Before the door closes behind me, I hear a young man say, “Hello, and thank you for visiting Enterprise Rent-a-Car, how may I help you today?” I ignore him, thinking he’s on the phone. Then I notice he’s looking at me, stone-faced in his too-big suit. “Oh, you were talking to me,” I say, “I’ve got a reservation.” We get down to business.
He asks what I’ll be using the car for and I make a conscious choice to humor him even though I’d rather just get this over with. “Camping – a last-minute weekend away with my girlfriend.” He takes my cue to offer me an SUV, making sure to note the fuel-efficiency, storage capacity and off-road maneuverability. I decline, saying something stupid like, “Four wheels is enough for me.” He then delivers a masterful pitch meant to guilt me into buying their insurance. I decline that too. As we inspect the vehicle, he tells me that I should be careful if I have a campfire. “If it comes back smelling like smoke,” he says, “he’ll have to charge me a cleaning fee.” I make some snarky comment about the last folks not being charged a cleaning fee then take the crazy bundle of keys and drive off in my dirty economy car with Ohio plates.
I had been relieved of my weekend bar-tending shifts at the Cat’s Cradle due to lack of ticket sales so Katie and I chose to capitalize on our suddenly wide-open weekend. Knowing we have a tendency to overthink our options, we went with the first option that presented itself. One of Katie’s cycling pals had told her about a steep, exhausting trail near Stone Mountain. We threw a bunch of stuff in the car got on the road.
Car camping really isn’t our bag, but given our lack of prep time, it worked out perfectly. We made it to Stone Mountain State Park in less than three hours, pitched our tent, and set out for an afternoon on the trail. We did maybe six miles on the Stone Mountain Loop, ending at a bottom of a waterfall. We followed a long staircase to the middle, then top of the falls and were mesmerized by the calming sound of water. We could have watched for hours as a team of five birds fed on the late afternoon bugs. They dipped and dived from one side of the waterfall to the other and put on a fantastic, meditative show. But we were hungry and wanted dinner before the sun went down.
Before we turned in for the night we walked out to a clearing to look at the night sky. I counted a half-dozen satellites in less than a minute and Katie couldn’t stop seeing shooting stars. The edge of the Milky Way was a runway of clouds. We stayed outside until we shivered.
The next morning, some RV kids running amok through the campsite at 8:00am stopped at our tent and whispered something about how late it is to still be sleeping, about how “these people are still in their tents.” I burst out a blood-chilling growl and the kids scattered like roaches in our summertime kitchen. We got a kick out of that.
We broke camp and drove to Doughton Park. It took us a minute to find a trailhead and for a while we felt like we had traveled to a foreign country – we were in the real south. There’s no doubt that Katie and I were “not from around here.” We both share an unrealistic fear of southern backroads. It’s unfair, I know. I guess we watched Deliverance one too many times. We’re like our parents when they would take the wrong exit off the 5 and end up in Compton. “Lock the doors, honey.” *Click* Ridiculous.
The trail started off along a bubbling creek and we settled into a good clip, passing dirty Boy Scouts and their leaders heading back to the parking lot after a weekend away. We veered onto the Bluff Ridge Primitive Trail and for nearly three miles, we climbed and climbed steeper than any trail I’ve been on in North Carolina. It leveled out at the Blue Ridge Parkway and followed Bluff Mountain Trail while affording us wispy views of violet hills and the coming weather. We descended for five miles on Flat Ridge Trail and started to feel our quads. If we were in running shape I am sure we would have taken advantage of the roller coaster feel of this decline, but alas, we hoofed it slowly and killed the remainder of our snacks while doing so. Back at the trailhead we changed into dry clothes and got back on the road. We stopped at a Whole Foods in Winston-Salem and had a late lunch. Twenty miles of challenging trail always reminds us that there’s no place we’d rather be. But today it also reminded us that a plate of food at the hot bar is never as good as it looks.
From the top of Stone Mountain
The climber’s area on the Stone Mountain Loop
Katie rarely let’s me take her photo, but when she does, it’s always a doozy!