So, it was the morning of my departure. I slept surprisingly well considering the "root" problem I dealt with the previous night. The foam pad helped but the ROOT would not be denied. It had an agenda and it wasn't going to let a little padding stand in its way. Personally, I also believe it knew I was leaving that next morning and that made it all clingy. You know how roots are.
I rose to the COLD morning air. The previous frost warnings almost proved to be accurate. In my professional, meteorological opinion, I would guess the temperature was about 1 degree ABOVE hell freezing over. Which is warmer than I had expected it to be. So... bonus. But the area wasn't going to warm up simply because I was starting MY day so I got up and started getting ready. I was even able to skip the first step in the old man morning ritual because my bladder was COMPLETELY empty from the night before.
The Scoutmaster had gotten up a little bit before I did because he had a dying fire to tend to. He stayed true to his goal and only had to light the fire once when we arrived. There was also firewood leftover from yesterday's episode of "Who Wants to Be a Lumberjack?" So with his skills and the available resources he was able to revive a weak pile of embers to the mighty inferno it once was not even 6 hours earlier. I let him finish that before I got out of the cold tent though. In spite of popular belief, I'm not an idiot.
The campsite also began to wake up with the fire. It didn't take long for the sound of the burning wood to change the site from a freezing cold ghost town to a slightly warmer (yet still freezing cold) ant farm. People started moving around and that signaled the beginning of the day.
I was leaving out that day but before I got everything together I ate breakfast. The morning's breakfast was an MRE (Meal, Ready-to-Eat) like all of our meals. Mine in particular was Meatballs in Tomato Sauce. (I'm not completely sure on that fact. All I know is that it was red and had meat in it. So really it could have been any one of 50 types of MREs. But I won't complain because it was a LOT easier to carry those down the mountain than the bologna and hot dogs we tried to carry down on the trip before this one. That is a 10-Part series! I will spare you all that one).
MREs are field rations provided by the US military for its service members who are in combat or are in other field conditions where regular food is not available. So I was a little concerned to see that mine contained ingredients to make a French Vanilla Cappuccino. What??? Not that I'm opposed to an MRE having French Vanilla Cappuccino. I just can't understand a combat situation where someone once said, "You know what would make this lovely meal complete? ...French Vanilla Cappuccino. Now, hand me my rifle. The enemy is advancing."
After eating my breakfast (minus the Cappuccino) I got my gear ready for the trek up the mountain. My pack was MUCH lighter now that the MREs were gone. I did pack one with me so that it would be one less the others needed to worry about when they left the following day. (I left a day earlier than the others because I was working on a business idea that needed my attention. If we get to go next year, I will make sure I get to stay the whole time. I wouldn't want that root to miss my back too much.)
Because it was cold I was originally going to wait until it was closer to noon leave. But I knew that it was going to be a tough 4-mile hike up the mountain so I would get plenty of warmth simply from the movement. With that, I put on my pack, retrieved my number 2 pencil and (though I made fun of it) asked if I could keep the little knife for protection on the hike. I was given the security clearance necessary to possess such a powerful weapon. (They don't just let ANYONE carry those things!) My friends had also been debating for 2 days on whether to walk up with me so I wouldn't go alone but I finally convinced them I would be fine. (I have awesome friends!) They reluctantly and with extreme reservation agreed. (See?) And the journey alone began with a few appropriately placed fist bumps, hand shakes, hugs (yes, hugs) and simple good byes. I would have left them with an even more appropriately placed gas-plosion but I really had to go to the bathroom at this point. So in the end (pun intended) the joke would have been on me. Literally...
The hike up the mountain lasted about 2 hours. It was a lot easier than expected because my pack was MUCH lighter on the way out because the food was eaten. But still... 2 hours is a long time to be walking alone on a mountain trail. The entire hike I saw 3 people. There was a guys hiking down alone (idiot) and a couple who were going to be out just for the day (I assume) because they didn't even have packs. So that left a lot of time to think. Especially random thoughts like...
1. I noticed that there are a lot of places in the Smoky Mountains that may received one direct ray of sunlight a year. And yet, the mountain chain is teeming with vegetation. That made me think... People should be like that as well. Even if life dumps on us every day of the year except one, we should find a way to use that one day to give us the strength to last us until the next "one" day.
2. Which hand should I use to hold the walking stick and which hand for the knife? If I were to get attacked by a pack of Ninja Bunnies, which weapon configuration would be most beneficial. (If you have seen "Monty Python and the Holy Grail" you know this is a distinct possibility. If you haven't, you need to. But I will warn you it IS a cult classic. So you will immediately LOVE it or HATE every minute of it. There is no middle.)
3. I wonder how many times this theory has been tested: If you and your friends are being chased by a bear, it doesn't matter if you are the fastest. You just have to make sure you are not the slowest.
4. Man... My wife would HATE this whole multi-day hiking/camping thing.
5. Half way up the mountain I couldn't help but think to myself, "You know what would make this lovely hike complete??? ... French Vanilla Cappuccino."
6. In the movie Star Wars, the bad guys were always trying to "force" people over to the Dark Side. When this tactic stopped working, why didn't the PR department shift gears and start offering something different like free food or massages for the first 1000 people or even gift cards? I'm mean, they owned everything at that point. Surely, money wouldn't have been a problem. They could have even done the old bait-and-switch like a lot of the multi-level marketing businesses do. They would offer you a trip to some remote tropical planet if you just sat and listened to a 1hr presentation showing all of the benefits of the Dark Side.
7. If the federal government says they have my best interest at heart, then why don't they personally ask me what I think/feel/want so they will at least know what my best interests are?
8. This trip has truly changed me but I STILL hate shopping.... and cats... and stuffed toys with HUGE eyes.
9. I wonder if the people who named the "Titanic" had named the ship "I will never mock GOD and his awesome power whether I believe in divinity or not" would the ship still be around today.
10. I also thought about the fact that each step I moved forward took me one more step away from my friends. With each step up the mountain, if something happened, I was THAT much farther away from those who do anything to help me. With each step I increased my chances of falling to serious injury or even death. With each step I was leaving behind life-long friends. And with life's uncertainties, there was a chance I would never see them again.
But it is all about perspective. Because...
With each step I was one step closer to seeing my kids' smiles. Each step brought me closer to seeing my beautiful wife. Each step up the mountain was filling my heart with joy knowing I'm that much closer to hearing the sounds of my children's laughter. With each step I could almost feel my lovely wife's touch. Each step led me one step closer to... home.
All in all, the camping experience is one that I will enjoy year after year. But to be honest, the best part of being away from all of the bad stuff about life for a few days is the coming home to all of the good stuff. Without my family in my life it really wouldn't really be living. I would just be going through the motions of life.
It felt good to be home.