Starlit Rambler - Adventure Travel Our Way
I kept my promise to my dad. Sunday, June 21st, at 1:30 AM, Jeremy and I arrived at my parent’s house in Mountain Rest, SC just in time for a few hours of sleep before the commencement of Father’s Day activities. Sleep was sweet until awakened by my excited nephew, Dustin, pouncing on the bed. My mom and dad soon followed eagerly announcing their overwhelming happiness of our arrival. Prior to my fully awakening, we were rushed out of the house to pick up the boat on nearby Lake Keowee for a full day of water activities and quality time with family and friends. Double tubing with Jeremy was exciting with a few vicious antics on his part in attempt to de-tube me; individual wakeboarding was welcomed soon after. The most entertaining sights were my mom holding on for dear life while tubing and my dad’s near unruliness of his two legs controlling water skis. Overall their performances were outstanding for ages 60 and 65 reminding me that their health, fitness, aggression for life, willingness to challenge themselves, selflessness, and deep seated joy against all odds is to be admired. The day was blessed with our dear family friends, Bob and Esther, along with Esther’s son and daughter visiting from New Jersey. My sister Jennifer and her 4.5-week-old baby boy, Levi, also joined us allowing for little Levi’s first boat ride ever.
The following day we searched for the closest Best Buy and took the Rambler up to Waynesville, NC. Once again we would play camera roulette by returning the one purchased in Farmington, NM and purchasing a new camera for another 15 days, hoping this would be the last time before receiving our repaired original camera. Needless to say this has been a pain and I will not be detaching a lens before turning the camera off anytime soon. Now we were to meet my parents, 2 nephews, and 2 sisters in Cherokee, NC. After a short visit, Jeremy and I made our departure with my 8-year-old nephew, Dustin, taking him to see the historical outdoor drama, 'Unto These Hills,' telling the Cherokee Native American story. Following the play, we found a camping sight for the van at the nearby Smoky Mountain National Park. To enhance Dustin’s life experiences, I saw it necessary to take him on his first backpacking trip deeper into the mountains of the National Park. After obtaining permits the morning of June 23rd, Jeremy, Dustin, and I embarked on a 3 mile hike through the lush damp humid dense woods along Jake’s Creek Trail to Meig’s Mountain Trail, stopping at our overnight camping location. We began teaching Dustin the joys of setting up camp, all which he showed less than excitement for and mostly focused on his aching heart for his mother. I found myself annoyed with his lack of excitement and eagerness to learn but soon set to consoling remembering his age and the impact I hoped to make could come with time.
The feeling of young big brown eyes starring slowly brought me out of a deep slumber the next morning. Quickly I remembered Dustin’s request to share the tent with me and leave Jeremy out in the hammock. Today we would hike 5 miles along Meig’s Mountain Trail to Curry Mountain Trail back out of the woods to our waiting Yamaha 230 dirt bike shuttle vehicle. It was official, 1 night and 8 miles later, Dustin was now introduced to backpacking whether he liked it or not. Departing the beautiful mystical Smoky Mountains, hours later we returned Dustin to his mother relatively unscathed with only stories of mountains, camping, and substantial proof of nearby black bears.
The following day of June 25th was utilized for catching up on a few put off items, such as blogging and new sway bar parts for the van that should have been replaced back in Utah. We were also able to fit in an introduction to the Chattooga River kayaking down Earls Ford to Sandy Ford, which reminded me of the unrequited beauty of the Southeast. Miriam, my young talented sister, managed to have us booked for the next day to explore Asheville, NC and attend the “Firefly Gathering.” The Firefly Gathering proved to be of much interest with exceptional hippie people watching and teachings of many life skills on how to utilize the Earth’s resources effectively through bee keeping, gardening techniques, iron work, natural health remedies, and many more. These tools of self sufficiency seemed like a grandeur idea to us with hopes in partaking more fully in the future but for now we were happy to just “take it all in” then make our way to discover the town of Asheville. To our delight, Friday in Asheville was filled with many intriguing talented street performers. Close in interest was our debate of which 10 local honeys we tasted could be classified as a personal favorite and which delicious full bodied vegetarian dish at Laughing Seed Café held the same individual prize. Let’s face it how could you go wrong in Asheville, especially when your visit included holding your sister’s head in assistance to her dream of obtaining a hoop nose piercing. As we tiredly arrived back at my parent’s house late that night, I felt a bit of guilt in encouraging such an event that would cause my dad more disappointment. However, as my dad light heartedly announced his contempt and Miriam mischievously responded “don’t worry dad we’ll get through this together,” I knew this time all would be well.
