Sorry for the long delay in reporting the Amazing Cheastypants Camping Extravaganza. It was fun. Beyond fun, actually, as it was both a trip down memory lane AND a visit to one of my top five favorite wilderness spots on the planet. If ever any of you are in the neighborhood, may I cordially suggest a camping trip into the Linville Gorge Wilderness Area? It's beautiful.
When I was a kid, Superdad would take us camping up here a couple of times every summer. I don't know how to describe my memories of the place, other than to recall the words of the brilliant Marvin Hamlisch (conjure some Babs, too, while you're at it,) "misty water colored memmmmm-reeeeeeeees, blah dee blah dee blah." It was our special place, with the small mountain store, the beautiful camping spot by the river on the edge of the meadow, and the entire Blue Ridge Parkway to explore. Going there was like Christmas; unspoiled time with our very busy Superdad was rare, but up in Linville he'd play and splash around, teach us to build dams and fires and cook potatoes in the hot coals. He relaxed there in a way he rarely did at home.
But the physical location was as special as the time spent with Dad. Linville Gorge is surreally beautiful, untouched by civilization, somehow. It's one of the only places on the east coast that has never been logged, farmed, dammed up, or otherwise disturbed by silly humans, and it's wonderful. Rugged, steep, inaccessible, gorgeous, with a beautiful river, steep tree-covered cliffs, black bears, foxes, deer, beautiful birds in abundance, and waterfalls; it is a wonderful place.
Heading up there last week all by myself, I wondered whether the place would be as special as my memories of it are. After all, it's been over a decade since I was last up there, and given the rate at which things have changed in North Carolina, who knew what it would look like. For all I knew the little general store would now be a Super Walmart. I hoped not, but prepared myself for the worst. And you know what? I was totally wrong. That little town of Linville Falls is still exactly the same. At the teensy post office they still write your postage on the packages in pen, since they don't have one of them fancy gadgets that do it automatically yet, and Louise's Famous Rockhouse Restaurant still sits on the same spot, serving the same food, with signs dangling from the ceiling delineating the four different county lines that converge directly on the spot the restaurant sits on. I was lucky enough to get our family's old favorite campsite, A19, and when I entered the Gorge itself, I stopped at the ranger station to let them know I was out there alone. And danged if the same ranger wardens weren't still sitting there in the same old rocking chairs, listening to that same old little radio tuned to AM talk shows. I greeted them with what must have been above average enthusiasm: "Oh, my God, you're still here! Hi! I love you!" They recommended a few "dandy little hikes" and urged me to take a lollipop. I did, and it was yummy. I like people that give you a good lollipop, not those cheap little two cent ones that melt in 15 seconds. Some things are worth doing right, and to my mind, a lollipop is one of them.
So for a couple of days, off I went into the Gorge each morning with a couple of apples, some goldfish crackers, bottles of water, and 100 Years of Solitude for reading. And they were indeed "dandy little hikes," if by "dandy little hike" you mean "extremely strenuous and steep terrain, largely overgrown, with a 1500 foot change in elevation from the top of the ridge to the river." I have very clear memories of bounding up and down those trails like a mountain goat when I was 15, but I find both my ability and inclination to do so have diminished considerably in the intervening time. Instead, I meandered. I puttered along at a moderate pace, and whenever I came to a peaceful glade or a stunning overlook, I'd stop, pull out some water, a snack, and my book, and just chill. I never saw another blessed soul while I was out there, which is not to say I didn't see some eminently wonderful things. It was lovely. Apart from the views, which are superlative, I saw mountain laurel in bloom, pine cones being born, a black snake and a peregrine falcon (!!!!). Perhaps most interestingly, I saw a group (flock? gaggle? herd?) of fruit flies attack, kill, and eat an earthworm. Let me tell you, people, if any of your fathers ever told you that earthworms don't feel pain as they made you impale them upon fishhooks, they lie and the truth is not in them. That earthworm was NOT enjoying the murder process at all. It was wriggling along at extraordinarily high speeds for an earthworm, and was circling and flipping and rolling its body all around in an attempt to fend off the attackers. All in vain, of course, and my heart kind of went out to the poor guy -- not his lucky day on the food chain.
So in short, it was wonderful. In the evenings I'd build a nice campfire and cook my dinner, read for a while, stare into the fire, and finally turn in to my cozy little nest in the tent. All in all, an ideal little trip, except for the way it ended, which was pretty awful, actually. On the last night I was there I went to bed and slept like a baby until about 1:30 am, when I woke up with the worst headache I've ever had in my life. Seriously, so bad that I couldn't lie down at all cause the pain was so much worse that way, and I got pretty violently ill, puking my brains out cause it hurt so bad which has NEVER happened to me before in my life. Naturally, I am Captain Unprepared for Everything, and had no headache medicine whatsoever, so after about a half hour of deliberation, moaning, and retching I thought, oh, fuck it. I'm out of here. So I got up, broke camp, hauled everything back out to my car, and set out for the nearest hospital/hotel/truckstop/convenience store. Lucky for me, the convenience store came first, and actually had an entire section of "oh, you're sick, hey? want to feel better?" and I stocked up on painkillers, decongestants and the like. I felt better shortly thereafter, and just headed home. So a bizarre ending, but nonetheless, a really good camping trip. Wish you could have been there.