There is something exceptional about being able to hear a storm approaching. I can’t say the last time I had a memory of that and after camping for a few nights outside of Asheville, North Carolina, my ear is starting to become attuned to this sound.
I woke up real early Friday morning and left Durham to get to the Asheville area as early as I could. That still ended up being 1pm and the Lake Powhatan Campground that was listed as “no reservations/first come, first served” on their website was actually not that at all and full up for the weekend. The forest ranger mentioned he didn’t know if North Mills River Campground was full or not. I gave them a call and luckily they had a little space left so I hightailed it over there. I ran into Charlie, the campground host and I followed him in his golf cart to check out a few of the open spots. I settled on site 11 and had enough time to set up my tent and make a sandwich before I heard the low-toned rush of a rainstorm approaching. It wasn’t too bad at first, but then it hit hard and I had to take cover in my tent. I thought I might do some reading, but the allure of napping in a storm soon won out.
After the storm, I headed to the Ingles grocery store parking lot for cell reception and to let my friends, Ashley and Dave, who were driving up from Athens, Georgia, know of the change in plans. This was where I realized living in a culturally diverse city for the last several years has rubbed off on me. I told them to hang a right at the “en-glais” grocery store; they clued me in later that it’s actually called “een-gles,” but it is now and forever will be pronounced as the Spanish word for English. They showed up around 6:30pm to lots of excited hellos and hugs. I had joined Ashley, Dave, and some of their friends from Providence last spring in New Hampshire’s White Mountains for probably one of my first New York-area tent camping trips. Being up there had really kind of put me back on track for car camping, so I was looking forward to having some old buds join me in the forest. That first night, we sat by the campfire, made dinner, and caught up.
Saturday was a pretty relaxed day at the campsite. I’m headed to Athens next week and we talked a lot about the city. Athens is real high on my list of possible places to move and Ashley and Dave are trying to make the hard sell on how great it is. Though, from the sound of it, I don’t know how hard of a sell it will be. I’ve been looking forward to checking that place out since they moved down there last year. We were both expecting friends - Ash and Dave had invited their friend, Michelle, from Athens, and Corbin, my best friend from LA, JoAnne’s, boyfriend (and obviously also my bud) is in Atlanta this summer working, so he came up for the night, too. Once they arrived, we all marveled at the gorgeousness of this campground, roasted some hot dogs on the fire, played a few rounds of corn hole, and went for a COLD ASS dip in the river (from memory, this water was not unlike those first few trips to the New York-area beaches in the summer - my skin was a lovely shade of mottled red).
Some of Ashley and Dave’s friends from Binghamton (that’s where they met and lived for some years back in the day) are in a bluegrass band that was playing that night at The Altamont Theater, so we went into Asheville on Saturday evening to check them out. After a bit of menu perusing, we decided to eat at Foggy Mountain Brew Pub, which is HIGHLY recommended. Everything we had was delicious and reasonable, which is kind of a hard thing to come by in Asheville. We headed to the show and, I’ve got to say, Driftwood (driftwoodtheband.com) was absolutely fantastic. Bluegrass isn’t necessarily my thing, but they were all incredible musicians with killer voices and writing. All of us who didn’t know the band were equally blown away by that show. Also, side note, bluegrass shows are kind of amazing for people watching.
I made some killer pancakes for breakfast on Sunday morning (I am slowly getting more proficient at this camp cooking thing) and then everyone headed out around noon. I was bummed to see my friends go, but there was also something kind of nice about getting back to doing the solo camping thing.
Now that I’m about two weeks into this trip, I’ve found that the thing I seem to be doing the most regularly is organizing my stuff. I’m starting to wonder if this is going to end or if it will be an inevitable task that I have to stay on top of. I’m thinking it might be the latter, though I don’t say that with disdain. There is something kind of calming about having this routine right now, especially given that my life currently is so without routine. When you find yourself alone in a campground, the options presented to you are limited. I’m not necessarily bummed by that (yet), but I’ve found that keeping everything straight and my car relatively clean and put together is helping minimize the craziness that the alternative could produce.
So, when everyone left, that is the first thing I set out to do. At this stage in the game, things are starting to fall into place and the organization process isn’t taking as long as it did. That being said, when your ear is becoming attuned to rainstorms, you think you hear that low hum approaching, and all of your shit is laying about, there’s a sense of panic I can’t say I’ve yet experienced that comes over you. And, of course, I had decided to take down the canopy shelter I set up for the first time on Friday before everyone left. The mad dash to throw a tarp on the table, put everything under it I could, and throw the rest of my stuff in the car made for a much more difficult round of organization later in the day. I’d also be surprised if it didn’t look totally nuts to folks watching from the sidelines, either.
My last night in North Mills River Campground was pretty uneventful. I had planned to make a salad or something that required effort, but the remaining bits of my best Costco purchase to date, Pacific Gold beef jerky, and an apple won the dinner award. I really think I have to put the kibosh on buying snacks. When I’m grocery shopping, they are so appealing - usually delicious, do not require refrigeration, and are easy to eat. But there was a night in Shenandoah where I pretty much had Herr’s cheese puffs for dinner. This wasn’t a proud moment, but, goddamn, those are really the best cheese puffs I’ve ever had and they’re hard to put down. I have vowed to never buy them again (made easier by not being in the Northeast anymore), but I think I need to cut down on the snacks in general and force myself to cook more. I say this after making another stop at Trader Joe’s to stock up for my Smoky Mountains camping trip and buying a bag of peanut butter-filled pretzels. I’m essentially confessing here so that I can be exposed and be held to my decree going forward.
So, one last thing to say about this camping trip before I sign off. The campground hosts there were the best people I’ve met to date. Charlie and his wife, Elaine, totally made our weekend. They’re originally from the southern most tip of Maryland, but have been traveling the States, working as hosts since 2007. In the winter months, they’re generally out West in the deserts and head back East during the summer months. Charlie was a sweetheart and so helpful with firewood/ice purchases, keeping a watchful eye on me when I was alone, and, ultimately, for Corbin’s corn hole team. Elaine was also great — I can tell she’s my kind of woman. They came over the morning I left and gave me a handful of great spots to check out West, cheaper camping options to look out for, and some other great tips. I hope all of my future campground hosts are half as great as they were.