By: Calvin Allen, Big Brother
My Little Brother Will and I, went camping at Montreat Campground a few days ago. After I picked him up, our first order of operation was to head to Black Mountain and pick up our food supplies: Turkey Dogs, Hot Dog Buns, sesame blue corn chips, salsa, cheese dip, ice tea—you get the point: we stocked up.
The Black Mountain Ingles is huge, with a video store, a Starbucks, an optical store—even a dentist’s office. While we were there, Will had his braces tightened at no charge, because I have an Ingles card!
After a few more preparatory stops, we headed to the campground and started setting up camp. Running beneath a bluff just below our campsite was Flat Creek which offered us a welcome serenade of bubbling, cascading water—we figured we had done quite well in getting one of the best campsites—we even put the drinks in the stream to cool. However, as the afternoon progressed, we realized the water was so loud that we could hardly hear each other! (My electronic ears were on order, and Will is sometimes soft-spoken…) We had to yell and repeat ourselves so often that our neighbors must have thought we were two deaf guys who had forgotten how to sign.
Pretty soon, we decided to take the bikes off the car—I leaned mine against a tree, and Will (always current with the latest technology), used his kick-stand. We threw most of our junk on the picnic table, and set up the tent, with the door facing the east, to align our chi.
Will blew up the air mattresses with his battery-powered pump (a Dan’l Boone model), and we put them on either side of the tent and tossed the rest of the junk into the tent. Will hung his Eno Hammock between two trees, and I tied up a tarp over the picnic table in case of rain. After the tarp was up, I realized that it was full of holes, so we sort of patched it with duct tape—sure am glad it didn’t rain.
Will knew of a trail just uphill from the campsite, but when we started biking up there, we passed two “Road Closed” signs, and a young kid bystander scowled in our direction.
“They don’t want you to bike up there.”
Luckily for us, we were near enough to the trailhead, so we dumped our bikes and hiked up the Mica Trail on foot. Appropriately named the trail was scattered with shiny with flecks of the flaky rock. Mica is still used in electrical devices, and I think the old Mica Factory operated until 2016 just a couple blocks off Biltmore Avenue in Asheville.
The trail was steep but short, and ended at a pool of water under a giant overhanging rock where a young college-aged girl was reading a paperback. She had not seen DB Cooper, Elvis, Omarosa Manigault, or any gold, so we poked around the pool awhile and slid back down to our bikes.
We biked back to our campsite, then down to the lake, where a slew of young kids were churning about in paddle boats. Hundreds of college students were also scurrying about, and they looked very responsible, so I introduced Will to a studious-looking young woman and took a nap. Just kidding. Unfortunately, uphill of the lake was a rank sewage leak which was strong enough to gag a buzzard.
At the Nature Center we scored a free trail map and learned that only three trails were open to cyclists, including “Rainbow Road”—so after consulted the ma in detail we headed that way—toward “Rainbow Road,” descending a long hill, we were unpleasantly surprised to find ourselves not having found Rainbow Road at all, but instead the very steep “Rainbow Mountain Trail.”
Trying to ride up it, we only made it about 10 yards before spinning out in the red-clay mud. Darn. Still, we refused to be foiled and continued on—pushing our bikes up the steep trail until my heart was thumping in my chest. Will, sensing that he was about to lose a key member of the expedition, suggested we consult the map. Eventually, we did find Rainbow Road—which runs right by the Nature Center at the top of the giant hill we had just come down.
Men, especially Bigs, NEVER ask for directions, or admit that they are lost, so we jumped back on our bikes and rode back up the mountain to our campsite. Now my heart was really pounding, and my legs and feet were complaining too.
Back at the campsite, Will crawled into his hammock, while I stripped down to my swimsuit picked my way down to the creek for a swim. The frigid water felt great on my tired dogs, but when I sat down in a pool and leaned back under the frigid water, I nearly passed out from the shock. I jumped onto a sunny rock and caught my breath, watched the green darners shoot about, strafing the creek and attacking flying prey.
After I cooled down, I crawled back up to the campsite, got dressed, and pulled out our fire stuff: some paper, a 5-gallon bucket of kindling, some ancient kitchen matches, and some grey lumps of jute twine soaked in wax. Will had already stacked about 5-6 hickory logs from his home wood pile beside the fire ring.
