Monday, July 23, 2012

Nature Girl ?!?

I am finally drying my last (of like a million) load of laundry from last week's adventure vacation. I termed it such because the week really was one outdoor adventure after another, some more exciting that others :) Justin, Addy, and I drove to meet our family in Townsend, TN. A small town located on the outskirts of the great Smoky Mountains. Along with our usual camping crew made up of Julie, Brandon, the girls, Dee, and Tom, we were joined by Uncle Gary and Aunt Kathy from Missouri, and Donna's friends, Matt and Julie from California. Our Tent City was larger than usual this year to accomodate so many campers. Dee's campsites are different that most, and by different I mean way better. We camp luxuriously. Yes, there are still tents and air mattresses, but there is also running water on site, electricity, a "kitchen tent", a mini fridge, and more than one coffee pot to get us all going in the morning. The only not so luxurious thing is the bath house. I can say two nice things about the bath house. 1) We were conveniently located right beside it so I did not have far to walk when I had to pee during the night and 2) it is cleaner than the bath house at Natchez Trace where our family usually camps at least twice a year.

This was mine and Addy's first extended camping trip. Prior to this past week the longest I had camped was probably two nights. I actually made it fairly well...that is until the monsoon blew through the Tuckaleechee camp grounds. But more on that later. We arrived on Sunday afternoon and were surprised to find that most of tent city was already up and going. Pawpaw cooked up a yummy grilled dinner for us and we blew up air beds and settled into our tents. This was our home for the week.

Justin and I were sharing a tent with Dee and Pawpaw while Addy got to bunk with Aunt Julie. Brandon, Lucy, and Lainey were not going to join us until Tuesday. Monday we drove through Cade's Cove. I was really bummed that I forgot my camera because it was beautiful. I have only been there in the fall so seeing it green and buzzing with wildlife was fun. I do have to say though that I prefer it in the fall. The autumn colors of the park are just breathtaking. Once again Justin and I were hopeful to see some black bears, but alas, none. We did however see some giant bucks grazing near a fence basically within arms reach. We parked and got out of our cars to get a better view. Addy wanted to "go see him" but we stayed at a distance that we could enjoy the view but not scare him away. Although I am not sure you can scare those deer. They are really used to people and he never seemed to care that we or any of the other gawkers were so close to him or the other two deer grazing along side. If you've visited Cade's Cove you know there are many places to stop along the way and tour some historical sites. Cade's Cove was originally home to early European settlers in the early 1800's. There are still some old churches, barns, and log homes standing and they are pretty neat to walk through and see. The mill also has gift shop where we bought some yummy honey and a stuffed deer for The Princess which she named "Baby Reindeer". She was so exhausted from our fun day at the Cove that she passed out in the car on the way back to camp. It is rare that she falls out in the car nowadays, and even more rare that we can get her out of the car and into a bed without waking her. However, we succeeded that day, and as you can see, she is sleeping VERY well...snuggled up next to Baby Reindeer :)

On Tuesday, several of us decided to go on a short hike. We picked a trail that would have gotten in about 4.5 miles, but found it to be closed when we arrived at the trail head. Apparently the area had gotten some pretty severe storms just a few days earlier that had caused many in the surrounding towns to go without power and caused some serious damage to the trails and woods in and around the Smokies. Being super smart like we are, our group decided to proceed. About a mile into the trail we found exactly why it was closed. There was debris all over the trail, but up to this point we had been able to climb over, under, or around. However we came upon a GIANT tree uprooted on the trail and there was no way to the other side....or there was no way I was attempting it! We did come up on a park official surveying the area and he gave us a little bit of a scolding for being out there when there was a clearly posted sign that the trail was closed. After he left us we officially named him Ranger Roy and questioned why he was roaming around the trials all alone if it were soooo dangerous. Again, we're super smart :)By the time we got back to camp Lucy and Lainey had arrived and Addy was very happy to have some playmates. Although Daddy is a lot of fun, cousins are better!

