Thursday, July 22, 2010

Cloudland Canyon Campout: Days 5 & 6

Day 5 (Friday) was set to be another scorcher, leading to possible rain later on. I'd intentionally left this day open for everyone to decide what they'd prefer to spend time doing. My Dad left early to go to work. Most of our group piled into one big van for a little road trip to nearby Chattanooga, TN. Billy took all the kids up Lookout Mountain to watch the flyers at Lookout Mountain Hang Gliding, then to McDonald's (a special treat). Others chose to relax or go hiking. My brother had returned,

and I got to go hiking with him, which was really nice. Since he'd not been down to the waterfall yet, we headed into the canyon.

It was great being able to hike along with my brother, no kids or anyone else. That hasn't happened in a long, long time. We chatted or just walked in blessed, companionable silence, listening to the birds and the far-off creek and our footfalls sliding in sandy, rocky soil. The air was close, heavy and hot. Wild blueberries provided an occasional burst of flavor. The sun shining through the leaves was pure magic.

Before long, we found our destination. My brother remarked that it reminded him of a similar waterfall he'd seen in Costa Rica, except there the locals had been diving off the top of the waterfall! (This swimming hole is not nearly deep enough for such a dangerous stunt.) We cooled our feet in the water, just taking in the day.

Before we left, I just had to stand under the waterfall. I was cautious, because I didn't want to encourage other visitors to take the risk if they weren't up to the challenge. Finally, the moment seemed right. It really wasn't that difficult, and some views can only be experienced from a closer vantage point.

I can hardly describe the wonder of sitting beneath a waterfall in such a beautiful location. The guys who had tried it all said the water hurt a lot as it beat down on their skin- I guess I was lucky to be wearing a shirt because to me, it felt absolutely wonderful. I could have sat there much longer than I did. This was the crowning moment of the whole campout for me. I will ever be grateful that I did it, and did not choose to sit on the sidelines and just observe.

After awhile, we decided to hike over to the other waterfalls in the canyon. They were nice, but I didn't really think they were nearly as lovely as the first waterfall. We headed back up the many, many stairs to the trail, and back to camp. On the way, my brother talked me into driving to a roadside grill for sandwiches and a milkshake. It was a longer trek than we'd intended, but DAMN! That fried chicken sandwich was good. I wish I remembered the name of the place, because it's worth a visit. I plan to go again sometime. On the way back I could clearly see the storm clouds rolling in. It looked like a big one, with heavy threatening clouds, flashes of lightning on the horizon, and a quickening breeze. Between sucking down my milkshake and feeling the wind on my still-wet clothes, I was actually shivering a little. It was bracing! I love a good summer thunderstorm. With full tummies, tired muscles and the wind in our hair we raced the storm back to camp.

My brother headed home, and Billy and I began preparing for that night's traditional yearly group campfire. Once ready, we lay plastic over the wood to keep it dry in the intermittent sprinkling of rain. We were worried the imminent thunderstorm would rain out the campfire plans altogether, but at least we had a nice big area sheltered under our tarps, lit beautifully with Christmas lights. It would be fine.

As it was, the storm skirted right on by us, and never dumped any real rain on camp at all. By nightfall the fire was lit, and friends and family (including some kids from a nearby campsite that Littleman had befriended) began wandering over with chairs and drinks. We toasted hot dogs, then marshmallows (for the traditional s'mores, of course!) and played story games until everyone had arrived. We closed out the night with our yearly round, everyone offering a favorite thing or a particular memory about this year's campout. We took a moment to miss Billy's Dad, who died in May. And we simply enjoyed the moment, watching the sparks dance up toward the stars emerging from the dissipating storm clouds. I read local ghost stories as the moon emerged and the barred owls added their nightly chorus.

Finally, we gathered up the sleeping little ones and everyone bid each other good night. Time to go to bed.

Saturday we packed up and drove on home. The kids slept all the way. Another year's family campout completed!

Now to plan next year- I need a good coastal location!

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