Starting the fire turned out to be an adventure all its own. I had soaked some sulphur-tipped matches in wax (to waterproof them) many years ago when I briefly thought about (but never actually did, which is why I live to write this tale) survivalist backpacking. Bill Sanderson, the Montreat Ranger and all-around good guy, had led a hike and discussion about the 13 elements of survival, which included stuff to start a fire in the pouring rain. We weren’t yet in survival mode, but it WAS time to cook supper. I laid down a bed of kindling (crumpled map of campground, reservation confirmation, list of camping items, twigs, waxy jute) while Will set about trying to strike the wax-coated matches, which had been snoozing in my closet for months. They didn’t want to strike, and he tore up the match box trying to strike them. He was determined, however, and got one to fire up! We gently laid on some kindling, which burst into a small flame. We watched in wonder, transported in time back to when our ancestors lived in the wild, moving from fire to fire, hunting and gathering.
A few minutes later, we were sharpening sticks for impaling hotdogs. A few minutes after that, I was laying down on my Laura Lynn Bun a base of Ole Cheese Dip, generic ketchup, generic mustard and Old Gringo Mountain Salsa. Will showed me a neat trick: after the dog is dressed, grab one end and rotate (the dog, not you), distributing the condiments evenly around it. They say you learn at least one thing every day.
We sat back, stupefied by the food, entranced by the fire, which was a tepee of three logs covering a mound of coals. What is it about fire? There’s something so mesmerizing about sitting comfortably and watching it burn—it’s almost like a sixth sense, right after taste, in our case.
As it got dark, we asked each other riddles and tried to guess words spelled by the glowing end of a stick. We yelled over the roaring stream about things that we had never discussed, as the darkness descended over our campsite.
After my stomach had subsided a bit, we crawled into our tent and watched an episode of “Daredevil” on Will’s phone. It appeared that DD got beaten nearly to death in several scenes, only to recover fully by the next scene. The older I get, the more I appreciate the ability to recover.
When we lay down to sleep, I put in ear plugs to drown out the sounds of cars on the gravel road. Sometime later, I saw light just outside the tent. I raised up and peered blindly out the door (my glasses were hidden from bears). An hombre was emptying his bladder just on the other side of our fire!?
Hey, I yelled, what are you doing?
The man said something that I couldn’t hear (Duh).
I sat up and reached for the door zipper, ready to charge out of the tent and confront him and his bladder. He turned and walked toward our tent!
I’m glad you didn’t have a gun, he said.
It took a while, but I finally fell into a sound sleep (first time ever sleeping while camping), and woke to a grey, chill dawn.
Crawling out of the sack and shaking off the cold, we drove through Montreat and Black Mountain over to Denny’s, where one harried server and one overworked cook tried to wrangle breakfast for about a dozen people. We chowed down on a Senior Slam (Will looks a lot older than he is) and an American Slam: scrambled eggs, hash browns, toast, pancakes, generic hot tea and Sprite.
Back at the campsite, we decided to make another fire to knock off the morning chill. I found a baggie of dryer lint that I had overlooked the night before, and laid a nice bird’s nest of lint in the fire pit, where Will had raked out the ashes. The match box was torn to shreds, so we couldn’t use matches. Will had a flint and striker on his wristband, and he began to fire giant sparks into the lint. After a slew of strikes, one fell onto the lint and burst into a tiny flame. Success! Fire without matches and Little Bro saves the day!
After breaking camp, we drove over to my friends’ Haamez and Julie’s Cat Palace. They have three cats, and Haamez is very handy and creative. He has built climbing poles, catwalks, ceiling hammocks, several bird-watching stations, a squirrel gazing platform, and even a trapdoor so that the cats can get on their roof. We played with Bubba, Jules, and Ebony for a while and admired the catapult that Haamez uses to throw live mice to his cats.
We drove over to the Goodwill in Swannanoa, where I purchased a non-functional compass and old-school cell phone holder for my car, and Will bought a TV antenna.
Back on the road, we visited my sister in Bee Tree Village, a suburb of Swannanoa. She too has a cat, Liza, who greeted us warmly and jumped onto the table to steal some of my Cream Cheese and Chive Nabs. We slurped down some water and a Mango-Nectarine-Grapefruit-Lime-Blueberry LaCroix, and admired Marsha’s yard and bird feeder.
We drove to Warren Wilson College to buy two dozen eggs. We admired the giant farm vehicles, and I admitted to Will that I wish I had gone to college there, where equal weight is given to academics, campus work, and community service.
From WWC, we drove to the Goodwill near Will’s house, and I bought an alarm clock and a mid-2000s Vintage Road Whiz (Model 950, Made in China), a precursor of the smartphone with buttons for motels, restaurants, filling stations, and a tinny speaker that emits a squeaky voice like a computerized Pee Wee Herman.
Reeking of wood smoke, sweat, and turkey-dog juice, we cruised to Will’s house, where he dumped his stuff in the driveway. I managed to drive home without falling asleep.
By my calculations, we used only one of the 13 Essential Elements of Survival (the waxy matches) — yet we survived to tell the tale.