Our youngest, Liam, left for his place in Charlotte on Jan. 2, a Saturday. By the time he departed around 11 a.m., it had turned into a gorgeous winter day. Temperatures were approaching 60, there was no rain in the forecast, and there were so many chores that needed attention after the holidays.
“Let’s go camping,” Lori suggested, out of the blue. My wife is a worker, someone who can get more done in a couple hours than most can in a day. But she’s also spontaneous , someone who gets the urge to do something and wants to make it happen right then. I didn’t jump up and say what a great idea it was, but I did begin to ponder where we could go and how long it would take to get our stuff together.
“Backpacking or car camping?” I asked.
“We haven’t backpacked in a long time,” Lori responded. “Let’s do it.”
So we did. Out came the packs, tent and sleeping bags and mats, cookware and stove, water bottles and camelbacks, food, coffee, and all the clothes and extras we’d need. As we stuffed our packs we made a vague plan to head to the Parkway and toward Shining Rock, the Art Loeb Trail or some portion of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail.
We only had to stop for propane fuel for the stove and we were off. As we approached the Parkway from N.C. 215, though, cars were bumper-to-bumper along the side of the access road. Damn, the Parkway was closed. Didn’t even occur to us. I was deterred, but Lori was committed. We backtracked and parked at a turnout close to the Flat Laurel Creek Trail — which seemed crowded based on how many cars were there — and weighed our options. We decided to start hiking towards Shining Rock and if there were too many people we’d just turn around.
There wasn’t. A truth that all hikers know is that once out in the woods, the trails often spread people out enough so what seems a crowd is well dispersed. A couple miles in and we were alone, with only a couple groups passing us heading back to the parking areas.
It was an hour from sunset when we got into Shining Rock, and with the Parkway closed it was as empty as I’ve ever seen it. We set up the tent in a spot along the creek Lori dubbed “dos pinos,” then took our camp chairs and box wine to watch the sun set over Little Sam Knob. All the wood near the creek was wet and so we didn’t have much luck with a campfire that night, but we made it work for a while. The next morning we hiked up Sam’s Knob. It’s the only time I’ve been there when the Parkway was closed, and we had the mountain all to ourselves. Literally. Not a soul as we scrambled around the top, taking in the views from various locations, enjoying the winter morning in all its glory.
Back at our campsite we disassembled the tent and packed our stuff, talking about camping gear we could have used and where we might go next. Then we heaved our packs on and started out. The real world, the noise and the anger and the important issues that shape this world and this region were waiting, ready to greet us.
But for 24 hours, it was all forgotten. Blissful solitude. Damn I love living here.