On June 27th, we had one goal in mind: kayak the Chattooga River. Today we would continue Jeremy’s introduction to the river by putting in at Thrifts Ferry and taking out at the Hwy 76 Bridge below Bull Sluice rapid. However, today already had different intentions as the nice kayakers at the put in caught up to us and quickly encouraged our continuum with them to Woodall Shoals take out. After a not perfect but solid performance by Jeremy through the double drops of Bull Sluice rapid, we agreed to the new take out plan. The remainder of the trip continued to go smoothly with the introduction to both sections a success and a pleasant experience speaking with Ben, Bill, and company. As Ben dropped us back off at our vehicle at Thrifts Ferry, Jeremy and I once again were amazed at how perfectly life can work out when you are open to possibility. The local Brasstown BBQ dinner with my family and friends was extremely welcome to add even more fullness to our hearts and minds. For those that had not seen our Rambling van, this was the time for them to check it out and as they awed I felt even prouder than before of what we built.
Horses. My love for horses runs deep from childhood to adult memories of riding with my mom and friends throughout the national forest that surrounds the Chattooga River just down from my parent’s farm. The bond I have found with a horse is deeper than any other animal and most people. Their spirit and beauty is unprecedented. In honor of our family activities my mom planned a typical 3 day camping trip with the horses by the river. After completing the necessary timely duties of transporting equipment, horses, and needed camping supplies to the river, Jeremy, mom, and I went for a fairly short ride crossing the river twice, lastly at Earls Ford on our way back to camp. This was the first time I had ridden Diamond, a white and brown Tennessee Walker with papers proving outstanding bloodlines, who was added to the herd 2 months prior. Diamond’s beauty, breeding, and training showed through as she stretched out in front, leading the other horses with enthusiasm and grace. I barely knew her yet I was proud, impressed, and already bonding to her spirit. During these moments, I could have never imagined that I would wake up the next morning to find her dead. Her strength shown through as she lay with her head and hind foot tangled in her lead rope with speculations of one last kick leading to her broken neck. Devastation is all I could feel as shock began to wear off. In all my years of horse experience, from riding until my diapers wore through until now, I have never experienced such a tragedy.
As you can imagine the days following this event drug by with constant reminder of Diamond’s death, especially since her body lay covered by a tarp until Jeff could bring his backhoe to transport her to our farm for proper burial. By 11:00 am the following day, Jeff arrived and saving you of the less than beautiful details, Diamond now rest in peace on top of the hill in the green grassy field where several of our long loved horses lay. I will never forget this tragedy and even as I write I cannot hold back tears from my eyes. The only remedy I could find during this time was the classic love of my mom and a long ride in the woods with another of our long time horses.
Even though my mom, Miriam, Jeremy, other family, and friends did their part in helping us salvage this particular horse camping trip, it was a bit at a loss. We all did our parts in enjoying good company, food, long horse rides, and the camping experience but with such a beginning to a trip you cannot help but want a change of scenery. No longer wanting to feel the slight dread from days past, with assistance, we broke camp a day early and set our sights on kayaking the river. Quality family time was also of great importance reflecting in the happiness we felt as we simply picked blueberries, blackberries, and raspberries together. The flavors and sweetness of these berries overwhelmed our sensations as we ate until our hearts content and even managed to bring a great deal home in hopes of fresh baked desserts. Awakening on July 3rd, I had a mission, make gluten free blackberry cobbler. Partially I thought this could be a nice treat for my nephews 9th birthday that same day, but little did I know that as I ran out the door to go hike Whiteside Mountain in nearby NC, my mom and sister had other intentions. They had blackberry cobbler for breakfast and for most meals to follow over the next few days with my dad lending a hand, it seems the dessert was a great success.
The drive between Highlands, NC and Cashiers, NC is a classic insight into the Southeast with dense lush woods, vistas of large mountain lakes, and rolling Blue Ridge Mountains all located within moments of my parent’s farm. Approximately in the middle of these two points lies Whiteside Mountain among vast quant farmlands. The large slabs of granite that tower 4,900 feet over the valleys was a great way to take in the sun peaking through the clouds in-between rainstorms. With a brief stop in Cashiers for an appropriate 9th birthday gift of Chaco river sandals for my nephew, once again trying to persuade him into a less than redneck direction, we continued back into Seneca, SC for a requested gae of laser tag. Four games later and an undefeated record against two opposing teams, my dad, Jeremy, Dustin, and I felt accomplished enough to head to his lake birthday party.
