I was feeling very courageous the other week, and took my 4 kids plus my sons best friend camping up on Skyline Drive. We stayed for a week, and had a wonderful, beautiful, wild, and a little bit scary time. The first evening we suffered torrential down pours ALL NIGHT. It NEVER stopped. Our tent was not up for the job, so water leaked in everywhere. Soaking sleeping bags and clothes, towels everywhere soaking up puddles of water, and water was bottling up under the tent in pools as well. Sleeping was non-existent as it was like trying to sleep in a heavy metal rock concert; the rain coming down that hard. NOAH Weather called the Big Meadows ranger station and told them to get down to Loft Mountain (that’s where we were) and see what was happening there; it was THAT bad. I have lived through multiple hurricanes, and the only times I have seen rain come down harder is during one of those hurricanes. I had gotten soaked earlier in the evening while trying to finish setting up camp. I fed the kids, but skipped dinner myself. By morning I was sick, and ended up giving back to nature the little I had eaten; right out the way it came in.
Now, first understand, I am an experienced hiker and camper, and have NEVER quit on a camping trip or turned around early hiking. But, come morning I was on the phone with my hubby (who was coming up for an overnight then headed back the next day) letting him know to just bring himself and help me pack up camp. We had woken to more rain, and we were sitting in a cloud ALL morning. Well, we were on the very top of a mountain camping. He was an encouraging husband, and told me it was clearing soon, and to just give it a few more hours. We all agreed (I had given all the kids a vote on what to do), and we stuck it out. About noon time the clouds peeled away, and the sun shown down on our campsite. It was a most welcome gift. My husband showed up with bikes and the screened tent, and we got it set-up. The day finished beautifully, and we were happy we had not given up.
Too many times we give up right before the sun shines out on the situation we are in, and then we never experience the beauty we struggled and hoped for. Don’t give up; the break you are waiting for may be so near. All the kids road bikes all around the campground, I had cooked up some good campfire meals, and we all relaxed, read, and enjoyed each other and our surroundings.
(This was taken in one of the clearer moments of the morning as the clouds started to lift.)
That night we all rested in a quiet campground with the hushed sounds of the woods around us. We woke to a beautiful Sunday, and the day promised to be a good one. We took on a 7 mile hike that had multiple large waterfalls all along the trail. We crossed paths with a bear and a snake, we hiked down part of the Appalachian Trail that my dad had backpacked when he was a teenager. The waterfalls created their own wind around them, and we enjoyed standing close so to be enveloped by the cool wind and mist. The hike out was uphill and hard, and starting to pull towards evening. I started to encourage the kids to keep going, and when they finish they will feel victorious and accomplished. We finally made it, and they all looked at me and said, “We don’t feel accomplished. We feel tired.” I laughed, and told them that “tomorrow when they wake up after having been fed and rested they will feel accomplished.” We got back to camp and cooked up some tacos (1st night of my mistake) and roasted some s’mores. That evening my hubby went home, and the kids and I snuggled into our sleeping bags for another quiet night in the woods.
Now, you have to understand the quick wit of my son’s best friend. He wakes, and the first thing out of his mouth was, “I feel so accomplished!” We all rolled with laughter, but at the end of our trip, as hard as that hike was (the hardest we did), that hike was his favorite and all of us felt “accomplished” about finishing it. We also took home great stories of that trail. None of us would go back in time and choose not to hike that long hard and amazingly beautiful trail.
Monday morning I woke to the first full day of being just me and 5 kids. Let that sink in for a moment. ………………………………Camping…………………….In the woods………………..with 5 kids……. I set out when I planned this trip to cook really good breakfasts and dinners, and according to the comments of the kids, I accomplished that goal. We decided to take it easy this day after the 7 mile hike yesterday. We drove up Skyline Drive, stopped at overlooks, and had lunch at Big Meadows. We got back to camp in the afternoon to a surprise. A bear trap at the neighboring campsite. We were told there were 8 bears who regularly live in the campground area, and 2 had started misbehaving. Being the adventurous types, we thought this was pretty cool. After a beautiful restful day I cooked a big pot of chili for dinner (Yep, tacos and now chili. 2nd night mistake.) And, then for another quiet nature filled night; except for bodily nature sounds and …SMELLS… Remember 2 boys, 3 girls, and 1 mom sharing a tent.
Tuesday morning! Remember how I described this trip in the beginning paragraph? This started on the “wild” side. I woke to strange noises outside our tent. We’ve hidden all our food, shampoo, soaps, toothpaste, toothbrushes, etc in the van, because we are good campers who heed the warning of the Park Rangers. But, a curious little baby bear outside our tent didn’t know that. He checked the screened tent out, but found no entry, circled around the side of our tent, and kept sniffing other campsites for breakfast. We were notified that this bear cub had been abandoned by his mom, and before he was taught to stay away from people. They were trying to trap him and relocate him to the north of the park. We were also informed that a very large bear came into another campers site while they cooked breakfast. Welcoming himself to breakfast. He ended up taking all the beer and sodas. As they looked for him they only needed to follow the trail of broken open and empty cans of beer and soda. Apparently, bears have good memories and when they find something they like food-wise they go after that particular stuff.
