alternative iced mocha in Dallas. (Note to self: spring for the TSA fingerprint-enhanced get out of jail free card for future flights.)
There was an evening thunderstorm coming into Asheville; the flight attendants were told to take their seats for turbulence—a fancy term for “scare the shit out of unseasoned passengers”—but it was just an abundance of caution and there wasn’t any as we flew through grey clouds, lightening flashing in the distance, rain splattering the windows. It was raining on the ground, too; it’s been six-plus weeks since I’ve seen any in the “rains all the time” PNW.
I can’t even tell you how good it was to see my family waiting on the sidewalk outside the terminal and to hold them close. And then to meet the new family member for the first time, having missed her entire puppyhood. And now I’m seriously wondering if I could be a dog owner for the first time in my life. Maybe I could share with my sister, also a lover of other people’s dogs, and Adrian who would dearly love a dog, and maybe Elliot would come around if it were a part-time deal?
When asked several weeks ago what I would like to do during my nine-day (exclusive of travel days) visit—longer than I have ever stayed, I hope they don’t get sick of me—I said go for a hike in the Appalachian Mountains. I got a camping trip out of the deal! On Watauga Lake in the Cherokee National Forest. With kayaking!
And thunderstorms. But I’ll get to that later.
Holy frick, it’s a lot of work to get five people and a dog ready to go camping for three nights, when the in-charge adults are working to boot. I did what I could to help and hope I wasn’t just in the way ‘cuz it’s hard to try to be helpful without being annoying. The men and l packed the truck and left, leaving a whole lot of stuff for Kristy to put in her car after work—along with the dog.
Nicholas and I got the tents and the kitchen up—but not the canopy; the sun was shining—before Kristy and Mia arrived. (My phone battery died before I realized I hadn’t taken a photo of the campsite.) The boys went fishing . . .
. . . and chilled.
It rained in the night.
The difference between camping in the rain in the PNW and camping in the rain in the South is you know it’s going to rain on the western edge and don’t go camping if you don’t like camping in the rain. On the eastern edge you can pretty much count on rain sometime between four in the afternoon and four in the morning, so you prepare for it and deal with it and enjoy the sun and the heat the rest of the time. Ideally.
The cicadas had stopped their racket in the trees long before the single long roll of thunder in the middle of the night approached from one end of the huge dam-created lake and slowly rolled all the way across, crescendoing as it neared, then decrescendoed into the distance at the other end. And then the rain began. I heard Nicholas and Kristy out in the pitch dark putting the canopy over the table. It was odd not being in charge, after so many camping trips being the parent, then later flying solo. But I was about to have my own task.
The rain got harder, as it does in the South, and I felt first a light mist on my shoulders, followed by an occasional plop on my face. I scooted my mattress down toward Max’s, then moved my body down to the end of the mattress. A little damp, but it didn’t last long. That night.
I was up at daybreak, having seen the light arriving out the tent window, and missing my luggable loo. Turned out to be just a crack of light between the clouds, room enough for a red ball of sun. (Also missing my real camera; really, it was deep red.)
The rain cooled things off. (The other thing about camping in the South is it’s very hot and sticky, so the cool was welcome.) After fishing, and the sun’s reestablishment, we went kayaking. I was a teensy anxious, it’s been a long time since I womanned a kayak, or was in any boat smaller than a ferry. Unlike the small lakes I gravitate to at home, this one was covered with fast and loud boats. I did great! Like riding a bike—so I hear; I haven’t done that in years either. Proud moment. And there were herons!
On Friday, my eldest grandchild turned fifteen. His dad, my eldest child and we won’t say how old he is, took him to Boone to take the test for his learner’s permit. Sadly, he got six of the allowed five misses, so he will get a do-over. He blew out candles anyway, and his favorite cake beat a sliver of paper any day. (I suppose he can be aggravating at times, he is a teenager, it’s his job; but he makes me laugh so much. He’s a completely charming young person.)
Saturday—after fishing—we headed out for our hike to Laurel Falls. Apparently wrong forks of the trail can be taken just by being in my presence; I don’t even have to be the navigator. The boys and I climbed a particularly steep and rocky section before being called back. Wrong way, the grownups had decided. We went their way then, until coming to a river crossing with no bridge, backtracking and climbing the steep rocky part again.
I do love the rivers in these mountains.
Seeing hardly anyone on the trail, in spite of it being Saturday and getting a late start (by my standards, which are shared by very few people), we found plenty of peeps at the destination. They arrived from a different trailhead, so that was nice!
On the return—after enjoying the swimming hole—back around the rock ledge hanging over the river, we waited for an older couple coming toward us. When they safely were at our end, the man said, “My friend told me to take her on a nice hike!” The woman said, “That’s the last time I ever go on Tinder. Worst first date ever!” When I stopped laughing, I promised her that would make my blog post.
A lovely day, with an ibuprofen chaser.
The rain started before the thunder this time. And the grown-ups (or maybe just Kristy) were out of the tent pulling stuff off the clothes line and putting chairs under the canopy, almost making it back to the tent before the heavens opened. Wind, pouring rain, thunder, lightening. I was curled up on eighteen inches at the end of my mattress, on top of my thick memory foam pillow, which was the only thing dry other than the part of the blanket that was on top of my body. A voice in the dark during a short lull in the thunder:
Max: “Are you getting wet?”
Me: “Completely. You?”
Max: “I’m soaking.”
We laughed hilariously, cuz what else? Max said he had never experienced anything like this. I said he would remember it always.
This post is too long, but I have to tell you the story of my first camping trip in the South.
I was maybe eight. My family had flown to my father’s family farm in Michigan and rented a Rambler to drive to Tennessee to visit my mother’s family. The Rambler was a marvelous car with separate front seats that reclined so you could sleep in the car. On the way to Tennessee, we drove into a squall. It rained so hard, we had to pull off the highway and wait it out. Of course now I’m familiar with that kind of rain, but back then I had never seen such. That night (or maybe a different night, or even a different trip, memories jumble you know), the sun having returned as quickly as it left, we set up camp. My mom and little sister, Rebecca, slept in the car, and Daddy rigged up a lean-to with a tarp for big sister Jo Ann (who will remember the exact details of this story) and me and him. He blew up the skinny Army surplus canvas air mattresses. You know the kind, like the older version water floats with ribs. There was another storm. The makeshift “tent” did not stand up well to it. Water ran down those ribs like Noah’s flood and we were soaked. But otherwise I probably would not remember the trip at all.
By dawn there was standing water between our mattresses, and my pillow had wicked up water from the soaked mattress (and everything that was on top of it); it weighed a ton. The other tent occupants were not spared this time.
We packed up every wet thing, tossed the tent the others had slept/not slept in into the dumpster—it was sketchy to start with—and headed home after a hot breakfast. And more fishing. While Max went off on his dirt bike and Ethan played in the pool and Mia slept, Nicholas hauled things out of the truck and Kristy did laundry. I hung sleeping bags, opened chairs to dry, sat wet shoes in the sun, and helped Nicholas set up the tent to dry out.
Then it poured the rain. And everything was wet again.
And then it stopped. And that is how it goes in the deep south. It’s not a bad thing. Unless you are in a tent.