Happy to find a three-day weekend in October and hankering for autumn leaves and cool temperatures, our family headed north recently to Oconee State Park in the mountains of South Carolina for camping adventure. Following the “be prepared” scouting motto, we filled our minivan with all the essentials… tent, sleeping bags and pads, clothes, food, camp kitchen, and so on. Sure, we could have left the full size pillows at home and maybe brought fewer clothes or a smaller cooler, but we had room, especially with the backpack on the back of the van. Sure, we were heading to a hike-in tent camp site, but the ranger assured us the walk was not very far to the site. No problem.
Setting up camp on Saturday was delayed a few hours as we waited for the rain to stop, which it did around 4:00 in the afternoon. That’s when we set out down the trail with our wagon filled and arms loaded with as much as we could carry in one trip. That’s when we discovered that our camp site was about a quarter of a mile over gravel, and then narrow root and leaf, trail. That’s when we realized we should have gone more minimalist with this trip. It took at least three more trips to lug all our “essentials” to our site. We vowed to work towards “bring only what you can carry” camping and making the kids practice with backpacks.
As we unpacked our goods, we discovered that our van backpack was not actually waterproof after all. Water-resistant, perhaps. But driving through significant rainfall successfully soaked two sleeping bags and various articles of clothing, prompting Anna to declare this “the worst camping trip ever.”
But no worries! Since we had not packed “minimalist,” we had an extra sleeping bag and blankets. And many of the clothes were not wet. And besides, the kids had packed too much and didn’t need it all anyway. Things could only get better.
And they did. Granted, we hit a few other snags along the way. Like how our tent was too big for the designated site so it extended right up to the fire pit, which was strangely close to the tent area to begin with, causing us to have to improvise our fire. Or how the entire campsite was on a hill so we felt like we were rolling into each other all night. Or how we could still hear those loud campers across the lake ignoring the camp quiet hours around midnight. Or how some of us were cold…
But there were the mountains. The sweet smell of decaying leaves on the forest floor. The cool fresh air. And we were there in the midst of it. Living and breathing, absorbing it into ourselves, storing it up, hoping it could last long enough. And the colors and the coolness, the elevation and beauty were like the face of God to me. Smiling, gracious, kind in His caring for us. It is a gift to be able to tramp through the crunchy mountain trails, to chase the raccoon from our leftovers, to witness the growth of a small purple mushroom, to find a beaver had visited during the night to claim a small tree.
We hiked the trails, marveled at waterfalls, drove the twisty roads, fed some trout, and ate some apples at the orchard down the road. It was a grand time after all, immersing us in another place and another season from the usual.
And the blue sky. And the sun on the autumn leaves. And the trees reaching toward heaven. And the five of us rambling over mountains, thoroughly enjoying our “worst camping trip ever.”