Within every summer vacation, there will always be time to travel. Usually, when it comes to time together with my husband, this will mean a day trip to the beach every couple of weeks. As of this point in my break, we have not been to the beach once. Shark attacks and an oppressive heat wave kept us away on the one day that we had planned to make the 2-hour drive to the coast. Though we did not make that trip, we did spend an incredible 3 days in the mountains recently. Incredible can imply many things, and in the case of our camping trip to the highest point east of the Mississippi River, incredible does not mean ideal. Temperatures in the 50s during the day and surely colder temperatures at night was not exactly what we were expecting. We knew it would be cooler the higher in the mountains we stayed, but the cold and the constant wind and mist kept us chilled to the bone nearly the whole time.
Despite not bringing adequate clothing with which to keep warm, and having to wear the same single pair of pants and long sleeve shirt for nearly all 3 days without the benefit of a hot shower at the campground, I would not have changed a thing. The gorgeous mountaintop view we were hoping for was only visible on the ride up the mountain on the first day before the thunderstorm brought the cold front and cloudy mist. The view was also clearer as we descended on our last day. But despite not having a picturesque view at all times, it was truly a one-of-a-kind experience.
There are two events from the trip that will remain etched into my memory forever. The first occured at 3 am on our first night. The ferocity of the wind constantly whipping at what seemed like a hurricane force against our tent did not allow for either of us to sleep very well. Every time I dozed a little, I would open my eyes and hope to see the sun beginning to peek through the top of the tent. When it repeatedly didn’t happen, I soon discovered that I wouldn’t make it to daybreak without first leaving the tent and making the short trek up the hill to the bathrooms. My husband insisted on escorting me, so with our headlamps on we braved the elements and made a trip to the bathroom. The light from our lamps got lost in the mist that engulfed us as we slowly made our way to and from the bathrooms. We had to move slowly so we wouldn’t slip on the wet ground. Huddled together as we walked, it was the most eerie sensation, having the wind beat against us and raindrops pelting us as they blew from the tree branches. Clouds of mist could be seen rolling past us in the dimly lit darkness. Sleep eventually did come that night, and even the second night, though the wind blew even harder that night.
During our second day on the mountain, we walked a short distance down one of the many mapped hiking trails. With a brand new pair of hiking boots on my feet, we were wanting to get at least some use out of them despite the unfavorable weather conditions. We knew right away that we wouldn’t make it very far down our selected trail. It was labeled ‘strenuous’ and it descended at a steep slope, which would have been difficult to get out of at our current physical state.
Despite not going far down the trail, I was mystified at what I considered to be a scene from a fairytale as we walked. The chill in the air, the lack of bright sun streaming through the trees, the abundant mist, and the lush green landscape all worked together to create a magical scene, reminiscent of the Wizard of Oz. The short hike along this trail was the second moment that I will never forget.
After two nights camping, we stayed the third night in a hotel in a nearby city, both grateful to be able to shower again and sleep indoors, but also a little sad to have to leave behind this summer oasis…a place that seemed unlikely to truly exist in the same state that was having sunny, hot-90 degree-weather at the same time. All future camping trips will pale in comparison to this one. And strangely, despite the fierce wind, the darkness brought on by constant cloudiness that blocked the moon at night, I was never afraid. A few brief moments on a darkened beach among friends brought on an inexplicable fear within me, yet, sitting near the campfire, across from my husband in firelit darkness, with the wind and mist swirling around us, I felt peaceful…cold, but not fearful. Truly, another moment that will stick forever in my memory.