We then packed our daypacks to hike up Hightop Mountain and have lunch at the top. Going up is ALL up, so we were huffing and puffing some. It is a short hike though, so that saved us. About 3 miles total; there and back. The view from the top is beautiful. There is an outcrop of rocks that you can climb out on and look down over the mountain range, Skyline Drive, and the valley below. Coming back down was all down-mountain, and we made quick work of it. That evening I continued my goal of creating delicious meals, and made a big pot of Cowboy Stew with lots of spice. Yeah, night 3’s mistake. We’ve now had tacos, chili, and Cowboy Stew all in a row. That was an interesting night in the tent, but we all survived with no lasting brain damage.
The trail up Hightop Mountain
Wednesday, we got up to do another quick but real nice hike down to Dark Hallow Falls. This proved to be our favorite waterfall. It was a short 1 1/2 mile round trip. We stopped in every pool along the creek to wade in and splash around, but the highlight was, of course, getting to the waterfall. Which I’ll just show you a picture, because words will not do it justice.
We finished playing in the pool at the bottom of the falls then headed back up. We couldn’t just go straight back; we couldn’t resist another stop at the bigger pool. My kids splashed, got soaked, and 1 took a spill down a slippery rock. The water was ice cold, but that didn’t stop them. My oldest daughter was sitting on the rocks and struck up a conversation with a lady by her. This lady ended up being on vacation to the US for the first time from the Czech Republic. My daughter loves talking to people from around the world, so this became her favorite moment on the trip. We finished up and headed back to camp.
Now I’ve showed you how this trip was beautiful and wild. Now it’s time to tell you about the scary side of it. A little after getting home I was down at the camp bath house when I noticed some really mean looking clouds. Then I got the alert of a thunderstorm. I high-tailed my butt back to camp, and gathered up the kids to hold up back at the bath houses. Those clouds lived up to their scary look. Lightening was striking everywhere around us. I don’t know how to properly explain this so that you get the picture of what was going on. We were on top of the mountain, and the mountain is cleared some to accommodate the campground and facilities. So, you can grasp the lightening friendly landscape of the area. Lightening was splintering across the sky like a net. Bolts striking down on all sides of us. Thankfully we remained safe. This went on for around 30 minutes. When it finally calmed we drove back to our campsite. It was sunset. Mix that with the storm clouds and us being on top of the mountain, and this is what you get at an overlook.
I snapped this shot right after diving back into my car due to lightening not quite being done with us. Once again, it splintered across the now bright orange sky and all around us like a net.
Despite this quick passing storm, we slept well this night. And, I finally wised up and did not cook anything that had a reputation for causing excess gas. But, the next day ….
This ends our tail. Thursday, my hubby was coming back and we were to spend the rest of the week together. Coming home Saturday. This did not happen. This was one of the scariest moments of my life. I have rarely been this close to death before. We didn’t have much planned due to waiting for my hubby to arrive (we didn’t know what time he would be in), so we stuck around camp. When the storm clouds rolled in I had not received any alerts, so I figured it would rain and roll back out. It rolled away, but not without leaving an impact first. Rain came and then the lightening ramped up. It got worse and closer. The kids were hiding in the car, but I figured I’d stay in the tent. Then my son joined me. We sat reading, and I tried to keep the atmosphere light as the storm and lightening continued to get worse. I knew it was striking all around us. I could hear it getting closer and louder. But, I figured we’d be more of a target if we got out of the tent and ran for the car. Then it happened. I was messing with the kids in the car with a flashlight (they were in eye sight of me). They said it started to hail dime size hail. The flash and the sound of the explosion happened simultaneously, my hands felt the shock as the electric charge used the metal flashlight to pass through my hands, I hit the ground, and my son followed jumping over and to the ground to be beside me. We laid there, my hands feeling like pins and needles, my heart messing up, sick to my stomach, dizzy, and my son tells me his head is buzzing and so is mine. The kids in the car tell us later that they saw the strike hit right outside the tent. My 9 year old twins and daughter feared that they would find their mommy and brother dead in the tent, but the storm raged on so we had no choice but to stay put until it calmed. Laying flat on the ground the entire time. David and I laid there until we felt the storm calm to a safe point to run. We jumped out of the tent, ran to the car, and sought shelter again at the bath house. We got there to find around 20 backpackers huddled in for shelter as well. We all hunkered down to wait the storm out. I had the only cell service to check radar, so I kept everyone updated. Through hikers on the Appalachian Trail said they went to the Wayside store right down the road, and that lightening struck right out on the deck there. The storm didn’t let up for a while. When it did we went back to camp.
Thankfully our site was fine, but down the road tents were collapsed and blown around their sites. This was the 3rd storm in going on 7 days. I tried to get back at camping, but my nerves and emotions were shot after this one. By the time my husband arrived in the evening the decision was made to pack up. My hands were tingling for 3 hours after the strike. A continual reminder harping on my emotions. We packed it all up, and were out of their that night. We were only an hour and a half from home, and we all welcomed the luxuries of a modern home. I LOVE hiking and camping. Still do, but that was a new experience to add to my belt.
Honestly, loved the trip. And, I got some great stories to tell for years to come. Do NOT EVER want to come that close to being struck by lightening again.
I love the beauty, the peace, and the quiet one finds in the woods and mountains. I love the adventure, the animals, and nature. And, I am excited for the next trip. I took 5 kids into the mountains for a camping trip. I feel …. “Accomplished”.