It was not as far from the dining hall to the lake as I remembered. In fact, nothing at camp was as far away from anything else as I recalled it being. People laugh at me sometimes when I say this, but it was a weird sensation to have. I had not been back to camp in probably 10 years. Stopping by on the last day or so of my trip across the country was a profound grounding in the past.
The first real recognition I received was around Friday night campfires. Being a “Lodge Spirit” or getting an activity award was a striking contrast to home where I played rope-a-dope and kept myself out of sight as much as possible. After 7 years of watching older kids be called to stand in front as “Lads,” I was on top of the world when my name was called. And now the whole place seemed smaller, but not necessarily diminished. It was from then on to be a place in my memory more than anything.
Continuing east, toward home, I spent the night at the Eastern U.S.’s answer to the Grand Canyon: the Big South Fork. Having driven past signs for this place over several years, I had never bothered to turn off. Maybe the trees keep people from staring the way they do at the Grand Canyon, but the forces of nature are in just as much evidence here as in Arizona.
Following my last night camping on this trip, I decided to take a short hike before heading to my brother and sister-in-law’s place in Knoxville. There was a short loop, clearly delineated on the map. What could possibly go wrong? Not thinking that food or water would be an issue, I began what would turn into a 20 mile hike. Which can be done, if one has to, but it is not recommended.
Leaving out of Knoxville the next morning, it was exciting and bittersweet to return home after 3 weeks away. After getting lost on the Asheville Highway for a while, I meandered down to Cosby and then followed a gravel road around the northern end of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. It seems that a few folks have been able to hold off the Federal men to this day, and still plant tobacco in small plots. I had seen many mountains that were new and exotic to me, but these were the familiar hills and I was glas to be home.