It was not my idea to camp for four nights in Blue Bear Mountain, a campground near Todd, North Carolina in the heart of the Appalachian Mountains. Though I have embraced camping as a mom of two boys (you can read more here), I had my limits. I needed running water and a bathroom. I can skip a shower and brush my teeth with water bottles, but I am not a pee-in-the-woods kind of girl.
Upon arriving at the campground we were greeted by Mike, who looks exactly what I thought an Appalachian mountain man would look like. First things first, I asked if there were bears we needed to worry about. In his thick southern accent he answered:
Bears? Nah! There are no bears here. (PAUSE) The mountain lions drove them away a few years back.
Turns out it was a joke. Given that we had seen a bear on the Blue Ridge Parkway the day before, I didn’t think this was exceptionally funny. Everyone else did.
Joe chose a remote site, near a lake and apparently close to a bathroom. A remote site means you are not by your car. We parked at this main site, but then had to hike about a mile down a steep hill to pitch the tent. When I asked about the bathroom, Mike informed me there was an outhouse about a quarter mile from our campsite. There was no electricity or running water so he went on to explain the buckets of water that had to be poured in order for the “toilet” to “flush”. If they were out of water, we had to head to the stream and fill them up.
For the record, I do NOT consider an outhouse a bathroom, and stream water is NOT running water.
With trepidation, we hiked down to the campsite. We thought our site would be next to a lake where we could swim. Turns out the lake was more of a pond hosting hundreds of tadpoles. But the space was indeed beautiful, no one was around, there were no bears, and we set up tent.
The night was perfect. We made dinner, sat by the fire, told stories, and I walked to the outhouse before it got dark. That’s when the bullfrogs began to croak and not shut up. Ever. They were incredibly loud and obnoxious but I figured we’d eventually be able to drown out their sound so that it was meditative, like ocean waves or something.
I was wrong. The frogs remained loud and obnoxious for the three nights we were there.
At about 1:00AM, the ground shook. I’m used to thunderstorms, I’m from Miami for goodness sakes, but rolling thunder that shook the ground was foreign. Because of the echo of the mountains, the rolling thunder seemed extra loud and eternal. The four of us woke up, and I wondered about poor Charly who was in a tent by himself.
A downpour of biblical proportions ensued and no one could sleep. Add to it, my air mattress had a leak and by 3:00AM I was sleeping on damp, hard, ground.
The only benefit of the rain is that the frogs shut up. Yet I thought … what if a tree falls on us? What if there is a landslide? What if that stream overflows and we are the dumb tourists washed away in the Appalachians? Obviously, that’s when I had to pee. I figured I’d wait out the storm but two hours later, the storm was still going and I would be going in my pants if I didn’t do something.
Now remember I am not a pee-in-the-woods kind of gal, much less a pee-in-the-woods-in-the-mud-under-pouring-rain kind of gal. Yet it was urgent. I got out of the tent, got soaked, and peed in the woods crossing some imaginary threshold of mountain woman-ness.
At about 4:00AM the rain finally stopped, and the frogs began to croak again.
Though beautiful, our campsite was remote and there was not much to do there so we leisurely headed out to Boone. It’s one thing to hike a mile downhill, but a whole ‘nother to get back up; talk about a fifteen-minute cardio workout. This meant if you forgot something at the campsite, no one was going to volunteer to head back down to get it.
The second night was gorgeous, and with no rain. We arrived back at the camp in time to cook dinner. Charly and the boys went for a hike looking for sticks they would then turn into spears. In their mind, they would hunt bull frogs and shut them up. When night fell, we listened to music from a cell phone, and sat around the fire. That’s when Dreamer announced he had to go to the bathroom. I told him to pick a tree, but he said “No, I have to go number 2.”
Going to the outhouse in pitch darkness was out of the question so this kid was going to have to poop in the woods, and being mountain mom (NOT), I would take him. I won’t go into details but let’s just say it was an ordeal; one which made both of us emerge back to camp feeling like total survivors.
Fearless said he imagined the frogs were telling jokes to each other, and one was always laughing. They don’t go “ribit, ribit” as in the cartoons. These guys sounded like large, wild, donkeys. We could hear it … croak, croak, croak, haw haw, haw, haw. We would listen and laugh with the frogs. But we were so tired from the previous night and rock climbing all day, the frogs could’ve laughed the night away for all we cared.
We showered during the day. Regardless of the baby wipes we used, or how many rivers we swam in, we all stunk. Since that would take some time as there were only two showers, we had dinner in Boone, and made it back to camp right before it got pitch black. It was a star filled night but twenty minutes after we got in our tents, the rain began.
At first hearing the drops fall on the canvas of the tent was soothing, after all, the frogs stopped croaking. However, after hours of it, the sound was maddening. The thunder kept waking us up and by the time morning came, we all just wanted to get the heck out of there, we were going to Grandfather Mountain and White Water Rafting in Tennessee.
By the time we got off the river, yet another huge storm blew by. I looked at the radar app and it was covered with green meaning the rain would last for hours. No one said anything, but we all knew it would be another night of tormented sleep.
Dreamer finally broke the ice.
I don’t know if it is safe to go to the camp when it’s all wet and rainy. Mami, you can fall and get hurt one week before your Ironman. You shouldn’t do that.
He is great at that; it’s for MY benefit that we shouldn’t go down to the campsite; not because he didn’t want to hike down in the rain. Surprisingly, I was the only one willing to go back to camp after dinner. I thought hiking down to the campsite in the dark and rain would be an adventure the kids would like, but apparently no one else was in the mood.
“He’s right,” Joe said. “It’s fun to camp but not if it is going to rain all night.”
I was out voted and we headed to a hotel to spend the night.
I have to admit when I saw the bed, I jumped on it as if hugging a long lost friend! Those three camping nights, along with the tortured sleep, felt as if I hadn’t seen a bed for weeks. I had peed in the woods, hiked up and down steep muddy mountains, helped my son poop in the wild, overcome bull frogs, saved our family from getting washed away (okay, not really), and now I got a luxurious bed with clean sheets and pillows.
The next morning, we had to hike back down to camp to pick up as we were heading North that day. It was STILL raining and we braced ourselves for a nasty cleanup. But the weather Gods were with us, and as soon as we got to the top of the campground from where we had to hike down to our site, the weather cleared. We muddied (literally) our way down, packed up as fast as we could before it started to rain again, and said goodbye to Mike, Boone and North Carolina.
I know I did nothing spectacular in those three nights: I went camping somewhere without bears. Yet I was so out of my comfort zone that it became a huge adventure. So much so, my nickname for the rest of the trip was Mountain Mami.
And as odd as it sounds, I would do it all over again.