Sunday, October 22, 2006

Presbyterian Camping

Mebane Presbyterian Church has a long, proud history of family camping trips, so when we heard about this trip to Grandfather Mountain, in the Appalachians in western North Carolina, we jumped at the chance to go.

The Traveling Roths love camping. Well, at least Jennifer and I do. We got engaged while camping north of Dahlonega, Georgia in 1994. Our niece Kayley was born while we were camping at Dockery Lake (North Georgia, again) in 1996. Coincidentally, Tristan was born while Andy and Shelley were camping. So we have street cred.

Tristan and Zoe did not enjoy camping. They've only gone tent camping twice in their life. Once in 2002 at Kerr Lake, NC (on a weekend when we all were anxiously awaiting the arrival of our nephew, Alex) where the continuous rain caused us to cut our trip to only one day. The second time was on the beach in South Carolina where a summer thunderstorm that T&Z claim was a "hurricane" was so powerful, the two of them had to stay by themselves in the tent in the midst of it all, just to weigh it down.

So Friday afternoon, we made the drive to Seven Devils, NC, about 10 miles south of Boone, and a few miles north of Grandfather Mountain. It was a surprisingly quick trip. We found the group site, and several other families were there and in various stages of setup. We were quickly losing the light, so we huried to get our tent pitched, and remember how to light the lantern, and didn't have time for pictures.

There were about seven families there. We had an excellent campfire, and several camp stoves. The chili was ready, and so were a bunch of hot dogs, cocoa, and hot chocolate. The kids quickly found their friends, and went off to do kid stuff; build a fort, throw crabapples at a wasps nest, get wet, etc.

Jennifer and I have decent camping gear, but the kids didn't. We had rented sleeping bags for them at REI, but it wasn't until I went to pick them up that I found out how overpriced the rentals were. We cancelled that, and I bought two new bags at Wal-Mart for ~$40 each. A 20 degree "King Sized" (which here just means rectangular, and heavy) and a 0 degree mummy. Buying the new bags was still $30 cheaper then renting bags and thermarests for them.

We setup our AeroBed in the tent, and got everybody arranged in our 8' x 8' space. Jennifer, Zoe, and I laying across the width of the bed, and Tristan on the ridge rest and blankets at the bottom. After not too long, Jennifer decided that her claustrophobia was a little too intense, or in tents, so she moved to the truck. The kids were out in no time; Zoe in the King Sized bag, and Tristan in the mummy. My mummy bag, which is rated for 15 degrees, I think left me a little chilly, despite my layers. But it wasn't too bad, so we got a decent night's sleep.

When we woke up, there was frost everywhere. My thermometer said 30.9 degrees (Fahrenheit). The views were spectacular though.

A panoramic of the campsite, stitched-together from five smaller pictures.
Pano Grandfather MountainPano Grandfather Mountain Hosted on Zooomr

Jennifer with the mountains behind her.

Breakfast cooking.
After a delicious breakfast of bacon, sausage, eggs, and grits, we split off to do whatever we felt like doing for the day. We headed down to Linville Caverns. We didn't know anything about the place, but it was on the map we got from the campground, so it was worth a look.

It was a nice, smaller cave, and other than Jennifer and her aforementioned claustrophobia issues, it was a pretty cool tour.
From there, we tried to check out Linville Falls, another place we found on our complementary map, but there were way too many people with the same idea, so with no place to park, we had to move on.

On the way, we saw several Christmas tree farms. With North Carolina within 500 miles of half the US population, it's no surprise that the state is ranked second in the nation in number of trees produced, supplying over 19% of the real Christmas trees in the US. Goodness grows in North Carolina.
The next stop was the Wooly Worm Festival in Banner Elk. For those not in the know, a "Wooly Worm" is what I grew up calling a wooly-bear caterpillar. Tomato, tomato. There are races throughout the day, and tons of crafts and food vendors, entertainment, and some rides. Unfortunately, they charge an admission fee, but we were curious enough to pay it. While we were in the ticket queue, the couple in front of us asked Tristan if he'd like their Wooly Worms. After confirming that he wasn't going to just squish them, they handed him a coffee cup with two caterpillars in them.
Tristan's pretty good with pets, and he's been taking very good care of the caterpillars. But it was now 2:30, and we hadn't had lunch yet, so we made avail of the various vendors.

A "Philly" Steak and cheese
Followed by a "Meat Gyro"
(this was damn disappointing, by the way)

And for dessert, something a little different, beignet bites
The whole festival thing would've been more entertaining had we not just been to the State Fair a week earlier.

A fortuitous missed-turn later, we found ourselves at the top of Beech Mountain. There's actually a ski slope at the top, and some really choice real estate. It looks like a good place for the kids to learn to ski or snowboard.
Five o'clock was fast approaching, and we needed to purchase some food, for the dinner was BYOM. We got some ribeye steaks, mushrooms, and onions at the Food Dog, and made it back to the campground just in time for the golden hour and more photography.

Meal prep had begun in earnest, once again. Tim had arrived during the day, and had become the de facto fire master. The meal was Bring Your Own Meat, with the community accompaniments of green beans, hot bread, and jacket potatoes, so there was plenty of prep work.
After dinner, campfires are good for
  1. heat
  2. light
  3. dessert
It was S'mores time, once again.

Here's Jennifer and others preparing marshmallows and dough boys

Here's Zoe getting S'more instruction from an older camper, Emma Troxler

And Zoe enjoying the fruits of her labor
The next morning, although not being nearly as cold, was a little rainy. That's okay, for all there was to do was eat and pack up.

Connor Waters and Zoe, the youngest boy and girl, respectively, on the trip were old pros by now.
And Zoe and I took a few minutes to get just a little more hickory-smoked before heading back to Mebane
It was a great trip, and we can't wait to go again. I think Tristan and Zoe's opinions on camping have been very favorably altered by this trip.


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