North River Campground in the Cherokee National Forest in Eastern Tennessee. I found it in a book that listed campgrounds in the Smoky Mountain area of the Appalachians. It was highly rated for its beauty, quietness, and solitude. Exactly what I was looking for. You see, I had missed my opportunity to take my son on a camping/baseball trip when he was younger (see my past article, "The Trip That Never Was" in my archives). Now it was nine or 10 years later and I got another idea. I wasn't going to miss this one!
In the fall of 1999 I started thinking about a trip my son, Nathaniel, and I could take together that would allow us time to ourselves. I enjoy the outdoors and camping. So I started thinking in that direction. He was a junior at Wheaton College in Wheaton, Illinois, and his spring break would be in late March. So would mine. Hmmm. Maybe a camping trip in the secluded areas of the Appalachian Mountains would be a good idea. I settled on North River Campground and ran the idea past him. Thankfully, he was all for it. While most college kids were thinking about going to Florida or Cancun over spring break and getting drunk every night, my son was willing to go on a camping trip with his dad. How cool is that for a father?
When the time finally came, we loaded up the pickup truck with our camping gear and headed off from Illinois. The trip out was smooth sailing and it took us about eight hours to get to the Cherokee National Forest. Even though it was too early for the spring growth of leaves, the Appalachians were still beautiful with an eerie grayish-brown appearance. Once we got to the entrance of the national forest, we drove another 8 miles or so on winding, narrow roads deeper and deeper into the forest. Finally-there it was! North River Campground. Nestled in a valley between three mountains and next to a babbling North River it was better than I expected. We had our pick of about nine or ten campsites since we were the only ones there and picked a site about 15 yards from the river. We got our tent and the rest of our gear up and spent the next five days of some of the most relaxing, peaceful times I ever had. The nights were cold -30°- the days were warm -70°- and at night there were so many stars it looked as though someone had sprayed the black sky with dense white glitter. Nathaniel kept a pellet gun at his bedside in case of a bear attack. (I know - the pellet gun wouldn't have stopped a squirrel, but it made him feel better.) And although it was cold, I slept great.
A typical day went like this:
Wake up around seven or 7:30 AM and wash up.
Cook and eat breakfast - hearty bacon, eggs, potatoes and toast every morning.
After breakfast, do the dishes.
Around 9 or 10 AM we opened the Bible and read about the life of David from the book of Samuel.
After a little reflective time and discussion, it was time to gather wood for the evening fire.
Around noon we had a snack and relaxed a bit.
Afternoons were spent hiking and exploring. We climbed nearby mountains, found waterfalls, and hiked the trails.
Suppertime consisted of hot dogs or hamburgers.
As the sun went down, we started our campfire and stayed up under the stars just talking. I don't even remember what about - we just talked. This was probably the highlight of the day. There is something about sitting by a campfire on a cold night.
After five days we broke camp and headed home. All in all it was a wonderful , memorable trip and we will never forget it. I learned a lesson too. It's never too late to spend time with your kids. Thanks to www.chiefpigskin.com for letting me share once again.