Wednesday morning we met Maine and Papaw for breakfast and to hand off the girls as the rest of us headed off to hike Mount LeConte. If you know me, you know I have not an athletic or outdoorsy bone in my body. I was pretty nervous about this hike. Until about 3 1/2 weeks ago I had never hiked in my life. In fact, my only idea of hiking was hiking up the escalator two steps at a time in the mall to get to a good sale at Victoria's Secret. Thankfully, Julie and Brandon had taken us on a pretty challenging 4.5 mile hike a few weeks ago just to give us a small idea of what LeConte would be like. If you aren't familiar with Mount LeConte (like me) here is a little info. At the top of LeConte you will find the Mount LeConte Lodge. It is the highest guest lodge in the Eastern United States. It is accessible only by hiking one of it's 5 hiking trails that lead to the top ranging from 5.5 miles to 8. At the top, the elevation is over 6,400 feet and the temperature never rises above 80F. I learned the hard way that even in the middle of July, the top of a mountain is COLD! The lodge offers several small log cabins that have no electricity, running water, or bathrooms. You get propane heaters, kerosene lamps, a wash bucket to get warm water from outside, and bunk beds with fresh linens and warm blankets. There is a dining hall that serves the most delicious food EVER, especially if you have been hiking in the rain for the last 7 hours. It is an experience I would highly recommend. I never would have dreamed that would be something I would enjoy, but I really loved it. It was hard, and at times miserable and scary, but it was wonderful! We hiked with a group of 11. Justin and I, Julie and Brandon, Dee and Tom, Uncle Gary, Dee's friends Matt and Julie, and two of Tom's teacher friends Jean and Andrea. Andrea actually had a broken arm in a cast, she was quite a trooper! The trail we chose was called the Boulevard and the hike was about 8 miles to the top. The first two miles was actually a part of the Appalatian Trail, which was pretty cool. The hike up began very plesant. It was hot at first, but you could feel the temperature gradually drop as you went up and it really felt pretty nice. We stopped for a snack/water break and then a little later we found a great spot for lunch. There was a lot of beautiful scenery along the way.

After lunch it started raining on us. It would come and go and we spent a lot of time putting on rain gear, then taking rain gear off as it stopped and we started getting all stinky steamy in our ponchos. We had to dodge some pretty deep muddy water puddles, some not so succesfully. At one point the trail was so narrow and the water was so deep that some just took off their shoes and waded through. I already had wet shoes so I didn't want to do that. I tried my best to straddle walk the puddles without falling off the mountain! I was so thankful for my trekking pole. It was great for balance, climbing rocks, going down steep spots, and feeling out the really muddy spots and soft ledge areas. About two miles from the lodge the storm started getting worse. We heard a lot of thunder, the rain got heavier, and we started to see lightning. We needed to pick up our pace so the group seperated. Justin and I, Dee, and Julie and Brandon moved on a head of the group. We got to a pretty open area near the top where we were pretty exposed. The wind was hard, the rain was cold, and the lightning was very scary. We kept moving, because...well, when your on the side of a mountain you have no choice. I was so happy to see the signs for the lodge! I was soaking wet, cold, and tired of walking. Dee got us checked in to our cabin and we waited for the rest of our crew. Before dinner the lodge offered hot chocolate and coffee. It was yummy and having something warm was heavenly! What was not heavenly was my soaking wet socks and tennis shoes and my freezing cold legs! I had packed a long sleeve t-shirt in case it was cool, but I would have done just about anything for a fleece pull over and my trusty reindeer pants, a hidious pair of fleece Christmas pajama pants that I've had for way too long that I wear constantly at home. I love them, but Justin refers to them as my termite pants...because termites eat wood- he's disgusting, I know. I felt very unprepared in terms of clothing. I had a fresh pair of socks for the hike down and a clean shirt in addition to my long sleeved t, but nothing warm. My feet hurt so bad from being wet and wrinkly/pruney for so long. BUT, we had made it!! And that felt pretty awesome. The front of the dining hall has the name of the lodge, the elevation, and the date. Its a pretty perfect place for a photo op. We took advantage even though we were looking pretty rough, like we had hiked 7 hours or something :)

Dinner was A m a z i n g! I don't know if it was that good or we were that hungry, but it seemed like the best hot meal I had ever had in my life. I really think it was that good because breakfast the next morning was equally delish! Both meals were served family style with big platters and bowls were sat on the table and we just passed them around the table helping ourselves to as much food as we could hold. At dinner there was also endless wine, which again, we took advantage of! And what else do you do on top of a mountain after you have a full belly and a buzz?? You go to a cliff to watch the sunset of course...and try not to stumble off! It was cloudy so our sunset was not as colorful as we had hoped, but the view was still pretty fantastic.

Silly Brandon! After sunset, we all headed back to our cabin to get ready bed. We hung out for a while on our porch in nice rocking chairs and enjoyed the view of the city lights far away in the distance. We were high enough to see Pigeon Forge, Sevierville, and even fainly, Knoxville. It was beautiful. The sites made it all worth it for sure. We washed up a little out of our water buckets and then Justin and I snuggled in to the top bunk in our tiny little bedroom. I had never slept on the top of a bunk bed so I think I subconsciusly worried about falling off all night. I didn't sleep that great and woke up every time I needed to roll over or move. We pigged out the next morning on pancakes, coutry ham, homemade biscuits, and scrambled eggs. Oh and Tang instead of orange juice....kinda gross, yet kinda delicious :) Then we got ready to head back down the mountain. We took a different trail down that was approximately 5.5 miles.

