This is my favorite time of year. Almost everyone I know loves spring best, but I’ve always preferred fall.
Every year about this time, I get nostalgic for the camping days of my youth, especially camping in the Blue Ridge and Smoky Mountains. The only problem was that my friends and I had a habit of waiting until late October, which is not the best idea when you’re camping in a tent in the mountains.
I remember one late fall expedition on Mt. Pisgah near Asheville when it got so cold I actually cried. My camping buddies and I persevered, living to tell about it. Then one year up at Black Rock Mountain State Park, the temperature didn’t get much above freezing during the day and was brutal at night. After the first night, we drove into town and bought caps with flaps that made us all look like Elmer Fudd and flannel shirts and sweatpants. Even putting on the extra layers didn’t help some of my friends. They broke camp after the second night and checked in at the nearest motel.
Black Rock Mountain was the site of another of our harrowing adventures. This time, it was early April. In the South Carolina Midlands, the weather was very spring-like so we didn’t have any trepidation about heading for the Georgia mountains.
As we drew closer to Mountain City, we began to notice there were patches of white on the mountains. Before long, so much snow was falling we could barely see the road ahead of us and the wind was beginning to pick up. When we finally reached the entrance to Black Rock, the ground and the roads were covered. We should have turned around and left when we found the gates to the campground locked and a sign saying the campground was closed due to the bad weather and only those who had checked in before the snowstorm could remain.
Normal people would have turned around, but I’ve never known our crew to be normal. Instead, we waited until a contingent of “grandfathered” campers pulled up to the gates and opened them using the combination they had been given by the park ranger. We followed their vehicle up the mountain and set up our tents as the snow on the ground got deeper and deeper.
We were in the middle of a snowball fight when the ranger pulled up in his truck. He was furious that we had not heeded the sign, growling that he could arrest us. We explained that by the time we reached the gates, the roads were already getting treacherous so we decided not to attempt to drive back down, especially since it was so late in the day.
Mr. Ranger finally calmed down after telling us how dangerous the conditions could become on the mountain during a blizzard, which is what the forecasters were predicting.
That night, my companions and I ran an extension court from the electrical outlet at our site to our tent and plugged in an electric blanket. It didn’t do much to curb the cold with four people trying to share it. I remember watching the shadows of tree branches dancing frantically above our tent and hearing the wind roar across the mountain.
The next morning when we put the coffee pot on the propane grill, the grill wouldn’t work. We went without our java and breakfasted on already cooked snacks we’d brought along. We took turns using the electric hand dryers in the bathhouse to warm our hands, faces and even our feet.
As soon as road conditions improved enough, we left, vowing to always check weather forecasts before going camping, whatever season it was.
No matter how bad things have gotten on our trips, our group loves camping and all the great stories we bring back home. We still manage to laugh a lot even in the worst of conditions.
Hmm ... I wonder if my buddies would be up for a trip in a couple of weeks. Can’t wait to see the Blue Ridge blanketed in its beautiful fall foliage.
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