I left Delaware much later than I wanted to, but sometimes you need to fuck up in order to learn. After saying goodbye to Tom (Scott had left for work a few hours earlier), I went to run some errands and get a few things I needed. Or at least thought I did. I went to Cabela’s (!!!) and picked up some stuff that, I swear to God, is still sitting in its plastic bag in the car. Clearly these were not mandatory items, though I’m sure my mother feels better knowing that I now have bear spray (though she sent me a YouTube how-to video, so maybe she doesn’t really trust me much). Target had a grocery section and I basically threw a bunch of food into a cart that I thought could make work for meals over the next four days. My last stop was Costco for beef jerky. This was not a necessity, but proved to be vital later in the day. And that Pacific Gold brand jerky is the jam.
Finally, I headed out around 3:30pm with a 5 hour drive ahead of me, which really translates to at least 6. The drive wasn’t much to write home about - soon enough I hope to get the hell off the interstates most of the time so I can actually see some of this country. It was rainy and shitty for most of the drive, but I eventually turned off onto Route 33 to head toward Shenandoah National Park and that’s where all of the beautiful old farm homes amidst hundreds of acres of green became the focus of the landscape. What gorgeous country. I feel like that will be a phrase I use frequently, but man, it just inspires so much peace inside of me. I’m not sure where the origin of that is, being that I grew up in LA (well, The Valley if we’re being technical), but there is an indescribable magic that open spaces and farmland conjures.
When I’d called the campground earlier in the day to check on timing, they mentioned they’d been sitting in a cloud for the last few days and to be careful of the fog. I wasn’t really quite sure what I was getting into. Talking to my dad on the way up, he lovingly scolded me for throwing camp in the dark. It’s not something I was planning to do and, in fact, one of the reasons of this no job thing is so that I can get to campgrounds in the daylight. But like I mentioned, we all have to fuck up in order to learn. Driving along Shenandoah National Park’s Skyline Drive (the parkway through the park) at 8:30pm while it’s sitting in a cloud was a surreal experience. In parts, I couldn’t see more than five feet ahead of me. I wasn’t terribly concerned about my driving skills, but moreso that a deer would want to commit suicide on the hood of my car. I had one close call, but thankfully made it ok. The campground was dead. It was raining hard. And that’s when I decided to change into some more comfortable clothes, eat a bit of beef jerky (it was a necessity after all!) and sleep in the passenger side of my car. It’s nice to know that can be done relatively comfortably since it for sure will not be the last time.
It had stopped raining when I woke up. The campground was eerily quiet and foggy. It was pretty cool to watch how it moved around in the breeze. After setting up camp, my day consisted of several naps, a chip sandwich (being able to make and eat these on the reg is one of my favorite things so far), and responding to some emails that I’d put off for way too long. I know it seems antithetical to have your laptop out while camping, but this was my first opportunity in too many weeks to sit down and write back to so many lovely and heartfelt emails I’d received about my trip.
This might seem tangential for a moment, but there are so many blogs on the interwebs where folks paint these pictures of their perfect, purposeful lives. I very much will do my best to be honest here. Mostly because all of y’all reading this are my friends who know me, but also because I think it’s important to put your true self forward. Plus, I expect to learn a lot on this trip and how will I convey that if I don’t mention where I start. And this is where I admit that I couldn’t build a campfire to save my life on my first night camping. I have done it before. In fact, I have built a few incredible campfires that I have been beyond words proud of. But, to be honest, I haven’t built many. And that inexperience showed itself on my first night. And on the second night, too. I’d like to blame the dampness of the area and, I’m sure that contributed to it to some extent. However, that didn’t stop all of the other goddamn campsites from having these magnificent fires whose lovely fire smell wafted over to me, making me feel like some silly girl who has set out to do something that she’s unprepared for. For Christmas, my folks bought me a hatchet. I researched this purchase extensively, asking them to return the one they’d bought in favor of another. I also realized I have no idea how to properly use a hatchet. After one close call (again with the current shitty health insurance situation), I decided to put that guy down until I can have someone properly teach me. However, I am terribly pleased (tickled even) to say that the third time was a charm and I built the shit out of a campfire on my last night. There’s a good chance there was some dumb luck involved, but I am really looking forward to improving and getting good at this. Like hire me to build you a hell of a campfire good.
The rest of my time at Shenandoah was a real incredible respite from the craziness of the last few months. It’s been nice to have some days to myself and I can tell that my mind is starting to ease into this. When you live in New York, there is always something to constantly distract you - for better and for worse. I’ve enjoyed that these last eight years, but it feels so good to have all this space open up in my brain so that thoughts can come and go.
I pretty much drove along Skyline Drive most every day. The views from the overlook points have a way of really knocking you on your ass with their magnificence. You can see for MILES and sit and wonder what all is happening in the cities below or in the mountains behind.
I took at few hikes while I was there - one to an incredible waterfall that reminded me a lot of these rock slides my family and I used to go to around Idyllwild when I was a kid. I hadn’t thought of those in so long and I was grateful to have that memory make it’s way back into my mind.
The other was along a section of the Appalachian Trail, which snakes itself around Loft Mountain Campground. The AT is one of the most popular through-hikes in the country, so it is traversed by hundreds of people every year going from where it starts in Georgia to its end in Maine. I have a lot of admiration for folks that do through-hikes - it requires a lot of self-sacrifice and commitment in order to put this achievement under your belt. It was cool to share the same pathway as some of those folks, even if it was for just a few miles. I also barely ran across anyone and it was so cool to be surrounded by so much quiet underneath a cool canopy of green.
All in all, my first camp trip was pretty successful. I learned things, I saw some wildlife, I had some moments with the Mother, I ate the shit out of some chip sandwiches, and I had some time to let my mind slow on down.
So, I met my camp neighbors the morning I left - Dave and Gloria from some tiny town in Pennsylvania that "no one's ever heard of." They'd rolled in on Saturday with the most enormous RV bus I have ever seen - seriously, I was half expecting Maroon 5 to step out and try to feed the wildlife. Anyway, they were lovely and I offered them my extra firewood since, well, clearly I had some left over. That's when Dave told me he ALWAYS has problems lighting the firewood in the park - that it never catches fire and just smolders. He said that he also always has problems breaking the logs up into kindling so he just brings his own now. I CANNOT TELL YOU HOW VALIDATED I FELT! So, hey, thanks Dave. You da best!
Upon breaking down my tent, I learned another reason why it's always good to throw camp in the daylight when you're not just barely awake from your overnight car nap: tent placement. As I pulled up my footprint, I stared at the underside for a good 10 seconds, trying to rationalize in my head all of the other things this spot could be rather than what I knew in my heart it was - some sort of animal shit. Yep, folks, I threw my tent right over a huge pile of poo and happily slept there for three nights. It's a real good thing that I have a high tolerance for grossing out - I couldn't stop laughing as I tried my best to wipe it off. It's also a real good thing that I never put my tent down on the bare ground. When I get to Durham, I'll be high power washing that little guy off in a yard.