Twenty degrees. That’s roughly the difference in temperature between my hometown and the mountains at this time of year. Considering it is no reaching the nineties (32C) and the fact that our air conditioning has decided to take some time off work, we decided a change of scenery was in order.
Tents and sleeping bags strapped to the car, we set out for the Pisgah National Forest, just a few hours to the west, near Mount Mitchell, the highest point in the eastern United States, to be exact. The park is part of the Appalachian Mountains, accessible through winding roads and the Blue Ridge Parkway. While you can (and I have) backpack camp along the trail, there are also a number of more ‘civilized’ camp sites scattered along the roadways offering bath houses and running water, but operate on a strictly first come, first serve basis.
Knowing the risk that there might be no room at a particular site, we’d identified a location that might offer more than one option and plugged in the address into the navigation app on my husband’s phone. While we drove, I scrolled down the webpage describing the area. Down at the bottom of the screen in bold text, the site read, ‘As we are in a remote area, GPS directions may not be accurate. Click here for detailed directions.’
LT demanded markers in the back where he was hard at work on his latest masterpiece. Kiddo wanted a movie. My mom, who was brave enough to venture along with us, chatted about recent family news. I returned my phone to my bag, dismissing the site’s warning. So what if we didn’t find that exact site. There were sure to be another.
As the mountain roads twisted and turned, the back of the car grew silent. In Kiddo’s case this is a troubling sign as he is particularly prone to motion sickness. We pulled over to give him some air. “Are we almost there?” he asked as we piled back into the car. We glanced at the navigation app. It read, ‘No Signal’.
“Seven more miles to go,” my husband replied. To me he added with a shrug, “at least, that’s what it said before it dropped off.” My mom offered her seat so that Kiddo could be closer to the open window.
It felt more like seventy. The signal never returned and I grew increasingly chagrined for not looking at those step by step directions while I still had the chance. We could only assume we were still going in the right direction as there was only one direction to go. Up. And Around. And Up some more.
We noticed the smell of campfires first. The campsite wasn’t the one we were originally targeting, but considering the shade of pale green on the faces of those in the back seats, it would have to do. Fortunately, a single site was still vacant.
Mom looked at her phone. “Still no signal,” she replied.
Preferring to stream our music to downloading it, we were limited to listening to the same five to ten songs on repeat as we pitched the tents (one for my mom and the boys the other for Her Royal Highness, my husband, and me), unpacked our supplies, and stoked the fire. As the sun began to set we noticed dark clouds rolling in. “Do you think it is going to storm tonight?” My mom asked.
Storm – such a small word for such a big event in the wide open.
Shortly after midnight the wind picked up as lightning flashed across the sky, temporarily making the flimsy fabric of my tent appear as colorful as it appeared in bright day. Her Royal Highness sat at full attention in the center. Thunder boomed. Her Royal Highness whimpered. I sat up and tried to comfort her as the wind whipped at our sides. She nuzzled the flap that served as the door as if to say, let’s go!
“Shh shh, it will be okay,” I whispered as felt along the flap’s zipper and found a half-inch of water. At least, I hope so, I thought. A storm this intense couldn’t go on for long. Or could it? My hands itched to locate my phone and bring up the radar, but once again – no signal. You don’t realize how much you have grown to rely on constant connection until you are completely cut off.
The storm passed, though I didn’t track it. We woke without alarms and ate when we were hungry. We found trails by looking at maps and *gasp* asking other humans for directions. The air remained cool and inviting as we ventured deeper into the forest until the only sign of people were the footprints left on paths made muddy and slick with rain water and the occasional signpost or hand railing (thank you park service).
Before the day ended we had walked roughly nine miles and seen stunning vistas and waterfalls made only more impressive from the storm. I’d watched my boys walk hand in hand as the trail became steep and attempted to memorize the moment as they called out “Brother Jump” before hopping off exposed roots together. (It’s a memory I fully plan to use to maximum embarrassment when they start dating.)
That evening (which thankfully was thunderstorm-free) we ate the most amazing steak dinner, cooked over the fire ring’s open flame as a neighboring site played music in a language we didn’t recognize, but was music all the same. We laughed while Her Royal Highness snored. We chatted when normally we might be scrolling on our phones. We enjoyed being together. And before we called it a night, Kiddo told us it had been his favorite camping trip ever.
I may just agree.
We’d lost connectivity for a few days, it was true, but as it turns out we only strengthened our connection. All it had taken was a change of scenery (and perhaps a difference of twenty degrees).