The spontaneity of last-minute decisions to accept last-minute invitations is one of those thrilling little wrenches life can throw into your day-to-day machine—even when it’s the randomness of potential encounters that can come from say, camping.
My experience with camping is limited to what little my family did when I was a kid, random one-offs here and there over the years, and of course Bonnaroo. But I do own a sleeping bag, cooler, camp chair and working flashlight, so when my lady friend called one evening with an invitation for a next-morning departure to Fall Creek Falls, I was in.
Luckily she’d planned everything, and was prepared for anything. Tent, cooking gear, food, beverage, bug repellent, sunscreen, soap, water and a very necessary item I’d never heard of but seemed like a no-brainer—Biowipes. I was not so prepared according to her, however. Seems my choice of jeans and boots she affectionately dubbed “evening wear” were not kosher for hiking or the looming threat of weather, so a quick pit stop to Rock/Creek was necessary.
On the road $200 later, we learned three more costly things. One was that our cell phone service completely vanished somewhere around Dunlap. Another was that the other couple we were meeting wanted to hike a mile or so in to a remote campsite rather than car camp—which meant that nearly 85 percent of what we packed in the back seat of the car would have to remain in the back seat.
But the last, most crucial thing we discovered was that non-stop “scattered” and/or “isolated” thunderstorms were heavily predicted for the duration of the day. This I hadn’t necessarily signed on for, but then again there are often unforeseen twists and turns to true spontaneity.
Thankfully, the threat of weather scared our friends a little too and they decided to compromise the original hike-in campsite plan. Whew. We quickly constructed our tent and made a pallet inside just in time for the rain to set in for who knows how long.
Trapped in our nylon shelter cracking jokes and talking about stupid stuff just to pass the time reminded me of pitching the family tent in the backyard as a kid and doing the same thing with my brother and friends. Now, as busy adults, being “stuck” in a situation tailor-made for focused, one-on-one analog conversation is often rare, but always a good thing.
When the rain let up we hiked all through the park and down to the base of the falls, where a huge boulder gave us a place to relax and take in the majesty of the “highest water fall east of the Mississippi” (according to the park’s map).
Sitting around a fire that night we played games and just enjoyed the company of cool people in the great outdoors. But when the fire went out and it was time to hit the sack, it hit me what was underneath the sack—the ground. We hadn’t brought an air mattress or pad so we were relegated to the limited comfort the hard-packed dirt beneath us could provide. And, since we had pitched our tent on somewhat of a slope and tossed and turned a lot during the course of the night, we’d each slowly worked our sliding sleeping bags from due north down to the south end of the tent by morning.
Despite our discomfort, we laid around for hours quietly cracking jokes about the random wildlife noises occurring just outside of our house’s paper-thin walls while trying to determine with undeniable certainty whether or not bears could smell the contents of the sealed canned goods stored at our feet. Together with the clean air, complete darkness and roar of the river off in the distance, the experience proved to be not only a great last-minute decision, but also one that’ll be hard to forget.
Chuck Crowder is a local writer and general man about town. His opinions are just that. Take what you read with a grain of salt, but let it pepper your thoughts.