July 4th started off with a bang as Jeremy and I again kayaked the Bull Sluice to Woodall section of the Chattooga gaining even more confidence with each trip. The damp, musky, earth smell of this particular river and familiarity with every wave and rapid continued to bring back bittersweet memories of friends and a time in my life raft guiding. I have found that returning to any place of familiarity is like a walk back in time for me, acting as a catalyst of good and bad memories that I have unsparingly pushed away trying to save myself heartache. Due to this fear of facing heartache, I am constantly seeking new experiences and rarely backtracking leading to a continual amazement on how returning to a location that I have especially spent a great deal of time in makes me feel. It is like a strange déjà vous that I have difficulty identifying my emotions until they become overwhelming.
To continue the holiday festivities after kayaking, Jeremy and I headed to the other side of the mountain to the popular Mountain Rest Hillbilly Day. Here you will find farm animals, a greased pole to climb for a prize, live bluegrass music with clog dancing, prize pig chasing, homemade ice cream, local delicious BBQ, and great people watching. This particular festival brings out a variety of local color such as the true ole hillbilly mountain men with their long beards, overalls, and leg-slapping spoon tapping abilities. Next are the rednecks, country folk, nature loving skilled craftsmen/women, and retirees mostly from the northeast. The varying experience was a bit out of the ordinary for Jeremy but he took it in stride with a big smile. After a while we felt the need to diversify so made our way to Lake Hartwell to meet Will Locklair, a friend from Park City who grew up in Seneca, SC and happened to be home visiting. The evening on the boat out in Lake Hartwell was magical; enjoying perfect summer temperatures, wake skating, and the company of new friends. As darkness fell, we were graciously offered a spot to park the Rambler in the driveway of Will’s friends, Andy and Emily, which was especially undeniable as Will whipped up homemade pizza to our delight.
After an entertaining morning, with much thanks to Andy, Emily, and Will for being amazing host and brilliant company, we set our sights to Salem, SC to visit the Joseph's. Here we would enjoy a lazy Sunday by the pool as their beautiful black yearling stallions frolicked in the nearby pastures while catching up after 8 years with my long lost dear friend, Elijah, and his incredible family. The Joseph’s are such a great joy to be around with their playful antics, love for family, and optimism on life. This particular family will always have a place in my heart and play a part in my past and present happiness, I truly feel blessed to have had them in my life whether near or far. Besides the USA Women won the Soccer World Cup this night!
To continue the sentiment the next several days were filled with moments appreciating the time with my family and the beautiful area that I was so lucky to have called home during my 17 years of childhood. Fulfilling final request, Jeremy and I took my sister, Miriam, north of Asheville, NC to visit Warren Wilson College where she has her heart set on as the place to obtain her Masters of Fine Art focused on Fictional Writing. It is truly difficult not to like this college with its traditional concerts and teachings, student organic gardens, friendly farm animals, and quant campus atmosphere. Nonetheless, Miriam is already an exceptional writer and has a most brilliant way of articulating her words, so I have no doubt that she will make all of her dreams come true even through the incessant battles she continues to face since birth. Tuesday, June 7th included more kayaking on the Wild and Scenic Chattooga River, managing to challenge ourselves with a late afternoon trip down section IV from Bull Sluice to Lake Tugaloo. This section is particularly challenging with approximately 11 class IV-V whitewater rapids, depending on the ever-changing water level according to local rains, making it one of the few dam free rivers in the United States. What a special place this river is with foretelling beauty of the Southeast, river side waterfalls, breathtaking greenery, challenging technical rapids, forgiving eddy lines, and often no sign of human existence. After recovering from a few errors on my part and Jeremy kayaking like a champ, we began our 2.5 mile paddle across Lake Tugaloo to the take out. Here is where my sentiment really set in and I began to cry, we were leaving tomorrow and I did not want to go.
Wednesday, June 8th was the day to depart southeast towards Charleston, SC and after a "short" stay start working our way up the coast, beginning our journey back northwest and into Canada. However, after a family trip down the street to Lake Chattooga for a customary mile swim across the lake, Jeremy found himself not wanting to leave either. To my amazement, Jeremy had also grown attached to the area and my unordinary family leading to his insisting on our staying another night. The evening and next morning held an overtone of appreciation and fondness for the area I grew up in and the love for my family. After many hugs and sad goodbyes, Jeremy and I left my parents simple country home heading to the next destination of Charleston, SC to visit another familiar place and old friends.
Stay tuned for fun in Charleston, SC!
Author: Rachelle McEwen
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