Camping ahead of a subtropical depression – what’s the worst that could happen?

Camping ahead of a subtropical depression - what's the worst that could happen? - www.alliepottswrites.comThe crunch of gravel in between pelts of rainfall. That’s what woke me up. Dawn was still far away as evidenced by the lack of light that penetrated through the thin fabric of our tent.

Though the hour was late, my eyes were wide open and sleep would not be returning soon. Had the noise outside been only a dream? I strained my ears.

Crunch.

The sound of rocks being turned underfoot was unmistakable and could only mean one thing – our campsite had an uninvited visitor.

Careful to not make too much sound, I shifted while I recalled the grounds manager’s warning from earlier that day. “Make sure you put your foodstuffs in your car and lock them up at night,” she’d said. “A bear has been hanging out not too far away.”

Had we not secured it all?

The patter of rain on the tent’s rooftop increased, though a second tent frame, covered by a tarp, hung over the campsite’s picnic table. The storm wouldn’t be driving our uninvited guest away.

Or is it guests?

The view behind Moore Cove Falls, NC

The view from behind Moore Cove Falls, NC – If only I’d been listening to this

Her Royal Highness, who had rolled her body into a ball next to my knees snored. If something dangerous was out there, she’d know it, right?  I told myself, followed by Some guard dog she’s proven to be. Still, I was glad enough for her lack of consciousness at the moment having no desire to invite any more of the wildlife’s attention than we already had with an over defensive response.

The rain continued to fall. Thunder rolled in the distance. I held my breath – and listened.

Drip. Drip. Drop. The storm began to taper off without a recurrence of the gravel’s crunch. Had our guest moved on? I couldn’t tell.

Her Royal Highness woke and went to the edge of my sleeping mat where she began to cough and make a retching noise sure to wake the other sleepers. The mountain air must not be agreeing with her tummy.

I looked at the ceiling. Tap. Tap. Would this rain ever end? I looked at the window. I hadn’t dared unzip the flap before. My husband shifted – fast asleep – oblivious to it all.

Her Royal Highness’s retching continued.

Was I willing to risk taking her outside or was I willing to sleep in a tent one more night christened with her sick-up?

Her Royal Highness moved to the tent door, facing away from the picnic area, and touched the corner with her nose. She’d cleverly managed to figure out how its zippers worked earlier in the day to the delight of our children and appeared to be willing to do so again. Perhaps the choice wasn’t entirely mine to make after all.

Her Royal Highness Goes Camping - www.alliepottwrites.com

Her Royal Highness enjoys camping in style

Hoping to hope not to bump into our uninvited guest (who’d only grown larger in my imagination by the second), I ran out with her into the night’s storm, staying close enough to grab her shoulder and force her back inside if I so much as heard a twig snap from the area on the other side of the tent. Rain soaked my shirt as Her Royal Highness stopped coughing and began to sniff around.

I waited.

She took a few steps forward, squatted, turned around and ran back inside.

All that fuss for that?

I followed her in a flash and zipped the door and its flimsy protection closed once more. I huddled under my blanket as Her Royal Highness sprawled out across my legs.

Drip…Drip… The drops of water fell softer – lighter – and somehow sleep managed to find me once more.

Even so, I was the first to wake the following morning. I opened the flap and stepped toward the picnic table – sure and yet uncertain of what exactly I might find.

A box of pre-packaged brownies lay on its side with the corner of the box ripped open and much of its contents removed. While we had taken our cooler to the truck the night before when the rain began, we must have missed it under the table.

I heard my stepdad, who had camped with us, tell my boys the damage was from a raccoon. That was smart thinking on his part, I thought. The boys wouldn’t make us leave our vacation early for a raccoon. I whispered to my husband. “I heard it last night. Sounded big. Like a bear.”

I started picking up. A pile of paper plates, still in their plastic wrapper, had been turned upside down. Something had tried to open the package. I took the plates to my husband to show evidence of the visitor’s claw.

Except that’s when I noticed it was not one claw mark, but two.

Two tiny holes from claws attached to finger-shaped paws.

Paws belonging to creatures who like to wash their food.

Creatures who must like to eat their snacks on plates too and animals who had most likely experienced the fright of their night when Her Royal Highness and I suddenly appeared out of nowhere in the middle of a downpour. I guess my stepdad hadn’t told my kids a story after all.

We joked about the party those raccoons must have had that night while we spent the daylight hiking. When evening came, we made sure to do a better job of securing our belongings. We’d learned our lesson. If the raccoons did come back they would find their party hosts much less accommodating than their native surroundings.

We had a great time and thanks to all that rain the waterfalls were spectacular. Had the lack of sleep, the late night visitors, or storm put me off camping again like this in the future? Absolutely not – we’re not exactly backpacking. After all, what’s the worst that could happen?

Looking Glass Falls, NC - www.alliepottswrites.com

Can you imagine having this in your backyard? (Looking Glass Falls)

No Signal: A story about connection when connectivity stinks

No Signal-A story about connection when connectivity stinks - www.alliepottswrites.comTwenty 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.

Black Mountain overlook #NC

Coverage here is limited to the natural kind

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.

Crabtree Falls #NC

Crabtree Falls, NC

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).

brother hike

Brother Hike