The Clark Family Memorial Day Weekend 2016 Epic Southern Bike Camping Trip
After weeks of planning and preparation, it was finally time. We had our cooler packed, our bikes dialed in, and our camping gear at the ready. Silas had his own pictorial packing list that included trucks, his flashlight, and his trusty sidekick, Woof. Ben’s mom, known to Silas as “Gg”, made a surprise stop the night before we left to complete his kiddie camping gear with a cool bug-catching kit for the trip.
The path was relatively flat, with a slow, gradual climb about 70% of the way. It wasn’t unmanageable with the loads we were pulling, but just enough of a challenge that we stopped for quick rest and water breaks every few miles. The only rough spot was a mile-and-a-half detour early on where part of the trail had collapsed due to a sinkhole. The detour went up and down a couple of long inclines, and Lisa had to hop off and push the trailer once, but only for a very short time. Further down the trail, as we neared a small rural town, we crossed paths with an older fella on a wobbly bike. He glanced at us and said, “Y’all READY, ain’t ya?” We all laughed. It really was nice to be away from the city. Our gear held up well, and we stayed pretty well on target for our estimate of 3 hours’ riding time for the 25 mile journey. We added a couple of hours to our total time with one stop for a picnic lunch and splash in a cold spring-fed creek, and a second stop at a bike café in Piedmont for some cold drinks. Silas even managed to get a great nap in between those bigger stops!
Turned out the campground only accepted cash and checks, neither of which we were carrying (oops!), so Terry graciously offered Ben a ride the 6 miles back to town, as he had to go back there later anyway to drop off his mom and feed the dogs. First we pitched the tent, a Coleman Instant Tent that seriously only took about a minute to put up, and took a quick dip in the cool stream. Then Ben saw some kind of grey snake, and what he thought was a water moccasin, each about 3 feet long, wriggling through the water away from him as fast as they could go, and we all hightailed it out of there.
Terry liked to drive around in his truck from time to time and check on his guests, sometimes pulling a trailer with firewood or other supplies on it to stock up where needed, so we were well provided for. He also liked to stay and chat for a few minutes when he found a willing ear. On the drive to town he had told Ben that back in the day, his dad used to fetch "the white liquor" for the bankers in town because they were too embarrassed to go and get it themselves.
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Sunday morning we awoke early, but not too early, lying awake for a bit until we heard others stirring around us. We made our coffee and tea, and Lisa got started on a savory breakfast of bacon, eggs, and grits cooked on the camp stove. When breakfast was almost ready, some movement caught our eye. There was Gg’s car coming down the hill from the office toward us! We knew she’d be coming out that day, but we didn’t know when, so it was a fun surprise that she’d gotten up so early and just gone for it.
After breakfast we played some more in the water. There were rocks to skip and critters to catch. We were spotting all sorts of lizards, centipedes, frogs, and snails, when Ben suddenly pointed to a rock in a shallow pool. “Crawdad! Sunning itself on that rock!” It hopped back in the water. Lisa grabbed Silas’ bug net and waded over there. After carefully turning over a rock or two, a short chase ensued, and the little net was held up triumphantly. “Got him!”
She carried it to the picnic table and deposited her catch into the empty saucepan she’d cooked the grits in, along with a couple of inches of fresh water, and headed back to the creek. Where there’s one, there are bound to be more … and sure enough, another, and another, and several more, until seven of the critters were swimming around in the pot. Not enough for a meal, but enough for a taste. We were glad we’d kept the few bites of leftover cheese grits from breakfast, as they reheated nicely and were the perfect complement to our impromptu seafood snack!
While scouting for flat rocks to skip, Ben spotted an arrowhead on the creek bank. Its tip had been broken, but there was no mistaking its shape. Our neighbor Tim was out fly fishing a little further up, and stopped by to have a look. He and Ben talked about arrowheads and the history of the area, and then we chatted with him and his wife, Lisa, for quite a while before dinner. They’re a few years older than us, so they were having trouble coming up with shared acquaintances, until we stumbled upon a former classmate of Ben's who also happens to be Lisa's sister-in-law. Small world! Lisa handles records for the police department, so we all had a few laughs over some crazy local news stories Ben remembered from the 80s.
Gg had headed home sometime that afternoon, and we’d taken the opportunity to send a couple of the heaviest items home with her, including the camp stove and propane cylinder. We’d do the rest of our cooking on the fire. We roasted some sausage and sweet pepper skewers and ate as the sun set over the mountain again, then toasted some perfect golden mallows for s’mores. Silas ate half of one, but in the end he preferred his “meshmellows” and “chock-lick” straight out of the package.
Once it was dark enough to see tons of stars, Ben grabbed his bike, flipped on his big, bright headlight, and said, “Hey buddy, wanna go for a ride?” Silas hopped into the sidecar, eyes wide and shining with excitement, and they headed off in the dark. After about 20 minutes, they were back at the fire, spooked and laughing nervously, talking about bears and all the other animals one could encounter on a trail at night. A bonding moment for sure! The day’s excitement had caught up with Silas by then, and soon he was snuggled up on Lisa’s lap next to the fire, and asked to lay down in the tent and go to sleep. After about 30 seconds in his sleeping bag, he was snoring. We adults weren’t too far behind.
We woke up early, and while Silas continued to snore, we quietly packed up everything but the tent he was in. That went on top of the pile anyway. We wanted to hit the trail early to beat the heat, as it was going to get up over 90 by late morning. We had saved quick snacks like oranges and granola bars that didn’t require cooking, and instead of tea and coffee that morning we had water. Tim and Lisa stepped outside as we were just about packed and ready. He gave us his number in case of any problems on the trail. We said our goodbyes and headed for home.
Fortunately things rolled even smoother on the way back and no emergency calls were needed. With the slightly lighter and better-balanced load, the trailer easily scaled the gravelly rise onto the paved trail, boding well for the remainder of the ride. As we had suspected, it was mostly downhill all the way back, so we kicked up some high gears and upbeat tunes and made really great time. There were a lot of people out on the trail, and Ben was shouting out extra-chipper greetings like, “Hey everybody!” to total strangers. As we passed two women coming the opposite direction, one of them suddenly yelled, “Is that the Clarks?!” We did a double-take. “Yes!” Lisa yelled over her shoulder, but that was all the conversation that was possible at that speed. The thick red braid told us that she had to be a friend from college who lives in the area but who we hadn't seen in quite a while, and a quick post on her Facebook page later that day would confirm it.