When I first moved from my Mississippi homeland to the mountains, I had just turned twenty-one. I moved with my first husband, and we lived in a little cottage in the country. Our relationship lacked certain elements to make it a lasting one, but we did do a lot of fun things together–mountain biking, camping, backpacking, hiking. Most people I know in their twenties like to travel around and see new places. We traveled around these mountains. I slept under the stars in Fletcher Fields, biked Bent Creek countless times, backpacked along the Appalachian Trail, camped on the rim of Linville Gorge, and other countless weekend adventures.
Then our marriage ended, somewhat abruptly, and six months later I found myself in love with a single father of three kids. We had a few camping adventures together, but camping and hiking with children was certainly a different experience! We got married, and for our honeymoon my parents sent us to Glacier National Park, while keeping the kids for us. That was an amazing trip.
Then I had two babies, and camping came to a halt, as did most hiking. There was one camping trip, which I remember all too well for the disaster that it was. It was such a disaster that camping did not begin to appeal to me at all for several years after.
Now that Renee is seven, and McKinley coming on nine, I find myself thinking of outdoor adventuring on a regular basis. There are still so many places I haven’t seen in these mountains–and beyond, so many hikes, so many rivers. And though it seemed that the fullness of our life here, with business(es) and teenagers and gardens and animals and project after project would trump any such adventuring, at the beginning of the summer I vowed that we would go to see the wild ponies on Mount Rogers.
And so we did! When we got back from our beach trip I immediately began researching and planning. I found a huge tent on Craigslist. I read online all about Mount Rogers National Recreation Area and Grayson Highlands State Park, trying to determine where we would be most likely to see wild ponies and have a positive camping experience (not too many people, good hiking trails, uncrowded tent sites). I started the hunt for sleeping bags and sleeping pads, and I put together a menu and shopping list. And though I wasn’t sure if I could really pull it off, because camping with two kids and two teenagers is still quite an undertaking, not only did we pull it off, we had a marvelous time, as evidenced by my sixteen-year-old Bert repeatedly thanking me for making it happen. And considering that as we were leaving he was trying rather desperately NOT to go, this is all the more impressive.
Here we are on the first night, getting ready to devour some of the most delicious burgers ever. Except for Bert, who kindly volunteered to eat The Burger That Fell Into the Fire, only to find it inedible. That’s J, Rae, Renee, Bert, and McKinley (not their real names 😉 )
We are already planning our next camping adventure. Even though this trip was not without its challenges (lots of rain, a twisted ankle, a broken Chaco [J did most of the hike barefoot], and lots of bickering), it was indeed an incredible experience. I was really impressed with how all my kids handled themselves. I imagined Renee would do a lot of whining on the hike, but she was in the lead the whole way. McKinley relished the freedom and adventure of being a “Trail Ninja,” Bert was enthusiastic, funny, and a good role model for his younger brother, and Renee was the same for her younger sister, and invaluable in setting up and tearing down camp, as well as cooking most of Monday night’s dinner.
McKinley says he’s ready for a backpacking trip, and we’ll be working up to that. Until then, we need to stock up on a few supplies, get some more experience under our belts, and have some more fun!