The following account is from one of the four people crazy enough to go camping….

Friday, December 10th – This was the day. Bryan, Meredith, and I were taking Robert backpacking because he really wanted to do this for his birthday. For those of you that don’t know, Bryan and Meredith are AGAPE Big Brothers and Sisters to Robert. It had rained all day on Thursday and was raining a good portion of the day on Friday. Rain’s not enough to stop us crazy people though. So the plan was to meet up and my house. Bryan was going to drive Meredith’s car and I was going to drive. It was storming really badly when we left my house around 6:00. To buy some time, we stopped at Burger King in Maryville (or was it Alcoa?). Anyways, most of us had Chicken at Burger King. To buy a little more time we each decided to have a pie. We sat around Burger King for a while, kinda waiting for the rain to die down. We eventually left Burger King and headed out for The Great Smokey Mountains.

The plan was for me to park my car at the Great Smoke Mountains Institute at Tremont. This is where the trailhead for the Lumber Ridge Trail is located at. After parking my car, I got into Meredith’s car and we drove to Elkmont to the Jakes Creek Trailhead were we would get on the Meigs Mountain Trail. Once we got there, it was still pouring down rain so we ended up staying in her car for a while. Around 9:30 we figured the rain had died down about as much as it was going to, so we proceeded to put on our packs and head for the campsite. The trail was real wet and muddy. There were a few stream crossings (a couple of rock hoppers, one bridged, and a few that you had to get a little wet) along the way to the campsite. The bridged one was the first one we encountered. We get to this swift moving stream that would have been too much to try and rock hop, but we didn’t see the footbridge at first. Bryan and I usually read up on the trails and neither of us remembers this point with a square, so we figured there had to be a bridge somewhere. After looking for about 5 minutes, we found it and proceeded on our way. It was very difficult for all of us to see anything because our bodies and breath were condensing in the pathway of our lights because it was pretty cold outside (and still raining). After a few near falls, (I almost wiped out real good), we arrived at the campsite.

Campsite 20 is a large site that has many creeks that surround it and run through it. We began looking for a good place to setup our three tents (Meredith in one, Robert in one, and Bryan and me in one). We also began looking for the bear lines. The bear lines are there so you can hang you pack (i.e. get your food away from you incase it attracts bears or other animals). It was crazy. We arrived at the campsite around 10:45. After looking around for the bear lines for 15 minutes, we decided we’d go ahead and setup the tents and look for the bear lines. So while Bryan is setting up Robert’s and Meredith’s tents, I was looking for the bear lines. It was probably another 30 minutes of looking for them before I found them. What’s really pathetic is that they were only 40 yards from where we ended up setting camp. Meredith’s tent was setup first and she got in her’s. Then Robert’s tent was setup and he got in his. At this time, Bryan and I are setting up our tent, it starts to snow. We hang the packs on bear line and get in the tent to try and get some sleep. It would end up snowing the whole night and for the rest of the day on Saturday.

I have a 20º bag and Bryan made sure that everyone else had either a 15º or 20º bag. Still, that doesn’t stop you from getting a little cold. Throwing hot hands in the bags really help. Bryan and I were discussing in the tent, should we stick with the original plan or alter it. The original plan would have us hiking 4 miles on Meigs Mountain to Lumber Ridge and doing 4.1 back to Tremont. Everybody would have wet feet, the trails would be real wet, and we’d be carrying a bit more weight due to the water. We decided it was best for us to head back to Meredith’s car. This was only 2.4 miles away.

Saturday, December 11th – Despite Robert saying he was going to sleep in, he was the first one to get out of the tents. He was walking around and started talking to me and Bryan. He said there was snow all over the ground. We eventually all got up. Well, I get my pack off the bear lines and go for my food, when I see something very strange. While it was hanging during the night, some critter (not Mer, but an actually critter, probably a mouse) got into my pack, crewed its way through to zip lock bags and proceed to chew on every one of my granola bars and PB&Js, so I didn’t have any of my own food. We packed up and headed back to Meredith’s car.

Instead of going back to my car, Bryan needed to get some books (to give as gifts) at the Sugarlands Visitor Center. Now for those of you that know your way around the park, Elkmont -> Sugarlands -> Tremont is not a small drive. Anyways, it turns out there was some Christmas festival at the Sugarlands Visitor Center. It’s one of those things it would have been neat to stay for except were all wet, muddy, and probably smell a little bad, so we didn’t stay long. We talked about going for lunch after I picked up my car. Well, I picked up my car and began driving. We had talked that Bryan would do one of two things… either go to a drive through for Robert or we’d stop at Waffle House and eat. It would all depend on how Meredith was feeling. Well the strangest thing happened after we picked up my car at Tremont. I had already disabled the car alarm and had been driving for like 5 minutes, when all of a sudden as I’m driving down the road, my car alarm starts to go off. I’m sure Bryan and they were thinking, WHY HE IS INCESSANTLY HONKING HIS HORN!!!!??!?? Well I pull over and it took a couple of tries before my car alarm would enable and disable itself. I’m not sure what caused it, so that’s something I’ll be keeping an eye on.

Well Bryan pulls into McDonalds. He said he would do this if Meredith wasn’t feeling good, so I hope you get to feeling better Mer. I was ready to get back home into some DRY clothes, so I make sure Bryan was going to head straight back after McDonalds and I wouldn’t be ditching if I left while they were in the McDonalds drive through. I’ve mentioned it a few times, but after seeing the film Super Size Me, its gonna be a long time before I eat McDonalds.

Ok, so I’ve left out a little of details from the trusty barometer and thermometer, but regardless of what it said, the weather was bad, and it was cold.