The crew

The hike down was good. It was very steep and challenging in some spots, but totally dry! The weather was nice and cooperative and there was more beautiful scenery to enjoy along the way.

By the last few miles I was ready to be done. My shoes were still wet that morning, so they were not exactly comfortable. I wish I had slowed down a little and taken more time to enjoy all of the hike down, but unfortunately I was just ready to be off the mountain. Next time I will have a better idea of what to expect and come more prepared so I think I will do better. Overall, the experience was one of my most favorite things ever. I didn't expect to like it, but surprisingly I really really did. I can't wait to do it again. It was challenging and hard and exhausting and rewarding and fabulous! I loved it! If you enjoy the outdoors at all and are physically able to do the hike, I would recommend that hike, it is an adventure for sure!

Getting back to camp was a relief. I showered, and despite it being in the bath house with my flip flops on, it was one of the most glorious showers of all time. I don't know if I have ever in my life smelled that bad. I think my whole body smelled like really gross, wet feet. Sick huh!? Justin took Addy to play in the creek, so I enjoyed sitting in the shade with my nook, Mr. Grey, and a lime-a-rita, which by the way, are tasty! Its like a mix of budlight lime and margarita all in one cute little can. I am glad Aunt Kathy introduced the two of us, I can tell lime-a-rita and I will be good friends.

That night we knew there was a good chance of rain. A good chance my you know what. Some time after midnight it started raining. It woke us and Justin got up to zip up the windows of the tent. I heard Lucy crying in the tent next to us where she was sleeping with Julie, Brandon, and Addy. Lu is afraid of storms and she cried off and on for about an hour and the rain got heavier. Dee had told us that anything touching the tent walls would get wet but that it wouldn't leak. We pulled all the cover and sheets up onto the mattress away from the sides and at this point were only a little wet around the edges of our bed. About 1:30 Julie came into our tent and said that they were leaving and taking Lucy to Maine and Don's chalet. Lainey was already staying there. She offered to take Addy and I was greatful. She certainly didn't need to be out here getting wet. Justin wanted me to go with them too, but I wasn't that wet so I told them to go ahead. After they left I got up to go check Julie's tent for Addy's diapers. I knew they were laying near the wall and I didn't want to lose a whole bag of them. They were dry so then I decided to go to the bathroom since it had stopped raining. The ground and everything around our camp site was soaked, it had rained really hard, but it seemed to be finished. I got back in our tent and had bareley got it zipped when the bottom fell out. It was crazy raining. Luckily Justin's phone was in the tent with us and he checked out the radar. He just looked at me and said get ready, we're gonna get wet. And we did. Sleeping in a wet bed is no fun. No fun at all. The next morning was rough. I felt sleep deprived and the power was out when we got up, therefore there was a coffee delay. Boo! Justin and I headed to Maine's to check on Addy and pick up Julie and B. After all, there was no time to waste, we had another adventure to get too. it was white water rafting day on the great Ocoee River. I have to say, none of us were that excited that morning. We were water logged from all the rain the last few days and really a little over the whole camp thing. But as soon as we arrived at the rafting place and got geared up...excitement started rushing through us again. This was my third time rafting. I always feel terrified anticipating the ride, but when I get in the raft and we start moving, the fear subsides and I am ready to go! Rafting is SO a I might die today way. We really enjoy it and I'm glad we get the opportunity to go almost every summer, when Julie and I aren't pregnant :) It was a great ride. Of course I was the only one from our raft to fall out, but I still claim I was tricked by our guide. She told me to loosen my death grip so I wouldn't hurt my ankle. I loosened it and out I went in a rapid. After I was pulled back into the raft like a beached whale, I reinstated my death grip! I don't have the pictures from that yet, but don't worry they will come soon! Friday night there was more chances for rain so we stayed in the chalet with the girls. Although it was nice to be indoors and in a real bed, it is never a good night's rest sleeping with my child. I'm sure she kicked my in the face and stomach at least 20 times.

Saturday morning we headed home. It seemed like we were never ever going to get home, but when we did I was extatic to see our house! Adventures are fun, but by the end I am always ready to get back into my own bed. I am still not convinced I am a "happy camper" but it wasn't all horrible. I can see myself as a future camper by day, chalet sleeper by night :)

I will leave you with this picture of another happy camper getting her night time bath in a plastic tub. Justin is so smart haha!

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